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SnakePit Round Table: Crisis? What crisis?

“You didn’t think it would be that easy, did you?” “Yeah, for a second, I kinda did.” #HellWeekSurvived

Houston Astros v Arizona Diamondbacks Photo by Jennifer Stewart/Getty Images

How do you feel about the first bit of adversity, with a three-game losing streak?

James: My biggest worry is the lack offensive production during the three games. Having the game slip away against the Dodgers that would have clinched the series for us by watching Jorge De La Rosa have a mental collapse on the mound was no fun, but those are going to happen. I’m more concerned with how they respond over the next week, beginning with the two games in L.A. If they can split or sweep the two in L.A., then they continue to create a solid cushion for the remainder of the season. If, however, they lose both, then the breathing room created by the team’s hot start is mostly gone.

Keegan: Not really any valid reason to overreact to it. The two losses against Los Angeles were entirely avoidable and could have just as easily swung the Diamondbacks’ way. When Hyun-Jin Ryu was pulled from the game in the 2nd inning on Wednesday with a brutal injury, Arizona should have jumped all over the Dodger bullpen. Tip your cap to their bullpen for holding it down. As far as I am concerned with Thursday, Torey Lovullo absolutely made the correct decision by not bringing in Archie Bradley to preserve a one run lead. We can’t afford to run that guy out there non-stop. Fans here are spoiled rotten with his dominance and expect him to be able to go out and do that every single night. It isn’t realistic.

I blame myself for putting this out in the universe because while attending Thursday’s game in person I mentioned how solid Fernando Salas had been up to that point before his meltdown. JDLR and Salas have already protected close games earlier this season. They are human and prone to bad days as well. And can anyone here honestly say with a straight face that they were surprised by Kris Medlen’s beat down against one of the best offenses in the league? I can’t. This Diamondbacks’ team is really good this season. Stuff like that is going to happen over the course of a season.

Makakilo: Prior to the losing streak, the D-backs scored 3 or more runs in 79% of their games – to have three games in a row with 2 runs or less was very unusual (less than 1% odds).

First point is the D-backs hit zero homers in the three games. Do the D-backs rely too much on homers to win games (especially with the humidor at Chase)? Will the return of Souza (and the future return of Lamb) help the team to consistently hit homers?

Second point is asking, “Did the Dodgers find a way to hold the D-back offense to three runs over two games?”

In the first two losses, Godley and Corbin allowed 2 runs in 12 innings – impressive! Medlin pitched the third loss – although he allowed plenty of runs, the game would have been lost regardless because the offense scored zero runs.

Three reasons that I feel good about adversity:

  • The adversity of facing two great teams (Dodgers and Astros) was a good preview of playing in the postseason.
  • With the D-backs playing better than expected, there is a temptation to be satisfied with the status quo. Perhaps the adversity will cause players to examine what happened and improve beyond what was thought possible.
  • Perhaps adversity will spark creative and out-of-the-box thinking that will yield ideas that will be helpful at some point in the season.

Sean: Indifferent. It was bound to happen at some point during the season and it also coincided with some bad timing on our part - having to rely on a AAA starter (Medlen) and use our backup bullpen guys (Salas, JDLR, et al) due to our good bullpen guys needing some rest against the former World Series participants (read: two really good teams).

One thing that’s been truly amazing about this run is that we still have the best record in the NL (third-best in the MLB) while also facing the toughest schedule so far. Our opponents have combined to be nearly +1 runs/game differential, which is easily the tops in baseball. The fact that we still have a comfortable division lead and two key contributors coming back (Souza Jr., Lamb) combined with an easier schedule going forward will make things easier on us to defend our division lead.

Wesley: The Dbacks weren’t going to an entire season without any series loses and no losing streaks longer than one. So it was inevitable that they’d get outplayed and/or run into some bad luck. Sean summed up my thoughts exactly. The Dbacks still have the best record in the National League, a positive run differential, and have had an extremely tough schedule so far. The two games could have easily gone our way against the Dodgers. The game started by Medlin i think easily qualifies for the worst take we have played this year.

We were due for some regression towards the mean though, so it wasn’t completely unexpected. Adversity is a good thing, and having the Dodgers in particular beat them, is a good reminder to the team that they have to keep playing well. In addition, as has been noted more than once, we’ve missing two key contributors in Jake Lamb and Steven Souza Jr.

