We’ve made it to the NL West and the final division in the 2021 MLB Betting Guide. The Arizona Diamondbacks are one of three teams in for a long year in this division. The San Diego Padres and Los Angeles Dodgers alternated the role of the one-upper, that guy in your friend circle that you strongly dislike because every story you or somebody else tells has to be beaten by him. If you know a SAT word, he knows a GRE word. If you know a LSAT word, he knows a MCAT word.
We all know that guy. Everybody can’t stand him, but you keep him around for one reason or another. Well, the Diamondbacks have no choice but to be stuck in a division with the Padres and the Dodgers. All they can focus on is trying to improve as a team and as individuals. It can’t be easy knowing that you are virtually a dead duck, or in this case a dead snake, before the season even starts. Basically, Arizona is a diamondback without any venom.
From an organizational standpoint, it makes things extremely challenging. You are simply burning up years of service time and control. Spending money seems foolish because the only return on investment would be to trade that player and hope for future assets that could help you if the Dodgers and Padres abruptly stop spending money or scouting well in the international ranks.
It isn’t in a pro athlete’s DNA to be a defeatist, but it sure seems as though being a realist would make a lot of sense. In the case of the Diamondbacks, the only hope is to somehow be the second Wild Card team when over 23% of your schedule comes against the loaded Dodgers and Padres.
A lot of the points I have lamented about with the Diamondbacks are priced into a season win total. This isn’t a bad team by any means. The floor is pretty high. They’ve had two awful seasons, but a lot of competitive baseball otherwise and have only exceeded 83 losses twice since 2010. The problem is that the Diamondbacks haven’t been good enough. They haven’t won a playoff series since 2007. They have two NL West titles since 2002. Even when they’ve finished second, they’ve been 11 games out both times.
When teams have been good, but not good enough, they become afterthoughts. It’s like I’ve said a few times in these introductions, the worst place to be is in the middle. As a general rule, those are the win totals I look to attack. I attempted to do that with the Diamondbacks two years ago when they went 82-80 and really liked their over 85.5.
Teams with high floors and low ceilings interest me greatly because they are predictable. It is hard for the bottom to fall out because there is a lot of talent there and the team is rarely dependent on one or two players to shoulder the load. The reason why they reside in the middle is because they don’t have those impact guys, but have a lot of guys that play pretty well overall.
Between the Dodgers and the Padres and what the Giants did last season, the Diamondbacks are not a big topic of conversation. Should they be one?
2021 Over/Under Season Win Total Odds
Odds To Win NL West
|Team||Odds To Win|
|Los Angeles Dodgers||-250|
|San Diego Padres||+200|
|San Francisco Giants||+4000|
|BaseRuns Run Differential||-65 (4.32/5.40)||+35 (4.92/4.70)|
|3rd Order Win%||25.6-34.4||83.6-78.4|
|Record in One-Run Games||9-9||24-26|
Additions: Tyler Clippard, Ben Heller, Asdrubal Cabrera, Christian Lopes, Carlos Navas, Joakim Soria, Chris Devenski, Ryan Buchter, Bryan Holaday, Seth Frankoff, Sam Moll, Jamie Ritchie, Humberto Castellanos
Losses: Junior Guerra, Kevin Cron, Artie Lewicki, Jon Jay, Hector Rondon, Mike Leake, Zach Pop, Aramis Garcia, Joel Payamps, Emilio Vargas, Bo Takahashi
I don’t envy the Diamondbacks. They’ve got a pretty decent team and you could argue that they’re an impact player or two away from having a decent shot at making some Wild Card noise, but being in a division with the Dodgers and Padres is pretty disheartening right now.
So, Mike Hazen tried to make as many improvements as he could without breaking the bank or locking the team into any long-term contracts while the LA/SD reign of terror continues. Asdrubal Cabrera is a really good utility player and I think he’s a good fit here at second base. I also like the signings of Joakim Soria and Tyler Clippard and the gambles on Chris Devenski and Ryan Buchter. The bullpen needed help.
None of the losses are of great significance. Junior Guerra was the best of that bunch with his 3.04 ERA, but had a 4.12 FIP and an ugly walk rate. One player not listed as a loss is Starling Marte, who was traded last August, but not having him for the full season hurts.
