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How the West Was Won - D'Backs Venom | February

Bloguin NL West Logo
Each day this week, a member of the Bloguin family will preview the upcoming 2011 season for each of the NL West Teams. The Giants Cove (Giants), RJ's Fro (Padres), The Rockie Mountain Way (Rockies), TetreaultVision (filling in for the Dodgers) and D'Backs Venom (Diamondbacks), will all give their 2 cents for their respective teams. Completing the series, here is my take on the Diamondbacks' upcoming season. 

Past Posts
Monday: Richard Dyer of The Giants Cove
Tuesday: RJ of RJ's Fro
Wednesday: Joe Dexter of Rockie Mountain Way
Thursday: Joe Tetreault of Tetreault Vision

 D'Backs Logo

1. 2010 Record
Although most predicted the Diamondbacks to finish above .500, the 2010 team stumbled to a 65-97 record, 27 Games out of first place, and 15 games behind the 4th Place Dodgers.

2. Key Additions
SP Zach Duke, SP Armando Galarraga, RP J.J. Putz, RP David Hernandez, RP Kam Mickolio, RP Joe Paterson, 1B Juan Miranda, 3B Melvin Mora, IF Geoff Blum, IF Willie Bloomquist, C Henry Blanco, 1B/OF Xavier Nady

3. Key Losses
SP Brandon Webb, SP Rodrigo Lopez, SP Kris Benson, RP D.J. Carrasco, RP Blain Boyer, 1B Adam LaRoche, 3B Mark Reynolds, IF Augie Ojeda, OF Ryan Church, OF Rusty Ryal

4. Strengths Going Into 2011
 One of the oldest cliches in baseball is that a team has to be strong "up the middle" to be successful. The Diamondbacks are in great shape at those positions, as C Miguel Montero, 2B Kelly Johnson, SS Stephen Drew, and CF Chris Young are all among the top players at their positions in the National League. Another strength is RF Justin Upton, who has already played in 422 career games and slugged 60 Home Runs by the age of 23.  After a down year in 2010, Upton is expected to bounce back in 2011 and continue developing into a future superstar.

Juan Miranda and Brandon Allen both have 25+ HR potential, and should be battling for starting jobs in 2011, along with a healthy Xavier Nady.

On the pitching staff, right-handers Daniel Hudson (7-1, 1.69 ERA) and Ian Kennedy (9-10, 3.80 ERA) had fine seasons in their first extended stays in the Majors.  Top prospect Jarrod Parker appears to have recovered from Tommy John surgery and is throwing in the upper 90s again, and should develop in the #1 starter within the next year or two.

The bullpen, which was an absolute disaster in 2011 with a 5.74 ERA, should be greatly improved with the addition of closer J.J. Putz (2.83 ERA, 65K, 15 BB, 4 HRA in 60 IP) and newcomers David Hernandez (3.16 ERA in the bullpen, 45K, 13BB, 4 HRA in 37 IP).

5.  Weaknesses Going in 2011
Even with the additions of Putz and Hernandez, there are many questions about the rest of the bullpen. Juan Gutierrez had a great September (10 Saves, 1.46 ERA), but had terrible overall numbers for the season.  Newcomers Kameron Mickolio and Joe Paterson will be competing for bullpen spots along with returning players Sam Demel, Esmerling Vasquez, and Aaron Heilman. The team would be happy if this group managed to be league-average.

The Diamondbacks' bench was horrible in 2010, putting up a .218/.282/.279 line with 104K and only 27 BB and 1 HR. Veterans like Geoff Blum, Willie Bloomquist, and Henry Blanco have been added, and probably can't do any worse. But it is difficult to see the bench as a strength, despite these players' reputation for leadership and savvy.

The back half of the starting rotation will feature Joe Saunders, Zach Duke and some combination of Armando Galarraga, Barry Enright and Aaron Heilman.  Enright needs to return to the solid K/BB ratios and Ground Ball rates he showed in AA, and it is hard to be very optimistic about the other four.

