The Diamondbacks have become the Dodgers’ biggest threat in the NL West

Although the Arizona Diamondbacks made heads turn when they signed Zack Greinke to a 6-year, $206.5 million dollar contract, many experts are not picking the Diamondbacks as playoff contenders. The Los Angeles Dodgers, winners of the National League West for three consecutive seasons, are the favorites to take the division once again. The San Francisco Giants, (champions in 2010, 2012, and 2014), are believed to be the team that can take down the Dodgers, if any. The Diamondbacks, however, are the team who have the ability to surprise us all and win the NL West.

To understand the potential of this Diamondbacks team, it’s best to look at the Diamondbacks’ best players, both new and old, to analyze whether or not Arizona has improved enough to win more than last season’s 79 games. We will try to see whether the Diamondbacks have improved enough to challenge for a playoff spot. First let’s look at the pitchers:

Pitching 

The Diamondbacks suffered from an underwhelming rotation last season, headlined by LHP Robbie Ray, that combined to record 5.9 WAR total between them. Compare that to the Dodgers pitching rotation, for example, which combined for 18.0 WAR between them, and it is clear that the biggest problem in Arizona was their starting rotation. The Diamondbacks seem to have realized that however, as they have made two huge moves: signing Greinke, and trading for former-Atlanta Braves pitcher Shelby Miller.

635921989723894543-GreinkeGreinke, now with the Diamondbacks, actually impacts Arizona’s playoff chances in two ways: Greinke adds value to the Diamondbacks while taking value away from the Dodgers, his former team. Last season, Greinke accounted for a whopping 5.9 WAR of the Dodgers’ total of 18.0 WAR. (Remember, that 5.9 WAR is as much as the entire Arizona rotation had!) Greinke is not just a WAR-machine though, he’s a true ace on the mound. Look at some of his numbers from 2013-2015 on the Dodgers:

Season Innings K/9 BB/9 ERA FIP WAR
2013 177.2 7.50 1.91 2.63 3.23 3.4
2014 202.1 9.21 2.33 2.71 2.97 4.4
2015 222.2 8.08 1.62 1.66 2.76 5.9
AVG: 200.5 8.26 1.95 2.33 2.98 4.6

As we can see, even in a down year like 2013, Greinke is still one of the game’s elite.

The Diamondbacks knew they needed more than just one live arm, so they traded OF Ender Inciarte and some prospects to the Braves for RHP Shelby Miller. Though many have lauded the Braves as winners of the trade, it was the best move for Arizona right now. Miller is an up-and-coming ace, especially when he’s on a team that is actually trying to win, unlike the Braves.

shelby-millerIn 2012, Miller reached the big leagues with the St. Louis Cardinals, but only pitched in 13.2 innings that season. The following season, 2013, Miller proved that he was there to stay. In his official rookie campaign, Miller started 31 games, to the tune of a 3.06 ERA and collected 2.4 WAR. Most pitchers in the league strive to be that successful, and it only took Miller one season. The Cardinals knew they had something special with Miller.

The following season, Miller took a step back. Call it a sophomore slump, regression to the mean, or whatever you want, but his numbers at the end of the season suggested that Miller’s 2013 season was more of an aberration. Miller struggled with his command in 2014, walking 3.59 batters per 9 innings. His strikeouts also fell, down from 8.78 K/9 in 2013 to 6.25 K/9 in 2014. The Cardinals dealt him to the Braves before the 2015 season, and it was then that Miller had a chance to prove himself once again.

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Miller found himself in a comfortable situation in Atlanta, and it showed in his numbers. Take a look at his numbers in 2015 compared to his numbers in his previous best season, 2013:

Season Innings K/9 BB/9 ERA FIP WAR
2013 173.1 8.78 2.96 3.06 3.67 2.4
2015 205.1 7.50 3.20 3.02 3.45 3.4

Although Miller didn’t quite improve his K/9 and BB/9 numbers, his overall numbers in general were much better. After his down season in 2014, Miller learned to become a contact pitcher, instead of relying on strikeouts. This shows too, as Miller’s GB% jumped from 39.9% in 2014 to 47.7% in 2015. Not only that, but Miller also became adept at limiting hard contact: Miller’s Hard% dropped over eight percentage points between 2014 and 2015, from 34.9% to 26.7%. Expect Miller to continue this trend on his way to becoming one of the game’s elite.

With Greinke and Miller as their 1-2 punch at the front of their starting rotation, the Diamondbacks can expect a lot more production from the pitching staff. The offense, most notably 1B Paul Goldschmidt and CF A.J. Pollack, is primed for another successful season as well.

Offense

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Though his MVP campaign fell off when Bryce Harper rocketed into historical territory, Paul Goldschmidt played his position better than anyone last season. Goldschmidt was also in contention for a triple-crown, finishing 2015 with a triple slash of .321 AVG, 33 HR, and 110 RBIs. It is not unprecedented for Goldschmidt either, as just two season prior he put up a triple slash of .302 AVG, 36 HR, and 125 RBIs. Goldschmidt looks primed for another excellent season.

Don’t mistake Goldschmidt as the only Diamondbacks player that carries the load on offense. Goldschmidt’s 7.4 WAR lead the team, of course, but Pollack added in his own 6.6 WAR. Goldschmidt and Pollack both cracked the top-10 in WAR, at 4 and 8 respectively. With two top-10 offensive players on the same team, the Diamondbacks are already in better shape than most of the MLB.

pollock1280_c5ej5nmn_cgdb69flTo put that in perspective, FanGraphs identifies a player with 6+ WAR in a season as an MVP-level player. So both Goldschmidt and Pollack, in a normal season, would have been MVP contenders. Pollack has also been improving each season. Take a look at his numbers from 2013-2015:

Season PA AVG OBP HR RBI wRC+ WAR
2013 482 0.269 0.322 8 38 98 3.6
2014 287 0.302 0.353 7 24 134 3.3
2015 673 0.315 0.367 20 76 132 6.6

Now of course we have to notice that Pollack missed time in 2014, as his counting stats dipped. But the more telling stats, like AVG, OBP, and wRC+, tell us all we need to know about Pollack: he is a true star.

The rest of the Diamondbacks also carried their weight. Take a look at how the Diamondbacks compare leaguewide in some major statistical categories:

AVG Runs SLG wOBA Hits BB SB
Rank 7 8 8 9 4 10 2

It’s not difficult to see that the Diamondbacks have no issues offensively; and they are returning everyone but Inciarte, meaning their offense should continue to play within the top-10. Inciarte’s absence will affect the Diamondbacks somewhat, but his bat wasn’t impressive enough to lose sleep over.

Final Thoughts

This Diamondbacks team is primed for a playoff run. Offensively, Goldschmidt and Pollack lead the way, with both coming off the best season of their respective careers. Though the Diamondbacks suffered from some ugly pitching last season, the additions of Greinke and Miller will make their rotation as strong as any.

Expect the Diamondbacks to contend with the Dodgers for the NL West crown, or at the very least, grab one of the two NL Wild Card spots.

Statistics provided by: ESPN.com, FanGraphs.com

Images thanks to: Deadspin, USA Today, Fox Sports, MLB.com

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