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SnakePit Round Table: Whither Pavin Smith?

MLB: Minnesota Twins at Arizona Diamondbacks Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

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! Well, I tried to invite ‘Hacks, but he never replied to my email. That’s the breaks!

We clearly need to talk smack about Pavin Smith again. So why is he still on the roster?

Justin: Certain pictures of TL in a compromising position? There was a GDT or something or other a week ago where someone pointed out we still need replacement players, not everyone is going to come up and be a perennial all-star. To me, Pavin is decent.

Jack: Do we ? The coaches think he’s within a few games of turning it around. We’ll see. I hope so.

Edit: I guess they were right

Michael: Ultimately Smith will have to hit at the MLB level, but I see it right now that Smith needs to work on his approach without the pressure of MLB games. The organization has chosen to have him try to figure it out at the MLB level, although he’s also dealing with the issue of playing out of position as well. If they are going to keep him around, I suggest utilizing him at 1B/DH and split the positions with Christian Walker to relieve some defensive pressure off of him.

ISH95: pffffttttt blackmail? I’m honestly not sure. It seems like any other young player would have been sent down to work on his issues, especially when there are other minor leagues that could easily be called up to replace him. Hazen must just really believe that it’s an adaptation issue, and not something that can be resolved in the minors.

Makakilo: Last season he made impressive breakthroughs. His rise was “irresistable” and he was voted the AZ Snake Pit’s Rookie of the Year.

He is on the roster to develop into a better player. Signs of his potential follow:

  • Pedigree - He was a first round draft pick in 2017 (seventh overall pick).
  • In April, his batting was excellent (sOPS+ of 130 in 69 PAs).
  • This season, his defense in RF was good (ranking 4th in NL at RF with 5 total zone runs and 1.90 range factor per game per Baseball Reference).

Spencer: He’s there to see what they have. Much like with Perdomo, I believe they want Pavin to be a leader on the next contending team. They are letting him take his lumps, hoping he can figure it out. I’m not sure I agree, but it’s the best answer I have for why he stays while others don’t.

Steven: Pavin is sunk cost fallacy in action. He has a strong correlation to this front office group as their first ever draft pick. He was decent in his first full-time action last season and started well this year in April with a .773 OPS. He’s just going to have more chances than other players, especially if it means holding down a stud prospect (Corbin Carroll) to gain another year of cost control.

James: He’s still on the roster because the only place he is going to learn to hit MLB pitching is in MLB games.The problem as I see it is, even the “good” version of Pavin Smith is inferior to other options already available, especially if the front office continues to insist that he is an OF and not a 1B/DH. With his lack of consistent pop, he’s never likely to hit “well enough” to be more than replacement level. With his lack of defensive acumen and his lack of base running value, he needs to be hitting for well over replacement level if he is going to provide any real value for this team. At this point, there really is no defending keeping Smith on the 26-man roster while sending down Jake McCarthy.

Wesley: There’s not much I can add that hasn’t already been said. Pavin Smith is a sunk cost, and has looked like one to outside parties for awhile. James, Michael, and I were talking about him as a bust before he made it to the major leagues. It’s a surprise to me that he’s “succeeded” at all at the major league level. He absolutely should be sent down, traded, or even DFA’d, and McCarthy called back up. Of course, as I started writing this, Pavin Smith proceeded to have a good day at the plate!

#21 prospect Buddy Kennedy made his debut this weekend. Will he stick with the team? If so, in what role?

Justin: I don’t know. I’ll just nod in agreement to whatever James ends up writing.

Jack: Typically for players like this it takes several call ups over a couple of seasons at least before they stick. Never say never. Infield depth in the organization is not very deep, so if he plays and hits even halfway decent he should get a lot of opportunity, even after Ketel recovers from his latest injury.

Edit: Fantastic moment for him with grand slam on father’s day. Remember Seth Beer.

Michael: The two biggest problems for Kennedy are a lack of mobility and the lack of a carrying tool. I think he has MLB average hit and power tools, but the rest isn’t that great. He’s not going to be a great defender at either 3B or 2B or base stealer unless pitchers fall asleep on him. There isn’t enough bat for 1B and as I said above, the DH isn’t likely a regular option. He should be an option to play against LHP on the infield for now but I don’t expect him to provide much more value than your replacement player.

