Arizona Diamondbacks: Are they a pretender or contender for the NL West and more?

Apr 28, 2023; Denver, Colorado, USA; Arizona Diamondbacks left fielder Lourdes Gurriel Jr. (12), center fielder Alek Thomas (5) and right fielder Corbin Carroll (7) celebrate defeating the Colorado Rockies at Coors Field. Mandatory Credit: Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports
Apr 28, 2023; Denver, Colorado, USA; Arizona Diamondbacks left fielder Lourdes Gurriel Jr. (12), center fielder Alek Thomas (5) and right fielder Corbin Carroll (7) celebrate defeating the Colorado Rockies at Coors Field. Mandatory Credit: Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports /

The Arizona Diamondbacks have been a pleasant surprise for Major League Baseball in the first half of the season, but are they a pretender or a contender?

When reviewing the Arizona Diamondbacks from a distance, it is a great place to start to see what the eye-test suggests. Currently, they hold second place with a 52-39 record in the crowded NL West division. For most of the first half of the season they held a lead, but the Los Angeles Dodgers overtook them coming into the All-Star break by percentage points.

The Arizona Diamondbacks are highlighted by two young superstars: Corbin Carroll and Zac Gallen.

Corbin Carroll has 18 home runs and 26 stolen bases through their first 91 games this season. He is just shy of being on pace for the coveted 40 home runs and 40 stolen base mark in a season that has only been done four times in Major League Baseball history. According to my own metrics I call RPI (Run Production Index), he is the 10th-most productive hitter in baseball, creating 31.72 more runs than the average player with the same number of plate appearances.

From the pitcher’s mound, Gallen earned his first All-Star game start a couple of days ago with his 3.04 ERA in 118.1 innings of work as a starter. As of the break, he is ranked first in my RPI rankings. My RPI suggests that he created 1.45 more wins than the average player. His impact on the mound preventing runs cannot be understated so far this season.

As I mentioned, they currently sit in second place with their 52-39 record. Baseball Reference Pythagorean W-L suggests they played at more of a 48-43 record as a team. This is also very close in line to what my RPI suggests them at with a 49-42 record. We seem to be on the same page in that respect.

FanGraphs Zips Projected them at 81 wins on the season, PECOTA had them at 76, and my RPI had them at 76 as well. That would mean they should essentially have their record almost flipped on its head (around 43-48) if they were performing at those expectations. No matter how you spin the first half of the season, they outperformed where many expected them to be.

At a glance of their group overall, I do think the Arizona Diamondbacks need to make some adjustments before the MLB trade deadline if they want to go from pretender to contender. Here is why.

Their lineup is competitive. I do not think they are world beaters like the Atlanta Braves or Texas Rangers; however, they have a likeable team. Behind Corbin Carroll there are veterans like Ketel Marte, Christian Walker, Lourdes Gurriel Jr., and Evan Longoria. I even like the improvements Geraldo Perdomo has made this season at the plate and in a critical position on the field playing shortstop. Additions here will be great, but they are not necessary to stay in the hunt down the stretch.

I think their biggest hiccup is in the starting pitching department. If they want to stay in the race, they have to add more depth. Gallen, as I already mentioned, has been a true ace of the staff. Merrill Kelly is also a nice number two starter with a 3.22 ERA. However, the concern starts here though. He has been injured since late June. Obviously, he is not the main reason as he does not play every day, but the team is 5-7 since they placed him on IL.

Behind those two horses, there is not much. They do have three young pitchers that they have been relying on this season. Drey Jameson, who is 25 years old, has been a real a force out the bullpen. He started three games but was not extended deep in those games back in April. He has a 3.32 ERA. Should they consider stretching him out towards the end of the season?

Brandon Pfaadt, who is their top-ranked pitching prospect and just 24 years old, had a short MLB stint at the end of May, but only got through 25.2 innings in five starts and posted a 9.82 ERA. It is hard to imagine he will be ready to go for a big second half as he works through the adjustments he needs to make at the Major League level.

Ryne Nelson is another top-ranked pitching prospect who is also only 25 years old. He is has been a mainstay in their rotation so far this season, but has been below average. In his final start against the New York Mets prior to the break on July 6, he lasted only 3.0 innings and gave up seven earned runs in the loss.

Will these guys be good at some point? Absolutely, the future is bright in the desert. I see them as a pretender this year down the home stretch of games unless they get a more formidable, veteran presence in their rotation to bolster them. If they can do that, then they could be a dangerous young team as they have been all season.

All things staying the same, as we know the trade deadline adjusts team outlooks, my RPI suggests the Arizona Diamondbacks finish in second place with 88 wins, finishing 36-34 the rest of the way. This will put them 6.0 games back of the Los Angeles Dodgers, who project to finish 94-68.

My final verdict is pretender. They do not have enough starting pitching to hold off the mighty Los Angeles Dodgers. That is unless they get in on some of the rumors on key pieces being moved this trade deadline.

dark. Next. What we got right and wrong in the first half of the MLB season