Cleat Geeks

Can The D-backs Keep Both Pollock & Corbin Even If They Wanted To?

This is the second part of a two part article. In the first article we looked at the positives and negatives of keeping both Patrick Corbin and A.J. Pollock past this season, which is there final season of their current contracts. The first article also looked at the stats of the two players and how much the two superstars would cost as compared to contracts signed by similar free agents last year. Now that we know the stats of each player and the approximate cost, the next question that we need to answer is; Do the Diamondbacks want to re-sign them both, and how exactly do they plan on doing that, if that is their desire?

While keeping both Patrick and A.J. for next season and beyond may have the worst odds of the three – both stay; both leave; one stays, one leaves (highest odds I presume) – general manager Mike Hazen and company will likely have to find creative ways this off-season to create salary room for one or both players.

Only 5 players will not be either a free agent, arbitration elig., or pre-arb eligible player at the end of the year. Via Baseball-reference.

 

The most important things to note regarding next season is the second column that states there’s $62.4M wrapped up under contract for next season, the sixth row down, labeled “Arb costs”, and the next two rows (other players/costs).

There are 13 arbitration eligible players (team and player submit a salary for that season. Arbitrator chooses one over the other) on the books for 2019, as well as seven pre-arbitration (more than likely league minimum pay) and seven free agents, two being Pollock and Corbin.

Right off the bat, we’ll add the players’ contracts on the books for next season with the arbitration costs, $62.4M + $58.4M. That gives us a payroll of roughly $120M before the seven free agents. Of the seven, only A.J., Corbin and Descalso should be top priorities at this point. Figure about $3M if Descalso’s retained, bringing payroll up to $123(ish). Paul Goldschmidt has a $14M team option for next season. We’re at about a $137M total payroll now with 6 roster spots remaining. Add about $5M for the four other free agent signings, or controllable, cheap, minor league options that could be on the roster next season, bringing the payroll to about $142, before A.J. and Corbin.

Baseball-reference has the total payroll for 2018 at about $130M, while Spotrac has the team right below $135, which both are still a few million short of the $139M league average. The division rival Rockies are currently at $143M. Considering the league average payroll should rise above $140M next season, it’s not too outlandish to think that the D’backs can bump their’s to above the league average and closer to the $145M-$150M next season. Teams between $140M-$156M for this season: Colorado (15th highest payroll), Texas (14th), Baltimore (13th) and Seatlle (12th).

Adding Pollock and Corbin’s projected $31M to the already $142M that we have for next seasons payroll comes to an unrealistic $170M. So we’re going to find a couple of ways to add one or both players while staying at $150M or under. We’ll basically have to cut at least $23M from the books to make it work.

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A) The most obvious (and probably most likely scenario) is for the D’backs to eat $10M of Zack Greinke‘s $34M, and each year beyond, taking $24M of the projected $170M off the books. This is probably the most ideal situation. Braves and Phillies are both teams with good, young talent that have great promise this season. Both teams are well under the league average in payroll. Braves are at $120M ($19M under); Phillies are under $100M in team payroll. They seem likely trade partners.

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B) Another way to free up money would be eating around $5M-$6M of Yasmany Tomas‘ $15.5M for next season and another $6M(ish) off 2020’s $17M contract and ship him off to an American League team where said team would pay him about $10-$12M to be their designate hitter; similar to what Toronto’s DH Kendrys Morales and Baltimore’s DH Mark Trumbo are making. This option would still leave us with $10M+ more to cut to realistically have a chance at retaining both A.J. and Patrick, so if they were only able to trade Yasmany and do nothing else to cut salary drastically then it seems logical that only one could return. Can’t trade him while he’s wasting away in the minors though, so the Diamondbacks are going to need to bring him up at some point this season and play him sparingly, or start him and have a defensive replacement late in games to come in for him, so he can rebuild some value. Yasmany was a 30 HR guy in 2016 and has a positive offensive WAR in each of his three previous seasons at the big league level.

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Onto the most unpopular and maybe most unrealistic option:

C) Sitting at around $128M before picking up Goldy’s $14M team option, the team could choose to not pick up and sign either A.J. or Corbin fairly easily. Reality is, Goldy will be 31 by the end of this season and will more than likely have his best days behind him as he enters free agency after next season at age 32. The D’backs could also take on that team option for Goldy and then trade him for a couple prospects or players under team control for the next couple years.

Recent $100M contracts given to players under the age of 27 graded by WAR/Yr. Via Watchstadium.com

Fangraphs grading of WAR/Yr.

 

The basic decline in offensive players over the years. This graph ends in 2013. The colors are the years. Green is most recent. Via Fangraphs.

 

Recent $100M contracts, prior to this previous off-season, given to players aged 30+.

While he is a fan favorite, the Diamondbacks can’t afford to overpay for someone again like the previous regime did with Yasmany and Greinke ($50M between the two on the books for 2019).

It’s not like the organization doesn’t have options at first base. It’s actually probably their biggest minor league strength with Christian Walker (PCL ’17 MVP Triple-A; HR once every 24 career at-bats; age 27), Kevin Cron (Southern League ’17 MVP Double-A; HR once and every 19.4 at-bats; age 25) and last seasons 1st round pick, Pavin Smith (won’t be MLB ready for another 2-3 seasons).

If the team is able to shed at least another $10M due to trading Yasmany, on top of letting Goldy hit FA or trading him, the D’backs could fit the $32M that might be required to retain A.J. and Patrick under the $150M threshold, especially if they back load one or both contracts until Greinke’s $35M/year for the next three years is off the books.

Sure it’s less than 1/1,000th of the fanbase, but still wasn’t expecting these results.

Corbin and Pollock – both only behind Goldy on the team in seniority with the big club – had D’back fans everywhere worried, and still probably do, during the first month of action because both players’ production was going to seemingly price out the home team once contract negotiations came to a head this off-season unless something drastic happened, and yet it seems that possible regression to their norms and heady moves by the front office might actually make it more possible than most would’ve thought just only a month ago.

