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SnakePit Round Table: Narwhals, for the win

Hunting narwhals, drawing by Edouard Riou

If you are interested in taking part in a round table as a guest, along side the regular writers, just answer one or more of this week’s questions in the comments. I’ll select one respondee, and send them the questions so they can join in next weekend!

Will Dallas Keuchel stick as our #5 starter?

Snake_Bitten: Thanks for the invite Jim! Hi, my name is Greg. Long time listener, first time caller! Keuchel won the AL Cy Young Award in 2015. He was number five in the voting in 2020. He is 34 and a half years old. He got off to a self-admitted bad start in Chicago this year. The result is that the Diamondbacks now have a former pedigree arm that Chicago is mostly paying for. He selected the Diamondbacks from the multiple clubs that showed interest. His family lives in Scottsdale, and he has a working relationship with his former pitching coach Brent Strom. If he can get some help from Strom, who was with him during his Cy Young year, he should be completely serviceable here. I am always a little concerned with securing a high paid player who was completely abandoned by the team paying him. If he buckles down and gets it together, he will stick. I think he has a good chance of doing that. Do they pay him at 35 years old next year? That’s a different story.

Spencer: I think he has a chance but it’s small and dependent upon two iffy things: firstly, Stromm helping him rediscover his stuff and secondly, an infield defense that does what it’s supposed to. Basically, no I doubt he sticks. He’ll get a few chances but outside of Perdomo, I don’t have the most faith in the overall infield defense. And more importantly, I doubt Keuchel can keep the ball down anymore. Ideally he’ll get us to the trade deadline, then be replaced by younger, unproven arms.

Steven: No, mostly because there’s a couple of conditions that I think will happen if Keuchel pitches well enough to stick around. First, he’s got to figure out his control issue that’s popped up. If his GB% is going to be a career-low at Chase, he can’t give opponents free baserunners and scoring opportunities. The BABIP isn’t going to stay at .364, and if it does he’ll be signing minor league deals until he retires. If he somehow comes back to around pre-White Sox levels, the D-backs are going to want to trade him to a contender this deadline in order to play youngsters. It is what it is, let’s hope he plays well enough to keep a job at the big league level.

Justin: As others have mentioned, I am hopeful that his familiarity with Strom helps out. I think this is a good deal. Maybe he surprises and becomes another Bucholz for us. Or maybe he crashes and burns…for MLB minimum.

Jack: Keuchel may or may not be able to return to being a decent pitcher. I have no idea. Seems unlikely, but never say never. If the D-backs were a contending team a flier like this can’t hurt. The D-backs are not a contending team. Saving James the trouble, any innings Keuchel pitches in the majors this year are innings that should be going to one of our young pitching prospects.

Makakilo: My short answer is yes. For my longer answer, see this AZ Snake Pit article, scheduled to post Tuesday.

Dano: I take Jack’s point about Keuchel taking innings from young, up-and-coming pitchers in our organization, but if the team felt that any of them were ready for the opportunity, I would imagine they’d already be here. If Strom can fix him, or at least get him back to being a functional MLB pitcher, I’d expect that he sticks at least until some of the kids down on the farm are ready to try their luck in the big city. Which is fine with me, I think.

Wesley: I give him a 1% chance of sticking in the rotation. I agree with Jack 100%. The innings should go to a younger developing pitcher, not a mid -30s wash out.

Carson Kelly is back. What are your hopes and fears?

Snake_Bitten: My hope is that having a veteran catcher back behind the dish calling the game will result in better outcomes for our pitchers. My fear for Carson, which is probably shared by many, would be another injury. I hope that he will put those concerns to rest and become a real leader on this team. That would go a long way towards helping with that Goldschmidt thing for me.

Spencer: I’ve always loved Carson. I lived in Missouri when he was drafted, and I was over the moon to get him for Goldy. My hope is that he has used his downtime and Reno experience to find the bat we all know he has. My fear is that his confidence is broken and he’s scared of Varsho breathing down his neck, leading to a flameout of a career.

