"It seems like our bats are a little slow right now. I don't think it's a physical thing. I think it's a mentality thing. You're seeing guys get 2-0 (in the count) and balls are getting real deep on them. In situational hitting, it seems like we're taking our best pitch to accomplish it and then swinging at a bad pitch later in the at-bat. We'll get there. We know we can hit. We know we can pitch. We know we can play. You can't wish it, though. It's a process."
-- Kirk Gibson
It has been a slow start for Arizona, who have picked up three wins in their first nine Cactus League contests. Is there cause for concern? That's one of the questions posed to the round table this week, along with the D-backs debut of Trevor Bauer, mic'ing up players for games and the possible arrival of the DH. We welcome guest commenter Nonpartisan, and anyone who wants to take part can add their name in the comments to the guest-list, which is currently: dbacks25, Clefo, imstillhungry95, SenSurround, DeDxDbacKxJroK and luckycc
Going into Saturday night's game, the D-backs' pitching staff have a 7.14 ERA, dead last in the majors and the team has been outscored 55-29. Worried?
Dan: No, it's camp. Barry Enright shut down opposing lineups last Spring, putting up the best Spring 2011 performance on the roster. Sadly, that didn't lead to regular season success for him, despite every D-backs fan around cheering for him. Additionally, Arizona wasn't exactly dominant as a team last Spring, either, and we know how that worked out.
Jim: The numbers don't bother me so much as the reports of generally sloppy play. Still, that's why they have spring training, and it's better to get these kinks worked out now. Pretty sure Gibby will not stand for any lollygagging!
Nonpartisan: A little. Though I know some of the players, like Putz, are working on new pitches or swings, it's a bit scary how few of them seem ready for prime time. I'm mostly concerned by the hitters, who've been pretty darn streaky. Our hitting has always needed more reliability, and it looks like it still does.
soco: Spring is often a time for pitchers to work on things and get themselves "stretched out," so to speak. So I'm not worried if I take a logical approach; what does worry me is that we do have so many young pitchers that I wonder if some or many aren't due to regress simply because they all did so well last year. That doesn't mean they'll turn into pumpkins, but I won't be not nervous until the season gets going and only if the team is looking more like themselves.
What do you think of Trevor Bauer?
Dan: He's going to be good. By all accounts, he's spotting his curve well within the zone, and his velocity is impressive for it being this early in Spring. Then again, he's basically already in mid-season form since he basically never stops working out or throwing, but that development in locating his curve seems to be a significant step in the right direction. He's now in an environment where he's surrounded by some of the best pitchers around, and we already know he's been picking the brain of J.J. Putz about throwing a splitter. If he keeps soaking in the knowledge (he's got three awesome people to talk to about change-ups in IPK, Hudson, and Collmenter), there is no limit.
Jim: He's a show. Can't remember the last time I've seen so much press coverage given to a player with so little professional experience - just seven games, folks. Strasburg, probably? But Bauer seems capable of holding his own against some pretty good hitters, and I just hope he can keep his head screwed on straight, in what's likely to be an ever-increasing media glare. I'm not sure I could.
Nonpartisan: Bauer is the closest to a sure thing you can get out of a prospect. If he doesn't get injured or magically lose command of his fastball, a disappointing outcome would be an Edwin Jackson-type starter. Right now, he seems like the next Brandon Webb (and no, that's not entirely comforting).
soco: Didn't see his outing, don't put stock in spring numbers, so I'll have to gauge him solely on the KTAR interview I heard a week ago or so. He seemed like a bright kid, one who liked to do things his own way, and one who isn't afraid to break the rules if it gets a better result. Hopefully his engineering background will come in hand when he's facing adjustments in the Majors.
Who else has stood out among the early going so far?
Dan: The fact that 90% of the pitchers we've used could provide real value to an MLB club in 2012.
Nonpartisan: What concerns me is that the people who've stood out -- folks like Breslow, Lewis, DeMark -- aren't the players who are likely to have a big impact on the big-league club. No breakout performances from our regulars, except Roberts and Breslow. When Rusty Ryal is carrying your offense in spring training, you have a problem, because that's just not going to transfer well to the regular season.
