D-backs looking for extra degree in 2010

There is something about the 2009 season for the Arizona Diamondbacks that just doesn’t add up.

The Opening Day loss of Brandon Webb clearly hurt as did being without Conor Jackson, one of the team’s best hitters in 2008, for almost all the year.

But that still should not translate into entering the season’s final day 23 games under .500 and an embarrassing September. The talent that is on the roster should add up to better than that.

You look at the lineup the Padres ran out there against the D-backs that last weekend at Chase Field. Compare that to the one the D-backs started on that day and honestly would you take more than two or three Padres over their D-backs counterparts in that? I would not.

Yet somehow the D-backs are looking up at the Padres in the standings. Somehow the Padres managed to finish this season strong while the D-backs, well not so much.

There is something missing with this D-backs team. What that is I am not sure, but you can bet it’s a question that the Arizona front office has been pondering in a big way. Because this team has come off the rails since its 90-win year in 2007 and someway, somehow GM Josh Byrnes and his staff have to figure out exactly what it is that is missing and then how to fix it.

“It’s been a strange thing,” Byrnes said when we discussed the way things have gone since 2007. “A lot of these guys have been here for three years and on the front end had a lot of success. We know they’re talented, we know they’ve been part of a winning team before, it’s important to not lose sight of that.”

What it seems then is in addition to adding some more talent — another arm in the rotation and bullpen, picking up Brandon Webb’s option — the team needs to adjust its attitude and approach. That much at least is clear.

“There are a lot of issues that can get a team sidetracked from the issue of winning,” Byrnes told me. “And I think we need to get that mindset of everyday showing up to win a game. I can’t imagine 2009 doesn’t anger you, doesn’t frustrate you, it should. We need to go into next year and compete with some determination.”

That edge, that ability to push yourself, to be better than you are is what makes the difference at this level given the fact that the difference in talent between players is so small.

There is a book “212 the Extra Degree” that talks about this. The title is based on the fact that water is scalding at 211 degrees, but at 212 degrees it boils and it’s that one extra degree that can make the difference between being good and being great.

NBA legend Michael Jordan received some criticism for his Hall of Fame induction speech because he mocked some former adversaries in it. The speech should not have surprised anyone, because that was the way Jordan motivated himself during his career. It was that edge that kept him playing hard in meaningless games and practices even after he was recognized as one of the all-time greats.

Former D-back great Randy Johnson would often talk about “people who say I’m too old, people who think I can’t do it” even in years when he was winning 20-plus games and it was hard to find anyone who doubted him. But that was what he used to drive himself even though he had already accomplished so much in his career.

The point is different people use different methods, but the players who get the most out of their talent in sports just like the people who get the most out of their talent in whatever field or career they are in, find ways to motivate and push themselves.

Obviously not everyone does that and in that case Arizona manager A.J. Hinch has to figure out how to push his players. Some will need a kick, some will need a pat, some will need a kick followed by a pat.

The challenge then for Byrnes and his staff will need to figure how to retool the roster and Hinch’s is to get the most out of it.

Ultimately, though, the responsibility rests with the players, who come back. They have to find a way to get that extra degree to avoid another disappointing season.

 

10 Comments

the area we are NOT talented in is management, byrnes and the lack of a strong coaching staff has run this franchise into the ground…changes must come at the top level before the play on the field can turn around.

Wow, Gilbert’s going poetic on us here on this last day of the season. I agree with conradspride. Big changes need to happen from the top down before the DBacks can be contenders again. I hope Derrick Hall has the stomach for it.

I was just at the first of the last three games played at San Francisco. We lost to the Giants. It was a good game with Montero going deep twice, one of which splashed into McCovey cove. It was awesome to see that kids power. Upton crushed one to the deepest part of the park and Roberts got robbed of that home run. But after seeing the guys play that game it did look like they were just going through the motions. Hinch was hanging out at Short stop with Tracy and Reynolds during pre game warm ups/BP. Not sure what they were saying but it looks as if the guys respect A.J. and can hang with the guy. I say all this because Im not sure about Hinch. Nice guy for sure, Brenly was a nice guy, and guess what? We won that year. Hinch has only been in there for part of a season so its hard to say if replacing him will do the trick. These guys gotta get on board with somebody and my feeling with Hinch is that he will just be one of the guys, not “that guy” who will keep the kids rocking all year. We have some serious talent here. These guys can flat out rake. Leadership, Veterans. Thats what we need. Period.

