The disappointing 2014 season for the Arizona Diamondbacks had one very big silver lining. Rather than sit idly by and watch the Diamondbacks fall farther behind their National League West competition, major changes took place in the front office and in the dugout. New Chief Baseball Officer for the Diamondbacks, famed manager Tony La Russa, wasted no time after the season orchestrating changes. Kirk Gibson was unceremoniously fired with three games left in the season and Chip Hale was selected to replace him. General Manager Kevin Towers, whose record of success, or lack thereof, was a major hindrance to the Diamondbacks was also fired and replaced by Dave Stewart. One of the biggest coups of the offseason was La Russa’s ability to pluck De Jon Watson from the Los Angeles Dodgers to be the new senior vice president of baseball operations.
The hiring of Hale was almost a no-brainer for the Diamondbacks because of his familiarity with the team and the organization. Hale was a coach in the Diamondbacks organization from 2006-09 and got some additional experience with the New York Mets from 2010-11 and the Oakland Athletics as Bob Melvin’s bench coach from 2012-14.
One of the biggest problems with Gibson was his hard-line stance on everything. A lot was made of Gibson’s retaliatory bean ball thrown at Andrew McCutchen after Paul Goldschmidt’s hand was accidentally broken by a Pirates pitcher. Randall Delgado drilled McCutchen while Goldschmidt looked on with a disappointed expression. This wasn’t the only retaliatory hit during Gibson’s tenure and he should have been fired as a result of any one of them. In any event, Gibson is now gone and there is a renewed sense of optimism and hope in the organization with some tremendous baseball people in place.
Considering the Diamondbacks were 5-15 after their first 20 games, their 64-98 final record was hardly surprising. The Diamondbacks were not a good team on paper to begin with, but some head-scratching transactions and some bad luck on the injury front led to the second-worst season in franchise history. After 81-81 seasons in 2012 and 2013 and last season’s 94-loss disaster, the changes in the front office are good developments for the organization.
Coming off of an awful season, oddsmakers aren’t very high on the Diamondbacks. BetOnline is at 72.5 wins, with 5Dimes at the same number. Bovada is a win lower at 71.5.
Key additions: Yasmany Tomas, Jeremy Hellickson, Robbie Ray, Rubby de la Rosa, Allen Webster, Blake Beavan
Key losses: Didi Gregorius, Wade Miley, Miguel Montero, Mike Bolsinger
Former Major League pitcher Dave Stewart wasted no time this offseason in acquiring arms to bolster the Diamondbacks’ subpar pitching staff. Judging by the caliber of the pitchers acquired, the Diamondbacks are content to wait on Archie Bradley to develop into an ace and they will strengthen the back of the rotation in the meantime. Rubby de la Rosa and Allen Webster came over in the Wade Miley deal and Robbie Ray was part of the big three-team deal that netted the Yankees Didi Gregorius.
The biggest wild card of the bunch is Yasmany Tomas. Tomas was one of the most sought after Cuban imports this winter and the Diamondbacks were able to get him for a modest investment of six years and $68.5M, with an opt-out clause for Tomas after his fourth season. Hale noted his involvement with Yoenis Cespedes in Oakland and that may have been a big factor in this signing. Tomas has upside, but also concerns.
Many people will forget that the Diamondbacks were getting a quality season from Chris Owings before he went out with an injury, so the Diamondbacks traded from a position of strength in the Gregorius deal. The loss of Miguel Montero will be interesting for the pitching staff, as the Diamondbacks are left Tuffy Gosewich and a question at backup catcher.
Why bet the over?
There’s a major philosophical change in the Diamondbacks front office and there are some very well-respected baseball people in positions of power. That will change the dynamic and should give the Diamondbacks a certain level of confidence that they can compete. Before the Diamondbacks went 16-37 to end the season by quitting on Kirk Gibson, they were 48-61, which isn’t great, but obviously not 64-98.
Injuries played a major role in Arizona’s 2015 season. Paul Goldschmidt played just 1009 games and didn’t have an at bat after August 1. Patrick Corbin needed Tommy John surgery before his 2015 season even began. Always dependable Bronson Arroyo finally broke and needed Tommy John surgery. Chris Owings went out, leaving a huge offensive hole at shortstop. A less-publicized injury to AJ Pollock took away one of Arizona’s top threats. Injuries limited Mark Trumbo to 14 home runs and 362 plate appearances.
