After a disappointing season in 2016 when they failed to win 70 games, the Diamondbacks hope to live up to the expectations people had for them last year in 2017. To achieve that, they made one major move this winter, a trade with the Mariners. In the deal, the Diamondbacks acquired SS Ketel Marte and SP Taijuan Walker in exchange for a package highlighted by SS Jean Segura, who the Diamondbacks traded for last offseason. Marte is in a competition with Nick Ahmed and Chris Owings for the starting shortstop job and Walker will slot in near the top of the rotation, behind ace Zack Greinke. The team also signed C Jeff Mathis and RP Fernando Rodney and claimed OF Jeremy Hazelbaker off waivers from the Cardinals, though he likely will just provide depth in the outfield rather than be an everyday starter, at least to begin the season.
The Diamondbacks finished tied for seventh in Major League Baseball with a .261 batting average last season but their 190 home runs put them around the middle of the pack, as did their .752 OPS. Among their best hitters was perennial all-star 1B Paul Goldschmidt, who hit .297 with 24 home runs and a .899 OPS (10th best in the National League); his WAR was 4.8. While those are good numbers, they were down significantly from his 2015 performance that earned him a second-place finish in NL MVP voting that season. OF Yasmany Tomas led the team with 31 home runs while hitting .272 for a .820 OPS. 3B Jake Lamb showed power, hitting 29 home runs to go along with a .249 average. Ahmed played in 90 games, hitting just .218 with 4 home runs. As for his competition for the starting job at the position, Owings went .277 with 5 home runs in 119 games and Marte hit .259 with 1 home run in 119 games with the Mariners.
The pitching staff posted a MLB-worst 5.09 ERA, but their 1,518 strikeouts finished in the top half of the majors. The bullpen recorded the fourth-fewest saves in MLB with 31. Greinke did not perform to the level people expected him to after signing a nine-figure contract with the Diamondbacks in free agency last winter. He put up a 4.37 ERA — his worst since posting a 5.80 mark back in 2005, his second season in the league — and struck out 134 batters in 158.2 innings over 26 starts. And it pretty much goes down from there for the rest of the rotation, with the possible exception of SP Robbie Ray, who had 218 strikeouts — tied for the ninth-most in the majors — in 174.1 innings, but that went with a poor 4.90 ERA. SP Shelby Miller, who the D-backs traded top prospect Dansby Swanson for last season, started just 20 games because he was sent down to the minors during the season as a result of putting up a 6.15 ERA with just 70 strikeouts in 101 innings. Walker made 25 starts with Seattle, compiling a 4.22 ERA with 119 strikeouts in 134.1 innings. Things weren’t much better in the bullpen. RP Brad Ziegler led the team with 18 saves. He posted a 2.82 ERA with 27 strikeouts in 38.1 innings before being traded to the Red Sox in July. Other than him, the relievers didn’t pitch well, with many of them posting ERAs above 4.00 and 5.00. Splitting time between the Padres and Marlins last season, Rodney went 25-for-28 in save opportunities while posting a 3.44 ERA with 74 strikeouts in 65.1 innings.
One reason to be optimistic about the Diamondbacks’ 2017 season is injuries were one reason why they underperformed last season, with OFs A.J. Pollock and David Peralta limited to 12 and 48 games, respectively. While they both could be ready to play on Opening Day, or shortly after, Tomas strained his oblique earlier this month and doesn’t have a timetable for a return, which means his status for Opening Day is in question. If the outfielders can stay healthy and on the field for the bulk of the season, it would provide a boost to the offense and take some of the pressure off of Goldschmidt to carry the team.
Walker should help improve the team’s pitching, but Greinke and Miller need to pitch better to keep the Diamondbacks in the games that they start. If Ray can lower his ERA, he could become a top pitcher with his ability to strike out hitters. Although his ERA was higher than you’d like to see from a closer, Rodney’s other numbers were pretty good so he will improve the bullpen if he can have another season like that, but he recently turned 40 so that could be asking a lot out of the veteran.
The Diamondbacks are better than they were last year, but how much better their record ends up being largely lies with the starting pitching. Greinke returning to form will be key to their success and ability to compete with the likes of the Dodgers and Giants in the NL West. I’m not convinced they’re as good as those teams, but it should at least be closer than it was last season.