Arizona Enlightenment - “winning the inch”
As previously noted, the D-backs also featured a stingy team defense which featured three gold-glove finalists. They include two-time Gold Glove winner Christian Walker, who led all first basemen with +12 OAA, as well as former Blue Jay Gabriel Moreno, who won a Gold Glove in his first full season, with a DRS of +20 and an MLB-best +9 caught stealings above average.
Where things really differed with the Blue Jays was the D-backs’ ability to manufacture runs. They did that with speed and smarts on the base paths, leading postseason teams with 23 stolen bases in 27 attempts after the second-most regular season stolen bases at 166. As Joel Sherman of the NY Post notes, “Arizona manager Torey Lovullo talks regularly about his squad 'winning the inch' to describe the more traditional baseball battle his roster is most equipped to fight.”
In fact, teams that out-stole their opponents went 17-7 overall this postseason. When Arizona’s speedsters Corbin Carroll, Ketel Marte, Alek Thomas and Geraldo Perdomo were on first, they clearly had the ‘green light’ to steal.
That speed helps them both on defence, and with situational hitting: they led the playoffs with 6 sacrifice flies to drive in runs, as well as 9 of the 15 total sacrifice bunts in these playoffs to advance runners into scoring position. They drove in 48 of those RISP on 36 hits in 17 playoff games. That built upon their regular season MLB-leading 24 sacrifice bunts, eight more than any other team; plus, their 50 sacrifice flies were the fourth-most in baseball. The Blue Jays were tied for the third least sac flies at 32, and were tied with Seattle for the second lowest number of sac bunts at 4.
As Arizona GM Mike Hazen noted after the D-backs World Series game two win, “We have to take advantage of the ways we think that we can score runs and beat our opposition. We are not going to line up and hit three-run homers against other teams. We need to win the way our roster is constructed, the way [manager Torey Lovullo] wants to play, which is fast, which is defensive and which is creating runs however we can.”
Another key ingredient for Arizona was their talented, young core: Carroll, Moreno and Thomas are all just 23 years old. Perdomo turned 24 in October, and young starter Brandon Pfaadt just turned 25. Ace Zac Gallen, who is a finalist for the 2023 NL Cy Yong award, is 28-years old. In fact, their 26-man World Series roster was, on average, a full year younger than the Blue Jays ALWC roster.
That roster was mainly built through the amateur draft (2023 NL Rookie of the Year finalist Carroll, Thomas, Pfaadt, Ryne Nelson), international signings (Perdomo), waiver claims (Walker) and trades (Gallen, Paul Seward, Marte, Moreno, Lourdes Gurriel Jr., and Tommy Pham).
After releasing starter Madison Bumgarner in April, their highest paid free agent is Merrill Kelly, who signed a two-year, $18M extension to stay with the Diamondbacks through the 2024 season, with a club option for 2025. Evan Longoria also signed a one-year, $4M contract with additional roster bonuses.
Their overall team payroll ranked 21st in baseball at $119M, below league average of $166M. Their highest paid player, Ketel Marte, made $11.6M, less than a third of the $35.5M Corey Seager took home. Apart from the released Bumgarner, no Diamondbacks player made more than $12M this season; the Rangers featured five players who made at least that much.
Key takeaways for the Blue Jays: If Toronto, who ranked 16th in the league in home runs and RBI this year, aren’t going to ‘bark with the big dogs’ in terms of dingers and slugging, they’re going to have to find a way to manufacture more runs with better base running, fewer mental errors on the base paths, and better situational hitting with runners in scoring position. A free agent like Cody Bellinger could help here; his 12 sac flies to drive in a run were tied for the league lead in 2023.
Arizona also took advantage of their speed and the new rules to swipe 166 bases in the regular season, and 23 more in the playoffs, which compares to Toronto at 99 and zero, respectively. An injection of more youth could help the Jays get faster in 2024. The Snakes also found ways to advance runners into scoring position without stealing bases: D-backs shortstop Geraldo Perdomo had more sac bunts in the postseason himself (5) than the Jays had in the entire regular season (4).
Lastly, there was direct accountability. As manger Torey Lovullo said after the series ending loss in game five, “I'm just sorry I didn't do my job."