Not a good week, losing the series to the Giants, and struggling in Los Angeles. Where do you point the finger?
1. Giants: One unlikely play, scoring three runs on a weak infield grounder made the difference in the Padres series opener game. A win in that game turns the series into a win. The other loss was because Matt Cain pitched a good game, and even had an RBI.
2. Dodgers: Kershaw is a great pitcher. The Dbacks did not find a way to beat him in this one game. Maybe next time. In the next game, sending Fernando Rodney into the game before the ninth was a daring move. Three runs. It failed. My guess is it brought back bad memories from last season for Rodney. Maybe the plan was a quick out of Corey Seager, and to develop flexibility in Rodney. Instead, it seemed like desperation.
Jim: Mostly hard-core regression of the offense, which seems unable to buy a hit on the road. Going into Sunday’s game, our OPS away from Chase was 355 points lower than in Phoenix. Now, obviously, the .313 we hit at home was never going to be sustainable: but then, neither is the .183 we have been batting on the road trip. Still, you won’t win many games at that level of production. And, hey, we haven’t.
Keegan: In the first week of the season, we were watching a league leading offense and joking about late inning comebacks. Now the general reaction is, “Hey look! A hit!” Too many runners left on base. Too many defensive errors. A little league back and forth at home plate against the Giants. Fernando Rodney failing to keep it close in a late game. I’m running out of fingers to point.
James: I see a few things that have resulted in the less than spectacular road-trip. The first thing is simple regression. This team was never going to sustain the kind of offensive output they opened the season with at home. Second, the team ra into a few good pitchers, namely Clayton Kershaw. Matt Cain was also more like his vintage self. How much of the Matt Cain game was Matt Cain, and how much was the Diamondbacks helping opposing pitching with impatient at-bats remains to be seen. I suspect it was a bit of both though. Lastly, the defense has simply not been up to snuff. One piss-poor play by Walker in the Giants series was the difference between a win and a loss in that game, and a win and a loss in that series. This team needs to start playing smarter, cleaner ball, both in the field and at the plate.
STEVEN: After expectations were risen following a surprise week, the team has fallen back to earth. Road games are difficult, especially in SF and LA. Expect some bounceback because the talent level is there to compete, but the bullpen needs more help if the D-backs want any chance of sniffing the playoffs.
Michael: The offense was on an unsustainable pace considering the high BABIP and low BB/K ratio. The pitching wasn’t as good on the road trip, felt like the Giants and Dodgers were both able to tack on insurance runs to put games away. While not as good as the 6-1 start, they aren’t as bad as they’ve played the last 6 games. I think the Padres series is a good time for the team to get their timing back with the bats. Good offense or not, the team needs quality starting pitching.
Xipooo: Can we still blame Kevin Towers? Is that still a thing?
Sean: The easy answer is obvious regression to our hitters, but we’ve completely swung in the opposite direction: .248 ISO, .248 BABIP, 42 wRC+. But the biggest problem was clearly obvious even during our 6-1 homestand: our 7.0% BB% is fourth-worst and our 25.1% K% is third-worst in the MLB. When Yasmany Tomas has a better BB% than Owings, Peralta, Pollock, Mathis, and Drury, you’re going to have some major issues. However, our starting pitching has looked solid so far and this appears to be a bit more sustainable.
What has happened to the D-backs’ offense?
Makakilo: Two significant factors are:
1. It’s a road trip. A big problem last season was underperformance at Chase. In spring training, if the priority was hitting at Chase then it worked! Now there is room to work on the next priority of hitting on the road.
2. The Dodgers have a great pitching coach, Rick Honeycutt. Clayton Kershaw (who just out-pitched Greinke) said Honeycutt is the best pitching coach in baseball. Dan Haren said Honeycutt taught him tools that extended his career. Ross Stripling said Honeycutt had a tremendous impact on his rookie 2016 season. Honeycutt is constantly scouting and watching video, and his skills include both fixing pitching mechanics and planning pitching attacks.
