After coming out of nowhere to win the National League West in 2011, the Diamondbacks fell to 81-81 and third place in 2012. Which Diamondback(s) best symbolize the club's fall from grace?
As you know if you've been reading this exciting series of articles, it's not about the best players. If it were, you would be about to read a stirring essay about the mysteriously many wonders of Aaron Hill, who was probably the Arizona Diamondbacks' most valuable player this year. No, instead you're going to read about the player who best symbolized the Diamondbacks and their disappointing 81-81 season ...
Before we chose our single player who best symbolizes the 2012 Arizona Diamondbacks, let's identify the single word that best describes the 2012 Diamondbacks ...
In 2011, a great number of things went right for the Diamondbacks. In 2010, the Diamondbacks' bullpen was historically terrible; in '11, it was actually decent, perhaps just a touch worse than league-average.
More to our purpose, though, were the players. And so, for the first time in 2012 Player of the Year history, I'm naming Co-Players of the Year.
In 2010, both Justin Upton and Ian Kennedy were decent enough players. In 2011, though, both ranked among the National League's biggest stars; Upton finished fourth in the MVP voting, Kennedy fourth in Cy Young balloting.
Because both were still fairly young in 2011 -- Kennedy 26, Upton only 23 -- there was some reason to think they'd found their new normals; that Kennedy would routinely rank among the league's better pitchers, and that Upton might actually be the league's best young player.
Instead, both simply became in 2012 what they'd been before 2011. To one degree or another.
Upton's regression was particularly striking, and surprising. Essentially, much of his power went away. After hitting 75 extra-base hits in 2011, he plummeted to 45 in '12. And this wasn't a case of Upton forgetting how to hit or something. His batting average, his strikeouts, his walks ... all were roughly the same in both seasons. He just didn't hit the baseball as hard, or as far.
Kennedy's performance in the two seasons was also strikingly similar in many respects. He started 33 games in both seasons, with roughly the same innings, walks, and strikeouts. But he did give up nine more home runs in 2012 (28) than '11 (19). His ERA jumped from 2.88 to 4.02, while his record went from 21-4 (!) to 15-12.
There were other regressions, too. As Jim McLennan points out, the D'backs somehow went from 28-16 in one-run games to 15-27 ... even though their bullpen, much-improved in 2011, improved even more in 2012. That essentially explains how the club went from 94-68 with a +69 run differential to 81-81 with a +46 differential in '12.
In a fundamental sense, the Diamondbacks played roughly as well in 2012 as they had in 2011. This is actually a testament to the club's management, which recognized that a lot of things had gone well in '11. So they went out last winter and tried to get better, acquiring Trevor Cahill and Jason Kubel, both of whom played quite well. But in the end, the Diamondbacks didn't merely regress; they regressed and then some, which is how they came just one bloop hit away from a losing record.
In case you missed any previous entries in this EXCITING SERIES, here's the archive.