by: Ryan Waldis
Over the next 30 days (March 1st through March 30th), I’ll be previewing each of the 30 MLB teams in reverse order of the 2017 league standings. The series will conclude on March 31st, when I’ll be releasing my predictions for the 2018 season. With that said, let’s jump into the 23rd team preview of the series, featuring the Arizona Diamondbacks.
Manager: Torey Lovullo (2nd season)
2017 Record: 93-69, 2nd in NL West
Playoffs: Won NL Wild Card vs. Rockies, Lost NLDS to Dodgers (3-0)
Run Differential: 153
Top Position Player: Paul Goldschmidt (7.2 WAR)
Top Pitcher: Zack Greinke (6.3 WAR)
The Arizona Diamondbacks went 69-93 in 2016. Reaching a .500 record wasn’t out of the realm of possibility; after all, they had some talented pieces on the squad. Winning 93 games and hosting a playoff game, though? That was a pipe dream at best. As with the Rockies and Twins, the Diamondbacks surprised a lot of people in 2017, finishing the season with a fantastic run differential while hosting a playoff game for the first time since 2011. The offense was one of the best in baseball, finishing seventh in the league with an OPS of .774. The pitching staff was even better, finishing third with an ERA of 3.66.
The D-backs earned the right to host fellow divisional foe Colorado in the NL Wild Card game. Since I just recapped the game in detail in the Rockies preview yesterday, I’ll keep this edition brief. Essentially, Arizona stormed ahead early and took a 6-0 lead, chasing starter Jon Gray out of the game. The Rockies would make a comeback and come as close as one run back, but the Diamondbacks offense kept answering back, and eventually won the game 11-8.
By winning the NL Wild Card game, the Diamondbacks were rewarded with the opportunity to face the best team in the National League in the Dodgers. Arizona was the only team in any of the four Division Series matchups to get swept. The D-backs offense came to play in the first two games of the series, putting up five runs in each contest. However, the Dodgers offense proved to be better, plating nine runs in Game One and eight runs in Game Two. Game Three was closer, as the teams combined to score just four runs. The Dodgers ended up winning 3-1 on the back of a strong pitching performance by Yu Darvish, the midseason acquisition who outdueled D-backs ace Zack Greinke and ended Arizona’s season. For a team that probably wasn’t even supposed to make the playoffs in 2017, getting swept in the NLDS by the eventual World Series runner-up is definitely nothing to be upset about.
Chris Iannetta handled most of the catching duties for the Diamondbacks in 2017 and produced his best overall season since 2014. The 34-year-old hit a respectable .254/.354/.511, sending 17 balls out of the yard. He also produced another solid walk rate, finishing with an 11.7% mark. The 17 home runs were the backstop’s most since 2008, when he played for Colorado. Iannetta earned high praise behind the plate as well, and for good reason. His adjusted FRAA of 7.7 was 14th among catchers, while the 8.4 Framing Runs mark was good for 12th.
If Paul Goldschmidt played in a bigger market, he’d receive a lot more recognition than he currently does. As it is, Goldy has been one of the most consistent players in the league since his call-up in 2011. Last season, the first baseman slashed .297/.404/.563, tying a career-high with 36 home runs while also swiping 18 bags. His strikeout and walk rates of 22.1% and 14.1% were great, as was his performance in the field (3.7 UZR). There’s not much Goldschmidt can’t do; he can hit for average, he can hit for power, he can get on base, he can play the field well, and he can run the bases better than most at his position. Any team would be lucky to have him.
After receiving a cup of coffee with the D-backs in 2015, Brandon Drury was back up in 2016 and impressed in his actual rookie season. Unfortunately, the second baseman fell off a bit in 2017, not experiencing as much success. The former Braves minor leaguer finished with a wRC+ of 92, a number that was 10 percent lower than the year before. He hit to a line of .267/.317/.447 while contributing 13 homers. He struck out slightly more (21.5%), walked slightly less (5.8%), and did not hit the ball as hard (31.7% Hard%). Drury was better in the field (0.8 UZR), but that’s about the only area of his game that improved.
In 255 plate appearances for Arizona, shortstop Ketel Marte showed flashed of how much potential he has. The former Mariner hit .260/.345/.395 with five home runs and three stolen bases. He almost walked (11.4%) as much as he struck out (14.5%) which was a welcome sight after posting a walk rate of just 3.9% in 2016. Marte exhibited not only his ability to get on base but also his prowess on the base-paths as well. Ketel also posted a UZR of 1.1 in the 507.2 innings he played at shortstop, which was a career-best. At only 23 years of age, Marte provided D-back fans with a lot of reasons for optimism heading into the future.