Among players that had at least 250 plate appearances, three were above league average by weighted runs created plus, a sabermetric stat that uses a baseline of 100 to determine how much above or below average a player was using weighted runs created. Those players were Goldschmidt, who was limited to 479 plate appearances, Pollock, who was limited to 287 plate appearances, and David Peralta, who had 348 plate appearances and is a platoon player.
Chase Field rates four percent above average in home run park factor, yet the Diamondbacks were led by Goldschmidt with 19 home runs. Better health and the addition of Tomas, who has a big bat, will help in this instance. As a team, the Diamondbacks ranked 23rd in HR/FB% and they ranked 27th in FB%. Offensively, the team is banking on better health and some different hitting philosophies, which is not a bad approach. There is some offensive talent on this team if it can stay healthy.
Patrick Corbin will likely be out until at least June for the Diamondbacks, but they have better starting pitching depth this season thanks to the additions that Stewart and Watson made this winter. The June prediction was from former manager Kirk Gibson, so Chip Hale and the new front office may have different ideas. In any event, the Diamondbacks should get a boost from Corbin at some point over the summer.
There are some very intriguing pitchers on this team that could have an impact. Josh Collmenter wound up being worth two wins working predominantly as a starter last season. Collmenter harnessed his control and walked less than two batters per nine innings, which is an important development to watch for all Diamondbacks pitchers. To say that the Diamondbacks are not a gifted team defensively is an understatement and the ability to prevent free baserunners will be very important. Collmenter induced a lot of weak contact and posted a quality 3.47 ERA.
Jeremy Hellickson could have a lot more success moving to the National League and with a change of scenery. Believers in sabermetrics had correctly pegged Hellickson for regression during the 2013 season and he delivered. He posted a 2.95 ERA with a 4.44 FIP in 2011 and a 3.10 ERA with a 4.60 FIP in 2012. Those were not sustainable, no matter the defense playing behind the pitcher. In 2013, Hellickson’s ERA ballooned well past where sabermetricians thought it would as he climbed to 5.17 with a 4.22 FIP. In 2014, Hellickson’s season was cut short to 13 Major League starts and five minor league starts.
There could very well be untapped potential in the right arm of Hellickson. He’ll turn 28 during the first week of the season, but he has regularly posted decent strikeout-to-walk ratios as more of a pitch-to-contact guy. Early in his career, Hellickson could neutralize lefties with a quality change-up. A new voice and a new organization could do enough to transform him back into a quality starting pitcher capable of posting an ERA in the 3.50s.
There’s a lot of intrigue about Allen Webster and Rubby de la Rosa, the pitchers that Arizona got in the Wade Miley deal. Tommy John surgery caught de la Rosa virtually all of 2012 and he flashed some interesting potential at the Major League level with the Red Sox last season. He sits mid-90s with the fastball and flashes a two-seamer/change-up combo that can induce ground balls. Webster can sit in the low-to-mid 90s with a good fastball and a change-up that flashes plus potential. Like de la Rosa, the refinement just isn’t there yet. The raw tools are and for a franchise that needs to bet on optimism, Webster is a good gamble.
Chase Anderson might be the safest bet in the Diamondbacks rotation as a dependable back-end guy that showcases a couple of quality change-ups to get weak contact and whiffs. He also works ahead in the count. His fastball is good enough to allow the change-up to play up a level and the curve is a work in progress that shows potential.
Addison Reed’s declining velocity continued to be a hindrance to the bullpen, but he posted a 27.4 percent strikeout rate and a 3.26 xFIP. FIP is fielder-independent pitching, so it takes away batted balls that aren’t “true outcomes”. For pitchers, the “true outcomes” are things they can “control”, like walks, strikeouts, hit by pitches, and home runs. xFIP is “expected FIP” given their expected home run rate based on fly balls allowed and league average home run rates on fly balls. Reed is predominantly a fly ball pitcher and 11 of those fly balls left the yard. Theoretically, his home run rate should lower next season, given how big of an anomaly it was. A 3.26 xFIP would rate in the “great” to “above average” range. Reed’s actual ERA was 4.25 and his FIP was 4.03. That would suggest some positive regression.
