2021 Stats: 52-110, 5th in NL West.
61-101 Pythagorean W/L, negative 214 Run Differential.
2022 Status: GM for the Diamondbacks.
This article updates last season’s review.
This article is long (about 3400 words), so you might want to grab a coffee and put your feet up.
Who is Mike Hazen?
Every day he asks questions about how the Diamondbacks could get better. That essence is captured in the following timeless quote:
“We need, collectively as a unit, to perform better than we did last year. And we’ve worked on a lot of those things this offseason.” — Mike Hazen
Nevertheless, he noticed when specific players succeed, even as the team struggled.
“At the major-league level, there’s not a lot [positive] in aggregate that we should be taking away, feeling good about ourselves. Sure there were individual performances. Where Varsho dug himself out from, where that path could have gone, I’m extremely proud of his ability to battle through that. I thought Josh Rojas probably had our most consistent season, but I’m not going to go down too many routes with individual performances….” — Mike Hazen
This season Mike Hazen faced more challenges than last season. The disappointing results in the Majors contrasted with the more than satisfactory results adding young players with high ceilings.
“You can’t quite imagine what it was like each day. I tried to do my best to block everything out, but that became challenging. There are times where it was tough, I’m not going to lie. Nobody likes to go through what we went through, but we can grow more resilience going forward.” — Mike Hazen
I just think that ownership’s trust in me Ken and Derrick and on down to Mike is something I really appreciate. And the trust that they are placing in me to continue to go in the right direction with this team is something I will never take for granted…The faith they have in me means a lot.” — Mike Hazen
Our review of Mike Hazen will cover the same categories as last year’s review. 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.
I feel like our scouts have done an exceptional job.” — Mike Hazen
The following table shows the top prospects drafted by the Diamondbacks since Hazen joined the team in October 2016. Although opinions differ, it’s remarkable that the team drafted six top-100 prospects. In addition, home grown Daulton Varsho is experiencing great success in the Majors.
Another aspect to drafting is the rule 5 draft. In December 2020, the Diamondbacks picked two players in December 2020.
- Tyler Gilbert was a spectacular acquisition by the rule 5 draft. In August, he threw a no-hitter in his debut in the Majors. For the last two months of the season, he pitched 40 innings with an ERA+ of 136. Unless the new CBA changes, he will be under team control until he reaches 6 years in the Majors.
- Zack Pop was acquired by the rule 5 draft. He was immediately traded for Tyler Jones, who has potential based to reach the Majors based on his 10.8 SO9 and 1.8 BB9 in AA.
“Tyler Gilbert is the best rule 5 draft pick ever taken by the Diamondbacks” — DBacksEurope & Michael McDonald
Mike Hazen’s consistent success in the draft is remarkable. His pick in the rule 5 draft was dazzling. Score was unchanged from last year’s 4.0.
“Evaluators inside and outside the organization see as many as a half-dozen pitchers with a legitimate chance to become major league starters. It is perhaps the best collection of young pitching the franchise has had in a decade.” — Nick Piecoro, November 2021
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.
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.
In 2021, 14 players debuted in the Majors. Player development continued at the improved level. The next step is for a few players to develop into All-Stars.
Another consideration is that player development continues in the Majors. In that area the Diamondbacks had room to improve. Two trades revealed a weakness in developing pitchers; Robbie Ray and Andrew Chafin were traded away and they improved their results in a spectacular way, including Robbie Ray won the Cy Young. The following timelines speak volumes about the missed opportunity for player development:
- 2020 Dbacks 7.84 ERA
- Traded with cash for pitcher Travis Bergen, who was later sold back to the Jays.
- 2020 Jays 4.79 ERA
- 2021 Jays 2.84 ERA
- 2020 Dbacks 8.10 ERA
- Traded with cash for Ronny Simon (A level minors).
- 2020 Cubs 3.00 ERA
- 2021 Cubs 2.06 ERA
- 2021 Athletics 1.53 ERA
“But I think what we saw in the performances of some of our pitchers, relative to their peers, and their stuff — and the progressions they all made through the system, most of whom are migrating to the upper levels — I do think we are on a narrow timeframe over the next 12 months where we’re going to see them start to matriculate onto the team.” — Mike Hazen
Although enough players were called up to the Majors, because of the failure to develop Robbie Ray and Andrew Chafin before they were traded away, and because the difficulties that some newly called up players experienced, the score was reduced from 3.5 to 2.5.
