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SnakePit Round Table: Army of the Dead edition

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The losing streak is over! But it wasn’t exactly a GOOD week...

Game of Thrones characters in Moscow Underground Photo by Sergei Savostyanov\TASS via Getty Images

Who’s responsible for this mess? Kendrick, Hazen, Lovullo or the players?

Wesley: Some of it is just bad luck with injuries, which no one is responsible for. Maybe our training stuff and whomever is responsible for injury prevention should take some blame. I actually think Kendrick is the most responsible, because he’s the boss who decides everything, including our payroll ultimately. After that, I actually would put the blame on Lovullo a bit more than I would Hazen. Hazen has assembled a very good young core of players, and he could have gotten some free agent signings, but Kendrick limits potential signings with our low payroll. I feel like a better manager could get more out of these players than Lovullo. I can’t really assign the players blame since I don’t know the atmosphere of our clubhouse. That certainly could play a part, but that’s an unknown.

James: I actually have already started writing an article about this. Short answer though, there is plenty of blame to go around. I still place a majority of it at the feet of Ken Lendrick though. Kendrick wants the team’s turnaround to success to be fast, but he also wants to keep it on the low payroll side. Teams with low payrolls and extended track records of success paid their dues and took the time to develop, trade, draft, and further develop talent that could then contribute to a winning culture while still being in their early years of service. That takes time and patience. The massive amount of overturn the Diamondbacks organization has had over the last 20 years shows that there simply is no patience to be found.

Turnarounds can be done quickly, but then the team needs to commit to much higher payrolls. An increase of $25-40 million to the payroll makes the Diamondbacks a significantly different team this year, possibly even a competitive one. There can be qualms with how Lovullo is leading the team, but he also has a wretched group of players to manage. Mike Hazen certainly shoulders some of the blame for the way he has allocated some of the payroll, but he is still beholden to trying to meet both Kendrick’s impatient timeline and miserly payroll numbers.

Jack: One thing I agree with Derrick Hall on is this is definitely a “team effort” throughout the organization resulting in the malaise that has infected the team. But this is a decade long effort in my view. I’m sure my frequent defenses of Torey make it seem like I feel he’s blameless for the current state of the team. He’s definitely not. But to say he has the talent to win and this is all his fault, is in a word…..laughable. Firing him will improve nothing. This organization has issues from top to bottom.

The payroll, and relation to winning has been a hot topic. Utilizing COTS BASEBALL CONTRACTS we can see opening day payroll, year end payroll, and Competitive Balance Tax payroll, (which includes all the dead money and guys on 40 man roster)

Here is how the DBacks have ranked each of the last 10 years

The average rank is 20th for opening day and CB Tax-40 Man, but year end rank is lower at 22nd. It’s notable that the only year the year end payroll rank was higher than opening day was 2017. So the oft repeated mantra “ownership will give us more money to spend mid season” hasn’t really played out. In most of those years it might not have mattered, but 2018-19 were competitive years, yet the year end payroll rank was lower than opening day rank. Other teams added more.

As for the results, very simply since 2012 the team’s .481 Win % ranks… you guessed it 20th in MLB. Report link HERE. The usual suspects of high spending teams are at or near the top. A few big spending teams have been mediocre. There are three teams on this list that stand out as winning more than they spend: Cleveland, Oakland, and Tampa Bay. They’re always in the lower half and usually in the lowest ten in payroll. They’re proof that a really well run organization can still put a roster on the field that will win a lot of games. On the other hand, none of those team’s has won a world series trophy. They’ve combined for 7 division titles, 7 Wild Card Appearances, and 2 trips to the fall classic, but no titles as of yet. Not having the elite of the elite who cost the most money is probably an impediment to winning it all.

The Diamondbacks don’t spend with the big boys. It shows. The Diamondbacks haven’t drafted, developed, and traded shrewdly enough like the smartest teams do. It shows. The Diamondbacks haven’t had the best on field managers to help middling teams punch above their weight class. It shows.

Team effort.

