2012 Organizational Rankings: #16 – Arizona

Read the methodology behind the ratings here. Remember that the grading scale is 20-80, with 50 representing league average.

#30 – Baltimore
#29 – Houston
#28 – Oakland
#27 – Pittsburgh
#26 – San Diego
#25 – Minnesota
#24 – Chicago AL
#23 – Seattle
#22 – Kansas City
#21 – Cleveland
#20 – New York NL
#19 – Los Angeles
#18 – Colorado
#17 – Miami

Arizona’s 2011 Ranking: #29

2012 Outlook: – 55 (12th)

Combine an offense that is well above average with a pitching staff that is a touch above average, and you have a playoff team. It wasn’t enough to get the D-backs into baseball’s final four, but they came about as you could come, taking the Brewers into extras in the deciding Game 5 of their National League Division Series. Most of the principals from that team are intact this year. They are once again faced with mediocre competition in the NL West, and are in a position to win the division in consecutive years since the Randy Johnson-Curt Schilling-Luis Gonzalez-mountains of debt years. And while Ian Kennedy and Daniel Hudson may be in for a bit of regression, the team may be better this year than last.

The team received almost no production out of first base last season — Arizona’s .318 wOBA from first base was 24th in the game, a particularly egregious mark considering the team’s environment. Paul Goldschmidt doesn’t need to be that great to improve upon that, and if he lives up to his projections (his projected wOBA ranges from .344 to .382), he will be much better than that. Justin Upton may get better as well, as he will only be 24 this season, and while already spectacular, he may not be done improving.

The rotation could either be a weak spot or a huge plus. Trevor Cahill should be a solid addition to the team, especially if he can keep his ground-ball rate at the level it was last year. And while Mssrs. Hudson and Kennedy may come back to earth if their obscenely low walk rates tick back up this year (and if Kennedy doesn’t have the same good fortune his LOB% afforded him last year), the real trouble spots may be Josh Collmenter and Joe Saunders. Much of the season could come down to how the D-backs react if the duo struggles. If they provide one or both with a long leash and they continually get battered, it could be an opportunity missed, as the D-backs have talent ready to replace them on the farm. Collmenter may not get much rope with which to hang his unorthodox delivery, but Saunders is the highest-paid pitcher on the team, and may not be pushed aside so easily.

The other big question mark is shortstop. With Stephen Drew unlikely to take the field before May, the team is once again casting their lot with Willie Bloomquist. This is a confusing decision, especially with the glovelier John McDonald now in the fold. Following Drew’s July 20th injury last season, Bloomquist hit .261/.315/.337. If Drew doesn’t come back quickly, sticking with Bloomquist could come back to haunt Arizona.

2013+ Outlook: 56 (8th)

By most accounts, the D-backs have a top 10 farm system. Our own Marc Hulet has them eighth, Keith Law at ESPN has them sixth, and Baseball America placed them fourth. Having a deep stable of pitchers will do that. Even after trading Jarrod Parker, in Trevor Bauer, Tyler Skaggs, Archie Bradley and Patrick Corbin, the D-backs have more pitching depth than just about every team in the game.

The positional player crop on the farm isn’t as strong, but part of that is because much of it has graduated — Goldschmidt, Parra and Upton are all homegrown (and another homegrown player, Collin Cowgill, was shipped off to Oakland as part of the Cahill package). Combine them with young veterans like Drew, Miguel Montero and Chris Young, and Arizona had one of the youngest teams in the game last year. That won’t change this year — of the key components of the 2012 team, only J.J. Putz, Ryan Roberts and Saunders are north of 30. And with the exception of Montero, all of the team’s young players are locked up through at least the end of next season. Talent-wise, the D-backs are in an excellent position moving forward.

Financial Resources: 42 (23rd)

The Diamondbacks have a relatively new ballpark, and are improving the quality of the product on the field, but are unfortunately stuck in a market that is going to keep them behind their NL West rivals financially. Of the five members of the division, the D-backs came in last in Forbes’ 2012 MLB team values. While Arizona is in a closely clustered group — eight teams were valued from $447-480 — they were on the low end of that spectrum, and the club’s upside is financial mediocrity. The team is still highly leveraged, and while they wisely reinvested in payroll this offseason, with the Opening Day payroll up by almost $15 million over last year, there probably will not be much wiggle room to take on salary during the season.

The other question that will continually crop up is do they have the money to keep their own players. The team was unable to come to terms with Montero on a contract extension, and as Matt Klaassen discussed earlier today, the team might not have the wherewithal for such a deal. With Saunders coming off the books, there may technically be room in the budget for Montero, but then that could hamstring the team when it comes to other players. Kennedy and Hudson (and to a lesser extent, Parra) will be due large raises in the near future, and if Goldschmidt takes off, they may want to lock him up as well. It’s a good problem to have, but Arizona is going to have to work hard to keep all of their talented players in the fold.

