Is the youth movement finally under way?
The Diamondbacks of the last several seasons have not had many young players to promote to the major league roster, and many of the ones they did haven’t gained significant playing time or created a lot of value. This is especially true on the position player side of things.
A big reason for this is because when Mike Hazen took over as GM during the 2016-17 offseason the farm system was viewed as one of the weakest in the league. There were very few prospects ready to promote to the majors and contribute in a meaningful way. But that’s not the only reason. The organization has chosen to try to compete for the division and wild card even when they did not project on paper to have the horses to make the playoffs. As such, they’ve tended to extend players past their arbitration and free agency years, or sign veterans to fill slots. There hasn’t been a ”youth movement” really. (I don’t think we’re allowed to say “rebuilding”) This has especially been the case on the position player side.
Below will be The first of many charts, but they are simple and easy to understand, and needed to provide context and explain the “narrative”. We’ll start with average age comparisons
Average Position Players Age : Baseball-reference.com weights age by PA+Games Played.
Pitchers Average Age: BR weights 3*GS+G+Saves. As mentioned, not nearly as old on the pitcher side, and last year actually younger than league avg. But previous 3 seasons older than league avg
Sortable league tables . (Use navigation button at top of page to view earlier seasons)
If you are curious, you can view Franchise Index Average Age here. The 2001-2002 teams were the oldest. The 2007-2010 Josh Byrnes teams trended young, as did Tony Larussa and Dave Stewarts teams in 2015-16. (Surprise!)
Age is not the only way to look at this however. Another way to view it is
Minimum 20 PA, year 1 or 2, age 26 or younger
As you can see here, there we no such players in in 2017 and just one in 2018. The only other year there were less than two was in 2002. However 2020 saw 6 such players.
Unfortunately, none of the 1st or 2nd year players who appeared for the team in the last 4 years has posted above 0.5 WAR. In fact only Domingo Leyba in 2019, and Wyatt Mathisen, Pavin Smith, and Josh VanMeter managed to be at 0.1 WAR or higher. Here is the report link for players posting 0.5 of more WAR in 1st or 2nd year in the league. 2007 , and 2014-15 were high water marks in that regard.
Here you can see in 2017-18 there weren’t that many young pitchers getting innings, but in 2019-2020 there has been a pretty big shift younger. Also somewhat better results on the pitching side, with the following pitchers posting at least 0.5 WAR or more
2017: James Sherfy, 2018: Nobody, 2019, Zac Gallen, Kevin Ginkel, Yoan Lopez, Alex Young, and 2020 Zac Gallen again, along with Riley Smith.
Ok, just two more charts and I’ll give you guys a break. How do the last 4 years compare to the rest of the National League? In a few words: hitters quite poorly, pitchers not bad but not great.
Hitters, last 4 years combined, minimum 20 PA, minimum 0.1 WAR. (click link or image to expand view)
The Diamondbacks of the Hazen era have not relied very much on young players or given a lot of development opportunity at the Major League level to younger players prior to 2020. But the 2020 season saw a shift in that dynamic as some of the prospects started to arrive and the team also gave playing time to younger players that they traded for recently.
However they have not gotten much production out of their young players relative to their own franchise history or the rest of the league. Hopefully that will start to change in 2021. It must if they are going to find a way to keep up with the San Diego Padres and Los Angeles Dodgers. Despite the presence of a lot of veterans on the team, by the trade deadline it’s likely we’ll see many more 1st and 2nd year players getting significant playing time in 2021 and over the next couple of years.