The chic pick for most improved NL team in 2010 is almost unanimous - Arizona. After all, they practically lost their 2008 Ace and cleanup hitter to injury for the entirety of last season. They added depth to their rotation and bullpen and could get some notable turnarounds from young hitters.
In this article, I'll outline the roster locks, Spring Training Battles and after the jump, analyze each position in more detail, with a little different format than last time.
Fifth Starter: Billy Buckner had the most experience starting of any candidates and is the favorite heading into Spring Training. Bryan Augenstein, Kevin Mulvey and Rodrigo Lopez will more than likely get a start sooner or later if they don't start the team there. Pick: Buckner
Two Bullpen Spots: Zach Kroenke is all but assured of being in the bullpen after being a Rule 5 draft choice (though the D-Backs scrapped that plan with James Skelton early last year). If Kroenke doesn't make the team, Zavada would be pushed into a LOOGY role. Blaine Boyer has the edge for long man, with Leo Rosales, Esmerling Vazquez and to lesser degrees the losers of the fifth starter battle in contention. Picks: Kroenke and Boyer
Bench: There was talk that Augie Ojeda would be traded with the acquisition of Kelly Johnson, but it appears he'll stick around. All AJ Hinch will need to decide is his 25th man. With Parra as the lone outfielder on the bench, that might lead to an outfielder, though Ryan Roberts' ability to play OF allows for an infielder or relief pitcher as well. Twenty-five year old outfielder Cole Gillespie would seem like a logical choice, though 31-year-old 1B/LF Jeff Bailey seems to have a chance as well. Pick: Gillespie
Below, I have attempted to quantify where Arizona will improve/decline. To do this, I took CHONE projections for the projected starters and distributed value from bench players across positions they would play. This ignores injuries and other players, but CHONE was chosen in part due to generosity in projected playing time to balance that out. There will still be more ABs than can be taken, but I chose to choose the most optimistic approach for Arizona to see what the damage is. To compare how they changed, I used the positional WAR I calculated this offseason.
Adam LaRoche was brought in this offseason to refurbish a completely broken first base position. No matter what he produces, he'll far outproduce the -0.90 WAR Arizona got last season. In fact, LaRoche projects to 2.0 WAR from CHONE, and with Ryan Roberts getting some of his ABs there, the D-Backs figure to get about 2.5 WAR from the first base position. ADDED value for 2010: +3.4 Wins
The rest follows after the jump.
Despite not having a full-year starter in 2009, Arizona was actuallyvery solid at second last year. Rusty Ryal, Ryan Roberts, Augie Ojeda and Felipe Lopez were all very strong contributors. Still, Josh Byrnes went out of the organization to bring in Kelly Johnson. The sum of Johnson's CHONE projection with partials from Roberts and Ojeda yields 3.7 WAR, far worse than the 5.97 WAR they got last season. LOST value for 2010: -2.25 Wins
Mark Reynolds split some time between third and first base last year due to the black hole A.J. Hinch had at first, but with the arrival of LaRoche, Reynolds will be a constant starter at third this year. CHONE projects a small dip in value from Special K after his tremendous season in 2009. LOST value for 2010: -0.3 Wins
One of Arizona's more disappointing hitters last year wasStephen Drew, who was considered better than Troy Tulowitzki by some less than 12 months ago. Weird. Drew is one reason to suspect Arizona can turn around, especially if he can capture his 2008 second half. I calculated the shortstops from Phoenix to have about 2.5 WAR in value last year. With Drew's CHONE projection and partial value from Augie Ojeda, they project to 3.4 WAR in 2010. ADDED value for 2010: +0.9 Wins
Miguel Montero will return as the starter and cleanup hitter after swiping Chris Snyder's job last season. The increased playing time in 2010 for the superior hitting Montero over Snyder figures to add a little bit of value. However, CHONE sees nearly a full WAR dip in production from Montero (due mostly to a nonsensical drop in playing time). Additionally, Snyder could be dealt at some point, meaning John Hester would be the backup. ADDED value for 2010: +0.0 Wins
After nearly all of 2009 from Valley Fever, Conor Jackson is primed for a big return in 2010. He has not appeared rusty in Spring Training so far, but he does have only one MLB home run since the end of July 2008, but he's projected for 1.8 WAR in 2010. Adding in a little extra value from Cole Gillespie and Gerardo Parra, and CHONE's projections come out about 2.9 WAR, about 0.8 WAR more than Arizona got from Byrnes, Parra and Sons last year. ADDED value for 2010: +0.8 Wins
Chris Young falls into Stephen Drew's category, but far more. The former leadoff hitter found himself in AAA last year after spending most of the season hitting under .200. Led by his apalling season, Arizona was over a win below replacement in 2009, but CHONE is buying a bit of a comeback from Young. Add in some AB's from Gillespie and Parra, and the projection looks good for Arizona. ADDED value for 2010: +3.0 WINS
Justin Upton is 22 and just signed a contract for over $50million after a bit of a breakout year last season. Predictably, CHONE predicts some regression from Punkton. Even adding value from the bench, Arizona projects to lose a little off the their pace from last season. LOST value for 2010: -0.67 Wins
Total Value GAINED from offense: about 5.0 Wins over 2009
CHONE does not have WAR projections posted for pitchers. Instead, I have compared pitchers' Fangraphs value in 2009 to "Fans" projections from Fangraphs. In some cases, the Fans projections (IP, FIP, etc) are more conservative than CHONE, sometimes more liberal. For this cursory look, I'm assuming that pretty much cancels out.
