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SnakePit Round Table; Everything is Awesome

Remember when the D-backs sucked? Nah, me neither.

“The Lego Movie 2: The Second Part” Multimedia Screening Photo by Dave J Hogan/Getty Images For Warner Bros

Are we feeling better this week?

Justin: Yes, much more settled in. Oh, you meant about the team. Yes to that as well.

Ben: Look, the team was on a schneid that at least partially resulted from some bad luck. So it’s not entirely unsurprising that they’ve been able to reverse that trend and regress to their own mean. I think the best surprise over the past few days has been the attitude in the dugout and among the players. They look like they’re playing a little looser and are a little more relaxed during the games, which has translated to a better overall performance.

ISH95: I’m feeling fine, what are you talking about? My optimism never wavered and I remained committed to the belief that they were going to make the playoffs. Yup yup yup

Dano: All good. I’d gotten myself, without too much effort, into a place where I was taking the wretchedness in stride. But it’s nice to actually be interested in watching these guys on TV again right now.

Spencer: Sure. I still harbor issues and worries, but I’m more confident in an over .500 finish than I was seven days ago.

Wesley: Are we talking health or the team? In both cases, the answer is yes. The team looks much better in the last week than it has for months.

James: More or less the same, I think. To keep with some of the trend from above, on a personal level, my days are still hit and miss. Friday was so bad that within one hour of getting up, I had a week’s worth of unexpected crap get dumped on me. On a team supporting level, my opinion hasn’t changed much. This team always felt to me like it was over-performing and that a spate of losing was just around the corner. They weathered it and are now marching on again.

Makakilo: Yes, most certainly. After surviving a 9-game losing streak, in the next 9 games the Diamondbacks had a win-loss record of 7-2. They are strongly competing for a wild-card in the playoffs.

What were the factors in the team’s turnaround?

Justin: It’s a marathon, not a sprint.

Ben: I mean, without simplifying things too much, the team has returned to its early season form. The offense has stabilized and so has the pitching, posting a 3.46 ERA and 1.28 WHIP with a .272/.339/.452 (.791 OPS) slash line respectively over the last nine games. Unsurprisingly, in that stretch, the team has gone 7-2 and regained some of its swagger.

ISH95: As much as he contributed to my shortened life span, Paul Sewald being an actual closer has helped a lot. That and the starting pitching has really stepped up lately. Offense still has a way to go though, Saturday night notwithstanding.

Dano: What Justin said. Also, young team lateish in the season. All that.

Spencer: I think they relaxed and stopped pushing so hard. Half the team still is, but some of the main contributors have looked a lot more at ease on the field than they did in July and early August.

Wesley: I’m with Spencer on this one, but I also think the recent roster shakeup played a big part in changing the atmosphere of the clubhouse. Having Gabriel Moreno back seems to be making a big difference too. Having an actual closer (at least compared to who we were running out there before) has played a big part too. Since coming back from the IL, Moreno is 7 for 29 with a double and two home runs and ZERO STRIKEOUTS.

James: Sequencing and luck would seem to be the biggest contributors to me. A key knock here, a squibbler finding daylight there, a crazy sliding catch to end an inning instead of at the beginning of an inning, a pitcher walking the first batter of the inning instead of the previous batter who ended the previous inning, and so many other small things that can contribute to the changing tides in a game. Once the team weathered the storm and got themselves back into the win column by hook or by crook, the players seemed to relax some. Playing loose almost always leads to better sustained results than pressing and stressing does.

Makakilo: Better batting and better pitching. Table follows:

(Table data from Baseball Savant and Team Ranking.com.)

Three points:

  • The Diamondbacks’ batters got on base more frequently (higher OBP) and less runners were left in scoring position at the end of innings.
  • The Diamondbacks’ pitchers kept opponents off the bases (lower OBP) and more opponents’ runners were left in scoring position at the end of innings.
  • The balance of Diamondbacks’ pitchers and batters changed from unfavorable to favorable. In other words, batters’ OBP changed from less than the pitchers’ OBP to more than the pitchers’ OBP.

Are you liking the new arrivals so far?

Justin: Yes. Despite Sewald’s appearance in game 1 of the double header and the first he had as a Dback for some reason I feel like we have at least a semi legit closer for the first time in a long time. I kind of like Pham, too. Maybe it is the hockey fan in me but it’s kind of nice having a player everyone else (other teams) hate. One of those “love him for us, hate him against’’ Even Shane Doan was that type of player.

Ben: They’re fine. I haven’t been sold on anyone yet - with the possible exception of Sewald who has bounced back well in the recent stretch - but I also haven’t been catastrophically disappointed by any of them either. It’s a big ol’ “meh” from me, but there’s still plenty of baseball to play.

