2018 Record: 82-80
Third Place, NL West
Team ERA: 3.72 (4th in MLB)
Team OPS: .707 (21st in MLB)
What Went Right
After an ice-cold two-month stretch to open the year, Paul Goldschmidt hit a robust .330/.420/.602 with 54 extra-base hits (26 homers), 64 runs scored, 64 RBI and five steals over his final 104 games to keep the Diamondbacks in the playoff race until the final weeks of the season. The 30-year-old first baseman’s power production has fluctuated over the last half-decade, but he’s settled in as a consistent 30-homer, five-category fantasy stud. The lone blemish on an otherwise sparkling campaign were his seven stolen bases, which were his fewest in a full-season since 2014. It may be unrealistic to expect double-digit steals as he enters his early thirties, but it’s really an ancillary concern given his consistent track record in the power and batting average/on-base departments. The Diamondbacks were also the beneficiaries of a career-high 30-homer campaign from left fielder David Peralta. The 31-year-old slugger hit .293/.352/.516 in 614 plate appearances. He was even better at home, posting an absurd .341/.393/.595 triple-slash line in 74 games, directly refuting the prevailing pre-season narrative among the vast majority of fantasy analysts that the installation of a humidor in Chase Field would greatly diminish offensive production for Arizona hitters. Was Peralta’s late-career power breakthrough an aberration or merely a bizarre outlier? It’s within the realm of possibility, especially considering that offensive production in the desert experienced a precipitous decline in 2018.
We’re still a few years away from accumulating enough of a statistically significant sample size to draw any definitive conclusions regarding the impact of a humidor on park factors at Chase Field. However, the early returns were extremely encouraging for the Diamondbacks pitching staff, which recorded the fourth-lowest team-ERA in baseball last season. Despite widespread prognostications of his imminent demise after experiencing diminished velocity in spring training, Zack Greinke went 15-11 with a 3.39 ERA, 1.08 WHIP and 199/43 K/BB ratio in 33 starts. In an era where starting pitcher workloads have eroded, the 35-year-old righty remains a durable workhorse. He’s eclipsed the 200-inning plateau in four of the last five years. Perennial Cy Young contenders Max Scherzer and Corey Kluber are the only aces to accomplish the feat in every season dating back to 2014.
Impending free agent Patrick Corbin is set to cash in after a dominant final campaign in Arizona. The 29-year-old southpaw’s strikeout rate spiked from 20 percent over his first - years to nearly 31 percent last season. He posted a sublime 3.15 ERA, 1.05 WHIP and 246/48 K/BB ratio over a career-high 33 starts. Per Baseball Prospectus Deserved Run Average (DRA) leaderboards, Corbin (2.74 DRA) ranked 11th out of 140 big-league pitchers with at least 100 innings in 2018. Finally, while Robbie Ray and Zack Godley failed to live up to lofty pre-season expectations, it was veteran journeyman Clay Buchholz who emerged as a legitimate rotation piece. The 34-year-old right-hander posted a surreal 2.01 ERA, 1.04 WHIP and 81/22 K/BB ratio over 16 starts before his stunning renaissance came to screeching halt due to a season-ending right elbow flexor strain in September.
What Went Wrong
The vast majority of the Diamondbacks’ issues centered around their injury-plagued offensive core last season. Center fielder A.J. Pollock belted a career-high 21 homers, but endured a disappointing, injury-marred final campaign in Arizona. The 30-year-old outfielder missed nearly two months with a fractured left thumb in May, and went into an absolute tailspin at the plate over the final two months, finishing with a pedestrian .257/.316/.484 triple-slash line over 460 plate appearances. Given his lengthy injury history and strange year at the dish, it will be interesting to see what kind of offers he receives in free agency this offseason. Third baseman Jake Lamb was a complete non-factor in standard mixed leagues, batting .222/.307/.348 in 56 games, before being replaced by trade acquisition Eduardo Escobar, and undergoing season-ending shoulder surgery in early August. Right fielder Steven Souza, who was picked up in a three-team trade in late-February in exchange for infielder Brandon Drury and left-hander Anthony Banda, was a massive disappointment. The 29-year-old outfielder missed most of the first half with a pectoral injury and hit just .220/.309/.369 with five homers and six steals in 72 games.
