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Snakepit Round Table: Nationals Treasure

The 2019 season is over. Let’s look back, and also forward to the off-season for the Diamondbacks

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Washington Nationals Victory Parade Photo by Patrick McDermott/Getty Images

So, how did the post-season go…

Turambar: Dodgers failed to win yet again. That makes for an excellent post-season in my book. Besides that obvious “win” it really was magical to see the Nats go on the run they did; beating LA, crushing the Cards and then winning road games only against the Stros. Wild.

Jack: I really enjoyed this post season. It had engaging story lines and terrific performances. Seeing the Nationals complete the comeback was extremely satisfying.

James: The results were unexpected. I am happy for the plethora of former Diamondbacks that the Nationals now employ. I am surprised at who ultimately took home the trophy. The way the Nationals were able to avoid using their bullpen was quite impressive. Overall, it was quite enjoyable. Hey, the Dodgers got bounced, so the primary concern was addressed.

Makakilo: Without the Diamondbacks, I wasn’t as enthusiastic as I could have been. Nevertheless, the World Series was awesome, especially game 7 with Zack Greinke pitching followed by late inning runs.

Dano: I am utterly satisfied. Per Turambar, the Dodgers losing filled me with joy. Per James, the plethora of former Diamondbacks on the Nationals was nice...hooray in particular for Gerardo Parra getting a ring. Yay! And per Makakilo, I’m really happy that, while the Astros lost, Greinke put up a quality start in the final game. I’d been feeling bad for him, because he’d not been doing well for much of the post-season.

Also, how about Patrick Corbin with those three clutch shutdown innings at the end of game 7? Brilliant.

Steven: The Dodgers got outed almost immediately, so I count it a win in my book. And the heavily favored team from the get-go couldn’t pull out the series win, so that should give any team hope going forward to next season.

Wesley: I am happy the Dodgers lost again, and the Nationals won the series. D.C. really needed that win.

The Nationals are World Series champions. What lessons can the D-backs learn?

Turambar: Well, I guess we should learn how to only win road games and throw “home field advantage” right out the window. In all seriousness though I’m not sure how much the Dbacks as a team and organization can take out of this besides being patient in your quest for glory. In that the Nats were denied many times prior to this and finally pulled through with a team built on both established veterans and a sprinkling of young stars. Many have likened them to the 2001 Dbacks, and part of me can certainly see that, though I bet most of us don’t want the Dbacks to go back to UNLIMITED DEFERRED SALARIES like that team. Honestly the main takeaway for me is the importance of dominant starting pitching.

Jack: Spend money! All that great starting pitching didn’t come cheap. The Nationals had a 204 Million Dollar Payroll in 2019, the 3rd highest in MLB! As compelling as the Nationals comeback and the way they turned their season around and fought through all those playoff elimination games was, this was not an “underdog” team. The Lerners spent and spent big.

James: World Series championships don’t come cheap. Sure, some teams over the years have managed to make a run with a roster of arbitration and pre-arbitration players. Those are not the norm though. The Yankees, Dodgers, Nationals, and Astros all spent and spent big. The Cardinals increased their spending, as did the Brewers. Atlanta’s payroll is now on the rise as they enter their window of contention. Even cost-conscious teams like the A’s and Rays are seeing their payrolls creep up. If the Diamondbacks want to get in on that postseason fun, they are going to need to properly identify their next competitive window and then they need to supplement the roster with premium talent. That talent is going to cost money. Either they spend to acquire the talent, or they will remain on the outside looking in.

Makakilo: Two lessons:

  • The Nationals’ victory confirms the wisdom of the Diamondbacks’ strategy of building the farm so the team can make the playoffs every year. When the Diamondbacks make the playoffs, they have a chance to win it all, like the Nationals!
  • In the 7th inning, scoring 2 or more runs was a key factor. Three of the Nationals’ four wins included 2 or more runs in the seventh inning, as did one of the Astros’ three wins. It’s not just scoring runs; scoring runs at that point provided a tremendous mental advantage.

