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SnakePit Round Table: First Half Review

In which the team looks back to what has gone before - but also forward, at what might happen at the trade deadline.

Melina Mercouri Photo by Time Life Pictures/Pix Inc./The LIFE Picture Collection via Getty Images/Getty Images

We’re returning to what we used to do last year, with guest contributor slots. 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.

Where do the D-backs stand at the break?

Turambar: Here, there, but mostly right where they were before. Essentially they’re the same .500 team that they’ve been this whole year: better than we thought, but not good enough consistently enough to matter. In many ways I still think this team has it in them to make a bit of a run, but even the most optimistic of us know we’d likely be playing for the right to get smashed by whoever we’d play in the playoffs.

James: They are a perfectly average team with the potential to be better. Injuries and inconsistency have all but put an end to the idea that this team is going to compete for a trip to the playoffs this season, but the team has not fallen to pieces either. Like last season, the team’s lack of depth behind the expected main contributors has hurt the team’s chances of competing. Walker having a setback, and then being joined by Weaver and Duplantier, Lamb missing significant time, along with Flores, Peralta trying to play through injury and looking like a shell of himself, Souza being lost for the season, all of these things have put the team on the ropes when it comes to simply fielding a viable 25-man roster. The fact that they are still in the hunt is actually rather amazing.

Makakilo: With the sweep of the Rockies, it’s game-on for Mike Hazen to immediately improve the team! Playoff chances are real!

Jack: So with the three game sweep they vault ahead of the Rockies, are 46-45, only 1.5 Games out of Wild Card behind Philly and one game behind Brewers, who they have a 4 game series with coming up shortly. With some better bounces in one run games they could very well have been in the lead. Simply convert their one run game record from 13-19 to 16-16 and they would be 49-42, in the FIRST Wild card slot. That’s a lot better than I expected.

Dano: Pretty much where I expected, honestly. There have been surprises and disappointments all down the roster, but before the start of the season I predicted (guessed, really) that we’d finish with an 80-82 record, and we’re still well within the margin of error for that. At midseason, a couple of weeks before the newly-hardened trade deadline, that’s an awkward place to be. But here we are.

What stood out in a positive way?

Turambar: So far this season? I’d have to say Marte, Walker and Escobar. Going in to this year most of us figured we’d miss out on production from Goldy and AJ leaving, and that got compounded even more when Lamb went down to injury. Fast forward a few months later and our bats are doing just fine, Marte is GREAT in center field, Walker is diet-Goldy and Escobar is mashing. Wow.

James: On the offensive side of the ball, I am impressed with Ketel Marte, Christian Walker, and Carson Kelly. Marte has had a breakout year. Walker has managed to hold his own at the MLB level, even though he did tire for a spell. Carson Kelly is rewarding my faith in him. If not for injuries, the starting pitching this team could have had at its disposal could have been enough to carry the sub-par overall offense to the playoffs.

Dano: The offense, overall. Like Turambar, I expected we’d feel the loss of Goldy and AJ a lot more. Conversely, I expected our pitching to be more reliable than it has been. But the call-ups (Walker, Locastro, etc) and the acquisitions (Adam Jones, mainly) have been pleasant surprises. Marte breaking out is nice, too, though I kinda felt like he would get there eventually...it’s a happy thing he’s gotten there sooner rather than later. And some of our pitching acquisitions/prospects have shone as well--Merrill Kelly, Luke Weaver (before the injury...hopefully he makes it back more or less intact), and most recently, Alex Young. Who the hell is Alex Young? A pretty good young pitcher, it appears. Small sample size, but still.

Makakilo: Looking at win probability added (WPA), standouts varied by Month:

  • Holland, Escobar, and Greinke in April
  • Peralta, Greinke, and Marte in May
  • Walker, Escobar, and Marte in June

Winning is a team effort, and many players contributed. Let’s look beyond WPA.

The rotation is D-backs’ foundation of contending. Zack Greinke’s consistent starts were especially important because of injuries and Godley moving to the bullpen. Greinke inspired and motivated the team.

Hazen said the offense was pretty good and pushing for consistency. Consistency was achieved at the start of the season (4 or more runs in 14 of 19 games), and prior to the All-Star break ( 4 or more runs in 15 of 19 games). Look who had high WPA in periods with consistent offense – it was Escobar and Walker. For the season, Eduardo Escobar’s 67 RBIs was the highest on the team, which contributed to that consistency. Torey Lovullo said he is a leader and has been a catalyst for the D-backs.

Although many players stood out, Eduardo Escobar stood out most. Honorable mention to Tim Locastro, who made every at-bat an adventure to be enjoyed.

Jack: This past week was Zack Greinke week at the Snakepit, and he has put the team and the rotation on his shoulders. He is the team’s superstar, and has pitched and played like it. I can’t really say much more than I already have this week.

