The Diamondbacks have been one of the most successful of baseball's expansion teams almost from the get go, winning their division in three out of their first five seasons in the National League West. The year 2001 was the high watermark, that was when the D-backs scored their very first and only World Series Championship to date in a seven-game thriller against the New York Yankees.
Perhaps it was because they beat the pinstripes in a year that by all storybook rights should have belonged to New York City as a small Band-Aid for the 9/11 tragedy. And so due to that indiscretion the team is now enduring some kind of breaking the Big Apple's storybook ending curse. That can be the only logical explanation for the troubles the D-backs have experienced in winning a second title since the end of their lone truly glorious season.
After 2001, though still fielding some great teams, winning the NL West thrice between 2002 and 2011; the Diamondbacks have always fizzled in the post season. Not even making it past the first round. Worse, since 2011 Arizona has not even finished above eleven games back in their division.
But here it is 2017 and a brand new season. Giving new hope to all, even a team that finished twenty-two games off the pace in 2016. Here are ten players whose exemplary play absolves them from the poor results since the D-backs glory year and ten others who may be burned in effigy as a sacrifice to possibly appease the notoriously fickle baseball gods.
20 Best: Randy Johnson
The Big Unit continued to produce big-time for Arizona in 2002, going over twenty wins (twenty-four) for a second year in a row after recording nineteen victories in 2000. Great season for Randy Johnson except that he pitched terribly in his lone playoff appearance, getting shelled for six runs in six innings pitched.
A veteran of eight total campaigns with the club, Johnson had only one losing season during that time, an injury plagued 2003 when he went 6-8 and recorded his only year with the Diamondbacks where his ERA was above four. You certainly cannot blame Arizona's last place one hundred eleven games lost 2004 season on him because he posted a 2.60 ERA, winning sixteen games and eating up two hundred forty-five innings.
Out of all of the MLB teams that he played for, Johnson elected to enter the hallowed Hall of Fame as a D-back.
19 Worst: Zack Greinke
With thirteen wins and seven losses Zack Greinke had a decent season for a mere human. But with the big bucks comes big pressure to produce big numbers and superstars need to stay healthy or they will fade quickly into yesteryear.
What qualifies Zack for this list is the mega contract that will turn the D-backs' accountants into hunchbacks trying to figure out how to balance their Zack-leveraged payroll.
Even though they were never on the Diamondbacks players' roster, dishonorable mention must go to Tony La Russa and Dave Stewart for harnessing up the club to a potentially crippling signing.
If Arizona had at least won their division last year all would be hailing the two great conquering baseball geniuses. But "the stare" never translated so well to the front office and Tony and his protégé's reign of error has dimmed the auras of these two baseball legends.
All of this might become water under the desert if Greinke reestablishes his pitching mastery and Arizona wins the pennant. Until that happens…
18 Best: Brandon Webb
Teams rise or fall according to the abilities of their pitching staff. For the most part Arizona's fortunes rose whenever Brandon Webb took to the hill. Talk about leaving it all on the field, he was a total workhorse for the D-backs, from 2004 through 2008 logging over two hundred innings per season and garnering the coveted Cy Young Award in 2006.
Unfortunately the award did not impart any of its namesake's legendary durability to him. After winning twenty-two games that fateful Cy Young year, Webb had blown out his arm by the end of the 2008 season and was done.
But not before he could record a slew of accomplishments, fill a mantle place full with trophies; gather up a rather nice nest egg and leave behind a lifetime of fabulous baseball memories for Diamondbacks fans and players. Webb's 29.2 WAR is second only to The Big Unit on the All-time Arizona pitching roster.
17 Worst: Shelby Miller
In 2016 Shelby Miller posted a very disappointing three and twelve with a fat ERA of six point fifteen. His poor performance made more than a few Diamondback fans long for the return of their thus squandered top prospects Dansby Swanson, Aaron Blair and Ender Inciarte. Though there is no crying in baseball, Dave Stewart comes close to an infraction on that point with his whining about gut feelings. There are also no refunds or exchanges on trades. To add insult to the D-backs' injuries, Miller actually requested a raise in arbitration, which he lost.
Coupled with the failure of Greinke to be Greinke, this one two pitching hole in Arizona's starting rotation contributed to the club achieving the dubious distinction of being at the absolute bottom for team ERA in the entire Major Leagues. Causing some pundits to declare 2016 the D-backs' worst season since the team came into being.
