Series Preview: Jim McLennan Talks Diamondbacks

Yeah, it’s Friday, but we’ve got something way cooler than links. We’ve got Jim McLennan, of AZ Snakepit fame, with us, and he’s going to give us the dirt on this year’s Diamondbacks.

Ducksnorts: I picked Arizona to win the NL West in 2007 on the strength of its good young position players. The team took the division, but without much help from said players. Now that these kids have a year of experience under their belts, what are your expectations for the Diamondbacks in 2008?

McLennan: For obvious reasons, the experience is certainly going to help. This time last year, Chris Young had just made his major-league debut, Mark Reynolds was in Double-A and Justin Upton was all the way down in High-A. Now, they are in their second season — they will still be learning, naturally, but each at-bat will make them better players. We have already seen some rookie mistakes from Upton in the field, but don’t forget, he’s still not old enough to drink.

Last year, I thought the offense would rake, and the pitching was somewhat wobbly — turned out to be the complete opposite. This year, I think our pitching has got better with the addition of Haren, as a replacement for Livan Hernandez, and the offense is going to deliver on what I thought it would last season. I can see ten or more homers from every spot on the diamond — potentially including the pitcher, if Micah Owings gets going — and a lot of tough outs. I think the team will remain streaky, but if Randy Johnson remains healthy, that’s a rotation almost second to none in the majors. It should keep the team in games, even if the offense slows down from its tremendous initial pace, as is almost inevitable.

My major concern personally is the bullpen, almost all the members of which over-achieved to one degree or another last season. I think the trade of Jose Valverde to the Astros is not a problem — the pitcher we got back, Chad Qualls, may actually be a better arm (especially going by results so far) — but I’m not sure [Brandon] Lyon and [Tony] Peña are going to be anywhere near as lights-out as they were in 2007. It wouldn’t surprise me if uber-prospect Max Scherzer, who has yet to be scored on thus far at Triple-A Tucson (12 innings, 2 BB, 18 K), is up by the end of the season.

Ducksnorts: Justin Upton scares the bejeezus out of me. How good can he be?

McLennan: It’s too early to say much, since his career has barely turned left out of the driveway, and the final destination could be anywhere between Cooperstown or somewhere less memorable. However, the number of 20-year-olds capable of holding down a full-time job in the majors over the past couple of decades is short; Roberto Alomar, Ken Griffey Jr, A-Rod and Adrian Beltre. So that’s probably the range of potential we’re looking at here.

As a benchmark, in his age 20 season, Griffey had a line of .300/.366/.481, with 22 HR and 80 RBI, and I think that’s the kind of thing we’ll see from Upton this season — a little lower average, but probably more power. From there, he’ll get better: I can’t quite see him matching Griffey’s peak homer total of 56, but I can see Upton reaching 40 homers or more, probably by the time he’s 23 or 24. I’m with you in general though: if he was on another team in the NL West, I’d be very worried, so I’m glad he’s with us.

Ducksnorts: Well, that makes one of us. From the outside looking in, Josh Byrnes seems to have a real good idea of what he’s doing. Obviously last season’s success will color this, but how do fans perceive Byrnes and the organization?

McLennan: Initially, there was an element of resistance to the new owners from some circles, especially in what was seen as a lack of respect for the history and past successes of the club — the switch in colors from purple to red was probably too much like an Orwellian exercise in rewriting the past. However, the organization has made genuine efforts to reach out, such as the tenth anniversary celebrations last weekend at Chase, where most of the original ’98 Diamondbacks came back (and admitted, amusingly, they never liked playing in purple!). It helps that president Derrick Hall has been tremendously accessible

I think Josh Byrnes keeps a fairly low profile as far as the general public is concerned, but most of the core fan base seem happy with him. There have, inevitably, been a few mis-steps (letting Dan Uggla get away, and the trade of [Scott] Hairston to you guys is seen as one that could come back to bite us), but the proof of what he brought is there in another division championship. Going from 111 losses to the NLCS in three years is quite an accomplishment — even the die-hards, who swore they’d only give up purple when it was pried from their cold, dead fingers, would have to respect those who made it possible.

