New GM Kevin Towers and interim-turned-permanent manager Kirk Gibson were put in place the final weeks of the season to turn things around.
Gibson attempted to instill some good old-fashioned toughness in his three months on the job, but the D-backs had too big a hill to climb after he and interim general manager Jerry Dipoto took over. A large part of the problem was that the retooled bullpen fell apart, failing not only to save games but often to keep them close. Arizona's bullpen ERA peaked at 7.98 on May 18 and finished at 5.74, the sixth-highest relief ERA since 1953.
Towers, hired September 22, said his first order of business is to remake the bullpen, and he has the resume to do it. In the last of his 14 seasons as San Diego's general manager in 2009, Towers added the final pieces of relief corps that helped the Padres to the best bullpen ERA in the majors this season.
The D-backs finished among the top four of NL teams in doubles, walks, home runs, and slugging percentage. Three hitters stood out as bright spots. Adam LaRoche had a career-high 100 RBI; Kelly Johnson had career highs in home runs (26) and RBI (71); and Chris Young rebounded from a down 2009 with his second 25/25 season -- 27 homers, 28 stolen bases -- while finishing with career highs in RBI (91) and walks (74).
Unfortunately, the D-backs also set a major league record with 1,529 strikeouts, 130 more than the old mark set by the Brewers in 2001. So many hollow outs left the offense less than the sum of its parts. The Diamondbacks were eighth in runs scored. Mark Reynolds struck out 211 times, his third straight season with 200-plus, and LaRoche, Johnson, and Justin Upton also set career highs.
They all will not return. Towers has said that strikeout total is unacceptable, adding that he likes contact hitters. In whatever size, an offensive remake appears certain. Towers also has said he would like a more veteran bench.
Young right-handers Ian Kennedy, Daniel Hudson and Barry Enright showed well in their first seasons in the rotation and give the D-backs hope for the future. The bullpen, however, blew 24 saves -- only Baltimore and Florida were worse -- and there will be plenty of jobs available there in spring training.
Gibson has said his main focus moving forward is an attitude change, and he means it.
"More demanding," Gibson said of his style in 2011.
"The man is not going to take anything less than winning," Towers added.
--RHP Ian Kennedy, 9-10 with a 3.80 ERA, led the Diamondbacks in victories, the lowest season-leading total in the 13-year history of the franchise. The previous season low was 10, set in 2003 by RHP Miguel Batista, RHP Oscar Villarreal, and RHP Brandon Webb. RHP Rodrigo Lopez (7-16), RHP Daniel Hudson (7-1), and RHP Dan Haren (7-8 before his July 25 traded to the Angels) tied for second in wins this year.
--The D-backs (65-95) had their second consecutive fifth-place finish in the NL West, a franchise first, the fourth time they have finished fifth in their 13-year history. They have won the NL West four times, finished second twice and third twice. Their 25-56 road record this season was the second-worst in franchise history, bettering only the 22-59 record set by the 51-111 team in 2004.
--Kirk Gibson went 34-49 after taking over from A.J. Hinch on July 1, and he posted the D-backs' only winning month of the season with a 16-13 August. New GM Kevin Towers found him to be a kindred spirit and signed Gibson to a two-year deal the day after the regular season ended. Gibson had no previous experience as a manager at any level.
--The D-backs' bullpen ERA was 5.74, the sixth-highest relief ERA in the major leagues since 1953, according to STATS LLC, although it got better as the season wore on after peaking at 7.98 on May 18. The D-backs blew 24 save opportunities, third in the majors. One bright spot: RHP Juan Gutierrez converted all 12 of his save opportunities after returning from the disabled list on August 18.
--The D-backs had 1,529 strikeouts, easily breaking the major league record of 1,399 set by Milwaukee in 2001. The D-backs also have the 10th- and 11th-highest season totals in major league history, with 1,298 in 2009 and 1,287 in 2008. 3B Mark Reynolds had 211 strikeouts; it was his third straight season over 200 strikeouts and he is the only player in the history of the game to ever eclipse that mark. 1B Adam LaRoche (172), RF Justin Upton (152), and 2B Kelly Johnson (148) set career highs. CF Chris Young (145) was 20 whiffs shy of his single-season high while SS Stephen Drew (108) fell just one shy of his career high.
