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AZ SnakePit Round-Table: Arizona Diamondbacks at the break, Part 1

We haven't been idle during the All-Star vacation. Here's the first part (of three) in a mega-discussion about the state of the D-backs as we enter the second half of the season. We start with a look back at first half, the part played by injuries, and the Shelby Miller situation.

Justin K. Aller/Getty Images
38-52. How did we get here?

Jim: Injuries. An outfield consisting of hastily relocated infielders, sluggers with no range and replacement level veterans. But mostly, bad starting pitching. Last year, our rotation had a second half ERA of 4.02. We then added a pair of All-Stars. But the ERA for the half just completed was 4.94. Something to note: the "this has tired the bullpen" argument doesn't really hold up any more. Our starters' innings per game is exactly at league average (5,7) and our bullpen innings now ranks fifth in the NL.

James: I have to agree with Jim. While I am not convinced that we would be over .500 even if healthy, I think we are still awfully close. Even a 7-game improvement to .500 means this team is still realistically looking at the WC if it can put together a strong second half. Injuries have killed this team. That said, pitching has been awful, even if we are being generous. Greinke had a slow first month, that can be forgiven. He returned to form just fine. The rest of the staff has underperformed both expectations of improvement, and past demonstrable performance. The one starter that looked like he might actually be improving was De La Rosa, and he too has been lost to injury. If this team is going to improve, it is going to have to start with pitching better and staying healthy.

Pirate: The pitching still hasn't been fixed. While the focus is on Miller (and that's justified to an extent) I believe that is unfair. IMHO Corbin and Ray also need to be considered as a large part of the problem as well. The two guys on the bump that have served the team the best are both on the DL and everyone else is, to be polite, inconsistent. Bradley appears to be cut from the same cloth but also appears to be maddeningly close to figuring it out but isn't quite there yet.

The bullpen construction appeared to be hopeful but Collmenter's ability seems to have dropped off the table and Delgado is still Delgado. A lot of the other pieces are incredibly young and inexperienced. If there's one thing that is a general trend over all it's that our guys walk too many guys and then they all seemingly score (I know, hyperbole) but we need guys that will throw strikes and challenge the opponents. I can live with guys getting shelled, what bothers me is guys who nibble a couple of base runners on and THEN get shelled.

I can excuse the defense in the outfield, because it was supposed to be anchored by Pollack and Peralta, not a combination of bench bats and street Free agent pickups and converted infielders. It would be nice if Lamb could sort out his fielding woes but you can't keep his bat out of the lineup.

Turambar: Pitching pitching and pitching. The one thing that was supposed to be thoroughly patched up this last off-season is no where near what was promised, or what we thought existed by the end of Spring Training.

I'll give all my fellow writers above a nod toward the injury problem, which is not exactly ideal, but our starting pitching and bullpen have been pedestrian at best. No amount of Pollack/Peralta defense or any of the offense they could have brought is going to make up for Miller digging trenches at the mound or Delgado giving up late inning runs.

Going forward it's going to have to be our pitching that improves if we want to salvage any kind of pride from this season.

Preston: General incompetence, mixed with a heaping portion of injuries. The injuries have taken the brunt of the blame, of course, but other teams have been dealing with injuries. To me, the most glaring problem is that, on the offensive side, the individual pieces are very good. Jean Segura is hitting over .300, and has shown more ability to work counts and draw walks than was expected. Jake Lamb has been a revelation. After a slowish start, Goldy has been Goldy. Our catchers have been very good offensively. Yet the team hasn't been able to score consistently. The Diamondbacks scoring mode for the season is only three runs, and they have scored four runs or fewer in 54 games this season, unsurprisingly posting a 13-41 record in those games.

Our hitters have also struggled to adjust. The Diamondbacks have scored 52 runs in the first inning, and 53 in the sixth as the starting pitcher tires. But in between, the second time through the order, run scoring has been rare. The fourth inning is the best example, with only 33 runs scored, fewer even than the ninth inning, when the team is often facing the best bullpen arm available. Of course, the pitching is a problem too. The pitching staff struggles to adjust just as the hitters do, and has allowed 72 runs in the fourth inning, most of any inning.

