Diamondbacks All-Time Nine

Baseball will forever be connected with the number nine. From the fact that there are nine positions on the field to there being 27 outs in a game to the bases being spaced 90 feet apart there is always a number nine involved when you are talking about baseball.

To celebrate the numerology equivalent of a perfect game, Major League Baseball is introducing something they are calling the All-Time Nine for each team. The All-Time Nine allows fans to vote on who would make up the best hitters by position for each franchise. Voting begins September 9 (09/09/09) on mlb.com as well as on each team’s web site and will continue all day.

I eagerly awaited the vote to open for the Arizona Diamondbacks. I had in my mind who I thought should be on the ballot and I wanted to see how closely my choices matched those of Major League Baseball.

I have to admit, there were very few surprises in each category. When choosing an All-Time Nine based strictly on offensive numbers it becomes fairly clear who should represent each position on the team.

While this is an interesting vote and is bound to spur conversation between fans I think it somewhat skews the all-time team. It does not take into consideration anything besides hitting.

For example, for pitchers the choices are Micah Owings 2007 campaign where he hit .333 with four home runs, 15 RBI, and nine runs scored. Micah Owings 2008 season was also listed with a .288 batting average, one home run, three RBI, and seven runs scored. The final nominee is Brandon Webb who hit. .149 with no home runs, 11 RBI and two runs scored. Given those choices clearly Micah Owings has the best statistics.

Does that mean he deserves to be on a list titled All-Time Nine? I would say probably not. Over the course of the franchise history Brandon Webb or Randy Johnson would be the best overall pitcher for the Diamondbacks and won more games with their arms than with their bats.

Pitching and defense mean nothing in this vote and therefore the representatives may not be the best ball players at each position just the players who happened to have the best offensive seasons for the team.

The question begs to be asked, what statistic is the most important when it comes to offensive performance? Do you reward high batting average and therefore more scoring opportunities or do you think home runs and RBIs hold more value as they represent runs actually scored? And what value do you place on speed?

Team speed and stolen bases can disrupt a game and change the defensive alignment of the opposition. Having someone fast on the base paths many times equate to different pitch selection for subsequent hitters as the defense adjusts to runners stealing bases.

When Tony Womack was running rampant during the championship years it was Jay Bell and Luis Gonzalez who benefited as teams tried to hold Womack to first. So while his other offensive numbers may pale in comparison to other shortstops for the Diamondbacks, the value of his speed and stolen bases probably helped the team more than a high on-base percentage of his own.

There is also the factor of character. Catcher Johnny Estrada turned in a great series of offensive numbers in 2006 but was so despised by teammates and coaches that he was benched during the last month of the season and shipped out of town. Given that circumstance do you really want to reward him with a selection to the All-Time Nine for the Diamondbacks?

As I sat and pondered each player I tried to objectively look at the numbers and try to put each in the context of the season in which they played. I selected who I felt was the best player offensively at each position and placed my vote. My selections are:

  • First Base – Tony Clark (2005)
  • Second Base – Jay Bell (1999)
  • Shortstop – Stephen Drew (2008)
  • Third Base – Matt Williams (1999)
  • Catcher – Miguel Montero (2009)
  • Pitcher – Micah Owings (2007)
  • Outfield – Eric Byrnes (2007)
  • Outfield – Steve Finley (2000)
  • Outfield – Luis Gonzalez (2001)

My first base selection I gave the nod to Tony Clark over Mark Grace due to the higher home run and RBI totals. I felt those outweighed Grace’s higher runs scored and his meager one stolen base.

Second base I went with Jay Bell over Junior Spivey. Bell had more runs scored, more RBI, and more home runs than Spivey, which I weighted heavier than the higher batting average. Besides, Bell won $1 million for a fan with a grand slam that season.

Shortstop was a struggle for me but I ended up choosing Stephen Drew over Tony Womack. Although I am a huge proponent of speed I could not over look the higher batting average, Home Runs, and RBIs. Their run differential was too close to make a difference.

Third base was another one I struggled with. I applaud Mark Reynolds for the year he is having but Matt Williams bested him in nearly every category and had a lot fewer strike outs. I had to go with the Marine here and give it to Williams.

Catcher was a close one and I deviated just a little. While Johnny Estrada had a little better batting average and more RBI, I couldn’t get over the character factor. When I added in that Montero’s stats were mostly second half and tried to project a full season I felt like Montero had the better season.

Pitcher was relatively simple. Micah Owings was amazing in 2007 which is why he won a Silver Slugger award that year. Whenever you have a season as a pitcher that the manager uses you as a pinch hitter on your off days, you are doing something right. I felt like Major League Baseball dropped the ball on this position. I would have nominated Dan Haren’s 2009 statistics over Brandon Webb’s 2008 season. This was the only major challenge I had with the nominees.

Outfield was a struggle for me. The number one outfielder was easy. You would be hard pressed to argue that Luis Gonzalez’s 2001 season was not the best performance ever given by a Diamondbacks player at the plate.

My other two choices for outfield performances were more difficult. Eric Byrnes 2007 season with 21 home runs and 50 stolen bases got my nod for the second best performance by an outfielder. The final selection I waivered back and forth between Steve Finley’s 2000 season and Justin Upton’s 2009 campaign. In the end I went with Steve Finley. His greater totals in home runs, RBIs, and runs scored overshadowed Upton. This is somewhat unfair since there are still three weeks left in the season and Upton could very well shatter all of those marks if he gets on another one of his hot streaks. I’ll take my chances though and give the nod to Finley.

There are many different ways to look at each candidate and I hope that every fan will take the opportunity to study the nominees and weigh in their minds what these numbers mean when put in the context of the whole team.

If nothing else occurs from this vote it gives baseball fans everywhere an opportunity to relive some of the great moments in team history. You can’t ask for much more than that.

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