Diamondbacks Spring Training: Is It *Now* Time For Concern?

Since I last looked at our spring training numbers, the Diamondbacks have gone 3-10, including a nine-game losing streak which finally came to an end yesterday, thanks to a comeback against the ninth inning against the Mariners. Our poll at the time came up with an almost even split as to whether our performances to that date were concerning (40%) or irrelevant (36%). With less than two weeks now left before Opening Day, and Arizona in clear possession, by two games, of the worst spring-training record in the majors, it seems time to revisit the numbers, see where the D-backs stand in the rankings there, and whether people's opinions have changed.

Hitting. This continues to be less of an area of concern, and indeed, the Diamondbacks have actually improved in most areas since our previous report. Our team batting average has gone up from .276 to .290, moving the team up two spots, and they are fourth in the National League there. The Brewers lead the way, having overtaken the Padres by clubbing the ball at an impressive .339 clip, while the Marlins have replaced the Dodgers in last, hitting .253 - though Los Angeles are only two points higher, despite having the Cactus League advantage of altitude and low humidity, so would likely still rank last after adjusting for that.

Our on-base percentage hasn't gone up as much - only three points to .343 (ranked 6th), but the power numbers are looking better,with a slugging percentage now at .461, sixty points higher than on the 7th. That's beaten only by the Brewers and Padres, and as a result, our OPS has cracked the next level, reaching .804, fourth in the NL. Though just to emphasize the advantage hitter have in Arizona, five of the top six NL teams by OPS are Cactus League outfits, while five of the bottom six are Grapefruit League. The result of the offensive burst has been our team runs per game increasing to 5.2, from 4.4.

This increase in power has not been accompanied by much of an increase in strikeouts. Our rate there is 18.5%, which isn't much above the 17.7% at which we were running on March 7, and still well below the 2010 regular season rate (24.7%). However, our walk-rate has declined, sitting at only 7.0%, down from 8.6% earlier on (and 9.5% in 2010), and our stolen-base rate is horrible - we've only succeeded 14 times in 26 attempts, a 53.8% rate which is worst in the league. Much of this is down to Justin Upton, who is 1-for-6 in this category; everyone else has a 65% success rate.

Heroes and Villains (min. 35 PAs)

Russell Branyan: .444/.488/.750
Ryan Roberts: .486/.587/.629
Juan Miranda:  .294/.455/.618
------------------------------
Kelly Johnson: .293/.341/.390
Miguel Montero: .286/324/.371
Xavier Nady: .200/.220/.325

It shows how much Nady has been struggling, that he is now last on the board by 150 points of OPS. [Melvin Mora's .482 is worse, butt he has had only 24 at-bats, due to his car-crash] Nady is the hitter I am most concerned about, with the ongoing lack of any walks particularly troubling. Given how well his competitors have hit - Branyan, Miranda, Gerardo Parra, Wily Mo Pena - he needs to step it up, and Nady knows this. He said, "You've got to keep working on it. That's why we're here. Obviously, it's an important two weeks, but I'll keep working hard and find something going into the season. .. I know everyone has been supportive here, and I'll find it in these next 10 days."

At the other end, the battle for first is really heating up, with Branyan making a strong case for a bench spot - though it would be up to him whether to take it, or opt out, to try his luck elsewhere. And much credit is due to Parra, who was ranked last in the original update, but finished just outside the top three this time, now sporting a .946 OPS. Tony Abreu, also a villain previously, has also turned things around nicely. As we head into the final stretch, there are some interesting decisions to be made, and there's no doubt the competition Gibson wanted to see this spring has blossomed. Well, among our position players, at least...

Pitching. This is what triggered the nine-run losing strieak, and the teams ERA going into this afternoon's contest was up to 5.78, which is 0.87 runs higher than it was previously - which was already troublingly high, being above our 2010 figure. Only the Cubs (5.95) are higher, largely thanks to Carlos Silva and his twenty earned runs over 11.1 innings. Our WHIP of 1.58 has also increased, though it is still better than the Pirates, even though have a much more respectable ERA. However, it is worth bearing in mind that the median ERA to date is almost at five: basically, a run higher than the regular season.

Regardless, opponents have been teeing off pretty well against us, getting on base at a .364 rate [tied for worst] and slugging .485 - that's the worst, as is our opposing OPS of .849, effectively turning opposing lineups into Troy Glaus (career OPS of .847). Some other peripherals, however, are heading in the right direction. Walks are down to 3.3 per nine innings, from 3.7 when we first checked. But strikeouts, while still slightly on the low side at 6.5/9 IP [we were a 6.7 last year], have improved from the paltry figure of five shown in the early going. On the other hand, our HR rate has regressed, and is sitting at 1.08, though that's still better than the 2010 figure (1.32).

Our ability to control the running game, despite indications this would be a focus of the pre-season, still remains no more than mediocre. Opposing teams have stolen 26 bases against the Diamondbacks, the most in the NL, though this is in part because of a high number of attempts - their success rate of 72% is very close to the MLB average in 2010 of 71%.

Heroes and Villains (min. 5.2 IP)

David Hernandez: 7 IP, 2 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 5 BB, 5 K
Sam Demel: 6 IP, 5 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 1 BB, 7 K
Barry Enright: 12 IP, 9 H, 3 R, 3 ER, 2 BB, 6 K

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Juan Gutierrez: 6.2 IP, 9 H, 7 R, 7 ER, 2 BB, 4 K
Wade Miley: 8.1 IP, 13 H, 10 R, 9 ER, 5 BB, 3 K
Joe Saunders: 5.2 IP, 13 H, 10 R, 10 ER, 1 BB, 2 K

Saunders' numbers don't include this afternoon, which didn't go well. Including them, his line would be 8.2 IP, 19 H, 14 R, 14 ER, 1 BB, 4 K, for an ERA of 14.54. Mike Hampton's performance - four earned runs, while retiring one batter - would be sufficient to lift him into second place on the villains list, with a Cactus League ERA of 11.88. Saunders' numbers are particularly concerning, as I am hard pushed to think of an outing this spring where he has been decent. Miley, as a prospect, is not a problem, and Gutierrez has definitely been better of late, his ERA entirely a product of his first 2.2 innings. Since then he has thrown four shutout frames, on two hits, no BB and three K's.

On the brighter end of the spectrum. Hernandez and Demel have both been impressive. We expected good things from the former, but the latter has been a pleasant surprise - he did give up a run this afternoon, making his ERA 2.35, which would drop him below Enright''s 2.25. He appears to have added a cut fastball to his repertoire, impressing pitching coach Charles Nagy. "His cutter has come a long way. He's only thrown it for a short period of time and he can do a lot of things with it." He may be working his way into the seventh-inning mix, alongside Gutierrez, though roles will still likely depend on Aaron Heilman's eventual destination.

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