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SnakePit Round Table: At the closing of the year

As we end 2017, let’s take a look back at a year that went a lot better than virtually everyone expected.

Miami Marlins v Arizona Diamondbacks Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images

What were your pre-season hopes?

Turambar: Getting a win? I kid of course, in all seriousness though after the debacle of 2016 my hopes were lower than whale shit. Generally I just wanted to see an improvement of any kind over 2016; better starting pitching, better bullpen, better batting, etc. I wasn’t hoping for playoffs, just silver lining for the future.

Makakilo: I predicted 84 wins. I hoped it would be enough wins to earn a wild-card berth.

Xipooo: I was just hoping for better than the previous year. Last year being such a disappointment with so much potential, I think I just wanted to see some sign that this could be a good team.

Jim: I’d have been more than happy with a .500 season, given the limited nature of the off-season moves - and that they included the departure of our 2016 MVP in Jean Segura. It was interesting to see the new front-office come in and NOT make wholesale changes to put their stamp on the franchise, but that did mean I didn’t have very strong expectations that this season’s results would be any different from last time.

When did you begin to feel they would be exceeded?

Turambar: I think by the end of April something just seemed “right”. Things were clicking in ways I was not expecting: prolific offense, resurrected pitching and a team that seemed to have “it”. All the crap of 2016 seemed to melt away and suddenly I was thrilled to be a fan again.

Makakilo: Sometime during the 13 game winning streak (August 24 – September 6), which included two sweeps against the Dodgers, my hopes of a playoff berth became my confident expectation of a playoff berth. I was very excited!

Xipooo: I guess in retrospect this year was actually an expectation of the previous year. So in that way they weren’t actually exceeded, they were finally met but it just took longer.

Jim: Pretty quickly. When they started the season by taking three of four from the Giants, then swept the Indians - going 6-1 against two sides that made the post-season the previous year - it felt like they were better than we knew. The Opening Day win made a statement that this team would be resilient and never out of it, which indeed proved to the the case. Of course, it took a lot longer for that feeling to become solid: through the awful series in Minnesota, there was always a change of a meltdown. We’d seen those before, certainly. But the 13-game winning streak confirmed we’d be fine.

What were the causes of the team’s over-achievement?

Turambar: I’m sure we’re all going to write many different points here, but I’ll go with Starting Pitching. 2016 saw our brand new ace disappoint and everyone else get injured or underachieve. 2017 though saw Greinke do Greinke things and Ray become an ace in his own right. Them along with others built a solid staff that consistently kept games close and consistently got us W’s.

Makakilo: Three biggest causes were:

  • Pitching was 76% of the big-three above-average achievement in Wins Above Average (WAA). Starting pitchers ranked 2nd in WAA. After Miller’s injury, Godley’s pitching results were a welcome relief! Relief pitching ranked 4th in WAA. Bradley was awesome. Some part of the pitching excellence can be attributed to Mathis, whose game calling and pitch-framing was outstanding (Stat Corner website), and Iannetta.
  • First Base was 15% of the big-three above-average achievement in WAA. First base ranked 2nd in WAA. Many people expected first base to be a bright spot; Goldy met their expectation.
  • Right Field was 9% of the big-three above-average achievement in WAA. Martinez, Peralta, and Owings combined for 96% of the PAs in right field, which ranked #7 in WAA.

Xipooo: Again, I don’t think it was really an over achievement when you look at what was expected from last year. Now, there were certainly some great surprises. First and foremost was Zack Godley in my mind. I don’t think anyone expected him to step up the way he did. He was a huge reason for the year ending the way it did. It was also good to see Corbin come back to form toward the end of the year.

Jim: Mostly the pitching. Arizona conceded 231 runs fewer in 2017. Two hundred and thirty-one. That’s getting close to one and a half per game. The rotation was a huge part of that, naturally, with just about everyone light years ahead of where they were in 2016. I mean, look at the individual ERAs of all those who started more than a handful of times:

  • Zack Greinke: 4.37 to 3.20
  • Patrick Corbin: 5.15 to 4.03
  • Robbie Ray: 4.90 to 2.89
  • Taijuan Walker: 4.22 (with Seattle) to 3.49
  • Zack Godley: 6.39 to 3.37

That’s startling stuff. The bullpen took some steps forward too, most apparent in Archie Bradley embracing his reliever’s role with both arms, and Andrew Chafin’s numbers coming back in line with his peripherals.

