25 October 2009

Favorite Slice

There's no shortage of ways to slice Diamondbacks' 2009 failure. Chronologically, there was April, June and September. Positionally, point your finger at left field, center and first base. Systematically, blame offense, defense or the pen. Strategically, lament GM moves topped by an unnecessary and disorienting managerial switch. Fatalistically, cry over Webby's shoulder and the 'bad luck' of being five games under pythag.

Bill James has a slice called Team Performance By Quality of Start, which may provide a crisper view of where, when and how our season went awry. His statistical cross reference breaks out a team's W/L by starter Game Scores - actually ranges or increments of game scores. It's no secret most clubs (incl Arizona) win at a very high rate when their starters pitch extremely well (70+ gs), and lose when starters are subpar (game scores below 50).

What's interesting is that the Dbacks had enormous difficulty winning when their starters were "above average" (50-69 game score). They were 35-35, which may not sound bad, but was the worst such split in the National League:

COL 58-21 .734
FLA 47-18 .723
LAD 56-24 .700

MILW 44-20 .687
PHI 41-22 .651
STL 46-25 .648
ATL 51-28 .645
SDG 42-24 .636
HOU 38-22 .633
SFO 43-26 .623

CHI 53-38 .582
NYM 40-29 .580
CIN 39-29 .573
WAS 36-32 .529
PIT 34-33 .507
ARI 35-35 .500

I've bolded NL West competitors to underscore just how far we lagged behind the division in this metric. Perhaps more curious than the striking chasms between Arizona and hard hitting, playoff bound Colorado and LA, are gaps between Arizona and most other weak hitting teams. Look at San Francisco. Despite a wretched offense, they excelled when starters were merely 'above average'. Remember, we're not looking at the best of the best (ie Lincecum's fourteen strongest starts, Sanchez no hitter, etc), simply 'above average', equivalently pitched (started) games.

Cincinnati also hit considerably worse than Arizona - yet they're ten games over .500 here. San Diego, Houston and the Mets all hit below league average, and were lousy teams - yet they average fifteen games over .500, when game scores meet the 50-69 parameter.

So, Arizona's problem was more than "hitting", at least in the traditional OPS+ sense. The James slice doesnt magically reveal what else contributed, but regular Diamondback observers might chime in with 'erratic bullpen', 'sloppy defense' and 'a rather glaring inability to execute small ball in close, well pitched games'. Less obvious factors, like random variaton or lack of competitive intangibles may factor in as well. For whatever combination of reasons, the Diamondbacks failed to consistently win in a favorable segment of games that comprised 43% of their schedule.

When Dback starters pitched lights out, the team did about as well (16-3) as expected. When starters struggled, the team did about as well, relative to league, maybe a little worse. However, when starters went six or seven innings, yielding two or three runs (above average), the Diamondbacks were terrible. Without confirming why, the slice statistically reinforces what many sensed all along - that the Dbacks' rotation, particularly the big three of Haren, Davis and Garland, received miserable "mid-range" support from the rest of their team, and that failure was broadly based.


Here's some other favorite slices.

10. Banana Cream - dont puree the banana, leave it chunky
9. Pecan - the sweetest pah! Corn syrup and lots of it, Yum!
8. Peach Cobbler - cook the peaches down, almost mushy
7. Sweet Potato / Pumpkin - best dessert pie for breakfast, served cold
6. Razzleberry (Raspberry/Blackberry) - blackberries soften raspberries powerful tang
5. Lemon Meringue - best pie on a hot summer day
4. Apple - The Classic, hundreds of varieties. I'm partial to a crumb top
3. Blueberry - sweet, juicy with dense texture due to the small berries. An underrated pie.
2. Key Lime - graham crust, when done right, the most intense flavor of any fruit pie
1. Strawberry Rhubarb - Strawberry pie? Heaven forfend, you rube! Rhubarb elevates mere strawbs into an intriguing sweet and sour interplay of taste and texture. Served warm, with ginger ice cream.


Russell said...

You forgot Kimbo Slice.

That data is interesting. As you say there is no definitive reason why the D-Backs failed in those kind of games but my own rigorous research (watching some games) leads me to conclude that it was primarily down to a lack of "focus", both on and off the field, i.e. they were all hoping that things would work out rather than making them work out.

Russell said...

Ha! I forgot to promote my new blog for Vancouver's paper of record the Vancouver Sun. Unfortunately (for you) it's about soccer, although I will try to discuss why Brazil wear yellow.

I am also wearing a D-Backs cap in the picture so there is definitely something for the baseball fan.

Diamondhacks said...

Nice blog! I left a comment encompassing my rich knowledge of 'The English Game'

Never heard of Kimbo Slice; that's what I get for letting my subscription to "Mixed Martial Arts Bogeymen" lapse, in 1994.

Your point about the Dbacks lack of focus, or resolve, sounds solid. Sometimes, lack of talent or experience is confused with an underlying lack of resolve, but my rigorous research(watching some games) supports your finding.

Russell said...

I had also never heard of Kimbo Slice, but somebody used the same joke on a blog I was reading about a year ago. I've been waiting a year for the chance to make that joke!

PAUL said...

You've gone stat zombie. There's no known cure.

Caroline said...

Funnily enough, I did notice that every time a pitcher did well the team wouldn't score. They'd be lazy, and the only one trying would be the pitcher, who AJ in desperation resorted to using as a pinch hitter the next game (see Garland, Scherzer, Haren).

Diamondhacks said...

I've been waiting a year for the chance to make that joke!

Russell, you have the patience of an Afghan.

You've gone stat zombie. There's no known cure.

So what, Paul. There are hundreds of apple pie varieties - no scout can refute this!

... every time a pitcher did well the team wouldn't score. They'd be lazy...

They certainly didnt convey much sense of urgency in low scoring games. Even the fast guys cant sacrifice consistently, team rarely hit & runs, and only Augie will take one on the shoulder for the team.

Compared to other teams, I got little sense Dbacks were committed toward something bigger than themselves. Not that it never happened - it just didnt seem like the default attitude most of the time.

Jim McLennan said...

Interesting. For your consideration, here are the 70 games in question.

Diamondhacks said...

Thanks, Jim. The first thing I gravitate to is that Melvin was 3-8 and AJ lost his first three, putting the team in an unsustainable 3-11 spot, before AJ went on a nice streak and finished the season at a more 'conventional' +8 rate for this metric.

The second thing I noticed, and I'm sure you'll recall this, is how journey-ish the opposite starters generallly were, who we couldnt scratch diddly against, in this 3-11 timeframe. Suppan, Stults, Lannan(L), Bush, Micah, Wolf(L)Sanchez(L) and RJ's best outing all season, seven scoreless in SF...all before we got to Javier Vazquez on May 15.