28 June 2010

Crazy Talk

Since the Diamondbacks have "run away from the competition" the last couple of Mays, like crazed thieves in the night, we sanely gravitate towards topics painfully unrelated to a pennant. Like bobbleheads, hot dog prices and AJ Hinch. But as we near the three month diagnostic point of this latest asylum visit, I thought we'd step outside the cell for a bit to stroll around the grounds.

Fat John Broxton blew just his second save - a three out, four run whopper - dropping the Dodgers to 40-35. According to ESPN's RPI, even after a set with the Yankees, LA's played an average schedule to date, and their expected record (pythag RS/RA) is just 38-37. Dont let the bright lights fool you. This is an average team, consistent with "manifold doubts" expressed here prior to Opening Day.

By contrast, the Padres have shocked. They havent shocked me as much as they've shocked most honest observers, because I've always understood they're structurally underrated. But to say I'm merely "surprised" they're four games up on the field, almost halfway in, doesnt do them justice. I'm somewhere between shocked and very surprised.

Here's today's standings:

San Diego 45-30

San Fran 40-34....4.5 back

Los Angeles 40-35...5 back

Colorado 39-36...6 back

Arizona 30-46...15.5 back

...and today's "expected" standings, per RS/RA(pythag):

San Diego 45-30

San Fran 42-32

Colorado 41-34

Los Angeles 38-37

Arizona 31-45

Essentially, the Rockies and Dodgers do a little flip, but everyone else is where they "belong". Despite a disappointing half, Colorado, the most popular preseason favorite, are in fine position to make a run. The Giants are competitive.

Which leaves "the asylum". In 2009, the Dodgers raced away from the entire field and we kinda defined the Dbacks' season, at least early on, in terms of "being behind the Dodgers". It was hard to stomach and took center stage - the way we fell eight back so quickly under Melvin, and eventually 25 back under Hinch. But what got lost or discounted in that perspective was how, for the first time under AJ, we fell so far behind everyone else.

That didnt happen under Melvin and Bryan Price. They finished first in 2007, second in 2008 (a few games back of LA), and they were right with everyone else (except LA) when Bob got fired. That shifted seismically, after Josh, AJ and Mel Stottlemyre Jr shook things up.

To be fair, people often cite Brandon Webb. There's no doubt his absence underlays part of the post-Melvin decline, but I think it's neatly counterbalanced by factors in the other direction. Melvin didnt have Dan Haren in 2007. We played very well then, with Doug Davis and Livan as 2nd and third starters most of that year. The best players on that whole team were Orlando Hudson and Eric Byrnes.

Melvin was also never furnished with a real first baseman, like Adam Laroche. More important than any of that, he was forced to field a talented but largely underaged core (Drew, Upton, CY, Reynolds, Scherzer and occasionally Montero) which everyone expected to naturally improve with age and experience, and which for the most part, has. In summary, Webb's absence hurts alot, but when I hear smart men like valuearb, over at dbbp.org, lay out cases for Melvin's inherited advantages over Hinch, it makes one wonder how often they go out for lunch.

We need to define this more precipitous, post-Melvin competitive failure, by its appropriate terms. Not in terms of Los Angeles, but by how badly we've fallen behind our budgetary and market brethren, loosely speaking. It would be different, if we were battling those guys and the McCourts got it together and simply stomped on the field. Then we could more honorably bitch about Colangelo's deferred salaries and the Byrnes extension.

But we're not even competitive. Not in a seasonal sense, for two seasons now. So that other stuff shouldnt even be in the conversation. The $37M Padres are not merely competing with us. They are systematically kicking our ass, with the likes of David Eckstein, Jon Garland and a bunch of kids nobody's ever heard of. Let's stop pretending that's a Brandon Webb problem. Or a market problem. Or random variation.

There was nothing random about what happened on May 8, 2009, when, relative to the rest of the division, the Diamondbacks stopped being a competitive concern. All the rest is crazy talk.


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