This year, all of the first-round picks in the MLB draft signed with their teams (although one in particular did go down to the wire…). We won’t get a final draft order for the 2016 draft until well after the season ends, since some free agents could cause changes — but things are a little simpler than normal. And while one doesn’t relish the idea of rooting against one’s own team, there is a standings implication here that could rival the race for the #1 pick last September.
The top 10 picks in the draft can’t be forfeited due to a free agent signing. Comp picks count — just ask the Mets, who asked for a clarification before signing Michael Cuddyer to lose pick #11, although they were in the bottom 10 in record from the previous year. As it happens — by winning percentage, the D-backs are exactly 10th right now at 69-77, just behind the 69-78 Padres and ahead of the 69-76 Red Sox and White Sox. There’s a good chance the D-backs could rise to #8; there’s a good chance they could sink as low as #14.
Those differences may not be huge in terms of the quality of the prospect selected, but they are enormous in terms of whether or not the team will select a pick in the first round. If the team signs a free agent pitcher with an eye toward upgrading, they probably need to do that toward the front of the rotation — someone that would almost certainly merit a qualifying offer (if eligible — David Price is not, as he was traded in-season). I think we can guess from this front office’s track record that they won’t let a little thing like that determine whether or not they sign a particular player, but losing a first round pick seems to me to be as consequential as last year’s jockeying for #1.
Keep it on your radar, even if you don’t lose sleep over it due to the top flight pitcher thing. Toward the bottom of the qualifying offer threshold, there have been a few players each season in this system who get a lot less appealing because of the qualifying offer, like Kendrys Morales two years ago, the Cuddyer last year. But the cost isn’t the same for every club; just like #11 would be the worst pick to lose because of a QO free agent, #10 is also the best place — because #10 in the second round would be the least-valuable pick to lose. In other words, there could be a decent QO free agent or two this offseason for whom the market will be suppressed, for whom the D-backs don’t need to pay as high a non-dollar price.
That could end up being how the D-backs spend free agent dollars this winter. David Robertson was a QO guy last year — wouldn’t he have been straight from the D-backs’ playbook if it had happened this year? A real upgrade, a significant cost but below $15M a year… and to hell with the picks lost. Ervin Santana probably would have been in the same category. This year, the D-backs went college 4 of 40 picks because only college players had a chance to matter for the 2016-2017 window, or so it seems. Almost no one in the 2016 draft will have a chance to matter in the 2016-2017 (and the D-backs haven’t counted on guys to develop into trade chips, at least so far). Whether a free agent has a QO hanging around his neck like an albatross this winter seems unlikely to matter at all.
Just over a week ago when looking at how September relief innings could inform 2016, we pointed out that the D-backs were on a pace to shatter the franchise record for relief innings in a season. With a few more short outings, the team is not just maintaining that pace (for 567 innings), but accelerating it (now, 572 innings). As things stand, D-backs relievers have pitched 520.1 innings, well ahead of the 2nd place Rockies (502.2 innings). League average is just under 454 innings — the equivalent of more than 7 fewer entire games.
Per Baseball-Reference.com, the franchise record is 523.1 innings, set in 2004. That’s something the D-backs could surpass as soon as tonight; if the team is ahead and obligated to pitch the ninth inning, that would mean Rubby De La Rosa would have to get at least one out in the seventh to put the record off to tomorrow, and if he fails to record all three outs in the sixth — it would mean a brand new record. Note that I have previously quoted the record as 523.2 innings, from FanGraphs… but the record is indeed 523.1. As you should be able to see in the B-R link, there’s no chance the D-backs scrape up against the MLB record, set by the Rockies and their partial-season four-man rotation in 2012 (657 IP). Top 20 is looking likely, though, and with some extra bad luck we could be looking at top 10.
This relief record — maybe it’s a good thing. Because it’s a pretty strong sign that the staff will be better next year.
