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SnakePit Round Table: Hello, baseball, my old friend...

With the NFL out of the way, attention now returns to baseball. Woo-hoo!

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Bag of Baseballs

Who should be the D-backs closer in 2019? And will they be?

James: Until the team signed Greg Holland, I was looking at Bradley or Lopez to be the closer. Now, I have a feeling the role is Holland’s to lose during spring training, much like it was Boxberger’s to lose last season. I don’t have a real problem with Holland closing games, but if he stumbles early, pull the plug and get Bradley or Lopez in there to get the experience they need.

Makakilo: Three serious contenders are Greg Holland, Yoshihisa Hirano, and Archie Bradley. I rank Holland and Hirano as too close to call, with Bradley in third place. Details follow:

Experience matters. Hirano has the most, with Holland in second.

  • Hirano, age 34 (35 in March), 1041 innings, familiar with D-back catchers.
  • Holland, age 32, 423.1 innings, 11.2 innings in postseason with 3 ER.
  • Bradley, age 26, 322.0 innings, 6.0 innings in postseason with 2 ER.

Goose-egg conversion percentage (see link) is an important stat for closers.

  • Full season 2018, Hirano had a better goose-egg conversion percentage than Holland (85.2% vs 81%).
  • But it may not be that simple – looking at how Holland pitched with the Nationals in 2018, his goose-egg percentage conversion was 88.9%, which would be better than Hirano’s 85.2 %.
  • What about Archie Bradley’s goose-egg conversion? 76.7% is clearly third place.

What about Yoan Lopez? Ignoring his lesser experience in the Majors (9 innings in 10 games, earned 3 goose-eggs), do his pitches have velocity & movement that make them unhittable? As a proxy, let’s look at 2018 swinging strike rate from FanGraphs, which seems to show that Holland and Hirano are more unhittable than Lopez:

  • 13.1 % Greg Holland
  • 12.3 % Yoshihisa Hirano
  • 10.9 % Yoan Lopez
  • 9.0 % Archie Bradley

Keegan: Because I feel that this season is going to be fairly uninteresting to begin with, I would have liked to see Yoan Lopez in the role. I think he could bring some real fire and attitude towards the end of the game and it’s only a matter of time before he seizes his opportunity. It appears that now he might be on the outside looking in for a bullpen spot. Now that Greg Holland has been signed it’s hard to see how it isn’t his role to lose. Seems to be how Hazen likes to fill the closer role, so I don’t expect this season to be any different.

Jim: It’s Holland’s job to lose. His signing fitted exactly the pattern we saw in Mike Hazen’s first two seasons, with Fernando Rodney and Brad Boxberger: get someone with experience of the position, without paying “closer rates.” However, he will need to show he’s not the guy who was truly dreadful for the Cardinals at the start of last year. At least he’ll get a full spring training, unlike 2018. Should he be? Sure. I don’t think he’s the “best” reliever - I’d give that label to Hirano - but you shouldn’t have your best reliever be the closer, and restricted to appearing in entirely artificial save situations. If he can perform more like Rodney rather than Boxberger (and I find myself amused to be writing that, given the traumas of the Fernando Rodney Experience in 2017), we’ll be fine with that.

Who should be the D-backs CF in 2019? And will they be?

James: A.J. Pollock Socrates Brito would be my pick to start the season in center, given the lack of other available options. Simply give Brito the ABs and see what he can do with them. It’s time to sink or swim. If I were a betting man though, I would say that BRito is going to be doing well if he can crack the roster as the team’s 4th outfielder. My suspicion is that the job is Ketel Marte’s until such time as they get a true center fielder, or Marte just fails miserably. Should Marte be able to more or less hold his own, they will probably ride that performance all the way until next winter.

Makakilo: Ketel Marte volunteered. Two reasons I like that:

  • He must have reasons (beyond speed and athleticism) to think he will be successful in CF.
  • He wants to play CF – always a good signpost of the possibility of success .

Keegan: I do not like the idea of moving Ketel Marte to CF, so I say that Socrates Brito should get the most reps there in spring training. I don’t question Marte’s athleticism and ability to play multiple positions, but he is an above average defender at second base and should remain there. Then again he does have one of the fastest average sprint speeds in the majors which is an asset for a center fielder, so he wouldn’t be the worst option to fill the void. It’d be a real shame for Brito to never break through as a full time regular in the majors with Arizona. This appears to be his final chance to prove himself.

