Between now and Opening Day, we’ll be previewing each team by eavesdropping on an extended conversation about them. For the full archive of each 2018 team preview, click here.
Arizona Diamondbacks PECOTA Projections:
Runs Scored: 724
Runs Allowed: 668
AVG/OBP/SLG (TAv): .247/.315/.398 (.251)
Total WARP: 27.9 (14.6 pitching, 13.3 non-pitching)
Nick Stellini: The PECOTA sorcerers gazed into their mathematical Palantir and divined an 87-75 record for the Diamondbacks. That’s a very comfortable theoretical second place for them, sandwiched between the Dodgers and the Giants. That projection came in before Zack Greinke’s fastball misplaced its octane and his groin started barking, of course. Greinke is on track to pitch in the opening week of the season and claimed his velo goes AWOL every spring, so work yourself into a lather at your own risk. But given the trade of Anthony Banda to Tampa Bay, rotation depth could turn out to be a bit of an issue until top prospect Jon Duplantier is ready (unless you still own Braden Shipley stock). Banda’s trade did net them Steven Souza, though, so that’s something.
Jeff Wiser: I don’t know much about sorcery, but I do like a good sausage and the NL West is going to be a meat grinder. PECOTA has it right—the D-backs should slot right behind the Dodgers as of now. Greinke’s issues aren’t new and he seems to add velocity as the season wears on. It’s mixing his pitches and being deceptive that gets the job done anyway. Those skills aren’t going anywhere, though less velo does cut down on the margin for error.
The rotation depth is thin, but don’t forget that they’ll get Shelby Miller back before the All Star break. They have five guys right now who form a strong rotation and they can use a guy like Shipley or Matthew Koch in a pinch if needed. It’s all about the here and now in Arizona, which is where Souza enters the equation (once he returns from yesterday’s strained pectoral muscle, likely in May). I think they did a great job in getting him. That lineup is deep and they should be better defenders all over the field in 2018. Would have loved to keep Just Dingers, though …
Stellini: Souza is a perfectly fine get in a vacuum. He’s got power, he’s got speed, all that good stuff. Great acquisition for a contending team! There’s also the matter that they had J.D. Martinez in their uniform last year and let themselves get outbid for his services by the Red Sox. Like you said, it’s all about the here and now for the Diamondbacks. A.J. Pollock is a free agent after this season, and Paul Goldschmidt can leave after 2019. The farm system made some strides, but it’s still not exactly a notable collection of talent and many of the better players are a long ways away. Given how owner Ken Kendrick seems to have demonstrated his philosophy on spending for non-Greinke players, t’s reasonable to say Arizona’s window isn’t going to be open for much longer.
If you’re a contending team with a short window, I feel like you need to go all-out and field the best team possible. Martinez is one of the greatest hitters in the game right now. Souza is a fine player, but this sure feels like a missed opportunity. Hell, they could have brought Martinez back and traded for Souza by playing the latter slugger in left field and duct-taping Yasmany Tomas to the bench. But I guess even contending teams don’t spend money anymore, right? And Jarrod Dyson wasn’t a terrible get.
Wiser: That window won’t last long and I completely understand the desire to put the best possible team on the field. When the offseason started, no one really took the Diamondbacks seriously as a contender for J.D.’s services. They hung in there, though, and showed a willingness to spend beyond what anyone expected. They came up short, obviously, but for a team with this kind of spending outlook, flexibility is a valuable thing. Being locked into Martinez and Greinke and Tomas would have almost surely meant losing Pollock and Goldschmidt. So in that way, I see this route as a bit of a hedge. They can stay right in the thick of things without getting bogged down later on.
General manager Mike Hazen has been careful not to put this team on a singular track, and while that ambiguity can be unsettling at times, it allows them to change direction if/when they need to. The budget being what it is, they added depth and got better at the same time while staying nimble, all for a fraction of the upfront cost. That money saved might come in pretty handy at the trade deadline and/or if they suffer a long-term injury.
You’re right in that the Dyson deal was good. Brad Boxberger can help the bullpen if he can stay upright. They had to address the catching corps and they added … Alex Avila? For a team that seemed to value framing, letting Chris Iannetta walk and swooping in on Avila is a hard one to square.
Stellini: Martinez’s deal with the Red Sox (or a slightly larger one that may have been necessary to lure him away from Boston) shouldn’t be an impediment to a team that’s serious about winning for the long run, though. I’m not criticizing Hazen as much as I am Kendrick.
Boxberger is a nice low-risk upgrade, and the little I’ve seen of Yoshihisa Hirano has been very intriguing. The bullpen could be interesting if those two are pitching well with Archie Bradley. It’s also worth keeping an eye on Jimmie Sherfy, and I can’t help but wonder what Shipley would look like as a full-time reliever.
Avila is weird. He hit the crap out of the ball last year, but PECOTA really hates him. There was a lot of debate about the relative merits of Jonathan Lucroy at this stage of his career and they probably don’t have the assets to go get J.T. Realmuto, but Avila is a gamble. I wonder if someone like Yan Gomes or Roberto Perez could be in play if Francisco Mejia lights the world on fire in Cleveland when his time comes. And if we want to talk about a lack of a free agent upgrade, how did the D-backs not make Neil Walker an offer? I want to be clear that I think this is a good team with a fair shot at the postseason, but that was an upgrade that could’ve been had for cheap.
Wiser: The bullpen is an interesting amalgamation of dudes. It’s in a far better position than it was this time last year. If it works as constructed, cool. If not, well, a bullpen is the easiest thing to fix by addition. I’m not sold on Shipley but I do think Sherfy could be a sort of righty-killer and the type of cheap, valuable asset that this team needs.
