2023 record: 84-78 (.519)
Second Place, NL West
Team ERA: 4.48 (20th)
Team OPS: .730 (17th)
What Went Right
You may look at the above rankings and think, “How did this team make the World Series?” Well, in addition to some timely clutch performances in the playoffs, the keys for the Diamondbacks were contact, speed and defense.
Arizona finished 4th in baseball in Defensive WAR (Wins Above Replacement) and 2nd in OAA (Outs Above Average). They committed the fewest errors in all of baseball with just 56 and had the highest fielding percentage in baseball. They also threw out the 7th-most basestealers, and Gabriel Moreno had the best caught stealing percentage of any starting catcher.
Meanwhile, the Diamondbacks themselves were 2nd in all of baseball in steals with 166, so while they didn’t it for much power, they frequently turned walks or singles into doubles or triples. They also ranked 4th in baseball with just a 20.4% strikeout rate as an offense.
At the center of that chaps on the basepaths was likely NL Rookie of the Year, Corbin Carroll. Carroll was a menace in his first season for the Diamondbacks, stealing 54 bases while slashing .285/.362/.506 with 25 home runs, 116 runs scored, and 76 RBI. He gave Arizona everything it could want and more and is not only a face of the franchise but a potential face of the next wave of MLB stars.
The Diamondbacks also had an NL Cy Young candidate in Zac Gallen. The right-hander had a 3.47 ERA, 1.12 WHIP, and 26% strikeout rate in 210 innings. He was a steadying force atop Arizona’s rotation, and then the bullpen got a huge boost at the deadline after trading for Paul Sewald, who saved 13 games and pitched to a 25% strikeout rate and 3.57 ERA in 17.2 innings in Arizona.
When you add that to strong seasons from Christian Walker (.258/.333/.497 with 33 home runs), Ketel Marte (.276/.358/.485 with 25 home runs and eight steals), and Lourdes Gurriel Jr. (.261/.309/.46 3 with 24 home runs and five steals), it’s not only clear that the Diamondbacks did very well by trading Daulton Varsho for Gurriel Jr. and Moreno but that the Diamondbacks were a steady but not flashy team all year long.
What Went Wrong
Starting pitching depth was a big problem for the Diamondbacks this year. They only had three starters throw over 120 innings on the season, and one of them was Ryne Nelson, who had a 5.31 ERA, 1.42 WHIP, and 8.1% K-BB%. Zach Davies had a 7.00 ERA in 82.1 innings, and much-hyped prospect Brandon Pfaadt failed to deliver in multiple chances during the regular season, pitching to a 5.72 ERA in 96 innings with an incredibly high 2.06 HR/9.
Oh, and Madison Bumgarner was actually on this team this year. I know you probably forgot that. The 33-year-old pitched to a 10.26 ERA across 16.2 innings in four starts and then was released in April. It feels like this may be the end of his storied career.
For much of the year, Arizona had similar issues in their bullpen, finishing 18th in baseball with a 4.22 bullpen ERA and 20th in the league with a 23.2% strikeout rate from their relievers. They had saves from five different relievers before Paul Sewald arrived and none of them were able to hold onto the closer’s role with all of Scot McGough, Miguel Castro, and Andrew Chafin giving up the role after a while.
Individually, the Diamondbacks also saw a tough year from Alek Thomas, who had been one of their top prospects but really struggled to adapt to the big-league level and was sent down to the minors for a spell to try and figure it out. On the season, Thomas hit .230/.273/.374 with nine home runs, 51 runs scored, 39 RBI, and nine steals in 402 plate appearances.
Outfielder Jake McCarthy similarly fell off after his hot stretch in 2022 and was out of the lineup for much of the 2023 season. He finished with a .243/.318/.326 slash line with two home runs, 37 runs scored, 16 RBI, and 26 steals in 312 plate appearances.
Their struggles, along with those of Pavin Smith, led the Diamondbacks to trade for Tommy Pham and Dominic Fletcher, but the team struggled to find an answer aside from Corbin Carroll in the outfield.
