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Three D-backs pitchers who will dictate post-All-Star break success

Arizona Diamondbacks starting pitcher Merrill Kelly throws during the first inning of the team's baseball game against the Arizona Diamondbacks on Wednesday, July 3, 2019, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)

With the Diamondbacks middling and weighing their options before the trade deadline, improvement to make the team one that could project as a legitimate playoff contender or a downfall that proves the team a seller needs to come about to provide conclusive answers. These three pitchers, employed in a staff that has been the source of injuries and inconsistency, could be key in determining which path the D-backs take.

Merrill Kelly

For a 30-year-old rookie who spent the past three seasons pitching in Korea, starter Merrill Kelly has been really good, and has been all the D-backs could ask for.

He’s got a 4.03 ERA this season, a number above the preferred 3s for pitchers but is one that’s certainly serviceable. He’s striking out 6.9 batters per nine, a decent number considering Kelly is labeled as a flyball, contact-based pitcher. Kelly’s also accumulated 1.4 WAR on the season, which ranks him 74th in baseball out of qualifying pitchers and projects him as approximately a 2.5 WAR player on the season. Not bad!

But more might be expected from Kelly. His ERA+ sits at 110, making him an above-average pitcher (100 is considered average) but only by 10 points. Balls are also rocketed off him; while his home run numbers aren’t very high, Kelly has the seventh highest hard-hit percentage out of qualifying pitchers. That could be why Kelly gives up the most hits per nine innings out of any qualifying D-backs pitcher.

Taking the flyer on Kelly and having him pitch as well as he has likely has the D-backs thrilled. But in a rotation that’s down two starters and needs a boost behind Zack Greinke, slightly above average may not get it done.

Greg Holland

As a whole, Holland’s season has been good. He has a 3.30 ERA and a 136 ERA+ with 35 strikeouts in 30 innings pitched.

But June and the start of July has brought on problems. Big problems. They started on June 20 in a game against the Rockies, where Holland blew a save which led to a 6-4 Colorado win. A June 29 game in San Francisco saw him give up a home run in the ninth but still grabbed the save for the D-backs to win 4-3.

Then the disastrous Dodgers series came, which saw Holland walk four straight batters after being a strike away from the save and then saw him blow another save the next night.

As chronicled here, Holland’s once-reliable slider is failing him, leading to a lack of control and more walks.

The D-backs need the Holland they got earlier in the season back, as Archie Bradley and Yoshihisa Hirano continue to struggle. The D-backs bullpen is currently equipped with half the production it needs. Holland improving can bring that back to a whole, and make sure that games that are tight at the end don’t end up as losses.

Alex Young

If asking for more from Kelly was a stretch, than this one is even bigger.

It’s hard to make any true judgment off of Alex Young. He’s a 25-year-old who has only pitched in three major league games for a total of 13.1 innings.

But his six-inning, no-hit outing against the Rockies, a potential playoff contender like the D-backs, could be a sign of what he is capable of.

Young has gotten outs with a mix of strikeouts and contact. He’s got nine strikeouts over the course of his three starts and tends to be more of a flyball pitcher than a groundball guy.

Either work with the way Young has pitched. So far, the ball is coming off the bats of opponents quite weakly against him. Young’s allowing an exit velocity of 82.4 mph, well below the MLB average of 87.7 mph. That’s in part due to Young’s unremarkable arm; the fastest pitch he’s thrown in a game so far was clocked at 91.61 mph, a sinker against the Giants in June.

Young’s not going to blow anyone away with his arm, which means hitters won’t necessarily be able to kill a ball that’s thrown at them.

It is very, very early in Young’s career. We’ve seen three starts and a total of 194 pitches. Baseball is a sport where half a season isn’t enough time to make a judgment, something the D-backs front office is experiencing now. But if Young can keep doing what he’s doing, and possibly reach a Merrill Kelly-level of production, the D-backs could have found a viable fifth starter to complete the rotation, if and when Luke Weaver returns.

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