Why the Arizona Diamondbacks May Be Postseason Ready in 2016
The Arizona Diamondbacks have been a team in transition for much of the last 12 months.
Last year, they hired Tony LaRussa to be the head of their baseball operations. He later fired the team's general manager, Kevin Towers, and replaced him with his former ace pitcher, Dave Stewart. He also fired manager Kirk Gibson at the end of last year and replaced him with Chip Hale. And after winning 94 games in 2011, they went 81-81 in 2012 and '13, and lost 98 games last year.
No one expected much from them in 2015 and, to be honest, they aren't playoff contenders. However, at 58-59 after a 4-1 win over the Pittsburgh Pirates on Monday, they're better than people thought they'd be and actually have some pieces in place to potentially make a run at a wild card in the National League next year.
According to Baseball Reference's Wins Above Replacement (bWAR) numbers, Arizona has the second most bWAR of any team in baseball.
Only the San Francisco Giants have more bWAR from their position players than the Arizona Diamondbacks, a number that attempts to take into account offensive and defensive performances. Their oWAR (offensive Wins Above Replacement) is sixth-best in baseball and the dWAR (defensive Wins Above Replacement) is the best in baseball. Yep, even better than the Kansas City Royals, who are second.
FanGraphs calculates their fWAR a little differently, but Arizona is still near the top of their list, too.
FanGraphs has the D-Backs with the fifth-most WAR among position players, however, their calculation appears to be less favorable of their offensive skills (their Off metric puts them at 11th overall) but places their Def third in baseball, behind the Cubs and Marlins.
No matter how you break it down, the Diamondbacks have gotten a ton of production from their position players in 2015. They have two five-win players in Paul Goldschmidt, who continues to be a leading candidate for NL MVP with a slash line of .337/.447/.570, an OPS of 1.017, 22 home runs and 86 RBI, and A.J. Pollock, their terrific center fielder who is hitting .313/.366/.479 with an OPS of .846, 27 doubles, 81 runs scored 12 homers and 29 stolen bases.
Jake Lamb is a legitimate Rookie of the Year candidate, David Peralta has an OPS+ of 143, and catcher Wellington Castro has 13 dingers and a .932 OPS in just 49 games. Ender Inciarte is a terrific fourth outfielder who plays fantastic defense and gets on base, and Cuban free agent Yasmany Tomas has held his own at the plate this year, although without the power that many were expecting.
And they've been especially hot in the second half. Only two National League teams have scored more runs than Arizona (San Francisco and Pittsburgh) and only one team (Los Angeles) has a higher batting average. They are in the top-five in virtually every offensive category since the All-Star break.
However, if the D-Backs are going to be a playoff team next year, they're going to have to spend some cash on the pitching staff. Their pitchers' bWAR is tied for 24th in baseball, and their fWAR is tied for 28th. Their ace, Rubby De La Rosa has a 4.40 ERA, a 4.63 Fielding Independent Pitching (FIP) and an ERA+ of 89 (100 is considered league average). Jeremy Hellickson's ERA+ is 85, although he did pitch well against Pittsburgh on Monday. And Chase Anderson's ERA+ of 91 is not good. They are getting a decent season from their number-four man, Robbie Ray, with an ERA of 3.29 and an ERA+ of 120, and Patrick Corbin has been OK too, with a 3.43 ERA and ERA+ of 116.
But in order for Arizona to take the next step, they're going to have to sign one or two front-line starters on the free agent market this winter. Luckily for them, there are plenty available, with David Price, Johnny Cueto, Jordan Zimmermann, Jeff Samardzija, and potentially Zack Greinke, if he opts out of his contract with the Dodgers.
If the Diamondbacks can land one or two of these guys, coupled with a decent bullpen and a solid offensive club that plays excellent defense, all of a sudden you're looking at a potential playoff team.
Arizona is laying the groundwork for all that right now, and could be a team no contender wants to play during the last month-and-a-half of the season.