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2021 Diamondbacks Reviews: #12 Manager Torey Lovullo

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Sal survives a 110 loss season to fight another day

MLB: Los Angeles Dodgers at Arizona Diamondbacks Allan Henry-USA TODAY Sports

Rating: 5.11

Age: 56

2021 Stats: 52 W-110 L Pythagorean Record: 61 W-101 L

2021 Earnings: N/A

2022 Status: Signed 1 year Extension on 9/23/2021, Team Option for 2022

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Introduction:

Torey Lovullo has spent almost his entire adult life in professional baseball. Drafted in 1987 at the age of 22 out of UCLA he began his career with the Detroit Tigers. He had 14 years as a player, including 8 years in the Majors and even a final season in 2000 in Japan.

After retiring as a player he went into coaching , and managed in the Cleveland minor league organization for 8 years. After 1 year managing for the Red Sox in Pawtucket in 2010 he reached the majors aagain as a first base coach with the Toronto Blue Jays in 2011. He later rejoined the Boston organization and had a stint as interim manager in 2015.

During the 2016-17 off season he was hired as Manager of the Arizona Diamondbacks , finding immediate success. Leading the team to 93 wins and a Wild Card Victory over the Rockies he won the Manager of the Year award. But in 2018 deep offensive slumps in May and again in September torpedoed their division title and Wild Card hopes. An outgunned 2019 team fell way behind the Dodgers early and were sellers at the trade deadline, moving Zack Greinke and others. The D-backs actually recovered after the sell off to ultimately win 85 games however, providing some hope for the future. Torey was given a 2 year extension prior to the 2020 season. Unfortunately the team fell flat in that Pandemic shortened campaign, getting off to a very poor start and finishing in last place at 25-35.

2021

Prior to the season starting Torey talked about discussions he had with A’s manager Bob Melvin, and others that helped him form the idea of utilizing his roster with the greatest possible flexibility. Moving guys around defensively to maximize offense and more frequent use of platooning were highlighted as intended strategies.

However the team battled injuries right out of the gate. Zac Gallen, Nick Ahmed, Kole Calhoun and Tyler Clippard all began the year on the IL. One week into the season the team’s best player Ketel Marte and their new closer Joakim Soria also went on the IL. A week after that Christian Walker went down. Not surprisingly the team got off to a slow start, going 5-10 in their first 15 games. But a 9-2 stretch to close out the month, (punctuated by the now famous double header sweep in Atlanta) got the team to 14-12 by the end of April just 2 games behind the 1st place Giants .

And then May happened. As the injuries continued to pile up, including Carson Kelly’s fractured toe, so did the losses. After splitting a couple of games with the Rockies, they went on a 6 game losing streak against the Marlins and Mets on the road. They followed that with a 3-4 home stand. Back out on the road they’d lose 7 straight to the Dodgers and Rockies, and were unable to break the streak at home until it ran all the way to 13 games. They ended up 5-24 for the month, 15.5 games out of first and the hopes of a playoff season already vanquished.

Incredibly, June was even worse. After getting a walk off win at home against the Mets June 1st, they went on to lose.....17 straight games. They would win just 2 more games for the month, to go 3-24 to fall to 22-60. Between May 16th and June 20th they were 2-31. They set a modern day road losing streak record of 24 straight games.

As all of this was happening, the toll it was taking on Torey and everyone else was palpable. Trudging into post game ZOOM meetings night after night the manager tried to explain the latest losses and what he was going to do to right the ship, but nothing worked. Night after night the bullpen gave up crooked numbers. On the rare nights they didn’t, the starters got blown out early, or the offense was nowhere to be found. Defensively the flexibility strategy completely backfired, as players playing out of position were racking up mistakes, miscues, and negative fielding runs. Some of the defensive misalignment was due to injury of course but not all of it. Much of the pitching woes whereby 4/5 of the rotation was out at one point were to blame as well. The lack of depth on the roster was exposed from top to bottom.

Nowhere were debates sharper here at the Snakepit however than over the use of pitchers. In his defense of the bullpen usage, Torey outlined how pitcher availability was dictated by not only appearances and pitches thrown in games, but also by a more complex matrix that included pitches thrown in the bullpen, and the number of “up downs”, and total workload. The medical staff seemed to have a great deal of control over this aspect of pitcher usage. I wrote an article in late September invoking the “When every button you have to push is the self destruct button “ meme, detailing just how hamstrung Torey was with this pen.

With such a bad bullpen it was often questioned why starters were pulled early or not left in the game to try to go an extra inning, But here again pitch count limits which seemed to be set by the front office and and medical staff weighed heavily in the decision making. Over the final couple of months Torey did seem to try sticking with the starters a bit longer however.

At the same time Torey seemed to stubbornly stick to strategies that were obviously failing. Base Stealing, previously a strength, seemed to all but be abandoned. Perhaps the injury and loss of coach Dave McKay played a big role in that. But it seemed inexplicable that the team would not try more small ball tactics during the losing streaks just to shake things up. Win a game....any game !! (Of course the very night I challenged Torey on this topic in the pre game interviews Josh Rojas would later get caught stealing at a critical moment in the game. Anti !)

Ultimately some heads started to roll, as the hitting coaches Darnell Coles and Eric Hinske were fired, replaced by Rick Short and Drew Hedman. This seemed curious at the time as pitching and run prevention were clearly bigger issues than the offense, even though the offense wasn’t good by any definition.

Torey himself survived the season however. After the depths of May and June, things went slightly better. The team went 30-50 over their final 80 games to finish 52-110, narrowly missing tying the franchise worse record of 51-111 set in 2004. Somewhat surprisingly perhaps, on September 23rd the team announced that Torey was given an extension for the 2022 season, with a team option for 2023.

2022

With a new Pitching, Hitting, and Bench coach on board Torey’s seat will most likely begin the season already warm. Extended losing streaks like May and June 2021 are unlikely to be tolerated. While few are expecting an actual playoff push, he and the organization simply cannot afford to have such a bad start again.

With over 35 years in professional baseball Torey has forgotten more about the game than I’ll ever know. But if I had one piece of advice to give him, it would be this:

Stay true to yourself. I heard you speak once about putting a little more distance between yourself and the players, letting the coaches take on more of the personal communication. This is a mistake. Your strongest attribute of all is your EQ and your ability to make people feel you care about them and get them to open up. While acknowledging the challenges two Covid Seasons presented, I believe you need to get back to the way you did it in 2017-2018. On the field all the time during BP and workouts. Circulating among the players, having those eye to eye conversations. Finger on the pulse, literally and figuratively. Sure, let the coaches do the heavy lifting when it comes to the details of the day to day work. But don’t abandon what you’re best at.

Good luck in 2022. We’re all gonna need it.

By Request, I have added a poll:

Poll

What is Torey Lovullo’s fate in 2022

This poll is closed

  • 23%
    Fired in Season
    (23 votes)
  • 35%
    2023 Option Declined at end of 2022 season
    (35 votes)
  • 40%
    2023 Option Picked Up end of 2022 season
    (40 votes)
98 votes total Vote Now