Areas of need
We should probably start by looking around the diamond, and figuring at which positions the Diamondbacks could use some help in the second half. As a decent starting point for this discussion, Baseball Reference breaks down production by position, listing each team by bWAR above average (note: not above replacement) at each spot on the diamond. The link highlights Arizona’s spot, which makes it easier to see at a glance the positions where we need most help. Let’s go through these, in ascending order of need.
8. First base (+1.8 bWAA)
I may be sticking my neck out here, but I don’t think Arizona will be trading for an everyday first baseman between now and the deadline. About the only way the D-backs could improve here is if Mike Hazen’s analytics department has discovered the secret to cloning and vat-growing Paul Goldschmidts.
7. Left field (+0.9 bWAA)
Not really a position of need either, with David Peralta having done a very decent job this season. His current OPS+ of 117 is his best since 2015, with his power having been especially impressive: at the break, he’s only one off his career high. Still a bit of a platoon chasm (.927 vs. .630), worth bearing in mind if considering outfield help.
6. Center field (+0.6 bWAA)
We’re fine for now here, at least until the baseball gods remember it’s time for the bimonthly smiting of A.J. Pollock. Spin the Wheel O’ Nagging Injuries, see where it stops! I wish I was joking, but over the last five years, Pollock has averaged under a hundred games per season. He’s currently at 52 played, so I’m thinking... late August?
5. Shortstop (+0.6 bWAA)
Only one regular shortstop in the league (Trevor Story of the Rockies) has hit more home-runs this year than Nick Ahmed’s dozen, which is already easily a career high for Nick. Throw in solid defense from the apparently healthy again Ahmed, and it’s partly the reason I’m not too cut up about Arizona being on the outside for Machado.
4. Second base (+0.0 bWAA)
We now get into the areas which could use help, so merit more consideration for an Arizona trade. Ketel Marte hasn’t really lived up to the long-term contract signed this winter. He has shown some power (also hitting a career high HR in the first half, as well as a league-leading eight triples), but the .238 average is disappointing. It’s partly a result of his groundball rate spiking. Groundballs are less likely to become hits, and at 1.22, Marte’s GB/FB ratio is almost half as much again as league average, ranking sixth among the 166 qualified MLB hitters. Needs to get the ball in the air more.
3. Third base (-0.5 bWAA)
Jake Lamb missing forty games didn’t help, although the main stand-in, Daniel Descalso, had an .864 OPS in 29 appearances there. The black hole which was Deven Marrero (-0.4 bWAR) was an anchor there, and if we don’t see the currently DL’d Deven in the second half, I wouldn’t object too much. With Lamb’s glove seeming to have improved this year, Marrero doesn’t represent the necessary defensive upgrade to overcome his 14 OPS+. However, we will still have to deal with Lamb’s platoon splits: against lefties this year, his line is .182/.275/.250, a hair under two hundred OPS points below his numbers against right-handers. Worth noting: Arizona’s .677 OPS vs. RHP is 14th in the league; vs. LHP. it’s .756, ranked 4th.
2. Catcher (-0.9 bWAA)
This one is a bit misleading, because bWAR doesn’t do a good job taking catcher defense into account. There, Arizona has been best in the majors according to Baseball Prospectus, saving the team twenty runs, mostly due to pitch framing. If true (and there’s some debate ongoing about the value of that, as Jack can likely explain), that may be about two wins not accounted for here. Barring serious injury - and since they’ve got three catchers on the roster, perhaps not even then - I don’t expect any movement on this front from the D-backs. Any improvement in the second half will come from Alex Avila hitting like Alex Avila, rather than like Alex Trebek.
1. Right field (-2.2 bWAA).
The arrival of Jon Jay was supposed to help the RHP struggles mentioned above, but it hasn’t worked that way. This has been the biggest black hole for the D-backs offensively. Most PA have come from Chris Owings (130), Jay (114), Steven Souza Jr. (81) or Jarrod Dyson (62), and Jay (.681) is the only one with an OPS even reaching six hundred points there. So, scope for improvement after the break, even if Souza and Jay simply return to career norms (.741 and .734 respectively). A healthy Souza may help platoon match-ups too, with Jay having to face fewer lefties - he started 27 times in the first half against a left-handed pitcher, though his career numbers against lefties are better than Peralta.
What the Diamondbacks seem to need is someone who can help boost their numbers against right-handed pitching. Which is awkward, because the obvious spots for improvement, third-base and right-field, already have left-handed hitting candidates in Lamb and Jay. Both have fallen short of their expected level vs right-handers this season:
Jake Lamb: 2018 OPS vs. RHP = .724, career OPS vs. RHP = .842
Jon Jay: 2018 OPS vs. RHP = ..694 (AZ only), career OPS vs. RHP = .737
Should the team simply hope for a return to form from this pair, as well as Avila, the other left-hander, who has a career .779 OPS vs. RHP?
We posted the question of potential acquisitions to the SnakePit panel this weekend, and here are the responses which mentioned a position player.
