Friday, August 05, 2005

What A Difference A Year Makes 

Starting Lineup, Aug. 4, 2004 vs. Florida Marlins
McCracken, LF
Alomar, 2B
Bautista, RF
Hillenbrand, 1B
Tracy, 3B
Terrero, CF
Cintron, SS
Brito, C
Johnson, P

Starting Lineup, Aug. 4, 2005 vs. Houston Astros
Counsell, 2B
Clayton, SS
Gonzalez, LF
Clark, 1B
Glaus, 3B
Green, RF
Terrero, CF
Hill, C
Halsey, P

The end result in both games was the same -- an atypically easy victory for the Diamondbacks -- 11-6 against the Marlins and 7-3 last night against the Astros.

But look at the lineups. With the exception of Terrero in centerfield, not a single player is the same. They're all better. OK, Brad Halsey, as nice a surprise as he's been this year, is not as good as Randy Johnson was last year. But the position players? I'll take the 2005 lineup every time.

(Yes, that goes for shortstop. Cintron's VORP was 5.9 for the whole year, while Clayton's already at 6.3. Cintron was 8 Win Shares below baseline for the season as a whole; Clayton's right at baseline. I understand the argument for giving Cintron more playing time this year -- he's certainly playing better than last year -- but Clayton v.2005 is clearly contributing more to the team than Cintron v.2004.)

Even Terrero v.2005 is arguably better than Terrero v.2004 (2004 season: -3 WSAB, 2.5 VORP; 2005 YTD: 0 WSAB, 0.0 VORP).

This year's squad gives fans a reason to go to the ballpark. This year the bullpen regularly has a chance to blow a lead, as opposed to the rare opportunities afforded to it last year. This year the team's getting enough runners to make grounding into double plays a problem.

They still probably won't make the playoffs, but this year feels so much better than last year.


In the end, the safe choice was the actual choice: Bob Gebhard as interim GM. I don't have much of an opinion on the hiring -- there don't seem to be any big red flags in Gebhard's career, and I think the influence of the General Manager is overrated anyway. My one concern is that Gebhard views the next two months as an audition. While that's obviously a good thing, the potential problem is if the standards by which he's judged revolves around deal-making. I trust that Diamondbacks management is smart enough to not use such a blunt performance standard -- especially after the trade deadline has passed -- but we're fans. We're used to worrying over nothing.


I would normally wait until I had a collection of random posts to note this, but my friend/fellow UNC alumnus/accountant-turned-actor-writer Jack has started a sports humor blog. Jack and I (and many others) played hours of "office horse" with a Nerf hoop. We developed many arcane rules and rituals associated with a "sport" that allowed a fair amount of personal expression ("under the right leg while hopping and singing your favorite Led Zeppelin song in Ethel Merman's voice"). Blogs are the 21st-century equivalent of office horse with a Nerf hoop.

Jack's the funniest guy I know and has more sports trivia crammed into his head than is probably healthy, so I'm expecting lots from his blog. Early returns are good (I particularly enjoyed the line about "A Streetcar Named Desire"). Do check it out.


A weekend series against the Rockies. The Diamondbacks should win -- should sweep -- but they've been here before and failed miserably. (The Pirates, anyone?) Still, I have hope.

Enjoy the weekend, folks, and Go Diamondbacks!

Thursday, August 04, 2005


When you open up the local newspaper in the morning and the sports page headline that wakes you out of your fuzzy-headedness is...


in, oh, about 48-point font, you know that it was Not A Good Game.

(And, no, it was not. Defensive miscues and an offense that nearly made Ezequiel Astacio look like Roger Clemens Part II.)

So rather than ramble on about that, a few words about Joe Garagiola, Jr.

How should we view Joe's tenure? Predictably, the reaction ranges from unthinking adultion (really, how can you praise Joe for recovering from the Wally Backman debacle without, er, mentioning that he helped get the team into that debacle?) to unfettered criticism all over the internet, with very little in between.

The "black-or-white" approach much journalism (and especially Internet journalism) takes leaves me very cold. It's why I've never really worried about the relative lack of give-and-take on this site -- I'm happy giving my opinion, well-considered or not, without the shouting that takes the place of dialogue on many sites.

My main issue with Joe's critics is that he never seems to get any credit for the moves that turn out well. Gonzalez for Garcia? Nobody could've ever predicted that. Signing Randy Johnson? Well, duh. Drafting Stephen Drew? Well, duh. Good drafts? Mike Rizzo's doing. Winning the World Series? All Buck Showalter's doing.

Meanwhile, Joe gets 100% of the blame for moves that turn out poorly. The Schilling trade. The Sexson trade. Every trade, in fact.

I have no problem saying that a particular move went well or turned out horribly. The Schilling trade, that was bad. That Gonzalez-Garcia trade, that was great. You get the idea.

But how much of the credit or blame should Joe get for any move? To begin with, the constant muddling of actual results and expected results (particularly from injuries) makes things more difficult to analyze, and it's easy for critics to say "no way could we have expected Gonzo to do what he did" while also saying "we could've told you Lyle Overbay would be a reeeeally good batter." Injuries obviously make things harder to analyze.