Dano: Money talks, sadly. I agree that we need to spend on starting pitching especially...not necessarily going all-in, salary-wise, on a single pitcher (as we did with Greinke), though maybe that, but also making sure that the rest of the rotation is ++.

Steven: That you’re never really out of it, you just need a superb pitching staff, young superstar talent, and a lot of really good everyday players. Oh, and bullpens are a crapshoot, so lean on youth and past performance.

Wesley: The Dbacks need to build their farm system, make smart trades, and like Jack said, SPEND MONEY.

Which former D-back were you cheering for most in the playoffs?

Turambar: Greinke. Love that goofy nerdy dude, and sad to see him throw an amazing game 7, only to see him pulled while he was still in command and have his relievers lose the game.

Jack: I was very happy to see Zack Greinke throw a good game in game 7. Seeing him get the win would have been the only way a Houston victory would have been enjoyable for me.

James: Daniel Hudson was the biggest one for me. After that, Greinke, then probably Corbin. Although, Patrick Corbin being very clear about not wanting to be a Diamondback sort of soured my feelings on him. I certainly had more players I was pulling for on the Nationals. The Astros do have Greinke and then two players I just like. I have been an Altuve fan since he hit the majors and a Justin Verlander fan since his days at Old Dominion. I really would like to see JV wind up with some more hardware before his career ends. On the whole though, I wanted to see Daniel Hudson do well and to soak up as much of the spotlight and attention as possible. It has been a long, hard road for that man. If he had been able to stay healthy here in Arizona, things in the desert might have been very different.

Makakilo: Zack Greinke! His great pitching in the seventh game of the World Series is a happy memory.

Dano: Gerardo Parra, hands down. I love that guy. Greinke, too, especially going into the deciding game, but that was because he didn’t have such good luck earlier in the playoffs (see my remarks above). But mainly Parra. He was such a joy to watch in a Diamondbacks uniform, and he was always such a great clubhouse presence (which the Nationals discovered as well), and he’s on the downward slope of his career. Again, I’m really happy he gets a WS ring.

Steven: Yeah it’s Daniel Hudson all the way. After going through everything he’s been through, personal and professionally, to see him perform like the Daniel Hudson of old was incredible. I hope he doesn’t get shafted in Free Agency.

Wesley: Adam Eaton, Daniel Hudson, Parra, Scherzer, and all the others that came up through the farm. Eaton in particular Ive followed since the day he was drafted. It’s cool to see players you’re familiar with find success. Greinke as well! Greinke ’s luck in the playoffs really sucked.

The team declined the options on Flores and McFarland. Was that what you expected?

Jack: I originally thought Wilmer’s option should be picked up. That’s the way I voted in the poll. But I figured it was a coin flip as to what they would actually do. As the discussions went on here at AZSnakepit I slowly became convinced it was increasingly unlikely. Ultimately they just weren’t ready to make that commitment at this time. Mike Hazen had the following to say:

“If we had exercised [the option] right now, we would have pinned our position player group in a very hard direction, which ultimately may be the direction we go, but we didn’t feel like this was the day to make that decision,” GM Mike Hazen said.

Steve Gilbert MLB.COM

TJ McFarland’s option being declined was no surprise at all.

James: The only thing surprising about T.J. McFarland was that he actually remained on the roster through the end of the season, forcing the Diamondbacks to “make a decision” on whether or not to bring him back. The team has other internal options for another lefty in the bullpen to go along with Chafin. They also have a few dollars they can spend on one in free agency if they feel they really need to add another one.

As for Wilmer Flores, while I agreed with Jack’s reasons for keeping him around, I never really thought they would. I always figured that the only way his option would be picked up is if he performed over the entire season the way he did in his strong month of play. This team is just not yet at the point where it is willing to spend any sort of real money on a role player, even if that player represents an improvement on one of the team’s weaknesses. Flores would be an offensive upgrade for the team. Maybe they bring him back on a smaller deal, but I have a feeling someone else will pay him - or at least give him a multi-year deal.

