And indeed they were. Second place? Yeah, yeah. Don't be fooled. Like a dead skunk in the middle of the road, they stunk to high heaven.
They had the second-best record in the 2005 National League West, which is an achievement that belongs to an order of magnitude that does not involve excellence. By definition. They were the second tallest jockey, stuck playing basketball. (The prospect of examining this team in depth frightened off the entire Roster, which is why this Preview is actually a Group Effort, assembled from bits and pieces of commentary.)
But there's more, folks. That 77-85 record that they posted? That represented over-achievement, in the won-loss column, on a truly historic scale. They scored just 696 runs and allowed 856 - Pythagoras expected them to go 64-98. In that sense, their 2005 won-loss record was one of the greatest flukes in the history of baseball. Only six teams, ever, have exceeded their Pythagorean Expected W-L record by a margin greater than the 2005 Diamondbacks. They rank seventh luckiest, in a list with 2282 entries.
They were really, really bad, and really, really fortunate.
And yet, and yet... The Blue Jays in 2005 prompted some of us to wonder if an abnormally large number of lopsided victories could sufficiently throw a team runs scored and allowed completely out of kilter with their won-loss record. Theoretically perhaps, although in the case of the 2005 Blue Jays... no. It defnitely didn't. But the Diamondbacks may be another story.
The 2005 Diamondbacks had a special gift for losing games by enormous margins. I wrote about this at the time. To recap:
The 2005 D'Backs two games by eight runs (11-3, 11-3).
They lost three games by ten runs (10-0, 10-0, 16-6).
They lost one game by twelve runs (14-2).
They lost one game by thirteen runs (14-1).
They lost three games by fourteen runs (16-2, 17-3, 18-4)
They lost one game by fifteen runs (18-3).
They won 1 game by eight runs (8-0).
In these twelve games, the D'Backs went 1-11: they scored 35 runs and allowed 155 runs.
In their other 150 games, they went 76-74. They scored 661 runs and gave up 701.
They were still over-performing, as you can see, largely because of their nifty 28-18 record in games decided by a single run. That was the best figure in the NL.
I'm willing to entertain the idea that the D'Backs grotesque record in blowouts may be a little misleading. While beating the other fellow senseless is certainly a reliable indicator of quality, losing in the same fashion could, conceivably, simply indicate a managerial choice, rather than a true level of ability. The choice, in this case, would be to send someone like Frank Menechino in to pitch. In the case of the Diamondbacks, that would have been Kerry Ligtenberg or someone equivalent. I suppose you could make that argument. But I don't know if you'll actually convince anyone with it...
Anyway, as we all know, the desert is where old Blue Jays have been ending up lately. And so Carlos Tosca, Shawn Green, and Brandon Lyon will be joined this summer by Miguel Batista and Orlando Hudson. Will they be any better? I don't see any reason why they would be any better...
The 2005 Diamondbacks were 10th in the NL in runs scored, and the only thing they had going for them was their ability to hit home runs. They responded to this by trading their top home run hitter (Troy Glaus) to the American League, and moving their second-best home run hitter (Tony Clark) to the bench. Perhaps they think that getting rid of the home runs was the magic formula that turned the White Sox into world beaters. At any rate, there will be six new regulars at the eight everyday spots (acknowledging that one of the six is a returnee moved to a new position.)
Johnny Estrada has come over from Atlanta, and he surely ought to be an upgrade on Chris Snyder, last year's catcher. Estrada was actually an All-Star just two years ago. The worry here is health. Estrada was troubled by neck and back problems last year, many of them stemming from that notorious collision at home plate when he was bowled over by Darin Erstad.
