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. Ugh! Nothing like waking up in the morning to find out we lost after 22 innings. Ugh!

  2. A few comments about Maddux in last night’s IGD confused me … until I read this …

    Young, Maddux swap spots in the rotation

    … this is the first burp in our rotation … not a major burp … that is unless CY bombs again tomorrow in AZ …

  3. 22 innings and only 3 runs!!!! Petco has got to change. It the boring baseball in the MLB.

  4. Last nights game is making me feel ill. Tonight I’m going to the game with some D-back fans. I’m going to need a lot of alcohol to deal with this.

  5. #3@PM:

    I think I am starting to lean a little that way also. It’s awesome to have great pitching but there has to be a medium at some point right? I also think that our players need to learn to adapt better but I am resigned to now agreeing with Phantom (I think) that it may be a lot easier said than done.

    To be honest I am really starting to believe that the killer at Petco isn’t the size of the park but either the thick marine layer air or some kind of reverse wind pattern that comes through the stadium. We have all seen the games where balls seem to fly out 1 after another and then we get nights like last night.

    I really love our pitching but the park just isn’t fair to our hitters and it’s hard to watch the Padres loose after Jake’s performance last night.

  6. #3@PM: If Petco changes the Padres lose last night 2-0 in the 9th.

  7. 6: I was just going to say that.

  8. Who’s to say changes wouldn’t have affected the Padres’ offense? I can’t remember if “we” had any long flies, though, at the moment.

    “Something’s got to change” is a reasonable reaction to last night’s game. I’m tired of telling people, “Yeah, but look at their road scoring!”

  9. I was late to the IGD last night (like it mattered) … here’s why … and this doubles as my entry into the Dirk Hayhurst look-a-like contest …

  10. #5@KRS1: It has to be something with either the wind or the fact that it’s right next to the water since the dimensions aren’t really much different then anywhere else.

    I can’t believe we are starting about the park again. Why change something that’s been a great benefit to the team? Would you rather see more runs or more wins? Why are so many people more sympathetic towards the hitters then the pitchers? If you help the hitter you hurt the pitchers. Do we want to make CY and Jake worse so AGon and Kouz can hit a few more homers? Doesn’t seem worth it to me but then again I don’t care about numbers, I only care about wins (this isn’t fantasy baseball).

    The most disappointing thing about last night was the performance of the home plate umpire and Padres 3rd base coach Glenn Hoffman. Those two and the anemic offense were about equally responsible for the loss last night.

  11. 8: Not much you can change. Its mostly the weather. What do you want to do? Make it a dome?

  12. 10: He did call a fair zone it seemed. Colorado pitching didnt get a few calls either.

  13. The longer this season goes on, the more palatable the idea of Barry Bonds as a Padre becomes for me.

  14. #5@KRS1: I think it is fair to ask questions regarding Petco:
    1. Is Petco as unbalanced as Coors field?
    2. Are the Padres gaining competive advantange from Petco?
    3. Will the loss of attendance due to Petco’s nature, cause a downward spiral of revenue and payroll?

  15. #6@Steve C: …our players get more sleep and we actually have a bullpen for tonight… bad for my fantasy team (I have Trevor) but good for the team overall.

    Who thinks Colt Morton starts tonight?

  16. #10@Schlom: I find myself agreeing with you yet again…scary! :-)

    Look, stop worrying about the dimensions of the ballpark…I would much rather have a pitchers park than a hitters park and I would guess that most GM’s would as well. When we win, the yells seem to die down.

  17. #15@Field39: I think #1 is a very valid question…I don’t like the potential answer…I am a Petco apologist, but it should be asked.

  18. OT: Interesting read here:

    re: draft Lookback.
    I guess “Batt Mush – bad” is a term now even if Burlington came before that. Let that be a reminder for the organization.

  19. #17@Coronado Mike: The undisputed star of this team is Jake Peavy. It’s not even close. AGon is good but compared to other first basemen he’s not that special. Why do anything that hurts your best player (and the one making the most money) to help out lesser players? That doesn’t make any sense. I’m sure the Padres are concerned about the attendance, but I’m sure they realize that the most important thing is winning, everything else is secondary.

  20. #15@Field39: Part 2 of your question is discussed at length on pp. 33-36 of the ’08 Annual. Part 3 is fascinating and a potential area of serious concern. Even if the Padres gain competitive advantage from playing at Petco Park, they may not be able to leverage it because average fans don’t understand (or even care) that this is the case.

  21. Last night game isn’t going to help alleviate the perception of Petco being a hole for offense, thus, lower attendance.