16 Best: Luis Gonzalez
Although by spring training of 2002 Luis Gonzalez's best years were behind him, he still tore it up, finishing twelfth best overall in the National League with over one hundred RBI and twenty-eight home runs that season. Nor was he through in 2003 when he registered yet another one hundred plus runs batted in performance, again the twelfth highest in the NL --some heavy numerological implications there-- while batting over three hundred for seventeenth best.
2004 was not vintage Gonzalez and he was still far from finished but decline had set in and he was never to regain his super star mojo. Even so a diminished Gonzalez was still a better hitter than half the league. In an injury reduced effort that year he still clubbed seventeen homers. During his final Arizona campaign in 2006 Gonzalez contributed seventy-three RBI along with fifteen more big flies. He represented the Diamondbacks in the All-Star Game in the years 2002, 2003 and 2005.
15 Worst: Russ Ortiz
Not knowing when a pitcher is through and paying great sums to secure their services is an all too common mistake made by many Major League teams. Anxious to secure that pitching edge that might bring glory to their town, they open their purse strings when pecuniary restraint would have served them better.
Good pitching stops good hitting and bad contracts can sink good ball clubs. Arizona had the misfortune/stupidity back in 2005 of paying a lot of money on a long-term contract to the former Braves and Giants ace. Then Russ Ortiz, entering his first year of being a well paid has been, proceeded to a six point eighty-nine ERA with forty-six strikeouts to sixty-five walks.
As it turned out, he made quite a career of being washed up. Playing for six different teams for five long years after his last winning season. Curt Flood might have laughed at such financial largesse being paid to a MLB player, since he emancipated them from their enslavement to ownership; multiple millions of dollars for mediocrity, nice work if you can get it.
14 Best: A.J. Pollock
For an expansion team like the D-backs with a short history, and for a time frame defined by the parameters of our article, A.J. Pollock stands tall for his consistent contributions from 2013-2015 as a solid center fielder with great speed and a little power in his bat. A.J. put it all together in 2015. In that year he appeared in every Diamondback contest but five. He was the fourth best hitter and base stealer in the league with a three fifteen average and thirty-nine pilfered bags, he amassed over six hundred atbats; twenty home runs (in the new steroid-less era), seventy-six RBI and fifty-three walks.
But his heroic performance in 2015 took its toll and he was out of action for virtually all of 2016. This year Pollock is born anew, boasting of scaling Phoenix's Camelback Mountain in just twenty-seven minutes and change. A healthy A.J. could go a long way in lifting the Diamondbacks out of their recent disappointing finishes. Arizona has basically languished in or near irrelevance since they last won their division in 2011.
13 Worst: Matt Stites
Pitching is such an important part of the game, that if a player like Matt Stites goes out and throws as poorly as he did in 2014, with a five point seventy-three ERA game in and game out thirty-seven times, then he is a candidate for this dreaded list. Because time is magnified when you blow your only chance at the big leagues. In an ever-critical relief role it hurt the D-backs' chances to compete. It helped to begin his team's slide from decent to perennial cellar dwellers.
All of Kevin Tower's Horses and all of Kirk Gibson's men couldn't put the D-backs together again after that. Alan Trammel's stay as skipper was truncated and Chip Hale was never hailed as much of a chief.
It shows how one bad player can start a domino effect that reaches all the way to the suits. Managers are on the hot seat and if their team's hurlers go out and stink it up every day like they did that fateful season, then oy-vey!
12 Best: Chad Tracy
The physical grind of today's demanding MLB schedule means that fewer players appear to be skating through very long stretches of uninterrupted injury free seasons. That means Cal Ripkin's record for continued play is probably safe for a while. The more a player plays the more likely he will go down with an injury. Many injured ballplayers will not ever recover enough to regain their fleeting baseball youth that they have lost to a groin injury, back spasm or Tommy John surgery.
Case in point, Chad Tracy. He absorbed a tremendous workload for Arizona during his first three years with the D-backs. During his rookie year in 2004 he played in one hundred forty-three games and batted four hundred eighty-one times with forty-five walks.
The next two seasons he appeared in ever more contests with powerful offensive performances, finishing 2005 as the sixth best batter in the league for average while clubbing twenty-seven homers. In 2006 he batted five hundred ninety-seven times with fifty-four walks.
Then all of a sudden Tracy was no longer an everyday player. Like the pitcher that blows his arm out, he just faded away. But it was a heck of a good three-year run.
