Did the Diamonbacks successfully position themselves for a penant run and possibly more?

Robbing Peter to Pay Paul (Goldschmidt)?
by Jim Silva

    Last season’s team was the youngest group the Diamondbacks had ever sent out to do battle in their 19 seasons of existence. Historically, (a funny term to use for an organization that is one of the two newest in baseball) the Diamondbacks have won with older players. They won their only World Series in 2001 with their oldest group of position players and their 3rd oldest group of pitchers. In 2002, their pitching was even older and they went to the playoffs again. So what does it mean that the Diamondbacks are now the youngest team in baseball? Age doesn’t necessarily decide who will win the World Series, but having a young star in his prime can push general managers to make decisions about trades and free agent signings. Also, when you look at a team’s age and how long players are under team control you can see when a good time to go all in might be. The Diamondbacks’ general manager, Dave Stewart, made moves this offseason that are consistent with a team who thinks they are primed to win and are in the window where they have to make moves to solidify their chances to make the post-season.
    Arizona’s middle infield is still trying to find itself. Nick Ahmed is 25, Chris Owings is 23, Brandon Drury is 22, and Jean Segura is 25. They all still have some development in them. That doesn’t mean that all of them will improve enough as hitters to contribute to the offense; that depends on their abilities, their hitting coaches, and their work ethic. 2016 is an important season for the team so at some point they need to make some decisions about whom they are going to focus on as their starters, pick a utility man, and trade someone. Nick Ahmed seemed to be the likely candidate to be moved as Arizona traded for Segura to replace him as the starter, but the Diamondbacks have moved Segura to second, kept Ahmed at short, and pushed Owings to center to take the place of injured star A.J. Pollock.
    Speaking of center field, it was locked down, with 28 year old A.J. Pollock set to be the starter until he broke his elbow at the very end of spring training. Socrates Brito is likely to be his replacement for some, if not most, of the season, although they are currently using Chris Owings in center and have sent Brito down to triple-A. David Peralta, also 28, will man one of the corners with the other corner likely going to Yasmany Tomas who is 24. Pollock and Peralta are likely what you’ve already seen for the most part with Peralta’s counting stats due to increase with regular playing time. Tomas is the youngster of the group and could make gains this season if he is indeed the starting left fielder. It’s a pretty young crew again, so some growth is still possible.
    The rotation of Greinke (32), Miller (25), Corbin (26), Ray (24), and De La Rosa (27) is also young, and has room for growth, with the exception of Greinke. The pen mainstays of Ziegler (36), Hudson (28), Chafin (25), Collmenter (30), Clippard (31), Delgado (26), and Burgos (25) are on average the old men of the Diamondbacks. There are a few young arms in there, but the high leverage situations will likely fall upon the older guys for the most part. Why this obsession with age? For a couple reasons. The Diamondbacks decided to make a push to win this year. Their signing of Greinke, and their trade for Miller constitute significant expenditures of resources. The reality for most teams in baseball is that there are windows during which they can compete and when one of those windows opens you have to make the most of it. That is especially true for the teams not categorized as large market teams. The Diamondbacks decided that they would be primed to compete now if they could add a couple pieces to the rotation. This raises two questions. Do they have enough to compete now, and did they mortgage their future to win now? Let’s look at the second question first.
    The Diamondbacks gave up three good, young pieces to get Miller. Only one of the players had major league experience – the outfielder, Ender Inciarte. Of the two minor leaguers, one was close – the pitcher, Aaron Blair – while the other has just started his minor league career – the shortstop, Dansby Swanson. Blair might have been ready at some point this season since he pitched 13 times in triple-A. Swanson is probably a few years away, although who knows since he was the very first pick in the draft last year. Obviously Inciarte will have an impact in 2016 and for years beyond this as he is 25 and doesn’t get to taste free agency until 2021. To further examine the question about the D-backs future, let’s take a look at the core of the Diamondbacks team that will earn most of the playing time in 2016.
    Data shows that pitchers and position players hit their peak around age 26 and exit their peak around 28 but start declining sharply around age 30. Here is a detailed article from the Boston Globe’s Alex Speier about prime years for baseball players.
So age 27  tends to be around the middle of their peak years. Obviously it is different for everyone, but as a guideline for where a player is in his career I used it as a marker, with the year before and after likely making up a player’s plateau years. If a player is currently in his peak I used a red font. If they have yet to reach their peak, then they are in green, while players in decline years are in black (you know – like death). The first free agency year was included to show how long each player is under team control.

2016 Diamondbacks Key Players Proximity To Their Prime and To Free Agency
First Free Agency Year
Paul Goldschmidt
Jake Lamb
Jean Segura
Welington Castillo
Chris Owings
Phil Gosselin
Brandon Drury
Pete O’Brien
David Peralta
A.J. Pollock
Yasmany Tomas
Socrates Brito
Zack Greinke
Patrick Corbin
Shelby Miller
Robbie Ray
Rubby De La Rosa
Brad Ziegler
Andrew Chafin
Enrique Burgos
Tyler Clippard
Daniel Hudson

As you can see, not much black and more green than red indicating that most of the Diamondbacks players are likely to improve. Furthermore, much of the core of the team is under team control for the next three to five years which means that while they shipped away three good young players in a trade that they probably lost by a fair amount, they did not mortgage their future. They should be able to compete for the next several years if they did their job and identified the right players to ride for the next half decade. They gambled that now is their time and that they were one starting pitcher (after Greinke) away from catching the Dodgers and Giants. Whether they win or lose that gamble will likely determine whether Dave Stewart is seen as the architect of another winning team for Arizona, or a goat who gets fired for overpaying for a rotation that didn’t get the job done. Either way, the Diamondbacks are likely to be relevant for the next three to five seasons even if they stand pat.
    There has been discussion during the off-season about the Diamondbacks going for it because Paul Goldschmidt is in his prime. If you look at the chart above you will notice that most of the core of the Diamondbacks club is signed, or at least under team control through 2019 or beyond. Goldschmidt and Pollock can be Diamondbacks through 2019 if the team so desires. That means that if they have what they think they have with their improved rotation and the development of their young position players and the young pitchers they already had, then their window to compete will be more than one season. Obviously the roster won’t stay exactly the way it is today, but the goal for every team is to build a solid core, develop a strong farm system that can continuously feed the major league club and/or can be used to trade for a missing piece, and sign a free agent or two to fill in the other holes. In the case of the Diamondbacks, they developed the back end of their rotation and a strong outfield, as well as the corners of their infield. The middle of the infield was built with youngsters who are good glove men with some offensive potential. The pen was built with some trades to supplement young arms that came up through the farm system. They have built a competitive team and gave up some important pieces of their farm system to make them contenders now. There is always risk in that. Keith Law currently ranks their system 24th out of 30. But they didn’t just position themselves for this year. So to answer the first question (finally) even though they are probably going to end up losing the trade in terms of career WAR by something like two or three to one (or more if Swanson becomes a superstar) they have set themselves up to compete for at least the next three seasons, and in these days of free agency that’s all you can hope for.

Do the Diamondbacks have enough in the pen to support their expensive rotation?

