March 16 – Paced by Brandon Webb, the 2006 Dbacks rolled up the third most ground ball outs in the National League last year, trailing only division rivals LA and Colorado in that category. For that reason, the Arizona outfield was not tested as much as others. When they were, their .992 fielding percentage was the elite in the NL as they only had 8 miscues all season long. Dependable is certainly a fair word when describing the OF, but this year Bob Melvin hopes that dependability will remain while the legs and the arms will be upgraded.
“Defensively we started to see some balls early on that were triples being cut off. I think with Quentin, Young and at times Byrnes in left field, we feel like we have three guys out there that our pitchers will be better off having behind them,” Melvin said, “I think the first half of 2006 we might have led the league in triples given up then all of a sudden it just halted."
This will be much more important this season as both Livan Hernandez and Randy Johnson, to a lesser extent, get more outs in the air. Miguel Batista was nearly two to one, ground balls to fly balls, and he now wears a Mariners uniform. It is logical to think that the two youngsters in the OF may not match the .992 posted by the likes of Green and Gonzalez, but the same logic applies when attempting to better their Major League low 13 assists.
“Is this going to be their best year in the big leagues? Probably not, but they are all talented enough as a group to be successful. But the scary part is going forward is that these guys are just going to keep getting better and better,” Melvin said.
This bunch must also be allowed to experience situations they have never encountered, because some things only occur at the game’s highest level. The skipper is prepared for that.
“That’s where you have to give them some room. You can’t be afraid to fail and sometimes you have to take a step back to take a step forward.”
We spent some time earlier in camp on new hitting coach Kevin Seitzer, whose passion and sometimes unconventional methods are clearly now embraced 17 days away from the real thing. This current impact was felt long before any of us arrived in Tucson, as a matter of fact he did his most important work long before many of us got out of bed in February.
“That’s the fine line that a guy walks. You come in and you don’t want to change anybody’s swing and you want to work within the swing that the guy has. Yet you have some things that you believe in and so it takes a while for that trust level. If you are there for the hitter and give feedback, and a lot of times it’s early feedback and getting results in the cage. That’s the hook, if they can have some success doing it on a drill basis leading in then you have that hook set. I think that he has approached everybody the right way,” according to Melvin.
Arizona is hitting .323 as a team and has nearly as many walks as strikeouts (69/79), which puts the on base percentage at .404, best in the big leagues. Sure it’s only Spring Training, but the coach is new and many of the players are young. You can’t tell me that it makes no difference whatsoever.