Diamondbacks News

Arizona Diamondbacks: Examining the Infield at the All-Star Break

By Randy Holt
PHOENIX, AZ - MAY 12: Jake Lamb #22 of the Arizona Diamondbacks takes ground balls prior to a game against the Washington Nationals at Chase Field on May 12, 2018 in Phoenix, Arizona. (Photo by Norm Hall/Getty Images)
PHOENIX, AZ - MAY 12: Jake Lamb #22 of the Arizona Diamondbacks takes ground balls prior to a game against the Washington Nationals at Chase Field on May 12, 2018 in Phoenix, Arizona. (Photo by Norm Hall/Getty Images) /
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The Arizona Diamondbacks head into the break at the top of the National League West. While it wasn’t without its obstacles along the way, they should be in good shape coming out of it. Our goal here is to evaluate each element of the roster, as it performed in the first half, in the coming days.

The infield group of the Arizona Diamondbacks has always been sort of a unit in flux. With the exception of Paul Goldschmidt at first and probably Jake Lamb at third, the rest is filled with plug-and-play types. There’s a lot of versatility on the roster, so Torey Lovullo hasn’t hesitated to move guys around. This is in addition to some major offensive woes behind the plate that have led to a three catcher rotation behind the dish.

Let’s take a look at how each position fared in the first half, and what they need to do in the second in order to be effective for this team.

First Base

What else is there to say here, really? Paul Goldschmidt turned in a stellar first half after a miserable start to the year. He slogged through a May where he hit just .144 and showed virtually no power. His on-base came in at just .252, while he posted a .134 ISO. This was in addition to strikeout rates over 30% in each of the first two months of the season. Then June rolled around, where Goldy was historically good.

June’s average of .364 and his on-base of .460 were far more representative of the player that we expect Paul Goldschmidt to be. His power was off the charts, with an ISO over .300. That figure was supported by 10 homers, eight doubles, and a triple in the month. Through his first 50+ plate appearances in July, he continued to produce. He had a .377 average, .459 OBP, and .264 ISO for the month heading into the break.

Overall, Paul Goldschmidt is back. There isn’t any question. He’s an All-Star and deserved to be there. It’s no surprise that as he has surged back to his old self, the Diamondbacks offense came along with it after an atrocious May. He’s right where he needs to be heading into the second half.

Second Base

Ketel Marte has gotten the bulk of the playing time at second, with Daniel Descalso supplementing him there. We recently touched on Marte’s strong close to the second half. Both, however, have been important offensive pieces.

Marte’s season numbers don’t look terrific (.238 AVG, .303 OBP), but he had a nice June and July that has his stock on the rise for the second half. He reached base at a .350 clip in June and has a .340 mark so far in July. He’s flashing big time power as well, with ISO figures that average out to over .300. He doesn’t strike out a lot and makes a ton of contact. Marte is a true asset to this Arizona offense. His fielding has also graded out positively, with three Defensive Runs saved and a positive UZR thus far. He should be able to lock that spot down for the foreseeable future.

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On his off days, or when he may need to slide over to short, Descalso is more than capable of replacing him. He doesn’t present the defensive upside, but has been a “clutch” hitter for most of the year. His 126 wRC+ is a career best, as is his 1.3 WAR for the year. This is while hitting .312 with runners on base. His glove plays at least average anywhere, though, so the D-Backs are far more better-suited utilizing that versatility to their advantage.

Moving into the second half, the spot surely is Marte’s. He’s performing at the level the team had hoped he would when they signed him to an extension before the year began.

Shortstop

Nick Ahmed has never been much of a high-upside offensive player. But his prowess with the glove is well-documented at this point. He’s providing more pop than ever, with a dozen home runs and a .201 ISO. Those are both career highs. He still isn’t reaching base at a high rate, but has also run into some bad luck, with a BABIP hovering around .250. His 39% hard contact rate is higher than ever before, so one hopes that more offensive value is on the way. But, again, his value is with the glove.

Ahmed’s nine DRS are tied for the fourth-most at the shortstop position. His 4.7 FanGraphs Def rating has his WAR in the positive, despite negative offensive value. For a Diamondbacks team that is second in the league in groundball outs, his defensive strength is crucial. That’s why it’s unreasonable to expect anyone to supplant him there. Marte is capable of sliding over when needed, but Ahmed is the guy there. The combination of the two gives them a very formidable defensive duo up the middle. Now it’s just a matter of his offense becoming even average, and he’s suddenly an extremely valuable player in the second half.

Third Base

Injuries to Jake Lamb have hindered the Snakes at third base. Descalsco, Devin Marrero, and and Kristopher Negron have all seen time at the hot corner. None of them provide the offensive upside that he does, even if his defensive value isn’t among the league’s elite at the position.

Lamb has been limited to only 220 plate appearances because of injury. When he’s been in the lineup, the offensive value hasn’t been there. His 85 wRC+ is about 30 points lower than it’s been in either of the last two years. His .229 average and .314 OBP have also taken significant dips. The power isn’t there, with an ISO of only .135. Now he did deal with a shoulder injury that is likely heavily affecting that as well. He limped into the break, as well, with a wRC+ of only 39 in his 49 plate appearances in July.

In order to continue to sit atop the NL West, Jake Lamb is going to need to be a key piece. He’s been a large part of the offense in each of the last two years, even with injuries in each. If he doesn’t, Lovullo will likely utilize other players at the position, particularly Descalso and especially against lefties.

Catcher

Here’s where things get a little dicey. The hope was that Alex Avila would lock down the catcher spot, with Jeff Mathis serving primarily as Zack Greinke‘s personal catcher. They would then work in John Ryan Murphy against lefties and to give Avila a blow when he needed it. That hasn’t quite worked out. While all three are posting solid defensive numbers, the offense behind the plate has been questionable, at best.

Avila has been particularly awful, with an average of .148. His offensive value actually has his season WAR in the negative. He did show some signs of life in July, so we’ll have to see if that means better things in the second half. Murphy has shown some flashes with the stick throughout the year, mainly through a .214 ISO. His average and on-base numbers aren’t pretty either. Mathis has never been an offensive guy, so there’s no reason to expect that now.

As bad as it’s been at the plate for the Snakes’ trio of catchers, it’s unlikely to expect things to change. They’re performing strongly on defense and handling a solid pitching staff quite well. There aren’t very many catchers in baseball that provide much value with the bat, so their situation isn’t as dire as you’d expect. The only hope is that Avila turns it on, while Murphy and Mathis continue being adequate with their respective gloves.

Now time for some awards:

Infield MVP: Paul Goldschmidt
Infield Offensive Player of the First Half: Paul Goldschmidt
Infield Defensive Player of the First Half: Nick Ahmed
Most Underrated Infielder: Ketel Marte
Infielder In Need Of Improvement: Jake Lamb

Goldschmidt is the easy call as the most valuable player on the infield, and much of that has to do with his bat. Marte hasn’t gotten the recognition that he deserves, mostly due to a slow start. More than almost anyone on the roster, let alone the infield, Lamb needs to get back to being a catalyst for this offense.

Next: Ketel Marte a Building Block for the Future

Overall, it’s a unit that has fared relatively well, this Arizona Diamondbacks infield. Goldschmidt has been stellar, and Marte has really picked things up. Ahmed hasn’t been as bad as the numbers would indicate. There’s value there, especially if his BABIP turns around. Third base and catcher are two spots where improvement needs to be demonstrated moving into the second half. As such, we’ll monitor those spots closely in half no. 2.

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