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SnakePit Round Table: The Half-way Point

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We’re almost at the half-way point of the 2021 season...

Two-faced Janus, sculpture in Verona, Veneto Photo by DeAgostini/Getty Images

What went MOST wrong in the first half for Arizona?

Jack: The pitching, clearly. The rotation depth turned out to be non existent, as almost every guy brought up to fill in for injured starters have been terrible at preventing runs. The shoe string bullpen construction completely snapped from the get go as well.

  • Innings 1-3: outscored 163 to 109: Almost always playing up hill baseball
  • Innings 4-6: outscored 125 to 111: They try to get back in it, but still outgunned
  • Innings 7-9: outscored 136 to 93: Close games get blown open, rare leads lost

Makakilo: Most wrong reminds me of a quote from the movie City Slickers: Curly: “One thing. You stick to that and the rest don’t matter.” Perhaps teamwork is that one thing.

My thought is that one thing widely impacted teamwork - changes in the active roster. Not counting the opening day players and not counting the 3 players who started the season on the IL, 22 additional players were added to the active roster by call up from the minors, by contract purchase from the minors, and by trade. A breakout is 8 in April, 8 in May, and 6 in June. Another breakout is 7 position players and 15 pitchers.

James: The team’s lack of MLB-ready depth being exposed, mostly by injury. This was especially true with the pitching staff. It wasn’t just the pitching though. Other teams have been impacted by injuries as well, but the Diamondbacks simply had precious few players beyond the expected initial 26-man roster that could be called upon to step up and at least give some help. When this wiped out the lion’s share of Arizona’s “good” position players and ⅘ of the rotation and nearly any reliever expected to actually provide any value (save maybe Alex Young), this team fell to pieces. Once that process started, it snowballed in a hurry. Once the losing became contagious, it became almost impossible to stop, even once the players slowly started to return.

Turambar: Any and all pitching. Injury crushed us early and often and those arms brought up to fill the gaps were not ready to contribute. That ensured that our position players felt insane pressure to produce early and often in games, which in turn impacted their production at the plate.

Wesley: ...everything went wrong? Injuries played a major role, and the cascading effect from that. I agree that the constant roster changes likely have impacted how they’re playing as a whole, and I’m sure it has affected the chemistry of the team. The pitching has been absolutely dreadful. The amount of stress these guys are putting on themselves by pressing and pushing to win to turn it around likely isn’t helping either.

Who were the first half MVP and Cy Young winners?

Makakilo: My MVP is Carson Kelly, who contributed offense (1.7 bWAR, 6.7 fWAR) and defense (1.6 fWAR, 0 DRS per The Fielding Bible) while playing a challenging position. Other baseball writers’ thoughts follow:

  • “Above average defensive catcher.” — Ben Clemens, 18 March 2021
  • “Where Kelly is, at the moment, is among the very best offensive players in the game, …” — Zach Buchanan, 27 May 2021.
  • “Carson Kelly’s form has certainly not been what it was before he went on the injured list with a broken toe. At that point, he was hitting .338/.491/.613, for an OPS of 1.103.” — AZ Snakepit game preview by Jim McLennan & Jack Sommers, 22 June 2021.

My Cy Young is Caleb Smith. Interestingly, his 1.3 bWAR was highest of the D-back pitchers, while Merrill Kelly’s 1.2 fWAR was highest of the D-back pitchers (games through 25 June). The tie-breaker was that Caleb Smith had the higher season-average game-score (52.5 vs 49.8), which included Kelly’s excellent start on Saturday.

Jack: My first inclination was to go with Carson Kelly as well. He was phenomenal through the team’s first 38 games, playing in 28 of them and batting .338/.491/.613, 1.103 OPS. He wasn’t just leading the team, but all of MLB in bWAR at the time I believe. But he hit so poorly after his first IL stint, and now he’s out again. So I’ll go with Eduardo, for the simple reason he has more games played and more PA than any other player on the team. (74/307).

For Cy Young, I’ll go Merrill Kelly. As you all know I’m a sucker for innings eaters. Not just because he pitched such a good game last night, but he’s made every start, thrown the most innings, gone into 6th or longer in 12 out of 16 starts. Amidst the carnage of the D-backs pitching staff this year he’s been the lone dependable option in EITHER rotation or bullpen. His FIP is almost a run lower than his ERA too, he’s thrown the ball better than ERA suggests.