“Being traded is like celebrating your 100th birthday. It might not be the happiest occasion in the world, but consider the alternative.” — Joe Garagiola
Trades that impress me most achieve more than one objective. For example, his two deadline trades obtained prospects that the Diamondbacks liked while reducing costs in a season that had become non-competitive.
Two deadline trades:
- Acquired prospects Yaifer Perdomo and JJ D’Orazio for Joakim Soria.
- “That trade [acquired prospects Cooper Hummel and Aberto Ciprian for Eduardo Escobar] came about out of a longer term process. We had been talking to [the Brewers] a while and they ended up wanting to move a little quicker so that ended up working out well for us. We got a couple players that we really like that I think fit both ends of the spectrum of long and short term.” Mike Hazen
Of the four acquired prospects, my favorite was Cooper Hummel.
- In 2021, his .432 OBP ranked 7th in minors, and his .978 OPS ranked 10th in minors per this article. Also, he hit for the cycle in AAA.
- His position versatility is valued by the Diamondbacks.
- He ranked as the fifth best Diamondbacks prospect per my personal ranking. Opinions differ; for example FanGraphs ranked him 28th.
An interesting question is whether the Diamondbacks passed on trades that would have helped the team in 2022 and 2023 because they were trying to be competitive in 2020 and 2021 (see quote in the budget management section). Because unexpected events often make analysis of what-if type questions unreliable, this possibility will not be included in the score.
Because of acquiring new prospects including Cooper Hummel, the score stayed the same as last season which was 3.8.
Free agency is always interesting, exciting, sad. It brings all emotions. — Devin McCourty
Diamondback free agent signings fell into four categories - headline players, everyday players, waivered players, and minor leaguers. Let’s look at the first three categories.
Headline players. Four players were signed in February – Joakim Soria, Chris Devenski Asdrubal Cabrera and Tyler Clippard. They contributed 62 innings pitched and 90 position player games. As Jack will explain in the Budget Management/Asset Allocation section, their contribution to WAR minus their cost was a net positive of about $5 million.
In December of 2021, closer Mark Melancon was signed. Next season, he will likely reduce the problem of too many losses in 1-run games. His contact is two years plus an option year raising the possibility of long-term gain. Overall, it was a great signing at a low cost.
Everyday players. Eight players were signed between January and July – Frankoff, Buchter, Holaday, Swarzak, Reddick, Ramos, Faria, and Noe Ramirez. They contributed 101 innings pitched and 85 position player games. Looking longer term, Noe Ramirez was a great success – his ERA+ was 156 and in late November he was the only player remaining on the 40-man roster.
Waivered players. For the Diamondbacks, claiming players off waivers is an effective strategy to acquire good players at a reasonable cost. In January, Humberto Castellanos was acquired off waivers. From June through November, the Diamondbacks selected 10 players off waivers (Domingo Leyba, Brett deGeus, Jordan Weems, Ty Tice, Jake Hager, Sean Poppen, J.B.Wendelken, Zack Burdi, Edwin Uceta, and Kyle Nelson). They contributed 106.1 innings pitched and 22 position player games. Most significantly, in late November seven are on the Diamondback 40-man roster and could contribute to next season – Castellanos, de Geus, Poppen, Wendelken, Burdi, Uceta, and Nelson.
In summary the approach to free agents came out a net positive with a mix of low risk moves. Noe Ramirez was a big realized upside. Additional upside is possible because of the other five additions to the 40-man roster.
Because of the net positive results and because the addition of Noe Ramirez, the score was bumped up from 2.5 to 3.5.
In Season Roster Management
Roster management was a challenge because injuries increased. Compared to the last full season (2019) the value lost from injuries increased 9% this season per Spotrac (1152 days & $18.8 Million increased to 1500 days & $20.6 Million).
