What are some things you love? Maybe it’s special people, maybe it’s a good cup of coffee, maybe it’s a cold one after a long hard day, maybe it’s a trip on the water to wet a line. Maybe you love that perfect song, a perfect steak off the grill, an evening on the patio watching the sun slip below the horizon. Maybe you love baseball projections. Ok, that last one might not fit. There’s seemingly nothing as divisive than projections and how we should view them. We’ve discussed it before and I always come back to one thing: baseball teams use them, and though it’s a bit of an appeal to authority, so should we. While their projection systems incorporate more data than those that are publicly available, systems like PECOTA, Steamer and ZiPS have their place in the baseball dialogue for good reason. They’re more right than they are wrong, simple and plain.
So what does 2017 hold for the Diamondbacks? At this stage of the game, that’s the pressing question. FanGraphs has the Diamondbacks projected for 78 wins, the same number PECOTA forecast just a year ago, prompting Dave Stewart’s dire consternation. If some things break right, maybe they outperform that number by five wins and finish above .500 but out of the playoff picture. We know that teams need to win about 88 games to be considered for wild card contention and that seems pretty far from possible. We also know that if this team plays poorly, Mike Hazen might pull the plug and add the D-backs to the latest crop of teams tanking in order to get back to relevance. 78 wins seems plausible. 83 wins seems narrowly possible. 68 wins seems to fall inside the bounds of reality, too. That’s why they play the game, I guess.
But 2017 offers a new lease on life, in a way. Compiling the avaialble projection numbers of Steamer and ZiPS reveals a few things. Some players are projected to take step forward in 2017, others a step back with the rest holding steady. I’ve compiled both Steamer and ZiPS projections, blended the two (50/50) and included the 2016 numbers for a host of relevant D-backs position players. As you’ll see below, there are some nice surprises and some guys expected to regress to the mean. Let’s take a look under the hood and see where things stand.
Upwards and Onwards
No one had a more disappointing 2016 campaign than A.J. Pollock. In reality, the 2017 season might live and die with Pollock more than any other position player. When he was healthy he didn’t perform especially well, but that’s to be expected when you’re coated in a 3″-deep layer of rust coming off your second busted elbow. It’s hard to fault the guy. ZiPS sees a big step forward and Steamer a modest one, but neither are forecasting Peak Pollock. He looks like a solid performer with perhaps more in the tank than the projections can account for, provided he stays healthy.
You can pretty much copy/past the paragraph above for David Peralta. He missed a bunch of time nursing various injuries and ended up playing just 48 games last year. ZiPS sees a bigger bounce-back than Steamer, but again, Peralta looks like another above average hitter going forward even if he doesn’t replicate his stellar 2015 season.
The dealt that sent Jean Segura, Mitch Haniger and Zac Curtis to the Mariners for Taijuan Walker and Ketel Marte will undoubtably be the biggest offseason move for Arizona. It’s good to see the projections see a big step forward for Marte, and it should be noted his Steamer forecast (.300 wOBA) isn’t all that far off from Segura’s (.307 wOBA). It’s true he’s coming off a disappointing season, but perhaps some adjustments will help him get back on track. He’s capable of being an average hitter, if not better, and the projections see that going forward.
We’ve been patient in waiting for Nick Ahmed to start hitting thanks to his stellar glove work. While that patience hasn’t been rewarded, the projections like him to hit better than he did last season when his stock at the plate took a major hit. It’s a crowded middle infield yet again, but if Ahmed can hit like he’s forecast, he’ll warrant some time. The biggest concern should be his hip and how he’s recovered from his late 2016 injury. If he loses as step, the offensive projections might just prove a forgotten footnote to the death of Ahmed as a regular big leaguer.
This one’s almost unfair as Oscar Hernandez played in all of four games last year. The projections see him approaching league average at the plate in 2017, but color me cautiously optimistic at best. He struggled a bit after promotion to AA Mobile last season, but with the bar for D-backs catchers being so low, he could warrant some more major league time this season if injuries arise.
