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SnakePit Round Table: Arizona Diamondbacks off-season review, Part 1

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Pitchers and catchers report on Wednesday! With the off-season almost over, let's take a look back at where we are now, and how we get here.

Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports
The team bolstered its bullpen with the arrival of Tyler Clippard on a two-year deal. A good move?

freeland1787: The Diamondbacks definitely could use a veteran reliever in the back-end of their bullpen with Brad Ziegler being the only other main veteran in the bullpen. They have some promising young players in Marshall, Bracho, Burgos, and Barrett but they need a veteran to from the bridge to Ziegler. Overall I think it's a good move although there are some red flags to worry about due to heavy usage the last few years.

Makakilo: Before the signing, I saw two obstacles that were showstoppers. First, an extreme fly ball pitcher was not a fit for Chase field and the groundball-loving Diamondbacks. Second, his price would be high - no way the Diamondbacks would commit to that much money after Greinke. And trading away Hill did not save enough money to sign Clippard.

After getting over my surprise, I looked deeper at Clippard. I saw two clues. First, the Diamondbacks said Ziegler would remain the closer. My thought was, "What?!" Second, I could not find a stand-out second lefty reliever to work in the bullpen with Andrew Chafin (for details see Snakepit Roundtable Relief Pitching, part 2.).

Those two clues led me to the key question, "How well does Tyler Clippard pitch against lefty batters?" The answer was "Aha!". For 2015, Tyler Clippard did much better against lefty batters! Although he faced 9% more lefties than righties, lefties got 6 earned runs while righties got 17 earned runs (Fangraphs). I looked at prior years, and found volatility, especially in 2014 (see table). Nevertheless, I am convinced Tyler Clippard is better against left handed batters.

Year

Batter Type

Batters Faced

Earned Runs

OBP

SLG

2015

Lefty

157

6

.231

.237


Righty

144

17

.333

.411

2014

Lefty

149

11

.309

.333


Righty

129

6

.197

.226

2013

Lefty

141

7

.243

.264


Righty

134

12

.233

.294

2012

Lefty

156

14

.260

.259


Righty

151

16

.300

.418

2011

Lefty

154

9

.211

.338


Righty

175

9

.243

.299

2010

Lefty

173

11

.326

.383


Righty

205

20

.276

.318

Possible concerns are has he been overworked (that tends to happen when you pitch well), does his velocity drop at the end of each season (change appears less than 1 mph and may be due to normal volatility), and will an extreme fly-ball pitcher do well at Chase( let's challenge batters with a different type of relief pitcher). I am less concerned than I am excited!

In summary, signing Tyler Clippard was a great move for four reasons: 1) concerns are reflected in the low price, leaving only upside, 2) he is an improvement over the internal candidates, 3) He is so good against lefties that he effectively is an upgrade to having a lefty one-out guy (LOOGY), and 4) the contract is two years, reducing risk compared to the longer contracts that are sometimes given to good relievers.

Preston: The Clippard signing was great! Above-average value at a relatively low price. If he was a couple years younger, he would have cost a lot more (and I'm surprised he didn't cost a lot more as it was.) While some people are going to point to his fly-ball rate as a reason he might struggle in the desert, I think there's plenty of hope that things will be fine. First, Josh Collmenter is an extreme fly-ball pitcher, and has a home ERA of 3.30 and a WHIP of 1.058. Second, Clippard, in 83 ⅓ innings in the most home run friendly parks in the NL has allowed only 9 home runs, with 4 of those coming in 11 innings at Miller Park. In 16 ⅓ innings between Chase and Coors, he's allowed 1 home run. So he keeps the ball in the park, and while outfield defense isn't going to be as good as it was last year, hopefully by the time we see Clippard in games Tomas will have been pulled for a defensive replacement.

Piratedan7: Well, he is the proven closer we've been looking for since we mistakenly traded Addison Reed for a bag of magic beans. Doesn't anyone in this front office understand regression? He's been performing at a high level in the major leagues for such a long time now, he's a prime candidate for finally having those tires show some wear. I would much rather have seen the money saved from getting out of the Aaron Hill contract used to lower parking at the ballpark to enhance my game-day experience. Can't you people connect the dots and see how this can't possibly work for us? All of our good players will get worse and none of our marginal players can ever get better and it's all tied to this signing.

Jim: Who let NumberOneIanKennedyFan into Piratedan7's account? But assuming serious, not an experiment in channeling - I can actually share some of those concerns: if there weren't genuine issues, he'd not still have been sitting on the shelf into February. That said, if Clippard stays healthy, it probably gives us one of the better bullpens in the league. He has shown a long-term ability to avoid solid contact, and that's why I'm less concerned about his extreme - no, make that EXTREME - fly-ball tendencies. He also gives us a potential closer for 2017, if Ziegler leaves in free-agency.

Spring training starts this week. Where do the D-backs stand now, compared to the end of last season?

freeland1787: 86-76 is my official record prediction this year, which is a 7-game improvement over last year and 12 from my 2015 prediction. Last year they overperformed my prediction by 5 wins. I still think the Diamondbacks lag behind the Dodgers and Giants in terms of talent and coaching, but the gap has definitely shrunk a lot. The Diamondbacks could win as many as 94 games depending on how they perform in 1-run games.

