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2018 D-backs vs. 2019 D-backs: Position players we kept

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tl;dr = Improvement almost entirely across the board

Arizona Diamondbacks v New York Mets Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images

Having taken care of the players who left Arizona in 2018, and so weren’t part of the 2019 campaign, we now move on to the second stage of this comparison. This will be looking at players who were active for the Diamondbacks both in 2018 and 2019. Now, I am using a loose definition of the term “active” here, to include the likes of Steven Souza, who never actually appeared for Arizona this year, due to injury. I am also including those who departed during 2019, which would be John Ryan Murphy. Let’s see how these everyone did, this year and last.

Players retained

Player 2018 bWAR 2019 bWAR
Player 2018 bWAR 2019 bWAR
David Peralta 3.9 1.9
Ketel Marte 3.3 6.9
Nick Ahmed 3.2 4.5
Eduardo Escobar 1.0 4.2
Jarrod Dyson 0.1 1.3
Jake Lamb 0.1 -0.3
Ildemaro Vargas 0.1 0.3
Alex Avila -0.1 1.4
Christian Walker -0.2 2.8
Steven Souza Jr. -0.3
John Ryan Murphy -0.5 0.2
10.6 23.2

I think we may have cracked the main reason why the Diamondbacks performed so far above expectations this year, for example surpassing Keith Law’s pre-season prediction by 10 wins [though he was off by nine wins or more for every team in the division]. Bar Peralta and Lamb, every other position player to appear for Arizona in both seasons was more productive this year. Or less unproductive, at least. [It’s a sad reflection on Souza’s 2018, that a year where he blew out his season entirely before Opening Day, qualifies in this regard...] And it wasn’t just young players improving through age, either: Ketel Marte, who turned 26 a couple of days ago, is about the only one unequivocally in that category.

Let’s look in more detail at some of the notable ups and downs, especially as they might pertain to next season.

Alex Avila

An OPS+ of 100 was basically in line with his career figure of 102. Though the average was low, a good walk-rate made up for that. Throw in solid defense, and it was a decent season, even if the 63 games played were low, with two stints on the IL for calf and quad issues. It does appear he has probably lost the frontline catcher’s spot to Carson Kelly, and that means there may not be much more upside over this year’s production, even with perfect attendance. But Alex is still going to get his share of starts, especially as a left-handed bat who can platoon nicely with Kelly. His presence gives catching prospect Daulton Varsho a full year of minor-league development, perhaps with an eye to taking a roster spot in 2020.

Eduardo Escobar

An unexpected extension last winter, before October had even finished, turned out to be a productive one for the Diamondbacks. The figure above includes only his output after coming over from the Twins in a 2018 deadline dead. But even his Minnesota value adds only 2.2 more wins, so Eduardo improved beyond that (fWAR, however, has them much more even seasons). Interestingly, the improvement seemed to come more on the defensive side of Escobar’s game. His BIS Defensive Runs Saved, for instance, went from +5 to +9 at third, in a similar amount of innings, and the decision to move him off shortstop entirely was probably also wise.

Ketel Marte

And, to think, we were concerned - though both Sean and Jack wrote in 2018, praising Marte’s breakout. But that turned out just to be a foreshock for 2019. More than doubling his home-run production while losing the NL batting crown only on the fourth decimal point? Yeah, didn’t see that coming. Oh, and that while also moving from the infield to the most difficult of defensive outfield positions. The near-seven wins produced this season alone, could be said to have paid off the entire balance of his contract, including the team option years for 2023 and 2024. In terms of value, this (6.9 bWAR, $2.4m) probably beats Goldy’s 2015 (8.7 bWAR, $3.1m) for best non-minimum contract by an Arizona position player.

David Peralta

The biggest exception to the general trend, saw the Freight Train spend too much time up on the blocks in the engineering yard. After managing 140+ games in both 2017 and 2018, David didn’t even reach three digits, and even when he was playing, his OPS+ dropped more than 20 points. He’s projected by MLB Trade Rumors to earn $8.8 million next year, before hitting free agency at the end of the season. If we get Peralta v.2018, that’ll be fine, but if it’s a repeat of 2019, then it becomes a considerably less enticing proposition. However, as we’ve mentioned before, the outfield is weak enough that the internal options for Mike Hazen are limited.

Christian Walker

Walker debuted in 2014, but had just 124 days of service time through the end of 2018, and won’t even be arbitration eligible until 2022, when he’ll turn thirty-one. But Christian blossomed late, despite the thankless task of standing in for Paul Goldschmidt, and took full advantage when Lamb’s injury made him the full-time first baseman. Only one rookie in franchise history has hit more home-runs than Walker’s 29 (Chris Young had 32 in 2007), and he was also the first Arizona rookie since Young to get enough playing time to qualify for the batting title. He’s now effectively blocking Kevin Cron in the same way Walker himself was blocked, so it’ll be interesting to see how the team handles things.

Conclusion

It’s a bit of a “good news, bad news” situation for the Diamondbacks here. It’s hard to see much more upside existing for most of the above. On the other hand, the production put up generally feels fairly sustainable. I’m not certain Marte has another seven-win season in him, but he’s still going to be a solid contributor. Any shortfall (including the probable loss of Jarrod Dyson to free agency) will hopefully be covered by healthy seasons from Peralta and Souza. Any further improvement for 2020 is more likely to come from the final batch of position players - those who were new arrivals in Arizona this year. We’ll get to those after we look at the 2018 + 2019 pitchers, which will be up in a few days.