The 2011 Arizona Diamondbacks. After the dark, painful seasons we've suffered through for the past two years, there's something about this team that seems a little less dire, a little less apocalyptic, a little more... fiery? Well, I don't know if I'd go that far. However, despite any differences we might see in morale on the field and in the stands, we certainly don't see much difference in the record, just one game better. So, is this all in our heads? Are we looking at a team that isn't really much improved at all? Let's look at the numbers and see how it shakes out...
(I'm going to apologize in advance for this, because I don't usually work in analyses like this, so it may be a little rough. But we'll work through it. All the numbers I'm using are through the Thursday night and our first 43 games.)
One of the most obvious differences in the 2011 Diamondbacks is in how they lose. Let's compare the average score in a Diamondbacks loss from last year to this.
The number that stands out there, to me, is the fact we averaged giving up more than seven runs in our losses last year. That's awful to watch.
Another thing to consider- and this is what's leading to that disparity in margin of victory- is how tight the games are when we're losing. This year, the Diamondbacks have managed to get close, but not close enough, in a lot of games- 13 of our 23 losses have been by only one or two runs. In comparison, we've really only been blown out a few times. We've seen three losses by five or more runs, and those all happened in the first two weeks of the season. Our last seventeen losses have been by an average of 2.2 runs, and none more than a grand slam away from a tie at the final out. Sure, it may be a small comfort, but it at least helps us feel like we've still got a chance.
By this point in 2010, we had eight losses of 24 were by only one or two runs, but we lost ten games by 5+ runs, with five of those loses by eight runs or more. These were games that felt like they were over long before the team was able to leave the field, and that's the sort of game that is just a terrible slog for the fans.
In our wins, we shake down like this.
Consider that 8.4 runs per win for a minute. That's why the Diamondbacks were rated so highly on their offense last year- because when they had their bats working, they were a freaking powerhouse. That works out to an average margin of victory that's more than a run higher than this season.
With that in mind, it's not too surprising to look at how the Diamondbacks won their games. This year, we've seen a fair number of close games- 13 wins by one or two runs. Last year had 9 wins of one or two runs, but a pretty astounding 6 wins were by eight or more runs- of the first 19 wins, mind you. This year, we've only managed it once, in Cincinnati.
So what's the TL;DR summary here? No, not that I'm a nerd who has spent too much time on this. Well, yes, but that's not my point. My point is that while our record may not be that different, the way we've gotten here has changed. The 2010 Diamondbacks lived and died by the blowout, which is a dangerous way to go. It's fun to watch when you win- which wasn't often- but painful when you're losing.
In contrast, however, this year's edition has been a team that's played a lot of close games- 26 of 43 games have been decided by only one or two runs. A game like that is a double-edged sword- we'll feel like we have a chance, but we'll also live in fear of what our bullpen might do. But the difference is that this year, we have a decent bullpen. Sure, there's no certainty that this will lead to a better record by the end of the year. But we've got a it's a far more interesting game watching a team keep it close than hoping that they can claw back from a major deficit.
It's probably important to note that we're right at the point where the Diamondbacks 2010 season took a nosedive. Games 45 through 54 were a 10 game losing streak where we were outscored 60 to 21, and it started with a 12-0 blowout loss to the Blue Jays. Here's hoping we can avoid that trouble again.