Saturday, May 22, 2004

Anyone want to be the 3rd starter? Anyone? 

2-3 weeks ago I said it was time to stop the Mr. Jennie Finch jokes.  After last night's performance by Mr. Daigle, it might be time to stop the prohibition.  Not a good performance.  Starting pitching: bad; offense: OK; relief pitching: very good, then very bad.  Is it too much to ask for 2 of the 3 components to work well in the same game?

Other notes:
-- When I first heard Hillenbrand's name in the lineup yesterday, I was unhappy.  Now that I read Brenly's comment in this morning's Republic that he was just giving Tracy a rest and putting Shea in against the lefty, I'm OK again.  And, I know, OGDNATM, but Shea did well last night.  A lefty-righty platoon might not be so bad.  And Shea in the 7th spot... just about right...
-- Doug DeVore was sent down to Tucson with Richie coming off the DL.  I have a feeling we won't see him back until September...

Friday, May 21, 2004

Sad News for the Baseball Blogging Community 

All-Baseball just reported that Doug Pappas, well-known business-of-baseball writer, passed away while on vacation in Texas. I always enjoyed reading his stuff, either on his blog or on BP. My sympathies to his mother and friends.

Looking Forward 

Last night's 5-1 D-Backs loss to the Braves merits little discussion because it was similar to many games this year -- of our hitting, starting pitching, and relief pitching, only one of the three (relief pitching) performed well. Casey Fossum did not have a strong outing, and the offense looked mystified, like they were wondering more about where Andy Kaufman would appear next.

So instead I prefer to look ahead.

I'd hoped to have a little more time to prepare a "Richie Returns" analysis, but with Brenly's announcement that he'd be in the lineup starting tonight, this will have to be brief:

1. This should obviously provide some spark offensively in two ways. First, Richie's .950 or so OPS is considerably higher than whomever he replaces in the lineup (see below), so that should add some punch. In addition, Gonzo's line has sunk from .296/.396/.617 to .268/.379/.597 in Sexson's absence. (In May, Gonzo has hit just .234/.364/.578.) (See here for what happened the last time I mentioned this concern.) I would hope that Richie Sexson's presence behind Gonzo induces a few more strikes than Shea's presence.
2. Two or three weeks ago, I mentioned that Shea Hillenbrand had picked up his offense since moving to first and, along with Tracy's shaky defense, could potentially make Brenly's decision of whom to put in the lineup somewhat difficult. No longer -- Hillenbrand's OPS is something like 150 points below Tracy and it doesn't seem like there's much difference defensively anymore. Shea had 3 errors in 37 plays at 3B while Chad has had 7 errors in 76 plays; Chad's Range Factor at 2.70 is slightly higher than Shea's 2.56 (which tops his career stats at 3B). So at this point you don't really lose anything significantly defensively while keeping a much better bat in the lineup. I know few -- OK, not one -- bloggers would want to keep Hillenbrand in, but for a while there, it at least looked like there might be some competition.
3. Shea's probable demotion to the bench will only highlight how woeful this team's bench is. He's not a great batter, but I'd clearly put him in to pinch hit over anybody else on that bench.
4. Scott Hairston got his first start last night (0-for-2 with 1 walk), and Brenly said before that he would get at least a couple starts on this road trip while Colbrunn stays on the DL. It's unclear what the endgame is here... are they displaying him to see if there's trade interest? Are they trying to give Matt Kata a rest? Is the bloom off the Matt Kata rose?
5. This is going to be a tough series against the Marlins -- they clearly have a better pitching staff and their offense is marginally better (at least by unadjusted traditional statistics). 1-3 is a distinct possibility -- I'd be happy taking 2 from this series.

Thursday, May 20, 2004

Leftover Thoughts 

... If anyone was entertaining thoughts about Randy Johnson being traded, his perfect game Tuesday night put those thoughts to rest. Not because the perfect game proves that he's indispensable to the team (one could argue the point), but I can only imagine the hue and cry from the public if the D-Backs trade the person who pitched the team's first perfect game two months after doing so. Before Tuesday night, I thought Randy was tradeable -- didn't want to do so, but figured the D-Backs would (try to) make a trade if they were offered what was, to them, a screamin' deal. But now... no way.

... For reasons not worth explaining (and how often do you read that in a blog?), I watched the game again last night in Gameday-vision. Not quite as good as Legovision at one of my favorite blogs, Bat-girl, but oh, well. It's the story of the season, once again the team doesn't run on all cylinders (this time the bullpen failed), but for once the performing side out performed the non-performing side.

... There was a debate a while back on But It's A DRY Heat on the optimal line up. Let me suggest my own:
Player, L/R, OBP/SLG
1) Tracy, L, .383/.474
2) Bautista, R, .388/.510
3) Gonzalez, L, .387/.614
4) Finley, L, .339/.571
5) Hillenbrand, R, .313/.417
6) Kata, S, .315/.366
7) Cintron, S, .302/.356
8) Hammock, R, .300/.324

I know, traditional baseball wisdom says alternate lefties and righties where possible, but clearly Shea's performance year-to-date is waaaaaaaay too low to be hitting cleanup. For now, until Finley stops hitting home runs at a 54-HR-for-the-season pace, have Finley and Shea swap spots.

