Coming into the 2012 season, there was a lot of reason for optimism among fans of the Arizona Diamondbacks when it came to their chances of an NL West title and possible World Series glory. They had a pitching staff that was the talk of the baseball world, a plethora of young talent to choose from in their minor league system should the need arise, and their offense was re-tooled with Jason Kubel coming aboard as a free agent and the team getting a full season from slugging first baseman Paul Goldschmidt.
Even though it is still early, there are parts of that manifesto for enthusiasm that are not looking as true as they were when the team broke camp. Granted, the pitching has been very solid, with great performances coming from the starters and the bullpen largely being effective. The youngsters in the system are producing as well, with Trevor Bauer lighting the world ablaze in Mobile and putting heat on Josh Collmenter’s spot in the rotation.
The one thing that hasn’t really come through yet has been the team’s offense. Granted, there have been some strong performers early on, with Chris Young and Willie Bloomquist getting off to reasonably good starts, but slow starts by some of the other guys in the order have been struggling, and have been bringing the team down as a whole.
Justin Upton is currently batting .211 so far this season, with no RBI despite batting high in the order and only having six total bases in the team’s first seven games. Goldschmidt isn’t doing much better, hitting .238 with a home run, five RBI, and even a stolen base. He has already struck out eight times, however, and his plate discipline may be called into question if that continues.
Finally, you have Ryan Roberts, who does have three extra base hits and two stolen bases but is only batting .174 and has five strikeouts so far.
With only three regular players hitting .280 or better so far on the young season, and with the team batting a paltry .149 with runners in scoring position, manager Kirk Gibson may need to explore some different options for this team if he is going to shake them out of their offensive funk.
With that possibility in mind, there are a couple of different alternatives that he could explore, but all of them do have their drawbacks.
Should Lyle Overbay Get More Playing Time Over Goldschmidt at First?
Overbay was brought in by the team to be a back-up at first base in case the youngster Goldschmidt faltered, and he has looked good in the early going. He only has had seven at-bats, but three of them have resulted in extra base hits, including a home run, and he has three RBI as well. He also has two walks, giving him an OBP of .556.
Meanwhile, Goldschmidt has struggled, as listed above, and his problems are a little deeper. He has struggled mightily against lefties this year, failing to get a single hit against one in seven at-bats, and also has struck out four times in those appearances. He also was only 1-for-7 in the team’s home opening series against San Francisco.
Gibson could theoretically choose to insert Overbay into the lineup more often, as he did in Saturday night’s tilt against Colorado, but with Goldschmidt’s prodigious power, it is going to be tough for Kirk to bench him for more than a game at a time, unless he continues to struggle over the longer-term.
Should Justin Upton Be Moved to a Different Part of the Lineup?
Upton has been struggling mightily so far this season, being unable to knock in any runs in a spot in the lineup that should be very conducive to that. He batted third just about the entire season last year en route to his best career year, but with his struggles this year, should the Diamondbacks consider knocking him down to fifth or sixth, or perhaps even bumping him up to second so he can focus more on getting on-base rather than driving in runs?
The first possibility of moving him down in the order may seem like it could be a good idea, but there are plenty of reasons to avoid that. Young has been smoking the ball batting in the five hole so far this season, and Miguel Montero has been doing well in the fourth spot as well. If Goldschmidt starts hitting again, the six hole would probably be occupied too forcefully as well. Add to that Upton doesn’t have very much recent experience hitting in those spots, and it seems like a real gamble to drop him without knowing whether he’d thrive in the role.
Moving him up to second, on the other hand, could be beneficial for several reasons. Obviously the pressure would ease on him a bit if he was focusing more on getting on base and being a table setter for the meat of the order behind him, but his speed could also be a good asset. Gibson seems to be taking a lot of liberties on the base paths this year with his players, and Upton does have very solid wheels, as he has displayed ever since he broke into the league.
The only downside to moving Upton up in the order would be the issue of who to bump up to third to replace him. Ideally, they would keep Montero in the fourth spot and move Young up, but they would have to hope against hope in that circumstance that Goldschmidt could be counted on to deliver in that fifth spot.