We may not always have agreed with their priorities or their choices, but the D-backs front office did one thing this winter that was smart as all hell: acquire a heap of MLB-ready lottery tickets. A good plan is a good plan regardless of the outcome, because these players are human beings, full of limitless adjustments and personality quirks and luck, good and bad. So far this year, the results have been mixed; Allen Webster and Yoan Lopez are nowhere to be found, but Robbie Ray is pretty much carrying the whole plan on his back right now, and that has looked completely legitimate. I’m sold, and you should be, too. It’s Rubby De La Rosa on whom this whole thing may turn.
Regardless of whether it’s one or two of the Gang of Four Lottery Tickets counted on next year, though, things will be happening soon that sets the rest of the stage. Patrick Corbin was knocked around a bit in New York in his second start out last weekend, and that may keep happening. He’s settled an old bet already by returning to his old slider percentage thus far, up in the 25% range instead of the 20% range that could be viewed as safer. But that’s just a matter of a few extra sliders, and since the D-backs have every incentive to get him as many innings as they safely can for the rest of the season (the totals currently possible already threaten a full season in 2016), we’ll see a lot more from him. Whether he looks at least poised to return to his early 2013 form to begin 2016 could be the key consideration in whether or not the D-backs front office to switch strategies this offseason and pull in another rotation candidate — this one not so much a lottery ticket, but more of a sure thing. And sure things are few and far between in free agency.
Beyond that, it’s up to four other starters to determine the shape of the 2016 rotation. Chase Anderson has much more rope, but if he’s the recent homered version of himself the rest of the way, he won’t be headlining next year, and he may not even be a guy who is written into the offseason plan in pen. I think he’ll be fine, but now that he’s yielded five home runs off of his sinker, we may see a repertoire adjustment at some point soon. Jeremy Hellickson could pitch his way into the plan if he continues the way he’s pitched in the last month or so, and your guess is at least as good as mine about how that’s going to go — just as he did in the offseason, he still strikes me as a better fit for a different team, one that has a catcher that can help get him calls in his Special Spot down and to his arm side, and one that plays in a home park where mistakes are not quite as costly.
The other two starters? That may be the dominant storyline come August this year. Archie Bradley has to work his way back from injury, and if the unusual deposits in his shoulder require some kind of surgical intervention, he may be viewed through the 2016 lens as little more than a helpful wild card, the kind of pitcher that richer teams sign to provide possible reinforcements during the season, like the Dodgers did this offseason in signing Brandon Beachy. We also expect Aaron Blair to have an extended audition in the majors this year, maybe as early as three weeks from now. Considering that RDLR, Hellickson and Anderson already form a solid base coat for the back end of a rotation, Blair’s threshold for impressing the front office enough may be higher than we would normally think. If the D-backs acted a little impatiently this offseason, they may act even more decisively for next year, in terms of putting the best possible team on the field. 2015 was the type of year in which Blair may have gotten a longer stretch of investment time from this group; 2016 may not fall into the same category.
As awkward as it is to have the marker for “second half” fall on the All Star Game (some teams have played more than 55% of their games already), it’s a time to take stock, right? So a quick report card.
Rotation (B-): Ray makes an enormous difference for this group, which ranks 26th in ERA and 28th in FIP. Those are rankings that would warrant a D grade, right? But we’ve seen flashes. Chase Anderson hasn’t done so hot recently, but he was outright dominant at times earlier this year. Hellickson has underwhelmed, and yet been better than we probably should have expected. RDLR has given us more reason to hope than we should have counted on, too. It’s a real mixed bag. But for Ray, this is a solid C, I think. But for Josh Collmenter, this is a solid B.
Bullpen (C-): Sure, there’s Brad Ziegler, every bit as dominant as he’s ever been. Daniel Hudson was an inspiration early in the season, and has kind of hit his stride — and could stay there if the team stops trying to treat him like a permanent reliever instead of the starter on hiatus that he is right now. I think we should be reasonably pleased with Randall Delgado‘s performance, too, Andrew Chafin has really become important to the team, and Enrique Burgos has made it seem like his Big Leap last year was not a one time thing. So why C-? Because the flameout of Evan Marshall causes a cascade of other damage in a hugely important way. The flameout of Addison Reed is not very far behind. Also, my life motto: never forget A.J. Schugel.
Outfield (A-): If you decided to take Paul Goldschmidt for granted, you’re left saying that the outfield is the absolute strength of the entire roster. Yasmany Tomas looks really pretty good out there, and David Peralta looks like he’s becoming more than we thought he was. Ender Inciarte may not be the player he was during his hot start this season, but he is at least who we thought he was, and that’s pretty damned important. Oh, and some guy named A.J. Pollock who is clawing his way into the discussion of most important position players in all of baseball. Let’s hold onto this situation, shall we?
