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SnakePit Round Table: Half-way point

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Tomorrow will mark 50% through the shortened 2020 season. So, how’s it going?

Arizona Diamondbacks v San Francisco Giants Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images

How have you found watching baseball in the COVID world?

Isaiah: I’m actually enjoying it. I like the quiet atmosphere without fans. You hear the chatter from the dugouts and it’s a different experience in my mind than any of the four major sports.

Jack: I have to admit I’m enjoying watching it on T.V. a lot more than I thought I would, for much the same reasons as Isaiah mentioned. But there is just no substitute for being at the game and drawing on that energy. I miss that terribly.

Makakilo: Watching the first few games online was amazing and incredible. I savored each game as a rare experience. All distractions melted away like meditating on a mountain top. Now games are routine. I continue to enjoy the games, but allow myself to be distracted by meals, google searches on players, whatever...

James: Unsatisfying. Unlike Jack, I’ve been watching tons of televised games for the last couple of years, rather than attending in-person. The quality of this season’s games is down. The excessive postponements can be frustrating, especially when some of those games were the ones I was planning on watching. Watching the Diamondbacks, the team has been so inconsistent that I find myself sometimes tempted to just play the game at 5x speed and slow it to real time only when I see actual scoring happening - or a pitcher actually throwing strikes. I don’t care for the seven inning games, nor do I like starting the runner on second in extras. I honestly didn’t think I would mind the shortened games for the double headers, but it turns out I do mind. It isn’t about the length of time I spend watching the game, it’s about the fact that the teams that have been missing games due to bad luck or irresponsibility are the ones now getting to make do with only playing seven innings to get a win instead of having to rely on the fourth or fifth pitcher of the game to get the job done. It is changing the competitive integrity of the game, and not for the better.

Dano: Like James, I haven’t really been loving it. Not a big fan of the rule changes (aside from the 3-batter minimum for relievers), and the degrading of “competitive integrity” that he describes. I was also looking forward to it as an escape from covid-related stress, and especially early my experience was the opposite of that, watching the players eschew masks and social distancing, following the MIA and STL outbreaks in particular, etc. Also, we haven’t been reliably very good, which has been disappointing.

Review the team’s overall performance in the first half.

Isaiah: Up and down thus far to say the least. You see the highs of a six game winning streak to climb up the standings, then you see Arizona tumble back down to below .500 as the offense can’t string together any hits. It’s been frustrating, but the D-backs are looking somewhat better than last month.

Jack: Heading into Sunday’s game they had a team 87 OPS+ (11th in NL) and a 90 ERA+. (12th in NL)

So if anything, they are rather fortunate to have the 8th best Win % in the National League. Their Pythagorean WL, which is based on run differential is 12-16, one game worse than their actual 13-15. But Pythag doesn’t tell the whole story either as teams often have a better or worse run differential than their underlying statistics would indicate they should have. This is usually tied to happenings with RISP, 2 out RISP, and High Leverage, and sure enough the D-backs actually rank very high so far this season in those particular splits. Nobody disputes the value of hitting with RISP and in important high leverage situations. What’s highly debatable is how predictive those results are of future performance in those situations.

Most likely there will be some regression to the mean in these clutch situations for the team. Hopefully that coincides with some regression to the mean in a good way in other areas.

Michael: The team has some big time issues to sort out, but the obvious number one issue is the walk and home run deficit. The pitching staff is dead-last in the NL in home runs allowed per 9 innings and second to last in walks per 9 innings. Offensively, they’re 26th in walk rate and 27th in total home runs hit. Those two numbers describe something that we see too often in these games: non-competitiveness from the team on the aggregate.

Players who have underperformed this year: Ketel Marte, Stephen Vogt, Luke Weaver (trending up after his last two starts though), Robbie Ray, Madison Bumgarner (on IL), Eduardo Escobar

Players who have exceeded expectations: Stefan Crichton, Zac Gallen, Merrill Kelly

Makakilo: After the two wins against the Athletics, the Diamondbacks were 2 games up from .500. At that time, I wondered whether my pre-season prediction of 33 wins was too low. Then a 5-game losing streak happened, including 3 losses against the Giants. Now I wonder whether 30 wins is more realistic. 30 wins should be enough for the Diamondbacks to reach the playoffs.

The win-loss record kept the team in contention. On a more detailed level,the first half performance could have been better with

  • More consistent hitting, especially when Zac Gallen pitched.
  • Less walks by Robbie Ray.
  • Recovery of part of Bumgarner’s lost velocity.