Submarines in The Desert
By Jim Silva

    If you’ve ever played whiffle ball – real whiffle ball, with the ball that has holes on only one hemisphere –  against someone who was actually trying to beat you, then you have probably faced someone who throws similarly to how the Diamondbacks closer, Brad Ziegler, throws. Ziegler isn’t the first major league pitcher to drop down below his waist to throw, but he is one of the most successful submariners currently pitching in the majors. It’s hard to imagine what a slider looks like coming from Ziegler, but he throws one, along with a sinker and a change. Most closers step to the mound and try to blow you away, not entice you to beat the ball into the dirt, but Ziegler got batters to ground out 74% of the time last year and only struck out 4.8 batters per nine. It is hard to know how to look at peripherals from a pitcher like Ziegler since his game plan is to get the batter to hit the ball, but hit it weakly and at someone’s ankles. Do we care how many guys he fans? Not really. His 2.2 walks per nine is awfully pretty though – that we care about – and his 2-to-1 strikeout to walk ratio is acceptable as well. So when we talk about peripherals from submarine pitchers, perhaps we should look at ground ball rates, walk rates, and home run rates to make predictions. Ziegler allowed 3 home runs in his 68 innings of work which perfectly matches his career rate of 0.4 home runs per nine innings of work. So is it of concern that in Ziegler’s best year in the majors his strikeout rate per nine fell well below his career rate  of 5.9 per nine? When a pitcher has a year like Ziegler did it is important to look at how he did it, but his numbers, aside from an absurdly low .220 BABIP (batting on balls in play), were in line with his career numbers. The super low BABIP is of some concern, but if it rebounds to his career rate of .277, and he continues to limit balls leaving the park, then his filthy, grounder-inducing junk will continue to be effective and he could once again post a wicked DRA (a different measure of ERA that attempts to measure how many runs the pitcher really was responsible for) in the range of 2.27 like he did in 2015.
    Ziegler has most often been a setup guy because a pitcher who induces ground balls is exactly what you want when you have runners on base in double play position. Closers in today’s model usually enter the game with nobody on. It is likely that he will be the closer again after his excellent 2015 in the role. So who will be the setup man in 2016? Last year it was Daniel Hudson after Ziegler moved to the closer role. The late signing of Tyler Clippard gives Arizona some versatility and bullpen depth that will help them during the playoffs if they can manage to get there. It seems that every team is trying to shorten the game – employing multiple shutdown relievers so that if they have a lead going into the 6th the other team is doomed. The Diamondbacks aren’t being like all the other kids because Clippard and Ziegler aren’t flame throwing monsters. Clippard can turn it up to 92 or 93 and Ziegler tops out in the mid-80’s.
    To look at the rest of the Diamondbacks pen, let’s look at a fairly new statistic developed by the fine folks at Baseball Prospectus (BP). DRA (Deserved Runs Allowed) is a stat that would take the place of ERA in evaluating how effective a pitcher was. Whereas ERA is pretty simple (earned runs divided by innings pitched over nine), DRA is more fair and complicated as hell! It takes everything into account when deciding how many runs the pitcher is truly responsible for including unearned runs, the park, the situation he inherited when he entered the game, and more. BP also uses DRA to calculate WARP – the number of wins a pitcher is responsible for above what a replacement level pitcher would have given up – so we will use that when we look at the pitching staff in Arizona.
    If we look at Tyler Clippard, he had a DRA of 3.45 for 2015 in his two stops. His walks were up a bit over his career average – 3.9 walks per nine last season, with a career average of 3.7 walks per nine. He kept his hit rate per nine down at 6.2, just a tick over his career rate of 6.1 per nine. Basically, most of his numbers were consistent with what he had done in recent years except his strikeout rate. Historically Clippard had whiffed at least 10 batters per nine innings. In 2015 he only fanned 8.1 per nine. Last season dragged his career rate down to 9.8 strikeouts per nine. It is possible that the substantial drop in k’s portends a decline from the goggled reliever as his ground ball rate also dropped, but we will see what this season brings, pitching in the desert. He is only 31 and 2015 wasn’t a bad season, so if he bounces back he will likely get a chance to pitch the 8th and maybe even the 9th for Arizona.
    Andrew Chafin allowed a sterling 2.72 DRA in 2015. “Big Country” threw 75 innings in his 66 appearances with righties doing a bit better than lefties – a slash line of .225/.306/.325 versus righties and .182/.260/.264 versus lefties. With splits like that, it is no wonder the Diamondbacks used him for more than an inning at a time. Chafin is a fastball/slider two pitch guy who was mostly a starter in the minors. Since he can go more than an inning, he will likely be used that way. Why pull him when he can get lefties and righties out and save your bullpen? That probably makes him more valuable as the guy who can come in with a man on in the 6th, invite the hitter to ground into a double play – he had a 60% ground ball rate – and stay to pitch the 7th, handing the ball to the setup guy. Chafin doesn’t have the scary strikeout rates of the prototypical closer, but he is a valuable piece of the bullpen with his versatility and his effectiveness.
    Daniel Hudson finally made it back to the majors and survived a full season – his first full season since 2011. He is one of those rare animals with the fortitude to work back from two Tommy John surgeries. The former starter’s fastball played up in relief as he managed an average velocity of just over 96 mph. Hudson was the set-up man, but the last two innings of the game are a little more crowded this year with Tyler Clippard on the squad. Hudson’s DRA was 3.99 and he kept the ball in the park allowing 0.9 homers per nine innings. He gave up 1.32 runners per nine innings mostly based on giving up almost a hit per inning. His control was not as good as it was in his last full season. His walk rate jumped from 2.0 walks per nine innings when he started 33 games in 2011, to 3.3 per nine last season when he pitched in relief 64 times and started once. As a fly ball pitcher in Arizona, he needs to get his WHIP down to get his DRA down and remain stingy with the longballs. With another year away from surgery he could see enough improvement to end up in the closer’s role if either of the two guys ahead of him falters.
    At 25, many of us had no clue what we were doing with our lives. Randall Delgado however was having his second solid season in a row out of the Arizona pen. Here is an example of where ERA and DRA diverge sometimes. Delgado’s ERA in 2014 was 4.87, while his DRA was 3.66. In 2015 his ERA was more in line with his DRA – 3.25 versus 3.69. So if you look at the two seasons next to each other and remove ERA, it looks like the seasons were almost identical. His ERA may have been dramatically influenced by the pitchers around him or just bad luck in 2014. There are a lot of events that are out of the pitcher’s control that can negatively impact his ERA, but DRA takes a more steely-eyed look at everything that goes into runs scoring. In both 2014 and 2015 Delgado fanned at least 9 men per game. He also kept  his home run rate under 1.0 in both seasons, and fashioned hit rates per nine of 8.2 and 7.9 in 2014 and 2015. The knock on Delgado – and remember he is only 25 so there is room for growth – is that he has issued 4.1 free passes per nine innings in each of the last two seasons. If his hit rate goes up, with that walk rate, then he will have a hard time being effective.
    Poor Josh Collmenter. The guy was bounced from the rotation to the pen, back to the rotation and then back to the pen last season. But you can understand the Diamondbacks thinking. Collmenter has been better in relief, at least last season, but he can start and not get completely axe murdered in the role. As a starter, his slash line was .310/.329/.555 with a WHIP of 1.383. When he came out of the pen he allowed a slash line of .229/.284/.365 with a WHIP of 1.108. Guys like Collmenter are really valuable, especially in places like Coors Field or Chase Field where pitchers just don’t fare as well. You need that guy who can be useful out of the pen or jump in when a starter needs a rest or an injury occurs. There were a couple red lights that flashed for Collmenter last season. His strikeouts per nine dropped from 8.3 in 2013, to 5.8 in 2014, and dropped again to 4.7 last season while his home run rate spiked to 1.3 per nine innings last season. Collmenter is unlikely to get many chances to regain a spot in the rotation if his numbers continue those alarming trends.
    Enrique Burgos throws a fastball and a slider, each about half the time last season, and he used that combo to strike out 13.0 batters per nine innings last season in his rookie year. Life was exciting last year when Enrique jogged from the pen. When he wasn’t striking guys out he was allowing 9.0 hits per nine innings, and walking 5.0 per nine. He was perpetually walking the tightrope. The guy throws hard – an average fastball just a hair below 96 MPH, but his control is not major league ready. He sprinted through AA and AAA last season in spite of walk rates above 7.0 per nine, so another year in the minors trying to figure out where the ball is going would do him good. He has been groomed as a future closer and he helped a tiny bit last season in the bigs –  DRA of 4.18 and a WARP of 0.2. If the Diamondbacks want him to be a big league closer someday they need to let him finish cooking in Reno.
    The Diamondbacks are the hip pick to unseat the Dodgers in the West after a big off-season where they rebuilt their rotation and picked up some help for their bullpen. But they play in a pretty harsh park on pitchers (and a great one for hitters!), which means that they might consider handling their pitching staff a little differently than clubs in more neutral or pitcher-friendly parks do. The Diamondbacks finished in the bottom third of the National League in quality starts which means there was a lot of pressure on their pen to pull games out of the fire or even just finish games. They have a much better starting rotation this year, so that should help. But they also have a unique opportunity with two guys who have closed successfully before in Clippard and Ziegler, the incumbent. The Diamondbacks could try a dual closer model where Ziegler pitches more than an inning when he closes or sets up, and Tyler Clippard pitches a more traditional closer’s role but also functions as a traditional one-inning setup man when Ziegler closes. The idea would be to use Ziegler in double play situations, but to use Clippard when there is no one on first. Ziegler isn’t your stereotypical closer so why use him like one? Whether they try it or not, having two closers (and maybe even a third in Daniel Hudson) is a good idea on a team that struggles to get pitchers through the 5th, or just teams that play in a tough park on pitchers.

