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Picking Position Players for 2022 Diamondbacks

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Choices are explained, subject to caveats.

Geraldo Perdomo plays shortstop.
Geraldo Perdomo plays shortstop.
Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images

In September, the Diamondbacks played 22 of 25 games against teams with records above 500. Ten games were against teams in first place in their Division, and 12 games were against second place teams.

Because they played excellent teams, and because many position players were given playing time, comparing September’s metrics is an excellent way to choose the 2022 lineup of position players. Three caveats:

  • The Diamondbacks expect the players will continue to improve during the offseason.
  • The choices assume that if a player is on an existing contract and not chosen, he will be traded, released, or added to the bench.
  • Offseason trades may acquire one or more players who would be upgrades.

The position players were compared.

The comparison metrics were OPS and wOBA in September. The following table shows that in September, six players exceeded the September average in the Majors. That is a strong reason to choose them.

Games from 1-30 September. Data from FanGraphs.

The next question is who will be chosen to play in each position.

In the last two games of the month, I noticed spectacular defensive plays were made by Jake McCarthy, Daulton Varsho and Geraldo Perdomo. Geraldo Perdomo showed advanced skill at the plate, such as plate discipline to walk in a run. In the last game of the season, Josh Van Meter made an excellent defensive play and hit a walk-off homer.

Instead of relying on observations or September’s small sample size, the following table shows the season’s Defensive Runs Saved (DRS). Instead of all data, the table only includes the data that best provides insights on the choices.

September Innings at each position from Baseball Reference. Season DRS from The Fielding Bible.

One question was whether to play Daulton Varsho in left field or right field. The alternatives in left field had negative DRS. Because Kole Calhoun had a positive DRS in right field, that made the choice easy to place Varsho in left field.

One question was who to play at third base. Ildemaro Vargas, Josh VanMeter, and Josh Rojas were about the same in negative DRS per inning played. The tie-breaker was Josh Rojas had the best OPS in September.

One question was whether to play Nick Ahmed or Geraldo Perdomo as shortstop. Geraldo Perdomo had a much better DRS per inning played. An additional plus was that Perdomo was ten years younger than Ahmed.

Not shown in the table was Alex Thomas, who is a candidate for fourth outfielder. In AAA Reno his OPS was 1.091. It is likely that will translate in the Majors to at least September’s average OPS for a left fielder( .721).

September’s data was not enough to pick the infield bench player (Josh VanMeter or Andy Young). Josh VanMeter won the two tiebreakers that measured consistency.

  • For July/August/September, Josh VanMeter had a better monthly average OPS (.677 vs .619).
  • For the season, Josh VanMeter had less significant bad streaks defined as a minimum of 3 games with zero total bases and zero walks (8.7% vs 26% of PAs).
Picks were based on maximizing OPS and DRS. Data from FanGraphs, The Fielding Bible, and MiLB.com.

Young picks are realistic for the Diamondbacks.

You likely have noticed that with the exception of Kole Calhoun (age 34), the picks are young! Their current ages were 21.4 (Thomas), 21.9 (Perdomo), 24.2 (McCarthy), 25.3 (Varsho), 25.7 (Smith), 26.6 (VanMeter), 27.3 (Kelly), 27.3 (Rojas), and 28.0 (Marte). By ignoring existing contracts, and focusing on performance, it naturally happened.

Although the Diamondbacks will trade players in the offseason, my view is these young players will stay with the Diamondbacks. Which players will stay? Mike Hazen gave a big clue:

“But the biggest part of what we’re going to do with our roster is continue to push some of the younger players, especially who we have on the roster, forward, and that’s going to continue into the offseason.” — Mike Hazen, 29 September 2021

Although the picks were based on September results, many of these young players performed well before September. This AZ Snake Pit article talked about the four musketeers - “Their skill and competitive spirit make them fearsome batters.” Between the All-Star break and 27 August, all four exceeded my All-Star demarcation of wOBA of at least .339. They were Daulton Varsho, Josh Rojas, Ketel Marte, and Carson Kelly. Not surprisingly, their September results earned them spots on the roster picks.

Third base could be upgraded moving Rojas to a bench role.

He is well suited for a bench role for two reasons.

  • This season, Josh Rojas played at least 57 innings in each of 5 positions - second, third, shortstop, left field, and right field.
  • In September, his 0.7 Ultimate Baserunning Runs (UBRs) was tied with Jake McCarthy and Daulton Varsho for the team best. Their baserunning was significantly better than the rest.

Acquisition of an upgrade could happen for three reasons.

  • In September, his OPS was .594, which was below the .717 median for team average OPSs.
  • In September is wOBA was .264, which was below the .310 median for team average wOBAs.
  • His season DRS at third base was negative 1 in 40 innings. Although that result was from a small sample size, there are players who can defend third base better.

If the Diamondbacks acquire a position player, a third baseman is the most likely. That being said, whether it happens depends on whether Mike Hazen finds an opportunity.

Stats were compared to each position’s averages for 30 teams.

In September, how did my picks compare to the league? They compared very well! My first observation is that 5 of the 8 positions were above average in batting.

If an excellent batter who plays third base is acquired, that would improve the team to 6 of the 8 positions as above average.

First baseman Pavin Smith batted very well on 30 September and 2 October. In those two games, he reached base 9 out of his 10 PAs (5 hits plus 4 walks). That is extraordinary. Combining September and October would raise his OPS from .747 to .819. Although his September OPS was below the median for first basemen, combining September and October would raise his OPS above the median for first basemen. From that viewpoint, with updated results from Pavin Smith, and with an upgrade at third base, the Diamondbacks have 7 of 8 positions with above average batting.

Next season, it’s likely that the Diamondbacks’ runs per game will increase to above average. As a point of reference, average was 4.53 runs per game this season.

The following graph shows that next season the Diamondbacks will likely bat much better, even before considering better results are achievable at first base and third base.

Purple D compares each pick’s metrics to his position’s median team average. Range is from lowest team average to highest team average. Data from FanGraphs.