The Diamondbacks bullpen has some guys capable of missing bats. The Diamondbacks bullpen had the fifth-highest K/9 and sixth-highest K%. All of those relievers are back and the bullpen could get a boost from whoever loses out on the final spot in the rotation.
Why bet the under?
This starting rotation has the potential to be awful. There’s no true ace and most of these guys are back-end starting pitchers. There’s a chance that Trevor Cahill will steal a spot from Allen Webster or Rubby de la Rosa, which would be a big mistake because there’s not a lot of upside left with Cahill. The Diamondbacks got the fifth-fewest innings from their starting pitchers last season and the biggest concern with the current group of contenders for the rotation is walks. They lack command and control. That means that they won’t be able to shoulder a big workload and the Snakes will be into the pen early and awful. No matter how much talent a bullpen has, that’s not a recipe for success.
The starting staff does show sabermetric signs of improvement, with a 4.44 ERA, but a 4.00 FIP and a 3.70 xFIP. The loss of Brandon McCarthy hurts the rotation. McCarthy was victimized by awful batted ball luck with a 5.01 ERA despite a 3.82 FIP and a spectacular 2.88 xFIP. Wade Miley was another guy that pitched better than his traditional metrics, but he is also out of the picture. Miley threw nearly 600 innings for the Diamondbacks over the last three seasons and replacing that many innings at league average or better is a lot harder than it looks.
Even with somewhat promising arms acquired via trade this season, the rotation is made up of swingmen like Collmenter and Cahill, unknowns in de la Rosa and Webster, and there’s no telling what Patrick Corbin, who overachieved in 2013, will bring to the table in his return from Tommy John. Archie Bradley is the great hope for this rotation, but it’s unlikely that he will be in the rotation until August at the earliest.
Only the Rockies and Royals walked less than the Diamondbacks last season by percentage of plate appearances. Considering that the Diamondbacks don’t hit for a high average and have marginal power, free baserunners would be really helpful. Better fortunes on the health front could help the offense, but A.J. Pollock and Chris Owings don’t walk much and neither do guys like David Peralta. The Diamondbacks have to string hits together to score runs without good OBP and SLG guys. That’s not easy in today’s dwindling run environment.
The biggest area of concern from a position player standpoint is at catcher. Tuffy Gosewich is going to end up with the job, almost by default, after the Miguel Montero trade. Gosewich has exactly 179 plate appearances to his name. He’s a strong defensive catcher by most metrics, but he has a clear lack of experience and also doesn’t know the hitters around the league. From a game-calling standpoint, there are a lot of moving parts with the rotation and Gosewich will only have Spring Training to prepare. With a lack of polished talent in the rotation, a raw catcher is a major worry. Gosewich can’t hit, which is just fine if he is an above average defensive catcher, but continuity will be an issue in the early going.
Outside of the shortcomings on the roster, the NL West is a rough division. The Colorado Rockies look like a team that will struggle again this season, but San Diego Padres are much improved, the Los Angeles Dodgers keep shelling out money, and the San Francisco Giants are still the reigning World Series champions. Arizona was 31-45 against division competition last season and it’s hard to see a major departure from that number. The Diamondbacks were 43-44 against sub-.500 teams last season and teams like the Padres (12-7) and Cubs (5-2) will be better.
Pick: Over 71.5
The Arizona Diamondbacks were dealt 2-7 off suit last season with a terrible manager, injuries to their biggest offensive threats, and Patrick Corbin’s Tommy John surgery before the start of the season. There’s a major change in philosophy and ideology in this organization with the changes that have taken place and that has a trickle-down effect to the field.
By no means are the Diamondbacks going to be an out-of-nowhere surprise team that contends for the playoffs, but there are a lot of guys on this team with something to prove and that provides some over value. They’re hardly as bad as they played last season and the awful start impacted their final record, especially after they quit on Kirk Gibson at the end of the season.
Perception is far too low on the Diamondbacks. They were 39-39 from May through July and everything fell apart when Goldschmidt got hurt. The collective middle finger to Gibson was the last straw. This is a team that will play hard for Chip Hale and that’s already an upgrade over what happened with Gibson. I’m not sure that a team with this type of offensive upside, if healthy, can lose 90 games.
