At what point did you realize during the 2014 season that that you had been watching a train wreck? The D-backs’ first few weeks of games were so bad that it essentially killed the season. We knew that, but nothing put an exclamation point on it quite like when Mike Bolsinger was installed in the rotation.
Bolsinger was coming off a creaky 2013 season in which he had put up a sparkling 2.51 ERA with Double-A Mobile (43 IP) and a hard-to-look at 4.72 ERA with Triple-A Reno (101 IP). The Triple-A numbers were not a mirage; park and league can affect the component statistics of Fielding-Independent Pitching, but not as much as ERA, and his FIP was still 4.47. When Bolsinger was called up, it was like the D-backs were willing to try anything, throwing noodles of various wetness against the wall.
I was probably unfair to Bolsinger during the season, and his 5.50 ERA is misleading. It was backed by a 4.01 FIP and a 3.31 xFIP (he did poorly with home runs). SIERA, which incorporates a park factor, saw him as deserving of a 3.49 ERA in 2014, which is not just respectable; it’s good. Maybe Bolsinger is a guy who will always fail to have his ERA match his peripherals. Maybe he was ridiculously ill-suited for Chase Field, although he did worse on the road in his tiny 52.1 IP major league sample. I don’t know. But despite the 5.50 ERA, looking back I’m kind of impressed that he had as much success as he did, throwing a cutter almost two-thirds of the time, and just one other pitch (a curveball) more than once in a blue moon. It’s funny that the other D-backs pitcher who so drastically underperformed (as compared to FIP and xFIP) was Brandon McCarthy, who was supposedly forbidden to throw Bolsinger’s bread-and-butter pitch.
So I have mixed feelings now that Bolsinger has been sold to the Dodgers for cash considerations. We didn’t anticipate that Bolsinger would get designated for assignment in large part because he specifically was cited as needed depth when Will Harris was lost on waivers. It seems that the D-backs think Jeremy Hellickson makes depth a little less dire, and I agree. The team already has its #6 and #7 starters in the Vidal Nuno/Randall Delgado/Trevor Cahill crowd, and with waves of pitching likely to be available as the season progresses, Bolsinger’s spot on the 40-man was probably more useful in another way. One only needs so many Zeke Spruill types.
Looking through that lens, the fact that Charles Brewer was also designated for assignment and then sold (to the Indians) probably isn’t that surprising, either. Brewer puts the Triple-A Reno question into sharp relief, I think. He had success at Double-A in 2011 and in a short stint in 2012, and really excelled when sent back there in 2014. But in a whopping 399.2 innings at the Triple-A level, Brewer has a 5.29 ERA, which is…not good. The Pacific Coast League and especially Reno make for a bad environment for a pitcher, but there’s no reason to believe it’s harder to pitch there than in the majors. The Brewer news has me pretty morose, but I’m sure we’ll come back to him; he may be the poster child for a Big Diamondbacks Question, which is how good is good enough at Reno for a pitcher to deserve a real shot in the bigs.
Best of luck to both Bolsinger and Brewer from us at Inside the ‘Zona. And maybe they’ll head back to the D-backs some day, or even some day soon; Nick Cafardo of the Boston Globe reported that Wade Miley “has become a popular trade target.”
