SnakePit Round Table: Are We Having Fun Yet?

Has your heart returned to your chest? Mine is still roaming the desert, restlessly pacing the night, still fearing our bullpen is going to cough up the lead again. Would have sucked to lose, but it means we go 3-3 on the week, and keeps us tied for third in the division, just a couple of games back. Next up: the Cardinals and Giants. This week's discussion covers what to expect there, the week just finished, and what we think of the end of Mandy's career [brief summary: "Good riddance to bad rubbish].

That home opener demolition was fun, wasn’t it?

Sprankton: Watching Ian Kennedy hand it to the Reds was like eating a jar full of joy. It was wonderfully wonderful.

Jim: It’s one of the joys of baseball - unlike, say, the NFL - that on any given day, any team can totally crush any other team, and look invincible for a few hours. Of course, it can work the other way too, and I think the rest of the Reds series pretty much showed why they play all these games, and the way things can change.

DbacksSkins: I missed it. :( /noooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooo

Buuuut jinnah told me all about it, even before I checked the ‘Pit.

soco: Even better to be there.  I’ve been to better games, but this one was pretty special regardless.

Wailord: Definitely a nice way to open up for the home crowd, even if the next night was a letdown. I’d much rather the ownage come in the opener, anyhow.

DbacksSkins: Think I might have to disagree with your characterization, Jim. There’s a reason they say "any given Sunday" about the NFL.

Jim: Isn’t the quote, "On any given Sunday you're gonna win or you're gonna lose. The point is - can you win or lose like a man?" Not sure what that has to say about competitive parity. But I think luck e.g. BABIP plays a much bigger part in a game of baseball.

bb: +1 for Sprankton. Best part of it for me was watching Ian Kennedy decimate the Reds.

Kishi: It was fantastic. Not often we’ll see our team just shred the opposition like that, but I’m definitely a fan of it, anytime they can manage.

Other highlights and low-lights of the past week?

Sprankton: Chris Young +1000. He’s made some pretty awesome catches. Montero’s inability to grasps some relatively simple plays has been somewhat of a low.

DbacksSkins: CY has certainly had a pretty good few games, defensively and offensively. Miggy’s defense definitely has left plenty to be desired so far, but his offense is still pretty solid. Melvin Mora has been a non-entity offensively and defensively as yet. FanGraphs gives him -0.2 WAR already, (0.2 WBR?) and he didn’t even play for several games. So he’s cost the team nearly a quarter of a win over a Triple-A callup. (And FanGraphs doesn’t even take into account the RBI opportunities he’s blown)

Also, oh, hey, we’re already underperforming our pythag after 6 games. (Should be 4-2 rather than 3-3) Yay for Kirk Gibson being all the difference!!

soco: Highlight for me would obviously be attending a game, the first real baseball game since I went to a White Sox game last August.  Lowlight would be the continued inconsistency of the team.  I can understand the offense probably expending themselves too much at the home opener and being flat on the second game of the Reds Series, but these guys need to kick it into high gear.

Jim: Up until about 1:15 this afternoon, I was most impressed with our starting pitching, which had done a remarkably good job of keeping the team in games. But this team always seems to have a puncher’s chance of coming back, as we saw today. Lowlights? The ninth on Saturday was ugly as sin; that was the first time we really looked like the bad late-inning version from previous seasons. But I really liked JJ Putz in the ninth today, who gave up three hits on groundballs but kept making quality pitches to strike out the last two hitter.

Wailord: Well, the series with the Reds managed to showcase both the highs and lows of the team... the offensive explosion in the opener, the bullpen and defensive failure in Saturday’s game, and the comeback on Sunday. Every game managed to make itself, er, memorable.

ZM: The pitching in general has been a strong point.  Other than a few rough patches (the top of the ninth on Saturday comes to mind), the bullpen has been pretty decent.  While it’s still early in the season and the bullpen last year didn’t really fall off a cliff until later in the season, it’s encouraging to see the bullpen transform from a Gurgling Vortex of Suck into a Gurgling Vortex of, I don’t know, competancy?  Combine that with a rotation that has been better than most (including me) expected, and the team has been competitive in pretty much every game they’ve played so far.

bb: This might be a bit weird, but I sort of think some of the major highlights this week came in the minor league camp. It was great to see Goldy, Krauss, and Wheeler pounding the ball in AA, and Tyler Green striking out six with no walks in five innings was quite impressive.

