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SnakePit Round Table: Win some, lose some

It was the worst of weeks, it was - at least until IPK came in today - the best of weeks. It was... a week. And Torey Lovullo is not fired.

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Wanna take part in next week’s Round Table?

Half the fun of these is seeing the answers readers provide in the comments. So, if you’re interested in taking part, just answer one or more of this week’s questions. Whichever non-SnakePit writer gets the most “recs” on their comment, will be invited to formally take part in next week’s edition! So, come and have a go, if you think you’re good enough! :)

Should Arizona send anyone but Zac Gallen to the All-Star Game?

Jack: Coming into play Sunday Daulton Varsho had 1.7 bWAR and 1.5 fWAR, ranking 8tth and 10th respectively among NL position players.. The only centerfielder ranked higher than him is the Mets Brandon Nimmo, and no catcher ranks higher. If he continues playing at this level up through mid-late July I don’t see how he’s not named to the team as a backup/utility player. Who knows, maybe something cool might happen like he gets an inning in CF and an inning at Catcher, just to highlight his versatility on a national stage.

DBacksEurope: Except for Brandon Nimmo there is no other center fielder in the National League that gets even close to the performance Varsho is putting up so he has a good chance of getting a nod if he continues like this. But being a Met and backed up by the New York press that would be a tough candidate to beat (although it could be worse, like Trout and Buxton in the AL). If he is eligible as a catcher, that’d increase his chances although I am sure Contreras would be the preferred option position-wise. However it might be, his chances are better than Christian Walker’s, who might get into the conversation as well although with big names as Freeman, Goldy and Hosmer battling for honours he probably doesn’t make it. I don’t see any other position players getting honours. On the pitching side Zac Gallen is the only clear candidate if he stays healthy.

Spencer: Daulton Varsho ought to be invited. Maybe Walker. That’s it. It’d be cool if Thomas kept it up and outpaced Nimmo, but that’s unlikely.

Makakilo: FanGraph’s power ranking can compare pitchers and position players. On Sunday morning, the highest Diamondback power ranks follow:

  • 15 Zac Gallen
  • 35 Christian Walker
  • 36 Merrill Kelly
  • 40 Joe Mantiply
  • 50 Daulton Varsho

Christian Walker should be the Diamondbacks’ second All-Star. Justification follows:

  • FanGraphs power ranking is second highest on the Diamondbacks.
  • Great Defense. The Diamondbacks 6 DRS at first base is best in the Majors. Walker had 6 DRS per The Fielding Bible and 4 OAA per Baseball Savant.
  • Possible Gold Glove nomination. He is on track for a Gold Glove nomination per this AZ Snake Pit article.
  • Power Hitter. His .061 homers per PA is well above my All-Star demarcation of .038.
  • Hot Streak in Power Hitting. In May his homers per PA improved to .075.
  • Best Season. This season is the best of his career per this AZ Snake Pit article.

Steven: Varsho if he qualifies at catcher but I don’t see him continuing to play enough to qualify at the position and maybe one of Kelly/Bumgarner but the team will need to continue to play at a .500 level in order to make it happen. It should be exciting at least!

ISH95: Varsho for sure. I don’t know if he’ll actually make it or not, but he should. Other than that, no one really jumps out at me as super deserving.

Justin: Yeah, I am on the Varsho bandwagon, as well. It would be cool to see MadBum go on a tear and get in. I don’t think that happens, though. It really is great that we are even having this conversation. Last year it was, “who goes because no one deserves to.”

Dano: Yep, Varsho should go. And Justin makes a good point….it really is nice to find the team in a position this year where there’s actually good stuff and good player performances to talk about.

How discouraging was the sweep suffered in Los Angeles? Does the success in Chicago make up for it?

Jack: I won’t lie, I was very discouraged by the sweep in L.A. Even though some of the games were close, it felt like a beat down emotionally. But the team obviously didn’t take it as such and that’s all that matters. Major kudos to them and to the coaching staff for not letting the team go into a spiral. This is not 2021.

DBacksEurope: I didn’t watch any of those games in Los Angeles, but the Diamondbacks shouldn’t become discouraged by losing against what is ranked one of the MLB top teams. They have an entire rotation on the shelf and still run out competitive starters. Most of the games against the Dodgers the team gave good battles and you can’t ask for more. The only thing this team needs to be concerned about is that they always give 100% against each team. That is what they are doing. Last night’s victory over the Cubs is another example of that: never give up. So I don’t think the success in Chicago makes up for the sweep, it is a logical consequence on how they approach each game and keep on battling. Well done, D-Backs!

