Baseball Evolution West: A Whole New Look

The Diamondbacks that you see here in August look quite different from the team that took the field in April. A couple of trades, a couple of injuries, and several call ups have changed the dynamics of the team on both sides of the ball. But are the Diamondbacks a better team now than they were at the start of the season?

Shortstop

Then: Craig Counsell  Now: Stephen Drew

Tony LaRussa has repeatedly described JD Drew as the embodiment of a player who gets by with minimal effort, someone who plays to about 75% of his natural ability.  So naturally the main concern with his younger brother was also a question of fire and desire rather than talent and skill.  This concern has been brought to the forefront with Stephen replacing a fan favorite in Arizona who gives 110% on every single play.

But it appears that the concerns were unfounded.  Just as Ozzie Canseco never had the talent of his big brother, Stephen Drew doesn't have the attitude of his elder brethren.  And that's a very good thing.  Stephen Drew doesn't take an at bat off if there's no one on base to drive in.  He doesn't get lazy in the field if it's a blowout game, either.  All early reports on Stephen Drew come back lauding him as the complete package.  He makes this Arizona team better than the one we saw in April.

Center Field

Then: Eric Byrnes  Now: Chris Young

Young hasn't officially been named the starter over Byrnes, but there are several reasons why he should see the majority of the playing time in center field.  First of all, Young is a natural center fielder. Eric Byrnes can play all three outfield posts, but exhibits below average range for a center fielder.  He's been better than expected offensively for the ballclub, but a closer look suggests that he would perform better if used situationally.

For his career, Byrnes hits .307 against southpaws, but just .240 against right handers.  He's hit .300 at Chase Field but just .251 on the road.  I can't imagine any scenario where you would want to start Byrnes against right handed pitching away from Arizona. He also has a .232 career average after the All Star break.  Since he's gotten more playing time this year than any other time in his career, you have to be even more wary of Byrnes wearing down in the late August heat.  An intelligent platoon of Byrnes and Young therefore represents a huge improvement over Byrnes full time. 

Fourth Outfielder

Then: Jeff DaVanon  Now: Carlos Quentin

There's nothing wrong with Jeff DaVanon as a utility outfielder, but Carlos Quentin already has the talent to be a starting outfielder on most ballclubs.  Some call it a luxury to have a player of his caliber as a reserve, but teams that succeed in the playoffs generally have strong benches.  Clearly, the Diamondbacks have a lot more offensive depth than they had at the beginning of the season.

Cuban Pitcher

Then: Orlando Hernandez  Now: Livan Hernandez

A tale of two brothers.  On the season, Livan has the better record and ERA while Orlando has a superior K/BB ratio and WHIP.  Both pitchers have performed better lately than they had at the start of the year.  So their performances have been similar, yet the Diamondbacks are stuck with most of Livan's sizeable contract while the Mets have no obligations to El Duque after the year is over.  Also, Arizona needed to part with pitching prospects Matt Chico and Garrett Mock to get their new Hernandez, but received current closer Jorge Julio in exchange for their old Hernandez.  I personally wouldn't trade those two prospects straight up to get Julio, but the question for our purposes is whether those trades made the major league club better today than they were in April.  The answer is yes.  

Starting Pitcher

Then: Russ Ortiz  Now: Enrique Gonzalez

It doesn't do Enrique Gonzalez justice to say that he is an upgrade over Russ Ortiz.  It would be somewhat like saying that a Cadillac is an upgrade over an Oldsmobile.  This move alone makes the ballclub far more intimidating than it was in its April incarnation.

Closer

Then: Jose Valverde  Now: Jorge Julio

This also isn't particularly close.  Julio has been streaky as the Diamondbacks' closer, but Valverde had been atrocious.  But Valverde's stint in the minors may have straightened him out, and he may even be able to contribute as a setup man down the stretch.  Factor in the Tony Pena over Jason Grimsley upgrade, and the Arizona bullpen is looking much healthier than it did on opening day.

Overall

Given that the Diamondbacks went 30-22 over the first two months of the season, the fact that they clearly have a drastically improved roster today gives cause for great hope.  The Dodgers have improved as well, but there's no way that they can keep up their recent pace.  This club should not just look at the Wild Card Standings; they still have a legitimate shot at winning the NL West.  

Read more from Keith Glab at BaseballEvolution.com

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