Positive vibes aren’t really a thing after a team trades away its best player. The Arizona Diamondbacks appear to be going from contender to rebuild in rather short order. It’s hard to blame GM Mike Hazen for going that route, though. It’s also hard to blame people for feeling like the Diamondbacks could be one of the worst teams in the National League this season.
Patrick Corbin and AJ Pollock were impending free agents. Paul Goldschmidt had one year left on his ridiculously team-friendly deal. The Diamondbacks entered September 13 games over .500. It wasn’t really said publicly, but 2018 was the team’s last shot. Robbie Ray battled injuries and Taijuan Walker went under the knife for Tommy John surgery. The sunken cost of Yasmany Tomas and the enormous AAV for Zack Greinke were going to hinder the team’s financial flexibility in the future.
The Diamondbacks responded by going 8-19 in the final month of the season and went from division leader to finishing nine games out. As fate would have it, more salt was shoved into the wounds because both the Rockies and Dodgers made the playoffs. The Rockies upset the Cubs in the Wild Card Game and the Dodgers went to the World Series.
Arizona isn’t exactly a small market team, but battling it out with the deep-pocketed Dodgers comes at a significant financial cost. With $50 million tied up in Greinke and Tomas, it was going to be hard for the Diamondbacks to get enough in free agency to fill some of their voids. Replacing what Corbin did is virtually impossible in free agency and, if you can do it, remarkably expensive. Despite his injury-riddled past, Pollock went into the winter months as the second-best free agent outfielder behind Bryce Harper.
The trade of Goldschmidt could have happened at the Trade Deadline and Hazen could have leveraged a contender into paying a king’s ransom, but the decision was made to scoop up prospects Andy Young and Carson Kelly and middle-of-the-rotation starter Luke Weaver from the Cardinals. The lineup looks a lot different without Goldy in the middle of it.
So, we head into 2019 knowing that the Diamondbacks are in a rebuild. They’re still something of a dangerous team with a rotation anchored by Greinke, Ray, and Zack Godley, but that is clearly the best position group on the team. With the diminishing value of starting pitchers in today’s highly-specialized game, it’s fair to wonder how impactful that group will be.
The Diamondbacks spent 125 days in first place last season. Just how far can this team fall without three of its best players?
Season Win Total Odds
2018 Standings Data
Actual Record: 82-80
Run Differential: +49
Pythagorean W/L: 86-76
BaseRuns Record: 84-78
BaseRuns Run Differential: +25 (4.23/4.07)
3rd Order Win% Record: 86.8-75.2
Record in One-Run Games: 20-31
Additions: Wilmer Flores, Carson Kelly, Luke Weaver, Merrill Kelly, Tyler Heineman, Wyatt Mathisen, Kelby Tomlinson, Andy Young, Jason Leblebijian, Tim Locastro, Matt Szczur, Andrew Aplin, Abraham Almonte, Rob Refsnyder, Travis Snider, Jeffrey Baez, Robby Scott, Tyler Matzek, Ricky Nolasco, Marc Rzepczynski, Michael Kohn, Lucas Luetge, Caleb Joseph
Losses: Jeff Mathis, Paul Goldschmidt, Daniel Descalso, Chris Owings, Jon Jay, AJ Pollock, Clay Buchholz, Patrick Corbin, Shelby Miller, Brad Boxberger, Randall Delgado, Jake Diekman, Ronald Roman
It was not a good offseason for Diamondbacks fans. Mike Hazen made a decision. It’s the correct one. With Paul Goldschmidt on an expiring contract, AJ Pollock and Patrick Corbin out the door, and the Dodgers and Rockies in the division, the time was right for Arizona to pivot to a “hope to contend and try to rebuild” strategy. There is still a lot of pitching talent on the roster, but the lineup certainly looks rough.
The primary question is whether or not the Snakes got enough for Goldy, but they were up against it a bit. He’s only signed for this season. He signed a very team-friendly extension in 2013 and he was going to look to recoup some of that money in free agency or with an extension with his new employer. The Diamondbacks had no chance to retain him, so they traded him.