ISH95: Unless he gets the Pavin Smith treatment, he’ll be up and down from the minors over the next season or two while he goes through peaks and struggles and the needs of the team change. After that, we’ll see.

Makakilo: This season, he is the third youngest player on the Diamondbacks (behind Perdomo and Thomas). To get called up at a very young age is generally an indicator that eventually he will earn a role. Another positive indicator is that in AA he hit approximately .062 homers per PA, which exceeded my .038 demarcation line (although he fell below the line in AAA).

[UPDATE: Hitting a grand slam in your third game in the Majors shows the right stuff.]

Spencer: I think in 2022 Kennedy will only be on the team if Ketel isn’t able to play. He serves a similar role to Hager with less positional ability, so he’ll have to really hit the ground running to jump Hager on the totem pole. He’s an interesting depth piece and he’s getting good experience right now. Hopefully in 2023 he can get a bigger shot: I’d like to see Kennedy get first shot at 3B, Rojas be a utility guy, and Hager in MiLB or traded.

Steven: His main roster spot competition is Jake Hager, so the bar to entry on this team this year is fairly low. Keep hitting, show last year’s strikeout levels were flukey, and defend decently at 2nd/3rd and you’ve got a bench spot.

James: The team has no real contenders for a quality 3B. Josh Rojas is not embarrassing himself currently, but no one is going to confuse him for being a quality defensive third baseman. That opens the door for Kennedy, who has a heaping pile of innings at 3B in the minors and some at 2B as well. His lack of overall mobility is likely to push him to 1B/DH by the time he finally arrives for good, if that ever comes. But, for now, as long as he can play as well as Hager, he should have a home on the roster. That’s a fairly low bar to clear. But the more reps he gets at the MLB level, the more he can show whether or not he has a future with the club.

Now is the time to find that out. His track record to this point indicates that he is likely to hit for more power than Smith currently does, which could also help him. If Kennedy can tap into his power at the MLB level, he might just leapfrog Pavin Smith on the depth chart, though he will have to mind his strikeouts as well. He could still be better than Hager or Smith as a three true outcomes hitter. But, with his lack of carrying tool, he won’t stick in the long-term as a TTO player. He’ll actually need to find a bit more power than is predicted in order for that approach to work.

Wesley: I agree completely with James, Jack, and Michael. I think Kennedy will succeed, I just have little confidence it will be with the Diamondbacks.

Nick Ahmed’s season has ended. What are your thoughts?

Justin: I think he should have already gotten it taken care of and waited too long and now surgery is necessary and the 32 year old shortstop (33 next March) will miss the rest of the season. There is a good discussion in the Ahmed to miss the rest of the season article. Read Xeros comments. I am happy for Perdomo. Sink or swim time.

Jack: Geraldo Perdomo is looking like he might be a decent player. He should do a good job keeping the seat warm for Lawler. Nick’s future is in question. Will he be able to throw well in 2023 ? Will he hit ?

Michael: Fortunately his contract only has 1 year left, but moving him in the off-season isn’t happening. Perdomo is starting to look like an everyday shortstop in the making, with an 87 wRC+ in 196 PA with improving contact each much, although his game is still a big work in progress at the dish and on the dirt. I think we see the team utilize a rotation between SS and 3B with Rojas, Perdomo, and Ahmed that should guarantee that all three get 4+ starts a week. Platoon advantages could come into play for next year.

Makakilo: Optimistically, Nick Ahmed could possibly return by spring of 2023, with the caveat that his exact problems are not fully known. In May of 2013, a MLB pitcher, who was near his 36th birthday, had arthroscopic surgery on his shoulder to remove a bone spur and returned to pitch on 25 August of 2013. His name was Roy Halladay. Nick Ahmed is younger at 32 years old, and Nick Ahmed as an infielder throws the baseball less often than a pitcher. Furthermore, physical therapists can facilitate recovery in an almost miraculous manner.

