Reasons for optimism
Bronson Arroyo figures it out. Four starts into the season, I was ready to label Arroyo's signing one of the biggest, most expensive mistakes in the Towers' period, with Bronson sporting a 9.50 ERA and a line against of .372/.420/.615. Four further appearances later, I might have been a little premature in that assessment. Over this second period, Arroyo has an 0.91 ERA, so over about the past three weeks has been the best starting pitcher in baseball. Of course, his ERA+ is still 88 [which gives you an idea of how awful he was early on], but it's going the right way. Was his back responsible for the early struggles?
The rise of A.J. Pollock. 13 games into the season, Pollock was hitting below the Uecker line, with a .521 OPS. On the same date, Adam Eaton's line improved to .333/.415/.422, and the predictable chirping from some quarters had begun, that we had traded away the wrong outfielder. But Pollock - not Cody Ross, despite some claims to the contrary! - has been the hottest hitter on the team of late, going 8-for-20 with a 1.105 OPS in the past week, and continues also to provide solid defense in center field. Oh, and he's also 5-0 in stolen-base attempts this month: maybe he can give lessons to a certain other outfielder I could mention.
The n00bs hit the ground running. Bringing up players from the minors is always a crapshoot: you can never tell if success there will translate into good things here. But, so far, Evan Marshall and Chase Anderson have gone well above and beyond what we'd have expected, combining for 8.2 innings of one-run ball, on four hits and a walk, with 10 strikeouts. While we can't expect that to continue indefinitely (any more than Arroyo's sub-one ERA), they've done nothing to make us regret the move. Marshall's time may be relatively short, depending on how J.J. Putz's recovery goes, but continuing good performances will keep him at the top of list when we need relief help.
Reasons for pessimism
The ongoing struggles of Cody Ross. After a couple of good games in Chicago, Cody got his average to the Uecker Line, leading to optimistic headlines such as "Ross heating up at plate in May," though he still wasn't hitting for power or showing plate discipline. But with Ross going 0-for-9 over the last three games with no walks, that seems more a blip than a trend. His May OPS is a barely lukewarm .590, and his K:BB ratio this year is a staggering 20:1. If he's still recovering from the hip injury, why is he back at all? I've a nagging concern he's now broken; hope it's not the case, both for him and because we're on the hook for $20m through the end of next year, including his buyout.
Reed 'em and weep. I could write a thousand words, purely on the subject of reliever volatility and why trading for a "proven closers" is a questionable concept. Actually, I'll probably do that on Monday's off-day, since it won't be time for the needle to move much, so I'll not do one of these. Reed's ERA is up above five, and his FIP is even higher (5.49). He has already matched 2012 and 2013's home-run total and we're only in mid-May. Hitters are swinging more often at his offerings in the zone, but less often out of it, and his velocity is still lower than it was in 2012. The hellacious home-run rate should regress. The sooner it does so, the happier we'll all be.
The ongoing defensive issues. I wrote about this last week in detail, but here's another stat which shows the problem. Defensive Efficiency Ratio is the percentage of balls in play (so, excluding homers, as they are basically indefensible) converted into outs. It is park-dependent e.g. a lot of foul ground will help boost a team's DER, since those balls can only be outs and not hits, but you can compare a team from season to season. Last year, our DER was 69.9%, ranked 9th in the majors. This year: it's 68.0%, good only for 22nd; the 2014 Diamondbacks so far are converting balls in play to outs at the lowest rate in team history, just edging out 2004's 68.1%.
- BA = .253 (4th in NL) - was ,252 (5th)
- OBP = .304 (12th) - was .305 (10th)
- SLG = .386 (7th) - was .382 (8th)
- OPS = .891 (9th) - was .687 (8th)
- OPS+ = 90 (9th) - was 90 (8th)
- wRC+ = 87 (11th) - was 87 (12th)
- Runs per game = 3.72 (12th) - was 3.79 (11th)
- fWAR = 1.9 (13th) - was 1.9 (12th)
- fWAR leaders = Paul Goldschmidt (1.3); Miguel Montero (1.1), A.J. Pollock (0.8)
- fWAR trailers = Cody Ross (-1.0), Martin Prado (-0.4), Tony Campana (-0.3)
- ERA = 4.76 (15th) - was 4.85 (15th in NL)
- ERA+ = 78 (15th) - was 75 (15th)
- K/9 = 8.10 (7th) - was 8.06 (7th)
- BB/9 = 2.92 (10th) - was 3.22 (3rd)
- HR/9 = 1.18 (1st) - was 1.09 (2nd)
- Opp. OPS = .748 (2nd) - was .753 (3rd)
- xFIP = 3.59 (6th) - was 3.68 (6th)
- fWAR = 1.8 (11th) - was 1.5 (11th)
- fWAR leaders = Brandon McCarthy (0.5), Bronson Arroyo (0.4), Brad Ziegler (0.3)
- fWAR trailers = Addison Reed (-0.4), Will Harris (0.0), Joe Thatcher (0.0)