Tag Archives: Diamondbacks

The value of Arizona’s middle infield

By Travis Reitsma

Yesterday, former Blue Jay Aaron Hill signed a 2yr/$10-million extension with the Arizona Diamondbacks after the team declined his $8-million option just a few days prior.  Hill hit well in his late season stint with Arizona after coming over in an August trade with the Jays along with John McDonald for Kelly Johnson, but finished the season with an underwhelming .246/.299/.356 slash line, hitting just eight home runs.  Although he rebounded from an absolutely disastrous 2010, his .356 slugging percentage was a career low and a far cry from his 2009 mark of .499.  He actually posted a lower WAR in 2011 than he did in 2010.

So, did the D’Backs overpay Hill?

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Trade Deadline Reactions — July 29th

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Debunking Stereotypical Language in Baseball: The Brandon Phillips’ limp edition

Those of you who know me personally know that I am a man of many hats.  Along with being an avid baseball fan and aspiring baseball journalist, I am also a student currently acquiring a master’s degree in Communications and Social Justice at the University of Windsor *coyly removes monocle*.

On top of that, I’m a progressive activist who’s tightly involved with many other dedicated people in Windsor battling for workers’ rights and other causes such as the anti-war movement and equal rights for women, visible minorities, immigrants, and the LGBT community.

I don’t say that to brag, I say it because I have spent the last seven years of my life studying the media and being actively involved in changing the discourse of the mainstream media and of the broader public.  In essence, I’ve been trained to detect subtle variances in discourse, especially those found in the media.

That discourse, when it pertains to baseball, often involves race since there has always been a struggle to maintain equality in the game.  That struggle is constantly changing and evolving, but it never goes away.  Case in point, the way in which Major League Baseball treats Latin American players (a whole other subject that requires much more writing).

Long-held stereotypes also prevail in baseball today: The idea that the black players are the athletes who ride along on talent with nary a thought to hard work, the Latin players bring the emotion and the fiery attitude, and the white players bring the scrappiness, tough play, and of course, leadership.

Despite the fact that these stereotypes are unfounded and comically stupid, you still hear announcers and pundits alike spouting them off as if they are totally justified and ingrained in the game; as natural as the rosin bag.

I’m not saying it’s intentional on the part of the media; these things rarely are, but the fact remains that our collective discourse of the game contains these discriminatory ways of talking about players of certain backgrounds. Acknowledging these indiscretions when they occur is part of the way we can rid ourselves of them and attempt to form a new discourse that can inform fans without relying on well-worn pseudo-truisms.

On Saturday night, while watching the Reds play the Diamondbacks in Arizona, the D’Backs broadcast crew of Daron Sutton and Mark Grace committed one of these indiscretions concerning Reds’ second baseman Brandon Phillips.

Phillips is one of the most underrated players in the game today.  Despite consistently putting up numbers that put him in the realm of the best two-baggers in the business, he doesn’t really get the notoriety that players like Robinson Cano, Chase Utley, or even Dan Uggla get.

When he does make headlines, it tends to be for reasons other than his direct play on the field.  Despite the cleanest of clean records off the field, Phillips is labelled as somewhat of a dirty player by the media for doing things that would make a white player tough, gritty, or a good clubhouse leader.

Make no mistake about it; Phillips is a tough player and a leader.  He’s also been nominated for the Roberto Clemente award for leadership and contributions to the community and is considered a very good teammate.

But Phillips does have a certain swagger about him; a confidence that radiates out of him.  Much like Jose Bautista has started to show and much like Derek Jeter has shown for the better part of two decades.

That brings us to Saturday night.

With one out in the top of the first inning, Phillips slashed a shot into rightfield for a single off of Arizona pitcher Daniel Hudson.  Then, with Joey Votto at the plate, Phillips took off running for second on what ended up being ball four to Votto.  Phillips slid into second base and tweaked his leg.  When he got up he called time and began limping around the bag, pulling up his pant-leg and checking his ankle and calf.  It was fairly clear that he wasn’t seriously injured, but whatever he had done to himself was causing him pain.

Enter the D-Backs broadcast tandem of Daron Sutton and Mark Grace:

Grace: “Ah, he’ll be just fine.  He’s kind of, he reminds me of Orlando Hudson, even when he’s perfectly healthy, he’s got a little hitch in his giddy-up”

Sutton: “I love that, by the way”

Grace: “Yeah!”

