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SnakePit Round Table: Will the real D-backs stand up?

Three series in, things haven’t quite shaken out as expected...

MLB: San Diego Padres at Arizona Diamondbacks Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

So, how’s it going?

Makakilo: I’m filled with gratitude and appreciation for my friends, my opportunities, my health, and my life. Happily I’m on a journey of my choosing with patience to see the fruits of my labors. And every day is full of mostly amazing stuff mixed with mundane stuff and a pinch of darkness.

The Diamondbacks won a game Saturday, possibly the start of a winning streak! That was one of Saturday’s amazing things!

“Give every day the chance to become the most beautiful of your life.” – Mark Twain

Jack: Life has been very busy of late, and will continue to be so. For a fundamentally lazy person who would make the best beach bum you’ve ever seen, I seem to end up working pretty hard most of the time. Wanting to take care of family seems to be a stronger force than my natural desire to hang around and just enjoy the scenery.

Spencer: Up until Saturday night when I developed a head cold, life has been good. I recently refinanced my house, I’ve had some big wins at my day job, and I was able to plan a couple makeup trips to Phoenix and Central Missouri that I canceled around Christmas time! Plus, baseball is back! That’s always a good time. I also had a great Elden Ring run last night: beat two main story bosses in one cumulative life. High point of my gameplay so far!

Justin: Can’t complain. I am glad the busy parts of the year are over at work…well, until this upcoming November. Other than Mother’s Day and July 4th, it’s going to be less hectic. The flip side is my hours might drop, but I rarely get under 33 or 34 even then. I bought an evaporative cooler! Yay for adulting.

James: This is one of the busiest weeks of the year for me. I figure I will be doing well to make it to 8:00 this evening before I am out for the count until whenever the outside world wakes me up late Monday morning. It’s a good kind of busy and tired, but needing a holiday from the holiday is a real thing.

The pitching has largely been great. Brent Strom or another reason?

Makakilo: Brent Strom. My answer was immediate and arrived with a strong conviction of truth. Let’s look at some numbers.

Albeit small sample sizes, Zac Gallen’s average game score increased (59.5 vs 51.7), and Merrill Kelly’s average game score increased (62.5 vs 50.2).

Comparing the first 8 games to last season:

  • Runs allowed per game improved (4.5 vs 6.125).
  • Despite scoring 1 less run per game, with better pitching the Diamondbacks won more games (3 vs 2).

Jack: I don’t know if I would say it’s been great, (outside of Merrill Kelly). But overall team run prevention has been better than expected. Heading into Sunday’s game their 3.63 ERA ranks 12th in MLB. HOWEVER……

  • FIP = 4.87, 29th
  • xFIP= 5.12, 30th
  • K/BB = 1.44, 30th
  • BABIP = .262, 9th

Spencer: Pitching has been surprising more than great I say. The bullpen not allowing any inherited runners to score (writing before the Mets series finale so fingers crossed) is impressive. I’m not sure I buy that Stromm deserves all (or even most) of the credit since his effect is limited so far with the lockout, but I’ll take it. I think with the veteran starters he deserves the credit since that’s a proven strength of his, but with the bullpen guys, I’d put it more at positive regression to the mean and filling vacancies with slightly better trash heap bargain pickups (even though I maintain the Melancon contract was more about making a lockout money point for ownership than actual belief in paying for a closer).

Justin: I would go with Strom. These are basically the same pitchers as we had last year, with the obvious exceptions of Davis, IPK and Melancon. I am not sold on Melancon. The last few years of bargain basement closers just makes me want to wait until he has an outing that makes me go, “And there it is.”

James: A combination of Strom and regressing to the mean. THe pitching was hellacious last season. I wouldn’t say it is great this season by any stretch of the imagination. However, it is less bad than last year. I do think Strom is part of that. I also think that the team just sucking marginally less has been a big improvement. Now, if we could just figure out what happened to Caleb Smith. He should be a solid lefty out of the bullpen. But, he seems to have lost his release point almost entirely. I still expect we will see him back on the 26-man roster before long though.

…and then there’s the hitting. What’s going on there?

Makakilo: In the preview for the Mets series, I noted that in the last five seasons, no team averaged less than 3.61 runs scored per game. After eight games the Diamondbacks averaged 2.625 runs per game. They are on pace for a historically bad season.