Jim: A lot better after the last two wins. But it’s interesting. The steaming pile which was Friday night, reminded me of the worst start of last year - T.J. McFarland’s in Minnesota, after which some proclaimed the season over. The D-backs then went 14-1. It’d be nice if the same thing happened this season! But I’d just settle for them continuing to play the way they have, through a tough section of the schedule. If they win both games in LA - and the pitching match-ups seem to favor us - that would leave the Dodgers 10 back, and basically dead for now. This team is clearly a lot more resilient than some give them credit.

Michael: Adversity is going to strike every baseball team at some point, it’s how teams overcome that adversity that separates the cream from the crop. Dbacks had a lot of luck in close games, so at some point the luck might switch the other way for a series or two soon and it did for 2 games. The Diamondbacks answer to the first turbulent section of the season with a big series win over the defending World Series champions and their three best starters suggests this will indeed be a special year for the team.

Who should occupy the fifth starter’s spot?

James: That’s a tough one to answer without knowing more about Robbie Ray’s status. The team has a bit of time before the fifth starter is needed again, that will give the front office more time to evaluate who they have available. Clearly, the team cannot continue to run a bullpen start whenever the fifth starter’s turn comes around. The team still has questionable options in Shipley, Buchholz, Scribner, and Clarke. Another possible arm is Alex Young. If Clay Buchholz can manage to not walk half the team in his next minor league outing, I would not be surprised if he is the next one to get a shot at being the fifth starter. I’m fine with that. Some might want T.J. McFarland. I’m of the opinion that he is doing well in the role he is currently serving in. I’m not convinced that he is a better enough option to start to warrant the possible decline in bullpen performance that would result.

Keegan: I concur with James regarding T.J. McFarland. He is this regime’s version of Josh Collmenter. Leave him right where he is. I think a start or two for Braden Shipley is worth a shot. Buchholz had a decent GB/FB ratio prior to 2016, so if he could return to that maybe our elite defense could make him a viable option as a fifth starter again.

Makakilo: Earlier this season, I was surprised when the D-backs picked Koch over Shipley, although Koch has pitched very well. Shipley has more experience pitching in the Majors than Koch, and Shipley may be ready to establish himself in the rotation. I am excited to see Shipley pitch for the D-backs!

The recent acquisition of Clay Buchholz on a minor league contract is a wild card for the fifth starter spot.

  • After nine seasons as a starter for the Red Sox, in 2016 he had 21 starts and 16 relief appearances. In 2017, he only pitched 7.1 innings due to a rare injury. He had surgery to repair a torn flexor-pronator muscle in his right arm.
  • What work does he need to be ready to return to the Majors? Will he be a starter or a reliever, or both? For each role, which pitches will make the most of his talent?
  • He has four fly-ball pitches (four-seam fastball, curve, sinker, and changeup) and one ground-ball pitch (cutter). Also, he has a circle-grip changeup.

Clay Buchholz has strong mental attitudes:

  • Contribute his best in any situation. “But yeah I just try to take it one day at a time. I knew that there were two things that were going to happen: I’m going to go out and be good or I’m going to go out and not be so good. And the days that you’re not so good, you got to try to keep your team in the game within striking distance to score some runs and get back at it.”
  • Stay positive in adversity. “And that’s whenever you’re faced with adversity, that’s one of those times coming to play where, like I said, you have to be a man, you got to step up and do it. But, everybody’s got their boiling point and everybody has their mark where, once they cross that line, you got to try something different. Sometimes it’s negative and sometimes it’s positive. I tried to keep it positive just for the simple fact there were already enough negative things happening. Didn’t want to add any negativity to the whole ordeal. That’s basically all I did.”

Sean: If we’re calling Koch the #4 starter right now, this leads to a pretty tough decision. If not, then Koch is obviously our number 5 here on out and definitely when Ray returns. Shipley has not shown that he has the ability to strike out batters in the minor leagues, let alone the MLB, and I am highly worried that he will not be able to pitch well in the majors right now. A career 6.1 K/9 in AAA is really troublesome. And we better hope we stay away from McFarland as a starter - teams that can prepare for him are probably going to crush him. He just doesn’t have the stuff to succeed as a starter.

