23 March 2011

2011 Diamondbacks Roster

As Spring Training finally winds to a close with the first games of the 2011 regular season coming on March 31st, here's a look at the 2011 Arizona Diamondbacks roster. There are few spots remaining that have remained unfilled until now.

Ian Kennedy was announced as the 2011 Opening Day starter on April 1st against the Rockies in Denver, to be followed by Daniel Hudson, Joe Saunders, and Barry Enright, who was just told he'd be in the rotation a couple days ago. I personally am happy to see that. Barry had a great spring and deserved the #4 spot. The number 5 spot in the rotation is still up for grabs between Aaron Heilman and Armando Galarraga. It would have also included Zach Duke, but since he broke a couple bones in his hand last week, he's going to be out for at least 8 weeks. I assume the final rotation spot will go to Armando.

Relief Pitchers:
Led by JJ Putz as our closer, we'll have a mildly different bullpen than last year. Juan Gutierrez is likely to be the 8th inning setup guy, and Esmerling Vazquez is back for another season, as is Jordan Norberto. Some of the new names in reliever spots are Kam Mickolio (mick-oh-lie-oh), David Hernandez, Sam Demel, Joe Paterson, and Brian Sweeney. Okay, yes, some of them pitched a little last year, but for all intents and purposes, these are "new" guys.

The ever-popular Diamondback Miguel Montero will be the everyday catcher for the club, but this year he is supplemented by the veteran Henry Blanco, who I can see being one of the clubhouse leaders. John Hester is the 3rd stringer again this year.

1st Base:
This is the up-for-grabs position to end all up-for-grabs positions. Juan Miranda is making quite a case for himself to start at first this year with flashy defense backed up by solid offense. He's no Mark Grace, perhaps, but he's still young. If the Diamondbacks decide to go with a power bat, they might choose Russell "The Muscle" Branyan, whom they acquired in the offseason. His defense is sloppier than Miranda's, though it seems to be improving as Spring goes on, but boy can he hit. Think Mark Reynolds-style long balls. Unfortunately, that also kind of comes with high strikeout totals. The third option, which I don't expect the club to choose, is to start Brandon Allen at first. To me, Allen is more of a utility guy who will get shifted around to various positions this year when guys need a rest day.

2nd Base:
This position belongs to Kelly Johnson, who will look to build upon a decent 2010 season and maybe hit a few more long balls.

3rd Base:
With Mark Reynolds gone to the Orioles, this position is kind of open, too. Melvin Mora and Geoff Blum are likely to be the number one and two choices for the hot corner. If it's me, I go with the better defense of Mora, backed up by Blum on the bench to pinch hit.

Stephen Drew. Nothing more to say.

The X-Man, Xavier Nady, is likely to start in left field, backed up by perpetual fan favorite Gerardo Parra, who made some great plays out there last year and will probably be the roving outfielder for the Diamondbacks, moving around to cover if anyone gets injured or needs a day off. Center belongs, once again, to All-Star Chris Young, and right goes once again to All-Star Justin Upton. (Is it too early for me to call All-Stars for 2011?)

Of those I haven't mentioned, Willie Bloomquist (outfield), Ryan Roberts (2nd Base), and Tony Abreu (Ultility) are likely to be on the bench this year as depth for the Diamondbacks' infield and outfield.

This is, of course, a major rebuilding year for the Diamondbacks. I'd love to honestly say that they'll win the World Series this year, and while any team can come together at any time and click, I'll be very happy with a third place (or higher) finish in the NL West - above the Dodgers and Padres, below the Giants and Rockies.

16 March 2011

Arizona Diamondbacks Spring Training 2011

Every once in a while, I like to do one of those "by the numbers" types of posts where I showcase how the Diamondbacks are doing numbers-wise. With Spring Training about half over, my team has a 5-16 win-loss record, the worst in all of baseball right now (and as I write this, we're losing to the Angels 9-7 at Salt River Fields today). Even with our .238 win percentage, just below the Florida Marlins, Los Angeles Dodgers, and New York Yankees, I believe there is cause for some optimism. First, no team ever plays in the regular season the way they do in Spring Training (except perhaps the Pirates). Historically, while the worst teams in the spring don't really end up making the playoffs, they also do better than anticipated, so there's that to look forward to.

