16 October 2011
Continuing our recap of the 2011 Arizona Diamondbacks' season (Overview, Bullpen), this article looks at the starting pitching. As a group, the starters improved from a 49-65 record with a 4.40 ERA in 2010 to a 71-54 mark in 2011 with an ERA of 3.84. The highlight of the 2011 rotation was the emergence of Ian Kennedy as a serious Cy Young contender, as he finished the year at 21-4 with a 2.88 ERA. Another bright spot was the development of Josh Collmenter, who made the jump from AA all the way to the #3 starter in the postseason. The team greatly benefited from good health from its top 4 pitchers, as Kennedy, Daniel Hudson, Collmenter, and Joe Saunders were able to take the ball every fifth day. The only real problem with the starting rotation was the #5 slot, as the team shuffled different pitchers through that position all season. Let's take a closer look at the performance of the starters in 2011.
Kennedy was very good all season, but he was exceptional in the second half, going 12-1 with a 2.11 ERA. Over his last 15 starts, he allowed more than 3 ER only once. Overall, Kennedy improved his walk rate from 3.25BB/9 down to 2.23, and also reduced his HR rate (1.21 to 0.77 HR/9) while slightly increasing his strikeout numbers (7.79 to 8.03 K/9). He's still a flyball pitcher, which takes advantage of the team's defensive strength, but he has been gradually increasing his ground ball rates, with a career high GO/AO rate of 0.87. Kennedy was very tough with Runners in Scoring Position, allowing only a .141/.265/.206 (.471 OPS) in those situations, and only a .136 AVG with RISP/2 Outs. He also did a better job of holding baserunners in 2011, with only 6 SB allowed for the season.
Hudson's FIP was pretty similar between 2010 and 2011, 3.22 and 3.28, but his ERA doubled from 1.69 to 3.49. Part of the reason was that Hudson's BABIP (Batting Average on Balls in Play) increased from a ridiculously low .216 in 2010 up to .295 this year. But as we discussed a few months ago, the increase in BABIP was not entirely bad luck, as Hudson was having a very tough time putting away hitters when he was ahead 0-2 in the count. Hudson's slider, in particular, seemed to be catching too much of the plate. He did do a better job down the stretch, bringing his BABIP down from .315 to .295 over the final two months. Hudson also had trouble in the first inning all year, with a 6.00 ERA and a .912 OPS in the first inning.
Once again, Saunders had an ERA (3.69) that was significantly better than his FIP (4.78). This was the 4th straight year where his ERA was better than his FIP. Despite allowing 280 baserunners in 212 IP, he was able to minimize the damage by inducing a league-leading 28 double plays. His 21% DP rate was by far the highest among NL starters, and more than double the rate of his fellow starters on the Diamondbacks. Like Hudson, he struggled in the 1st inning, with a 5.18 ERA and 7 HR. Left-handed batters had a tough time with Saunders (.581 OPS), but right-handers had a solid .810 OPS against him. Saunders earned $5.5M in 2011, and will probably earn a raise to around $7M next year, if the team decides to re-sign him or offer him arbitration.
Collmenter was definitely one of the biggest surprises of 2011. After a 5.77 ERA for AAA Reno in 2010, Collmenter was called up after just one AAA start in 2011 and moved to the Major League bullpen. After allowing just 2 ER in 14 IP with a 11K/1BB ratio, Collmenter was moved into the starting rotation. He started off well but then stumbled in June, and looked to be in danger of losing his spot. But then Collmenter came back with two scoreless outings, and held the spot for the rest of the season. In fact, Collmenter pitched well enough to start Game #3 in the playoffs. Can he keep it up in 2012? Probably the biggest improvement was in Collmenter's walk rate, which was only 1.6 BB/9 in the Majors, despite being 3.1 BB/9 in the minors. Since Collmenter was primarily a 2-pitch pitcher in the Majors, with an 87 mph fastball and a 76 mph change-up, he will probably need to develop a consistent third pitch (curveball?) to have long-term success. He should start 2012 in the rotation, but he's the type of pitcher who will always be a couple of bad outings away from being shifted to the bullpen.
