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The Curse of the Departed D-backs

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A lot of the players the D-backs let go this winter are struggling or underperforming in 2019.

St Louis Cardinals v Washington Nationals Photo by Will Newton/Getty Images

Part of the art of being a GM is not just knowing what players to acquire - it’s knowing when to let them go. “Sell high” is an important talent, and it’s also useful to be able to tell when to let a player walk. As was discussed in yesterday’s Snake Bytes, it seems like a lot of the players the D-backs let go last winter are not doing so well this season. But is that just a result of awareness bias? To check, I went through last year’s D-backs roster. The criteria was that they had to be under control at the end of the year (so, for example, no Jorge De La Rosa, who was released by the team in August) and were released or traded between then and Opening Day. These are the 18 players.

Pitchers

Jake Barrett. Jake is on his fourth team already for 2018. He was sold to the Giants for cash consideration in February, but the following month was selected of waivers by the Pirates. The Yankees then did the same thing in early April. He got called up this month, but has allowed six earned runs in only 3.2 innings, and was sent back to AAA on Thursday.

Brad Boxberger. The life of a closer is fragile. Our 2018 occupant lost the role late in the year, and despite 32 saves, got only a one-year contract with Kansas City for $2.2 million (plus up to another million in incentives). He struggled early, posting a 9.64 ERA through 10 games, but has put together a five-inning scoreless streak since then.

Clay Buchholz. The savior of the 2018 rotation ended the year on the DL, which may have played into Arizona’s decision to let him walk. He didn’t sign until March, inking a one year, $3 million contract with the Blue Jays. As a result his first appearance was mid-April and after a couple of decent outings, Clay got torched and is now back on the DL with a shoulder issue. This is my unsurprised face...

Patrick Corbin. The biggest free-agent pitcher on the market this winter got the payday he deserved, a six-year, $140 million deal in Washington. So far, he has lived up to that, going 3-1 over eight starts with a 3.20 ERA. He probably deserves a better record, having given the Nationals quality starts in every outing bar one, including all four no-decisions.

Randall Delgado. A remnant of the Justin Upton trade, Delgado had been a long-term resident of our bullpen, but was allowed to walk after a disappointing 2018. He got a minor-league contract with the White Sox, but was cut during spring training. He landed in indy ball, with the Kansas City T-Bones of the American Association

Jake Diekman. This was a bit of a surprise. His time here was forgettable, a 7.53 ERA over 24 games, and no loss. He’s alongside Boxberger in KC (a one-year $2.25 million contract), but has pitched very well there, with a 2.81 ERA over 16 innings and 20 strikeouts. He probably wasn’t as bad as his AZ ERA (his FIP here was 4.77), but this is still unexpected.

Shelby Miller. Sorry to bring this up. The man whose picture is in the dictionary beside “sunk cost” got a heavily incentive based contract with Texas ($2m guaranteed, up to $3m in bonuses). So far, not much chance of him cashing in on those. He has only reached five innings in two of seven starts and his control issues haven’t gone away, with more walks (21) than K’s (19)

Brad Ziegler. Z didn’t hang around after the season looking for work. The man who led the majors in games pitched since 2008 announced his retirement on October 10th, his 39th birthday. He said, “I can thank the D-backs for giving me another chance to... prove to myself that I wasn’t going to be pushed out of the game because I couldn’t compete.” Good work, Brad. Good work...

Hitters

Socrates Brito. Almost made it, but when the D-backs tried to sneak him through waivers late in spring, the Padres pounced, then traded him to the Blue Jays. Where he has sucked. As in 3-for-39 with 17 strikeouts. The .291 OPS ranks Socrates 360th of the 363 players with 40+ PA this year. [#363 is another ex-Diamondback, Daniel Palka who is 1-for-35 to date]

Daniel Descalso. In some ways, DD is performing as expected. His OPS of .694 for the Cubs is exactly his career figure. He signed a $2.5 million (+ incentives) deal for 2019, with a $3.5m team option ($1m buyout), but his long-renowned “clutchness” hasn’t shown up. After leading the majors in clutch for 2011-18, he’s not even in the top 50 for 2019.

