Top 5 debut seasons with D-backs

The D-backs’ turnaround from going 65-97 in 1998 in their inaugural season to becoming the quickest expansion team to win 100 games in 1999 was stunning.
It was fueled by players acquired by then-GM Joe Garagiola Jr. following that 1998 season, and two of those players make our list of

The D-backs’ turnaround from going 65-97 in 1998 in their inaugural season to becoming the quickest expansion team to win 100 games in 1999 was stunning.

It was fueled by players acquired by then-GM Joe Garagiola Jr. following that 1998 season, and two of those players make our list of top debut seasons in D-backs history while one — Steve Finley — just missed.

Here’s a look at the Top 5 debut seasons in D-backs history:

1. Randy Johnson, 1999
This was not just one of the best debut seasons, but one of the best seasons in franchise history.

Fresh off a 97-loss inaugural season in 1998, the D-backs signed Johnson to a four-year, $52 million deal. At the time, there was head-scratching as to why an expansion franchise would spend that kind of money and also why Johnson would want to pitch for a second-year franchise.

Those doubts proved foolish as Johnson put together the first of what would be four straight Cy Young Award-winning seasons and the D-backs went 100-62 to win the National League West.

Johnson went 17-9 with a Majors-best 2.48 ERA in 35 starts in 1999, leading baseball in complete games (12), innings pitched (271 2/3), strikeouts (364) and ERA+ (184). It was a dominant season in every respect and it was only a preview of what would come as he would go 81-27 with a 2.48 ERA, 31 complete games (11 shutouts) and a 187 ERA+ over the four-year contract.

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2. Luis Gonzalez, 1999
The trade that Garagiola pulled off on Dec. 28, 1998, was less of a deal than an outright steal.

Garagiola sent Minor League outfielder Karim Garcia to the Tigers in exchange for Gonzalez and cash. The 31-year-old had been a solid big leaguer in his first nine seasons, but with the D-backs, Gonzalez turned into a star.

In April of his first season in Arizona, Gonzalez set the tone with a 30-game hitting streak and never looked back. He led the NL in hits with 206 while slashing .336/.403/.549. Gonzalez hit 26 homers and drove in 111 runs, both of which were career bests at that point as he was selected to his first All-Star Game.

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3. Brandon Webb, 2003
Selected in the eighth round of the 2000 MLB Draft, Webb flew under the radar nationally while coming up through the D-backs’ system.

That changed when he reached the big leagues in 2003. The right-hander debuted with a one-inning relief stint on April 22 in Montreal and followed that up with seven shutout innings while striking out 10 against the Mets five days later in his first big league start.

“Wow,” D-backs manager Bob Brenly said after the game. “We’ve been high on Brandon Webb for a long time in this organization, but I don’t think any of us in our wildest dreams imagined he’d go out in the first start of his Major League career and do what he did today. There wasn’t much more he could have done.”

Webb went on to post a 2.84 ERA and an ERA+ of 165 in 29 games (28 starts). He arguably should have won the NL Rookie of Year Award, but his record was just 10-9 due to a lack of run support and wins were given more weight as a statistic to voters in ’03 than they are today.

4. J.D. Martinez, 2017
GM Mike Hazen has made plenty of good trades in his tenure with the D-backs, but none can top his pickup of Martinez from the Tigers for three Minor Leaguers on July 18, 2017.

The D-backs were battling for a postseason spot and Martinez gave them a huge lift, hitting 29 homers in just 257 plate appearances. Arizona captured the top NL Wild Card spot and beat the Rockies in the Wild Card Game.

Martinez’s most memorable game with the D-backs came on Sept. 4 in Los Angeles when he hit four homers against the Dodgers.

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5. Dan Haren, 2008
The D-backs gave up a lot to acquire Haren from the A’s on Dec. 14, 2007, including outfielder Carlos Gonzalez, but while you can debate whether it was too steep a price to pay, you can’t argue with the results Haren posted.

The right-hander teamed with Webb at the top of the rotation for a one-two punch that had the D-backs atop the NL West for much of the season before fading down the stretch.

Haren, who was selected to the All-Star Game and pitched two scoreless innings for the NL, walked just 40 in 216 innings while striking out 206 as he led the NL in strikeout-to-walk ratio (5.15).

Steve Gilbert has covered the D-backs for MLB.com since 2001. Follow him on Twitter @SteveGilbertMLB.

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