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The Diamondbacks in 2013: Living up to expectations?

Back in April, when the season was just beginning we took a look at the early indicators to see whether the team had changed in ways Kevin Towers had expected. Now, with a more-realistic number of games under our belt, let's review and see how things have changed

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Montero sliding into second? Yep, that's a double-play...
Montero sliding into second? Yep, that's a double-play...


""We relied too heavily on hitting the long ball. The last two years – even ’11 was the same way. We really relied on the long ball to win games. We’re slowly trying to get away from that."
-- Kevin Towers

2013: 41.1 AB/HR - 12th (league average 37.0)
2012: 33.1 AB/HR - 5th (league average 36.1)

No doubt, the home-run has become a less significant part of the game for the Diamondbacks, their rate almost a quarter less than last year. And the team does seem to have shown itself capable of winning without requiring the bomb. They have 19 victories when homerless, trailing only the Cardinals (21), and are 19-21 in such games, a win percentage of .475. The league overall is 204-378, a W% of .351, and is a huge improvement over last year's mark, which was 17-40. Those wins are not necessarily due solely to great pitching either: in the majority (11 of 19), the Diamondbacks scored five or more runs, so do seem to show an ability to get runners home in smaller ways.

Pitcher walks

"I don’t like pitchers who walk hitters. It puts pressure on your defense. The less walks you have, the better your chances of getting through innings. More walks lead to overworking your bullpen, sometimes just by having to get somebody up, just in case."
-- Towers

2013: 7.5% BB% - 6th (league average 7.7%)
2012: 6.9% BB% - 2nd (league average: 8.0%)

This has been less successful: the team is still walking fewer people than league average, but that's mostly due to good numbers from the likes of Patrick Corbin (6.4%) and Brandon McCarthy (3.5%). Red flags at the other end of the spectrum go to Trevor Cahill (9.3%) and Ian Kennedy (8.4%), with Wade Miley's rate, as noted yesterday, also higher than we'd like. Cahill has always been somewhat erratic, a likely inevitable result of pitches that move a hell of a lot. But Kennedy's rate in both 2011 and 2012 was 6.1%, an uncomfortable addition to a mix that includes home-run and line-drive rates that are both at their highest since coming to the desert.


"if you have a lot of strikeouts in your lineup like we’ve had in the past and rely on the homer, the next thing you know, you’re sitting up there with a goose egg and he’s in the seventh inning."
-- Towers

2013: 18.5% SO% - 4th (league average 19.8%)
2012: 20.6% SO% - 10th (league average 20.2%)

Mission accomplished, I'd say, with a big drop, continuing an ongoing process of improvement (we were 13th in 2011, and of course, dead last in 2010, with a 24.7% K-rate). Of course, you can question the relevance of this stat: whether a strikeout is "worse" than any other out is debatable. We've seen a good counter-argument in all the double-plays: Arizona is on pace for 153, a 42% increase over last season. That's partly because this team hits a lot of groundballs, with a GO/AO ratio of 1.27, second in the league and sharply up on the 1.03 ratio from 2012. Contact hitters + groundballs = double-plays. And don't even get me started on Prado batting behind Miggy...

Off the bench

"When I was in San Diego, with a small market and not a lot of financial resources. One thing we could improve was our bullpen and our bench. I didn’t go after the front-line starters, and didn’t have the ability to go after the everyday position players. I really focused on bullpen and bench, both of which play a big part in a team’s success."
-- Towers

2013: As sub .230/.317/.351 - 3rd by OPS (league average: .221/.281/.326)
2012: As sub .240/.288/.327 - 10th by OPS (league average: .228/.304/.341)

Almost a quarter of those PAs (48 of 202) went to the departed Eric Hinske, whose line was .214/.313/.357. That's an OPS almost indistinguishable from what the other 154 PAs gave us (admittedly seven of those belong to Josh Collmenter, more than Gerardo Parra and Martin Prado combined!), so there's some justification for thinking that Hinske wasn't the "problem." Here are the full stats for everyone, coming off the bench. Eric Chavez and Wil Nieves have been particularly good, A.J. Pollock and Jason Kubel, not so much. However with such small individual sample sizes - no-one bar Hinske has more than 17 PAs - everyone is one good swing away from respectability

The bullpen

"It’s a critical part of the game... Your manager is better when he has options in the bullpen. I haven’t seen too many teams in the past five to 10 years that win the World Series without a good bullpen."
-- Towers

2013: Bullpen ERA 3.23 - 5th (league average: 3.53)
2012: Bullpen ERA 3.28 - 6th (league average: 3.77)

I'm tempted just to drop the dead horse image in here and walk away, since there has likely been no other issue which has caused such fan angst, and been discussed ad nauseam, in the first-half of the year. Are they good or bad? Both, maybe? I'm tempted to call them Schrodinger's Bullpen, a wave-particle form that only collapses into "shutdown" or "meltdown" form, when you open the bullpen gates. I do note that our relievers have a 2.69 ERA in non-save situations, which balloons to 4.85 in save situations. So, the tactic for the second-half is abundantly clear: win every game by at least three runs. Any questions?

In the clutch

"Late and close, we weren't very good... Were we expanding the zone as hitters? Maybe swinging at bad pitches, not as many good at-bats, not adding pressure, or dealing with pressure as well. "
-- Towers

2013: Late and close .247/.339/.387 - 2nd by OPS (league average .240/.314/.366)
2012: Late and close .199/.264/.330 - 15th by OPS (league average .239/.317/.368)

I suspect this is a good part of the reason why the team is 21-12 in one-run games, and 10-4 in extra innings, both areas of huge improvement on 2012: the ability to push across a run when it matters most. What bothers me is the question of whether this is a true "repeatable skill". Towers clearly thinks it is, but the abject failure in this area last season makes me wonder. Miguel Montero's L&C OPS is 235 points better this year, and Paul Goldschmidt is up more than 300. Have they actually changed their approach? Or is this random noise? I hope for the former, but fear it's the latter, and that we'll regress to the mean down the stretch. Still, those wins are in the bank now.

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