Watching tantalizing performances from our youngsters Hudson, Enright, and IPK is a double-edged sword. On the one hand, it gives me hope for next year and years to come. On the other hand, it oftentimes leads me to unreasonable expectations.
As some have argued on the site, projections are merely just that, a guess towards the future. While I agree that actual outcomes can vary a lot from projections, some outcomes are clearly more likely than others, and projections exist to try to give us a reasonable framework for our expectations. With that said, I'd like to take another shot at projecting what next year holds for the Diamondbacks, and how they would perform in my perfect world.
Let's take a look at what we might expect the WAR, wins above replacement, for the Dbacks will be next year. According to Dave Cameron at Fangraphs, statisticians use 48 wins as the replacement level team, in order to calculate individual WAR. I think 90 wins in a season is a reasonable estimate to make the playoffs, so the magic number for us is 42 wins above replacement from the team collectively.
The biggest problem I've noticed in my past projections of WAR is that I don't include negative WAR, which occurs for every team. With regard to batting/fielding, the bench and pitchers tend to generate -4 WAR over the course of the year, which must be discounted from the estimates of the regular position players.
Based on the xBABIP calculations of Jdub220, most of our position players are not due for much regression. That being said, even line drive rates are subject to some amount of luck, so I'm inclined to underestimate and regress their performances a little. KJ, CY, and Drew are on pace for a combined 13 WAR this year. Despite that their xBABIP are in line with their BABIP, I think it might be safer to regress them to 11 WAR next year. A full year of Miggy should be 3 WAR, as he's at 1.6 WAR this year for only a half year, and he's not due for much regression. A full year of Brandon Allen (complete guesstimate) should be 2 WAR. If we resign LaRoche, he has consistently put up 2-2.5 WAR each year of his career. This puts us at 18 WAR.
That leaves Mark Reynolds and Justin Upton, the two hardest players to project. Reynolds is on pace for almost 4 WAR. Yet, much of that is due to the fact that he no longer plays below average defense. Will that hold up? He is getting older, and in my eyes, rounder. On the other hand, his BABIP is far below his xBABIP, which is also even farther below his career xBABIP. Regression should improve his offensive numbers next year, and if he starts hitting more line drives (terrible line drive rates could be a result from that hip injury he had earlier this year) Reynolds could be an offensive monster next year. I say 4 WAR is a reasonable estimate for him, via some combination of that offense and defense. Upton is even more frustrating to project. If he plays like he did this year, he's still a 4 WAR lock. However, there's always the feeling that he should be a 6 WAR star. Can he cut down on his strikeout rates? Can he regain some of his lost power from last year? Will his defense improve even more, given an extra year of experience in the outfield? Can he hit more line drives, to sustain that insane xBABIP of his? Let's cut it down the middle and say Upton gets 5 WAR next year.
That puts us at at 27 total WAR, minus the 4 WAR mentioned earlier, gives us a net 23 WAR from batting/hitting.
We need 19 WAR to reach our magic number for pitching. Can we make it?
Pitching is incredibly difficult to project, because for one, the sabermetricians don't even have a consensus as to how pitching WAR should be defined. Moreover, because of how little data there exists for our current pitchers, there could be huge variability in how they perform next year. I will be using Fangraph's WAR data for projections, as they use FIP to calculate their pitching WAR, which correlates better to future performance than runs allowed.
Over 200 innings, Hudson currently projects to be a 5 WAR pitcher. However, I think it's safer to regress that to 4 WAR given that we've seen Hudson only at his best, and there's bound to be hiccups along the way. Enright projects to be a 3 WAR pitcher, and for similar reasons, I regress that to 2 WAR. IPK is already at 2 WAR this year, so it seems safe to project him at 2 WAR next year (when he could pitch 40 more innings). In my perfect world, we would follow IHSB's plan of using Saunders until Jarrod Parker is ready to make it to the majors, and then trade Saunders away. In that perfect world, the combined Saunders/Parker caterpillar turned butterfly would be good for 3 WAR over the course of the season (complete guesstimate). As Jim pointed out earlier, the median bullpen in the NL is good for around 2 WAR. This puts the current total at 13 WAR.
We're still 6 WAR short from the magic number. Is there anyway of remedying this?
One possibility is to obtain a 6 WAR ace. Go on a spending spree and get Cliff Lee (not likely). Pay Webb 8 million and hope to God he reverts to 6 WAR ace form (maybe?). Trade away four pretty decent prospects to get an underpaid ace (possibility? Greinke?). I would say the chance of getting a 6 WAR ace is pretty slim though.
We could also spend money to upgrade the bullpen. We are 6 WAR short with a salary of $45 million. I think this year has psychologically damaged me into wanting to make our bullpen better than median. A top five bullpen sounds like it'd prolong my life, so a 4 WAR bullpen sounds good. Let's say that takes $10 million. We're at $55 million and still 4 WAR short. The best bet we may have at this point, is to try to sign a 3 WAR pitching free agent, who has a shot at making 4 WAR. Three such options, in order of likability, are Carl Pavano, Hiroki Kuroda, and Ted Lilly. Since we don't really like ex-Dodgers (except Gibson???) and we REALLY REALLY don't like ex-Cubbie-turned-Dodgers, I highly suggest we try to get Carl Pavano.
All of this puts us at 41 WAR, which has a Pythagorean expectation of 89 wins. However, as you may have noticed, I tried to keep my estimates of WAR on the low side of projections, and hopefully that pays off by getting us an extra win or two. Granted, a lot of things still have to work out for us. Freak injuries are still going to mess with our WAR production. But we aren't as far away from contending as we might think.