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SnakePit Round Table: Routing the Pirates

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Hey, that went well, didn’t it?

Arizona Diamondbacks v Pittsburgh Pirates Photo by Justin Berl/Getty Images

Special announcement. We welcome David Munter 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...

Do the Diamondbacks have a closer problem?

James: I don’t think so. Boxberger is doing just fine. The team just needs to monitor his usage. Of all the arms in that bullpen, he seems to be the most susceptible to fatigue from too many outings in a short period of time. The team may have to eventually turn to using a two-man closing tandem if the Diamondbacks need three or more saves in a single week.

Makakilo: First, let’s look at hits per 9 innings – the bullpen is strong! The D-backs have Hirano, Chafin, and Bradley in the top-10 and Boxberger is above average. The other three are near-average.

Hits allowed per 9 innings

  • Hirano 5.2
  • Chafin 6.0
  • Bradley 6.1
  • Top-10 all pitchers (2017) 7.43
  • Boxberger 7.5
  • Average of all pitchers (2018) 8.37
  • Salas 8.7
  • McFarland 8.9
  • De La Rosa 9.3

Second, let’s look at walks per 9 innings - the bullpen is OK. The D-backs have McFarland in the top 10, and Bradley and Salas above average. This list suggests that Boxberger’s walk rate could be improved, making him a better closer.

Walks per 9 innings

  • McFarland 2.0
  • Top-20 all pitchers (2017) 2.13
  • Bradley 2.4
  • Salas 2.8
  • Average of all pitchers (2018) 3.30
  • Hirano 3.6
  • DeLaRosa 3.9
  • Chafin 4.3
  • Boxberger 4.8

Keegan: No, they just need to monitor Boxberger’s usage closely. Friday’s blown save isn’t completely on him. Jake Lamb should have never gone home with his throw and should have instead tried to turn the double play to end the game. Last Sunday’s blown save shouldn’t entirely be considered his fault either although he gave up the two home runs. If Avila lets it roll foul, or Jon Jay takes a better route on the fly ball in the corner, the game is likely over before Box has the chance to give up the home runs. He’ll be fine just as Fernando Rodney was last season. Speaking of, anyone paying attention to what Rodney is accomplishing on a poorly performing Minnesota team?

Turambar: Nope, we’re good. With Archie and Yoshi waiting in the wings I’m not worried at all. So yea, they’ll continue to monitor him, but even if his poor luck continues it’s not like it’s the end of the world.

David: Tough question. I’d say there is potential for this to be an issue. There’s no doubt that Box is struggling through June or really since he threw 3 days in a row. I’d argue through June 4th he was one of the top closers in the league. He wasn’t dominant but he was certainly effective. I mean, we’ve had to watch some pretty infuriating closers in the past (Valverde, Rodney, Reed) so lets show some patience for the time being. If he comes out of the All-Star break in the same funk, my opinion would be look at alternatives.

Shelby Miller starts tomorrow. What are your hopes, fears and predicted ERA?

James: My hope is that Miller returns to the rotation and takes precious little time to find his stride, then he returns to being the “good” Shelby Miller that the previous regime thought they were trading for. My fear is that Miller returns to the rotation, but takes several starts to find his stride, and is also hampered by his pitch limitations, leading to early 3rd and 4th inning exits every five days while this team is trying to hold off the Dodgers. That stresses out the bullpen and the dominos start to fall. My prediction is he falls somewhere in between, though I do think the team will need to consider shelving him again in mid-to-late September if Arizona is going to make a playoff run.

Makakilo: Optimistic view: In his 4 rehab starts, his peripheral stats looked great! His SO/9 was 13.0 (excellent!), his BB/9 was 2.8 (better than average!), and his HR/9 was 0.47 (excellent!). If he carried his stats for SO/9 and HR/9 into the Majors, he would rank #2 and #3 in the Majors.

Realistic view (quote from June 3 roundtable): “I expect his ERA this season will increase from 4.09 (2017) to 4.69 (2018). The interesting question is whether he would be better in the bullpen or as a starter. Brooks Baseball shows me that his best two pitches (based on batting average and slugging percent) are his four-seam fastball and his cutter. In the bullpen, could he focus on those 2-pitches with an occasional change-up?”

