Jean Segura. One month into the 2016 season, Segura has already surpassed his fWAR and bWAR figures for 2014 and 2015 combined. He has been exactly the spark-plug the team needed at the top of the order, and even if his BA drops going forward (as his BABIP would suggest), he should still remain a solid option there. True, we could probably do with our lead-off hitter taking a few more walks in April than three, but he hasn't been striking out either, and the resulting balls in play, combined with his speed, should lead to more hits. Perhaps under-appreciated is his glove, and having a shortstop's arm at second-base has certainly been a positive.
Nick Ahmed's defense. If ever there was a case where a picture speaks louder than 1,000 words, this would be it. I'll just leave these here. Enjoy.
Yasmany Tomas. Probably the biggest pleasant surprise of the year has been Tomas hitting like the most well-paid position player on the roster, which he is. He looks a completely different hitter from the one who first came up to the majors last season, most obviously reflected in a K:BB ratio which has been more than cut in half, going from 6.5 in 2015 to 2.6 this season. Despite a BABIP that's close to 50 points below what it was, his triple-slash line is up across the board. There is certainly still room for improvement: he still is occasionally up there flailing rather than hitting, and his outfield defense hasn't been good. But overall, it has still been a vast improvement.
The A-bullpen. While the back of the 'pen is a revolving door [we'll get to it in a bit], the front end has been extremely solid and reliable. These generally mean our seventh inning, set-up and closer, in Tyler Clippard, Daniel Hudson and Brad Ziegler, who have combined to go 4-0, throwing 31.2 innings with a 1.42 ERA. Hudson, over his 10.2 frames, has allowed two hits. I might be inclined to add Andrew Chafin in to the back end of that mix, since his 2.07 FIP is the best of the bunch. But regardless of the specifics, the Diamondbacks have been a faultless 10-0 to date, when leading or tied after seven innings, and Ziegler has extended the team-record streak of consecutive saves.
Rubby De La Rosa. Who among us predicted De La Rosa would have most wins for the Diamondbacks on the final day of April, and the best ERA of our starters? Okay, sit down, GuruB. :) Now, obviously, pitcher wins are not exactly foolproof - though maybe we should have listened to them in regard to Shelby Miller! - but there's no denying that De La Rosa's last two starts have been the most effective consecutive outings he has strung together since coming to the desert. Since his horrible first outing, De La Rosa has a 2.21 ERA over 20.1 innings of work, with a K:BB ratio of 26:5. If he can keep this up - and, absolutely, it's an "if" - he'll be making rubby-lievers of us all.
Zack Greinke. To say Greinke has not lived up to expectations so far, might be the understatement of franchise history. This is a pitcher who, last year, had two entire calendar months (May and July) where he allowed a total of four earned runs. He has averaged more than that per start as a Diamondback, and his 6.16 ERA currently ranks him 95th among the 102 qualifying pitchers in the majors. I had just begun to think the early struggles were an aberration, and we were going to get a steady diet of quality outings, when the St. Louis game happened, crushing all my hopes and dreams. This season feels like it will be like living with a recovering alcoholic.
Shelby Miller. On the other hand, Greinke only cost money, and since it wasn't my money, who cares? So far, there can be little argument we'd have been significantly better off simply plugging Aaron Blair into the rotation than trading him for Miller, with the latter's 8.69 ERA after five starts, and virtually as many walks as strikeouts (15:16). If we'd kept Ender Inciarte too, we also might not have to be running a converted middle-infielder out in CF on an everyday basis. Oh, yeah: and we threw in a #1 overall draft pick. While it's still early days, things need to change dramatically, if all the nay-sayers who ripped Dave Stewart for making this trade are to be proved wrong.
The bullpen roundabout. Great though the A-pen have been, they simply cannot pitch every night, and the performances of the alternatives have been inconsistent at best. We've already used no less than a franchise-record 15 different bullpen arms through 25 games - last year, the same figure was only nine to this point. And the back seven from that wheel o' relievers has left a lot to be desired, throwing 32.1 innings with an ERA of 7.39. Chief culprit there has been Randall Delgado, who has thrown more than anyone else down there - hell, he's just 3.2 innings behind Miller - and has an ERA of 6.19. Josh Collmenter's return can't come soon enough.
Chris Owings. While the offense has been the main thing driving the team thus far, there are a couple of obvious holes. Ahmed would be one, but his defense is at the uber-elite level, where any hits are a bonus. The same can't be said for Owings, who sadly, increasingly appears to be exactly what we thought he was. His walk rate, already minuscule in 2014, has somehow managed to continue the decline it showed last year, as has his percentage of extra-base hits. The batting average has improved, certainly - but that's largely driven, if not more so, by an 80-point spike in BABIP. Anyone think he can sustain a 38% line-drive rate?
The outfield defense. Until CO's decision to punt on 4th and 1 against St. Louis, the gimcrack nature of the outfield had largely skated by. He and Drury had not embarrassed themselves, generally making plays they should, without obvious errors. However, the metrics increasingly tell otherwise. UZR (Ultimate Zone Rating) per 150 games, currently shows the D-backs at -7.1; 20th in the majors, and a sharp reversal from last year's figure of +4.2, good enough for 7th. It's the absence of A.J. Pollock which is to blame. In CF, we've declined from +7.1 to -6.9. If Owings continues to not hit, we might as well bring back up Socrates Brito - who can at least not hit while playing defense.
There is, certainly, plenty of room for improvement, with four of the five starting pitchers not performing to expectations. I'm still confident this should even out. Last season, Greinke, Miller, Ray and Corbin combined to throw 640 innings with a 2.75 ERA. Even allowing for regression from Greinke, I'd say that is a truer indication of their true talent than the relatively small sample-size of 107 innings this year, and the resulting 5.97 ERA. I believe they'll get better, and when they do, it'll take the team with it.
The bottom line is, we come into the last day of April with a shot at a .500 month and half a game out of first place. If you'd been told that on Opening Day, you'd have pounced on that in a heartbeat. Yes, if Greinke and Miller had performed to expectations, we likely would be in first [though it's worth noting, we're actually 5-5 in their starts, so you'd be hard pushed to say their struggles have cost us many actual victories]. But as Ryan Morrison pointed out, this has been a tougher month, schedule-wise, than the one which began the 2014 season, and which basically killed us off, as the D-backs went 6-18.
Not that you'd know it from the fan response, some of which seems to me has been guilty of severe over-reaction. You know the people and comments I mean: the ones who feel like they proclaim every loss as cause to dismantle the franchise and move it to Portland. Now, I'm not one to tell anyone how to "be a fan", but I'm at a loss as to how this kind of approach, wallowing in misery and always looking for the worst, can possibly bring you pleasure. Personally, I take enormous heart from the team having made it through a difficult month and still, very much, being in contention. For me, the team's upside in 2016 remains a great deal higher than the downside.