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SnakePit Round Table: 10 games in

A wobbly start, but ended with our two best-played games of the year. What do the writers think so far?

Cincinnati Reds v Arizona Diamondbacks Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images

Have the D-backs performed below, at or over your expectations?

Jack: My expectations coming into the season were for a team somewhere between 70-78 wins and not really even on the periphery of the wild card. The state of the starting pitching and key injuries have dampened my outlook even further. I was rather tongue in cheek yesterday for bringing up 2004 and the team’s loss record of 51-111 as being in play. However a 95-100 loss season certainly seems to be in play at this point, especially if some of these early injuries become season long on again, off again issues. On top of that, if the team begins to sell off some veteran contracts mid season to make room for prospects that could further negatively impact the W-L record, although it doesn’t always work out that way.

Keegan: They’re at my expectations. You always anticipate but can never predict injuries. All those injuries just so happened to come right at the beginning and to some key players. The depth is too far away from the majors to be able to plug those gaps right now. It’s going to be a long season. Enjoy it for what it is.

DBacksEurope: I write this before the final match against the Reds and at this moment they are exactly at my expectations, on course for a 65 win season. In the schedule I filled out I have the Diamondbacks losing many series but most of the time taking at least one match on average unless it is a two game series. A couple of series we will win, like a Rockies at home or a Pirates. I actually have the D-Backs winning this series against the Reds so I hope I am right and get to see a win today.

Jim: Considering they have been largely without their best pitcher (Gallen), hitter (Calhoun) and fielder (Ahmed) from 2020, as well as their two bullpen acquisitions and now our best 2021 hitter (Marte), there’s a case to be made they’ve perhaps done better than expected.After the win this afternoon, they’ll be 4-6, which considering the schedule and the circumstances is not too bad. They are also 0-2 in one-run games, so are currently 4-4 in other contests.

ISH95: Eh, right about what I was expecting for results. I wasn’t expecting much against the Padres, and if you have expectations going into Coors, then you’re setting yourself up for failure. Jim does have a point, though, that they have been doing it with some pretty significant injuries, so there is hope that it improves when some more of those players come back.

Steven: The starting pitching has been the disappointment so far, as Bumgarner isn’t an MLB pitcher right now and Kelly’s velocity is a bit down from 2020. Injuries are piling up, but we’ve finally seen some of those guys come back and with a 10-game road trip coming, that will do a better job of seeing where this team is and what we should expect.

Makakilo: The optimistic view, which I share, was well stated by Jim. Let’s add some observations:

Offense: Two observations (through Sunday)

  • Padres pitching was challenging. Against non-Padres teams, the Diamondbacks have averaged 5.5 runs-per-game. That is better than my predicted 5 runs-per-game.
  • Diamondbacks batters have competitive spirit! This season, 2 wins were come-from-behind wins. Come from behind wins were 20% of all games. That is comparable to 2020 (20%) and 2019 (25%). (Stathead)

Three Pitching Observations (through Saturday):

  • The Diamondbacks starters ranked last in the Majors with an average Bill James Game Score of 42. Top team average score was 64.
  • In all three four wins, the Diamondbacks started the eighth inning with the lead. Is the bullpen under-appreciated? (Stathead)
  • Diamondback pitchers allowed 51 RBIs, the second highest in the Majors. 35 RBIs were allowed by starting pitchers over 48.2 innings pitched. 16 RBIs were allowed by bullpen pitchers (including Riley Smith’s one relief appearance). (Stathead)

Who has been the most pleasant surprise?

Jack: I didn’t really see Taylor Widener and Riley Smith stepping in this early to fill innings, let alone be this effective doing it. They’re tied for the team lead with 11 IP and have a 4.01 and 3.19 FIP respectively. I’m not sure about sustainability, but so far these guys have been pleasant surprises for me. Obligatory edit: Obviously Luke Weaver gets a mention here after today’s effort, which I didn’t see coming.

Keegan: Asdrubal Cabrera in addition to the two pitchers Jack named. Cabrera finds ways to remain a relevant MLB player. I’m sure they didn’t anticipate giving him as much playing time as he has received, but he’s done a nice job so far. I’d add Carson Kelly and Stephen Vogt offensively at the plate as well. Kelly’s OPS+ is 212 and Vogt’s is 130. Obviously not going to stay anywhere near that for both players, but it is nice that the catcher position hasn’t been a black hole in the lineup so far.

