September 2006

Sandy Padres Dance in Copper Square

Congratulations to the Padres, who clinched their playoff berth today at Chase Field by beating the homeboys 3-1. Diamondhacks likes the Padres, the way Sandiegosailboatsthey’ve built their team on pitching and defense and compensated for Petco’s power poor environs by adding Dave Roberts. Even when Bob Brenly, Jim Tracy and Dusty Baker received more publicity, we’ve always felt that Bruce Bochy is the division’s best manager – with or without the bushy mustache.

We even liked the way Bochy and his coaching staff stood in foul ground while their players enjoyed today’s extended celebration on the infield.  And let’s be honest. Their fans, as a rule, aren’t nearly as obnoxious as Dodger or Giant fans. Sure,Coppercube there are usually fewer of them, but today’s game sounded like it was broadcast from the Gaslamp Quarter rather than from somewhere Phoenix bureuacrats still insist on calling Copper Square.

While San Diego’s playoff prospects will be the subject of a detailed future post, for now let us say we like the Padre’s chances about as much as we like their city, which is to say, considerably.

Again, congratulations to Padres fans everywhere.

OK, now get off our irrigated lawn already.

Uncanny

It’s uncanny, almost comical, how Brandon Webb’s superlative season has been Bronsonarroyoguitar_1 upstaged and undermined. When Brandon went 8-0, the talk of the town was quickpickin’ Bronson Arroyo. After settling (declining, if you prefer) into the role of one of the league’s two best starters, Webb took a back seat all year to Chris Carpenter, even into mid September, when Webb led Carp in Wins and Quality Starts as well as ERA and Run Support, adjusted for dramatic differences in park factor and schedule strength.

Now, the late buzz understandably follows Roy Oswalt, despite the fact Webb has pitched better(.156 BAA, 0.64 WHIP, 2.23 ERA) in September than any Cy Young contender, including the red hot Astro stalwart.

Locally, Webb quietly twirls masterpieces obscured by twin towers. One is the Randytrophy elongated shadow of Randy Johnson, who’s standard none of today’s NL best can match.  To many Diamondbacks fans, Brandon is "no Randy Johnson". They’re right – but neither is Roy Oswalt or Chris Carpenter. The other shadow is cast, not by Curt Schilling, but by Luis Gonzalez. This week, every time Gonzo approaches the plate, catches a ball on the run, or wiggles his butt, a standing ovation ensues for the enormously popular face of the franchise. This will be triply true tomorrow, on the last day of the season, slated to pay homage to 2001’s departing heroes – Luis, Counsell and most likely, Miguel Batista.

So, Webb will be aiming, again, for his league leading 17th victory and ostensibly the Cy Young Award, barely noticed amidst Sunday’s nostalgic love fest. And as he faces the playoff bound Padres for the fifth time this year, Bob Melvin is faced with a Warhol_100_cans_1conundrum. Fifty thousand fans will fill Chase Ho Park to see Counsell and Gonzalez play one last time. Woody Williams, Sunday’s starter, owns those two as much as a pitcher can possibly own a pair of veteran hitters. And Melvin wants to field his best lineup to help his unheralded ace win. 

Brandon Webb’s Cy Young quest, and the interests of fans and veteran heroes will be pitted against each other. Barring a miracle, someone will get shortchanged Sunday.

It’s uncanny.

He Would Never Say No

Ever tire of hearing Diamondbacks broadcasters or ballplayers incessantly refer to everybody under the sun as "a great guy"? We do too. And there’ll be plenty more of it this weekend.

But as the 2006 season winds down, one wistful sentiment caught our attention, not because it’s an anecdote rich in detail, but because it bears the unmistakable aura of authenticity.  The quotes in the story come from straight talking Craig Counsell, as he wraps up the most bitter season of his improbable, affirming career: 

When Counsell first joined the D-Backs in 2000, he was assigned the locker next to [Luis] Gonzalez and found out firsthand just how generous his new teammate was.

"I could not believe how accommodating he was to everybody and how much time he gave of himself to anybody that asked anything of him," Counsell said.