What Should The Diamondbacks Do With Free Agents Pollock & Corbin?

Sizzling starts to the 2018 season for SP Patrick Corbin and OF A.J. Pollock sparked chatter from fans and local media alike about contract extensions – both set to become free agents at the end of the year – for two of the three longest tenured Arizona Diamondbacks. After another injury to A.J. and a somewhat expected regression from Patrick Corbin, those conversations have proven to be all but premature with still over four months and 100 games to go. Unfortunately, regression to the norm and then creativity on behalf of the Dbacks brass will be the two biggest keys for retaining one or both players.

Pollock, who will be 31 by the start of next season, was a front-runner for MVP after the first month+ of the season after posting a .293/.349 & and league-high .620 slugging percentage. A.J.’s fast start came to a screeching halt during his 40th game of the season due to a left thumb avulsion fracture – his fourth DL stint since ’14; each requiring over a 1.5 month absence – that will more than likely keep him out of action through the month of June.

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While Corbin set the world on fire to open the season – 1.89 ERA to go with a 4-0 record through first five starts – regression to the norm (4.01 ERA through 821 career innings) was expected. What wasn’t expected was a drop in velocity that closely coincided with him seeing his ERA rise to a current 2.99 (19th in MLB) after Wednesday’s 6-run meltdown to the Reds in which he coughed up an early 4-0 lead in route to receiving the loss. Patrick has only three quality starts and just a lone victory over his last seven performances since the torrid start, but still ranks 4th in baseball in K’s and K/9s.

The dip in velocity could be nothing more than a dead arm phase, which isn’t unusual early in a season for starting pitchers, but it should at least be somewhat eye-opening for the Diamondbacks and any other team who might be interested in offering the lefty a long-term deal. In fact, since July of last season, P.C. has average at least 94 MPH on his fastball in exactly 0 of his last 29 starts. For comparison sake, the 7-year vet averaged above 94 MPH with his heater in all of his final five games in 2016.

You can see the gradual decline in velocity from even the beginning of ’17 to the start of ’18, per month, then the drastic drop from April to May of this season, via Brooks Baseball. Keep in mind each source has slightly different numbers, but the decline in velo is obvious no matter the source.

 

Corbin’s game by game average fastball velocity since ’16, via Fangraphs.

While Patrick’s heater is down, his slider – greatest swing and miss pitch – hasn’t suffered much at all and was actually faster in May than the previous four months, dating back to last season. Meaning the bite in his sliders action is still top notch. That lack of decline in velocity on his best pitch is a major factor in why Corbin currently has an 11.7 K/9, ranking fourth in baseball, only behind Gerrit Cole, Chris Sale and Max Scherzer, among qualified starters. Although, Corbin’s 11.7 strikeouts per every nine innings this season seems to be an outlier, as he’s never had a K/9 greater than 8.4 in his career entering 2018.

Considering the drop in cheese on his four-seamerCorbin ranks in the bottom 1/4 of qualified SP in Fangraphs FBv(velocity) – and there seemingly being no evidence that the slender lefty can sit in the mid-90’s anymore, to go along with the fact that the NY native has never had a season under a 3.41 ERA or sub-1.16 WHIP, there’s no certainty that an outside team will throw a big, long-term contract at the near-30-year-old, especially one who’s had Tommy John surgery. Yet, since he still, technically, should be in his prime for at least the next two seasons, some GM will more than likely take a gamble and overpay for a left-hander with an elite K/9 currently and who’s shown spurts of dominance, even with declining velocity and and a heavy reliance on one pitch – throws sliders at the seventh-highest rate in baseball.

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On the other hand, A.J. is arguably one of the better CF/OF in the game….when healthy. Since his first full big league season in ’13, Pollock has played more than 112 games in a season only twice. Only once has he played over 137 games. In that one season, the 30-year-old center fielder was an all-star, won a Gold Glove and finished 14th in MVP voting, as he hit .315 to go along with 20 HR, 76 RBI and 39 SB in 2015 when he appeared in 157 games. Other than his one fully healthy season in ’15, here are Pollock’s highs in each of the previously mentioned statistical categories: .302 avg (2014; played in only 75 games), 14 HR (Tied for 166th in MLB in ’17), 49 RBI (’17;T-99), 20 SB (’17;T-27)

After the offensive outburst during his healthiest season to date, A.J. suffered a fractured elbow the following spring right before the start of the 2016 regular season. He came back towards the end of August that season and finished with only 12 games under his belt before being shut down for the last three weeks of the season due to – that’s right – another injury.

Similar to Pollock, Corbin is a one-time all-star who’s really only put together a singular very good season,only to follow it up with a lost season before the year even began…due to injury. Anointed the opening day started for the 2014 season – due to his all-star year in ’13 where he finished 14-8 with a 3.41 ERA (2.35 in 1st half; 5.19 2nd half) – Patrick never made that season opening start in Australia as he tore his UCL – requiring Tommy John – just mere days before heading down under. In 505.2 innings since returning from his 1.5-year rehabilitation, Corbin has shown great flashes at times but also has shown plenty of inconsistencies. Since his return midway through 2015, he has a 4.14 ERA to go with an high WHIP of 1.37. That includes the 0.94 walks + hits/inning (7th in MLB) through 75.1 innings this season.

LAST OFF-SEASONS FREE AGENT COMPARISON’S

OUTFIELDERS:

The biggest name in free agency – at least as a hitter – was ex-Diamondback J.D. Martinez. While nobody should be concerned that A.J. will demand a contract similar to the 5yr/$125M deal that J.D. landed with Boston, we can still use it as a high-end baseline.

The second player we can use as the other end of the baseline’s spectrum is Colorado’s outfielder Carlos Gonzalez. The 32-year-old received a 1yr/$8M contract by the Rockies to remain there for at least this season. Last year, the .287 career hitter was hampered by injuries, but still played in 136 games and posted a .262 average to go along with 14 HR & 57 RBI. The previous season, in 2016, the slugging outfielder produced 25 HR & 100 RBI en route to a .298 avg. While the comparison isn’t the most accurate, it can still be useful in trying to project the lowest end offers that A.J. might receive if the D’backs center fielder comes back from his injury and struggles or finds himself on the D.L. once again.

