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SnakePit Round Table: Spring has sprung

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Pitchers and catchers report this week!

John-Chael Holyk, 9, watches warms before a game between the Colorado Rockies and the Arizona Diamondbacks during the first game of Spring Training at Salt River Fields at Talking Stick in Scottsdale, Arizona on Saturday, March 3, 2012. AAron Ontiveroz, T Photo By AAron Ontiveroz/The Denver Post via Getty Images

The D-backs finally made some moves. Do you think Joakim Soria will be the closer?

James: I think he is the odds-on favourite to land the position out of camp. We’ll see what happens once he starts pitching to live hitters playing for other teams. It isn’t like the Diamondbacks have a ton of arms beating down the door to try their hand at it, though I can think of at least three I wouldn’t mind seeing get a shot.

Jack: I think the better question might be will Joakim Soria be the closer on August 1st.

Steven: Pretty much guaranteed he’ll be the closer to start the season. Like Jack mentioned, probably best to not rush out for a Soria jersey. Shirtsey maybe.

Makakilo: Three thoughts:

  • Joakim Soria has the most experience: 223 career saves with 80.8% success. He has the mental mindset that closers need for success.
  • He often allowed zero earned runs (75% of games in 2019, and 77% of games in 2020).
  • What did Mike Hazen say about the closer role? “Crichton finished up the season in that role. I don’t want to just strip that away without having seen him pitch again coming back into spring training. I don’t think that’s entirely fair given what he’s done out in our bullpen. There will be a group of players — a small handful — that we’ll be talking about in that role.” — Mike Hazen

DBacksEurope: Joakim Soria will be the closer for the D-Backs this season, but Hazen and Lovullo will throw a couple of smoke grenades onto the field before the first save situation arises (ten games into the season). Soria has been a closer for many seasons, as recently in 2018 for the Chicago White Sox and at other times he had to give way to good closers, like Wade Davis and Kelvin Herrera on the Royals and Liam Hendriks at the A’s, but still had decent performances. It is his job to lose with the D-Backs, because we do not have any established relievers. Soria is not a reclamation project like Boxberger or Holland, who all came off bad seasons before getting the closer job in Arizona, although his peripherals apparently were not great last season*. I have read that his stats are similar to his first years in the MLB, so I looked some of those up and based on that I think Soria will get 25 save opportunities this year and will notch 20 and blow 5. His highlight in 2021 will be a game on September 15 at the Dodgers. Normally that would be Hispanic Heritage Day at Chase Field. He will notch a save there punching out Betts, Seager and Bellinger in a 1-2-3 inning. Do you all know I did great last yearin the AZSnakePit Casino?

Turambar: Wouldn’t be surprised, but in all honesty I’ve not followed this off-season enough like I used to to really give an informed opinion.

What role do you see for Asdrubal Cabrera?

James: I would hope that he has joined as a utility infielder and bench bat. If there are any plans, sans injuries, to have him play as a regular starter, the team is making a mistake.

Jack: What James said. It all hinges on their intent with Ketel Marte.

Steven: I’m not expecting 500+ AB’s, like he has shown to be capable of since entering the league back in 2007. I’d expect something in the 300-400 range, sharing time with youngsters and maybe being trade bait later in the season if he surprises like in 2019. Disappointed he’ll take a way ABs from youngsters, but it’s nice to have a veteran back there in case the entire team performs like Hazen expects them to.

Makakilo: Let’s look his Defensive Runs Saved (DRS) in the latest year for each position (The Fielding Bible):

  • third base, 141.1 Innings in 2020, +1 DRS
  • first base, 198.2 innings in 2020, minus 1 DRS
  • second base, 248 innings in 2019, minus 4 DRS
  • short stop, 204.1 innings in 2018, minus 7 DRS

His best defensive position is third base. Perhaps he could platoon with Eduard Escobar (instead of Escobar platooning with Maikel Franco as I wrote about here).

Four reasons I like the Acquisition:

  • Low cost.
  • Flexibility for Cabrera to play third, second, or first, giving Torey Lovullo options (both in-game and in case of injury).
  • Cabrera’s BABIP could bounce back. In 2020, his BABIP was a career low (.260 vs career .304). Yet his percent hard hit went up to 38.3% vs career 35.0% (Baseball Savant). With his high hard hit percent, I expect his BABIP to improve in 2021.
  • Cabrera’s hitting results could improve. In 2020, FanGraphs’ soft hit percent went up to 18.2%, nearly matching his career high 18.5%. Could Diamondbacks coaches help him reduce his soft hits?

