A Statistical Look at the 2010 Diamondbacks Position Players

With pitchers and catchers due to report to Spring Training in two weeks, we are now in that part of the off-season where thoughts of last year drift into the backs of our minds replaced with the hopes and dreams of what the coming season will hold.

Typically this is the time of year where media types begin predicting how the baseball season will unfold ending with predictions of the winners and losers. These predictions almost always come back in October to haunt the prognosticator.

One of the more realistic predictions comes from the team over at Baseball Prospectus. With complex statistical models; computers churn coming out with statistical analysis of each team and player.

Many of the models have a foundation in Sabermetrics. Of those, I usually pay particular attention to the Player Empirical Comparison and Optimization Test Algorithm (PECOTA). This is a system developed by Baseball Prospectus that compares a player’s season with thousands of previous player statistics in an attempt to forecast what a player will do in the upcoming season.

Within the PECOTA data is Value Over Replacement Player (VORP). This statistic identifies the number of runs contributed by a player over what a replacement player at the same position would produce if given the same plate appearances. VORP is strictly an offensive category to determine how valuable a player is to a team’s run production.

For the 2009 season, the Arizona Diamondbacks position players with the largest VORP numbers were third baseman Mark Reynolds with a 42.7 followed by Justin Upton (41.4), and Miguel Montero (28.0). I mention these numbers as a comparison to what Baseball Prospectus forecasts for the 2010 Diamondbacks.

The PECOTA data is broken down by individual player which is put into tabular form to produce a team’s depth chart. We will go through each position to see where the Diamondbacks will see improvement over 2009 and which players may be primed for big years at the plate.

For the past three years the Arizona Diamondbacks have been attempting to trade for Atlanta second baseman Kelly Johnson including a proposed deal before last season that would have traded outfielder Conor Jackson to the Braves.

When Johnson was not tendered a contract and became a free agent Arizona leapt at the chance to add the infielder. Johnson came off a terrible season in 2009 making him expendable to the Braves.

Diamondbacks General Manager Josh Byrnes believes Johnson’s 2009 statistics are an anomaly with 2010 production increasing. Baseball Prospectus seems to echo Byrnes optimism believing Johnson will have a .278 average with 14 home runs, 72 RBI, and 10 stolen bases earning him a 28.6 VORP.

That would definitely be a positive for the Diamondbacks anemic offense. Johnson will be backed up this season by Ryan Roberts and Augie Ojeda. According to Baseball Prospectus, the Diamondbacks will realize a significant decrease in production if Johnson goes down.

The VORP values for Roberts (4.8) and Ojeda (0.8) suggest that the Diamondbacks have very little depth at second base that could come in and take over the offensive production if Johnson gets injured.

At shortstop the numbers suggest that Stephen Drew is in line to overcome some of the struggles he had in 2009 and will rebound with a .265 batting average scoring 81 runs while hitting 16 home runs and driving in 72 RBI. These are still well below the statistics he put up in 2008 leading you to wonder which is the real Stephen Drew?

2009 was a break-out year for right fielder Justin Upton. He earned his first of we hope many all-star appearances in just his third year. For 2010 statistics suggest Upton to have another productive season with a .277 batting average scoring 92 runs while hitting 27 home runs and driving in 86 RBI earning a 31.4 VORP.

Third baseman Mark Reynolds is poised to come down to earth a little after an amazing 2009 campaign. He is projected to have a .252 batting average hitting 29 home runs and driving in 89 RBI and a 24.7 VORP to lead the team. If accurate, this would be a substantial drop off from last season; not exactly good news for a struggling Diamondbacks offense.

With Eric Byrnes now gone, the left field job has been given to Conor Jackson. Jackson suffered a miserable 2009 season due to contracting “valley fever”. The statistics suggest Jackson will recover nicely with a .278 batting average with 12 home runs and 65 RBI and a 15.7 VORP.

Newly signed first baseman Adam LaRoche is projected to hit a respectable .276 with 18 home runs and 70 RBI for a 12.9 VORP. While not bad statistics, it does make you wonder whether the Diamondbacks might have been better off moving Jackson to first and finding a left fielder able to put up better numbers.

Catcher Miguel Montero entered the 2009 season as the backup with rumors swirling that he would be traded. With injuries to starter Chris Snyder, Montero made the most of his opportunity and put up impressive numbers.

For 2010 the statistics suggest last season was not a fluke. He is projected to hit .272 with 13 home runs and driving in 47 with a 19.2 VORP. Statistics suggest Snyder will struggle offensively hitting only .236 in 281 plate appearances further fueling the suggestion that he will be traded this season.

One of the biggest disappointments of 2009 was the play of center fielder Chris Young. After signing a long-term contract he struggled most of the year before being sent down to Triple-A Reno. A late season call-up showed signs that Young would rebound.

The statistical forecast seems to agree that Young will get back to previous levels. In 567 plate appearances it predicts a .241 batting average with 20 home runs and 59 runs batted in for a 14.3 VORP. Fans and team officials would be thrilled to have those statistics from Young.

The 2010 model isn’t good news for everyone. Second year outfielder Gerardo Parra looks to have a slight decrease over last year’s numbers. For 2010 the numbers suggest he will have a .279 batting average with four home runs and 28 RBI and a 3.0 VORP. Not exactly the kind of numbers that will get you a starting job in the outfield.

Tomorrow we’ll look at the analysis for the Diamondbacks pitching staff and where all of this will lead if players reach their suggested levels.


2 Comments

  1. JEMinnich

    I’m not sure I agree with the stats for Gerardo Parra. He’s one player I think will live up to and over his projections.

    • I think they may be accurate for the 2010 season as most players digress slightly during their second year. That’s not to say those will be his career numbers, he may very well become a better outfielder both offensively and defensively over time. If you looked at Montero’s numbers after his first season it may be similar to what Parra faces yet when given the chance in 2009 Miguel showed a much better VORP than anticipated.

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