If there's one single reason why the Diamondbacks are struggling this season compared to last, it's not the drop-off in production from Justin Upton, the injury to Daniel Hudson or the black-hole in production at third-base. No, the most obvious reason for the team struggling to stay over .500 is its record in one-run games, which has imploded completely compared to the 2011 campaign. If any more evidence was evidence was ever needed that one-run record is more a matter of luck than managerial influence, this would be it.
After the jump, let's pick apart the numbers a bit further.Last year, the team were 28-16 in these, a .636 winning percentage that was the best in the National League. Now, history shows us that kind of number is difficult to sustain. For example, the over-achieving 2007 Diamondbacks won the NL West largely on the basis of their 32 one run win. But the following season, their W% dropped from .615 to .489, giving them a 22-23 record, virtually the even mark you'd expect by change. I was prepared for something similar in 2012: a record close to .500. However, they've gone even further. This year, they are 10-18, the fewest number of one-run wins posted by any team: four below .500 and eight fewer than their pace last season.
The underlying cause behind this appears to be Arizona's problems over the last third of the game. If you look at contests through six innings, the Diamondbacks are 2-7 in contests tied at that point, compared to an expected number of 4.61 wins, based on their overall W%. Additionally, they have lost eight contests where they were ahead going into the seventh, but have come back only five times at that point. If their record there was balanced, that'd be another 5.6 wins. which would take their one-one record back to the general area it should be, and would push them close to a tie with the Giants.
Obviously, there are two sides to losing rather than winning a game that's tied in the late innings. Your pitchers can allow runs, and your hitters can fail to score them, so we need to look at both aspects of a team's production. Overall, after the sixth inning, the Diamondbacks have scored 137 runs, but have allowed 159. The latter number is close to league average (163 runs from the seventh inning on, for both scored and allowed), but the former suggests that the offense is not getting it done during the later portions of games. Is there a we we can confirm that suspicion?
Fortunately, there's a stat for that, called "Late & Close", which is defined by Baseball-Reference.com as "Plate Appearances in the 7th or later with the batting team tied, ahead by one, or the tying run at least on deck." Here are the stats in those situations for all the National League teams, through Thursday night's games.
Welp. That's pretty damning, isn't it? In late & close situations, the 2012 Arizona Diamondbacks hit a league-worst .187, with an OPS which is below everyone except the Houston Astros. The last two columns, tOPS+ and sOPS+ show how the park-adjusted OPS here compares to the team's overall park-adjusted OPS and the same figure for the league. So the Astros higher OPS is not as bad, relative to their overall number, as Arizona's. And it's especially startling to compare our number to what the D-backs did in the same category last season: our line then was .280/ .364/.446, for an .810 OPS which was best in the league by 72 points.
As with our record in one-run games, regression was to be expected, but to go from best in the league, relative to overall production, to worst, was a hard crash-landing, by any means. Let's break the team woefulness down further, to the individual level, though obviously, we're now getting to the level where small sample-size becomes a serious concern, with no-one having had more than 63 late & close plate-appearances for the year to date. Here's the list for everyone with more than 10 - again this technically excludes last night, but I'm pretty sure there weren't any late and close at-bats to be seen for Arizona there...
Probably the column you want to start with, in terms of "clutchiness", is tOPS+. As above, this compares a player's OPS in late and close situations, to his overall number. Thus, Young and Kubel have a very similar OPS - but for CY., that's a good deal better than his general number (hence an tOPS+ of 114), while for Kubel, it's still below his overall line (resulting in an tOPS+ of 79). Young and McDonald are the only ones who have been better than normal - which makes sense for Young, whom anecdotally seems to do well - he has more walk-off homers than anyone else in team history, with five of our 38. So it is here, with four of his seven L&C hits leaving the park.
But the two biggest culprits of the regular players are perhaps surprising: Paul Goldschmidt and Aaron Hill, both likely among the front-runners for team MVP honors. Goldzilla is hitting below the Josh Whitesell line, and his plate discipline seems to vanish, with a K:BB ratio of 17:3 - could this be youthful nerves at play? He only has one homer in 58 at-bats too. Hill is worse still. with an on-base percentage of just .190 and just a single one of his 58 runs driven in has come in a late and close situation. That was his July 4th ground-out against Huston Street and the Padres, scoring a run from third, when we were down by three in the ninth.
There's probably not much that can be "done" about it: especially at this late stage in the season, it's just something which has to be grinned at and borne. The BABIP for Arizona in these crucial situations has simply been freakishly low, at .226, compared to .306 overall: it suggests we've been hitting the ball right at fielders, much more often than expected. A normal level there would inevitably translate into more runs scored in these situations, and in turn would lead to a better record in close contests. It's kinda galling to see that Arizona's quest to repeat as NL West champions, has perhaps been derailed as much by bad luck as anything else.