DBacksEurope: my take is always that you cannot blame people for something they do not have. It is frustrating to see this team take loss after loss, but it is not the player’s fault. Yes, there are a couple of players probably underperforming (or, being this the second consecutive season, probably no longer underperforming but just performing to their capabilities), but players go through streaks, and while April was great, May has been terrible...who knows June might see us getting a few more wins in. But, let me try to make it clear with an example: you cannot blame a Seth Frankoff for being Seth Frankoff.

I do not think we can blame Torey Lovullo much either. Ask Tony LaRussa if he wants to manage the Diamondbacks and I am pretty certain he will say “No”. If someone can explain to me with argumentation that without Torey we will be a lot better, then I will happily change my opinion on him. But in my pre-season predictions I commented that I believed this team to be a 65-win team and I was not blaming Lovullo then. Maybe some other manager will squeeze a few more wins out of this ball team, but I honestly don’t see a difference between, let’s say, 65 or 72 wins: both teams are bad teams. I applaud Torey for making efforts to continuously learn on how to become a better coach. As always with learning: some things work and others don’t. Or some things work over there and for him, but not over here and for you.

So, I think Torey is going through a learning process as well here, just like many players, and I believe him to be pretty harsh on himself. Maybe he has already learned that players perform best in their natural position and while you need flexible players on your bench, you shouldn’t force players to play in positions that aren’t natural. A lot of our younger players are adapting to MLB in positions that are not their natural positions and I do not think that is a good idea. Have the young kids play in their habitat and try to find that positional flexibility in more experienced players. That is what I would like to say to Torey as armchair manager.

Mike Hazen obviously is very much responsible for how bad this team is performing. For yet another consecutive season his bullpen reinforcements, “priority number 1”, have been a failure: guaranteed contracts went out to Clippard, who hit the 60 day-IL before tossing an inning, and Soria, who has been injured and not close to what he has shown in previous seasons. The relievers that got a minor league deal and were brought up did not bring much joy either (Devenski, Swarzak). If they do not give you much money to play with, it becomes all the more important that you make sure that the money deals you do make are successful and the needle on Hazen’s management on that part goes in the wrong way.

Mike Hazen seems to be a good trade maker and most of the SnakePit’s opinions on his deals have been positive, although the Starling Marte debacle has left me with many question marks. I am happy to see that one of his top draft picks is leaving a good impression, Pavin Smith, but the jury will be out there on the pitching. Seeing Robbie Ray and Taijuan Walker pitching to moderate success somewhere else will probably not please KK and since all of our pitching prospects seem to get shelled at the highest level (Duplantier, Martin, Ginkel, Weaver, Bukauskas), I have a feeling the current mispitching might harm his future. I believe Mike Hazen needs more time because you cannot turn around an organization overnight, but I am less confident in him than I was before.

It is always easy to pick out the owner. But European football shows that more money is not key to more success per se. Modern football (= soccer teams boosted to success with loads of money) club Manchester City is one of the biggest spenders in football. Their Arab oil funding has led to a spending spree of around a billion dollars in the last 5 years. Yet they still haven’t won the football equivalent of the World Series (= Champions League). Ken Kendrick might be an owner that does not care about winning and/or does not want to spend, but just like any other business owner he is probably not insensitive to demands. But like I explained in my answer on Mike Hazen: if you want more money to spend, you have an easier entrance if the money you have spent in the past proved to be a successful investment. So, yes, money can definitely improve the club’s record, but cannot be the only solution.

So, to conclude: I don’t think anyone in particular is to blame for our current mess, but some are always more to blame than others. In my opinion Mike Hazen is more to blame than anyone else, but I still have faith in him.

Makakilo: In my view the mess reflects five connected challenges. Jim’s excellent questions inspired me to write Five Diamondback Challenges This Season. It is scheduled to post on Tuesday.

Steven: It all starts at the top. The team trading Starling Marte should have pointed us in the direction this ownership wanted to go. Their pure focus is profits and they’ll do anything they can to save a buck, even if that means punting a season or two. With multiple top options still on the market in free agency, the team still did nothing, signing a bunch of aging vets to 1-year deals. Hazen can only do so much with a limited budget, and when your track record of drafting is poor to begin with, you’re relying too much on bottom of the barrel talent. Until the D-backs get an owner that is willing to spend with the rest of the division, we should expect more of the same going forward.

