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SnakePit Round Table: The Battle of Los Angeles

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Series wins and an opening victory over the Dodgers... And then....

MLB: AUG 09 Diamondbacks at Dodgers Photo by Brian Rothmuller/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

We’re returning to what we used to do last year, with guest contributors. If you’d like to take part, speak up in the comments. It’s first-come, first served; questions are sent out on a Saturday, with replies needed by Sunday evening.

Series wins over the Nationals and Phillies. Are the D-backs back in it?

Jack: Technically, yes they are in it with roughly a 15 % chance of making the Wild Card as of right now. That’s not a good chance, but it’s a non zero chance. However they need to go at least 26-18 or 27-17 from here on out to reach 85 or 86 wins and sneak in. And that’s the bare minimum. So they need a hot streak, like winning 8 in a row, and then can’t slump immediately afterwards. Losing 2 of 3 with LA didn’t help.

Steven: No they’re not. They’ve done this all season long and then fallen back down to below .500. I don’t think the offense is consistent enough game to game to make a sustained streak even with their large run differential.

Makakilo: Not yet, but it could happen.

Dano: I am writing this after Saturday night’s game, but before Sunday’s, so that’s my disclaimer, per Jack. Honestly, I don’t think so, though who knows? If we get hot at the right time, that could carry us into one of the wild card spots. It would amuse and please me if that happened, and I wouldn’t be shocked if it did, but I don’t think we’re built for a deep postseason run, and it wouldn’t shock me either if we totally fade over the last month and a half of the regular season.

Jim: Still fringey at the time of writing (11 am on Sunday). A win this afternoon would be huge, albeit unlikely. They have a weak schedule for a bit thereafter, and unlike the previous softness against the Marlins and Orioles, they really need to make a statement against the Rockies and Giants. They need to do more than just hang in there, which is all they’ve been doing for the past couple of months, and actually move into occupation of a wild-card spot, rather than relying on the kindness of strangers.

Turambar: Maybe, but as I write this (1:32pm Sunday) that seems mostly unlikely. We’ve been .500 all year, and while that’s nice and better than anyone thought back in March, we’ve done nothing to suggest we can go on the run we need to in order to reach the WC. A win today would be tremendous, but I gotta see that and much more.

What did you think about the end of Friday night’s game in Los Angeles?

Jack: They used to say that momentum in baseball only lasts until the next night’s starter. This turned out to be true in the case of the Kenta Maeda start. He was on his game, and shut the DBacks down. Also the DBacks have shown an ability to dart up and down over 24 hour periods in dizzying fashion. So it’s not very predictable. IF the team goes on a hot streak right now and go on to win a Wild Card berth, those in search of narratives and story lines will want to point to Friday perhaps. But it’s not really all that relevant, as Saturday and Sunday showed.

Steven: Pretty dumb honestly. I’m getting real tired of Archie’s intimidation shtick without much to back it up. And after the benches cleared it was a pushing contest with Roberts going berserk, now that was funny.

Dano: It made me kind of tired, actually, especially when I saw an article about it on the MLB.com front page as I was going looking for last night’s box score. I’m totally with Steven on Archie’s shtick. Over it. The postgame “fake tough guy” burn brought me a grin, but only because it was the Dodgers. If it had been any other team, I’d have no patience at all. And even with it being the Dodgers, my reservoir of patience is thin. Not sure what to make of AJ Pollock’s participation in the whole thing, either--watching the replay of the alleged not-a-HBP, it sure looked to me like it hit the knob of the bat rather than AJ’s wrist, but maybe it did both. Or maybe AJ, having donned Dodger blue, has turned into a conniving, attention-seeking *sshole. Which, if true, makes me sad.

So, in short, it makes me tired and sad. Glad we won, but I could have done without the ancillary drama.

Jim: Kinda silly. No doubt the Dodgers started it, with Pollock’s fake-ass HBP. But Archie really should have simply focused on the game, especially with the tying run on-base. Deeply amused by Dave Roberts’s inability to recognize the game’s starting pitcher though. Glad he apologized, and that both teams showed some maturity and moved on without further incident.

Turambar: Love the drama, especially at the Dodgers expense, but it means less than nothing when we’re so far out of it and they’re clearly on another plane of reality. Where was that passion in other series that we SHOULD have won. The same series that have seen us to where we’re at now: treading water just below the WC bar. I loved it just because I hate the Doyers, but it makes me wonder where that same fight and swagger was earlier in the season.

Mike Leake and Zac Gallen made their AZ debuts this week. Discuss.

