Player Profiles 2020: Arizona Diamondbacks Starting Pitchers

Nick Pollack analyzes the Arizona Diamondbacks rotation for 2020 with in-depth player profiles.

Throughout the winter months of the offseason, the Pitcher List staff will be creating profiles for every fantasy-relevant player for 2020. Players will be broken up by team and role through starting pitchers, bullpen, lineup, and prospects. You can access every article as it comes out in our Player Profiles 2020 hub here.

 

Diamondbacks At A Glance

Despite boasting a rugged squad in July 2019, the Diamondbacks showcase a strong staff entering 2020. The addition of Zac Gallen mid-season paired with an impact signing of Madison Bumgarner and a healthy Luke Weaver creates a formidable top of the rotation, with the volatile but oft-times dominant Robbie Ray finally getting a chance to step back from his need to their de facto “ace”.

On the backside, there are some questions. Merrill Kelly and Mike Leake are competing for the final spot in the rotation and neither option seems too pretty. Newly added Junior Guerra is sure to get a share of starts as the season’s obstacles rear their ugly mugs, while Alex Young and Jon Duplantier could make appearances when needed as well.

 

Madison BumgarnerLocked Starter

Nickname: MadBum

 

2019 In Review

After a pair of seasons well below 150 frames each, Bumgarner finally gave us one of his traditional workhorse seasons… without the same ratios we’ve come to expect. He set a career-high with a 3.90 ERA, his 1.13 WHIP was the second-worst since 2011, and we’re starting to wonder if this is the beginning of the descent for MadBum.

At the same time, a 24% strikeout rate is welcome, while he sported the second-best SwStr rate of his career at 11.6%. Maybe he’ll be able to keep the WHIP and strikeout numbers while pulling down the ERA with fewer longballs, despite the change of scenery.

 

Fastball (43% usage)

It was good to see Bumgarner raise his fastball velocity, even if slightly, after its minute decline since 2016. He had the confidence to featured his four-seamer in the zone nearly 57% of the time, while he saw better results inducing chases off the plate as well. Its .250 BAA seems more in line with his golden years than recent seasons laced with injury, though his ability to overpower batters and touch double-digit swinging-strike rates is still gone.

It’s a solid offering that sets up his excellent slider/cutter well, and last year’s marks should likely hold for next year, if not for many more seasons ahead.

 

Slider (33% usage)

When you think of Bumgarner, this sweeper should be the focus. His ultra cross-body mechanics allow him to get plenty of horizontal bend on this slider, constantly nipping the outside corners to right-handers or darting away from lefties.

And while its sub-40% O-Swing% isn’t what we generally look for, the pitch is used to pound the strike zone effectively, holding a near 50% zone rate for his career and often returning very positive results.

There was a small step back last season as he allowed the most longballs off the pitch in his career, jumping from a previous high of eight to a whopping thirteen. If he can limit the mistakes (and the juiced ball!) then there could be favorable days ahead.

 

Curveball (18% usage)

Bumgarner’s curveball impressed me in 2019. After a season featuring a hook that screamed regression—poor 12% SwStr rate, .187 BAA, and a massive decline in O-Swing%—the pitch made a dramatic rebound, posting significant jumps in O-Swing%, SwStr rate, and returning a similar BAA despite an unreal 90 point surge in BABIP.

It’s the strong third option Bumgarner needs, and with its revitalization, it’s a pitch Bumgarner should be able to trust through 2020.

 

Changeup (5% usage)

It’s weird to find a changeup that was thrown over 150 times yet returned a sub-5% SwStr rate, but here we are.

Bumgarner put the slowball on the backburner last year and for obvious reasons. There’s little reason to turn to it over Bumgarner’s other far superior secondary pitches.

 

2020 Outlook

With the climb in ERA last season from an aging star, it would be easy to prophetize a steady decline each year moving forward. However, Bumgarner’s failures seem rooted in home runs and less due to his skill set.

A healthy 2020 season could return a season better than 2019 across the board and surprise many along the way.

 

Realistic worst-case projection: 4.10 ERA, 1.20 WHIP, 21% K rate in 180 IP

Realistic best-case projection: 3.00 ERA, 1.05 WHIP, 26% K rate in 200 IP

 

Nick’s reluctant Madison Bumgarner 2020 projection:

3.50 ERA, 1.10 WHIP, 24% K rate in 190 IP

 

Robbie Ray – Locked Starter

Nickname: The Hammock

 

2019 In Review

We were hoping 2017 and 2018 would merge together into one arm, sitting closer to a 3.50 ERA, but instead, we saw 2016 and 2018 combined as if 2017 wasn’t invited. A 4.34 ERA and 1.34 WHIP were tough pills to swallow if you needed his 31% strikeout rate, as Ray’s already poor home run rates were amplified by the juiced ball, propelling his HR/FB rate to an obnoxious 20% clip.

