If you know me even a little, you can probably appreciate just how much I enjoyed thinking about the idea of a six-man rotation, a question put to us by two people (Joseph Gonzol and Jon Klingman) for the last episode of The Pool Shot. It’s not that a six man rotation would necessarily be a good idea for most teams at most times (I have no idea), it’s that maybe for this roster at this time, it’s an especially good fit. If it would ever be a good idea, it would probably be a good idea right now.
Head over to Episode 19 of The Pool Shot for our unfiltered discussion — but sometimes, to make a point you have to lay it all out in one place. The key consideration may be: with the exception of Jeremy Hellickson (who has been an exception to a bunch of things this offseason, as Jeff noted in the episode), all of the team’s rotation candidates have bounced around, either between the majors and minors, or between the rotation and the bullpen.
Josh Collmenter: A year ago at this time, I explored whether Collmenter might have a higher-than-normal “Times Through the Order Penalty,” and whether that might have to do with his success possibly coming from deception. Collmenter quieted doubters last year (including me) that he might be a little exposed in a starting role, although I’d maintain that he might have his stuff play up more in long relief than the average starter. As Jeff noted on the episode, losing 30-40 innings of Collmenter is not an insignificant price to pay if the team moved to a six-man rotation. And yet, even when setting a career high last year, he topped out at 179.1 innings pitched — a plan that had him on target for about 160 seems pretty reasonable. What the team loses in an extra 30-40 innings of success, it might gain back with a greater chance of keeping him healthy. And, you never know, maybe he’s a guy that comes out of the bullpen for a stint in between starts, especially if the D-backs have an off day in between two of his starts.
Jeremy Hellickson: Yeah, this is an exception. I have no reason to believe Hellickson won’t help prop up the rotation this year, other than the whole fly ball pitcher in a homer-friendly park thing. Even being optimistic, though, I’m not sure we’d be thinking “ace” here, a guy so valuable that limiting his innings would be a reason to trash a six-man rotation. And, for what it’s worth, Hellickson is coming off of an injury-delayed 63.2 IP season, and hasn’t yet hit 200 innings in a season anyway.
Chase Anderson: High hopes for Anderson this year, especially since his contemplated increased reliance on his sinker seems like a good idea. Anderson threw 127.1 innings in 2012, 88 (partly in relief) in 2013, and ramped all the way up to 153.1 innings last season. Keeping him to 160-170 innings may not be necessary, but it’s hard to see that as a problem, either. I’d side slightly with thinking that Anderson is a reason in favor of a six-man rotation, not a reason against it.
Rubby De La Rosa: Jeff and I kind of assumed he was in when we recorded on Saturday, and now Nick Piecoro reports that it looks like RDLR has an inside shot at one of the “two” remaining rotation slots. The results have not been stellar in this latest, small sample, but in the Piecoro piece, RDLR ascribes some of that — walks, in particular — on attempts to work on specific things, which is what spring should be for. But here’s another guy who had his innings shoot through the roof last year: 161.2, after throwing just 91.2 innings the year before (35 games, including 15 in relief). Injuries mostly knocked out his 2012, but RDLR ended just over 100 innings in both 2010 and 2011, as well. Repeating at 161.2 innings this year seems pretty reasonable to me, especially since the team seems unlikely to bail on him as a starter, at least at any point this year.
But here’s where it gets interesting: the fifth starter candidates.
Archie Bradley: time to get going. He’s looked pretty sharp in the spring, as Zach Buchanan reported on Saturday, and currently sports a 2.38 in 11.1 spring training innings (although, there were 2 unearned runs). Still, as Buchanan also reported just a few days earlier, Bradley is probably not a candidate for the very beginning of the season (wouldn’t read too much into the Stewart comments, since it’s in the team’s interest to say something like that regardless of how true it might be). He could get a tuneup with Reno once their season starts, and could be in the rotation come early May. Either way, Bradley’s not going to pitch 200 innings this year.
Trevor Cahill: he did well enough in relief last year that he’s not a release candidate, and experimentation with a new, higher arm angle has paid inconsistent dividends — which is better than no dividends. Probably can’t be traded at any price unless he’s demonstrated some effectiveness as a starter, and it’s hard to say that Cahill not getting up to 200 innings would be a bad thing.
Randall Delgado: maybe he’s been a little lucky this spring, but luck probably doesn’t explain all of his 1.80 ERA in 10 innings. Opponents have hit .167 thus far. He’s a lock to make the roster, but think about it: just how well would he had to have pitched this spring, in contrast to other candidates, to win a spot? Doesn’t this look like that? Maybe there was no way for him to claw his way back into the rotation, but even if he did, 200 innings would seem unwise, what with pitching only 77.2 innings after setting a career high in 2013 with 180.1.
Robbie Ray: so maybe he’s turned the breaking ball into a usable pitch, but he’s still been hit hard at times — and lasting just 3 innings yesterday on 72 pitches could complicate his bid for the rotation. But just like RDLR, he’s a “if not now, then when” guy, and a move to the bullpen wouldn’t necessarily be seen as temporary. And, once a again, a guy whose arm might fall off at 200 innings.
Allen Webster: all over the place in the spring. Probably ticketed for the minors, but possibly in the same “if not now, then when” category. Actually probably could throw close to 200 innings if his pitch counts would allow it, having thrown 181 last year after 135.1 the year before — but they may have still treated him gingerly in September.
