FanPost

A Year Ago... Where Were The Diamondbacks?

As I'm writing this, the date is June 12, 2011.

On June 12, 2010, the Diamondbacks won a baseball game, as ace pitcher Dan Haren out-dueled Cardinals starter Adam Ottovino, and the offense did its part to help the team win convincingly: 7 to 2.  This win brought the 2010 Diamondbacks' record all the way up to 25-38 on the season.  On June 12, 2010, the Diamondbacks were a mess.

On June 12, 2010, Juan Miranda didn't play.  This wasn't really surprising, since Miranda only participated in one game in the majors during June 2010.  That was on June 1st.  One day later, Miranda would be optioned to the New York Yankees Triple-A affiliate, where he would toil for a month and a half before being called up again when the Yankees needed a replacement-level first baseman to occasionally spell Mark Teixeira.  Miranda was 27 at this point, and the 71 Plate Appearances he would eventually receive with the Yankees were by far the most he had ever had in the majors.  History does not look particularly kindly on 27-year-old, fringe replacement-level first basemen, so by this point there was legitimate doubt as to whether Miranda would ever become anything more than a AAAA player. 

On June 12, 2010, Ryan Roberts was a scrub.  Sure, he'd been a pleasant surprise in 2009, filling in at second base with an OPS+ of 105, but the consensus was that there was no chance it would happen again.  He was a 28-year-old minor league journeyman, for God sakes.  He was going to regress, it was merely a matter of when and to what extent.  Sure enough, he barely made the team out of Spring Training in 2010.  He was allowed to hang around at the beginning of 2010, collecting a pinch-hit AB here, a spot start there.  But on the morning of June 12, Roberts had only accumulated 16 at-bats over the course of the season, and he had done so little with them (.438 OPS) that there was really no reason to keep him around on the sinking ship that was the 2010 D-Backs.  Predictably, he would be sent to Reno on July 4.  I remember being vaguely sad about this, since I figured that this would be the last time we would ever see Ryan Roberts in a Diamondback uniform.

On June 12, 2010, Justin Upton was a pariah.  He had just gone 0 for 4 against the Cardinals, dropping his batting line for the season to .242/.318/.424.  He hadn't been terrible, that wasn't the problem.  The problem was that he was expected to be phenomenal.  He had just been given a 6-year, $51 million contract and a section of right field bleachers ("Uptown").  For all intents and purposes, he was The Face of the 2011 Diamondbacks, a title that we should retroactively regard with as much dramatic irony as we would "Chief Navigator of the Titanic."  This branding of JUp worked about as well as could be expected: Upton underperformed compared to 2009, struck out a bunch a bunch of times on a team that would go on to break records in that category, and didn't always appear to give maximum effort.  On a team that was clearly under-performing and listless, Upton was an easy target with the fans.  In their eyes, he was an overrated, overpaid, lazy (did I mention that he's black?) "star" on a last-place ball club.  In a few months, the new GM of the team would make a casual mention that he was available on the trade market, and everyone would begin wondering if they'd seen the last of Upton in Sedona Red.  He has a case for being the most talented position player in Diamondbacks history--and he had made himself one of the least popular by his third season in the majors. 

On June 12, 2010, David Hernandez had the night off with the Orioles.  By this point, he was partway through rehabilitating his season as a reliever after flunking out of the Orioles' rotation.  He was handed a starting job by the Orioles, who had no chance of competing that year and wanted to see exactly what they had in their 25-year-old right hander with electric stuff.  What they had simply awful.  During his first eight starts, Hernandez went 1-5 with a 5.31 ERA, walking 28 guys in the process.  It got so bad that the Orioles, a team with no aspirations of contending in 2010, couldn't stomach it anymore and pulled the plug on the David Hernandez Experiment.  They stuck him in the bullpen, hoping he could at least provide a modicum of value as a competent reliever.

On June 12, 2010, J.J. Putz earned his third Hold of the season.  He had a 2.49 ERA with the White Sox, which was pretty nice if unless you consider where he has been in the past.  J.J. Putz was a roughly average pitcher until he turned 29, when he woke up one morning and decided to become one of the best closers in baseball.  Between '06 and '08, Putz saved 91 games for the Mariners, with his magnum opus coming in 2007, where his WHIP was under .7.  But arm troubles derailed him at the end of '08 and into '09.  By 2010, he was a 33-year-old former closer with average velocity, and the phrase "injury-prone" attached to his name.  He was having a nice season in 2010, but fans could be forgiven if they never expected to be Thunderstruck again.