Which players were key to the the D-backs’ success?

Turambar: This could be a long list if you want full answer, so I’ll go with just a couple. Firstly I’d like to recognize Robby Ray, who in 2016 looked good, but in 2017 looked like a pitching demon. His emergence as a true ace helped take some pressure off Greinke and made our pitching staff truly great. At the plate I really felt that the addition of JD helped right the ship after the All Star break where the DBacks really seemed to stumble a bit. Yea he was just a rental player, but having him in the lineup with Goldy really cemented our team as a threat to put up crooked numbers in any inning on any team.

Makakilo: Many key players were pitchers – Greinke, Ray, Godley, Walker, Corbin, Bradley, Rodney… As for position players, Goldschmidt, Martinez, Peralta, Owings, Mathis, and Ianetta stand out. Pollock was great. Marte did an admirable job when Ahmed and Owings were injured. And I probably left out a couple players worth mentioning.

Xipooo: I keep pointing to Godley. I think he embodied a bit of that “underdog” fighting spirit that helped keep the spark going in the clubhouse. It was also great to have an Ace that actually pitched like one at the top of the rotation. Though Greinke had his ups and downs throughout the season, he was stable enough for the team to build on.

Jim: Godley stepped in when the team needed a replacement for Shelby Miller, because Braden Shipley wasn’t it. That was huge. I think the catchers, Chris Iannetta and Jeff Mathis, deserve their share of praise as well, for their part in the remarkable turnaround of the pitching. Robbie Ray’s transition from “great stuff” to “great pitcher”. And, of course, Paul Goldschmidt for continuing to be Paul Goldschmidt, in a way only Paul Goldschmidt can.

What moments will you remember about the 2017 season?

Turambar: Hmm. So many to choose from. Sweeping the Dodgers was sure awesome. Especially when JD went yard 4 times in a game.

Makakilo: Archie Bradley’s triple in the wild card game - I was awestruck!

Xipooo: The most exciting moment for me was when they announced JD was coming to the team. It really surprised me that they would actually pull the trigger on something that big to improve their chances. It really felt like the front office was buying in on the season which I didn’t fully expect.

Jim: Watching the wild-card game was amazing fun, even though it was from a sportsbook in Las Vegas. But the apparently endless, triple rain-delay game in Chicago, with Goldschmidt’s three home-runs and all the bullpen shenanigans, is the contest that will stick in my mind. If only because I was watching every single freakin’ minute of the six hours it took to complete.

What could they have done to go further this year?

Turambar: Outside of something truly fanciful I’m not sure what more could have possibly be done. One must wonder what our pitching staff might have been like with Miller healthy all year, but I’m not sure if that would transfer over to playoff success.

Makakilo: My focus is forward with optimism. Backward looking, “What if…” questions are rarely a happy use of my time. Nevertheless, with a spirit of adventure, I gave it a quick thought.

What if injuries could have been predicted? Perhaps trading Miller and Tomas before their injuries could have yielded a couple players who could have incrementally contributed. Would the new players have made a huge impact? Maybe, or maybe not.

Xipooo: I think moving Archie to the closer role would have been better but it would have been arranging deck chairs on the Titanic really. The USS DBacks were going to run into the Dodger Iceberg at some point. To defeat the Dodgers, it would have taken another top of the rotation pitcher at the very least and probably a move in the bullpen. I still think the offense stacked up well against the Dodgers.

Jim: With hindsight, maybe not burned Robbie Ray in the wild-card game? While it played a part in us getting through that, it wrecked the rotation for the Dodgers’ series. I’ll always wonder “what if?” there. But Torey Lovullo and Mike Hazen pushed so many correct buttons, it seems churlish to complain about that one. If you’d told fans before the season we’d reach the Division Series, we’d all have been ecstatic. If this wasn’t the best regular season in SnakePit history, it’s certainly up there.