Yoan Lopez: the team probably won’t regret having him spend a bit of time in the minors (although whether that’s at Mobile or Reno is a difficult question), but as Jeff reported last week, his stuff looks electric, he has shown the ability to recover on the mound, and the team probably wouldn’t regret starting him in the rotation, either (same service time concerns as Bradley, but they could always prevent a full service year by sending him down later). Absolutely NO chance Lopez would throw anywhere near 200 innings this year — in his final season in Cuba, he threw 49. Yeah. He did throw as many as 77.2 innings as an 18 year old, but 200 was not going to be in the cards any way you look at it.
Daniel Hudson: so he’s a lock to make the roster, but as of this writing, there has been no official decision that he’s not a starter. And hey could be the key to this whole thing, especially since he might depart as a free agent after this season. 100 innings seems like a fair target to me, but the team may not want to go even that far.
If you had to pick between Cahill, Bradley, Delgado, Ray, Hudson, and I suppose Webster for the final slot in the rotation, who would you pick? Installing Hudson seems smart, but unless the team likes the idea of shutting him down around June 1 (which, admittedly, could dovetail with Patrick Corbin‘s return), getting creative with a way to keep him healthy and keep him pitching seems like a pretty good idea to me.
Anyway, think abut it. The D-backs don’t actually need a fifth starter until April 14. And if they follow that turn with the fourth starter on the 15th, they only need that fifth man to pitch a second time — the 19th — and they can get through the whole month without an official fifth starter (and almost a week into May). I highly doubt that will happen, considering the number of candidates, but the D-backs have a ton of choices to make with the rotation soon, in terms of who’s in it and in terms of what kind of format they use, at least up until Bradley is likely to get called up.
On to the links:
- The single biggest drawback to the whole six-man rotation concept is that unless the team has a lot of off days (which it does in April), it might need to carry a 13-man pitching staff to pull it off. Zach Buchanan talked with Chip Hale about a 13-man staff in a piece that went up yesterday, making the astute observation that the extra flexibility could come in handy for a bullpen of walking wounded, including, quite possibly, Daniel Hudson. In the same piece, Buchanan includes some great notes on the race for the last bench spot, and it looks like the organization is no longer adamant about extending the O’Brien-at-catcher experiment. Interesting (and possibly, quite fair) for the organization to cast it as his bat being wasted, potentially, with the decrease in starts that comes with catching.
- Alert! Interesting news here. Nick Piecoro did a profile on Yasmany Tomas on Friday, with less to do with where he fits on the field and more to do with where he fits in the organization — including some new detail about the contract discussions that brought Tomas to Arizona. I’ve considered the opt-out in the Tomas contract to be a really quite brilliant move on the part of the D-backs’ front office, one which doesn’t really make it more likely that the team will get burned, and yet one that must have looked very enticing to Tomas. I’ll stand by that, although in this piece, Piecoro quotes Tomas’s agent in a way that makes that seem like it was less important than I inferred (read it to see what I mean). Whether you take that quote at face value is up to you — it’s in the interest of Tomas, his agent and the organization for Tomas to be this kind of complimentary of the organization, and to look like a team guy. Great work by Piecoro.
- One thing you probably already knew: Brad Ziegler is awesome. One thing you might not have known: Ziegler is ready to go. Great stuff on both things in this piece from Buchanan.
- Also from Piecoro: the team did actually talk about possibly keeping Brandon Drury on the active roster, but you’ll have to read the piece to see just how Chip Hale put it. The tidbit that Drury will split time between second and third is very interesting. As Jeff and I talked about on Episode 19 of The Pool Shot, it seems like Drury is now the heir apparent at second base, ahead of Domingo Leyba — and it seems like that transition could come as early as July. Why hedge by having him play some at third base? Currently, the team has a “problem” of having to pick between Jake Lamb and Yasmany Tomas there, and no matter what, there will be someone else on the active roster — be it Cliff Pennington, or Aaron Hill — who can help back up the position if one of those two players is unavailable. It would seem to me that the only reason to hedge would be if the team is already planning for a world in which Tomas is not a third baseman at all.
- The azcentral.com team talked with De Jon Watson about whether “tense” relations between the U.S. and Venezuela will threaten the D-backs’ scouting/signing activities there. Short answer: it won’t. Short analysis: might have a little to do with not being in the running for the top guys there anyway.
- At Snake Pit, Jim McLennan runs down the remaining roster questions facing the team (and there are not a few). I agree with his best guess of RDLR, but I’m not so sure Cahill is definitely in there.
- I had bookmarked a Joel Sherman piece at the NY Post for its scathing indictment of Tomas’s defense, but wouldn’t you rather read shoewizard’s take on the same piece and topic? I think you would.
- At Venom Strikes, Joe Jacquez urges you to not overlook Allen Webster. I urge you not to look directly at Webster, and to observe all of the safety precautions you would use to see a solar eclipse.
- Go read this piece from Neil Weinberg at FanGraphs about why we didn’t see Kole Calhoun coming as a prospect, and maybe, you know, mentally repeat “Jake Lamb” every time you see “Calhoun.” Or, maybe I will do that for you, later…
- From August Fagerstrom, projecting team defenses: maybe the D-backs won’t be so bad after all. Although that -7 in right field looks pretty crooked, and this assumes that Tomas is not getting much playing time at third base.
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