By now you’ve likely heard about Kevin Towers embarrassing himself with senseless comments over the lack of ‘grit’ from his team, specifically regarding hit by pitches on opposing batters. If you haven’t heard about this, you can read his thoughts here. In short, he thinks that it should be ‘eye for an eye’ on the diamond and there should be more retaliation for beaned Diamondbacks hitters. There are also implications of him suggesting that Kirk Gibson is soft and that there’s a problem with orders not being carried out. When it’s all said and done, Towers thinks there should be more hostility coming from the Diamondbacks towards their opponents, that much is clear.
When reading these comments, I can’t help but be reminded of Jason Parks of Baseball Prospectus and his now-famous hashtags, such as #want, #sparkle, #slack and #rig. Of these, it’s clear that Towers would like to see more #want and #rig from his team, especially his pitching staff (I suggest clicking on those terms to learn their definitions, but be warned, Parks and his hashtags are for a more adult crowd).
Yes, it would be great to see the staff really dominate the game by establishing the entire strike zone and make hitters uncomfortable at the plate, but the pitchers who can do that night in and night out are rare and expensive. Searching for #want and #rig? Look no further than Felix Hernandez. That guy takes the bump and absolutely owns its each time out. He costs $25 million a year, though. In some ways, you get what you pay for.
Hernandez also dominates the game by throwing a variety of strikes, not at opposing batters. Hitters are nervous because they don’t know if they’re getting the heat, a back-foot slider or a change that is as filthy as any pitch in baseball. Towers’ comments are naïve and sophomoric, suggesting that baseball players remain cavemen by physical displays of dominance. Want a display of dominance? Acquire a pitcher that can throw 200+ innings of sub 3.00 ERA baseball with a bunch of strikeouts year in and year out, that’s dominance.
Why Towers even speaks to the press about these things is beyond me. I’ve already taken issue with his comments on offseason moves and now he’s talking about beaning more batters. This is all a lot of unproductive jabbering that is getting the organization nothing but criticism in return. Adding these comments to the firing of Charles Nagy suggests that Nagy’s departure may have something to do with his frustration over a lack of retaliation. Who knows, but the comments are poorly timed to say the least and it’s not cool to throw your old pitching coach under the bus if that’s the case.
If Towers wants to change the demeanor of his team, he should do so through the inner workings of the organization. Coaching and personnel changes are a place to start this makeover if needs to be made, but that opens the door to an important question: is it really even beneficial to construct a team around a ‘grity’ personality?
Because we don’t have factors like ‘grit average’ or “wGRIT+” to analyze, it’s really hard to say. My gut reaction would be to focus more energy on acquiring productive players and building a productive roster. The current roster if full of guys who are pretty much average with a few exceptions in each direction. Wonder why Arizona finished .500? It’s an average team with the most average run differential in the league and an average payroll. No amount of pitching inside is going to change that.
With the news of Towers’ latest debacle running on the front pages of FanGraphs, ESPN, SB Nation and the like, I really just feel embarrassed. This is negative attention coming from someone who really has no reason to speak publicly on these matters. If they want to have internal discussions about hitting more batters because they think it will actually help the team win more games by putting more batters on base, then so be it, as stupid and misguided as it may sound. But for heaven’s sake, Kevin, don’t say to a reporter. In fact, don’t say anything to reporters, at all, period.
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