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.

What are the Rockies trying to accomplish in 2016?

Is This Year, Next Year Yet?
by Jim Silva

    A rebuilt pen, a shortstop situation in flux, a young and improved starting rotation, and a farm system bulging with players who are almost ready to have an impact on the major leagues – how many of these things will come to fruition in 2016, and what will they mean to an organization struggling to become relevant again in a suddenly deep, and competitive division?        
    As the Rockies’ players head to spring training, one has to wonder if they feel a sense of excitement or doom. Their last winning season was in 2010 when they finished 83 and 79. Their last taste of the playoffs was 2009 when the Phillies bumped them off in the NL division series winning three out of four games. They’ve lost at least 94 games in three of the last four seasons.
    This off-season there was a lot of talk about “tanking” – the practice of gutting your team so that you can get good draft picks, acquire young players in exchange for veterans, and accelerate the rebuilding process at the expense of a few horrible seasons. It could be argued that there are four teams working pretty hard to lose this season because they had almost no chance of competing. So why not rip the band-aid off instead of the slow peel, right? The Phillies, the Braves, the Reds, and the Brewers are going to be awful because they have traded away many of their established stars for prospects. According to spotrac.com, the 2016 payroll of the Brewers will be the lowest in the majors at just over $50 million. The Braves and Reds fall to 5th and 6th lowest at $77 million and $79 million respectively, with rounding to the nearest million. The Phillies are a large market team, but will have the 10th lowest payroll at about $92 million, well below the median, which is about $122 million.
    Did you notice that there was no mention of the Rockies tanking strategically? Colorado’s payroll will fall pretty close to the middle of the pack at 14th ($104 million), and while they did trade away superstar shortstop Troy Tulowitzki last season, they held on to resurgent outfielder Carlos Gonzalez, center-fielder Charlie Blackmon, budding superstar 3rd baseman, Nolan Arenado, Gold Glove second baseman, D.J. LeMahieu, veteran starting pitcher Jorge De La Rosa – you get the idea. They have many more assets that are trade commodities, and while they still might ship them off later this season, at this point the Rockies look more like a team trying to compete than a team trying to throw in the towel.
    The discussion for the last couple of seasons had been about whether or not the Rockies should trade away Tulowitzki and Gonzalez and start over. The opinions were strong on both sides and some thought that the Rockies waited too long to trade Tulo. You are likely to hear the same thing about Cargo if the Rockies aren’t appreciably better this year or if the fragile outfielder misses significant time. So when does a team cut and run? If the farm system is barren and you are starting from scratch, it will take a long, painful time to be worth watching again if you are left with nothing at the top. If you have players in your system who are ready to contribute to the parent club or who are close, then maybe you are a season or two away from turning the ship around.  
    The Rockies have a solid fan base drawing 2.5 million fans last season, good for 14th in baseball even though they were pretty awful with little to no hope of contending. They also have five prospects in Keith Law’s top 100 prospects, a farm system ranked 7th in baseball by Law, stars at a couple of positions, and young players with a year or two of major league experience. Their pitching was horrendous last season, but there was some growth from a couple of the young guys in the rotation, and there should be a return to health for another starter or two. The bullpen should be much better with a closer, and a few guys who can serve as setup men. There is uncertainty at a position or two, including shortstop and first base, but the Rockies defense should be improved, at least in the outfield. The Rockies look like a team on the upswing, ready to start adding young players to the big club and possibly compete in the next year or two. Is that the time to start a rebuild or is it time to see what you have and then start adding an impact free agent in a season or two as you push your way into the fight in the National League West? Look for the Rockies to win more games this year, and if their starting rotation matures and stays healthy, look for them to enter the free agent market and compete in another year or two as their young studs start to filter into the majors. While it may not be “next year” yet, this season will be the start of a brighter future in Colorado.

What happened to the 2007 Rockies?

