Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Watch Out for the Snakes, Says Robothal

Ken Rosenthal posted today on four teams that could surprise in 2007. He mentions the Diamondbacks as potential challengers in the NL West:

2006 record: 76-86.

Key player: Randy Johnson.

There is a lot not to like about the Diamondbacks, who lack a proven leadoff man, proficient cleanup hitter and veteran clubhouse presence. The team's most experienced position player, left fielder Eric Byrnes, has only five years of major-league service. It is quite possible that the D-Backs will be just too young.

Here's the thing, though: The Arizona kids are among the game's most talented, and the starting rotation, led by NL Cy Young winner Brandon Webb, is not only experienced, but also accomplished. Johnson, right-hander Livan Hernandez and lefty Doug Davis alone should make the team more competitive.

The D-Backs ranked seventh in the league in runs last season. Outfielders Luis Gonzalez and Shawn Green are gone, but club officials believe the offense will be just as productive with center fielder Chris Young and right fielder Carlos Quentin becoming regulars and Chris Snyder and Miguel Montero replacing Johnny Estrada at catcher.

Young, Quentin and Byrnes will significantly improve the outfield defense. Shortstop Stephen Drew and second baseman Orlando Hudson are strong two-way players. If third baseman Chad Tracy rebounds from a disappointing '06, the lineup might truly click.

Late-inning relief is a question; the trade of right-hander Luis Vizcaino creates a void in the setup role, and Jose Valverde is hardly a sure thing as the closer. Tony Pena must prove a viable successor to Vizcaino and ideally, a possible successor to Valverde. But the Diamondbacks should have enough arms — including several young arms — to sort it all out.

On paper, the Dodgers and Padres are the best of the NL West, but they're not nearly as dominant as the Yankees and Red Sox in the AL East. The D-Backs could leap forward if two or more of their young position players emerge as potential stars — and if Johnson can revive himself in his return to the NL.

Like the Dodgers, the Dbacks have a decent starting rotation on paper, a productive lineup, and no power bat. Unlike the Dodgers, they don't have a strong relief corps. In addition, unlike the Dodgers, they actually have an outfield with strong arms and legs (see: Pierre, Gonzalez). So focusing on the rival circus that is the Giants, as well as the division rival that is the Padres, may indeed not be enough.

By the way, Rosenthal also mentions the Rockies as one of the surprising four teams for 2007, but the Rockies text doesn't seem as serious as the Diamondbacks; it's almost more of a "they're moving in the right direction" sort of piece.

Rosenthal's prolific standard is impressive, which has earned him the nickname "Robothal," as mentioned in this great Maury Brown interview on The Biz of Baseball. Rosenthal not only acknowledges the nickname, but also (at the end of the article) indicates that, on a words-per-pound or words-per-inch-of-height status, he is probably unrivaled (except maybe by Buster Olney--he looks kinda skinny to me, from his headshot, and he sure writes a lot, too.)


Anonymous said...

Yes, the DBacks could threaten to win the NL West this year. Three big issues though.
1. Randy Johnson, how many games will he start
2. Doug Davis, are the rumors of his arm falling off true or not.
3. The youngsters, are they ready for the big time.

I am running team vs team, pitcher vs pitcher simulations using 2007 ZIPS statistics and from my early returns it looks like the sim has the Padres > DBacks > Dodgers > Giants > Rockies.

I've published the first set of results, that has the Dodgers and Rockies matched up.


vr, Xei

Orel said...

Wow. That's fascinating and depressing all at the same time. Third place?