The first half of the season has been full of drama. From breakouts and All-Stars to busts and injuries, the 2013 season has had it all thus far. In fact, it’s hard to believe that a first place team could cause so much trouble. Have you seen a Diamondbacks game lately? You absolutely never know what to expect. They could come out and work counts, hit some bombs and never look back. They could also waste a great start by the starting pitcher, then blow the save and turn a routine situation into a 14-inning marathon.
In one sense, it’s made the season incredibly interesting to watch. Then again, I think I’ve developed an ulcer and I’m pretty sure Kirk Gibson hasn’t slept in a few months. And who could blame him? I’m a relatively cool guy, but the number of f-bombs dropped this season is out of control. DBacks fans might lead the league in wFBombs+, a new stat that measures the level of frustration for a fan base.
Let’s take a closer look. We can celebrate The Good (Goldschmidt, Corbin), recognize The Bad (Grittygate) and commiserate over The Ugly (bullpen, starters, slumps, injuries). It should be fun!
At a Glance
Overall Record: 48-44 (5th in NL, 1st in NL West)
Record v. Teams Over .500: 20-20 (.500)
Record v. Teams Under .500: 28-24 (.538)
Runs For/Against: 390/381 (+9)
Runs scored per game: 4.25 ( 5th in NL, 2nd in NL West)
Runs allowed per game: 4.13 (7th in NL, 2nd in NL West)
Batter WAR: 10.9 (8th in NL, 3rd in NL West)
Pitcher WAR: 7.7 (7th in NL, 2nd in NL West)
Batter wRC+: 89 (13th in NL, 5th in NL West)
Starter FIP: 4.10 (9th in NL, 2nd in NL West)
Reliever FIP: 3.87 (11th in NL, 4th in NL West)
Batter MVP: Paul Goldschmidt, 1B
Pitcher MVP: Patrick Corbin, LHP
What it Means
Well, no surprises here. Arizona’s punchless offense (89 wRC+, 100 is league average) is not producing, the starting pitching is only average at best (9th in NL) and the bullpen is killing any chance of holding onto leads (4th in NL West). Raise your hand if you couldn’t figure any of that out on your own. Like I figured, you already knew this.
The real surprise is the emergence of Patrick Corbin over his first 18 starts of the year. His 2.40 ERA is a tad flukey, but his FIP (3.29) still has him as one of the best starters in the league. He’s only 23 years old and just in his second season, so the future is very, very bright. Corbin’s K/BB ratio is solid and when his slider is on, batters might as well concede their AB’s. In a year that has been very tough to watch at times, Patrick has been a real treat to see take the mound.
Gerardo Parra is off to a very nice start despite his recent skid. He has filled in admirably for the oft-injured Adam Eaton by being a productive player at the top of the order and continuing to play excellent defense. His .347 OBP and .427 SLG are above what we had expected from him and it’s always nice when he starts the game with one of his signature leadoff home runs.
Paul Goldschmidt has also elevated his game, which has not gone unnoticed. He’s the real gem of the team and is an All-Star for a reason. Paul does everything well: he’s mashing at the plate (157 wRC+), plays underrated defense at first base and is an outstanding baserunner for a first baseman. Goldy is a character guy who the front office can safely market as the face of the franchise for years to come as he’s only 25. There just aren’t enough nice things to say about the guy.
Not the typical candidate for the “The Good” category, Josh Collmenter has been brilliant as the long man out of the bullpen. He’s been the saving grace countless times as the DBacks have gone to extra innings regularly, usually after blowing a save (see, The Ugly). It’s a thankless job, but Collmenter has been doing doing it well by keeping his team in games and out performing the the opposing bullpen all on his own.
Deserving a nod here is AJ Pollock. Thought to be nothing more than a bench player or AAA afterthought, Pollock has helped fill the outfield void created by the disabled trio of Eaton, Kubel and Ross. His playing time has shrunk, but he was a true catalyst for the team’s hot start. His defense was great in center and he didn’t embarrass himself with the bat. That’s really all anyone could have hoped for and he did it and more.
Didi Gregorius has more than held his own since arriving during the Yankees series. While the bat has finally slowed after his scorching start (he couldn’t hit .440 forever), he’s still playing outstanding defense at the toughest position on the diamond and getting his share of knocks. Perhaps most encouraging is his growth in understanding the strike zone, which was his bugaboo as a prospect.
