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SnakePit Round Table: The Firings

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The D-backs made changes. But were they enough or the wrong kind?

Colorado Rockies v Arizona Diamondbacks Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images

The D-backs parted ways with their hitting coaches. Too little, too much, the wrong people, or they got it right?

Turambar: Gotta start somewhere I guess? I think we all knew heads were gonna roll, just a matter of time really. Also they’re likely only the first dominos to fall, and with that in mind I’m not even sure if they’re the “right ones” to get axes. Change is needed though, that’s for sure.

Makakilo: At the point that Darnell Coles was hired, Lovullo intended that Coles work with hitting strategist Robert Van Scoyoc. Sometimes intentions are overrun by reality. Laker/Scoyoc/Coles would have been a “three-headed monster that’s going to be attacking whatever they can to help the hitter get better on a daily basis.”

That specific three headed monster did not happen. About a month after Coles was hired, on 28 November, the Dodgers hired Van Scoyoc as their hitting coach (where he had success). It appears that the Diamondbacks did not replace Van Scoyoc. It is unclear whether Darnell Coles as the Diamondbacks’ hitting coach reached the level of Cerberus.

Three reasons that the Diamondbacks may have gotten it right.

  • The hitting coach is responsible that batters in slumps rapidly recover. This season, a few of the best batters had a great OPS in April and after that not as great. Examples were Carson Kelly, Eduardo Escobar, and Ketel Marte (although in June he is looking 80% as great as April). Data from Baseball Reference.
  • The Diamondbacks’ hits with RISP dropped since the start of the season. In the first 30 games of the season, hits were 0.21 per RISP PA. In the next 35 games, hits were 0.17 per RISP PA. As a point of reference, in 2021 league average was 0.21 hits per RISP PA. Data from MLB.com and Baseball Savant.
  • The Diamondbacks’ runs per game dropped since the start of the season. The following chart shows how the 10-game average of runs scored per game fell. Data from MLB.com.

How to recover to the higher level is uncertain. Perhaps the new hitting coaches will find a path.

Dano: Definitely too little, though beyond that I can’t say. Starting with the hitting coaches seems a bit odd, though, given that pitching is our problem. That, and strength and conditioning, especially for the pitching staff.

Jack: This organization is in trouble from top to bottom. We can dissect it 6 ways from sunday. Ownership, and the cumulative effect of their poor decisions over the years has had a devastating impact on the long term health of the team. The current baseball operations team (GM, Asst Gms, Scouting, Player Development, Coaching, Analytics, ALL of it), while all extremely dedicated, hard working and well meaning, and having started out behind the 8 ball to begin with, have as yet failed to identify and develop enough of the right players.

The result is that the players that are on the roster are probably not good enough to produce a winning record in the first place and they’ve performed even well below that modest threshold. The season has spiraled completely out of control. Changing the hitting coaches is deck chairs/Titanic level problem solving at this point. Maybe it needed to be done, but it’s not going to solve anything.

James: Torey Lovullo insists the decision was his to move on from Coles and Hinske. If that was the case, and there is no reason to suggest it wasn’t, then so be it. The manager has to have faith in his coaches to get the most possible out of the players on his roster. If he doesn’t, there will inevitably come a time when players and management are no longer on the same page due to lack of clear, open, communication. That said, I think Coles is a talented hitting coach. It is going to be interesting to see how the organization goes about replacing him in the long-term. If this club was even halfway functional, I would likely be in support of handing the job to the interim coaches and seeing what they can produce out of the players. This club is in serious trouble though. They need to find/invest in top-tier coaching across the board. Dave McKay cannot do everything on his own.

Steven: I have a hard time believing hitting coaches have that big of an influence on hitters. The talent just isn’t there on the field and the talent isn’t there in the staf to get the most out of the talent they have.

Another ten-game losing streak. What is going wrong?

Turambar: Everything? It seems like each night has some new frustration in store for us be it pitching, hitting or on the field missques. It’s a mess all around.

Dano: Pitching, pitching, pitching. Not a metrics guy, but WAR seems to be a meaningless metric when we don’t even have replacement-level arms to staff our rotation and bullpen. The offense hasn’t been great, but it hasn’t been the worst. Our starters, year to date, have been the worst in the majors at surrendering runs. Our bullpen has been the fourth worst in the majors. That’s it, right there.

Jack: I’ll take a slightly different view than Dano. We both agree pitching is the biggest problem on the team. However WAR actually captures this quite well. Here is original link to the table below as the image may be small. One can see there that in total the D-backs show 0.0 Wins Above replacement for starting pitching, better than only the Pirates., and -1.2 for relief pitching, by far the worst in the league, and the composite -1.3 (rounding) is also by far the worst in the league. (Note the league averages at bottom of table) It’s pretty damn accurate actually.

