From the NY Gothams to the San Francisco Giants – is this the best run ever for the Bay Area boys?

San Francisco Giants  – A True Dynasty In The Making?
by Jim Silva

    Ten World Series victories, if you include the two they won before it was considered the World Series, eight if you don’t – that’s what the Giants franchise has managed since they got their start in 1883 as the Gothams. That puts them within spitting distance of the second place Cardinals franchise who have won 11 (12 including a pre-1903 victory), tied with the Red Sox, and one behind the A’s of Philadelphia, Kansas City, and Oakland. Nobody is going to catch the Yankees for a long, long, LONG time as they have 27. The recent run of Giants even-season victories – three so far – has brought the dynasty conversation to Giants fans’ lips. Three World Series victories in five seasons is unusual, if not quite rare in World Series history, which begs the question even if the fans don’t – are the current San Francisco Giants a dynasty? The last team to win three World Series in five seasons, before the Giants pulled it off for the first time in their history, was (yawn) the Yankees when they won four in five years (1996-2000). Aside from the Yankees, the A’s are the only team to have done it more than once, winning the Series thrice between 1910 and 1913, and three years in a row from 1972 to 1974. Here is a link to the complete list in case you can’t sleep until you know who won the 1923 World Series.
    Aside from the Yankees, the Red Sox are the only team to really mess up the neat little paradigm of three victories in five seasons by besting that. They won four between 1912 and 1918 which really makes two runs of three if you choose to count victories in both sequences. The Yankees have messed things up three times, winning seven World Series between 1932 and 1943, 10 between 1947 and 1962, and four between 1996 and 2000. No wonder so many reasonable people hate their guts!
    So, most people would assume that this is the closest thing to a dynasty that the Giants franchise has ever mustered. Certainly, if we measure it with World Series victories then that is true. No other team in Giants’ history has three World Series victories in five seasons. But let’s look at this another way. Let’s look at winning percentage as a marker of how good the franchise has been over any particular stretch of time.
    The current iteration of the Giants started winning more games than they lost in 2009, the season before they started their World Series even years hopscotch run. Uh oh – table time! (Note that if a team made it to the playoffs but not the Series then they are in green, while World Series losers are in blue, and World Series victors are in red – as in red hot!)
Season
Winning Percentage
2009
0.543
2010
0.568
2011
0.531
2012
0.580
2013
0.469
2014
0.543
2015
0.519
2009-2015 (7 seasons)
Average Winning Percentage 0.536

Not bad but nowhere near their best stretch in terms of length or winning percentage. Obviously great in terms of post-season performance with three appearances all ending in a World Series victory.

Here is a nice little Giants team, led by Barry Bonds.
Season
Winning Percentage
1997
0.556
1998
0.546
1999
0.531
2000
0.599
2001
0.556
2002
0.590
2003
0.621
2004
0.562
1997-2004 (8 seasons)
Average Winning Percentage 0.570

Really great eight year run with no World Series victories but one appearance, plus three losses in the playoffs.

And then there is this club with Mays, Marichal, and McCovey for much of the run.
Season
Winning Percentage
1961
0.552
1962
0.624
1963
0.543
1964
0.556
1965
0.586
1966
0.578
1967
0.562
1968
0.543
1969
0.556
1970
0.531
1971
0.556
1961-1971 (11 seasons)
Average Winning Percentage .562

Again, a much better run in terms of duration and winning percentage, but only two post-season appearances including one World Series loss.

And oh, by the way, remember – the Giants also played in a small town called New York. These teams were John McGraw’s teams led by “Big Six”, Christy Mathewson. (Here is a link to Mathewson’s fascinating, if somewhat tragic, bio in the SABR Bio Project written by Eddie Frierson)
Season
Winning Percentage
1903
0.604
1904
0.693
1905
0.686
1906
0.632
1907
0.536
1908
0.636
1909
0.601
1910
0.591
1911
0.647
1912
0.682
1913
0.664
1903-1913 (11 seasons)
Average Winning Percentage .634

An amazing stretch, where translated to a 162 game season, they averaged 102 wins a season for 11 seasons! With four World Series appearances but only one win, they still don’t match up with the modern day Giants in terms of the post-season. 1904 is in blue because the Giants won the National League title but refused to play the American League champs, characterizing the upstart league as beneath them.

This last stretch could be broken up differently, but that’s true of all of the groupings. It is arranged this way because it is bookended by World Series appearances. It takes the Giants from Christy Mathewson to Frankie Frisch and Travis Jackson and the beginning of Bill Terry’s career, and it overlaps by three seasons with the 1903 to 1913 run so instead of turning it into one huge run, they intersect somewhat.
Season
Winning Percentage
1911
0.647
1912
0.682
1913
0.664
1914
0.545
1915
0.454
1916
0.566
1917
0.636
1918
0.573
1919
0.621
1920
0.558
1921
0.614
1922
0.604
1923
0.621
1924
0.608
1911-1924 (14 seasons)
0.600

These teams managed eight World Series appearances, although only two wins. They lost a game seven to the Senators in 1924 when Muddy Ruel scored on a walk-off, bad-hop single over Freddie Lindstrom in the bottom of the twelfth!

    It’s hard to talk about dynasties when you have to hold up your club to any of the great Yankees’ runs. The Giants are a tremendous franchise with many stretches that could argue for the dynasty label. Had some of the early Giants’ teams been in the current division system with a Wild Card, they likely would have easily bested the three World Series victories in five seasons. Remember that until 1969 there were no divisions or playoffs. The team with the best record in the NL faced the team with the best record in the AL. And it wasn’t until 1994 that the Wild Card was instituted with the team with the best record among the second place finishers in each league playing against the team with the best record in the first round of the playoffs. Then in 2012 a second Wild Card team was added with a one game playoff to see which team would become the fourth team in the first round of each league’s playoffs. If not for the Wild Card, the Giants wouldn’t even have made it to the playoffs in 2014 because they finished second to the Dodgers by six games. In the old, one-team system they would have finished tied for fourth in the NL, missing the post-season by eight games with the Nationals going to the World Series. The 2012 team which won the NL West would have placed tied for third with the Braves four games back – again staring up at the Nationals. The 2010 team? They would have placed second, this time finishing five in back of the Phillies and watching the series against Tampa Bay on television. The ’97 to 2004 teams would have only made it to the series in 2000 although in a heart-breaker the 100 win 2003 team would have missed by one game as the Braves won 101 that season.
    So what if we break up teams into divisions all the way back to the beginning? How would that have changed the fortunes of some of those older Giants teams? There weren’t as many teams back then in the good old pre-expansion days, but we can at least split them the way it was done in 1969 into the East and West divisions. The ’62 to 1971 Giants in the NL West that includes the Dodgers, Astros/Colt 45’s, Braves, and Reds would actually make the playoffs four times instead of two. The ’71 Giants fell to the “one team only” rule I applied to the rest of the post divisional teams, but the pre-1969 teams benefitted from a conversion to a divisional format.
    The New York Giants of 1903 to 1913 would likely be in the East with the Dodgers of Brooklyn, Phillies of Philadelphia, and Braves of Boston. The Cardinals were the furthest east of the rest, so the “West” would be Chicago, Cincy, St. Louis, and the Pirates. Amazingly, the New York Giants would win their division every year except for the 1907 season. So instead of four post-season appearances they would at least make the playoffs 10 times in 11 seasons! That is dominance albeit in a division with only four teams.
    As for the 1911 to 1924 Giants, they would make the post-season 10 times instead of eight – again, that is incredible dominance. It isn’t a big difference from what they did anyway and they were certainly considered one of the greatest teams in baseball at the time. They were favorites in more than one of those World Series matches that they ended up losing.
    Time makes us forget things – even baseball fans forget. God knows I’d like to forget Gibby taking Eck out on a backdoor slider, or Jeter and that damned flip play (why didn’t Jeremy Giambi slide?) – but sadly those plays are forever emblazoned on my amygdala like other traumas. For many Giants fans, their recent success certainly represents the best Giants teams of their lives and by today’s standards measures up as a dynasty with the ’96 to 2000 Yankees. While it is much easier to get to the post-season nowadays, it is considerably harder to win the World Series once you get there. Look at the 2014 champs who had to win a one game playoff followed by three more series comprising 16 more games before they could call themselves the best in the world. A run like that involves some good luck to be sure – getting hot at the right time – and luck that comes from already having assembled an excellent team. But Buster Posey’s Giants aren’t even close to the top three Giants dynasties in their history and that is something to be proud of if you’re a fan who wears the black cap with the orange “SF” on the brim.
   

