We finish off our award season with the biggest crown of all.
It’s probably safe to say that this one is going to come down to a two-horse race. But don’t forget, this is just like the Oscars, and so it’s an honor even to be nominated! The pattern from previous years has been fairly standard: we carry forward winners of Rookie of the Year, Unsung Hero and Pitcher of the Year, along with two other selections. This year, those two additional selections are pretty damn obvious (and will likely form the dual equines mentioned above). However, we didn’t have a Rookie of the Year, so we could go with either a third wild-card selection, or if there’s no-one considered worthy, leave the field at four.
For now, what we have are:
As before, please leave any discussion of the merits of these four candidates for the actual poll thread itself, which will go up on Wednesday. This thread is intended to figure out whether or not there should be a fifth candidate listed on the ballot, and if so, who it should be. Offer up suggestions in the comments below, and rec any you feel are deserving. I’ll likely add the most-rec’d (and non-sarcastic!) suggestion, provided it meets a certain standard of quality!
2017-01-15T14:00:02-05:00Well, that was exciting! The voting This was probably the closest vote in SnakePit awards history, with less than three percent covering first, second and third places. When the raw votes were collated, we actually had a tie for first, with Robbie Ray and Brad Ziegler both having received exactly the same number of votes, and Zack Greinke right on their heels. However, on checking the votes, a significant number (about 30%) were submitted by people without providing their SnakePit usernames, as required to prevent ballot-box stuffing, or whose names did not stand up to scrutiny (“bziggle”? Really?). Those were removed from the results, and changed things radically. For it appears those invalid votes were more likely to be for some candidates than others. Turns out that the “No award” nomination was the hardest hit, losing a full half of its X’s. Ray and Ziegler dropped by the same amount, around one-third, so didn’t see their share change much. But the Greinke vote held up best of all. As a result, Zack increased his overall percentage, to surge past Ray and Ziegler from the unadjusted standings. He claimed the title by a slim margin, with the other two qualifying as honorable mentions. The chart below shows the players who received votes (sorry, Archie!), with the raw percentage in blue and the authorized number in red. Zack Greinke Greinke may have fallen well short of his 2015 campaign, but he was still the best regular starting pitcher on the 2016 Diamondbacks. And it’s not just us: Zack was also named the D-backs Pitcher of the Year by the Arizona Chapter of the BBWAA. He was the only one of the six players with more than ten starts whose ERA+ even broke 90, finishing the season at 101. The team went 16-10 when Greinke took the mound, even though in half of those games, they scored three runs or fewer in support, including six of his seven losses. He did get off to a rough start, being tagged with the loss on Opening Day as Greinke allowed seven runs over four innings on Opening Day against the Rockies, and went to 0-2 with another loss versus the Cubs. However, he picked up his next two wins immediately, on the road against divisional opponents in San Diego and San Francisco, starting a trend which continued for the season. Zack was 8-2 with a 3.94 ERA away from Chase Field, compared to going 5-5, 4.81 at home. Greinke won seven consecutive outings from May 17 through June 18. That streak hadn’t been matched since Patrick Corbin in 2013, and had not been surpassed since Brandon Webb’s historic start to the 2008 campaign, when he won his first nine appearances, as well as the last two the previous season. Zack’s 1.90 ERA made him only the second D-back starter to have a sub-two ERA over a 7-game span [Randy Johnson did, on multiple occasions], and the last win made him the fastest pitcher ever to 10 wins with the Diamondbacks, requiring only 15 appearances. He was the first D-back with double-digits in wins at the break since Corbin’s 2013 campaign. It included the team’s only “true” complete-game shutout (sorry, Shelby!) of the year, a three-hit blanking of the Rays on June 7. It was Greinke’s first CGSO since July 13, 2013 and was the first by any Diamondback at Chase Field since Josh Collmenter in May 2014 against Cincinnati. The resulting Game Score of 81 was the second-highest by a D-backs this year (Robbie Ray managed an 83, but it was against the Padres], and Greinke had four of the season’s ten best starts by that metric. He was having an extremely good June, before having to hit the DL - he had a 1.63 ERA over his six starts and 38.2 innings, holding opponents to a .534 OPS and going undefeated. While perhaps not strictly related to this award, it’s worth noting that he did win the NL Gold Glove at his position. He also had a .246 on-base percentage (better than both Tuffy Gosewisch and Socrates Brito), and improved his career SB record to 5-0 with a stolen-base against the Rockies on June 23. In that game, he became t[...]
