Season Forecast: Arizona Diamondbacks

Last Five Years:
2009:  70 – 92    (5th in NL West)
2008:  82 – 80
2007:  90 – 72
2006:  76 – 86
2005:  77 – 85

Runs Scored: 720 (8th, NL)
Runs Allowed: 782 (14th, NL)

The Diamondbacks play in a park that helps the offense – 817 runs were scored in games played at home, against the 685 runs scored on the road – so to be in the middle of the league in scoring tells you that the offense isn’t the eighth best offense in the NL.  It’s actually one of the worst.  One reason for it?  The Snakes struck out 1298 times, more than any other team in the majors.

Season Recap:

The Diamondbacks were the surprise team to win the NL Central in 2007 and then opened 2008 like they were going to stomp everyone.  Instead, they slowly collapsed until finally bleeding away the division on the last weekend of the season.

I don’t know about you, but something told me that the 2009 team would have to start guns a-blazing to feel good about the year, and should have been expected to win 80 – 85 games anyway.  Instead, Brandon Webb blew out his shoulder on opening day and the team never really recovered.  When the offense showed little consistent signs of life, the Diamondbacks fell to the bottom of the league and never really contended.  A losing stretch in early May put them behind the eight-ball, and many other losing stretches contributed to losing 92 games and finishing last in the division race.

That being said, as I see it the problem was tied to two things – losing Webb and replacing him with the ineffective Yusmeiro Petit and Billy Buckner probably cost the team about 60 runs defensively.  Despite that, the rest of the rotation and most of the bullpen were somewhat above average players.  That leaves the offense – and the offense wasn’t good enough to help the pitchers.

Pitching:

Danny Haren was magnificent – saving his team about 40 runs with his low ERA (3.14) in a tough park and pitching more than 229 innings.  Haren also fanned 223 while walking only 38 batters.  Doug Davis and Max Scherzer were league average in terms of ERA – though Scherzer looks to have a solid future as a #2 starter right now.  Jon Garland ate up enough innings as a #4 starter.  The only weak link was having to replace Webb with Buckner and Petit.

The bullpen featured no real aces – closer Chad Qualls had a 3.63 ERA and only 24 saves – but they had no problems, unless you consider a couple of short term players.  No reliever with more than 50 innings pitched was worse than league average.  Three of the four lefties, however, weren’t very good in short runs – including Scott Schoeneweis, Daniel Schlereth, and Doug Slaten.

Fielding:

Arizona pitchers weren’t helped too much here, but a lot of that is the park.

The infield of Chad Tracy, Felipe Lopez, Mark Reynolds, and Stephen Drew were basically average, though Lopez and Drew weren’t necessarily good at turning two.  The problem was that a couple of the backups weren’t very solid in limited innings – including the really poor 2018 innings Reynolds played at first and the 241.2 weak innings Augie Ojeda turned in at short.

The outfield should have been better, but Chris Young seemed to take his problems at the plate with him to the field, costing his team about eight runs.  Gerardo Parra is decent enough and Justin Upton, a pretty good right fielder, also got a lot of extra action with so many right handed pitchers on the staff.

Catchers Miguel Montero and Chris Snyder weren’t awful, though they were pretty easy to run on.

Batting:

The highs?  Justin Upton looks like the second coming of Henry Aaron.  You’d like him to walk a bit more, but he has developing power and hits .300.  Mark Reynolds fanned 223 times (!) to set the major league record but he doesn’t care.  He batted .260 with 44 homers, does draw a few walks, and puts runs on the board.  Felipe Lopez hit .301 at second, which was helpful, and Gerardo Parra hit .290 but didn’t do much else – he will be better with time.  Catcher Miguel Montero hit .294 with some power.  Stephen Drew was league average.

