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SnakePit Round Table: Way Out West for the D-backs

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Arizona continues to avoid any significant streaks of losing or winning, but ended the week two games closer to the Rockies than they were last Monday morning. The bullpen continues to pitch well, but the rotation is a source of concern, with Barry Enright being sent down to Reno. Meanwhile, some minor-league numbers are drawing attention. All these topics, and more, are covered in this week's round-table discussion.

The Diamondbacks have gone 7-6 since being swept in New York. Do you sense they are playing better?

 

Shoe: They are competing. Gibson has them fighting for everything they can get. They started off the season scoring 5.8 R/g and allowing 6.4 R/g through first 11 games. They went 5-6.  Over the next 22 games, (thru Friday night) they went 10-12 as  they scored 4.09 R/g and allowed 4.14 R/g.   The offense had been tailing off and only scored 5 or more runs 5 times in the past 22 games. But the pitching has been steadily getting better (as a team) and they are keeping games close enough to pull out of the fire.  At some point it would be nice to see the bats and the arms get going at the same time so they can run off a win streak. But so far, you can’t be anything less than pleased by their ability to bounce back, be it in individual games, or from small losing streaks.

 

Jim: I like the way, even when they lose, they are keeping it close, which always gives them the chance to pull off a late comeback - as we saw against both the Rockies and Padres. They had three blowout (5+ run margin) losses in the first 11 games, but we haven’t seen one since. A big help is that the bullpen has been stellar: one run conceded in May, having thrown 24.1 innings. You can’t ask for more than that. But the rotation is still hugely problematic.

They are, at least, consistent. In the first nine games, they went 4-5, on pace for 72 wins. Second set of nine games, they went 4-5 as well. Third batch? That would be 4-5. And if they take one of three in San Francisco, it’ll be yet another nine games with a 4-5 record.

ZM: The team’s improvement has been driven by the pitching, particularly the bullpen.  The new guys, Putz, Hernandez and Paterson, have obviously been great, but it’s really exciting to see the much-maligned Juan Gutierrez and Esmerling Vasquez put together a string of good outings recently ::knocks on wood::.  I’m less pessimistic about the offense than Shoewizard, but it is clearly regressing to the point that our starting pitching is going to have to improve.  Kennedy and Hudson have done as much as we could reasonably expect, but I still say that the back end of the rotation is too much of a question mark for us to go on a big winning streak.

bb: I both agree and disagree with ZM on this one. I do agree that our back end of the rotation is too terrible for us to go on a big winning streak. As for our offense though, we should really be expecting regression in the other direction. Our team BABIP is below league median. Upton is hitting at least 30-40 points below his career BABIP. CY is hitting 30 points below what should be expected from his batted ball profile. Miggy should also be sporting a higher BABIP. So I fully expect our offense to move in that direction. Once that happens, and I expect our bullpen to sustain their excellence, it should be enough for us to play around .500 baseball or slightly better, despite our terrible starting pitching.

snakecharmer: They do seem to be playing better. The bullpen has been pretty solid, Hudson and Kennedy have pitched better. The offense had some comebacks, but it’s just been a little too quiet from the bats lately.

Wailord: Simply going by the gut check, they seem to be playing better. That’s certainly not to say there aren’t areas that need drastic improvement, but I can still manage to make it through nine innings for most games, so that’s a good sign. It’s been great to see Huddy regress to awesomeness.

soco: ‘Better’ is such a subjective term.  So sure, maybe they’re not embarrassing, but that doesn’t mean they’re good.

DbacksSkins: They’ve certainly "felt" like they’ve been playing better, but I think a large part of this has been from better relief pitching. This offense isn’t going to blow anyone away, and the starting rotation (after IPK and Huddy) doesn’t have much chance to shut people out, so we’re going to need to keep hoping for the stars to align in wins.

Big news of the week was Barry Enright getting sent to Triple-A. When do you think he’ll be back, and what does he need to do?

Shoe: Actually Barry managed to reduce his FB% from 49% to 42%  in his stint this year. Unfortunately, only 2% of that went to GB%, which only rose from 35% to 37%.  The rest of it went to LD%, which went from 15% to 20%.