Spencer: I was worried. I still am, but mostly about how Merrill can respond rather than for the whole team. The spiral seemed primed but never actually happened.

Success always makes up for it with this team! But no, not really. Logically, we should be beating up on the Cubbies and we should get trounced by LA. We aren’t in either of their tiers. But a win is a win. And any Diamondbacks win makes me feel warm and fuzzy.

Makakilo: Two of the losses were by 1 run, and one loss was by 2 runs. Playing that close against a team with top talent and great depth, it’s hard to be discouraged. Perhaps I’m disappointed at the lost opportunity to win a couple games, but not discouraged.

Steven: It was a brutal 4-game series with the Dodgers, multiple winnable games that all fell apart from big innings. It showed this team has a way to go before they can reach the Dodgers level of competition. Contrast that to the Cubs series, and everything that can go right has. Clutch hitting, good pitching and a decent bullpen is a tried and true recipe for success.

ISH95: It’s disappointing for sure, but even with the improvements this team has seen, they were never going to compete with the Dodgers consistently. Two of the losses were by just one run, and since one run games are pretty much a coin toss, I think we were in an okay position all things considered. Now, as I write this, they are tied with the Cubs in the final game of this series, so it balances out.

Justin: Same answer as DBE.

Dano: I wasn’t discouraged by it at all, really. I took it as more of a not unwelcome reality check. We are a much better team than we were last year, but we’re not that good. The Dodgers have the best team money can buy, and one day we may be able to compete with that, but we still have a ways to go.

Does Pavin Smith have a future with the team?

Jack: Heading into this season I said they should clear out Walker and give the first base job to Smith and let him sink or swim. The team did none of that. Now Walker is having a very good season, and Smith is floundering at the plate, mired in a deep slump, striking out at an alarming rate. (until Saturday afternoon). With so many fleet footed outfielders, it couldn’t be any clearer that he should not be taking up many innings in the outfield. So he’s going to have to hit enough to justify being a DH for now, and try to wrestle the first base job from Walker. It seems doubtful he can do that at this point.

HOWEVER, every time I count him out, he improves right afterwards. And injuries and other things happen. So his opportunities are far from finished. The organization is not going to give up on him just yet, but I don’t think they let him slump indefinitely without a demotion either.

DBacksEurope: Statcast says he has trouble hitting changeups, he hasn’t hit one this season, which last year wasn’t a problem, so I guess it is just a temporary problem he needs to battle through. I don’t think it is much of a problem if he is demoted because right now Jake McCarthy earns the right to play RF, I’m kinda of a fan there, just like Christian Walker can’t be taken out of 1B. Smith can play 1B in Reno without any problem: Ellis can be moved to 3B and Kennedy to 2B (apparently). And if Beer is promoted to the majors again DH becomes available, maybe that is when Pavin is optioned. I don’t think Pavin is much of a long term solution because of the lack of power, but he still has 3 options remaining and on the other hand I think everyone will have concerns about Christian Walker at the start of each season so who knows, Pavin might be able to seize the opportunity within 2-3 seasons. But personally I think he will eventually become a piece in a trade to address other issues on this team (Carson Kelly and Pavin Smith for a catcher).

Spencer: I wish he’d get more opportunity to play first since it’s theoretically his “natural” position. But it’s hard to argue with Walker’s numbers right now. So it wouldn’t surprise me if Pavin became a trade piece attached to either Ahmed or Peralta (maybe even Carson Kelly) to alleviate some salary or actually get value back. Unfortunate as that scenario is, it could be best for all parties involved.

Steven: I’m sure Pavin knows talent is coming for his playing time, as we’re already seeing the first fruits of that with Alek Thomas, who’s been sensational. The pressure is on for him to produce and unless we see a trade of Walker here soon, expectations will be reset and Pavin will be nothing more than a 4th OF/1st base guy going forward.

Justin: I still want to see him get a fair shot, but after tendering Walker last offseason, Pavin is a backup right now. Maybe they trade Walker at the deadline, who knows. I would like the team to say, “Ok, its yours in August and September.” Do the organization know something about him that we don’t (like Sherfy, etc)?

