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1 Arizona Diamondbacks Can last season's bevy of career years be duplicated? The D- backs say no problem

March 27, 2000
March 27, 2000

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March 27, 2000

Baseball Preview 2000

1 Arizona Diamondbacks Can last season's bevy of career years be duplicated? The D- backs say no problem

Throw in some booze and Buffalo wings, and the Diamondbacks'
clubhouse could have passed for the most happening bar in Tucson.
During spring training, before the team's third full-squad
practice, leftfielder Luis Gonzalez had a karaoke machine hauled
into the team's dressing room. After the workout, Gonzalez cued
up the machine and belted out the lyrics to Monster Mash while
utility infielder Lenny Harris danced next to him with only a
towel wrapped around his waist. It was a telling moment and not
just because it proved that Harris is no Fred Astaire. It showed
that the Diamondbacks had successfully fine-tuned the art of
celebrating.

This is an article from the March 27, 2000 issue Original Layout

That will come in handy, because Arizona will have plenty of
reason to party come mid-September, when the franchise will
likely be wrapping up its second straight National League West
championship. The veteran Diamondbacks are loaded. They have the
pitching (their 3.77 ERA in 1999 was the league's second best
behind the Braves), the hitting (an NL-best 908 runs) and the
managing (Buck Showalter, the shrewd strategist who helped
transform Arizona from a 65-win expansion team in '98 to a
100-victory playoff squad last season). "Arizona is in a unique
situation because they have a bunch of talented veterans who know
each other well and really like each other," says Colorado
manager Buddy Bell. "That's a lethal combination."

"We all know that the Diamondbacks are the team to beat in the
West," says San Francisco general manager Brian Sabean. "We can
only hope they don't perform as well as they did last year."

There are hints, however small, of vulnerability. The average age
of the Diamondbacks' projected Opening Day starting lineup is 31,
and few expect Matt Williams, Jay Bell (38 home runs, 17 more
than his previous best), Gonzalez, Steve Finley and Tony Womack
to collectively duplicate their performance of 1999, when all
five had the best statistical seasons of their careers by a
healthy margin. Showalter, though, is not concerned. "I believe
you'll see all this talk about career years and the age of our
team is overrated," he says. "I think the guys just had normal
years offensively last year. As for age, well, last season the
Yankees were one of the oldest clubs in baseball. They didn't
seem to do too bad."

Two players from whom Showalter expects bigger things this season
are Womack and Travis Lee. Womack is making the difficult
transition from rightfield to shortstop, where the Diamondbacks
used six players last year. Though originally a shortstop in the
Pirates' farm system, Womack was moved to second in 1997 because
of his questionable glove and arm. With Bell entrenched at
second, Womack ended up in rightfield following his trade to
Arizona prior to the start of last year. Being asked to move yet
again does not faze him. "I've played shortstop since I was 14,"
says Womack, who did play 18 games at the position in '99. "So
I've got no worries, man. None."

Replacing Womack in rightfield will be the 24-year-old Lee, who
was the franchise's golden child just two years ago when he hit
22 home runs and drove in 72 runs as a rookie. However, after
going through an 0-for-30 slump last season, he lost his job at
first base to Erubiel Durazo, a Mexican League refugee who came
out of nowhere and hit .329 in 52 games. Lee is inexperienced in
the outfield--which he played only sparingly in college--and if
he cannot rediscover his stroke or make the adjustment to his
new position, veteran Bernard Gilkey will take his spot.

If the Diamondbacks' every-day players do slip a notch, the
rotation, anchored by Randy Johnson, is so deep it can carry this
team. Last year the 36-year-old Johnson became only the third
player to win a Cy Young Award in both leagues, but he threw an
ungodly 4,206 pitches, nearly 400 more than anybody else in the
majors. That number will have to be reduced substantially if
Showalter wants Johnson fresh for the postseason. (Johnson's
career postseason record is 2-6, and he was cuffed around by the
Mets in his one playoff start last fall.) The rest of the
starting staff--Todd Stottlemyre, Omar Daal, Armando Reynoso and
Brian Anderson--are all effective and give Showalter a balance of
lefties and righties that's the envy of his peers. And the
Diamondbacks know it. "I really like our team," says third
baseman Matt Williams. "We have no weaknesses."

Williams said this as he stood in front of his locker one
afternoon in early March. Next to him was a special therapeutic
chair he uses for his back. Eventually the day will come for
Williams, 34, and the rest of the aging Diamondbacks to take a
permanent comfortable seat and watch some other team win this
division. Not now, though. Not anytime soon. They've still got
some serious partying to do.