Sutton: “I think it’s great.”

Grace: “Yeah!…[Phillips] always kind of walks with just a little bit of a limp”

Now, this little exchange may have seemed innocuous, but let’s consider what Grace was saying here.  He compared Phillips to another black second baseman (Orlando Hudson) and went on to describe the way they walk.  In doing that, Grace has detailed a well-worn stereotype about the way black men walk and although it’s being used positively, it can just as easily be construed negatively and often is.

Phillips was then driven in from second on a Scott Rolen single and showed no ill-effect in his scamper toward home.  Sutton felt this was important:

“By the way, we were watching Phillips as he ran  around and scored, and as you [Grace] say, he was just fine”

This, of course suggests that Phillips limp (which was obviously a result of his awkward slide into second) was just Brandon bein’ Brandon.

I went back and watched both Hudson and Phillips walk under normal circumstances (I waste a lot of time, okay?) and noticed no discernable “limp” in either’s gait.  Both Phillips and Hudson are black second basemen, and both are vocal clubhouse leaders, but other than that, there’s nary a similarity between them and neither walks in any kind of unusual way.

So just what is Mr. Grace talking about here?

This may seem like a small and insignificant thing, and I am by no means suggesting that Grace or Sutton are racist or were doing this intentionally, but the fact is that they were following a stereotypical path when describing Phillips.  The only way to eradicate such nonsense from our discourse is to point it out and make it look foolish; which it most certainly is.

Brandon Phillips is a gritty, tough, clubhouse leader who plays with passion and copious amounts of talent.  One day, he’ll be recognized for that and the same old stale descriptors will be thrown away in the trash where they belong.  As for Grace, Sutton, and any other broadcaster or media personality; they should really know better.

ENDNOTE: For more subtle racism check out this post on Bleacher Report about the 20 most hated players in baseball today.  What do 15 of the 20 players have in common?  And is there a single shred of evidence in that useless tirade?  And did a five-year-old write it?  And did I just validate BR’s sad existence with a link?

ENDNOTE 2: For more subtle racism see any news related to the trial of Barry Bonds; or hell, anything in the news related to Barry Bonds at all.

2011 Arizona Diamondbacks: One of the worst pitching staffs in baseball will try not embarrass a decent lineup

2010 Record: 65-97, 5th NL West
2010 Prediction: 84-78, 3rd NL West
Diff: 19
2011 Prediction: 5th NL West

Impact Player: RF Justin Upton
Impact Pitcher: RHP J.J. Putz
Best Reliever: RHP J.J. Putz
Top Prospect: RHP Jarrod Parker

General Manager: Kevin Towers
Manager: Kirk Gibson (34-49, .470)

Significant Acquisitions:
LHP Zach Duke, RHP J.J. Putz, RHP David Hernandez, RHP Kam Mickolio, 1B Juan Miranda, 3B Melvin Mora, OF Xavier Nady, C Henry Blanco, 3B/1B Geoff Blum, RHP Armando Galarraga, UTIL Willie Bloomquist, RHP Micah Owings, 1B Russell Branyan

Significant Departures:
1B Adam LaRoche, 3B Mark Reynolds, UTIL Rusty Ryal, INF Augie Ojeda, OF Ryan Church, INF Bobby Crosby, RHP Rodrigo Lopez, RHP Blaine Boyer, RHP D.J. Carrasco

I have been way off each of the last two years in predicting a Diamondbacks breakout and even though they’ve made more changes than just about any team in the past year, they’re probably worse on paper this year than last.  Part of the reason my faith in this team had persisted in each of the past two years was the starter tandem of Dan Haren and Brandon Webb.  Coming into the past two Spring Trainings with those two at the head of your rotation had to make you feel pretty good.  I was confident that Webb would recover from his shoulder ailments and achieve at least some of his former dominance and coupled with some young rising stars in the lineup, the D-Backs looked like a team on the rise.

Unfortunately, Webb missed his second straight year and Haren was dealt to Anaheim when it was clear the team wasn’t going to contend.  Up-and-coming superstar Justin Upton had a down year, as did slugging third baseman Mark Reynolds and the team fired young manager A.J. Hinch halfway through the year and replaced him with bench coach Kirk Gibson.  The team didn’t fare any better after the switch and finished with a 65-97 record, finishing last in the NL West.

