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The Arizona Diamondbacks spring so far

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We may not be playing meaningful games yet, but I can see them looming in the distance...

Colroado Rockies v Arizona Diamondbacks Photo by Rich Pilling/Getty Images

An off-day, the final one of the Cactus League season, seems a good point at which to review the highs and lows so far, both on a team and individual level. Let’s begin with the obvious caveat: spring training stats are all but completely meaningless. This is a result of their relatively small sample size and the artificial nature of the contests, e.g. games where pitchers may be working on new pitches. Still, after four months starved of ANY kind of baseball, we’ll take “all but completely meaningless” over nothing at all, amIrite?

Hitting

The D-backs have struggled. This spring, they rank 23rd for batting average and on-base percentage, 29th for slugging percentage and 28th for OPS [bottom, incidentally, in the last two are the Cardinals for whom A Certain Somebody has a mediocre .718 OPS this spring]. The current overall OPS for Arizona is .697, which is sixty-three points down on last season. However, I looked at the spring OPS last season for all 30 MLB teams, and compared it with their a) overall 2018 OPS and b) OPS through the end of April. Both showed moderate negative correlations of -.109 and -.224. In other words, the better-hitting teams in spring tended to perform LESS well once the season started, especially over the first month.

Individual

Let’s look at the best and worst on the individual level, even though the sample sizes here are less “questionable” and more “laughable”. Let’s draw the cut-off line at 25 at-bats; here are the top and bottom three.

  • Wilmer Flores: 12-for-27, HR, 7 RBI, .444/.531/.704 = 1.235 OPS
  • Yasmany Tomas: 13-for-29, 7 RBI, .448/.467/.621 = 1.087 OPS
  • Christian Walker: 14-for-37, HR, 11 RBI, .378/.415/.622 = 1.036 OPS
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  • Matt Szczur: 6-for-38, HR, 2 RBI, .158/.179/.263 = .443 OPS
  • Socrates Brito: 7-for-43, RBI, .163/.159/.186 = .345 OPS
  • Kelby Tomlinson: 2-for-25, RBI, .080/.148/.120 = .268 OPS

Flores is quietly putting together a very nice spring, without much fanfare. I like his K:BB ratio of 5:4, and wish Tomas had shown something similiar. Instead, it’s 7:1, and his figures, while impressive, are heavily dependent on a BABIP of .591. probably close to twice what’s sustainable. The same, to a slightly lesser extent, goes for Walker. I think I’m generally more impressed by those with good BB numbers than high batting averages. Doing the former would be Kevin Cron (7 BB in 31 PA), Steven Souza (6 in 39) and Nick Ahmed (5 in 31). Though Souza’s 13 strikeouts also leads the team.

At the other end, we find a number of players on the fringes of the roster, who are not apparently doing much to bolster their changes. Brito has apparently decided he can’t walk his way off the island, with no walks in 44 plate-appearances - apparently forgetting he can un-walk his way off the roster. And with no minor-league options left, the future for the Socratic method looks Nietzschean: something something abyss. Despite 636 major-league games between them, Szczur and Tomlinson are doing little to show they should be a part of the 2019 Diamondbacks The signing of Adam Jones may be their death-knell, directly for Szczur and through the knock-on impact on infield playing time for Tomlinson.

Base-running and fielding

We only have basic statistics available for these, but let’s still take a look and see if we can detect any omen in the smoke. On the base-paths, the D-backs have been relatively static, with just 12 stolen-bases, compared to a pre-season median of 15.5. They haven’t been too successful either, with a 66.7% rate (six CS). And most of the bases they have swiped have come from people who probably will not be on the Opening Day roster: no expected player there has more than one SB. Conversely, Arizona catchers have not been very good at stopping the running game. Their 24 SB allowed is most on the Cactus League, and an 82.8% success rate will need improved on in the regular season.

The defense elsewhere has been a bit of a mixed bag. Arizona’s Defensive Efficiency Ratio (the percentage of balls in play converted into outs) is .696, the best in the Cactus League. They’ve also been very good at turning the double-play, with their figure of 28 being behind only the Royals across all of spring, going into play today. However, they have also made 23 errors, the eighth-most in MLB. Cron has been a particular butcher, with five errors in just 54 innings in the field. However, again, no-one whom I’d regard as a lock for Opening Day has more than one E to their name this spring.

Pitching

The D-backs pitching has been quite impressive - though as with the hitting, it would be foolish even to imply this correlates at all with regular season success. However, their collective ERA of 4.24 sits second in the Cactus League [generally regarded as more hitter-friendly than the Grapefruit League, due to altitude and drier air], behind only the Dodgers’ 3.79. What’s a little concerning is that this has been achieved despite a low level of strikeouts: Arizona’s 188 K’s ranks only tied for 23rd across all teams. With their walks (80) being only middle of the pack, it seems likely the ERA is dependent on the team turning balls in play into outs, which as noted above is something they have been good at so far.

Individual

As with the hitters, let’s take a look at what each pitcher has accomplished. We’re talking even smaller sample sizes here, with only 13 pitchers having reached the (entirely arbitrary, admittedly) cut-off point of six innings. It’s worth noting more than half of those likely to end up in our bullpen on Opening Day, are all well short of that figure: Andrew Chafin (4.2 IP, 5.79 ERA); Greg Holland (3.2 IP, 12.27 ERA), Yoshihisa Hirano (3 IP, 0.00 ERA) and Archie Bradley (2.2 IP, 10.12 ERA). That said, here are the top and bottom three, by ERA:

  • Marc Rzepczynski: 6.1 IP, 4 H, 0 ER, 5:4 K:BB, 0.00 ERA
  • Luke Weaver: 11.1 IP, 11 H, 2 ER, 10:0 K:BB, 1.59 ERA
  • Nick Green: 11.1 IP, 8 H, 2 ER, 8:10 K:BB, 1.59 ERA
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  • Merrill Kelly: 10.2 IP, 8 H, 7 ER, 7:7 K:BB, 5.91 ERA
  • Matt Andriese: 11.2 IP, 12 H, 8 ER, 11:2 K:BB, 6.17 ERA
  • Zack Godley: 7.1 IP, 9 H, 6 ER, 6:4 K:BB, 7.36 ERA

With the departure of Matt Koch from the list, ‘Scrabble’ becomes the man with most innings and a zero ERA. The likely loss of T.J. McFarland for the start of the season has perhaps opened the door for the left-hander to get a roster spot, even if that K:BB makes me uncomfortable. And speaking of which, compare and contrast Weaver and Green. Both have the same innings and earned runs. But look at those strikingly different K:BB ratios. With two starts left, Kelly has a shot at becoming the first D-back to throw ten-plus spring innings without a walk since Leo Rosales in 2010 (10.2 IP). Green, meanwhile, appears to be channeling the spirit of 2007 Livan Hernandez.

Indeed, based on spring performances, Kelly has probably leap-frogged over Godley for the #3 spot in our rotation. The recurrence of Godley’s early control issues is certainly worrying: I was hoping these would have magically been cured over the winter, somehow or other. He and Kelly have been underwhelming this spring, though both have not been as bad recently as they seemed in the early going. It’ll be interesting to see what the depth chart of our starting pitchers looks like behind the expected front five. Matt Koch is likely near the top, but Andriese has also been getting a long look this spring. Those two men are #1 and #2 for Cactus League innings pitched to this point.

Pre-season play resumes for the D-backs tomorrow, with a night game against the Padres at Salt River Fields.