Braves 2010 Season in Review: Matt Diaz

A year ago, there was a brief discussion on who, if anybody, was "The Heart" of the Atlanta Braves.  Quite a few of us came to the agreement, that if anyone, it would have to be Matt Diaz. The guy wears his heart on his sleeve, hustles on every play, and never, absolutely never is loafing it on the field.  He's not always be the most talented athlete on the field at any given time, but most of us here, and most Braves fans everywhere, genuinely love and appreciate everything he epitomizes, and everything he does.

A thumb injury, caused by a broken bat's splinter, which grew infected, shelved Diaz for a good portion of the year, as he required surgery and a lengthy rehab stint.  And unfortunately, even after returning, Matt Diaz couldn't really seem to get himself into the rhythm that made him such a loved commodity to the fans.

Offense:

Batting .250/.302/.438 overall, Matt Diaz was a bit down from his Braves norms of .316/.363/.466 previously.  In his limited time, Diaz actually cut down on his K% from years prior, and got it back down below 20% (19.6% vs. 24.3 and 23.7%), and with his 7 homers in 244 ABs, flashed a career best .188 ISO.  The most noticeable, and likely most impactful discrepancy in Diaz's numbers for the year is the severe drop in BABIP, which was at his worst as a Brave, down to .282 on the year, compared to his Braves average of .368 BABIP previously.  Simply put, gone were the line drive flares and funky swing groundballs up the middle, and in their place were groundballs at fielders (indicative by a .181 GB BA), and an increase of catchable flyballs (FB% spiked to 32.6% vs. 29.6% career average).

However, Diaz's value isn't that of an every day player who faces all pitchers, but as the lefty-killer he's been known to be throughout his tenure with the Braves.  Unfortunately, it was a down year in this department as well, as his vs. LHP line of .273/.318/.512, versus his career numbers of .335/.373/.533, but again, one might be able to look at the .052 drop in BABIP in this department as well.  But against some notable lefty starters in the division, Diaz was still Mr. Dependable:

vs. Cole Hamels, PHI: 3/10, .300, .700 OPS
vs. Andrew Miller, FLA: 2/6, .333, .762 OPS
vs. John Lannan, WAS: 4/6, .667, 1.833 OPS
vs. Johan Santana, NYM: 4/9, .444, 1.111 OPS

Getting runners home has more or less been the story of the Braves' offense throughout 2010, and Matt Diaz was no exception to the disparity, as he batted an abysmal .120 with RISP/2 outs, compared to his career of .242, and his RISP hitting otherwise still dropped to .278 down from .282.  But one kind of related set of numbers that stood out very prevalent to me was Diaz's first-pitch swingings: .416/.422/.659 hitter on the first pitch throughout his career, he endured a drastically worse .222/.243/.361 line when swinging at the first pitch in '10.  Apparently the book is out to not give him something hittable on the first pitch, and Diaz hasn't adjusted accordingly yet.

Defense:

It's funny, because I don't think Matt Diaz is the worst outfielder in baseball, but I know that he's far from being the best.  That being said, I fully expected the defensive numbers to be slightly skewed to Diaz being something of a small liability, but at least according to UZR and UZR/150, Matt Diaz is essentially, average.  In a good way.  If 0.0 is league average, than in fact, Matt Diaz is slightly better, as he posted a +0.1 UZR, and +0.2 UZR/150.  His arm is still not the greatest, he still committed two fielding errors, and his range isn't exactly stellar, but for what is deemed as his range, he covers adequately.  He still ranked a more efficient LF than the other guys that manned LF at some point throughout the season.

Overall:

Had his offensive output been close to its career norms, Diaz's WAR would have been much more impressive than it is.  However, all things considered, despite the down year, Matt Diaz still warranted a +0.6 WAR, according to FanGraphs, with surprisingly, his defense outweighing his offensive contributions, in the broad spectrum of things.

As the numbers-ignoring fan:

Ignoring all the numbers, it didn't go unnoticed the down year that Matt Diaz had.  It wasn't nearly as often throughout this year that Matt Diaz would come in a make-or-break situation, and ignite a rally, with an oddly-swung batted ball, that plopped in, or an opposite-field line drive.  Although I personally still love the guy for everything he does for the team, and the person he presents himself as, a fan doesn't really have to look at the numbers to see that he was off this year.

My favorite memory of Matt Diaz this year was on August 2nd, when Bobby made the surprising move of inserting Matt Diaz in the lineup as the clean-up man, versus Johan Santana.  It was one of those things that kind of made you scratch your head and chuckle at the situation.  But then Matt Diaz clobbers Johan Santana with two doubles in his first two ABs, and I'm literally doubled up on my couch, laughing myself to tears at the ironic success of the once best pitcher in baseball, absolutely getting lit up by a journeyman who has the propensity to hit not just any lefties, but Johan Santana, as if he were pitching grapefruits.

Also, we're all going to remember his no-nonsense takedown of the Red Greenman field runner in Philadelphia.

Next Year:

This is a tough one.  The Braves paid Matt Diaz $2.55M for 2010, and he could expect to seek out a small raise due to his fourth arbitration year, but the Braves could avoid it by non-tendering him.  Diaz has proportedly stated that he would be willing to take virtually anything reasonable, to stay in Atlanta, and I hope that the front office has heard such claims as well.  However, it has gotten to the point where a lot of fans, and maybe the front office themselves are going to be envisioning something else, something more productive from the LF position, and if that is the case, Diaz's days in Atlanta could be numbered, no matter how little he's willing to take.  But if a solution can't be acquired via free agency or trade, Diaz might still be there.

Personally, if he's willing to essentially not take a raise, and sign for around $2M, I say give it to him.  If used properly as the fourth outfielder type he is (although sometimes necessity makes this impossible) / Pinch-hitter, he's worth it due to his ability to torment lefties, on top of him being a positive presence in the clubhouse.  It should be also worth noting that he suffered pretty significant injuries in 2008 as well, and his stats suffered.  If 2009 was any indication of what he's capable of contributing, when truly healthy, and available regularly, Diaz could be an invaluable asset to the team in 2011.

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