Ducksnorts: I know it’s early, but what are your initial impressions of Dan Haren? Is he worth what it cost to bring him to Phoenix?

McLennan: So far, so good: he’d be 3-0 if Brandon Lyon hadn’t coughed up a three-run homer in Cincinnati to Juan Encarnacion. As is, it’s three games and three quality starts, with each outing being a little more impressive than the one before. I think he is still adjusting to life in the NL — the presence of an opposing pitcher in the ninth spot is bound to affect tactics on the mound. His splitter is just one nasty weapon and it seemed to me in his last start at Chase that he used it more often. In a hitter-friendly park like ours, it should help him avoid too many long balls, which is the most obvious problem he might face.

Yes, we had to give up a lot of good prospects to get him, but with the exception of second base, every position is already occupied by players who are signed through 2010, at least, so someone like outfielder Carlos Gonzalez is largely surplus to requirements. The pitching prospects are perhaps harder to replace, but none of them projected as much more than back of the rotation starters, and if they can be combined and converted into someone who give us the best 1-2 punch in the league, then go for it. I’m sure I needn’t remind you where Arizona ended up, the last time we had two ace pitchers.

Ducksnorts: Yes, as I recall, your team did a masterful job of overcoming terrible managing to beat the Yankees one year.

Thanks again to Jim for stopping by and subjecting himself to my questions. Here’s to a great series, and best of luck to the Diamondbacks once the Padres leave town!

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88 Responses »

  1. #44@Eric: In the sense that other teams are at a competitive disadvantage by, say, not being able to run pitchers out who pound the strike zone but serve up a lot of fly balls, yes.

  2. #49@Pat: does that undervalued pitching become less valuable in a neutral park? are the other team’s offensive studs neutralized more so than ours?

    I’m trying to understand the point of the bell/ortiz comparison. Is Bell less valuable outside of Petco? is Ortiz outside of Fenway?

  3. #42@Schlom:
    My thing is…

    YOU CAN’T WIN ANY GAME WITHOUT SCORING AT LEAST 1 RUN!

    I am not going to disagree that pitching is just as important and maybe more important than hitting but until a change in the rules is made that gives the pitchers an opportunity to score from the mound than you cannot simply ignore the offense. It’s not football. Pitchers have thrown no hitters and still managed to take a loss.

    We can disagree and that is fine but it’s like you choose to just ignore the fact that we can’t muster up even 1 run. I really don’t understand why that is so hard to understand Schlom. I also don’t really understand why you would want such an extreme tilt towards pitching. Isn’t the idea of building a good team being strong in both facets of the game?

    When was the last time a pure pitching or pure hitting team won the world series?

  4. #51@Geoff Young: That makes sense, and if true, Padres seem to do a good job at that.

  5. #48@sdpadrefan.com: They had some help from Alfonso Marquez.

  6. #21@Geoff Young: Since I asked the quesiton, I should buy the book and read the answer

  7. #45@Pat: I love me a pitcher’s duel, especially if we come out on top, but I’m pretty sure casual fans appreciate offense more. And that’s not to advocate having a bandbox, but being on the other extreme might be affecting casual interest in the team, as many are suggesting. But aside from that, even for myself as something more than a casual fan…I’m really examining my feelings and wondering how much I really enjoy all these 2-1 affairs. A thrilling 1-0 walkoff win after 9 nailbiting innings is surely rewarding, but the 0-1 loss is equally agonizing, and I’m not sure if I prefer it over a slew of 6-3 victories and 3-6 losses, given the same aggregate won-loss record.

  8. As an average fan who doesn’t want to understand the nuances of a pitcher friendly park, Padre baseball is boring (and has been for 5 years) because they rarely hit, or hit with men in scoring position and, apparently, they have not hit a single HR this year at SchlepCo.

    What kind of dungeon do we play in?