Maybe what he needs to do is work on the curveball. If he is still going to allow a fairly high number of FB, he might get more popups if he can get a little sharper break on the curve.  (His IFFB% has dropped into the 7’s)  So far in his career the slider has been his most effective out pitch, but I just don’t think it’s ever going to be a dominant slider.

Jim: As noted when the move was made, I think he needs to quit walking people. I can’t see him ever striking out a ton of hitters, or turning into a ground-ball pitcher, so he has to get the walks back down below two per 9 IP, as they were when he was coming up. The new management has clearly shown that they don’t like free passes.

But in terms of any immediate return, sadly, his best bet may be to lurk in the Chase Field car-park and go all Tonya Harding on Joe Saunders’ knee. And, at this point, it would probably benefit Josh Collmenter more than Enright, which is sad, because Enright remains my favorite D-back.

ZM: I’m sad to see him go on a purely emotional level, since one of the few fun things about last seasons was watching Enright cheat regression and live his dream after coming up from Double-A.  It would have been done sooner or later though, with him struggling and Duke on his way back.  I think it’s too soon to say whether he’ll be back this season, since it largely depends on how the pitchers in front of him do.  But as Jim mentioned, the one thing he could do to improve his chances is to work on his walk rate in Triple-A.

bb: I’ve always been extremely pessimistic about Barry Enright, because the truth is his stuff is not that impressive, and now it’s clear that his command is far less than what scouts and the FO originally thought. It’s hard to keep your walk rate low when you can’t command your pitches and place them wherever you want in the zone. Even when your placement is near perfect, because your stuff isn’t that great hitters are still capable of getting hard hits. I don’t see Enright returning this year, unless as a September call-up as a reliever.

snakecharmer: Definitely sad to see Barry get sent down as a person. He was the #4, heck nearly #3, starter coming out of spring. He had a fabulous ST, maybe he put too much pressure on himself to be spectacular, which led to the walks? I think he just needs to pitch more to contact and when that contact does happen, not let it be home runs. Being in Reno I’m not sure how well that’ll work, but that’s my thought...

soco: He needs to learn to pitch.  He’s still young, though, so there’s plenty of time to learn that.

DbacksSkins: Expect him back as soon as there’s another injury to the starting rotation. I don’t think Heilman is going to get another shot as a starter.

The team will need to pick a replacement in the rotation for next Saturday. Will it be Josh Collmenter or Aaron Heilman? And make a fearless prediction on how he’ll do.

Shoe: I think there is little to no chance Heilman will get the start. It will most likely be Collmenter.  Owings is a darkhorse, but is not on the 40 man roster. So something would need to take place to add him to the 40 man before he could be called up.

Jim: "Signs point to Josh". So says my Magic 8-baseball, and it’s hard to argue with that. He has performed very well in the long relief role out of the bullpen - and has walked one batter in 14 innings. Like I said, management appreciates that. Any kind of quality start would be great, but I’ll call it at five innings, three earned runs.

ZM: I suppose I’m hoping for Collmenter, since he’s been great coming out of the ‘pen so far and provides more upside than Heilman.  I’ll say he goes five innings and gives up only one run, because it will take some time for hitters to adjust to his funky delivery.

bb: It seems the consensus is going to be Josh Collmenter. I’m pretty pessimistic about Collmenter’s long-term viability as a starting pitcher, but his delivery is unorthodox enough to probably get him a few good starts before the league catches on. Best-case scenario, he pulls a Barry Enright circa 2010. Even if he isn’t that successful, I think his start on Saturday will be a quality one. He’ll go 6 innings, with 5 K and 2BB and 2 ER.

snakecharmer: Everything I’ve heard says it’s not Heilman. My guess is Collmenter unless they go get somebody else.

Wailord: Seems like it’ll be Collmenter, especially with the outings Heilman saw in his rehabbing. How’ll he do? I don’t think he’ll be incredibly awful, but I’m not expecting anything great. I don’t expect him to earn himself a regular starting gig while setting the world on fire.

soco: Heilman for self-immolation, please.

DbacksSkins: Collmenter. 5 IP and 2 ER will get our hopes up, then he’ll get lit up his next time out, to the tune of 4IP 5ER.

The offense has been quiet of late - Saturday was only the third delivery of free tacos since April 17th. Should we be concerned?

