In 2007, the Diamondbacks won the National League central with a 90-72 record despite a negative run differential that translated to a 79-83 Pythagorean record. That team, which swept the Cubs in the Division Series only to be swept by the Rockies in the NLCS, was flush with young talent including shortstop Stephen Drew, second baseman Alberto Callaspo (then a backup to Orlando Hudson), and right-fielder Carlos Quentin (all 24), third baseman Mark Reynolds, center fielder Chris Young, and back-up catcher Miguel Montero (all 23), 19-year-old right-fielder Justin Upton, 25-year-old first baseman Conor Jackson, 26-year-old catcher Chris Snyder.
That winter, Arizona flipped Quentin to the White Sox for first-base prospect Chris Carter (not the one on the Mets, the now-23-year-old slugger who lurks in Sacramento as one of the top prospects in the American League) then made a big-splash by trading Carter to the A’s with outfielder Carlos Gonzalez and left-hander Brett Anderson, among others, for starter Dan Haren. Haren, then 27, partnered with the then-29-year-old Brandon Webb to give the Diamondbacks a tremendous 1-2 punch in their rotation, and with a lineup filled with developing young talent, the team looked ready for a big break out after experiencing a bit of correction with an 82-80 second-place finish in 2008.
I was one of four SI.com “experts” to pick the Diamondbacks to win the NL West in 2009, but all of us were surely banking on the impact of Webb and Haren atop the rotation. Instead, Webb got smacked around for four innings on Opening Day and hasn’t pitched since due to shoulder issues, surgery, and subsequent set-backs. Mind you, this was a pitcher who from 2006 to 2008 went 56-25 (.691) with a 3.13 ERA and finished in the top two in the Cy Young voting each year, winning in ’06.
That was a devastating loss, but it was made no easier by the fact that the young talent in the Arizona lineup has failed to coalesce into a productive offense. Callaspo was, like Quentin, traded after the 2007 season, ultimately yielding Dontrelle Willis (via Billy Buckner) earlier this month. As for the rest, Jackson never developed power, came down with Valley Fever last year, and didn’t seem fully recovered this spring before being flipped to the A’s last week for closer prospect Sam Demel. Stephen Drew, J.D.’s little brother, slugged .502 with 21 homers in 2008 and looked primed for a breakout, but has hit just .266/.328/.430 since. Young was two stolen bases shy of a 30/30 season in 2007, but saw his production decline each of the last two years, though he seems to have finally righted his ship this season. Upton showed steady progress the last two years, but is striking out at an alarming rate this year (92 Ks in 67 games) and has seen his production regress in turn (.247/.326/.429). Montero claimed the catching job from Snyder with a break out season last year, but has played just 12 games thus far this year due to knee surgery.
Then there’s Reynolds, who had perhaps one of the most unique offensive seasons in baseball history last year when he hit 44 home runs, stole 24 bases, and shattered his own single-season strikeout record by wiffing 223 times. Reynolds’ positives (314 total bases plus 76 walks and those steals at a 73 percent success rate) out-weighed all those Ks last year, but he’s testing that balance this year having already struck out 99 times while hitting just .215/.327/.472 and stealing just three bases.
To that frustrating core, the Diamondbacks have added reheated ex-Braves Adam LaRoche and Kelly Johnson at first and second base, respectively. Johnson started the season with a wholly unexpected barrage of home runs (9 in April), but has hit just four more since while hitting .244/.355/.399. LaRoche, perhaps the game’s most notorious second-half hitter, typically hits the turbo boost around this time of year and has hit .300/.363/.546 after the All-Star break in his career.
That all adds up to one of the NL’s better offenses thus far this season, but it also makes for one of the league’s worst defenses, and the pitching staff, without Webb and with Haren’s ERA inflated by bad luck on both balls in play and fly balls leaving the yard, is suffering for it. Curiously, old pal Ian Kennedy has actually had very good luck on balls in play, and thus leads the Snakes’ staff in ERA despite a similar home run problem (which has not been a product of his new home park). Edwin Jackson, who accompanied Kennedy to Arizona in the three-way Curtis Granderson deal, however, is having similar problems to Haren, his BABIP having lept up from .278 last year to .326 this year.
The D’backs’ bullpen, meanwhile, has just been flat awful, posting a 7.14 ERA, blowing 12 saves and picking up 16 losses. Closer Chad Qualls has lost his job to ex-Met Aaron Heilman, the only Arizona reliever with an ERA below 4.00. The less said about the rest of the pen the better other than to point out that the pen has contributed to the Diamondbacks allowing the most runs in baseball thus far, having allowed 38 percent of the 405 the Snakes have give up.