More complicated to factor into any evaluation are the boundaries any GM has to work within. Does the owner have any special requirements or preferences for players? How much say does the manager really have? Are you supposed to do everything yourself, or can you get credit for listening to others? What is the budget? Are you building a team merely to win or also to sell tickets?

That last question is really important to me, because most analysis I've read presumes the sole goal of a General Manager is to win the most ballgames or win the most playoff games, and I can't believe that that's the case. A GM needs to put together a squad that meets a variety of needs -- winning, sure, but also financially successful, entertaining, and appealing.

There are other aspects of Joe's criticism on the Internet that bug me, but this has already gone on long enough. I'll just say that while I don't think Joe was one of the top General Managers in the game, he certainly wasn't the worst. The team went 627-614 during his tenure. For a team that wasn't in existence when Joe took over, that's not bad.

Wednesday, August 03, 2005

Roger and Me. And My Daughter. 

So the proprietor of this fine blog finally made it out to a 2005 Diamondbacks game last night, joining nearly 32,000 fans at the BOB to watch the division-leading Diamondbacks take on Roger Clemens and the Houston Astros.

Want to know why there weren't more fans at the game?


Seriously, I bet there are people outside BOB this morning still trying to get tickets to last night's game.

My daughter, exhibiting tremendous patience (probably because she didn't want to do anything to jeopardize her shot at the promised cotton candy), and I waited in line to buy tickets for 40 minutes. I don't know if it was the library's "Read Your Way To The Ballpark" promotion (which got my daughter into the game for free), or computer problems, or people who were somehow trying to pick out the perfect seat when the game was in the 2nd or 3rd inning. But by the time I got our tickets, walked all the way around to right field, bought the cotton candy, and swiped my Diamondbackers card, it was the top of the 4th inning.

So I missed the only semblance of offense the Diamondbacks could muster against Clemens. Aside from the slight hope engendered in the bottom of the 6th, the D-Backs looked way overmatched against Clemens. Just bad.

Which isn't too say that the Astros looked much better against Claudio Vargas, who actually struck out 9 batters (as compared to Clemens' 8). But the Astros were slightly luckier with the placement of the batted balls and the timing of those hits, and by the time my daughter and I headed down to the play area at the end of the sixth inning (already an hour past my daughter's typical bedtime, it was 2-1 Astros.

I got out of the parking garage just in time to hear Lamb's homerun to put the game away, 3-1 Astros and pull into our driveway just as the first few drops of rain began to rearrange the dust on the windshield.

I tried to explain to my daughter who the big stocky guy who looked like a typical 43-year-old running out a bunt but was an amazing pitcher was (showed her his picture in the Republic this morning), and why we were sad when Gonzo seemed to have some difficulty with the Biggio double that drove in the go-ahead run.

But best of all, after peppering me with the same question or two about why "the guy" was out when the other guy "caught the ball," she explained perfectly to my wife that "when the guy catches the ball before it hits the ground, the guy who hit the ball is out."

She's a ways away from writing for Sports Illustrated, but it was still cool. Made the ticket lines and the 3 innings of actual baseball worth it...

Tuesday, August 02, 2005

Three Weeks: Non-Autopilot Edition 

Last week I thanked the Diamondbacks for not doing much in the prior week or so while I was mostly out-of-pocket.

The Diamondbacks must have taken that as a challenge, because I dare say this was the most exciting week of the 2005 season, with implications for the next two weeks, two months, and beyond.

So let's begin.

The Week That Was

Record: 4-3 (tied for first with the Padres for 1st place in the National League West. Don't laugh. 1st place is 1st place. No snickering.)
Runs Scored / Runs Against: 3.4 - 3.2 (high/low scores dropped)
Transactions: IF/OF Conor Jackson called up from Tucson; OF Jose Cruz Jr. DFAed (7/27). Cruz traded to Boston for RHP Kyle Bono and IF Kenny Perez (7/31); received LHP Buddy Groom from the New York Yankees for PTBNL (7/31).

The change in attitude surrounding the team from the beginning of the week is amazing, thanks almost entirely to the Padres continued flailing. I expect it to end eventually, but the D-Backs haven't exhibited anything remotely resembling this skid this year. So it's not that the Diamondbacks are poised to win the division, but they did just thump the Cubs badly in Chicago. Forgive me if I'm expressing something I've not had much chance to do since starting this blog early last year.


We got something for Cruz. DFAing Cruz was sufficient for it to be a good move, generating opportunities for the young hotshots. The fact that we got two young players -- even if they turn out to be nothing more than organization filler -- is icing on that particular cake.