2017-01-14T17:00:01-05:00It’s a very different front-office who will be taking the Arizona Diamondbacks into 2017. Monday, October 3, 2016: it was eight days after his second anniversary on the job, that the announcement was made: Arizona Diamondbacks General Manager Dave Stewart had been fired by the team. That was about half the time lasted by the man who preceded him in the position, Kevin Towers, and so Stewart easily replaced Towers as the shortest-tenured GM in team history (discounting interim men Bob Gebhard and Jerry DiPoto). Indeed, every permanent General Manager in Diamondbacks history, has lasted less time than the one before; they apparently don’t get job security, they have a half-life... I’m hoping Mike Hazen reverses that trend. Stewart had perhaps been emboldened last winter by having “overseen” a 15-game improvement in 2015. However, those quotes are used advisedly, since as I wrote in late 2014, teams which are that bad tend to be about 10 games better the next year anyway (something Bill James called the Plexiglass Principle) and our player health in 2015 was also much better. Those two factors, rather than Stewart’s skill, would explain basically all the improvement. It seems to be the fate of D-backs GM’s to experience quick success and misinterpret it: both Byrnes and Towers won the division in their early years, but it was all downhill from there. I wonder if Stewart did the same? In hindsight, his fate was sealed by that 48-hour period mentioned yesterday, when he signed Zack Greinke and traded for Shelby Miller. It was the archetype of a team entering “Win Now” mode. Stewart effectively went all-in with a hand that he thought would end up containing at least three aces, but ended up more in the “busted flush” camp. There was a tremendous amount of second-guessing after those moves, in particular the Miller deal; even at the time, 31% of respondents to the SnakePit poll considered it a “terrible” trade. As early as the end of April, with Grienke sporting a 5.50 ERA and Miller at 8.69, Stewart’s position already seemed to be growing tenuous. But it was after the All-Star break that the heat really seemed to get turned up. In August, word came out that the team was dragging its heels in regard to exercising the options they on 2017, for the services of both Stewart and DeJon Watson, the team’s senior vice president of baseball operations. A week later, a certain ESPN pundit utterly eviscerated the team’s front-office, saying since Stewart and Tony La Russa had been hired, the franchise “has done nothing but go backward,” calling it “as mistake-filled as any front office regime in the last five years, with most of their gaffes becoming public embarrassments to the organization, contributing to the perception around the sport that Arizona's front office is a laughingstock, falling well behind the rest of the industry in its processes and capabilities.” #SickBurn The end of August came and went, bringing with it the deadline for exercising those options. But the silence from the team with regard to Stewart’s future was deafening, particularly in contrast, to the eight-year contract given to Derrick Hall that same month. Said President-for-life Hall, “We’ve decided we’ll go until the end of the season and then we’ll evaluate everything... There’s a lot to think about here. They’re all very hard-working people and very knowledgeable. It’s not for lack of trying or hard work. Just a lot hasn’t gone their way. As Tony says often, we’re in the results business, and this year it’s been tough when it comes to results.” Matters were not helped by more bad press the following month. Ken Rosenthal reported friction between Watson and farm director Mike Bell, saying “The differences between the two are so significant, some believe that Bell might leave the organization if Watson stays.” While this report was categorically denied by Stewart and the team, if it was the state of affairs, it didn’t tak[...]
2017-01-14T11:00:02-05:00The team has made a major overhaul at the position, using every type of move possible. Mike Hazen came into Arizona with the goal of making the team better, starting with the pitching. In November, he utilized his best trade chip in Jean Segura to land former consensus top-10 prospect Taijuan Walker. In the Winter meetings, Hazen inked a backup catcher in Jeff Mathis due to his ability to frame pitches. Just before Christmas, Hazen junked former catching prospect bust Peter O’Brien and claimed a AAAA catcher in Juan Graterol from the Angels. Yesterday, they made their final significant addition to the position with the signing of free agent Chris Iannetta. Iannetta is solid MLB depth at the position, although at Age 33 he’s more of a stopgap than a solution. The team gave him a 1-year deal with only $1.5M in guarantees, but has incentives. Mathis got more guaranteed dollars per seasons at $2M, but Iannetta’s contract probably has more total value. The former Rockies and Angels catcher was a solid hitter at the position with strong OPS+ and wRC+ marks from 2011-2014, but has scuffled lately the last two seasons, posting below 80 in both categories. Given his age and significant decline offensively, Iannetta didn’t have much of a market and had to wait until January to get a deal from a non-contending team. At the plate, Iannetta is a high risk, high reward type hitter with a ton of strikeouts (23.3%) and walks (13.8%) in his career, although not as much power to trade off with a career ISO of .169. His numbers in 2016 were 24.6%, 11.2%, and .119. Iannetta has posted double digit walk rates every season, which is a nice addition to a lineup that has a lot of hitters that refuse to walk. His offense could bounce back a bit in 2017 given the great hitting environment in Arizona and his familiarity with the NL West from his Rockie days. Defensively, he’s mediocre as a blocker and pitch framer, although he ranked near the top in most metrics in 2015 before ranking near the bottom in 2016. His value is likely inferior to what the Diamondbacks would have gotten for Castillo, but at 