|Sportsbook||Win NL West||Win NL Pennant||World Series|
|Over/Under Season Win Total: 83.5 (BetOnline)|
The Arizona Diamondbacks were one of my big misses from last season. I’ve written in the introductions for a few of these win totals about the bump that teams that “won” the offseason receive. The Diamondbacks lost the offseason last year. They traded away Paul Goldschmidt and lost Patrick Corbin and AJ Pollock to free agency. The end result of the winter was a season win total line of 74.5.
Consider that during the season, the Diamondbacks even traded Zack Greinke to Houston. All that happened was that the Diamondbacks won 85 games, actually underperformed relative to their Pythagorean Win-Loss record, saw the breakout season of Ketel Marte and half-season Luke Weaver and stayed relevant in the playoff discussion into mid-September before hitting a serious rough patch with losses in eight of 10.
Unfortunately that breakout season for Weaver was stopped after just 12 starts because of injury, but Weaver is part of a rebuilt pitching staff that has given the Diamondbacks some unexpected hope for 2020. The Snakes aren’t going to unseat the Los Angeles Dodgers as the division winners, but a Wild Card berth would not be outlandish in any way, shape, or form.
All of the sudden, the Diamondbacks look really dangerous again. They have frontline starting potential in Weaver, Robbie Ray, Madison Bumgarner, and Zac Gallen, a Trade Deadline acquisition from the Marlins. They have a star in Marte and some other really good offensive pieces in Eduardo Escobar and Christian Walker, and just re-upped RHP killer David Peralta at a really reasonable cost.
I was wrong to get too low on the Diamondbacks last season. Torey Lovullo is a solid manager and Mike Hazen is a brilliant executive. What looked like a rebuild to outsiders actually wound up being anything but. Interestingly, Arizona really deserved a better fate in the first half of the season. The Diamondbacks were +53 in run differential heading into the All-Star Break, but only 46-45 to that point. It isn’t easy to go 11-17 in a month with a +19 run differential, but the Diamondbacks did just that in May.
It is always fascinating to see how the market evaluates teams that greatly surpass expectations, especially in such a quiet manner. The Diamondbacks got no fanfare last season and turned themselves into an afterthought with a mid-September swoon. Does anybody even realize that they flew past their season win total line by more than 10 games? Does anybody even realize that they were allegedly in rebuilding mode and were seventh in the National League in wins? All the attention remains on the Dodgers, the Padres and their endless cycle of optimism, and the races in the NL East and NL Central.
The Diamondbacks were only 38-38 against division foes, but they were 14-6 in interleague play and picked up 32 wins by five runs of more. They were 44-37 at home with a +29 run differential and just 41-40 with a +41 run differential on the road. Add it all up and I think the Diamondbacks are one of the most interesting teams to handicap for 2020 because you can make a case either way. As a general rule, these are the teams I look at the closest because I think their odds create the best value.
|BaseRuns Run Differential||+35 (4.92/4.70)|
|3rd Order Win% Record||83.6-78.4|
|Record in One-Run Games||24-26|
|Additions: Edwin Jackson, Jon Jay, Trayce Thompson, John Hicks, David Huff, Joe Mantiply, Trevor Clifton, Hector Rondon, Kole Calhoun, Kyle Crockett, Madison Bumgarner, Junior Guerra, Stephen Vogt, Mauricio Cabrera, Keury Mella, Matt Grace, Starling Marte, Jeremy Beasley|
|Losses: Caleb Joseph, Steven Souza Jr., Taijuan Walker, Abraham Almonte, Adam Jones, Alex Avila, Jarrod Dyson, Robby Scott, Yoshihisa Hirano, Wilmer Flores, Brennan Malone, Liover Peguero, Matt Andriese, Pat Valaika, TJ McFarland|
The Diamondbacks made a couple of really big moves and those are the ones that stand out to me. They signed reliever David Huff from the Japan Central League and also signed Klay Thompson’s brother Trayce.
Oh. Yeah. I mean, the Diamondbacks traded for Starling Marte and gave a five-year deal to Madison Bumgarner. Ketel Marte moves back to second base to allow Starling to play center field. Ketel is an upgrade defensively to Wilmer Flores and Eduardo Escobar at 2B to pair alongside elite fielder Nick Ahmed at SS. Starling in CF gives the Diamondbacks an incredible defensive outfield with David Peralta and the plus arm of Kole Calhoun.
Bumgarner may not have the ceiling he once had, but he is an extremely reliable left-hander that slots well into a rotation that was pretty heavy on the right-handed side.
The Diamondbacks did lose some decent depth with Jarrod Dyson, Adam Jones, and oft-injured Steven Souza Jr., but those players were mostly redundant. Stephen Vogt is an upgrade to Alex Avila. The biggest loss is likely Yoshihisa Hirano for a bullpen that was looking for arms at times, but Hector Rondon and Junior Guerra fit well.