-END OF 2015 PREDICTION-
The 2013 season was a strange one for the Arizona Diamondbacks. Despite trading Justin Upton, leading the league in blown saves, and scoring 49 fewer runs than in the previous season, the Diamondbacks finished with the exact same record as they had the season before – a perfectly mediocre 81-81 mark. Interestingly, the 2012 version severely underachieved, finishing with a Pythagorean Win-Loss record of 86-76. The 2013 version was -10 in run differential, finishing one game better than their Pyth W-L record.
Even with the loss of Upton and a lengthy first half injury to Aaron Hill, the Diamondbacks entered the 2013 All-Star Break with the top record in the National League West at 50-45, largely due to the performance of Patrick Corbin. Corbin went 9-0 with a 2.35 ERA and a 3.17 FIP. It was Corbin that carried a rotation that ranked 18th in wins above replacement player (WAR) and ERA and 19th in fielder independent pitching (FIP) during the first half.
The Diamondbacks spent the first three days after the Break in first place and never stood atop the mountain again, falling as many as 12 games back as the Los Angeles Dodgers burned a path of destruction throughout baseball in the second half. The Diamondbacks finished second, 11 games behind the Dodgers. As Corbin fell apart, the Diamondbacks’ rotation suffered, posting the league’s sixth-highest FIP in the second half.
The main objective for the Diamondbacks in 2014 will be to find some consistency. Atlantis Sportsbook in Reno has set their season win total at 81, right in line with their win totals in each of the last two seasons. The Superbook at Las Vegas Hotel and Casino has set their win total at 80.
Key additions: Mark Trumbo, Bronson Arroyo, Addison Reed
Key losses: Adam Eaton, Tyler Skaggs, Heath Bell, Willie Bloomquist
The Diamondbacks spent the offseason acquiring proven commodities for some of their high-upside youngsters. General Manager Kevin Towers made it a point to add bullpen relief with the acquisition of Addison Reed from the Chicago White Sox in exchange for third base prospect Matt Davidson. The Diamondbacks led all of baseball in blown saves in 2013 with 29, converting just 57 percent of their save opportunities. Incredibly, the Diamondbacks were 34-21 in one-run games, one year removed from going just 15-27 in one-run decisions.
Towers dug into his pitching depth prior to the 2013 season when he traded Trevor Bauer as part of a three-team trade to add slick fielding shortstop Didi Gregorius from the Cincinnati Reds. This offseason, Towers, again, dug into the team’s pitching prospect pool to ship Tyler Skaggs to the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim to add power hitting 1B/3B/OF Mark Trumbo. Speedy outfielder Adam Eaton, Baseball America’s 73rd-best prospect entering the 2013 season, was also included in the trade.
With some of the pitching depth taken out of the equation, Towers added innings eater Bronson Arroyo in early February. Arroyo has made 32 or more starts in nine consecutive seasons. With Brandon McCarthy’s spotty health history and Daniel Hudson’s attempt to comeback from major surgery, Arroyo was a fairly pricey insurance policy for a rotation in need of average arms.
Why bet the over?
The Diamondbacks project to accumulate the 12th-most WAR according to Fangraphs’s projection system with 39.9. A “replacement-level” team is projected to go 48-114 per Fangraphs and Baseball-Reference.com. Fangraphs and Baseball-Reference calculate WAR differently, weighing heavier on certain metrics and with some differences in how players are weighted by position, but even if Fangraphs’s projected findings are a little high, you may have room to spare on over 81 wins.
The team has a perennial Most Valuable Player candidate at first base in Paul Goldschmidt. Aaron Hill, who had a career year in 2012, amassed just 362 plate appearances and played in just 87 games. In those 87 games, Hill accounted for two WAR, which was more than 13 teams managed from the second base position in 2013. Miguel Montero, once one of the game’s top catchers, had a down year. Montero was worth 8.7 WAR in 2011-12, but just 0.9 WAR in 2013. His on-base percentage fell by nearly 80 points and his slugging percentage took an even bigger drop. If Montero returns to his 2011-12 form, he would be worth between two and three additional wins to the Diamondbacks.