I have to say that for a team with very minute playoff prospects, I kind of like this offseason.
|Batting Average (BA)||.241 (19th)||.252 (14th)|
|On-Base Percentage (OBP)||.312 (22nd)||.323 (16th)|
|Slugging Percentage (SLG)||.391 (22nd)||.434 (15th)|
|Weighted On-Base Avg (wOBA)||.306 (25th)||.319 (14th)|
|Weighted Runs Created Plus (wRC+)||88 (26th)||94 (16th)|
|Batting Avg on Balls In Play (BABIP)||.282 (19th)||.293 (20th)|
|Strikeout Percentage (K%)||20.6% (4th)||21.5% (8th)|
|Walk Percentage (BB%)||8.1% (23rd)||8.6% (17th)|
I am surprised that this offense wasn’t better last season. I’m especially surprised because newcomer Kole Calhoun really exceeded any hopes that I had for him, but Ketel Marte fell off in a big way and Eduardo Escobar had a really poor season. I’m not sure Calhoun will be able to replicate the .362 wOBA and 125 wRC+ that he posted with 16 homers and a strong 12.3% BB%. Calhoun ran into some bad batted ball luck on non-homers with a .211 BABIP. That was a 54-point drop from the previous year when he hit 33 HR, but he still had a higher wOBA and wRC+.
The problem is that Calhoun only surpassed a 125 wRC+ once and it was in 2013 when he had 222 plate appearances. He had a career-high walk rate and a career-high HR/FB% at 28.6%. I will say that in Calhoun’s last season with the Angels, he pulled the ball a lot more and it led to that career-best 33-homer season. He pulled the ball at one of the most extreme rates in baseball last season at 59.6%. I usually don’t like mid-30s guys to have big changes, but Calhoun has changed his approach enough for me to believe.
Now if only Calhoun could get some help. Maybe it comes in the person of Ketel Marte, whose 94 wRC+ represented a huge downgrade when his .405 wOBA and 150 wRC+ in 2019. I wrote in last year’s Diamondbacks preview about how I questioned Marte’s sudden offensive explosion. Marte is a guy that made a fundamental swing change in 2019 to elevate the ball more by doubling his launch angle in an effort to generate more power.
Marte needs to hit more fly balls still, but what happened last season was that his HR/FB% fell from 19% to 3.8%. His Pull% also decreased. He saw more fastballs and struck out less. He swung and missed less. Everything pointed towards some semblance of a repeat of his 2020 and it didn’t happen.
I’d expect Marte to be a lot better this season. His 2019 probably isn’t repeatable, but I do think a sweet spot for him is around a 120-125 wRC+ with good defense. That could take him back up to around 3.5 or 4.0 fWAR. I’m actually buying him to sustain some parts of his 2019.
So, we’ve got a fundamental difference for Calhoun that I think breeds sustainability. I’d expect Marte to get better. David Peralta had some batted ball luck with a .361 BABIP, but he, too, lost power production. He hits far too many grounders for my liking as well, but he’s an above average hitter against righties and I’d expect that to continue.
Hitters across the West Divisions of both leagues saw power decreases. Take Eduardo Escobar. He went from 35 HR in 2019 to just four in 222 PA in 2020. Escobar dropped off across the board in a lot of areas, but his HR/FB% went from 15.2% to 6.1%. Facing the Dodgers and the Padres hurt, but so, too, did all of the bad offensive park factors. That is why putting too much stock in the 2020 numbers is a mistake. Certainly you could point just to COVID and the inherent uncertainty that the players played through, but park factors were also very skewed and very imbalanced for some teams.
Escobar wasn’t going to hit 35 homers anyway, but I also wouldn’t have expected such a huge power outage. Christian Walker was another one that saw a drop in HR/FB% from 20.1% to 12.1%. This was an epidemic for the Diamondbacks. I would postulate that what happened from a power standpoint in 2019 wasn’t overly sustainable, but drops of this magnitude are not either.
The Diamondbacks do have a humidor at Chase Field and that really doesn’t seem to help matters a whole lot, but they had one in 2019 as well. The road was the culprit for the Snakes. Arizona was 10th in road wOBA at .322 in 2019. They were 28th in road wOBA in 2020 with a mark of .281. Only the Rangers and Pirates were worse. They were 19th in home wOBA at .316 in 2019 and 13th in 2020 at .331.
This is actually a positive sign to me. It suggests that the Diamondbacks got better at home, where they actually had the league’s lowest K%, and their problems were on the road, which could very well be park factor related.
