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The Diamondbacks were one of baseball’s biggest surprises last year, going from losing 93 games in 2016 to winning that many in 2017, when Arizona made the playoffs and recorded a better run-differential (+153) than the Cubs and Nationals. The DBacks figure to compete for a wild card spot again this season, but it’s safe to expect regression in the process (and the loss of J.D. Martinez to free agency hurt as well).
The main theme when it comes to Arizona this year is the introduction of the humidor, which could have a dramatic effect. Over the last three years, Chase Field has increased run scoring by 17 percent, with only Coors Field and Arlington (just barely) higher over that span. There are many variables when it comes to park factors, but the humidor should both reduce exit velocity and improve pitcher grip (although the green backdrop hitters love remains the same there), so this could prove to be a big deal, as a rough estimation suggests it could cut the home run rate by around 35 percent.
Let’s get to the pressing fantasy questions.
Q: What’s up with Zack Greinke?
A: He’s arguably the trickiest player to rank right now. On one hand, Greinke’s velocity has been down this spring, which is especially worrisome for a pitcher without an overpowering fastball who relies on a changeup, giving him a small margin of error. He also exited his last spring start after just one inning with a groin injury that’s going to delay the start of his season.
On the other hand, Greinke’s velocity is regularly down in spring, including as recently as last season, when panic in March later turned into a top-five finish in Cy Young voting. Moreover, his latest ailment isn’t to his arm, and Greinke was showing increased velo (reportedly hitting 92 mph) before departing with the minor groin ailment only expected to push back his first start a few days. If Greinke just posted a 1.07 WHIP in a hitter’s paradise, imagine what his numbers will be with the benefit of the humidor. Greinke carries a bunch of risk, but that’s why he’s often falling outside the top-10 SPs, making him one of the bigger boom or bust picks right now.
Q: Who’s closing?
A: Fernando Rodney and his 39 saves from last year left to Minnesota, leaving the closing role open in Arizona. Fantasy owners should be rooting for Archie Bradley to run away with the job, but management may value him more in higher leverage and/or multiple inning situations (and rightfully so), which would then leave Brad Boxberger fighting it out with Yoshihisa Hirano for saves. Bradley is throwing harder now out of the pen, and he has the upside to finish as a top-five fantasy closer, but shrewd fantasy owners should grab Boxberger and Hirano late, as this situation remains in fluid.
Q: How much should we downgrade the hitters?
A: If we buy into the stance of the humidor greatly helping the pitchers, then obviously the hitters will suffer. I’ve moved Freddie Freeman ahead of Paul Goldschmidt atop my fantasy 1B rankings and would no longer take the latter in the first round. Goldy is terrific and has the power to knock 30+ homers in any park, but at minimum his counting stats will take a hit as a product of his new lower-scoring environment.
Jake Lamb’s HR/AB falls from one per 19.7 ABs at home to 25.3 on the road during his career, and his average exit velocity (88.1 mph) ranked outside the top-150 hitters last year, so he’s barely a top-20 third baseman on my board. A.J. Pollock has actually benefitted even more so from Chase Field in the past, and he’s still costing a relatively early draft pick despite averaging 73 missed games over the last four seasons, so he’s barely a top-25 outfielder on my board. In other words, target Diamondbacks pitchers and avoid their hitters.
Quick Hits: David Peralta is slated to bat leadoff, but he has an extensive injury history and hasn’t since resembled the hitter he was in 2015…Chris Owings went 12/12 last year in just 362 at bats, but he’s ticketed for a utility role to start the year. He’s 33-for-37 on SB attempts over the past two seasons…Steven Souza hit 30 homers and stole 15+ bags but hit .239 and failed to reach 80 RBI or runs scored last year. Not being aided by a hitter’s park won’t be anything new to him…Since 2016, Alex Avila’s wRC+ (118) ranks fifth among catchers with at least 500 PAs, one spot behind Buster Posey. But he’ll likely be in a platoon, and his signing isn’t great news for Arizona pitchers, as he’s among the worst pitch framers in baseball.
Yasmany Tomas is one season removed from hitting 18 homers with a .913 OPS over 245 ABs after the All-Star break, but he’s in a crowded (albeit injury-prone) outfield. He needs the proverbial change of scenery…Another member of the outfield is Jarrod Dyson, who’s a sleeper to target late in drafts. One ancillary effect of a park becoming more pitcher-friendly is often an increase in SB attempts, and Dyson could run wild…Over the last two weeks, Robbie Ray has been drafted as the SP15, one spot behind Greinke…If Taijuan Walker’s breaking stuff works at home now like it did on the road last year, the monster season many have been predicting will surely come to fruition…Zack Godley’s K-BB% (17.9) last year would’ve ranked top-20 among starters had he qualified, just ahead of Justin Verlander.
Diamondbacks Projected Lineup
LF David Peralta
CF A.J. Pollock
1B Paul Goldschmidt
3B Jake Lamb
RF Steven Souza
C Alex Avila
2B Ketel Marte
CF Nick Ahmed
Diamondbacks Projected Staff
SP Zack Greinke
SP Robbie Ray
SP Taijuan Walker
SP Patrick Corbin
SP Zack Godley
CL Archie Bradley
RP Brad Boxberger
RP Yoshihisa Hirano