Jim: I won’t claim to have seen EVERY at-bat, but there seems to have been a lot of them given away - swinging at pitches outside of the zone, etc. Though I have to say, the umpiring appears to have been particularly bad this year, with some truly terrible strike-zones - which almost forces hitters to hack at anything up there. We have seen some good pitchers: Kershaw’s outing was an absolute masterclass. Got to tip your hat in contests like that. But games like Saturday, where we struck out 12 times and had one walk, facing a starter with a career ERA+ of only 105? It strongly suggests our hitters did not have a good approach.
Keegan: Well, for starters we all knew it was not sustainable. However, now it is so bad that it is not sustainable on that end either. The Dodgers and Giants have tremendous pitching potential just like the D’backs, so it is never easy facing those staffs. Instead of the offense softly coming back down to Earth we kind of free fell without a parachute. I sound like a broken record, but we do not need everyone to be red hot all of the time.
James: One word - regression. This team was never going to continue the world-beating pace it started off the season with across those first seven games. That said, the team is striking out more than I would care to see, and some of those strikeout have been ugly. Chris Owings has been mostly what was expected offensively, but when he is getting carved up by the opposing pitcher, he is swinging at three, four, five pitches out of the zone before returning to the bench with another strikeout to his name. He’s not the only one either. This team needs to get more patient at the plate, otherwise the offense is going to spend the entire season BABIP driven, and that’s no way to succeed.
Steven: Like mentioned earlier, SF and LA are notorious for being pitcher-friendly ballparks with above-average pitching staffs, so some sort of offensive regression should be expected. For this team to succeed, A.J needs to step up his offensive game and start setting the table for Goldschmidt and Lamb.
Michael: The quality of ABs weren’t as good, but it’s also a case of regression as well. The team does have a lot of over-aggressive hitters, which is susceptible to quality pitching as Clayton Kershaw proved on Friday. On the road, the team once again needs quality starting pitching because scoring is going to be less prolific.
Xipooo: Paul Goldschmidt. Yeah that didn’t sound right when I said it to myself either but facts is facts.
Sean: A major lack of hitting talent combined with prolonged slumps to Peralta, Pollock, and Goldy. Lamb, Owings, and Tomas have been the only hitters to see success on the road so far. Goldy is getting his walks but that’s been it. The rest of our starters? Peralta, Pollock, Mathis, and Drury all currently have negative wRC+ on the road so far.
Zack Greinke has now made 29 starts for Arizona, and has a 4.36 ERA. Is that what we should be expecting, going forward?
Makakilo: I expect better than last season because the Dbacks have more defensively skilled catchers and because the Dbacks have better outfielders. Backing that opinion are ZIPS and Steamer projections that Greinke will better his ERA to 3.60 and 3.67.
Although the current ERA about the same as last season’s ERA of 4.37, Greinke
usually starts last year started the season slow. Instead, let’s compare his first three games of the last two seasons. In 2016, he allowed 13 earned runs in 17.1 innings. In 2017, he allowed 8 earned runs in 16.2 innings. After three games, Greinke’s ERA is 36% better this season than last season.
Jim: Greinke did start last year slowly - but his career ERA in April is 2.75, significantly better than his career figure of 3.43. I am encouraged more by Zack’s FIP, which is 2.94 over his first three starts, suggesting he should have had better results. There is a counter-argument here: it’s mostly because he has kept the ball in the park, allowing only one home-run so far: his K and BB rates are largely unchanged from last year. Normalize his HR rate and his xFIP is up at 3.88, only slightly down on last year’s 3.98. That’s likely around the Greinke we should probably expect. Which is not what you want for $34 million a year.
