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SnakePit Round Table: Whither Mather?

Our hitting woes, Merrill Kelly as an All-Star and the most contentious topic of them all...

Arizona Diamondbacks Photo Day Photo by Rob Tringali/MLB Photos via Getty Images

If you are interested in taking part in a round table as a guest, along side the regular writers like Smurf1000, 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!

The D-backs enter Coors hitting .215, the lowest by an NL team for a season (> 60 games) since the 1908.Superbas. Who’s to blame, and how can it be fixed?

Jack: Clearly going to Coors field is how you fix it. (Written Friday night). Seriously, I should go do some research to see how the team has hit in the week immediately following a Coors Field series to see if there is any carryover from a confidence boost. Might be interesting,

ISH95: There’s plenty of blame to go around. Ketel Marte just simply isn’t living up to expectations. Walker has some of the worst batter ball luck I’ve seen over an extended period of time, but after a while, one has to wonder if it’s luck or something actually wrong. Pavin Smith should be in AAA (a promise is a promise guys!). It’s roster construction, and bad luck, and just pure underperformance. Just a perfect storm of crap.

Justin: (late Sunday) when ISH wrote that, it was early Saturday morning and Pavin hadn’t been sent down, yet lol

Spencer: I think the lack of talent is to blame. And that’s mostly on the Front Office for putting those bats on the field. I know there is more to player development than “see what he can do at the next level,” but it’s been puzzling to see certain players play in Arizona this year. Arguments can be made that the likes of Smith, Hummel, Walker should have been replaced long ago. Would the offense be better? In 2022, maybe? Probably not. But at least we’d be getting the struggles out of the way for the youth. Some will fail (Drew Ellis), but others will learn to swim (Thomas and Rojas). As it stands, I’m worried we’re going to have similar issues next season. All that said, there is something wrong; players like Marte and Varsho are struggling hard. I don’t know what the fix is, but somebody has to find it soon. If we can fix Marte and Varsho, help Thomas avoid a Varsho-like sophomore slump, then in 2023 we’ll be better prepared to weather Beer’s development, whatever Carroll can do as a rookie, and the inevitable war of attrition that will befall all the outfielders.

Makakilo: Excluding players with less than 100 plate appearances, there were three players with batting averages significantly less than the team average. Jordan Luplow gets a pass because of his above-average OPS and team-leading home runs per plate appearance. That left Carson Kelly and Cooper Hummel on the blame line. For details see the following table:

How to fix it is problematic; if I clearly knew how I would immediately share it! Cooper Hummel gets enough walks, so it’s likely he is waiting for pitches that he can do damage with. Carson Kelly’s value comes from his skills as catcher. Nevertheless, some small improvement is possible.

Justin: Only Jobu can fix our curse.

Smurf1000: New hitting coaches and a shortened spring really hurt. The new coaches had so little time to implement any plan that they had, and once the season starts it is hard to make anything but minor adjustments. I think with the lockout pending the DBacks should have made the interim coaches from last season the permanent coaches. But I can not absolve Torey from any blame. He was involved in the hiring of the hitting coaches, and as the manager, the hitting approach is ultimately his. I’m not sure how to fix it. Firing the hitting coaches might be necessary again, but having 4 hitting coaches is really bad…

Steven: Having the league worst BABIP doesn’t help but their saving grace is a top-5 BB%. It’s such a top level look at the team but the team has a league worst Oppo%. If teams know you’re only going to pull and put it up the middle, shifts become that much effective against you. I’d love to see them start implementing a more well rounded approach, alley to alley to go with high walk rates. It doesn’t look like that’s what they’re teaching so we’ll continue to see lots of pulled outs and dependance on the long ball.

Dano: If the entire team, top to bottom, has combined for a .215 average over the first three months of the year, it’s clearly a systemic problem. I suspect Spencer is correct to some extent–lack of MLB talent–but some of these guys are so young that we don’t actually know yet what their actual ceiling is as major league hitters. I think Smurf is correct, more substantially, in noting the way that the hiring of new coaches and the shortened spring training amplified the negative effects of each. That said, Brent Strom has done fine with the pitchers, all things considered. I place the lion’s share of the blame on Joe Mather and whoever he has working for him, and whatever personnel and/or systems the Diamondbacks have in place to transition prospects from Reno to the big league club. The hitting coaches suck, and so do the final-stage player development folks. We may not have a fantastic level of talent among our MLB position players, but we have seen just about all of them perform better than this in the past.