Im not saying that because Hinch is a nice guy that we can win like we did under Brenly. Im saying that Brenly is gone, and we havent won since. national league penents are cool but World Series Championships are what we have to have. Of course we dont just want to win now, we want to keep winning and keep competing at the top, but winning it all is what its about. What the heck was wrong with Brenly? You get a guy like that in here again and a few vets and were unstoppable!

As much as everyone bangs on Hinch, he isn’t going anywhere- he is signed through 2012 and will be here for the long haul, he is the the guy that management wants to lead the young players going forward.

Steve,

Great summary of the 2009 season. Really, the troubles for the D?backs started on 1 May 2008 after the torrid 20-8 start. Since then they are an anemic 132 ? 164 or .446.

Honestly, I don?t see them turning it around for three reasons. First, the D?backs strikeout too much. Last year, if Upton had been healthy, his strikeouts would have had a total high enough for him, Reynolds, Dunn and Chris Young to be 4 of the top 7 strikeout leaders in the Major leagues. This year, if Young and Upton had played the same number of games as Reynolds, they would have had enough strikeouts for all three to be in the top 10 in the Major leagues. This season, Brandon Allen is striking out at a 40% pace, as compared to Reynolds 38% pace, which means if Allen is the 1B of the future, he will strikeout 200 times as well next year. I expect the D?backs to average 9 Ks per game in 2010.

Taking it a step further, the D?backs struck out 1287 times last year and 1298 times this year, including 16 times against the Cubs on the final game of the season. Divided by 162 that comes to 8 Ks per game or almost one an inning. The D?backs were 20 ? 27 in one run games. How many times was the tying or winning run in scoring position when that one strikeout per inning occurred? How many runs would have scored if the ball had been put in play?

The second reason I think the D?backs won?t make the playoffs next year is their poor play in the field. 124 errors this season for second worst in the Majors and 113 last season for sixth worst in the Majors. Last season, Reynolds accounted for 35 of those errors while this year he only had 24, which means the rest of the team picked up the slack. Of course playing so many rookies had something to do with it, but it?s still a lot. Montero had 9 in 111 games a while Snyder has had only 5 errors in 480 games. The errors don?t begin to capture the misplayed balls or throwing mistakes that persisted this season either. I just don?t see that total coming down much next year.

The third reason is the manager(s). Showalter came in and got the D?backs headed in the right direction. But when Colangelo loaded the team with veterans that could police themselves, Showalter?s rules and discipline didn?t go over well, which resulted in his firing. Brenly was less about rules and more about letting the players police themselves, which worked until 2003 when most of the 2001 WS veterans were gone and the Babybacks made their appearance. By 2004 the team was so young and in desperate need of guidance, Brenly was fired as well.

In 2005, the team reloaded with veterans and Melvin was brought in, essentially a clone of Brenly. He style kind of worked, except for Russ Ortiz, but his teams would start hot, and then play about .400 ball the rest of the season, including his teams in Seattle. As the D?backs got younger again, Melvin?s hands-off approach did nothing to season the young guns, and he was fired as well. In comes Hinch and his ?deer in the headlights approach.? He is just like Melvin and Brenly, except he doesn?t know what he is doing.

Brenly, Melvin and Hinch were/are considered friends and someone the players were/are comfortable with. That is not the type of coach the current players need. In Bull Durham, the skipper threw the bats into the showers to get his teams attention, that?s the type of manager the D?backs need now. Someone like Larry Bowa, Ozzie Guillen or Lou Piniella who will kick some butts and get in the players face when they screw up. Heck, even Chip Hale would be a huge improvement, since he has the ability to really give it to the players who have mental lapses or don?t hustle.