Keegan: Of course not. We should be expecting a pitcher who pitches like he is earning ~$1,000,000 per start. Those are unrealistic expectations now. Lets wait and see what changes, if any, the humidor will have on his games started at Chase. I am still optimistic that we will extract some value over the life of his contract. The hard hit % against him right now (39.6%) is obscenely high through two starts and well above his career average (28.4%), so maybe the results will be somewhat better as the season progresses.
James: I still have not given up on Greinke finding his mojo and giving the team a 4 WAR season. Granted, my bullishness on that matter has taken a significant hit, but I still think he can do it. That said, if Walker really has figured things out and continues dealing like he did on Easter, then he could be the ace the team has been needing since the departure of Dan Haren.
Steven: It sure would be nice if he started pitching like the ace we paid him to be, I just haven’t seen enough from him to expect that. Unless Greinke gains 2-3 mph, we should expect this level of production, and make a ruckus about it.
Michael: Greinke isn’t an ace anymore and needs exceptional command to get through a line-up 3 times. He does a good job of disguising his fastball, slider, and change-up in the same tunnel. I do think he’s a solid #3 starter with what he has now. Unfortunately, that’s not what they paid for and honestly I think Taijuan Walker may be the team’s best starting pitcher.
Sean: No. We need to not lump in Greinke’s 2016 with what we’ve seen so far in 2017. He was clearly out of it last year mechanically and this is easily seen with his errant horizontal and vertical release points. He seems to have returned to a form more alike his previous seasons and so far, he’s seeing better results on his changeup and slider, but of which are very important for his success as an ace. Greinke currently has a .294 FIP right now - I think we should expect closer to 3.50 than 4.50 ERA.
The Diamondbacks lead the National League in errors. Cause for concern?
Makakilo: Although reducing errors would be good, it is not my highest concern. Let’s look at errors by position, and wins above average by position:
- Shortstop: 6 errors, +.3 wins above average
- Second: 2 errors, -.3 wins above average
- Catcher: 2 errors, -.3 wins above average
- Third, First, pitcher: 1 error each, +.2, +.3, & +1.3 wins above average
Most errors were at shortstop, where overall results have been very positive. Two players made 1 error each at second. And game calling is my priority for catchers. For those reasons, errors are not as bad as it might appear.
Jim: Yes, not least because I can think of at least three more cases (Pollock’s misplayed triple, plus “hits” past Ahmed + Descalso on Friday) that were errors in all but name. Conversely, through 12 games, there has has been only one play - Pollock’s running catch - that I’ve noted down as a possible “Play of the Year” candidate. Going into today, the errors have led to seven unearned runs: only the Braves have more in the NL. With the question-marks over just about everyone in our pitching staff, that’s the last thing we need.
Keegan: Not really although the defense has been highly suspect so far. We had two errors on that atrocious play at the plate against the Giants. Chris Owings was gifted two during the instant replay marathon when trying to turn a double play against the Indians. Those 4 can be easily avoided which would leave us with 9 total, albeit still in the top 10 in the league. The two plays I just mentioned demonstrate why using errors to measure defensive success is inaccurate. What concerns me the most is Lamb’s throws to first base.
James: The choice of Owings and Drury for the middle infield had me worried from the very beginning. So far, I have not seen anything to change my mind that the defensive shortcomings of this team on the infield may detract from any offensive gains. Yes, Owings got tagged for a few extra errors across some plays, but he has not looked great at short regardless. He has looked competent. Drury has looked about as expected, but that has included not getting to some balls that I think Owings gets to if he is playing 2B, or even if Marte is.
Lamb already has one throwing error this year, but has still looked much better at the hot corner than he did last year. After years of being a defensive plus, he was a liability there last year. Hopefully this year answers the question. I personally think he’ll be fine. Still, this team, if it is going to win, needs to stop giving away outs, and so far I see four positions not terribly prepared to do that.
Steven: The most troubling is the infield, especially the left side. I’m fine with the defense right now as they continue to hit the snot out of the ball, but when Owings comes back down from BABIP heaven, we need to keep an eye on things. Just don’t look at Dansby Swanson’s numbers too often, the depression will only hurt even more.
