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SnakePit Round Table: Pitching depth edition

We’re at the half-way point in spring: the roster looks mostly set, but there are still some questions...

San Francisco Giants v Arizona Diamondbacks Photo by Jennifer Stewart/Getty Images

We talked about starting pitching depth on Friday. A big problem, or the biggest problem?

Xipooo: The Diamondbacks relied heavily on starting pitching last year. Our starters combined for 18.8 fWAR while the Dodgers managed 16.7 fWAR. It was the bats that really made a difference. 19.8 to 30.1 fWAR respectively. Typically I am always concerned with pitching, and the DBack’s starters last year outplayed projections. I suspect there will be a small dip in fWAR this year, but not enough that it should be the main cause for concern.

Makakilo: Let’s start by considering shoewizard’s wisdom, “Teams need 6 starters, as 6 is the new 5. We don’t have a 6th starter. It’s an issue.” To consider how big of an issue, let’s consider what the D-backs could do if a starter is injured.

Call up a starting pitcher from the minors. An optimistic observation is that the sixth starter in 2015-2017 (Robbie Ray, Archie Bradley, and Zack Godley) performed at the highest level (although Bradley really reached his peak a year later in his bullpen role). That observation gives me hope that the sixth starter will achieve at that same high level. Who will it be?

  • In spring training, Matt Koch allowed 2 ER in 8.1 IP. He is on the 40-man roster and has an option. In 2016, Koch had two spot starts – 11 innings with an ERA of 2.45. In 2017, Koch was injured and pitched as a reliever in one game in the Majors – he entered the game in the ninth with a 6 run lead and he was pulled before recording an out.
  • In spring training, Braden Shipley allowed 2 ER in 5.2 IP. He is on the 40-man roster and has 2 options. With a very high ceiling (the D-backs drafted him in the first round in 2013), if he continues to develop his strength as a deceptive pitcher, he could earn a position in the rotation. This article explains why in more detail.
  • Taylor Clarke had less than good results in spring training and may not be fully ready. However, he is rated as the 5th/9th D-back prospect by Baseball Prospectus and Baseball America. As he continues to develop, he could make spot starts this season.
  • Jon Duplantier. Although he has not pitched above the A+ minors level, he is rated as the best D-back prospect. It is not unheard of for pitchers to skip levels and he could make a spot start this season.
  • Shelby Miller. He had Tommy John surgery in May of 2017. Although it is not a sure thing, he could be at 100% by the All-Star break. Maybe he will finally reach his high potential as a starting pitcher. He could make spot starts with a pitch count limit. He has 2 options.
  • As the season is about to start, because the D-backs are not perceived as having immediate depth in starting pitchers (much of the depth is players who are not yet ready), it may increase the chances that a starting pitcher will join the D-backs on a minors deal in hopes of promotion into the roster.

Instead of replacing the starter, make that spot in the rotation a bullpen day. Which players could pitch 2-3 innings each?

  • Archie Bradley. Archie Bradley’s aspiration to be a starter is well known. He would be motivated to prove himself in this role. In 2017, in 8 games he pitched 2 or more innings. His ERA for those games was 0.95 (wow!). He is on the 25 man roster.
  • Randall Delgado. In 2017, he pitched 2 or more innings in 17 games. His ERA for those games was 2.5 (great). He is on the 40-man roster. The timetable for recovery from his injury is unknown.
  • TJ McFarland. In 2017, in 10 games he pitched 2 or more innings. His ERA for those 10 games was 4.18. For the games with less than 2 innings, his ERA was 6.23. That fact supports the possibility that he would pitch well in long relief. He is on the 40-man roster and has no options left.
  • Jorge De La Rosa. Although he averaged less than one inning per game in 2017(and in spring training), he averaged 4.96 innings per game in 2016. As a starter he was described as steady, solid, and reliable. He is not on the 40-man roster.

In summary, there are enough options that this issue can be addressed if it happens. Eventually a D-back pitcher will be ready to join the rotation and the depth issue will diminish.

