SCOTTSDALE – After the Arizona Diamondbacks were swept in the 2017 National League Division playoffs by the Los Angeles Dodgers, reliever Archie Bradley made a startling revelation.
Perhaps, not too starling.
Given the methodology and approach of Torey Lovullo, then the first-year manager guiding the Diamondbacks, Bradley said he would rather play for Lovullo than any other manager.
How and why Bradley came to this conclusion addresses one of the most hyped variables which govern athletics. Rarely defined but often used, “culture” is best described as establishing a particular standard and have those around accept various behavioral elements. Beginning with Day One in the desert, Lovullo instituted the kind of culture based on his definition, but also established those conditions which foster a strong sense of common purpose.
At the time he was hired, Lovullo introduced several elements which, if merged, formed a path to success. Perhaps more than any other component, Lovullo wanted to instill transparency, the need to be transparent and create an open communication policy. When he was hired, Lovullo said at his introductory news conference, “what matters to the each and every player, matters to me.”
For the most part, Lovullo succeeded in establishing a kind of environment where players are honest about injuries, honest about communication and honest about accountability.
“I ask for transparency,” Lovullo told Fancred. “And, we demanded accountability here. Sometimes, players ask their bodies to do a little too much and we understand that. Yes, this group is extremely accountable. That’s part of our culture here. That’s deeply rooted here. Guys know to be accountable and honest. We put a lot trust in players and at times, players will come in and have discussions about how they feel. We’ll call a trainer and have a group discussion about the next steps. Yes, our guys are very open and honest.”
When Lovullo was hired after the 2016 season, the Diamondbacks were in turmoil. First, the club completed its third straight, losing season and the regime of field manager Chip Hale, and general manager Dave Stewart and executive Tony La Russa did little to guide the franchise in a positive direction.
Simultaneously, Ken Kendrick, the team’s managing general partner and the principal executive with the check book, opened his wallet to a questionable spending of nearly $300 million. Pitcher Zack Greinke was signed for $206 million, Cuban exile Yasmany Tomas was signed for $68 million and pitcher Yoan Lopez signed for $16 million. In Tomas and Lopez, the Diamondbacks received little on the return of their investment..
While economics may have a factor in preventing the Diamondbacks from pursuing free agents or signing existing players to long-term contracts, the decision was made to clean house. First, Mike Hazen, a respected executive with the Boston Red Sox, was brought in as general manager and then Lovullo was hired on Nov. 4, 2016.
Given Hazen’s penchant for analytics, there was a natural evolution of factors outside the traditional realm of the baseball scout. While the ultimate goal was to mold a championship club, Lovullo and Hazen began to create a road map to that destination. Psychological factors, like communication, responsibility and liability suddenly loomed important.
Given a significant baseball education under Hazen, it was then natural for Lovullo to follow with piles of papers on his desk and homework after games. Preparation became a key factor and so did building relationships with players.
“When Torey came over here, his communication was really pin-point,” said utility infielder Chris Owings, who played for Lovullo in 2017 and 2018 in Arizona. “’Hey, this is what I’m thinking,’ he would tell us and ‘this is what I see for you.’ He struck to it and this was pretty impressive.”
From the perspective of history, Owings, who is currently in the Colorado Rockies camp as a non-roster invitee in spring training, had a unique seat. Coming to the Diamondbacks at the major league level under Kirk Gibson and playing multiple positions under Hale and then Lovullo, Owings was able to view the strengths and weakness of each of the three managers for whom he played in Arizona.
Above all, Lovullo’s desire to be transparent and create a culture of inclusion became his hallmark.
“(Lovullo) is a great communicator,” Owings pointed out. “I think he remembers how tough it was as a player and he does not want to put you in a bad situation. He wanted everyone to be prepared and be the best player they could be. He did a great job of being accountable and holding you to go out there and do your best. That allowed the team to mesh and put everyone on the same page.”
On Thursday, the Diamondbacks continue their spring slate with a game against the Texas Rangers in Surprise.
Lefty Robbie Ray is slated to get the start and followed by Taylor Clarke and J.B. Bukauskas. Veteran left-hander Mike Minor goes for Texas.
The Diamondbacks then return to Salt River on Friday to face the Colorado Rockies on Friday.
For the up-coming weekend, there is a split squad for Saturday. Half remain at Salt River and take on the San Diego Padres and the other half travels over to Tempe to take on the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim. On Sunday, the Diamondbacks are in Mesa and engage the Chicago Cubs.