Monday, September 26, 2005

The Arizona Diamondbacks Part One: 2005 in Review

The D’Backs are attempting something that the A’s have mastered and that the Yankees perfected. What’s that? Re-building a team without using young players or saving any money. Yankees fans have come to call it re-loading. The A’s have labeled it cost certainty. The D’Backs don’t have a name for it but I have a suggestion: lunacy. The point of re-building is to remove the elements on your team that don’t work as they should and to substitute better players. Most teams re-build around young players so they can simultaneously increase their talent level and reduce their expenses at the same time. The Yankees use their vast amounts of money to get other teams to take contracts they no longer want and to buy the better players they need. The A’s have used astute scouting and careful trades to accomplish the same thing. The Arizona Diamondbacks have tried elements of all three methods but have royally screwed it up (no pun intended). Taken separately none of the moves appears to be that damning. But when combined you can see that the Diamondbacks have not only slowed their development of talent they’ve guaranteed it to be more expensive than it needed to be when they are actually good and not just relatively good as they were this season.
When Arizona traded Randy Johnson to the Yankees most people thought it a decent idea. Johnson was forty-one years old and unhappy being on a team that had just lost over a hundred games. Quite a few of those people were of the opinion they could do better for themselves by trading Johnson to a team like Miami or the Mets or the Phillies. The Yankees had very few advanced prospects to offer and the other teams mentioned could give the D’backs a huge shot of young talent for a seemingly immortal ace pitcher. But the Arizona Diamondbacks weren’t looking for young talent at least not of the prospect variety. Instead they traded their ace for Javier Vazquez, Brad Halsey, Dioner Navarro and about 9 million dollars. It was almost brilliant.
Javier Vazquez was a young pitcher who many were expecting to jump up to #1 starter status while with the Yankees. Brad Halsey was a young lefty starter who was ready for the majors and a nice filler for the end of almost any rotation. Dioner Navarro was one of the Yankees top prospects (even if slightly overrated) and a catcher close to major league ready. The $9 million would pay for the first year of the expensive extension Vazquez signed while with the Yankees. The first major problem occurred before the trade when the D’Backs signed Russ Ortiz for four years and $33 million.
Russ Ortiz is an average pitcher at best. I guess either he or his agent is really good at selling himself as a frontline pitcher because the Braves fell for it first. Now, Russ Ortiz isn’t that awful a starter to have on your team. He has shown an ability to stay healthy and pitch lots of innings. The D’Backs screwed up by giving him a four year contract at such an expensive rate. If the D’Backs were so desperate to portray themselves as contenders and even if I allow for the possibility that Ortiz was the only starter willing to come to Arizona (I don’t believe it for a second) than they still should have given him at best a two year deal or even better a one year deal. Even one year at $10 million would have been a better idea. Why? Because with Brandon Webb and Javier Vazquez and Brad Halsey and a handful of cheaper alternatives already on hand and a few young starters with nice potential almost ready why clog up the rotation and the payroll with an average pitcher and an untradeable contract? Ortiz has been horrible in 2005, which makes the possibility that he could be moved or be worth the money all the more unlikely.
Big blunder #2 was signing Troy Glaus while owning Chad Tracy for several more years. I like Glaus. He’s still young and when healthy can be a huge bat in a lineup. The main problem was he had yet to stay consistently healthy and was coming off major shoulder surgery. Chad Tracy was the only significant young player to establish himself in 2004 a year in which the D’Backs lost over one hundred games. Chad Tracy is a third baseman and a decent one. He isn’t the hitter that Glaus can be when healthy but he can hit and he is young and cheap. Anyone watching the Arizona games the last two seasons has seen Tracy go from third base to first base back to third to first and then left and right field. Glaus stayed relatively healthy this year but struggled at times with minor and nagging injuries that took him out of the lineup several times for a few to several days at a time. At nearly $11 million a year, hopefully Glaus can stay healthy and capable of playing third base in 2006 but I doubt Chad Tracy will be available to take over at third should he suffer another season ending type injury.
Dioner Navarro was almost immediately traded along with a fistful of pitching prospects for Shawn Green. On the surface this wasn’t a horrible idea. Green had one year left on his contract and the Dodgers were throwing in some cash. Arizona already had clone prospect catchers in Koyie Hill and Chris Snyder and the injured Rob Hammock to provide catching possibilities. They were also looking at Danny Bautista and Luis Terrero filling two of their outfield spots. The problem came when they gave Green a two-year extension for big bucks. Green has been on the decline for years now. He still shows flashes of the guy the D’Backs were hoping they signed but that guy is never coming back. But the worst part of this deal is how it impacts Carlos Quentin, Conor Jackson and yet again Chad Tracy. I’m willing to bet all the money I have that Carlos Quentin and Conor Jackson could duplicate if not exceed the production of both Shawn Green and Luis Gonzalez in 2006. We’ll never find out unless the D’Backs manage to clear two outfield spots.

