Tuesday, October 06, 2009

Arizona Diamondbacks - 2009 Debrief

As promised, we are going to spend the next several days debriefing the 2009 season, team by team. Not only is it a good business strategy (despite the fact that the military uses it), but it also helps a blog writer fill up blogspace for a number of days once the regular season ends. If these kinds of posts don't fill your fancy, have no fear, we'll also follow the playoffs through the World Series and continue to comment on whatever news stories happen to raise interest. Let's start with the Arizona Diamondbacks and the National League West.

Earlier in the year, the Fan wrote that the Diamondbacks were one of the better bad teams. There must have been something in the Fan's cola glass that day because they were awful. They lost 92 games but if you understand Pythagorean Win-Loss values (the Fan doesn't), they should have won more. The Diamondbacks were 20th out of 26 teams in runs scored per game and were 25th in runs allowed. That's not a good combination. On top of those two squares on the score card, the team was 20th out of 26 teams in defensive efficiency. So they didn't hit well, they didn't pitch well and they didn't field well. That seems to add up to 92 losses pretty quickly.

So what went wrong specifically? Well it certainly didn't help losing Brandon Webb for the season after winning 40 games in 2007 and 2008. Any time you lose a pitcher of that calibre, it's going to hurt. His loss moves everyone else up in the rotation. Haran was just fine until he lost a little gas toward the end of the season (he tends to do that). Max Scherzer showed promise striking out more than nine batters per nine innings. He's an excellent third starter who became the number two guy with Webb out. Doug Davis is what he is, which is a league average pitcher who always walks too many batters and as such gives you five or six innings tops.

But with all those guys moving up a notch, too many starts went to the likes of Petit, Buckner and Cabrera. They were uniformly over matched and every starter but Scherzer, Davis and Haran had an ERA over 6 or 7.

On the offensive side of things, 1140 plate appearances were given to Eric Byrnes, Chad Tracy, Conor Jackson, Brandon Allen, Josh Whitesell, Alex Romero and Tony Clark. Between all of those guys, they had a combined VORP (Value over replacement player) of -31.9. That is staggering. Byrnes and Tracy hurt the most. They both come with a high price tag and were a boondoggle to the team. Granted, Tracy had injury problems, but has an $8 million option for next year. The team should buy out the option for the $1 million and use the other 7 for some help. Throw in Chris Young's .711 OPS in his 501 plate appearances and you have big holes in your line up.

Stephen Drew seemed to regress this year. He ended the season almost 90 points lower in OPS than the year before. His fielding is adequate and consistent. Not great, but okay. But his on again, off again years at the plate are baffling. He is coming into his peak years and he has to do more at the plate to live up to his billing.

There was good news this year. The Fan already mentioned Scherzer. With a year under his belt, and his exceptional arm, he should only get better. He was also extremely unlucky in that his fielders behind him accounted for sixteen unearned runs in his 30 starts. Mark Reynolds also blossomed into a legitimate slugger with 44 homers and an .892 OPS. The Fan doesn't care what anyone says, though. Reynolds should work on cutting down his strikeouts. His .260 batting average would benefit greatly if he would make more contact.

Justin Upton became a star this year. His .300/.366/.532 line for the season is only the start of what he is going to do in his career. He seems to have found a home in the outfield and he's a star on the rise. Upton and Reynolds are both under 25 and should provide a lot of bang for the D-backs for years to come.

Miguel Montero was also a nice surprise in his first full year in the bigs. The catcher had an OPS+ of 112. He wasn't great at throwing out runners, but that should improve and if his offense continues to improve, Montero should give Arizona strength behind the plate for years to come.

Off season moves? Reynolds played quite a bit at first base toward the end of the year and that would seem to be where he should end up. He's not a great third baseman. With some of the Chad Tracy money, the Diamondbacks could go after Chone Figgins (doubtful the Angels will let him escape) or Adrian Beltre. Beltre has a history of hitting well in the National League and is a terrific third baseman. The D-backs need to improve their defense. The Diamondbacks should cut their losses with Byrnes and Young and move on. Marlon Byrd might be a good addition if he can be gotten cheaply enough. Whitesell showed some patience but failed to hit. He might though with another look.

Prognosis for 2010? If Webb can come back, the rotation should be set. Perhaps Jarrod Parker, their top prospect, could hold down the fifth starter spot if needed. The bullpen is adequate. Other than Parker, the prospect list is pretty sparse. Who knows what happened to Conor Jackson, and closer prospect, Daniel Schlereth, struck out a lot of guys, but walked almost as many. Blaine Boyer looked good and could be helpful in the bullpen.

Two choice moves and a couple or three additions by subtractions could move the Diamondbacks up next year. Can they compete? Sure, if everything goes well. They have a strong core of young players in Upton, Reynolds, Montero and maybe Drew. But the team will need better defense and they will need to make some tough decisions on players that cost a lot of money without producing. Do they have the stomach to do it? We'll see.


Steve G. said...

A few years ago, it looked like the Diamondbacks would have a wave of great offensive talent coming up to the majors, between Upton, Jackson, Quinton and a couple other IFs. Now, it looks like several of their minor league performances were mirages based on the Coors Field-like park effects of their minor league fields.

I've always kind of wondered why teams have their minor league teams in such weird hitting environments. It adds another layer of complexity to the process of evaluating hitting and pitching talent, which is already a hard enough task.

William said...

Great point, Steve. Never thought of that and it makes perfect sense.