Diamondbacks Spring Training: Breaking Dawn?

Mar. 4, 2012; Scottsdale, AZ, USA; Arizona Diamondbacks centerfielder Chris Young (24) signs autographs for fans prior to the spring training game against the San Francisco Giants at Salt River Fields at Talking Stick. Mandatory Credit: Jennifer Hilderbrand-US PRESSWIRE

The Diamondbacks went 3-5 in the eight spring training games played since last Saturday's report, being outscored by a margin of 31-39. However, that's an awful lot better than it looked a couple of days ago, when Arizona had lost five of six and were a lot further down in runs, 15-35. Sweeping a two-game hypothetical "series" from the city of Chicago, including a majestic thumping of the Cubs, has improved numbers across the board, and certainly made me feel a good deal more optimistic.

With sample sizes now at the "largely insignificant" level, rather than "entirely insignificant" as they were in the first report, how are the numbers looking for the Diamondbacks?

Well, Ryan Roberts might not smack 69 home-runs this season after all, so that's a bit of a disappointment. :) The offense in general did struggle mid-week, posting a 24-inning scoreless streak that included consecutive shutouts at the hands of the Angels and Padres. However, there were some fun performances, not least Jonathan Griffin, who made the most of his single spring plate-appearance, smacking a massive bomb off Rockies' closer Rafael Betancourt. He's one of three players with a 5.000 OPS - Yorda Cabrera was noted last time, and has also been joined by Kevin Moesquit, who had a three-run homer against Cleveland today.

We should also mention Barry Enright, who is is another one of a fairly elite group of players to be batting 1.000 on the pre-season. There are actually 42 of these in the game, but only a handful or so are pitchers, including Todd Coffey of the Dodgers and Johnny Danks of the White Sox, who drove in the only two runs they scored today against the Diamondbacks. Though they and Enright do lose bragging rights on the mound to Randy Wolf of the Phillies, who has gone one better, by getting hits in his first two spring at-bats. He shares that distinction with outfielder Kenneth Williams of the White Sox.

Pitching
Things are certainly going in the right direction, with the team having shaved more than 1.6 runs off their ERA since last week, and are no longer dead-last among the teams playing in Arizona. However, they are still ranked 12th, with a figure of 5.48. However, we should remember that this is a hitters' league. When I was chatting with Dan Plesac earlier in the week, one of the things he said was, "If you have an ERA under five in the Cactus League, you've done a pretty good job pitching." That seems just about right, with the median number to date here being the Oakland A's, at 4.90, more than a run higher than the same number in the NL last year (3.77).

The other pitching numbers are also going the right way, which is what I'd prefer to see - definitely better to see your team improve as March goes on, rather than the reverse! Last week, the opposing OPS made the batters we faced look like Ken Griffey; that number is now reined in to .830, which is dead on the nose for Grady Sizemore's career number. They also so seem to have been doing a good job of holding runners on base, with only 12 SB attempts against thus far, and 50% of those have been caught. The Rangers (5 of 10) are the only team here with fewer bags stolen against them.

Heroes and Villains [min. 4 IP]
Brett Lorin: 4 IP, 0 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 0 BB, 2 K, 0.00 ERA
Patrick Corbin: 6.2 IP, 6 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 3 BB, 6 K, 1.35 ERA
Charles Brewer + Mike Zagurski: each 5 IP, 1 ER, 1.80 ERA
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Trevor Cahill + Brad Ziegler: each 5 IP, 5 ER, 9.00 ERA
Barry Enright: 6.2 IP, 16 H, 7 R, 7 ER, 1 BB, 4 K, 9.45 ERA
Josh Collmenter: 4 IP, 6 H, 6 R, 6 ER, 3 BB, 2 K, 13.50 ERA

Rule 5 pick Lorin isn't making it easy for the D-backs, having simply retired every batter faced this spring. If he keeps that up, the bullpen choices for Gibson might not be as obvious as we thought coming in. Corbin has avoided trouble, though that ERA sits uneasily with a less-outstanding WHIP of 1.35, Brewer and Zagurski couldn't be split: the former has allowed more hits, but has also struck out more batters, so let's mention them both.

