The 2013 season was a strange one for the Arizona Diamondbacks. Despite trading Justin Upton, leading the league in blown saves, and scoring 49 fewer runs than in the previous season, the Diamondbacks finished with the exact same record as they had the season before – a perfectly mediocre 81-81 mark. Interestingly, the 2012 version severely underachieved, finishing with a Pythagorean Win-Loss record of 86-76. The 2013 version was -10 in run differential, finishing one game better than their Pyth W-L record.
Even with the loss of Upton and a lengthy first half injury to Aaron Hill, the Diamondbacks entered the 2013 All-Star Break with the top record in the National League West at 50-45, largely due to the performance of Patrick Corbin. Corbin went 9-0 with a 2.35 ERA and a 3.17 FIP. It was Corbin that carried a rotation that ranked 18th in wins above replacement player (WAR) and ERA and 19th in fielder independent pitching (FIP) during the first half.
The Diamondbacks spent the first three days after the Break in first place and never stood atop the mountain again, falling as many as 12 games back as the Los Angeles Dodgers burned a path of destruction throughout baseball in the second half. The Diamondbacks finished second, 11 games behind the Dodgers. As Corbin fell apart, the Diamondbacks’ rotation suffered, posting the league’s sixth-highest FIP in the second half.
The main objective for the Diamondbacks in 2014 will be to find some consistency. Atlantis Sportsbook in Reno has set their season win total at 81, right in line with their win totals in each of the last two seasons. The Superbook at Las Vegas Hotel and Casino has set their win total at 80.
Key additions: Mark Trumbo, Bronson Arroyo, Addison Reed
Key losses: Adam Eaton, Tyler Skaggs, Heath Bell, Willie Bloomquist
The Diamondbacks spent the offseason acquiring proven commodities for some of their high-upside youngsters. General Manager Kevin Towers made it a point to add bullpen relief with the acquisition of Addison Reed from the Chicago White Sox in exchange for third base prospect Matt Davidson. The Diamondbacks led all of baseball in blown saves in 2013 with 29, converting just 57 percent of their save opportunities. Incredibly, the Diamondbacks were 34-21 in one-run games, one year removed from going just 15-27 in one-run decisions.
Towers dug into his pitching depth prior to the 2013 season when he traded Trevor Bauer as part of a three-team trade to add slick fielding shortstop Didi Gregorius from the Cincinnati Reds. This offseason, Towers, again, dug into the team’s pitching prospect pool to ship Tyler Skaggs to the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim to add power hitting 1B/3B/OF Mark Trumbo. Speedy outfielder Adam Eaton, Baseball America’s 73rd-best prospect entering the 2013 season, was also included in the trade.
With some of the pitching depth taken out of the equation, Towers added innings eater Bronson Arroyo in early February. Arroyo has made 32 or more starts in nine consecutive seasons. With Brandon McCarthy’s spotty health history and Daniel Hudson’s attempt to comeback from major surgery, Arroyo was a fairly pricey insurance policy for a rotation in need of average arms.
Why bet the over?
The Diamondbacks project to accumulate the 12th-most WAR according to Fangraphs’s projection system with 39.9. A “replacement-level” team is projected to go 48-114 per Fangraphs and Baseball-Reference.com. Fangraphs and Baseball-Reference calculate WAR differently, weighing heavier on certain metrics and with some differences in how players are weighted by position, but even if Fangraphs’s projected findings are a little high, you may have room to spare on over 81 wins.
The team has a perennial Most Valuable Player candidate at first base in Paul Goldschmidt. Aaron Hill, who had a career year in 2012, amassed just 362 plate appearances and played in just 87 games. In those 87 games, Hill accounted for two WAR, which was more than 13 teams managed from the second base position in 2013. Miguel Montero, once one of the game’s top catchers, had a down year. Montero was worth 8.7 WAR in 2011-12, but just 0.9 WAR in 2013. His on-base percentage fell by nearly 80 points and his slugging percentage took an even bigger drop. If Montero returns to his 2011-12 form, he would be worth between two and three additional wins to the Diamondbacks.
