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SnakePit Round Table: Half-way to Opening Day

Well, more or less half-way...

Colorado Rockies v Arizona Diamondbacks Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images

Who has stood out for you this spring?

Jack: J.B. Bukauskas has been lights out and displaying dynamic stuff, just like Mike Hazen said he would. He’s struck out 9 of the 12 batters he’s faced in 4 outings and hasn’t allowed a baserunner. Most importantly, he’s throwing strikes. If he keeps pitching like this he’ll claim a spot in the bullpen for opening day.

Makakilo: Although I agree with Jack that J.B. Bukauskas looked great, so did Eduardo Escobar. You may recall that I wrote an article that included an idea of platooning Eduardo Escobar and Maikel Franko at third base, and a platoon may happen despite how well Escobar is hitting. Through yesterday in spring training, he had 5 RBIs and an OPS of 1.087.

James: The easy ones are JBB and Josh Rojas. Both have made it almost impossible for management to even consider sending them down once Opening Day rolls around. Also like how MadBum looked in his first outing. I am still not entirely sold on that yet though.

Steven: Ketel Marte has looked excellent, as well as the aforementioned Bukauskas and Rojas. The pitching has been largely a disaster, but Gallen is showing the front of the rotation type stuff we expected to see after last year.

DBacksEurope: one month ago, in an other roundtable, I answered to “Who will you be watching closest in Spring Training”:

  • that Eduardo Escobar’s 2020 performance* was an incident;. 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; I wish to see an OPS of over .800 from Marte during ST.

Well, it is pretty clear that Escobar and Marte are performing great, so that is just awesome. All others that perform well (Mathisen, Rojas, ...) is fine to me, but those players will not be key to any of our success and I don’t know how to perceive their ST stats.

Anyone been cause for concern?

Jack: Probably Luke Weaver.

Makakilo: Kole Calhoun and Nick Ahmed. I expect both to fully recover from their knee issues, but they will miss ramp-up time.

The reason they need to recover soon was demonstrated by the game against the Angels on March 12. Calhoun and Ahmed did not play in that game. In the first 10 PAs with RISP, the Diamondbacks had 1 hit, and that hit did not score a run. Then, in the seventh inning, Geraldo Perdomo, who in the previous inning entered the game as a pinch runner, hit a 2 run single with bases loaded.

In the last two years Ahmed and Calhoun have made a difference with runners on base.

  • In 2019, Nick Ahmed had 46 RBIs with RISP.
  • In 2020, Kole Calhoun had 32 RBIs with men on base.

James: I am somewhat on board with Jak and Makakilo about Weaver and Ahmed. My biggest issue with Ahmed is the lack of prep time he is going to have. Weaver needs to start working like these are real games and not spending too many more outings simply working one pitch. Neither one is terribly concerning for me though. Ahmed will have all season to get himself into playing form and is a solid leader on the field. Weaver can always be shifted to the bullpen if he struggles. No, my biggest concern is Soria. He’s supposed to be a veteran cornerstone for the bullpen. He’s got a real contract and no options. This means he’s going to fill a bullpen slot, no matter what. The team is already fighting an uphill battle without another Boxburger in the bullpen. The team has enough arms that Soria’s leash should be short, regardless of his contract, but I am not confident that such will be the case.

Steven: Caleb Smith and Merrill Kelly both have been hit pretty hard in their limited time, and I’m not a big fan of only seeing 2IP from Bumgarner, despite him seeing time in sim games. Sim games have their place, but after a terrible opening season on a massive contract, I’d have loved to see him face an AL team against real MLB hitters.

DBacksEurope: one month ago, in an other roundtable, I answered to “Who will you be watching closest in Spring Training”:

  • that our starting rotation is not that bad; especially Madison Bumgarner and Luke Weaver. Bad, to me, would be any ERA over 4.40 during ST.

Gallen is and will be fine, but MadBum pitched just two innings in front of viewers and all others sucked so that is just terrible. I give Merrill Kelly some slack though because I thought he would not ever make it back in any decent way from his surgery.

What impact will the loss of Kole Calhoun have, and how will the team replace him?

Jack: Trayce Thompson has struck out way too much and despite an early long ball or two, does not appear to be grabbing his opportunity. The team will probably go with either Pavin Smith or Daulton Varsho vs. Right Hand Starters if Thompson continues to fail at making contact. Hopefully whatever they do will only need to be done for 3 weeks into the season.

EDIT: So less than 2 hours after I typed this he homered and took his roster chances off life support. Good for him.

Makakilo: Let’s look at defense and offense.

Defense: Experience matters. In the last 2 seasons, David Peralta played outfield in 1186.1 innings. How does that compare to the candidates to temporarily replace Kole Calhoun?

  • Ketel Marte, 707.2 innings
  • Trayce Thomson, 662.2 innings
  • Josh Rojas, 486 innings
  • Pavin Smith, 364.2 innings
  • Daulton Varsho, 191.1 innings
  • Seth Beer, 155 innings

Lack of experience in the outfield is an indicator that defense would be impacted. Furthermore, some of the innings in my list were in the minors.

The Fielding Bible’s Defensive Runs Saved (DRS) provides more insight:

  • Center Field. Marte had 0 DRS in 2020 and Varsho had 2 DRS in 2020.
  • Right Field. Calhoun had 0 DRS in 2020, Pavin Smith had 0 DRS in 2020, Josh Rojas had 1 DRS in 2019, and Trayce Thompson had 2 DRS in 2018.