Ace - Dan Haren
Dan Haren posted 6.1 WAR in 2009, even with a small stumble from his ridiculous first half. The 29-year-old is certainly capable of more as his 2008 can attest, but Fans have predicted a 6.0 WAR. It should be noted that CHONE predicts a higher FIP and less IP, so CHONE's WAR would actually be less than 6.0. LOST value for 2010: -0.25 Wins
#2 - Brandon Webb
Webb is reason #1 cited for a D-Backs turnaround, but he may not even be healthy enough to be in the Opening Day rotation. Fans on Fangraphs were optimistic for Webb, predicting 179 IP, far more than CHONE's 128 IP. If he's in the upper area of that range, he's about a 4.0 WAR pitcher. If he's in the lower, he's about 3.0 WAR. As we have discussed here on PR, Arizona needs Webb to be a #2 pitcher even more than Colorado needs Jeff Francis to be a four. Replacing Webb with Kevin Mulvey is a bigger drop than Francis to Greg Smith. In the 2-spot of the rotation in 2009, Max Scherzer posted a 3.2 WAR, so Webb could be anything but a -0.2 to +0.8 improvement over last season. Let's be nice to the Snakes and assume the worst for the NL West. ADDED value for 2010: +0.8 Wins
#3 - Edwin Jackson
Jackson is getting some perhaps overly optimistic love in some channels too after a breakout season in 2009 and move to the NL. Fangraphs readers have predicted about a 2.4 WAR season from Jackson in 2010, right about in line with CHONE but over a win less than his value in 2009. Still, that's better than the 1.7 WAR season Doug Davis provided in the same role last year. ADDED value for 2010: +0.7 Wins
#4 - Ian Kennedy
Kennedy has never had more than nine starts in a MLB season, but he is being counted on at the back end of the rotation, especially if Webb is down for significant time. Fangraphs readers predict 1.6 WAR and just 117 IP. That jumps to about 2.4 WAR with a full season of innings, which is about as optimistic as I would be comfortable projecting, even if he's capable of more. Jon Garland's season in 2009? 2.4 WAR. ADDED value for 2010: +0.0 Wins
#5 - Billy Buckner/Bryan Augenstein/Kevin Mulvey
The position in the rotation was held mostly by Buckner and Yusmeiro Petit last season, worth about 1.0 WAR. Using Fan projections, the above trio is worth about 1.5 WAR in 2010. ADDED value for 2010: +0.5 Wins
Total Value GAINED from rotation:about 1.75 Wins over 2009
There are no readily available projections for relief pitchers, but even if there were, the volatility of a MLB bullpen's personnel makes it impossible to project. They were middle of the pack last year, so there's not any grounds to superficially assume regression in either direction. They essentially will swap out Jon Rauch, Esmerling Vazquez and Leo Rosales in favor of Bob Howry, Aaron Heilman and Zach Kroenke, which appears on paper to be an improvement.
Okay, I know this is doing open heart surgery with a butter knife if ever there was such a thing. There is certainly room for improvement above projections from some, but I think these predictions are certainly on the optimistic side of things. It assumes no injures, no personnel flux, at times includes more ABs than are possible for a given position, and assumes Kennedy and Webb stick to their workload potential.
Assuming marginal improvement from the bullpen, this roster looks to be about 7.0 wins better than they were in 2009. That equates to 77 wins. Or - if you utilize their 2009 Pythagorean, an 82-80 record. So - are you scared of the Diamondbacks?