Nobody saw the Arizona Diamondbacks coming in 2011.
A year after winning just 65 games and finishing dead last in the National League West, the Diamondbacks won 94 games and captured the division.
It was an impressive season, but the Diamondbacks will have to be even better in 2012. Teams will be gunning for them, and they could fade back into irrelevance if they're not ready to step it up.
Be that as it may, Arizona's outlook for 2012 is positive. The D-Backs made some good moves, and it stands to reason their younger players can only get better.
Let's take a look at what's in store for them this season.
2011 Record: 94-68
Key Arrivals (courtesy of BaseballProspectus.com): LHP Craig Breslow (from Oakland), RHP Trevor Cahill (from Oakland), RHP Jonathan Albaladejo (FA), RHP Takashi Saito (FA), RF Jason Kubel (FA), C Craig Tatum (waivers from Houston).
Key Departures: RHP Ryan Cook (to Oakland), RHP Jarrod Parker (to Oakland), RF Collin Cowgill (to Oakland), RHP Micah Owings (FA), RHP Jason Marquis (FA).
Projected Rotation (per official team site):
- Ian Kennedy (21-4, 2.88 ERA, 1.09 WHIP)
- Daniel Hudson (16-12, 3.49, 1.20)
- Trevor Cahill (12-14, 4.16, 1.43)
- Josh Collmenter (10-10, 3.38, 1.07)
- Joe Saunders (12-13, 3.69, 1.31)
C: Miguel Montero (.282/.351/.469)
1B: Paul Goldschmidt (.250/.333/.474)
2B: Aaron Hill (.246/.299/.356)
3B: Ryan Roberts (.249/.341/.427)
SS: Stephen Drew (.252/.317/.396
LF: Jason Kubel (.273/.332/.434)
CF: Chris Young (.236/.331/.420)
RF: Justin Upton (.289/.369/.529)
UPDATE: March 3
Per MLB.com, Stephen Drew is "nowhere near the point" of actually being ready to play. He should be considered iffy for Opening Day.
Closer: J.J. Putz (R) (2-2, 45 SV, 4 BLSV, 2.17 ERA, 0.91 WHIP)
David Hernandez (R) (5-3, 11 SV, 23 HLD, 3 BLSV, 3.38, 1.14)
Brad Ziegler (R) (3-2, 1 SV, 10 HLD, 1 BLSV, 2.16, 1.23)
Craig Breslow (L) (0-2, 8 HLD, 3 BLSV, 3.79, 1.52)
Bryan Shaw (R) (1-0, 9 HLD, 2.54, 1.34)
Joe Paterson (L) (0-3, 1 SV, 10 HLD, 2.91, 1.26)
Takashi Saito (R) (4-2, 10 HLD, 2 BLSV, 2.03, 1.13)
Scouting the Starting Pitching
Collectively, the Diamondbacks starting rotation was a decent unit in 2011. They managed 90 quality starts, surrendered a .256 opponents' batting average and compiled an ERA of 3.84. These figures all placed them right about in the middle of the pack in the National League.
If there is one concern, it's that the starters' FIP was 4.13 in 2011, which was pretty high relative to the other teams in the NL. Luck was on the Arizona starters' side last season.
The big question concerning this rotation is whether or not Ian Kennedy can do it again. He won a career-high 21 games in 2011, besting his previous career-high by 12 wins. That's the kind of spike in productivity that makes you a little suspicious.
However, the numbers do suggest Kennedy's breakout season was legit. He struck batters out, kept his walks down, induced a fair number of ground balls and kept the ball in the yard. If you do those things, you'll pitch well and win ballgames. Plain and simple.
Daniel Hudson did the same last season. He did nothing fancy, primarily pitching to contact and doing so successfully. He was good, but his FIP of 3.28 suggests he actually should have been even a little bit better than he was. It's also encouraging that Hudson was even better after the All-Star break than he was before it, a sign that he picked up steam and could be on his way to a great season in 2012.
Trevor Cahill was the team's biggest offseason pick-up, but I have my doubts about him. He was downright awful after the All-Star break last season, and it worries me that he gave up more walks while surrendering too many extra-base hits.
The D-Backs are hoping they're getting the same pitcher who had a 2.97 ERA in 2010, but that's not likely. Cahill's FIP has been over 4.00 each of the last two seasons, suggesting that the real version of Cahill is more like the one we saw last season.