Anytime a team “loses” the offseason this badly, public sentiment pours in and it’s never good. The Diamondbacks were 15 games over .500 on August 22 and went 13 games under the rest of the way. A lot of those September losses were blowouts. That was the sign for Hazen. A lot of talent and a lot of recognizable names are out the door.
People seem to ignore the fact that rebuilding or retooling teams still get assets in return. This isn’t a league where first-round draft picks are acquired. Real human beings are added and guys like Carson Kelly, Andy Young, and Luke Weaver could have an impact in 2019. Weaver will get the first crack, as he’ll get one of the five coveted rotation spots.
BA: .235 (27th)
OBP: .310 (23rd)
SLG: .397 (22nd)
wOBA: .306 (22nd)
wRC+: 88 (24th)
BABIP: .286 (27th)
K%: 23.7% (25th)
BB%: 9.1% (7th)
That is not a pretty picture, especially with Paul Goldschmidt and AJ Pollock gone. This was one of the league’s lesser offenses and now two of its best hitters are on other teams. The saddest part is that the Diamondbacks actually hit better at home than on the road, even with the humidor, which suppresses offense.
The Diamondbacks were +157 defensive runs saved last season, though somehow managed to post a negative UZR/150. Arizona was spectacular in the pitch framing department, thanks in large part to Jeff Mathis, who is also no longer on the club and is a substantial loss for the team in that regard. A lot of good defensive players remain and that is important because this offense does not profile well.
Six players posted a wRC+ over 100 last season. Three are gone. David Peralta is the top holdover after posting a .293/.352/.516 slash with a .368 wOBA. That was a career year for Peralta, so we’ll have to see if he can sustain those gains. He hit 30 homers overall and posted a .398 wOBA against RHP to go along with a .302 wOBA against lefties.
Ketel Marte and Eduardo Escobar were the others. Marte will play center field this season. He has 14 career MLB innings there. He had a lot of his defensive value at second base, but that spot belongs to free agent signing Wilmer Flores. Marte slashed .260/.332/.437 with a surprising power spike. He’s a pretty disciplined hitter and a high-floor asset, but we’ll have to see if he can maintain the offense with a tough position switch. Escobar slashed .274/.338/.514 with the Twins in 408 plate appearances and then posted a .268/.327/.444 slash with the Diamondbacks in 223 plate appearances.
Steven Souza Jr. is only season removed from 30 homers and 16 stolen bases, but injuries rendered 2018 a lost season and now we have to wait and see how he bounces back. He better bounce back because there isn’t a lot of upside to this lineup. Jake Lamb also had a lost season due to injury after hitting 30 tanks in 2017 with a .353 wOBA and a 111 wRC+. Those two guys likely hold the keys to this offense being around last season’s numbers instead of one of the worst in baseball.
ERA: 3.73 (4th)
FIP: 3.91 (8th)
xFIP: 3.81 (5th)
K%: 23.6% (8th)
BB%: 8.5% (18th)
LOB%: 75.7% (6th)
Patrick Corbin may be gone, but don’t fall into the trap of thinking that this is a ruined rotation. Zack Greinke, Robbie Ray, and Zack Godley make up a pretty interesting front line. Greinke posted a 3.21 ERA with a 3.71 FIP and a 3.44 xFIP in his 207.2 innings last season. A lot of his numbers looked similar to 2017, minus a drop in strikeouts and an increase in HR/FB%. I would have expected the opposite with the humidor, which provides more grip for pitchers and also suppresses both exit velocity and fly ball distance.
Across the board, Greinke, Ray, and Godley should see improvements. I talked about this a lot during the season last year, but there was a “Coors Field Effect” to pitching on the road for the Diamondbacks in the first season with the humidor. Early in the season, Diamondbacks pitchers had substantial control problems away from home. Godley actually had problems with this most of the year, but especially early. He walked 53 in 105.1 innings in the first half and 28 in 73 innings in the second half. His BB% on the road was 11.8 percent and it was 8.3 percent at home. His K% was also 5.9 percent lower on the road.
