How do you know if something is broken? Usually, you give something a go and don’t get the desired effect. Maybe you try again and still get an error. Other times, after a second try, everything works just fine. There always little blips on the radar of life. I mean, we all have to cycle our routers once in a while. But pitchers aren’t hardware — there’s no reset button. That makes it much harder to know if they’re broken as we have to, often painfully, wait for them to take the mound again before we can make another assessment. For Diamondbacks pitchers in 2016, this was all too common of a theme. And as we look at the 2017 projections for D-backs hurlers, we have to keep some additional information outside the numbers in mind. That doesn’t undercut the information to follow, but rather attempts to place that information in the right perspective. You’ll see what I mean as we review the projections for Diamondbacks pitchers (we covered position players last week).

Be Happy

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There’s no denying that Zack Greinke had his worst season in about a decade last season. That sucked, and while he’s obviously not getting any younger or throwing any harder, we know he can pitch better than he did in 2016. The projections buy a bounce-back and holy cow is one in order for Arizona’s ace.

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If you look at everything but ERA, Robbie Ray was really good last year. Okay, don’t look at innings per start either. Those two things aside, he was a masterful racker-upper of the ‘ol strikeout and didn’t walk so many batters that he ruined his own starts. The projections see much of the same from ’16, along with a drop in his home run rate. This could be the year the runs-scored match his stuff, or he could fail to put hitters away again. More contact wouldn’t be a bad thing in his case. An ERA under 4.00 wouldn’t be surprise.

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The disaster that was Shelby Miller‘s 2016 season was only partly his fault. The trade that brought him to Arizona weighed on him, though it wasn’t his burden to bear. He struggled in just about every department, but his last few outings of the season showed some return to normalcy. While there’s clearly a lot in play, the forecast is for him to get back to being an average big league starter, something the D-backs will welcome with open arms.

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If it weren’t for all of the homers, Taijuan Walker‘s 2016 season would have looked decent. He doesn’t walk many and gets enough strikeouts to be solid. The homers are the issue, and keep in mind he surrendered 27 of them over 25 starts in Seattle. Things will have to change in the desert for him to make a large improvement in that department, something he’s already perhaps working on.

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Patrick Corbin had a miserable season last year as a starter. He had a much better season as a reliever. Leave him in the bullpen, right? Maybe not, because we know that Pat can be effective as a starter and he’s clearly more valuable there. Dumping the changeup can help his cause, and even without that adjustment in mind, the forecast see some significant improvement, both in terms of home runs and free passes.

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For the type of pitcher he is, Zack Godley has been pretty valuable for the D-backs over the last two years. He does some things well: he doesn’t walk a bunch, he’ll get a handful of strikeouts, and he can pile up the ground ball outs. He had five outings last year that really killed his ERA, but he can fit several different roles. The projections like him to keep the ball in the yard more next season, and if that’s the case, he could continue to be a valuable swingman.

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The majors gave Braden Shipley a rude welcome in his rookie season. As his development progressed, his projected role shifted from #2 starter to back-end filler. The reason is simple: he’s had to dial back the arsenal to improve his command, which has negative effects on, you guessed it, the arsenal. While last year was clearly miserable, the projections like him to improve somewhat. That improvement looks like a poor #5 starter, however, so we’ll have to hope that the command arrives in short order to improve the overall package.

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Andrew Chafin is a good relief pitcher. He pitched well last year and the results just didn’t bear it. He racked up the strikeouts but surrendered a .368 BABIP and when he left the game, over 50% of the batters he left on base came around to score. That’s not going to hold up, and even though he may have caught too much of the plate at times, his result will be better going forward. The forecast calls for a return to excellent results and goodness knows the D-backs’ bullpen will be better for it.

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Enrique Burgos is a strikeout pitcher. That’s his game — pump the 96mph heat and get ’em to chase the slider (or the splitter). When that fails, Burgos can get himself into a mess in quick hurry as he just can’t throw enough good strikes to bail himself out. All that said, the forecasts like him to improve slightly, even if most of the indicators stay the same. His .311 BABIP last year was high and with a few more batted balls turned into outs, the final line could look markedly better.

Be Sad

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Lefty Steve Hathaway was a pleasant surprise in 2016. He surrendered eight earned runs in 24 appearances, but all eight of those came in just games, meaning he surrendered no runs in 20 of his 24 appearances. That’s not too shabby. Without a strong track record of MiLB success, however, the forecasts aren’t buying the strong debut, especially his tiny home run rate. Don’t be shocked if he’s less good this season, but still functional as a second lefty out of the D-backs’ bullpen.

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Remember that one time Matt Koch had a no-no going into the sixth inning? No one saw it coming as Koch has remained pretty underwhelming as a starting pitcher in the majors. Despite my calls to make him a reliever, a role he once thrived in, he’ll likely enter Spring Training as another starting pitcher candidate. The forecast is nearly as friendly as his rookie debut, pegging him as a below average starter. Considering his stuff, that unfortunately seems plausible.

