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2020 Arizona Diamondbacks Reviews #11: Mike Hazen

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“Mike is a strong leader, has boundless energy, and loves to take on the toughest challenges.” 

Mike Hazen, Diamondbacks GM
Mike Hazen, Diamondbacks GM
Photo by Sarah Sachs/Arizona Diamondbacks/Getty Images

Rating: 6.10

Age: 44

2020 Stats: 25-35, 5th in NL West.

27-33 Pythagorean W/L, negative 26 Run Differential.

2021 Status: GM for the Diamondbacks.


This article is long (about 2800 words), so you might want to grab a coffee and put your feet up.

Who is Mike Hazen?

“Mike is a strong leader, has boundless energy, and loves to take on the toughest challenges. He’s got a very strong network within baseball and has the experience and acumen to excel as a leader of baseball operations. I think he’s an excellent choice for Arizona.” — Ben Cherington, Toronto Blue Jays

“I don’t usually go down the old-school, new-school (road), but I think (Hazen) knows how to use information and convey it to people, which is really timeless. I think he has a real competitive determined side to his personality. And he is humble. He is really well-suited” for the position. — Josh Byrnes, Los Angeles Dodgers

“He’s remarkably fit and trim.” — Jack Sommers

2020 Review

“You have years where most things go your way, and you have years where more things than usual seem like a challenge.” — Theo Epstein

There are several truths about Mike Hazen. Truth at one extreme is he rebuilt the farm while remaining competitive making him the best GM the Diamondbacks ever had; the COVID shortened season was a one-off anomaly. Truth at the other extreme is several downsides hit the team in the 2020 season; the farm won’t fully impact the team until 2023. Let’s look at truth in-between the extremes.

Our review of Mike Hazen will cover the same categories as last year’s ground-breaking review by Jack Sommers. Each category will receive a grade on a scale of 1 to 4, where 1 is poor and 4 is excellent. Jack graciously agreed to write the budget section because his expertise is unmatched.

Draft

“Actual results will take years to know.” — Jack Sommers

Mike Hazen was hired in October 2016. Instead of looking at players drafted in 2020, let’s look at the most successful draftees (and international prospect signings) after Hazen was hired as GM. Success was defined as being a top 100 prospect in baseball (or close). Which Diamondback draft picks were close was determined by me. Honorable mention to Levi Kelly, drafted in 2018.

FanGraphs & MLB.com

Mike Hazen’s consistent success every year is remarkable because draft picks are a little like lottery tickets. He added at least one winning ticket every year. He drafted more than his fair share of winners. Score was unchanged from last year’s 4.0.

Player Development

“I think building a deep farm system is the result of effort across an entire organization, and it’s not just Player Development.” — Gabe Kapler

To simplify and focus, let’s look at two questions to indirectly measure player development:

  • Do enough players from the farm system debut in the Majors to replace average losses each year? A sustainable number is about 5 players per season, based on a calculation of 26 man roster divided by 5.6 years average career in Majors.
  • What percentage of those new players are still playing for the Diamondbacks in the following season? 80% is needed for sustainability.
Baseball Reference

Player development did not meet our criteria in Hazen’s first two seasons, 2017-2018. That likely reflected a depleted farm system as well as player development. Player development improved significantly in 2019 and 2020.

Mike Hazen has improved player development to a more sustainable level. Although more improvement is expected, let’s bump up last year’s score of 3.0 to 3.5.

Trades

“…maybe there’s something that presents itself that you maybe weren’t necessarily anticipating. That’s been pretty consistent over the last couple years for us.” — Mike Hazen

Other teams see Mike Hazen “as straight shooter.” Given he is a straight shooter, what kind of trades work? Three possible answers are:

  • He acquires players who will exceed the widely accepted projections.
  • He moves players in a position with surplus to a different team with shortage in that position.
  • He moves/promotes acquired players into situations where their full value can be realized.

Mike Hazen is a trading wizard. Jeff Todd’s 9 minute video talks about Mike Hazen’s trades through March of 2020:

  • wins were Gallen, Goldschmidt, and JD Martinez trades.
  • good were Greinke, Ketel Marte, Starling Marte trades.
  • solid was the Escobar trade
  • dud was the Souza trade.

Trading away Starling Marte for prospects was truly amazing because it recaptured the value given up by acquiring him when I thought the Diamondbacks had given up too much to acquire him. Because of this trade, and his trading history, his rating stays the same as last season. Score was the same as last year’s 3.8.

FA signings

“There are three outs in baseball; out hustle, out think, and out perform.” — Baseballism

Maybe that quote explains how players reach free agency. Let’s look at the 6 most significant signings in the last 13 months.

Baseball Reference

Signing player extensions can lock-in free agent years. The Diamondbacks signed extensions for Nick Ahmed and David Peralta. These signings were two great moves for the long term.

“In November, we [AZ Snake Pit] asked whether the team should give Jake a one-year, $5 million deal. Of the 476 responses, 74% said No.” — Jim McLennan.

