19 December 2010
Let's continue our recap of the Diamondbacks offseason with a look at the outfield. The RF and CF spots in the Diamondbacks' outfield are set for 2011 with Justin Upton and Chris Young, but LF is still open, with Xavier Nady, Brandon Allen, and Gerardo Parra battling for playing time. Nady is the experienced veteran, Allen is the promising young player, and Parra is the defensive specialist - how will the playing time shake out?
RF Justin Upton (23) - RHB
Upton is coming off a disappointing season, in which he posted lower numbers than in 2009 in batting average, doubles, triples, and home runs, and also had a career high 152 strikeouts. He also saw a drop in his stolen base success rate from 80% down to 69%, and missed most of the last two months with shoulder issues. Worst of all, new GM Kevin Towers even mentioned that the Diamondbacks would be open to trade offers for Upton. The only positives for Upton in 2010 was his walk rate, where he had a career high 64, and his defense, which was very good in 2010. With the winter meetings now over, Towers acknowledged that none of the trade offers were a fair value, and Upton will be back with the Diamondbacks in 2011.
What can we expect from Upton in 2011? His line drive % in 2010 was 19.3%, consistent with his previous years, and his infield fly ball percentage was much lower. His fly ball rate was higher in 2010 than in 2009, and yet his home runs were way down. Hopefully this reduced power was due to his shoulder issues.
|Year||Line Drive %||Ground Ball%||Fly Ball%||IFFB%||HR/FB|
The other interesting split in Upton's 2010 season was his poor performance against left-handed pitchers. His stats vs. RHP were almost identical for the last two years, but for some reason his excellent hitting against LHP in 2009 disappeared in 2010.
It's hard to find an explanation for this change, but hopefully Upton will hit well against LHP in 2011, just as he had in all of his previous years.
Chris Young, CF (27) - RHB
After a poor 2009 campaign which saw him demoted to AAA, Chris Young rebounded to have his best offensive season in 2010, posting career bests in batting average, on-base percentage, walks, stolen bases, runs, RBI, and OPS. His main improvement came against right-handed pitching, improving his OPS from only .639 in 2009 against RHP all the way up to .781.
Is Young's improvement sustainable? There are a few worrisome areas. First, his line drive rate of 16.6% was a career low, after being in the 18-19% range the previous two seasons. Second, his home/road splits were extreme, as he had a .910 OPS at home with 20 HR, and only a .675 OPS on the road, with 7 HR. On the other hand, he was much more patient in 2010, swinging at only 37.6% of the pitches he saw (League Average = 45.6%) and only chasing 22.0% of the pitches that were out of the strike zone (League Average = 29.3%). I expect Young to post an OPS around .760-.770 in 2011, which combined with his fine defense in CF, makes him a very productive player.
Xavier Nady, LF/1B (32) - RHB
The key question with Xavier Nady is whether he has fully recovered from Tommy John surgery in 2009. From 2005 through 2008, Nady had shown steady improvement, culminating with his 25 HR, .867 OPS in 2008. But Nady was injured early in 2009, and then did not hit particularly well in 2010. Pre-injury, Nady had always hit the ball hard, with a career line drive rate around 22%, that had reached as high as 24.6% in 2008. But in 2010, his LD% slipped down to 19.9%. Nady's K/BB rate has always been a problem, as he has never drawn 40 walks in a season, while striking out close to 100 times. So Nady must have a high batting average with good power to be valuable. He managed that in 2007 and 2008, and the Diamondbacks need him to get back there in 2011.
GM Kevin Towers knows Nady well from their days in San Diego, and feels that "his bat plays [well] in this park". Towers and Nady both felt that his poor season in 2010 was related to his elbow injury, and that he should be fine for 2011. He is expected to start against all LHP in 2011, either at LF or 1B, and will probably get ABs against RHP if he hits well. For his career, Nady has an .818 OPS against LHP, and is at .759 vs RHP.
Brandon Allen, LF/1B (25) - LHB
Allen had a productive year in AAA in 2010, and showed enough promise as a left fielder with the major league club that he is a contender for the starting job in 2011.
The most impressive part of Allen's 2010 AAA season was the walks, collecting 83 in just 469 plate appearances, good for 3rd highest in the PCL. Allen also finished 8th in HR and 10th in OBP. At the major league level, Allen only had 45 AB for Arizona, but held his own. He again showed the ability to draw walks, and looked ready against RHP. It's obviously been a very small sample in the Majors for Allen so far, but he has a .781 OPS vs RHP (136 PA) and only a .416 OPS against LHP in a grand total of 36 PA. The biggest concern offensively for Allen is strikeouts - he struck out in 20% of his at bats in AAA, and 40% at the Majors so far. Allen will be a high strikeout player, but probably not nearly at the rate he has shown in Arizona so far.
Defensively, Allen is still learning to play LF, but was respectable in his September call-up. He was not charged with any errors, at least, and made a couple of highlight plays for Arizona. He will probably never be a great defensive outfielder, but should be good enough to keep his bat in the lineup.
Gerardo Parra, LF/CF (24) - LHB
Parra is the best defensive left-fielder on the team, but his offensive ceiling is not as high as Allen or Nady. His offense is built around his batting average, with little power, walks, or stolen bases. His career 52% Ground Ball rate means that he will likely always be a singles hitter. And in 2010, he swung at 40% that were out of the strike zone, so his plate discipline has a lot of room for improvement. Parra will likely have a spot on the Diamondbacks' roster because of his defense - he had an excellent UZR/150 of 19.2 and can play all three OF positions if needed.
If Brandon Allen has a respectable spring training, I think the Diamondbacks will open with an outfield of Justin Upton in RF, Chris Young in CF, a platoon of Brandon Allen and Xavier Nady in LF, and Gerardo Parra as the 5th outfielder. Of course, either one could earn additional playing time if they hit well, and both will also be in the mix for the first base position with Juan Miranda. Aside from these five players, the only other outfielder on the 40-Man roster is Cole Gillespie (26), who may not hit well enough to be a starter, but can fill in defensively at all three positions.
At the AAA level, the Diamondbacks signed two veterans to minor league contracts, Wily Mo Pena (29) and David Winfree (25), and could have a trio of 25-year olds moving up from AA, Collin Cowgill, Ollie Linton, and Evan Frey. All three have the potential to reach the majors, but none appear likely to be major league starters at this point.