Shoe: I really don’t think we should be expecting anything more than a league avg offense from the D Backs in 2012.  As mentioned above the first 11 Games were off the charts, are still distorting the YTD numbers. They will continue to regress and fall back towards middle of the pack on offense, which is where they belong. The only way they are going to be much better is if they get a monster season out of Upton,  i.e.   150-160 OPS+.   Doesn’t look like he’s there yet.  Nobody else in this lineup has the potential to carry them to the top 3rd in offense over the long haul of a 162 game season.

bb: I vehemently disagree with this. We’re better than a league average offense. Our walk rate is above the league median, our strikeout rate is better than the league median, and we currently lead the league in ISO power. Even if our ISO drops a little, this is still a team that projected to have one of the better power lineups in the NL (with the likes of Upton, Young, KJ, and Miggy). What’s been hurting us recently has been absurdly low BABIP for some of our players, in particular Upton, Young, and Miggy. Once that regresses we will see our offense return to top third in the NL.

Shoe: Warning: Technical part of discussion ensues. But important to understand how BABIP really works.

At 42.8 % The team has far and away the highest FB% in the league. They also have the third lowest LD% in the league. Those two facts are the direct cause for the team’s low BABIP, as FB always have the lowest BABIP and LD always have the highest.   Their BABIP on GB is .215, vs. lg avg .233, so they are "Missing" 6 singles. HOWEVER, their BABIP on FB is .149, vs. a lg avg of .135, so they have 5 more hits (most likely XBH) than lg avg would give them.  On line drives they have been almost spot on.....713 BABIP vs. lg avg .716.  So in other words, they have not been unlucky at all. .  If they had near league Avg FB & LD rates but still had such low BABIP then I’d agree there was likely some bad luck, and positive regression may be due. Unfortunately thats clearly not the case.  And even with that, our team BABIP isn’t THAT low. Lg avg is .292 and there are  5 NL teams that have lowe than our .277.

Now if they start hitting more Line Drives overall.....the whole dynamic changes.

Jim: It is probably more a case of the team overachieving early. All told, the team is scoring 4.7 runs per game, compared to 4.4 overall last year, so it is still better than it was. However, the first 32 games in 2010, we were at 5.25 - which, given the way our bullpen pitched early, was the only thing that kept our record semi-respectable. When the offense imploded, so did our season: for instance, in the ten-game losing streak we had, we scored a total of 21 runs. I am worried that might happen here, especially if we lose Stephen Drew for any extended period.

snakecharmer: Ideally, 4 or 5 runs should be enough to win games. With this pitching staff or at least on Saunders-Galarraga-? days, it might need to be 5 or 6. Kelly Johnson has to get it together. Overall they need to play better fundamentals - Sunday, we had five leadoff baserunners and only one scored. That needs to improve.

Wailord: I’m still concerned about Kelly Johnson, and the stuttering offense is directly linked to his struggles. There’re a few players, as bb mentioned, that’re getting particularly unlucky at the moment, and I expect that to even out as time goes on, but seriously, Kelly, come on.

soco: I’d rather they be consistently scoring 4 or 5 a game (as long as the pitching keeps up) then being feast of famine (especially when the feast is Taco Bell tacos.  Blech).

DbacksSkins: Well, the offense will certainly continue being linked to Kelly Johnson’s struggles as long as Gibson insists on batting him 2nd.

I think any improvement from KJ, CY, Upton, etc., will be tempered by regression to Ryan Roberts. (And Willie Bloomquist, if you want to look at the season as a whole)

Who will we dump first? Xavier Nady and his 77 OPS+ or Armando Galarraga and his 77 ERA+?

Shoe: Free Cole Gillespie !!   3rd best wRC+ and wOBA in the PCL.  Batting .384 with 9 Triples.

http://www.fangraphs.com/minorleaders.aspx?pos=all&stats=bat&lg=4&qual=y&type=1&season=2011

They are stuck with Galarraga at least until Duke comes back.

bb: I actually think Colin Cowgill is the best of our bevy of outfield prospects in Reno right now. He’s got a better K% and better BB% than Gillespie, is two years younger, and scouting reports have been positive about his defense, whereas I’ve never heard anything about Gillespie’s defense. Brandon Allen’s K% basically precludes him from being called up. So I agree with Shoe that Nady needs to disappear soon, and that Galarraga can’t disappear until Duke comes back, but if Nady is released then Cowgill should be brought up.

