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SnakePit Round Table: The Downward Spiral

A tough week for the D-backs, with another two series losses in the books, this time at home.

La Sagrada Familia Basilica Photo by Joanne Rathe/The Boston Globe via Getty Images

What’s gone wrong with the Diamondbacks?

James: Lack of legitimate roster depth and slow to address the pitching issues the team has exhibited since day one of the season.

Spencer: They are young and developing. The pitching has made important strides this year (Nelson specifically). The bats have cooled significantly…AGAIN.

Sam: It feels more vibey than any particular sort of suckage. Until this last game, the breaks just hadn’t been going their way this month. Early in the season, they would get blown out every once in a while but found a way to win most series. Now, they seem to find a way to lose.

Makakilo: Instead of the usual statistics, let’s look at the top level of batting and pitching. Although there are often exceptions, the following truths apply:

  • When the offense scores less than 3 runs, their team’s pitching must be exceptional for that team to win.
  • When the offense scores more than 6 runs, their team pitches with confidence that they will likely win.
  • When pitching allows more than 6 runs, their team’s batters must be excellent for that team to win. Albeit that the Diamondbacks exceptional baserunning adds RBIs without needing a hit.
  • When pitching allows less than 3 runs, their team bats with confidence that they will likely win.

The following table looks at the number of games where those truths applied:

The table shows that in July, the ratios of green (good truths) to red (bad truths) fell to 0.4 (anything less than 1 is bad). In other words, July challenged batters and pitchers – and the Diamondbacks’ win-loss record suffered.

Steven: The biggest issue is on both sides of the ball, both scoring and allowing runs. Through July on offense, they’re currently bottom 6 of all teams with 91 runs scored for the month but for how bad they’ve been on offense the pitching has been dreadful. 2nd worst team ERA with a 5.75 ERA through July and the bullpen ERA is over 6.50.

Ben: I suspect there’s been some regression to the mean/Pythagorean win-loss record coupled with fatigue and youth. I don’t necessarily think that this month or stretch of bad results has exposed some fundamental flaw in the team that we weren’t already aware existed. The pitching side of the roster was always a bit of a question mark that they were able to paper over with better offensive performance. So, when the offense takes even a slight step back, it can lead to a step back for the entire team.

Dano: Mainly fatigue and youth, I think, as Ben says.

How can it be fixed?

James: It’s mostly going to take time. They might be able to address part of the overall problem with trades at the deadline, but the team mostly needs to wait for the rest of the talent to graduate to the Majors and then be smart in this winter’s free agent market. Sadly, this winter’s market is not very good. They simply do not have the prospect talent or the payroll flexibility to solve all their issues via trade, maybe not even half of their roster issues.

Spencer: Let it ride. These are growing pains. Ones that hurt for sure, but they were expected. Ideally the month of July becomes a blip and they finish strong. If the whole team pained together, that’s rough but pretty excellent if they all come out stronger for it.

Sam: Pay for a better bullpen in the offseason? That’s where a lot of the bad breaks have been coming, and a lights-out bullpen would have made a big difference.

Makakilo: Three points:

  • In post-game interviews, Torey Lovullo said things that I heard as (perhaps with the filter of my natural optimism) the players have the right mental attitudes, and are doing a lot of things right. As a result of their mental attitudes and doing a lot of things right, their performances will bounce back soon.
  • I anticipate (again with the filter of my natural optimism) that the Diamondbacks will make excellent trades at the deadline.
  • Kevin Ginkel is “on a roll.” Torey Lovullo will more frequently put him in the game (or keep him in the game) when it will make an impact.

Steven: Both of these can be fixed with acquisitions, less so on the offensive side as I think the hitting will come around - it’s just an extended slump. Pitching is more difficult as it will take outside help in order to fix that side of the ball. The normal guys like Gallen and Kelly will bounce back, they’re too talented not to. But the bullpen and down starters will need outside help as we’re seeing some growing pains and overuse from them.

Ben: Obviously, getting some reinforcements via trade would help, but by and large it has to come from internal improvements. There have been some cold stretches from some key players who need to - and hopefully will - rebound. Regardless, we’re at a point in the season where you have to just believe in the team and hope that this is an aberration of a month rather than anything more serious. Look no further than the Tampa Bay Rays who have gone a dreadful 6-16 in July to fall out of their divisional lead. It certainly doesn’t erase the other three months of excellent baseball they played anymore than it erases the better-than-expected performance of this D-Backs club.

Dano: Time, mainly. This is a very young team with a lot of talent, they just need to grow into themselves and what they can be.

Do recent results change how Mike Hazen should approach the deadline?

