Friday, April 29, 2005

The Waiver Wire: FREE BEER Edition 

Sure, Jim, you might write nice posts about long-distance home runs, but apparently you have nothing better to do than to resort to cheap methods of attracting new readers. Did you ever stop to think that you might have some readers of both genders of differing persuasions who might not be the least bit interested in your photographic selections?

Well, we here at Random Fandom are not above cheap methods of attracting new readers of our own. Yes, folks, it's time for our weekly look at random trivia -- The Waiver Wire: FREE BEER Edition.

Last week's BP Triple Play on the D-Backs included one very good argument as to why Carlos Quetin will be getting his FREE BEER in Tucson for a little while longer -- by delaying his call-up until at least mid-summer, the D-Backs save his going to arbitration until after the 2008 season.

A shout-out and thanks to the good man (or woman) at the Baseball News Blog, who was kind enough to link to one of my posts earlier this week. Perhaps that good and anonymous man (or woman) drinks FREE BEER while skimming BaseballBlogs.com or Kinja.com or Bloglines.com while finding interesting posts from across the web. Maybe that's all they do...

A different shout-out -- and what is this with shout-outs -- I go 53 weeks without "shouting-out" once, and now twice. In one post. Makes me sick… Uh, where was I?

Anyhoo, another blogger, Devin, has entered the Diamondbacks blog fray with Line Drive in the High Desert. Welcome. Best of luck posting on a regular basis… Perhaps an offer of FREE BEER would improve blogging consistency on the part of some other D-Back blogs, no?

Finally, Ryan, this link is for you. Actually, everybody needs to check this out -- Baseball Tonight has a blog! (It doesn't really fit, but the Roger Angell post is a nice touch.) You will not regret it, I promise you. Parts are almost better than FREE BEER. Thanks to Yancey for the heads-up.

Hopefully our National League West-leading Arizona Diamondbacks (yes, Jim, it does feel good typing that) will have another successful series against the Padres this weekend. It's always tough to beat Jake Peavy (tonight's rematch against Brandon Webb promises to be another classic), but taking another series is within the D-Backs' grasp.

Thanks as always for stopping by. FREE BEER! FREE BEER! FREE BEER!

Diamondbacks Attendance: Why Worry? 

There is a wee bit of concern in the D-Backs' online community about the D-Backs' attendance thus far this year. Are we at risk for Taste Loss? Oh, wait, sorry, lost focus there for a minute. No, what I meant to say is, are we at risk for declining attendance?

And my answer is, not unless we win less than 68 games.

To begin with, it's clear that home attendance has been down thus far this year. Thanks to the fine folks at Retrosheet, I compiled home attendance for April since the D-Backs' inception. Since Opening Day continues to draw 45,000+ fans every year, I omitted Opening Days from the calculation. "Blended W%" is 1/3 of the previous year's winning percentage and 2/3 of the current year's winning percentage -- I'll discuss that briefly in a moment.

Year Apr. # Season # W% Blended W%
1998 46,252 44,571 .401
1999 32,974 37,234 .617 .545
2000 34,190 36,234 .525 .556
2001 30,718 33,766 .568 .554
2002 39,413 39,515 .605 .593
2003 30,557 34,636 .519 .548
2004 32,144 31,105 .315 .383
2005 26,347

So, yes, April attendance in 2005 is clearly down from that of past years, nearly 14% from the previous low April in 2003. There are two reasons for that drop-off:

1) 51 wins
2) 111 losses

Look, people want to see a winner. So I'm not surprised season ticket sales declined a reported 20-25%. And I'm not surprised that people didn't buy advance tickets for that midweek series in April against the Rockies.

If you plot April attendance against the prior year's attendance, you get a very loose correlation between the two -- which isn't surprising. Why do you think so many people went to see the D-Backs in April 2002? It wasn't because the team was great that year (though it wasn't bad) -- it was because they won the World Series just 5 months before.

There were only two years in which April average attendance exceeded the season's average attendance -- 1998, the franchise's first year, and 2004. In every other year, average attendance was higher from May on.