Makakilo: Pavin Smith was drafted #7 in the first round of the 2017 draft. Despite being a first round pick, his most likely future is a utility player off the bench. Although his defense at first is near average, gaining experience in the outfield improves his value to the team.

The last two seasons, Josh Rojas and Pavin Smith showed their value as utility players off the bench, showing they could play infield and outfield positions. The following shows that Josh Rojas is a better utility player off the bench than Pavin Smith.

  • Defense in right field (Rojas earned 2 DRS in 247 Innings in 2021 vs Smith earned 1 DRS in 254 innings in 2022 per The Fielding Bible).
  • Offense in 2022: Rojas with 148 OPS+ vs Smith with 94 OPS+ per Baseball Reference.

My view is that Pavin Smith does not have a future on the Diamondbacks:

  • The promotion of very talented outfielders from the minors will push Pavin Smith out of right field.
  • My view is that the Diamondbacks will acquire an excellent third baseman, as you might have guessed by several of my AZ Snake Pit articles. When that acquisition happens, Josh Rojas will return to his 2021 utility player role.
  • Josh Rojas is clearly better than Pavin Smith as an utility player off the bench, which will push Pavin Smith out of the utility player role.
  • Pavin Smith’s batting has slumped in May (Batting average .177 and OPS .566). The slump will push him out of the DH role.
  • Christian Walker is clearly better than Pavin Smith at first base.

Dano: I imagine we’ll keep him hanging around for some time, because that’s what we seem to do with a fair number of folks who don’t entirely fit with our roster. If McCarthy’s recent flurry of hitting indicates that he’s actually figuring out Major League pitching, then Smith becomes less valuable. If Walker gets sent packing, I wouldn’t mind seeing him stick around, but I wouldn’t be heartbroken either if he winds up someplace else. Especially if we could get something decent back for him.

No D-back has more than three SB. Is that an issue?

Jack: Not really. Fangraphs rates them +5.4 runs from baserunning, 3rd in the NL. Baseball Reference has a more modest +1, 5th in the NL.

DBacksEurope: I am not troubled by that. I see Varsho and McCarthy running bases and I love watching these guys being as aggressive as they are despite not showing top speed. Maybe if Marte shakes off his hammy concerns he will return to be an aggressive runner as well. I like these guys taking risks on the bases, it adds to the excitement.

Spencer: I love a good stolen base. But no, I am not worried. It will suck when McKay retires and that number drops again, but it’s not like the guys aren’t athletic and fast. They are good base runners, and stretching a single into a double or scoring from first/second is more important than stealing a base in the long run.

I also think those SB numbers will increase when Varsho, Thomas, Carroll and maybe Lawlar can egg each other on to “pump up those numbers.” Being on the same team could bring out that brotherly competition.

Steven: Do we even have SB threats? Last year no one had double digit stolen base total with Rojas leading the team with 9. He has 3 already in only 50ish AB’s so he’s probably the biggest threat, but like Jack says, there’s more to baserunning than just stolen bases and the Dbacks have a very solid group with Dave McKay back on the field teaching on a daily basis.

ISH95: No. Stolen bases have less significance every year. We can debate if that’s a good or a bad thing, but it doesn’t put them at any sort of disadvantage.

Justin: I agree with ISH.

Dano: Nope. Stolen bases are fun, but not essential.

Makakilo: Although 25 teams have at least one player with more than three stolen bases, other statistics show Diamondbacks’ stolen bases are better than ranking 26th but still below average. The Diamondbacks’ 0.43 stolen bases per game ranked 21st in the Majors. In home games, the Diamondbacks’ 0.48 stolen bases per game ranked 17th in the Majors. (Data from teamranking.com.)

My view is that stolen bases are largely stolen off pitcher weaknesses. Although some improvement in stolen bases might be possible, it’s possible that the pitchers faced by the Diamondbacks had less weaknesses than the average pitcher. If so, the Diamondbacks may be average in stealing bases.

More important than stolen bases is how often runners on base advance an extra base (more than one base on singles and more than 2 bases on doubles). The Diamondbacks’ baserunners advanced an extra base 43% of the time, ranking 6th in the Majors. That is impressive! (Data from Baseball Reference.)

Who has been the team’s unsung hero thus far?