Dano: I blame Hazen and Kendrick, for the reasons fully articulated by others.

What, if anything, can be done to get out of it?

Wesley: Fire Lovullo? Fire the coaching staff?

James: That depends on how one defines “getting out of it”. In the short term, the team simply needs to get healthy. That includes making some hard calls with the roster and defining a regular rotation again. Put the best options for five or six starting pitchers into a rotation and simply let them get to work. Sometimes they will suck. Sometimes they will impress. Regardless of how they do, just keep going with them. Let the team settle into a routine and stop worrying about climbing out of the hole the team is in. The team isn’t escaping the hole before the season is over. So, make the best of it.

Jack: There are no quick fixes. They need to draft and develop and trade better. It’s their main route forward. They try to emulate Cleveland, Oakland, and Tampa Bay, but as yet they have not been successful in doing so. Barring a change in ownership with deeper pockets they’re certainly not going to spend their way to better players. The draft and development system currently in place, while better than what Mike Hazen inherited, does not as yet seem to be able to deliver the high impact talent needed to push a team towards the top.

Through a combination of attrition and delayed timelines, (Corbin Carroll, Kristian Robinson) and under performance (Daulton Varsho, Corbin Martin, Geralado Perdomo) it’s probably going to be quite some time until we have a top level under 25 phenom performing at an all star level in the majors. Whether or not Mike Hazen and his team are the right guys to deliver that talent remains to be seen. He’s only had 4 ½ seasons. In GM timelines, it really takes 6 years to build up an organization. Hazen is signed through 2023, but as we all know, has some pressing family issues to deal with, and an ownership group not known for their patience. We’ll just have to wait and see what happens.

Here is a report to help put what I’m trying to say in context: Spanning Multiple Seasons or entire Careers, In the Regular Season, from 2019 to 2021, age 24 or younger, sorted by greatest WAR Position Players.

REPORT LINK

One other point to add. I posed a question to one industry insider as to whether MLB may adopt a lottery system for the draft in the new CBA for 2022. (Meaning the DBacks might not be rewarded with a # pick even if they finish with the worst record) He said he was speculating with the below comment, (but his is a highly informed and respected opinion)

Lottery system possible. They’re looking for ways of making the season more competitive and removing incentives for tanking. The play-in games in the NBA are the same theory. More teams involved. Less incentive to tank for the lottery. So in baseball, lottery system, expanded playoffs and a lot less rounds in the draft.”

DBacksEurope: In the short term, this team needs to be healthy to have the best players in the lineup and in the rotation day after day. The injuries seem to be MLB all round, so it probably is not organisation-related, but less injuries and a healthy lineup are the only way to improve the team’s performance although I do not think we will get to the other side of Mount .500. In the mid-long term, yes, more money should give us the opportunity to sign better players but to compete you will need a good mix of prospects/home-grown players and stand-out performers, with a couple of veterans to bring some experience into the club house. That good mix of prospects/home-grown players probably needs a couple more years to come to fruition. And besides spending more money, this club needs to make good signings. The MadBum signing might have been an owner’s whim, so maybe we cannot blame Hazen too much (and we did not know he would be as bad as he has been until the recent turnaround - despite the utter failure again of his latest outing), but Hazen & co. have to reflect on their evaluation techniques, especially when looking at pitchers.

Makakilo: I see two paths out of the wilderness. Either increase the team budget to add more above-average players, or wait years until the top Diamondbacks’ prospects mature and the team can sustainably compete every year.

Steven: Look no further than our franchise neighbors to the East. The Rays have figured out a way to perform and execute despite being hamstrung payroll-wise. They draft well, trade well, and recognize quality free agents to compliment their core. Or just wait until the team gets new ownership.

