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SnakePit Round Table: Spring in the Air

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[Note: this was sent out before the JD news broke. We’ll get to all that in next week’s edition!]

MLB: Arizona Diamondbacks-Workout Michael Chow-USA TODAY Sports

Spring training has begun! What do you want to see between now and Opening Day?

Charlie: Good, clean fun, nothing below the belt. Nobody gets hurt. Everyone reaffirms the power of friendship, That whole thing.

Keegan: Health and building a strong foundation for another successful season.The road to October begins now with the team determining what their identity heading into 2018. If complacency settles in the clubhouse because the players assume they are entitled to another second playoff berth in a row, their opponents will quickly bring them back down to reality. Both Bob Melvin and Kirk Gibson failed to lead the team to consecutive playoff appearances after 2007 and 2011 respectively. It’s a difficult task for a surprise team like Arizona was last season, but Torey Lovullo has been saying the right things so far.

Xipooo: 0 injuries. It seems a lot of potentially good seasons have been derailed with some sort of injury. I’d like to see this team field a full complement of uninjured players.

Turambar: I’d like to see our bullpen take form, and specifically I’d like to find out who takes on the mantle of closer. Outside of that I’ll be very curious to see how Tomas looks; a continuation of frustration, or a glimmer of hope in his development.

Makakilo: This bargain market for free agent players is a rare opportunity. I want to see more minor league acquisitions of players whose performance could possibly increase by orders of magnitude. The possibility of an affordable immediate improvement to the team and added depth in the minors are welcome.

James: I was going to say that I want to see the team finally address adding an outfielder, but then they went and brought in Jarrod Dyson. Now, I guess what I want to see is a strong open competition for the starting middle infield, and also to see how the bullpen shakes out. Like others have already noted, seeing players report healthy, and then managing to get through spring without getting injured is a big thing for this team. They need a repeat of last season’s relatively good luck with health if they are going to repeat as a playoff team.

Jim: Good health: there is a month of meaningless games, and one errant pitch from someone else’s non-roster invitee could potentially put a huge spoke in Arizona’s wheel. I’ll be a lot happier if we reach Opening Day with everyone’s limbs intact. Beyond that, it’s really hard to say: what we see in the games is likely only the tip of the iceberg in terms of at-bats and innings. It’d be nice to go 26-0 or whatever, but as we’ve seen before, it’s basically meaningless.

What remaining team issue is most of interest to you?

Charlie: I’d like Ken Kendrick to realize the window basically shuts after 2019 and go “F*** it” and sign J.D. Martinez (Postscript: Or not, I wrote this on Sunday), otherwise petition the NL to add the DH to hide Tomas’ deficiencies.

Keegan: Hang on let me dust off my broken record real quick. Corner outfield and bullpen. Early indications seem to suggest that Tomas will not be handed a starting role in left field. The team can go in any number of directions. Most of that was answered with the news yesterday that Martinez had agreed to terms with the Red Sox, and that the Diamondbacks responded by signing Dyson. I still think that Chris Owings will see his fair share of time in the outfield to alleviate the middle infield logjam provided no further moves are made. In the bullpen, you have Jared Miller, Jimmie Sherfy, Randall Delgado, Andrew Chafin, Jorge De La Rosa, Neftali Feliz, Kris Medlen, and Antonio Bastardo as just a few of the names competing for a bullpen position. I really hope the competition between all of them will be fierce which would make for an interesting Spring Training.

Xipooo: Pitching and catching are almost always at the top of my list. Unless you’re the Braves during the 90’s or the Yankees in the early 2000’s, pitching is always a concern for me. I think we need to see more from Greinke. He’s lost some velocity and it seems he’s been much more hittable in his time with us. I’d like to see Godley continue to step up and perhaps take over the 2nd spot in the rotation. I’m a little worried about the sophomore slump though. I know it’s not technically his 2nd year in the bigs, but it would be his 2nd season as a starter.

