Kiss 'Em Goodbye is a series focusing on MLB teams as their postseason dreams fade—whether in September (or before), the division series, league championship series or World Series. It combines a broad overview from Baseball Prospectus, a front-office take from former MLB GM Jim Bowden, a best- and worst-case scenario ZiPS projection for 2012 from Dan Szymborski, and Kevin Goldstein's farm system overview.
Congrats to the Arizona Diamondbacks for going from worst to first, but their season ends here.
Projected 2012 Lineup
This lineup looks a lot better with a healthy Drew. Parker, who's one of the better pitching prospects in baseball, could give their rotation a nice boost.
Gerardo Parra filled the team's void in left field, finishing with the highest FRAA of any outfielder (15.6) in his first above-average season with the bat. In the rotation, Ian Kennedy had the peripherals to back up the buzz generated by his 21 wins, and 24-year-old Daniel Hudson proved that his fine finish to 2010 was no fluke. Both pitchers made 33 starts, pitched 222 innings, and contributed more than four wins above replacement player to the Diamondbacks' cause.
Arizona's rebuilt bullpen finished 14th in baseball with a 3.71 ERA. Normally that wouldn't be much to brag about, but in the wake of a historically unsuccessful performance that saw the Snakes' relief corps record a 5.74 ERA that was more than a run worse than any other team, reaching the middle of the pack represented real progress.
Signs of disaster: The sight of Willie Bloomquist starting an elimination game in the National League Division Series spoke volumes about Arizona's offensive depth. Other than Upton, there wasn't much upside to a lineup that featured few other standout showings. The Snakes scored the fourth-most runs in the league, but their .256 true average, which accounts for Chase Field's offensive inflation, was just the Senior Circuit's seventh-highest. The team endured long stretches of subpar production at first and second before plugging those holes with Paul Goldschmidt and Aaron Hill, respectively, and the loss of Stephen Drew in June and Ryan Roberts' post-April swoon further strained the team's run scoring. The Diamondbacks finished with the majors' largest differential (10.5 games) between their actual record and their third-order record based on underlying statistics, which suggests that they might have had some luck on their side.
Signs you can ignore: Arizona's rotation was home to multiple mirages. Josh Collmenter earned rookie of the year consideration by recording a 3.38 ERA after an April call-up and a May transition to the rotation, but he wasn't a highly regarded prospect. It's easy to see why scouts didn't like his stuff: the righty's fastball averages a shade over 87 mph, which makes his heater one of the slowest of any non-knuckleballing right-hander. After May, he managed only an unexceptional 3.97 ERA, and his .255 BABIP seems ripe for further regression. Collmenter can still be a fit as a fourth or fifth starter, but his rookie season may have given rise to unrealistic expectations. Joe Saunders, who finished with the lowest strikeout rate (4.6 Ks per nine innings) of any NL starter with at least 200 innings pitched, is even less likely to reprise his sub-4.00 ERA. —Ben Lindbergh, Baseball Prospectus
Bowden's Bold Move
The Diamondbacks had a breakout season with their young club, and they should contend again next year. The best move they can make this offseason is to make no moves—instead just bring back this team intact.
The bold move Arizona should make is to sign manager Kirk Gibson to a five-year extension. Gibson is the front runner for the NL manager of the year award, and in his first season demonstrated that he has the potential to become one of the game's best managers. There are several potential jobs that will open up in the next few seasons, and many of those teams are going to have Gibson at or near the top of their lists. Arizona should reduce the possibility of Gibson leaving by taking care of him now. —Jim Bowden
Hopes and Fears
Best-case scenario ZiPS projection: 90-72
While the Diamondbacks probably overachieved a bit this season, they did win those 94 games. Now that they've patched together a good, underrated rotation and completely fixed the mess of a bullpen (notice the lack of mediocre retreads), they should be competitive in the NL West in 2012. With the current roster, 2011 is about the team's ceiling, but Kennedy's peripherals are now truly ace-worthy, so the rest of the division can't count on him falling down to earth. Signing Kennedy and Hudson long term have to be at the top of the team's priority list going into 2012.
Worst-case scenario: 75-87
Despite a solid season, the team has some depth issues, especially in the starting lineup. With the exception of Drew, the team was generally very fortunate with health, and Drew's injury betrayed a pretty serious weakness—Bloomquist is useful enough as a utility player, but contending teams shouldn't have him as their plan B.
The team needs to take a page from the way they constructed the pitching staff and rather than accumulating scads of past-their-prime players, such as Xavier Nady, Melvin Mora and Geoff Blum, start going into seasons letting guys like Ryan Roberts be plan A. After all, it's not a good thing when your franchise accidentally finds its bright spots. —Dan Szymborski, Baseball Think Factory
The Diamondbacks have only one player in the lineup that scares every team, and that's Upton. Young first baseman Goldschmidt could become a second, and he'll need to be, as the Diamondbacks' system is light on hitters.
The good news is that the rotation is on the verge of becoming a potential monster. Acquired in the Dan Haren deal last year, long, projectable southpaw Tyler Skaggs took a huge step forward this year, earning praises from scouts as a potential front-end starter who could arrive in the big leagues at some point in 2012, while former top pick Jarrod Parker made a strong enough return from Tommy John surgery to land a spot on the playoff roster and line himself up for a shot at the opening-day rotation next spring. Meanwhile, waiting in the wings is 2011 top pick Trevor Bauer, a potentially dominating force who whiffed 43 over 25.2 innings in his pro debut and is advanced enough to give Parker a run for his money for that rotation slot in April. —Kevin Goldstein, Baseball Prospectus
A version of this story originally appeared on ESPN Insider .
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