Baseball Operations: 48 (17th)

Kevin Towers came on board following the franchise’s faceplant in 2009 and 2010, but instead of a total teardown he made changes on the periphery, making low-risk, high-upside plays. He claimed Joe Paterson on waivers from the San Francisco Giants, where he was blocked by the immortal Jeremy Affeldt. He also took gambled on guys like Russell Branyan, Sean Burroughs, Wily Mo Pena, and J.J. Putz. Not all of those moves worked out, but you could see the logic in each one, and when one paid off, it paid off big — Putz was one of the most valuable relievers in the game last season. Throw in the in-season acquisition of Brad Ziegler, and three of the four most valuable relievers on last year’s D-backs squad were Towers’ imports. He and his staff drastically improved the bullpen, and did so on the cheap.

The gambles were not isolated to the bullpen either. Towers had the gumption to let former face of the franchise Brandon Webb walk, and that paid off in spades when his comeback lasted all of 12 innings…in Double-A. The Aaron Hill acquisition worked out as well as it possibly could have, and as the price of pitching steadily increased as the offseason progressed, the Trevor Cahill deal began to look like highway robbery. Of course, the biggest gamble was retaining Kirk Gibson — he of the 34-49 record — as the team’s manager. Gibson showed a firm hand with his players (at least publicly), eschewed traditional managerial tactics and took home Manager of the Year honors in his first full season. If he keeps it up, he will be on the short list for best manager in the game.

That isn’t to say that Towers and Co. have been bulletproof. Many questioned the Jason Kubel acquisition, and the team’s affinity for Bloomquist and Saunders is strange. It also would have been nice to see them give Goldschmidt 600 plate appearances, but Lyle Overbay — despite not being good with the bat or glove in 2011 — and his veteranness are likely to steal some playing time. But overall, things have been positive. While their ranking is 17th, one more point would have pushed their ranking to 13th.

Overall: 50 (16th)

It’s amazing how much difference one season can make. We buried Arizona in these org rankings a year ago, placing them higher than only Houston. The club’s 13-spot climb this season is tied for the largest jump, along with the Nationals. A lot went Arizona’s way in 2011, and more should go their way in the future. Their baseball operations base is solid both on the field and in the front office, they have a young team with a superstar who is locked up for four more seasons, and a groundswell of pitching on the farm that could transform their rotation from middling to monstrosity. If they make the right moves and catch some breaks, we may look back on 2011 as the beginning of a great run for the franchise.

The one thing they don’t have, however, is extra money. Their payroll may be maxed out for the season before it starts, and that gives the season a make-or-break feel. If Drew can suit up for 130 games, if Kennedy, Hudson and Roberts turn in consecutive good-to-great seasons, if Goldschmidt is the real deal, if they call up the kids at the first sign of trouble from Collmenter and/or Saunders, they could run away with the division. But if not, they will have a fight on their hands. Still, the opportunity is there. With the Phillies, Cardinals and Braves all already dealing with significant injuries, the NL lacks a clear favorite, and the D-backs are as poised as anyone to step into the breach.




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Paul Swydan is the managing editor of The Hardball Times and a writer and editor for FanGraphs. He has written for the Boston Globe, ESPN MLB Insider and ESPN the Magazine, among others. Follow him on Twitter @Swydan.


48 Responses to “2012 Organizational Rankings: #16 – Arizona”

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  1. Half A Billion says:

    Another factor in AZ’s low ranking is Fangraphs’ inherent and insipid bias towards any AL team.

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    • jim says:

      it’s certainly seeming that way of late… as well as a bias against arizona and colorado

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    • Judging by all your minuses, it seems that Fangraphs readers have a bias against silly claims.

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    • Well-Beered Englishman says:

      You mean like the 7 AL teams in the bottom 10?

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    • Damaso's Burnt Shirt says:

      Or it could be the simple fact that the remaining 7 AL clubs are
      1) in the money – NYY, Boston, LAA, Texas and maybe Toronto
      2) well run – TB, Toronto, NYY, Texas, Boston
      3) scary talented – NYY, Boston, TB, LAA, Texas, Det
      or
      4) All of the above Texas, NYY, Boston

      in comparison all but the best NL clubs.

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    • suicide squeeze says:

      Judging by eight straight years of the AL winning interleague play, reality seems to have a bias towards AL teams.

