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.
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.
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