Offseason Overview – Arizona Diamondbacks

Mar 07, 12 Offseason Overview – Arizona Diamondbacks

Arizona Diamondbacks
2011 RECORD: 94-68
PRESIDENT: Derrick Hall GM: Kevin Towers
KEY ACQUISITIONS: Trevor Cahill, Craig Breslow, Jason Kubel, Takashi Saito
KEY DEPARTURES: Jason Marquis, Xavier Nady, Kam Mickolio, Jarrod Parker

Coming off a 94-win season and the NL-West division title, Towers made some key additions to bolster the rotation and bullpen at a minimal cost to the teams low payroll. Shipping out the minor league system for Trevor Cahill was definitely the highlight of the D-backs offseason. Craig Breslow and Takashi Saito will add depth to the bullpen while Jason Kubel will take over LF in what is a questionable move by the organization.

Cahill joins Ian Kennedy, Daniel Hudson, and Josh Collmenter to form a deadly rotation which rivals their NL-West counterparts in San Francisco. Kennedy comes off a stellar season in which he posted a 3.22 FIP. While Hudson’s numbers don’t look as great as Kennedy’s, he was just as efficient with a 3.28 FIP on 222 IP.

I see Cahill settling in as a solid #3 rather than the 1-2 type that some project. The biggest worry is control: his career BB% is 8.8% (quite high), however; his strikeout rate has increased in each of his first three seasons and was 16.3% last season – which is impressive for a groundball pitcher. But don’t expect Cahill to bounce back to his 2010 numbers (18-8, 2.97 ERA) even with the pitcher-friendly transition to the NL. Cahill’s adjusted numbers were actually better last year as he posted a 4.10 FIP, down .09 from 2010. What changed was his BABIP which normalized to .302 in 2011 after being .236 the year prior. Also, Cahill is moving from a spacious Oakland Colosseum to the hitter-friendly Chase Field where he will be liable to giving up more home runs.

Take a look at the heat-charts below which compare the location of sinkers thrown by Cahill and sinkerball-extraordinaire Derek Lowe in 2011. Lowe is notorious for posting league-high ground-ball rates because of his ability to consistently keep his sinker low in the zone. The heat graphs highlight Lowe’s ability to keep his sinker low and away in the zone. Cahill will have to do just that otherwise he risks giving up more homeruns in Chase Field.

Trevor Cahill (top) and Derek Lowe Heat Maps – Sinkers (From FanGraphs.com) AB vs L on left – vs R on right

The bullpen should again be strong in 2012 with J.J. Putz, Brad Ziegler, Joe Paterson, and David Hernandez coming back after great years. Added to the mix will be veteran Takashi Saito who is 42 years old but holds a career 2.65 FIP. Health is the concern; the club opted not to give Saito a physical after signing him since they knew he would fail it. Instead, they will be cautious with him and will have him on a specialized work-out and training program throughout spring.

Bringing in Jason Kubel was the move that turned heads around the league. Kubel inked a 2-year $15M deal to make him the starting LF, sending Gold Glove outfielder Gerardo Parra to a minimized bench-role. Let’s first look at Parra and then dive into what Kubel brings to the table.

The 24-year-old Parra broke-out with a stellar defensive season while putting up solid numbers at the plate. Parra finished with a slash of .292/.357/.427 and stole 15 bases in 16 attempts. While he managed a .357 OBP on a 8.7% walk rate, Parra’s lack of power comes to light with his career.316 wOBA. It is reasonable to be skeptical of Parra’s ability to match or outperform his 2011 production since he is coming of a .342 BABIP. Parra does have a career .338 BABIP but in 2010, when his BABIP dipped to .322, his BA tanked to .261 with a wOBA of just .291. Furthermore, his OBP is generously high because of free passes granted to Parra in the 8-hole with the pitcher on-deck.

The case to keep Parra as the starter is more about his defensive presence than anything else: he is able to man all three spots in the OF and covers a lot of ground. Teamed with Chris Young in center and Justin Upton in right, the D-backs have a strong case for the best defensive outfield in the league – which is deadly coupled with the club’s stellar rotation.