What impact will the Shelby Miller trade have on the Diamonbacks starting rotation?

Putting Your Chips On Red, 2016
by Jim Silva

    Pitching in Arizona is not fun. It’s probably more fun than pitching in Colorado, but it is clearly challenging. Last season, the Diamondbacks pitchers finished in the bottom half of the majors in earned run average (4.04), WHIP – walks plus hits per innings pitched (1.33), batting average against (.258), and most telling, and likely the reason GM Dave Stewart made some of the moves he made in the off-season, quality starts (25th). It must have been fun to go to D-Backs games because the ball was flying all over the place! Of the six men who started most of the games for Arizona last season, five of them gave up an average of more than a home run per nine innings. Their ace, Rubby De La Rosa gave up 32 long balls all by himself, one dinger away from tying for the league lead. Only two NL teams gave up more home runs than Arizona – The Rockies (of course, I mean they play in Coors Field!), and the Phillies, who were, and still are in a complete rebuild. But even with starting pitching that gave up a lot of home runs and finished 23rd in all of baseball in ERA, the Diamondbacks finished 3rd in the West only two games below .500. In other words, the team had a championship caliber offense, but was undermined by a sub-par pitching staff. It was pretty clear what Dave Stewart needed to do, although how he achieved his goal will likely be talked about for years to come.
    The Diamondbacks made the biggest splash this off-season by signing free agent starting pitcher Zack Greinke, who would have been an ace, except he pitched on the same team as Clayton Kershaw. Greinke was coming off his best season and nobody expected him to sign with Arizona – it looked like a two horse race between the Dodgers and the Giants – but 6 years and $206.5 million got the deal done, making Greinke a Snake. But Stew wasn’t done there. He went out and got another starting pitcher by trading away a package that included the guy they got with the very first pick in last year’s draft, Dansby Swanson, who many think is as “can’t miss” as prospects get.
    Zack Greinke is 31, has a Cy Young Award (2009 with KC), a pair of Gold Glove Awards, three All Star game appearances, and a handful of MVP votes. He also has an impressive .604 career winning percentage bolstered by his 19-3 record last season for the Dodgers when he finished second in the Cy Young voting. The won-lost record last year was amazing, but he did some other things even more amazing in what was probably his best season ever.
    Greinke’s control is excellent. Last season he struck out 200 batters while only walking 40 in nearly 223 innings. Those numbers are in line with Greinke’s career numbers, but his league-leading 0.844 WHIP was his best mark by a good stretch. He also led the league in winning percentage at .864, ERA+ (park adjusted ERA relative to the league) with 225, ERA with a sterling 1.66 mark and possibly, most babies saved from a burning building. While not a league-leading mark, Zack also was stingy with the long ball, allowing only 0.6 home runs per nine innings. That last number will be a welcome sight in Arizona if he can come even close to replicating it. Granted, he amassed that in one of the best pitcher’s parks in baseball. Another category that Mr. Greinke led that makes him a perfect potential savior for the Diamondbacks starting rotation, was quality starts – he made 30 to best even Jake Arrieta (the Cy Young Award winner), who had 29, and pitching god, Clayton Kershaw who made 27. So yes, Zack Greinke is within acceptable parameters as a starting pitcher. If the Diamondbacks have anything that should keep them awake at night, it might be that there is almost no way he can repeat his last season – not just because it was such a great season, but also because his new home park is hard on pitchers. Will fans in Arizona be disappointed if Greinke’s ERA “blows up” into the threes? What if it touches 4.00? Greinke has pitched in a hitter’s park before (Milwaukee in 2011 and 2012) and managed to keep his ERA below 3.00. Regression to the mean, however, is a beast (or something else unpleasant that starts with a ‘b’).
    Shelby Miller has started at least 31 games in each of the last three seasons – led the league with 33 last season – and he is only 25. The D-Backs paid a hefty price to pry him away from the Braves. The obvious question, “Is he worth it?” is already being asked and written about exhaustively. Miller did something last year that he has done in each of his three full seasons in the majors. He kept his hits per nine innings right around 8.0 (7.9, 7.9, and 8.0). This is important because Miller has walked between 3.0 and 3.6 batters per nine innings – 3.2 last season – so he has to limit the number of hits in order maintain a WHIP in the 1.2s. He also took an important step last season that portends well for him in Arizona. The 6’3” righty kept the ball in the park better than in any previous season, limiting hitters to 0.6 home runs over nine innings. In his first two full campaigns, he had allowed 1.0 and 1.1 jacks per nine innings, so if this is real growth, Miller has a chance to succeed in Arizona. If it is an aberration, then his ERA is likely to jump quite a bit in the dry air of Phoenix. One note of caution: his splits are cause for concern as his WHIP and ERA both jumped in the second half. Temper that caution with the knowledge that he threw more innings last year than in any season of his career so maybe he was just tuckered out.
    With a 94 MPH average fastball and a nasty change that he throws about 20% of the time, you would think Rubby De La Rosa would fool more batters than he does, but based on his numbers from last season, which are in line with his career numbers, it’s Rubby who is getting fooled. Starting with his ERA+, which hasn’t bested 100 since his rookie year of 2011, to his home runs per nine innings mark (career: 1.3, 2015: 1.5), there isn’t much, other than durability to recommend him. At some point your “stuff” has to translate into results and that hasn’t happened for the 26 year old Dominican. There were two positive notes for Rubby last year. His WHIP dropped again last year from 1.500 in 2013, to 1.485 in 2014, down to 1.357 in 2015. Still way too many baserunners – especially for someone who gives up 32 home runs – but consistent improvement nonetheless. De La Rosa also saw a slight improvement in his strikeout to walk ratio from 2.11 in 2014 up to 2.38 in 2015, mostly on the back of an increased strikeout rate as his walk rate remain largely unchanged (3.1 per nine in 2014 to 3.0 per nine in 2015). Still, he is far too hittable and gives up way too many baserunners as well as home runs. With the diminished pressure that comes from having more quality starters ahead of you, perhaps De La Rosa can improve enough to make him more than a consumer of innings (188.67 in 2015) for the Diamondbacks, his 14 wins notwithstanding.