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    • chuckb says:

      cue the insanity!

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    • Eminor3rd says:

      I think everyone agrees the AL is better, but you have to consider that the talent disparity puts the not-so-good AL teams in a much worse position as they face the elite talent, thus justifying a lower spot on the org rankings — they simply have bigger obstacles in the way.

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  2. Baltar says:

    Well done, Paul. Thanks especially for pointing out how close the middle rankings are. That should help avoid a lot of criticism, but it probably won’t.

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  3. Jack says:

    I’m surprised that Fangraphs rated the Diamondbacks this low, but I do think its about right. Despite being the consensus favorite in the NL West, they aren’t noticeably better than the Giants, and it wouldn’t be shocking if LA or Colorado won the division either.

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  4. Bronnt says:

    If anything, 12th seems a bit low for their 2012 outlook. They’ve got one elite talent, and at almost every position on the diamond they can get league average production or better, especially if Stephen Drew comes back strong for 120ish games. The pitching isn’t elite, or extremely deep, but the defense is really good everywhere except where Willie Bloonquist happens to be. There’s certainly a lot of volatility in the NL West, but i see no reason they shouldn’t be considered the favorites there.

    Even though this franchise made a huge turnaround last year, it seems probable they weren’t given enough credit. Their biggest problem in the 2010 season was a terrible, terrible bullpen, which blew a ton of leads for them. Given the turnover rate of MLB bullpens and how fungible relief pitchers are, their failings were probably overemphasized last year.

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    • ValueArb says:

      I think their real ranking should be around 25th given the combination of financial resources and executive talent. They have cheap ownership that will likely average spending in the bottom quartile of the league. Combine that with the fluke season driven by talent acquired by Dipoto and Byrnes, that cemented a mediocre at best GM, Towers, in control for the next three years.

      Diamondbacks players produced 47.5 WAR last year. About 42 of that WAR was produced by players on the roster before Towers arrived. He spent more than an incremental $22M on free agents/arbitration/ and traded Mark Reynolds, Kelly Johnson & 7 minor leaguers to generate about 5 incremental WAR (adjusting for the WAR traded away). While the WAR/$ ratio is not awful, he was operating in the one area of the market where a GM should have a great WAR/$ ratio.

      Towers specializes in overpaying over the hill vets nearing replacement level to serve as backups and bench players, when he could have instead look for younger substitutes that not only would have been cheaper, but would have potential upside. He spends medium to low value minor leaguers like water to stretch the budget, which I can’t fault him for based on his own career needs, but it doesn’t bode well for organizational strength over time.

      If Towers had been more efficient about filling out his bench, he could have had enough money to actually pursue a difference making free agent or trade for a higher value, higher salaried starter at a position of need. The combination could have easily generated an incremental 7 or 8 WAR instead of the 5 he ended with.

      Tower’s one good move was trading Reynolds. It was a big part of fixing the bullpen, and Reynolds tanked in the tough AL East. The rest of his decisions ranged from obvious to head slappers.

      And as further evidence of his mediocrity, is his current offseason. $m for Willie Bloomquist? $15M for a so so hitting DH to play left field? $11M for Aaron Hill? $3M for John McDonald?

      Frequently painting yourself into a corner doesn’t not make you Leonardo Da Vinci.

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  5. Baty says:

    That 2013+ ranking holds them at a high standard. They still have suspect future hitting depth in conjunction with a typically uneventual FA presence, so they’ll need those SP prospects to carry them there. They might be very active in the trade market as they decide which pitching pieces are most worthy in acquiring that hitting depth.

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    • Mad Dan says:

      Seems reasonable. My guess is Philly, Atlanta, St. Louis, and the 7 remaining AL orgs will make up the top 10.

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      • Daniel says:

        dont sleep on the jays missing out.

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      • TheRuckus says:

        As a Phillies fan, I can’t see them ranking much higher than 10th. The future outlook and baseball operations scores have to be pretty low. I know financial resources is weighted pretty heavily, but still.

        Also, the Nationals scare the crap out of me. Maybe not this year, but 2013 and beyond? Assuming they don’t get too many bad breaks, they look like a juggernaut in waiting.

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  6. Vin says:

    It’s not I think this ranking is too low in general…but I’m very surprised at Arizona being below San Francisco.

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    • Scott says:

      Current Talent is probably similar between the two, but the Giants will have a much higher Financial Resources score. Those are the two most weighted categories, so it’s not surprising at all that San Francisco is higher than Arizona.

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      • Jon says:

        Agreed. The Giants seem like the worst organization now, but if they ever decide to fire Sabean, they will have the money to put their new GM to good use. The DBacks are promising right now, but as the analysis pointed out, they are going to have very little opportunity to recover from missteps (locking up the wrong young players, replacing injured players, etc.).