What’s going on? Although more home runs would be good, the Diamondbacks need more teamwork with two types of batters - firestarters/firebuilders who get on base, and grillmasters who hit RBIs. The Diamondbacks are getting on base, but need RBIs by grillmasters. For a fuller explanation see this AZ Snake Pit article.

Jack: I like the way Mak phrased his response. Teams need balance in the lineup. Too many of the same types of hitters is not going to provide enough run scoring. It’s great that guys are taking walks, but they need someone to step up and rake and drive in those runs.

Beyond that it’s just a team slump. I was talking to one friend this past Tuesday night how every time they go into a slump similar to this for a 5 game stretch or so, my PTS from May 2018 bubbles up, and I wonder if this is going to be another mega slump. Here are the ten worst months in franchise history, ranked by sOPS+. So far they are having the worst month for team BA, OBP, SLG, OPS, & R/G . But May 2018 sustained that level of suck for 4X as many PA. If you look at the team .159 BABIP you know there has been some bad luck. Of course their numbers will improve, but how long will it take is the question.

NOTE: 4 of the 5 worst months in franchise history have been since 2018

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Spencer: It’s bad. To quote my friend Tyler, It’s All Bad Man, All Bad. Understanding the strike zone seems to be there for some of the guys (hence all the walks), but putting wood on the ball seems to have fallen away as a result and I don’t know how to fix it… I’m about done with Walker; he’s an inning suck on players I’d rather see get the chance to thrive or flop (Smith and the positional dominos that fall if he plays 1B). But on the plus side, I really liked the Marte double from Saturday’s win; drives down the line going for 2-3 bases is one of the things I most associate with winning D’Backs baseball. And Varsho has shown some liveliness in the last couple days. Both Smith and Kelly (to a far lesser degree) have had a few well hit outs, so hopefully they can get some luck and start having those land for hits soon.

Justin: Kilo FTW (I am sure he got Nik’s attention, at least lol) Nothing I can add to the above. I fully agree with Spencer on Walker.

James: It doesn’t help matters that Yonny Hernández and Sergio Alcántara are getting significant at-bats, or that Carson Kelly is in a slump. Despite the batted ball data, I’m still ready for the team to kick Walker to the curb to open up the playing time for other bats the team should be getting a look at. Frankly, this team needs at least one, if not two bigger bats in the lineup as well. Without a bit more pop, the opposition is challenging the Diamondbacks to string together multiple hits to score runs. So far, the Diamondbacks have not been up for the challenge - not that many teams actually are. I think a bit of health will help things somewhat though, especially if the team starts getting the right people in the lineup more frequently.

Who are you most concerned about in the early stages?

Makakilo: Carson Kelly’s hitless streak reached 6 games. In the two previous seasons, his longest streak was 4 games, and in 2019 his longest streak was 5 games.

In his 20 PAs, he struck out 7 times with zero walks.

Let’s look at this season’s breaking pitches per Baseball Savant:

  • His Whiff percentage increased from 31.1% last season to 61.5% this season.
  • His Put-Away % increased from 18.2% to 75.0%.

UPDATE: On Sunday Carson Kelly busted his hitless streak with a double and a walk.

Jack: Ketel Marte. If he’s not a star caliber player, putting up a 140 or higher wRC+, with 60 or more extra base hits, then this team will struggle all year to put up runs consistently. Everyone else on the team is a complimentary piece at best. It’s a lot to ask, and probably not fair, but Ketel needs to get hot quickly and cause contagion in a good way in that lineup.

Spencer: Perdomo. Not because I expect him to put up Marte/Escobar 2019 numbers, but I worry about his confidence if he has a really bad first month in the Majors and then gets sent back down again for Ahmed. As noted above, Kelly and Marte are important players we need to turn things around as quickly as possible, but Perdomo is a bat we will need to rely on in 2023 and beyond. The big swings he’s been taking this year are uncharacteristically bad for him, and that worries me a lot. He needs to be an AB grinder who sees 7-10 pitches. That’s where his value is most effective. Even if he fails to get on base at the end of the at bat, he’ll have helped the team wear down the opposing pitcher. So far in 2022 it’s been 50/50 getting “grinder” Perdomo and getting “swing for the fences” Perdomo. In a likely lost season, the development of future pieces worries me more than guys who may or may not be on the next competitive team.

