As quickly as the last fan left Chase Field earlier this month and the Diamondbacks defeated Houston to end their season, the guillotine fell. With the blade sharpened and will resolved, Arizona decision-makers let the hammer drop on Mike Harkey, the pitching coach.
While several have been rumored to take over the job, there should be a clear criteria to this version of the Diamondbacks staff. The traditional method of hiring new personnel is to recycle those fired or to simply give a job to an old friend.
That was essentially how Harkey landed in Arizona. As the Yankees bullpen coach, Harkey and former Diamondbacks general manager Kevin Towers bonded. At one time, Towers was a scout in the Yankees organization before landing in Arizona as general manager near the end of the 2010 season, and Harkey was the Yankees bullpen coach from 2008 until hired by Towers. The two remained in contact and when Charles Nagy, the pitching coach under Kirk Gibson was let go after the 2013 season, Towers brought Harkey aboard.
Some insiders pointed to Harkey’s lack of strong communication skills and his inability to send pitchers on the proper course. At the conclusion of the recent season, Harkey’s staff compiled a 4.04 ERA and allowed the third most home runs in the National League behind the Phillies and Rockies.
Plus, Harkey guided the staff to only one double-digit winner and that was Rubby De La Rosa, who went 14-9 with a 4.67 ERA. The next highest win total among starters was Jeremey Hellickson, who finished with a 9-12 mark and a 4.62 ERA.
“It was a tough decision to part with Mike,” said Tony La Russa, the club’s Chief Baseball Officer, after the decision was made. “I thought he did a good job. At this point, we’re looking for a better fit.”
When meeting the media at the end of the season on Oct. 5, general manager Dave Stewart identified Robbie Ray, Patrick Corbin and De La Rosa as three starters with the inside track to start in 2016. At this point, Hellickson appears an after-thought and Chase Anderson, who had what could be considered a book-end season, was also far from Stewart’s lips.
The case of Anderson is curious. Starting strong, Anderson, who was named a starter during the final week of spring training, was 1-1 and nine no-decisions for his first 11 starts. Then, he fell into an abyss and eventually demoted to the minors. Anderson returned for a credible September and completed the season with an even 6-6 record but a relatively high ERA of 4.30.
One name which surfaces as the next pitching coach is Dan Carlson, who is the Diamondbacks’ minor league pitching coordinator. Carlson just completed his 14th year in the Arizona organization and worked primarily at the middle to lower minor league levels. He is credited with the development of Archie Bradley, who won a spot in the Diamondbacks organization at the end of spring training. However, Bradley spent most of this past season on the disabled list for facial and shoulder injuries.
If there is anyone in the organization who understands the value of development, it’s likely Carlson, who pitched 12 years in the minors with 202 starts. Not that Carlson would be the panacea for the critical decisions facing the pitching coach, but he is more likely to be familiar with the organization, La Russa and Dave Duncan, the club’s major league pitching consultant.
Whoever is named faces a number of critical issues. First, the new pitching coach must find ways to get starters deeper into games, work on location and somehow, eliminate the home run ball. Manager Chip Hale tends to credit opposing teams for leaving their own confines, known as pitcher’s parks, and unload lethal offenses in the friendly sights of Chase Field.
Still, the mantra of location location, location applies directly to major league pitchers as to real estate agents. Selection of the next pitching coach must find solutions to several critical questions. If important issues are rectified in a timely manner, the pitching staff for 2016 could raise the bar to a near or equal level as a very productive offense.