Name: Joe Saunders
Known Aliases: Bazooka Joe, Colonel Saunders, Abrananaham Lincoln (aka The Great Potassiumancipator)
Age on opening day: 29
2011 stats: 33 games, 212.0 IP, 3.69 ERA, 12-13, 108:67 K:BB
2010 stats (total: 33 games, 203.1 IP, 4.47 ERA, 9-17, 114:64 K:BB
Is there any player on the Diamondbacks roster who split the fans quite so much as Joe Saunders did? 2011 was Saunders's first full season in an Arizona uniform, and the reactions to his arrival- and the subsequent expectations- were probably heavily influenced by the memory of Dan Haren's dreamy blue eyes and crafty delivery, and echoing recollections of being told that Joe knew how to win. A rough situation for a pitcher, no doubt, especially given a fanbase that was looking forward to the season with a healthy dose of cynicism and just perhaps a tinge of fear.
But we all know how the 2011 season turned out for the Diamondbacks- would Joe be that lucky? He was a constant source of debate through the whole season, but Joe Saunders didn't seem to know it was going on. He just kept his head down, pitched his game, and did his part to help the team with the division.
For the most part, Joe Saunders was looked at as our veteran presence in the rotation. Most people didn't expect huge numbers out of him, but we hoped for something decent in the middle of the rotation- or at least something that wouldn't leave us wanting to drunk dial Dan Haren and beg him to come back.
To put it in internet meme terms: Everything went better than expected.
Sure, Joe may not have been a Cy Young contender. He might not have been out there racking up insane strikeouts or pitching complete games every other week. But he was like the Y-Wing of the Diamondbacks starting rotation- no flashy numbers, but he gave us some solid work and certainly helped us defeat the Galactic Emp- er, rest of the NL West.
Okay, fine, maybe "the Doug Davis of the 2011 Diamondbacks" is a better simile. Baseball nerds.
The great debate of 2011- outside of Josh Collmenter's proper role on the team- was probably Joe Saunders: Can He Keep Doing It. For a large part of the season, Saunders was, quite honestly, pitching far better than we thought he would. You remember that point of the season, when the Diamondbacks turned things around in mid-May? Well, from the middle of May to the end of July, Saunders was pretty solid. In fourteen starts, Bazooka Joe went 8-3 with a 2.63 ERA. That's better numbers than I ever would have expected from Saunders over a stretch that long. On top of that, he showed his willingness to do what the team needed for the play:
Saunders may have hit some trouble after that- his next few outings in August were not pretty- but he recovered well enough to put up good numbers in September.
Another advantage Joe gave us that he didn't get a lot of attention for was his durability. Our bullpen was obviously much improved this year, and Joe did his part to help there- Saunders pitched at least 6 innings in 28 of his 33 starts.
He may have outplayed his peripherals. He may have struggled against quality teams like the Phillies and the Giants. But, at the end of the day, he did what he could, he ate innings in the middle of the rotation, and helped the team out. Good season, Joe. We'll be glad to see you back in the spring.
Other Snakepit Grades:
Two surprising things about Saunders:
1) His career 3.76 ERA for AZ is now the second-best by a left-hander with 250 IP in franchise history.
2) He's only 30? Somehow, Joe feels older than that: is it the whole "crafty leftie" thing? Or maybe it's the gravitational pull of Jamie Moyer, yanking the ages of all southpaws up...
Saunders continues to get it done, despite frequently-expressed fears to the contrary, and in the final analysis, that’s all that matters. He seemed to be perpetually in trouble last season, but holding hitters to a .226 average with RISP will help cure many ills. Can he do that again in 2012? Who knows. But he did it in 2011, and that was good enough for Arizona.
For a guy who some thought might be the opening day starter, to a guy that couldn’t pitch his way onto a softball team during spring training, to... “let’s just leave him out of the rotation”, I think he’d fared well enough. It almost pains me to say that I support having Bazooka Joe on the team next year, but I’d be insanely happy if he reproduced his results from 2011.