Realistically, Nick Ahmed may not return to baseball. In that case, he had a great career with two Gold Gloves, four seasons with top-5 putouts at shortstop (Baseball Reference), and a positive Defensive Runs Saved (DRS) in every season from 2014 through 2021 (The Fielding Bible). Over the years he improved his batting. One highlight was that in 2019 he led the Majors with 12 sacrifice flies. He was a valuable part of the Diamondback team. He will be missed.

ISH95: When we first heard about his lack of progress in Jack’s article about his bout with COVID, my response was that it sounded like more ABs for Perdomo, so I’m not surprised. Obviously the Dbacks medical team would know more than me, but I do wonder if he has played his last game for the Diamondbacks, and maybe even in MLB.

Spencer: I adore Nick. He’s a guy who had a single outstanding tool and he continually got better at the flashier ones. That said, I hope he takes the rest of his contract to recover. It sucks for Kendrick that it’ll be a horrible waste of money, but Ahmed means a lot to this franchise outside of on field results. He’s a lifetime D-Back (draft aside), he stuck with the team through the worst of times, he’s become a leader in the clubhouse, respected alongside Peralta, and he and his wife have been amazing for Caribbean outreach! I hope he sticks with the front office or as a defensive coach in the minors. Honestly, even if he’s ready to play sometime in 2023, I’d rather he moves aside willingly and takes the money.

Steven: He’s had a great career since the Upton deal, but with most players the body just breaks down as you get older. As the Dbacks union head, I think he’s been a poor leader this season, not getting vaccinated, delaying surgery and losing the season. I’d prefer he not return as Perdomo and Lawlar are the future at the shortstop position. But he’s got a big deal and there’ll be pressure to extract some value out of him in that last year.

James: If he is capable of going, he’ll get more ABs and a chance to earn his salary in the final year of his contract next year. He won’t be back after that. Hopefully Perdomo continues to grow as a player so that he can fill the void. It’s a shame that this is how things potentially came to an end for Ahmed, but he is a grown man who made his decisions for reasons that I am sure were important to him. The team almost certainly would have been better off if he had addressed this via surgery over a year ago. But that doesn’t mean it was necessarily the best option for him personally.

It’s a difficult thing to juggle personal needs and team needs without some selfishness or lack of self-care getting exposed. So, as much as I wish he would have addressed this properly when it first became an issue, I am now simply accepting that his days as the starting SS for this team have probably come to an end. I wish him all the best on a speedy and full recovery. But my expectations for him going forward are quite low and I will probably call it a success if he can return well enough to simply be replacement level as a back-up.

Wesley: Realistically: I think he’s done. His defense had slipped already slipped due to age, and post-COVID is absolutely going to affect his ability to perform at the level he was at before.

Rank the middle of the D-backs rotation - Bumgarner, Davies, Kelly - and explain why.

Justin: I would go Kelly, MadBum and then Davies. No particular reason.

Jack: I’m gonna have to write an essay: “How I learned to love ERA unsupported by peripherals”. Seriously, and I mean VERY seriously, I ran a search to see how many pitchers in MLB history have Qualified for the ERA title, (1 IP for each team game played) and had an ERA under 3.50 and FIP over 5.00

Shockingly, even for me, the list returned TWO names. And both are from 2022 in less than half a season. Report Link

In other words., it’s NEVER happened in the history of MLB over a full season. EVER.

Even when I expand it out to ERA under 4.00 and FIP over 5.00 the search returns a list of 14 individual seasons, including the two above. That means just 12 FULL seasons with ERA under 4 and FIP over 5 in the history of MLB Second Report Link.

So the next time you see someone express doubt that Bumgarner’s ERA is sustainable if his peripherals don’t improve, it’s probably a good idea to consider the history of MLB. His peripherals could improve…it’s not etched in stone his FIP will stay above 5. He could K more guys, give up fewer homers, or walk fewer guys. Any combination of that would reduce his FIP and make his ERA appear more sustainable. But if he doesn’t make those improvements and the FIP stays north of 5…..his ERA is almost certainly going to go up. Unless something that has never happened in the history of MLB is going to happen. Then we can fall back on the old standard YCPB

Finally to answer the question: Kelly, Davies, Bumgarner

Michael: I still think Kelly has the best track record and present-day results of the three, although Davies has closed the gap somewhat on Kelly. Bumgarner has the toxic combination of loud contact and a very low strikeout rate of 16%. That’s why he has a FIP over 5.00 and things are unlikely to get better. D-backs are probably stuck with him for better or worse right now.

