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SnakePit Round Table: Reply hazy, try again

Are we selling yet? How about now? Now?

Kenny’s Flowers, woman holding pie shaped candle is Gail Hutton, the owner. People in red sweaters a Photo by John Mahler/Toronto Star via Getty Images

We’re returning to what we used to do last year, with guest contributor slots: this week, we welcome Suroeste to the panel. If you’d like to take part, speak up in the comments. Questions are sent out on a Saturday, with replies needed by Sunday evening.

Buy, sell or stand pat?

James: Mostly stand pat. I think the team needs to do something to find themselves another starter, though with Duplantier off the IL and Widener still available, they may have enough arms to limp through the remainder of the season. Their best trade assets at Ray, Peralta,and probably Holland. This team seriously cannot afford to be trading from their starting pitching right now. The rotation is already being held together by bailing wire and bubble gum. Removing Ray from the mix would be the final straw that breaks its back. Peralta has to return to play and show he is healthy/productive before anyone is going to offer much in return. Go ahead and trade Holland if someone comes knocking. Mostly, I wouldn’t be looking to make trades, but I would be listening on expiring contracts.

Keegan: I’d have to say standing pat would be the best route to go. Consecutive series against the Baltimore Orioles and Miami Marlins will take us right up to the trade deadline. After that the schedule in August is significantly more challenging with series against teams in the hunt or well out in front. The most valuable trade asset the team has is Robbie Ray, but his position is also where the D’backs need to improve the most, so they really can’t afford to move him during the season.

Jack: Yes.

Makakilo: The D-backs remain on-track for 85 wins, which likely will result in the playoffs. It’s close enough that one low-cost acquisition could make a difference. I’m a buyer, but not all-in.

Turambar: Sell. This squad, though better than most of us could have hoped for, ain’t going anywhere this year. Build for tomorrow and build around those young pieces we already have in place: Marte, C Kelly, Weaver, Young(?), Walker/Cron. They’ll lead us forward and have shown they can contribute, but with all the other question marks on this squad their time in the sun will have to wait until next season or even later. So sell and stock up, Hazen needs to look toward tomorrow.

Suroeste: I self-identify as a “cautious seller” (please ensure correct pronouns are used); maybe you saw Saturday’s game or the description of it as a ‘dumpster fire’ so this position is making a lot more sense to you, the reader. At this point, too many holes in the team across the bullpen ($$ to fix) and starting pitching ($$$$$ to fix) will make it tremendously expensive and difficult to successfully vie for a WC slot. The remainder of the season is an endurance run and you could legally be committed to a mental institution if you said endurance was a strength of the Dbacks. Greg Holland is being held together by rusty nails and scotch tape; Adam Jones looks like his knees are about to blow out when he walks to the batter’s box; all those HBPs cannot be good for Tim Locastro let’s be honest. With the goddamn, mother-effing Giants now in contention for a WC slot, Madison Bumgarner is probably off the market which removes a potential solution to the rotation but also increases Robbie Ray’s value. Let’s drive bidding wars across the league, haul in prospects to coincide with the graduation of our own top prospects, and come back at this in 2021/2022.

By the way, as of July 20th in previous years, here are the number of teams which were a maximum 2 games back vying for a WC spot (including WC leaders):

2018: 4; 2017: 2; 2016: 4

There are 6 teams which meet that criteria in 2019. We need to use this to our advantage.

Where and how can the team improve?

James: The outfield offense and the rotation both need help. The bullpen could use some improving, but the team seems unwilling to tinker much there, otherwise Andriese and McFarland would not still be getting so many innings of work. The problem is, their best bet for improving the outfield is probably in trading Robbie Ray, which just takes the rotation from critical condition but improving to crashing and on life support.

Jack: Rotation is #1 according to Mike Hazen and just about everyone else on the planet.

But truth is year to date the aggregate rotation performance has been above average. Of course the Luke Weaver injury has been a big blow to stability at the back end and Taylor Clarke just isn’t cutting it. Getting a healthy Jon Duplantier back next month and perhaps Luke Weaver back sometime in September would go a long way to help stabilize things. Beyond that, they really need an upgrade at Right Field. But Adam Jones is considered a key clubhouse leader, and I doubt he is going anywhere. A left handed power platoon mate like Corey Dickerson would be a pretty good addition though. And they need a left handed reliever that is better than T.J. McFarland to compliment Andrew Chafin.

