One of two things will be said in September in the case of the Arizona Diamondbacks. The first may be, “Dave Stewart is a genius.” The other may be, “What a moron.”
Stewart had a very busy offseason, and his moves were questioned by many. That being said, the Diamondbacks’ GM clearly went for a win-now mentality, trading away two big pieces of their future to create some stability in the current pitching rotation.
Did he do enough to make them contenders?
There is a lot of people who may disagree with the Diamondbacks approach this offseason. It stems from their front office. Take a look at these guys. Tony La Russa is one of the greatest managers of all time. Dave Stewart won 20 games four years in a row and was a pitching coach before becoming a GM. De Jon Watson was a former scout and later head of scouting departments. Their special assistants are Randy Johnson, J.J. Putz and Luis Gonzalez.
You know what you don’t see? Any stat junkies. This is an old school front office, one that seemingly doesn’t care about WAR or ZIPs or trends, but what they see on the field. It’s the only explanation on how trading away Dansby Swanson and Aaron Blair — both of whom statistically trend toward stardom — becomes rationale.
That being said, they made some big moves this offseason. They clearly plan on making a World Series run immediately, but the big question is whether they did enough to do so.
This is where they really bulked up from last season. They went out and signed Zack Greinke to a six-year, $206-million mega-deal. They then traded their top prospect (Swanson) and arguably their top pitching prospect (Blair) to the prospect hoarding Atlanta Braves for Shelby Miller. They also stacked the back of their bullpen by adding one of the premier set-up guys in baseball in Tyler Clippard.
Greinke’s 2015 was insane. He led the league in ERA and WHIP and wasn’t even the NL Cy Young winner. Throw away Miller’s win-loss record playing for the Triple-A squad that the Atlanta Braves were last season, and you’ll see that he had a season right on par with his career norms. Add on Patrick Corbin‘s impressive return from Tommy John — albeit a small sample size — and the D-Backs have a very formidable top end of the rotation, arguably a top five rotation in the MLB.
They don’t need to worry about Greinke. Miller wore down at the end of last season, but FanGraphs projects him having the worst numbers of his career, predicting that he will post his highest ERA (4.04 for a 25-year old whom has never had an ERA touching four) and allowing the most home runs (23) he has had in a season.
It doesn’t make sense to me. It isn’t like Chase Field is a home run haven, finishing in the bottom third of stadiums that saw balls leave the yard (granted those numbers are helped by a Diamondbacks lineup that is not chock full of home run hitters themselves). They are in the top ten in runs scored, so I could see a slight influx, but Miller was en route to outstanding numbers before his second half breakdown, which wasn’t even that bad. He now got a taste of his first 200+ inning season, I think the youngster thrives now that he is not expected to be an ace.
It will be interesting to see where Archie Bradley fits into the picture. Their young ace-in-waiting has battled injuries and command problems his entire career. He made his big league debut last season and beat Clayton Kershaw in the process before taking a liner off the noggin. Right now he looks like he is back in Triple A to start the year, but the 23-year old could contribute early on.
Check this out. Brad Ziegler is good. He excelled as the full-time closer last year and blew only two saves in 32 chances. He posted a 1.85 ERA and a 0.96 WHIP, which is huge for a closer who has never been a strikeout pitcher. He needs to continue to keep those runners off the bases and improve on his career best .218 BABIP from last season.
Clippard is a huge asset. While some of the metrics guys will tell you he took a step backwards last season with a worse ERA and lower strikeout rates, we already said this regime doesn’t care too much for that. What they care about is that Clippard has been a reliable set-up guy that has the moxie to close when called upon.
Right smack in the heart of the lineup is one of the best hitters in baseball. Paul Goldschmidt is one of the few true five-tool players left in the game with the modern era of specialization at nearly every position. He was a Gold Glover and a Silver Slugger, and finished second in the MVP voting. When Goldy wasn’t smashing 33 home runs, 38 doubles and driving in 110 runs, he was going 21-for-26 on the base paths. Eventually a talent like him becomes a World Champion.
Last year’s outfield was good behind the breakout season of A.J. Pollock. He gives the Diamondbacks another 20/20 player in the middle of the lineup. Ender Inciarte is gone, but that should enter Yasmany Tomas into the lineup and become more of a middle of the lineup presence.
BREAKOUT ALERT! If Tomas turns out to be a bust, watch out for Socrates Brito. He has a similar profile to Inciarte in the speed department with more pop. Based on the D-Backs current track record with outfielders, one that saw all three of their outfielders have breakout seasons, Brito will definitely be on the radar waiting for his.
The infield leaves a little to be desired. The D-Backs front office seemed to defy the stats and metrics yet again in trading away a young pitcher in Chase Anderson for Jean Segura to man short since they traded away their shortstop to be in Swanson. Segura’s numbers have been in decline since his breakout 2013. His strikeout rate reached a career high last season and his on base percentage sunk to a career low.
Jake Lamb and Chris Owings are young so they do have upside. Lamb has to get better at the hot corner and Owings abysmal 2015 slash line (.227/.264/.322) needs to improve or Swanson and Aaron Hill up the middle would have been a much better situation.
Welington Castillo is what he is at this point behind the plate, and that is pretty reliable. He has good 15-20 home run pop, throws out the league average of base runners (28%) and doesn’t let much get past him. Can’t complain about that.
ARE THEY PLAYOFF BOUND?
The D-Backs play in a tough division. Despite having a solid big three in the rotation, is it even the best in the NL West?
The San Francisco Giants have a tough top of the rotation in Madison Bumgarner, Johnny Cueto and Jeff Samardzija. The Dodgers have definitely taken a step backwards, and it will be interesting to see if the top of the Padres rotation can finally perform as many expect that they can.
I personally think the Dodgers have taken a big step backwards all around and while I like the Giants chances this season, should their 2015 breakouts continue to progress and a few things fall into place — like a Segura bounce back and either Lamb or Owings improving — than the Diamondbacks may have the best lineup in the West.
FanGraphs has them pegged to finish 79-83, the exact same record as last season. But remember, FanGraphs bases their assessment off metrics, something that yours truly thinks that Arizona completely disregards. USA Today has them at 86 wins, which I think is way more on par.
Does that make them a playoff team? It’s hard to say in a National League that suddenly has eight or nine really competitive teams. I think it is fair to say that this team has the potential to be in the hunt right up until the end.
One thing is for certain. With all of the moves this front office has made, they will be under an intense microscope. Should this team not make the playoffs in the next two years, they could be looking at a Padres-type blunder.