    And I feel pissed, as an average fan, that Sandy and Kevin have done exactly nothing to get any real offense on the team to help the pitching, be it speed, big hitters, 300 hitters, or reconfiguring Petco.

    Meanwhile, we are 3.5 back and no where close to the WC, and its only April. Going to be a long boring season.

    Don’t hate me, but that is how I feel.

    To the average fan, baseball is a product purchased for entertainment purposes. We got higher beer prices, higher seat prices, no offense and a lovely ballpark that seconds as a sinkhole for offense. So what exactly am I paying for

    If I were a stock holder in Padres Inc, I’d be pissed. Think attendance is low now, wait til August.

  9. BTW, great discussions here today. I feel my Friday afternoon dissolving away into Friday happy hour. Hurray!

  10. #52@Eric: Excellent question on the pitching. Probably not. I do think the feeling is, and of course this is just my gues, that the FO doesn’t believe it is ever going to be signing guys like Pujols, A-Rod, etc. and that a pitcher’s park helps us more than hurts us from that perspective.

    Yeah, I wasn’t sure if the Bell-Ortiz thing would make sense. What I meant was I think it is easier to find guys like Bell, pitchers who can come in and have a strong impact for a small price than it is to find a guy like Ortiz, who was an offensive stud waiting to happen and really bloomed in Boston for only $1.25 million in his first year with them.

    It seems the Pads have a guy or two in the pen almost every year who makes a solid contribution for next to nothing in cash, but it is very rare for a team to turn up an offensive player in the same vein. It is not so much addressed at park factors as the difference between finding valuable pitchers or valuable hitters. Does that make any sense?

  11. #57@Eric: Fair enough, but I bet we’ll start to see some more high scoring affairs as the season progresses, guys get their swings and timing dialed in, and the weather warms up.

  12. #60@Pat:

    I wonder, now, and this is a coalescing of a lot of the crap I’ve already posted in this thread, is the park effect really just normalizing the playing field? Are we losing the advantage of having Jake Peavy to some extent because scrubs like Ledezma can go out there and get almost the same results? Thinking in those terms, the reverse would not be true of the hitters…the SAME would be true. Are we losing the advantage of having a talented hitter like Adrian Gonzalez because his results are closer to the average scrub for 81 games a year? If the true effect of suppressing scoring is a more level playing field, that would explain why our home field advantage has been erratic, and cumulatively lower than the MLB average, because the park effect is pulling game outcomes toward the mean of a .500 record.

  13. #61@Pat: True, that always seems to happen when the weather warms up. Geez how many times have we had mediocre aprils before turning it on in May? Could those have been avoided with a less-extreme cool-weather park effect?

    just a question, nothing more

  14. #53@KRS1: I think you misunderstood me. My theory is that it’s easier to find hitters then pitchers so it makes more sense to help out the pitchers. As it’s been pointed out before, the stadium had absolutely zero effect on the Padres offense last night — unless you think it creates more routine groundballs and strikeouts.

    #58@PM (average fan): What if creating an more offensive environment in Petco hurts the won-loss record? Do you think averaging a few more runs but losing more often will bring in more fans? I don’t think that’s true. Why take the chance?

  15. #40@Didi: I haven’t heard any explanation, good or otherwise, for why Bud left Tony Clark in the whole game … several IGD commenters last night thought Adrian could and should have stayed in the game after he PH’d … and I’m one of them … I think that was a HUGE blunder by Bud … but I’m also sure I don’t have all the info he has … I’m just putting that non-move down on the list of “issues with Bud” … it sure seems to me that at the point in the game the Adrian PH’d, it was extra innings, and Adrian’s glove became that much more valuable … as well as his bat.

  16. #58@PM (average fan): Sigh. Biting my tongue… tongue now bleeding. Thanks a lot. ;-)

  17. #62@Eric: This could be the other side of the argument in #If every visiting team is “able to run pitchers out who pound the strike zone but serve up a lot of fly balls”, Peavy vs. lesser pitcher ends up an unlucky 2-1 loss instead of a likely win.