As pretty much the entire baseball world knows by now, Arizona’s general manager-manager tandem, Josh Byrnes and A.J. Hinch were shown the door on Thursday night.
When the news leaked out, I watched the Twitter traffic on the subject with interest. Various media figures expressed disgust and outrage over the Byrnes firing especially, with far fewer obvious Hinch supporters. Silently, I disagreed with them regarding the GM.
I am not here to analyze the regime of Byrnes in detail as others are far more familiar with his entire body of work than I. Instead, I will focus on what an outsider can, the bottom line.
Based on the indicators I have seen, Byrnes has not delivered in either of the two areas I believe are most important for a general manager – strong player acquisition and development and a winning major league team.
I understand rankings are not the be-all, end-all, but in taking a look at some of the various evaluations of farm systems by those considered experts in the field, you will see that Arizona is consistently near the bottom.
This spring, ESPN’s Keith Law and Baseball America’s John Manuel both placed the Snakes at 27th of 30 MLB organizations, for example. Law added that Arizona has the fewest number of top prospects on his list.
Let’s review the Diamondbacks’ results on the field at the major league level. Arizona's winning percentage has declined every year since their last playoff season, 2007: .556/.506/.432 and finally .392 this season.
No, Byrnes didn’t manage the team, but he assembled the roster and hired the manager. The farm system isn’t well thought of and the MLB club is on a four-year downward spiral. When you look at it that way, is it really a surprise he was canned?
I have to admit that this isn’t the first time I looked into Byrnes’ results. During spring training, a Sports Illustrated writer ranked the MLB general managers and incredibly placed Byrnes 11th. I didn’t understand it then and I surely don’t now.
Here is my theory, based on several years of observation.
By default, the saber community seems to hold a lovefest over any of the "new wave" GMs, the ones who reportedly embrace advanced statistical analysis, whether or not they have actually accomplished anything as a result.
I still remember the howling when saber-darling Paul DePodesta was fired by the Dodgers in 2005. The club he assembled had posted the worst record by any Dodgers’ team since 1992. Since his departure, Los Angeles made the playoffs in three of five seasons. Has DePodesta been missed?
One more example of someone still in his job. Let’s review how supposed number five GM (in the SI rankings) Jack Zduriencik’s Seattle Mariners are doing this season.
This media favorite took on cancerous Milton Bradley when no one else would touch him with a ten foot pole and gave up what turned out to be a productive Carlos Silva in the process.
How’s that working out? Let’s see. A highly-publicized time out for Milton after another eruption and a .218 average on the field to boot.
Jack Z. built his team around a defense headed up by Casey Kotchman, a player traded three times in two years. The first baseman is currently hitting .188, which had to play into the flip-flop move by the GM to re-acquire all-power, high-strikeout, no-field journeyman Russell Branyan, a player he let walk during the off-season.
The last-place 2010 Mariners have dropped over 100 points in winning percentage from 2009 (.525 to .423) despite having two of the best starting pitchers in all of baseball in Cliff Lee and Felix Hernandez.
Consider this. Seattle has exactly two more wins than Byrnes’ and Hinch’s Diamondbacks at this point of the season.
It is still early for second-year general manager Jack Z. and perhaps the Mariners will improve down the road. It takes time. Putting a new, inexperienced GM on a pedestal among the best in the game before his organization has delivered significant results seems preposterous.
What does this mean for fantasy owners?
Jerry DiPoto has been named the interim general manager of the Diamondbacks with Kirk Gibson the new field manager for the remainder of the season. Neither man has a past track record in his job.
It remains to be seen whether DiPoto will move Dan Haren in trade this month as Byrnes was rumored to be considering.
Like the manager he replaced, Hinch, Gibson has not managed at any level so his tendencies are unknown. One positive is that Hinch apparently did not have strong support in the clubhouse and Gibson seems a no-nonsense type, so perhaps some of the D’Backs will play better under him.
They couldn’t be much worse. I watched their entire series in St. Louis this week and their lack of concentration of defense was nothing short of embarrassing.
In the broadest scheme of things, my message is to not worry about reputation and focus on results. That could be relevant in considering your league mates, evaluating players or potential trades or just about anything.
Finally, as I asserted last week, chemistry really does matter.
Thanks for reading and see you next week.
Brian Walton is the 2009 National League Tout Wars champion, scoring the most points in the league’s 12-year history. He is a 2009 NFBC league winner and finished in the top 25 nationally in both the NFBC and NFFC last season. His work can also be found daily at TheCardinalNation.com and thecardinalnationblog.com.