Asdrubal Cabrera is the only addition to the lineup and he’s generally somewhere around league average offensively, so I don’t think he will actively hurt the team. Nick Ahmed was slightly better and his defense is always going to yield positive value for him. I’m not sure if Carson Kelly will hit, but he posted a solid 107 wRC+ in 2019 and just a 70 wRC+ in 2020. He’s a good defensive catcher that nets some value that way.
Call me crazy, but I actually like the Diamondbacks lineup to improve in 2021. I would really love to see more emphasis on hitting fly balls to unlock some of the power potential from the guys in the lineup, but I simply believe that getting into better offensive environments on the road can allow for a repeat of 2019. That would be about a league average offense in a lot of categories and that is a massive step up from 2020.
|Earned Run Average (ERA)||4.84 (20th)||4.25 (11th)|
|Fielding Independent Pitching (FIP)||5.00 (25th)||4.40 (15th)|
|Adj. Fielding Independent Pitching (xFIP)||4.87 (26th)||4.42 (14th)|
|Strikeout Percentage (K%)||23.0% (19th)||22.9% (15th)|
|Walk Percentage (BB%)||10.3% (26th)||8.3% (11th)|
|Left On Base Percentage (LOB%)||74.0% (11th)||74.0% (9th)|
I also expect this pitching staff to be a lot better, so I think you know where I’m going with this team. Zac Gallen, a long shot Cy Young Award pick of mine last season, pitched really well. He had a 2.75 ERA with a 3.66 FIP in his 72 innings of work. He had 1.6 fWAR, which was just about triple the next closest guy. That was Merrill Kelly, who made some interesting changes I’ll cover in a bit. Gallen improved upon his walk rate from the previous season and also made some strides in terms of limiting hard contact against.
I will be extremely interested to see what happens with Gallen this season. He threw a cutter a lot more last season that wound up with poor results, but a low exit velocity against at 84.2 mph. He allowed four of his nine homers on the pitch, though, and hitters had a .318 BA and a .500 SLG on 52 batted ball events. He must not have had a strong feel for his curveball, as he threw it less, even though hitters couldn’t handle it. His changeup was also a plus pitch with a high Whiff%.
I love this arsenal. Gallen has the fastball command necessary to use that as an out pitch and has three other secondaries with a ton of potential. I won’t be on the long shot bandwagon this season, but Gallen is a legit frontline starter and I think this could be a very special season for him.
I guess I might as well go to Merrill Kelly next. I more or less glossed over Kelly last season in the write-up because there was nothing of note regarding his 2019. He had a 4.42 ERA with a 4.51 FIP and was roughly league average. He only made five starts in 2020, but the Diamondbacks did with him what they did with Gallen. Fewer fastballs, more of everything else, and much more of a mix. Kelly throws five pitches and he threw each one at least 15% of the time. There are actually some really nice spin rates under the hood here. I actually think the glimpse of what we saw from Kelly has staying power and he could actually be an above average pitcher this season, though he is coming back from thoracic outlet syndrome surgery, which is not an easy procedure.
Arizona didn’t get to find out a whole lot about Caleb Smith because he only worked 11 innings after the Marte trade, but Smith is a guy that can get a lot of outs. He’s a lot like Robbie Ray in that he is nowhere near efficient with his pitches, but strikes out a lot of guys, walks a lot of guys, and gives up a lot of home runs. At least the Diamondbacks know what that’s like. I don’t know what he’ll be this season to be totally honest, but the D-Backs are a good defensive team if he can keep the ball in the yard.
Some of Luke Weaver’s gains from 2019 translated to 2020. His K% and increased SwStr% came with him. Otherwise, he fell off in the batted ball department. He allowed 15 barrels in just 162 batted ball events, which is very bad. Weaver is proof that high spin rates don’t guarantee success, as his fastball ranked in the 86th percentile last season and that pitch got beat like a rented mule. He gave up a ton of hard contact and command looks to be a major issue. I think there’s something to work with here, but the Diamondbacks have to unlock it.
Will they unlock anything with Madison Bumgarner? Last season, he was all out of whack. His velocity was down. His command was way down. The Giants unlocked some additional spin in 2019 and that seemed to stem the tide of whatever was causing his production to drop off. The Diamondbacks got a really bad version of him with decreased fastball velo and his cutter was like a batting practice pitch.
