Friday, July 23, 2004

The Neck 

D-Back fans have had a lot of neck stretching this year. Allow me to
elaborate (visuals may help here).

1. The sideways "Huh?" stretch: Usually a managerial-related stretch
associated with pulling a D-Back pitcher too early (or, on occasion, leaving
him in too long), asking a D-Back batter to bunt needlessly, or rank
indecision regarding whom to start.
2. The backward "Arrrggghhh" stretch: Commonly occurs when a D-Back pitcher
allows a walk, a D-Back fielder commits an error, or a D-Back batter swings
at the first pitch.
3. The forward "Noooooooo" stretch: Commonly occurs when a D-Back pitcher
gives up a homerun or otherwise dispiriting hit, a D-Back runner makes a
silly running decision, or a D-Back batter hits into a double play with
runners in scoring position. The "Noooooooo" stretch often occurs shortly
after an "Arrrggghhh" stretch, thereby allowing a full range of neck

Yesterday's 10-3 D-Backs loss to the Astros was pretty light on "Huh?" and
"Arrrgggghhh" stretches, but plenty full of "Noooooooooo"'s. Edgar Gonzalez
pitched poorly. As did Dessens (well, he was good for 2 innings). As did
Randolph. 4 HRs off D-Back pitching. And it's always a bad sign when
Hillenbrand and Brent Mayne get more than 70% of your hits.

So now the losing streak is up to 11. At least the Rockies are in town.
The series should be competitive, if not a display of compelling baseball.

In other news, Steve Sparks has been sent to the bullpen, and we don't even
know who's coming up to start Saturday's. Mike Gosling? Casey Daigle? A
panda bear with a bamboo slider? Does it even really freakin' matter?

Now, if you don't mind, I need to go stretch my neck for tonight's game.

Thursday, July 22, 2004

Because One Double-Digit Losing Streak Isn't Enough... 

It is becoming difficult to write about Your Arizona Diamondbacks. The 5-2 loss last night to the Houston Astros was familiar in so many ways that it challenges the writer to come up with something new to describe something old. Let's see:

*** Brandon Webb struggles somewhat, but pitches OK. 5 walks -- shudder. He threw 70 pitches in his first 3 innings, but threw just 51 in his last 4 innings.
*** The offense was pretty anemic -- 7 hits, the only runs on a 2-run homerun by Steve Finley.
*** The relief staff was, well, pretty bad. Could we just get some consistency here? Villafuerte and Randolph pitched awfully.

Change the names I could write all three of those initial sentences in probably a dozen different games this year. Limit it to just 2 of 3 sentences, and you could add, what, another 20 or 30 games.

So I'll take a pass today. No wacky allusions, no nothing.

In other news:
** Edgar Gonzalez was officially called up from Tucson yesterday and will start tonight against the Astros. To make room for him on the roster, Brian Bruney was optioned back to Tucson. The Transaction Guy yawns.
** Matt Mantei feels like he owes something to the D-Backs -- "I feel like I owe the team my services for a year and actually do something for them," he said. "They've treated me like a king since I've been here, and I feel like I owe them. We'll see what they have to say about it." Hear that? That is the sound of a half-dozen D-Back bloggers shouting, "NOOOOOOOOOOO!!!!!!!" Let's move on, everybody.
** The Arizona Republic's pseudonymous FanBoy argues that the D-Backs need pitching.  Well, duh.
** Mark Gonzales thinks trade talks might accelerate once Jerry Colangelo returns on Tuesday from a vacation in Italy. This is good news for me because I plan on going to Sunday's game and would like to see Randy pitch at least one last time.
** And, finally...

"The Diamondbacks will dedicate their 15th youth baseball field in the community Friday at 8:30 a.m. when Shea Hillenbrand Field is unveiled at the Chandler Boys and Girls Club at 300 Chandler Blvd."
In related news, the Diamondbacks announced they would also establish bus service to the field since nobody will actually walk there.

Thank you, folks, you've been a wonderful audience. I'm here all week, twice nightly. Please tip your waitresses.

Wednesday, July 21, 2004

The Mystery Machine 

I've written before about how TwinsGeek and Batgirl inspired me to start this blog. Not in some sort of awe-inspiring Field of Dreams-like way, but reading their blogs pushed me over the edge, so to speak.

