The Arizona Diamondbacks Are One of Baseball's Most Pleasant Surprises
What a difference a year makes for the Arizona Diamondbacks.
After making a number of bold moves heading into the 2016 season, they limped to a disappointing 69-93 record, which was the final straw for a front office that was widely considered to be terrible. In reshaping this area of the organization, Arizona hired Mike Hazen to be their new general manager ahead of 2017, and he proceeded to give the front office a new look.
They didn't rock the boat when it came to offseason player acquisitions, though -- only a few mid-tier moves were made while they were basically starting the year with a roster that looked a lot like the one under the previous regime.
Needless to say, the Dbacks have been one of baseball's most pleasant surprises this year. Sure, they're entering action on Friday 12 games behind the Los Angeles Dodgers, but first-year manager Torey Lovullo has steered his club to a 59-43 record. They also have a grip on the first NL Wild Card spot, with a 1.5-game lead over the Colorado Rockies.
Due to this unexpected success, they just acquired the best rental bat on the trade market to bolster their offense and pair it with a lights-out pitching staff.
Rotation Leading the Way
The entire staff has performed beyond expectations, but they're mostly led by a balanced starting rotation. The below table shows some key statistics of all Arizona starters with at least 10 starts this season.
Zack Godley and Zack Greinke have been stellar, and are leading this group with regard to FIP and SIERA. Greinke has returned to ace status after a down 2016 campaign, and his 27.5% strikeout rate is on pace to be his second-best season in the bigs.
On the other hand, Godley has been been a ground-ball machine, inducing them 57.5% of the time, and has paired it with a 27.2% hard-hit rate allowed. He's been a valuable asset at the back of Arizona's rotation, and can remain as such even if he regresses a bit.
Robbie Ray leads this group with a whopping 30.7% strikeout rate, but his propensity for allowing free passes (11.7% walk rate allowed so far this year) bogs down his strikeout-to-walk ratio a bit. However, with a .272 BABIP, a hard-hit rate allowed of 41.5%, and a 42.4% fly-ball rate allowed, regression could be hitting him soon.
A Solid Bullpen
Their bullpen is buoyed by a strong top four, and they've led by Archie Bradley, who has been a revelation.
Drafted seventh overall in the 2011 draft, the 24-year-old struggled as a starter through parts of two seasons, but it's clicked for him upon getting moved into the bullpen. He owns a sparkling 1.53 ERA that's supported by a 2.32 FIP, and he's produced a 4.9% walk rate and 29.4% strikeout rate through 47 innings.
Andrew Chafin is one of three southpaws in the 'pen and has produced a solid 2.38 ERA. It hasn't been a matter of luck, either -- he's posted an impressive 30.1% strikeout rate with a 2.82 FIP and is another extreme ground-ball pitcher (58.6%) that Lovullo can call upon when necessary.
Randall Delgado has found success as the team's swing man (he's made five starts this year), posting a 3.59 ERA and 3.15 FIP. His strikeout-to-walk ratio is on pace to be a career high (17.8%), and he's not inducing a ton of hard contact (27.0%).
Even at 40 years old, Fernando Rodney has put together a solid year as Arizona's closer at the back of the bullpen. His 5.08 ERA wouldn't support that idea, but that's partially because of a very low 54.7% strand rate that's bound to improve. Plus, his 3.24 FIP and 28.4% strikeout rate show how well he's actually been pitching.
Anchored by one of the league's best rotations, it should be no surprise that the Dbacks have been so successful this year with plenty of options to turn to in the bullpen. Having a good offense certainly helps, too.
Plenty of Offense
While the Dbacks' team wRC+ of 95 is just middle of the pack with regard to the rest of the league, they have a ton of intriguing offensive weapons. Adding one of baseball's top hitters this year in J.D. Martinez last week also doesn't hurt.
The below table shows all the position players on Arizona's roster that have a wRC+ above 100 while accumulating at least 150 plate appearances. For some added context, their Isolated Power (ISO) and fWAR are also included.
Paul Goldschmidt is easily the best position player on the squad, and he's a legitimate NL MVP candidate to this point. He's doing everything he normally does well, like drawing a lot of walks (16.4%) and not striking out a lot (21.4%), but what's most interesting is that he's slugged 21 home runs while stealing 15 bases. It's a long shot, but he at least has a case for a 30-30 season. And just for good measure, his 46.8% hard-hit rate is among the league leaders with regard to qualified hitters. He's a beast.
Just by looking at his numbers above, it's hard to overlook the kind of upgrade the Dbacks are getting with the acquisition of Martinez. He's not the all-around player like Goldschmidt, but they traded for him so he could hit, which is what he's done all year. In just 22 plate appearances with his new club, the outfielder has slugged 4 homers and 11 RBI.
Jake Lamb, who is in the midst of a career year, makes up the third part of the three-headed monster in the heart of this lineup. Fresh off a 29-homer campaign in 2016, he's already collected 23 bombs and is on pace to produce a career-high wRC+. He also must be taking some notes from his first baseman, as he's walking a lot (14.5%) and keeping his strikeouts at a reasonable rate (25.6%).
A boon at the top of the lineup, it's been good to have A.J. Pollock back after losing him for virtually the all of last year due to a broken elbow. He's also been forced to miss 50 games this year because of a groin injury, but he's been his usual productive self when on the field. After a disappointing 2016 of his own, David Peralta has bounced back, but arguably the biggest surprise on this list is Chris Iannetta -- the 34-year-old catcher has not been an above-average option at the plate since 2014.
Just a year after being one of baseball's biggest disappointments, the Diamondbacks have completely turned things around to become a legitimate postseason contender. Their pitching has been excellent and their offense has been good enough, but the addition of Martinez should help give them the extra boost they truly need heading into the dog days of August.