But by the numbers, Arizona shouldn't really necessarily have such a poor record. We have the 5th best batting average at .290 in the majors with 213 hits (4th), 43 doubles, a triple, and 28 home runs (#1 in the majors) in 814 plate appearances. We've also taken 59 walks and stolen 13 bases. Granted, we've also been caught stealing 11 times, but it's better to be aggressive and get thrown out than to sit back and not be aggressive and roll into a bunch of double plays. (Here's looking at you, Tigers, Braves, Rangers, Marlins, and Cubs, who have combined to ground into 95 double plays and stolen a combined 35 bases.)

Now, while our hitting is there (thanks in part to some big hits from the prospects in our organization like Colin Cowgill and Paul Goldschmidt), our pitching is shaky at best. Our club's team ERA is a rather dismal 5.67, second only to the Cubs' 5.73 as the worst. Breaking that number down, Our starting pitching is kind of shaky, with Barry Enright (2.25 ERA) and Daniel Hudson (3.48 ERA) leading the way. Our other potential starters are perhaps not quite ready for Opening Day yet as Ian Kennedy and Zach Duke each have 7.88 ERAs (and Duke took a liner off his pitching hand the other night, breaking two bones, so he'll be sidelined for a few weeks), Armando Galarraga and Aaron Heilman - each vying for the #5 spot on the team - have 8.18 and 5.15 ERAs respectively, and our workhorse Joe Saunders from last year's Dan Haren deal is sporting a 15.88 ERA. Ouch. That's 10 runs on 13 hits in 5.2 innings over 3 starts.

And again, we have problems with the bullpen guys. Gutierrez is getting hit very hard, and Micah Owings and Mike Hampton both have high ERAs. However, I am encouraged by the numbers from Sam Demel (a 1.50 ERA with 7 K's in 6.0 innings, Leyson Septimo (a 2.25 ERA in 4 innings), and the 1.93 ERA of lefty Jordan Norberto. Some other numbers: we're 3rd in earned runs allowed as a team with 115, above average in walks issued (67), and have a team 1.55 WHIP - tied for the second highest in baseball. Showcasing our pitchers' wildness, we are also #1 in wild pitches with 19 and balks with 4, and are tied for 2nd with 26 stolen bases against. Finally, some of the more exotic pitching numbers: pitches per inning pitched (P/IP) is 8.36, and hits against per 9 innings (H/9) is 10.64. Not great.

But to speak ill of only the pitching staff would be irresponsible. Our fielding leaves something to be desired as well. In today's game against the Angels, Chris Young booted a ball out in center field for a single and a 3-base error, allowing a runner and the batter to score. Overall, in 182.2 innings and 805 total chances, we've made 26 errors (3rd most behind the Cubs and Padres), and our fielding percentage is .969, tied for 23rd in the majors. On the plus side, we've turned 20 successful double plays (15th) and achieved 575 putouts (2nd). However, our DER (a statistical rating called the Defensive Efficiency Rating, measuring the rate at which balls put into play by the offense are converted into outs by the defense) is a very low .6722, the lowest in all of baseball.

I love my Diamondbacks, but I am again concerned that poor pitching from our relievers combined with high strikeout totals (we've whiffed 145 times so far, second in baseball) combined with sloppy play on defense could again spell C-E-L-L-A-R for the team come September. This is the third "rebuilding" year in a row now for the Diamondbacks, and I think fans of the club deserve to see results. Fortunately, with a real manager at the helm in Kirk Gibson, a plethora of solid big league managers surrounding our players, and plenty of young, raw talent, something is eventually going to click that will catapult the team back into greatness.

09 March 2011

"The Baseball" by Zack Hample

As a baseball fan, if you've never heard of Zack Hample before, you might want to check him out. The world record holder for the most baseballs caught/snagged at major league games, a prolific blogger, and an enormous fan of the game of baseball has written a new book on the history of the little white sphere we fans adore, even obsess over. It is called, appropriately, "The Baseball: Stunts, Scandals, and Secrets Beneath the Stitches," and it released yesterday.