--L.A.

COLOR PHOTO: STEPHEN GREEN MONSTER MASHER In 1999 Gonzalez proved he can carry a team with his bat; this spring in the cocky clubhouse, he showed he can carry a tune.COLOR PHOTO: RONALD C. MODRA

around the Horn

offense
[4 1/2 stars]
defense
[3 stars]
starting pitching
[5 stars]
bullpen
[3 stars]
manager
[5 stars]

by the numbers

1999 Team Statistics (NL rank)

Batting average .277 (3)
Runs scored 908 (1)
Home runs 216 (2)

1999 record: 100-62 (first in NL West)

Opponents' batting average .249 (2)
ERA 3.77 (2)
Fielding percentage .983 (4)

next up...

After pitcher Byung-Hyun Kim got the first save of his major
league career against the Mets last May, Diamondbacks manager
Buck Showalter actually bowed to his pitcher. This season
Showalter expects to have many more opportunities to pay his
respects to Kim, who in 1999 became just the third Korean to make
the majors. "He can throw it 91 miles per hour from the side,
which is very rare," says Showalter of Kim, 21, who held batters
to a .211 average in 25 appearances in '99. "He just needs to
gain more confidence and not give hitters too much credit and
he'll be a great asset in our bullpen."

the lineup
projected roster with 1999 statistics

Manager: Buck Showalter (third season with Arizona)

BATTING ORDER B-T PVR BA HR RBI SB

SS Tony Womack L-R 84 .277 4 41 72
2B Jay Bell R 44 .289 38 112 7
RF Luis Gonzalez L-R 40 .336 26 111 9
3B Matt Williams R 27 .303 35 142 2
1B Erubiel Durazo L 133 .329 11 30 1
CF Steve Finley L 99 .264 34 103 8
RF Travis Lee L 149 .237 9 50 17
C Kelly Stinnett R 237 .232 14 38 2

BENCH

C Damian Miller R 292 .270 11 47 0
OF Bernard Gilkey R 330 .294 8 39 2
IF Greg Colbrunn R 333 .326 5 24 1
IF Lenny Harris L-R 342 .310 1 20 2
IF Andy Fox L-R 369 .255 6 33 4

STARTERS PVR W L IPS WHIP ERA

LH Randy Johnson 2 17 9 7.8 1.02 2.48
RH Todd Stottlemyre 45 6 3 6.0 1.44 4.09
LH Omar Daal 25 16 9 6.7 1.24 3.65
RH Armando Reynoso 56 10 6 6.0 1.48 4.37
LH Brian Anderson 86 8 2 5.9 1.32 4.57

BULLPEN PVR W L S WHIP ERA

RH Matt Mantei 11 1 3 32 1.35 2.76
LH Greg Swindell 194 4 0 1 1.16 2.51
RH Russ Springer[1] 227 2 1 1 1.12 3.42
RH Darren Holmes 301 4 3 0 1.54 3.70
LH Dan Plesac* 311 2 4 1 1.51 5.89
RH Byung-Hyun Kim 322 1 2 1 1.46 4.61

[1] New acquisition
(R) Rookie
B-T: Bats-throws
IPS: Innings pitched per start
WHIP: Walks plus hits per inning pitched
PVR: Player Value Ranking (explanation on page 164)
*Combined AL and NL stats

the book
an opposing team's scout sizes up the Diamondbacks

"This club is strong offensively and should win close to 100
games again as long as its strong starting pitching stays
healthy. The Diamondbacks don't have the pitching depth in the
minors that would allow them to overcome injuries to their
starters. In fact, don't look for help from the minors at any
position.... Is Tony Womack an every-day shortstop? I don't
know. That's the key question for this team. If he can't do it,
Arizona has to trade for someone to play the position.
Utilityman Andy Fox isn't the answer. With an older Jay Bell at
second base, Arizona is not strong up the middle.... Travis Lee
is adequate in rightfield, but you're taking a Gold Glove-type
first baseman and putting him in the outfield. It's worth it for
Erubiel Durazo's bat, but Durazo is only average defensively at
best.... Brian Anderson is a .500 pitcher, but he might win 12
games because he'll get good run support with this lineup. I
don't like guys like Anderson who rely on their changeup so
much. I like Armando Reynoso better.... Middle relief is a major
weakness."