It's been a rough year. After sparking some hope after a really rough start, the Diamondbacks have gone a mere 2-18, leading to a trade deadline selloff. Only Christian Walker has outperformed expectations on the offense, and Zac Gallen, who had a rough time his last start, is the only effective pitcher. If you've heard of all of these relievers before, then you're in a minority. How did a team experts predicted to win a wild card spot end up competing for a first overall draft pick instead?
I will go through every single issue this team has had. I will end on a couple encouraging and positive notes however, to hopefully lightening your mood after reading this.
Carson Kelly- I'm among the people that think catchers have it really bad this year. With their focus primarily on pitchers in summer camp for some organizations (apparently including ours), catchers had less time to worry about their swing. Therefore, even the serious issues should be taken with a grain of salt (ditto this for Vogt, and kind of Varsho). Anyways, pretty much everything that could be wrong with Carson Kelly IS wrong with carson kelly. He doesn't have a single barrel ALL YEAR, his exit velocity is down almost 5%, his hard hit rate is down 10%, his strikeout rate is up 3.5%, his walk rate is down 7.5%, his xBA is down 50 points, and his xSLG is down a whopping 190 points. His contact rates are down while his chase rate is up. He's hitting more groundballs with less flyballs and line drives. As I said, literally everything in his hitting profile is worse. Since a fall off of these proportions being permanent would be indicative of Kelly totally losing his swing, I'm going to expect a bounceback... next year. And I doubt he gets it all back immediately, if at all. Either way, there's a chance this is here to stay, and the data fully backs Kelly's struggles.
Stephen Vogt- Vogt's struggles are pretty similar to Kelly's. Barrel rate, exit velocity, xBA, xSLG, hard hit rate are all down. His line drive rate is down, and his ground ball rate is up. Since Vogt isn't around too much longer, and likely loses playing time down the stretch due to that, I'll skip over the beef of him.
Ketel Marte- There's debate to be had over whether Marte's issues with power were due to his wrist, but he has struggled to hit home runs. It's not the power I'm worried about. Marte still had plenty of doubles, and even if the power is gone, he never strikes out and hits a lot of line drives, the formula for high batting average. What I AM worried about is his durability. Marte has now suffered injuries two years in a row. He could be more at risk than we'd like. The good news is his two injuries were fairly minor and to different parts of his body. Now, onto where his struggles have come from. Marte hasn't barreled the ball much, a drop from 9.3% to 4.1%. His exit velocity and walk rate are both down as well, but so is his strikeout rate. The biggest problem seems to be Marte's 61% zone swing percentage. In other words, he's taking 31% of pitches in the zone for strikes. His swing rate is down 10% from last year. While his elite contact rates limit the problems associated with taking strikes, it nonetheless is a problem (hitters make much worse contact in an 0-2 count than an 0-1 count). I think it's safe to expect some power bounceback from Marte, but I think he's more of a 20-homer elite leadoff skills type than a middle of the order masher. Don't get me wrong, that's still an elite player.
Eduardo Escobar- Escobar's xwOBA is actually only 2 points worse than last year. In other words, the hitter he is now is about the same value. His walk rate, exit velocity, and strikeout rate have all gone in the right direction. His zone contact rate is up and his chase rate is down. His line drive rate is up as well. As lucky as Escobar was last year, he's extremely unlucky this year. I'd expect lots of positive regression, both this year and next.
David Peralta- As has been the case throughout his career, Peralta's biggest problem is his inability to get the ball off the ground. How many doubles has he hit past a diving first or third baseman down the line? A lot. Peralta has an astonishing 52.5% ground ball rate. His barrel rate, exit velocity, hard hit rate, and walk rate are all down as well. In Peralta's case, it's fully possible that his age has caught up to him and he's hitting decline. Especially considering he's 33.
Kole Calhoun- The unluckiest man on the team, Calhoun has a BABIP near .200. His line drive rate is up, along with his walk rate. His strikeout rate is down, and his hard hit rate, exit velocity, and barrel rate are very near his marks last year. Calhoun should be one of the best hitters in this lineup, were it not for his awful luck. I'd expect that to change and better days to come.
Madison Bumgarner- Much like Marte, there's debate over how much of his failure was a result of injury. While reports of MadBum's improved velocity and stuff are encouraging, keep in mind what we were led to expect of players like Robbie Ray and Ildemaro Vargas coming into the year. And considering how small the difference was in his return, I don't see reason for encouragement. His exit velocity, hard hit rate, barrel rate, strikeout rate, and all of his xstats are in the 20th percentile or worse, with most in the second or first percentile. His command and control are down, as his walk rate is up and he's both hitting batters and leaving larger than preferable amounts of pitches, particularly cutters and curveballs, in the middle of the strike zone.
