Arizona’s Secret: No Scrubs

The hottest team in baseball are the Arizona Diamondbacks, winners of seven straight and nine of their last 10. Their run has vaulted them into first place in the National League West, and as we head toward June, they head up the list of surprising contenders throughout baseball. How have they managed to go from abysmal failure last year to early season success story this year? Essentially, it comes down to one word — balance.

They aren’t being carried by an MVP candidate having a monster season; in fact, it might be hard to identify who their best player has been this year. Ryan Roberts leads the position players with +1.9 WAR, but the team has also gotten +1.2 WAR or better from the starters at every other position on the field besides first base, and even that “weak spot” is now being manned on a daily basis by Juan Miranda, owner of a .250/.370/.490 batting line.

Essentially, every regular on the team is bringing something to the table. Justin Upton, Stephen Drew, and Miguel Montero are bringing the offense, while Chris Young, Gerardo Parra, and Kelly Johnson are playing quality defense and hitting well enough to justify their spots in the lineup. Miranda has hit when he’s played, and Roberts is doing a little bit of everything.

The bench hasn’t been great, but when the worst players on your roster are all reserves, then things are going pretty well. The team has already kicked Russell Branyan to the curb, and it will be interesting to see how long Melvin Mora sticks around if he keeps struggling. If they feel like adding new life to the bench, they have a lot of options down in Triple-A; the Reno Aces are hitting .310/.389/.527 as a team, and while the PCL is a nice place to hit, there are reasons to believe that a guy like Wily Mo Pena could help the team as a bat off the bench.

Essentially, the Diamondbacks don’t really have any glaring weaknesses among their everyday players. They don’t have a black hole at any position on the field, and when you have a team full of players producing at above-average levels, you’re going to win a lot of baseball games.

Arizona has had some struggles on the pitching side of things, but both Armando Galarraga and Barry Enright have already been excised from the rotation, limiting the damage that they could inflict on the team’s record. Rookie Josh Colimenter has been a revelation since coming up from Reno, and Zach Duke showed yesterday that he can still pitch effectively when healthy. Colimenter is in for significant regression even beyond just the .163 BABIP that he’s currently sporting (his command has never been anywhere near this good before, for instance), but worrying about how long your #5 starter will keep pitching over his head is a pretty nice problem to have, especially when it passes for the biggest concern on the team at the moment.

This good-everywhere-but-great-nowhere type of roster can often outperform expectations from those who look for star power first and foremost, but it also presents a bit of a dilemma for Kevin Towers if the team stays in contention over the next few months — with no obvious glaring holes, it’s hard to make the team better at the trade deadline. An upgrade in the starting rotation and another trustworthy reliever could be on the shopping list, but that’s on every team’s shopping list in July, and Towers might not be able to outbid others when it comes to getting one of the few quality arms that will be available this summer.

That said, if the team keeps getting this kind of production from their position players, they might not need to upgrade their rotation in order to hang around in the NL West all year. The balanced approach can work, as teams like Cincinnati proved last year. The Diamondbacks might not have a Joey Votto, but they have a lot of players performing at a high level, and in a division without a truly great team, that might be enough to keep them in the race all year.



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Dave is the Managing Editor of FanGraphs.


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qudjy1
Guest
5 years 3 months ago

They could probably use another Bullpen ARM, and maybe a hired gun starter at the deadline. Bedard? Someone who is a rental would keep the cost down as well.

Patricio
Guest
Patricio
5 years 3 months ago

I really wouldn’t want to send any real talent for a guy who can’t even stay on the field. Bedard is too much of a question mark concerning whether he will be able to contribute anything at the end of the season and into the playoffs.

big league chyut
Guest
big league chyut
5 years 3 months ago

Bedard’s also got the highest HR/FB rate of his career this year and he’s yielding more flies than before, which obviously doesn’t bode too well at Chase. But then again, a trio of Parra-Young-Upton is one of the absolute best defensive outfields in baseball, and as a back-end starter it’s probably not as big a deal. The real problem with looking for Bedard is that the M’s are only a game and a half out in their own division and have also been rolling as of late.

qudjy1
Guest
5 years 3 months ago

Yep – good points – Bedard maybe wouldnt be the best fit, but i was just trying to think of an example of a rental front line starter… The idea would be that AZ wouldnt give up a pile of talent, more just paying the rest of the salary for the year. The Ms spot in the standings wouldnt support a sell off either… Not sure of K-Rods situation with the vesting, but that might be a good BP addition…

Random Guy
Guest
Random Guy
5 years 3 months ago

Bedard is making just $1M for the year, so simply paying the rest of his salary won’t induce Seattle to trade him.

