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.