The Diamondbacks tendered Jake Lamb, which best fits in this section. In the 50 plate appearances before he was released, his .380 OPS was nearly the lowest on the Diamondbacks (Cron and Vargas were lower). For the season, his Defensive Runs Saved (DRS) was negative 4 at third base and negative 1 at first base.

In summary Mike Hazen had a mix of wise moves and downside-risk-realized (whisky) moves:

Makakilo

Score: A mix of wins and downside risks realized. Because too many downside risks were realized, score was bumped down from 3.25 to 2.5.

In Season Roster Management

“Things turn out best for those who make the best of the way things turn out.” — John Wooden, Basketball Coach

A strong positive impacting roster management was that a core of players are under team control through 2023/2024 (Carson Kelly at C, Christian Walker at 1B, Ketel Marte at 2B, Nick Ahmed at SS, and the rotation). David Peralta and Kole Calhoun are under control through 2022; in 2023 top outfield prospects Kristian Robinson, Alek Thomas and Corbin Carroll should be playing in the Majors.

Injuries were reduced by the designated hitter and rest days. Injuries by position players fell from $6.49 M in lost playing days (average for 2018 and 2019, excluding Souza’s pre-season injury), to $0.33 M (extrapolated to $0.89 M for a full season).

This season, roster management had serious problems to address:

  • Third Base. At third base, negative 1.3 Wins Above Average (WAA) ranked last in the Majors. “Part of where we feel we’re going to rebound from last year is seeing Eduardo rebound. We definitely bought into that concept.” — Mike Hazen
  • Batter-Pitcher Matchups. One factor limiting flexibility was, “In the corner outfield positions, both of our guys are left-handed.” — Hazen
  • Center Field. After Starling Marte was traded away, it was not clear who would play center field. Looking at who played center field, Varsho had 54 PAs, Locastro had 37 PAs, Jay had 14 PAs, and K. Marte had 10 PAs. Daulton Varsho should play catcher, where he can shine. Ketel Marte should play second base, where he can play at an All-Star level. Tim Locastro is the better option.
  • Did Kevin Cron and Jake Lamb get enough plate appearances (20 PAs and 50 PAs) to show their true abilities? Probably not.

The score of 2.0 was unchanged from last year.

Budget Management/Asset Allocation

When we reviewed Mike Hazen’s performance in December of 2019 (Here) he came out with a score of 4.0 on the financial management side of his grade for the 2019 season. Working with 30 million fewer dollars than the year before, ($123M in 2019 vs. $154M in 2018) he managed to field a roster that had the team in contention into early September.

He went into 2020 with the same Payroll budget of $123M. At the time, most of us were praising his financial management.

Madison Bumgarner had agreed to a 5 year $85M deal, but just $6M of that was due in 2020. The deal was back loaded and included deferments of $15M beyond the active life of the contract.

Veterans Nick Ahmed (4 yrs, $32M plus incentives) and David Peralta (3 yrs $22M) were signed to seemingly team friendly contract extensions prior to the season. A number of other free agent signings such as Kole Calhoun ($6M), Stephen Vogt ($2.5M), Hector Rondon ($3M), and Junior Guerra ($2.6M) all seemed like very reasonable deals. But the best deal was perhaps the late January trade bringing in Starling Marte, requiring just $10M in 2020 for the star centerfielder with a very team friendly option for just $12.5M in 2021. This seemed perfectly timed to bridge to arrival of some of the team’s best outfield prospects by 2022. It all seemed like very smart management, and most of us were singing praises.

Fast forward to the current day and the team, in large part due to the Pandemic, is in a financial pickle. Coming off a 25-35 record and with revenues drastically cut, the team will be cutting payroll as well. In fact at the trade deadline they surprisingly dumped Starlin Marte and his team friendly option on the Florida Marlins, opening up a huge hole in centerfield. They also felt compelled to dump Archie Bradley and Andrew Chafin at the deadline as well, although they were in the final year of arbitration and set to be free agents for 2021, so that part is more understandable given the team’s position in the standings at the time.

They are currently committed to roughly $85M which we went over HERE at the end of October. They may increase it somewhat, but Derek Hall made it crystal clear they will not approach the $120M threshold of the prior two seasons.

The expensive portion of the Bumgarner contract has arrived. Ahmed and Peralta are a year older, as are Eduardo Escobar, Kole Calhoun, and Stephen Vogt. That veteran “core” of just 6 players plus the $10M they still owe Houston for Zack Greinke represents $60M of the $85M commitment, or 75%. They have a huge hole in CF, (or 2B if they move Ketel Marte back to CF).

Mike Hazen finds himself in a financial straight jacket heading into 2021 with a core of aging and in most cases under performing veterans. Hindsight is 20-20, and it was a harsh season. That said, this is a results based business, and financial decisions made for 2020 cannot be viewed positively, all things considered.

Score fell from last year’s 4.0 to 2.5.

