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|
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.
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 billed as.
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 them.
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.
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 careers.
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.
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 inconsistent.
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.
Team Previews Index