The problem is that the lows are LOW.  Chris Young, the regular centerfielder, hit all of .212, striking out 30% of the time, despite showing a little more patience.  Eric Byrnes came back from leg injuries to hit .226 with only 12 walks in half a season of plate appearances.  Chris Snyder batted .200 in 165 at bats.  Former producers Conor Jackson and Chad Tracy didn’t hit.  When Tony Clark retired – his bat failing him – his replacements on the roster, guys like Josh Whitesell and Brandon Allen didn’t hit either.  The really good teams have six or seven positive run producers and a couple of guys who pitch in.  The Diamondbacks had three and sometimes more guys who weren’t getting any hits and no bench players to write home about when the few that could hit took a day off.

Transactions:

On the way in?  Infielder Tony Abreu, acquired from the Dodgers and can play second or short.  He might well be a hitter, but I don’t see him as the new Rafael Furcal either.  Kelly Johnson was signed from Atlanta to play second – a decision I like – and Jeff Bailey was signed away from Boston, another decision I like because he is a solid bench player.  In January, Arizona added Adam LaRoche, which will pay off in the second half…  In March, the Snakes signed Kris Benson, who actually made the roster…  The Diamondbacks traded Max Scherzer and Daniel Schlereth to Detroit for pitcher Edwin Jackson and Yankees prospect Ian Kennedy in the deal that sent Curtis Granderson to the Yankees…  I’m not sure I’d make that deal, but what the hey.  The other questionable deal was trading for Cubs malcontent pitcher Aaron Heilman.

On the way out?  Yusmeiro Petit was claimed by Seattle on waivers, Doug Davis signed a deal with Milwaukee and Chad Tracy signed with Chicago.  Eric Byrnes was released and called it a career.  Jon Garland was allowed to leave and pitch for the Angels.

Propspects:

At AAA Reno, the two hitting prospects appeared to be former White Sox farmhand Brandon Allen and utility outfielder Alex Romero.  Allen hit like Babe Ruth in 38 games to earn a call, but didn’t amount to much in 104 at bats with the Snakes.  I don’t think he’s THAT good, but he’ll be better in another shot.  Romero has had two trips to the bigs and didn’t hit either time and I think will be lucky to hit .260 in the majors.  The best pitchers in AAA were Buckner and 29-year-old Doug Slaten.  Buckner at least looked like a prospect, but hasn’t yet found his stride in the majors and may run out of time.

Schlereth tore through AA Mobile, fanning 39 in 26.2 innings, which is how he quickly was given a shot at the majors.  He’s a touch wild, but has a live arm.  Bryan Augenstein made nine starts there, finishing with a 0.99 ERA, 36Ks and only 9 walks in 45.2 innings.  Not nearly as successful at Reno, he still earned a tryout with the Snakes.  I think he’s going to be fine but is two years away.  Reliever Josh Ellis had a good year and might make the relief corps by the end of 2010.  A young arm is 2007 first round pick Jarrod Parker, who dominated A+ Visalia before getting sixteen decent starts in AA.

At Visalia, I also like pitcher Josh Collmenter who had a decent K/W ratio (152/55) in his 145 innings and he kept the ball in the park.  Obviously, he’s still a few years away.

Looking ahead for 2010:

The pitching staff will likely be weaker if Brandon Webb can’t pitch – and because I don’t like this year’s rotation compared to last year’s rotation.  I know – Jackson was very good for Detroit, but I think Max Scherzer looks like a solid pitcher.  Call it a wash.  Ian Kennedy won’t pitch as many innings as Doug Davis did and may not be as successful, and even though Jon Garland is just there to take up space, he’s better than most fifth starters.  His replacement may well be a step down and I think he’ll be missed.  As such, I see the rotation falling back by 25 runs.

The bullpen isn’t going to be better with Aaron Heilman – it could be worse by ten runs.

The offense?  I like adding LaRoche and Johnson, which I think could be worth 30 runs, mostly because LaRoche will be solid.  Johnson could come back nicely, but that means being as good as Lopez was last year.  A full year of Parra will be better than Eric Byrnes; if Chris Young can come back at all the outfield will also be better by 30 runs.  Defensively, the changes will not help the team and may make the infield defense a little worse.  However, the outfield defense, with two centerfielders and Upton should be steady.

