The Talking Schtick: Diamondbacks Pause, Gasping For Breath

"We just can't continue to play that way, for sure. It's not frustrating. Things have a way of working themselves out. So we're here to find things out and sometimes we have to address them. We obviously have to be better than that. I mean that's terrible... We're disappointed to lose games like we've been losing them. We'll leave it at that. We'll come back on Tuesday, have a good meeting and we'll try to regroup. We've got almost 2 1/2 weeks and we'll get it turned around. They all know they have to be better."
  -- Kirk Gibson

Ouch. That's probably a good way to sum up the first half of the Cactus League season for Arizona. While the Diamondacks offense has been decent, scoring five runs per game and batting .292, the same can't be said for the pitching. The team ERA there is 5.70, ranked 29th in the major-leagues, with opposing teams ratcheting up a collective OPS of .833 [to put that into context, Carlos Lee and Alfonso Soriano have a career OPS of .834]. This would be why we go into today's off-day with a 5-15 record, the worst of any franchise.

After the jump, we'll take a look at how the questions coming in are being answered, and what happened to other teams who did really badly in spring. Though maybe in a different order. Hey, got to make this exciting somehow, it is Pi Day after all...

The shape of things to come?
Here are the teams with the worst performance in spring, for each year since 2003. For each team, we've listed their pre-season record, what we need to do over the remaining 17 games (excluding the Chase exhibitions against Mexican sides) to have a better win percentage, and what the team's record was, in the year following the spring.

  • 2003: Angels: 9-20 (7-10 to beat). Regular season: 77-85
  • 2004: Phillies: 10-21 (7-10). Regular season: 86-76
  • 2005: Marlins: 11-20 (9-8). Regular season: 83-79
  • 2006: Nationals: 9-23 (6-11). Regular season: 71-91
  • 2007: White Sox: 10-22 (7-10). Regular season: 72-90
  • 2008: Giants: 9-23 (6-11). Regular season: 72-90
  • 2009: D-backs: 11-23 (7-10). Regular season: 70-92
  • 2010: Pirates: 7-21 (5-12). Regular season: 57-105

It's a bit of a good news, bad news situation. Good news: all of these teams fared better in the regular season, by at least a hundred points. Bad news: none of them made the play-offs. Good news: some of them had a record we'd be more than happy with. Bad news: during the past five years, the last-place team in spring hasn't finished higher than 23rd in the regular season, and averaged 26th spot [last year, Arizona was 28th]. Bad omen: the worst pre-season record over this time was the 2010 Pirates - we know how that went - and their spring win percentage of .250 is exactly where the Diamondbacks currently sit...

Who's up, who's down?
Coming into spring, there were several questions to be addressed: the 1B/LF positions, two spots in the starting rotation, and the back end of the bullpen. How have the candidates faired?

First-base/Left-field

Brandon Allen. Allen still seems like a man without a long-term place on the team, the arrival of Juan Miranda and Xavier Nady blocking him at the two positions he can play. Has seen plenty of playing time, and has hit well this spring (.364), but his plate discipline has been disappointing (one walk, 10 K's). 

Russell Branyan. Regarded more as "insurance" at the start of spring, in case Juan Miranda couldn't cut it, Branyan's hitting has a) pushed him into the debate as a bench candidate, and b) forced some gentle back-pedaling on the vitalness of defence. Going 14-for-30 with three HR will do that.

Juan Miranda. Came into camp with an unofficial expectation of becoming our starting first-baseman, and that doesn't seem to have changed. While a .245 average isn't much to write home about, his OBP is above .400, thanks to Miranda having more walks than strikeouts, and the overall OPS of .922 is very acceptable.

Xavier Nady. Nady has been nothing special at the plate (his line is .226/.250/.387), but it has been his defense which is the real problem. His throwing arm still appears to possess the resilience of well-cooked linguine and there is a genuine concern he'll simply be incapable of playing left-field. 