Jim: Yeah, sad but true. We have one starting pitcher with an ERA+ better than 90, and Galarraga is still ahead of both Saunders and Enright. It’s those damn home runs. If they would just stay in the park, he’d be a decent, back of the rotation-type guy. 1.48 WHIP, opponents hitting .254 against him. But 11 HR in 32.1 innings will crack the best ERA.

Xavier Nady, on the other hand, serves little or no useful purpose on the roster. He can’t play the outfield, and even as a right-hand option off the bench, the .597 OPS doesn’t exactly strike fear into opposition hearts. How is watching mediocrity rewarded with playing time teaching our young players the ‘right way’ to play the game?

ZM: I’m probably more frustrated with Galarraga than I am with Nady, since we have to deal with him every fifth day and he’s managed to put up a fWAR of -0.7 already this season, compared to Nady’s -0.1.  But the fact is that Galarraga is on the roster until Duke comes back, at the very earliest.  Meanwhile, Xavier Nady provides no useful service that either Brandon Allen or Wily Mo Pena couldn’t for somewhat less money, unless he runs some sort of catering operation out of the dugout that I don’t know about.  

snakecharmer: Well right now we need the 5th starter back, so unless Collmenter proves to be an amazing starter, we’re probably stuck with Galarraga even after Duke comes back. Assuming Drew’s injury isn’t bad, my guess would be Josh Wilson or Collmenter will be sent back to the minors.

Wailord: Grumble, grumble, Galarraga will be here until Duke’s back at the least (barring injury, of course) and probably after that, too, unless someone proves themselves worthy of taking his role. Nady is pretty awful and he’s taking time away from Brandon Allen, and I’m hoping to see Allen sometime soon. If he’s not going to be our 1B, that’s fine, but can we at least make sure of it first?

soco: The Diamondbacks will hold on to both until the end of time.

DbacksSkins: I wanna say Galarraga, because Nady is Kevin Towers’ guy, but I think it’ll be Nady. Galarraga is more valuable, as a semi-serviceable starter.

Paul Goldschmidt continues to rake in Double-A, and there is growing attention being paid to him. Given the struggles of our various 1B contenders, is it worth calling him up? Meanwhile, Wily Mo Pena has 12 HR in Triple-A and is hitting .374. A Renollusion, or might he be a useful right-handed power bat for the D-backs?

Shoe: The Wily Mo Pena part of this question should be filed under the Xavier Nady question.  He can’t play D at all, but might be fun to watch for a few weeks. I’d still rather get something out of Gillespie.  As for Goldy, I hope they don’t bring him up unless they clear the decks of at least Branyan.   Miranda is playing OK, and unless they are committed to letting Goldschmidt play most of the time over Miranda, he really needs the time to continue to develop in AA.  I’d like to see him taking walks and not striking out while not sacrificing power for another couple of months before I see him in the majors.

ZM: Wily Mo Pena would be a nice option to have as an extra right-handed option with some power off the bench.  I don’t know if he’d be a better option than Brandon Allen or Cole Gillespie, but at least he wouldn’t be Xavier Nady.  

Goldschmidt is a little trickier.  The obvious precedent for a power-hitting corner infielder coming up midseason from triple-A is Mark Reynolds.  But, as others have mentioned, we were contending that year while we really aren’t right now.  I’d like to see him get a few more months of seasoning before getting called up in September, but if the FO really thinks he’s ready now, I suppose I’ll trust their judgment.  

Jim: No rush for Goldschmidt. I wouldn’t object to him coming up in September,  hopefully when we’ve cleared some of the deadwood off the roster, but the jury remains out. While some scouts have had good things to say, others still think the Goldsmith has "plenty of pitchable holes." We aren’t going anywhere this year, so no point starting the service clock.

Yeah, I fully support bringing up Peña or Gillespie - just because we aren’t going anywhere, doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try to win as many games as possible with the players available to us. Our bench has been terrible both in game and giving us options to play platoon match-ups: that’s where I’d start changing things up.

bb: No, don’t rush Goldy. I love his upside, and probably have a higher evaluation of him than IHSB does, but there’s no need to bring him up this year until September. Give him a full year in the minors, make sure that the mantras of "pitch recognition" and "plate discipline" are honed into him, and let him go nuts next year. To be honest, it’s very difficult for righty 1B to succeed in the majors, and there are only handful of 1B in the majors right now who are right-handed. If Goldy can keep up his hitting in AA this year though, and by this I mostly mean his ability to keep his K/AB below 20% because i’m confident his power tool will play in the majors, then I can definitely see him turn into the next Derrek Lee.

