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SnakePit Round Table: At the closing of the year

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Let’s look back at 2019!

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Prohibited New Year’s Eve fireworks from Poland Photo by Patrick Pleul/picture alliance via Getty Images

Arizona got Kole in their stocking. What do you think of the signing?

Edbigghead: On the surface I feel it is an excellent signing considering the D-backs had a hole in RF and Kole’s potential for massive dongs. The bonus is that Ray was not traded for a corner outfielder and Calhoun’s contract is reasonable.

Jack: I don’t hate the signing, but I’m not excited by it. I preferred Corey Dickerson, as i think he’s a better hitter, but Kole is not a bad player. Just very little upside here. He’s not going to all of a sudden start hitting for higher average, and his power levels are not likely to go up, and his range and defense doesn’t get better from here either.

Wesley: Meh? I’m more excited for the signing than last year’s OF signings. At least he’s good defensively and not Mark freakin’ Trumbo out there.

Turambar: It’s not a world changing deal but it addresses a need for the team right now, so I’m cool with it. He’ll hit some thicc dongs and strike out a bunch, but overall we just need him to provide some value for the next couple years while the higher upside guys on the farm develop.

Keegan: As long as he can stay healthy and keep his knee intact, I’m cool with it. There wasn’t much out there to choose from to begin with. My feeling is that Marcell Ozuna and Starling Marte are too high priced for their caliber as the best options on the free agent and trade market. Maybe that changes as we get closer to the season.

Makakilo: The signing was great for the following three reasons:

One of his best friends is Mike Trout - some of Trout’s mindset/excellence may have rubbed off on Calhoun.

His contributions are multi-dimensional - left-handed power-hitter, above-average right-field defense, and his personality is fun in the clubhouse.

  • Power hitter measures: 42.6% hard hit (73rd percentile), 11.2% barrels.
  • Caveat: inconsistent measures of defense follow:

OAA: +2 in 2018, 0 in 2019 (+3 when catching in front and to his right).
RF UZR/150: +3.5 in 2018, +4.5 in 2019.
RF DRS: +7 in 2018, -1 in 2019.

In the last four years, his OPS was consistent with one exception. Without that exception, his OPS averaged .767. That exception was the first half of 2018, when his OPS was .556. What happened?

  • In June of 2018, Chad Stewart wrote that it wasn’t his leg-kick, plate discipline, or hard hitting. He talked about two possibilities: His high ground-ball rate and his low BABIP (7th most unlucky in the Majors).
  • Fabian Ardaya wrote that ahead of the 2018 season, Calhoun worked on his swing to extract more power.
  • The FanGraphs split page showed that in 2018, teams increased their frequency of shifting on Calhoun from 45% to 73%. That is huge!
  • In June of 2018, Calhoun injured his oblique. A Rotowire contributor wrote, that “During the absence, Calhoun revised his batting stance, switching to a crouch that loosened up his swing and gave him more of an uppercut plane, and he went on to unleash a 10-homer July.”
  • It is likely that he loosening up his swing in June of 2018, which allowed Calhoun to hit better against the shift. In 2019, that conclusion was strengthened by his wOBA, which was higher against the shift vs no-shift (.346 vs .256).

James: Given the other choices on the market, I am just fine with the signing. Calhoun has been steady and reliable for the last five years. He doesn’t come with injury concerns and he is a capable defender. It’s not a sexy sign by any means. It is, however, a safe one. The team is better with him than without him. I would still like to see them find another bat for the team, even one that might put Calhoun into a platoon, but getting a full-time outfielder was the first necessary step towards improvement. Now that they have a capable, average player, they can focus on making upgrades.

Dano: I honestly don’t know a lot about Calhoun, so I’m broadly inclined to go with the consensus here, which seems to be “yeah, that’ll do.” Looking at his numbers in terms of hitting for power vs. hitting for average, he strikes me as being kind of another Souza-type player, at least in terms of what the label was on the Souza box, which doesn’t thrill me because of how that signing turned out. He does seem to be a lot less injury-prone, though, so here’s hoping. Not exciting by any means, but plus defense and plus power would be nice from the right field spot.

We end 2019. So, how did it go overall?

Edbigghead: For the Diamondbacks? It went aite. One one hand the D-backs did not make the playoffs. On the other hand the team did field a top 5 NL MVP candidate in Ketel Marte, and also successfully replaced Paul Goldschmidt at 1st base with a breakout season from Christian Walker. Hazen was able to trade Greinke for 4 prospects and some salary dump, plus he picked up Gallen and Leake. Oh, and Dodger evil was snuffed out by our good friends in Washington.