As such, with 780 runs scored and 810 runs allowed, the Snakes should win 78 games.  That’s an improvement over last year, but not enough to threaten anybody at the top of the division.

What Will Phillies Get With Pedro Martinez? (And other news…)

The top story of the All-Star Game break (Barack Obama’s first pitch notwithstanding) was the Phillies giving $1 million to test drive Pedro Martinez.

Martinez, with 214 wins and just 99 losses, was the arguably the best pitcher of the 1990s, but really hasn’t been productive since then (not really, he’s had bouts of productivity in the 2000s – just fewer times).  Let’s just look at the last three years.

In 2006 with the Mets, Pedro made 23 starts, going 9 – 8 with a 4.48 ERA in 132.2 innings.  He still struck people out and had some decent control – but when he got hit, people were taking him deep.  19 of the 108 hits allowed were homers.  Taking the defense and park out of his stats, I show him as being about 9 runs worse than the average pitcher that year – the first time he’s actually hurting the teams for whom he has played.  Injured in 2007, Pedro made just five starts, winning three, and looked okay – 33 Ks in 28 innings, but also 32 hits. 

The Mets thought they might have something to hope for in 2008.  Only that year, Pedro was worse than ever.  In 20 starts, covering 109 innings, Pedro had a losing record (5 – 6), and an ERA that was double his career average (5.61).  He gave up 19 homers again, allowed more than a hit per inning and his strikeout rate fell.   Take the park and defense out of his stats, and he’s nearly 18 runs worse than the average pitcher in his 109 innings.  He was as bad as Roy Halliday is good.

We’re talking about a pitcher who was undependable from a health standpoint (missing about half of his starts), and his fastball isn’t going to blow you away – heck, it’s likely to land in the seats.  In Philadelphia, had he pitched the way he did at Shea in 2008, it’s possible that his ERA would be 7 or 8.  For now, Pedro’s on the DL (strained shoulder, discovered when he passed his physical?), and will essentially be making rehab starts.  He may get a start in the majors – but personally, I don’t want him to get his 100th loss.  Nobody has more pitches in the arsenal than Pedro had in his day, but I’m not convinced that he’s a viable alternative to what the Phillies already have.

In other news…

Pittsburgh reliever Tyler Yates had elbow surgery and will miss the rest of 2009, and could miss much of 2010.  (FoxSports)

Getting help for a tired bullpen, the Twins recalled Kevin Mulvey from Rochester, and sent third string catcher Jose Morales back to AAA.  Morales was hitting .343 with the Twins – now THAT’S a valuable third stringer!  Mulvey came over in the Johan Santana deal, spent very little time at the lower levels in the minors, but has been in AAA for a year and a half.  He’s not bad – could use a little bit better control and strikes out a few guys, but doesn’t look like a great one.  He peaks out for me as a fifth starter, long reliever type.  [ESPN]

Eric Milton’s 2009 comeback season is over following back surgery (herniated disk), but he has no intention of retiring – at least until he knows how his back feels when he’s done healing.  Milton has been resting a tired shoulder and elbow – but had been effective for the Dodgers when able to pitch. [ESPN]

It happened a couple of days ago, but I admit I was sorry to hear that Tony Clark had been released.  I always liked Tony – decent power, willing to work the count, and as a young guy was a decent fielder.  I’m not certain anyone will sign him and give him one more shot, but I’ll miss him.

Notes From a Friday Night in Baseball

Two Tampa Bay minor leaguers playing in Venezuela tested positive for PEDS (metabolites and nandrolone) and will begin serving a 50 game suspension.  One is Franklin Alcala, just 18-years-old, who has been struggling so far.  According to Sports Illustrated, Alcala has 19 strikeouts in his 35 at bats.  The other is a pitcher, Carlos Orsama.

This illustrates two perceptions with the PED issue:  (1) Many of the players taking this stuff are pitchers – and this can’t be good for shoulders and tendons that weren’t meant to deal with oversized, abusive arms.  (2) While it’s obviously all too easy to find this stuff in the US, there would seem to be an equally large problem policing this stuff in Venezuela and the Dominican Republic.

