It’s funny the things you remember from your childhood. There’s the first time you picked up a mitt and a bat, learning to ride a bicycle without training wheels, stealing a kiss from a girl and realizing girls really didn’t have cooties after all. Those were all great memories but there are some that are triggered that you stop to wonder why you ever even remembered that.
In the latter category I remember coming into the house after spending the whole morning playing baseball in the park with my friends. I would leap into the house with the screen door banging behind me yelling, “Mom, what is there to eat!” I would quickly be shushed by my mother who had just sat down in time for her daily dose of alternative reality. The theme song would begin and the narrator would utter the same line every day, “Like sands through the hourglass, so are the days of our lives…” I knew for the next hour including commercials I was on my own while my mother watched insane drama and plot twists all in the name of entertainment. So why after all these years did this memory resurface? The Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim.
In 2010 the Arizona Diamondbacks were reeling from a second consecutive losing season. It was a disaster and General Manager Josh Byrnes who had built the team became the scapegoat and was relieved of duties exactly five years ago on July 1, 2010. In the announcement of the firing, the Diamondbacks named Jerry Dipoto as their interim GM. Dipoto had been the Diamondbacks Director of Scouting and Player Personnel and moved effortlessly to the role of General Manager, a post he would hold until September 22, 2010 when the Diamondbacks would announce that they had selected Kevin Towers as their new GM. Dipoto had interviewed for the job but Arizona decided to go with Towers who had more experience and a track record. Dipoto was offered a position within the Diamondbacks to remain with the organization.
In 2011 Dipoto would interview with the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim for their General Manager position that opened up when Tony Reagins resigned. During the introductory press conference Angels owner Arte Moreno explained, “One of the reasons we hired Jerry is that I really liked the way he viewed baseball analytics”. This seems to be a viewpoint not shared by manager Mike Scioscia who seemed to disagree on multiple points of how statistics should be used by the club and coaching staff.
The animosity between Scioscia and Dipoto increased at the end of the 2013 season with Dipoto let hitting coach Mickey Hatcher go as the team’s hitting coach. Dipoto wanted a coaching staff that would utilize the advanced statistical analysis and information provided by the front office to better prepare the players. Despite the riff between the parties, Moreno brought both men back for the 2014 season. From an outsider’s perspective it seemed strained at best as these two strong personalities clashed more than the gelled.
This season the tension seemed to escalate as the Angels offense struggled. It wasn’t just the battle with Scioscia that would wear on Dipoto. Moreno would also prove to be a distraction getting involved in signing players such as Josh Hamilton and Albert Pujols with little input from the General Manager. With Hamilton’s drug relapse Moreno took it very personally and insisted that Hamilton had to go. Such a stance led to Dipoto basically getting little or no value trading the troubled hitter.
Over the past week tensions increased as Dipoto first met with Scioscia complaining again that coaches were not adequately preparing the players with advanced scouting and metric data. To a coach this basically felt like someone coming in and telling him he not only wasn’t doing his job but didn’t really have a clue how to do his job effectively.
Several heated meetings between Dipoto and the coaching staff escalated the friction. Players were brought in and information was leaked earlier this week that Pujols had a heated interchange with Dipoto. Moreno tried to facilitate by meeting with Dipoto and with Scioscia to see if there could be a compromise. Yesterday Dipoto met with Moreno and issued an ultimatum. Moreno stood behind his manager leaving no choice for Dipoto but to resign. He packed up his office at Angels Stadium Tuesday night and left.
Oddly, the team did not make an announcement and through midday Wednesday there were rumblings that Moreno with Angels President John Carpino were still trying to broker a compromise to keep Dipoto with the team. Given the eroding power that Dipoto seemed to have and the clear indication that Moreno favored Scioscia there was no way this would work.
So it would seem that Dipoto is no longer an Angels employee. This may just be the opportunity the Arizona Diamondbacks needed. It has been no secret that the Diamondbacks are built with the mindset that baseball knowledge and scouting is their preferred method of evaluation. In an era where there is so much data available for evaluation the Diamondbacks seem to be struggling on how or when to use it. For a long time there was not even a position within the Diamondbacks front office for advanced analytics. In the Tony LaRussa regime the team does have a Director of Baseball Analytics and Research with Dr. Ed Lewis in that post. Lewis, a doctor of veterinary sciences, has previously worked with LaRussa in St. Louis.
In February 2015 ESPN the Magazine did an article ranking organizations based on analytics. Within Major League Baseball the Arizona Diamondbacks were placed in the Skeptics category along with the Atlanta Braves, Cincinnati Reds, Colorado Rockies, Detroit Tigers, and Minnesota Twins. It should be noted that the Braves analysis was based on the organization before John Hart took over.
From the article was a quote from LaRussa when asked about how the Diamondbacks would use advanced analytics, “We’ll use it. It stops before the first pitch is thrown. … It’s not that we devalue it. We value it when it’s used appropriately. We do not value its intrusion into the game.” Not exactly a ringing endorsement. When Arizona hired Dave Stewart as their new General Manager he admitted he didn’t know a lot about the advanced analytics and was interested to learn more.
Later in the off-season when asked about players (and in particular free agent James Shields) and analytics Stewart offered this, “I think James [Shields] is a throwback guy by the way he goes about his business and the innings he pitches. I think the fact that Tony is here and that we have more baseball people – he probably sees us as a true baseball team vs some of the other teams out here that are geared more toward analytics and those type of things.” Once again reiterating the value or lack thereof that the Diamondbacks place on advanced metrics.
Perhaps the resignation of Dipoto is the move that will help Arizona in the long run. If LaRussa or Diamondbacks CEO Derrick Hall can be convinced that there is a place for analytics at more of the forefront of today’s game they can somehow persuade Dipoto to return to the Diamondbacks and assist them to better understand the use of Big Data and make the team better prepared. I’m not proposing that the Diamondbacks suddenly become the Houston Astros but I think all of us can agree that if players can be better prepared and players and coaches more knowledgeable in how to help them it will at least result in more a confident team that doesn’t get surprised.
As for Dipoto, he is not going to be out of work long. Some team will recognize his skill set and snatch him up quickly. Let’s hope the Diamondbacks realize that. This could be just as important a deal than anything Stewart and LaRussa make by the July 31st deadline and have long-term implications for years to come.