On the Hot Seat: Will Trevor Rosenthal's Regression Cost Him His Job?
Welcome to the second edition of a new weekly feature here at numberFire, entitled On the Hot Seat. In this weekly feature, I'll identify and discuss baseball personnel that are on the hot seat and in danger of losing their role and/or job.
While players will be the focus, executives and managers will also be discussed when appropriate.
With each of the five players selected each week, I will do three things. First, I'll explain why they are on this list. Has the player’s performance suffered or is there a top prospect waiting in the wings ready to claim the job? Perhaps both? Has the executive made a few ill-advised trades or has the manager has lost control of the locker room?
Second, I'll discuss what, if anything, each player, executive, and/or manager can do to remove their name from this list. Will a hot streak buy each individual a bit more time or is the writing already on the wall?
Finally, I plan to examine what will happen from a team perspective if the individual on the hot seat is indeed demoted or fired. Will the player be benched or optioned? Perhaps the player will just be moved down in the order or to lower leverage situations. Is the demotion permanent or will the player have an opportunity to reclaim his former job? Who will take his job? In the case of a non-player, will the bench coach or assistant GM step up in the short term? How about the long term? Is this the end of the road for the non-player or will he be likely to find another opportunity with another club?
Without further ado, here is the second edition of “On the Hot Seat.”
1. Travis Snider and Jose Tabata
Why are they here? Gregory Polanco is coming, and once he comes, he will play. The five-tool outfield prospect has already been hailed as the key for the Pirates to rebound from their slow start and will be given every chance to succeed, at the expense of incumbents Jose Tabata and Travis Snider.
Can they remove themselves from this list? No. Once the super-two deadline passes and Polanco is called up, Tabata and Snider will sit or play right field for someone other than the Pirates. However, even without the impending arrival of Polanco, Pirates general manager Neil Huntington likely would have been searching for replacements for his below-replacement level outfielders.
Through a combined 219 plate appearances, the duo has totaled an unsightly -0.6 WAR, ineffectiveness which is furthered by the well below average 72 and 83 wRC+’s by Tabata and Snider respectively.
Meanwhile, Gregory Polanco has been destroying baseballs in Indianapolis. The elite prospect as a .382/.444/.612 slash line, a .469 wOBA, and a 196 wRC+. All of those numbers are close to otherworldly, and though we can't expect Polanco to demolish Major League pitching to the same degree, we can expect him to be an improvement over the sub-replacement level options currently manning right field in Pittsburgh.
What if they are demoted? It's unlikely the both Tabata and Snider will remain on the active roster once Polanco is promoted, so at least one will likely find time on the bench of a different MLB club or in the outfield of the Indianapolis Indians.
2. Kevin Towers and Kirk Gibson
Why are they here? While they certainly weren’t favorites to win the NL West, the Diamondbacks were expected to be in the hunt and have an outside chance to contend. Though the Diamondbacks are no longer the laughingstock of the league, if they do not recover from their abysmal start, someone must take the blame.
Even though Gibson’s managing is easy for an outsider to blame, it seems that Arizona simply is not a very good baseball team. Their -60 run differential is easily the worst in baseball and a full 10 runs less than the Houston Astros. Furthermore, while the Diamondbacks have scored a moderately respectable 3.98 runs per game, they have allowed a league-leading 5.28 per game.
Those numbers alone could spell the end of Towers, and though it may not seem fair, if Towers goes then Gibson is also likely to go.
Perhaps more importantly, the Diamondbacks recently hired Hall of Fame Manager Tony La Russa to oversee their Baseball Operations department. For fans of a team in disarray, this is great news, but for Towers and Gibson, the introduction of La Russa was an introduction of increased pressure and decreased job security. If La Russa decides that Towers and Gibson are not the right men for the job, the organization will not hesitate to heed his advice and fire both men.
Can they remove themselves from this list? There are two ways that Towers and Gibson can salvage their jobs. First, they could win. Winning tends to solve a lot of problems and makes both the manager and general manager look good, but it appears that winning is not going to happen this season in Arizona.
Alternatively, Towers and Gibson could (and should) get on La Russa’s good side and convince him that they are indeed the right men for the job. This will be no easy task in a losing organization, but it may be their only way to ensure that they hold their titles in the near future.
What if they are demoted? The answer to this question is obvious, but it's worth mentioning that the Diamondbacks are likely heading for a poor season regardless of whether Towers and/or Gibson keep their jobs.