The Snakes have handed the first base job to Conor Jackson, their 2003 first round pick. Jackson did nothing coming off the bench in his first taste of major league action, but he's got nothing to prove at AAA - he was hitting .354 when he got the call. The incomparable Orlando Hudson takes over at second base, replacing Craig Counsell, who slides over to shortstop. All Box readers know what Hudson brings - he chips in with the bat, and plays the best second base in the majors. The addition of Hudson ought to improve the infield defense... but because this move was accompanied by the shift of a 35 year old second baseman to shortstop, it might not. Counsell is a good second baseman, if not as good as Hudson - who is, after all? - but I think he's a little overmatched at short. On the whole, I think the defense up the middle will be worse than last year. And while Counsell is supposed to be ready to start the season, whenever I see the words "labrum" and "tear" used together... it makes me wonder. At any rate, with Counsell's recent injury and Stephen Drew not being ready, GM Josh Byrnes plucked Alberto Callaspo out of the Angel middle infield logjam. Callaspo fields very well, but it would be a surprise to see him post a .700 OPS in BOB. Replacing Troy Glaus at third base will be Chad Tracy, who spent 2005 moving between first base and right field. Tracy had a very nice season (.308, .359, .553 with 27 HRs), he's still just 25 years old, and one would think that being allowed to settle in at one position should only help.
Luis Gonzalez and Shawn Green would have been a wonderful corner outfield tandem in 2001, but alas the calendar pages turn and assets become liabilities. They're still above average offensive players, but there was a time when each could be regarded as a Big Scary Bat. Those days are gone, and with Glaus in Toronto and Clark (Clark?!) on the bench, this lineup simply does not have a Big Scary Bat. The Snakes do have phenoms rightfielder Carlos Quentin and centerfielder Chris Young waiting in the wings. Quentin has mastered Triple A, and will probably be in the lineup by July, while Young might be a little longer in getting there. In the meantime, Eric Byrnes makes a nice placeholder in centerfield, if he rebounds from a miserable 2005 to his career norms.
Tony Clark does not have a regular position, despite going .304, .366, .636 with 30 HRs in just 349 at bats. One would think Bob Melvin would try very hard to get that bat in the lineup, however. Chris Snyder will probably be the backup catcher, although Koyie Hill is out of options and will have to clear waivers. The Diamondbacks just unloaded utility infielder Alex Cintron, but Damion Easley is still around to provide support in the infield. Jerry DaVanon will start the year as the fourth outfielder. There isn't even room for Luis Terreo at AAA, with Young, Quentin, and Jerry Hairston already pencilled in for the Tucson outfield. Terreo is out of options and will probably end up on waivers.
The Diamondbacks have one very good starting pitcher - Brandon Webb went 14-12, 3.54 on last year's terrible team. He'll enjoy having Orlando Hudson scooping up everything hit to the right side of the infield. After Webb... oh dear, oh dear, oh dear. Erstwhile Toronto closer Miguel Batista is pretty clearly the number two man in this group. El Artista did have his best seasons (2001 and 2003) in the desert, and while he's not the most consistent pitcher who ever lived, he'll probably have enough outings when his stuff is working to battle the league to a draw. I think we all understand that Russ Ortiz was never as good as some of his bright and shiny W-L records made him seem. Ortiz was 99-56 in the six seasons preceding 2005, with seasons of 17, 18, and 21 wins. He's always been lucky, and last year was no exception. His 5-11 record in 2005 was just as misleading as his 21-7 mark in 2003. He pitched nowhere near well enough to win five games. He was unbelievably bad, and it seems very unlikely that he could really be that awful again this year. Brad Halsey (8-12, 4.61) is the LH starter, and while he had some truly terrible starts last year, he throws strikes and is certainly still young enough (25 this year) to develop some more. Which can not be said for the fifth starter, Orlando Hernandez. I love El Duque, and I hope he pitches forever - I would just hate to be a fan of a team that was counting on him to do so. Hernandez is possibly the closest thing to Satchel Paige any of us will see in our time (someday I will assemble the parallels!), and as long as he can lift his arm above his shoulder, he can retire major league hitters, with guile if he doesn't have any gas. But there is no chance whatsoever that he'll be able to take the ball every fifth day. I trust they realize this in Arizona. Claudio Vargas is also in the mix. The closer should be Jose Valverde, who did a very fine job over the second half of last season. Other bullpen arms should include Luis Vizcaino, acquired along with El Duque in the Vazquez trade, the eternal Jason Grimsley, and Brandon Lyon, who began last year as the closer and actually saved a whole bunch of games before his arm fell off.
Ah... they were bad before, and they'll be bad again.
Prediction: 69-93, Fifth Place.