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SnakePit Round Table: Happy Easter!

I’m eating chocolate and watching Game of Thrones, but hope you had a good one, however you spent it.

Just Born Celebrates 50th Anniversary of Marshmallow Peeps Candy Photo by William Thomas Cain/Getty Images

20+ games in, do you have a handle on who the 2019 D-backs are?

Keegan: Absolutely not. We’d be naive to believe otherwise. I’d hope we’d draw off our experience last season and remember that anything can happen. They’re at least watchable, and that’s what matters to me.

Dano: As a counterpoint to Keegan, I would say that yes, in fact, we do. We’ve got a team that’s going to be surprisingly competitive in most games--as of now, we’ve only been shut out once in 2019. We’re going to score runs. But we’re also going to give up runs, with a profoundly unreliable starting rotation and a bullpen that’s pretty shaky all down the line. Consistency is going to be an issue, both in terms of the bats and in terms of the pitching. As Keegan notes, the games are definitely watchable, because we never seem to be entirely out of it; by the same token, though, there’s almost never going to be a game that we put out of reach early for our opponents. I stick with my preseason prediction that we’re going to play something a bit less than .500 ball the whole way, which is what we’re doing so far. I think that what we’ve seen so far in 2019, for good and for ill, is what we’ve got, and what we have to look forward to.

Makakilo: Three C’s describe the D-backs. Create winning chances by scoring runs late in games, even when behind. Consistent offense that scores at least 5 runs in most games. Contagious passion for winning that is fun to watch!

James: Assuming they continue performing around a .500 pace, I think this team will be much like last season’s The team will rely on pitching and “defense” to keep them close. The offense will struggle from time to time to score enough, resulting in lots of runners left on base. Hopefully Escobar, Peralta, Walker, and possibly Jones can help with that.

Jack: I think they are gradually reverting to more or less what we thought they would be. The offense has been better than expected on the whole, but they came into today’s game closer to the middle of the NL pack in OPS+ (T-8th) and Run/G (7th) than near the top. Long term, I still think the offense ends up BELOW AVG as a unit. The pitching line has been slowly improving, coming in ranked 10th in NL. And if you take out 3 bad outings by Matt Koch and the John Ryan Murphy outing, the line is quite a bit better. After today, I’d gather they will move up a slot as well. So right now they look like a league avg team, and have pretty much earned their .500 record. Thats slightly better than expected to date, and in a slightly different form, but it’s still very early. I haven’t seen anything to really make me think it’s a whole lot different than what I thought coming in.

Wesley: This team is not going to be the worst team, nor the best, but perhaps the definition of mediocre. I see a very inconsistent team t xx

Michael: We all expected close to a .500 team and they look like a .500 team.

Turambar: Meh. No clue yet. They’re better than I thought, but that’s kinda all I’m certain on right now. Still a very long road to trek…...

What do you think about the trade for Blake Swihart?

Keegan: Moving beyond the initial frustration of adding yet ANOTHER catcher to the 40 man roster I’d like to believe that the incentive in this deal was to add international bonus money. Hazen swapped one flailing asset for another, but also added $500k in international bonus money along the way. He’s done well recently with international signings and it’s an area where the organization can make huge strides in rebuilding the farm system. If the primary motivation was instead to try and restore Swihart, well then I can’t really defend that.

Dano: Aside from having the apparently common “oh, great, we’ve signed another borderline catcher” reaction, I’m broadly agnostic on this move at this point. The prospect we traded away means nothing to me, and aside from how personable Carson Kelly seems to be and how much better Avila seemed to be performing before he got hurt, I don’t have any strong feelings about our current collection of catchers. None of them has won the job thus far, and Swihart probably won’t either, but if you’re throwing spaghetti against the wall to find the kind that sticks, and none of it sticks, well, I guess you get more spaghetti. That’s Swihart to me. Let’s see if he sticks.

Makakilo: Who is Swihart?

The range of opinions goes from “Elite makeup,” to “DFA” and from “very strong arm,” to “struggled to throw the ball back to the pitcher.”

Is he a catcher or a left fielder? In the Majors, he played catcher in 960 innings. And in his other 315 innings, he played all the other positions bar center field, shortstop, and pitcher. In 2018, his defense in left field (41 innings) was Ultimate Zone Rated at UZR/150 of 25.1.

