Chase Anderson has a 2.82 ERA, thanks in no small part to seven innings of one-hit ball on Friday. He’s had only two blowups this season, a 5 ER, 5.1 inning performance against Colorado at the end of April and the 6 ER stinker he put up in Milwaukee. With Tuffy Gosewisch out for the season, it was Jarrod Saltalamacchia behind the plate for that Milwaukee game… and things did not go well. In the two starts since then, it’s been Welington Castillo catching Anderson. I think we can go ahead and expect that to continue.
The other three pitchers who had been in the rotation all year have near-identical ERAs as of this morning: 5.24, 5.29 and 5.27. That’s borderline bizarre. What’s weirder is how they’ve gotten there. Despite an Opening Day to forget, Josh Collmenter‘s ERA stood at 2.76 at the end of April. Jeremy Hellickson flirted with respectability for four straight starts before getting hit around in Los Angeles last week. Rubby De La Rosa… well, he’s been the definition of inconsistent, with four brilliant starts, five mediocre ones, and four dumpster fires, including the 9 run affair earlier last week.
Of the three of those guys, the one that seems most appropriate to replace is Collmenter, since his struggles have come recently. It makes sense. And it also happens to make sense because Collmenter has been an excellent long reliever in the past. Part of his effectiveness may be the different look he shows hitters — and if that’s true, he reaps more of that benefit by not being the first pitcher a hitter sees on a particular day. There might be an after-Collmenter effect, as well, but that’s not even a tradeoff — if the game is important, he’s probably not going to be the last pitcher throwing, and at any rate he’d end up pitching in more games. Very reasonable. As Zach Buchanan reported on Saturday, Collmenter understands the move.
Lately, it seemed like the question was whether Robbie Ray would keep a rotation spot once Archie Bradley or Patrick Corbin were ready to claim a spot for themselves. Seems like we’re past that, now — even with four walks his last time out, he’s had enough success that he may have earned at least as much rope as RDLR probably has. Now the question is whether Allen Webster will keep a spot.
Webster’s 2 hit, 3 walk, 2 ER start on Saturday made for a really strange 5+ innings. He walked both Joe Panik and Buster Posey in the first and stayed out of trouble (although there may have been some luck there in terms of Brandon Belt‘s smash falling in A.J. Pollock‘s glove), and then completely locked the Giants out for the next four innings, with no baserunners at all (and a ton of ground balls). Then a walk to Nori Aoki in the 6th made Webster switch his game plan — he couldn’t walk Panik and Posey at that point, and both hit doubles to drive him out of the game.
Those ground balls may not have been an accident. In the past, Webster’s ratio of four-seam fastballs to sinkers has been in the neighborhood of 2:1. But on Saturday, he threw 41 sinkers to just 16 four-seamers… maybe part of Webster’s success was just catching the Giants off guard, as they kept thinking four-seam but ended up swinging on top of it. Something to monitor, because if part of the reason it worked was that it was unexpected, that won’t necessarily help Webster as much going forward. Considering his recent shoulder issues, it’s also interesting that he threw just 3 sliders, even though in the past that’s been a pitch that graded plus.
It’s not that strange for teams to have some early 20s pitchers and some mid 30s pitchers. Right now, there’s Brad Ziegler (35), Oliver Perez (33), and David Hernandez (30). Then everyone else is in their 20s. It is kind of bizarre that Josh Collmenter was the oldest member of the rotation, but he was — at 29 years old. That baton was just passed to Jeremy Hellickson, who recently turned 28.
The age of the pitching staff is one of the many arrows that has “2017” painted all over it. Sure, Archie Bradley was given his shot, finally, and he’s still just 22. But everyone else is an “old prospect,” someone who broke in late, or who broke in a few years ago. There’s Chase Anderson (27), RDLR (26), Allen Webster (25), and the kid of the crew, Robbie Ray (23). I was really surprised by the news that Webster was being called up to start on Saturday, and yet even before that, RDLR and Webster seemed like the family siblings that defined the team’s identity, Ray a close cousin. This whole mid-20s crew isn’t really about projection, but about evidence. Stay and learn and stick, and the D-backs will build around you through 2017 at least. Everything that doesn’t fit the experiment approach to this season seems to be getting peeled away, layer by layer. Corbin will be back, and he’ll be part of it. This is the whole team, from David Peralta to A.J. Pollock to Paul Goldschmidt — 27 years old or the development equivalent, past the point of physical projection, guys who are locked into certain production levels and who are likely to be able to stay there for at least two seasons after this one. There have been a ton of changes this season, and there will be more by October. But we’re locking guys into place right now, one by one, for the planned championship run in the not-too-distant future. No spot on the team is for guys who don’t have a real shot of being there two years later.
