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Analytics at catcher position showing positive results for Diamondbacks

Arizona Diamondbacks' Zack Greinke (21) talks with catcher Jeff Mathis, left, after warming up in the bullpen prior to a baseball game against the Chicago White Sox, Monday, May 22, 2017, in Phoenix. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)

PHOENIX — When the Diamondbacks parted ways with catcher Welington Castillo in the offseason, the organization looked to be placing a new emphasis on the catcher position.

Coming off a season in which the pitching staff ranked last in team ERA, a different approach was seemingly inevitable following the removal of many front office executives.

That new approach is already paying dividends. Through 48 games played, the Diamondbacks own the fourth-best team ERA at 3.64, behind only the Cardinals, Astros and Dodgers.

A night and day difference between the 5.09 ERA that the team finished with last season.

In addressing their most important vacancy, the organization hired Mike Hazen from the Boston Red Sox to become their new general manager. Hazen has made a name for himself over the past decade in Boston, much in thanks to his ability to both draft well and replenish a farm system that is currently one of the best in baseball.

With a sterling reputation around the league, Hazen didn’t just bring new optimism to the ball club. He also brought a thorough knowledge of baseball analytics.

“It all starts with Hazen,” catching coach Robby Hammock said. “He was the one who pushed everything from the beginning… getting everyone on the same page.”

That was made all the more possible when the organization signed veteran catchers Chris Iannetta and Jeff Mathis following the departure of Castillo. Both have made various stops around the league during their careers, but for Hazen, their experience and style of play was what brought a needed change of scenery.

Iannetta and Mathis are both known for their defensive prowess and success in controlling the flow of the game. Iannetta feels he’s adapted well to a more in-depth focus on analytics at the position.

“It’s another added tool,” Iannetta said. “It’s another set of eyes to help piece together a game plan.”

Even with a new system brought in to help win ball games and to place a new focus on areas of the game that have gone ignored, the preparation remains the same for the trio of catchers.

“Jeff, Chris (Herrmann) and I, we’ve been doing this for a while so we know what works for us,” Iannetta said. “Now it’s just about adding another element into the equation and using what we know and adding that extra piece to be better at the position.”

Where Hazen was hoping for an improvement — has already begun to bear fruit. Now, not only are the catchers buying into the system, but so are the guys throwing to them.

For a number of players on the mound, improvements are already being seen. One of them, reliever Andrew Chafin, is embracing the new emphasis.

“It’s made me more informed on how to better execute my approach,” Chafin said.

In 18 appearances this season, Chafin has seen his ERA plummet to 1.80, which is much improved on the 6.75 mark he posted in 2016. Even though he values the information he’s being fed by the analytics department, which he jokingly said is sometimes too much, he tries to keep things as simple as possible.

“You don’t want to get too focused on the small details,” he said. “But, we certainly have all the information we need to go out and succeed.”

Much akin to the praise he already expressed for Arizona’s new GM, Hammock said it really came down to Hazen voicing his ideas to the team and taking the time to push an agenda. Rather than saying, “Here’s what I see and this is what I’d like,” he said Hazen really took the time to present himself as an open book and everything has come together because of it.

“They’re taking the information, processing it and then we’re all putting our heads together on it,” Hammock said. “Things are definitely working and it’s been fun to watch.”

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