But why do I continue?

(Take your cheap shots now. I'll wait 'til you're done. OK.)

Well, for a number of reasons:
1. I like writing.
2. I'm learning more about baseball.
3. I enjoy the friendly support of my fellow bloggers.

(Feeling a little guilty about those cheap shots earlier? Good. Serves you right.)

When I started writing the blog, I didn't have a good idea what my niche would be. Lots of statistical analysis, maybe. And every now and then I've written a piece that isn't entirely statistically wrong. I think. After three months of writing, however, I've decided that my favorite pieces were those I couldn't have foreseen beforehand in which baseball is only the vehicle, not the subject -- Adaptation, Geddy Lee and Rush, and Elisabeth Kubler Ross.

It's been interesting to watch the path non-baseball people take to get to the blog. Probably the most popular piece I wrote was a brief review of a New Yorker article ("Last of the Metrozoids") by Adam Gopnik on Museum of Modern Art curator and impromptu pee wee football coach Kirk Varnedoe. If I could figure out how to combine Jennie Finch and the Metrozoids into one coherent article, the resulting traffic could bring this site to its knees.

Still, the main purpose of this blog is to write about baseball.  It was fun to write about Randy Johnson's perfect game and 4,000th strikeout, even if I didn't quite get the full experience for either of those.  And the support from bloggers, even non-D-Back bloggers, has been nice. Some have linked to me, a few have offered comments.

But most of all I'm proud to say that the state of the Diamondback blogging community is as strong as it's ever been! [Wait for applause, smile, continue.]

If you'll look here you can see that the number of D-Back-related entries now rank us 2nd out of all NL West teams. I realize that this a stat that has about as much analytical value as Runs Batted In (e.g., Ryan's not included, some Reds blog is in our list) and at best reflects quantity not quality, but I do think that the 6 D-Back blogs are all worthwhile reads.

I suspect that most people who read one of these D-Back blogs end up reading all the D-Back blogs, so the following notes are intended more as thanks than heads up, but I read all of these on a daily basis and appreciate each perspective they offer.  Thanks to all you bloggers who have made my own blogging a very enjoyable and learning experience.

(One note: The most obvious way to refer to these blogs would have been a 5-man starting rotation with a quality minor league pitcher, but since the D-Backs just have 2 decent starting pitchers in the rotation and nobody exhibiting future Brandon Webb-ishness -- let alone Randy Johnson-osity -- in Tucson or below, I decided instead to use the following reference. Please remember, I kid because I love. Or at least appreciate.)

If Diamondback Bloggers Were Scooby-Doo Characters
Scooby-Doo -- Scooby is the "mascot of Mystery, Inc." and, a dog who works with teenagers. As a result, I believe that William, the non-American-based administrator of Baby Backs -- The Next Generation, would be perfect for this role. I read William daily for his excellent summaries of D-Back minor leaguers' performances.
Shaggy Rogers -- Shaggy always struck me as the quintessential California dude. So who else but Ryan (with the California pedigree) at West Coast Bias for this role? I especially appreciate Ryan's pitching previews for each series, but he's always good to read.
Fred Jones -- "Fred usually pieces together the solution to a case with common sense and clear thinking. Presiding over the activities and mayhem, he frequently doles out duties to the rest of the gang and often pairs himself with Daphne." -- Jim at But It's a DRY Heat is often the last to post on a particular game, but his posts are excellent summaries, contain his own insight, and are fun to read.
Daphne Blake -- I picked Lubomir/Levski and his Out in the Desert for this because he's in fashion epicenter ("Daphne still radiates the image of a fashion plate") New York City and because every so often he just disappears (just like Daphne). OK, so that was a cheap shot, but Levski's posts, usually punctuated with a lyrical note, are fun to read, and I admire his ability to keep up with the team from 3,000 miles away (not quite as far as William, perhaps, but still pretty darn far).
Velma Dinkley -- "Velma's brain is programmed to provide logical and scientific solutions to complext mysteries." -- Although all us D-Back bloggers use sabermetrics to some extent in our work, Robert at Veteran Presence is definitely the king of its use. But it's always in service of a larger point. His posts are clear and enjoyable, if sometimes in a Howard Beale-like way.