The offense in general, has really stood out as better than expected, ranking 5th in the NL in both OPS (.770 vs. lg avg .752) and Runs per game (5.10 vs. 4.77 lg avg). The stars have been well documented above. I’ll note here that the team wOBA/xwOBA gap continues to narrow. It now stands at .16 (.327 wOBA vs .311 xwOBA). I still expect some further regression towards the xwOBA here in the 2nd half.

The team defense was expected to be weaker than last year, but it’s been nearly as good or even better, depending on your data source.

And who were the disappointments?

Turambar: Godley, Archie and Torrey’s pitching choices. Godley looks like he’ll never start again after being wildly underwhelming to start the season: his stuff is toast and so is he. Archie’s story is a tale of a man unwilling to change his pitching approach and every offense is counting on him sticking to the same fastball driven style. That combination makes for some pretty crappy relief outings. That in turn leads us to Torey, who I still love very much as a manager, but Christ almighty Torey, you’ve got to know when to pull the plug on certain members of your pitching staff.

James: Two things really stand out to me and they are related. First, almost the entire bullpen has been a trainwreck. Second, this team has been entirely too slow to try and do anything about it. That the team sent Rubby De La Rosa on his way and continues to leave Sherfy in Reno just defies explanation. There are other arms in the minors (and in the rotation) that possibly could have helped in the bullpen. It would have been difficult to be worse.

Makakilo: After a tough loss, Jim McLennan pointed out with humor - “It’s the hope!” The D-backs have played so well that I have high-apple-pie-in-the-sky-hope of reaching the playoffs. I was disappointed each close game that the D-backs lost. They lost 19 one-run games. That’s a ton of disappointment. My playoff hope remains high. My potential for disappointment remains high, too.

Jack: The trainers and medical staff. Just kidding. Sort of. But the team has the 4th highest number of missed days in the NL in 2019. (11th highest in all of MLB). I’m not thrilled with the way the Peralta shoulder and Jones Hamstring injuries have been handled. They both were rushed back and both saw their performance suffer as a result, and now Peralta is back on the IL. Lamb and Avila were out an awful long time with their quad injuries. And of course the injuries in the rotation to Luke Weaver and Jon Duplantier have been big setbacks for the team. All teams have injuries. And the DBacks have not had the most injury, but they’ve had more than most. And they could ill afford it. Recovery and better health the rest of the way is going to be key to their chances. They really can’t take many more hits. The outfield is so thin right now as it is, and Peralta is going to be out a while. We will start seeing the effect of that over time as Dyson, Locastro and Jones OPS+ keep dropping. And one more injury in the rotation would be the straw that breaks the camel’s back. Insert finger crossed smiley here.

Dano: The bullpen, really, across the board. Our late-inning bridge relievers caught on fire and fell into the river, which then caught on fire because the river itself was polluted. This past week, it has appeared that Holland’s arm fell off, and wasn’t likely to be reattached successfully. Brutal, and even with our unexpectedly strong offense, we need a far more reliable bullpen than we have. There are, it seems to me, about ten games (more or less) that we could/would/should have won, had our bullpen been more reasonably competent than it has proven to be.

Do we need a change at closer?

Turambar: I’ve been hating on Holland a bit much this last week, but honestly he’s been pretty solid. Last week especially was more an issue of Torey not willing to act on a situation where Holland CLEARLY was off.

James: I think Holland needs to get a few outings in some lower leverage situations between now and the deadline. They need to find a way to get him some work in two or three out of five games to see if he can find his control again and to see if getting some regular work can get and keep him sharp. If he can fix himself, they can slide him back into the closer role while they try to find a suitor for him at the deadline. If he can’t then having him pitch low leverage innings is where you want him if he is going to be getting innings. That said, I’m not sure who I actually turn to as closer, probably Lopez, but that is not the long-term solution.

Makakilo: Hmmm, hard decision. I keep Holland as closer based on the following:

  • In March/April, his WPA was highest on the D-backs.
  • This season in his first 23 games, Holland had only one blown save.
  • On the other hand, in the last 7 games he has two blown saves and one blown loss. My perception is that determining the root cause is hard, but fixing the problem will be easy. My guess for root cause is Holland reduced his use of the curve to 3% in July, so batters mostly expected fastball or slider, and they waited on the pitch they wanted. An indication is that in July (3 games) slider swing percent went down to 26% while slider batting average went up to .500.
  • To put this season in perspective, Holland’s pace of blown saves is the same or better-than last season’s closer Boxberger (who had 8 blown saves for the season).

Nevertheless, last season I thought the D-backs needed a backup closer for Boxberger. Same idea is true this season for Holland.

Jack: I’m not confident in Holland going forward. He’s simply walking too many and giving up too many homers, and at the end of the day, his velocity is indeed down from last year. Earlier in the year this was masked by a miniscule BABIP. But that’s begun to change too. These trends don’t portend well. See below chart, which does not include Sunday’s game. And he was throwing just 89 MPH fastballs and gave up a HR to Story on a 83 MPH Slider. (Although he did manage to record all 3 of the last outs on sliders) I don’t know if the team has any better options though. Yoan Lopez possibly if he can start striking out more guys, may be able to stave off regression. Other than that, there are no good or obvious candidates. I’m afraid we are going to have to wait it out and hope that Holland does not have a Boxberger like 2nd half demise.