Gone in 2011 are corner infielders Adam LaRoche and Reynolds, pitchers Webb, Haren, Edwin Jackson, and closer Chad Qualls and in is starter Zach Duke, new closer J.J. Putz and useless veteran third baseman Melvin Mora.

A new regime led by former Padres’ GM Kevin Towers is in the front office and they were so committed to starting over this offseason that they floated the idea of trading Upton.  They decided to keep their 23-year-old franchise outfielder (thankfully for D-Backs’ fans) and seem committed to building around him for now.

Starting Rotation
With Haren and Webb now in the D-Backs history books, they are firmly in a year of transition in the pitching staff.  Promising prospects Jarrod Parker and Tyler Skaggs are still at least a year away from making a real impact on this team so the Diamondbacks have far more questions than answers in their rotation for 2011.

The battle for Opening Day starter was between three pitchers: Ian Kennedy, Joe Saunders and upstart youngster Daniel Hudson.  Kennedy won out after a decent season in the desert in ’10.  He finished with a 3.80 ERA and 194 innings-pitched.  Like most pitchers in Arizona, he gave up a ton of homeruns which led to an inflated FIP of 4.33.  Kennedy counts on getting a lot of flyball outs which severely limits his potential the homer-happy dry air of the Arizona desert.

Saunders split last season between the Angels and Arizona after being acquired in the Haren deal.  Overall, he lost 17 games and finished with a disappointing 4.57 FIP although he was slightly better with the D-Backs.

Hudson was lights out after being acquired from the White Sox in the Jackson trade going 7-1 with a 1.69 ERA and a 3.22 FIP in eleven late-season starts.  Repeating those type of numbers will prove to be very difficult for Hudson once the rest of the league begins to build a report on him.  Most scouts think he’s a solid number three pitcher at best.

Duke was acquired from the Pirates this offseason and will look to rebound in 2011.  He produces a decent groundball rate which should play well in Arizona, but he allowed 25 homeruns in just 159 innings playing most of his games at a fairly neutral ballpark in Pittsburgh.  His 5.72 ERA and 4.95 FIP could skyrocket with the most west.  If it does, he may not be long for this team.

The fifth spot is being fought over by Barry Enright, who had a terrible 5.62 FIP in 99 innings last year, Armando Galarraga, who despite pitching a “perfect” game in June had a terrible 5.09 FIP in pitcher-friendly Detroit and possibly Kevin Mulvey who was less-than-impressive in AAA last season.  Galarraga is out of options so he may be the most likely to stick.

With Qualls being dealt to Tampa last July, the Diamondbacks turned to Juan Gutierrez as their closer late last year and although he accumulated 15 saves, he had a 5.08 ERA and an even worse 5.83 FIP making his solid 2009 season seem like a distant memory.  Deciding to reinforce their shaky bullpen, Arizona signed J.J. Putz to a two-year, $10-million deal and he heads into the year as the closer.  Putz was formerly a closer with the Mariners and has spent the last two years as a setup man with the Mets and White Sox.

Last season on the South-Side, Putz had a 2.83 ERA and a very good 10.83 K/9 rate which led to an outstanding 2.52 FIP.  He also keeps the ball in the park, something almost everyone on this team has trouble with so there’s an immediate upgrade in the closer spot for this season.

Unsatisfied after acquiring Putz, GM Towers traded Reynolds, his slugging but struggling third baseman, to the Orioles for two relievers in David Hernandez and Kam Mickolio.  Both have live arms and the ability to strike out batters, but neither can seem to keep the ball in the park.  Hernandez had a dismal 27.9 groundball percentage last year which means he may get hammered hard in Arizona.  Mickolio, on the other hand, had a 6.37 ERA in 35.1 innings in AAA last season although his FIP was a solid 3.40.  With his big strikeout potential, he could have a breakout year in 2011.

Sam Demel is also in the mix and was acquired for outfielder Conor Jackson from the A’s last year.  He wasn’t terrible after the trade and should settle in in mid-relief this season.

Left-hander Jordan Norberto has a live arm, but can’t control it.  If he can’t figure out how to harness his stuff, he’s not going to be much use to this team.  Other lefties in the mix are Zach Kroenke, Joe Paterson, Leyson Septimo, Clay Zavada and reclamation project Mike Hampton who was brought back on a minor-league deal after impressing in a very small 4.1 innings sample size in 2010.