Maybe the moonshots disappear in 2020 league-wide and Ray showcases an ERA you can stomach. Maybe.

 

Fastball (53% usage)

Ray began sprinkling in sinkers about 9% of the time last year, but maybe he shouldn’t have. Despite failing to reach 300 thrown, he allowed four homers off the pitch, and its overall .365 BAA and 186 wRC+ should be enough to put it on the backburner indefinitely.

The only reason he touched the pitch is the volatility of his four-seamer. Some days he can rack up strikeouts galore with the pitch; other days batters take it for a ride. Overall, the heater was good more often than bad, returning a sub-.700 OPS across 1300+ hurled. Excellent numbers, and hopefully repeatable in 2020 as he nails down his breakers, though it lost over a full tick of velocity in 2020. Hopefully the trend doesn’t continue, maybe even regain a touch to keep it successful once again.

 

Slider (32% usage)

These two pitches are double-edged swords. The slider gets a fair share of whiffs at a 22% SwStr rate and excellent 42% whiff rate, but he lacks the ability to earn consistent strikes, and when it finds the zone, it can hurt. He allowed 25 extra-base hits on 972 thrown. That’s not good enough for what needs to be a pitch for Ray to throw in any count. A 41% O-Swing is solid, but with a low 30% zone rate, he’s just not getting enough out of it.

We all love the strikeouts and they will continue to touch 30% with this slider in his arsenal, but its feel will go in-and-out throughout the year and make it tough to believe in a massive step forward.

 

Curveball (16% usage)

Every pitcher needs a secondary pitch to earn strikes, and with his slider barely touching a 30% zone rate, this curveball was mixed in to keep batters honest. Ray tossed it in the zone 39% of the time last season—in line with career marks—but it fooled fewer batters, seeing a hefty decline in chases out of the zone and a hefty 250-point jump in OPS allowed.

Often when he has the feel for his deuce, he has the feel for his slider, too, and it makes for a welcome addition when the rhythm is there. However, it’s not the golden weapon he needs to properly complement his fastball/slider approach.

 

2020 Outlook

While I think Ray will perform better than 2019 as home runs as a whole go down, I find it hard to rely on Ray getting into a rhythm with his breaking pitches. Without a huge stretch of success, we’re looking like another season hovering a 4.00 ERA and questioning how valuable his strikeouts are.

 

Realistic worst-case projection: 4.50 ERA, 1.40 WHIP, 29% K rate in 160 IP

Realistic best-case projection: 3.30 ERA, 1.25 WHIP, 32% K rate in 185 IP

 

Nick’s reluctant Robbie Ray 2020 projection:

4.00 ERA, 1.32 WHIP, 30% K rate in 170 IP

 

Luke WeaverLocked Starter

Nickname: Ripley

 

2019 In Review

2019 had the feeling we were so close to something special. Weaver had been dancing around productive but not overwhelming outings across the first month, but really took off in May, allowing just eight ER across five starts and 29 frames. He had begun embracing his cutter upwards of 20% of the time, adding the proper third option his solid fastball/changeup combination needed.

However, an elbow strain ended his season entering June (save for two innings on September 21st!) and put his hype train to a skidding stop. With a clean bill of health entering spring, can we expect Weaver to pick up where he left off?

 

Fastball (52% usage)

For a pitch touted as a fastball/changeup approach, you’d expect better results from his four-seamer. The pitch returned just a 25% O-Swing and 8% SwStr in 2019—albeit the highest O-Swing of his career—marking an offering that relied on weak pop-ups and early strikes to survive.

Batters did hold an impressively low .239 BAA against the pitch, and there’s a chance it stays down given its .312 BABIP. I wanted to see more from the pitch to turn me into a true believer, though with his cutter stealing strikes effectively and his changeup missing plenty of bats, as long as this heater doesn’t get punished, it’ll do just fine.

 

Changeup (25% usage)

This is the pitch that puts Weaver on the map. It’s no Castillo or Strasburg slow ball, but a 43% O-Swing, .169 BAA, and last year’s SwStr bump to 18% does nicely to keep batters on their toes.