The same goes at the other end of the chart, where Cahill and Ziegler. Ziegler has allowed fewer hits, but Cahill has a decent K:BB ratio of 6:1. The surprising thing is that he has allowed a team-leading three homers in those five innings, Last year, it took Cahill eight games and 52.1 innings before he allowed three homers in the regular season. Guess that sinker isn't sinking quite as it should yet. Enright has simply allowed too many hits: opposing batters have a .485 average against him to date. Collmenter is likely behind the curve, having been skipped for a start due to forearm tightness, but we'll see how he progresses this week.

Batting
If you want more proof of the difference between the Cactus and Grapefruit Leagues, you just have to look at the rankings by team OPS. The six lowest numbers, and eight of the bottom nine, are all from franchises slogging through the sea-level and humidity over in Florida. No, fortunately, the exception is not us, but the White Sox. We aren't doing a lot better though, with a line of .240/.321/.385, for a .706 OPS, well below the Cactus median of .790 by the Padres. That Arizona number has dropped 41 points on last week, which isn't surprising, given the midweek struggles experienced by the offense.

As Dan Haren will tell you, the team has been prone to the K, and the 127 thus far is good (or bad?) for third, with both teams ahead of us having played more games. Dave Winfree has been the worst offender so far, with eight K's in 19 AB, while king of contact has been Aaron Hill, who has whiffed just twice in 25 at-bats. The team has been taking its walks as well though, with 50 being just half a dozen behind the Cactus leading Athletics. The young guys have been showing how it's done, with the top three Paul Goldschmidt (six), Adam Eaton and A.J. Pollock (five apiece). At the other end, Hill hasn't walked yet - like I said, the king of contact!

Heroes and villains (min 15 PAs)
Chris Young: 9-for-20, .450, 1.427 OPS, 2 HR, 4 RBI
Henry Blanco: 4-for-14, .287, 1.161 OPS, 2 HR, 4 RBI
Rusty Ryal: 7-for-20, .350, 1.009 OPS, 1 HR, 3 RBI
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Miguel Montero: 4-for-18, ,222, .522 OPS, 0 HR, 1 RBI
Geoff Blum: 3-for-18, .167, .472 OPS, 0 HR, 2 RBI
Jason Kubel: 4-for-25, .160, .425 OPS, 0 HR, 2 RBI

We discussed Young's adjustment at the plate a little bit earlier in the week, but it does seem to be paying off thus far, with numbers which are far superior to just about anyone else on the roster. It wouldn't take much: just two extra hits per month over the course of last season would have taken his average up to ,257, and boosted his OBP, which was already fine. Blanco has been doing what he does, i.e. homering or making outs, and Ryal has been quietly impressive, though with no walks in his 20 AB, still needs to work on his plate discipline. That's always been an issue: in 2010, he had a K:BB ratio of 67:8.

I seem to recall Montero being down near the bottom of these lists in 2011, and that season seemed to work out okay for him, didn't it? Blum is a bit more troubling, not least because his name has to be in the chamber, if not on a bullet, for when Stephen Drew returns, and a good spring performance is thus more important for him. The numbers to date don't appear to be those of a man playing for his roster-spot. And for a man who was brought in as a slugger, Kubel hasn't done very much slugging. And with a K:BB ratio of 6:1, nor has he done much getting on base, either.

The rest
Speaking of Kubel, our defensive efficiency has improved a little, going from 62,7% last week to 64.4% now, even if that has only moved Arizona up from 30th to 27th overall. We have at least reined in the wild pitches, with one over the past eight games, compared to six in the opening week. There were another seven errors, giving up 15 to date, which still keeps the Diamondbacks toward the top of the list, tied for seventh in the majors.

But in the broader view of things, obsessing over 20-30 plate-appearances or a handful of innings is really not important, and we need always to keep in mind the bigger picture. Kirk Gibson isn't worried, and if he sees no reason for real concern, why should we?

"I do like to win. I don't care if I'm playing you in cards, I want to win... I do have confidence that we will play well when it counts. I do know we have a very talented team and I'm focused on putting that team together. I'm not going to get frustrated with them... The reality of it is when we put our nine guys out there to go against the other guy's nine guys and we have our bench and bullpen it's a whole different deal... We'll be fine, I know that. I'm very, very confident of that."
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