Three overreactions to the Diamondbacks’ great start to 2023 season

For most MLB teams, 19 games means practically nothing. The massive scope of baseball guarantees that any 18 game sample is noisy with the kind of variance that 162 game season is meant to smooth away—Patrick Wisdom has had a good little stretch, but it doesn’t mean that he’s going to shatter the home run record. Conversely, for the Arizona Diamondbacks, these 19 games look a lot like the future. At 11-8, the Diamondbacks are the shocking NL West leaders to start the season, already two games up on the Los Angeles Dodgers and San Diego Padres, putatively two of the favorites to win the World Series. Even if the Padres and Dodgers overtake Arizona, Corbin Carroll, Ketel Marte and the rest of the Diamondbacks could still be playoffs bound. Here is our attempt to determine which early season overreactions are true or false.

Corbin Carroll is a superstar: TRUE

Corbin Carroll entered this season as the most hyped up and heavily scrutinized player to break camp with the Diamondbacks in decades. The consensus number one prospect in baseball, Carroll inked an eight year, $111 million contract (with the potential to reach $134 million) in Spring Training, representing the largest deal ever signed by an American player with fewer than 100 days of service time. At the time, it seemed strange to commit so much money so quickly. Now, it seems like tremendous foresight: Carroll is easily worth twice that.

Through the first few weeks of the season, Carroll has had no problem translating his preposterous toolsy-ness into actualized statistical production for the Diamondbacks. Outside of an antsy approach at the plate (17 strikeouts to one walk), he’s more or less flawless. He hits the ball harder than just about anyone (83rd percentile max exit velocity) and runs faster than literally everybody (100th percentile sprint speed).  Across 62 at bats, Carroll has already slugged four home runs, driven in eight RBIs and swiped six stolen bases while producing a .274/.297/.516 slash line. For context, he’s the only player in the league with at least four homers and six steals. Over the course of 162 games, Corbin Carroll is on pace to club 36 homers, drive in 72 runs and steal 54 bases, which would put him alongside Mike Trout as the only rookies in the 30-40 club.

Oh, and Carroll plays a mean center field. He’s a stud.

Merrill Kelly is a Cy Young contender: False

Like science, math can be a liar sometimes. Give Kelly’s Baseball Reference page a cursory scan and he looks like a true ace. But if you at it even a little bit deeper, the cracks in the facade are glaringly obvious. His stuff is bang average—his spin rate on his fastball and curveball are both slightly above average, but his velocity and whiff rate are both mediocre. He throws with neither great power nor precision—his strikeout rate is in the 42nd percentile while his walk rate is in the 16th. More damning, he’s gotten rocked, even if he’s mostly been able to avoid giving up runs. When you factor in exit velocity and launch angle, Kelly surrenders an expected .836 OPS. For context, Trea Turner has a .819 OPS so far this year, meaning that Kelly basically turns every batter he faces into an All-Star.

As such, Kelly’s 2.53 earned run average is obviously fraudulent—all of his success through four starts is more attributable to the strong defense behind him than anything he’s done on his own. But with the ban of the shift causing the league-wide batting average of balls in play to spike to its highest level in five years, it’s unfair to expect the Diamondbacks to keep cleaning up every irradiated ball that Kelly surrenders for the whole season.

The Diamondbacks will make the playoffs: True

Let’s get crazy. This is a scrappy baseball anachronism, built around speed and contact rather than power and patience. Despite hitting just 17 home runs (tied for seventh-fewest), they’ve been an above average offense because of their ability to apply stress to defenses—they don’t strikeout (third fewest whiffs of any lineup in the Majors), they don’t relent in the running game (they lead the league by taking the extra base 56 percent of the time) and they don’t leave meat on the bone (fewest men left on base).  Without a bopper-heavy lineup, the Diamondbacks are distinctly retro in the way they manufacture offense—they craftily create ways to sneak into scoring position and then have the steeliness and wherewithal to capitalize.

More than their endearing grit, the Diamondbacks sneakily have the high-end talent to make noise in the playoffs. Corbin, obviously, is a star, but Alek Thomas and Gabriel Moreno are fellow blue-chip prospects with immense potential; Ketel Marte was one of the five best players in the National League as recently as 2019 and is still one of the league’s best utilitymen. On the mound, Zac Gallen is a bonafide ace coming off of a top five finish in last year’s Cy Young voting.

There are many, many reasons that the Diamondbacks won’t make the playoffs. They have one good pitcher; only two of their hitters have ever made the All-Star game and one of them (Evan Longoria) is now a 37 year old platoon player; they’re the Arizona Diamondbacks. But, if these first 19 games are any indication, there’s some magic in this team.

The post Three overreactions to the Diamondbacks’ great start to 2023 season appeared first on ClutchPoints.

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