It would appear ironic the first head to roll is associated with the pitching staff.
Of the prominent issues which contributed to the Diamondbacks demise this past season, an unstructured starting rotation and combustible bullpen remained the center of attention.
At the core, former pitching coach Charles Nagy is the one individual held accountability for three starters reaching double digits in losses, a staff ERA of 3.92 and bullpen responsible for 29 blown saves. Only the Padres, Cubs, Giants, Phillies and Rockies had a higher staff ERAs in the National League
Late Monday night, Nagy was dismissed as the D-backs pitching coach and, the next morning, manager Kirk Gibson and Kevin Towers, the team’s general manager, attempted to rationalize the move.
“We need to go in a new direction,” Towers said. “This a performance-oriented game and we want to go in a new direction and with a new voice.”
Just two years ago, Nagy apparently was on top of his game.
Starter Ian Kennedy turned in a 21-4 season and was a worthy Cy Young Award candidate. Daniel Hudson racked up a 16 win season and closer J. J. Putz set a career-high with 45 saves. With help in this area, the Diamondbacks took the National League West Division title and rolled into the future with a reliable staff.
Fast forward two years later and whatever master plan Towers and Gibson had for this team unraveled in a hurry.
“Things can change quickly in this game,” Towers added. “In the last two years, we have not been healthy and we had pitchers who regressed.”
One starter which might fall into the latter category is Kennedy.
After his solid 21-4 season two years ago, Kennedy slipped to 15-12 and his ERA ballooned from under three a game in 2011 to 4.02 one year later. After a 3-8 start in 2013, Towers believed Kennedy’s regression and free-fall were synonymous, and dealt the right-hander to San Diego just before the July 31 trading deadline.
That left Brandon McCarthy, who was chronically on the DL since the 2007 season, to record only five wins in 22 starts and an ERA at 4.53. Trevor Cahill finished with an 8-10 mark and 3.99 ERA while Wade Miley was the third pitcher with a double digit loss season. Miley went 10-10, 3.55 ERA and won only one game from Aug. 12 until the end of the season.
Only Patrick Corbin’s 14-8 season was considerable creditable among starters but Corbin went 1-5 and one no-decision in his last seven starts.
Then, there’s the bullpen.
With 29 blown saves, tops in the majors, the Diamondbacks found themselves without a reasonable closer. Putz landed early on the DL and veteran closer Heath Bell did not answer the bell.
Overall, the Diamondbacks recorded just 38 saves as a club, and teams in a position to qualify for post-season play usually have a closer who records saves in the mid-40 range himself. Brad Ziegler emerged as the closer during the second half of the season and said he would be willing to close in 2014.
Towers said the search to replace Nagy can come from within the organization or from outside.
“I’m looking for someone is who is well-rounded and possess leadership qualities,” Towers said. “Also, he needs to have the trust of the leadership. We’ve been kicked around the last two years and the ability to communicate is vital.”
For the Diamondbacks to construct and maintain a reasonable staff, two principal factors which must be addressed.
First, first pitch strike is increasingly mandatory for all pitchers, and the key factor Towers wants to address in spring training and beyond is ownership of the inside corner.
When Arizona pitchers missed, they missed with pitches over the plate. Starter Randall Delgado was especially guilty and Towers had now made a commitment to have his new pitching coach, and those on his staff, to constantly pound the inside corner.
Aside from dismissing Nagy, the Diamondbacks also said “good-bye” to first base coach Steve Sax, who was in charge of the running game.
Upon too many occasions, the Diamondbacks did not run the bases intelligently and had many tossed out at second attempting to steal.
Sax’s dismissal is the second coach in charge of the running game fired in the last two years. After the 2012 season, Eric Young was let go and Sax was brought in to guide the runners.
“When I was a player, I excelled at base running and in this area, we were not getting the job done,” said Gibson. “Overall, this came down to knowing when things are there and take advantage. In too many times, we forced situations and can’t do that in the future.”
From Towers’ standpoint, Diamondbacks’ bench coach Alan Trammell would return in the same capability and also asked hitting coach Don Baylor, bullpen coach Glenn Sherlock, assistant hitting coach Turner Ward and third base coach Matt Williams back.
“We have asked them back,” Towers said. “There’s no guarantee any or all will come back.”
Contracts of these coaches expire on October 31 and the Diamondbacks would like the coaches return. Yet, that depends on two factors.
First, this represents Towers’ “wish list.” Contracts will have to be ironed out and any or all could receive offers they considered better for their own personal interest.
With Williams, he is rumored on the Washington Nationals’ short list of managerial candidates. Towers would not say if the Diamondbacks gave Washington permission to speak with Williams, but only to say, “if the other team wants to reveal personnel discussions, that’s their decision.”