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SnakePit Round Table: Catching a catcher

Is that the position sorted for the future?

Toronto Blue Jays v Baltimore Orioles - Game One Photo by G Fiume/Getty Images

What’s your overall take on the Varsho deal?

Spencer: I loved Varsho. I will be sad to see him play in better colors going forward (Red, Black and Tan are so boring. Become primary teal and bring back the dark gray jerseys!). But I do like the return. Moreno is an upside play. He’s already a good hitter and the power could return if it truly was linked to his thumb injury. Gurriel is fine as a secondary piece. Personally I probably would’ve preferred a prospect since we only get Lourdes for a single year. But I think the play here is to use his veteran presence to mentor the youth (or be a steadying personality in any potential playoff games) as well as hope he might be a trade target come the deadline if we’re on the outs.

Justin: Varsho was quickly becoming a favorite of mine. I wish him luck in Toronto. If he HAD to go to the AL East, I am glad it was Toronto.

Is Montero still with the organization as an instructor or anything? I wonder if having him tutor Moreno would be a plus. Both are from Venezuela, not that that really matters, I guess.

DBacksEurope: It is Hazen looking to acquire a catcher. Apparently the Diamondbacks aren’t prepared to move on from Kelly just yet, hence they looked for someone who can share duties but also has a long-term outlook. It doesn’t matter what Varsho and Gurriel do as long as Moreno performs and becomes the Diamondbacks’ mainstay behind the plate. Hazen’s track record on trades is bad and I don’t think it is wise to trade for prospects and expectations, but other than that I can’t say I am disappointed nor excited about this trade. Maybe the best thing is that we finally got rid of an outfielder.

Makakilo: My suggested trade of outfielder Jake McCathy for catcher Danny Jansen was a medium risk and a medium impact trade. Instead, the Diamondbacks dared to execute a high risk and high impact trade. Their trade accepted two significant risks.

Risk 1. How will the Diamondbacks rebuild their offense?

My estimate is a net loss is about 9 home runs. Details follow. Varsho was projected to hit 25 home runs. Varsho’s 534 PAs projected by ZiPS will likely go to Pavin Smith and Corbin Carroll. Together they will hit about 13.5 home runs (based on HR/PA projected by ZiPS), and if catcher Gabriel Morena takes Herrera’s PAs, that will be an extra 2.7 home runs.

The great idea underlying a rebuilt offense is that by increasing their OBP, the Diamondbacks will have more built innings (at least 5 batters reach base in an inning) and thereby win more games. For details about built innings see this AZ Snake Pit article.

Let’s look at OBP of a lineup that could face Right-Handed-Pitchers (RHP).

ZiPS projected increased OBP for many Diamondbacks. Starting from ZiPS projected OBPs, adding my projection of PAs after the loss of Varsho, the PA weighted average OBP will be .329. Compared to last season’s .307 OBP vs RHP (per Baseball Savant), that is a big increase and would likely increase wins by as much as, or more than, the 9 lost home runs. (I’m working on showing the expected increase in wins, but my effort is not yet completed).

Risk 2. How will the Diamondbacks develop Gabriel Moreno to his high potential?

The Diamondbacks compromised their original intention of not trading for prospects when they traded for Moreno. With his 25 games in the Majors, Gabriel Moreno is on the margin between a Major-League-Player and a prospect.

The Diamondbacks took on the risk that Moreno might fail to reach his expected level of performance. I’m confident that the Diamondbacks have something planned to reduce that risk. However, it’s clear (at least to me) that they intend Carson Kelly to focus on his own performance instead of mentoring Moreno. Therefore, I am curious about their risk mitigation plan, which I am nearly certain exists.

What are Moreno and Gurriel’s strengths and weaknesses?

Spencer: Both seem to be excellent at putting the bat on the ball and driving the ball to some extent. I think both have more power than they showed in 2022, although I won’t be counting on it showing up in 2023 due to nagging injuries. I look forward to “Mak’s Stats” for the stats proving this.

Moreno needs some extra work receiving from what I’ve read (I’m not going to pretend to be any sort of expert at the art of Catching - I played SS in Little League). And Gurriel can’t really play any position very well. Putting him in the Outfield will drastically lower the defense, but probably provides a steadying bat in the lineup. And he’s done as an infielder too. We seem to be collecting DH-only types this year (Lewis, Gurriel, pessimistic stance on Marte…). At some point that could be a problem.

DBacksEurope: After Rutschmann graduating with honours, the next best catching prospects are probably Francisco Alvarez and Gabriel Moreno. I know a bit about Moreno because a while back I traded for him in one of my Fantasy Dynasty leagues. His pluses and minuses can be found on every self-respectable prospect watching site. He showed a bit of power, but it seems he is more of a bat-to-ball kind of prospect. Bad thing for catching prospects is that they have to work hard on two aspects of the game. He could be a league average catcher on both sides, so he is probably the player the Diamondbacks had hoped for when they drafted Varsho, but didn’t get, which could explain the trade as well. As far as Gurriel he looks like a useful bat and will probably net a comp draft pick next year when he walks away, but he is “just” a toss in as far as I know.

Makakilo: Lourdes Gurriel Jr.: Weakness: I would only play him in left field or DH. The measures of his defense are inconsistent: The Fielding Bible shows excellent left field defense (6 DRS in 2021 and 3 DRS in 2022). Baseball Savant shows poor left field OAA (negative 8 OAA in 2021 and negative 2 OAA in 2022). Looking at the details shows his worst defense is against RHB who hit the ball on the center field side of left field. A great center fielder could mitigate his weakness.

