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SnakePit Round Table: Win some, lose some...

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Home-run derby, our future rotation and the D-backs who might merit award consideration are among this week’s topics.

ATHLETICS-AUS-CITY 2 SURF Photo credit should read DAVID GRAY/AFP/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.

Are the juiced home-run balls making a mockery of the game?

Jack: I don’t know if I’d say mockery. It’s clearly extreme, and it makes it hard to put things in context from an analytical standpoint. But there was an exciting element to Friday night’s game too. Even in the press box, with all the crusty old traditionalists I sit next to who’ve seen everything, were all a buzz about what was going on. Maybe this is what MLB owners want. Despite what the “purists” and hardcore fans like us may prefer or want, they have us anyway no matter what. But the casual fans that go to one or two games a year have more fun at a game like last night than a quiet 4-2 game, and are more likely to come back because of it.

There is a flip side to this that may or may not have anything to do with homers. MLB Avg Attendance per game has dropped precipitously over the last two years. This may be due to social and economic factors, a canary in the coal mine if you will, and have nothing to do with homers, runs per game, pace/style of play or any of that. Regardless of the reason, the data is startling.

MLB attendance peaked in 2007. There was a slight drop in 2008 at the very front end of the great recession, and then a large drop in 2009 as the recession was in full swing. From 2010 through 2017 the numbers were fairly stable. There was a bounce back somewhat in 2011-12 and a little drop after that. But the massive drop in 2018, and then another slight drop in 2019, resulting in a full 13% off of the 2007 peak has to have MLB executives in a near panic. They may not have the right solutions. One thing that seems likely though is that prolific homer totals are not increasing attendance.

Wesley: I really don’t think so. I don’t like it for many of the reasons that Jack stated, but maybe these are the changes that baseball needs to make to keep attendance up, and keep the game relevant. Baseball is going to be faced with a demographics crunch very soon, as the older generations (who are much more into baseball than the younger generations) die off, those will need to be replaced. Based on how my eighteen year old niece and her friends feel about baseball, I’d say that Generation Z finds baseball to be quite boring. If increasing the home run rate is what gets new fans interested, then that’s what needs to be done. Even changes like the autorunner in extra innings, which I have voiced my displeasure about many times, actually make the extra innings more exciting and have more tension in the air. Whatever brings new blood into the fandom, I’m all for. The future is Blernsball, clearly.

Makakilo: In the last 100 years, home runs have increased. Let’s look at the years that 1K milestones were reached:

  • 455 homers, 1901 (baseline year)
  • 1055 homers, 1922
  • 2073 homers, 1950
  • 3001 homers, 1962
  • 4458 homers, 1987
  • 5064 homers, 1998
  • 6105 homers, 2017

It took more than 10 years (and up to 28 years) for each 1000-homer-increase. If this season reaches 7000 homers, it would be 2 years after the last milestone - a very short interval that would be unprecedented. However, as of today, I project 6814 homers, significantly short of 7000.

Dano: I’m not sure how much of the ongoing power surge is due strictly to juiced balls, though if it is all down to that, it kinda sucks...why not just go all the way and start allowing metal bats? But there’s also the growing professionalization of prospect baseball, at the high school level and even pre-high school. It’s something that has been increasingly clear with American football--the folks who make it to the big leagues have optimized their bodies so much in service of the game that they’re kind of not recognizably human anymore...sort of sports-optimized posthumans. I worry that this is happening/will happen in baseball as well.

James: I don’t think it is so much making a mockery of the game so much as I think it is changing how the game is going to be approached in the future. For many generations now, one of the biggest appeals of the game has been it historicism. Despite decades going by, leading to bigger and better athletes, many fans across multiple generations have been able to use the accomplishments of the past as a measuring stick for the feats of excellence of modern players. That touchstone is quickly disappearing. It’s not just the home runs. Strikeouts are up too, though there are plenty of extra factors beyond the ball involved there. I do think that the juiced ball is going to make this connection to the past disappear even faster. Now, a new baseline is being set for future fans to look at as the “beginning of baseball”. Instead of comparing accomplishments to feats from the past, players are going to start being evaluated based on their accomplishing new, more saber-metric feats. “Hallowed milestones” such as 3,000 strikeout or 500 home runs are going to cease to have much in the way of significance.