Did the Diamonbacks successfully position themselves for a penant run and possibly more?

Robbing Peter to Pay Paul (Goldschmidt)?
by Jim Silva

    Last season’s team was the youngest group the Diamondbacks had ever sent out to do battle in their 19 seasons of existence. Historically, (a funny term to use for an organization that is one of the two newest in baseball) the Diamondbacks have won with older players. They won their only World Series in 2001 with their oldest group of position players and their 3rd oldest group of pitchers. In 2002, their pitching was even older and they went to the playoffs again. So what does it mean that the Diamondbacks are now the youngest team in baseball? Age doesn’t necessarily decide who will win the World Series, but having a young star in his prime can push general managers to make decisions about trades and free agent signings. Also, when you look at a team’s age and how long players are under team control you can see when a good time to go all in might be. The Diamondbacks’ general manager, Dave Stewart, made moves this offseason that are consistent with a team who thinks they are primed to win and are in the window where they have to make moves to solidify their chances to make the post-season.
    Arizona’s middle infield is still trying to find itself. Nick Ahmed is 25, Chris Owings is 23, Brandon Drury is 22, and Jean Segura is 25. They all still have some development in them. That doesn’t mean that all of them will improve enough as hitters to contribute to the offense; that depends on their abilities, their hitting coaches, and their work ethic. 2016 is an important season for the team so at some point they need to make some decisions about whom they are going to focus on as their starters, pick a utility man, and trade someone. Nick Ahmed seemed to be the likely candidate to be moved as Arizona traded for Segura to replace him as the starter, but the Diamondbacks have moved Segura to second, kept Ahmed at short, and pushed Owings to center to take the place of injured star A.J. Pollock.
    Speaking of center field, it was locked down, with 28 year old A.J. Pollock set to be the starter until he broke his elbow at the very end of spring training. Socrates Brito is likely to be his replacement for some, if not most, of the season, although they are currently using Chris Owings in center and have sent Brito down to triple-A. David Peralta, also 28, will man one of the corners with the other corner likely going to Yasmany Tomas who is 24. Pollock and Peralta are likely what you’ve already seen for the most part with Peralta’s counting stats due to increase with regular playing time. Tomas is the youngster of the group and could make gains this season if he is indeed the starting left fielder. It’s a pretty young crew again, so some growth is still possible.
    The rotation of Greinke (32), Miller (25), Corbin (26), Ray (24), and De La Rosa (27) is also young, and has room for growth, with the exception of Greinke. The pen mainstays of Ziegler (36), Hudson (28), Chafin (25), Collmenter (30), Clippard (31), Delgado (26), and Burgos (25) are on average the old men of the Diamondbacks. There are a few young arms in there, but the high leverage situations will likely fall upon the older guys for the most part. Why this obsession with age? For a couple reasons. The Diamondbacks decided to make a push to win this year. Their signing of Greinke, and their trade for Miller constitute significant expenditures of resources. The reality for most teams in baseball is that there are windows during which they can compete and when one of those windows opens you have to make the most of it. That is especially true for the teams not categorized as large market teams. The Diamondbacks decided that they would be primed to compete now if they could add a couple pieces to the rotation. This raises two questions. Do they have enough to compete now, and did they mortgage their future to win now? Let’s look at the second question first.
    The Diamondbacks gave up three good, young pieces to get Miller. Only one of the players had major league experience – the outfielder, Ender Inciarte. Of the two minor leaguers, one was close – the pitcher, Aaron Blair – while the other has just started his minor league career – the shortstop, Dansby Swanson. Blair might have been ready at some point this season since he pitched 13 times in triple-A. Swanson is probably a few years away, although who knows since he was the very first pick in the draft last year. Obviously Inciarte will have an impact in 2016 and for years beyond this as he is 25 and doesn’t get to taste free agency until 2021. To further examine the question about the D-backs future, let’s take a look at the core of the Diamondbacks team that will earn most of the playing time in 2016.
    Data shows that pitchers and position players hit their peak around age 26 and exit their peak around 28 but start declining sharply around age 30. Here is a detailed article from the Boston Globe’s Alex Speier about prime years for baseball players.
So age 27  tends to be around the middle of their peak years. Obviously it is different for everyone, but as a guideline for where a player is in his career I used it as a marker, with the year before and after likely making up a player’s plateau years. If a player is currently in his peak I used a red font. If they have yet to reach their peak, then they are in green, while players in decline years are in black (you know – like death). The first free agency year was included to show how long each player is under team control.

2016 Diamondbacks Key Players Proximity To Their Prime and To Free Agency
Name
Age
First Free Agency Year
Paul Goldschmidt
28
2019
Jake Lamb
25
2021
Jean Segura
25
2019
Welington Castillo
28
2018
Chris Owings
24
2020
Phil Gosselin
27
2021
Brandon Drury
23
2022
Pete O’Brien
25
2022
David Peralta
28
2021
A.J. Pollock
28
2019
Yasmany Tomas
25
2021
Socrates Brito
23
2022
Zack Greinke
32
2022
Patrick Corbin
26
2019
Shelby Miller
25
2019
Robbie Ray
24
2021
Rubby De La Rosa
27
2019
Brad Ziegler
36
2017
Andrew Chafin
25
2021
Enrique Burgos
25
2022
Tyler Clippard
31
2018
Daniel Hudson
28
2017

As you can see, not much black and more green than red indicating that most of the Diamondbacks players are likely to improve. Furthermore, much of the core of the team is under team control for the next three to five years which means that while they shipped away three good young players in a trade that they probably lost by a fair amount, they did not mortgage their future. They should be able to compete for the next several years if they did their job and identified the right players to ride for the next half decade. They gambled that now is their time and that they were one starting pitcher (after Greinke) away from catching the Dodgers and Giants. Whether they win or lose that gamble will likely determine whether Dave Stewart is seen as the architect of another winning team for Arizona, or a goat who gets fired for overpaying for a rotation that didn’t get the job done. Either way, the Diamondbacks are likely to be relevant for the next three to five seasons even if they stand pat.
    There has been discussion during the off-season about the Diamondbacks going for it because Paul Goldschmidt is in his prime. If you look at the chart above you will notice that most of the core of the Diamondbacks club is signed, or at least under team control through 2019 or beyond. Goldschmidt and Pollock can be Diamondbacks through 2019 if the team so desires. That means that if they have what they think they have with their improved rotation and the development of their young position players and the young pitchers they already had, then their window to compete will be more than one season. Obviously the roster won’t stay exactly the way it is today, but the goal for every team is to build a solid core, develop a strong farm system that can continuously feed the major league club and/or can be used to trade for a missing piece, and sign a free agent or two to fill in the other holes. In the case of the Diamondbacks, they developed the back end of their rotation and a strong outfield, as well as the corners of their infield. The middle of the infield was built with youngsters who are good glove men with some offensive potential. The pen was built with some trades to supplement young arms that came up through the farm system. They have built a competitive team and gave up some important pieces of their farm system to make them contenders now. There is always risk in that. Keith Law currently ranks their system 24th out of 30. But they didn’t just position themselves for this year. So to answer the first question (finally) even though they are probably going to end up losing the trade in terms of career WAR by something like two or three to one (or more if Swanson becomes a superstar) they have set themselves up to compete for at least the next three seasons, and in these days of free agency that’s all you can hope for.

A look at the changes to the Padres oufield for 2016.