Keegan: The best we could hope for is that he returns to his St. Louis and Atlanta level of performance and serves as a solid #3 in the rotation. My fear is that he comes back and gets knocked around again further destroying his confidence and any chance of Arizona extracting value from him. Maybe the time away from the game will reinvigorate his passion for pitching. It’s difficult to project his performance going forward coming off of Tommy John Surgery. Look at how long it has taken Patrick Corbin to perform like the pitcher everyone expected before his surgery.

Turambar: Hoping he comes back and sets the world on fire, but in reality he’ll like just be an “ok” 5th starter, and even that I’d likely a stretch. So basically me expectations are realistic, but it sure would be nice if he got us a few solid starts.

David: If you know me, then you know how much I hated the trade that brought Miller to AZ. Stephen Hawking’s research suggests we can’t go back in time to stop this from ever happening so here we are. My hopes are that he reverts back to 2013 Shelby Miller for the rest of the season. My fears are he’ll be the same ol’ dude that makes me want to scratch out my eyeballs. Predicted ERA....optimistically I’ll say 3.50.

Robbie Ray’s return nears too. How will he be slotted in?

James: The team seems to be making sure they treat Ray with caution. With that in mind, I don’t expect him to be in the rotation unless he is ready to be plugged back into the rotation as the #2 pitcher behind Greinke. This team is going to need Ray strong out of the rotation in order to hold of Los Angeles. Once Ray returns to the rotation, I expect Godley heads to the bullpen. He’s much better-suited to the bullpen role than Buchholz and has already proven he can handle it in the past.

Makakilo: Previously, I suggested moving Godley to the bullpen. Another similar view worth noting: Shoewizard wrote that the rotation is being crushed the third time through the order. One of his what-could-be-done’s was have three long relievers in the bullpen to pitch starting the third time through the order, including Zack Godley and TJ McFarland.

Keegan: Good luck deciding if it should be Buchholz or Godley who should be bounced from the rotation. If it were my decision, Godley would be on his way to the bullpen. I think I remember the FSAZ broadcast saying yesterday that Robbie has about one or two rehab starts left before making his return. Having him back and performing at his All Star level as he did in 2017 would be an enormous addition to the starting rotation. We’re going to need him in order to fight off the Dodgers for the division title.

Turambar: With the apparent injury Sunday of Buchholz this is no issue at all. Easy question :)

Makakilo Update: After the game Buchholz said, “I’m not looking to miss any time.” He said today was different from his previous oblique injury, which was “a lot worse.” Best case, he will continue to pitch in his normal slot.

Worst case: “While the 10-day DL is the most common starting point for oblique injuries, Conte’s study showed that hitters typically took 27 days to recover, while pitchers took 35….’Pitchers can throw lightly [during rehab], do some long toss, do things that use the same motion as pitching but are less stressful,’ Reinold said.” Source: Lindsay Berra article at MLB.com.

David: Move Godley to a long relief role and ease Ray in. Make sure he finds the feel for the mound, no need to rush him into being the ace of staff that I believe him to be. The team needs him to be last years Robbie Ray.

What areas should the team look to strengthen at the trade deadline?

James: That will largely depend on how the team looks after Miller, Ray, Pollock, Souza, and Delgado all return. I would not be opposed to a rental of Machado or Beltre. Unfortunately, Machado might cost too much in prospects for the increase he brings and Beltre has no-trade rights as well as $9.7 million still owed to him. However, if Pollock and Souza return healthy and anything close to form, the offensive uptick might not be as necessary. I would like to see one more arm in the bullpen, but I don’t think they necessarily need to trade to add one of those. The team still has Barrett and Sherfy hanging out in Reno. It may serve Arizona best to simply stand pat. They already made their deal, they just made it early - Jon Jay.

Makakilo: With players returning from the DL, with the breakout of John Ryan Murphy, and with the acquisition of Jon Jay, my bias would be to keep my powder dry in case of an unexpected injury or an unexpected trading opportunity.

