One month ago, LHP Wade Miley looked to be the clear frontrunner for the 2012 National League Rookie of the Year Award. But a slump for Miley in September, combined with a great month for Bryce Harper, have made the race much closer. Let's start with a look at the overall stats for each player.
Harper has now caught Miley in FanGraphs's WAR calculation, and has passed him in Baseball-Reference's version. The difference in the month of September has been pretty dramatic. Miley has allowed 19 ER in 29 IP in September, for a 5.90 ERA and a 1.724 WHIP. Meanwhile, Harper has hit .305/.377/.611 with 4 SB during this month. And Harper has two more things going for him. His team has the best record in the National League, and Harper has been a big part of that, while Miley's Diamondbacks have been stuck around the .500 mark. And secondly, Harper has had a historic season for a 19 year old, posting the best-ever WAR by a teenager - http://bbref.com/pi/shareit/eh33M
|Ken Griffey, Jr.||19||1989||2.9|
Miley has had an outstanding season, and has been the Diamondbacks' best pitcher for the year, but his late slump combined with Harper's hot streak means that Miley will probably end up second in the 2012 NL Rookie of the Year balloting.
Thursday afternoon's 6-5 loss to the Padres leaves the Diamondbacks 5.5 Games behind the Cardinals for the 2nd Wild Card slot, with just 13 games left to play. That means that making the playoffs in 2012 is just about an impossibility - if the Cardinals go 6-6 the rest of the way, the Diamondbacks will need to go 12-1 just to tie them. While there is always the hope that the Cards could collapse over the final two weeks, Arizona's situation is worsened because there are still three teams between the Diamondbacks and the Cardinals in the standings - the Brewers, Dodgers, and the Phillies. One week ago there was still hope, but seven more games have gone by and the D-Backs actually dropped one game further behind.
In many ways, Thursday's loss exemplified the problems the team has had throughout the season. Arizona had pulled to within one run heading into the 9th inning, and then loaded the bases with no outs. But Mike Jacobs, Adam Eaton, and Aaron Hill were all unable to bring in the tying run, and the season was probably lost. This highlights the biggest problem with the Diamondbacks this year - their clutch hitting was unusually bad. The team is now batting just .190/.259/.315 (.573 OPS) in "Late and Close" situations, compared to .257/.325/.417 (.742 OPS) overall. This .169 drop in OPS in L&C situations is the worst in the National League, and is probably the biggest factor in the team's 14-26 record in One-Run games.
The game also highlighted a second problem for the team all season - poor performance by the team's pinch hitters. Arizona pinch hitters are now batting .235/.277/.330 (.607 OPS) for the year, again much worse than the team's overall batting line. Unfortunately, that was to probably be expected, since the team never really planned to have any good hitters on the bench. The planned Opening Day bench was Willie Bloomquist (career .662 OPS), John McDonald (.606), Gerardo Parra (.729), Henry Blanco (.658), and Lyle Overbay (.792), with only the 35-year-old Overbay an above-average hitter for his career. Although the bench personnel changed frequently throughout the year, the team never really put together a good hitting group.
Thursday's game also continued what has been a disappointing performance by the team's young players. Many observers felt that young pitchers like Trevor Bauer and Tyler Skaggs would be ready to make significant contributions this year, but it didn't happen. Bauer made 4 starts in the Majors with a 6.06 ERA, and Skaggs made 6 starts with a 5.83 ERA. Both are still just 21 years old, so it's not really any cause for concern about their futures, but neither performed as well in the Majors as the team had hoped, especially when the Diamondbacks had traded away Joe Saunders.
The good news for the Diamondbacks is that they should enter the 2013 season with a solid starting rotation from the group of Ian Kennedy, Trevor Cahill, Wade Miley, Patrick Corbin, Trevor Bauer, and Tyler Skaggs, with others like Daniel Hudson and Chase Anderson possibly able to help out later in the year. The bullpen should also be good, especially if J.J. Putz is brought back with David Hernandez, Brad Ziegler, Matt Albers, and Matt Lindstrom. The area that needs help is probably the offense, and the continued rumors about a Justin Upton trade certainly don't help in that regard. But the poor clutch hitting in 2012 was probably just bad luck, and if that returns to normal levels, the Diamondbacks' main focus in the offseason should be finding an everyday shortstop and strengthing the bench. The Diamondbacks should definitely be back in the playoff hunt again in 2013.
The first four playoff spots in the National League appear to be settled, with the Nationals (89-54), Reds (87-57), Giants (81-62), and Braves (81-63) all in great shape. The Diamondbacks are 4.5 Games Behind the Cardinals for the second NL wild card slot, with 19 games left to play. Adding to that challenge are that there are four other teams between the Diamondbacks and the Cardinals. So do the D-Backs still have a chance? Surprisingly, yes, although the Diamondbacks need to play very well down the stretch and they will need some help from teams like the Cubs, Astros, and Rockies.
