It hasn't been the best of seasons for the D-backs this year, but one of the good things about baseball is that it's a 162-game campaign, and so there will always be moments to treasure, even in the most wretched of seasons. The finest example thereof would be the nightmare which was 2004, where the team lost 111 times - but it also gave us Randy Johnson's perfect game in the middle of that disaster.
Rather than relying on memory to pick out the most dramatic moment of the season to date, I used the tools over at Baseball-Reference.com, where the Play Index allows you to analyze every plate appearance by a Diamondback, at the dish or on the hill this season. The two most obvious measurements of "highlight worthiness" are WPA (Win Probability Added) and LI (Leverage Index). The former should be well known, if you've read the recaps and seen the fangraph - it's simply the percentage chance of your team winning the game, based on the score, number of outs, inning, etc. How big a play is can be measured in the win probability it added, thus WPA.
Leverage Index is a little more abstruse. It basically measures the pressure on the pitcher or batter, again based on the particular situation of the game at the time. An average plate-appearance has an LI of one. Only 10% of all real game situations have a LI greater than 2, while 60% will have a LI less than 1. It's just another measurement, but will generally correlate fairly well with WPA: the main difference is that Leverage Index is based on the importance of the plate-appearance, Win Probability Added uses the result of it.
Both should factor into choosing the best highlight of the year. The highest LI of 2012 was the 7.39 reached for Jason Kubel's at-bat against Kenley Jansen, in the bottom of the ninth inning on May 22. Arizona was down 8-7, but had men on the corners and only one out. Unfortunately, Kubel hit into a game-ending double-play, resulting in an WPA of -45%. A great highlight from the Dodgers point of view, no doubt: but for a Diamondbacks' fan.... Well, let's just say our puppy runs off and cowers in the corner if anyone ever mentions the LA closer's name.
Walk-off wins are usually good, but after 57 games, the Diamondbacks have yet to enjoy one in 2012 - something they did nine times last season. So, instead, on the hitting side, the single play with the highest WPA, came on May 17th at Colorado. It was the top of the ninth, with the game tied at seven. Arizona had a runner at third, but there were two outs, as Justin Upton faced Rafael Betancourt. We may have had our issues scoring men from third this season, but today was not one of those days, as J-Up took a 1-2 pitch the other way, homering to right-center for a two-run shot that proved the margin of victory. Chalk up a meaty +43% of WPA, with a LI of 4.42.
In terms of pitching, there are rarely such game-changing moments, because it's concerned purely with stopping something from happening. The best you can hope for is your pitcher not allowing any runs, and even in the tightest of games, an out is not typically worth an enormous amount of WPA. That said, the best "highlight" from our pitching staff rated an impressive +34%, with an LI of 7.36 - and curiously, it came in the same game as Upton's homer. J.J. Putz came in for the save, but allowed three straight singles to load the bases with no outs. He got Alex White looking, then with one out and the tying run on second, Ramon Hernandez hit into a game-ending double-play.
Good though the above were, my choice for highlight of the year has a 5.36 LI and scored only +18% on WPA. It took place on opening Sunday, and was a huge part of Arizona coming back from 6-0 down to beat the Giants. We'd clawed our way back to 6-5, and had the bases loaded with one out. Miguel Montero hit a chopper to Brandon Crawford, who started an inning-ending double-play...only he forgot to wait until he had the ball. Everyone was safe, the run scored, and the Diamondbacks went on to defeat the Giants, completing the sweep. This was a memorable highlight for several reasons
Firstly, it was a game which was the epitome of "victory snatched from the jaws of defeat", coming back from six down in the middle of the third. Secondly, the moment itself was also "victory snatched from the jaws of defeat," as what looked like a rally-slaughtering twin-killing suddenly became the tying run whizzing across home-plate. Thus, you get elation mixed with surprised delight, which can be summed up in one word as "Monterowhatthefuyeswooooooo". And finally, succeeding as a direct result of the abject failures of others - particularly a hated divisional rival - is always sweet, whether it's a hanging slider or a glove of stone. #schadenfreude
There's still 105 games left, and so plenty of time for the Diamondbacks to stack up more highlights. But for now, those are my picks of the best 2012 has had to offer. If you disagree, that's why there's a comments section.