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** There’s not much more to say about Corbin Carroll other than what we covered above. At just 23 years old, he figures to get even better and should be a locked in first-round pick.
** Christian Walker continues to be one of the more underrated first baseman in fantasy baseball. Among first baseman with at least 200 plate appearances last year, Walker was 3rd in home runs, 3rd in RBI, tied for 6th in stolen bases, and 10th in OPS while striking out just 19.6% of the time. He’s pushing to be a top six option at the position.
** Gabriel Moreno showed a bit of pop in the playoffs, hitting four home runs in 17 games; however, his .444 slugging percentage wasn’t much of an improvement from his regular season mark. He’s shown that he can hit for average and his defensive acumen will keep him in the lineup, but without much speed, he’s mainly a batting average asset with good chip-in RBI numbers from being in a strong lineup. He’s young enough to grow into more power, but if we don’t see any signs of noticeable improvement here, his fantasy ceiling is capped a bit and he will remain more of a two-catcher league asset.
** Jordan Lawlar had just 34 uninspiring plate appearances at the big league level in 2023, but the 2021 first round pick figures to be the everyday shortstop in Arizona in 2024 and has a fantasy-friendly skillset. In 105 games across two minor league levels, Lawlar slashed .278/.378/.496 with 20 home runs and 36 steals. Even though he struck out 32.4% of the time in the big leagues, he’s never been a high strikeout hitter, so you should be looking at a solid batting average and potentially 30+ steals with some chip-in home runs.
** While we mentioned that Brandon Pfaadt struggled in the regular season, he made some noticeable changes to his arsenal in the postseason and was able to achieve an impressive level of success. While he relied almost exclusively on a four-seam fastball in the regular season, Pfaadt leaned more on his sweeper and a new sinker during the playoffs. In 22 postseason innings, Pfaadt had a 3.27 ERA, 1.09 WHIP, and 26 strikeouts. He also allowed three home runs, which isn’t great but is an improvement from his regular season performance.
** We talked before about how good Paul Sewald was after coming over to Arizona. With the team likely bringing him back next season, Sewald could certainly challenge to be a top-10 reliever for fantasy purposes with Arizona pushing to win 90+ games next year.
** Merrill Kelly continues to be written off, but he’s been a steady contributor for Arizona over the last few seasons. In 2023, Kelly threw 177.2 innings with a 3.29 ERA and 1.19 WHIP. It was his second straight year with an ERA under 3.4 while throwing over 175 innings. He also saw a big jump in strikeout rate from 22% in 2022 to 26% in 2023. He is steady target to round out your fantasy rotations.
Key Free Agents
Lourdes Gurriel Jr., Tommy Pham, Evan Longoria, Nick Ahmed, Zach Davies, and Mark Melancon.
The Diamondbacks clearly need pitching. They were so hurting for starting pitching depth that they had to throw a bullpen game in the World Series, and while that may not be awful in-and-of itself, their bullpen also has some flaws. With Gallen, Kelly, and Pfaadt likely locked into rotation spots in 2024, the Diamondbacks need to add at least one starter and possibly two, unless they trust one of Tommy Henry, Ryne Nelson, Slade Cecconi, or Corbin Martin to win a job.
They could also turn to former first-round pick Blake Walston, who has flashed in AFL action, but he’s likely better off starting the year at Triple-A.
Arizona also needs to add more depth to its starting lineup. As of right now, both Jake McCarthy and Alek Thomas are starting in the outfield and Dominic Fletcher is slated to be their designated hitter. Two of those players likely need to come off the bench if this team wants to contend for another title. Arizona should look to add a big bat corner outfielder and then another solid hitter to compete for their designated hitter spot.
That spot could go to 23-year-old Ivan Melendez, who hit .273 with 30 home runs across two levels in the minors in 2023, but because he’s yet to get any at-bats at Triple-A, he would need a huge spring to make the starting lineup at the start of 2024.