The Diamondbacks have one starting pitcher with a winning record.
They rank 29th out of 30 major league teams with a .246 batting average.
They’ve allowed 29 more runs than they’ve scored this season.
Oh, and their $52 million payroll is the fifth lowest in all of baseball.
Given those numbers, they should be where the San Francisco Giants are, in last place in the National League West.
That they’re in first place, with a 63-50 record, is astounding.
Which is why Bob Melvin has to be the front-runner for the NL Manager of the Year award.
Melvin is hard to define. He’s not a demonstrative guy, like Chicago Cubs manager Lou Piniella, nor does he have the reputation of a brilliant strategist, a la St. Louis’ Tony La Russa.
He’s also a complete failure when it comes to self-promotion. You don’t see Melvin on billboards or in commercials. He could walk unrecognized through the streets of downtown Phoenix.
Around here, Melvin always has been seen as the fallback plan, someone who got the Diamondbacks’ job only because he was the squeaky-clean opposite of Wally Backman.
Perhaps that was true then, but it doesn’t do justice to the manager now.
Arizona’s ascension in the NL West has multiple branches — the brilliance of the bullpen, anchored by Jose Valverde, the play of Eric Byrnes and Orlando Hudson, the growth of youngsters such as Chris Young — but the root has been Melvin’s stabilizing influence.
The Diamondbacks have had several stretches of bad baseball — losing five straight games to start the month of May, and 10 of 13 in July — that might have crippled a young team. But there’s been no panic in the dugout in part because Melvin never panicked.
He moved on from one day to the next and took his team with him.
“The most impressive thing about Bob is that no matter what is happening, he is steady at the helm,” managing general partner Ken Kendrick said. “He never gets too flustered when things aren’t going well, and he never gets overly excited when things are going bad.
“I think with young players in particular, a steady hand is very important. He’s an excellent manager for the team we have.”
Melvin’s stoicism often has been mistaken as weakness. Because he doesn’t berate players publicly, kick over buffet tables or launch into a postgame, profanity-filled tirade, it’s been said he lacks fire.
Nothing could be further from the truth. Melvin hates to lose as much as any man in the Diamondbacks’ clubhouse.
“His passion and competitiveness are very much there,” general manager Josh Byrnes said. “He just chooses not to show it in the dugout.”
Melvin will express his feelings privately, though. He berated the team when it lost three of four to Milwaukee in mid-July, and he has had closed-door sessions with several players.
The private chats serve two purposes: Melvin gets his point across, and the players respect him for keeping the conversation from the prying eyes and ears of the media.
“He and his coaches have a way of letting a guy know they expect more,” Byrnes said.
One of Melvin’s best attributes — besides his communication skills — is his in-game strategy. Think about it. How many times this year have the Diamondbacks been outmaneuvered in the closing innings? Their 25-15 record in one-run games — Arizona has the most one-run victories of any team in baseball — is due not only to the bullpen’s dependability but to Melvin pushing the right buttons at the right time.
One example: In an August game against Baltimore, Melvin let rookie third baseman Mark Reynolds hit against Orioles’ right-hander Todd Williams because he knew if he pinch-hit with a left-handed hitter such as Tony Clark, Baltimore manager Sam Perlozzo would counter with a left-hander, and that wouldn’t be the preferred matchup for Clark or Hudson, who was on-deck.
The result: Reynolds coaxed a walk out of Williams, and Hudson hit a game-winning, three-run homer.
“He’s made a lot of shrewd and gutsy moves,” Byrnes said. “He’s done a fantastic job this year of playing the chess game.”
There are only two other candidates for the NL Manager of the Year award: Piniella and Milwaukee’s Ned Yost.
Piniella will receive votes because the Cubs are back in the pennant race after a horrendous start, but that isn’t as much a reflection of Piniella’s managerial skills as it is Chicago’s talent base. The Cubs’ payroll is $99.6 million. If anything, they have underachieved.
Yost has the Brewers in first place in the NL Central, but the Diamondbacks have the better record and the smaller payroll — Milwaukee’s is $70 million — meaning Melvin is getting more bang for Arizona’s buck.
The Diamondbacks still have 49 games to play, so Melvin’s candidacy could take a hit or two. But as of today, there should be no question:
No one in the NL — or all of baseball — has done a better job managing their team.
Listen to Scott Bordow every Monday on The Fan (1060 AM) with Bob Kemp.