Tuesday, October 11, 2005

All About Chemistry 

Boy, you tell people that you don't feel like writing much anymore, and what happens?
Somebody -- somebody with actual readers -- thinks you're the third-best Diamondbacks blog.

So do I respond to this bit of external validation with a newfound devotion to my craft and a ironclad promise to never again refer to the music of the band Semisonic?

Er, no.

The great thing about deciding to scale back my writing is that I can lay in wait until something so inspiring or preposterous catches my eye that I can't help but share my foolish thoughts with the rest of the world.

And then take my sweet time before actually putting those thoughts on electrons.

So, Thursday's Arizona Republic included an article noting that pitching coach Mark Davis and first-base coach Brett Butler didn't have their contracts renewed. The article contained the following paragraph:

Butler said Melvin called him Wednesday morning and told him, " 'I hate to do this, but the organization is going in a different direction,' but that everything I did was fine."

I responded to this incredible paragraph by doing ABSOLUTELY NOTHING. I tell ya, folks, it felt great.

But eventually I got over that.

Jim already covered this in some detail last week, and I agree -- I can't think of a managing position with less authority than first-base coach. Holding batting gloves and saying "good hit" or "good walk" doesn't exactly seem like it's a position with major leverage. Saying that the "organization is going in a different direction" to a first-base coach is akin to the mailroom boss at Intel telling the weekend mail clerk upon his removal that the "organization is going in a different direction." Sure, in some (very) small way, the success of Intel requires a functioning mailroom, but it stretches credibility to assume that there are different mailroom approaches. (Or, rather, more than one correct one -- "let's sort the mail by the postage amount" seems a foolhardy approach.)

Now this is not to diminish the possibility that a first-base coach might actually have some value, both before and during the games. Working with young outfielders such as Terrero and Tracy, Butler could've had some impact there. Arizona's caught-stealing percentage dropped by 10% from 2004, from way above NL-average to just below, so in theory that could be counted in Butler's favor. The Diamondbacks had 15 more sacrifice hits (not flies) this year, but who knows how many opportunities they had, and whether Butler actually improved the team's bunting.

Which brings up my larger point, which is that we on the outside have no good idea as to what makes a good -- or bad -- member of a managerial staff. I would guess that Mark Davis worked with pitchers to improve their skills, fix problems, and gave advice to Melvin as to when a pitcher should be pulled and which pitcher should replace him. But is that all he does? And even if that's the correct list, how in the world can we evaluate his success or lack of success? (And, if pitching coaches are important, go ahead and name one whose name isn't Leo Mazzone or Mel Stottlemyre.) Likewise, first-base coaches must have some criteria upon which they could be judged, but we don't have the relevant data available to us.

I suspect that the "firings" are more about chemistry with Bob Melvin than anything else. Which is not the best basis to make a hiring decision. But it can't be the worst, either.

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