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SnakePit Round Table: And now, the end is near...

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After a number of false alarms, it really does seem that the 2019 season has died, at the hands of a limp offense

Soccer - Nationwide League Division Three - Carlisle United v Cheltenham Town Photo by Matthew Ashton/EMPICS via Getty Images

What caused the D-backs fall from grace?

Jack: They simply played poorly, stopped hitting, and often pitched poorly, all at the same time. Individual players that are roughly average, or even good, but not great, tend to have stretches where they look and perform like great players. But if they are not truly great, it’s difficult to maintain or sustain. They will be streaky. Sometimes we can be tricked into thinking a good player is a great player, because the results will out strip the underlying peripherals.

But sometimes it’s just a matter of consistency. The ability to maintain mechanics, (either hitting or pitching) maintain mental focus, AND maintain good health and strength throughout the season. It’s a long season. The nicks and scrapes and bruises add up. Some players are stronger or recover more quickly than others. And the ones that don’t see their performance affected over time. Extrapolate ALL of the above to multiple players, and you have an inconsistent team. There are a lot of average, and even good players on the team. With the exception of perhaps one player, Ketel Marte, there may not be any GREAT players on the team. So consistency is hard to come by.

Makakilo: Jack was on-target about consistency. Adding to what he wrote:

Most would agree that former D-back Paul Goldschmidt is a GREAT player. Let’s look at his consistency in OBP and OPS.

This season in the Majors, the average OBP=0.323, average OPS=0.760. I bolded Goldschmidt’s stats that were above MLB-average:

  • OBP 0.348, OPS 0.866 March/April
  • OBP 0.381, OPS 0.744 May
  • OBP 0.274, OPS 0.582 June
  • OBP 0.360, OPS 1.085 July
  • OBP 0.310, OPS 0.705 August
  • OBP 0.479, OPS 1.155 Sept through 13th

In May, June, and August, his OPS was below average; it’s remarkable that a GREAT player can be inconsistent.

“Perhaps the best way to think about or defining our success is we are a true team. Meaning that the hot streaks, the spurts, are equally distributed. We get contributions from someone different on a daily, weekly, monthly basis. And I believe it makes this team fun to watch, because it can be someone different on any given night.” — John Mozeliak, Cardinals president of baseball operations

Dano: Yeah, pretty much what Jack said. In the aftermath of a rather contentious comment thread earlier in the week, I referred to regression to the mean (which is about as numbers-y as I can get)...we’ve got a decent team, but not a great one. Sometimes we exceed our fundamental decency, but given enough time we’ll likely fall short enough to balance things out again. This, I think, explains why we have spent so much time this year in the immediate vicinity of Mount .500. Broadly, we’re somewhere between a 2-games-above .500 team and a 2-games-below .500 team.

It certainly wasn’t lack of effort, though, I don’t think...again, per Jack, I’m sure guys are tired, and dinged up, and with the Mets, anyway, we were facing a team at least as good as ours, who happened to be overachieving just as we were going cold. It’s baseball. It happens. Doesn’t make it suck any less, though.

James: The long and short of things is a lack of depth and consistency. One is likely contributing to the other. After going on their great streak to climb back to 1.5 games out of the wild card, the offense went completely cold. Even their one victory in the last seven games came in a game in which they recorded all of one hit, and it wasn’t even a home run.

Turambar: The bats disappeared just as dramatically as when Atlantis sank in to the sea. All that timely offense vanished and our pitching, which was still solid, couldn’t make up the lack of runs. It’s that simple.

This year and last the D-backs have stumbled down the stretch. Do they have a September problem?

Jack: It’s an easy narrative for some to paint perhaps, but I don’t think they are choking, or have a manager problem, or anything like that. I think my answers to the first question lead into this one. I personally believe that average and good players are giving it everything they’ve got to try to be great, and by the end of the season, they are perhaps worn down. Or it could just be random. Two years in a row does not a trend make.

Makakilo: Let’s step back and look at the big picture. Mike Hazen started with a depleted farm system and he improved it to about third in the Majors. That foundation will allow the D-backs to sustainably compete every season.