Mark Trumbo adds a dimension to the Diamondbacks that they sorely lacked in 2013. With the preseason trade of Justin Upton, coupled with Hill’s injury, and exacerbated by Montero’s drop in power, the Diamondbacks ranked 25th in home runs with just 130. In Trumbo’s three full seasons in the Majors, he has hit 95 home runs. Chase Field is a much friendlier ballpark for hitters than Angel Stadium was, so Trumbo’s production could thrive, especially when the Diamondbacks are able to play games with the roof open. Trumbo will get the bulk of his playing time in left field, which gives the Diamondbacks a huge upgrade in power from their group of outfielders. Arizona outfielders combined for just 34 home runs without Upton and had the league’s worst isolated power (ISO).
The Diamondbacks led the National League in fielding value, with 86 defensive runs saved (DRS), including 53 defensive runs saved by right fielders, far and away the best mark in baseball. Trumbo will hurt them defensively when he’s in left field, but this is still a well above average defensive team.
With shortstop Didi Gregorius in his second Major League season, jack-of-all-trades Martin Prado likely manning third base on a regular basis, and a combination of A.J. Pollock, Gerardo Parra, and prototypical platoon candidate Cody Ross circulating around the outfield, the Diamondbacks offense looks to be in very good shape for the upcoming season. Health is the question mark for this group, but there are players who will have much better 2014 seasons with some good fortune on the health front.
From the pitching side of things, Diamondbacks’ ace Patrick Corbin experienced success in his first full Major League season, but also got a crash course in the rigors of 200 high-stress innings. He should be better equipped for it this season and grow into the anchor of the pitching staff. Wade Miley showed tremendous upside last season, a crafty lefty with good stuff and above average control. Unlike fellow southpaw Corbin, Miley got better throughout the season, a good sign in his second full season at the MLB level.
The back of the Diamondbacks’ rotation has some upside that oddsmakers may be undervaluing. Randall Delgado, a 24-year-old righty acquired in the Upton trade, showed positive signs in his 19 starts as a guy with above average control and a knack for inducing ground balls. A ghastly 1.86 HR/9 hurt Delgado’s overall numbers, but an unsustainably high 17.6 percent home fly per fly ball rate should normalize. If Delgado makes the rotation, he could be a valuable commodity for the Diamondbacks. It may take an injury to McCarthy or Trevor Cahill for that to happen, however.
Trevor Cahill seemed to deal with injury all season long, as his velocity figures were not consistent throughout games and he eventually spent time on the shelf in August. His control sagged, his strikeouts dropped, and his skill-interactive ERA (SIERA) spiked. He induced fewer ground balls and his slugging percentage against jumped 24 points. If healthy, Cahill has a track record of being more effective than he was in 2013.
Bronson Arroyo will give the Diamondbacks a durable innings eater to take some pressure off of the bullpen. Arroyo’s control continues to improve as he gets older, even though his fastball may not be fast enough to break a window at age 37. Arroyo is not a sexy addition by any means, but he works deep into games and keeps hitters off balance. With the highest fly ball rate of anybody on the staff, the Diamondbacks can use their outfield versatility to keep Trumbo away from left field in Arroyo’s starts to improve the defense.
The Diamondbacks bullpen endured a brutal year from David Hernandez, a year removed from being one of the game’s top setup men. Hernandez went from a 2.50 ERA and a 2.08 FIP to an ugly 4.48 ERA and a very ugly 4.36 FIP. A drop in strikeout rate and a spike in home run rate led to Hernandez’s struggles, two things that he could improve on in 2013. Hernandez, like so many other relievers, seemed to be effected by pitching in the World Baseball Classic prior to the 2013 season. Without the WBC, Hernandez can go through his normal Spring Training routine and get ready for the season in a reasonable manner.
Outside of Hernandez, the Diamondbacks have a couple more hard throwers in Addison Reed and J.J Putz, who may share closing duties if one guy does not separate himself from the other. Putz is, and has always been, an injury concern, making just 40 appearances last season. He’s been effective when healthy, but Reed gives the Diamondbacks a safety blanket, both to protect Putz and also to pitch high-leverage innings when Putz is unavailable.
Durable sidearmer Brad Ziegler could also grab some save opportunities. Ziegler has been very reliable, making 155 appearances over the last two seasons for the Diamondbacks with very good numbers. Josh Collmenter was a very capable long man for the Diamondbacks and Joe Thatcher, acquired in the 2013 Trade Deadline deal of Ian Kennedy, gives the Diamondbacks a very good matchup lefty.