TDLR: Merrill Kelly > Zach Davies >> Madison Bumgarner

Makakilo: I looked twice, as follows.

All three pitchers rank first. How does each pitcher rank first?

  • Although Madison Bumgarner had the lowest average game score (49.05), he had the highest floor: His worst three games average was 36.6 which was better than 27.6 and 27.9.
  • Zach Davies is 29 years old, making him the youngest of the three pitchers. The others are 32 (Bumgarner) and 33 (Kelly).
  • Merrill Kelly’s 52.38 average game score [UPDATED 53.66 after Sunday’s game] was the highest of the three pitchers (Davies was 51.66). In 2022, Kelly’s 5.46 innings [UPDATED 5.57 innings after Sunday’s game] pitched per game was the highest of the three pitchers.

Looking deeper, Merrill Kelly stands out from the others:

This season, what percentage of batter swings put the ball in play instead of being whiffs or foul balls (data from Baseball Reference)?

  • 37.9% Merrill Kelly
  • 41.1% Zach Davies
  • 41.6% Madison Bumgarner

To compare these pitchers to an excellent benchmark, Zac Gallen is 35.2%.

ISH95: Kelly, Davies, Bumgarner. Kelly had a track record of being a good number three, recent struggles aside. Davies has done well this season, and when the story of Madison Bumgarner is told, I think everyone including him is going to try to forget he ever put on a Dbacks uniform.

Spencer: Kelly, because I like his story and he’s been reliable as a D-Back. MadBum because I like his competitive ego, despite his Arizona numbers. Davies is perfectly fine, but he has never wowed me for an extended period of time. At this point, none are flashy, but I’d take any of them for my rotation because they know how to grind.

Steven: Kelly, and a toss-up between Davies and Bumgarner. I like Kelly’s stuff and approach to the pitching right now. Bumgarner competes and will give consistently give you at least 5 innings per start while Davies ebbs and flows where the highs are high and the lows are low. Probably the main reason why Bumgarner makes 23 million and Davies makes 1.5 million.

James: Kelly, Davies, Bumgarner - Others have already gone into many of the technical reasons for this. Jack even included some nice charts to help illustrate the same points I would make. In short, Kelly is an innings-eating workhorse that will be right around league average at the end of the year. Those types of arms are constantly underrated. Davies is having himself a fine bounce-back year. He’s still young enough and still shows enough life in his arm that it is just possible he might still have another handful of seasons as a league average starter at the back of a rotation for a contending team. I’m not sure I would bet on that happening, but the signs are there that he could still get there again. Hell, it’s close to what he is this year.

Lastly, it’s Bumgarner. Father Time is undefeated and the other show is eventually going to drop. When that shoe finally hits the floor, Father Time will have Bumgarner by the scruff of the neck. As Jack pointed out above, it is unlikely Bumgarner is going to be able to sustain this rather limited notion of success that he is currently enjoying. Moving forward, he’s a 5+ ERA pitcher on a hefty contract that no one is going to help Arizona out from under.

Wesley: I’ll echo the Kelly, Davies, Bumgarner sentiment. I think

What is your personal greatest sporting achievement?

Justin: I was never good enough or coordinated enough to play sports really. My favorite memory was being the girls soccer manager my senior year of high school. I had a few friends on the team and they persuaded me to do it. It was fun. They even let me be a practice goalie when the regular goalie was in ISS lol (until someone snitched to the office and put an end to that). It was basically being a ball boy. I traveled with the team, but didnt have to. We’d go to other high schools and their ball boy would be so terrible at it that they’d have me go out and be on the sideline.

My senior year I also did tennis. I was 0-12. Lol…. Actually, I learned a hard lesson in one of the matches. It’s basically best of 5. I led the overall match 2 games to 1. Then I led in the 4th set, and started assuming the win…well the other guy rallied and beat me and then kicked my ass in the 5th set. Lesson learned…

I played a lot of street hockey on my street growing up (yes in Marana).

