Best Ever D-backs By Position

arizonadiamondbacksAs we approach the end of 2009, it is a good time for the fans to reflect on their team’s best players of the decade.  Since the Arizona Diamondbacks have only been around for a dozen years, it makes more sense in their case to evaluate the best players in franchise history.  Here they are, position-by-position.


Damian Miller, 1998-2002
.269/.336/.437 in 1632 PA

Best Year: 2000 (10-44-.275)

Miller never had a standout year offensively, but he was consistently a productive bat out of the catcher position for four years.  His biggest contributions came as a defender, as he generally ranked in the upper echelon of caught stealing percentage.  Some people would no doubt want to consider 2001 as Miller’s best year because he hit a career high 13 homers while shouldering the biggest workload in his career in a season that would culminate in a World
Championship.  Not only were all of Miller’s offensive rate stats superior in 2000, but his defense was markedly better.  He committed six errors, lost three passed balls, and allowed 17 wild pitches in 2000 as compared to seven errors, 11 passed balls, and 27 wild pitches the following season.
In 2000, he tossed out 40% of baserunners, a figure that would drop to 36% in 2001.  Furthermore, Miller wasn’t terribly impressive during the 2001 postseason.

Chris Snyder actually spent more time with the D-backs in terms of seasons, games caught, and plate appearances, but Snyder’s batting average is 36 points lower and his slugging average is 39 points lower.  He is almost certainly on his way out of the organization to make way for Miguel Montero, who will almost certainly pass Miller as the best backstop in franchise history in a couple of seasons.

First Base:

Conor Jackson, 2005-2009
.281/.361/.431 in 1854 PA

Best Year: 2008 (12-65-.300)

This was a very difficult choice. Tony Clark had his incredible 2005 season in which he slugged .636, plus came up with lots of big hits during the magical 2007 season.  Greg Colbrunn and Mark Grace formed a formidable righty/lefty, offense/defense platoon during the Bob Brenly years.  Erubiel Durazo had teamed up with Colbrunn prior to Gracie’s arrival and actually has the best OPS of any Diamondbacks first baseman at .918.

In the end, I had to go with CoJack.  He played at a very consistent level for three seasons as the D-backs’ primary first baseman rather than as a platoon guy.  He’s driven in 74 more runs than the runner up Diamondbacks first baseman (Travis Lee).  Although he’s not a strong defensive first baseman, he’s not such a liability as to negate his combination of productivity,
consistency, and longevity at the dish.

Second Base:

Jay Bell, 1998-2002
.263/.355/.458 in 2547 PA

Best Year: 1999 (38-112-.289)

It’s easy to forget just how good Jay Bell was in Diamondbacks purple.  He was the first free agent to ever sign with the franchise, was one of their best hitters in the inaugural 1998 season as a shortstop, had one of the best seasons ever by a second baseman the following year, and scored the winning run in the 2001 World Series.  He was a heady baseball player, a solid
defender, and a class act.  What’s not to like?

Unfortunately, Bell is remembered more for the ill-advised $34 million contract that he was given than the fact that he lived up to that contract better than anyone could have realistically expected.  He is remembered more for his failed sacrifice bunt in Game Seven than the fact that he scored the winning run.  He was overshadowed by Luis Gonzalez, Randy Johnson, and
Curt Schilling.  You could make a decent argument that Orlando Hudson deserves this title because he played better defense and because Bell spent time at other positions, but Bell’s counting stats with the D-backs simply dwarf Hudson’s.

Third Base:

Matt Williams, 1998-2003
.278/.327/.421 in 2462 PA

Best Year: 1999 (35-142-.303)

Like Bell, Williams is somewhat maligned for not living up to a large contract apart from a monster 1999 season.  Williams carries the additional stigma of being named in the Mitchell Report, although Bell’s career path certainly raises some eyebrows in that regard as well.

Chad Tracy’s career numbers are very similar to Williams’ as a Diamondback, but only about half of Tracy’s games have come at the hot corner, and his defense there pales in comparison.  Mark Reynolds edges out Williams in terms of rate stats, but Williams wins in every counting stat, including strikeouts and errors.  A couple more seasons like 2009 and Reynolds will
snatch the honor from Williams, but for now, Carson Crusher is the best Diamondbacks third baseman of all time.


Stephen Drew, 2006-2009
.270/.326/.445 in 2103 PA

Best Year: 2008 (21-67-.291)

It’s Tony Womack versus Stephen Drew here.  Do you prefer Womack’s huge edge in stolen bases or Drew’s gargantuan advantage in slugging?  Interestingly, neither is an ideal leadoff hitter – Womack because he could get on base more than a third of the time and Drew because he isn’t much of a base stealer.  As they are both imperfect as table-setters, I had to go with the
player who can also drive in runs when needed.

The interesting thing about Drew is that he has hit very well while leading off or batting low in the order, but poorly in the #2-#5 lineup slots.  It will be interesting to see what role he eventually settles in and whether he can improve upon his fantastic 2008 season.  Even if you aren’t yet convinced that he is the D-backs’ best all-time shortstop, you likely will be by the end of

Left Field:

Luis Gonzalez, 1999-2006
.298/.391/.529 in 5246 PA

Best Year: 2001 (57-142-.325)

This is, of course, the easiest call of all.  Gonzo is not only the best offensive force in Diamondbacks history, but arguably the only left fielderEric Byrnes is the only other Diamondback to play over 200 games there, and he spent a considerable amount of time in center as well.  The only year in which Byrnes started more than 50 games in left field was in 2007, when he stated 113 contests.  Gonzo started over 100 games in left for eight straight seasons with the D-backs, and in seven of those, he started over 140.