James: Inconsistent at best. This team has far more holes to fill than I expected when the season first got underway. We have seen a few games of what can happen when everything works the way it was drawn up. Unfortunately, we have seen far more games where one or more pieces just aren’t getting the job done.

Dano: Yup, inconsistent would be the word. Seemed to me like everyone’s been coming out of “spring training” at different rates, in a way that wouldn’t be the case in a normal season. Both Martes, and Kole Calhoun, were ready pretty much on opening day, as was Christian Walker and Merrill Kelly. Zac Gallen, too, if one forgets his first start of the year. Meanwhile, it took Nick Ahmed another few weeks to be game-ready, and Eduardo Escobar still isn’t there yet. It looks like Luke Weaver is finally ready, halfway through this odd little “season”. And, of course, the bullpen has been pretty much a disaster. So “not very good” would also be another way of characterizing it, or, if one isn’t concerned about positivity, perhaps “bad” would be an appropriate term.

If there was an All-Star game this year, which D-backs would get to go?

Isaiah: Merrill Kelly and Zac Gallen would be my votes. I really want to add Ketel Marte to that list, but I may be pushing it. Instead, I’ll stick with a pair of Arizona’s effective starters this season. Kelly and Gallen have been the two pieces in the starting rotation the D-backs can rely upon, and they haven’t disappointed.

Jack: No Diamondback would likely be voted to the All Star game by fans at this point. Had Ketel got off to a better power start fans probably vote for him. But he’s got kind of an empty batting average and fans notice that. So whoever got to go would be dependent on getting named by Dave Martinez I guess. Zac Gallen, Merrill Kelly and Starling Marte have been the best performers so far. There are too many NL outfielders having even better years than Starling, so my guess is only Gallen would get to go and nobody else.

Makakilo: Starling Marte and Zac Gallen have the highest bWAR.

  • Voters would likely be disappointed in Starling Marte’s 2 homers this season.
  • Gallen’s ERA is ranked 7th best in the NL. It would be interesting to see him battle with All-Star hitters. Despite having been credited with zero wins, he would likely be chosen.

Michael: Zac Gallen probably is the only player with a realistic chance. Kelly has good numbers, but Gallen has a better track record of success since he tied the MLB record for most starts with 3 ER or fewer to start a career. None of the hitters warrant All-Star considerations unless Peralta, Walker, or either Marte suddenly gets hot again at the plate.

James: Nobody gets even close to being voted in. Zac Gallen is probably the team’s lone representative. If he doesn’t get the nod, perhaps Bradley then gets Martinez’s nod, less because he has been great and more because closers tend to get the nod when the manager is searching for a candidate.

Dano: Nobody, sadly. As others note, Gallen, Kelly and S-Mart have been best for us, but our best doesn’t compare favorably with other teams’ best performers.

Which Arizona player’s performance is most key in the second half?

Isaiah: I’m going with Eduardo Escobar. He launched 35 homers with 118 RBIs last year, yet he’s struggled this season with a .188 batting average and .566 OPS. Call last year an anomaly, but he’s too good of a player to produce such disappointing numbers. If the D-backs have any consistency in the second half, some of it relies on Escobar to rebound from a slow start.

Jack: On offense Ketel Marte has to set the pace. He is their best player, and they need him to resume hitting with power and being the best player on the team. On the pitching side, it’s critical that Bumgarner recover from his injury quickly and come back and pitch effectively. You need your best players, your stars, to carry you if you are going to do anything down the stretch and in the playoffs if you get there. These are the guys.

Makakilo: Each game, scoring runs requires hitting by most of the lineup. It’s a team effort. With consistent scoring, games could be won with effective pitching by the rotation and bullpen. At the end of the 23 August game thread, Preston Salisbury and Jack Sommers commented about the impact of the bullpen.

Michael: D-backs will need more from Ketel Marte, Christian Walker, and Eduardo Escobar. Those are supposed to be the big bats in the lineup and haven’t really made a significant impact this year. On the pitching side, they need the bullpen to pitch better than warm bodies. Right now only Stefan Crichton and Archie Bradley have been close to consistent. The rest of the pen has been a disaster as throwing strikes has been an issue.

James: On the offense, I have to go with Ketel Marte and Eduardo Escobar. Escobar needs to improve his situational hitting in a big way if this offense is going to continue to score. Ketel Marte needs to lead the way. This includes Marte rediscovering his power stroke. Right now he is simply not attacking the ball the way he did last year. He is still getting hits, but nothing is coming from them, especially since Escobar and others have been unable to follow up with hits of their own.