Nate: Starting pitching depth is, without a doubt, the biggest problem the team faces. The D-backs have nobody beyond their starting five who are known quantities. Someone could come up and shock the world like Godley last year, but the odds of this happening are low. The D-Backs need to hope for a healthy year from their pitchers, and if they can get pitching even a tad worse than league average from replacement starters, they should be happy.

Turambar: Our biggest problem for sure. As to how “big” that problem will be that remains to be seen. My fear is less that regression will occur, but that injuries will happen. For key injuries amongst our starters could derail everything in a heartbeat. Like my compatriots above have written we could get production from a relatively unknown source, but that seems a fore lorn hope at best. We just gotta hope and pray for healthy starters……

Keegan: Definitely concerned with their depth more than their performance. Braden Shipley has failed to produce adequately during his cup of coffee in the Majors the past few seasons. Anthony Banda was the most able body ready to fill in during inevitable injury, but he is no longer an option. Randall Delgado simply is not going to be able to accomplish what he did last season in an emergency. It would be asking too much to expect the starting five to remain healthy all season.

Jim: It’s potentially a problem, though it is worth noting that, while our replacements (especially Godley) pitched well, the actual W-L record in those games wasn’t amazing. Arizona went 18-20 in those games, so while there is the potential for slippage, it might be less costly to the team than you’d expect. We do have Shelby Miller due back, which may well be the best bet. If history is any guide, and we need someone by late April, we could be talking about only needing coverage for ten or so starts.

How do you order our potential starting pitchers after the first five?

Xipooo: Shipley is my obvious first, followed by perhaps Delgado as a long reliever to replacement starter. After that it’s up in the air.

Makakilo: Braden Shipley, Matt Koch, Taylor Clarke, Shelby Miller, and Jon Duplantier.

Nate: Once Shelby returns, he is the obviously the next best. Until, I’d go with Koch, then Shipley, although picking which of the pair will perform better is a guessing game.

Turambar: No $&@!ing clue.

Keegan: Shipley, Matt Koch, Taylor Clarke, and Shelby Miller once he returns. If Jon Duplantier has to be called up for an emergency start, something has gone terribly wrong and that’s not intended to be an insult to him.

Jim: I wonder if the team might go with a piggyback approach involving Archie Bradley? They seem to be keeping him stretched out in spring, and maybe he could end up being part of the solution? Healty Koch certainly seems better than he was, so he might be the best possibility. Couple of other names that are possibles: Albert Suarez and Kris Medlen.

Who do you think has the best chance of being 2018’s version of Zack Godley?

Xipooo: For me that would be Patrick Corbin especially with the humidor instituted. His slider is already devastating but with better grip and air resistance it could result in as much as a half point off his ERA from last year. Zips doesn’t project him to be any better, but with a full healthy year back and the humidor, I can’t think of a better candidate.

Makakilo: 17 months ago, Michael McDermott compared which of two pitchers (Matt Koch and Braden Shipley) was more likely to make the pitching rotation. Two points were they pitched to contact, and they needed experience in the Majors to continue their development. Today, I considered which of these two is more likely to repeat the success of Zack Godley, if given an opportunity. Braden Shipley has the best chance for three reasons.

  • Shipley has more innings in the Majors (95 vs 18). Zack Godley pitched 111.1 innings in the Majors prior to 2017, when he established himself in the rotation. He needed that much experience developing in the Majors. Shipley’s experience in the Majors is nearly the same as Godley’s was.
  • Shipley will benefit from the humidor. His fastball sometimes flattens out at top velocity - a better grip on the baseball may prevent that flattening. His outstanding change-up and his “league average” curve could be enhanced by the humidor.
  • Experts see possibilities for Shipley. One example: “Certainly, Braden Shipley could have an epiphany similar to Godley’s last season and assert his own dominance, but he has so far failed to produce above AAA.” Keegan Thompson

Nate: ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

Keegan: That person is not currently on the roster unfortunately.

Jim: I can’t believe nobody seized the chance to say, “Zack Godley”...

I’ll go with Koch, who looked decent enough, albeit over a small sample size, in 2016, only to implode entirely last year. But the odds of that happening are likely in single percentage digits. I’d settle for him being 2018’s version of Patrick Corbin.

Can you see the team adding any more arms between now and Opening Day?