Jack: There were individual high points, as Matt mentioned Ketel Marte being a legit MVP candidate being the biggest one. Getting good value out of the Goldy trade was another. And of course it was usually fun watching Greinke pitch, (and hit) other than the first couple of starts. But ultimately it was another season of essentially being average, with very little real sense that they could contend to get to the World Series. When they were eliminated from the WC they were just 2 games over .500 . It was nice that they finished with 85 wins and all, but it wasn’t THAT thrilling.

Makakilo: Three answers:

  • The season - “It wasn’t enough.” – Torey Lovullo
  • Moving on from Goldy and Greinke and Jones/Souza – Their replacements are more than enough to improve the team.
  • The emergence of Marte as a MVP candidate – With Marte and other players who are breakout candidates, the future is promising.

Turambar: Excellent. I entered into this season expecting the Dbacks to perform at or slightly above whale shit level, and instead they compete for the WC, Marte ascended to MVP level and Hazen stocked up our farm system and starting pitching with young talent. So much better than expected, which during a “rebuilding year” I’ll chalk up as a win.

Keegan: In terms of D’backs baseball, much better than I anticipated. They were without Paul Goldschmidt, Patrick Corbin, and A.J. Pollock from the beginning of the season and traded Zack Greinke midway through, and were still better than the previous season. That’s mind numbing when you sit back and think about it. I couldn’t be more excited about the future.

James: A third season in a row of the team exceeding expectations sure was nice. That’s also three consecutive seasons of winning baseball. It’s officially a streak now. No, this team never looked like a World Series contender. However, it was nice to be rooting for a team that was still playing meaningful games in September. For the season, the team felt very average. Injuries hurt the Diamondbacks early and persisted throughout the season. THe team went from being fairly decent with high upside to scrambling to fill out a full roster. The lack of depth was a telling thing and served as a daily reminder that the team simply was not where it needed to be just yet. It is a continuing work in progress. I like the steps the organization has taken. Adding Carson Kelly, Luke Weaver, and Zac Gallen makes me feel better about the team’s future. The pending arrival of Corbin Martin has me cautiously excited. I want to see this team win another World Series. By the same token, if the 2018-19 stretch of play serves as the new floor for the team, I would be able to get behind that as well.

Dano: I was quite pleased with how things turned out in 2019. We played competitive ball pretty much all season, our offense performed far better than I expected it to with the loss of Goldy, the value we wound up getting from that trade (and his downturn in performance upon arriving in St. Louis) strengthened the club in a lot of areas going forward, as did unloading Greinke at the deadline and getting a decent set of prospects as well as a lot of salary relief. I never believed we were really contenders in 2019, so I wasn’t offended or surprised when that turned out to be the case, and we’re in a much stronger position at the end of 2019 than we were last year. All good.

What was your Diamondbacks highlight?

Edbigghead: The best thing about the year was how the team played overall. After the Goldy trade I know most of us were assuming a terrible 2019 was upon us and all hope was lost. The Diamondbacks surprising us with 85 wins and 2nd place in the NL West (along with somewhat of a wildcard run) is the 2019 highlight of the Diamondbacks for me. Also Tim Locastro.

Jack: Back to Ketel Marte and seeing his reaction to making the all star team. Wish his mom could have seen that.

Turambar: For me it was seeing Marte go from good to god-mode amazing. I would not have dreamed that after trading away Goldy we’d have some one step up to produce as well (and close to Goldy’s best year) while playing an entirely new position. Wondrous

Keegan: Watching Ketel Marte flourish. He works harder in the offseason than I’ve ever seen anyone else. It wasn’t luck. Tim Locastro was just good old school fun.

Makakilo: The Diamondbacks improved the team while increasing sustainability. Was this year’s improvement significant?

  • It was better-than winning 3 more games than the previous season because there were broad-based improvements.
  • Wins-above-average were improved in the outfield, and improved in all positions except first base and pitching.
  • The recent acquisitions of Kole Calhoun and Madison Bumgarner improved the team.
  • Going forward, I like Christian Walker at first base.
  • With the new pitching coach, I anticipate continued development/improvement of the D-back pitchers

James: Ketel Marte is the easy answer. However, my attention was also kept by Carson Kelly. He is what I hoped he would be, even when he was still in St. Louis. He is a legitimate franchise backstop. There were concerns about his bat when he was acquired. While he will neve be Russel Martin at the plate, he is a strong defender and works quite well with the rotation. He entered the season only barely missing out on rookie eligibility and yet he looks like a veteran out there. Beyond that, more Marte and Nick Ahmed. Then more Marte.

