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How can the Arizona Diamondbacks get eight more wins?

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What can the D-backs do to close the gap on the Giants and Dodgers?

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Why eight more wins?

Doesn't the team need an awful more than that, given they finished at 79 wins, and the two wild-card teams in the National League this year had 97 and 98 wins? Fortunately, that probably isn't the case. Firstly, the 2015 Diamondbacks were "unlucky" to finish with only 79 victories, They actually outscored the opposition over the course of the season, and based on that would have been expected to have a record o 82-80. This was mostly due to a below-average record in one-run games, where Arizona went 20-24. That generally evens itself out over time, and a .500 record next year would provide a "free" couple of wins.

It's also the case that only one National League team since 2004 has posted 90 wins and not made the playoffs. That was the 2010 Padres, and even they would have reached the post-season under the current format, qualifying as the second NL wild-card. It's worth noting too, that both American League wild-card teams this year finished below 90 wins, the Yankees managing 87 and the Astros only 86. Now, it would certainly be the preferred option for the Diamondbacks to win their division, and not sneak over into the white-hot inferno of a single-game spin of the wheel. But, I think after years without a finish above .500, we'd happily settle for any post-season play in 2016!

Offense

I think it's probably safe to say that the scope for improvement on the position player side is limited. We were already the defensive team of the year, and scored more runs than anyone else in the league bar the Rockies [Colorado hasn't been out of the top three there since 2008]. But there are a couple of positions at which the team was deficient. If you look at this chart of Wins Above Average [note: NOT above replacement!] by position, the D-backs were below average at both second- and third-bases. Indeed, at the former, they were the worst in the league at -2.3. There is clearly room to be significantly better there.

Third-base will likely also be improved, with a full season of sophomore Jake Lamb better than two-thirds of a rookie Lamb plus (or, more accurately, minus) one-third of Yasmany Tomas giving it the ol' college try at the hot corner. Beyond that, the question would we whether the other spots on the diamond can hold up as well as they did, particularly 1B, LF and CF, the three spots at which we led the National League. Good health permitting, I'm fairly optimistic that will be possible; there's something to be said for Goldie's second-half "slump," which makes it easier for him to match his 2015 overall production next season.

One side note. It'd help a bit if our pitchers could hit worth a lick. B-R.com doesn't break that out, but Fangraphs had our pitchers 12th in the NL, worth -0.8 fWAR at the plate [and replacement level for a pitcher hitting is very, very low indeed!]. In particular it would be nice if we didn't wait until the final AB in the last game before they got an extra-base hit. This could be a good argument for moving Daniel Hudson and his career .567 OPS - second-best among all active pitchers with 125+ PA! - back to the rotation, and perhaps also signing Mike Leake, since he ranks fourth on the same list.

All told, I think we can hope for two more wins from the hitting.

Pitching

A few words on the bullpen, explaining why I'm basically writing that off in terms of improvement - anything we get will be a nice bonus. Firstly, relief pitching represents only about 35% of the overall workload. Secondly, relief pitching is, as we've noted frequently before, incredibly volatile. Thirdly, even the best relievers don't actually move the needle that much. In the National League this year, the most valuable reliever was the Mets' Jeurys Familia, who was worth 2.7 bWAR. That wasn't even good enough to rank him among the top twenty pitchers overall, coming in 22nd overall. So, I'm just going to presume the same performance from our bullpen.

Improvement from within

For the purposes of this, we're going to switch over to fWAR, in part because this is a better predictor of future performance, being based on FIP, and simply for ease of seeing the stats. The six starters we're going to consider are Robbie Ray, Chase Anderson, Patrick Corbin, Rubby De La Rosa, Archie Bradley and Zack Godley, giving each man 150 innings for a total of 900 (this year, our starters threw 887.1). Again, this is erring on the side of caution, and presuming no positive contribution from Aaron Blair or any new acquisitions. The table below shows the Steamer projections for each man in 2016, and what that would be, pro-rated to 150 innings.

Name Proj IP Proj fWAR fWAR/150
Robbie Ray 148.0 1.8 1.82
Chase Anderson 137.0 1.4 1.53
Patrick Corbin 187.0 3.0 2.41
Rubby De La Rosa 164.0 1.6 1.46
Archie Bradley 107.0 0.9 1.26
Zack Godley 45.0 0.3 1.00

That works out to a total of 9.5 fWAR, compared to just 5.9 fWAR for 2015, an improvement of 3.6 wins. Again, this is purely internal, based on those who pitched for us in 2015. In case you're wondering,. Jeremy Hellickson is projected at 1.42 fWAR/150, so would be a slight improvement over the back-end of the above rotation.

Improvement from without

With the total improvement sitting at about 5.6 wins so far, let's see if the free-agent market can provide us with one or two arms that would be capable of covering the 2.4 wins necessary to make the gain eight wins, and push the team to a 90-win finish in 2016. Here are the starting pitchers ranked by MLBTR among the top 30 free agents, along with their expected fWAR per 150 innings. Remember, we're looking to improve by 2.4 wins, so that means we need an fWAR/150 of 3.4 if we're replacing just Godley, or a combined fWAR/150 of 5.7 if we're replacing Godley and Bradley at the back of the D-backs rotation.

  1. David Price: 3.70
  2. Zack Greinke: 2.91
  3. Hisashi Iwakuma: 2.78
  4. Johnny Cueto: 2.24
  5. Scott Kazmir: 2.22
  6. Jordan Zimmermann: 2.19
  7. Brett Anderson: 2.16
  8. Wei-Yin Chen: 2.05
  9. John Lackey: 2.05
  10. Jeff Samardzija: 2.02
  11. J.A. Happ: 1.95
  12. Ian Kennedy: 1.78
  13. Yovani Gallardo: 1.45
  14. Mike Leake: 1.44
  15. Marco Estrada: 0.52

It looks as if it's going to be harder than I initially thought to close the last elements of the gap. Price is the only pitcher who would be able to do it on his own, based on these projections, and it would take a double-bill of Greinke and Iwakuma to provide the improvement if we get two starters. I have to say, that projection for Iwakuma is pretty impressive, and I'm wondering if he might be worth a look, especially as he's only ranked #25 by MLBTR. His expected contract is three years, $45 million, which doesn't seem too bad. Tag team him with Kenta Maeda - there's no Steamer projection for him - and see what happens?

Conclusions

I think the above illustrates that getting the above is possible, but is certainly not going to be easy. It will take careful and wise moves, and no small degree of luck (particularly on the health front, where we were quite fortunate this season, I feel). I can certainly see why the team is looking to add two starting pitchers, but it would be extremely helpful if one of our young starters were to take a leap forward. If Robbie Ray, say, ends up giving us something in the three to four WAR range, that would be a significant boost. Otherwise, we'll see how Stewart and La Russa pick their way through the minefield of potential bad moves this winter.