Makakilo: Although great in 2016, in 2017 Dansby Swanson’s OPS+ is 20. Why so low? One clue is sliders. This week, Stephen Tolbert’s article at Fansided said that in the Majors Swanson has seen 170 sliders and hit exactly two (a single and a double). In 2016, he saw 25.9% sliders, which was higher than any batter with at least 120 PAs.
Michael: I expected Drury to struggle with a new position, although his bat has been less impressive this year than his glove. You knew Tomas would be bad in LF and Peralta would be average at best in RF. Defensively I liked Ahmed over Owings at SS, with Owings’ arm being a problem. It will be interesting to see if the defense improves on the infield over the course of the year or if Ahmed supplants Drury in the lineup.
Sean: Errors tend to come in bunches, so I’m not as worried about errors. In particular, we have several errors from our pitchers and catchers right now. I don’t expect our high error numbers to continue, though our defensive talent/range will be concerns going forward.
Two weeks in, what players have impressed you most?
Makakilo: Recently, I was impressed by Ahmed’s offense. For the season, his BA is .353 and OPS+ is 154. For a defensively talented shortstop, that offense is impressive!
Jim: Jake Lamb has got off to the kind of hot start which seems intent on proving that last year’s second-half slump was the aberration, not the first-half. He has a 53.6% hard-hit rate so far, which is #8 in all MLB - he’s torching the ball. [Incidentally, Goldschmidt isn’t far behind, at #13, and is one of the reasons why I’m not too bothered about him]
On the relief front, I have been generally impressed by both Jorge De La Rosa and J.J. Hoover: for bargain basement pickups, they’ve done very well. Then there’s Archie Bradley, who is pitching so well in the bullpen, he may be in danger of pitching himself OUT of a rotation spot. Which is really weird to think about.
Keegan: Archie Bradley is taking no prisoners to begin the season. If he keeps this up, we can be talking about him making the All Star team as a reliever. Taijuan Walker still has my trust now that his 3rd start is complete. He did have some command issues against the Giants, but he could have just as easily won that game. I see a lot of similarities between the two of them and expect great things going forward.
James: THis team’s attitude. When down, multiple times even, this team has battled back to win games that last season they would have given up on. I’m also liking what I see from Jake Lamb and Paul Goldschmidt. They seem to be settling in nicely. Bradley’s bullpen success has been nice, but I’m still timidly waiting for the other foot to drop there. How is he going to respond once this exceptional run hits a small hiccup? Still, I see more to like about this team than to dislike right now.
Steven: I’m intrigued with most of the arms in the starting rotation, with Taijuan Walker leading the way. The rotation will be the key to this entire season. Can they go long enough in games to lessen the impact the bullpen can have on games?
Michael: I have liked what I’ve seen from Taijuan Walker and Archie Bradley this year. Walker’s fastball is electric and if he can command his secondary pitches can be tough to hit. Bradley has developed into what I call a Bullpen Ace. You don’t know when you’ll need him when a game starts, but when you need big outs or make the bridge between starter and closer. I would include Jake Lamb’s hot start, but when you write an article about Lamb being one of the most underrated left-handed bats in the game, you don’t get that privilege.
Xipooo: Hazelbaker? Really? Who passed on this guy for the last 5 years?
Sean: Pretty much have to point out our pitching staff here. Walker has looked good overall and is showing dominant stuff. Ray looks to be showing necessary steps forward in his development from last year with an improved third pitch. Shelby MIller definitely looks better with his fixed mechanics. And, of course, Bradley is looking like the next great elite reliever. Lots of room for optimism going forward.
Offensively, that’s a bit harder. It’s obviously good to see Tomas carry his power over from the second-half of last season. And after a slow start, Lamb has had a great roadtrip and is still showing great patience and hard-hit contact. After that? Lots of crickets from anyone not named Chris Owings on our offense.