The game is becoming more and more about the one-on-one battles between the pitcher and the batter. The game is skewing even more towards the three true outcomes. I wouldn’

T say that is making a mockery of the game, but I do think it is a shame that this is where the game is going.

Are the D-backs destined to stay forever orbiting .500?

Jack: Not nearly that kind of destiny. It looks like they will have to scrap and fight their way to the bitter end just to finish at or above .500. The pitching has not been very good, and that’s going to make it hard to stay around .500. Also, once they “officially” fall out of the race and rosters expand, we may see even more roster and rotation experimentation which may not be conducive to maintaining a .500 record. My under bet on Wins in the Snakepit Casino is still in play.

Wesley: I had been optimistic entering the season, but it’s clear that this team will finish .500 or worse, and they’ll have to work hard to get there and stay there. Sometimes I wonder if the Baseball Gods cursed the DBacks’ to frustrating mediocrity.

Makakilo: Perhaps Bill James would say no. What bothers me more than orbiting is when the D-backs win less than their runs-scored and runs-allowed would predict. Are the D-backs destined to forever have less wins than Bill James’ formula of Pythagorean expectation for wins?

Dano: This year, I would guess “yes.” The pitching has been a problem, as Jack notes, and as Jack notes, it’s hard to surpass .500 when that’s an ongoing issue. Also, like Jack with his under bet, I gave 80-82 as my start-of-season prediction of the record, and yeah, I still stand by that prediction. I might actually hit it exactly, who knows? When our bats are good, often our starting pitching doesn’t show up. When bats and starting pitching are good, the bullpen melts down. When the pitching is solid, the bats don’t show up. Any of those is a possibility any day of the week, and with that kind of pervasive uncertainty, I tend to think that we’re lucky to be as close to .500 right now as we are.

James: Until recently, the team spent most of the time at or just above .500, with only a few dips below. I have a feeling that from here out, they may be spending more time looking up at .500 than looking down at it. Unless they find some reliable pitching in their expanded roster experiments, this team might find themselves having a hard time keeping pace with .500. Injuries to the team have gone from straining the team’s depth to simply crushing it now. The team has all but given up on trying to find quality fill-ins and is now simply going back to the well of warm bodies to fill roster slots.

Predict the 2020 Opening Day rotation.

Jack: If Ray isn’t traded and Weaver is healthy I think it looks like this to start the season: Ray/Weaver/Gallen/Leake/Kelly

The rest of the Depth Chart looks like /Young/Clarke/Duplantier/Widener/Riley Smith

It’s pretty uninspiring. As of right now the team’s #1 pitching prospect has been demoted to the Reno bullpen, Mike leake is imploding, and who knows if Weaver recovers from the conservative treatment to regain the stuff he had before the injury. So I think that there will be moves made to try to bolster/improve the rotation at the major league level, and add minor league depth as well. So the above “predictions” have little chance of being accurate

Wesley: I don’t think Ray will necessarily be with the team next season, I think it likely he’ll be traded. So I’d imagine basically what Jack said, minus Ray. Otherwise, what Jack said.

Makakilo: Like Wesley, I predict that Ray will be traded in the off-season. Zac Gallen and Mike Leake look most likely for opening day. Other possibles are Young, Kelly, and Duplantier. Injury makes me doubt Luke Weaver and T. Walker.

Dano: Aw, geez. Ray (assuming he’s still with us), Weaver (assuming his arm heals), Gallen, Leake, Kelly and/or Taijuan Walker (assuming something hasn’t happened in his extended TJ rehab to remove him from the list of possibles). And yes, there are all those caveats, and all those parenthetical notes. Maybe we add someone in the off-season...kinda hope we do, because parentheticals like these, in excessive quantities, have been clinically proven to cause ulcers.