    Have you ever wondered what it would be like to have one part of your body replaced with another part of your body? You know, put your left leg where your right arm used to be – that kind of thing? Well, Patrick Corbin is one of the increasing numbers of humans who have done that via Tommy John surgery. The lefty from Clay, New York had his surgery in 2014 and made his mostly triumphant return in July of 2015. This season he will come to spring training after a relatively normal off-season where no doctors tried to swap his right eye for his nose or anything, and more recovery time under his belt. Corbin was looking like an ace in the making before he hurt himself, and his return last summer showed that he could still pitch. Corbin managed 16 starts last season and actually showed some improved numbers, even from his All-Star 2013 season, before his elbow popped. His FIP (ERA independent of fielding) dropped a touch from 3.43 to 3.35. Corbin increased his strikeouts to walk ratio from 3.30 to 4.59 by increasing his strikeout rate by just over a half-k per nine, and dropping his walk rate by a half walk per nine. Two concerns (other than no longer having his actually elbow ligament in his throwing elbow anymore) were a slight bump in his home rate from 0.8 to 1.0 and a substantial jump in his hit rate. He gave up 9.6 hits per nine innings bumping his WHIP from his 1.166 rate in 2013 to 1.271 in 2015. Corbin was more hittable last season as his 2013 rate was 8.2 hits per nine innings. Corbin looked like an ace in the making in 2013 based on his results and his workload. Not many starters notch 200 innings anymore, but Corbin did in 2013. As a 25 year old with Tommy John surgery in his past, it is probably unwise to try to get 200 innings out of him again, at least not right away. Replacing quality with quantity though – now that’s a good trade! If Corbin can stay healthy and put up numbers comparable to what he did last year, then he slots in nicely behind Greinke, either in front of or behind Miller. Corbin’s fastball/slider combo has worked quite well, even in Arizona, so having him back for a full season – even without the addition of Greinke and Miller – makes the Diamondbacks a better team.
    Arizona has a very young team – the youngest in the majors by a year – which should scare the rest of the league. Their likely 5th starter will be 24 year old Robbie Ray. Ray threw his fastball a lot in 2015 – 72% of the time, mixing it with his slider, and change-up. The 6’2” lefty had the lowest ratio of home runs allowed per nine innings of the six most frequently used starters for Arizona in 2015 at 0.6. He also allowed the fewest hits per nine innings at 8.5, and struck out the most batters per nine innings with 8.4, so by some peripherals he was the best starter in the group. Where he fell back to the pack was his control. Ray gave up 3.5 freebies per nine – even worse than De La Rosa, inflating his WHIP to 1.332. The walk rate was below his career rate of 4.0, so Ray improved while making strides elsewhere in his game. He’s tough to hit, and if last season is any indication, he is becoming tough to go deep on. He could very well climb over De La Rosa in the rotation if he can hold onto his gains and take the next step in his growth.
    For a brief, shining moment, it looked like Archie Bradley was going to have a stellar debut fitting of a top prospect. He was making headlines with his excellent start and then made a headline of another sort when he took a line drive to the face off the bat of Carlos Gonzalez of the Rockies. There is a history of pitchers suffering a similar fate who could not get past the terror and get back to pitching fearlessly – understandably so. Bradley is, you know, young –  just 23. The line drive off his face didn’t dramatically change his control as he had just come off a six-inning start where he put five guys on. Also, his minor league career walk rate is 4.7 free passes per nine – untenable. What did change was his hit rate. After giving up only seven hits in his first 18.66 innings, Bradley came back three weeks later and gave up 27 hits in his last 15.67 innings. Small sample size caveats apply to all of these numbers – lots of guys start off hot and then cool down – but he was quite awful after his return, so a wait-and-see approach is advisable when young Archibald next appears on the mound. Keep in mind that our guy has been around the top of the prospect ranks since he was drafted so he will get more chances than you would if you were to walk into a tryout camp in say, Rancho Cucamonga. He is likely to be the first option should one of the top five starters blow up.
    A converted shortstop, Braden Shipley will start his 2016 pitching for the triple-A Reno Aces. After succeeding, for the most part, in his full season at double-A in 2015, the Diamondbacks will be keeping a close eye on Shipley to see if he is ready in case of an injury, or just plain crappiness, in the major league rotation. He has already jumped over Archie Bradley and is now the top ranked prospect for Arizona. Double-A is tough, so a slight increase in his walk rate while keeping his home run rate at 0.4 is good news. The fact that his strikeout rate (6.8 k’s per nine) dropped is something to keep an eye on. It was his first season under 8.0 k’s per nine, and indicates that he wasn’t missing as many bats as he had in the past. Depending on how he handles triple-A batters he is likely to see what Arizona looks like in the summer or at least in the early fall of 2016.
    Increased depth, a better top of the rotation, and two youngsters almost ready to jump the rotation who are working on it at triple-A will push the Diamondbacks toward the top of the NL West this year. They gave up a ton of resources (money and prospects) to pull in an ace and a number two starter who are now locked up for a few years. If Greinke is Greinke and Miller is close to what he looked like last season, the Diamondbacks will be greatly improved in 2016. Will it be enough to best the Dodgers and Giants? I mean all three teams have studs at the top of the rotation. Their fortunes might be decided by the back of the rotation, and of course health. It should be a great race though.

