Every year, Bill James, ACTA Sports, and Baseball Info Solutions collaborate to produce The Bill James Handbook. In addition to providing vital proprietary 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.
Young starting pitching taking the next step forward and a dramatically improved bullpen were two major factors that led to Arizona's 2011 NL West title. Bill James and Baseball Info Solutions do their best to project whether the Arizona Diamondbacks' pitching staff can replicate that performance for 2012:
It might surprise some to see Daniel Hudson projected to match Ian Kennedy's performance next year, but that projection has a lot of merit. While Kennedy had a better strikeout rate last season, Hudson had a superior walk rate, home run rate, and groundball ratio. Additionally, Hudson is more than two years younger than Kennedy and pitched extremely well after a rough April, going 15-8 with a 3.15 ERA the rest of the way.
The numbers predicted here for Josh Collmenter might prove a little more optimistic. Much of Collmenter's success is due to his deceptive delivery. Teams who faced him multiple times last season usually fared much better after getting used to his idiosyncrasies. Even within individual games, hitters made significant adjustments; they batted just .176 against him in their first at-bat of a game, but .305 in their second. Still, if Collmenter can even manage an ERA around 4.00, that should be enough for the team to remain in contention, assuming the dual aces at the top of the rotation perform as expected. If hitter adjustments really suffocate Collmenter, he should be able to shift back to a bullpen role and have success there.
The uncertainty surrounding Collmenter has a lot of Diamondbacks fans hoping that the team will retain the services of veteran innings-eater Joe Saunders. The southpaw came off the second-best season of his career at age 30, and figures to make between $7 and $8 million in arbitration for 2012, but he has a precariously low strikeout rate. If James' prediction for Saunders is accurate, the veteran simply won't be worth that kind of money. General manager Kevin Towers should be able to find a free agent starter who can give him 200 innings and a 4.20 ERA for about half that sum, or alternatively pursue a similarly-priced free agent who could be a legitimate #3 starter.
While the Handbook identifies Wade Miley as a very competent fifth starter, the 25-year-old southpaw will have internal competition for that role from top prospect Jarrod Parker right away as well as about a half-dozen other promising pitchers who could be ready to contribute by midseason. While it is difficult to determine how that will shake out exactly, in all likelihood the Diamondbacks will get above-average production from the back of their rotation.
The Bill James Handbook's prognostications are typically on the conservative side, but that isn't true of the top two relievers from Arizona's 2011 bullpen. James has 35-year-old reliever J.J. Putz replicating his 2011 success even though it was easily his best season since 2007. The 44 saves slated for Putz would be one shy of the major league lead, according to the Handbook. Meanwhile, David Hernandez is entering his prime, but James expects him to regress significantly from his 2011 numbers, going from striking out ten batters per nine innings to averaging a strikeout per inning and watching his ERA balloon from 3.38 to just over 4.00. Most likely, the combined numbers of Putz and Hernandez will at least be close to what James has foreseen, with the two unusual predictions canceling each other out to a degree.
The entries for the rest of the bullpen are less controversial, but the important aspect to note regarding them is that the D-backs should have at least three setup men capable of posting sub-4.00 earned run averages. Additionally, it's a well-balanced pen; Ziegler and Patterson are extremely tough on right- and left-handed hitters, respectively, while Shaw has shown an ability to retire hitters equally well regardless of handedness.
Overall, 2012 figures to be another impressive season for the Diamondbacks' pitching staff, barring injuries. Unfortunately, injuries are a real concern. Each of Arizona's top three starters threw way more innings in 2011 than they ever had in their careers prior, which is typically a no-no for young pitchers. Their dominant closer has an injury history and isn't getting any younger. Unless the Diamondbacks make significant additions to the pitching staff this offseason, they will not have the depth to overcome the nearly inevitable injuries that the most important pitchers will suffer in 2012.
Premium FutureBacks.com members can view the Bill James Handbook Hitter Projections for the 2012 Diamondbacks as well.
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