Xipooo: Not really. I think with the success of last year they may decide to wait and see how the start of the season goes. If it goes off again like last year I could see a move done mid season, but nothing more than that.

Makakilo: Yes, I expect another starting pitcher (Majors capable or nearly Majors capable) will be added at the minors level by the start of the season. The depth at starting pitching is not currently ready, although it likely will be ready at some point during the season. There is a window of vulnerability until that depth is ready.

Turambar: Nope. We’re done adding unless some midseason deals comes along.

Nate: I doubt it. I’d love to see R.A. Dickey signed to a minor-league deal, but I imagine he’ll retire if he doesn’t get a major-league deal.

Keegan: Certainly, on a minors deal. Anibal Sanchez was recently made available. Jeremy Hellickson, Brett Anderson, and R.A. Dickey are just a few of the names still available. I’m not certain that any of them are inclined to accept a minors deal to be stashed in Reno, but this has been an offseason unlike any other!

Jim: I was hoping for Jake Arrieta. But those Phillies now look like an unstoppable juggernaut in the NL East, don’t they? I can see room for someone better than Medlen in Reno, to be sure. Any of the names above would likely be an improvement there - but I’m not sure they’d necessary be an improvement over Shipley.

The team made its first significant round of roster cuts on Saturday. Thoughts?

Xipooo: Yup, we’re that much closer to opening day! Oh, you mean is there anyone I would have preferred to keep around? Nah.

Nate: The optioning of Barrett and Jared Miller helps to clear up the bullpen logjam a bit.

Keegan: This opens the door for some of our non roster invitees to make the bullpen out of Spring Training, which I think is the ideal way to go for the first month or two of the season should their performance warrant it. Kris Medlen was once a starter for Atlanta, so we may need him to fill a Randall Delgado type role.

Jim: Surprised to see Barrett and Miller cut so early. I was expecting them to be there, almost until the end. The news today that Randall Delgado is questionable for Opening Day definitely suggests an additional spot may be needed. Suarez seems the likely beneficiary, given his Rule 5 status.

Half way through spring training, do you see any surprises on the Opening Day roster?

Xipooo: For me, at the start of spring training I didn’t think we’d see Yasmany make it to opening day. Despite the huge deal I figured they’d just cut their losses and send him to Reno. But so far he has been raking in spring training. I don’t see how they can’t keep a spot open for him.

Keegan: Rey Fuentes has been a surprise performer, but he probably will not make the Opening Day roster. Not bad for a guy who was DFA’d not too long ago. His swing has been very impressive the past few games. Outside of him I would still like to see Christian Walker make the roster over Yasmany Tomas.

Jim: It’s hard to tell, since we don’t have much to go on beyond the spring box scores. Tomas is making a good case, based on those, but I think that ship has probably sailed with the arrival of Dyson and Souza. There are only five bench spots, and those look almost certain to be Dyson, Mathis/Avila, Herrmann, Descalso and Owings. Christian Walker has looked good, but again, it’ll take an injury for a spot to open up. The bullpen seems the only area not basically locked down, bar heath issues.

Makakilo: I enjoyed thinking about ways I could be surprised. It takes years to build a new stadium, so it can’t be a change in venue. I thought of three possibilities:

  • Greinke’s self-doubts turn out to be well founded this year. That would surprise me, as well as being a source of angst. Nevertheless, Greinke will be on the roster and figure it out.
  • As Jim mentioned, an injury could open the possibility of a surprise addition to the opening day roster. Christian Walker could play third base, left field, or another position that I will not name because I am an optimist.

An awesome former Diamondback player (or an almost Diamondback player) could be claimed off waivers, or acquired via trade. One possible could be former Diamondback Brandon McCarthy, on the last year of his contract. He could be a surprise addition to the rotation. Another possible is Scott Kazmir - who is an almost Diamondback because I remember discussions of the possibility of adding him to the team. Due to injury he was out all of 2017. Because he has can’t be optioned and because it is unclear how well he will pitch and because it is unclear whether the Braves will make him a fifth starter or a long reliever, he is another possible surprise addition. And I like Jim’s thought about Jake Arrieta - adding him certainly would have been a surprise!