Arizona Diamondbacks Midseason Report

Arizona Diamondbacks

Arizona Diamondbacks Midseason Report

We are midway through the 60-game 2020 baseball season. The Arizona Diamondbacks are 13-17 – one game out of a playoff spot with 30 games left to play. After stumbling to a 3-8 start, they went 4-3 before rattling off a six-game winning streak. This put them at 13-11, but an 0-5 road trip to the Bay Area wiped out whatever momentum came from the winning streak. A tough home loss to the Colorado Rockies Monday night ran that losing streak to six games.

There have been some bright spots, but overall, the season has been disappointing so far. Here are those bright spots as well as the areas for concern.

The Pitching Staff

High-performing Starters

Earlier this week, we saw that Zac Gallen has been all-star caliber so far, yet his outings have gone to waste. In order for the team to have a realistic shot at the postseason, the team needs to take advantage of his good outings. They must score runs for him and win these games.

Merrill Kelly has also had a great 2020 campaign, putting up top-10 numbers in several categories. His WHIP of 0.989 is ninth-best in the NL, and his 1.4 walks per nine is second in the NL. He also has an impressive ratio of strikeouts to walks – 5.8, fifth-best in the NL. His 2.28 ERA is eighth in the NL, while his ERA-minus of 57 is 11th. He is another pitcher who is putting up all-star-caliber numbers, and the team was counting on him for the stretch run. Unfortunately, a nerve impingement near his right (throwing) shoulder has put him on the 10-day injured list pending further evaluation.

Relievers Who Have Done Well

Stefan Crichton has been magnificent in relief, pitching shutout innings in 12 of his 13 appearances. This has led him to a 1.23 ERA (27 ERA-) with a 1.159 WHIP, 15 strikeouts, and five walks in 14 2/3 innings. Taylor Widener has also pitched rather well, mainly in mop-up duty, while Taylor Clarke has a 2.33 ERA in six relief outings and one emergency start.

Archie Bradley has continued to make strides towards being one of the top closers in the majors. However, he has not pitched in nine days. In 2019, Greg Holland had a decent start to the season. Then he went eight days without pitching. When he returned, he fell apart. He blew four saves over the next six weeks, playing a role in five critical losses before getting released on August 9th. Those losses were a huge blow to the team as they missed a Wild Card berth by four games. This is certainly something that the team and Bradley are aware of and want to avoid.

The Rest of the Staff

Despite these performances, the pitching staff as a whole has struggled. Their team ERA of 5.16 ranks 14th out of 15 in the NL, beating only the Philadelphia Phillies (5.67). Only the Pittsburgh Pirates have walked more hitters per nine innings – 4.72 versus 4.26 for the Diamondbacks. The Diamondbacks also have allowed 1.95 home runs per nine – the most in both the NL and all of MLB. Their strike percentage (61.7%) is the third lowest in the NL (Cincinnati Reds – 61.2%, Pirates – 60.0%). First-pitch strike percentage (58.3%) is fourth lowest, ahead of only the St. Louis Cardinals (57.5%), Milwaukee Brewers (57.2%), and Pirates (57.0%).

Killer ERAs

Of the pitchers not mentioned yet, only Junior Guerra and Alex Young have an ERA lower than 6.00 – 4.35 and 4.50, respectively. Robbie Ray, who has the most walks and second-most home runs allowed in the NL, has an ERA of 8.33 and a WHIP of 2.000 in his six starts. Luke Weaver, while improving in his latest starts, still has a 7.77 ERA and 1.603 WHIP. Madison Bumgarner – the highest-profile free agent signing the team made in the off-season – has an ERA of 9.35 across his four starts. He had to bow out of his most recent one early on due to a back injury that put him on the injured list. With his velocity dropping noticeably between spring training and the opening of the season, one has to wonder if the back injury happened sooner than Bumgarner noticed. It is quite possible that the pain level was not high enough to catch Bumgarner’s attention prior than it did.

Television play-by-play announcer Steve Berthiaume said in a recent broadcast that “the bullpen is in chaos” – and there is no better way to put it. Hector Rondon – whose career-long weakness has been allowing home runs – continued that trend. Due mainly to the four home runs he’s allowed in 9 1/3 innings, his ERA is 11.57. The Jekyll-and-Hyde season from the currently injured Andrew Chafin – where he’s either lights out or pitching batting practice with no in-between – has led to an 8.10 ERA. Kevin Ginkel, despite five straight outings of scoreless relief, still has an ERA of 9.00 due to two nightmarish appearances. Yoan Lopez has also struggled, putting up a 6.14 ERA in 7 1/3 innings.

Hitting

First baseman Christian Walker has been one of the bright spots of the team offensively. While his .287 batting average could use improvement, he has cracked 12 doubles. This is tops in both the National League and all of Major League Baseball. Fortunately, these hits have rarely gone to waste. Walker later scored a run on eight of his 12 doubles. Of the four where he didn’t, he drove in a run on two of them. Also, three of his 12 doubles both drove in a run and led to Walker later scoring a run.

Second baseman Ketel Marte has also been a bright spot offensively. His team-leading .328 batting average is fifth in the NL, and his 38 hits are second to Rockies right fielder Charlie Blackmon, who has 45. While he, surprisingly, only has one home run, he has nine doubles – fifth in the NL.

Center fielder Starling Marte has also had a nice first half, hitting .317 (32-for-101). This average is second on the team and ninth in the NL, and he is also ninth on the NL hits leaderboard. His 10 walks are second on the team behind the 11 of Kole Calhoun. He and Calhoun are tied for the team lead in runs scored with 17. This alone makes him a tremendous off-season pickup. Adding his dependable defense to the discussion makes it an even better acquisition.

The Rest

Right fielder Kole Calhoun, whose eight home runs and 11 walks both lead the team, is still batting .228 due to feast-or-famine results at the plate. He has 23 hits but also has a team-leading 28 strikeouts. Third baseman Eduardo Escobar and the two main catchers – Carson Kelly and Stephen Vogt – are batting below the Mendoza Line. Their averages are .192, .196, and .154, respectively. The three of them have combined for 12 extra-base hits – six doubles, a triple, and five home runs – over a span of 207 at-bats.

Their lack of extra-base hits is a microcosm of one of the team’s biggest problems. They are fifth-lowest in the NL in extra-base hit percentage (XBH%), with 7.4% of all plate appearances resulting in an XBH. Their isolated power – a number that measures how many extra bases a player (or, in this case, team) averages per at-bat is .132 – tied with the Pirates and Miami Marlins for last in the NL. They are one of only three teams in the NL with a wOBA under .300. At .298, only the Brewers (.293) and Pirates (.281) are lower. Their 24 home runs are lowest in the NL for teams who have not had any games postponed for COVID purposes.

Here are some batting averages – .125, .111, .105, and .040. Another group follows – .167, .118, .111, and .000. The first group contains the 2019 averages of four Diamondbacks pitchers – Jon Duplantier, Gallen, Weaver, and Young, respectively. The second contains the 2020 averages of utility man Daulton Varsho, corner infielder Jake Lamb, outfielder Jon Jay, and DH Kevin Cron, respectively. The fact that these two groups are so similar is not good, obviously. Just because these players are reserves doesn’t mean that the team won’t need them at some point.

Outlook

This team has the talent to make the postseason but currently has lacked the consistent execution needed to do so. The problems that have been highlighted are all fixable. If the bright spots can continue to shine and the negatives can be turned around over the next few games, they can get in. The six-game winning streak from the second and third weeks in August showed what this team is capable of. Now they need to do it all the time.

Stat sources: Baseball Reference and Fangraphs.

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