On the pitching side, it’s the two (three) lefties. This team is sunk if MadBum cannot return to the mound and provide a number of decent outings. By the same token, this team needs Ray to figure things out. He is simply playing with fire with all those walks. Those two were supposed to eat the lion’s share of starting innings, helping to spare the bullpen from being overtaxed. At least one of those two needs to step up. If the team is going to make a playoff run, they likely need both to do so. Andrew Chafin not throwing gasoline on fires would be nice too.

Dano: I’m with Makakilo on this one: the team as a whole needs to perform better, and the bullpen especially. All of these recent games were winnable, in that the score was still close when we got into the late innings. Offense didn’t show up, and our bullpen allowed opponents to pile on. In doing so, we squandered a bunch of what for us passes as good efforts from our starting pitching.

Do you now think it’s likely the season will be successfully completed?

Isaiah: Yes, I do think the full MLB season plays out. There have been plenty of double-headers and games are churning out for teams who unfortunately caught COVID-19. I think the regular season continues as well as the postseason.

Jack: So far I’ve been proven very wrong. I didn’t think they would get this far. So many games canceled, so many double headers, so many injuries….it’s very debatable whether they should be playing. But they are, and it looks like they’ll finish.

Makakilo: Yes. Previously I wrote that the interesting question was whether every team completed the season. With 7-inning double-headers, that answer seems to be another yes.

Michael: We’re far enough in that it’s unlikely they’ll shut things down. We’ve already survived two big outbreaks, one in Miami (hot spot) and St. Louis. The Mets have a couple positives, but no new news on cases so fingers crossed.

James: Short of a multi-team outbreak in the next week or so, this “season” is going to be completed. Rob Manfred is going to make sure of it, even if it decimates teams and puts a record number of players on the IL. Manfred has made it very clear that nothing is going to derail this season, so long as there are some games that can be played. If it should come to pass that three or more teams all go down with 3-5 players (Or more) testing positive, then maybe he cancels the rest of the season and then starts attacking the players for the decision.

Dano: At this point, yeah, it looks that way, much to my surprise. The results will be kind of questionable (see James’s point regarding competitive integrity, above), but this season was always gonna be an asterisk anyway.

What is your “I was into X before it was cool” thing?

Isaiah: I have been a Golden State Warriors fan since 2011 before so many people hopped on the bandwagon. Monta Ellis will always be my favorite basketball player and I honestly miss the days of Golden State being a terrible team. I saw the transformation happen, and now I am becoming less of a fan because there are way too many bandwagon fans who suddenly joined when the Warriors won their first title in 2014-15. It only got worse as they got better.

Now that they’re picking second overall in the NBA Draft this year, some fans have left and joined the Clippers and Lakers, which helps. But it will never be the same and it frustrates me to this day.

Jack: I’ve been into baseball analytics since I was 11 years old and bought my first Strat-O-Matic Baseball set in 1970. I started figuring out how runs are really scored and prevented, and began really studying this aspect of the game and had already formulated a lot of ideas long before I read my first Bill James abstract. It seemed a lot of the stuff I was hearing on T.V. from announcers didn’t match what was really happening and what was leading the winning teams to their victories. It’s been an evolutionary process and it’s been a hell of a lot of fun.

Makakilo: I Google searched to find what is cool. In 2019 a survey of teens indicated the color “Melodramatic Purple” was cool.

I was definitely into color combinations before it was cool. Many years ago, my favorite color changed to purple (not to be confused with violet). Purple is unlike all the other colors. It is incredible because, “Scientifically, purple is not a color because there is no beam of pure light that looks purple.” Instead, the brain perceives colors that are far apart in the spectrum and the brain creates purple. Perhaps purple is uniquely enjoyed (or not) by each person. Definitely purple is cool.

Michael: Nothing I do would be considered “cool” even if it was in style at the time. It’s just the way I roll.

James: Maybe playing Dungeons & Dragons. I’ve been doing that since about 1980. But even then, there is a reason the bookstores had an entire section devoted to RPGs. It may not have been “cool” then the way it is now, but it was hardly a fringe hobby. As an early adopter, I was into using TiVO/PVRs almost 3 years before most people even knew what they were. When I first got one, some of my associates looked at me side-eye. Now “television entertainment” revolves almost entirely around the PVR. So maybe that? I read books. I’m a Tolkien scholar. I’m not an exciting guy. I suppose that latter part is more common now than it was 20-40 years ago, but even still Tolkien has been cool since the 50s.

Dano: Online multiplayer gaming, oddly, given that I really don’t do that anymore. But I played a fair amount of “British Legends” on Compuserve back in the ‘80s (a multiplayer text adventure, basically), as well as a lot of door games on BBSes that I would dial into with my 300 baud modem. Ah, those were the days.