Last year's Arizona Diamondbacks began the season unable to generate any
offense whatsoever despite playing in one of the best hitter's parks in all of
baseball. They hit .231/.308/.394 as a team during the month of April,
resulting in the dismissal of the coaching staff and wholesale changes to the
composition to the roster. New manager A.J. Hinch, who had no prior
managerial experience, didn't find acceptance from his players or success until
late in the summer.
But the D-backs did have success, going 29-26 in the months of July and
August before tailing off again in September. The difference in those
months was the team's offense: a .776 July OPS and a .791 August OPS for a team
that could not manage an OPS of .740 in any other month. The Snakes
certainly had problems on the mound all year with the absence of Brandon Webb
causing a chain reaction to the entire staff, but when the offense was clicking,
the D-backs were still a winning team.
This is very good news, because even though Arizona's pitching staff isn't
going to be any better than it was last year, they have an offense built to
score runs consistently throughout the season.
| 2009 Standings - NL West |
|| Exp W%
|| LHP |
| Dodgers || 95 || 67 || .586 || 0 || 50-31 || 45-36 || 780 || 611 || .610 || 68-47 || 27-20 |
| Rockies || 92 || 70 || .568 || 3 || 51-30 || 41-40 || 804 || 715 || .553 || 65-44 || 27-26 |
| Giants || 88 || 74 || .543 || 7 || 52-29 || 36-45 || 657 || 611 || .533 || 65-52 || 23-21 |
| Padres || 75 || 87 || .463 || 20 || 42-39 || 33-48 || 638 || 769 || .415 || 49-58 || 26-29 |
| D-backs || 70 || 92 || .432 || 25 || 36-45 || 34-47 || 720 || 782 || .462 || 53-62 || 17-30 |
Part of the reason the offense clicked beginning in late June was that Miguel Montero became the starting catcher around that time. From June 27
onwards, Montero posted a .912 OPS, making him one of the elite offensive
catchers in all of baseball. His defense also took a big step forward, as
only two catchers saved more runs than he did defensively last year, according
to John Dewan's Runs Saved system.
The trouble is that Chris Snyder joined Eric Byrnes, Chad Tracy, and Chris Young as players that general manager Josh Byrnes signed to long-term contract
extensions despite their having shown only brief success. While some large
market teams wouldn't be crippled by having a defensive catcher of Snyder's
caliber as a backup at $11.25 million over the next two seasons, the
small-market D-backs are desperate to deal him, particularly with minor league
catchers John Hester, Sean Coughlin, and Konrad Schmidt each looking like
capable big league backups at the very least. To that end, Chris Snyder is
going to take a lot of at-bats away from Montero in the early going in order to
showcase his health and make him tradable.
Recent long-term extensions were also given to Justin Upton and Mark Reynolds, although these moves do not figure to backfire. Just 22-years
old, Upton was the best overall right fielder in the game last year and has a
Hall of Fame career ahead of him. Reynolds, 26, is more of a risk with his
inconsistent defense and tendency to set the all-time strikeout record every
year. Nevertheless, Reynolds possesses some of the best raw power in all
of baseball and can draw walks and steal bases to boot.
Add to Montero, Upton, and Reynolds a first baseman in Adam LaRoche who has
averaged 66 extra base hits a year over the past four seasons, and you have an
offense that is in business. LaRoche could even wind up having a career
year at the age of 30, as he is playing in a hitter's park now and is coming off
consecutive 25-homer campaigns. At the very least, he is an immeasurable
upgrade over the first basemen Arizona used last year that combined to bat just
After that fearsome foursome, the D-backs plan to start four position players
who were disappointments in 2009, but who are each still young enough to have
bounce-back seasons to regain their former glory.
Stephen Drew wasn't actually bad last year, but after he finished the 2008
season so very strong, the D-backs were expecting nothing less than an All-Star
season and received nothing more than a solid contribution instead. At age
27, Drew should be one of the better offensive shortstops in the league once
again this season, although it appears that he may never be the superstar he was
Left Fielder Conor Jackson has had an excellent spring, which is an
encouraging sign from someone who missed most of 2009 due to illness. He
turns 28 in May, and if he can repeat the .376 on-base percentage he managed at
age 26, this team is going to score a ton of runs. Hinch plans to rotate
Jackson and Drew in the 1-2 spots in the batting order. That duo won't
steal many bases, but they shouldn't need to with the guys slated to hit behind
Should score 100 runs at the top of this lineup
Injury risk had 5.83 ERA and 12 HR allowed in last 11 starts
Second baseman Kelly Johnson has declined since his excellent 2007 season,
culminating in a disastrous .224 batting average last year. Like fellow
former Atlanta Brave Adam LaRoche, Johnson should benefit from hitting in the
desert. The 28-year-old second-sacker might also do better hitting at the
bottom of the order, as his career splits suggest.