Ray was hurt early in the season, which is always hard on a pitcher. It takes time to build up arm strength and to acquire a feel for the arsenal. He missed all of May and most of June. Early-season injuries are not factored into the equation enough on an individual level for pitchers. Ray allowed a .243/.346/.457 slash in the first half with a .345 wOBA and 10 HR allowed in 48.1 innings. He posted a .196/.315/.325 slash against with a .290 wOBA and nine HR allowed in 75.1 innings in the second half.
Those three should be solid. What happens after that is anybody’s guess. Luke Weaver may have needed a change of scenery and now goes to a pitcher-friendly division, including the pitcher-friendly home park. Weaver is coming off of a lackluster season for the Cardinals with a 4.95 ERA, a 4.45 FIP, and a 4.46 xFIP, but he was good for 60.1 innings in 2017 at the MLB level. The Diamondbacks will hope to do with Merrill Kelly what the Cardinals did with Miles Mikolas by bringing in a pitcher that pitched in the KBO. Mikolas pitched in the NPL in Japan, but the idea is the same with a control artist that failed out of the bigs the first time.
With Taijuan Walker out until the All-Star Break, the Diamondbacks are sorely missing depth in the rotation. That problem will likely be exacerbated by a subpar bullpen. Archie Bradley allowed a .243 wOBA in the first half and then a .366 wOBA in the second half as a finger injury slowed him down. The Diamondbacks will roll the dice on Greg Holland, who finished strong with the Nationals in 21.1 innings last year. Yoshihisa Hirano is solid, but the rest of the relievers don’t inspire much confidence and depth is an issue.
Positives & Negatives
The Diamondbacks are going to play a lot of low-scoring games this season when the Big Three get the starts. I’m not sure if that is a positive or a negative. It is a positive because the offense won’t be very good and low-scoring games give the D-Backs a chance. It is a negative because the D-Backs will have the worse bullpen more often than not.
The Manny Machado signing by the Padres was a detriment for the Diamondbacks. Their season win total odds had already plummeted since opening and now one of the bottom feeders in the division got stronger. We always look at divisions and try to isolate the team(s) that will lose. The Padres looked like a stronger consideration in that argument before signing Machado.
I’ll drive this point home until I’m blue in the face, but depth matters so much with these season-long bets. The Diamondbacks don’t have much of it. An injury to one of Greinke, Godley, or Ray would be particularly hurtful and there aren’t many warm bodies in the organization to throw into the lineup. With the exception of starting pitcher Jon Duplantier, most of Arizona’s higher-upside prospects are in the lower levels of the minors.
Pick: Under 74.5
There isn’t as much equity in betting this now that the number has fallen from the high 70s, but the value clearly remains on the under. Along with the obvious losses of guys like Paul Goldschmidt, AJ Pollock, and Patrick Corbin, the Diamondbacks are much, much worse defensively. Jeff Mathis is a huge loss behind the plate and Ketel Marte in center field is an experiment that may not work out all that well.
There is some hope for this team, if Steven Souza and Jake Lamb get healthy and stay healthy and the pitching staff gets 30 or more starts from Zack Greinke, Robbie Ray, and Zack Godley, but that may not even be enough to push this team into the mid-70s.
Another consideration with these bottom feeders and rebuilders is that they will be sellers at the Trade Deadline. David Peralta will be worth a lot as a 1.5-year rental. Same with Ray. Same with Lamb. Alex Avila will be a trade candidate. Jarrod Dyson will be a free agent rental. Wilmer Flores could net some prospects. We’ve seen young GMs be very aggressive with roster turnovers and it may be Hazen’s time to do that in the desert.
This is a stone cold under. It would be nice to have the line value, but this is a team that will lose a lot of games.