If you plot the season average attendance against the blended winning percentage, you get a graph which tells one of two possible stories. I created blended winning percentage to reflect my assumption that April and May attendance is based on what a team did the previous year and the attendance for the rest of the year is based on that year's team. (I ended up also trying a blended winning percentage that weights the previous year's record by just 1/4 instead of 1/3 -- it makes the fit slightly better, but not by much.)

The more likely story is that attendance rises with blended winning percentage -- trendlines fit nicely in this respect. The less likely story, since blended winning percentages have hovered around .550 for four of the six data points used, is that blended winning percentage has absolutely nothing to do with attendance, making 2004 a disturbing outlier.

Since the idea that winning has nothing to do with attendance seems absurd (and since this is all a case of Small Sample Size anyway), I'll go with the first, more likely story.

What this does mean for the Diamondbacks is that they could win 30 more games this year and still not exceed their second-worst attendance year (which was 2001). Only if they win less than 68 games will their blended winning percentage be less than last year's, putting the team at risk of "beating" their attendance last year. But I think once school gets out and the Suns season ends (which might not be 'til mid-June), attendance will spike up, especially if the D-Backs just continue to play .500 ball.

Thursday, April 28, 2005

A Brief Word On Stephen Drew 

If Scott Boras is to be believed, the Diamondbacks and Stephen Drew are far away from an agreement.

You can already read Primer or what I'm sure is now a 5-page thread on the Republic's D-Backs message board on this.

The official Random Fandom projection on what kind of professional baseball player Stephen Drew will be is, "What? Are you kidding me? I got no idea."

So as you can see, I don't have much of an opinion (or a valid one, anyway) on who has the misperceived notion of Stephen's Drew value. Clearly, the two sides are far enough apart that it's possible for both of them to be misjudging his "true" value (whatever that means).

The only thing I do have an opinion on (and why I'm not willing to wait until tomorrow's Waiver Wire to discuss it) is that the article should not have been printed without an attempt to contact D-Backs' management. What we have in the article is a bunch of charges from Scott Boras. They may be completely true. They may be utter lies. But they're serious enough charges (the D-Backs had an informal deal with Drew that was taken off the table when Colangelo was pushed out) that they merit a response, or an attempt at one.

I don't know, I'm guessing Boras tracked McManaman down in the locker room after the game and McManaman, having been given an awesome story, ran with it and didn't have time to solicit the other view. Or maybe that point was included and got edited out. Or maybe there was a solar flare that interrupted the phone transmission that included that point. The point is, I don't know, and it's possible there's a very good reason for the omission.

But an article like this (with new information) should've gone out with both sides -- even if one or both sides are lying.

Six. Seriously? 

I don't care whether you've been playing baseball for eight or ninety-eight years, sweeping a 3-game series at Dodger Stadium is a Big Deal. [Edit: Yes, I realized after posting that Dodger Stadium hasn't exactly been around for ninety-eight years, but you get my point. I think. That is, if I had one.]

And that's exactly what the Arizona Diamondbacks did last night, beating the Dodgers 6-3 to win their sixth game in a row.

On a night when the starting pitching was merely adequate (Brad Halsey pitched OK, but only went five innings to break the seven-game quality-start streak the rotation had going), the bullpen and the offense picked up the slack. The bullpen (Cormier, Koplove, and Lopez) pitched 4 hitless innings, giving up just two walks. Koplove showed he could, at least one time, pitch more than 1 inning. (And, on a completely random note, can I just say that I love the fact that Koplove, a Philadelphia native wears # 76?) Lopez showed he could, at least one time, be more than LOOGY, getting all 3 outs in the ninth rather than just 1. And the offense? Well, it's not like they went all Coors Field on the Dodgers, but they still put together eight hits and six runs.

For whatever reason, breaks have gone the D-Backs' way for the most part this year. When one component of the team hasn't had a good game, the other components have shouldered the load. This is different from last year, when it seemed like only a perfect game or an 8-run outburst would give the team a shot at winning. Yes, the Diamondbacks have still given up more runs (105) than they've scored (100). Yes, there's no reason why they should be 6 games above .500 right now.