--RHP Aaron Heilman pitched an inning in each of the final three games of the season to reach 70 appearances for the year, the fifth straight season in which he has appeared in at least 70 games. It is the longest such streak in the majors. "I'd rather pitch 50 and be in the playoffs," Heilman said. Heilman rejoined the D-backs for the final weekend after missing a three-game series in San Francisco to be present for the birth of his first child in Chicago on September 27.
DIAMOND STAT: 1,529 -- The D-backs' strikeout total in 2010, breaking the major league record by 130.
QUOTABLE: "I'm the number one culprit. It's obviously tough when your boss is telling you not to do something that you do." -- 3B Mark Reynolds, after new GM Kevin Towers said one of his objectives is to trim strikeouts.
New general manager Kevin Towers, who took over September 22, has made it clear that he will retool the bullpen with aggressive strike-throwers. Finding a closer is a top priority. The D-backs do not appear to have a regular left fielder on the roster, and the first base job will be open if they decline 1B Adam LaRoche's $7.5 million option and cannot restructure a new deal. Brandon Allen, who had 25 HR, 86 RBI, and 83 walks in 107 games at Triple-A Reno, could fill one of those roles.
BIGGEST NEEDS: The bullpen blew 24 saves and finished with a 5.74 ERA, the sixth-worst mark in the majors since 1953, according to STATS LLC. RHPs Juan Gutierrez, Sam Demel, and D.J. Carrasco are the only likely returnees in the bullpen, and while Gutierrez went 12-for-12 in save opportunities in the final six weeks, he is not considered the 2011 closer at this stage.
Webb did not throw a pitch this season after undergoing shoulder surgery in August 2009, and he almost certainly will not be back. Hampton was a nice fit in his reincarnation as a reliever, and he fills left-handed need. Heilman is probably too costly to retain. Lopez could be asked to return to fight for a rotation spot.
Drew, Johnson, and Montero had effective offensive seasons, and they give the D-backs strength up the middle. Saunders will likely return as a rotation mainstay and innings-eater. Carrasco was the only Diamondbacks reliever to throw at least five innings and manage an ERA under 4.00 - he had a 3.18 ERA in 22.2 innings with the D-backs and a 3.68 ERA in 78.1 innings overall. Boyer has been a tease -- he has a 95 mph two-seamer but does not throw enough strikes -- and he could be a non-tender candidate. Church and Ojeda do not have Boyer's upside, and are almost certain to be non-tendered.
IN LIMBO: 2B Kelly Johnson, 1B Adam LaRoche, 3B Mark Reynolds combined for 531 strikeouts, an area Towers wants to address, and it is possible at least one will go. LaRoche has a $7.5 million mutual option for 2011, and it appears the D-backs are more likely to give him the $1.5 million buyout. The sides spoke briefly about a contract extension late in the season, but that was before Towers took over. Reynolds has drawn interest in prior years because of his massive power, but the D-backs would be selling low after the worst season of his career. Johnson would be a sell-high type in the right deal.
--RF Justin Upton (sore left shoulder) started only two of the final 30 games while feeling soreness, but a second opinion from Dr. James Andrews on September 27 ruled out surgery. He will undertake a rigorous strengthening program to ensure he plays more games next year than he did this year (133).
--RHP Daniel Hudson (strained right middle finger flexor tendon) missed his final regular-season start, but the D-backs did not believe the injury was serious.
--RHP Brandon Webb (right shoulder surgery in August 2009) did not see the field in 2010. He is pitching in the Diamondbacks' instructional league, but likely has thrown his last pitch in the majors as a Diamondback.
--LHP Clay Zavada (Tommy John surgery in May 2010) could work his way into contention next year in a bullpen starving for lefties.
--RHP Kris Benson (right shoulder strain) made the rotation as the fifth starter in April, but suffered an injury in his third start and never made it back to the majors. He does not fit into Arizona's 2011 plans.
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