Arizona Diamondbacks: Tony La Russa Believes Team Will Improve “Dramatically”

Dec 11, 2015; Phoenix, AZ, USA; Arizona Diamondbacks chief baseball officer Tony La Russa during a press conference at Chase Field . Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports
Dec 11, 2015; Phoenix, AZ, USA; Arizona Diamondbacks chief baseball officer Tony La Russa during a press conference at Chase Field . Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports /

Chief Baseball Officer of the Arizona Diamondbacks Tony La Russa made some interesting comments earlier in the week about the state of the team he has constructed.

Currently 58-81, the Arizona Diamondbacks as constructed by Tony La Russa have been a major disappointment. After finishing 2015 with a 79-83 record, Arizona made a big splash by signing Zack Greinke, trading for Jean Segura and Shelby Miller, and welcoming Patrick Corbin back from injury.

These four players were expected to join an already solid core of Paul Goldschmidt, Jake Lamb, David Peralta, A.J. Pollock and Yasmany Tomas, along with a stable of promising, yet unproven arms.

With all of this young talent the D-Backs were supposed to contend. Then when the season started, it was all downhill from there.

Regarding his thoughts on how his team would do in the future, La Russa said:

"“I think we’ve got good character and good talent, and if they have a good attitude about, ‘Let’s learn from this,’ then it can be dramatically better.”"

La Russa also insisted that Zack Greinke would not be traded and that the team would not sell in general.

Mar 14, 2016; Salt River Pima-Maricopa, AZ, USA; Arizona Diamondbacks starting pitcher Zack Greinke (21) throws the ball in the first inning during a spring training game against the Seattle Mariners at Salt River Fields at Talking Stick. Mandatory Credit: Rick Scuteri-USA TODAY Sports
Rick Scuteri-USA TODAY Sports /

Judging from his comments, La Russa is surely thinking playoffs next year. That would be quite a turnaround for a team projected to go 68-94 this year based off its current winning percentage.

So can the Diamondbacks be “dramatically better” next year? How hard is it to go from a losing record to the playoffs the following year, you ask?

For the 11 (Cardinals and Mets tied for second Wild Card position) teams currently in playoff position for 2016, only one had a losing record last year. And that was the powerhouse Red Sox with a 78-84 record. Compared to a 68-94 record Arizona may finish with, the Red Sox were much better. Needless to say, the D-Backs will have their work cut out for them.

There is a chance, though, as in the 2015 playoffs there were four teams that had a losing record the previous year. These teams included the Cubs (73-89, lost in NLCS), Mets (79-83, lost in WS), Astros (70-92, lost in ALDS) and Rangers (67-95, lost in ALDS). This proves that it is not impossible for Arizona to find themselves in contention this time next year.

How Can They Improve?

There are signs of optimism, even for a team 23 games below .500.

Star first baseman Paul Goldschmidt has put together another terrific season. Though his numbers are down across the board, Goldschmidt is still producing at a .903 OPS. He has also provided above average defense yet again with six Defensive Runs Saved (DRS) thus far, per Fangraphs.

Across the infield, young third basemen Jake Lamb has been a terrific surprise, slugging 27 home runs while avoiding the injury problems that plagued him last season.

At second base, Jean Segura has had a career year while currently leading the NL in hits with 172. He is on pace to top his career high average with a .316 this year and has also stolen 30 bases. The former All-Star came over to Arizona from Milwaukee in late January in a move that came with little fanfare. Five months into the season it is obvious that La Russa won this deal.

Jun 18, 2016; Philadelphia, PA, USA; Arizona Diamondbacks first baseman Paul Goldschmidt (44) celebrates his two RBI home run with second baseman Jean Segura (2) during the fifth inning against the Philadelphia Phillies at Citizens Bank Park. Mandatory Credit: Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports
Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports /

In the outfield, Yasmany Tomas has begun to scratch the surface of his potential. He has hit 27 homers, but has yet to figure out how to get on base consistently. As a player with very limited defensive value, Tomas will need to learn how to work a walk in order to stay in the lineup.

The only other signs of optimism in the outfield are the health of A.J. Pollock and David Peralta. Arizona should expect both to be ready in Spring Training, as Pollock has finally returned from his injury and Peralta should be recovered in time from his recent wrist surgery. Pollock emerged as a star last year with a terrific .315/.367/.498 slash line along with 20 home runs and 39 steals. Peralta struggled through an injury-plagued 48 games this year, but had a superb .312/.371/.522 slash line in 2015 while leading the league in triples.

Pitching is the main concern for next season, as Diamondback starters have the worst ERA in the NL this year (29th in MLB) with a 5.23 mark. The bullpen has been almost equally as bad, ranking last in MLB with a 5.13 ERA.

More from Call to the Pen

Zack Greinke has been a disappointment, putting up a 4.54 ERA in 23 starts. ERA estimators like Fielding Independent Pitching (FIP) have been more kind, pegging Greinke’s performance at 4.01. He also still maintains an elite K/BB ratio that ranks in the top 10 in the NL. He is really the only pitcher that can be counted on.

Beyond Greinke, the now infamous Shelby Miller will also be penciled in the rotation. To give a brief overview of his year, he was traded to Arizona in a haul that was ridiculously one-sided for the Atlanta Braves. He then proceeded to put up hideous numbers that prompted a demotion to Triple-A. Miller is back in the majors now but is still struggling.

After those two is Robbie Ray. He has had a nice season, coming in at second in the NL in K/9 with 11.30, along with a decent 4.46 ERA.

The four and five spots in the rotation are a big question mark. Patrick Corbin has struggled immensely after providing optimism in his return from  Tommy John surgery in 2015. Archie Bradley has had trouble throwing strikes in 21 starts. Rubby De La Rosa has been okay, albeit when he is not injured. And young starters Zack Godley and Braden Shipley have been below average in limited starts.

Next: Former MLB'ers Finding Success in Japan

The bullpen has been a mess as Jake Barrett and Randall Delgado have been good but everyone else still remaining on the team has been poor.

Needless to say, headman Tony La Russa has his work cut out for him if he expects to repair his pitching staff to a respectable level. While the team’s offense can excel next year, they will only have a chance at October baseball if their pitching improves.

All stats courtesy of unless otherwise stated.