The more things change, the more they stay the same. With the unexpected news that Randall Delgado would get a short-term tryout in the rotation, possibly for the balance of the season, it made me think about our best-laid plans for the rotation from just before the season began. Going back to review it, I expected quite a few differences. What’s your first reaction?

D-backs Rotation Best Case 2015

This plan did not include one or two random injuries, and this late in August, it’s remarkable that there really haven’t been any. Sure, Chase Anderson has dealt with a kind of fatigue, and Jeremy Hellickson dealt with a blister around the All-Star break before hitting the DL with a hamstring injury just yesterday. Yoan Lopez is dealing with some kind of elbow strain, but had excluded himself from the rotation this year already. Only Archie Bradley has been a casualty of this season’s pitching war. Seems to me like the team has been fairly lucky along these lines.

Josh Collmenter was bounced, Chase Anderson has been on the bubble, and Zack Godley got plugged in for three starts despite not even being on the above spreadsheet (in my defense, he was a reliever at that point). Rubby De La Rosa hasn’t pitched his way out of the rotation, although one wonders if he might have, if his overall numbers were the result of a monotonous mediocrity instead of very bad mixed with very good. Nothing really happened this year.

Except for Robbie Ray. As rye put it in the comments on Wednesday, “[i]f the only thing this season yields is a 3-win pitcher in Robbie Ray,” we could “consider it a rousing success.” I couldn’t agree more. The finely-tuned plan orchestrated by the front office this last offseason was a kind of planned haphazardness, an inspired idea for a transitional, retooling season. It would have been smart even if the team had rolled snake eyes this year, but its prize is Ray. Would it have been better to go 2 for 3 with Ray, RDLR and Allen Webster? Absolutely. Bradley was made part of the experiment by the Trevor Cahill trade, and that hasn’t paid out either. Lower-probability possibilities like Lopez and Collmenter haven’t worked, but I’m tempted to say that Godley might balance those guys out all on his lonesome. If overall the experiments didn’t leave the team in a better position for 2016, the next season that truly matters, we’d purse our lips and move on. But Ray is vindication all on his own — and he wasn’t even lined up at the beginning of the year. That’s the type of thing that happens when you put yourself in a position to get lucky. Last season’s outfield is this season’s rotation.

What happens next was not really the subject of the piece on Wednesday, but Jeff and I hashed it out on the episode of The Pool Shot recorded last night.

The experiment-accumulating approach in the last offseason was brilliant because it was a brilliant fit for that moment for the team. It looks like it will not be as good a fit this offseason; that’s partly due to how great a fit it just was, but it’s also partly due to the need to start locking things in to take that next step forward, minimizing the number of things that need to go right.

The team will need to tap into a similar style to the offseason: ruthlessness. The team is going to have to leave some value on the table, make some uncomfortable deals. I’m not saying Jeremy Hellickson is Trevor Cahill, but the ruthlessness that led to that trade is exactly what I’m referring to. Hear Jeff out on Hellickson, and whether a step back is needed to take a step forward. He’s not signed for next year; he’s just under arbitration control. Walking away would be so, so hard. But if that’s where the team lands, you won’t catch me shoveling dirt. We felt weird about the trade originally, but it was part of Retool 2015 in its own, strange, possibly low-probability way. Now it’s time for a brand new decision — whether it could have worked is no longer relevant. And unlike with Cahill, the team would not need to eat a whole bunch of money.

Maybe it’s not a big deal, but failing to promote Aaron Blair to this point has gone from very surprising to extremely confusing. We’re missing information. I’m not certain that that information is Delgado related.

But it might be. Rehabbing his way back from the DL, Delgado was able to stretch out somewhat in non-game settings. If he’s needed as a fill in in September — something that seems likely, given the innings totals of Ray, RDLR and Anderson — maybe you don’t bump him back to the bullpen just to stretch him out again in 10 or 15 or 20 days. I dunno. Seems thin. But I don’t feel like Delgado can’t succeed as a starter. We’ll keep a close eye. Given the backdrop, though, if he has little chance of being average or better, he’s probably worth more a different team.

One other note, on something raised by Ben in the comments on Weds: the wins math does work out differently if you use the Baseball-Reference version of WAR (bWAR) instead of the FanGraphs version (here, we tend to use WAR as interchangeable with fWAR). In that exercise Wednesday, I used a 2.5 WAR mark for the bullpen (to be revisited soon), and for the position players, I softened the 26 WAR mark the team is on pace for to a somewhat more conservative 23 WAR. As Ben pointed out, however, bWAR is higher on D-backs position players this season, putting them on a pace for an outstanding 32 bWAR. Even if you walk that down to 28, that opens the door not only to every kind of rotation upgrade putting it on track, but even being on track with no upgrade at all.

