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SnakePit Round Table: Cinco de D-backs

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A great first month: how did it go, and where can the team still improve?

MLB: Arizona Diamondbacks at Colorado Rockies Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

The first month is in the books. What has stood out for you?

James: Both the rotation and the offense have been better than expected. The team is still lacking in power from the offense, but it is starting to reap the benefits of gearing itself towards an OBP lineup. Some of the early results look unsustainable, but so far the team has been fortunate in that it has avoided multiple slumping bats at once, also a side-effect of crafting a high OBP lineup. They have managed to be a competitive team, despite facing some very challenging opposition. The Pirates were hot when Arizona rolled into Pittsburgh and recorded a four-game road sweep. The Yankees were the hottest team in baseball coming into Phoenix. They were sent packing. Colorado has been playing great ball, and so far, since their slow start. Now Arizona looks poised to take control there as well.

Makakilo: Offense was better than last season!

  • Above-average Offense! Average runs per game of 5.45 ranks fourth in the Majors!
  • Consistent Offense! Five runs or more were scored in 20 of 33 games!

Keegan: I’m starting to wonder if there were too many cooks (hitting coaches/strategists) in the kitchen last season who could not get on the same page. The offense was putrid last season, but has done remarkably well so far. Hopefully regression is kind to the team.

Turambar: After watching the entirety of last season the answer is obvious: offense. After a frustrating year of watching our bats capitalize early, and then not at all, we seem to have a team that is capable of pouring on the pressure both early and late in games. I agree with my fellow writers that such production is not sustainable at such high levels, but the blueprint of excellent OBP appears to be there to stay.

Sean: How deep this team is. The starting rotation is very good and we have some intriguing depth (cough Duplantier cough) in the minors. The team has had good performance at every position on the field, whether it’s offense, defense, or both. I had the team as an over-.500 team coming into this seaon, even with the losses to Goldy, Pollock, and Corbin, but the depth and performance of the team is really exceeding those expectations.

Who was the D-backs MVP for April?

James: I’m torn between Ketel Marte and Christian Walker. Both have been worth a full WAR so far in the season. Walker has been more impressive with the bat, making the team miss Goldschmidt’s presence in the lineup a bit less. Marte has been good with the bat and has been doing an admirable job defensively in center field.

From the pitching side of things, it is Zack Greinke all the way. No real surprise there.

Makakilo: Greg Holland. I compared players by Win Probability Added (WPA).

  • Third place was Zack Greinke. He earned .61 pitching +.48 hitting for a total of 1.1 WPA.
  • Tied with 1.3 WPA were Greg Holland (3rd in the NL in pitching WPA) and Eduardo Escobar (5th in the NL in hitting WPA).
  • The tiebreaker is having 8 shutdowns and zero meltdowns, which feels like a lot more than 1.3 WPA. Therefore, the MVP is Greg Holland.

Keegan: James and Mak have this pretty well covered. I’d add Luke Weaver to the discussion as well. He’s leap frogged his way to the top of the rotation with his performance this far.

Turambar: For Brutes like me it’s Thiccness Walker. No I don’t think he’ll crush 50hr this year, but our fears of filling Goldy’s presence at 1st seem to be mostly addressed.

Sean: It’s impossible to give this to a single player right now, so I’m going to give it to the entire offense. The Dbacks have 6 hitters (7 if you include Greinke) with 0.5 fWAR or more and they all have a wRC+ of 122 or higher. This team has been the perfect example of winning without a single star but a lot of depth. The starting rotation was our strongest unit coming into the season and they’ve played up to their expectations. This offensive outburst - with a lot of it seeming to be real - is very unexpected and is the MVP of the team so far.

How can the team still improve?

James: Honestly, just about everywhere needs a bit of help. They have already started addressing some of the issues though. My biggest concern this season is the same one I had last season. The team needs to find a bit more stability in the bullpen. Last season, the bullpen flamed out after the only strong performers it had were grossly overused early in the season. I worry they may be heading down that same path again., I would also like to see them improve the bench. The return of Lamb should help that. Wilmer Flores isn’t going anywhere for a while still, but the change in scenery is not helping him. By all accounts, he really has been a great clubhouse guy, but he simply isn’t pulling his weight right now. I’d rather the team was running with Lamb and Vargas than Flores and Locastro.

Makakilo: One thought:

Wilmer Flores has done zip/nada/zilch in 7 pinch-hit at-bats. He could talk more in-depth with Christian Walker about how to pinch hit. Wilmer Flores seems to have found a better approach to at-bats and has done better from April 24 onward. How will Wilmer Flores be impacted when Jake Lamb returns from the injured list?

Keegan: Depth. Depth. Depth. Wilmer Flores looks like he is starting to turn the corner. I don’t know how long Blake Swihart is going to be able to hang around as a non contributor.

Turambar: Stabilizing the end of the rotation and depth. Clarke will likely not take over Godley’s spot over night (or at all), but some combination of Clarke, Dup and eventually Walker have to get us wins in that spot. That’ll be a work in progress, but the big fear is lacking depth more than we already have as we go deeper in to the season. Another key injury could stall our considerable momentum we’ve built, and no one wants that.

