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SnakePit Round Table: Can we opt out yet?

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The whole "sports are the reward of a functioning society" thing? About that...

MLB: Los Angeles Dodgers at Arizona Diamondbacks Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

Should Rob Manfred be fired as commissioner?

ISH95: Yes. Preferably into the sun.

Makakilo: I for one give him a raise instead of a fire. My reasons follow:

  • He’s not a quitter. Rob Manfred said to ESPN’s Karl Ravech, “We are playing. The players need to be better, but I am not a quitter in general and there is no reason to quit now. We have had to be fluid, but it is manageable.”
  • He asked for help from the Players Association despite the likelihood that they gave him two-ears-full of grief. “The protocols are a series of little things that people need to do. We’ve had some problems. In order to be better, it’s another series of little things. I think it’s peer pressure. I think it’s players taking personal responsibility. I think it’s the union helping us like Tony Clark helped us yesterday.”— Rob Manfred, AP interview 1 August.
  • His actions are proactive and aggressive, which provides the best chances for success (healthy players, a regular season, and playoffs). “And I think it’s us managing more aggressively.”— Rob Manfred, AP interview 1 August.
  • He has a plan to reach the playoffs, even if some teams don’t play all their games. “We’ve got to be flexible on that. Look, this is one of the reasons that we revisited the issue of the expanded playoffs. If it turns out that some guys [teams] play 60, some guys [teams] play 58, they have this new thing called winning percentage. We can sort that out.”— Rob Manfred, AP interview 1 August.

Wesley: Yes, but not over the handling of the virus specifically. His handling of the Astros cheating, and just his overall comments in general say to me that he doesn’t care about the game all that much, and likely finds it super boring.

Dano: I think he kinda does, yeah. “We are playing. The players need to be better….” doesn’t really sound a lot like taking responsibility, does it? Not being a quitter is fine for him, as his life and health aren’t particularly on the line. For the entire league, though—teams, players, coaches, support staff, affected workers who come into contact with the teams’ travelling parties—he’s the one driving the bus. Beyond that, like Wes notes, his handling of the Astros in the aftermath of the sign-stealing thing was lame, to the point of being perhaps worse than useless.

Turambar: I say yes. Specifically for the poor handling of the relaunching of the season. How he and the league offices dragged their feet and then poisoned the relationship with the MLBPA (yes, I know blame goes both ways there) crushed a golden opportunity to make MLB the guiding light in these dark times. That alone is enough to both fire and damn him.

James: I’ve been calling for the owners to fire Manfred for over a year now. It’s difficult to imagine that the recent troubles, dating back to the end of last season, could have been handled any worse than they have been. Now, the game is falling to pieces and is less than 18 months from an almost certain work stoppage that could seriously jeopardize the future health of the game.

Steven: No, because his job is to make baseball profitable for the owners. Like Roger Goddell, he’s done exactly that. MLB franchises have only grown since he’s taken over, now whether that is due to him or from outside forces, his job is safe in the owners’ eyes. As a fan he’s out of touch with the future of the game and how to market it to younger people and at some point, all that old money will run out.

Do you think the season will be stopped, paused, or continue over the next 7 days.

ISH95: I don’t think it will be in the next seven days, but I think it’s coming. They’re going to push it, and soon it will reach a critical mass of players testing positive and others opting out. There are going to be only so many times a team can sign/trade for 15 players in the span of two days to build a new team like the Marlins did.

Makakilo: The season will continue, although individual teams with infections might be paused to prevent infections from spreading.

Dano: I hate to say it, but I think it should. The Marlins getting more than half their roster infected, the Cardinals dealing with multiple positive tests this weekend, and you know there are going to be more. Young people seem to continue to think that they’re kind of immune to the personal health consequences of getting infected, and while many of them seem to be, even young people die from this business, or wind up with permanent and profound damage to their bodies. I was hoping baseball would be an escape from thinking about covid, but watching teams on the field and in the dugout has actually had the opposite effect for me.

Now the team at the top of the NL East has only played three games, and the league has decided to shorten double-headers to 7 innings per game? Not only is the whole endeavor deeply unsafe, it’s becoming less and less like actual baseball.

And that’s not even addressing the concerns that Diamondhacks brought up in their fanpost from the other week.

It probably won’t happen, or at least not yet, but the plug really needs to be pulled.

Wesley: Unless there’s another Marlins-esque breakout, I don’t think so. I think it’s matter of when, now if though.

Turambar: No bubble means no completion of the season. Period. They had an opportunity to create and NBA-esque bubble here in AZ, but they screwed that up, and what recent issues with with Marlins and Cardinals show is that unless you strictly enforce quarantine of players then they’ll get infected. The season will go on, but no team will complete all 60 games.

