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SnakePit Round Table: Post-Independence Day Edition

Will the D-backs ever win a series again?

San Francisco Giants v Arizona Diamondbacks Photo by Ralph Freso/Getty Images

Does Independence Day mean anything to you, beyond a long weekend?

James: It used to be my second favourite holiday. About 10-15 years ago, I discovered that I was simply no longer nearly as smitten with it. Now, it is just an excuse for me to make amazing hot dogs. This year it will be Sonoran dogs and some adult beverages.

Makakilo: Part of my life was dedicated to protect and defend the Constitution of the United States. Therefore Independence Day means a lot to me.

It’s a world full of corruption and evil. Corporations strip-mine the world’s resources. Leaders secure their positions by oppressing/killing their own people and by making war with other countries.

Swimming against the current, the Continental Congress declared freedom from Great Britain, and approved the Declaration of Independence written by John Adams, Roger Sherman, Robert Livingston, Benjamin Franklin, and Thomas Jefferson.

Their actions ignited the flame of our unique government. Our constitution (with Bill of Rights amendments) mandates freedoms for our people. It is foundational in the never ending battle against corruption and evil.

DBacksEurope: yes, it means a lot to me. Well, I mean, not 4th of July in itself, since I am not American and I do not live in the USA, but I very much enjoy seeing countries celebrating the liberties their ancestors fought for and being proud of who they are. I love the festivities, the joy, the celebrations and the flags you can see worldwide. I hope you enjoyed and are still enjoying your holiday!

ISH95: It’s always been one of my favorite holidays. It’s a big celebration with family, great food, and a fun activity, but without the expectations that usually comes with the bigger ticket holidays. While there is always great food for the 4th, no one is expecting me to spend three days in the kitchen ahead of time preparing it :)

Wesley: I find the holiday to be a mixed bag. I have always enjoyed the holiday itself, and how most people traditionally celebrate, i.e. setting off fireworks, grilling, barbeque, cold drinks, et cetera. Knowing the history of our country, and more importantly the hypocrisy and various atrocities of the American government throughout its history, that have run counter to the ideals that country was supposedly founded on, I have very ambivalent feelings for the holiday at this point. And I agree with ISH95, I love the food, but I hate spending three days preparing food.

Dano: The 4th is fine, and while I don’t like crowds and in fact actively avoid them, and while there are some activities that seem extremely ill-advised to engage in on the desert floor in the midst of a decades-long drought, I do like me some fireworks. Beyond that, though, I think I’m very much in Wesley’s camp. I too know a fair amount about our country’s history, and the ways in which our government has often fallen short of the ideals to which our founding documents aspire. So. Yay for long weekends, at any rate.

Do you feel there is an issue with the team’s handling of medical issues?

James: While I do think there is an issue, I doubt it is the one that jumps to mind. Injuries have been out of control all across baseball this year. It is fairly clear that the screwed up season of 2020 is having a lasting effect. On that front, I do not think that the Diamondbacks are doing any better or worse than their peers. What does bother me is the constant push to get players back onto the roster. There is no reason at all to be in any hurry to return veterans to the playing field, unless the team is using the time as a showcase to trade those players. There is just nothing to be gained by Asdrubal Cabrera returning from his injury two weeks ahead of expectation. There was no reason for Ketel Marte to come back so quickly either. I don’t really feel that this “rapid” returns necessarily contributed to any sort of further injury. I do think that the time on the IL is time for prospects to get more ABs.

Makakilo: Yes. Injury prevention is important, especially because the Diamondbacks lack depth. As I previously wrote, part of the solution could be working with other teams to prevent injuries.

One method of injury prevention is to predict when a player has reached a high probability of injury and take action to prevent injury (examples could include push back a rotation pitcher’s start day and assign a ‘rest’ day to a position player). What might the predictions be based on?

  • Statcast data shows changes in measurements that might be precursors to injury. This article provides some specific measurements that could predict injury.
  • About a third of football injuries are caused by overuse per a study quoted in this article. If overuse injuries apply to baseball, then counting pitches (single game and season) and counting sprints (baserunning and fielding) could predict when injury risk is high.
  • Injury data can be found at this great website (it’s free although you can show your appreciation by using a donate button). You type in a player’s name, and it provides information on repeat injuries, 20 day moving average of a batter’s daily maximum Exit Velocity(EV), yearly sprint speed, and a pitcher’s average fastball velocity over time.

DBacksEurope: Yes. Almost two months ago, when asked about the injuries, manager Torey Lovullo apparently said something like it’s a season he’s never experienced in his years as both a player and manager. James is right that the D-Backs are not the only team to experience trouble: it seems a MLB-wide problem. However, the D-Backs would be wrong if they use that as an excuse to not further look into what is happening.

The best movie line I have ever heard is from Under Siege 2, where a villain says “assumption is the mother of all f*** ups” (one of the other villains thinks Steven Seagal has died, and we all know Steven Seagal and death are incompatible). In the end 2020 wasn’t the fluke Mike Hazen and Torey Lovullo thought it was: their assumption was wrong. Let’s hope they do not assume again and think the injuries are nothing more but a MLB wide problem.