We’re going to take a hard look at who we’re asking to move around the diamond. And whether we are putting them and the team in the appropriate position to play good defense. — Mike Hazen.
This season, playing multiple positions became common for many players. The results were not always positive. Although the team learned which players could quickly learn a new position at the Majors level, this aspect of roster management hurt the team.
At the beginning of this season three problems were known.
- 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
- Center Field. After Starling Marte was traded away, it was not clear who would play center field.
- Batter-Pitcher Matchups. One factor limiting flexibility was, “In the corner outfield positions, both of our guys are left-handed.” — Hazen
The three problems were NOT successfully addressed.
- Third Base. Escobar’s batting rebounded from his 2020 nadir (OPS+ of 63), but failed to approach his 2019 success (OPS+ of 325). WAA was nudged slightly upward from negative 1.3 to negative 0.9 while defensive DRS slipped slightly from negative 4 to negative 5. The negative numbers tell the story.
- Center Field. WAA fell from positive 0.5 to negative 0.8 while defensive DRS fell from negative 1 to negative 25. Again, the negative numbers tell the story.
- Corner outfield positions. 93% of plate appearances were by left-handed-batting corner outfielders per Baseball Reference.
The following table shows poor defense at third base and in center field.
It was a big mistake to play Ketel Marte in center field. Two reasons:
- In each season, 2018 to 2020, his DRS at second base ranked in the top 10 in the Majors per The Fielding Bible.
- In 2021, his negative 15 DRS in CF contributed to the Diamondbacks’ defense in CF ranking last in the Majors.
Because three known problems were not successfully addressed, because players, including Ketel Marte, did not quickly learn to defend new positions the score was reduced from 2.0 to 1.5.
Budget Management/Asset Allocation
Evaluating Mike Hazen’s performance on the financial side of things for 2021 is difficult because of two factors:
- The opening day payroll budget he was given to work with was cut over 20% compared to the previous two seasons. (From about 123-125M in 2019-2020 down to 96M 2021)
- He decided to go forward into 2021 with his core group of veterans that he’d previously committed money to. Madison Bumgarner, Kole Calhoun, David Peralta, Nick Ahmed, & Eduardo Escobar accounted for approximately $50M or of the $96M opening day payroll. Add to that the team was still paying 10M to Astros for the Zack Greinke contract and you are looking at almost 2/3 of your payroll going to 5 veterans and one guy no longer on the team.
In fact, in the summary paragraph of last year’s financial review I wrote:
Mike Hazen finds himself in a financial straight jacket heading into 2021 with a core of aging and in most cases under performing veterans.
Fast forward to this past month and Mike Hazen had the following response:
Although you’ll never hear Hazen say he regrets trying to put a winner on the field over the last five years, he does question whether he should have worked so hard to keep some of their core intact. Hindsight is 20/20 — or, 2021, if you will — but there were trades the Diamondbacks passed up while trying (and failing) to win. “That’s where we could have fallen into that trap,” Hazen said.
So there just wasn’t much to work with financially, but that was his own doing. So how does one separate financial decisions made prior to and after 2021?
The 2020 trade deadline deals did open a little bit of space however, giving Hazen roughly $9M to spend on free agents for 2021. He allocated most of that to the bullpen, and also signed Asdrubal Cabrera to be a corner “utility” player.
Cabrera got $1.75M and gave them the following before being traded to the Cincinnati Reds at the deadline: 90 G, 321 PA, 93 OPS+, 0.9 WAR, Days on IL: 38 with Hamstring injuries
- Joakim Soria $3.5M
- Tyler Clippard $2.25M + 500K option buyout
- Chris Devenski $1M
The three relievers combined to provide the following “production”
Note: IR/IRS = Inherited runners and inherited runners scored
SD/MD = Shutdowns/Meltdowns
All three of the relievers spent time on the IL, Clippard 119 days with a shoulder injury, Soria 30 days with calf injury, Devenski 142 days due to time on restricted list and then an elbow injury which required TJ surgery.
So that was the risk signing veteran mid-late 30’s relievers and position players. And each of them got hurt. Deadline trades of Soria and Cabrera ended up saving a little less than $2M. If you use a straight WAR/$ calculation, the 4 players combined for 1.5 WAR and cost $7M, so that works out to a net positive of about $5M. But it certainly didn’t “feel” like good investments as the season unfolded.