Keegan: Feels as if we’ve all discussed this endlessly. At least one arm for the starting rotation. A right fielder. Bullpen help. You can’t plug all those holes at once without giving up a lot in return.

Makakilo: Hazen clearly said his #1 priority is to acquire a starting pitcher externally. My opinion is stick to Hazen’s plan; don’t be distracted. Hazen will decide while the D-back situation lacks clarity. He must execute in a complex situation in which other team directions can change daily and timing matters.

Despite the importance of sticking to Hazen’s plan, a good backup plan would be to add to the bullpen. Let’s rank the July bullpen (1-20 July) by Win Probability Added (WPA) (included only July results so small sample size caveat applies):

  • WPA, ERA, Innings, Pitcher
  • +.248, 2.08, 4.33, Hirano
  • +.192, 0.00, 2.33, Young (one relief appearance)
  • +.067, 0.00, 4.00, Bradley
  • -.013, 0.00, 0.67, Crichton (one relief appearance)
  • -.021, 6.75, 4.00, Andriese
  • -.056, 7.36, 3.67, Godley
  • -.088, 6.43, 7.00, Chafin
  • -.320, 2.70, 3.33, McFarland
  • -.554, 7.94, 5.67, Lopez
  • -.705, 7.20, 5.00, Holland

Jim McLennan identified the bullpen’s root problem (see link to his game preview). Jim wrote, “The problem has been their work in high-leverage situations. Fangraphs’ clutch pitch performance metric has them dead-last in the NL since the break, with a -0.90 rating. With just four 2nd-half shutdown relief appearances, only the Pirates have fewer in the league.”

Turambar : Bullpen help would be nice, but I think that’s a luxury for teams already locked for the playoffs and with a deep Farm to put trades together with. We’re not that team. So realistically I don’t think there’s a JD type move out their that can either: fix the bullpen, shore up outfield offense or net us a solid starter. Sell for the future.

Suroeste: So assuming the Dbacks go the buyer route and do look to improve their ability to contend for a WC slot - they need to fill a spot in the back of the rotation with someone who not only eats innings, but will end their rental career with Arizona >.500; they need to launch Andriese into the sun and replace him with a pitching machine or John Ryan Murphy as those two things could get more outs with a lower ERA by the end of the season; lastly they need to exorcise and destroy the bullpen cart as I’m convinced it’s cursed since our troubles began the minute it entered Chase Field riding on the screams and depredations of its accursed ancestors.

In all seriousness, the offense and defense are fine for what they are - the offense may be inconsistent, but with the help of Darnell Coles they have certainly improved their production from last season (consistency, as detailed in this FanGraphs article, in RS is important though). The defense is, for the most part... please don’t look at the corner outfield spots or first base... pretty damn good. We have the best short-stop in baseball today; our rotation is anchored by a guy who’s run out of room for Gold Gloves in his 200,000 sq ft mansion (yes, that many Gold Gloves... also the real award is a 12,000 sq ft / 3 ton statue and not the dinky plaque they give at the start of the season); our 2B star became a CF star overnight.

You have to fix the hardest thing to fix in baseball - pitching. Jimmie Sherfy is not going to ride in on a rainbow unicorn and save this bullpen but it’s a step in the right direction to bring him onto the roster and put him to work (for nothing else than to give the other guys more rest between games). Ultimately, though, we need to pay for pitching... Weaver is probably not coming back this season and Duplantier will be shutdown on innings if and when he returns... Young’s been a diamond-in-the-rough so far. Do we roll the dice on an MLB-ready prospect in someone else’s farm or make a run at Patrick Corbin and drive him to the brink of insanity?

What should Arizona do about the back of the rotation?

James: First, option Andriese and move Clarke to the bullpen. Second, since he is no longer on the IL, stick Duplantier back in the rotation as the 5th starter. Sliding into the 5th slot will allow the team to continue to manage his innings easier.

Alternatively, if the team is reluctant to turn to Duplantier or Widener, then go grab Matt Harvey off the scrap-heap. As poorly as he performed for the Angels, he still showed some signs of life in that arm. For league minimum, they can afford to give him 2-3 starts to see if he has anything left to offer. Perhaps pitching in the NL will help him just enough to let him give the team 10 more starts to finish the season. If not, the team can then look in-house again to get the final 7 or so starts that they will need out of a 5th starter.