I will preface this by saying that I really like the Diamondbacks for 2020. I also think it is perfectly reasonable to say that I am worried about this offense. Perhaps Ketel Marte’s breakout is totally legit. The 26-year-old banged out 32 homers with a .329/.389/.592 slash, a .405 wOBA, a 150 wRC+, and wound up being one of the most valuable players in baseball with 7.1 fWAR.
His BABIP was 40 points higher than it was in 2018. He hit 18 more home runs in 48 more plate appearances. His OBP was 57 points higher, even though his walk rate went down nearly a full percent. Marte’s xBA of .299 was in the 94th percentile. His .370 xwOBA was in the 88th percentile and his .521 xSLG was in the 86th percentile. You notice that those numbers don’t exactly align with the actual numbers that he put up. Marte was in the 66th percentile in average exit velocity, so nothing overly special, and his Hard Hit% was in the 55th percentile. He also doubled his launch angle.
Over 444 batted balls in 2018, Marte’s xwOBA was .320 with a .396 xSLG. Maybe the breakout is legit. Maybe he just took a major leap as a launch angle disciple. He does make contact at a pretty elite rate with a career 7.4% SwStr%. Everything could have simply come together for him, but it seems really strange that would happen with the Chase Field humidor and some of the NL West road parks. Let’s just say I’m skeptical that it happens again, but it does seem like he made a fundamental swing change to elevate the baseball more and that swing plane seemed to lead to more contact authority.
If it doesn’t, somebody else needs to pick up the offensive slack. Wilmer Flores posted the second-highest wRC+ on the team and he is gone. Christian Walker hit 29 homers and slashed .259/.348/.476 with a .346 wOBA and a 112 wRC+ as he stayed healthy and got consistent MLB playing time for the first time in his career. I do worry about his 11.1% BB% relative to his annual marks in the minors.
Eduardo Escobar had another decent season, but his walk rate fell and so did his BABIP. He still had 3.7 fWAR, but went down five points in wOBA and nine points in wRC+. He also doesn’t have great contact quality metrics either, though his Hard Hit% and exit velocity went up from 2018 to 2019. Carson Kelly looked like a solid offensive piece with a high OBP and good pop as a catcher in 365 plate appearances. David Peralta was good again with a .275/.343/.461 slash, but he really needs to stay healthy and bounce back in the power department. He hit 30 homers and posted a 131 wRC+ in 2018. If Ketel Marte is going to regress, he needs to pick up some of the burden.
Maybe it will be the newcomers that help. Starling Marte is a 20-homer guy with a high batting average and really good speed. Marte doesn’t have the greatest exit velocity, but grades very well in xwOBA, xBA, and xSLG. Kole Calhoun hit 30 homers for the Angels last season. He’s a weapon in the outfield with his arm, which makes up for his mediocre range, but he also walked over 11% of the time to go along with the power that came with an increase in launch angle.
I don’t think the Diamondbacks lineup has a very high ceiling, but I do think league average is plenty attainable again, especially with the skill sets of the newcomers. Where the Diamondbacks will excel is defensively once again. Nick Ahmed actually contributed more offensively last season, but he’s one of the best defensive shortstops in baseball and Escobar will be back at third full-time again. This will be one of the best defensive teams in baseball.
This is the area with a really high ceiling in my estimation. Zack Greinke is gone, but the torch has been passed. Greinke did lead the Diamondbacks in fWAR over his 146 innings of work, but the past is the past. The future is now and that future is Luke Weaver and Zac Gallen.
Weaver was on his way to a breakout season. In 12 starts, Weaver had a 2.94 ERA with a 3.07 FIP and a 3.87 xFIP. He had 69 strikeouts against 14 walks in 64.1 innings and had only allowed six home runs. This was the step that most people expected after his strong 60.1 MLB innings in 2017. Unfortunately, we still go into 2020 with questions because Weaver got hurt and only pitched two innings after May 26. I’m a big believer in what we saw. His command was still a work in progress as evidenced by some the contact quality metrics against him, but I will always buy high strikeout rates and low walk rates with an improved arsenal.
The other guy is Zac Gallen. Gallen came over from the Marlins in a Trade Deadline deal that featured young shortstop Jazz Chisholm. The Marlins felt that they had enough pitching and wanted a position player and they found a trade partner in Arizona. Gallen only made eight starts with the Snakes, but they were good with a 2.89/3.65/3.89 pitcher slash.
Overall, Gallen had a 2.81/3.61/4.15 over his 80 innings for the Marlins and Diamondbacks. He also had 14 dominant Triple-A starts. Gallen had a plus swinging strike rate at 12.8%, a good Z-Contact rate at 84.7%, and is one of my favorite pitchers to buy for the upcoming season. I like what the Diamondbacks have done developing starters and I really like where Gallen’s career arc is trending.