Even still, he'll do for a No. 3 starter. The D-Backs don't need him to be an ace, though that would be nice.
The D-Backs don't need Josh Collmenter or Joe Saunders to be aces either, but both of them will serve perfectly fine as back-of-the-rotation starters. Saunders will provide roughly 200 innings, and Collmenter has the ability to do the same if he builds on his solid rookie campaign in 2011.
So from top to bottom, this is a good rotation. The D-Backs may be in trouble if somebody gets hurt, but they shouldn't have to endure any losing streaks no matter what happens.
Scouting the Bullpen
Just like their starters were a middle-of-the-road unit, the Diamondbacks relievers were a middle-of-the-road unit in 2011. They surrendered too many walks and a few too many hits, which invariably led to a few too many runs scored.
The Diamondbacks can rest comfortably knowing they have J.J. Putz to clean things up in the ninth. Somewhat quietly, he finished fourth in the league in saves with 45 last season, and he only blew four all season. It was the best season he's had in a while.
There was nothing too complicated about Putz's success. He kept his strikeouts high and his walks down, and he held opponents to a .195 batting average and a .324 slugging percentage. He was just plain hard to hit, which is what you want out of your closer.
Now, there's always the question of Putz's health, which has seen some rough times throughout his career. But he's been held under the 60-inning mark in each of the last two seasons, and the results speak for themselves. If the Diamondbacks treat Putz with care, he'll be okay.
Putz will have some pretty solid arms setting the table for him. Takashi Saito was a good get, and Craig Breslow is the lefty the Diamondbacks needed to acquire this offseason. David Hernandez could stand to improve his walk totals, but the D-Backs will gladly take another season in which he posts a K/9 of 10.0.
As a whole, this is a solid bullpen. Not great, mind you, but the new acquisitions should allow this bullpen to be good enough in 2012.
Scouting the Hitting
The Diamondbacks finished fourth in the NL in runs scored in 2011 with 731, but they were hardly efficient in scoring those runs. They batted .250 as a team and posted a collective on-base percentage of .322.
The D-Backs scored their runs primarily through power. They finished fourth in the NL in home runs with 172 and third in slugging percentage at .413. They hit the ball hard, efficiency be damned.
Power hitting will be Arizona's ammo once again in 2012. They have home-run hitters up and down their lineup. All of their projected starters are capable of hitting upwards of 15 home runs.
Justin Upton will be the team's star. After a disappointing 2010 season, he turned around and had the best season of his career in 2011. The encouraging part is that he left room to get even better. Here's hoping all his talent isn't just a tease, à la his brother.
The guy you have to be excited to watch is Paul Goldschmidt. He showed off some impressive pop in limited action during the regular season, and then hit .438 with a pair of home runs in the division series against the Milwaukee Brewers. This will be his first full season in the show, and I'm going to be disappointed if he produces anything less than 30 home runs.
Elsewhere in this lineup, I'm intrigued to see if Ryan Roberts can improve from his breakout campaign last season. I'm also intrigued to see if Aaron Hill will hit as well as he did after he came over to the D-Backs last season. He hit .315 with a .492 slugging percentage, looking more than a little similar to the Hill we saw in 2009.
I have more to say about a couple key players in this lineup, but it's a pretty good group of hitters. I doubt they're going to be much more efficient than they were in 2011, but they'll be fine as long as the homers and the extra-base hits keep coming.
A word of warning, though: if you live by power, you die by power. If this team's power numbers go down in 2012, it's going to be rough.
I talked about Ian Kennedy a little bit above, but there's more to say about his breakout season.
Control was a big part of Kennedy's success last season. He didn't have Roy Halladay-like control, but he posted a career-best BB/9 of 2.23. It was 3.25 in 2010, which is much too high for a top-of-the-rotation starter.
While lowering his walk rate, Kennedy upped his strikeout rate, posting a K/9 of 8.03. Combined, his K/BB was 3.60, which put him in the same company as CC Sabathia and Jered Weaver. That's good company to keep.
Kennedy is an ace but he's not in the sense that he's a threat to throw a complete-game shutout every time he takes the mound. Kennedy's goal is a quality start, and he was very good at achieving it last season, posting 24 of them in 33 starts.
The Diamondbacks will gladly take another 24 quality starts. But if Kennedy wants to get even better, the D-Backs won't complain.
Why was Justin Upton so much better last season?
That's an easy one. He put the bat on the ball.