Steven: I genuinely hope he does well. He’s the only answer at catcher in the pipeline, assuming you don’t want Varsho everyday, I don’t. The fear is he’s as bad as he was previous, meaning the D-backs have a glaring hole at the position, both now and in the immediate future because Jose Herrera is pure defense for a team that is struggling to hit and the next closest prospect is a struggling 22 year old with a 76 wRC+ in High-A.

Justin: I am glad he is back. This allows Varsho to not have to catch, although the outfield is crowded. I like Kelly. I agree with Spencer’s last sentence.

Jack: My hope of course is that he can stay healthy, and reach his full potential over the next 2 ½ seasons before he becomes a free agent following the 2024 season. My fear is that does not happen and he continues to struggle with injury and poor hitting and the team ends up with little to show for his pre free agency years.

Just 27 years old, Carson is still young in both age and experience. He’s only started 241 games at catcher, appearing in 277 at the position including substitution appearances, and has logged just 2,213 innings behind the plate. He has just 1,045 career PA. To put that into perspective, that’s less than two full seasons of a guy like J.T. Realmuto.

Makakilo: My hope has two parts:

  • Defensively, I hope Carson Kelly returns as the primary catcher, moving Varsho to the outfield and continuing as a third catcher. This season, Carson Kelly has 2 DRS at catcher and Varsho has 2 DRS in CF (ranking 7th in the Majors), 4 DRS in LF, and 2 DRS in RF.
  • Offensively, I hope Carson Kelly’s batting returns to last season’s OPS of .754.

A minor fear is that his return does not work as expected, and it costs the Diamondbacks a few wins that pushes them down the slope of mount 500, just as they were within shouting distance of that summit! I am comfortable with that risk.

Dano: Simply put, I hope he brought his bat with him from Reno, and that he can actually use it effectively as a major league catcher. My fear is that the Carson Kelly we saw before he went to the IL is, in fact, the player that he is now, because that player kinda sucks.

Wesley: Hopefully he can provide some stability to the pitching staff and can go out there hit, taking pressure off of Varsho. I’m in agreement with everyone else essentially.

Assess Daulto Varsho’s time as a catcher.

Snake_Bitten: He definitely improved his skills, or at the very least showed them, with this opportunity. His blocks have gotten better. He’s framed a few pitches into strikes. Now he drops the mask quickly going for foul popups. He seems to have also cut down on the past balls. He still has work to do on those quick throws to first or third. I think Herrera has him beat there.

Spencer: He’s done perfectly ok. His pop time is awesome, which helps control some of the run game. But that will disappear if he has to play too often, that’s a young guys game. He could call better games, but that will come with time and learning his pitchers. I’d rather have him in a corner outfield spot.

Steven: He’s a rough watch behind the plate compared with Herrera, but I’m surprised at his overall performance, especially framing stats as he had the reputation of being a poor receiver as a prospect. I’m wary of everything this team asks him to do on a day-to-day basis, with flashes of Marte’s injuries fresh on my mind. Still he’s been passable behind the plate and the offense has been fantastic. Maybe Varsho is the guy going forward if Kelly can’t turn it around

Justin: I think he did alright. I enjoyed seeing some of his speedy coming out of catcher’s squats on pop ups.

Jack: He’s a fill in at catcher. The team clearly has decided that’s his catching role. Let him catch just enough so that he can fill in when there is injury. But he’ll catch sparingly as long as Kelly and Herrera are healthy. That’s a good thing.

While he’s not as terrible as some feel, he’s definitely not “good” by any definition. He’s below average. Baseball Reference has some interesting advanced stats. Small sample size caveats apply.

Rdrs (defensive run saved) overall is -10 for his career and -2 in just 167 catcher innings in 2022. But the RATE of underperformance over a full season, or Rdrs/yr is actually improved.

RszC is BIS/Baseball Reference framing metric, and he rates below average. Statcast has him average this year. RerC is pitch calling. Below average there too, but with this team the catchers don’t think so much, they just need to follow “the gameplan”. RsbC is base runner kills, (CS and PO) and he’s done well there this year. (35% CS).

Makakilo: I am amazed every time I see how quickly he throws to second base! And that passed ball that he chased down and threw to first was unforgettable!

