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Of Hope and Belief

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The Road to 86 Wins, and a potential Wild Card Spot

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National League Wild Card Game - Colorado Rockies v Arizona Diamondbacks Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images

The Diamondbacks came into the season with the express intent to be competitive. Exactly what being competitive means has different definitions for different people. For me, being competitive ultimately means being able to compete for a Championship. However only one out of thirty teams will be the Champion, and only two of them will play in the world series.

The odds are long that any team will be one of the last two in any given season, even for the “favorites”. The very best teams on paper seldom enter a season with more than a 15-20 % chance of winning the world series. The highest pre season Win World Series % of the last three seasons belonged to the Houston Astros in 2018, at 24%. The 2019 pre season favorite was the Yankees, at 19%.

Note: I’m using FanGraphs because it’s handy, and they have a sortable table with drop down files you can use to navigate past history HERE

The Diamondbacks over the previous three seasons have never had pre season odds higher than 0.6% to win the World Series. So perhaps my personal standards are too high. Making matters more difficult, they play in the same division as the strongest team in the National League, the Los Angeles Dodgers. So even the odds to win the division have not been above 5.2% to start any of the past three seasons. And with good reason. The Dbacks have finished the season 11 games and 9.5 games back of LA in 2017-2018, and currently sit 11 games back on June 19th.

So it’s been wild card or bust in terms of this team’s playoffs and championship hopes, and that will continue to be the case for at least this season, and possibly the foreseeable future as well. At 38-36, .514 W%, the team is two games behind the Chicago Cubs for the 2nd WC slot, and also trail the Colorado Rockies and St. Louis Cardinals. The Cubs W% is .542, which is a pace for 88 wins. But the DBacks need to get past the Cubs to actually get that slot. Therefore 89 wins would be the minimum needed to secure the 2nd WC slot, as of today. Note the Phillies, who are in the top WC spot at the moment have a .549 W% and are on pace for 89 wins.

However if one looks at today’s “projected standings” at FG, the Brewers and Phillies project to finish with 85 & 84 wins respectively. Baseball Prospectus has it slightly different, but similar, with the Cubs and Phillies to each projected to have 85 wins.

So it’s not unreasonable to set a range of wins needed to make the Wild Card Game at 86-89

It’s likely that some teams will “sell” as the trade deadline approaches, further weakening their teams, and teams at or near the top in the divisional and WC races will be buyers. Conventional wisdom might lead one to think this could possibly push the Wild Card entrant towards the top of the range of wins. But it doesn’t necessarily have to go that way of course. In 2016 both NL Wild Card teams (The Giants and Mets) had 87 wins, and in 2017 the Rockies had 87 wins. So three of the last six WC teams from the NL actually had fewer than 89 wins.

So there are two potential viewpoints here. The optimistic viewpoint looks at the Projected Standings at FG and BP and thinks, hey 86 Wins probably gets you into the Wild Card. The pessimistic viewpoint looks at the current standings and thinks, it’s going to take at least 89 wins to get in.

Let’s be optimistic today, and say 86 wins is the target to get Arizona into the Wild Card Game. What needs to happen to make it to 86 wins?

They will need to go 48-40, .545 W% the rest of the way. While that may seem like a daunting task to some, remember they were 20-13, 7 games over .500 on May 4th. So broken down like this into smaller bites certainly makes it seem somewhat more manageable.

Here is what needs to go right for the team in order to play 8 games over .500 the rest of the way:

1.) First and foremost, health, especially in the rotation. Their already membrane thin starting pitching depth has experienced multiple punctures with injuries to Luke Weaver, Jon Duplantier and a setback for Taijuan Walker. This has left them without even a viable 5thstarter, let alone a 6thstarter for depth. They simply cannot afford any more injuries in the rotation.

