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AZ 4, Padres 1 - Webb Hatches, Valverde Dispatches

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Record: 9-11. Change on last season: -3

Yesterday may have been the most important 24 hours in the Diamondbacks' season. Not because of Brandon Webb's 8-innings gem against the Padres, good though it was. No, the sun will shine a little bit brighter today, the air will smell fresher, and life, overall, will be better for Diamondbacks fans around the globe. Because Russ Ortiz is no longer part of the rotation.

Bob Melvin said, "I don't want to run this guy down, but it's just something that we feel like to be more competitive that we have to do.... It's a results-based industry and we've given it some time and we just don't feel like we're getting the results," Ouch. Harsh - but hardly arguable - words. I think we can chalk this one up as another benefit of the Josh Byrnes era: he has no loyalty to the deal, since he arrived here after it was made, so has no need to save face in regard to it.

No word yet how long this will be for, and even less on who will replace him in the rotation. There's no immediate need to rush into the latter, however. The off-day on Thursday means that, with a little juggling, Webb takes Ortiz's scheduled start on Saturday, and we have until Thursday May 4th to decide. Hence, a poll, to see what public opinion feels on the matter [As an aside, the last poll - which is better, to lose 10-0 or 10-9? - finished split exactly 50/50 on the question]. The main candidates for the position are as follows:

Juan Cruz. Cruz has been very solid out of the bullpen this year, posting an ERA of 3.00 in twelve innings. While he did start some games for the Cubs between 2001-2003, his longest outing this season is only 52 pitches, and he hasn't thrown more than three innings in over two years. Seems unlikely: Byrnes said, "It would be robbing Peter to pay Paul" to move Cruz into the rotation.
Season line: 12 IP, 5 H, 10 BB, 14 K, 4 R, 4 ER
Career as starter: 23 games, 5-11, 4.02 ERA, 1.48 WHIP

Dustin Nippert. Performed well enough, save some control issues, in starts at the end of last season. However, that was straight from Double-A; he's now in Tucson getting some seasoning. So far, things haven't gone so well, with the control problems persisting: in two starts, covering 11 innings, he has allowed seven walks, though has not been helped by a defense which has coughed up five unearned runs.
Season line (AAA) : 11 IP, 10 H, 7 BB, 11 K, 12 R, 7 ER
Career as starter: 3 games, 1-0, 5.52 ERA, 1.57 WHIP

Kevin Jarvis. The most experienced of the candidates, with 114 major-league starts to his name. However, like Cruz, none have come since 2003, and the results haven't been impressive. He really hasn't been a good pitcher his entire 13-year career, with an ERA+ of 74 - save a year in Coors, his season ERAs have always been half a run or more higher than the adjusted league average, and usually much worse.
Season line (AAA) : 27 IP, 27 H, 8 BB, 19 K, 12 R, 9 ER
Career as starter: 114 games, 33-43, 5.64 ERA, 1.47 WHIP

Edgar Gonzalez. He has suffered a painful past couple of seasons, posting an 0-9 record in 2004, then getting one game in 2005, giving resulting in an ERA of 108, Still, Gonzalez might get the call: look at that gaudy K:BB ratio posted for the Sidewinders, and a 3.60 ERA in a notorious hitters' park like TEP is also not to be sneezed at. Interestingly, he has twice as many hit batters as walks.
Season line (AAA) : 25 IP, 24 H, 2 BB, 21 K, 13 R, 10 ER
Career as starter: 12 games, 1-10, 8.68 ERA, 2.00 WHIP

Those are probably the four likely choices, with perhaps the other Egon, Enrique Gonzalez, a long-shot. He's never pitched in the bigs before, but has the best ERA of any Tucson starter so far, at 3.00. [I just noticed who's got the worst: Brian Bruney, owner of this gaudy season line: 2.2 IP, 12 H, 4 BB, 12 R, 10 ER, 33.75 ERA]. Personally, I'd like to see Edgar get another shot: he deserves a chance and has significantly more experience than in 2004.

I am somewhat confused by Byrnes' statement regarding Cruz above, about Peter and Paul. If Ortiz is moving to the bullpen, and Cruz is not coming out, does that mean we're going with an extra relief arm? Or will someone be dropped? Grimsley has likely earned a reprieve for his emergency - like, on an inning notice - starts; hell, maybe we should just make him the starter? He's certainly pitched better (and longer!) than Russ, the last couple of games.

Enough of Ortiz. There was also a game yesterday, in case you'd forgotten (what with all the excitement, y'know). Which means it's time for:

Your daily dose of yummy Fangraphs goodness
Today: Saw long, and thanks for all the groundouts

Interestingly-shaped graph today, especially over the first few innings, the advantage see-sawing back and forth as the two starters pitched lights-out. One limitation of the methodology I've realised is, that it doesn't take account of who is pitching: a two-run lead with Webb on the mound, definitely is more secure than a two-run lead with Ortiz on the mound. I just mention this in passing. :-)

The idea was floated in the comments yesterday by johngordonma (thanks also to Devin, William K, dahlian and Spencer - the last name bringing the news of Ortiz's demise to us) that Brandon Webb might find his name on a few Cy Young ballots this autumn. Not winning - not yet, anyway - but certainly receiving honourable mentions. On the back of yet another heroic, bullpen-saving outing last night, it's easy to see why. Average innings per outing: Brandon Webb, 7.1; the rest of the rotation, 4.2.

His season ERA is down to 2.21 now, 5th best in the National League, and he and former D'back Chris Capuano (ah, if only...) are the sole pitchers with five quality starts. The odd thing is, Webb isn't particularly flummoxing hitters - they're batting .270 against him, the worst of any of the 22 pitchers in the majors with an ERA of 3.00 or better. Those groundballs help, though oddly, he's only =5th for double-plays induced. But his GB/FB ratio is a brutal 4.53; just two other pitchers (Lowe and Cook) are better than four.

Last night, it was eight innings of great pitching allowing only one run, without walking a batter; his sinker was working well, leading to fourteen groundouts. Two of the six hits Webb gave up, came in the ninth, when he was beginning to tire, yet wanted to notch the complete game. However, with the tying run coming to the plate, Valverde entered, fanned the first two, then got Piazza to fly out for the save.

Offensively, we weren't great, just good enough - we only used ten players, a season low, with all the starters bar Webb remaining in the game. The most important knock was a double by Estrada, which scored two runs. That was one of two hits he had, and Shawn Green also had a pair - albeit none with runners in scoring position, naturally. Brandon Webb helped his own cause by legging out an infield knock, that brought a run home. It's his second RBI of the year, matching his 2005 total already, and also means he has the same number as Green...