ISH95: See above regarding my shortened life span, but yeah. This team hasn’t had anyone even remotely close to a safe bet for the 9th inning since, who? Fernando Rodney? Sure, Sewald is about as relaxing as Rodney was, but I’ll take five saves in his first seven games.

Dano: Pham was the one I was really scratching my head about at the deadline, and hell yeah, I’m a fan now. Like Justin and ISH, I’m feeling very good about Sewald as closer, after the post-first-outing misgivings. And the new guy, the one we saw tonight, the one we got from Milwaukee after unloading Chafin on them (suckers!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!), seems alright, and he’s also got plenty of room to grow without getting too expensive for quite some time. So yeah, I’m liking them.

Spencer: I thought Pham was a move to make a move. Still feels that way, but he’s at least contributing, so I say worth it for a lottery ticket. No one else is going to be JD, so lowering expectations for a rental bat is a lesson learned.

Peterson is awful. Jury still out on Strzelecki but early returns are ok; exactly what was expected. Sewald is still better than every other option on the roster, but he’s not lockdown as promised. He reminds me of Rodney so much I expect an arrow shot every game. If he can be that successful, the ends will have probably justified the means. But right now, I’d not be in favor of an extension.

Wesley: Jace Peterson has not been very good. Since acquiring Pham, I’ve grown to love and respect the guy more than I ever thought he would. THE MAN HAS HAD A DEGENERATIVE EYE DISEASE AND STILL HAS HAD A MAJOR LEAGUE CAREER. I’m not sure why no one is talking about that. He also is a real stathead and knows his baseball. He’s been a key contributer offensively which definitely ups the likeability factor too. Sewald has been okay? I have a feeling I’m going to like that trade less and less as time progresses. Strzelecki actually looks like an absolute steal long term, especially considering we acquired him for the now mustache-less Chafin. As we all know that was the only value he provided this season.

As far as the recent crop of prospects goes, Bryce Jarvis has been very impressive to me. Definitely think prospect evaluators have been far to harsh on him. Reevaluating him as a prospect, I’d actually move him from a 40 FV all the way up to a 45+ FV. Buddy Kennedy similarly has been subject to much harsh criticisms due to less than desirable exit velocities. However results are results, and he was 32% better than the average hitter in the PCL. right now he’s got more walks than strikeouts. Which is a good sign. He’s got the same amount of hits as strikeouts, which is not so promising. Clearly he’s put in the work to have success in the minors this year, and I hope he can prove the doubters wrong.

James: For the most part, I’m liking the new players on the roster. It seems that I was in the minority about Sewald. I never for a second expected him to be a closer in the vein of some of the lockdown greats. I always anticipated he would be somewhere between Fernando Rodney and J.J. Putz. So far, that seems to be the case. Pham is Pham. He’s doing more or less exactly what was expected. It isn’t as if he is providing needle-moving performance, but he isn’t actively sinking the team either. I’d prefer if Peterson was playing in his best role, which is utility backup, spending 80+% of his time riding the pine. But, for some entirely inexplicable reason, the team has decided he is a serviceable third baseman, better than Rivera, who was at least a league average regular player. It’s been nice to see Jarvis have some immediate success. If nothing else, by having some good early outings, it decreases the number and volume of complaints about the development of Arizona’s pitching, as though every solid pitching prospect was supposed to have top of rotation potential. I’ll miss Chafin, but trading him for years of control of a younger reliever and saving money at the same time made some sense, especially since the chase for winning the NL West was already long over by the time the trade deadline rolled around.

Makakilo: James had a valid point that Rivera is likely a better third baseman than Jace Peterson. I will add that Rivera has more DRS at third base this season (positive 2 compared to negative 4 per The Fielding Bible).

The new arrival that I like most is closer Paul Sewald. His underlying stats are great! Details follow:

  • Strikeouts per batter faced (26.7% Dbacks and 34.2% Full Season). Great is >25.0%.
  • Whiffs per pitch (14.4% Dbacks and 15.5% Full Season). Great is >13.0%.
  • Balls-in-Play per strike (22.4% Dbacks and 20.6% Full Season). Great is <26.5%.

Has Brandon Pfaadt cracked it?

Justin: I believe the month he went back to Reno either he learned something or something woke up inside of him. His first game was July 22nd against the Reds. Since then, he has pitched in 6 games, 36 innings, an ERA of 3.50, opponents BA of .227 and a FIP of 4.01. He has given up 5 HRs, but 3 of those were in the first game. Contrast that to his first 6 games, 9 HRs allowed, 9.82 ERA, and 7.47 FIP. I don’t know if it is “cracking it” but I dont think he seems like the same pitcher we saw in May.