2.) While the urgency of plugging the 5thspot in the rotation may not be as dire as we thought before examining the schedule more closely, (They only need the 5th starter spot filled twice between now and July 20thdue to off days and the All Star break) it’s still imperative that they find a solution sooner rather than later. Where that comes from is still “TBD”, just like Saturday’s starter. But it seems a trade is the only likely way to plug it for sure. I’ll also add that a key part of keeping everyone left standing healthy is giving them, a little extra time once in a while. So having to keep the other 4 starters on 4 days rest without a break is not optimal towards achieving goal #1

3.) At least average run prevention from Archie Bradley and Yoshihisa Hirano.

Archie Has a 5.73 RA-9, & 5.33 ERA, but a 3.23 FIP. Yoshi Has a 5.33 RA-9, 4.62 ERA, but a 3.13 FIP. If either of them can somehow find the formula to match their peripherals, it will go a long way to stabilizing the bullpen and bridging to closer Greg Holland. I don’t really expect a lot of improvement from Matt Andriese, Zack Godley, or TJ McFarland, although each of them has a FIP significantly lower than their ERA. That’s offset by Yoan Lopez and to a lesser degree Andrew Chafin, who enjoy ERA lower than their FIP. Assuming all things balance out in the end, the key is Archie and Yoshi getting back to form. We can debate till the cows come home whether or not that will happen, or how it will happen, but it must happen if this team is going to get to 86 wins and improve on their 11-16 one run game record.

4.) Start winning more at home. This has been a hot topic lately, and nobody seems to be able to figure out why the team has struggled to win at home.

They are 14-17 at home, despite a positive run differential of 135-130

They are 24-19 on road, enjoying a positive run differential of 250-204

With 50 of their remaining 88 games at home, and one of the softer schedules in the league in terms of strength of opponent, the DBacks need to turn around their home W-L record. Just don’t ask me how exactly. Perhaps however the DBacks should look into strategies at home that might play better for less homerun dependent offense. Their HR% at home is just 3.0% while their road HR% is 4.4%. The humidor is most likely a factor here, as the Chase Field HR Park Factor is one of the lowest in all of MLB this year, (ranked 23rd) after ranking just 19thlast year. So fewer homers at home is not solely a personnel issue. It’s likely the humidor. At the same time , as has been documented by me, due to the new slower turf at Chase, Batting avg on groundballs are way down, allowing for less hits. So perhaps a bit more small ball in their new pitcher friendly ballpark would make some sense. Bunting for base hits, bunting to beat shifts, running even more, since they are so good at it, (86% SB rate) etc.

5.) They can’t afford much regression to the offense. Their expected statistics still suggest they have been somewhat fortunate this year. xwOBA. .313 vs actual wOBA .332. But perhaps this is not a huge concern. Their NL rank is 5thin OPS+ (100) and 6th wRC+. (99), so not terribly out of line with the Runs per game rank of 3rd(5.20/G)

6.) Strong returns by both Jake Lamb, Wilmer Flores & Alex Avila. All of these players are capable of posting between 100-110 OPS+ in a platoon or part time role. As none are “plus” defenders, they will need to perform at those batting levels to not only fill out the bench, but buttress any potential regression to some of the starters who have been exceeding their projections and expected statistics by quite a bit.

SUMMARY

Going 48-40 is not an impossible task. Obviously there are a lot of things that need to go right. But when you break it down piecemeal like this, it feels at least somewhat more doable. At the end of the day, whether it’s cleaning your house, tackling a big project at work, or trying to have a successful season as a major league baseball club, you have to break things down into pieces and tackle them each one at a time. You need a plan. You need discipline. And in the case of sports, you need some breaks to go your way too. Lets hope the DBacks have the plan and get the breaks. I often reference the difference between Hope and Belief. Personally, I struggle with belief much of the time, mostly due to my analytic approach. But I still have hope.

Do you ?

Poll

Hope and Belief

This poll is closed

  • 25%
    I have both Hope and Belief
    (30 votes)
  • 57%
    I have Hope, but not Belief
    (68 votes)
  • 17%
    I have neither Hope OR Belief
    (21 votes)
119 votes total Vote Now