A look at the 2016 Diamonbacks outfield without Ender Inciarte.

Shagging Flies in The Desert
by Jim Silva

    There has been one sheriff in Phoenix for a couple years now, and that has been Paul Goldschmidt. Not that the Diamondbacks didn’t have any other good players, but none of the youngsters had reached star status until last season. A.J. Pollock took his game to another level in 2015 and became the deputy to Goldy’s sheriff. Pollock has been an underrated centerfielder for the last couple of years. In 2015 – his age 27 season – he put it all together saving his team 14 runs according to DRS (defensive runs saved), and putting up a 7.4 WAR season.
    Pollock’s previous two seasons had been good by most measures. In 2013 and 2014 he put together 3.5 and 3.9 WAR seasons respectively, while also saving his team 12 and 8 runs according to DRS. Pollock won a Gold Glove last season and actually deserved it if you believe the defensive numbers. A couple of factors turned him from a good player into a star last season. First of all, A.J. increased his walk rate and decreased his strikeout rate. It wasn’t a huge change, but the 53 walks combined with his .315 average drove his on-base percentage from his previous high of .353 to .367. He spent more time hitting in the two hole, but he also was the leadoff hitter 48 times. That .367 on-base percentage would make him a good candidate to bat first on most teams, but his power and batting average might make him a two or three-hole hitter on a team with so many high on-base percentage candidates. Pollock also showed excellent speed and the ability to steal bases with a high success rate – 39 steals at 85% last season. This represented a big jump for Pollock who had stolen 27 bases in his previous 862 major league plate appearances. A move to the two hole in front of Goldschmidt might decrease Pollock’s stolen base totals, but he will still steal at a high success rate.
    One of the other pieces that came together for Pollock last season was a swap of some doubles for home runs. He reached double digits in home runs, with 20, for the first time in his career. He still swatted 39 doubles and chipped in six triples for 65 extra-base hits on the year. His slugging percentage didn’t change from 2014, staying at exactly .498 again, but it was achieved by a decrease in doubles and an increase in home runs. As Pollock was 27 and experiencing his first full season’s worth of at-bats, it is reasonable to expect  the homer spike to stick around and maybe even increase with experience and health, especially if his walk rate/strikeout rate growth continues. Pollock’s growth is real and should be the new normal for the next few years giving the Diamondbacks two hitting stars who can also pick it with the best of them.
    ESPN reports that David Peralta will move to right field in 2016 to accommodate Yasmany Tomas. Peralta should get close to 600 plate appearances this season after the Diamondbacks dealt away Ender Enciarte. The 2015 version of David Peralta did an excellent job in his 517 plate appearances with a slash line of .312/.371/.522. That’s quite a slash line for his second season in the majors. Peralta showed excellent bat control making contact with 86% of the pitches he swung at that were in the strike zone, where about 80% is average. He also showed good strike zone discipline offering at just under 33% of pitches outside of the strike zone, which was an improvement from 2014, and well below the average, which was approximately 46%. With 53 extra-base hits in 517 plate appearances, he showed excellent power, hitting 26 doubles, 17 home runs, and leading the league with 10 triples. The one area where Peralta showed weakness was against lefties. His slash line against freaks who throw from the wrong side was .250/.311/.375 – pretty anemic. More at-bats against lefties will either drive down his batting average below .300, or he will make adjustments and become even scarier at the plate. Peralta batted in the four hole more often than not in 2015, so there will be many chances to drive in Goldschmidt and Pollock if they bat in the 3rd spot and 2nd spot respectively.
    Peralta’s glove is a little harder to call after two seasons in the majors. Last season, he saved 15 runs with positioning and cutting off extra-base hits but gave them back plus a few with mistakes and poor throws. He is a converted pitcher so you would expect a canon for an arm, so perhaps the issue is with accuracy. His range was above league average at all three outfield spots, so if the throwing issue was a one year aberration, then he should be a plus defender with a power bat in 2016.
    Yasmany Tomas defected from Cuba in 2014 and signed an enormous contract with Arizona – six years for $68.5 million. He is 25 ,and had played for the Cuban national team but didn’t have much minor league experience when the Diamondbacks brought him up to the big league team – 21 at bats at Reno. Perhaps it was the big contract that inspired Arizona to rush him to the majors. Tomas is a big man, and looks like he could crush the ball just by looking at it. Unfortunately that isn’t what happened last season when he was called up.
    His showing in spring training had many believing that he could not hang at third base and his work there in 31 games proved it as he cost his team six runs, according to DRS, and showed below league average range. He also made six errors in his limited time there for a .918 fielding percentage. In an attempt to give his bat a chance to shine without his glove detracting so much, the Diamondbacks shifted him to right field where he cost his team yet another six runs.
    Considering the fact that the Diamondbacks had three excellent outfielders last season (they traded Ender Enciarte during the off-season), a lot of trouble was made to try to keep Tomas on the field, so you would think that he must have raked like a beast. In fact, his slash line was .275/.305/.401 – not exactly raking. With only 31 extra-base hits in 426 plate appearances he didn’t deliver the thump that would have made up for the lack of on-base skills. With 110 strikeouts to go with only 17 walks, he didn’t get to exploit pitchers needing to throw strikes when they got behind. His swing rate was high – he swung at 57% of pitches thrown to him, and his contact rate was low – he put his bat on only 72% of pitches thrown. Subsequently, pitchers threw him strikes only 44.75 percent of the time, which is below average. He makes good contact when he swings at strikes, but flails when he chases pitches out of the strike zone.
    The Diamondbacks are clearly invested in Tomas, so he will have every opportunity to fail or succeed in 2015 as the starting left-fielder. Having Enciarte around to be his caddie next year would have helped, but since that won’t happen he will face all comers and sink or swim on his own. He hits lefties harder but wasn’t hopeless against righties so a platoon isn’t necessary. More disconcerting are his splits – first versus second half of the season. His slash line in the first half was an encouraging .313/.351/.448, but whether pitchers figured him out or something else happened to Tomas, his second half slash line plummeted to .208/.228/.325. Those are reserve middle infielder numbers, not big, lumbering corner outfielder numbers. The Diamondbacks should be scared that their $68 million investment might be a half-season wonder. His 2016 spring training was encouraging, and a hot start will put to rest fears that he can’t adjust to big league pitching. But if he struggles in the first half or has similar second half woes, what is to be done? Arizona has invested a lot of money in the Cuban star and they pushed him directly to the majors with no adjustment time. Should they send him down and work with him on what to do when pitchers discover a weakness? Unless he stops chasing, he will never realize his potential at the plate, and if he doesn’t have that, well, he doesn’t have anything.
    With Ender Enciarte gone, who will play the outfield when the guys mentioned above are at a baby shower or driving their mom up the coast to a wedding? The Diamondbacks are not afraid to push their young prospects fast, so it would not be a surprise to see Socrates Brito make the team out of spring training as the fourth outfielder. Old Socrates has a few things going for him, aside from his cool name, that make him a reasonable pick to be the guy. He is reported to have a good arm and sound glove and his very small sample size in the majors last season support this as he saved the D-Backs three runs (DRS). He also showed tremendous range in right – again small sample size caveats apply here. Brito is clearly fast, as evidenced by his 21 steals in 27 attempts last year, and his 118 career steals. It is not a stretch to envision him playing center to spell Pollock and he can clearly handle either corner. The two big issues with the husband of Xanthippe – oh wait, that’s the other Socrates – is that he doesn’t walk enough, and he doesn’t hit home runs. In defense of the fleet young outfielder, he hits for a high average (.303 in his cup of coffee in the majors to go with a career .288 mark in the minors), and he musters enough doubles and triples to avoid being labeled a slap hitter. Another thing Brito has going for him is that he is the best option. The Diamondbacks system was ranked 24th by Keith Law in his annual prospect rankings, and Socrates Brito was the only D-Back outfielder ranked in the organization’s top 10. There is some risk as Brito jumped from AA to play in 18 major league games last season, so he might be overmatched, although he looked good in his very limited debut.
    It’s hard to get excited about the 5th outfield spot, unless of course you are the one occupying the 5th outfield spot. In the case of the Diamondbacks, one possible winner of the “last spot on the roster” derby could be Peter O’Brien. You can read more about him in the Diamondbacks Catching article entitled, “Beef and Tuffy Catching for The Rattlers?”, but suffice it to say he will spend a lot of time on the bench and get his at-bats as a pinch hitter. O’Brien is a butcher in the field but can “play” left field, first base and possibly stop the ball from skittering to the backstop when the pitcher throws. What O’Brien does that gets him on rosters is hit balls to the moon – a nice skill to have on your bench. If he doesn’t get the bench spot, and instead gets sent to the minors, it will be because the Diamondbacks need someone who can field acceptably, and because Arizona still wants to try to turn O’Brien into a complete player who can field acceptably somewhere.
    The Diamondbacks lack depth in the outfield and have some uncertainty with Tomas. If he fails, then they are into very risky territory with a talented, but raw youngster just up from AA in Brito, or a powerful free-swinging statue in O’Brien. But Pollock and Peralta give them a solid to spectacular profile in center and right, and if Tomas pans out to be at least decent, then the Diamondbacks will have one of the better all-around outfields in the West.

The Diamondbacks infield – does Segura make them better in 2016?

