We can officially close the books on Kevin Towers as a D-backs employee; Nick Piecoro has reported that Towers will leave to seek a position with another team. According to the article, Tony La Russa said “Towers told him he felt remaining with the team presented a sort of ‘awkwardness'” under the new regime.
I think there’s a good chance that Towers was just hoping to get fired. We don’t know the terms of his deal with the D-backs, but it could be as simple as this: if they fired Towers outright, they’d owe him salary for the next year, but if he left voluntarily, he might forgo that compensation. For all I know, they worked out some kind of deal that has Towers getting some kind of severance package while the D-backs make him free to get another position elsewhere.
I don’t know how big a loss Towers really is; clearly, he would have had several skills and a boatload of knowledge to offer the organization. But I’m not sure that co-existing with the new front office was realistic in the first place, meaning he was lost to the organization some time ago.
It might be AGM Billy Ryan’s departure that could hurt the most. His bio was taken down by the time I heard that his contract was not being renewed, but from what I recall, he worked in the Commissioner’s Office for a few years before joining the D-backs, even working on a committee that hashed out some of the rules that are in the current Collective Bargaining Agreement. I’m making a bit of a leap here, but let’s say Ryan knew all of that stuff cold. Can you think of a better AGM fit than he? Tony La Russa and Dave Stewart know a lot of baseball, but they may not have all of the club-side aspects of arbitration, etc. down to a science. Even De Jon Watson comes from the other side of baseball operations. Having a guide like Ryan made a lot of sense to me.
But another thing that Billy Ryan did for the D-backs, according to his now-disappeared bio: manage the team’s analytics efforts. I believe he also played a big role in the D-backs’ creation of some kind of proprietary software to manage analytics and scouting information.
So failing to renew Ryan’s contract could also be a sign that in terms of analytics, the D-backs will embrace a model similar to one that Dave Stewart recently described, instead of one that Tony La Russa opined in the summer. We may be looking at a department with a real department head, in other words, instead of the hiring of a full-time entry level person. That’s good news. You can’t order analytics a la carte very effectively if you don’t have someone who knows precisely what can be on the menu.
Fingers crossed. On to the links:
- From Jack Magruder at Fox Sports: Dave Stewart is considering trying Mark Trumbo in right field, instead of in left. Stewart thinks that Trumbo might be more comfortable in right field instead of left, and that if he’s more comfortable, he might do better at the plate. But by suggesting that while saying that left field “is a difficult position to play,” is he saying that right field might be easier? This isn’t little league, and in the majors this season, there were more balls hit in the right field zone (7744 BIZ) than in the left field zone (7259 BIZ). Right fielders were also much more efficient at turning in-zone balls into outs, and at getting outs on out-of-zone batted balls. Trumbo has the strong arm to play right, but I’m not sure we know if he has the accuracy or good decision-making to match that arm strength. This could look like a disaster very quickly, especially since advanced metrics compare players to average at their position, and the average at the right field position is better.
- At the start of the season, I did a relevant study: have teams started to look at right field as a skill position? Suffice it to say that the answer is “actually, maybe, a little.” We expect teams to make “optimal” decisions, and while that may not always be the case, it means that we could expect a team to play a glove-first right fielder if his overall production was greater, to even a small extent, than a different right field option that might be a bat-first guy. I think the average left fielder is worse than the average right fielder in part because of the Mark Trumbos of the world: teams, especially NL teams, might hide a hitter there if they think they “need” the hitter (without considering if a glove-first guy would be better). That’s kind of a big issue and one for a different day. But I wanted to say (down by the bay, while sitting on some hay) that yes, Trumbo will look worse when compared to his peers if he’s installed in right, but no, that doesn’t make him any bigger a liability in right than he would be in left (unless he struggles with making accurate throws).
- To the extent that October news for a non-playoff team can be alarming, this is alarming: Nick Piecoro reported last week that Chris Owings will undergo shoulder surgery to repair a torn labrum. For a position player, a shoulder injury isn’t the kiss of death that it might be for a pitcher, so why alarming? Because the D-backs didn’t detect the torn labrum during the season, instead diagnosing the problem as a bone bruise (probably co-morbidities, but still). Piecoro quotes Owings: “We weren’t rehabbing the right thing. I never knew that it was a labrum issue the whole time.” That’s some serious egg on the face of training staff, and while second-opinion-giver Dr. James Andrews reportedly confirmed that trying to play through it didn’t cause more damage, how can you risk an important asset like that? Towers rants aside, I don’t think I’ve ever called for someone to be fired. But someone should be fired over this. The delay of the surgery (scheduled to take place last Thursday) and expected recovery could also complicate the decision the team has to make regarding whether to tender Cliff Pennington a contract.
- Short pitch for a piece I did at Beyond the Box Score last week on catcher’s interference. I know, gripping stuff. But it was inspired in part by the fact that Paul Goldschmidt led the league in such calls as a batter in 2014 (4 of 22, which is a lot). Also: it has a GIF of Goldy knocking Tim Federowicz‘s glove out of the way of an oncoming pitch, and the consequences…
- Jim McLennan ran down the managerial candidates at Snake Pit earlier last week; good stuff, and make sure to vote in the enlightening poll. Jeff and I talked about the poll yesterday… it’s interesting but I don’t want to spoil it before you vote. I don’t have much to say about managerial candidates, except that Jim Tracy scares me. Tracy walked away from a Rockies situation that had an unconventional front office; what’s to say he wouldn’t do the same, even if he legitimately doesn’t believe it? There are too many qualified candidates to take chances like that.
- Lots of great stuff at Snake Pit, and if you like our kind of writing here, buckle in for a great winter over there, too. On Monday, Xipooo ran some of his own statistical analysis on the D-backs offense, experimenting with a hits-per-game metric and an RBI/H metric. Experimentation is good, and I look forward to the sequel. As for those particular statistics, the comments section has a really good discussion. Hits per game will reward players hitting high in the order on teams that generate a lot of offense (which generates a lot of PA); and RBI is not very revealing because once you strip out context, there isn’t anything left. For the latter, I’d suggest RE24 or even WPA/LI as a way to help look at whether a player was particularly helpful at the plate at particular times.
- Really interesting table/graphic from McLennan that shows how valuable (or not valuable) each position was for each NL team, highlighting the D-backs along the way. In terms of Wins Above Average in the NL, the D-backs only did well at first base and center field, and only managed to not be below average at those positions and SS, OF overall (the latter because it includes CF). Really puts things in perspective, and I anticipate pointing people to that table all winter.
- At Beyond the Box Score, Daniel Schoenfeld wrote that former D-backs skipper A.J. Hinch may be the prototype for the modern manager. I really hope the Astros experiment works, because they are really doubling down on analytics over and over again. If they fail, it’ll be like when the Red Sox tried closer by committee — banished as a long-term strategy by many in the game. The Astros are doing it, but it does not necessarily follow that they’re doing it well. I think they are, but I don’t know. Around here, it may seem like we push for something that extreme, but I don’t think we do. Usually it’s about weighing all available information; sometimes the analytics are not only compelling, but can be offered with a high level of certainty. It’s ad hoc, for every situation.
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