2023 Arizona Diamondbacks MLB season predictions, odds and preview

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Arizona Diamondbacks 2023 Season Preview

A youth movement is afoot out in the desert and the Arizona Diamondbacks head into this season with a lot of optimism and a really interesting collection of players. Nobody is expecting miracles in a division with the Dodgers and Padres, but last year’s 22-win improvement over the complete debacle that was the 2021 season appears to be a sign of things to come.

 

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This was one of the youngest teams in baseball on the position player side last season with an average batting age of 26.5 per Baseball-Reference, which accounts for actual age, but also the distribution of playing time. This year’s group, led by recently-minted millionaire Corbin Carroll, is going to be fun to track and follow, not only at Major League level, but also the minor league levels.

Will the infusion of talent and upside lead to wins right away? Time will tell, but this is certainly one of the National League’s most intriguing and highest-variance teams for the 2023 season and I’m looking forward to watching it all play out.

Explanations of the stats used in this preview can be found in my “MLB Stats to Know” article.

2023 Arizona Diamondbacks Odds

(odds from DraftKings as of Mar. 20, click for updates)

World Series: +17000
NL Pennant: +7000
NL West: +4500
Win Total: 75.5 (-105/-115)
Make Playoffs: Yes +550 / No -750

Arizona Diamondbacks Offense

Carroll’s eight-year, $111 million contract is the largest guarantee ever for a player with fewer than 100 days of service time, but all signs point to it being a good investment. The 22-year-old 16th overall pick in 2019 flew through the minor leagues with video game numbers at virtually every stop. He does strike out a lot, but the trade-off is that he also draws a ton of walks. He hit for power at every level and also has a really exciting burst of speed. He hit 27 homers and stole 33 bases across three levels last season.

Carroll’s whirlwind 2022 ended in Phoenix, where he slashed .260/.330/.500 with a 130 wRC+ in 115 plate appearances. He didn’t make a ton of hard contact or barrel up a lot of balls, but he also only played 91 games at Double-A or Triple-A before making his debut. The scouting scale goes from 20-80 and FanGraphs has Carroll as the second-best prospect in baseball with top-end grades of 70 for hitting, 60 for game power, 55 for raw power, 80 for speed and 70 for fielding. He’s a true five-tool player and a cornerstone for Arizona’s future.

This is a Diamondbacks offense that needed an infusion of talent. They finished 24th in wRC+ last year at 92, despite a top-10 BB%. They were also sixth in stolen bases, which isn’t accounted for in wRC+ and actually led MLB in FanGraphs’ all-encompassing baserunning metric BsR, which seems like a huge positive given the rule changes this season.

Arizona lacked contact quality. Despite all that speed, they posted a .272 BABIP and finished 20th in SLG. As a team, the D-Backs were 25th in Hard Hit% and 22nd in Barrel%. Carroll will help in that department as he gets a feel for the pitchers, but it is one area where I’m still a little skeptical of the Diamondbacks. Platoon bat extraordinaire David Peralta is gone and he led the team in Hard Hit%, followed closely by Christian Walker, who is still around. Ketel Marte is also back and he was effectively third among guys who actually played.

Marte was third at 41.9%, but Carson Kelly was a distant fourth at 36.8%. Arizona also traded Daulton Varsho to Toronto after he was second on the team with 27 homers. So, the Diamondbacks may need to find some power punch from somewhere, but also, they’ve removed some of the guys that strike out a lot and may be able to embrace more of a contact-heavy approach moving forward.

For example, Walker hit 36 homers with a K% under 20% and a high walk rate. His 122 wRC+ is low because of a .248 BABIP, but he’s still a good power bat in the heart of the order. Josh Rojas also had a double-digit walk rate with a K% under 20% as a guy with a 108 wRC+. He stole 23 bases, but lacked in the power department. The same is true of Jake McCarthy, who swiped 23 bags and had a 116 wRC+ because of a high BABIP.

Kelly was weak with the stick with a 73 wRC+ and now gets pushed by the acquisition of Gabriel Moreno in that Varsho trade. Moreno had 73 PA with the Blue Jays last season and slashed .319/.356/.377 after 267 plate appearances in Triple-A with a .315/.386/.420 slash. He’s a bat-to-ball kind of guy and power may develop as he matures in the box. He’s only 23 years old.

The Diamondbacks also added a wily vet in Evan Longoria to help mentor some of the kids and picked up Lourdes Gurriel Jr. in that Varsho deal. He’s something of an elder statesman at almost 30 years old on this team, but he’s a solid hitter with decent pop and a low K%. There were a lot of below average hitters on this roster last season and there are fewer of them this season.

Alek Thomas, who hit at every level of the minors, struggled in his age-22 season at the MLB level with a 71 wRC+, but his hit tool is pretty widely-regarded and he’s another guy who puts the bat to the ball with a sub-20% K%. All of this is adding up to a team that will attempt to put a lot of balls in play, draw some walks at the top of the order and create havoc on the basepaths. 

Whether or not the run producers deliver will dictate the ceiling for the Snakes, but they were 10th in plate appearances with a runner in scoring position and 27th in batting average thanks to a BABIP that also ranked 27th. I think this offense has a lot more upside this season.

Arizona Diamondbacks Pitching

This is a pitching staff that really underperformed last season and the bullpen had a lot to do with it. The Diamondbacks finished 23rd in ERA and 24th in FIP. The starters were 19th and 21st, respectively, but the bullpen was 25th in ERA and 29th in FIP. The problem in the rotation is that Zac Gallen and Merrill Kelly got very little help for the other guys, as the Diamondbacks endured 30 starts from Madison Bumgarner and 27 from Zach Davies.

