What is Making Arizona So Abysmal?

Let us immediately rule out the offense, which is doing just fine for a National League club. No, the problem is run prevention, not scoring. As our or any standings will show you, the Diamondbacks have given up 64 runs, by far the most in the bigs, 10 more than the next worst team. No one expected Arizona to have lights-out pitching, but this atrocious start to the season is frankly more surprising than sudden excellence would have been. Poor pitching has the Diamondbacks staring up from a large hole at the bottom of the division; at some point, that poor pitching will have to turn into very good pitching for Arizona to make the playoffs. The facts stand against that eventuality.

This is no case of temporary struggles afflicting a talented group. I ranked the Diamondbacks rotation fourth in the division before the season, barely ahead of the Rockies. Aside from the injured Patrick Corbin, no pitcher struck me as anything more than a serviceable starter. Brandon McCarthy, Trevor Cahill, Bronson Arroyo and Wade Miley all pitch to contact because they have no other way to get by. Arizona has just one pitcher with the electric stuff needed to head a rotation, Archie Bradley, but for now they are leaving him in the minor leagues. Perhaps that is prudent, like letting cookies sit on the counter while the heat trapped inside them dissipates. I say let the heat dissipate in your stomach, where it can do you some good in this cold universe.

But Bradley is an obvious fix and the cookies were a forced analogy. What hope do the pitchers currently playing have of getting better? That is hard to tell with only ten games played so far, but we can look at certain luck factors. If, for example, a pitcher has a markedly higher BABIP this compared compared to last, we might say that he’s been getting hit around but surely it won’t last. That is indeed the case for Will Harris, Randall Delgado and the aforementioned Cahill. And if a pitcher is giving up home runs twice as often as he did last year, we can only assume that the frequency (measured as HR/9 innings) will die down. This is the case for Harris, McCarthy, Josh Collmenter, Addison Reed and Joe Thatcher. At this point I’ll just give you the graphic.

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The gambler’s fallacy is to assume that the pitchers with high BABIPs will have correspondingly low BABIPs during some other 10-game stretch of the season. That would go a long way toward closing the gap with first place, but we cannot responsibly predict that. All we can say is that the BABIPs and home runs should settle down soon enough, especially when the Diamondbacks start playing some games in pitchers’ parks. The guys who have been affected by those BABIP and HR/9 fluctuations carry therefore the promise of improvement. Fear not, then, for Delgado, Cahill, McCarthy, Harris, Reed and Miley.

The players I left out of that happy list have all seen a sharp decline in fastball velocity. Oliver Perez, Brad Ziegler, Josh Collmenter, Bronson Arroyo and Joe Thatcher–that’s the unfortunate bunch, and, distressingly, they didn’t have much velocity to start with. Pitchers who operate with weak stuff can least afford the further weakening of age. Arizona fans have plenty of reason to feel anxious about those five.

So, with six pitchers looking okay and five others looking bad, Arizona has quite the mixed bag. They’ll need the best possible results from this uninspiring group to contend for the division.

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