Friday, May 20, 2005

Quarters: Part Two 

Part one yesterday covered the position players. Here, then, is a brief review of the pitchers at the quarter-way point.

Pitcher Innings Pitched, WHIP, VORP

-- Brandon Webb 54.3, 1.34 ,13.1 -- Brandon's been lucky to be 5-0, perhaps, but deserves some good luck after last year's horrible luck.
-- Javier Vazquez 58.0, 1.21, 9.4 -- How good are these numbers without Opening Day? A WHIP of 1.07. No walks in last 4 starts.
-- Shawn Estes 49.3, 1.30, 9.0 -- Biggest starting pitching surprise. K:BB ratio less than 2 still worrisome, but decent thus far.
-- Brad Halsey 53.3, 1.29, 6.5 -- Oh, yeah, we got him along with Vazquez for Randy Johnson. Not bad, eh? Struggled recently until masterpiece against Houston.
-- Russ Ortiz 49.3, 1.74, 2.0 -- More walks than strikes. Not good, eh? At least he'll be a workhorse, right?

Good Relievers
-- Lance Cormier 19.7, 1.42, 10.2 -- 18 scoreless innings will give you some decent stats (though he's not been as good as that). Great middle relief.
-- Brian Bruney 21.0, 1.48, 4.0 -- These stats surprise me. Has he been that effective? Maybe my fear is just irrational, but too many walks for my taste.
-- Brandon Lyon 18.3, 1.31, 3.3 -- Again, these stats surprise me. Perhaps Lyon has been lucky. Peripherals not great, but certainly acceptable

Not Good Relievers
(Small sample size warning especially applies here, 'cept for Koplove)
-- Jose Valverde 6.7, 1.20, 0.1 -- Actually, Valverde's looked good since his return. Highest K/9 rate on the team.
-- Mike Koplove 21.0, 1.57, -0.0 -- Last year's effectiveness has disappeared. Throws almost as many walks as strikeouts.
-- Oscar Villarreal 2.7, 1.50, -0.4 -- Injured. Jury still out.
-- Javier Lopez 8.7, 1.97, -2.6 -- Shows signs of being more than just LOOGY.
-- Mike Gosling 7.0, 2.57, -2.7 -- Might still be effective #5 pitcher in future, but was failure as a reliever this go-round.
-- Randy Choate 7.0, 1.86, -2.7 -- Showed signs of not even being a LOOGY. More walks than strikes.
-- Greg Aquino 1.0, 6.00, -3.4 -- Injured. Sample size can't get much smaller.
-- Kerry Ligtenberg 5.0, 2.80, -9.9 -- Good... BB/9 rate: 1.8. Bad... K/9 rate: 1.8. Ugly… H/9 rate: 23.4, HR/9 rate: 7.2. Even a small sample is bad.

Revenge on the Sith 

[Ed. note: Stefan caught an early-evening showing of Star Wars - Episode III: Revenge of the Sith Thursday night and was unable to watch the Diamondbacks-Astros game. Special Guest Correspondent Yoda fills in.]

Greetings. I come from a galaxy far, far away. Even with that distance, the game of baseball I really like. It... amuses me.

The Diamondbacks a much better team this year, they are. This they showed last night against the Astros of Houston. Beat them, they did, by the score of 6 runs to one.

Roger Clemens. I sense both good and bad in him. Very powerful is the man. The Force is strong within him. But there are some who say the Dark Side also dwells within him. Which is more powerful within him, I know not.

But neither the Force nor the Dark Side dwelled within Clemens last night. Struggled with command, he did. Just three batters did he strike out, and walked two.

Bragging I do not often do, but the five errors for the Astros was the result of some Jedi mind tricks from yours truly. "I will throw this ball down the line..." Hee-hee.

The Force, however, in young Halsey appeared strong. Just 79 pitches in seven innings he threw. He may yet grow up to be a strong Jedi pitching master.

It even seemed to me that the Force's influence extended somewhat to the offense and defense. Two scoreless innings the bullpen threw. Nine hits and three runs the offense scored. There is hope yet for the Diamondbacks Alliance.

Now to a distant planet I must travel. Remember, search your feelings. When you do, know that you cheer for the Diamondbacks, you will.

Thursday, May 19, 2005

Quarters: Part One 

25% through the season, 25 men on a baseball squad, so what better way to review the squad than by writing no more than 25 words apiece. The analysis is worth about, uh, a quarter. If that much. Part two (the pitchers) tomorrow.

