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SnakePit Round Table: MadBummed Out

The loss of Bumgarner, a spectacular turnaround, and the keys going forward are among the topics for discussion this week.

Houston Astros v Arizona Diamondbacks Photo by Norm Hall/Getty Images

We lost Madison Bumgarner. How concerned are you?

Jack: Pretty concerned. It would not have been a surprise at all to see some diminished stuff in 2020. Not to this degree however. Seeing such a steep decline in stuff coupled with “back” soreness and an IL stint 3 starts into a 5 year, 85M deal is a very concerning, to say the least. It could be no big deal, or we may just have to write off 2020 like we ended up having to do for Greinke in 2016. My sense is Bumgarner misses at least one more start, but that’s not a given. He may try to bull his way back into the rotation as quickly as possible. He’s a competitor, we know that.

Makakilo: On the one hand, his fastball spin rate is great (85th percentile in the Majors). On the other hand, his fastball velocity is slow (2nd percentile in the Majors). It puzzles me.

Two statistics (strikeouts and walks) are somewhat comparable to 2018, when his ERA was 3.26. When his back is better, it is likely he will be back in the rotation.

  • After looking at a few pitchers who lost velocity and continued pitching, perhaps continued success is likely if Bumgarner can continue to get strikeouts. Looking at all his pitches, his 6.8 SO9 is slightly worse than 2018, when it was 7.6. Looking at only his four-seam fastball, his .09 strikeouts-per-plate-appearance was slightly worse than 2018, when it was .11. Clearly Bumgarner can continue to get strikeouts comparable to 2018.
  • It is possible that his pitch control is at least league average, which is good news. In three of his previous five seasons, Bumgarners’ walk percentage was in the best 8% of the league. This season, his walk percentage of 8.4 is about equal to the league average of 8.3. His 3.6 BB9 is slightly worse than 2018, when it was 3.0.

Steven: On a scale of 1 to 100, my level of concern is around a 75. While I’ll give him some benefit of the doubt with the abrupt start and stop to the season, he has not looked like the guy we paid $85 million for, especially when you consider the first couple seasons are supposed to be the better years. And after seeing what Alex Young did, you wonder why they even signed him in the first place.

Wesley: I wasn’t a fan of the Bumgarner signing to begin with. I’m almost always opposed to signing FA pitchers unless they are extremely young, or in special circumstances. Madbum definitely wasn’t one of those special circumstances. On a level of concern, I’d say a 50? Maybe the back problems are indicative of his poor performance, and when sorted out he’ll be fine. Or he’s Russ Ortiz 2.0. Or more likely somewhere in the middle.

Turambar: Very concerned. Seeing him be so lackluster in year 1 of his huge deal is no bueno. Then again, like Jack mentioned above this could be a throwaway year just like 2016 was for Greinke. We’ll see but it sure doesn’t look good.

James: I am quite concerned. I had some reservations about the MadBum signing to begin with. His suspect performance over the first three of his outings as a Diamondback, coupled with injury and concerns regarding the loss of velocity and life on his fastball have only heightened my concerns. Very few pitchers are Maddux or Greeinke, able to get away with sub-90s stuff and still be effective. MadBum was (and hopefully still is) a terrific pitcher. I’m not sold that he has the stuff to get away with significantly diminished stuff though.

Dano: Fairly concerned. Like Wesley and James, I wasn’t terribly keen on this signing to begin with, and the early results have been disappointing. That said, I’m hoping the back issues have had something to do with the lack of velocity, and that when he returns he can pitch more like how we expected him to. I don’t expect him to be Greinke 2.0—I get the impression he’s not nearly the cerebral student of the game that Zack is, so reinventing himself as a finesse and control pitcher seems like a bit of a longer shot. But here’s hoping.

The D-backs won consecutive series. What’s the key to the turnaround?

Jack: The offense has scored a lot of runs. The pitching staff has allowed 30 runs, or 6 runs a game over the last 5 games, but the offense has scored 44 runs, or 8.8 runs a game.

Makakilo: The key was scoring runs! Let’s look at runs scored in groups to show the dramatic increase in the last seven games:

Steven: It’s amazing what happens when you score runs. While the pitching has struggled, the offense has done just enough to keep the team afloat. It’s awesome seeing what this team can do on offense and how they can beat you in a number of ways.

Wesley: Clearly going from the worst offense to the best offense *might* have something to do with that.

Turambar: Runs, runs and more runs. People are hitting and hitting in bunches. Pitching is still pretty meh, but when you’re putting up crooked numbers at the plate then you’re gonna be just fine.

James: They finally started hitting the ball and scoring some runs. Of course, I sit here saying that as they are getting handcuffed by Garrett Richards, so there is that too. (Edit: as I was answering the final question, Eduardo Escobar just gave us tacos and 50% off pizza. Go Diamondbacks!!!)

Dano: Bats! And it’s not just one guy—the whole lineup seems to be waking up, or to have woken up. I think maybe we finally shook off the rust from the deeply weird and fragmented preseason.

