Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Guide Preview: Arizona Diamondbacks

Continuing on our guide preview trip through the NL West, we find the Arizona Diamondbacks. The D-Backs are entering their 12th season as a franchise this year, and they've had an interesting history. They've won a World Series and made the playoffs three other times, but they've also had a few bad seasons (a 51-win team in 2004 comes to mind). Two years ago, these Diamondbacks were in the NLCS. Now we'll have to see if they can get back there in a weak NL West, or if they'll continue in the other direction.

As before, this preview is meant to be a summary of what the three main baseball preview magazines are saying about the team's 2009 season. I've included quotes and other information from each of the them - Sporting News, Athlon, and Lindy's. I've also included some statistics about each magazines' success at predictions over the last ten years. Be sure to check out the Team-by-Team Season Preview index for other guide previews over the next few weeks.

My original intention was to completely refrain from providing any opinion. I was afraid that I would have too much to say about some teams and too little about others. But, after doing a few of these now, I feel like there's room for some personal commentary. I think it'll add a little bit of personality to the preview. But I don't want to make my opinion the focus of the post, so I'll put it near the end. Please feel free to ignore it; I've never claimed to be the most knowledgeable person when it comes to all 30 teams. With that said, on with the "combined" team preview for the...

Arizona Diamondbacks
Last Year: 82 - 80, 2nd Place, NL West

Since 1999

This YearLast Year
Avg Pred.Avg Finish
Sporting News2


* Sporting News average includes preview guides from these years: 1999 - 2001, 2003 - 2004, 2006 - 2008
** Athlon average includes preview guides from these years: 1999 - 2003, 2006 - 2008

Team Notes

The Diamondbacks started off the 2008 season incredibly hot, but were unable to sustain it as the season progressed. The top of the rotation, in Cy Young-candidate Brandon Webb and Danny Haren, did its part to keep the team contending, but the rest of the team could not keep up, even after trading for Adam Dunn for the stretch run.
"Righthanders Brandon Webb and Dan Haren comprise what is arguably the best 1-2 starting punch in the major leagues. The pair combined for 47 quality starts to tie for the major league lead among teammates and took turns carrying the team - Webb won his first nine starts and later had an eight-game winning streak, while the Diamondbacks twice won five straight games in which Haren started. Neither missed a start, and each was the NL Pitcher of the Month once. (Athlon)"
As stable as Webb has been in that ace-hole for the D-Backs, the organization is still in flux. Years ago, the organization took on a lot of debt and backloaded contracts to help fund a World Series run. It was successful, but it left this current Arizona squad with some financial trouble. Couple that with the current economy, and the D-Backs have had to make a lot of changes, some of which may affect the on-the-field product.
"Some harsh financial realities are making life a challenge for Arizona general manager Josh Byrnes. The Diamondbacks laid off 31 employees in November in conjunction with an organizational austerity program. They couldn't afford to re-sign Randy Johnson even when he offered to take a 50 percent pay cut, and they declined to offer salary arbitration to Adam Dunn out of fear that he might accept and make a salary of $15 million in 2009.

It's a good thing that a heralded group of former Baseball America darlings is around to keep Arizona competitive in the NL West. But as the events of 2008 showed, development isn't necessarily a straight vertical line. (Lindy's)"
However, it's not all bad. There is some quality young talent playing for the Diamondbacks at the major league level who, as they mature, will certainly help the club contend in this division.
"The homegrown trio of shortstop Stephen Drew, left fielder [Conor] Jackson, and right fielder Justin Upton is being counted on to take a major step forward out of the 3-4-5 spots in the order. Drew is a lot like older brother J.D. of the Red Sox, showing the ability to be a special player but leaving questions about his focus with stretches of mediocrity in the field and at the plate. Jackson is a solid hitter, but would fit better in a No. 2 or No. 7 slot than cleanup. Upton has been force-fed to the majors and it has impeded his development. He has the bat speed to hit anybody's fastball, but once teams change speeds and bend pitches, Upton struggles to make contact. (TSN)"

Spotlight Quote

From Athlon's "Beyond the Box Score":
"Select Company: Stephen Drew joined select company with his breakout 2008 season. With 44 doubles, 11 triples, and 21 home runs, Drew became the third shortstop in major league history to have at least 40 doubles, 10 triples and 20 home runs in the same season. Milwaukee's Robin Yount did it twice (1980, 1982) and Boston's Nomar Garciaparra did it in 1997. Drew is the first NL shortstop to accomplish the feat."
And then there's this pessimistic "View from the Other Dugout" in TSN:
"Realistically, this is a team that very likely will finish fourth. The offense doesn't have big time power, but it creates a lot of breezes with the way it swings and misses. Maybe that saves on the air-conditioning bill. They had a leadoff hitter last year, Chris Young, who struck out more than 100 times. They talk about Mark Reynolds' run production. Well what about the 204 strikeouts? You don't think teams haven't figured out how to pitch him?

I look at their roster. They don't have a second baseman. They don't have a closer. They are missing three starting pitchers. We're talking about a rotation that's two-deep, with Brandon Webb and Dan Haren, and then you cross your fingers. There isn't even a young arm you are hoping can finish off games. There are three guys who have been around, shown no ability to consistently close out games that count, and nothing more..."

The Diamondbacks finished the season in second place last year, behind the strong pitching of Danny Haren and Brandon Webb, and with the help of some young stars, like Chris Young, Justin Upton and Stephen Drew. It's a good core of players, and should keep the D-Backs in contention for years to come. But are the position players good enough this year to carry them over the top?

Honestly, I don't really know. The D-Backs are obviously a talented team, staying near the top of the division for the last couple of years. But, at the same time, they only managed to win 82 games last year and were unable to take command of a division that only needed 84 games to win it. The top of Arizona's rotation - Webb and Haren - can compete with anybody, and that should keep them in contention in this weak division. If things go well and their young players continue to mature, they could end up winning the division this year, but that might be asking too much.

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