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How Will the Diamondbacks Improve?

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A revisit of expected improvements this season.

Joakim Soria
Joakim Soria
Photo by Daniel Shirey/MLB Photos via Getty Images

In February, Mike Hazen was interviewed by Doug and Wolf. Well worth listening to are the first 11 minutes which were about Mike Hazen’s wife.

Then Mike Hazen talked about Diamondbacks baseball. It was more than fluff. Mike Hazen went further than it’s a good team and he expects to win games. He provided details that are relevant to expected team improvements that Jack and I wrote about in the Review of Mike Hazen in December. So let’s revisit improvements.

The Diamondbacks decided against trading away veterans.

Possible good reasons that the Diamondbacks eschewed trades were:

  • Other teams wanted to buy low on talented players whose performance fell in 2020. It’s likely that their value will be higher after they rebound in 2021.
  • The offers were unfavorable because they sacrificed this season’s performance with little to no improvements in future seasons.

“We chose not to do that [trade veterans].” — Mike Hazen from Doug and Wolf interview

The Diamondbacks acquired players.

In December, the possibility of short term moves was included. In the offseason, two significant players were acquired (Cabrera and Soria). In addition, a few players on minor league contracts could make the team. Will another acquisition happen?

“I asked Hazen this morning if he thought it was likely there would be more free agent signings or trades in the near future. He said it was indeed likely that they would make some kind of additional move to improve and the area of emphasis would be the pitching staff, and specifically starting pitching, but maybe more bullpen help too.” — Jack Sommers, 18 February AZ Snake Pit article

The Diamondback players will improve this season.

Player performance rebounding to 2019 levels instead of repeating 2020 levels is a very reasonable expectation that was expressed by Mike Hazen. In my opinion, he believes that player rebounds will be greater than improvements he could have achieved by trades and additional free agent acquisitions during the offseason. Which players will rebound? Mike Hazen named Ketel Marte, Carson Kelly, and “others.” A few possible rebounds are:

  • Luke Weaver (ERA 2.94 in 2019, 6.58 in 2020).
  • Madison Bumgarner (ERA 3.90 in 2019, 6.48 in 2020).
  • Stephen Vogt (OPS .804 in 2019, .525 in 2020).
  • Ketel Marte (OPS .981 in 2019, .732 in 2020).
  • Eduardo Escobar (OPS .831 in 2019, .605 in 2020).
  • Carson Kelly (OPS .826 in 2019, .649 in 2020).

Diamondback actions will enhance the improvements. Although he called the actions subtle, that does not mean they are without positive impact.

“And there are subtle things, ... There are things from a work standpoint, from a practice standpoint, from a consistency and approach mental standpoint - that we need to lockdown on more.” — Mike Hazen from AZ Snake Pit article

Another improvement will be continuous as top Diamondback prospects mature and join the team. Mike Hazen clearly said that fans should expect to see younger players.

Mike Hazen (in his Doug and Wolf interview) said prognosticating off 2020 is “not a good way to make a living.” I’ll be bold and say it’s a “fool’s errand.” The existing methods for predicting the next season rely too heavily on the previous season.

At the risk of sounding forgetful of my past overly-optimistic predictions, my prediction was different from the existing methods. I wrote the following in this article.

“FanGraphs’ depth chart projection is that the Diamondbacks’ runs scored per game (RS/G) increases from 4.48 to 4.65. My opinion is that the increase will be larger - a half run increase to 4.98 RS/G, which would nearly match the Diamondbacks’ 2019 season. A caveat is that the “deadened baseball” may tell a different story.”

“FanGraphs’ depth chart projection is that the Diamondbacks’ runs allowed per game (RA/G) increases from 4.91 to 5.1. My opinion differs significantly.

• Rotation. Gone is Robbie Ray with his 7.84 ERA. I am confident we will see significantly better results from Madison Bumgarner (6.48 ERA) and Luke Weaver (6.58 ERA).

• Bullpen. Last season, the bullpen’s 1.38 homers per 9 innings was the highest by any Diamondback team per Jim McLennan’s AZ Snake Pit article. This season will improve for three reasons: Gone is Hector Rondon with his 7.65 ERA and 6 homers allowed (20 innings in 2020). Added is Joakim Soria with 1 homer allowed (22.1 innings in 2020). The “deadened baseball” will reduce homers.”

“Those changes will likely reduce the Diamondbacks’ RA/G to 4. …”

The Diamondbacks hit poorly.

Runs scored per game went down from 5.02 to 4.48 in 2020. What did Mike Hazen say about that?

“We need to be, I think, a little more adept one through nine at creating offense even on those days we’re not hitting the ball out of the ballpark.” — Mike Hazen from AZ Snake Pit article

One of Mike Hazen’s strengths is asking the right questions. Analytics and Technology will continue to make significant strides in providing answers. Mike talked about one answer.

Mike Hazen (in the Doug and Wolf interview) outlined a strategy of attacking the starting pitchers. Although my grasp of the strategy may be wrong, it seemed he wanted players to get deep in counts, to see a lot of pitches, against opponent rotations. In my opinion that approach will increase the workload on opponents’ pitchers and it will be extremely effective because this season games will increase from 60 to 162, adding significant stress to every team’s rotation.

“I am trying to add some of that skill set to the lineup.” — Mike Hazen from Doug & Wolf interview

Additional thoughts by Mike Hazen about the increased innings for pitchers are in this Athletic article.

Defense is a core characteristic of the Diamondbacks.

Run prevention is key. In my opinion, success would be four runs allowed per game. Again, this is where the Diamondbacks will shine! Nevertheless, there are two big problems to address:

Defend center field. Mike Hazen talked about putting pieces around where Starling Marte was. My guess is he was thinking about a platoon in center field. Will that platoon be comprised of Tim Locastro, Stuart Fairchild, Daulton Varsho, and Ketel Marte?

Hold games with 1 or 2 runs leads in the seventh inning. The acquisition of Joakim Soria will make a huge impact. As the Diamondback bullpen is remade, I predict holding close games will be the highest priority.

“If it was 2-0 or 3-1 in the seventh we had a hard time. And in playing playoff baseball that should not be the case.” — Mike Hazen in Doug and Wolf interview.

“We have been historically better at run prevention. And it’s been fruitful for us. That’s still something we believe in from our defensive alignment, to the players we have on the field, to our pitching.” — Mike Hazen in Doug and Wolf interview