The D-backs went 0-3 in March and 9-19 in April, but began to show signs of life in a series with the Padres over the weekend. The team now has a winning record (2-1!) in May, but the real source of optimism may be the performance of Bronson Arroyo, Brandon McCarthy and Wade Miley in San Diego: a combined 3 ER in 21 innings with 16 strikeouts. The team still has the worst ERA mark in the league (4.95), but things may have begun to stabilize.
If we look at Fielding-Independent Pitching, a metric that takes into account things like ground ball percentage, strikeouts and walks and turns them into an expected ERA-like number, the D-backs have actually been doing considerably better. Their FIP is 19th the league at 4.06, which is reason for optimism that going forward, the D-backs’ pitching will be fringe-average for the league. But the D-backs have also been stung by the long ball, with a terrible 12.7% HR/FB ratio that is unlikely to stay that high. Regress HR/FB to league levels, and you get xFIP — and the D-backs’ 3.71 xFIP is actually a solid 14th in the league.
Josh Collmenter and Mike Bolsinger were moved to the rotation about three weeks ago. In the last 14 days, things have been much better for the team. As in 3.75 ERA (11th), 3.31 FIP (3rd), and 3.27 xFIP (2nd). Pretty damned good, although the team was still just 6-7 in that stretch. Consider each pitcher’s last 3 turns in the rotation, in particular:
Wade Miley: 18 IP, 13 ER, 13 K (6.50 ERA)
Brandon McCarthy: 19 IP, 3 ER, 24 K (1.42 ERA)
Bronson Arroyo: 19.1 IP, 7 ER, 10 K (3.26 ERA)
Josh Collmenter: 19 IP, 8 ER, 13 K (3.79 ERA)
Mike Bolsinger: 15.2 IP, 11 ER, 16 K (6.32 ERA)
Miley’s less-than-inspiring numbers are bogged down from one terrible start against the Rockies in which he was left in to let up seven earned runs, and Bolsinger was hit hard three turns ago by the Dodgers (also 7 ER). But unlike Miley, Bolsinger doesn’t have the track record to suggest his one start was just a bump in the road; overall he sports a 5.79 ERA (he also had one previous appearance, in relief). Maybe his 3.29 FIP or 2.80 xFIP are more indicative of his worth, but thus far he has not done much to prop up the rotation.
Nick Piecoro was on these points in a notebook published last night. Noting McCarthy’s turnaround, Piecoro explains that now, the focus may be on McCarthy avoiding his annual late-May/early June DL stint for shoulder soreness. From the piece:
“The in-season workout is much heavier, much more strenuous now,” he said. “It’s more weight-based. It’s a lot different from anything I’ve done in the past with the entire goal of keeping as much strength on as I can because in the past I might taper off and atrophy a little bit. This year, it’s trying to stay as strong as I can.”
Of course, McCarthy was saying similar things a year ago this time, and by June 1 he was on the disabled list.
Ouch. Best of luck to McCarthy, who has looked strong and on a mission since his first start of the season. In previewing today’s game in the same notebook, Piecoro states that Bolsinger has an opponents’ batting average against of .083 the first time through the order, then .370 the second and .444 the third. I guess you could say (despite the minuscule sample) that Bolsinger is like Josh Collmenter: underutilized as a reliever, but overutilized as a starter. As I wrote almost two weeks ago, Bolsinger, Collmenter, Trevor Cahill and Randall Delgado could be used well splitting starts in tandem. Baseball is an art, but it’s part science, too.
- At Snake Pit, Jim McLennan did a downright excellent study of when managers have tended to get fired. Definitely read this. Great analysis, and I definitely learned something — and it’s good context for something that will continue to be a conversation for quite a while (if that’s not showing my hand on how I voted in the Snake Pit poll). As McLennan noted, the “managers replaced by win %” graph might give us more information if it were controlled for how many teams have actually had those winning percentages — as Jeff explained last week, very few teams in the last ten years have been sub-.300 after 30 games — but there’s still a lot of helpful information throughout the piece.