Since we’re looking at a ~1-2 month temporary fill, I’d rather the Dbacks pursue free agent offerings (like Bucholz, Dickey, or Lackey) and if they do well, then you consider sending Koch back down when Ray comes back. A more creative option like Taylor Clarke or Jon Duplantier will have a lot more upside than using Shipley but comes with risk and team control issues.

Jim: #AnyoneButMedlen

Michael: An out of the box idea would be to utilize a piggyback starter system with Shipley and McFarland. The idea is Shipley pitches the first 3 innings, then McFarland carries it through the middle innings before handing it off to the A or B bullpen like when he’s had to fill in for injuries and/or short starts. This order in particular because Shipley would face a lineup loaded with LHH first time through then flip the arm where McFarland gets favorable matchups vs. LHH. Since L vs. L is a more exploitable matchup than R vs. R, Shipley has to be the named starter.

Wesley: I really like Michael’s idea of piggy back starting Shipley and Mcfarland. Taylor Clarke has had some rough starts for Reno, and Jon Duplantier hasn’t had a start since his second start in April. As Jim said, #AnyoneButMedlin

Are you concerned about Paul Goldschmidt?

James: Somewhat, but still not terribly. He’s still showing patience at the plate. He’s still drawing walks and not chasing wildly outside the zone.I do think it might be time to move him out of the 3-hole though. I could see him batting second, fourth, or fifth still.

Keegan: A few of you were discussing this in the comments of Saturday’s postgame thread, and I agree with the sentiment. He just looks tepid at the plate right now. He has been taking too many pitches for my liking and when he does swing rarely is he barrelling anything up right now. I am confident that he will turn it around, because this is freaking Paul Goldschmidt we are talking about, but it has been difficult to watch at times. He will eventually get on a tear and make us all forget why we even questioned him in the first place.

Makakilo: No. However, his streaks of 13 games without an RBI and 18 games without a homer, are longer than any from last season (7 games and 15 games).

Sean: No. Goldy is clearly in the middle of a strikeout slump and he’s clearly not seeing the ball well right now. When he makes contact it is still hard - his average exit velo on flyballs and linedrives is still higher than it was in 2016 and 2017. We saw him start out slow, be back to being Goldy, then back into another slump. These things happen and I’m not worried about SSS.

Jim: It’s an ugly slump, to be sure. I’d be more worried if it felt like this was costing the team games, but you’d be hard to argue that was the case. This is WAY too early, but if this continues, it does make you wonder if the team might end up not exercising the 2019 option, especially as we will likely be losing Pollock and Corbin over the winter too. That would be the nuclear option, I suspect, and I rather think we’re going to look back at the end of the year and wonder what all the fuss was about.

Wesley: I’m not particularly worried about Goldy. He’s cleary just in a slump and isn’t seen the ball well enough right now to really drive the ball. He’s still taking his walks, has been showing plate discipline. It is really too small of a sample size to pass judgement.

Michael: There were some positive signs in the Saturday game against Houston. He’s a bit less late on fastballs, although the timing is still not there. With Peralta and AJ doing the damage in front and behind him in the order, they haven’t been too desperate for Goldy to get going. Slumps happen and I think people freak out too quickly when Goldy slumps. When he finds it again, he will be a welcomed addition to the lineup.

What do you think about Torey Lovullo’s bullpen usage?

James: I am mostly happy with his usage of the bullpen. I know plenty of fans were upset when Lovullo didn’t turn to Bradley and Boxberger in the Dodger game that got away from Arizona. However, Lovullo needs to be able to rely on pitchers outside of the ‘A’ group from time to time. The usage of Hirano, Bradley, and Boxberger is simply not sustainable across a full season. Not only were Bradley and Boxberger recovering during that game, but Lovullo was also quite aware that he had a bullpen game coming up on Saturday. Sometimes he is going to have to run sub-optimal pitchers out to the mound in order to keep his best arms fresh and effective throughout the season.

Keegan: Honestly, I feel that Box, Bradley, and Hirano were being overutilized to begin this season. Don’t @ me. We still have Jimmie Sherfy, Jared Miller, and Neftali Feliz waiting in the wings for their shot.

