2021 D-backs preview roundtable: Expectations for Ketel Marte, rotation
The Arizona Diamondbacks come into the 2021 season with not the highest of expectations after an underwhelming 2020.
The D-backs are projected to win roughly 77 games this season by Baseball Prospectus, 11th in the National League and third in the division.
While that doesn’t come with the expectation that the D-backs make the playoffs this season, Arizona still has a talented roster with a few key areas that could swing the season.
Arizona Sports’ hosts, reporters and editors run through some of those.
What do you expect out of Ketel Marte this season?
Vince Marotta, co-host of Bickley & Marotta: I don’t know if we’ll see Marte jump back up to where he was in 2019 when he finished fourth in the National League MVP voting with 32 home runs. I also don’t think we’ll see the pedestrian 2020 version of Marte that saw his OPS fall 249 points. I think somewhere in the middle should be where Marte finishes up this year (health permitting) with 20-25 home runs and an OPS of .800-.850.
John Gambadoro, co-host of Burns & Gambo: I expect a .300 average, 25 homers and 90 RBIs.
Doug Franz, co-host of Doug & Wolf: Top-five in the MVP vote. He’s that good so nothing less should ever be expected.
Dave Burns, co-host of Burns & Gambo: I expect him to be somewhere in between the good player we saw in 2020 and the near-MVP candidate we saw in 2019. Call it a hunch, call it regression, but I question whether he can put up numbers (.329/.389/.592) like that again. In particular a slugging percentage of nearly .600.
Ron Wolfley, co-host of Doug & Wolf: Ketel Marte will be the offensive weapon he was in 2019. Whether he is playing second base or center field, this switch-hitter has too much talent to repeat the power outage of 2020. And if the D-backs don’t get that bounce back year from Marte, it could be a long, long, long summer.
Luke Lapinski, host of The Rundown: More than two home runs. Look, maybe he spoiled us when he hit 32 in 2019 — not to mention the 97 runs he scored, the 92 he drove in and the .329 average he amassed that year — but he can be better than he was last season. He still managed to hit .287 in 2020, and I don’t know that the average really has to be too much higher than that. But the counting stats need to climb again, and he just needs to look like Ketel Marte again. Fair or not, the D-backs need him to hover around the MVP conversation if they want to contend in this division.
Kellan Olson, editor for ArizonaSports.com: Certainly not a 250-point drop in OPS, which is what we saw from 2019 (.981) to 2020 (.732). Marte is a great player, and what he has to prove this season was that his unbelievable 2019 was not just what’s going to be his best statistical output over what will be a few very productive seasons coming up. The narrative is less one-hit wonder and more “he’ll never be that good” if you get what I’m saying. I expect him to prove he’s right around that caliber of guy. He’s 27 and should just be entering his prime.
Tyler Drake, editor for ArizonaSports.com: It wasn’t much of a party for Marte last season. I do think, however, he turns it around in 2021 after appearing to lock in his power this spring. After recording 32 homers, 187 hits, 92 RBIs and an All-Star appearance in 2019, Marte came crashing down to earth with just two dingers and 17 RBIs in a shortened 2020. Beating his mark of 32 homers is going to a tough feat to beat, but 25 is realistic and doable. I also think he improves his numbers across the board, especially batting average (.287 in 2020) and OBP (.323). He’s the spark the D-backs need if they plan to contend in the NL West.
Kevin Zimmerman, editor for ArizonaSports.com: Marte’s 2019 season may or may not be replicable, and I think we’ll find out this year. Expectations, though are that he’s at least a shoo-in to make the All-Star game. To help the Diamondbacks sniff the postseason, however, he’ll have to make it apparent that 2019 was a one-off. From a handful of games I saw in spring, his bat power is back after working with the D-backs on being more selective about what pitches he’s swinging at.
How good do you think the Diamondbacks’ pitching rotation will be?
Marotta: Without having a true ace to rely on to start the season, I have pretty big concerns with the D-backs’ rotation. I’m convinced Madison Bumgarner can’t be as bad as he was for most of 2020, and I’m intrigued to see what lefty Caleb Smith has for a full season. I do have faith that Merrill Kelly will bounce back from his injury, but as far as Taylor Widener and Luke Weaver, I don’t know what to expect. Widener because he’s only got 20 big league innings under his belt and Weaver because of recent injuries and the fact that he gave up eight home runs in his first 14 Cactus League innings this spring. I’ll feel better when Zac Gallen is back and taking the ball every fifth day.
