What is a Chief Baseball Officer? We’re due to find out, after the D-backs hired Tony La Russa to fill that newly-created role with the team. In a site editorial, we noted that while the hiring comes as a welcome change, there are still many questions about La Russa’s actual role.
La Russa will report to CEO Derrick Hall and managing owner “Ken” Kendrick, and both GM Kevin Towers and manager Kirk Gibson will answer to La Russa. This has the makings of an uncomfortable situation — remember that although Texas Rangers GM Jon Daniels reported to Nolan Ryan, a promotion of Daniels put Ryan in a very public limbo. As La Russa feels out the contours of his mandate and authority, there may be some ruffled feathers.
Soon after the news was announced, La Russa reported that he had been able to speak with Kirk Gibson, but that he hadn’t gotten a chance to talk with Kevin Towers. Still, given that the La Russa arrangements took at least a few weeks to iron out, I imagine that the thoughts or concerns of Towers and Gibson were heard, if not allayed.
So what will La Russa be doing? First up for La Russa is a tour of the minors, apparently. On the D-backs TV broadcast on Saturday, La Russa told Bob Brenly and Steve Berthiaume that the CBO position “really is the great unknown.” But he mentioned talking with players about how to make specific plays differently, so this is not your classic front office position. La Russa said on the broadcast that he’d start by setting priorities and gathering information — unless there was something urgent, like needing to scout targets for the draft (more on the draft from Jeff this week).
Jeff’s take on the La Russa press conference is that he would be intent on aligning the organization and their minor league affiliates to play a certain way. Jeff made an excellent point — that sounds like the Cardinal Way. Touring minor league teams and talking to players about individual plays sounds a hell of a lot like a job for a Chief Cardinal Way Officer. That’s probably what La Russa will be, although he will oversee MLB personnel decisions, presumably as sort of an extension of Derrick Hall.
I’m going to adopt a slightly different format for these roundups starting next week — we will have two posts on the site on Mondays, and the roundups will house mostly just links and reactions to those links.
Speaking of links:
- Fox Sports’ Ken Rosenthal had a longish piece on the La Russa hiring with some interesting tidbits. Good point that there may be few managing options after Gibson. But as the recent hirings of Brad Ausmus, Mike Matheny and maybe Matt Williams show, you don’t need to install a guy like Dusty Baker. I think Kirk Gibson is a better manager than he’s given credit for, but it’s hard to defend anyone involved in this team’s April performance, single month or no. Also interesting from Rosenthal’s piece — intel on two potential Towers replacements. I’m terrified of this idea that Byrnes was too analytics-driven, Towers too little. That means they might aim in the middle, and that means they might end up with someone like Jack Zduriencik, who essentially faked facility with statistics to get his current job in Seattle. Also, Rosenthal’s statement that “Towers’ eye for pitching remains almost unmatched in the sport” has to be questioned at least a little bit after moving both Trevor Bauer and Tyler Skaggs for pennies on the dollar, and for taking Randall Delgado instead of Julio Teheran. Of the pitchers currently on the D-backs staff, which Towers acquisition impresses you as someone Towers found? Will Harris? Anyone else?
- In the same Nick Piecoro piece I linked to above, Dave Duncan offers a view on the pitching staff of AA Mobile, the team he’s with right now: “I’m trying to evaluate what they have down here. And, so far, I haven’t been overly impressed.” Duncan also answered Piecoro’s question about Archie Bradley: “He still has a lot to do to be a legitimate guy to consider for the major-league rotation,” Duncan said. “He has decent control of his fastball. At times, he’s above average in velocity. At times, he’s average in velocity. So there’s no consistency there with his velocity. His breaking ball is very inconsistent, and he virtually has an unusable change-up.” Ouch. Well, the last thing this organization needs is for things to be sugar-coated, or for it to drink its own Kool-Aid the way it did this last offseason. The note about Bradley, though, is particularly discouraging.
- Also from Piecoro, a piece focused on Brad Ziegler that was very good. I like Ziegler’s story and have read it elsewhere, but I didn’t realize he still found the submarine motion to be somewhat unnatural. I really like Ziegler for this organization — and not just because he’s the only person besides myself to have gotten his head broken with a baseball that wasn’t pitched or batted. No stigma!
- At Snake Pit, Xipooo published a great, extremely in-depth breakdown of the swing of Chris Owings that you should make some time for. I think one thing we tend to minimize as baseball fans is the skill required to square up the ball on the barrel horizontally — the sweet spot on the bat really is just a point, and the closer you get to that point, the lesser the bat will absorb impact with the ball, and the harder the ball is hit. Great hitters swing accurately vertically — hitting line drives and fliners — but also horizontally. Having a swing that allows one to extend in and out fluidly is one big difference between what’s required in baseball and what’s required in golf.
- Earlier today, Jim McLennan published a piece on closers at Snake Pit. Agree with him throughout. On Friday, I wrote that it seemed like there was no obvious alternative to Addison Reed. McLennan’s final point is that there are better places to spend money than in the bullpen (or, for a closer), and I agree completely. Not only is the advantage marginal between a guy like Oliver Perez and an essentially free guy like Will Harris, but the nature of the bullpen is that its members can’t get days off to work things out while on the active roster — and so, being able to option guys to AAA to work out problems (flexibility) is a separate, large benefit.
- Bob Ryan published a piece on sabermetrics and the creep of saber thought into mainstream media, and Dave Cameron responded. Worth checking out if you’ve felt leery about what we do here at this site. We downgrade stats like RBI and pitcher wins not because we hate them and not just because there are other measures out there that are better; we downgrade them because they are misleading.
- The Republic’s Dan Bickley writes that the D-backs need more of Randy Johnson and more players like him. Well, yeah. Let’s get five Randy Johnsons for the rotation, please. Maybe make it six just to be safe? More seriously, it was nice to see Randy back, and I hope his relationship with the organization gets stronger.
- La Russa may not know what his first steps were going to be, exactly, but that doesn’t mean he couldn’t have some french fries.
The La Russa Press conference:
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