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AZ SnakePit Round Table: Diamondbacks Starting Pitching

The last round-table of 2010 - we're taking Christmas week off, as people will mostly be busy decking the halls and fa-la-la-la-la-ing (though I believe one international jetsetter is off to Russia!). We finish the year by looking at the starting pitching in Arizona. By Opening Day 2011, it's almost certain Ian Kennedy will be the only survivor of the rotation that filled the role at the same point this year. Why was this necessary, and what are we looking for from out starters in 2011?

We started 2010 with the following rotation: Dan Haren, Edwin Jackson, Ian Kennedy, Rodrigo Lopez, Kris Benson. Given hindsight, should we have been more concerned?

Kishi: Probably. I think we were already worried- we were hoping for Webb to return, mainly, but we had other concerns, which may be summed up with this thought- Kris Benson was really in our opening day rotation? I think our starters did okay early on- Edwin Jackson probably didn’t come out of the gate as strongly as we’d hoped, but Rodrigo Lopez did better than expected.

IHSB: If Webb had returned as everyone seemed to expect him to, I don’t see what would be wrong with that rotation. Haren is an above-average #2, EJ is a #3, IPK is an above-average #4, and Rodrigo was a nice #5. We just were duped when it came to Webb’s shoulder’s condition. Apparently, so was Josh Byrnes.

soco: Mostly about Webb not coming back. Trying to piece together a rotation after this became a big hassle, and was hopeless once Haren and Jackson were shipped out.

IHSB: Haren and Jackson being shipped out didn’t really make it any more or less of a hassle... we got a guy to immediately step into the rotation for each of those guys in each of those deals.

Wailord: Knowing what we knew then, I don’t think that we were too far off - we were under the impression Webb would be back to at least the general Webb we knew (even if not as electric), and we probably hoped for more out of Edwin. Obviously, Webb never threw a pitch, and after that, everything sorta fell apart.

emily: I know I was worried. It only got worse as Webb and the team pushed his return date back further and further. By June I had completely given up. However, given what could have happened with the scrap heap of starters we turned out better than expected.

Jim: We didn’t seem to have any kind of strategy apart from hoping Brandon Webb would come back. There was no "Plan B". Given he hadn’t pitched at all in 2009, it would have made sense to have a better alternative than Kris Benson ready to step up.

snakecharmer: I agree, I think no Plan B for Webb (or Kris Benson for Webb) was the most disconcerting. Haren and Jackson were proven starters, Kennedy pretty much lived up to his potential, and Lopez was decent. If we’d had a stronger co-#3/#4 I would’ve felt better. Benson was worthless and that #5 spot was never solidified until, what, July if then? I don’t think the front office had considered enough backup plans for Webb or other struggles.

DbacksSkins: I know I was perfectly happy to look at the bright side and expect Webb to bounce back -- which, as we know, didn’t happen. Benson was pretty serviceable the few times he did pitch, but, of course, given that he didn’t pitch much at all, his only real value was in providing fodder for Snakepit jokes via his wife. E-Jack had an inconsistent season, punctuated by a no-hitter with 8 walks, but resulting in an awesome trade for Hudson. Kennedy was a win, Lopez was worth what we paid him, and obviously, Hudson and Enright overperformed. Haren was Haren in peripherals, even if they didn’t translate to wins on the field.

Washington were the only major-league team to use more starters in 2010 than Arizona’s twelve. Does that tell you anything?

IHSB: That we really needed Webb to be healthy. I’m actually quite surprised by how high that number is, or at least I was until I realized that EJ/Hudson counted as two and Haren/Saunders counted as two. As dumb as a statement as that was, it wasn’t like one guy failed due to poor performance and was replaced by the other, which is usually why you’d think a team would go through so many starting pitchers. Instead, they were trades with the long-term future in mind. The problem wasn't a lack of a consistent front four, it was was finding a fifth starter who didn’t absolutely blow chunks.

