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SnakePit Round Table: The pitching wobbles...

But then bounces back!

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

The pitching seems have struggled so far. Concerned?

ISH95: Not really. I’ll be more concerned a) when the games actually count and b) yeah no that’s really it. It’s early days. We’ve had Cactus Leagues where we won, and then we didn’t in the regular season. At the end of the day, these are all just practice. We know what the staff can do.

Makakilo: Four priorities for players in spring training follow:

  • Team culture. Culture includes connecting with coaches and other players. Dave Roberts said, “…chemistry comes before winning.” Culture and chemistry are a priority during spring training, even more than the regular season.
  • Process. Establish your process including consistency, switching to extreme focus on playing well, and ignoring distractions. Process is much more important than results, especially in spring training.
  • Habits. Improve your habits by listening to coaches and players, making adjustments, evaluating those adjustments. Spring training is a great time to make improvements!
  • Health. I listened to interviews of Zach Wheeler (pitcher) and Caleb Joseph (catcher). They both said “working” on their strength was an important part of spring training. What I think they meant was build up your arm strength incrementally instead of overdoing it and risking injury.

Getting to the question, spring training ERA’s of Robbie Ray, Archie Bradley, and Jorge De la Rosa are significantly worse than expected. Nevertheless, I am not concerned for two reasons:

  • Four priorities are much more important than ERA (team culture, process, habits, and health).
  • When spring training performance is less than baseline performance (worse than expected), the statistically correlated change in regular season performance is ”very small.” (Neil Paine article on Five Thirty Eight website, March 21, 2014.) In other words, I can expect their performance during the regular season to be nearly the same as their baseline performance.

Jim: It would be better NOT to be giving up ten or more runs in games, to be sure. And I will confess to being slightly concerned, mostly because the question of our pitching depth was one which bothered me as we approached spring training. The way our B-pitchers have been lit up, even by the opposition’s B-hitters, doesn’t do much to allay that fear. But #ItsOnlySpringTraining is a very real thing, and as Makakilo mentions, the correlation between pre-season ERA and regular season ERA is basically close to zero. If BABIP is going to go hard against our guys, I’m fine with it doing so in March, rather than April!

Keegan: Not in the slightest bit. Better to get it out of their system now while the games are meaningless. On top of that, the pitching performance this past week was so exceptionally bad to the extent it could be labeled as unsustainable. Most of these bullpen arms that have made appearances this week will not sniff MLB action. Robbie Ray will undoubtedly have rough starts during the regular season as well, so it should be comforting to those who are concerned that he knew what he was doing wrong against the Dodgers.

Any individual players you’re worried about?

Jim: It’s the ones we have hardly seen who are the players who most concern me. New guys Jarrod Dyson and Steven Souza have five at-bats between them. Randall Delgado and Jimmie Sherfy have yet to appear in a spring game at all. With an early Opening Day on the cards, time is beginning to get tight if they’re going to be ready in time. It’s still possible, of course; just something to keep an eye on over the coming week or so. If they’re still missing in action come next weekend, then the threat level will have to be increased.

Makakilo: Lovullo said that even if Chris Owings wins the shortstop position, he will continue to play third, second, left and right. Implementing this concept would be difficult because:

  • Five outfielders are on the 25-man roster with the additions of Souza and Dyson. The number of possible outfielders is even higher counting utility players like Herrmann, Descalso, and Owings.
  • Descalso is the swiss army knife utility player. Does the bench have playing time for two similar players?

Shoewizard’s fanpost projected playing time for Owings (370 plate appearances) and Descalso (166 plate appearances). Last season, Owings had 386 plate appearances - about the same as his projection. Although I can imagine a situation where Owings is great and does not get very much playing time, the projection shows a scenario with Owings’ playing time about the same as last season.

Keegan: Jimmie Sherfy and Randall Delgado. Those two were rock solid last season, and Delgado was for the greater part of the season. Lovullo said that Delgado could be getting close to game action, but I’m not quick to get my hopes up after what we saw happen with Rubby De La Rosa last season. I would just like to know for certain that their ailments are not going to become a chronic problem. They will be integral to the bullpen depth this season. Andrew Chafin has also not exactly looked great, though his pedigree gives him a bit of a spring leash.

ISH95: As I said before, worried isn’t quite the right word, but like others have said, the sooner we see Sherfy and Delgado, the happier I will be.

What performances have jumped out in a positive way?

