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Downright Offensive: Documenting the D-backs' Struggles at the Plate

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Saying that the offense has been pathetic so far is a needless waste of perfectly good oxygen. Although Arizonans are accustomed to drought, this kind of offensive putridity is on a whole new level. It would seemingly be fair to say that our anemic offense deserves the bulk of the blame for this slow start. The starting pitching has been solid, particularly if you ignore Webb's one start and Petit's balloonish ERA, and the bullpen, while below average so far, hasn't exactly coughed up many leads. Of course, we'd actually have to have those first to lose them.

Even though I enjoy watching the game for what it is, I have a great appreciation for the statistical nature of baseball. So while we could analyze swings and break down our inability to hit with runners in scoring position, I'm taking this opportunity to look at just how bad we've been at the plate, and what possible factors could be contributing to it.

At 3.69 runs per game, we're presently on pace to score 598 runs, by far the worst in the NL and in franchise history. On the plus side, we'd have to be considerably worse to merit inclusion among the all-time worst run-scoring seasons in the modern era -- for example, the Phillies scored 394 runs in 1942 (albeit in only 151 games, but they still averaged just 2.61 r/g [!] to set the record). The California Angels managed 454 runs in 1972 in 155 games, also averaging less than 3 per. So historically, we're not doing that bad, even if it feels that way sometimes. As a whole, the NL is averaging 4.71 runs a game, or 763 over a 162-game marathon.

Let's break down the numbers a bit further and see if a reason for our failures (yes, other than "we suck") comes to light. They're hidden behind the jump for those who go cross-eyed at charts.

Listed below are our totals in the season to date, followed by our rank in the National League and the "leader" in the NL in that particular category. If the Diamondbacks are eighth or above, the league leader is shown; if 9th or lower, and it's not us, the 16th-ranked team is listed.

OPS+ 75 15th Giants (73)
BA .232 16th
OBP .307 16th
SLG .393 t14th Giants (.363)
SO 269 4th Marlins (292)
SB 26 t2nd Mets (29)

 

Nothing here is particularly surprising, except maybe the number of stolen bases. After a slow (get it?) start, we're tied for 2nd in the NL and have the success rate all the way up to almost 75 percent. If we managed to have more people on first (more on that later), it's not too much of a stretch to think we could be leading the league in SBs. Strikeouts are still outrageously high, although we're not the worst in the league.

But OPS+ might be the most telling stat of all. The Diamondbacks manage to eke out San Francisco for last in the NL, but league average is 94, a full 19 points higher. However, only three teams in the NL have an OPS+ of worse than 90 (Florida, 81), skewing that average somewhat. And breaking it down individually doesn't help much either. Arizona has six of the 109 players who have enough plate appearances to qualify for the batting title. Their rankings are seen below:

 

Name OPS+ NL Rank
Justin Upton 141 17th
Felipe Lopez 121 39th
Mark Reynolds 108 52nd
Eric Byrnes 58 98th
Chris Young 40 106th
Conor Jackson 31 108th

 

That's right: former wunderkid Conor Jackson's struggles this season have ravished him (no, hotclaws, not like that) to the point where he ranks only ahead of Brian Giles in the National League. And three of our regulars this season have been among the 12 worst in the league. Hard to carry an offense with that kind of dead weight not only in the lineup, but hitting in the top half from time to time. On the bright side, Justin Upton continues to impress despite his age, and his numbers would be even more impressive if not for his slump to start the season. Felipe Lopez has been about as good as we could have hoped, and Reynolds is putting up above-average numbers.

Let's take a little bit different approach, then. Last season, the Diamondbacks hit the fewest number of singles in baseball. Has that trend continued as well?

HR 36 7th COL/MIL (45)
3B 4 16th
2B 71 4th Dodgers (74)
1B 160 15th Phillies (159)

 

Hey, lookie there! Philadelphia has one less single than we do so far. Of course, it's worth pointing out that they've played four fewer games than us, so that prooooobably won't last. In fact, these numbers can't help but be slightly skewed -- only the Dodgers have as many games played as the Diamondbacks through yesterday's action.

So it seems the same problems that plagued us through the final five months of 2008 are still hanging around through the early parts of 2009, without an unsustainably hot month of April to skew our place in the standings. The team doesn't have a problem hitting for power, even with a number of its regulars struggling (although the number of triples vs. doubles is curious, given what you would perceive as above-average team speed). But even all those extra-base hits keep Arizona mired in 14th in slugging percentage, because there simply aren't enough hits to go around.

Jenny already put together a great piece earlier on the struggles of this team versus the 111-loss team of 2004. As mentioned before the jump, the current roster's pace would still be worse than in 2004 by 17 runs. Granted, the pitching on that team outside of Randy Johnson was terrible (almost 900 RA), but the Diamondbacks still fall short of the .253/.310/.393 line that the '04 squad put up. It should be noted that in 2004, no one but Shea Hillenbrand had more than 65 RBI -- but then again, no one struck out more than 90 times either. Since RBIs aren't exactly the best measure of a hitter, we'll ignore that for now.

What's the end result of all this? Basically, the team doesn't get on base enough. I know, I know -- "Chris, we didn't need some fancy-ass charts to get us to that conclusion." But it's remarkable how terrible this offense really is when you compare it to both the other teams in the National League and years past. Where that fundamental breakdown happened in the organization (scouting? Talent evaluation? Player development? Major/minor league coaching staffs?) is a matter of debate for another day, but the bottom line is that without significant, unexpected improvement, the 2009 Arizona Diamondbacks are in severe trouble. Strap in, folks; it's gonna be a bumpy ride.