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The most accurate comparison to sign over the winter would seemingly be Milwaukee’s Lorenzo Cain. He’s a .289/.346/.421 lifetime hitter to go with 63 HR, 337 RBI and 138 steals in 810 career games. In 564 career games, Pollock has 64 HR, 232 RBI, 99 SB’s and has hit to a tune of .287/.343/475. While Lorenzo has a lengthy injury history, similar to A.J., the Brewers outfielder has played in 74% of his teams games since his first full season in 2012. Since 2013 – his first full season – A.J. has played in just over 61% of games. In 2017, Cain finished with 14 HR & 49 RBI to go along with 26 SB’s, while Pollock finished with 14 HR, 49 RBI and 20 SB.

It’s not too far fetched to believe that if he can produce similar to 2018 pre-injury A.J., the dynamic CF could receive a similar 5yr/$80M deal that Lorenzo got from Milwaukee to leave Kansas City. Cain was 31 when he received his contract this off-season. AJ will be 31 this winter.

Projected Contract: $15M/year for 3 years. A.J.’s currently making $7.5M.

STARTING PITCHERS:

Even though they are more polished and have been consistently better than Patrick, he is still a couple years younger than our two high-end baseline signee’s from last off-season, Yu Darvish and Jake Arrieta. With his past inconsistencies it would be fairly shocking if Pat landed a contract over $20M like Yu (4X All-Star; Cy-Young runner-up; 6yr/$126M with the Cubs) and Arrieta (CY winner; Sub-3.00 ERA since coming to the N.L. in 2013; signed a 3yr/$75M deal with Philly).

The low-end standard on Corbin’s next contract could be compared to that of Tyler Chatwood, who is 28 and pitched to a 4.18 ERA in Colorado since 2012. Chatwood was one game under .500 during his time with the Rockies. Corbin is one game over .500 (50-49) in his career. Chatwood signed a 3yr/$38M deal with the Cubs prior to 2018.

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Maybe the most accurate comp is that of Alex Cobb, who signed a 4yr/$57M deal in the off-season with Baltimore. Take in account Corbin is about two years younger and a lefty, one would expect the Diamondback to command more money than Cobb, even though Alex has a better career ERA, WHIP and record of that compared to Corbin’s, so the deal shouldn’t be too much bigger than that of the current Oriole unless Corbin can hover around a 2.50 ERA and 1.00 WHIP for the remainder of the season.

Projected Contract: 4yr/$65M-$70M; Roughly $16M-$17M/yr. Corbin is currently making $7.5M

Keep in mind that we still over 100+ games to go in the season, so these projected contracts will keep fluctuating North or South due to production.

What do you think the Diamondbacks should do? What do you think they will do? If they decide not to re-sign them, should they make both of them available at the trade deadline to other teams? This is only part one of a two part article, in the next few days we will look into how they can, or why they should not sign these two superstars as we look at the projected financials of the club next season. Stay tuned!

 

15 Offensive Trade Candidates DBacks Should Currently Target

Since 1911, there have been only three teams that have finished a season with a batting average sub-.220: ’63 NY Mets (.219), ’72 Texas Rangers (.217) and the ’68 Yankees (.214). Heading into Friday nights matchup in Oakland (26-25) – that the D’backs won – Arizona’s (26-24) team average was at a meager .213. They boosted that by .003, to .216, after Friday nights 7-1 victory, where they pounded out 12 hits for the first time since May 8th that they’ve had double-digit hits in a game. Even after last night’s 6-run victory, the Diamondbacks still haven’t had an inning where they’ve put up at least four runs in over a month (April 25th).

Considering Catcher Alex Avila is currently hitting .128, the shortstop/second base combo of Ahmed/Marte are hitting a combined .216, and the fact that 2/3 of the starting outfield – Pollock & Souza – are on the DL for the foreseeable future, it might behoove the Diamondbacks brass to make a move for an offensive player sooner rather than later, even after Fridays offensive onslaught. Below is a list of 15 potential trade candidates, from losing teams, that the D’backs should be eyeing right now to help spark an offensive roster that is near the bottom or in the dead last in basically every offensive category in MLB.

(following stats up to date before Fridays games)

CATCHER

J.T. Realmuto (Marlins) – Next to Manny Machado, Realmuto might be the most expensive player to acquire due to his unusual combination – for a catcher – of average, power and speed with an ever improving defensive game. Not to mention he’s under contract for two more seasons after this year. In 445 career games that Realmuto has played in, the 27-year-old has 148 extra-base hits – 44 of which are HRs – 29 steals to go along with a .283 average. In 30 games this season, missed the first few weeks due to injury, the do-it-all catcher is hitting .316 with 6 HRs while sporting a .316 AVG and .913 OPS. There will be a big market for him if the Marlins do indeed end up shipping him out of Miami.

Wilson Ramos (Rays) – Ramos is fully recovered from is torn ACL that he suffered near the end of 2016 and will be a free agent at the end of the year. While Ramos’ salary for the season is at $10.5M – which hurts his trade value some on the Rays end – any suitors for him will in all likelihood not have to give up what you would think for a catcher who’s hitting .301 with 6 HRs and 24 RBI. Ramos could be a real difference maker for a team in desperate need of offensive production from the catcher position.

Blake Swihart (Red Sox) – The 2015 top prospect for Boston has fallen in the bad graces of Boston’s newer upper management, but Swihart still has the requisite tools to possibly be a near everyday player and possible franchise catcher. While he’s hitting only .133 on the season, the 26-year-old has been designated as the teams third catcher and has received only four starts on the season. Swihart’s agent has asked for a trade recently and if Boston doesn’t see him as part of their future, they may end up be willing to unload the former top prospect for only 2 or 3 mid-range prospects, unlike Realmuto who would probably fetch for a couple top 20 prospects. The switch-hitter still has four years of team control, so won’t necessarily come on the cheap.

