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SnakePit Round Table: #Torey2022

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Torey Lovullo’s return next year was confirmed this week. Do our writers like the move?

Philadelphia Phillies v Arizona Diamondbacks Photo by Norm Hall/Getty Images

What’s your reaction to the Torey Lovullo contract extension?

Wesley: I think it’s a wise decision. This has been a really unlucky year with the amount of injuries we have had, and it’s hard to evaluate how good/bad Lovullo really has been. Giving him one more year seems like a good decision to me.

DBacksEurope: I have vented my opinion on this issue more than once: in comments and in a different round table.

I think Torey Lovullo deserves the contract extension of a year:

  • Torey has had a bad team to work with (my pre-season prediction was 65 wins)
  • Torey has been formidable in defending the club and team in every media appearance.
  • Torey doesn’t have any actions and doesn’t make remarks that make your stomach hurt.

You might think: I can do that too. But working in a high-pressure environment like Torey does, taking sh*t day after day for the terrible performance of your team, showing your face and maintaining a smile and being polite is not an easy job. Just take a look at many (stupid) comments on a platform like Twitter and you can see Torey is accused of a lot of things he actually is not guilty of.

But that takes me to a different question? For what is Torey accountable?

Well, first of all, the coaching staff. I understand that staff, although maybe put forward by the club, needs some kind of approval or at least requires Torey to be fine and comfortable with. The previous hitting staff was appointed with Torey’s approval. The current pitching staff was appointed with Torey’s approval. The Diamondbacks have poor hitters in general and I believe it is hard to turn around someone’s hitting capabilities. With pitching on the other hand I think it is possible for players to turn around their performance: there are too many success stories about that. In that regard, it was gut-wrenching for me to read Matt Herges’ comment in Nick Piecoro’s article on Robbie Ray’s success in Toronto. Herges, Piecoro wrote, “wishes he had spent more time with Ray trying to understand the reasons behind Ray’s mechanical changes”. While I appreciate the honesty, I do not wish to read comments like that from our coaching staff.

Secondly, the way the Diamondbacks perform on the field. Together with some other teams we are bottom of the league in errors, fielding percentage and defensive runs saved. That is not too much of a surprise, of course, but it is remarkable for a FO that has always prided itself of having one of the best defensive teams in the league. That we have fallen that far down this year is a problem, although, thanks again to the great beat writers the Diamondbacks have, an article from Zach Buchanan on The Athletic made me understand that the absence of Dave McKay has cost us a lot more than just a great first base coach: he has been one of those wizards that has been responsible for our defensive success in the past.

Lineups, bullpen decisions, putting players out of their position (multi-positional versatility), shifts, etc. seem to come out of the brain of our faulting and disappointing statistics department. So we probably cannot blame Torey for that. But once those decisions are made we still have chemistry between players and staff and day-to-day routine plays that have to be executed. I think we are not performing well there. The remark Herges made on Robbie Ray has left me with questions, the many errors has left me with questions and in general we all think this team is better than its current record shows (but still not competitive). So, Torey is not getting the most out of his players nor out of his team. Should the Diamondbacks have given Torey Lovullo an extension? Well, we will not be much better next year, so will it make a difference if we have a different manager? I do not think so, so I am at peace with the decision from the FO to extend Torey.

Jack: Thanks to this tour de force response from DBE, I don’t have a lot to add. I think he covered it in an extremely well balanced manner and hit the key points. I agree with most of what he said. I have been regretting the poll I put up in the article about Torey getting the extension. Rather than looking backward, the poll question should have been worded in a way so that it is looking forward. If I had that to do over I’d phrase the question like this: [Jim...hint hint]

Poll

Is Torey the best choice to lead the Diamondbacks in 2022?

