2022 Season Preview: Arizona Diamondbacks

Image: Matt Kartozian-USA TODAY Sports

Arizona Diamondbacks

by William Gregory

2021 Record: 52-110 (.321 win%, 5th in Division)

2021 Payroll: $91,232,929 (22nd)

Projected 2022 Lineup (from Steamer):

1. 2B Ketel Marte, .291 AVG/.356 OBP/.486 SLG, 3.9 fWAR

2. LF David Peralta, .269 AVG/.333 OBP/.432 SLG, 1.2 fWAR 

3. CF Daulton Varsho, .254 AVG/.327 OBP/.467 SLG, 2.6 fWAR

4. DH Seth Beer, .255 AVG/.337 OBP/.465 SLG, 0.9 fWAR

5. 1B Christian Walker, .248 AVG/.324 OBP/.438 SLG, 0.9 fWAR

6. RF Pavin Smith, .264 AVG/.332 OBP/.430 SLG, 0.9 fWAR

7. 3B Drew Ellis, .213 AVG/.305 OBP/.382 SLG, 0.1 fWAR

8. C Carson Kelly, .240 AVG/.327 OBP/.424 SLG, 2.1 fWAR

9. SS Nick Ahmed, .239 AVG/.302 OBP/.379 SLG, 0.8 fWAR

Projected 2022 Rotation:

1. Zac Gallen, 169.0 IP/4.35 ERA/1.33 WHIP, 2.1 fWAR

2. Merrill Kelly, 171.0 IP/4.98 ERA/1.40 WHIP, 1.2 fWAR

3. Madison Bumgarner, 184.0 IP/5.22 ERA/1.39 WHIP, 0.9 fWAR

4. Luke Weaver, 121.0 IP/4.51 ERA/1.32 WHIP, 0.8 fWAR

5. Zach Davies, 136.0 IP/5.50 ERA/1.56 WHIP, 0.1 fWAR

Projected 2022 Top 3 Relievers:

1. Sean Poppen, 58.0 IP/4.20 ERA/1.40 WHIP, 0.2 fWAR

2. Ian Kennedy, 64.0 IP/4.51 ERA/1.30 WHIP, 0.1 fWAR

3. Mark Melancon, 65.0 IP/4.30 ERA/1.43 WHIP, 0.1 fWAR

Offseason Recap:

After a 52 win season, it’s no surprise that Arizona did not have any real contributors depart from the team in free agency. They didn’t end up making many acquisitions either, as you can count the major leaguers picked up on one hand. We’ll break it down into three categories, and get it over quickly.

Merrill Kelly and Ketel Marte were both extended just before the end of Spring Training. It’s interesting to see Marte sign an extension given the direction of the franchise the past few years, but he gets $84 million guaranteed until 2027. He chose security over testing the market, but I don’t think it precludes Arizona from moving him for a great haul. Kelly signed a two year extension to keep him around until 2024. He’s been an average starter since resurrecting his MLB career in Korea.

Arizona made two trades involving Major Leaguers and picked up Jordan Luplow and Sergio Alcantara in exchange for infield prospect Ronny Simon (you can’t trade an infielder to the Rays and expect to get away with it) and cash considerations. Luplow is the token part-time right-handed outfielder to balance out Arizona’s lefties, and he provides some pop to a lineup that lacks it. Alcantara is a light-hitting middle infielder who you would like to be able to play third base with the lack of depth at that spot.

Finally, the Diamondbacks signed four veteran pitchers in Mark Melancon, Zach Davies, Ian Kennedy and Oliver Perez. They’re all low-risk signings to get through the season, and if one of them pops, they can be traded at the deadline. That is the desired outcome for Mark Melancon and Ian Kennedy. The 37 year olds continue to be great hired guns. Melancon was even an All-Star last season after posting a league-leading 37 saves. Oliver Perez is a similar story, but he’s even older. The 40 year old lefty still gets to live out his big league dreams. Davies is signed to a shrewd 1 year, $1.75 million contract that has incentives and a mutual option for next season.

There’s not much the Diamondbacks could have done differently this offseason given their situation. I’m fine with the moves they made. They bought low on several veterans, and have the flexibility to move any of them at the trade deadline if they play well enough. If not, they can be easily supplanted by young players. Standard rebuilding procedure.

2022 Season Preview:

Lineup (Daulton Varsho and David Peralta will be discussed later)

Ketel Marte is as good as ever with the bat, and now he’s permanently sliding over to a more comfortable position at second base. Over the five seasons Marte played in Arizona, he has been a far better middle infield defender than he has been in center field. Marte is a complete hitter that has put up MVP-level numbers in his last two full seasons. If he gets more comfortable at a more natural position, and has less to worry about in between at-bats, watch out.