The Typical Idiot Fan
Guest
5 years 3 months ago

Bedard’s HR/FB problems are behind him.

http://www.lookoutlanding.com/2011/5/21/2183082/erik-bedard-is-getting-stronger

That was posted a week and a half ago. Bedard has made another start since going 6 innings without allowing a home run. That makes five starts in a row now where he hasn’t allowed a long ball. All of his home runs came in his four starts (2, 2, 2, and 1). Even with his still current elevated HR/FB rate, Bedard is posting a 4.05 FIP and a 3.47 xFIP. He’s also at a cumulative 46% ground ball rate, closer to his hey-day years of 2006 and 2007.

Call the earlier starts “rust” if you want, since he hadn’t thrown against major league competition in some time. I’m not saying he’s totally back either, but he’s better now than he was at the beginning. That should make him an attractive target to someone.

ogZayYsj3r7CGsz
Member
ogZayYsj3r7CGsz
5 years 3 months ago

Random Guy –

$1M is the base salary. He has several performance bonuses that can earn him an extra $5.6M

http://seattle.mariners.mlb.com/news/article.jsp?ymd=20110526&content_id=19613138&vkey=news_sea&c_id=sea

Brian Sabean
Guest
Brian Sabean
5 years 3 months ago

lalalalalalalalalalalalalalala
can’t hear you
lalalalalalalalalalalalalalala

Rob
Guest
Rob
5 years 3 months ago

Pretty sure Arizona’s real secret is every player playing above projection.

Joe D.
Guest
Joe D.
5 years 3 months ago

Not playing above projections:

C. Young: .238/.297/.438
K. Johnson: .224/.284/.428
M. Mora: .257/.271/.307
D. Hudson: 4.13 ERA
Z. Duke: 7.0 Innings pitched

There’s five under their ZIPS and PECOTA off the top of my head, There may be more.

batpig
Guest
batpig
5 years 3 months ago

Totally… except for the fact that it’s not even close to true.

m123
Guest
m123
5 years 3 months ago

i love the article last week on fangraphs about buster posey opens door for colorado. no mention of ARIZ.. such lack of foresight.

James
Guest
James
5 years 3 months ago

Check back in September and see where things are…. If they cool off and the Rockies get on a streak like AZ is currently on, they’ll be back even or ahead. Given the Rockies past performances (particularly in the second half) make this scenario much more likely than AZ winning it going away.

big league chyut
Guest
big league chyut
5 years 3 months ago

Another thing: Towers said earlier in the month (pre-streak) that he would look into swapping bench players for back-end starter types – I’m wondering how much that still holds now that the team seems to be gelling as a unit? Did a great job dumping Armando while he still could, but (as much as I love him for his clutch hit against the Astros recently) could a guy like Nady or (dare I say it) Brandon Allen be trade bait? The problem is that I fail to see how any of them could net a rental SP that would improve over even a regressing Collmenter or Duke. Oh, the perils of having a fairly solid team…

The Ancient Mariner
Guest
The Ancient Mariner
5 years 3 months ago

So trade a hitter and a current member of the rotation — Allen + Duke, for example — for a better SP; don’t pay for a whole new player, just for an upgrade.