Honorable mention: John Hicks (Tigers)

SECOND BASE

Scooter Gennett (Reds) – Besides Joey Votto, Gennett has been Cincinnati’s best offensive threat since he landed there at the start of last season. Currently hitting near .330 with 9 HRs, the second baseman won’t be necessarily cheap as he’s under team control through next season. If acquired by the Diamondbacks, he – or any other 2B that the team acquired – would supplant Marte as the everyday second baseman and Ketel could move over to SS and and carry the bulk of playing time at that position over Ahmed. Scooter would instantly become the teams hottest hitter, as he’s hitting nearly .380 in the month of May with 7 HRs. Last season, he hit .295 with 27 HRs and 97 RBI.

Whit Merrifield (Royals) – Kansas City is 17 games under .500. Most smart franchises realize which players are there for the long-term and which ones they can cash in on when they’re rebuilding. At 29 years-old, Merrifield definitely falls in the latter. While Whit didn’t make it to the big leagues until 2016 he has a combination of pop and speed that many teams would like to take advantage of if the Royals would make him available. While he’s currently in his prime and under a team-friendly contract, the offensive second baseman should be a hot name as the trade deadline approaches. Whit would probably command a couple top 15 prospects since he’s under control for another four seasons. He’s hitting .281 with 16 extra-base hits and 12 SB’s in just over 210 at-bats this season.

Brian Dozier (Twins) – Dozier might be the most prolific power-hitting second baseman’s in MLB history, as he’s accumulated 104 HR’s over the previous three seasons. For comparison sake, eight time All-star Robinson Cano – who’s currently suspended for P.E.D. use – has never had a 3-year stretch with more than 88 HR’s. Dozier, who’s a free agent at seasons end, is hitting only .238 to go along with 7 HRs and 19 RBI. The 31-year-old hasn’t hit less than 18 bombs since 2012, his rookie season. He’s also added between 12-21 stolen bases in each of the last 5 seasons. Dozier’s current batting average, on-base and slugging percentages are all below his career mark. Even though he might cost a pretty penny, now would be a perfect time to trade for him, as he’ll more than likely finish with at least 30+ HRs and finish between .250-.270 with his batting average. He will be a free agent in the fall

Honorable mention: Starlin Castro (Marlins); Ian Kinsler (Tigers)

SHORTSTOP 

Manny Machado (Orioles) – The most expensive bat on the trade market, Machado will be breaking the bank in the off-season and will certainly cost any team multiple top prospects to acquire his services. The 25-year-old leads all of MLB with 42 RBI while hitting over .325 with 15 HR’s. Machado is one of the better all-around players in the game as he’s also elite on defense. It wouldn’t make a lot of sense of the D’backs to sell the farm for him since the organization was rated the 25th best farm system in baseball, by Baseball America, before the season started. Chances are he’ll land with a team who is in contention and who has one of the better farm systems in the league. It’s fun to dream though.

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Honorable mention: Miguel Rojas (Marlins)

OUTFIELD

Adam Jones (Orioles) – The 32-year-old proven, 5-time All-Star, who hasn’t made the “mid-season classic” since 2015, will be a free agent at the end of the season and since Baltimore isn’t going anywhere – 2nd worst record in baseball – Jones is an intriguing target for playoff ready teams in need of outfield help. It would be in the Orioles best interest if they were able to obtain a couple top-30 prospects for the impending free agents. The D’backs might be able to acquire him for a couple prospects outside of the organizations top 10.

Nicholas Castellanos (Tigers) – The 26-year-old Castellanos is having a career year for Detroit, but like most players on this list will hit free agency in the off-season. The extra base-hit machine – 26 HRs, 101 RBI, 72 extra-base hits, .272/.320/.490 in 2017 – is currently hitting .325/.375/.505 this season. The rebuilding Tigers are expected to move the right fielder by seasons end. Castellanos has also made 518 of his 587 starts at 3B in his career – all 45 of his starts this season have been in RF though – meaning he could also platoon with Lamb at the hot corner against tough lefties. The D’backs robbed the Tigers last season when they acquired J.D. Martinez, why not make it twice in two seasons?

 

Honorable mention: Eddie Rosario (Twins); Jorge Soler (Royals)

While last night was a good sign for the D’backs offensive, they’re still not out of the woods just yet, as the team currently boasts only two hitters above .250 (Peralta & Lamb) & seven hitters below .215 (Ahmed, Goldy, Mathis, Owings, Avila, Dyson and Marrero) entering Saturday. While we still have two months before the MLB Trade Deadline, it’s never too early to consider strengthening a teams biggest weakness as they head to the dog days of summer.

D’Backs 1st Quarter Grades; Offense, Defense, Pitching, & Managerial

Monday’s home game for the Arizona Diamondbacks against the Milwaukee Brewers signified the quarter pole in the season for the team and the first chance for us to do our season grades. While the D’backs own the best record in the National League West, not everything has gone smoothly – especially of late – for the soft-hitting club from the desert. Here we’ll dissect all of the on-field play from the team – hitting, defense, pitching – as well as the coaching, by assigning letter grades to each facet and an overall grade for the team as a whole.

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Photo by; Venom Strikes

HITTING – D-

While outfielder A.J. Pollock won the Player of the Month award for the month of April, the D’backs offense as a whole is off to a franchise-worst start in 2018. The Diamondbacks rank 30th – MLB worst – in both hits per game and batting average, while also ranking bottom five in on-base and slugging percentages. The offense is on pace to finish with the worst batting average in their franchises 20-year history. While no team in franchise-history has finished below .246 in any season, through the first-quarter of the season the current club is just barely hitting above .220. There’s a lot of ground to make up these next 4+ months if they expect to get out of the cellar in that regard. Besides batting average, the D’backs also rank bottom three in team history in on-base% (2nd worst), Slugging% (3rd) and OPS (2nd). Without A.J. Pollock – plus David Peralta and Daniel Descalso – the D’backs offensive grade would’ve been firmly an F. This fact was heightened when Pollock fractured his thumb in Monday night’s loss to the Brewers and will possibly miss the next two months. Sigh.

