Doing The Pool Shot podcast is only getting more and more fun, especially with some killer questions on Twitter that were absolutely fascinating to think about. Why is baseball so damned fun that way? All I know is: the season is about to start, and we’re about to have tons more to notice, work through and discuss, both on these pages and in that podcast.

On Episode 20 of The Pool Shot, we talked through how we’d like to see the 25-man roster finalized, and we got into some of those questions (the extra, new plus pitch for any one D-backs pitcher question was as fun as it gets, as far as I’m concerned). There’s a roster wrinkle now that I’ll return to in a second.

But we led off the episode with Dave Cameron’s curious piece at FanGraphs on the “curious Diamondbacks” and Sam Miller’s on the D-backs “Moneyball” strategy that sets them apart. Check those out, if you haven’t seen them already, then circle back to the podcast.

The technique identified by Miller as a good value-on-the-margins strategy really only undertaken by the D-backs is their recent flurry of signings from independent ball. David Peralta, of course, is the gold standard in this kind of thing working out (more on Peralta’s story here). It’s true: the D-backs are doing a fantastic job of this, trying to squeeze some value from something that, really, only costs some roster space in the minors.

Miller listed some examples, which Jeff and I worked through a bit for this space:

Frontier League:

  • Taylor Ard: signed by the D-backs partly through the 2014 season, Ard was ripping it up as a third baseman in the Frontier League, with a .338/.404/.544 line in 50 games that made him look like a very complete player (albeit against iffy competition). He didn’t do much to distinguish himself in the Mariners organization, but when the D-backs gave him a a 22-game cameo in the Pioneer League, he more or less did the same thing (.342/.420/.579). Rookie League ball doesn’t do much to help us evaluate a 24-year-old, but it’ll be interesting to see what happens with Ard this season.
  • Stewart Ijames: also signed after a stint of exactly 50 games in 2014. Ijames put up a .297/.359/.560 line in the Frontier League in 2013, .319/.377/.633 in that 50-game stint in 2014, and a ridiculous .327/.448/.713 line in Rookie ball over 30 games. As with Ard, I would expect the D-backs to challenge him with a more advanced assignment this year, perhaps as high as Low-A.
  • Markus Solbach: it’s a lot tougher to get a read on pitchers through stats like this, and I’m sure signing a pitcher out of independent ball comes down to tools, mostly. But you can see why the team found him attractive, as he had given up just 2 earned runs in 21 innings in 2014 before getting signed by the D-backs. His spotty contributions with the Twins make it look like injuries stole most of three consecutive seasons, giving the D-backs a reason to dream if he suddenly looked healthy. His results in 87.2 innings between three D-backs affiliates last year were not astounding, as he put up a 4.03 ERA with middling K/9 rates around 6. Solbach’s calling card appears to be control: he issued just 10 walks in those 87.2 innings, good for an excellent 1.03 BB/9.
  • Zak Wasserman: I find only 2014 stats for Wasserman, which is already pretty interesting. He also threw just 1.1 innings in independent ball, which is also very interesting. But as a reliever in Rookie ball, Wasserman put up a 3.60 ERA in 25 innings, again with a middle of the road K/9 (7.20) but again with excellent control (0.72 BB/9).
  • Josh Slaats: More of a body of work here, with minors work up to High-A with the Rockies and just a 12-start cameo in the Frontier League. It looks like Slaats has struggled with competition in A ball, but he threw in only 4 games for the D-backs. A right-hander, Slaats doesn’t look like he has a ton of upside.

