Before we look at specifics – let’s compare two teams – the Diamondbacks (74 wins) and the Guardians (92 wins). The Diamondbacks had the third youngest batting age (26.5 years) while the Guardians had the youngest batting age (25.9) per Baseball Reference. A few statistics show batting results that aren’t that different:
- 702 runs scored vs 698 runs scored.
- .689 OPS vs .699 OPS.
- .303 wOBA vs .306 wOBA.
The Diamondbacks and the Guardians play defense amazingly well. Team stats follow:
- 56 DRS (ranked #6 out of 30 teams) vs 79 DRS (ranked #3 out of 30 teams) per The Fielding Bible.
- 69.7 Def (fielding runs above average) vs 38.1 Def (fielding runs above average) per FanGraphs.
Those similarities suggest a path for the Diamondbacks to reach 92 wins is better pitching. Let’s look there first.
Obviously to nearly all Diamondbacks’ fans, last season’s pitching was generally bad, especially relief pitching. Less obvious is how much better pitching needs to be for the Diamondbacks to reach 92 wins, and likely reach the playoffs.
My aspiration is to pitch as well as the Guardians did last season. They reached the playoffs. Their pitching earned negative 0.2 Wins Above Average (WAA), ranking them 17th in the Majors. From the Diamondbacks’ perspective, the good news is that achieving average is a reasonable aspiration, and the bad news is that last season the Diamondbacks pitching ranked 28th in the Majors.
How did the Guardians’ pitching reach average? Their starting pitching was worse than the Diamondbacks (their WAA ranked 4 spots lower). The Guardians did it with above average relief pitching. Per FanGraphs’ Roster resource, all eight of their projected bullpen pitchers have an above average ERA+ (between 113 and 281).
Perhaps the Diamondbacks had the idea to improve the bullpen but the signings of free agent relievers Melancon and Kennedy did not help the team because their performances fell dramatically.
The two most important things in life: good friends and a strong bullpen. -Bob Gibson pic.twitter.com/SpchfaaxJr— Baseball Quotes (@BaseballQuotes1) January 14, 2018
How did the Guardians build their bullpen?
Five of the eight relievers shown in FanGraphs’ Roster Resource (James Karinchak, Sam Hentges, Nick Sandlin, Eli Morgan, Cody Morris) were developed in the minors for an average of 4 years before they started pitching in the Majors. These five currently are very young with an average age of 26.3. They were developed internally starting at a young age.
They traded for a super-star closer Emmanuel Clase. In April of this year they signed him to a long term extension with option years in 2027 and 2028.
They signed Enyel De Los Santos to a minor league contract, and in the rule 5 draft they obtained Trevor Stephan.
How should the Diamondbacks rebuild their bullpen?
At first glance, looming large are the needs for an effective closer (instead of closer by committee) and long relief (due to the injury of Caleb Smith).
For next season the Diamondbacks need to explore any possible trades for a young closer who is agreeable to an extension. Melancon could be moved to the eighth inning setup role.
Next season, perhaps one of the starting pitchers could be moved to a long relief role.
As I advocated in this AZ Snake Pit article, adding a sidearm pitcher like Kyle Backhus would improve the bullpen.
Equally important is to address the long term. A big piece of wisdom from the Guardians is that it takes an average of 4 years to develop an effective relief pitcher. I do not know how many prospects will be ready to jump into next season’s bullpen. If too few relievers are ready, the Diamondbacks could look to waivers and the rule 5 draft.
When the Diamondbacks achieve 3.91 allowed runs per game (last season’s average for the Guardians), two things will be achieved - the Diamondbacks will be very similar the the 2022 Guardians’ team which won 92 games, and pitching and batting will be closer to equally contributing, which will achieve synergism.
I’m confident that the young Diamondbacks batters can improve. Last season they scored 702 runs, which was more than the 694 runs league average. Let’s look at a few of their strengths:
- .086 walks per PA ranked high (seventh highest of 30 teams).
- .223 strikeouts per PA ranked above average (13th fewest out of 30 teams).
- 16.8% foul balls ranked best (lowest) in the Majors.
Despite the strengths, my view is the Diamondbacks could improve batting with more balls in play (BIP) and an improved wOBA. Next season defensive shifts will be banned. This season’s data shows this ban will positively impact those two statistics.
Last season, the Diamondbacks batters were negatively impacted when left-handed batters faced both a shift and a right-handed pitcher. The following table compares Diamondbacks batters’ results for 1565 shifted PAs with 1385 PAs with a standard infield alignment (for left-handed batters facing right-handed pitchers)
The table shows the batting results will be improved by the ban on shifts. More specifically the Diamondbacks batters will achieve a higher wOBA, a higher percentage of balls in play more home runs, less strikeouts, and about the same frequency of bases on balls.
My intuitive feeling is that banning shifts will likely add 3 wins to the Diamondbacks. It might have been more wins, but banning the shift will hurt the Diamondbacks defensively.
With the balanced schedule, the Diamondbacks will play 24 less games in the NL West. Last season, the Diamondbacks win-loss record against the Dodgers and Padres was 10-28. Playing less games against the Dodgers and Padres roughly translates to 3 extra wins next season.
The Diamondbacks have the potential to reach 92 wins if they improve their pitching to average, when young batters improve largely due to the ban on shifts, and with the balanced schedule. The Diamondbacks approach to building the bullpen should focus on internal development plus adding a young closer who is agreeable to signing an extension.