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Is it beginning to look like 2020 for the Diamondbacks?

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A bad slump around the 30-game mark? We’ve certainly been here before.

Philadelphia Phillies v New York Yankees, Game 2 Photo by Jed Jacobsohn/Getty Images

On May 2 this year, the Diamondbacks completed a series win over the Rockies with an 8-4 victory, and improved their record to 15-13. Things looked surprisingly decent, with the team having done a good job of handling a slew of injuries. But since then? Arizona had managed only three wins in fifteen games, with the offense struggling, the rotation breaking down and the bullpen... Well, that resembles a three-hour trip on Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride, with a screaming child seated immediate behind you. Facing Clayton Kershaw and Trevor Bauer over the next two nights, with the D-backs sending up Toby Announced at the time of writing, it feels like things are probably going to get worse before they get better.

SnakePitters with any memory will remember a not dissimilar slump in 2020, which also began after a promising start. Those D-backs began the year 13-11, and went 2-13 over their next fifteen games, part of a streak where they lost eighteen of twenty. From what I recall, offensive woes seemed to play a large part in that implosion as well. But I thought it might be interesting - in a “let’s poke at the dead thing with a stick” kind of way - to crunch the numbers and see what’s the same, and what is different, between the two spells spent dangling on the Tree of Woe. All numbers are for the 15-game period from each season, after the two games over .500 high-water mark was reached.

Hitting

  • 2020: 545 PA, 41 R, 11 HR, .191/.272/.313 = .585 OPS
  • 2021: 550 PA, 46 R, 8 HR, .214/.287/.322 = .609 OPS

Advantage this year, though the figures for 2021 are skewed. Two games - the 11-3 win over Miami and the 11-4 victory against Washington - were responsible for almost half of all the runs scored this year. The team didn’t score over seven in a game during last season’s streak, so that pair of blowouts represent the difference in the total - and more. The similarities become striking, when you sort each in increasing number of runs scored:

  • 2020: 1, 1, 1, 1, 1, 1, 2, 2, 2, 2, 3, 4, 6, 7, 7
  • 2021: 0, 0, 1, 1, 1, 1, 2, 2, 2, 2, 3, 4, 5, 11, 11

In both cases, the offensive malaise was widespread, with only a couple of players producing at a good level. Last year, over those fifteen games, Christian Walker and Ketel Marte were the only hitters (> 15 PA) with an OPS above .660. Walker hit ..291 with four HR, and had 12 of the team’s 40 RBI. Marte batted .291, with half his hits going for extra bases. This year, there were three above a .660 OPS - but two of those (Asdrubal Cabrera and Carson Kelly) are currently on the injured list. The other is Josh Rojas, who has hit .340 in that span, with an OPS of .877. Everyone else has been sub-mediocre. Daulton Varsho, Tim Locastro and Josh VanMeter all have a sub-.400 OPS, and Eduardo Escobar is below .500.

The big difference between the two years is health. While both teams used 16 position players over the span of games in question, if you look at the 2020 stats, the top eight by at-bats are exactly the position players you would expect, and are responsible for over three-quarters (77.3%) of the total at-bats. The similar top eight by at-bats in 2021 include Pavin Smith, Rojas, Locastro and Varsho, who “should” be bench players in an ideal and fully healthy Diamondbacks world. They’re also responsible for 70.7% of the ABs, indicating a greater reliance than last year on the players even further down the depth chart. Doesn’t help that the two busiest, Smith and Escobar, have OPSs of .587 and .466 respectively.

Pitching

  • 2020: 128.1 IP, 130 H, 74 R, 67 ER, 68 BB. 135 SO, 19 HR, 4.70 ERA
  • 2021: 128.1 IP 138 H, 82 R, 72 ER. 55 BB, 115 SO, 19 HR, 5.05 ERA

The pitching has been slightly worse than it was last year, but again, that is exacerbated by the presence of a couple of rough blowouts. None more so, of course, than the 17-2 drubbing by the Washington Nationals last Friday night. As with the offense, let’s sort the runs allowed in order and see what that shows.

  • 2020: 3, 3, 4, 4, 4, 5, 5, 5, 5, 5, 5, 6, 6, 6, 8
  • 2021: 2, 3, 3, 3, 3, 3, 4, 4, 4, 5, 5, 8, 9, 9, 17

Last year was remarkably consistent during, allowing between three and six runs in every game bar one. This year, the Diamondbacks were outside of that band in one-third of the contests. But you can see the Nats game is responsible for the difference in runs allowed, between this season and last. The starting pitching has been a bit better this season, with five quality starts compared to three in 2020. On the other hand, there have been six outings where the starter was unable to qualify for a decision, working fewer than five innings. Last season had five of those. Stability has also been harder to find: Arizona has used eight different starters over the last 15 games, two more than 2020.

In both case, however, it has been the bullpen which has particularly struggled. Here are the starter/reliever splits over the 15 games:

  • 2020: Starter ERA, 4.01; Reliever ERA, 5.63
  • 2021: Starter ERA, 4.26; Reliever ERA, 6.19

In terms of appearances, the numbers are similar: 52 last year vs. 51 this. Last season, 31 did not allow an earned run; 12 allowed one earned run; 9 gave up more than one. But while the equivalent numbers in 2021 show the same number of zero earned run outings, there have been a disastrous 12 multi-earned run appearances by the bullpen. Six times in Arizona’s last fifteen games, a reliever has allowed three or more earned runs. At the risk of stating the obvious, that is not a recipe for success. Though of the dozen multi-run appearances, there were just two losses and a blown save resulting directly from them. Aggravating as they were, it’s hard to blame them for much of the recent poor results.

The future

As mentioned above, it feels likely that we are not out of the woods yet. I don’t feel very optimistic about the next couple of games in Los Angeles, and can quite easily see Arizona going to Colorado, losers of 14 in 17. Games in Coors are always a bit of a crap-shoot, and we then face a further rough stretch of the schedule. Nine games in a row against teams currently leading their divisions (Giants, Cardinals and Mets), and fifteen against teams that are at or above .500 going into play today. The good news is, Ketel Marte should be back shortly, and if we can get some of our other wounded back, that can only help, on both sides of the ball. Never forget: the only way out of a bad stretch is to keep going...