How About Some Offense AND Defense Please?
By Hugh Rothman
No team, it seems, is affected more by its outfielders than the San Diego Padres. In 2014, as I have stated several times before, the Padres offense was historically awful. And while the infield was pretty dreadful, it was the 2014 Padres outfield that truly dragged the team’s offense down to history making levels. In 2015, the Padres sported a completely revamped outfield which was a breath of fresh air to their fans who had suffered through the nightmares of far too many Will Venable at-bats. The 2015 Padres outfield was far more productive offensively. However, on the surface, the idea of having Justin Upton, Wil Myers, and Matt Kemp roaming the spacious fields of Petco Park seemed like a scary defensive experiment. It turns out that the results of said experiment were far scarier than anticipated.
A Brief Mention of 2014 – Or Seth Smith, We Turn Our Lonely Eyes to You
Seth Smith put up a .266/.367/.440 slash line for the 2014 Padres in 521 plate appearances, finishing second on the team with 12 homers. That’s not exactly star quality production, but it ain’t bad. Of course, it absolutely outpaces every other player who attempted to play outfield for the Padres in 2014. Are you ready for some ugly numbers? Hold on tight:
Name
Plate Appearances
Average
On-Base %
Slugging %
Will Venable
488
.224
.288
.325
Cameron Maybin
272
.235
.290
.331
Alexi Amarista
466
.239
.286.
.314
Chris Denorfia
248
.242
.293
.319
Tommy Medica
240
.233
.286
.408
Carlos Quentin
155
.177
.284
.315
Rymer Liriano
121
.220
.289
.266
Jake Goebbert
115
.218
.313
.317
Abraham Almonte
107
.265
.305
.378
  • Note: Amarista played in the infield as well. He had 197 plate appearances as an outfielder.
Wasn’t that fun?!? There’s more! Xavier Nady, of all people, rose from the dead and contributed a groovy .135/.238/.405 slash line with his 42 plate appearances before sinking back into the stinking, gurgling abyss where all zombies come from. I was personally surprised to see that even Jeff Francoeur, who is apparently on a whirlwind tour to ruin the offenses of every team in baseball, managed to sneak in 28 plate appearances. Naturally, Francoeur had to outdo all of these other outfielders by putting up a tasty .083/.179/.083 slash line that is beyond the pale in pure suckitude.
In short, this was an absolute embarrassment. Clearly, big changes had to be made.
2015 – I Got it! No, You Got it!
A.J. Preller immediately got to work and acquired Kemp, Myers, and Upton to play the outfield, relegating all other pretenders to the bench, or to triple-A, or to… somewhere (anywhere!) else. Alas, one of the victims of the purge was the venerable Seth Smith, but he did fetch a decent bullpen piece. Upton and Kemp had certainly shown they could hit and hit well in the past. Myers too, in his rookie season, had a very impressive campaign. So what happened?
Matt Kemp had a nightmarish start to the season. He didn’t hit his second homer until June. Eventually, he heated up in the second half to finish with a sort of respectable-ish .263/.312/.443 slash line, with a nice even 100 RBIs to boot. Offensively, this was not a disaster. Justin Upton had a different year. He started off reasonably hot, cooled off, got hot again, cooled off, and eventually finished with a .251/.336/.454 slash line. Again, very respectable, considering what the Padres had experienced in the prior year. Wil Myers hit .253/.336/.427 when he was healthy, which, alas, was not very often. Saving the day for the Padres when Myers was tending to his ouchies, was none other than Justin Upton’s brother Melvin, who returned from two disastrous seasons in Atlanta to actually contribute something to a team! His .257/.329/427 slash line as a center fielder was quite welcome, for the first time in 3 years.
However, there is another aspect to the game of baseball: defense. This is where there were significant problems. Let’s start with the good news: The Upton brothers were both ok with the glove. Their DRS numbers (defensive runs saved) were slightly above average. Their defensive WAR numbers were both above replacement level, although not by much. Unfortunately, Justin, the brother who can thump, left for greener pastures this year, but Melvin, the brother who might yet have something left to contribute, is still around to play left field.
Center field was manned by Wil Myers, at least, when the season began. Myers, who had only briefly played center in the minors, was on board with the move, reportedly working on angles and reads during the offseason and in spring training. Since Myers was the youngest and fastest of the three starting outfielders, and besides, the Padres didn’t have anyone else, it made sense to stick Myers in center and watch him prosper. The Padres were sort of following the Ferengi philosophy (the pure capitalists on Star Trek, Next Generation): Step 1: Acquire a youthful player, Step 2: Put him in center field, Step 3: Profit! It didn’t work out very well. First of all, Myers, for all of his preparation, still stank as a center fielder. The numbers aren’t pretty: He was on pace to have a DRS of -20 for the year. That would rank among the lowest numbers in baseball. His defensive WAR was -0.8. That’s pretty hard to do, especially considering that Myers hurt his wrist, was out for a month, came back for 3 days, and then was out for 10 weeks recovering from surgery on that very same wrist. There is no truth to the rumor that the Padres pitching staff were the ones who applied a Billy club whack to Myer’s wrist in the middle of the night, but it wouldn’t be shocking if those rumors were true! Eventually, he came back, but by then, thankfully, Melvin Upton had supplanted him in center. The Myers center field experiment was an abject failure because 1). He can’t play center field very well, and 2). He is too fragile to play there anyway. Myers moving to 1B in 2016 is a sensible move for everyone involved.
How about right field? That was manned by Matt Kemp, who used to be such a good fielder that he played center field back in the day. That was before his arthritic hips starting acting up. Nowadays, Kemp is not a reasonable candidate to play center field anymore. Unfortunately, his days in right field may be numbered as well because in a word, he is a disaster out there. Kemp had an offensive WAR of 2.2, which isn’t bad. Unfortunately, his defensive WAR was an incredible -2.4, which actually made Kemp a below replacement level player in 2015! His DRS was -15. His .972 fielding percentage was worst on the team. Sometimes numbers lie, and maybe Kemp really isn’t this bad. But no, not this time. He really is this bad. Unfortunately, the Padres have an obligation to pay Kemp a premium salary for the next 4 years. The ending could get ugly.
The result of the below-average outfield play from Myers and especially Kemp no doubt contributed to the decline of the pitching numbers. Even the average defense from the Upton brothers didn’t help the pitchers that much (but at least they didn’t hurt them). Will Venable and Cameron Maybin proved they are below average hitters, especially in 2014, but at least those two can play some serious defense. The 2015 Padres outfield had at best average defense from some of their outfielders, and well-below average defense from the rest. The venerable Bill James himself was quoted as saying that much of pitching is in fact, defense! How much did the pitching suffer due to sub-par defense in 2015? Using DRS, the Padres saved a total of 8 runs from their outfield defense in 2014, but gave up a total of 31 runs from their outfield defense in 2015. Thirty-nine runs, just from defense in the outfield, is a pretty big swing and undoubtedly hurt the pitching staff big time in 2015.
2016 – How About Both Offense AND Defense This Time?
Perhaps the Padres learned some valuable lessons over the last two years. You see… outfielders have to play offense AND defense. Anyway, Justin Upton predictably accepted a multi-year contract of many millions to ply his trade in Detroit. Yonder Alonzo was jettisoned to Oakland, making room for Wil Myers to play 1B. Melvin Upton was still around, and his promising half-season was enough to convince the Padres brass that he still could contribute. Albatross Matt Kemp is still around. At least one more outfielder was needed. Seth Smith, sadly, was not available. Instead, the Padres traded for the former Cardinals centerfielder Jon Jay.
Jon Jay was a typical Cardinal: he wasn’t a high draft pick, he didn’t have particularly outstanding tools, he wasn’t a power hitter. Yet, at every level, all he did was hit, including in the majors. His career batting average is .287 and he enjoyed success in every year of his career, except for last season, which was quite terrible. Various injuries were to blame, including wrist problems, which concerned the Cardinals enough to consider trading him. The Padres, who were all too happy to rid themselves of Jedd Gyorko and his ridiculous contract, took the plunge. If Jay is back to full health, there is no reason to think he can’t be the leadoff hitter the Padres have pined for since the days of Bip Roberts, at least for a couple more years. Jay is just the sort of player that may be perfect for Petco Park. He can hit for average, doesn’t have much power, and can play a solid center field. A pretty good pick up for the Padres… if he is fully healthy.
Matt Kemp is Matt Kemp. He is one year older, his hips are not getting any better, and his best position nowadays might be designated hitter. But alas, the Padres have no choice but to pay him, play him, and hope for the best. I repeat: this won’t end well.
Melvin Upton is… well, who knows what he is. He could be the exciting player who looked crazy good with the Tampa Rays. Or, he could be the rotting corpse that played for the Braves the last couple years. My guess is that it is something in between, that at the very least, Melvin Upton is once again able to contribute enough to help a team. The Padres will welcome anything they can get from Melvin considering they have to pay him a princely sum as well.
Backing up these guys are a couple youngsters: Travis Jankowski and Jabari Bash… er Blash. Jankowski is a speedster with little power and Blash is a monster power hitter with no plate discipline to speak of. It makes sense for the Padres to have both of these players on the bench with the hope that one, if not both of them will break out. It won’t happen. Jankowski doesn’t hit well enough to make up for his lack of power and Blash doesn’t recognize a ball from a strike most of the time. Jankowski is 25 and Blash is 26 so this is who they are, for the most part. The Padres could (and have) done worse for backups. Rymer Liriano, at least, is thankfully no longer in the picture, nor is Jake Goebbels, whoever he is (see that 2014 chart above!).
This is not a championship outfield. The Padres have a decent center fielder in Jay, an ok left fielder (at best) in Upton, and an above-average offensive but below-average defensive right fielder in Kemp. It is unlikely that the Padres will suffer 2016 with a historically bad offensive outfield like they did in 2014, or a significantly below-average defensive outfield in 2015, but being “average” or more likely, a bit below-average overall, is not enough to push a team to a championship.