I’m probably nuts, but I would take a piece of a Zac Gallen Cy Young future if offered. He worked 171.1 innings last season, so we’d need a jump there, but he had 208 strikeouts. We need enough innings to get 200 K and some wins. The Diamondbacks are going to be an exceptional defensive team. This wouldn’t be the worst bet I’ve ever made as long as I find a place taking it. He’s a big time long shot, but he’s got the chance to be very special.
A trio of veterans give the Diamondbacks a really high floor with the rotation. The ceiling is defined by the kids, but we know what we’re going to get from Madison Bumgarner, Mike Leake, and Robbie Ray. It is crazy to think that Ray won’t turn 29 until October 1. He’s also only worked 790.2 innings because of various ailments, but has a career 4.11 ERA with a 3.97 FIP and a 3.72 xFIP.
Ray made 33 starts last season. Once again, he walked a bunch of dudes and allowed a bunch of homers, but you’ll get that with him. You also get a ton of strikeouts. Ray had 235 of those last season, which made up for the 30 homers and the 84 walks. A deader ball is going to help Ray tremendously, as homers have always been one of his two Achilles heels. The other, of course, would be the walk rate.
Ray just posted the second-best SwStr% of his career at 13.6% and had his highest O-Swing%, which is a big deal for him. It was actually the worst season of his career for his slider in terms of FanGraphs’s pitching runs metric at -6.8. So he didn’t have a feel for it or his curveball and still carried about the same K% as the previous season. I’m looking for Ray to maybe have a little bit of a breakout year depending on the ball.
Bumgarner could be something of a bounce back candidate with a deader ball, too. His HR/FB% last season spiked at 12.6%, the highest mark of his career. He still posted a 3.90/3.90/4.31 pitcher slash. He returned to a low walk rate at 5.1% and saw his K% bounce back to 24.1%. His 11.6% SwStr% was a nice response to that lost season of 2018. I can’t help but think that Bumgarner’s command gets better this season, too. He allowed the highest Hard Hit% of his career at 41.5% and his exit velocity jumped to 89.4 mph. Even if it doesn’t, his margin for error is a good bit higher with this defense.
It seems premature to say that the command is dwindling at 30. I think Bumgarner may have just needed a change of scenery with his Giants tenure coming to a close. A guy that very much needed a change of scenery was Mike Leake. Admittedly, his Diamondbacks numbers were terrible, but he’s a pitch-to-contact guy that was with one of the worst defensive teams in baseball for the Mariners. I still don’t think he’s long for this rotation with Merrill Kelly, Jon Duplantier, and one of my favorites from last season in Alex Young. In fact, I think those guys are all better options and Leake would only make it as a financial decision if he is in the rotation. The Diamondbacks have pretty good starting depth and JB Bukauskas is coming soon. It’s a shame that Corbin Martin had to have Tommy John.
The bullpen looks a little bit better this season. Archie Bradley stabilized in the second half with a .260 wOBA against over 128 plate appearances after a .345 in 189 PA in the first half. Junior Guerra and Hector Rondon are nice additions. Guerra settled into his relief role more in the second half and held the opposition to a .242 wOBA. Rondon is one a year removed from a 3.20/2.79/3.39 pitcher slash. Yoan Lopez got tired in the second half, but was solid in the first half and Kevin Ginkel looked very good in his 24.1 innings.
Positives & Negatives
This is a pitching staff that will get a boost from the team defense as a whole. Maybe the Diamondbacks won’t record 117 defensive runs saved or finish second to the Athletics in FanGraphs’s all-encompassing Def metric. But they’re still going to be extremely good, particularly with the Starling Marte addition.
The NL West is a tricky division. With Mookie Betts in the fold and most of last year’s team, the Dodgers are the clear-cut favorites in the division and everybody else is looking up at them. The Diamondbacks are more established than a team like the Padres, who may have a higher ceiling in the minds of most and certainly have the best bullpen in the division, if not the entire NL. The Rockies should be better. The Giants probably won’t be. The Diamondbacks have 76 interesting games within the division making up a big chunk of the schedule.
Pick: Over 83.5
The Diamondbacks over is one of my favorite season win totals in the National League. It makes me giddy to think about this pitching staff, particularly with Weaver and Gallen set up for the success that they are. There are worries about guys like Leake, and to a lesser extent Bumgarner, but Leake is easily replaceable.
Defense is something that is never properly accounted for in these win totals. The worst of the worst defensive teams really hurt themselves and the best of the best really help themselves. The Diamondbacks will be up near the top of the league once again in that department. That will elevate the pitching staff and can also elevate a league average offense by increasing the margin for error.
While I have questions about the ceiling for the Arizona offense, I think this offense has a high floor. I would be surprised to see anything other than league average in a lot of metrics and that will play if the pitching staff is as good as I anticipate.
If nothing else, I don’t see this team as any worse than last year’s version that won 85 games and fell within that 83-88 range in the alternate standings metrics. I think this team is better with more potential in the rotation and better depth on the position player side.
This looks like a legitimate Wild Card contender in the NL.