Other right-handers in the mix include Esmerling Vasquez, Aaron Heilman, Carlos Rosa and non-roster invites Rafael Rodriguez and Micah Owings.  Owings may be an intriguing storyline to follow this season as the D-Backs have said they’re considering using him as both a pitcher and a first baseman.  Owings is widely considered the best hitting pitcher in the game, but has struggled to stick at the major-league level with both Arizona and Cincinnati.

In a world where there are less quality starting catchers than teams, the D-Backs could do much worse than the underrated Miguel Montero.  Montero doesn’t embarrass himself behind the plate and puts up solid offensive numbers.  He’s accumulated a 5.0 WAR over the last two seasons which is behind only Brian McCann, Yadier Molina, and Carlos Ruiz in the National League.

Backing him up will be 39-year-old Henry Blanco who was brought in on a free agent deal from the Mets.  He doesn’t hit anymore, but is still a strong defender who’ll fill in nicely on days off for Montero.

John Hester saw some major-league time in 2010 and will provide depth.

The most intriguing spring battle on this team lies at first base where two near-bust prospects and a veteran slugger are attempting to nail down the job.  Former Yankee prospect Juan Miranda was finally liberated from purgatory behind both Jason Giambi and Mark Teixeira in the Bronx and figures to be winning the job right now.  At 28-years-old, this may be his only real shot.

Russell Branyan is in on a minor-league deal after spending last year split between Cleveland and Seattle where he finished with an .810 OPS and .350 wOBA.  His favourable splits towards righties and terrible defense make him more likely a pinch-hit candidate who can occasionally fill in at first than an everyday player.  He did manage 25 homeruns and a 2.0 WAR last season.7

Finally, Brandon Allen is also in the mix, but with the team saying Miranda is winning the job right now, Allen looks to be the odd man out and will likely start the year at AAA.  If Miranda scuffles, he may see time.

Kelly Johnson emerged as one of the best second baseman in the game in 2010 slugging 26 homeruns, finishing with a .377 wOBA, a 7.1 UZR defensively and a 6.0 WAR that ranked him behind only Robinson Cano and Rickie Weeks and ahead of Chase Utley.  The question for the D-Backs is can he sustain it?  Most of his numbers look somewhat repeatable, but his .339 BABIP and astronomically high 15.6% HR/FB rate should ensure a bit of a regression.

At shortstop, Stephen Drew quietly put up a terrific season in 2010.  He finished with a 5.1 WAR rating putting him behind only Troy Tulowitzki and ahead of Hanley Ramirez.  With the lack of truly elite everyday shortstops in baseball right now, Drew has cemented himself as (contemporarily at least) the third best shortstop in the game.

Replacing Reynolds at third will be the 39-year-old stop gap Mora who comes over from Colorado where he put up a dismal -9.8 UZR at third which made him a barely above replacement player.  The good news is that the D-Backs have Matt Davidson, a Reynolds clone with higher average potential coming up through the system along with another third base prospect in Bobby Borchering and Arizona is confident at least one will turn out.  The bad news is neither will see major league action until likely 2013.

Veteran Geoff Blum comes over from Houston and will provide depth at the corners while Tony Abreu is expected to make the team as a utility infielder.  Ryan Roberts and non-roster invite Cody Ransom could also crack the team if Abreu struggles.

Upton was talked about in trade rumours around the Winter Meetings, but Towers decided to hang on to his talented young rightfielder instead of dealing him for a bounty of prospects.  Upton has the raw ability to win multiple MVP awards as a true five-tool player.  He had a down year in 2010, but he is still just 23 and has shown the ability to absolutely mash.  I would be surprised if he’s not in the conversation of the game’s elite within two years.

Centerfielder Chris Young is another toolsy player albeit not as young or as potential-laden as his running-mate.  He doesn’t hit for a great average but has well above-average power and speed and is a solid defensive player.  He accumulated a 4.3 WAR in 2010 which was much higher than Upton’s.

Leftfield is a little less certain.  Gerardo Parra is just 24-years-old but his skill-set suggests that he’s better suited as a fourth outfielder while the only other real option is veteran Xavier Nady who is never going to be the player he was in 2008.  Cole Gillespie and non-roster invite Wily Mo Pena, who’s taking time out of his busy schedule of bad rap songs and beating pregnant women to try and make the team.