Jim: Yeah, I’m not convinced that Marte is the best bet, but the options are limited. The free-agent market is very poor, and the internal options are all of the no-hit defender type. I can can see Marte being solid on offence and… well, I hope for competent in center. He’s got speed, but it’s going to be a learning curve. If that’s the plan, I hope Ketel is already at Salt River Fields, running down fly-balls in the gap. Five weeks of spring training ain’t gonna cut it.

What do you think about the signing of Wilmer Flores?

James: I think it means that Ketel Marte is the team’s primary plan for center fielder. He appears to be the team’s primary option to play second base, in lieu of Marte. I would rather see Flores used the same way they used Descalso, that being as a utility guy able to move around enough to still get a healthy number of ABs. By the end of the year, I don’t think the signing of Flores makes a lick of difference to this team one way or the other.

Makakilo: Great signing! Five reasons:

  • He has hit lefties better, until 2018. His split is gone – meaning he can play non-platoon. I am impressed!
  • He hits well - better offense is a D-back priority for this season.
  • He has position flexibility. Although his defense is best at second, he can play third base and first base. Flexibility is valuable.
  • When he plays second base, he frees Ketel Marte to move to CF, a hole in the D-back lineup.
  • Team option for 2020.

Keegan: Meh, I’ll miss Desclutchso. Flores should put forward the same quality of play. Difficult to get over-excited about a utility bench player.

Jim: It does seem that flexibility is going to be the keyword on the 2019 Diamondbacks. It feels like half the roster will end up being asked to play at multiple positions. I suspect we may end up seeing a lot of platooning: there aren’t many spots on the diamond where Arizona has a player who’s equally good against both left- and right-handed pitching. The 2018 D-backs had four players qualify for the batting title: Goldschmidt, Ahmed, Marte and Peralta. It’ll be interesting to see how many they have in 2019. I’d take the under on them matching last year.

It was revealed Bryce Harper was interested in being a D-back. How would you have reacted if the team had signed him?

James: I might have started wondering if Ken Kendrick was suffering from some sort of terminal illness and was trying to put together a winner before he dies. Letting Pollock, Goldschmidt, and Corbin go, along with a slew of other players and then signing Harper would make no sense. It sure would have been interesting to see him in Arizona for the next five or six seasons though. Anything beyond that might get messy in a hurry.

Makakilo: Bryce Harper is a big-market, crazy-money type of signing. Bewildered would begin to describe my reaction. Then I would wait for the other shoe to drop - who would be leaving the team?

Keegan: Confused and upset considering everything else that has transpired this offseason. I’m confused because the moves Hazen has made leads me to believe that he still thinks this team can compete. I don’t agree and feel that the offseason has been half done once again. If you’re going to trade away the face of the franchise, lose a significant arm in your rotation to free agency, and lose a solid regular (when he is on the field) now would have been an opportune time to extract as much value as possible out of existing assets. After Goldy was traded, I would have unloaded the magazine and reloaded with the hope of competing again when Greinke and Tomas’ contracts fell off the books. I would have been pretty vocal in my displeasure if Goldy was unloaded just to watch this team turn around and sign Harper. I don’t put a lot of weight in the rumor to begin with though.

Jim: I’d far rather have seen us retain Pollock and Goldschmidt. I’m no fan of Harper to begin with, but I would likely have adapted eventually: I did with Greinke, whom I never liked when he was with the Dodgers, largely because of his role in Hinske-gate. However, I think Zack is just that kind of personality. Not sure Harper deserves quite such a pass. It’s interesting to speculate what might have happened if Harper and Greinke had both been free-agents the same season. Might Ken Kendrick have gone for the position player instead?

Is there anything else the team needs to address?

