clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

The Arizona Diamondbacks, a well-rounded surprise

Paul Goldschmidt and friends are off to the summer of their lives out in the desert.

Arizona Diamondbacks v Detroit Tigers Photo by Duane Burleson/Getty Images

On the morning of June 20th, the Arizona Diamondbacks sat in third place of the National League West with a record of 44-26, good for fourth-best in baseball. Unfortunately, they trailed two interdivisional rivals, the Colorado Rockies and Los Angeles Dodgers, as well as the Houston Astros. The Dbacks are riding a league-best seven-game win streak and have stretched their lead over the defending world champion Chicago Cubs for the second wild-card spot to 8.5 games.

The Diamondbacks are coming off a 93-loss 2016 season, and a relatively uneventful off-season aside from the Fernando Rodney signing and Taijuan Walker-Jean Segura trade. Some were left wondering whether the team should sell-off the remaining valuable pieces they had and start-over rather than try to compete with the two Californian incumbents at the top the National League West standings.

The teams success starts at the top in Paul Goldschmidt and Zack Grienke.

Goldschmidt is the front-runner for National League MVP thus far. He leads the NL in fWAR at 3.5. His OPS is north of 1.000, and his 162 wRC+ would be the second-best of his career. He is putting up typical Goldschmidt numbers, all while striking out less than 20 percent of the time, something he has never done over a full season in the major leagues. Goldy has separated himself from the pack with his base running; while he has always been a solid baserunner, he is now ranked among the elite. He is 5th in base running runs according to Fangraphs, outpaced only by Billy Hamilton, Xander Bogaerts, Dee Gordon, and Jarrod Dyson; it’s easy to identify the outlier of that group.

Zack Grienke has turned back into his dominant self after his mildly-disappointing 2016 debut season in Arizona. His K/9 is over 10 for just the second time in his career, the other being back in 2011 with the Brewers. His K% is 9 percentage points higher than it was in 2016. The uptick in strikeouts can largely explain his renaissance. His HR/9, as of June 19th, is identical to 2016 at 1.3. He is walking slightly less batters in 2017 but it less than a percentage point difference. He looks as though he has worked out the troubles he was having at Chase Field last season. His home ERA is 2.77 compared to 4.81 in 2016.

Although Goldschmidt and Grienke have been dominant, it is the accumulated depth on both sides of the ball that has alowed the Diamondbacks to take that next step.

As of June 19th, Arizona has been the best-pitching team in baseball by Fangraphs’ WAR. Robbie Ray has enjoyed better luck on balls in play and has become the dominant starting pitcher than his FIP had suggested. He is striking out almost 12 batters per nine innings and has only been slightly less valuable than Grienke himself. The duo is now one of the best 1-2 punches in baseball.

Despite blister issues that have limited him to ten starts, Taijuan WAlker has been exactly the pitcher Arizona expected when they acquired him in November. His sparkling ERA matches his FIP at 3.32. He has seemed to figure out his home run issue that plagued him in Seattle. His HR/9 has fallen to .60 after posting a 1.81 HR/9 in 2016. Walker is pitching like a #2 in the third slot of the Diamondbacks rotation.

Shelby Miller was lost to Tommy John surgery after just four starts, but Zack Godley has taken his spot in the rotation and is putting up the numbers the Diamondbacks were hoping to get out of Miller. Over 50 innings and eight starts, Godley has posted a 2.34 ERA along with a 3.17 FIP according to Fangraphs. he has been a groundball machine, posting the sixth-highest groundball rate among starters with over 50 innings pitched at 60.3 percent.

Perhaps the most surprising part of this Arizona Diamondbacks team is the bullpen, which looked like a dumpster fire going into the season, and for most of April. It has become a strength of the team. Fernando Rodney for instance hasn’t allowed a run since April, Archie Bradley has turned into one of the most dominant relievers in baseball since his transition to the bullpen and. Andrew Chaflin and T.J. McFarland, two names you probably never heard of until now, have both posted ERAs below 2.00 and FIP’S below 2.50. Randall Delgado, while jumping back-and-forth between the bullpen and rotation, has turned himself into an extremely solid spot-starter/long-man in Arizona’s pitching staff.

While not as dominant as their pitching staff, the offense behind Goldschmidt and the oft-injured A.J. Pollock is filling out nicely.

Pollock has been limited to 37 games due to lingering problems with his groin. He has been solid in when he does make it into the lineup but not the superstar outfielder we saw in 2015.

Jake Lamb has filled the void that Pollock left. Lamb has already hit 16 home runs and posted a wRC+ over 130. his numbers thus far look eerily similar to his first-half numbers in 2016, before the hand injury in late July. In hindsight it is easy to point to the hand injury being the reason why his second half numbers were so down. He is healthy and is showing no signs of slowing down offensively.

Additionally, the lineup has evolved from a collection of stars-and-scrubs into a solid 1-8.

David Peralta looks like the hitter he was back in 2014-2015 after dealing with wrist and back injuries in 2016 which limited him to just 48 games. He is .321 with an OPS over .800. His wRC+ is at 117. He is also striking out less than at any point in his major-league career.

Chris Owings has slotted behind Goldschmidt and Lamb in the middle of the Diamondbacks order and is quietly having the best offensive season of his career. He’s posted an OPS near .800 while splitting time between the outfield and shortstop. His versatility has allowed for the team to play match-ups when needed.

Brandon Drury has built off his promising offensive season in 2016 by posting a 115 wRC+ so far in 2017. He is hitting exactly .300 on the year and has an OPS north of .840. After spending most of his time in the outfield in 2016, and having one of the worst defensive season of anyone last year, Drury has spent almost all of this year at second base and has been a positive contributor defensively. He has been worth 1.4 wins above replacement according to Fangraphs, which is good for third among Arizona’s position players.

Expectations were low coming into 2017, but two-and-a-half months in and it looks like the Diamondbacks have built a winner. They are one of the best teams thanks to a team-wide contribution, not just the stars at the top. It doesn’t look like the Arizona Diamondbacks are falling off this cliff any time soon and if A.J. Pollock comes back from injury and looks like his 2015-self, they may be the last one standing the National League West.

Dylan Svoboda is a writer for Beyond The Box Score and BP Milwaukee. You can follow him on Twitter at @svodylan.