The Diamondbacks Are Already Screwed

I know this goes against the spirit of opening day, when anything can happen and everyone’s tied for first place. Opening day is a magical time precisely because no one’s yet been mathematically eliminated. The season hasn’t started to go down any path, which means the season could still go down any path conceivable. On opening day, everyone’s supposed to be happy; everyone’s supposed to be jazzed about baseball, because there’s not yet any reason not to be. Baseball’s back! It’s been a long time. The Royals just proved the numbers wrong the last time around. Maybe now it’s another team’s turn.

If you’re a fan in New York, you’re excited about baseball. If you’re a fan in Atlanta, you’re excited about baseball. If you’re a fan in Arizona, you’re excited about baseball. But: One of the dominant spring-training storylines was that the Dodgers were being undone by injury after injury. And it’s true; The Dodgers have already had their depth challenged, because they’ve got a busy disabled list. Yet, the Dodgers came equipped with reinforcements, so it seems like they should be able to handle this. Right at the end of spring training, the Diamondbacks lost A.J. Pollock. They might’ve lost him for the entire season. With one blow, Arizona has probably been hurt more than Los Angeles, and while anything is still able to happen, it’s a devastating turn of events. Their season hasn’t started yet, and the Diamondbacks might well be screwed.

I know there are people out there who think we’ve been too critical of the Diamondbacks this past year or so. There are people who think we’ve piled on, so let me make it clear: Yeah, we haven’t loved the way the organization has been run. But there’s no pleasure at all in writing this post. Pollock isn’t just a really good and important player. He’s a relatively underrated and underrecognized player, one of those sabermetric heroes. Your average baseball fan sure as hell knows Yoenis Cespedes. The same fan probably doesn’t know Pollock, yet Pollock is probably the better all-around player. He’s one of several underrated players on the Arizona roster.

Pollock debuted in the majors in 2012. Since then, 290 players have batted at least 1,000 times. Ordered by average WAR per 600 plate appearances, Pollock ranks 11th, right in between Lorenzo Cain and Carlos Gomez. His average is 5.3, and the player in fifth place — Joey Votto — shows up at 5.6. Pollock has been one of the most valuable position players in the game, and he’s 28 years old. Prefer the Baseball-Reference WAR statistic? By that measure, Pollock comes out at 5.8. So, better, if anything. Pollock contributes in every department, which is how he’s managed to so quietly climb the leaderboard.

This is a blow because Pollock is great. This is a blow because Pollock will be out for a long, long time. And this is a blow because the Diamondbacks don’t really have that much in the way of quality depth. Not that any team in baseball could easily replace a player of this ability, but Arizona might drop all the way to replacement-level. Recalling Cain again, it’s as if the Royals were to lose him. The Diamondbacks still have other good players, but they’re now missing a critical one.

The Diamondbacks like Socrates Brito. I like Socrates Brito! Brito is going to slide in and take a lot of the time in center field. But, before, it looked like Brito could push for time in left field, ahead of Yasmany Tomas. Now the Diamondbacks are going to need both of them, and they’ll also look for outfield help from Chris Owings. For reference, in our 2016 Positional Power Rankings, the Diamondbacks ranked fourth in center field. Now, in updated projected WAR, they rank 30th. Dead last. And they rank dead last in left field, too. An outfield that once projected for 6.4 WAR now projects for 2.8, which is a drop of almost four wins. Maybe that even underrates the real-life impact. There’s no way to spin this into a good thing, and now they need both Brito and Tomas to build upon any spring-training gains.

When I’ve written about the National League, I’ve described three tiers. There’s the top tier, with the obvious contenders. There’s the bottom tier, with the rebuilding teams, and the teams that should be rebuilding. And the middle tier was just the Marlins and the Diamondbacks, two teams on the fringes, who were going to need health in order to stick around. The season is just starting, and the Marlins have already lost one of the most unhittable relievers in the game. The Diamondbacks have lost one of the best all-around outfielders in the game. Carter Capps is definitely done for the year; Pollock might be. Maybe we see him in September. Maybe September will mean something. But the Diamondbacks now project to miss the playoffs by nine games. There’s the same projected difference between the Diamondbacks and the Giants as there is between the Diamondbacks and the Braves.

Really good players remain. For chrissakes, the Diamondbacks project to win 48% of their games, and so do the Royals. I don’t need to tell you the significance of that. Talk to players on the roster, or to coaches, or to executives, and they’ll say, yeah, it’s a tough blow, but this is just an opportunity for someone else. The team’ll come together. Everyone just has to be a little bit better. And so on, and so on. It’s all true, and it’s all what you’d expect to hear at this point, when there are all of the games to be played. The Diamondbacks won’t feel sorry for themselves, and you can’t dismiss a roster that still has Paul Goldschmidt and Zack Greinke. Teams have rallied past injuries like this before. This can be overcome. Maybe both Brito and Tomas are ready to break out, and then Pollock will re-join a stacked roster down the stretch.

It’s just tough to imagine many more crippling injuries. This isn’t the Angels losing Mike Trout, but it’s kind of like that. The Diamondbacks lost one of the game’s best outfielders. We might not see him all season long. This one injury could alter the course of the year, which could alter the course of the front office’s dealings. This was supposed to be the opening of the Diamondbacks’ window. That window suddenly feels awful stuck.

Jeff made Lookout Landing a thing, but he does not still write there about the Mariners. He does write here, sometimes about the Mariners, but usually not.

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6 years ago

It does suck, but at least now Stewart fully understands how a team can add Greinke and Miller and not project to get better. I doubt he does anything from now on without visiting

Dave Stewart
6 years ago
Reply to  JC

I gotta take a dump. Visiting here first.

6 years ago
Reply to  Dave Stewart

I hope it’s of the CSV variety.

6 years ago
Reply to  JC

No he doesn’t. If they underachieve this year, they now have their perfect scapegoat in Pollock’s elbow.

6 years ago
Reply to  Lenard

and if they miss the playoffs by 5.6 wins minus Pollock’s replacement(s) it could be said that the injury cost them the playoffs.

6 years ago
Reply to  Lenard

Yup, although it does put focus back on the fact they traded inciarte, who by all accounts is an above average cf’r.

6 years ago
Reply to  JC

But miller = heyward = 200 million dollars.