Mark Trumbo, A.J. Pollock, Cody Ross, and Gerardo Parra were supposed to man the outfield this season. As anyone who has ever done anything knows, things don’t always go according to plan. Mark Trumbo broke his foot near the end of April and has been out ever since. A.J. Pollock got hit on the hand by a pitch and will most likely miss all of June and July. Cody Ross, whether due to the lingering effects of a hip injury or not, has not produced at a major-league level. Parra has been slightly disappointing; his production thus far has fallen short of his 2013 levels.

I wondered how much the injuries and lack of production impacted the team. In order to find out, I will look at the projections for the preseason outfield versus the actual and projected production for the replacements. The outfield has transformed into rookies David Peralta and Ender Inciarte in left and center, respectively, along with Parra in right. Neither of the rookies was thought of as promising prospect, so their production will probably not be at the level of a major-league starter.

A big problem here is that I can’t know what a player would have done had they played. Luckily, Dave Cameron at FanGraphs wrote a big article about why we should trust projections. I won’t bore you with the details, but it basically says that even if a player plays significantly above his projections during a portion of the season, he’s probably still going to produce at the level of his projection for the rest of the season. So, for example, I’m going to use A.J. Pollock’s projections to measure what we’re missing out on. I’m not going to extrapolate his pre-injury statistics over the course of the season. Okay, let’s start with the projected outfield.

The Projected Outfield

Thankfully, Jeff went through the ZiPS projections a month or so ago, and I’m referencing that here. I’m assuming that the plan was to keep Trumbo in left, Pollock in center, and platoon Parra and Ross in right. Parra or Ross may have occasionally started in the other spots, but this was probably the general theme. Okay, so a full season of Trumbo would have been worth 1.2 WAR in 124 games according to ZiPS. In center, A.J. Pollock was supposed to put up 2.1 WAR in 143 games. Then Parra was projected for 1.1 WAR in 153 games, and a -0.4 WAR for Ross in 99 games. That’s a cumulative four wins above replacement. ZiPS expected Ross to replace Trumbo, and not Parra at times, but it wouldn’t have made much of a difference. That’s pretty bad, but complaining about the quality of the players is for another day.

The Actual Outfield

The outfield this season has been a bit of a mess. Ten different players have played in the outfield this year. That sounds unbelievable; I know that because I didn’t believe it at first either. Cody Ross, Mark Trumbo, Ender Inciarte, David Peralta, Tony Campana, A.J. Pollock, Nick Evans, and Roger Kieschnick have all played left field. Since the outfield has been such a mess, I’m just going to aggregate the player’s WAR thus far. Sorting by position would be unnecessarily complicated. Trumbo had a 0.0 WAR in 21 games, Ross with -1.1 in 44 games, Inciarte with -0.2 in 34 games, Peralta with 0.2 in 13 games, Pollock with 2.5 in 52 games, Tony Campana with -0.4 in 24 games, and Parra with a 0.1 WAR in 69 games. I just combined the rest of the men who had played outfield at some point into a -0.2 WAR based on what they’d done in their short time there. Phew. The stats might be slightly skewed by pinch-hit appearances, but not by much. That’s an aggregate outfield WAR of 0.9. Take out Pollock’s stellar performance and it becomes -1.6. I think those numbers speak for themselves.

But the interesting thing is that through 72 games, or 44% of the season, the preseason outfield was only expected to produce around 1.8 WAR. That’s only about one win away from the actual production.

For the rest of the season, the outfield will probably be some combination of Ross, Inciarte, Peralta, and Parra until the starters come back. ZiPS projects 0.5 for Inciarte, 0.1 for Peralta, 0.2 for Ross, 1.0 for Parra, 0.8 for Trumbo, and 1.6 for Pollock, which comes out to 4.2 WAR for the outfield for the rest of the season. That would put the actual 2014 outfield’s WAR at 5.1, surprisingly higher than preseason expectations. But, eliminate Pollock’s sudden 2.5 WAR improvement, and it’s easier to see the damage that was done.

The 2014 outfield was expected to produce four wins above replacement. With Pollock’s great year, that could have jumped to six or even seven wins. The actual outfield will put up a 5.1 WAR with Pollock’s outburst, but could have been around 3 WAR without it.

The main takeaway is that Pollock has covered up what could have been a truly abysmal outfield, and turned it into merely a bad one. Inciarte has been a pleasant surprise—he seems to be a fourth outfielder at worst moving forward. Otherwise, there has been a bunch of bad performances. The outfield has cost the Diamondbacks about one win thus far, but, surprisingly, they don’t deserve the brunt of the blame.

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6 Responses to The Pain of Replacement Outfielders

  1. Puneet says:

    Why do you see Inciarte as the fourth outfielder, instead of Peralta? Not that they’re too much different, but it seems like Peralta may have a bit more offense. Is Inciarte’s defense enough to make up for the difference?

    • Jeff Wiser says:

      For me, the idea of Inciarte is that he can cover center field. I know they ran Peralta out to center for a few games last week and that was likely to test whether or not that was a viable option. The metrics are essentially useless with this few inning played in center, so it’s more about trusting the scouting staff and what their evaluation is telling them.

      I tend to prefer my bench players to be solid defensively and worry about the bat later. A team can afford to give up an AB late in the game if a switch is made, but they can’t afford to give up balls over the center fielder’s head because he doesn’t have the range and/or got a bad jump/read.

      That’s how I see it, but if Peralta is capable of playing center to a passable level, then the bat makes him a possible upgrade over Inciarte.

      • Jeff Wiser says:

        Oh, and I should add, that we really don’t know just how good either Inciarte or Peralta’s bats are at this point given the SSS issues. Again, the team has to evaluate effectively, but as Rod noted, neither were ever projected to be more than bench type players by scouts and analysts. That doesn’t mean they can’t defy the odds, but it’s not something to bet on.

        • Puneet says:

          Very true. I actually thought it was a very smart call-up at first. I feel like defense translates better than offense when going from the minors to majors, so you’re more likely to get exactly what you think you’re getting. It’s just such a party pooper when that at-bat comes up late in a game within reach, but we don’t have anyone to sub in.

          • Rod says:

            Right on both accounts. It’s hard when Ross and Chavez are out. I think the club imagined those guys as the first bats off the bench depending on the handedness of the pitcher.

  2. […] idea of what it has. Similar principles should apply in the outfield, even if that’s been painful so far. As Nick Piecoro recently put it, the D-backs are in fact-finding […]

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