Before his injury, Eric Chavez was the only offensive compliment to Paul Goldschmidt. He was mashing despite his age and frail nature. An injury was bound to happen and he was sidelined for several weeks. His pop was a pleasant surprise and his isolated slugging is second only to Goldy. Chavez is healthy once again and Arizona is going to need big things from him in the second half.
The use of the word “gritty” to explain Kirk Gibson’s player preference has been the butt of so many jokes it isn’t even funny. Twitter has been full of “gritty this” and “gritty that” to the point that it’s really become annoying. Perhaps the worst part of the whole thing is that several supposed “gritty” players have been anything but in their 2013 performances to date. I hope the front office learned a lesson and will let players define themselves down the road.
The bullpen has to take the cake on this one and I suppose it’s not even close. While no one was expected to be Mariano Rivera, the reality is that the back end of the pen has performed so poorly that it’s cost the team at least a half dozen wins, maybe more. JJ Putz, Heath Bell and David Hernandez have combined for -0.8 WAR and have been absolutely lit up at inopportune times. It would be nice to believe that it’s simply been a matter of bad luck, but unfortunately the FIP numbers are as bad or worse than the ERA’s of these guys. The inability to locate when needed has been tough to swallow as a few pitches up in the zone have been the difference between winning and losing. Too many fly balls have turned into too many home runs. Watching the last few innings of a tight game has become a truly painful experience.
Not far behind the bullpen is the once “core” of the rotation. Ian Kennedy, Trevor Cahill and Brandon McCarthy were supposed to be the guys that we could count on, night in and night out. Instead, Kennedy has been awful, Cahill is hiding on the DL to try to fix whatever is wrong with his delivery and McCarthy got rocked early on before getting hurt. This is not what the team was thinking before the season started and it’s been truly detrimental as the load has been squarely transferred to young guys like Corbin, Miley and whoever is in the rotation at the moment. Worse yet is that the poor pitching performances by starters has put additional pressure on the bullpen, which is like adding fuel to a fire that you were trying to put out.
A trio of hitters that was also considered keys to the season has been underperforming all season long. Jason Kubel has been a huge disappointment (83 wRC+), Martin Prado has not done what was expected at the plate (81 wRC+) and Miguel Montero‘s struggles have been brutal (68 2RC+). Kubel is simply a platoon player now who is only playable against righties but his defense negates everything his bat has provided. Prado’s been useful around the diamond as advertised, which has been helpful given some injuries, but the bat just isn’t doing any damage. He isn’t driving the ball and his slugging percentage is actually worse than Didi’s. Ouch. Montero is in the lineup for his leadership and defense, but his bat is really hurting the team. His season-long funk has been well-documented but at least he’s still taking his walks and hopefully he gets it ironed out. These three were thought to be part of a potentially potent lineup but have instead served as an anchor.
Injuries bite every team but the Diamondbacks have had more than their share thus far. They’ve been without Eaton, Ross and Kubel in the outfield, Hill and Bloomquist in the infield and they’ve seen Putz and McCarthy hurt on the mound. We’ve just seen Eaton back and he appears to be on track to be a productive player. Ross and Kubel are back to being everyday guys, one of which is useful (hint: it’s not Kubel). Bloomquist isn’t the biggest loss, but he’s someone who allows Gibson lineup flexibility. Hill’s injury has been much more troubling as it not only put him out of the lineup but also forced a very ineffective Cliff Pennington into the lineup everyday, costing the team an uncountable number of runs. Putz and his elbow should be very scary to anyone keeping track and it’s hard to imagine him coming back in any useful kind of way. McCarthy is recovering from a shoulder issue and should be back soon, but just how effective he’ll be is anyone’s guess. The depth of this team has been tested and unfortunately has been uninspiring.
When It All Adds Up
Somehow, the DBacks are still in first place in the division. At first, it appeared that the division was very competitive and balanced but it might just be that it’s a division full of mediocre teams. Fortunately for Arizona, that means that the division is ripe for the taking. The team is in a great position after the first half to capitalize. Will they do it? You’ll have to read the second half preview piece in a couple of days to find out!