SnakePit Round Table: The Diamondbacks Left-Field

Left-field has been a problem for Arizona, one way or another, almost constantly since Luis Gonzalez ceased to be a viable option there. 2011 sees another new arrival, with Xavier Nady following in the foot-steps of recent incumbents Gerardo Parra, Eric Byrnes and Conor Jackson. The position is the subject of this week's round-table, as we look at what Nady might bring to the table, and how what and the alternatives might end up seeing in the way of playing time. But first...

Before we get into left-field, any quick opinion on the Hall of Fame balloting?

Azreous: All things considered, it went about as I expected. I’m a little surprised to see Bagwell get such a low percentage, but he was clearly caught in the steroid backlash, fair or not. Palmeiro just got buried, no matter how many times he tries to drag Tejada’s name in the mud to wash his hands of his positive test.

soco: Nope, the guys that should have made it this year, did.  Barry Larkin came a little closer, and so he’ll make it in a year or so.  

emily: No opinion. Seemed like it was pretty much what everyone expected.

Kishi: Not much- I think both Blyleven and Alomar are deserving. I’m just left with the same feeling of general insanity behind the voting process. I don’t understand why Burt Blyleven was any more or less deserving now as he was in his first ballot. Even discarding the idea that a first ballot Hall of Famer is special, what about the other twelve ballots in between then and now? It’s just kind of absurd.

DbacksSkins: Agree with kishi, that the voting process is just plain weird. Although, hearing Blyleven interviewed since then almost makes me wish he’d been left out. Also agree with soco that Larkin should make it.

Jim: The process is certainly far from perfect, but the end result - who gets in and who doesn’t - seems to be ok, given enough time. It’s going to be interesting over the next few years though, to see if anyone gets in, as we reach the peak of the steroid era candidates. The better the player, the greater the element of suspicion, it appears. Looking at this year’s numbers, I don’t feel confident predicting even Randy Johnson as a sure-fire first-ballot inductee.

Left-field has been a gaping sore for the offense the past two seasons, with an OPS of .719 in 2009, and an even worse .653 last year. Do you foresee better in 2011?

Azreous: Not really. I mean, it won’t be that awful, but it’s not like we have some hot new acquisition ready to play 150 games. The team’s not sold on Allen, clearly, and Parra is awful. How many starts is Nady going to get, and will he get back to his 100+ OPS+ days? Let’s just say I’m not optimistic.

soco: I don’t think it gets better, but maybe Nady returns to form.  He’d be another left-fielder wearing 22 for the D’backs in recent years.

emily: I am completely unenthused with all of the options for left field. As Azreous said, Parra is a steaming pile of crap, the team doesn’t seem like they trust Allen to produce, and does anyone really think Nady’s going to jump out and be some sort of offensive juggernaut? It just isn’t looking good so far.

Kishi: Better than last year, yes. Better than 2009, maybe. But enough of an improvement to really make much of a difference? Not unless I really go into full delusional-fan-optimism mode. Nady, like many of our signings this off-season, really doesn’t inspire a whole lot of confidence in me. Parra is pretty much a known quality at this point, while Allen is the quantity they don’t want to seem to let us learn much about. Which is really somewhat disappointing- really, guys, why not let him play? It’s not like we’d be giving up so much by sitting Parra.

Jim: Just for comparison, the NL averages were .781 (2009) and .771 (2010), so it’s clear we need more from the spot. If we can somehow cobble together anything approach league-average, I’ll be happy with that, but much like the bullpen, it’s got to be better than last season, largely because it can’t get worse. Can it? I wish someone would reassure me on this. 2006-08, Nady had an overall OPS of .824, so if he bounces back to anything approaching that form, and add on a spot of Chase Field vigorish, we’ll be ok. If...

Where do you rank LF on the defensive spectrum? How important is it to have a good fielder there?