Do you see the Rockies or the Padres as a bigger threat to Arizona?

Jack: Since the D-backs don’t play the Padres again this season and they have 7 more games vs. Colorado, (all of them at home), I’ll have to go with the Rockies on this one.

Makakilo: Padres are the bigger threat.

  • The Rockies’ rotation will collapse. The reasons will be explained in my preview for the next series against the Rockies.
  • The Padres have rebuilt their team and their talent is impressive.

Steven: The Padres. Despite having the 2nd best pitching staff in the MLB, the Rockies are 12-8. Good, but just shows how they’ve struggled on offense despite having excellent seasons from Charlie Blackmon and Trevor Story. The Padres offense is a menace, and backed by young players who will be a thorn in the side of D-backs fans for years to come. Despite Brenly’s hand-wringing, Fernando Tatis Jr is a superstar, both on the field and off.

Wesley: The Padres. They’re a very good young and talented team, and in a longer season, I’d predict the Rockies to collapse.

Turambar: Padres in the long run for sure. They have a ton of young talent and we’re starting to see that finally come together. For this season though I’ll pick the Rockies. They’ll benefit from having a shorter season, put less stress on their pitching staff and the uniqueness of this season with the DH especially benefits their offense.

James: In the short-term, the Rockies. The Diamondbacks finish playing the Padres for 2020 this afternoon. From here out, the relationship between the two teams is how well they handle their business against other teams. That said, the Diamondbacks still face the Rockies seven more times this season. Not only do the Rockies pose a direct threat to the Diamondbacks, they pose a threat to how the Diamondbacks match up against San Diego for overall record at the end of the season.

In the long-term, it’s the Padres by a landslide. First, I am still not convinced the Rockies can even finish this 60-game season without falling apart. Second, the Padres are a young, talented, hungry team with a great offense and much-improved pitching over previous seasons.

Dano: Padres by a mile. I agree with Makakilo....the Rockies’ rotation is not to be trusted over any sort of long haul. We’re done with the Padres for the season (the regular season, anyway), but they are fierce, and if they hit a dominant stretch, all we’re gonna be able to do is scoreboard watch and hope we can keep up.

Who has over-performed your expectations most this season?

Jack: Obviously Merrill Kelly. I thought he would be pretty good actually, and picked him to surprise us. But not to this degree. On offense, Kole Calhoun has been a little better than I expected. Not off the charts, but solidly better. His timely hits, and highlight reel defensive plays have made a big impression of course. He’s also averaged 3.96 pitches per plate appearance. That is well above his career average of 3.80 and would be a career high if he maintains it. I hope he can, as it looks like he’ll be the primary leadoff hitter against right handed starters for a while.

Steven: I think Merrill Kelly has been a godsend, and while I don’t think it’s sustainable, he’s been a surprise solidifier with Zac Gallen. Starling Marte has been as advertised and more since coming over from the Pirates, and even showing an improved plate discipline.

Makakilo: Starling Marte. While great defense in center field was expected, the career best offense (OPS .954) was beyond expectations. His breakout offense is very much needed and appreciated by the Diamondbacks.

Wesley: Starling is much better than I thought he would be.

Turambar: SMarte has really impressed me. Especially considering how he’s playing through the soul crushing pain of losing his wife just a few months ago.

James: On the pitching side, and probably most overall, Merrill Kelly has impressed. I expected him to pick up a bunch of innings, whether he was in the rotation or not. He has pitched much, much better than the #5/swingman pitcher I gave him credit for being. I’m still not sure what he is doing is sustainable. However, given the short length of this season, he doesn’t need it to be sustained for too much longer.

On the offensive side of things, it is a toss-up between the newcomers, Kole Calhoun and Starling Marte. Marte is playing much better defense in center than I was expecting, especially given how overmatched he was over the last season or so patrolling center in Pittsburgh. Having a career year at the plate has been delicious icing on the cake. On the other hand, I fully expected the outstanding defense from Calhoun. In fact, it irritates me that he hasn’t had more innings in the field than he has accumulated so far. I held some strong reservations about what he would bring with the bat. He has been so up-and-down throughout the course of his career, that I truly did not know what to expect. I was hoping for a solid bat that was at least a bit above league average. I feared a bat that would hit around wRC+ 85. He has not disappointed one bit.

Dano: Our new lineup acquisitions. Both Calhoun and SMart are hitting a lot better than I’d been led to believe they would, and that’s pleasing. I also have loved the relatively patient at bats they have both been putting up. Starling, especially, given that he’s apparently had something of a reputation as a free swinger.

What’s the biggest issue for the team right now?