That leaves me, of course. Unfortunately, there's not much left. The evil amusement park owner? The Mystery Machine itself? No, I've decided to assign myself Scrappy-Doo. Universally derided by fans and himself deluded into thinking that he's the most useful person on the team. Occasionally right, but probably out of dumb luck more than anything else.

I named this blog "Random Fandom" just because I thought the name sounded cool. In retrospect, I have come to realize that it's a lousy name for a Diamondback blog because unlike most baseball teams, in existence for 30, 40, or 120 years, the D-Backs are new. When the Diamondbacks were created, people had to actively choose the D-Backs as "their" team. Sure, some people are D-Back fans solely because they're the local squad, but they could've chosen their (old) hometown team, or the team their fathers and mothers cheered for, or the team that won the World Series the previous year. That process of choosing can be empowering.

Thanks again to all those who read me and write themselves.

Pushing My Buttons 

Blogger has unveiled a new push-button blog editing system. After last night's 3-1 D-Back loss to the Giants, I find that it still lacks a formatting button I really need. So I'm going to have to type the HTML code for this manually. I'm not sure it's supported, however.

[Chandler Bing]Could this team be any more pathetic?[/Chandler Bing]

Well, sure, it could. It could go on to lose 11 in a row, like they've done once this season already, or even more. But last night's game, in which the D-Backs hit into inning-ending double plays twice against a San Francisco bullpen that looked more like our bullpen, was pretty dispiriting, especially as it came with Randy Johnson on the mound.

Assorted double-play stats: The Diamondbacks rank...
** 4th in the NL in the number of ground-out double plays.
** 5th with one out
** 5th in late innings
** 12th with runners in scoring position
** 4th with bases loaded

Now, obviously, those stats don't take into account the number of opportunities, but I've got to believe that that would make things look even worse across the board. (The D-Backs, for example, have the worst percentage in the NL for grounding into double plays with the bases loaded -- 11.7% of all plate attempts.)

And, would somebody please ask Al Pedrique to stop bunting. Please? Why, why, why, if you're down 3-1 in the bottom of the 9th with runners on 1st and 3rd, would you bunt? Congratulations, you've just lowered the number of expected runs for the inning from 1.75 to 1.40. I know that Brito hasn't been hitting well, but my goodness, Matt Herges had given up two straight hits. At least have Brito take a pitch or two to see if he could get the ball over the plate. (I know hindsight is 20/20, but Herges went on to walk McCracken on 4 straight pitches before getting pulled by Alou.)

Alomar would ground out into a bases-loaded double play (his second double play of the game) to end the game. Hey, Robbie, I want that 1,500-run-scored ball they got for you in the 8th inning so I can throw it into the pool.

Oh, and would somebody please ask Al Pedrique to make up his mind about who his 2nd baseman is? Apparently, there's a battle there... Was it just me, or didn't Pedrique say recently that Alomar was the 2nd baseman? Oh, wait, it wasn't just me.

Oh, and before I forget, would somebody please ask Al Pedrique to make up his mind about who his 5th starter is?  And to not pull Randy Johnson early?


"Those who ignore the past are doomed to repeat it." -- George Santayana

Tuesday, July 20, 2004

Cultural Diversion: What The #$*! Do We Know? 

Well, it's different.

The Valley Art is showing a movie called What The #$*! Do We Know? Or, as it is affectionately known, What The Bleep?  And what it is, is, well... that's the hard part. It's part science lesson, part self-improvement project, part New Age whatever, part spiritual tract.

The movie cuts back and forth between a fictional story starring Marlee Matlin as a divorced photographer with, well, issues and real talking heads discussing quantum physics. As they talk about what they claim are the latest advances in quantum physics research (e.g., and I'm sure I'll mess this up here, that an object can be in two, nay, multiple places at the same time), Matlin's character experiences the research results for herself. At some point in the movie, the science lesson morphs into the self-improvement/spiritual implications of the research and Matlin, well, absorbs these, too.

