Our team-by-team preview of the 2012 MLB season from a fantasy perspective continues today with the Arizona Diamondbacks. If you've just jumped on with our series or need a reminder, we are spending a day with each major league team, looking at 9 different fantasy angles for each franchise while also paying homage to the things we watch for as real life fans. The hope is that through this exercise we might all come to a greater understanding of the various environments that contain the players we spend so much time obsessing over. Fantasy baseball would be a lot easier if these guys played in a vacuum, but since they don't, it's a good idea to learn as much as we can about the circumstances that affect their play.
Make sure you check out Kenneth Arthur's spotlight on various Diamondbacks players, scheduled to post at Noon Central. Our series will continue tomorrow with the Colorado Rockies.
2011 in Review & 2012 Outlook
The Diamondbacks roared into the picture in a big way in 2011, improving their record to 94-68 after only earning 65 wins the previous season. They were rewarded with a division championship, though their dreams of a Cinderella season were cut short by a heartbreaking extra-inning loss to the Brewers in Game 5 of the NLDS. Not surprisingly, Kirk Gibson was awarded the NL Manager of the Year in his first full season at the helm.
Arizona should be considered strong contenders to defend their title in the stronger-than-many-give-it-credit-for NL West. Much of their young core is returning, and GM Kevin Towers has added promising right-hander Trevor Cahill and veteran Jason Kubel to the mix. It wasn't a loud offseason in Arizona, but the major league team looks better. When you're talking about a 94-win team, that's a big deal.
Fun fact that I bet you didn't know: Chase Field is the second-highest ballpark by elevation in the league at 1,100 feet. That doesn't mean a whole lot - as best as I can tell from some rudimentary internet searching, a batted baseball will travel just 2% farther at 1,100 feet than at sea level - but it certainly isn't helpful to pitchers. Also not helpful to pitchers: the thin desert air, the hot temperatures, and the wind that blows through the ballpark when the roof is open. One source that I read said that corner outfielders tend to position themselves a few feet closer to the line because of the weird angles of the wall in the corners, opening up the gaps for more extra base hits. I don't know if that's actually true or not, but I do know that the numbers say that the park definitely favors hitters, whatever the reason.
Manager & Coaching Staff
Unless you're a brand new baseball fan, you're probably familiar with Kirk Gibson's big moment, in which he stepped up to the plate "with two bad legs" - and a stomach virus - against Dennis Eckersley with two outs in the 9th in Game 1 of the 1988 World Series and delivered the game winning home run using pretty much only his arms.
What kind of manager do you think he is?
Last year in Spring Training, the Diamondbacks went 12-25, and it's not because they were a bad team. It's because Gibson, not caring about the outcomes of exhibitions, would put all of his players, including starters, through long, intense workouts before games. He expects a lot of his players, and he puts faith into what they can do on the diamond. He's not afraid to give the green light on the basepaths, he leaves pitchers out on the mound to get out of jams, and he doesn't pinch hit all that much, especially for a National League manager.
Expected Position Battles
Jason Kubel was brought in to be the everyday left fielder, but Gerardo Parra, who hit .292/.357/.427 last year, his age 24 season, should have something to say about the matter. It helps Parra's case that he won a Gold Glove last year (for what that's worth), while Kubel is considered something of a liability in the outfield. If Parra wins, he's not much of a fantasy option: an empty batting average isn't helpful in the outfield, and while he possesses speed, it's probably not enough to make up for the other holes in his game. Kubel can provide some pop if he's healthy and playing every day, but even if he emerges from Spring Training as the starting left fielder, he might find himself on a short leash as the younger player with the better glove waits in the wings.
Projected Lineup & Rotation
Stephen Drew - SS
Aaron Hill - 2B
Justin Upton - RF
Miguel Montero - C
Chris Young - CF
Paul Goldschmidt - 1B
Ryan Roberts - 3B
Jason Kubel/Gerardo Parra - LF
The Diamondbacks are being suspiciously coy about the chances that Stephen Drew could be ready for Opening Day. Just yesterday, Drew took infield, which is encouraging (but hardly indicative of his readiness). If he's not healthy, Willie Bloomquist will play short, and Gibson had no problems inserting him in the leadoff spot last season, despite his career .317 OBP.
Ian Kennedy | Daniel Hudson | Trevor Cahill | Joe Saunders | Josh Collmenter
Josh Collmenter is getting a bit of a buzz as a breakout candidate, but aside from an elite-level (and totally not repeatable) WHIP, I don't see much about him that I like. The strikeout rate is too low at 5.83 (and not likely to rise much based on his SwStr%), he allows too many fly balls (especially in that ballpark), and his ERA predictors suggest regression in the wrong direction. Joe Saunders will probably put up similar numbers,* but he's being drafted 166 spots later in mocks.
*If you want to argue that Collmenter will have a slightly better season, I'll let you, but only if you don't get too crazy.
Candidates for spot starts include Barry Enright, Wade Miley, and Zach Kroenke. Just say no, kids. The only one that even remotely intrigues me is Miley, but there's no upside to remembering his name at this point.
J.J. Putz will continue as the D-backs closer after a successful initial year at the helm in which he posted a 2.17 ERA with a K/BB over 5 in 58 innings. Starter turned setup man David Hernandez is capable of pitching plenty of innings and will therefore vulture a few saves while providing plenty of Ks and a low WHIP. The walks will always be a concern and he's never posted a great ERA, but he's one of my favorite guys to grab in leagues that value saves and holds the same simply because of the amount of work he can put in.
Potential Fantasy Sleepers
My definition of sleeper and yours may vary. I use the term to refer to a player who may be undervalued, no matter his current or expected draft position.
After he was traded from the Blue Jays on August 23, Aaron Hill hit .315/.386/.492 in 142 plate appearances. Does the fact that he's already won Comeback Player of the Year (in 2009) make it easier or harder to believe that he can sustain this performance in 2012? He's not going to throw up a .315 again, but I believe he has made himself relevant once again. He's currently being drafted at 16th among second baseman, which I would consider to be his floor.
I don't like jumping onto prospect bandwagons in redraft leagues. My philosophy is that the momentum generated by all of the hype coming from every direction in this age of information generally causes people to jump the gun and back a guy a year (or more) too early. However, I'm finding it very hard to resist Paul Goldschmidt. Last year, he posted an ISO of .224, a speed score of 6.5, and an 11.3 BB%. If he can put it all together, he will outperform his draft position (142, 12th among first basemen). Two things give me pause: (1) That batting average is not going to come up very much, if at all, and (2) Will it happen in 2012? I think I'm board. I've written and deleted this paragraph twice, but I'm leaving it this time because the word "potential" in the heading is enough of a hedge to make me feel comfortable. Consider this a soft recommendation for Goldschmidt as a sleeper.
Spring Storylines to Watch
You don't want to pay too much attention to results in March in the first place, but it's especially true here, given Gibson's philosophy (see above). I'll be checking in on the health of Drew, and it won't hurt to see if Trevor Bauer and Tyler Skaggs can hang against major league hitting. Neither is expected to break camp with the team, but given the organization's lack of pitching depth, it's conceivable that one or the other could contribute at some point in 2012.
Follow the Team
MLB.com beat reporter: Steve Gilbert (Blog | Twitter)
Arizona Republic beat reporter: Nick Piecoro (Blog | Twitter)
Broadcasters: Mark Grace & Daron Sutton (Twitter)
SBN: AZ SnakePit (Blog | Twitter)
Know of any other sites or Twitter accounts that deserve a mention? Let me know in the comments.