You have to wonder what baseball government thinks of Arizona Diamondbacks general manager Kevin Towers’ assertions, in the immediate wake of the Snakes giving pitching coach Charles Nagy (you pronounce the surname “naggy,” incidentally) the push earlier this week.
The Diamondbacks didn’t go in the tank this season because they hit the Show’s fewest bombs, the starting rotation was number 25 on the strikeout survey, or other players had bad seasons, according to Towers. No, the root of the problem was the Diamondbacks’ pitchers failing to hit enough of the opposition with pitches.
Towers backpedaled almost as fast as his original remarks went semi-viral.
I’m not saying hit players on purpose. I’m saying if our hitters are being made uncomfortable at the plate, we need to be the same way; we need to make the opposing hitters uncomfortable at the plate and pitch in with purpose and take that inner third away. I’m talking about pitching inside effectively with purpose. Sometimes they’re not always strikes, but you pitch in to a hitter to be able to get the slider down and away.
If you’re pitching to the middle third or the outer third without pitching inside on a consistent basis, you’re not going to be successful. I just thought as a staff we spent too much on the middle third or outer third.
There’s nothing wrong with pitchers working inside. That’s what good pitchers do. But Towers damn near did say plunk the opposition with malice aforethought, and he damn near did imply their failure to do that cost Nagy his job.
And it’s enough to make you wonder: Ian Kennedy launched a nasty brawl with the Los Angeles Dodgers in June, in a game in which he zipped Yasiel Puig in the snoot after one Diamondback got dusted inadvertently two innings earlier (it was Cody Ross) and, in due course—after Dodger pitcher Zack Greinke sent a payback message with a rather harmless meatball off catcher/cleanup hitter Miguel Montero—drilled Greinke on the ear flap of the batting helmet. (The brawl also included a handful of 1980s All-Stars—managers Kirk Gibson and Don Mattingly, coaches Mark McGwire, Alan Trammell, Matt Williams, and Don Baylor—barking and jawing each other. Nagy seems to have tried playing peacemaker.)
Anyone who thinks the Dodgers forgot that little dance when they took the victory swim in the Chase Field pool behind the right field fence, after clinching the National League West against the Diamondbacks there, should think again. Hard.
Not long after that, Kennedy was hustled out of town in a deal with San Diego. And we thought he was Towers’ kind of pitcher. Of course, Kennedy wasn’t exactly having the kind of year that once made him a good-looking Yankee prospect. But last winter the Diamondbacks unloaded a small raft of talent because they were perceived as not “tough enough,” not “hard nosed enough.”
This season, they managed to finish 81-81. It didn’t cost the head of manager Gibson, whose own hard-nosed kind of play probably kept him from posting Hall of Fame playing numbers, and who’s said to want nothing less than “tough enough” play on the field no matter the results.
Are the Diamondbacks trying to say that the pitching staff could have gone all the way into the tank but so long as they knocked down or plunked the appropriate number of opposing hitter Nagy’s job would have been safe?
Or was Nagy himself just too becalmed a person for Towers’ taste? Did Towers think Nagy himself lacked heart? You may care to note that Nagy’s pitching career—he was a solid starting pitcher and a three-time All-Star with Cleveland—ended in San Diego, after three years worth of elbow and shoulder miseries limited him to six wins in three seasons. As a Padre in 2003, Nagy made five appearances, all in relief, before he called it a career. The GM in San Diego at the time? Towers.
Nagy’s pitchers nicknamed him “The Professor,” affectionately. And whatever problems the Snakes’ staff had in 2013, the team ERA had its third consecutive seasonal drop since Nagy arrived on the job in 2011.
The Diamondbacks’ team ERA in 2010: 4.81. The Diamondbacks’ ERAs when Nagy arrived: 3.80. They’ve risen in shards his next two seasons, but doesn’t anyone stop to ponder that just maybe the Diamondbacks’ pitching isn’t all that good to begin with? And that Nagy was doing the best he could with what he had? Craig Breslow, former Arizona reliever now working splendidly for the Red Sox in the postseason, spoke glowingly of Nagy after his first season as pitching coach:
He’s so optimistic, so positive, so calming, it seems like no matter what the situation is, you can hear his reassuring voice, kind of overriding . . . He does a real good job of calming people down, not being overwhelmed by the big picture. Just going, “Look, here’s what you’re going to do, throw the pitch down and away, get the ground ball and we’ll worry about the rest of the stuff later.”
So did Joe Saunders, a starter:
He might not be as boisterous as other coaches, might not be as outspoken, but Charlie, the best way I can put it is, he has this quiet storm about him. He has a real quiet mentality, a real laid-back attitude. But when something needs to get done or be said, he says it—and says it in the right way. He’s very good at giving constructive criticism if need be.
That must explain more than a few things. In the rough-tough, if-you-can’t-beat-’em-beat-’em-up world these Diamondbacks seem anxious to build, Nagy was the garden snake amidst a pack of rattlers. Approaching his job with his mind may have cost him his head. Nagy’s quiet storm seems to have no place in a Diamondbacks philosophy of storming the beaches.