Do the Diamondbacks have enough in the pen to support their expensive rotation?

Submarines in The Desert
By Jim Silva

    If you’ve ever played whiffle ball – real whiffle ball, with the ball that has holes on only one hemisphere –  against someone who was actually trying to beat you, then you have probably faced someone who throws similarly to how the Diamondbacks closer, Brad Ziegler, throws. Ziegler isn’t the first major league pitcher to drop down below his waist to throw, but he is one of the most successful submariners currently pitching in the majors. It’s hard to imagine what a slider looks like coming from Ziegler, but he throws one, along with a sinker and a change. Most closers step to the mound and try to blow you away, not entice you to beat the ball into the dirt, but Ziegler got batters to ground out 74% of the time last year and only struck out 4.8 batters per nine. It is hard to know how to look at peripherals from a pitcher like Ziegler since his game plan is to get the batter to hit the ball, but hit it weakly and at someone’s ankles. Do we care how many guys he fans? Not really. His 2.2 walks per nine is awfully pretty though – that we care about – and his 2-to-1 strikeout to walk ratio is acceptable as well. So when we talk about peripherals from submarine pitchers, perhaps we should look at ground ball rates, walk rates, and home run rates to make predictions. Ziegler allowed 3 home runs in his 68 innings of work which perfectly matches his career rate of 0.4 home runs per nine innings of work. So is it of concern that in Ziegler’s best year in the majors his strikeout rate per nine fell well below his career rate  of 5.9 per nine? When a pitcher has a year like Ziegler did it is important to look at how he did it, but his numbers, aside from an absurdly low .220 BABIP (batting on balls in play), were in line with his career numbers. The super low BABIP is of some concern, but if it rebounds to his career rate of .277, and he continues to limit balls leaving the park, then his filthy, grounder-inducing junk will continue to be effective and he could once again post a wicked DRA (a different measure of ERA that attempts to measure how many runs the pitcher really was responsible for) in the range of 2.27 like he did in 2015.
    Ziegler has most often been a setup guy because a pitcher who induces ground balls is exactly what you want when you have runners on base in double play position. Closers in today’s model usually enter the game with nobody on. It is likely that he will be the closer again after his excellent 2015 in the role. So who will be the setup man in 2016? Last year it was Daniel Hudson after Ziegler moved to the closer role. The late signing of Tyler Clippard gives Arizona some versatility and bullpen depth that will help them during the playoffs if they can manage to get there. It seems that every team is trying to shorten the game – employing multiple shutdown relievers so that if they have a lead going into the 6th the other team is doomed. The Diamondbacks aren’t being like all the other kids because Clippard and Ziegler aren’t flame throwing monsters. Clippard can turn it up to 92 or 93 and Ziegler tops out in the mid-80’s.
    To look at the rest of the Diamondbacks pen, let’s look at a fairly new statistic developed by the fine folks at Baseball Prospectus (BP). DRA (Deserved Runs Allowed) is a stat that would take the place of ERA in evaluating how effective a pitcher was. Whereas ERA is pretty simple (earned runs divided by innings pitched over nine), DRA is more fair and complicated as hell! It takes everything into account when deciding how many runs the pitcher is truly responsible for including unearned runs, the park, the situation he inherited when he entered the game, and more. BP also uses DRA to calculate WARP – the number of wins a pitcher is responsible for above what a replacement level pitcher would have given up – so we will use that when we look at the pitching staff in Arizona.
    If we look at Tyler Clippard, he had a DRA of 3.45 for 2015 in his two stops. His walks were up a bit over his career average – 3.9 walks per nine last season, with a career average of 3.7 walks per nine. He kept his hit rate per nine down at 6.2, just a tick over his career rate of 6.1 per nine. Basically, most of his numbers were consistent with what he had done in recent years except his strikeout rate. Historically Clippard had whiffed at least 10 batters per nine innings. In 2015 he only fanned 8.1 per nine. Last season dragged his career rate down to 9.8 strikeouts per nine. It is possible that the substantial drop in k’s portends a decline from the goggled reliever as his ground ball rate also dropped, but we will see what this season brings, pitching in the desert. He is only 31 and 2015 wasn’t a bad season, so if he bounces back he will likely get a chance to pitch the 8th and maybe even the 9th for Arizona.
    Andrew Chafin allowed a sterling 2.72 DRA in 2015. “Big Country” threw 75 innings in his 66 appearances with righties doing a bit better than lefties – a slash line of .225/.306/.325 versus righties and .182/.260/.264 versus lefties. With splits like that, it is no wonder the Diamondbacks used him for more than an inning at a time. Chafin is a fastball/slider two pitch guy who was mostly a starter in the minors. Since he can go more than an inning, he will likely be used that way. Why pull him when he can get lefties and righties out and save your bullpen? That probably makes him more valuable as the guy who can come in with a man on in the 6th, invite the hitter to ground into a double play – he had a 60% ground ball rate – and stay to pitch the 7th, handing the ball to the setup guy. Chafin doesn’t have the scary strikeout rates of the prototypical closer, but he is a valuable piece of the bullpen with his versatility and his effectiveness.
    Daniel Hudson finally made it back to the majors and survived a full season – his first full season since 2011. He is one of those rare animals with the fortitude to work back from two Tommy John surgeries. The former starter’s fastball played up in relief as he managed an average velocity of just over 96 mph. Hudson was the set-up man, but the last two innings of the game are a little more crowded this year with Tyler Clippard on the squad. Hudson’s DRA was 3.99 and he kept the ball in the park allowing 0.9 homers per nine innings. He gave up 1.32 runners per nine innings mostly based on giving up almost a hit per inning. His control was not as good as it was in his last full season. His walk rate jumped from 2.0 walks per nine innings when he started 33 games in 2011, to 3.3 per nine last season when he pitched in relief 64 times and started once. As a fly ball pitcher in Arizona, he needs to get his WHIP down to get his DRA down and remain stingy with the longballs. With another year away from surgery he could see enough improvement to end up in the closer’s role if either of the two guys ahead of him falters.
    At 25, many of us had no clue what we were doing with our lives. Randall Delgado however was having his second solid season in a row out of the Arizona pen. Here is an example of where ERA and DRA diverge sometimes. Delgado’s ERA in 2014 was 4.87, while his DRA was 3.66. In 2015 his ERA was more in line with his DRA – 3.25 versus 3.69. So if you look at the two seasons next to each other and remove ERA, it looks like the seasons were almost identical. His ERA may have been dramatically influenced by the pitchers around him or just bad luck in 2014. There are a lot of events that are out of the pitcher’s control that can negatively impact his ERA, but DRA takes a more steely-eyed look at everything that goes into runs scoring. In both 2014 and 2015 Delgado fanned at least 9 men per game. He also kept  his home run rate under 1.0 in both seasons, and fashioned hit rates per nine of 8.2 and 7.9 in 2014 and 2015. The knock on Delgado – and remember he is only 25 so there is room for growth – is that he has issued 4.1 free passes per nine innings in each of the last two seasons. If his hit rate goes up, with that walk rate, then he will have a hard time being effective.
    Poor Josh Collmenter. The guy was bounced from the rotation to the pen, back to the rotation and then back to the pen last season. But you can understand the Diamondbacks thinking. Collmenter has been better in relief, at least last season, but he can start and not get completely axe murdered in the role. As a starter, his slash line was .310/.329/.555 with a WHIP of 1.383. When he came out of the pen he allowed a slash line of .229/.284/.365 with a WHIP of 1.108. Guys like Collmenter are really valuable, especially in places like Coors Field or Chase Field where pitchers just don’t fare as well. You need that guy who can be useful out of the pen or jump in when a starter needs a rest or an injury occurs. There were a couple red lights that flashed for Collmenter last season. His strikeouts per nine dropped from 8.3 in 2013, to 5.8 in 2014, and dropped again to 4.7 last season while his home run rate spiked to 1.3 per nine innings last season. Collmenter is unlikely to get many chances to regain a spot in the rotation if his numbers continue those alarming trends.
    Enrique Burgos throws a fastball and a slider, each about half the time last season, and he used that combo to strike out 13.0 batters per nine innings last season in his rookie year. Life was exciting last year when Enrique jogged from the pen. When he wasn’t striking guys out he was allowing 9.0 hits per nine innings, and walking 5.0 per nine. He was perpetually walking the tightrope. The guy throws hard – an average fastball just a hair below 96 MPH, but his control is not major league ready. He sprinted through AA and AAA last season in spite of walk rates above 7.0 per nine, so another year in the minors trying to figure out where the ball is going would do him good. He has been groomed as a future closer and he helped a tiny bit last season in the bigs –  DRA of 4.18 and a WARP of 0.2. If the Diamondbacks want him to be a big league closer someday they need to let him finish cooking in Reno.
    The Diamondbacks are the hip pick to unseat the Dodgers in the West after a big off-season where they rebuilt their rotation and picked up some help for their bullpen. But they play in a pretty harsh park on pitchers (and a great one for hitters!), which means that they might consider handling their pitching staff a little differently than clubs in more neutral or pitcher-friendly parks do. The Diamondbacks finished in the bottom third of the National League in quality starts which means there was a lot of pressure on their pen to pull games out of the fire or even just finish games. They have a much better starting rotation this year, so that should help. But they also have a unique opportunity with two guys who have closed successfully before in Clippard and Ziegler, the incumbent. The Diamondbacks could try a dual closer model where Ziegler pitches more than an inning when he closes or sets up, and Tyler Clippard pitches a more traditional closer’s role but also functions as a traditional one-inning setup man when Ziegler closes. The idea would be to use Ziegler in double play situations, but to use Clippard when there is no one on first. Ziegler isn’t your stereotypical closer so why use him like one? Whether they try it or not, having two closers (and maybe even a third in Daniel Hudson) is a good idea on a team that struggles to get pitchers through the 5th, or just teams that play in a tough park on pitchers.

