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SnakePit Round Table: Gazing up at Mt. 500

The D-backs won their first series this week, but the series in San Diego showed there’s still some way to go.

A mountaineer sheltering from the fall of boulders

So, how’s it going?

Makakilo: Friday’s Zumba class was all-out fun. That day, I knew it would be my last in-person class until 5 September because Oahu recently added restrictions to prevent COVID spread. Wednesday is the one-week anniversary of the euphoric 14-run game against the Astros; and that day I re-start on-line Zumba classes.

James: Recently, I have been reminded of the old Chinese curse, “May you live in interesting times.” Life in general has been getting just a bit too interesting of late. Also, there is this ridiculous heatwave that the Valley has been going through for the last three weeks. I was born and raised out here,and even I am getting sick of these five day long excessive heat warnings for days where it is expected to break 110 degrees. These long, uninterrupted stretches of extreme heat are killing any sort of motivation to go out and be productive. I am just not getting anything accomplished these days.

Jack: Healthy, so no complaints. Getting ready to recycle a bunch of garden soil in preparation for planting over the next few weeks. Really hoping for more productivity than we got out of the summer garden. Biggest successes were Okra, Sweet Potato, and Basil and Rosemary among the spices. Pretty much everything else sucked.

Turambar: Doing good. Staying sane, playing lots of Warzone, loving my new career. Things are fine outside the lack of monsoon and the eternal Covid. What a time to be alive.

Wesley: Things are a mixed bag in my life right now. I’ll use the sandwich technique. Good news, bad news, good news.

I am finally getting treatment for my attention deficit disorder, social anxiety disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder, and my treatment resistant depression, something that my family and friends have desperately tried to get me to do for years. (The reason why I have Zero problem bringing this up, is that stigma against mental health problem, psychiatric care, and even just talking about your mental health in general with anyone needs to go away! There should be ABSOLUTELY ZERO stigma attached to getting help. If you are struggling and need help, give the National Suicide Prevention Website, call the number at 1-800-273-8255. If you’re in Arizona, there is the same hotline to call, plus the Arizona Suicide Prevention Coalition website. Please, if you need help, don’t wait. Go for it.

I’m in the midst of another cancer scare, which has been very very concerning. (it could be prostate cancer, it could be bladder cancer (look up the medication zantac+bladder cancer. I was on zantac for four five years, and I’m suffering similar symptoms. So obviously I’m super concerned. I see my doctor about this Monday morning, please send your good vibes and prayers my way. I have never, ever been so scared in my whole life. I’d rather be safe than sorry.

Okay and some positive news again. In the beginning of 2019, I weighed 297lbs. Today I weigh on average between 205 and 210 lbs, and I’ve kept my weight under 220 lbs since January. This is the lightest I’ve weighed my whole life. I’m also writing non-fiction that isn’t sports related again, creating music. I’ve actually driven cars for the first time in my life, although I’m still working towards getting my licence. Doing lots of stuff to get my life together, and hoping and praying that what’s going on with my health isn’t serious and is treatable.

Isaiah: Just moved into an apartment before the semester starts, so life is good. Thanks for asking.

Are the Diamondbacks fixable? If so, how?

Makakilo: Assuming that the rotation, the bullpen, and defense keep on their path of above-average performance, the fix will be hitting consistency. That fix will involve every player in the lineup.

Mike Hazen said the team will make subtle changes so that every night 8 or 9 hitters are clicking to score 4-5 runs (interview on Doug and Wolf). He seemed to say the team is very close to hitting consistency. Also, I wonder whether he is open to a trade, as long as it does not change the fundamental nature of the team?

Torey Lovullo talked about his daily game plans and lineups. He said, “Look, there’s no perfect science to creating a lineup.” In resonance with the game plan and lineup, when every player battles intensely, and focuses on playing well that night, that’s part of the fix.

James: I guess that depends on how we are defining fixable. Can the Diamondbacks still make the playoffs this season? Sure, I think they still can do it. If they get fat on the Rockies and Mariners, they should be able to squeak in as one of the teams that benefits from the expanded playoffs.

As for what it will take, it is going to take a combination of some luck and the team finally finding some consistency offensively. Christian Walker needs to get healthy. Carson Kelly needs to stop hitting the ball on the ground so much. Jon Jay and Jake Lamb need to see their playing time cut back to near-zero. If the offense can start to click some, that should help the beleaguered pitching staff.

