Yesterday we began investigating the internal development of Diamondback pitching since the 2009 move of the AAA affiliate to Reno, Nevada. In broad strokes, it painted a very unflattering picture of the system, having produced a mere seven starters, only two of which have gone on to have any sort of real success, and six relievers that come even close to meeting even a very minimum standard of performance, one of whom, Collmenter, has joined the rotation.
Starters take longer to properly develop than most relievers. In fact, many MLB relievers were starters in the minors. So the raw number of producing only seven starters in the five year period can be forgiven - up to a point. Producing only relievers is much harder to simply overlook though. One of the easiest places for nearly any mid-market team to save money is in the bullpen. Middle relievers are a volatile bunch. More consistent pitchers become starters. More dynamic arms become closers. Given the up and down year-to-year nature of most middle relievers, paying veteran premiums for bullpen help adds up in a hurry.
For example, the Philadelphia Phillies are paying Antonio Bastardo $2 million in 2014. Bastardo is a solid, quality, left-handed reliever with an ERA+ of 115. By nearly any metric, Bastardo is actually a pretty good deal. With all the pitching trouble the Diamondbacks have had this season, they promoted Evan Marshall to come in, to see if he could help calm things down. Since his call-up, he has pitched 25 innings and put up a 118 ERA+, and is doing it for league minimum, also known as ¼ of what Bastardo is making. It doesn't take rocket science to see why having bullpen-ready arms available in the minors is a winning proposition. At the very least, they save the team money to pursue larger free agent acquisitions, while the more successful ones also make attractive trade pieces. In some cases, they even develop into solid 34/5 starters (or better) once they get some MLB seasoning.
The good news for the Diamondbacks is that after spending $15.875 million on guaranteed contract bullpen arms in 2014, that number looks to decrease significantly in 2015. Barring significant injury, Evan Marshall should join the list of relievers that have made significant contribution to the bullpen. It is possible that both Matt Stites and Eury De La Rosa could also join that list by the end of this season. With Jake Barrett knocking on the door and Andrew Chafin (who will be discussed more later) also making a case for being called up, it seems the Diamondbacks are headed in the right direction to assemble a dynamic, young, cost-controlled, and inexpensive bullpen.
But that's the bullpen. What about starting pitching? Even the most offense-oriented fans know that it takes premium pitching to be a strong playoff contender. For all the runs Miguel Cabrera helps put on the board for the Detroit Tigers, it's the likes of Justin Verlander, Max Scherzer, Anibal Sanchez that make them dangerous. Good pitching will shut down a good offense. This is why top-of-the-rotation pitching comes at such a steep premium, and why it is so important for clubs to try and develop it rather than rely on the free agent market. With 5 years/$90 million as a generously low baseline for free agent TOR talent, the Diamondbacks are like many teams in baseball - not really in the market.
Pitching prospects are even more volatile than relief pitchers. A number of highly regarded prospects fall flat on their faces when called up (David Holmberg). Others that were considered solid but unspectacular can surprise and amaze (Brandon Webb). These sorts of extremes, the short, five-year window we are evaluating, and the inclusion of a humidor for this season only makes grading the Diamondback development of pitching over the recent years a difficult process. We do still have 10 cases we can examine though, cases that, when all taken together do not cast a kind light on the internal development of young pitching, or the effects of pitching in Reno.
For the purposes of this exercise we will be examining the seven pitchers that have been promoted from Reno and made at least five starts for the Diamondbacks; Chase Anderson, Mike Bolsinger, Josh Collmenter, Patrick Corbin, Barry Enright, Wade Miley, Tyler Skaggs, as well as former Diamondback prospects Jarod Parker and Trevor Bauer (because of their high prospect ceiling), and current prospect Andrew Chafin (with comps that just might raise some eyebrows).
2010 - Barry Enright
AA Mobile to Arizona back to Reno
MLB / Reno
ERA: 4.87 / 5.52
IP: 136.2 / 233
BB9: 2.9 / 3.52
SO9: 4.6 / 6.13
WHIP: 1.273 / 1.45
In the history of flashes in the pan for the Arizona Diamondbacks, Barry Enright ranks among the brightest flashes with the quickest flam-out. After a strong AA season in 2009, Enright returned to Mobile in 2010 where he was relatively dominant. The 2010 Diamondbacks were a dreadful team, and in July they decided it was time for fresh blood to join the big league roster to see what they had. A pitcher known for his exceptional command, Enright made the jump from AA Mobile (where he had a BB9 1.4 and SO9 8.0) to Arizona where he put up very respectable numbers, including an ERA+ of 109 over the course of 17 starts during the second half. In 2011 he was a shell of himself, making seven starts that lasted only 37.2 IP before he was demoted to Reno, where his numbers did not flourish either. His fastball simply never played up at a mere 90 mph, and his secondary stuff was all movement oriented in a sinker, slider, and curve.
2011 - Josh Collmenter
MLB / Reno
ERA: 3.46 / 5.37
IP: 448 / 63.2
BB9: 2.3 / 4.0
SO9: 6.7 / 6.5
WHIP: 1.240 / 1.476
Josh Collmenter's success is nearly as big an enigma as his delivery. With a tomahawk delivery, Collmenter relies heavily on his deception to help play up his cutter. He also possesses a plus change, which is his equalizer. His third pitch is a soft curve that he is able to locate for strikes. Among all the pitchers we will be looking at, Collmenter possesses the largest body of minor league work in Reno. Collmenter's time in Reno pre-dates the humidor, which has drastically decreased run scoring. His walk rate also dropped significantly once reaching the majors. In fact, it sits in line with where his walk rate was during his time in the minors outside of Reno. Examining the data at Brooks Baseball, Collmenter's control of his curve was a mess when he first came up. Over time Collmenter's command of his curve has improved. Some of this is no doubt due to Collmenter maturing as a pitcher. But even when he did not have command of the curve, he was walking fewer batters at the MLB level from day one, than he was in Reno, where it is much easier to get batters to chase out of the zone.
2011 - Wade Miley
MLB / Reno
ERA: 3.69 / 3.64
IP: 571 / 54.1
BB9: 2.5 / 2.7
SO9: 6.9 / 9.3
WHIP: 1.270 / 1.274
Regarded at times as a future bullpen arm or possible swing man, Wade Miley continued to perform well enough at each level to move up as a starter. In late 2010 he put it all together. In 2011 he started the year in Mobile, was quickly being promoted to Reno, and then made the move to the Diamondbacks in time to contribute seven starts during the team's stretch run to the playoffs. He never looked back, coming in second in NL Rookie of the Year voting in 2012. The key to Miley's continued MLB success has been the development of his slider command from where it was in the minors as a serviceable pitch to become a plus offering. His major league numbers are very similar to what he posted in Reno. This presents a third unique profile of Reno development.
To this point, there is no clear pattern evolving. That begins to change when we reach 2012 and beyond, which we will examine in tomorrow's concluding installment. It is however, somewhat telling that the best talent developed and retained by the organization from 2003 -2012 is a solid #3 starter that didn't arrive on the scene until 2011 - eight years after the debut of Brandon Webb. With the exception of Max Scherzer, it could even be strongly argued that Wade Miley represents the very best of the class for pitching development for a full 10-year span.