Cleat Geeks

Snakes Alive; It Is More Than Hitting For The D-Backs

There’s something brewing out in the desert that is starting to turn heads. As record setting heat engulf’s the Valley of the Sun, the Arizona Diamondbacks are the only thing hotter than the consistent near 120 degree temps.

Through the first 76 games of the 2017 MLB season, the team from the desert whose led by 1st year manager Torey Lovullo, is having their best start to a season in franchise history by compiling a 48-28 record. As of the start of games on June 26th, the Diamondbacks winner’s of 9 of their last 10 games, are currently sporting the 3rd best winning percentage in the majors. Trailing only the MLB leading Houston Astros & division rival Los Angeles Dodgers, winner’s of the West every year since 2013. The Arizona Diamondbacks sit comfortably in one of the 2 National League Wild Card spots in large part to the consistency of something that their fans seemingly have seen less often than a white winter, good pitching.


At first glance, one might think that the Diamondbacks hitting has to be the main reason that they’re off to this record setting pace. It is no secret that Arizona plays half their games in one of the most hitter-ish ballparks in all of baseball, right next to Coors field in Colorado. So much so that on April 6th, Team President & CEO of the Diamondbacks Derrick Hall announced that they will be having a humidifier installed at Chase Field at some point during this season. The only other team to have installed a humidor at their stadium to house baseball’s is their inner division foe the Colorado Rockies. With all of that being said & the fact that the Diamondbacks do still rank in the top 10 in various offensive categories in MLB & potentially have 2 NL MVP candidates in their lineup in Paul Goldschmidt & left-handed, power-hitting 3rd baseman, Jake Lamb, the team’s home & away splits are too glaring to gloss over. Their triple slash line (avg/on-base%/on-base%+slugging%) at home is .293/.364/.886, compared to a .239/.305/.694 line on the road. They have compiled the best home record in baseball with a 28-10 record (they had the 3rd worst home record in MLB in 2016) & have nearly as impressive 20-18 record on the road, considering their road hitting woe’s in the first half of the 2017 season.

But what has traveled & performed well on the road all year long is an under-rated and less talked about pitching staff. Their road pitching numbers are similarly as striking as their hitting on the road, but on the other end of the spectrum. Arizona leads all of baseball with a 3.24 road ERA, in large part to their .244 batting average against. The Rockies, who have 3 more losses than the Diamondbacks, are 2nd in MLB with a road ERA of 3.39, thanks to their big league leading .228 BAA when away from Coors Field. What’s almost as more impressive for the Diamondbacks is their pitching inside of their home ballpark. Even though the humidor hasn’t officially been announced as installed yet, Diamondback pitchers have the 4th best batting average against them at home at an astounding .229 average, which has led to a 3.66 ERA, the 7th best in the game.

 

Photo By: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

Other than 3 time All-Star & Cy Young award winner & current Ace of the Arizona Diamondbacks Zack Greinke, most non D’back fans would be hard pressed to name the other 2 most consistent starters for Arizona in 2017. Those come in the form of left-handed fireballer Robbie Ray & Zack Godley, who was called up shortly after Shelby Miller was diagnosed with a torn UCL & opted to get Tommy John surgery, ending his season. He earned his promotion by putting up a very respectable 2.55 ERA over his first 17 2/3 innings in the hitter friendly Pacific Coast League. In his first 36 appearances in the big leagues, spanning parts of 2 seasons, Godly compiled a 10-5 record with an unsightly 5.44 ERA. Given another opportunity to prove his worth on the big league club, Godly has ran away with a rotation spot by spinning a 3-1 record & 2.53 ERA in 9 starts. Robbie Ray on the other hand has flashed brilliance in the past, but never has been able to put it all together for a significant stretch, until now. Over his past 42 1/3 innings Ray has only given up 5 earned runs, 4 of which came in his last start in Philadelphia. Over that span, he has lowered his ERA from 3.91 to 2.87. Last year, Robbie finished with a 4.90 ERA with a very unimpressive 1.47 WHIP (Walks + HIts per Innings Pitched). Though he did rack up the strikeouts at a very impressive rate, 218 of them in 174 1/3 innings pitched, he didn’t have a very good season by even the lightest of critics. Compared to his 8-15 record in 2016, Ray is already at 7-3 on the young season & is currently on pace to have a career year. Ray, 25, is already halfway to his 174 1/3 innings thrown in 2016. In 87 2/3 innings, the left hander is already at 114 K’s, but more importantly, has a 1.14 WHIP. Less walks, less hits means more chances for Robbie to go deep into games & that is exactly what he’s doing with 9 quality starts (6+ innings & 3 or less earned runs) compared to 10 all of last season.

