And so it goes, and so it goes. It felt like just yesterday we were still debating the pros and cons of the Mark Reynolds for David Hernandez and Kam Mickolio trade. And now, we've already played our first ten games, and the 2011 Dbacks have given us a glimpse of what the season may behold.
Expectations? I think it's safe to say that they've outperformed most observers' and fans' preseason expectations, from both the cold-blooded statistical sense, and the standpoint of "hot damn, that was a bomb from Upton".
I'm sure I'm not the only one that feels the 2011 Dbacks have made baseball exciting to watch again, providing us joy in ways that were just missing from the team for the past two years. And after reading soco's rhapsodic account of our dear Willie, I couldn't help but be inspired to write about my own impressions of the early 2011 season. However, as a devout follower of sabermetrics, I plan on delving more into the numbers, and explore the story they tell, and the future they portend. All statistics were derived from Fangraphs, my bible of sabermetrics.
Believe it or not, our offense is amazing. No seriously, truly amazing. I know there were a lot of doubters that thought our offense would suffer without LaRoche and Reynolds. And while Reynolds's always be a beast to me, our current offense still packs an amazing punch. As a team, we have a wRC+ of 121. For those of you who don't spend every waking hour of your life reading Fangraphs, wRC+ is basically the most comprehensive league-adjusted measure of offensive awesomeness. Our 121 wRC+ basically tells us that we have the second scariest offense in the NL behind only the Phillies.
Of course, the question when it comes to sabermetrics is always: is it sustainable? And while we have to be wary of the fact that we have an abnormally high BABIP at .341, there's much to give us hope. First, we actually led the league in BABIP last year. So while our BABIP is nearly guaranteed to regress (three year averages of BABIP for each team in baseball are all remarkably close to .300), our team is composed of guys who stare down the gods of BABIP on Olympus and laugh. In their face. Second, our peripherals are more than solid. We have the fifth best walk rate in the NL. A league-median strikeout rate (ah, Kevin Towers must be so proud). And most importantly, a league leading ISO, which is a simple measure of the power on our team. Are we likely to continue leading the league in power? Probably not, since I still tend to believe that honor will fall to the Brewers. But the fact that our core hitters, Drew the Kid, Uptown Man, Miggy the Manslayer, and Chris "Highlight Reel" Young are all hitting their primes bodes well. And Hard-Hitting Kelly Johnson hasn't even gotten going yet. Our offense should definitely be one of the best in the NL, and I think they are going to continue showing off their beastliness. Book it.
Okay, let's face it. Our starting pitching is just not that good. And this was expected, particularly since Zach Duke is injured (I'd never thought I'd type that sentence a year ago). Hudson is scary good. Before the season I thought he had the potential to be a #1/#2 type starter, and nothing I've seen so far, statistically-speaking or scouting-wise, has dissuaded me from that assessment. IPK has been quite a bit better than I expected. Increased usage of a two-seamer seems to have allowed him to stay in the zone more (lower walks) while still keeping hitters off-balance. But after our 1-2 punch, it gets a little bit dicey. Enright and Galarraga have been pretty much what we've expected. Enright's gotten a little unlucky with BABIP, and Galarraga has gotten insanely unlucky with HR/FB rates, but they are what we think they are, and that is, back-end of the rotation guys. Saunders on the other hand. Boy has this guy been bad. Part of me already was resigned to the fact that he's just not that good. But there's no way he's supposed to be this bad, right? Right? In nine innings pitched so far, he's already given up a HR and eight walks, while only striking out four batters. Saunders didn't start the fire, but he's been deep-fried by his opponents early this season. I guess from here, hopefully he can only go up.
The statistical story tells us that as a team, our starting pitchers rank in the bottom-third of the NL in terms of ERA, FIP, and xFIP. We should improve some, since our pitchers' walk rates are pretty bad at this point. Teams tend to not have such bad walk rates over the course of a year, so ours should come back down given time. However, we don't miss bats, and we haven't particularly been lucky with regard to BABIP or HR/FB rates, so this is basically what we can expect for the season.
I'm sure for those of you who follow some of my comments, you probably know that I'm a lot higher on our bullpen than most posters here. And yes I know we have the worst bullpen ERA in the NL. Again. However I just want to say that I still think we have one of the best bullpens in the NL.
We have the second highest strikeout rate in the NL. The fifth lowest walk rate in the NL. So what has been killing us? It's truly been bad luck. Our bullpen BABIP against is the highest in the NL, at a ridiculous .382. For context, last season, three players had a BABIP higher than .380: Carlos Gonzalez, Josh Hamilton, and Austin Jackson. So basically our bullpen has been making opposing hitters as a whole hit like those three. Which even the least sabre-oriented of fans out there has to admit that's terrible luck.
And then there's the HR rate, and if you think the BABIP was ridiculous, then get a load of this: 22.7% of the flyballs given up by our bullpen has turned into HR. Simply absurd. Again for context, the two best HR-hitters last year (in terms of their HR/FB rates), were Joey Votto and Jose Bautista, whose HR/FB rates were 25.0% and 21.7% respectively.
I honestly believe that our bullpen has been good so far this year. It's just unfortunate that the good have died young. Let's give them some more time, and I think by season's end, the rest of you will agree with me that our bullpen is actually one of the best in the NL.
For the longest time, we've toiled and sorrowed as we watched our beloved Dbacks mire in the dregs of the NL. I think the beginning of this season has given fans hope in so many different ways. We may still end up missing the playoffs, but at the very least, I can once again say that I believe and love this team. So let's all continue to flow along this river of dreams, and cheer for the success and future of our 2011 Dbacks!