The ink on the press release announcing Justin Upton's trade to Atlanta had yet to dry, but baseball's perennially widest-open division had already slimmed down a bit. From year to year, the National League West is the hardest to predict. Every team has won the division since 2006 except for the Rockies, who went to the World Series as a Wild Card in '07. While Upton's departure doesn't eliminate the Diamondbacks before the season starts (Martin Prado could, theoretically, match Upton's WAR), they're running a clear third, at best, behind the Giants and Dodgers.
If the Diamondbacks are to compete this year, their starting pitching will have to lead them. That's where fantasy owners will want to pay the most attention when thinking about this team. Ian Kennedy slipped a bit last season, but still fanned 187 batters in 208.1 innings. Wade Miley went 16-11 with a 3.33 ERA, 1.18 WHIP and 4.8 WAR, nearly besting the Nationals' Bryce Harper for Rookie of the Year honors. Trevor Cahill posted career bests in ERA (3.78), xFIP (3.76) and strikeouts per nine innings (7.02), while throwing more than 197 innings for the third straight season. Arizona also added former A's starter Brandon McCarthy, who dealt with injuries last season but still went 8-6 with a 3.24 ERA and 1.25 WHIP. And Daniel Hudson continues to work his way back from a shoulder injury, while youngsters Patrick Corbin and Tyler Skaggs figure to be part of the equation this year, too.
The staff remains strong, despite the loss of prospect Trevor Bauer in a three-team deal with the Indians and Reds. Still, even with the return of shortstop prospect Didi Gregorius from the Reds, many in the organization considered Bauer a future ace before last season.
There isn't a whole lot to get excited about on offense, but Paul Goldschmidt proved himself a reliable masher in the first half. Miguel Montero is a top-six catcher and Jason Kubel should go for another 30 home runs now that he'll be playing every day. Aaron Hill regained the form he showed in 2009, blasting 26 homers and putting up a .302/.360/.522 slash. Still, this team doesn't move the needle all that much offensively. From a real-life standpoint, the Diamondbacks will have to surprise like the Oakland A's did last year to make the playoffs. For fantasy purposes, if the guy's name wasn't mentioned above, you probably don't want him on your roster.
1. Adam Eaton, CF 2. Martin Prado, 3B 3. Paul Goldschmidt, 1B 4. Jason Kubel, RF 5. Miguel Montero, C 6. Aaron Hill, 2B 7. Cody Ross, LF 8. Cliff Pennington, SS
1. Ian Kennedy 2. Wade Miley 3. Trevor Cahill 4. Brandon McCarthy 5. Patrick Corbin
The first place to look with rates that stark is BABIP, and indeed, Goldschmidt's BABIP dipped to .320 in the second half from .364 in the first. Here's the interesting thing: Most of his other peripherals improved after the All-Star break. His line-drive rate jumped to 26.8 percent from 20.7 percent. His ground-ball rate fell to 38 percent from 42.6 percent. What explains the dip in BABIP? It's likely he was putting more balls in play. In the first half, 17.4 percent of Goldschmidt's fly balls went for home runs. In the second half, that fell to 11.1 percent. Put simply, Goldschmidt popped out a lot more.
Given that we're talking about a guy who's 25 and went 20/18 in his first full year in the majors, I'm willing to forgive Goldschmdit's tepid second half a season ago. He's the No. 5 first baseman on my board.
In a way, Kubel will also replace Upton in the outfield. Thanks to Arizona's outfield glut a season ago, Kubel started just 130 games. With Upton in Atlanta, that number should jump to about 150, resulting in 100 or so more at-bats. Kubel belted 30 homers with 506 ABs last year, making him potentially a very cheap source of power. His .296 BABIP despite a career-high 23-percent line-drive rate and career-low 33.2 ground-ball rate suggests he was extremely unlucky last year.
I believe the answer is yes. Hill has been an interesting player over the last four seasons. He broke out in 2009, hitting .286/.330/.499 with 36 homers for the Blue Jays. He followed that up by falling all the way to .205/.271/.394 in 2010, though he managed 26 round-trippers. So in the last four seasons, Hill has given us two monster campaigns and two terrible ones, though the power has been there in three years. What does that mean for him this year? Well, first, he plays at a relatively shallow position. Robinson Cano is a star, and Ian Kinsler, Dustin Pedroia and Jason Kipnis are objectively better players than Hill. But after those four, whom would you rather have? Ben Zobrist? Brandon Phillips? Chase Utley? Jose Altuve? Danny Espinosa? Rickie Weeks? All of these guys carry serious question marks. Hill has hit for major power at the second base position, with regularity.
Second, Chase Field is one of the best hitters' parks in the majors. According to park factors, it was the sixth-best run-scoring stadium a year ago and surrendered the sixth-most home runs. Hill clearly adjusted well from his first day in Arizona. I don't see any reason for that to change this season.
NL-only players to know