The Arizona Diamondbacks finished 55 games behind the Giants and 22.5 games behind the fourth-place Rockies last season. If you’re going to be bad, you might as well be really bad. The worst place to be is in the middle and the Diamondbacks don’t have to worry about that this season either. Take your high draft picks, trade away your players of value and try to be ready when the window creaks open. The problem with being in a division with the Giants, Dodgers and Padres is the window may not be open for a long time. Arizona might as well be on the five-year plan. That’s what made the timing of the Ketel Marte extension March 27 a little bit odd. Expectations are about as low as they can get in the desert this season -- losing 110 games will do that.
Arizona’s offense ranked 26th in wOBA and 27th in wRC + . They struck out too much and didn’t hit for nearly enough power. To be fair, when 57 of your 162 games are against the pitching staffs of the Giants, Dodgers and Padres, you’re probably not going to have much offensive success.
The Diamondbacks were 3-16 against the Dodgers (outscored by 71 runs), 2-17 against the Giants (outscored by 53 runs) and 8-11 against the Padres (outscored by only three runs). They were also 4-16 in interleague play.
Offensively, the team just couldn’t compete. Arizona only scored 4.2 runs per game and allowed 5.5. Of the top 15 in plate appearances, only four hitters graded above average by wRC + . To make matters worse, Eduardo Escobar led that group with 400 plate appearances. Marte missed about 45% of the season and Carson Kelly missed 40%.
Of those four, Marte is the only one that was better than 3% above league average. Marte posted a 139 wRC + and deserves every cent of his new pay day. He slashed .318/.377/.532 and was the only Diamondback to bat over .270. He and Andy Young were the only ones to slug over .440 (Young only had 104 plate appearances).
The Diamondbacks made no upgrades on offense. They’ll hope guys with track records such as David Peralta and Christian Walker can bounce back, but I don’t see a whole lot of upside there. Jordan Luplow will hit lefties in a platoon role, but that limits him to playing about a third of the games or pinch-hitting. Kelly and Marte will have to carry this team and neither will be able to drag this offense to respectability.
Seth Beer has a great name and some decent minor league numbers, but we haven’t seen him against MLB pitching outside of 10 plate appearances at the end of last season. The Diamondbacks do have three top-100 prospects that are close. Infielder Geraldo Perdomo ranks 84th and outfielders Alek Thomas and Corbin Carroll are top-25 prospects according to FanGraphs. Thomas should debut this season, but Carroll only played seven games at High-A before suffering a season-ending injury.
Perdomo had 37 plate appearances at the end of last season and looked comfortable against MLB pitching in a short sample. He’s also a really good defender.
Unfortunately, the defense can only do so much. The Diamondbacks were 29th or 30th in a lot of pitching categories last season. They are stuck facing a lot of good lineups along with playing nine or 10 times at Coors Field. It’s hard to expect miracles. This is not that bad of a rotation, but everything fell apart last season. Merrill Kelly wound up leading the team with 27 starts but posted a 4.44 ERA with a 4.11 FIP. I was hoping he’d get traded at the deadline because I think he’s an underrated pitcher in the betting markets.
Madison Bumgarner made 26 starts with a 4.67 ERA and a 4.63 FIP, so there was nothing to write home about with him other than the fact that his second half was way better than his first. Bumgarner had a 5.73 ERA in 59.2 innings to start the season but posted a 3.95 ERA in 86.2 innings to finish it. Maybe that’s a positive sign going forward, though he did still allow 14 home runs in the second half.
Any upside from the pitching staff will have to come from the triumvirate of Zac Gallen, Luke Weaver and Caleb Smith. Gallen has the most upside but he’s had problems staying healthy. He worked 121.1 innings last season with a 4.30 ERA and a 4.25 FIP. His strikeout rate was impressive again, but he also allowed 19 home runs and a ton of hard contact. His Hard Hit% ballooned 10% last season, so that’s a terrible sign going forward.
Others seem to have more faith in Weaver than I do. His 2019 season appears to be a mirage. He, too, allows too much hard contact for my liking, partly because of the level of competition in the NL West but also due to subpar command and way too many fastballs.
Smith actually had some good contact management numbers with a Hard Hit% of 29% and an average exit velocity of 86.8 mph. He could build off of those things if he stopped walking so many batters. He’s an extreme fly-ball guy, so home runs come with the territory, but he can’t make it worse by walking over 12% of batters. Unfortunately, the Diamondbacks made him a reliever last season and signed Zach Davies to take his rotation spot this season.
The Diamondbacks hired a well-respected pitching coach in Brent Strom, who was formerly with the Astros. Strom said he was retiring but opted to return to help out the beleaguered Arizona staff. Even the best chef couldn’t make a good dish out of these ingredients.
The Diamondbacks were 10-31 in one-run games, which is absurdly bad. That’s why their Pythagorean Win-Loss record was 61-101 when the team’s actual record was 52-110.
It turns out that winning one-run games is hard when your bullpen posts a 5.15 ERA with a 4.88 FIP. The Diamondbacks were only 40-16 in games with a lead after five innings. The league-average win percentage is around 83% in those games and the Diamondbacks only won 71.4% of them. They were also 4-13 in games tied after five innings. Teams won about 17% of their games when trailing after five innings. The Diamondbacks won 9% of them.
Nine relievers appeared in at least 30 games. Only two of them had an ERA under 4.30. The Diamondbacks added a couple of proven relievers in Mark Melancon and Ian Kennedy with the hope of trading them in July. Why else would a team ticketed for last place pick up a couple of 37-year-old relievers?
Player to Watch
SP Luke Weaver: Strom doesn’t have a whole lot to work with, but I’ll be curious to see if he can unlock Weaver. Weaver threw his fastball almost 62% of the time last season and had pretty decent success with the pitch and its high spin rate. He shelved the cutter that gave him some success in 2019 and threw more of his changeup, which wasn’t all that effective. Weaver can get swings and misses with elevated fastballs and the change, but he also allows a lot of hard contact because he doesn’t locate the fastball well enough and doesn’t have a viable third pitch. I’ll be curious to see if there’s an arsenal change early in the year that may give him a little bit of value.
This is a really bad team stuck in a really good division. The Padres are unlikely to lose 85 games this season. The Giants and Dodgers should both be extremely good again. The Rockies have gained a bit of steam, even though I’m not really on that train. It’s just hard to see Arizona winning a lot of games in the division. It’s hard to see Arizona winning a lot of games outside the division, for that matter. The Diamondbacks went 8-48 across May and June to dig a deep hole. They were 26-44 in the second half, which is at least a 60-win pace and includes a 6-19 September. I don’t bet extremely low win totals because there isn’t a wide range of outcomes. Arizona’s win total is 66.5 and I don’t see how they go over that, but there are some better offensive players coming up and Strom could have a magic touch with the pitching staff.
Win Total Lean: Under 66.5