Diamondbacks News

Arizona Diamondbacks: On the Black Hole Behind Home Plate

By Randy Holt
PHOENIX, AZ - MARCH 29: Alex Avila #5 of the Arizona Diamondbacks hits a RBI on a ground ball out against the Colorado Rockies during the first inning of the opening day MLB game at Chase Field on March 29, 2018 in Phoenix, Arizona. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
PHOENIX, AZ - MARCH 29: Alex Avila #5 of the Arizona Diamondbacks hits a RBI on a ground ball out against the Colorado Rockies during the first inning of the opening day MLB game at Chase Field on March 29, 2018 in Phoenix, Arizona. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images) /
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There isn’t any question that some of the best offensive upside comes out of the desert. Despite a May that slowed their overall output on the season, the Arizona Diamondbacks were top five in runs scored in June before ranking seventh in July. One position, however, is not really to thank for such production.

The Arizona Diamondbacks have a problem behind the plate. That is to say, that they have a problem in terms of their offensive production. Defensively, the trio of Alex Avila, Jeff Mathis, and John Ryan Murphy has actually been among the better groupings in all of baseball.

That’s in regard to their framing, blocking, and overall ability to hold runners on. They’re not necessarily an elite group, but they’ve done a really solid job nonetheless. With the stick, however, is an entirely different story.

We know about Alex Avila. Almost any fan of the Arizona Diamondbacks knows about Alex Avila. After reaching base at a .387 clip with the Detroit Tigers and Chicago Cubs in 2017, and really finishing the season in a high note with the latter club, he’s been abysmal at the plate in 2018.

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Avila’s on-base is sitting at .299. He’s hitting only .171, providing very little power (.140 ISO), and is striking out an absurd 40% of the time. And that’s with a July in which he hit .375 and posted a wRC+ figure over 200.

One hopes that the last month, across those 33 plate appearances, marked sort of a turnaround for him. If some sort of offensive value is going to come out of the position, it’s going to come from Avila.

It would be a tremendous boost down the stretch, in the midst of this National League West race, for him to continue to perform at that level. However, his output from the first three months of the year doesn’t exactly set a precedent for hope.

John Ryan Murphy is kind of the opposite story. While the rest of the offense slogged through May, Murphy hit .296 and turned in a wRC+ of 170. Whatever value and pop manifested themselves that month have completely disappeared, however, as he spent July posting numbers that featured a .136 OBP, a .024 ISO, and -35 wRC+, along with a strikeout rate over 38%.

He made decent contact (when he actually made contact, with a 63% rate) but hit the ball on the ground 56% of the time. None of that exactly inspires hope for him moving forward.

Mathis, on the other hand, we can sort of disregard in this discussion. He’s never been a valuable bat. He’s a glove-only catcher, and has made his money in a role doing just that. The other two, however, would ideally be producing at least at an average rate, in order to be considered truly valuable to this team. Lucky for them, it’s not as if there’s a plethora of offensively competent catchers throughout baseball, so they’ve been safe in regard to their job security.

And the Snakes do have offense throughout their lineup to help compensate a bit for that. The likes of Paul Goldschmidt, David Peralta, A.J. Pollock, and Ketel Marte make up a strong offensive squad, in addition to the recent surge from Steven Souza Jr. It doesn’t make the obscene lack of offense behind the dish any more comforting, though.

The obvious hope is that Avila’s July was a sign of things to come; that he’ll begin to reach base at a strong clip and drive in some baserunners. With the Diamondbacks needing every bit of upside from everybody right now, with the Los Angeles Dodgers and Colorado Rockies each nipping at their heels, the time is now for this group to turn it around and reveal some value.

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Reinforcements aren’t coming. This is the group the D-Backs will roll with for the remainder of the year. They just have to hope that it’ll prove fruitful on virtually any level.

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