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"It's great to be back home again... Sometimes, I guess, you just don't realize what you have when you have it."
    -- Randy Johnson

Seems everyone else in the SB Nation has said it, either as the header, or in the first two lines of their story today, so who am I to go against the flow. Yep, today finally is the day: pitchers and catchers report. We're still some way off from meaningful baseball - or even meaningless baseball - but this is like seeing the first cracks in the Berlin Wall. You know it's only a matter of time before everything comes tumbling down, and a glorious new dawn begins. It's definitely a good day to be alive. Especially when you consider the alternative.

Long interview with Johnson in USA Today in which he covers a lot of territory, from the death of his brother through to his issues with the media in New York, and his return from back surgery:

Johnson...spent at least three hours a day, five days a week in the gym this offseason. The back feels great, he says, and his upper body is stronger than ever. "If I listened to what everybody said about me, I never would have gotten this far in the game," Johnson says. "The greatest fear you have is failing, but after everything I've been through this winter, I have a different perspective about things. You're going to see me dig as deep as I can to be successful. I'm hungry again.

That kind of talk must scare the bejeezus out of the rest of the NL West. Here are Johnson's career figure against our division rivals:

  • Colorado: 14-7, 2.35 ERA
  • Los Angeles: 7-5, 2.71 ERA
  • San Diego: 14-3, 2.07 ERA
  • San Francisco: 7-8, 3.60 ERA

All told, that's a 42-23 record with a 2.61 ERA in 83 starts. Think they're looking forward to facing a "stronger than ever" Johnson? Now, of course, for the moment it's all talk, and there are any number of potential pitfalls, for a 43-year old facing batters ten, fifteen or even twenty years younger. But, boy...if you're going to hitch your cart to any old hoss, is there another one you'd rather have?

Nick P weighs in at the Republic, with his thoughts on how the 2007 Opening Day Roster will look. He reckons that, outside the #5 starter, there's not much left to be decided, a combination of obvious choices and those who are out of options (hello, Hairston and EdGon) meaning most lockers can already have their names painted on them. Interesting quote from Josh Byrnes: "Over the length of the season I think our starting pitching will dictate a lot how the rest of the roster will be constructed. It will probably force us to examine how we construct our bullpen and our bench."

The implication being, if our rotation lives up to its reputation as a bunch of innings-eaters, we'll go with six relievers and an extra position player instead (most likely Hammock, for his ability to play anywhere). However, instinct and Piecoro reckon that won't be the initial case. We'll see how things pan out, wait until Johnson has proved his fitness - and we also have a hellacious early schedule, with just two days off in the first five and a half weeks.

Of course, we may have an extra spot or two open, at least initially, with probably Johnson and possibly DaVanon not ready for action by Opening Day. And changes may be made: the article pointedly leaves Jorge Julio out of the bullpen, though only says he "could be" traded. Hmm...well, so "could" Scott Hairston, but nothing was said there, which makes me inclined to read between the lines. If Julio is indeed left down by the schoolyard, then Piecoro's suggestion that a fifth-starter candidate gets the spot makes sense, as the rest of the 'pen (Valverde, Lyon, Medders, Peña, Cruz and Slaten) are not noted for stamina. I guess Cruz could be used for long relief in a pinch, given his starting experience, but I'd rather not waste his arm like that.

Another line of significance: "Even if some positions are up for grabs, the spring may not be the deciding factor on who gets the job. Byrnes seems to put more stock in a player's full body of work - previous major league experience, minor league track record, etc. - than on spring performance." Good thing too: remember how well the "Casey Daigle as starter" concept panned out, after he had a great spring? Exactly. That philosophy would perhaps seem to lean towards EdGon as having the lead as the fifth man, given his good performance there at the major-league level last year, posting an ERA of 3.00, albeit in only five starts. On the other hand, his 'full body of work' would also have to include going 0-9 with a 9.32 ERA in 2004...

Over at The Hardball Times, John Walsh took a look at the best and worst outfield arms from last year. He does it statistically, evaluating, for example, what happens when a single is hit with a runner on first and second base is empty. And, ladies and gentlemen, we have a winner: well, actually, a loser. "The worst performance in right field--in any field, actually--was turned in by [pause for SnakePit fanfare] Shawn Green."

Yes, in 140 opportunities, the runner was held by Green only 53 times and he threw them out just once. Green also ranked dead last among right-fielders in 2005, so this wasn't any kind of aberration. Chalk up one more reason to cheer for the full-time arrival of Carlos Quentin: it'll be fascinating to see how he ranks next season, but I'm prepared to bet he won't be the sucking pit of awfulness Green has clearly been in right field, estimated by Walsh at costing us around 13 runs per season. We'd have been better off putting Russ Ortiz there, and hoping his gravitational pull drew a few balls to him.

In center field, Eric Byrnes was our only player to rank well, coming in 5th of 26 - and I don't think Walsh was handing out bonus points for artistic impression. :-) The gap between the best and worst at that position was only about half that for right field, no doubt because fewer runners will go from first to third on a ball hit to center, regardless of who's playing there. As a result, Byrnes' arm was only worth about 1.5 runs, though obviously there are other aspects of his game which should be measured (does WARP include entertainment value?). Again, be interesting to see how Chris Young compares there this season.

And last but not (quite) least, in left, Luis Gonzalez was rated as below-average, to nobody's surprise (except maybe his!), but perhaps wasn't as far below as we might think: 14th of 21. His hold rate actually came in fractionally better than the mean, it was his kill rate - barely one-third of what was expected - that sunk Gonzo. Amusingly, the Dodgers' Andre Ethier was #1: switching to Gonzo should cost LA about 12-13 runs next year, purely on defense. Good "upgrade" there...from the Diamondbacks' point of view, anyway.

If you want more of my deathless prose to read today - hey, maybe you're bored! - please head over to AZSportsHub.com, where I've agreed to write a weekly column on the Diamondbacks, and have just posted my first edition. It was intended to be an overall look at the offseason moves, but I kinda got carried away and ended up just discussing the whys and wherefores of the rotation. It's definitely an add-on, not a sign of imminent defection, but who am I to spurn any offer of a chance to rant about my beloved Diamondbacks?