If you think an “innings eater” is a valuable starting pitcher even if he’s somewhat below average in terms of results, it’s largely because of his bullpen-saving attributes. Just as a new #1 starter would not bump the current one, but the current #5 starter — fewer relief innings tends to mean fewer innings from the worst relievers. Let’s say the D-backs finish at 570 innings this year. Even with many of the same pitchers, there’s a strong chance they’ll finish under 500 innings next year (they’ve only been over that mark now 4 times in franchise history). Maybe the top relievers pitch a little bit less, but most of those innings will be pick-pocketed from the A.J. Schugels and Keith Hesslers of the organization.
There’s a caveat here — that difference might not help the D-backs as much as it would the average team, if only because the team is so deep in fairly solid or near-solid pitching. When we examined the bullpen using RE24 (why use anything else!), just Brad Ziegler and Andrew Chafin stood out as above average (and they were well above average). But another thing that emerged: this season, the team was deep in average-ish relief pitching. So you can see my point: it doesn’t really help the team much to cut out its worst relief innings, if its worst relief innings were still pretty good. By ERA, the D-backs’ worst three relievers this season have been Dominic Leone (14.73 ERA), Hessler (9.90 ERA), and Matt Stites (8.53 ERA). All three are not default options for the April bullpen, but between them, they’ve only thrown 20 innings this year. Work your way down the ERA list, and you immediately arrive at Evan Marshall (6.08 ERA, 13.1 IP), Enrique Burgos (4.68 ERA, 25 IP) and Daniel Hudson (4.42 ERA, 57 IP). Marshall’s situation is a little complicated, but if he’s on, he’ll be given a shot; his 2014 was almost as good as Chafin’s 2015. The others? I’m not sure we’re inclined to bet against them being average relievers, either.
There’s still an advantage, and a reason for optimism. Maybe there’s not a lot of room to improve in terms of overall bullpen success, but after the top few slots in the bullpen are filled — Josh Collmenter has also been nails since returning to the bullpen, as noted Weds — having 7-15 candidates for average-ish bullpen work carries with it its own information problem: who among them is most likely to fail? Cutting out relief innings and going with a 12-man staff for most of the year picks up there. The D-backs can’t necessarily raise quality without an acquisition, but they might be able to raise certainty. Most of the relievers we’re talking about still have minor league options. If the team isn’t certain that Evan Marshall is back on track, they can return him to the minors again — and become more certain. If the on switch that saw the stock of Enrique Burgos skyrocket a year and half ago looks more like a dimmer, same thing. They can play around with the roles of Daniel Hudson and Randall Delgado. Matt Reynolds, Will Locante, and Keith Hessler can hold a “who’s steadiest” competition in March to see if someone slots in behind Andrew Chafin for a second lefty role. Silvino Bracho looks great in his brief exposure to the bigs, but why take a chance unless you feel very confident? The list goes on. Not great news for Jake Barrett, Jimmie Sherfy and the phalanx of minor leaguers whose major league results are the opposite of certain, but so it goes. 2015 was a year to take chances. The team’s approach to roster-building in 2016 could look very, very different.
As a staff, the D-backs rank 27th in fWAR, 6.7 wins. Things are not quite so gloomy, though, in terms of the staff’s 4.10 ERA (rank: 20th), or SIERA, our favorite ERA estimator, which suggests that ERA is not the product of fluky luck (4.06 SIERA ranks the team 21st). There’s room to improve, but we’re not talking about a complete rebuild, which is real progress.
Cripes… how great is it to have Patrick Corbin dealing again?