Was it a one-off? After all, he’s only 31 years old and won’t turn 32 until August. It could be. He’ll probably never be the Bumgarner we saw during an incredible run of consistency from 2011-16, but it wouldn’t take much for him to get back to league average or thereabouts.
I really like the upside and the potential of this rotation. Matt Herges is the pitching coach. He was the bullpen coach for the Giants as they were transitioning over to more of a numbers-based approach under Farhan Zaidi. That’s when the Giants were really pushing to increase spin rates and do different things to maximize their pitching talent. Herges was also in the Dodgers organization and you know that former Rays GM Andrew Friedman incorporates metrics at every level.
I also low-key like the SP depth here. We’re still waiting for Jon Duplantier to live up to his prospect status, but the Diamondbacks scored Corbin Martin and JB Bukauskas from the Astros for Zack Greinke in 2019 and also got Humberto Mejia in the Marte deal with the Marlins.
The offense comes with its fair share of concerns to say the least, but my biggest worry is the bullpen. Joakim Soria slots in as a good free agent signing, but this is a group really limited on upside. The 4.83 FIP the D-Backs pen posted was barely outside the bottom five and Soria is the only new addition. Yoan Lopez has been a below average reliever for a couple seasons and guys like Kevin Ginkel and Taylor Widener walk too many batters.
My hope here is that the Diamondbacks can find lightning in a bottle with minor league signings like Chris Devenski, Ryan Buchter, and maybe move a starter or two out there. I don’t see that being the case with no chance of unseating the Dodgers or Padres. They’ll let the guys that don’t make the club pitch in the Triple-A rotation. At least the late signing of Tyler Clippard was a big one to slightly ease my concerns.
This is likely a pretty bad bullpen again. I usually shy away from teams that have a bad relief unit, especially those with lower win totals.
Positives & Negatives
This is a better defensive team than last season’s mediocre showing, though we will have to see how Cabrera does at second base. For as solid of a hitter as he’s been throughout his career, he’s not a great defensive player. Cabrera’s presence does move Ketel Marte back to center field, where he was quite good in 2019. Nick Ahmed is one of the game’s most underrated defensive shortstops. Eduardo Escobar is pretty average at third. While the defense won’t be an enormous strength, it won’t be any sort of weakness.
Some teams really benefited from the two-thirds division and 20 interleague game schedule. The Diamondbacks did not. They were a combined 4-16 against the Dodgers and Giants and 5-5 against the other two teams. That offensive outage I mentioned on the road led to a 9-21 showing away from Chase Field. Of their 10 games against Colorado, only three were at Coors Field and they won two of those, so they lost out on some chances to play in a better hitting environment as a team with better pitching. All things being equal over 162 like normal, I’d expect the Diamondbacks to fare better in a lot of areas.
Arizona started 13-12 and then went 4-19 in the middle of the season, including an eight-game losing streak, before finishing on a bit of a high note. It was pretty easy to give up on last season at times. Staring up at the Padres and Dodgers all year is a concern of mine, especially because Calhoun, Escobar, Soria, and Cabrera are all impending free agents that could be traded at the deadline. The Diamondbacks are not a cash-rich organization and Zack Greinke is their second-highest paid player this season while he pitches for the Astros.
Arizona Diamondbacks Pick & Prediction: Over 74.5
This one is a bet for me, as I like the Diamondbacks to finish third in the NL West and exceed this win total line. The offensive outage on the road is especially shocking when you consider that Dodger Stadium, Petco Park, and Oracle Park actually played pretty hitter-friendly last season. I think this was an Arizona team that psyched itself out early and that was that.
There are a lot of really good individual pieces and parts with this team. I don’t know if they’ll stay together throughout the season, but I do believe that Mike Hazen is a good GM and that Matt Herges should be able to do more with this rotation this season. The bullpen has its flaws, but we’re talking about a season win total of 74.5.
It goes without saying, but the 38 games that are looming over this team’s head against the Padres and Dodgers are hard to overlook, but that also means that they’re going to play 124 games against other teams. They’re going to play the NL Central. They’re going to get the NL East to come to the desert on a road trip that probably includes playing the Dodgers or the Padres.
I’m expecting improvement here and there really doesn’t need to be a lot of it to get to 75 wins.
Diamondbacks over 74.5 makes the cut as a bet and as a pick here in the Guide.