Mark Trumbo adds a dimension to the Diamondbacks that they sorely lacked in 2013. With the preseason trade of Justin Upton, coupled with Hill’s injury, and exacerbated by Montero’s drop in power, the Diamondbacks ranked 25th in home runs with just 130. In Trumbo’s three full seasons in the Majors, he has hit 95 home runs. Chase Field is a much friendlier ballpark for hitters than Angel Stadium was, so Trumbo’s production could thrive, especially when the Diamondbacks are able to play games with the roof open. Trumbo will get the bulk of his playing time in left field, which gives the Diamondbacks a huge upgrade in power from their group of outfielders. Arizona outfielders combined for just 34 home runs without Upton and had the league’s worst isolated power (ISO).
The Diamondbacks led the National League in fielding value, with 86 defensive runs saved (DRS), including 53 defensive runs saved by right fielders, far and away the best mark in baseball. Trumbo will hurt them defensively when he’s in left field, but this is still a well above average defensive team.
With shortstop Didi Gregorius in his second Major League season, jack-of-all-trades Martin Prado likely manning third base on a regular basis, and a combination of A.J. Pollock, Gerardo Parra, and prototypical platoon candidate Cody Ross circulating around the outfield, the Diamondbacks offense looks to be in very good shape for the upcoming season. Health is the question mark for this group, but there are players who will have much better 2014 seasons with some good fortune on the health front.
From the pitching side of things, Diamondbacks’ ace Patrick Corbin experienced success in his first full Major League season, but also got a crash course in the rigors of 200 high-stress innings. He should be better equipped for it this season and grow into the anchor of the pitching staff. Wade Miley showed tremendous upside last season, a crafty lefty with good stuff and above average control. Unlike fellow southpaw Corbin, Miley got better throughout the season, a good sign in his second full season at the MLB level.
The back of the Diamondbacks’ rotation has some upside that oddsmakers may be undervaluing. Randall Delgado, a 24-year-old righty acquired in the Upton trade, showed positive signs in his 19 starts as a guy with above average control and a knack for inducing ground balls. A ghastly 1.86 HR/9 hurt Delgado’s overall numbers, but an unsustainably high 17.6 percent home fly per fly ball rate should normalize. If Delgado makes the rotation, he could be a valuable commodity for the Diamondbacks. It may take an injury to McCarthy or Trevor Cahill for that to happen, however.
Trevor Cahill seemed to deal with injury all season long, as his velocity figures were not consistent throughout games and he eventually spent time on the shelf in August. His control sagged, his strikeouts dropped, and his skill-interactive ERA (SIERA) spiked. He induced fewer ground balls and his slugging percentage against jumped 24 points. If healthy, Cahill has a track record of being more effective than he was in 2013.
Bronson Arroyo will give the Diamondbacks a durable innings eater to take some pressure off of the bullpen. Arroyo’s control continues to improve as he gets older, even though his fastball may not be fast enough to break a window at age 37. Arroyo is not a sexy addition by any means, but he works deep into games and keeps hitters off balance. With the highest fly ball rate of anybody on the staff, the Diamondbacks can use their outfield versatility to keep Trumbo away from left field in Arroyo’s starts to improve the defense.
The Diamondbacks bullpen endured a brutal year from David Hernandez, a year removed from being one of the game’s top setup men. Hernandez went from a 2.50 ERA and a 2.08 FIP to an ugly 4.48 ERA and a very ugly 4.36 FIP. A drop in strikeout rate and a spike in home run rate led to Hernandez’s struggles, two things that he could improve on in 2013. Hernandez, like so many other relievers, seemed to be effected by pitching in the World Baseball Classic prior to the 2013 season. Without the WBC, Hernandez can go through his normal Spring Training routine and get ready for the season in a reasonable manner.
Outside of Hernandez, the Diamondbacks have a couple more hard throwers in Addison Reed and J.J Putz, who may share closing duties if one guy does not separate himself from the other. Putz is, and has always been, an injury concern, making just 40 appearances last season. He’s been effective when healthy, but Reed gives the Diamondbacks a safety blanket, both to protect Putz and also to pitch high-leverage innings when Putz is unavailable.
Durable sidearmer Brad Ziegler could also grab some save opportunities. Ziegler has been very reliable, making 155 appearances over the last two seasons for the Diamondbacks with very good numbers. Josh Collmenter was a very capable long man for the Diamondbacks and Joe Thatcher, acquired in the 2013 Trade Deadline deal of Ian Kennedy, gives the Diamondbacks a very good matchup lefty.