Makakilo: So far, two non-roster-invitees stand out: Rey Fuentes and Cesar Puello. The following chart compared them to Jeremy Hazelbaker - who is three years older and who is on the 40-man roster. The downside is that they have zero options left, unlike Hazelbaker who has one option left.

Rey Fuentes was designated for assignment on 31 January, cleared waivers, and he was assigned to AAA. I just watched Rey Fuentes hit a home run - that should better his numbers. In 2017, his UZR/150 in the outfield (mostly center field) was 5.4 (he is a skilled defender).

Cesar Puello made his debut in the Majors last season. The D-backs signed him on a minors deal with an invitation to spring training. In 2017, his UZR/150 in left field was 14.1 (he is a skilled defender).

Keegan: Taijuan Walker looked fantastic today against the Chicago Cubs. I’d really like to see him harness that enormous potential this season, and I think he is one of the Diamondbacks pitchers who will benefit the most from the humidor. Christian Walker gets my vote on the position player side and… (continued at next question)

Jim: Zack Godley and Walker both looked very sharp in their most recent outings, which is good to see. Along with Corbin, Walker is one of the few members of the rotation where there is perhaps room to improve over their 2017 performance, and him doing so would help counteract regression from elsewhere among our starting pitchers. His stuff looked very nasty today: both he and Godley seemed to be getting a lot of movement. If the humidor does indeed make the baseballs easier to grip and throw breaking pitches… Ooh-boy.

ISH95: Honetly, Tomas. He has put up good early numbers, and theoretically this could be a contract year for him, if he opts out. Him playing to even a replacement level would be a huge win for us at this point, and would make some outfield decisions hard, in a good way.

Who’s your choice of a dark-horse candidate to make the roster?

Makakilo: Christian Walker is my choice because he has shown he can hit in the Majors. As far as playing a position - he can play first base, left field, and third base. At this point, he is blocked in all three positions - that is what makes him a dark horse.

Keegan: There is a strong possibility that Christian Walker will secure the final roster spot out of Spring Training. He is an ideal candidate to come off the bench as a pinch hitter, and give Paul Goldschmidt his necessary days off. There is no development left for him down in AAA Reno. It would behoove him to continue working at third base and left field to increase his usefulness to the Diamondbacks.

Jim: I’m thinking there may be some surprises at the back end of the bullpen. That’s especially likely to be the case if the health issues mentioned above turn out to be significant. Delgado was all but guaranteed a spot, and Sherfy was quite high on the list too, so should either or both of those need to be replaced, that will open the doors for some unexpected names. Antonio Bastardo could become the second lefty behind Chafin, Fernando Salas has looked good, and Silvino Bracho has a 5:1 K:BB over three innings, so has started hot.

ISH95: Yasmany Tomas.

Oh you probably want a serious answer. Jim probably is right that the big surprises, if any, will come from the bullpen. I’m going to say Bracho though. Whether or not that actually works, we’ll see.

What area of the team are you most interested in watching this spring?

Makakilo: Two areas that I will watch.

  • Who will be the closer at the start of the season? My prediction was Yoshihisa Hirano, but Boxberger or Sherfy or Bradley are possible.
  • Which outfielders will be depth in AAA? I see David Peralta, AJ Pollock, Steven Souza, Jarrod Dyson and Yasmany Tomas on the 25-man roster. In case of injury, who would be called up from AAA? I see Jeremy Hazelbaker, Rey Fuentes, Cesar Puello, and Christian Walker as first in line.

Keegan: The middle infield playing time battle between Nick Ahmed, Chris Owings, and Ketel Marte. If I had it my way, Owings and Marte would be the starters with Ahmed coming off the bench, but I think Lovullo would prefer to see Ahmed secure the starting role at shortstop. It’s been a similar story for the past few ST’s between Owings and Ahmed now with Marte replacing Drury in the picture. Ahmed did not make that decision any easier today, but he also had strong preseason performances in 2015 and 2016. I’m less optimistic that Ahmed will show us anything different than what he already has in his career.

Jim: For variety, I’m going to say the catching situation. We have a genuine platoon possible this year, with Alex Avila and Jeff Mathis. But will the D-backs use them like that? Or will they adopt the “personal catcher” approach used last year, tying them to specific starting pitchers in order to build a rapport? The latter seemed to work out in 2017, but the left-handedness of Avila adds an extra possible dimension to the equation.

ISH95: The outfield is either going to be really interesting, or the easiest decision of the bunch. If Tomas keeps it up, he may just play himself back into the starting outfield. Plus there are a lot of new faces that I’m just interested to learn more about.