Coaching Staff

“Obviously, in any season, there will be slumps. But they’re easier to deal with when the team has a winning record.” – Jim McLennan

This season started out in the hole (3-8 after first 11 games), had a huge mid-season slump losing 18 of 20 games, and ended below .500 (25-35). The coaches were challenged.

“Mike Hazen and Torey Lovullo have put together a strong coaching staff and the players respect and listen to their coaches.” — Jack Sommers.

Hazen made some acquisitions that should have boosted performance of the Diamondbacks (Madison Bumgarner, Starling Marte, and Kole Calhoun). Instead the following were worse than 2019: starting pitching ERA, offense runs scored per game, and defensive runs saved. The Diamondbacks did not reach the expanded playoffs.

All the coaches were retained for 2021. It may not be fair, but because the coaches did not find a way to prevent the down season, and because they did not find a way to quickly stop the mid-season slump, their grade gets a half point ding from last year’s 3.5, to 3.0.

Analytics/Technology

“The Diamondbacks are all in when it comes to utilizing all of the technology and player development tools available in the industry these days.” — Jack Sommers

2020 happened. What explains the worse starting pitching, worse offense, worse defense, and worse baserunning?

It wasn’t the players. It wasn’t coaching. Although Mike Hazen normally keeps his cards close to the vest, on 1 December Mike Hazen shared a possible answer:

“We’re going to continue to look to improve from the infrastructure underneath and ask all the questions we need to ask in terms of are we getting our guys the right information, the best information, what they need to have available to them to succeed. We’re still going to ask all those things.”

Clearly, there is reason to think improvement is needed in analytics, and communicating ‘right’ and ‘‘best’ information to players. Why wasn’t the need to improve the analytics infrastructure discovered sooner? Maybe the Diamondbacks’ players had outperformed their analytic infrastructure, masking the need to improve.

“It’s easy to use analytics to break down what to expect from a team. We do it. All clubs do it. It definitely has merit. But year after year, it seems the teams that constantly outperform the analytics are the teams with a great culture.” — Unnamed veteran GM

Outperforming an analytic infrastructure can happen when a team has a great culture, like the Diamondbacks.

Score fell from last year’s 4.0 to 2.5.

Culture/Ethics

“What is a good culture? It’s stability, but it’s more than that. It means strong ownership that lets baseball people do their jobs. It means a working marriage between the general manager and the manager (disagreements are okay; grudges are not). It means players trust the manager.” — Tom Verducci, Mar 1, 2016

By this definition, the Diamondbacks culture is good. Actually, it’s better than good. As more positions are locked down with multi-year contracts, as the farm had been strengthened, the Diamondbacks have increased stability. Owner Ken Kendric has let Hazen do his job unfettered, maybe more so than any previous Diamondback GM. “Working Marriage” is exactly how the wives of Mike Hazen and Torey Lovullo have described how the GM and manager work together. And Tory Lovullo is loved by his players and has earned their trust.

An important piece of the culture, which was negatively impacted by COVID, was spring training. Torey Lovullo said, “…We want everybody to be ready. I want everybody to have an intense spring, because that’s where the focus is going, we are going toward spring training, [to] set a tone for what we want to do...” Culture will bounce back next season because, as Mike Hazen said, “...seeing what these guys can do, in the way that we wanted them to, in a normal ramp-up...”

It’s what you don’t see that impresses me.

  • You don’t see any cheating scandal.
  • You don’t see journalists insulted.
  • You very rarely see players suspended for PEDs/drugs.
  • You don’t see players badmouthed before or after they are traded away.
  • You don’t see publicity about personalities or personal lives that embarrasses the team.
  • You don’t see information leak out that damages the D-backs. The Diamondbacks squashed a fake rumor that they were not planning to extend S. Marte. Impressive!

Score was bumped up from 3.5 to 3.6.

Summary

The following chart compares this season to last season. The overall score fell from 3.5 to 3.23, but remains a B+.

Makakilo & John Sommers

2021 Preview

“I think we are moving closer to having that group. I think that group is going to start moving into the upper levels this year. and once they are there - I think we are going to get within a fairly tight window of, you know, having a decent-sized group of our farm system making an impact at the major league level. I would say - I’m hopeful that within the next year we significant progress towards that.” — Mike Hazen

This season, Mike Hazen will improve the team:

  • The Diamondbacks will improve their analytics infrastructure to communicate the ‘right’ and ‘‘best’ information to players (see Analytics/Technology section).
  • The Diamondbacks will restore spring training to “set a tone for what we want to do.” (see Culture/Ethics section.)
  • “And there are subtle things, ... There are things from a work standpoint, from a practice standpoint, from a consistency and approach mental standpoint - that we need to lockdown on more.” — Mike Hazen
  • “We need to be, I think, a little more adept one through nine at creating offense even on those days we’re not hitting the ball out of the ballpark.” — Mike Hazen
  • Trades and signing free agents. “I wouldn’t rule out doing short-term moves.” — Mike Hazen

In a year or two, prospects will build on the player group when the Diamondbacks will have, “...a decent-sized group of our farm system making an impact at the major league level.”