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Photo by; AZ snake pit

DEFENSE – A+

Even though the Diamondbacks are second in baseball in Total Chances and first in Total Putouts this year, their 12 errors this season – best in MLB – has them on pace to finish with only 48 on the season, 27 less than their current franchise-low mark of 75 in 2013. For comparison’s sake, the Miami Marlins made the least amount of errors last season with 73. The 2013 Diamondback team currently holds the mark for the best fielding percentage in team history at .988. The D’backs .992 fielding percentage also leads all of MLB, just ahead of the Astros .991. Diamondbacks finished 26th in baseball with 108 errors and 24th with a .982 fielding percentage last year. The biggest reason for the increase in production from the defense lies up the middle. In 213 combined games last season, Brandon Drury (10 in 114 games at 2B; .977 fielding %), Chris Owings (11 errors in 54 games at SS; .943%) and Daniel Descalso (7 in 45 games at 2B; .963%) accounted for 26% of the teams errors. This year the D’backs have had a healthy Nick Ahmed at shortstop and they also made Ketel Marte their everyday second baseman. The two have combined for just three errors – all three by Ahmed – for a fielding percentage of .990 in 305 total chances. The 2018 D’backs scored a 100% on the fielding part of their quarterly test.

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Photo by; Call To The Pen

Pitching – A

The 2017 Diamondback pitching staff set team records for fewest runs, hits and lowest ERA (3.66) Not bad considering the dynamic duo of Randy Johnson and Curt Schilling donned the purple pinstripes together for 3+ seasons. Through Monday’s game against the Brewers, the D’backs are on pace to finish either first or second in team history in ERA (1st; 3.16), Runs (1st), Hits (2nd) and WHIP (2nd). The 2018 staff’s ERA is currently second in all of baseball, only behind Houston’s minuscule 2.49. Even though the Diamondback starting pitchers have the 11th best ERA in baseball, the pitching staff as a whole are still in the top three of MLB in batting average against, quality starts, hits, WHIP, saves, and bullpen ERA. Hard to say anything else other than when the team loses there’s a good chance it’s not because of the pitching.

Image result for torey lovullo diamondbacks

Photo by; Call To The Pen

Managing (Torey Lovullo) – B

It’s hard to nitpick someone too bad when they’ve managed their club to one of the franchises fastest starts in team history, but it also doesn’t mean that manager is perfect either. While Paul Goldschmidt is enduring his worst 41 game start to a season in his career, Lovullo hasn’t sat him down for a full day off yet. Goldy started 40 of the first 41 games this year, but in his lone off day he still came in to pinch-hit then stayed in the game at first base. If anyone on the team could use a full off day or two – besides Alex Avila and his sub .130 batting average – it’s perennial all-star and MVP candidate, Goldschmidt. Another knock on Torey could be his unwavering faith in his players. Even though Alex Avila has one hit in May and his hitting well under the mendoza line, he has played in 30 of the teams first 41 games this season and has hit as high as 6th in the lineup this month.

Overall Team Grade – B+

While the team come out of the gate hot, they have soured in the month of May, by winning only 4 of 13 games this month through Monday’s game. With an extensive D.L. list pilling up, it feels like the team is hanging on by a thread trying to recapture any momentum they had gathered through the first month plus of the season. The return of Robbie Ray and Jake Lamb (activated off DL on Friday) should help, but the team is going to need more than just those two to right the ship.

How Are The D-back’s Winning? The Answers Might Surprise You

The Arizona Diamondbacks sit atop the National League West standings, with a 24-13 record, thanks in large part to their pitching and defense, all the while their perennial MVP candidate in Paul Goldschmidt is hitting a meager .226.

The D’backs lead the N.L. in both team ERA (3.08) and fielding percentage (.991). The Diamondbacks trail only the Houston Astros in team ERA and are tied with Houston for the best fielding percentage in baseball (and took 2 out of 3 games from them in Arizona last week). For comparison sake, the 93-win Diamondback team from a year ago finished 3rd in MLB in overall pitching (3.66) and 24th in fielding percentage (.982). The 12 errors this season puts the team on pace for only 57 errors, almost cut in half from the 108 they made last season.

The biggest reason for the jump from 24th to 2nd in team fielding is that 4 of the teams worst fielders from a year ago have either moved positions, been traded or have been on the D.L. for most of the season.

Image result for Chris Owings 2018

Photo by; ABC News

  • Chris Owings – Being forced into action at SS last season, due to Nick Ahmed’s injury, Chris made 11 errors in 54 games at that position for a percentage of .943. This season, while playing mostly in the outfield, and 0 games at short, he has not committed an error in 28 total games.
  • Brandon Drury – 114 games at 2B and finished 2017 with the second worst fielding percentage on the team (.959). Was traded to the Yankees over the off-season.
  • Daniel Descalso – In 45 games at 2B in 2017, Daniel made 7 defensive errors, good for a .963 fielding percentage. On the season, he made a total of 11 errors. Ketel Marte – 0 errors on the season – has taken over the everyday job at 2B this season, limiting Descalso to only 5 games at his old position. Filling in Admirably for the injured Jake Lamb at 3B this year, Daniel has made 1 error in 18 games at the hot corner.
  • Jake Lamb – Lamb & Owings led the team in total errors last season, with 14. Lamb has only started 4 games this season due to injury and didn’t make an error before heading to the D.L.

Although the D’backs are off to their best 35-game start in franchise history, heading into Tuesday’s 2-game series against the rival Dodgers, the team is hitting a franchise low .228. Never in the teams first 19 years of existence have they ever been below .246 for a whole season, and that was their inaugural season in 1998. Even though most novice fans would like to put most of the hitting woes on mainly Goldschmidt’s shoulders, the fact of the matter is there are only two hitters on the roster hitting at least .260, David Peralta, and reigning Player of the Month & Player of the Week in A.J. Pollock.