Makakilo: Not exercising Flores’ option surprised me for two reasons.

  • Flores’s hit very well. In 2019, his 24.7% line drive rate led the team. His 89.5% contact rate led the team. His .332 BABIP was second behind Marte. His 0.49 walks/strikeouts was third place behind Ketel Marte and Carson Kelly. These metrics reflect desired traits for D-back hitters.
  • A Lovullo comment about the value of a great center fielder had me jump to the conclusion that Marte will play there and Flores would play at second. And despite the potential loss of Flores, Marte might play either position.

Dano: Somehow I missed both of those news items, actually. Not surprising, I suppose, as I’ve spent the last week and a half mainly packing up my house (which sold, woo hoo!). But honestly, neither one surprises me. McFarland I will not miss, though he has eaten a lot of mop-up innings for us over the past couple of years. Disappointed to hear about Fez, though...I grew very fond of him once the bat started coming around later in the season and he began to look like he was having fun again. My understanding is that, when he was with the Mets, he was a joyous player and a great guy to have in the dugout, even when he wasn’t playing, and it was nice to see that begin to come out in AZ in the latter half of the year. It was a pricey option, though, and the purpose he seemed to serve for us was as a part-time role-player, so I’m not terribly surprised that management didn’t ultimately want to pay that much to keep him.

Steven: Not really. Flores was hurt for most of the year and while he did bounce back towards the latter part, they could use that money on a significant bullpen piece. McFarland was a numbers casualty. The team has so many young pitchers coming up that could see bullpen time and he just didn’t do well enough this year after injury. I’m sure they’ll look to bring him back on minor league deal if he doesn’t get any bites in free agency.

Wesley: Not at all surprised, but I could have seen the team holding on to Flores for the reasons stated. I am really surprised that McFarland stayed on the roster the whole season.

What do you see as the main issues the team needs to address this winter?

Jack: It depends on what they intend to do with Ketel Marte, but I think whether Ketel plays mostly CF or 2b, they will prioritize outfield depth and bullpen depth. They will always be on the lookout for value. I can see him bringing in a starting pitcher possibly too. If a deal comes along that Mike Hazen feels will provide a lot of value, he’ll go for it, no matter the composition of the roster. It makes him unpredictable, but it’s a sensible approach at this point.

James: While some question whether or not Ketel Marte will play CF in 2020, I think Mike Hazen will be looking to add at least one more outfielder, regardless. The team has been short on outfield depth for two years now. With the departures of Jarrod Dyson and Adma Jones, nothing has changed in that department. They need to improve their offense and outfielders can be good for that. I also think Mike Hazen will be looking to augment the bullpen. He seems to like to hunt for high-leverage pitching bargains. I don’t see that trend changing much.

Makakilo: Three main issues to address:

  • Win more games in the NL West Division. This metric is an advance measure of whether the team is on-track to reach the playoffs. Perhaps this metric tipped the balance at the trade-deadline away from going all-in to reach the playoffs toward adding future value. “Every team that makes the playoffs plays well within their Division. At one point we were 14-15 under 500 against our own Division rivals. I take that personal. I let our guys know that’s not satisfactory.” -- Torey Lovullo. How can that issue be addressed in the off-season? Gather and analyze information on the NL West teams - including their stadiums, players, coaches, and strategies.
  • Score more runs per game. “I conclude that somewhere between 0.3 and 0.4 runs-per- game would add 5 wins.” -- Makakilo. How can that issue be addressed? An AZ Snake Pit article indicated that the D-backs need to get consistently on-base, need stubborn at-bats to wear down the opposing pitchers, and need to define when to be “ultra-aggressive” and when to be patient.
  • Improve pitching. The new pitching coach, Matt Herges will likely improve the pitching in the following four areas: bullpen - improve win % in 1-run games (repeat what he did for the Giants in 2019), make pitchers better with his creative skills and communication skills (two of the four reasons he was hired), effectively coach pitchers who shuffle back and forth between the Majors and minors (like he did at the start of 2018), and enhance effective use of analytics (like he did for Bumgarner).

