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World Series of Arizona Diamondbacks: 2012 @ 1999

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Gonzo vs. Goldy, in the first Final Four match-up

Bobby Estalella/Eurbiel Durazo

Preview

The 2012 Diamondbacks have won three straight games in this tournament. After defeating 1998 behind Wade Miley, 5-3, they put on their hitting shoes and upset Zack Greinke and the 2017 D-backs in a 12-8 slugfest. Not satisfied with that outburst, they did it again in the next game, defeating 2001 and Randy Johnson 9-7. The regular season 99 OPS+ registered by Kirk Gibson’s boys was the 2nd best in franchise history. Report Link It’s worth remembering that league offense was down a bit in the early part of the last decade, so while the raw counting totals between 1999 and 2012 may seem to have a large gap, in context, they were comparable offenses.

Due to “extended time off” the rotations reset from this point forward. Accordingly Wade Miley will get the ball again today, and face the team with the best OPS+ in Franchise History, the 1999 D-backs. Once again 2012 will have to square off against Randy Johnson, this time the 1999 version. 6 of one, half a dozen of the other. A Tall task either way. (Pun intended) The 99 team has not been scoring much so far in the tournament, but they beat 2006 3-1 behind RJ in their first contest, and then downed 2000’s iteration by the score of 3-2, Omar Daal the starter in that game.

Today’s matchup features the two best position players in Franchise history.

Luis Gonzalez was playing his first year in Arizona in 1999. Prior to coming to the desert Gonzo had been a solid, slightly above average player. He was an excellent defender with a league average bat for a corner outfielder. But thanks to changing to a more open batting stance he enjoyed a bit of a power spike with Detroit in 1998, hitting 23 homers, well above his previous career high of 15. GM Joe Garagiola Jr pulled off the best trade in franchise history bringing in the veteran outfielder in exchange for Karim Garcia. Gonzo responded by breaking out with a career year (up till that point). He hit .336, lead the NL in hits with 206, smacked 26 homers, and drove in 111 RBI, posting a 138 OPS+. The season was punctuated by a franchise record 30-game hit streak. You can see that highlight in this video, and Gonzo also talks about the changes that lead up to his becoming a star.

Gonzo of course went on to have a historic 57 homer season in 2001, a year capped off by the blooper heard round the world to win the World Series. Below table shows Gonzo’s career prior to 1999, his five-year peak run with Arizona, and then his last 3 years with the D-backs. The before and after peak symmetry caught my eye.

Prior to Paul Goldschmidt coming along Gonzo was unquestionably the best position player the Franchise had ever had. 2012 was Goldy’s first full season, and he posted a solid 120 OPS+ qt age 24. He broke out in 2013 and went on to eclipse Gonzo in most categories to become the best position player in Franchise history.

Below table shows the best single seasons by a D-back. It may be surprising to some to see Goldy’s 2015 edging out Gonzo’s 2001. But several factors come into play. 2001 was a more hitter friendly era than 2015. League OPS was .756 in 2001, and just .713 in 2015. While Gonzo still holds the edge in batting, once you adjust for the difference in league environment the gap closes enough for Goldy’s advantages in defense and baserunning to catchup and even pass Gonzo’s total output. It’s subjective of course, we are talking decimal points. Gonzo did it for a division winning team and had the winning hit in the world series. But it’s interesting to see these two seasons as essentially even.

https://stathead.com/sharing/iHZXL

For career, it really becomes no contest. Goldy’s continued excellence ultimately swamps even Gonzo. See below table. It might be some time before we have a player that accumulates the career value that Goldy did here in Arizona. Ketel Marte’s breakout notwithstanding, he has a long way to go. He will be a free agent after the 2024 season and he just lost at least most of 2020. He is 18.5 Wins Above Average, or 24 Wins Above replacement behind Goldy. But if he can average 6 WAR per year from 2021-2024 he could catch Goldy. Considering he’s only had one all-star caliber season, I think we need to see how the next 200 or so games go for him before we can feel confident in that.

https://stathead.com/sharing/6MqJR

Game recap

#13 2012 Arizona Diamondbacks 3, #1 1999 Arizona Diamondbacks 4

The top seeds will play in the final, but only just. You may have been able to predict the outcome here. You might even have said an Erubiel Durazo blast off the bench would be the deciding play. But if you claim to have called it being an inside the park home-run for Durazo, I’m flat out calling you a liar. Yet that’s what happened, as his seventh-inning shot turned a 3-2 deficit into a 4-3 lead, and made a winner out of Randy Johnson. However, for a long time it looked like Chris Young’s three-run homer would be the difference here, and send the 13th seeds to their biggest upset.

After a quick opening inning on both ends, the 1999 D-backs were first to get on the board, against 2012’s Wade Miley. Matt Williams and Greg Colbrunn led off the frame with singles, before Miley retired the next two batters. Damian Miller came up with a big two-out knock, grounding a pitch through the hole into left-field, and Williams made it 1-0 in favor of 1999. Neither side could score in the third, but 2012 got their own two-out magic in the fourth. Groundballs off the bats of Justin Upton and Miguel Montero put both men aboard for Young, and he crushed a Big Unit fastball over the fence in left. for a three-run homer which put his side 3-1 up.

Could Miley hold the lead? It didn’t start well, Colbrunn tripling to lead off the bottom of the fourth. One out later, Tony Batista dumped a fly-ball single into center, allowing Colbrunn to come home and pull 1999 back within one. But Miley then settled down, and there was no further scoring by either side through the seventh-inning stretch. Both teams left a man on third base in the fifth, and went down 1-2-3 in the sixth. Johnson retired 2012 in order in the top of the seventh, and Miller became the tying run with a lead-off single for 1999 in the seventh. That ended Johnson’s night, as he was pulled for Durazo, despite being at only 81 pitches. RJ went seven innings, allowing three runs on six hits, with no walks and five Ks.

Durazo then sliced a Miley pitch perfectly down the right-field, past a despairing dive from Upton, and into the corner where it died. By the time J-Up recovered and got to the ball, Miller was already crossing home-plate. Durazo ran through third-base coach Brian Butterfield’s stop sign, and was able to beat the relay throw home for a go-ahead, inside the park, pinch-hit home-run. Miley trudged off the mound, his night also done. He went six-plus, scattering nine hits but no walks, with six strikeouts. All of the four runs Wade allowed were earned. David Hernandez and Brad Ziegler put up zeroes for 2012 in the eighth and ninth, but that was no longer the problem.

Greg Swindell took over for 1999, and put the tying run in scoring position with two outs, after a walk to Willie Bloomquist and a single by Upton. However, Paul Goldschmidt was not able to live up the preview hype, and struck out swinging. Matt Mantei came in for the ninth, and Young did get a one-out single, before Jason Kubel and Ryan Roberts were retired. The 1999 D-backs prevailed, and the #1 seeds now await the winners of the other semi-final match-up. Miller led their offense, with three hits as well as scoring the tying run and driving in their first tally.

Full box-score

Bracket to date

The penultimate match in the tournament will take place next Thursday, for the privilege of facing the 1999 Diamondbacks in the grand final. The competitors there will be a pair of long-shots: the #10 seeded 2018 D-backs will have home-field advantage, as they face the greatest giant-killers, the #19 seeded 2010 D-backs. The latter have already knocked out the third and sixth seeds, so will have no fear of their opponents!