Hinch-ing Up the Wagon?

With each loss this season the tenure of Arizona Diamondbacks manager Bob Melvin seemed more and more tenuous. For the past few weeks, the rumors of Melvin being on the hot seat circulated. It became a favorite pastime of many to guess when the ax would fall and Melvin would be fired. We are of course talking about the same Bob Melvin who is the winningest manager in Arizona Diamondbacks history. The same man that took over the team in 2005 and increased their success 25 games over the previous season. This was same manager who was named National League Manager of the year in 2007 for leading his young team to the National League Championship Series. It seems incredible that someone can go from the top of his profession to being fired within 2 years while using the same style and having the same components for the most part. But that is precisely what we are talking about. After the ridiculous loss to the San Diego Padres yesterday the Arizona front office decided a change was necessary to try and salvage what is beginning to look like a lost season. Team president Derrick Hall went on KTAR radio yesterday morning and discussed the frustration the front office was feeling from a team that was underachieving and how there may be several changes that will be made to try and overcome the problems plaguing the team. While not getting into specifics there seems to be no area of the team that will be safe from the evaluation and changes.


When the Diamondbacks arrived back at Chase Field; General Manager Josh Byrnes met with Bob Melvin and each of his coaches to discuss decisions that had been reached on how the team should move forward. The result was the firing of manager Bob Melvin along with hitting coach Rick Schu. The rest of the coaching staff would remain intact. Pitching coach Bryan Price out of loyalty to Melvin resigned leaving the Diamondbacks without a skipper, pitching coach, or hitting coach going into a six game home stand that starts today.

“He’s taken bullets for everybody, he protects his players and throws everything onto his own shoulders and that’s the type of guy he is. That deserves respect because he has shielded the non-performers from the criticism that perhaps their performance would inspire. I just want people to know that my feelings are that Bob has done an unbelievable job. My allegiance is to him as a friend, but it’s really because I believe in the job he did and I was there every day of it. I know that somebody has to be held accountable for the performance and Bob was the guy. I admire the fact that he handled himself with the dignity and professionalism that he has, because he’s taking bullets for a lot of people.”

Brian Price
Former Diamondbacks Pitching Coach

The Diamondbacks have scheduled a 3 PM news conference where they will announce the changes and introduce their new manager. News agencies are already a buzz with the news and have identified AJ Hinch as the next manager of the Arizona Diamondbacks. It is expected that Hinch will name Mel Stottlemyre Jr. as his pitching coach and Jack Howell as his hitting coach. If this is correct, it is an interesting selection that should make you wonder exactly what is going on.

The Diamondbacks felt the team was underachieving with Melvin at the helm and that they needed a fresh point of view and outlook. Rather than bringing in a manager with experience handling a young team they instead tapped a 34 year old with no managing experience to run the club. For the past three years AJ Hinch has been the director of player personnel for the Diamondbacks and during his tenure he saw the advancement and maturation of Diamondbacks players such as Conor Jackson, Stephen Drew, Chris Young, Justin Upton, and Mark Reynolds. He had a hand in determining when each of these players would reach the big leagues and if they would remain. This knowledge should help Hinch in evaluating what needs to occur and what each player should be working on to improve.

At the same time Jack Howell will be named hitting coach for the Diamondbacks. Howell will be the third hitting coach employed by the Diamondbacks in the past 2 years. For those who may have forgotten, Rick Schu was named hitting coach on July 11, 2007 when the Diamondbacks fired Kevin Seitzer because the team was not producing offensively. It was thought that Schu would be the right person for the job since he had been working with these players throughout their minor league career and that they would listen to him since he helped them be successful as they began their career. Now here we are less than 2 seasons later and yet another hitting coach has been fired due to a lack of consistency by the Diamondbacks hitters. Jack Howell will inherit a team who is second to last in the National League in runs scored and going into the San Diego series they were last in batting average and near the bottom in most offensive categories. Howell is a former California Angel who was adept at hitting at Triple-A but struggled in the major leagues until he went to Japan where he flourished at the plate. Before this new assignment Howell was the Arizona Diamondbacks minor-league field coordinator. In a nutshell, he was responsible for evaluating the minor league talent and reported to the director of player personnel meaning AJ Hinch. There is a very interesting article on Angels blog Three Days of Cryin’ where they interviewed Jack Howell and what he is doing with the Diamondbacks. In the article he describes himself as AJ Hinch’s bench coach, a role he enjoys and feels he is good at. It does seem slightly odd that the Diamondbacks are selecting someone who didn’t live up to expectations at the major league level but flourished in the minor leagues as their new hitting coach. Considering that is the knock on many of the young Diamondbacks the parallelism is intriguing and frightening. Like Schu before him it is thought that Howell’s knowledge of the players from their stint in the minor leagues will help him to relate to the players and get them to buy into his philosophy. It is still unclear what that philosophy is but given his background and the coaches he mentions that influenced him I would expect a style similar to Joe Maddon of the Tampa Bay Rays.

