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SnakePit Round Table: Farewell to Lamb edition

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We bid farewell to all the “Jake? From State Farm?” jokes.

Arizona Diamondbacks Summer Workouts Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images

The Jake Lamb era ended. How will you remember him?

Makakilo: His peak was in 2017, when he was an All-Star third baseman. His bWAR was above 2. The 2017 AZ Snake Pit play of the year was his Grand Slam against the Dodgers. For details, see Jim’s article.

Teams reacted to his success by shifting. “In 2017, Lamb saw a defensive shift against him 37.6% of the time. The following year, that increased to 63.9%, and in 2019, it reached 71.1%. [As a yardstick, the average left-handed bat was shifted on 41.9% of the time in 2019].” — Jim McLennan. Jack’s comment was, “Last year and in this year’s small sample, his opposite field batted ball have really dropped quite a bit. It seems like with all the shifts, and all the issues he’s had, his approach is all wrong. The ‘Just hit it hard and whatever’ approach is not working and won’t work. Unless he changes (reverts?) to the gap hitter he was in the minors, and starts taking the ball the other way more and stops trying to hit through the shift, he’s going to be out of baseball in a year or two.”

Was his decline in 2018 due to worsening injury? He originally injured himself on 3 April of 2018. (See video in this article by Jim.) He played for months before his surgery. Shoulder surgery meant no playing time in August and September of 2018.

In the 2019 season, on 3 April he strained his left quad muscle, so he missed April and May. Mostly I remember Escobar and Walker were awesome. When Lamb returned he was a platoon player, with 162 innings at first and 262 innings at third, with 24 pinch hits.

With Eduardo Escobar and Christian Walker established at third and first, the bench was Jake Lamb’s new home. Instead of non-tendering him, the D-backs offered him $5.515 Million for the 2020 season, surprising some AZ Snakepitters. In his first 19 PAs of the 2020 season, he had one hit(a double), 2 walks, and a hit-by-pitch. Torey Lovullo reduced his playing time. On 10 September he was designated for assignment. His batting stats were disappointing: .116/.240/.140/.380 (BA,OBP, SLG, OPS) over 50 PAs.

Jack: From 2015-2017 , over 1619 PA he averaged 108 OPS+, 2.4 WAR and 1.0 Wins Above Average per season. He also hit well in high leverage , posting a .898 OPS in when it mattered most during his D-backs career.

Like all players he had his faults and issues even during that good stretch. His first and second half splits in both 2016-17, and failures vs. Left Hand Pitching left fans wanting more at the plate. He had a very bad mid season fielding slump in 2016, and totaled 20 errors, including 8 throwing errors in total that year. He only made 4 throwing errors the following season in 2017, but the mind’s images of Jake throwing the ball away lasted long beyond the reality.

The total package from 2015-2017, warts and all, was still an above league average player for pre arbitration wages. In fact, he was really valuable, generating roughly +$50M in net WAR value vs. Salary calculations during those three years. (see link) His decline and negative value over the last 2 ½ seasons has been well documented. It was an unfortunate and horrific confluence of injury and the league finding ways to exploit the weaknesses in his game. Recency bias is going to color our views on him for sure. But it would be a shame to disregard the good things he did and value he provided earlier in his career. I know I won’t.

I just read the news he was signed by the A’s. Good for him. That’s a pretty good landing spot for a player like this

James: Lamb’s time here will likely not be remembered very fondly, despite him not having been nearly as bad as many would have us believe. He was an above average player when he came up. Had it not been for some bad coaching early on, he might have even been even better, as his defense would not have put such a hit on his production. Just as he was getting over that hump, injuries took hold. Whether the injuries are responsible for the rapid decline in his performance or not, we will likely never know. It was especially hard watching him play this season. The team took a gamble on bringing him back, hoping they could get another great half-season from him. COVID-19 put the kibosh on that. BEtween that, and Lamb’s own ineffectiveness, it wound up being a bad move, even if it was understandable at the time the move was made. If the team had any sort of real payroll budget, Lamb’s final two seasons in Arizona fly under the radar, almost entirely unnoticed. As it is, payroll + performance gave fans plenty to gripe about.

Turambar: I’ll remember him for the hope he gave me and his struggles to make that hope a reality. Lots of potential and some great moments, but ultimately he could’nt surmount his splits (1st half vs 2nd and lefty v right) and injuries kept holding him back.

