For most of their history, which began as an expansion team in 1998, the Arizona Diamondbacks have largely been competitive. From 1999 through the pre-pandemic 2019 season, the team had an overall record of 1698-1704, a winning rate of .499. In the last two seasons, however, owner Ken Kendricks has decided to stop paying for talent, and last year, the team had one of the worst records in MLB history, winning just 52 games while losing 110, including a 10-31 record in one-run games.
Arizona Diamondbacks Last Season Performance
It’s really no surprise that the Diamondbacks were only able to manage to win 52 games in 2021, as they had the worst pitching numbers in the National League. As a staff, they posted a 5.11 ERA, giving up the most hits and runs while allowing the 13th highest number of home runs.
No pitcher who started at least eight games had an ERA of less than 4.25, and the bullpen wasn’t any better. There were a couple of bright spots, including 31-year-old Noe Ramirez, who had an ERA of 2.76 in 36 appearances, spending 32.2 innings on the mound and striking out 29 while compiling a record of 0-2.
One of their more promising pitchers was 25 year old Zac Gallen, who went 4-10 with a 4.30 ERA and 139 strikeouts in 121.1 innings pitched. Their two winningest pitchers both collected seven wins, with 32-year-old Merrill Kelly and 31-year-old Madison Bumgarner also leading the way in starts at 27 and 26, respectively.
Offensively, the team ranked a little higher, finishing 12th in the National League in batting average and runs scored, but only 14th in home runs and 13th in slugging percentage. The two offensive categories where the Diamondbacks excelled were a league-leading 308 doubles and a third-best triples total of 31.
By far, their best hitter for average in 2021 was switch-hitting center fielder Ketel Marte, who hit .318 with 14 home runs, 50 RBI, and 52 runs scored in 90 games of action. The 25-year-old also reached base on 31 walks and struck out a modest 60 times over the course of the season.
Just before the trade deadline, the Diamondbacks traded Eduardo Escobar and his $2.15 million salary to the Milwaukee Brewers for a pair of minor leaguers. Escobar, who was hitting .246 with 22 home runs and 65 RBI for the D-Backs at the time of the trade, was set to become a free agent at the end of 2021 and ended up signing a two year deal with the Mets worth $20 million.
Arizona Diamondbacks Off Season Changes
As expected for a team trying to keep their payroll in control, the D-Backs weren’t particularly active in the free-agent market prior to the lockout. They focused instead on signing many of the players that were on their roster in 2021 who showed promise for the future or who could help the team win in 2022.
All of those signings involved pitchers, most notably Ramirez, who they signed to a one-year, $1.25 million deal. Ramirez will be eligible for arbitration following the 2022 season and will become an unrestricted free agent prior to 2024.
Caleb Smith, who pitched in 45 games for the D-Backs in 2021, which included 13 starts, had a record of 4-9 with an ERA of 4.83. He struck out 124 batters in 133.2 innings and was signed to a one-year contract at $2 million for 2022.
Their 2021 workhorse, Merrill Kelly, was signed to a two-year, $5.5 million contract and will be eligible for arbitration following the 2022 season. The D-Backs also kept relief pitcher JB Wendelken in the fold after the 28-year-old made 20 appearances in 2021, with a record of 2-2 and a 4.34 ERA with 13 strikeouts in 18.2 innings of work.
The D-Backs made one minor trade before things shut down on December 2nd when they picked up part-time center fielder Jordan Luplow, who missed the last month of the season with an ankle injury, from the Tampa Bay Rays in exchange for prospect Ronny Simon. They also added veteran reliever Mark Melancon from free agency, signing the 36-year-old to a two-year, $14 million deal.
Some changes were made to the coaching staff, as the D-Backs brought in some new faces for both the pitchers and the hitters. They also reorganized the staff, creating hybrid positions with the coaches assisting with major leaguers as well as minor league players, further emphasizing the organization’s focus on player development as opposed to free-agent acquisitions.
Arizona Diamondbacks Key Additions
Melancon will be in his 14th major league season in 2022, and the D-Backs are the eighth team for which he has pitched. He has a career mark of 34-30 and has appeared in 670 games, all in relief.
In 2021, he led the major leagues in saves with 39 as a San Diego Padre, a distinction he also held in 2015 as a member of the Pittsburgh Pirates, helping that franchise to make its last appearance in the postseason. The 36-year-old pitched in 64 games in 2021, posting a 4-3 record with a 2.23 ERA with 59 strikeouts in 64.2 innings on the mound.
Despite his age, it was Melancon’s best season since 2016, when he went 2-2 with an ERA of 1.64 and 47 saves while splitting time between the Pirates and the Washington Nationals. His experience and control will both be big assets for a team that had problems out of the bullpen in 2021.
Other than Melancon and Luplow, the only other acquisition at the major league level was a waiver pickup from the Cleveland Guardians of relief pitcher Kyle Nelson, who had no-decisions in ten appearances in 2021. If the D-Backs are going to put much of an upgraded product on the field in 2022, they’ll need to do some more work after the lockout, especially to add some bats to give them more depth at the plate.
Arizona Diamondbacks Key Subtractions
The D-Backs lost 36-year-old Tyler Clippard to free agency after paying the reliever $2.25 million for a one-year deal in 2021. He appeared in 26 games and had a record of 1-1 with an ERA of 3.20, among the lowest of the players in the bullpen.
