As mentioned when we looked at the infield, we’re going round the four section of the roster in turn. We’re doing so in increasing order of concern, based on the poll we carried out at the end of the year - since there have not since been any moves affecting the 40-man roster, those numbers still likely seem an accurate reflection of fan concern. Ranked third of the four areas, with 7% of the vote, was the outfield.
Overall, in 2020 this was one of the Diamondbacks’ better areas. All told, the outfield came in at 0.5 bWAR above average (WAA), ranking Arizona 6th in the National League. Perhaps surprisingly, center field was seen as the strongest of the three positions, at +0.4 WAA. Right field was next (+0.3), but left field came in below average, at -0.2 WAA. The starts made across the outfield were as follows:
- Kole Calhoun - 48
- David Peralta - 45
- Starling Marte - 33
- Daulton Varsho - 18
- Tim Locastro - 16
- Jon Jay - 13
- Pavin Smith - 4
- Ketel Marte - 2
- Josh Rojas - 1
With the trade away of S. Marte and the departure to free agency of Jon Jay, this means the team has to find replacements for about 25% of the starts, with center field the obvious hole. Before we get to that, however, let’s take a look at the corner outfield spots.
As last year, David Peralta looks set to get the lion’s share of playing time. The last full season, 2019, had been a bit of a mixed blessing for the Freight Train. He missed significant time due to injury, and his offense had dropped off, Peralta’s OPS+ going from 127 to 105. But he did win the Gold Glove - not bad for a converted pitcher! We hoped for a bounce-back offensively in 2020. It didn’t really happen, the OPS+ only barely ticking up to 106. He did hit .300, but both his walk-rate and power declined. Of course, 60 games is barely predictive, and at $7.5 million this year and next, he’s not over-priced. But as mentioned in the intro, the position overall was below average, so improvement would be nice.
The other fifteen starts were split between Locastro (5), Varsho (5), Jay (2), Smith (2) and Rojas (1), and I’d expect a similar mix. Peralta’s career splits remain close to two hundred OPS points: .869 vs. LHP, .674 vs. RHP. So I’d not be surprised to see most of his days off come with a left-hander on the mound, and the right-handed Locastro fits nicely into that platoon profile. It’s worth noting that Peralta made eight starts as the team’s designated hitter, a number exceeded only be Christian Walker. Though of course, there has been no decision as to whether there will or won’t be such a position again in 2021.
The signing of Calhoun may have been overshadowed last winter by the arrivals of S. Marte and Madison Bumgarner. But it’s probably fair to say it worked out the best of the big three new guys in 2020. Calhoun delivered close to a career season on offense, his OPS+ of 127 just a point below his highest ever, during his rookie campaign back in 2013. His .864 OPS was best on the team, and as previously mentioned, he was on pace for 43 HR and 108 RBI, a double achieved in franchise history only by Luis Gonzalez in 2001. While the defensive metrics still saw him as mediocre, Kole didn’t embarrass himself with the glove, compared to some slugging outfielders we’ve seen before.
With Calhoun now 33, it might be a bit much to expect a full season of the caliber. His career OPS+ is significantly lower, at 106, and the projections have him hitting roughly in line with that this year. Marcel has an OPS of .745; Steamer is .752; and ZIPS .778, compared to Calhoun’s career OPS of .753. Outside of his 48 starts, the other dozen went to Jay (6), Locastro (4) and Smith (2). Kole’s career splits are a lot narrower than Peralta (.767 vs. .715), so there isn’t quite the same need to sit him against lefties. But Locastro’s ability to play any position may be helpful, and though Smith is more likely to back up Walker at first, he can also be used on occasion.
Starling Marte, we hardly knew ye... After only 138 plate-appearances as a Diamondback, Marte was shuffled off to the unexpected playoff contenders in Miami, leaving the team with a hole to fill in center-field for the 2021 season. There are more or less three possible options there. The team could move Ketel Marte back to center, which he played effectively in the 2019 season. They could promote Tim Locastro to an everyday role there. Or they could look for an external replacement among the free agents on the market. Another trade, like was swung to acquire S. Marte, feels like it is less likely this winter, but you never know. #HazenGonnaHazen.
Using Ketel would probably be the most effective option, in terms of production at the position, but would simply shift the problem to second-base. However, this gives the team flexibility, in that it can assess at which position the market is best, and pivot to take advantage accordingly. Locastro had a rather good season - his OPS+ was actually fractionally above Calhoun, plus of course, he offers far greater speed and better defense. However, the gap between that 60-game sample and his career figures is even greater than for Kole: the chances of Timmy being a 130 OPS+ guy going forward seem very slim. He may be better suited as a fourth outfielder, spelling all three spots, so still getting his PA.
Despite the slow going, the market for half-decent center fielders this winter seems light. Clicking around Fangraph’s Free Agent Tracker, there are only seven potential CF projected to be worth more than 0.2 fWAR this year. Three have signed contracts already, and Brett Gardner is another lefty, which we probably don’t want, given it matches Calhoun and Peralta. That just leaves righties Jackie Bradley Jr and Kevin Pillar, plus switch-hitter Jonathan Villar. Bradley is predicted to get a two-year $20 million contract, likely too rich for the D-backs. Pillar and Villar are both seen as one-year deals, at $5m and $6m respectively. But with both projected under one WAR, is it worth it over in-house options?
The poll below has those three options to choose from. But whichever you pick, you should probably also explain yourself in the comments. For if you use Ketel, what do you do at second? If you use Locastro, who becomes the fourth outfielder, and are you happy with Locastro if he produces at his career numbers? And if it’s sign a free-agent, you need to tell us who and for how much...
What should the D-backs do in center?
This poll is closed
Put Ketel Marte there
Use Tim Locastro there everyday
Get a free-agent