2014 Season Preview: Arizona Diamondbacks

It may still be cold outside and snowing in some portions of the country, but spring is nonetheless in the air. 

With the baseball season just around the corner, Greg Kaplan and Alex Herd preview each of the 30 MLB teams and how they will fare in 2014, division-by-division. 

National League West

Arizona Diamondbacks (81-81 last year)

Starting Line-Up

C: Miguel Montero (30) – 116 games, .230/.318/.344, 11HR 42RBI, 44 runs, 14 doubles, 83 OPS+, 0.1 bWAR

1B: Paul Goldschmidt (26) – 160 games, .302/.401/.551, 36HR 125RBI, 103 runs, 36 doubles, 15 stolen bases, 160 OPS+, 7.1 bWAR – 2013 All-Star, Gold Glove winner, Silver Slugger, 2nd in NL MVP voting

2B: Aaron Hill (32) – 87 games, .291/.356/.462, 11HR 41RBI, 45 runs, 21 doubles, 124 OPS+, 1.1 bWAR

3B: Martin Prado (30) – 155 games, .282/.333/.417, 14HR 82RBI, 70 runs, 36 doubles, 105 OPS+, 2.3 bWAR

SS: Didi Gregorius (24) – 103 games, .252/.332/.373, 7HR 28RBI, 47 runs, 16 doubles, 94 OPS+, 1.4 bWAR

LF: Mark Trumbo (28) – 159 games, .234/.294/.453, 34HR 100RBI, 85 runs, 30 doubles, 109 OPS+, 2.2 bWAR (w/ Los Angeles Angels)

CF: Gerardo Parra (26) – 156 games, .268/.323/.403, 10HR 48RBI, 79 runs, 43 doubles, 10 stolen bases, 99 OPS+, 6.1 bWAR – Gold Glove winner

RF: Cody Ross (33) – 94 games, .278/.331/.413, 8HR 38RBI, 33 runs, 17 doubles, 104 OPS+, 2.5 bWAR

Paul+Goldschmidt+Arizona+Diamondbacks+v+San+L19R_8tlimQlGood News:

You could make a case that no team in baseball worked harder in the off-season between the end of 2013 and the beginning of 2014 to make their team better than the Arizona Diamondbacks. They left no stone unturned, and brought in some fresh talent to bolster both their line-up and their starting rotation.

Regardless of who they brought in this off-season, though, the conversation starts with Paul Goldschmidt when you discuss what the D’Backs are capable of in 2014. Goldschmidt was the National League leader in home runs and RBI, and emerged as the best all-around first baseman the league has to offer, wrestling the title away from Joey Votto for at least one year. Normally, I’d look for flaws that could signal a regression after a player has a breakout year like Goldie did, but none of his splits from last year indicate a step backwards. In his two full seasons in the MLB, Goldschmidt has posted a BABIP of .340 and .343 respectively, so his “spike” from a .286 batting average in 2012 to a .302 batting average in 2013 has more to do with his plate awareness than luck. Pitchers have become more careful in how they pitch to Goldschmidt, and Goldschmidt has done a better job of zone recognition, which raised his BB% from 10.2% to 13.9%, a reasonable jump with development considered. He also cut his K% from 22.1% to 20.4%, again showing increased plate awareness. His 30+ home run power, 10+ stolen base speed and overall plate awareness make him one of the league’s best hitters, and that should remain the case on a yearly basis.

Arizona fans recognized Gerardo Parra‘s talent last year, but outside of a few spectacular catches on Baseball Tonight, casual fans probably didn’t realize everything Parra was doing. His offensive talent is limited, posting a shade below league-average metrics (96 wRC+, 99 OPS+). It’s his glove that makes him so valuable. He was a 4.6 fWAR in 2013, and almost all of that came from his work in the outfield. He was a 31.1 UZR and 41 DRS, figures that are so far and away better than those of his peers that he probably should’ve won two Gold Gloves. He is what he is offensively, though his BABIP of .305 last year is low in comparison to his career BABIP of .326, meaning he could get a small increase in his .268/.323/.403 slash from last year. It would be a mistake to platoon Parra, because taking his glove out of the everyday line-up would be as harmful as taking Paul Goldschmidt’s bat out.