Wrapping it all up is done by two more Bull Durham quotes: ?So relax! Let’s have some fun out here! This game’s fun, OK?? and ?You throw the ball, you hit the ball, you catch the ball.? With all the Ks and errors, only doing one of the three won?t get the D?backs to the playoffs and right now, neither the players nor fans are having any fun.

Brent Vosseller

GM, manager, most of the coaches need to be changed out – need a couple of quality veterans on the team (like Tony Clark was), and as others have noted, someone who will kick butt if needed to shape the talent up. Going through the motions, hanging out with the manager – things like that don’t cut it. Maybe some good will come over the off-season…
Matt

Voss, I think your analysis is spot on. We have all watched over the last few years as the Dbacks have shown glimmers of brilliance embedded in a foundation of mediocrity. 2009 was fascinating to watch if only for the anticipation of seeing which Dback squad would show up to that day’s game: Jekyll or Hyde. Those who have played any kind of organzied baseball know that pitching comes and goes; hitting has its peaks and valleys; but there is never any excuse for repeated miscues on defense. Miscues come from a lack of focus and helping a team refocus is the primary job of the skipper. Why on earth Josh Byrnes and Derek Hall signed AJ Hinch to a 3 year contract is beyond any normal thinking. Naming him as the interim manager for the remainder of the year would have been the prudent thing to do and then award a contract based on performance. ‘Seems like Hinch is a “good guy” and baseball smart but with the money in his bag there was no need for fire in his belly……….which obviously translated to his team. Big mistake by upper management. I also agree with the feeling that change begins at the top. Josh Byrnes was deemed a wizard after the 2007 season………truth is, he just fell into it. Ever notice how well players traded from the Dbacks organization do after they are traded? Bonafacio and Quentin just to name two. Seems like we pull the trigger too quickly on trades and end up with nothing to really show for it. Jon Rauch was doing just fine……….so he’s traded. Kinda reminds me of the Pirates! Mike Jobe

I feel that the team needs a change in the managers role and a new hitting coach. The strike outs are just impossible to live with,they kill ralleys,and hitting for contact can be taught. The lack of hustle and concentration are also not acceptable. When they put out less that 100% they should be shown a place next to the manager on the bench,and it should be embarassing. These guys are highly paid pros and should act like it. Eric Byrnes and his phoney self promoting hustle should be sent down the road,Jackson should be the left fielder and Tracy the first baseman. Para the 4th outfielder and they need to get a good 2nd baseman who can lead off. They need one good reliever and to resign Webb(if for no other reason than to show good work is remembered.)Find a starter in the mix of guys the have and bring in one more from the outside.
Then a new manager with some fire,and a desire to win. If Hinch has the fire he need to show it publicly so the team understands that being in second place means that you are the first loser.

I agree with many of the comments from stephenh. I also agree that the current slide started in May of 2008. A young team coming off a successful year, going deep in the playoffs, getting ranked very high in all the power rankings and having ESPN following them around proclaiming Micah Owings the next Babe Ruth. I think collectively they began to think they were “all that” and took their success for granted. They were all “naturals”. If my recollection is correct, that is when they forgot how to play fundamental baseball – moving runners up; going first to third; getting the sacrifice bunts down; executing the hit and run; hitting the cutoff man. Instead, they became a station-to-station team waiting for the 3-run home run.

I believe that carried over to this season and the team and on-field management totally lost sight of how to play team-oriented, fundamental baseball. We were consistently embarrassed by teams like the Cardinals and Dodgers who played the hit and run to perfection, got their bunts down and threw to the cutoff man.

Another standout factor for me was the trade of Valverde after the 2007 season. In 2007, the 7th, 8th and 9th innings were pretty much automatic with Pena, Lyon then Valverde. Then in 2008, the roles changed and I don’t think the players adapted and, perhaps, on-field management did too little to prepare Pena and Lyon for their new roles.

Bottom line – we have a very talented core of position players, a couple of major league starting pitchers, and a few good arms and heads in the bullpen. However, I feel that until the team learns how to return to the style of play that was so successful in 2007, we will continue to have long, frustrating seasons.

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