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Getting a Grip


As the first quarter of the season draws to a close, the
biggest, baddest offense in the NL West belongs to the
Arizona Diamondbacks. That’s got to be one of the most
surprising developments in baseball thus far, especially
when you consider that Travis Lee and Tony Batista, arguably
the best offensive players this team has, aren’t hitting at
all.


The Diamondbacks have scored 186 runs in their first 34 games,
and they’ve been doing it with some impressive power numbers.
The Snakes comfortably lead the NL with 52 home runs, and Jay
Bell
leads the league with 13. Outfielder Luis Gonzalez is
riding a 25-game hitting streak, and third baseman Matt Williams’
1.051 OPS is his best start in years. Lee and Batista are both young
and still developing, so when they come around, the rest of the
West may have a five-headed monster on their hands.


Or maybe not.

                      AVG   OBP   SLG
Jay Bell, 1999       .304  .382  .659
1996-1998            .265  .349  .429

Matt Williams, 1999  .343  .373  .678
1996-1998            .275  .330  .477

Luis Gonzalez, 1999  .387  .462  .730
1996-1998            .265  .346  .431


Anything is possible, but I’ve still got my money on the
established performance level. If all three of these players have
transformed themselves from essentially league average at their
positions to stars, the Diamondbacks have the rotation and
defense to win the division. And if they do it with the ragtag
bunch of hitters they have assembled, there shouldn’t be much
question that the aliens have a liking for this year’s squad.

Diverging Fates


The Padres and Giants don’t have a lot in common this year,
but one thing they do have is youth at the back of their
rotations. But it’s striking how going with inexperienced
pitchers has worked out so differently for these two teams
thus far.


The Padres have, when they couldn’t avoid it, been pitching Stan
Spencer
and Matt Clement in the four and five spots,
respectively.
Clement is the best pitching prospect on either team, but he hasn’t
shown it thus far in 1999. His ERA is a mediocre 4.75, but he’s given
up eight unearned runs in only 30 innings and the league is
hitting .306 against him. The upside is that he hasn’t been hit
particularly hard and that his workload is being kept reasonable.


What can you say about a guy like Stan Spencer that’s going to
bother him? He’s fought his way through numerous arm problems and
surgeries and pitched well both in Las Vegas and with the Padres last
year. He’s been quite hittable thus far in 1999, and coupled with
his tendency to give up the longball (eight bombs allowed in only
30 2/3 innings pitched) he hasn’t given the team much of a chance to
win the games he’s started. Neither Clement or Spencer have logged a
win yet in 1999, although pitching for an offensive team like the
Padres isn’t going to help them in that category.


Meanwhile, the Giants have been forced (through injury and attrition)
to turn to Russ Ortiz, Joe Nathan, and Chris Brock,
and they haven’t suffered a bit for it. Ortiz has been a great story for
the division leaders thus far. He’s started seven times, has a
SNPct.
of .613
, and has logged 42 strikeouts in 47 innings.
Unfortunately, he’s averaging more than 115 pitches per start, and nothing
in his past performance indicates he’s capable of pitching like this for
long.


If there was one pitcher who looked like dead meat going into the 1999
season, his uniform probably had Chris Brock’s name on it. Brock is
a refugee from the Atlanta system. Now, not being able to stick in Atlanta,
of all places, doesn’t necessarily mean you’re a bad pitcher, but Brock
isn’t an arm in the Freeman-Schmidt-Byrd mold. He didn’t put up particularly
good performances in his minor league career or in his major league cups of
coffee with Atlanta and San Francisco.


So far, he’s got a SnPct. of .473, so he’s not hurting the team much,
and has posted good peripherals (33:14 K/BB ratio), and our expectation
that his starting career would evaporate looks about as good as anything
we’ve written about Paul O’Neill’s imminent demise.


Joe Nathan is the wild card of the group. He was called up to fill
in for Mark Gardner on an emergency basis, and has pitched quite
well thus far. Nathan, a converted shortstop, is a good prospect, but he’s
probably the pitcher in this bunch most likely to implode–he hasn’t
been keeping runners off base particularly well and is relatively
inexperienced. With Gardner healthy again, he’s been moved to the
bullpen, which is probably the best place for him. Don’t break your neck
trying to pick him up in your fantasy league (see Keith Law’s latest
Rotisserie
Turns
for more on Nathan).

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