Kishi: Definitely some bright spots in the pitching. Yes, Saunder had problems today, but other than that, I’ve been happy with the starters. Kennedy and Hudson have looked good, even if they only have one win between the two of them. Barry Enright’s final line may not have been pretty, but he did lock it down after a few rough innings. Still some wariness about the bullpen, but that’s always there, I think. Our offense has been inconsistent, but it seems to have more firepower than we though, and the team seems a bit more resilient than in seasons past.

Stephen Drew is now back, so how do we get Willie Bloomquist into the line-up? Should we even be bothering?

Sprankton: Yes please. What? You’d rather have Melvin Mora? Pssshhh.

DbacksSkins: Baseball’s a streaky game, and Willie B is still streaking. I’m glad to have Drew back, but let Willie continue to play somewhere, at least until the hot streak runs cold.

Willie’s doing some stuff that he doesn’t do historically -- driving the ball, stealing bases, drawing walks -- and as long as he keeps doing that, let him play.

Honestly, in the short term, I wouldn’t mind him playing LF more, and 3B, too. Let him sub everywhere.

soco: Play that hot hand, baby.

Jim: By any means necessary at this point: he’s had as many hits over the first eight games as any player in franchise history, so we have to get him in there. I don’t mind seeing him in LF or 3B, especially against left-handers. It’s not as if Mora or Nady are setting the world on fire.

Wailord: Basically, everything above. Put him in wherever we can, and anytime someone wants to go "oh, we’ll slot in Melvin here...", put Willie there.

ZM: Keep playing him until he stops doing all of the nice things that ‘Skins mentioned above.

bb: I think the best part about Willie’s game (and the most sustainable) is his base-stealing. When watching him, I just feel like he gets great jumps, and understands very well when are the best counts to go. Drew is definitely the overall better player in my mind. But Willie has at least earned the right to start most games. Maybe left field? or 3B? Probably since Mora hasn’t been as effective, we can use Willie to spell him more.

Kishi: I think bb mentions a good reason to keep him in- even if he isn’t hitting for power, he’s a threat once he gets on the bases. Add him to the left field rotation, just let him keep riding this streak as long as he can. It’s not like he’s going to go cold and cost us the division title.

Going in to Sunday’s game, the Diamondbacks haven’t really cut back on the K’s. After 7 games last year, they had 54 strikeouts; in 2011, they’ve had 53. Do you see any difference in their approach at the plate?

DbacksSkins: I haven’t really seen much difference. CY, Upton, Miggy, Parra and KJ have started the majority of games at their respective positions, just like last year, so we shouldn’t be particularly shocked. Nady and Branyan (especially Nady) are strikeout prone.

soco: Make no mistake, the whole "we’re going to cut strikeouts thing" was a bunch of crap.  Maybe it won’t be historically bad this year, but I don’t see anything that suggests the D’backs going to turn into a bunch of Joe DiMaggios.

Jim: So far, it’s been Johnson and Young who are the main victims: KJ has 9 in 36 ABs, CY 9 in 35 - each has only one walk. I am a bit concerned about both of them: KJ is at the Uecker Line as I type, while Young seems to have regressed to the 2009 version, getting under a lot of balls. I trust this is just small sample-size: the last AB by Chris today gives me hope that is the case.

ZM: I think KJ and Young are both going to find their way.  KJ is way too talented to hit below .200 over the course of the season, and once the hits start coming, I expect the strikeouts to drop.  Strikeouts have never been Young’s primary bugaboo (he had the third-lowest total among starters on the team last year) and his at-bats today gave me a lot of hope.

bb: Agree with the above. Though KJ hasn’t really shown me that much to prove it yet. Young on the other hand, I feel has gotten robbed quite a bit. And his BABIP was incredibly high (for him) last year. Maybe we should have expected some regression. Once those hits start coming again, I suspect they won’t be as aggressive at the plate and strikeout.

What they have done, is be a lot more active on the bases. Over the first eight games of 2010, they had two stolen-bases. They’re already at 12. Pros and cons of this?

DbacksSkins: Coming into today’s game, that aggressiveness had cost us 3x already -- Willie B getting thrown out trying to turn a double into a triple, Miggy getting thrown out trying to advance on a wild pitch, and Upton getting caught stealing. That’s 3 outs on the basepaths that we didn’t need to give our opponents; a full inning thus far.

