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First-half review: Starting Pitching

Here's the second chunk in our review of the season thus far. Today, we start our look at the arms, and I've arbitrarily drawn the cutoff point at 20 innings, so Messrs. Choate, Daigle, Mulholland, Nippert, EdGon and Jarvis get an "Incomplete" grade and must attend summer school to catch up. :-) Stats shown are across the board, e.g. Cruz's figures are as both a starter and reliever.

Starters
Brandon Webb A
9-3, 2.65 ERA, 1.11 WHIP, .256 OBA
Enrique Gonzalez B- 2-2, 5.14 ERA, 1.14 WHIP, .219 OBA
Juan Cruz B- 3-4, 4.45 ERA, 1.30 WHIP, .215 OBA
Miguel Batista C 8-5, 5.01 ERA, 1.60 WHIP, .307 OBA
Claudio Vargas C 7-5 4.91 ERA, 1.47 WHIP, .277 OBA
O. Hernandez D+ 2-4, 6.11 ERA, 1.58 WHIP, .292 OBA
Russ Ortiz F 0-5, 7.54 ERA, 2.16 WHIP, .303 OBA

It's intriguing to note that three of the NL starting pitchers in yesterday's All-Star Game have played for Arizona: as well as Webb, both Penny and Capuano are former D'backs. How might things be different now if we had hung onto them? Without Penny, no Mantei - and, probably, no 1999 Division title. That was evidence of our serious intent to contend: would we have convinced Johnson and Schilling to come here otherwise? For lacking that pair, there'd be no 2001 World Series for AZ. There's a whole realm - untapped, as far as I know - of speculative sports fiction that might be based on "what if?" scenarios like this.

Back in the real universe, any questions about whether Webb was ready to step up and become our ace have been fully answered. 16 quality starts, averaging 7.1 innings per game, best ERA in the NL, three complete games, and already two shutouts - that's beaten by only one man in franchise history, the Big Unit in 2000 (three) and 2002 (four). His control has made another great leap forward, with only 21 walks in 139.1 innings, which has helped a lot. For the only knock against Webb is an occasional tendency to give up shedloads of hits: he's allowed 9+ six times this year, but has only lost one of those games.

That leaves him well placed to make a run at becoming our first post-season award winner, though his current nine wins is a little low: he's only got one victory in eight starts. It doesn't help that in his three losses, we scored a total of just five runs. He should get 15 or 16 more starts: if he can get nine more wins, that get his win total up to eighteen, and if his ERA remains around 2.50, he'll certainly get votes, and could be in contention, especially if AZ makes the playoffs.

The rest of the rotation has been an unreliable, occasionally brilliant, mess. Enrique Gonzalez has, however, been a bit of a breakthrough; the Venezuelan only turns 24 on Friday, and had a 1.64 ERA over his first 22 innings, culminating with seven innings of one-hit, shutout ball versus the Giants on June 13. Since then, he's been less impressive, allowing five or more earned runs in all but one outing. But the potential is undoubtedly there, and if he can harness that, he'll be a fixture in the rotation for years to come.

Juan Cruz was initially pitching out of the bullpen, but was moved into the rotation at the end of April, and has subsequently become a fixture there. He's great at getting hitters out - look at that juicy OBA, beaten only by Zambrano, Pedro and Chris Young among qualifying pitchers. It's been the walks that have been his main problem: 28 in 54.2 innings so far. Overall, though, take out that disastrous first inning against the Padres (nine earned runs, in case you'd forgotten) and his season ERA would be 3.00.

The conversion from closer to starter has not gone smoothly for Miguel Batista, with the opposition teeing-off far more often that we'd like: his OBA is 5th-worst in the NL. But on any given day - July 1st, for example - he can be near-unhittable. He struck out 11 in his debut, but hasn't fanned more than six since, and is Mr. Inconsistency. In 18 starts, he has allowed three earned runs or less 12 times, six-plus five times, and only once anything in the middle. He's great at getting out of jams, but I'd rather he didn't get in them, to begin with...

Claudio Vargas started the season poorly, allowing 11 earned runs in his first twelve innings, but has settled down a bit since. A major concern is the short duration of his starts: in only three of 17 thus far, has he pitched past the sixth inning. On the other hand, he more or less kept his head in June, when all about him were losing theirs, posting a 4.00 ERA, when the staff as a whole was at 5.93. Hopefully, he can build on that going forward into the second half, and bring us some back of the rotation stability.

Brief mention should be made of those who are no longer with us, in the shape of Los Dos Ma?atis, Orlando Hernandez and Russ Ortiz. They both failed badly, and we are better off without them. Hernandez was, at least, occasionally entertaining to watch pitch, but Ortiz... How bad to you have to be, to make your team willing to pay you $20m, not to play? Chew over that, Mr. Ortiz as you take on your latest leading role - Russ Trek III: The Quest for Suck.

Relievers to follow tomorrow, I think. I could do them today, but I'm inclined to stop while this is a pleasure rather than a chore. As I found with the prospect report, my attention span for blogging is about the same as for movies: anything that takes more than two hours had better have a really good reason for it. Back when I was young, that usually meant an actress I liked got nekkid. Hello, La Belle Noiseuse - 230 minutes, mostly of an unclad Emmanuelle Beart. Now, it's simply efficiency. I do more damage to the unwatched DVD pile if I'm watching Full Moon features, which typically run 70 minutes, including ten minutes of excruciatingly-slow credits, than Bollywood epics which last three hours plus, even if you fast-forward through the songs.

I must confess, I tend to feel that way about baseball games too. Give me a crisply-paced, 2-1 pitching duel, that takes only a couple of hours, over a long, slow slugfest - or, worse yet, an extra innings slugfest. The net result is the same, either way, and once you get past the ninth, the stress level tends to go through the roof, as every pitch becomes of significance. While games like that can be good to look back on, I suspect they're a bit like being a reporter in a war-zone: They're only fun if you win, and rarely seem that way at the time...