The chart above plots all 30 major-league teams, with their winning percentages last year on the left, and a line across to their winning percentages this year, on the right. You can put your mouse over the dot at either end and see exactly to which team it refers. Just to make things easier, the D-backs line is the thicker blue one. If you still can't see it, you need to look at the very bottom of the left-hand column, because you shouldn't need reminding, in 2014, Arizona had the worst record in the major leagues. Only the Rockies (two games in front) and Rangers (three ahead of us) joined us in winning fewer than 70 games.
It does illustrate just how far the team had to climb, considering only the top third (roughly, thanks to league and divisional variance) of teams make the post-season. But even after this week's dispiriting losses to the Cardinals - certainly serving as a stark reminder of how much further the team must improve before being "good" - the degree of improvement by the D-backs is clear. The only team in the National League with a bigger improvement in their win percentage is the Chicago Cubs. The Astros - owners of the AL's worst record just two years ago - are most improved in the American League, having already surpassed their win total from 2014. Hope for the future?
Obviously, it's a lot easier to go up when you're in the basement, but it is interesting to note that the three top teams currently - the Cardinals, Royals and Pirates - were all comfortably above .500 last season as well. Conversely, you would need some kind of microscope to see the improvement posted by the Rockies, who were next to us in 2014, and have currently improved their 2015 winning percentage by .001. They're not alone. The Red Sox and Phillies both underachieved last season, any many expected Boston to be contenders this season. Neither have matched the D-backs improvement, and there's a good chance we'll finish above both teams in the standings.
If you're looking for teams that went the other direction, you need to focus on the American League, where the top three drops in W% can be found, belonging to the A's, Angels and Orioles. You can take your pick of which one wins the no-prize for Biggest Disappointment of 2015, all three again being seen as potential playoff teams, yet falling far short of their previous performance. I'll likely go with Anaheim, owners of the best record in baseball for 2014, and currently sitting on the outside (though in the AL, two games above .500 is one back for the second wild-card). In the NL, the Nationals have similarly fallen from grace, and as noted this morning. Matty's tenure is looking shaky.
Below, find a chart which extracts the change for each team, which may make it a little easier to see which have improved or declined by the largest amounts.
Here, you can also see the Diamondbacks' improvement relative to the rest of the division. The Padres' improvement is the next-best, yet is a mere 17 points. Considering all the effort, prospects and salary that went into their off-season, their current position in a tie for third/fourth place with us has got to be underwhelming. As noted above, the Rockies' meter remains stuck on empty, and with the departure of Tulo, prospects for improvement the rest of the way seem extremely limited. The Giants and Dodgers have both got worse since last season; the latter by the largest amount, mostly I think due to the rotation after Greinke consisting of smoke, mirrors and the DL
However, I don't believe La Russa et al deserve all the credit. There's a "Pleixglass principle", which shows that teams extremely at either end of the standings tend to rebound back toward .500 the following season. At about this point last year, with Tankalpalooza 2014 in full effect, I looked at teams that finished with a win tally in the mid-sixties, and found they typically rebounded by 60-70 points the following campaign. In our case, better health has certainly been a factor in the team improvement - according to Daniel Hudson, the biggest factor - and I'm not sure how much credit the front-office deserves for that.
On the other hand, it's worth noting that the uptick has not been "bought", with an Opening Day payroll more than $20 million lower than it was in 2014. And it has (mostly) not come as the result of trading away our farm for the dreaded "veteran presence" either. In terms of age, the team ranks 29th for hitters and 28th for pitchers, which suggests we are overall on the upside of the aging curve. We have three everyday players, Nick Ahmed, Yasmany Tomas and Jake Lamb, who are rookies and have 250+ PA. On the mound, the likes of Robbie Ray, Archie Bradley and Zack Godley are also rookies, and that excludes those yet to be seen at all, like Aaron Blair.
It has been a season with ups and downs, false hopes, reality checks and expectations both met and unfulfilled. In that way, it is no different from any other. Yet, it has certainly been a lot more fun than last season: virtually from the off, watching the team in 2014 was often more a chore, a job that had to be done, than a pleasure. While it would be a stretch to call this year an undiluted pleasure-riot - the last three games have been compared to water-boarding for a reason - I think there's plenty of grounds for moderate satisfaction and optimism. If La Russa, Stewart and Hale still have work to do, most notably with the rotation, I'm still looking forward to the remaining 36 games.