What They Did: 81-81, 3rd Place NL West.
Actual Runs: Scored 734 runs, Allowed 688.
Expected wins based on RS and RA: 85.8 (4.8 above actual)
Restated: Scored 735 runs, Allowed 694.
Exp. wins based on restated RS and RA: 85.3 (4.3 above actual)
(Glossary: Expected wins, based on a modification of Bill James’ Pythagorean Theorem, are the amount of wins a team should win in any season based on the amount of runs it actually scored and allowed. Deviations will be explained in the appropriate team capsules.
Restated Runs Scored and Runs Allowed are the amount of runs a team should have tallied based on its actual components of batting average, on-base percentage, and slugging achieved/allowed. In the case of the Diamondbacks, if they posted exactly the same stats in 2013 as 2012, they should expect to win 85 games.)
To my eye, the Arizona Diamondbacks ended the 2012 season very much like the New York Mets – a team much closer to making the postseason than their final record indicated. It’s hard for me to understand how the front office could look at last year’s team and feel much different about it than they did the year before when they made the playoffs. After all, last year’s squad scored as many runs as it did the 2011 unit (actually 3 more) and only gave up 26 more. Beneath the surface, there was more evidence of progression, not regression: The 2012 team hit for a higher average, got on base at a higher rate, and had a higher slugging percentage. On the mound, the year-over-year improvement, yes, improvement, in 2012 was even more striking. The staff struck out batters at a much higher rate, walked them less frequently and induced way more ground balls – an important factor in Arizona. Yet they gave up more runs. Why? Because of the cruel mistress that is cluster luck. There is absolutely no doubt in my mind, Arizona could have gone to war in 2013 with the same players as they had in 2012 and been a playoff contender.
However, Arizona doesn’t have those players in 2013 because they decided to remake the roster.
Actually, that’s a bit misleading because it implies Arizona made that decision after the season ended. In truth, they started to dismantle their team even before the season ended. Starting third baseman Ryan Roberts and shortstop Stephen Drew were traded when Arizona was still very much in the wild card race and just a handful of games out of first place in the NL West. So was starting pitcher Joe Saunders. After the season ended, outfielders Chris Young and Justin Upton were traded and in return the holes left by the Roberts and Drew departures were filled by Martin Prado and Cliff Pennington. Replacing Upton and Drew will be Arizona youngsters with some major league experience, A.J. Pollock and Geraldo Parra. Although they will start the year on the disabled list, free agent Cody Ross and another highly-regarded prospect, Adam Eaton, will fill out the roster.
When you collapse all of those transactions, some payroll has been saved, but at the cost of considerable upside. Arizona may equal last year’s offensive output mainly because Upton didn’t have a great year, but they’ve largely removed the possibility of having an 800-run offense and that’s what it will take to win 90 games with the pitching staff and diminished defense they bring to the run suppression side of the ledger in 2013.
The starting rotation looks very similar to last year with only free-agent Brandon McCarthy replacing Joe Saunders. Saunders made 21 starts and gave up 68 runs – compiling an RA of 4.71 in the process. McCarthy may be moving from the extraordinarily pitching-friendly confines of Oakland to a hitter’s haven in Arizona, but he may still be able to improve on Saunders’ performance. The problem is that the Diamondbacks may believe last year’s top starter can replicate his 2012 success.
Wade Miley may have gone 16-11 with a 3.33 ERA and finished second in the Rookie of the Year balloting to Bryce Harper, but those results are an absolute mirage. Of the 85 MLB starters who threw at least 150 innings last year, only four had less than 7% of their fly balls allowed turn into home runs. The league average was just over 11%. Miley was 3rd best at 6.6% and he did it in Arizona. It’s an incredible accomplishment but it is in no way repeatable in that environment. Miley is the majors #1 candidate to have an ERA more than 1.00 higher than he had the year before. (Just like his teammate Ian Kennedy the year before – 2.88 ERA in 2011 and 4.02 in 2012 accompanied by a HR/FB increase from 7.7% to 10.8%. Or even more alarmingly look what happened to teammate Daniel Hudson: 3.49 ERA and 6.4% in 2011 to 7.35 ERA and 16.7% in 2012.)
Oddsmakers’ expectations: Arizona doesn’t have a bad team this year and they don’t even have a bad core for the future. I may have them picked for fourth but thanks to the severe deficiencies in the Padres’ starting rotation, I think Arizona has a better chance to sneak into the last Wild Card spot. It’s by no means a good chance, but in financial terms, the Diamondbacks have more upside volatility because their starting rotation may lack a true ace, but it is a collection of 4 largely average starters and a solid #2 in Ian Kennedy. They got great health and career years in 2012 from Aaron Hill, Paul Goldschmidt, and Miguel Montero. While any regression from them could have been made up with Upton’s bat, that isn’t possible now. Look for the Diamondbacks to spend the year scoring as many runs as they allow and finishing right around their opening total wins market of 82.
80-82 – Fourth in NL West
708 Runs Scored 721 Runs Allowed
Mop Up Duty:
Joe Peta is the author of Trading Bases, A Story About Wall Street, Gambling, and Baseball* (*) Not necessarily in that order, a Dutton Books/Penguin (U.S.A.) publication currently available wherever books are sold. Here are three on-line booksellers you can currently choose from:
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