Dano: Frankly, I think it has to be that, despite trading away Greinke, we ended the year with what feels like a lot less volatility in our starting rotation, and that it seems like that’s going to carry over into 2020. The rotation is primarily what has given me headaches and anxiety over the last couple of years, and while it’s not brilliant or “best in baseball” or anything like that, it seems like we had a fairly good sense of what we were going to get on any given start by more than half of our rotation by season’s end, and I like that. Kelly was a bit of a roller coaster, and I feel like I recapped a lot of his starts, and Ray is always anxiety-generating, but overall, I feel better going into 2020 than I have the last couple of years.

And, of course, the emergence of Marte and the breakthrough (?) year that Nick Ahmed had at the plate were nice to see as well. Yay.

And the worst thing?

Edbigghead: The Diamondbacks actively looking for a new home and the revelations surrounding that are the most disappointing thing for the Diamondbacks in 2019. I know they are just acting as any business would and doing their due-diligence. However my instinct is that the Diamondbacks are also using their seeking and now the media revelations for posturing (also leverage) should they actually begin negotiations with another city, state, or municipality.

I love this team and I am a native of AZ. I want this team to stay at Chase field for at least the next decade. You have control of the ballpark and the revenue, make the repairs/upgrades soon. Think about staying a bit longer.

Jack: On the field ? Zack Godley falling over and falling apart, again, Luke Weaver getting hurt, and Greg Holland unfortunately validating my deep concerns over his signing.

Turambar : Seeing Souza’s knee blow up in spring training. I still feel so bad for him……

Keegan: Taijuan Walker. I was stoked when we traded for him. I’d been a fan of his from afar for a long time. It’s a shame he didn’t amount to more for the D’backs.

James: The most disappointing thing on the field for me was probably the Luke Weaver injury. He was putting together an impressive run and helping to keep the rotation afloat. Once he went down, Arizona’s lack of depth was quickly exposed. The set-back to Taijuan Walker is a close second. Walker not returning for 2019 put a damper on having a veteran arm to cover the second half of the season in the rotation, much like Buchholz did in 2018. With Weaver and Walker both out and Godley continuing to flounder, the rotation eventually reached a point where it was being held together with bailing wire and duct tape. It made moving Robbie Ray at the deadline almost impossible, even if there had been offers. If Weaver stays healthy all year and Walker returns in June or July, maybe the Diamondbacks squeak into the playoffs. Once there, anything can happen.

Makakilo: Not reaching the playoffs.

Dano: The bullpen. I’m all for finding value wherever it can be found, but pretty much from the get-go the back end of our bullpen failed. Hirano was wretched, Bradley was putrid, Holland was good until very suddenly he wasn’t. Of course, Archie stepped up when he finally got the chance to be our closer, so that’s nice, but come on, this is no way to run a railroad. I’m sure there’s a metric for this, but I’m not quite sure it would be or where one might find it, so I’ll go with this:

  • The Diamondbacks ranked 9th in MLB (5th in the NL) for quality starts, with 67. I know that the concept of the “quality start” is problematic, but still, it will do. [Our starters were, broadly, holding up their end of the deal.]
  • In terms of opponents’ runs per game scored in the seventh, eighth, and ninth innings, the Diamondbacks ranked 17th in MLB, with 1.52 runs allowed. [Our late inning guys were not, so much, holding up their end of the deal.]
  • In the eighth and ninth innings alone, we ranked 20th, with 0.94 runs allowed. [Our back end, especially, was not holding up their end of the deal.]

I know, I know, that doesn’t take blowouts and catchers pitching in relief and so forth into account, but still. Come on, guys. I dunno if it’s a scouting issue or a coaching issue or a talent issue, or all three bundled up together in some proportion, but more than anything else, it was watching the bullpen melt down that made me want to through my TV through the living room window more times than anything else from the D-Backs in 2019.

To put it another way. Our relievers racked up 45 saves in 2019. We blew 24 saves. If half of those saves hadn’t been blown, we would have been in the postseason. So. Please fix this.