Wily Mo Pena. I'm still not convinced a man last in the majors in 2008, who posted a .509 OPS in that campaign, is someone at whom we should be looking, as seriously as we apparently are. He is 11-for-28, and shares the team lead in homers with Branyan, but this has the scent of 'small sample size' strongly attached.

Ryan Roberts. Slightly cooler of late, unsurprisingly - after ten hits in his first 14 at-bats, with seven walks, he has gone 5-for-14 with three walks, which are still great numbers. His position flexibility makes him a candidate here, and even as an infield back-up, he may be ahead of the slow-starting (but improving of late) Tony Abreu

Starting pitching

Zach Duke. His spring training numbers have been quite awful. In eight innings, he has allowed 18 hits, including three home-runs, with two walks and only three K's. The unfortunate injury to Duke may have saved Kirk Gibson and Kevin Towers from an unpleasant task - or at least delayed it. 

Barry Enright. Certainly has the best stats of any candidate for the rotation, even including the trio who are probably guaranteed spots. His nine innings have resulted in only five hits and a walk, with five strikeouts and an ERA of 2.00. At this point, he'd probably make the team in the #5 slot.

Armando Galarraga. While not as bad as Duke, Galarraga has not been effective in the Cactus League, with his K:BB ratio an anemic 4:3, to go along with ten hits and seven runs, over his eight innings of work. The injury to Duke probably does lock him into a spot, but he has been far from impressive. 

Aaron Heilman. His performance has not been bad, with figures bloated by having the bad luck to start on a day when the heavy winds contributed to two homers. Would like to see more strikeouts - four in 12 innings isn't a great rate for a starter - but he has done nothing to disgrace himself.

Bullpen

Sam Demel. Picked during Sunday's broadcast by Daron Sutton to be a dark-horse in this year's bullpen, Demel has made his point, by striking out seven batters in six innings, while walking only one. The result has been a single earned run, and Demel is on course to lock up a bullpen spot.

Juan Gutierrez. Struggled early on, and a gaudy ERA of 13.50 is testament to that, and small sample size. However, Gutierrez has made a mechanical adjustment, and the results of late have been a lot more positive. I'd like to see some more zeros posted in the second half of the month.

Mike Hampton. To some extent, his ERA is a victim of being pressed into a second inning, after Duke's appearance was cut short - four of the six runs he has given up came there. However, 12 hits and four walks in 6.2 frames are still not brilliant peripherals and he now needs to hope we go with two lefties.

David Hernandez. Having allowed one hit in six innings, he seems to be heading towards a position as our eighth-inning guy. The five free passes he has allowed are somewhat concerning, but as noted by orioole26 in yesterday's comments, they should settle down when he finds his slider.

Kam Mickolio. A fringe reliever coming in, he still seems to be in that position. Has fanned more than a batter per, but has also surrendered four walks, a hit batter and five hits in 5.2 innings. His bullpen presence or otherwise likely depends not only in his performance, but those of others.

Micah Owings. Probably hasn't done enough to make the bullpen out of spring training, much though the prospect of a two-way player appeals. He hasn't even come to the plate yet, let alone got time at 1B, so it seems the team are a lot less intrigued by the idea than the fans! 

Joe Paterson. A series of general very effective appearances by Paterson - four hits, two walks and six K's in six innings - has seen him grab the inside track as our left-handed reliever. He has certainly been more impressive in spring than previous Rule 5 picks, Zach Kroenke and James Skelton.

J.J. Putz. Marked absent, grade incomplete. Here we sit with 18 days till our first game, and our closer has thrown nine pitches in public. However, no-one seems too bothered by this, and expectations remain that he should be ready for Opening Day. I'd still like to see him a few more times.

Esmerling Vasquez. Though he hasn't walked anybody in his six innings, and has struck out four, Vasquez hasn't looked good, allowing eight hits and hitting a batter, resulting in five runs, four earned. Needs to step things up down the stretch, against other teams' A-hitters, if he wants a spot. 

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