Duke started the year on the DL, but returned to the rotation on May 28 with 7 scoreless innings against the Astros. Unfortunately, Duke only managed 2 Quality Starts in his next 8 outings, and was moved to the bullpen. He pitched a little better in the bullpen (3.86 ERA) than as a starter (5.47), but it's certain that the Diamondbacks will not pick up Duke's $5.5M option for 2012, instead buying him out for $750K. Duke was yet another Diamondback pitcher with a huge ERA-FIP disparity - he had a 3.99 FIP with a 4.93 ERA, due in large part to a .339 BABIP. But his stuff seemed very hittable, and the team has little expectation that he will rebound in 2012.
Galarraga had a miserable 8 starts for the Diamondbacks, allowing 13 HR and 36 Runs (28 ER) in just 42.2 IP. He will not be part of the team's plans in 2012.
Miley started the year in AA Mobile, and did not pitch particularly well there - 4.78 ERA, 5.5 K/9, 3.3 BB/9. But he was promoted to AAA Reno mid-season, and actually pitched much better - 3.64 ERA, 9.3 K/9, 2.7 BB/9. He was called up to the Majors in mid-August, and had decent results, with 2 ER or fewer in 5 of his 7 starts. But his peripherals were not very good, with 4.1 BB/9 and only 5.6 K/9. Miley did get a lot of ground balls (1.33 GO/AO) for the Diamondbacks. He should be in the running for a rotation spot in 2012, but needs to show much better control.
Enright began the season in the #5 slot, but only lasted for 6 starts. Overall, he had trouble with the Home Run ball (11 in 37.2 IP), and walked too many (3.6 BB/9) while only striking out 5.0 K/9. He'll battle for a rotation spot in 2012, but will have a hard time staying ahead of the rookies - Miley, Parker, Bauer, and Skaggs.
Marquis only managed three starts with the Diamondbacks before going on the DL, and didn't pitch very well in them. He'll be a free agent in 2012, and probably will not re-sign with Arizona.
Parker only made one start in the Majors, throwing 5.2 scoreless innings against the Dodgers. In his first year back from Tommy John surgery, he showed a good fastball and changeup, but didn't throw his slider very much. His minor league numbers in AA were solid - 3.79 ERA, 7.7 K/9, 3.8 BB/9 - and were improving throughout the season. Over his last 14 starts for Mobile, he allowed 1 ER or less in 10 of them, with a 2.57 ERA. He has much more upper-level experience than fellow Mobile starters Tyler Skaggs and Trevor Bauer, so he may be the most likely of the group to start 2012 in the Majors. On the other hand, he still needs to work on his slider, so some more time in the Minors may be useful.
The 2011 Starting Rotation was a big reason for the team's success. Ian Kennedy took a big step forward and became a true ace, and Daniel Hudson was a solid #2 starter. Joe Saunders and Josh Collmenter were a solid #3 and #4. Heading into 2012, Kennedy and Hudson will again hold down the first two spots. Based on his 2011 performance, Collmenter should be in line for a starting job, but there are still concerns about whether he can maintain his performance. Joe Saunders had a decent season, but there are questions about whether he can do it for another year, and if he is worth the ~$7M he will command in 2012. Wade Miley will have a chance for a starting position, but needs to show better command and control. Jarrod Parker could probably be a good starter in the Majors in 2012, but he could also use more time to sharpen his command and to get his slider going again. Tyler Skaggs and Trevor Bauer both showed a lot of promise in the Minors, but both also have very little professional experience so far. My guess is that the Diamondbacks will bring back Saunders, and start the year with a rotation of Kennedy, Hudson, Saunders, Collmenter, and Miley. Parker, Skaggs, and Bauer will all start the year in the Minors, and will be called up if Collmenter or Miley struggle, or if Saunders is traded during the season.