Dano: I respect what Steven is saying, but for us to become the NL West analog of the Rays would require a massive cultural change and decades of commitment, so I don’t think that’s gonna happen. I’d love to see it happen, but it ain’t gonna. Per Makakilo regarding waiting until our top prospects mature, I honestly don’t have a lot of faith in the Diamondbacks’ ability to develop those prospects to the point where they’re MLB ready. That especially seems to be an issue with our pitchers. I’m pretty sure that if ownership was willing to spend an extra $30M-$40M on payroll, that would have some good results, provided we signed the right people. But that’s probably not gonna happen either. So yay us.

Find a bright spot in the gloom…

James: Carson Kelly is establishing himself as a franchise catcher, possibly even a franchise cornerstone. This is a big win for the Diamondbacks. Corbin Martin should soon be getting significant innings at the MLB level, preparing him for 2022. The Diamondbacks should have a draft pick next season that falls into the elite tier of picks, rather than having middling picks that will always be harder to choose from.

Jack: I admit that Pavin Smith (114 OPS+) has me a bit schitzo. I went from admitting that it was a huge mistake on my part to say he was a bust back in the middle of 2019, to then wondering if maybe I was right all along, to now being really impressed with the adjustments he’s made. I so often preach patience with young players, yet in his case I have not practiced what I preach. The swing is pretty and the hit tool is top notch. There is no doubt about that. He is more than competent around the bag at first, despite my complaints about him not stretching at times. (That’s been better the last few games too).

He only has 247 MLB PA. That’s a pittance. He has a lot of room to grow and plenty of upside that can be realized above where he’s at now. On the other hand, he’s 25. That’s not a young rookie. So hopefully he gets to that upside pretty soon. The hope is that he develops enough power to hit at least 15-20 homers without sacrificing any of his hit tool. Whether that comes soon is anybody’s guess. If it does, he can be an all star player. If it doesn’t he’ll still be a useful major league player.

Here is a table of top 5 NL Rookie Position players through the first ⅓ of the season, ranked by oWAR. oWAR does not include fielding runs, but puts emphasis on Offense and position played. I show the fielding runs for reference though. Thin class perhaps, but still worth noting:

DBacksEurope: James and Jack have already pointed out the bright spots that come to everyone’s mind, so I will try to find another; a collective one. The Diamondbacks are currently one of the MLB leaders in extra base hits, both doubles and triples, and have shown above-average patience at the plate. Diamondbacks’ LOB is number two in the league with 385 and we have been lacking in homeruns. Thinking about our batters with most pop having been on the IL for quite some time, I can believe that a full healthy lineup in a groove will get us those runs that should overcome our pitching woes. Diamondbacks’ pitching has been terrible and rank dead last in ERA+ according to baseball-reference. We have allowed most runs in the entire MLB and most hits as well, and have one of the worst SO/9.

That might and has to improve, but we will have to accept that no matter what, Diamondbacks’ pitching will be one of the worst for the rest of the season. We can only win if we get in more runs than we give up. That sounds logical, but is even more true for a team that gives up 5.36 runs per game. Our runs per game is close to league average, but our runners LOB is far above it. If we would get in half of our runners LOB, that would give us 24 additional runs in and put us just above 5.00 runs per game. That gives the Diamondbacks more possibilities to win a game and more free tacos.

Steven: The young players have really stepped up the occasion, performing exceptionally well compared with expectations. All of Josh Rojas, Carson Kelly, and Pavin Smith look like everyday players while Andrew Young just continues to hit and should at least be a bench guy. On the pitching side, Merrill Kelly looks healthy after the career threatening injury, and Madison Bumgarner might be able to be traded without eating much money.

Dano: Like everyone else, I’ve been really happy to see Carson Kelly seeming to consistently realize his potential this year, and I’ve been pleased as well with Pavin Smith. Not entirely sure Rojas has figured it out, yet, but he definitely seems to be getting there. I’m honestly not too terribly worried about our offense right now, and player development in that area. We seem to be doing okay there.

Makakilo: Five of the bright spot players named so are young (age 27 or younger). More bright spots are Ketel Marte (27), Zac Gallen (25), Taylor Widener(26), and Matt Peacock (27). The future looks bright.

What are you hoping for the rest of the season?