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Pollock, who’s 30-years-old and on the last year of his contract, is the only Diamondback hitting above 288, at .308 in 130 at-bats. He’s currently second in the N.L. in HRs (11), fourth in stolen bases (8), and is tied with the Angels Mike Trout for the most HRs + SB in all of baseball, with 19. A.J.’s also second in the N.L. with 31 RBI – only trailing the Cubs Javier Baez (32) – while Trout – 2X MVP & 3X runner-up – has only 24 runs batted in on the year. The Diamondbacks center fielder has also taken his game to an even higher level with runners in scoring position, as he’s hitting .333 with 16 RBI’s in 30 at-bats with RISP. In 2017, in 425 at-bats, Pollock hit .266, with only 14 HRs and 49 RBI, while swiping 20 bags. Last season, A.J. had a slugging percentage of .471 and an OPS of .801. So far in 2018 A.J. is leading the N.L. in slugging at .677, OPS at 1.038 and total bases with 88. While we’re barely 20% of the way through the long, 162-game season, Pollock has, deservedly, put his name at the very top of the early-season MVP talk in the National League.

While Paul Goldschmidt was in a 0 for 21 slump to start the month of May prior to Tuesday’s victory over the Dodgers, where Goldy went 1 for 4 on the evening. The biggest concern with him at the plate right now is that his strikeout’s are way up compared to previous years. Through the first 35 games this season, Paul has struck out 46 times, good for 1.31K’s/game. Since his second year in the league, in 2012, he has never finished with a worse K per game average of 0.95. Keep in mind that since 2012 Paul has never hit below .286, and since 2013 he has never hit below .297. Over the last 5 seasons, Goldy is a 5X All-Star while finishing top-3 in MVP voting in three of those seasons – two runner-ups and has received MVP votes in four of those five seasons – all the while accumulating three Silver Slugger awards over the past half-decade. Just like how every hitter goes in a slump, when it’s all said and done, the great hitters of our game tend to finish with similar numbers to what they have always had, as long as they are in their prime still, as Goldschmidt is. Just like in 2016 when he started the first 30+ games hitting .247, Goldy ended up turning it around and finished with a .297 average. Once he hits himself out of this slump, expect him to make pitchers pay the rest of the season.

Brandon Puts Another Notch In His Belt

I am sure that San Francisco Giants first baseman Brandon Belt has a few baseballs on his mantle and a few autographs hanging on his wall. He now has a pretty cool record he accomplished on Sunday afternoon, but I am not sure how, or if he will want to memorialize it.

those plans. He set the record for the longest at-bat in Major League Baseball’s modern era. Belt dragged out a 21-pitch at-bat against Los Angeles Angels pitcher Jaime Barria. That broke the previous record, which was held by Ricky Gutierrez, who turned in a 20-pitch at-bat in 1998. Who was the pitcher Gutierrez faced that day? Funny you should ask, because he is still playing today, Bartolo Colón.

As you might expect, a 21-pitch at-bat takes a fair amount of time.Roughly 13 minutes elapsed during Belt’s at-bat. How did the battle between batter and pitcher end? A home run? A strike out? After 21 tries someone did something special right…….right? Not really, the at bat ended in a harmless fly ball to the outfield.

But, after seeing a ton of pitches in his first at bat, he did go 3-5 on the afternoon with a home run helping his team to a victory and series win.

It’s Now or Never for Dbacks’ Matt Koch

Acquired in the 2015 Addison Reed trade with the NY Mets, Matt Koch – 3rd round pick from the University of Louisville in the 2012 draft – will be the first, and hopefully only, man summoned to take the mound in the hopes of fulfilling the vacancy in the Arizona Diamondbacks rotation left by Taijuan Walker (Tommy John Surgery) this season. Matt stands 6’3 215 lbs and owns a career minor league record of 30-26 with a 4.54 ERA, 320 strikeouts and 97 walks, which is good for a 3.3KtoBB ratio. Koch will be making his third career major league start this evening. Matt Koch’s two previous big league starts came back in 2016 when he combined to give up 6H, 1BB and 3 earned runs over 11 innings of work. With 505 career minor league innings on his résumé, if he fails at sticking in the rotation for the foreseeable future, it’s fair to wonder if the 27-year-old, fringe-prospect, ever will have a lasting impact as a starter with the big club. If not now, when?

So far this season – between Reno & the Dbacks – Matt has fired 8 scoreless innings of 3-hit ball while striking out four en route to not walking a batter. Koch made one start in Reno this season, were he threw 6 innings while giving up only 3 hits, with 1K and 0 BB in a no-decision.  He’s also appeared in one game for the big club this year, in which he threw two perfect innings out of the pen against St. Louis in relief of Zack Greinke.

Matt’s worst year as a pro was last year, when he finished his minor league season with an ERA of 7.71, including a 1.84 Walk+Hits/innings pitched(WHIP). Teams hit .339 versus him last year, as he gave up 81 hits over 56 innings. Koch’s brief stint with the big club last season wasn’t much better. In his lone appearance for the D’backs last year, he faced three batters (all three scored), walking one, while giving up two hits en route to finishing his 2017 major league season with an infinity ERA.

The main reason for the decline might be the fact that, for some reason, Matt totally avoided throwing his breaking ball last season. Via fangraphs, Koch threw his slider/curve exact 0% of the time in 2017. So far in 2018, he has thrown his breaking ball (it’s more of a Slurve than a tradition slider or curve) 11.8% of the time. It might not seem like a big deal, but that is the one pitch in his repertoire that has a significant difference in speed from his fastball (-10 to -14 MPH difference).

Labeled as a slider; You can see Matt abandoned the pitch in 2017, but has thrown it more often than ever so far this season.

Same website, fangraphs, but this source has the pitch labeled as a curveball.

