D-backs’ Lovullo plenty deserving of Manager of the Year honor
The winner for the Baseball Writers Association of America’s Manager of the Year award will be announced on Tuesday, and it is no surprise to see Arizona Diamondbacks manager Torey Lovullo among the other two National League finalists, Colorado’s Bud Black and last year’s winner, the Dodgers’ Dave Roberts.
While all three NL West managers make an excellent case to be a nominee for this award, Lovullo arguably is the most deserving considering what he and general manager Mike Hazen have done to turn the franchise around in just one season.
When the new regime took over, the D-backs were in a state of disarray.
The moves made by previous executives chief baseball officer Tony La Russa and general manager Dave Stewart depleted the once robust minor league system and committed the team to high dollar contracts. The result was a fourth-place finish in the NL West in 2016 and a 69-93 record.
Enter Lovullo and Hazen, who made minor roster changes to the team in the offseason. The most significant moves: bringing on a new group of catchers and adding versatile role players while keeping the majority of the roster intact.
Through his leadership and his mad-scientist-like roster experimentations, which included successfully moving former starting pitcher Archie Bradley to the bullpen, Lovullo and the D-backs flipped their record to 93-69 in 2017 and earned a Wild Card berth.
The 24-game turnaround was the biggest improvement in MLB from 2016 to 2017, and the D-backs did so with the fifth-smallest payroll in baseball.
Arizona’s Opening Day payroll of $93,257,600 is significantly less than what the Dodgers spent as the most expensive team in baseball at $242,065,828, and even much less than the $130,963,571 spent by the Rockies, who had the 16th largest payroll.
Without a fat wallet, Lovullo brought out the best in his players.
Ace Zack Greinke rebounded from a tough season in 2016 to look like the pitcher the D-backs committed $206.5 million to two summers ago. Fellow starters Robbie Ray and Zack Godley emerged as stars with their his best career numbers in several categories, and utility man Daniel Descalso made Lovullo look like a clairvoyant on several occasions.
When you look at the numbers between 2016 and 2017, the team didn’t change much offensively. In 2016, the team batting average was .261, with an on-base percentage of .320 and a .432 slugging percentage. This season, the batting average dropped a bit to .254 with a .329 OBP and .445 slugging figure.
A big factor in the success of this season versus last season was pitching. The pitching staff ERA went from 5.09 in 2016 to 3.66 in 2017 with strikeouts increasing from 8.2 per 9 innings pitched to 9.3 per 9. The small changes they made with essentially the same pitching staff was a difference-maker.
Lovullo’s decision-making was on point all season long, but it was the way Lovullo seemingly brought the team and community together as a family that defines him as a leader.
Lovullo doesn’t shy away from using the word “love” when talking about his team or his staff. Building trust with his players was an important factor, and he has attributed his success to communication and getting to know his players on a personal level. In an interview with ESPN’s Pedro Gomez, Lovullo talked about what he took away from his days as a player that contributes to his abilities as a manager.
“As a player myself, I knew that I felt like at times I didn’t have a lot of expression and have the ability to say what’s on my mind, and I felt like I couldn’t go out there to perform if I didn’t have an empty mind,” he said., ” … so that’s why I always told myself that no matter the circumstances, that I was going to allow these players to have their feelings and express their feelings.”
As far as the community goes, the culture and success of the Diamondbacks team he fostered took the focus off of the battle between the club and the Maricopa County Stadium District over needed improvements to Chase Field. Attendance rose by nearly 100,000 throughout the season and excitement was generated by the team’s postseason run.
Lovullo’s leadership changed the perception of the franchise’s future. He is a shining example of the impact a manager can make on his team.