## 2024 Diamondbacks Key to Success: Less Chaos?

Photo by Chris Coduto/MLB Photos via Getty Images

The one word most commonly associated with the 2023 Diamondbacks run through the National League playoffs was "chaos". Our small-ball style of play predicated on ‘get him on, get him over, get him home’ was an undoubtedly fun brand of ball to root for, especially when our David was able to fell the more traditional, dinger-powered Goliaths like the Dodgers and Phillies. While we ultimately fell short of the supreme goal last year, the season seemed like proof positive that a small ball offense inclined to take advantage of the new rule changes in MLB could compete with the bombers of the league. Or was it?

The idea for this post came from some digging I did shortly after the season when I was thinking about Alek Thomas’ and Gabriel Moreno’s performance in October. It seemed like they were hitting for power far above what they did over the course of the regular season. The increase in power from those two in particular seemed to headline a power surge in general from the team during our playoff run. Without looking at numbers, it certainly seemed like this team built on small ball chaos was winning series’ in the playoffs with the long ball.

For context, here are some numbers from the 2023 regular season, and then I’ll compare that to our successful playoff run.

 HR R R/HR Top-10 219 778 4.15 DBacks 166 (22nd) 746 (15th) 4.49 (3rd) MLB Avg 196 748 3.82 Playoff% 70% 80% 30%

The object of baseball is to score more runs than your opponent, and the most highly correlated method to scoring runs is the home run. If you’re into math, the ‘r-squared’ correlation from team HR to R was a fairly reliable .76 in 2023. The above table shows how the DBacks ranked in HR, R, and how efficient we were at scoring runs without the long ball. The ‘Top-10’ row shows the stats for the 10th best team in baseball at the given metric. The ‘Playoff%’ row at the bottom of the table gives the percentage of teams in the top-10 of the given metric that made the playoffs. Unsurprisingly, runs scored correlated strongly to making the playoffs, and home runs was close behind.

The top three teams in home runs (ATL, LAD, TEX) were also the top 3 teams in run scoring (TB and HOU, who rounded out the top 5 in homers were 6th and 7th in runs scored). Run scoring efficiency (R/HR), which the DBacks were extremely good at, was an awful indicator of overall team success. However, that efficiency showed the DBacks were very good at leaning into their offensive strengths (speed and contact) to minimize their weakness (power). This was evidenced by the fact that they were the only team in baseball that was top-5 in stolen bases, stolen base success rate, and sacrifices (the DBacks led the league in total sacrifices with 86, the next closest team finished with 74).

Another indicator of the home run’s correlation to success was how the playoff-Diamondbacks relied on hitting the long ball for wins. In games that Arizona hit at least as many homers as their opponent, they had a record of 9-0. In games that they hit less homers, they were 1-7. In just over half of playoff games, the Dbacks were able to keep pace with, if not out-homer, a couple of the most potent home run hitting lineups in baseball. The fact that they never lost a game that they were even with their opponent in the home run tally is proof that their small ball chaos was still effective, but that ability was supercharged by their newfound ability to put the ball in the seats at a high rate.

During the 2023 regular season, our offense averaged 1.02 HR/G, but during the postseason, that number jumped to 1.23. That pace would have resulted in 199 HR during the regular season, good for 14th in the majors. Our HR/G through the first three playoff series that we won was 1.5, a 162-game pace of 243 which would have been third best in baseball! I think I can comfortably say the numbers back up the hypothesis that our small ball loving Snakes found the long ball at the perfect time, and that should be considered a prime reason for their run to the World Series.

Now, turning the page to 2024, Mike Hazen had to decide how to go about constructing the roster to defend the National League pennant. Building on our strengths of contact and base running would certainly have been defensible. After all, building a team that can slug at the top of league rankings can get expensive; not the best idea for a team with a somewhat limited payroll capacity. It seems silly to try and beat the Dodgers and Rangers at their own game, they can just outbid us for the very best home run hitters. On the other hand, the most proven way to success in this league, and anecdotally how the Diamondbacks found their greatest success in 2023, is to hit the long ball. Looking at the marquee additions to our 2024 offense, it certainly seems like Hazen has decided to add some thump instead of doubling down on speed.

In 2024, Eugenio Suarez will get the lion’s share of plate appearances that last year went to Josh Rojas, Emmanuel Rivera, and Evan Longoria. The latter trio accounted for over 730 plate appearances, but only hit 15 home runs. Suarez had nearly as many plate appearances as that trio (694) and hit 22 home runs. Not an earth-shattering amount more, but still more. Joc Pederson will be replacing Tommy Pham and Pavin Smith’s plate appearances. That duo combined for 445 plate appearances and hit 13 home runs. Pederson hit 15 home runs in 425 trips to the plate. Again not a huge increase, but an increase all the same. I should also note that Joc is moving from a lefty-killer park in San Francisco (25th per Statcast LHB Park Factors) to Chase Field where lefties aren’t as penalized (13th). Likewise, Geno Suarez is moving from the marine layer in Seattle (30th RHB Park Factors) to the friendlier confines of the desert air (15th) and should see a little bit of a bump to his production.

We should always take projections for what they are, guesses of the median output of a given player in the coming year. That said, 2024 looks to be a slightly better year for the long ball in Arizona. Per Fangraphs' Depth Charts projections, the DBacks are expected to hit 182 bombs next season, an increase of 16 on 2023's total. The newest DBacks are expected to hit 42 combined homers (22 for Geno and 20 for Joc).

Those extra 16 home runs over the course of 162 games, don’t add up to much by themselves, but that's not the whole story, either. As we saw last October, the playoffs are won in moments. The more players in your lineup capable of rising to the occasion and seizing that moment, the better your odds of ultimate success. Our playoff lineup (should we be able to make it in) will have 6 of the 9 hitters with 20+ homer pop, and that doesn't include Alek Thomas or Gabi Moreno who should find themselves in the mid-teens for home runs this season and have already established a flair for the dramatic. I'd say it's reasonable to project that 1-8 in our playoff order will be capable of parking one over the wall at any given time, an exciting thought when we still have most of our speed from last year!

Suarez and Pederson aren’t replacing any player who really added to the DBacks vaunted running game. Longoria/Rivera/Rojas/Smith combined for only 8 stolen bases (surprisingly, Tommy Pham stole 11 bases in Sedona Red). The little bit of extra pop without sacrificing much of the team speed that made this club so efficient in scoring runs should be a best-of-both-worlds outcome.

I loved the chaos of 2023, but Hazen was smart not to rely on it for 2024. He’s trying to thread the needle by keeping the most of the team speed that made us dangerous while adding some slug to provide that extra juice we so heavily relied on last October. Expecting a HR/G pace like our first three rounds of the playoffs isn’t likely, but any sort of meaningful bump up from our 2023 regular season would be a boon to our run scoring and, by correlation, our playoff chances. Small ball put us on the map, but I believe the long ball is what we will need to get us to the mountaintop.