Perhaps all you need to know about the Diamondbacks pitching is that tonight A.J. Burnett faces Rodrigo Lopez. Lopez resurrected his career (briefly) as a fill-in for the Phillies last year, going 3-1 with a 5.70 ERA in five starts and a pair of relief appearances. He’s been a rotation regular for the D’backs this year and pitching pretty much in line with his career rates, which means he’s not a far cry from the pitcher you might remember from his five years with the Orioles from 2002 to 2006. Lopez’s main trick this year has been pitching efficiently enough to go deep into games regardless of his ability to keep runs off the board (a product of that lousy bullpen). In his last two starts, Lopez pitched 14 innings, but allowed 11 runs. Burnett, meanwhile, is in the middle of a full-on skid, having gone 0-3 with a 9.00 ERA across just 16 innings over his last three starts. More bad numbers from those last three: nine walks against ten Ks, three hit batsmen, and six home runs allowed.
Meanwhile, outfielder Colin Curtis has been called up from Triple-A, replacing Chad Moeller on the 25- and 40-man rosters. A fourth-round pick out of Arizona State (which has also produced Ike Davis and Mike Leake in recent years) in the Yankees boffo 2006 draft, Curtis disappointed up on hitting Double-A in mid 2007, hitting .250/.311/.359 in 1,343 plate appearances above High-A from 2007 to 2009. Curtis reportedly fixed his swing before appearing in the Arizona Fall League last fall and raked there (in a hitting-friendly environment), in spring training, and for Triple-A Scranton in April (.339/.435/.441), but an ankle sprain interrupted his season and he’s been back to being awful since returning to action, hitting .226/.284/.306 in June. Even with his strong start, he’s homerless on the season. Curtis, now 25, bats lefty with a reverse split (at least this season) and can play all three outfield positions. I don’t see the point, but then I didn’t see the point in Moeller, either.
Joe Girardi runs out his primary lineup tonight. Remember, there’s no designated hitter, so A.J. Burnett hits ninth behind Brett Gardner.
2010 Record: 27-43 (.386)
2010 Pythagorean Record: 28-42 (.400)
2009 Record: 70-92 (.432)
2009 Pythagorean Record: 75-87 (.463)
Manager: A.J. Hinch
General Manager: Josh Byrnes
Home Ballpark: Chase Field
Bill James Park Indexes (2009):
LH Avg-92, LH HR-100
RH Avg-99, RH HR-110
Who’s replacing whom:
- Adam LaRoche replaces Chad Tracy, Josh Whitesell, and Brandon Allen (minors)
- Kelly Johnson replaces Felipe Lopez
- Gerardo Parra inherits Conor Jackson’s playing time
- Tony Abreu replaces Eric Byrnes
- Rusty Ryan inherits Alex Romero’s playing time
- Edwin Jackson replaces Doug Davis
- Ian Kennedy replaces Max Scherzer
- Rodrigo Lopez replaces Jon Garland
- Dontrelle Willis replaces Yusmeiro Petit and Billy Buckner
- Aaron Heilman replaces Jon Rauch
- Carlos Rosa replaces Clay Zavada (minors)
- Sam Demel is filling in for Leo Rosales (DL)
1B – Adam LaRoche (L)
2B – Kelly Johnson (L)
SS – Stephen Drew (L)
3B – Mark Reynolds (R)
C – Miguel Montero (L)
RF – Justin Upton (R)
CF – Chris Young (R)
LF – Gerardo Parra (L)
R – Chris Snyder (C)
S – Augie Ojeda (IF)
R – Tony Abreu (IF)
R – Rusty Ryal (IF)
R – Ryan Roberts (IF)
R – Dan Haren
L – Dontrelle Willis
R – Edwin Jackson
R – Ian Kennedy
R – Rodrigo Lopez
R – Chad Qualls
R – Aaron Heilman
R – Juan Gutierrez
R – Esmerling Vasquez
R – Carlos Rosa
R – Blaine Boyer
R – Sam Demel
RHP – Kris Benson (right shoulder strain)
RHP – Brandon Webb (rehab from shoulder surgery)
RHP – Leo Rosales (stress fracture in right foot)
L – Kelly Johnson (2B)
L – Stephen Drew (SS)
R – Mark Reynolds (3B)
L – Adam LaRoche (1B)
R – Chris Young (CF)
L – Miguel Montero (C)
R – Justin Upton (RF)
L – Gerardo Parra (LF)