Wednesday, May 19, 2004

Other Thoughts 

I was looking for other commentary on the web about last night's game, and found little of substance. This entry from Braves Journal is more interesting for the reader comments. The Chop Shop had even less to say. Braves Beat also chimed in.

[Edit: I don't mean to disparage these fine blogs. When I say I found "little of substance," I mean that I didn't find much more on the game than, basically, "Congrats, Randy -- you threw one heck of a game." Which is true, but doesn't add much beyond what we might have written.]

But the best commentary was probably from Derek Zumsteg at Baseball Prospectus in this article. It's a nice discussion from the perspective of a baseball fan (as opposed to someone who had a personal team stake in the game).

Finally, on a somewhat related note, I wanted to note another piece of perfection, that is, Arsenal's Premiership season of perfection. Arsenal -- the team that Nick Hornby obsesses over in High Fidelity -- went the entire Premiership season undefeated. Perfect, one might say.

[Edit: By the way, I never actually said, "Congratulations, Randy Johnson."

So... Congratulations, Randy Johnson. Great, great job.

"Strike Three! Perfection, Randy Johnson!" 

It's all downhill from here, isn't it? [wink]

I always write these before looking at what others in the blogging community have written so I feel like what I'm writing is wholly original, even if it's the same thing as everybody else.

So while I'm looking forward to reading Jim and Robert and Levski and Ryan and their takes on last night, in this case especially, it can't alter the fundamental way I experienced last night's game.

Which is to say, occasionally clicking on MLB.com's "Gameday".

That's right, I was stuck without TV or even radio of the game, which forced me to occasionally click on the "Gameday" window on my computer.

"Hmmm... no-hitter through three..."
"Hmmm... no-hitter through 5 and change... does he have any walks? Hunh. No... No D-Back errors, either... hey, wait a minute..."
"Bottom of the eighth... should I go out to the car and listen?"
"Oh my goodness, bottom of the ninth, two outs..."
"Red dot, green dot, red dot, green dot... red dot! Yes! [Complete and utter silence from the computer. Shouldn't there be some special 'Perfect Game' macro on the Gameday system?]"

I remember recognizing the possibility of the perfect game in the 6th inning and deciding not to jinx it by blogging about it or even telling anyone.

I wonder when the Braves fans stopped cheering for the Braves and started cheering for Randy. My guess is that it was probably in the bottom of the 7th after the D-Backs went up 2-0 and the perfect game was still in reach... One of the things I've always liked in baseball is that it's one of the few sports in which the home fans will occasionally cheer for a superlative performance by the visiting team or player, and last night's game was no exception.

Wow. Think about it, the St. Louis Cardinals have never had a perfect game... and the D-Backs, in just their seventh season, now have one.

That was cool.

But I should've gone out to the car.

Tuesday, May 18, 2004

Other Diversions 

When I started the blog, I explicitly stated that I would also discuss other cultural diversions occasionally. I guess I expected the D-Backs/non-D-Backs split to be about 80/20, maybe even 75/25. I obviously underestimated my ability to write about the Diamondbacks, because the ratio (even after this entry) is probably hovering at around 95/5, 90/10 at best. I don't know if that means I'm not listening to/watching anything worthwhile, or just feeling self-imposed pressure to write something -- anything -- baseball-related on a regular basis.

So, since we have an off-day (though first pitch has probably been thrown by now), here we go again...

Songbook, by Nick Hornby: Although I have many books on my bookshelf (and have given away many more), there are few authors that I have an (almost) entirely complete collection of. Hornby is one of those. His novel High Fidelity and autobiographical memoir Fever Pitch have such a strong voice and speak eloquently about the tradeoffs you make as you grow older and how your obsessions (music in the former, football/soccer in the latter) can become less relevant, that I will always enjoy these novels. But Songbook is much more uneven because he mixes in his casual fans' enjoyment of music with the occasional political comment or reference to the fact that he's met some of the artists he's writing about. There's no longer the feeling that, Oh my goodness, that's me he's writing about! Occasionally good writing, but uneven.

Mean Girls: An occasionally amusing movie, but sort of peters out in the third act because the lead character's shift from good girl to mean girl and, well, back, isn't given much motivation. Oh, well, the Donnas covered Billy Idol's "Dancing With Myself" over the end credits and while there's nothing special about the cover version (and the song choice itself seems odd), it was nice to hear a song that's just so irredeemably pop and catchy. Just joyful.

Joy is something that's been too rare with the D-Backs lately.

The Big Questions 

In the cosmic scheme of things, the big questions are those like:
1. Is there a God?
2. What does it mean to lead an ethical life?
3. [Insert very non-cosmic-scheme-of-thing question here -- any American Idol reference will do -- for comedic effect.]