On the other hand, we’d stolen 11 bases, and an 11:1 SB:CS ratio is pretty fantastic -- if we can keep that up, even sabermetricians would approve. That doesn’t, of course, include things like going first to third on a single to RF.

I’ll call it a plus to this point.

soco: I think when you can rely on your pitching to keep games close, then by all means run, baby, run.  D’backs haven’t shown they can consistently do that, so I don’t want to see them run themselves out of a game.  The run game hasn’t shown to be a difference maker anymore than home runs had been if you can’t stop the other team.

Jim: Having just watched Stephen Drew get picked off first in a one-run game, I tend to think it’s still a work in progress. We may have more stolen-bases - which is the most obvious measure - but no team in the league has more outs on the base-paths either. I think we’d better get used to a fair number of both, as part of ‘Gibby ball’.

Wailord: With the offense being so inconsistent (either firing on all cylinders or... not doing much at all), the fact that we’re so aggressive on the basepaths is probably a good thing. It can advance runners when they otherwise wouldn’t have and set up the inning nicely; then again, on the other side of the coin, if we get an out due to a boneheaded play (like the ones Skins mentioned above), it doesn’t do much to help us... I guess it can be summed up sorta obviously: I’m liking the aggressiveness, we just need to work on the execution.

ZM: Like others have said: if you can do it efficiently, then by all means keep being aggressive.  But if the team can’t sustain their current SB%, then it might be a good idea to reevaluate the strategy.

bb: I think we’ve been stealing pretty well. We’ve gotten lucky some (see KJ’s false steal). And sometimes I think Upton picks bad counts to steal on. Which is weird, because I thought our 1B coach had a lot to say on which count to consider going on. And I don’t really see the same problem from Willie. Anyway, if the percentages are there, then there’s no problem with continuing to run aggressively.

A bad outing for Juan Gutierrez on Saturday, both pitching and with the glove. What should we do?

Sprankton: Relegate him for now and spare his relief for not-so-close games. I always get the impression that his confidence is insanely fragile. As soon as it takes a hit he seems to struggle to get back up.

DbacksSkins: If anyone outside the Dbacks’ FO still thinks he’s worth more than a bucket of balls, get what we can for him.

It’d be nice to not have to use him anytime a game is close, but that’s not going to be a situation that happens often this year. Using Gutierrez solely in low-leverage spots is a luxury we don’t have.

soco: If he doesn’t turn it around soon, get someone who can get it done.  We can’t have multiple fragile relievers.  I don’t trust Heilman to come in a hot situation, and I sure as hell don’t trust Gutierrez.  It may have been a winning formula for Bob Melvin in 2007, but I don’t think it will work again.

Jim: I think today shows, again, that Heilman needs to be kept out of high-leverage situations. Mickolio and Hernandez would be the ones I would be looking to trust at this point, with a side-order of Demel, perhaps. Gute needs to show he can get the unimportant outs at this point, before being given any more crucial ones.

Wailord: Well, what we certainly should not do is put him in when the game counts. He managed to completely erase any hopes of a ninth-inning comeback on Saturday, and even though he’d looked alright in games prior, it’s not a risk we can really afford to take. Put him in low-leverage situations or something until both he and we are confident in his ability to get batters out and not a moment sooner.

ZM: Agreed, he has too much talent to throw him away entirely, but he should not be pitching important innings for the team.

bb: I want to say Guti can’t handle pressure. But the thing is, we saw him do it previously this year, and he’s actually shown pretty good stuff (when I watched him...unfortunately did not watch this game). As some of you may know, I’m one of the bigger Guti haters on this blog. But I think he deserves another chance. Could just be a bad outing.

Kishi: Guti is a source of eternal frustration. We’ve seen some great work from him, and we’ve seen some appalling outings. He needs to get us the Guti who shook off two errors behind him in Colorado and kept his head in the game.

The upcoming week sees six more games at home, against the Cardinals and Giants. How do you think we’ll do?

Sprankton: Bold prediction would be to see us go 2-1 against St. Louis and 2-1 against San Francisco. That’s what I’ll stick with, though I assume the worst.

DbacksSkins: I’m still hoping the Dbacks win Sunday and beat my prediction last week of 2-4.

