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AZ SnakePit Round Table: The Christmas Edition

Ho ho and in a very REAL sense, ho...

Berggruen Prize Gala Photo by Bryan Bedder/Getty Images for Berggruen Institute

The D-backs signed Japanese reliever Yoshihisa Hirano. Are you impressed?

Charlie: Sure. Money is being exchanged for services of a relief pitcher, which the Diamondbacks needed. The system works.


I am impressed with Yoshihisa Hirano for 3 reasons:

  • His pitching stands out as better than his peers. In 2011, he was the Japan Pacific League’s Most Valuable Middle Reliever. In 2014, his 40 saves led the league. In 2017, his 29 saves ranked #3 in the league.
  • There are two reasons he could achieve better results in MLB: “Hirano’s high ground-ball rate might grow even higher in the majors; most of his games with the Orix Buffaloes were on artificial turf, and Japanese teams shift far less than major-league clubs.” Ken Rosenthal article
  • The D-backs were prepared for this opportunity and executed well. “We have scouted Yoshihisa for years…” D-back Press Release

I predict that Yoshihisa Hirano will close for the D-backs this season. My reasoning:

  • From 2013 to 2017, Hirano pitched very well as a closer. During those years, he finished the game in 213 of his 271 relief appearances. Clearly, that closing experience is valuable.
  • Bradley’s most valuable roles are multiple innings, setup pitcher, and starter.
  • Sherfy has 2 options remaining, and can be valuable depth in AAA.
  • By the pitching stats, it is difficult to compare Hirano’s Japan Pacific Coast League experience with Boxberger’s MLB experience.
  • This table shows that 2017 Hirano was better than 2015 Boxberger in ERA, HR per 9 innings, and walks per 9 innings.
  • Intuitively, I’m convinced Hirano will continue to stand out from his peers, including Boxberger and Sherfy.

Jim’s bullpen article talks about the Zips projection for Hirano. I disagree with the Zips projection for Hirano, for reasons explained in my comment at the end of Jim’s article. His article is recommended as worthwhile reading.

Jim: It’s good to see the team following a non-conventional approach and looking to find talent wherever it can. The market for relief pitching this winter has been startlingly expensive, with even average pitching horrendously expensive. I mean, in what world are Brandon Morrow or Tommy Hunter and their 104 career ERA+ worth $21 million and $18 million respectively, over two years? On that basis, $6 million seems a bargain. Hirano’s lack of track record in the majors is a risk, and he’s obviously older than most Japanese signings. But it’s not a long-term commitment, and there’s upside as well.

How do you see the bullpen shaping up for 2018?

Charlie: Decently. Seems like they’re going with what they did last year, get some cheapish high-upside pieces and see how they fit. It worked then and maybe it’ll work now.

Makakilo: Most excellently! The bullpen could be as good as last season, when it ranked fourth in the Majors in wins above average.

Jim: Well, I wrote about that yesterday in a fair bit of depth, so not much need to repeat myself. But as mentioned there, it does appear to be an area of the team where Mike Hazen looks to catch lightning in a bottle. With reliever volatility being what it is, I can see the appeal of signing a selection of veterans to supplement the younger arms on the team, throwing them all at the wall, and seeing who sticks. Even if the results from them aren’t brilliant, they can still be used to pitch low-leverage innings, and save the better arms for more important work. I think we’ll also see, as in 2017, a lot of rotation up and down from Reno.

Predict who will end next season with most saves?

Charlie: Archie Bradley with a number below league average as the team shuffles around the role a bit and then settles on him.

Makakilo: I assume the question is which D-back will have the most saves. Yoshihisa Hirano.

Jim: And I’ll split the vote further, by going with Boxberger. I’d rather see Bradley kept for the highest of leverage work, rather than protecting three-run leads in the ninth, just because that counts as a “save situation.” Hirano will need to prove himself a bit against major-league hitters before I’d feel comfortable using him in the ninth, while Boxberger already had demonstrated his ability in the closer’s role. If he’s healthy, I can see him easily getting 30+ saves.

Looks like Manny Machado is staying put. Are you disappointed?

Charlie: He was gonna sign with the Yankees next offseason anyway, so meh.

Makakilo: Although I am not happy, I am not disappointed either.

The shortstop position ranked 21st in the Majors with a negative 0.8 wins above average. Acquiring Machado would have made a weak position into a strong position - an effective way to improve the team. And pairing Machado with Goldschmidt in the batting order would have been awesome. Nevertheless, the circumstances of the trade greatly reduced my enthusiasm.

Costs would have been high, in salary and players traded away.

  • Salary: In his last year of arbitration, he is expected to earn $17.3 Million (MLB Trade Rumors). That salary would require cutting salary elsewhere, or using MLBAM money. Even if the MLBAM money was available, that use is probably not the highest value comparing it to other opportunities from a multiple year perspective.
  • Players: Some players would have been traded away to execute the trade and perhaps other players would have been traded away to reduce overall salary. Who would have gone? Lamb, Drury, and/or Corbin? Would the trade include prospects?

Costs would last years and would have reduced sustainability of the team. If acquiring Machado could have been close to sustainability neutral, that circumstance would have been acceptable. However, these specific circumstances would work against sustainability.

Though Machado would have been awesome in one season, I look forward to the relatively young Ketel Marte playing shortstop because he will make incremental improvements and he has a balance of offense and defense (compared to Ahmed and Owings). Marte is under team control for 5 more seasons.

Jim: It would have been nice, to be sure. But my feelings would have depended on what the team had to give up for a year of Machado. This does feel like an unexpected window of opportunity, and with A.J. Pollock hitting free agency at the end of 2018, it’s one which may not be open much longer. However, the team did well enough without Machado in 2017, and as long as they can play that way again next year, there’s no reason they shouldn’t be contending. They just need to keep up the pre-Martinez level of play for a full year, and they won’t miss him.

How would you spend the one-time $50 million windfall the team is getting from MLBAM?

Charlie: Payroll. I mean, that would be the smart thing, but I’m not some failson of a billionaire that is gonna pocket it and whine to MLB that they need the local government to pay for a frozen yogurt machine for the stadium or something. It’s a really nice Fro-Yo machine, don’t get me wrong, but put a quality product on the field.

Makakilo: Buy out key players’ arbitration years and a couple years of free agency.

Jim: Fans really need to see a commitment to the team, especially given the lack of investment apparently resulting from the blockbuster television deal. With the other three major Arizona sports franchises in the doldrums, the Diamondbacks have a chance to secure fan loyalty: we haven’t had consecutive post-season appearances here since 2002, so that would be nice. However, it remains a soft, fickle market and I can see another route whereby the D-backs don’t invest in their future, and local support sours as a result, especially if the stadium situation comes to a head in 2018.

Merry Christmas! What are you up to?

Charlie: Thinking about vengeance against those who have wronged me. Or, you know, just a quiet day in with family. Maybe a little column a/column b.

Makakilo: Two highlights:

  • Good fortune has shined on me. I will be in the Phoenix area on 17 April and will happily attend the D-back game against the Giants! Go Diamondbacks!
  • This last week, a crack team of dedicated master-gardeners including me, set-up three huge compost bins to answer the question, “Which is better to add to a compost bin - coffee grounds or chicken manure?”

Jim: Two Die Hard movies down, three more to go. Unfortunately, I actually have to work today, but I’m hoping it remains quiet enough not to be a chore. After two weeks of having to be up at 5:45 am for training, I’m just delighted to be back to civilized hours!