Recapping 2018: Arizona Diamondbacks Edition | The Process Report

Recapping 2018: Arizona Diamondbacks Edition

With the end of the regular season comes a time for reflection for the majority of baseball fans. What went right? What went wrong? You probably have a few ideas where your teams fell short or exceeded expectations, but what about a completely emotionless point of view? Throughout this season I have shown what batter and pitcher production looks like when we regress balls in play to look more like what the players should have seen using exit velocity and launch angle. The offseason will be no different as I take a team by team look at how the season fared for the team, while going a little deeper on a handful of players from each. The order will mirror the final team rankings running in reverse order so you can expect to find some depression leading to elation here. It’s going to take some time, but I would like to get one to two of these out each week which should allow for every team being covered before our glorious game returns to continue threshing our hearts. Here’s a link to the report for this club from last offseason.

Past:

30 – 21: BAL CWS MIA TEX KCR SFG SDP DET MIN CIN

20 – 11: ARI

When the Arizona Diamondbacks won their first World Series a mere four years into their existence the team showed that truly anything is possible. They did so by spending at fairly high levels, and it led to the year after their win boasting the highest payroll in team history pegged to current dollars. It’s been mostly mediocrity since then with the occasional year that pops into the 90-win level. The past seven years show only one such victorious season to that level, coincidentally in 2017, which probably caused the team to hold several pieces that might have been better off traded with that extra year of control. Despite again boosting payroll this past season fell well short of expectations, and likely will usher in a new era that no longer features the best player in franchise history, Paul Goldschmidt, who was recently traded to the St. Louis Cardinals. Swabbing the decks will lead to a lower payroll, but bubbling farm talent and a plethora of picks in next year’s Rule IV draft should continue the trend of a team that rarely, truly, bottoms out.

This was a top-heavy team driven by a star at the dish and another on the bump, and it’s that latter area where we’ll start. A strong start hinted at an extremely good run that developed over the second half, but in between you can find plenty of worrisome expectations that weren’t quite met by the actual results that still looked fairly fine. Some of this is likely due to the humidor being used at home for the first time, which will likely create ripples down the line for park adjustments that will gradually incorporate this change. Some of this is already caught up in exit velocity adjustments, by the way. The strong second half left a nice taste of what might be to come, but the poor stretch was enough to hold the team back from true contention in a division of haves and have nots.

Unfortunately, the team’s strong second half of pitching was buoyed strongly by a guy that will no longer be with the club even if his signing with the Washington Nationals will return an extra pick this spring. It’s difficult to overstate how good Patrick Corbin was this past season. He rarely struck out fewer than 30% of the batters he saw, and occasionally amped that up even higher. Interestingly enough, he seemed to show some mid-season adjustment with his new heavy-slider approach. This led to a downturn in exit velocity by the middle of the year that bounced back a little, but was generally lower than earlier in the year. This came with a similar downturn in launch angle. Punching out a third of batters, while walking less than the average and inducing weak contact is a wonderful outcome for any pitcher. Time will tell if this was merely an outlier extraordinary year, but it stands to reason that he will be pretty dang good going forward, too.

Patrick Corbin

Casual fans can probably be forgiven for not knowing a whole lot about Corbin, but Zack Greinke needs no introduction. One of the highest paid players in the game after a long career of outstanding performance, Greinke is now hoping to cling to that high level of production for a few more years as the sun starts to set on an illustrious career. This past season was still strongly around four WAR, but you can see that it wasn’t all rosy. His second quarter showed a particularly rough stretch, and he was more average than good to close the season, but when things are going well he’s one of the best in the game. Those aren’t just blips, either, as the sustained good stretches tell us a lot about how good he is. The strikeouts gradually fell off to be more average as the season wore on, but that may have been an attempt to better control his balls in play as launch angle and exit velocity both improved over the course of the year. There should be considerable trade interest here with the increasingly future-focused D-backs willing to pay down some of what is owed if it increases the return.

Zack Greinke

Switching over to a few relievers that had fine seasons we can see a couple of more familiar names and then more of a surprise with T.J. McFarland. Archie Bradley has gone from hyped prospect to failed start to dynamite reliever, as so many have before. He was generally a stout option, but surprisingly showed better results when he was striking out fewer batters. Part of this was the increase in walk rate, but could also be some signs of fatigue. McFarland went the other way with a rather poor start, but gradually improved to become a real weapon as a groundball getter that sees the ball put in play with aplomb. Former Tampa Bay Ray and current free agent after being non-tendered, Brad Boxberger, was an ok reliever for the most part that was held back mightily by the walk. Striking out north of 30% holds plenty of appeal, but between the free passes and the relatively hard contact the team likely had cause for not bringing him back.