James: I think Manfred will do everything he can to forge ahead with this disaster of a season. I do think that there is a very good chance the entire league is paused for 72 hours here soon in order to try and make a second “fresh” go of things once some of the quarantines expire. If they don’t pause the season and just erase a few games from the schedule in the process, I don’t see this season reaching the conclusion, despite Manfred’s best “efforts”.

Steven: In the next 7 days it will continue, despite more outbreaks. It will be shut down shortly afterwards.

The D-backs got off to a slow start. What’s the biggest problem?

ISH95: Across the board, offense is struggling to get caught up, so I’ll go with our pitching. There have been bright spots, Kelly and Gallen’s second start specifically, but overall we need the pitching to step up. And I type this, Weaver just gave up two home runs in the top of the 4th, so not promising.

Edit: It’s now 8-2

Edit2: WTF

Makakilo: Scoring runs is the biggest problem. Three viewpoints show the problem.

Viewpoint One ISH made a good point that offense is struggling across all teams. Runs per game is lower than 2019. Let’s look at average runs-scored-per-game in the Majors (through Saturday’s games, Baseball Reference):

  • 2017 4.65
  • 2018 4.45
  • 2019 4.83
  • 2020 4.58

Although the averages show this season has 0.25 less runs per game than 2019, they also show that through Saturday of this season the D-backs’ 3.0 runs-scored-per-game is 34% below the average in the Majors.

Viewpoint Two. In their wins, the D-backs scored an average of 39% less runs than last season. That’s a large drop.

  • 2019. Wins: D-backs averaged 7 runs per game. Losses: D-backs averaged 3 runs per game.
  • 2020. First 3 wins averaged 4.3 runs per game. First 7 losses averaged 2.0 runs per game.

Viewpoint Three. In each of the first 9 games, the D-backs scored 4 runs or less, except one game with 5 runs scored. In 2019, when the D-backs scored 1, 2, 3, or 4 runs, they won 30% of their games. That’s not enough because they need to win 50% of their games to have a good chance to reach the playoffs.

Dano: Honestly, I think that it’s the lack of a real preseason going into this, actually facing off against other teams instead of intrasquad scrimmages. Our pitchers are still getting used to facing actual opposing hitters, and our hitters are still getting used to facing pitchers they don’t see in the clubhouse every day.

In addition, I think it’s also the fact of a 60-game season. MLB players are accustomed to a season almost three times as long, which gives them time and room to work through trouble and learn and internalize good habits. Baseball is a game of routines, and improving muscle memory, and all that. Our players, both veterans and relative newbies, haven’t had that and won’t have the time to work out those routines this year, and I suspect that messes with their mental game as well, because they know they don’t and won’t have that time.

And also, of course, fear of the plague has to be on everyone’s mind as well. That hasn’t helped.

Wesley: The Dbacks have only won games that I have watched, and lost the one game I didn’t finish, though they came from behind to pull ahead while I was watching. So clearly, I am not watching enough. In all honesty, the lack of a real preseason is probably the biggest problem, as offense is lagging behind pitching league wide.

Turambar: Our pitching has been killing us. Yes our bats could be better, but having almost all our starters barely managing to go 4 innings each outing, plus still giving up a TON of runs has likely crushed any hope our batters may have had going into the games. Fighting from behind each night has got to be mentally exhausting for our bats.

James: Offense around baseball is historically bad right now. The Diamondbacks are among the very worst teams of that historically bad offense. Even when pitching is more or less getting it done, there is simply zero room for error. The lack of depth from starters is somewhat concerning, given the state of the bullpen, but many teams are having similar issues. If the Diamondbacks’ offense was even average, they have two more wins already this season.

Steven: The entire team has been sluggish and off, whether that’s because of poor preparation from the coaches or the players, they need to be better. I’m sure they’ll turn things around, but are they in too big of hole at 3-7 to push for the playoffs even with an expanded playoff? I’m not sure, but I won’t count them out this early.

Who concerns you most?

ISH95: I’m going to say Bumgarner. We have five years left, and if his loss of velo is here to stay, it could make for a very long contract.

Dano: I am inclined to agree with Ish on this one, though Bumgarner’s at least been relatively respectable in both of his starts, at least in contrast to Ray and Weaver. Not top-of-the-rotation respectable, but he’s been….okay.

My other candidate would be Nick Ahmed. His fielding acumen continues to be top shelf, but in the first nine games, I find myself genuinely concerned that he didn’t “figure things out at the plate” last year, but just overperformed.

