30 Teams in 30 Days: Arizona Diamondbacks Roundtable

As the second part of our baseball preview, we are working with members of the Baseball Bloggers Alliance to offer 4 questions in a roundtable format.

Our guest bloggers is Matt Seybold from The Sporting Hippeaux.

How will Brandon Webb look? He’s coming off a lost year and is in pitching for a contract.

Eugene: I think Webb will bounce back. He’s a former Cy Young winner who is in a walk year – there is no better combination for success. I can see 18 wins and 3rd in the Cy Young voting. He is also key in the Diamondback’s success for the season.

Russ: Webb only pitched four innings last year and is coming off shoulder surgery. He threw off a mound for the second time last week, and I think will be handled with kid gloves for the beginning of the season.

If all goes well with the shoulder, I think a 15 to 16 win season is expected. I think his innings at the onset of the season will be minimized and could cost him a few wins.

Matt: The four-year run that Webb had going into 2009 was pretty exceptional. Shoulder surgeries are notorious for producing mixed results, but the early reports are that Webb is throwing pain-free. The fact that his arsenal is developed around a devastating sinker is a big advantage here. Among breaking pitches, the sinker seems to put the least strain on pitchers’ arms (with the exception of the knuckler). Because he never relied on an overpowering fastball, a vicious curveball, or a wrenching slider, I think he has a good chance of returning to his previously dominant self early in 2010.

Chad: I think he’s got a decent chance to return to being a good player, but I’m not expecting him to bounce back and be a Cy Young candidate or even a true staff ace. He’ll still be a good pitcher, but he’s not going to be dominating anymore.

Jeff: I’ve got to agree with CJ — I think he still can contribute, but I would be surprised if he’s anywhere near as dominant as he once was. Shoulder injuries are a near death curse to pitchers….you can bounce back from elbow surgery, oftentimes better than before, but shoulders are a different animal. The pitching motion is a completely UNnatural motion, and once those ligaments/tendons and muscles are compromised, they’re rarely the same.

Chih-hsun: I’m in agreeance with these sentiments. I’ve thought Webb was good before, not great and now I think he’s just rotation filler.

Eugene: How can you say that he was only good? He has a Cy Young and could have probably 2 more.

I think shoulder surgeries aren’t the end of a pitching career. Since Webb’s health has been pretty clean throughout his career, I think he can bounce back from this with little ill-effects.

Matt: While it’s true that major shoulder surgeries have a lower success rate than Tommy John, a recent survey revealed that more than a third of pitchers still make a full recovery. Al Leiter claimed on MLB Network (without citing any evidence, to be fair) that sinkerballers are in the best situation for rehabbing, presumably because their primary pitches (fastball and sinking fastball) don’t cause as much strain.

In 2010 we’ll have some interesting test cases. Four sinkerball types are returning: Webb, Chien-Ming Wang, Jake Westbrook, and Tim Hudson (although Hudson throws six pitches with relative frequency, so he’s perhaps a slightly different case). Webb and Wang are coming off shoulder injuries, Westbrook and Hudson are returning from Tommy John. So, let the speculation begin afresh.

Chih-Hsun: I say he was only good because the year he won the Cy Young was a bad year. I believe he only had 16 wins and a 3.10 era.

It was very similar to last seasons cy young going to Linecum which was total BS. Carpenter gets shafted again. again, my opinion only but last time a cy young had 16 wins only was 1994 and Maddux had a 1.94 era and last time someone had a 3.10 era was 1982 but Carlton had 23 wins. Granted the game has changed a lot since then but I’m a stat whore.

Eugene: First off, it’s wrong to penalize Webb because 2006 was a “down” year for pitching; he won the Cy Young and was the top pitcher in the NL. Secondly, he improved over the next 2 seasons after that Cy Young win; he was second both years in CY voting, totaling 40 wins with a 3.15 ERA, 2.75 K/BB rate, and 7.33 K/9.