(By the way, I realize the symmetry in breaking the 15 position players into, er, quarters, but I think they more naturally break up into three groups.)

Player - Plate Appearances, OPS, VORP … ranked by VORP (with one small exception)

-- Troy Glaus 168, 1.020, 20.7 -- Hitting well, but… RISP OPS is .704. Small sample size or swinging for the fences? Defense and injuries not of major concern thus far.
-- Luis Gonzalez 178, .868, 13.8 -- Also seems recovered from injury. Power down, but OK otherwise. Defense tolerable again.
-- Craig Counsell 156, .828, 12.2 -- OBP of .423. 8 of 9 stolen bases. What else do you need from a leadoff guy? Good defense.
-- Jose Cruz Jr. 54, 1.072, 6.5 -- Small sample size, defensively not fully back, but his inclusion is addition by subtraction.
-- Tony Clark 57, .965, 5.7 -- Has arguably already earned his $750,000 salary. Has definitely exceeded (low) expectations.

-- Chad Tracy 141, .757, 2.5 -- Decent pop, but has forgotten how to take a walk. Survived move to first base.
-- Alex Cintron 83, .715, 2.0 -- OK, at least compared to last year. Nice utility player, making argument for full-time.
-- Chris Snyder 106, .662, 1.5 -- Offense has trailed off, but has made nice defensive plays (thrown out 7 of 16 runners)
-- Scott Hairston 8, .625, -0.2 -- No chance to show whether strong Spring Training was for real
-- Luis Terrero 50, .650, -0.6 -- Shows signs of being acceptable 4th outfielder. Not sure yet about a starting CF.

-- Shawn Green 167, .705, -0.4 -- Let's hope Green's slow start is just that. A start. Not a trend. Biggest dollar disappointment.
-- Matt Kata 32, .653, -1.4 -- Definitely the last man off the bench. Not bad, just uninspiring.
-- Koyie Hill 52, .511, -1.7 -- If he had hit better, his defensive inferiority to Snyder would be overlooked.
-- Royce Clayton 149, .558, -3.7 -- He's, uh, an OK defensive shortstop. Offensively a wasteland thus far. 8 GIDP.
-- Quinton McCracken 98, .557, -3.7 -- Every team has a player whose continued presence is almost inexplicable. Q's ours.

Perfection? Hardly. 

So how did the Diamondbacks choose to celebrate the one-year anniversary of Randy Johnson's perfect game?

By playing an entirely different game.

OK, they won, beating the Astros 7-6, but aside from that there was little similarity between last year's team and this year's.

To begin with, Russ Ortiz looked shaky, giving up 9 hits and 3 walks (with no strikeouts) in 5 1/3 innings. A very un-Randy-like performance.

Then, the middle relief was, er, solid. Cormier didn't pitch great, but Valverde pitched a good 8th inning. We didn't see much good relief last year.

And the offense? Well, they made their 14 hits count, led by Troy Glaus who had 3 hits, including a 2-run homerun and a double. I think there series last year where the team got 14 hits.

Even Brian Bruney's wild 9th inning didn't get duplicated that often last year once Greg Aquino settled into the closer's spot.

The 9th inning saw Bruney get the first two outs, give up a homerun, then put two more runners on while facing Mike Lamb. So Bob Melvin walks to the mound...

Before Melvin could open his mouth Bruney said, "I got this guy."

"You got him?" Melvin asked. "You sure?"

"Yes," Bruney said.

And then Bruney walked Lamb.

Sure Bruney got the next guy out for the save, but that, my friends, is what we have to look forward to for the next week at least as we receive news that Brandon Lyon's been put on the 15-day DL retroactive to last Thursday. It would be very funny, but only if you're not a Diamondbacks fan.

Wednesday, May 18, 2005

Cultural Diversion: Fever Pitch (The Movie) 

One of the hazards with being married and a parent is that it can have a tendency to reduce your moviegoing (and, to a lesser extent, music-listening) choices to "safe" options. If you're going to spend $70 on an evening out (even though I knew it instinctively, I still did a mental double-take when I calculated the evening's cost), you have a greater tendency to not take a chance on an edgy or depressing movie. Instead, you pick something that won't disappoint, but won't transport your soul, either.

Which brings us to Fever Pitch, the movie adaptation of a Nick Hornby memoir of being a football fan obsessed with the Arsenal squad in north London. The memoir is alternately funny and depressing, because Hornby has no fear in portraying himself as a bit over-the-top in his fandom. As someone who read the book in his mid-to-late-20s, before (I think) getting married and (definitely) before becoming a parent), I did see a bit of myself in there, and it wasn't a pretty picture.

