It’s the middle of projections season this January, and last week, FanGraphs posted ZiPS projections for the Diamondbacks.  On the whole, few of the projections really surprised me, especially in light of Jeff’s series of posts on Steamer projections; but there were a few things on the offensive side of the ball that I thought stuck out.

Mark Trumbo

In 2013, Mark Trumbo hit 34 home runs, besting his 2012 total of 32.  He created runs at a better rate in 2012, however, with a wRC+ of 123 (23% better than average).  He managed just a 106 wRC+ in 2013.  A big reason his counting stats went up, rather than down, is that he saw more plate appearances in 2013 (678, compared to 586), something which was almost certainly related to the departure of Kendrys Morales, who was traded to Seattle before the 2013 season.

It could be that Trumbo was used a bit more optimally in 2012.  His batting average against lefties that year was .266, pretty much identical to his mark against righthanders (.269) — and he faced lefties about 28.3% of the time.  In 2013, he faced lefties just 26.0% of the time, showing more of a split (.265 vs. LHP, .223 vs. RHP).  That may not seem like much, but platoon splits aren’t the only way that time shares can make rate stats better overall (for example, a player could be more likely to get a day off if dinged up, etc.).  One wonders if an occasional day off could be a bit more beneficial for Trumbo than it might be for some other players.

ZiPS appears fairly optimistic about Trumbo’s 2014 performance.  In Jeff’s outfield post, we saw that Steamer is projecting a triple slash of .246/.305/.462.  ZiPS sees less walks (6.8% BB%, rather than 7.4% from Steamer), but better batting average and slugging: .269/.320/.514.  Those are all marks that would best Trumbo’s best year, when he went .268/.317/.491 in 2012.  It seems like ZiPS is betting on park factor helping out, especially on the slugging front, but still, that’s a pretty good line, overall.  I think we can all agree that a .834 OPS Trumbo (ZiPS) would look a lot different than a .767 Trumbo, given that we’re expecting him to contribute primarily with the stick.

Shortstops, Shortstops and More Shortstops

We saw in Jeff’s infield post that Steamer is expecting Didi Gregorius and Chris Owings to have similar offensive seasons, on a rate basis: .250/.316/.381 for Gregorius, and .270/.300/.398 for Owings.  No surprises there with ZiPS, which projects .265/.317/.393 for Gregorius and a .270/.298/.392 line for Owings.  Offensively, the two players could be better than those marks with their powers combined in a platoon situation — Didi had a profound split last season (.200 vs. LHP, .275 vs. RHP).  The platoon advantage could be limited, however, if Owings continues to have a reverse split on his end (.306 vs. LHP, .337 vs. RHP in AAA last season).  And while Towers is supposedly open to letting the two players share the position, I’m not sure the team would stunt their development by going with a straight platoon.

Nothing crazy there from ZiPS.  But a cool feature of the lists that Dan Szymborski provides is that everything is produced in terms of Major League Equivalents, so that players can be better compared to each other, even if they’re expected to be in the minors.  And that’s where ZiPS does get crazy.

The weighted on base averages projected for Gregorius and Owings are identical (.302 wOBA), but they are not alone in terms of being projected at about league average level.  Cliff Pennington is projected at .292 wOBA.  And that’s not all!  A .270 wOBA is projected for Nick Ahmed, who came in 27th on Jeff Wiser’s prospect rankings.  That’s a cut below the other three shortstops, clearly.  But Mobile manager Andy Green observed to Nick Piecoro that Ahmed’s defense is as good at short as any player he’s ever seen, majors or minors.  Gregorius is no slouch defensively, but if Ahmed is the next best thing to Andrelton Simmons, he might be worth more wins to the team (in 2014) than any of the other three guys.

Any way you slice it, having four shortstops who could be roughly league average is something of a problem, even if it’s a good problem to have.  You can’t go to the corner store and trade two in for a better one, but clearly, a move should be made.  It really makes one wonder if the market for both of those guys has been terrible.  And it really makes one wonder what the motivations were to add both Gregorius and Ahmed in trades.

Backup Catcher — Raywilly Gomez?