Of course, with gift card in hand, I had to go pick up my copy at Barnes and Noble yesterday in Tempe. I follow Zack's blog rather regularly, and over the past few months, he's been writing about all the steps and work that goes into writing a book like this - from the hours and hours of research to the editing to the feeling of satisfaction over the completion of the product. It was awesome to feel like I was a part of the process by reading about it (especially with my recent decision to become a library science Master's candidate and this is what I've been studying in part) and to be able to hold the end result.

After picking it up for the B&N price of $15 plus tax, I went to Paradise Bakery and got a cookie and an iced tea and sat outside in the gorgeous 72-degree sunshine to read for a while. The book reads quickly, though my personal reading style for books I'm excited about is to go through it faster than normal the first pass, then read it slower a second time to get everything out of it. But still, I was able to finish the paperback in a few short hours.

Zack breaks the book into three distinct parts: the ball in the news and popular culture, the history of the baseball itself, and a guide for how to catch a baseball one's self at a game. Now, I won't rewrite the book here, but there were a few cool things I wanted to point out to give my readers a taste of the flavor of this biography. I found it very interesting that of all the games in all the stadiums, over all the years that baseball has been played, there is only one record of a fan dying as a result of a foul ball. Considering all the flap in recent years about broken bats and the need for spectator safety, just once did a fan die from the ball itself: a 14-year-old names Alan Fish in 1970 at Dodger Stadium. Indeed, only once has a player ever died from injuries on the field as well: Ray Chapman in 1920 when he was hit in the head with a spitball.

I also found interesting the rich (and sometimes colorful) history of the ball itself. When most of us think about the baseball, a white sphere with red stitches and a couple printed logos on the side comes to mind. We never think about how it has changed since the sport's inception in the mid-1800s, or the controversial past it has had. While reading, it seemed to me like every other year into the mid-1900's, there was some kind of controversy about the ball being too juiced (to easy to hit for distance and even worse to try to field) or too dead (like hitting a beanbag with a Whiffle ball bat). The back-and-forth tug of war over the simple things like the makeup of the cork/rubber core, the way the string and yarn was wound over that core, the height of the stitches, and even the color (red balls were used for a while, and early balls were so stained after a game that they were impossible for the batters to see them) caused huge swings in the early statistics of the game. The different leagues and commissioners commissioned highly scientific studies of the materials and makeup of baseballs - even as far up as 2007 - to try to standardize the game and make it fair.

In the third part, Zack Hample uses his own experiences, building on his previous books ("How to Snag Major League Baseballs" and "Watching Baseball Smarter") to show fans where to stand (never DIRECTLY behind home plate!), what to wear (the visiting team's colors work well), and even how to ask (use "please!"). Even in the most crowded arenas, those tips cut the odds of catching a ball. I should know - I've tried them, and last year I got my first foul ball at a game (from Marlon Byrd), several BP balls, and a couple good tossups (one from Cy Young Award Winner Tim Lincecum). And this year, like I mentioned in my prior post, I caught my first two BP home run balls on the fly (including the first ever at Salt River Fields in Scottsdale, AZ)!

I strongly encourage my friends in the baseball community to pick up a copy of this book. Its light style, paired with subtle (and sometimes not-so-subtle) humor, attention to detail, and all the new, condensed information about the most instrumental part of America's pastime makes it not only an easy read, but a wonderful biography as well.

06 March 2011

2011 Fantasy Baseball

I'm a huge glutton for punishment.... Last week I signed up to play fantasy baseball again through Yahoo with a group of Arizona sportswriters and fans from The Poor Sports, an Arizona sports blog/website covering the Suns, Coyotes, Cardinals, Diamondbacks, and college teams. I was invited to check it out by the site's developers through Facebook, where I assume they saw all my DBacks posts and knew I was a fan. Cool site. I'm looking forward to seeing where they go with it; check it out if you get some free time.

