We swept the Mets and have a four-game winning streak. It’s clearly time to start thinking about our rotation for the 2017 National League Division Series. Ok, that’s likely a little premature. But following up on our peek at a potential D-backs bullpen for next year, figured I might as well do a similar ranking for the possible starting pitchers. Let’s begin with the nine who have already started games for Arizona this year.
The 2016 rotation so far
- Zack Greinke. It was a rough start for our ace. Eight starts - and, thus, about $8 million - into his mega-contract. he was 3-3 with a 5.26 ERA, and the naysayers were in full flight. But since then? He has gone 8-0 in ten outings, with a 2.47 ERA, and been the pitcher we expected. Now, can he keep it going until we have a competent starting staff behind him?
- Rubby De La Rosa. When he’s dominant, he is really good: witness that five-game streak before his final outing. 1.93 ERA and more than a K per inning. But there is a big question-marks over De La Rosa and his health. With Rubby’s past history including Tommy John, the last thing you want is to see elbow issues, but it’s that which apparently ended his season in late-May.
- Robbie Ray. Much as with De La Rosa, there are flashes of greatness, and Robbie’s strikeout rate is up there with the true aces in baseball this year. It’s a lack of a reliable third pitch that seems to be his problem, and allows opposing hitters to tee off on Ray, the deeper he goes. His OPS first time through is .573. The second time, that rises to .794. Third time? 1.015. This needs to be fixed.
- Braden Shipley. I agonized over whether he should be above or below Archie, but I’m feeling all giddy after seven shutout innings on the road this afternoon in New York. Following a shaky first start, Shipley has now allowed two runs over 19 innings, and has a career ERA below three after four appearances. Mind you, so did Bradley and Godley, plus Barry Enright and Enrique Gonzalez...
- Archie Bradley. Inconsistency has plagued Bradley all season. Just when it seemed he was getting on track, with a July ERA of 3.60, he unleashes one of the worst starts by an Arizona pitcher this year. Then next time out, he takes 116 pitches to get through 4.2 innings. He has struggled particularly hard at Chase where he has a 6.25 ERA, compared to only 3.38 everywhere else.
- Patrick Corbin. Our ace last year has now gone eight consecutive games without a quality start, and is 0-5 with a 7.09 ERA in that time. Like Bradley, the home/road split is particularly bemusing. He’s winless (0-8) in 11 Phoenix starts with a 6.93 ERA, but is 4-3 and has a respectable 4.00 ERA away from Arizona. Figuring out why there is such a discrepancy is key in getting Corbin back on track.
- Shelby Miller. “He's already good and he's going to get better,” said Dave Stewart before the season. How things change. Now, simply fixing Miller, putting him back to the level at which he pitched before being traded to the Diamondbacks, would feel like a huge success - never mind taking any kind of step forward. Given the inability of the team to fix him in the majors, “We’ll see,” is about as far as I can go.
- Zack Godley. Based on the team’s dismissal of Josh Collmenter, followed shortly after by Godley’s move to the bullpen, it wouldn’t surprise me if his future is as Collmenter v2.0, Arizona’s long reliever and spot starter. His numbers in the rotation this year haven’t been great, a 5.61 ERA in six starts, and he has been good only the first time seeing opposing hitters (a .546 OPS).
- Edwin Escobar. Two awful starts by Escobar - 7 IP, 11 ER - got him a quick return to Reno. But since his last demotion, Escobar has put together five solid starts for the Aces, with a 2.83 ERA, no mean feat in the PCL. Small sample size, to be sure, but he is still only 24.
- Tyler Wagner. I also include Wagner here, simply because... I don’t know. After some decent long-relief work, he appears to have vanished off the face of the earth since tossing five innings for the Aces on May 13. He was placed on the minor-league disabled list two days later, and there has been no public word since. Seems weird to have a player on the DL for three months with no explanation.
Down on the farm
There are two categories. Those in the upper tier (Double-A and Triple-A) and those further down the pipeline. The figures below are stats for every pitcher in the Arizona farm system with at least 10 starts and 50+ innings (even if no longer around, like Drabek). The division by highest level reached, also almost exactly works by age: older than 23, and 23 or younger. Banda and Clarke are the only young ‘uns to have pitched above High-A for the D-backs this year. Within each group, the pitchers are ranked by ERA. I’ve left Godley, Shipley and Escobar’s stats in, for comparison.
Among the upper tier Anthony Banda is probably the most promising name. The left-hander had sterling numbers in AA Mobile (2.12 ERA in 13 starts). While they are a little less pretty with AAA Reno, it’s still not bad, considering he only turned 23 yesterday. He’s probably at or near the top of our list of prospects, post-Shipley. Taylor Clarke started with A Kane County, but has been promoted twice, and is now in Mobile. As with Banda, the numbers look less impressive at the higher level, but that’s only to be expected.
Looking further into the future, it’s worth remembering that we have seen pitchers promoted from Double-A to the majors. So it’s not impossible that some of this year’s A-ball guys, could be in the big leagues by this time next year. Alex Young has been having some impressive outings for Visalia and Kane County, and 19-year-old Brazilian Rodrigo Takahashi has had his moments, bouncing around three levels. On the other hand, the Yoan Lopez saga looks increasingly unlikely to have a happy ending for anyone in the Diamondbacks.
The odds of a big free-agent signing this winter seem extremely slim. The list of potential candidates thinned out when Stephen Strasburg signed a contract extension. Instead, god help us all, you’re looking at Jeremy Hellickson potentially being one of the most in-demand names during the off-season. How have we come to this? I don’t see anyone that would be a clear upgrade over in-house candidates.
I suppose it is possible that we’ll make another trade to bring in another arm, but the way the farm system is currently looking i.e. thin, I don’t think we have the pieces necessary. I suppose a package involving potentially surplus assets like Brandon Drury, Nick Ahmed, etc, could be put together, but I’d be extremely gun-shy about that, given the Miller fiasco. I simply don’t have a great deal of trust in the talent evaluation of Dave Stewart et al after that.