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Diamondbacks Pre-Winter Meetings Outlook: Starting Pitching

The acquisition of another young cost-controlled starter last week gives the Diamondbacks a handful of guys to consider. The team has these pitchers under the age of 27 that figure into the rotation mix this Spring: Patrick Corbin, Robbie Ray, Taijuan Walker, Shelby Miller, Braden Shipley, Archie Bradley, and Anthony Banda. For those who ask, I have Matt Koch projected as a reliever long term. Walker and Ray are locks for the 2017 rotation and should not be traded. Here’s how I figure it will play out behind Zack Greinke in the rotation.

Robbie Ray (#2): Ray is a tough pitcher to figure out from a value standpoint. Strong peripherals coupled with an awful batted ball luck (.353 BABIP) and profile (36% hard hit rate) gave Ray a 4.90/3.76/3.45 pitching slash (ERA/FIP/xFIP). At the same time, he posted a 28.1% strikeout rate and a 3.07 K/BB rate, which suggests improvement going forward. Walks are still an issue at 9.2% and his command is still very iffy from start to start. Assuming a BABIP regression towards his career average, Ray should be close to a 3 WAR pitcher in 2017. In terms of the short starts, I think you let Ray go with a pitch count closer to 115. Ray isn’t a very efficient pitcher in terms of pitch count, but instead of trying to fix that by making him pitch to contact they should just let him go longer.

Taijuan Walker (#3): Walker has been talked ad nauseum all week with the team picking him up in a trade. Walker fits the mold of a riser-splitter type pitcher, many of whom have had success in AZ (RJ, Schilling, Dan Haren, Valverde, Putz). Inside the Zona covers more of the type of arsenal he has. Walker has been solid vs. LHB in his career and struggled vs. RHB in 2016 although improved command of the curveball should help that. In addition, Walker has struggled while in the stretch where batters are as productive as Paul Goldschmidt in that situation. The onus will be on the Diamondbacks to fix those two things and could get a very good #2 pitcher if they can. Big if, considering how the opposite usually happens in AZ due to the FO not doing their homework thoroughly.

Shelby Miller (#4): Miller is much better when he’s dominating with his three fastballs. His best season came when he complemented his 4-seam, 2-seam, cutter mix with an occasional curveball, but in 2016 threw a lot more 4-seamers. Also some of the pressure of being part of a heavily scrutinized trade might have gotten to him, considering how badly the team overpaid to get him. With a new front office and manager, Miller has a clean slate ahead of him but has only one opportunity to right the ship. Miller finished the 2nd half with a 3.98 ERA, including 11 scoreless in his final two starts. Hopefully he’s able to build on that in the offseason and not even think about what happened in 2016. Miller will likely be in the 2017 rotation because the team will want to rebuild his value for a trade next season.

#5 Archie Bradley: Bradley is similar to Robbie Ray, a pitcher that can miss bats but gets hit hard when he doesn’t. Bradley pitched to a 5.02/4.10/4.10 slash, but the high ERA was off the result of a .338 BABIP, which is unsustainable since it’s coming off of a 25% LD rate which won’t repeat. Bradley’s fastball velocity jumped a tick upwards in 2016 and at times looked like a TotR pitcher in the making, but couldn’t put it together in the same start. In terms of development, he’s more than bought himself another year in the MLB rotation.

Patrick Corbin (BP): It will be hard to tell if his improvements as a reliever suggest a permanent move to the bullpen or it translates to the rotation. Personally I’m in favor of a move to the bullpen because why try to fix success? As a reliever, Corbin held batters to a .241 wOBA, in large part due to a spike in GB rate to 66.1% (he doesn’t repeat it, but 50%+ is feasible) and a hard hit rate that dropped from 40% to 28%. As a reliever, I would use Corbin in the back end as a multiple inning guy to bridge the starter to the setup and closer. I only consider Corbin as a starter in an emergency. His 2013 All-Star season might make him an expensive reliever in arbitration though.

Braden Shipley (AAA): I much rather prefer Braden Shipley the prospect (2013-14) over his 2016 version. Shipley was an example of the last regime forcing a pitcher to pitch away from his strengths and it manifested itself at the MLB level. Shipley needs to ditch the 2-seamer altogether, even if that kills his efficiency a bit but it may make him harder to hit. Shipley’s upside is closer to a #4 than #3. 2017 will likely have him start the season in AAA Reno with no likely room for him now and superior talents ahead of him already.

Anthony Banda (AAA): Banda is a dark horse to make the rotation in Spring this year. While he has limited upside as a #4, he throws low 90s, a good curve, and a serviceable change-up that projects to average. He’s made steady progress in the minors since being traded at the 2014 deadline. I think he winds up starting the year in AAA but should debut sooner rather than later.

Unless the Diamondbacks are moving Yasmany Tomás and plan on making an OF acquisition, this seems unlikely. Miller and Corbin would be the two pitchers most likely on the move if trade talks do actually get past the preliminary stage. Walker and Ray are untouchable with team control through 2020 and 2021 respectively and the fact the team just traded for Walker. Personally, I feel like they could use a little bit more depth in this department between now and the regular season because the chances of the team needing only 5 different starters is infinitesimal. Right now the rotation is 8 deep, although I would prefer 10.