I think both point shows that he’s better than a good pitcher.

Chih-Hsun: Those are all valid claims but your definition of a “great” player must be different than mine. Great to me means names like Bob Gibson, Nolan Ryan, and the other names I would put with them. If you can put Webb in those categories then I would say we are on the same page. But I can not put him in those categories and only his future will decide that. As others have said him coming back from last year may be an uphill battle and if those years you pointed out are “his best years” then putting in as a “great” pitcher is out of the question. There are only a few great players that are actively playing right now to me, then you have your “good” players and then obviously the average players. To me there is a big difference between the two distinctions, good and great. We can agree to not agree.

Jeff: If Leiter said a little over a third of the pitchers make a full recovery from shoulder surgery, that also means almost two thirds don’t — I’m just saying 🙂 and I don’t think it’s unrealistic to think he can still contribute, but I certainly don’t expect Cy Young numbers….at least not this season.

Daniels: It’s hard to say exactly what a pitcher will do coming off a lost year. In the last few years, the results haven’t been good. Kerry Wood and Mark Prior, for instance, never really recovered from their injury. I’d argue, though, that those two in particular never really gave themselves time to fully heal. Webb took an entire year off to let his body recover. He’s 30, which means he’s right on the border of his body still being young enough to heal itself without extreme, permanent damage. Even if he doesn’t completely back to ace form, being a #2 behind Dan Haren isn’t a bad place to be — and it’s great place to be for the Diamondbacks.

Question 2 – Will this be the year that Stephen Drew and Chris Young live up to potential?

Jeff: Clearly Chris Young has 30/30 potential (maybe even 40/40), but he’ll have to cut WAY back on his strikeouts. Through a little over 3 seasons in the Bigs, Young is averaging right at a K/game — not good. My guess is, until he can find a way to be far more selective at the plate, expect Young to continue to bat around .250, making that 40/40 potential tough to realize — MLB pitchers find your weakness, then exploit the hell out of you

Stephen Drew, just like his older brother, has that beautiful swing that makes you think he could hit .400 — but the reality is, Drew’s ’08 season (.291/21 HR/ 67 RBI) is probably going to be close to the norm for him. He’s a gifted player and far more valuable in ‘real’ baseball as opposed to fantasy leagues….but for the purposes of this discussion, I don’t expect either Young or Drew to have that ‘break-out’ season this year.

Eugene: This is the make or break year for Young, since he’s at a point where if he doesn’t produce he won’t get a chance. Drew on the other hand has the SS job secured. He’s not the top producer that they draft yet, but I feel he’s close.

Matt: Young looked much better in his return to the big leagues at the end of last year. He had a 902 OPS in September with 8 HR and 14 RBI. However, I think Jeff is right, he still strikes out too much, especially if the D-Back want him to remain a leadoff hitter. I think it reasonable to expect Young might get back near the numbers he posted in 2007, perhaps going 25/25 with slight improvements in average and OBP, but I don’t think that qualifies as a “breakout,” especially if his OPS remains at or below 800.

I’m even less optimistic about Drew, perhaps because he reminds me so much of his brother, a comparison which might be slightly unfair. Like Young, Drew strikes out too much and walks too little, especially for somebody the D-Backs envisioned as a top of the order hitter. He’s got great power for his position, but he’s very inconsistent. I am encouraged, however, by his improvements in the field. After a couple seasons of being near the bottom of the league in UZR, Drew finished slightly above average in 2009. That’s very good news, because his offensive contribution looks much better coming from a middle infielder than it would from a third baseman or outfielder. Again, I think Drew is a useful, stable presence for Arizona, but I think we’ve seen most of what he’s capable of and I predict a season in range with his 2008 and 2009 numbers.

Question 3 – Did the team make a mistake trading Max Scherzer?