Gambadoro: Rotation will only be as good as Madison Bumgarner can be. Gallen is a stud, Kelly is rock solid and Weaver and Smith are question marks like many teams’ back of the rotation guys are. So the key is Bumgarner and if he can regain the form that made him a four-time All-Star and three-time World Series champion. If he can, the D-backs will be better than the predictions indicate, and if he doesn’t, this will be a long year.
Franz: I expect very little. MadBum’s last couple years in San Francisco had a huge deviation between home (pitcher’s park) and road. He’ll be better than last year but I don’t think he’ll be like he was as a Giant. I totally buy stock in Kelly. I think he’s a No. 2 on a weak rotation and a No. 3 on a playoff rotation. After that, nothing stands out to me to stand up to the rest of the bats in the NL West.
Burns: The answer to the question lies with Madison Bumgarner and Luke Weaver. How good are they? Gallen will be great and Kelly will be good. Smith will run hot and cold all year. MadBum somewhat gets the benefit of the doubt because of his experience, savvy and the mere fact it’s going to be a financial disaster if he puts up numbers similar to last year. Weaver is one of the most crucial hinge-point players on the roster.
Wolfley: I’m concerned about the Diamondbacks’ rotation. MadBum must prove that he is not done producing good numbers, Gallen is trying to overcome a stress fracture in his forearm, Kelly must show he’s healthy, Weaver has got to excise the destruction of his stuff and whomever else takes the ball has got to prove he belongs. The hope coming into this season — like last season — was that the rotation would be the strength of this team. But after writing this paragraph, the arms are shaking.
Lapinski: I actually think Madison Bumgarner bounces back. He may never look like the guy who was dragging the Giants to multiple World Series wins a few years ago, but he can still be solid. For as bad as his total body of work was last season, he was pretty decent in four of his last five starts. And I do think the weirdness of 2020 — with the abrupt stoppage to Cactus League play, then the regular season starting four months later — was more likely to disrupt the routine of a veteran pitcher like Bumgarner. Especially one joining a new team. So I think he’ll be reliable, but the injury to Gallen leaves a lot of question marks behind him.
Olson: I’m gonna spend my real estate here on a bleak group to spotlight Luke Weaver, who came over in the Paul Goldschmidt deal and had a 2.94 ERA in 2019 with a 1.073 WHIP. He proceeded to fall apart post-injury last season and is on the verge of falling out of the rotation completely, with a terrible spring not helping matters. Because of the D-backs’ inability to produce rotation-worthy pitching from their own system the last half-decade — Taylor Clarke? Jon Duplantier? Braden Shipley? Taylor Widener? Alex Young? — they need Weaver to stabilize for the rotation to hold until the next batch of young arms arrives: Slade Cecconi, Luis Frias, Bryce Jarvis, Corbin Martin and Blake Walston.
Drake: The Gallen injury hurts. While Bumgarner got the nod as the Opening Day starter, a big part of me believes Gallen was challenging for the first start of the season. Instead, he’s on the shelf to start 2021, with Widener filling out the starting rotation. But looking big picture, there could be a silver lining to this group. For starters, I can’t see Bumgarner pitching as badly as he did in 2020, while Kelly turned in his best performance in his final spring start — confidence is key on the mound. If the rotation wants to be successful, Smith, Weaver and Widener will need to grab the bull by the horns. Weaver is coming off his worst season as a pitcher, Smith was pegged with seven earned runs in his final preseason start — although he says he typically isn’t good in spring — and Widener is making his MLB debut as a starting pitcher next week. There’s a lot of potential and a lot of unknowns.
Zimmerman: If I’m being optimistic, I think the middle tier of the starting rotation swings things from looking bleak to promising. Bumgarner will bounce back to be competent, Gallen should be great once he’s healthy, while there are at least enough bullpen guys stretched out who could patch together some decent games for a full season. But I think the spotlight’s on Kelly, Weaver and Widener to start. Kelly has been a rock and with his experience just might have another gear to shift into. Weaver must prove he can get past the rough 2020, while Widener finally has a chance to hang on to an MLB roster spot. If those things happen, then suddenly the bullpen arms and the top-end starters don’t have as much pressure on them.