DBacksEurope: If the D-Backs infield starters (Eduardo Escobar, Nick Ahmed, Ketel Marte and Christian Walker) perform as can be expected of them, I think Asdrubal will be all over the diamond at 1B, 2B and 3B in a utility role. He will be one of those utility players we will have a lot of in the Diamondbacks infield like Andy Young (2B), Josh Rojas (SS/2B), Pavin Smith (1B) and maybe Wyatt Mathisen (3B). Asdrubal will be the first one to step in to give the starters some well deserved rest. If things go south, expect Asdrubal to either platoon at 3B with Escobar or take over the everyday role at 3B if Escobar gets traded or injured.

Turambar: Just hope he provides so good guidance for the young guys on this team. Doesn’t need to move Heaven and earth, just needs to provide value toward the future.

Who will you be watching closest in spring training?

James: It is difficult to say. Most likely I will be watching Daulton Varcho and Carson Kelly. Can the former continue to hit well as he did down the stretch? Can the latter regain the form he had until the pandemic hit? Also for consideration will be Luke Weaver, though I have a feeling I will be watching him closely once the season finally starts.

Jack: Madison Bumgarner. While we will no doubt hear about veterans knowing their routines and taking their time to get up to game ready speed, by the 3rd or 4th week of spring I hope to see his stuff ticking back up. (4 seam above 91, Cutter above 86). I just don’t think he’s got enough there to be effective on a consistent basis with 4 seam at 89 and cutter at 84. There is no margin for error at all if that’s the case.

Steven: I’m going to take a good long look at Eduardo Escobar. He’s put in the work this offseason, but will it translate to the field? We’ve seen the floor, let’s hope he rebounds.

Makakilo: Although I’ll watch what positions are played by Ketel Marte and Asdrubal Cabrera for clues where they will play during the season – both are nearly certain to be on the 26-man roster. And like Steven I’m looking for Eduardo Escobar to bounce back.

But the closest watched will be Travis Bergen because of his high ceiling as a left handed pitcher in the bullpen. To learn more you can read an excellent article by DbacksEurope. His injury reduced innings tell me that he is still developing and that he could make a breakthrough this season. If he stumbles, or even if he doesn’t stumble, the bullpen competition is wide open with several Non Roster Invites (NRI’s) who have a chance at the 40-man roster.

DBacksEurope: Well, they say ST stats are not important, although I personally think we have seen too many slumps continue in the main season with Álex Ávila still being the freshest memory of all of those. I will have to be very cautious in giving too much importance to “friendlies”, as we call these in Europe; I am one of those people that in ST jump onto bandwagons or take the streets with the pitchfork.

So, while you will have to forgive any overreaction of mine the coming months, I will be looking during ST for confirmation of:

  • that our starting rotation is not that bad; especially Madison Bumgarner and Luke Weaver. I am also curious to see how Merrill Kelly returns from his surgery. If these 3 guys perform badly, expect me to buy a “we suck” t-shirt. Bad, to me, would be any ERA over 4.40 during ST.
  • that Eduardo Escobar’s 2020 performance* was an incident; we need his offence and we do not really have any alternatives at 3B. I expect him to bat somewhere between .260-.270, in ST combined with a couple of bombs.
  • that Ketel Marte is still the young star we think him to be; his injury-shortened 2020 performance* was a disappointment. I expect him to show flashes of his greatness in ST. I wish to see an OPS of over .800 from Marte during ST.

Turambar: Mad Bum and Varsho. Mad Bum I’m confident will have a bounce back year like Greinke did and contribute in some meaningful way. I don’t need him to be perfect, just better, and I think he’ll do that. Varsho is the future and if we’re gonna have any hope of catching those godless Dodgers then we need kids like him to step up in a big way.

The minor leagues will undergo their biggest changes in a century. What do you think?

James: Honestly, with as heavy-handed and unilateral as MLB is behaving, I would rather see all 30 clubs forced to purchase all of their minor league clubs, making them financially responsible for the entire ball of wax. I do think that the players getting a pay raise is a good thing. In fact, it might turn out to be the very best thing to come out of the new minor league reality. We shall see. Frankly, MLB has done minor league ball dirty and I am growing weary of MLB’s behaviour over the last 13 months.