Madison Bumgarner is so bad right now he's turning an average MLB hitter into a distant MVP frontrunner against him. Even if he makes leaps and bounds, that only brings him down to all star level. Guys, Madison Bumgarner is the next Yasmani Thomas. He'll likely get a chance for a decent portion of next year, but I'd say he'll be a mop up guy in the near future. The only reason I think he'll stay in the majors is because the bullpen is so bad, and the front office probably wants to save its hide. I recommend not watching on MadBum day if you want to see this team win.
ADD ON- Since I started writing this post Bumgarner has served up 2 home runs to the Dodgers.
Robbie Ray- Robbie Ray was looking elite in summer camp, and even shaved his beard for what I thought was a much cleaner look. Ultimately, Ray only made himself more of a power pitcher. He saw an uptick in velocity and spin rate on all of his pitches, but dropped his exit velocity, hard hit rate, and barrel rate to the bottom fifth percentile. Oh, and he walked more batters than ever. Ray was basically as bad as MadBum in every category except strikeouts, which weren't even close to enough to save him. I'd expect Ray to bounce back a bit, but I don't expect him to regain much, and he'll likely be bouncing between relief and starting if he's lucky for the remainder of a career that I doubt lasts too much longer.
Luke Weaver- With some more encouraging starts lately, Weaver may not truly deserve a spot on this list, and were it not for his last outing, I would've left him off. Overall this year, Weaver's allowed lots of loud contact. He has still managed to get strikeouts, and his walk rate hasn't been too bad. Command has been a MASSIVE issue for Weaver however.
Those four seamers down the middle are really concerning. If he can work that out, Weaver is a solid middle of the rotation arm. If not, he's a fifth starter at best.
As for the bullpen, I'll make a statement for everyone. Taylor Widener, Taylor Clarke, and Stefan Crichton are the only pitchers that have shown any real signs of hope. None of them can be trusted confidently. Archie Bradley and Andrew Chafin were having historically bad years before getting traded. This bullpen is an absolute mess right now, all around. I would put this bullpen among the worst in MLB with no hope for the immediate future.
On a final and particularly sour note, don't get your hopes up about the number 1 draft prospect (elite collegiate pitcher Kumar Rocker) yet, as there is a possibility MLB changes the draft format this offseason. If MLB were to change the draft order in one of these ways, even if the Diamondbacks finish with baseball's worst winning percentage, they could end up drafting around 10th overall... or even lower. Let's just hope MLB leaves the draft format alone, because there's no hope for this season.
Now, the weird thing is that the hitter's trends are almost identical across the board. Guys are striking out less but making much weaker contact. You'd think if the issue was not being prepared for the year, everyone would be striking out more. So the issue with this offense has no explanation obvious to me.
Now that we're through all that nastiness, let's take a look at the positives and misconceptions. Firstly, coaching and management. I've heard a lot of hate thrown at Darnell Coles, Torey Lovullo, Matt Herges, and Mike Hazen. Here's my two cents on coaching. These guys have proven that they are good at what they do. Nothing has fundamentally changed with any of them (as far as we can see), so it's the players that should be held responsible, not the staff. Definitely do not blame Lovullo. He's doing his best to inspire hope, and if you're upset because he's running this like a rebuilding team, that's because that's what it is this year. I personally think that Mike Hazen is the man you have the most rationale to be upset at (for the MadBum signing and handling of Starling Marte), but even he is working in unique conditions and has proven how good he is.
Christian Walker- I doubt there are many arguments that Walker and Gallen are the two best parts of this season, but there's debate about who's better for sure. I personally think Gallen, but I am a huge believer in Walker. In a lineup plagued by weak contact, Walker is rocketing the ball, improving his line drive rate, and striking out less. Plus, he's a gold glover. Basically, Walker is one of the premier first baseman in the game now. I don't think the Diamondbacks will receive a good enough offer at any point to move him, so you've got a star to watch during these tough times, fellow Diamondbacks fans. Don't underrate him as I'm sure many will, he's a scarce treat in this era.
Zac Gallen- Zac Gallen has been outstanding this year. With great control, the ability to prevent hard contact, and a great strikeout rate, Gallen has become the clear cut ace and a Cy Young contender. There could still be room to grow for Gallen on the command front. If he can reach a level of finesse near Zack Greinke (which I could see), then he should be one of the premier pitchers in the game. This guy is a ton of fun to watch, and is definitely one of the lights in this dark.
Well folks, that's it. With that, I conclude my analysis of this team right now. Hope things are better in 2021, but I don't count on any of the trade acquisitions and I think the next window is around 2023 when the top prospects come up. At this point, I hope that MLB doesn't screw up our shot at a high draft pick.