DBacksEurope: I agree on Asdrubal Cabrera. His OBP is terrific and his slugging too. Far above his career average so it will drop, but his performance has been a very pleasant surprise so far. Kevin Ginkel has done pretty well so far too. Small sample size, of course, but you gotta take what you can get.

Jim: Hello, Steven Vogt. Seven games in and he has already hit more home-runs that he did all of last year, when he played 26 games. Anything would likely be an improvement over the 41 OPS+ he produced last year, but with both him and Carson Kelly starting off hot, it’s a nice problem for Torey Lovullo to have.

ISH95: I’ll go Perdomo for a bit of a different reason. It was nice to see the team promote the best option, even if it started his service clock and maybe wasn’t as great an outcome as it could have been. That’s what this season probably needs to be about. Now do JBB.

Steven: Their young arms have stepped up to the challenge, with Smith and Widener providing stability to a hurting rotation. The catchers are also a huge benefit to the offense, combining for a 159 wRC+. We’re not going to get that type of production all season long, but after a 65 wRC+ last year, the team will take anything better than that.

Makakilo: My vote is split between Asdrubal Cabrera and Steven Vogt. They are on pace for career best seasons in offense and defense.

Asdrubal Cabrera.

  • Offense: Career best 160 OPS+ and .424 OBP.
  • Defense: His 2 DRS (so far) at third base exceeds any season at third base (2007, 2017-2020).

Steven Vogt:

  • Offense: Career best 130 OPS+ and .556 SLG.
  • Defense: 33% caught stealing is his highest percent since 2014.

And the biggest disappointment?

Jack: So many to choose from. On one level it’s hard to say I’m disappointed when expectations were not high to begin with, but I have to say Madison Bumgarner. I have been hoping I have been dead wrong about his collapse, but with each passing start it appears that even being a league average innings eater is a dream. It’s not a done deal yet, there is still time to turn it around. But I am extremely disappointed with his start to the season.

Keegan: I’m not sure how you can walk past Madison Bumgarner. It’s not getting better with each start either. He seems to be very far removed from what he was able to accomplish in San Francisco. This contract is going to sting until it expires.

DBacksEurope: I wasn’t expecting anything from the rotation, so I won’t call them the biggest disappointment: they are the shitshow they are supposed to be. I think until now David Peralta has been the biggest disappointment, but Christian Walker isn’t far off. Eduardo Escobar has been rolling a bit more lately, but his start has been underwhelming too.

Jim: Josh Rojas, who should be the poster child for the utter meaningless of spring training performance. Remember him hitting .345 with a .988 OPS there? Since the regular season started he’s 2-for-27 with a .241 OPS, coming into play today. That’s lower than Pavin Smith’s batting average, and is an OPS+ of -30. Yes, that’s a negative sign there. It’s almost 150 OPS points below what Arizona’s pitchers have hit so far. Maybe we need to campaign for a Designated Rojas?

ISH95: Bumgarner. Sure, Rojas has been terrible, and Walker, and Peralta until the 3rd inning today, but none of those guys are making All-Star money.

Steven: Like many others, I agree with everything said about how Bumgarner has been terrible. The most disappointing is him not taking any questions after his latest start. If you’re going to go out there and stink up the place, own up to it and talk to the media. Earn your paycheck.

Makakilo: Only 10 games into the season, the number of injuries was too high and it is my biggest disappointment.

When should we start regarding Madison Bumgarner as a sunk cost?

Jack: He’s still owed $78M. I don’t believe he will ever come even halfway to justifying the remainder of his contract. It was clearly a very big mistake. So depending on your threshold, he may already be a sunk cost. If you tried to trade him to another team today, what percent of that $78M would you have to absorb without even getting any prospects of note in return ? I’d have to think at least 75% ($59M) and perhaps as much as 90%. ($70M). Think about it. If he were suddenly a free agent tomorrow, would any team out there offer him a 3 year, $20M deal ? That seems pretty doubtful. I could see a 1 year, $8M deal perhaps, but that’s about it.

Keegan: I’m already there, personally. He’s so bad that you couldn’t even eat most of his contract in return of notable prospects right now. Forget about what Mike Hazen was able to accomplish in the return for Zack Greinke. That isn’t even remotely possible with Madison Bumgarner right now.

DBacksEurope: If by the end of May he is still pitching as he is pitching now, I think we will all have given up hope for any improvement. [a couple of minutes later…] Rethinking a bit, I think in two more miserable starts he will become irrelevant for us fans.

