Haren And The Diamondbacks’ Young Core

Obviously, it has not been a successful year for the Arizona Diamondbacks. Yesterday’s demoralizing extra innings loss to San Francisco left the Diamondbacks at 37-62, 22 games behind the Padres in the division, with a .374 winning percentage. The only team in the National League with a worse record this season is the Pittsburgh Pirates, who are below .500 for the 18th straight season and currently have a 34-64 record. By any standards, the 2010 has to be a failure for the Diamondbacks.

That doesn’t mean that 2011 has to be a failure as well. The Diamondbacks’ impressive core led to an 87 win projection from our FAN projections, and PECOTA, CAIRO, and CHONE had projections ranging from 79 wins to 85 wins. Clearly, none of these systems foresaw how historically bad the Diamondbacks bullpen is this season. Despite a solid July (+1.16 WPA), the D’Backs bullpen still has a WPA of -6.92, more that 2.5 wins worse than the next worse team. Aside from that, the team has performed relatively well. The offense has been slightly below average, as has the starting rotation, but not to the point where the team should be 25 games below .500. The rest of the team has played closer to a .470 team than a .370 team, but that bullpen exposes all the flaws and more.

Many of the key pieces will be around for next year and beyond. Any discussion of the D’Backs core has to start with Justin Upton. Upton is having another solid season, with 2.8 WAR in 416 plate appearances, and he’ll be around until 2015 under a favorable $51.5 million contract. Chris Young is in the middle of a breakout season and is around until 2013. Mark Reynolds is under control until 2012, as is Stephen Drew. Kelly Johnson has one more year of arbitration remaining. Edwin Jackson is under control for 2011 and Ian Kennedy will be around until 2014. As a group, these players have compiled 15.8 WAR, on pace for around 25 WAR over a 162 game season. Young and Johnson have overplayed their projections, but Reynolds, Upton, and Drew have underplayed their own – as such, I feel like 25 WAR is a good, rough estimate for this group as a whole. If you are of a more conservative vein, anything in the range of 20-25 would be possible.

The problem is that these seven players have been surrounded by incompetence. Chris Snyder and Miguel Montero have performed well with split time at catcher, but other position players have been largely poor. The starting rotation has severely missed Brandon Webb, enough so that it has had to rely on players like Rodrigo Lopez, Billy Buckner, and Dontrelle Willis. We’ve already covered how terrible the bullpen has been.

A team that produces 32 WAR is typically a league average team, and 40-45 is should be enough to earn 90 wins and the playoff berth that typically comes with that total. Between the 20-25 WAR produced by the aforementioned core and the 5.0 produced by Haren, it shouldn’t take long to develop the supporting cast necessary to produce the remaining 10-15 WAR necessary to reach the playoffs. Relievers are fungible and the most abundantly available resource, and the Diamondbacks have a solid player in Brandon Allen and his .905 OPS in AAA coming up at first base. Perhaps the budget wouldn’t be enough to compete in 2011, but a large majority of those important players, including Dan Haren, would have been under control for more than just next season. The core that still remains probably needs one more star to compete, and with the relatively weakness at SP, Haren was the perfect fit.

The Diamondbacks, however, saw a .347 winning percentage and a situation that simply wasn’t salvageable, and the interim management reacted by dealing Dan Haren for a significantly worse but significantly cheaper starter in the short term. The move says to me that they don’t feel that this core can win games and reach the playoffs. Now, with Dan Haren replaced by a below average starter in Joe Saunders, they’re probably right. All the pieces were in place for Arizona. It’s simply disappointing to see such a young, promising team broken up at this stage in the game.

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19 Responses to “Haren And The Diamondbacks’ Young Core”

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  1. Disco says:

    Unrelated question, but how did Morneau’s WAR jump from 5.0 to 5.2 without playing a game since 7/7?

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    • Matthias says:

      I’m not exactly sure, but I would guess that it has to do with the baseline replacement level changing with league averages. I don’t know how they come up with the “replacement level,” but if it’s based – at least in part – on this season’s statistics, then it could easily change slightly in half a month. If replacement level drops like 0.2 WAR, then players who haven’t played will see that strange jump in their WARs.

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      • jklender says:

        Google’s cached page from July 20 has his run values as 35.1 (Batting), 8.0 (Fielding), 11.6 (Replacement), -6.1 (Positional) for 48.7 RAR and 5.0 WAR.