Ben: Yes and no, he’s still struggling with consistency, but

ISH95: I sure hope so.

Dano: Depends on what you mean by “cracked it,” but broadly, yes, I think. His most recent outings have moved me to a place where my expectation is that he’s going to have a good start (much like Tommy Henry, before he went on the IL), though he will still have some crappy ones from time to time. Young kid, work in progress, etc., etc., but a corner has been turned.

Spencer: He’s adjusted to the next level. I don’t know if that’s “cracking it,” but it’s as expected. Mostly I’m glad the administration didn’t overreact to vocal AZ fans who were calling for him to be cut/traded a month ago. Imagine how long the “Brandon Pfaadt Trade/Decision” complaints could sustain the pessimistic side of the fan base…

Wesley: I agree with Spencer. I think he’s adjusted to MLB hitters, and he’s showing us just how exactly he managed to dominate in the hitters paradises of the Texas League and Pacific Coast League. I don’t think we have seen his full potential as a starting pitcher yet either.

James: I think Pfaadt is more or less the same pitcher he has been all along. Yes, he got shelled in epic fashion in his first stint in the Majors. I think many of us expected that he would. He was always going to need a good 10-15 starts, just to get his legs under him and to get a feel for pitching in MLB environments, both in terms of stadiums and in terms of talent. He dominated the PCL in a way that hasn’t been seen on an extended basis in decades. It’s one of the big reasons that sending him back down was always a bit odd to me. He wasn’t learning anything new in Reno. He needed a higher caliber of competition. Additionally, once he came back up, he was once again working closely with Strom, whom I have much more faith in tweaking pitchers than I do the minor league coaches. The tweaks made to Pfaadt’s delivery, namely changing his starting point on the rubber, leading to a change in the angle of his delivery, have made a significant difference. So yes, I think he has started to figure out what he needs to do to succeed. He’s still going to have some clunkers, but he also now has the blueprint for how to get the sort of success he has shown in his last few starts.

Makakilo: Brandon Pfaadt has a trend of improving game scores. That trend of continuous improvement is the foundation for answering the question. Graph follows (Data from Baseball Reference).

Which team are the D-backs biggest competitors in the wild-card race?

Justin: I’ve been kind of waiting for the Marlins and/or the Reds to fall back to Earth. They haven’t. So I suppose that would be my answer. Huge series next weekend against the Reds.

ISH95: Same as all season, the Arizona Diamondbacks.

Dano: Well, we’re just chasing the bottom slot right now, but there are three on offer if we have actually gotten back to consistently playing winning baseball. Right now, though, I’m gonna maybe be the odd man out and say the Cubs. The Marlins are currently having fun with the buzzsaw that is FTD at this moment, and the Giants are contending with the buzzsaw that is the Braves. And the parable of the two guys out on the Serengeti being stalked by a cheetah springs to mind:

UNFORTUNATE GUY 1: Dude, there’s no way we can outrun that cheetah.

UNFORTUNATE GUY 2: You’re right. But I don’t need to outrun the cheetah. I just need to outrun you.

May the devil take the hindmost.

Spencer: The St Louis Cardinals. They play these teams from now to the end: NYM, PIT, PHI, SD, PIT, ATL, CIN, BAL, PHI, MIL, SD, MIL, CIN.

It’s a double edged sword for AZ. If STL plays well, AZ has a better shot, but may also end up competing with STL for a wild card berth. But if STL plays more akin to their first half than last month, AZ could be seeing even more teams than the current crop in the standings…

Wesley: We play all the teams ahead of us in the wildcard, except for Philadelphia, but they still make the post season even if they don’t catch up to the Phillies in the standings The D-backs are in control of their own destiny down the stretch otherwise. Looking at the upcoming schedule, I’d say those two games against the Giants are going to be a key series to win.

James: IN terms of merely chasing a Wild Card berth, the Arizona Diamondbacks have always been and continue to be their biggest opponent.

Makakilo: As of Saturday, the Giants lost 8 of their last 10 games. If the Diamondbacks pass the Giants while earning a wild card berth, it would be a very favorable finish to the regular season.

What’s the most extreme natural phenomenon you’ve personally experienced?

Justin: As a sentient person, likely whatever the worst monsoon season here in Tucson was. As a baby, though, I was in Hurricane Gloria. It was a category 4 hurricane that hit New England.

ISH95: In general, the Arizona Monsoons. In particular, the Baboon that hit Chase Field :)

Jim: I’ve largely slept through two of note. The Great Storm of October 1987 in Britain, which killed 22 and caused £2 billion damage. I closed my bedroom window. Then in January 1994, I was also in LA for the Northridge quake, a 6.7 Richter event which killed around 60. I recall looking out of my motel room window, and seeing the swimming pool sloshing back and forth. I then went back to sleep. It was only the next morning I realized what had happened.

