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The 2014 Diamondbacks: First-half review

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Or, "How many synonyms can I find for 'sucked' without repeating myself?"

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Christian Petersen

"We have to get out of the mind-set that we’re a .500 club. If you think that, you will be that... I believe our players are not happy with what went down last year. So now we have to go out and do it. We have to show we want to compete. Talk is talk."
-- Kevin Towers, Feb 22.

Less than five months later, the Diamondbacks can only dream of being a .500 club, sitting 16 games below that over the first half. A dismal start to the season saw them win just eight of their first 30 contests and, although things have improved somewhat, with a 32-34 record since, they still possess the worst-record in the National League, with three days in total spent out of last place in the NL West. They've got a credible shot at posting the lowest win total by an Arizona team since the 2004 nightmare; being on pace for 67.5 wins, 2.5 ahead of the 2010 team. So, what the hell went wrong?

Injuries

Let's be abundantly clear about this. Injuries are not an excuse. But, damn, we've been snake-bit this year, with a full quarter of our intended pitching staff requiring Tommy John surgery, just since the start of March (Bronson Arroyo, Patrick Corbin and David Hernandez). Throw in long absences for the likes of A.J. Pollock (44 games and counting), Mark Trumbo (71 games), plus Chris Owings, Cliff Pennington and Cody Ross - who has largely been terrible since his return from the hip fracture - and you get the picture. Right now, we have 10 players on the DL; the only teams with more are having similarly sucky seasons, the Padres (11) and Rangers (15!).

But, I'll repeat this again: it's not an excuse, though I'm sure it will certainly be touted as such by the front-office. Even entirely healthy, neutral expectations for this team as constructed, coming off the winter moves, were around the .500 mark - despite Towers having spent Ken Kendrick's money to an extent unseen in franchise history. [Even allowing for inflation, we're 24.4% up on a year ago] Outside of Corbin, it's hard to argue many of the injuries would have affected those pre-season projections by more than a couple of games. This isn't a good team decimated by injury; it's one which was pretty mediocre to begin with.

Poor starting pitching

The loss of Corbin and, recently, Arroyo hurt. But we also have the poor performances of Trevor Cahill and Brandon McCarthy to thank. All told, the ten starting pitchers used this season have combined (inc. relief performances in some cases) to be worth a total of 0.6 bWAR. Our starters to date have a 4.58 ERA, the worst since that was matched by the 2005 team - in an era when league ERA was more than half a run higher. By distance over league average, this season's rotation sits at +0.89 runs, above even the 2004 squad (0.84). If you're doing worse than a roster which had Casey Daigle in there on Opening Day, you've got issues.

Meanwhile, we have to watch as arms we traded away perform better than anyone we kept. Our best starting pitcher to date is Wade Miley, at +0.8 bWAR. Ahead of him right now include Ian Kennedy (1.4 bWAR), Trevor Bauer (1.1), and going back in time a bit, Max Scherzer (3.2). Just as our quest in the off-season for a "top of the rotation starter" somehow ended up as Bronson Arroyo, so our once heavily-touted "rotation depth" suddenly turned into Mike Bolsinger and yanking Josh Collmenter back out of the bullpen. I guess we take comfort in Tyler Skaggs being mediocre and David Holmberg being torched in his sole appearance.

Lefties who can't hit lefties, and other struggles

Our left-handed batters have been terrible when facing their opposite number, with a line of .177/.239/.213. That's a .452 OPS, almost 200 hundred points below NL average for that situation. Eric Chavez has been the best hitting leftie there, with a .542 OPS, in six at-bats; it goes down from there to the usual suspects like Gerardo Parra (.536), Miguel Montero (.406) and Didi Gregorius (2-for-20). It's a significant factor in why the team has an MLB-worst record of 7-15 when facing a left-handed starter. And that includes an inexplicable gift, in the shape of Clayton Kershaw's worst start in a very long time.

The Diamondbacks have also hit badly in the clutch, only a .670 OPS with runners in scoring position, ranking them 12th in the league. It gets worse with two outs there, a .569 OPS ahead of only one team. As a yardstick, overall, our offense ranks 7th, with a .695 OPS [another indication of how the offensive landscape had shrunk - league OPS is below .700, for the first time since prior to the 1993 expansion] If you'd to point to a single spot - well, three - it would be the Arizona outfield. Our OPS from those positions is also second-worst in the league at .668, 64 points below NL average.

The bright spots

There have been some reasons for cheer. Paul Goldschmidt has shown that his MVP-caliber season was not a fluke, with offensive numbers to date almost identical to last season (OPS .949 vs. .952). His HR may be down, but he has become a doubles machine, already matching his 2013 total. Up until he was hurt, A.J. Pollock was having a breakout season, with 2.1 bWAR in 72 games, virtually identical to Adam Eaton. Oh, hang on: this is supposed to be bright spots. So, yeah: Pollock looks like the long-term solution in center, and Chris Owings appears to be set for the middle-infield too, one way or another.

I had concerns about our left-handed relievers, Joe Thatcher and Oliver Perez, coming in, but they have been excellent. They have combined for 59 innings with an ERA of 2.29, holding all batters to an average of .225. Thatcher was deemed surplus to requirements, but with the likely return of Matt Reynolds, hopefully before the end of the season, we should be sorted there too. Brad Ziegler, similarly, continued to Ziegle. Since 2012, only four relievers have thrown a total of 150 innings with a better ERA+ than his 165, and he's on course for a third straight season with an ERA below 2.50.

Tomorrow, we'll take a look at what might happen in the second-half. Here are the stats for the team thus far.

Offense

  • BA =  .254 (5th in NL) - was .253 (6th)
  • OBP = .307 (11th) - was .306 (11th)
  • SLG = .389 (5th) - was .397 (5th)
  • OPS =  .695 (7th) - was .703 (7th)
  • OPS+ = 93 (9th) - was 93 (7th)
  • wRC+ = 89 (12th) - was 90 (9th)
  • Runs per game = 3.93 (9th) - was 4.03 (8th)
  • fWAR = 8.1 (12th) - was 7.9 (11th)
  • fWAR leaders = Paul Goldschmidt (3.6); A.J. Pollock (2.6), Chris Owings (1.9)
  • fWAR trailers = Cody Ross (-1.0), Aaron Hill (-0.7), Gerardo Parra (-0.6)

Pitching

  • ERA = 4.27 (15th in NL) - was 4.45 (14th)
  • ERA+ = 89 (14th) - was 84 (15th)
  • K/9 = 7.94 (7th) - was 7.59 (11th)
  • BB/9 = 2.85 (10th) - was 2.76 (12th)
  • HR/9 = - 1.06 (3rd) - was 1.18 (2nd)
  • Opp. OPS = .751 (2nd) - was .764 (2nd)
  • xFIP = 3.69 (6th) - was 4.12 (14th)
  • fWAR = 5.5 (12th) - was 3.5
  • fWAR leaders = Brandon McCarthy (1.2), Wade Miley (1.1), Josh Collmenter (1.0)
  • fWAR trailers = Addison Reed (-0.5), Matt Stites (-0.2), Will Harris (0.0)