Despite some injuries and inconsistencies throughout the year, the Arizona Diamondbacks sport one of the more sound clubs in all of baseball. Currently in the midst of a race for the National League West crown, they actually hold an advantage over a number of teams because of one key element of their game.
That element is their defense. The Arizona Diamondbacks represent one of the best teams in baseball with their gloves. And it’s done wonders for a pitching staff that has been much improved over the past few seasons. A rotation with high upside and a bullpen that has been among the league’s best couldn’t do it without the defense behind them.
In terms of the bullpen, the Snakes sport one of the best in baseball. In addition to some solid middle relief help, their late-inning combination of Archie Bradley, Yoshihisa Hirano, and Brad Boxberger is the envy of a number of clubs. As a relief corps, their collective 2.94 ERA trails only the New York Yankees, while their 1.18 WHIP ranks third. A 50.6% groundball rate is easily the tops in baseball, with 402 groundball outs on the year. That latter figure ranks third.
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The starting pitching hasn’t had quite the same luck, but does reflect some similar trends. While their ERA (4.02) and WHIP (1.26) rank 13th and 14th, respectively, their groundball rates (44.8% – 9th) and groundball outs (590 – 9th) are in a solid position. Those are, of course, buoyed by Zack Godley and Patrick Corbin, each of which has posted a GB% around 50 for the year. Obviously any staff is going to be more successful with more balls on the ground, but the defense that the Snakes play works even more in their favor.
The Arizona Diamondbacks currently sport a Defensive Efficiency Rating of .707. That figure essentially measures the amount of balls in play that are converted into outs. That trails the top of the league by only .005, ranking eighth overall. Their .989 fielding percentage is tops in baseball. These come in addition to 69 nice Defensive Runs Saved as a team (2nd) and a team UZR of 14.4 (8th) that are also among the league’s best. Only five teams have turned more than the Snakes’ 97 double plays. With the defensive standouts that they can run out there each day, it’s no surprise that they are sitting where they are.
Every single Diamondbacks infielder comes in on the positive side of Defensive Runs Saved. For one, they have Nick Ahmed at short. His 11 DRS are the third highest among league shortstops. Ketel Marte isn’t quite the defensive star at his own position, but he’s still posted a DRS of four, and positive UZR numbers for the year. Paul Goldschmidt has three and Jake Lamb has four. Neither player’s defensive metrics are astounding, but Goldschmidt has always been a strong defensive first baseman, and Lamb has shown steady improvement with the glove. And infield all on the positive side of DRS, UZR, etc. is going to go a long way toward helping your pitching staff.
If we continue the trend of focusing on DRS, the Diamondbacks’ outfield still shakes out extremely favorably. Jarrod Dyson has nine and Jon Jay has eight, both as relatively part-time players. David Peralta has seven, while A.J. Pollock has a pair of his own. Steven Souza Jr. is the only player on the negative side, but it’s important to consider that he’s been very limited by injury this year (as far as time goes) and has a history of being at least a solid defender.
And then there’s behind the plate, where the Diamondbacks also boast some success. Both Jeff Mathis and John Ryan Murphy rank in the top five in Baseball Prospectus’ FRAA, with Alex Avila also coming in inside of the top 20. They each do a solid job of keeping runners in check, and all three are quite high on the framing side as well. When you consider the job they’re doing, in addition to the defense that the infield is presenting for a groundball heavy staff, and it’s no wonder we’ve seen the amount of success from the D-Backs’ pitching that we have this year.
The defensive aspect is obviously an extremely important one for a contending team. The Diamondbacks don’t have a ton of overly high quality arms, at least in comparison with other contenders, but their defense allows the staff to play with a little bit more of a margin for error. There are no legitimate liabilities in the starting lineup, and their depth guys present some strength with the glove as well. They’ll need to upgrade the staff heading down the stretch, but the defensive play of this team has them in a really good position for the remainder of 2018.