The biggest bat Arizona imported this off-season is that of Mark Trumbo from the Los Angeles Angels. They paid a pretty hefty price for him, but felt that adding his type of power to their line-up was critical. What Trumbo does well is hit for power, and will become the first true protection hitter Paul Goldschmidt has had in his two years in the Majors. Trumbo has posted 29+ home runs each of the last three years, and .200+ ISOs in the same period. His batting average should see an improvement after a low .273 BABIP in 2013 depressed his average to .234, and if he can simply match his .268/.317/.491 slash from 2012, the Diamondbacks will feel as if they’re getting the return they wanted from him.

After that, it’s about two important players getting healthy for the Diamondbacks that will make the line-up deeper. Aaron Hill is one of the best offensive second baseman in baseball, but has been battling injury after injury the last few years. Even if they get just 120 games from him this year, the positive impact it’ll have on the line-up is huge. Same goes for Cody Ross, who is still a 2.0-type player when he’s fully healthy as well.

MLB: Texas Rangers at Los Angeles AngelsBad News:

Let’s circle back quickly to Trumbo for a second, because it’s important to understand the whole of the player, which has split some people in the baseball community about just how good he could be. Yes, the power is real and will continue to be there for him. It’s what makes him potentially more than just a 2.0-win player annually. What’s holding him back, however, is his plate awareness and his defense. His outfield defense did improve last season when you look at his metrics, but most of that is hidden by his increased usage as a nearly full-time DH by the Angels. He played 761.0 defensive innings for the Angels in 2012, and was poor. He posted a -4.7 UZR and -8.3 UZR/150. Last year, in 201.1 defensive innings, Trumbo was a -3.3 UZR/150, so there was improvement. We also must realize that his numbers in 2012 were hurt by playing right field (-24.0 UZR/150), which exaserbated his defensive flaws. As a left fielder, he was much more comfortable, and less of a liability (-0.7 UZR/150 in 2012).

And while I think Trumbo is capable of getting his batting average back up to the .265-range, it’s important to remember that a .273 BABIP for him could potentially be the reality, as opposed to a blip. He had a .274 BABIP in his first full season in 2011, though his slash was better at .254/.291/.477. The problem in his slashes will always be his on-base percentage. He hasn’t shown the ability to get on base with regularity. Yes, his BB% has improved every year over the last three years, up to 8.0% last year, but so has his K%. He struck out in 27.1% of his plate appearances last year. In Lehman’s terms, he’s striking out at least once a game. His value is going to be muted as long as his strikeout numbers are that high and doesn’t offer anything except slightly below-average defense with his glove. His presence in the outfield is another huge reason why the team needs to keep Parra in the line-up daily.

Outside of the holes you can find in Trumbo’s game, there’s not a whole lot to be too concerned about with the line-up. Sure, Martin Prado isn’t the 5.7 fWAR player he was for the Braves in 2012, but he’s better than the 2.4 fWAR he was last year. He’s probably more of a 3.0-type player, but even if he stays at 2.4, you’re not that upset. Miguel Montero had a rough 2013, but this is the same guy that put up back-to-back 4.0+ fWAR season for the Diamondbacks in 2011-12. He’ll rebound. And Arizona has so many viable options at short that they’re unlikely to strikeout on all of them, even if some don’t live up to expectations.

Bench:

Henry Blanco (42) – 50 games, .142/.228/.246, 3HR 14RBI, 11 runs, 5 doubles, 35 OPS+, -1.0 bWAR (w/ Toronto Blue Jays and Seattle Mariners)

3B/1B Eric Chavez (36) – 80 games, .281/.332/.478, 9HR 44RBI, 28 runs, 14 doubles, 120 OPS+, 0.1 bWAR

IF Cliff Pennington (29) – 96 games, .242/.310/.309, 1HR 18RBI, 25 runs, 13 doubles, 72 OPS+, 1.8 bWAR