- Over the weekend, Piecoro wrote about Montero’s hot start, Gibson’s reluctance to take him out of the lineup, and Gibson’s awareness that he probably should, from time to time. Jeff covered Montero’s start on Wednesday of last week, and I agree. In talking to Jeff recently, I wondered out loud if Montero might be the second-most valuable player on the team right now, after Goldy. It’s partly that he’s a pretty good hitter, and partly that he’s much more excellent behind the plate than I realized. But it’s also an issue of what Montero’s replacement would be. Back when we learned that Stryker Trahan was moved to the outfield, Jeff profiled the dearth of minor-league catching in the D-backs system. There’s no catching help behind Montero anywhere. Tuffy Gosewisch as a backup catcher is not good. Gosewisch as the primary catcher is a full-blown nightmare. No wonder Kevin Towers was trolling for a catching prospect in return for a shortstop on the trade market this spring.
- Piecoro also profiled Ender Inciarte and the D-backs/Aces swap of Tony Campana and Alfredo Marte. Look, an outfield of Gerardo Parra, A.J. “Action Jackson” Pollock and Cody Ross (with Martin Prado filling in) is pretty darned good. It really doesn’t help that Pollock is hurting, and that Gibson appears unwilling to start Eric Chavez more than once per week. But if other outfielders from Reno are necessary to keep things going, I like the idea of using Inciarte types. Production is production, regardless of whether it’s offense or defense. And the D-backs pitching staff could use the extra help of an extra defense-first guy out there.
- At Beyond the Box Score, Alex Skillin examines the trajectory of Justin Upton, arguing that despite an(other) increase in strikeout percentage, Upton might be improving as a hitter. Well worth checking out. I’m expecting to write about this in a post soon, but with the D-backs now completely bereft of premium talent outside of Goldschmidt and possibly Patrick Corbin and Archie Bradley, the Upton trade looms even larger as one of the few times the D-backs stood to insist on premium prospects.
- At FanGraphs, Dave Cameron goes a step beyond calculating an expected record based on actual runs scored and allowed — he calculates expected record based on expected runs scored and allowed. Really cool work. And as of Friday (before this weekend’s games), Cameron’s reckoning had the D-backs about 2 games better than their record would show (20 runs under). The offense had actually scored the exact number of runs expected (117), but the pitching staff had the biggest difference between actual runs allowed and expected runs allowed in the entire league (159 expected runs allowed, versus 179 actual runs allowed). That’s what we say of extreme outliers around here — they’re almost always an indication of extremes for skill, but also of luck. Cameron’s statistics had no other team with more than 150 runs allowed (the D-backs did play two extra games), so let’s not get all excited about how the pitching staff should have let up only 159, instead of 179. But…offense, yeah!
- At Venom Strikes, Thomas Lynch touched on a particularly great start by Aaron Blair. Jose Martinez also had a very good debut, it seems, and with Braden Shipley, the D-backs still have a trio of prospects about as good as one would expect any big league organization to have. Whether Shipley makes the leap to be a #2 type seems, on the outside, to be the question in terms of whether the D-backs future will be anything other than Archie Bradley and a handful of #4 types.
- Lynch also closed out April with five good things. Agree on Montero, Prado and Goldy. Great notes on Ziegler, whose overall statistics are apparently quite misleading. And as for Owings — I do agree, but I’m on record with a “bold prediction” that despite having a batting average of over .280 to finish May, Owings will finish the season with an average under .260. I hope I’m wrong about that.
- Finally, Jeff Summers has a great, long post on who the D-backs are. Pretty much agree across the board, especially with the emphasis on player development. As of now (and apparently despite the pseudo-addition of Dave Duncan), one thing the D-backs are is completely unable to fix pitching prospects. Small pieces of a much larger puzzle (as Summers notes), but the sales of Trevor Bauer and Tyler Skaggs were no-confidence votes for the player development staff. I love this statement by Summers. Time for the D-backs to have an organizational identity — there are many to choose from, many of which are good.
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