Team Profile – Arizona Diamondbacks
In his first year as manager of the N.L. West underdogs, Kirk Gibson took the Diamondbacks to the NLDS. They ultimately lost to the Milwaukee Brewers, but it was a season of miraculous change, as Arizona went from last in the division to first. Kirk Gibson won N.L. Manager of the Year, and the Diamondbacks were contenders once again. After such a strong 2011, there was wild speculation as to whether or not they could repeat, especially given that most of that winning club remained intact, and those who may have left were given new deals to stay. But, after a rocky start to 2012, Arizona finds itself a remarkable eight games behind the first-place Los Angeles Dodgers. Can the D-backs repeat this year? Or is the magic from a year ago gone?
Despite lackluster win-loss records, the Arizona starting rotation is doing a remarkable job this season. It’s just another indication of how wins and losses are actually poor indicators of how a pitcher is truly performing. It’s more an indication of the performance of the offense. So the fact that Trevor Cahill is 3-5 and Ian Kennedy is 4-5 can be ignored right now. The more telling statistic for a pitcher, in my opinion, is the WHIP (walks and hits per inning pitched). This stat aggregates the amount of damage that a pitcher it taking on average in each inning. It provides a good baseline for how effective a pitcher is being every time he goes out there on defense.
For the Arizona starting rotation, that WHIP is quite low. The worst individual to get a chance at starting this season is Josh Collmenter, and his WHIP is 1.64. That means in his four starts, Collmenter was only giving up some sort of combination of two hits and/or walks. It’s not the type of clean 1-2-3 inning that all pitchers hope for, but it’s certainly not bad. Any pitcher worth his salt can pitch around a little trouble like that without any damage being done. Unfortunately for Collmenter, with an ERA of 9.82 in his four starts, those walks and hits must have either been bunched up for a lot of runs in a few particular innings, or the hits he did give up were mostly of the extra-base variety, resulting in some runs scored.
As for the rest of the starting rotation, Daniel Hudson has a 1.35 WHIP, Ian Kennedy is at 1.32, Joe Saunders at 1.30, and Trevor Cahill is at 1.28. The current leader in that stat and winningest pitcher on the team right now (Wade Miley) is at 1.18, which isn’t a whole lot better than the other members of the starting five. What this tells us is that any damage that resulted in Hudson’s 4.65 ERA or Kennedy’s 4.26 ERA must have come in bunches or early in the season, driving up the number before anyone had the chance to settle in and find the appropriate form.
Can pitchers be considered part of a team’s offense? I guess that depends on whether you prefer American League or National League rules better. In the case of the Diamondbacks, a pitcher is currently accounting for highest average on the team. Wade Miley seems like he can do no wrong right now. Not only are his numbers as a pitcher fantastic, but he’s also hitting .429 right now. When you only get two or three at-bats every five days, that’s a pretty good way to start the season. But let’s move on from the pitchers and talk about the meat of the lineup. Or meatheads, depending on your view of professional sports players (or just your view of Jason Kubel). Lyle Overbay and John McDonald currently lead the Diamondbacks in regular offense, with a .345 and .290 average, respectively. The only problem with these two is that they’ve each only played in half the games so far this season, which could mean that as they get more plate appearances, those averages could continue to drop. Luckily guys like Willie Bloomquist, Jason Kubel, and Paul Goldschmidt are hitting well above .270, giving the D-backs a little bit of offensive regularity. The Diamondbacks seem to have a lot of guys who are hitting for average or above average right now, yet they’re currently well behind the Dodgers. Why is that?
The real problem for this offense seems to be that there isn’t a true power threat anywhere in the lineup. There’s a lot to be said for a team that can hit two or three doubles in one inning to drive in a few runs and wear down a pitcher. But when your best power hitter is Goldschmidt with six home runs, it’s not hard to pitch around him and work on hitters doing a little worse. But overall, this offense is really performing well for a team built in large part around playing small ball at the plate and exceptional defense in the field.
Like the rest of the team, the Diamondbacks’ bullpen has been pretty solid through the first third of the season. Brad Ziegler, Craig Breslow, and Josh Collmenter all have ERAs close to 2.00, with WHIPs well below 1.50. Even J.J. Putz (the Arizona closer) is 12/15 in save opportunities. His ERA is a little elevated, but he’s doing admirably as a closer this season. There is no reason to believe that this team shouldn’t be near the top of its division. So what is going on here?
Keys to Success
It would appear that the only reason the Diamondbacks aren’t near the top of the N.L. West right now is because of the schedule they’ve played thus far. From the look of things other than one or maybe two series so far, Arizona has been winning series they’re supposed to be winning, and losing series against teams that are doing significantly better right now. In other words, the Diamondbacks just got a bad draw through the first two months of the season that’s left them under .500 and six games back from the Dodgers. The only problem is that the Dodgers have been on a tear so far, and have basically left the rest of the division in their dust before the season has truly gotten underway. Which means Arizona is going to be playing catch up for the foreseeable future. If the team wants to catch up, they need to continue to beat the teams they should be beating, and hope they can put it together against teams that are a little better. I guess the only thing to do is to keep plugging away, and hope that a little luck later on will come their way.
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