"From media to employees to anybody. I was like, ‘Man, why did you say yes to that?’ He would never say no. I couldn’t believe that he would never say no.

Craig concludes:

There won’t be another player that represents the team better than Luis for a long time. We were all lucky to be part of a team that’s star player was also its best guy. There’s not too many cases in sports where you find that to be the case."

Gonzomchugh

Tough goodbyes

Mist Calling

Phoenix_skyline PHOENIX — As we’ve laid out a rather forceful case for Brandon Webb’s Cy Young Award credentials, Diamondhacks has been underwhelmed by lack of same from the local professional reporting corps.

We certainly dont want reporters blindly allied with the home team, but we do expect journalists to pursue a healthy allegiance with facts, in an effort to produce truthful impressions and crystalize public perception. Instead, what we tend to find in the local papers and online, are lazily researched articles that reinforce established, superficial impressions – and do little justice to Webb.

Here’s two examples of the lukewarm coverage:

From The Republic’s normally reliable Bob McManaman, entitled " Webb, Carpenter battle for Cy Young till end ":

The pitching statistics between Webb and Carpenter, the 2005 Cy Young winner, are virtually identical.

One writer with an NL Cy Young vote told The Republic he is waiting until the final game because "it’s just too close to call.

And our favorite: 

The biggest difference might be that Carpenter is pitching for a winning team.

With the Diamondbacks out of the postseason picture, Webb’s final starts won’t include pressure-packed dependency.

To be fair, McManaman’s effective love letter to the Cards’ ace was filed before Carpenter’s latest and greatest meltdown, and Bob appears to finally be putting at least one foot on the Webb bus today, but we still find his comparitive analysis seriously lacking. All things considered, is it really a hardship for Carpenter to pitch on a winning team, in a pitcher’s park, against demonstrably weaker opposition all year long? Poor fellah – all that "pressure packed dependency", dontchya know. And then there’s carefree and *** Brandon, apparently so very lucky to pitch for a last place team, in a bandbox, against some of the league’s stiffest competition. Why, it’s no wonder he leads the league in Wins and ERA with all those advantages.

Then there’s this rubbish from diamondbacks.com, remarkably filed after last night’s games:

Webb, who finds himself locked in a neck-and-neck battle with the Cardinals’ Chris Carpenter for the National League Cy Young Award, wound up with a no-decision, but still may have strengthened his case for the award.

May have strengthened his case? Neck and neck after last night?

If diamondbacks.com is to be believed, Webb (23 quality starts), is fortunate to be mentioned in the same sentence as the Combustible Cardinal(19 QS), let alone be granted the by now obvious tag of most deserving CYA recipient.

Contrast these milquetoast conclusions with those of Rich Draper, the Giants’ beat man covering the same game. His sister recap concentrates on Matt Morris and Moises Alou, which is perfectly fine. Apart from a Mike Stanton quote about the high caliber of Brandon’s stuff, here’s Draper’s sole Webb reference:

Arizona’s Brandon Webb, the NL’s top candidate for the Cy Young Award with a 16-7 record, held the Giants to only three hits over seven frames, including Pedro Feliz’s third-inning double.

Simple enough. Brandon is not "neck and neck", or even a top CY candidate. He’s Sfmist_1the top candidate. Period.

Perhaps Draper understands about season long park effects and strength of schedule? Or maybe he’s watched Carpenter sink like a fiery zeppelin out of the Cy Young runnning?  Maybe he’s spent more than 10 minutes researching the contextual issues?

Thanks to Draper and others, Giants fans see Webb as clearly as a sunny day on the bay.

Relying on Phoenix reporters, however, one wouldn’t have the foggiest.

McManaman’s 9/26 preview

diamondbacks.com 9/26 postgame

Giants beat writer 9/26 recap

McManaman’s 9/27 article

Dbacks Ensure All-Time Pitching Record

Seventeen We’ve discussed this phenomenon for a month now but perhaps the most interesting ramification of the Diamondbacks kicking away Brandon Webb’s 17th win last night is that it means the NL’s seasonal pitching Wins leader will finish with fewer victories than in any previous full major league season.