Makakilo: At the end of last season, my prediction for 2016 was 84 wins. Signing Greinke was a game changer! His signing increased my 2016 prediction to 87 wins. The synergies of adding Shelby Miller and Tyler Clippard to the pitching staff has increased my prediction for 2016 to 89 wins. More wins are reasonably possible. If my cheering is worth a hoot, it will happen!

Preston: I see this as an 83-84 win team, with the possibility of getting some breaks and making a run to the division title. (I don't see the Wild Card as a great possibility.) Yes, the pitching should be much better. But the offense (between natural regression and losing Inciarte) is going to be worse and the defense will either be a bit worse (if Tomas replacing Inciarte is the only change) or substantially worse (if Segura replaces Ahmed.) I'm not going to count on Welington Castillo replicating his 2015, nor Paul Goldschmidt and David Peralta continuing to get better.

Piratedan7: I think we stand a bit to the left of the Dodgers and the Giants, slightly out of focus, maybe they need to adjust the shutter speed and take into account the position of the sun to reduce the shadows

Jim: In the discussion for the National League West, which is certainly something you would not have been able to say last spring. I wouldn't call us the favorites, and we will need some things to break in our favor (which might be good things here, or bad things on the Dodgers and/or Giants). But after the past few seasons, even being a part of the conversation feels like a massive victory.

What was their best move of the winter?

freeland1787: Signing Zack Greinke away from both the Giants or Dodgers. It makes the Dodgers 3 WAR weaker and the Dbacks 5 WAR stronger and forced the Dodgers to pay a premium for Maeda, who is an inferior talent to Greinke. I think the Clippard move was solid, don't like how much they gave up for Miller. I was fine with Inciarte and one of Blair/Swanson, but not both.

Makakilo: Greinke! Although I listed seven reasons in a previous roundtable, two are worth repeating: In 2015, Baseball Reference shows his WAR was 9.3, and he won a Gold Glove.

Preston: From a talent perspective, adding Greinke is clearly the best move. The financials could wind up making that a bad deal, though. Plus, it was kind of a no-brainer, that if you were willing to spend that kind of money, that was the player to get. The Tyler Clippard signing was solid, but I really liked the trade of Aaron Hill. Rather than repeat past mistakes (Bronson Arroyo and Touki Toussaint for Phil Gosselin) the Diamondbacks got a player that might well fill a position of need while not giving up anyone likely to make contributions in the near future. Losing Diaz wasn't ideal, but with plenty of other MI prospects on the team, it shouldn't hurt.

Piratedan7: I'll bandwagon along with everyone else... 1) we finally have an ace, we dented the Dodgers juggernaut... 2) thwarted the Giants from setting up a lethal 1-2 combo 3) helped ourselves in our weakest area, starting pitching.

Jim: In terms of improving the team now, the obvious answer is Greinke, but I think the one I liked most was trading Jeremy Hellickson. This was perhaps the first indication the new front-office had no problems admitting their mistakes, rather than just admitting Kevin Towers's mistakes. A team in "Win now" mode needs to be entirely results-driven, and Hellickson just wasn't good enough to be part of a contending team.

And what was the worst?

freeland1787: Shelby Miller trade, they just gave up too much in that deal. Now if Miller continues to improve and become a top-end #2, borderline #1 type pitcher and the Diamondbacks extend his contract past 2018, this will look more favorable than it does now.

Makakilo: My first thought was the trade of Daniel Palka for Chris Herrmann. I thought, wrongly it appears, that it was the worst because it seemed to reflect small thinking instead of bold and big thinking. The Diamondbacks traded away a prospect ranked #17 (by "Inside the Zona" website) with some upside for a bench catcher. Then I learned more about Chris Herrmann. Although he is a defense first catcher, he has upside potential in both defense and offense. Details are provided in my answer to the question about comparing our moves to Division rivals. This move was really a bold move disguised as a small thinking trade.

My second thought was that the worst trade was one that never happened. It was speculated that there were negotiations at last year's trade deadline and this winter to obtain Aroldis Chapman. It's a great blessing that the Diamondbacks were not willing to give up a majors-ready starting pitcher to obtain that closer. Chapman's value fell a long way when it became known that he was an off-field distraction and a PR problem. This trade would have been the worst winter move. And it did NOT happen!!

Preston: Impossible to judge right now, but the trade for Shelby Miller is the leader in the clubhouse. This trade was the classic case of (likely) overvaluing one player and undervaluing others. To think that Inciarte, Swanson, and Blair weren't worth at least as much as Pollock was probably a mistake. Plus, trading such a big package for Miller meant that those players weren't available to be traded in other deals. Even if they'd decided that Swanson and Blair had no future with the team, Pollock could have brought in Miller and Swanson and Blair could have brought in another starter.

Piratedan7: The steep price for getting Miller, although in this day and age, you would have thought that we were getting one of the Mets Fantastic Four for that price, but lets hope that Miller's pedigree translates well to the desert.

Jim: Yeah, I can't help thinking we could have got a Miller-equivalent elsewhere, without having to shell out QUITE as much. I'm certainly not sure the difference between Miller and Blair in 2016, never mind three extra years of control, is worth Inciarte and Swanson. If Miller does not become at least a #2 guy, this could turn out to be a bigger long-term negative than the Greinke deal.