Conversely, who are you most worried about?
Makakilo: I am most worried about Pollock. His first 4 games, he had 8 hits and 5 RBIs. His next 7 games he had 2 hits and zero RBIs. I hope he breaks out of his slump soon!
Jim: #StopRodney The only question for me is, how many games will he blow before he gets removed as closer. That there haven’t been any so far, given his 12.46 ERA, is more luck than good judgment. I’d tend to agree about Pollock: in particular his one walk in 48 PAs. That’s not what you want from your leadoff man.
Keegan: Probably a tie between Pollock and Peralta although I feel like they are just working off rust from the lost 2016 season. We need the two of them, not to be All Stars, but to be somewhat close to their 2015 performances in order to find success as a team. I am optimistic that they can turn it around. They are slumping like the majority of the lineup right now.
James: I have to pick one thing? In that case, I would have to say it is Rodney as closer. I had no faith in him entering the season. Now, after ten games, I have even less faith. This team is only going to be hot for so long. I just don’t see this team responding well if the back end of the bullpen is blowing games. That’s not because I think this team would give up, but more because I just don’t think this team has enough depth to have too many games going longer than they should, all because a washed-up closer coughed up a game.
Michael: I would say Pollock and Peralta have been huge disappointments to start the year. However, considering they combined for 200 PA last year, this early slump could be them shaking off rust. That all being considered, the most disappointing player for me has been Brandon Drury. Drury got off to a hot start, fueled by unsustainable BABIP luck. However, there hasn’t been a lot of plate discipline and power, which was a concern when he hit the upper minors. Drury needs to have an offensive game more than soft singles if he wants to stick in the lineup long term.
Xipooo: I still worry about Clefo. He’s always doing comparisons of the Diamondbacks to musicians… and I’m like, dude.. slow your roll. Not everyone listens to 90’s indie punk.
Sean: My first concern is definitely with Peralta. I’m confident that Pollock will break out of his slump, but Peralta really worries me. His contact rates have slipped and he’s been showing bad plate discipline. He’s still made hard contact, but I fear that his worst is affecting him more than we anticipated. After that, I’m very concerned about Drury. I’ve expressed these concerns before, but I really think he’s rushed in the majors as a 24-year-old. Poor defense, even at 2B, and a very limited bat are hurting the team.
This week, we discussed the financial state of the team. How do you see it?
Makakilo: Context is important. The current ownership has put the team on solid financial footing: 1) the team has paid off most of its debt and deferred payrolls, 2) the team inked a new local television deal, and 3) the team ranks well on fan affordability compared to other teams. At this point the owners want to keep the status-quo by not taking out cash from the team. The rest of the context is the future. Maybe the owners want to keep their powder dry so they can fund a new stadium without losing their hard-earned solid financial footing.
Jim: Interesting thought about potentially funding a park. I did wonder if it’s building a nest-egg so they can take over the existing one from the country, and carry out all those improvements they want.
Otherwise, I’m sure it’s very nice for the owners. But if the Forbes numbers are to be believed (and they’re probably the best we’re going to get), the team has not been matching the increased revenue with increased payroll over the past few seasons. Now, as we have seen thus far with Greinke, spending is no guarantee of success. But when it comes time to negotiate extensions for the likes of Goldschmidt, I’m not going to take kindly to claims of, “We can’t afford it.”
Keegan: It is flat out pathetic. No justifiable excuse for it. League average payroll according to Spotrac is just north of $138 million. Arizona slots in at 26th with a payroll hovering over $93 million. That figure could increase slightly with player incentives. I agree most with James’ prior remarks on the topic. We fell flat on our face last year when KK flexed his guns to sign Greinke and then slammed the door shut afterwards. I would feel better about the current situation if there was some sort of justification as to why it has not trended upwards. My personal opinion is that it is being saved for the stadium issue whether the team takes complete control of Chase or funds a new facility elsewhere.
