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.

Feliz, Gonzalez Filing for Free Agency (and Catching Up on Old News…)

Taking time away from writing means  I have to catch up – so further down the page, I’ll add a few comments regarding things that happened last week while I was in New York on business and otherwise less available to write…

Top Stories…

Pedro Feliz will be joining the Free Agent market as the Phillies declined his $5.5 million option.  Feliz is barely a league average hitter (12 homers, .266 average) and a tolerable fielder.   Greg Dobbs, a left handed hitter with some skills may well be in line for the job.  Meanwhile,  I checked the minor league rosters, the best option might be Neil Sellers, who is a few years removed from Eastern Kentucky where he was drafted in the late rounds by Houston.  Sellers is 27 and just finished time at AA (again), so he’s not a long term prospect.  [SI]

Despite having more holes at the position than a good chunk of Swiss cheese, the Red Sox declined an option on Alex Gonzalez, worth $6 million.  I’d have passed, too, at that price.  Gonzalez may be back, but for less money.  Better hope Jed Lowrie comes back healthy and surprises with new found production… [ESPN]

Venezuela is reeling over another kidnapping of a baseball related individual.  This time, it’s former Mets pitcher Victor Zambrano’s mother who was taken from his farm.  An amazing and sad story – hopefully will end with all home safely.  Yorvit Torrealba wound up leaving the country after his son and uncle were kidnapped (and returned safely) and now lives in Florida.  [SI]

Taking Sides…

Former KC Star writer and now Sports Illustrated scribe Joe Posnanski agrees with me as regards the excessive resources the Yankees have.  (Since he is the more famous writer, perhaps it’s that I agree with him…)  [SI]

Meanwhile, Peter Gammons feels the need to make sure that Brian Cashman will still leak stories to him, and defends the Yankees for playing by the rules that allows them to do what they do.  [ESPN]

Guessing the Future of Big Name Pitchers…

Buster Olney dishes his thoughts on where the aces are heading – and other things – in one of the great blogs you’ll find online.

I know – Old News, but I missed it at the time…

Scott Proctor, a one time horse for the Dodgers and then signed as a free agent with the Marlins, only to be injured and admit a chemical dependency, signed with the Braves.  Proctor is coming off Tommy John surgery.  The nice person in me wishes him luck.  The Marlins fan hopes the Braves rue the day he was signed.

Seattle claimed Yusmeiro Petit off of waivers.  Petit was 3 – 10 with an ERA near 6.00 for Arizona.  Good luck with that.

Washington claimed another former Diamondback, Doug Slaten, off of waivers.  Slaten might be better than most of what Washington has at AAA, but he hasn’t looked that good with Arizona lately.

The Marlins moved the frustrating Jeremy Hermida to Boston for two young pitchers, Hunter Jones and Jose Alvarez.  Hermida is TOO patient at the plate, refusing to swing until he has two strikes on him.  He’s awkward looking in the field, and yet his statistics show him to be reasonably mobile.   That being said, he’s uncomfortable diving or leaping at the wall – so it’s hard to say he’s really any good out there.  STILL – he was a first round pick and looked at some points like he might actually be really good and never turned that corner.  I’ll miss him, I think.  The Sox moved a guy who has looked pretty good at times in Hunter Jones, though Jones probably wishes he had a stronger 2009.  Earlier in the year, I thought he looked really ready for the show and another solid arm on a roster with too many solid arms.  If you are a Marlins fan, trust me – we need arms.  He’ll get seventh inning duty until he gets his feet wet.  The other new Marlin is 20-year-old Jose Alvarez, a string bean Venezuelan with upside but still rather unproven.

It’s hard to grade the trade, but after seeing this for five or six years now (maybe more), you have to trust Larry Beinfest.  He seems to find all sorts of guys that have talent and need opportunities and Florida is nothing else if not a land of opportunity.  I know the Marlins didn’t want to pay $2 or $3 million for Hermida when they have other options (Maybin, Ross, Coughlin, etc.), and Hunter Jones could be a huge help with a good season.  So, I’ll just look forward to seeing Jones in uniform and check out Alvarez when he pitches for Jupiter this summer.

Happy Birthday!

A great list, headed by Hall of Famer Bob Gibson (1935) and manager Dorrel Norman Elvert (Whitey) Herzog (1931).  Others celebrating with cards and cake (or rememberances) include: Fred Brickell (1906), a member of the 1930 Phillies (ouch), Jerry Priddy (1919), Bill Bruton (1925), Jim Riggleman (1952), Ted Higuera (1958) – I loved that kid…, Kevin Mmahat (1964), Chad Ogea (1970), Dave Bush (1979), Adam Dunn (1979), Chuck James (1981), and Joel Zumaya (1984).

Afterthoughts…

People are wondering what happened to Sammy Sosa’s face after he had a rather deep cleaning the other day.  The picture certainly is odd.

Baseball and the Fourth – a Perfect Match!

Today is the 70th Anniversary of Lou Gehrig’s “Luckiest Man” speech.  As such, MLB is honoring Gehrig by trying raise public awareness of the disease that bear’s Gehrig’s name through it’s 4 ALS program today.

The Minnesota Twins lost starter Kevin Slowey to a strained wrist.  After winning ten games he’d been hit pretty hard in his last two starts.  Anthony Swarzak returns from AAA Rochester to take his place in the rotation.

Aroldis Chapman, a Cuban left with a 100 MPH fastball disappeared in the Netherlands.  US teams were interested in Chapman, including the Yankees…  Rumors suspect he defected while his team was participating in a tournament in Amsterdam.  [FoxSports/ESPN]

When the Indians added reliever Winston Abreu in a trade with Tampa Bay, someone had to go – and that someone is veteran Matt Herges.  Herges, who wasn’t awful (2 – 1, 3.55), was designated for assignment. [MLB]

Hurry Back!  Daisuke Matsuzaka heads to “summer” training in Florida in hopes of regaining strength and getting back to the Red Sox.  [ESPN]

Carlos Quentin begins a rehab assignment in Charlotte.  Reds infielder Danny Richar goes to the DL with a torn labrum.  The Braves need a second sacker as Kelly Johnson heads to the DL with a wrist injury.  Ryan Doumit and Reed Johnson start rehab stints, as does Rafael Betancourt and Aramis Ramirez.  Meanwhile, Russ Adams was designated for assignment by the Blue Jays (could he land in Atlanta?  They need an infielder).

Welcome Back!  Yusmeiro Petit returns to Arizona after a DL stint; Howie Kendrick returns to the Angels – hopefully with his bat.  Edwin Encarnacion returned to the Reds, Claudio Vargas is back with the Dodgers after DL stints.  David Dellucci gets the call to help Toronto find any offense possible.

Afterthoughts…  Roger Clemens apparently isn’t one of the 100+ players who failed the 2003 MLB players PED survey.  McNamee says he served up the juice between 1998 and 2001, in case you were keeping score.  [FoxSports]

And, Rafael Palmeiro also denies knowingly taking steroids, reiterating that he must have taken something that was tainted.  Palmeiro’s comments came when he spoke at the College Baseball Hall of Fame inductions.  [ESPN]