With Wil Nieves off to greener pastures in Philadelphia, Arizona brought in 42 year old Henry Blanco for another tour.  Unfortunately, Blanco isn’t there in the ZiPS lists (minor league transactions are pretty tough to track), but Steamer has him creating runs at a 31% below average rate (69 wRC+), so I don’t think we’re missing much.  In admittedly small samples, Blanco was staggeringly terrible at the plate the last two seasons (30 wRC+ in 2012, 32 wRC+ in 2013).  Let’s just say that I think Blanco may have to call Father Time his daddy in the not-too-distant future.

Although a current spot on the 40-man may give Tuffy Gosewisch the inside track, the equivalent wOBAs projected by ZiPS for other internal options are all vaguely similar to each other.  Tuffy checks in with a projected .266 wOBA — and I’m having a hard time buying the .348 slugging percentage ZiPS credits him with.  Other catchers included: 24 year old Raywilly Gomez (.278 projected wOBA), 31 year old Bobby Wilson (.281), and 31 year old Blake Lalli (.277).

I have to respectfully plead ignorance on the respective defensive reputations of those three guys, and I have no idea what the organization is planning.  It bears noting that Wilson has been a major league backup in the past, and Lalli did also get some cups of coffee in the last two seasons.  As for Gomez…don’t get too excited about his minor league numbers, because he was old for his leagues, but also because they just aren’t that exciting.

On the position player side, Arizona has been great recently at making sure very little production got frittered away on true backups in the last couple of seasons.  A significant upgrade at a roster spot destined for 200 PA can make just as much of a difference as a very marginal upgrade at a spot destined for 600.  But what is Arizona doing at backup catcher right now?  The D-backs have time shares all over the field and a guy who will play almost every day in Paul Goldschmidt — the team has little use for backups, in general.  But the team can’t get by without a backup catcher, and even if Miguel Montero doesn’t get injured again, backup catchers really could get close to 200 PA in 2014.  Said differently: the Arizona backup catcher will be involved in almost as many offensive PA as the team’s short relievers will be involved in, defensively (around 250 batters faced for most of them).  Although he’s now signed by the Rangers, $2M for a player like J.P. Arencibia seems like a pretty good use of resources to me.


10 Responses to D-backs ZiPS Notes: Trumbo, Shortstops, and Backup Catchers

  1. Paulnh says:

    I truly believe that Mark Trumbo will be very good next year. I think he was struggling with the fact that the Angels could not figure out where they wanted him to play and he carried that to the plate. Last year was a major step backwards for him but I still believe that his peak year is still to come. He turns 28 on 1-16 so he may be running out of time, so this year is critical for him. He probably will hit behind Goldschmidt which would help anyone, and Chase Field is a considerably better park to hit in than Angel Stadium. With this and the consistency in the field and in the batter’s box I could see him with a slash line of .265/.325/.520. Obviously that’s not MVP caliber, but I think that translates to a WAR just shy of 4 because I also believe that he will become an average defender. He is supposed to have an excellent work ethic, a terrific arm, and be a decent athlete, so he has potential to turn around his grand total of 0 defensive runs saved in the outfield according to baseball reference.
    In regard to shortstop, I would like to see Kevin Towers ship off Chris Owings for other prospects. I do not like that Owings committed 28 errors in Reno last year and cannot draw a walk. I think his stock is as high as it will ever be (Reno can do that to a hitter) and I do not believe that he is an upgrade over Didi Gregorious. If KT plays his cards right he could bring in a very good haul for Chris Owings.
    At catcher, I would have loved the Arencibia deal for the Diamondbacks. I actually think the article understates the value of a backup catcher because they are very important to managing a pitching staff, and Kirk Gibson never showed any hesitation to using Wil Nieves as a pinch hitter.
    You guys do a great job with all of your posts and I really appreciate your attention to every detail.

  2. Jeff Wiser says:

    Thanks Paul! I’m not quite as optimistic on Trumbo, but he’s got a chance to put up the triple slash you posted. His defense is something I’m not looking forward to seeing, but if he can just get to functional or slightly above, that’s all we can ask for.

    Some have taken exception to my criticism of Trumbo, but it’s not really his fault. The real issue is blocking your best offensive OF (Ross) who you’re paying $9.5M to with a guy who profiles best as a first baseman. That’s on KT, not Trumbo. Like I mentioned in my post on Thursday, there’s a chance that Gibby can work out an efficient time-share in the OF that maximizes everyone, which is a must IMO.

