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Arizona Diamondbacks Hopes for 2017: #3, Lift the Cuban blockade

If Yasmany Tomas can play like he did in the second half, Arizona will be in much better shape

Arizona Diamondbacks v Baltimore Orioles Photo by Matt Hazlett/Getty Images

For the second consecutive year, Yasmany Tomas will be the most expensive position player on the Diamondbacks roster. Last year, overall, he didn’t perform like it, being below replacement level both by bWAR (-0.4) and fWAR (-0.1). He was paid $7.5 million last year; that goes up to $9.5 million this season, and even further thereafter. He’ll be paid $17 million in 2020, unless he exercises the opt-out clause in his contract - and right now, that doesn’t seem like a very likely possibility. So, getting Tomas back on track and delivering like a team’s top-paid position player should, would definitely be a big help in 2017.

There are some grounds to hope that might happen, because Tomas was far more productive at the plate in the second-half of the season than in the first:
First half: .253/.298/.442 = .740 OPS
Second half: .294/.329/.584 = .913 OPS
bWAR doesn’t let you see values by split, but Fangraphs does. In the first half, Tomas was at 0.8 wins below replacement, but virtually canceled that out after the break, with a 0.7 wins above replacement value, in 68 games played - behind only Jean Segura and Paul Goldschmidt among our position players in the second half.

Pro-rating that to a full season would give Tomas a +1.7 fWAR value, close to two wins better than 2016. But how realistic is that? Some of the improvement would be due to a spike in Tomas’s average on balls in play; that went up from .299 to .323, even though his line-drive rate was practically unchanged (21.0% vs. 21.1%). However, Yasmany was making better contact after the break: his percentage of soft contact (balls very likely to turn into “easy outs”) dropped from 17.1% to 12.4%, and only Welington Castillo had a higher hard contact rate among second half regulars. So, if his batted-ball profile is sustained, we need not necessarily require BABIP to slip all the way back down.

What’s interesting is that Yasmany was actually more aggressive later on. In the first half, he swung at 56.4% of pitches; the only position player with a higher % was Peter O’Brien. But in the second half, that went up for Tomas to 60.1%, and he wasn’t being selective, with the rate increasing on both pitches in and out of the zone. However, he was making more contact; against that, pitchers exploited the aggressiveness and in the second half, less than 40% of their offerings were strikes. Of course, that was likely in part also due to Tomas’s improved ability to hit the ball out - only three NL hitters had more HR after the break. But if Tomas can lay off those balls and take the resulting walks in 2017, it will improve his overall value.

The other area with the best scope to get better is likely obvious: Tomas’s defense. This is an area where the metrics and the eye test seem in accordance: it wasn’t very good, shall we say, and we all remember times where his play in the outfield corners resembled a cat chasing a laser-pointer. And unlike Yasmany’s hitting, there didn’t seem to be much improvement during the season: Fangraphs’ Def number had him at -10.7 runs in the first half, and -9.0 in the second. I don’t think we can realistically ever expect him to win a Gold Glove, but if Tomas can simply get closer to competence, this will have a significant positive impact on his overall worth.

But at least Tomas’s offense is trending in the right direction. If things has been reversed, i.e. he’d had a great first half, then fallen back in the second, this would have offered much less cause for optimism. The home-runs do also fall in line with what his reputation was before being signed. As a 23-year-old, he was described by Baseball America as having “70 raw power” [on the scouting scale which goes from 20-80], which roughly equates to 30-35 homers, right in line with the 31 Tomas hit last year. So he has become, more or less, the player generally expected when he signed.

The question remains: can he be better than that? ZIPS projects Tomas at .270/.307/.470, which would be much closer to the first half of the season than the second. Steamer is slightly more pessimistic: .267/.308/.456, and neither expect Yasmany to reproduce the power, projecting only 23 and 18 home-runs respectively. If those do come to pass, then it almost certainly signifies we’ve got three increasingly expensive years of a Cuban albatross around our necks. So, let’s instead keep our fingers crossed Yasmany is able to surpass those expectations, and live up to the hopes we’ve had for him, since the news of the signing broke in late 2014.