The Arizona Diamondbacks appear to be a team without too many holes. Their rotation looks solid from top to bottom, the painfully underrated Conor Jackson is turning into a player that could be a cornerstone for a franchise, and Brandon Lyon has done a capable job finishing games although he never did profile as your stereotypical closer. But this is not exactly a perfect team and the stats show that there may be some rockier times ahead.
It’s not really a revelation to state that Chase Field is a hitter’s park. In 2007, the home of the Diamondbacks had 11% more runs scored within its confines than in the average stadium. In 2008, that figure’s even higher at nearly 27%, which is second highest in MLB. So I find it curious that so far this season, only 9% of fly balls given up by D-Backs pitching have left the yard, which is tied for the lowest percentage in the National League. Even with perhaps the best ground ball pitcher in the game today, Brandon Webb, the Arizona staff have generated only a 43% ground ball percentage, meaning that 57% of batted balls were airborne, a figure that’s higher than the league average (44%). This is a pitching staff that should be giving up more home runs than they have. And I think they eventually will. But the problem is that finding better arms than Webb, Danny Haren, Randy Johnson, Micah Owings, and Doug Davis is a difficult task. They even have Max Scherzer as insurance. But upgrading their lineup to help compensate for the increase in runs allowed isn’t a bad way to go either, and this should be easier to do.
Led by Conor Jackson and Orlando Hudson, the Diamondbacks lineup is sound, but can be improved. Sure, Mark Reynolds has been jacking up dingers like nobody’s business, but as of this writing, 21.5% of his batted fly balls are leaving the park, which is potentially sustainable, but do know that in 2007 there were only seven hitters who maintained that or better. Long story short, I don’t think he’s at those guys’ level just yet. And despite Chris B. Young’s inability to raise his paltry BABiP no matter how hard he tries, he appears to have a ton of talent. And with young Stephen Drew and Justin Upton performing admirably, there’s really only one major hole in their offense – left field (Eric Byrnes).
It might seem blasphemous to suggest that Eric Byrnes, a man who finished 11th in NL MVP voting last season, can be replaced, but it’s true. Simply put, the man never has been as good a player as the general populace thinks. Personally, I blame fantasy baseball. You see that he hit 20+ HRs for the past two seasons and that he swiped 50 bags and think he’s a superstar. But for his career, his line is a pretty pedestrian .264/.326/.447. Despite “breaking out” in 2006 with 26 home runs, he still ended up with a 96 OPS-Plus, which made him a below average offensive player. Last season, he broke the 100 barrier by posting a barely above average 104 OPS-Plus, but this was in large part due to the fact that he also had a .309 BABiP, which for Eric Byrnes, is pretty dang high as he’s usually in the .270 area. To boot, he’s had a terrible 2008 thus far, with a line of .219/.285/.388 and is on the DL with a strained right hamstring, due to return very soon.
The man does, to his credit, play a pretty good left field, leading the position in revised zone rating. But if it weren’t for the ill-advised 3-year/$30 million extension he signed last year, he may have already been benched, grit and spunk be damned.