Can he hit? In 2015 his offensive WAR was 1.3 in only 84 games. A full season WAR would have been higher. On the other hand, in 2018 his offensive WAR was 0.

He performed under his potential, and has significant upside for three reasons:

  • In the Majors, few players show they can play the difficult to learn catcher position AND other positions. What could he do if he focused on one position?
  • In June of 2016, while playing left field he was very badly injured and did not return to the Majors for 15 months. This injury slowed his speed of development.
  • One surprising fact: In January of 2019, Paul Sporer of FanGraphs wrote that Blake Swihart’s sprint speed of 27.1 feet/second was the 7th fastest catcher in the Majors.

James: I think it was one of the most foreseeable moves of the season. As soon as the Red Sox needed to make room on their roster, it was just a matter of time before Hazen looked into the trade. I liked Marcus Wilson as a prospect with potential, but he has stalled out. The hole in his swing also appears to be growing, not shrinking. If that continues, he won’t be around very long. Basically, it looks like a swap of two guys both underperforming their tools. Maybe this change of scenery will help one or both of them. I still think Swihart might be more of a AAAA player, but that’s a better commodity for the team than a stalled out AA player/

Wesley: James is right, most ‘serious’ baseball fans saw that trade coming a mile away. I disagree though about Marcus WIlson, since I’d like to talk about what we gave up first, before we talk about what we got. I don’t think Marcus Wilson has actually “stalled out”.

He had one down year last year, where he posted a below average, 84 wRC+. Two years prior to that, Wilson had a 123 wRC+, and the year before had 135 wRC+. This year Wilson actually has a 160 wRC+., With a .316 BABIP last year and this year, compared to his roughly .357 average BABIP the four years prior, you can easily argue that Wilson has been quite unlucky the last year or two. Secondly, Wilson has the tools to be an elite defender: plus speed, a cannon for an arm, and defensive routes in the outfield that have only improved with time. In addition, Wilson is patient at the plate and a good eye for drawing walks, has plus rawpower, and is blazing fast not just in the outfield but on the base paths as well. He’s still young at 22, he’s just been completely consistently slow to develop. Having interviewed and talked with him, I think would even add the fact that the kid has excellent personality/makeup, work ethic, and is really willing to work with the team and trusting the process. He actually greatly reminds of Mike Cameron… If you look at the minor league numbers, they really are quite similar.

As to Blake Swihart, I really don’t know what to think of him. He’s a shortstop, who was converted to catcher, who was then converted into a super utility player. Is it really fair to call him a catcher? Is it fair to just call him a super utility player? Makakilo summed it up with the wide range of opinions on him. Personally looking at all the data availble to me I am pessimistic about him succeeding with this team.

Jack: I am not optimistic Swihart will hit very much. Long article coming on this. But if one believes the 500K is enough value for Marcus Wilson I guess it doesn’t hurt to find out if I’m wrong. On the other hand, if Wilson ever gets his K% down to where you can project that around 25% or lower in the majors, then he may make them regret this.

Michael: I’m not so sure what they will do with Swihart, but catcher is definitely not where he’ll end up outside of emergency or day game after a night game duties. The problem for him is he lacks a defensive home and hasn’t produced enough with the bat since a strong AA season in 2014. From a hitting skill set, he’s an average OBP and power guy with the potential for a high BABIP skill with a career rate of .339 in 626 PA at the MLB level. Breaking down his splits, he’s a league average hitter vs. RHP but dismal vs. LHP despite being a switch hitter.

Turambar: So Hazen is like Ash Ketchum, but for catchers? Right?

Who has been Arizona’s most pleasant surprise this season?

Keegan: The offense as a whole in particular following the departures of Goldschmidt and Pollock. That David Peralta continues toq1 we improvezx his play at the plate as he ventures further on the wrong side of 30 is most impressive. He should be very proud of his career when all is said and done given his story. I thought it would have been difficult for him to be as good as he was last season with less protection in the lineup, but he continues to get the job done.

Dano: I agree with Keegan. The offense as a whole has been a very pleasant surprise. Not to spoil my answer to the next question, but I fully expected our success in 2019 to rest on our pitching staff, while the offense lagged behind. This morning’s game at Wrigley notwithstanding, that has consistently not been the reality. Our offense seems to do some business every game, sooner or later. That’s lovely to see, and despite the absence of AJ and Goldy, so much better than last year. So yay!

