The Justin Upton trade made the D’backs worse for the long-term. I think we can all agree on that. The good news though, is that there’s a decent chance that it doesn’t really make the D’backs THAT much worse THIS year.
Martin Prado was the better player in 2012 and it’s not a stretch that he can be in 2013, as well. If the D’backs are going to make the playoffs, he’ll have to be.
A couple of weeks ago, I was reading a piece by ESPN’s Mark Simon, that took a look at how the Mets could make the playoffs using the WAR statistic. (On a related note, I’m sad to hear about the Baseball Today podcast ending.)
So, I’m going to steal a bit of his work and do the same with the D’backs.
“We start with the idea that every major-league team, even one made up entirely of “Quadruple-A players,” is going to win at least 52 games.
“We then take the approach that if you sum a team’s total Wins Above Replacement that it gets from its roster, and add that to 52, you’re going to get a number that is reasonably close to that team’s win total,” Simon wrote in the article.
In the piece, Simon notes that a team needs to get to a WAR number of 38, the total that the five playoff teams in the NL averaged last season. This is a decidedly easier number for the D’backs to reach in 2013 than it was for Simon with the Mets. The Mets earned 20 WAR as a team last season and the D’backs were at 30, only eight away from the needed 38.
So how exactly do the D’backs make up that extra eight Wins?
We’ll start with the “core players.” The players that will be expected to accumulate the most WAR for the D’backs in 2013.
As you can see to the right, the D’backs will need a consistent level of output from their core players. The problem is, the D’backs don’t have that one player that is reasonably capable of seven WAR to give that initial big boost and make up for inconsistencies elsewhere. Because of that, all of the core players will have to live up to their potential and be consistent as a group to make up for it.
All seven players listed will have to come close to or exceed their 2012 numbers. Prado earned 5.4 WAR in 2012 so he’ll have to repeat that despite much of his value in 2012 being tied to his defensive capability in left field for the Braves. Can he provide that defensive value at third? That’s probably unlikely so he’ll have to make up for it with his offense, which is possible in hitter-friendly Chase Field.
Miguel Montero earned 3.7 WAR in 2012, so a little jump to 4 is possible, though he’d have to stay healthy for another entire year and catch 140 games again. Hard to do for a catcher.
The biggest jump we are looking for from a hitter is in Goldschmidt. He earned three WAR in 2012. If some of his 43 doubles turn into home runs to add on to his total of 20 in 2012, he can get there. He’s also been improving greatly on defense and can add a little value there.
For Hill, four WAR would actually be a little step down after he earned 4.6 in 2012.
On the pitchers’ side of things, Ian Kennedy would need to take the biggest jump overall. He was only at 2.1 in 2012 and will have to double it in 2013 to help out. Kennedy was actually a bit unlucky in 2012 so a slight jump can be expected. To double his WAR, though? He’ll have to be 2011’s version of himself again.
Cahill will only have to make a small jump from 2.5 in 2012. Miley would have to duplicate his 2012 effort in which he earned 3.2 WAR.
If all that happens, the D’backs will be sitting at 27 WAR, 11 more to go to reach 38. Well, sort of. Not everybody contributes positive WAR during a season. With pitchers’ hitting and sub-par performances from short-term relief pitchers and call ups, it can cost quite a bit of value.
According to Simon, the average NL playoff team in 2012 lost 7.4 WAR to less than replacement level performances during the season. We’ll call that 7.5 and subtract it from our total, giving us 19.5 WAR so far.
So where will the other 18.5 wins we will need to make the playoffs come from?
Well, we haven’t even mentioned any outfielder, yet. Upton and Chris Young combined for four WAR in 2012 in down seasons. But that’s still a decent amount to try to replace.
Cody Ross and Adam Eaton will be charged with those duties while a combination of Jason Kubel and Gerardo Parra will try to do better than their combined 2.4 WAR in 2012 in left.
Of course Parra will also patrol center to give Eaton days off every once in awhile but for this exercise, we’ll try to separate as much as we can.
Eaton had a pretty remarkable 0.8 WAR in only 103 PAs in 2012. If we extrapolate that to a full season of 600 plate appearances, about 145 games, that’s 4.8 WAR, which would put Eaton in breakout-player of 2013 status. So lets be a little more reasonable and knock that down to 3.5 WAR.
Ross was worth 1.6 WAR in Boston in 2012 in 130 games, the most he’s played since 2009. If we give him a similar amount of games, he’ll have to jump to two WAR for the D’backs.
Parra earned 430 plate appearances in 2012 and Kubel had 571, it’d be REALLY difficult to get those two that much again if Ross and Parra stay healthy-ish, so drop each to 400 and 500 They’ll have to out-perform their 2012 versions to make it to three WAR combined. Kubel was the main problem with only .8 WAR in 2012. However, with a few more games at DH in 2013, his value may not be hurt as much defensively while still getting valuable at bats.
After totaling the outfield, we are now at 28 WAR as a team, still 10 more to go.
The best job GM Kevin Towers has done for the D’backs is put together an impressive bullpen. D’backs relievers amassed an impressive accumulated WAR of 4.4 in 2012. David Hernandez, Brad Ziegler and JJ Putz each had over one WAR, pretty good for relievers.
If the bullpen can get to four WAR again in 2013, that would be a great advantage over many other teams. That leaves six WAR from two starting pitching spots and the D’backs’ shortstop, who’ll most likely be Cliff Pennington to start the season. Pennington had a 1.6 WAR in 2012 with Oakland in 462 PAs. It’s safe to assume that’s about the ceiling for him in Arizona, as well. Can the D’backs get .4 from whoever fills in for him the rest of the time? Possible.
That now leaves only four WAR to get from the remaining two starting pitcher spots in the rotation. With Brandon McCarthy and his two WAR with Oakland in only 18 games in 2012 in the fold now, he can surprise us all and get the remaining four WAR needed all by himself. Luckily for the D’backs, they also have a couple of capable guys competing for the fifth spot in the rotation. If the D’backs can squeeze two WAR out of a combination of Tyler Skaggs, Patrick Corbin, Josh Collmenter and perhaps Daniel Hudson when he returns, that’ll get the D’backs to the magic 38 WAR.
So what did I learn during this exercise? The D’backs will need health and some luck, just like every other team hoping to make the playoffs, but it’s still very realistic that the D’backs can return to the playoffs despite the losses of Upton and Young, even if it’s the one-game wild card playoff.