2018 Season Preview: Arizona Diamondbacks

This piece is part of the Replacement Level 2018 Team Preview Series. An introduction to the series, as well as a brief explanation of the projections used, can be found here.

2017 Review

Record

Pythag Record

BaseRuns Record

Runs Scored

Runs Against

93-69

97-65

96-66

812

659

Say hello to the 2016 Diamondbacks, who missed their bus a year ago and didn’t arrive at Chase Field until the 2017 season. Arizona flipped their record from a season ago, turning 93 losses into 93 wins as the rotation they expected to lead them did even more than expected. Five starters began at least 25 games, pitched at least 150 innings, and no team received more innings from their nominal starting rotation than the D’backs total of 861.

Also, they have Paul Goldschmidt.

Offseason in Review:

Key Additions – Steven Souza, Brad Boxberger, Jarrod Dyson, Alex Avila

Avila replaces Chris Iannetta in a swap of decent catchers, while Dyson’s $7.5 million over two years is a steal considering his utility and history of production. Two late-inning arms in Fernando Rodney and David Hernandez are in new uniforms for 2018, a void partially filled with the acquisition of Boxberger, especially considering Rodney, in particular, isn’t actually good. Arizona continued fleecing the cheapskate Rays with the acquisition of Souza, more than solidifying their outfield alongside Dyson, A.J. Pollock, and David Peralta. We won’t talk about Yasmany Tomas.

Key Losses – J.D. Martinez, Chris Iannetta, Fernando Rodney, David Hernandez

Martinez is probably the single biggest free agent loss of the winter, considering other high-money players like Yu Darvish, Eric Hosmer, Jake Arrieta, Alex Cobb, and Lorenzo Cain were either capably replaced or leaving non-competitive teams. But Martinez’ heir apparent in the desert is apparently Souza, and that won’t please fans who watched Martinez lead baseball in wRC+ for the second half of the season. Their only consolation might be that Souza is possibly a better player, coming in at 3.7 WAR to Martinez’ 3.8 last season while also being two years younger.

2018 Projections

ZiPS

Steamer

Pecota

82-80

81-81

87-75

Welcome to Competing Through Pitching, A Public Service Announcement. Even though the 2017 version underperformed their expected record by three or four games and still finished with the third-best record in the NL, none of the projection systems are huge fans. Pecota is the biggest advocate, but in general, it’s worrying when so much of your value comes from arms. Goldschmidt and Pollock are joined by Jake Lamb to form the whole of the above-average position players, and while the entire rotation is projected to be worth two wins or more yet again, well, we’ve seen this play before. One or two injuries and suddenly Shelby Miller is your third starter.

Key Players:

There are two completely unambiguous leaders on this team, and they are Paul Goldschmidt and Zack Greinke, both of whom need to be healthy and productive for the D’backs to be successful. We saw what it looks like when one of them is hurt and/or underperforming, and it looks a lot like the 2016 season. One day I’ll get over the fact that Max Scherzer was traded for Robbie Ray and judge him on his own merits, which are pretty good. 2017 was likely a career year as he outperformed his FIP by nearly a full run, but that doesn’t mean he won’t be crucial to Arizona’s 2018 record. Career resurrections are always worth celebrating, and Archie Bradley’s move the bullpen should be permanent considering he was utterly dominant there and should serve as a shutdown closer next season.

Key Minor League 2018 Impacts:

There are concerns with the middle infield and corner outfield situations, so a player like Domingo Leyba, who is listed as 2B/SS and finished last year in AA, will always have a shot. Leyba was hurt for much of 2017 – a season that included a shoulder surgery – so he may be treated with kid gloves in 2018. His high-contact, low-walk game is mirrored by AAA counterpart Ildemaro Vargas and it’s difficult to see Vargas not getting extended playing time in 2018 considering his positional flexibility and hitting ability. Pitching depth is at a worrying low, and the farm may only provide relief in the literal sense, as lefty Jared Miller and righty Jimmie Sherfy both have stuff to pile up strikeouts and possible setup futures.

Future Outlook:

When you’re a mid-market team that hands $200 million to a 32-year-old pitcher, people are going to ask some questions. And you can ignore them, except they’re kind of right. Whether Arizona wanted to retain J.D. Martinez at his market price, they sort of couldn’t. Add the sinkhole that is Yasmany Tomas, and anywhere from half to a third of the Diamondbacks’ payroll is already consumed. There will be a franchise-high payroll of nearly $130 million this season, and with free agency looming for Pollock after 2018 and Goldschmidt after 2019, there will be tough choices facing the team. Unless they can stay healthy and beat some projections this year, the D’backs may not be in the playoffs again for some time.

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