It doesn’t seem like it was long ago that we discussed Rubby De La Rosa being the fifth starer. If you’re tallying up “the best five,” Rubby seemed like the right guy to be about fifth on that list. Zack Greinke, Shelby Miller and Patrick Corbin are all clearly better. Robbie Ray is probably better, too, and he was considered the fourth-best pitcher in the mix. The slotting of the fourth and fifth guys isn’t all that important as rotations only match up slot-for-slot against one another for about a week before mismatched off days cause number ones to face number fives and so forth. But the announcement that De La Rosa has nabbed one of the four confirmed spots means that there’s an opening for the last rotation spot, and while Ray may be the smart money, Archie Bradley, Zach Godley and Tyler Wagner are all considered “in the race.”
The fact that Robbie Ray making the rotation isn’t a foregone conclusion might just be a ploy in the name of “competition” or it might just speak to the kind of rotation options that the Diamondbacks have on their hands. Ray has been productive, but his struggles to put hitters away has been troublesome. Archie Bradley has apparently made strides last fall and this spring with is velocity back up and his breaking ball taking form. Zack Godley was nothing short of a revelation last season in 36 innings. Tyler Wagner is very much in the mold of Aaron Blair as a durable, sinker-balling righty who’s more effective than he is spectacular. Bradley has the stuff. Godley has made the impression. Wagner is the acquisition. Simply put, Robbie Ray has company.
While we don’t know exactly how Chip Hale will make his decision, we can guess at a few factors that will weigh in. Let’s break a few of those things down as we try to figure out just who should serve as the team’s fifth starter.
Of the four candidates, only Ray throws left-handed. Considering that there is one lefty in the rotation already in Patrick Corbin, adding a second one may not be the biggest concern. Having four righties in the rotation can be mitigated to some degree by adding a second lefty to the bullpen. With sluggers like Carlos Gonzalez, Adrian Gonzalez, Brandon Belt and Corey Seager in the division, having the opportunity to throw a second lefty in a series from the rotation might be a good thing. Then again overall effectiveness may prove the larger consideration.
Advantage: Ray, narrowly
These four pitchers offer very different looks. In Bradley, the D-backs can offer a power arm with some promising breaking stuff and strikeout potential. With a low to mid-90’s heater and a curve that can be a real hammer when thrown down in the zone, Archie can really bring it. If the hard slider/cutter and changeup continue to come around, he might just have enough weapons to dominate.
Robbie Ray is can bring it, too. His velocity is plus from the left side and his changeup plays well off of is four-seam and two-seam fastballs. As we’ve discussed here at length, a meaningful breaking ball could really help him move from good to very good. His strikeout numbers were solid last season, thanks in large part to his ability to locate his fastballs.
While not wowing with his pitches from a raw stuff standpoint, Zach Godley can survive big league lineups. He mixes three different fastball looks to get the job done – a four-seamer, a sinker and a cutter. His secondary pitches rated well in his debut as he was very effective with the changeup and curveball. Godley lives in the high 80’s and low 90’s, but the mix plays well as long as he locates his pitches.
Tyler Wagner is similar in the sense that he doesn’t exactly light up the radar gun but has an arsenal that can be effective. He lives down in the zone with a sinking fastball and a cutter that functions as a hard slider. His slurvy breaking ball is below average but if his fastball can play, it’ll help boost his average changeup. The profile isn’t nearly as exciting as Archie Bradley’s, but he’ll generate a ton of ground ball and that’s a good thing considering the Diamondbacks’ infield.
For everything Wagner doesn’t offer in stuff he should make up for in durability. He threw 166 professional innings last season and should be capable of beyond 180 in 2016, fitting the bill for the fifth starter spot. Zack Godley threw 136.1 innings last season between High-A, AA and the majors. He could reach 160 innings this season if need be. Robbie Ray tallied nearly 170 innings last season and should be capable of filling the spot for the entire season should he hold it down. Archie Bradley was limited to just 61 innings last year, but got some extra work in instructs last fall. It would seem unlikely that he could throw more than 120 innings this season considering how light his workload was last seasons.
Advantage: Ray, narrowly
There’s no replacement for facing big league hitters, and in this case, no one’s faced more of them than Robbie Ray. He not only survived 2015 but did so with impressive results. It’s worth noting that Tyler Wagner enters 2016 with a similar track record to Ray’s when he jumped into the rotation last year. Both guys got roughed up a bit in their brief MLB debuts. Ray was able to put that behind him while Wagner will hope for the opportunity to do the same.
Godley and Bradley have similar chunks of time against major league competition even though they came under different circumstances. Bradley won a job out of spring camp last year while Godley was the relatively unknown midseason call-up. Regardless, neither has much of an advantage over the other as they both posted some good starts despite some strange recipes to get there at times.
I’ll be the first to tell you that Spring Training stats are hard to value properly. Lineups are always in flux, split-squad games play tricks with which hitters a pitcher will face and pitchers are often working on things and throwing pitches in sequences they’d usually never consider. Still, a strong spring can help make an impression.
To date, Bradley and Ray have made three appearances each while Godley and Wagner have each made two. While these are small bodies of work, Ray has been effective while Bradley, Godley and Wagner have all struggled a bit in their small bodies of work. It would only take one good or bad outing to tip the scales here, so read into this what you will.
Advantage: Ray, narrowly
There’s really no reason to think the fifth starter spot shouldn’t go to Robbie Ray. At this juncture, he has the stuff, the experience and the spring results to suggest that he’s the most capable candidate. While the team has yet to name a fifth starter, Ray still makes the most sense barring injury. Archie Bradley clearly has the stuff to warrant a spot, but given his struggles to harness the strike zone at times and his lack of innings in 2015, he’s a tough guy to slot in there because he’d have to be relieved of his duties by August in all likelihood. Wagner and Godley can handle the workload, but they’re more of the “rotation filler” variety rather than Plan A types of guys.
In the end, the D-backs’ rotation should look the way we thought it would – Zack Greinke, Shelby Miller, Patrick Corbin, Rubby De La Rosa and Robbie Ray. De La Rosa separates the lefties and, while we might argue that Ray is technically a better pitcher, the order isn’t all that important when it comes to these two. Patrick Corbin’s innings limit will give the team something to worry about down the road, and how Archie Bradley figures into this situation is still up in the air. Wagner and Godley will likely head to AAA to be called upon later. Regardless of how the team breaks camp, all of these pitchers should contribute in some capacity for Arizona in 2016. Just don’t be surprised when Robbie Ray is named the fifth starter, especially since we’ve expected him in the rotation all along.
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