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SnakePit Round Table: Mothers of Invention

Mothers Day wasn’t enough to power the D-backs to a aeries split against the Braves. Are we worried?

Mother’s Day In China Photo by Tang Dehong/VCG

With the return of Alex Avila, we’re back to three catchers. Discuss…

James: I’m not nearly as against the three catcher system as many people who frequent the pit. However, the team now has three catchers plus Blake Swihart. What’s more, Swihart, Murphy, and Avila are all out of options, while Kelly is appears to be the best player of the bunch. Frankly, with Avila back, I put JRM or Swihart (if not both) on a very short leash. Murphy’s issues at the plate are getting rapidly worse. At some point, the damage being done by keeping him around in the regular rotation is simply too great to be overcome by the comfort he gives Greinke as a battery mate - something which seems a bit shaky anyway.

Makakilo: “All the catchers” is a subtle factor in team success. It makes sense that when catchers have more preparation time, pitching effectiveness increases. I stay with three catchers. Swihart is on the bubble – he stays if he earns it by hitting.

Turambar: Good to have Avila back, but it’s time for JRM to go. His bat is killing us and honestly I want to see more Kelly. So essentially Avila back gives both the hope his bat will go places and that JRMs time is at a close.

Dano: I too am happy to see Avila return (what a change from last year!), especially given how he was performing at the plate before he was injured. I’ve kind of grown numb to the whole “three catchers” thing, but, per James, Swihart basically gives us three and a half catchers, which is too much. I don’t particularly believe in Swihart’s bat, and I don’t particularly believe in JRM’s anything (sorry, Rockkstarr). I would be glad to see one or both of them go, sooner rather than later...there are better uses for these roster spots.

Wesley: I don’t get why we are carrying three and half catchers essentially. I’d DFA JRM personally.

Jim: Disclaimer. I am writing, fresh off a viewing of the penultimate Game of Thrones episode, where we took a shot each time a major character died. The ambulance is on its way, so if my answers suddenly cease, you’ll know why.

The three catcher thing would make sense if it was helping the pitching more than it was hurting the offense. Is that the case? Hard to say. The fact that we seem to be about the only team going this route, suggests it’s an unproven strategy at best. I get the idea of keeping everyone fresh. But the number of times we’ve had a key at-bat, late in the game, and our bench options have been severely limited, does make me question its wisdom. When rosters expand to 26 players next year, maybe it’ll be better?

Jon Duplantier is back, but in the bullpen. Would you rather see him in the rotation?

James: If he is going to be on the 25-man roster, I would rather the team wait until he is ready to join the rotation. He needs to get stretched out and he also needs to get his innings built up. Either find a way to get him into the rotation , or send him back to Reno to get him stretched out so he is ready when the next opening comes up.

Makakilo: I’d rather see him in the bullpen.

Because of his injury last season, I would limit his innings this season. The bullpen may be a better place to limit innings than the rotation. Also, he ranked high compared to other D-back bullpen pitchers (see my answer to the next question.)

He has been outstanding in relief. Jim Marshall of Last Word on Baseball wrote:

  • “He showed his fastball, which had both velocity and power, and his breaking ball showed control.”
  • “His biggest accomplishment, however, was his composure and maturity on the mound. Duplantier looked like a big-league pitcher with his calmness.”

Turambar: Honestly I’d love to see him in the rotation, but it’s more important for him to see as many Major League batters as he can. That means, for now, staying in the pen, since as MANY have noted he’s not pitched nearly enough innings to even think of starting him. Also with Walker back soon he may not even get that consistent rotation spot at any time this year.

Dano: Like just about everyone, I think, I look forward to seeing him in the rotation. I defer to those more knowledgeable than me regarding whether or not he’s ready for that now. One or more rotation spots are big ole question marks at this point, and it remains to be seen how much of an asset Taijuan Walker will actually be upon his return, so I think we’re doing to need Duplantier in the rotation sooner or later. Until that happens, though, I am just happy to see him on the team, pitching in Major League games.

Wesley: I tried to argue in my head why I’d prefer to see him in the rotation, but I think I agree here that it’s probably best to keep in the pen. I would argue that it’s better to have him start in AAA, but the PCL has not been pitcher friendly in the slightest so far this year. Last night there were six home runs allowed in Reno’s game. There were five given up in today’s game as well. That’s been pretty much the norm so far all year, and I don’t expect that situation to get better as summer progresses. Having him out of the bullpen with the occasional spot start at the MLB level is probably for the best.

Jim: I keep going back between Godley and Kelly being the weakest link in the rotation at this point. Would we be better off with Duplantier and/or Clarke in the rotation? There’s something to be said for giving them innings now, in a season which might “not matter”, in order to benefit them going forward. We saw that today with the Braves and Max Fried: you can’t just drop prospects into a major-league rotation and expect them to be successful. Maybe we should be blooding them in 2019, and letting them take their lumps, so that they can be better pitchers in 2020 and beyond?

Which D-backs pitcher is giving you most cause for concern at this point?

James: Zack Godley. His mechanics are just too far out of whack. Now, because of extra inning games and some “interesting” roster moves, he is slotting right back into the rotation. I just have no faith in Godley to go more than two innings right now. Honorable mention to Archie Bradley.

Makakilo: Archie Bradley. It would have been Godley, but I am convinced that Godley is fixable.

