The Diamondbacks in 2013: Jumping to conclusions

Christian Petersen

We're 12 games into this season's campaign. That's a full 7% of the games in the book, so it's clearly time to look at the numbers so far and find a definitive answer about... stuff.

Home-runs

""We relied too heavily on hitting the long ball. The last two years – even ’11 was the same way. We really relied on the long ball to win games. We’re slowly trying to get away from that."
-- Kevin Towers

2013: 33.2 AB/HR - 7th (league average 33.6)
2012: 33.1 AB/HR - 5th (league average 36.1)

The team has actually been hitting home runs at almost the same rate, though the overall rank is lower, because home-runs are up this year, with the HR rate currently the highest it has been since 2008. And compared to last April, when NL hitters had only one home-run every 41 at-bats, the up-tick to 33.6 this month is quite significant. Is it perhaps due to the extended spring training? Speculating, hitters could be more prepared and the later start to the year means it may also be a bit warmer. However, our home-runs have certainly been well spread-out. Our team high is two, but we have that from five different players - no team in the NL has more.

Pitcher walks

"I don’t like pitchers who walk hitters. It puts pressure on your defense. The less walks you have, the better your chances of getting through innings. More walks lead to overworking your bullpen, sometimes just by having to get somebody up, just in case."
-- Towers

2013: 7.4% BB% - 4th (league average 8.2%)
2012: 6.9% BB% - 2nd (league average: 8.0%)

This has been a fairly consistent part of organizational philosophy, and I think it's one with which we can all get on board. If you compare this to 2010 say, the last season before Towers took over, our BB% was 8.8%, which ranked Arizona 13th in the National League. It dropped to 7.2% Towers' first year in charge, and has ticked lower every full season since. It was lower still before the weekend series against the Dodgers, where we walked 11 - prior to that, we'd averaged 2.8 free passes per game. It may be relevant that, when we win this season, we average 2.5 walks per victory; in our losses, that figure jumps all the way up to four.

Strikeouts

"if you have a lot of strikeouts in your lineup like we’ve had in the past and rely on the homer, the next thing you know, you’re sitting up there with a goose egg and he’s in the seventh inning."
-- Towers

2013: 19.9% SO% - 7th (league average 20.2%)
2012: 20.6% SO% - 10th (league average 20.2%)

It may not seem like much of a change, but it's worth remembering that the last season the Diamondbacks were below league average in strikeouts, Miguel Batista started 33 games for us. So far, there have been two regulars pulling in opposite direction: Paul Goldschmidt's strikeout rate is 29.6%, but at the other end, Aaron Hill had one strikeout this season, a 2.4% rate surpassed only by Placido Polanco among NL qualified hitters. Martin Prado has done what was expected from him, putting the ball in play with a 10.2% strikeout rate, while Alfredo Marte has also been the free-swinger we thought, resulting in a strikeout for 32% of his plate-appearances.

Off the bench

"When I was in San Diego, with a small market and not a lot of financial resources. One thing we could improve was our bullpen and our bench. I didn’t go after the front-line starters, and didn’t have the ability to go after the everyday position players. I really focused on bullpen and bench, both of which play a big part in a team’s success."
-- Towers

2013: As sub .281/.343/.469 - 2nd by OPS (league average: .210/.272/.345)
2012: As sub .240/.288/.327 - 10th by OPS (league average: .228/.304/.341)

The first thing to leap out is just how unproductive substitutes - which includes PHs and any other times at the plate by non-starters - generally are. Last year, they had a .645 OPS, compared to .723 by starters, so merely mediocre by everyday standards, would be an improvement. This year, our substitutes have hit 50 points better than our starters, though small sample-size (36 PAs) absolutely applies. Much of that is Eric Hinske, who has yet to start, but has still appeared in all save two of our games, and gone 3-for-9 off the bench with a homer. It almost certainly won't last, but we can afford a fair degree of regression and they'll still be better than most.

The bullpen

"It’s a critical part of the game... Your manager is better when he has options in the bullpen. I haven’t seen too many teams in the past five to 10 years that win the World Series without a good bullpen."
-- Towers

2013: Bullpen ERA 2.25 - 2nd (league average: 4.13)
2012: Bullpen ERA 3.28 - 6th (league average: 3.77)

Perhaps what Towers is best known for, and say what you like about some moves, hard to deny he has delivered in this area since becoming GM. Remember those dark days when we had a bullpen, awful at a near-historic level? With one notable exception - and I think you know who I mean - I basically don't feel any significant concern when our relievers come into a game. They have their roles and they seem to carry them out with diligence. Of course, there will be times when they don't succeed, but 12 games in and the Arizona bullpen are 3-0, one of four teams in the NL not to have lost a game, and the Padres are the only team with more than our 44 relief innings.

In the clutch

"Late and close, we weren't very good... Were we expanding the zone as hitters? Maybe swinging at bad pitches, not as many good at-bats, not adding pressure, or dealing with pressure as well. "
-- Towers

2013: Late and close .250/.343/.369 - 8th by OPS (league average .241/.329/.395)
2012: Late and close .199/.264/.330 - 15th by OPS (league average .239/.317/.368)

This was certainly the offense's Achilles' heel last season: their inability to buy a hit, down the stretch in close games - it's one of the reasons they had only two walk-off wins all year, the same as we've managed in the first two weeks of this season. Regression to the mean was largely to be expected - just as clutch is a nebulous talent, where random variation likely has a bigger effect than genuine skill, the same can be said of being unclutch. I'll settle for us being in the middle of the pack there, and that alone should help our overall performance move in the right direction.

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