There isn’t a particular point to this piece. It’s basically a bunch of stuff which I originally started discussing in today’s recap, before realizing it was pretty tangential, and much better off edited out, and in its own piece. As we head into the four days surrounding the All-Star Game, I’m sure we’ll have a lot of articles covering various aspects of the team, but figure we might as well start with a high overview.
Arizona limps into the All-Star break, having lost eight of its last 11 contests. That’s a bit disappointing, but it’s important to keep things in perspective. I’ve always been a believer in the bigger picture with regard to baseball performance. Single at-bats mean little or nothing. Games, not much more. It’s a 162-game season for a reason, to help iron out the randomness that impacts the game, perhaps more than any other major sport. That means that it takes 10 or 11 MLB games to represent the same percentage of the schedule as one NFL game. So in NFL terms, the D-backs’ struggles are about the equivalent of a dominant team having a bad loss before a week 9 bye.
For instance, it’s worth pointing out that five of those eight defeats, including this afternoon’s, were by a single run. It’s not like the team is getting blown out on a regular basis. It’s the offense which is sputtering having scored a total of 18 runs over the eight losses, but this is largely down to a severe shortage of hits with runners in scoring position. If you don’t believe in the concept of “clutch” (and I tend to think, it’s something whose impact is all but undetectable in the noise of random variation), then this team is still a solid offensive outfit. I’d put us roughly in the middle of the pack in terms of pure hitting, but buoyed by very good base-running.
It’s worthy noting that the cold streak has actually not cost the D-backs much in the wild-card standings, although admittedly, the Dodgers have basically left the rest of the division (indeed, just about all of major-league baseball) in their dust. Before the streak, we were 1.5 games back of the Dodgers. We’re now 7.5 back, and I suspect any hopes of winning the NL West now seem very slim. But the wild-card? A slight decrease in our chances of hosting the wild-card game, but the pack below the Rockies have all but failed to take any advantage.
- Diamondbacks 0 GB
- Rockies 2 GB
- Cubs 9.5 GB
Over the worst 11 games of the season (again: five of eight losses being by one run), we’ve lost a total of two games in the standings to the Rockies, and just one to the Cubs. We have had the best first-half in franchise history, and have far and away the best chance at playoff baseball since at least 2013. Indeed, you can argue our position is significantly better than it was then, because we would have to lose far more games in the second half this year, to miss a post-season spot. It’s exactly what happened in 2013: the team lost three of four after the break, dropped out of a playoff slot, and never recovered. We have significantly more margin for error this year.
But here’s where the team was at the break in each season since 2011.
- 2011: Tied for second wild-card, 3 GB of division leader
- 2012: 4 GB of second wild-card
- 2013: In first, 1.5 up, but 3 GB of second-wild card
- 2014: 12.5 GB of second wild-card
- 2015: 5 GB of second wild-card
- 2016: 10 GB of second wild-card
- 2017: In first wild-card, 2 games up on second wild-card, 7.5 GB of division leader.
We were 38-52 at the break last year; we are 53-36 this year, an improvement of 15.5 games. That’s especially startling, considering there were not than many changes in the roster. Among everyday players, we lost Jean Segura, but got a bit more playing time from A.J. Pollock, and a largely new set of catchers. On the mound, we gained Taijuan Walker, but lost Shelby Miller after less than a handful of starts. The bullpen saw probably the most dramatic change, with new closer Fernando Rodney, and set-up man Archie Bradley transitioning from a starter’s role, in front of a mix of veteran arms old (Randall Delgado) and new (T.J. McFarland and Jorge De La Rosa).
But it’s the improvement in performance from just about every starting pitcher which has turned this from an Achilles’ heel into one of the team’s strengths. Here are our top six starters’ ERAs in 2016 and 2017 so far, in decreasing order of innings pitched.
- Zack Greinke: 4.37 > 2.86 (-1.51 runs)
- Robbie Ray: 4.90 > 2.97 (-1.93 runs)
- Patrick Corbin: 5.15 > 4.71 (-0.44 runs)
- Taijuan Walker: 4.22 > 3.65 (-0.67 runs)
- Zack Godley: 6.39 > 2.58 (-3.81 runs)
- Randall Delgado: 4.44 > 3.05 (-1.39 runs)
That’s startling, and you’ve got to think a lot of the credit is down to the catchers, given pitching coach Mike Butcher was here last year as well [he may also have had more freedom to work this season, without the looming presence of Tony La Russa. No-one seems willing to say for sure]
I think the rotation has the ability to go, one through five, up against virtually any other team in the majors. The problem is, in a playoff series, you don’t go one through five. It’s one through four at most, with a hefty dose of one through three, and I’m not certain we’re quite there alongside the Dodgers, Nationals or Astros. Although the last-named, I confess to being almost completely ignorant about, because they’re in the American League. I doubt I could name any starting pitcher beyond Dallas Keuchel. But given their won-lost record, they’ve got to be doing something right.
Will Mike Hazen be active at the deadline: I expect some minor moves, but don’t think this is a team that needs much in the way of changes. A bat to help with the struggles against left-handed pitching. Perhaps a reliever. Maybe (at most) some pitching depth. But I think it’s a case of “steady as she goes”, and no significant changes on the way into the stretch. Realistically, I’m not thinking too much about division chances any more: should we get back within a couple of games of the Dodgers, we can revisit that. Otherwise, I’m looking for a second half where we clinch home-field for the wild-card game, and get our rotation lined up for that and the NLDS.