Azreous: Not as important as center or right, but still a pretty important spot. Tradition dictates that your best defender open up shop in center, and you want to guy with a cannon for an arm in right (and we have solid options for both, which is nice). But it’s nice to have someone with skills out there rather than 2004-era Gonzo and his noodle arm.

soco: I think it’s always better to have defense than not, but it depends on what the mix is.  

emily: lulz noodle arm. Defensively, I’d rate left field as the least important of the outfield positions. However, as soco said, if you have the option of defense at a position, it’s better to have that be a plus rather than a minus.

Kishi: Well, they let Adam Dunn play left field, so it can’t be too important, can it? It’s nice to have good defense out there, but it’s probably one of the less important spots on the field.

Jim: As I recall, Dunn played right when he was with us... 8-O For left, range is probably more important than a strong arm, since you’re only having to throw to second- or third-base. I think having Chris Young in center probably means we can get away with a bit less on the corners, but at this point, it’s going to be a case of take what we get, and learn to lov..er, lik...I mean, tolerate it.

Xavier Nady looks likely to be the everyday left-fielder for the Diamondbacks in 2011. Are you expecting a bounce-back season?

Azreous: It’s a coin flip for me. If he’s fully healthy, he could pull it off. And hitting at Chase Field certainly isn’t going to hurt him. At the same time, even at his peak, it’s not like Nady was a terror or anything. One really good season and a few above-average ones. If he gives us a line of something like .270/15/70, I’d be ecstatic.

soco: We’ve done worse.  I’m not expecting a All-Star season from him, but I’ll bet he contributes and is a solid player.

emily: My guess is that he is the cheap, solid left fielder that we need. I’d be very surprised to see numbers better than the line Azreous quoted, and very happy if that happened.

Kishi: A bounce-back from a season where he had an OPS+ of 72? Oh, man, I hope so, otherwise we run the risk of having another season that will be painful to watch. Really, I’m not looking for Nady to be an absolute terror at the plate. If he can put up something along the lines of his career averages, I wouldn’t be too upset.

Jim: We captured lightning in a bottle last year, with Kelly Johnson’s bounce-back year, so there’s part of me that thinks we used up our luck quota there. That said, in 2008 - not eons ago - Nady hit .305/.357/.510 overall, with 25 HR and almost a hundred driven in. Man, that’d be nice to see. It all depends on how much of his struggles were from the injury. We’ve seen another LF recently, put up a stellar year, then drop off the face of the earth...

Both our back-up outfielders, Gerardo Parra and Brandon Allen, are left-handed. Will the team be able to find playing time for both?

Azreous: It sure doesn’t seem that way, especially with the glut of utility-type options we have on the bench that will also demand the occasional start (which hurts Allen at first as well, backing up Miranda). The worst part is that Allen has no business languishing down in AAA for another season, but getting 150 at-bats at the bigs for a full season does him no good whatsoever either. Parra at least has the luxury of spelling the other two outfield spots, but Allen might get caught in the shuffle, if he’s not dealt before the season even starts.

soco: Maybe.  Allen can bounce back and forth between first and left, and Parra can spot-fill the entire outfield.  So they should get their chances, depending on how often Gibson wants to rest guys.

emily: I still don’t understand why Parra is even on the roster. If they are both still on the team come March, I get the feeling that Allen will be in Reno more than we’d like. Or the bench. I’m not sure which is better.

Kishi: It doesn’t seem likely. I imagine this off-season has to be pretty dispiriting for Brandon Allen, as he watches the team make signings that really give the impression that he’ll be spending this year on the bench or in Reno. I think his best hope is for some insane numbers in spring training, and a full time spot at first base, with Miranda getting sent to AAA.

Jim: Difficult to see how. Parra definitely has more scope, as a back-up at all three positions; Allen’s best hope is probably to pray that Miranda or Nady suck, which is a terrible situation for both the player and the fans to be in.

With Juan Miranda apparently anointed as the starter at first, does Brandon Allen have a real future in Arizona?

Azreous: Great. Now I answered this question already. Outstanding.

