It’s starting to look like the D-backs may end up having discussions about Jeremy Hellickson — something we thought in our Midseason Plan would be a good idea to initiate. Hellickson followed a rocky April with a solid May, but had his worst month in June. So far in July, he has a 2.50 ERA in three starts. Not enough to change one’s perception of Hellickson, probably, and as teams go shopping over the next seven days, a pitcher like Hellickson who has allowed at least one earned run in every start this year (doing that just twice) is probably not at the top of shopping lists. But you never know.
It may be that the variable most affecting whether a player gets traded is not how good he is, objectively, but how wide the variance is between his value to individual teams. Hellickson is on that list, potentially. A piece from Jeff Long at Baseball Prospectus today on breaking ball spin ($) points out that some teams have done a lot more with high-spin curveball pitchers than others; it’s how the Astros found and polished Collin McHugh, and it’s a big part of why Mike Bolsinger was sold for cash last fall and yet pitching like an ace for the Dodgers. We don’t have the Statcast numbers like Long, but using PITCHf/x data as we have in the past: the D-backs have thrown just 353 curveballs this year with spin over 1500 rpm. That’s a little remarkable, especially for a team that has shied away from sliders, seemingly; the D-backs have thrown 643 other curveballs tracked 1499 rpm or lower. In the way of comparison, the Astros have thrown 888 curves 1500+ rpm and 319 thrown 1499 rpm or lower. McHugh accounts for a huge chunk of that, but even if you remove him from the numbers, the Astros are 60.5% “high spin” curves, thanks in no small part to Will Harris (103 high spin, 6 low spin, 94.5%).
The D-backs are at 35.4% “high spin” curves, Hellickson recording 227 of the 353 high-spin curves from D-backs pitchers. Without Hellickson, only 18.2% of the team’s curveballs have been 1500+ rpm curveballs. They also haven’t been very good, but I digress.
The point is: other teams may see more value in Hellickson than d0 the D-backs. Maybe his curveball has been underutilized, in the eyes of the Astros, or of the Dodgers. Maybe the Pirates will come calling. Maybe he fits another team based on need, such as the Royals, who just lost Jason Vargas. He’s an intriguing trade target; maybe we normally think of “raw,” moldable pitchers in terms of “stuff,” which is how the D-backs kind of conducted themselves for the most part last offseason — with Hellickson a very notable exception. Maybe, though, command, specifically ability to command multiple pitches, also makes a pitcher moldable. Hellickson is pretty set in his ways, but there’s every reason to think throwing his soft fastballs inside to righties is kind of a terrible idea, and throwing his fastballs outside is probably not as effective as it could be with a more elegant pitch framer catching him. Just something to consider.
Hellickson probably is not a game-changing trade chip, but he’s probably more of a chip than we (I?) thought. Ultimately, whether it makes sense to move him is up to any one of the 29 other teams and what they offer. It’s still a situation where putting his name out there is wise, because attracting additional suitors seems more likely to increase the price than the leverage one gets by acting like an asset isn’t necessarily available (sometimes that works the other way). I’m not sure what it would take, but he’s useful for the D-backs. Here’s hoping that if Hellickson is traded, the front office forces Jeff to update his just-released Midseason Top 10 Prospects list, which he discussed yesterday with Mauricio Rubio.
Meanwhile, the team has played 94 games (winning 44). Paul Goldschmidt has played in 94 games. He’s done it all, and is one steal away from tying his career mark of 18 set in 2012, as Nick Piecoro reported earlier this week. He’s carried a 182 wRC+, mashing at the plate and also leading the majors in walks (75, 5 ahead of Bryce Harper). He’s third in the majors for plate appearances, with 418 (Josh Donaldson has 420 in one extra game). He’s seen 1,739 pitches, on a pace to shatter his own scary personal best with about 3,000 to end the year. He has 831 put-outs, and 68 assists in the field, thanks to his high games total and his pitching staff’s low ranking in strikeouts and high ranking in ground balls.
It’s a lot of work. It was fun seeing Goldy in the All Star Game, but maybe he could use a break. About two years ago, it seemed like days off made a big difference for Goldy, who does seem to be grinding now. No big secret. It’s definitely hard to write him out of the lineup, but it’s also hard to figure out who’d play behind him. Alongside Goldy’s 829.1 innings at first, the D-backs have given Danny Dorn 10 innings, and Mark Trumbo and Jordan Pacheco each 7 innings. Neither is on the roster now, but Yasmany Tomas (2 innings) and Jake Lamb (1 inning) are.
Maybe the solution is as simple as Tomas or Lamb, although neither player actually started at first in those games. The problem seems to be that the D-backs need only an occasional starter at the position — maybe someone who would start there something like 5-10 games, or 4-5 the rest of the way this year. Having a player with Reno be your “real backup” at a position can work, but it may not fit this particular case well. There’s no need to burn a roster spot on someone who doesn’t do much other than first base (and who doesn’t play elsewhere), because Goldy will always play more than the average position player, so long as he’s healthy. You also can’t call someone up from Triple-A for a routine day off.
