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SnakePit Round Table: World Cup Edition

The bullpen, an everyday role for Descalso, and whether there’s any hope for Avila are among the topics this week.

Brazil v Switzerland: Group E - 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia Photo by Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images

Special announcement. We welcome Angry Dad of the Brute Squad as this week’s “reader representative”. If you’re interested in doing the same next week, speak up in the comments, and I’ll email the first qualifying person to post, the questions on Saturday (so, obviously, you need to have an email address attached to your account!). You’ll need to be able to get the answers back to me by Sunday evening, so a timely turnaround will be necessary. If you miss out this week, try again next - we’ll aim for a different person each time. And with that said, onto this edition...

Is there any hope for Alex Avila?

James: At this point, it is difficult to see Avila getting enough playing time to figure out whatever it is that is wrong with him. At the same time, he’s under contract through the end of the 2019 season and JRM is going to need a backup catcher next year. I have a feeling Avila isn’t going anywhere.I do think he will improve before the season ends, but he will never improve enough to get out of being the team’s whipping boy.

Makakilo: Defensively, it would shock me if his defense approached the level of Jeff Mathis or John Ryan Murphy. Therefore, let’s focus on the question, “Can he improve his hitting?”

Let’s compare this season’s expected batting line for Alex Avila and John Ryan Murphy.

Alex Avila:

  • I projected his batting line as .237/.337/.388 and OPS=.715; his season actual through 16 June: .113/.232/.175 and OPS=.407. Will he improve from his actual to his projected? In June, he had 14 plate appearances with zero hits and one walk. I am not optimistic that he can improve to the projected line.
  • Method: I calculated his career average in the Majors through his peak season (which is age 28 according to Ray C. Fair’s article Estimated Age Effects in Baseball, published in Journal of Quantitative Analysis in Sports), then reduced it by the percentages in Fair’s article.

John Ryan Murphy:

  • I projected his batting line .232/.306/.457 and OPS=.763; season actual through 16 June: .250/.294/.509 and OPS= .803. Will he continue as better than projected? In June, he had 41 plate appearances with 1 homer, 3 RBIs, 8 hits, and 3 walks. He might, or might not, regress to projected numbers.
  • Method: I calculated his batting line by averaging projections from myself, James, and shoewizard. Source: comments on this AZ SnakePit article.

Alex Avila has a two year contract. Unless the D-backs trade him, and even if they do, that contract provides time for him to improve his hitting – achieving his career averages would be an optimistic outcome.

Keegan: Certainly, but it depends on what your individual expectations are going forward. He put on a defensive clinic on Friday. The pitching staff has performed better on the mound with Jeff Mathis and Avila behind the plate, but John Ryan Murphy was the best of the three with the bat through the first two months of the season. It has to be difficult on all three men splitting playing time for one position, and I’ve been advocating that experiment should end. That probably won’t happen until next season when Jeff Mathis becomes a free agent. Alex Avila is a better player at the plate than he has shown this season. There just isn’t enough opportunity for him to turn his fortunes around given the roster construction at his position.

Angry Dad: (In honor of Father’s Day Angry Dad of The Brute Squad will be answering all questions) I think there is, I think there is a slim hope. Not expecting him to be a .250 hitter but maybe be a .230 guy if he can find his confidence, it’s obvious he is lost at the plate and it looks like the more he fails at the plate the more he appears to lack interest and focus. He’s defeated before he even sees the 1st pitch. I suggest optioning him to Reno, get him some good at bats, build confidence and if then, bring him back up - no rush.

Jim: I’m more amused at this point, and am thoroughly enjoying the frothing reactions on social media every time he plays. There’s clearly something up, based purely on the horrendous strikeout rate. He has also been unlucky with balls in play, hitting them harder than just about anyone else on the team, just right at fielders. But even if he hits .300 for the rest of the time here and wins the World Series with a walk-off home-run, I think fandom has made its hive-mind up. He sucks! Jarrod Dyson is very grateful. :)

Should Daniel Descalso be starting every day?

James: I think he has earned the chance to start often, but I am not sure you start him every day. If he continues to hit despite moving around the diamond, he could start a day in place of Marte, then a day in place of Ahmed (with Marte moving to SS for the day), and then start in place of Lamb against lefties. I’m not sure I start him more than that though. HE’s doing just fine the way he is being used. Besides, when he isn’t starting, he is also showing to be a real threat off the bench.

Makakilo: In June, he played in 11 games, and had a positive Win Probability Added (WPA) in 10 of the 11 games; and talk about Mr. Clutch - three of those games he entered as a pinch hitter!