Anyway, we did our draft this morning, and my team looks like this (we have four infield spots, three outfield spots, two utility spots, two starting pitchers, two relievers, two non-preferential pitching spots, and three bench players):
IF: David Wright
IF: Buster Posey
IF: Rafael Furcal
IF: Gordon Beckham
OF: Hunter Pence
OF: Jay Bruce
OF Chris Young (Arizona)
UTIL: Joe Mauer
UTIL: Carlos Quentin
SP: Roy Halladay
SP: Matt Cain
RP: Chris Perez
RP: Ryan Franklin
P: Shaun Marcum
P: Jaime Garcia
B: Angel Pagan
B: Coco Crisp
B: CJ Wilson

From this list, I can see I have a pretty deep hitting staff. Wright, Posey, Mauer, and Young should all be good for double-digit home run seasons, lots of RBIs, and a few stolen bases. They typically hit for average, and don't strike out a ton. Both Quentin and Pence are good for about 25 home runs a season, and both hit in the hgh .280-ish average range. A weak spot is Furcal, who is among the elite shortstops, but has had a hard time staying healthy and getting more than 500 plate appearances the last two years. He's a bit of a risk, but if he can stay strong, he'll help my team.

Of the pitchers, you really can't go wrong with a 1-2 punch of Cy Young winner Roy Halladay (and perpetual 20+ game winner) and the defending World Champion San Francisco Giants' Matt Cain. Shaun Marcum has a 3.85 career ERA and a wimming record, and Jaime Garcia had a stellar year in 2010 with the Cardinals, winning 13 games with a sub-3.00 ERA. If he can do that again in 2011.... yeah! Rounding it out, CJ Wilson won 15 games for Texas last year, Chris Perez pitched 63 innings as a reliever last year and maintained a 1.71 ERA with a 1.08 WHIP (very good numbers) for the Indians, and Ryan Franklin of St. Louis has racked up 65 saves in two years and had a 1.03 WHIP in 65 innings in 2010.

Overall, I am pretty happy with the lineup I've got. There's enough in there that I can make a decent trade if I need to for another solid outfielder in the first third of the season and still maintain depth and lots of talent. Considering I've been in last place, second to last place, and 6th of 12 the past three seasons in fantasy play, I'm hoping this time I can improve and be top 4 of 14 this year! Only time will tell, but I'm looking forward to the challenge.

01 March 2011

Inaugural Game at Salt River Fields

Happy March, all! Sadly, to start out the month, I've caught a nasty little stomach bug - I won't go into details, but suffice it to say it's not fun. However, that means I have time for blogging, and I have an good, exciting post today all about my trip to the inaugural game at Salt River Fields at Talking Stick between the co-owners of the stadium, the designated visitors the Colorado Rockies and the designated home team the Arizona Diamondbacks!

In order to get there very early to stand in line and potentially snag some baseballs during batting practice, I woke up at 7am on Saturday morning - if you know me, that's VERY early for me on a Saturday! - and got out the door by 7:30am with my jacket, glove, backpack, sunscreen, baseballs for autographs, pens, and my D-Backs' garb. I was halfway to the stadium when I remembered the one thing I forgot. Take another look at that list above, and see if you can figure out it. Ready, go.

Yeah, totally forgot my ticket to get in. Go me. So I had to turn around and go back home and get it. Thankfully, I still made it to SRF by 8:30am, parked, and wandered up to the centerfield gates to stand in what I assumed would be a long line for the inaugural game. When I got up there, though, there were ony two other people standing there, both Rockies fans. After a moment, I realized I actually recognized one of the two: a guy in a big floppy hat and a Rockies pinstriped jersey with the phrase "Rockpile Ranter" on the back: he is a very well-known blogger on MLBlogs who runs "The Rockpile Rant" all about the team in majestic purple, named Don (he goes by "D" on the blog).

A prolific photographer with a really nice camera and lots of insights about the Rockies, D had come down from Colorado specifically for this game to take lots of pictures of the new facilities and to watch the game. He, and his friend Robert, were there really early in the morning on little sleep just to be fans #1 and #2 into the ballpark on inaugural day. (Yes, I was DBacks fan #1 and #3 overall after the gates were opened!) I strongly urge baseball fans of all types to check out D's blog, The Rockpile Rant and check out his pictures. The one's of Saturday's game that he took are not quite up on his blog yet, but his other posts are well-worth reading, especially from October and November, 2007 when the Rox went to the World Series against the Boston Red Sox.

The Rockpile Rant, a top-10 MLBlog.

