The Deal That Keeps Helping the Diamondbacks

Without two key moves last year, the Diamondbacks probably wouldn’t find themselves in contention for a playoff spot. While the team’s offense, fourth in the NL in wOBA, has carried it most of the way to its 44-38 record, the other components are not as impressive. Their team defensive efficiency is right at the league average, so they’re not getting help much there. The starting rotation as a whole hasn’t fared particularly well, ranking 11th in ERA, 10th in FIP, and 14th in xFIP in the NL. But two pitchers are helping keep them afloat, Ian Kennedy and Daniel Hudson. If not for one trade in the 2009-2010 off-season, they might still be crawling in the basement.

At the time it appeared that the Diamondbacks had little to gain from the three-team trade where they sent Max Scherzer and Daniel Schlereth to the Tigers. The Yankees got Curtis Granderson, while the Tigers got Scherzer, Schlereth, Austin Jackson, and Phil Coke. The Diamondbacks essentially replaced Scherzer, a young and promising pitcher, with Edwin Jackson, who was a known quantity at the time, and then added Kennedy, who had been a disappointment in a 2008 big league stint and had been hurt most of 2009. They might have filled out their rotation, but there appeared to be a downgrade in quality.

A few months later, as is the case with any trade, the outlook changed. Kennedy was in the midst of a quality season, but it was Jackson who was trailing. No hitter be damned, he still had a 5.16 ERA and 4.24 FIP at the end of July, and was doing the last place Diamondbacks little good. And so, for the second time in a month, the DBacks traded their nominal best pitcher. First it was Dan Haren, and then it was Jackson, going to the White Sox for Daniel Hudson. In a span of six months the Diamondbacks turned one promising young starter into two. Those two are currently carrying the pitching staff.

In terms of ERA, Kennedy has led the staff with a 3.01 mark through 116.2 innings. (Josh Collmenter has a lower ERA, but is 50 innings behind.) He has pitched right along the lines of his scouting report: high 80s fastball with some movement, three off-speed and breaking pitches that he’ll mix to almost equal degrees. With that arsenal he’s struck out 7.48 per nine, which leads all DBacks starters, and walked just 2.31 per nine. His 3.34 FIP, however, isn’t quite as shiny as Hudson’s, which is 2.69. That comes mostly from a minuscule 0.39 HR/9. His .303 BABIP has helped bump his ERA up into the mid 3s. Both Kennedy and Hudson lead the team with nearly identical xFIP marks, right around 3.45.

That’s not to say they would have done poorly by staying out of the deal and retaining Scherzer. Despite a short trip to the minors after a rough start last season he still turned in a fine performance, 3.50/3.71/3.79 (ERA/FIP/xFIP). He’s struggled at times this year, particularly with the home run ball, but he can certainly turn it around, as he did last year. But that would still give the Diamondbacks only one quality starter. The point of the trade, said former GM Josh Byrnes, was to replace Scherzer with two quality starters. Little did he know that while the plan would work out, the second quality starter would come from a later trade consummated by his interim replacement.

The Diamondbacks’ surge into relevancy has come as a surprise, mainly because they’re similar in composition to last year. While the bullpen’s improvement — -2.1 WAR last year, +1.9 WAR this year — makes a big dent, so does the starting staff. They produced just 9.6 WAR all of last year, with a 4.40 ERA and 4.62 FIP, but this year they’re already at 6.9 WAR with a 4.05 ERA and 4.07 FIP. Kennedy and Hudson stand out from the pack, providing innings and effectiveness that have helped stabilize what was a rough pitching situation in the desert. There’s plenty of season to go, but at least for the first half the Diamondbacks have benefited greatly from a trade that no one thought they’d win.

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Joe also writes about the Yankees at River Ave. Blues.

30 Responses to “The Deal That Keeps Helping the Diamondbacks”

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  1. Mike N says:

    Good article but… you forgot to mention Edwin Jackson anywhere. I think he is the Jackson you refer to in the 3rd paragraph. As it is, it sounds like you’re talking about Austin Jackson there.

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    • Joe Pawlikowski says:
      FanGraphs Supporting Member

      Good catch. Fixed.

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    • mdmckirgan says:

      It seemed pretty obvious he was talking about Edwin Jackson considering he said “no hitter be damned” and the Diamondbacks never owned Austin Jackson

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  2. Sam says:

    How good would they look if they’d kept Haren?

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    • Terrence says:

      The way things are going, they’re looking good enough to win the putrid NL-West even without him.

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      • Nik says:

        Not really an answer.

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      • brendan says:

        ‘putrid’? I think the giants and rockies both have a lot of talent (even if the rockies haven’t played well). 3 good teams in the division -> it’s not putrid.

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    • marcello says:

      Maybe 3-4 wins better?

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    • My echo and bunnymen (Dodgers Fan) says:

      For all the gain of Ian Kennedy and Daniel Hudson, it seems the Saunders-Haren move is trying to negate it, unless Tyler Skaggs does well.

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  3. KK85 says:

    I remember last year that everybody said that the D’backs lost that trade, me included… That’s why we shouldn’t rush labeling this kind of trades. In a similar way, the prospects in the Haren trade are performing really well, and Tyler Skaggs projects to be a No. 2 starter at least, though with Haren they’d be the team to beat in that division.