    I don’t think there’s a big difference in Owings and Didi, and I like your idea of shipping Owings for something we need (maybe a good LHP RP?). I just don’t think that the market values Owings like Dbacks fans do. The same can be said of what we got back for Davidson.

    Thanks again Paul, and feel free to drop any suggestions or questions of anything you’d like to see!

  3. Paulnh says:

    I personally do not have very high expectations for Cody Ross. I question if he will ever fully recover from his hip injury considering that he is now 33. He is too streaky to be a great player in my opinion and he was really quite bad prior to July hitting just above .250 with 3 homers last year. His career platoon splits also make him a serious liability against right handed pitchers. I never was a fan of the Cody Ross signing and I don’t think that Gibby should play him just because he is getting paid the most.
    In respect to shortstop, I agree that Owings’ market isn’t terrific, but I believe that there is at least a decent market there. Didi and Pennington are both good options at shortstop so I think that anything we can get for Owings would benefit the team.

    • Ryan P. Morrison says:

      Hello Paul —

      Sorry for not responding over the weekend. On Trumbo, I think you’re being optimistic, but not unreasonably so. A small bounceback on offense at the same time as a significant improvement on defense is definitely possible. It’s unusual to see a player as tall as he is (6’4″) at a position other than first base or pitcher, and defensively, there’s a lot of space between “really, quite bad” to “league average.” Martin Prado is more or less league average out there.

      I think Owings will be available if anyone values him as anything. But I’m sure he’s been dangled for a few months now, and we haven’t heard about any bites. Note that Seattle hasn’t moved Franklin or Miller since the Cano signing…

      On Ross, how you value him seems to be entirely dependent on how much you bank on defense. As I noted in the roundup today, Ross was excellent defensively last year — one of the top 8 in the league by two different metrics before his injury. That’s really good. Add to that some slightly above average offense, and you’ve got yourself a solidly above average player.

      Does defense count as much as offense? The answer may be yes. The outfield positions handle over 10,000 plays per year, on average, which is more than two plays per game. As Kevin Costner’s character famously noted in Bull Durham, the difference between a .250 hitter and a .300 hitter is one hit a week. Booting a couple of plays a week (or just not making a couple of catches) could matter more to a team’s ability to win games.

      I think, for some reason, a lot of people understand that players can hurt you on defense, but think that once you get to league average, all that matters is offense. The truth is that just like Cody Ross’s offense could get upgraded, and so that playing him is a lost opportunity to hit someone better… the same can be said for someone providing league average defense.

      I like Trumbo as a person and as a player. But if he puts up 4 WAR, I’ll be shocked. If he puts up 4 WAR, I will prostrate myself before the masses with a public apology.

      Last year, Gerardo Parra put up 4.6 WAR, largely on the back of one of the two finest defensive seasons we had seen in the last several years. At the same time, he provided offense that was just a hair below league average. So let’s say I buy that Trumbo could get himself to just a hair below league average defensively in 2014. Just how good would he have to be offensively?

      ZiPS has Trumbo at about 2 WAR. That might make 3 WAR optimistic.

      • Ryan P. Morrison says:

        Also, Paul —

        Thanks a lot for your kind words. Sometimes it can feel like talking to ourselves here, so a word of encouragement like yours goes a long way. I really appreciate you reading.

  4. […] D-backs ZiPS Notes: Trumbo, Shortstops, and Backup Catchers […]

  5. […] I think the team should move whoever has the most value, but that (in light of ZiPS projections), a platoon of Didi Gregorius and Chris Owings would not work out well for the team (or the players).  Dropping Cliff Pennington and keeping those two guys would be […]

  6. […] team assets. So something’s gotta give. Jeff Wiser treated this subject in depth. ZiPS also has some insight on what to […]

  7. […] Jack Magruder continued his camp preview series with a look at the D-backs catchers. Yeah, I have no idea who the backup catcher will be this year, or who it should be. But as I noted a few weeks ago, there aren’t any appealing options on board, and the team might be best off going with Raywilly Gomez (last section here). […]

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