Jack: The pitching. The offense has come around, although their inability to score early in games against starters is a bit of a mystery. But both the Rotation and the Bullpen are a hot mess. The rotation ERA and FIP, both over 6, still rank dead last in the NL. Somehow the bullpen ERA of 5.04, and FIP of 5.00 are middle of the pack, ranking 9th and 7th respectively. But that’s a little misleading as the primary 7th & 8th inning guys, Rondon, and Ginkel, have double digit ERA, and Chafin is right behind with an ERA over 8. So guys they were counting on to pitch in high leverage have let them down so far. Archie’s near meltdown last night is hopefully a one off. Bullpen Table Here

It’s tough to say if the rotation or the bullpen issues are bigger. Probably rotation, because of the Bumgarner injury, and the struggles of Weaver and Ray. These look like the most difficult things to fix. Simple reliever volatility (regression) could swing in the Dbacks favor when it comes to the back end of the bullpen. But the issues with these starters seem to run deeper. Andy Young is a potential antidote perhaps. It’s impossible not to love what he’s doing, and enjoy how he pitches. But it’s a lot to depend on him to save the rotation.

Steven: The pitching obviously, as you can’t expect the offense to score 5+ runs each and every game as much as I’d enjoy that type of production. Ray and Weaver need to figure it out soon or they need to find someone who will. Same for the bullpen, as they’ve invested in that more this offseason than normal. They’ve already demoted one young guy expected to be a high leverage piece (Yoan Lopez) and I expect more of that if things keep going the way they are.

Makakilo: Not issues as much as imperatives: Keep mental focus on each day’s game and win one game at a time. Be strongly optimistic while quickly learning from mistakes and breaking out of slumps. Stay healthy for the remainder of the season.

Wesley: Pitching, pitching, pitching. Staying healthy in both mindset, and physical health. We can’t afford to lose any of our key players. Getting the right guys in the lineup everyday would be a big help too.

Turambar: Pitching, and it’s not even close. Everyone not named Kelly and Gallen have been a hot mess. We NEED some semblance of “ok” from our pitching staff if we’re gonna have any chance this season.

James: Arizona’s pitching is a hot mess. I mean, it isn’t Philadelphia-bad, but it sure comes damn close. Even in the games Arizona won in Colorado, it isn’t like the team got much help from anyone other than Gallen or Kelly. This team is just giving up entirely too many runs, especially given that it is highly unlikely the Diamondbacks can keep scoring like this for another 40 games.

Dano: The state of the rotation, obviously. Kelly and Gallen are solid, I’m happy to see Alex Young back in the rotation for the time being. Ray went five whole innings this afternoon (!!!), though he gave up what, 6 walks? He’s not right, and clearly Luke Weaver is not right. Like others noted above, even with the resurgence of our offense, that’s probably not sustainable to a point where we can continue to win if our pitching staff continues to put up a 5+ ERA.

Jim Carrey once said

“Solitude is dangerous. It’s very addictive. It becomes a habit after you realize how calm and peaceful it is. It’s like you don’t want to deal with people anymore because they drain your energy.”

How do you feel about this quote?

Jack: I’ve never done too well with extended solitude. I need to be around people much of the time. A little less so as I’ve gotten older, but it’s still really important for my well being to have a lot of face to face interaction with family and friends.

Makakilo: Yoga and meditation are paths to a calm, peaceful, and focused mind. Solitude is more about the nature of my experiences. Nevertheless, the two are linked and circumstances tip the balance of my thoughts. Let’s think of two extremes:

  • When your mean & sharp-tongued boss bullies & threatens you and their behavior towards you is like they own you, body and soul – solitude is addictive and dangerous.
  • When you write for the AZ SnakePit, your happiness and joy overflows – breaking your solitude to talk and make connections with people makes every day heavenly.

Wesley: I can relate to that completely. I enjoy solitude too much. I enjoy listening to music and reading and doing things without interruption. To the detriment of my own mental health.

I do have a semi-tangent, worth sharing here though, buuut I am likely cancer free.I am however, on a massive dose of corticosteroids for the next week, which means I have to socially distance and isolate myself, because my immune system is extra compromised right now.

Turambar: I’ve lived most of my life as a loner and I’ve really only come out of my shell these last five years. Covid has crushed my usual social habits of going out, being with friends and going to concerts. But, like a bicycle, you never really forget and I find myself back to my old comforts of aloneness, except with the major caveat of having a wife.

James: I totally get what Carrey is saying. I would even tend to agree. However, I have spent my whole life enjoying peace and solitude. I’m a guy who grew up thinking that Superman had it right and that the Fortress of Solitude was amazing, not because of all the spiffy stuff inside, but because it was in the middle of nowhere. Give me a pile of books, some good coffee/tea, some adult additive, and a comfy lounger to read from and leave me alone. I’ll be happy as a pig mud.

Dano: Jim Carrey is a wise man, oddly enough. I tend to be quite content spending a lot of time with only my own company. One unexpected consequence for me of the ongoing distancing that covid requires is that I’ve begun to learn my own limits regarding the value of solitude. In recent weeks I’ve actually found myself becoming far more social (via Zoom chats, mainly) than I would ever be in normal times. It’s kinda weird.