We have seen:

  • Ketel Marte has injured both his hamstrings and the second time he did so after a couple of days of rest. He had to be taken off after running to first base in his first at bat. He was injured in 2020 too and missed a large portion of that season (i.e. a month).
  • Christian Walker had an oblique injury early this season and after 7 days of playing he re injured the same area.

After being confronted with the second time Christian Walker got injured, Torey Lovullo responded with: “It’s stuff we talk about, stuff we budget for and what I’ll say is every team walks through very challenging situations. It’s how we respond to those situations that’s going to separate us.”

One thing is certain: the D-Backs are very well separated from the rest at the moment.

On the pitching side we have had problems as well, such as:

  • MadBum pitched 3 games with an injury. He was injured in 2020 too and missed a large portion of that season.
  • Zac Gallen has been on and off the injury list this season and had a disastrous rehab in the major leagues.

On these injuries Torey Lovullo was quoted to have said in the past: “Manager Torey Lovullo was confident the D-backs’ medical team caught Gallen’s injury early”

The medical team clearly has a big role in detecting these injuries and probably in bringing players back. What we are seeing now is that we have been and are without our star position player (Marte), our star pitcher (Gallen) and our most expensive player (Bumgarner).

But, we should not forget that the medical staff does not always have the final say in everything: players (they think they can play, but they cannot), manager (he thinks the player can play, but he cannot) and front office (they think the player can and has to play, but they should not) are very much guilty as well. Who has the final vote? But the handling in general seems wrong.

ISH95: Seems like there is, but I don’t know exactly what it is. I don’t ever remember this many hamstring injuries in a season, and I don’t remember so many times of players getting reinjured. Is that a team issue? Is it a side effect of last “season”? Is it just that we have a team of AJ Pollocks? Idk

Wesley: I think it’s more an issue of the training staff, as opposed to the medical staff. The people treating and diagnosing injuries aren’t the issue here, it’s the people responsible for preventing injuries that is the issue. The team should do a performance review of all the staff in my opinion, especially the strength and conditioning coaches and training staff in general.

Dano: There is definitely an issue, though again, my thinking aligns with Wes on this one. IIRC, I’ve been yammering periodically over the last 18 months or so regarding our strength and conditioning programs, and how they seem to be reliably failing. Something is clearly going wrong with how we are going about preparing our players to stay physically healthy over the grind of a 162-game season. We’ve been pretty bad with keeping our players healthy for many seasons in a row now, but 2021 may just take the cake.

Predict when the team will win their next series.

James: Until Gallen went down, I was holding out moderate hope that this series against the Giants would be the one. Now, with yet another injury, I am going to go with when the Pirates come to town from July 19-21. The team will have had the break to get rested up, including the arms in the bullpen that are gassed from starters getting injured. The Pirates may well have traded away some of their best players by then. Oh, and the Pirates are just a terrible team.

Makakilo: James picked well. I’ll just add the Pirates are solidly in last place in the NL Central Division, and the Pirates lost 6 games in a row through Saturday. The Pirates won their game Sunday.

DBacksEurope: if the Pirates are a terrible team, I am not sure what we are. I think in September the two game home series against Texas Rangers will be the best opportunity, but it might come sooner: one of the two Pirates series or maybe even the upcoming series against the Rockies.

ISH95: shortly after this summer’s first snowfall in Phoenix.

Nah, I actually have a gut feeling it’s going to be the upcoming series against Colorado. Don’t know why, but I looked at the schedule and got that feeling.

Wesley: What if they don’t win any series for the rest of the season? I think that’s actually plausible.

Dano: My thinking, like many others here, has been that the first plausible one is when the Pirates come to town later this month. However, Jim mentioned at the end of his Sunday night recap that the Rockies have a worse road record than we do, somehow. So that might be a possibility. Of course, Wes again makes a good point….it is actually plausible and depressingly so. I frankly wouldn’t be overly surprised if we don’t manage more than a series split until 2022.

How much do the team’s defensive lapses bother you?

James: They bother me moderately. Many of them have been a lack of focus. Those are the ones that bother me a ton. The constant rain of balls falling for hits only bothers me in so much as it is further evidence that the team needs to stop screwing around and start planning for the future. That means, among other things, gutting the current outfield of Reddick and PEralta and putting prospects out there. There is just no reason Pavin Smith should see another inning in center field. However, getting him plenty of looks in LF makes sense, at least until the DH arrives.

Makakilo: Yes. Defensive excellence is part of the core that defines the Diamondbacks.

DBacksEurope: they don’t bother me at all since they make sense. If you have infielders playing outfield, they either are defensive wizards or require time to adapt or will never adapt. Ours are one of the final two. In the infield...Ahmed is probably infected by the bad plays all around him and we already knew Josh Rojas is a terrible defender. If I were the D-Backs I would put players at their position, I already wrote that before, so you at least have acceptable defence at those positions, but maybe I am a weirdo for advocating that.