Jack: Swimming across the grain here, my thinking has evolved to the point where I would say DON’T trade for a starting pitcher. They’re the most expensive to acquire, and for those nervous about draining the prospect pool this type of acquisition would do the most damage. Unless it’s a health issue, I did not like hearing Torey take such an Ad Hoc approach to utilizing Jon Duplantier. I think they should give him the next two weeks to get stretched out properly, and put him in the rotation in place of Taylor Clarke, and then roll with that. If Weaver makes it makes it back, he can be a fall back if Alex Young regresses badly. And if Young and Dup are doing OK, Weaver can work in long relief when rosters are expanded and provide some help that way as he gains strength for the post season. Hazen himself also said he can’t plan on injured pitchers to come back and fill innings. But they have often talked about “doing both” when discussing Buy vs. Sell. So I’d stand pat in the rotation, and buy around the edges for Corner outfield and the bullpen.

Keegan: Taylor Clarke is the obvious man out right now. I wonder if rescuing Taylor Widener from the atrocious run environment in AAA Reno would benefit both him and the D’backs by giving him a shot. I’m not a believer that his horrible results this season are entirely his fault. Looking outside of the organization I think revisiting the Mike Leake trade makes sense if the Seattle Mariners are agreeable to covering some of his salary.

Suroeste: Assuming the rotation remains: Greinke, Ray, Kelly, Young, screaming children - we need someone who can pitch, what, 10-12 starts? I think you need to go out and buy a starter who not only can eat 6-7 innings a game but ends their rental career >.500. Throwing low-A pitchers at the MLB wall and seeing what sticks is not going to work; Hazen would have to convince Kendrick to open his wallet and pay for someone. Mike Leake really hates Seattle BTW...

Who do you see as the biggest rivals for a wild-card spot?

James: Milwaukee and Philadelphia. Those are the two teams with an inside edge on the Diamondbacks already and both are actively looking to make deadline upgrades. The Diamondbacks really need to do better than just a 2-2 split against the Brewers in this series. (written Saturday morning)

Jack: All of them really. But if I have to offer a guess, first off, either the Cardinals or Brewers could possibly catch the Cubs, and the Cubs could fall back into a Wild Card slot. But barring that, the Nationals are in the top WC slot at the moment, and that has to be the target. You don’t want to just get in a W.C. game, you want it at HOME. I think the Nationals and Brewers are the biggest blocks for the Dbacks. (regardless of what happens Saturday night and Sunday) I think the DBacks are a better team than the Cardinals (despite losing 2 of 3 in St. Louis) and they’re better than the Phillies, as of right now. But Philly may make moves that move the needle.

Keegan: Anyone not in the NL West. The D’backs control their own fate against those teams and have to handle business there. There aren’t as many series left against the Phillies, Brewers, Nationals, Cardinals, and Cubs. If any of those teams go on a tear it’s going to be difficult to catch them in September.

Makakilo: Based on three measures (momentum, record against .500+ teams, and run differential), the top three “contention” teams are Nationals, Cardinals, and D-backs. The Nationals ranked second on all three measures, are ranked first in win-losses, and look to be the first wild card. That means the biggest rival for the second wild-card could be the Cardinals. Jack is correct that the D-backs are better than the Cardinals, so I remain optimistic that the D-backs will make the playoffs.

Suroeste: St Louis and Philadelphia - Milwaukee was always going to be a top contender for the division or WC (they’re a good team) and I predicted Colorado and Washington will ultimately burn out (Colorado already has). Again, those sons of dogs in San Francisco have crept up in the standings lately... I don’t know if this is an acid-fueled delusion I’m suffering or they actually have turned into a good team. (Fun fact - Arizona’s run differential as of Sunday? - +66; San Fran’s? -43... wild shrug)


James: I’ve been beating this drum since early last season. I understand he is prone to bouts of control issues. The reality is, he is finding success in spite of those issues. In the run-scoring paradise of the PCL Pacific Division, he is holding his own when it comes to run suppression and has been doing so for almost two seasons now. We are beyond small sample size illusions there. Whenever he has been given a shot at the MLB level, he has, by-and-large, been rather successful. Maybe he gets tuned up once MLB hitters expose his tentative grasp on his control. Until they do, get as many innings out of him as you can. Matt Andriese is a dumpster fire. It would take probably three weeks worth of outings just for Sherfy to tank hard enough to be as broken as Andriese is. That’s three weeks to learn for sure what the team has in Sherfy. If he continues to succeed, then the team improves on an already, mostly decent bullpen.

TL/DR: What does the team have to lose at this point?

