First, I tip my hat to Jack Sommers for activating my optimism. His most excellent piece showed that that in the last 52 years, when a team wins less than 35% it’s rare when they bounce above .500 in the next season. The 2021 Diamondbacks are a rare team, more rare than the 2004 Diamondbacks.
The 2004 Diamondbacks had a 31.5% winning percentage. The next season they bounced to 77 wins. A better story will be the 2021 Diamondbacks because they will bounce higher than 77 wins. Is that view full of foresight & optimism? Or is that view unrealistic and full of something else? Time will tell.
When I informed Jack that I found ten reasons that the Diamondbacks will bounce higher than the 2004 Diamondbacks he encouraged me with, “There are many who will appreciate that view and the reason for hope.” This piece has seven reasons because three reasons were really support for the other seven reasons.
If you are passionate about the Diamondbacks winning games, you might enjoy the reasons. So keep reading!
Position Players: Internal promotions are better than external acquisitions.
The 2005 Diamondbacks acquired old and average position players from outside the organization to play 2B, 3B, SS, and RF. Their average age was 32.3 years old. They acquired 4 bench players with an average age of 30.5. The eight externally acquired players had a PA-weighted average OPS+ of 100.8. They promoted only one player from within (Chris Synder at catcher).
My view is that all, or nearly all, of the 2022 position players will have experience in the Majors from this season. Let’s compare my assumed 2022 position players with the 2005 Position players. Although their 2021 PA-weighted average OPS+ was about the same as the 2005 Diamondbacks (OPS+ of 100.6 vs 100.8), their average age was younger (28.4 vs 32.3 years old).
Unlike the 2005 position players, the 2022 position players are younger and will improve each year. I look forward to cheering for the emerging stars!
My assumed 2022 position players follow:
- C Carson Kelly
- 1B Pavin Smith
- 2B Josh Rojas
- 3B Josh Van Meter
- SS Nick Ahmed
- LF David Peralta
- CF Ketel Marte
- RF Daulton Varsho
The assumed position players included several emerging stars, such as Pavin Smith, Josh Rojas, Josh VanMeter, and Daulton Varsho. Not shown are the emerging stars on the bench, such as Henry Ramos and Seth Beer.
“It’s not hard to see the position players being somewhat better in 2022, not through regression but improvement.” — Jack Sommers
Starting Pitching: Internal promotions are better than external acquisitions.
The 2005 Diamondbacks externally acquired the entire rotation with the exception of returning Brandon Webb. The externally acquired pitchers had a batters-faced weighted average ERA+ of 98.2. The average age of the acquired starting pitchers was 28.4 years old.
The 2021 Diamondbacks had 16 starting pitchers. In 2022, by wisely choosing the pitchers most skilled at starting and sticking with that group, by better defense so they will pitch to their three season average ERA+, the starters’ ERA+ will be 118.7.
Their 118.7 ERA+ will be about 21% better than the 2005 team’s 98.2 ERA+. My choices for the rotation:
- Zac Gallen, Three Season ERA+ is 138
- Tyler Gilbert, Three Season ERA+ is 134
- Merrill Kelly, Three Season ERA+ is 124
- Humberto Castellanos, Three Season ERA+ is 108
- Madison Bumgarner, Three Season ERA+ is 89
The 2022 team will win more 1-run games.
Let’s compare the types of wins/losses experienced by the 2004 and 2021 teams (before they bounced) and the 2005 and 2022 teams (after they bounced). The following table shows my projection that the 2022 team will bounce higher than the 2005 team.
The most powerful comparison is in 1-run games. The 2022 Diamondbacks could gain 24 wins in 1-run games!
The bullpen will improve.
Improving the bullpen is like picking low hanging fruit – it’s relatively easy to improve a bullpen that is historically bad.
- BB Reference negative 9.3 WAA was last in the Majors (games through 17 September)
- FanGraphs negative 1.1 fWAR was last in the Majors (games through 17 September)
- Jack Sommers’ AZ Snake Pit article (innings 7-9 in medium and high leverage situations) showed that the Diamondbacks relievers were last in the NL for 8 measures (121 runs allowed, .377 wOBA against, 7.77 ERA, 5.09 xFIP, 19.6 K%, 1.9 HR/9, .326 BABIP, and 41% hard hit.)