Keegan: Manny Machado and the bullpen. Machado is not going to cost much more in prospects than J.D. Martinez did last season, and anyone who says he will is wrong. Mike Hazen knows this, and it is probably why the deal has not been completed yet. Baltimore is trying to wait it out and extract maximum value. They should have traded him last season when they were able to bring a bigger return for their struggling team. As we saw in the NLDS last year, bullpen arms a paramount. The Dodgers ran out a slew of high powered arms against the Diamondbacks and overmatched us in 3 games. Those are the two areas I would look to improve.

Turambar: If Machado can be had at the right price then hell yea, besides that we can always use a bullpen arm. Seriously though, with Lamb being “meh” an upgrade of Machado would make this team deadly dangerous.

David: Another arm in the bullpen doesn’t hurt. Really depends on if/when AJ and Souza come back. If they can’t produce then another clutch bat off the bench. DFA Avila to make room :)

Is A.J. Pollock’s slow recovery cause for concern?

James: I’m fine with Pollock taking a bit longer to get back, so long as he heals properly. I’m just hoping the injury to his thumb does not rob him of his power.

Makakilo: Injuries to Souza and Pollock led to the D-backs acquiring Jon Jay. When Pollock returns the concern could be too many excellent outfielders – a great problem to have.

Keegan: It is for him and his agent. It’s depressing to think how good Pollock could have been in a Diamondbacks’ uniform if he was able to stay on the field more. I know all of the injuries are not nearly his fault. He probably would have been challenging Paul Goldschmidt as the face of the franchise, but when you realize how physically demanding Pollock’s playing position is you just take it for what it is. To answer your question, it is not a cause for concern for me. The team played well in his absence last season. Outside of a historically horrendous offensive performance from the team in May they have been playing well in his absence this season. It’s for that reason I don’t think the Diamondbacks should go beyond a qualifying offer this offseason when he reaches free agency. If a rival team wants to pay him north of $125 million, so be it.

Turambar: Not worried at all. Dyson and Jay are doing just fine in his stead and the rest of the offense if finally awake. It sucks to have him injured yet again, but proves to me at least how we shouldn’t worry too much about having him gone after this season. Oh what could have been had the injury bug not haunted him so much.

David: No. Make sure he’s right... especially with the hand. I’m also the guy that believes we should trade him to get some value before he leaves next year so ....yeeeaaaa.

Four in Miami, then back for three against San Francisco. Predict the week.

James: Arizona should sweep Miami, however a four-game sweep on the road is terribly difficult. So long as they take three of four, they will be good there. Then it is on to San Francisco. Goldy thrives there and this team should be riding a wave of optimism as they go into the Bay to take on a very battered Giants team. Two of three in San Francisco would give Arizona a 5-3 split from those two series. I’ll take that any day.

Makakilo: Boldly, I predict the D-backs will sweep the Marlins in a four game series! Seven reasons are explained in my series preview (it will post Monday):

  • Shelby Miller’s return
  • Alex Avila’s hot streak
  • Ken Rosenthal’s opinion is that the Marlins are “truly awful.”
  • The D-backs swept the last series against the Marlins.
  • Marlin starters rank 29th in the Majors.
  • Marlin bullpen ranks 30th in the Majors.
  • Better run differential (runs scored minus runs allowed).

With great uncertainty, I predict The D-backs will win the 3-game series with the Giants because Giants pitching.

  • Giants’ starters have ERA’s above 4 except Madison Bumgarner and Johnny Cueto, who is on the 60-day DL, although he may return during the D-back series.
  • Closer Hunter Strickland broke his hand and is on the 10-day DL – he will not be available to pitch against the D-backs.

Keegan: I’m with Mak here. I expect a four game sweep of Miami. Doing so would put the team close to the best record in the National League, and give them a substantial amount of momentum (I know how much that word is despised nowadays) heading into the series against the Giants. Performing well in this stretch of games would go a long way in defining the NLW race. Arizona could slap San Francisco down to the bottom of division with continued strong performance against their divisional opponents.

Turambar: Two series wins but no sweeps. We’re riding a wave which I hope will continue through the All Star break.

David: Five wins. Three against Miami, Monday being the loss. Two against San Fran, Friday being the loss. I think the travel days are always tough on a team, especially going cross country.

What’s the best concert you’ve ever seen live?

