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2008 Review, Part 3: Starting Pitchers

The Arizona Diamondbacks rotation was one of the team's biggest strengths in 2008. They led the majors in quality starts with 95 [next in the NL were the Phillies, with 88] and they held opponents to an overall line of .256/.315/.393 - the .708 OPS was third-best in the league, even before any park adjustment. Arizona and Milwaukee were the only NL teams to average over six innings per game from their starters; we also struck out 7.81/9 IP, behind just the Lincecum-powered Giants (7.82). Here's a look at the men on the mound for the Diamondbacks this year.

Brandon Webb: 22-7, 3.30 ERA, 1.196 WHIP
226.2 IP, 206 H, 65 BB, 183 K, 13 HR, .242/.302/.334

Despite the increase in ERA, hitters struggled with Webb almost exactly to the same extent as they did last year. Opposing batters' 2007 line was .237/.296/.334, and a fractional increase in BABIP likely explains most of the minimal difference. The reason for the increased win total is probably a significant up-tick in the run support Webb received, going from 4.08 to 4.64 runs per 27 outs. Teams stacked their lineups with lefties again, but Webb improved his performance against them, by 52 points of OPS. On the other hand - literally - righties had seven homers in 416 at-bats, compared to only four in 427 over 2007.

The main difference is likely the lack of a 42-inning scoreless streak, but outside of that, Webb's performance on the mound was everything we have come to expect from our staff ace. The other aspects of his game were also significantly improved; his fielding percentage was .973, a career-high, as was his Range Factor. His at-bats got better too: he came in as a .106 hitter, but batted .149 with four doubles and eleven runs driven in, the latter figure second-best in the National League. Now, if we can just get that contract extension sorted out this winter, we'll all be happy.

Dan Haren: 16-7, 3.33 ERA, 1.130 WHIP
216 IP, 204 H, 40 BB, 206 K, 19 HR, .247/.286/.381

Despite qualms in some quarters outside of Arizona, I think I can safely say that the trade for Haren has proven entirely satisfactory for the Diamondbacks. With an ERA and WHIP basically indistinguishable from Brandon Webb's, his presence gave Arizona a 1-2 punch that was likely second to none in the league. He likely deserved more victories, but the lack of wins was not Haren's fault, to a large extent. In his nine no-decisions, he had an ERA of just 2.79, the first seven all coming in quality starts.

There was concern about his ability to produce over a full season, and it is true that, after his ERA reached a low of 2.56 following the outing of July 25, he did regress. From that point on, his ERA ballooned to 4.78, though he still posted a record of 6-3 in those twelve starts. However, that also included his best game of the season, a complete-game shutout of the Giants on September 16, with 12 strikeouts. Haren's K:BB ratio was a particular strength: his final mark of 5.15 was the best in the National League since 2004. Haren also handled the bat very well, especially for a pitcher coming from the AL, and finished was a .211 average, and only struck out 15 times in 76 at-bats.

Randy Johnson: 11-10, 3.91 ERA, 1.239 WHIP
184 IP, 184 H, 44 BB, 179 K, 24 HR, .260/.306/.422

The Big Unit's quest for 300 wins ended up falling five short, but did prove that his back, which ended the 2007 season abruptly, was not an issue. He missed the first couple of starts, but was solid after that, skipping only one outing the rest of the way. His second-half ERA was 2.41 and his final appearance, allowing no earned runs against the Rockies in a two-hit performance, resulted in a Game Score of 89 - not surpassed by Johnson since his perfect game in Atlanta, in May 2004. Like Haren, he probably deserved a better W-L record: in five of the no-decisions, Randy allowed one earned run or less, and there was a streak of seven games where the offense scored a total of just 13 runs.

While he may have lost a few miles per hour on his pitches, that didn't stop him from being effective. In particular, during the months of July and August, he struck out 72 batters in 70.1 innings, walking only ten over those eleven starts. He didn't allow a single home-run by a left-handed hitter all year. He was initially paired with Montero: results seem to indicate it wasn't the best of parterships, as batters hit fifty points less off Johnson when it was Snyder or Hammock behind the plate. Though nothing has been announced so far, it seems almost certain that the Big Unit will be back in Arizona for 2009, and health permitting, should complete his mission to win 300 games.

Doug Davis: 6-8, 4.32 ERA, 1.534 WHIP
146 IP, 160 H, 64 BB, 112 K, 13 HR, .282/.356/.419

It was simply wonderful to see Doug Davis pitching at all this year. I don't think any of us will forget the grungy feeling we endured when we heard confirmation of the reports that he had thyroid cancer. That he made his first couple of starts - covering for his team until Johnson came back - certainly ranks among the most selfless acts of any sportsman that I can remember. His return in Atlanta at the end of May was another moment to be filed away, and every game after that, regardless of the outcome, was a victory for Doug; and by proxy, you could argue it was also a victory for all those who have had their lives touched by cancer.

As for his performances, much the same as last year. He did cut back on the walks a bit (3.95/9 IP, compared to 4.44 last season), but the hits were exactly as frequent (9.86/9 IP in both years), and as usual, Davis bore down with runners in scoring position, carving 90 points off opponents' OPS there, compared to with the bases empty. It seemed he might be flagging in early August, after back-to-back wretched outings, and I wondered if the therapy was taking its toll. Davis, however, surged back, with a team-leading 3.18 ERA in the last month, though poor run support (nineteen runs in those five starts) left him winless.

Micah and the rest - figures as starters only
Micah Owings: 6-9, 5.72 ERA, 1.371 WHIP, .259/.336/.424
Yusmeiro Petit: 3-4, 4.35 ERA, 1.065 WHIP, .213/.274/.427
Max Scherzer: 0-4, 3.41 ERA, 1.378 WHIP, .262/.338/.362
Edgar Gonzalez: 1-2, 6.00 ERA, 1.741 WHIP, .324/.398/.500

They also served in the rotation, giving us a total of 39 starts - either through design, or to cover for injuries and ineffectiveness. Owings started the season in the #5 spot, and was initially fabulous. He won his first four outings, with an ERA of 2.42, but the hitters gradually caught up with him, and his lack of a reliable third pitch doomed his efforts to go deep into games. In seven starts from May 30 until his removal from the rotation, he had an ERA of 7.71, with batters hitting .300 off Owings. He was traded to the Reds as part of the Dunn deal, and we wish him well.

Behind him, were three pitchers who could be described as The Good, the Bad and the Ugly. The good - and likely #5 starter next year, was Max Scherzer, who exploded on the scene with 4.1 perfect innings in relief, and demonstrated his lethal fastball, striking out 66 in 56 innings of work. The bad: Yusmeiro Petit, who pitched well enough, except for a horrendous home-run rate, allowing 12 long-balls in only 56.1 innings. The ugly: Edgar Gonzalez, who made batters hit like Matt Holliday and slug like Brad Hawpe. His season ended in June due to elbow issues, but he is trying to avoid Tommy John surgery, and is now throwing off a mound. I'm not optimistic.