Jack: Props to Isaiah for being early with the concerns over the offense. I was worried about the bullpen, and still have some concerns about getting the ball to Bradley, but so far they haven’t been too bad, with just a couple of hiccups. But the Homerun Deficit (37 to 9 as of bottom of 7th today) is a huge problem.They don’t need to erase that deficit by season end, they just need to stop adding to it.

Turambar: No. specifically because there’s too many starting pitchers struggling. The offense will figure itself out in some capacity, but guys like Ray, Bum and Weaver are struggling way too much for me to think they’ll improve anytime soon. Even if they do, it still might be too little too late.

Isaiah: Thanks Jack, I appreciate the shoutout. I just don’t think there is one particular thing that the Diamondbacks are consistently good at right now. For this reason, I don’t think they’re all that fixable in a tough division. The one positive is young farm talent such as Andy Young and Daulton Varsho are producing in the big leagues.

Wesley: I really don’t know what to think about the team at this juncture. To start things off, the Western half seems to be much tougher. The Padres are young and legit, and the Dodgers are still no slouches either. if this was an ordinary full season, I would say, the team is fixable. As things stand with this pandemic shortened season, I think we should (if it is even) trade away any taken that will fetch prospects. Give the young guys a chance to play. Get rid of Jake Lamb while you’re at it. I think we should just write the season off and work towards a successful year in 2021

Is MadBum’s velocity gone for good?

Makakilo: His fastball velocity fell from 91.4 mph in 2019 to 87.9 mph in 2020. (Statcast data from Baseball Savant website unless otherwise stated). Let’s ask three questions:

Are hitters thriving because of the velocity drop? No. My take of the data is that hitters have been swinging for the fences at the cost of reducing their percentage of extra base hits including homers. Hitters were lucky to barrel the ball 7 times; I predict that will not continue. [EDIT: Today’s game included 4 homers in 2 innings, so I was likely mistaken.]

  • Hard hit percent was better in 2020: it fell from 41.8% to 36.0%.
  • Barreled balls percent was worse in 2020; it rose from 9.0% to 14.0% (however 7 barrels is a small sample size).
  • Homeruns-per-9-innings rose from 1.3 to 1.8 while extra base hits fell from 9.0% to 8.5% (Baseball Reference). [EDIT: Stats were before today’s game.]

Will his velocity return? Yes. A FanGraph article looked at pitchers who lost at least 1 mph velocity. Across all age groups, the average fastball velocity after the drop was 89.5 mph. It is reasonable to predict that Bumgarner’s fastball velocity will increase to 89.5 mph, which would be not drastically different from his velocity in his previous 4 seasons (91.4 mph, 90.8 mph, 91.1 mph, and 91.2 mph) .

Does Bumgarner need an adjusted pitching plan to reduce his walks and increase his strikeouts? Maybe.

  • Walks were worse: they rose from 5.1% (top 8% of league) to 8.5%.
  • Strikeouts were worse; they fell from 24.1% to 15.5%.

After writing my comment, I read Nate Rowan’s fantastic AZ Snake Pit article. He made two great points, which I want to reference here:

  • One of his charts showed 11 pitchers who had a fastball less than 90 mph in 2019. Zack Greinke was best (2.93 ERA and 3.22 FIP), and Jhoulys Chacin was worst (6.01 ERA and 5.88 FIP).
  • He talked about adjusting Bumgarner’s pitching approach. “Bumgarner is regularly throwing his fastballs in the top half of the zone, but he has plenty of room to do so more frequently, and to throw higher.” — Nate Rowan

James: The short answer is yes. The longer answer is, the permanent velocity drop is not going to be as bad as we have seen so far this season. I think he’ll bounce back a bit and find some life in that arm. Sadly, we may not see that in any significant way until next season. Still, I do fully expect that we will see slight declines in velocity each year from here out with MadBum. The hope is that he is able to adjust to the diminished stuff the way Greinke was able to.

Jack: Yes. Early in today’s game he was yet ANOTHER 1 MPH on both the Cutter and Fourseam. (Fourseam now 87, cutter 82) Occam’s razor. He must be hiding an injury. As I type these words, the trainer and Torey and Herges are talking to him in the dugout. He was pulled after 2 innings There just is no other reasonable explanation for losing FIVE MPH velocity overnight. This signing is quickly turning into an unmitigated disaster and huge mistake. The short ramp up didn’t negatively affect the velocity of the other starters in the rotation. This is a Bumgarner issue.

