As above, we previously looked to see where the 2020 Arizona hitters and relievers ranked in franchise history. The results were not pretty. For the final part of this unwanted investigation, we look at the rotation. Here, the numbers are not quite as bad as they’ve been. Small sample size, obviously, but the last three starts, from Madison Bumgarner, Luke Weaver and Zac Gallen, have allowed a total of four earned runs over 16.1 innings, for an ERA of 2.20. That’s as good a trio of starts as we’ve seen all season. But that falls far short of correcting the problems seen over the previous 51. Let’s look at some metrics which illustrate how bad the D-backs rotation has been this year.
The bluntest of blunt instruments is not a good metric of pitching performance, heavily dependent as it is on the accompanying offense. But in this case, it does reflect a problem. Arizona starters have only seven wins in 54 starts this year. Gallen’s victory in Houston snapped a streak of 18 consecutive games without a win for all our rotation, over which time they had a record of 0-9. The last time anyone apart from Zac won a game for our starters, was more than a full month ago: that was Luke Weaver, back on August 18. There have been 24 non-Gallen games since for Arizona, and the starter has been winless in all of them.
All told, Arizona has only seven wins for its starters: three for Merrill Kelly, two for Gallen, one apiece for Weaver and Robbie Ray. That projects to 21 wins over a regular-length season. No team in recorded baseball history has received so few wins from their starters. And that includes strike-shortened seasons such as 1981 and 1994. The previous worst were the 1961 Mets and 2019 Tigers, who each won 14.3% of their starts. The 2020 D-backs currently sit at 13.0%; their rotation need to get a victory in two out of the final six games to avoid breaking that record. Given they have won two of their last thirty, I’m not feeling particularly optimistic.
Included in those three recent good outings was a quality start from Gallen. But truth be told, it’d be even more of a shock if the D-backs had received a quality start from anyone else on the roster For just as Zac has been the only starter able to get a win of late, he is responsible for the last five QS by a Diamondback. The last non-Gallen one? That came all the way back in game #20, by Kelly. Here are the numbers of QSs for Arizona’s starting pitchers this year:
- Zac Gallen: 8
- Merrill Kelly: 4
- Everyone else combined: 0.
Yes, Madison Bumgarner etc. have given the D-backs precisely zero quality starts in 38 outings this year. That includes Luke Weaver, who is 0-for-11 by himself. [His closest effort was August 23 in San Francisco, where he fell one out short] Part of this is likely outside the D-backs direct influence. As we’ve mentioned before, despite the universal DH, starting pitchers are simply going shorter this year, averaging less than five innings (4.8 to be precise) for the first time ever. Quality Starts are down MLB-wide: they represent 29% of starts this year, a sharp drop from 37% last year. But the D-backs are well below even that reduced figure, at 22% - with Gallen responsible for two-thirds of those.
The recent improvement has, at least, got the D-backs’ rotation back above replacement level, albeit only barely, at 1.1 fWAR. Even if we pro-rate that to a 162-game season (and, conveniently, we just need to multiply by three, since we’re at 54 games currently!), reaching 3.3 fWAR, that would be easily the lowest tally in franchise history. The all-time worst was 6.3 fWAR in 2010, so this year has been a 2017 Patrick Corbin below that. Indeed, the projected 3.3 fWAR would rank the lowest in over a decade, and fourth-worst in the National League since the D-backs arrived in 1998. It’d be ahead of the 1998 Marlins and 2009 Brewers (both 2.8 fWAR) and the 2007 Nationals (0.7)
ERA and its derivatives
At 5.23, this would be the highest ERA ever posted by Arizona’s rotation. four points above the figure reached in 2016. Though oddly, in this bizarre-o year, there are seven teams with a worse starters’ ERA than us, going all the way up to Detroit at 6.29. [The one which stands out there is the Atlanta Braves. They are almost assured of winning the NL East, despite a rotation ERA of 5.74. Unless something very odd happens, they will have the highest such figure for any team ever reaching the playoffs. beating Texas’s 5.49 from 1999] However, the game is more offensive now: the NL is averaging 4.74 runs/game, compared to 4.44 in 2016. Taking that into account, 2010 is slightly worse [starters ERA- of 118 vs. 116]
ERA, however, is affected by defense. There are numbers such as FIP, which take that out of the equation by excluding the results of balls in play. Things look even uglier for the 2020 Diamondbacks’ rotation there. Before this season, the worst FIP was all the way back in Arizona’s inaugural season of 1998, when it was 4.70. This year? 5.41. The previous record-holder of 1998 is closer to the eighth-best season (2014, 4.00) than it is to this year. The 1999 Rockies (5.61) and 2007 Nationals (5.45) are the teams with a higher FIP since 1998 - though this year, the Pirates (5.50) look set to battle with the Diamondbacks for the crown over the last week. Hey, take your pennant races where you can find them, I say...
The highly-paid struggles of Bumgarner may have grabbed most of the headlines. But the truth is, outside of Gallen, bright spots for starting pitching on the 2020 Diamondbacks have been precious few and far between. While Kelly had his moments, his campaign was brought to an untimely end by injury, and he now sits in limbo with regard to whether or not he’ll be part of the team’s plans for 2021. As for the rest? Alex Young, Weaver, Bumgarner and Ray have combined for almost 60% of our games, going 2-20 over their 32 starts, with an ERA of 7.49.
If that’s not the worst rotation in franchise history, I’d like to hear about the alternatives.