Arizona Diamondbacks 2012 Preview: Scrutinizing The Starters and Bullpen

Mar 1, 2012; Scottsdale, AZ, USA; Arizona Diamondbacks starting pitcher Daniel Hudson (41) during photo day at Salt River Fields. Mandatory Credit: Jake Roth-US PRESSWIRE

In part two of a five part series, writer Cody Ulm looks at the D-backs incredible pitching depth and makes some bold predictions regarding Josh Collmenter and J.J. Putz.

To the unknowing eye, the Arizona Diamondbacks 2011 pitching numbers can be quite deceiving. Despite breakout campaigns from Ian Kennedy, Daniel Hudson, Josh Collmenter and reliever David Hernandez plus resurgent seasons from J.J. Putz and Joe Saunders, the NL West champs still finished only 14th best in ERA (3.80).

However, if you dig a little deeper you'll find out that that particular number is largely inflated due to a handful of ugly starts from Armando Galarraga and Zach Duke doubled with that Aaron Heilman fellow serving up pitches on a platter (yes, believe it or not, all three were on the very same team that won 94 games last season).

Following the All Star Break, Arizona's pitching finally settled in and verged on dominance. Amassing 70 wins in that span to go along with the fifth best ERA (3.42) in baseball, Kennedy and Co. propelled the D-backs past the San Francisco Giants in route to their first division title since 2007.

Now, with the same crew intact plus a few conducive additions, will this young staff take the next step and strike fear into opposing batters for years to come? Or will D-backs fans be forced to dance the starter shuffle yet again for the first few months before harmony is established?


Related: Arizona Diamondbacks 2012 Preview: Breaking Down The Lineup

But hey, don't look at me for the answer. Instead, look directly at Josh Collmenter's right arm:

Projected Starting Rotation (As confirmed by Manager Kirk Gibson on March 26):

  1. Ian Kennedy (R)
  2. Daniel Hudson (R)
  3. Josh Collmenter (R)
  4. Trevor Cahill (R)
  5. Joe Saunders (L)
Gibby turned a lot of heads by placing Collmenter before the more experienced Cahill and Saunders in the rotation only a few weeks after referring to him as the fifth starter. But then again, perhaps it shouldn't have come as that much of a shock.

It was only five months ago that Gibson elected to go with Collmenter as his third starter come playoff time. And the awkward-throwing rookie rewarded him mightily, only surrendering one run over seven innings to keep the D-backs hopes alive with a win in an elimination game.

Since that time though, Collmenter has been absolutely abused in Spring Training, allowing 21 earned runs in 16 innings with as many home runs served up as strikeouts (5). This has many critics calling for Patrick Corbin to step up and take his spot. Even after giving up seven runs Monday against the Cubs, 22-year-old lefty (who was part of the bounty for giving Dan Haren to the Angels) still has a spring ERA of 3.00 with an opposing batters only able to hit him to the tune of .178.

At the end of the day, it's not going to happen though, at least right not out of the gates. It's going to take four of five terrible starts for Gibson to even consider calling up one of the many young, electrifying arms the Diamondbacks have waiting in the wings.

For now, the Diamondbacks will be top heavy with co-aces Kennedy and Hudson virtual locks to finish in the high teens in wins. But with uncertainty surrounding Cahill (whose sinker stopped sinking this spring) and Saunders (who has a better chance of landing the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit cover than ever securing an ERA as low as 3.69 again), the offense may have to score a considerable more amount of runs to stay competitive. Or, they could always hand the ball over to these next group of guys:

Projected Bullpen:
Closer - J.J. Putz (R)
Setup Man - David Hernandez (R)
Setup to the Setup Man - Takashi Saito (R)
Middle Relief - Bryan Shaw (R)
Middle Relief - Brad Ziegler (R)
Middle Relief - Craig Breslow (L)
Middle Relief - Joe Paterson (L)
Odd men out: Wade Miley and Mike Zagurski

Not too shabby if I do say so myself. No, they aren't quite Atlanta or Texas but Gibson has heaping helping of formidable relief arms to works with this year.

Joining the squad that combined for the most saves in baseball last season are Takashi Saito (career ERA of 2.18) and Craig Breslow (3.06). With their additions, the D-backs sadly no longer have room for Wade Miley or tons of fun (A.K.A Mike Zagurski). And while Miley still has minor league options left to use, Zagurski has none meaning Arizona will have to attempt to sneak him through the waivers if there's any hope of keeping him in the fold. Unfortunately, that most likely wont happen successfully as there are at least half a dozen teams that could use a lefty specialist (especially one who nearly averaged a K per inning in spring ball).

All in all though, there isn't many complaints to be had here. As I've previously stated, I believe that Putz will get injured again as he always seems to except this time around I envision Hernandez holding onto the closer job for good.

No, I'm not predicting a Kenny Powers-like fall from grace and no, I do not have a personal vendetta against Putz for kicking my dog or something like a few readers believe. It just makes too much sense that if any sort injury were to occur, the D-backs would hand the reigns over permanently to an affordable, young flamethrower like Hernandez, especially with Putz's contract option coming up at the end of this season. Oh yeah, and did I also mention that Hernandez converted seven consecutive saves last year when Putz went to the DL? And that he also is a former American Idol contestant? (Okay, that second part is false but that first stat is still pretty meaningful right?)

Even if my controversial proclamation doesn't come true, it's still pretty awesome that this team has the depth to replace a closer and not skip a beat. And come 40-man roster time, the Diamondbacks opponents will find it extra difficult to procure runs in innings six through nine with Tyler Skaggs, Trevor Bauer and Corbin factoring into the equation (if they haven't already been called up yet).

Now, time for some additional predictions:

Most likely to pitch the most dominant 30 innings you'll ever see: Takashi Saito- It's clear he isn't his 2006 self as he was able to total only 26.2 innings for the Milwaukee Brewers in 2011. But Gibson isn't asking for much nor will the Diamondbacks demand much with their deep bullpen. Instead, Gibby will keep Saito up his sleeve until the most crucial of moments. And as long as he's healthy, he'll be a useful trump card. Over the past three seasons, Saito has allowed only one earned run across the 14.2 innings he's pitched against the four teams the D-backs will face in the NL West.

Most likely to get sent back to the Island of Misfit Toys: Josh Collmenter- The whole tomahawk throwing motion was cute for a while but after this spring it's looking more gimmicky that anything. I've always held the theory that a unique delivery like Collmenter's is better suited for the bullpen where batters aren't able to catch on to his timing due to the fact that they'll only see it once or twice a series. Yet, throughout 2011, he proved me wrong time in and time out. This year, he'll be on a much shorter leash with the expectations high and the amount of adequate minor league replacements even higher. I'm betting he doesn't make it out of May alive.

Pitch most likely to make fans question if Mariano Rivera is on the mound: Bryan Shaw's cutter- Okay, I know; no pitcher should ever be compared to the Sandman, especially one that only has 28.1 career innings under his belt. But damn, have you seen how dirty that pitch is? Shaw's cutter is almost as dangerous as Chuck Norris in "The Cutter" (almost). Remember game five of last year's playoff series against the Brew Crew in which he struck out the side in the seventh? If not, Google it and then I dare you to look me in the eyes and tell me this guy isn't the real deal.

Check back Wednesday as we delve into the Diamondbacks farm system and look at which players could make an impact in 2012 (Apparently there's some Bauer guy that's supposed to be pretty decent but I don't know what that's about).

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