Can Anyone Just Get on Base?
by Jim Silva

    Any discussion of the Diamondbacks infield must start with their superstar, Paul Goldschmidt. Much of the off-season banter about the big moves the D-backs made was attributed to the team wanting to capitalize on Goldschmidt’s prime years. The first-baseman will play most of this season as a 28 year old, and has put up WARs of 3.4, 7.1, 4.5, and 8.8 in his four full seasons in the majors. Goldy has finished second in MVP voting twice, including last season, and has made the All Star team in each of the last three seasons. All that makes him great, but what makes him unique is that he is so well-rounded. He is a solid glove man at first, hits for power and average, gets on base at a good clip, and steals bases – finishing just out of the National League top ten in this last stat, but finishing first for NL first basemen. The scary thing is, he is just getting better having just posted his best stolen base totals with 21, his most walks with 118, his best on-base percentage at .435, his best batting average at .321, and his highest slugging percentage at .570. There’s more, but talking about Goldschmidt is boring. Suffice it to say that he is great and the best player on the Diamondbacks, and move on. (He finished in the top five in seven offensive categories last season – sorry, couldn’t resist.)
    This off-season, General Manager Dave Stewart made a controversial move by trading for Brewers shortstop, Jean Segura. Segura is 25, so there should be room for growth. He suffers from familiarity, as people who follow baseball think of him as older since he has been in the majors since 2012. The problem with looking at Segura and seeing growth potential is that he has been in decline since his 5.6 WAR season of 2013. The other issue with a 25 year old, like Segura, who has declined for two years in a row is that he is being compared to himself – no longer a budding star, but a failed prospect. That said, there are some real issues with Segura’s game.
    Coming up through the minors, his on-base percentage was tied to his high batting average. When you hit .294 as Segura did in AA, you don’t have to draw many walks to have a solid on-base percentage. Segura hit .294 again in his breakout 2013 season, but only managed a .329 on-base percentage due to his 25 walk effort. A .329 on-base percentage is decent for someone who hits in the 8 hole in the batting order, but it is insufficient for a leadoff hitter, which is what the Brewers, and now the Diamondbacks expected Segura to be. In 2014, Segura got on base at a .289 rate and in 2015 it dropped again to .281. One reason Segura is making more outs could be that pitchers are throwing him fewer strikes – he sees more than the average number of pitches out of the strike zone – and he is swinging at more pitches – his swing rate jumped from just over 34% to almost 39% last year. He also swung and missed more last year on balls and strikes than in 2014. Why give someone so many at bats by batting them first every game when they make so many outs?
    Segura is fast – he looks like a leadoff hitter. In 2013, Segura stole 44 bases at a 77% success rate but scored only 74 runs in 623 plate appearances. In 2014, he stole only 20 bases at a 69% success rate, and last season he swiped 25 bases at an 81% success rate. What is more valuable? A guy who gets on base a lot, or a guy who steals bases at a 77% clip (Segura’s career rate in the majors thus far)? Not surprisingly, there is research behind this. If you aren’t stealing at above a 72 – 75% clip, then you’re costing your team runs (see Joe Sheehan’s article http://www.baseballprospectus.com/article.php?articleid=2607 ). So Segura’s base stealing helps his team, but in terms of how many more runs he creates than what someone with a higher on-base percentage would create, it would be hard to make the case that Segura should bat leadoff.
    Segura’s glove is an asset. His range numbers are good, saving the Brewers four runs last season. On the other hand, he made more mistakes last season than he made good plays, which dropped his defensive runs saved number slightly into the negative. So if the Diamondbacks got Segura for his glove then…wait…they already have Nick Ahmed! Ahmed is even more rangy than Segura putting up the highest range factor in the NL at 4.82 to Segura’s 4.40. In terms of runs saved, that’s 15 for Ahmed to 4 for Segura. Ahmed also played the position more cleanly, in terms of good plays versus bad plays, ending up with a DRS 22 runs better than Segura. Ahmed is slick with the glove, but at 26 probably doesn’t have a lot more development left in the bat. And he hits a lot like Segura. Here is a quick comparison of the 2015 contributions of the two young shortstops.
Slash Line (average/on base/slugging)
oWAR (Offensive wins above what a replacement level player would contribute)
WAR (Wins – including defense – above what a replacement level player would contribute)

While it is hard to know what both players would do given the same playing time in the field and the same number of plate appearances next season, Ahmed clearly outplayed Segura beating him at his strength (the glove) and matching him offensively largely because he had more extra base hits. If both players are likely to show some improvement, but show very similar skill sets, then why give up anything to get another guy that looks a lot like the guy you already have? Dave? Mr. Stewart, sir?
    The Diamondbacks seem to have cornered the market on shortstop types with on-base percentages south of .300. Chris Owings had a really awful season with the bat but still was given 552 plate appearances. Take a look at his slash line: .227/.264/.322. If it looks worse than the two shortstops in the table above, that’s because it was. What’s worse is he struck out like a power hitter whiffing 144 times. To his credit, he stole 16 bases in 20 attempts, so there’s that. His offensive WAR was…offensive, at -0.9. Owings was previously a shortstop and reasonably slick with the glove, so he did contribute some defensively but not enough to drag his WAR out of the negatives. He finished the season with a -0.7 WAR. He showed decent range and played a very clean second base so there is some value there, but on what planet is it ok to run a guy out there 147 times when he is killing your offense like that when you are actually trying to win the division?
    Owings has been better than he was in 2015, and again, the guy is only 24 and was coming off shoulder surgery. In 2014 he put up 1.9 WAR with better power, a higher batting average, but comparably crappy plate discipline. If the Diamondbacks don’t plan to run him out there another 147 times in 2016, then who will play second? It could be the loser of the Ahmed-Segura battle to the death, or it could be Brandon Drury or Phil Gosselin.
    Drury looks like he might actually hit, although he is 23 and only has 59 at bats in the bigs. Speed is not his game and he isn’t the gloveman that Ahmed, Segura, or Owings is, but he is solid defensively and has a couple seasons showing good home run power. He also has walked more than any of the aforementioned middle infielders, although his walks dropped off at the higher levels. His career minor league batting average is at .285 and he has slugged .440. Drury came up through the minors playing more third than any other position, while keeping his dance card flexible getting time at 2nd, short, and 1st. Drury has already succeeded at AAA so it makes sense to give him an extended try at second, since third is currently occupied.
    Gosselin is another solid glove guy who has hit for average in the past, but doesn’t walk much at all. He also lacks home run power. In his one experience of substantial playing time he put up solid defensive numbers at 2nd base. He is not highly valued because he is frankly too boring to get excited about. Over the course of four seasons he has accumulated 264 plate appearances with a slash line of .288/.338/.400. That’s half a season of decent hitting that would contribute to the offense from lower in the order. Drury is “prettier”, but Gosselin won’t steal your house key when you pass out drunk on the bus. The Diamondbacks are clearly trying to win this year so they will have to make some hard choices. Giving Gosselin the job and keeping Drury for his potential and versatility, and Owings, since he is young and skilled at second and short, might be the safe way to go. If Gosselin just bores everyone to death and fails to hit, then Drury and Owings are there to smear potential all over the place. You can’t keep both Ahmed and Segura. There is likely a trade that can be worked for Ahmed and his glove to break the logjam, although it might make more sense to keep Ahmed. It would likely be difficult to get anything much for Segura at this point.
    Jake Lamb has the lion’s share of the third base job. There is no drama over competing with Yasmany Tomas at third this year because Tomas couldn’t hang at the hot corner. While Lamb has struggled against lefties – a .200/.275/.267 slash line against them in 2015 –  Drury is actually a fan of pitchers who chuck it from the left-hand side. Drury getting the short end of the platoon at third makes some sense since he can also get some time at second. Lamb saved nine runs with his glove at third last season according to DRS, and he has shown double digit home run power in the minors, although he only cracked six long balls last season in 390 major league plate appearances. He is 25, so there is still room for growth, although not likely superstar potential.    
    One thing the Diamondbacks have on the infield is young, good gloves, and Lamb is no exception. There are a lot of questions, except at first, and a lot of room for growth. The D-Backs infield will pick it, that is certain. If they can maintain the gloves and hit a little better, which is likely, then the infielders will help their cause instead of being an anchor (the kind that drags your ship to a halt like the 2015 infielders not nicknamed “Goldy” were) in 2016.

Arizona’s catching tandem – are they good enough to help the revamped Diamondbacks best the Dodgers and Giants?