Carlos Quentin
Year Age Level G AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI SB CS BB SO Avg Obp Slg
2004 21 A 65 242 64 75 14 1 15 51 5 1 25 33 0.310 0.428 0.562
2004 21 AA 60 210 39 75 19 0 6 38 0 6 18 23 0.357 0.443 0.533
2005 22 AAA 136 452 98 136 28 4 21 89 9 1 72 71 0.301 0.422 0.520
Connor Jackson
Year Age Level G AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI SB CS BB SO Avg Obp Slg
2003 21 A 68 257 44 82 35 1 6 60 3 0 36 41 0.319 0.410 0.533
2004 22 A 67 258 64 89 19 2 11 54 4 3 45 36 0.345 0.438 0.562
2004 22 AA 60 226 33 68 13 2 6 37 3 3 24 36 0.301 0.367 0.456
2005 23 AAA 93 333 66 118 38 2 8 73 3 2 69 32 0.354 0.457 0.553
2005 23 mlb 35 74 7 15 3 0 2 8 0 0 10 9 0.203 0.302 0.324

I haven’t seen either of these guys play but from what I’ve read Quentin projects to be a good right fielder and a below average center fielder. Jackson would be an average left fielder and a good first baseman. In an ideal world Green would be off the books at the end of this season. I’ve already read rumors of a possible trade of Luis Gonzalez (though after the way he’s finished this season I can’t imagine there are too many teams jumping at the opportunity). Unfortunately, the back up plan seems to be trading Quentin instead to make room to fit Tracy in the outfield. If our fantasy world dream came true Tracy would slide to left field. Conor Jackson would slip into first base. Carlos Quentin would man right field. Luis Terrero and Scott Hairston would battle for center field with Luis the better fielder and Hairston the better hitter. Some might argue that Hairston’s bat would make up for his slightly below average glove at second but I’m planning for the future here and there are better candidates for the infield which I’ll get to soon. We have our catching tandem of Chris Snyder and Koyie Hill already basically in place. That leaves our pitching and infield to address but we already look better. We’re younger and in my opinion just as good as the team that the Diamondbacks are fielding right now as the season is winding down. We are also almost $20 million cheaper with Luis Gonzalez ($11.5 million in 2006) and Shawn Green ($8 million in 2006) off the books. Our only real flaw is our biggest star attractions are gone.
Back to reality, the good news seems to be that the Diamondbacks want to make room for Jackson and Quentin. I can’t imagine any other reason they would try to trade away Luis Gonzalez. Unfortunately, not only do I think that will be exceedingly difficult I also think its one player too few. Once again the D’Back checkbook has flown open for a player they didn’t need to sign. Tony Clark was signed to a two-year extension before the season even ended blocking first base for Conor Jackson and assuming a trade of Luis Gonzalez is impossible keeping Jackson, Tracy and Quentin fighting for playing time. Tony Clark had a fantastic 2005 season. He’s a great guy and a local hero. He played at the University of Arizona and lives in a Phoenix suburb. By all accounts he’s a great guy to have in the clubhouse. It’s also “only” a million and change per year. It’s still too much. Bob Melvin will not play a young guy over a veteran to save his life. He is nearly as bad as Dusty Baker is in this regard. Even now as the season ends he refuses to play Conor Jackson everyday. Does Luis Gonzalez’s second half slump need to play out for the rest of the year? Is Tony Clark gunning for MVP? If you own any Diamondback prospects be very careful. Don’t go out of your way to acquire them and if you have the opportunity to get value for them I suggest you do it. While I expect Jackson, Quentin, Tracy, Hairston and Terrero to work their way into the lineup eventually if you count on them to get playing time you will suffer for it.

Monday, September 19, 2005


Sorry about not delivering articles this weekend. My D'Backs article turned massive on me and must be edited down to something less inclusive. The preparation article should appear soon after that. Thanks for your patience if anyone is actually reading out there.

Thursday, September 15, 2005

The Future...

As the off-season approaches I think it is important to first address preparation. I believe it is never too early to start looking at the next year’s possibilities. I have no doubt that things will change during the winter months to make some of our ideas no longer feasible. On the other hand, I also believe that to understand the impact a free agent signing or trade will have on a particular player you must also have an understanding of the organization as a whole. Because I believe this is true, I will be writing a series of articles that examine each of the major league teams and the possible impact of players in their minor league systems. The organization reports will appear (every few days) during the week. On the weekends I’ll be writing my theory and strategy articles. The occasional very short article about a particular player or event will fill in the gaps. You can expect the first organizational report on Friday (the Diamondbacks) and an article on off-season preparation on Sunday.

A few random ideas:

As hard as this may be to believe there are fantasy owners out there that still don’t believe that Jason Giambi is back. If you have such people in your leagues jump all over any opportunity to get Giambi at what is most likely a bargain price. Believe me, Jason Giambi is just as good as ever. I don’t believe he is any more susceptible to injury than any other player. His plate patience is amazing and his power is still great. The Yankee lineup will continue to provide plenty of protection and plenty of baserunners to drive home. He is the best first baseman in the AL.