As for Wily Mo...I’m not a fan. Would rather call up Cowgill.

snakecharmer: I don’t normally like bringing up AA guys without them seeing AAA. Mark Reynolds was an exception, and only if they think Goldschmidt will be as successful as Mark was do I think they’d consider it. Even then, I don’t think we’re that desperate. It’s only May! As Sutton pointed out during the broadcast, Miranda had 4 hits and 4 walks in his four games in a row as a starter, so it’s not a complete Vortex of Suck.

DbacksSkins: Wily Mo is a career AAAA guy who’s not in our future plans. That having been said, if we think we can call him up and then trade him, so much the better.

Keep Goldschmidt in the minors until September.

Upcoming schedule sees the NL West road trip completed, in San Francisco and Los Angeles. How hopeful are we?

Shoe: Looks like we are getting Lincecum, Sanchez, Cain from the Giants. Thats going to be tough. Our bats have been cold,  and those matchups don’t bode well in AT&T.  Giants have won 4 out of 5, including 2 straight walkoffs vs. the Reeling Rockies. (I loved typing that).  Dodgers are struggling, but always tough for us in LA. We’ll get Kuroda, Garland, Kershaw most likely. That may not be right though.  I’m moderately hopeful we can get a 3-3 split from the 6 games, but rather expect 2-4.  A 4-2 result would be amazing.  Not very hopeful for that though.

bb: Thanks for the update Shoe on the schedule of pitchers. The Giants stretch looks scary, and I could conceivably see us getting swept. At least Saunders won’t be pitching, and we’ll be throwing something like Galarraga, IPK and Hudson. We’re definitely losing the Timmeh game. I think we have a decent shot a winning IPK versus Sanchez. The key will be Hudson versus Cain for me. Hudson has been pitching well recently, but for some reason I just feel like we always lose to Matt Cain. As for the Dodgers, we’re pretty much guaranteed to lose the Kershaw match. I think we are more likely to lose the Kuroda match than not, but I’m optimistic about our chances against Garland. Hopefully we can get a 3-3 split, but like Shoe, I rather expect 2-4.  

ZM: I’m somewhat less hopeful than I was before Sunday’s loss.  It seems like every time this team looks to get a little bit of momentum and has a chance to go on a run, they drop a series to a mediocre team.  I’ll say a series win over the Giants (two games to one) gets us hopeful again, but the team drops the series against LA, leaving us at 3-3 over the next week.  

Jim: Speaking of "Reeling Rockies", what is it with them and what can only be described as "premature ejaculations"? Last year, we had one PR writer "guaranteeing" them a title before the season started, now we have Dave Cameron on ESPN Insider declaring on May 29th the NL West over, for Colorado. "It’s not even May, but the National League West race is shaping up to be fairly boring... Given the Rockies’ talent level and their newfound cushion, it might take [Troyboy breaking his leg] to give the Giants a chance to defend their title."

Actually, a simple run of 2-6 for the Rockies - hardly shatteringly bad - and the Giants are now just one game down, with LA and AZ 2.5 further back. Pundits, eh? File that one in the book of Cameron gaffes, alongside #6org. Of course, the Rockies may still win, but "fairly boring"? Bit off the mark there.

Anyway... Hard to see us taking either series. We'll keep the 4-5 thing going with a win in SF, and will grab another in Los Angeles, to make it 2-4.

snakecharmer: Well, I’ll try and do like my name says and charm them into getting some wins in SF. But the Giants just handed it to Colorado, and they’re getting it together despite quite a few injuries and will be tough. I think 2-4 is about right. :/

Wailord: Although I may be expecting 2-4 like most everyone else (don’t expect to win either series, but don’t expect to be swept, either), I’ll be a cool kid and guess 4-2, only so I take a chance at looking like the Wailoracle.

soco: We might get lucky and go 2-4.

DbacksSkins: 2-4. /brokenrecord