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Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Retired Numbers Series: Arizona Diamondbacks

I wanted to do something different for the next piece in my Retired Numbers Series. So far, I have picked teams that go back to the early 1900s (or, in the Nationals’ case, the city goes back that far). So, I wanted to pick a team that represented the exact opposite.

The Arizona Diamondbacks seemed like a good place to start. Despite only being around since 1998, they still feel like they have a longer history and stronger team identity, thanks to their 2001 World Series victory and other successful seasons. In addition, even though they are only 14 seasons old, they already have a retired number (and, unlike Tampa Bay, they have an actual reason to retire said number).

Is there any chance that the Diamondbacks will get a second retired number soon?


Notes on the Numbers 
Some quick notes on the stats: the two most prominent stats I used are similarly named. Both are called WAR, or Wins Above Replacement. They both try to account for every part of a player’s game, including, but not limited to: offense, defense, position, and playing time. So, it is a counting stat, like hits or home runs (with the small difference that bad seasons can actually decrease your WAR, if you are worse than a replacement player). WAR credits a player with how many wins they have provided to their team. They aren’t perfect, but for my purposes (a single number showing roughly how good a player has been), they work perfectly.

There are two major sites that provide WAR, Baseball-Reference (henceforth called bWAR) and Fangraphs (fWAR). The two are mostly the same, with the biggest difference coming from the different fielding stats the two use. Fangraphs has a fairly good summary of what makes up WAR and how it is calculated (for those wanting a more general summary, the introduction works just fine). Pitching is slightly different: Fangraphs’ WAR for pitchers only goes back to 1974, so for my purposes, I stuck to just bWAR for them.


The Already Retired Numbers 
The Diamondbacks, as mentioned, have retired one number to date. Number 20 was retired for Luis Gonzalez, who played with Arizona from 1999 until 2006. In that time span, he put up 26 bWAR and 36 fWAR. For his career, which went from 1990 to 2008, he totaled 46 bWAR and 59 fWAR.


Compared to the League 
There are three major ways I divide my analysis of a team’s retired numbers. I can look at the average or mean value of their honorees (which are the same in this case); the honorees’ numbers with the team or overall; or the bWAR of fWAR.

The Diamondbacks are unsurprisingly in the fourth quartile in every measure. On the bright side, they rank near the top of the fourth quartile in about four of the eight methods I use. But they aren’t particularly close to breaking into the third quartile in any one measure. Granted, this team has only been around since 1998, so that’s to be expected.

The Diamondbacks are one of three teams with one retired number; only two other teams have retired fewer. Of the five teams with one retired number or less, only the Mariners predate 1993.


So Who’s Next? 
This is really the big question for a new franchise like the Diamondbacks. Do they have any other players who are good enough to honor now, or will they have to wait for some of their current players to retire?

The answer is an obvious yes. Randy Johnson is the most apparent choice for the next retired number in Arizona. Johnson pitched for Arizona from 1999 to 2004, and again in 2007 and 2008, leading them to their first World Series. His time there saw him win four straight Cy Young Awards, and he put up 45.1 bWAR. For his career, he pitched from 1988 to 2009 and totaled 91.8 bWAR (also, I didn’t use fWAR for pitchers in my study since it only goes back to 1980, but Fangraphs credits Johnson with 114.8 career fWAR and 57 fWAR in his time with the Diamondbacks). Really, even though he played just slightly more with the Mariners, I think Johnson will go into the Hall of Fame as the first Diamondback. I’m not sure why the team hasn’t retired his 51 yet, unless they’re waiting for him to actually be elected to the Hall first.

The two next most likely possibilities are both pitchers as well. Brandon Webb was arguably the Diamondbacks’ first homegrown star. Webb trails only Johnson and Gonzalez in bWAR with the team, with 29.2 (and his 32.9 fWAR is also third on the team). He also had a very dominant stretch, winning the Cy Young in 2006 and finishing runner-up the next two years. The length of his career is likely to be his biggest issue. He’s pitched his entire Major League career to date with the Diamondbacks; however, that career right now consists of 2003 to 2008, with four innings pitched in 2009. It was a very good six seasons, though. It won’t be enough for the Hall of Fame, but it might be enough for a retired number. Webb is also still playing, trying to make a comeback with the Rangers, so any honor won’t be for a least a little longer.

Curt Schilling is the only other player to date with more than 20 bWAR with Arizona, with 20.9 (and 26 fWAR, which also places him fourth on that list). His total career values are similarly impressive, including 69.7 bWAR (and 86.1 fWAR). Curt’s biggest problem is the length of his stay in Arizona; in his career, which spanned from 1988 to 2007, he only played with the D-Backs from 2000 to 2003. On the other hand, his Diamondback years were some of his best, and the only team he pitched more games for was the Phillies. When you add in the fact that he was co-MVP on the team’s first World Series Championship, and he just may have enough to offset his short stay.

After those, Steve Finley is the only player who legitimately stands out from the pack in any way. His 18.7 bWAR puts him 7.5 ahead of the next closest players, Dan Haren and Craig Counsell. And his 20 fWAR puts him 8 ahead of Chris Young and Stephen Drew. Yes, Finley was one of the team’s first stars. But I’m not sure if that’s quite enough to put his contributions to the team above the other four that I’ve mentioned so far. For the record, in his career, which lasted from 1989 until 2007, he posted totals of 40.5 bWAR and 44.3 fWAR. He was probably better than you remember, but his Diamondbacks’ run only went from 1999 to the 2004 trade deadline. That may not be long enough for Arizona to retire his number.

After that, the list of potential candidates is basically current Diamondbacks. Stephen Drew and Chris Young are high on both lists (Drew ranks fourth on both with 12 fWAR and 10.7 bWAR; Young ranks seventh in bWAR with 8.8 and third in fWAR with 12). Despite both currently placing high, neither has been consistently All-Star quality in their time with the team, meaning that they’ll either have to break out soon or stay with the team for a very extended period. Ian Kennedy and Daniel Hudson are both showing promise, but both are just starting their careers; we’ll need more time to get a truly accurate assessment. Really, the D’Backs’ best bet as of right now is easily Justin Upton. The 23 year old is having a break out season, and is still under team control through at least 2015 (if not longer). So he certainly has the time to build up a track record. And he has a slight head start; he’s sixth in fWAR with 11, and fifth among hitters in bWAR with 11.5. A strong finish this year could actually move him into third place on both lists.


So, In Closing... 
As of right now, the players that I think are most likely to get their numbers retired by the Arizona Diamondbacks in the future are, in order:

Randy Johnson-51
Justin Upton-10
Brandon Webb-17
Curt Schilling-38
Daniel Hudson-41
Steve Finley-12
Ian Kennedy-31
Chris Young-24
Stephen Drew-6

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