I would want to see slightly better whiff numbers from a pitch that Weaver relies so heavily on for success, though. Fortunately, he has his cutter to lean on when batters aren’t biting on a given day, but this is the only home for swing-and-miss upside in the arsenal.

 

Cutter (14% usage)

So let’s talk about this magical cutter. Weaver touched it in 2018 and pushed its zone rate another 10 points to 58% while trusting its usage closer to 20% in May before his elbow strain.

Thing is, it’s not an overwhelming pitch. It’s… fine, but that’s alright. His changeup and fastball do enough and Weaver is able to mix in the cutter effectively as he’s not an arm to fall behind quickly. Still, you’d want to see something hinting a 15% SwStr rate here, but what you have is fastball 1b to his four-seamer’s 1a.

 

Curveball (9% usage)

We thought that this curveball would be the pitch his cutter became, holding a 54% zone rate in 2018… and plummeting to a ridiculously low 28% clip last season. It didn’t get any whiffs to justify it and a .357 BAA forced Weaver to give priority to the much better cutter. Don’t expect many hooks this year.

 

2020 Outlook

With a strong changeup and two pitches to get strikes, Weaver should be a solid arm in 2020. I don’t buy his 26% strikeout rate and 2.94 ERA, but a good innings eater comfortably over a 20% strikeout rate should be in the cards for the former Card.

 

Realistic worst-case projection: 4.40 ERA, 1.35 WHIP, 20% K rate in 110 IP

Realistic best-case projection: 3.30 ERA, 1.10 WHIP, 25% K rate in 180 IP

 

Nick’s reluctant Luke Weaver 2020 projection:

3.80 ERA, 1.20 WHIP, 22% K rate in 170 IP

 

Zac GallenLikely Starter

Nickname: Four Quarts

 

2019 In Review

What a rookie season for Gallen. After wowing us across seven starts as a Marlin where he allowed 3 ER just once, he showcased growth in his strikeout ability with the Diamondbacks, striking out at least eight in four of his final six starts of the season. Featuring 93-95 mph velocity and three strong secondary offerings, there’s a flirtation with the elites as we wonder if there is another gear to reach in 2020.

 

Fastball (50% usage)

Across his four-pitch mix, this four-seamer is the least exciting of the group. It gets the job done and comes in at a good 93 mph that can push 95/96, but for Gallen to truly grow, he’ll need a bit more from this pitch.

Moving from Miami to Arizona will help get the most out of his fastball. The Diamondbacks introduced a “north-south” philosophy to Gallen, encouraging him to elevate with heaters and rely on his three secondary offerings to change eye levels. It could squeeze out more from his fastball and help him hint at another sub-.200 BAA season from the pitch (likely not).

 

Curveball (19% usage)

On a given night, you’ll see Gallen focus either on this hook or his slider as the main strike pitch. While his slider holds a much bigger zone presence, this curveball’s 45% O-Swing paired with a solid 37% zone rate means he gets a good amount of strikes regardless of location, helping him set up his deadly changeup often.

It’ll be interesting to watch Gallen mold his approach this season, hopefully to a point where his slider and curveball are interchangeable within at-bats, helping keeping batters on their toes.

 

Changeup (16% usage)

I love this slow ball. Gallen induced a horrid .040 ISO off the pitch in 2019, while racking up swinging strikes galore at a 21% rate and tacking on an impressive 45% O-Swing as well.

It’s not a pitch to throw when batters are patient, but he has the confidence to throw it in any count regardless, relying on its movement and execution to get batters to commit.

There’s a lot of upside tucked away here. If his fastball stays up effectively, it will only amplify the effect of this changeup’s drop.

 

Slider (15% usage)

Some call it a cutter, and even Gallen himself said it’s a slider grip he throws like a cutter. Regardless of the label, it’s a feel pitch where it can do plenty of damage in games when it’s on. A 52% zone rate paired with a 41% O-Swing is no joke and a 16% SwStr rate on top details a vicious offering (that’s a money pitch!).

There’s room to grow as the pitch sometimes got too much of the plate and allowed a 124 wRC+ overall, with its command going in-and-out between starts. Hopefully, it can stick around for the long haul and be the perfect complement.

 

2020 Outlook

There’s a lot to like inside Gallen’s secondary offerings, though there are concerns about his ability to get by with his 93 mph heater and inconsistent slider feel. The sky is the limit if he takes that next step with his overall command, and if we’re so lucky, it could come right away.

