This wasn’t the way things were supposed to go for the Arizona Diamondbacks. With the “disrespect” word being tossed around the desert, along with local sports radio declaring them to be a potential third-best National League club behind only New York and St. Louis (which, I mean, really?), the disparity between expectations and reality is dumbfoundingly obvious for fans in the Phoenix metro area.
A team that did have some reasons to be excited heading into the year has battled injury and brutal pitching to the point where the status of their coaching staff and front office are relatively undetermined heading into the winter. As they now battle to stay out of the NL West cellar, let’s talk about these disappointing D-backs.
Preseason Prediction: At the very least, the Diamondbacks are going to be a fun team to watch. They have some star power in Goldschmidt, Greinke, Pollock, Miller, and Corbin. They have some very capable offensive players, with Peralta, Tomas, and Welington Castillo providing no shortage of pop. There is upside on the middle infield, but it’ll just take a little while to find it. The bullpen is improved, but is still a question, as is their rotation depth. When you look at their rotation and their outfield, as well as the bullpen, this isn’t a particularly deep team. A major injury to a key player could spell the end for them. With so many different questions still existing, whether position battles or the quality of pitching, it’s really, really difficult to declare them the best team in the NL West, despite the “disrespect” that fans and sports radio personalities have been crying out of the desert. (Randy Holt, February 24th)
What Went Right: Um. Offensively they aren’t so bad. They’re ninth in the league in runs at this point (fourth in the NL) and are second in Major League Baseball in steals (124). Jake Lamb was a star (and should have been an All-Star) in the first half. Paul Goldschmidt has been his normal on-base-machine self. Jean Segura turned out to be a pretty stellar addition. Brandon Drury could be a nice piece for the future, thanks to his bat and his versatility. But outside of some individual offensive performances, I’m really grasping at straws here.
What Went Wrong: Better settle in, folks. This particular section is difficult to pare down to less than 1,000 words. The pitching. The defense. The injuries. It was all a perfect storm that turned an optimistic spring into the dystopian wasteland in which Chase Field currently finds itself. Their two big acquisitions, Zack Greinke and Shelby Miller, failed to come through in any sort of fashion. Greinke has had some issues staying healthy and has pitched to an ERA well over four.
Shelby Miller was one of the worst pitchers in baseball this season. His ERA was over seven, his FIP was over five. His strikeouts were down and walks were as high as ever. And then he was sent to the minor leagues, apparently never to be heard from again. It’s not like the rest of the pitching came through, either. The bullpen has continued to be well-aboard the strugglebus, with a 5.11 ERA and 1.53 WHIP (both worst in the league) to date.
Defensively, their pitchers didn’t get any help. As a team, FanGraphs has slapped the Diamondbacks with a Def rating of -49.6. Only the Oakland Athletics are worse. Their Defensive Efficiency Rating has come in at .664, which is tied for the worst in baseball with the Minnesota Twins (a team that you don’t really want to tie in anything right now). It’s hard to pitch effectively and efficiently when you can’t trust your defense.
And it’s hard to put together a quality defense when your starting centerfielder goes down with an injury in the spring that costs him almost the entire season. The Diamondbacks were able to pick up the slack left by A.J. Pollock offensively, but Pollock’s quality defense could not be replicated with a player like Chris Owings, or Michael Bourn, or Socrates Brito, or Chris Herrmann, or David Peralta, or Mitch Haniger.
Zack Greinke has also spent some time out because of his oblique. David Peralta was supposed to be a regular contributor to the lineup, but has seen multiple DL stints and has been shut down for the year. The team had hoped that Rubby De La Rosa could take a step forward this year, but health has limited him to only 10 starts. It’s not that the Diamondbacks have been one of the most injured teams in baseball, but when you’re losing essential players, it sets you back to an extensive degree.
As far as the question of “what went wrong?”, the answer is really “all of it.”
Most Surprising Player: I really wanted to put Jake Lamb here. If you follow me on social media, that should come as no surprise. But he has tailed off considerably in the second half, due to a higher strikeout rate and some bad luck. In terms of total body of work, the most surprising on the roster might just be Jean Segura. This was a guy that endured a couple of terrible years in Milwaukee due to a variety of factors. The Diamondbacks were hoping that the change of scenery would do him some good, and, boy, did it.
He’s gone for a .319 average for the season, as critics (including yours truly) waited for that figure to decline thanks to his aggressive nature. He’s reached base at a .365 clip and has added 30 swipes to the mix, providing some pop as well, with a .171 ISO that serves as a career high. You have to feel good for a guy like this, with what he’s gone through in recent years.
Most Disappointing Player: Given the expectation, it obviously comes down to Shelby Miller vs. Zack Greinke for this spot. In Miller, the Diamondbacks surrendered Dansby Swanson and Aaron Blair in the package to Atlanta. In Greinke, the Diamondbacks forked over a $206.5 million deal for him to be the ace of a playoff team. Miller has failed to stick at the Major League level, with high walk numbers and opposing teams absolutely feasting off of virtually whatever he got near the plate. The 36.3% Hard% that opposing hitters managed against him was a 10 percent increase from 2015. Add in a .319 average and a 1.40 HR/9 against him and you really have rock bottom for Miller.
Greinke hasn’t been bad nearly to that degree, but a 4.42 ERA and 127 punchouts for a player who posted figures of 1.60 and 200, respectively, in the previous season is unacceptable. Especially when you take the contract into consideration. The contact that opposing hitters have made off of him is the highest since 2007 (31.1), while the opposing contact rate (just a touch under 79%) is his highest mark since 2010. There are a lot of factors at play here, but it’ll certainly be interesting to see just how much of this contract Greinke actually plays out in the desert.
The Future: It’s extremely difficult to project this at this point. Do the Diamondbacks tear it all down, get rid of their front office, their coaching staff, their Greinke, and try and build this disaster back from the ground up? Or do they make some smaller changes, build the bullpen up, hope for health from key players, and give Chip Hale another shot in 2017? Given what we’ve seen from and heard about the braintrust of Dave Stewart and Tony La Russa, the former seems to make a whole lot more sense. But is ownership ready to pull the plug and admit their fault this early on? One sign that could indicate changes on the horizon is the dismissal of De Jon Watson, their senior vice president in charge of scouting and player development. Could Stewart and La Russa be next?
Ultimately, there are some pieces to work with here. Goldschmidt, Lamb, Pollock on offense. Greinke, maybe Patrick Corbin on the mound. But is it enough that the team could supplement them with some smaller offseason additions and compete for a wild card next year? If the answer to that question is no, then we could be looking at a massive overhaul in the desert this winter.