19 April 2008

Winning Thrills, Speed (& OBP) Kills

Jeff Moorad said it happened at Game One of the 2007 NLDS. I say it may've happened Saturday night. The Diamondbacks CEO rushed into the clubhouse last October third and gushed:

We did it! We won our fans back!

It was a great night, even beyond the baseball, but a third of those present were Cub fans and the franchise failed to quite sellout either NLCS home game the following week.

But after a disappointing sub 27K on Friday, nearly 40K fans flocked to Chase Field Saturday night to cheer on baseball's hottest team (and/or procure Micah Owings bobbleheads). In either case, Arizona failed to draw 30 thousand on the previous Saturday (v NLCS nemesis COL), despite riding a six game win streak.

Maybe last night was some kind of watershed.

The Diamondbacks, by the way, are on pace to win 123 games and cure thyroid cancer. Even if they only manage to win half their remaining games, which seems pessimistic at this point, that'll still count for 86 wins. Like last year, the 2008 W/L record is a bit misleading. Thirteen and four is all well and good, but consider they're only 1 and 3 in one run games and 9 and 1 in blowouts. In other words, this team is just as close to a 15 and 2 record as it is to 11 and 6. That's how dominant they've been so far, like a great football team or the 1971-72 Los Angeles Lakers. Well, you get the idea.

We all know they cant keep it up, so that's not really the question. Let's ask instead, can a team that opens the season with five series wins against divisional foes, and outscores them by fifty runs with the league's best pitching and hitting, possibly lose the division? The engineeer's answer is that anything's possible and a four game lead in April is nothing. All true. But watching these games, even accounting for individual batters hitting over their heads, it's hard to escape the conclusion - the underlying feeling, really - that the Diamondbacks are a better team than the rest of the NL West.

Last night was another example. Heralded Chris Tall Young up against 5th starter Edgar Gonzalez. And Young outpitched him. Edgar gave up two homers (the Padres first, incidently, in more than 100 innings) and the Diamondbacks hit none. In fact, only one Dback managed more than one hit all night. You'd think the Padres would have this one in the bag.

Well, Young's no 8 inning pitcher, walks a bunch of guys and cant hold his grandmother at first. Arizona stole three bases. San Diego's interim leftfielder drops a tailing liner in the corner, while Stephen Drew, Hudson and Chris Young take away sure hits from the other side. All this turned the tide, and by the time Khalil Greene made an uncharacteristic late error, through the wickets, it was 10-3 Diamondbacks in a rout.

A big factor was the Diamondbacks' speed. Big mistake to think of it only, or even primarily, in terms of stolen bases. It helps Arizona all over the field. On defense, of course, and all the extra bases they casually gain on the paths - scoring from first on doubles to left, beating out infield choppers and aggressively tagging on medium outfield flies. And it's not like it's one guy - a designated burner, like Ichiro or Carl Crawford. It's five guys who can really motor, six if you count surprisingly nimble Conor Jackson, who swiped a bag off Young and leads the National League in triples(3).

It's almost a Little League-ish feeling, guys running like crazy on a diamond one size too small. This year, the fast guys have, collectively, made extraordinary gains reaching base. The magnitude of these gains arent sustainable, but the gains themselves appear to be, most notably Young's increased walks and Upton's improved BA. And that's deceptively important because when these guys improve their OBP, it's not like when Travis Hafner does it. He just sits there; these guys are aggressive scoring machines once they reach, who can score on a bloop and a grounder or a lazy fly.

The combination of reaching base and speed is lethal on any level, and the majors tend to weed out speedsters (Womack) from hitters (Hafner). When you have speedsters who can hit in the majors, it's unusually valuable. When you have two or three guys like that on your team, like the Mets or the Yankees - or now the Diamondbacks - it's downright dangerous.

3 comments:

PAUL said...

Matt, is your traffic here the same as it was before?

Jeff said...

When you have two or three guys like that on your team, like the Mets or the Yankees - or now the Diamondbacks - it's downright dangerous.
True story. Case in point: Vince Coleman, Ozzie Smith, Willie McGee, Tommy Herr, Andy Van Slyke. The Cardinals of the '80s = the fastest show on turf before the fastest show on turf. Did you know that not one member of the Cards' '87 pitching staff had more than 11 wins and yet they made it all the way to Game 7 of the WS that year. Now you know.

Matt said...

Paul,

In terms of people who actually stop and read for a few minutes, it's pretty close - maybe down 20% or so.

In terms of incidental referrals (ie from images) where people dont read the blog anyway, those "hits" are way,way down.

It's a transition, and considering this site's been up a few weeks (compared to a few years), lost a bunch of links, is still climbing it's way up search engine lists (google, yahoo), and hasnt scored a natl referral yet(deadspin, si.com), and I've done nothing extraordinary to promote the site, overall I'm delighted with how things are going.