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  4. Jason says:

    Haren is the most overrated pitcher in the game. I’d bet money he has a 3.50 to 4 ERA when the season ends, yet people continually act like he’s an ace. One only needs to see him pitch in a high pressure game to reach this conclusion.

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    • mbrady16 says:

      *Insert Pro-Haren rant here* Blargh ramble K/9 BB/9 FIP etc.

      Ohhhh wait…. funny guy.

      Dan has nothin on Joe Saunders, who is the left-handed embodiment of a “winner”

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    • Danmay says:

      If he has a 3.50 ERA and doesn’t miss any starts, is he an ace? (the answer is yes, IMO)

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      • Bhaakon says:

        Certainly in years past, but I think the bar’s been raised a bit in the last 18 months. There are 50 qualifying starters with an ERA under 3.5 at the moment. (43, if you want to use a FIP of 3.5 instead).

        There’s no real agreement on the definition of ace, but I think being one of the top 30 starters in baseball is a minimal qualification. So, as it looks now, a player with a 3.5 ERA/FIP would have to have to have an unusually high number of IP to be a candidate for ace-dom.

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    • Matt says:

      Haren’s ERA and ERA- in each of the past 5 years (making basically every start):

      3.07 (70)
      3.33 (74)
      3.14 (71)
      3.91 (93)
      2.85 (75)

      Other than his sub-par year last year (for the first 2/3 of the season in arizona really), he’s been durable and consistently excellent. Ignoring any of the advance stat stuff, you’re still just kinda wrong.

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    • joser says:

      Hyperbole much? I’d say Haren is not as “overrated” as Jared Weaver, Alexi Ogando, or this year’s Josh Becket. He’s certainly not as overrated as Tommy Hanson, and he’d be less overrated than Gio Gonzales if anybody was paying enough attention to Oakland for anybody to rate anything about them.

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      • Antonio Bananas says:

        “certainly not as overrated as Tommy Hanson”? Someone has to overrate him for him to be overrated. Most people in the mainstream underrate him.

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    • cs3 says:

      did you even bother to do any analysis to back up your ridiculous claim?
      If you did, you wouldve realized you were flat out wrong, and saved yourself the embarrassment of posting such utter drivel

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  5. Larry says:

    The article may have made a stronger point had the Dbacks not traded away Haren for a box of scraps…

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  6. Anon says:

    Sorry, but the article and the comments seriously undersell how fantastic the 2 deals (Scherzer/Jackson and Haren) were. In addition to netting Daniel Hudson for Edwin Jackson, the Dbacks also got LHP David Holmberg who is up to 34 consecutive scoreless innings and a 2.39 ERA as a 19 YO in A ball.

    In the Haren deal, the DBacks got 2 very promising LHP in 19YO TYler Skaggs (3.38 ERA in A Ball) and 21YO Patrick Corbin (4.17 ERA in AA). Even Joe Saunders has his uses as a league average innings-eater.

    But it doesn’t end there – Haren is making $12.75M this year. Saunders i overpaid at $5.5M but the savings to the DBacks is something like $5M this year and goes up a bunch once Saunders is gone with Haren signed for 3 more years.

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    • Bhaakon says:

      It doesn’t make much sense to bring up the saving when Haren is worth twice as much or more than he’s being paid. The D-Backs will have an extremely hard time investing that cash in such a way as to bring a better return than Haren provides. Unless they plan on pocketing that money, but that’s a different argument.

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  7. Drew says:

    As a White Sox fan I thought the Jackson-Hudson was a terrible trade at the time and apparently it was (for the White Sox).

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  8. Robbie G. says:

    Didn’t Arizona stupidly fire the GM who assembled this team? I will say that, as a baseball fan in my mid-thirties, it is so great to see Roy Hobbs, uh, I mean Kirk Gibson managing a MLB team!

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    • Eddy says:

      They didn’t fire the guy that did the deals, but they did pass on giving him the GM job. The deals were done by Jerry DiPoto who was passed over for the GM job, but remains with the team. In hindsight, I think both the deals done last year were good for the dbacks. Getting legitimate prospects (and an innings eater) for Haren, without having to contribute at all to his owed salary, was a great deal when you consider it was done when the team was playing awful yet still had an overpayed pitcher who was underpermormong greatly at the time. It goes without saying that the Hudson deal was great for the team. The teams surprising success this year is simply a bonus as when the deals were done, I don’t believe anyone thought the team would be in contention this quickly.

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  9. Desert says:

    Maybe it is just me but I think the Dbacks will always lag with 250 hitters in center and right. I’ll give you Upshow is hitting now but when he goes into those 35 day finks…wow. An he is dangerous in the outfield. Then first base another sun 230? Someone should show them how to drive to Tempe. How many ASU players are starting and non with the Dbacks, and Willie is what I mean. The only one with nads are the coaches, they need to kick rather than pat butts.
    Paying through the nose for tickets

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  10. Oasis says:

    How much of a troll are thee? Let me count the ways. Nah, there’s too many to list before the end of the holiday. Somebody should show you how to spell and use basic grammar.

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