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Wednesday Morning Rockpile:

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Part of the trouble with pre-season predictions in a sport that unfolds over six months and 162 games (plus more if you're lucky) is that what you know about teams right now in March could change suddenly and dramatically alter how the rest of the year unfolds. So when Clint Hurdle, in reference particularly to Brian Lawrence and Ubaldo Jimenez says:

"We could be in a position that whatever five (starters) we break with in spring training might not be the five we have in the middle of the season,"

He's just saying a basic modern baseball truth that can be applied to all teams, and yet so often projections for the season ignore this.

Taking depth into account is a difficult task, and it's understandable why many writers would choose to ignore it. Especially lazy, nationally syndicated columnists who make their living off of skeptical antagonism and don't do enough homework to even understand who's likely to break camp in a rotation. Even those that do look at it can hardly be expected to look at every variable for every team and come up with a completely accurate projection. It's just not going to happen, so if you're smart, you try and settle for close enough.

Why I bring this up is that I was going over Dayn Perry's 10 teams who could surprise list, and I thought again about how wrong some pretty smart people are about the Diamondbacks' chances in the NL West this season. It's not just Perry, but I've seen it all over the internet. Now, some would disagree, according to Joe Posnanski, the Rockies are the "trendy" pick, so maybe he's seeing some print media I'm not, but that's certainly not the case on the net.

I mean, don't get me wrong, in future seasons the Diamondbacks on offense will be a loaded and talented team for many years, but they just don't have the same level of talent on the pitching side of the ball as Colorado, and the Rockies are close enough in the hitting component to make them the Snakes' equal overall. The reverse is true for this season, where the Rox will have a distinct advantage on offense and the pitching will be close enough to put us on a level playing field. I wasn't sure of this before Spring began, given the overhauls both teams gave their rotations in the offseason, but I am now. We obviously lose quite a bit at #1, but where we will pick up some serious ground is slots #4-#6, mostly thanks to Jimenez:

Let me spell this out clearly, these are the weighted mean innings pitched projections for Arizona's presumable preferred starting five according to Baseball Prospectus' PECOTA:

Brandon Webb 226.7 IP
Randy Johnson 112.3 IP
Doug Davis 180.3 IP
Livan Hernandez 179 IP
Enrique Gonzalez 157.7 IP

Total: 856 innings. However, that's also assuming a level of quality performance from Hernandez and Davis that neither appear ready to achieve in 2007. Davis still has the same control problems that have been worsening the last three seasons, and Hernandez' good fortune in BABIP that he had when he initially came to Arizona midseason last year seems to have gone by the wayside. Honestly, I think it would be a safe assumption to lop off a good twenty to twenty-five innings each given how little they've shown that they've improved on their recent pasts this Spring.

Here's more: Cy Young winner Webb is assumed by this projection to have 33 starts, meaning no misses whatsoever averaging nearly seven innings each, and yet he missed his last turn in the Springtime rotation due to neck stiffness. At this point it's questionable whether he'll be ready to pitch at all Opening Day vs. the Rockies, and even if he is ready, how strong will he be when he's only pitched three innings of any game so far this Spring? My colleague at the AZ Snakepit has noticed these trends as well, and I can tell you that despite the Diamondbacks' nifty exhibition record that there is trouble in that section of Tucson.

The upshoot is that I anticipate a lot more slack than most NL teams to have to be picked up by Arizona's supporting cast of spot starters, and unlike Jeff Sackmann, I am not particularly impressed that the bunch will be particularly effective in this role. Micah Owings, though he'll be a decent bottom of the rotation starter, is a tad overrated and has been using middling stuff to feast on weaker minor league hitters. In the Majors -particularly his rookie year- he won't be nearly as successful. Nippert and the rest -with the possible exception of Eveland- also fall into this category of good command of weaker than wanted pitches. Dana's trickier, as he seems to have the pitches, but lacks command and leaves far too much up in the strike zone. None of these pitchers will have the kind of impact Jimenez and Lawrence will with the Rockies later this season.

I'm still somewhat leary of our chances of passing the Padres and Dodgers until I see more of them, but as of right now, I'm predicting at least a third place finish in the NL West for the Rockies this season.

Quickly, because I took so long up top:

Rox shortstop battle not decided. Really? Okay, are you seriously arguing that Barmes is better after watching Tulo jack that screaming line drive double to dead center field yesterday? I didn't think so. Just admit what's obvious like the rest of us, so we can start hyping the kid and sell some tickets.

Chris Iannetta = Very Good. See this is what we need to see more of.

I think that's it except for some more BK trade whispers here and there. We'll keep monitoring that situation as well.