Now a member of the front office, Gonzalez has been a valued member of the Arizona community for over a decade.  Barring a Brandon Webb contract extension, Gonzalez and Randy Johnson will still be considered the faces of the franchise for years to come.

Center Field:

Steve Finley, 1999-2004

.278/.351/.500 in 3449 PA

Best Year: 2000 (35-96-.280)

This is another runaway.  Chris Young is the only other true centerfielder in Diamondbacks history.  The rest of the notable centerfielders were just athletic corner outfielders who were filling in: Byrnes, Danny Bautista, Shawn Green, Quentin McCracken, David Dellucci. Even in his late-30s, Finley was a legitimate defensive centerfielder.  He was also a late-bloomer offensively who continued to hit during his entire Diamondbacks tenure.

Ironically, Finley had his worst offensive season during the 2001 World Series run.  The bat came alive in the playoffs though, as Finley would hit .322 and drive in nine runs that postseason.  His claims to fame include being one of six members of the 300/300 club
and playing in 162 games while hitting 36 homers as a 39-year old centerfielder in 2004.

Right Field:

Justin Upton, 2007-2009
.272/.350/.485 in 1157 PA

Best Year: 2009 (26-86-.300)

I have to admit, I was surprised when I came up with Upton’s name here after basically just two seasons, but the numbers back this up.  Bautista has played more games in right field than any other Diamondback, but he was rarely more than a role player.  Reggie Sanders was terrific in 2001, but his season was no better than Upton’s was this year, and it was Reggie’s only season
as a Diamondback.  The closest competitor of Upton’s is Shawn Green. While Green has six more hits and two more doubles as a Diamondback, Upton has nine more triples, 10 more homers, seven more runs scored, 15 more RBI, 21 more walks, and nine more stolen bases.

Upton turned 22 in August, and appears to be the best bet to usurp Luis Gonzalez as the best position player in franchise history.  The question isn’t even whether Upton will put up the numbers; it’s whether the Diamondbacks will have the resources to keep him once he is eligible for free agency.

Right-handed Starting Pitcher:

MILWAUKEE - JUNE 03:  Randy Johnson #51 of the...
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Brandon Webb, 2003-2009
87-62, 3.27 ERA in 1319.2 IP

Best Year: 2007 (18-10, 3.01)

Left-handed Starting Pitcher:

Randy Johnson, 1999-2004, 2007-2008
118-62, 2.83 ERA in 1630.1 IP

Best Year: 2002 (24-5, 2.32)

No, I’m not going to cop out and leave it at this.  Randy Johnson is also the best starting pitcher overall, and there’s nothing Webb can even do about it this year except sign long-term.  Both pitchers have the same amount of losses while the Big Unit has 31 more victories, 1,012 more strikeouts, and an ERA 44 points lower.  Then there are the four consecutive Cy Young Awards (and he deserved a fifth in 2004), the utter dominance in the 2001 postseason (culminating in the co-MVP Award for the World Series), and the 2002 Triple Crown (one of the 50 best pitching seasons of all time).  I don’t want to sound as though I don’t respect Webb… it’s just tough to be compared to Randy Johnson, which is why I’ve carved out a niche for
Webb as best right-handed starter.

Curt Schilling deserves an honorable mention, though.  He was only with the club for three-and-a-half seasons, but managed a better winning percentage than Randy Johnson and a lower ERA than Brandon Webb.  His 875 strikeouts with the D-backs ranks third all-time; Miguel Batista is fourth with 454.

Meanwhile, Schilling is 10th on the walks list with 117.  He was even better in the postseason than Johnson was.  Dan Haren also merits a shout out, as he figures to pitch with the club for at least four more seasons and might eventually challenge Webb for the title of best right-hander.

Relief Pitcher:

Jose Valverde, 2003-2007
98 Saves, 3.29 ERA in 260 IP

Best Year: 2007 (47/54 SV, 2.66)

Matt Mantei and Byung-Hyun Kim are the only other Diamondbacks with at least 50 saves.  It surprised me to learn that Mantei has an ERA just over 4.00 with the D-backs while Kim’s rests at 3.43 and would be considerably lower had he not made 10 ill-advised starts with the Diamondbacks.  Kim is of course best known for allowing just one hit and no runs in his first 6.1 postseason innings, then eight hits, eight runs, three homers, and five walks over his next
5.0 playoff innings, so it’s east to forget just how dominant he was prior to facing the Yankees in the World Series.

Mantei, like Valverde, was frightfully inconsistent; every other year was a bad one, and he sat out most of the 2001 and 2002 playoff seasons with injury.  Valverde may have been inconsistent, but without him, the Diamondbacks do not make the playoffs in 2007.  The closer’s role has always been a revolving door in Arizona, so it is hard to predict who will eventually surpass Valverde.
Chad Qualls has a lower ERA at the moment, but becomes a free agent after this year.  All it would take is three full seasons as the Diamondbacks closer for someone to pass Valverde in saves, but it still may not happen in the next decade.

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  1. Mitch Hollendonner

    December 27, 2009 at 6:13 pm

    Aw, this was a really quality post. In theory I’d like to write like this too – taking time and real effort to make a good article… but what can I say… I procrastinate alot and never seem to get something done.

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