Turambar: The outfield….big time. It’s obvious to everyone that we’re thin in the outfield and we’ll be even more so if we can’t sign JD and must completely depend on Tomas to be an everyday player. On top of that who knows how AJ might end up if he has to overplay his position due to crappy defense by any combination of Tomas or JD. The last thing we need is an already thin outfield made emaciated by another injury to AJ.

Makakilo: Outfield defense, especially center field, is very important at Chase Field. My issue of interest is who will play center field next season and beyond? This season, who plays center field when Pollock takes a day off? The Diamondbacks have agreed to a two-year deal with free-agent outfielder Jarrod Dyson, who is an excellent defender in center field. I rate this move an 8.5 out of 10. Although he was not my first choice, he fills the need for excellent defense in center field.

James: I still have some concerns about the outfield, as I have zero faith in Yasmany Tomás at this point. I hope he proves me wrong, but his track record does not bode well for that to happen. I’m also still a bit shaky about the team’s bullpen. Yes, the team has a ton of relievers in camp competing for slots on the 25-man roster, but a large number of them are retreads at best. While I understand that this is the same strategy which was employed last season, reliever volatility makes this a strategy that probably always lands in the 50/50 chance of succeeding category. I have more faith in Hirano out of the bullpen than I do of pretty much any of Bastardo, Feliz, Medlen, or De La Rosa.

Jim: I am curious as to how the bullpen will shake down. The approach seems to be much the same as last year, going for volume over “proven” quality - and given the volatility of relievers, that’s why I used quotes. It’s by no means a bad idea. But I’m always nervous about whether a month is enough to establish a definitive pecking order, especially with someone like Hirano, who has never faced major-league hitters.

The team announced the humidor will be active this season. Who will benefit and be hurt most on the 2018 D-backs?

Charlie: I imagine Greinke will be even better at home, fewer home runs will do that. I’d imagine mid power guys like Peralta, Drury, etc. will see a big drop off.

Keegan: Mike Petriello has a great piece up in which he opines that it will benefit Robbie Ray the most. My personal belief is that Taijuan Walker could benefit just as much if not more. If the purpose of installing the humidor is to give our pitchers a better grip on the baseball, this should greatly improve his feel for his already above average curveball. Last season hitters had their highest hard hit % again him at 33%, 3% higher than his previous high of 30.2% in 2015 in a comparable sample size. He took a step forward last season in preventing the long ball, and I said in his review earlier that he needs to continue to work on that. Don’t forget about his blister issue that had him miss a few starts. A better grip on a baseball with more moisture could prevent that issue as well. I think we’re truly underestimating how large of an impact the humidor will have at Chase Field. Are we going to witness a pitching staff that was even better than last season? That’s a recipe for success. The players I am most concerned about are Chris Owings, Ketel Marte, and Brandon Drury.

Xipooo: I think the pitchers will benefit from it, and the smaller guys like Owings, Drury, and Marte will have some of their home runs turn into outs and doubles. The other thing about having the humidor is that the baseballs themselves will be easier for the pitchers to grip, and spin. This bodes very well for Patrick Corbin and Zac Godley. Two guys that spin the ball hard. Greinke should also get more bite to his stuff, but I don’t think it will be as dramatic a change.

Turambar: No clue. I’m hoping the pitchers benefit the most from this, which certainly could be the case and with Greinke not getting any younger that may be ideal. I’m very curious to see how it affects hitters, but I’m confident Goldy will continue to mash, and that’s all that matters in my book.

Makakilo: Assuming the humidor is kept at 50% humidity and 70 degrees, like the Rockies, the baseball will absorb moisture to become heavier and in general the baseball will be cooler than the ambient temperature.

Pitching impacts. The surface is “tackier” allowing pitchers a better grip. Intuitively, this will allow better control and more spin.