Upton was much more selective as a hitter in 2011. His K percent dropped from 26.6 in 2010 to 18.7 in 2011, and the ball had a way of jumping off Upton's bat when he made contact. His slugging percentage of .529 was not a new career-high, bit his ISO of .240 was.
But you don't need numbers to know what kind of power Upton has. He's not an overwhelming presence at the plate, but he's got mammoth power in his bat. There are few sights prettier than watching Upton launch one deep to left field. When it happens, you know it's going far.
Upton has worlds of potential as a hitter, and he started to realize it last season. If he keeps his strikeouts down again and picks his spots again, he's going to be just as good, if not better, than he was in 2011.
It's finally time to talk about Jason Kubel, the big bat the D-Back acquired this offseason.
After a breakout season in 2009, Kubel was not very good in 2010. Nor was he good in 2011. His .259/.327/.430 line over the last two seasons hardly justifies the two-year, $15 million deal the D-Backs gave him.
Then again, it would seem that Target Field is to blame for Kubel's troubles. He hit .254/.321/.405 at Minnesota's new park, as opposed to .294/.346/.494 at the Metrodome. Take him out of Target Field and Kubel may recapture the form he showed in 2009.
He better. With Kubel in left, the D-Backs have demoted Gerardo Parra to the bench and platoon duties. He's a Gold Glove left-fielder, and a far, far better fielder than Kubel. If Kubel doesn't hit, he'll be dragging down the lineup while keeping a stud fielder on the bench.
By the way, Parra hit .292 last season. He's not exactly helpless at the plate.
So keep an eye on Arizona's left-field situation this season. It's going to be interesting.
Prospect to Watch
I'm going to be surprised if we see Trevor Bauer, the third overall pick in the 2011 draft, make his debut this season. He's got some things to work out in the minors before he's ready.
That said, Bauer's upside is through the roof. He was an absolute stud in UCLA, and he showed how good he could be in seven minor league starts last season. He struck out 43 batters in 25.2 innings, a K/9 of 15.1.
Bauer is often compared to Tim Lincecum, and the comparison is justified. He's got a hard fastball, a nasty change-up and a variety of breaking balls. He even throws like Lincecum. It's actually a little uncanny.
So despite the fact Bauer probably won't make his major league debut this season, he's definitely worth-watching. He's going to be special.
What the Diamondbacks Will Do Well
The Diamondbacks will be in the playoff hunt all season long because of their very good starting pitching.
Their starters should log plenty of innings, which will help keep pressure off of their bullpen. As it is, this an improved bullpen, so the D-Backs won't be giving up many runs this season.
I'm a little worried what will happen if this offense doesn't hit for power like it did last season, but that's the team philosophy and the D-Backs are built to slug the ball. They should be fine.
The D-Backs will also field the ball well. They made only 90 errors as a team last season and led the National League with a collective UZR of 55.8. I'm worried about Kubel in left, but his presence won't kill this team's defense.
What the Diamondbacks Won’t Do Well
Offensive efficiency is going to be this team's major weakness once again. They may not have the luxury of a .300 hitter, and the team's on-base percentage will stay relatively low. Their aggressiveness will be a double-edged sword.
A team-wide power outage will lead to some issues, and the D-Backs can expect to experience several of those throughout the course of the season. It's times like those when their aggressive nature will frustrate fans.
But don't worry, these outages won't last forever. For the most part, the D-Backs will be fine.
Part of me wants to believe that the D-Backs are in for a serious reality check in 2012, but I don't think they are. They went out and improved their pitching this offseason, and they have enough power in their bats to pick up where they left off last season.
So if the Diamondbacks stay healthy and stay focused, I see no reason why they won't compete for a postseason berth again in 2012.
The trouble is that the D-Backs are going to have some competition. The NL West is pretty deep, as the Rockies, Padres and Dodgers all have sneaky upsides and the Giants are going to be a force to be reckoned with if they stay healthy. The stars aligned for Arizona in 2011, and that's not going to happen again.
In the end, I think they're just going to miss out.
Projected Record: 90-72, second in NL West.
National League West
American League West
Zachary D. Rymer is a lifelong baseball junkie with an impressive collection of Nomar Garciaparra rookie cards and a knuckleball that is coming along. He loves the Red Sox and hates the Yankees, but he has a huge mancrush on Derek Jeter and he would like nothing more than to have a few beers with Nick Swisher. He's always down to talk some baseball, so feel free to hit him up on Twitter:
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