American Association:

  • Eric Brooks: Brooks threw briefly in indy ball (12 IP) as a refugee from the Rangers organization, where he had actually enjoyed some success in 2013 with short-season Spokane (2.79 in 58 innings). Looks like the D-backs tried hard to get a read on Brooks in 2014, as he threw between 5 and 7 innings for four different affiliates, all the way up to three games in Triple-A. Someone to watch, but not much to go on here.
  • Kyle Anderson: I would like to learn more about Anderson’s story: he actually had a ton of success repeating at the short-season level in 2013 in the Blue Jays organization, a 2.71 ERA in 83 innings with great control (1.30 BB/9) and enough strikeouts to not really worry about him (6.29 K/9). He nonetheless found himself with Winnipeg in the American Association last year, tearing it up with a 1.64 ERA in 49.1 innings. On this list, this is a guy to pay particular attention to, although he was less than excellent in his 32.1 inning, 3.62 ERA debut with the D-backs (2.50 BB/9, 6.68 K/9).
  • Rob Wort: Wort pitched parts of four seasons at High-A with the Nationals, with respectable numbers; he thoroughly dominated American Association competition to start 2014, posting a 0.97 ERA in 37 innings with an iffy 3.41 BB/9 but ridiculous 14.11 K/9. Wort, a righty reliever, also excellent in his brief 8.2 inning stint with short-season Hillsboro, and he’s someone to monitor this year.
  • Nate Samson: now in the Dodgers organization after a .274/.363/.444 line in 46 games with Double-A Mobile. So it goes.

Canadian-American Association:

  • Gabriel Perez: Perez lost 2013 to injury, and was washed out of the Angels organization. Perez has a really curious stat sheet: he repeated at the Angels’ Dominican Summer League affiliate for three years, and did excellent there with a 2.16 ERA in a tremendous 229.1 innings. Yes, he did not do nearly as well in 80 innings once sent to the Rookie-level Pioneer League (5.06 ERA), but his “no concerns here” walk rates continued exactly, and his strikeout rate almost didn’t drop at all, at 8.78 K/9. Perez is a prospect, even if he’s a long shot prospect.
  • Steve Nyisztor: It looks like Nyisztor went straight to indy ball out of college, putting up a “meh” .257/.293/.352 line in 2013 before putting up a “wait a second” .341/.366/.451 line in 40 games in 2014. At short-season Hillsboro, Nyisztor played 44 games while manning shortstop, continuing his strong batting line with a .309/.369/.472 triple slash. Nyisztor could also be treated as a prospect, I think, and while he didn’t show much of a batting eye in independent ball, his walk rate with Hillsboro is at least interesting despite the small sample. The trick here will be whether shortstop is truly his position.
  • Nick Sarianides: a 2.33 ERA in 20 games (27 innings) as a reliever in Low-A is, at the very least, an indication that Sarianides is an experiment worth continuing for the D-backs. His decent walk rate and 10.33 K/9 there is an indication that the experiment is worth keeping an eye on.

Also Dustin Martin, from the Sugar Land Skeeters. He is his own category anyway, the only player on this list over 26 years old (he was 30 last year). Martin is the guy on this list whose bid for our attention looks the most like Peralta’s — a lefty outfielder, Martin tromped through the affiliated minors for seven seasons (mostly with Triple-A, first with the Mets and then with the Twins). Martin was brought back into the fold from the Skeeters, with whom he played in an interlude between getting played by the D-backs, mostly at Mobile. The D-backs may be on to something here, as he put up an interesting .291/.388/.461 line with Mobile last year after the team appeared to embrace him as more of a platoon man.

Phew — lots to look at there. But one wonders if the D-backs will start to push these players more aggressively, betting less on their ability to develop and more on the possibility that they may be better than was thought. But many of these players have done very little with the D-backs thus far. It’s going to be interesting to return to these group of players at some point later this year, to see what shakes out.

Maybe the most difficult puzzle in the 25-man roster, at least as we saw it on the podcast, was what to do with Nick Ahmed. With Cliff Pennington a sure thing to make the team as a bench player, there seems to be little opportunity for Ahmed to get meaningful playing time as a utility player. And while we could see the team limiting Aaron Hill‘s starts a bit and maybe even getting him some time at third base if Yasmany Tomas is in the minors, there’s also no real opportunity to make Ahmed a quasi starter at short with Owings filling out his starting role with second base starts.