    Many fans are happy to see runs and many of them. They’ll miss the epic that was a game last night by just looking at the final score. Epic blunder, epic pitching from scrubs after the aces, epic failure of batters from both sides to hit. This being a historical game will stick in the minds of the general public for a little while and no matter what happens the rest of the season (our hitters must be improving, right?), they will stick to the notion that our hitters can’t score in Petco and, thus, the club is crappy.
    Unfortunately, that will lessen the attendance home.

  22. I found this interesting baseball article through

    Basically, it shows that the month of your birth is an important factor on whether you make the major leagues. As the organized baseball cutoff date is July 31st, those that are born in August have a way better chance of making it to the majors then those born in June or July. August has the most number of major leaguers and it basically just goes down gradually from there until July. I don’t think there are too many people that realize this. Here’s just the table:

  23. It’s not like petco robbed any HR’s from the Padres last night. Poor hitting and base running hurt them, the padres could bairly get the ball out of the IF last night and when they got a runner on they could not move him over you could put Petco at 6,000 feet and bring in the fences to 300 feet and you would have had the same results.

  24. Petco may hurt the padres offence on a season wide scale but last night I dont think it played a factor.

  25. Didi, I’m sorry, but that game was boring. And I think the lack of offense hurts attendance some.

    I don’t know if anybody here listens to ESPN’s daily baseball podcast, but Peter Pascarelli(sp) dismissed the Padres’ offense, and I didn’t know whether to fire off an e-retort or just agree with him. I don’t, but can you really blame the dismissers? Eric Karabelli said the thing about Padres is their cleanup hitter might playing in AAA right now. Then Pascarelli took a shot at Moores/Sandy for keeping the payroll too low and that Headley was an arbitration-delay tactic. Not used to hearing so much Padre talk on that show.

  26. 26: Oops, that’s Eric Karabell.

  27. I think someone mentioned this earlier, but some absurd decision making by our coaches probably cost us the game. Glenn Hoffman made a little league mistake. Not even a rookie mistake, but a mistake every child baseball fan learns to avoid. NEVER make the first or last out of an inning at 3rd. NEVER! It’s not even up for discussion. There is simply never a situation that exists as an exception to this rule, a cardinal unwritten rule of the game.

    And let’s get realistic about the park for a second. If I recall correctly, MacAnulty’s double was one of the harder hit balls for us all night. Nobody hit well last night. Both teams were mediocre at the plate, and both teams pitched very well, especially when they got into the scrubs. Hell, even Ledezma looked good last night. The game should have ended in the 9th (both of those balls off Hoffman should have been HRs…the very definition of MEAT last night), and when it didn’t, we should have won in the 13th. The park had NOTHING to do with the lack of offense (except, of course, the two Rockies near HRs). It’s not like we were raining singles all over the place. We didn’t hit anything.

  28. #23@Schlom: So that’s why I’m not in the majors… I thought it was just my lack of athletic talent… but now I can blame my July birthday!

  29. Joe Sheehan reams Glenn Hoffman… rightfully I think.

    It’s a bit sad to see guys named Hoffman costing the Padres a few games already this year. And, let’s make it clear… both of them are doing the best they can: one a future HOFer, the other a good coach (tho’ not necessarily 3rd base coach). It’s on the Padres management how to best use their talents.

    Add in the anemic offense, and it could be a long season. The Padres park-adjusted .240 EQA is 13th in the NL; D-backs first at .287, Dodgers at .277.

    But to end with a bit of optimism, a few select Padres’ career OPS at Chase Field:

    Kouz 1110
    T Clark 996
    Edmonds 987
    Khalil 971
    OG 930
    El Hombre 927

  30. #10@Schlom:

    I do not dispute the fact that it has been a benefit to the Pitchers but it has been pretty much equal parts negative for the hitters wouldn’t you say?

    Look I don’t want any of our guys to look like pumpkins if the park was changed (and I don’t think that they would outside of Trevor maybe) but if the only way you think they are effective is to stick them in the most hitter unfriendly park in the bigs then it doesn’t sound like you think they are any good.


    1. Since they started the humidor thing Coors seems to have settled a bit so I would say no but in the past the two were probably similar.

    2. I would say Yes and No. Yes it makes our pitchers better than they probably would be elsewhere (even though I still think Peavy, CY, Maddux and Wolf would be a pretty awesome rotation in a park even as bad as the Phillies) but I also think it gives us a competitive dissadvantage a little. I think it’s safe to say that Khalil, Adrian, OG and maybe even Edmonds would be much more dangerous/productive if they had a park that didn’t kill their power.

    3. I think it’s a little early but if it continues into future seasons I think it would have to effect payroll at some point.

    Maybe my gripe is really with the front office and the offensive anemia we suffer from but still. If your strategy is to get bad pitchers to look good in your hitters park it’s going to make your decent hitters look horrible and I don’t exactly get it.