UTIL Matt Tuiasosopo (27) – 81 games, .244/.351/.415, 7HR 30RBI, 26 runs, 7 doubles, 106 OPS+, 0.6 bWAR (w/ Detroit Tigers)

OF A.J. Pollack (26) – 137 games, .269/.322/.409, 8HR 38RBI, 28 runs, 28 doubles, 12 stolen bases, 100 OPS+, 3.5 bWAR

Skinny:

Well, if you’re not going to play Parra on a daily basis, A.J. Pollack is as good a person to platoon with him as any. He’s more of a Parra-lite, posting a still-ridiculous 17.2 UZR and 27.0 UZR/150. Pollack has a bit more pop and is quicker on the bases, so he provides more value offensively than Parra from the get-go. Diamondbacks officials may be dreaming of an outfield that has both Parra and Pollack in it full-time, and given Cody Ross’s injury history, there’s still a good chance both see the majority of playing time in the field together this season.

Outside of Pollack, Eric Chavez is the veteran leadership any bench dreams they could have. He can also still hold his own if he’s pressed into a starting position because of injuries at any point in the season. Hank White, er, Henry Blanco is the prototypical back-up catcher that also serves as a quasi-instructor. Cliff Pennington has been a full-time player in the past, and continues to be one of the candidates to win the D’Backs shortstop sweepstakes. It’s a solid bench. It’s what you want in a bench. Not much more to add there beyond that.

Starting Rotation

Ace: Patrick Corbin (24) – 32 starts, 14-8, 3.41 ERA, 208.1 IP, 7.7 K/9, 3.30 K/BB, 1.17 WHIP, 112 ERA+, 2.8 bWAR – 2013 All-Star

#2: Brandon McCarthy (30) – 22 starts, 5-11, 4.53 ERA, 135.0 IP, 5.1 K/9, 3.62 K/BB, 1.35 WHIP, 84 ERA+, -0.2 bWAR

#3: Wade Miley (27) – 33 starts, 10-10, 3.55 ERA, 202.2 IP, 6.5 K/9, 2.23 K/BB, 1.32 WHIP, 108 ERA+, 1.3 bWAR

#4: Trevor Cahill (26) – 25 starts, 8-10, 3.99 ERA, 146.2 IP, 6.3 K/9, 1.57 K/BB, 1.42 WHIP, 96 ERA+, 0.7 bWAR

#5: Bronson Arroyo (37) – 32 starts, 14-12, 3.79 ERA, 202.0 IP, 5.5 K/9, 3.65 K/BB, 1.15 WHIP, 101 ERA+, 2.5 bWAR (w/ Cincinnati Reds)

0319130749cwp PNI0515-spt DiamondbacksGood News:

There’s significant depth in the Arizona rotation, which will serve as it’s strength. From top to bottom, there isn’t a clear weak link that another team could exploit, as long as Brandon McCarthy stays healthy.

The class of the Diamondbacks rotation – at least last year – was surprised All-Star Patrick Corbin. Corbin experienced some light success in his first 17 starts in the Majors in 2012, but quickly surpassed any modest expectations the team had for him in 2013. Corbin’s next-level metrics indicate that his 3.7 fWAR and 3.41 are comfortable in line with what he’s capable of doing every fifth day. He won’t be a high-strikeout pitcher, but he does command the strike zone and controls the corners of the plate.

Two pitchers that possibly fly under the radar are Wade Miley and Trevor Cahill. Miley was Corbin before Corbin was Corbin, posting a 4.4 fWAR in his first full season in 2012. Miley’s 2013 season was a bit curious. His fWAR dropped to 2.0 and his ERA rose from 3.33 to 3.55. His xFIP from year-to-year, however, were remarkably similar (3.75 in ’12, 3.77 in ’13). The area where Miley’s numbers get curious are his ground-ball percentage and home run percentage. Miley actually saw an increase in both, with his GB% going from 43.3% to 52.0%, while his HR-to-FB% doubled from 6.9% to 12.5%. How that happens, I’m not certain, especially considering his strand rate also increase from 72.0% to 75.8%. The one area that could be concerning was his BB/9, which rose from 1.71 to 2.93. I think we need a third year of Miley to determine what kind of pitcher he is when he’s just being Miley.