Anyway, the three of us chatted for a while out there about the stadium, snagging baseballs, the two teams we love, and had a mild debate about Tampa, Florida. (And yes, Don, the Rockies were in the Series in 2007. I was wrong!) Eventually, other people showed up whom I at least recognized, if not knew outright, including my friends Anya and April, two huge DBacks and Rockies fans who are well-known around the stadium for their photos and interaction with the players. Suffice it to say that those two hours before the gates were opened were very fun for me!

Eventually, at 10:32am, the security personnel opened the centerfield gates (and only the centerfield gates, which is how I know I was fan #3 into the stadium), and we all got our tickets scanned and were able to run in and view the park. It's gorgeous! Before first pitch, I stayed out on the center field berm, the largest in Spring Training, trying to catch baseballs during batting practice for the Rockies. I ended up catching two, and almost getting three more. The first was actually a very special baseball - I caught, on the fly, the first BP home run EVER at Salt River Fields off the bat of the Rockies' infielder Chris Nelson! I saw it the whole way off the bat, shaded to my left, and caught it about six inches over top of the wall just off the left side of my body. I was honestly surprised to have caught it on the fly, since I have never done that before, and I celebrated as the fans around me cheered and yelled congratulations. It was awesome. 20 minutes later, I caught my second ball, but I don't know who hit it. I also caught that one on the fly in much the same manner as the first, and at the suggestion of one of the guys I'd been chatting with out there, I gave it to a little DBacks fan who was trying to get a tossup from the Rockies.

The ones I missed include one that went about one centimeter over top of my glove and into the glove of the guy behind me, one that bounced and I tried to grab in a scrum and missed, and another that I overran. But hey, I'm getting better, and I did catch that "historic" BP ball!

Eventually, BP ended, and I took my seat in section 212, directly behind home plate. It was perhaps the best seat in the entire stadium - 29 rows up from the field itself, directly behind the plate, one section away from Derrick Hall and Luis Gonzalez's sections... it was awesome! We didn't have to wait long for the game to begin, with an introduction to Salt River Fields on Spring Training baseball's largest video screen and first pitches by the President and Vice President of the Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community and by Diamondbacks' President Derrick Hall (actually, he let his daughter throw) on behalf of former Rockies President Keli McGregor, who died of a virus which stopped his heart before the stadium had been completed. Then, the Salt River Elementary School performed the National Anthem accompanied by an (admittedly mistimed) flyover by five old-school biplanes from Stearman A/C.

The game itself, which I scored in my Spring Training program, was quite good. Both starters, Joe Saunders for Arizona and Ubaldo Jimenez for the Rockies, pitched two solid scoreless innings to start the game. The Diamondbacks took a 1-0 lead in the third inning on a solo home run just inside the left field foul pole by second baseman Kelly Johnson, but the Rox scored 7 unanswered runs between the fourth and seventh innings, including three RBI doubles from Hector Gomez, Ryan Spilborghs, and Mike Jacobs. A sacrifice bunt by Willy Tavaras backfired when catcher John Hester committed a throwing error which allowed a run to score, too.

Going into the bottom of the ninth, loads of people had left the ballpark on the assumption that the Rockies had the game in the bag, but a walk and two singles with one out put us down by four, 7-3. A wild pitch and a walk loaded the bases for Tony Abreu, who hit a sacrifice fly, scoring AJ Pollack. The next batter, Paul Goldschmidt, whacked a really nice-sounding home run into the right field berm seating, scoring three runs and tying the game! The crowd, including me, went completely nuts and I came close to blowing out my voice yelling and high-fiving the DBacks fans around me. Then David Winfre reached first, and Hester reached on a throwing error, awarding him second base and Winfree third. We were 90 feet from victory, and... Cody Ransom grounded out to send the game to extra innings. Sadly, that was to be the end of things, as Charlie Blackmon of Colorado hit the winning home run, and the Diamondbacks failed to tally. The final score was 8-7 Rockies in 10 innings.

It was a phenomenal game, a wonderful day, I made some history (even if I'm really the only one for whom it matters), and I had an awesome time! There's 31 days left until opening day, so I encourage everyone reading this to check out Salt River Fields and watch either the DBacks or Rockies this year!