Matt: There’s no doubt that Max Scherzer is the kind of talent who could make the D-Backs regret trading him. But, then again, so are Edwin Jackson and Ian Kennedy. What I like about this trade from Arizona’s perspective is that they get the best of both worlds. Kennedy is, like Scherzer, a very high-upside guy who throws gas, but is prone to injury. Jackson is a known commodity who has proven himself to be a very durable quality starter (even if his first half of ’09 was a little flukish). He is perfect as a #3. Few have give E-Jax the credit he deserves for making 30+ starts in three consecutive seasons, all before the age of 26. Even better, he’s gotten significantly better in each of those campaigns and it’s reasonable to expect that moving to the NL won’t hurt him in 2010. The D-Backs rotation was very weak behind Haren and Scherzer last season, so turning one starter into two starters who will open the season in the rotation makes a great deal of sense to me.

Daniels: It’s almost impossible to say when it comes to young pitchers. Given everything we know about Scherzer vs. Jackson and Kennedy, it seems like a good trade from the Diamondbacks end. When you can turn one unknown in to two unknowns, hopefully one of the two works out. My gut reaction is that the Diamondbacks got a steal here. They got a likely 2-starter and a 4-starter for one pitcher. Not bad for a day’s work.

Eugene: It wasn’t just one pitcher though, as they gave up their “closer of the future” in Schlereth. I think Scherzer is better than both pitchers they got. Jackson pitched well in Detroit and Tampa, but the ball carries more in Arizona; that ballpark could hurt him. I think Kennedy is overrated; he’s done nothing to show that he’s going to be a major league pitcher, let alone a #4 starter. I didn’t like the trade when it happened and I still don’t.

Matt: That’s true, Jay. We shouldn’t ignore Schlereth, who is a very solid left-handed relief prospect. However, while I agree that Yankees prospects have a tendency to be overrated (Austin Jackson, for instance), Ian Kennedy has earned his top prospect status on the field, by posting a 1.95 ERA in the minors, with more strikeouts than innings pitched. Sure he’s struggled with injuries and he hasn’t yet succeeded in the majors, but he’s still only 25-years-old and maintaining a sub-2.00 ERA over the course of forty-some professional starts is a pretty serious achievement. Scherzer, for instance, had a 2.79 minor-league ERA. Certainly, I’m not saying Kennedy is better than Scherzer based on that performance alone, merely that his hype is equally justified.

Final Question – Where in the standings will the Diamondbacks finish?

Matt: Baseball Prospectus’ PECOTA projections recently predicted the D-Backs to win the NL Wild Card (and finish second to the Rockies in the NL West). They made the same prediction last season, so maybe it should be taken with a grain of salt. I do think the D-Backs are one of four teams in their division that have a legitimate shot at the postseason in 2010, but they have more question marks, in my opinion, than the other three. As highlighted by this roundtable, while the D-Backs have plenty of talent, only Dan Haren, Justin Upton, and Mark Reynolds seem like safe bets. I expect some things will go well – Webb’s return, Jackson and Kennedy in the rotation, Miguel Montero behind the plate – but others won’t – the bullpen, Adam LaRoche, Kelly Johnson – and the D-Backs will end up in third place, right around .500.

Jeff: I think Arizona finishes 4th in the NL West some 10-15 games under .500 — The Dodgers and Rockies have far too much talent for AZ to sniff the post-season this year….and I think the Giants will out-perform them, as well.

Warren: Their definitely in a tough division with LA and the Rockies but most likely will perform around the same as last year at best at 75-81 wins for the season. Their pitching is one of the lone hopes for this team and if they can combine that with clutch hitting in games should do better than expected. And after leading the league in strike outs and second in errors last year, they should pull themselves up and possibly surprise a lot of people if they challenge for a playoff spot or even 5th or 6th in the NL.

Eugene: I think they have a shot at the Wild Card, but I think they’ll end up missing it. They finish 4th, ahead of the Padres.

For the other 29 teams, click here.

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