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A Deep Dive on the 2024 ZiPS Projections

TL;DR: The 2024 D-Backs look like an improved club, but still have holes that must be addressed.

Texas Rangers v. Arizona Diamondbacks Photo by Daniel Shirey/MLB Photos via Getty Images

Now that the calendar has officially flipped to 2024 and we’ve gotten (most) of our hokey, “I haven’t seen you since last year” jokes out of the way, we can more fully turn our attention to the 2024 baseball season. And for our favorite baseball team, the coming season’s expectations have become quite a bit clearer since the last time we saw them take the field in a demoralizing loss to the Rangers. In the interim, Mike Hazen and Co have been busy improving the roster as they have shored up the rotation in the form of Eduardo Rodriguez, bolstered the infield depth by trading for Eugenio Suarez, and utilized the Rodriguez signing to free up some of their young talent to work as swingmen or come out of the bullpen. On paper at least, this looks like an improved team over what we saw throughout 2023. But as we all know, the final arbiter on these sorts of discussions are the professional prognosticators including the fine folks at FanGraphs who compile their annual ZiPS projections and just recently released the results.

For the most part, the ZiPS projections align with the overall mood surrounding the club: namely, that the offseason moves have raised the roster’s floor, but there is still progress to be made. In my opinion, I think it’s particularly telling that Szymbroski favorably compares this 2024 roster to the St. Louis Cardinals of the early 2000s and 2010s whose performances were consistent without being overwhelming. It is absolutely to Hazen’s credit that he has constructed a roster that has the kind of positional flexibility and depth to make those comparisons a reality. Additionally, the front office has selected for players that are poised to take advantage of the new baserunning and defensive rules, which are particularly dangerous in the uncertain world that is the MLB playoffs where the relative importance of every play is heightened.

On the offensive side, the projections are particularly optimistic as the lineup looks to again be anchored by the impressive trio of reigning NL Rookie of the Year Corbin Carroll, star-in-waiting Gabriel Moreno, and the steadying veteran presence of Ketel Marte. Last year’s projections saw Carroll as the top prospect in baseball over his winning counterpart Gunnar Henderson and 2024 projects out like another excellent season from the phenom. They do project Moreno to mostly recreate his 2023 numbers, which were just above average for OPS+, but if he can unlock some of the power potential he showed inconsistently last season, it would go a long way towards fulfilling the dream of two stars at the top of the lineup.

The projections see Christian Walker slipping slightly from his 2023 version - especially on the power side - with a dip from his .497 actual SLG to a projected .447. In and of itself, this dip isn’t surprising since Walker is entering his age-33 season and a likely candidate for a loss of bat speed, but because the 2023 D-Backs were middle of the pack by slugging percentage, any loss of power from a starter is a concern. Beyond that top foursome, the projections only see one other starter with an above-average OPS+ in Lourdes Gurriel Jr who quickly became a fan favorite during a platform season for the veteran. They also project Jake McCarthy collecting a starter’s worth of playing time and performing somewhere between a promising 2022 and a disappointing 2023 to give the lineup some much-needed depth. I have made my thoughts on McCarthy quite clear in the past, but I would be delighted to be wrong once again and see the Pennsylvania native thrive with the Snakes in 2024.

If we turn our attention to the pitching side of the projections, we can see that there isn’t quite the same kind of depth as there is at the plate. Once again, the D-Backs will rely on Zac Gallen continuing to be a Cy-Young contender to lead the rotation while Merrill Kelly returns as his equally-impressive counterpart. Ominously however, the projections see Gallen’s subpar second half, which saw his ERA increase by a run and several other peripheral numbers simultaneously deteriorate, as more of a reality than his excellent first half. Similarly, the projections are not particularly kind to Kelly, though it’s worth pointing out that they were even less optimistic for his 2023 performance and he managed to post a second excellent season in a row so the projections should absolutely be taken with a grain of salt. Eduardo Rodriguez, the D-Backs’ big acquisition (to date) projects out as mostly recreating his 2023, which saw the young southpaw elevate his game to a new level.

In many ways, the Rodriguez signing - should he follow through with that potential - could be a linchpin for the entire pitching staff as he slots in as a number-three starter, which bumps Brandon Pfaadt down a spot and takes some of the mental pressure off him as he continues to develop. Simultaneously, Rodriguez’s signing allows the scattering of other pitching prospects on the roster to either transition into bullpen work full time or have a number-five starter by committee. Regardless, you can plainly see the advantage Rodriguez brings to the roster and the flexibility it provides to Torey Lovullo throughout the season. For his part, Pfaadt’s projections are substantially less optimistic than they were in 2023, but after a season that saw such dichotomous results for the youngster, I would not be surprised by anything. The biggest weakness in the roster at this point seems to be the bullpen, which has a couple stalwarts in Paul Sewald and Kevin Ginkel, but does not possess the depth that you would like to see in a playoff contender. However, I suspect that nearly every team could use either additional depth or talent in their bullpen so this is certainly not unique to Arizona.

Overall, there aren’t that many surprises in the projections in my mind, but it’s also clear that there are some weaker spots in the roster that can still be addressed with internal options or via acquisition. Even still, this seems like a roster that is primed to make the postseason and let chaos reign once again in 2024 as it did in 2023.