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What we learned about the Diamondbacks in the first half

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As we take a pause from the regular schedule, through Thursday, we'll be taking a look at what the first half showed us in regard to the Arizona Diamondbacks, both the expected and unexpected.

Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports
Paul Goldschmidt is good

This is my unsurprised face. But I don't think anyone predicted his first-half to be this ridiculously off the chart good. Here are the 10 best first halves in franchise history, by OPS

1 Luis Gonzalez 2001 1.189 388 330 75 117 35 86 46 48 .355 .443 .745 1.189 206
2 Paul Goldschmidt 2015 1.064 386 315 60 107 21 70 68 75 .340 .455 .610 1.064 199
3 Luis Gonzalez 1999 1.000 374 333 61 120 14 57 35 36 .360 .421 .580 1.000 154
4 Steve Finley 2000 .980 366 313 65 94 25 70 38 45 .300 .379 .601 .980 143
5 Junior Spivey 2002 .966 315 268 55 88 9 46 33 43 .328 .414 .552 .966 158
6 Paul Goldschmidt 2013 .952 406 352 60 110 21 77 49 82 .313 .395 .557 .952 164
7 Luis Gonzalez 2003 .952 405 352 63 109 18 67 48 39 .310 .393 .560 .952 150
8 Luis Gonzalez 2000 .949 393 336 63 104 18 53 49 45 .310 .402 .548 .949 138
9 Paul Goldschmidt 2014 .949 419 357 66 110 16 61 55 94 .308 .400 .549 .949 167
10 Matt Williams 1999 .936 386 358 64 114 23 82 22 53 .318 .355 .581 .936 136

Hmm. One of the above things is not like the others. Anyway, by the time you adjust for offensive era, Gonzo's 2001 is the only one that comes close. Unfortunately, neither Fangraphs nor Baseball-Reference allow you to split WAR up into first- and second-half figures, so there's no way to tell where Goldie's current figures (5.6 bWAR, 4.7 fWAR) lie in franchise history at the All-Star break. But to give you some idea how good a season Goldie is having, if he keeps this up, he has a shot at the first 10 bWAR season by a first-baseman in the almost 140 years of National League history [the current record is 9.7 by Albert Pujols in 2009]. That's impressive.

Pitching prospects are volatile

Which is why stocking up on as many as possible is a sensible thing, and why I liked off-season moves like the trades of Miguel Montero and Wade Miley. I doubt anyone would have predicted as recently as Opening Day, that Robbie Ray, who couldn't even crack the rotation at that point, would be our most valuable starting pitcher at the All-Star break. But that's exactly what bWAR says. We've seen four rookie pitchers start for the Diamondbacks this year, and the results have been widely variable.

  • Archie Bradley started off impeccably, then took a line-drive off the face and seemed a shell of his former self when he came back.
  • Rubby De La Rosa has virtually become a byword for inconsistency, sometimes looking utterly dominating, but in other starts appeared to be practicing for tonight's Home-Run Derby
  • Robbie Ray has easily been the best, most consistent and apparently most sustainably good of them, with a 2.16 ERA and 2.86 FIP.
  • Allen Webster sucked, and needs much better pitch location to be effective, though did show himself on occasion to be a ground-ball machine,

This should like be a lesson we should learn, as we look toward the future, and the potential second-half arrival of Aaron Blair, Braden Shipley or other young pitching prospects. It's perfectly reasonable to be excited to see what they can do, but realistically, we need to temper the excitement with caution, because it's certainly not a certainty that they will necessarily perform to the level we hope.

That Justin Upton trade is looking better now.

Currently sitting third in bWAR on the team, behind only Goldschmidt and A.J. Pollock we have Nick Ahmed, who has surpassed all expectations this year. It's probably a toss-up whether he or Ray constitute the biggest pleasant surprise for the Diamondbacks in the first half. The glove wasn't an issue, but many said he wouldn't be able to handle major-league pitching. While they appeared to be right early on, over the past two months or so (since May 12), Ahmed has a line of .291/.344/.448. With a .321 BABIP, he hasn't been particularly lucky, so I'm hopeful the second half might see an OPS in the 700's which, combined with Nick's defense would represent a solid win.

For the record, a certain San Diego outfielder over the same time has a line of .229/.317/.338, 137 OPS points lower than Ahmed. While bWAR does still favor Justin Upton, due largely to his incandescent start to the season the gap is tempered by the fact he is earning $14 million more than Ahmed this year. Meanwhile, Brandon Drury is knocking the cover off the ball with the Reno Aces (caveat: it's with the Reno Aces), posting a triple-slash of .355/.419/.461 in 21 games for them. It's possible the Upton trade may have resulted in the Diamondbacks gaining both halves of their everyday middle infield for the 2016 through 2020 seasons. If so, hard to call the swap other than a big win.

Disappointment (largely predictable department)

Of course, there have been areas where the team has not performed up to a satisfactory level, though most of these were not unexpected. For example, Aaron Hill's ongojng struggles came as little surprise. It's also no shock that a rotation with Josh Collmenter as the Opening Day starter - and no slight on Josh, since he was probably the best choice for the job at that point - is 12th in the NL by ERA. We all hoped for better from Chris Owings' walk-rate, but considering he had 76 walks in 2,129 minor-league plate appearances, a 3.6% rate, the 3.7% posted this season should not come as much of a surprise.

These are all issues which the team will need to figure out how to resolve going forward, if they intend to break through the glass ceiling of .500, which in the first-half appears to have been modeled after the windshield of an unpopular South American dictator. They have addressed one expected problem, behind the plate, though action was somewhat forced on them when they lost their three top candidates to injury. Still, Welington Castillo has certainly been an upgrade since his arrival: he already has been worth 1.2 bWAR more for us, than Mark Trumbo in Seattle, and may provide us a longer-term solution than Tuffy Gosewisch offered.

Overall: steady as she goes

The 2015 D-backs have certainly been helped by Goldie's monster year, as well as by good fortune on the health front (outside the catcher's spot!), and both continuing into the second-half would certainly be helpful. Better starting pitching - whether from the current rotation or alternatives - is also needed. But in the final analysis, Arizona are on pace for a 78-84 season, which would be a fourteen game improvement over the win total achieved last season. With expectations hovering around the low-middle 70's before the season, I suspect most people would generally be happy with the performance thus far.