Where Have You Gone Matt Holiday?
by Jim Silva

    The high point of the Colorado Rockies history, so far, was when Matt Holliday slid face-first into home plate, and came up bloody, in the 163rd game of the 2007 season, to propel the team into the playoffs. They had just won their 90th game, the most wins up to that point in franchise history,  and still their second highest win total. They had a superstar shortstop in Troy Tulowitzki who was 22, and a young core of position players, like Tulo, Brad Hawpe, Garret Atkins, and Matt Holliday who were all between 22 and 28, and young pitchers like Ubaldo Jimenez, Jeff Francis, Aaron Cook, Manny Corpas, Jeremy Affeldt, and Franklin Morales, who were all between 21 and 28 themselves. It looked like the post-season run was the start of a new era for the franchise. There have been eight seasons since Holliday’s dash home against the Padres, and the team has only had two winnings seasons and one playoff appearance since then. Tulowitzki is gone, as is everyone else from the team – no surprise in this time of quick roster turnover. So what happened to that promising 2007 Rockies’ club?
    Let’s use WAR (Wins Above Replacement) since the value is calculated for position players and pitchers. It is probably a hammer, rather than a pocket knife, but it will give us an idea of where the 16 wins went between the 2007 Rockies and the 2008 Rockies.
    Chris Iannetta took over the lion’s share of the catching duties from Yorvit Torrealba in 2008. Iannetta was 25 and put up 3.1 WAR to Torrealba’s -0.6. The previous year, the catching tandem had put up 0.9 and 0.3 WAR (Torrealba and Iannetta respectively), so the 2008 catching position was an improvement. The rest of the infield looked nothing like its 2007 self.
    Todd Helton, the closest to a household name on the Rockies turned 34 in 2008 and started to show his age, playing only 83 games due to injuries and posting a 1.0 WAR season, his first sub-2.0 WAR in a full season in his career. That was a substantial drop from his 2007 mark of 4.4. When he was out, the position was primarily manned by Garret Atkins and Jeff Baker who posted WARs of -0.3 and 0.4, numbers that include their time at other positions. Atkins had been the primary third baseman in 2007, in spite of his horror film glove work, and had earned 0.3 WAR (2.9 offensive WAR and -2.4 defensive WAR). With Helton down, and the Rockies tiring of Atkins mockery of defense at third, they moved Atkins to first to cover for Helton and put 22 year old rookie, Ian Stewart at third base. Stewart put up a respectable 1.4 WAR season in 304 plate appearances, so you could argue that third was a bit of an upgrade – about 1.0 WAR – while production at first fell off a cliff.
    Kaz Matsui and Troy Tulowitzki combined for 10.2 WAR in 2007 covering the middle of the infield, with Matsui putting up 3.4 WAR and Tulo amassing 6.8 WAR. It was Matsui’s only season with the Rockies and the fans were livid when the Rockies allowed him to sign with the Astros as a free agent. He was one of those players who is often called a spark plug, and the fans had fallen in love. The Rockies replaced him with Clint Barmes, Jeff Baker, Jonathan Herrera, Omar Quintanilla, and Jayson Nix. To complicate things further, Tulo only managed 101 games, as the 23 year old succumbed to injuries – a prelude to a common theme in his career. The young shortstop wasn’t producing at the same rate as his 2007 self when he was on the field posting 0.8 WAR when he wasn’t on the disabled list. Barmes and a few of the other middle infielders covered short in Tulo’s absence. The middle infield, previously the source of excellent offense and defense in 2007, was a mess in 2008. Barmes put up 2.4 WAR splitting time between second and shortstop, Baker and Herrera each put of 0.4 WAR, and Quintanilla posted a 0.5 WAR season.
    Matt Holliday, the hero of the 2007 late season run, put up an almost identical year in 2008 in terms of WAR with 5.8 as an encore to his 6.0 WAR from 2007. The rest of the outfield hadn’t exactly been a source of joy in 2007, but it got worse in 2008. The adequate centerfield picture from 2007 featured 25 year old Wily Taveras and Ryan Spilborghs splitting time with each putting up a 1.1 WAR season. Neither put up stellar defensive numbers – negative defensive WAR from both men – but both contributed something offensively – Spilborghs put up a  .299/.363/.485 slash line, while Taveras managed a .320/.367/.382 slash line of his own. Spilborghs drew walks and hit some home runs, while Taveras hit for a high average, drew only 21 walks in 408 plate appearances, and slugged an anemic .382. In 2008, both of their games collapsed with Taveras contributing 0.0 WAR and Spilborghs adding 0.1 WAR. Taveras added a few more walks, but his batting average drop of 69 points destroyed his offensive value. Spilborghs put up another good offensive season, but was again a bust defensively (1.4 offensive WAR and -1.5 defensive WAR).