Makakilo: Instead of rotating relievers between the minors and the Majors to keep workload down, Lovullo is using a core group. His approach has a risk of overuse.

Shoewizard’s fanpost identified and quantified overuse of 7 bullpen pitchers. He wrote, “Just to put this into great perspective and context, The D Backs have 6 relievers on pace for 73 or more games. In the last 10 years, there have been only 3 Team Seasons out [of] 300, 1%, where a team even had 4 relievers with 73 or games.“

For the D-backs, a possible solution is use relievers from the minors. Was the recent acquisition of Clay Buchholz for the rotation or for the bullpen?

The approach of using relievers from the minors may be tied to this week’s news that the Reno Aces named Emily Jaenson as General Manager. Eric Edelstein said, “She was consistently a superstar in her time in Reno, leading her team to success…Emily is a true leader. I’m thrilled to inject her energy, intelligence, and work ethic back into our Greater Nevada Field.”

Sean: I think Louvollo’s bullpen management has really been as good as it possibly could be - he’s had to use his best relievers more than we’ve wanted since the offense has had very few big games but many “decent” games combined with excellent starting pitching has meant that we’ve had an unusually high number of games where we’ve needed Hirano, Bradley, or Boxberger. The Dbacks have 28 holds (most in MLB) and 175.1 IP in medium/high leverage situations (second in MLB) which helps to explain the bullpen usage to date. This is something I don’t expect to continue for the rest of the season (I would regress this back closer to average), especially if Lamb and Souza can help our offense have some bigger games - the Dbacks have 12 games with 5+ runs, which is 7th-lowest in the MLB.

My take on Shoewizard’s fanpost about bullpen overuse concerns isn’t so much to worry about Hirano, Bradley, or Boxberger overuse but rather, highly a weakness on our team - bullpen depth. I think the Dbacks need to start looking for potential replacements for Salas, JDLR, and McFarland sooner than later. Bracho has impressed me so far this season and I would like to see more of him.

Jim: I’d like to see more arms we can trust: Jorge De La Rosa doesn’t inspire me with confidence. It’s hard to say who that might be, since as shoe’s Fanpost noted, the depth of strike-throwers in Reno is limited, once you get past frequent flier Silvino Bracho. It’d help if the starters could get back to giving those 21 outs which were Lovullo’s focus last year. That’d allow one of the core trio to get a night off even in close games.

Michael: Part of the problem is the team is in a lot of close games, which has necessitated the use of Hirano, Bradley, and Boxberger in the late innings. They’ve done a great job so far despite the heavy usage early. The team certainly can use more production out of the lineup so there are some blowout wins like the 3rd game against Philly. The Diamondbacks could not close out a game against the Dodgers this week because Bradley and Boxberger pitched in 4 of the 6 games on the previous roadtrip and the first two games of that series. Salas has been decent save for that appearance vs. LA and Bracho has flashed more this year than the last two but neither is a guy who you want in a high leverage situation.

Wesley: My biggest concern is Hirano, Bradley, and Boxberger being fatigued and worn out down the stretch. We’ve played a lot of close games while dealing with a very tough schedule to begin the year, with a bunch of games against divisional and possible wildcard rivals. Hopefully when we get into an easier portion of the schedule, we can have some not so close games and give these guys a rest.

The offense is struggling, especially in the clutch. Can anything be done?

James: Outside of the hitters staying within themselves and their game plans, I don’t see that there is much to be done. The hitters need to simply stick with what has been working for them and hope for the best. The return of Stephen Souza should help. Jake Lamb is also not far off, probably about two weeks. If/when Paul Goldschmidt heats up again, that will help the offense as well. I do think that the tam might need to explore using one of its bigger assets, its speed on the base paths. And start playing some small ball. It might help the offense to get going to take advantage of holes created by hit-and-runs and it might also help keep the opposing pitchers off balance to have the speedsters constantly threatening to steal an extra base.I’d be more concerned if this was not becoming a league-wide problem.

Keegan: Chris Owings needs to see more plate appearances at the expense of Ketel Marte’s playing time until the latter figures out how to keep the ball off of the ground. I feel like Chris has scuffled at the plate because he has had to play all over the field and has not had the opportunity to get consistent reps at one position. Meanwhile, Marte has been a groundball machine and almost a black hole in the lineup at times. Goldy needs to get hot and bridge the gap between Peralta and Pollock. Getting Souza and Lamb back up to full speed should provide some additional thump in the heart of the lineup hopefully.