A real future? Like, is the blue fairy going to come down and make him a real boy? No, I don’t see it. It’s a shame, because he’s never really been given a full shake, a chance to get three months as a starter and see if he’ll sink or swim. We saw Josh Whitesell buried in even less time than that, but the results from Allen’s month and change of serious time in the bigs have been inconclusive -- flashes of power, good on-base skills and pretty solid defense, but only a taste.

soco: If they’re just going to gift a position to Miranda before Spring Training, then no, Allen has no future here.

emily: I really want Allen to have a future here. We’ve seen flashes of the player he could be, but the addition of Miranda makes it seem like there won’t be a spot for him.

Kishi: Pretty much what everyone else said- I want him to have a shot, but it just doesn’t seem likely.

DbacksSkins: Comparing Whitesell with Allen is unfair, I think. But, after KT’s somewhat insane trade for Juan Miranda, it sounds like it’s LF or bust for BA. Trading a real, breathing prospect for, at best, an older LHB 1B and marginal improvement over Allen, in a year in which we aren’t competing anyway, seems like a pretty dumb move. Maybe Allen gets called up midseason when it’s proven that Juan Miranda kinda sucks.

Jim: If he did, we wouldn’t have signed Miranda and Nady. Simple as that. What did we trade to get him? Tony Peña. Ah, well: easy come, easy go...

Do you think we’ll see more platooning in the outfield by Kirk Gibson?

Azreous: Maybe a little, but Young and Upton are going to start 150 games (knock on wood). So we might see 100 games from Nady, 50 from Parra and a dozen from a hodgepodge of other players, but otherwise two spots in the lineup are rock solid day in and day out.

soco: From the way the team is built, probably.  We have two marginal guys to play 3rd, 1st, and left field, we’re going to need to do a lot of platooning.

emily: For left field, definitely. Nady is old. I fully expect near-daily Upton/Young in the lineup, but left field, once again, is an issue.

DbacksSkins: Yes, pending something happening insofar as Parra/Allen.

Kishi: You know, Emily, just because Nady was born before the Berlin Wall fell, it doesn’t mean he’s old... I figure we are likely to see more platooning out in left. Maybe we’ll see Nady get most of the starts, Allen split time between left and first, and Parra as our general backup in the outfield?

Jim: With both backups being left-handed, there’s certainly scope for it. As Azreous noted, Young and Upton will be everyday starters, but any off-time will likely come against tough righties e.g. Ubaldo and Timmeh. That’ll make it nice and easy for Parra and Allen to post good numbers, of course...

If you were running the outfield, how would you construct the 2011 line-up, both against lefties and righties?

Azreous: I’m running Upton and Young cleanup or higher every day. Period. Lefties, righties, don’t care. They’ve quickly become two of only four legitimate threats in the lineup until somebody rises above the muck of platoons (I’m not sure pitchers are terrified of the law firm of Blum, Miranda, Mora and Nady). If Upton continues to produce at 2010 levels -- which is to say good, but not great -- I could actually see a decent case for batting him second instead of third. Young fits just about anywhere in the lineup because of his blend of speed and power, but shouldn’t lead off. As for Nady/Parra/Allen and friends, I’m thinking...bottom half. Parra should be ninth in the lineup. Or 10th if possible.

Kishi: I imagine Kirk Gibson lies awake at night, worrying about setting the lineup this year. At least, I hope so, because some nights I do. Any scenario I think of starts with, "Well, if we had a legitimate lead-off or clean-up hitter..." Upton and Young start most days- I’d probably put J-Up second and CY third, either way. If I was putting the lineup together, I’d probably just put Brandon Allen batting sixth or seventh, but Kevin Towers would probably then remind me that he was paying Xavier Nady for something, and how did I get into the clubhouse anyway, security! Ahem, yes, it all goes a little downhill from there.

Jim: I can see us returning  to something closer to the days of Bob Melvin’s line-up dice, in 2011 - with spots allocated on the basis of pre-game entrail throwing by Captain Kirk, or a designated augury thereof. Young and Upton, as noted, will be near ever-presents, with Nady less so, Parra getting his licks in, mostly in center and right, and we’ll try to squeeze Allen in there somehow. We should lobby Bud Selig to institute a rule, allowing any NL team with less than 70 wins the previous season, to use a DH...

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