But they are. 22 games in, it's time to decide how serious to be about this team. Is this just the residue of luck destined to fade away by the All-Star Break -- are the D-Backs this year's Brewers, our fates intertwined once more? Or is this a team that might actually play meaningful games in September -- meaningful to us, and not just other teams?

I had not anticipated dealing with these big issues this early on...

And speaking of big issues, having won "man" in a row Tuesday, and "monkey" in a row Wednesday, the Diamondbacks go for "God" in a row Friday night against the Padres.

Wednesday, April 27, 2005

Five. You're Kidding, Right? 

Laws year, the Mariner Optimist went on strike, refusing to post until the Mariners won five games in a row. Three months later, the Optimist returned as the Mariners finally won five in a row.

So, Levski, Robert, all those who have started and abandoned or nearly abandoned D-Backs blogs over the past year or so, if you left because you were on your own blogging strike, it is time to return to the fold.

For the first time in about 22 months, the Diamondbacks have won five games in a row. It wasn't the prettiest game, but a 3-2 win D-Backs win over the Dodgers last night is good enough for me. Some notes from the game:

-- OK, one game of booing Shawn Green, I'll let it pass. But a second game? You could hear the boos after Green made a diving catch of a Jason Phillips flare that saved a game-tying run in the sixth inning. Jon, Rob, do you have any idea why? This is a guy who had some great seasons there to go with a couple slightly disappointing ones and was always a community favorite in LA. This was a guy who didn't want to be traded. I'm just completely mystified.
-- The bloodless coups of Koyie Hill and Randy Choate continue -- Snyder's got an OPS of .705 in 43 ABs while Hill's got an OPS of .564 in 26 ABs. Javier Lopez got his second LOOGY outing in a row. Snyder's outplaying Hill on the defensive end, too -- he picked an Ortiz pitch out of the dirt to catch Izturis stealing, which saved a run.
-- The two biggest concerns with the team for me at the moment? Centerfield (Terrero's 2-run dinger last night notwithstanding) and closer #2 (we don't have anybody except Lyon who would look comfortable taking the ball in the 9th -- Lyon needs someone who can give him a break). Bad news on the former (Cruz is another week away at least) but better news on the latter (Aquino's now playing catch at 75 feet) -- see here.
-- Finally, my biggest shock of the night was hearing somebody say that Matt Kata was 3-for-13 (OK, no shock there) but with 4 walks. And then he promptly drew another walk. Matt Kata, the same man who drew just 13 walks in 177 plate appearances in 2004? With now 5 walks in 20 plate appearances in 2005, most of them in pinch-hitting opportunities where you'd almost forgive a more hacktastic approach? I'm still in shock.

Tuesday, April 26, 2005

They Can't Keep This Up, Can They? 

Do you think Randy Johnson spit out his coffee as he read the New York Times this morning?
Randy Johnson pitched quality starts in 26 of his 35 appearances with the Diamondbacks in 2004, the best of any pitcher in baseball last year. But he lost 9 of those 26 outings.

So I'm sure it's with only a little twinge of regret he's reading about Javier Vazquez's line last night in the D-Backs' 4-2 victory over the Dodgers:

8.0 IP, 2 R, 2 BB, 9 K, 111 pitches

That is a classic Johnson line from last year. Except last year he would've lost 2-1.

As I noted at the time, Johnson's problem last year wasn't that he wasn't getting any run support, it was that nobody on the D-Backs was getting any run support -- the run support of 3.85 was worst in the league. It was just a lot easier to notice with the one pitcher who actually kept the team in the ballgame.

This year, while the offense isn't yet the highly-oiled machine we'd hoped, at least we're scoring 3 or 4 runs a game rather than 1. The result is that the team has been out of very few ballgames -- it could be argued, in fact, that only Opening Day has the game been out of reach heading into the 7th inning.

Why is this? Well, the D-Backs have had 6 quality starts in a row, 11 out of 14, and 12 for the season, a 60% clip. Compare that to last year, when -- as best as I can tell -- the D-Backs had complete games 43% of the time, or 31% when you don't include Randy, or excluding Randy and Brandon, less than 20% of the time. I don't think the D-Backs will continue at that 60% clip, but it's not unreasonable to expect something above 50% at season's end.