James: It may change how aggressively Mike Hazen pursues some higher-end talents, but I don’t think it will change the process too much. Hazen’s philosophy with the team has been to trade for both now and in the future. I don’t see him investing too heavily into rental players. I do think he may shift from looking at starters to looking at relievers now, but that is much due to the market realities as to current performance levels.

Spencer: Ditto James on the aggressiveness. But they need a reliever or two just to keep workload manageable. I’d prefer a starter as well to hedge against Kelly’s health/ineffectiveness down the stretch and any more rookie rough patches (Sunday morning edit: …or a scary sounding young arm injury…). But yikes not at these prices. Controllable or nothing is my book now.

Sam: They probably dialed him back. But given that I didn’t want him to compromise the future to compete in this seller’s market even when we were leading the division, maybe that was a good thing?

Makakilo: His approach should be somewhere between aggressive and all-in. He should be aggressive enough to increase the team’s chances of reaching the playoffs (knowing this season is not likely a World Series season). He should stop short of foolish trading that damages chances to compete in future seasons.

This approach is based on two assumptions:

  • The team is on the borderline of reaching the playoffs. (73.9% chance per FanGraphs despite currently being a half game out of a wild card berth)
  • Next season the Padres and Dodgers will be much better teams. The Padres are all-in for the next few seasons despite this season’s disappointing results. Last season the Dodgers won the NL West for the 20th time – evidence that they play to win every season. This season’s Dodgers appear to be a weaker team because of uncertainty about whether they will win the NL West.

Steven: I don’t think there’s any change in Hazen’s approach. He has a good team here that can use outside help. And a case can be made that it could use both short-term and long-term help. We’re already seeing the cost of acquisition to be very high, could Hazen take advantage and become a pseudo seller?

Ben: I think there’s definitely a difference between should approach and will approach honestly. It shouldn’t necessarily change his approach. In my opinion, it’s been relatively apparent that the pitching side of the roster was the weaker of the two halves. I’m also of the opinion that this is the opening of the contention window. Those two opinions logically lead to adding bullpen depth that have more than one controllable year left on their contracts. This month’s struggles don’t change either of those opinions either. Hazen has yet to strike me as a particularly aggressive GM so I don’t see why he would fundamentally change that approach simply because the team has improved. Theoretically then, Hazen should still look to improve that area of the roster. However, I do think the struggles will throttle back the aggressiveness or price that Hazen’s willing to pay than he was a month or so ago.

Dano: Yeah, I think it should. It seems pretty clear that we’re not winning the division this year, so trades to try and ensure that we “win now” seem like they should be off the table. I certainly wouldn’t mind some bullpen arms.

What D-backs’ prospects do you regard as untouchable?

James: On the surface, none of them. More realistically, I don’t move Lawlar or Jones. Lawlar is starting to show the attributes hoped for when he was drafted. Jones has franchise cornerstone potential and would currently be a sell-low candidate because of his injuries. I’m not moving either of them for anything other than a Godfather deal. Irt would take something of a special offer to convince me to part with Pfaadt or Melendez, but I don’t consider them untouchable, merely expensive.

Spencer: Given the price for rentals, nearly all could be for me? If the Giolito cost is going to be standard, the deal we don’t make will be the most important. But throwing that out, Lawlar, Pfaadt, Jones and Steinmetz would be on the untouchable list for me (only Lawlar would truly disappoint me though).

Sam: Unfortunately, I don’t have a great feel for how lower minors prospects are developing, so I can only comment on those who’ve made MLB appearances. I don’t want to trade any of the starters, and I still include Jameson on that list. The outfield, however, remains a position of strength from which I could see another Varsho-like deal coming together to fill another position. Apart from Carroll and Thomas, who probably don’t count as prospects anymore, I wouldn’t particularly mind any of them getting traded. Seeing the stories around the Dominic’s waiting their turn to get that callup, I’d be happy for them to see more playing time.

Makakilo: The only prospect who might possibly be considered a face-of-the-franchise is Corbin Carroll (but he has graduated from prospect status). In theory, no player is untouchable, depending on the trade details. Nevertheless, in addition to the prospects previously named, I’d like to keep Deyvison De Los Santos and Blaze Alexander.

Steven: No valuable prospects (45+ FV) should be going out in a true rental, unless you’re getting multiple playable players coming back in return. But if we’re able to get young, cost controlled MLB ready talent for them no one should be off the table.