The result of this inability to make adjustments is a team that somehow has a losing record when leading entering the second, third, and fourth innings of a game. They actually have managed to have a better record when tied in the early innings than they do when behind. The back half of the bullpen has been all we could have hoped, with a very respectable 29-4 record when leading entering the seventh inning (a figure which jumps to 33-2 entering the eighth and 32-1 entering the ninth) but middle relief and long relief have been problems as well.

Making better adjustments would make the team better in the middle innings (currently outscored 181-129) and lead to a better record. This leads me to blame the coaching staff for a lot of the problems. While the players are the ones needing to make the adjustments, if everyone is struggling to adjust, there is a coaching issue as well.

Nate: Horrible pitching, especially from the starters, has been the main issue. The offense has been very good, but the pitchers have just been unable to hold up their end of the bargain.

Makakilo: Three reasons: Starting pitching, outfielder injuries, and hitting with RISP.

Starting pitching is slightly better than last season, and yet it improved much less than expected. The expected improvement was from Zack Greinke, who started slow, and Shelby Miller, who is broken (but fixable).

Outfield injuries to Pollock and Peralta, who were temporarily replaced mostly by infielders, gave more hits to opponents and made the fielding weakness of Tomas impossible to cover.

Although the team ranks first in the National League in hits, it ranks seventh in RBIs. Hitting RBIs with RISP is weak.

Steven Burt: Lots of injuries and just terrible pitching up and down. Greinke turned it around with a two fabulous months, but of course he went to the DL. When Rubby de la Rosa is your 2nd best starter, you're going to have problems.

Other problems include starting Nick Ahmed and his sub-.600 OPS everyday and taking a step back defensively.

Xipooo: The obvious is poor pitching in the starting rotation, a middle relief that can't sustain a lead, an offense that sputters with runners in scoring position, bad defense from lack of focus, and a few key injuries. But I think my main point of pain is with the coaching staff. This team has way too much talent to be under-performing so badly. We see bad decision after bad decision by the coaching staff, a lack of focus from the players can be attributed to a lack of enjoyment and excitement which the coaching staff needs to be keen on, and mechanical/mental issues for the pitching staff.

If we had perfect health, what would our record be?

Jim: Slightly better, but really, not all that much. The complete lack of A.J. Pollock is obviously an issue, and losing Rubby De La Rosa too, given he was our best pitcher at the time. A slice for David Peralta, maybe Chris Owings too? But I'd be hard pushed to say much more than five games in total, so 43-47. And, of course, injuries (and how they are handled) is part of roster construction. The outfield situation exposed Arizona's weakness there ruthlessly.

James: I think a perfectly healthy team has this club might be improved by seven games, making them a .500 club. That's being a bit bullish, but I think improved starters improve the bullpen for three or four wins, maybe more if Miller is the pitcher the team actually traded for,and an improved outfield, especially one featuring Pollock, is worth three or four wins.

Pirate: Healthy, maybe 4 to five games better, that supposes that Rubby and Greinke would mean another 4-5 wins and that the offense may have squeaked out an additional game or two.

Turambar: Meh, maybe 5 games better, maybe.

Preston: I see no reason why it wouldn't be the same. Maybe Pollock and Peralta being healthy improves the defense enough to win a few more games, but I suspect that they would be demonstrating the same inability to adjust that the rest of the offense has, and their replacements haven't exactly been offensive black holes. The Diamondbacks right field has been better offensively than the Cubs, who signed some guy named Jason Heyward to play that position. I think there is a coaching/cultural problem that needs to be fixed before a lot of improvement will be seen.

Nate: You could probably add 3-4 games for Pollock, 2 for Peralta, 1 or 2 for Rubby, another one if Shelby hadn't cut his finger on the mound... I'll add 6 games, for a record of 44-46.

