There’s a plan. There’s a process. We knew what we were doing. We don’t worry about what other people think. - Kevin Towers
Regardless of what some might want you to think, the Diamondbacks have a plan. Whether it is a good plan remains to be seen, but looking at the progression of moves over the offseason gives me a general feeling of Kevin Towers and the Arizona front office was hoping to accomplish. That doesn't mean I agree with it, or that it will work out. In fact, much of The Plan might rest on unstable assumptions.
Every team has a plan, and depending on where they are on their development cycle, the results of it might be more readily apparent some years over others. Like last year the 2013 Diamondbacks aren't that far removed from competing for the playoffs. This year might be seen as a reaction to last year's disappointing .500 finish, as the FO took the assumption that largely allowing the same team, with Trevor Cahill being the major new addition, to try again.
The basic assumption was that all the guys that had All-Star caliber and career years would repeat again. That did not quite happen. Ryan Roberts turned back to the utility player he's always been, Justin Upton had another 2010, JJ Putz was ultimately fine but started slow, Daniel Hudson got hurt, Ian Kennedy was good but not quite to his prior year level, and the beat goes on and on.
Whether it's completely a reaction to last year's malaise, or just Kevin Towers getting an itchy trade finger, the D-backs went through the 2012/2013 offseason looking to shake things up. 15 players went out, 11 new players came in. Fans often bemoan how rosters resemble revolving doors in the modern game, but it was certainly true for the D-backs. A large chunk of last year's team is gone. Virtually no one from 2007 is still around. Continuity has not been the name of the game.
Today's exercise isn't really about trying to understand The Plan, though. It's about recognizing that there is one, and trying to determine whether it's any good. So what we're going to list a series of assumptions the Diamondbacks have made in regards to 2013. At the end of the season we'll look at these assumptions again and see which ones held up, and which weren't on solid ground.
Assumption 1: The outfield without Upton + infield with Prado will be better than outfield with Upton + infield without Prado.
In many ways, the offseason revolved around this move. By moving Chris Young first and then signing Cody Ross, KT put himself in a position to pursue a top of the line thirdbaseman. So now we're looking at an outfield of Ross, Kubel, and Eaton with Prado, versus if we had kept the outfield of Kubel, Eaton, and Upton with Chris Johnson.
It's easy to set-up: will the WAR of Ross/Kubel/Eaton/Prado be higher than the WAR of Kubel/Eaton/Upton/Johnson? And for good measure, would either be higher than Kubel/Young/Upton/Johnson?
Assumption 2: Wade Miley will repeat his great rookie year.
Some regression might be expected as batters get more of a book on him. We'll have to see how he adjusts. Still, if he stays within 10% variance, then that would effectively be repeating last year. That would be a WAR of 3.15, an ERA+ of 112.
Asssumption 3: Brandon McCarthy will bounce back.
I think number within 20% variance would be good, 98.4 for ERA+, but I think a more telling baseline will be IP. Can he make it the whole season? An ERA+ above 100 wouldn't be difficult for his talent, but can he pitch more than 170 innings?
Assumption 4: The pitching depth is sufficient to not need Trevor Bauer in 2013.
In other words, should Bauer get called up for the Indians, will he put up better numbers than our 5th worst starter (or composite starter)? Right now Patrick Corbin is the 5th starter, but he might not perform like a 5th, so at the end of the season we'll compare Bauer's line versus the 5th worst in ERA+ and WAR.
Assumption 5: Aaron Hill and Miguel Montero will earn their pay raises
This is pretty easy to measure. The relative value of dollars per wins for catcher is about $4.2MM, and for second base is $3MM. Aaron Hill is scheduled to make only $5.5MM this year (he doesn't make big money until next), so 1.83 WAR would be the baseline, but he'll also need to make up for the less production at the end of his contract, when he'll still be asked to earn 3.67 WAR. He might need a 5 WAR season to make up for the likely decline.
Montero is scheduled to make $10MM, which would require a 2.38 WAR. But again, his contract will continue to rise through 2017, and production will likely decline, so it would be better to over perform more in the 4 or 5 WAR range.
Assumption 6: The bullpen will remain stable (and Heath Bell will return to being Heath Bell)
Starting with Heath Bell, one of his big problems last year was walking too many and his fastball lost some of its movement. As a result, batters weren't swinging and missing as much, and could afford to be more aggressive. The middle point between last year's ERA+ of 78 and 2011's 146 is 112, so that's where I'm going to peg his baseline. It's still above average, but it's not such a big bounce back, either.
As for stability, let's assume 80% of the 8th and 9th inning assignments will go to David Hernandez, Heath Bell, and JJ Putz. For Hernandez and Putz, let's consider them to be within 10% of their 2012 ERA+, which would be 150 and 133, respectively.
So there you have it, a series of assumptions that I think are fairly representative of the FO's thinking. It's probably not exhaustive, and I don't necessarily believe all 6 are needed to win. But some combination will be needed, along side the Dodgers and Giants faltering. If you have any suggestions for additional baselines, put 'em in the comments, and when we review this at the end of the season we'll find out what happened.