Paul Goldschmidt. There was much celebrating in St. Louis when they not only traded for Goldy, but signed him to what seemed a reasonable extension. However, six weeks in and his performance has been little better than 2018, when Paul had an infamously slow start. Currently 13th by fWAR at first, Paul has been good, rather than good as Goldschmidt.

Jon Jay. The D-backs traded for Jay during their 2018 outfield crisis, though he hardly did anything much of note. However, that’s still more than he has done since signing a one year, $4 million contract with the White Sox. He is on the 60-day DL and has yet to appear for them, due to a groin/hip injury. He’s currently rehabbing that in Glendale.

Patrick Kivlehan. “What, he was a D-back?” for $200, please, Alex. He played nine times for us last year, after being bought from the Mets in September, though you’d be forgiven for not noticing. Maybe he’ll replace Brito in Toronto, because the Blue Jays traded for him from Pittsburgh yesterday, where he’d been playing for their affiliate in AAA.

Deven Marrero. “What, he was a D-back?” for $800, please, Alex. Hands up if you’d forgotten Marrero appeared in 49 games for us last year - more than Christian Walker. He signed with the Marlins, and is currently with New Orleans, their AAA affiliate. And if you can’t make the 2019 Miami major-league roster, that tells you everything you need to know.

Jeff Mathis. Remember we were worried how Zack Greinke might do without his “personal catcher”? Seems to be just fine. Meanwhile, in Texas, where he signed a two-year, $6.25 million contract, Mathis is batting .148. Is anyone shocked by that? Thought not. On the plus side, he did throw a scoreless inning, so has actually been more valuable on the mound.

Chris Owings. After six years in Arizona, the D-backs opted not to tender him a contract. He landed in Kansas City, where he’ll earn $3 million, but has been abysmal so far. His wRC+ of just 23 is second-worst among the 173 qualified hitters, above only Jackie Bradley Jr. After starting 25 times for the Royals in April, he has only five starts in May so far.

A.J. Pollock. On the Injured List - yeah, we’re all stunned by this, I know. His pesky elbow picked up an infection and surgery followed, so he’s out for an indefinite period. But even when playing, he wasn’t great, save the opening seriesagainst us, where he went 7-for-12. Since then, Pollock has hit .186 with a solitary home-run. Not worth the $15 million LA are paying this year.

Chris Stewart. One of three position players with one PA for the D-backs (the others being Ken Huckaby and Juan Sosa, both from 2001), Stewart was the invisible man on Arizona’s roster in 2018. He signed a minor-league contract with San Diego in January, and has been catching for their AAA team in El Paso. We’ll probably trade for him at the deadline. :)

Conclusions

The chart below shows the overall performance of all eighteen players, listing their playing time, one overall metric, and their WAR both to date this season and for 2018 [it’s the average of bWAR and fWAR for each man].

Departed D-backs 2018-19

Name IP ERA 2019 WAR 2018 WAR
Name IP ERA 2019 WAR 2018 WAR
Jake Barrett 3.2 14.73 -0.2 0.0
Brad Boxberger 14.1 6.28 -0.3 -0.5
Clay Buchholz 24.2 6.57 -0.1 2.4
Patrick Corbin 50.2 3.20 1.5 5.2
Randall Delgado -0.2
Jake Diekman 16.0 2.81 0.4 0.3
Shelby Miller 27.2 7.48 -0.2 -0.7
Brad Ziegler 0.1
,
Name PA OPS 2019 WAR 2018 WAR
Socrates Brito 43 .291 -0.7 -0.4
Daniel Descalso 99 .694 0.0 1.4
Paul Goldschmidt 174 .801 0.6 5.2
Jon Jay -0.2
Patrick Kivlehan 0.1
Deven Marrero -0.4
Jeff Mathis 65 .413 -0.5 0.5
Chris Owings 122 .463 -0.4 -0.5
A.J. Pollock 115 .617 -0.5 2.5
Chris Stewart 0.0
TOTAL -0.4 14.8

All told, these men were worth close to fifteen wins last season, but with the season close to a quarter gone, have combined for less than replacement level in 2019. If you had Jake Diekman as the third-best performer among them, behind only Corbin and Goldschmidt, please let me know. And even Goldy has been merely adequate, rather than the perennial MVP candidate. With Luke Kelly looking pretty good, and Christian Walker filling in admirably to date at first-base, there hasn’t been much reason to regret the trade thus far.