Turambar: No, losing spring training and all the regimented prep involved there obviously hurt his game overall. Yes, he’s a professional, and yes he should have done his own work at home during all this, but training sessions and trainers help push athletes to get better.

Isaiah: Wow, there’s a lot of stats and graphs that display how much Bumgarner’s velocity has dipped. I’m going with yes. Sunday’s outing was terrible and I just don’t see him touching the low-90s anymore with that deceptive spin rate, and opposing batters are starting to launch anything that’s left in the zone. Not saying he’s going to instantly decline as his contract continues, but he may not be that “Ace” of the rotation.

Wesley: I have yet to actually watch Madison pitch yet this season. Just based on a basic statistics, I would say no, his velocity isn’t gone forever. It will likely come back, just not at the same level as before.

Give us a reason for optimism

Makakilo: Last week, Wednesday through Saturday, the 5.5 average runs per game was more than double the 2.6 average runs for all previous games this season. When the Diamondbacks keep the average runs per game above 5, I’m confident they will reach the or two games above .500 should still be possible, which will likely be enough to make the playoffs.

James: Despite their horrible start, the Diamondbacks are still waiting for their opportunity to get fat on some of the weaker teams in their modified division. The Mariners and Giants are both bad teams. The Rockies are not nearly as good as their record would seem to suggest. Getting to one or two games above .500 should still be possible, which will likely be enough to make the playoffs.

Jack: They HAVE to start hitting with more power, right ? I mean pure regression to the mean would seem to dictate that. Hopefully a trip to Colorado will get their power strokes going.

Turambar: The bats will swing back towards the norm, and soon. From there we should be able to make up for some of our pitching’s shortcomings.

Wesley: The team will regress towards the mean positively, we have great young talent, and this season deserves more asterisks than Barry Bonds career.

...and one for pessimism

Makakilo: There is never a good reason for pessimism. After the challenge is over, there could be time for pessimism. I would choose something else.

James: If the Diamondbacks are going to make the playoffs this season, they are going to need MadBum and Ray to get things turned around. Ray is going to need to find the mojo he had in the offseason. MadBum is going to need to rely on his veteran savvy to start picking apart the opposition. Without those two helping to lead this rotation, the team will eventually be sunk.

Jack: 5 years, 85 million dollars.

Turambar: Starting pitching is a mess. That’s it.

Isaiah: For the present, the offense has been producing as of late so that’s a plus. Zac Gallen has looked great his past two starts and he continues to grow.

For the future, Arizona has built a deep farm system that is starting to make an impact in the big leagues. We haven’t even seen the potential of Kristian Robinson, Alek Thomas and a handful of intriguing pitching prospects. Just give it a couple of years under Hazen’s leadership and the D-backs could very well be on the rise.

Oh, and the trade deadline is just around the corner. Trade rumors can brighten anyone’s day, especially for a team possibly looking to sell after a disappointing start. But I don’t see that happening.

Wesley: Being pessimistic is bad, you think bad things, you believe bad things, bad things happen. Let’s all just stay positive in these trying times!

Brushing your teeth in the shower: sensible or insane?

Makakilo: Although it would keep me from singing in the shower (a huge plus), my shower has no convenient place for a toothbrush holder. If I left my toothbrush laying by itself, my cats would soon discover a new toy. Finding my toothbrush would be like the drawing puzzle, “Where is Waldo?” And what about flossing? It is a little known fact that dental floss is a great way to cause obstructions in your drainage pipes (a plus for plumbers but a minus for me). Definitely insane.

James: When I was single, I did that from time-to-time. I didn’t make a habit of it though. Like Makakilo, it isn’t as though I had a convenient place in the shower for the toothbrush. I never flossed there though. I floss with picks, so the shower was not the place for that. Now though, since I brush my teeth multiple times a day, I do not brush in the shower. I keep the brush handy for brushing throughout the day. Even if there was a home for the brush in the shower, that is hardly convenient.

Jack: Brushing routine includes flossing, tongue scraper, and mouthwash. Not practical to break it up into pieces for me. Just easier to do at the sink.

Turambar: Madness

Isaiah: Great question. To save time, I used to brush my teeth in a community shower at my dorm during my freshman year. But as I’ve grown up a bit, I’ve solely dedicated to brushing my teeth three times a day. So I no longer brush them in the shower. With that being said, it is sensible when done correctly.

Wesley: If I am in a hurry I brush my teeth in the shower… but I also have a second non electric tooth brush for that.