People in Florida either hoping to see or boo hometown hero (?) Alex Rodriguez will have to wait until Sunday.  Manager Joe Girardi chose to bench the slumping A-Rod for two games when he complained of fatigue.  According to the ESPN article, A-Rod was hitting 8 – 55 in June, and was hitless in his last fifteen trips to the plate.

Seattle Mariners left fielder Endy Chavez injured his right knee last night when he and shortstop Yuniesky Betancourt slammed ino each other chasing a popup off the bat of Felipe Lopez.  Watch the video here – Chavez flipped over and landed rather awkwardly.  (It looks like Betancourt dove into Chavez’s knee when it was planted just as Betancourt made the catch.  Ouch!)  An MRI is scheduled for Saturday.

Oakland starter Josh Outman left his start against San Diego in the second inning with soreness in his forearm, later diagnosed as a mild flexor-extensor strain in his left elbow.  Outman says he first felt it in a start about two weeks ago, and had altered his delivery some to compensate for the pain.  His manager, Bob Geren, wondered what was wrong with the radar guns when his fastball was clocked at about 88 MPH, rather than the mid-90s.  For now, Outman believes he’ll only miss a start.

Welcome back!  Tony Clark returns to the Diamondbacks after his DL stint (strained ligament in right hand).  Florida returns Reynal Pinto, a rather wild throwing lefty, from his DL stint trying to heal a balky elbow, and San Diego welcomes shortstop Everth Cabrera to the fold after breaking his hand in the spring.

Hurry Back!  San Diego’s Nick Hundley, who gets 15 days to rest a sore left wrist.

Indians Aided By Gulls; Old Pitchers Getting Second Looks

When I saw the highlight, I couldn’t believe it – but the Indians got a bizarre bounce to win its game against the Royals.  Shin Soo Choo’s line drive single to center went into a flock of gulls, hitting one of them, and the ball caromed past Coco Crisp to the wall, allowing the winning run to score.

David Ortiz has homered three times in the last week, and the Red Sox own the Yankees.  I’ve never really liked the Yankees – grew up a Fred Lynn and Carlton Fisk fan – but I never thought it would turn like this.  (For the record, I never hated them either – I grew up in Chicago, but the 1975 season was one of the years that galvanized me as a baseball fan.)

Is it me, or were the Red Sox more fun to root for when they were good but not quite good enough?  I think it’s because we’ve now added the term “nation” to refer to a group of fans, and that just sounds more arrogant.  Red Sox Nation is arrogant.  Red Sox fans are cool.  Living in Florida, they refer to Gator Nation, and that just makes me root for Florida International instead.  There’s no Jayhawk Nation.  If there were, I’d be less inclined to participate.

I digress.

Pablo Ozuna was trying to get back to the majors – apparently too hard.  He’ll be sitting for 50 games after a PED suspension kicks in.

With the injury to Brandon McCarthy and others, the Rangers are looking for pitching depth.  So, they signed Orlando Hernandez (El Duque!) to a minor league deal.  El Duque hasn’t pitched in the majors in two years, last losing time to a toe requiring surgery.

If El Duque can get a deal, how about Pedro?  Pedro Martinez threw for a Rays scout and might get a second look sometime this year.

Speaking of Mets pitchers, John Maine gets a DL stint to rest a weary shoulder.  That’s the story from MLB, but the transaction wire didn’t list it.

HOWEVER, the transaction wire noted the returns of Koji Uehara for Baltimore, Nick Punto for Minnesota, and Pat Burrell for Tampa.  I was watching the Rays game last night and Kevin Kennedy (now Rays TV color commentator, alongside Dwayne Staats) suggested that Burrell wasn’t hitting real well in his rehab stint, but Gabe Gross’s play made Matt Joyce expendable.  Kennedy also mentioned that Jason Bartlett is going to DH in his first rehab start before playing shortstop in a game.  Tony Clark gets a rehab trip to Reno before he returns to Arizona.