Third baseman Jake Lamb has steadily improved in each of his four major league seasons, and in 2017 that trend continued. Lamb’s triple-slash was .248/.357/.487, and the sixth round pick in 2012 clubbed 30 home runs and swiped six bags. He brought down the strikeout rate (23.9%) by two percent while increasing his walk rate (13.7%) by three percent. You’d maybe like to see a bit more defensively; especially at the hot corner, a UZR of -6.9 is a little unsightly. It’s not all great at the dish, either; as Andrew Perpetua of FanGraphs mentions, “For his career he is 53% below league average against left-handed pitching.”
Both Daniel Descalso and Chris Owings received close to 400 plate appearances in 2017, seeing time all over the field as utility men. Descalso logged innings at every position except catcher, center field, and right field, although he only graded out positively at one of them (1.2 UZR at first base). For the season, the former Cardinal and Rockie hit a meager .233/.332/.395, albeit with a career-high 10 home runs and a 12.1% walk rate. Owings earned time at four different positions, earning a positive UZR grade at second base (0.6) and right field (0.8). He also logged innings at shortstop and left field. He was a bit more effective offensively than Descalso; Owings hit .268/.299/.442 and smacked a career-high 12 dingers before an injury in July kept him out of commission for the rest of the campaign.
J.D. Martinez was moved from the Tigers to the Diamondbacks before the trade deadline, and he performed about as well as anyone could have hoped for. He accumulated 257 plate appearances and hit to a line of .302/.366/.741, cranking 29 home runs and 26 doubles in just 62 games. The former Astro and Tiger posted a wRC+ of 172 during his time with the Diamondbacks and was a huge reason why they made a push to the postseason. While he still struck out at a high clip (28.8%), the 9.3% walk rate was a nice contribution. He wasn’t good defensively, finishing with a -2.2 UZR in right field.
A.J. Pollock broke out in 2015 but hasn’t yet been able to return to that level of production. In 2016 he got injured in a Spring Training contest and missed essentially the entire season. In 2017, he logged 466 plate appearances over 112 games but once again dealt with an injury. He had a slash-line of .266/.330/.471, which was respectable but not nearly as good as what he did two years prior. The outfielder hit 14 home runs and stole 20 bags, showcasing his 20/20 potential. While the walk rate (7.5%) was three percent lower than it was in 2016, the strikeout rate (15.2%) was two percent lower. Pollock posted a UZR of 0.5 in the 873.1 frames he played in center field.
Another Diamondbacks outfielder who missed most of the 2016 season, David Peralta came back in a big way in 2017. He posted a wRC+ of 104, slashing .293/.352/.444 with 14 home runs and eight stolen bases. Peralta struck out 16.3% of the time while walking 7.5%. The .342 wOBA was the second-highest of his career, and he graded out positively in both left field (1.2 UZR) and right (0.3).
The Arizona pitching staff is the best one we’ve taken a look at to this point in the series. The starting rotation was very effective; the 3.61 ERA they posted was the third-lowest in all of baseball. It all started with the reemergence of Zack Greinke, the D-backs big free agent signing in the 2015 offseason who struggled mightily in his first go-around with the club. He came back strong in 2017, pitching to an ERA of 3.20 and a FIP of 3.31. The righty made 32 starts and tossed over 200 innings, posting a strikeout rate of 26.8% and a walk rate of just 5.6%. He did let up 25 home runs in those 202.1 innings—the most he’s allowed since his rookie season in 2004—but that’s just a minor knock. The ace didn’t live up to his contract in 2016, but it’s probably safe to say that he did in 2017.
Robbie Ray had the best season of his career, finishing with an ERA of 2.89 and a FIP of 3.72 over 28 starts and 162.0 innings. The main selling point was his 32.9% strikeout rate, which was the foruth-highest mark in all of baseball among qualified starters, behind just Chris Sale, Max Scherzer, and Corey Kluber. That’s a nice group to be in. It’s a much nicer group than the one including Lance Lynn, Gio Gonzalez, and Jhoulys Chacin. The second group posted very high walk rates, and Ray’s was the highest of the bunch at 10.7%. The 84.5% LOB% was also a bit concerning. Still, Ray showcased his elite strikeout ability and, despite the other flaws in his game, proved that he can be a solid big league starter.
Taijuan Walker was a top prospect for the Mariners for many years and throughout his career has exhibited his tantalizing potential. He’s still yet to put it all together, but 2017 was a nice starting point. In his first season away from the Seattle organization, Walker pitched to an ERA/FIP/xFIP line of 3.49/4.04/4.34, making 28 starts and accumulating 157.1 frames. He allowed 17 home runs, but 11 of them came at hitter-friendly Chase Field, so it’s hard to fault him too much. The 21.4% strikeout rate was okay, but you’d like to see the 8.9% walk rate lowered a bit—the mark represented a two percent increase over 2016 and a three percent increase over 2015.