    In right field, Brad Hawpe contributed power (25 home runs) and the ability to get on base (.381 OBP) to post a 2.8 offensive WAR season, which would have worked out great had he been a designated hitter. Unfortunately for the Rockies, he contributed -3.4 WAR in right field wiping out his offensive value, for an overall WAR of 0.0. It wasn’t that Hawpe was dropping fly balls in right – the culprit was his shocking lack of range. He just wasn’t getting to balls that most right fielders were catching. His range in 2007 was 1.83 per nine innings as compared to a league average of 2.18. In 2008 it was even worse. Hawpe’s range was 1.50 with league average coming in at 2.12. That represents a substantial number of outs that Hawpe was turning into hits – a little more than one every other game. Over 162 games that really adds up, and it is hard to contribute enough offensively to make up for that kind of statue-like defensive. From 2007 to 2008, the Rockies saw a drop in WAR from their everyday right fielder from 1.5 to 0.0.
    At almost every position, the starters experienced regression. Defensively, the Rockies went from first in the league in fewest number of errors and fielding percentage to 6th and 5th respectively. Their offense went from 2nd in the NL in runs scored to 8th. Their non-pitcher OPS+ dropped from 104 to 96 – in other words they went from slightly better than league average to slightly worse than league average after adjusting for the park differences. Clearly the guys who weren’t pitching had some hand in derailing the club, but what about the pitchers?
    The 2007 rotation consisted mainly of Jeff Francis, Aaron Cook, Josh Fogg, Jason Hirsch, and a combination of 5th starters, with the most promising being Ubaldo Jimenez. Fogg and Hirsch were there to eat innings – the former was out of baseball three years later and Hirsch would not appear in the majors again after 2008 – but the other three were being counted on as the backbone of the Rockies starting five for now, and for years to come. Cook put up six consecutive seasons in Colorado with ERA+s above 100, making him one of the most successful starting pitchers in Rockies’ history. Francis was considered the ace of the rotation, but only managed two seasons where his ERA+ bested 100. Jimenez was probably the most spectacular arm in the rotation. From his rookie season (when he was 22) through his age 26 season his ERA+ was above 100. In 2010 he almost became the first Rockies pitcher to win 20 games falling one short, and putting together an ERA of 2.88 – unheard of for a starting pitcher in Coors Field.
    Francis earned 3.9 WAR in 2007, Cook added 2.2, Fogg and Hirsch were each right around 1.0, and the combination of Jimenez and Rodrigo Lopez (who chipped in 14 starts), added 1.8 WAR to the mix. In 2008 there was a bit of a shakeup in the rotation – Hirsh went down early with a shoulder injury, Fogg left to pitch for the Reds. Francis fell off and only put up 1.5 WAR, but Cook won 16 games and jumped to 4.3 WAR. Jorge De La Rosa took Fogg’s spot and contributed 1.0 WAR essentially matching Fogg’s 2007 output. Mark Redman, Geldon Rusch, and Livan Hernandez made a mess of one rotation spot with WARs of -0.8, -1.2, and -1.2 respectively. Ubaldo Jimenez started his run of good pitching for the Rockies putting up a 3.8 WAR season as a 24 year old. There was a drop off in one rotation spot, but for the most part the starters pulled their weight.
    Manny Corpas had been a revelation in 2007, supplanting closer Brian Fuentes and nailing down 19 saves while compiling an ERA of 2.08 for a 2.9 WAR season. The Rockies bullpen had depth and versatility. Fuentes saved 20 games himself with a 3.08 ERA, contributing 1.1 WAR. They could also run out Jeremy Affeldt, Latroy Hawkins, Matt Herges, and Franklin Morales – all of whom posted WARs of over 1.0. The bullpen was the Rockies’ secret weapon that became not-so-secret during the off-season when writers were looking for the cause of the Rockies’ 14 game improvement. So did the pen collapse in 2008 dragging the Rockies down with them?
    The 2007 relief corps was one of the best the Rockies ever managed to field. 2008 saw Manny Corpas regress – a WAR of 0.8 – but Brian Fuentes picked up the slack with a WAR of 2.1. Jeremy Affeldt was replaced by Jason Grilli who put together a 1.4 WAR season. Taylor Buchholz went from a 0.9 WAR 2007 to a 2.0 WAR 2008. Herges and Morales both dropped off with WARs around 0.0. Ryan Speier and Luis Vizcaino pitched in 86 games between them and put up 0.7 and 0.1 WAR seasons respectively. The bullpen was not bad, but they certainly weren’t nearly as deep nor nearly as dependable as they had been in 2007.
    It is easy to blame the pitching in Colorado when things go south, but really it was more the offense and defense that dropped off. The Rockies’ pitching almost never looks very good when you look at raw stats because they play half their games in the launching pad of Coors Field. The pen wasn’t “lights out” in 2008, but it featured a good closer, and two good setup men. The rotation was solid. Tulo and Helton’s lost seasons, the loss of Matsui, and the inevitable glove failures of Atkins and Hawpe were what brought the Rockies down. Atkins and Hawpe were both excellent trade bait after 2007 and Matsui could have been signed to play second – he went to Houston for $5.5 million which is less than what he made for the Mets the season before joining Colorado. The failure of the Rockies’ management to try to improve after a great season was probably caused by failing to look at what the stats really showed. Hawpe and Atkins weren’t stars. Is it a coincidence that the Rockies best defensive team ever was also the most successful team ever? Defense actually matters; especially, it would seem, in a ballpark as huge as Coors field. This isn’t the last time you will hear that on Red Seam Dreams.