Too reveal too much would, well, that would imply that I understood much of what was being discussed, which would be wrong. It's not that I didn't understand what they were saying, it's that at times it was too incredulous to take on face value (regardless of its truthfulness) and at times I kept wondering what the filmmakers were trying to sell me. (Please note, I'm not saying that what's discussed isn't true; just that the relatively paradigm-shifting nature of the discussion can lead to skepticism.)

I realize this sounds like a negative review, but it's not. It's an entertaining movie -- I always find a movie that makes you think in the summer quite refreshing -- and it's obviously struck a chord with audiences. (It's been showing at the Valley Art for 3 months now and the Saturday night showing I saw was at least 80% full.) It's sort of a non-fiction version of The Matrix. Go into the movie with an open mind, think about it afterward with a skeptical mind, and I think it'll be worth your time.

Who Needs Randy? 

Many teams are rumored to be interested in obtaining Randy Johnson's services (at roughly $100,000 per game or $500,000 per start) for the next 220 games / 44 starts (Randy Johnson... Now With Free Playoff Starts!). This interest is due to egos, fantasy, and perhaps some actual scouting and analysis.

I've compiled a list of 7 teams who could consider Randy, a list compiled of published reports, wild rumors, and my own wishful thinking. The list below is read as follows:

Team: Pitching Win Shares (3rd starter?: Win Shares) -- as of All-Star Break
Angels: 44 (Sele: 5)
Yankees: 47 (Lieber: 3)
Cardinals: 47 (Carpenter: 8)
Red Sox: 50 (Wakefield: 5)
Cubs: 50 (no idea...)
Rangers: 51 (Rodriguez: 0)
Twins: 56 (Lohse: 3)

Now, it's hard enough to figure out rotations from MLB websites. Bartolo Colon, for example, is listed as the #1 starter for the Angels, which I'm not sure is for real (he'd fit in well as the D-Backs' fifth starter this year).
The team Win Shares total gives you an indication of the overall strength of the pitching staff. Clearly the Angels have the biggest problems, while there's some statistical proof to the Twins' fans who argue that they don't need Randy, they need some offense.
Still, Win Shares are Win Shares, regardless of whether they come from pitching, offense, or defense. By adding Randy to your staff you are in essence voting your worst pitcher off the island, which in most cases is some rarely-used reliever with 0 or 1 Win Shares. Since Randy has 12 Win Shares (14 in the AL since he won't have to hit), he'll add roughly 10-11 Win Shares to your team in the rest of the '04 season (by replacing your worst pitcher), or anywhere from 3 to 4 wins. That's not an inconsequential figure, obviously.

The other thing is, you're not only getting Randy to get to the playoffs, you're getting Randy to get through the playoffs. That's why I've listed the 3rd starters for each team, because they're the starters that would lose at least 1 start per series if Randy joined their team. Injuries make this analysis harder, because who knows who the Cubs' 3rd starter would be. And Rodriguez for the Rangers has only started 3 or 4 games.
What this table tells me is that I think the Angels and Yankees need Johnson the most, with compelling arguments for the other 5 teams. Whether or not those teams think Johnson is worth half a million dollars every time he takes the mound (no wonder the man is a little focused on game days), or whether they have anything worthwhile to offer the Diamondbacks is another question entirely.

Elbowed Out 

The D-Backs lost their 8th straight Monday, getting blown out 6-1 by the Giants. Luis Gonzalez announced he would have season-ending elbow surgery after coming back from the D-Backs' road trip August 1. Gonzo then proceeds to hit a homerun to score the D-Backs' only run of the game.  But the talk of the radio dial (or at least Dan Bickley's show) this morning was the Cubs-Cardinals Zambrano-Edmonds dustup. Another sign of how far the D-Backs have fallen.


Re: the Gonzo surgery... looks like my Magic 8-Ball prediction of yesterday was right on the money. Oddly enough, I tried it twice before, accidentally asking, "Will Luis Gonzalez be traded?" and received "No-ish" answers both times. No, I don't want to go back and ask the Randy Johnson question.

In any case, Gonzo is expected to be out for 7-8 months and is expected to be back in the lineup for Opening Day 2005.  Until then, Luis Terrero is expected to take over left field. Thank goodness. Not that I think Terrero is necessarily the answer, but it will be nice to have him get 40 or so games of experience so we can decide if he's an outfielder worth starting in 2005.


