Age on opening day: 25
2011 stats: 7 games (7 starts), 37.2 IP, 7.41 ERA, 1-4, 21:15 K:BB
2010 stats: 17 games (17 starts), 99.0 IP, 3.91 ERA, 6-7, 49:29 K:BB
The 2010 Arizona Diamondbacks campaign was one of the most dismal seasons I've ever followed, in any sport. It wasn't just the losses (of which there were 97, tied for second-most in franchise history), it was the general lack of optimism that surrounded the team. That D-Backs squad had a mediocre offense, mediocre starting pitching, and a bullpen that was awful enough to quash any momentum that the other two units ever generated. I love baseball and I'm pretty sure I've watched enough awful Arizona sports teams to avoid the "bandwagon" moniker, but I felt myself drawing away from that team around July. It wasn't because I stopped caring, it was simply because it was hard to find a reason to stay connected to the day-to-day affairs of the team, and I don't think I was alone in that feeling
Barry Enright gave us a reason. You all remember the story: a middling prospect from Double-A Mobile named Enright gets the call to fill a rotation slot at the end of June, because the team didn't have any better options. As a general rule, if a fill-in starter goes five innings and allows three or fewer runs, everyone will be pretty satisfied. Well, Enright did just that in his first start. Then he did it again in his second start, and in his third start, and in nine more starts after that. 12 starts into his major-league career, this nobody starter straight from Double-A had an ERA of 2.45.
He wasn't overpowering anyone, he didn't throw in the high 90s or have an overpowering off-speed pitch. No, Enright got by on guile, savvy pitch-sequencing and, yes, probably some luck. But more than his process or results, what I remember most about was the way he handled himself. While it's always dangerous to evaluate the personalities of profession athletes who we don't personally know, it was difficult not to be impressed with Enright. From his interactions with fans on Twitter (including but not limited to playing complete strangers in Words With Friends) to his availability for a post-game comments, Enright seemed like one of the few players who genuinely "got it." He seemed like he realized how special playing baseball in the majors was, and he played every game like he could lose his chance tomorrow.
I bring all of this up for context, to show how special Enright is to every Diamondback fan who suffered through 2010. Though he struggled in 2011 (and believe me, that's being generous), he's not just some random footnote to an otherwise successful D-Back season. No, Barry Enright has earned more than that from us.
Expectations for 2011: Of course, there were warning signs from 2010. Despite an ERA of 3.91, Enright's FIP was all the way up at 5.62, suggesting that he had gotten more than a bit lucky. Don't trust FIP on its own? His batted-ball profile showed that almost half of the balls put in play against Enright were fly balls. That's a red flag anywhere, but for a pitcher who starts half of his games at Chase Field, it's a recipe for disaster.
To our credit, plenty of people on the 'Pit recognized this and tempered our expectations. Most of us realized that Enright would was likely to regress at least a little. But he was a rookie and still had room to grow, so it wasn't unreasonable to think that he could settle in as a back-of-the-rotation starter, putting up an ERA in 4.75 neighborhood in 2011. He seemed to have a knack for maximizing his limited arsenal, and besides, we needed something to cling to after 2010.
2011 Performance: Needless to say, that didn't happen. It's easy to forget now, but Diamondback pitching was just atrocious for the first month of the season. The staff had a team ERA of 4.89 in March and April, and there were three starters in the rotation with ERAs over 5. Despite this well-rounded suckitude, there is a convincing argument to be made that Enright was the very worst offender.
In 37.2 innings, Enright had an ERA of 7.41. To put that in perspective, no Diamondbacks starter has ever thrown more than 30 innings and finished with a higher ERA than that. Not Casey Fossum, not Billy Buckner, not even (gulp) Russ Ortiz. It wasn't really bad luck, either, as his FIP was 6.98 and his BABIP was a not-unreasonable .307. As we should have seen coming, Enright's home run rate shot up, and his line drive rate followed suit. For a pitcher who allows as many batted balls as Enright does, that's a death sentence.
In contrast to his 2010 season, where he didn't allow more than three runs in a game until his thirteenth start, in 2011 Enright had only one start all season where he allowed fewer than three runs. On May 5th, the Diamondbacks had to make a decision. They looked at their solid offense, their better-than-expected bullpen, and their surprising young aces Kennedy and Hudson, and they decided that, hey, they had a shot at this thing. They sent Enright to Reno to get his confidence back, and stuck a spare bullpen pitcher named Josh Collmenter in his rotation slot. In a way, it's fitting that Collmenter, himself a low-upside pitcher from the minors who proceeded to blow people away in his first major league season, was the one to take Enright's place.