Carson Kelly is an underrated catcher who can be one of the best hitters for Arizona this year. In his two full seasons of work in Arizona, Kelly has hit for an OPS of 103 and 106. His peripheral numbers support him sustaining this kind of play, but you’d like to see his catching defense return to what it was in 2019. After registering 5 Catcher Framing Runs that season, which was pretty good relative to other catcher, he has been barely above average. Kelly has shown the potential to be a complete catcher, but he needs to get back to old ways.

Josh Rojas is a valuable utilityman who can play all over. You’d like him to play third base more, but you’ll settle for infield/outfield utility. He’ll be one of the more consistent veteran hitters in this lineup, but he isn’t really anything more than a stop gap. If he registers anything under than a league average slashline, he’ll be replaced by a younger player.

Christian Walker and Pavin Smith may not represent the end of the road of searching for a Paul Goldschmidt replacement, but they’re all Arizona has. Walker was pulled from Oriole obscurity in 2019 to be a solid success story in Arizona, but his 2021 87 OPS+ was not what anyone will tolerate for a first base-only player. His replacement, Pavin Smith, has played a lot of corner outfield since debuting in 2020, but he is not a good defender. I expect him to move to first base permanently at some point this year, but his bat needs to mature before he makes a true difference.

Seth Beer is an Out of the Park legend, and a legit slugger. At the time of writing, Beer hit a walk-off three run homer against the San Diego Padres. He hit a home run in his first at-bat last season. Beer is one of the few Diamondbacks who possesses raw power, and as a result, he should get a regular starter’s amount of playing time this year. He has the prospect pedigree, although he’s come up a bit late, and he has the talent to be the premier slugger in this lineup.

Nick Ahmed is another underrated D-Backs vet who needs to hit better than he did in 2021. Ahmed was one of, if not the best, defender at shortstop in all of MLB, per Savant. The problem was that his offensive production fell off of a cliff. After registering an OPS+ just below league average over the prior three seasons, Ahmed posted an awful 67 OPS+ in 2021. He’ll start 2022 injured, but he needs to find a way to hit anything other than soft grounders when he returns.

Youngsters Alek Thomas, Geraldo Perdomo, and Drew Ellis all hope to earn an extended look at Chase Field at some point this season. Perdomo and Ellis will serve as infield depth for Arizona, Ellis can play the corners and Perdomo up the middle. Both players actually earned the start on Opening Day. Alek Thomas gathers all the hype, though as a young outfielder that has hit well at every step along the way. He is the future of Arizona’s outfield along with Corbin Carroll.

The Arizona lineup is a weird mix of old and young that makes me believe the rebuild isn’t really over yet. A lot of these players could be traded at the deadline, but if they aren’t, it would make me question the direction of this organization. They need to cycle through as many wild cards as possible to see who sticks.

Pitching Staff (Zach Davies and MadBum will be discussed later)

Zac Gallen needs to take the leap in 2022. After his tantalizing 2020 and 2021 season, many thought that Gallen would become a young ace for the D-Backs, and that they ripped off Miami in the trade for him involving Jazz Chisholm. However, now that Chisholm has become arguably the best hitter in the Marlins’ lineup, and that Gallen faltered in 2021, there’s reason to worry about his development. I think he’s fine, though. Gallen outperformed his xERA in his first two seasons, and simply got unlucky in 2021. I still believe he’ll pull through, but this season represents a turning point.

Merrill Kelly should continue to be solid as a stabilizing force in the rotation. He’s been average in his last two full seasons, but he’ll need to be more after receiving that two year extension. His 2021 xERA was almost a full run lower than it was in 2019, so there’s reason to expect he is finally acclimating to MLB after his time in Korea, especially considering that he was great in 2020. At age 34, Merrill Kelly may finally find his place in a Major League rotation, and could end the season as the most dependable guy.

Luke Weaver needs to pitch a full season as a starter or his spot in the rotation could be up for grabs. The transition may have already begun seeing how his development has stagnated, and it seems he isn’t able to take on a starter’s level of innings. He throws a near 94 MPH fastball when he starts, so there’s reason to believe he can kick that up as a reliever and be a dangerous bullpen arm.

Keone Kela, Sean Poppen, and Tyler Gilbert are three 28 year olds in the bullpen hoping to keep hold of a job. Kela has bounced around as of late after being considered a hot commodity before 2021. He can be a solid trade chip if he pans out in Arizona. Sean Poppen was good in 2020, but has not been great other than that season. He could be out of a job by season’s end. Tyler Gilbert threw a no-hitter last year, but he needs to forge a more proven track record if he wants to stick around through the rebuild.

Like the hitting core, the Arizona pitching staff represents a strange dichotomy between where this team is, and where they eventually want to be. Unfortunately, unlike the lineup, there are even more veterans on this side of the ball, and their contracts could represent more roadblocks on the way to getting random dudes playing time in the hope that they play well.

