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2008 Review, Part 2: Outfield + Catchers

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Josh Byrnes rolled the dice with the Diamondbacks in the outfield, and unfortunately came up snake-eyes. Various trades left the organization denuded of depth at the position, and the team really needed everything to go right for the line-up to work. Eric Byrnes had to live up to his contract, Justin Upton had to prove a 20-year old was ready for the majors, Chris Young had to improve significantly on his 2007 OBP of just .295, and everyone had to remain healthy. Pretty much everything on the list failed to happen as required.

Left-field
Overall: .240/.315/.371 = OPS .686 [sOPS+ 76]
NL avg: .271/.350/.453 = OPS .803
Games started: Jackson 75; Byrnes 50; Salazar 13; Burke 13; Dunn 8; Romero 3

Pretty much a Gurgling Vortex of Suck™ offensively in left-field for the D-backs this season. This started with the flipping, flailing and eventually flopping of Eric Byrnes, who batted .212/.273/.374 before going down for the last time this season. This proved to be the spot where Arizona's lack of depth was perhaps most painfully obvious - the three-headed fail beast called Salarkero went 13-for-99 in their 29 starts, with one home-run and four RBI.

Desperate times call for desperate measures. Despite possessing only two games of major-league experience at the spot, Conor Jackson was moved to left on a regular basis from about the middle of June. While his shortcomings there were initially obvious, he grew into the position and by most metrics, ended up doing almost as well as Byrnes:
   Range Factor: Byrnes 1.65, Jackson 2.07
   Zone Rating: Byrnes .915, Jackson .878
   Fielding %: Byrnes .987, Jackson .981

We certainly hope Byrnes is fully healthy by the start of 2009, but the credible performance of Conor Jackson as the regular replacement means that Byrnes may end up needing to fight for his spot, especially if management has other plans for first-base.

Center-field
Overall: .245/.312/.438 = OPS .750 [sOPS+ 98]
NL avg: .267/.334/.426 = OPS .760
Games started: Young 157, Salazar 3, Romero 2

Young was the closest thing we had to an ever-present, appearing in all but two games this year, showcasing often-brilliant defense [by some metrics, he deserves a Gold Glove this year], and driving in 85 RBI with 21 homers. On the other hand, he continued to have the same problem as last year: Chris simply wasn't getting on-base enough to be a top-half hitter. Of 142 players with 1,000 PA's over the past two seasons, only three have a worse OBP than Chris Young's .305 [Yuniesky Betancourt (.302); Pedro Feliz (.294); and Khalil Greene (.279), whose performance there has been as wretched as his hair-cut].

While Reynolds got the spotlight for his K's, Young's 165 was also in the top-ten all-time at his position: he had barely half the stolen-bases and ten fewer homers too, than in his rookie season . However, he was significantly better, by 47 points of OBP, after the break, and his .356 figure for September marked Chris's career-high for a complete month. That's something he needs to build on going forward, and his line of .292/.361/.524 from August 4 to the end of the season, is certainly something with which we would be very happy.

Right-field
Overall: .253/.357/.437 = OPS .794 [sOPS+ 100]
NL avg: .271/.344/.444 = OPS .788
Games started: Upton 100; Romero 23; Dunn 22; Salazar 8; Burke 7; Bonifacio 2


Was Justin Upton's season a failure? It depends on how you look at it. In the past forty years, only a couple of twenty-year olds with 400+ PA's have posted a better OBP than Upton's .816. Since they were Ken Griffey (.847, 1990) and Alex Rodriguez (1.045, 1996), he's in good company. He surpassed all expectations of our Community Projections - even the most optimistic prediction was for an OPS of just .780. On the other hand, should he have been in the majors? The team basically sacrificed his age 26 season to get his age 20 one, and I know which will be better. Hindsight is 20/20, but he should have stayed in Tucson as backup; if we had Quentin in RF this year, we'd likely have won the division.

Instead, our backups were an unholy mix of Romero, Salazar and Burke. Across all positions, they combined for 428 at-bats with an average of just .210 and a mere five homers, so were questionably even replacement-level. Upton's defense was also problematic. An often casual approach let to 11 errors, the most by any outfielder in the majors, despite missing two months of the season. Yet he also had six assists, most on the team, and there's no denying his cannon of an arm. There were flashes of brilliance in all aspects of his play: he had an OPS of .926 in April, and .922 after returning at the end of August. If he can harness that consistently next year, he'll become the star most people expect him to be.

Catchers
Overall: .243/.338/.441 = OPS .779 [sOPS+ 117]
NL avg: .255/.328/.387 = OPS .715
Games started: Snyder 106; Montero 45; Hammock 11

Let's be honest, the most memorable thing about our men behind the plate this year is likely Snyder's horrific - to male readers, especially - injury.  But as well as empathy, they deserve applause for production. That sOPS+ is a franchise record for our catchers, beating the mark of 116 set in 2002 by Miller, Barajas + Moeller. Snyder's power-numbers were especially solid, with 16 HR; three seasons ago, he had only six, in virtually the same at-bats. But his patience was also notable, with 56 walks in 404 PA's - only one major-leaguer had as many in fewer, and that was Todd Helton. With the majority of Chris's at-bats not in the eight-hole, those were not your typical 'walk the catcher to get to the pitcher' free passes either.

Despite Montero's swing often being so ugly, only his mother could love it, the results were fine - a .765 OPS from your back-up catcher is entirely acceptable. Defensively, I'd say he is still a work in progress, with 79.4% of base-stealers being successful, compared to 69.0% for Snyder [NL average is 73.0%] Curiously, Montero was charged with no passed balls at all, compared to Snyder's seven, but allowed almost as many wild pitches (26-30), despite appearing in less than half as many innings. This may be related to their battery-mates: Montero never caught Webb, for example.