Monday, August 25, 2014

Flyover: Arizona Diamondbacks

This blog has been subject to fits and starts. In order to generate more consistent content, I'm going to give quick reviews of recent performance by all 30 major league teams. I'll do it alphabetically, starting with the Arizona Diamondbacks.

How Are They Doing? The Diamondbacks are one of the more disappointing teams in baseball this season. After two straight years of winning exactly half their games (81-81), the Diamondbacks stumbled badly out of the gate, losing 22 of their first 30 games. They never really recovered. They were one game over .500 in May (14-13) and July (13-12), but over the past 30 days they're 11-17. Despite that record, things could be worse. They're 23-22 in one-run games and 10-5 in extra innings, suggesting that they may have been a bit lucky.

Recently, they've been pretty bad. Only the Rockies have a worse record over the past 30 days. Their 4.00 ERA is the third worst in the league, and they've scored just 100 runs, one more than the league-worst Cubs. Losing their best player, first baseman Paul Goldschmidt, with a broken hand on August 1, didn't help the team, of course. 

What's Going RIght? Despite playing in a hitter's park, only 9.6% of the fly balls allowed by Diamondbacks pitchers have left the park over the past 30 days, better than the league average of 9.7%. They've struck out 21.4% of batters, third most. In fact, based on just strikeouts, walks, and home runs allowed, Arizona's pitchers are the seventh-best in the league at preventing runs. 

Finding bright spots on offense is a bit more of a challenge. They've struck out the second-least frequently in the league over the past 30 days. Other than that...Well, they've probably been a bit unlucky. Their batting average on balls in play is .265 over the past 30 days, lowest in the league, compared to the league average of .299. That kind of outlier is usually indicative of bad luck (just as a high batting average on balls in play is indicative of good luck). On the year, Arizona's batting average on balls in play is .293, again suggesting that they've been hitting the ball at fielders a lot recently.

What's Going Wrong? Remember the On The Field of Play pitching mantra: Throwing strikes is good, getting strikes is better. Diamondback pitchers have failed on both accounts. Over the past 30 days, they've thrown 45.9% of pitches for strikes, second fewest in the league, and gotten batters to swing at 28.9% of pitches outside the strike zone, also second worst. As a result, they've given up a .309 batting average on balls in play, also second worst. Granted, batting average on balls in play is partly reflective of luck, but when you're not hitting the zone and not getting hitters to chase, batted balls are more likely to be crushed. They pitchers aren't being helped by their defense: The team's Defensive Efficiency Rating, which measures the number of balls in play that get turned into outs, is last in the league. 

The offense has been pretty bad. They're batting .229 over the past 30 days, worst in the league. Their on base percentage is .289 (third worst) and their slugging percentage .353 (second worst). And again, they play in a park that favors hitters. 

Who's Hot? Arizona's hottest hitter of late has been shortstop Cliff Pennington, who's hit .320 over the past month, with two homers, 11 RBIs, and walking more than he's struck out, all in just 14 games. Given that he's a 30-year-old with a lifetime batting average of .249, that screams "temporary hot streak." Catcher Miguel Montero's been decent as well. 

Starters Trevor Cahill (2.73 ERA) and Vidal Nuno (3.44) have had strong months, as has setup man Evan Marshall (1.64 ERA, striking out 31% of the batters he's faced) and closer Addison Reed (2.53 ERA, six saves, 16 strikeouts and one walk in 10.2 innings). Then there's Brandon McCarthy, who's totally turned his season around, rebounding from a 3-10, 5.01 ERA start to go 5-2 with a 1.90 ERA...Oh, wait. The first part was his year with the Diamondbacks, and the second part was after he got traded to the Yankees on July 6. Never mind.

Who's Not? The competition for worst Diamondbacks hitter over the past 30 days is fierce. Is it shortstop Didi Gregorius, with a .193/.247/.349 slash line? How about outfielder Alfredo Marte (.170/.228/.264)? Corner infielder Jordan Pacheco (.178/.196/.222)? I cast my vote for second baseman Aaron Hill, whose .182/.247/.273 slash line comes with an $11 million salary, highest on the team. 

Remember Randall Delgado, who purposely hit Pirates star Andrew McCutchen? Karma's a bitch; he's allowed 12 earned runs over 10.1 innings in the past 30 days. 

What's the Outlook? At this point in the season, bad teams are just playing out the string. The Diamondbacks, along with the Rangers, Rockies, Astros, and Red Sox, are in the running for the worst record/top draft pick this year, so there's little incentive for them to get better. The offense has been unlucky and will probably improve. However, this really isn't a very good team, and they don't have the excuse of up-and-coming youth (their hitters are 0.5 years younger than the league average, their pitchers 0.3).

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