Makakilo: ISH and Dano concerns about Bumgarner are on-target. Mitigating that concern is the possibility that, similar to Greinke, Bumgarner will likely remain an above-average pitcher despite velocity drops. Nevertheless, any contract covering this season plus four more seasons includes risk. He concerns me most.

Looking at Nick Ahmed, his 2018 and 2019 seasons were great (two gold gloves and 4 offensive bWAR). My confidence is high that he will bounce back. Yes, I noticed that on Sunday he struck out three times...

Wesley: I’m in agreement here with others saying Bumgarner.

Turambar: MadBum. Long term his potential loss of dominance hurts this team a ton going forward. No, let’s be honest here, limited spring training may have hurt him more than we realize from a preparation standpoint. Yes, the loss in velocity is very real, but not facing opposing batters for months takes its own toll.

James: On the pitching side of things, I would say MadBum. From the time he was signed, I had zero expectations he would be an ace-level pitcher. I did hope for a solid, innings-easting veteran who could be relied on in big games. We knew he was beginning to age already. The severe decline in velocity is concerning though. Is it a by-product of this season and the way that teams and players were forced to prep for it? Or is it indicative of things to come regarding a rapid decline in his ability to earn that massive contract Arizona signed him to? His ability to earn that money is key to their long-term plans moving forward. With the way finances are looking at shaking out, I would not be surprised if Arizona tries to trade him. A substantial loss in velocity will make that very difficult.

On the hitting side of things, the candidates are too numerous to mention. The obvious candidates are Jake Lamb, Eduardo Escobar, and Nick Ajhmed. I never expected very much from Lamb. Ahmed’s lack of hitting is a bit worrisome, but he is also one that was expected to produce more with the glove than the bat. I guess that leaves Escobar. His defense seems to have taken another step back and he still is not hitting the way the team needs him to, especially with runners in scoring position.

Steven: All of the pitchers have been bad, aside from Merrill Kelly and Archie Bradley. I hope they turn it around because otherwise it will be a long season. On the offensive side, Nick Ahmed looks hopeless at the plate, giving me doubts about all the improvement he made in 2019.

And, conversely, who has done best… apart from Ketel Marte!

ISH95: Merrill Kelly. I didn’t expect him to even make the rotation and he had our first good start.

Dano: Definitely Kelly, though as I noted in my recap of his first start, I don’t think that was a fluke or that much of a surprise. Kelly’s sneaky good, and has been since the final months of the 2019 season.

On the hitting side, I might have said Kole Calhoun after the Padres series, but his bat has cooled off substantially. So I’d go with Christian Walker….you never know what you’re going to get in a rookie’s second season, and given how Walker’s performance tailed off in the second half of 2019, I was uncertain which Walker was the real deal. It’s early days still, but it looks to me like the good Walker is closer to the real deal.

Makakilo: Although Merrill Kelly has a better ERA, I choose Zac Gallen because:

  1. Although every game is a team effort, two of the three D-back wins happened when Gallen started the game.
  2. He allowed only 2 earned runs in 6 innings against the Dodgers, who score runs extremely well (sixth best in the Majors through Saturday).
  3. He is the youngest pitcher in the D-back rotation.

Wesley: Kelly or Gallen. I was really impressed with what I saw of both, especially Gallen. Not really much I can add to what has already been said.

Turambar: Still kinda too soon, but I like Kole quite a bit so far. Outside of him Gallen is for real. Big time. You’ll see….

James: Merrill Kelly has hands-down been a breath of fresh air. He has been the one pitcher that has performed at or above expectations while the rest of the team seems to be going down in flames.

Steven: Starling Marte has impressed me with his OBP skills, I’m still waiting on the power and speed to come around but he’s been everything as advertised since coming over in the trade.

Without naming your home town, what is it known for?

ISH95: 111 degrees! It can’t really be that hot can it? Oh my god! It’s like standing on the surface of the sun! This city should not exist. It is a monument to man’s arrogance!

Makakilo: Harmon Killebrew hailed ‘a stone’s throw away’ from this city.

Dano: Back in I believe 1967, one of our major thoroughfares was designated the “ugliest street in the US.” On the upside, about five years ago UNESCO designated us a “world city of gastronomy.” Which is to say, we’ve got a lot of very good food down here. Damn right.

Wesley: Air force base. Being not Phoenix. Linda Rondstadt, I guess?

Turambar: Heat. All the heat.

James: I grew up straddling the border of two cities. They are best known for the Sun Devils and errrmmm… probably The Waste Management Open.

Steven: It smells like cows.