Jim & Bob's Palatial Baseball Blog

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Arizona Diamondbacks 2008 Preview: Whacking Day Avenged!

2007...the year that sucked/was groovy (pick one)

Pretty groovy. The 2007 Diamondbacks were outscored 712-732 by their opponents but won the NL West championship with a 90-72 record. I'm pretty sure that's an unprecedented accomplishment; I can't say for sure because frankly I'm too lazy to look it up. Honesty in journalmalism! The gap came about mainly because the teams' young hitters didn't live up to expectations; the pitching staff overcame some bumps with the efforts of Brandon Webb and a solid bullpen. Over the winter team management made a major trade for another starter, Dan Haren, who started the 2007 All-Star game for the AL. They did not tinker with the offense, showing faith that the young'uns in the lineup would sort things out for themselves.

They can put in on the board, yes! no! maybe!

It would be hard to describe the 2007 offense as anything other than "disappointing." Only two NL teams scored fewer runs than the Snakes did. Young shortstop Steven Drew, who hit a strong .316 in his 2006 debut, could only produce a .238-.313-.370 line in 2007, while outfielder Carlos Quentin played his way out of Arizona with a .214-.298-.349 performance. Centerfielder Chris Young, despite some contact issues, was the most impressive of the young hitters, blasting 32 homers and stealing 27 bases.

CF Chris Young
2B Orlando Hudson
1B Conor Jackson
LF Eric Byrnes
3B Mark Reynolds
SS Steven Drew
RF Justin Upton
C Chris Snyder/Miguel Montero

Anyone see the problem here? Young, with a .295 on-base percentage, is miscast as the leadoff hitter. Well, he's fast, don't you know. Everyone in the projected lineup other than Upton was better at reaching base last year. It is a problem for the Snakes to not have a true cleanup hitter. I'd probably go Byrnes-Hudson-Jackson-Reynolds-Young if I were making out the lineup card. Keep in mind that while many of these guys were somewhat disappointing in 2007, Young, Drew, Jackson, Upton and Reynolds were all 25 years old or less. Upton is the kind of talent that could just explode on the league, and so is Drew. I would be greatly surprised if this team doesn't score at least 50 runs more this year.

Pitchers, or belly itchers?

Playing in a park that increased offense by about 5%, the Diamondbacks allowed the fifth fewest runs in the NL. Getting 236 outstanding innings from Brandon Webb is a good start to building a staff. The rest of the rotation had it's ups and downs, but as a group was still better than average. The bullpen didn't look like much of an asset prior to the season, but it was probably the NL's best. The top five relievers posted ERAs of between 44% and 77% better than league.

SP Brandon Webb
SP Dan Haren
SP Doug Davis
SP Micah Owings
SP Randy Johnson

CL Brandon Lyon
RP Tony Pena
RP Juan Cruz

Brandon Webb is my favorite NL pitcher to watch. Well, maybe second favorite, with Johan Santana now in the NL. Webb makes hitters just pound the ball into the ground; he allowed only 12 homers all season. Unlike many groundball types he has a strikeout pitch, to boot, fanning 194 batters last year. Haren is a very solid starter who should give the Snakes 220 fine innings. I like Owings quite a bit; not only can he pitch, but he batted .333 with a .683 slugging average in 2007. Maybe he should have been playing right field last year instead of Quentin. Jose Valverde led the NL in saves in 2007 (told you that you didn't have to be anything special to be a closer) but was traded to Houston over the winter; Brandon Lyon will try his hand at being Valverde's successor. Cruz struck out 87 batters in 61 innings last year.

Witnesses for the defense

The Arizona defense was about average in 2007. They finished seventh in the NL in defensive efficiency, made an average number of errors, and turned a middling number of double plays. I think that everyone in the lineup is capable of doing a little better, so I'll pencil the Snakes in for being slightly above average in 2008.

Farm aid

Cripes, this franchise just came up with Upton, Drew, Reynolds, Jackson, Owings, and more; what more do you want? Second baseman Emilio Bonifacio is close to making Hudson redundant; he is incredibly fast and an outstanding defender. Max Scherzer should reach the Snakes bullpen by late this year and may be closing by 2009. Brooks Brown, Juan Guterriez, and Billy Buckner are pitching prospects of fair talent; all of them are available to be a fill in when Johnson goes down with his inevitable injury.

Watch out for that tree!

Randy Johnson is 44 and has back problems. Back problems are really bad. Johnson still has great stuff when he can pitch, but how many innings will he be able to take the mound? The over/under is 100. Eric Byrnes is 32; he's playing well but guys who throw themselves around the field the way he does aren't usually noted for having long, long careers.

I can make a hat, or a broach...

I like this team a lot. The upside here is pretty awesome: Young continues to harness his potential, Drew hits for a whole season like he did in his partial 2006, Jackson increases his power to the 25-30 range, and Upton becomes the league's newest star. The Diamondbacks will need all or at least most of these to happen; 80% of the teams in the NL West are very competitive and not separated by much of a margin.

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