Be Cautious

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Evan Marshall returned to the major last year after a comebacker nearly ended his life in 2015. That’s reason enough to celebrate. His performance on the mound wasn’t what he’d hoped for, however, and there are some changes to be worried about. His arm angle has become more lateral, flattening his stuff in the process. He can still bring some good velo, but with his pitches moving more horizontally and less vertically, they remain in the hitting zone longer. Can he get his mechanics back in check? If so, the forecast looks favorable for a middle inning MLB arm.

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Remember that whole opening about something being broken? Enter: Silvino Bracho. He strained his groin in the spring and never got on track. The big 2016 numbers and his minor league work buoy his forecast, but with a fly ball profile and iffy command, he lives on the edge even when he’s right. When he’s wrong, well, we already saw that. Will he get back on track? There’s at least a chance for it.

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Anthony Banda was our pick for top prospect heading into 2017, as he was all over the pages of Baseball America, FanGraphs, MLB Pipeline and other outlets. The stuff isn’t necessarily special and he’s not going to be a monster. That said, he held his own in the treacherous PCL and the projections like him to be an average big league starter going forward. He may be filling out the rotation by summer, depending on trades, injuries and, of course, his own development.

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Relievers are a volatile bunch and Jimmie Sherfy has lived the experience. He had a great 2014 season, one to forget in 2015, then demolished Souther League hitters in 2016 before falling on hard times in Reno. He is what he is — a funky righty that will always struggle with commanding a big arsenal that’s thrown at max effort. He has the forecast of a functional middle reliever, but if history tells us anything, he can be streaky for better or worse. Should the aforementioned command take even a half-grade jump, he could take off. If not, he could be a up and down guy for the foreseeable future.

Some Things Never Change

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How long have you been waiting for Archie Bradley to consistently be the player he was once promised to be? It seems like forever ago that he was one of baseball’s top prospects, but the command never came around in a meaningful way. As his development has stalled, the projections don’t forecast much of a change for the young righty. He struggles to command his glove side of the plate and has one trick: get ahead with the heat and try to get a whiff on the knuckle curve. Without a third pitch, he may head to the bullpen sooner than later. It should be noted, however, that the projections like him to be a league average pitcher next season. Maybe he needs a third pitch, maybe he just needs better luck. Regardless, it’s a tough profile to get fired up about right now.

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Randall Delgado has been a model of consistency. It’s just that he’s been consistently mediocre. He can pitch nearly every other night and you know what you’re going to get, so that’s something. He leaves plenty to be desired, however, and it doesn’t look like that’s about to change a whole lot. At this point, he is who he is.

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It’s easy to fall in love with Jake Barrett‘s sub-3.5 ERA and get carried away, but he was a bit lucky last season as he held batters to a .261 BABIP. That’s going to change, and when it does, don’t be shocked to see that ERA become more pedestrian. He walks a few more than you’d like and as the hits fall in, he could see some trouble. It won’t be that he’s pitching worse, just that the outcomes will likely change. It takes a lot to be a FIP-beater and Barrett doesn’t have the profile to suggest it.

Of Particular Note, Maybe

You may be wondering where new closer Fernando Rodney is. His ZiPS projection wasn’t readily available, but Steamer like his to have another solid year as Arizona’s top reliever. He does walk a batter or two more than you’d like, but he’s kept up the strikeouts and gotten more grounders in his old age. ZiPS really likes lefty prospect Jared Miller who shot up the charts with a stellar 2016 minor league campaign, including a dominant performance in the AFL. Kaleb Fleck, a righty who’s been on our radar for a long time, is also projected favorably as a reliever. This might be the year the 28-year old prospect.

5 Responses to 2017 Preview: Pitcher Forecasts

    • Jeff Wiser says:

      Thanks! There are so many available to the public today that it can be difficult to keep track of them all. From a recent study at Beyond the Box Score, it seems like Steamer might have a leg up on ZiPS, but that could be a seasonal thing. I’m familiar enough with the methodology behind those two that they are the ones I feel comfortable with, but that doesn’t mean they’re significantly better than others like CAIRO. I mean, even Marcel, which is super basic, does a pretty good job across a large enough sample.

      • shoewizard says:

        yeah, just another data point. CAIRO is Marcel with minor league equivalencies and some more stuff baked in. I posted a summary of the basic rate stats at AZ Snakepit in a fanpost.

  1. Anonymous says:

    Was there a jb variable involved in any of them?

  2. BobJ says:

    Given the success rate of last year’s staff, I would love to see what Matt Koch, Anthony Banda, and Jared Miller can do with legitimate chances. Maybe they will fall flat on their faces, but maybe one or two will prove to be a pleasant surprise. There was nothing outstanding on last year’s staff other than Robbie Ray’s strikeouts. Let’s try the new guys. What do we have to lose?

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