James: Let the prospects play. Make the trades and cuts that will reshape this aging roster and let the team’s prospects play. Andy Young, Josh Rojas, Corbin Martin, Jon Duplantier, Riley Smith, Josh Green, Daulton Varsho, and Pavin Smith are all ready to start making contributions of one level or another at the MLB level. Let’s see what they can do.

Jack: Acceptance is the first step to recovery. The sooner that the organization accepts the reality of their talent pool and moves to create more opportunity for younger players to grow, (or prove that they can’t), the better off they will be. Over these past 10 years this organization has refused to “take its medicine” in the short term (i.e. true rebuilding,) in order to get well for the long term. Now it’s forced upon them by the total collapse of the team. Yet they STILL are either not accepting or acting on this reality. So my hope is for acceptance, as the proper actions will follow thereafter.

Makakilo: James and Jack are on target - I’d like the Diamondbacks to provide opportunities to the younger players. In addition, I would move Ketel Marte to second base.

DBacksEurope: I agree with the others, but I especially hope that Torey Lovullo will let the players perform at their best, i.e. have them play in their natural positions. I also hope that the organisation stops moving youngsters up and down continuously but instead lets them play for a while in Reno or Amarillo before calling them up. Once in the MLB, give them time to adjust and do not ship them off after just a few outings unless it is to have them perform again for a longer time at a lower level. Other than that, if my previous answer turns out to be true, we will see Diamondbacks’ games becoming slugfests with free tacos after every game.

Steven: I want to see Mike Hazen in action. There shouldn’t be one aging veteran with value still remaining on this team. I expect some long-standing veterans like Ahmed, Peralta and Walker to be on different teams as well.

Dano: I pretty much agree with all of the above. Specifically, what DBE is saying about keeping our prospects at their natural positions makes a lot of sense to me, as does ending the weekly Reno shuttle. The last few years it seems like we’ve been using our minor leaguers as a cookie jar we can reach our hand into whenever our lineup or our bullpen in particular is looking a little ragged. Not only is that bad for player development, making that a regular practice normalizes the chronic underinvestment in a functional bullpen. And we are already seeing, earlier than usual, what comes of that.

Restrictions are now lifted at Chase Field. Will you return? Why/why not?

James: Not this season. I could give health-related reasons and concerns, but the reality is, I wasn’t likely to make it to a game this season, regardless. I just moved to Winslow. That sort of puts a damper on catching games at Chase. It’s no longer just a matter of me wandering up the street a few blocks to the lightrail to catch a game.

Jack: I received my full season Media Credential last night. It was my second night back in the press box. I’ll start going more frequently now. It’s a pretty controlled environment , although only half the people in the press box are wearing masks. We all sit 6 feet apart, but it’s a semi enclosed area. The stands are mostly unmasked at this point. Last night attendance was 11K

I’ll probably take my family to a few games after the all star break. However the U.K. is seeing a surge in cases of the India Variant. Their elderly population is highly vaccinated, so they’re not seeing a surge in hospitalizations in that demographic. The Indian Variant is affecting younger demographics. The percentage of younger people infected that require hospitalization is not going up, but because the variant spreads quickly the sheer volume of young people getting infected may still result in a lot of hospitalization. We are usually a couple of months or behind the U.K. In Vietnam, where my middle son and family live now, and where they were able to suppress Covid-19 really well, is now seeing a hybrid of the UK and Indian Variants that is highly transmissible and cases are surging. Taiwan, which had done such a great job, has seen cases and deaths jump 7 fold in just a couple of weeks. They are undervaccinated.

My family here is fully vaxxed, and the Vaccines are effective in stopping you from getting seriously ill. But while transmission is reduced as well, they don’t make it impossible to contract or spread the virus. So I’m concerned about spreading it to the unvaxxed, (even if they’re not !) including my grandkids. At the same time, while the Vaccines seem to be effective against most of the variants that have emerged, there is no way of telling if a new variant emerges that defeats the vaccines. This is a global Pandemic and it keeps throwing us curveballs. For these reasons I’m still being careful, even as we venture back out into the world in full.

Makakilo: Although I planned to attend a game late in the season, I decided to wait until next season. Although I’m vaccinated, I’m concerned about variants, especially when in a recently televised game 100% of the fans that I saw were not masked (I looked carefully at about 40 fans).