While building the farm system, how have the D-backs done each season? In 2017, they made the playoffs for the first time since 2011! In 2018 and 2019, they were contenders for the playoffs well into September.

The D-backs built a foundation for sustainability while contending each season - let’s celebrate a great beginning! The next step will be for the D-backs to consistently reach the playoffs.

“I’m not going to sit here and talk about farm system rankings and things like that. That’s not a marker in my mind for success. Success is winning major league baseball games year in and year out. As evidenced by our record, we’re not where we need to be.” — Mike Hazen

Dano: No, I don’t think so. Hazen rosters, especially in the bullpen (to a lesser degree pitching in general), don’t tend to be built to go the distance. IIRC we overused the bullpen early in 2018, which led to stress on the bullpen, which led to other stresses, which eventually led to the team falling off a cliff last September. Something not dissimilar happened this year. The bats have gone cold this year, to be sure, but if one were to factor into our record all the one-run losses we have where somebody blew a save, I suspect the results would put us in one of the wild card spots. So no, it’s not a September problem...it’s a problem that starts much earlier, but whose consequences tend to manifest more and more clearly as September approaches

James:I don’t really think it is much of a September problem. I think it is mostly a depth problem.They have been streaky all season long. This year, the sequencing made it so that they had their one truly impressive stretch of winning right at the beginning of September. The fall off from that was then, obviously, also in September. The team simply needs to improve the depth on a more all around basis, which will help them throughout the year, including in September.

Turambar: Nope, it’s just the long year and multiple injuries that finally caught up to them. Honestly I’m proud of our team doing all they’ve done with multiple injuriea at key positions AND all those lost due to trades and free agency.

Are you happy with the extension given to Mike Hazen?

Jack: Yes, the team needed the stability. Of course two years from now ownership could still change their mind, and would just have to pay out his contract, which is still going to be a lot less than DFA’ing Mike Leake, or Yasmany Tomas. Mike Hazen is a good GM. He has his holes, just like everyone else. Hopefully he is committed to continuous improvement on his own part and process, not just those of the players and his staff. I believe he is.

Makakilo: Yes, for three reasons:

  • Innate Ability: “He is one of the brightest and most innovative baseball minds in the game, and I am thrilled that he has chosen to remain a D-back regardless of outside opportunities.” – Derrick Hall
  • Focus: “We are focused 100%, every single day, on how we get to the playoffs. That’s it.” — Mike Hazen
  • Daily effort and observations: “…we [Hazen and I] both have the same dream and the same goal, every single day, and that’s to work tirelessly for the Arizona Diamondbacks daily to help us win a world championship….we talk about it often. We know that’s the big plan. We don’t lose sight of what’s happening day by day.” — Torey Lovullo

Dano: Yeah, definitely. We all get frustrated with the front office at times, to be sure, but between them, he and Torey feel to me like they’re on the same page, and share a vision as to building a sustainable, championship-worthy team for the future. The previous regime was painful and terrible and baffling to contemplate by the end of their tenure. Hazen and Lovullo, on the other hand, seem like they’ve actually got a plan, they’re building something, and while it might be slower than we as fans would like, they’re making progress. 2020 is going to be a much brighter year, I think, and 2019 has turned out to be a lot brighter than I for one had expected going into the season.

James: I was hoping for one back around the ASG. I wanted them to get one ironed out for him before he went into his lame duck season, which meant getting one ironed out before next season was up. Since I never expect much in the way of mid-season deals, I really am glad they got this deal done when they did. This extension should allow the team to attempt to finish what they started.

What, if any, contract should the team offer Yoshihisa Hirano?

Jack: 1 year, 2 Million for Yoshi, or he can become a free agent. And that’s if he makes it to the end of the season healthy and shows his elbow is not an issue.