Ever.

That’s a lot of seasons – more than 200 across both leagues. The current low water mark for a league leader, 18 wins, was set in 1955, tied in 1960, and most recently matched by Rick Sutcliffe in 1987.

Barring any eleventh hour spot relief manipulations, that mark will soon be history. Only three pitchers, Brad Penny, Carlos Zambrano and Brandon Webb have a chance at 17 victories, but no one will reach 18 in the National League.

Do Over

There’s no denying that today’s start by Chris Carpenter is an important one for Oswalt_200 his team. Numerous factors help explain how the Redbirds find themselves in the position they do today, including the fact that Carpenter was the league’s best home pitcher this year and has helped his teammates, the NL Central’s best, to the top spot in baseball’s weakest division.

Another reason why today’s game has such gravitas, however, is because the Cardinal’s ace failed to hold the Bird’s archrival to four runs or less in last week’s "big game". (You remember – the one that was supposed to prove Chris was the league’s best pitcher.)  In fact, Carp is 1-2 in four starts against the weak hitting Astros, with a 4.35 ERA this year.

Webbscowl Another reason why today’s game has any import at all for the Cardinals is because their ace has a 4.70 ERA in fifteen starts away from Busch. The Cardinals would already be setting up their rotation for the playoffs if "the league’s best pitcher" had a road ERA below four.

Another reason, or a related reason, why today’s game is more critical than it might otherwise be is because the Cards’ ace has managed just nineteen quality starts to date, less than a dozen other starters have managed, including all the top Cy Young candidates, most of whom pitch in hitter friendly parks.

Nonetheless, in 2006, Chris Carpenter has established himself as one of the best starters in the National League. He has also proven, however, that he is not as good as either Brandon Webb or Roy Oswalt.

How many do overs is Chris Carpenter entitled to on the big stage to "prove" to the world that he is something he’s already clearly demonstrated he is not?

The National league’s best pitcher.

Never Trevor

Career saves leader Trevor Hoffman is reaping deserved attention for his new Trevorraisedarms record, however fashioning this accomplishment into Cy Young Award votes, given the context of his performance, would be misplaced for a variety of reasons and without recent precedent.

How is Hoffman distinguished from this bunch of NL closers ? He leads in saves and E.R.A., making him a clear Rolaids Award frontrunner, along with Wagner. They’ve each blown 5 saves, however, and overcome several shaky outings. Wagner has pitched more innings and in more non-save situations. To be sure, Tom Gordon and Mike Gonzalez aren’t quite in the same league, but are closer to the top pair than most fans realize, after considering park effects and available save opportunities. The Gagneclosingtime point isnt that Hoffman is, or isnt, the best closer here. Maybe he is the best. It’s that, if he is the best closer, he isn’t the best closer by a very wide margin.

That’s significant relative to the Cy Young race, because the only relievers to win the CYA since the 90’s were Eric Gagne(2003) and Dennis Eckersley(1992). These guys saved more than fifty games apiece, Eckpainting pitched substantially more innings than Hoffman, struck out far more batters per inning, and still blew fewer saves than Trevor. They pitched better and longer and were head and shoulders above their peers when they won their CYAs. They dominated in a manner that Hoffman simply hasnt come close to doing in 2006. 

The Padres reliever also has the ideal gig, pitching only an inning per appearance in Petco Park where home runs go to die in Mike Cameron’s webbing.  He’s had an outstanding season by any measure, but a closer also couldn’t ask for better contextual circumstances under which to rack up impressive statistics: a superlative pitcher’s park within MLB’s most favorable pitcher’s division ( see unbalanced schedule), a solid team (hitting and bullpen setup) producing lots of save opportunities – and rarely being asked to pitch while fatigued.

Clameredith Apart from that, perhaps the most compelling Cy Young argument against Trevor is the sobering realization that he’s not even the best relief pitcher on his own team

The Cy Young Award was never intended as a lifetime acheivement award. Advocates say they want to recognize Hoffy. Since when is a Hall of Fame plaque and potential Rolaids award insufficient recognition? Why steer a CYA away from a more deserving recipient when Trevor’s ticket to Cooperstown is all but punched?