Some discussion in my last mid-season review on attendance figures. Jim from But It's a DRY Heat points out this article which discusses increased attendance in general and notes that the D-Backs' attendance decline is worse in comparison to that general increase. Duly noted. But what I was trying to do was give some context to the decline. For example, based on the numbers in the piece, fully 1/3 of the overall increase this year can be attributed the Phillies and the Padres who, as luck would have it, opened new stadia this year.
But before you complain (and I'm not talking to you, Jim) about the "fair-weather nature" of D-Backs fans, attendance is related to won-loss records no matter where you go. The Yankees never reached 3 million in attendance until 1999, the year after their monster 114-48 World Champion team. In 1992, folks, they averaged just 21,589 fans per game (they went 76-86 that year). Even now, as they're averaging 48,000+ per game, you want to say, congratulations, you manage to exceed average D-Back attendance by 50% even though your market, even adjusting for the Mets, is 200% larger than the D-Back market.

Monday, July 19, 2004

Three Weeks, Three Questions (Forget the Games Edition) 

Let's get to it.

Three Weeks

The (Half-)Week That Was

Swept in four by the Dodgers. At home. The D-Backs got blown out, they blew games on their own. It's almost getting too painful to recount.

The Two Weeks That Will Be

The 18-game stretch continues with 2 at home against both the Giants and Astros and 3 against the Rockies, then on the road for 4 at the Astros and 3 at Colorado. The Astros have an average offense (7th in NL OPS, 9th in runs scored), and one that's exceedingly fly-ball heavy (lowest GB:FB ratio in the NL) to go along with an average defense (9th in NL ERA and runs allowed) that's exceedingly wild (most walks allowed in the NL). This on a team with Pettite and Clemens.

In a particularly depressing development, other fans are now pointing out their opponents' remaining chances against the D-Backs (look way down at the end of the entry).

Three Questions

You know, when I started these things, my questions used to focus on things that might affect the team in the next week or two. Clearly those times are over.

1. Will Randy Be Traded?: This question sounds familiar. Rather than give you my perspective, I thought I'd round up other perspectives.
** Over at the Hardball Times, Larry and Ben use a Simpsons reference that I wish I'd thought of when I wrote about the possible persistence of Brian Cashman a couple of weeks ago. They seem to come down on the side of no trade.
** Rob at 6-4-2 clearly does not want Arte Moreno to get Johnson for the Angels. Mark Gonzales lists all the warning signs of why the D-Backs should be wary of even the Angels' prospects, but I think Gonzales has decided that the D-Backs won't trade Johnson, so that bias might be there.
** TwinsGeek made a case for the Twins to get Randy Johnson (go down to the "Randy Johnson Organizational Litmus Test"), but his readers, for the most part, disagreed. Not that the Twins actually would go after Randy, of course...

OK, for what it's worth, I don't think he'll be traded at this point. If he is, I hope it's for more than what's being offered.

2. Will Anybody Else Be Traded?: Robert at Veteran Presence makes the argument that the D-Backs have failed to display their rookies and prospects to determine whether or not they're any good. I still buy the "trade display" argument Robert doesn't, but once August 1st rolls around, I'll start pressing for DFAs of veterans. There's no need to keep Alomar around by the time the D-Backs come back to BOB on August 3rd. At this point, with Finley cold, Bautista ginger, and no apparent Hillenbrand interest, there may not be any trades.

3. Will Gonzo Have Surgery?: Magic 8-Ball says.... "yes definitely" (well, that's what it told me, anyway). Gonzo says he is "leaning toward having surgery in August."  This means that we can expect to see Quentin McCracken doing Shamrock Farms ads shortly.

Future Baby Names (Part 4, D-Backs Review) 

Here are last week's reviews of the outfield, infield, and pitching.

A couple other things I didn't get to last week...


The D-Backs' defense has been maligned. There is truth in this malignment. By traditional fielding stats -- 2nd in most errors committed, 15th in fielding percentage. By more modern fielding stats -- in defensive efficiency as of this morning the D-Backs ranked 13th out of 16 NL teams.