Ben: I think it’s easier to put the prospects into tiers with the most untouchable being players like Lawlar, Druw Jones, and Pfaadt because of how important those positions are and how difficult it can be to develop or acquire alternatives. This tier should only be traded for a franchise-altering player, which are in pretty short supply already. The next tier consists of players like Blaze Alexander and De Los Santos who have positional flexibility and rate highly, but haven’t quite put everything together yet. This tier should be available for solid, controllable pieces that can help beyond just this year. I would then place the rest of the prospects into a final tier that are mostly fungible. Obviously, this isn’t scientific whatsoever, but I’d prefer to do a tiered system than a binary touchable-untouchable. P.S. I like Makkakilo’s suggestion from above about “lending” players out with some kind of return going back to the original club. It would add another wrinkle to the current system which seems to hold a lot of intrigue (and clickbait) without a lot of actual results.

Makakilo: I can’t take credit for the idea of lending players - it was Sam’s idea. Sam described it in his answer to the Ohtani question (which currently is the next question).

Dano: I honestly don’t have any idea about this. Lawlar, I suppose? Carroll, like Mak says.

Should the Angels have traded Shohei Ohtani?

James: Not if they want any chance of being competitive moving forward. If they trade him, not only would this season be effectively over for them, they would be behind the eight ball when it comes to trying to lure any quality free agents this winter. At least this approach shows them “trying” to be competitive and keeps the door open for Ohtani to return in 2024 and beyond (though I don’t think Moreno will let it happen).

Spencer: Yes. They should have, but you can’t be the team that trades Ohtani away. Especially if you want to resign him. Being the team with Trout and Ohtani and failing so much is a bad enough footnote to have.

Sam: Sigh, did we really need three weeks of the same question dominating the trade deadline? Such a tease for something that didn’t happen.

I would rather take this opportunity to ask a question I haven’t ever seen addressed: Why can’t teams loan players who they have on contract to another team for a half season? For instance, the Cardinals’ season is toast but they’d like to compete next year — why can’t they “lend” Goldy and Arenado to another team for just 2023 and then retain their services as before after the postseason?

It seems that such an arrangement would be in the interest of both the Cardinals and whichever team(s) they’re dealing with, and if it would have to be explicitly allowed in the players’ contracts, teams could just pay them more for that privilege. Moreover, this would vastly increase the pool of players who could be “traded” in this fashion, so we don’t have to spend three weeks talking about the one superstar who happens to be in his walk year.

Makakilo: It depends. Two considerations might have been:

  • How much would the best offer improve the Angels? Likely the improvement would have been insanely good.
  • Do the Angels have any chance at the postseason? About 36% per FanGraphs.

Because they did not trade him, my conclusion is that they want to re-sign him (but it may not happen).

Steven: As long as the Angels have a chance to make the playoffs, trading Ohtani was never the answer. Trading the MVP front-runner while still holding on that chance would be death as a team owner.

Ben: In a rational sense, I think they should have. They have a very difficult path to make it to the postseason and have a number of holes in their roster that make it even more difficult for them to make it very far even if they were to reach the playoffs. I also have a hard time imagining that Ohtani will end up signing back with the Angels in the offseason based on the comments from Moreno. So you have one of the most dynamic players who, more likely than not, is going to walk away after this year. The Angels could have set basically any price they wanted and teams would have lined up like lemmings to hand it over. It would have rejuvenated their extremely thin farm system in a way no other single move could. But we don’t live in a strictly rational world and there’s no way an already unpopular owner was going to move one of the best, most popular players in the league regardless of everything I’ve written above. It would have taken a very different FO/ownership to approve that kind of move.

Dano: No. They would lose any goodwill they have built up with their fan base in recent years.

How are you coping with the summer heat?

James: I’m staying indoors as much as possible and doing my best to stay hydrated. We’ve been doing more cool meals as of late as well.

Spencer: I live in a location where the heat is manageable. And then I embrace the health benefits of sweating it out to be outside.

Sam: Singapore is always warm but never hot, so I don’t have much to offer here. It’s a humid heat, though, so I need A/C (they call it “aircon” here) and/or ceiling fans wherever I go.

Makakilo: Similar to Singapore, in Hawaii most houses have ceiling fans, whether or not they have A/C. I like being outdoors, so I drink extra water to stay hydrated. And at my gym I participated in an aqua-zumba class.

Because a hilly part of my lawn got a brown patch, for 3 weeks I watered it by hand to supplement the automatic sprinklers. It was coming back too slowly, so three days ago I fertilized and planted grass seed. The grass seed, along with frequent watering, should make the patch greener soon.

Ben: It hasn’t been as unbearable here in the Mid-Atlantic as it has been elsewhere. We’ve been pumping the AC and I’ve been going for swims at the outdoor, public pool to get a good dose of sunlight in the cold water there.

Dano: I’ve been increasingly nocturnal, though sadly with school starting up again next week, I’m not going to be able to do that anymore.