The Diamondbacks will also tap into their minor league system to find their new pitching coach. Mel Stottlemyre Jr. is expected to be named. This name should be immediately recognizable to many baseball fans. He is the son of long time Yankees pitching coach Mel Stottlemyre and brother to former Diamondbacks pitcher Todd Stottlemyre. Mel Jr. has been working in the Diamondbacks system as a minor league pitching coordinator. His job was basically to evaluate the pitching coaches and instructors in the minor league system and assist in teaching the young pitchers in the Diamondbacks farm system. Me. Jr has some experience as a pitching coach having done that in Missoula for the Diamondbacks rookie season team.

So now we know the pedigree of the new Diamondbacks coaching staff and it is interesting to say the least. The Diamondbacks decided not to use someone with managerial experience in any of these posts. They could have tapped bench coach Kirk Gibson who was himself a former manager or they could have looked to third base coach Chip Hale who is viewed as an up and coming coaching star having managed in the Arizona Fall League in 2007 and was also the Tucson Sidewinders manager when they won the Triple-A World Series. They could also have called upon Reno Aces skipper Brett Butler who also has been on the fast path to becoming a big league manager. For whatever reason though they chose not to take the traditional path. For a team that continually describes itself as being play-off caliber and ready to go deep into the post season, it seems odd that they would use this juncture to break in a new manager and give him some on-the-job-training.

Another interesting part about this is the timing. We are now almost exactly a month away for the First Year Amateur Player draft. Based on the loss of several key free agents the Diamondbacks have 8 of the first 100 draft picks. This draft is hugely important to the Diamondbacks as they try to restock their somewhat depleted farm system. With only four weeks until the draft you would have expected this to be the most important and consuming time for the director of player personnel and his right hand man. They should be coordinating with the various scouts and compiling their draft strategy so that they can make the best use of each of these picks. The consensus of various evaluators is that the 2009 draft class is light on talent so it becomes even more paramount for teams to make the right choices in order to get the best possible player with each of the picks. If this is true, why then did the Diamondbacks decide to hire within and tap one of their prime player developers as their next manager? Is this indicative of further changes from the Diamondbacks? Could this be a subtle message that they are unhappy with the way players are being drafted and developed and therefore they were looking for an excuse to clean house in the player development side of the business? That would make sense; this would give the Diamondbacks an opportunity to bring in new people who could bring the minor league players along differently. It may also be an opportunity for the Diamondbacks to change their draft strategy and move away from college draft picks which they have tended to take and instead begin building a more complete player development program such as what the Atlanta Braves have long used where they draft high school players and mold them into the kind of player they want. The core group of players the Diamondbacks currently have are mostly college products and for the most part they are free swinging rather than high on-base percentage types of hitters. This has resulted in massive strikeouts and inconsistency which shows up as feast or famine.

I can’t help but wonder if perhaps AJ Hinch is being set up here. He is pulled from the job he has been doing and being placed into one that is ripe with challenges. Best case scenario is that the team responds and the club has some success this year. Rather than being applauded it will be explained that the talent is the same now that the change in manager was the trigger and had little to do with AJ himself. Worst case scenario is that the team continues how they are playing now or worse and by the trade deadline the Diamondbacks are out of contention. They begin trading off pieces to retool once again and at the end of the season it is determined that AJ Hinch although bright is not the right guy for the job and he is let go along with his coaching staff. Either way the Diamondbacks have rolled over their minor league player development structure and moved in a different direction. I’m having a hard time seeing the positive in this no matter how many different ways I look at it.


3 Comments

  1. Enjoying your blog/website very much after discovering you on Twitter. I’ll be out in Sec. 118 today (I won the tickets from FSNAZ at Tempe Marketplace) so I’ll be looking forward to your recap of the game later on!

  2. thanks for the comments. Section 118 is awesome! Hopefully the Diamondbacks will score some runs and we can celebrate a positive beginning of a new home stand.

  3. I really enjoyed reading your blog! We have a large and rapidly growing network of sports blogs; http://www.myteamrivals.com . We cover several MLB teams but are always looking for talented new writers—-and we currently have no D-Backs writer! If interested, you could of course still write here as well as on our network. The benefits; 1) it’s free, 2) we do all the work as far as tech support, marketing, advertising, etc. 3) there is the possibility of your earning revenue from your writing, 4) increased readership due to our very high google rankings. If you have any questions please feel free to contact; mike@myteamrivals.com . We hope to hear from you soon!

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