Archie Bradley

T.J. McFarland

Brad Boxberger

The next group of starters feature an in-house guy for a couple more years who also might present as an interesting trade chip in Robbie Ray, and freely available talent coming into the season Clay Buchholz who has gone back to whence he came. Ray has his detractors because his weaknesses are glaring, but staring at them would make one miss that his strengths are equally obvious. Striking out 30-40% of batters as a true starter is what everybody wants, and even his sustained strikeout depression in the middle of the year was still above average. Unfortunately, it comes with oodles of walks, an unsustainable level of free passes that holds him back, but with good reason, as the majority come against right-handed batters who tend to smash the ball off him the half the time they put it in play. Those wide splits might be manageable most days, and you can always work around the better righties, but it’s playing with fire, and will likely hold the team back from getting full value. Buchholz had a bit of a renaissance season until yet again falling victim to injury. Up until that point he was showing an awful lot to like between league average strikeout and walk rates to go with doing a good job of nullifying hard contact. He’ll likely be somewhere else next year, but the team got a real bargain out of the player when they had him.

Robbie Ray

Clay Buchholz

The last player worth a look here was another starter in Zack Godley who showed much less of a platoon issue compared to, say, Robbie Ray, but struggled in other areas that share similarity like the walk issue. His first half was deplorable, but the team kept running him out there to eventually reap a nice stretch before reverting back to being worse than average. Sure, the strikeouts picked up during that good stretch, but the bigger improvement was the walk aversion that proved to merely be a blip rather than a sustainable trend. He does a good job of keeping the contact low, but at elevated exit velocities that still looks to be a problem. The challenge for the team will be figuring out what was going right during that strong stretch that became completely soaked in the overall line with so much other poor performance.

Zack Godley

 

Since the dawn of the franchise the team had been able to rely on a home park that helped make all of their sticks look better, but the implementation of the humidor might have put a damper on that going forward even if pitchers have to love the new environment. This season saw pedestrian to bad offense for good chunks of the season, though the middle was mostly a little better. The actual and expected production matches up a lot closer here after seeing gaps for many of the pitchers above, which makes me hesitant to say these park factors are wildly off, and probably just need to be smoothed down a little more. Once again the offense was carried by legend Paul Goldschmidt, but he got a little help. The bigger issue was that there were just too many weak bats that the top-heavy approach could not hide forever.

Now gone, but never forgotten, Paul Goldschmidt had yet another fantastic season at the plate, though it was a bit lumpy indicating a possible injury issue early on in the season. You can see how that manifested with the glaring trough, but things got a lot better from there. Off the charts production was nice to see even if there was a more pedestrian stretch in between and a fairly poor last week or two to boot. The early struggles show the twin daggers of high strikeouts and low exit velocity that seem to point to a limiting factor such as injury more often than not. He played through it and eventually both got back to more normal levels. However, you can see a slow decline in the exit velocity over the course of the year, which was probably more his level than the peak anyway. The spray chart is a dreamboat of hard contact at ideal angles and when he doesn’t mishit a lot of that contact still leads to productive balls in play. The Cardinals are getting a good one.

Paul Goldschmidt

Playing second fiddle to the Golden God was David Peralta who has been here before, but injury issues the last couple of years held him back from flexing this kind of season. Early on it didn’t look like the Freight Train was back on track quite yet, but lowering his strikeouts and getting the ball off the ground a little better allowed him to have an incredible last two-thirds of a season. Balls in play don’t bode extremely well for over the fence power, but you can see tons of hard contact down and on a line that often leads to base hits, and occasionally for extra bases. It’s not prodigious power, but it does play as evidenced by the slower side of the nitro zone right around 100-105 MPH and 20-25 degrees off the bat. Those do have a chance to go out with regularity. It’s a little surprising to not hear his named linked in trade rumors, but the market for corner outfielders hasn’t really developed yet. He would represent an upgrade for most teams, however, and wouldn’t require a Godfather offer to rein in.

David Peralta

The next group looks at a couple of now free agents that produced at a similar level this past year, though casual fans would likely hold one of them in much higher regard. Everyone knows that A.J. Pollock is a wonderful hitter that can play a fine center field, but once again we saw enough struggles with injuries to tamper any sort of excitement. The good thing is that he was able to stay on the field this bout, but you can see clear declines from, admittedly, fairly high levels of production as the year went along. This resulted him being a below average hitter for all of the second half and it came with an increased strikeout rate as well as declining exit velocities. The song remains much the same for whoever signs him in free agency. He’ll be a good player when he’s 100%, and a good deal less than that the rest of the time.

Daniel Descalso came in with similar levels of production on the year, but had neither the high highs nor the low lows of Pollock, instead, being a consistently above average performer. He did this by clustering a ton of balls in ideal areas, which may have some luck elements that aren’t likely to carry forward, but there was quite a bit of hard contact here. An absurd walk rate towards the end of the year helped shore things up, especially with a higher strikeout rate that you’d like to see, but offense is about tradeoffs. If he’s similarly able to trade some contact to hit balls hard and at ideal angles it might prove worthwhile, especially with a glove that can move around. I wouldn’t expect loud talk in his free agent campaign, but he should be a fine sign for most teams.