This poll is closed

  • 66%
    Yes, he’s the best man for the job and deserves another chance
    (32 votes)
  • 33%
    No, he’s failed at his job and should have been replaced
    (16 votes)
48 votes total Vote Now

James: I find Lovullo’s extension refreshing. This franchise has, since its inception, been prone to wild knee-jerk reactions when it comes to the manager and the front office. There has been no “weathering the storm” to speak of. One bad stretch has been all it took to create a “crisis” which could only be resolved by a rash of firings. Sure, sometimes those were necessary. Many times, they were not. This is one of those times it was not. In many ways, I feel as if extending Lovullo is the front office making the tacit admission that this season’s failures are largely on them, not Lovullo.

When I look forward, I am asking myself if there is anyone in a better position to understand this team and to help get it turned around. Anyone brought in to replace Lovullo is going to need to come from outside if there is going to be any sort of significant culture change. If they are coming from outside, then the team is going to lose most of next season’s development time to the new manager simply becoming personally familiar with the organization on an intimate level. Lovullo is already there. While I may question some of Lovullo’s managerial choices, I have also seen him learn from mistakes. If he keeps learning from mistakes, I’m okay with that.

DBE and Jack both sum up most of what I am feeling. Also, as part of that looking forward, I find myself asking, “Who is available that would be a clear and convincing upgrade across the board?” I’m not interested in making yet another managerial change just for the sake of putting a fresh face on the hot seat. If a change is going to be made, it needs to be for a decidedly clear upgrade, one which is a needle mover. I can count on one hand the number of candidates I feel fall into that category. If I stretch it some, it still doesn’t reach 10 candidates. Of those, maybe three or four are not already spoken for. At least one of them, Matt Quatraro, has absolutely no incentive or reason to come to AZ, not when he is already the man-in-waiting in Tampa, where he gets to continue experiencing winning and playing competitive ball year-in and year-out. So yes, please, extend Lovullo, stay the course, complete what was started back in 2017. As for the rest of the coaching staff though, now that is another matter entirely.

Makakilo: DBE was right that Torey Lovullo deserved a contract extension. One additional point is that Mike Hazen said he was, “...very proactive with a lot of our younger players.” That was especially remarkable because he was proactive in this season’s environment which required many actions that were primarily reactive and intended to make the best of a bad situation.

Mike Hazen said changes will be proposed to Ken and Derrick. My view is that the proposals could include creating a new coaching position for a college pitching development coach who had demonstrated excellence in developing pitchers. My view is aligned with DBE that the unexpected absence (due to injury) of Dave McKay was a contributing factor for the drop in the team’s defensive measures. Perhaps his position will be restructured to match his post-injury physical capabilities.

Steven: Torey was the cheapest known option that has familiarity with the current front office. I posted an article reviewing manager salaries from 2018 and Lovullo was near the bottom of the list as a first timer. They may have given him a raise, but he’s still going to be inexpensive in comparison with other managers. It’s a money issue first, then managerial fit next.

Dano: Everyone else has much more knowledgeably and much more substantively made the various cases for why this was a good extension, and I agree mostly with all of them. So all I have to add is that I’m happy with this outcome as well, not necessarily because the team is going to suddenly contend or something next year under Torey’s continued leadership, but more because my sense since he arrived has been that he’s been a very good influence on the players he manages, and the problems the team has right now that he might be blamed for aren’t actually things that are under his control. Roster/signing/personnel decisions? Nope, Torey doesn’t get to decide. Who we draft, and how we choose to approach their development as we try to get them ready for the Show? Again, nope, Torey doesn’t get to decide. All he has control of is what to do with who might take the field for us on any given day, and given the truly terrible hands he’s been dealt pretty much this entire season, I feel like he’s done as well as anyone could.

What does it tell you about the team’s plans going forward?

Wesley: It tells me next year is an evaluation/rebuild year. Expectations should be low going into next season.

