Are Diamondbacks Primed For Turnaround?

The Arizona Diamondbacks, who lost 97 games last season, are under new management. Are they heading in the right direction?

In the Arizona Diamondbacks’ first season, they lost 97 games.

Three years later, they won the World Series.

Three years later, they lost 111 games.

Three years later, they won the National League West.

Three years later, they closed the circle by losing 97 games.

That was 2010. A team that showed so much promise in 2007, winning the division title with a bunch of young players in the lineup, is now right back where it started.

Granted, that division-winning team in ’07 was really a mirage, somehow winning 90 games with the run differential of a 79-win team. Still, with all those young hitters the Diamondbacks seemed like they were going somewhere. Next came an 82-80 season, then 70-92, and finally last season’s 65-97.

All those losses led to the dismissals of manager A.J. Hinch and general manager Josh Byrnes, and the hirings of Kirk Gibson and Kevin Towers. A few days ago, SB Nation Arizona’s Seth Pollack characterized the management changes as Dirtball replacing Moneyball.

Maybe that’s a good thing, but usually it takes a lot more than an attitude change to turn a 97-loss team into something respectable. Kirk Gibson might be the new Billy Martin, but probably isn’t. The two easiest paths to respectability are better luck and better players.

Were the Diamondbacks unlucky last season? Yeah, a little. Given the same players and just average luck, we probably would expect them to win around 70 games this season. Not completely respectable, but 70 is better than 65.

You need better players, though. The Diamondbacks have made two significant lineup changes since last season, with Melvin Mora replacing Mark Reynolds at third base and ex-Yankee farmhand Juan Miranda replacing Adam LaRoche. Those are not significant upgrades. They might not be upgrades at all.

Granted, there’s still some upside potential from the once-young Stephen Drew and Chris Young, not to mention the still-young Justin Upton. On the other hand, second baseman Kelly Johnson is not likely to duplicate his outstanding 2010 numbers. On balance, there’s no reason to think the Diamondbacks’ hitters will be any better than they were last year.

They’ll probably score more runs, anyway. Remember what I said about luck? Last year the Diamondbacks finished seventh in the league in on-base percentage and fourth in slugging percentage … but they ranked just eighth in scoring. Often, something like this is due to hitting poorly in clutch situations, but that doesn’t seem to be the case here; the Diamondbacks actually did quite well in those spots.

Pitching-wise, the picture is brighter. Rodrigo Lopez and Edwin Jackson and their bloated ERAs are gone, with most of their innings replaced by full seasons from Barry Enright, Daniel Hudson and Joe Saunders. This can only be a good thing, as those three plus Ian Kennedy should give the Diamondbacks one of the better rotations in the league.

Sure, young pitchers will often break your heart. But Kennedy has established himself and Hudson seems well on his way. It’s just a shame about Enright’s strikeout-to-walk ratio ...

With the Diamondbacks, what you see is what you get. With the possible exception of right-hander Jarrod Parker – who seems to be recovering splendidly from Tommy John surgery – there might not be a single player in the Diamondbacks’ farm system who’s able to seriously help the big club this season.

Kirk Gibson and Kevin Towers will probably move the needle some this season, with 70 or even 75 wins reasonable goals.  But if they’re going to keep this crazy three-year cycle going and be competitive by 2013, they’re going to need to rebuild the entire organization, and fast.

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