Jack: I’m interested to see exactly how a more concentrated, slimmed down system impacts player development. The Diamondbacks have lagged in player development over the years. Within each system teams develop methods and strategies to best exploit and utliize to achieve good results. Will the new system better fit the D-backs and in what ways ?

Steven: It’s a nice step, but minor league players need to be paid a living wage and treated like investments. The first MLB team that goes above and beyond traditional treatment is going to see huge dividends. I’m talking salaried, nutritioned, conditioned, and housed players. It’s pretty frustrating to see the MLB finally make these changes in 2021.

Makakilo: Better technology and training. Better facilities. Less travel – less risk of COVID. More pay for players. Sounds like it’s great for players who are not left out in the cold.

DBacksEurope: I remember a discussion on a Fangraphs’ podcast about this. I have no real personal opinion on this issue, because my knowledge of minor leagues is not large. I have to believe that MLB has taken these steps to improve the future (quality) of the game in general and time will tell if this was a good move. I was however pleased by one argumentation: that Class A ball will be played in climates that are more similar to the climates our international prospects come from. I do not know anything about Visalia or its surroundings, but I can imagine that a 19 year old kid from the Dominican Republic or Venezuela will adapt easier to the USA in his first pro ball season far from home in hotter California than in colder Oregon. That way they will have an extra season to adapt and work on their pitching before the colder climate in Hillsboro will skew any of their pitching skills and challenge them psychologically in their social isolation, before they get launched again in a hotter climate in Texas where the Amarillo Sod Poodles (great name) are based. The new organisation will probably squeeze out more older and fringe Triple A players like the Cody Decker’s in this world, but my hope is they will find employment in a stronger Indy Ball environment.

Trevor Bauer is now a Dodger. Discuss.

James: They were always on the short list. I personally think he would have been a better fit pitching across town for the Angels, but he’ll fit in just fine as the Dodgers’ (checks notes) #3 starter, for ~$35 million. The Dodgers have lost some interesting players, but they are still favored to bring back Turner, so they are not looking at a mass exodus. Also, they did just trade for yet another near-MLB 3B/1B in Neuse. The Dodgers have silly money to spend on payroll. Good for them for actually doing so without making any long-term massive investments. Bad for AZ fans, but good for them.

Edit: Justin Turner just re-upped with the Dodgers. They’ll be just fine, if not better, now that Bauer is there to eat stupid amounts of innings for them.

Jack: It reminds me of the early 2000’s Yankees and all the hand wringing as they brought in one top free agent after another. But the Dodgers farm system and player development operation is as good as any in MLB. It’s the combination of these two that is especially depressing for a D-backs fan. Bauer is just one more spike to heart.

Steven: Amazing what a well run organization can do when they open their wallets and target talent instead of relying on an abused minimum-league salary to just get by.

On the field side of the move, the rich get richer. They essentially traded a 5th starter production for top of the rotation type guy. Just disgusting.

Makakilo: Three days ago, I was surprised to learn about twitter fights (I’m struggling for the most objective and non-judgemental word because I do not know the facts) between Bauer and two women. That’s a potential ding and a potential landmine to Bauer’s team culture that I’m glad the Diamondbacks avoided. Two views of Bauer follow:

DBacksEurope: Trevor Bauer is a one man show and I thought it was very entertaining to witness how he has marketed himself on social media, especially Twitter. Him getting that much money is quite the achievement; except for the 2020 season*, in which he “somehow” improved his spin rates with 300-400 rpm, he has not really been an ace at all, but now he has received a pay check that pays him like he is one. $40MM seems like an awful lot for a 3rd or maybe 2nd man of your rotation, but the Dodgers can do it. I think we can only hope the Dodgers get back into Dodgers spending like some years ago and they spend themselves into miserableness. After handing out yet another big bag of money to Justin Turner they have at least taken the exit to that path.

Turambar: Bauer, bleh.

What’s your most “I’m turning into my parents” moment?

James: I must give this one more thought.

Jack: Taking afternoon naps and/or falling asleep watching T.V. at 8:30. Sometimes on the same day.

Steven: Old man yells at cloud (loud neighbors)

Makakilo: First thought: Won’t happen, ever.

Second thought: When he was older my father fed popcorn to birds in his yard. Every day I feed crushed nuts to two plovers in my yard, except April through August when they fly to Alaska for the summer.

DBacksEurope: My boy goes to school on his own nowadays. So each day I wave him goodbye from the balcony while he walks down the street until I don’t see him any longer. That is sooo my parents; my wife said the very same thing to me the other day.