Given the failed expectations of the Arizona Diamondbacks, rumors and speculation persist that Chip Hale is on his way out as the club’s field manager.
The time window is always short and patience thin. Just over a month into the current season, the first managerial head rolled. Then, around the recent All-Star game, a second, high-level personnel was led to the guillotine. Amid rumors circulating now, could manager Chip Hale of the Arizona Diamondbacks be the next to meet a similar fate.
In mid-May, the Atlanta Braves, with a record of 5-17 at the time, showed manager Fredi Gonzalez to the door. Then, the Minnesota Twins, with a mark of 33-58 and 21 games out of first place in the American League Central Division on July 18, fired Terry Ryan, their general manager.
Now, Hale seems to be the hot seat. Following a 9-8 victory Sunday in Cincinnati, the Arizona Diamondbacks are 41-57 and 17 games behind the NL West Division leading Giants. Only the Reds, Braves, Twins and Rays have more losses than Arizona. Clearly, this is far below expectations for a team which harbored visions of grandeur and splendor as early as this spring. When a team is not performing to its capability or vision, the field manager or head coach is ultimately pushed to the firing line.
In the case of Hale, now in his second season as manager of the Arizona Diamondbacks and the club picked up his option year for 2017, arguments can be made for both retaining his services and dismissing his service.
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In his defense, the Arizona Diamondbacks were hit with a plethora of injuries to key producers. The fractured right elbow sustained by All-Star centerfielder and Gold Glove recipient A. J. Pollock during the next-to-last exhibition game, caused an unsettling rippling effect. Hale was forced to use traditional infielders in outfield positions, but his placement of Chris Owings, a shortstop by trade, as Pollock’s replacement in centerfielder yielded surprising results. Outfielder David Peralta, coming off a .312 season a year ago, and led the National League in triples, has been on the disabled list twice, and out for most of the season. As the Diamondbacks head into Milwaukee to begin a four-game set with Brewers beginning Monday, Peralta remains in the DL. Appearing in just 41 games this season, Peralta is hitting .259 and has only 15 extra base hits in 147 plate appearances
Elsewhere, Owings just returned from the disabled list. On the DL since June 11 with plantar fasciitis in left foot, he was immediately thrust into the lineup Saturday at shortstop. When the Arizona Diamondbacks placed shortstop Nick Ahmed on the DL with a right hip impingement this past weekend, that allowed Owings to fill at short as well as return to center field.
Then, there’s the case of right-hander Zack Grienke. Off to a 10-3 beginning and 3.62 ERA in 17 starts, the $200 million man went down with a strain in his right oblique. He has not pitched since taking the mound at home June 28 against the Phillies, and a timetable for his return is unknown. Rubby De La Rosa, perhaps most surprising of Arizona’s starters (4-5, 4.15 ERA in 11 starts) has been on the DL since May 27 with right elbow inflammation. His return this season remains doubtful.
Sharing in the overall disappointment is the lack of production from right-hander Shelby Miller and lefty Patrick Corbin. Both have no wins at home this season, and Miller’s lot was so abysmal, he was dispatched to the minor leagues without a time table to return.
If physical conditions are out of Hale’s reach, then there remains matters directly under his control.
First, there is the handling of starters in the rotation. In his two years directing the Arizona Diamondbacks, Hale developed a penchant for placing his starters on a short leash. At the ready with the hook, it’s rare starters get beyond the seventh inning.
After pulled what he thought was early in one game, Corbin criticized Hale for pulling the Clay, N. Y. native without just cause. Their discourse became public, and Hale told reporters before one game, that the dialogue remained in-house.
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Reliever Josh Collmenter tells a similar story.
“It seems like as of late the starters are getting a little more leeway and it’s worked out,” Collmenter told the Arizona Republic during the recent series in Cincinnati. “We went on a stretch on that road trip we had in Philadelphia, Toronto and Colorado when the starters were pitching deeper in games. It wasn’t, ‘Oh, he’s at 80 (pitches) and in trouble, let’s get the bullpen going.’ So it seems like, in terms of giving those guys a little more leash, it worked out a little more often than not. That was good to see. It seemed like there was always, not an eagerness, but a quickness to go to the bullpen, and sometimes you have to let the starters figure it out and battle and it was fun to see they were actually doing that and have continued to do that.”
Another criticism of Hale is his use of corner outfielders. With the commitment to Yasmany Tomas and his $68 million contract, the Arizona Diamondbacks clearly compromised on defensive play in the outfield by placing Tomas in a vulnerable position. With Peralta out for most of the season, Hale insisted retaining Brandon Drury, a natural third baseman, on the roster. That was because the organization liked his bat and saw great potential. With Jake Lamb having a break-out season at third, the only place Hale believed he could receive value from Drury was by placing him in the outfield.
After signing free-agent Michael Bourn and, following the protracted injuries to Owings and Peralta, Hale positioned the veteran in centerfield. Then, Hale used Drury in left and in right for some games, Tomas in right, and Chris Herrmann for a few games in the gardens. All of which compromised the Diamondbacks’ ability put together a strong, defensive outfield. In comparison, the trio of Pollock in center, Peralta in right and Ender Inciarte in left last season was a principal reason why the Diamondbacks were one of the better defensive teams in the league, and that help to hold down the composite ERA of the pitching staff.
The organization in general, and Hale in particular, should have realized Drury’s value in the open market, and made some deal for a quality, veteran corner outfielder.
Yet, the question remains, is this overall scenario enough for decision-makers of the Arizona Diamondbacks to make a change at the field level? The answer is probably no, and with only two months left in their dreadful season, a change, at this point, will make little difference in the emotion, drive and ultimate result of this team.