The movie, however, sands off all those sharp edges. Ben's obsession is played for laughs, not for desperation, and is portrayed as something quirky. The resolution requires the characters to do things they didn't show they were capable of doing in the previous 90 minutes. In addition, there were some secondary plot lines that were raised and then dropped, never to be resurrected ever again.

There was a really good movie in there somewhere, struggling to get out. Jimmy Fallon and Drew Barrymore are fine in their roles, with decent chemistry. There are some nice lines in the script. And as romantic comedies go, it's perfectly fine and there are many worse than this. (And, hey, my wife went to a movie where baseball plays a major role. That's a first.)

But it's not a great movie.

Leaving Tatooine 

"Traveling through hyperspace isn't like dusting crops, boy!" -- Han Solo to Luke Skywalker in Star Wars

The top of the first inning in Tuesday's 3-0 Diamondbacks loss to the Astros was all I needed to get a bad feeling about the game. Runners at first and third with one out, and Troy Glaus and Shawn Green can't get the ball out of the infield. And at that point, I just had this feeling that the Astros dodged a huge bullet there, and would be fine from there on out.

And sure enough, they were, at least from Roy Oswalt's perspective. The D-Backs' offense had just three more hits the rest of the night. It was as the D-Backs had left the simpler world of Tatooine for something more substantial and had either a) found they couldn't handle it, or b) never made to Houston to begin with and are camped out in some line to see Star Wars: Revenge of the Sith in less than 24 hours.

Can't pin the loss on Javier Vazquez, of course. Well, maybe technically you can, but if you can find fault with 1 run, 5 strikeouts, and no walks over 7 innings pitched, your standards are waaaay too high. Koplove was wild in his outing, so no brownie points for the bullpen.

Now they face lefty Andy Pettite tonight. I would like to see Bob Melvin bat Jose Cruz second tonight to break up the lefty string at the top of the order. Tony Clark has an anemic .524 OPS against lefties, but Chad Tracy's .461 is even worse, small sample size (about 25 PA apiece) notwithstanding. And even though you might think Cintron could bat for Counsell tonight, Counsell's hitting just as well against lefties as Cintron.

Tuesday, May 17, 2005

D-Back Bloggers Fite! 

Over the oddest things...

Thanks to Jim at AZ Snakepit for asking me to weigh in on the Diamondbacks' "Ultimate Baseball Experiences." My "point" (or is it the "counterpoint") takes more of a "meh, whatever" tone while Jim does his best Ash Campbell impression on the policy. (Side note: I've never seen the Raimi trilogy, so in finding that last link I was surprised to find out that the trilogy is the source of the world "boomstick," a word that I used today with no conscious realization of its origin.)

OK. I'll stop babbling now. Go read Jim's blog.

Three Weeks: We Love Luck Edition 

Without any further ado (not that there was much ado to begin with)...

The Week That Was
Record: 5-2 (overall: 23-16, 1st place in the NL West, baby! 0.5 game ahead of the Padres before their win Monday night)
Runs Scored/Runs Allowed: 4.0 - 3.6 (high/low removed, thankfully, once more)
Transactions: Jose Cruz, Jr. off the DL, Matt Kata to Tucson (5/9); Kelly Stinnett signed to minor-league contract (5/10); Randy Choate cleared waivers, assigned to Tuscon (5/11).

More wailing and gnashing, Pythagorean-style. That 18-3 loss to the Rockies Friday night sticks out like a sore thumb, if not a thumb that has been repeatedly and without malice smashed with a boomstick to within an inch of its thumb-y life.

It would be nice if the Diamondbacks would respond with a couple thrashings of their own -- that would even out the Pythagorean record, if not the Pythagenport record. It would certainly be better than the alternative of having the Diamondbacks lose a whole bunch of close games to get their actual record in line.

The Diamondbacks are hitting so-so, pitching decently overall, and are in the odd position of being best in the NL in fielding percentage and next-to-worst in defensive efficiency. The pitching staff's WHIP of 1.46 is a little worrisome, but the other stats are generally average, which I will take in the hitter-friendly fields of the BOB. Of course, those hitter-friendly fields make the average stats of the offense look more anemic. Since I don't want to be too pessimistic, I'll note that the D-Backs have drawn 159 walks thus far, 2nd in the NL. The 4.1 walks per game is a 50% increase from 2004, when the D-Backs drew 2.7 walks per game and ranked 2nd-to-last in the NL.

