I was just working on my top ten films for 2007: not a great year for cinema, shall we say. That much became apparent when I discovered that Balls of Fury is going to qualify for an Honorable Mention on the list. What can I say? I'm a mark for anything involving Christopher Walken. How he didn't get a Best Supporting Oscar award for his role there I don't know - though Javier Bardem is such a shoo-in for that one, for No Country for Old Men, he might as well open the champagne now. Here's to nothing for Juno, and if Viggo Mortensen wins for Eastern Promises...well, I imagine a trend in naked fight scenes will inevitably follow. [Just saw the film, and really didn't like it at all, even though I've been a Cronenberg fan for more than two decades]
Anyway. Not much to report on the Diamondbacks front. We are apparently looking hard at Keith Foulke, the veteran left-handed reliever. It's another case where we have an edge in that the player lives locally, but Arizona will likely be hamstrung by their self-imposed reluctance to offer incentive-based contracts. Foulke didn't pitch at all in the majors last year, and had surgery on his elbow in September; he'd seem a prime candidate for an innings-related sliding-scale, and that would likely be the more profitable way for him to go. Mind you, in some ways this hardly counts as news, since Josh Byrnes said, "I think we would have to look into it. We're always looking for good players at good value," when asked about Foulke, all the way back in November 2006.
What it does perhaps indicate, is a serious questionmark over the availability of Doug Slaten to go as the bullpen lefty on Opening Day. With little fanfare, he followed Chad Tracy to the operating table for microfracture surgery, on the pitcher's right knee - since that's the one on which he lands after throwing, I suspect rehabilitation to full strength might take longer than for a position player. This would certainly help explain our interest in a replacement, though as Foulpole pointed out, Foulke is not a lefty. There are not very many free-agent southpaws left out there; Trever Miller and Ron Villone are the only ones who come to mind, though since the latter was name-checked in the Mitchell Report, we might want to steer clear of that particular option.
Miller might not be bad: trivia fans might want to note he smashed the record of most appearances in a season without recording a decision. He appeared in 76 games last season while posting an 0-0 record, destroying the old mark of 48. We may just go internal, with someone like Bill Murphy - his K:BB ratio will need to be a great deal better than the 2:7 he showed in his ten-game stint last year. His chances are likely improved, since the other lefties who pitched for us last year were Dana Eveland (now with the A's), Joe Kennedy (now dead) and Randy Choate (now signed by the Brewers, for some inexplicable reason).
Speaking of our injured soldiers, we have an Tracy and Johnson, as they come back from their close encounters of the surgical kind. The Big Unit is "fairly close" to throwing off the mound, according to Melvin, with the aim being to get him there before the start of Spring Training. Bob adds, "Just watching him play catch with his arm, it's unbelievable. He's got the arm of a 25-year-old." I bet the 25-year old in question is very upset about that: thought we hadn't heard anything from Micah Owings in a few months... :-)
Assuming he is ready for Opening Day, it looks like he will initially be slotted in behind Webb in the rotation, with Haren third, then Davis and Owings. The aim of that is mostly to break up the left-handers, Johnson and Davis, so opposing teams don't get comfortable facing southpaws. It's s aomewhat odd opening schedule: we start on Monday, March 31st in Cincinnati, but have an off day on Tuesday, before two more game there, part of a stretch of eight games in eight days. The toughest stretch appears to be right at the end, when we have 23 games in 24 days, including seventeen straight to finish the year.
Some progress for Chad Tracy too, who has begun taking batting practice. However, he hasn't started running yet, and that will be a key step towards deciding whether or not he is going to be ready for Opening Day. As with Slaten, the team are apparently kicking the tyres on potential backups, though I've heard nothing more about the offer allegedly made to Eric Hinske last week. He's likely just one possibility, though as with left-handed relief pitchers, the options for left-handed players who can play both first and third are slim.
The set of projections for the coming season has largely been completed now with the release of ZIPS. The pitching expectations seem generally in line with the three other main systems [James, Chone and Marcel], but it is much more pessimistic regarding the hitters. For Drew and Snyder, for example, the ZIPS figure for OPS is 20 points or more lower than any other projection, and for Upton, the gap is even greater. ZIPS has him at .717, while the other three go for.758 [Marcel], .762 [Chone] and .849 [James]. I'm hoping Bill James proves all-knowing there. On the plus side, ZIPS has finally decided Webb is a good pitcher, with a 3.01 ERA figure expected for him in 2008 - matching his 2007 season. ZIPS was well off last year, having been wrong by 0.84 runs, with its prediction of 3.85.
With this, we can start working towards the Community Projections. I think we are still probably a couple of weeks away, but I imagine you want to put a bit of thought into them. Or you can just find an AI chatbot for a cheap post if you like. :-) But for those with a somewhat more rigorous approach, you might want to start here, at Fangraphs.com. That gives the 2007 stats for the team, and if you click on each player, you'll get to see the Chone, Marcel and James predictions for each player. No ZIPS as yet, but maybe they'll follow in due course. That'll give you a baseline from which to start, and you can apply your own hunches and gut feelings on those.
Beyond the Box Score published their Diamondbacks' preview, though will win no friends with this bold opening statement: "The Diamondbacks were extremely lucky last year and probably shouldn't have won 90 games." However, I'm not entirely convinced by the accuracy of some of the claims made therein. I mean, "Micah Owings will pitch in between playing first base"? I would say a few appearances at DH and PH are much more likely, not least because of the injury risk. Speaking of which, "When injury or bad performance strikes, new acquisition Billy Buckner would be the first in line to take the rubber." This must comes as something of a surprise to, say, Yusmeiro Petit, who made ten starts last year with an ERA+ above 100, and also Edgar Gonzalez.
Finally, a couple of random links. I know people enjoyed the Hardball Times quirky rules article from a while back, so I'm pleased to announce a second helping. My favorite in this batch was Brendan Ryan earning the W in an game for the Orioles, without throwing a pitch. And finally, if you want to be a Rallyback, the Diamondbacks are still hiring. Looks like the advert I reposted here 2-3 weeks back, didn't quite fill the positions. Whaddyamean, hanging out with D.Baxter isn't your choice of career?
A very entertaining bout of smack talk is going on in the diaries, courtesy of Silverblood. Please feel free to step on over and show the Rockies that their ongoing streak of...what is it now, zero division titles in franchise history, will not be broken in 2008. And with that, I'm off to live-blog tonight's Impact Zone Wrestling show at The Sets. Call it some early practice for the Gameday Threads!