Jim: Good point, Dan: I do like our depth in pitching, both bullpen and rotation, and I've no doubt we will need both. It's hard to tell with regard to the relief arms, because we're not really seeing situational use much - like Sunday's game, where Craig Breslow was left in to face a lot more hitters, both righties and lefties. Hudson had a great outing yesterday afternoon as well, which is good to see after a series of games where our starters have struggled.
soco: Parra looked good at the game I went to, so I'd love for him to prove me and all the haters wrong by earning his starting job back.
MLB Network has been showing a lot of spring games. Have you been watching any, or are you only interested in the D-backs?
Dan: Haven't had the time to watch them, haven't purchased MLB.tv yet. I plan to, though.
Jim: It's nice to have it on there, but my interest in watching other teams is pretty low. If I've got 20 minutes to kill, it's good to have a channel that's basically all baseball, all the time. It's also good to have on when I'm on the treadmill, since it's visual enough to survive when my wheezing drowns out the commentary!
Nonpartisan: I'm ashamed to admit that I don't watch a lot of baseball, period. I mostly just read the recaps by you guys!
soco: Like Dan, I haven't had a ton of time. I'll tune in when I can, especially if I just want the noise of baseball on in the background, but it's crunch time in the semester and it won't get any easier from here. At least it's only a month and half left, then I can enjoy every baseball season in the future to its fullest.
Wednesday's game featured mic'd up players from both sides as an experiment [Selection of clips]. Would you like to hear more of this?
Dan: Sounds like a cool deal, but hard to comment much, having not watched the game. I feel that it's a bit misplaced in Spring, where the broadcasts aren't particularly wide-spread, so I hope enough people weighed in to give them an impression of what fans thought of the experience.
Jim: Hey, baseball players are just like us and chat about really banal things as well! Not really their fault though. If I was mic'd up at my day-job, I would likely confine myself to two subjects: the weather and everybody's health. I'd love to hear an uncensored take, but suspect neither the players' union nor the FCC would be willing to permit this!
Nonpartisan: Meh, just let them play the game and not have to worry about what they're saying into the mic. It doesn't really enhance the experience for me; I'd rather hear Daron Sutton any day.
soco: It'd be better to keep it as a rare treat, as opposed to a gimmick used every game.
The playoffs are be expanded with an extra wild-card. What do you think?
Dan: I've touched on this before, but more than anything the timing seems weird. Change the rules right after that rule provides the most exciting day of regular-season baseball in MLB history? Mmk... Don't have much of an objection to the actual rules, though, provided that they don't serve to prevent this kind of drama.
Nonpartisan: I don't care how many teams are in the playoffs, but you'll never convince me that it's equitable to have a baseball team's playoff future determined by a single-elimination game (unless, of course, the two teams are tied at the end of the season). This isn't the NFL, people. I'd want at minimum a best-of-three series for the wild-card spot.
Jim: I don't think it'll have a major impact on "excitement" - may add some, may take some away, since it just shifts the line to make the post-season lower. I do like that it adds a handicap to being a wild-card team, rather than a division winner, which is only fair. If Arizona is the second NL team this season, I will naturally be completely in favor of it!
soco: I'm all for making the road as hard as possible for non-division winners. I only wish they kept it 2-2-1, instead of 2-3 (which is this year only).
Is the designated hitter coming to a National League park near you?
Dan: I hope not.
Nonpartisan: No opinion on the DH, but it's inequitable for the two leagues to have different rules on this. They should make up their minds, pick one for all of baseball, and be done with it. (And if they create a DH in the NL, they should give us enough time to sign Wily Mo back.)
Jim: It does seem inevitable, with two 15-team leagues meaning there'll be interleague play every day - as Non notes, it's makes it harder for leagues to have different rules. I would rather see them get rid of the DH, and can't see why the union would object - it's not as if the roster would be shrunk to 24 or anything. The additional tactical subtleties that result from the pitcher's spot, to me, outweighs the sight of a DH waddling to the plate.
soco: Yes. It's inevitable, it's the right thing to do (George Will has a great defense of the DH in his book Men At Work), and it's slowly creeping into the game, anyways. Every level from high school on up uses the position, so it's obvious that baseball wants to emulate the AL style, not the NL. If the NL ideology was the better one, people would have bought it.