It came down to the final day of the season, but the NL playoff teams and matchups are finally set, with the Phillies hosting the Cardinals and the Brewers hosting the Diamondbacks. The Phillies clearly have the strongest starting rotation, with both Roy Halladay and Cliff Lee expected to finish among the Top 4 in the NL Cy Young voting, and Cole Hamels a certain Top 10 finisher. The Brewers just barely edge out the Diamondbacks for 2nd place, with the trio of Yovani Gallardo, Shaun Marcum, and Zack Greinke all capable of shutting down an opponent. But none of the three had a dominating regular season. Right with the Brewers are the Diamondbacks at a very close #3, led by the amazing season of Ian Kennedy. Daniel Hudson has been solid, and both Joe Saunders and Josh Collmenter have been much better than expected. Ranking 4th are the Cardinals, whose pitching staff will be without ace Chris Carpenter until Game 3. Let's take a closer look at the likely starting rotations for each team.
In an excellent article by Mike Fast at Baseball Prospectus (free access), catchers are analyzed with PitchFX for their ability to get extra called strikes for their pitcher. The basic concept is as follows:
1) Using pitch location data from the PitchFX system from the years 2007-2011, Mike first established a standard strike zone by marking the boundaries where a pitch was called a strike at least 50% of the time.
RHB zone: -1.03 < px < 1.00 and (0.92 + batter_height*0.136) < pz < (2.60 + batter_height*0.136)
LHB zone: -1.20 < px < 0.81 and (0.35 + batter_height*0.229) < pz < (2.00 + batter_height*0.229)
2) He then counted the number of called balls and strikes tallied by each pitcher in the borderline zone to get a baseline number of "extra strikes" for each pitcher.
3) He then broke down the data for each pitcher-catcher combination, subtracting off the pitcher's baseline data.
4) Using Dan Turkenkopf's data on the value of switching ball/strike calls, the Runs Saved by each catcher was estimated.
Many more details are in the article, but the results showed that the best catchers for getting extra strikes for their pitchers were:
As expected, the Diamondbacks called up top prospect Jarrod Parker on Monday, after Mobile completed their AA playoff season (with a Southern League championship). Parker's overall numbers in AA were good but not spectacular - 11-8, 3.68 ERA, 1.278 WHIP, 130.2 IP, 112K, 55BB (8.5K/9, 3.9BB/9). But his performance in the second half of the season was much better - he allowed 1 ER or less in 10 of his last 14 starts for Mobile. Over those final 14 games, his ERA was down to 2.57, and his walk rate dropped to a better 2.6BB/9.
Now that Parker has joined the Major League club, the next question is whether he will be added to the postseason playoff roster. This actually involves three questions:
- Is Parker even eligible for the postseason roster?
- Does he have enough time to impress management to earn a spot?
- Whose roster spot would he take if he does pitch well over the final week?
RHP Trevor Bauer and LHP Tyler Skaggs are two of the Diamondbacks' Top 4 Minor League prospects, along with righthanders Jarrod Parker and Archie Bradley. There had been some discussion of Bauer getting a September call-up and possibly making the Diamondbacks' playoff roster. But the long playoff run of the AA Mobile Bay Bears, along with some struggles by Bauer in his last two starts, probably means that he will not be called up this season. If he had, he would have been one of the rare players who went from the June draft to the Major Leagues in the same season.
But what about the 2012 season? Will Bauer be ready for to compete for a rotation spot next spring? As we will see below, that would still make him one of the fastest risers in all of baseball. Another potential option for the 2012 rotation is Tyler Skaggs. Skaggs has rocketed through the High A California League and the AA Southern League, striking out 198 batters in 158 IP (11.3K/9). Many feel that he too is ready for the Majors. After the break, let's take a look at how many starts these two have made in the Minors, and compare that with the minor league service of currently successful Major League pitchers.
There is no question that the Diamondbacks' outfield defense has very good range, and has been a big part of the team's success this year. According to the Ultimate Zone Ratings (UZR) at FanGraphs, the most valuable defensive player in the National League this year has been Gerardo Parra, with Chris Young #2 and Justin Upton #6. In terms of just range (excluding arms and errors), the Diamondbacks have 3 of the Top 5, with Upton the NL leader by far. At the team level, the Diamondbacks' UZR of +52.6 Runs gives them a 12.8 Run advantage over the #2 Reds (+39.8), and a whopping 39.2 runs over the #3 team, the Padres at +13.2. Let's take a closer look at the Diamondbacks' outfield defense and how the various defensive metrics rate them.
It's only been a few weeks, but so far, the Diamondbacks' controversial trade for Aaron Hill (and SS John McDonald) has worked out very well. In fact, at this point, it seems that this trade has been one that has really helped both teams, as both of the key players involved have improved with their new clubs.
When the Aaron Hill trade was made, the theory was that maybe both players needed a change of scenery. Hill had hit well in 2009, but had slumped in 2010, and in 2011 had become of the worst offensive players in the American League. Johnson was coming off a very good 2010 season, but had seen his average plummet to .209 while his strikeouts rose to an all-time high. But since the trade, both players have rediscovered their offensive skills.
While the Arizona Diamondbacks are clinging to a one game lead over the Giants, many Diamondbacks' fans are also keeping a close eye on the games of the Mobile Bay Bears, because the Diamondbacks' AA club has the best starting rotation in the Minor Leagues right now. The starting staff for Mobile consists of Trevor Bauer, Jarrod Parker, Tyler Skaggs, Patrick Corbin, and Charles Brewer - the first three are all consensus Top 50 prospects in all of the Minors, while Corbin and Brewer are both highly regarded in a very deep farm system. Let's take a closer look at the Mobile staff, as welll as a look around baseball at other possible contenders for the title of Best Minor League Starting Rotation.