DBacksEurope: theoretically speaking, I said yes some weeks ago. But recently my favourite local football team here won the national league title and it proved I was a bit wary to go out and celebrate. A couple of months back I took a quick walk through the city centre and I was shocked to see so many people together and I quickened my pace. I am not afraid to get infected, but I rather avoid it, so if I were in the possibility of attending a game at Chase Field, I think I would probably not go.

Steven: I live in Washington and have been thinking about seeing a game but we’ll see. My dad has been going to games every Tuesday at Chase and updates me all the time. I’m happy people are able to get back to a little normalcy.

Dano: The pervasive lack of masking among fans at Chase is concerning to me, but I imagine that I’ll make it up there for at least one game, maybe in August or September.

What is the oddest fact you know?

James: My areas of study dump plenty of esoteric facts on me. Chances are, the oddest fact I know is so obscure that I don’t even realize I know it, or that it is an odd fact. However, a somewhat “fun” fact is this.. April 14th is an odd date historically. It is the date the Titanic hit the iceberg. It’s the date Abraham Lincoln was shot. However, it is not the date that the Titanic sank or the date on which Lincoln died. Both of those events happened overnight, finally coming to fruition on 15 April. Oh, and from a baseball standpoint, it is also the date on which Pete Rose was born. I’ll leave that to others as to whether or not that was an eventual good or bad thing for the game.

Jack: I learned last night listening to Alice Cooper on the drive home that Chris DeGarmo, the lead guitarist and songwriter for progressive metal band Queensrÿche became a professional business jet pilot after leaving the band in 1997. Interesting career path. Underrated band

Makakilo: “Evolution has endowed the brain with a multitude of mechanisms to tell time.” — Dean Buonomamo in his book, Your Brain is a Time Machine. His book briefly mentioned possible ways for the brain to react more quickly: increase the internal timer within the brain - possibly by shifting attention (pg 63), release of neuromodulators when a person experiences a fight or flight reaction (pg 70), enhanced and sharpened attention (pg 70), caffeine (pg 70), thousands of hours training (pg 70), increased focus (pg 71), and avoid blinking (“...every blink we take blanks out the raw input to the visual system...” pg 217).

DBacksEurope: The oddest fact I know is not odd at all, because it is common knowledge, but not many people know it. I once read an article in the National Geographic on the panda bear. I do not remember the exact number that was mentioned, but pandas poop around 50 times a day. So, I tell this a lot of times to friends of my kids because they think pandas are adorable and I think the poop fact is odd and funny and according to the laughs, they believe the same. Apart from it being funny, it is also very remarkable because the panda bear eats only bamboo and he needs to eat the entire day and poop so many times because his body is not able to process the food well. Life on earth is known to adapt, but apparently the panda bear hasn’t been able to adapt to his own diet. If after so many years the panda bear still hasn’t adapted to bamboo, which is odd, he should either change his diet or become extinct. I don’t know if we will witness one or another in our lifetime, but it is clear the panda bear is in an important spot at the crossroads of the future of its species. At that crossroads the panda is probably rolling himself around in feces, because apparently he likes that too. And the fresher the poop, the better. So let kids imagine that adorable panda bear covered in fresh poop and pooping 50 times a day. It is a hilarious fact. Edit: I just told my son this story again because he didn’t remember I told it before. It was a huge success again.

Dano: The DIA paid this fringe science dude named Eric W. Davis to do a preliminary study into the feasibility of constructing wormholes in 2009. Davis wound up theorizing that it would require about the mass of Jupiter to stabilize a one-meter diameter wormhole, and amusingly noted in the heading for the final section of the study that “Constructing a Traversable Wormhole is not Easy.” The USAF also paid this guy $25,000 in 2003 for a preliminary study regarding psychic teleportation. Our tax dollars at work!

Poll

Who do you blame most for the bad season?

This poll is closed

  • 58%
    Ownership
    (24 votes)
  • 17%
    The GM
    (7 votes)
  • 14%
    The manager
    (6 votes)
  • 9%
    The players
    (4 votes)
41 votes total Vote Now