On top of this, the D-backs have managed to be at the bottom of the table at BOTH Second base and Centerfield. The failure to put a decent centerfielder on the roster and just play Marte at 2b where he belongs has been a disaster. It’s no longer debatable.

One other very important point. The DBacks have 3.6 WINS above replacement (pitching, hitting, defense combined) at the moment. We are roughly 40% through the season. A replacement level team is set to win 48 games over the course of162 game season, and through 65 games, that works out to 19.3 wins. Add 3.6 to 19.3 and the Dbacks should have 23 wins. They have 20. So they are just 3 wins shy of where they “should” be if you take leverage out of it. The way they have performed in leverage situations leading to their 1 run game record of 2-14, whether you attribute it to coaching or the players or some combination of both, has cost them 3 wins. If you take the estimate that Jim highlighted from Baseball Prospectus that injuries have also cost them 4 wins, that would bring them to 27-38. That’s still only a .415 W% or a 67 win pace for a full season. They were projected to win 72 games. If you want to disagree with BP and increase the wins lost to injury by 50% from 4 to 6, that gets you to 29-36, which is a 72 win pace. Adjust for luck. Adjust for injuries. Adjust for poor coaching.There are legit cases to be made in each area. You STILL only can nudge them up to their pre season projection of 72 wins. This roster just isn’t good enough, but obviously they shouldn’t be on a 50-112 pace either.

James: Where should I start? There is the increasingly indefensible decision to continue mandating that Ketel Marte play primarily (only) as a center fielder. There are still veteran bats (I’m looking at you porn-stache Walker, old-man Vogt) who are taking ABs from more productive players while also not pulling their weight in the lineup. Then there is the atrocious bullpen, which the F.O. is still not willing to entirely raze. Lovullo said it well the other day when he pointed out the team is playing like it is trying not to lose, rather than playing to win. In no place is it more apparent than with the bullpen. The only arm coming out of the bullpen that is taking the mound with any confidence or swagger is Young.

On the other side of the spectrum, there is Soria. The moment he is inserted into a game, the countdown begins. Can he get his outs before he coughs up the lead? In 16 appearances this season, Soria has had only two clean ones, and one of those was a one-batter appearance. His WHIP is 1.60 and his FIP is over 5.00. This bullpen needs an overhaul, and it needs one made up of pitchers with option years remaining so that, when they are crapping the bed, there is a way to take them off the roster for a while. If there is any place the organization has young depth to experiment with it is in the bullpen (and at first). It’s time to begin aggressively testing and evaluating the young pitching talent. The vets can all take the rest of the season off.

Makakilo: The latest losing streak was about 50% lack of hitting and 50% pitching. A rough breakout follows (through nine games):

  • 4 games, Diamondbacks scored 2 runs or less
  • 1 game, 1 for 17 with RISP, Dbacks scored 5 runs and lost the game by 1 run.
  • 2 games due to starting pitching (game scores above 50 were 2 less than I expected)
  • 2 games due to relief pitchers (includes closers and non-closers).

Steven: An ERA of 5.57 and a wRC+ of 69 just isn’t going to cut it. Simple as that. The longer this team keeps this up, the less return they’ll get for their own players.

Predict when the D-backs will win their next road game.

Dano: Maybe the 27th or 28th of July, when we visit the lowly Rangers? Perhaps August 23-25, when we take a trip to Pittsburgh? Or maybe next year? Sorry, that’s bleak, but it’s what I got.

Jack: YCPB. The odds say they are due to win a game however, so I’ll say they take one of 4 in San Francisco this week.

James: It is incredibly hard to sweep a four-game series, so I am going to predict it happens in the upcoming San Francisco series. Besides, the Giants are starting to get a bit banged up, so there is a chance the Diamondbacks could luck into a soft roster.

Makakilo: 15 June against the Giants. FanGraphs predicted the matchup will be Matt Peacock vs Sammy Long.

  • Although his latest start was disappointing, Matt Peacock is one of my favorite pitchers. I prefer him in the bullpen. Nevertheless, he is usually effective as a starter.
  • Sammy Long lacks experience, and that lack is favorable for the Diamondbacks. He has never started a game in the Majors. He started 1 game in AAA, and 4 games in AA.

Steven: They’re going to steal a game against the Padres to stop it just short of 2 months without a road win.

At what point would you just blow it all up?

Dano: Now, honestly. Our offense honestly isn’t terrible, but we have nothing resembling a functional pitching staff. Thus we can’t win ball games. And there’s no discernable light at the end of this tunnel. It’s just more tunnel.