Years ago, it was his dream to play catcher. That’s a good reason to let him reach his potential at catcher.

A caveat is that his defense in the outfield is so great, that if he played there it would help the Diamondbacks win games (assuming they had a competent catcher). But the Diamondbacks have position holes to fill, such as third base. His future (catcher or outfield) may depend on what trade opportunities the Diamondbacks execute.

Dano: I didn’t hate him behind the plate nearly as much as many did/do, it seems. He did his job, he did it fairly well, and it put his bat in the lineup every day, which has undoubtedly been a good thing.

Which age 25 or younger Arizona player has impressed you most?

Snake_Bitten: Herrera, Perdomo, and Thomas, have all had some moments on both defense and offense, but I’d have to say that Daulton Varsho is at the top of my watchlist. It’s his solid defense in the outfield that has made an impression with me. I know that he’s slumping at the plate, although there have been some recent signs of life. When he gets the bat going again we’ll all be glad he’s in the lineup.

Spencer: Varsho. His skill set is so unique and he is becoming an excellent player before our eyes. Many young guys excite me, but Varsho gets my vote because I have seen him the most.

Steven: I’ve been impressed with both Perdomo and Thomas, the latter especially as he’s ready to go everyday. The defense is a work in progress, there’s been multiple bad misplays in CF, but overall he’s walking enough, the power is a surprise, and the poise he’s shown at only 22 is just fantastic. He’s a stud. I love Perdomo’s approach at the plate, and think the hit tool will come around. The defense has been disappointing, although we’ve been spoiled with Ahmed since he’s come over.

Justin: I think Thomas, Perdomo as well.

Jack: Thomas and Varsho have almost exactly the same triple slash, OPS, and OPS+ at the moment. The fact that Thomas is only 22 and Varsho is 25 factors in here. I have to go with Thomas. Check out the two compared in detail head to head HERE

Makakilo: The above answers are great. An addition follows.

One under-the-radar 25-year old has not yet been mentioned! He impressed me because he started with very long odds that he would make it to the Majors. Instead of giving up, he improved by huge leaps every year. This season his success is clear and without doubt.

Let’s look at his journey.

  • 2017 Drafted #462 overall by the Guardians.
  • 2019 Reached AAA.
  • 2020 Reached the Majors in only 3 years. ERA was 54 - adjustments needed.
  • 2021 ERA was 9.31 - more adjustments needed.
  • November 2021: He was placed on waivers and the Diamondbacks claimed him.
  • 2022 through 12 June. His ERA was 1.93 in 18.2 innings pitched. His success is worthy of celebration! I am impressed.

His name is Kyle Nelson.

Dano: Varsho and Thomas are at the top of my list. Perdomo I’m still on the fence about, but I’m hoping that Steven is right and his bat is starting to come around. We shall see.

Wesley: I’ve been very impressed with the raw talent displayed by Thomas and Perdomo, and of course Varsho has been quite good. Kyle Nelson has been very impressive for a waiver pick-up.

What’s the best ballpark (MLB or other) you’ve been to?

Snake_Bitten: I grew up going to Cubs games at Wrigley Field. The amenities for fans were already fifty years old when I started getting to go to games. I like the new parks that have replaced the mega-coliseum types that went up in the seventies. The concourses are wide, the concession options are much more varied, and the facilities are modern. We really liked AT&T Park in San Francisco. The food options there are unsurpassed, and they have a bowling alley! It’s by the water and the bleachers reminded me a little of Wrigley Field, except for the four finger baseball glove out there. The fans there couldn’t have been more friendly to us, even with our Diamondbacks jerseys on. We got to see batting practice from the warning track and the Giants Club, all courtesy of a club member.

Spencer: I have a tie: Kauffman (KC) and PNC (PIT). The view of the city in Pittsburgh is breathtaking. But Kauffman has the fountains, Negro League museum, and incredible fans. One of my favorite baseball stories: in 2017, I lucked into a DBacks @ Royals game ticket right behind home plate. I got there super early, enjoying every second of it. As the game started, some guy came to sit in my empty row with like 2 nachos, 4 hot dogs, 2 beers and 2 sodas; he was not getting up for a long time. Pretty sure it was Jake Lamb who popped a foul ball directly up behind home and the guy just looked at his lap, covered in food and said: “well, if that’s how I go, that’s how I go.” I aspire to be this man some day.

