What a fine young collection of talent the Snakes have. In the outfield, Eric Byrnes, Chris Young and Carlos Quentin should give them good offence and good defence. The defensive improvement of Byrnes over Luis Gonzalez in left, Young over Byrnes in center and Quentin over Shawn Green in right should be considerable. Scott Hairston makes an excellent 4th outfielder, with Byrnes sliding back into center if required. Toiling away in the minors will be hot prospect Carlos Gonzalez and Alex Romero.
Arizona is set for a long time in the outfield.
The infield is similarly set. Chad Tracy at third, Stephen Drew at short, Orlando Hudson at second and Conor Jackson at first, with Miguel Montero catching should also provide good offence and good defence. Albert Callaspo backs up the middle infielders and Chris Snyder is the second catcher.Here are the Marcel projections and 2006 Dial ratings, where available for the Arizona hitters, with modifications as follows. I have projected Carlos Quentin and Chris Young as the everyday right-fielder and centerfielder, and reduced Jerry DaVanon's playing time accordingly. I have projected Stephen Drew as the everyday shortstop and , but discounted playing time somewhat because of durability issues. I projected Conor Jackson as the everyday first baseman. I increased Montero's playing time to reflect his likely role as a starter against right-handed pitching most of the time; I decreased Snyder's playing time.
I have the Diamondbacks scoring about 800 runs next year. There is more variability than usual here, because of the youth of the club. The club lacks, as of this moment, what Bill James described as a "locus of danger". Quentin and Young could leap into the role of bangers, but that is more likely to happen in 2008 than in 2007.
What a difference 8 months makes. As of the All-Star break last year, Arizona had Brandon Webb and not much else in the rotation. Since then, they have added Livan Hernandez, Doug Davis and Randy Johnson in trades. Behind those front four, they have Edgar Gonzalez, Dustin Nippert, Dana Eveland and Micah Owings. Webb is one of the three best starters in the National League, along with Roy Oswalt and Chris Carpenter. Johnson is 43 years old, and coming off an off-season for him. He will probably start the season on the DL after off-season back surgery. He pitched better than his 5.00 ERA would indicate, but there was a red flag or two, between the declining K rate (though it was a still healthy 7.7) and the abysmal performance with runners on. Hernandez seems to take abuse better than just about anybody, and deliver league average pitching year after year. His K rate is however falling slightly each year; it was 5.1 last year at age 31, and that is getting close to the danger zone for a right-handed pitcher without exceptional control. Old friend Davis continued his 3 year streak of .500 pitching in 2006, but was noticeably less effective than previously in all departments, although he did pitch better than his 4.91 ERA would suggest. Gonzalez seems to have a leg-up on the 5th starter role at this point, and has a reasonable chance to perform decently. Eveland is probably the better choice long-term; he is an extreme ground-ball pitcher, who also struck out more than a batter per inning in triple A at age 22. He may start the season in the pen, as the second lefty there.
What do you make of Jose Valverde? He will probably be Arizona's closer to start the season. I will tell you what I think. In a fantasy league, he is the one player I would want to get. He posted an ERA of 5.82 in 49 innings last year, so he may come cheap. Here is what I like about him. He pitched much better than his ERA would suggest, with his FIP of 3.28 better capturing his ability to punch out hitters at an almost-Wagnerian pace, while not walking too many. What afflicted him last year was two things: the inability of his defence to turn balls in play into outs and his own uncharacteristic failures with runners on base. Valverde is a fly-ball pitcher, and the Arizona outfield defence should be much, much better this year. I expect a return to 2005 form from him.
Contenders for the other spots in the pen are Brandons Medders and Lyon, Juan Cruz, Jorge Julio, Tony Pena and Doug Slaten. Medders would be my bet for the set-up role, and is at this point not a likely candidate for the Duane Ward comp award. The pen is right now the obvious weakness on the club.
The pitching projections
I have monkeyed with Marcel's projections a little. The D'Back fly-ball defence should be much improved, and so the flyball pitchers get a boost. Randy Johnson gets a boost in all performance categories from leaving the AL, but I have reduced his innings projected from 185 to 155 in light of his age and the injury that will keep him from starting the season in the rotation. Jose Valverde's strikeouts have been increased from 9.5 to 11.3, consistent with his 3 year record.
I have the Diamondbacks allowing about 750 runs this year.
What does it all add up to?
Looking purely at runs scored and allowed, one would say 84 wins. The team undershot their Pythagorean in 2006 by 4 games, and the bullpen does remain a weakness. The bench, however, is upgraded, and I expect Valverde to be much, much better, so let's say this year that they make it close, and end up with 83 wins. A couple of seemingly minor bullpen acquisitions though might very well push them into serious contention in a fairly weak division. I imagine that they will wait to the All-Star break to see how the young players are developing, and to watch Johnson's health.
83 wins would make a very nice start for the Snakes to a long run of greatness. That seems to me to be where this club is at. Think 1983-84, Jay fans. Do you remember Randy Moffitt, Joey McLaughlin, Roy Lee Jackson and Dave Geisel in the bullpen and young Barfield and Moseby in the outfield? That's where the Snakes are.