DBacksEurope: in all honesty, I am not sure. I would hope that Mike Hazen comes to sense and admits that this is a bad team. If in the pre-season you think you are going to be competitive but end up with maybe a franchise loss record, something is terribly wrong in your assessment. The other day when asked whether the Diamondbacks were going to compete or rebuild, he answered something like he needed time to be able to answer that question. Wow… I hope he answered the question that way, because he was thinking about the message he needs to transmit to the owner, Ken Kendrick. When dealing with executives it is important how you transcribe something so you need to be careful with the words you use. Hazen sold Kendrick a plan and I think rebuilding was not part of that. Changing a plan to include a rebuilding phase may be a lot harder to draw than we, fans, might think. Kendrick has money invested in players that were not part of a rebuilding plan (Bumgarner, Ahmed, Peralta, Calhoun…), but probably rather a bridge to catapult us to perennial contention. So now Hazen is going to say to Kendrick that this same money, instead of getting us close to contention, is dead money during a rebuild? I am glad I am not Mike Hazen!

But Hazen, and thus Hall and Kendrick, cannot be blind either. Expecting this team to be competitive next year is a fairy tale. For the D-Backs to become competitive next year they would have to be very aggressive on the market and they haven’t been that since this FO took over. So, I think this team will be a lame duck again this off-season, because I do not expect a complete tear down either. But I believe Kendrick does not want to hear about a rebuild either. So we will probably lower the expectations when compared to previous seasons and continue retooling. That lame duck-policy might fit with the decision to renew Torey Lovullo.

Jack: The emphasis on Torey’s player development background by Mike Hazen was a clear indicator as to why they retained him. The team will continue to emphasize youth and bringing along younger players and pitchers as much as possible without ever calling it a rebuild. There will still be a few veterans on the team for us to complain about of course.

James: Essentially, it tells me that the plan has not really changed any, that this team is going to now try to weather the storm for once and see what fruit bears from the tree that Hazen started planting when he took over in 2017. This team was always destined to have the bottom fall out. It was just not expected for things to get this bad. On the other hand, COVID came along and really screwed things up, creating mountains out of what might have otherwise been molehills. I don’t expect to see much in the way of drastic changes. That’s actually a good thing - I think.

Makakilo: Mike Hazen said, “This was the first team where we’ve really tried to integrate a lot of our younger players on our club.” He also said, “...there’s no true homegrown team anywhere out there, so we’re still going to have to execute from the external.” My conclusion is that Mike Hazen will focus on acquiring players and Torey Lovulllo will proactively focus on developing many of the players to their full potential and he will integrate all the players into a powerful team..

Steven: Torey specifically mentioned “developing young players ‘right in my wheelhouse’”. Expect young players and another dreadful losing season with Hazen finally going full rebuild. I just hope he gets a chance to see it through to the end. Of course, Kendrick could grow impatient with losing/lack of attendance/low revenue and cut the cord early but I really don’t see that happening anytime soon.

Dano: I honestly think that it’s too soon to tell. I hope that management has accepted that next year is going to be a developmental year, and won’t be too concerned about short-term results. What they do in terms of free-agent signings in the offseason will tell us more, I think, in terms of their expectations and whether they’re changing direction at all in terms of trying to find a path to make the team more viable as a contender in the shorter term. We shall see.

What mark do you think the team needs to see in 2022, to exercise Lovullo’s 2023 option? Or is the record not relevant?

Wesley: I would think the team needs to be over .500 and have a winning record. Hard to put the mark at making the playoffs in such a tough division, so going from a historically bad season to at least a winning season seems reasonable. If we make the playoffs, I’d imagine it’s a sure thing the 2023 option is picked up.

DBacksEurope: I think the record will be very important because that is what is visible to the investors in this team. You can’t sell to an owner that this or that player has improved his BA with 0.011 or his fWAR is now 2.0 instead of 1.1 and his dWAR bla bla bla. “The kids that have come up from our farm are doing great” or “we have great performers at AA” are useless terms if the big boys are grossing in losses. Expecting the team to have a winning record is, unless you are gifted with optimism in the range of Makakilo’s, an improbable goal to achieve and I think that Ken Kendrick and Derrick Hall will not ask for the impossible. But there will be some goals to achieve, I am sure, and one of those is the total number of wins. While I do not think it will be a decisive factor, another season of 50-60 wins will lead to the end of Torey here and will put Mike Hazen’s future in jeopardy as well (although I think Mike would be given another shot for maybe 2 years with a new manager). That is, because I do not think this team will revert to a complete tanking (like we have done this season without wanting it). Right now, before Sunday’s matinee game, 70 wins gets you into the bottom 10 of the MLB. 64 wins puts you in the bottom 5 of the MLB. That is still a high draft pick. I think the Diamondbacks will aim at 70 wins next year. That could be considered as a great improvement over the current season. Anything over those 70 wins will be great. A margin below it will still get you a high draft pick.