Benson, Valdez, Buckner, and the D-Train were all attempts to stop the fifth-starter bleeding. Enright finally stepped in and put an end to all of the crap with his ERA/FIP-Gap Spell, and the Kroenke start was basically a filler to keep down Huddy’s innings. I guess what I’m trying to say is that it isn’t like the rotation was constantly in turmoil for the entire year. We had four reliable (to their own degrees) starters healthy throughout the year. So it's hard to deduce much from that high number of starters used other than "our Triple-A filler was not good at being Triple-A filler."

soco: It’s says two basic things: that the back end of the rotation was awful, and that the front end got torn apart, necessitating more starters over the year. We ended the year with only 2 of the original 5 still regularly starting games, and spent a good part of the year trying to figure out the 5th starter. Just too much instability.

Wailord: Pretty much what Dan said. We tried so many different people in that fifth starter role, and nothing really panned out until Enright arrived - and even then, it appears most of that was smoke and mirrors. Not to say Enright’s awful or anything, he just isn’t a guy that’ll post those early numbers on a consistent basis. Not that I’m complaining, or anything; it probably saved us from a 100-loss season.

emily: We missed Webb (and 2009 Haren) more than anyone thought we would. As stated, we spent a good chunk of time trying to figure out the fifth starter situation, and then just trying to figure out who was fit to pitch at all.

Jim: I note the only other time we used as many starters was 2004, and that didn’t exactly work out well either. However, more often than not, we have used ten or more, and this season cruelly exposed Arizona’s lack of depth. We had 67 starts in 2010 from pitchers with an ERA of five or worse as a starter.

DbacksSkins: Turnover, obviously. We traded two fifths of our opening day starting rotation and had the likes of guys like Cesar Valdez, Dontrelle Willis and Billy Buckner start games for us. It means we never DID find a suitable backend of the rotation until our young guys came up at the end.

Azreous: It tells you that anytime you can be mentioned as having something similar to the Nationals, you’re probably on the wrong track.

Kishi: Trades and injuries. And some awful performances from the #5 spot in the rotation. Sorry, Dontrelle, your enthusiasm is awesome, but your pitching wasn’t.

What did you think of the 2010 Diamondbacks’ starting pitching overall?

IHSB: It did as well as a mid-market team’s rotation should be expected to do without its ace.

soco: Considering that it was expected to be a strength for the team, it was pretty much a disaster. Even the guys at the top we thought would be a bright spot, Haren and Jackson, weren’t as dominant as they can be.

Wailord: Well, our "ace" never threw a pitch, our interim ace wasn’t the guy we were used to, and a lot of our stopgaps were pretty bad, so the only thing I choose to remember about our pitching is Daniel Hudson. In my mind, that’s all that happened in 2010...

emily: I have to go with Wailord here. All I’m choosing to remember about last year’s pitching is Daniel Hudson (and to a lesser extent, Ian Kennedy and Barry Enright)

Azreous: Certainly decent. They had the benefit of looking outstanding compared to the bullpen, and Hudson revitalized the rotation in the second half. Kennedy was solid throughout.

Jim: Started badly, but was redeemed by a strong second-half from Kennedy, the surprising Enright and the arrival of Hudson. From a fan point of view, better that way than to open well and then fall apart, I suppose.

snakecharmer: Well, discounting all the #5 nightmare pitchers, Haren’s performance was well under par, Jackson wasn’t as solid as he could’ve been, and I think Lopez expected himself to be better. Saunders was alright when he came on board, I was pleased. I think the year in pitching was forgettable until July with Kennedy/Hudson/Enright, and then it got better... at least it seemed to, I don’t recall what the numbers say.

DbacksSkins: Haren and E-Jack were both inconsistent, although not terrible. Kennedy was VERY consistent at the middle and end of the season, despite a clear deadarm period, and it seems like he’s pretty much the guy we saw dominate the minors. Lopez was solid, though mediocre, and both Enright and Hudson overperformed -- Enright moreso than Hudson. All in all, it’ll leave a bad taste in a lot of fans’ mouths, but I think our rotation performed "better than they felt", if that makes any sense.

Kishi: I try not to, and the whiskey helps with that goal. The guy we thought would be solid wasn’t quite, the guy we hoped would be good never showed up, the guys we expected to be middling were better than expected, and the guys we thought would be awful lived up to it.

If we get Duke, that would give us a likely rotation to open 2011 of him, Barry Enright, Daniel Hudson, Kennedy and Joe Saunders. Do you foresee us making other moves to strengthen the rotation?