Beyond this, there was an endless parade of players picked up off waivers and/or signed to minor league deals, almost none of which panned out, except maybe Noe Ramirez, but he got hurt too.
SCORE: 1.5 out of 4, in part because the “sins of the past” caught up to Hazen and his failure to identify the need to trade some of his expensive veterans while they still had some trade value.
But starting with me, we’ve got to be better on every level from a coaching and teaching standpoint ” — Mike Hazen
This season the team fell out of contention and similar to 2020 the coaches did not quickly turn it around. The season became about giving young players a chance to show their talent. The young players often struggled in their transitions to the Majors. For these reasons the score would have fallen to 2.5. However, something remarkable happened.
Two awesome additions were pitching coach Brent Strom (arguably the best pitching coach in MLB) and hitting coach Joe Mather whose approach and ideas, such as presenting players with as many hitting tools as possible and a shared terminology/definitions, will positively impact the team. And the new bench coach Jeff Banister is will enhance the performance of top-10 manager Torey Lovullo.
In November, the coaching staff is exceptional, the best in the history of the Diamondbacks.
“Brent Strom is the best pitching coach, bar none.” — Kyle Snyder, Rays pitching coach
“…Furthermore, with these three hires [Strom, Mather, and Banister], and Dave McKay back, I’d be hard pressed to identify any better candidates to fill these roles among anyone that is truly available.” — Jack Sommers
I’m adding a second score for coaching. Because of the new coaches, and because of the restructuring of the coaching to make transitions to the Majors more successful, the second coaching score is 3.8.
“Ah, I have no data. I cannot tell. Perhaps you have yourself formed some opinion?” — Sherlock Holmes in the Adventure of the Copper Beeches by Arthur Conan Doyle
2020 happened. 2021 happened. Now the Diamondbacks have data. What explains the worse starting pitching, worse offense, worse defense, and worse base-running?
The same as last season’s review, I continue to believe that team strengths are masking a need to improve analytics and technology. That belief was strengthened by Brent Strom’s comment about presenting technology to pitchers, and by Joe Mather’s comment about needing a shared terminology.
I’m relying on my gut feeling because the process is largely opaque, as it needs to be to preserve competitive advantages and hide competitive weaknesses.
Score stayed the same as last year’s 2.5.
“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, culture is great because Verducci’s definition seems like it was written about the Diamondbacks.
The culture’s dominance will increase as more prospects from the farm reach the Majors reducing the need to acquire players from outside the organization.
Another remarkable sign of great culture is that ownership retained the GM and manager despite two consecutive seasons with disappointing win-loss results. Clearly, owner Ken Kendrick has faith that Mike Hazen will have considerable success in the next two years.
Another remarkable sign of great culture is that Tory Lovullo retained the leadership of the clubhouse through an extremely challenging season. He is loved by his players and has earned their trust.
The same as last season, what you don’t see 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.
Score was 3.6. The score was the same as last season.
The following chart compares this season to last season. The overall score fell from 3.23 to 3.0, and then rose to 3.1 with additions of awesome coaches immediately after the end of the season.
This season, Mike Hazen will improve the team:
- This season’s three low-cost approaches were: Rule 5 picks such as Tyler Gilbert, claiming players off waivers such as Noe Ramirez, and trading veterans like Eduardo Escobar for prospects such as Cooper Hummel and Aberto Ciprian. In the next few seasons these approaches will make a positive impact on performance and budget flexibility.
- From a coaching viewpoint, the new pitching and hitting coaches will likely improve player development at the Majors level. Also, the new coaching structure and approach will help players seamlessly transition from the minors to the Majors. Because the Diamondbacks have many talented prospects in the minors, including some top-100 prospects, the impact will likely be huge.
- Next season’s defense will improve because of improved discernment of players’ defensive capabilities and flexibilities, and because of increased experience by younger players.
- Next season’s trades and signings of free agents will likely prioritize future season improvements over the current season. Their positive impact may not be seen immediately.