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      • Baltar says:

        I agree with Scott and Jon. While the Giants certainly rank near, if not at, the bottom in talent per dollars spent, they do have the dollars to spend, as this year’s $134M payroll attests.
        If they ever get decent management, the sky’s the limit.

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  7. jim says:

    anyone care to comment on upton’s plunge in K% seemingly without a corresponding change in his plate discipline numbers?

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    • jim says:

      seriously, no one has anything to say about that?

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      • chuckb says:

        Apparently you don’t even have anything to offer in that regard.

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      • Bubba says:

        Might have something to do with being 23 last season and continuing to develop his talent. This is not a 35 year old who had an outlier statistic. Upton is a young guy who was rushed to the majors and has been adjusting nonstop.

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  8. SenSurround says:

    The Baseball Org score seems on the low end to me. Sure the team doesn’t have money pumping in, but I feel like the team recently (as in since Towers came in) has done an above average job of using the resources they have available to them. I’m not gonna defend every move Towers has made, but the fliers he has taken that didn’t work out did not gimp the payroll (and were also let go before it hurt the team too badly), and the ones that worked largely worked out better than expected (so far). The team is mostly above average across the board with a back up plan that is at worst competant, as there it enough depth accross the board that no injury would cripple the team (though Upton would hurt pretty bad), which I attribute to a smart FO on a budget. Shouldn’t that be enough to be in the upper half of baseball, especially a baseball universe where teams are handing out bad contracts left and right? Sure they’re not the Jays or Rays, but, well, who else is?

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    • ValueArb says:

      Towers has done a horrible job everywhere except the bullpen. He was gifted all the starting talent and has egregiously misspent the few dollars he’s been given. he was even fortunate to fail in his attempts to trade Upton last winter.

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  9. adohaj says:

    As for their financial market. Phoenix is one of the larger metropolitan areas in the country (14th). But the majority of the citizens are retirees that probably already have a team affiliation and don’t care much about the Dbacks

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    • Well-Beered Englishman says:

      Same thing has plagued Florida baseball.

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    • Baltar says:

      Probably true, but the retirees could be won over with continued success.

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    • Diamondhacks says:

      I might say ‘transplants’ rather than ‘retirees’. The median ages in Arizona (35.9, per 2010 census) and Phoenix (32.2), are younger than the median age nationally (37.2). And these newcomers, of all ages, are transplanting when it’s more technologically convenient than ever to maintain old geographic allegiances. That’s a challenge for all the newer franchises, moreso when you dont win reasonably consistently.

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  10. Ippolit Shrilly says:

    heh. these things are so bad. entertaining though. i can’t wait for the one where everyone pretends the phillies are an excellent organization. lol.

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    • Ari Collins says:

      So your argument against them is.. what exactly? Their farm system sucks? “Ryan Howard contract lol”? Their farm system and their occasionally terrible FO decisions are enough to keep them from the top two or three spots, but they should be playoff favorites for the next several years.

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      • Ari Collins says:

        To be more clear: they score very high on the two categories most heavily-weighted (and rightly so): financial resources and current talent. Hard to argue that they’re not at or near the top in both. They don’t have the future talent or FO smarts of some of the other teams, but there aren’t too many organizations you’d rather have in your city.

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    • cable fixer says:

      ha. you’re evidentally not very familiar with fangraphs. i wouldn’t be surprised to see them right ahead of the nats at #9 or #10.

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  11. chel says:

    Thought I would see the Cubs today

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  12. Shane H says:

    The National West shoul be replaced with the Pacific Coast league.

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    • Jack says:

      Why? The National League West is among the most interesting division in baseball. Its the only division where each team has a legitimate chance of winning it. It wouldn’t even be shocking if they nabbed one of the two wild cards. The AL Central is far worse.

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    • Baltar says:

      These things go in cycles. The Giants and the Dodgers, with the latter’s new management, are historically good teams. Arizona’s coming up again. Colorado and San Diego, while not good, are far from bottom feeders.
      They will still be the weakest division this year, but they’ll have their seasons in the sun.

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    • Jim McLennan says:

      The NL West that went 106-97 against the NL Central and had a winning record in interleague play too?

      Sure… And replace the NL Central with the Arizona Fall League too.

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  13. fergie348 says:

    I know it’s spring, but Collmenter has an ERA of almost 12 in the Cactus league. Crazy..

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  14. Coach says:

    Why does the list go
    city name
    city name…
    Diamondbacks
    City name…

    Interesting

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