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SnakePit Round Table: The Arizona Diamondbacks starting pitching, Part 1

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Last year, at this point, our starting pitching was a mess. Now, not so much. We begin our look at the rotation, with a review of what happened in 2015.

Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports
Expectations were low for our 2015 starting pitching. How did it perform, relative to those?

Clefo: "Hey, only half of your apartment burned down, that's pretty dope."

Makakilo: In January I predicted five pitchers who would start the year in the rotation. Of those five, only Josh Collmenter exceeded my expectations with ERA+ of 108 in 121 innings pitched. And even he was less than I hoped because his ERA was great in only 5 of the 12 games he started before he changed to relief pitching. Although Archie Bradley started instead of my fifth pick, Vidal Nuno, Nuno added great value to the team when traded to obtain Welington Castillo. The others (Anderson, De La Rosa, and Hellickson) were between average and slightly below average in 2015. Before the end of the season, Patrick Corbin and Robbie Ray had entered the rotation and were doing well (ERA+ of 113 and 116). Despite those two successes, overall the rotation was less than I expected.

freeland1787: Overall, I would say the starting pitching as a unit was a net negative. Howeer, they entered the year with reclamation projects in De La Rosa and Hellickson along with a rookie in Archie Bradley. All three struggled in 2016 with the two reclamation projects winding up proving to be innings eaters, but not giving the team consistent innings. However, Corbin's return from Tommy John and picking up where he left off in 2013 was a boost and the emergence of Ray also helped to minimize the blow of watching the 2015 rotation struggle.

Steven: Surprisingly well all things considered. Youngsters like Robbie Ray and Patrick Corbin proved they could pitch in the big leagues, and others (de la Rosa and Archie Bradley) showed enough promise that their pitching futures aren't completely thrown out the window. Overall, solid discovery year in what was a meaningless season.

Jim: It was always going to be a case of throwing a bunch of stuff at the wall and seeing what stuck. But, let's face it, much as I love Josh Collmenter, when your Opening Day starter would be a #4 on almost any other rotation, it's not a good sign. Overall, I think the results were about what we expected i.e. not very good, though this masked that on the individual level, there were very wide variations in performance. Though I think that was also to be expected, given the relative and youth of many of those who pitched for us. We didn't have a single start by anyone in their thirties this year.

Xipooo: We had some nice surprises with Ray and Godley, but some sizeable thumps too. Rubby really just showed the same flashes of dominance followed by abject disappointment as we expected. It was nice having Corbin back, but aside from his return there wasn't any real excitement surrounding a pitcher. Collmenter took a step back, Bradley didn't live up to his potential, and we wrote off Cahill completely. However, I'd still call it a good season only because it was a year of rebuilding. The fact that Ray and Godley emerged is a huge win.

What was the biggest positive to come out of the season?

Clefo: Robbie Ray showing competence to goodness throughout the season, despite not going deep into games, shows that even a Diamondbacks front office can luck/skill into good trades. I also got yelled at on a Tigers podcast a few months ago from bringing him up, so that's a bonus.

Makakilo: The top positive was that the team saw clearly the need for a better rotation to qualify for the post-season. The other positive that quickly comes to mind were Zack Godley seemingly came out of nowhere and pitched very well. Godley was called up after the all-star game. He started six games and was a reliever for three. Three of his starts were shutouts. He pitched 36.2 innings with an ERA of 3.19.

freeland1787: Patrick Corbin coming back from Tommy John surgery and performing very well has to be the biggest positive. Another positive is Ray showing that he can pitch at the MLB level, but his development at that level is just beginning. I can't imagine Corbin being pushed much more than 150 innings in 2016.

Steven: I think everyone enjoyed Patrick Corbin returning to form and showing us all he can be a solid contributor going forward. Robbie Ray was fantastic, especially considering he was all but forgotten in Detroit.

Jim: Corbin's safe return from Tommy John surgery. Losing him just before the start of the 2014 season was an omen of the awful season to follow, and if we'd seen him go down again in July this year, I don't know what that would have felt like. Touch a VERY large hunk of wood,I think we've done really well with our rehabbing TJ pitchers.

Xipooo: As I noted above, the emergence of Godley and Ray.

And what was the biggest disappointment?

Clefo: I wanna say Jeremy Hellickson, but disappointment implies expectations.

Makakilo: Archie Bradley. My greatest expectations for a prospect were ignited with a surprise promotion to the majors. A couple bumps in the road, and a quick rainstorm, and by the end of the year Archie Bradley was not in the rotation.

freeland1787: I'd have to say Rubby De La Rosa is the biggest disappointment in part due to his inconsistency from start to start. It's hard to put Bradley in this arena due to his season crumbling under factors out of his control. In RDLR's case, he would occasionally tease us brilliance when he did have command of his stuff but then make you want to change the channel when he would give up the gopher balls. He needs to be more consistent in 2016 if he wants to stay in the rotation long term. Another bad year and he's a non-tender candidate for 2017.