Makakilo: I expected offense to improve to average, despite losing Goldschmidt and Pollock. I was pleasantly surprised when it improved to above average. The D-backs’ 5.24 runs per game ranks 10th in the Majors.

James: His bad outing in Chicago aside, Merrill Kelly has been pleasantly surprising thus far. It’s nice to see that he might just be able to stick in the rotation after all. We’ll see how he rebounds from his rough go now.

Jack: I didn’t expect Christian Walker to hit this much. The way he bounced back from the slump is pretty impressive. As are all his Statcast metrics. Look up hard hit in the dictionary and there is a picture of Walker. Things could be pretty interesting 4 weeks from now when Lamb comes back.

Wesley: As has been said, all of the above. The offense has been better than I expected, Merrill Kelly has been a nice surprise. Christian Walker has actually fulfilled my expectations though, because I knew dude could rake all along

Michael: Christian Walker is the obvious one, but you don’t need me to add more to that topic so I’ll go with someone else here and talk about his former Baltimore teammate Adam Jones. Jones got off to a really great start and while he’s cooled off a bit, has been one of the top consistent offensive contributors. He’s been a welcomed source of power in the middle of the order with 11 XBH in 98 PA along with solid BB/K numbers. In addition to the quality on-field play, he’s also been a tremendous presence in the clubhouse. Without him, Dbacks might be looking at one of the worst records in baseball right now.

And the worst disappointment?

Keegan: Jake Lamb is grinding on me. His injury is quite silly to be honest. He continues to not be able to stay on the field for one reason or another, and it’s frustrating to not get any value from him.

Dano: I’d have to say the pitching staff, and the bullpen in particular. I think I’ve gotten inured to the consistent consternation that the starting rotation causes (“Will the real Robbie Ray/Zack Greinke/Zack Godley please stand up?”). Wasn’t expecting it so much from so much of the bullpen, especially our supposedly vaunted back end. Bradley and Hirano both have a Jekyll-and-Hyde thing going on these days, Chafin hasn’t been pretty, Koch is a disaster encased in a train wreck. Lopez seems broadly okay, Holland has been a very pleasant surprise thus far, but I’m actually beginning to feel relatively good and relaxed when Matt Andriese takes the mound for us, because he’s at least been steadier than most of his bullpen peers. This is very much less than ideal, because Matt Andriese is not a good solution.

Makakilo: Injuries to Steven Souza Jr. and Jake Lamb hurt. Pitching disappointed me because I expected pitching to be above average.

James: Jake Lamb and his injury have really been a downer for me this season. I’m also not thrilled with the performance out of the bullpen. Even last season’s A-squad is struggling this year.

Jack: Wilmer Flores came into this season having AVERAGED 108 OPS+ and 15 HR over the previous 3 seasons. Everyone slumps once in a while, and it’s not unusual for a league average or slightly above average hitter to have a really bad month. He was coming around, getting some hits the previous week, but today’s 0-4 and a DP hurt once again, He’s supposed to be a tough out. But so far his OBP is well below .300 and he’s not seeing that many pitches either. The way this team is constructed, he really needs to be who he has been in the recent past for the team to have a decent lineup on the days he plays. His defense is about as bad as expected, unfortunately.

Wesley: To be honest, I am disappointed in the way General Manager Mike Hazen constructed the roster. The three catcher experiment that has been allowed to continue this long. The half way in approach to rebuilding drives me absolutely crazy. I’d rather watch an awful team full of promising young players who are still developing, than watch a frustratingly mediocre team end up being a few games over .500, and end up missing the playoffs.

Michael: I’d have to go with Ketel Marte, from a hitting standpoint. While he had the 2 HR day against the Red Sox and 2 HRs against Eric Lauer already this year, the rest of his season has been disappointing. It seems like he’s trying too much at the plate instead of playing his game, which has caused him to put up some awful ABs. He still has the extreme L vs. R splits in which he’s putting up All Star numbers vs. LHP but struggling mightily vs. RHP that he had from last year. The team needs him to hit RHP more to lengthen out the lineup.

What area of the team has most room for improvement?

Keegan: The bench. Wilmer Flores is another player I could have named as a disappointment. Stop carrying three catchers. Rinse. Repeat. At some point the lack of quality depth options will begin to impact the team negatively over the course of a long season.

