How Corbin Carroll and Gabriel Moreno make the Arizona Diamondbacks a perfect surprise team for 2023

The D-backs are among MLB's best at finding an advantage on the basepaths — and preventing opponents from doing so

Watch enough baseball, and you’ll come to view at least a chunk of the game’s results not as the perfect, elevated meritocracy sports are sometimes pitched as but as products of the same cosmic timing that shapes lives in the real world. More importantly, you’ll come to view being in the right place at the right time not as a diminishing ding on an especially good or surprising team but as an almost necessary drop of the sublime that makes the whole thing feel meant to be.

The Arizona Diamondbacks have the good timing in 2023. At a juncture when several supposed National League contenders — the New York Mets, San Diego Padres and St. Louis Cardinals among them — are profoundly disappointing, the D-backs have emerged as the biggest positive surprise. At 37-25, they have the NL’s second-best record behind the Atlanta Braves, third-best run differential (behind the Braves and Los Angeles Dodgers) and fourth-best playoff odds (65.9%), per FanGraphs.

Whether they can maintain their edge over the Dodgers in the division standings is hardly the point right now. Just as the 2019 Minnesota Twins conjured a terrific season by hitting the most fly balls in the best season ever to hit fly balls, the D-backs are perched atop the NL West in part because they are masters of the ground game on both sides of the ball in a year when new rules attached to the pitch clock have amplified those skills.

Behind the yin-and-yang talents of present and future centerpieces Corbin Carroll and Gabriel Moreno, the Diamondbacks look like full-fledged postseason contenders, with a pretty neat calling card that might stick around for years.

They blaze around the basepaths at will. And they stop opponents in their tracks.

Run, rookie, run

Beyond the continued excellence of ace Zac Gallen, Arizona’s rise this season has been particularly exciting because of who’s powering it.

Carroll, a 22-year-old outfielder who topped most prospect lists and signed an eight-year extension before the season, is a talent whose arrival would make a splash no matter the timing.

Corbin Carroll's spray chart (via
Corbin Carroll's spray chart (via

This kind of spray chart demonstrating all-fields power is not typically associated with compact, 5-foot-10 frames or the sport’s fastest players. Yet all of those descriptors fit Carroll, whom veteran D-backs hitter Evan Longoria summarily described as a “freak.”

Carroll’s 153 OPS+ places him among MLB’s 10 best hitters this season. But we’re here to talk about his baserunning, which is baseball’s best thus far by FanGraphs’ estimation. Carroll’s 18 steals look good, if a bit behind the league leaders, while his 90% stolen-base percentage is stellar; likewise, the D-backs’ team total of 62 steals ranks fourth, well behind the Tampa Bay Rays’ 83. Instead, Carroll leads Arizona’s charge by posting elite numbers in running situations when the ball is in play.

Baseball Reference tracks extra-base taken percentage, a statistic that tells you how often runners exceed the baseline expectation of a hit by, for example, going first-to-third on a single or second-to-home on a double. It’s one way to measure successful aggression on the bases. The Diamondbacks lead baseball in this category, taking the extra base in 52% of their opportunities. Six times, Carroll has scored from first on doubles, tied for the major-league lead.

In fact, in a recent showdown with the Braves, Carroll scored Arizona’s second run and then its third on carbon-copy first-to-home blitzes. The final score? A 3-2 D-backs win.

Carroll’s churning overdrive can be jarring and even comical. In a late April game against the Colorado Rockies, he accurately read a hit off the bat and shadowed breakout shortstop Geraldo Perdomo — fast in his own right — all the way around the bases to score rapid-fire runs.

Don’t run on the Diamondbacks’ other young star

Meanwhile, Arizona is shutting down opposing runners. Moreno, the second-year catcher who came over as the centerpiece of the Daulton Varsho deal with the Toronto Blue Jays, is posting eye-popping caught-stealing numbers. He has thrown out an MLB-best 50% of runners attempting to steal (14 of 28) in a season when 80% of attempts across MLB have been successful.

Catchers who can aid their pitchers by cutting down runners or discouraging them from even attempting to swipe bags are more valuable the more prominent the running game becomes. That makes 2023 one of the best years in generations for Moreno to come out firing. The limited pickoff attempts that accompany the pitch timer, as well as the bigger bases this season, have accomplished MLB’s desired effect of making it easier and more enticing to steal bases.

There’s a long way to go before Moreno proves himself to be in the same league as the Philadelphia PhilliesJ.T. Realmuto, whose arm has long been the gold standard, but Moreno’s warning to potential runners has been loud.

He doesn’t fire at particularly notable speed. His average arm strength to second base has been 80.4 mph, per Statcast, where others such as Realmuto (83.6 mph) and Oakland’s Shea Langeliers (85.1 mph) regularly hit higher velocities. But he has been tremendously accurate. The vast majority of Moreno’s throws reach his second baseman’s or shortstop’s glove in the air, often in terrific tagging position.

Granted, there’s work to be done to get Moreno’s framing to the same level as his throwing and blocking (where his athleticism also shines through), but the 23-year-old has plenty of time to grow with a Diamondbacks team on the same schedule.

But as the rest of the league is finding out, that schedule might include contending sooner than most expected.