- The 40-man roster has five new players on it, as Nick Piecoro writes: Brandon Drury, Socrates Brito, A.J. Schugel, Kevin Munson and Will Locante. I addressed the 40-man a couple of weeks before last Friday’s deadline for protecting players from the Rule 5 draft, and a couple of things changed; I didn’t anticipate Bolsinger and Brewer being taken off that roster, in part because it was before the Hellickson trade. You can still head to that post and/or Jeff’s Top Prospects lists to read more on the first four of those guys; I had thought that Brito, Schugel, Munson and Zach Borenstein were fighting for three spots between them. Turns out there were actually four spots for those four guys, except that Locante won the last one, instead of Borenstein. I was really surprised by this, but that was a failure of imagination and I really shouldn’t have been. Patrick Schuster was the #1 overall pick in the Rule 5 last season, and Joe Paterson was a Rule 5 grab, as well. Bullpen lefties or lefties who can pitch out of the bullpen for a year tend to be popular Rule 5 picks. They’re not generally thought of as assets (is there such a thing as a LOOGY prospect?), and many can hack it in a major league bullpen for a whole season. They won’t all turn into Johan Santana, but some will turn into Javier Lopez. Anyway, add Locante to the list of lefties who could at least theoretically see time in the next two years, behind Oliver Perez (who doesn’t really count), Eury de la Rosa, Matt Reynolds, and Andrew Chafin. As for Borenstein — we’ll have to see if a rebuilding team wants to take a shot. But I like this move. Borenstein isn’t ready yet, and he’s old; a team that selects him will be killing their own newly-acquired asset. Fifth OF types get selected (like Ender Inciarte two years ago), but not-ready-yet corner guys do not.
- Henry Blanco left the Diamondbacks to take a job with the Cubs, and Nick Piecoro makes a fantastic point: this leaves the D-backs coaching staff without a Spanish speaker. Easy for me to say, but that’s just wrong. Having one guy really isn’t that much better; Spanish is part of the game and it’s time for the D-backs to start comping Rosetta Stone subs or something. Maybe they already do; I don’t know. Would be a good thing for a farm system to adopt, anyway. But back to Blanco: what the hell is a “quality assurance coach”? Is he the guy you gripe to with the Cubs? Are all Cubs conversations going to be recorded so that Blanco can assure quality? Blanco can do whatever he wants, but this smarts a little. Maybe not having an actual role on the coaching staff left him miffed, and he would have a right to feel that way. Still, even with Gibson gone, this is the team that facilitated his transition to the dugout in the first place.
- From the same piece: Bronson Arroyo doesn’t like how retirement feels. Piecoro and Arroyo ask the main questions, I think, and I’m coming around to the thought that he might actually help out before the end of next season. David Laurila of FanGraphs also digs in with Arroyo in his Sunday Notes. This is something we will be able to monitor before he comes back, when we get reports on his velocity during his rehab work, but the team is not going to be in good shape in July if they need to slide him right back into the rotation. His 2016 option carries a $11M salary, and while it’s doubtful he’d be worth that kind of gamble, the ridiculous buyout ($4.5M) makes the question actually: would you return Arroyo on a one-year, $6.5M deal? The answer might be yes. And lest you think “oh, that’s surplus value if the D-backs pick up the $4.5M” — it’s a poison pill option that increases to $13M if he’s traded, so… yeah. Arizona or bust.
- Eno Sarris has an amazing piece at Just a Bit Outside on Brad Ziegler, the difference his arm slot makes, and how as much as Ziegler is unique, his changeup is a unicorn. Easily, one of the best pieces I’ve read this year, and it happens to be about a Diamondbacks pitcher we all know and love. Totally eye-opening to see the spin diagrams for a three-quarter (average) slot and Ziegler’s slot. I might even put it in the reference section of this site. Basically, just go read it, okay?
- At FanGraphs, Jeff Sullivan published his take on the Jeremy Hellickson trade. A lot of the same points that Jeff ticked off in his Hellickson trade reaction, and which I hit on in this space last week. Well worth a read, though. We all need a good baseline of knowledge to interpret what Hellickson does at the outset of 2015…
- At Snake Pit, Jim McLennan addresses the possibility of Miguel Montero getting traded to the Dodgers. When we were looking for Montero destinations for the Offseason Plan, the Dodgers were one of the top five “fit” teams for us, but we dismissed this possibility as impossible. McLennan: “I tend to think that Montero to the Dodgers won’t happen.” Same here. There’s the De Jon Watson connection, but I don’t see how the Dodgers make it make so much sense for the D-backs that they actually pull the trigger. Pirates, Cubs, White Sox. Also at Snake Pit: Steven Burt with a smart piece on the D-backs’ possible pursuit of James Shields.
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