If you look at the Hardball Times' Win Shares analysis, the story is even worse. Here are NL teams' defensive win shares, as of the All-Star Break:
CHC 22.8
STL 22.6
HOU 22.2
FLO 21.8
MON 21.3
LAD 21.2
MIL 20.8
SDP 20.6
PHI 18.2
SFG 17.8
NYM 17.6
PIT 16.9
ATL 16.9
CIN 16.3
ARI 15.7
COL 15.3

Clearly, the D-Backs aren't good defensively. The upside (if there can be an upside) is that this lousiness isn't the major cause of their problems. The average for those 16 teams is 19.3 (the median is 19.4), and so if Arizona fielded an average team defensively, they'd only add 3.6 more Win Shares, or just about 1 win. It's frustrating to watch Cintron or Bautista or Terrero or Gonzo or whomever make a stupid fielding move, but it's not why this team is 31-62.


Reality check time. What has Arizona's average attendance been so far this year? Go ahead, guess. 32,642. And where does that place Arizona? 14th in MLB, 8th in the NL (which includes 2 teams with new stadia). Is attendance down from last year? Sure. We've got the worst record in baseball. But this is by no means a disaster. Even the relatively considered piece by Barbara Yost in this morning's Republic doesn't quite catch that attendance is only down 3% from this point last year. And even if attendance drops by 10% when all is said and done (requiring 29,000 per game from here on out), that seems to me a somewhat inelastic drop given the drop in performance.

OK, I sorta feel the need to move on so I'll end this review here.

Missed It By... Thaaaat Much 

There was a moment in Sunday's 10-3 D-Backs loss to the Dodgers when I thought it was going to be a little thing that led to the loss. On a 2-2 pitch to Izturis, with two outs and two on, Elmer Dessens put a pitch on the outside corner. Strike 3. Except the umpire disagreed, and since his opinion has more weight in the matter than mine, the count went to 3-2. On the next pitch Izturis, who is Babe Ruth when playing the Diamondbacks and Bob Uecker (OK, not that bad) when playing everyone else, hit a 3-run homerun. 4-1 Dodgers.

If only the pitch had been called Strike 3, I thought. We'd be right in this game.

But in the 3rd inning, it was clear that Elmer did not have much control. And by the 4th inning, well, it was Elmer's 2nd time through the lineup, so naturally the Dodgers shelled him again. If it had been called Strike 3 back in the 2nd inning, it would've only delayed the inevitable.

The D-Backs offense has at least been getting hits, 12 more again yesterday. Too bad they could only generate 3 runs out of it. The bullpen, well, Villafuerte pitched well in cleanup, Fetters -- meh, and Randolph walked somebody. Oh, and Cintron made a couple errors.

I've got more to say about the team in general, but I'll wait for "Three Weeks, Three Questions" later today.

Sunday, July 18, 2004

If At First You Don't Fail... 

try, try again...

So now it's not good enough that the D-Backs' bullpen blows leads. Now
they're doing it twice per game. In the D-Backs' 7-6 loss to the Dodgers
Saturday night, Mike Koplove gave up one run in the top of the 8th to let
the Dodgers tie the game at 4-4. Then, after the D-Backs came back and
scored 2 in the bottom of the 8th to make it a 6-4 lead, Koplove (who also
hit Dodgers hitters twice) gave up two more runners as he and Brian Bruney
combined to blow the lead again and make it 7-6 Dodgers.

Blow the lead once, shame on you. Blow it twice, shame on me.

The poort bullpen performance wasted a 14-hit offensive outburst as the top
5 in the lineup each had two hits. It also wasted a decent pitching
performance by Casey Fossum.

And now tonight it's Elmer against Jose Lima, who's had the D-Backs' number
this year. Sweep. Sigh...

** In the Angels trade news, Verified department, the Republic reported that
Arte Moreno told the L.A. Times that he would be willing to trade some major
leaguers for Randy Johnson.
** In the Angels trade news, Rumor department, Scott Wetzel reported on the
radio that the Angels and D-Backs have decided not to pull the trigger on a
Ramon Ortiz - Shea Hillenbrand trade. Maybe this was reported in an actual
newspaper, but I haven't seen it.