25% the price in guaranteed dollars, Iannetta is likely a better value. In terms of lineup construction, Iannetta likely bats 8th in the order to put a high walk guy ahead of the pitcher. Iannetta, Chris Herrmann, and Mathis will likely be on the team’s 25-man roster after Spring, although having an Iannetta and Mathis combo would allow manager Torey Lovullo to use Herrmann’s bat more liberally. Herrmann has the versatility to play 1B and both corner OF spots while supplying a possible impact bat from the left side off the bench. I don’t know what the rotation might be, maybe 60-60-40 with Iannetta and Mathis getting 60 games each or Mathis gets his 60 games and they platoon the other 100. Mathis is the best defensive catcher, so I think he winds up being Zack Greinke’s personal catcher plus another 30 games. Herrmann is the best hitter, but is the weakest defender and game-caller. The biggest impact of adding Iannetta is the Diamondbacks can afford to let Oscar Hernandez develop at his own pace. Although Graterol is on the Diamondbacks 40-man roster, he might wind up as the roster casualty for Iannetta because the Diamondbacks aren’t going to keep more than 4 catchers on the 40-man roster, even if you don’t think Herrmann is a catcher like I do. If the team can keep Graterol at the AAA level, he’d make excellent depth in case of an injury as a replacement level catcher making pre-arbitration wages. While the system lacks strong catching depth and prospects, I think the team is a bit better at the position than they were in October. [...]
Looks like the catcher’s spot has been solidified, with the free-agent signing of Iannetta being reported.
The position of catcher for the 2017 Diamondbacks had been in a state of flux since the somewhat surprising decision by the new front-office to non-tender Welington Castillo, rather than pay him $6 million or so in arbitration. The team did sign veteran Jeff Mathis, a wizard of pitch-framing, but it seemed dubious that he would be able to play everyday, having averaged only 46 games over the past three seasons. There had been a suggestion that the team might be looking at Matt Wieters, but the team appears to have gone in another free-agent direction. For Jon Heyman of Fanrag Sports reported this afternoon:
sources: Chris Ianetta agrees to deal with the D-Backs— Jon Heyman (@JonHeyman) January 13, 2017
Doesn’t seem like either should present too much of a problem: Walker will come in below expectations, while the mid-point between team and player falls exactly at the projected amount.
2017-01-13T11:30:01-05:00Perhaps the most overlooked player on the 40-man roster is infielder Ildemaro Vargas. After washing out of the Cardinals system by 2014, Vargas played 30 games for the Bridgeport Bluefish before being signed by the Diamondbacks in 2015. Vargas was assigned to the Class A Kane County Cougars and hit .321/.385/.438 in 86 games. Vargas was 2 years older than the average player in the Midwest League, so you expected dominance. In 2016, the Diamondbacks gave him an aggressive assignment to AA Mobile, where he .276/.325/.372 with fantastic glovework at both SS and 2B that earned him Southern League All-Star honors. Afterwards, Vargas was promoted to AAA Reno, where he showed he was capable of handling more advanced pitching with a .354/.418/.449 slash line and more walks (20) than strikeouts (15). The team rewarded his performance and added him to the 40-man roster in November. At the MLB level, there’s little reason to believe he’ll develop into a regular starter. His best fit would be on the bench, where his versatility in the field would be useful. Vargas has more than 100 starts at 2B, 3B, and SS at the minor league level, most of them coming at SS although he played mostly 2B at Reno. His bat offers little pop, with a career ISO of .088. At a more appropriate competition level for his age, Vargas posted a .760 OPS and that included a .868 clip in the hitter-friendly Pacific Coast League. The AAA line is fueled by a .372 BABIP, which isn’t happening at the MLB level in a significant enough sample size. So what type of skills does he bring to the Diamondbacks? Aside from being a versatile infielder defensively, although his best position is 2B, Vargas put up very low strikeout rates in AA Mobile (6.8%) and AAA Reno (5.8%). In 2016, he walked more (44) than he struck out (39) over 575 plate appearances. That means he will put the ball in play and can be a tough out since he doesn’t chase out of the zone often. That skill set is very useful for hitting off the bench, since he’d get only 1 AB for the game in that role. His versatility in the field is a good fit for the National League as a defensive sub in a double switch, pinch hit appearance, or a straight-up defensive replacement. His primary competition in Spring will be utility infielder Phil Gosselin, fellow prospect Jack Reinheimer, and Ketel Marte for what could possibly be the final infield spot. Gosselin is the safest projection, although his defensive value is minimal and only produced a 81 wRC+ with a .339 BABIP, so the team can look to improve there. Reinheimer has an average glove for SS, but has the defensive chops to handle 2B and 3B in a pinch and very little pop while strictly batting from the right side of the plate. Ketel Marte was picked up in the Taijuan Walker trade, where he’ll also be in the mix for the starting SS spot. All four players have options remaining for 2016, although the Diamondbacks are more likely to DFA Gosselin to trade him later should he not win a spot on the roster. While prospects like Domingo Leyba, Dawel Lugo, and Jazz Chisholm fill up the prospect books, the Diamondbacks do have a middle infielder prospect that flew under the radar and could be a contributor for the MLB club in 2017. The switch-hitter isn’t going to be a big needle mover and his likely ceiling is probably as a bench player, but his glove and ability to switch hit make him a good fit for the Diamondbacks. I would not be surprised one bit if he’s able to make the roster out of Spring Training this year. [...]
