Dusty Baker Just got Fired!

I understand Mike Rizzo trying to make a statement that they have high expectations but that’s insane pressure that no one can live up to.  It might be acceptable if he had an agreement that he’s not likely to be retained if he doesn’t make the NLCS after two years.  That would be upfront expectations and they’re just keeping their word.  It’s also a disrespect to the level of competition that the Nationals think they’re entitled just because they’ve had a good streak of success.  They’re one step away from the Braves, Mets, and Phillies once again taking over the division because all three of those teams have built a pretty good system of young talent and they have better baseball markets.  Most of us don’t forget that the Nationals are just the revamped Expos.  I firmly believe that the best franchises retain good managers for a long time.  He’s not going to find a better manager than Dusty Baker.

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Addressing Popular Complaints: Line-up Changes

Line-up decisions are popular complaints on Twitter and fan forums.  The team is struggling and fans disagree with Lovullo’s line-up decisions.  Is that surprising?  I don’t think so.

First, let me begin this section on fan complaints by addressing second-guessing in general.  The team isn’t playing well and fans have their complaints.  It’s so convenient they complain when the team isn’t playing well.  It’s easy to feel like you’re right, and they must obviously be wrong because they have bad results with their decisions.  I am not saying some don’t complain when they’re playing well.  I have my complaints when they’re playing well.  I have noticed areas they need to improve.  But I don’t think Hazen is unaware of where they need to improve, which is why he went out and got JD and Hernandez.

That leads us to our main discussion.

There are several reasons why line-up changes are such a popular complaint and probably the most predictable.  The first reason is all the variables.  It takes at least nine players to fill out a line-up.  Then there are pinch hitters, double-switches, and pitching changes.  There are so many variables and things for fans to disagree with.  There is so much room for opinion.  One example of probably the easiest decision in making out the line-up is where to hit Goldy.  He either bats third or fourth.  He’s your best player and he gets the most plate appearances.  Lovullo has his reasons for batting him fourth after the Martinez acquisition, but many fans voice their disagreement.

Fans want to say that Lovullo isn’t consistent enough when he makes out a line-up.  Some fans want the same line-up every day, regardless of matchups.  Others understand there is a degree of variation but they want a lot more consistency and have specific players that they want to see more.

There are many problems with this complaint.  First, Lovullo is way more consistent than previous managers.  It’s hard to prove to those who haven’t paid attention.  You’d have to look at past game logs.  However, one indicator is how current players praise Lovullo for his communication and how he helps them know the expectations so they can focus on preparation.  Changes occur over the long season, especially when they acquire a player like JD Martinez.  Even with natural changes, the game logs show Lovullo’s consistency of who gets most of the reps and where they usually hit.

Line-up changes are always experimental.  There is no line-up in baseball that has the same pieces in the same spots all year.  They move guys in and out of spots to maximize production.  Teams track production per position and per spot in the batting order.  It is a formula where they look to maximize the output of all positions and all spots in the line-up.  For instance, the decision to bat Iannetta second is an experiment.  They will continue it if he continues to produce.  On the flip side, batting Pollock third versus a lefty is an experiment.  The hope is that Pollock will snap out of his funk and find consistency batting in front of Goldy or Lamb, but Pollock is a top of the line-up hitter either way.

Data and an eye tests help management make decisions.  When I say “eye test” I mean how a player looks because the data doesn’t always match in a smaller sample.  The point is that we do not see this management making rash or quick changes.  They make decisions and let it play out.  Then they tweak it and let that play out.  They have reasons for their decisions.  We’ve never had more information (more intelligence) used to make a decision.  It’s ridiculous for a fan to think they have more information (more intelligence) to have a better decision.  I have not met that fan and I don’t believe they exist.  I don’t believe they can exist apart from a major league organization or some lucrative role–writing books, advising organizations, etc.

That brings me to my last point and main problem with this complaint.  It entirely lacks analysis!  Fans who criticize line-ups usually have wild theories about Lovullo trying to please players more than he is trying to win.  They rarely mention specific players that should be in the line-up, and they never give reasons why management is wrong.  For instance, they don’t acknowledge that players wear down without rest.  They don’t explain how best to deal with it and why Lovullo (and Hazen’s) reasoning for resting (or sitting) players is bad.  They don’t realize that management’s efforts are also proactive–trying to help players turn things around quicker–and they don’t explain why they aren’t doing it as well as it should be done.  The analysis lacks why management has it wrong.

I would actually appreciate a good analysis that backs up this opinion.  So far Hazen (and Lovullo) have better reasoning and they’ve earned the benefit of the doubt because they use information.

They use data and other expert perception.  Have we stopped to think about how many experts are watching them play?  They have a hall of fame coach who they pay to watch the games and give his opinion.  They have Bob Brenly riding on the busses and available to give Hazen his opinion.  They have so many other experts who have been around the game in many different capacities (player, scout, front office), who are watching every pitch and using their experience to give their perspective.  I will give my opinion after the season is over, but I feel too puny and humble to say they are wrong.  It feels so foolish and arrogant to criticize anything valid while thinking they don’t see it.  One thing is for sure, criticizing line-up changes is the easiest criticism to sound smart and make it seem like I am right and they are wrong, but it’s completely fallacious.