Makakilo: Although managing a team with many young players actively developing skills is in Torey Lovullo’s wheelhouse, it is relevant because his position is only as secure as Mike Hazen’s position and expectations for the team to sustainably compete are growing every season. Perhaps the mark is 62 wins against all teams except the Dodgers and the Giants, which is a .500 team. Any wins against those two teams would be gold stars.

Recently, Mike Hazen said, “...we need to focus on where this thing is going to swing up…” Even without reaching the mark, if a sustainable team strength emerges in one area that could be enough to extend Torey Lovullo.

Jack: I think the team needs to avoid a slow start. If they get off to a very bad start in April and May, then Torey may not even get to the summer. It’s only a one year extension, and as frugal as the team is, money won’t stop them from cutting bait after 2 months if they are 10-15 games under .500 by June 1. If they pass that hurdle and are reasonably competitive then the focus will rightly be on how the young hitters and pitchers are performing and whether or not enough of them are improving. However, if we are going to try to pin down a win total as an indicator of just how well the younger players are developing, I mentioned elsewhere that I think 73-89 is the bare minimum. They need to avoid 90 losses. The bar could be a bit higher than that of course, but I don’t think they need to reach .500 for Torey to get his 2023 option picked up.

James: I think it is almost impossible for the team’s record to not come into play when it comes to exercising Lovullo’s 2023 option. That said, I don’t think it will be the biggest factor. I believe that the bigger factor will be in how the youth develops. If the young talent continues to improve after being called up, that will go a long way towards securing that extra season for Lovullo. If, on the other hand, mental miscues and sloppy fundamentals continue to abound, Lovullo’s extension will not be worth the paper it is written on and Luvullo might not even make it to the All-Star break.. There are seven games left in the season. The team has 105 losses. That leaves them in position to still lose 110+ on the season. The most basic hurdle will be for the team to not lose 100 games next season.

More than likely though, I suspect the mark will be, as Jack posited, somewhere around not losing more than 90 games. Sadly, I’m not sure this organization has the near-ready talent to win 73 games next season. That would be a massive jump in productivity, one that cannot be half-accomplished through regression alone. I think the most important part for Torey will be to avoid a bad April and May. If he can survive until June without this team being among the five worst in baseball, I think he’ll be mostly secure until the end of the season, where a fuller evaluation can be made.

Steven: The baseball just needs to be acceptable to watch. Less silly mistakes, more composure and performance. The bar is pretty low however, and all it takes is a contending month early on to secure Torey’s spot.

Dano: I’m inclined to agree with Jack on this one, both on whether we need to play .500 ball or not and also how important the rhythms of the 2022 season turn out to play. If we bomb in the first month and change, Torey’s probably toast. If we can keep on a fairly consistent and even keel month by month, he’s probably good, even if that even keel consists of going 4-6 for each ten-game stretch.

Who will win the National League West?

Wesley: I am going to go with the Dodgers, but it really depends on who wins the Dodgers/Giants series. It honestly could go either way, and I am 50/50 on either team winning the division. I am amazed at how well the Giants have done this year.

DBacksEurope: I will not change from what I said a couple of weeks ago when planted a similar question in a different Round Table and therefore stick to the Dodgers, but after yesterday’s Dodgers’ loss at Chase Field I will not put any money on it. San Francisco is two games ahead and with just seven games left it is entirely theirs to lose. After today’s game at Colorado they will wrap up the regular season with home series against the D-Backs and Padres. The Dodgers will end the season against the same Padres, but also play the Brewers. The Brewers will probably not go deep and the Padres are out of contention, but the odds are not great for the Dodgers to win all games and expect the Giants to lose at least two out of seven.

