The Arizona Diamondbacks shocked much of the baseball community when they parted with a pair of promising young players — Tyler Skaggs and Adam Eaton — to acquire a legitimate home run threat in Mark Trumbo. Thus, the remaining trio of Gerardo Parra, A.J. Pollock and Cody Ross will now jockey for regular playing time in center and right fields instead of splitting major time in all three positions.
Home run power doesn’t solely define an outfielder’s overall value. On-base skills, contact skills, speed and defense are vitally important, but when it comes to the Trumbo addition, it’s not difficult to understand why Kevin Towers and the Diamondbacks felt they needed to upgrade their power at the outfield position. Last season, their collective outfield finished dead last in home runs and ISO.
The Diamondbacks outfield produced fewer home runs than the Royals, whose pitching coach explicitly admitted last season that they don’t try to hit home runs and expected to finish the season with the least home runs in the league.
It wasn’t just home runs, though. Their combined .310 wOBA ranked third-worst in Major League Baseball, ahead of just the same Kansas City Royals and the surprisingly-impotent New York Yankees. The Diamondbacks obviously acquired Trumbo to upgrade their power production in the outfield, but the addition should allow them to maximize their remaining players in center and right fields to increase their overall offensive numbers.
For fantasy baseball purposes, that could mean paying attention to daily matchups and understanding the platoon strengths and weaknesses for each player. It also means acknowledging the fact that Gerardo Parra may have a difficult time reaching the 600 PA plateau for the second-consecutive season. But to be more thorough, let’s focus on our fancy depth chart tool and touch on each position individually.
Left field appears to be Mark Trumbo’s everyday home. The Diamondbacks didn’t sacrifice Skaggs and Eaton to do anything other than give Trumbo 600+ PA in 2014, which should be music to fantasy owners’ ears. He was a top-30 outfielder last season with 34 home runs and good run/RBI numbers, and those could legitimately improve in Arizona. The 28-year-old slugger is moving from a pitcher-friendly ballpark in Anaheim to more of a bandbox in Arizona. The park factors were rather close last year for home runs, but historically, the Angels’ stadium has favored pitchers while the Diamondbacks’ stadium has been a hitter’s haven.
Trumbo’s achilles heel will always be his low-average, low-OBP tendencies. He actually swung at the fewest percentage of pitches outside the strike zone of his career, but that was still 38.4% and 14th-worst of all qualified hitters in the league. The strikeouts and low batting average will likely remain a problem. If he can get a little BABIP help, though, and hit .268 like he did in 2012, that becomes much more palatable to fantasy owners and he’s a much more well-rounded and valuable fantasy outfielder.
In center and right fields, it’s going to be a dance to allocate playing time between Cody Ross, Gerardo Parra and A.J. Pollack. All three have useful skills, but the biggest issue for all three players is that they possess legitimate platoon splits that limit their effectiveness against certain pitchers.
Here are the three against lefties:
With a southpaw on the mound, it’s really a no-brainer for manager Kirk Gibson and his staff. Start Pollock in center and Ross in right. Allow Parra to come off the bench against right-handed relievers and also provide defensive value later in close games. And for fantasy owners in daily leagues, Ross makes all the sense in the world against lefties. He won’t steal many bases, but he could threaten double-digit home runs and hit for a high average if only utilized in positive matchups.
Against righties, though, we have a different discussion:
Parra is clearly the cream of the crop against righties and quite useful in fantasy leagues. He’s much like Cody Ross against lefties, except Parra will run and should offer at least 10-to-15 stolen bases. Isolating him against righties should also help improve his BABIP — as better, harder contact generally reflects better BABIP numbers — and thus bring his batting average back above the .275 mark.
The Diamondbacks may be best making A.J. Pollock the everyday center fielder because Cody Ross doesn’t deserve to see much time against righties. Even if Pollock also has a platoon split, it’s not nearly as severe as that of Ross. If Pollack does become an everyday player, it would seem the best-case scenario is something like what Norichika Aoki did last year — good average, 20 stolen bases, 5-to-10 homers and good run numbers from batting atop the batting order. I’m not convinced Pollock can handle righties enough to post a .290ish average, but he did hit .309 and .318 in his final two minor-league seasons, respectively. So perhaps there’s some hope in that regard.
Outside the four players mentioned above, the Diamondbacks don’t have anything exciting to offer on the horizon. Their top-15 prospect list doesn’t include a single outfielder above rookie ball. Additionally, Tony Campana currently projects to be the fifth outfielder, and I don’t want to even think about someone drafting Tony Campana in anything other than those surprisingly-unpopular “5-8 or shorter” leagues.
Mark Trumbo is the fantasy hero of the group, as he provides elite power and could see some improvements moving to the National League and a more hitter-friendly ballpark. The remainder of guys should be treated as platoon options in daily leagues. And while potentially useful in a pinch, that’s not exactly something to get excited about.
J.P. Breen is a graduate student at the University of Chicago. For analysis on the Brewers and fantasy baseball, you can follow him on Twitter (@JP_Breen).