  • If Greinke is correct, pitchers will be able to give more movement to the ball. He said, “l know my ball moves more in most places than it does in Arizona, like my two-seamer and some of my changeup.”
  • Pitchers who deceive batters with baseball movement could benefit.
  • In a general way, pitchers with a high rate of home runs and pitchers with a high rate of fly balls could benefit.

Hitting impacts. By a very small amount, the ball becomes more-squishy and less-bouncy. For several possible reasons (less bounce off a bat, heavier ball, larger ball when moist, more air resistance…) the ball travels a shorter distance, reducing home runs.

  • Power hitters who hit home runs could suffer a negative impact.
  • Players with level swings that match the angle of the incoming baseball (more contact time with a more squishy baseball) may not lose much speed on batted balls.
  • Players who can adjust their swing to match the humidified baseball and Chase Field’s large outfield dimensions (to hit more doubles/triples) could benefit.

Getting to the question, who will benefit and be hurt?

Home runs at Chase will be reduced. Less home runs will benefit starting pitchers Robbie Ray and Taijuan Walker most (list of home runs per 9 innings at Chase in 2017 follows).

  • Robbie Ray 1.56
  • Taijuan Walker 1.39
  • Zack Greinke 1.16
  • Zack Godley 1.07
  • Patrick Corbin 0.61

The pitchers with the most movement on their fastball are Robbie Ray, Taijuan Walker and Patrick Corbin (source Brooks Baseball). However Ray and Walker use their fastball twice as often as Corbin, which is second reason that Ray and Walker will benefit most.

Antonio Bastardo had a HR9 of 1.5 in 2016, and 5.0 in 2017. He is competing with Jorge De La Rosa (with a Chase HR9 of 1.24) for a lefty relief position. The humidor will likely benefit him more than De La Rosa.

Whether the D-back hitters can adjust to the new baseball is an open question. The adjustments may take place during spring training, so it is too soon to determine any impacts.

James: I think this team’s starting pitching is the obvious benefactor here. Greinke is a guy with what seems to be 6,000 pitches. Now, with being able to get a better, firmer grip on the baseball, he should be able to use all of the more effectively in Chase. Godley and Walker have devastating breaking pitches when they get them spinning. Better grip is going to help them as well. Ray should benefit some as a flyball pitcher, as home runs will be slightly harder to come by.

I think the players hurt most by this change are going to be players like Drury and Descalso. Players with marginal home run power that lack the footspeed to benefit from Chase’s spacious outfield will find that they need to increase their hard hit percentage if they want those balls in play to drop for hits. I will be interested to see if Marte’s uptick in power remains. Unlike Drury though, Marte has the speed to still find success with balls dropping in.

Jim: Benefit = pitchers. Hurt = hitters.

What, you want more? Oh, if you insist… Seems it will depend on your batted-ball profile. Fly-balls won’t be as likely to leave the park, so if you generate a lot of those, they’ll be more likely to turn into outs. This is good for pitchers, bad for hitters. Bearing that in mind, the top and bottom three last year for fly-ball rate were:

Hitters (min 200 PA)
#1. J.D. Martinez: 48.4%
#2. Daniel Descalso: 43.2%
#3. Chris Iannetta: 42.5%
#11. A.J. Pollock: 32.1%
#12. Brandon Drury: 29.4%
#13. David Peralta: 26.5%

Interesting that two of the top three most likely to be humidorified, were allowed to walk in free-agency.

Pitchers (min 30 IP)
#1. Robbie Ray: 40.3%
#2. J.J. Hoover: 39.7%
#3. Jorge De La Rosa: 38.4%
#10. Zack Godley: 26.2%
#11. Andrew Chafin: 22.2%
#12. T.J. McFarland: 17.6%

What does a humidor mean in terms of building a roster going forward?

Charlie: It really shouldn’t change much. Just develop/sign/trade for the best players you can and they’ll pretty much play anywhere.