James: The team entered the offseason needing to address center field, the starting pitching, the bullpen, and bench depth. The team still needs a center fielder, starting pitching, and bench depth. Flores was a good depth signing, but it sure looks like he is now going to be the team’s primary second baseman, with Ketel Marte shifting to center. Marte is not a center fielder. Sliding the players around like that also brings the team back to needing another depth option for the bench. Weaver and Kelly filling out two of the starting pitching rolls feels reckless to me. I’ll be somewhat surprised if the two can combine for 320+ innings of quality pitching

Makakilo: Better Offense! Runs scored needs to bounce back to average of all teams (721 runs). 721 runs is a very reasonable goal despite losing Goldschmidt and Pollock!! I have confidence in the new hitting coach (Darnell Coles). I am looking for a big Souza bounce-back.

Another factor: Baseballs are more spherical (see link), making the baseballs travel farther when hit – more than overcoming the humidor’s impact.

Keegan: Much of that will come into focus as spring training progresses, but there are still some obvious holes. Can’t ever have enough starting pitchers on hand as we’ve seen in recent seasons. Clay Buchholz is still a free agent, so if his arm is healthy he would be my first choice to give it another shot although I’m not entirely optimistic he could replicate what he accomplished last season. In agreement with James, I’m not sold with moving Marte to CF and having Flores get the majority of reps at second base.

Jim: I imagine a lot of it will shake itself out during spring training, things like batting order, bullpen roles, etc. I’m not thinking there will be too many more additions, though I’d have said more or less the same before they signed Flores and Holland! With basically half the free-agent market still remaining unsigned, it’s still possible a bargain center fielder could be snatched up.

What’s your reaction to Arizona creating a “mental skills” department?

James: I’ll just leave this right here.

Actually, it’s probably about time that team’s started paying attention to the fact that baseball as a career and way of life requires a certain type of focus and dedication. Without know precisely what the role entails at each level, it’s hard to judge things one way or the other.

Makakilo: Jubilant, euphoric, and floating high on clouds of miraculous joy. I am jazzed about the mental skills department - maybe because it aligns with how I think about baseball, or maybe because mental skills will increase team wins. In any case, as Steve Gilbert’s article implied, it will increase the effectiveness of existing programs like the fundamentals program and the physical programs.

The department’s goal appears to be long term: give D-back player prospects a solid foundation of mental skills, so they will effectively deal with their challenges, especially future challenges that cannot be known today.

Although much of what they develop will be proprietary to give the D-backs an edge over other teams, I will monitor their efforts by reading twitter and on-line articles.

When I notice something interesting, I will write about baseball players who exemplify outstanding mental skills. As part of my re-energized preparation, in the next few months I will read six mental skill books. Yikes, that a lot of reading, and I will need to make time to get it done.

Keegan: Surprised a Mike Hazen led front office didn’t implement this sooner. Reading the press release it sounds like the mental skills department will target their focus towards the minor league system and I think that’s a good start. As we saw in the comments section of that announcement, there are some that don’t see the value in a mental skills department. There are bound to be professional baseball players that fail to see the value as well. For that reason, it would be wise for the organization to not force that on any one player and instead use it as a resource when needed. During my time as a competitive athlete, the mental aspect was just as important as the physical, so I view it as a positive.

Jim: A cheap investment which could pay off handsomely. I don’t know what the budget for the department is, but if it’s as much as Greg Holland’s guaranteed salary, I’d be surprised. It’s unlikely to be a bad thing - though having said that, there is a risk of over-complicating “the process”, as we saw with the damn “tunneling” approach to hitting. I hope they tailor it to individuals, rather than trying to adopt a ‘one size fits all’ tactic.

Paying any attention to the Super Bowl?

James: Hopefully, the commercials are better than they have been the last few years. Otherwise, I’m not sure if I can remember a Super Bowl I cared less about than the one being played this season.

Makakilo: Commercials! Yet good books beckon me.

Keegan: Strictly for Tony Romo’s commentating. He is obscenely good at his job and has been since he stepped into the broadcast booth. It’s hardly surprising how good he is when you consider that he was an undrafted free agent and had to work his tail off to become the starting QB of the Dallas Cowboys.. His football IQ is off the charts and now we are privileged to see it first hand. It helps to have an infectious enthusiasm for the sport that he is commentating.

Jim: Well, that was underwhelming. Dull game, totally DREADFUL half-time show, and few of the commercials will stick in my mind. Thanks, football: do not trouble us again until November.