Jack: I was talking to one scout in the press box last night. He was saying they need to move on from most of the veterans and re-stock the farm. So I started going down the list with him player by player, and asking him what level of prospect he thought the team might get back. I pulled up the contracts, years of control for each, and their stat cast metrics, (as a proxy for scouting, because other teams are looking at that too). By the time we got done going down the list he just looked at me and said…….”boy are they effed”.

I also noted in Snakebytes that teams will be hesitant to trade MLB ready prospects because of all the injuries and the depth issues this year. But of course long range prospects are more difficult to evaluate due to no minor league season last year. Layering on top of that, even the “buyers” may be less willing to take on payroll against the current financial landscape with the large losses not only from last year, but this year as well due to limited attendance for the first half of the year.

So it’s a tough year to be a seller and accomplish your goals, whether you are just trying to dump salary, get major league ready players, or go for long range prospects. Bad timing for the Dbacks all the way around.

There are no quick fixes. They’ll save some money, and hopefully reap some value on the player development end by opening up more MLB playing time for some of the younger players in AAA and AA. It will be ugly in the win loss column, but can’t be any worse than the current situation anyway. That’s all you’re going to get though, salary relief and development playing time for younger players. They aren’t going to get any high level prospects unless they move Ketel Marte.

Back at the end of 2016 I advocated they blow it all up in this fanpost, because they had the right trade chips to REALLY restock the system with high level prospects and that could have led to a quick turn around. It was pointed out to me in the comments I was probably even underestimating how many good prospects they could get back. Either way, the timing was right to do it then, but obviously Mike Hazen didn’t get the job by going to the interviews with a down to the studs rebuild sales pitch. Kendrick would have never gone for that. Since then the window to do such a thing slammed shut as they haven’t had the trade chips remaining to do it. When they traded Goldy after 2018 he only had 1 year of control left, which limited his trade value. Greinke had that huge contract, and as good as he is that contract limited his trade value also.

The pretend to contend route has only delayed the inevitable pain inflicted by the 2020-2021 disasters by a few years, but there will be none of the gain that might have been gotten had they taken their medicine when the time was right heading into the 2016-17 off season. We could have gone through this pain in 2017-2018 and have been sitting pretty by now with a bevy of 25-28 year old players in their prime. As I’ve said before, we’ll always have Archie’s triple. I hope that was enough to sustain your fandom, because that’s all we’ve got to show for the last 5 years, and the foreseeable future.

James: I’ve been pretty open about my desire to do a rebuild for a while now. The only players I consider keeping are Zac Gallen and Carson Kelly. I do honestly believe there is a path forward for the team to potentially contend for the Wild Card again by 2024 or 2025. Those two players are under control that long and are clearly superior players at their position. The organization has no one in the pipeline to replace them from within, and replacing them on the free agent market would be prohibitively expensive. Of course, if someone comes along and offers up a king’s ransom of near-ready talent for Gallen, I’m willing to listen. All the veterans need to go, that includes Ketel Marte. Marte is long gone before this team competes again. The team might as well cash in on his value now.

I do have concerns with trading Ahmed, mostly because he is so much more valuable to the Diamondbacks than he will be to another team. The Diamondbacks have no one else ready to play shortstop. Perdomo’s bat is clearly not MLB-ready. Josh Rojas is a defensive butcher at short. There are ways the team could address this, including getting a shortstop in a trade, or possibly taking a flyer on a minimum cost retread to finish out the season at the position. The young talent needs to be getting the lion’s share of the playing time at this point though. Start by overhauling the roster with the best potential in the system and see how high that can go. Then, in the offseason, start spending smarter instead of harder.

Makakilo: Mike Hazen got it right; Blowing it up was not the best path. The Diamondbacks’ vision of a team that can sustainably compete is closer than ever, albeit it has not yet manifested.

Steven: I don’t know why they haven’t done it yet honestly. You’re spending $94 million on a roster to lose 100+ games this season, so why not cut the bull, shed all your contracts and be profitable.

Shohei Ohtani for MVP. Discuss.

Dano: Yes, maybe. I don’t know what other players on other teams deserve to be in the conversation this year, so maybe there’s someone performing so much better on either the pitching or hitting end that they surpass Ohtani’s talents and success on both sides. But the dude is having a fairly massive amount of success both as a pitcher and as a hitter. Also, he steals bases, because of course he does. I’m pretty sure that nobody alive and watching baseball today has seen this kind of two-way talent and success from a single player.