        The batting value is only up by 0.1 runs, but is it common for the defensive value to jump 1.6 runs in a time frame of six days?

        And this would be reflected league-wide, correct? Just doing a quick glance, Joey Votto is up a half-run in the past three days, and I see Adrian Gonzalez has jumped from 3.7 to 6.3 (!) since July 21. (And I’m not sure how all of these guys have performed defensively this past week, so obviously it will vary. I guess I just didn’t expect that sort of volatility.)

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    • Jack Moore says:

      UZR updates are weekly, so that might be where it’s coming from.

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  2. MikeS says:

    “Chris Young is in the middle of a breakout season.” I missede the memo where it was 2008 again.

    Hopefully for him he can sustain it this time.

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    • DavidCEisen says:

      This is the first year Young has posted a wRC larger than 100. His 2008 WAR was 2.2, so far this year he has accumulated 2.8.

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  3. Bill says:

    I think the Haren trade might have been excusable had they turned him into a near ready AAA pitcher with their sights clearly on 2011 or 2012, but the guys they got won’t be ready for a very long time. The core will be expensive by the time the newly acquired pitchers will be ready to help.

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    • swheatle says:

      The rumors I read said AZ wanted TWO big league ready/established starters that they could plug into their rotation. I guess two A ball pitchers and salary dump is all DiPoto could get.
      I’m guessing the owners told DiPoto to jump and he asked ‘how high?’

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  4. HeyNow says:

    No love for Barry Enright?

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  5. LMack says:

    During Sportscenter on ESPN this morning, ESPN used WAR to discuss Haren’s value and directly cited Fangraphs.

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    • Travis L says:

      That’s awesome news! Although I sometimes do suspect they use something like WAR almost entirely so that Krukie or one of the other idiots can go “I dun don’t get there here numbers, let me tell you what the Might Gut tells me…”

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    • Travis L says:

      That’s awesome news! Although I sometimes do suspect they use something like WAR almost entirely so that Krukie or one of the other idiots can go “I dun don’t get there here numbers, let me tell you what the Mighty Gut tells me…”

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    • Alex says:

      Pretty sure fangraphs has a deal with ESPN. You’ll see links to Fangraphs articles on the sidebar on ESPN from time to time. Not to say its not a solid development.

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      • CircleChange11 says:

        They have also been using WPA, which is kind of funny to hear Chris McKendry (sp?) pronounce and explain it. Reading the teleprompter was never more obvious.

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  6. Jdub says:

    I could be wrong, but I’m pretty sure Reynolds is under control through 2013. 2008 was his first full year, although he did play half of 2007.

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  7. valuearb says:

    Pretty spot on article. Making a bad trade is bad in itself, but when it guts the team’s hopes for the next few years, it’s far worse. Ownership doesn’t want to spend any money, so they traded their most valuable pitcher because he makes $12M, without considering or caring that getting a similar pitcher for $12M per year in the FA market is almost impossible.

    One of the reasons Haren is having a disappointing season, and why the starting rotation is even slightly below average is because they have been flogged heavily to avoid going to the bullpen. Edwin Jackson is a great example of this, he’s given up some big runs late in starts when he was clearly tired, but when his bullpen was full of 7.0 ERA gas-cans, Hinch went with the starter in a close game.

    Now I hear a rumour of Edwin Jackson being traded, essentially ownership is going to follow the Tampa Bay Ray path to success, only 10 more years of high draft positions and voila! suddenly they’ll be good again.

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  8. Rich says:

    Can we get a “Dan Haren is already hurt” article now?/

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  9. Stephen says:

    This team needs to rebuild their farm system with ARMS and players who can play defense. You win the NL West with pitching and defense. Every park in the NL West is considered a pitchers park except maybe Chase Field. Since you play each team in your division 18 or 19 times a season that means at least 72 games are played AGAINST teams in your divison. Why fight the elements.

    They should trade every veteran over age 28 for a number of good/decent prospects; especially pitchers and rebuild. They are in last place with a $70 million dollar payroll, 2 years in a row. You can finish last with a $35 million dolar payroll with younger guys wo LOVE to play the game and will bust it night in and night out. These veterans are playing for the money and NOT the love of the game- they have checked out emotionally and it shows. Being a professional is ALWAYS playing hard, no matter what.

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