ISH95: It’s frustrating if for no other reason that we have been so spoiled over the past… 7, 8 years with defensively elite players? It’s hard going from Peak Ahmed and Goldy to what we have now.

Wesley: It bothers me quite a bit. Playing a bunch of players out of their natural position is a big part of it, and throwing guys like Josh Reddick who have zero long term future with the Dbacks doesn’t help anything.

Dano: Not really. Not for the errors and defensive miscues themselves, at least. They are a bummer, but I see them as simply one more symptom on a long list of symptoms for the abiding big-picture structural problems we have right now. An untimely error can lose a team a game, to be sure. But fielding miscues have no meaningful causal relationship to how badly we are playing right now just about every single night.

What has gone wrong for Daulton Varsho?

James: I’m not sure anything has. Clearly, he is not hitting like he did in Reno. He has got to start identifying offspeed pitching at the MLB level. The only way that is going to happen though, is for him to see more MLB pitching. The sample size of MLB ABs for Varsho on this season is so small that just one hot week will have him back up to being a league average bat.

Makakilo: Nothing has gone wrong. Several observations follow:

Prior to Carson Kelly going to the IL, Varsho played about 38% of his innings at catcher. Starting 20 June, except for one inning at CF, Varsho played exclusively at catcher (58 innings).

Recently he focused on improving his skills at catcher - I’m thrilled with this season’s 25% caught stealing because that skill was identified as a reason to make him a CF.

Is batting an issue? Three ways to look at it follow:

  • Let’s compare the first two seasons in the Majors for Daulton Varsho & Carson Kelly (data from Baseball Reference).

Carson Kelly: OPS of .445 and .457, 89 PAs, played only catcher.
Daulton Varsho: OPS of .653 and .434, 190 PAs through 3 July, played catcher, CF, and RF.

  • Looking at Diamondback batters, this season through 3 July, Varsho’s 1.7% of pitches with barrels/solid-contact ranked 13 of 19 and it was slightly below the average of 2.0%. (Excluded batters with zero solid contact.) (Data from Baseball Savant.)
  • This season through 3 July, his weakness was breaking pitches (data from Baseball Savant).

Fastballs: .238 OBP, .201 wOBA.
Breaking: .111 OBP, .108 wOBA.
Offspeed: .400 OBP, .341 wOBA.

DBacksEurope: coming up in a terrible team like the 2020 and 2021 Diamondbacks is not easy for anyone at all: everyone is probably dealing more with himself than caring for the other. Coaches are stressed with improving day to day performance, players are trying to I guess he might miss out on some valuable tips from other players. We´ll see how he does next year.

Wesley: I don’t think anything is wrong with Varsho, although the time needs to decide whether he’s going to be a catcher or not. Moving him around a bunch of very different positions isn’t going to help improve.

Dano: I honestly have no idea if he’s broken, or far less than what we thought he’d be as a player, or if he’s just suffering from having to spend time in Reno before graduating to the majors, or if the circumstances this season (and 2020) have been especially problematic for him. What seems clear to me is that, for whatever reason, he’s just not ready to be an everyday player in the major leagues. I hope James is right, and that this is the only stage on which he can learn the stuff he needs to learn to get better, and I hope that he is actually capable of learning those things with the big league club. But he’s definitely not ready for prime time at this point.

What item of popular culture can you simply not stand?

James: I’m a grouchy old man. The list of things in popular culture that irritate me is entirely too long to fit here.

Makakilo: Are huge trucks part of popular culture? Nearly every morning one of them loudly drives by my house. An explosion seems imminent at maybe 25 mph - is that normal? And I’ve seen trucks greatly exceed the freeway speed limit while huge Hawaii flags flutter from poles placed in the tailgate. Are flags a free pass for trucks to speed?

DBacksEurope: people constantly looking at their mobile/cell phone. I read the daily news when travelling on the subway to my work, so the phone has its use, but many times when I sit outside of a bar I can see groups of friends and couples looking for minutes on their phones without having a conversation with the people they are actually with.

ISH95: my least favorite part of pop culture is people complaining about parts of pop culture they don’t like.

Wesley: The fact that pop culture is a double edged sword, although sometimes it’s good to have some escape from the issues of the world around us, for some people that means that they never address or think about those issues. It also can mislead people who are incapable of critical thinking, and (it can and often does) perpetuate myths, pseudoscience, and gives people a distorted view of how the world works. I also dislike the company wars between DC and MARVEL, things like that. Don’t get me wrong, I am thoroughly a consumer of pop culture, I just recognize the actual negatives it can bring to the world. ``

Dano: The ubiquitous impulse in movie and TV production to reboot or remake old creative properties, or spin off (I’m thinking Law & Order here, and franchises like that), rather than rolling the dice on something new. Like, did we really need a MacGyver reboot, or a Hawaii Five-Oh reboot? No. No, we did not.