2017-01-12T19:00:02-05:00There not much doubt about the main reason for 2016’s underwhelming season for the D-backs. It all began on the mound. Going into the 2015-16 off-season, the focus of Dave Stewart was once again on improving the pitching staff. I say, “once again,” because that had been the case in the 2014-15 off-season as well. Back in November 2014, he said, “By the time we start the season I'd really like to try to improve our starting rotation." That was understandable, since in 2014, Arizona had the second-worst rotational ERA in the NL. The following season saw only marginal improvement, moving up from 14th to 11th, mostly thanks to decent performances from Robbie Ray and Patrick Corbin. So, over the course of 48 hours in the last month of 2015, Stewart decided to go big or go home. On December 8, he swept in and stole Zack Greinke out from under the noses of the Dodgers and Giants, signing him to far and away the largest contract in D-backs history, a six-year deal worth $206.5 million. The following day, he put together a blockbuster package with the Braves for All-Star Shelby Miller, dealing Ender Inciarte, plus pitching prospect Aaron Blair and #1 overall pick in the draft just six months previously, Dansby Swanson, to Atlanta. The Diamondbacks made it clear they were trying to climb through their window of opportunity, and when they went 24-8 in spring training, seemed poised to challenge in the NL West. Then the actual games started, and it all went horribly wrong. For in 2016, the Diamondbacks became the first National League team since the Cincinnati Reds in 2005 to allow 200+ home-runs in a season and have an ERA above five. Indeed, the D-backs 5.09 ERA was not just the worst in the majors this year, only two NL teams since 2006 had managed to surpass it. Here are the stats for the teams posting the 10 highest ERA figures over that time. The problems began at the front of the rotation, where Greinke, Miller and Corbin all fell far short of expectations, even allowing for some regression. In 2015, the trio had combined for 14.2 bWAR, but in 2016, were worth just a paltry 0.7 bWAR. In the early going, Greinke was barely average, Corbin worse, and Miller... Well, Shelby seemed to lose entirely the ability to pitch, developing a follow-through which banged his knuckles on the ground. That resulted in a spell on the disabled list, which failed to cure the problem. At the break, with a 2-9 record and an ERA of 7.14, instead of going to the All-Star Game as in 2015, Miller was ignominiously optioned to the minor-leagues. Things somehow still managed to get worse in the second half. Our starters after the break went 18-31 with a 5.53 ERA, including most of a particularly dismal spell (July 6-August 7), where they had just four wins in 25 attempts. Corbin ended up leaving the rotation entirely, after allowing eight runs in less than two innings against the Red Sox at Fenway on August 12. Greinke had a good spell, but then ended up spending six weeks on the disabled list, and threw his fewest number of innings since 2007. Miller did finally return from the minors, and was pretty good in his final two starts, but it seems somewhat premature to be penciling him in for Cy Young votes this year. But it wasn’t just the rotation. Our relievers’ ERA was little better: at 4.94, it ranked 27th among the 30 major-league teams, and the second-half fall-off was even more dramatic there. This was partly due to the departure through trade of the most reliable bullpen arm, in Brad Ziegler, who took his 2.82 ERA to Boston, while Tyler Clippard’s 4.30 would also have been a distinct improvement over most of our second-half relievers. For after the break, Arizona’s bullpen ERA was 5.45, almost a full run higher than it had been in the first-half. Since 2009, only one major-league bullpen has done worse after the break; this year’s Phillies had a 5.84 ER[...]