It was a dreary couple of days to follow the D-backs early next week, waiting out two rain-postponed games with extra time to ponder an awful road series against the Dodgers. All we got for our trouble was an offensive breakout of mind-boggling proportions, a six-game stretch in which the D-backs maintained a .911 OPS. That’ll play.
As great as that was to see, though, the offense came mostly from the usual suspects, with the exception of Aaron Hill, who is positively on fire. As in, 1.611 OPS in the last six games on fire. Longer term, however, it was the performance of a few pitchers that was the most encouraging thing to watch. Robbie Ray came up for a single start against the Rockies, and with the benefit of fuller-than-normal rest — he was scheduled for Tuesday before the rainouts pushed him to Game 2 on Wednesday — he was dominant (Piecoro). Rubby De La Rosa twirled what might have been his best start in the majors, lending us some hope that he can be a sometimes-dominant #3 type going forward (Buchanan). And then there was the shortest start of them all — the first for Daniel Hudson since June 2012 — which was gripping in its own right despite its brevity (Piecoro).
Ray and Hudson were both, in effect, covering for the rotation spot vacated by Archie Bradley as he heals up after the liner that sidelined him almost two weeks ago. But we saw something exciting from Ray in that outing, something that might return us to this conversation about when it could be time to pull the plug on The Jeremy Hellickson Experiment and whether it’s time to start to fret about what happens when Patrick Corbin returns. So many moving parts.
In a week of much D-backs news, we had another transaction that would have headlined in most weeks: the D-backs signed Jarrod Saltalamacchia to a minor league deal after he was released by the Marlins, as Nick Piecoro reported. Talk about fretting. In this space last week, I wrote about the prospect of signing Salty as an example where I didn’t want to write and sound like I was looking for things to be negative about, but I also wanted to get ahead of those things… yikes. Jeff and I talked about this signing on the forthcoming episode of The Pool Shot (delayed by our intern’s aimless meanderings, apparently), so I won’t belabor the point. Still, if you want to read more, here is an explanation of the Baseball Prospectus framing statistics, which as we noted, are simply excellent. And here are the results from 2014. Salty was nearly twice as bad as the next-worst framer out of 105 catchers — really, really bad. The only guy on the list that could give him a run for his money on a rate basis is Gerald Laird. Framing matters, and these stats are fairly consistent year to year. This is a skill. Ignoring this is not good. Really, just not good.
We also talked on the podcast about Tuffy Gosewisch and Jordan Pacheco, and the thing is: even Gosewisch is not a prolific defender, more middle of the road from what we’ve seen. We care about overall production, and not necessarily the kind of production. We might have carved out an exception, however, for periods like this one when the team is trying to compete, but mostly is trying to get itself in a position to be pretty good in one of the next two seasons. Maybe helping the pitchers is a good idea. Nick Ahmed has been really, really bad at the plate, but at least he’s brought an excellent glove. If the team is not going to get much out of the catcher position defensively, it could at least have installed someone who “produces” real value from framing, guys like Rene Rivera, Hank Conger, Carlos Corporan, Francisco Cervelli — not terribly expensive. You can’t make something like that happen just because you want it to happen, but a pastiche of mediocre framers who also really struggle with the bat means this was a low priority.
And so it’s even less fun that Oscar Hernandez may have encountered a setback in his return from a broken hamate bone, as Jack Magruder tweeted while scouting out what was apparently a very good appearance from Patrick Corbin in an extended spring game. Fingers crossed. The D-backs do have an interest in keeping Hernandez in a defensible holding pattern while other options pan out, but you can’t will a man healthy even if you wanted to. Salty has a June 1 opt-out date, as reported by Piecoro. I’m not sure I can hold my breath for that long, but I’m willing to give it a go.
- At azcentral.com, Sarah McLellan checked in on Jake Lamb‘s recovery from a stress reaction in his foot. It’s not that I want to see Yasmany Tomas fail, because I definitely don’t — but Lamb was so damned good in his brief time in the majors this year (check out Jeff’s piece last week showing who was responsible for the D-backs’ offensive production). Where would he play? Lamb’s return might coincide with Ahmed getting optioned to the minors, if Ahmed hasn’t turned the bat around by then, but all that does is clear Aaron Hill out of a third base time share. Originally, Tomas was going to play some outfield as well as third base, but holy hell is the 4-man mix that’s already out there going well. One of those things that solves itself more often than not, but at the risk of stating the obvious, I’d really like to see Lamb get a fair shake while the long-term plan develops.
- Now that I’ve gotten the Things You Expect Ryan to Say link out of the way, here’s something different: I’d kind of like to see Addison Reed pitch more frequently. As McLellan wrote on Friday, Reed has seen extremely few save opportunities so far this year. As in: two. As McLellan observes, Reed still has been pitching frequently (refer to her piece for those notes). But is that frequently enough? This is another situation that will solve itself — there will be save opportunities on a more regular basis soon, almost definitely. But in a season in which the team seemed to intend to lean less on old guys Brad Ziegler and Oliver Perez, they’ve sure pitched an awful lot — and that doesn’t include all of the bullpen warmups that didn’t turn into appearances, something that Reed has also been spared. We’ve definitely said that we don’t think Reed as a closer is something you break the bank to make sure you have, but we’ve never said he was a bad pitcher. He’s a good reliever. It would be okay to lean on him more, even if (gasp) that occasionally meant that a different pitcher had to secure a save later in the game.
- We’re gearing up for the D-backs’ prize for tanking last September: the first overall pick in the 2015 draft. More from Jeff is forthcoming. For now, a couple of pieces from Kiley McDaniel could tide you over — one about the D-backs’ plans, the other a mock draft. This was the first I’d seen my cousin, Garrett Whitley, mentioned as even just an option for Arizona at 1-1, and that would be pretty incredible.
- Fantastic stuff from Jonah Keri at Grantland, who took a close look at D-backs pitching in a longer piece about a few teams. Nice to see Chase Anderson get his due, and maybe we can do more about that. RDLR’s Saturday start also earned him high billing in Keri’s piece, and overall, he’s right: almost too many good options. Having a high number of options isn’t always the answer, as we’re seeing right now at catcher. But if you’re going to collect a bunch of (more fungible) pitcher lottery tickets, “stuff” is a good way to go. Vidal Nuno just got called up to replace Evan Marshall (Jim McLennan at Snake Pit), a short term move that might just help the D-backs bridge the gap until Archie Bradley’s return, especially since Robbie Ray can’t be called back up sooner than the beginning of next week unless there’s an injury. If you collect three Robbie Rays, maybe 1 works out, maybe 2, maybe none. But so long as “above-average pitching” is what you’re after, you’re not going to end up with fewer options than you would with three Vidal Nunos, maybe.
- On pulling that Hellickson Experiment plug: Jim McLennan had a great piece over the weekend on the Hellickson trade and where the team is after his performance thus far. Great points about what the move was likely to accomplish in the first place, and it definitely was the monkey wrench of the offseason. We also worked our way through this on the forthcoming episode of The Pool Shot, which you can listen to if the intern finally does his non-paying job.
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