A.J. Pollock

Daniel Descalso

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Another guy with annual injury issues, but good production to date when on the field, is Jake Lamb. His actual results were mostly at or a little below average early on, which fell pretty well short of good expectations, but when things coalesced it was on that lower level and likely gives a good idea to how the injury affected his game. The strikeouts amped up, the exit velocity bled out, and another issue was how so much of his contact was low. Once seen as a future building block piece his 2019 will likely be a sink or swim trial as to whether the team will continue to have interest.

Jake Lamb

Being a league average batter doesn’t usually moisten the lips of too many fans, but being able to do that while giving credible defense at shortstop has proven utterly mouth-watering for many. Ketel Marte showed an up and down season that was a lot more good than bad once he got over a rough start to the season. The strong run in the middle shows a glimpse of a player that could be amongst the best at his position, but the team will need to find a way to coax more of that out of the precocious and still improvable now 25 year old. He hits the ball hard fairly often, but most of that is down or on a line. He rarely hits the ball at extremely high angles, especially with any sort of speed off the bat, but he makes up for the singles and doubles approach by throwing in a good number of walks. He’s able to do that without striking out often, and is perhaps an indicator of a strong approach at the plate. His exit velocity tailed off late potentially pointing to fatigue or playing through an issue. The team has a good one here who is under team control at affordable rates for the foreseeable future. Maybe this is their best building block on the position player side.

Ketel Marte

When Arizona traded a pretty hefty prospect package to Tampa Bay for Steven Souza Jr., as well as getting Taylor Widener from the New York Yankees, they were hoping to see continued development from a tooled up player who had dealt with injury issues in the past resulting from the intensity with which he gets after balls. Yet another player who missed significant time in what is starting to feel like a cursed season for the Diamondbacks when he laid out for a ball toward the end of Spring Training only to end up with a strained pectoral muscle. He aggravated the injury trying to get back too soon, but eventually went on to play almost half a season. The slow start should have been expected after the long layoff, as was the above average production that followed once he was up to game speed. There was some tailoff towards the end so kind of a lost season all around for a guy that can be a three-plus WAR player. The encouraging thing is that the strikeout rate stayed under 30% for much of the season. At levels that high it is tough for him to generate enough power to offset the fewer balls in play, but that break-even lowers as he gets closer to the average for strikeout rate. He walked at a solid clip and hits the ball on the ground allowing ok, but not otherworldly bat speed to play up. Contact will continue to be the concern, but this is another nice piece that will stick around. At least until he rebuilds some value.

Steven Souza Jr.

As we now start to move away from the middle and into the black hole area that dragged the team down it should be mentioned that the Snakes pitchers had a deleterious effect on the bottom line, which is perhaps a negative byproduct of having good starters that last deep into games. Corbin, Ray and Godley accounted for roughly 170 plate appearances while causing nearly half of the negative xwRAA. Maybe that’s expected from them, and maybe Chris Owings, Jon Jay, Jarrod Dyson, Jeff Mathis and Nick Ahmed getting a little over 1,600 plate appearances to be collectively 50+ xwRAA under-water has a lot to do with it, too. Maybe that’s the cost of doing business if you want your pitchers to play up. Maybe the team could previously shine up some glove over bat defenders due to the park and that won’t be an option going forward due to the humidor. Maybe the sun won’t rise tomorrow. Maybe, I’m just asking questions.

The Diamondbacks have a tough road in front of them after spinning off a legendary player, but they’ve merely stopped the bleeding and now need to cauterize the wound. Numerous holes will need to be filled due to losses to free agency, but the team will also find some newfound financial freedom after running the second highest payroll since 2008, and in 2018 dollars. A few pieces here already hold promise, and a couple more have enough promise if they answer questions. The team has avoided long, pronounced rebuilds, and that yet again seems to be the case, but it will not be easy.

Below you will find the rest of the prominent players from this past season and how they broke out in four different ways. I will save the commentary here as the charts speak for themselves once you’ve got an idea of what you’re looking at, and by cutting down on the verbiage it allows for looks at more players. Each chart looks at a rolling 100-plate appearance (or ball in play) average with the top left showing each player’s true and actual wOBA* over the course of the season. Top right shows the rolling strikeout and walk plus hit by pitch rates, and the bottom left shows the exit velocity and launch angle combinations for every ball in play. Lastly, the bottom right quadrant shows each player’s exit velocity and launch angle over the course of the season. Feel free to start a conversation on twitter if you have any questions or want to talk about any of these players. More than happy to have those chats.

Nick Ahmed

Alex Avila

 

 

Andrew Chafin

 

 

 

Jarrod Dyson

Eduardo Escobar

 

 

 

Yoshihisa Hirano

Jon Jay

Matt Koch

 

 

Jeff Mathis

 

John Ryan Murphy

Chris Owings



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