Dano: I’m honestly not sure. The phrasing of this question is weird. If the question were “what area is most in need of improvement?” I would say it was the bullpen, followed by the starting rotation, followed by the catcher situation, followed by making some firmer choices going forward regarding our position players, their playing time, and their roles on the team. But where is there actually room for improvement? Who the hell knows at this point?

I think maybe it has to be the catching situation, because I can’t believe it does any of our still-developing catching prospects any favors to have them catch maybe one or two games a week if they’re lucky. Give someone an extended tryout, give ‘em a shot to win the starting job, give them a week or two of daily reps, see if they can hack it calling games for the entire rotation, and batting against LHPs and RHPs. See how they do...maybe somebody can step up. If it turns out that nobody can, then maybe commit to a platoon, but do it clearly and emphatically.

Also, can we just drop the whole “concierge catcher” thing? If a starting pitcher, even ZG, can’t pitch to anyone but his chosen catcher, then he’s falling down on the job. Likewise, if any given catcher can’t catch a certain pitcher in the starting rotation for whatever reason, he is falling down on the job. Roster spots are too valuable to have one taken up with a particular pitcher’s pet catcher. That’s crap.

Makakilo: “Most room for improvement” means where the team ranks near lowest in the Majors. That would be 5.40 runs allowed per game (through 19 April), which ranks 26th in the Majors. Average is 4.56 runs allowed per game.

How could pitching be improved?

  • Find a way to improve Godley’s consistency – this season he has 2 great starts and 2 poor starts.
  • Recall Jon Duplantier for long relief (the Duplantier era has begun).
  • Sign relievers on minor league contracts – see if one can prove worthy of a bullpen spot.

James: The pitching needs to be addressed. I am still not sold on the rotation, but a few more weeks should tell us everything we need to know about that group. The bullpen needs a solidifying arm though, someone that the team can just turn the ball over to and know that three outs are on the way. I think that would go a long way towards improving the overall team performance.

Jack: Long term, the offense and the bullpen are still going to be this team’s achilles heel. I think the rotation is fine, and they have 2-3 options in AAA to fill in when and if needed. The bullpen however is not fine, other than Holland and Lopez. Holland has flipped me around pretty quick, but those are the only two guys I feel confident when they come in the game. And that says A LOT.

Wesley: I don’t even know where to begin. We haven’t finished even a full month of the season yet. The bench could be improved, the bullpen could be better, the offense and starting pitching could be more consistent, you can pretty much go down the list and find an area on the tean that is need of improvement.

Michael: Bullpen is probably the easiest area to fix. As Jack noted, the most consistent relievers in the back end are Lopez, Holland, and Chafin. Hirano either will get lit up or generate awful swings with nothing in-between due to his inability to generate whiffs now that teams are getting a second look at him. Archie Bradley is not the shutdown reliever he was in 2017-early 2018 and probably never be that pitcher again simply due to being a 1 ½-pitch guy. If you look at the middle and long guys, Andriese is frustrating to watch at times although more successful than not and Koch really should be put out to pasture as a MLB reliever. The only reliever prospect in the minors worth taking a look at this season is Kevin Ginkel, who has a 9/1 K/BB ratio while only allowing 2 hits on the season over 6.1 IP for Jackson. Even though he hasn’t pitched in AAA yet, which is not a disqualifier since Lopez hasn’t either and he’s doing fine, he’s the one reliever who has swing and miss stuff in the system who is MLB ready.

Since it’s Easter Sunday: Favorite candy?

Keegan: If we’re talking strictly Easter candy, it has to be Starburst jelly beans. I’m a bit of a sugar fiend to be honest.

Dano: I’ve actually got an alarming quantity and variety of jelly beans in the house at present (because reasons), but I have to say that the best Easter candy by far is a Reese’s Peanut Butter Egg. Hands down.

Makakilo: Marshmallow bunnies!

James: Dark chocolate.

Jack: Chocolate Bunnies

Wesley: I don’t eat candy all that much anymore, since I’ve been on a diet. I’ve lost 45 lbs in the last six or seven months, going from. ~295 Lbs to ~250 Lbs. Although I do enjoy the medicated gummies I get for my chronic pain.

Michael: Gummy candy is what I go for