As for potential replacements, current Cardinals’ third base coach and former member of La Russa’s staff in St. Louis Jose Oquendo seems like the most likely managerial replacment. Oquendo has been rumored as a managerial candidate for a few years and it would make a lot of sense for him to receive his first opportunity with a club featuring his former boss.
3. Trevor Rosenthal
Why is he here? After a dominant performance in 2013, especially including the 2013 postseason, regression has struck the young closer. His blazing fastball has slowed a bit, from an average of 96.4 to 96.0, but the biggest issues for Trevor Rosenthal are his ballooned walk rate and general ineffectiveness with his heater.
Rosenthal’s 5.82 BB/9 figure is a bit odd, as Rosenthal has actually increased his Zone% in 2014. A dramatic decrease in O-Swing% may be the culprit, but it remains to be seen why opposing hitters have shown such tremendous plate discipline against the hard-throwing righty.
Additionally, Rosenthal's once feared heater has been nothing more than an average pitch this season. The metric wFB/C is described by FanGraphs as "Fastball Runs Above Average Per 100 Pitches," meaning that a mark of zero is average. Rosenthal's fastball, valued at 0.98 wFB/C last season, has slipped all the way to 0.04 this season. While his changeup has improved, Rosenthal must re-discover his once-elite fastball.
His 4.98 ERA may be a bit inflated and undeserved, but a 1.43 WHIP, 3.26 FIP (up from 1.91 last season), and a 4.12 xFIP all show that Rosenthal has indeed regressed in 2014.
Can he remove himself from this list? An improvement in performance would certainly alleviate the concerns, but Rosenthal’s peripheral statistics suggest that this is not imminent. If his current performances of mediocrity continue, expect the hot seat under Rosenthal to grow even hotter.
What if he is demoted? If Mike Matheny decides to make a change at closer, he will have two very good options to replace him: promoting current setup man Carlos Martinez or reinstating the former closer and Jason Motte, who was recently activated from the Disabled List.
Martinez makes the most sense in the short term, but the long term replacement could be Motte. If Motte can regain his pre-surgery form, he could takeover the closer role and run with it.
4. Darwin Barney
Why is he here? Darwin Barney has always been able to overcome his poor hitting skills with superior defense, until this season. A staple at the keystone for the Cubs over the past four years, Barney has seen his WAR slip each of the past three seasons and is now playing below replacement level.
His defense is still very good, but the lack of any semblance of an offensive contribution really hampers his total value. He lacks power, speed, and on-base ability, a poor combination for any player. The .176/.256/.257 line he currently sports may be the result of some poor fortune of balls in play since his line drive rate is up to 20.3%, but it may not be enough to prevent a demotion.
Can he remove himself from this list? Barney may be able to buy himself a bit more time with a hot streak, but the writing is already on the wall for the former Gold Glove winner. Even if more of his line drives fall in for hits, his ceiling is very low and will never be more than an average player.
What if he is demoted? The Iowa Cubs, who are the Triple-A affiliate of the Cubs, boast arguably the best middle infield combo in the minor leagues with consensus top-10 prospect shortstop Javier Baez and consensus top-100 prospect second baseman Arismendy Alcantara. Both prospects are likely to debut this season, and when that happens, Barney will be relegated to a utility role or the trade block.
5. Andre Ethier
Why is he here? The crowded outfield in Los Angeles has been well documented and remains unresolved. Yasiel Puig is not going anywhere, so that leaves Matt Kemp, Carl Crawford, and Andre Ethier for two starting spots.
Kemp, Crawford, and Ethier have all provided exactly 0.1 WAR, but Ethier is the most likely candidate to be moved due to his (relatively) more movable contract. The Dodgers will still likely have to eat a significant amount of money to facilitate a trade, but there will be next to no playing time for Ethier once the Dodgers inevitably promote top outfield prospect Joc Pederson.
In addition to having the best twitter handle of all time (@yungjoc650), the five-tool prospect has absolutely dominated Triple-A pitching thus far. His .361/.465/.663 slash line rivals that of Polanco, while his 14 long balls have silenced doubters who thought that Pederson would not hit for enough power to man a corner outfield spot.
Can he remove himself from this list? Ethier could cool his hot seat by outperforming Kemp and Crawford in the short term, but Ethier is likely not in the long-term plans of the Dodgers. His days in Los Angeles are numbered, as we can expect the Dodgers to accept the first reasonable trade for Ethier presented to them.
What if he is demoted? Ethier’s departure and Pederson’s promotion will likely be related moves, so the Dodgers will have a crowded outfield even if Ethier is dealt. With Puig firmly entrenched in right, Pederson, Kemp, and Crawford should split time in center and left field.