I’ll say it again because it deserves repeating: we have never had more intelligence going into the decisions, and it’s the player’s responsibility to perform accordingly.

To the pessimistic fan

Let me encourage fellow passionate fans with some important perspective.  It seems like several are giving into pessimism on twitter and fan forums.

Remember when the D-backs were a very bad and disappointing team last year?  Remember how that felt?  I hate the feeling after one loss, but the feeling last summer was so awful for a passionate fan like me.  I’ll never forget how it felt to realize our playoff hopes were over in May.  It hurt worse to have all those high expectations after spending big in the offseason.

It wasn’t just last year.  The team was supposed to be good after an unexpectedly good 2011.  I don’t know why we thought the team would be so good after 2011.  But they teased us with a near .500 team for three years before things got really bad.  The core was good but they lacked a few key parts.  They were good enough to set-up probably the most disappointing season in 2016.

They are currently 15 games above .500.  They are 36-18 at home and only a few games under .500 on the road.  There is hope they’ll finish over .500 on the road.  They rank high in nearly every category.  They’re a good team.

With all the memories of how bad it has been, can’t we at least enjoy the fact that they’re currently 15 games above .500?  Is it really time to get negative and pessimistic?  No, it is time to be happy for where they’re at in the standings.  IF they fall, THEN we can get unhappy.  We can get terribly unhappy if that improbable event occurs.

But why be so determined to be unhappy?  Is it a coping mechanism for when things go bad?  Are we just preparing our hearts, where we’d rather be surprised than disappointed?  What kind of life is that?  Do we live like that in other areas?

It seems like the same fans who are pessimistic, are the same fans who never believed the D-backs had a chance this season.  They don’t really deserve to have an opinion, and should be the most optimistic of any because they’ve been more surprised than those of us who always believed they’re good.

Live is better if we live in the moment.  If we enjoy the good and morn the bad.  A feeling life is better than trying to cope with negativism.  Let’s be happy when things are good, refusing to let the unknown tomorrows distract us from the joy of today.  It’s good life advice and it’s good fan perspective.

 

What are the D-backs Playoff Chances?

One thing I know for sure: the same people painting a dark picture now are the same people who never thought they would have a chance before the season started.  I pay close attention and remember things well.  Their opinion is meaningless!  They’re just trying to predict what they’ve subconsciously thought all along in order to feel better about themselves.  If they were neutral or hopeful, I’d respect their opinion.  That describes a few, where their still hopeful but concerned.  That’s okay.

The good news is that the D-backs have played better over the last week or so.  While we don’t celebrate .500 mediocrity, at least it’s going in the right direction from where they were.  The big difference is run production.  They were averaging under 3 for two weeks to start July, whereas they ended July averaging close to what they did in June.  And they were .500 in the recent road trip, which isn’t a bad road trip that includes two winning teams.  The bottom line is that the D-backs are very capable of ending the season with two months over .500, which likely puts them in the playoffs.

Either the Brewers, Pirates, Cardinals would have to go on a Dodger-like streak, which is difficult because one of them will win the division and not probable that two will streak and the D-backs fall off.  That’s why Baseball Prospectus has the D-backs over 90% chance of making the playoffs.  Of course, some are still betting they don’t because it pays better to make long-shot bets.  Most of the money is for them making it.

The challenge the D-backs face is more focused on the top Wildcard spot when their schedule is more difficult than the Rockies.  It’s an important goal because the D-backs are better at home.  While some might see it as a bad thing, I see their tougher schedule as a good thing because it will help them be more prepared for the playoffs.  As we’ve seen with the Giants in 2014, when they went 88-74, it’s only important to get into the playoffs and be hot at the right time.  We won’t care whether they barely make it or clinch with a week to go, as long as they play their best baseball in the playoffs.

I can agree that hopes are low if the D-backs are playing under .500 baseball through August.  Someone said they’ll likely miss the playoffs if they’re under .500.  I don’t completely agree.  I think they’ll make the playoffs and do quite well if they’re one game under .500 from here on out, as long as they’re winning games and have good momentum going into the playoffs.  Here are the big picture likely scenarios:

(A) Worse case scenario is a steady decline and missing out on the playoffs;

(B) Second worse case is mediocre flat line (at or around .500) and losing quickly in the playoffs;

(C) Best case scenario is that they’re on the rise in the last two weeks heading into the playoffs, and it doesn’t matter whether they’re over or under .500 from here on out, as long as they’re playing well the last two weeks and make the playoffs because they could have a .600 record from here to the end and all the sudden tank with injuries during the last 3-5 games going into the playoffs.

Regardless of winning this game or that series, the last scenario of playing their best at the end is the ultimate result we’re aiming for.  They need to play every game as though they’re preparing for being their best in the playoffs.  We just saw them play that way against the Cubs, then they had a let down against the Giants.

