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Diamondbacks Game Preview #131: 9/2 vs. Brewers

What has powered the D-backs resurgence this season?

Arizona Diamondbacks v San Francisco Giants Photo by Lachlan Cunningham/Getty Images

Today's Lineups

Kolten Wong - 2B Carson Kelly - C
Willy Adames - SS Josh Rojas - 3B
Rowdy Tellez - 1B Ketel Marte - 2B
Hunter Renfroe - RF Christian Walker - 1B
Andrew McCutchen - LF Emmanuel Rivera - DH
Jace Peterson - 3B Jake McCarthy - CF
Keston Hiura - DH Stone Garrett - LF
Omar Narvaez - C Corbin Carroll - RF
Garrett Mitchell - CF Wilmer Difo - SS
Eric Lauer - LHP Zach Davies - RHP

The D-backs come into tonight’s game on pace for 77 wins, a 25-game improvement over where they finished last season, in 52-110. Whether they will get there or not, depends on their play over the final month. The schedule is not easy, but the way they’ve played over the last week, going 6-1 against teams with (more or less meaningful) post-season aspirations. is certainly reason for hope. It’s especially remarkable, since there weren’t very many acquisitions over the winter. Zach Davies was likely the best external piece to arrive: Ian Kennedy and, especially, Mark Melancon, have not apparently moved the needle up very much. So how did we get here? There are a few factors.

Being better in one-run games

The D-backs have been no great shakes in one-run games, going 16-22. But that’s still a huge improvement on last year’s mark of 10-31. If Arizona had reproduced that winning percentage this season, it would equate to a record of 9-29, so that’s seven games the team has improved there already - that extrapolates to close to nine wins over the full schedule. This was a big factor in why the 2021 D-backs’ Pythagorean mark was a whopping nine games better. In terms of runs scored and allowed, this was “only” a 101-loss team, rather than 110. This year’s version is much closer, just one win below the expected mark of 63-67.

Slightly better pitching

Last year, the D-backs were 9.1 wins below the National League average for their pitching staff. That number has improved a little, though we are still on pace to be 5.4 wins below average. The improvement is slightly more due to the starting pitching, which has gone from -0.6 to a pace of +1.7. This is hugely front-loaded, due to the efforts of Zac Gallen and Merrill Kelly. Combined, they have been worth 8.7 bWAR so far: every other pitcher on the roster combined is 2.1 wins below replacement [By themselves, Melancon and Dallas Keuchel together are -2.0] The bullpen is projecting to be somewhat less sucky - going from atrocious to poor if you prefer - ticking up from -9.1 to -7.1.

Far better defense

Almost regardless of the metric, the Diamondbacks have improved massively with the glove this season. Using Fangraph’s “Def” metric, for example, they have gone from -12.5 runs last year, to be on pace for +35.3 runs this year. That’s close to a five-win improvement. DRS has an even larger gain for Arizona, from -37 to an expected figure by the end of the season of +40. Interestingly, this doesn’t show up quite as well in pure errors. While the D-backs are better there too, they will still likely end up with a tally in the nineties, after committing a round hundred in 2021. This tends to suggest the improvement is a result of better range, i.e. the defense simply getting to more balls.

Better hitting... at some positions

All told, the D-backs are six points up on last year’s OPS, going from .692 to .698, so less than a one percent increase in that figure (and that’s with the DH replacing the pitcher’s spot in the batting order). However, this conceals some wide variations around the diamond. Here is a breakdown by position, with the OPS at each, and the point difference in brackets afterward.

  • C: .730 vs. .632 (-98)
  • 1B: .697 vs. .808 (+111)
  • 2B: .756 vs. .727 (-29)
  • SS: .626 vs. .588 (-38)
  • 3B: .706 vs. .714 (+8)
  • LF: .701 vs. .791 (+90)
  • CF: .731 vs. .721 (-10)
  • RF: .737 vs. .634 (-103)

You can see that 1B and LF have improved most, while C and RF have dropped by the largest amounts. The catcher’s spot seems to be taking care of itself, with Carson Kelly’s rebound. I was surprised about RF being such a big loser in 2022, but it was severely buoyed last year by Josh Rojas’s OPS over a thousand in 35 games there.