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Why Are The Diamondbacks Better In 2011?

The Diamondbacks' record currently sits at 52-46, on pace for 86 wins this year. If sustained, that would be an increase of twenty-one games over the 2010 record, the third base in franchise history (behind 2005's 26-game and 1999's 35-game improvement. But it's somewhat odd, as it's not hard to look at this team's play through the first hundred games and see a smorgasbord of weaknesses. The back of the rotation is poor; first-base has largely been a gurgling vortex of suck; the veteran presence, more veteran than present - the list of flaws is pretty long. And yet, we're on pace for a win total matched by Arizona over only one season since 2002.

So, why is this team doing so much better than 2010?

To find out, I've taken the individual WAR numbers posted this year and last by each member of the roster. The aim is to see whether a) the players carried forward from 2010 are playing better, b) the new arrivals are delivering the W, or c) the team benefited by culling the herd of non-performers last year. Of course, the answer could quite possibly be d) all of the above.

I wasn't sure about whether to use bWAR or fWAR for this purpose. Ideally, I'd like to use bWAR for pitching, as I think it's a better measure of actual performance, but I like fWAR for hitters, as it's not just based off OPS  but wOBA, which is a bit more refined. Unfortunately, you can't mix and match the two systems, and so I've gone for bWAR, simply because it's easier to use their interface. To allow for an equitable comparison, I have scaled the 2011 WAR numbers to be over 162 games; the numbers taken were through Tuesday night's contest; and for pitchers, the combined WAR includes both pitching and hitting numbers.

1. Players who were with Arizona in both 2010 and 2011

WAR 2010 WAR 2011
Chris Young 4.1 5.8
Ian Kennedy 3.1 4.3
Daniel Hudson 3.2 4.2
Ryan Roberts -0.3 4.0
Miguel Montero 1.1 3.7
Justin Upton 3.2 3.5
Gerardo Parra 0.9 3.2
Joe Saunders -0.3 2.5
Stephen Drew 3.6 2.2
Sam Demel -0.7 0.8
Kelly Johnson 4.2 0.7
Brandon Allen 0.5 0.3
Esmerling Vasquez -0.3 0.0
Zach Kroenke -0.1 -0.2
Juan Gutierrez -0.4 -1.0
Barry Enright 1.6 -1.2
Aaron Heilman 0.0 -1.3
TOTAL 23.4 31.6

The improvement here has been a significant factor in the team having a better record - all told, worth about 8.4 Wins this season. More than half of that is due to Roberts, who was below replacement-level in 2010, and is now among the team's most valuable players. Montero, Parra and Saunders have also recorded improvements of more than two WAR apiece, while the two men at the front of our rotation, Hudson and Kennedy have gone from good to very good. But it has not all been positive traffic: Kelly Johnson's value is a fraction of what it was (3.5 WAR down on the 2010 number), with Barry Enright also deep in the red (2.8 WAR down).

2. Players who joined Arizona for 2011

New for 2011 WAR 2010 WAR 2011
Joshua Collmenter
David Hernandez
J.J. Putz
Micah Owings
Henry Blanco
Joe Paterson
Alberto Castillo
Xavier Nady
Josh Wilson
Zach Duke
Bryan Shaw
Geoff Blum
Russell Branyan
Yhency Brazoban
Kameron Mickolio
Wily Mo Pena
Willie Bloomquist
Juan Miranda
Sean Burroughs
Melvin Mora
Armando Galarraga


This is why a good percentage of fans are ambivalent about Kevin Towers' moves as GM of the Diamondbacks. If you cross Collmenter off the list, since he was part of the organization already, the rest of the new arrivals will, at the present rate, be worth two-tenths of a win to the 2011 team, combined. And they'll be getting paid a nice chunk of change. As we have previously noted, there's Duke ($3.5 million), Mora ($2.35m), Galarraga ($2.2 m), Heilman ($2m) and Nady ($1.75 m) - with Blum, Blanco and Branyan also earning seven figures, that's over fifteen million being spent, with very little to show for it. .Spent wisely, we might have been cantering off with the NL West.

One area where that hasn't been true is the bullpen. Towers came in with a reputation as being a bullpen-building wizard, and his additions there have, with the obvious exception of Yhency "0.0 IP" Brazoban, largely been successful. Hernandez, Putz, Paterson, Castillo and Owings are on course for a total projection of 4.6 WAR, which is a damn sight better than our relief corps managed last season. To give you some idea, the high-water mark by any of our relievers in 2010, was provided by Mike Hampton, who had less than five innings in which to suck...

3. Players who left Arizona after 2010

Gone from 2010 WAR 2010 WAR 2011
Dan Haren 1.4
Chris Snyder 0.6
Adam LaRoche 0.4
Mark Reynolds 0.4
Ryan Church 0.3
Conor Jackson 0.2
Mike Hampton 0.2
Carlos Rosa 0.1
Edwin Jackson 0.0
Kevin Mulvey 0.0
Rafael Rodriguez 0.0
Kris Benson -0.1
Bobby Crosby -0.1
Konrad Schmidt -0.1
Dontrelle Willis -0.2
Blaine Boyer -0.2
Jordan Norberto -0.2
Daniel Stange -0.2
D. J. Carrasco -0.3
Saul Rivera -0.4
Cole Gillespie -0.4
Rusty Ryal -0.4
Leo Rosales -0.5
John Hester -0.5
Augie Ojeda -0.5
Bob Howry -0.7
Billy Buckner -0.9
Cesar Valdez -1.0
Rodrigo Lopez -1.3
Tony Abreu -1.5
Chad Qualls -2.5
TOTAL -8.4

However, the biggest improvement of all is simply due to the team clearing out the dead wood. Man, we had a lot of scrubs, near replacement level or worse, on that 2010 roster. That's an area that is perhaps underestimated in terms of GM evaluation: knowing when to fold 'em. We could have re-signed Ojeda and Roberts then wouldn't have had a roster spot, for instance. Or, I was not averse to us trying to re-sign Carrasco [who has an ERA north of five with the Mets] and Boyer [eight ER in 6.2 IP for the same organization]. Yep: when it comes to bullpen construction, I should clearly be deferring to Mr. Towers' expertise. Veteran presence... Well, not so much.

If you add up those areas, you get a total of 20.1 WAR that will be gained this year, close to the 21 wins by which we are on schedule to improve. You'd have to do some research on other teams, to see how their numbers stack up, but it appears that Towers' off-season acquisitions have largely been neutral - neither improving the team, nor hurting it. The bulk of the improvement has come from existing players getting better, which you'd expect from a young team like the D-backs. Those kept on from last year, or promoted from the farm (basically, Collmenter) are projected to be worth about 11.5 additional wins in 2011.

The balance is mostly this year's model having fewer players around of sub-replacement level, especially on the pitching side. Bad though Mora might have been, Bucker, Valdez, Lopez, Abreu and Qualls were all worse in 2010. That Galarraga is the only comparably bad D-back this season, is a significant factor in why this team is so markedly improved on last year. Of course, Armando's departure means that he won't actually reach -2.5 WAR for us; whether the team does any better, will depend very much on how his replacement in the #5 spot performs.