What are your expectations for the team in 2020?

Edbigghead: 88 wins or more for the D-backs. I feel like the Dodgers will continue to regress in the win and competitiveness column and that the D-backs will have a better chance of taking the division in 2020 than they had in 2019. With the moves that Hazen has made thus far, and with the potential of keeping Ray on board for 2020, I feel the D-backs have a huge opportunity to show the NL West and fans that they are a winning team and a postseason bound product.

Jack: I don’t have high expectations. Just hard to see a team that’s likely to press towards 90 wins, a potential playoff spot, and real pennant contention. My hope is that they don’t waste prospect capital if all it’s going to do is get them to 85-88 wins and still fall short of the playoffs again. If they are going to go for it, GO FOR IT!

Makakilo: I expect the Diamondbacks to reach the playoffs. Details follow:

  • Hazen found opportunities to improve the team while keeping a strong farm system (ranked about #5). With uncommitted budget remaining, I expect the team will find more ways to improve the team before the start of the season.
  • It’s about creating a culture of winning. Who knows whether this season will be the best opportunity in several years? If the right opportunity happens, the D-backs might go above their budget.
  • The value of outfielders at Chase Field and the NL West cannot be overstated. Calhoun and Marte will be much better than Souza, Jones, and Dyson.
  • Compared to last season, projection systems predict Marte will be worth about 3 WAR less and Christian Walker will be worth about 2 WAR less. If those two players can play at last season’s level (and they can), that will be 5 extra wins!

Turambar: Contend for the WC throughout the year, and as Jack mentioned don’t sell top prospects. 2020 still feels like a rebuilding year to me despite the gains made this season and the development of some players. Too many question marks remain on the squad for me to truly believe we’ll be a true contender next season.

Keegan: Not much more than last season. Stay the course. I want to see Daulton Varsho and Kristian Robinson continue to develop. This could be a really good decade if all goes well.

James: Keegen stated my thoughts exactly; stay the course. At this point, I expect about 85 wins or so. While I would love to see more, I just don’t see where those wins come from. Finishing with at least 82 wins feels like a must.

Dano: I hope for another winning season, an entertaining (if stressful) ride on the WC contention roller coaster for most of the year, and who knows, maybe even making it into the one-game playoff in 2020? But keep the focus on player development and retention of prospects, per Jack, Turambar, Keegan, and James.

Do you have a New Year’s resolution?

Edbigghead: Initially I was going to say no, but after thinking about it I do. Life is short - My resolution is to make more time to hang with my family, friends, Brutes, and fellow baseball fans. Afterall, we might not make it to tomorrow. Cheers, bros.

Jack: I don’t really make resolutions, just hope to continue getting in better shape and have fun with friends and family. I guess if I had to make one resolution it would be to try to be less of an a__hole.

Turambar: Get through my wedding in one piece.

Keegan: Not particularly. I’d like to be less impulsive/reactive and quick to anger, but that’s an ongoing journey.

James: Since there are many important life issues currently up in the air, I don’t really have any resolutions. Right now, I am just trying to figure out where I am, where I am going, and how I am getting there. The next four month will provide some clarity (I hope).

Makakilo: Keep in mind that life is full of wonders and many possibilities are not obvious.

Dano: Goddamnit, you had to ask this question, didn’t you? Yes, as a matter of fact, I do have one in mind, but I haven’t told anyone about it because once you tell someone, they will hold you accountable and expect you to actually get it done.

But fine. F*ck it. Periodically over the past four years or so, I’ve been working on my second novel. I’ve made two sustained runs at it, and have accumulated about 90,000 words of reasonably functional prose (little of which is recyclable, sadly) before painting myself into various narrative corners or following too many unwieldy tangents and losing the main thread. Having my marriage implode was also a distraction, but that’s long past and done now, and I no longer have the house to deal with either, happily. So.

It’s time for me to sh*t or get off the pot with this. I’ve got my plot pretty well figured out, I’ve got my characters at least somewhat established, I broadly know who the good guys and the bad guys are, and what their motivations are for what all they’re getting up to, and what it is they’re actually getting up to. It’s time to write the damn thing.

By the time March 26 rolls around, which is Opening Day for the 2020 MLB regular season, I resolve to have a (probably very rough) first draft of the novel completed, with a beginning, a middle, and an end, hopefully in more or less the right order.

There. I put it out there. This is my resolution. I think it can be done. Damnit.