So don’t be surprised if Jeremy Hellickson is out of the rotation, by August 1 at the latest. Josh Collmenter is no longer the Probably Not Long Term Old Man of the rotation, and Hellickson may be on the wrong side of his 28th birthday. 25-year-old Patrick Corbin turned in a decent rehab start with Double-A Mobile yesterday…
- If Rubby De La Rosa looked a little different in scattering 8 hits and 2 walks over 8 scoreless innings yesterday, it might be because he was. As Steve Gilbert reported, manager Chip Hale made it a “no shaking day” for RDLR. Cool. As Nick Piecoro reported, RDLR shook off Welington Castillo just once. The results mean that we’ll probably see more of this; even if it was just a coincidence, why would you change it? Also of interest from the Piecoro piece: RDLR was two-seam heavy yesterday. Yes, please — now that we may have a Lamb-Ahmed-Owings-Goldy infield for most games, let’s have the maximum number of ground balls. Good.
- Have you voted for A.J. Pollock yet? The guy is a beast, and yet few in the sport outside of Arizona seem to have noticed. Well, Paul Swydan remembered Pollock at FanGraphs on Friday, and it’s well worth a read. Context is important. I’d say more, but we took a similar approach in a piece that you can only read by going to one of the D-backs games during the homestand that starts on June 29.
- Robbie Ray has focused on the mental side of pitching, reported Piecoro on Wednesday. Kind of interesting, in the context of having RDLR pitch to the sign and the glove yesterday. Maybe there will be more here? We’ll definitely watch to see whether the spurt of walks in the last start will continue tonight, but Ray is definitely a worthy experiment for the limited rotation time available.
- Zach Buchanan’s latest Q&A was with Andrew Chafin. I like these, although not asking Chafin why he dropped the incredible mustache he had earlier this year seems like a wasted opportunity.
- The D-backs were college heavy last week, as discussed on azcentral.com. Jeff analyzed the same trend in a post-draft writeup last Thursday. Drafting 4 high schoolers out of 40 picks — assuming there’s normally a 50/50 chance of high school or college, the chances of getting just one high schooler in 10 picks is about 1 in 1,000. The D-backs did that 4 times, and the chances of that are roughly 1 in 800,000,000. This is on purpose — another arrow pointing at 2017. To me, this is what the Brewers were all about 5-7 years ago in their drafts — high floors mean assets. Maybe you still have a breakout rate, even if the breakout rate isn’t as high. It was just a year ago that we thought this team was getting strangled by too much mediocre talent, but this current roster has some greatness in more places, and some easily upgradeable slots, too — maybe this isn’t as bad an idea as it would have been last year. And maybe it really is the Brewers thing. Come midseason 2017, if the D-backs look like they’re one starting pitcher away from being a great team, they can make that trade — using some of these high floor chips, like the Brewers did in trading for C.C. Sabathia. You can’t trade flameouts, anyway.
- Also at azcentral.com, Scott Bordow walked us through a day in the life of Chip Hale, specifically the portion in which all of the lineup considerations are made. I like that he’s being very deliberate about the lineup — that’s all that we can really ask for. And we’ve actually gotten more than that. Some of the decisions — how much rope to give guys like Collmenter and Hellickson, which experiments to use playing time on — are probably not completely in his hands. But some of the responsibilities he’s taken on himself have been lineup based. I don’t have numbers for you, but I thought a million times this season (and still think) that Hale did a completely tremendous job of juggling the outfield playing time this season. Considering that the outfield has accounted for most of the non-Goldy production this year — from any part of the roster — maybe the proof is in the pudding.
- Athletics-style handling of platoons is one of two big things we were hoping for when Chip Hale was hired; the other was shifts. Mark Simon of ESPN Stats & Info tweeted a list of teams’ shift totals, and while there’s a pretty big gap between the Pirates at #6 and the Royals at #7, the D-backs are no longer trailing most of the field. 11th is not bad. Not bad at all. Looks like the Braves took more than just Trevor Cahill…
- It’s a little dated now that Collmenter has been taken out of the rotation and Webster is at least temporarily in there, but much of Jim McLennan’s analysis at Snake Pit on who will yield a rotation spot to Corbin is still completely relevant. Hard questions, here. Chase Anderson seems bulletproof, and Webster seems like the easiest pitcher to punt. It really could be either of RDLR or Ray, especially if the RDLR “no shaking” thing looks like a mirage the next time out. But I have a sneaking suspicion that Hellickson could actually be the guy, asset-level considerations be damned. What they actually do with him is a different question, and probably a harder one. It’s not too early to start looking to the trade market, but I’m not sure who Hellickson helps this season among teams that might be looking to buy. It’d have to be a pitching apocalypse akin to the D-backs’ version in April 2014… and yet that team would have to be in contention, I think.
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