That’s why this unconfirmed report is interesting. If the Peter Gammons piece about Ahmed being a starter (mostly shot down) led other teams to think about Hill, that would make a ton of sense. There’s no reason for us to assume that the team is open to trading Hill right now, both because the report may not be that reliable (I put almost no stock in it), and because getting calls is not the same thing as soliciting them or taking them seriously.

Moving Hill, though, is a way to put Ahmed on the MLB roster. As noted on the pod, Lamb-Ahmed-Owings-Goldy is a very good defensive infield, something that could be particularly useful right now with so many young pitchers trying to get some traction. Pair that with a Tomas-Pollock-Trumbo outfield that is not exactly plus, and you still end up with a good defensive team, especially with great defenders Pennington and Ender Inciarte getting playing time (and Peralta is no slouch in the corners, either). That could work.

On to the links:

  • Nick Piecoro and Zach Buchanan noted the difficulties posed by Daniel Hudson‘s pitch limitations in this piece, after he got through just 3.2 innings with 73 pitches yesterday. If Ahmed is the key to the position player side of the roster puzzle, then Hudson is the key to the pitching side. In sorting out our preferred roster on The Pool Shot, Jeff and I started with Hudson for precisely that reason. More to come on this.
  • Really interesting and — dare I say — exciting stuff in this piece from Buchanan on Saturday on the D-backs’ shifting plans in 2015. It definitely looks like the team has really thought this through, and that they’re committed to the idea. That’s great, but it reminds me of the Astros situation in 2013, where they started with those plans but made exception after exception (based on player and coach preferences) and ended up not shifting much at all by the end of the season. A commitment to try this means a commitment to stick with it and not compromise, because the team will only start to see the fruits of their experiment that way, and probably only later in the year. Jeff worked through the D-backs’ new shifting priority last Thursday, also not to be missed.
  • Also really enjoyed this piece from Buchanan on Enrique Burgos — he is the intriguing candidate for the bullpen at this point, especially if Hudson sticks in the rotation. Most interesting from my perspective was the opinions of some in the organization — including Mel Stottlemyre Jr. — who think Burgos still has room to grow. That would be incredible, and to be perfectly candid, that would change where I landed when I put Burgos under a microscope on Friday with the help of some PITCHf/x data.
  • Also not to be missed: Nick Piecoro’s profile of Yoan Lopez, who has definitely impressed this spring. On Episode 20 of The Pool Shot, we took on a question from Edward Shore about whether Archie Bradley was going to be on the other end of the phone if and when one of the D-backs needs to be replaced soon after the season begins. It definitely could be Bradley, but if Lopez looks good in April in the minors, there’s a non-zero chance that he’s the guy, too.
  • If you recall Mark Trumbo‘s comments about potentially being more comfortable in right field because of not having to reach across his body to catch tailing batted balls (from this Piecoro piece), you may find my Beyond the Box Score article from last week appealing. Not overly scientific, but I pulled out a sample of other outfielders who had played both left and right and saw if there was some kind of connection between the players’ glove hand and how they fared defensively.
  • Great stuff at Snake Pit, including Jim McLennan’s piece on the fifth starter race. On The Pool Shot, Jeff and I had it Collmenter/RDLR/Hellickson/Anderson, and were thinking that Trevor Cahill had to be the guy. But the other way to look at it, as McLennan did, is that if Cahill is really that sure a thing, Anderson’s spot may be up in the air. If Hudson is in the rotation, one of those guys gets bumped. Considering Anderson is projected to be the D-backs’ best starter this year, and considering that his planned increased reliance on his sinker is likely to have positive results… there really shouldn’t be any obstacle too big for Anderson to be the guy. Even if it means finally giving up on Cahill, or using him in a different role.
  • Also at Snake Pit today, Makakilo considered the question of who would close if Addison Reed were not available. This was really interesting. I’ve been feeling pretty confident that Evan Marshall could be very successful at closer, although I’d really like to see him signed to an extension before that happens. And to be candid, I just kind of figured that Brad Ziegler was most likely to be called on again if the need actually arose. But Makakilo has absolutely changed my mind. Oliver Perez wouldn’t just be a good option — he might be the best option right now. If Reed is not available, putting Perez in that role would do three things: 1) a very good chance for saves/team wins; 2) increase Perez’s value for an almost inevitable July trade; 3) give the D-backs more time to lock in Marshall before saves start affecting his sticker price. Brilliant. Well done.