Keegan: Extreme fly ball pitchers in Arizona could be a go.There will be less of a concern that the ball will continue to travel well into the stands here once it gets into the air. I think the impact of the humidor here will be greater than it was in Colorado, and this could be a place where top tier pitchers look to come moving forward. In terms of offense, go for high OBP guys with plenty of speed who look to place the ball into the gaps.

Xipooo: Really no difference. It might improve the chances of catching more top level pitching though. I suppose it does also have an impact on the guys arriving from Reno. Unless they put a humidor in Reno it’s going to be a significant drop in numbers for those guys.

Turambar: Way too early to tell. I’d bet the Dbacks aren’t really going to start planning their team building around that humidor until they have gathered enough data from their own park. Will they plan around that eventually? Yes, but not until they got a year or two of hard numbers.

Makakilo: In the long run, the D-backs could accumulate more finesse pitchers than fireball pitchers. In the long run, the D-backs could accumulate more athletic players than power hitters.

James: Pitching and defense. Focus on pitching and defense. With a humidor, the Diamondbacks can finally stop being scared silly of flyball pitchers. Hopefully Ray is breaking them of that fear a bit already. Find me strikeouts and easy flyballs, rather than finesse guys that need everything working to have success. Chase Field should be manned by three above average or better defenders in the outfield, but not give up too much with the bat. This is going to lead to some expensive outfielders in the coming years, but the payoffs will be big as well.

Jim: Being a fly-ball pitcher is going to be less of a problem here than it might have been pre-humidor. But it’s going to make Arizona a less attractive destination for sluggers - though this does not appear to have been too much of a problem at Coors Field. With more fly-balls in play, outfield defense will become more important.

Jorge De La Rosa is back. Where does he fit in the bullpen power rankings?

Charlie: Somewhere in the Top 3 LOOGYs

Keegan: Well we have our 3 near locks in Archie Bradley, Brad Boxberger, and Yoshi Hirano. I’d imagine that Lovullo will carry two left handers out of the bullpen, so I’d add Chafin to the list although he does have 1 option remaining. I think it is going to be difficult for T.J. McFarland and Jared Miller to beat JDLR out for a spot out of spring, but I’ve been wrong before. He’ll probably make the team out of Spring Training, but we should all be prepared for the eventual midseason reliever carousel.

Xipooo: He never really moved the needle for me. I know he got better toward the end of the season, but I never really felt comfortable with him on the mound. I would imagine he makes the squad and gets plenty of outings to prove I know nothing.

Turambar: Not sure yet. It’s been said often but bullpen pitchers are volatile things. JDLR, might look like a god in Spring Training, only to become the new McERA in April. We’ll just have to wait and see….

Makakilo: There is a competition between left handed relief pitchers. The 25-man roster may allow 2 players in that role. The competitors are Jorge De La Rosa, Antonio Bastardo, TJ McFarland, Andrew Chafin, Jared Miller, and Nakaushiro.

The first four pitchers have experience in the Majors, so I compared them in 5 measures of relief pitching in 2017. In 2017 Bastardo pitched 9 innings in the Majors, so I compared his 2016 stats.

The two that stand out are Jorge De La Rosa (JDLR) and Antonio Bastardo.

  • JDLR (2017) had a better ratio of shutdown/meltdown (4.0 vs 1.2), less inherited runners scored (1:33 vs 7:19), and better WPA per 9 innings (.314 vs .120).
  • Antonio Bastardo (2016) was better in Goose Egg Conversion (100% vs 85%), and clutch (2.0 vs 1.2).

I rank Jorge De La Rosa and Antonio Bastardo as probable lefty bullpen arms.

James: I’m going to need to see JDLR put in some work before I can give a clear answer on that. Right now, I see him as one of about 10 guys with a chance to make the bullpen, and little more. He has the sort of numbers that say he could be a decent LOOGY. On the other hand, the team also has Chafin and Miller as potential lefties. Does the team really need a LOOGY? I mean, sure, specialists are nice to have when you can afford them. With this team already increasing payroll they way they have though, I worry about dedicating roster slots to specialists when more complete players are available. Of course, if JDLR comes out and dominates the competition, that will change the outlook.

