During draft season, I didn’t see writing an early May article about the Arizona Diamondbacks coming. After all, this is a team that had one player with a top-100 ADP (Ketel Marte), two others who barely made the top-150 (Zac Gallen, Mark Melancon) and one other team member who was tabbed inside the top-200 picks (Daulton Varsho).
But there are some statistical oddities with the D-backs right now that fantasy managers need to be aware of.
Let’s start with pitching. You could guess most of the Major League leaders in rotation ERA. The Dodgers are there. So are the Mets and Yankees. The Brewers aren’t far behind. But most baseball fans would be shocked to know that Arizona ranks second in the Majors with a 2.54 ERA from their starters.
This is a rotation that includes just one player (Gallen) who was drafted in the majority of Yahoo! leagues and just one other member (Merrill Kelly) who is currently rostered in more than 40 percent of leagues.
Are we missing the boat on some Arizona starters, or are they fool’s gold who are going to burn managers who jump on board now? Let’s break them down, one at a time.
Dissecting Arizona's pitching
Zac Gallen (88 percent rostered)
This might be the best version we’ve seen of Gallen. The right-hander’s strikeout rate is slightly down from previous seasons, but his 4.9 percent walk rate is by far the best mark of his four-year career. He is handcuffing hitters, as is evidenced by his 3.6 percent barrel rate allowed and 9.1 percent line-drive rate. Two of the most popular ERA estimators (xERA, FIP) are below 2.30 for Gallen, making him a terrific trade target for those who want a high-end starter without giving up a massive return.
Merrill Kelly (62 percent rostered)
Fantasy managers will want to use some caution with Kelly. The 33-year-old has controlled the strike zone well (16.7 percent K-BB rate) but has been fortunate to have received little damage from an 8.8 percent barrel rate. The combination of an 86.7 percent strand rate and not having allowed a home run this season are the main reasons that the right-hander owns a 1.27 ERA. I’m fine with a plan to keep Kelly in the active lineup, but I would not trade for him and am not ready to count on him for six months of usefulness.
Madison Bumgarner (37 percent)
Bumgarner is the definition of fool’s gold. The southpaw has shown little dominance over opposing hitters (4.1 percent K-BB rate) and has benefited greatly from a .188 BABIP and an 87.7 percent strand rate. The 37 percent of Yahoo! managers with Bumgarner on their roster are headed for trouble.
Zach Davies (2 percent)
No one wants Davies on their roster, and I understand that. The right-hander has consistently struggled to get whiffs and this year owns a 5.1 percent K-BB rate. His 4.24 ERA is an accurate reflection of a mediocre starter who should get some credit for often keeping batted balls on the ground. At best, he is a streamer in two-start weeks.
Humberto Castellanos (0 percent)
No one has barreled a ball off Castellanos this season, which has resulted in a 2.63 xERA and a 3.09 FIP. But his strikeout rate (5.5 K/9) is too low to be more than a possible streamer in two-start weeks.
But what about Arizona's hitting?
Things have been going in the exact opposite direction on the hitting side, where Arizona has been the unluckiest team in baseball. The D-backs have logged a .229 BABIP which is 23 points lower than that of any other team. The bad batting luck has led to a lowly .191 team batting average, making Arizona the only team in baseball that is batting below .200.
Of course, the lack of base knocks is driving down their overall run scoring, where the team ranks 23rd. The only bright spot is that the club has shown some power proficiency and ranks fifth in total home runs. Which Arizona players are due for an uptick in luck and performance in the coming weeks? Let’s find out.
Daulton Varsho (C/OF, 93 percent)
Varsho has had decent success on batted balls (.286 BABIP, 15.2 percent HR/FB rate), and is an exciting catcher to roster despite striking out a bit too often (26.7 percent). Having five homers and two steals so far makes Varsho one of the best catchers to have.
Ketel Marte (2B/OF, 90 percent)
Marte is a bit of a mess right now (24.4 percent strikeout rate) but has also had some bad luck (.224 BABIP) on a solid 89.2 mph average exit velocity. Statcast assigns him a .218 xBA, which isn’t good but is much better than his .174 average. As a Marte manager, I would be willing to listen to slightly low trade offers but wouldn’t just give him away.
Carson Kelly (C, 10 percent)
Kelly is a total mess at the plate. His strikeout rate is 33.3 percent, and his xBA is .149. He will eventually improve, but you shouldn’t wait around. Drop him.
Seth Beer (UT, 8 percent)
Beer has had decent plate control (0.42 BB-K rate) and hasn’t been plagued by the same batted ball luck as his teammates (.298 BABIP). He is what he is — a below-average hitter who can be used in NL-only leagues.
Pavin Smith (1B/OF, 4 percent)
Everything I said about Beer applies to Smith, who has a .320 BABIP and simply isn’t that good.
Christian Walker (1B, 5 percent)
There might be something useful in Walker, who has shown solid power skills (six homers) and has an xBA of .243. The slugger has been felled by a .133 BABIP but could soon help those in 12-team leagues.
David Peralta (OF, 4 percent)
Peralta is similar to Walker, as someone who could be more helpful in the coming weeks. The outfielder has shown a bit of power (three homers) but has been burned by a .237 BABIP despite a 90.4 mph average exit velocity. His xBA is a solid .254.