Wednesday, November 10, 2010

The Perfect Pickup: Arizona Diamondbacks

The Arizona Diamondbacks are a pretty interesting team. They’ve got some good pieces in both the infield and outfield, as well as in the rotation. The had the best team UZR of any team in the league during the regular season. However, they also had the most strikeouts and worst bullpen WAR of any team in baseball. If they want to climb out of the cellar, that has to change.

I believe their bullpen issue can be solved largely internally. They’ve got a few strong young arms in the minors, and at this point it’s just a matter of which of them can be effective in the big leagues. It might take some moving around to figure that out, but they’ll get the right combination eventually.

However, they do have an opportunity to upgrade at first. With Adam LaRoche’s one-year, 4.5 million dollar deal expiring, the Diamondbacks can bring in a first baseman with a bigger bat, potentially sacrificing some of their defensive surplus to add some pop to the lineup. LaRoche struck out in 30.7% of his at-bats last season, ranking him third among regular first baseman (behind fellow free agents Adam Dunn and Carlos Peña. We’ll get to them later in the offseason.). The Diamondbacks set an all-time MLB record for strikeouts this season, and although it didn’t doom them to subpar scoring, upping their OBP by striking out a little less could go a long way toward helping the Snakes get back into contention.

To fill the gap, I’m going to suggest they go after longtime Chicago first sacker Paul Konerko. Paulie, as he’s affectionately known on the South Side, was a 4.2 WAR player last year, and because of his age and a fairly strong first base market, could come relatively cheap in terms of both money and years. Konerko struck out in 20.1% of his at-bats last year, which immediately provides a more than 10% improvement from the performance LaRoche provided last season. This contributes to Konerko’s .068 point advantage in OBP (.393 to .325), as does Konerko’s much stronger walk rate. Konerko will also add a good deal of power, as his .272 ISO was third among first baseman last year, far superior to LaRoche’s .207.

2010 was Konerko’s first real solid season in a few campaigns. He’ll probably experience a little bit of a drop in production simply based on the fact that last year was above his true talent level. His BABIP and HR/FB were both higher than his career averages, so he should see some regression. That said, last year was his first season in the last five years in which he was significantly below-average defensively, so I’m guessing his UZR climbs slightly from the –13.4 he put up in 2010.

Overall, Konerko will provide a boost in power and on-base skill from LaRoche. Though he may be a bit of a step down defensively, the glove-minded Diamondbacks should be willing to accept that to improve their offense and avoid breaking their own record for single season strikeouts. Konerko should be available for a reasonable price, and can fill the position until Brandon Allen proves he’s ready for big-league action. Though Allen has shown promise, he struck out in nearly half of his 56 major league at-bats in 2010. It’s a small sample size, but he’ll probably need at least a bit more seasoning in the minors before he can be an everyday first baseman for a contending ballclub. For this reason, and all the others outlined above, Paul Konerko is the DBacks’ Perfect Pickup.

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