Makakilo: The Giants! The Dodgers are 2 games behind the Giants, have a more difficult schedule ahead, and have no momentum after losing to the Diamondbacks.

Jack: Up 2 with 6 to go obviously the Giants have the advantage. But we’ve seen bigger swings the last week of the season. I think the schedule slightly favors the Dodgers as the Brewers have clinched and their playoff seeding is set too. So they’ll be setting up for the playoffs. If the Giants clinch, I hope it’s not until Friday. While I can temporarily root for them to win the division as a less evil alternative to the Dodgers, and they ARE a good story this year, I still hate the Giants too. I don’t want them celebrating while the D-backs are in San Francisco.

James: I’ve been calling it for the Dodgers all year. While last night’s game made that less likely, I still cannot shake the feeling that the Dodgers are going to find a way to win the NL West - somehow. On the other hand, If they fall another game behind, I don’t put it past them to concede the division and to start setting up their roster for the Wild Card. Sadly, the Dodgers are far better suited to emerge from the Wild Card gauntlet than the Giants. They know it too.

Steven: I’m going to pick the Giants because I dislike the Dodgers. Simple as that!

Dano: I’m picking the Giants as well. I also dislike the Dodgers, and SF is definitely less evil, but my expectation is that it will come down to the Giants closing out their season playing us and then playing the Padres, while FTD closes out their season facing the Padres and the Brewers. The Giants have an easier road, and they’re holding a 2-game lead in the standings as I type this. So.

The Cardinals have a 16-game winning streak. How much does that matter going into the post-season?

Wesley: I think it will probably hurt them more than it helps them, especially if they build up an extended streak and win the rest of their games.

DBacksEurope: it will help them a lot and riding that smoking hot bat will make sure that the Wild Card play-off in the NL is a 100% coin toss. The Cards have a 15-game winning streak! Wow! They still have four games left against the Cubs and will probably give all they have against the Brewers too, so I think they can maintain that pace although I expect them to add a couple of losses. They just got Dakota Hudson back, so that is good news for them, he might be able to contribute out of the bullpen. But getting into shape by the end of the season in a situation like the Cardinals are in right now is one of the best scenarios a manager can dream of. We all know what happened with the Washington Nationals just two years ago!

Makakilo: Two answers:

The winning streak will get them into the playoffs. In the best of all worlds, the Cardinals will beat the Dodgers in the wild card matchup. It would be delightful to see former Diamondback Paul Goldschmidt showcase his talent in the playoffs.

The Diamondbacks can observe ways that the Cardinals consistently win games and thereby the Diamondbacks will have longer winning streaks next season.

  • One observation is the importance of momentum. 16 consecutive wins is a powerful force. And that momentum included pitching (18 of the last 19 games they held the opponents to less than 7 runs) and batting (13 of the last 14 games they scored at least 3 runs).
  • Another observation is that they kept the streak going in several ways included pitching, defense, big innings, and three most excellent batters (Goldschmidt, Arenado, and O’Neill).
  • Another observation is the importance of the entire team. In games 10 and 11 of the streak, Goldschmidt/Arenado/O’Neill had a negative WPA and the rest of the lineup picked them up by scoring runs.
  • Another observation is that walks by the most excellent batters (Goldschmidt/Arenado/O’Neill) contributed significant WPA.

The following table shows ways the Cardinals kept their 15 game (now 16 game) winning streak alive.

Jack: I think it could help the Cardinals a lot. I can’t help but think about the 2007 Colorado Rockies. They were just 76-72 on September 15th, 4.5 games back of the Padres for the Wild Card and 6.5 back of the Dbacks in the Division. They won 13 of their last 14 to catch the Padres and force game 163, which they won. Then they swept the Phillies and D-backs in the playoffs to reach the world series. In all they won 21 of 22 games with win streaks of 11 and 10 sandwiched around the lone loss (Which was to the D-backs).

