clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

The Diamondbacks History by Position

Where has the team been strongest - and weakest?

Chicago Cubs v Arizona Diamondbacks Photo by Norm Hall/Getty Images

This was inspired by one of Jack’s articles over on SI. There, they’ve been looking at the top three players in D-backs’ history at each position, and last weekend they got to third-base. Jack proclaimed Matt Williams as the top player there in franchise history, which startled me. Because not long ago, I concluded that the five-year contract extension given to Matt Williams when he was trade here from Cleveland, as the worst in franchise history. What’s interesting is that we both might well be right. That both those things could be true is largely an indictment of the problems the team has had at the position, basically for the entire history of the Diamondbacks.

I dug into this a bit further, looking at the complete production obtained by Arizona at each position since they started play in 1998. I used fWAR as the metric of choice, mostly because Fangraphs offers an easy way to break down the numbers by position. All told, across all fielding positions combined (so excluding pitchers) the D-backs rank 21st, with a total of 437.6 fWAR. For comparison, top were the Cardinals at 650.5, while last were the Royals at 302.9. Interestingly, Arizona ranked much better on defense (6th) and base-running (4th) than pure offense, where they came in 25th. But there were also large variations by position.

Here’s where the team ranked and their fWAR at each position over the whole history of the team. I’ve excluded the designated hitter spot from the rankings, partly because of the limited dataset, but mostly because, as we all know, it’s not a real position. :)

  1. Second base: 8th, 73.6
  2. First base: 9th, 70.9
  3. Catcher: 10th, 53.9
  4. Left field: 12th, 74.1
  5. Center field: 13th, 83.8
  6. Right field: 27th, 50.3
  7. Shortstop: 27th, 46.7
  8. Third base: 28th, 45.2

I’ve ordered them in descending order of ranking, rather than fWAR, so we can compare like with like. There are definitely some positions which produce a lot more WAR than others. Center field, for example, has six teams to have received over 100 wins during the 1998-2023 period we’re discussing. Both catcher and first base have just one team apiece in three digits. But based on ranking, it does appear that third base has indeed been the worst position for the D-backs, over the entire duration of their existence. Only the Pirates and Royals have got less production from the hot corner. It’s barely 40% of what the Cardinals have received, courtesy of Matt Carpenter, Scott Rolen, etc.

One big caveat: the way Fangraphs adds up numbers is sketchy. It doesn’t split things correctly, just sums entire players. For example, it says our best year at third-base was 2009, when the position was worth 4.7 fWAR. However, that consists of 3.3 WAR from Mark Reynolds and 1.4 by Augie Ojeda. The latter figure is ALL Ojeda’s production for the season, even though Augie had more time at second-base and shortstop. This leads to things like Craig Counsell leading the team at 3B production. Getting an accurate value would involve breaking things down manually, and... life’s too short. So I’m going to put my head in the sand and ignore the problem. :) It likely impacts all positions and teams to some degree.

I’m surprised to see 2B on top: that splitting thing has more impact there. I suspect a “true” value would put 1B first, thanks to perpetual All-Star Paul Goldschmidt, backed up by the likes of Tony Clark, Mark Grace, and now, Christian Walker. But second may have better strength in depth, with nine different Diamondbacks delivering five WAR or better. We have solid incumbents at both positions for 2024, though are unlikely to move up this year. The D-backs currently sit 3.1 WAR behind the 8th-placed Braves, who have a decent 1B of their own, in Matt Olson. At 2B, Arizona is just 0.6 behind their division rivals in LA, though Mookie Betts will make it tough for Ketel Marte to close that gap.

The chart below shows the total position player fWAR for each season in Arizona. I have pro-rated the 2020 season, where we got 5.6 fWAR in 60 games, to 15.1 over 162, again to allow a reasonable comparison. Though it’s worth noting that even the unadjusted figure was not the worst in Diamondbacks’ history. Indeed, it barely scraped into the five lowest seasons...

Give yourself two points if you predicted 2011 was the best set of position players in franchise history, totaling 29.1 fWAR. Then came the 100-win team of 1999 (27.5) and the World Series winning team, two years later (26.9). You might also be surprised to see how last year’s team failed to stand out of the pack: they were actually fractionally worse than in 2022. Of course, hitting, base-running and defense is only part of the story, and we’ll get to the pitching component in due course. At the bottom, less of a surprise to see 2004. Though what I remember more was terrible pitching, e.g. Casey Daigle, turns out it was less the cause than having 17 of 27 position players at or below replacement level.

I was going to break things down in more detail by position, looking at the best and worst seasons. But I don’t trust the numbers parsed at that level, for reasons explained above, so I’ve tabled that idea. However, I will look at the situation with regard to Arizona’s starting pitching and relief pitching in further articles. You will not be surprised to hear, the latter is... not good.