Another season, another .500 record for the Diamondbacks.
The 2012 Arizona Diamondbacks finished third in their division with a .500 record. GM Kevin Towers shook up the roster, trading franchise cornerstone Justin Upton along with 3B Chris Johnson for superb-utility guy Martin Prado, young and talented right-hander Randall Delgado and shortstop prospect Nick Ahmed. Towers was criticized for his focus on a mentality and personality type over talent profile, as he regularly spoke to the benefits of signing “gritty, grinder” type players. The team improved to second in their division in 2013 by sheer default once the Giants died, and the Dodgers steamrolled the division as the D’Backs took their second straight 81-81 finish, 9 games back of the wild card. As with most things that are about as good as they are bad, there were some mitigating factors in their mediocre season and some of the things that went wrong weren’t really their fault, while other things kind of were.
What Went Right?
Goldschmidt had a breakout 7.1 WAR season, leading the NL in home runs with 36 while hitting .302/.441/.551 and finishing second in the MVP vote. His peripherals remained within his career norms so there shouldn’t be too much fear it’s unsustainable. Gerardo Parra paired magnificent outfield defense with league average hitting, earning 6.1 WAR for his efforts with a .268/.323/.403 line and a 96 wRC+. When healthy, Aaron Hill mashed his way to a .291/.356/.462 and Cody Ross proved to be a good signing when healthy as well. Didi Gregorius put up a .332 OBP with decent defense at shortstop after being acquired as part of a three team trade that saw the D’Backs give up enigmatic top pitching prospect Trevor Bauer. Martin Prado played well, putting up a typical Martin Prado-like season.
Corbin was an excellent surprise, with the 23-year-old giving Arizona 208.1 innings of 3.41 ERA ball. He struck out batters at a decent clip of 7.69/9IP and limited walks to a very nice 6.3% of the batters he faced. Wade Miley was also quite good, giving 202.2 innings at 3.55 ERA, but FIP suggests that he got a little lucky, rating him nearly a half a run higher at 3.98.
What Went Wrong?
Aside from Corbin and a couple bullpen pieces the pitching staff was pretty dismal. Brandon McCarthy showed up for 135 pretty decent innings and Trevor Cahill did a little better than that but not by much, posting the worst walk-rate of his career thus far at 3.99 BB/9. Diamondbacks’ starters had the 8th worst FIP in baseball and the bullpen was marginally worse, coming in at 7th worst. Their strikeout rate was just bad at 8th worst in the MLB.
Miguel Montero, often thought of as an offense-first catcher, hit a career-crashing .230/.318/.344 after hitting .275/.351/.448 in seven seasons up to that point. Jason Kubel similarly cratered the year after he had supposedly been part of the reason for the team’s confidence in dealing Upton. As a result of Hill’s injury, too much playing time went to Cliff Pennington and Willie Bloomquist, and that’s 450 PA you’re not getting back.
While Prado played fine, Chris Johnson contended for the NL batting crown as the Braves’ everyday third-baseman and Justin Upton had a nice season, hitting for an .818 OPS and smacking 27 homers that they really could have used in AZ.
After a ridiculous 2013 in the minors, Diamondbacks’ top prospect Archie Bradley could be ready to crack the rotation at some point in 2014. Bradley has a mid-high 90s fastball and a plus breaking ball along with an above-average changeup and has already nearly reached his ceiling as a top of the rotation arm. The Diamondbacks’ young rotation would surprise no-one if they were to put up a strong season in 2014. With Goldschmidt’s continued offensive dominance and a hopefully-healthy Aaron Hill and Cody Ross, the team can hope to improve on the 685 runs they scored in 2013.
With Kevin Towers saying he’s unlikely to pursue much on the free-agent market, the Diamondbacks could be poised to make some of their biggest offseason moves during the winter meetings. They could use some more power in the lineup and may want to consider building a package headlined by one of their young pitchers for Oakland’s Yoenis Cespedes or Toronto’s Jose Bautista, both of whom would benefit from the hitter’s paradise that is Chase Field. The team also seems to be seeking more certainty in their rotation and have repeatedly been linked to the Cubs’ Jeff Samardzija. Another pitcher that might make sense for Towers to target would be Rick Porcello, as his strong ground-ball rates would play well in Arizona and he has been rumored to be available.
The Arizona Diamondbacks are in fairly good shape heading into 2014, a breakout performance or two to supplement the already excellent performance of their emerging cornerstones could push the team into contention, and no one should or could complain about an extra month of watch Goldschmidt’s sweet swing.