Now you’ve seen them in operation, what do you think of the rule changes?:
A. Runner on second in extra innings
B. Three-batter minimum for pitchers
C. Universal DH

Makakilo:

A. Awesome way to make extra innings exciting & interesting – the upside outweighed my aversion to changing the rules of baseball.

B. Better hitting because no one-batter-only pitchers (unless they entered with 2 outs and got the third out immediately).

C. Celebrate extraordinary hitters who can’t field well, or perhaps put players at DH to provide semi-rest days.

Jack:

A.) I instinctively do not like beginning the inning with a runner on 2nd. It feels gimmicky and artificial to me, like the College Football overtime rules. I understand the reasons behind it, and I’ll tolerate it if I must without complaint. But if you ask me, I just don’t like the way it feels. Maybe I’ll get used to it.

B.) Three Batter Minimum is fine, although I’m not sure how much it’s reducing pitching changes, which is it’s primary purpose. I’ll have to look into that after the season and see. But we’ll probably need all of next year as well to truly evaluate the impact as 2020 is such an outlier season due to starters not being able to go deep in games especially early in the season.

C.) I’d like the DH a lot more if Kevin Cron had been able to step in and mash a bunch of homers and not swing at pitches out of the strike zone 25% of the time. Really that’s all it will take for most D-backs fans to love the DH. Have a great DH. If we had Nelson Cruz bashing 15 homers, and batting over .300 with a 190 OPS+ I don’t think we hear many complaints. Hopefully Seth Beer can step into the role next year, assuming the DH carries over.

James: A) I hate it. I hate it with every fiber of my being. It just is not how this game is played. I understand the reasoning behind it. But, there are plenty of other, less obtrusive ways to get the sorts of results they are looking for.

B) I dislike the rule, though I am not going to climb up on the table to argue against it. If managers want to burn through their bullpen even faster by using pitchers for only one batter, then let them. Eventually, they will need to account for that when relievers start to tire at the end of the season.

C) I have never been a fan of the DH. I would have preferred the AL to lose the DH than for the NL to adopt it. That said, the universal DH has been coming for some time now. I will get over it - eventually.

Turambar: A) Can take a boat to #%€£ off Land. Seriously, kill it with fire.

B) I’m ok with that. Keeps some teams honest in that they really gotta be sure on relievers now and can’t keep shuffling the deck.

C). Never ever thought I’d like the DH, but with our need to get at bats to developing players I’m slowing growing to like this. Obviously it didn’t help our offense one lick this year but going forward that could change quite a bit.

Kevin Ginkel went from closer to optioned out in a few days. What do you think happened?

Makakilo: If we exclude his 24 July and 11 August appearances, he has a 2.35 ERA, which is awesome. Torey Lovullo had confidence in his pitching. “Even though he gave up the lead [against the Dodgers], I thought he threw the ball and was repeating his pitches very well.” — Torey Lovullo.

Perhaps, with a focus on next season, he was sent to the alternate site so he could focus on improving his pitches (from great to remarkable) without needing to worry about results.

Two areas of focus could be:

  • His 16.5% walk rate, which is in the bottom 3%(Baseball Savant) and in his last three appearances (2.2 innings) he walked 4 batters(Baseball Reference).
  • The vertical movement on his fastball is 0.6 inches below average (Baseball Savant).

Jack: As far as the quick turnaround in what the team was saying, Torey explained it. Knowing players pay attention to his pre game comments, he didn’t want to undercut Ginkel’s confidence while he was still on the roster.

But Ginkel’s fastball command evaporated and with that he couldn’t get guys to fish on his slider and wasn’t getting the swing and miss on that pitch. When Ginkel was coming up through the ranks he threw strikes and had an incredible K/BB ratio. I sat next to former major league fireballer John D’Acquisto in the press box in the Arizona Fall League and he said he really liked how Ginkel bullied right hand hitters with fastballs in, setting up the slider away. And that’s exactly what we saw last year during his callup. But from his first outing this year the command was off, and when he was forced to come back in the zone he got hit hard. It was hugely disappointing, but I wouldn’t give up on the guy just yet.

James: Reliever, thy name is volatility. Frankly, given the way this entire clustf- of a season has developed and unfolded, I am willing to cut Ginkel a bit of slack. If he works on his command during the offseason, he will probably be back again, in a significant role, for the 2021 season.

How much attention do you pay to the performance of former D-backs?

Makakilo: When the Diamondbacks play teams with former Diamondbacks, it’s a good time to pay attention to them. It is an opportunity to appreciate the best in that player and the worst in that player while knowing the Diamondbacks have moved on.

