Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Rotation Rebound is Key to Dbacks Bounce-Back

After winning the National League West Division crown in the 2011 season, the Arizona Diamondbacks fell to a .500 finish in each of the next two seasons.
Arizona further collapsed to a 64-98 finish in 2014. However, the club bounced back in 2015, picking up 15 wins to finish within four games of the .500 mark at 79-83.
Diamondbacks management felt that the club was coming on, and so a couple of key moves were made with an eye towards contending for at least a 2016 NL Wildcard berth.
At the Winter Meetings in December of 2015, the team signed free agent ace right-hander Zack Greinke. A day later they dealt an extremely valuable package of prospects led by shortstop Dansby Swanson to the Atlanta Braves in order to land pitcher Shelby Miller. Then in January they traded with the Milwaukee Brewers for shortstop Jean Segura.
Adding these players to a lineup that was led by the 2015 NL MVP runner-up Paul Goldschmidt and rotation with emerging young talents such as Patrick Corbin and Robbie Ray, Arizona believed they would indeed contend for a postseason berth.
Instead, the Diamondbacks collapsed back to a 69-93 record, 18 games off that NL Wildcard pace and 22 games behind the division-winning Los Angeles Dodgers.
Key injuries decimated the lineup, as a pair of starting outfielders, A.J. Pollock and David Peralta, missed most of the season.

WHAT WAS EXPECTED OF THE 2016 ROTATION

However, it was the collapse of the starting rotation, in particular the failures of the two big acquisitions in Greinke and Miller, that led to the team collapse.

In three years with the Dodgers prior to arriving in the desert, Greinke had finished among the top ten in the NL Cy voting. In the previous two years he was an NL All-Star and Gold Glover.
Miller had lost 17 games with the Braves in 2015. However, he also had recorded a 3.02 ERA, allowing just 183 hits in 205.1 innings as a 24-year old.
Corbin had missed the entire 2014 season and the start of 2015 after needing Tommy John surgery. He went 6-5 with a 3.60 ERA in making 16 starts after finally returning, with a 78/17 K:BB ratio over 85 innings.
The lone left-hander in the group, Ray had registered a 3.52 ERA in making 23 starts as a 23-year old in 2015. He also struck out 119 batters and allowed just 121 hits over 127.1 innings.
These four gave the Diamondbacks hope that they could contend with any starting group in the 2016 campaign. In the end, none lived up to their billing or their potential.

WHAT WENT WRONG IN THE 2016 ROTATION

Greinke went 13-7, but finished with a 4.37 ERA and 1.273 WHIP. He allowed 161 hits over 158.2 innings, with a 134/41 K:BB ratio.
Those aren’t bad numbers – for a #3 or 4 starter. Greinke is supposed to be a Cy Young-caliber ace, and at $34 million per year, he is being paid like one.
Miller went 3-12 with a disastrous 6.15 ERA and 1.673 WHIP over 20 starts. He missed a month with a sprained finger, and then was demoted to AAA for a month due to his ineffectiveness.
Corbin went 5-13 with a 5.15 ERA and 1.561 WHIP over 36 games, 24 of them as a starter. He allowed 177 hits over 155.2 innings while walking 66 batters.
Ray was 8-15 with a 4.90 ERA and a 1.468 WHIP over 32 starts. He allowed 185 hits in 174.1 innings. While he showed dominating potential in recording 218 strikeouts, he also walked 71 batters.
The failures and injuries to these starting pitchers meant that Arizona had to rush a pair of prized prospects to the big leagues quicker than they would have liked. 23-year old Archie Bradley went 8-9 with a 5.02 ERA over 26 starts, while 24-year old Braden Shipley went 4-5 with a 5.27 ERA in making 13 appearances, including 11 starts.

WHAT CAN GO RIGHT IN THE 2017 ROTATION

There is hope for 2017 in that it would be almost impossible for these pitchers to do much worse. The more important point will be to find out if they can actually do much better.
Corbin will pitch much of the 2017 season still at age 26. Miller pitches the entire season at age 26. Ray will pitch all year at age 25. Shipley turns 25 in February. Bradley will be 24 for the entire season. They all remain young and talented, all capable of a bounce back season.
And now Arizona has added to that depth, bringing in talented 24-year old righty Taijuan Walker in a trade from Seattle for Segura. Walker went 8-11 with a 4.22 ERA and 1.236 WHIP in making 25 starts for the Mariners in 2016.
This remains an enviable group of young, talented arms led by Greinke, who will pitch at age 33 in the 2017 season. There has been talk that the Dbacks have been shopping the righty. But his huge contract, his down season, his age, and a likely high asking price have scared off suitors to this point.
Arizona could very well get a greatly improved performance from 3-4 of these starting pitchers in the 2017 season. If that does happen, Arizona has enough offense that they could make that NL Wildcard push a year later than planned.

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