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March 2, 2012

The BP First Take

Friday, March 2

by Daniel Rathman

On Thursday, Ben Lindbergh examined the roster flaws of baseball’s best teams. For the Diamondbacks, he identified trouble spots at first and third base, which are occupied by Paul Goldschmidt and Ryan Roberts, respectively.

We also learned on Thursday that shortstop Stephen Drew is still recovering from the gruesome ankle injury he suffered on July 20. Doctors initially told Drew that it would take a full year to regain flexibility and strength in the ankle, which means that playing on Opening Day would put the 28-year-old nearly four months ahead of schedule. Both Drew and manager Kirk Gibson were noncommittal when asked if he would be ready by April 6, but one thing is nearly certain—he will not be 100 percent.

If Drew needs to start the season on the disabled list, Gibson would likely turn to veteran John McDonald at short, preferring his steady glove to the small offensive edge Willie Bloomquist might offer.

Second base is also a question mark. Aaron Hill—acquired with McDonald late last season from the Blue Jays for Kelly Johnson—enjoyed a renaissance in the desert, batting .315/.386/.492 over 142 plate appearances. But Hill was worth -0.2 WARP overall in 2011, and his September surge was buoyed by a .359 BABIP that does not jibe with his career .285 mark.

Even with Drew at shortstop, the Diamondbacks’ infield appears to be an Achilles heel. Without his steady, productive presence, the group as a whole may be the team’s undoing. Fortunately for the Diamondbacks, the other components of their roster are strong.

In stark contrast to the infield, the outfield—comprised of Chris Young in center, flanked by Justin Upton and Jason Kubel, with Gerardo Parra serving as an elite fourth outfielder—is one of the best overall units in the league. Upton is a trendy MVP candidate, and both he and Young are Gold Glove-caliber defenders. That is particularly important for the D’backs, because their pitching staff relies heavily on fly-ball outs. 

The addition of Trevor Cahill strengthened the starting rotation, while the Takashi Saito signing deepened the bullpen. The Diamondbacks also have reinforcements on their way through the farm system, most notably top prospect Trevor Bauer, who should debut before the end of the summer.

The question marks in the infield are the only obstacles that currently stand between the Diamondbacks and a second consecutive division crown. But if Drew is not healthy and Hill fades back to his pre-September form, a repeat in the NL West is far from certain. 

This Week in Sabermetrics 101
Another week, another tremendous guest speaker. Andy Andres and the class welcomed the one and only Bill James, who spoke about his complex philosophy and the roots of his interest in sabermetrics. 
 
James began the class with a thought experiment, asking students to explain the difference between a superstition and a religion. He went on to explain that what the sabermetrics movement has had to do over the past two decades is push baseball away from a belief system—a religion, if you will—about the game.  
 
The rest of the class was a Q&A session, during which James answered questions about his projection system, working for the Red Sox, and evaluating players at the collegiate level. He opined that the next talent-evaluation inefficiency to be addressed is the oversight of quality players in lower-division college programs outside of the top NCAA Division I conferences.
 
For more details on the class, see this recap of James' appearance in The Tufts Daily.

Daniel Rathman is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Daniel's other articles. You can contact Daniel by clicking here

5 comments have been left for this article.

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