Fourteen months ago, the San Francisco Giants had the best record in baseball. They had a pair of aces at the top of their rotation, they had Buster Posey, and they had a young-ish infield that could be counted on for the next three years, at least. They had money, and even if the farm system wasn’t exactly robust, they were still set up well for the future.
Fourteen months ago, the Arizona Diamondbacks were an absolute mess. They didn’t have a farm system to begin with, and what they had (including a fresh new first-overall pick) was jettisoned to make room for Shelby Miller, who was suddenly one of the worst pitchers in baseball. They took a home run swing and spent a fifth of their budget on Zack Greinke, who promptly started pitching like a pitcher in his 30s instead of a Cy Young winner. Most of their other pitchers were sucked into the vortex, and it didn’t matter which prospects or veterans they tried. It all failed, and they lost 93 games.
The Diamondbacks are contending this year. In a normal year, they might have been in a division race. They’re fixed. They’re better. That last year, phew, what a wild ride that was.
The Giants are not contending this year. They’re broken. They’re worse, so much worse.
It’s not that life comes at you fast, it’s that life is usually drunk and taking speed so that it can stay up and drink more.
Our job isn’t to lament this cruel twist of fate, but to see how things got so much better, so quickly for the Diamondbacks and to see if we can apply it to the Giants’ situation.
It’s hard to exaggerate just how screwed the Diamondbacks looked last season. What happened?
Their expensive ace pitched better
Zack Greinke looked like an albatross last year, and the big question wasn’t if the Diamondbacks should trade him, but if they could trade him. Would they eat $70 million just to salvage the rest of the money? It was an open question.
Turns out that Greinke is Greinke, which is to say, he’s really good at his job. Last year was a hiccup.
If we’re going to hamfistedly apply this to the Giants, the analogy would be Johnny Cueto. If, next year, he’s pitching as well as he pitched in every season from 2010 through 2017, it will be as surprising as Greinke pitching well this year. Which is to say, it won’t be very surprising at all.
Their strikeout monster with a high ERA and low FIP got less unlucky
Robbie Ray struck out 218 batters last year, and his FIP was a cool 3.76. His ERA was 4.90, though, and he had a dinger problem. He also had an outfield problem, too, as he was a flyball pitcher who had to deal with Yasmany Tomas clumbering around, as well as Michael Bourn in center, who was far removed from his defensive peak.
While it’s somewhat disingenuous to compare a 24-year-old Ray to an over-30 Jeff Samardzija, you can see where this analogy is going. Samardzija shouldn’t have allowed this many runs this season. I’ll fight for that belief. And if you want an example of a pitcher who started turning that K/BB ratio into gold with a fresh start and an improved outfield defense, here’s the best example available.
They didn’t get hosed by injures
Every team has injuries, including the 2017 Diamondbacks. But they aren’t always horrible, devastating injuries, like A.J. Pollock hurting himself trying to score a run in March, or Madison Bumgarner RIDING A DIRT BIKE FOR NO REASON, WHY WOULD YOU DO THAT, JUST PLAY VIDEO GAMES, I’M STILL SO MAD. Pollock isn’t exactly lighting the league on fire, but he’s helping the Diamondbacks win games, and he’s helped them do it all year.
Next year, the Giants would like to have Bumgarner around all year to help win games. Brandon Belt and Joe Panik, too. Maybe they won’t get hit with so many baseballs.
Their good players remembered how to be good
David Peralta emerged from the independent league mists to become one of the Diamondbacks’ better players. As quickly as he arrived, though, he plummeted back to earth, hitting just .251/.295/.433 last season.
Now he’s good again.
The best comp here is probably Brandon Crawford, and that actually works out even better for the Giants because his ceiling is even higher than Peralta’s, and he has a longer track record of reaching it. But if you wanted to go with Joe Panik reaching his All-Star capabilities again, I can accept that.
Their erratic young lefty became a valuable part of the rotation, not a confusing mess
Patrick Corbin was a promising young pitcher, and then he had Tommy John surgery. After a strong return, he was one of the reasons the Diamondbacks were so confident heading into 2016 and then an;dsfkasnd;jkas, right down the stairs. His control got much worse, and he couldn’t stop allowing baserunners. The home run spike messed him up, too, and he needed to adjust.
His command and control improved, and while he wasn’t the burgeoning ace he once appeared to be, he’s been a solid contributor to a contending team.
THIS SECTION IS ABOUT MATT MOORE. I DON’T HAVE TIME FOR SUBTLETY, HERE.
They turned a disappointing prospect into a shutdown reliever
Archie Bradley has found a home in the Diamondbacks’ bullpen, which gives me a chance to utter one of my favorite phrases of 2017, which is, “Hell yeah, Kyle Crick.”
This is the shakiest of all the analogies. On the other hand, hell yeah, Kyle Crick.
They made a big trade, and it worked out
This part doesn’t have a Giants analog yet, because we don’t know what they’re going to do this offseason, but the Diamondbacks traded Jean Segura (still quite good) for Taijuan Walker, who helped fill a greater need in the rotation. They also got Ketel Marte back, and he’s helped fill in the hole left by Segura. It was risky, but it’s worked so far.
The Giants don’t have to make a whopper of a deal to contend next year, but a couple of smart moves could make a substantial difference for a team that’s mostly going to try again with the same group of players.
Overall, though, here’s what the Diamondbacks did to become a contending team after losing 90+ games: They got their talented players to play baseball better. From Greinke to Ray to Pollock to Corbin, they became the team they were hoping to be before last year’s disaster of a season. And if you want to be comforted even more, note that not everything had to go perfect for this to happen. They’ve still had disappointing performances. Their team OPS+ is just 90. They didn’t need to hit every cherry on a 15-wheel slot machine to get here.
They just stopped being as bad as they were last year.
It’s my opinion that the Giants should stop being as bad as they’ve been this year.
It’s not a perfect analogy, but it’s enough to make you think. The reasons the Diamondbacks have improved so greatly can also apply to a rose-colored future for the Giants. The tricky part is making it happen, and the Giants will have one big difference from the Diamondbacks: They’ll have the same front office. The Diamondbacks had a fresh set of eyes to look at the players who disappointed. The Giants won’t.
But that’s a discussion for another time in the near future. For now, loathe the Diamondbacks for stealing the Giants’ rightful wild card spot. But respect them for showing the Giants that it’s possible to go from a disaster season to a postseason spot within a short offseason.
Then loathe them again. Because, really, I’m still not over 2001.