June 29, 2012; Milwaukee, WI, USA; Arizona Diamondbacks second baseman Aaron Hill (2) is congratulated by teammatres after the game for hitting for the cycle during the game against the Milwaukee Brewers at Miller Park. Mandatory Credit: Benny Sieu-US PRESSWIRE
It's no news that the D-backs haven't played entirely to expectations so far but what grades have they earned in each department?
No sir, not free food. But please sit back down in your chair and stop yelling "taco time" at your computer monitor so I can inform you. It's mid-season report card time!
Not that exciting, eh? Well don't worry gang. Just because some of the grades might not be up to your parents standards, we wont be grounding the D-backs by taking away their TV privileges. Only Daron Sutton will be losing those (Ba-zing!).
Seriously though, let's stop this dilly-dallying and begin this parent-teacher conference. Class is now in session:
The Offense: B-
Might as well get the most frustrating portion out of the way first.
It seems like every home stand someone declares the D-backs have figured out their offensive woes and then they'll have a 2-4 road trip and put up three goose eggs along the way. I know that Chase Field is supposed to be a hitter's heaven and all but the Diamondbacks shouldn't be as bad as the 3.68 road runs per game they're currently putting up.
Despite a handful of big bats in the middle of their lineup, Arizona is slugging on .364 away from Arizona, a number which happens to be sixth worst in the MLB. For a while there, I blamed their recent struggles on facing some unfamiliar interleague foes. But after putting up only three total runs in the final two games of the Milwaukee following a nine-run opener, it's clear that inconsistency is just the name of the game.
On the flip side, Arizona has an average that's .041 points higher in the friendly confines of Phoenix. The D-backs have five players (Hill, Kubel, Parra, Bloomquist, Overbay) hitting over .300 at home with Wade Miley's .357 average being the sixth if you fancy starting pitching swinging lumber. Furthermore, if Aaron Hill's .357 home average is seventh best among major leaguers with at least 100 at-bats on their own turf.
With splits like that, it's difficult to give this offense an accurate grade. Yes, they've put up some crazy numbers at times but I can't stomach handing them anything higher with the feeling that they're still underachieving still lingering.
Starting Pitching: C
This would easily be in the a high D if it wasn't for Wade Miley bringing a much-needed element of trust to this staff.
Before Tuesday's game, Arizona's starting ERA was sitting at 4.24, 19th best in the majors. The more concerning number for me is that this rotation is 18th in the majors in innings pitched, one year after finishing in the top-six in that category. And with workhorse Daniel Hudson done for the season, I find it doubtful that this total will get much better.
Trevor Cahill has been much of what we expected since making the move from Oakland, showing a knack for going late into games, leading the D-backs in the innings pitched to go along with a solid 3.63 ERA through his first 16 starts. Ian Kennedy on the other hand, has yet to recapture that 2011 magic despite striking out the opposition at a similar rate. It's clear that he has been overtaken by one Mr. Miley as the staff anchor but his pennant race experience will be key down the stretch if the D-backs are to make a run.
Lastly, while Joe Saunders showed flashes of brilliance in April and early May, he's been mostly the same Bazooka Joe we've come to know and scrutinize. In a matter of weeks though he has evolved from trade bait to x-factor, with his veteran presence becoming vital in a rotation lacking battle-tested arms.
Oh yeah, I'm supposed to through in a token Trevor Bauer reference as well, huh? Yeah...let's just skip that part.
Don't be entirely discouraged by this analysis though. It's still possible to forge a playoff-caliber rotation even after the Hudson blow with Tyler Skaggs and Patrick Corbin in the pipeline. After all, didn't the Cardinals just win a World Series without some Cy Young runner up named Adam Wainwright?
Some might think this is a little too high but I feel this crew is due some serious props with there stupendous long relief work. In 17 appearances of two innings or longer from the Arizona relievers this season, the bullpen has only allowed three earned runs in 43.2 innings pitched (an amazing stat I learned from Jim McLennan of AZ Snake Pit fame).