Robert
Guest
Robert
5 years 3 months ago

I’m going to go out on a limb here. Everyone seems to be predicting a rental SP as we approach the deadline. I think they might actually look to improve their rotation long-term or stand pat until they can do so in the off-season. Let me explain. Talks about cost and team payroll are always at the forefront when it comes to the Dbacks and trades. With a salary of ~$56 million this year, the Dbacks team payroll is the lowest its been since 2007. Looking at direct, current, team payroll is always misleading for this team because of their record amount of deferred salaries. In reality, this year’s team payroll is closer to $70 million. After next year the Dbacks rid themselves of a large bulk of those deferment obligations. They’ll still have obligations for another 4 years but only in the $1-2 million range per year as opposed to the $14 million this year and next. So my vision is that the Dbacks will sign guys like Montero, Johnson and possibly Drew to extensions at the end of this year and use some of the new financial flexibility to go after a front-line starter they can sign long-term. What do you think?

Brandon
Guest
Brandon
5 years 3 months ago

The team could really use another starter or two. Someone like Dan Haren would be a great fit at the front of that rotation.

Ludvig Borgia
Guest
Ludvig Borgia
5 years 3 months ago

Nice one. I’ll take the more direct approach – couldn’t the D-Backs have had mostly the same roster this year in the big leagues but also with a huge advantage of Haren instead of Saunders, if they never went through with that self-defeating trade?

That is the kind of trade that a team in rebuilding mode would consider, but the D-Backs problem last year was the bullpen, which is no reason to go into rebuilding mode since bullpens are so volatile from year to year.

That mistake will probably cost them a playoff spot this year.

SenSurround
Guest
SenSurround
5 years 3 months ago

It takes more than a bad bullpen to lose 97 games, so it’s hard to blame them for trying to get something for Haren. This team showed pretty much nothing last year to inspire any confidence in any short term success. And while last year’s team was fundamentally the same that rode to the NLCS in 07, nothing they have done since then really spoke of anything besides 07 being a total fluke (and having the best record in the NL with a negative run differential says something).

As a DBacks fan I wish I was seeing Haren out there instead of Saunders every fifth day (and a Haren/Kennedy/Hudson sounds dreamy), but I can’t fault the reasoning behind the move. I still think this team is a few years away, and anything that may happen this year is gravy and probably just brings a few more dollars in from the hit and miss Phoenix crowd.

Renegade
Guest
Renegade
5 years 3 months ago

Except they got absolutely nothing for Haren. What a horrendous trade.

shoewizard
Guest
shoewizard
5 years 3 months ago

Renegade,

Tyler Skaggs isn’t “nothing”. He’s still young and may be far away….and TINSTAAPP and all that…..

But in 10 starts, 59 innings the just turned 20 yr old kid has 73 K’s vs 23 walks and 4 HR allowed.

And over his last 6 games the K/B ratio is 45/9

http://web.minorleaguebaseball.com/milb/stats/stats.jsp?pos=P&sid=milb&t=p_pbp&pid=572140

Haren really wanted out of Arizona badly and made that especially clear to management. At the same time ownership demanded a salary dump. I agree in general that it was an ill advised salary dump. Dipoto took a lot of flak for his comments about Saunders and wins when he had the press conference. But I know him personally, and can tell you what he was really looking at with Saunders is at least getting a guy back who can post up and eat innings while waiting for a younger guy to develop.

Dipoto deserves some credit for most likely making the correct choice of minor league players available from the Angels at the time.

big league chyut
Guest
big league chyut
5 years 3 months ago

You think the Angels will take Joe Saunders in a deal for Haren? After all, he is a proven winner and we saw his grit on display in his last start.

AustinRHL
Member
AustinRHL
5 years 3 months ago

“The Reno Aces are hitting .310/.389/.527 as a team.”

All I can say is: “?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?”

Andrew
Guest
Andrew
5 years 3 months ago

why the question mark?

shoewizard
Guest
shoewizard
5 years 3 months ago

Thats kind of ridiculous team production, even for a team playing in the thin air of the moon.

Dan Hudson
Guest
Dan Hudson
5 years 3 months ago

You write an article about the Diamondbacks and not one mention of me. I am 6-5 and over my career I have 27 starts with 15-8 record, 3.15 ERA, and 1.14 WHIP. I think I have had something to do with this turnaroud. Now thank me please!

Anon
Guest
Anon
5 years 3 months ago

Yes, Fangraphs writers are totally in the habit of quoting a pitcher’s record and WHIP.

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