What impact will the Shelby Miller trade have on the Diamonbacks starting rotation?

Putting Your Chips On Red, 2016
by Jim Silva

    Pitching in Arizona is not fun. It’s probably more fun than pitching in Colorado, but it is clearly challenging. Last season, the Diamondbacks pitchers finished in the bottom half of the majors in earned run average (4.04), WHIP – walks plus hits per innings pitched (1.33), batting average against (.258), and most telling, and likely the reason GM Dave Stewart made some of the moves he made in the off-season, quality starts (25th). It must have been fun to go to D-Backs games because the ball was flying all over the place! Of the six men who started most of the games for Arizona last season, five of them gave up an average of more than a home run per nine innings. Their ace, Rubby De La Rosa gave up 32 long balls all by himself, one dinger away from tying for the league lead. Only two NL teams gave up more home runs than Arizona – The Rockies (of course, I mean they play in Coors Field!), and the Phillies, who were, and still are in a complete rebuild. But even with starting pitching that gave up a lot of home runs and finished 23rd in all of baseball in ERA, the Diamondbacks finished 3rd in the West only two games below .500. In other words, the team had a championship caliber offense, but was undermined by a sub-par pitching staff. It was pretty clear what Dave Stewart needed to do, although how he achieved his goal will likely be talked about for years to come.
    The Diamondbacks made the biggest splash this off-season by signing free agent starting pitcher Zack Greinke, who would have been an ace, except he pitched on the same team as Clayton Kershaw. Greinke was coming off his best season and nobody expected him to sign with Arizona – it looked like a two horse race between the Dodgers and the Giants – but 6 years and $206.5 million got the deal done, making Greinke a Snake. But Stew wasn’t done there. He went out and got another starting pitcher by trading away a package that included the guy they got with the very first pick in last year’s draft, Dansby Swanson, who many think is as “can’t miss” as prospects get.
    Zack Greinke is 31, has a Cy Young Award (2009 with KC), a pair of Gold Glove Awards, three All Star game appearances, and a handful of MVP votes. He also has an impressive .604 career winning percentage bolstered by his 19-3 record last season for the Dodgers when he finished second in the Cy Young voting. The won-lost record last year was amazing, but he did some other things even more amazing in what was probably his best season ever.
    Greinke’s control is excellent. Last season he struck out 200 batters while only walking 40 in nearly 223 innings. Those numbers are in line with Greinke’s career numbers, but his league-leading 0.844 WHIP was his best mark by a good stretch. He also led the league in winning percentage at .864, ERA+ (park adjusted ERA relative to the league) with 225, ERA with a sterling 1.66 mark and possibly, most babies saved from a burning building. While not a league-leading mark, Zack also was stingy with the long ball, allowing only 0.6 home runs per nine innings. That last number will be a welcome sight in Arizona if he can come even close to replicating it. Granted, he amassed that in one of the best pitcher’s parks in baseball. Another category that Mr. Greinke led that makes him a perfect potential savior for the Diamondbacks starting rotation, was quality starts – he made 30 to best even Jake Arrieta (the Cy Young Award winner), who had 29, and pitching god, Clayton Kershaw who made 27. So yes, Zack Greinke is within acceptable parameters as a starting pitcher. If the Diamondbacks have anything that should keep them awake at night, it might be that there is almost no way he can repeat his last season – not just because it was such a great season, but also because his new home park is hard on pitchers. Will fans in Arizona be disappointed if Greinke’s ERA “blows up” into the threes? What if it touches 4.00? Greinke has pitched in a hitter’s park before (Milwaukee in 2011 and 2012) and managed to keep his ERA below 3.00. Regression to the mean, however, is a beast (or something else unpleasant that starts with a ‘b’).
    Shelby Miller has started at least 31 games in each of the last three seasons – led the league with 33 last season – and he is only 25. The D-Backs paid a hefty price to pry him away from the Braves. The obvious question, “Is he worth it?” is already being asked and written about exhaustively. Miller did something last year that he has done in each of his three full seasons in the majors. He kept his hits per nine innings right around 8.0 (7.9, 7.9, and 8.0). This is important because Miller has walked between 3.0 and 3.6 batters per nine innings – 3.2 last season – so he has to limit the number of hits in order maintain a WHIP in the 1.2s. He also took an important step last season that portends well for him in Arizona. The 6’3” righty kept the ball in the park better than in any previous season, limiting hitters to 0.6 home runs over nine innings. In his first two full campaigns, he had allowed 1.0 and 1.1 jacks per nine innings, so if this is real growth, Miller has a chance to succeed in Arizona. If it is an aberration, then his ERA is likely to jump quite a bit in the dry air of Phoenix. One note of caution: his splits are cause for concern as his WHIP and ERA both jumped in the second half. Temper that caution with the knowledge that he threw more innings last year than in any season of his career so maybe he was just tuckered out.
    With a 94 MPH average fastball and a nasty change that he throws about 20% of the time, you would think Rubby De La Rosa would fool more batters than he does, but based on his numbers from last season, which are in line with his career numbers, it’s Rubby who is getting fooled. Starting with his ERA+, which hasn’t bested 100 since his rookie year of 2011, to his home runs per nine innings mark (career: 1.3, 2015: 1.5), there isn’t much, other than durability to recommend him. At some point your “stuff” has to translate into results and that hasn’t happened for the 26 year old Dominican. There were two positive notes for Rubby last year. His WHIP dropped again last year from 1.500 in 2013, to 1.485 in 2014, down to 1.357 in 2015. Still way too many baserunners – especially for someone who gives up 32 home runs – but consistent improvement nonetheless. De La Rosa also saw a slight improvement in his strikeout to walk ratio from 2.11 in 2014 up to 2.38 in 2015, mostly on the back of an increased strikeout rate as his walk rate remain largely unchanged (3.1 per nine in 2014 to 3.0 per nine in 2015). Still, he is far too hittable and gives up way too many baserunners as well as home runs. With the diminished pressure that comes from having more quality starters ahead of you, perhaps De La Rosa can improve enough to make him more than a consumer of innings (188.67 in 2015) for the Diamondbacks, his 14 wins notwithstanding.