Enright was given one more shot to succeed, however. Enright pitched well in the minors, and the team was fed up with Zach Duke's defiance of BABIP (not in a good way), that they called up Enright to make a start against the Brewers on July 19th. It's never a good sign when a starter gives up more home runs than innings pitched, but that's exactly what happened to Enright, as he lasted only three innings after giving up six runs on four home runs. Duke cleaned up the damage and team sent Enright back to Reno, trying to pretend like the whole thing hadn't happened at all.
2012 Expectations: Where does Enright go from here, after one of the worst pitching stints in team history? The good news is that Enright is still only 25, and being a 25-year-old in Reno is certainly not a career killer. I imagine that he will be in the mix in Spring Training, as a dark-horse candidate to win a roster spot. Personally, I'd love to see him slide in as a long-reliever in 2012, though of course he'll have to improve his home run rate if he wants to have success there.
Final Grade: I take no pleasure in pointing out how rough of a season Enright had in 2011, for all of the reasons I mentioned above. Ultimately, it's my job to give him a grade that evaluates his performance last year, and realistically he was among the worst pitchers the Diamondbacks employed last year. His ERA was a run and a half higher than Armando Galarraga's, and Galarraga (spoiler alert!) will be receiving an "F" from me. But look at the way they handled their affairs. We all remember Galarraga whining about his demotion to Reno while shirking personal responsibility. For comparison, Enright posted a graceful tweet and stressed the need to improve. And by all accounts, he continued to work hard in Reno despite the unfavorable circumstances. One of the areas on the report card template is "Intangibles," and in my mind, Enright did well enough on that front to avoid a failing grade overall. I give him a D.
Let's see what the rest of the 'Pit thinks:
When your BABIP is close to league average and your FIP is at 6.98... something went terribly wrong. Just about everyone loves Enright, and with good reason, but there doesn’t appear to be much hope for him on the horizon. To put it another way, he was only slightly better than Armando Galarraga and his 7.29 FIP.
This is hard to do, because Barry is one of the nicer guys in the game, but in the interest of objectivity, there’s really no other grade to give. My expectations for Enright were some sort of slight improvement on his 2010 xFIP of 4.96, settling as a worthwhile back-end starter with an ERA around 4.6-4.8, eating innings at an above-replacement level and giving our quality offense and lockdown bullpen a chance to win us games. Instead, the xFIP rose to 5.12, the FIP rose to 6.98, and the ERA rose to 7.41. The HR/FB rate is certainly inflated, now at 14.3% in 24 career big-league starts, but one has to wonder whether that’s a product of bad luck, or of a flat fastball that has averaged 89.2 mph in his big-league career and a delivery that is about 90% arm. Getting his velocity that high with such armsey mechanics is actually quite impressive, so you wonder if a Charlie Morton-style mechanical makeover - getting his core more involved and generating some more power through his lower half - could make Enright into a valuable pitcher, perhaps somewhere in a bullpen.
If Cy Youngs were given out for character and attitude, Barry would be a front-runner every year. Unfortunately, serious pre-season concerns that he would not be able to sustain the success he saw in 2010 proved eminently accurate. Though Enright’s position in the Opening Day rotation was secured with the injury to Zach Duke, his performances were a series of disappointments, from his first start at Wrigley field, where he was tagged for seven hits and three walks. That was a typicalish Enright appearance - four earned runs in six innings - and after half a dozen efforts where he allowed less than that or went longer only once, he was Reno bound. A spot start did follow in July, but the Brewers tattooed Barry for the worst outing of the year.
It’s hard to see how Enright fits in to the Diamondbacks’ future plans. On the starting depth chart, he is certainly now behind both Wade Miley and Jarrod Parker, and the next wave of prospects is closing in fast. Spending the winter in Venezuela might help, but it’s going to be a tough road back to the majors for Enright. That said, if anyone has the perseverance and dogged determination to do so, it would be Bazza; I wish him the best, and have nothing but respect for the way he has handled the slings and arrows of outrageous fortunes. Many, much better-known (and paid) players could learn a lot in that department - including some on the 2011 Diamondbacks.