Let’s just skip the introductory paragraph. I’m not a fan of beating a dead horse and that’s what all of these starting pitching posts seem like after a while. The starters were 27th in WAR, 21st in ERA, 24th in FIP, 26th in HR/9, 22nd in BB/9 and 18th in K/9. That’s bad and you know it, so let’s just cut to the chase: there’s going to be an addition or two for 2016, but the team will have to make room in the process. So who’s on the chopping block?
I like roster problems because they are logical solutions 99% of the time. This roster problem is unique in that there are just five spots to produce something on the magnitude of 14-15 wins, according to the research that Ryan produced out last month. How they plan to arrive at that total is relatively well-known as the team is expected to add at least one quality starter to the rotation this winter. This addition won’t be of the David Price/Zack Greinke variety. Instead it’ll come from the tier just below with Jordan Zimmerman, Johnny Cueto and maybe Kenta Maeda in the mix.
Now those guys may or may not be the right targets, but that’s a topic for the Offseason Plan. Instead, we should examine the holdovers that will fill out the rotation. There are more options than spots left, however, so let’s run through the choices to fill out the staff, assuming the team adds one starter through free agency or trade this winter, and address the probability of each making the 2016 Opening Day rotation.
Patrick Corbin, LHP
Probability: a total lock
There’s no way Patrick Corbin doesn’t make the Opening Day rotation in 2016 unless he’s reinjured. He returned from TJ rehab to immediately assume the role as the best starter on the staff. The issue will be getting him through 2016 given that he probably can’t throw more than 160 innings. So the obvious options are to delay his start to the season or shut him down early. The proper course of action is to start him on time and count on an eventual DL trip or two to absorb the innings gap. Either way, Corbin’s not going anywhere.
Robbie Ray, LHP
Probability: very likely
Now, I’m not going to pretend that Robie Ray has been bullet proof this year, but he has dazzled plenty of times even if you don’t necessarily believe he’s truly a 3.50 FIP pitcher. He’s gotten lucky keeping the ball in the park this year and it’s paid off. With a velocity jump and an already-plus changeup, the missing ingredient for Ray is a reliable, effective breaking ball. The Slurge won’t cut if he’s going to take any kind of step forward. We’ve got to keep in mind that this was the 23-year old’s first full campaign, so there’s reason to hope for continued growth. He deserves another year of experience, although like Corbin above, he won’t likely be able to give the team 200+ innings for a variety of reasons.
Archie Bradley, RHP
Archie’s first few starts were a BABIP-aided mirage. He walked the world and got away with it. Then he got CarGo’d, hurt his shoulder and the rest is history. But reports of him sitting back in the mid 90’s this fall in AAA and touching 96 makes it sound like he’s fully healed and ready to go. And here’s the thing with Bradley: we don’t know exactly what the team was doing with him back in April and May. He was sitting in the low 90’s and had completely scrapped his slider, a pitch that drew rave reviews just six months earlier in the AFL. Did they have the training wheels on him? Is there reason to think he can do more? He’s in instructs right now where he’s hopefully gaining confidence in his seldom-used changeup and throwing the slider again, but we just don’t know yet. Scouts have seen him dominate before and his debut was funky. I think there’s reason to believe he can take a big leap forward should his fastball command improve.
Chase Anderson, RHP
Probability: leaning yes, barely
No one’s been more two-faced than Chase Anderson in 2015. He’s dazzled and he’s fizzled. He’s worn down over the course of the season, but we can’t ignore his dominance through May and the handful of excellent starts he posted since then. If the righty can add some consistency in his final year at the league minimum, there’s a reason to think that he can be a good #4 starter. If not, he’s just #5 fodder. Still, he’s cheap and his success will largely be determined by how many home runs he yields going forward. He’s has to find a way to keep the ball in the park.