Beef and Tuffy Catching for The Rattlers?
by Jim Silva

    Some nicknames just rock. “Beef” Wellington Castillo has one of those nicknames, especially for the fact that he hits the ball far like a guy nicknamed Beef should. Last season he hit like someone nicknamed “Stick” or “Bean” until the Cubs, and then the Mariners traded him. With the Diamondbacks he jacked 17 home runs in 80 games and slugged .496, even though his batting average was only .255 in his D-Backs stint. Castillo has always been able to hit the ball far probably dating back to preschool when he was crushing whiffle balls over the monkey bars.
    But bashing home runs is not the only duty for a catcher. Wellington has always been slightly above league average with his caught stealing rates. His career caught stealing percentage is .297 in the majors, while the league average over the last six seasons is about 28%. Last season, he allowed three of every four would-be base thieves to successfully take the base (11 caught out of 44 attempted), so 25% were caught. One could try to blame the slightly below league average numbers on the pitchers – after all, Beef had the second best pop time throwing to third, and 8th best among qualifiers throwing to second, according to the 2014 fielding bible. You could blame the Cubs pitchers for Castillo’s slightly below average caught stealing rates, but whom would you blame for similar rates in Arizona? He threw out 28% of the prospective base thieves once he moved to the desert. With pop times like his, you would think he would be an elite controller of the running game instead of hovering around league average.
    It will be interesting to see what he does this season with Greinke, Miller, Corbin, and De La Rosa throwing to him. Greinke has a career caught stealing rate of 46% percent when he pitches. Miller is right at league average – 28%. Corbin, in his last full season of 2014 saw 75% of potential base swipers get nailed, and De La Rosa, in his short career is slightly about league average at 31%. If indeed Castillo is an elite arm who has been betrayed by his pitching staff then one would expect his caught stealing rate to increase greatly with a full season in Arizona. If Beef is at fault due to the accuracy of his throws, or some other cause, then he will likely be close to his career 28% rate again in spite of the stingy pitching staff throwing to him.
    The biggest hole in Castillo’s game is his ability to frame pitches. In his last three major league campaigns, the stocky Dominican has cost his pitching staff 21.4, 15.6, and 11.1 runs.  His numbers have improved each season, but he has also caught a decreasing number of innings in each of the last two seasons. Is framing more important in Arizona an extreme hitter’s park, than it is in say, Oakland or San Diego – both pitcher’s parks? The thinking behind the question is that it would seem that giving a team an extra out in Arizona is more likely to lead to a home run than it would in Oakland or San Diego. It would be challenging to prove that assertion, but logic says that outs are more valuable in a hitter’s park than they are in a more forgiving – from a pitcher’s viewpoint – pitcher’s park. With that in mind, the Diamondbacks coaching staff should be working with Castillo to mend that hole in his game.
    The overall package that is Beef looks like a valuable power hitter who won’t hit for much average but draws just enough walks to get on at about a .320 clip. Given 500 plate appearances, his manager should expect 20 jacks and 120 or so k’s. He should hamper base stealing efforts slightly better than the average catcher – especially with his new pitching staff – but give away some strikes. His offense drives most of his WAR, which last year was a bit over 1.0. His peak, at age 26 was 4.5, but he has never accrued more than 1.4 WAR in any other stretch. He is unlikely to make the All Star team in Arizona, but he will be well-loved by fans for his home runs and cannon-like arm. Usually when a player hits, their perceived defensive value seems to improve. If catching a new staff that holds base-runners better actually improves his caught-stealing rates, and his hitting is helped by the park, which it should, then Beef could look like an All Star in this age of mediocre catchers.
    Speaking of nicknames, James Gosewhisch, whose nickname is Tuffy, has to wonder about his prospects moving forward. Gosewhisch is a “catch and throw” flavor of catcher. He peaked offensively last season when he put up 0.2 offensive WAR – his first season in the black. It is behind the dish that Tuffy makes his money. The 32 year old catcher has a career caught-stealing mark of 38%, and has historically put up good framing numbers, although the last two seasons have been mostly neutral (-1.7 both years). So as the guy who catches when Castillo is resting, what does he need to worry about? There’s always a young buck isn’t there?
    In this case, the young buck is named Pete O’Brien and he has yet to obtain a commonly used nickname. Irish O’Brien? The Miami Mauler? Only time will tell. There is a catch though. This young buck may never catch again. A number of newspapers reported that O’Brien developed the “yips” in spring training last year. He struggled throwing the ball back to the pitcher. This was apparently a significant enough issue to cause the Diamondbacks to have O’Brien play most of the AAA season in the outfield. The Diamondbacks should work tirelessly with O’Brien to turn him back into a catcher where his bat is likely to be valuable, but the yips are tricky – ask Macky Sasser, who fought the issue from 1990 until the end of his career. O’Brien got an itty-bitty call-up to the majors, and in his very small shot of espresso (12 plate appearances), he homered, doubled, and knocked two singles, but didn’t catch – he played the outfield.
    O’Brien is young (for a catcher – I know, I know!) – just 25 – and has a career caught stealing rate of 25% in the minors. His throwing numbers are all over the place – seasons around 10% and seasons around 30%. His framing numbers look neutral so far, but minor league framing numbers are harder to come by. If he never moves back behind the plate it significantly diminishes O’Brien’s value, because catchers who can hit are much rarer than corner outfielders or first basemen who can hit. With 22, 34, and 26 home runs in his last three campaigns, O’Brien will eventually make it to Arizona in some capacity. The young slugger doesn’t walk much and strikes out about 120 times every 500 trips to the plate. As a catcher, he is a mid-range star if he can get past his throwing problem. As a corner outfielder, or first baseman, he is a stretch unless he controls the strike zone better – fewer strikeouts and more walks.
    O’Brien has played the outfield exclusively this spring and showed his usual blend of power hitting and lack of walks. If he stays in the majors this season he is probably done as a catcher. If they send him back down, it is hard to imagine why they wouldn’t try to make him an acceptable catcher to increase his value immensely, although after a full season and an entire spring in the outfield it looks like the D-backs have made up their minds about O’Brien as a catcher – he isn’t one.
    So why write about him in an article about catching? Because having someone who can even sort of catch, and then losing that, is a big loss to an organization when the player is so close to the majors. It’s hard to say that anyone is to blame for that, but losing a catcher who can already hit on the eve of his arrival to the majors is the kind of loss that an organization with money can take, but has more of an impact on mid-market and small-market teams. It will be interesting to see how the Diamondbacks deal with O’Brien’s transition. Will they find a way to make the most out of the now outfielder, or think of him as a failed catcher and give up on him? It looks like they are already transitioning by moving him to left, so will they be able to develop a replacement in the minors? That remains to be seen. If they can’t, then they have to fill his spot on the catching depth chart through free agency or a trade, because someone has to squat back there and throw the damn ball back to the pitcher.
    The Diamondbacks are in a good spot with their catching tandem for now. If they can keep Beef and Tuffy healthy then the position will be an asset. If either or both players spend significant time on the disabled list then it will be hard for the Diamondbacks to respond because they no longer have a decent answer in the minors. I’m sure Dave Stewart is crossing his fingers hoping that O’Brien’s yips don’t cost the Diamondbacks a chance to take advantage of their window to rule the West.

An overview of the Diamondbacks, and a look at the effects of the Shelby Miller trade.

