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What does a playoff team look like?

Comparing all postseason teams since 2012 with the 2019 D-backs

Divisional Series - Los Angeles Dodgers v Arizona Diamondbacks - Game Three Photo by Sarah Sachs/Arizona Diamondbacks/Getty Images

If it hasn’t already been said enough, the next week will have even more “should the Diamondbacks buy or sell?” conversations. Let’s keep the party going and churn out one more. I put together data that compares what a playoff team has historically looked like versus what the 2019 Diamondbacks have accomplished so far. Looking at three main categories: batting, pitching, and fielding, I pulled key metrics for all the playoff teams from 2012 to 2018 and averaged them. I chose 2012 as a starting point since that’s when the wildcard era began. I also averaged the World Series winners stats during that span. All of the data inputs are here* if you feel like staring at numbers, there’s some interesting stuff there, otherwise scroll down for a summary.

*stats are as of July 20th

Where the Diamondbacks are EXCEEDING expectations: Fielding

2012 - 2018 DRS Pitch Framing UZR
Playoff Teams Average 23.2 12.2 7.6
World Series Winners Average 17.3 22.8 10.3
2019 D-backs 77 11.6 18.5

The Diamondbacks continue to outperform with the glove. After leading the league in defensive runs saved (DRS) last season, they are second and third best in defensive runs saved and ultimate zone rating (UZR) respectively this season. They are well above the playoff team average and will most likely surpass the highest World Series winner, the 2016 Cubs, at 107. Pitch framing is more or less average (higher number is better) and they are on pace with playoff team averages but are way behind World Series champions, particularly the 2018 Red Sox (47.8), 2016 Cubs (31.9), and 2012 Giants (41.8). However, there is no pattern to success here. For example, the average DRS among playoff teams in 2013 was 0.2. The average pitch framing rating among playoff teams in 2014 was -1.8. The 2013 Red Sox won the world series with -55 DRS, -8.5 pitch framing, and -15.4 UZR. It seems like good defense might make a mediocre team look better than they are, while a great team with subpar defense is probably still a really good team. No matter how you break it down, this is the strongest aspect of the Diamondbacks game so far in 2019.

Where the Diamondbacks are (sort of) MEETING expectations: Batting

2012-2018 BB% K% AVG OBP SLG OPS wOBA wRC+ WAR Clutch
Playoffs Teams Average 8.5% 20.3% .258 .327 .420 .748 .324 103 25.7 -0.85
World Series Winners Average 8.2% 19.0% .268 .334 .429 .763 .330 107 31.0 1.89
2019 D-backs 7.9% 21.4% .260 .326 .451 .776 .326 97 16.5 -4.0

The offense in 2019 needs to improve to make the playoffs but they are within range of what the average playoff teams are hitting. However, this year is very wacky. Despite slugging and OPS rates being above the playoff average, they are closer to the middle of the pack this season. Slugging has seen a considerable increase since 2016 and this year looks like it will reach new highs. In 2014, the average slugging percentage of playoff teams was .397. In 2019 the Twins have almost 100 points more, a .494 slugging percentage, and they lead the division by only three games. The Diamondbacks are within striking distance though; they are 6th in WAR and they are staying competitive hovering around league average or slightly above for most of the categories. While many will see the -4 clutch stat (Clutch measures success in high leverage situations) and point at that failure as a potential scapegoat for this season, consider that the Dodgers entered the postseason last year with a -8.97 clutch rating. They also lost so HAHA stupid Dodgers. The World Series winner averages much better so it does appear to be an indicator of a championship team, although not always a necessity (2016 WS winner had a -3.62 rating)

Where the Diamondbacks are NOT MEETING expectations: Pitching

2012-2018 ERA xFIP WHIP BABIP K/9 BB/9 HR/9 LOB% WAR Clutch Starter-IP% Relief-IP% Meltdowns SV BS BS%
Playoff Teams Average 3.66 3.84 1.24 .290 8.30 2.91 0.98 74.5% 18.2 1.94 65.4% 34.6% 68 46 18 40.2%
World Series Winners Average 3.68 3.87 1.24 .286 8.40 3.03 0.99 74.7% 15.0 2.65 65.4% 34.6% 69 45 19 43.1%
2019 D-backs 4.23 4.38 1.28 .292 8.63 3.13 1.23 73.0% 10.0 -1.6 60.7% 39.2% 48 22 11 50%

Doing this research has alerted me to just how much the game has changed since 2012. Look at the usage of starters and relievers for example. The average starter usage of playoff teams since 2012 is 65.4% but that number is consistently and rapidly decreasing - 65.1% in 2016, 63.4% in 2017, 61.6% in 2018, and the average so far in 2019 is around 60%. That is a drastic change from the 67.3% in 2012. (all of this data is in the link at the beginning of the article!) The higher usage of relievers is likely a contributor to the increase in blown saves, up from 32.5% in 2012 to 45.6% in 2018. These are PLAYOFF teams. Crazy shift in the way the game is being played in just a few years. The other stats speak for themselves; the Diamondbacks need to pitch a lot better to get closer to what playoff teams have historically done in the past. Remember that crazy clutch stat for the Dodgers last year? How about the fact that they blew 54.2% of saves in the same season? Easily the highest of any of the 2018 playoff teams, yet they made it to the World series anyway. The Red Sox were a full 10 points better at 43.5%.

Overall, the Diamondbacks are not far behind from what a playoff team usually looks like but they have plenty of ground to make up. There is obviously no guarantee that the D-backs will make the postseason even if they meet those playoff averages but it’s a good first step. Does this help determine whether or not the Diamondbacks should buy or sell? Probably not...

It was only a few days ago that the Fan Pulse feedback made it very clear that there was almost no interest in buying at the deadline.

Is that still the case? The D-backs are a .500 team right now, 2.5 games out of the wildcard spot, but they have the third best run differential in the league and they continue to outperform defensively along with a solid overall offense. Do the Diamondbacks look like a playoff team to you?