At 26, Chris Young is the youngest of these four comeback candidates, but he
has also had the least prior success. In over 1900 major league plate
appearances, Young is a .235 career hitter with a .307 OBP. He'll hit some
homers whenever a pitcher is foolish enough to throw him a fastball and steal
some bases on the rare occasions that he reaches base safely, but this isn't
someone from whom you should expect much production. Fortunately, all the
D-backs expect from him at this point is that he covers Chase Field's spacious
centerfield with his excellent speed.
If even two of those four players have renaissance seasons, the D-backs
should have one of the top five offenses in the National League. If a couple of
those fours continue their downward offensive spiral, it won't be a complete
disaster, as the D-backs have a lot more depth than they did a year ago.
So much so that super-utilityman Ryan Roberts will begin the season in the
minors after leading the D-backs with a .367 on-base percentage last year.
Rusty Ryal grabbed the super utility role from Roberts by slugging .600 this
spring to show that his 20 homers, 8 triples, and 39 doubles combined between
Reno and Arizona last year were no fluke. Fourth outfielder Gerrardo Parra
hit .290 last season and won't turn 23 until May. Middle infielder Tony Abreu hit .345 this spring an finished second on the club with 14 RBI.
With Roberts, Hester, and big first base prospect Brandon Allen also waiting
at Triple-A Reno, this is a Diamondbacks team that can sustain quite a bit of
unexpected injury or ineffectiveness among their position players and still have
a productive lineup.
Unfortunately, that position player depth is not matched on the pitching
staff. The Diamondbacks dealt away young phenom Max Scherzer, citing him
as an injury risk. Oddly enough, they dealt him (along with top bullpen
prospect Daniel Schlereth) for two even bigger injury risks in Edwin Jackson and
Ian Kennedy. Not only do those two pitchers combine for only four
successful major league months between them, but Jackson was one of the most
overworked pitchers in baseball last year and Kennedy already has an injury
history at the age of 25.
Jackson and Kennedy would be nice pitchers to have at the bottom of your
rotation, but because the organization failed to replace workhorses Jon Garland
and Doug Davis and because Webb's surgically repaired shoulder is healing behind
schedule, those are the team's number two and number three starters to begin the
season. Granted, the rotation is going to look a lot better once Webb has
rejoined the fold, but by that time, there is a good chance that either Kennedy
or Jackson has fallen prey to an injury themselves.
To be honest, the D-backs' postseason chances died he minute that Rodrigo
Lopez was named the team's fourth starter. At this stage in his career,
the 34-year old Lopez should be a Triple-A starter that gets called up only if
disaster strikes the big league rotation and he has proven himself over the span
of a few months. Instead, based on five solid spring starts, the D-backs
will turn to Lopez every four games until a fifth starter is added to the
rotation on April 17. And let me tell you, the selections available to
fill that role - Billy Buckner, Kris Benson, Kevin Mulvey, and Bryan Augenstein
- don't exactly inspire much confidence at this point in their respective
Dan Haren has established himself as one of the best pitchers in all of
baseball, but even more so than last year, he will be the lone bright spot in an
otherwise dismal rotation.
The D-backs think they improved their bullpen by acquiring veterans Bob Howry
an Aaron Heilman, but those two will be hard-pressed to improve upon the
production of Jon Rauch and Tony Pena, both of whom got dealt late last year.
Much like the Ryan Roberts head-scratcher, southpaw Clay Zavada will begin the
year in Triple-A after being one of Arizona's best bullpen arms last year.
Instead of the mustache man, the D-backs will turn to Jordan Norberto as the
only left-hander on their pitching staff. Norberto throws hard, but he has
pitched only 23.2 innings above A-ball in his life and he allowed 29 hits, 18
walks, and 23 runs (21 earned) in that time. Maybe the Diamondbacks can
just intentionally walk any dangerous left-handed batter whom they face in the
Closer Chad Qualls had a terrific season last year before suffering a
gruesome injury to his knee. Juan Gutierrez came on very strong at the end
of last season, but doesn't have the track record to be counted on as the
second-best pitcher in your bullpen. All in all, the Diamondbacks bullpen
figures to be about as good as it was last year, when it was overworked and
The Diamondbacks are the most improved team in the NL West because of their
offense and the possible return of Brandon Webb, but with only 70 wins
last year, they didn't improve enough to compete for a playoff spot. They
obviously are unable or unwilling to acquire the extra starting pitcher that
would be required to make this a postseason team. The plan may be to find
one after they trade Chris Snyder, but the D-backs are going to need to include
money with any Snyder deal at this point, so they don't figure to net enough
dough to get a pitcher of much consequence.
The good news for D-backs fans is that there are a lot of star players in
place for the next few years here. With Chase Field set to host the 2011
All-Star Game and deferred debt from a decade ago finally disappearing, the
D-backs should soon have enough green to fill out a complete pitching staff.
Furthermore, the D-backs took a terrific haul in last year's draft, making it
possible for this to be the Team of the Teens even if the 2010 season is nothing
to write home about.
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