Jack Sommers: The potential for the Nats to be a last minute disrupter to the trade deadline market is actually pretty good. Maybe 50/50. They are 1 game under .500 at 46-47, and 6.5 games out of 1st in the East. If they drop to 8 or 9 games out, they may decide to pull the plug. They have 11 guys turning FA after this season. Check out their Contracts Page . Key names, In addition to Bryce Harper, who I’m sure everyone would love to see in Sedona Red ;) also include Gio Gonzalez, Daniel Murphy, Matt Wieters, and even Jeremy Hellickson (having a good year 121 ERA+ ). On top of this, Anthony Rendon is a free agent in 2020. If you are looking for an impact bat that you can control at least one more year, (and extend the “win” window), he could be a target. If the Nationals join the fray as sellers in the next 7-10 days, it could really shake up trade values league wide.
Makakilo: In my search for names that are under the radar, I focused on third base. Either Danny Valencia or Anthony Rendon could platoon with Lamb at third base (Lamb vs righties, acquired player vs lefties).
Jake Lamb (D-backs, FA 2021).
- RHP: .241/.325/.393/.718, May/June/July whiffs/100swings 29/29/25
- LHP:.186/.280/.256/.536, May/June/July whiffs/100swings 29/26/37
Danny Valencia (Orioles, FA in 2019).
- RHP:.220/.266/.339/.605, May/June/July whiffs/100swings 19/30/30
- LHP:.301/.370/.538/.908, May/June/July whiffs/100swings 9/19/8
The following faint praise makes me think Valencia might be underappreciated: “I think this is about as good as I’ve seen him versus both sides, right- and left-handed pitching. Danny has stepped up defensively, he’s having a solid year. -- Showalter Additional positive: Valencia can play in the outfield.
MLB Trade Rumors listed their top 75 trade deadline candidates at the break - obviously, the list is headed by Manny Machado. However, here’s a look at some of the other names there, that could conceivably be of interest to the Diamondbacks. These range from the possible to the frankly outlandish, but in the interests of as open a discussion as possible, I’m passing no particular judgment!
The switch-hitting Mets infielder has been having an excellent season at the plate, with 17 HR and a 127 OPS+. However, his defense has kept Cabrera’s overall value down to 1.0 bWAR. He has been purely a second baseman for New York this season, but can also playu short and third. Interestingly, Fansided predicts him coming to the D-backs, but... y’know... :) The Res Sox would likely also be a potential destination.
Outside of Cabrera and catcher Wilson Ramos, the Moose is the only other position player listed in the MLBTR top fifteen. As a third -baseman, he does play a position of need, but he is also a left-hander like Lamb, so would seem an unnecessary duplication. However, with an OPS of .822 versus right-handers this season, has been hitting them considerably better than Jake. Solid enough defensively at the hot corner.
With the Twins six games below .500, they’re likely to be entering sell mode. Like Cabrera, Escobar is a switch-hitter and offers positional flexibility, having started at 2B, 3B and SS for Minnesota [over his career, he has mostly been a shortstop and third-baseman]. He leads the league in doubles, and has put up an impressive 124 OPS+ at the break, a career high. Definitely among the fallback options for teams that missed on Machado.
Back in the 2013-14 offseason, Choo was one of the names on the D-backs’ radar; we ended up trading for Mark Trumbo instead. The first four years were meh, Texas paying $68m for 4.8 bWAR. But i
n his contract this year, the outfielder may surpass that production, currently batting .293 with 18 home-runs. You might not think we need another left-hander there - but that didn’t stop the team trading for Jay, and we’ve lost Dyson since.
Only batting .233, but his good plate discipline gets his OBP up to a decent .342, with a 111 OPS+. Like Choo, a left-handed outfielder, and also like Choo, Granderson gets dinged significantly for poor defense over the past few years (-2.3 dWAR since 2012). But with our team’s pinch-hitters having a collective line of .205/.295/.323 so far (12th by OPS in the league), the bench could perhaps use an upgrade too.
This is a name mentioned both in the round and in today’s Snake Bytes, with Jack laying out the case both for and against Beltre. He’d be a cheap (in terms of prospects) option, who could be slotted in as a platoon at third with Lamb, and offering decent defense. But he does have a relatively expensive salary, due about $7 million for the rest of the season, unless we can convince the Rangers to chip in some of that.
There are other names on the list which (more or less - mostly less!) might be something of a fit in Arizona. Some are rentals for the rest of 2018; some have a greater degree of control. In the interests of brevity, and getting this up before the trade deadline passes, I’ll just list these below.
- Adam Jones
- Derek Dietrich
- Jose Bautista
- Scooter Gennett
- Yangervis Solarte
- Starlin Castro
- Wilmer Flores
- Josh Harrison
It’s worth noting that, based on 2018 results thus, some of the above names have been almost as good as, if not better, than Machado. Choo, for example, has been worth 3.3 bWAR and Gennett 3.1 bWAR, both more than Machado’s 2.9, with Castro at 2.5 bWAR and Escobar is 2.0 bWAR. Part of that is likely the defensive metrics treat Machado playing short this year, the same way Vlad Tepes treated his captured enemies (obscure historical references for $200, please, Alex). But if sustained, it seems possible the D-backs could improve by not much less, for a likely considerably smaller cost.
In the absence of any major-league baseball today... let the discussions commence!