 

Realistic worst-case projection: 4.20 ERA, 1.35 WHIP, 24% K rate in 140 IP

Realistic best-case projection: 3.10 ERA, 1.10 WHIP, 30% K rate in 190 IP

 

Nick’s reluctant Zac Gallen 2020 projection:

 

3.50 ERA, 1.15 WHIP, 26% K rate in 180 IP

 

Merrill KellyQuestionable Starter

Nickname: 007

 

2019 In Review

We didn’t know what to make of Kelly entering Opening Day. We thought he was a 93/94 mph arm, though his final tune-up showcased a 90/91 mph fastball, and there were questions regarding his secondary stuff.

In the end, we saw glimpses of hope. Some days his cutters and curveballs were on point and were able to take down strong lineups with ease, and his September featured a five-game stretch averaging well above 93 mph—he had been sitting 90/91 for the heavy majority of the year.

It spells a tale of inconsistency that could carry on into 2020, and with six arms fighting for five spots, there’s a chance his volatility denies him an opportunity.

 

Fastball (47% usage)

For five months, this pitch was mediocre at best. Normally sitting at 91 mph, Kelly’s four-seamer across the full season did a solid job of avoiding damage at a .241 BAA, but its 15% O-Swing and a low 10% HR/FB suggest there’s a bit of luck at play.

In his final month, its 93/94 velocity fueled an excellent five-start stretch that returned just six total ER, but crashed in his final start of the season surrendering 5 ER with a sub-92 mph heater.

Watch his fastball velocity early in the season. If it’s 93/94 consistently, it may be worth the gamble.

 

Curveball (21% usage)

Do I like this pitch? I guess? Yeah, I do, it just seems to go in-and-out as it pleases. Overall it should be better, featuring a 41% O-Swing and 45% Zone rate last season, though a sub-30% whiff rate leaves a bit to be desired to go with seven longballs on just 632 hooks thrown. When it wasn’t hung in the zone, it was certainly good, though, and its .215 BAA shouldn’t be overlooked.

He needs another secondary pitch to pair with the deuce given the undulating nature of his fastball, and when his cutter works, it makes this curveball even better. One hand shakes the other…

 

Cutter (18% usage)

Kelly really needs this pitch to work. He throws it in the zone constantly as an alternative fastball and even gets plenty of chases via a 31% O-Swing.

Thing is, when he can’t trust this pitch for strikes, he looks for his curveball to do too much and it all falls apart. But when fastballs and cutters are comfortably finding the zone, the curveball can shine, thus making the cutter more effective… and so on.

 

Changeup (13% usage)

Oh right, then there’s this changeup. It’s not good, but against left-handers, Kelly likes to sneak this one inside the zone and he really shouldn’t. It returns a 150 wRC+ with just a 13% SwStr rate, fooling few, and hurting himself plenty.

I expect it to return in some capacity, but a lower usage rate will only help.

 

2020 Outlook

Kelly’s 2020 relies on three things: 1) Fastball velocity to hover 93+ mph, 2) his cutter and curveball working harmoniously together, and 3) snagging the fifth rotation spot on the Diamondbacks. There’s a chance it all comes together, though I’m inclined to believe we’ll likely see Kelly as an occasional streamer when #1/#2 are working rather than a strong back-end option.

 

Realistic worst-case projection: 4.70 ERA, 1.35 WHIP, 18% K rate in 80 IP

Realistic best-case projection: 3.70 ERA, 1.20 WHIP, 23% K rate in 180 IP

 

Nick’s reluctant Merrill Kelly 2020 projection:

4.30 ERA, 1.30 WHIP, 20% K rate in 140 IP

 

Mike LeakeQuestionable Starter

Nickname: The Plumber

 

2019 In Review

Another year, another dance with mediocrity. It may surprise some that Leake wasn’t as bad as you’d think, returning a 4.29 ERA and 1.29 WHIP. Nevertheless, it was a 15.2% strikeout rate for the second year in a row, and a 4.79 SIERA suggests there’s farther to fall. His WHIP will be lower than you’d expect simply due to his constant hatred of walks (just 3.2% last year!), but his BABIP was under .300 for the first time in four years in 2019, and he may not so fortunate again.

 

Fastball (34% usage)

It’s mostly sinkers from Leake, and it’s not a pretty sight for Diamondback fans. Coming in at 88.5 mph, the pitch returned a .413 BAA, missing bats at just a 3% rate and inducing a whopping 227 wRC+.

