It’s impossible to know whether Chip Hale will be a very good manager. But in tapping him to replace Kirk Gibson, the D-backs front office seems to have made an excellent choice. It’s not like we know that as bench coach for the Athletics the last three years, Hale will bring some of that delicious A’s philosophy with him. For all we know, Hale was the old school voice in a new school brain trust in Oakland. But there are a couple of concrete ways in which Hale’s experience in Oakland could pay direct, saber-derived dividends in Arizona as soon as next year.
The first is shifts. Hale played a big role in implementing shifts for the Athletics, who featured them much more than did the D-backs last season. That’s based on my own observations, as I haven’t seen any 2014 full shift data yet. But in 2013, the Athletics had the shift on with the ball in play 330 times, more than double the D-backs’ number, which was 153. And there was also evidence that the Athletics did it particularly well, as teams had a ridiculously low batting average on balls in play of .222 when the A’s had the shift on. Instead of the default question being “why should we shift more,” maybe under Hale, the default question will become “why shouldn’t we shift more.”
The second? Platoons. The Athletics were the kings of time shares in 2014, with seven position players tallying between 200 and 400 PA. Craig Gentry was brought in precisely to be an aggressively-played “backup,” Nick Punto and Eric Sogard were mixed in liberally, etc. That’s one way to build above-average production on the cheap, but it’s also just a fact of life if a team happens to have been dealt a handful of “tweener” types. That’s the D-backs, isn’t it? Mark Trumbo should definitely lose some playing time to Ender Inciarte, Cody Ross should only play to give David Peralta some rest, etc. I personally believe that Inciarte showed enough to get a starting shot if the opportunity develops, but he can absolutely be a Craig Gentry type: one of the best fourth outfielders in the majors.
Who knows what actually will happen, and what the manager-FO dynamic will actually be. But I like that shifts and platoons might be more readily offered on next season’s menu. The D-backs have a great defense, and yet their pitchers did much worse than they should have done last season, based on peripherals. Next year’s club will also be shooting itself in Trumbo’s foot if he starts with Inciarte on the bench every day.
In short: it’s a good day to be someone who follows the D-backs. There’s every reason to think that the front office did a great job with this hire, and that it’s moving the team in the right direction. Hooray!
On to the links:
- Nick Piecoro has the skinny on the Hale hiring. Really good stuff, and mandatory reading for any D-backs fan. Hale sounds like everything you’d want a manager to be, and we’ll soon find out whether he’s the guy that makes the smart moves, too. I like the 1-5, 5-category grading that La Russa & Co. used. Experience, personality, good, good. Leadership, great. Handling a pitching staff — that’s a relief. What does “offensive creativity” mean, though? Does it mean ability to create runs? Because that sounds like small ball, and that’s almost never the right answer. Does it mean being creative or innovative, like with platoons and other time shares? If so, I’m fully on board. Cross your fingers — offensive creativity sounds great, but this is an organization that has typically found creativity offensive.
- Interesting thoughts from Piecoro last week on the D-backs’ glut of shortstops. Within, an eye-opening note: “One rival executive said his team prefers Ahmed to Gregorius.” That’s really surprising to me, because Ahmed seems to have all the makings of a utility infielder. He’s great defensively, but is he really Andrelton Simmons great? Simmons would play even if he morphed into a .220 hitter, but I’m not sure that kind of production plays if the defense is a tick lower. Maybe that one team just has a very negative view of Gregorius, who is hard to figure; there aren’t too many lefty shortstops like him. My feel is that he could really excel as part of a 4-man, 3-position time share.
- FanGraphs’ Eric Longenhagen scouted an AFL game last week in which Archie Bradley scouted, and here’s the scouting report. Same causes for concern that we’ve been hearing. Bradley is far from the top pitching prospect in baseball. Seeing him miss the plate over and over with a plus pitch could be as frustrating as seeing Trevor Cahill miss the plate with his sinker over and over again. But if the stuff is truly swing-and-miss stuff, it’d be a fun change of pace even if he’s really just a #3 starter type. I do wonder if we’ll see him early in 2015; waiting a couple of weeks is worth doing to keep him controlled for a seventh year, but I don’t buy that he’s likely to learn better command in the minors. The D-backs would need to have a lot of things go right next year in order to contend. Why not see what he can do, and give him a shot to learn on the job? Also within the Longenhagen piece, a report on Matt McPhearson, a center fielder from rookie ball. Good notes there about how he could be a Terrance Gore type, and if the D-backs are contending at the end of August, I wonder if he might see a call up just to be eligible for a pinch running role. Otherwise, a player with a 20 hit tool and a 20 game power tool is not worth worrying about.
- Some great Tommy John recovery notes at Hardball Times from Jon Roegele, who knows this stuff better than anyone. Last week, I looked at Patrick Corbin and what to expect after his recovery. With Roegele’s work, I think we have better information about when that’s likely to occur; the average recovery time for a pitcher Corbin’s age (24 on the date of surgery) is 15.5 months, with 84% of all pitchers in the 24-25 age group returning to the majors after Tommy John (return rate is basically league average). The time of year also matters, and in the last few “eras,” the sooner in the calendar year a player gets the surgery, the faster the pitcher seems to return. The averages are still around 15 months, although the median return was 13 months for the last few seasons, and the mode (the most frequent single number) was 12 months. June still seems like a conservative date. Who knows; maybe we’ll see Corbin in a major league uniform before the middle of May. Fingers crossed.
- Remember Trevor Bauer? Remember how his infatuation with “effective velocity” led to him being railroaded? If you need a refresher, check out Jeff Wiser’s piece from earlier this season. More recently, Dan Weigel of Beyond the Box Score dove into how Bauer has employed effective velocity this season, and it’s well worth a read.
- At Venom Strikes, Tom Lynch sees some similarities between the D-backs and the Royals. The notes about how many D-backs position players came up through the system are remarkable, and yes, this is a young team. Such a range of roster possibilities next season; it could be bad, but it could work out really, really well.
- A flurry of transactions last Tuesday, after the D-backs lost Andy Marte (no loss there). In no particular order: Bobby Wilson sent down to Triple-A (good move; he’s the third-string catcher right now, and while he’s not an upgrade to Tuffy Gosewisch, he’s worth something). Brett Jackson was also sent down to Triple-A (maybe to never be heard from again, unless he sticks at Reno and does something new). Joe Paterson was sent to Triple-A (does the organization just hate this man? What is going on here?). The Angels claimed Roger Kieschnick (enjoy) and Alfredo Marte (have fun). But the Blue Jays claimed Bo Schultz, and that is a loss. The organization is not brimming with guys who can throw as hard as Schultz. I’ll probably never really understand why the team brought him to Australia if they weren’t going to try him later in the year (The Great Pitching Apocalypse of 2014), but if they preferred Mike Bolsinger to him twice, the D-backs probably weren’t going to carve out a role here for Schultz. Too bad. Best of luck to Schultz!
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