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Burns: D-backs disregard conventional wisdom

Conventional wisdom comes exactly as advertised. It is both conventional and wise.

Want to get a job? Network and make sure your resume is brief and to the point. Want to be fashionable? If you’re a woman, don’t wear white after Labor Day. Want to lose weight? Eat smaller portions and exercise more.

But once upon a time, this diet came out that literally mocked conventional wisdom. If you want to lose weight you don’t need to eat less. Instead you eat all the meat, cheese, bacon and eggs you want. Max out on the protein, clog your arteries but cut the carbs and watch the weight fall off the bone. And it worked; at least it did for me (but then my grease-induced amnesia wore off and I re-discovered the sheer unfiltered joy of Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups out of the freezer).

Conventional wisdom dictates that to win in baseball you need two things: Pitching and defense.

And just about everyone says that if the Arizona Diamondbacks are to improve upon last year’s dreadful 92 loss season, they need to fix their pitching and their defense. After all, they allowed the third most runs in the National League last year. I won’t totally, brazenly mock conventional wisdom (I only brazenly mock things like organizational advocacy), but I don’t think that’s the key for the 2010 Arizona Diamondbacks.

I think they need to outslug teams if they’re going to win.

It’s hard for me to buy pitching and defense when Ian Kennedy is your #3 starter and Rodrigo Lopez your #4. It’s hard for me to buy pitching and defense when they had the second most errors in baseball last year (maybe they’ll get better in that regard, but I think the D-backs defensively kinda are who they are – it’s in their DNA at this point). But what I can buy is an offense that is potentially dynamic with Justin Upton, Mark Reynolds, Adam LaRoche, Miguel Montero, Stephen Drew, Kelly Johnson and Conor Jackson. From here, they appear to be a team that can score in bunches, especially in one of the most hitter-friendly ballparks in the bigs.

And here’s an interesting factoid to chew on when you bust out the pitching and defense argument: Of the top seven teams in OPS last year, six of the seven made the playoffs (in order, the Yankees, Boston, Angels, Rockies, Philly and Minnesota. The Dodgers were 11th, the Cardinals 15th).

I have this theory on the D-backs’ offseason. After picking up the option on Brandon Webb, I think their focus then turned to “how do we cover ourselves just in case Webb is still hurt?” Just look at their offseason acquisitions:

They pulled the proverbial trigger on the Max Scherzer/Edwin Jackson deal. Partly, I think, for insurance. If Webb was available to start the season, Jackson would make a great #3 starter. But if Webb wasn’t…did you really want to put Max Scherzer in the position of your #2 starter? What you lose in long-term potential you gain in short-term stability. Then they signed Kelly Johnson and Adam LaRoche. Both are decent gloves; LaRoche certain better than decent over at first base. But they weren’t brought in for their defense. They’re here to hit, to lengthen the lineup, to try to outscore teams.

I don’t want to make it sound like the D-backs pitching staff is some desolate stretch of highway in the middle of the desert with not a soul in sight. Dan Haren is one of the best pitchers in the game and Edwin Jackson had an All-Star first half last year. And, if Webb is able to be Brandon-Webb-best-sinker-in-the-game-and-my-change-up-doesn’t-suck-either sometime in early May it obviously changes the entire equation.

If he can’t – or if his return takes longer than expected – the rest of the rotation isn’t exactly robust with proven commodities, is it? In that circumstance, let’s not mince words: they’re likely doomed anyway.

But I see a team that could scoff at conventional wisdom and simply try to pinball-machine their way to a pennant. Just like that dieter who eats the bunless cheeseburger on their way to dropping 20 pounds.