The Diamondbacks lost a lot of power from the 2010 team, with 3B Mark Reynolds (32 HR) and 1B Adam LaRoche (25 HR) both departing.  New 3B Melvin Mora doesn't have that kind of power, but should get on base at a decent rate. The team will be counting on Juan Miranda and Brandon Allen to pick up the slack in the Home Run department.

The 2010 team shattered the previous Major League record for strikeouts in a season. The two leading culprits, Reynolds (211) and LaRoche (172) are gone, but Miranda and Allen will also strike out a lot, assuming they get regular playing time.

6. After 14 seasons in San Diego, Kevin Towers is the new GM of the Diamondbacks. What was the fan reaction to his hiring and what type of job do you think he did this off-season? (RJ's Fro)
The fan reaction to Towers was definitely mixed. Most appreciated the success he had in San Diego given his limited financial resources, and that he always managed to have a strong bullpen, which was the Diamondbacks' biggest flaw in 2010.  He also had an excellent trade record while with the Padres.  On the downside, his drafting was not good in San Diego.

Towers' first off-season still left a lot of questions for the fans. The acquisition of closer J.J. Putz was the only move that was universally praised. But the trading of popular 3B Mark Reynolds was not well received, and the acquisitions of pitchers Zach Duke and Armando Galarraga were not greeted with much enthusiasm. The signings of veteran free agents like Blum, Bloomquist, and Blanco left everyone scratching their heads.  The key for Towers' offseason will be newcomers Juan Miranda and David Hernandez - if they become quality Major Leaguers, the fans will probably start to like Towers.

7. With 2009 being his breakout season, Justin Upton saw a decline in all his numbers across the board. He's still only 23, but what can we expect from him in 2011? (RJ's Fro) 
After a .300/.366/.532 season in 2009 with 26 HR and 20 SB, Upton slipped to only .273/.356./.442 in 2010. The decline was across the board - Upton saw a decline in his batting average, doubles, triples, homers, steals, and stolen base success rate, and also had a career high 152 strikeouts. In addition, he missed parts of the last two months with shoulder problems. The only areas where Upton improved last year were his walks, where he had a career high 64, and his defense, which was much more consistent in 2010.

It is reasonable to expect a rebound for Upton in 2011. His 19.3% line drive rate in 2010 was actually better than in his breakout 2009 season (18.9%). But what was missing was Upton's power, especially against left-handed pitching. In 2009, Upton hit 12 HR in 137 plate appearances against LHP, but somehow managed only 2 HR in 155 PA in 2010. Against RHP, Upton was almost exactly the same in 2010 (.272/.344/.465) as in to 2009 (.277/.342/.463). Perhaps this drop was due to Upton's shoulder issues, as he had always crushed LHP in the past.  

Given the improvement in Upton's walk rate, his solid line drive percentage, his youth, and his (hopefully) improved shoulder, I think we can expect Upton to return to All-Star levels in 2011.

In regards to the trade offers, I think GM Kevin Towers would have needed a tremendous offer to consider trading Justin Upton. He was listening, but his trade requirements of 2-3 blue-chip prospects was one that most of the likely trading partners could not meet. In the end, the Diamondbacks did not come close to trading Upton.

8. Kirk Gibson has gone from home run hero, to announcer, to bench coach and now manager. Is he the answer the Diamondbacks need in the dugout to get back to recent glory? (RMW)
Kirk Gibson has one big advantage over previous manager A.J. Hinch - the love of the fans. The fans were all over then-GM Josh Byrnes for hiring the  35 year-old Hinch when he had no managerial experience. Gibson, of course, is also inexperienced, but he has the name-recognition and the fiery personality that the fans wanted. 

