Every year, Bill James, ACTA Sports, and Baseball Info Solutions collaborate to produce The Bill James Handbook. In addition to providing vital and unique statistics from the just-completed season, the Handbook attempts to project player performances for the upcoming year. The projections are mostly based on a player's age and career history, although some deduction and intuition are necessarily involved.
The 2011 Arizona Diamondbacks scored between 731 runs, their highest total since 2006 and their second-highest since 2002. Considering that across Major League Baseball, fewer runs were scored per game than in any year since 1992, the D-backs' production was pretty impressive. With that in mind, it's understandable that general manager Kevin Towers and company appear content to essentially return last year's squad of players and forgo any major additions.
That being written, there are several questions about whether the returning players can duplicate their 2011 performances. Who amongst this motley crew has another year of magic left in him? Without further delay, here are the educated guesses from the Bill James Handbook:
* The D-backs and LaRoche have a $7.5 M mutual option for 2011
+ Indicates an arbitration-eligible player
Sometimes, these projections make you scratch your head. Bill James predicts that at age 40, Henry Blanco will get the most at-bats that he's seen since 2006 despite backing up one of the best all-around catchers in baseball.
I've been one of Paul Goldschmidt's biggest supporters for years, but even I think that this projection for him is unrealistic. While I have little doubt that Goldie will eventually make 32 homer, 99 RBI seasons commonplace, I don't see that happening in his first full season at the age of 24. He's going to have an adjustment period before becoming the greatest first baseman in Diamondbacks history.
If these predictions are anywhere near accurate, the D-backs had better hope that Stephen Drew fully recovers from his broken ankle. The three middle infielders that Arizona hastily re-signed this winter - Aaron Hill, Willie Bloomquist, and John McDonald - are each projected to be huge drains on the offense. I think Hill will be able to outperform James' projections due to playing half of his games at Chase Field, and both Hill and McDonald should be plus-defenders even if they do not hit much. Still, it's hard to believe that Arizona just committed $18 million over the next two seasons to those three aging players before seeing how the middle infielder market might pan out.
In contrast, returning the four main outfielders from last season portends to work out well, as all four of them are either in their primes or just entering them. Only 24-years old, Justin Upton is primed for his best season yet. Chris Young could be headed for his fourth 20/20 season, Gerardo Parra is ready to flirt with batting .300 once again, and who wouldn't take a .283 batting average with power and speed from their fourth outfielder as James is predicting for Collin Cowgill this year?
Cowgil's performance could be very important. Aside from Drew, no key player on Arizona's offense suffered a major injury last season. That's not likely to happen again, so the depth of this roster will be tested. We already assume that Drew is not going to be ready for the start of the season. With a couple more injuries, players like Henry Blanco really will get more playing time than we anticipate. If that happens, the Diamondbacks will struggle to score runs in 2012.
If, however, Paul Goldschmidt really does deliver 30-some home runs given a full season in the majors and the rest of the roster provides more or less what they did last season, the Diamondbacks will have one of the best offenses in the National League.
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