Steven: I can only remember Chase Field, it’s still a great experience from start to finish. Parking south of the stadium for free, cheap tickets, free designated driver soft drink, what more could you ask for?

Justin: MLB parks I have only been to Chase Field. My best friend has been to Petco, she liked that place (but likes Chase more). I think Kauffman and PNC I would like to visit. In Tucson, I would say Hi Corbett Field. It has a quaint, nostalgic feel to it. Or at least maybe it’s because I have alot of memories watching games there. (Toros, UA). I did not particularly like Kino Memorial Coliseum (Tucson Electric Park). I just thought it was too “cookie cutter-ey”

Jack: I really like Chase Field. Sure it looks like an airplane hanger from the outside. The need for a roof dictates that to a large degree. And they built it too large by 8,000 seats. But the fact that you can see the field from anywhere on the concourse and walk all around and just how awesome it looks with the roof and panels open still makes it pretty cool.

Much like the rest of San Diego, Petco is nice but I just don’t like the layout. Oracle Park in San Francisco is the nicest looking stadium I’ve been to. Citi Field in Queens NY is underrated. I like it a lot better than Yankee Stadium.

Makakilo: Kyocera Dome in Osaka. It was an amazing experience.

Dano: Leaving aside childhood sentimental attachment (Veterans’ Stadium, Philadelphia) or team allegiance (Chase Field), I’d have to say the Brooklyn Cyclones’ stadium out on Coney Island. It’s right off the boardwalk, you can see the beach and Atlantic Ocean over the outfield wall, and Coney Island is just gloriously shabby and freakish and charming. Best professional baseball stadium in New York City, hands down.

Wesley: Like Justin, I’ve been only to Chase and the stadiums in Tucson. Hi Corbett has a quaint charm to it that I’ve always loved.

What is your favorite aquatic animal, and why?


Snake_Bitten: Seen ‘em? I caught one fishing for catfish in an inlet off of the Mississippi Sound! For me it’s sea turtles. There really is nothing more majestic than watching one swim over you in crystal blue water. Evidently, sharks like them too!

Spencer: Otters are pretty amazing (they sleep holding hands with their mates so they don’t float away!), but I’ll go with sea lions. I was sea kayaking in Alaska once and one swam next to me for a couple miles (several hours). It was an amazing experience! Shout out to seals too, I love me some water doggos!

Justin: Dolphins or Orca, I guess. Otters are cool, too. Does this have to be extant creatures? Because I would throw Mosasaur in there.

^^^^^ That’s awesome Spencer. [S: Thanks Justin, it was awesome!]

Jack: Have you ever seen Leon the Lobster ? A guy named Brady Brandwood who’s had a YouTube channel for 15 years “rescued” a supermarket Lobster and has documented his recovery and development as he’s cared for him. It’s actually pretty cool. Here is the first video of that series. Perhaps you’ll come to love Leon as I have. There is a whole series of videos after that one charting Leon’s progress.

Makakilo: My favorite is the octopus. Octopodes have intelligence, personality, and curiosity. I visited the Kanaloa Octopus Farm in Hawaii.

Dano: For me it’s kind of a toss-up between sea otters and sea turtles. The turtles win, I think, because turtles are simply the best.

Wesley: If river otters were mentioned, and not sea otters, if point out how they are murderous assholes who will mob and drown you if you rub them the wrong way.

Since Justin mentioned mosasaurs, I’m going to go with Livyatan Melvillei, which was a macropredatory raptorial sperm whale. This animal would have been 13.5–17.5 m (44–57 ft) with dagger shaped teeth in the top AND bottom of the mouth, that hunted other larger whales, and competed with (and possibly preyed on) megalodon sharks. The teeth of Livyatan at 1.2 feet long are the largest non-tusk biting teeth of any animal. Thankfully these guys went extinct after the land bridge between north and south America was formed,

Jim. I’m afraid you’re wrong. The correct answer is: the narwhal.