Since last July, the Arizona Diamondbacks have been on a mission to improve their pitching rotation. Heading into Spring Training, the Diamondbacks were set to open the season with three pitchers acquired over the last seven months. With their recent trade for Armando Galarraga, they may be looking at a completely overhauled rotation in 2011. Although Galarraga gained national fame by nearly throwing a perfect game last season, his overall numbers left much to be desired. We’ll see if Galarraga can add stability to a rotation in flux.
If Galarraga can win a spot in the rotation this Spring, the Diamondbacks could potentially open the season with four recently acquired pitchers. Joe Saunders and Daniel Hudson were acquired in deadline deals last season, while Zach Duke and Galarraga were acquired this off-season. The only pitcher reprising his 2010 role is Ian Kennedy, who is coming off the best season of any current Diamondbacks starter. Barry Enright and Aaron Heilman are expected to compete for rotation spots as well, but neither has experienced success as a starter at the major league level.
Given the weak competition and his track record in the majors, Galarraga should be able to win a spot in the Diamondbacks rotation. It’s unclear, however, whether Galarraga represents an upgrade over any of the current Diamondback starters. Galarraga isn’t able to overpower hitters, and needs to control his walk rate if he wants to experience success. Sound familiar? The scouting reports on Saunders and Duke read the same way. All three pitchers will need to rely on the Diamondbacks strong defense up-the-middle if they hope to experience success in 2011.
Another troubling trend among Diamondbacks starters (including Galarraga) is their generosity with the long ball. Of all the projected starters (Saunders, Kennedy, Hudson, Duke, Galarraga), only Hudson managed to hold hitters to a respectable HR/9 rate. Saunders’ rate jumped immediately after joining the Diamondbacks, and both Duke and Galarraga could struggle even more in their new ballpark.
Despite pitching in a park that depresses home runs, Galarraga posted a HR/9 rate of 1.31 last season. Moving from a strong pitchers park to a hitter’s paradise will only magnify those issues since Galaragga qualifies as a fly ball pitcher. If Galarraga is not an upgrade over the Diamondbacks’ current options, then why did they acquire him? Much like Duke and Saunders, Galarraga will eat up innings and comes at a relatively cheap price. While those innings might only equate to league average production, perhaps the Diamondbacks see value in penciling in 150+ innings out of three starters. Galarraga will also move to the National League, where he will face weaker lineups. Looking at the Diamondbacks’ recent history, Saunders, Hudson, and Kennedy all pitched more effectively after joining the National League. The Diamondbacks hope Galarraga will experience that same success now that he has moved to the NL.
Despite the acquisition of Galarraga, the Diamondbacks’ rotation is still in shambles. Galarraga should provide a solid amount of innings, but his production will be too dependent upon his defense. In Galarraga, the Diamondbacks acquired a pitcher no different than Saunders or Duke. Even though Saunders will be asked to pitch like the Diamondbacks’ “ace” this season, none of those three pitchers profiles as a front-end starter. As a result, it wouldn’t be surprising to see Hudson or Kennedy emerge as the Diamondbacks top pitcher next season. The Diamondbacks seem to value innings-eaters, however, which is probably one of the main reasons they acquired Galarraga. There’s certainly value in taking the ball every fifth day, but Galarraga alone will not save this troubled rotation.