Last year, the Arizona Diamondbacks had the third best starter's ERA in the National League despite playing in a hitter's haven. Then in the offseason, the front office replaced Livan Hernandez with Dan Haren, and conventional wisdom credited the Arizona Diamondbacks as the team with the strongest rotation in baseball and as the favorites to represent the National League in the World Series.
|2007 Standings - NL West||W||L||PCT||GB||HOME||ROAD||RS||RA||Pyth W||Pyth L|
|San Diego Padres||89||74||0.546||1.5||47-34||42-40||741||666||89||73|
|Los Angeles Dodgers||82||80||0.506||8.0||43-38||39-42||735||727||82||80|
|San Francisco Giants||71||91||0.438||19.0||39-42||32-49||683||720||77||85|
Micah Owings, who had looked like the best fifth starter in baseball, now represents just an adequate #3 guy. Factoring in the loss of Jose Valverde, Diamondbacks' pitching as a whole no longer figures to improve over last year. So if the Diamondbacks want to take a step forward, they will need to count on some young bats to mature quickly.
|2007 Starters||Chris Snyder, Miguel Montero|
|Projected 2008 Starters||Snyder, Robby Hammock|
Montero's finger refuses to heal, so Robby Hammock assumes backup duties for the time being. That may not work out too badly, since Snyder hit .292 and slugged .503 in the second half last year, establishing himself as an everyday catcher. While Montero might have gotten rusty warming the bench, Hammock has the versatility to move to any corner position and keep his bat fresh for when he does need to spell Snyder.
|2007 Starters||Conor Jackson, Tony Clark|
|Projected 2008 Starter||Conor Jackson|
Conor Jackson |
Just when everyone's lowering their expectations, Conor is ready to bust loose
Chris Young |
Pitchers who throw him fastballs this year should be fined
You sometimes hear Diamondbacks fans lament the loss of Tony Clark's clubhouse presence, but rarely do you hear about how much the offense will miss him. Clark led the Diamondbacks in slugging last year, posted a .923 OPS after the All-Star break, and served as a one-man wrecking crew against Chris Young of the rival Padres. This offense needs to improve, and losing Clark makes that task extremely difficult.
Enter Conor Jackson. CJ is poised for a breakout year at the plate. His defense doesn't compare to Clark's, and someone else will need to step up as a pinch hitting threat, but Jackson will certainly do his part to fill the any void left in the starting lineup by Clark's absence.
|2007 Starters||Orlando Hudson, Augie Ojeda|
|Projected 2008 Starters||Hudson, Chris Burke|
Clark's roster spot essentially went to Chris Burke. This seemed like a huge offensive downgrade until Burke went .371/.437/.710 this spring. It is reasonable to believe that Burke could enjoy a breakout season at age 28, and if he does, his defensive versatility would further help offset the loss of Clark.
The Diamondbacks hope to keep Burke in that role and not need him to step in full time for Orlando Hudson at second base. Hudson suffered a hand injury late last year, which is the kind of thing that could linger and affect him this season. Hudson also becomes a free agent at the end of this year, which could motivate him, cause him to press, or entice the Diamondbacks to trade him in July. He has been one of the best all-around second baseman in baseball in both of his seasons in Arizona, and if he doesn't match those performances for whatever reason, the team will suffer.
|2007 Starters||Mark Reynolds, Chad Tracy|
|Projected 2008 Starters||Reynolds, Tracy|
|2007 Starter||Stephen Drew|
|Projected 2008 Starters||Drew, Augie Ojeda|
Last spring, I predicted that Stephen Drew would disappoint by only hitting .272 with 16 homers. It turns out that he would have killed for those numbers. I do anticipate a rebound this year – at least to the numbers I pegged him for last season – since his plate patience has improved significantly as he has matured.
|2007 Starters||Eric Byrnes, Chris Young, Carlos Quentin, Justin Upton, Scott Hairston, Jeff Salazar|
|Projected 2008 Starters||Byrnes, Young, Upton, Salazar, Alexander Romero|
|Mark Redman Candidate|
Dan Haren |
Moves to a tough ballpark with a 4.11 career ERA after the break
|Alex Gonzalez of the Marlins|
Eric Byrnes |
We could have named this award for second half struggles after Byrnes instead of Gonzalez
On the other hand, Eric Byrnes should regress considerably this year, and is a guarantee to fade down the stretch. Chris Young still hasn't shown that he can handle a big league curveball, and could challenge Mark Reynolds for the team lead in strikeouts if he is moved away from the fastball-friendly leadoff spot. Justin Upton hasn't shown that he can hit any pitching above Double-A consistently. Salazar and Romero are nice utility outfielders, but neither one could step into a starting role effectively – at least, not yet, in Romero's case.
Basically, this outfield has a lot of potential down the road, but in 2008, it figures to be a weakness.
|2007 Starters||Brandon Webb, Doug Davis, Livan Hernandez, Micah Owings, Randy Johnson, Edgar Gonzalez, Yusmeiro Petit|
|Projected 2008 Starters||Webb, Dan Haren, Davis, Owings, Johnson, Gonzalez. Petit|
Edgar Gonzalez and Yusmeiro Petit each have a lot of good qualities for swingmen or fifth starters. They combined for 22 starts last year, generally keeping the team in ballgames. If the Diamondbacks need to count on these two for 40 or more starts this year due to injuries and/or ineffectiveness with the rest of the rotation, that would spell trouble. The rotation would still be feasible, just not upper-tier, and depriving the bullpen of these two presents another possible downgrade.
|2007 Relievers||Jose Valverde, Tony Pena, Brandon Lyon, Juan Cruz, Doug Slaten Dustin Nippert, Brandon Medders|
|Projected 2008 Relievers||Pena, Lyon, Cruz, Chad Qualls, Slaten, Medders, Jailen Peguero|
D-Backs Fun Fact|
The 2007 D-Backs were the third team in major league history to win 90 games despite allowing more runs than it scored.
Chad Qualls is a solid setup man who joins an already excellent bullpen that includes Juan Cruz, one of the most underrated pitchers in baseball. Some areas of concern include Tony Pena's 2007 workload and subsequent second half struggles, Doug Slaten's offseason microfracture surgery, and Brandon Medders' lack of minor league options, which could persuade Bob Melvin to keep pitching him even if he's ineffective. Once again, we don't see a flashing danger sign, but neither do we see reasons to anticipate improvement.
Outlook for the Season
The Diamondbacks enter the 2008 season banged up. They have enough depth to keep them in what could be a four-team NL West race until the injured return, but then what? Dan Haren and Eric Byrnes, two of the veteran players who should be stabilizing forces, are two of the most prolific second-half chokers in baseball. The remainder of the team is peppered with young players who aren't used to the rigors of a 162-game schedule. If winning the division comes down to a July trade, the Dodgers have both more payroll flexibility and a less-depleted minor league system to address any needs.
The 2008 Diamondbacks will be a good team; possibly even better than the one that posted the best record in the National League last year. But last year's team played well over its head, and too many things have gone wrong for this iteration before the season has even begun to believe that this will be another special season. This young club should position themselves to succeed in 2009, particularly with the weights of Russ Ortiz and Randy Johnson's contracts set to fall off the shoulders of general manager Josh Byrnes.
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