Jack: I know we should expect Mike Leake to be hittable. But that was a bit much in his last start. Still, thanks to just one walk and two GBDP he limited damage. So hopefully he can do that a lot more. I said earlier he’ll probably have one good, one bad start alternating. That’s not exactly true. But you can see from Leake’s Gamelog he’ll have a good start or two, or three, and then a bad start. Sometimes he does alternate one good, one bad. That’s what league average often looks like more often than 10 straight starts of 6 IP and 3 Runs allowed. So I’ll stick with that. (Above written before Sunday start in which he got blasted)

As for Gallen, his stuff looked great and he had good command for the most part, and you can’t help but be excited for his future with the team. Fingers crossed…but if he can continue to build on what he’s done so far in 2019, and stay healthy, and Luke Weaver rebounds from his elbow injury, the team has some really good foundational rotation guys that can both be above average starters to co- anchor their rotation while seeing who else develops.

Steven: Leake has been pretty bad on the road this year, with around a 5.50 ERA, which surprises me that they’d target him after failing to acquire him earlier in the season. He should be an innings eater the rest of the season but I could see him costing the team important games down the stretch.

I think Gallen looked great but could see them being super cautious with his pitch/inning counts going forward now that he’s surpassed last year’s innings total. Still, he looks every part the pitcher they hyped him up to be.

Dano: I only saw box scores for those games, and read the Snake Pit recaps, but the Gallen trade seemed to me like one of the big bright spots of the trade deadline, and his first start for us makes me hopeful and excited to watch him going forward. As for Leake, I have been open to adding him to our staff since Weaver got hurt, Godley revealed his inner Godleyness, and Kelly started sucking on a much more regular basis than his instances of being, well, good. If he has a one bad start out of every four (or three, or occasionally two), I’ll still take it, at least for the rest of 2019. League average is fine, if he can eat innings from time to time and spare our younger starters the damage that could be done by bringing them up before they’re ready and making them take the mound over and over (and get shelled over and over). Let a veteran and what is essentially a rental take the knocks.

Makakilo: Oldenschoole wrote an ‘obvious truth’ in Sunday’s gameday thread, “...he [Mike Leake] doesn’t have anywhere near the stuff that Greinke has.” In that context, he has two stats that reminded me of Zack Greinke:

  • Leake’s 1.248 bases-on-balls-per-9-innings ranks first in the AL. This stat compares well to Greinke’s 1.295 which ranks second in the NL.
  • Leake’s 1.27 range-factor-per-game ranks second in the AL. This stat compares to Greinke’s 2.22 which ranks first in the NL.

Rookie Zac Gallen’s first start as a D-back was great. Next season Zac Gallen may be an All-Star. One reason (there are several): his 5.66 hits-per-9-innings would rank first in the NL if he had enough innings to qualify for the Baseball Reference leaderboard (9 August 2019).

Jim: A bit of a contrast, to put it mildly. Leake was horribly hittable, and certainly fortunate that the damage was not a great deal worse. I really suspect we will have better options for the rotation in 2020. Gallen, on the other hand, looked mightily impressive - considerably better than Zack Greinke in his Houston debut. If that’s any indication of what we can expect, then this deal looks very good, almost regardless of what Jazz Chisholm does.

Turambar: Leake makes me nervous….if we’d expect him to anchor our future. He ain’t that guy thankfully, but Gallen, he looks like that guy. Small sample size in both cases but it seems pretty clear that Leake will chug along each outing; not great, not awful and maybe just good enough to keep a game close. Gallen though looks like he’s been owning that mound for years. He looks ready to do much much more. We’ll of course see, but with young arms like Weaver and Gallen I see hope in our future.

If you were re-modeling Chase Field, what would you add, subtract or change?

Jack: First I’d tear down Game 7 Grill. The entire building. Having that blank brick wall behind it screws up the entire area. I’d then completely re imagine that space. Think about the streets surrounding Fenway Park. I’m no urban planner, but I think they could do a lot better with the space and create a much better atmosphere.

As far as reducing seating, I don’t know how you reduce the size of the upper deck or reduce seats structurally. And they don’t want to tarp it off like they did in Oakland. Whatever changes they make, I hope they at least make it for focused ON THE GAME. So if they set up more entertainment and party areas, at least put a lot of big screens in those spaces so people can still feel engaged with the game and go out and cheer on the big moments.

Steven: Chase is an eyesore, along with most of downtown so I really think it’s a lost cause unless they want to dump a bunch of money into it. Honestly, if they’re getting private funding on a stadium near Salt River Field I’m all for it.

Makakilo: Specific changes to Chase need to be part of a bigger plan. Please see my answer to the next question.

Dano: Subtracts some seats, for one. I was actually at Monday night’s game, in person, up in the nosebleed seats directly behind home plate (which are, in a lot of ways, great seats). It’s grim to be in a space with that many seats when so many of them are empty, especially when a game goes badly. Maybe keep the 300-level seats in the immediate arc behind the plate, and somehow get rid of the rest? I dunno. I agree with Jack that tarping it off isn’t a good solution.