    Have you ever wondered what it would be like to have one part of your body replaced with another part of your body? You know, put your left leg where your right arm used to be – that kind of thing? Well, Patrick Corbin is one of the increasing numbers of humans who have done that via Tommy John surgery. The lefty from Clay, New York had his surgery in 2014 and made his mostly triumphant return in July of 2015. This season he will come to spring training after a relatively normal off-season where no doctors tried to swap his right eye for his nose or anything, and more recovery time under his belt. Corbin was looking like an ace in the making before he hurt himself, and his return last summer showed that he could still pitch. Corbin managed 16 starts last season and actually showed some improved numbers, even from his All-Star 2013 season, before his elbow popped. His FIP (ERA independent of fielding) dropped a touch from 3.43 to 3.35. Corbin increased his strikeouts to walk ratio from 3.30 to 4.59 by increasing his strikeout rate by just over a half-k per nine, and dropping his walk rate by a half walk per nine. Two concerns (other than no longer having his actually elbow ligament in his throwing elbow anymore) were a slight bump in his home rate from 0.8 to 1.0 and a substantial jump in his hit rate. He gave up 9.6 hits per nine innings bumping his WHIP from his 1.166 rate in 2013 to 1.271 in 2015. Corbin was more hittable last season as his 2013 rate was 8.2 hits per nine innings. Corbin looked like an ace in the making in 2013 based on his results and his workload. Not many starters notch 200 innings anymore, but Corbin did in 2013. As a 25 year old with Tommy John surgery in his past, it is probably unwise to try to get 200 innings out of him again, at least not right away. Replacing quality with quantity though – now that’s a good trade! If Corbin can stay healthy and put up numbers comparable to what he did last year, then he slots in nicely behind Greinke, either in front of or behind Miller. Corbin’s fastball/slider combo has worked quite well, even in Arizona, so having him back for a full season – even without the addition of Greinke and Miller – makes the Diamondbacks a better team.
    Arizona has a very young team – the youngest in the majors by a year – which should scare the rest of the league. Their likely 5th starter will be 24 year old Robbie Ray. Ray threw his fastball a lot in 2015 – 72% of the time, mixing it with his slider, and change-up. The 6’2” lefty had the lowest ratio of home runs allowed per nine innings of the six most frequently used starters for Arizona in 2015 at 0.6. He also allowed the fewest hits per nine innings at 8.5, and struck out the most batters per nine innings with 8.4, so by some peripherals he was the best starter in the group. Where he fell back to the pack was his control. Ray gave up 3.5 freebies per nine – even worse than De La Rosa, inflating his WHIP to 1.332. The walk rate was below his career rate of 4.0, so Ray improved while making strides elsewhere in his game. He’s tough to hit, and if last season is any indication, he is becoming tough to go deep on. He could very well climb over De La Rosa in the rotation if he can hold onto his gains and take the next step in his growth.
    For a brief, shining moment, it looked like Archie Bradley was going to have a stellar debut fitting of a top prospect. He was making headlines with his excellent start and then made a headline of another sort when he took a line drive to the face off the bat of Carlos Gonzalez of the Rockies. There is a history of pitchers suffering a similar fate who could not get past the terror and get back to pitching fearlessly – understandably so. Bradley is, you know, young –  just 23. The line drive off his face didn’t dramatically change his control as he had just come off a six-inning start where he put five guys on. Also, his minor league career walk rate is 4.7 free passes per nine – untenable. What did change was his hit rate. After giving up only seven hits in his first 18.66 innings, Bradley came back three weeks later and gave up 27 hits in his last 15.67 innings. Small sample size caveats apply to all of these numbers – lots of guys start off hot and then cool down – but he was quite awful after his return, so a wait-and-see approach is advisable when young Archibald next appears on the mound. Keep in mind that our guy has been around the top of the prospect ranks since he was drafted so he will get more chances than you would if you were to walk into a tryout camp in say, Rancho Cucamonga. He is likely to be the first option should one of the top five starters blow up.
    A converted shortstop, Braden Shipley will start his 2016 pitching for the triple-A Reno Aces. After succeeding, for the most part, in his full season at double-A in 2015, the Diamondbacks will be keeping a close eye on Shipley to see if he is ready in case of an injury, or just plain crappiness, in the major league rotation. He has already jumped over Archie Bradley and is now the top ranked prospect for Arizona. Double-A is tough, so a slight increase in his walk rate while keeping his home run rate at 0.4 is good news. The fact that his strikeout rate (6.8 k’s per nine) dropped is something to keep an eye on. It was his first season under 8.0 k’s per nine, and indicates that he wasn’t missing as many bats as he had in the past. Depending on how he handles triple-A batters he is likely to see what Arizona looks like in the summer or at least in the early fall of 2016.
    Increased depth, a better top of the rotation, and two youngsters almost ready to jump the rotation who are working on it at triple-A will push the Diamondbacks toward the top of the NL West this year. They gave up a ton of resources (money and prospects) to pull in an ace and a number two starter who are now locked up for a few years. If Greinke is Greinke and Miller is close to what he looked like last season, the Diamondbacks will be greatly improved in 2016. Will it be enough to best the Dodgers and Giants? I mean all three teams have studs at the top of the rotation. Their fortunes might be decided by the back of the rotation, and of course health. It should be a great race though.

A look at the 2016 Diamonbacks outfield without Ender Inciarte.