Lourdes Gurriel Jr.: Strength: Strong right-handed batter with OPS+ of 109 in 2021 and 113 in 2022. His 2022 statistics would have been better except for May and August.

Gabriel Moreno: Weakness: Descriptions of his defense at catcher have words like competent and decent defender. My view is that means the Diamondbacks can help him improve.

Gabriel Moreno: Strength: An athletic catcher with a very good bat. In his 73 PAS in the Majors, his OPS+ was 111.

How does the outfield shake down?

Spencer: I think Thomas will be CF, McCarthy RF, and Carroll LF most days. When we need to attempt Gurriel or Lewis in the OF for some reason, it’ll get complicated depending on who is sitting/DHing. Good news, both Carroll and McCarthy are capable CFers, although I give the edge to Carroll. No one else should be in the discussion for Outfield at bats until injuries or additional trades happen.

Justin: I think that is about right.

Makakilo: Against RHPs, my view is that Corbin Carroll gets more PAs in the outfield, and Pavin Smith gets more PAs (whether in right field or as a DH). Against LHPs, my view is that Lourdes Gurriel Jr. gets more PAs in left field.

DBacksEurope: Probably Carroll and McCarthy are locks. I guess Gurriel will play left field. Thomas will battle for at bats, just like Blaze Alexander, once they show they have nothing left to do in AAA. I don’t think Thomas will be on the Opening Day roster.

Is it the end for Carson Kelly?

Justin: I hope it lights a fire under Kelly. I think his time is up. I would like to see him do well enough to be a viable mid season trade candidate.

Spencer: I think Kelly will be given every opportunity to prove he can stay healthy AND productive. However I think the main goal with that is to increase his trade value for a midseason deal, with the extra benefit of having some actual competition behind the plate for the first time in years. While Catchers traded midseason don’t fetch very good returns, all he really needs to net us is a quality bullpen arm and a backup Catcher. That’s doable if he is anywhere near as good as he’s proven he can be. But by June, I’d be surprised to see him collecting more starts behind the dish than Moreno barring injury.

DBacksEurope: If Carson is still on the roster in 2024 something will have gone wrong with Moreno.

Makakilo: My view is that in 2023 the Diamondbacks will have two catchers on the active roster. They will be Carson Kelly and Gabriel Moreno. Thoughts follow:

  • Batting. Last season, his batting fell from above average in the Majors to a little below average for a catcher. Next season, ZiPS projected his batting to improve to near average in the Majors.
  • Age. There was a discussion about catchers age 29 and above commonly experience big performance drops (I did not keep a link to that discussion). Carson Kelly is 28 years old, so I feel confident he has at least one good year before that risk rises.
  • Arbitration. 2023 is second year arb eligible, which means his salary will increase. However, his value in 2023 will likely exceed his salary if he earns WAR similar to the last two seasons (2.1 bWAR in 2021 and 0.9 bWAR in 2022.)

All but forgotten is the other trade, for infielder Diego Castillo. What’s your opinion?

Justin: Could we have gotten Oniel Cruz? Lol I dunno just infield depth So no opinion, I guess.

Spencer: Uh huh. We sure did trade for a guy named Diego Castillo. Mike Hazen made it seem like it’s purely a depth move. So my opinion is that he’s going to be somewhere in the Arizona system in 2023.

DBacksEurope: They also signed Evans, so I am not sure what the goal is of that trade. Maybe Rivera is still struggling with his injury and they are looking for alternatives just in case.

Makakilo: Last season was Diego Castillo’s debut in the Majors. Most of his innings were at second base, shortstop, and right field. His defense at shortstop (zero DRS in 255 innings) was OK, but it was not as good as Geraldo Perdomo’s defense after the All-Star break (4 DRS). He will likely start the season in AAA and he will be called up in case of injury (either shortstop or second base). He is 25 years old with 2 options remaining, so he might stay in the depth role for 2-3 years.

What were the 2022 highlights and lowlights?

Spencer: Diamondbacks specific? Personal? Societal? So many places to go with this one. For the team, I’d say the highlight has to be watching the young pitching come up and succeed. There’s no way Jameson/Nelson are as good as they showed in small samples, but overall it gave the impression that perhaps we won’t be as devoid of quality backups as we have been for, oh 25 years now? I’m getting Cleveland vibes from this new development and promotion system. That’s not a bad thing at all.

Lowlights… I have two that I think are equally grim for the team. Watching MadBum continue to prove he’s an independent league pitcher despite only being 33-years-old (THANKS San Francisco for that hellacious abuse of his arm). And secondly, finally realizing that Carson Kelly is too unlucky with injuries to be a genuine starter anymore, thus forcing the team to target catching with the trade of a fan favorite budding star instead of top of the rotation pitching. While I think the team did get slightly more out of Kelly than the expected floor targeted in 2018, it has to feel like a let down overall since his prime years have been wasted sitting on the Injured List. He alone has surpassed what we gave up of Goldy (not even counting Rivera and Fletcher’s future production), but I was certainly hoping for more 4 years ago.

Justin: I think you definitely have to include Gallen’s scoreless innings streak as a highlight. Christian Walker, Merrill Kelly. Carroll’s debut when the Dbacks came back from a 7 run deficit.

Lowlight would have to be the bullpen.

DBacksEurope: Highlights were Zac Gallen’s performance, who finally showed he is All Star caliber, the rise of some youngsters and that we finally saw a “normal” baseball season again after a lockout.

Lowlights were the bullpen performance but also this very disappointing 2023 off-season with only low-key acquisitions.

Makakilo: Last season’s highlights included the following:

The bullpen was a lowlight. Perhaps that lowlight planted the seeds for building a better bullpen. See A Perspective of the Diamondbacks Rebuilt Bullpen.