PHOENIX – The math is not terribly difficult to decipher. Had the Arizona Diamondbacks bullpen helped just a little, there could be a strong chance for a .500 season and a heightened optimism for the future.
As a result, the team finished at 74-88 and 37.5 games behind the NL West-leading Los Angeles Dodgers. After engaging the Dodgers over the final weeks of the season, Arizona manager Torey Lovullo told reporters that L.A. remains a measuring barometer to which his team models to ascend. For that to occur, the effort to reconstruct the bullpen should be a top priority.
In the recently completed season, the Diamondbacks recorded 41 bullpen losses and, as a result, the website FanGraphs calculated the Diamondbacks possessed the worst win probability of any team in the majors.
“We did not have a very good bullpen his year,” said general manager Mike Hazen. “That’s on me. Easy pickings have been just going after the bullpen. You leave out where we were offensively in the seventh through nine innings and defensively in innings seven through nine innings. How many games would change had we improved in those areas.”
If the Diamondbacks struggled, as Hazen referenced, especially in the late innings, numbers did not project success. The bullpen, with those 41 losses was tied for the most bullpen losses among major league teams. The team batting average of .230 was among the lowest in the majors. Only the Marlins, A’s and Pirates registered a lower team batting average. The major-league wide average was .243.
Overall, the pitching staff recorded a collective 4.25 ERA and the major league average was 3.96. Regarding defense, the Diamondbacks’ fielding percentage was .985 and that was the exact number for the overall percentage by all teams.
All of which pointed to a season of mediocrity and commonplace. Still, the team recorded a 22-win improvement over the 2021 disastrous 52-110 season. That sense of trajectory lifted Lovullo’s spirit.
“I am proud of what we did and proud of the accomplishments,” he said. “We had a low bar to eclipse from (the 2021 season). We did win 74 games and let’s be mindful of where are at this moment. I want the players to enjoy those 74 wins but we have a great deal of work to do.”
That would include the restructuring of the bullpen. If the Diamondbacks were able to win 15 of the 41 losses sustained by the bullpen, that would have boosted their win production to 89 victories. In 2022, the Philadelphia Phillies recorded a season mark of 87-75 and because of their post-season surge, eventually advanced to the World Series.
Of those remaining from the 2022 squad, four are likely to return. This includes right-hander closer Mark Melancon (3-10, 4.66 ERA, $6 million due in the second of a two-year deal), left-hander Caleb Smith (1-3, 4.11), left-hander Joe Mantiply (2-3, 2.65) and right-hander Kevin Ginkel (1-1, 3.38).
Already gone are Noe Ramirez, Keynan Middleton, Chris Devenki (claimed by the Phillies in Aug, 2022), and J. B. Wendelken (declared free agency on Oct.11, 2022). On the bubble and not likely to return include Ian Kennedy, Taylor Widener, Luis Frias, Edwin Uceta, and Reves Moronto.
All of which signifies to Hazen the urgency of the moment.
“If you go just after the bullpen, and that’s easy picking, if you go through the lineup, one through seven, and defensively, how many of those games would have changed,” Hanze said. “If we improve in most areas, that goes into improving the bullpen. Also, we will not be doing things for (2023) that are so off-the wall.”
So, the process begins, and the mission ahead is considered rather enormous. If the Diamondbacks use the Phillies as a blueprint for possible trajectory into the post-season stratosphere, Hazen will have to come up with a pair of relievers like righthander Seranthony Dominguez and lefty Jose Alvarado. Given Dominguez and Alvarado have excelled in the post-season, closer Corey Knebel, who went down for the season in August with a tear in his right shoulder capsule, led the Phillies with 12 saves.
The task ahead is not only to fill several anticipated openings but also to recognize, as did Phillies decision-makers, the necessity for Plan B.
All of which sets the bar very high this off-season for Hazen.
AWARDS … so far in this off-season, first baseman Christian Walker accumulated an impressive collection in post-season awards. First, the 31-year-old out of Norristown, PA captured the Gold Glove and became the second Arizona player to earn this award at first base Previously, Paul Goldschmidt won two with Arizona and a third with St. Louis.
Also, Walker also captured the Fielding Bible as the best fielding first baseman. The Fielding Bible calculates a defensive metrics database and concluded Walker, by a measure of determining runs saved, was the best, defensively, at this position.
Elsewhere .. on Friday, Nov. 11, the Diamondbacks are slated to hold their 12th annual Celebrity Golf Classic in Scottsdale. Since 2011, the Arizona Diamondbacks Foundation has raised more than $2.3 million through the Celebrity Golf Classic with proceeds benefitting local military organizations. Expected to participate are players Zac Gallen, Drey Jameson, Merrill Kelly, Jordan Luplow, and Josh Rojas along with manager Torey Lovullo.