Record Prediction: 65-97

A lot of projection systems, along with Vegas, are projecting a 10-15 bump in the D-Backs win total for 2022. Their Pythagorean win total of 61 in 2021 does bode well for regression to the mean after registering 9 more losses than expected, but I don’t see a dramatic jump in talent from last season to this one, especially considering the drop offs in production we saw from certain players in 2021.

Arizona’s 2022 will almost certainly be a season filled with growing pains for the younger guys. There are rookies all over the infield, the bullpen is full of unproven players, and there will be more talented minor leaguers, like Alek Thomas, knocking on the door later in the year.

Another reason I have a hard time believing in a 20 game jump in the standings is the competition in the rest of the division. First, while Colorado is by no means contending for the playoffs, they aren’t completely devoid of talent, and should represent a roadblock for the Diamondbacks to get into 4th place in the NL West. The top three teams in the division, San Diego, San Francisco, and Los Angeles, are going to pound on the D-Backs all year long.

Unless Arizona has some weird, unexpected turnaround, which has not been uncommon in the Mike Hazen era, I don’t feel the Diamondbacks are going to improve that dramatically, in fact, I think they may dive deeper to the bottom. They’re not going to have a good record at the deadline, so is 2022 the year Ketel Marte is finally dealt. I’m not sure if they are truly done tearing this team down, so I hesitate to project them close to having a 70 win season.

Player to Watch #1: OF David Peralta/ SP Madison Bumgarner

Two established vets trying not to end their careers with the whimper. That’s what it’s come down to for Peralta and Bumgarner. Both players take up a top-3 spot on Arizona’s payroll, but as of late, they have not been worth it. David Peralta finished up last year with a .727 OPS in a corner outfield spot. He did play good defense, though. MadBum had a disappointing 2021, relative to his career, but it represented a bounce back from an awful 2020.

For David Peralta to make noise entering his age-35 season, he needs to change his approach. In the two best seasons of his career, 2015 and 2018, Peralta vastly outpaced his career averages in Hard Hit%, Barrel%, and exit velocity. Peralta needs to try an approach to return to those levels in 2022, and a key aspect would be to try and raise his average launch angle, which was a career low 5.3 degrees last season. It seems he has made an effort to change his work on and off the field after a very promising Spring. Look for Peralta to return to being a good all-around player in 2022.

Madison Bumgarner finished with an ERA under 3.50 in every year, except his last, in San Francisco. He has not been worth the contract tendered to him since he got to Arizona. Bumgarner rebounded from a 7.77 xERA in 2020 to be an average starting pitcher in 2021. His peripheral numbers returned to being similar to what they used to be in his last years in San Francisco, meaning that he may not be the same angry MadBum that can shut down a World Series, but he can be a respectable second or third guy in Arizona’s rotation that can manage an average finish in 2022. He won’t further his Hall of Fame case, but he’ll eat innings well for Arizona.

Player to Watch #2: OF/C Daulton Varsho

It’s not often to see a player start at catcher and in center field so many times in the same season, but Varsho may be one of the most versatile players in the Majors. He played a bit more than half of 2021, but he should see a full season’s workload in 2022. He will look to build on a solid 102 OPS+ campaign, and while he may not end up being a great defender in center for Arizona, he still offers Torey Luvullo tremendous flexibility.

Varsho will most likely put up a similar season to his rookie year last season. A lot of his StatCast numbers are similar to his real ones, so there’s no reason to expect him to regress suddenly in 2022. However, he did make improvements from 2020 to 2021, so it shouldn’t be a surprise if he further improves as a hitter. His strikeout rate dropped, while his walk rate improved, and he still has room to get luckier after posting a .286 BABIP in 2021. There’s no reason Varsho isn’t a core contributor for the D-Backs in 2022.

Player to Watch #3: SP Zach Davies

I don’t think you would have anyone argue against you if you said Zach Davis was the worst starting pitcher of 2021. He was truly awful. That’s why it’s not surprising that he would end up on one of the worst teams in MLB on a prove-it contract. They want to give Davies one more shot at staying around, and provide surplus value by being a successful reclamation project.

Zach Davies needs to improve just about everything to be even an average pitcher in 2022, but with how the rest of his career has gone thus far, it’s hard to imagine that last year was anything but a fluke, with Davies still only being at the age of 29. He has nearly always outperformed his peripheral xERA and FIP numbers, but that doesn’t necessarily mean he’s getting lucky. In Davies’ previous 683.2 innings, he maintained a 3.79 ERA that was paired with a 4.18 FIP.

Part of the reason to suspect Davies to bounce back is that he has now left a Chicago Cubs rotation that has many similar ground ball pitchers. At this stage in Davies’ career, he will most excel as a change of pace pitcher in the middle of the rotation. That is exemplified by his best seasons pitching within the power pitcher-heavy Milwaukee and San Diego rotations. After a short Spring Training, Davies showed flashes of the pitcher he used to be. He, as a Valley native, along with Diamondbacks faithful hope he can be a great story in what will be a lackluster season.



Categories: 2022 Season Preview

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