Clippard also recorded six saves for a team that had the lowest number of those in the National League, with just 22 on the season. They definitely received an upgrade with Melancon, but Clippard was able to provide quality appearances out of the bullpen that was short on reliable arms.
Another relief pitcher, 28-year-old Taylor Clarke, also became a free agent following the 2021 season. The right-hander was 1-3 with an ERA of 4.98 in 43 appearances for the D-Backs, striking out 39 hitters in 43.1 innings of work.
The only position player of note to leave for free agency was part-time right fielder Kole Calhoun. The 33-year-old played in 51 games for the D-Backs and hit .235 with five home runs and 17 RBI in a limited role. Calhoun signed a one-year deal with the Texas Rangers worth $5.2 million for 2022, and the Rangers have an option for $5.5 million for 2023.
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Arizona Diamondbacks Head Coach Analysis
Torey Lovullo spent parts of 12 seasons as a player in the major leagues, primarily as a utility infielder and playing in 303 games in his career. He played at first base, second base, and third base throughout his career, where he saw playing time with seven different franchises.
After spending a couple of seasons as a minor league coach in the Cleveland Indians organization, Lovullo took over as the manager of the franchises’ Class A affiliate in Columbus, Georgia, in 2002. He spent the next nine years managing at various levels of the Indians’ organization, ultimately ending up with the Triple-A Buffalo Bisons in 2006.
In 2010, the Red Sox lured him away from the Indians, and he took over the Pawtucket Red Sox for a season before making his jump to the major leagues as a first base coach with the Toronto Blue Jays. For the 2013 season, he followed Blue Jay manager John Farrell to Boston, where served as bench coach until the end of the 2016 season, including a stint as interim manager for the second half of the 2015 season.
Lovullo was a successful minor league manager and was highly regarded in baseball circles when the D-Backs tapped him as their new manager prior to the 2017 season. He inherited a team that was 69-93 in 2016 and hadn’t been to the postseason since 2011.
In his first season at the helm, Lovullo turned the record completely around, leading the D-Backs to a 93-69 season and a second-place finish in the NL West. The team won the wild card game but was swept 3-0 by the Los Angeles Dodgers in the National League Division Series.
Lovullo was named National League Manager of the Year for the improvement shown by the D-Backs. Although the team had winning records in 2018 and 2019, they failed to make the playoffs in either year.
The last two seasons have been difficult as the team continues to shed payroll and look to the farm system for its talent. Lovullo, with his extensive experience and success in the minor leagues, should be well-positioned to develop players at the major league level, as long as the front office has the patience for him to show success.
Arizona Diamondbacks Injured Players at the beginning of the season
Four players on the current 40 man roster have lingering injuries, but all of them are listed as probable for the start of the season. Seth Beer, who was called up from Triple-A in September, injured his shoulder in just his fifth major league game and underwent surgery before the end of the season.
The highly prized prospect, despite a lengthy recovery, is expected to participate in spring training at some point and be ready to contribute come opening day. If the beginning of the season gets pushed back, it would only increase his chances for a return to action.
Luplow suffered from a left ankle strain near the end of the 2021 season but isn’t expected to miss any time for his new team. He’s listed on the D-Backs roster and is probable for a full return for spring training.
Tyler Gilbert, who started six games for the D-Backs and posted a record of 2-2 with an impressive ERA of 3.15 in nine appearances in 2021, experienced elbow pain that kept him out of the last two weeks of the season. He is listed as probable for the beginning of the season, and he could be a big reason for some hope for 2022.
Starting shortstop Nick Ahmed also missed the end of the season, suffering from inflammation in his left shoulder that was attributed to bursitis. He hit .221 with five home runs and 38 RBI in 129 games in 2021 and is probable for a return to the field for spring training.
Arizona Diamondbacks Prediction for 2022 Season
The D-Backs were so bad in 2021 that it’s difficult to predict anything but another last-place finish in the very tough NL West. That doesn’t necessarily mean that the team can’t show improvement, which also shouldn’t be that difficult given the dismal won-loss record they put up last season.
Adding Melancon should yield results, but to get the full benefit, they’ll have to have enough offense to stay in games long enough for the veteran to have a major impact. They should be able to turn around the poor one-run game performance, as well as decreasing the 32 losses they experienced by five or more runs.
They have some promising young talent, but they’ll need to continue to improve for the D-Backs to successfully execute their rebuilding process. Players like 25-year-old outfielder Pavin Smith, 26-year-old second baseman Josh VanMeter, and Marte could provide a nucleus surrounded by some experienced talent that could yield positive results in their MLB odds, and for the team going forward.
The pitching will have to improve, but with hurlers like Noe Ramirez and Trey Gilbert joined by veterans Bumgarner, Kelly, and Melancon, there is certainly hope that the D-Backs can make a strong move toward competitiveness, if not getting back to a .500 team. It will remain to be seen if General Manager Mike Hazen delves any further into the free-agent pool to add more depth, but if he does, the team could be looking at a much better record in 2022 MLB Lines.
Beyond this season, if some of their young talent pans out, they may have to open up the pocketbook to keep them with the organization in order to continue any upward momentum they may achieve in 2022. For that reason, the trade deadline will definitely serve as a barometer of whether the D-Backs are really serious about rebuilding in a way that allows them to compete for playoff positions in the near future.