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How the Arizona Diamondbacks can get to 90 wins

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We first looked at this topic back in mid-November. Safe to say, a lot of water under the bridge since then, with some big roster changes and individual/team projections to chew over.

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Why 90?

Because that is enough to all but guarantee playoff baseball. Since the wild-card was expanded to two teams from each league in 2012, only two sides have reached that mark and not made the post-season: the 2012 Rays and the 2013 Rangers. On the other hand, nine teams over the same time have won fewer than 90 games and still made it: this year, the Houston Astros won only 86 this year and still got to take out the Yankees. For which, we thank them. So, 90 wins seems a good mark for which to aim: 11 games up on what we did last season,. so manageable, and should put us in the conversation for the division.

The starting line

I'm going with the ZIPS projections, which appear to pass the smell test rather better than Steamer or PECOTA - it likely doesn't hurt they view the Diamondbacks rather more favorably - the comments there has the team coming at 83.6 wins based on those projections. There have been some changes since: we had the Chase Anderson + Aaron Hill for Jean Segura deal, and also signed Tyler Clippard. That's 2.2 WAR departing, and Clippard was worth 0.7 WAR. Unfortunately, we don't have ZIPS for Segura - he left the Brewers before those were done (amused to see shoewizard asking for exactly that!) - but spit-balling one WAR leaves a net deficit of half a win in recent changes.

So call it 83 wins, with the team needing to pick up seven wins, above and beyond what ZIPS projects. Casting an eye over those, where might that come from? Well, before we get to that, let's discuss where it isn't going to come from. Or, at least, where I'm not going to rely on it coming from. That would be the bullpen. The addition of Clippard should help (caveat: if he keeps up his previous peripherals), but beyond that, it would be hard to find reasons for any overall uptick. Some relievers will get better, some will be worse. Hopefully, the overall sum of all bullpen arms will be positive, but it would be tough to claim this is a reliable area of improvement.

Limit regression

ZIPS tends to take a longer-term view of players than fans. We  usually reckon a player is only as good/bad as their last season, while ZIPS leans towards a multiple season average of performance, so those who have a "career year" will be projected to drop significantly the following campaign, rather than repeat at the same level. This may or may not happen, depending on whether that "career year" is the result of the player actually taking their game to the next level. For example, a pitcher who develops an effective new pitch may see a sharp uptick in performance,  reproducible long-term. But ZIPS doesn't care, until he has demonstrated that is the actual case.

The table below lists the leaders in projected regression - that's the difference between their actual 2015 performance (measured by fWAR) and the 2016 ZIPS projection.

Player 2015 ZIPS Regression
Paul Goldschmidt 7.4 4.8 -2.6
A.J. Pollock 6.6 4.3 -2.3
David Peralta 3.7 2.5 -1.2
Zack Greinke
5.9
5.2
-0.7
Jake Lamb 2.0 1.6 -0.4
Shelby Miller 3.4 3.0 -0.4

To start with, worth pointing out this works the other way too, to a certain extent, of course. Positive regression is projected for Chris Owings (going from -1.4 to 0.9) and Yasmany Tomas (-1.3 to -0.1), but since we're looking at the positive scenarios here, we'll presume those are going to happen as expected. The easiest one to pick at is probably the Goldschmidt one. In 2013, he was worth 6.2 fWAR. In 2014, he missed one-third of the season and was still worth 4.4 fWAR, which works out to 6.6 pro-rated for the year. And last season,  he had one of the best campaigns ever by a Diamondback position player.

Clearly, ZIPS hates Paul Goldschmidt. :) I trust someone - let me mutter the magic words of summoning Dan Szymborski! - will be along to explain why in due course. But if everyone in the table above, performs to the 2015 levels, rather than the 2016 projections, that's 7.6 extra wins. Mission accomplished, post-season reached. Thank you for reading this article. Feel free to enjoy the rest of the SnakePit.  Admittedly, that is probably more likely in some cases than others. I'm coming to the conclusion Goldschmidt is not human, he's a mechanical device for producing WAR. There is probably some kind of alien technology involved.

Play better than expected

Well, duh. That's the basic idea, isn't it? However, this is different, in that we're looking for improvement from players whose projections are more in line with their previous performance. The back end of the Diamondbacks rotation seems like a good place to mine for this, with Robbie Ray (2016 projection: 2.0 WAR), Patrick Corbin (1.9 WAR) and Rubby De La Rosa (1.2 WAR). I'd take the over on Corbin, in particular, because ZIPS has him down for only 128.2 innings of work this year. While I see the logic here, with Corbin throwing zero in 2014 and 85 last season, I would expect significantly more frames from Patrick, and that should lead to greater value.

Others will have to rely on improving their performance. De La Rosa, 0.3 fWAR last year, is expected to do so, but the team appears to have even more confidence in him than that, having already anointed him as our #4 starter, before a single meaningless spring game was played. This is one of the advantages of a young roster: age and experience should lead to natural improvement. This is somewhat taken into account by the projections, but there is always room to outperform this. If Tomas were to play as we hope, rather than at a projection that is still below replacement level, we'd likely pick up a a couple of wins here alone.

Breakout seasons

These are the ones that come more or less out of nowhere. The best example of this is A.J. Pollock's 2013 campaign. He had appeared a little in 2012, but his projection the following season was still for only 0.5 fWAR. He actually posted 3.6 fWAR, an Arizona rookie record for a position player. Wade Miley's 2012 performance is another which, to a large extent, was also entirely unexpected. By their very nature, these are hard to predict. It appears the team has a lot of confidence in Socrates Brito, enough to let a similar kind of player, Ender Inciarte, go to Atlanta, and he is only projected for 0.6 fWAR.

But if I had to pick one, it would probably be Archie Bradley who has the biggest odds of blowing past his expected numbers. It helps that these are - again, probably for understandable reasons - very low, at 0.1 WAR and only 75.2 innings of work. There's no doubt that last season was one Bradley will want to forget, for a number of reasons, and hopefully he can stay healthy and return to the form which not so long ago - barely two years - had him named the top right-handed pitching prospect in the entire game. That has certainly got to be worth more than one-tenth of a win. However, he'll first have to crack the rotation...

Conclusion

If we do make the playoffs, it's almost certainly not going to be the result of just one of these ways, it's far more likely to be D) All of the above, each chipping in somewhat, with the combination resulting in the team reaching its goal. I expect Goldschmidt and Pollock to be the engine-room of the projection surpassers, continuing the impressive form they have shown in the past. Tomas also living up to being the highest-paid position player on the team this year, will also be a big help. Then, all we need is one of the pitchers, like De La Rosa, to take it to the next level, or a breakout season from somewhere, and we should be golden.

Of course, there's many a slip twixt the cup and the lip - or to quote the great Scottish poet, Robert Burns, "The best laid schemes o' mice an' men, gang aft agley." ]Translation available on request] The 2016 Diamondbacks will also not have to hope for things to go well, they will also have to avoid things falling apart. We'll turn to the dark side next, and see how this team could end up being worse than last season!