Again, maybe it’s Tomas or Lamb, and maybe one of those players gets on-the-MLB-job training if Goldy gets banged up and has to sit for a few consecutive games. Otherwise, it’s a problem wanting a solution, and if 2013 is any guide, the team might actually get more production out Goldy by not having him play every day. A.J. Pollock is a data point supporting the idea that a bit of extra rest might go a long way.
This could be something to watch as the deadline approaches; the team is long on middle infielders right now, and should one no longer be on the roster after the calendar turns to August, maybe it’s a reason to think that the next backup (Pacheco? Maybe Jamie Romak, who is knocking on the door?) will be useful in multiple ways, one of them being a bat, the other being some experience at first base. You have to act like Goldy won’t get hurt, since it’d be hard for the team to do much without him, but I wonder if Peter O’Brien would end up with a few first base starts if he is called up before the season ends. You don’t want to constantly move him around as he tries to become a professional outfielder, but he looked free and easy at first in spring training.
- Scary moment on Wednesday when David Peralta was hit in the head by a Jose Fernandez fastball. As Zach Buchanan reports, the D-backs have taken a lot of flak for their retaliation habits. The team isn’t going to change on this; it’s not that it’s justified as revenge, but that, like any punishment, it may act as a deterrent. Some teams take on more risk by pitching inside than others, as Tony La Russa observed after the exchange with the Pirates last year that left the team without Goldschmidt for the remainder of the year. That’s only more important when pitching inside involves pitching up and inside, especially since high-velocity fastballs tend to be effective up there. I don’t have a problem with this, and I also have no problem with the D-backs’ attention for it. Let the rest of the game rag on the org for it. This is some kind of version of “chicken” in game theory terms, a game in which your reasonableness is not just a matter of style, but of substance. Let the rest of the game think the D-backs are crazy in their retaliation habits. It helps make it work as a deterrent.
- Brad Ziegler will see his name in print quite a few times over the next week, especially if he’s not traded — at MLBTradeRumors yesterday, Steve Adams discussed a report on Ziegler activity from the great Jerry Crasnick. We said in our Midseason Plan why it might not make sense to move Ziegler; the 2016 version of the D-backs might really need him, valuing him more highly than nearly any other club. As kind of a general rule, the D-backs seem not to have valued their pitchers as highly as they should; some credit should probably be given for stats accumulated with the team. Ziegler is one of few pitchers for whom the pendulum swings the other way, as we explained in the Plan.
- The Pirates treasure ground balls and are talking on a reliever, but Zach Buchanan reported yesterday that Ziegler is not the reliever they’ve been in on. They aren’t ignoring the D-backs, though, and apparently kicked around the idea of a move for Cliff Pennington before trading for Aramis Ramirez. At least that’s an indication that Penny warrants interest, and he may still be a fit for the Pirates, who are still spread a bit thin in the infield. And, hey, if they just want a D-backs player, Oliver Perez can’t possibly be as badly received there as he was when the D-backs visited New York two weeks ago.
- Oscar Hernandez started last Saturday in his first major league game after Jarrod Saltalamacchia was put on the DL, as Sarah McLellan and Buchanan reported. With Welington Castillo nursing a muscle . Hernandez has now appeared in four games, and while he does look like he’s punching above his weight class, 2 hits in 10 at bats thus far is nothing to be ashamed of, especially when he’s already collected a walk, too. I couldn’t help but look at the catcher framing numbers, which come from a microscopic sample… ever-so-slightly negative, but nothing to write home about. I think catching Robbie Ray was an issue, as the ridiculous movement on his fastballs could be something difficult to prepare for. We’ll see, although ultimately this is like having major-league metrics available to evaluate a 2017-ETA prospect.
- Did you enjoy watching Carter Capps carve D-backs hitters to pieces this week? Yikes. Capps has astonishing results and could be the canary in the coal mine for future problems for MLB, as Matt Kory discussed a little over a week ago at Vice Sports. So… is this something the D-backs can get ahead with? Maybe run some experiments over the winter? Maybe Evan Marshall is too valuable to risk with a delivery change, but the D-backs do have boatloads of hard throwers in the minors. Something to ponder this weekend: why not have a guy like Matt Stites try to incorporate a mound leap like the one Capps uses? Stites has velocity as a calling card, but his velocity is down this year, and even at 95 mph he wasn’t exactly blowing guys away. Stites is kind of on the usefulness bubble right now, and yet is close enough to being effective that a Capps Leap could vault him right into “very good” range.
- If you were curious about how Wade Miley was doing this year — he’s struggled, sure, but Miley has actually been pretty solid, as I wrote in a piece for BP Boston earlier this week.
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