Let’s resume this conversation after the current home stand.  It’s the most difficult stretch of games they’ve had so far.  It will reveal where they’re at.  Anything .500 or better is good versus these teams.

Looking for the big hit

While the D-backs have a dangerous offense, I’ve always said they’re learning to be consistent.  Looking big picture, they play in extremes.  They either score a ton of runs or they go into a collective slump.  There is not a lot of in-between.

I think the problem is that they’re always waiting for that big hit and the pressure mounts if they fail to get that big hit.  The big hit mentality is a lot of pressure because it’s low odds.  The big hit often alludes the D-backs when they have low scoring games.  They get several big hits when they score 5 or more.  They actually score a lot of runs and have a good run differential.  However, they can be better.

It would help them get that big hit if they take the pressure off by getting the easier runs.  The easier runs are those when you have a runner on third with less than two outs.  I wish there was a stat that showed how well they did but I’ve watched all of their games and I would say it isn’t very good.

The Diamondbacks will pull out of this nosedive maneuver

Hopefully the off day helps the players because it’s also good for the avid fan to take breather and get perspective.

Fortunately they’ve won enough be in good shape after playing so poorly the last couple of weeks.  For instance, they would be sellers if they were closer to .500 when they started struggling.  Instead, this bad stretch does not take away from the larger body of work and they still have one of the best records in baseball.

Also, since July seems to be their down month, the AS break could not have come at a better time.  If they were going to be losing games, it means they have less games to lose.  Plus, they can still get over .500 on the month and get this thing going in a better direction.

The offense is the biggest problem right now.  It puts too much pressure on the other aspects (pitching and defense) when they’re only averaging 3 runs a game since June 28th.  They were averaging 5.9 runs a game June 1 – June 27.

I believe AJ Pollock will help jump start the offense.  He is still in Spring Training mode because he had so much time off and he hasn’t had a lot of at bats.  He’ll eventually click and have a big series.

I’d much rather they struggle now than the last month.  They need to get themselves out of this funk and get back to how they were playing the first three months of the season.  Then they need to finish the season playing as well or better than they started the season.

I haven’t given up on these players.  The same fans giving up on this team are those who never thought they’d have a good team this season.  They really have no business getting upset or disappointed because they are fearing the result they thought would happen.  Fortunately none of us know what will happen and we don’t have to fear the worst.

They are way too talented overall and they have way too much character to think they’ll play terrible and fall out of the race.

Meaningful Trade Deadline

The Arizona Diamondbacks are finally contending for the playoffs.  They’re finally in a position to beef up their roster to try and win a World Series.  They’ve played so well to this point that it is no longer a crazy thought.

 

I’m glad they have Mike Hazen because he’s the first GM that I actually trust.  I can imagine he’s devoted hundreds of hours to have the best plan.  I’d expect no less than more of what he’s already done.  Hazen will look to add impact players that are not as obvious.  The obvious impact players will probably cost too much.

One thing we know is that Hazen has a plan that includes several desired areas of improvement and the possibilities.  When he took over as GM, Hazen’s moves were so quick and deliberate, as though he already had a plan.  Hazen knocked it out of the park with his offseason moves, likely earning GM of the Year.

The first thing he did was hire a better communicator to manage the team.  Lovullo might just earn manager of the year in his first season!

Hazen drastically improved the catching by cutting a well liked but bad defensive catcher, while signing two well respected veterans.  Say what you want about Mathis’ offense, but he earns a roster spot for how he works so well with Greinke.  He does more than that too.  Iannetta is probably better offensively than Welly.  Turns out he’s more of a leader too.

Then Hazen uses his best trade chip to get a young top of the rotation pitcher.  Walker wasn’t cheap but he wasn’t nearly as expensive as he’ll be after this season.  He has shown to be a great pick-up that probably hasn’t peaked, which is exciting since they have four years of control.

Then Hazen signs a bunch of potential high reward veterans to low risk contracts.  Say what you want about Rodney’s two very bad weeks, the relief pitching is better and still ranking at the top of the league.  At least we can say that Rodney has the potential to dominate, which is pretty good for 2 million.  The cool thing about the bullpen is that they’ve done so well with barely using their depth.  Rubby, Barrett, and others should provide key contributions down the stretch.

I’m eager to see what Hazen does.  I know he’ll do something.  My guess is that he’ll add pitching, most likely a reliever.  I think he’d add the right position player.  He’s not going to overpay for anyone.  The only way he’ll trade away valuable prospects is if he’s getting several years of control.

While I’d like to see them add an impact hitter like Andrew McCutchen, I’d rather bet that Hazen uses the deadline as an opportunity to add pitchers who have options and are on the cusp of making it into the rotation.  Their current starters ready to make big league appearances are Shipley, Banda, Koch, and Clarke.  It would be nice to add to this depth. I say that because I don’t think Hazen believes in the old school approach of buying and selling.  He’s not going to give into the pressure of selling the farm for a rental or in order to buy a short term player.

Fangraphs had the wild idea that Hazen considered Sonny Gray as a reliever.  Maybe they’re trying to find more versions of Archie Bradley?