The baseball scheme of things is considerably narrower, the Diamondbacks' scheme even more so, and the big questions have been reduced to one, and generally posited as the answer to the (unstated) question as:


Now, although it's unclear whether someone could start a firebrenly.com website (a search on whois/sedo gives conflicting information on whether firebrenly.com and firebobbrenly.com are available to disgruntled bloggers everywhere), plenty of people are happy to sound the call.

I'm not great at giving answers -- the other D-Backs blogs do a better job of that -- but I do think I'm not bad at asking questions. So in that vein, I want to ask three questions that I need answers to in order to make a proper decision on Mr. Brenly's future with the Diamondbacks.

1. Is the team performing poorly? I know what you're thinking -- are you nuts? The team is 8 1/2 games back in the worst division in baseball after a 10-game homestand against bad NL East teams. But I think it's a legitimate question for 2 reasons -- a) you have to look at the season as a whole, not just 3 bad games, and b) you may need to look at Brenly's entire career with the D-Backs. For a), I need to see statistical proof that the team is doing poorly beyond just the record. (If you look at Baseball Prospectus' adjusted standings column, for example, the D-Backs look much better.) As for b), I'm not saying that you have to look at prior seasons, but if you're making the argument that the team is doing worse than in previous seasons, you have to consider the plain fact that Brenly managed those teams, too.
2. Is the team's performance significantly attributable to Brenly? This basically gets down to Brenly's in-game and out-of-game management. Has he managed situations and lineups adequately? Has he managed personnel adequately? This is a harder question to answer because it is much easier to remember the foolish decisions that turned out poorly than the safe decisions that turned out well. And it's really hard to know what personnel decisions (e.g., trading of players) were made because of Brenly's ability or inability to manage particular players. In some sense, it's possible that a good manager for the short-term could be a bad manager in the long-term, or vice versa.
3. Would somebody else do a better job? If you don't like Brenly and want to fire him now, who do you hire? Last I checked, Jack McKeon's still got a job with the Marlins. If you fault Brenly for not teaching the team fundamentals, why would you hire anybody currently on the D-Backs coaching staff? Talk radio was filled with rumors yesterday saying that Robin Yount didn't want the job. I'm not saying that there aren't candidates available at the end of the season, but I'm not sure there's anybody who could do any better of a job right now.

So, I know people have given some concrete answers to these questions, but I haven't yet been convinced fully that the answer is "yes" to any of these questions, and even if I become convinced the answer to the first two questions is "yes", I think there are a number of reasons (beyond what I listed above) to not remove Brenly until season's end.

Monday, May 17, 2004

Bono Would Approve 

Weekends tend to make one lazy, too lazy to update the blog, too lazy to win one game against the MONTREAL FREAKIN' EXPOS! Oh, well. I'd said Friday I thought the D-Backs would either sweep or be swept. Unfortunately, it was the latter.

Now, Brenly's tirade on Saturday meant one of two things. He was either A) actually mad, or B) just trying to fire up the team. Upping Gonzo's mild expletive from earlier in the week, Brenly used a Bono-approved expletive, though in a decidedly different context (no awards being handed out here).

And as soon as I read the comments, I knew -- knew -- that the "Fire Brenly" discussion would resurface. Sure enough, Dan Bickley's column this morning discusses Colangelo's defense of the manager over the team. And I expect this to be Topic A of talk radio today.

So, was Brenly mad... or just crazy (like a fox)!? Let's briefly go through what managers can and can't do.

1. In-game management: My sense is this is where most bloggers/observers give Brenly a thumbs down. Lineups (pitchers, ordering) have been OK -- he hasn't held onto a pitcher or lineup so far beyond what others would suggest. Go ahead and suggest a better 8-person squad currently on the club. His worst part has probably been specific play-calling -- at times, too aggressive.
2. Out-of-game management: Managers have some impact on what hands they're dealt, player-wise, but we'll never know how much impact Brenly had on the decision to, say, trade half the team to get Sexson, or to bring up Chad Tracy. I'm not saying he doesn't have any input, just that we don't know, so it's hard to quantify the amount of praise or vitriol to heap on the manager. But you do wish Brenly would make his team spend even more time on the fundamentals (i.e., reduce the errors).
3. Intangibles: In other words, manager as motivator. Brenly's laid-back style seemed to work well with the veteran team of 2-3 years ago, but may not work as well with this younger squad. (Then again, one of my favorite managerial moves was his putting in Mark Grace to pitch last year, which, if I recall correctly, preceded the 9-game winning streak.) Clearly, Brenly has never figured out how to manage Randy Johnson, though Randy's prickly nature may be the key to his pitching success and many managers might not deal well with him.

So, was Brenly mad? Probably. Was he trying to motivate his team? Probably more so. (Nothing else has worked so far.) Will Colangelo's defense silence the critics? Perhaps. But if the team is more than 10 back coming home from the road trip, expect the talk to resurface once again.

More coming (tomorrow, probably) on the upcoming road trip and other non-baseball stuff.