Merrill Kelly now has a better FIP than Zac Gallen. Should he be our All-Star?

Jack: He bolstered his case on Friday night. Looks like it’s down to four players, Kelly, Gallen, Mantiply, or Walker. The problem for Kelly is he’s scheduled to start just before the all star break. The team would need to manipulate the rotation and/or skip him to give him enough rest to pitch in the ASG. Gallen on the other hand lines up better to be available. Personally I’d send Walker over both of them. But as James has pointed out, first base is pretty deep in the NL. They’ll want the pitcher. But Gallen needs to rebound Sunday.

ISH95: Honestly, probably. Gallen has the name recognition though, so my guess is he ends up getting the nod on that. Walker would need to have a better BA to actually have a chance. Mantiply is the dark horse, but I’m still betting in Gallen.

Spencer: It should be Mantiply. I think it will be Gallen. Baseball wants Gallen to be a star (just like we do!) and they won’t pass on the opportunity to laud him with a supposedly important distinction of being able to pitch in the game. Kelly/Mantiply are more deserving as players in 2022 though. Mantiply just gave up runs, so that will hurt his chances, and Kelly won’t be able to pitch in the game, so that will hurt him. I am of the mindset that the All Star Game is a joke and should be treated as such; change the award to something else and give the guys an actual rest.

Makakilo: An enthusiastic shout out to Jack because he wrote that he would send Walker over both Gallen and Kelly! Like Jack, I would send Christian Walker. UPDATE: His two homers on Saturday were awesome!

Looking at game scores (average of Baseball Reference, FanGraphs, and methods) Zac Gallen continues to be the better All-Star than Merrill Kelly because:

  • Zac Gallen has the higher season average game score (55.71 vs 53.62).
  • Zac Gallen was more consistent (11/14 games above average vs 9/16 games above average).

Smurf1000: I love what Kelly has done for us and this is one of Hazen’s big success stories. But I think that falls short of being an All Star

Steven: It’s Gallen’s to lose at this point. He’s been electric and should be there as his rivalry with Jazz is awesome. Seeing both of those guys represent their teams after being traded for each other would be a great story. Let’s just hope his good starts continue otherwise Christian Walker is ready to take his spot.

Dano: I’ve recapped a couple of Gallen’s starts recently, and he has looked decidedly iffy, even when his results have been okay. I have always been a fan or Merrill Kelly, ever since his first year with us, but I have to concur with Smurf. He shouldn’t be our All-Star. I’d be fine with Walker–the ASG cares more about dingers than any other offensive stat, and Christian is certainly racking them up–but the most righteous and deserving choice would be Mantiply Joe. Not gonna happen, but it should do.

Tommy Henry in the fifth rotation spot. Discuss…

Jack: It’s time to see what he can do in the majors. Earlier in the year he was walking a lot of guys so it’s understandable they did not turn to him when Humberto first got hurt. But Henry’s 7 start tear with low walk totals means he’s earned it. He’s going to be 25 years old on July 29th.

Spencer: I see your question, and I raise you one; Tommy Henry in the fourth rotation spot. He’s earned his chance and he proved he can carry the nerves/stress of big games during his College World Series run. Let him spend the rest of 2022 playing against the best players in the sport. He’ll sink or swim; but we won’t know that until he tries.

Wesley: It’s Henry’s time as Jack said. I really don’t know how much success he’ll have at that Major League level. The low walk totals and recent performance in the high scoring environment of AAA West make optimistic that he has a chance to succeed.

Smurf1000: I have been impatiently waiting for young pitchers to get called up. The sooner the better. The Keuchel signing means the DBacks don’t agree with me.

Makakilo: Summary up front: Although by some measures his pitching seemingly improved in 2022 AAA compared to 2021 AA, the results reflected luck as much as skill. Nevertheless, Tommy Henry will thrive on adversity and so the experience in the Majors will be beneficial even if the results are less than we hoped for. Details follow:

The 2022 encouraging metrics:

  • He allowed fewer homers (HR/FB fell from 22.4% to 6.7% and HR9 fell from 1.87 to 0.56).
  • His ERA fell from 5.21 to 3.28.
  • His FIP decreased from 5.29 to 4.36.