Steven: Rubby is the easiest choice as biggest disappointment. His natural ability is second to none, with an average fastball velocity of 94 mph. He just couldn't figure out how to turn it into consistency.

Jim: Bradley's implosion. That whole event was such a roller-coaster of emotions, from the horror and shock at seeing him go down, through the amazement that he was back at the ballpark by the end of the game, and then the long, slow disappointment of watching him struggle desperately when he returned. He deserved so much better, and I hope he finds it again in 2016.

Xipooo: Rubby and Cahill. Rubby didn't look like he really turned any corners to lead the rotation and struggles to prevent the big innings. Cahill was a total loss and still cost the team his entire salary.

Can Robbie Ray take the next step?

Clefo: I think so. It feels like his biggest problem, going deep into games, is way more correctable than, say, a problem of giving up too many homers or something.

Makakilo: Yes. He is young (24 years old), and he is still developing his pitches and capabilities. I read articles that said that during 2015, he changed his breaking ball, increased his velocity, and changed his pitching locations. What I see is a pitcher who is flexible, and used that flexibility to develop/experiment. He is left handed, a plus. And it was interesting that he has a pitch that he used almost exclusively with right handed batters (changeup), and a pitch he used three times as much with left handed batters (slider). In 2016, I would not be surprised to see Ray has developed new pitches and pitching locations. That unpredictability and continual development is why I see Robbie Ray as a solid rotation pitcher.

From 2015, the one weakness of concern is pitching efficiency. The impact is that he leaves the game sooner than he might have otherwise. In 2015, he averaged 4.1 pitches per plate appearance, and 17.7 pitches per inning. When I compare his effectiveness to Greinke (3.8/14.5), Miller (3.8/15.8), Corbin (3.5/14.8), and De La Rosa (3.7/16.0), I conclude that a 10% improvement is a desirable target. In 2016, I am confident that his effectiveness will be much improved because of his continued flexibility and development.

freeland1787: Ray has an electric fastball and a solid slider and change-up, but the command occasionally leaves him. I don't believe the issues are delivery related because his delivery is very easy and repeatable for him. His biggest issue is managing the count, especially when he gets ahead of the hitter. It seems like he'll jump ahead 0-2 then after a few waste pitches and foul balls he's staring at 3-2 and has to groove on in there to prevent walks. Ray's issue isn't really strikes, but rather making quality two-strike pitches instead of wasting them. Instead of trying to rack up strikeouts, perhaps the goal should be to induce weak contact when ahead in the count. I think part of that will improve naturally as he matures a bit more this year. At 24 years old, his best baseball is still ahead of him.

Steven: I think this is close to the ceiling for Robbie. Outside of some slight improvements in K & BB rate, we probably shouldn't hope for TOR-type production from him.

Jim: I'd be happy with Ray maintaining last year's production, a 116 OPS+, over the course of an entire season. Since his FIP was almost identical to his ERA (3.53 vs. 3.52), that seems doable, and if he is our #4, that would be a pretty stellar level of performance. Any degree of improvement would, naturally, be extremely welcome, but I'm not relying on it. But 200 innings would make him worth around 2.5 bWAR, again pretty good for a "back end" guy.

Xipooo: If by next step you mean stay in the rotation for the whole year? Sure. He's my pick for 5th in the rotation.

Spin the Wheel O' De La Rosa and predict how Rubby will do.

Clefo: Pulling off shenanigans captured on camera in the bullpen around mid-April.

ISIAP: What Clefo said. He's such a good fit for the bullpen, I just don't understand what the FO sees in him as a starter.

Makakilo: My vision is that Wheel O' De La Rosa needs to be changed to Reputable & Reliable Reliever De La Rosa. As a reliever, he can focus mainly on right-handed batters, where he excels. Against righties, he had an ERA of 2.75, and allowed 12 home runs in 101.1 innings. Against lefties, he had an ERA of 6.90, and allowed 20 home runs in 87.1 innings. Also, as a reliever, he can take better advantage of his fastball strength.

freeland1787: I'm going to make a wheel for Rubby De La Rosa this year. This is what you'll see: "How will Rubby De La Rosa Pitch Today?"

  • Brilliantly
  • Good
  • OK
  • Mediocre
  • Bad
  • Meltdown

Steven: Rubby figures out how to get lefties out and becomes the 2nd best pitcher behind Zack Greinke.

Jim: As well as the well-documented leftie issues, it felt that De La Rosa also had a tendency to let innings snowball away: he'd cruise for four innings, than give up four in the fifth, that kind of thing. If he's to survive in the rotation this year - and I suspect management will not let him run for 32 starts with an 87 ERA+ - he needs to be able to put out fires more effectively. Otherwise, I can see the team giving someone else a shot, and moving De La Rosa to the bullpen.

Xipooo: Same old same old.  I don't see him improving unless he takes on a bullpen role.  I'd like to see him give the closer roll a shot.  He has the stuff for it.