Average velocity of each pitch

 

Even though Koch relies heavily (88.5% of the time) on some version of a fastball, the 6+ year minor league vet has four pitches: four-seam fastball, cut-fastball, changeup and slider.

Stats provided by Fangraphs and Baseball Info Solutions:

  • Fours-seam fastball – Between 91-93MPH; Thrown 50.2% of the time over his career.
  • Cut-fastball – 89-91MPH; career 38.3% of his pitches.
  • Changeup – 86-87MPH; 5.4% of the time.
  • Slider/Curve – 79-81 MPH; 6.1% of the time.

Like Brandon Webb stepping in when Randy Johnson & Curt Schilling went down in 2003 or Zach Godley demanding a spot in the rotation by his performance last season after Shelby Miller went down with Tommy John, the hope for the Dbacks, and their fans, is that Koch – who’s now entering/is in his prime of his career as a pro – will take the ball tonight with a chip on his shoulder ready to prove to himself and everyone else that he is ready for the bright lights of not only tonight, but for the rest of the season.

 

 

Could This Be Tomas’ Time?

With starting right fielder Steven Souza expected to miss the first month of the season, after straining a pectoral muscle during Wednesdays spring training game after a failed diving attempt in right field, the much maligned, and deservedly so, Yasmany Tomas, might not ever get another chance better than now to show the team and their fans that the 6-year, $68M contract he signed before the 2015 season isn’t all worthless.

Easily the worst contract on the team, Yasmany is still owed $46M over the next three years. It’s not just the fact that Tomas is year-in, year-out, one of the worst MLB outfielders in WAR and optics, his contract was one of the issues when it came down to not being able to legitimately contend with the Red Sox for J.D. Martinez’s services, unless he was willing to take a one-year contract. Martinez, who finished last season with Arizona had 29 HRs and 65 RBI in only 62 games while finishing with a 2.6 b(Baseball Reference)WAR in a little more than a third of the season, ended up with a 5-year deal with Boston for $110M, equating to $22M/yr. On the other hand, Yasmany hasn’t finished any of his previous three season with a bWAR better than -0.5 (in large part to porous defense; -4.9 career WAR on defense), is earning an average of $15.33M over the final three years of his contract.

One damning sign that Tomas will NOT be a successful everyday player over this next month while Souza is on the shelf is that in 2016, his career year where he hit .272 with 31 HRs and 83 RBIs with an .820 OPS and career high offensive WAR of 1.2, Yasmany’s defensive WAR was also a career low at -2.3. All three seasons while in the majors, the hefty-Cuban has posted a positive oWAR, but he’s also been deeper in the red in each of thos seasons in dWAR that he hasn’t been able to get any closer to a Wins Above Replacement overall season score of -0.5.

If that isn’t enough of an ominous sign take in account that in Tomas’ carer – which spans 1,103 at-bats – he has 61 CAREER walks while striking out a total of 296 times. A BB-to-K ratio of 1 walk every 5 K’s. For reference, last season (between Det/AZ), JD walked 53 times in only 432 at-bats, that’s 8 less times than Tomas in his carer in 671 less at-bats. For one other point of reference, in 523 at-bats last season, newly signed Steven Souza walked 23 MORE times, in nearly 600 less at bats , than Yasmany has in his career!

I’ll just leave this right here:

The one way Yasmany can be productive for a National League team is as a platoon starter against lefties. In his career, Yasmany has posted a career batting average against LHP of .299 with an OPS of .897 (.800 is typically known as the median point for power hitters), while hitting a bleak .256 and .722 in 808 at-bats.

Expect that third outfield spot to be divvied up between Yasmany, Chris Owings and Jarrod Dyson while Souza is out. All three bring their own unique skillset; Yasmany can bring an element of power that the other two can’t, while Jarrod (2.6 WAR in 2017) is one of the faster players in the game with +defense, and Chris (0.7 WAR 2017) provides +speed to go along with an average bat and outfield defense. Both, also, have positive career WARs for their career.

But, would’t it be funny if the guy you had all along made you forget about the guy you traded for? Through Friday 3-23 in spring training, he is doing well. He is 3rd on the team in hits, tied for 2nd in walks, is #1 in doubles and has a .316 batting average.

Will Zack Godley Be The D-backs Opening Day Starter?

With ace Zach Greinke unavailable for Opening Day next Thursday, most have speculated that next in line, 26-year-old, Robbie Ray would be the obvious choice to take the ball for the Arizona Diamondbacks in place of the 34-year-old, aging ace, Greinke. Not so fast.

Considering the fact that Robbie threw yesterday, his normal schedule (one more spring training start on Sunday) would line him up to start next Friday, the second game of the season for the D’backs. This was all but confirmed by manager Torey Lovullo after Ray’s start yesterday:

In that case Zack Godley – Who set career high’s in innings pitched, wins, whip, k/9, WAR and so on – would be on regular rest and the next most obvious choice to start Opening Day. With a week to go before the start of the Major League season, I project the starting rotation for the Arizona Diamondbacks to be Godley, Ray, Grienke, Patrick Corbin and Taijuan Walker.

It also is worth noting that the baseball schedule is different this year. Most west coast teams have an opening day, a day off, then they complete the first 3 game series of the season. MLB does this in case their opening day gets rained or possibly snowed out. Then, it is relatively easy for the team and MLB to simply push the opening day back a day. But, the Diamondbacks are the only west coast team that does not have to worry about that. It does not snow in Arizona unless you go to the higher elevations, very rarely rains in Phoenix, and even if one of them does happen Chase Field has a roof. But, that means the opening week schedule for the Diamondbacks is sort of weird, yet that may be a blessing for them at the same time.