Jack: I do pay attention. In part because of curiosity, or perhaps emotional attachment to the player. But mostly for evaluation purposes. It can be an indication of how well the D-backs are developing and managing their players.

James: I probably pay more attention than I should. On the other hand, since I am constantly writing about baseball, maybe I should be paying even more attention. It is mostly fun to watch how players develop once they leave here, allowing me to consider if things would have been better or worse had they stayed.

Turambar: Hardly at all. I’m a team first guy and rarely do I keep track of former Dbacks, even the Golden One hardly gets a look from me. That’s just how I am.

Predict the 2021 D-backs Opening Day starting rotation.

Makakilo: Zac Gallen, Madison Bumgarner, Caleb Smith, Alex Young, Luke Weaver.

I predict the Diamondbacks will decline Mike Leake’s option.

  • Three reasons to bring him back: 4.49 ERA, low walk rate, in 2019 he pitched at least 5 innings in each game except once.
  • Three reasons to cut him loose: he gets hit hard, his cost is about $13 Million ($18 M - $5 M buyout), and he would be a free agent after the 2021 season.

I predict the Diamondbacks will have Merrill Kelly join the rotation later in the 2021 season. For high performance athletes, average recovery time is 4.7 months, with some taking as long as 12 months ( Source ). He could miss spring training as he recovers from thoracic outlet surgery. Reaching full athletic ability is not guaranteed, but he will likely be worth more than his $4.25 Million contract option in 2021.

Jack: Mak brings up Kelly’s option, and it’s a thorny question. Early comments from Mike Hazen indicate Kelly can start throwing 8 weeks from the date of surgery and the medical staff expects him to make a full recovery and be ready for spring training. From Nick Piecoro’s article

….Hazen did not make it sound like the procedure will adversely affect the Diamondbacks’ forthcoming decision on the $4.25 million club option in Kelly’s contract for 2021.

“We haven’t had any formal discussions on options for next year yet,” Hazen said, “but I wouldn’t see how this would have a major impact on that decision right now.”

Operative words “right now” perhaps.

If they pick up Kelly’s option and he’s healthy and fully recovered then I think he’s in the rotation, so

Gallen/Bumgarner/Smith/Weaver/Kelly

However…...if Kelly is not ready, I think the team is really hoping that Corbin Martin makes the step forward with both his health and performance during spring training and grabs a rotation spot. That has to be their first hope and preference. If Corbin can’t do it, you still have the two Taylor’s Widener and Clarke to contend with, and guys like Jon Duplantier, Riley Smith, and Josh Green are not out of the picture.

If it were up to me, I’d check and see if Luke Weaver can be conditioned to be a closer, and also convert Duplantier to a short reliever. Throw in Levi Kelly and you have the makings of a young, cost controlled, hard throwing bullpen.

Then let the twoTaylors, Green, and Smith duke it out with Martin for starting pitcher depth chart ranking.

James:

  • Bumgarner
  • Gallen
  • Smith
  • Weaver
  • Martin/Kelly

Turambar: Honestly, outsides of MadBum, Gallen and Weaver I’m really not sure. Rebuild mode is full steam ahead and Kelly’s health is going to be unknown. We’re likely in for some surprises in Spring Training I think.

There’s a population of 7.5 billion humans and 19 billion chickens at any given time. If there was a chicken rebellion, how would you prepare to fight off your 2.7 chickens?

Makakilo: Iowa has more farm-chickens than any other state (72.6 million in 2018). Although Hawaii is not in the top-10 states for farm-chickens, it is likely that Hawaii has the most wild chickens per person. Many wild chickens are descended from chickens who escaped during storms and hurricanes. I see wild chickens in parking lots (especially Costco), and in parks. Happily, I’ve never seen a wild chicken open a door, so I can focus on protecting my yard. I loved two ideas from Wikihow: plant mint in my yard (chickens are repelled by its smell), and a motion-detection sprinkler to scare away any chickens who don’t notice the minty smell. Wait a second, wouldn’t the sprinkler spray me too? Never mind the sprinkler.

Jack: Couldn’t I just try to feed and pacify them and so they could lay eggs and feed me back?

James: I’m pretty much with Jack on this one. Just let them bring me eggs. Otherwise, if I can’t keep them away, I have a nice fryer and I make amazing wing sauces.

Turambar: My shot gun is ready and my wife will have the oven ready as well. Nuf said.