Jack: Slow Pitch Softball Championship Game, Taipei Taiwan 1987. Hit the game tying home run in the bottom of 7th and then hit a walk off three run homer in the bottom of the 9th (Extra’s) to win it all. Not a high level of competition, and a short right field porch, haha, but damn that was a fun memory partying with my buddies afterwards.

Michael: Once had a two-hit game with the second being the only time I’ve likely hit the sweet spot of any pitch.

Makakilo: My greatest achievement is feeling welcome to participate. Last week I felt great when Jenn said I’m welcome in the pickleball class. For a split second I thought she saw my muscles & handsome face – but reality begs to differ. Instead it was my enthusiasm, my surprising shots are fun, my consistent playing at my best, my positive attitude in adversity, and my good sportsmanship.

ISH95: I beat my local bar’s dart champion in a tournament once using the house darts. That was a fun day.

Spencer: The one intramural softball game my team won (only 1 in 4 years). We were the geeky frat, and I was captain of the B-Team. We would go out and have a blast, regardless of what actually happened. I had an RBI single (not helped by my friends in the sorority asking how I hit it so far…), then scored on an inside the park home run assisted by several errors. I am pretty confident the other team was half drunk, half high, but we had a blast!

Justin’s high school sports experience sounds much better than mine. I went to Centennial amid the height of their football peak. The small scrawny kid wasn’t having much fun in that environment.

Steven: I’ve always been naturally talented at most sports and alright in high school, but most of my favorite moments came in a college wood bat league and intramural softball in Mesa. I’d probably say either stealing home to tie the game in the playoffs or hitting the top of a light pole in a rec softball game at Red Mountain.

James: I’ve never had any truly big moments on the field. I’ve had plenty of success over the years, but nothing was really all the standout. From a personal accomplishment standpoint, I’ll go with running a ½ mile in 2:45 and then, two days later, running a full mile in 6:00. Those two runs allowed me to reach a couple of lofty personal goals.

Wesley: I actually never played in any real kind of organized baseball outside of when I was in highschool, when I take baseball as an elective for physical education.

I had a couple games where I had a few hits but my proudest moment was bunting and making it all the way to third. No one had bunted in a game before that, and they literally had no clue defensively and no communication fielding the ball.

Later after highschool, I started pitching in some pickup games with some players from ASU, and once I got the mechanics right, I had a radar gun clock me at 92-93mph. I ended up seriously injuring my shoulder and lost nearly all my velocity it long after.

Aside from baseball, my high score at bowling is a 266. I actually bowled enough strikes in a row (12) that if they were just all in the same game, I would have had a 300. Instead I bowled the 266 and a 245 the next game, with my first game for the series being a 218. That’s my all time best at bowling, and it was in a league setting.

What’s a song that you hate with all your being?

Justin: Anything too repetitive. I don’t really listen to music that much, maybe because I am hearing impaired, I don’t know. But any song that’s ending is the singer repeating the same line 15 times. We get it. Shut up.

Jack: I’m drawing a blank. I guess I turn off what I don’t like right away.

Makakilo: If I don’t like a song, I quickly stop listening to it and move on. No need to hate it.

Spencer: I also don’t listen to music I don’t like unless I have to for work (lots of amateur rap….A LOT of amateur rap). But a song I love to hate is one my brother found accidentally. For reference, he has zero ability to listen to lyrics. Literally zero unless it’s a 90s Disney song. So he just likes the beat of a song. He turned on Spotify radio one day and this song called “sitting on the beech with my best friend Jesus Christ” came on. It’s everything you’re imagining right now. They drink bud light together, they pal around, it’s pro-religion, it’s pro people who make fun of religion. It’s just a lot. It’s got nothing on all the bad rap though

James: I’m more a person to turn off a song because of the artist than because of the song. However, if I were to pick a song, I think I would go with “Macarena” or “Barbie Girl”.

Wesley: I will listen to almost anytbing, but I can NOT stand the whiny brand of modern country music. It just doesn’t do anything for me and is like nails on a chalkboard. Oh yes, and a LOT of amateur rappers like Spencer said. I agree with that, there’s a definitely a lot of awful SoundCloud rappers out there.