As for Cahill, he, too, had a case of the curious. He’s been nearly a lock for around a 2.0 fWAR the three years before last, but dropped off to 0.9 in 2013. Most of his metrics were identical from the year prior, with the exception of his K/9, which ultimately hurt his FIP and xFIP. He wasn’t bad, but he wasn’t great, and was a step below being the good pitcher he had been prior. He should rebound to normalcy in 2014 barring injury.

There’s also Archie Bradley, who’s itching to find a home in the Arizona rotation sooner rather than later. He’s widely considered one of, if not the best right-handed pitching prospect the game has to offer today, and may be less than a year away from making a real difference.

Bad News:

Depth is a nice thing to have, but much like some other teams in the Nationa League we’ve talked about previously, there isn’t a pitcher that jumps out as you as a leader of the staff, which normally separates the great rotations from the good ones. Yes, there isn’t a glaring weakness in the Diamondbacks rotation from top-to-bottom. Plenty of teams would enjoy having Bronson Arroyo be their fifth starter, and he was asked to play a larger role for the Reds last year, a 90-win team.

With that being said, this rotation very much so feels like a collection of two’s and three’s, and there’s a chance those pitchers (Corbin, Miley) may be three’s themselves. Could this be viewed as a harsh criticism? Absolutely, and I understand by not watching this collection of starters on a daily basis, my opinion may be skewed by what I do know of the five. However, when we’re talking about teams as being playoff contenders, this rotation in particular leaves something to be desired. It’s a rotation that will keep the Diamondbacks playing competitive, meaningful baseball deep into September. It’s even a rotation that should keep Arizona in the top half of most pitching categories.

My problem with the rotation is that, outside of Bradley when he’s promoted, there isn’t a whole lot of room to grow for any of the pitchers here. What’s the best-case scenario for the likes of Patrick Corbin and Wade Miley? Could either become a true ace? It’s possible, and Miley has even flashed as an ace previously. But is it likely? The honest answer has to be no.

This rotation will keep Arizona in the playoff race. But, the goal this off-season wasn’t just to be in the playoff race. They wanted to be in the picture to compete for the World Series. I don’t see that happening with this five-some.

Bullpen:

Closer: Addison Reed (25) – 68 games, 5-4, 3.79 ERA, 71.1 IP, 40 saves, 9.1 K/9, 3.13 K/BB, 1.11 WHIP, 113 ERA+

Set-Up Man: J.J. Putz (37) – 40 games, 3-1, 2.36 ERA, 34.1 IP, 6 holds, 10.0 K/9, 2.24 K/BB, 1.25 WHIP, 164 ERA+

MR: David Hernandez (28) – 62 games, 5-6, 4.48 ERA, 62.1 IP, 15 holds, 9.5 K/9, 2.75 K/BB, 1.19 WHIP, 86 ERA+

MR: Brad Ziegler (34) – 78 games, 8-1, 2.22 ERA, 73.0 IP, 11 holds, 5.4 K/9, 2.00 K/BB, 1.14 WHIP, 173 ERA+

MR: Joe Thatcher (32) – 72 games, 3-2, 3.20 ERA, 39.1 IP, 15 holds, 8.2 K/9, 3.60 K/BB, 1.27 WHIP, 112 ERA+ (w/ San Diego Padres and Arizona Diamondbacks)

MR: Randall Delgado (24) – 20 games, 5-7, 4.26 ERA, 116.1 IP, 6.1 K/9, 3.43 K/BB, 1.20 WHIP, 90 ERA+

LR: Josh Collmenter (28) – 49 games, 5-5, 3.13 ERA, 92.0 IP, 5 holds, 8.3 K/9, 2.58 K/BB, 1.22 WHIP, 122 ERA+

chi_g_reed_576Skinny:

As far as bullpen construction goes, this is one of the stronger units the National League has to offer from top to bottom. I’m not necessarily comfortable with what the Diamondbacks gave up to get Addison Reed, but I can understand their line of thinking in doing so. Reed is a younger, electric reliever that can develop into one of the best end-of-game pitchers in baseball. And he’ll have one of the most experienced teachers in J.J. Putz, who is still a strong bridge in his own right. In fact, the combination of Reed/Putz for the 8th and 9th innings is why I like this bullpen. As I’ve said many times in previews and in separate posts, I never understood why a team’s best reliever is saved for situations that may or may not be available in the 9th inning. The Diamondbacks may not be using Reed correctly if they see him as their best reliever, but by having Putz to “close” in the 8th inning, they’re shortening games by an additional inning.

It’s not just Reed and Putz, though, which is why I like this bullpen. Brad Ziegler has a closers mentality and a funky delivery that have always made him deceptive to both lefties and righties. Josh Collmenter can, if needed, slide into the starting rotation and provide better-than-replacement level pitching every fifth day. Joe Thatcher is a craft lefty that bedevils big name lefties in the National League. And Randall Delgado still has promise to develop into a very good starting pitcher, all while refining his craft in the bullpen currently.

Top 10 Prospects (MLB.com)

1. RHP Archie Bradley

2. SS Chris Owings

3. RHP Braden Shipley

4. RHP Zeke Spruill

5. RHP Jake Barrett

6. LHP Andrew Chafin

7. C Stryker Trahan

8. RHP Anthony Meo

9. 3B Jake Lamb

10. C Michael Perez

Skinny: 

Let’s be honest with ourselves: This is the Archie Bradley show. Featuring Chris Owings. After trading away Matt Davidson and  Tyler Skaggs to make improvements to the Major League roster, the farm system just isn’t as deep as it once was. However, it’s important to remember that the farm system serves two distinct purposes. One is to import your own homegrown talent, and the other is to have enough strong talent that other teams will want it and help facilitate trades. So, it’s not necessary a bad thing that the Diamondbacks traded away pieces this year. That shows how strong the system was.

As for what’s left, Bradley has the makings of an ace. He’s been absolutely dominating the Minor Leagues, posting sub-2.00 ERAs at both his stops last year, and struck out 162 batters in 152.0 innings. He may not break camp with the D’Backs, but we will see him in June. Owings is going heads up with Didi Gregorius and Cliff Pennington for the starting shortstop gig out of Spring Training. He’s got 15-homer potential and 20+ stolen base speed, and an above-average glove at short. He proved he was able to handle MLB pitching in a 55 at-bat cameo towards the end of the season last year, and will be given every opportunity to win the job outright this year.

The rest is a mixed bag of potential MLB-ready pieces. Braden Shipley is the team’s most recent first round pick, and still a few years away from making any sort of impact for the big league club. Zeke Spruill is ready, but there’s not exactly room for him in the rotation or the bullpen at this time. Stryker Trahan is both an awesome name and also a few years away from being ready to replace Miguel Montero in the Majors. There’s talent, it’s just not ready. Which is fine.

Season Projection: 

To me, the Arizona Diamondbacks are in an odd place in the National League. They want to compete, finishing .500 again will feel like a step backwards and they truly believe that they’ve made enough moves to go head-to-head with the likes of the Dodgers and the Giants in the division.

However, I just don’t see it. I think they’re going to be a good team this year, and they’ll play meaningful baseball late into September, but I don’t how they would be better than either the two Wild Card teams (Braves and Reds, in my opinion), or finish higher than third in the National League West. This is a good team, one that doesn’t have a lot of holes at all that need to be addressed. What there is, in my opinion, is a lack of elite talent. Yes, Paul Goldschmidt is a MVP-caliber player, and I think he’ll continue to be as he enters his prime. But, there isn’t enough talent in the starting rotation to take down the mammoths that are in Los Angeles or San Francisco, and the other pieces around Goldschmidt – while nice – aren’t a group of guys I would expect to outproduce their talent to a point where I’d confidently put the Diamondbacks into the playoffs.

This is a good team. But, this is not a great team.

Projected Record: 83-79, 3rd in National League West

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