Striking out with Kevin Towers

Posted on January 24, 2011

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At the outset the of the off-season, the Arizona Diamondbacks made clear their top priority: They were going to strike out less often in 2011 than they had in 2010. That posed no special challenge, since the team struck out 1,529 times–154 more than the second-most whiff-prone team in the National League.

To set that plan into motion, Towers traded Mark Reynolds to Baltimore for a pair of relievers, David Hernandez and Kameron Mickolio. He also shied away from re-signing first baseman Adam LaRoche. Those two struck out 383 times combined in 2010. To replace them, Towers added free-agent third baseman Melvin Mora (who strikes out far, far less) and traded for Yankees first baseman Juan Miranda.

Of course, Chris Young, Justin Upton, Kelly Johnson and Stephen Drew (who combined for 553 strikeouts themselves, an average of 138 each) remain. The team will strike out less, but they may have lost more than they gained: Reynolds and LaRoche also combined for 57 home runs, generating a lot of runs with power that neither Mora nor Miranda can match. Offensively, Towers is gambling on Upton and Drew to realize their considerable respective potential and lead the offense more efficiently in 2011.

The problems with working so hard to cut down on strikeouts ran even deeper, though. While the Diamondbacks did need to make more consistent contact at the plate, they also needed to strike out more batters on the mound. Arizona hurlers fanned only 1,070 opponents, third-fewest in the NL. By mid-season, GM Josh Byrnes had unloaded key starters Dan Haren and Edwin Jackson, leaving Arizona with the following far too contact-friendly rotation:

Daniel Hudson, July acquisition who figures as the 2011 ace after he fanned 70 in 79.2 innings for Arizona

Ian Kennedy, who struck out a respectable 168 in 194 innings as a new Diamondback in 2010

Rodrigo Lopez, who would whiff only 116 batters in 200 innings for the season

Barry Enright, a young pitcher of middling talent who notched only 49 punch-outs in 99 innings

Joe Saunders, part of the return package the team got for Haren. He struck out only 50 in 82.2 innings of work after the swap.

Lopez became a free agent after the season, and Towers did not attempt to retain him. He did, however, trade for Zach Duke of the Pittsburgh Pirates in November. Duke struck out only 96 batters in 159 innings of work in 2010, so he hardly cures what ails Arizona.

Striking batters out is a key concern for this team, who allowed the most home runs (by a wide, wide margin) in the National League in 2010 and whose defense surrendered the fourth-highest unearned run average on the senior circuit. The addition of J.J. Putz to the bullpen was a good one, but all in all, the Diamondbacks might have been well-advised to spend less of their off-season shedding strikeouts and more time adding them.

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