That’s not far off from saying that the team currently playing for the D-backs is a playoff team. Maybe it is; there’s no reason to believe bWAR over fWAR, and with 42 games left to play, the D-backs have outscored their opponents by 29 runs. Maybe in a vacuum, they’re an 86 win team right now. That’s not unbelievable; we’ve moved on from Mark Trumbo, we’ve trusted players who can play, we’ve leaned into valuing defense akin to its actual value.

My sense, though, is that the wait-which-one-problem that comes with trying or needing to pick the best 2-3 candidates among a group of maybe six fairly equal rotation candidates makes upgrading the back of the rotation difficult, no matter what. An added pitcher needs to be two things: not just a step better than the pitcher he’d replace, but also the appearance of being a step better than the pitcher he’d replace. Jeff raised Jeff Samardzija on the podcast, and he’s a good way to look at this. If Samardzija ended up on the roster through a kind of unexplained magic — if he were here, but not here because of a significant free agent contract — exactly how certain are you that this front office would prefer him over Rubby De La Rosa? Same question for Mike Leake, and J.A. Happ, and the ranks of second- and third-tier free agents. If it’s less than 100%, then you at least understand my point, even if you don’t rely on it the same way.

bWAR doesn’t necessarily lead us to a different set of conclusions. The strength of next year’s rotation seems likely to be Patrick Corbin, unless Ray takes another big step forward. And yet, the 4.5 win Corbin season on which I relied to call him a 4 win pitcher next year came from fWAR; Corbin’s 2013 season was valued by bWAR at 2.8 wins. The fifteen Ray starts that got him to 1.5 fWAR this season has earned him just 1.1 bWAR. Close to a rounding error unless we were doubling, and we’re not relying on these numbers with any precision — but they do trend downward — for the rotation (bWAR loves Brad Ziegler and Andrew Chafin, as well it should). I think so long as we stay within one system and stay consistent, we’re safe. And I’m only discounting the position player WAR totals at all because so much of it is fickle defensive value; they’ve been so damned good almost everywhere that they’d need some luck to match the same pace.

There’s also this: the better next year’s pitching is, the lesser value the team will reap from defense. The D-backs pitching staff has not been very good this year, but note its low 19.0% K rate. They’ve had especially little success, and what success they have had has come from balls in play more than the ordinary team. If teams only hit ground balls to Nick Ahmed, his advanced defensive statistics would be through the roof, because he’s above average in the first place. Just like a player’s defensive value adds up over a season, if they’re asked to do more on a game-by-game basis, it will also accumulate faster. If the D-backs end up raising their strikeout rate next year, that will be a great thing, because unlike any kind of ball in play, a strikeout is always an out (well… ok. But you get the idea). It would mean not taking advantage of the great defense as extensively, though, which has the side effect of that great defense not affecting games to same extent. We can’t keep these current defensive numbers and upgrade the pitching staff on paper without an adjustment.

  • The world has taken notice of David Peralta, and at Baseball Prospectus, Chris Mosch breaks down Peralta’s improvements this year. He’s definitely a different player. One of the biggest things I’ve gotten wrong at this site was getting on record saying his platoon split was so bad that the team could afford to limit him to RHP even in an otherwise information-gathering year. I think this piece doesn’t derive as much from exit velocity as it could; we did that here last week just about his recent outburst, but generally speaking, the frequency with which he’s hit the ball exceptionally hard is very rare, and really changes how I look at him going forward. I think it’s at least as likely he can be a well above average hitter as it is unlikely. Like, 140 wRC+ range. That’s fairly rare, and — maybe more importantly — difficult to improve upon.
  • Nick Piecoro talked to Chip Hale about sitting Jake Lamb so frequently against lefties. You can guess what I think about that, but I really am annoyed. You have this Peralta example, it’s an information-gathering year, and Lamb was weird by having almost no platoon split at all in the minors. What the actual f%#&? As if his defense wouldn’t justify starting anyway. I was devastated to be deprived of Lamb-on-Lamb lefty-on-lefty violence last night, and tonight Lamb is sitting again against old (brief) friend David Holmberg. Lamb punishes straight stuff, and knows what to swing at. Holmberg might hit the target low and away a few times consecutively, but he probably wouldn’t. He doesn’t have the stuff to only do that. This is like 90% emotion, but I can’t think of a lefty I’d more want Lamb starting against than Holmberg.
  • Before there was Peralta, there was A.J. Pollock, breaking out in his injury-shortened 2014 and returning like the pre-injury version of himself (rather than the late-2014-season version) in what is starting to be a scary sized sample this year. Contribute quite a bit in all phases of the game, Shawn Brody of Beyond the Box Score explains, and you have yourself a star player. Pollock is who we frequently pretended Jacoby Ellsbury was, who we refused to believe Brett Gardner was. If this team did not have Paul Goldschmidt, and if it were in the running for the playoffs this season, we might even see some MVP steam for Pollock right now. Is he the most valuable player in the National League? Probably not. Is he top ten? You bet your ass.
  • At Snake Pit, shoewizard makes the case that the D-backs should not offer extensions to Pollock or Paul Goldschmidt. I challenge you to make a case that he’s wrong, because unless you paid me to take that position, I sure as hell won’t. I think he’s dead on. We have no idea what a Pollock extension would look like, exactly, but I think shoewizard is in the absolute right place by focusing on both players’ ages for the time period for which club control runs. Jeff has his reasoning for why the team waited too long to get Pollock signed up, and I’m well on board. I’d like to see the team do uncomfortably early extensions, or no extensions at all (depending, of course, on the actual terms). They can lose big with a big deal for either player, but they can’t really win. So why do it now? I find it hard to believe that the annual salaries for either players’ current free agent years would be less than 20% or so what they might be if they just wait it out and re-sign them.
  • Nick Piecoro spoke with Pollock about his willingness to sign an extension. That’s a good thing — of course we and the team should want him happy to be here. It still all depends on the terms, and I just don’t see how it would work well.
  • Here’s an exhaustive list of all of the in-depth articles I’ve seen on the D-backs designating Gerald Laird for assignment.
  • Earlier this month, the D-backs signed outfielder David Sanchez to a minor league contract. Here’s the thing: we don’t know who the hell he is. Is he an indy ball guy? I don’t know. My best resource for these under the radar guys — because it does include indy ball stats — is Baseball America. But search for players with the last name Sanchez there. No David. You do get a ridiculously impressive list of first names, though. To wit:

I love baseball so. much.

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9 Responses to Roundup: Getting Ruthless About Pitching Again, Differently

  1. Ben says:

    Generally I’ve been pretty happy with how the FO/Hale have treated the roster. Cutting dead weight(Cahill, Ross), clearing logjams (Trumbo), and fixing big holes (Castillo). Additionally they stuck with Ahmed at short and handled the outfield really well.

    However, they do have a few very unsightly blemishes in my eyes. Not trusting Lamb against LHP / not letting him develop, not bringing up Blair earlier (I would have brought him up early August), and ever even looking at Salty at catcher are all really big mistakes from my vantage point.

  2. Jim says:

    I think extending Pollock would work well; and should be done.

    • Tony says:

      I would like them to extend Pollack as well, but they missed the window if their primary goal was to get a Goldy-like bargain. Kendrick has always been skiddish about long-term big $$ contracts and I don’t know if that has changed. Its as if he wants to win some sort of Most Fiscally Prudent Sports Team owner from the Goldwater Institute.

      I think as it stands now a five-year extension for Pollack is going to cost a minimum of $51-53 million, and maybe you squeeze in a 6-year deal for $70 million.

      It all depends on what Kendrick is looking for 1) a bargain deal or 2) locking up Pollack for 5-6 years for solely baseball reasons.

      As it stands now I think any deal is going to have to pay Pollack $16-18 million average annual salary in years 4, 5 and 6 of an extension, and the team can probably get away with paying him $5-6 million average annual in years 1-3.

      With Kendrick’s penchant for shying away from really big salaries, he may be tempted to take the saving he will get in minimum salary and arbitration years, count his savings and them move Pollack for more controllable assets before his hits FA.

  3. Tony says:

    i don’t understand how they can/could of missed on Aj. I’m for both guys Goldy and AJ getting raises. Now, Aj’s he’s been hurt unfair or not, the major one a hbp, and he’s controllable so a team friendly contract and a raise above arb levels is fair. I said in the offseason, make it Goldy and Pollock’s team. they are sitting him today again is a major tell the knee is not right, so… I still extend him and insure the contract. I hate them playing castillo on day games. I know he homered, but I would of went back to back with Salty. this team is pretty awesome, now to the topic at hand, Collmenter is where he should be. delgado is where he should be. Collmenter is spot starter one. collmenter shouldn’t come in with guys on base. Delgado is spot starter , but should come in with runners on base. both are awesome long men.

  4. Dave-Phoenix says:

    I can’t believe the D-Backs recalled Anderson and chose Delgado to start…

    The D-Backs got lucky on Saturday and survived the Delgado start by scoring 11 runs.

    Anderson can pitch against Cincinnati apparently, but no-one else.

    Lets not do it again. I doubt we’ll get 2 wins the next time Delgado and Anderson have back-to-back starts…

  5. Dave-Phoenix says:

    If we want to get serious on pitching, just remember the D-Backs haven’t acquired a true ace via free agency or trade since they signed Randy Johnson and traded for Curt Schilling.

    Not coincidentally, the D-Backs haven’t been to the World Series since…..

    Questions? See me after class….

  6. Tony says:

    Anderson and Castillo don’t work well together, especially if he doesn’t have a curveball.

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