From “Z” to “D”

After the 2006 season the Arizona Diamondbacks decided they needed to make some changes to their roster and in particular they needed to upgrade their starting pitching staff. Although the 2006 team had the National League Cy Young Award winner as its ace, there was not a lot of consistency after Brandon Webb. The bottom of the rotation was especially troublesome with the number 4 and number 5 starters both being extremely inconsistent. Juan Cruz and Claudio Vargas both gave a lot of effort but you never knew whether you were going to get 7 innings or 1 inning of work out of them. No, if the Diamondbacks were going to compete they were going to need to get a lot better results from their starting pitchers. The plan began to materialize in August when the Diamondbacks traded for workhorse Livan Hernandez. He was an innings killer which is exactly what Arizona needed. If they could get more innings out of their starting pitchers that should equate to less wear and tear on their bullpen which in turn should mean more consistency late in the game. Front line starting pitching does not grow on trees (at least I have never seen a starting pitching tree and no one at the nursery that I called had ever heard of one) so the Diamondbacks were going to need to wheel and deal in order to find someone who could fill this desperate need.

The Arizona Diamondbacks were not the only team looking for starting pitching help. Pretty much every team in Major League Baseball wanted to upgrade their pitching staff last off season. The rules of supply and demand therefore dictated that with a limited supply of front-line quality starting pitchers the cost would increase (in the case of baseball the slope of the cost curve could be represented by the trajectory of the space shuttle). The most highly sought after and hence most expensive commodity on the 2006 free agent market was a pitcher from the Oakland Athletics. Barry Zito was represented by his agent as the one piece that could take any team from the cellar to a world championship. Baseball fans quickly bought into this hype and felt that their team needed Barry Zito if they hoped to compete in 2007. The Diamondbacks had other ideas. The price and length of contract being demanded by Zito was well beyond what Arizona could afford. They would therefore need to look elsewhere for help with their pitching. The front office began pouring over statistics evaluating players to see if they could find someone who met the needs of the team. That search led them to the Milwaukee Brewers. The Brewers had a pitcher on their staff whose statistics nearly mirrored those of Barry Zito and the price associated with this pitcher was substantially less. The Diamondbacks also had in their favor that they had something the Brewers were in need of. They had an offensive catcher who consistently hit around .300. The drawback was that this catcher also seemed to alienate every person he seemed to come in contact with. The Brewers felt that what was needed was a change of scenery and the problems would disappear. The Diamondbacks therefore made the deal and brought Doug Davis to Chase Field. Many casual fans had little idea of who Doug Davis was or what he was capable of doing. All they knew was that the Diamondbacks had let Barry Zito slip away without even an offer. Arizona attempted to enlighten the fans and the media explaining how closely Davis compared to Zito. No one seemed to be listening though. Looking at the numbers

Doug Davis 75 75 1272.7 1322 664 612 568 942 4.33
Barry Zito 111 75 1610.0 1388 714 652 636 1221 4.48

The similarities were there. Davis allowed less runs and fewer walks while Zito had an edge in wins and strikeouts. Considering that Davis played for the Milwaukee Brewers who had been perennial losers while Zito played for the successful Oakland Athletics wins were not a great statistic to judge.

Tonight Arizona Diamondbacks fans will have an opportunity for themselves to see how closely these two pitchers match up. The proof will be in the pudding. I have no idea what that means. My grandmother used to use that saying and it just confused me. If I ordered pudding and it arrived with proof in it I’d definitely send it back. Maybe I should re-phrase that and say finally the Diamondbacks will have a chance to compare what might have been with what is. Hopefully the Diamondbacks and the pudding will turn out for the best and we’ll all leave the ballpark happy with thoughts of chocolaty Snack Pack and further reduction of the magic number.

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