6 Responses to Roundup: D-backs “Moneyball”; Could Hill Get Moved?

  1. Anonymous says:

    Yoan velocity from 95 to barely hitting 92 consistently? If Reed can’t close, is Hudson a possibility? It does look like they want Hudson in the rotation sooner than later. Bradely will be up sooner than later. RDLR going to be able to keep his pitch counts down? If you were going by strike throwers, the rotation, would be, Collmenter, Anderson, Nuno, Delgado, and Bradley.
    Hudson would be closer all year

    • Ryan P. Morrison says:

      I do like Perez now if Reed can’t do it, if not, might as well just move on and get Marshall in there.

      The comments from the org in the Piecoro piece on Hudson were that he’d only go to the bullpen if he could be treated like a normal reliever. But, that said: no way he’s ever going to be thrown in, say, three consecutive days this year. I think that rules him out as a closer option, although that’s a fun thing and maybe we see that down the road if his elbow barks at him.
      Agree on Bradley, agree on RDLR.
      And, on strike throwers, you may be right, but this offseason was a pretty clear message that strikes are secondary to this group. Plus pitches, including plus velocity, is the new currency. Basically, you find out all you need to know about the team’s priorities (not that they’re bad) from its decision to grab Webster in trade.

  2. Anonymous says:

    It might be the best thing for Owings, to start the season in Reno, to get his bat back going again, and work with drury too, if Drury is playing 2nd so they can get used to each other.

    Wish they wouldn’t of announced the staff until after RDLR’s next start, what if he comes out and doesn’t make it out of the second thurs? Shouldn’t rdlr and cahill been competing for the final slots this week? Lot of weird stuff this Spring. give us strike throwers and guys who command the zone, like the guys above but these things work themselves out. I’ll root for these guys rdlr, cahill, Hellickson as long as their controlling the strike zone. 3 Starts and they make it to 5 or 6, with a reasonable pitch count, decent ld%, walk-rate, fip, well won’t be too much complaining. Anderson and collmenter get a free pass the first month.

    If Lamb is going down, Bradley going down, lets hope they go down and make it so the team has no choice but to bring them back up, lets hope drury does the same.

  3. Anonymous says:

    Most listed players from independent ball left Arizona organization except for Ijames, Perez, Solbach and Sarianides.
    Released or declared minor league free agent.

    • Ryan P. Morrison says:

      Thanks for this. I totally misread the resource I was using… It was so clear re: Samson that I didn’t think to check elsewhere.

      Interesting, then, that it was worth bringing a few of these guys on for such a short “tryout.” But that’s probably not that unusual.

      Again — thanks for taking the time to point this out, I really appreciate it.

  4. […] Regardless of what happens next, David Peralta is flat-out amazing. You know his story, a pitcher in the Cardinals organization felled by shoulder injuries only to rise again as a position player. After signing out of independent ball and playing his first game in the D-backs organization on July 3, 2013 — just before his 26th birthday — he erupted in the majors on June 1, 2014, to the tune of 2 hits in his first game and 12 hits in his first 28 PA. All he’s done is hit the ball hard, consistently, and run hard, consistently; despite playing less than full time in each of his first two seasons, he’s 107th in baseball over the last two years in doubles (38) and tied for third in baseball in triples (19). Among hitters with at least 800 PA between the 2014 and 2015 seasons, only 9 have managed a .300 or better batting average and a rate of extra base hits of 10% of AB or better: Peralta, Paul Goldschmidt, A.J. Pollock, Bryce Harper, Miguel Cabrera, Jose Abreu, Andrew McCutchen, Michael Brantley, and Troy Tulowitzki. Just like Zack Godley‘s success spawned a search for ground ball minor league pitchers, Peralta’s rise was so great that the D-backs started going hard after indy ball players. […]

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