Jack: I’ll go with Kyle Nelson. He’s the least sung about player among the top performers on the team. His 1.23 ERA in 14.2 IP is for real, as it’s backed by a 1.52 FIP. Not only that, but he’s only allowed 1 of 10 inherited runners to score. So he’s not allowing anyone else’s runs to score either. Hopefully he returns from the Covid IL none the worse for wear and doesn’t have fatigue issues.

DBacksEurope: Jack, I see your Nelson and I show you my Mantiply.

Spencer: Humberto Castellanos. A number 5 (and let’s be honest: a borderline number 5 at that) usually has very little expectation to perform. Yet I think his showing as the “last” guy is just as important as Gallen/Kelly have been at the front of the rotation. I (and the team) can trust we’ll be close for 4-6 innings during his starts. I don’t think he gets enough recognition for that.

Makakilo: This season I predict the unsung hero will be in the bullpen. At this point, I would pick Joe Mantiply, but I might change my mind. Three candidates, with a couple stats that apply to relievers, follow:

  • Joe Mantiply: 94.7% got-the-job-done and 14.3% broken eggs.
  • Kyle Nelson: 93.3% got-the-job-done and 50.0% broken eggs.
  • Noe Ramirez: 84.2% got-the-job-done and 20.0% broken eggs.

Quick explanation of the stats: Got-the-job-done means allowed no earned runs and no inherited runner scored. Goose Eggs are explained in this Nate Silver article.

It’s a good thing that unsung heroes are typically young, so I can follow up years later. Two examples follow:

Steven: I’m going to go an opposite direction and give the nod to Geraldo Perdomo, Sergio Alcantara, and Yonny Hernandez. Even in today’s game, positional flexibility is such a big asset that having all three of these guys play at multiple defensive positions at an adequate level. We all saw last season at how important it is for your pitchers to trust in your defense behind you and these three guys have been average to great when plugged in where needed. The offense leaves something to be desired of course, but in an offense suppressed league, it’s the best time for glove first infielders to succeed.

ISH95: I’m also going to say Mantiply. He’s been really good in the bullpen, and I don’t think it’s been appreciated enough, being overshadowed by the poor performances from other, higher paid members of the bullpen.

Justin: Mantiply.

Dano: Just for a bit of variation, I’d say Noe Ramirez. He’s one of the scrap heap pickups from last year, and he’s actually stuck, and he goes out and does his job and does it decently. He’s become an actual reliable bullpen arm for us, and those seem pretty rare in the Diamondbacks’ corner of the baseball universe.

What is a baseball topic you cannot give a damn about?

Jack: Uniforms and uniform numbers.

DBacksEurope: unwritten rules. I want to see bat flips and people pimping homeruns, strikeouts, wins. It is never a good thing to not let your emotions flow and sports means excitement. People cheer for their team in the seats so why can’t players do the same?

Spencer: Gotta agree with DBE here. Let there be some fun on the field. And accept that a bunt single to break up a perfect game is a tactic, not some highly offensive snub at stopping history.

Makakilo: Give a damn could mean not caring or it could mean annoyed or it could mean both not caring and annoyed. Examples follow:

  • Annoyed and don’t care about commentary. An example of that commentary was when another website’s baseball commentary praised how well the Diamondbacks played in May, and then stated with confidence that the Diamondbacks will not reach the playoffs. My view is vastly different: In the context that Diamondbacks faced a tougher schedule than most teams and they are at mount 500 in late May, the playoffs are still a reachable possibility, albeit at long odds.
  • Annoyed and care. This season The Athletic greatly reduced coverage of the Diamondbacks. Seemingly they decided the Diamondbacks are unworthy of the same coverage as other teams, which is annoying. And yet I care how much they don’t write about the Diamondbacks. The less they write, the more it cements the AZ Snake Pit as the primary site for fans of the Diamondbacks.
  • Not annoyed and don’t care. Every time I see new uniforms, I don’t care or even pay much attention. And I am not annoyed in the least.

Justin: Uniforms and uniform numbers. I’ll let others think about the draft as well. I mean, I don’t NOT care but I am kind of like …. Well, I’ll just read Mike and James’ stuff when it comes out and be on the look out for Alek Thomas’, etc when they are close to arriving.

Dano: Launch angle, exit velocity, and all the rest of that AWS data crap that now seems to fill our television screens during ball games, especially when one watches a national broadcast. Seriously, I could not care less, either about the numbers themselves or about all the windbag commentators who now opine about them at length during broadcasts.