That brings us to the underlying assumption that generates much of the Hoffman Cy Young chatter. It’s not so much about him – it’s the belief that the 2006 NL starters somehow arent quite up to speed, as evidenced by their relatively low win totals. This flawed assumption has opened up the CYA discussion to include Wagner and Hoffman.

The low wins totals are not the result of the league’s best starters pitching less well than in many other years. The low win totals result from the fact that this year’s best starters(Webb and Oswalt) happen to pitch for relatively weak teams. In addition, they (as well as Zambrano and Arroyo) pitch in excellent hitter’s parks, which skews their ERA’s higher, further fueling the myth that they are less than Cy worthy. Even Carpenter, who hasn’t pitched as well as Webb or Oswalt by any objective, context-adjusted standard, nor as well as he did in 2005, has endured some tough no decisions and, while he certainly doesnt deserve to win the CY award, is still as deserving of consideration as are either of this year’s top closers.

Dropping The Ball

As everyday observers of the Diamondbacks, we pride ourselves on staying on Greenmets_1 top of team developments, so it is with considerable chagrin that we learned over supper tonight that Shawn Green is no longer with the club.   

It turns out Shawn was traded a month ago to the New York Mets in exchange for a small patch of brown liquid, in what’s being heralded by both teams as a "win-win".

We had assumed Shawn was still  "around", until our dinner companion patiently documented Green’s monthlong absence from the Arizona lineup with thirty compelling boxscores to the contrary.

Greenfirst For weeks, Diamondhacks figured an array of fine running outfield catches was evidence that the lumbering veteran finally "got it", however sober reinspection reveals that the only rightfielder who’s got balls is Carlos Quentin.

We apologize to our reader(s) for taking so long to recognize this important story and resolve not to drop any more balls like this in our back yard.

Cy – Onara?

If the Cy Young Award was really up for grabs last night like so many said, I guess Woodywilliams Woody Williams is now in the hunt ;-)

Seriously, when the day started, Diamondhacks made it clear we thought the CYA already belonged in Brandon Webb’s hip pocket and after both he and Chris Carpenter lost, with Webb having a better overall start, we still feel that way.

So while the results, in particular Carp’s tough outing, shouldn’t be sufficient in and of themselves, to alter the CY race, they may serve to reinforce and clarify previously made assertions about existing seasonal performance.

Berkman_20020603 Carpenter supporters have touted his lower ERA, but what we learned Thursday isn’t that one pitcher has a better ERA (it switched back and forth three times within 45 minutes), but rather how insignificant either guy’s advantage is/was. It amounts to an off game in a long season – no, make that a bad inning - out of 200 plus innings. It’s nothing – and regardless of which pitcher finishes the year at 2.93 or 2.95 or 3.03 or 2.88 – it’s meaningless until one applies seasonal context to the numbers.

Carpenter is still one of the elite NL pitchers, but unlike last year when Carp beat the NL Champ Astros four times in five starts with a superb 1.85 ERA, he’s spun his fine 2006 record in a cocoon of staggeringly inferior competition. Eight starts against the woeful Cubs and Pirates(Webb had two); three starts all year against +.500 teams (Webb has a dozen). If you expand to include starts against the best NL teams nearest to .500, like FLA and SF, it just gets uglier – four for Carpenter, sixteen for Webb. Even in interleague, Chris drew the Royals and Indians, missed the Twins and Chisox, and got lit up by Detroit. (Make that five for Carp, eighteen for Webb.) The schedule isnt Mike_cameron Carpenter’s fault, of course, or Larussa’s, but that’s irrelevant regarding these pitchers’ relative merits. His numbers are clearly less impressive than Brandon Webb’s the closer one looks at context.