Today, I ranked Bradley as the ninth best pitcher in the D-back bullpen. Godley (number 10) will go back to the rotation (and hopefully be above average), and Koch (number 11) cleared waivers and was outrighted to AAA. The three considerations were:

  • amount of relief impact (Win Probability Added, WPA)
  • frequency of relief impact (% games with zero runs counting earned, unearned, and inherited)
  • a predictor of future pitching (FIP).

The ranks of each of the three comparisons follow (1=best, 11=worst):

  • 1, 1, 3 Duplantier (update after Sunday’s relief appearance 3,3,3)
  • 3, 5, 2 Holland
  • 2, 4, 6 Chafin
  • 7, 2, 5 Clarke
  • 11, 6, 1 Hirano
  • 9, 3, 8 Lopez
  • 5, 9, 7 Andriese
  • 4, 7, 11 McFarland
  • 10, 8, 4 Bradley
  • 6, 10, 9 Godley
  • 8, 11, 10 Koch

Turambar: Archie. It’s become obvious that he’s a 1trick pony and every batter in the majors knows it. What’s worse is that he’s unable to that fastball of his to unhittable parts of the plate. He just serves juicy meatballs each and every outing.

Dano: I’m not going to choose either Godley or Bradley--those two are what they are at this point, and given that I don’t have a whole lot of optimism about either one getting meaningfully “fixed” anytime soon, I don’t worry about them so much as just dreading seeing them take the mound..

So I’d throw Yoshihisa Hirano’s name out there. He was supposed to be one of our great back-end guys this year, and, well, he hasn’t been great. Quite the contrary, in fact. 14 IP, 11 runs allowed (9 earned) on 19 hits and 4 walks. He doesn’t throw hard, and he’s basically got two pitches--the fastball and the splitter. Problem there is that, if the spitter isn’t working, it’s basically same pitch as the fastball, which means that it’s entirely possible that he’s only got one pitch on any given day, and that pitch on its own is pretty mediocre. I know he had a lot of success last year, but I wonder how much of that was novelty--novelty that, his second year in the bigs, no longer exists.

Wesley: I am not too worried about anyone really.

Jim: I’m really worried about Daenerys Targaryen.

I may have misunderstood the question.

And which hitter?

James: Adam Jones. He really looks like he is already starting to tire somewhat. With his decreased defensive abilities, the team needs his bat to stay fresh and healthy. If his bat continues to fall off the way it has been lately, the team is going to be hard-pressed to find three starting outfielders. Honorable mention goes to John Ryan Murphy. I am less concerned there because he was never truly expected to contribute and I also believe he is on his way out if he doesn’t start improving soon.

Makakilo: Blake Swihart is being given a chance to show he can hit. It’s less of a concern, and more of an observation that he is on-the-bubble for staying on the 25-man roster.

Dano: Nobody specific, really...the bats have slowed down this week, but broadly speaking I think they’re fine. I do see James’s point regarding AJ, and Makakilo’s regarding Swihart, but Jones has been raking a bit this weekend, and the underperforming hitters on our roster are not really doing anything other than what I’ve come to expect from them at this point. I think our sudden inability to hit with runners in scoring position is concerning, but I’m hoping it’s just a passing phase at this point.

Jim: Everyone seems to be inexplicably incapable of hitting in high-leverage situations, all of a sudden. I like to THINK that this will eventually even itself out, and that the team’s recent struggles - for example, in bases-loaded situations - will eventually even itself out. But I’m going with Christian Walker, who seems incredibly vulnerable to pitches inside. If that doesn’t sort itself out, we’ll be missing Paul Goldschmidt, sooner rather than later.

Based on Charlie’s piece: if you were MLB commissioner, what one change would you make?

James: Tough to pick only one. If I am picking just one though, I expand the rosters by one while eliminating the DH from the AL. Honorable mention goes to eliminating blackouts.

Makakilo: Determine blackouts by tickets sold. For example, change the blackout rule to each game is blacked out at all worldwide locations until 27,000 tickets have been sold, then all blackouts are removed. For stadiums with less than 27,000 capacity, they are exempt from blackouts. The D-backs could build their next stadium with 26,990 capacity and never be subjected to blackouts!

Dano: I’m broadly on board with all of Charlie’s suggestions, but the change I’d make wasn’t on his list. I think it’s time for robot umpires, at least for calling balls and strikes. This year’s umpiring behind the plate has seemed less egregiously and perennially bad than last year, but still. The technology exists, and is kind of already in place, to rule conclusively on whether or not a pitch passed through the strike zone. Seems like we should use it.

Wesley: I’m pretty torn between a DH in both leagues and robot umpires calling balls and strikes.

Jim: Eliminate the DL, and make pitchers bat in both leagues. Indeed, ban pinch-hitting for your pitchers. #LetThemBat

It was Mother’s Day today. Did you do anything special?

James: Not really. Sunday bedtime falls between 6:30 and 7:30. That makes for a short day. We’ll probably be doing something next Saturday though.

Makakilo: Planted a flower in her memory.

Turambar: I bought flowers and my brother and I shall bbq tonight for mom as well.

Dano: Lit a candle for Mom, and watching some Diamondbacks baseball, which we always enjoyed doing together.

Wesley: I spent some time with my mother and helped her out around her house. Then we got some Chinese takeout and went to the dispensary.

Jim: Hung out for brunch with Mrs. SnakePit’s step-daughters and sisters. There may have been mimosas involved. Call it a warm-up for this evening’s industrial-strength drinking. And I still have Killing Eve to get through.