Shagging Flies in The Desert
by Jim Silva

    There has been one sheriff in Phoenix for a couple years now, and that has been Paul Goldschmidt. Not that the Diamondbacks didn’t have any other good players, but none of the youngsters had reached star status until last season. A.J. Pollock took his game to another level in 2015 and became the deputy to Goldy’s sheriff. Pollock has been an underrated centerfielder for the last couple of years. In 2015 – his age 27 season – he put it all together saving his team 14 runs according to DRS (defensive runs saved), and putting up a 7.4 WAR season.
    Pollock’s previous two seasons had been good by most measures. In 2013 and 2014 he put together 3.5 and 3.9 WAR seasons respectively, while also saving his team 12 and 8 runs according to DRS. Pollock won a Gold Glove last season and actually deserved it if you believe the defensive numbers. A couple of factors turned him from a good player into a star last season. First of all, A.J. increased his walk rate and decreased his strikeout rate. It wasn’t a huge change, but the 53 walks combined with his .315 average drove his on-base percentage from his previous high of .353 to .367. He spent more time hitting in the two hole, but he also was the leadoff hitter 48 times. That .367 on-base percentage would make him a good candidate to bat first on most teams, but his power and batting average might make him a two or three-hole hitter on a team with so many high on-base percentage candidates. Pollock also showed excellent speed and the ability to steal bases with a high success rate – 39 steals at 85% last season. This represented a big jump for Pollock who had stolen 27 bases in his previous 862 major league plate appearances. A move to the two hole in front of Goldschmidt might decrease Pollock’s stolen base totals, but he will still steal at a high success rate.
    One of the other pieces that came together for Pollock last season was a swap of some doubles for home runs. He reached double digits in home runs, with 20, for the first time in his career. He still swatted 39 doubles and chipped in six triples for 65 extra-base hits on the year. His slugging percentage didn’t change from 2014, staying at exactly .498 again, but it was achieved by a decrease in doubles and an increase in home runs. As Pollock was 27 and experiencing his first full season’s worth of at-bats, it is reasonable to expect  the homer spike to stick around and maybe even increase with experience and health, especially if his walk rate/strikeout rate growth continues. Pollock’s growth is real and should be the new normal for the next few years giving the Diamondbacks two hitting stars who can also pick it with the best of them.
    ESPN reports that David Peralta will move to right field in 2016 to accommodate Yasmany Tomas. Peralta should get close to 600 plate appearances this season after the Diamondbacks dealt away Ender Enciarte. The 2015 version of David Peralta did an excellent job in his 517 plate appearances with a slash line of .312/.371/.522. That’s quite a slash line for his second season in the majors. Peralta showed excellent bat control making contact with 86% of the pitches he swung at that were in the strike zone, where about 80% is average. He also showed good strike zone discipline offering at just under 33% of pitches outside of the strike zone, which was an improvement from 2014, and well below the average, which was approximately 46%. With 53 extra-base hits in 517 plate appearances, he showed excellent power, hitting 26 doubles, 17 home runs, and leading the league with 10 triples. The one area where Peralta showed weakness was against lefties. His slash line against freaks who throw from the wrong side was .250/.311/.375 – pretty anemic. More at-bats against lefties will either drive down his batting average below .300, or he will make adjustments and become even scarier at the plate. Peralta batted in the four hole more often than not in 2015, so there will be many chances to drive in Goldschmidt and Pollock if they bat in the 3rd spot and 2nd spot respectively.
    Peralta’s glove is a little harder to call after two seasons in the majors. Last season, he saved 15 runs with positioning and cutting off extra-base hits but gave them back plus a few with mistakes and poor throws. He is a converted pitcher so you would expect a canon for an arm, so perhaps the issue is with accuracy. His range was above league average at all three outfield spots, so if the throwing issue was a one year aberration, then he should be a plus defender with a power bat in 2016.
    Yasmany Tomas defected from Cuba in 2014 and signed an enormous contract with Arizona – six years for $68.5 million. He is 25 ,and had played for the Cuban national team but didn’t have much minor league experience when the Diamondbacks brought him up to the big league team – 21 at bats at Reno. Perhaps it was the big contract that inspired Arizona to rush him to the majors. Tomas is a big man, and looks like he could crush the ball just by looking at it. Unfortunately that isn’t what happened last season when he was called up.
    His showing in spring training had many believing that he could not hang at third base and his work there in 31 games proved it as he cost his team six runs, according to DRS, and showed below league average range. He also made six errors in his limited time there for a .918 fielding percentage. In an attempt to give his bat a chance to shine without his glove detracting so much, the Diamondbacks shifted him to right field where he cost his team yet another six runs.
    Considering the fact that the Diamondbacks had three excellent outfielders last season (they traded Ender Enciarte during the off-season), a lot of trouble was made to try to keep Tomas on the field, so you would think that he must have raked like a beast. In fact, his slash line was .275/.305/.401 – not exactly raking. With only 31 extra-base hits in 426 plate appearances he didn’t deliver the thump that would have made up for the lack of on-base skills. With 110 strikeouts to go with only 17 walks, he didn’t get to exploit pitchers needing to throw strikes when they got behind. His swing rate was high – he swung at 57% of pitches thrown to him, and his contact rate was low – he put his bat on only 72% of pitches thrown. Subsequently, pitchers threw him strikes only 44.75 percent of the time, which is below average. He makes good contact when he swings at strikes, but flails when he chases pitches out of the strike zone.
    The Diamondbacks are clearly invested in Tomas, so he will have every opportunity to fail or succeed in 2015 as the starting left-fielder. Having Enciarte around to be his caddie next year would have helped, but since that won’t happen he will face all comers and sink or swim on his own. He hits lefties harder but wasn’t hopeless against righties so a platoon isn’t necessary. More disconcerting are his splits – first versus second half of the season. His slash line in the first half was an encouraging .313/.351/.448, but whether pitchers figured him out or something else happened to Tomas, his second half slash line plummeted to .208/.228/.325. Those are reserve middle infielder numbers, not big, lumbering corner outfielder numbers. The Diamondbacks should be scared that their $68 million investment might be a half-season wonder. His 2016 spring training was encouraging, and a hot start will put to rest fears that he can’t adjust to big league pitching. But if he struggles in the first half or has similar second half woes, what is to be done? Arizona has invested a lot of money in the Cuban star and they pushed him directly to the majors with no adjustment time. Should they send him down and work with him on what to do when pitchers discover a weakness? Unless he stops chasing, he will never realize his potential at the plate, and if he doesn’t have that, well, he doesn’t have anything.
    With Ender Enciarte gone, who will play the outfield when the guys mentioned above are at a baby shower or driving their mom up the coast to a wedding? The Diamondbacks are not afraid to push their young prospects fast, so it would not be a surprise to see Socrates Brito make the team out of spring training as the fourth outfielder. Old Socrates has a few things going for him, aside from his cool name, that make him a reasonable pick to be the guy. He is reported to have a good arm and sound glove and his very small sample size in the majors last season support this as he saved the D-Backs three runs (DRS). He also showed tremendous range in right – again small sample size caveats apply here. Brito is clearly fast, as evidenced by his 21 steals in 27 attempts last year, and his 118 career steals. It is not a stretch to envision him playing center to spell Pollock and he can clearly handle either corner. The two big issues with the husband of Xanthippe – oh wait, that’s the other Socrates – is that he doesn’t walk enough, and he doesn’t hit home runs. In defense of the fleet young outfielder, he hits for a high average (.303 in his cup of coffee in the majors to go with a career .288 mark in the minors), and he musters enough doubles and triples to avoid being labeled a slap hitter. Another thing Brito has going for him is that he is the best option. The Diamondbacks system was ranked 24th by Keith Law in his annual prospect rankings, and Socrates Brito was the only D-Back outfielder ranked in the organization’s top 10. There is some risk as Brito jumped from AA to play in 18 major league games last season, so he might be overmatched, although he looked good in his very limited debut.
    It’s hard to get excited about the 5th outfield spot, unless of course you are the one occupying the 5th outfield spot. In the case of the Diamondbacks, one possible winner of the “last spot on the roster” derby could be Peter O’Brien. You can read more about him in the Diamondbacks Catching article entitled, “Beef and Tuffy Catching for The Rattlers?”, but suffice it to say he will spend a lot of time on the bench and get his at-bats as a pinch hitter. O’Brien is a butcher in the field but can “play” left field, first base and possibly stop the ball from skittering to the backstop when the pitcher throws. What O’Brien does that gets him on rosters is hit balls to the moon – a nice skill to have on your bench. If he doesn’t get the bench spot, and instead gets sent to the minors, it will be because the Diamondbacks need someone who can field acceptably, and because Arizona still wants to try to turn O’Brien into a complete player who can field acceptably somewhere.
    The Diamondbacks lack depth in the outfield and have some uncertainty with Tomas. If he fails, then they are into very risky territory with a talented, but raw youngster just up from AA in Brito, or a powerful free-swinging statue in O’Brien. But Pollock and Peralta give them a solid to spectacular profile in center and right, and if Tomas pans out to be at least decent, then the Diamondbacks will have one of the better all-around outfields in the West.

The Diamondbacks infield – does Segura make them better in 2016?

