Despite what anyone may think of the Arizona Diamondbacks’ front office, the team’s 2016 outfield does not look at all like it was drawn up. The team’s first four options for center field depth are all on the disabled list, having compiled a combined 167 man-games lost. The corner outfield has not been much better. Of that center field depth, two of the options, David Peralta and Socrates Brito are generally corner guys. In fact, the only member of the top four outfielders in depth that has managed to put in any significant time this season is Yasmany Tomás, who despite having come around some offensively is still such a poor defender that he struggles to stay on the positive side of the ledger when it comes to total value.
The reality is, the team is lucky to have lucked into a mediocre, aged veteran in Michael Bourn, a Band-Aid fix that is almost single-handedly preventing the Arizona outfield from hemorrhaging out entirely. Despite getting somewhat average defense from Chris Owings and slightly above average defense from Michael Bourn, the Diamondbacks rate as one of the five worst outfields in all of baseball, and one of the three worst using UZR/150, which projects. Added to the defensive woes is the offensive futility of the outfield. Right now, the Arizona outfield as a whole is posting a wRC+ of 89 and has a combined value of -0.2 fWAR. That’s about 4 wins below a minimum acceptable pace at this point. What’s worse about that offensive mark though, is that it is being largely supported by merely average play in center and the slightly above average bat of Tomás.
Left field has been a black hole this season, with negative value coming from both the plate (85 wRC+) and the defense.
Right field has been slightly better at the plate, but far worse in the field, bringing the total value down even more than it is left.
Only center field has produced positive value, and it is doing that only barely by providing marginal offense (90 wRC+) and the only positive defense, limping in with a 4.9 UZR/150
Here’s the thing though. We don’t need a bunch of stats, old or new, to tell us what just watching a few games tells us. The Arizona outfield is absolutely terrible. Between an in ability to hit and an even bigger inability to play even poor defense, the outfield is costing this team runs on a nightly basis. The overwhelming majority of the blame for this season’s struggles has been placed on the pitching staff, primarily the starting rotation. Sure, Greinke got off to a slow start. But other than Miller falling off the highest of cliffs to explode on violent impact when he bottomed out, the rest of the rotation has been largely what they have always been. The results certainly have not been there, but is it all on the pitchers? Obviously, a great deal of it is. Walks are absolutely killing this club. But playing in the spacious confines of Chase Field is not helping matters one bit. With O’Brien, Weeks, Drury, et al. patrolling the corners, the pitching staff has to rely almost exclusively on the strikeout or the groundball to have success.
Clearly, this team has numerous problems. The pitching as a whole is likely chief among them. Not far off from the pitching though, is the outfield production, on both sides of the ball. When the team plays in one of the most hitter-friendly and spacious outfields in the game, a complete trio of sub-par defenders is going to cost the team more than just the occasional run. It is going to cost games. When playing sub-par defense in such an outfield, even allowing a few runs here and there becomes a problem when the offense as a whole unit is unable to score because the outfield cannot collectively hit their way out of a paper bag.
This coming offseason, the team is going to be going through a rash of changes. Five players currently on the 25-man roster will be free agents. It is entirely possible, likely even, that all five of them are elsewhere next season. After the disastrous outcome of 2016, it is unlikely money will be freely flowing from the front office again in 2017. That means pitching upgrades are going to have to come internally. The Diamondbacks will not have the coin for a free agent pitcher such as Andrew Cashner or Gio Gonzalez. Nor are they likely to have the prospect depth to trade for another starter. What they may have though, is enough capital to acquire another outfielder, one that can be an impact player simply by virtue of being able to play both sides of the ball.
Sure, the returns of A.J. Pollock, Socrates Brito, and David Peralta will help. There is no denying that crew, even at only 70-80% could outperform the current crop being run out by the Diamondbacks. But the team is glaringly lacking in depth. The best outfield candidates in the minors appear to be fourth outfielder types, and the team is already saddled with one of those in Tomás. The depth needs to improve, and so does the overall bar for making the cut as a starter. Despite current constraints, this is still very much achievable. There are even clear candidates out there to be targeted with the trade chips the team has going into the trade deadline. If this team wants to win in 2017 or 2018, Dave Stewart and Tony La Russa must do something about the outfield. But will they, or will they simply try to stick with what they have, continuing to fit square pegs into round holes?