Jack: MVP voters typically don’t like to vote for a player on a non playoff team. But they may not have a choice this year. The top performing players are mostly on teams that might not make the playoffs. In fact you have to get down to #8 on the current WAR list before you get to a player on a team currently in a playoff spot. (Carlos Correa at 8, and Lance Lynn at 10) So there is actually a pretty decent chance Ohtani does win it if he continues doing what he’s doing for a full season, even if the Angels don’t get into the playoffs. Big if of course due to how taxing it is, which we saw this weekend at Chase Field. He’s such a dynamic player though. He just JUMPS off the field at you, and you can’t take your eyes off him. (Hat tip Nik...yes, he’s dreamy)

James: If he can stay healthy, the trophy is his to lose.

Makakilo: As I wrote in my series preview, Ohtani is an exciting player in 3 ways (pitching, batting, and base stealing). In the series, as a pitcher his average game score against the Diamondbacks was 56 (better than average). And he hit two doubles (one RBI) that game.

“When he is faced with a dilemma, he turns up that dial. The velocity shows up, he throws even more strikes. Love it. Absolutely love it. He’s out there, he knows exactly what he’s doing at all times. I mean, exactly. An incredible athlete with a high acumen. So he dials it up and he gets tougher when it matters. Pretty much a brilliant night for Shohei.” — Joe Maddon

What’s the best experience you’ve had seeing a film in the theater?

Dano: I think I’ve narrowed it down to three, which is the best I can do.

  1. A screening of an actual film copy of “Blade Runner” that I saw at The Loft Cinema here in Tucson a few years back. I’d never seen it on a big screen before, so that was brilliant, and I could also drink beer while watching it.
  2. Seeing the first “Star Wars” in the theater, when I was five years old. ‘Nuff said.
  3. IIRC, my college screened Peter Greenaway’s “Prospero’s Books” on campus soon after it came out. I’d read “The Tempest” once or twice before that, and it’s one of Shakespeare’s most interesting plays on a lot of levels, but this particular film adaptation was so weird and visually stunning that it kinda blew my mind. Made me realize, viscerally, what film can do that stage productions or reading the play simply couldn’t. And it makes sense, in its deeply strange way.

Jack: The Exorcist, January 1974. I was 14 and in 9th grade. At our local theater on Long Island they seldom enforced the age restrictions. Remember, this was a more permissive time. Heck, our High School even had an outdoor student smoking lounge in the back of the school, which they put in place because they didn’t want kids smoking in front of the school. But I digress. For whatever reason I wasn’t able to go the night all my friends went. So I ended up going and waiting on a long line by myself. There was a girl in our grade I had a big crush on named Analiese. We talked a lot, but I never got the nerve up to ask her to go steady. She came walking out of the previous showing that night with her younger brother, ( I told you they didn’t enforce anything), and she stopped to talk to me and ask me why I was by myself.

She then offered to go back in with me and watch it together, little brother in tow of course, so I wouldn’t have to watch it myself. She told me I really wouldn’t want to do that. Imagine how that felt !. So in we went, I paid for her and her brother’s tickets too of course. When the movie started getting intense she grabbed onto my arm and I grabbed on hers and held on for dear life. It was thrilling and from that point on I could care less about the movie. We started going out, and dated “steady” for a year or so after that. She was awesome, just a sweet, kind, loving kid. She was my first girlfriend and I am really lucky she was.

James: I have had so, so, so many cinema experiences in my life that this is a difficult one for me. The film which kindled the flame of my love of cinema was Star Wars (in 70 mm), which I saw opening weekend at Cine-Capri. I was young and impressionable and completely blown away by the magic of what I was seeing on-screen. Getting to see the fully restored version of Spartacus on the original Cine-Capri screen was quite the treat. Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon might be one of the most visually stunning films I ever saw in the theatre and I was especially grateful that I saw it on a big screen, even if my bladder almost ruptured because I didn’t want to miss any of the last 30 minutes (which I was thinking was only going to be about 10 minutes). Some of the most fun I have had came when I went to go see Oscar. It was surprisingly entertaining and quite funny. I sat down expecting to just be mildly entertained, so I was quite surprised when I found myself getting into the comedy and waiting for yet the next big name to appear on screen.

The one movie I want to see on the big screen is Lawrence of Arabia.

Makakilo: Recently, I’ve had two extraordinary experiences.

  • The Metropolitan Opera showed a live performance of Porgy and Bess nationwide in theaters. I saw it at the Dole Cannery theater in Honolulu. It included behind the scenes interviews during intermissions. Wow.
  • At the Blaisdell Center in Honolulu, I saw Star Wars with live orchestra music replacing the sound track music. I felt an altered state of consciousness.

Jim: Just wanted to chip in on this one. A 1998 outdoor screening of The Fifth Element in Hyde Park, London, as part of a crowd of 10,000. Here’s my full opinion on the experience. But it’s the only movie I’ve ever been to, which was interrupted by Concorde flying overhead.