Jim: Right now, it already seems fairly sunk. Despite the Yankees apparently being interested, it’s really hard to see how the team can trade him without taking on almost all the salary. Admittedly, we said that about Zack Greinke as well, so maybe Mike Hazen has another trick up his sleeve. Right now, we just have to hope he can figure something out, but his ceiling feels like a back of the rotation innings eater, maybe a Mike Leake type.

ISH95: I’m there at this point. He’s our Barry Zito, and sadly, I don’t think this season is going to be that kind of torture.

Steven: It’s already sunk cost for me. If this is year 2, what will year 5 look like?

Makakilo: Two thoughts.

  • Mike Hazen could likely receive more than anticipated by trading away Bumgarner, especially this season when pitchers will be challenged by the increased number of innings. Dipota (GM for the Mariners) said he would jump at the chance to trade for a pitcher according to this SB Nation article. Joe Doyle wrote, “...That said, he’s a proven winner and a leader and that can’t be understated.”
  • My view (which could be mistaken) is Madison Bumgarner is transitioning into a different pitcher than he was in years past. As a consequence, the game plans that are provided to him will need to change to match the ‘new’ Bumgarner. It will take time for him to reach his new best. I would keep him at least until his increased value is easily seen.

What will the impact be of Ketel Marte’s absence?

Jack: The positive impact will be more playing time for Locastro than he otherwise would have gotten. So it gives him a chance to establish himself perhaps as a viable option to start 67% of the time. The negative impact is a lot of playing time split between VanMeter and Rojas. Rojas needs to lose out in that position battle. Hopefully when Ketel comes back he is moved back to 2b for most of his starts, TLO plays CF most of the time, and Rojas is optioned.

Keegan: He’s unquestionably our best offensive player, and one of the best in the league. You don’t want his absence to put pressure on the other guys in the lineup to replace his production. It’s not possible. His absence leaves us without a guy in the lineup that you fear at all times.

DBacksEurope: he is a player to be excited about. The Diamondbacks were pretty much a team no one cares about already and his absence won’t have much impact on the team’s performance in general (imagine he is injured an entire year and let’s say he adds 4 wins - that would leave the Diamondbacks under 70 wins anyhow so who cares), but I am afraid that general interest in this team will only fade even more during the time he is gone. Let’s hope he will be back soon because he and Zac Gallen are the only two legitimate reasons why a baseball fan would talk about the D-Backs. And why we can still get excited at times for the Diamondbacks.

Jim: It was nice to have 2019 Marte back. Some cool-off was inevitable - I mean, he’s not going to hit .462 forever - but it would have been nice to have ridden that wave a while longer. It does open the door for everyday Locastro. If Saturday night is anything to go by, maybe he’ll do well enough that the team won’t be able to bench him. Fun fact: Ketel Marte’s career OPS playing center (1.108) is four hundred and twenty-five points higher than at shortstop. With 419 PA at the former, sample size is no longer meaningless.

ISH95: I wonder what is behind that. That is a huge difference. Anyway, I think it hurts, but it forces the Diamondbacks to see what they have with Timmy-Lo.

Steven: We’ll finally get a look at what kind of everyday player Tim Locastro is and whether or not the D-backs have an answer in CF outside of Marte. You’ll also get a chance to see if anyone can step up in the gaping hole left behind in the wake. If not, you could be seeing this season being punted on earlier than expected.

Makakilo: Marte’s absence will have a big impact. In spring training Ketel Marte stood out the most. From the 28 March roundtable: “...recently he has built a solid foundation to consistently be an All-Star at the plate.”

  • “Ketel Marte is a top-5 batter for all three skills (fire starter, fire builder, and grill master).” Details are here.
  • “In spring training he reached an All-Star level of plate discipline.” Details are here (article on First Pitch Swing Decision scheduled to post on Tuesday).”

Being as vague as possible, what do you do for a living?

Jack: I split my working time doing something I love but am only just O.K. at, with something I don’t love anymore but am still very good at.

Keegan: What’s your life worth to ya?

DBacksEurope: sometimes I try to explain to people what I do, but they have a hard time understanding it, so a lot of times it ends up at “something with computers”.

Jim: I speak with authority, quite frequently on the basis of what I have Googled.

ISH95: I cook, I clean, I watch the kids.

Steven: Break stuff that people begrudgingly have to fix.

Makakilo: I am a knight errant.