James: It’s difficult to peg whether or not Robbie Ray is going to be traded. Going under the assumption that he is not traded, I think it looks something like:

Ray/Weaver/Leake/Walker/Gallen

That said, this also assumes 100% health. It is very possible that there may be some restrictions on the likes of Weaver and Walker. It is also very possible that Ray is traded. Also, as much as it is starting to look like the front office is having second thoughts about Duplantier, I expect that he is given the opportunity to win a starting slot during spring training - health permitting.

The team is going to need at least seven starters. Mike Leake is going to need to make a better transition, but I don’t think he goes anywhere, as he is one of the only reliable arms in terms of being able to throw a high number of innings. With all the injuries the team is recovering from, along with the inevitable performance concerns, I could see the following list of pitchers all making appearances in the rotation by the time mid-May rolls around:

Ray, Leake, Weaver, Walker, Gallen, Kelly, Widener, Young, and Smith

That’s nine arms. Sadly, I will be shocked if they haven’t all had a shot by the time the ASG rolls around.

Do any D-backs past Ketel Marte deserve votes in the end of year awards?

Jack: Nick Ahmed for GG is no brainer. Beyond that if Eduardo Escobar (3b) and Carson Kelly (C) can finish very strong, (and especially if Escobar wins the NL RBI Title) they might have an outside shot at Silver Slugger awards. But Rendon at 3rd and Realmuto and Contreras at C are probably the front runners. Ketel Marte probably deserves a GG for best Utility player, but they don’t have that award.

Wesley: Ahmed deserves a gold glove.

Makakilo: Zac Gallen deserves votes for rookie of the year.

  • ERA+: 178 on August 9th, 233 on August 16th
  • Hits-per-9-innings: 5.66 on August 9th (first on NL leaderboard if he had enough innings), 6.95 on August 16th (third on NL leaderboard if he had enough innings).
  • Strikeouts-per-9-innings. 10.67 on August 9th (sixth on NL leaderboard if he had enough innings), 10.32 on August 16th (if he had one more strikeout he would be ninth on NL leaderboard).
  • “Combined, only 22.7% of pitches swung at against Gallen make it into play. This is exceptionally low - out of 117 pitchers, he would rank 9th.” Sean Testerman, AZ Snake Pit article, 7 August 2019.

Dano: Yeah, Ahmed for GG, definitely. I’m persuaded regarding Gallen, thanks to Makakilo’s bullet points above. Don’t think Escobar gets the Silver Slugger at 3B--too many other strong candidates--but Carson Kelly might be a dark horse for that at C, or maybe even for RoTY, if he should win a bit more playing time and if his bat continues to be hot for the last month and change.

James: The easy one is for Nick Ahmed to win a Gold Glove. He may even manage to secure himself the Platinum Glove. Beyond that, I don’t see anyone else earning any postseason hardware. I do think it will be interesting to see how Zack Greinke is treated. If he maintains his eligibility for the NL awards, he should bacg both the Gold Glove and Silver Slugger fairly easily. Personally, I think it would be a major slight to break up his streak of GG excellence because he was traded.

Not many years ago, Christian Walker would have been a candidate for Rookie of the Year. Now, he isn’t even in the conversation. I do still think he may get a couple down ballot votes though. The same could be said for Zac Gallen, especially if he is able to finish the season strong.

Any players you’re looking forward to seeing when rosters expand?

Jack: I’ve been thinking about who might get the call, and I’m sure it will be nice for Torey to have Cron and Locastro back in the dugout. He’ll load up on the usual suspects for the bullpen and a rotation start or two. But I’m not excited about seeing them. It would be interesting to see if Sherfy is still alive and kicking. He hasn’t pitched since July 14th. Unless the team pulls off something shocking and promotes a guy or two from AA, such as Varsho or Smith, to make it really interesting, it’s probably going to be a “meh” roster expansion period this year.

Wesley: I’ll go with Domingo Leyba. Dude could use an extended look in the big leagues, and has nothing left to prove in the minors.

Makakilo: Although we’ve already seen him, again seeing Locastro would be fun.