Makakilo: Another thought after today’s game:

This season, Archie Bradley has 4 melt-downs (and 6 shutdowns). Although one month is a small sample size, Archie Bradley is worse than last season in two statistics: Homers per fly ball is up from 10% to 12.5% (before today’s game). His ratio of strike-outs to walks is down from 3.75 to 2.43. How can he improve?

Sean: The rotation bullpen is the most obvious place. Catcher offense is another and hopefully the return of Alex Avila will help there. I’m going to go against the grain and say an upgrade at shortstop might be our next place to look. Ahmed is still a great defender, but it’s beyond clear at this point that he just doesn’t have much of a bat. And in an era where shortstops are going more and more offensive (while still playing mostly good defense), Ahmed is lagging behind.

Zack Godley has been moved from the rotation. Will he ever make it back, and who should replace him?

James: I think Zack Godley makes more starts at some point in his career.I’m not sure he makes it back to the rotation for Arizona in this season though. Of course, trades or injuries could change that in a heartbeat. However, with Clarke, Duplantier and Walker all vying for time as a starter, Godley has put himself deep on the depth chart for getting another opportunity in 2019.

Makakilo: Zack Godley is under team control for this season plus three more. That’s more than enough time for him to further develop his non-curve pitches and to polish his rough edges. He will make it back. And possibly he will be back in the rotation this season.

His short-term replacement will be Taylor Clarke. Later in the season several players could be added to the rotation, including Godley returning to the rotation from the bullpen.

Keegan: It’s a possibility if he takes his development seriously, but with Taijuan Walker on the verge of returning and Clarke, Widener, and Duplantier knocking on the door he might be relegated to a long relief role. Who knows maybe he’ll provide more value to the team that way?

Turambar: Godley is toast as a starter. End of story. We got too many others waiting in the wings to take his spot, both this season and next. As for who should replace him I think it’ll eventually be Duplantier in the long run, though as MANY pointed out he needs to work more inning in Reno before that goes down. So honestly we’ll just have to wait and see.

Sean: The obvious answer is Duplantier but he still needs to get stretched out, so we’ll see how Taylor Clarke will do in the meantime. His lack of strikeouts and groundballs in the minors are a huge red flag and he’s likely destined to a long relief role, but it’s his turn until Duplantier is ready or Godley fixes his form.

Godley is certainly capable of making it back, he clearly has good enough stuff. His problems lie in his mechanics and his mental game, which can be very difficult to fix. I’d give him no better than a 50/50 shot of ever returning to the rotation.

Attendance is down across baseball. Is it a problem and if so, how would you fix it?

James: It’s a problem insofar as I love baseball and want to see as many people enjoying it as possible at all times. Baseball as a whole is thriving though. It is a sport that in many ways can be better viewed on television than live. I do think that teams will need to start rethinking fan attendance with the construction of new stadiums. Decreased seating capacity, combined with an increase of fan experience attractions is probably going to become a thing. Increased dine-in restaurant experiences and real bar and grill establishments, creating a reason to go to the ballpark would help. Activities beyond just watching the game for families (especially children) would help. What would help the most is for the economy to have a boom, creating more disposable income for the fans to invest in attendance.

Keegan: Owners around the league are heading down the path where we will see this trend continue. New stadiums that are being built have lower seating capacity and are being placed closer to a wealthier demographic. Ticket prices are escalating to the point where they crowd out middle income families. Those of us who love the sport will continue to follow regardless, but I truly feel for families who can’t afford to attend many games in person. That’s the problem. Attendance that drops further will not hurt owners’ wallets because ticket prices will offset that.

Turambar: We live in the digital age, attendance is a minor annoyance at best. Look at the TV deals teams sign, you think they’re making their money on crackerjack sales? No, we’re in a different world now. To that point, as my compatriots said above, teams are aware that new stadiums need less seats and more to do. Hell that’s my biggest gripe about BOB; it’s too big, way too big. We all bemoan seeing it “empty” but honestly the opportunities to have it full are few and far between even with a better fan base. Teams need to make the experience of a game better and honestly a smaller stadium is better for everyone.

Sean: I don’t think it’s a problem but I don’t really pay attention to this side of baseball. I have no idea how to fix it. But baseball should be working hard to eliminate local blackouts and working to improve the streaming access of the game to fans at home.

If you moved to another location, how would that affect your D-backs fandom?

James: I am a Diamondbacks fan for life. Depending on where I moved to, I would likely root for the local team at every opportunity outside of a win by that team adversely impacting Arizona’s run to the World Series. There is, of course, one major exception. I could be living across the street from Chavez Latrine Ravine and I still would not be able to root for the Dodgers. Living in Los Angeles, I would root for the Angels.

Makakilo: I moved to Hawaii and remain a Diamondbacks fan. The downside is my fan experience would be enhanced if I attended more games in person and met the players. Yet as an optimist, I continually find ways to enjoy my fan experience.

Keegan: I do see myself ending up in San Diego in my future, but that will not change my love for the Diamondbacks. I read the Fanpost this week. There was tremendous discussion in there, but I think it’s silly to tell someone they should be a fan of the team they are geographically closest to.

Turambar: Dbacks forever. That is all.

Sean: Seeing as I haven’t lived in Arizona since 2014 and am still a die-hard Dbacks fan, a move will not affect my fandom. I will always be a D-backs fan and no other team will ever usurp that.