- At azcentral.com, Zach Buchanan profiled four pitching roster decisions the team will have in the offseason. Great points throughout and I definitely learned a few new things, so go read it. For my part, it’s hard to see the D-backs non-tendering Jeremy Hellickson, and I think calling Collmenter’s first of two options anything but a lock is a stretch. He’s worth so much more than that in relief — and the team’s main alternative in a long role, Randall Delgado, will be about twice as expensive. With one-year options for pitchers so tremendously valuable (think about long term injury and those timelines), we also have to consider the value of Collmenter’s second option, which the D-backs obviously only keep if they exercise the first one. Starter or not, Collmenter’s two-option contract at those ridiculously low figures rivals the Paul Goldschmidt contract on the list of Kevin Towers’ accomplishments, in quality if not in impact. Jhoulys Chacin is an intriguing option, but unless there’s some exception I can’t find, an arbitration panel would be forbidden from awarding him anything less than a 10% reduction on his $5.5M award last time around. He could make sense if we knew before the non-tender deadline that someone else’s season would be delayed, but I’ll leave it to Buchanan to explain why. Lastly — I saved David Hernandez for here instead of above, but if the D-backs re-sign him he’s a member of the Average Relievers Club. In terms of certainty, though… Hernandez could get some multi-year offers this offseason, although they won’t be at high salaries. If he were to return on a one-year deal to re-enter the market after 2016, he’d be placing a bet on himself. To me, it raises the certainty threshold if Hernandez makes that kind of decision. Basically, if he does return on a one-year deal, he’s within the top 7 bullpen candidates to open 2016. If he doesn’t, maybe he wouldn’t. Kind of a nice little thing, no?
- From Buchanan earlier in the week: the extent of the D-backs’ catching makeover, especially in terms of offense. Welington Castillo is huge for this team, even assuming he can’t keep this up. The guess here is that the D-backs aren’t aggressive with Tuffy Gosewisch‘s knee recovery, and plan to open the year with Castillo and Jarrod Saltalamacchia until Tuffy forces a decision. Even then, it’s hard to see the team letting Salty go for free. Just about any value that Salty has is surplus value, so no harm no foul, I guess — so far, his offensive value has outweighed defensive shortcomings (and, admittedly, he’s gone from horrific to merely quite bad, it seems). If I had my druthers, I’d still go defense at the position. It’s not that defensive value is worth more than offensive value (that’s not how value works, at least as we measure it in baseball), but more that Chase Field already seems to be so tough on these pitchers, and inconsistent catching can make it harder to figure out what the team has. If the difference between especially good and especially bad catching is around 0.50 in ERA… a 3.80 ERA type pitcher could look like part of the problem (4.10 ERA?), potentially, instead of part of the solution.
- Also: I literally had a nightmare last night/this morning that the team signed Salty to an extension. No, there’s no real risk of that right now, and I have no idea what caused me to go there in my sleep. I don’t remember my dreams often, but I read the Buchanan piece this morning, soon enough after to retrieve the memory, I guess. No idea how much I dream about the D-backs. If it’s more than a little and that dream is representative, I might have a problem.
- No updated news that I could find, but after Rubby De La Rosa’s rough Dodgers start last weekend, the team was looking to keep him away from LA during the 4-game set next week, as Buchanan reported. Yeah– they can stack lefties. Yeah– that makes the Dodgers especially dangerous for RDLR. If only someone had flagged that issue three months ago (nice, Jeff).
- Great work from James Attwood at Snake Pit on whether the D-backs should extend A.J. Pollock. It’s time to work through that again, and Attwood explores the angles and possibilities here. Go read it. Jeff and I will give this a new look on the next episode of The Pool Shot. It’s a pretty good puzzle. When thinking it through, remember: it’s about where club or player should draw the line and not necessarily about yes/no on a particular deal, since it takes two to tango. Which is exactly how Attwood handled it, making it a great primer.
- Open Twitter on the same screen as MLB.tv on my iPad, where I watch most of my D-backs games? OKAY THEN!
- I did an update on Wade Miley for BP Boston at the beginning of the week — he’s really turned things around, turning in a 3.88 ERA since changing his release point at the beginning of August. Nothing crazy there, but might be of interest. I still love you all more.
Although, if I’m going to have bad dreams, you all should, too. Really, it’s a surprise it took us this long to include a cat picture at the site.
— Derek Montilla (@Cap_Kaveman) September 8, 2015
No? Maybe you all are more haunted by the one that got away?
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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).