Can Anyone Just Get on Base?
by Jim Silva

    Any discussion of the Diamondbacks infield must start with their superstar, Paul Goldschmidt. Much of the off-season banter about the big moves the D-backs made was attributed to the team wanting to capitalize on Goldschmidt’s prime years. The first-baseman will play most of this season as a 28 year old, and has put up WARs of 3.4, 7.1, 4.5, and 8.8 in his four full seasons in the majors. Goldy has finished second in MVP voting twice, including last season, and has made the All Star team in each of the last three seasons. All that makes him great, but what makes him unique is that he is so well-rounded. He is a solid glove man at first, hits for power and average, gets on base at a good clip, and steals bases – finishing just out of the National League top ten in this last stat, but finishing first for NL first basemen. The scary thing is, he is just getting better having just posted his best stolen base totals with 21, his most walks with 118, his best on-base percentage at .435, his best batting average at .321, and his highest slugging percentage at .570. There’s more, but talking about Goldschmidt is boring. Suffice it to say that he is great and the best player on the Diamondbacks, and move on. (He finished in the top five in seven offensive categories last season – sorry, couldn’t resist.)
    This off-season, General Manager Dave Stewart made a controversial move by trading for Brewers shortstop, Jean Segura. Segura is 25, so there should be room for growth. He suffers from familiarity, as people who follow baseball think of him as older since he has been in the majors since 2012. The problem with looking at Segura and seeing growth potential is that he has been in decline since his 5.6 WAR season of 2013. The other issue with a 25 year old, like Segura, who has declined for two years in a row is that he is being compared to himself – no longer a budding star, but a failed prospect. That said, there are some real issues with Segura’s game.
    Coming up through the minors, his on-base percentage was tied to his high batting average. When you hit .294 as Segura did in AA, you don’t have to draw many walks to have a solid on-base percentage. Segura hit .294 again in his breakout 2013 season, but only managed a .329 on-base percentage due to his 25 walk effort. A .329 on-base percentage is decent for someone who hits in the 8 hole in the batting order, but it is insufficient for a leadoff hitter, which is what the Brewers, and now the Diamondbacks expected Segura to be. In 2014, Segura got on base at a .289 rate and in 2015 it dropped again to .281. One reason Segura is making more outs could be that pitchers are throwing him fewer strikes – he sees more than the average number of pitches out of the strike zone – and he is swinging at more pitches – his swing rate jumped from just over 34% to almost 39% last year. He also swung and missed more last year on balls and strikes than in 2014. Why give someone so many at bats by batting them first every game when they make so many outs?
    Segura is fast – he looks like a leadoff hitter. In 2013, Segura stole 44 bases at a 77% success rate but scored only 74 runs in 623 plate appearances. In 2014, he stole only 20 bases at a 69% success rate, and last season he swiped 25 bases at an 81% success rate. What is more valuable? A guy who gets on base a lot, or a guy who steals bases at a 77% clip (Segura’s career rate in the majors thus far)? Not surprisingly, there is research behind this. If you aren’t stealing at above a 72 – 75% clip, then you’re costing your team runs (see Joe Sheehan’s article http://www.baseballprospectus.com/article.php?articleid=2607 ). So Segura’s base stealing helps his team, but in terms of how many more runs he creates than what someone with a higher on-base percentage would create, it would be hard to make the case that Segura should bat leadoff.
    Segura’s glove is an asset. His range numbers are good, saving the Brewers four runs last season. On the other hand, he made more mistakes last season than he made good plays, which dropped his defensive runs saved number slightly into the negative. So if the Diamondbacks got Segura for his glove then…wait…they already have Nick Ahmed! Ahmed is even more rangy than Segura putting up the highest range factor in the NL at 4.82 to Segura’s 4.40. In terms of runs saved, that’s 15 for Ahmed to 4 for Segura. Ahmed also played the position more cleanly, in terms of good plays versus bad plays, ending up with a DRS 22 runs better than Segura. Ahmed is slick with the glove, but at 26 probably doesn’t have a lot more development left in the bat. And he hits a lot like Segura. Here is a quick comparison of the 2015 contributions of the two young shortstops.
Slash Line (average/on base/slugging)
oWAR (Offensive wins above what a replacement level player would contribute)
WAR (Wins – including defense – above what a replacement level player would contribute)
Segura
.257/.281/.336
0.3
0.0
Ahmed
.226/.275/.359
0.3
2.5

   
While it is hard to know what both players would do given the same playing time in the field and the same number of plate appearances next season, Ahmed clearly outplayed Segura beating him at his strength (the glove) and matching him offensively largely because he had more extra base hits. If both players are likely to show some improvement, but show very similar skill sets, then why give up anything to get another guy that looks a lot like the guy you already have? Dave? Mr. Stewart, sir?
    The Diamondbacks seem to have cornered the market on shortstop types with on-base percentages south of .300. Chris Owings had a really awful season with the bat but still was given 552 plate appearances. Take a look at his slash line: .227/.264/.322. If it looks worse than the two shortstops in the table above, that’s because it was. What’s worse is he struck out like a power hitter whiffing 144 times. To his credit, he stole 16 bases in 20 attempts, so there’s that. His offensive WAR was…offensive, at -0.9. Owings was previously a shortstop and reasonably slick with the glove, so he did contribute some defensively but not enough to drag his WAR out of the negatives. He finished the season with a -0.7 WAR. He showed decent range and played a very clean second base so there is some value there, but on what planet is it ok to run a guy out there 147 times when he is killing your offense like that when you are actually trying to win the division?
    Owings has been better than he was in 2015, and again, the guy is only 24 and was coming off shoulder surgery. In 2014 he put up 1.9 WAR with better power, a higher batting average, but comparably crappy plate discipline. If the Diamondbacks don’t plan to run him out there another 147 times in 2016, then who will play second? It could be the loser of the Ahmed-Segura battle to the death, or it could be Brandon Drury or Phil Gosselin.
    Drury looks like he might actually hit, although he is 23 and only has 59 at bats in the bigs. Speed is not his game and he isn’t the gloveman that Ahmed, Segura, or Owings is, but he is solid defensively and has a couple seasons showing good home run power. He also has walked more than any of the aforementioned middle infielders, although his walks dropped off at the higher levels. His career minor league batting average is at .285 and he has slugged .440. Drury came up through the minors playing more third than any other position, while keeping his dance card flexible getting time at 2nd, short, and 1st. Drury has already succeeded at AAA so it makes sense to give him an extended try at second, since third is currently occupied.
    Gosselin is another solid glove guy who has hit for average in the past, but doesn’t walk much at all. He also lacks home run power. In his one experience of substantial playing time he put up solid defensive numbers at 2nd base. He is not highly valued because he is frankly too boring to get excited about. Over the course of four seasons he has accumulated 264 plate appearances with a slash line of .288/.338/.400. That’s half a season of decent hitting that would contribute to the offense from lower in the order. Drury is “prettier”, but Gosselin won’t steal your house key when you pass out drunk on the bus. The Diamondbacks are clearly trying to win this year so they will have to make some hard choices. Giving Gosselin the job and keeping Drury for his potential and versatility, and Owings, since he is young and skilled at second and short, might be the safe way to go. If Gosselin just bores everyone to death and fails to hit, then Drury and Owings are there to smear potential all over the place. You can’t keep both Ahmed and Segura. There is likely a trade that can be worked for Ahmed and his glove to break the logjam, although it might make more sense to keep Ahmed. It would likely be difficult to get anything much for Segura at this point.
    Jake Lamb has the lion’s share of the third base job. There is no drama over competing with Yasmany Tomas at third this year because Tomas couldn’t hang at the hot corner. While Lamb has struggled against lefties – a .200/.275/.267 slash line against them in 2015 –  Drury is actually a fan of pitchers who chuck it from the left-hand side. Drury getting the short end of the platoon at third makes some sense since he can also get some time at second. Lamb saved nine runs with his glove at third last season according to DRS, and he has shown double digit home run power in the minors, although he only cracked six long balls last season in 390 major league plate appearances. He is 25, so there is still room for growth, although not likely superstar potential.    
    One thing the Diamondbacks have on the infield is young, good gloves, and Lamb is no exception. There are a lot of questions, except at first, and a lot of room for growth. The D-Backs infield will pick it, that is certain. If they can maintain the gloves and hit a little better, which is likely, then the infielders will help their cause instead of being an anchor (the kind that drags your ship to a halt like the 2015 infielders not nicknamed “Goldy” were) in 2016.