Why is he hitting so well? The biggest reason is that this season he raised his average launch angle to 20.1 degrees (it was 21.5 degrees on 4 June) - it is his first season with a launch angle in the 15 to 30 degrees considered the power zone. Source: Jim’s AZ SnakePit article. That improvement will not go away with more at-bats.

He hits better against right-handed pitchers (OPS of .962 vs .749). Against left-handed pitchers, his OPS of .749 is not bad - only 5 D-back players have an overall OPS greater than .749 (Goldschmidt, Peralta, Pollock, Murphy, and Jay).

Ketel Marte’s OPS against left-handed pitchers is .877, which is better than Descalso’s .749. Therefore, I would continue to platoon him with Marte, and use Descalso as a very effective pinch hitter off the bench.

Keegan: Descalso should be receiving more playing time than Nick Ahmed and Chris Owings. I’d go about finding him that playing time similar to what James suggested above. When I strip away the number and go with my gut feeling, Daniel has been the team MVP this season because he is constantly coming through when needed the most. Ride the wave and get this man in the lineup.

Angry Dad: A HUGE YES. 1st he has earned the trust and confidence of the club, staff and fans because of his play and performance up until this point. He has shown he can play any position, fill any need, and perform well in the clutch and as our injured players heal. He is dependable, solid and is confident in any roll, bro.

Jim: Works for me. We’re getting past the point where his career season can be seen as the results of a small sample size, and Nick Ahmed’s continued struggles at the plate mean he should likely become a late-inning defensive replacement. Descalso handles left-handed pitching a lot better than Jake Lamb, so could start at third vs. a lefty, and second against a right-hander, with Marte covering short there. But that’s just a random thought at the end of a very long weekend, so I’ve probably screwed something up in that alignment!

If we could only have one All-Star this year, who would you pick?

James: Pollock went and got injured again, so I won’t be choosing him. If I only get one choice, I would take any of the three pitchers that make up the back of our bullpen, with Hirano probably leading the way.

Makakilo: This season, The position player with the highest WAR (both Baseball Reference and FanGraphs) is Paul Goldschmidt. He is my pick.

Keegan: Has to be Daniel Descalso for me. I know it doesn’t make sense when you compare him statistically to other players, but he has been damn fun to watch this season.

Angry Dad: It has to be Desclutcho. See above. His versatility is unmatched by anyone on the team and that is more valuable than one or two hot stats any other D-back controls. Let’s not forget, Descalso can pitch. Goldy (praise be) cannot play 2b or even pitch. There is something to be said about valuable utility guys that produce such as Desclutcho.

Jim: I’d love to see Descalso, but Hirano would just be so cool as well. And then, what would an All-Star Game be without Goldschmidt? But I have to go for Alex Avila, simply for the Epic Troll Achievement this would unlock. The meltdown on Twitter would be EPIC...

The D-backs bullpen has been among the best in baseball. If we had a one-run lead in the ninth inning, which of our relievers would you want to see?

James: Assuming a neutral starting point of rest and empty bases, I am honestly comfortable with any of the three coming into the game. I suppose if I absolutely must choose one of the three though, I probably go with Bradley, simply because he possess the most in terms of swing-and-miss stuff. However, that’s parsing hairs. I really am fine with any of the three.

Keegan: It’s a difficult decision. Archie has not been as dominant this season out of the bullpen as he was last year, but has still been one of the best in the league. He’s already allowed as many home runs as he did all of last season, and I think that’s because he can be a bit too predictable just pumping 97 mph fastballs. All it takes is for the hitter to run into it and we’ve seen it go a long way. Boxberger is probably my choice in this situation with Hirano right behind. (Lololol clearly written before the conclusion of the Father’s Day game).

Makakilo: Yoshihisa Hirano is the best bullpen pitcher as measured by ERA(1.50), FIP(2.91, although Chafin edges ahead with 2.84), and MLB Power Ranking (31) covering the last 14 days. However, another consideration is important.

Bullpen-pitchers pitch better when they know in advance when in the game they will pitch. Boxberger’s current role is the closer role. Although Hirano is likely the best pitcher, because the situation is the ninth inning when the closer pitches, my pick is Boxberger. UPDATE: Rarely, Boxberger will blow a 2-run lead in the ninth, like he did today. Today might have gone better with any amount of luck - Boxberger struck out the first two batters in the inning. My pick is Boxberger.