At the same time I would be very cautious about owning Barry Bonds. I wouldn’t want to own him at anything close to full price. He is old and getting older which isn’t a good compliment to suffering serious knee injuries. I do expect he’ll play and show the same great patience at the plate and when healthy he’ll show great power as well, I just don’t believe he’ll be healthy enough to play everyday. When his knees and legs bother him his power will also suffer. Barry Bonds is a great player and I hope he finishes his career on an up note I just won’t be owning him in any fantasy leagues.

Jeremy Reed will bounce back and start to approach the solid outfielder his minor league experience suggests in 2006. He probably won’t ever be great and has done little to suggest he might be. He has shown himself to be capable of getting on base at a decent but not spectacular rate. He has a little pop in his bat but not the sort of power that fantasy leaguers are seeking. He has speed but isn’t a great base stealer. Unless the Mariners make some changes his defense should keep him in the lineup batting second and playing center field. He’ll steal a few bases and hit a few homeruns and score a decent number of runs dependent on the lineup behind him. Although what I’ve written may seem to suggest he is a better real player than fantasy player (and that is true) I think Reed is a player you should consider acquiring cheaply especially in 5x5 leagues that use runs as a category.

Dontrelle Willis is having a very good season. I think D-Train is just one element short of becoming a fantasy superstar. Oh, don’t mistake me for thinking he isn’t already very popular and worthy of a spot on almost any fantasy roster. It’s just that his strikeout rate is falling as he improves his control. In 2003 Dontrelle had a strikeout rate of 7.9 for every 9IP and a walk rate of 3.25 for every 9IP. He looked amazing most of that season because his strikeout rate made up for any control problems he may have had. In 2004 I believe he spent the year attempting to pitch with greater control. He wasn’t altogether successful although his walk rate dropped to 3.15bb/9IP. His attempts to pitch in the strikezone resulted in a greater number of hits allowed and fewer strikeouts (a rate of 6.4k/9IP). This season Dontrelle has improved his walk rate dramatically (2.15bb/9IP) and has allowed only 186 hits in 209 innings. The only real problem I see is the still falling strikeout rate (6.1k/9IP). I don’t have any grand conclusions to draw about this I merely point it out as something to watch. If his strikeout rate falls any further I’ll start to worry. I actually think he is likely to increase his strikeout rate back to around 7k/9IP. His minor league strikeout rates were consistently greater than 7k/9IP. At 23 years old Dontrelle is still learning to pitch. If he gets his strikeout rate up he’ll be worthy of a 1st round pick in 2007.

That’s all for now.

Saturday, September 10, 2005


Fantasy Baseball is getting complicated. As sites like Rotoworld and Rototimes make it easier for the average fantasy baseball player to keep abreast of the latest news and developments more and more players are seeking a new edge. Many sites seek to provide that edge by developing better methods of prognostication. Complex formulas have been created in an attempt to more accurately measure a player's power or speed. Some sites have taken to particular ratios that they give fancy new names to get an edge on predicting pitching performance. New draft strategies that teach you to use these new formulas, ratios and methods to select players during your draft or auction are becoming extremely popular. I subscribe to many of these sites myself and I love reading their theories and and looking at the incredible amounts of work that has been done in the form of charts and graphs. But when draft day arrives or I need to pick up a free agent player or someone off the waiver wire I never use these methods or formulas when actually making a decision. Why? Because I like to keep it simple.

I make intelligent and informed decisions without using any math more complicated than the average forth grader can do in his head. I can predict trends in a players development accurately without the use of a complicated computer program. I can teach you to draft a fantasy team that is capable of winning every category including the "unpredictable" wins, saves, era and ratio. I can show you how to select the minor leaguers that become stars and thus vital parts of your keeper league team. I can teach you to do all this and more without any complicated math or formulas.

Please don't interpret this as a slam on the sites that use the formulas and methods I insist you don't actually need. I love the math. I was that kid in high school that actually enjoyed calculus and physics. I love the theories and I've used the strategies. If you like Baseball HQ or by all means continue to use them. This site aims to be a compliment to such sites if you enjoy them and an alternative for those that don't. The great thing about the ideas I intend to share is that they are so simple that incorporating them into the methods of other sites is easy and will likely help you understand their reasoning a bit better. One thing you'll soon learn about this site is it recommends you read and learn from as many different sources as you are capable of without getting overwhelmed or confused. I'll even suggest the sites I find useful.

What do I hope to gain? Hopefully I'll soon earn your respect and you'll help support this site in whatever fashion you are able. In return I will over you daily advice and analysis on everyday's baseball news and developments. I'll be available by e-mail to help you make decisions or just offer that second pair of eyes on a trade or roster move. I will keep posting helpful articles and keep them available to you on an archive that will constantly grow. And most of all I'll keep it simple.

See you real soon.