Arizona Chart-ondbacks

The Diamondbacks will hit enough to keep from completely embarrassing themselves, but their pitching staff will undoubtedly be among the worst in baseball.  Hudson, Parker, and Skaggs provide a potentially bright future but the Diamondbacks appear to be at least two years from making any real noise in the NL West.
Final Prediction: 66-96, 5th NL West

Diamondbacks plan to use Micah Owings as both a pitcher and a first baseman.

Here’s an interesting little tidbit of information; according to USA Today’s Bob Nightengale, Arizona Diamondbacks GM Kevin Towers, after re-acquiring him from the Reds, has announced that pitcher Micah Owings will play some first base as well as pitch this upcoming season.

Surely Towers is not the first person to have thought of this as Owings is probably the best hitting pitcher in baseball.  A lot of people have watched him hit and wondered if he could be both a hitter and a pitcher.

Well, the D’Backs are going to try it.

Owings has a career .293/.323/.538 slash line with a very good .365 wOBA and 9 home runs in 198 career plate appearances .

On the mound, Owings has a career 5.11 ERA and 5.03 FIP in 99 career appearances including 64 starts.  One could reasonably conclude that perhaps his ticket to staying in the majors is as a hitter.

There is one question that needs to be asked:  Does having a player as both a position player and a pitcher take his focus off of pitching?  Could it actually make him worse on both sides?

I guess we’ll find out.

When and if there’s a published story about this, I’ll post it and perhaps we’ll have more information.

Galarraga dealt to the Diamondbacks for prospects

I am from Windsor and recently I’ve been taking some flack for never having Tigers’ stories.  This is mostly because I’m not a Tigers’ fan, but I will comment on the Galarraga trade.

Before I do, I want to point out that I was going to write a piece on what I consider to be a terrible off-season for the Tigers, but Jonah Keri wrote this piece for FanGraphs today.  He’s not as hard on them as I would be, but it’s still a well-thought-out piece.

Plus, Jonah Keri rules so…buy his book in March.  It’ll be the new ‘Moneyball’.

Today, the Detroit Tigers traded starting pitcher Armando Galarraga to the Arizona Diamondbacks for minor-leaguers Kevin Eichhorn, a right-handed pitcher and Ryan Robowski, a left-hander.

Galarraga is well-known for his near-perfect game last season which was lost due to a blown call by umpire Jim Joyce.

Galarraga avoided arbitration with the Tigers by signing a one-year $2.3-million last week; he was then promptly placed on revocable waivers and designated for assignment.

For those who don’t know, revocable waivers is sort of a complicated process.  When someone is placed on them, he can be claimed by any team in the league.  If he is claimed by more than one team, the move is blocked; however, if he is claimed by only one team, there is a decision to be made.  The Tigers could have pulled Galarraga back, let him go to the Diamondbacks for nothing, or work out a trade with the claiming team.

This is probably the first move this offseason by Tigers GM Dave Dombrowski that I like.  Galarraga had no place in the Tigers rotation for the upcoming year with the addition of Brad Penny and rather than non-tender Galarraga and effectively release him, the Tigers’ GM was able to turn him into two serviceable (albeit fringy) prospect pitchers.

Eichhorn is the son of former major-league pitcher Mark Eichhorn and was a two-way player in high school as both a pitcher and a short stop.  He was drafted in the 3rd round of the 2008 draft by the D’Backs.

He is ostensibly a two-pitch pitcher possessing a fastball in the 88-91mph range with solid arm-side break and an average curve.  His command is advanced for a pitcher of his age (about to turn 21); he posted a very solid 1.9 BB/9 rate mostly with the Pioneer Rookie League’s Missoula Osprey.

Eichhorn is still a ways from the major leagues but might see action as high as AA this season if he continues to show improvement.  With only two effective pitches, he’s likely no more than a middle-reliever in the future.

There isn’t much info on Robowski out there, but he was a 16th round draft pick by Arizona in 2009 and posted a 5.17 ERA in 35 relief appearances in 2010 with high-class-A Visalia.

He’s slightly older than Eichhorn at nearly 23, but also exhibited solid command with a 2.7 BB/9 rate and a 3.19 K/BB ratio.

As for Galarraga, the Diamondbacks are getting a pitcher who can, when he’s on, dominate a game, but has trouble staying consistent.  He’s past the point where he can be considered a high-ceiling player, but the D’Backs are getting a pitcher with some experience who is a solid back-of-the-rotation starter on a decent team.