This season has been disappointing in plenty of ways. From the get-go, there was nothing but bad news. Ryan recapped a bunch of that yesterday, and it’s so frustrating that I sure don’t feel like re-hashing it all over again. Honestly, we’ve been over this a hundred times already and you know the story: everything has gone terribly wrong this year, and although it’s not a total surprise given some of the characteristics of this organization, it’s sure hard to to swallow nevertheless. But the injuries, poor signings and traded prospects aside, the worst part of being a Diamondbacks fan right now is the backlash from Kirk Gibson and Kevin Towers’ repeated throwing at opposing hitters.
Lets reset the stage for those who aren’t quite up to date. On Friday, Paul Goldschmidt got a day off. I know, right? Goldy never gets a day off! Well he was awarded one last Friday, at least sort of. Jordan Pacheco got the start at first base, but losing in the ninth inning, manager Kirk Gibson went to his bench to have Goldschmidt pinch-hit. Rather than getting a knock, he was hit in the hand by Pirates reliever Ernesto Frieri. The result was a fractured hand that will likely shut The People’s MVP down for the remainder of the season.
Hitting Goldy was unintentional, period. Anyone arguing to the contrary had better have some video of Frieri, who isn’t known for his control, stating that he’s planning to drill Arizona’s star player. Of course, the Diamondbacks couldn’t let it go. They responded by plunking Andrew McCutchen in the ninth inning while down five runs the following night. We all knew this was coming, and that’s the whole problem: with Towers calling out pitchers for not retaliating in the past and Gibson encouraging an eye-for-an-eye mentality, of course ‘Cutch was going to get drilled. He took a painful heater from Randall Delgado, went to first, then pulled up lame the following day, landing himself on the DL. Are the two items, his plunking in the back and his strained oblique, related? Maybe, maybe not. We won’t ever know but the media has surely tried to link the two events. That may not be the most sparkling of journalism, but it’s not out of the realm of possibility either, and it’s not for us to decide.
The real problem, as I just alluded to, is that this is a trend that’s gone on way too long. Already an embarrassment in the standings, now the team is an embarrassment in the headlines. Again. Don’t forget there’s quite the precedent for this behavior with Gibby’s team. Earlier this season, rookie reliever Evan Marshall earned his stripes by hitting Ryan Braun of the Milwaukee Brewers. Why hit Braun? Because Diamondbacks fans feel cheated out of losing the NLDS in 2011 to a guy who used steroids (although no one knows just how many D-backs have juiced over the years). Despite Braun’s suspension served and having his reputation publicly destroyed, the D-backs sought more justice by drilling the former NL MVP. Like the wild, wild west, they were determined to exercise their own form of vengeance, no matter the fact that it was in poor taste and executed two and a half years after their NLDS defeat.
Of course, Arizona didn’t even wait for the season to officially begin to get the bruises rolling. They retaliated after Rockies farm hand Tommy Kahnle hit Mark Trumbo in a Cactus League game this March. Why this minor leaguer would intentionally hit Trumbo is beyond reason, but sure enough, Wade Miley threw at and hit perennial All-Star Troy Tulowitzki the next inning. Tulo missed some time while Trumbo didn’t miss an at-bat. Clearly intentional, Kevin Towers stated, “I think come spring training, it will be duly noted that it’s going to be an eye for an eye and we’re going to protect one another.” That’s pretty cut and dried, Tulowitzki was hit on purpose to “send a message.”
Leaving Ian Kennedy’s drilling of Zack Greinke and other beanballs aside for the moment, I think I’ve pinpointed the real problem, which is two-fold. One, modern baseball fans aren’t as interested in the “old school, unwritten rules” of the game as traditional fans, and truth be told, if baseball as an entity wants to grow it’s role in today’s sports market, it needs to cater to modern fans. These fans see the intentional drilling of All-Stars, resulting in the game’s best players getting placed on the bench unnecessarily, as utterly senseless. Don’t believe it? Consult your twitter timeline from a few nights ago.
The second half of this problem is perhaps even more critical: the Diamondbacks aren’t good and it’s their own fault. If a team that was a total juggernaut on the diamond wanted to get some revenge while defending their top spot in the division, I think we could stomach the “we’re just defending ourselves” mantra. But what exactly is Arizona defending? Fourth place? It was clearly a missed location that stung Goldy and everyone knew it. But Towers and Gibson can’t help themselves, and as fans of the team, we’re left to shield our eyes from the negativity. Some poor roster-building and poor management has been amplified by injuries this year and there’s plenty of blame to go around. Adding fuel to fire is surely not needed and the times have changed. People across the country aren’t watching McCutchen get nailed while cheering, “yeah, you deserved that.” They’re instead incensed at the stupidity of an overreaction to a common mistake that happened to hit the D-backs’ best player.
Kevin Towers is going to be fired. If the Diamondbacks’ PR people are smart, and I can assure you some of them are indeed very smart, they’ll recognize the firestorm of negativity this has created and not be too upset when Kirk Gibson is fired, too. This team has been the butt of plenty of jokes about backwards baseball teams, whether people mock trades, signings, the lack of advanced metrics usage or the mismanagement of resources. Operation Beanball is just another example of the organization being out-of-touch with modernity, and unlike some of the things listed above, this example in particular is highly visible.
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: I’m tired of being embarrassed by the team’s management. There is talent here and a hell of a fan base. I’ve lived in multiple major league baseball markets and I’ll take D-backs fans over any others I’ve ever encountered. They deserve a winner, and one can be delivered if this organization would just get smarter. They’ve mismanaged their assets and ruined the product on the field. Now they’re continuing to ruin their reputation. It’s sad to see something you love struggle so much, especially when the struggle is unnecessary. It’s time to get smarter in Arizona, and that starts with a replacement of management, which at this point, has to be a matter of time as long as someone logical is paying attention. Someone is paying attention, right?
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FanGraphs Stats Glossary
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Previously on The Pool Shot, the guys explained some of their favorite advanced stats. Hitting, including wRC+, HHAV and batted ball; pitching (38:00), including FIP, xFIP and SIERA; and baserunning and defense, including UBR, UZR and DRS (58:00).