With the loss of Pollock, do the Diamondbacks still have a chance at the division title?
Now, the fact that I have a second favorite team may surprise many of you. Sometimes when I really think about it – it’s surprising to me as well. That team would be the Arizona Diamondbacks.
Over the years, I’ve had known players traded there, been friends with some and am still friends with others. I’ve watched the team prosper but mostly flounder and this was looking like a year where they could beat those silly San Francisco giants from the dark side of the bay and even the Los Angeles Dodgers (a team I respect) appear to be beatable in 2016.
The DBacks beat out two of their division rivals to get the great Zack Greinke. They’ve got one of the classiest, not to mention best players in the league in first baseman Paul Goldschmidt. And until yesterday they had an up and coming star center fielder, an All-Star last year, in A.J. Pollock.
Pollock, who had been battling an elbow injury this spring decided to slide into home plate in last night’s exhibition game against the reigning World Champion Kansas City Royals. They came out of the with the win but also without Pollock who broke his right elbow on that slide.
Surgery is going to be required. There is no time table for his return. He was a huge part of the team. He ranked fourth among all National League players last season in WAR (7.9), was a previously mentioned a member of the All-Star team, won a Gold Glove and batted .367/.498/.865. Add to that his 20 homers, 76 RBI and 39 stolen bases in 2015 and it appears disaster had struck.
In some ways it really has – Pollock has a career batting average of .294 and has hit for a .311 average over the last two seasons. He debuted in 2012 for the DBacks but after playing in parts of two seasons really began to become a rising star in the NL West even if he wasn’t yet a household name.
There are questions that need to be answered and the loss of Pollock is a big one. Is 23-year-old Socrates Brito ready for the big leagues? He was considered for the starting left field job after all, but it was ultimately given to Yasmany Tomas.
Brito had a great stint with the club last September, playing in 17 games for Arizona. He hit .303 including three doubles and a triple in his 10 total hits.
This spring Brito played in 21 games collecting 20 hits, four of them for extra bases and finished the spring with a .303 batting average. The question is though is he really ready to replace Pollock? He did hit .303 in 18 games as a September call-up last season and he improved his on-base percentage substantially this spring from .324 in September to .343 in March.
Still, is he ready to take over for Pollock or should the Diamondback’s attempt to trade for another outfielder – the Red Sox 28-year-old Cuban Rusney Castillo, perhaps? Not likely. Castillo hasn’t been the same player he was when he came from Cuba – hitting just .258 last season with five home runs and 29 RBI in just 80 games.
Sticking with Brito, though young, seems he better way to go than searching for anyone else. He’s remained consistent in his short stints against big leaguers and in the grand scheme of things he’s really not played too many fewer games in the big leagues, despite never playing higher than Double-A in the minors.
His minor league numbers, from the rookie leagues to Double-A, practically mirror what he has done in the majors as well – suggesting that the excellent offensive numbers he’s been able to put up are no fluke.
There is one exception offensively and that is a high strikeout to walk ratio. That however can be chalked up to being a kid who’s never played beyond the Double-A level and it could be assumed that it will lower as he gains experience.
Defensively Brito also appears ready to become the DBacks everyday center fielder.
John Sickels of Minor League Ball said Brito
“is a real asset defensively, above-average in center field and excellent in a corner due to plus range and arm strength,”
So while his name may be Socrates Brito and not be A.J. Pollock he should be fine out in the field. Plus, there’s a reason that Jeff Sullivan of FanGraphs called him,
“the next underrated Diamondback”
The other major question is how badly will losing Pollock affect the Diamondbacks and their quest for the NL West Title and beyond? Well, considering he had a 7.9 WAR last season, things look badly – with the San Francisco Giants and the Los Angeles Dodgers to top – eight wins would could easily mean the difference between first and third place in the division. Even as Pollock would likely have had a lower WAR this season even three or four games could make a difference.
However, when you look at the rest of the DBacks’ squad, they still have the talent to make a run at the division. The additions of Greinke and Shelby Miller, plus the return of a healthy Patrick Corbin, substantially upgrades their starting rotation which could easily be as good or better than the giants or Dodgers’ rotations,.
Especially depending on the performances of Jeff Samardzija, Johnny Cueto, which could easily be up or down. The same goes for most of the rest of the Dodgers’ starting rotation after Clayton Kershaw.
They’ve got Paul Goldschmidt – unarguably the best first baseman in baseball (yes, please don’t argue with me here. I will never agree to anything less. Goldy is the man!). Catcher Wellington Castillo emerged last season as a diamond in the rough. After a tough time with the Seattle Mariners Castillo broke out with the bat and worked to become better defensively.
The rest of the diamond is pretty solid. Jean Segura, brought over in a trade with the Milwaukee Brewers, had a fantastic spring as did his backup Nick Ahmed. Having Jake Lamb at the hot corner is great – although he could use a platoon partner given his extremely low offensive numbers against left-handers. Chris Owings will remain a staple at second and when you look at the finished product, it’s actually pretty good.
Last season the Diamondback’s bullpen ranked 13th in the league in collective ERA (3.56). That number includes the two months of the season before Brad Ziegler was named closer.
He was more than just good in the role, tying the Diamondbacks’ consecutive saves record with his final save opportunity of the season and the consecutive streak is one he could easily still break.
As Ziegler, a long-time acquaintance, explained to me at this year at spring training , his saves streak carries over into the new season. In 2015 he wracked up 30 saves in 32 opportunities and posted a 1.85 ERA on the year.
The DBack’s further fortified their bullpen by adding All-Star set-up man Tyler Clippard. He didn’t have the best season in 2015, beginning the season with Oakland having to perform in an unfamiliar position, closing in the absence of Sean Doolittle.
He ended the season in the bullpen of the New York Mets but now he will be back in the role he has played for the majority of his career and that role is his comfort zone – setting up for Ziegler.
With all the overall improvements the Diamondbacks have made I can still see them competing for the NL Western Division Title – or at the very least a playoff spot.
As we have learned from the giants and the Royals, it doesn’t matter where you start out in the playoffs but how well you play in October. Without Pollock the DBacks still have a good chance at a playoff spot and after that …. well, anything can happen.