James: For MVP I have to go with Carson Kelly. Even after he cooled off, he was still one of the best backstops in baseball. I do agree with Jack that Eduardo Escobar is likely worthy of consideration. I am comfortable giving him honourable mention. For Cy Young, it is much more difficult. Like Jack, I am likely giving it to Merrill Kelly. He’s at least been able to hold his spot in the rotation and to give the bullpen some much-needed rest during most of his outings. On the other hand, he hasn’t been particularly good overall. My honourable mention (and really, a close second in my book) goes to Taylor Widener. If only Widener had been able to go a few more starts before getting injured/re-injured, I would have him as the hands-down Cy Young for the team to this point of the season. Assuming health no longer gets in the way, Zac Gallen is going to run away with this one by the end of the season.

Wesley: Gonna go with the players with ‘Kelly’ as a last name. For the position players, Carson Kelly has been fantastic, and there’s not much I can add to the discussion as far as that goes. Eduardo Escobar is definitely worth an honorable mention for the position players, as Jack and James also already noted. For pitchers, I’m going with Merrill Kelly, for the reasons that Jack listed as well. Honorable mention to Taylor Widener, who has pitched closer to what my personal expectations for him were.

And who were the LVP and Cy Yuck winners?

Makakilo: My LVP is Domingo Leyba, whose OPS+ was negative 74. He had zero hits in 24 PAs. My Cy Yuck is Keury Mella whose ERA+ was 15. His ERA was 32.4.

Jack: I’ll gauge least valuable against expectations or team investment in the player.

While there are several players with lower WAR and OPS than Christian Walker, none had the expectation to be above average MLB players in 2021. The combination of two IL stints due to oblique injury, and ineffectiveness all around has really hurt the team.

For Cy Yuck I have to go with Madison Bumgarner. Despite his 7 inning no no, and 4 game stretch of good starts, he posted up for just 59 innings and a 6.18 RA-9. When you invest this much of your payroll in one pitcher and he performs this poorly and winds up with a shoulder injury, he clearly has the most negative value of any pitcher on the squad.

James: Since I cannot give this one collectively to the offense, I will go with Christian Walker. Walker was supposed to be the glue in the middle of the Diamondbacks lineup. Instead, he has barely played and, when he has, he has been mostly terrible. Neither his bat nor his glove have shown up, even in those rare instances where he has been uninjured and been able to take the field. His strong defense of the past seems to be mostly something of an urban legend at this point. His bat has been so anaemic that it is almost criminal for the team to field him if it wants to make any pretense of trying to win whatever particular game he is being inserted into the lineup for. To open the season, Walker was a strong candidate to be traded away. Now, he has played so poorly that it feels like he is closer to being DFA’d than to being traded. No one is going to give anything in return for him at this point, not even some sort of low-A lottery ticket.

Cy Yuck, that’s a tough one. I am eliminating relievers in this case, largely because they are supposed to be volatile by nature. If they were really good, they would be in the rotation. Besides, the rotation is giving candidates enough that I don’t need to pick on the already beleaguered bullpen. Out of that group, it isn’t really all that hard. It’s Madison Bumgarner. He has been a dumpster fire of a starter for entirely too long for this to be a hiccup. He continually insisted that injury was not the culprit. I am inclined to believe him. His ability to pitch fell off a cliff. When it did, it hit the ground and went splat, dying on impact.

Luke Weaver got a lot of flack for not being the pitcher many of us hoped he would be. But at least he entered the season with an asterisk next to his name already, many wondering if he would be a starter or reliever. As it is, he had four good outings before he was put back on the shelf. That just so happens to equal the number of good outings by Bumgarner, who had 50% more games than Weaver did to reach that number. Just looking at the raw results, Weaver has actually been a better pitcher this year than Bumgarner

Wesley: Bumgarner and Walker. We shouldn’t have to worry about either player, yet here we are. Well I don’t think anyone expected a Cy Young or an MVP level season out of either, I think it was expected that both would be productive members of the rotation and lineup

What do you want to see out of the second half of the season?

Makakilo: I’d like to see young players show potential to be All-Stars.

Jack: I need to see some improved pitching performances from anyone they expect to be on the roster over the next year or two.

James: I’d love to see any sort of acknowledgement from the front office that it is time to start getting real about the future of this team. This season is lost. It’s time to start getting a look at players that the front office feels have a real chance of being with the club by the time they are competitive again. That time will not be in 2022.It is high time they stopped pretending with that nonsense.

