Have you been wondering why a team that looked so great after a quarter of a season suddenly looks so bad halfway through the season? Me too. Let's take a deeper look at some ways
the Arizona Diamondbacks could improve its team.
1. Bat Someone Who Can Get On Base in the Leadoff Position. Chris Young has lots of talent – he plays centerfield well, he can hit for power, and he can steal bases. However, getting on base is not one of his talents. The Diamondbacks have to stop looking at Chris Young and seeing Rickey Henderson, and start looking at him and seeing Andruw Jones. Want a cure for an anemic offense? An effective leadoff man can have reverberations through the whole lineup. The Deebs have finally wised up on Young, but have replaced him with Augie Ojeda, Eric Byrnes, and Stephen Drew, none of whom is any better. The Diamondbacks need to go Billy Beane-style here; Conor Jackson currently ranks first on the team in on-base percentage and (shockingly) stolen bases, but ranks fifth in homeruns, with only one more than Chris Snyder and Orlando Hudson. Put Jackson at the head of the lineup, and every other player on the team will improve.
2. Demote Justin Upton. I love Justin Upton; in fact, I love both Uptons. But the 20- year old is simply not ready, despite his team leading 45 bases on balls. Upton has the talent to be an elite major leaguer, but there should be no rush here, particularly since he is so incredibly young. Upton's average is currently in the .240s, and he has made nine errors in right field. If you need proof that he needs more seasoning, consider this: Upton currently has a 1.001 OPS at home, but a .550 OPS on the road, which is simply the worst split I've ever seen. In my opinion, such a disparate slip points to an immature hitter (not an immature person, mind you) who has trouble adjusting when he is outside of his comfort zone. Put him back down to Triple-A where all he has to worry about is developing as a player rather than struggling to win the division, and let him come back when he is ready. There is no crime in not being a full time major leaguer before the age of 22, and the Diamondbacks need more out of their right-fielder right now.
3. Re-Tool the Infield. There is what should be a fundamental rule in baseball when it comes to the infield – you must get defense from your middle infielders, and you must get either offense or defense from your corner infielders, if not both. The D'Backs currently feature one of the majors' worst defensive infields with Mark Reynolds, Stephen Drew, and Orlando Hudson, which is why what should be a dominant pitching staff has not been so dominant for going-on two months now. Unfortunately, overhauling an infield mid-season is a lot easier to say than to do, especially since Reynolds and Hudson are two of the only players who are producing offense for the club right now. But Stephen Drew is hitting like a slick-fielding shortstop while fielding like Derek Jeter, which undermines both the offense and the defense – you can't have that. Chris Burke and Augie Ojeda are both better defenders than Drew, and maybe they should start being used more.
4. Start Using Randy Johnson Strategically. I love Randy Johnson as much as the next guy, and I have been awed by his super-human abilities, but the guy is 44-years old. It is time to stop treating him like he can tirelessly throw 110 pitches every fifth day like he did when he was 40. Johnson is currently giving up over a hit per inning; if he finishes the season at that rate, it would be only the second time in his career that he has done that. So look at the signs and decide how best to use Randy. Rather than using him every fifth day, maybe he needs an extra day or two here and there when he can get it. His ERA is over 6.40 at home, but 3.70 on the road. It is time to start using Johnson the way the Rangers used Nolan Ryan and the way the White Sox used Ted Lyons late in their careers.
5. Pick Up the Phone, Call the San Diego Padres, and Don't Hang Up Until You Have Brian Giles. With Upton demoted and Byrnes out for the year, the Diamondbacks have not only a terrible offense, but also a short-changed outfield. But Brian Giles may be the single most underrated player in baseball; so underrated, in fact, that the Padres may not even know what they have. But consider – Giles is currently hitting .301/.394/.433 in the hitter's wasteland that is Petco Park, but on the road his numbers are .331/.412/.466, and his career OPS in Arizona is over .900. Further, he is a veteran who takes tons of walks and never strikes out – the type of presence this Diamondbacks team could really use. He is also having a shockingly good defensive season, to the tune of leading all right fielders in baseball in zone rating, ranking seventh in the majors in revised zone rating, and leading all of baseball in plays made out of zone. Brian Giles appears to be, in 2008 at the age of 37, an ageless wonder, a complete package, and so underrated that he might be available for a song from the San Diego Padres, who are out of contention.
The Asher B. Chancey, New and Improved Arizona Diamondbacks Batting Order:
1. Conor Jackson, RF – he is the only pure hitter on the team
2. Orlando Hudson, 2B – a good, fast, light hitter
3. Brian Giles, RF – whose new nickname will be "the difference"
4. Chad Tracy, 1B– do I have too much faith in this guy?
5. Mark Reynolds, 3B – like it or not, he leads the team in homeruns, RBI, and runs; he produces, at least compared to his teammates
6. Chris Snyder, C – a pleasant surprise, hopefully he recovers from that unspeakable injury
7. Chris Young, CF – a catcher or infielder with his OBP would bat eighth
8. Augie Ojeda/Chris Burke, SS – no shame in sacrificing offense for defense in the middle infield
9. Pitcher, P – maybe even batting eighth in games in which Owings pitches and Burke is in the field
It is not too late for the Arizona Diamondbacks to turn around their season – after all, we're talking about "turning around the season" for a team that is currently in first place in the division with a .500 record. Nevertheless, they have played the second worst baseball in the National League since May 15th, so a "turnaround" is definitely in order. But this team is still very talented, and has the pitching it takes to go all the way. But they simply must use their players to the best of their abilities, which at this point they have not done.
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