Dano: Anyone who can help, and that includes starting pitching especially. But really, since I’m not expecting us to make a big splash, I’m with Jack on this. Outfield and bullpen. I don’t have any faith that Souza will be back (or, frankly, that he’ll be any good if he does return), and Adam Jones didn’t wind up being a good solution in right field, so basically we’re looking at a hopefully healthy Peralta in left and Marte (maybe) in center as our trusted returning starters. We need a solid RF, and a solid fourth outfielder as well--as much as I love Tim Locastro, I’d like someone more like Dyson-with-a-functioning-bat on the roster as well. As for the bullpen, I could repeat the Greg Holland/Fernando Rodney/Bruce Boxleitner “salvaged toaster oven that caught fire eventually” metaphor, but...well, I guess I just did. Come on, guys, go out and spend full price for a new one. Seriously. Please.

Steven: They have outfield issues, in both the starting corner spots and depth. You could even make the case that Marte is a concern with his back issues, as almost every human being can attest to those never going away. I’d expect them to offer Souza arbitration, as even at $5-6 million, that’s fine backup money in the open market. Of course, they could decline and target an OF upgrade with that extra money.

With the Flores option declined, they’ll need to find someone to fill a spot in the infield whether that’s 2nd or 3rd is up in the air. If not filled externally, is that Josh Rojas or Andy Young? Or would they target a cheap bounceback option like Jason Kipnis?

As always, the bullpen needs work but there’s some youngsters waiting in the wings ready for their chance.

Wesley: I think the team should stockpile prospects, and trade away Ray and Peralta. There are some holes in the outfield, but I think the team really should try to build a wide base of players to hopefully build a long term, successful, and cheap core. Then spend money on the right players. Easy, right?

Who’s the best baseball player sharing your initials?

Jack: Hey, I get two Hall of Famers. The best Shortstop of the 1920’s, Joe Sewell, and John Smoltz. Here is a link to Sewell’s Bio Page from the SABR Bio Project (Which is a VERY cool place to spend some time)

James: My initials result in far fewer players than I expected. The best position player with my initials is Jose Altuve. At 38.5 bWAR and climbing, I can live with that, especially since I have liked the young man since he forced his way into the majors. I am far less fortunate with pitchers. The best, ranked by WAR, is Johnny Antonelli (31.2 bWAR). He lost two seasons from his best years due to the Korean War. Jake Arrieta (24.0 bWAR) might possibly catch him, but only if he can turn back the clock a bit. He still needs nearly eight more wins above replacement and he is already on the wrong side of the aging curve.

Makakilo: The best is Christy Mathewson.

  • He pitched 27 innings in the 1905 World Series - allowing ZERO earned runs while striking out 18 batters and walking one batter.
  • Career bWAR: 97.6.
  • Career ERA: 2.13.
  • Hall of Fame.

Dano: Well, crap, it’s obvious, innit? I’m not even gonna look at the bio project thing (okay, I’m totally gonna look, but not right now). David Peralta, our very own Freight Train, for the win!

Steven: I have no idea who or what a Sal Bando is, but he’s my guy. I’m sure I made some old people mad. But seriously, he was a fantastic 3rd baseman for Athletics, accumulating 60+ WAR over 15ish years.

Wesley: if you use my first name, Clayton, Carlos Beltran with 69.6 WAR. If I wanted to make it a little more difficult and use my middle name, Wade Boggs comes up with 91.4 WAR.. So I get TWO Hall of Fame position players.

For pitchers I get two guys I have never heard of. Charlie Buffinton, with 60.7 WAR, who pitched from 1882 to 1892. With my middle name, I get… Wally Bunker with 7.2 WAR. Bunker pitched from 1963 to 1971. I guess Boggs stole all the WAR on that one.