A big step is converting several starters into bullpen roles. You may have guessed that move when you saw my list of next season’s starting pitchers. I anticipated Matt Peacock, Caleb Smith, and others converting to bullpen roles.
“I feel like it’s going to be a huge year for me because now I feel like I have four pitches that I can definitely throw.” — Luke Weaver. His words applied to 2019. Although now I have doubts, this AZ Snake Pit article says why Luke Weaver belongs in the rotation.
Luke Weaver could contribute to one-run wins by converting from the rotation to the closer. Unexpectedly, in 2020, and again in 2021, Luke Weaver reduced the percentage of his pitches that were cutters from 14.1% to 11.8% to 5.5%, and curves from 9.0% to 6.9% to 1.9%. Despite his increasing use of two pitches (fastball and changeup), he pitched well enough to have the fourth highest average game score for the Diamondbacks’ starting pitchers.
“His [Luke Weaver’s] two pitch mix is dominating in short spurts the first time hitters face him. He also is an emotional guy and gets pumped up in the moment. He just SCREAMS closer to me.” — Jack Sommers
Another way to improve the bullpen is acquire bounce-back candidates on minor league contracts who have a high ceiling.
Let’s see outfield contenders instead of outfield pretenders.
This season the Diamondbacks had a critical problem in the outfield. Addressing that problem in 2022 will win games. There are two ways to fix the problem.
The most exciting improvement would be to promote Alex Thomas to the outfield. My notes on prospects showed that in 2022, outfielder Alek Thomas was anticipated to be ready for promotion to the Majors. He is a top-100 prospect. His career has a high ceiling.
Although I won’t beat a dead horse, Ketel Marte is much better defending an infield position than an outfield position. More significantly, 15 Diamondbacks played in the outfield per Baseball Reference. As an outfielder, eight of them had more than 100 PAs each. Perhaps the theory is that because of genius shifts in the outfield, outfield skills are not important. My view is that some players have skill sets that allow defensive excellence in the outfield (especially at CF), and others don’t.
“Stop the BS of playing guys out of position.” — Michael McDermott
On 14 September, an outfield pretender on the Dodgers (infielder Gavin Lux), in his fifth MLB game in the outfield, collided with Cody Bellinger. The collision broke Cody Bellinger’s ribs. Although Bellinger continued to play games with the injury, there are likely lingering effects on his throwing and hitting.
Based on the Team Defensive Runs Saved (DRS) in the Fielding Bible, the Diamondbacks’ negative 26 DRS in CF is last in the Majors. For unknown reasons, that CF DRS improved from 31 July to 22 August (from negative 19 to negative 16), before it continued its downward trend.
Let’s promote or acquire power hitters to improve hits with RISP.
Hits with RISP is a strength. In games through 18 September, the Diamondbacks had .238 hits per PA with RISP. That was better than the Diamondbacks’ overall average of .210 hits per PA. The Diamondbacks’ 299 hits with RISP ranked a tie for 11th/12th highest in the Majors.
My view is that hits with RISP could be increased by including reliable power hitters in the lineup. One reason to expect improvement is that the Padres, Giants, and Dodgers had between 8 and 24 more hits with RISP. It’s something that winning teams do well.
The momentum from positive streaks will increase wins.
Seemingly small improvements can result in momentum and positive streaks. This AZ Snake Pit article defines a team batting streak as 5 games with at least 3 runs scored. It defines a team pitching streak as 5 games with less than 7 runs scored. Those streaks are powerful because:
- “During the batting streaks they won 54% of their games and outside the batting streaks they won 14% of their games through 30 June.”
- “The pitching streaks were less powerful, but nevertheless important…. My view is that the pitching streaks reinforced the positive mental attitudes created by the batting streaks.”
This season, in games through 18 September, Diamondback batters had 4 streaks (they totaled 32 games). The great potential for powerful momentum was shown by the 7 almost streaks of only 4 games.
This season in games through 18 September the Diamondback pitchers had 3 streaks (they totaled 16 games). The great potential for powerful momentum was shown by the 4 almost streaks of only 4 games.
“When the Diamondbacks were on a positive streak, there was a lot to cheer for! Winning percentages were higher, several batters hit at All-Star levels, and several pitchers were stellar.” — Makakilo
Although it’s not a sure thing, there are good reasons to expect the 2022 Diamondbacks to win more than 77 games. That’s my view. What’s your view?