Makakilo: A healthy outfield could have added 5-6 wins at the All-Star break. My breakout is Pollock 3 wins, Peralta 1.5 wins, covering Tomas's weakness 1 win.

Steven: I'd agree with around 5 wins, with Michael Bourn and Brandon Drury being replaced by Pollock and Peralta. The pitching is still awful, although they'd be better with better outfield defense.

Xipooo: I don't know that we'd be much better honestly. Pitching has been the most glaring deficiency and the only pitcher who has been out most of the season is Rubby. I can't imagine he makes this team 10 or even 5 games better. Pollock could have only contributed so much, and I'm not sure Chris Owings would have done any better than Bourne. Maybe 3 games better.

Is Shelby Miller fixable? How?

Jim: I still cling to the hope that he can be corrected. He was a good pitcher for three full seasons, so that should still outweigh half a season of utter suck. My concern is, there does not appear to be any kind of systematic plan to fix him. It's mental! It's mechanical! It's an injury! You'd think a pitcher whisperer like Dave Duncan should be able to do something; but does anyone know what Dave Duncan is doing for the organization? Because I've not heard much.

James: Miller clearly has the stuff to pitch at the MLB level. Whatever changes the organization asked him to make when he came over clearly broke him. There may be other factors as well (there almost has to be), but I think the first step might be letting him go back to what worked for him before, and putting organizational philosophy on hold for a bit. I never thought he was more than a #3 starter myself, though I was hoping the talent evaluators saw something I was missing. At this point, I think it may take the rest of the season for Miller to get right again. I remain hopeful that 2017 Miller will be the Miller of old.

Pirate: Supposedly Duncan was the pitcher whisperer, in Miller's case, perhaps he needs to speak up. I have no doubt that they're trying things, but perhaps it's in his head versus his mechanics.

Turambar: Miller baffles me, utterly and completely baffles me. In the three seasons prior he showed none of these problems or even hints of these kind of problems we've seen. One has to wonder if Butcher and Co. tried to drastically change his mechanics during Spring Training, thus trying to fix something that wasn't broken. Regardless I believe he can return to his old form, but I strongly doubt it'll happen this season.

Preston: I suspect that Miller needs to see a good pitching coach (his previous organizations both have had a track record of success with pitchers) and a good psychologist. True or not, blaming his poor performance on pressure doesn't reflect well on his psyche. Good pitchers can handle pressure, great pitchers thrive under pressure. Miller has, apparently, wilted. The mental side of his game likely needs fixed before the physical side can be completely fixed.

Nate: I don't see why not. Up to this year, he had always ranged from good to excellent. He clearly can pitch well, but for whatever reason has been absolutely terrible this year.

Makakilo: While lacking the detailed information, resources, and influence that the coaches have, I have a suggestion to fix Shelby Miller.

Shelby Miller should hire a full-time personal pitching coach! Clearly he needs someone who will give it 100% focus (much more than Dave Duncan and/or Mike Butcher who focus on all pitchers). His coach would look broadly at an integrated approach including pitching technique, approach to each at-bat (including first/second/third times through the batting order), and mental focus and control. It is not unreasonable for Shelby Miller to start doing yoga, meditation, biofeedback, or self-hypnosis. Due to his struggles, Shelby Miller is likely getting suggestion from many different people, and the suggestions are possibly incompatible. Maybe his coach could filter the suggestions into a coherent whole.

Steven: His velocity is down from last year, which could be an indicator of something being wrong physically. But the D-backs haven't disclosed anything like that, so let's just hope it's just the expectations of performing up to the talent traded to get him making him over think things out there.

Xipooo: Yes. Slight shorter stride, less lean forward and tilted left during his delivery. Try to emphasize a whipping action of his arm instead of a push with his lower body. Not sure if the coaching staff just doesn't know how to fix him, or if he just won't listen. But you don't put up a sub 4 ERA your entire career before this year if you don't know how to pitch.