Lately, there seems to be one big question when it comes to the Arizona Diamondbacks — what, exactly, is Kevin Towers thinking? There doesn’t seem to be much of a long-term plan, and he’s made some trades that seemed to produce underwhelming returns. To be fair, the assets he’s been killed in the blogosphere for giving up — like Justin Upton and Trevor Bauer — haven’t necessarily gone on to make him regret the decision. But a focus on collecting dirtbags and gamers rather than highly-touted talent makes it easy to question him. So easy, in fact, that we won’t ask that question here, and instead offer three more.
Can Paul Goldschmidt repeat his 2013 season?
Goldschmidt burst onto the national scene last year, putting up a .302/.401/.551 line en route to a second-place MVP finish. He’s gone from “big guy with a lot of power” to “legitimate MVP candidate,” but when a player explodes for a season like the one Goldschmidt had, it’s fair to ask if it was a career year we won’t see again — after all, history is littered with single great seasons on a guy’s Baseball-Reference page. In Goldy’s case, he’s at least shown the progression and made the improvements to make you think you’ll see another very good year from him in 2014.
Saying Goldschmidt came out of nowhere last year would be unfair to his first full season in 2012, when he hit .286/.359/.490 in 145 games. But if you're a pitcher, something scary happened last year: his walk rate rose by nearly 4%, from 10.2% to 13.9%. He cut his strikeout rate by nearly 2%, from 22.1% to 20.4%. Combine that with a HR/FB rate jump of almost 8.5%, and you have a home-run hitting beast with a .400 OBP.
That HR/FB might be reason to expect some sort of regression in 2014, but it isn't like the power is a total surprise — this is the same guy who hit 35 home runs in 138 games at High-A and 30 home runs in 103 games at Double-A. The power's always been there. It's the added patience that's made him one of the more dangerous hitters in the league.
Can they break the .500 mark?
After back-to-back 81-81 seasons, the pressure is on in the desert to finally break through for a winning season. The Diamondbacks were close last year and actually probably should have finished over .500, but they lost 5 of their last 7 games and needed a win on the final day of the season to avoid a losing mark. This winter, Arizona started dealing away prospects to help them win now. If the additions of Mark Trumbo and Addison Reed don’t work out, things could start to get uncomfortable for Kevin Towers and Kirk Gibson, both of whom recently received extensions to avoid lame duck status.
While we keep talking about the back-to-back .500 finishes, the Diamondbacks’ stretch of mediocrity goes back a bit further than that. They haven’t had a winning season since winning the NL West in 2011 with their third-highest win total in franchise history (94). That season is the only one in the past five in which the Diamondbacks have been able to muster a winning record. You have to go back to 2007 and 2008 for the last time they had back-to-back winning years, and even that was by barely getting there with 82 wins in ‘08. Five of their 8 winning seasons in franchise history came in the team’s first six years of existence. This isn’t a team that has a recent history of consistent success. Pushing past break-even this season — even in a modest way — would at least be a step in the right direction.
Can they start winning on the road?
Chase Field has always been an inviting park for hitters, but when the Diamondbacks have gone on the road in the past, they’ve struggled. They were 36-45 away from Phoenix last season, but it’s more than just a recent issue. In the past 10 years, Arizona has posted a winning road record just twice — the wildly successful 2011 season (43-38 in road games) and 2005, when they finished in 2nd despite a 77-85 record thanks to the division being so bad. Even then, the road mark was just 41-40.
Yes, it’s hard to consistently win road games. That’s why they say you can shoot for .500 on the road if you win two out of every three home games. But it’s not like the Diamondbacks have come all that close to doing either:
2013: 45-36 home, 36-45 road
2012: 41-40 home, 40-41 road
2011: 51-30 home, 43-38 road
2010: 40-41 home, 25-56 road
2009: 36-45 home, 34-47 road
2008: 48-33 home, 34-47 road
2007: 50-31 home, 40-41 road
2006: 39-42 home, 37-44 road
2005: 36-45 home, 41-40 road
2004: 29-52 home, 22-59 road
It’s a big reason why they haven’t been able to climb over that .500 hump. But if they can find a way to break even at home while Protecting the Pool at home, it’ll go a long way in answering that question, too.