Offense: A month ago I wrote, “In 2020, Kole Calhoun’s 11.8% barrels was a career high. FanGraphs’ depth chart projection is for him to lead the team in homers per PA. Very likely, he will lead the team in homers and perhaps OPS, too.” So there will be an impact until he returns at 100%.

Looking at projections for homers per PA, Depth Charts has Thompson’s .036 as best, ZiPS has Beer’s .039 as best, and Marcel has Varsho’s .039 as best.

Looking at spring training, Trace Thompson’s awesome 3 homers in 35 PAs (.086) is best.

Conclusion: Trayce Thompson could be chosen to temporarily replace Kole Calhoun in right field because of his excellent defense (DRS in 2018), and excellent offense (Depth Chart projection and spring training homers).

James: Tim Locastro being out due to COVID has not helped any. The outfield mix was already sort of a mess even before Calhoun was injured. I suspect that this injury means that Marte is once again going to see significant time in CF, whether that was the plan all along or not. Varsho does not have the arm for playing RF, though I still think he makes the team as the 4th OF and gets time in both LF and CF. Depending on just how long Calhoun is going to be out, I could see the team running with Thompson for a while, hoping to milk some value out of the power in his bat. Although, with the sort of spring that Rojas has been having, letting him get a few more ABs by letting his utility spread to the OF might be a real option as well.

Steven: They’re really going to need a young player to step up, as this all but assures Ketel Marte to stay in CF full-time. Rojas probably gets the first nod with the Spring he’s having but I’m not eager to anoint him the starter with how poor he’s played the past couple years. VanMeter, Varsho, and Pavin Smith will probably see time there in some patchwork formation. Reading that gives me cause for concern. Get better soon Kole!

DBacksEurope: I believe we won’t be able to value Calhoun’s loss until he is back. Last year he was good, but all others were not. This year the others look good, but we don’t know how Calhoun will be. However Calhoun might be in 2021, I think the solution to his absence is not great. I do not believe the team will give an opportunity to Trayce Thompson since he is not on the 40 man roster and who would bump someone off a 40 man roster for a fringe MLB player? That does not make much sense. I think they will patchwork RF until Kole Calhoun returns with a Varsho, Locastro and Peralta platoon. As a matter of fact, the Diamondbacks will platoon the entire outfield because they think out of the box like the time when we carried the three catchers on our roster. Rojas, Smith and Peralta will platoon LF; Varsho, Locastro and Marte will platoon CF and Varsho, Locastro and Peralta will platoon RF. When Calhoun returns we will see a more stable outfield of Peralta, Marte and Calhoun with Locastro as the fourth outfielder. Smith and Varsho will be sent down.

Would you go to Chase Field on Opening Day?

Jack: I’m not ready to sit in the stands yet, even though vaccinated. Too many people, and despite what Derrick Hall said I’m not confident people will wear their masks properly. Nursing a bucket of popcorn for 3 hours and claim to be eating doesn’t do it for me.

Makakilo: I’m looking forward to seeing a game at Chase Field, but my preference is a game later in the season, especially a playoff game (yes, I’m an optimist). I was vaccinated when I participated in the Pfizer vaccine study and I would wear a mask.

For health & safety reasons, I would expect everyone at Chase Field to happily cooperate with the Diamondbacks’ mask policy. Even for people who don’t fear the COVID virus, wearing a mask makes other people comfortable that they are safe. That’s reason enough to wear a mask.

James: Not only am I not vaccinated yet, but I tend to agree with Jack in that I suspect there will be plenty of mask non-compliance. With that in mind, I would not attend Opening Day this year. I am hoping to attend next season though.

Steven: Nooooooooooooooooooooooo. Maybe in a private suite but I’m not setting foot in the public stands for a while after seeing the blatant disregard for mask use.

DBacksEurope: If the roof is open and my seats would not be somewhere in the middle of the stadium nor in the middle of a section I would. Obviously I wear a mask. Where I live you get a fine if you don’t wear one. I have D-Backs masks made by red_leader and his family, so I love to wear masks! And if I wear my sunglasses and a cap no one recognises me so that is pretty funny as well.

MLB is experimenting with rule changes in the minors. Which of those would you want to see in the majors?

Jack: Pitch clock

Makakilo: Increase the size of bases from 15” to 18.” Runners could realize advantages in taking extra bases and stealing bases, adding excitement to the game.

James: I am fairly staunchly against the majority of the rules changes. The one I am on board with is a pitch clock, something that has theoretically existed all along, despite the lack of a physical clock. Enforce the pitching pace and damnit, keep batters in the box. Those two changes will do wonders for the pace of play without resorting to ill-advised gimmicks which have do not even have any real data on their side to support that they will improve the game in any way.

Steven: I like any rule that tries to cut down on game time, so pitch clock, limiting pickoffs, and keeping hitters in batter’s box works for me!

DBacksEurope: I agree with Makakilo! I like the argument of avoiding collisions as well.

What would 12 year-old you never believe about adult you?

Jack: 12 year old me would be shocked to see adult me still acts like a 12 year old.

Makakilo: Although 12 year-old me loved baseball, I mostly kept my thoughts to myself. 12-year old me would be shocked to learn that I write about baseball every week. That would be way too cool to believe.

James: How out of shape and overweight I wound up getting.

Jim: That I’d be living in Arizona and running a website about baseball. I guess I’d also have to explain the concept of a “website”.

DBacksEurope: I think 12 year old me would be absolutely astonished by almost everything, but I think he would be flabbergasted once he finds out that I now eat all things he refuses to eat.[Jim: Identical taste in food is how 12-year-old me would recognize current me!]