Dano: When I was in Ph.D school in Mississippi, a tornado rolled through town. I heard the sirens go off one Sunday afternoon. I had heard the sirens before, many times, but that afternoon I walked outside, and the sky had a weird green tint to it, and I took note. I was living in this tiny four-room murder-shark bungalow about three blocks from campus, and as the weather began to look more ominous, I got in my car and drove to the English Department building, a multi-story, architecturally uninspired brick shithouse of a structure. I headed up to the top floor, and watched out a floor-to-ceiling corridor window as the tornado rolled in. Off in the distance I saw a burst of flame as a transformer exploded, and then I watched what I thought was a piece of cardboard go spinning up four stories off the ground, and as it drew closer I realized it was actually a 4’x6’ piece of plywood, and so, yeah, I left the window and took shelter in the emergency stairwell, and descended rapidly to the bottom floor, and waited until the funnel cloud had passed by.

The building I was in was maybe a five-minute walk from the murder bungalow where I lived, but when I decided to head home, it took me an hour to get there. It was raining steadily, power lines and traffic light mounts, trees, and light poles were down, and the main street that I had to cross to get home was clogged with barricades and emergency vehicles. I left my car in the building parking lot, because there was no way I was going to get it across Hardy Street that night.

When I got home, my power was out, and it remained that way for five more days. Apparently the tornado had also glanced off of the murder bungalow, knocking the roof slightly askew so that water was streaming in through a leak in the corner of the room I was using as my office, right where my desk was. A month or two later, my landlord got people in to fix the roof, but basically I stopped using the room after that. And I wound up having it far better than many of my grad school colleagues, some of whom are still suffering from PTSD from living through that and the aftermath. Good times.

Spencer: I’m not sure. Ice Storm Elsa maybe? That was awful, but mostly due to my radiator going out. On the whole it was fine. The Polar Vortex was another crazy one. I’d say the Arizona Summer Heat too. Luckily I never lived in AZ for one of the raging Baboons. And a final shout out to the rainstorm at 7am halfway up the Stairway to Heaven hike on Oahu (which is 100% illegal and I now understand why).

Makakilo: Stairway to Heaven - that’s cool!

Wesley: As far as weather goes, im going to say wither the various microburst downpours during the monsoon, with pea to grape sized hail. Or getting snowed in during a blizzard in Flagstaff in ‘08.

Oooor we could just go with near death experiences, but this is not the appropriate forum for that discussion

James: In 1979-80, central Arizona got hit with a storm system that was dubbed a 100-years rain. It was impressively brutal, with high winds and tons of lightning and thunder to boot. It lasted for weeks, with only some of the briefest respites. It wiped out the Hayden and Rural bridges across the Salt River. At the time, the Mill Ave. Bridge was only two lanes and not meant to be taken in both directions. However, because of the other two washouts, the only way from Scottsdale and north into Tempe, Mesa, and other points south was MIll Avenue or going all the way to Central Avenue to cross. While that was bad enough, about a month into the reconstruction of the two bridges, the area got hit with yet another such storm system. The second wave washed out the entirety of the repairs made to the bridges and also wound up closing the I-10 bridge. In total, the storms lasted, almost entirely unabated, for the better part of five months. Imagine some of those monsoon micro-bursts pelting the entirety of the Metro-Phoenix area, but not in bursts and lasting for five months.

As an avid lover of extreme weather events, that stretch more or less ruined things for me. Nothing else ever compared.

If I were to pick a more isolated, single event type incident, it would probably be Hurricane Erin in 1995. At the time, I was stationed in Orlando, Florida. The base I was assigned to was the regional evacuation shelter. I lived off-base and was directed to stay home unless the evacuation was sounded. The storm hitting was impressive and made for hours of enjoyable viewing and some calm sleep. In the morning, the aftermath was rather impressive, including finding marine life from the Atlantic in the courtyard of my apartment complex, some of it even blown up into stair hallways.

I miss extreme storms.

Makakilo:

Extreme avoided: My vacation on Maui was to start on 9 August. That morning Maui was burning with uncontrolled wildfires spread by high winds. Although that morning I was unsure how bad the fires were, I did not board my plane. Later that morning an email told me that I would have no place to stay on Maui. I’m glad I was not there during the extreme fires.

Extreme experienced: At Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, I walked within a few feet of a lava flow. My skin felt radiated heat hotter than the Arizona desert. The soles of my sneakers started getting sticky. Perhaps ironically, the experience was really cool!