Kubel joins the club with a track record of hitting home runs. The intuition is that he will add a veteran presence and be a middle-of-the-order bat from the left side. Kubel is coming off a mediocre season in which his wOBA was just .332 while also spending time on the DL. 2010 was actually a worse year for Kubel – .326 wOBA. The back-to-back down years made him affordable and available on just a two-year contract – the hope is he will bounce back to his 2009 stellar season in which Kubel posted a .239 ISO and .383 wOBA.

Kubel’s fly ball rate is quite high and has been increasing over the years – the hope is that he will be able to convert more fly balls into home runs in Chase Field, something he failed to do during the last two years in Minnesota. For Arizona, this will come at the expense of having a top defensive outfielder replaced by a poor defender who spent 1/3 of his starts as a DH last season.

According to Bill James’ and ZiPS projections, at best Kubel is projected to provide between 5-8 additional offensive runs over Parra, however; over the past three years, Parra has saved on average, 10 more runs per year than Kubel [based off FanGraphs Defensive Runs Saved (DRS)].

The reliability of defensive metrics has been questioned but Ultimate Zone Rating (UZR) is one defensive measure that correlates as well as wOBA (which is one of the most reliable and highly regarded sabermetric statistics). So lets compare Kubel and Parra in terms of UZR/150 (per 150 innings). Parra has a career 9.5 UZR/150 (in three seasons) while Kubel has a career -17 UZR/150 which is atrocious.

Based on metrics, Kubel actually detracts from the team as a full time replacement for Parra, however; Parra should be able to get in at least 300 plate appearances by playing on off days for each of the three starters, starting in interleague road games, and coming in as a late inning defense replacement for Kubel. Also, bringing on Kubel gives the club injury insurance in the outfield.

OTHER NOTES

Towers was questioned after giving two veteran utility players, John McDonald and Willie Bloomquist (who have played sparingly in the past few years) two-year deals when many agreed that the two wouldn’t have garnered anything more than one year plus an option in the open market.

The club signed Mike Jacobs to a minor league deal. Jacobs was last relevant in 2008 when he hit 32 home runs in Florida. He will face a 50-game suspension for substance-abuse before he is able to play.

2012 PAYROLL

2011’s payroll was just over the $56M mark. The 2012 payroll  is expected to be around $75M which is a significant increase, showing the club’s seriousness to compete in 2012. At the same time, the D-backs will be in a tough situation if Kubel doesn’t pan out and they are forced to eat his $15M and trade for a bat mid-season.

2012 OUTLOOK

The NL West is going to be competitive in 2012. The D-Backs success in 2012 will again be largely determined by the repeat success of their rotation. We know the team can hit (3rd best slugging team in NL last year) and will continue to put up solid offensive numbers with Justin Upton yet to reach his prime and Miguel Montero developing into a premier hitter behind the plate. The question-mark is Stephen Drew, who is expected to be back by opening day. If he stays healthy and hits around his career average, the D-backs will be in great shape.

Arizona made the right move to further bolster their rotation and bullpen with the likes of Cahill, Breslow, and Saito. Kennedy and Hudson should be able to anchor the rotation as they did last year. If Cahill can provide a solid 200 innings of sub 4 FIP, this club will roll through the NL West.

LONG-TERM OUTLOOK

Arizona is one of few clubs that does not have any bad contracts bogging them down. Upton’s contract is the largest the team has on the books and keeps him in Arizona until the end of 2015 at a reasonable price. Kennedy, Hudson, and Roberts are all under control for the next four years while Parra is under team control for the next five seasons. Given the club’s desire to keep the payroll low, if the team doesn’t win in the next two years, expect to see some of the young talent moved prior to their contracts blowing up in arbitration.

For the foreseeable future, expect Arizona to milk their young talent while adding talent through trades and short-term deals for veteran free agents.

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