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2023 Arizona Diamondbacks Reviews: #13, Ryan Thompson

An important part of the bullpen.

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Ryan Thompson in game 7 of the NLCS.
Ryan Thompson in game 7 of the NLCS.
Kyle Ross-USA TODAY Sports

Rating: 7.44

2023 stats:

  • Rays (RS): 18 GR, 6.11 ERA, 1.189 WHIP, negative 0.5 bWAR
  • Dbacks (RS): 13 GR, 0.69 ERA, 0.538 WHIP, positive 0.7 bWAR
  • Dbacks (Playoffs): 9 GR, 2.31 ERA, 1.286 WHIP.

Date of birth: June 26, 1992 (31 years old)

2023 earnings: $1,135,485 (per SpoTrac)

2024 status: Arbitration through 2026 season. On 40-man roster with 2 options remaining. Likely relief pitcher on active roster.

Vote breakdown:

AZ Snake Pit.

Introduction.

Ryan Thompson has something in common with Merrill Kelly.

Ryan Thompson and Merrill Kelly are pitching in the Majors because they overcame Thoracic Outlet Syndrome (TOS). Ryan Thompson’s surgery ended his 2021 season, while Merrill Kelly’s surgery ended his 2020 season.

Compared to Merrill Kelly, Ryan Thompson took longer for his pitching performance to recover.

“I was kind of in a weird position after my TOS, of trying to come back multiple times, and trying to pitch in big league games avoiding pain and changing mechanics. And when I came back from that surgery I kind of lost who I was.” — Ryan Thompson, November 2023

Who is Ryan Thompson as a pitcher?

There are two big parts to this answer; a truth from before his surgery and two things he strengthened after his surgery.

He has deeply held truth that his dad taught him. The following quote says it best:

“My dad taught me when I was a little kid that there is no such thing as staying the same. You are either getting better or you’re getting worse.” — Ryan Thompson, November 2023.

After the surgery, one key thing was he remade himself by being a realistic, honest evaluator of his performance, and every day seeking things to improve. A second key thing was knowing who he was as a pitcher after his surgery.

“That’s a little bit of the bumps in the road that I took in the past was trying to figure out who I was and what my identity was as a pitcher again.” — Ryan Thompson, November 2023.

How does Ryan Thompson fit with the Diamondbacks?

Last season, he thrived on conversations he had with five or six Diamondbacks pitching coaches. These conversations can happen whenever, even a reminder just before he takes the mound.

The Diamondbacks made him feel wanted, comfortable, and trusted to perform. That environment has helped him pitch better.

“As a professional athlete, for one you want to be wanted. And you want to be able to feel comfortable. And you want to have that trust in you to go out and perform.” — Ryan Thompson, November 2023.

He has a role (pitching in the sixth/seventh inning) that compliments Kevin Ginkel (eighth inning) and Paul Sewald (ninth inning).

“He’s been a savior for us. In that sixth, seventh inning he pounds the zone, a lot of swings and misses with certain pitches. A lot of contact, early weak contact, balls on the ground.” — Torey Lovullo, October 2023

2023 Review.

In mid-August, after the trade deadline, the Rays released Ryan Thompson. The Diamondbacks signed him to a minor league contract. A week later, Ryan Thompson was pitching for the Diamondbacks bullpen (from 27 August through the regular season and playoffs).

Looking at the Diamondbacks’ regular season relievers, Ryan Thompson had the second best ERA (0.69) and the fourth best FIP (3.33).

Before expounding on his success, it’s important to know that most games he took the mound in a very important, high leverage situation. Keep in mind that high importance situations are pivotal to the outcome of game, and they have an average leverage index (aLi) of greater than 1.00.

“Created by Tom Tango, [aLi] Leverage Index measures the importance of a particular event by quantifying the extent to which win probability could change on said event, with 1.0 representing a neutral situation.” — MLB.com

Pitching for the Diamondbacks, Ryan Thompson was in the right place at the right time to make a huge positive impact. About half his appearances were high leverage, and he pitched very well in those games

The following table shows his regular season results for his 5 high leverage games (aLi>1.1). In those appearances, the Diamondbacks got 14 batters out with only one earned run. His Win Probability Added (WPA) was positive in 4 of the 5 games. His total of the 5 games was positive .313 WPA.

Data from Baseball Reference.

His results were better for the postseason. The following table shows his postseason results for 6 high leverage games (aLi>1.1). In those appearances, the Diamondbacks got 25 outs with only one earned run. His WPA was positive in 4 of the 6 games. His total of the 6 games was positive .590 WPA.

Data from Baseball Reference.

2024 Outlook.

His role. He will pitch in relief in the sixth or seventh inning.

How well will he pitch? After a moment’s thought, there are four answers:

The starting point. The 2023 regular season (Rays and Diamondbacks) was 3.82 ERA and .913 WHIP. But as Ryan Thompson’s dad said, there is no such thing as staying the same.

Published Projections for 2024: They vary. The best was CBS Sports with a 3.60 ERA and 1.03 WHIP. The middle was Marcel the Monkey with 4.00 ERA and 1.200 WHIP. The worst was Steamer with 4.16 ERA and 1.379. My view is that the projections are pessimistic.

The team’s environment makes a difference. The Diamondbacks’ coaching and the Diamondbacks’ defense make a significant impact. Playing for the Diamondbacks (combined regular season and postseason), he had a 1.46 ERA and a .892 WHIP. My view is this is a good predictor, but perhaps I’m optimistic.

One reason that his excellent pitching results are repeatable is they can’t be attributed to a lucky situation of runners on base not scoring. Pitching for the Diamondbacks, he left 17 runners on base without scoring. If he had left the Diamondbacks’ average runners per inning (.731537), he would have left 18.04 runners (about the same).

A second reason that his excellent pitching results are repeatable is his performance in high leverage situations was awesome. Playing for the Diamondbacks, in high leverage situations (aLi>1.1), he had a 1.38 ERA and a .923 WHIP. Although I’m not sure there is such a thing as a clutch pitcher, Ryan Thompson pitches well in clutch situations.

How many innings will he pitch? The published projections vary between 35 innings and 58 innings. In the last two seasons (including the postseason) he pitched 42.2 and 42.1 innings in the Majors. My prediction is 45 innings, which is about the same as the last two seasons.

Ryan Thompson has 2 options. If a roster crunch happens and many relief pitchers are performing excellently, the Diamondbacks could store him as depth in AAA. No doubt, Ryan Thompson would think of it as another opportunity to continue to improve his pitching.