- Rating: 2.58
- Age: 29
- 2019 stats (AZ only): 76 IP, 3-5, 6.39 ERA, -0.9 bWAR
- 2019 salary: $609,400
- 2020 status: wandering in the wilderness
Zack Godley burst onto the scene just after the All-Star break in 2015. In three starts, he went 3-0, with an ERA of 1.50. Only he and Chase Anderson in franchise history had won their first appearances, and we wondered if we had another Brandon Webb in the making. He became a full-time rotation member in 2017, and had an excellent 3.37 ERA over 155 innings of work. But the cracks began to widen the following year. The ERA went up to 4.74 and Godley led the league in both hit batters and wild pitches, while being third in walks. His control issues became increasingly notable, with his mechanics causing him to fall off the mound violently. Could he be fixed?
tl;dr: No. Despite his remarkable curve and decent cutter, the problem was Godley simply couldn’t locate them with enough consistency to make batters swing and miss at pitches out of the zone. His contact % on those increased from 46.6% in 2017, to 54.3% in 2018 and 61.6% this year. With that out of the arsenal, Godley’s mediocre 90 mph fastball wasn’t enough to get past hitters. The problems started early, Godley allowing eight runs over 5.1 innings in his first start, an 18-5 shellacking in Los Angeles which ended with John Ryan Murphy pitching two frames. It continued the rest of the month: Godley allowed 18 walks in only 29.2 innings, with an ERA of 7.58 in his six starts, including this run-scoring balk.
He was sent to the bullpen as a result, and though he did make a brief return to the rotation later in May. as an “opener” of sorts, though manager Torey Lovullo deliberately kept Godley in the dark about his role. That experiment did not last, and Lovullo said as Zack went back to the bullpen, “We’ve seen some improvement but just not to the level that I wanted... We had a conversation that he was fast approaching the threshold of my comfort level and that was a couple weeks ago. He understood where I was coming from and I outlined what my expectations were — and they were met, but not entirely... It wasn’t a conversation I wanted to have once, let alone twice, but it was a necessary one.”
Optimistic noises followed, Lovullo saying in mid-June, “Zack is throwing the baseball extremely well in the bullpen... He went down to the bullpen and he’s been working his butt off to get back to where he needs to be, and we’re watching that play out every single time he’s out there.” Assistant GM Amiel Sawdaye concurred: “He’s kind of almost been like a quiet MVP for the last couple weeks and has picked us up and saved our bullpen in many times where the starter has been pulled out of a game or we’ve had to extend a game to extra innings… He’s throwing a lot of strikes. His breaking ball is getting swings and misses like it used to.” Godley even picked up a couple of saves, one in the 13th inning, and the other a three-inning scoreless outing at the end of a blowout win against the Giants.
At the point they spoke, Godley had allowed one run over 13.2 relief innings since his second demotion. But a third attempt to get him back as a starter - first following Archie Bradley as an opener, then a conventional outing - failed, Godley allowing 11 earned runs over 8.2 innings in those two appearances. Back to the bullpen he went, and the end of the road was looming, with Zack being out of options. On August 4, Godley was designated for assignment, and was selected off waivers by the Toronto Blue Jays. While he wasn’t terrible in Canada, he was clearly not seen as part of their future, and he was DFA’d there less than a month later, eventually electing free agency in lieu of an assignment to AAA.
While next year would have been Godley’s first year of arbitration, right now, he can sign for whoever wants him, for whatever he can get. Call me insane, but is there a case for bringing him back as a reliever? That’s with the large proviso, that we abandon ALL thoughts of him as a starting pitcher. Because, if you take the post-Bradley pseudo-start out, here’s Zack’s line coming in from the bullpen 23 other times this year, for Arizona and Toronto:
Godley: 48.1 IP, 37 H, 20 R, 20 ER, 6 HR, 19 BB, 37 SO, 3.72 ERA
That’s not terrible - almost the same ERA as Andrew Chafin (3.76), though I’d like the K:BB ratio to skew higher.
There’s an argument that his stuff plays much better when hitters only get to see it once. Over his entire career as a starter, Godley has a .629 OPS against the first time through the order, compared to .855 the second time. Those number were similar in relief, .650 vs. ,890, albeit in a much smaller sample. If he can be strictly limited to what he sees, and can deliver in line with those “first time” numbers, a non-guaranteed contract with an invite to spring training might not be the worst idea in the world. But that is, of course, a very large “if”, and given the failure of the D-backs to be able to fix Godley over the past couple of season, it might be a challenge to expect new coach Matt Herges to be able to do better.