Arizona Diamondbacks: 2023 first-half positives and negatives

Pittsburgh Pirates v Arizona Diamondbacks
Pittsburgh Pirates v Arizona Diamondbacks / Chris Coduto/GettyImages

It's the all-star break, and the Diamondbacks have had a first half full of surprises, disappointments and excitement. Despite going into the break with a less-than-ideal 4-6 record in their last 10 games, the D-backs certainly have exceeded expectations for this season.

Let's break down where the team is at, and look at both the positives and negatives of the first half of the 2023 season.

Positive #1: The Diamondbacks are 52-39 and are hanging with the top of the NL West

This is the obvious one. The Diamondbacks are just two seasons removed from a league-bottom 52-110 record. After jumping that total by 22 games in the 2022 season, the D-backs have matched their 2021 win total in 52 games this season prior to the all-star break.

With 71 games remaining in the season, the D-backs are on pace to win an astounding 92 games--their highest win total since 2017.

The Diamondbacks came into the season projected to win only 74 games, with a mere 18% playoff chance. They would have to finish 24-47 in their remaining games to fail to surpass that win total, and according to FanGraphs, they have a 64.1% chance to make the playoffs, only 2nd to the ever-present Dodgers.

The team finished 2022 26th in team batting average with .230, 22nd in team ERA with 4.26, and 24th in OBP with .304. This season, the team is 8th in batting average with .258 and 9th in OBP with .326, although they have only moved up to 18th in ERA--albeit with plenty of season left to go.

The D-backs have spent a majority of the season in first place of the NL West, staying ahead of the Dodgers, Padres, and surging Giants. Despite trailing in win % after the last game before the break, the D-backs share the top of the division with the Dodgers and have had success facing divisional opponents, with a 17-11 record vs their rivals.

They currently have the tiebreaker over the Dodgers, 5-3, a 4-3 split vs the Giants, and a 6-1 record against the Rockies, their only trouble being a 2-4 record against the Padres, in the fewest divisional matchups.

Positive #2: Diamondbacks rookie sensation Corbin Carroll

In Corbin Carroll's 2022 MLB debut, his first-ever major league knock was a 2-run double to take the lead in what would eventually be the largest comeback in franchise history against the future NL Champion Phillies.

We knew he would be a special player from that moment, but we had no idea how impactful he would be as a rookie.

After locking Carroll down to an 8-year, $111 million contract, the young star has continued to exceed expectations throughout the 2023 first half. Despite missing some games due to injury, Carroll is batting .289 with an OPS of .915, with 23 XBH and a shocking 18 home runs--many to the opposite field.

Corbin's power, plate discipline, speed, and defensive ability in the outfield have catapulted him to the forefront of the NL ROY odds, with a legitimate case to take home the MVP award as well.

Despite Reds prospect Elly De La Cruz's meteoric rise, Corbin still leads the NL ROY odds at -300. The new face of the D-backs franchise also leads the team in walk-off base hits, with two.

Corbin was selected to be an all-star starter in his hometown of Seattle in his first season.

Positive #3: Diamondbacks player development

The Diamondbacks are very fortunate to have a young team. With a core group of position players all under the age of 30 (Besides Evan Longoria of course), and a collection of speedy young players all under 26, the D-backs are a future-oriented team.

Players like Geraldo Perdomo, Alek Thomas, and Jake McCarthy have all drastically improved their statistics and swings--with a couple of stints down in Reno as well--and are becoming a major part of the offense.

Ketel Marte has also drastically improved since the 2022 season, raising his batting average a full .046 in 2023 so far, but he's not the only one.

The young D-backs are in a unique and beneficial spot of having a group of guys who have either grown up in the minors together or played together for a significant period of time. The team's cohesiveness and competitiveness while lacking a flagship big-paycheck star is where you want to be, organizationally.

Manager Torey Lovullo and pitching coach Brent Strom have taken a group of young guys and developed them into players who know their roles, do their job, and support one another.

Lovullo's culture of teamwork and cohesion has created a unit that goes out there to build one another up and execute their roles well--even through adversity, while Strom has taken struggling arms like Tommy Henry and Scott McGough and allowed them to develop into legitimate weapons.

The Diamondbacks are only 21st in total team payroll but still have a top 4 record in the NL. Well ahead of monetary juggernauts like the Mets and Padres.

Positive #4: Diamondbacks All-Star representation

In 2022, despite exceeding the (quite low) league expectations, the D-backs failed to gather enough voting or attention for the All-Star team. Their lone representation came from reliever Joe Mantiply, who pitched one inning in the All-Star Game.

This year, the D-backs have a collection of All-Stars, with a case to be made for even more. Corbin Carroll was voted to be an All-Star starter by fans, while LF Lourdes Gurriel Jr. and RHP ace Zac Gallen were selected by their peers.

After Cubs SS Dansby Swanson went down with an injury, the players also voted D-backs SS Geraldo Perdomo to take his place, the 4th Diamondback to receive an All-Star nod.