    Schlom… Jake Peavy doesn’t need Petco to be the best pitcher in the National League that guy would throw up zeros in a pony league field but if he can’t even get 1 run to take the win then you might as well be burning the money you pay him. It’s a problem. Maybe changing Petco isn’t the answer and I’ll admit that I am emotional but something has to change wouldn’t you agree?

  31. So in lieu of our lack of offense recently, can we get some of these kids to join the team ASAP?

  32. I haven’t taken a side on this matter, but there two points I’d like to add to the Petco discussion:

    1) The Petco effect can’t be captured merely by number of flyouts at the warning track. It could involve hitters’ approaches, pitchers’ confidence, small-ball strategies, etc.

    2) Winning is the primary goal, yes, but it’s not like we NEED an extreme pitchers park to win. You could argue that with a neutral park you can get the same wins but without boring the offense-hungry casual fan

  33. hi i enjoyed the read

  34. Now I’m gonna go read the petco section of the Ducksnorts annual =)

  35. #26@Stephen: ESPN should stick to what it knows.

    #33@Eric: I never thought I’d say this about any team, but lack of speed is killing us right now.

  36. 32: so they can perform just like the Padres did last night? :)

    26: Don’t be sorry. You missed all the delirious fun we had during IGD last night.

  37. Incidentally, I have a lot more to say on last night’s game, but lack of sleep and today’s regularly scheduled post have kept me from articulating them. I’ll be firing off something more detailed tomorrow in a rare Saturday non-IGD post.

  38. #35@Eric: hm, actually I guess I already read that a while ago. Good job presenting the data, Geoff, but as you point out, it’s not really conclusive.

  39. 36: I thought lack of speed was discussed here many a times, Geoff.
    I’d add the baserunning blunders to that. Yup, agree with you. Can Tony Clark move any slower? Is the heel-roller illegal in baseball?

  40. BTW: wasn’t that Hairston play last night pretty good?
    Also, Wil ‘Danger’ Ledezma was decent.

  41. #31@KRS1: Here’s the thing, if you help out the batters then you hurt the pitchers. Why do the hitters need more help then the pitchers? I’ve never really gotten that view. I can understand you as a fan saying that you’d like to see more runs but why does everyone complain about the park hurting the hitters? Is it simply because most of us understand hitting (and when we play baseball or softball we mostly hit) and no one really pitches?

    Historically, the teams that have been good have played in pitchers ball parks. That’s turned around somewhat in the past few seasons as both the D-backs, White Sox and Red Sox have won World Series but the Red Sox had always underachieved when they played in one of the best hitters parks in the game. Intuitively it makes sense that it’s easier to win in pitchers parks as there are a lot more good hitters then good pitchers so helping out the minority is a better strategy. Also, starting pitcher salaries are really high right now so it makes sense financially to help them out.

  42. #36@Geoff Young: I wonder if this need to identify certain types of players (e.g. flyball pitchers, line drive hitters, rangy outfielders) creates a competitive disadvantage against other teams who can just look for the most productive players, regardless of style. I mean, look how hard has it been to find a top-flight defensive CF who can also hit?

  43. 26: Boring? Jake throwing 8 innings of shutout ball while striking out 11. A scoreless tie for 13 innings, talk about suspense, and then it’s tied again after 14 only to see Ledezma throw 5 innings of shutout ball. Holy Cow! I couldn’t watch early and couldn’t stay up past the 12th, but boring doesn’t quite seem the right word to sum it up to me. As always though, ymmv.

  44. 44: Good CF are hard to find in general.

  45. #42@Schlom: I’ve been also wondering about this: if you suppress scoring, you get closer games which allow little nuggets of luck to sway the outcome of games. This could create a disadvantage as illustrated in this caricatured situation: the home team performs twice as well as their opponents in what should have been a 2-1 victory in Petco Park, but a little bad luck steals a run causing a 2-2 score and extra innings. The same team and performance causes a 4-2 game in a neutral park, and the one run worth of bad luck sways the game to 4-3 and they still win. Now luck could sway your season either way, but you’d rather not leave yourself open to that.

  46. Anyone know if a team has ever finished last in the majors in home runs and first in strikeouts? Our Padres have a good shot as they are currently the leaders in both categories.

    What torture last night! 14 different chances for an exciting walk-off victory. Only this team could manage to come up empty.

  47. #44@Eric: I think it’s always been hard to find top-flight defensvie CF who can hit. Historically they are few and far between. IMO, the Pads FO feels it’s easier/more economical to have a pitcher’s park. It will neutralize, somewhat, other team’s offensive studs and allow the FO to play to their strength, which I think is finding undervalued pitching.

    It seems it is easier to find a guy like Heath Bell than it is to find a guy like David Ortiz.

  48. #46@Didi: but theoretically, we’re hurt more when we don’t find one.