James: This is difficult for me. Four concerts come to mind. In 1992 I saw Metallica at what was then America West Arena. They had no opener, and played for about four hours, essentially covering their entire catalogue. On the first leg of their time touring together, I think it was 1999, I saw Styx with REO Speedwagon. Despite the age of the bands, the performances were still great. In 1998 I saw Big Bad Voodoo Daddy at Scottsdale Amphitheatre. At the time, they were still relatively unknown and performing as the headliner for the Scottsdale Jazz Fest. Bottles of wine were on sale at the venue where we simply sat on the grassy hill and listened to two hours of great swing and jazz with some contemporary rock thrown into the finale, just for flavour.

Lastly, there was Irvin Mayfield, a master horn player. He was supposed to play the Chandler Jazz Festival. However, heavy rains came and basically washed out the evening. However, those of us who stuck around trying to figure out what to do next were invited in to get warm and dry in one of the small banquet rooms that held about 35 people. They then set up a free buffet of awesome food across the back wall and invited us to sit and get comfortable. We spent the next 2 hours watching Irvin Mayfield play for us 30 or so people right there in the room with us. It was about as intimate a setting as one could ever ask for and he made great use of the venue by mixing with us as talking with us individually as he moved from playing one great jazz lick after another.

Alas, illness cost me the opportunity to see Billy Joel from the second row the last time he was out here.

Makakilo: Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain. My balcony seat on the side-wall of the venue was strange and unique, like their performance. Their performance was unexpected and almost beyond description. They played one-of-a-kind ukuleles, and several genres of music were re-interpreted for ukuleles. The musicians had tons of humor and emotional expression while performing sublime music masterpieces and foolish songs. This concert was fun and most memorable!

Keegan: Too many great concerts for me to choose from. I’m somewhat of a metal nut. For whatever strange reason, Anthrax has put on great performances the two times I’ve seen them. Both times I was there to see another band perform, but they have a loyal fanbase and know how rile them up as the Godfathers of Thrash Metal. I saw someone crowd surf in a wheelchair watching them in 115+ degree heat, so that should tell you all you need to know. I saw Slayer, Motörhead, and Slipknot perform together at Ozzfest and it was some of the most insane mosh pits I’ve ever been in. During another Slipknot concert at Cricket, Ak-chin, Ashley Home Furniture whatever-you-want-to-call-it-Pavillion a gnarley monsoon storm rolled through before their set, so that was wild.

The Nile Theater in Mesa is a great venue for the style of music I enjoy. I’ve seen Parkway Drive there, and the venue is so small that when you crowd surf you usually end up on stage with the band and have to stage dive off. This is a band with huge international success, mind you, in a very personal setting. If The Ghost Inside ever makes their return to the stage in the future, that will probably be the most emotional. Those guys were involved in a serious head on collision with a semi in their tour bus on the way to perform in Arizona a few years ago, and are just now beginning to practice together again for the first time since the accident. Great question! You’ve uncovered my other passion outside of baseball. I’ve been to plenty of great concerts in a short amount of time.

Turambar: I’ve seen some pretty epic metal shows in my time, especially seeing The Big Four in 2011: Anthrax, Megadeth, Slayer and Metallica. Seeing all four of those gods of metal in one place at one time was glorious. Especially when all four bands came out playing “Am I Evil” to end the show. That and meeting Abbath Doom Occulta prior to his show has a special place in my metal heart.

David: Saw Chris Stapleton a few years back at the Mesa Amphitheatre which was an incredible experience. Such a creative song writer and music wasn’t half bad either. No way we’d be able to see him in a small venue like that ever again.

Jim: I had a family dinner with visiting relations tonight, so couldn’t chip in much this week, but did want to answer this one! Back in 1991, I saw Ministry spin-off Revolting Cocks at the Astoria in London, which was the most insane show of my life. In May 2012, I saw Rammstein at (then) Jobing.com arena, my most spectacular show: a full-on sensory overload experience of fire and thunder. And D-backs related… SnakePit Jr. won tickets to a D-backs game from a local radio station. Back when he was all but unknown, Jason Mraz showed up and played, just him and his guitar, which was very cool.