Angry Dad: To me it’s Hirano. Hirano has more available pitches than Bradley or Boxberger and in the way he delivers as well. His pitches are not as recognizable or easy to read. Therefor he can get away with more swings and misses or opponents looking at strikes. Bradley and Boxberger can be too transparent or readable at time for opponents.

Jim: Anyone want to change their answer after this afternoon? Hirano has looked good, but I think that’s partly because he has seen more of the bottom of the order. I would probably go with Bradley, as much for psychological reasons as anything. He’s the most quintessential of D-backs, who bleeds Sedona Red, and I’d rather go into the jaws of war with someone like that, live or die.

Who should be dropped when Randall Delgado returns?

James: I would part with either De La Rosa or Salas. Frankly, I’m ready to call up Barrett or Sherfy, in addition to the return of Degado, just to make it so both can be let loose. JDLR is a lefty, and this team does benefit from that on occasion. If they want to keep that second lefty in the bullpen, then let go of Salas. Otherwise, JDLR is the weakest link.

Keegan: No need to be carrying three left handers out of the bullpen, so Jorge De La Rosa is my odd man out. I’d still like to know for sure that Delgado’s arm isn’t going to fall off upon his return. His arm health makes me nervous when we talk about cutting bullpen depth.

Makakilo: My opinion aligns with James and Keegan. Another consideration is Jorge De La Rosa has only pitched 21 innings - maybe Delgado would pitch more innings and thereby contribute more.

Angry Dad: Frankly I don’t care about JDLR or Salas. I guess I have not seen consistent production or outs from either one. But then again I haven’t seen shit outta Chafin either. With that said I would replace Salas with Delgado.

Jim: In terms of role, T.J. McFarland currently occupies the long relief role owned previously by Delgado, but being a left-hander probably gives him a significant factor in his favor. Jorge De La Rosa has not been impressive to me: while also a lefty, he doesn’t seem to have much else to support his case.

The Dodgers and D-backs appear to be separating themselves from the rest of the West. Do you see this continuing?

James: The Giants just cannot catch a break with regard to health, and the Rockies are finally imploding the way they almost always seem to. With that in mind, yes, I do think the Dodgers and Diamondbacks are going to turn the NL West into a mostly two-team race.

Keegan: Yes, the Giants are unable to stay healthy enough to put a run together. The Rockies do not have enough bats in their lineup to keep up. Padres gonna Padre (at least I hope). I think it’s going to be a stressful August and September for the D’backs and the Dodgers as they race towards the division title.

Makakilo: In the last 10 games, the Diamondbacks and the Dodgers have the best records of NL West teams (7-3 and 8-2). The Rockies were 3-7 which looks like a collapse, but let’s look ahead.

Through the remainder of June, the Rockies have an easier schedule than the Dodgers, who play the Cubs 7 times. Although the Rockies are 3.5 games behind the Dodgers, the teams could easily have near-equal records when they play a series starting on 29 June.

Whichever team wins that series will have a mental advantage moving into July. It is unclear which team will challenge the D-backs: Rockies or Dodgers.

Angry Dad: I see that continuing. It’s gonna be nip & tuck the rest of the way especially if The D-backs can’t take care of the teams we should be taking care of. Dodgers pitching is injured but still continue to pull out wins. Say what you want about the Dodgers but they seem to always find a way to win despite injuries and what not. Where the D-backs seem to muddle in the same circumstances with regard to injury.

Jim: If the Giants can get healthy or the Rockies fix their bullpen, they might have a chance. But I’m not seeing either happening before the All-Star break, and it may well be too late for them to turn things around. Though I would have enjoyed the Colorado meltdown a lot more today, if we hadn’t said, “Here, hold my beer...”

Are you paying any attention to the World Cup? In the absence of a US team, who are you cheering for?

James: I find myself rather enjoying not having skin in the game. It is allowing me to just have fun watching the games unfold and appreciate the performances themselves rather than watching with a specific outcome in mind. However, I do find that when I am watching, I find myself pulling for England to win their matches. Also, my bestie grew up in Germany and Portugal, so it’s easy to root for them when they are playing.

Keegan: No, it would get in the way of my unhealthy baseball obsession.

Makakilo: No, because baseball is my focus. Another reason to ignore it is that the best finishes by the United States team were third in 1930 and eighth in 2002.

Angry Dad: No. I am not paying attention at all, my apologies to Futbol.

Jim: I’d like to, but the time difference is murder for me. I am not a morning person, shall we say! But I would show the 3-3 draw between Spain and Portugal to anyone who thinks the game is boring... I’m largely cheering for the underdogs, so would love to see Iceland - a country with a population smaller than Mesa - do well.