Arizona Diamondbacks 2012 team preview
BY BRANDON J. SMITH, Couchsideshow.com writer
The 2011 Arizona Diamondbacks were one of my favorite individual teams ever to track and follow throughout the season; they provided everything you wanted out of an upstart, surprise team. There was an equal share of surprise pitching performances (Ian Kennedy), an emerging star coming into his own (Justin Upton), a fan favorite with a unique perk (“Tatman” Ryan Roberts) and a bullpen that saw significant improvement from the previous year. Their torrid streak starting somewhere in mid-May, along with some lucky breaks in the division (Rockies giving up on Ubaldo, Buster Posey breaking his ankle, and the Dodgers being financially incompetent) allowed for one hell of a ride. Of course, as many remember, it all came to an end in game 5 of the NLDS in Milwaukee as Njyer Morgan lined a J.J. Putz fastball up the middle, and thus a run at the World Series title was over.
This offseason, general manager Kevin Towers decided not to rest on his laurels and continue to improve an already good team in an attempt to make them great. Did he succeed in this? Let’s examine his most significant moves.
• Signing Jason Kubel to a 2-year, $16 million dollar deal to effectively replace gold glover Gerardo Parra in left field: relegating the defensive wizard to a fourth outfield role, where he’s likely to see more time in centerfield (Chris Young seldom takes a day off). Was this a good decision? It remains to be seen, because a significant financial commitment to an uninspiring defender who may have reached his offensive peak in 2009 with Minnesota, when he hit 28 homers, and had an on-base percentage of .369. Injuries have not treated Kubel well in the past two seasons, and since he comes into an excellent hitting park in Arizona, given the amount of at bats he’s likely to receive, will hit between 15-20 home runs. Is this newfound power in left field justified over replacing Parra, a 24-year old who came off a stellar defensive season, and also becoming a credible offensive player? Initial reaction tells me no, but I’m open to seeing it through for now.
• Trading Jarrod Parker and Collin Cowgill to Oakland for Trevor Cahill and Craig Breslow: Now that I’ve gotten by Kubel lament out of the way, the most important move of the offseason was this, in an unexpected move by Towers. Parker saw one start in the final week of 2011, and had a cameo in the NLDS, was this an attempt to showcase his stuff on the major league level in order to leverage a trade? It’s possible that option was in play because Parker was a top pick coming off his first full season of Tommy John surgery, but given the surplus of young up and coming pitching in the minors (Trevor Bauer, Tyler Skaggs, Patrick Corbin, Archie Bradley); it’s easy to see why Parker was expendable. Arizona got back an established groundballer who might prove to be the next coming of Brandon Webb, people still remember him, right? Cahill is a bet to pitch around 200 innings, have a strikeout rate of 6/7 per 9, and do his worst by getting groundball after groundball in the desert heat. It worked once before with the aforementioned Webb, and Cahill is only 23, with a favorable contract that keeps him through 2015. Craig Breslow is a left handed specialist with better numbers against righties it seems, and will be a valuable option out of the pen. Good deal for Arizona in the short term and long term.
• Signing Takashi Saito: A 42-year old reliever is hard to come by these days, but Saito is still an effective one. His career strikeout to walk ratio is 3.78, which is good, and he’s proven over his first six seasons to limit home runs (0.6 homers per 9). It’s a low risk move to shore up an already reliable bullpen.
So how much did the Dbacks actually improve on in terms of wins and losses? The 2011 squad outperformed their Pythagorean (a predicative record based on runs scored and runs allowed) record of 84-74, and ended up 94-68. A few things to consider when looking forward to this season is regression by players with several breakout seasons. To illustrated further let’s do a quick breakdown of the players I’m referring too.
• Ryan Roberts: He’s going to be 32 coming off a career year that saw many highs of walk-offs, grand slams, and Kirk Gibson fist pumping imitations, but he saw many rough streaks during the year. Is it practical to expect a 15+ home run season with a decent glove? Few late bloomers become established, so I wouldn’t bet on a repeat performance, but he’s still a better every day option than benchwarmer Geoff Blum.
• Gerardo Parra: One of the reasons of course why Towers made the Kubel move is that it’s possible they know something we don’t about his future performance, or could use him as trade bait down the road, even though multiple reports this offseason have shown that the Nationals were very interested in trading for him. But is it possible to have not only a peak offensive year, but defensive year as well? Barring injury, it’s difficult to predict, and Parra didn’t exactly improve his strikeout to walk percentages, so many his batting average on balls in play (BABIP) will go down if his plate discipline stays the same.
• Ian Kennedy: Now it’s not fair to pick on the ace of the Dbacks staff, but Kennedy did have an unexpected dominant season. It’s not to say that he isn’t as good as his 2011 was, but would one be led to believe that he’ll put up 21 win seasons every year? Given how wins and losses fluctuate due to the randomness of the game, Kennedy will likely have a good year, and not a great one. He’s a fly ball pitcher, who for the most part kept it in the yard, but he does pitch fast, and rarely give the hitter time to adjust. So it’s possible he keeps it up.
• David Hernandez: The first time reliever and setup man allowed four home runs in 69 innings last season. Outside of Mariano Rivera, who keeps their stuff in the park, especially since Hernandez pitched and performed admirably in many high leverage situations so often? If there’s one bullpen arm that should see regression, it’s Hernandez, but hopefully not that much.
• Josh Collmenter: This is the easier one to predict. Collmenter looks as healthy as I do, with only two pitches that he disguises with his unique, over the top delivery. He doesn’t touch 90 on the fastball, and occasionally throws in a curve that he never seemed to trust. It’s rare that a pitcher with low velocity can be successful with only two pitches. He’s not a Daniel Hudson, who throws 95 with ease, without the gimmick of a trick delivery. As easy as it was to become endeared to Josh, I don’t see him lasting long, because the league will eventually figure out his style, and batted balls will be haunting him in his nightmares. He might be suited for a long relief role at some point to make way for the young aces being groomed in the minors.
• If everything works out: AZ somehow fights off the scourge of Willie Bloomquist leading off, Aaron Hill maintains his pace from last season and doesn’t revert to his Toronto failures, Justin Upton becomes the franchise stud he’s expected to be, and the pitching staff continues to be solid, without having a perennial star like Lincecum or Kershaw.
• If everything falls to pieces: The career seasons in the pitching and hitting departments regress to the mean, JJ Putz continues to be oft-injured, Stephen Drew doesn’t come back healthy, and the Giants outpitch AZ to another division title.
• Record prediction: 90-72, and claim of the two possible wild card spots.
• Predicted Starting Rotation
1. Ian Kennedy
4. Joe Saunders
• Predicted lineup