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Arizona Diamondbacks 2017-18 off-season issues #1: Right field

How to replace the irreplaceable?

Detroit Tigers v Arizona Diamondbacks Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images

The area of biggest concern for the Diamondbacks is right field, with an average score of 7.25. Over 60% of respondents rated this area as an eight or higher, with more than a quarter (28.4%) giving it a ten out of ten score. There’s no doubt: J.D. Martinez’s power bat from the second-half, is going to be missed.

2017 starters

  • David Peralta 74
  • J.D. Martinez 60
  • Chris Owings 23
  • Jeremy Hazelbaker 2
  • Gregor Blanco 2
  • Chris Herrmann 1


  • 2.0 bWAR above average at the position (7th in MLB)
  • .308/.366/.583 = .949 OPS, 44 HR, 119 RBI

2018 depth chart

  1. David Peralta
  2. Jeremy Hazelbaker
  3. Chris Owings
  4. ????

As talked about on Monday, right field may or may not be a specific problem which gets addresed this winter. Even outside of Mr. Martinez, the others who played there this year didn’t do badly. They put up a collective .311 average, with 15 home-runs and 54 RBI in 472 plate-appearances, and the vast majority of those should be back next season. The problem is basically this: we have two credible everyday outfielders, in Peralta and A.J. Pollock, and need at least one more. The bat of Yasmany Tomas might be good enough for the third spot - the first set of projections (Marcel) have him at .265/.313/.467, for an OPS of .780. But can his defense reach the heights of mediocre?

Rather than re-hashing all the discussion about the outfield from two days ago, I thought it might be more interesting to do a deeper dive into the defensive side of things. In particular, to look at how the Diamondbacks’ outfield defense has varied over time, and what we might expect next year. To do that, I used Ultimate Zone Rating, which is available through Fangraphs, and looked at the figures for Arizona, at each of the three outfield positions. Data for these is available since 2002 and is shown below. A block to the left of the middle means the position was below league-average defensively. To the right = above average. The size of the block indicates how far.

You can see how things have changed since the heights of 2013, when the outfield combined for 42.0 UZR. It was nine more than the next-best defense in the National League, and is a figure which hasn’t been matched since (the 2016 Cubs, at 40.5, have come the closest). That season, we had Gerardo Parra, A.J. Pollock and Cody Ross manning the turf. Three years later, the D-backs were 67.6 runs worse in their outfield defense, finishing 2016 at a UZR of -25.6, last in the league. Pollock was broken, while Tomas was giving it the old college try in left - he and two players with no outfield experience (Brandon Drury and Owings) finished #1, 2 and 4 in outfield innings.

Yeah. Not hard to see why it was a defensive disaster, and set the bar staggeringly low for this season. And it was better, though was the first time since 2003 that all three outfield positions were below average - albeit only just, right field finishing the year with a UZR of -0.2 (hence it’s barely visible on the chart). And it would likely have been in positive, except for Martinez, who was at -2.2 in little more than 500 innings. While he may not have made many mistakes, being charged with two errors, his arm was weak and his range questionable.

Having Peralta there should be much better, and over his career, David has been a better fielder in right. He rates a UZR per 150 games of +3.9 there, compared to -3.8 for left-field (though his 2017 splits were better in LF; it is also worth remembering he’s a converted pitcher, with relatively less experience than most outfielders his age). A full season of Pollock would also be an improvement: he was +0.5, and as in right, one player was negative enough to drop the entire position below average for Arizona. In center, perhaps surprisingly, that was Blanco and his -1.9 UZR. But it shouldn’t be a shock, as he was below average there in 2015 (-3.5) and 2016 (-1.6) too.

If there’s reason to hope center and right will be somewhat positive, the question is, how bad will Yasmany Tomas be in left? The potential is there for him to be historically terrible: he has been so far. In franchise history, thirteen men have played 300+ innings in left for the Diamondbacks. Remember how bad Mark Trumbo was? By UZR per 150 games, he’s #11, at -16.3. Just below him at -17.9 is Drury - a man who had absolutely no professional outfield experience before spring 2016. Yet he’s still ahead of Tomas, who over 840 innings there, is dead-last at -18.7. If that’s repeated in 2017, it will likely more than negate whatever Peralta and Pollock can provide elsewhere.

The above said, there might be some reason for hope. Though there’s always increasing risk in slicing fielding metrics thinner, it does appear Tomas has got better. Across his time in both left and right, his UZR/150 was -19.5 in 2015, then -16.6 in 2016 and he was indeed aspiring to mediocrity last season, at -7.9. That would put him somewhere between Quinton McCracken and Jason Kubel on the list from the previous paragraph. Not even average, to be clear - but not quite the gurgling vortex of defensive suck Tomas was previously. I would still not be surprised if the team gets a fourth outfielder who can come in late, and act as a defensive replacement for him.