Jim: A possibility for the second left-hander spot. As noted above, Andrew Chafin will likely be #1, but there are other contenders for the backup spot. If De La Rosa is kept to a strict LOOGY role, I’d likely be happier. It didn’t seem to happen last year, with 64% of batters faced being right-handers - and their OPS was very much higher (.821 vs. .545). His near-perfect record at stranding inherited runners is also cause for regression. I’ll go with, “We’ll see…”

Eric Hosmer is a Padre. Rate the deal out of ten for San Diego.

Charlie: It’s a big commitment, but I see it in the vein of Jayson Werth signing with the Nationals all those years back. Maybe conventional wisdom says it’s an overpay, but it’s what you might need to do to plant your flag and become a slightly more attractive destination in the future to show you’re willing to spend (And considering this offseason, being the only team willing to spend is a market inefficiency.) So I say 7 or so. Eric gets a nice amount of money and gets to live in San Diego so it’s a 10 for him.

Keegan: I really don’t understand this unless their intention is to be extremely active in next year’s free agent market and make a push towards the playoffs again. How’d that work out for them last time? They are entirely too far away from contention as currently constructed, and now their plan is to subject Wil Myers to the outfield again? I don’t necessarily hate the contract Hosmer received, but the team that ultimately gave it to him is confusing. Great for merchandise sales I guess?

Xipooo: I think it’s more of a statement that San Diego is making. Realize they just lost football and the town is probably craving a team to root for. I expect to see more high level acquisitions from them.

Turambar: Perhaps this is the first step in them creating a truly competitive roster? If so the timing seems odd since the addition of a player like Hosmer is usually something a team might look to do AFTER they’ve nutured a young core of home grown talent. Still, like my fellow writers above mentioned perhaps this is a statement move that heralds a new dawn for the Padres……..meh.

Makakilo: I rate the acquisition 10 on surprise. I was surprised because I assumed the Padres would wait until their contention year to make such a significant acquisition. That assumption was mistaken.

Three more reasons I rate the acquisition a 10:

  • Because Hosmer will be playing for the Padres when they are ready to contend (2020-2022), his acquisition improves the chances for the Padres to reach the postseason when they are ready.
  • The Padres are young: 3 players are over age 30 -- Clayton Richard, Craig Stammen, and Chase Headley. The acquisition of Hosmer will add leadership to help the young Padres develop in the years before contention.
  • Despite Hosmer’s front-loaded salary, this season the Padres look to spend less than $100 Million, which is quite reasonable for a rebuilding season.

James: I rate the move as a 6. Despite his age, I’m not sure Hosmer has five strong seasons left in him. If he does, the timing still stinks for San Diego. They aren’t contenders next season. They probably aren’t contenders until 2020. The problem is, if Hosmer does actually live up to the deal, he’ll be nuts not to exercise his opt-out in 2020, leaving the Padres with a massive hole to fill, at a price they probably will be unable to afford. If he isn’t playing well enough to exercise his opt-out in three years, then those last three season don’t look so bad for San Diego. At least at 3/$39 million, he should be pretty easy to move, especially to an AL team.

I do think they will be glad to have him in 2018 and 2019. I’m pretty sure those are going to be seasons which waste Hosmer’s production though. As an Arizona fan, I’m all for any NL West rival limiting their ability to improve using the free agent market over the next few seasons. That helps Arizona’s chances.

Jim: A significant surprise, not least because 1B wasn’t exactly a position of need, with Wil Myers about. It seems an odd move from a team that hasn’t had a winning season for seven years, and finished 33 games back. I know their farm system is good, but I tend to think free-agency should be used to fill in the last pieces of the puzzle, not the first. They’ll be sorry, more often than not. 5/10, would not do.