Overall, this is a team with an above average offense ,a starting rotation with an average ceiling, and a bullpen with the potential to be one of the league’s best.
Why bet the under?
The Diamondbacks possess versatility, but they do lack depth if injuries arise. Utility players like Cliff Pennington and now free agent Willie Bloomquist were forced into duty with Aaron Hill’s injury and that was a major weakness for the team. An injury to Paul Goldschmidt wouldn’t cripple the offense completely as it might have last season, but it would be a very difficult hurdle for the team to overcome.
Much of the Diamondbacks’ offensive promise is contingent on guys “returning to form”. Miguel Montero needs to prove that last season was not a fluke. Aaron Hill needs to stay healthy, but also produce. Didi Gregorius was a below average offensive player whose defense saved his overall value. Cody Ross had offseason hip surgery and he may not be ready for the start of the season and he could deal with lingering effects throughout the season.
The biggest concern for the Diamondbacks is the starting rotation. Corbin stranded nearly 82 percent of his baserunners in the first half, an unsustainable number for a guy with Corbin’s strikeout rate. Overall, Corbin is probably a number two forced into being the team’s ace. Miley should be a steady starter for the Diamondbacks, but his high contact rate in a historically-friendly hitting environment could lead to inflated numbers for him this season. His FIP was already 0.4 runs above his ERA, signaling that regression certainly seems possible in 2014. He may have been the biggest benefactor of the team’s outstanding defense, which means that any drop-off in Arizona’s defensive value will negatively affect Miley.
The back of the rotation has a plethora of questions ranging from health to performance. Arroyo should stay healthy, though he is 37 and has thrown a lot of pitches over the last decade. Even if he is healthy, he’ll be going to a park that, up until last season, dramatically favored hitters. McCarthy and Cahill are serious injury risks and neither guy is really above average when healthy to begin with.
With the exception of Corbin, every other Diamondbacks starter projects to have a below average strikeout rate. Of the 12 teams whose starters combined for less than seven strikeouts per nine innings, only the Athletics, Orioles, and Royals were over .500.
Without a whole lot of depth, and top prospect Archie Bradley expected to start the season in Double-A, the rotation could certainly be enough to keep you away from backing the over.
The bullpen, while promising on paper, has some red flags as well. Ziegler’s 155-game workload over the last two seasons could absolutely catch up with him. Putz is a walking injury risk. Reed, who will likely be the team’s closer, has a very low ground ball rate, something that could plague him as a fly ball pitcher in Chase Field. Perhaps more of a concern is that Reed’s walk rate spiked tremendously in the second half of last season, going from 5.4 percent to 11 percent. Whether that’s a sign of something to come or not, Reed will still have to adjust to a league and park change.
The 2013 Diamondbacks were tremendous in extra innings, going 17-8, and one-run games, going 34-21, two trends that are unlikely to continue in 2014. Because of the volatility of bullpens and the year-to-year variance of those records, the Diamondbacks may not be so fortunate this season.
An external factor to keep the Diamondbacks under the win total is that the National League West appears stronger this season. Teams play 76 games, or 46.9 percent, of the schedule against divisional foes each season. The Diamondbacks went 36-40 against division rivals last season and one-third of those wins came against the hapless Colorado Rockies. They had losing records against the Padres and Giants and went 10-9 against the Dodgers, with nine of the games coming in the first half.
Pick: Under 81
Ever so slightly, the under looks like it has more value on the Arizona Diamondbacks win total. Some very good players had down offensive seasons for Arizona last season and their track records would suggest a bounce back season, but that’s not a foolproof theory. The rotation is a major problem. The Diamondbacks should, again, be near the top of the league in most defensive metrics, but depth is a concern and a lot of balls in play lead to bad things.
Ultimately, the National League West looks to be a much more balanced division this season, with the Giants and Padres looking stronger than the 2013 versions. Somebody has to lose games in the NL West and the Diamondbacks, because of their rotation, would appear to be that team.
Adam Burke is a freelance writer and amateur handicapper with a knack for finding value through matchup analysis and a deep understanding of the sports betting market. His main area of expertise is baseball, with a background in sabermetrics and advanced statistics. He is the host of The Gridiron Gambling Report and our college football and college basketball BangTheBook.com podcasts on the BlogTalkRadio Network.