My pick for the most erratic, uninspired, confusing team of the 2012 season is the Arizona Diamondbacks. They returned nearly their entire 2011 NL West champions team, with the additions of Jason Kubel and Trevor Cahill, along with a full season of Aaron Hill at second base. And what happened? Arizona never showed any spark whatsoever this year, and dragged their way to an inexplicable .500 season.
If you're new here (which about 90% of our reader base is in comparison to last year), here's a brief explanation: after a team is eliminated from the playoffs, we're going to put their season under a microscope and look at just what the hell went wrong, what went right, and so on and so forth. The goal is to post these the day after a team is eliminated.
What Went Right: Well, let's see here. Last August's trade of Kelly Johnson for Aaron Hill worked out in spades with Johnson sloffinf through the 2012 season and Hill hitting for the cycle twice along with his first .300 season and another 20 homer year. Catcher Miguel Montero got a contract extension before the season, and pushed himself into the top tier of catchers in baseball with a fantastic year. Manager Kirk Gibson used Paul Goldschmidt perfectly at first base, and he's a stone's throw away from a 20/20 season. Jason Kubel had his first 30 homer season, and provided more value than I thought he ever could as a starter in the outfield. Rookie starting pitcher Wade Miley was fantastic on the hill, and is a favorite for NL Rookie of the Year. Arizona's bullpen was once again elite after Kevin Towers' remodel of it last year, with David Hernandez, JJ Putz, and Brad Ziegler leading the charge to a 3.22 pen ERA.
What Went Wrong: After an MVP caliber 2011 season, Justin Upton took a colossal step back in 2012, mainly in his power numbers. Upton's ISO fell from .240 in 2011 to just .150 in 2012. Chris Young missed a lot of time, and as a result, fell short of his third straight (and fourth overall) 20/20 season. The team got absolutely nothing out of shortstop with Stephen Drew only playing in 40 games due to injury and then being discharged to Oakland. Willie Bloomquist and John McDonald did nothing to make the loss of Drew anywhere near palatable. Ian Kennedy's ERA spiked by nearly a run and a half thanks to a newfound love of the long ball. Newly acquired starter Trevor Cahill was actually outperformed in fWAR and ERA by the much cheaper Jarrod Parker, the centerpiece of the deal that brought Cahill from Oakland to the desert. Daniel Hudson was awful in nine starts before blowing his elbow out.
Most Surprising Player: I'm going to say Paul Goldschmidt here. While Miley and Hill both had surprising years, Hill had been great in the past with Toronto, and Miley was actually a decently thought of prospect. But Goldschmidt was known during his minor league career as a masher, and not much else. He's developed into a competent all-around major leaguer this season, and his 18 stolen bases are as many as he had during his three full seasons in the minors from 2009 to 2011. Sure, he has some pretty severe platoon splits between lefties and righties, but he's not utterly useless against righties, and I think that'll help him in the long run.
Most Disappointing Player: If you answer anyone but "Justin Upton" here, you don't know what the hell you're talking about. His 16 homers this year are his lowest since 2008 (when he was 20), and his .353 on base matches his OBP from that season. This guy is a franchise cornerstone, and his performance this year has led to a glut of trade rumors surrounding him and his relatively affordable contract through 2015. If he's traded this offseason, it would be the ultimate panic move from Kevin Towers.
Prospects Up: Trevor Bauer dominated the minors, but immensely struggled during a four start stint in the majors. Tyler Skaggs was excellent in the minors, but had problems with the longball during six major league starts. Pat Corbin was great in the minors, and performed the best of Arizona's pitching trio in the majors over 16 starts and five relief appearances. 21-year old Matt Davidson continued to progress as a hitter, and after a 23 homer, double digit walk rate season in AA, could press for a major league job in 2013. David Holmberg, acquired in the Edwin Jackson trade, dominated high-A and held his own after being promoted to AA. 2012 first round pick Stryker Trahan had a fantastic pro debut in the Arizona Rookie League, showing power, speed, and a fantastic eye at the plate.
Prospects Down: 2011 first-round pick Archie Bradley didn't necessarily have a down year in his first season of pro ball, but 87 walks in 140 innings is disappointing to see. 2011 supplemental first pick Andrew Chafin suffered from the same issues as Bradley: lots of strikeotus, and lots of walks. 2009 supplemental first rounder Chris Owings destroyed high-A, but struggled terribly after being promoted to AA, with plate discipline remaining a major problem. AJ Pollock…well, I can't say his season was *bad*, but he only homered four times in 548 plate appearances between AAA and the majors, a bit worrisome considering he was playing in Reno and Chase Field.
The Future: This isn't a team that needs to blow anything up by any means. They're either in the best or second best shape in the NL West for 2013 and beyond, and their one free agent for next season is oft-injured reliever Takashi Saito. They don't really *need* to make any moves, but with their glut of major league ready young pitching (Bauer, Skaggs, and Corbin), I think someone is going to get dealt with Cahill signed long-term and Miley still in his pre-arb years. Kennedy is the prime candidate with him entering arbitration next year, so keep an eye on that. But the Diamondbacks aren't some big piece away from contending for a championship. They're right there. It's just a matter of all of the pieces falling together perfectly.