Gallen was also selected by Phillies and NL ASG manager Rob Thomson to start the all-star game, an honor not received by a D-back since Randy Johnson's selection back in 2001.

It is also the first time multiple Diamondbacks have started the ASG since that season when Johnson shared the starting lineup with OF Luis Gonzalez.

Negative #1: Diamondbacks pitching struggles

Aces Zac Gallen and Merrill Kelly have had excellent seasons so far. While Kelly is on the IL, he was pitching quite well, with a 3.22 ERA and a 98/37 K/BB. Gallen was just named All-Star starter, leads the Cy Young odds, and sports a 3.05 ERA with a stunning 125/23 K/BB.

Although young LHP Tommy Henry has shown significant progress, the lower half of the D-backs' rotation has struggled this season.

Ryne Nelson has shown flashes of talent with several Quality Starts, but his inconsistency and high 5.21 ERA has been a significant factor in many of the D-backs' losses.

RHP Zach Davies has also struggled, sporting a 6.43 ERA with several blowout starts that ended the game before the Diamondbacks had a chance to stay in them.

Gallen, Kelly, and Henry are a combined 25-8 in W/L, while Davies and Nelson are a lowly 6-10. However, it's not just the starting pitchers on this roster that have struggled. The D-backs are 15th in Bullpen ERA, sitting at an exact 4.00 (via FanGraphs).

Although the team is certainly better off in the bullpen department than they have been in previous years, they still sit at a below-average standing.

The additions of Scott McGough, Andrew Chafin, and Miguel Castro, and the development of returners like Kyle Nelson and Kevin Ginkel have proven to be a solid boost to this pen, however, as an overall unit, they still rank below league average and are responsible for more than a few blown saves.

That being said, with a loaded farm system, the D-backs are in prime position for GM Mike Hazen to go out and add a couple of arms to both the starting rotation and bullpen.

Negative #2: The Diamondbacks are leaving wins on the field

This could go hand-in-hand with a positive, but let's be realistic. The D-backs are in a better spot this year, staying in more of their games than in previous years. However, the team has struggled to capitalize on opportunities to win games and left multiple wins on the field.

The RISP struggles have not been entirely as prevalent as the 2022 season where they were a combined .237 with RISP on the season. The team leaves an average of 13.98 runners on base this season, batting .252 with RISP.

While this might not seem like a terrible number, the offense has struggled to deliver runs and even collect base hits in their last several series. In a 3-game sweep-series loss to the Mets at home, the D-backs scored a total of 6 runs over 3 games, scoring 1 and 0 in their last 2.

Game 1 of their recent series win against the Pirates matched that total, but the team then scored 3 and 2 in their next two games.

Another factor in leaving wins on the field comes from blown saves. The Diamondbacks are below average in blown save %, with 15 blown saves coming on 38 opportunities. While blown saves are a part of the game, the Diamondbacks have managed to erase 15 potential wins, with 3 blown save losses coming in their last 5 series.

The D-backs have had plenty of opportunities to boost their record and keep a solid divisional lead, but have failed to deliver both offensively and lock down the games they were in position to win.

It happens to every team, but there have been a lot of wins left out on the field this season.

Negative #3: Diamondbacks injury concerns

Corbin Carroll, Torey Lovullo
New York Mets v Arizona Diamondbacks / Norm Hall/GettyImages

In a 162-game season, you expect injuries to happen.

That being said, losing ace pitcher Merrill Kelly to a blood clot has weakened an already hole-filled starting rotation. Although Manager Torey Lovullo executed a nearly perfect bullpen game against the Pirates, the D-backs will need to have one of their best pitchers back to 100% as soon as possible.

Kelly is on the 15-day IL, and will not start again until well after the all-star break.

Drey Jameson had been an excellent development piece for the team this year. After transitioning into a long-relief role, Drey had continued to improve, performing better and better as he developed his high-power style.

Jameson was placed on the 60-day IL following an outing against the Mets and is currently awaiting a 2nd opinion to determine whether or not Tommy John surgery is necessary. A brutal blow to the bullpen and one of the Diamondbacks' best young arms.

Corbin Carroll has, miraculously, avoided significant injury multiple times this season. Carroll missed only a few games after suffering a knee contusion vs the Rockies, but the bigger concern stems from his surgically-repaired right shoulder.

After missing the entirety of the 2021 season due to a torn labrum, the shoulder has been a spot of worry for the young star. Only days after tweaking it against the Tampa Bay Rays, Carroll suffered a stinger in the same shoulder in a blowout loss against the Mets.

Carroll noted in a press conference that he thought his season was over on the field that night, but D-backs fans were relieved to find out that he would not miss any time. Regardless, in Carroll's first full-length MLB season, the Diamondbacks need to be wary of his shoulder issues--giving him enough rest to prevent recurring injury.

There are plenty of holes to be concerned about with this Diamondbacks team, and GM Mike Hazen has a list of needs to fill, but you cannot deny that this exciting young team is bursting with potential.

With plenty of season left to play, the Snakes have an opportunity to win the NL West and make the playoffs for the first time since 2017.

Baseball is back in the desert.