Thus far, Arizona's hitting is the clear winner in the SnakePit poll regarding the team's biggest problem this season, so it seems a good place to start our detailed examination of the 2009 season. While the offensive numbers as a whole compared to the rest of the league did improve marginally over the previous couple of campaigns, the Diamondbacks remained stuck near the bottom of the league, finishing the year 14th in team OPS+ [curiously, league average OPS+ this season was only 94 - I'd have expected it to be 100?]
After the jump, we're going to break down the numbers so we can go a bit further than yelling "You suck!" at our hitters. Which positions on the diamond were most responsible? What of our struggles against left-handed starters? How good were the Diamondbacks at "small ball" in 2009? These and
many several a couple more questions, will be addressed below...
Who the heck is on first?
Which spots on the diamond proved the biggest black holes of production as far as the 2009 Diamondbacks were concerned? Here's a chart which compares our numbers against the National League averages. I've included runs and RBI from each position, though caution should be used with regard to these, as they are obviously both dependent on other factors, such as batting order and team-mates production. The last two columns are Arizona's OPS+ relative to the league split at that position, and where it ranked in the league.
|Position||Batting line||R||RBI||Batting Line||R||RBI||sOPS+||Rank|
First, the good news. Our pitchers, catchers and right fielders were almost the best in the league at the plate, trailing only the Cubs, Braves and Phillies [thanks to Carlos Zambrano, Brian McCann and Jayson Werth respectively]. There was also solid production out of second base, third base and shortstop positions. SS may come as a bit of a surprise, given Drew's down year, especially against southpaws, but he was still better than average. However, I would not be averse to seeing him platooned with Tony Abreu next year, Abreu starting against LHP. Catcher, third base and right field should take care of themselves in 2010, and even if we have lost Felipe Lopez, Abreu and Ryan Roberts can fight it out for the everyday job.
Then there's the not-so good news. Three positions were basically gurgling vortexes of offensive suck: left-field, center-field and first-base. The last-named had the lowest OPS of any position for Arizona in 2009, which is quite a staggering feat, and despite our hitter-friendly park, finished 16th for BA, OBP and SLG. Part of this may be bad luck, with a BABIP of .274 (overall league average was .299; Chad Tracy's .234 was particularly low), but it has been an ongoing problem for the Diamondbacks. We haven't been ranked in the top half of the league for first-base offensive production since 2005. Getting anything like average from 1B in 2010 would be a big step forward.
The other two positions have the potential to improve, though it's by no means certain. In 2008, Conor Jackson returned an sOPS+ of 100 in left-field, and if he returns to full health, will likely be the regular starter there for Arizona next season. In center-field, what happens will depend on Chris Young. If he can maintain the form he showed after his return from Triple-A in late August, when he hit .263/.351/.508 in 31 games, then we'l be happy. If he doesn't... Well, there's always Gerardo Parra, and Young can platoon with him, getting the southpaw starts. And speaking of which...
The average NL team hit left-handed pitching at almost the same rate overall as they hit right-handers = .256/.330/.407 vs. .260/.331/.409 for an OPS only three points lower against southpaws. Perhaps surprisingly, this was reproduced by the 2009 Diamondbacks, whose OPS were almost identical: .741 vs. .742. I say "surprisingly," because of our team's woeful 17-30 record when facing a left-handed starter; I expected this to be reflected in a significantly-broader gap between the numbers, yet this wasn't so. However, on an individual level, there were some major differences.
On the left-handed batters' side, both Stephen Drew and Gerardo Parra struggled mightily against their sinister colleagues. Drew hit just .200 facing LHP, while Gerardo Parra's power evaporated completely - he is still trying to get his first extra-base career hit off a southpaw, after exactly one hundred at-bats. While the sample-size is pretty small as yet, Brandon Allen is also in the same boat: they carved him up to the tune of 2-for-22 with eleven strikeouts this season. If those three want to be everyday players in 2010, they're going to have to learn to deal with lefties.
On the other hand - literally - there doesn't seem to be much particular problem with right-handed pitching; probably due to the greater volume of at-bats, most players' numbers are close to their overall totals. Chris Young, Eric Byrnes and Conor Jackson had the lowest OPS of our position players there, not exactly something for which we'll be running to stop the presses.
Lords of the fly-balls
The Diamondbacks were one of the most fly-ball prone offenses in the league, sporting a ground-out/air-out ratio of 0.75, compared to a league average of 1.11. Leading the air assault was Chris Young, whose ratio was all the way down at 0.45 - only one other batter in the entire league with over 350 PAs was under 0.60 [Clint Barmes at 0.53]. As we all know, Young had a particularly problem getting the ball out of the infield; 28% of his fly-balls did not trouble the outfielders. That was the most among any NL batter with 250+ PAs; Eric Byrnes came fifth in the same category, at a 24% rate.
One area that definitely seems to present room for improvement is infield hits. There's no doubting that the team has a lot of speed, thanks in part to its youth, but this was not apparently translated into a lot of hits hustled out along the first-base line. We had a league-worst total of 127 there; that's 26 fewer than league average. If we'd got those "missing" hits, our overall BA would have ended up one tick short of the league average. Upton led the team by some way, on 25; Gerardo Parra was next on 14, with Felipe Lopez getting a dozen. Upton's number was good for sixth among right-handed NL batters [LHB have an advantage, being a couple of steps closer to first-base], but I feel some of our other players could be doing better.
This is especially true with bunt hits, where the Diamondbacks managed a total of just ten all season - there were five players in the league who had more than that. In Upton and Reynolds, we have two players who possess a great combination of power and speed - the former makes the infield play back, making them vulnerable to a quick bunt. Do that a few times, and they'll be forced to play in, making it easier to drive the ball past them. Yet there's something not quite right when Miguel Montero and Augie Ojeda both have as many bunt hits as Upton (two), and more than Reynolds (one).
Also in 'small ball,' the team was dead last in the league for successful sacrifice bunts. This is something which would normally please me - I'm rarely a fan of surrendering outs - except that we were not last in sacrifice attempts. Our success rate was a woeful 66%; no other team in the league came in below 70%. While we're talking a small sample size, particular offenders were Chris Young, Trent Oeltjen and Justin Upton who ended 2009 a combined 5-for-13 in sacrifice attempts, compared to a league average 73% success-rate. Maybe they can take lessons from Dan Haren: he was a perfect 9-for-9, with only four NL players having more attempts and 100% success.
Baseball as a non-contact sport
The Diamondbacks led the league for not making contact with the ball: when they swung at a pitch - 23% of the time they came up empty. The absence of Conor Jackson, who had the team's lowest rate in 2008 (14%), hurt team numbers overall. You probably won't be surprised to find out who supplied much of the Sedona Red breeze this year: Mark Reynolds, who didn't make contact on 39% of swings. Ryan Howard (34%) was the sole other batter in the NL with 250+ PAs to have a miss-rate beyond 30%. Justin Upton and Chris Young were also above average, whiffing 28% of the time.
Interestingly, it doesn't seem to be a poor eye that's the problem. Arizona hitters swung at pitches out of the zone 25.1% of the time, hardly above the league median of 24.5%. They were simply below average at getting wood on horsehide, particularly on pitches in the zone. Again, Reynolds was in a class of his own: he missed 29.1% of the time, when swinging at strikes - the next-highest miss rate there in the National League was Brad Hawpe, down at 22.5%. On the other end of the spectrum, Stephen Drew didn't miss often, particularly at strikes. He made contact 92.9% of the time, though was just pipped by Augie Ojeda's 93.0% figure.