Socrates Brito was unfairly pressed into action on Opening Day last year after Pollock went down. He wasn’t ready and that was plain to see. He did reasonably well in AAA, however, so perhaps his promotion was just a year early. Steamer and ZiPS still see a below average bat, but with a little more development, he might surprise as he offers a skill set that’s well-rounded. If he keeps progressing, 2018 could be the season he takes off. Right now, it looks like he’s still a year away, but the forecasts at least move him closer to league average.
Paul Goldschmidt was very good last year. He’s projected to be very good this year. If there’s anything we can count on it’s that Goldy will be Goldy. The projections expect the power to tick up a little bit and the batting average to suffer a little. Overall, it’s steady as she goes with America’s First Baseman.
When you’re a 28-year old bench bat that’s never received a proper audition, there’s probably a reason. Phil Gosselin was a league average bat last year and he projects just the same. His defensive prowess necessitates that he doesn’t prowl with any kind of frequency. Oh well, his role will mostly keep him out of the field again in 2017.
Hey look, Jeff Mathis! The framer of pitches! The king of presentation. He sure can frame, man, stealing strikes left and right. That’s good, because he is an atrocious hitter. That’s not why he was hired, of course, but he doesn’t project to be any better than he was last season. At this point in his career, forecasting an uptick is like betting that Chris Carter will cut his strikeout rate in half.
Down, but Not Out
Jake Lamb had an awesome first half and still should have been in the All-Star game. Unfortunately, he fell off a cliff in the second half and the projections are expecting him to hit more like he did late in the season. Most of the regression comes from the disbelief in his larger than life power output from the first three months of the 2016 season. Should we expect it to carry over? Probably not — if we’re honest, we know he was playing out of his head. The good news is that even a regressed Jake Lamb is still a valuable Jake Lamb.
Chris Owings was sneaky good last year. It won’t show in his WAR totals, but he filled in admirably in center and held his own at the plate, finishing just a shade over league average. Without him, things would have been even uglier. Going forward, the projections don’t think he’ll maintain the .334 BABIP he showed last season, and that’s probably right on. Still, in a utility role, CO has value even if he does a little less damage with the bat this year.
When Chris Herrmann was acquired from the Twins, I thought “why?” Maybe it was motivated by his agent, err, former agent Dave Stewart. Maybe the team figured they could fix his swing (which they kind of did). He hit like an impact player before going down midseason and never returned to form. He did log some innings in centerfield, though, which is nice. The forecast regresses Herrmann back closer to the player he was before heading to the desert, but that’s okay. He’ll still be the most feared D-backs catcher, even if he’s hardly a catcher.
For all the crap we give Yasmany Tomas about his play in the outfield, he made big strides at the plate last season. Sure, they weren’t enough to hide his awful fielding, but he emerged as a true power threat at the dish even if his plate discipline still gives me heartburn. Going forward, he’s forecast for slightly less offense, but projects as an above average hitter. If only he could go be an above average hitter somewhere else…
Early in the offseason, the D-backs grabbed Jeremy Hazelbaker off waivers from the Cardinals. A 28-year old rookie, his debut was mildly successful. Going forward, he looks more like a up/down guy who can provide some depth for the club. The projections don’t buy the huge power output and until we see it up close and personal, we should remain skeptical as well.
In 2016, Brandon Drury played all over the place, but tried his damnedest not to let that get to him at the plate. Though he went through his share of ups and downs, he finished the year with a solid line, especially for a rookie. Unfortunately, the projections don’t expect it to continue. I believe in his swing adjustments, so there’s still hope on this end. Can he find a consistent home and consistent results in 2017? That’s awfully hard to say at this point in time.
Of Particular Note, Maybe
Chris Iannetta was added recently to the catching mix where he’ll rotate squatting duties with Mathis and Herrmann. While he’s had two down years, Steamer likes a bit of a resurgence, thanks in part to his on-base skills and ability to hit for some power. Gregor Blanco was really good in 2015 and really bad in 2016. The D-backs will hope he recaptures his form and Steamer calls for an uptick in performance. Where he fits is another question, but he’s a solid low-risk acquisition.
We’ll get around to examining the pitching staff next, so stay tuned. For now, it’s worth noting the guys who might be primed to bounce back, those that are primed to regress to the mean, and those that are as solid as they come. This team will need more than a little luck here to make any kind of relevant push in 2017, so keep your fingers crossed. These might just be our first clues.
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