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Eleven Games In For The D-backs: A Counterblast To Hope

I'm sure I'm not the only one that feels the 2011 Dbacks have made baseball exciting to watch again, providing us joy in ways that were just missing from the team for the past two years.
  -- blue bulldog

O RLY? As I watched the Diamondbacks roll over and fall 15-2 behind the Cardinals by the middle of the fifith inning last night, I am not certain quite what emotions I was feeling. But I'm pretty confident that "exciting to watch" and "joy" are not on the short-list of words I would use to describe them. Having had the glass half-full version of the season to date yesterday morning, I gave my eternal pessimist a call and asked for the glass half-empty version - or, given yesterday's game, perhaps that should be the "gimme another damn drink, and make it snappy" version. 

After eleven games, the Diamondbacks are on pace to go 74-88. In other words, the most popular choice in our pre-season poll, and very close to the median there too. We are currently tied for last in the NL West, with the Padres; not much of a shock either. The end result - and never mind about xFIP or BABIP, just in terms of cold, hard Wins - is that this team is performing exactly how we thought they would. Hard to find many reasons for joy in "They are who we thought they were," to borrow a famous phrase from Cardinals mythology [that's the Arizona Cardinals - though they'd have been happy with the score the St. Louis version ran up on us last night].

Our team ERA sits at 5.97, worst in the National League. Remember how bad our pitching was last year? It's been more than a run worse so far this campaign. And we can't even blame the defense for that: the fielding-independent number of FIP has us at 4.67...worst in the National League. We have one starter with an ERA less than six, while our relievers' ERA is 6.17, which is [all together now!] worst in the National League. Given that's 0.43 above  the near-record level from 2010, I think it's probably safe to say that Kevin Towers' bullpen rebuilding project hasn't exactly got off to the best of starts.

As blue bulldog pointed out, there is some reason to believe this won't continue, with decent peripheral numbers, a high BABIP and fly balls departing Chase Field as if someone had strapped them to tiny rocket-propelled grenades (ten in 54 innings to date). Though the last should be no surprise, given the collection of fly-ball pitchers assembled to work in one of the most hitter-friendly parks in the majors. [League average GB/FB ratio last year was 0.81. Our current rotation numbers were: Joe Saunders 0.80, Daniel Hudson 0.64, Armando Galarraga 0.63, Ian Kennedy 0.60 and Barry Enright 0.53.]

We certainly have to hope it doesn't continue, because the offense has been the only thing keeping our record credible, and I'm sure it's not going to continue at its current pace either. Not only is our offensive BABIP (.338) almost as unsustainable as the pitching one, but we've been phenomenally good in the clutch, posting an .884 OPS with runners in scoring position - fifty points higher than our overall number. That's going to regress, and take our run production along with it as it does; the only question is when it'll happen [one suspects about the same time Bloomquist runs out of Magic Pixie Dust to rub on his bat]

Outside of Willie Float, and Kelly Johnson, the offense has largely been who we thought they would be as well - just in more extreme versions. Miguel Montero, Stephen Drew, Chris Young and Justin Upton have been very good with the bat; Juan Miranda, Melvin Mora and Gerardo Parra not so much. Not many surprises there, though it's concerning to see Parra struggling to an 83 OPS+, given a BABIP 44 points above league-average.  Montero, Drew and Russell Branyan are similarly, to borrow bb's memorable phrase, "guys who stare down the gods of BABIP on Olympus and laugh. In their face." I'm just not sure this is a good thing...

I don't think I've ever supported a team which has been so bi-polar in the first two weeks. We've yet to win games on consecutive days, and have only lost such once. Look at the offensive production this homestand: we've scored 13, 1, 10, 2, 13 and 5 runs, leading to all but one game being decided by five or more runs. It's been like watching the baseball version of Sucker Punch. Half the time, they're nothing but the playthings of the opposition, exploited, down-trodden and powerless wretches; the other half, they're a completely unstoppable force, slaying steam-powered undead Cy Young candidates like Chris Carpenter in their robotic tanks, to an up-tempo pop tune.

As in most things, the reality is somewhere in the middle. The pitching will get better; the offense will get worse. The answer of how the final record will shake down can be found in the ratio of those two regressions. So far, the hitting and pitching have almost exactly countered each other, giving us overall results which are, as noted, dead in line with the pre-season prediction. It's just that the highs have been higher and the lows lower. If the team are looking for a new marketing slogan - and given the crowds this week, they should be - may I suggest: "Your Arizona Diamondbacks: Because You Never Know". Or, perhaps, the pithier, "D-backs: WTF?"