The 2022 metrics that suggest the encouraging metrics could be luck.

  • His xFIP increased from 4.24 to 5.42.
  • His BABIP fell from .331 to .286, possibly unsustainably low.
  • His high 73% left on base increased to an even higher 78% left on base.

Tommy Henry’s mindset is that adversity is “part of the natural ebb and flow of being a pitcher,” and his instinctual reaction is “relentless effort.” A quote follows:

“The best way, whether you like it or not, to learn is through adversity.” – Tommy Henry

Steven: If possible, old friend Touki Toussaint was just designated by the Braves. We need to start giving you guys a shot if their minor league success will translate to the MLB level just like we’ve done with Alek Thomas, Gallen among others. While I’m not sure Henry is that guy despite his recent string if you’re not going to reward guys for their performance I’m not sure what these AAA guys have to do to get a call-up. It just sucks these guys might not be getting the call because of service time manipulation and old pitchers only on the team because of relationships or contracts.

Dano: Yes, please, for all the reasons enumerated by my esteemed colleagues above.

Who has been your most disappointing D-back of 2022?

Jack: Ketel Marte. His defense has been atrocious and he doesn’t work at it. He’s not putting in any extra infield work or effort, (even before the hamstring injury). The bat has been a disappointment too, but not as much. He hasn’t cratered but his 116 wRC+ through Saturday night is above league average but far from all star level. Only five homers is a concern. This is not what you expect from the star player the team just gave a big extension. In fact the combination of so so performance, impacting future projections plus increase money owed has cut his trade value nearly in half since last year’s trade deadline, from $59M to $31M. See 2021 vs 2022 tables below

ISH95: Ketel Marte is an easy answer for sure. Essentially league average isn’t going to cut it, and his defense is even worse. Honorable mention to Nick Ahmed, though.

Spencer: Marte and Ahmed, yes. But for variety, I’ll go with the duo of Pavin Smith and Seth Beer. Smith was supposed to start putting the pieces together to become a better hitter and make the case for trading Walker. Beer was supposed to be the explosive rookie we trusted in any situation with some defensive shortcomings. Instead, we’re all calling for Smith to play in Reno (maybe Amarillo if it gets much worse) and Beer holds a franchise record no one wants. The truly talented bats will come next season, but Smith, Varsho and Perdomo were supposed to be leaders for the next contender. Instead, I’m wondering if Smith/Beer even have a place on that team.

Wesley: I’m disappointed in Seth Beer, I really thought he’d do better than he has. Marte is obviously a little disappointing with the down year he has had. I’d be disappointed in Pavin if I had ever thought he’d be successful long term at the MLB level in the first place.

Justin: I agree with Beer.

Smurf1000: The obvious answer for me is Pavin Smith. “My guy” has fallen well short of expectations. The guy who looked like he could hot to all fields and be a .300 hitter is now pull happy, hitting more homers and batting .200. He is not the same player I fell in love with last year

Makakilo: “Four musketeers will swashbuckle into the Diamondbacks’ future. Their skill and competitive spirit make them fearsome batters,” See this AZ Snake Pit article from August of last year.

The musketeers were Daulton Varsho, Josh Rojas, Ketel Marte, and Carson Kelly. Comparing their wOBAs and HR/PAs this season through 1 July to last season through 27 August, with the exception of Daulton Varsho I am disappointed instead of encouraged.

Steven: Carson Kelly. We’re close to a full year of data that says Kelly isn’t good enough to even be a major leaguer. Since the All-Star break last year, Kelly has hit to a 53 wRC+ and it’s been even worse since the start of this year. If Kelly doesn’t turn it around, it’s going to be a huge question mark going forward for this team.

Dano: I actually had to step away for a bit to give this one a think, and honestly, my answer would have to be “none of the above.” Everyone who was on the roster to start the season was a question mark in my mind, either because of age and wear (Peralta and Ahmed, specifically), past performance and injuries (Marte, Gallen, Carson Kelly, specifically), or because they’re young’uns just up from the farm (Pavin Smith, Perdomo, Varsho, Beer, etc.), and nobody seems to transition well or easily for us from Reno to Chase. So I would write in Joe Mather here, for reasons already elucidated above.

