2018 MLB All-Star Game: Arizona Diamondbacks Sport Two Deserving Players
Neither Paul Goldschmidt nor Patrick Corbin will be starters in the 2018 MLB All-Star Game. But their selections are both deserved. Goldschmidt will join Joey Votto as one of the two first basemen behind starter Freddie Freeman. Patrick Corbin will be a part of the NL pitching staff. Smart money says former D-Back Max Scherzer gets the start there.
There were definitely questions about whether or not Paul Goldschmidt would represent the NL in the game, given his start to the year. He was solid in April before hitting just .144 in May. His typically high power numbers shrunk as well, with a .134 ISO during May, while striking out at a 31.5% rate. June, however, was an entirely different story for Goldy.
During the month, he hit .364 and reached base at a .460 clip. His ISO flew up to .374, while his strikeout rate shrank all the way down to 19.8%. His wRC+ for the month sat at 215. As such, he trails only Freeman in WAR among NL first sackers, with a 3.2 figure (against Freeman’s 3.4). His .261 season ISO leads the position by a fairly wide margin, while his .385 OBP ranks fourth. His wRC+ for the year, at 146, also trails only Freeman (149). There’s virtually no question about his place on this NL roster.
While a couple of Arizona pitchers (Zack Greinke, Archie Bradley) could’ve been considered for the roster, Patrick Corbin makes a lot of sense. He’s had a quality year heading into free agency this winter. His 11.25 strikeouts per nine is the highest of his career, while his 2.41 BB/9 is his lowest since returning from Tommy John in 2015. He boasts a 3.05 ERA and a fantastic 1.01 WHIP. Only Scherzer and Jacob DeGrom have better WHIP numbers, by a fairly slim margin. Either one could be candidates to start. That just shows how good a year Patrick Corbin has had.
We could still see another Snake or two slither their way onto the NL roster, depending on who drops out based off of health, pitching schedule, etc. Could it be David Peralta? Archie Bradley? Zack Greinke? A case can be made for any of the three. Perhaps in the final vote? We’ll see.
Arizona Diamondbacks: Is Ketel Marte a Building Block for the Future?
Ketel Marte has had an interesting year. On the surface, it wouldn’t appear to be an impressive one for the Arizona Diamondbacks middle infielder. His slash features an average of just .247 and an on-base of only .307. Neither number inspires a wealth of confidence. His wRC+ checks in at 94, which would paint him as a below average bat, though not significantly. However, while some standard surface categories would lead you to believe he’s had a rough go of it, there are some far more inspiring numbers that would do quite the opposite.
For one, much of Marte’s statistical output is dragged down by a rough start to the year. He hit only .224 in April and a brutal .207 in May. His on-base those months? .259 and .289, respectively. Just brutal stuff. Now there was an element of bad luck as well, with BABIP figures of .250 and .243 in those two months, due largely to obscenely high groundball rates (58.1% combined). His power was virtually nonexistent as well, with a .103 ISO in April and a .080 in May. Given that start, it’s no wonder his season numbers look like they do.
However, over June and thus far into July, Marte experienced a turnaround for the better. He hit .304 and posted a .350 OBP. His ISO skyrocketed to .236, while his wRC+ went for 153. His .303 BABIP was significantly better than the first two months. His 44.4% hard hit rate was significantly higher than the 30.9% mark that he combined for in April and May.
The turnaround isn’t so much due to a change in pitch selection as it is in zone selection. His pitch type numbers throughout the season have looked largely similar. As far as zone coverage, though, he’s improved his approach. An article from Sports Illustrated’s Michael Beller detailed that zone coverage. As such, it’s no surprise that Marte’s contact numbers from June were miles better than the previous months. He had that 44.4% hard hit rate, along with a lower groundball rate. He also pulled the ball more, which is an interesting wrinkle.
Marte’s name was bandied about in one particular trade scenario involving Manny Machado. But with their hopes of landing the big fish on the trade market fading, the team would be better-suited to hang onto the 24-year-old. Obviously. As much as his in-season turnaround has been fun to watch, he really does have the skill set that can make him a building block for their infield.
He doesn’t walk a ton (just 7.4% for his career), but he doesn’t strike out much either. He’s only punching out at 12.2% this year, with a whiff rate of only 5.8%. His 87.7% contact rate ranks ninth among all qualifying position players. That’s a group of 165 players. As a high contact guy, the only thing you hope for more from Ketel Marte is some production on the power side. He’s sitting at a .182 ISO for the year, thanks to that scorching June. If he can stretch out a full season of something like that, you absolutely love a guy like that in your lineup. And he’s got the defensive chops, to boot.
Marte has proven to be a capable glove at both second base and shortstop. He has three Defensive Runs Saved between the two positions and has graded out positively at each this year. Long-term, it’s unclear which he’ll become more of a mainstay at. In Arizona, that’ll depend on Nick Ahmed‘s status, as he has two arbitration years left with the Diamondbacks.
Hitters Pitching: The Curious Cases of Position Players Pitching….In Close Games
Baseball has a reputation as a clunky, conservative old-boys club that’s resistant to change. But in recent years, with the rise of sabermetrics and instant replay, that idea is getting harder to defend. Nearly all aspects of the game are experiencing a statistically driven revolution – among them: pitching.
For a number of quantifiable reasons, starting pitcher pitch counts have been dwindling and the value of relief pitchers has been skyrocketing. Big data has given teams more confidence in their ability to engineer advantageous matchups between pitcher and hitter.
Historically, relief pitchers were just the ones not good enough to start – that’s not the case anymore. These days, teams are investing big bucks in their bullpen. One curious side-effect of this greater reliance on relief pitching: position players are being called on to pitch with unprecedented frequency.
The three seasons in the 100+ year history of the MLB that saw the most instances of hitters pitching were 2015, 2016, and 2017. 2018 is on pace to crush the record.
Pitching appearances by Position Players by Year:
2018: 27 (just through July 8th!)
As most baseball fans know, these players are called on almost exclusively by the losing team in massive blowouts. It makes sense. Why tax the arm of a 96MPH throwing reliever when you can throw in a catcher to eat up the innings and go home with a fresh pen for a game you actually have a chance to win?
Chris Jimenez gets it. He’s the most experienced non-pitcher pitcher in the MLB over the past few seasons. In 2017, he made 6 blow-out game appearances and posted a 7.20 ERA against players who were probably more interested in going home than scoring more runs. This is a real, if bizarre kind of asset for a team who finds themselves being blown out frequently. And in 162 games, blowouts will happen, they’re unavoidable.