Beyond that, maybe improve the concessions pricing so that there is more of a range of options. I was at the Monday game with an old friend who happened to be in town, and our plan for the evening was to basically drink some beer and eat some ballpark food and watch the baseball and catch up some between innings. Even in the nosebleed seats, a 20oz beer cost us something like $13 apiece. Ouch. We each had one. Yes, beer is bad for you, but $13 seems like punitive pricing.

Lastly, put the blank score sheet back into the complimentary “programs”. Monday was the first time in a couple of years I actually made it up from Tucson for a game, and I brought my pencil and I made a point to pick up a program on the way to my seat, because whenever I’m at a baseball game I like to keep my own score sheet. I do that, too, when I am on a recap night for the Snake Pit. It helps me focus, and it’s a dying art that I am pleased that I actually learned before it started to die. It struck me in the heart when I flipped through the program looking for those pages and found that they weren’t there anymore.

Baseball, at the end of the day, isn’t a game designed for the casual, drive-by viewer. I think that, if we want to build up AZ baseball, and baseball in general, something that needs to be a component of that effort is not to speed it up and dumb it down, but rather to help new or casual fans to apprehend and appeciate the depth of the game, and develop proficiency in the art of appreciating it on a deeper level. At Diamondbacks games in the past, I’ve found myself teaching people who happened to be sitting next to me how to use the score sheet. I’ve taught it to people I happened to be watching baseball with on TV when it was a recap night. Not because I’m some sort of demented missionary for that particular activity (I don’t think, though I suppose I might be), but because it’s something I do and like to do and know how to do, and the people sitting beside me picked up on that and got interested. So BRING THE SCORE SHEET BACK to the complimentary program, goddamnit!

Jim: Certainly reduce the capacity, though I’m not sure how that can be done in a way that’s not tacky e.g. tarp’ing off most of the upper deck. I’d like to see a better selection of beers available, outside of the Draft Room. Petco shows how that can be done. More local concessions too, perhaps one-offs like the tamale stand, rather than the generics.

Turambar: Capacity. Slash it. Ideally in a way that opens up space for more vendors, food, drink or whatever. I don’t know how easy or not that is, but it’s a top priority if we’re to renovate. Second would be to see what windows can be put in with that decreased capacity. It’d be great to get some natural light in there during summer games.

What other teams do you think are the best role-models for Arizona to emulate?

Jack: I hope they are innovative and discover their own formula for sustained success and other teams want to emulate THEM. That would be ideal. The team employs A LOT of scouts, but also has a very large analytics department. Take a look at the Baseball Operations Department Listing. It’s HUGE. One thing Derek Ladiner talked about during the last draft was how many more eyes they were able to get on players, how many more looks, due to a beefed up scouting staff. While teams like Houston cut scouting staff, the DBacks added. They are working very hard to create a system that melds scouting, player development and analytics into a seamless organization. They want their scouts and player development personnel to understand at least basic analytics, and their analytic staff to understand scouting. Time will tell how good they are at it. But it’s a worthy and lofty goal.

Steven: If Ken Kendrick is going to treat the D-backs as a small market team budget-wise, they need to continue to invest in scouting, analytics, and especially player development. So just the Tampa Rays method of baseball.

Makakilo: I like Mike Hazen’s imperative to build the farm system to reach sustainable contention every season. I like what Jack Sommers wrote about creating a system that leverages scouting, player development, and analytics.

Building on those imperatives, the best role model would be a Japanese team: Yokohama DeNA Bay Stars. Between 2011 and 2018, the Bay Stars increased yearly attendance from 1.17 to 2.29 million fans, filling an average of 97% of the stadium’s seats (source: Japan Times). What to emulate follows:

  • Make the stadium an attractive/fun place for families, friends and coworkers, and where baseball-fans and non-baseball-fans can enjoy spending time at the stadium.
  • Constantly experiment with new things that surprise and delight fans, so each visit can be new and full of wonder.
  • Demonstrate how fans can live healthy and lively through sports.
  • Reach beyond the stadium to enliven the community and generate additional value from sports-related businesses and projects.
  • Leverage sports technologies, information and communication technologies, and artificial intelligence technologies in cooperation with individuals and venture companies.

Dano: Yes, like Jack, et al., say, if we’re going to be (or behave like) a small-market team. Beyond that, though, I’d say the key thing (per a portion of my lengthy natter regarding the previous question) is to try to find ways to educate new fans or interested parties who might be open to becoming fans so that they can better understand the strategic and tactical complexities of the game.