Dano: Yeah, kinda. I lived in New York City for eleven years, back in the day, and I didn’t earn a lot of money during that time. I lived in about six different apartments for different spans of time, and some of those apartments I furnished largely from wandering around and picking stuff up the night before garbage pickup. I mention this as an analogy, specifically regarding our closer strategy the last couple of years.

One time, when I was furnishing an apartment via scavenging, I wound up with a toaster oven that, once thoroughly cleaned, lasted me a year and a half before it caught fire and scorched a portion of my kitchen wall. I found a VCR (yes, I’m old) that worked okay for about six months until it started reliably eating videotapes. I picked up a CD player that, thanks to proper care and feeding, and, relatively infrequent use, is still with me to this day.

My point is that one can value from things salvaged out of dumpsters, but the mileage will vary, the point where the appliance in question craps out is unpredictable, and the consequences of the inevitable failure of the salvage piece might be profoundly detrimental. The last two seasons, and now this one, we’ve had Fernando Rodney, Brad Boxberger, and now Greg Holland, as our designated closers. Each of them has broken down, sooner or later, and it kinda looks like Holland is doing so right now (this last series notwithstanding).

Should the team be buyers or sellers at the deadline, and what should they buy/sell?

Turambar: Oof, still have no clue on this. Whatever they do I just pray they don’t sell the farm just for a chance to get a wild card berth. We’re not winning the Series this season, we gotta focus on building for the future.

James: While I don’t think they should stand-pat, I do think they should be rather quiet at the deadline. If anyone show any interest in Holland or Jones, then go ahead and trade them. If not for the current state of the rotation, I would be a strong advocate for trading Ray for a good haul. But the team needs starters just to field a team right now. That sort of move might need to wait until November. Avila might be another player to trade, but then that means Caleb Joseph is the team’s backup catcher and is probably playing in 40% of the games. The team does not need a fifth starter until later in the month, so they have a little time to get Duplantier healthy again. They need to not rush him back though. If he isn’t ready by then, the team may have no choice but to make some sort of move just to get another starting pitcher in the rotation.

Makakilo: Buyers. First priority should be starting pitching. Buyers means weight trades to improve the chances of playoffs this season. This is much different than going all-in and depleting the farm.

Jack: We know for a fact that Mike Hazen wants to fortify the rotation from the outside, as he has said so on numerous occasions. He’s also said there is no trade he can make at the moment. Whatever he does will probably give us pause. Starting pitching is very expensive to acquire, and whoever it is will be someone with warts that we will all pick at. It will probably also be someone with control years. Then again it could come down to the very end near the deadline, and who knows where the team will be then and if they’ll go for a rental. It’s unpredictable. A lot can change in three weeks. It wouldn’t shock me to see him try to fortify the outfield as well. It’s possible his moves will look like neither buy or sell. His highest value trade asset is Robbie Ray, and he really can’t afford to give up innings from the rotation, for either the short or the long term.

The DBacks should not be “buyers” however. Looking at a “new thing” I was just playing around with, Team Batting xwOBA - Pitching xwOBA, (Wild Card Contenders) the Diamondbacks look like a team primed for 2nd half regression. I’m not saying give up, but you just have to let it play out.

Dano: Kinda with Turambar, and also with James, on this one. If someone wants to give us something useful for Holland or Jones, I’d say, “hell, yes.” Beyond that, I honestly don’t know. I don’t think we should be buyers, particularly, aside from our ongoing starting pitching woes. I don’t particularly want us to sell, though, either, unless we could find someone to take all of Greinke’s contract. I profoundly doubt we make the playoffs, but our roster seems strong enough and, broadly, young enough that “sell everything, burn it all down and let the ashes fertilize the soil” doesn’t seem like a good option either.

What are your summer plans?

Turambar: Avoid being hot as often as possible. So in other words head up north on the I-17 as many weekends as possible.

James: Writing more articles for the Pit and watching plenty of baseball. This is going to be a quiet and uneventful summer for me. At least, that’s the plan.

Makakilo: My unusual and spectacular plan is to visit Japan in August. Downside: it will be hot in August. Upside: I acquired tickets to see two baseball games: Hanshin Tigers vs Yokohama DeNA Baystars (they have an exchange agreement with the D-backs), and Orix Buffaloes vs Hokkaido Nippan-Ham Fighters. To share my joy, I will write about these two Japanese baseball games. AZ Snake Pit comments, questions, and suggestions about the games are welcome. Dream big, always!

Jack: A couple of trips to Flagstaff, one to New York. Beyond that, perhaps a road trip to Colorado will be squeezed in as well. Plenty of time in the pool and at Chase Field too of course.

Dano: Selling my house, mainly, or trying to, and then making the various subsequent decisions that I will have to make as the dominos fall.