Infield (B+): If you decided not to take Goldy for granted, you are left completely in awe, like living in a lit room and suddenly staring at a light bulb. The man is setting a new standard for awesomeness at the plate despite having no real partner in crime. He’s so good that he makes it a good idea all on his own to break the bones of a roster, if necessary, to reset them in such a way as to re-align a contention window to correspond to his peak. Arizona may never have another player this dominant for an extremely long time. Jake Lamb is back, but maybe really came back just a few weeks ago. Chris Owings is the reason this isn’t an A. Nick Ahmed is a BAMF, and if he got his own grade, it would be an A. Well done, all around.
Catcher (F): Not all rainbows and sunshine, eh? Look, I love that Welington Castillo is going well right now on both sides of the ball, and theoretically things could be worse because the situation is better with him in it. Playing Salty while trying to evaluate a pitching staff is complete garbage, however, and he’s looked like he’s simultaneously laying around in garbage and trying to reinvent new kinds of garbage as a catcher. Nope. The “no harm no foul” Gerald Laird signing is just foul and harm now, as he draws a salary (albeit a small one) for being on a roster he never should have been on in the first place. Gosewisch was not bad before tearing his ACL, but his defensive numbers don’t quite add up to his reputation (as in, he has a reputation, but not really any especially good numbers). Jordan Pacheco continues to play baseball.
Manager (A-): Could we have hoped for better than this? No. Unequivocally, no. We flagged two potential aspects of what Chip Hale might bring in terms of in-game stuff, and he has not disappointed on either count. The team is shifting a whole lot more. In addition, Hale managed the Inciarte/Pollock/Peralta/Trumbo time share unbelievably well, and participated in the decision to move Tomas to the outfield. Along with the front office, he stuck with Nick Ahmed. Okay, so some of the bullpen moves have seemed a little weird, I think, and we should also continue to watch for whether (and how) he has guys like Oliver Perez pitching three games in a row, and how he manages reliever warm-ups. Hale has been fantastic, in my view.
Front Office (C+): I have no idea how to assign a grade here. These guys just sold Touki Toussaint, a horrible idea horribly executed. They also committed to Nick Ahmed, and stuck with Ahmed when things were looking pretty bleak. Both things are the kind of things that would ordinarily swing a grade all the way down or up, I think. Settling higher than a C because the Trumbo trade was also a damned fine tweak to the roster. Cross your fingers with respect to the trade deadline.
- The D-backs will be cautious with respect to the trade season this month, as Zach Buchanan reported. Go ahead and keep those fingers crossed anyway.
- Hale will be tested in managing the outfield mix again soon with Ender Inciarte set to return, as Nick Piecoro reported. It’ll be a different mix — one can’t steal starts away from Tomas the same way they were stolen from Trumbo (who had a big platoon split), and David Peralta has made it look like he can be more than the platoon player he was for the beginning of the season. But if anyone can do it, it appears that Hale can. Interesting notes here, too, about the roster move that would correspond with Inciarte’s return.
- At Snake Pit, Jim McLennan surveyed what we learned in the first half of the season. There was a ton.
- According to Fox Sports Arizona, ratings for D-backs games are way, way up — almost “hard to believe” territory. Lots of exciting things have been going on — interesting, at least. The team is doing better, and is technically at least flirting with contention. All of that helps. Tony La Russa, offseason chances, the promotion of Archie Bradley, it all helps. But pump the brakes here, folks — remember that 2014 was the exact recipe for the worst ratings possible, including an epic early season flameout and basically nothing happening from that point on. Assume the pickup in ratings is a big deal (if it’s leading prime time, it’s a pretty damned big deal), but also assume that there was a ton of room for improvement.
- At FanGraphs, Dave Cameron is up to #11-#20 in his annual trade value list. Goldy will be near the top of the list again this year. No A.J. Pollock yet — there’s a chance he’s in the top ten, and a chance he’s not in the top fifty. It will be fun to find out.
- At Baseball Prospectus, Christopher Crawford passed along some notes about Yoan Lopez. It’s short, so I can’t really tease it without giving it away — but at least one scout is pretty impressed, and, wonder of wonders, it looks like he has a chance to make an impact in 2017.
- From last week at FanGraphs, Eno Sarris checked in with Inciarte and checked into whether Inciarte’s stated approach for facing same-handed pitchers is a thing that works. Fascinating stuff. Just go read it.
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FanGraphs Stats Glossary
Nick Piecoro Author Page
Cot's Baseball Contracts
BP Base Running Stats
Previously on The Pool Shot, the guys explained some of their favorite advanced stats. Hitting, including wRC+, HHAV and batted ball; pitching (38:00), including FIP, xFIP and SIERA; and baserunning and defense, including UBR, UZR and DRS (58:00).