Makakilo: Are the struggles with clutch hitting as bad as they seem? Maybe not for the following two reasons:

  • The D-backs have left 213 runners on base, which is less than the average in the Majors (228), and which is much less than the Dodgers (238).
  • In the 11 lost games, only 4 were 1-run losses.

Does James have a good idea that the D-backs should start playing small ball? This season, when the D-backs have hit homers, their record is 17 wins and 2 losses. When the D-backs have not hit any homers, their record is 5 wins and 9 losses. With Souza back, and with Lamb back soon, maybe the D-backs will hit homers in more games. Nevertheless, it is good for the D-backs to have another way to win games, such as small ball, when the opposing pitcher and opposing team defense calls for it.

Sean: Just wait. Our team sits at a 99 wRC+ for non-pitchers and that’s been with a mostly-slumping Goldy and no Souza Jr. or Lamb. Our offense will definitely look a lot better when Marrero, Dyson, and Owings aren’t regularly starting games for us.

Jim: Clutch is a volatile thing. We were great for a while, and now we suck. Keep waiting, and I suspect it’ll turn around again. Offense is down all over the league. Coming into today, the league collectively was hitting .240, fourteen points below last year, and the worst figure in more than a century (since 1908). Maybe that’s the low temperatures, or maybe we’ll just have to re-calibrate our expectations, and accept that .240 is now a league-average hitter?

Michael: I think they’ll be fine. The team got off to an unsustainable start in that category, especially Nick Ahmed. The team doesn’t need to be great with RISP to win games due to the great pitching, strong defense, and having high OBP guys in the top half of the order. Right now it seems like Peralta, Descalso, and Pollock are carrying the team offensively while the rest of the lineup is struggling.

Wesley: Clutch hitting isn’t really a thing in my opinion. Given enough time, clutch hitting numbers will stabilize and end up being pretty close to their career numbers. Yes, there is more pressure in clutch situation, and obviously anxiety, stress, and emotions in general can affect a player’s hitting. I am not terribly worried about the Dbacks offense. Souza will start heating up once he gets some more reps in, Lamb will be back at some point., and Goldy will get on a hot streak and we’ll all be wondering why we worried so much about it.

Albert Pujols or Ichiro - who was better?

James: Their games were so different it is hard to say. Clearly, Albert Pujols was a bigger all-around offensive threat. He was a rare player who not only hit for power, but hit for average and took his walks. He was also, for a time, pretty slick at first base after his balky elbow forced the transition. Ichiro, on the other hand, was one of the best defensive outfielders of his generation. It didn’t take more than a half-season of him finally playing in America for his defensive highlight reel to be filled with plays that simply stopped cold at third base rather than testing Ichiro’s ability to get the out at home or third.So, Ichiro was a better defender, in an entirely different league on the base paths, and was better in the box on putting the ball in play and turning those batted balls into hits. If he had started his career in the majors, there is a very real chance that he would have broken Rose’s hit record legitimately. We’ll never know though. Pujols is the player you build a championship team around. Ichiro is the player that makes a team already playoff bound, into a dangerous team.

Keegan: Well in terms of raw numbers and advanced metrics it is Albert Pujols hands down, but for my money it is Ichiro Suzuki. I just find his style of play, in his prime, to be more exciting to watch than Pujols’, and we also have to take into account what Ichiro accomplished overseas as well. I bet if Mike Hazen were constructing a team in 2001 and had to choose between either Pujols or Ichiro that he would go with the latter because it fits his philosophy with the current roster construction. Let’s ask him this question.

Sean: If we’re counting purely MLB contributions, then it’s Albert Pujols and it’s not even remotely close. Pujols has 31 more fWAR and 41 more bWAR than Ichiro in the same amount of seasons. This isn’t a fair comparison and is a loaded question. This question needs to be rephrased as “Which player do you like more?”

Makakilo: Both have Hall-of-Fame numbers. Instead of comparing numbers, I captured the essence of each player in one sentence.

Pujols: By patience & strength, one of the greatest hitters of all time.

Ichiro: By concentration & focus, he made the ordinary extraordinary.