Rubby De La Rosa, RHP
Probability: leaning no, barely
This is cut-off for me. Rubby misses in the zone too much for my liking and has given up a ton of home runs – 31 to date – tied for second most in baseball. Even if he were to bring this rate down tremendously, it’d still be high. But the real issue is the struggle he’s had with left-handed hitters. His 6.07 FIP versus LHB just won’t cut it when teams stack their lineups against him. This doesn’t mean I’d trade him, however. Instead, I’d look to move him to the bullpen where he belongs. His velocity could trend even higher and he could ditch the changeup that’s hurt him so badly. Rubby could face mostly righties and the occasional lefty given the leverage isn’t too high. Even though he heads to arbitration for the first time this winter, he could still prove to be a valuable asset out of the ‘pen and provide cheap rotation insurance.
Jeremy Hellickson, RHP
Probability: leaning no
Here’s the thing: Hellickson won’t be cheap next year in his final arbitration season and he’s just not that good. Here’s the other thing: this is the front office that traded two top-ten prospects for him in the first place when he was an obviously bad fit for the division and coming off of an injury. So now we get to see what they really think irrespective of how they pitched the original acquisition: was he someone they really believed could be a difference maker or was he just a band-aid all along. I’m betting on the latter, although I might not wager much. He’s useless as reliever and, with a year of team control left, could still be traded. I’m guessing he gets flipped.
Daniel Hudson, RHP
Probability: leaning no
Hudson has spoken about how he’d like to try starting again, but this is just not the right situation for it. He’s been effective as a reliever, but not dominant by any means and when you consider that most relievers are able to post better ERA’s out of the bullpen than they do as starters, Hudson looks like he’d be another #4 starter type. And given the risk that he doesn’t take to the transition or gets hurt again, it may not be an experiment worth running. Then again, the team may prefer his power stuff to that of other back-end options and be buying the upside that you can dream on. With an awkward arbitration case coming up, the fate of Hudson is unknown at this point, let alone what role he will fill if he is retained.
Jhoulys Chacin, RHP
Look, “Jhoulys” is the best name ever and he’s done some nice things, but either he’ll accept a minor league deal to stick around or he’s going to be heading some place else. With no more arbitration seasons he’s a free agent and, although the price isn’t going to be high, there’s just no room unless they’re willing to bump Chase Anderson or Archie Bradley for Chacin. That seems unlikely at this point.
Aaron Blair, RHP
Look, this isn’t necessarily about him not being ready – he is. And yeah, they gave Archie a spot right out of Spring Training in 2015. But this is going to be a different team with different aspirations. It’s playoffs or bust here, at least that’s what the organization is going to be selling. While Blair may be ready, he may be more valuable as a replacement than as a Opening Day pitcher. Corbin, Ray and Bradley won’t be able to pitch a full season and expecting all of them to stay healthy is absurd. Blair probably starts the year in AAA, then is the first to get the call up to majors. To start the year in Arizona, he’s going to have to have one hell of a Spring Training. He’s capable of it, but the team will likely try to use him as a reinforcement and shelter him in the minors until then.
Randall Delgado, RHP
Probability: not happening
The trade for Randall Delgado will always be a big part of Diamondbacks history, simply becuase the team ditched Justin Upton at the beginning of his prime for Delgado, Martin Prado (who turned into Peter O’Brien), Brandon Drury, Nick Ahmed and Zeke Spruill (who turned into cash). Delgado looked primed to be a young starter who could be slotted into the middle of the rotation for several years. Instead, he’s fizzled as a starter but found some success in the bullpen. While getting a bulk of innings from him would help revive his stock and help justify Kevin Towers’ maneuver, his command has just never materialized to the point that he’s worth starting. The dream may finally be dead.
I’d like to point out that this is how I’d handicap the race, not that these are the choices I’d make. And I’d also like to point out that my opinions might change over time. Rumors will happen. Deals will happen. There’s a bunch we don’t know yet. A rotation of Corbin, New Guy, Bradley, Ray and Anderson might be alright, but it might not be enough. I don’t know, it’s fringy. We’ll dive into this more as winter approaches and we develop the Offseason Plan. For now, the situation is crowded and full of guys with marginal trade value, yet not everyone can survive. This should be interesting and the success of the 2016 Diamondbacks largely hinges on how this situation plays out.
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