Southpaw Patrick Corbin had a nice run in 2013, putting up a 3.5 WAR season. Unfortunately, he needed Tommy John surgery after the season, and it’s since taken a while for the starter to become more consistent over a longer period of time. The left-hander put together a solid, if unspectacular, body of work last year, though. He tossed 189.2 innings of 4.03 ERA/4.08 FIP ball, making 32 starts. He posted a strikeout rate of 21.6% (a three percent increase from 2016) and walked 7.4% of the batters he faced (a two percent decrease from ’16). His biggest downfall was the 26 homers he let up; surprisingly, 17 of them came on the road, and only six came at Chase Field.
A 10th round pick in the 2013 draft by the Cubs, Zack Godley surprised almost everyone in 2017, especially after his rough 2016 season. The right-hander made 25 starts and finished with an ERA of 3.37 and a FIP of 3.41. The 26.3% strikeout rate was a career-high, and while Godley walked 8.5% of the batters he faced, he only allowed 15 home runs all season. Zack induced more soft contact and kept the ball on the ground, which are two traits that are ideal when you make regular starts at Chase Field. His peripherals would indicate that 2017 won’t simply be a flash-in-the-pan, either.
The Arizona ‘pen was a top five unit in 2017 in regards to ERA, finishing with a cumulative total of 3.78. In 499.2 innings of work (one of four teams where the relievers pitched less than 500 innings, by the way), the Diamondbacks relief corps notched 494 strikeouts while walking 189 batters. Here are some of the more notable performances:
Fernando Rodney: 61 appearances, 55.1 innings, 4.23 ERA/3.03 FIP, 65 strikeouts, 26 walks
Archie Bradley: 63 appearances, 73 innings, 1.73 ERA/2.61 FIP, 79 strikeouts, 21 walks
Andrew Chafin (left-hander): 71 appearances, 51.1 innings, 3.51 ERA/3.39 FIP, 61 strikeouts, 21 walks
Randall Delgado: 26 appearances, 62.2 innings, 3.59 ERA/3.16 FIP, 60 strikeouts, 14 walks
Jorge De La Rosa (left-hander): 65 appearances, 51.1 innings, 4.21 ERA/4.58 FIP, 45 strikeouts, 21 walks
J.J. Hoover: 52 appearances, 41.1 innings, 3.92 ERA/4.71 FIP, 54 strikeouts, 26 walks
The Diamondbacks essentially filled holes on their roster this offseason instead of going after any big name on the free agent or trade market. The most notable addition was that of Steven Souza Jr., the former Ray who was acquired in a three-team deal with the Yankees. Souza will slot into right field and while he won’t produce as well as J.D. Martinez, he’ll provide a nice power threat in the lineup (whenever he comes off the DL, that is).
The biggest loss for the D-backs was, obviously, Martinez. While he wasn’t great in the field, he was an extremely potent offensive threat who took pressure off of guys like Paul Goldschmidt. In the long run, though, perhaps not inking J.D. to a long-term, lucrative contract extension will be the best course of action.
Best Case: While the installation of the humidor in Chase Field depresses the offense a bit, the unit still finished in the top-ten in the league. The loss of Martinez is definitely felt, but Goldschmidt leads the way regardless. Marte breaks out while his double-play partner in Owings proves that he’s deserving of an everyday job. Lamb and Souza each hit close to 30 home runs, and Pollock has his best season since 2015. The pitching staff benefits greatly from the humidor and finish top-five in the league once again, as does the bullpen. The Diamondbacks win over 90 games for the second consecutive season, which is the first time that’s happened since 2001 and 2002. They can’t quite catch the Dodgers, but they host the Wild Card game again and advance to the NLDS, where maybe they’re able to make some magic happen.
Worst Case: The offense regresses, both as a result of the humidor and the loss of Martinez. Goldschmidt is still as productive as ever, but the rest of the lineup struggles for one reason or another. Marte doesn’t break out, Souza and Lamb see their power numbers drop, and Pollock has another alright, not great season. The pitching staff is still solid, but they finish towards the bottom of the top-10 as opposed to third. The bullpen isn’t as good as the year before, blowing a number of winnable games. The Diamondbacks are still able to make a playoff push, but instead of hosting a Wild Card game, they find themselves either on the road or just barely out of the race.
PECOTA Projected Record: 87-75, 724 RS, 667 RA