Overall, this is a team with an above average offense ,a starting rotation with an average ceiling, and a bullpen with the potential to be one of the league’s best.
Why bet the under?
The Diamondbacks possess versatility, but they do lack depth if injuries arise. Utility players like Cliff Pennington and now free agent Willie Bloomquist were forced into duty with Aaron Hill’s injury and that was a major weakness for the team. An injury to Paul Goldschmidt wouldn’t cripple the offense completely as it might have last season, but it would be a very difficult hurdle for the team to overcome.
Much of the Diamondbacks’ offensive promise is contingent on guys “returning to form”. Miguel Montero needs to prove that last season was not a fluke. Aaron Hill needs to stay healthy, but also produce. Didi Gregorius was a below average offensive player whose defense saved his overall value. Cody Ross had offseason hip surgery and he may not be ready for the start of the season and he could deal with lingering effects throughout the season.
The biggest concern for the Diamondbacks is the starting rotation. Corbin stranded nearly 82 percent of his baserunners in the first half, an unsustainable number for a guy with Corbin’s strikeout rate. Overall, Corbin is probably a number two forced into being the team’s ace. Miley should be a steady starter for the Diamondbacks, but his high contact rate in a historically-friendly hitting environment could lead to inflated numbers for him this season. His FIP was already 0.4 runs above his ERA, signaling that regression certainly seems possible in 2014. He may have been the biggest benefactor of the team’s outstanding defense, which means that any drop-off in Arizona’s defensive value will negatively affect Miley.
The back of the rotation has a plethora of questions ranging from health to performance. Arroyo should stay healthy, though he is 37 and has thrown a lot of pitches over the last decade. Even if he is healthy, he’ll be going to a park that, up until last season, dramatically favored hitters. McCarthy and Cahill are serious injury risks and neither guy is really above average when healthy to begin with.
With the exception of Corbin, every other Diamondbacks starter projects to have a below average strikeout rate. Of the 12 teams whose starters combined for less than seven strikeouts per nine innings, only the Athletics, Orioles, and Royals were over .500.
Without a whole lot of depth, and top prospect Archie Bradley expected to start the season in Double-A, the rotation could certainly be enough to keep you away from backing the over.
The bullpen, while promising on paper, has some red flags as well. Ziegler’s 155-game workload over the last two seasons could absolutely catch up with him. Putz is a walking injury risk. Reed, who will likely be the team’s closer, has a very low ground ball rate, something that could plague him as a fly ball pitcher in Chase Field. Perhaps more of a concern is that Reed’s walk rate spiked tremendously in the second half of last season, going from 5.4 percent to 11 percent. Whether that’s a sign of something to come or not, Reed will still have to adjust to a league and park change.
The 2013 Diamondbacks were tremendous in extra innings, going 17-8, and one-run games, going 34-21, two trends that are unlikely to continue in 2014. Because of the volatility of bullpens and the year-to-year variance of those records, the Diamondbacks may not be so fortunate this season.
An external factor to keep the Diamondbacks under the win total is that the National League West appears stronger this season. Teams play 76 games, or 46.9 percent, of the schedule against divisional foes each season. The Diamondbacks went 36-40 against division rivals last season and one-third of those wins came against the hapless Colorado Rockies. They had losing records against the Padres and Giants and went 10-9 against the Dodgers, with nine of the games coming in the first half.
Pick: Under 81
Ever so slightly, the under looks like it has more value on the Arizona Diamondbacks win total. Some very good players had down offensive seasons for Arizona last season and their track records would suggest a bounce back season, but that’s not a foolproof theory. The rotation is a major problem. The Diamondbacks should, again, be near the top of the league in most defensive metrics, but depth is a concern and a lot of balls in play lead to bad things.
Ultimately, the National League West looks to be a much more balanced division this season, with the Giants and Padres looking stronger than the 2013 versions. Somebody has to lose games in the NL West and the Diamondbacks, because of their rotation, would appear to be that team.
Adam Burke is a freelance writer and amateur handicapper with a knack for finding value through matchup analysis and a deep understanding of the sports betting market. His main area of expertise is baseball, with a background in sabermetrics and advanced statistics. He is the host of The Gridiron Gambling Report and our college football and college basketball BangTheBook.com podcasts on the BlogTalkRadio Network.