For what it's worth, here's the starting pitching lines for the year thus far. I dare say nobody could've expected a run like we've had in the past six days.

Date Pitcher IP H ER BB K P WHIP P/IP
4/4 Vazquez 1.2 10 7 0 2 42 6.00 25.1
4/5 Ortiz 6.0 5 3 2 3 92 1.17 15.3 *
4/6 Webb 5.1 5 2 3 2 107 1.50 20.1
4/8 Estes 6.0 8 4 1 3 93 1.50 15.5
4/9 Vazquez 5.1 5 5 3 7 103 1.50 19.3
4/10 Ortiz 5.0 7 1 3 1 86 2.00 17.2
4/11 Halsey 6.0 5 0 1 7 86 1.00 14.3 *
4/12 Webb 8.0 8 2 2 4 94 1.25 11.8 *
4/13 Estes 7.0 4 1 3 6 106 1.00 15.1 *
4/14 Vazquez 6.0 8 5 1 8 94 1.50 15.7
4/16 Ortiz 6.0 5 4 2 4 89 1.17 14.8
4/17 Halsey 6.0 7 3 0 2 76 1.17 12.7 *
4/18 Webb 6.0 5 3 3 6 98 1.33 16.3 *
4/19 Estes 5.0 6 3 6 4 93 2.40 18.6
4/20 Vazquez 7.0 5 0 2 2 90 1.00 12.9 *
4/21 Ortiz 7.0 3 2 2 2 101 0.71 14.4 *
4/22 Halsey 7.0 5 2 1 4 86 0.86 12.3 *
4/23 Webb 8.0 5 1 1 5 105 0.75 13.1 *
4/24 Estes 7.0 3 3 4 2 91 1.00 13.0 *
4/25 Vazquez 8.0 5 2 2 9 111 0.88 13.9 *

Monday, April 25, 2005

Three Weeks: Forest Edition 

I've come to enjoy doing these weekly (p)reviews. I'm not as detailed, perhaps, as Ryan in his summaries (congrats, by the way, to Ryan on his one-year blog-iversary), but it lends a structure to the season that is easy to miss by focusing on the day-to-day nature of a 162-game season. It gives me the forest -- albeit a small portion thereof -- instead of the trees.

The Week That Was

Record: 5-2
Runs Scored/Runs Against: 3.4 - 3.4 (high/low dropped)
Transactions: RHP Kerry Ligtenburg signed to minor-league deal (4/17); RHP Adam Peterson claimed off waivers (4/18); LHP Armando Almanza signed to minor-leauge deal (4/20); LHP Javier Lopez up from Tucson (4/24), Mike Gosling down to Tucson (4/24)

The D-Backs clearly didn't have the type of week you'd expect to lead to a 5-2 record, but no matter. 5-2 against three division opponents is always good news. The record is powered by a starting rotation that is doing better, man for man, than anybody expected. Considering the pitching staff as a whole ranks just 11th in NL ERA (4.71) and doesn't do much better on any of the more peripheral measures, that might sound odd. Some of that comes, of course, from pitching in BOB's hitter-friendly environs, but still. The starters' ERA is a split-hair below 4.00 (5th best, NL); the relievers at about 6.19 (14th best, NL). The fact that relievers aren't as good as starters isn't new, but this split (especially as some of the starters' runs can be attributed to relievers' hits) is fairly dramatic. Maybe it's still small sample size (and I fully expect those numbers to converge somewhat), but I did expect the relievers to be a little better this year. (Or maybe I just expected the starters to be a little worse.)

No wonder management has been throwing a few darts at the minor-league signing wall and seeing if any hit the bullseye (or at least the dartboard proper).