IHSB: I imagine that we’ll sign someone to compete with Enright. This team cannot truly be of mind that Enright is going to give them solid production next year in that fifth starter’s spot, as his peripherals have provided no indication of that ability. At the very least get some insurance, preferably get someone who you think has a solid chance of usurping Enright for that position in Spring Training, and sending Enright to Triple-A where he can hopefully avoid fading off into obscurity.

soco: I’d like to believe in Enright, I really would, but I’m nervous about a big let down next season. If Duke struggles, or Kennedy goes down to injury (or really any of the starters) then we’re going to be up a certain creek with no paddle. I’d like to see us make a move for a guy who can be a long-reliever or spot starter to help bolster things.

Wailord: As soco said, any injury (or Enright suckage) will pretty much leave a glaring hole in the rotation. I wouldn’t be surprised at all to see some dumpster diving for a back-of-the-rotation kinda guy. No one flashy, just someone that we can get for cheap that’ll do what’s expected of his role. Like... a Rodrigo Lopez.

emily: Wow. How much would I like to believe that Enright won’t go down in flames next year? More than you know. Hopefully, they sign someone to compete with Duke/Enright (I guess that means they have to sign Duke first? I’m still confused) so that whoever makes it through at least earned their spot.

Jim: I hope we have learned from last year and add more depth, though Towers seems to regard the starters as sorted, saying, "It kind of fills out our rotation, which is kind of nice this early in the offseason," But it’s almost impossible for a team to go through the year on just five starters - most teams in the NL last year had no more than three with 25 games started. Be interesting to see how many games teams had pitched by their #6 and on in their rotations: it’s probably more than you’d think. Maybe he’s relying on Parker?

snakecharmer: Ditto, Jim. I don’t think we had any contingency plans last year, so we had better have some this year, or else the front office and scouting changes have meant zilch.

DbacksSkins: I’m guessing we sign another bargain bin starter like Lopez to compete with Enright for the #5 spot in the rotation. Enright won’t perform nearly as impressively next year, but he should be a serviceable 5th starter/swingman. Hudson, Kennedy, Saunders, Enright and Duke oughta be fine in theory, but I think we’ll need at least one or two more starters over the course of the year. As Jim and others point out above, we’ll almost certainly have some missed starts due to injury.

Rank those five starters, front to back.

IHSB: Hudson, Kennedy, Saunders, Duke, Enright.

soco: Hudson, Kennedy, Saunders, Duke, Enright.

Azreous: Hudson, Kennedy, Saunders, Duke, Enright.

Wailord: Because no one wants to read the same list again (which I would have put otherwise), going by his projected ERA, Bill James has the pitchers in the following order for the 2011 season:

Kennedy (3.66), Hudson (3.85), Saunders (4.27), Enright (4.50), Duke (4.92).

emily: If we’re basing this purely off of who I want to do well? Hudson, Kennedy, Saunders, Enright, Duke. I honestly think Duke and Enright are probably interchangeable at the end of the list, though.

Jim: Just for variety, the Hardball Times projections [I’m working on the capsules for their annual] are: Hudson (3.73), Kennedy (3.80), Enright (4.71), Saunders (4.83) and Duke (5.02, with the Pirates). Like everyone else though, I tend to think it’ll be Hudson and Kennedy at the front, Saunders and Duke in the middle, and whatever we get from Enright will be a nice bonus. I’m keeping my expectations manageable.

DbacksSkins: Hudson, Kennedy, Duke, Saunders, Enright. I think Duke has a bounceback year in his new surroundings.

Any other free-agent starters we may end up making a play for?

IHSB: I could see Dave Bush, Aaron Harang, Doug Davis, Brian Bannister, Kevin Correia, and Scott Olsen being possibilities. Basically, the lowest tier of available free-agent starters, on cheapie deals for a year as an attempt to re-build free agent stock. I’d personally like to see DD back in Arizona, and hope he could regain some of his mojo again in a familiar setting (yes, I know, Milwaukee was also a familiar setting).

soco: I agree with IHSB, it’ll likely be a Doug Davis type (or even the DD himself, who could perhaps teach us all to Dougie) starter. In other words, don’t get too excited.

emily: If Jamie Moyer wasn’t going to have TJ surgery next week, I’d say he would be a possibility. But, given what I think the team will be doing this year (not much), I see them going for a Doug Davis type. I’d be interested to see the list of non-tendered pitchers, too.