Groom is YARRPPOW! -- Yet Another Random Relief Pitcher Plucked Off Waiver. Well, technically speaking, the Diamondbacks had to trade somebody for him, but PTBNL are generally organization filler, not somebody we'll be watching on highlight reels in years to come. The D-Backs' record in plucking pitchers off the waiver wire this year has been mixed -- thumbs up to Vargas; thumbs down to, er, Kerry Ligtenberg -- but at least the D-Backs have not felt the need to trade for what are essentially interchangeable parts. The only potential downside is whomever the D-Backs will have to release/send down to Tucson to clear room for Broom on the roster. As of this writing, the Diamondbacks hadn't made that decision public.

The fact that so many teams were potential buyers this year made it much easier for the Diamondbacks to sit tight knowing that the price for anybody with the dubious possibility of aiding a dubious playoff run would be far too high. Not that there was any indication that Jackson and Quentin would be traded, but the sheer number of bidders drove their comparative value way below what they're worth.

As for the team on the field, the starting pitching continues to be an unexpected strength. The offense continues to struggle (Sunday's outburst notwithstanding). The bullpen continues to make betting on this team's games a losing proposition, maddeningly inconsistent.

The Weeks That Will Be

6 games at home (3 each against Houston and Colorado)
6 games on the road (3 each against Florida and Atlanta)

Clearly, this is the time for San Diego to once again make ground on the Diamondbacks as the D-Backs play 3 pretty good teams and 1 collection of random AAAA players + Todd Helton. And if the Diamondbacks go 5-7, the Padres could easily go 7-5 and pick up a couple games. But the D-Backs and the Padres play a very similar schedule in August, with only the fact that we play the Mets and Phillies at home while the Padres play them on the road, and they play the Pirates and Nationals instead of the D-Backs' playing the Cardinals and Reds separating the two. It is very possible that the Diamondbacks could stroll into Petco Park on August 29 in the same place they are now -- tied for first.

6 games below .500, but tied for first.

Let's see... rumors that Tony Clark is negotiating to sign an extension. I'd prefer that they not. Not that Clark doesn't deserve some extra money for this season. He leads the team in VORP. Not in VORP/PA -- flat VORP. He's fifth on the team in Win Shares. I'd gladly give him an extra $1 million. I'd just rather give it to him this year rather than next year when his luck will likely run out and he'll be taking up a roster spot best given to Quentin or Drew (see below). I can understand the need for having a veteran available to come off the bench, but as we saw with Carlos Baerga, these "out-of-nowhere" seasons usually go back to where they came from.

As for real news, Stephen Drew is now playing in AA Tennessee. Clearly Jerry Gil, if he wasn't already thinking of a career change (go for pitcher), should be, and if Sergio Santos is thinking of buying a home in Arizona, it should be purely for investment reasons. Drew will be at the major league camp next spring and I would guess has a 50/50 shot at making the major league squad. That is, assuming, he performs as well as he has thus far.

As for Joe Jr., well, give me a little while to think about that one. But in brief, while he clearly wasn't the best GM ever, I don't think he merits the utter contempt most internet denizens give him...

Monday, August 01, 2005

You. Must. Be. Joking. 


First place, National League West.

If you'd told any Diamondbacks fan on April 1 that on August 1 their team would be 3 games below .500, they would've been happy. That translates to about 79 wins for the season as a whole, above all but the most optimistic of projections.

If you'd told any Diamondbacks fan on April 1 than on August 1 their team would be tied for first place in the National League West, they would've smiled and nodded politely, while slowly edging their way to the door, ready to bolt.

How in the name of Luis Emilio Gonzalez did the Diamondbacks end up here?

Well, sometimes it's better to be lucky than good, Mr. Bickley, and let us now pause a moment to thank the gods of hubris for letting the Diamondbacks play in the same division as the San Diego Padres. After the All-Star Break, the San Diego press essentially said that the division was the Padres' to lose.

A statement which the Padres have taken to heart.

They are 3-13 since the All-Star Break -- and two of those wins came against the Diamondbacks.

The Diamondbacks, meanwhile, went 9-8. Nothing spectacular, but nothing craptacular, either.

Apparently "nothing craptacular" is enough to keep you in this thing this year.

Of course, the series against the Cubs might very well have been the most encouraging all year for D-Backs fans. Taking 3 of 4 on the road against a decent Cubs squad. Scoring 25 runs. Getting great starting pitching. The Friday 4-3 loss to the Cubs was difficult, as I watched the game through to the Diamondbacks finally breaking through in the eighth inning, missing the heartbreak of the collapse in the bottom of the ninth. (Oh, for consistency -- one way or the other -- from Bruney). But they came back and held on 3-2 Saturday.

And then Sunday's game was one of those fun games where you turn on the TV every so often because you're doing other work, and every time you turn it on, the team you're cheering for has increased its lead. I didn't see a single one of the 5 homeruns, but I didn't care. 13-6. Take that, Mr. Pythagorean!

There's more to talk about -- Cruz's trade, Clark's rumored extension, Conor's arrival, a virtual YARRPPOW (Yet Another Random Relief Pitcher Plucked Off Waivers) -- but I'll get to that tomorrow.

For today, let's savor the fact that for at least another 24 hours, the Diamondbacks will be in first place in the National League West.