CHRIS PUMMER: While I can understand how a person can be bullish on the Diamondbacks’ offense this season, consider me a bear in this market.
Arizona finished 10th in the NL in runs scored last season and since then added useful pieces like Kelly Johnson and Adam LaRoche. They’ll also get Conor Jackson back after the 1B/LF missed last year because of Valley Fever. LaRoche fills a huge hole at first base where Chad Tracy played last year, and Jackson and Johnson will be upgrades in left field and second base if they’re both healthy enough to hit.
Add them to a lineup that already includes a young superstar (Justin Upton), a mashing third baseman (Mark Reynolds), a good-hitting catcher (Miguel Montero), a serviceable shortstop (Stephen Drew) and a young outfielder coming off a bad year but capable of a rebound (Chris Young), and that offense looks pretty good, right?
Maybe. But maybe not.
Jackson has always been a middling hitter without enough pop to take advantage of Bank One Ballpark. Johnson will have to halt what has been a steady decline (.831, .795, .692 OPS the last three seasons). Reynolds will have to prove 2009 wasn’t a career year. Even if Young rebounds, he’s never really been a good hitter — he’s just trying not to be awful. The same might be said for Drew outside of his 2008. And it’s always hard for a catcher to consistently hit well.
Should Justin Upton suffer an injury or another kind of setback, LaRoche might be the best hitter on this team. That’s something he never was on some pretty awful Pirates teams over the last three years.
Even if none of those things go wrong, there still looks to be a glaring lack of on-base ability here. Upton’s .366 OBP last year was the best figure on the team, with utility man Ryan Roberts and the departed Felipe Lopez combining to put up a similar figure as a two-headed second baseman last year.
Montero, LaRoche, Jackson and Reynolds are projected to get on base at a better rate than the .331 that was the NL average last year. But Montero and Reynolds can’t be counted on to do so, and LaRoche and Jackson are likely to be below average at it compared to others at their positions.
Still stocked with plenty of power, the Diamondbacks will be swinging away. I just don’t know there are going to be many baserunners to drive home.
HOWARD MEGDAL: This simply comes down to a question of how well Arizona’s roster, filled with hitters who had down seasons in 2009, will rebound. I am bullish on nearly all of them.
In Miguel Montero’s case, however, I think we are seeing the establishment of a superstar. While he posted an .834 OPS in 2009, that mark jumped to an even .900 in the second half. In his age-26 season, I think he could easily exceed even his second-half mark.
I think Chris hit the mark on LaRoche, but it would be easy to miss how big of an upgrade this is. Chad Tracy posted an OPS+ of 76 last year. LaRoche for his career is at 116, and at 122 each of the past two seasons.
As for Kelly Johnson, his BABIP went from .340 to .247. Yes, his line drive percentage was down from 2008, but it was right in line with 2008, when he posted that .831 OPS.
Johnson is one of the candidates Arizona has for Comeback Player of the Year. There’s also Stephen Drew, who will be entering his age-27 season, healthy and entering his age-28 season. (Johnson is also 28, Chris Young 26). In other words, the players Arizona needs to return to form are in their primes. These aren’t fading vets.
Brandon Webb might be the difference between winning a division and staying home. But the D’Backs won’t lack for the runs in support of Mr. Webb.