Over the past few years the Diamondbacks, somewhat like the Padres in the winter leading up to the 2015 season, have made trade after trade. Not in a “Billy Beane is a genius” or “Dave Dombrowski sure can sell prospects at the right time” way. It was trading for a type of character player possibly involving grit and hustle. And their best performance over the past few years was exactly .500.
Like Less Than Jake, there’s something about the Diamondbacks discovering “The Science of Selling Yourself Short.” But a shakeup of the front office, complete with a Kevin Towers departure, and we’re seeing a different type of snake.
The D-Backs had a top-half offense scoring 720 runs, right between the Royals and Orioles. They hit the seventh most doubles, and stole the second most bases, but were below average home run hitters.
Paul Goldschmidt led the club again in bWAR, the third straight year, with 8.8. Already their best player, Goldy decided to launch 33 homers—three off his high—and hit .321/.435/.570 (all career highs), tie his highs in runs scored (103) and hits (182) while racking up the most intentional walks in the league (29). Oh yeah, he stole 21 bases, too. Signed to a five-year, $32 million deal, it doesn’t get much better than this.
Two catchers came over to Arizona during the season: Wellington Castillo (.255/.317/.496 with 17 homers) and Jarrod Saltalamacchia (.251/.332/.474). Why the Marlins gave up on Salty so fast considering he was under contract… well, it’s the Marlins after all. But picking up two catchers with some ability to hit off the scrap heap is no small feat.
The outfield was pretty good too: A.J. Pollock had a 20/39 season while hitting .315/.367/.498. He was flanked by David Peralta (.312/.371/.522 17 homers, nine steals) and Ender Inciarte (.303/.338/.408 with six homers, 21 steals).
The weak spots? Chris Owings, Nick Ahmed, and Aaron Hill. None of the middle infield trio cracked a .640 OPS.
Socrates Brito wins Name of the Year on the club and hit a nifty .303/.324/.455 during his eighteen games with the team. Small sample, but a great name.
As good as the offense was, the pitching staff was less so. The D-Backs were a little below average in ERA (4.04), runs allowed (713), and strikeouts, but considering their rotation that’s almost a compliment.
Rubby De La Rosa, acquired from Boston in the Wade Miley deal, led the rotation in innings with 188.2 and brought with him a 4.67 ERA (4.81 FIP). His strikeout rate (18.5 percent) was the highest he’d had since his debut with the Dodgers in 2011 and he kept his walk rate (7.8 percent) about the same as his AL performance in 2014.
Jeremy Hellickson came over from the Rays but with a 4.62 ERA and 19 percent strikeout rate wasn’t able to recapture the success he saw earlier in his career.
Patrick Corbin missed all of 2014 with Tommy John surgery and returned pretty close to what he was: 3.60 ERA (3.75 career), 21.9 percent strikeout rate (20.5 percent career). A full season in 2016 will help Arizona for sure.
Returning from two Tommy John surgeries, Daniel Hudson came back in a relief role with a 3.86 ERA and 24.5 percent strikeout rate. Just getting him back on the mound was huge, that he pitched like his old self was icing on the cake.
Was it a successful season?
There were some bad teams last year on the field, there were some less-than-desirable front office making choices, but not all underperforming teams were both. The Diamondbacks have a solid core of outfielders and Paul Goldschmidt. They have a rotation leader, if not an ace, in Corbin, and with new leadership, might be able to right the ship just by doing things differently than the Towers administration.
Will the gains flow into 2016? Hopefully. This has been a tough process for the D-Backs and it’s too early to say the results are starting to come in, but this might be step one towards another playoff window opening.
Statistics courtesy of Baseball Reference and FanGraphs