During the week, Mike Hazen made it clear that he will always be looking for ways to improve the 2024 Diamondbacks, saying he was “still working to continue to improve the roster, any way we can.” But the signing of Joc Pederson is likely the last major piece in terms of additions to the team: the general consensus is that further pieces are likely to be bench and/or bullpen players. So it seems a good point at which to start looking, in some depth, at projections for the season ahead. The main source for these is going to be the Fangraphs’ Depth Charts, which include projections from Steamer and ZIPS, along with a “best guess” in terms of projected playing time.
As we head towards spring training, with pitchers and catchers reporting in just a few days, I’ll be taking a look at what they have to say about the Diamondbacks at each of the nine player positions, plus the rotation and bullpen. Before we get to that, however, let’s go up in altitude, and see what the projections are for the team as a whole. With the arrival of Pederson factored in, the expectation is for the D-backs to be worth exactly 40 fWAR. With replacement level set at a win percentage of .297, that has Arizona coming in at 88 wins, an improvement of four over last season. Though they were outscored in 2023, and the figure would be eight better than their Pythagorean record of 80-82 from that season.
That 40.0 fWAR ranks them 13th in the majors, the range being 54.3 for the Braves and 17.9 for the Rockies (sorrynotsorry, Dinger). It is worth remembering that these numbers represent the middle of expectations for each team. The spread between the best and worst will almost certainly be more than 36.4 wins, because some of the top teams will perform better, and some of the bottom teams won’t be as good. We just don’t know who’s who yet. But as a yardstick, last year, there actually ended up being a 54-win range in MLB, covering the 104-win Braves and the 50-win Athletics. The previous two seasons, the range was 56 and 55 wins, so it has been fairly consistent.
Thirteenth may seem a bit disappointing, but it would still get Arizona into the post-season, because eight of the twelve teams above them are in the American League. Frankly, I’m not bothered about them: I just want the D-backs to reach the playoffs, and (as we saw this year) then anything can happen. In the NL, the Diamondbacks are projected fifth, behind the Braves (hardly a shock), Dodgers (no surprise), Phillies (as expected) and the Cardinals (wait, what?). Yeah, Fangraphs is definitely bullish on St. Louis, seeing them as the best team in an admittedly weak NL Central.
That may seem a stretch, considering last year, their record was better only in the NL than the Rockies. However, ZIPS likes what they did with their pitching, shoring up the rotation with Sonny Gray, Kyle Gibson, and Lance “Four homers in one inning” Lynn. We’ll see how it works out. As a cautionary note, at this point last year, ZIPS put the Cardinals, “in the same range as the Padres, Astros, Braves, Dodgers, and Mets.” Well, they weren’t too off with the last one. But speaking of New York, they’re currently the sixth and last NL playoff team, slotting in just behind the D-backs, so are also projected to bounce-back. Note there are some significant free agents left to sign, and as they find homes, numbers will change.
But it does indicate the uphill struggle the D-backs will have in terms of competing against the Dodgers in the division. At 51.5 fWAR, they currently are projected for 100 wins, with a .615 win percentage. That’s 12 wins better than Arizona and their .544 win percentage. Just for amusement, I cranked some numbers. Assuming teams have those same odds of winning each game played, then the Dodgers have only a 7.1% chance of 90 wins or fewer this season. I did start looking at the math to see if I could find the odds of the D-backs getting more victories than the Dodgers over a 162-game season, given those W%. But my last advanced stats class was 1985, so I’m going to leave that as an exercise for readers. :)
But I was able to come up with the above graph, which shows on the vertical axis the percentage chance for the Dodgers and D-backs to win at most the number of games shown on the horizontal axis. For example, Arizona has a 64.5% chance of winning 90 or fewer this season - that’s approaching ten times higher than Los Angeles’s odds of the same outcome. 100 wins is close to the Dodgers’ mean result. The Diamondbacks reach there only about 3.6% of the time. Of course, you don’t play the games on paper: anything can, and probably will, happen over the course of the six-month season. But the cold, hard math does the D-backs absolutely no favors for now.
There is not much of a difference in where Arizona rank for position players and pitching. They’re 13th by projected fWAR for the former, and 14th for the latter. But as we’ll see as we go through this series, there are wide differences when you narrow down to specific positions.