It’s a really poor pitch, and while his four-seamer was better, that’s not saying much as the pitch certainly wasn’t adequate either. The collective 34% usage could fall even further in 2020 as there are decent weapons in his arsenal that could place a full stranglehold on Leake’s approach.

 

Cutter (25% usage)

Let’s start with this cutter. A 60% zone rate paired with a 36% O-Swing is exactly what you want to see, returning a worthwhile .266 BAA and a .736 OPS. It’s not elite, it’s not even great, but it works. With a velocity drop of under 2 mph from his sinker, I wouldn’t be shocked if Leake elected to sell out completely and feature this pitch as his exclusive fastball. It’s not like he has much to lose at this point; that sinker is dreadful.

 

Changeup (20% usage)

There’s this changeup as well, which does a good job fooling batters into hitting balls off the plate into the ground for outs. Its 46% O-Swing plays into a 67% groundball rate, helping create a .134 ISO last season. Again, not stellar, but that’ll do.

 

Slider (16% usage)

Believe it or not, Leake has a money pitch in this slider—45% O-Swing, 40% Zone rate, 16% SwStr rate. Wild. He elected to save it mostly for two-strike counts, earning a near 35% strikeout rate across the season. I wonder if an increase in usage is on its way as the pitch performs better than any other in his repertoire. Surely he can push this up to 20% usage, right?

 

Curveball (5% usage)

Look at everything Leake’s slider does and bring it down a gear or two. It’s easily the worst secondary pitch in his back pocket and while I understand Leake’s drive to be a junk baller and lean on surprise to get him out of tight spots, I’m inclined to believe this curveball should be pushed aside save for the rare first-pitch offerings. Yes, there’s room to cut this usage in half. Again.

 

2020 Outlook

With the Bumgarner signing, it looks as though Leake is fighting for the fifth rotation spot, and it would be optimistic to believe he gets it and holds on for the full season. Even so, there will be moments when he surprises us all for a double-digit strikeout night or a rare complete game. In between will be a lot of mediocrity that you will want nothing to do with. It’s too bad, as he has a trio of secondary pitches that could do the trick if he sold out for them.

 

Realistic worst-case projection: 5.00+ ERA, 1.40 WHIP, 14% K rate in 70 IP

Realistic best-case projection: 4.10 ERA, 1.30 WHIP, 18% K rate in 190 IP

 

Nick’s reluctant Mike Leake 2020 projection:

4.40 ERA, 1.33 WHIP, 16% K rate in 110 IP

 

Alex YoungFringe Starter

Nickname: Rod Stewart

 

2020 Outlook

There was a decent amount of hype surrounding Young as he performed shockingly well in his rookie season, posting a 3.56 ERA across 15 starts and 83 games. Thing is, many in the community didn’t quite buy it and I understand why—Young features an underwhelming 89 mph heater. However, both his changeup (17%) and curveball (19%) returned impressive SwStr marks, and his cutter was incredibly effective at getting strikes in and off the plate.

There’s a chance that Young steals himself a good amount of starts from Leake and Kelly this season. While I don’t see a repeat of his sub-4.00 ERA, there could be a solid Toby or streamer in the mix.

 

 

Nickname explanations:

Madison BumgarnerMad Bum. You don’t need me.

Robbie RayThe Hammock. He gets “R&R”, while he also hangs a lot of pitches.

Luke WeaverRipley. Sigourney Weaver’s character from Alien.

Zac Gallen: Four Quarts. Four Quarts = a gallon.

Merrill Kelly007. He has a License to Kell. He could also convincingly become the #7 starter on this team behind Alex Young.

Mike Leake: The Plumber. Well, yeah. There’s a Leake.

Alex YoungRod Stewart. Because he’s Forever Young.

 

Featured Image by Justin Paradis (@freshmeatcomm on Twitter)

Nick Pollack

Founder of Pitcher List. Worked with MSG, Rotographs, CBS Sports, and Washington Post. Former pitching coach and Brandeis alum. Wants every pitcher to be dope.

  • Avatar Shawnuel says:

    For the love of God! “Forever Young” is a Bob Dylan song covered by Rod Stewart.

  • Avatar KEN GUFFEY says:

    The dimondbacks will start Dynasty 2020. I am a Prophet for GOD ALMIGHTY. My name is Ken Guffey. Joshua 1:9 GOD will be with Tory Lovello. GOD LOVES TORY LOVELLO.

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