Jack: I have no idea how serious his injury is, and the velocity loss does give one pause. For whatever reasons, the organization clearly made a choice here. I haven’t agreed with it for at least 18 months. Now it may be too late. Wasted bullets. Wasted talent. All so we could watch some other really lousy options go out and stink up the joint. Big blind spot here for the organization.

Keegan: Free us from the clutches that are Archie Bradley, Zack Godley, and Matt Andriese TBH. Why the team invested so much in Rubby De La Rosa only to let him walk is beyond me. This front office is reluctant to load up on relievers with options and shuffle them around continuously. I get that you want to have consistency in the back end of the bullpen, but having options to turn to would be nice. I’m sure most fans of other teams would say similar things though.

Suroeste: Sure, why not? “But his numbers in Reno this year...” Counterpoint - Alex Young. Roll the dice.

It was the 50th anniversary of the moon landing on Saturday. What are your thoughts on space travel?

James: I think the virtual shuttering was of the entire space program is a sad state of affairs. Sure, manned trips into space are mostly impractical. It’s not about practicality though. It’s about discovery. Advanced probes are wonderful things, but sometimes, there are things that can only be learned by going and exploring for ourselves.

Keegan: Exciting and terrifying at the same time. It’s our next frontier and only hope for a future beyond this planet. Not that we deserve another chance beyond what we’ve done here, but that’s another discussion. I often wonder how we would react towards the discovery of extraterrestrials and vice versa. Guess we’ll find out when we storm Area 51.

Jack: Space travel is fun and makes us feel good. I have wonderful memories of sitting at my Grandfather’s feet watching it all on T.V. But this is a budgetary question and a priorities question. Unfortunately, I can’t answer this question without veering off into topics that will surely be controversial. We need to both Repair and EXPAND our infrastructure. We need to invest in securing our electrical and internet infrastructure as well. Yes, there is a lot of discovery that happens in the scientific arena when we work on Space Programs. Much of it has benefited society. But right now we need to focus science research dollars on developing and commercializing alternative energy and break the grip that the fossil fuel industry has on our Society, and the entire planet for that matter. The fossil fuel industry not only screws up the environment, but funneling all that money into the hands of a few dictates our geopolitical strategies as well.

Makakilo: Let’s define “space travel” as sending people (astronauts) into space. Except for the Mars One commercial venture to colonize Mars, it means returning those astronauts to earth.

Currently, only 2 space agencies can achieve space travel:

  • Russian Roscosmos.
  • Chinese CNSA.

Space travel is about to change.

Space X and Boeing are independently developing a capability to take astronauts to/from earth orbit (both funded by NASA). Both companies have had setbacks. Perhaps by 2020, the Space X Crew-Dragon and the Boeing Starliner will achieve their first manned flights.

Lockheed-Martin is independently developing the Orion space-capsule. The rocket for the Orion space capsule is being developed by Orbital ATK and Boeing. NASA funds these efforts. Orion will support Artemis lunar exploration and possibly flights to asteroids and Mars. The first manned flight of Orion is tentatively scheduled for 2023.

In the near future, commercial tourist-adventure space travel will start:

  • Suborbital flights: Virgin Galactic, Blue Origin, KosmosKurs
  • International Space Station visits: Space Adventures, Axiom Space
  • Space station hotel: Orion Span
  • Trip around the moon: Space X

Suroeste: Generally positive - I don’t think people realize the benefits large-scale, near-impossible scientific / engineering endeavors ultimately bring them. The Gemini and Apollo programs invented new fields in materials sciences and optics engineering which, for example in practical use, has made your car safer, lighter, and easier to manufacture. Additionally, the natural human condition is to explore (and dominant) and space travel fulfills that desire (moon’s taken, Russkies, shove off); the curious among us would also like to understand how this whole crazy universe came to be too (and how the JACKASS GIANTS are now in contention for the WC) and that requires deeper probing into the universe outside of our realm.

Where space endeavors have lost me is the orbiting ISS boondoggle which costs billions to maintain and where we seem to be only running high school-level science experiments on it. Why aren’t we using the ISS as a platform to test capturing space junk or seeing if we can use it as a jumping off point to go to the moon (with an ultimate goal to see whether it’s a jumping off point for going to Mars)? Why haven’t we tried to build temporary habitation on the moon (again, looking ahead to when we go to Mars)? In the US, my opinion is we’ve lost a lot of our driving curiosity and the idea of space travel is sexier than the risk and cost it takes to actually undertake it. Luckily we have a bunch of eccentric billionaires in our country who are more than willing to die on Mars apparently.