They closed out the D-backs in the NLCS on October 15th, then had to sit around waiting for the Red Sox until October 24th. That layoff cooled them off, and they were swept 4-0 in the World Series. Anyway, as long as the Dodgers and Giants both get knocked out of the playoffs as early as possible, I’ll be good with any other NL result.

James: I think the confidence and the momentum they have going into October baseball could actually make the difference in the one game play-in. I also think that, depending on who they face, that could be as far as they go. I just don’t see them beating the Dodgers or the Brewers in a best-of-five. I also feel that they would probably come up a bit short against the Giants, though I do think San Francisco is a lesser challenge for them. The fact that the Cardinals would be playing without any home field advantages for the entirety of the playoffs is not going to do them any favours either.

Steven: I think it’s a massive advantage to both team and player morale if you end your season on a hot streak, although there’s a difference in just how you’re winning games and where that streak is coming from. If your star players are performing well, that helps everyone, from role players to bench guys. The opposition’s reaction to needing to pitch around or eek out runs against star players is gut wrenching. Imagine going into the playoffs as an opposing pitcher knowing you need to be just about perfect if you’re going to win your matchup? That pressure just compounds on itself as the losses pile up.

Dano: As of now, it’s actually a 16-game winning streak. But, assuming they get to the postseason (which is not certain yet), I imagine it’s a big benefit as well. You get hot like they have, and you stay hot for as long as they have, it seems like the added tension and stakes of getting into the postseason could, if anything, kick it up a notch. To Jack’s point, though, I was also thinking of the 2007 Rockies, and that crazy tear they went on at the end of the season. If you stop, or you have some protracted downtime, you cool off and then your season probably ends unceremoniously. I could definitely see that happening for the Cardinals, depending on how things go. It’ll be interesting to keep an eye on.

If you could train any animal in the world to be your pet and protector, what would it be and why?

DBacksEurope: If it can be a non-existing animal, I’d choose Doraemon, the cosmic cat, he is a lot of fun. Or maybe Pikachu. But if it has to be a real and, I guess, a non-extinct animal and I take into account the surroundings where I live right now (an apartment) … I have no clue, Jim! I don’t have pets and I like them, but not to have them, so I really don’t know. A dog sounds like a fit for this, but I think they can already be a pet and protector nowadays, so … man … I have no creativity for this one!

Makakilo: I choose a Caudipteryx, a very small and social dinosaur with ornamental feathers. I would train it to do tricks to entertain my visitors, and eat weeds/bug pests in my garden.

Jack: When I was a kid we had a black Lab named Bali. He was perfect. Loving, affectionate, funny and goofy. But FEROCIOUSLY protective of me and my sister and my mom. I loved that dog. I’ve never owned a dog since, although we took care of my son’s Toy Poodle Maggie for a year, and she was really cute, but kind of neurotic too. Anyway, if I had to choose, I’d like Bali back.

James: For readers of Jim Butcher, I would have Dresden’s Temple Dog, Mouse. For those that don’t read Butcher, there just isn’t enough room here to describe Mouse’s awesomeness as both a loving friend and companion and fierce protector. If I have to stick with real-world, non-extinct animals, it would probably be a black panther from the jaguar family - either that or a Caucasian dog. Both of these would require me to live in a much larger place though. In my current setting I would likely need to settle for something much smaller and more traditionally domesticated.

Dano: Props to James for the Jim Butcher reference. I have not read a lot of his stuff, and not in many years, but props.

For me, obviously the answer would be some variety of preternaturally large turtle. I am pretty good at protecting myself, and I don’t seek out conflict, but if I need to I can react and respond quickly and effectively, so I don’t need an animal friend and ally to plug that gap for me. In the main, though, I try to move slowly and carefully, and observe the tactical situation wherever I am, and participate in whatever situation no more aggressively than I absolutely have to, but without being unduly defensive either. But having an animal friend and ally who is very well-armored, as am I, and who carries its home on its back, and who is very hard to materially damage, seems like it would be my perfect familiar. Because, let’s face it, that’s totally what this question is about: what creature would you choose, or would choose you, if you were in the market for a familiar?