Are the Diamondbacks a Playoff Team?
Arizona Diamondbacks third baseman Eric Chavez greets teammate first baseman Paul Goldschmidt after Goldschmidt hit a two run homer during the first inning against the Miami Marlins. IMAGE: Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports
In case you’re not an Internet baseball junky like the present author, you may not be aware that a new tool was recently released that allows us to look ahead to the playoffs like never before. FanGraphs recently released a new standings forecast tool that projects the final standings of the season. To do this, the model takes lots of factors into account. For example, it uses a team’s current record, the allotment of playing time to players, the health of players, their projected production and much more to project the final standings. I won’t pretend to be able to explain every aspect of the model because I’m just barely functional at math, but you can read more about it here. Better yet, the standings are updated daily, so you should bookmark them now.
So why would I tell you about this? Well, it currently predicts the Diamondbacks to finish the season with 85 wins and 77 losses. That would be good for second in the division, behind the Giants who are projected to win 87 games and ahead of the Dodgers who, despite their terrible start, are projected to win 82. More importantly, it puts the Diamondbacks in the thick of the wild card race and not far behind the Giants for the division.
Along with the Giants, the Cardinals and the Braves are projected win their respective divisions. That leaves quality teams like the Reds, Pirates, and Nationals to compete with the Diamondbacks for a bid into the postseason. The Reds are projected to finish with 87 wins while the Pirates are currently projected for 86 wins. Both the Nationals and Diamondbacks are projected to win 85. Essentially, Arizona will have to outperform the two of these three teams (CIN, PIT, WAS) at the very least to reach the playoffs if Arizona doesn’t win the NL West outright.
If the team can win two extra games and reach 87 wins, they’ll likely make the playoffs and be in better position to capitalize on any slip by the Giants. These two extra victories, or “marginal wins,” are the most critical wins to the team’s season. Our playoff destiny likely hangs in the balance of the team being able to achieve a measly two more wins than their current projection.
Arizona Diamondbacks general manager Kevin Towers. IMAGE: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports
This is where Kevin Towers, Kirk Gibson and the rest of the brain trust earns their cash. These two extra wins likely don’t reside on the current roster. Stabilizing the bullpen with the right acquisition(s) could net an extra win or two alone. A right-handed bench bat and the proper usage of the outfield when Adam Eaton returns could also make a (relatively) large difference. Of course, staying healthy will be critical, too. We should assume that the Reds, Pirates and Nationals will likely try to make similar moves in the trade market to ensure their success, so we’ll be competing with them in the trade market as well as in the standings.
Maximizing the current roster should be the number one priority, closely followed by shoring up any weaknesses through trades and/or call-ups. Standing pat likely won’t get it done unless some players significantly overachieve. Didi won’t hit .350 forever and Corbin won’t keep his ERA at 1.50 all season. Conversely, Montero will start to click eventually and McCarthy has nowhere to go but up. Regression will happen in Arizona, as it does all throughout baseball. With that said, the front office shouldn’t bank on small sample size performances when making decisions about what to do to improve the team down the line. KT and Company are smart enough to know this.
Now that we know where we stand over 25% of the way through the season, it’s important that the team makes the necessary adjustments to pick up an extra win or two. Hit 87 wins and you’re likely in. Finish with 83 and you’re likely out. 84 or 85 and anything can happen. This is a quality team, but a little extra nudge from the front office and coaching staff will be required if we want to see the playoffs. They know this and I don’t think the 2013 Arizona Diamondbacks are a finished product at the moment.