When starters are able to go deep into games it helps against the wear & tear that bullpen arms all across MLB experience.
The real surprise of this ball club begins & ends with the guys who are coming into the back half of games and are shutting down opposing hitters. Nobody would confuse the names of these guys with either of the elite bullpens that the World Series produced, but their performances aren’t far off. Comprised of ‘after thought’s’, the names of Randall Delgado, T.J. McFarland, Jorge De La Rosa, J.J. Hoover, Andrew Chafin or Fernando Rodney don’t really move the needle for most baseball fans. If only they knew how well & important each and everyone of them have been at one point or another this season. When Tajuan Walker went on the DL last month, long reliever Randall Delgado was inserted into that starting rotation spot. The team didn’t miss a beat while Walker was out, as Delgado gave up 7 earned runs over 4 starts for the D’backs. Since his return to the bullpen on June 14th, he has given up 1 earned run over 5 innings of work. Hoover & De La Rosa were both somewhat of long shots to make the team in Spring Training who have both earned their stripes early in the season by coming in and succeeding in tough situations. Hoover has struggled of late, and has been placed on the DL,  but his work early in the year helped the Diamondbacks pull out close games. De La Rosa has proven to be a tough lefty who can come into late game situations & succeed not only against lefties but righties as well. Same can be said with McFarland, who typically works at least an inning at a time has an ERA of 1.66 through 21 2/3 innings compared to a 6.95 ERA in only 24 2/3 innings of work for Baltimore last year. Chafin is more of a left handed specialist, who has a 1.9 ERA over 23 2/3 innings in 2017, compared to his 2016 where he finished with a 6.75 ERA over 22 2/3 innings. Another after thought of this bullpen is the crooked cap wearing, arrow shooting, Fernando Rodney. His 20 saves is tied for 2nd in MLB, who would’ve guessed that? His ERA ballooned to over 12 early in the season after blowing 2 saves & getting hit hard against the Dodgers in a non-save situation. But Since May 2nd, Rodney hasn’t given up an earned run to lower is ERA to a more sightly 4.73 & is currently in the midst of 7 perfect innings in his past 7 innings. While they don’t call it “The Rodney Experience” for nothing, D’Back fans can find solace that they currently have 1 of the more dominating closer’s in 2017.


The one name though that baseball fans around country should get familiar with is Archie Bradley, the Diamondbacks 8th inning flame thrower. After missing out on a rotation spot to open the season, it would’ve been easy to let that affect his bullpen outings. Quite the contrary, as Archie has posted an miniscule 1.1 ERA & has 41 K’s in 32.2 innings. It’s fairly easy to see how he’s been so successful. He has completely cut out his 3rd pitch, the change-up & has focused especially more on his Fastball. Coming out of the rotation in 2016, according to baseballsavant.mlb.com, Bradley threw 69% fastballs, 24% curve & 7% change-up. In 2017, his fastball use is up to 79% while he’s thrown his curveball at 21% of the time. Of his 484 pitches in 2017, Statcast has only recorded 1 change up thrown by Archie. Coming out of the bullpen he can come in and go 100%, 100% of the time, as his avg fastball mph has increased from 93.14 in 2016 to 95.49 this year. As a result, his K/9 is by far the best of his career at 11.3K/9, compared to his career 8.87K/9. Of the 15 inherited runners, only 1 has scored on Bradley all season long so far. While he won’t be starting games for the 2017 Arizona Diamondbacks, he might have the most important role of all, the bridge from the starting rotation to the closer Rodney.

As long as the starting pitchers keep going deep into games, it’s going to keep all of the arms in the bullpen as fresh as possible. Just like how the extreme temperatures in Arizona seemingly won’t go away anytime soon, their fans are hoping the same will be said about the 2017 version of the Arizona Diamondbacks. Because, well most of us have never experienced a white winter to begin with.

 

Jared McCawley

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