Turambar: A pulse? A will to win? Anything to give me hope in this team as we look to next season and beyond.

Wesley: As James noted, this season is lost already. Our window of contention is closed this year, and likely next year as well. I want the roster reconstructed, and built for the future. Make smart trades and acquire prospects. Give our prospects consistent playing time. I want to see Seth Beer called up, and given regularly playing time.

Who should be the team’s All-Star representative?

Makakilo: This season, uninjured Diamondback pitchers are too rare and valuable to risk getting hurt at the All-Star game. No way would I recommend any Diamondback pitcher, rotation or bullpen, be at the All-Star game.

Position Players. Due to recent injuries, Carson Kelly, Ketel Marte (ongoing hamstring issues), and Kole Calhoun are out of the running. Due to poor defense, Josh Rojas and David Peralta are out of the running. Andrew Young is back in AAA. That leaves two All-Star candidates:

  • Eduardo Escobar, this season: 17 homers in 307 PAs and +1 DRS at second base.
  • Asdrubal Cabrera, this season: 5 homers in 188 PAs and +3 DRS at third base.

Jack: Since he’s my 1st half MVP, I’ll go with Eduardo here. That may boost his trade value too ;)

James:The Last Man Standing - Eduardo Escobar

Turambar: Escobar I guess.

Wesley: Ummmmmmmm.. Escobar?

What is the stupidest injury you’ve ever suffered?

Makakilo: A few months ago, I decided to trim my 20 foot high plumeria tree which was a tangled web of branches. One of my first few cuts was unfortunate because a branch fell and split my lip. I immediately felt fortunate that my teeth were not harmed, and the split was minor. It healed without a visible scar. It was stupid of me to tackle such a large and difficult project without thinking of the possible dangers. After that injury, I hired an arborist who professionally trimmed it. Lesson learned.

Jack: I was playing paddleball (played off a wall, like handball, but with paddles, different from racquetball) and a ball with spin came right up at my head as I overran it. As I tried to make the adjustment somehow I turned my paddle sideways and chopped right into my own forehead on the backswing, and the side of the paddle split me open. Bleeding profusely it took a while to get me to the emergency room for stitches because my friends fell down laughing and couldn’t get up.

James: I have done a number of stupid things in my life that would categorize my injuries as the result of injury by misadventure. However, those don’t stand out for me nearly as much as a few of my other injuries. The one injury that annoys me the most, comes from the one year I bought my best mate a brand new set of Global chefs knives. I stopped on my way to meet him to pick up something at another shop and set the package down on the counter while I paid. When I went to pick the package up, it began to slip so I grabbed a bit harder. When I did, one of the razor-sharp Japanese blades sliced right through the packaging, and sliced my thumb open wide. It bled for nearly three hours while I sat at dinner with him and my brother trying to eat sushi that night.

The most “amusing” is the result of a sneeze. Yes, a sneeze. I was unloading groceries from the car on a “lovely spring morning” in Tempe. It was breezy enough that my allergies wanted me to understand just how thrilled they were that it was spring. I had just finished setting all the bags on the floor near the refrigerator and was standing among them. When I went to open the door, I was hit by a very large sneeze, the sort that makes one’s upper body launch forward. Well, my head launched itself right into the edge of the door I was opening - SLAM! That hurt plenty enough and elicited some colourful metaphors from me. But the recoil was the real issue.

Having bounced my noggin off the edge of the door, I was then staggered, causing me to step back. Well, I stepped right on top of one of the bags of groceries, which turned my ankle and caused me to lose my footing. My knee twisted itself in all sorts of ugly directions as I came crashing down onto yet more grocery bags, one of which had a glass jar in it that did not survive. So there I lay, having a mild allergy attack, with a sprained ankle, a badly sprained knee, a goose egg forming over my right eye. bruises on my hip, and a piece of glass sticking out of my forearm. I’m not sure if I was more upset or relieved that there was no one home to help me disentangle myself from the mess. On one hand, it was a slow, painful process to extricate myself from and clean up. On the other hand, not having anyone around who could take a picture “for posterity” was somewhat of a relief.

Wesley: I am so injury prone I don’t even know where to begin. Breaking my hand in a fight when I was seventeen I guess. Just the fact that I broke it in a fight, which is so out of character for me, that i just shake my head at myself. Before anyone asks, I didn’t start said fight, and I was just defending myself, but still..