Image result for chase field

Photo by; Wikipedia

The baseball season for the Diamondbacks starts on Thursday March 29th. They play the Colorado Rockies Thursday, Friday and Saturday then have Sunday off (which just happens to be Easter Sunday). Monday starts the second series of the season, also at Chase Field when the Dodgers come to town on Monday and Tuesday nights and Wednesday afternoon. They then subsequently make their first road trip of the year to St. Louis and Bush Stadium for the Cardinal’s home opener. And for the same reasons as explained above they play on that Thursday, have Friday off then round out that series on Saturday and Sunday. To project the schedule even further, they play Saturday and Sunday both day games, play two night games and another day game in San Francisco, then another day off, after-which they start a weekend series in Los Angeles with another day off before opening a six game home stand. Why mention all of this as it relates to pitching? Technically, the Diamondbacks could use a four man rotation and not need Greinke until they return home on the 17th of April, 19 days into the season.

Can The Dodgers Win & Stay Under The Cap?

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Photo by; Los Angeles Daily News

Last season the Dodgers decided to spend whatever it took to re-sign Rich Hill, Justin Turner and Kenley Jansen. What exactly it took was $192 million. This season, as quite a number of their salaries increased from that 2017 season they are determined to stay under the $197 million luxury tax, so the penalty they pay is reset. So far, the team has been able to do so. But, as the season goes along and the play-offs get closer. When it comes down to it, what if they have to make a choice in staying under the cap or going to the post-season? Can the Dodgers win the west and stay under the cap?

CAN THESE THINGS CONTINUE OFFENSIVELY?

I keep hearing from Dodger fans that they don’t need to add payroll. That there team was great last year and it will be great again this year. I don’t think that is a hope for optimism, I think that is a cause for concern.

Austin Barnes took the regular catching job away from Yasmani Grandal after the All-Star break. But before you sing his praises to loud know that Grandal only played in 27 more games than Barnes and beat him in every offensive category except triples, batting average and on base percentage. Do you really think Cody Bellinger is going to hit 39 home runs and drive in 97 again this season? Look at all his stats. He also led the Dodgers in strikeouts and think of his 97 RBI’s in the correct context. First, the Dodgers offense as a whole is not great considering that those 97 RBI’s were more than 20 higher than the next total by a Dodger. Plus, with those 97 RBI’s and 39 home runs, he really did not drive in runs either, he only drove in other people than himself 58 times all season.Image result for chris taylor dodgers

I am not a Dodger’s fan, but I love Justin Turner. I can remember when he was just a utility player and to see him now gets me excited, plus I have to give him his just due. But, he is 33 and he is coming off career numbers in batting average (.332) and OPS (.945). I love him but he missed 32 games in 2017. He also walked more than he struck out, but as a realist, I know that he is going to start to regress. Put him into this realistic context, he is the third oldest player on the team behind Chase Utley and Rich Hill.

Who is Chris Taylor? Even die-hard Dodger fans were asking that question last season. He was a utility infielder turned starting center fielder. He might be the second coming of Justin Turner, but he is more than likely a one year wonder according to his numbers. Giving him his credit, he led the team with 34 doubles, triples (it was 5 don’t get real excited) and stolen bases with 17 conclusion, he has speed. But, if he would have struck out 8 more times he would have struck out 3 times for every walk. And before you say he hit 21 home runs let me tell you how many he hit the previous 3 seasons. 1, no that is not a misprint, the answer is 1.

Finally, the other player on the Dodgers I love is Yasiel Puig. For the first time in 3 seasons he actually played a full season as he led the Dodgers in games appeared in last season with 152. He was also second on the team with 28 home runs, but he also killed rallies by grounding into 21 double plays and he hit just .183 against lefties. He will need to improve on both those stats and make 150 plus starts for the Dodgers to contend.

Bottom line, there are way too many players who had really great, career years last season for the Dodgers. I don’t think the Dodgers will be as good offensively this season as they were last season. And honestly, the offense was not stellar last year. Which means the Dodgers are going to have to pitch better this season than last.

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CAN THEY CONTINUE TO PITCH LIKE THIS?

 

When I ask Dodger fans this question they are quick to point out that the Dodgers led the majors last year in ERA at 3.39. And they are correct. ERA has two parts; the pitcher on the mound and the defense behind him. Turner, Seager, Pederson, and Puig all four played top ten at their respective positions last season. So this, as mentioned above is another reason why the Dodgers must stay healthy. The Dodger’s rotation, despite the solid ERA was anything but solid. Ace Clayton Kershaw missed five weeks this past season with his reoccurring back issues, yet still led the team in starts with 27.

Image result for dodgers world series

Photo by; True Blue LA.

How many pitchers on the Dodger’s staff logged at least 150 innings last season? Two, that is correct only two Kershaw and Alex Wood and Wood just barely made it at 152.1 innings. Speaking, and focusing on Alex Wood, in 2016 he went 1-4 and this past season he made a dramatic jump to 16-3. In the 2018 season, I do not expect him to duplicate either his 2016 season or his 2017 season but somewhere between 1 and 16 wins is slightly broad. Therefore because you do not want to add payroll you are forced to rely on a 37 year old Rich Hill as your #3 starter. Your fourth and fifth starters are likely Maeda who had 13 wins but a 4.42 ERA and Hyun-Jin Ryu who is 30, not been healthy, and in 24 starts last season gave your team 5 wins. But, it is fine, at least you have depth, wait…….no you don’t. In order to keep yourself under the salary cap you traded away two starters in Brandon McCarthy, who won you 6 games, and Scott Kazmir and you let Yu Darvish go in free agency. Was there also another pitcher, this one out of your bullpen that you gave significant innings to? Yes, that man would be Brandon Morrow who had 6 wins, but you let him walk as well. So in MCcarthy and Morrow you lost almost 150 innings and 12 wins. To be fair, we cannot talk about the Dodger bullpen without talking the amazing season of Kenley Jansen. His 41 saves and 1.32 ERA were fantastic, but are those two numbers sustainable?

How many of these number are sustainable? The problem is they either have to be, or you have other talent step up or you add payroll to make a play-off push. These numbers will not be duplicated, the team says they will not add payroll, so the Dodgers need to pray they have a couple more Chris Taylor’s in their system……or they miss the play-offs.

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