Don’t Forget How You Got Here!
by Jim Silva

    How do small market teams, or even middle market teams, compete with large market teams? Well, if you ask Billy Beane, or Michael Lewis, the author of “Money Ball: The Art of Winning An Unfair Game”, they would probably say something about exploiting market inefficiencies – looking for value that has been overlooked by the rest of the market. The simplified take on what the A’s did was to look for players with good on-base percentages and snap them up – they also traded away relievers, especially closers, who they thought were overvalued. But sabermetrics has caught fire and it is getting harder and harder to stay ahead of the rest of the league on anything. With the huge contract that the Cubs just handed Jason Heyward, it looks like defense, which was one of those undervalued nooks in the market, might not be quite so hidden anymore. Last season the Diamondbacks put together a high ranking defense that contributed greatly in taking them from a 63 win team in 2014 to a 78 win team in 2015. Can they still fly under the radar with their defensive bad selves or did they damage their biggest strength in the Shelby Miller trade? In fact, did they help themselves at all in the big off-season deal? Their off-season reeks of what the Padres did last winter – splashy but costly. The Diamondbacks took a step away from what was working for them and while it might help them this season, they could be paying for their eagerness to win now for many years into the future.
    To start the season, the defense is still intact – sort of. They only swapped out one starter who had much defensive impact – Nick Ahmed. While Jean Segura might be a drop-off from Nick Ahmed, he is no slouch with the glove, besting the league average in range factor at shortstop and saving 3, 2, and -3 runs over the last three seasons. He gets to more balls than most shortstops, but he hovers around average always posting positive dWAR (defensive value above replacement players). So if you look at all of his defensive stats to get a more complete picture of Segura he looks solid, where Ahmed was excellent.
    The biggest off-season move for Arizona might turn out to be the trade of Ender Inciarte, and not because it netted them Shelby Miller. Inciarte saved 29 runs playing left, center, and right field last season with DRS values of 12, 4, and 13 runs respectively. Even though he would have likely functioned as a 4th outfielder again, he would have picked up close to the 561 plate appearances he netted last season and saved the D-Back pitching staff plenty of runs. His bat produced too – his slash line was .303/.338/.408 with an OPS+ of 101 meaning he was pretty much league average. His glove won the Fielding Bible multi-position player award, so to also carry a league average stick at age 24 (last season) is pretty impressive. His WAR of 5.3 puts him into all-star territory, and again he will play as a 25 year old this season. The Diamondbacks gave up an all-star caliber outfielder, arguably the best player in last year’s draft class, shortstop Dansby Swanson, and a starting pitcher who just finished showing he could handle double-A, and triple-A, to get Shelby Miller and a minor league relief pitcher. Don’t get me wrong, the Diamondbacks needed to add to their rotation, and Miller is young and affordable, but did they give away too much at the major league level to get him? Part of the answer to that question depends on how you value Miller. If you think of him as a 3rd or 4th starter in the rotation, then the trade is likely to be disastrous from the start. If he is a number two starter with more development ahead, then the trade becomes more defensible. The question for 2016 is will Miller make up for what the Diamondbacks gave up in trading away Inciarte?
    One way to look at the question is to compare how much of a difference there will be between what the replacement for Inciarte will contribute and what the pitchers who were pushed into the bullpen would have contributed. We also have to look at Blair – the starting pitcher and now the 4th best prospect on the Braves. Let’s start with Inciarte. His replacement is likely to be Socrates Brito. If he hits his 2017 projection (It is the first projection that has him over 400 plate appearances), then he will put up 0.7 WAR. He is young, and it is unknown how he will handle a full season in the majors so it is a reasonable guess. He is toolsy, fast, and likely to end up as a pretty rangy defender. If Inciarte just matches his numbers from last season and doesn’t show any growth, then the move from Inciarte to Brito is a net loss of 4.6 WAR. If Ender is a little off his game and drops back to his 2014 numbers (3.7 WAR), then it’s a net loss of 2.0 WAR. Obviously there are a lot of ways this could play out with the 4th outfielder for Arizona, but it is likely to be a pretty big drop off from Inciarte who was more of a 3rd-and-a-half outfielder and would have given the Diamondbacks the best defensive outfield in baseball had he reprised his 2015 season. But what about the pitchers?
    Shelby Miller delivered 3.6 WAR to the woefully bad Braves last season and was rewarded with a 6 and 17 record, winning the coveted, “I lost the most games in the entire league” award. Back in the day, his season would have been viewed as a disaster, much like Ryan’s 1986 season with the Astros where he went 8 and 16 but won the ERA title. Nowadays we are more civilized and we can see past the wretched won-loss record to the bright and shiny ERA and other peripherals. For Miller, he has to be excited to move from a team destined to lose 90+ games to a solid contender for the National League West crown. There are tradeoffs of course. He is moving to a hitter’s park from a pitcher’s park, but also moving to a team with excellent defense. The defense giveth while the park taketh away. It is not unreasonable to expect a season similar to 2015 from the 25 year old. If we set the bar there, then we can compare him to what the Diamondbacks could have expected from the guy Miller bumped from the rotation.
    Josh Collmenter and Archie Bradley are the two pitchers most affected by the Miller deal. Either man could have worked their way into the rotation, with Collmenter being more of a known quantity and Bradley being the one with the higher upside. It might have worked itself out with Bradley being the 5th starter and Collmenter filling the swing role again. At this point Collmenter is a better pitcher than Bradley, but Collmenter has proven time and again than he can handle moving back and forth from the rotation to the pen while Bradley doesn’t have that experience or extended major league success. Aaron Blair – the pitcher they traded away – might also have jumped over Bradley into the rotation with a stellar spring, although he likely would have started the season at triple-A since he started last season in double-A, and only has half a season of triple-A experience. At this point Blair IS better than Bradley and could probably give Collmenter a run for his money, but the Diamondbacks have a lot invested in Bradley and will likely give him at least one more crack at the rotation. Of course, you never know how good a kid is until he shows that he can do it in the majors. So far Blair has been shelled in Braves camp this spring while Bradley has been “meh”, but spring stats mean so very little except when you are trying to steal someone’s job.
    With the Diamondbacks believing they can win it all, they would have been unlikely to give Bradley a very long leash. If Bradley looked like he did before he got hit by a line drive, it wouldn’t be unreasonable to hope for a 1.0 War season from the kid. If he looks like he did after he got hit, then Collmenter gets the nod. Collmenter has stayed between 0.9 WAR and 2.4 WAR for each of the last five seasons. Let’s say he has a season near the bottom of that value range – somewhere around 1.0 WAR. The difference between 2015 Miller and some growth Bradley/worst-case Collmenter would be around 2.6 WAR. Who knows what Blair would have delivered – probably somewhere close to what Bradley would manage. So that means Bradley or Blair in the rotation and Collmenter in the pen getting 12 to 15 starts and working in long relief, with no Miller on board. With Miller on board maybe Bradley gets a chance to prove himself again at triple-A, but the pen doesn’t change with Collmenter being the swing man. The trade likely helps Bradley’s development or gives him time to show that he just isn’t good enough to play with the big kids. The cost to the organizational pitching depth being you no longer have your best pitching prospect who might have contributed this season and almost certainly would have contributed in the near future and for a long time to come.
    While on the surface, the Diamondbacks look significantly different in the rotation and stable everywhere else, they paid a big price. If we only look at the big pieces of the trade, the Diamondbacks are likely to make a slight gain in 2016. It is hard to overstate the loss of Inciarte, even if he wasn’t tabbed to be the starter. For a team built on excellent defense, trading away elite defense – the best glove man on the team – even to get a young starter, is worth questioning. If Miller isn’t what the team wish-casts him to be – a number two starter – the team is in serious trouble and Dave Stewart’s job as GM is endangered to say the least. If the diminished defense hurts the pitching staff, if Aaron Blair makes 30 starts for the Braves and is solid, if Ender Inciarte becomes a star as a full-time starting center-fielder, if, if, if… So many things have to happen in order for the trade, and the move away from their defensive focus, to pay off in order for the trade not to be mentioned in the same breath as Jeff Bagwell for Larry Andersen.