Baseball is funny, because on the surface it’s a succession of more-or-less standalone set-pieces: a one-on-one battle between pitcher and batter, repeated a number of times over the course of a given game. If the batter hits the ball, the other players get involved (a handful, anyway), but it’s easy to see each at-bat as a localized phenomenon that involves a very limited cast. In a very real way, that is what baseball is, really, in fact. You get a minimum of 27 iterations of that set piece for each side (24 for the home team, if they are ahead after the top of the ninth is over). I think that’s why it’s so easy to produce Twitter-sized film clips for baseball game highlights. But that is not all a baseball game is, and it’s not even a fraction of what a baseball game is, really.

I’m inclined to think that adding technological bells and whistles, and smart-phone integration and wacky between-innings spectacles is really the way to broaden the sport’s appeal. It might get more people into the park, but if they’re not there for the game, and not paying attention to the game, and not particularly inclined to do so, and don’t even understand what’s going on beyond the basics of “Who’s on first?” then, in a sense, what’s the point?

So I’m not sure that Makalilo’s list of things to aspire to providing in our next ballpark are things that I could particularly endorse. Focus on the game, on making it more understandable, and more accessible, to people who weren’t lucky enough to have been raised with the appreciation of the complexities as part of their education. Help the casual fans develop the literacy to enjoy the game on the deeper levels. The game itself is a thing of beauty, if only one has eyes to see it. But for most of us, some learning is required to get those eyes to function.

Jim: It is always going to be hard for the team to compete in the same division as the Dodgers, who now have a smart baseball department to go with their insane resources. Mike Hazen and crew simply MUST spend smarter, and there’s precious little room for errors like the Tomas contract, because those have a disproportionate impact on a small-budget team. Focus on the farm team, get a steady stream of players coming through from there, and use the payroll to fill in gaps as appropriate. Also look to acquire players worldwide, mining talent wherever it may be found, and not just the US college system.

Turambar: Like everyone is posting above we’ve gotta get smarter on our player development, like the Astros or Rays. We’ll never be a deep pocket franchise, but we could get sneaky.

What is your hometown best known for?

Jack: The National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum . That’s right, I was born in Cooperstown. My grandparents had bought a farm about 15 miles away and my Mom was living on Long Island and visiting them. I arrived a few weeks early, and that’s where the nearest hospital was. So I have a pretty cool birth certificate. I guess it was always fate that drew me in and dictated my love of the sport.

Steven: Gilbert? ‾\_(ツ)_/‾

ISH95: My home town is famous for being only about five degrees cooler than the surface of the sun.

Makakilo: A giant potato drops at the stroke of midnight on New Year’s Eve. If you want, you can imagine me as Mr. Potato Head!

Dano: Good lord. I’ve lived for long enough spans of time in enough places to have said, at various points, “This is where I live” in reference to: Cherry Hill, NJ, Haddonfield, NJ, Phoenix, AZ, Bronxville, NY, Burlington, VT, New York, NY, Jersey City, NJ, New York, NY (again), Prescott, AZ, Flagstaff, AZ, Hattiesburg, MS, and now, finally, Tucson, AZ. I’m not sure I could identify someplace at this point that I think of as a hometown.

If one defines it as the place one identifies with as the place one lived at the time in one’s life that one became a (relatively) fully sentient and self-aware being, I guess that would have to be Haddonfield, NJ. Haddonfield is home to the Indian King tavern, which dates back to 1750. It is where the legislature of the New Jersey colony repaired to discuss independence in preparation for declaring New Jersey’s independence from the British Empire, which they finally did in 1777 (sorry, Jim, if there’s any postcolonial bitterness).

If one defines it as where one thinks of oneself as a municipal citizen of, that would probably be Tucson, because I’ve been here for awhile now, and broadly speaking I like it here. It’s a nice town. Lots of culture, an incredible amount of very good food, and rent is still remarkably cheap in various parts of town. The arts flourish, largely because they can still afford to here,

The best thing, though, to my mind, is that we have Biosphere 2 just up the road, which, while it’s just kind of a cool science-y academic-and-tourist site now, was initially built as a proof-of-concept test for self-sustaining manned interplanetary colony vessels. Big, ambitious, crazy sf science, and someone (a mad Texan billionaire, but, well, what can you do?), actually got it built it in the real world. Also, though they didn’t entirely realize it at the time (there were some issues, because freshly-poured concrete is apparently weird, who knew?), it pretty much worked, despite only having available the technological and engineering knowledge that was extant in the late 1980s and early 1990s. It’s the coolest.

Jim: Being name-checked in Macbe… er, the Scottish play. Act I, Scene III. Banquo says, “How far is ’t called to Forres?” The town was going to open a visitors’ center based off that. Funding fell through.

Turambar: Hot weather and frustrating sports franchises.