Grit and guts get you only so far. There needs to be some talent in there. That, not the lack of grit and guts, is what sank the Diamondbacks this season. (Anyone remember the 2004 Chicago Cubs? They got so interested in payback at one point that they may have paid themselves right out of the race.) And unless there’s talent plus some brains involved next season, I wouldn’t exactly see the Diamondbacks as striking much into the hearts of any of their opponents. Other than a few more bench-clearing brawls.
MEANWHILE, BACK IN THE JUNGLE . . .
▪ CONTEMPLATION OF THE LIZARD—Dusty Baker didn’t wait quite a fortnight to begin job hunting, according to the Washington Post: just over a week after he was executed following the Cincinnati Reds’ humiliating wild card game loss, Baker floated a trial balloon involving the Washington Nationals’ managerial vacancy. Prudently enough, Baker says he’s merely let the Nats know he was interested in the gig.
“It’s a good team. It’s a very good team,” Baker told the Post. “I’m about winning. My son told me–he was crying the other day–he wanted to play for the Reds. Then he told me, ‘Dad, if you want to win, you want to go to the Nationals’.”
The question would be whether the Nats, who have continuing postseason designs, think they can win with a manager who manages the postseason as though it’s still the regular season, a flaw that showed so vividly in the wild card game the Reds practically couldn’t wait to execute him. Or, whether they can be convinced that Baker’s finally learned the difference between the two scenarios.
▪ RIPKEN, FOR WHAT IT’S WERTH—If it were up to Nats outfielder Jayson Werth, the next Nats manager would be Cal Ripken, Jr. Which, in some eyes, would be tantamount to the New York Mets hiring, say, Bernie Williams as Terry Collins’s eventual successor, considering Ripken’s Hall of Fame playing career and legacy in Baltimore. (Relax, Mets fans: Collins just got a well-deserved extension.)
And Ripken isn’t exactly dismissing the idea out of hand, even if he couldn’t resist a soft joke in a radio interview when told of Werth’s comments. (“Is he making that decision?”) As he told podcaster Rich Eisen, “Well, I mean, it’s kind of funny where I sit. I have said that at some point I’d like to come back to baseball. And most recently, I said that I’m starting to get an itch to do that. But I’d have to look hard at any opportunity, and so far, I haven’t been asked to do anything. So it’s very flattering that people think of me that way, and I have thought about how cool it would be to manage. And even Donny Mattingly got me thinking about this a little bit more. He said there’s nothing like being a player, and coaching is pretty good because you help other people do what it is that they do. But managing is the closest thing to being a player. And I’ve always thought that, anyway, internally. Now I’m starting to think about that a little bit more. So far I’ve got nothing new to report, but that’s been the consistency, that I’ve made those statements. And I am getting a feeling that maybe I’d like to get back in.”
▪ FOUR MORE YEARS—For New York Yankees manager Joe Girardi, who just signed a four-year deal to stay on the Yankee bridge, after long enough speculation that Girardi—whose contract expired at season’s end—was pondering whether to take the vacant Chicago Cubs job. (The Nationals were also thought to be interested in Girardi if he decided to leave New York.)
If he lasts the entire four years, Girardi would join an elite group of men, those who’ve managed the Yankees for a decade or longer, which only three (Miller Huggins, Joe McCarthy, Casey Stengel) have done in the franchise’s history. Girardi’s new deal is worth $16 million; the Yankees since he became skipper have baseball’s best won-lost record even if they have only one World Series ring (2009) to show for it. And nobody needs to be reminded how the Yankees view success.
▪ WHAT PRICE SUCCESS?—For the Tampa Bay Rays, bumped out of the postseason picture after losing a rippling good division series with the Boston Red Sox, it could be moving pitching star David Price along. Price himself has been steeling himself for the possibility almost from the moment the Rays were eliminated.
“If you go with what’s been done in the past,” he told reporters on a conference call, referring to the budget-minded Rays in general and, possibly, the swap of his former rotation mate James Shields last winter, “I guess you’re going to have to think you’re going to get traded.”
Price isn’t eligible for free agency until next season’s end, but it isn’t out of line to think the Rays might flip him for prospects this winter if the right package comes along. General manager Andrew Friedman won’t say yea or nay on trading Price just yet, but manager Joe Maddon hopes it’s nay: “”It’s never an inviting thought to think that David’s not going to be with you. We’re faced with a lot of this stuff on an annual basis. We’ve gone through it. It’s part of who we are here. We understand that. I’m hoping that it would turn out differently that he would be able to be here.”
Which seems to be Price’s hope, too, according to third baseman Evan Longoria: “I know if David had his way, he would be here. If I had my way, he would be here, also. It’s not only what’s in the best interests of the player but in the organization, as well.”
Ponder this, too: any team willing to deal for Price might also need to be able to sign him to a reasonable contract extension.
▪ ANAHEIM AGONISTES—The speculation on whether manager Mike Scioscia or general manager Jerry DiPoto would be fitted for a guillotine brace ended when the Los Angeles Angels decided both men would stay—but pinked hitting coach Jim Eppard and bench coach Rob Picciolo.
There’s no word at this writing on Eppard’s successor, but third base coach Dino Ebel has been promoted to bench coach. Moreover, both Scioscia and DiPoto are saying their relationship—once thought sundered following then-hitting coach Mickey Hatcher’s 2012 execution—has improved.