That means the likes of Miley, Josh Collmenter, Patrick Corbin and Mike Zagurski have limited opponents to an ERA of only 0.62 when either a) the starter got blown up early or b) the rest of the bullpen needed a break due to overuse. Now I think that's a stat everyone can get behind.
Sure, Brad Ziegler, David Hernandez and Bryan Shaw have had some bad showings at some inopportune times but those types of things are to be expected when making so many appearances due to poor starting pitching even from sub-2 ERA pitchers. Even J.J. Putz, while pull-your-hair-out infuriating at times, isn't as bad as his 5.04 ERA tells.
There's a reason Kevin Towers isn't rushing to acquire any more relief arms and it's because he knows this staff is better than a lot of folks care to believe.
No it hasn't been pretty lately with Sunday's walk off error-fest and the routine play Bauer couldn't make Tuesday but as a whole, it's been about as flawless as a defense can humanly be.
Currently, the Diamondbacks have committed only 42 errors, second fewest in the national league behind Cincinnati and fifth best in the MLB overall. I guess that's what happens when you can afford to keep a Golden Glove on the bench though, right?
Easily the biggest surprise of them all has been the man whose the reason that aforementioned sparkling glove sits on the pine, Jason Kubel. Kubel's nine outfield assists leads all left fielders by a solid margin (Alex Gordon is second with six) and his range has at least passed the eye test as better than advertised.
The other anchor of the roster has been Miguel Montero whose 47.9% caught stealing rate is tops in the majors. Not too shabby for a catcher who was known as offensive-oriented before this season began.
Oh yeah, and Hill is fourth in the majors in assists at his position, Justin Upton has made further strides (fourth in range factor for right fielders) and outside of Bauer, this pitching staff knows how to handle a glove pretty well. Just ask Patrick Corbin.
I'm just going to air my grievances then we can move on with our lives. First off, Gibby has WAY to care free with the green light. He's given too a handful of players unwarranted free reign (cough, cough Willie Bloomquist) especially in key situations, leading to potential rallies being nipped in the bud.
Secondly, there has been a handful of questionable relief pitching decisions; the type of decisions we're not used to seeing Kirk Gibson making. I know, Gibby's forgotten more about baseball than I'll ever know but I like to think it's a rule of thumb that you NEVER KEEP J.J. PUTZ IN FOR LONGER THAN ONE INNNING.
And finally, while this may seem like nitpicking, it's irked me that Gibson has left Upton in the three hole for so long this season. Even though J-Up has been picking it up the past couple of weeks, it wouldn't have hurt to send a message to the entire roster and move him down a few notches while he worked out the kinks. Some may call it confidence but it felt to me like Gibson missed an opportunity to send a message to the entire squad.
Other than that, Gibson has had his usual knack for making the most obscure of lineups productive while managing the complex emotions that come into play when having a talented bench like the D-backs do. And for that, I applaud you.
MVP, Cy Young and "I Put Da Team On My Back Doe" Awards: Wade Miley (P) - Seriously though. Imagine what terrible shape this team would be in right now if they didn't have Miley, AKA the epitome of consistency, anchoring their staff? It's Wade's World gang, we're just living in it.
Stat of the first half: Aaron Hill's two cycles - Yeah...that actually happened.
Most frustrating game of the first half: May 22nd 9-8 loss to the Dodgers at home - That June 13th 1-0 loss in Texas is a close second but this one stung more with the D-backs blowing a five run lead just to take it back and blow it again. All against a divisional foe.
Most exciting game of the first half: June 8th 9-8 win over the Athletics at home - Is it just me or does that Ryan Roberts two out, three-run walk off homer make anyone else want to stand up and do the Kirk Gibson?
Final Grade: B-
With the flashes this team has shown its fans, I don't think a B- is too high, even for a team that has more losses than wins. The D-backs have been outstanding in every single aspect of the game at points this season, just rarely all at the same time. Still, back when they were 11 games behind the Dodgers I said that as long as Arizona is sitting with a .500 record, they'll be better than fine in terms of the postseason hunt. So I'm sticking by that analysis in hopes that the strides I expected begin this weekend in the crucial four-game series against Los Angeles.