DbacksSkins: De La Rosa off the market. Pavano off the market. Harang off the market. Lee out for obvious reasons, and probably Pettitte as well. Moyer getting TJ. Davis just had a shitty year. I’m sure I’m missing some folks. I’m expecting we’ll sign like a Snell, Francis, Olsen type. I would say, maybe, Penny, but for some reason, he seems to keep getting signed for millions more than he’s worth.

Will Jarrod Parker make his debut next year? If so, when, and what do you expect from him?

IHSB: Ehh, maybe in September. Or maybe if we really need someone due to a long-term injury that is in need of a permanent rotation replacement. I imagine he’ll have to perform dramatically better than Wade Miley and Josh Collmenter for the team to rush Parker that quickly.

soco: We might. Don’t want to rush him, so a year rehabbing in the minors might not be a bad thing.

Wailord: I’m pretty dumb when it comes to our Minor League system, so I’ll just add that while I hope we see him next season (as the only reason to rush him is if he’s needed and he’s doing awesomely), I don’t want to see him rushed too quickly to the Show. He’s coming off of a major surgery, and while modern medicine is awesome and pitchers recover all the time, it’s still something to be cautious of.

emily: I hope not. Let’s save him for a year where we’re actually on the upswing.

Azreous: If it’s anytime before September, we’ve done something wrong.

snakecharmer: We always do something wrong.

DbacksSkins: I’d like to keep him in the system until September, but it might be as soon as June. I definitely think we see him next year.

Do you want to see Brandon Webb succeed or fail next year?

IHSB: It may be a bit vindictive, but it depends on where he goes. If he signs with another NL West team, I wouldn’t mind at all if he came to Chase Field and got absolutely lit up. If he goes to somewhere in the AL Central and does decently, I’ll be happy for him.

Then again, if he goes somewhere else and instantly reverts back to Cy Young form, I’ll be SUPER pissed.

soco: I’d like to see the guy do well, generally, but not in the NL West. I’ll admit to a tiny bit of vindictiveness inside me that would like to see him struggle regardless of where he goes, because he’s greedy and hates Arizona.

Wailord: I certainly don’t hope he reverts to his awesome self. I don’t want him to absolutely crash and burn (there aren’t a ton of players I’d want to throw away their entire careers), but I hope he does poorly. Like, if Zach Duke does better than him, I’ll be pleased (assuming, of course, we work out a deal with Duke).

emily: I never want to say I’d want him to do bad, but...I want him to crash and burn. I really do.

Jim: Unlike Emily, I really can’t wish ill on Brandon. I just don’t want the team which signs him to get a bargain. If he pitches to the value of his salary, whatever that might be, I’d be cool with that.

emily: Never said I was a nice person...

DbacksSkins: I want him to do poorly and then return here as a prodigal son and pitch well for a below-market contract.

(Won’t happen)

Kishi: I want him to succeed, but I never want to hear about it.

Any other thoughts on our starting pitching?

IHSB: I truly hope that we don’t have to rely on the Mulvey/Valdez contingent for spot-starts. I’m not sure if we view Josh Collmenter as a starter still, but I truly hope that we have legitimate prospects like Collmenter, Miley, and Parker making our spot-starts rather than the AAAA-filler we’ve been using the last couple of years. Injuries happen, and it would be nice to see this team actually prepared for those injuries.

Jim: Zach Kroenke? Had an unimpressive cup of coffee here in 2010, but a 3.51 ERA in almost 100 innings for Reno isn’t bad, especially in that park. Probably a better option than the Mulvey/Valdez combo.

soco: We haven’t quite gone cadaver hunting on a Civil War battlefield, but it might be a grim year next year. Or maybe everything will go right and we’ll have nothing to worry about. Too many "what if’s," though, and that makes me nervous.

DbacksSkins: AAAA guys playing spot starter wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world. It’d mean we’re not wasting service time of real, decent prospects during a season in which we’re not going to compete, either. I wouldn’t be opposed to Zach Kroenke starting, certainly.