Another observation about tonight was how LaRussa let Carpenter start the eighth inning for the eleventh time this year. I give both guys credit for doing it – it took some guts and didnt work out. Going deep into games isnt easy and can hurt a starter’s stats when he’s tiring but you have no confidence in your bullpen. Cry me a river about Isringhausen, but Brandon Webb has taken the ball deeper more often than Carp because he’s had to – including fourteen times into the eighth – and he’s been knocked around doing it, not unlike Carp was tonight.

Chris was on the cusp of winning his third game this year when yielding more than three runs before he finally coughed it up. Three doesnt seem like many to me. Or actually two, as it turned out. I’m sure it’s less than Jason Marquis and I assume Carpenter hasnt received much run support this year. But this race isnt against Marquis or Jeff Suppan or the 21-5 Carpenter from last year with better run support. And it isnt against Jim Tracy and Dusty Baker’s AAA doormats either.

It’s against a guy with one victory all season when yielding more than three runs, who earned his 22nd quality start(Carp has 19) tonight, despite losing again. It’s against an unassuming Kentuckian who lulls opponents to sleep game after game with the league’s best sinker and then lulls everyone else in the midnight press conference aired after most people have gone to bed. His name is Brandon Webb and, this year, he’s the best pitcher in the National League.

When Even Is Odd

Our vibe is that there are two camps in the NL CY Young battle. One claims Carpenter is the frontrunner primarily by virtue of his lower ERA – and to a lesser extent – his better WHIP and K/BB ratio. The other camp sees the top candidates as "dead even" – the above statistical advantages essentially cancelled out by Webb’s "extra" win

What neither analysis accounts for is that the Cardinals ace has established his Carpenternumbers under more favorable conditions.

First,  Webb pitches half his games in MLB’s third best hitter’s park whereas new Busch currently ranks 24thChase enables 16-20% more runs(1.112/.937 = 18.6%) than Busch. When one adjusts for the parks(by chopping off half of that 16-20% – for home starts only), Webb’s adjusted ERA drops below CC’s impressive 2.79.

Chris is still the best home hurler(1.46 home ERA) by a considerable margin, even after park adjustments, which pare his sizable ERA advantage down to about half a run per game in real terms. Still significant, but not as much as the two aces road disparity. Scalesuneven_1

Pitching in a variety of road parks, Webb’s ERA(3.35) is a full run lower than Carpenter(4.52). That real difference is about twice that of the park adjusted home ERAs. Even that road dominance, however, isn’t Webb’s most compelling claim over Carpenter, nor is the fact that he plays with a slightly weaker supporting cast than does the defending CY Award winner.

Most significantly, Webb has battled all year against stronger competition – primarily due to the unbalanced schedule and the fact that the NL Central has suppplanted the NL West as MLB’s weakest division. The league’s two weakest teams are the Chicago Cubs and Pittsburgh Pirates. Brandon has pitched against each team once, beating both. Chris has pitched against these doormats eight times, going 5-1!

What about the NL’s top shelf? In late May, Brandon pitched 7 shutout innings at Shea to earn a no decision against Pedro. A week later he faced Beltran & Boys at Chase – 8 innings, 1 earned run – and picked up a loss for his trouble. Now constrast that with Carpenter’s exploits against the league’s juggernaut.  In the first game at Shea, Chris…what’s that? Carpenter didnt pitch against the Mets all year? Oh. Well then, maybe we can examine how he did against the Dodgers and Padres – the two next best teams(based on current record). Against San Diego, Chris..what’s that? He didnt pitch against San Diego either. Oh. Webb faced them three times. WebbgrimaceEach candidate faced the Dodgers once, pitched well, and won their respective game. In sum, versus the league’s best, Webb made six starts (seven if you include his one hitter against the Cards) and Carpenter made one.

One.

Both pitchers are scheduled to start tomorrow, Thursday, Sept 21. Rest assured, we will hear about what an amazingly tight race this is, and how the award result hinges on the next couple of starts. What appears to be a dead heat, however, is so only on the surface. Brandon Webb, pitching in a disadvantageous park, on a lesser team, against demonstrably superior competition has clearly outperformed Chris Carpenter to date, and barring a monumental letdown, should win the Cy Young Award.

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