Rob Manfred appeared to indicate robot umps will be here in 2024. What do you think?

Jack: If it’s ready for prime time and is working properly then fine. It will probably have some impacts on the game at the MLB level. Some good, some maybe not so good. Most recent reports out of AAA are encouraging. I believe the timing issues will be resolved pretty quickly. But there will still be upset players having issues with how the custom strike zone is being applied.

ISH95: I’m surprised he is waiting that long. My understanding is he could implement it next year, but I’m glad to see he hopefully isn’t rushing the project. I’m ready for it.

Spencer: I’m torn. It sounds great in theory. In practice, Jack is right, it looks good in AAA so far. But in my experience, something this “good” will have unintended consequences that make a vocal minority call for “the good old days.” I, for one, am not looking forward to those discussions or consequences.

Wesley: If the technology is ready for prime time, I am all for it. As long as there’s a human making sure it’s accurate and making the right calls, I am happy eliminating a big source of ire for baseball fans.

Justin: ”I’m sorry Dave, I’m afraid I can’t do that” Just kidding, I love it.

Smurf1000: I’ve stated previously that we should eliminate the K-zone box from broadcasts. Then we would all be much happier

Makakilo: I like it. It will be more consistent than humanly possible. Consistent calling of the strike zone will be fair and impartial, and hopefully error free. Nevertheless, I predict debates over the strike zone will continue unabated.

Steven: As long as the umpires follow along and play nice, I think it’ll be a boon for the sport. No more twitter accounts dedicated to umpire grading, no more arguing balls and strikes, just consistency in a game that desperately needs it.

Dano: Yes, please. Though I gotta admit, it will give us a bit less (sometimes a lot less) to fruitfully and amusingly complain about in the Gameday Threads. Can you picture someone commenting sometime in May of 2024 along the lines of “crap, this robot sucks. I wish Angel Hernandez was behind home plate”? No, neither can I. It will be the end of an era.

What’s an unusual but good pizza topping?

Spencer: Gyro meat! With a pesto sauce, mozzarella, feta, red onion petals, and whole garlic cloves. Braise everything correctly, and your tastebuds will thank me.

Wesley: I’ve had a lot of interesting toppings. Smoked salmon lox, creme fraiche, goat cheese, and dill. It has some other stuff on it, but it was a pizza I had 17 years ago, so forgive me if I don’t remember it 100% perfectly. Any kind of unusual cheese generally makes a good pizza topping. I actually like a very small amount of anchovies on pizza occasionally. It’s super underrated, rare, and unusual to even see anchovies even offered on the menu as a topping these days.

Jack: TRIPLE Pepperoni !!

ISH95: Wait, is triple pepperoni not the standard in most households?? Y’all are missing out if it isn’t.

My answer is figs though. It was more of a flatbread than a pizza, but it was topped with arugula, feta cheese, and figs, with a garlic butter for the sauce. Absolutely delicious.

Wesley: I’ve had a similar pizza ISH95, the only difference is it had a balsamic vinegar reduction drizzled on it, which really cut through the richness of the rest of the pizza. Very, very delicious, and surprisingly so.

Justin: I always order pizza with black olives and either Italian sausage or pepperoni. I can’t think of anything related to this question. I had a feta and goat cheese flatbread pizza once that was good. I also tried marmalade pizza (I did my monthly shopping and I think I just randomly grabbed a pizza and tossed it into my cart.) That was disgusting, threw the whole thing away after like 5 bites.

Smurf1000: I’m kinda old school with toppings. Less is more. Margherita pizza or just sausage is my favorite. One unusual topping I have done is chicken with Alfredo sauce. A great use of leftover chicken.

Makakilo: Fresh fennel.

Dano: Anchovies are actually pretty old school, but I am very pro-anchovies. Not always, but upon occasion, with other toppings to complement the saltiness (TheRealRamona have done anchovies, pineapple and jalapenos on a pizza recently, and the salty/sweet/spicy trifecta works really well). I’ve never tried it, but Spencer’s suggestion of gyro meat sounds good to me, especially with the right toppings around it. I would probably say no to the feta, and maybe throw something else on instead, and I’m not terribly keen on pesto, but the rest of it sounds like it would probably result in a damn good pie.