The Weeks That Will Be

6 on the road (3 at Los Angeles, 3 at San Diego)
7 at home (3 vs. San Francisco, 4 vs. Pittsburgh)

It seems silly to talk about San Diego after facing them this weekend, so a few words about the Dodgers. The Dodgers have surged to the best record in the National League on the strength of… starting pitching? Nope, their rotation, injured, ranks 11th in NL ERA. Bullpen? Even with Gagne out thus far, they still rank 5th in NL ERA, so maybe. Hitting? 1st in NL OPS, even ahead of Colorado, OPSing .827. And in "late innings of close games," they rank 2nd with a nearly obscene team OPS of .935. For whatever reason -- small sample size, talent, bizarre religious rituals -- they've pulled out a ridiculous number of come-from-behind victories. Actually, we know the reason -- their starting pitchers are just good enough to keep them in ballgames, their bullpen doesn't let the game get away from them, and their offense has been hitting lights-out, permitting a number of victories against teams with weaker bullpens. See the first series between these teams at BOB for further details. Can the D-Backs win this series? Sure. Will I be happy with 3 close games and 1 victory? Sure.

Again? Really? 

I have to exercise my "being-happy-about-a-sweep" muscle more because I'm getting a cramp here from overuse after a long period of inactivity. Second sweep in a row at home for the Diamondbacks, thanks to a 8-6 victory over the Padres Sunday afternoon, and I'm still trying to remember how I should respond. Grateful? Cocky? Nonchalant?

And unlike the sweep against the Rockies, this sweep may actually make people in, say, the Central Time Zone take notice. We can beat you in a tight game against a top-notch ace (Saturday against Jake Peavy) we can beat you in a high-scoring game in which our bullpen (OK, Brian Bruney) has a shaky outing. And by "you," I mean the Padres, an honest-to-goodness major league baseball team.

It seemed at the start of the season that Brian Bruney had conquered his control problems from last year, but the past couple outings, they've resurfaced again. Another two walks in just 2/3 IP, to go along with 2 hits (including a home run). Amazing how fast it happened, too -- I was doing some work in the office in the 8th inning, saw that Bruney had two outs, and when I came back 5 minutes later, the score had jumped from 8-3 to 8-6. But Bob Melvin again showed a willingness to bring Brandon Lyon in at critical game junctures, and managed to get out of the inning and the game.

It was nice to see the offense have a good game for once, with everybody but Shawn Estes getting a hit. Defensively they're still doing well, too, though it does seem to me that Glaus has not had a good season thus far at third -- he didn't send the ball quickly or accurately enough to second to turn a potential inning-ending double play in the 7th inning. (The next batter hit a home run to make it 8-3.)

Still, these are but minor quibbles in a nice win. And as for those sweep "cramps," the only way to prevent those is by continued exercising... More sweeps, please.

Three Weeks to come later today.

Sunday, April 24, 2005

Just Enough 

As has been the case several times already this young season, the Diamondbacks scored just enough runs to win on Friday and Saturday night. Their 5-3 and 2-1 victories over the Padres weren't necessarily pretty, offensively, but beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and those fans lucky enough to be in the ballpark on Friday and Saturday nights (TV coverage was non-existent) were able to behold 3 three beautiful pitching performances. Brad Halsey won Friday night, and Brandon Webb and Jake Peavy had, as expected, a great pitchers' duel on Saturday night. Peavy, whose 1 run in 7 IP helped drive down his ERA ever so slightly to 1.30 (that number is just sick), was matched by Webb's 1 run in 8 IP. Mike Koplove bounced back from his last poor outing to deliver an 8-pitch 9th inning and get the win. The performance ought to quiet for now the near-panic that accompanied Koplove's last few outings -- those who live by the small sample size, die by the small sample size.

The best part of the season so far, for me at least, has been the solid rotation performance. Aside from Opening Day, I'm not sure the rotation has had a game bad enough to make a loss a fait accompli. And while I'd been worried about the rotation not going deep enough into the game to give the bullpen a rest, that's been less of a concern over the past week or so. Perhaps it was because the rotation had a bad week initially, but perhaps it was also a deliberate plan by Melvin to not run up pitch counts straight out of Spring Training.

In any case, the pleasantly surprising strength of the rotation has more than canceled out the slightly disappointing weakness of the offense to date. And the victories ensure a series win over the Padres (always important, even in April) and a winning record heading into the next road trip.