The fate of Diamondbacks manager Kirk Gibson has been uncertain this year, with his team struggling out of the gate and getting enveloped by a cloud of controversy in the face of their “unintentional” methods of retribution against teams who dare plunk their players.
Naturally, it looks like Gibson will be back for the Diamondbacks in 2015.
Gibson received a one-year extension from the team prior to the season, which many thought was questionable given the team’s back to back .500 seasons after winning the NL West in 2011. Given everything that has unfolded with the team in 2014, it would be more than reasonable if the team declined to bring him back to honor that extension. It doesn’t appear that’s happening, though.
Even if you ignore all of the beanball chaos that the Diamondbacks have embroiled themselves in, Gibson’s retention tells me that being mediocre is just fine in Phoenix. He took over for A.J. Hinch in 2010, and managed the club to a 34-49 record in 83 games to close out the season. In 2011, Gibson won the NL Manager of the Year award while leading the Diamondbacks to a 94-68 record and the fifth division title in team history. The team hasn’t been back to the playoffs since, finishing .500 in both 2012 and 2013 before plummeting to a 53-72 record so far in 2014. You can’t even say that the team is simply falling victim to bad luck, as their run differential has also gotten worse since Gibson’s triumphant 2011, bottoming out at -92 this season.
The rumored retention of Gibson is even more bizarre when you consider Arizona’s history with their managers. The team had five managers before Gibson took the reigns during the summer of 2010, and three of those given had more success than Gibson – and were fired after being given less rope than the team’s current skipper. Buck Showalter won a division title and 100 games in the franchise’s second season, and was dismissed after an 85-win third season. Bob Brenly won the World Series at the helm of the club in 2001 and never finished under .500 in his three full seasons manning the team, but was canned after a 29-50 start to the 2004 campaign. Bob Melvin was fired after 29 games in 2009 despite coming off back to back above .500 seasons. I don’t think it’s coincidental that both Showalter and Melvin are still succeeding in the majors, with each managing a current AL playoff team (Orioles and Athletics, respectively).
And then, there’s Gibson. He’s managed more games than anyone in team history, and has finished above .500 just once. He’s also managed to achieve this mediocrity despite the Diamondbacks having two of the three largest payrolls in club history during his tenure with the club. Essentially, he’s been given more resources to work with than any manager the team has had, and has rewarded that investment by only winning five more games than the Padres over the last three seasons.
To be honest, it’s just as shameful if Kevin Towers returns to his post as general manager. Towers is the one who dumped Justin Upton onto the Braves for a package of five players, the headliner of which (Martin Prado) was signed to a four-year extension and traded a year and a half later. If Gibson is the one bringing mediocrity to Arizona, Towers is the one that is giving him the tools to *be* mediocre.
Yes, the 2014 Diamondbacks have been hit hard by injuries. Only five players currently have logged at least 300 plate appearances with the team, and of those five, two (Prado, Gerardo Parra) have been traded, one (Aaron Hill) is an August trade candidate, and one (Paul Goldschmidt) is out for the year. Only five pitchers have thrown 80 innings for them too, and of course, one (Brandon McCarthy) has been traded and one (Bronson Arroyo) is out for the year.
However, injuries alone aren’t an excuse: the Padres haven’t exactly been a beacon of health and good fortune this year, and they’re six games better than Arizona this season. The Rockies similarly lost their MVP candidate and have even worse pitching, and it took them until the middle of July to fall behind the Diamondbacks in the standings. Boston traded away half of their pitching staff at the trade deadline, and still have a better team ERA than Arizona over the course of the season – including by nearly a full run in August.
I will concede one point about the Diamondbacks – they’re probably not one of the five worst teams in baseball. A 9-22 start to the season completely deep sixed their year before it even began. But even if you strip out those first 31 games, Arizona is still just 44-50 – you know, mediocre.