Dano: Yes to Locastro. Beyond that, I’m excited to see anyone who they decide to call up. Guessing about the worth and potential of prospects when they’re still farting in the minors and haven’t seen any play at the MLB level seems to me like a protracted exercise in deeply abstract aspirational thinking. I’d like to see the kids come up, see what they can do. That’s what September is for, broadly, if you’re not in contention: cook up a lot of different brands of spaghetti, drop ‘em the boiling water until they’re al dente, and then throw against the wall. See what sticks. I’m looking forward to that!

James: I honestly am having a hard time getting a feel for who they will actually bring up. I imagine Locastro and Cron have their bags packed already. I would not be surprised to see Ildemaro Varga and Domingo Leyba join them. I’m hoping Jon Duplantier gets the nod. I honestly don’t understand why Andriese is still up and he is in Reno in the first place. I could see them calling up Caleb Joseph, just to get back to three catchers again. Of all those names, the only one I would really be “looking forward” to is Duplantier. I think Locastro can be fun to watch, but I don’t think he sticks with the team long. I really am curious to see what Duplantier can do with an extended, uninterrupted look at the top level though.

As a kid, what did you want to be when you grew up?

Jack: When I was five I wanted to be an Astronaut, a Superhero, or a Dinosaur. When I was 11 I got the Woodstock album and I wanted to be a hippie and a rockstar. When I was 15 I wanted to be an MLB pitcher more than anything. Two years later my shoulder was toast and I was no longer a kid. I still haven’t grown up yet though, and am still figuring it out.

Wesley: I still don’t feel like I’m a “grown-up”. I wanted to be a paleontologist for the longest time, and that’s where a lot of my extensive knowledge in biology and geology comes from. Sometimes I wish I had stuck to that one. I had a lot of dreams after that, but I had settled on being a Chef. If it weren’t for serious health problems, that’s what I’d be doing.. I’m actually trying to follow through with all my childhood dreams that I can still accomplish. Working as a writer was one, and besides Snakepit, I’ve gotten sporadic work as a ghost writer so I am accomplishing that dream. I always had dreams of owning my own business (as a chef that was my goal and part of my plan) thanks to my parents both owning their own businesses. I’m doing that too, and accomplishing that dream with the launch of this web company I’ve been diligently working on over the summer. Stay tuned and check out the end of the recap of the game on September 3rd (which I’ll be writing) for more on that.

Makakilo: Train engineer! A great combination of fun, adventure, nature, and travel. As a kid, in my wildest imagination I could not see the possibility of working in an office cubical. Nevertheless, I experienced it. With the advantage of hindsight, I know that NOT working in a cubical is an awesome plus-plus for train engineers.

Dano: Like many here, I am not entirely comfortable with confessing that I have “grown up.” That said, the first thing (or person, in my case) that I remember wanting to be was essentially the second coming of Mike Schmidt. I was in fourth grade, and living in the suburbs of Philly, when the Phillies won their first World Series in 1980. I was also playing little league at that point, and was an all-star shortstop. But I wanted to be a power-hitting third baseman like MIke Schmidt. Never mind that I didn’t have the arm to play third, and I was small and quick and was never anything like a power hitter. The heart wants what it wants.

Beyond that, and beyond when I stopped playing sports and became a full-on nerd, I wanted to be a novelist. Initially I wanted to write the next “Lord of the Rings,” until I discovered John Crowley and Tim Powers, after which point I wanted to write stories that were kinda like the ones those gentlemen wrote (and, occasionally, still write). Eventually I outgrew fantasy (whether heroic or the Crowley/Powers “magical realist, American style” vein), and became more interested in science fiction writing. And so I still am today, though occasionally, happily (and unexpectedly, because this was never an ambition of mine at all) I get to write about baseball and baseball-related things and interact from time to time with all of you!

James: When I was very young, I wanted to be an astronomer or a doctor. When I got older, it was doctor, chef, or an author who also worked as a Professor of English. Then becoming a doctor was closed off to me and I became a chef for a couple of decades and change. I still hope to some day be a published author or an English Professor.