2011 review: A few days ago I was listening to 104.3 The Fan on my way home from the gym and a nut called in and essentially stated that everyone thought the Diamondbacks were going to win the division in 2011 and that he didn’t see why anyone thought the Rockies would be any good last year before the season started. Thankfully Drew Goodman put him in his place. It is amazing how quickly people forget: SI.com had the D’backs finishing last, no one from ESPN picked the D’backs to win the West and finally fangraphs.com picked them to finish last, too.
The Diamondbacks surprised everyone except the numbskull that called into the radio station.
At the end of the fangraphs.com article we have the key to the Diamondbacks success and the reason many thought they would fail:
“The problem is, with the pitching talent on hand, opposing teams will be at least as likely to put on a show of their own, which will lead to many a high scoring loss for Arizona.”
The Snakes ended up having a pretty healthy starting rotation with Daniel Hudson, Ian Kennedy and Joe Saunders all making 33 starts. Josh Collmenter had 24 of his own and then eight other pitchers made nine or fewer starts for the team in ’11.
Going into ’11 Kennedy had spent three years in the Bronx and one in AZ and compiled a 4.33 career ERA, 1.313 WHIP and 1.97 strikeout to walk ratio. Kennedy was a prized prospect for the Yankees prior to the 2007 season but never seemingly lived up to his potential. His first year away from the media and big bad AL East saw a decline in his ERA, WHIP and an improved SO/BB ratio but no one saw him contending for a Cy Young in ’11 (he inexplicably received one first place vote and 76 points overall which was good for fourth place). Last year Kennedy became the team’s ace by posting a 2.88 ERA, 1.086 WHIP and a SO/BB ratio of 3.60. At the age of 26 he finally lived up to the potential that was seen prior to joining the Yankees in ’07. He now has two solid years in which he has shown improvement in all three categories and it is hard to doubt him going into 2012.
Hudson was traded to the D’backs in 2010 from the Chicago White Sox in exchange for Edwin Jackson. About a year and a half later the D’backs clearly won that trade. Hudson posted a 1.69 ERA, 0.841 WHIP and 4.38 SO/BB in 11 starts with the D’backs in ’10 and he built on that in ’11 by making 33 starts with a 3.49 ERA, 1.203 WHIP and 3.38 SO/BB. At the age of 25 he should only be getting better.
There might have been a few folks who thought these two would perform respectfully in ’11 but according to baseball-reference.com Kennedy was worth 5.5 wins above replacement and Hudson 2.6. To put that in perspective Tim Lincecum and Matt Cain were worth a combined 8.3 wins above replacement in ’11. Lincecum and Cain are about the best 1-2 combo in baseball (at least top five) and for the D’backs to have a similar combination was unexpected to say the least.
Even if people expected Hudson and Kennedy to pitch like aces no one would have predicted that Saunders and Collmenter would put up the numbers they did.
Saunders only had one year in his previous six in which his ERA was under 4.00 and in that same year his WHIP was 1.212. Outside of his 2008 season he was a pitcher that allowed about 1.5 batters to reach base per inning and accumulate an ERA around 4.50 or higher. In other words he was terrible. Going into very hitter friendly Chase Field everyone assumed the worst. Instead Saunders posted a 3.69 ERA and 1.307 WHIP (not great but better than year’s past).
Collmenter was a bit of an unknown as he had no major league experience. He had a rapid ascent through the minors in 2010 by pitching in high A ball, AA and AAA. He only pitched six innings at AAA in ’10 and was called up to pitch out of the bullpen to start but after seven appearances spanning 14 innings to the tune of a 1.29 ERA he entered the rotation and was there to stay the rest of the year. He finished the year with 140 innings pitched of 3.59 ERA as a starter.
What was a question going into ’11 turned out to be a strong point for the D’backs. If there is any hope for the rest of the NL West going into this season is that Saunders FIP was over a run higher than his ERA, Collmenter’s and Kennedy’s FIP was a half run higher but Hudson’s FIP was lower than his ERA. This suggests that Saunders was pretty lucky last year, Kennedy and Collmenter were slightly lucky and Hudson was a bit unlucky. Maybe when it is all tallied up their pitching will come back a bit? Maybe?
Players lost: The only arms the Snakes lost who threw significant innings last year who are no longer with the team are Zach Duke, Armando Galarraga and Micah Owings and none of them are a significant loss for the team.
Kelly Johnson played 114 games for the D’backs but was sent to Toronto last year and Juan Miranda is now with the Tampa Bay Rays to make room for Paul Goldschmidt who burst onto the scene last year. The only other player who received more than 150 plate appearances for the D’backs who is no longer with the team is Xavier Nady who did appear in 82 games but only received 177 plate appearances.
Players gained: To strengthen their rotation (a group that looks solid already) the D’backs acquired Trevor Cahill from the Oakland A’s this offseason. Cahill was a top prospect in the A’s organization and was about average in ’11 but in ’10 he was fantastic in throwing just under 200 innings with a 2.97 ERA. They also picked up Takashi Saito to help their bullpen. Saito’s highest ERA in any given season was 2.83 in 2010. Yes, HIGHEST. He owns a career 2.18 ERA and Rockies fans are familiar with him when he was with the Los Angeles Dodgers.
The one player I am most interested in seeing is Trevor Bauer, the D’backs first pick in the 2010 amateur draft. If you haven’t searched him on youtube, you should. His work ethics when it comes to long toss, his first warm up pitch of every inning, his delivery and his outlook on life are all truly interesting. I personally cannot wait to see him pitch.
2012 outlook: What is most amazing about this already lengthy piece is that I have gone this far in writing about the D’backs and haven’t mentioned their best player: Justin Upton. It feels like Upton has been in the majors forever and it is because he broke in with the D’backs at the age of 19 and is going into his sixth season at the age of 24. His name is routinely found atop the leader board for longest home runs (had the third longest in 2011) and he combines his crazy power with speed as he has stolen 20, 18 and 21 bases each of the past three seasons. If someone was to look at the best players in the NL West Upton would get strong consideration for the #1 spot (side note: my top 5 are Tulo, Upton, Kershaw, Lincecum and CarGo).
To help Upton offensively the D’backs have one of the better offensive catchers in baseball that many have never heard of in Miguel Montero (had a higher OPS in ’11 than Brian McCann), Chris Young who is a perennial 20/20 threat and Stephen Drew who still shows flashes of being a great shortstop offensively.
Oh, and I can’t forget than Young and Upton are fantastic defensively. The D’backs are going to be good in ’12 and will certainly compete for another division crown.
Next up is the San Francisco Giants