On June 12, 2010, Josh Collmenter was coming off a dominant start in which he threw 8.1 scoreless innings...for the Mobile Bay Bears.  Collmenter was 24 at the time, which made him old by Double-A standards.  He didn't have much of a reportoire either, just a high-80s fastball that only looked fast compared to his mid-70s change-up.  Nobody really thought much about him, as Baseball America left him off their list of Diamondbacks Top-30 prospects entirely, and even the small handful of people who saw an MLB future for Collmenter primarily saw him coming out of the bullpen.

Ed. note: It's after midnight, so it's now June 13, 2011.  All upcoming data will be adjusted accordingly.

On June 13, 2010, Daniel Hudson pitched six scoreless innings for the White Sox Triple-A affiliate.  This was yeoman's work for a guy who people around baseball generally considered one of the Sox top prospects.  He was considered a top prospect by everyone except the man who controlled his future, White Sox GM Kenny Williams.  Williams thought very little of Hudson, or at least he appeared to, since in a little more than a month he would package Hudson AND a 19-year-old with a crazy fastball for a pitcher with an ERA of 5.16.  Yes, Kenny Williams has no use for someone like Daniel Hudson.

On June 13, 2010, Ian Kennedy was lucky.  Sure, he had an ERA of 3.17 at the time, but it was hanging by the thinnest of threads.  His BABIP was a mere .242, a signifier of good luck that would surely soon run out.  He had pitched better than many had expected so far in his first season with the Diamondbacks, there was no denying that, but he had still only made 13 starts with the team.  This meas that he was only 13 starts removed from his previous standing as a failed Yankees prospect who was coming off an arm injury.  There were plenty of reasons to believe that Kennedy would go back to being the pitcher who put up a career ERA of 6.03 with the Yankees, just as soon as he stopped getting so damned lucky.

On June 13, 2010, Kirk Gibson was a bench coach with nearly seven years of coaching experience, forced to serve under a manager who had zero.  Gibson's coaching career was one of the causalities of a desperation move disguised as "organizational advocacy," as A.J. Hinch was promoted from the Front Office to the dugout in 2009 to "save the season."  Gibson wouldn't have to wait much longer though, as he would be promoted to manager about three weeks later following the firing of Hinch.  At the time, the change was met with general indifference on the 'Pit, since Gibson had no more true managerial experience than Hinch did when he was promoted.  And after all, how much of a difference could a new manager actually make, anyway?

On June 13, 2010, the Diamondbacks were completely and utterly screwed for the foreseeable future.  A season in which they were considered a trendy dark horse pick in the NL West had gone horribly, horribly wrong.  By June, the Diamondbacks' season was over, for all intents and purposes.  The final countdown on the Byrnes/Hinch administration had begun, and their firing in under three weeks would usher in a complete and total rebuild.  But to make matters worse, even the foundation of that rebuild was shaky, as top prospect Jarrod Parker missed the entire season with Tommy John surgery and sixth overall pick Barret Loux was considered a reach even before doctors found out that his throwing arm was structurally unsound.  The plan, devised on the fly, became to rebuild with 2013 as a presumed timetable for competing.

In life, some of the greatest joys are unexpected, but in baseball, we don't really think this way.  Baseball is a game of structured rebuilding, minor-league timetables, and windows for competition that are planned out years in advance.  And what makes the 2011 Diamondbacks a blast is that they don't roll that way.  They're the Oceanic Flight #815 of baseball: a random cacophony of people thrown together and expected to survive under weird circumstances.  This was a team filled with nobodies and has-beens that was supposed to bridge the gap before a bunch of prospects get here. 

On June 13, 2011, the Diamondbacks are a game out of first.  I don't know if they'll keep it up, but even if they don't, it's been a fun few months.  There are prospects that have a chance to make a real impact in the next year or so, and a strong draft in 2011 ensures that there are plenty more to come.  Regardless of what happens over the next month or so, there are reasons to be optimistic in AZ.

What a difference a year makes.

(Minor-league data from Fangraphs, all other data from Baseball-Reference)

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