When the Diamondbacks traded outfielder Ender Inciarte earlier this month to Atlanta as part of the Shelby Miller acquisition, pundits believed the Arizona batting order was compromised. As manager Chip Hale’s lead-off hitter, Inciarte brought speed, flash and hustle to the number one hole.
Now, that’s gone, and Hale is in the process of thinking, and perhaps, re-thinking his batting order. Coming into the spring training, the only variable set in stone is Paul Goldschmidthitting number three. Hale placed his All-Star first baseman in the four hole for a few games at the end of last season, but that appeared strictly for experimentation. Over the past few seasons, Goldschmidt settled very comfortably in the three hole, and that’s his value. With deceptive speed, the 6-3, 225 pounder picks his spots running the bases, and finished last season with career-high 21 stolen bases.
Behind Goldschmidt, Hale would like a left-handed bat, and David Peralta filled that role. In 149 games last season, Peralta chipped in with a .312 batting average, banged out 26 doubles, a National League-leading 10 triples, 17 homers and knocked in 78 runs. Those 78 were second on the team to Goldschmidt’s110 RBIs.
For the 2016 season, Hale told reporters at the recent winter meetings in Nashville he is expecting turn-around seasons from infielders Chris Owings and Jake Lamb. Owings never fully recovered from off-season labrum surgery, and ended up with a .227 average in 147 games.
Lamb, who started the season hitting over .400 during the opening weeks, went down from April 19 to June 5 with a stress reaction in his left foot, and was never the same. Though he ended the season with a .263 batting average, he managed only six homers and 34 RBIs in 350 plate appearance. Going forward, Hale said he wants more power from Lamb, who hit 35 doubles, 14 home runs and drove in 79 runs in 103 games for Double-AA Mobile before a late season, 2014 call-up by the Diamondbacks.
Perhaps Hale’s immediate concern is finding a lead-off hitter to replace Inciarte. While the loss of Inciarte compromises speed at the top of the line-up, his true value was never realized. In 524 plate appearances last season, Inciarte walked only 26 times and hit by a pitch four times. As well, he scored 73 runs and was good for third on the team behind A. J. Pollock (111) and Goldschmidt (103).
Now, it’s likely Hale will go back to Pollock in the lead-off spot. At the time, Hale believes Pollock can be productive anywhere from first to fifth in the line-up.
“It’s hard to take (Pollock) out of the lead-off spot,” Hale recently told MLB. “There are a couple of things we can do with the lineup. Maybe we hit the pitcher eighth and move someone into the ninth spot, which could be like a lead-off hitter.”
With Peralta and Lamb as his principal left-handed hitters, Hale has the option to place these hitters in strategic positions. Over the course of last season and his comments at the recent winter meetings, Hale said he would like to hit Peralta behind Goldschmidt against right-handed pitching. That would leave Lamb in the six or seven hole to balance what the organization hopes remains a lethal bat from catcher Welington Castillo (.255, 17 home runs, 50 RBIs in 80 games with Arizona).
All of which point to continued high level of production from a team which finished among the top in many National League offensive categories. The Diamondbacks ended last season second to the Rockies in runs scored, third in team batting average (three points behind the league-leading Giants), one triple (48) behind league-leading Rockies (49), led the league in hits (1,494; Giants second with 1,486), and led the league in doubles.