Justin: Was Goldy ever asked to carry the team as much as Marte? I would have to look and don’t honestly feel like it. My answer to this is also Carson Kelly. He was brought in to be the starting catcher, and he has been just ok in two years. (I mentally throw out 2020 numbers). Now he has gotten off to a terribad start. I agree with Spencer’s last sentence. I wanted to bring my own take, but I think that ultimately is how I feel.

James: My biggest worry is probably Ketel Marte. I would answer Carson Kelly, but I simply don’t see how this slump is sustainable for much longer. He has a good approach at the plate and is one of the few players who doesn’t really have to try in order to put a charge into one when he makes good contact. Marte on the other hand, is just not getting it done right now and it isn’t just one thing with him. The team needs him to step up and be a solid offensive force to be reckoned with, or the lineup is going to continually be in trouble.

Is Seth Beer sustainable?

Makakilo: Yes. Three thoughts:

  • This season, his expected stats are lower than his actual results (xBA.163 vs BA .400, and xwOBA .237 vs wOBA.377). Although that caused doubts, my doubts were erased by his expected stats from last season (xBA of .437, and xwOBA of.471).
  • This season his hard hit percentage dropped from 50.0% to 30.8%. Although that could be worrisome, my worries were erased when I saw his homers per PA of .045 which exceeded my .038 demarcation line.
  • The universal DH is good! And it adds sustainability for excellent hitters like Seth Beer.

Jack: Obviously 189 wRC+ is not sustainable. But I picked him to be a breakout player in the pre-season round table and felt he had a good chance to deliver a 120 wRC+ for a full campaign. Hopefully his good start is a sign that’s a realistic expectation. Beer is 28 career Plate Appearances. That’s essentially one full week of PA for a full time player. So far so good, but it’s a tiny tiny sample size.

Spencer: I think it’s fairly well documented that I am not the biggest Seth Beer believer. So I have been very very pleasantly surprised so far. Sustainable? No, certainly not at his current rate (see Jack’s answer), but better than the .240 with 25HR guy I’ve been expecting? Sure, I could get behind that with a tiny sample size.

Justin: This is WAY too early to tell. I remember a guy we got from the Nationals Josh Whitesell everyone was hyping him up. Gave him 133 PAs and was never heard from again at the MLB level. Maybe Brandon Allen might be a better comparison given the power. I honestly think he can provide at least decent production for a couple of years. I don’t think he will flop like the above mentioned players.

James: As others have pointed out, the 189 wRC+ is almost certainly not sustainable. That’s video game levels of performance. I do think he could hit for 125 wRC+ without much issue though, perhaps even more. I do think that he can be a top offensive contributor to many MLB lineups and am glad the Diamondbacks have at least one hitter who is performing. It is still early days, but so far he is displaying all the tools and delivering on all the potential he was so largely hyped for coming up through the minors.

What fictional character would make the best President?

Makakilo: Elizabeth McCord from the TV show Madam Secretary. Several episodes dealt with Russian aggression in Ukraine and thereabouts. Perhaps she would have prevented the Ukraine invasion from happening.

Jack: I don’t know if he would make the “best” but I would be highly entertained by President Peter Griffin

Spencer: Thomas J. Whitmore from Independence Day (1996). Little bit of a cop-out, cause he is a President, I know. But he’s young, charismatic and is willing to actually experience the fallout his policies/decisions bring upon his people. Few (if any) real life politicians are willing to do that.

Backup answer if a fictional president isn’t ok: Obi-Wan Kenobi (post Revenge of the Sith) because he understands how to compromise but is no longer dogmatically stuck in a rut of outdated ideals and false truths.

Justin: Zelenskyy apparently played a President….

Fine, fictional, I am not really sure. I don’t really watch a lot of movies. Although I keep looking up at the name Thomas Whitmore and saying to myself “No, think of something original.”

You know what, Zelenskyy was an actor and that was a fictional series. So him.

James: That’s a tough one. It depends on my current mood. For now, I guess I will go with Will McAvoy from the Aaron Sorkin show, The Newsroom.