11 Worst: Tuffy Gosewisch
One trend research has identified is that players on the whole do not remain with the Diamondbacks for very many years. True that trend has long been established by the constant roving of free agents since Flood. But with Arizona it is very pronounced. So much so that Tuffy Gosewisch's tenure of four years from 2013 through 2016 looms large. Unfortunately for his team, his one ninety-nine batting average did not, except in lost opportunities for the club to succeed whenever he was at the plate.
As a regular catcher for the D-backs he was an integral part of the last three sorrowful years that the front office wanted to put behind them. Another reminder of what might have been. It's a shame because he does have a great baseball name.
It is spring however and as per tradition all is new again and Gosewisch likewise has a good shot to help the Mariners to get to the post season for the first time since the dark ages of 2001.
10 Best: Justin Upton
One thing begins to stand out when trying to select players to appear in this August list. That is just how difficult it is to find a ballplayer that stuck around with the Diamondbacks for any appreciable length of time within our limits of from 2002 through 2017.
Justin Upton did it with a vengeance from 2008-2012, slugging one hundred six home runs, with three hundred fifty-two RBI, twenty-five triples, seventy-eight stolen bases and seven hundred eight hits. Then in 2013 Arizona let him slip away to play for the Braves. Observing the D-backs' record since his departure one might draw the conclusion that that was a big mistake.
Good sluggers are hard to find and a ball club needs all of the power in its lineup possible. Tightening of their purse strings must have been the motivation of the front office suits at the time. Same old story, same old song and dance, as Steven Tyler of Aerosmith might opine.
9 Worst: Nick Ahmed
Any player that makes it to the Major Leagues has to have had talent to get there. But someone has to occupy the worst list and so we must throw sympathy to the wind and let the heads roll!
Take Nick Ahmed for instance, shortstops have long had a pass when it comes to hitting mediocrity. The excuse for clemency being that "his glove makes up for his bat." At six feet two inches he is not a very short shortstop. Viewing his limited offensive contributions for his two and a half years with the snakes could make even the straightest arrow recoil. He must be one heck of a fielder to get away with a two twenty-one batting average in seven hundred seventy-five at bats lifetime for the D-backs.
Of course that low average had nothing to do with Arizona finishing a combined sixty-five games out of first in the West during his tenure, not!
8 Best: Jose Valverde
One good thing about being a member of an expansion team is that it doesn't take much to become the all-time almost anything. That's why with ninety-eight saves Jose Velverde is the Diamondbacks all-time saves leader.
Jose did serve with distinction for the D-backs from 2003-2007. In '07 he became even more distinct, leading Arizona to a ninety win first place division finish with forty-seven saves.
So what do the moneychangers in the front office do but let him slip away to bolster Houston's pen. Their second place finish without him belied the fact that it was a weak division that year. Two last-place finishes followed suit for the D-backs in 2009 and 2010.
The bottom line: The suits need to throw some loot at standout players like Upton and Valverde. Because replacing superstars with unproven minor league talent is more often than not an invitation to the cellar.
7 Worst: Cody Ross
Baseball is a tough game full of tough breaks, and it is a tough break when you sign a big fat contract and then get injured. His getting injured is understandable but also unforgivable because D-backs fans thought that they were getting a slugger who would help their team to ascend up into the post season. Not sink to eleven games out in 2013 and a humiliating thirty games out in 2014. All because of some powder puff that gets hurt once the ink is dry.
Likewise this list reflects that harsh reality of the cruel business side of the big leagues; where along with some grudging sympathy goes fan disgust at signs of human frailty in their warriors.
One might suppose that from a player's perspective at least it is much better to have a nine and a half million buy out from Arizona than not. When many people get injured, the best they might get is a dinky Medicare or Medi-Cal check. Especially out in the wild NL West, where some prospectors must make do with a tourniquet and a bottle of whiskey.
6 Best: Chris Young
Is Chris Young washed up, perhaps so if his 2016 stats are any indication? Luckily such unpleasant topics are beyond the scope of our purview. Back in the halcyon days of 2007-2011 he was a solid and imposing power hitter for the D-backs. It probably is no coincidence that the beginning and end of those seasons mentioned also represented Arizona's last two first place finishes.
During that span he pounded out a beastly six hundred sixty-six hits for one hundred sixteen home runs, one hundred seventy doubles, three hundred fifty-seven RBI, with three hundred eighteen walks and one hundred two stolen bases.