Looking at the remaining schedule, the wild card contenders have very few games against each other. In fact, with six teams battling for one spot, there are only two series remaining in which two Wild Card contenders will go head-to-head: the Cardinals-Dodgers series this weekend, and the Pirates-Brewers series next week. The rest of the time, these teams will either be facing one of the four locked-in playoff teams, or one of the 6 teams that are essentially eliminated. So there will be a lot of scoreboard watching over the final three weeks. Let's take a look at the remaining schedules for the contenders for the second Wild Card spot.
On July 25, the Diamondbacks had a record of 49-49, and were six games behind the Giants in the NL West and five games behind the Braves for the second wild card spot. Over the next few weeks, the Diamondbacks made five trades. While the organization insisted that the trades did not signify that the team had given up on the season, the trades definitely saved the team some money, and also opened up some roster spots for younger players. Since then, the Diamondbacks have gone 20-23, and slipped to ten games behind the Giants and six out of the wild card. Let's take a look back at the five trades made by the Diamondbacks this summer.
1) Traded 3B Ryan Roberts to the Rays for 2B Tyler Bortnick (July 25, 2012)
Roberts had been the team's Opening Day starter at 3B, but had hit just .250/.306/.357 (.663 OPS) over 280 Plate Appearances. Since the trade, Roberts has hit about the same with the Rays, going .215/.294/.333 (.627 OPS), so the Diamondbacks probably didn't lose much here, and they avoided paying half of Roberts' $2M salary.
Unfortunately, the player acquired for Roberts, 24 year-old Tyler Bortnick, has not hit well for AAA Reno - .212/.293/.311 (.603 OPS). Bortnick is still displaying decent speed and plate discipline, but he needs to hit for much higher average if he wants to become a utility player at the Major League level.
With just 24 games left in the Regular Season, the Diamondbacks sit 6.5 Games Behind in the Wild Card race and 9.5 Games Back in the NL West. One of the biggest factors in the disappointing season has been the team's performance in One Run games. Amazingly, the Diamondbacks are only 11-23 in One Run games, which is the worst record in the NL, even worse than the hapless Cubs and Astros.
After losing their sixth consecutive game on Wednesday afternoon, the Diamondbacks chances of making the postseason have just about disappeared - Coolstandings.com has the Diamondbacks with a 3% chance of making the playoffs, and Baseball Prospectus has the probability at just 1%. If this had been a six game winning streak instead of a six game losing streak, the Diamondbacks would have been tied with the Dodgers and right in the thick of the playoff hunt. But six straight losses means that the playoffs are almost certainly out, and maybe it's time to look ahead to the 2013 season. On Saturday, September 1, rosters can expand, and any player on the 40-Man roster can be added to the Major League club. Who are some potential callups for the Diamondbacks? One complication is that both the AAA Reno team and the AA Mobile team should make the playoffs in their leagues, so that will delay some callups for a week or so.
Players Who Will Be Added to the Major League Roster on September 1:
SS Willie Bloomquist, RHP Josh Collmenter, RHP Takashi Saito
All three players are on the Major League Disabled List right now, but will be activated once rosters expand, assuming they are healthy. Collmenter threw 4 IP in a Rookie League game on Tuesday, and says he will be ready to go on Saturday. Bloomquist also played in a Rookie League game on Tuesday, and will be activated if his back continues to feels OK. Saito has been on the DL since August 14 with a hamstring injury, but is expected to pitch in a minor league game this week.
On Sunday, the Diamondbacks traded 31-year-old LHP Joe Saunders for hard-throwing right hander Matt Lindstrom. Saunders had pitched 3 years for the Diamondbacks since being acquired in the Dan Haren trade, and had basically done his job - throwing a lot of innings with an ERA slightly better than league average. More importantly, his presence in the rotation allowed the team to give prospects Trevor Bauer and Tyler Skaggs a much-needed season in AAA instead of rushing them to the Majors. The Diamondbacks will go with a rotation of Ian Kennedy, Wade Miley, Trevor Cahill, Patrick Corbin, and Tyler Skaggs to finish the 2012 season.
The 32 year-old Lindstrom becomes another hard-thrower in the Diamondbacks' bullpen. He has experience as a closer, with 45 career saves, but has actually pitched better as a set-up man over the last two seasons.
Over the last two years, Lindstrom has significantly lowered his ERA and WHIP, due primarily to better control. His fastball velocity has dropped a little, from an average of 97.6 mph in his rookie year of 2007 to around 95.0 this year, but that would still make his fastball the fastest on the team, just ahead of David Hernandez (94.7) and newcomer Matt Albers (93.4). Lindstrom gets a good percentage of ground balls (career 47.4 GB%), and does not allow many home runs (career 0.51 HR/9). His career Swinging Strike percentage is a solid 10.3%, which is similar to that of J.J. Putz (11.8%) and David Hernandez (10.0%).
Although Lindstrom is 32 years old, his arm has fewer pitches on it than most pitchers his age, because he took a two-year sabbatical from 1999-2001 as a missionary in Sweden. He started his minor league career at the age of 22, but had hardly touched a baseball in the preceding two years.
Lindstrom makes $3.6M this year, and has a $4M club option for 2013, which is a lot to pay for a set-up man, (with a $0.2M buyout). The Diamondbacks will probably decline the option, but may try to negotiate a new deal for the next year or two.