February 21, 2013
Arizona's Extreme Strikeout Makeover
When you talk about changing a roster for the grittier, as Kevin Towers has rather openly during a bizarre offseason at the helm of the Diamondbacks, you’re going to get accused of using “grit” as a code word. Normally, it’s racial. The fact that the Diamondbacks’ push for grit coincided with the trading of their two prominent black players didn’t help their look.
But what if it was a different kind of code word? What if it did coincide with something quantifiable on the baseball field in how they made over their team?
It appears that as the Diamondbacks were adding grit this offseason, what they were mostly adding was contact. Or more accurately, what they were taking away wasn’t any racial checkbox but the “three true outcomes” of plate appearances, thus getting further from the Kirk Gibson career they’ve been trying to model.
To review, the Diamondbacks had one of the busiest offseasons in baseball. They had multi-year free agent acquisitions like Cody Ross and Brandon McCarthy. They had swaps of established players, sending out Chris Young for Cliff Pennington and a Justin Upton package for a Martin Prado package. They had a swap of young guys, jettisoning Trevor Bauer for Didi Gregorius. As a footnote, they had a straight buy on the previously designated for assignment Tony Campana, paying with a couple of distant prospects.
Through it all, they have become a much more contact-oriented team, and that might be what some of the grit narrative implies. There are no hustle plays when you strike out or when you walk or when you hit a home run. Those intangibles are usually associated with actions like getting runners over, taking the extra base, and other things you can’t do on the true outcomes.
The 2010 Diamondbacks, a team Towers took over in September, struck out in 24.7 percent of their plate appearances, the highest rate in history. Both he and outgoing GM Jerry Dipoto vowed to lower that rate, and after shedding Mark Reynolds, Adam LaRoche, Chris Snyder and Kelly Johnson over that winter or during the following season, the Diamondbacks did make contact more often.