After a sub par, for him, performance in 2012, Young was shipped off to Oakland and from there to points east and north. In this instance the front office suits were prescient on the timing of their salary dump, as CY never again approached the fat home run and RBI totals of his glittering years as a fresh-faced Diamondback.
5 Worst: Matt Kata
As demonstrated by Matt Kata's low offensive output in 2003 and 2004, a team is only as good as the sum of its parts. A second baseman can often receive a pass when it comes to stepping up to the plate because of the strange unwritten rule that was touched upon earlier, "his glove makes up for his bat." This did not seem to be the case during those fateful seasons for the snakes as they slithered to a combined fifty-eight and a half games off of the pace.
In 2004 he was part of the team's all-time worst minus one wins above replacement statistic for second base.
Kata's biggest contribution to the Diamondbacks might have been being traded for pitcher Tim Worrell. In his one season with Arizona Worrell helped the D-backs regain a modicum of respectability and with Craig Counsell manning the position --no Rod Carew either-- a decent second place finish.
4 Best: Mark Reynolds
One move that turned out bad for the D-backs was letting Mark Reynolds defect to the Orioles after a second consecutive last place finish in the 2010 season, a year in which he pounded out thirty-two homers for six highest in the league. Yes he struck out, a lot, but that is often the tradeoff with power hitters.
Instead his loud bat recorded another thirty-seven home runs for fourth highest in the American League. He could have made the difference in the D-backs' disappointing showing in the 2011 playoffs against the Brew Crew.
And it certainly was not Mark Reynolds' fault that 2009 went the way that it did for the Diamondbacks, finishing twenty-five games out of first and clinching the NL West cellar. For that year he recorded three hundred fourteen total bases, thirty doubles, forty-four home runs, fourth place in NL stats for big flies, one hundred two RBI --tenth best -- with seventy-six walks and twenty-four stolen bases to boot.
3 Worst: Chad Tracy
He was the best of players; he was the worst of players, such a varied calling. After three solid seasons to begin his MLB career from 2004-2006, the honeymoon was over and Tracy's productivity fell into a freefall. Until by 2009 his two thirty-seven batting average while manning the hot corner was a cold comfort to a Diamondbacks club that ended that year twenty-five games back for a dismal fifth place out of five and out of it in the NL West.
After that horrendous outcome the snakes shipped him off to the Blue Jays in 2010, which fickle birds traded him in the same year to the Cubs, who then in turn dealt him to the Marlins later that very same season. He never again regained the early promise of those first few campaigns, hanging on with the Nationals for two more lackluster showings in 2012 and 2013.
Proving that the time for most Major Leaguers to make hay is indeed short, especially when their hitting falters.
2 Best: Paul Goldschmidt
Even with Goldie's mighty bat, the best that the D-backs could muster was thirteen games off of the pace in the last three seasons. He's still got speed, stealing thirty-two bags in 2016, with twenty-four home runs while clubbing ninety-five RBI and walking one hundred ten times as teams pitched around a thin Arizona lineup. He also appeared in his fourth consecutive all-star game.
As he enters his seventh year with the Diamondbacks he is the undisputed face of the franchise. The problem is that the franchise has lost a bit of that face during a streak of poor finishes. Luckily for Arizona he is in a club-friendly contract through 2019. But with the team saddled with other high-priced contract issues, speculation is rife that the front office might trade him in order to restock a taxed farm system.
In his rookie year in 2011 he got a taste --albeit a somewhat bitter one-- of the post season. The question is will Paul Goldschmidt ever get there again, and if so will it be in a Diamondback uniform?
1 Worst: Chris Snyder
Compiling such a list as this one might easily become snide about Chris Snyder. That's because in 2004, 2006 and 2009 the backstop contributed to Arizona finishing a combined eighty-two games out of first place. In 2005 he hit only two hundred two in three hundred twenty-six at bats while playing in one hundred fifteen games. Granted in 2007 and in 2008 he showed some decent pop with thirteen and sixteen home runs and forty-seven and sixty-four RBI respectively.
But even then he never hit more than two fifty-two and struck out one hundred sixty-eight times. His batting average continued to plummet, bottoming out at the Mendoza Line in 2009. After which he was jettisoned to Pittsburgh. As a catcher a player is basically excused from the running game. And boy was he ever excused! Henderson may rest easy as Synder achieved a lifetime stolen base total of zero bags pilfered.