Cruz's return to the lineup gave the offense a little pop (and removed the negative pop of McCracken). Stinnett's signing is the writing on the wall that one of the young catchers (Hill, presumably) will be heading down to Tucson soon to get some regular catching time.

The Weeks That Will Be

6 on the road (3 at Houston, 3 at Detroit)
6 at home (3 vs. San Diego, 3 vs. the Dodgers)

It's been quite some time since the Diamondbacks have had any reason to look ahead in the schedule. Well, maybe last year some of the team had October 3rd circled on their calendar as their last day in the mess that was the 2004 season, but you know what I mean.

But overlooking the Astros and the Tigers because of the potential playoff-like atmosphere of series against the Padres and Dodgers would be a mistake, of course. Not just from a hubris-wrath-of-the-gods-type perspective, but because the Astros and Tigers are good teams.

Well, that might be overstating it a bit. The Astros are the 2004 Diamondbacks, but with more pitching to accompany their Cy Young winner. Their offense has been awful thus far -- worst OPS, AVG, and second-worst RS/G in the NL. This in a hitters' park. Their pitching, luckily for Astros' fans, has been stellar, decent in ERA, and 2nd in the NL for WHIP. Again, this in a hitters' park. What's worse for the Diamondbacks, they're facing Oswalt, Pettite, and Clemens. Even with Vazquez going against Oswalt tonight, the D-Backs could easily get swept this series.

As for Detroit, they've got a good pitching staff (4th in like just about every AL pitching category -- ERA, WHIP, Runs Against) and a decent offense (5th in OPS and AVG, though they don't score runs quite as well). Makes you wonder why they're just 17-19. (Indeed, their Pythagenport record -- again with the Pythagencrap! -- puts them at 5.4 games above .500.)

So, a road trip against two teams who are probably better than their record suggests. I would be very happy with a 3-3 split and a bunch of rested pitchers heading into the key games next week.

Monday, May 16, 2005

A Flair For The Semi-Dramatic 

"That's the kind of guy Counsell is. I don't think he goes up there looking for a home run, but he certainly has, Number 1, a flair for the semi-dramatic and, Number 2, a great awareness of where the game is, what needs to be done." -- Diamondbacks manager Bob Melvin on Craig Counsell, who hit his first homerun since July 5, 2004 to help the D-Backs to a 5-4 victory over the Rockies on Sunday.

So here we are, seeing the Diamondbacks alone once again in first place in the National League West, and we have to decide whether this team is worth investing even more of our attention in. Whether these semi-dramatic gestures in Denver in the middle of May will, just by virtue of their timing and importance, become dramatic gestures in Phoenix against the Dodgers and Padres in late September.

The debate of the week -- even before the 18-3 fiasco of a loss Friday night -- was whether the Diamondbacks' Pythagorean record means anything. The Diamondbacks have scored 173 runs while giving up 193. That translates into a Pythagorean record of 17.4 - 21.6, more than 4 games below .500. Their actual record, you know, the one they actually base playoff berths on, is 7 games above .500.

I mean, should we be happy that the Diamondbacks took 3 of 4 from the Rockies, including a semi-blowout Saturday night (10-4), or should we be worried that they got outscored 24-29 in the series?

The answer is, probably, both. We are nearly halfway to our victory total from 2004, and the season isn't a quarter of the way finished. That is Good News. But even if I take away the three lousy losses (16-6 to the Cubs, 16-2 to the Pirates, 18-3 to the Rockies -- 50-11 for the series), I'm still faced with the fact that the D-Backs haven't had any of lousy wins to match (their biggest margin of victory is 7 runs). And as much as they can't take those 23 wins away from the Diamondbacks, there's nothing that necessarily suggests that the next 123 games won't go any differently than the first 39, except that the "luck" won't hold -- that would mean a record of 55-68 for the remainder of the season, or 78-84 for the season.

I'm not hoping the D-Backs "revert to form." The beauty of baseball, and of all sports, is that it is not, as the cliche goes, played on paper. But the team has been lucky thus far, both on the field (winning the close games) and off (relative lack of injuries). And that luck can change at any minute, especially as reports of nagging injuries to Troy Glaus and Brandon Lyon surface.

My one other comment on this weekend's games (which, Friday night excepted, were generally well-pitched and well-hit) is that it is not fun for a D-Backs' fan to watch Brian Bruney pitch. That 9th inning on Sunday was much more exciting than it had any need to be. If Bruney can just find the strike zone and mix in an occasional slider, he would be an awesome reliever. But I'm not convinced yet he'll be able to find that strike zone.