I am more inspired by Ichiro! Ichiro is the better player to admire!

Jim: Peak Pujols was likely better than Peak Ichiro. But there’s no doubt that Ichiro has aged better. You can only speculate on what his career might have looked like, had he spent it all in the majors. Pete Rose’s career hits record could well have been under threat. Doing what he did, as a “stranger in a strange land” is truly remarkable.

Michael: Both players are very difficult to compare because one is one of the greatest slugging 1B and the other was a multi-talented OF with a natural feel for hitting. Since Pujols started his career at 21 and Ichiro 27, I decided to compare their Age 27-31 seasons. In terms of RAA, Ichiro 180, Pujols 306. The gap between the two players is only because Pujols was arguably the greatest hitter in the 2000s. Ichiro has aged better than Pujols, whose bat has slowed down tremendously well into his 30s.

Wesley: Although Pujols was a better hitter, probably the best hitter of the 2000s, I have to give the nod to Ichiro. If he had played his entire career in the United States. He’d have more total hits, just from the fact that Japan has a shorter 146 game season. Over the course of the nine seasons he had in Japan, he would have been able to play almost a full season’s worth of games (144). In addition, the most games he played in Japan was 135. In first 11 years in the US and in his prime really, the least amount of games he played in was 146 games, but averaged 160 in every other season during that time frame, and playing in every game in half of those seasons. So that’s actually closer to two or three seasons worth of additional at bats that Ichiro could have played in. So my point here is that if Ichiro had played in the US, he could have possibly been the first member of 5000 hit club, and that’s by no means a stretch of the imagination. Ichiro was also way better than Pujols defensively in his prime, had an extremely accurate cannon of an arm, and had tremendous speed and range. Ichiro was also a historical important player, paving the way for Japanese hitters to come to the US and play in MLB. Pujols was a fantastic hitter, and I would probably take him in his prime over Ichiro most of the time, but Ichiro was a just much more interesting hitter to watch. The way he’d be half way out of the batter’s box by the time he finished swinging his at bat was just insane. You also have to take in account of the fact that Ichiro also holds the single season hit record, which I don’t think will be broken anytime soon. Not only that, but I think the massive contract with Anaheim and just the complete collapse of his hitting ability will really tarnish Pujols’ image in hindsight. I also think it quite likely that Pujols may be older than stated. All that being said, Pujols was a very complete hitter, and getting 600 hrs and 3000 hits is an amazing accomplishment

If you could only take one film to a desert island, what would it be?

James: Hmmm… This is a tough one. Most of my favourite films are not ones I would consider the best options for being my only movie on a desert island. Just because I love them, does not mean I am constantly looking to to watch them. I mean, I love Fellowship of the Ring, but I want my island movie to have a clear ending, not leave me hanging. I’ve watched the original Star Wars probably 200 times in my life. The Godfather, Apocalypse Now, and Blade Runner are hardly light watching material. While this is by no means my “final answer”, I have a feeling my choice would be something along the lines of The Princess Bride. The film is light, enjoyable, and easy to watch multiple times with plenty of quotable material.

Keegan: Yikes. What movie would I want to watch over and over again? As I’ve mentioned previously, Gladiator is my all time favorite, and that film would surely eat up a ton of time on an island. Interstellar would leave me contemplating the mechanics of the universe searching for an answer to bend space and time to leave the island.

Makakilo: Galaxy Quest for two reasons. I laugh every time I watch it. It’s theme could lift my spirits - survival against outrageous circumstances.

Sean: Uhhh, Sharknado?

Jim: Like James, a lot of the films I would say are the “best” are not exactly ones I would necessarily want to be marooned with! [Blade Runner, Videodrome and Ms. 45 would largely have me slashing my wrists!] I’d want something that can stand repeated viewing and perhaps crosses genres, so can be watched regardless of mood. Shaun of the Dead covers both comedy and horror, so that’d be a good choice. Run Lola Run would also work, not least because I’d be happy to leave than on in the desert island background, purely for the soundtrack!

Michael: I’m dodging this question

Wesley: How would I watch this movie? How would I power whatever I am watching? At that point I wouldn’t even care about the movie if it just meant I had a generator, tv, etcetera and I could use the parts to a lot of stuff.