** Mercurial southpaw Robbie Ray was limited to 24 starts after suffering a strained oblique in late-April, which sidelined him for two months. The 27-year-old posted a disappointing 3.93 ERA, 1.35 WHIP and 165/70 K/BB ratio over 123 2/3 innings of work. After making tremendous strides with his control in 2017, Ray regressed, posting the highest walk rate (5.09 BB/9) of any non-Tyler Chatwood starting pitcher in baseball last year. The central issue for Ray isn’t the lack of control. It’s his persistent control issues in tandem with a propensity to give up hard contact. There’s Cy Young-caliber talent here, but he needs to get the walks under control if he’s ever going to reach those lofty heights.
** Speaking of control issues, the Diamondbacks desperately need a bounce-back performance from Zack Godley next season. The 28-year-old right-hander saw his walk rate jump from just over three batters per-nine in his breakout 2017 campaign to over four last year. That significant uptick in free passes, juxtaposed by a bloated .324 BABIP were a recipe for disaster, as Godley finished with a 4.74 ERA and 1.45 WHIP in 33 appearances (32 starts). There’s reason for optimism if you’re looking exclusively at his 3.77 FIP. However, Baseball Prospectus’ Deserved Run Average metric reveals that Godley’s 4.78 DRA was actually higher than his ERA last year. There’s a lot to unpack with the righty, but he’s a decent rebound target in fantasy drafts if he can harness his control issues.
** If there is a hitter within the Diamondbacks organization who has the potential to evolve into a fantasy force, it’s Ketel Marte. The 25-year-old shortstop has shown flashes of his tantalizing power/speed standpoint and excellent plate discipline throughout his major-league career. He hit .260/.332/.437 with a career-high 14 homers and walked (54) nearly as many times as he struck out (79) in 580 plate appearances last year. If he’s a legitimate 20-homer middle infielder with elite contact skills, he could rapidly evolve into a mixed-league factor as he enters his prime.
** What direction Arizona will elect to go with it’s closer committee next spring remains a mystery. Veteran right-hander Brad Boxberger recorded 32 saves before melting down in spectacular fashion and losing the job in September. Barring an unforeseen Boxberger resurgence, the logical candidate to take over next spring is 34-year-old right-hander Yoshihisa Hirano, who posted a 2.44 ERA over 75 appearances in his first taste of the major leagues last year. The obvious dark horse is Archie Bradley, but the 26-year-old righty has settled into his perfect role as a multi-inning bullpen weapon.
** Fantasy owners in deeper mixed leagues should consider speculating on middle infielder Nick Ahmed in drafts next spring. The 28-year-old experienced a mini-breakout at the plate, putting more balls in the air without eroding his plate skills. He swatted a career-high 16 homers in 564 plate appearances and shouldn’t have an issue finding at-bats next season. He isn’t a sexy sleeper pick, but that’s exactly why he should cost nothing on draft day.
Team Needs: Everything. It’s a massive oversimplification, but let’s be honest about how dire the Diamondbacks’ situation really is, especially from an offensive standpoint. Not only are they poised to lose a pair of starting position players in center fielder (Pollock) and third base (Escobar) via free agency, but they’re also going to need to fill holes in their rotation vacated by the likely departure of Corbin and Buchholz (Yeah, I can’t believe I’m saying it either). The offensive core remains productive, but it’s aging very quickly. Both Goldschmidt and Peralta are in their early thirties now and have little support behind them. This offensive unit would look entirely different if they had been able to retain veteran slugger J.D. Martinez, who bolted for Boston in free agency last offseason. Barring another step forward from a younger offensive piece like Lamb, Marte or Owings, this offense simply doesn’t have enough talent to truly compete with the upper echelon lineups in the National League next season. Is it time to rebuild in Arizona? Perhaps. Ultimately, the direction they elect to go with their free agent signings and trade acquisitions will reveal whether they think they can rebuild on the fly with their current core (like the Brewers did recently) or that they’re headed for a full-scale teardown.