Who is really the best baseball team in the majors? I honestly don't know but I try to figure that out by using basic and advanced statistics. I live for talking about baseball, it's my biggest drive in my life and I will jump on the opportunity to talk baseball with anyone, even with people who I don't really like. For me, Baseball is a piece of art that sits in my mind all day, ready to be painted on at any point of the day.

Monday, February 21, 2011

30 Teams: Arizona Diamondbacks

By Mike Moritz

Going into 2010, the Arizona Diamondbacks were projected to make a late season run at the playoffs and potentially make it to October. That country-wide projection was far from the case. The 2010 season in the desert turned out to be disastrous, filled with hitters constantly striking out and perpetual bullpen struggles. A pitching WAR of 7.5 which was ranked 29th in all of baseball and the worst Z-Contact% with 84.2%. The completly absurd collapse of the Diamondbacks led to a mere 65 wins and a .401 winning percentage.

Let's start with the bullpen (and the whole pitching staff, for that matter). They had by far the worst ERA for any bullpen, 5.74, the only bullpen ERA above 5.00. Their xFIP was also the worst, 4.86. Their HR/FB ratio was also the worst, 12%. They tied for the worst HR/9, 1.27 (with the Red Sox, suprisingly). Second worst in BB/9, 4.59 and finally, they were third in blown saves, 24. I know, I'm just throwing stats at you but must I say more? I mean, to put it simply, the bullpen was terrible.

The offense was not much better, if not worse. To start things off, the team strike out rate 27.9. Can you guess by now that it was the worst in baseball in 2010? And it was led by now Baltimore Orioles third-baseman Mark Reynolds's discusting 42.3% k-rate and backed up by Justin Upton and Adam LaRoche's 30.7% mark as well as many other terrible other strike out numbers up and down the Arizona lineup (Rusty Ryal: 32.4%, 222 PA; Chris Snyder: 31.3%, 234 PA).

I do not think that anyone in the baseball world, in their right mind, would disagree that these strike out numbers are terrible.

Although they only won 65 games, there were some bright spots, for sure. 

To start, Kelly Johnson had a great bounce back season after his atrocious 2009. His first season in the dessert led to 6 WAR and a .284/.370/.496/.377 and 26 homers, 36 doubles and a .212 ISO. To go with that, he had a nice 11.8% walk rate and saw 4.12 P/PA. Johnson had a positive UZR (7.1) and DRS (2) for the first time in his career since his rookie season. But don't think that Johnson was exempt from the strike out rates, he had his troubles as well, 25.3%.

Stephen Drew is was another highlight for the D-Backs. The former top prospect had another nice season, possibly his best with a career high 5.1 WAR. Drew's fielding dramatically improved from 2008 to 2009 (he had a -15.5 UZR and got to a 2.7 in 2009) but made another stride in 2010 when his UZR was 8.7. I like Drew's plate discipline and it should bode well for his future. There should not be any problems with him at short stop, either.

Stephen Drew, brother of J.D. Drew, is approaching his prime years at the age of 28.

My last 'bright spot' was Chris Young. Young, like Johnson, had a nice bounce back year in 2010 after his terrible 2009 campaign (.212/.311/.400/.314) in part to his mere .268 BABIP. He rebounded with a .357 wOBA and 27 homers (4.3 WAR). But he also had a 24.8% strike out rate. Couldn't you have guessed that he too was a victim of the contagious Strike Out Fever?

As mentioned in my previous post about Dan Haren, Haren was traded to the Angels right around midseason. One of the players that they got in return was Tyler Skaggs, a lefty throwing pitcher with some good potential. He has a lively fastball at about 88-90 mph, a slow curveball at around 65 mph and a sharp slider, running at about 72 mph. His slider seems to be his best pitch as he is getting rave reviews for it. He also has a 84-86 change-up. It is said that he still needs to work his command and to add some more velocity on all his pitches, but that should improve as he gets older. He also needs to stay on top of his curve at all times, he seems to fall to the side of it too often. Skaggs is rated number 2 in Marc Hulet's Diamondbacks prospect list on Fangraphs. You can read his Top 10 Arizona Prospects here. And if you would like to know more about the Dan Haren trade, check my recent post on him right here.

With Adam LaRoche signing with the Nationals earlier this offseason, the D-Backs seem to have a hole to fill in at first base. Juan Miranda looks to be their starting first basemen. Miranda was traded by the New York Yankees in return for Scott Allen. Allen is a right handed pitcher who is 19 years old, he was an 11th round draft pick in the 2009 draft. In 2010, he struck out 9.1 per 9 and 2.5 BB/9 in 78 innings pitched at Low-A.  The big question now becomes what to do with Brandon Allen and Gerardo Para, who both seem very ready for the The Show. 

The D-Backs brought in a few good addtions. Apart from snagging Miranda from the Yanks, they also got J.J. Putz on a two-year, $10 million contract with an option for 2013. Xavier Nady signed for one-year and $1.75 million. Melvin Mora signed for one-year deal as well, but for $2 million. Geoff Blum signed for two years, $2.7 million. GM Kevin Towers pulled off some trades apart from signing free agents: he imported Armando Galarraga from the Detroit Tigers for Kevin Eichhorn and Ryan Robowski. Arizona also picked up lefty Zach Duke from the Pittsburgh Pirates a couple weeks ago. Arizona also signed Russell Branyan to a minor league deal (I think he is worth a major league deal). 

Let us also not forget that Arizona let former Cy Young award winner Brandon Webb walk. He signed a one-year deal with the Texas Rangers that is worth about $3 million but can get up $8-10 million in incentives. Webb has not pitched in the majors since 2009, where he pitched just four innings while trying to recover from shoulder surgery. It should be interesting to watch him this year. 

Arizona have been busy this offseason but they did not make a big splash anywhere, rather small but notable signings. I don't think that the Diamondbacks really made that much progress. The biggest problem, in my opinion, is the pitching rotation. And it is not that it is necessarily a problem, but more so a big question mark, especially with the loss of Haren and Webb. Then again, who knows if Webb is as good as he used to be.

I hate to say it, but I think that the Diamondbacks are going to finish last in NL West again this year. But I do not think that they will be as bad, they might win 75 games, instead of the dreadful 65.

(Statistics in courtesy of: fangraphs.com, mlbtraderumors.com and espn.com)

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