Arizona Diamondbacks: Who Deserves the Fifth Spot in the Rotation?

Patrick Corbin (Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports)
Patrick Corbin (Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports) /

Torey Lovullo, the new manager of the Arizona Diamondbacks, will have a tough decision to make with the 5th spot in the starting rotation.

Although all starting pitchers for the Arizona Diamondbacks have at one least one big question mark heading into the spring, Zack Greinke, Robbie Ray, Shelby Miller, and Taijuan Walker all seem like locks to start the season in the starting rotation.

Greinke needs to prove he is the 200 million dollar ace the D-Backs signed last December. Ray needs to cut down on walks. Miller needs to figure out how to miss bats again. And Walker needs to limit extra base hits especially home runs. That now leaves Patrick Corbin, Braden Shipley, and Archie Bradley to duke it out in Spring Training.

Patrick Corbin

Corbin, statistically, was the worst of the three starters in the 2016 campaign. But everything seemed to change when he was moved to the bullpen. As a starter, he had a 5.58 earned run average (ERA), 1.62 walks and hits per inning (WHIP), and .302 batting average against (BAA).

In 12 games as a reliever, he had a 2.70 ERA, 1.03 WHIP, and .183 BAA. At first sight, you think he should make a permanent move to the bullpen with those numbers. He threw 23.1 innings in those 12 appearances which means that he was pitching about two innings per appearance.

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Two major things changed when he pitched in the bullpen: more sliders and a faster fastball. Corbin cut his change-up usage in half and started throwing his slider more. His change-up was destroyed by hitters who hit .385 against it.

His slider was absolutely filthy, and it ranked among one of the best sliders in 2016. He had a groundball rate of 70% with sliders which tied for tops in the league. He also had a whiff per swing percentage of 61.36 which was only behind closer of the Astros, Ken Giles.

While the slider usage can be replicated in 2017, the fastball velocity spike is not realistic to see as a starter. He went from throwing 92 MPH on average to 94 MPH as a reliever. Although this is a product of relief pitching, it should give him and the front office some confidence going into 2017.

Lastly, it is hard to forget how good Corbin was in 2013. He was an All-Star in his second year in the majors mainly due to an amazing first half of the season. He was nearly unhittable the first four months of the season with a 2.35 ERA, .206 BAA, and 1.00 WHIP.

Not to mention, his slider had a BAA of .132. He fell apart in August and September, but he proved he could be a really dominating big league starter. The Diamondbacks are looking for another dominant late inning reliever, and Corbin fits the build if he struggles in the starting rotation to start the 2017 season.

Archie Bradley

Right now, Bradley is the fourth pitcher on the depth chart according to His 1.8 WAR, 3rd highest pitcher wins above replacement on the team, might be the reason why. With a 5.02 ERA, he had a K/9 rate of 9.08 and a BB/9 of 4.26. According to FanGraphs, K/9 over 9 is considered “great”, and a BB/9 over 4.0 is considered “awful”. Archie Bradley really had an up and down year in 2016.

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The main issue for Bradley was his fastball. At an average velocity of 92.3 MPH and a maximum of 96.6 MPH, his fastball was smashed by opponents that had a BAA of .306. 13 of the 16 homers he gave up were with the fastball. And 47 of his 59 walks came with the fastball. His location was brutal at times, and it cost him a lot of runs.

The BAA for his knuckle curveball was .216, and his change-up BAA was .250. His off-speed pitches were working, but his fastball struggled. Bradley had multiple good starts in 2016, but he couldn’t put it all together. With 36 big league starts under his belt now, Bradley should make an improvement in 2017 with better fastball location.

Braden Shipley

The Diamondbacks top prospect going into the 2016 season struggled in his 11 starts. An ERA of 5.27 and only 43 strikeouts in 70 innings earned him a -0.4 WAR. His fastball was smashed with a BAA of .344. The fireballer that had a mid 90’s coming out of college average 92.5 MPH on his fastball in the big leagues.

His strikeout rate started at 9.1 K/9 in his first minor league season, and it dropped to 6.8 two years later in 2015. Now with a K/9 of 5.8 in Triple-A and 5.5 in the MLB in 2016, the D-Backs must see a serious issue with his fastball. With less experience and more struggles than Bradley and Corbin, Shipley seems like a long shot to crack the rotation.

Prediction: Corbin earns 5th spot

Corbin really struggled as a starter last year, but he will get the first crack in the rotation because of the late season success. Corbin learned a lot about his slider in September, and he should have some confidence coming into 2017.

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Bradley and Shipley will be pushing Corbin all throughout Spring Training which will creative some fun competition.