As for as his managerial style, it's a little early to say. He acts like an "old-school" manager, and rarely mentions any modern baseball ideas or statistics. But he was able to improve the bullpen during the last few months of 2011, especially Juan Gutierrez, and he certainly brings a winning attitude and tradition that the previous regime did not project. Since expectations are low for 2011, Gibson will probably get a couple of years to try and rebuild the team. We will find out quickly if he is the type of manager who will take a gamble and give power-hitting Brandon Allen playing time in LF, or if prefers a veteran like Xavier Nady or a defensive specialist like Gerardo Parra.

9. How many wins will known winner Joe Saunders have this season? (JT)
When the Diamondbacks acquired LHP Joe Saunders from the Angels in the Dan Haren trade, then-GM Jerry Dipoto compared Saunders' wins and winning percentage to that of Roy Halladay. Indeed, Saunders did go 17-7 in 2008 and 16-7 in 2009, even though his ERA was a fairly average 4.60.  How did Saunders do it?  The answer is Run Support. The reason he was able to win so many games in 2009 is that the Angels averaged 6.55 Runs/G in Saunders' starts, including 8 games where they scored 9 runs or more. In 2010 with the Angels, Saunders had almost the same ERA at 4.62, but his record dropped to 6-10 because the Angels only scored 3.94 Runs/G. 

What to expect in 2011? Saunders has had FIP ERAs in the mid-to-high 4's for several years, and his strikeout and walk rates have never been very good. More of the same is likely in 2011, which will probably result in something like a 11-13 record and an ERA around 4.80.

10. Does this team need an absolute overhaul or can they compete with their current talent base? (JT)
Although the Diamondbacks will probably not be pennant contenders in 2011, they seem to be moving in the right direction. They do have a good core of young players in Upton, CYoung, Montero, DHudson, and Kennedy. Just as  important for the team is that the farm system has improved from the bottom five in baseball to around middle-of-the-pack.  The Class A team in Visalia will have several exciting young players, including former high draft picks Matthew Davidson, Bobby Borchering, Chris Owings, and Tyler Skaggs, while the AA team will probably have top pitching prospect Jarrod Parker and hard-hitting Marc Krauss.

If the team gets off to a slow start, there may be pressure on Towers to trade SS Stephen Drew for more prospects. But the team doesn't really have a shortstop in the minors ready to step in right now, and they already have started to rebuild the system with the trades of Dan Haren and Mark Reynolds. I think the Diamondbacks will try to keep most of the current group together until reinforcements are ready from the minors in the next 1-2 years.

Projected Lineups:
Against RHP:
SS Stephen Drew
2B Kelly Johnson
RF Justin Upton
C Miguel Montero
1B Juan Miranda
CF Chris Young
LF Brandon Allen/Xavier Nady
3B Melvin Mora

If Brandon Allen doesn't win the job in Spring Training against RHP, then Xavier Nady will probably be the full time starting LF. Gerardo Parra will probably be used as a defensive replacement and spot starter. The team will be much more exciting if they use Allen instead of the veteran Nady against RHP.

Against LHP:
SS Stephen Drew
2B Kelly Johnson
RF Justin Upton
CF Chris Young
LF Xavier Nady
3B Melvin Mora
C Miguel Montero/Henry Blanco
1B Juan Miranda/Brandon Allen

Starting Rotation: LHP Joe Saunders, RHP Ian Kennedy, RHP Daniel Hudson, LHP Zach Duke, RHP Armando Galarraga (plus RHP Barry Enright and RHP Aaron Heilman)

Closer: J.J. Putz
Setup Men: Juan Gutierrez, David Hernandez 
Others: Sam Demel, Aaron Heilman, Joe Paterson, Kam Mickolio

Projected Standings:
I would love to pick the Diamondbacks for first place, but that is probably not realistic for 2011. A season around 80 Wins would be a solid step forward for this franchise, and the future is looking better as a strong crop of prospects advances to Double-A Mobile and Class-A Visalia.

1. San Francisco Giants
2. Colorado Rockies
3. Arizona Diamondbacks
4. Los Angeles Dodgers
5. San Diego Padres