James: I’ve written ad nauseum about my issues with Ken Kendrick over the last 15 months. I think the recent Forbes valuation just makes things even worse. Yes, baseball is a business. I don’t think anyone out on their own in the big wide world disputes that. Paying to win and having a successful business need not be opposed to each other. Until this team starts taking payroll seriously, winning is going to be difficult, with or without Greinke’s contract on the books.
Xipooo: They have more money than I do. That’s all I need to know.
Michael: I was miffed that they half-baked spending last year. When you spend $200M on Greinke, they could have spent another $50M to ink Mike Leake and kept Ender Inciarte. The new TV deal hasn’t translated into payroll, so they’re either saving it for something else or just pocketing it. Maybe the saved money goes to Goldy’s next extension. Unless payroll goes up the next few years, the team has two contracts that limits the team’s ability to spend on depth.
Sean: The finances aren’t my strong suit, but I know they are a significant limiting factor to our roster construction in the future. Considering our very murky farm system and significant raises coming to our core players over the next few seasons, we are running a very TIGHT rope if we don’t manage the team right.
The new Star Wars trailer dropped this week. On a scale of 1-10, how stoked are you?
Makakilo: I’m looking forward to seeing Leia (a last performance by Carrie Fisher), BB8 (a scene stealing droid), and Rose (a maintenance worker who steps up to be a heroine.)
Jim: Not seen the trailer, actually. I’m thus at a 5. I was likely more stoked before Rogue One, which I found an underwhelming entry, save for the ending. [“Being dark” isn’t enough for me] But in general, it’s still probably something I’ll go see at the cinema: just not in the first week.
Keegan: I love the new direction that Disney has taken with the franchise, so I am at a 10. I inherited most of my interests from my father, Star Wars being one of them. I guess my one gripe about the new films thus far is the nauseating battle at the end of Rogue One. They were kinda just running around with no direction or purpose. The Star Wars anthology was such an interesting idea to me. Great acquisition by Disney, and it should do wonders for their already strong performing stock value.
James: Like the teaser for Episode VII, this one doesn’t really tell us much of anything, so I will reserve judgement. I am, however, starting to become increasingly worried about the direction Disney is taking the franchise. Discarding the Expanded Universe and then announcing that the concept of a powerful Luke Skywalker being boring and outdated has done nothing to alleviate my worries. This is Disney’s property now, and they will do what they want with it. I’m glad that new life has been breathed into the franchise, but I am worried that the future of Star Wars will be a rather hollow one.
Xipooo: I’m really excited to see if Spock shows up in this one. I heard they did some great stuff in the last one with CGI and bringing characters back. Maybe he’s the leader of the rogue telepaths fighting against Psi Corps.
(James here: If Bester faces off against Emo SOlo, I would pay to see that movie multiple times)
Michael: It’s Star Wars, how can I not be excited? I’m hoping it’s closer to Empire Strikes Back than Attack of the Clones. Empire Strikes Back is the best sequel ever.
Sean: 7/10. I love Star Wars, but was rather disappointed in Episode 7 being a complete copy of Episode 4. Rogue One however, one of the best movies in the entire franchise, has rekindled my fandom to some extent.
Player of the Week
Week 1’s contest proved very close, with three players coming between 22-26%. In the end Archie Bradley just edged out Jeremy Hazelbaker for the first honor, with Brandon Drury in third. Bradley is back again for this week’s poll [sorry if you’re here via AMP News, go through the regular site to take part]. Stats are for week April 10-16.
Who was the D-backs player of the week, Apr 10-16?
This poll is closed
Nick Ahmed: 3-for-8, 4 RBI, 1.125 OPS
Archie Bradley: 4 IP, 1 H, 0.00 ERA
Jake Lamb: 7-for-16, 4 RBI, 1.196 OPS
Robbie Ray: 6.2 IP, 4 H, 0.00 ERA
Taijuan Walker: 10.0 IP. 9 H, 2.70 ERA