The D-backs have had a tough time finding a middle infield pairing that sticks. Part of that is a result of the players who have lined up at second and short. Another part of that is the organization being less fixated on having everyday guys and being able to have mix-and-match flexibility. They dealt Brandon Drury and still have Chris Owings, Nick Ahmed, Ketel Marte, and Daniel Descalso. Prospect Domingo Leyba isn’t far off, either. That said, if they wanted to move someone for fair value and just give the keys to Walker for a season and $5 million, that might have been a viable strategy. They do like Owings’ versatility, however, Marte is trending up and Ahmed can still pick it. The strategies are different, but I don’t know that one is substantially better than the other.
Nick, I can’t believe we’ve made it this far without talking about the most important topic of the Diamondbacks’ offseason: the humidor!
Stellini: I genuinely don’t know what to make of the humidor. Like, yeah, it should help the pitchers. But you want to hit homers too! It feels like cutting off your nose to spite your face. Maybe the humidor makes guys like Marte and Pollock more valuable because of their speed and defense. If the ball isn’t going over the wall as much, it helps when you can turn singles into doubles and doubles into triples, and if you can turn those extra balls in play into outs. I dunno, it just feels strange and I’m very interested to see how it plays out.
It’s entirely possible that I’m overblowing this, but PECOTA does have Goldschmidt hitting nine fewer homers this year. I’m also generally an advocate of not screwing with the more basic facets of the game a ton. That all being said, the Diamondbacks had a pretty darn strong pitching staff last year and this, theoretically, should only make them stronger. The other team gets to use balls out of the humidor too, but yeah. It’s very interesting! I’m sure you have a bit of a better handle on it than I do.
Wiser: We’ve been kicking around the humidor thing for several years now and after seeing all of the research, it really does seem like it’s destined to take a big bite out of offense. Because Phoenix is drier than Denver, the humidor is expected to decrease offense at Chase Field even more than it does at Coors Field. I don’t think PECOTA is crazy for suggesting a big drop in homers for Goldy or any other hitter who relies on power to drive their offense. It might be six homers instead of nine, but that’s a substantial change either way.
I ran some numbers recently and found that at the most extreme end of the humidor’s projections, Greinke’s 2017 FIP would have dropped from 3.31 to 2.64. That’d be tops in the NL. It’s a pretty good rotation to begin with and this should make them look even better. What I haven’t wrapped my head around is how it impacts the competition. Everyone has to use the same baseballs, as you stated, but does it being the “home park” for the D-backs allow them to adjust and take advantage of the surroundings? Does it feel weird to visiting teams? Do the Diamondbacks construct their roster differently in the future assuming the humidor sticks?
Because the humidor won’t impact guys who hit the ball on the ground nearly as much as those that hit it in the air, I’m optimistic for Marte. He’s so young, he’ll get plenty of playing time, and his plate discipline seemed to return last year. I’m pegging him as my “breakout” guy for 2018.
Stellini: PECOTA has Marte at 1.6 WARP with a .273/.325/.388 line. It doesn’t jump out at you but I agree it’s easy to dream on more for him, and the projected output is pretty nice as is. There’s a pleasing aesthetic to speed-based players given their rarity these days, and the fact that some of them don’t really hit a ton. It’s nice to watch Billy Hamilton steal bases, but it’s not fun to watch him at the plate. Marte actually has competitive at-bats and there’s something to be said for that. Dingers are fun, but legging out doubles and doing wild stuff in the field may be even more fun in today’s dinger-saturated world.
I’m really high on Hirano. He’s not going to blow you away with a fastball, but the stuff is nice and the little hitch in his delivery is something I’m a fan of. We need more forkballs in our lives. I have a feeling Bradley will be closing, and rightfully so, but Hirano is going to carve guys up in the eighth inning. PECOTA has him down for 0.2 WARP, and I’ll take the over on that.
Wiser: It’s fitting that we both picked guys expected to support the core players on the roster. The D-backs have relied heavily on their stars, but it’s the guys like Marte and Hirano who could really end up making the difference even if they are only two-and-half-win and one-win players, respectively. For the team to get back to the postseason, they’re going to need steady production from these types of players. Put me down for another Wild Card appearance and 89 wins in 2018. Am I just being a homer or do you think they will repeat their success from last season?
Stellini: I definitely think a Wild Card spot is attainable. The Cubs and Nationals essentially have their divisions sewn up, and I think it’s still safe to say the same of the Dodgers even though Justin Turner had his wrist broken by a pitch. Where are the other two playoff teams coming from, then? The Mets look decent, but we say that every year before things get really Metsy. The Phillies could be a thing with Jake Arrieta and Carlos Santana, but they’ll need some breakouts from their young players. The Brewers? They got a few nice players, but the pitching is still suspect. The same can be said of the Cardinals. They don’t have a closer and frankly I don’t know what to make of their rotation after Carlos Martinez.
The D-backs are clearly a better team than all of those other Wild Card contenders. They should be able to grab a spot, and frankly it wouldn’t be surprising if the Rockies get in again as well.
Wiser: Right with you there. The National League is going to be entertaining. There’s not much in the middle—teams are either contending or tanking. The part that worries me the most is that the NL West only has one team that’s not really competitive and I still think you can make the case that the Padres are going to be better than they were last season. It may just come down to who can stay healthy and we really can’t do much to predict that.
It’s been a wild ride covering the D-backs for the last six years. They’ve gone from a “solid contender” to “OMG what are you even doing?” to “hey, analytics are cool” and the playoffs. The gap between Souza and Martinez might be the one or two wins that keeps them out of the playoffs. Maybe some of the breakouts we talked about make up the gap. The humidor is still an unknown, more or less, despite the research. We’ll need to see real game data before we can draw any hard conclusions.
The waters might be muddy but there’s certainly no shortage of intrigue in Arizona as we get ready to kick off the season.