I want to say 2-1 against the Cardinals and 1-2 against the Giants, for a 3-3 record, (not having checked the probables yet) but 2-4 seems more likely against two tough teams. This April schedule is a killer.

soco: 3-3 is doable.  I think the D’backs can sneak a couple past the struggling Cards, and take one against the Giants.

Jim: Having nailed our 3-3 performance last week (albeit not really in the expected manner!), I’ll stick with the 3-3 again. WLW against the Cards, then WLL against the Giants.

Wailord: I’ll take another split. I wouldn’t have too much to complain about if we ended the season with 81 wins...

ZM: Tune into the series preview to find out!!!

/Shameless plug

bb: I said 4-2 on the last stretch, and I’m going to be optimistic again, and say 4-2. We win both series 2-1.

Kishi: Can I just say that we had the tying run on second at the end of second game in Chicago, so we were just that close to my 4-2 prediction being right? Obviously, I can, unless Jim somehow edits this out. Okay, this stretch.... 3-3. Win the series against the Cardinals, lose the series against the Giants. Brian Wilson’s beard will be responsible for two unexplained disappearances in the Phoenix area while he’s in town.

Thoughts on Manny Ramirez’s sudden exit from the game, and how he’ll be remembered?

Sprankton: I was shocked at first but then came to grips with the facts -  I should have seen it coming, really. If there’s anything that we can take and learn from this, it’s that a player who has positively tested for PEDs multiple times and retired to avoid a suspension has absolutely no place in the hall of fame or even on a ballot.

DbacksSkins: I’m really only surprised that he wasn’t smart enough to learn it the first time.

Manny, over the course of his career, was probably the most feared right-handed hitter in the Majors. That’s a pretty impressive feat over 19 seasons. But, if Mark McGwire’s meager HoF votes have taught us anything, it’s probably that the voters are going to be pretty harsh on PED users. Not only has Manny now tested positive TWICE for steroid masking agents; he’s tested positive twice AFTER THE FULL TESTING REGIMEN WAS INSTALLED. (And presumably, he was one of the players on the 2003 list, as well)

Without the PED tests, there’s no doubt that a guy with a career 152 wRC+ (25th best all-time! 15th best for an OF) over 19 years makes the HoF. Despite the lousy defense at a position that already has pretty low defensive standards, Manny’s been worth 71.9 fWAR and 67.5 rWAR.

We’ll have to see how Barry Bonds does to really get an idea. McGwire will probably never make the HoF, and he was 12th all-time in wRC+.

Besides the PEDs, HoF voters won’t like all the off-field behavioral issues, either.

soco: He’ll be remembered for all his off-the-field antics more than his numbers.  He’ll be remembered for his steroid use.  He’ll be remembered for attacking the Red Sox traveling secretary.  He’ll be remembered for whining, and pretending to have injuries, and his lack of hustle, and his terrible attitude.  But worst of all for him is he’ll likely not even be remembered in 20 years.  He’ll be that kooky player some writer of the future will reference in a book, and some kid will marvel at the numbers and wonder why no one remembers him.

Jim: To think I wasted a (late-round, admittedly) draft-pick on that bum! What a loser! More seriously, as Buster Olney suggested, one wonders if his cheating helped the Dodgers beat the D-backs in the 2008 NL West race? In 53 games after coming to LA, he hit .396 with 17 homers and drove in 53 - they pipped us by two games. We might still have Bob Melvin and Josh Byrnes, if we’d gone back-to-back as champions...

Wailord: He’s a loser, plain and simple. Glad to see him out of the game at this point, and doubly so now that he’s basically destroyed any hopes he had of getting into the Hall of Fame. Sure, he put up monster stats, but who knows how much of it - if any - was legitimate? Compounded with his terrible attitude, I think baseball’s better as a whole without him there.

bb: I’m not going lie. I just really dislike Manny and am glad he’s out of the game. Part of that is tainted by the fact that I basically really started watching baseball the year we started off 20-8 in April and got blasted by Mannyball Dodgers late in the year to miss the playoffs. Glad he’s gone.

Kishi: Look, all these party favors and drinks aren’t going to celebrate Manny’s departure by themselves. His numbers were incredible, but he wasn’t viewed fondly as a teammate even before the drug tests. He’s a player who was foolish enough to get caught cheating twice, and put himself ahead of the team. I think that’s his legacy.

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