Makakilo: In my opinion, his elbow will not be an issue next season. Yoshihisa Hirano should be offered one year, $ 3.2 Million plus incentives. Reasons follow:

  • Let’s look at his pitching from a high level. This season he pitched in 57 games. In 41 games, he allowed zero runs! In 4 games he allowed 1 run, and the D-backs won. In one game he allowed 2 runs and the D-backs won. In summary, in 81% (46 of 57) of his appearances his results contributed positively.
  • Three stats show his pitching as great - 27.9 % hard hit, 86.7 exit velocity, and xBA .214.
  • This season some advanced measures show he improved: % hard hit, exit velocity, xBA, xSLG, % barrels, and %K.
  • Despite the improvement, this season he was unlucky - his BABIP increased from .250 to .331.
  • Despite being unlucky, he earned 0.4 fWAR. With a little luck, he will be worth more than $3.2 Million.

Dano: Ugh. Don’t ask me that. I have never been a big fan of Hirano, didn’t buy into the hype last year, was pretty much unsurprised at how sucky his results have turned out to be in 2019. I just don’t think his stuff plays all that well in American baseball, especially now that so many batters have actually faced him. I’d prefer to let him seek his fortunes elsewhere, and save our money for less problematic investments.

James: I’m sort of on the fence about whether or not to try and bring Hirano back. I’m thinking I would see if he will agree to a one-year deal for $2-2.5 million. If he agrees to that, I probably bring him and his sinker back =, so long as he can show me he is healthy.

Same question for Alex Avila?

Jack: 1 year, 2 Million for Alex as well. His maturity, experience, and steady nature I believe is good for the pitching staff. Of course I don’t know what the pitchers think of pitching to him. That would be key to understand. But I think he is a good catcher, (when all facets of his defensive game are taken together.) At the plate he is the kind of guy who is always going to be a little tough for the average fan to appreciate, due to low batting avg and a lot of K’s. Most people just don’t value walks enough. But on average, a walk is worth 78% of the value of a single.

And Alex Avila takes A LOT of walks. I mean really a lot. In fact, his 18.1% Walk Rate is the 3rd highest in all of MLB, behind only Brandon Nimmo, and some guy named Trout in LA. Due to that, his.363 OBP is 2nd best on the team, behind only Ketel Marte. Put another way, Alex Avila actually makes an out less frequently than anyone on the team except Marte, yet when he comes to the plate, everyone acts like he’s an automatic out.

Makakilo: In June, Jim McLennan wrote The Fall and Rise of Alex Avila. This season, he is above average for defense and offense:

  • His 6 Total-Zone-Runs-as-Catcher ranks 3rd in the NL.
  • His OPS of 0.809 is above the MLB average of 0.760.

Alex Avila should be offered one year, $ 4.25 Million, the same as he made this season.

Next season, I would roster two catchers Carson Kelly and Alex Avila. I would option Caleb Joseph to the minors as depth.

Dano: I was definitely on the Avila hate train in 2018, but I’ve come around on him this year, and Jack’s answer above clarifies for me why. As a fan and a viewer who occasionally scores games by hand and writes recaps, I’ve been struck this year by how often he would put up really good at bats when he comes to the plate. The walks he draws are part of it, but it’s also his tendency, most days, to just have really patient at-bats. He does strike out a lot, but I recall multiple games I’ve scored this year where he’s indeed struck out, but has hung an eight- or nine-pitch at bat on the pitcher before doing so. That sort of thing is incredibly valuable in its own right. So I hope he sticks around, and I’d be perfectly fine with Makakilo’s proposition that we give him another year at his current rate.

James: Looking at the catchers on the free agent market, I am offering Alex Avila a deal for 1 yr//$3-4 million. I would also work to keep Caleb Joseph in the fold. I want a bit of depth between Carson Kelly and Daulton Varsho to give Varsho the time he needs to finish developing.

If you could only live in one place for the rest of your life, where would it be?

Jack: Arizona. Ideally, I’d be in a position to snowbird it though. I love the Pacific Northwest in June/July/August.

Makakilo: Hawaii!

Dano: I don’t think I’ve found that place yet. Assuming money/work weren’t a factor, maybe NYC--I’ve been feeling a lot of nostalgia this past week. Or the northern Oregon coast, near the mouth of the Columbia River...beautiful part of the world, short-ish drive to Portland, which is truly a fine city (good food, good beer, great bookstores). Plus, they have otters there, and otters are the second best animal ever. Turtles, and specifically sea turtles, are the best, of course, but otters are a close second.