Gallen had a 2.54 ERA with a 3.05 FIP and stayed healthy, throwing 184 innings over 31 starts. Kelly had 33 starts with a 3.37 ERA and a 3.65 FIP. One of the more underrated signings last season was when the Diamondbacks picked up former Astros pitching coach Brent Strom. Strom was one of many who helped compile a pitching staff that has given the Astros a modern-day dynasty. It wasn’t terribly surprising when the 73-year-old Strom left the Astros, but it was pretty surprising when he joined up with the Diamondbacks for a new challenge at his advanced age.

This is something of a rebuild for Strom. The Diamondbacks were dead last in pitch velocity in 2021 at 92.2 mph. They moved up to 29th last season at 92.7 mph. The Astros are well-known for their velocity program and for creating more strikeouts with their pitchers. To say that’s still a work in progress is an understatement, but the Diamondbacks went from 29th in K% in 2021 at 19.7% to 22nd in 2022 at 20%. There was a league-wide decrease in strikeouts last year, but the Diamondbacks were one of the teams to see a bump.

Gallen’s promise was always evident, but to see Kelly have a career year was special. He has great raw stuff with high spin rates and a deep arsenal, something that a guy like Strom can build off of, and that’s precisely what he did. Kelly had 3.3 fWAR and also saw a nice velo bump from ‘21 to ‘22. Almost all of his metrics moved in the right direction, from his Hard Hit% to his HR/FB% to his K% to his durability with his first 200-inning season in the bigs.

While the lineup has been upgraded, the rotation really hasn’t. The D-Backs are still playing out the string on Bumgarner’s deal with two years left to go. He had a 4.88 ERA with a 4.85 FIP in 158.2 innings of work. He was terrific in April, but everything fell apart from there. From May 4 on, he had a 5.51 ERA with a 4.93 FIP in 135.2 innings. Davies is a guy who regularly outpitches his advanced metrics because of a low strikeout rate, but he gave up a lot of home runs and had a bigger walk rate than you would like to see from a guy that can’t get out of jams with strikeouts. He had a 4.09 ERA, but a 4.83 FIP. I don’t think he’s a regression candidate because he has almost always had a lower ERA than FIP, but his ceiling is quite low.

As the season goes along, though, upgrades may be coming. Ryne Nelson is a top-100 prospect that could crack the Opening Day rotation. Brandon Pfaadt checked in as the 16th-ranked prospect in FanGraphs’ Top 100 and Drey Jameson was 78th. He’s almost 26, so I have to think he’ll be up soon. Pfaadt threw 167 innings between Double-A and Triple-A, so he’s just about ready as well. He just has a home run problem to fix.

It’s also tricky sometimes to analyze home run issues in the minors, particularly in the Pacific Coast League in Triple-A because virtually every ballpark is a haven for hitters. Arizona’s Double-A park is in Amarillo, which is at 3,700 feet of elevation and hot as hell, so the ball carries well there also. Outside of Gallen and Kelly, this isn’t a good rotation now, but it could be by June or July and that matters.

The bullpen was a huge area of need and we’ll see if the Snakes addressed it enough. Joe Mantiply and Kevin Ginkel were good. Most of the other guys weren’t. But, the Diamondbacks have revamped their high-leverage innings with Andrew Chafin and Miguel Castro on free agent deals, plus they took a no-risk flier on Jeurys Familia. They also signed Scott McGough out of Japan, where he’s been a dominant reliever for four straight seasons.

Miscellaneous Notes

The road was unkind to the Diamondbacks. They were 40-41 and -7 in run differential at home, but 34-47 away from home with a -31 run differential. This was a team that underperformed by three wins according to Pythagorean Win-Loss.

The bullpen and the times through the order penalty were hindrances to the Diamondbacks. They lost 19 games with a lead after five innings and only went 16-23 in games that were tied heading to the sixth inning.

Player to Watch

SP Brandon Pfaadt: As I mentioned, this is the age-24 season for Pfaadt, who came out of Bellarmine as a pretty impressive prospect, despite only 11 college starts. In 298.2 innings, Pfaadt (pronounced “Faat”) has 378 strikeouts against just 61 walks. He led the minors in strikeouts last season with 218 over 167 innings. He did allow 28 home runs, but I do think park factors had a lot to do with that. You don’t see a lot of minor leaguers approaching 170 innings these days and I think the 6-foot-4, 220-pound Pfaadt is ready for the rigors of the MLB season. If he’s good enough to complement Gallen and Kelly, it elevates the ceiling of this rotation exponentially.

Arizona Diamondbacks Season Win Total Pick

This is a much improved roster and some people I respect are really high on this team. I do think all of that has been accounted for in the win total line for this season. As one of the biggest movers up the ladder from 2021 to 2022, the Diamondbacks are well-positioned to ride the wave and be one of the game’s more interesting ballclubs to watch on a nightly basis.

I also think they’re built very nicely for the rule changes. They’re going to raise hell on the basepaths and be better about putting balls in play. I do think we could sneak some overs with this team. They had the chances last year, but didn’t capitalize. I’d expect them to be better in that department this year and the pitching staff is still highly suspect.

I would say a lot of Arizona’s upgrades are properly appreciated in the betting market. I won’t have a bet on the win total. I’d say the floor for Arizona is probably around 71 or 72 wins and the ceiling is to bet around .500, so something in the 75-76 range makes a lot of sense. I’m just eager to watch this team compete as the season goes along and may look to bet on them early in the year.

Lean: Over 75.5