Arizona Diamondbacks: Anatomy of a Losing Streak
The date was Tuesday, August 18, and the Arizona Diamondbacks were feeling good. They had just finished shellacking the Oakland Athletics, the American League’s best team, 10-1 – their sixth straight victory. The early-season Diamondbacks losing streak was a thing of the past. A 13-11 record had them in a playoff position. Momentum was on their side as they embarked on a road trip to the Bay Area. After two games against the very team they had just beaten twice in a row, they had three against the last-place San Francisco Giants.
Twelve days later, they’ve added one game to the win column and 10 to the loss column after a 4-1 loss to the Giants, who have beaten them five times out of six tries in this span. How the Diamondbacks have reached this point is multi-pronged, and the magnitude of those struggles is greater than many realize.
(Note: The statistics are for the 10 losses out of the 11-game stretch. The statistics from the one win were such an outlier that they have been excluded.)
The most glaring problem to even the most casual observer has been hitting, or lack thereof. In these games, the Diamondbacks have hit .180 (57-for-316) with 12 doubles, two triples, seven home runs, 22 RBI, 28 walks, four sacrifice flies, and 77 strikeouts for a wOBA of .247. They have also grounded into seven double plays and left 66 runners on base.
Even more glaring is their performance with runners in scoring position. They are 11-for-63 with runners in scoring position – a .175 batting average – driving in 15 while leaving 33 on base. In four of the 10 games listed, they were hitless with runners in scoring position. They left 10 out of 11 runners in scoring position during those games, with the lone RBI coming on a sacrifice fly.
The starting pitchers, while not faring as badly as the hitters, and while improving since the writing of this piece, have also struggled. Only one – Zac Gallen on August 22 – completed the sixth inning. In seven of the 10 games, the Diamondbacks were behind when the starter left the game, and in the other three, they were tied.
In these 10 games, the starters had a 4.82 ERA (107 ERA-) with 60 strikeouts, 24 walks, nine home runs allowed, two hit batters, and a 1.457 WHIP in 46 2/3 innings. They averaged 4.2 pitches per batter, throwing strikes 64% of the time. Of their strikes, 51% came because the batter hit the ball.
When starting pitchers consistently exit the game early, the relievers get overtaxed. The average number of relievers the Diamondbacks used per game is between three and four (3.6). The relievers went 0-4 with a 5.87 ERA (130 ERA-). They averaged 3.9 pitches per batter, with a strike percentage of 62%. Of the strikes, 58% came because the batter hit the ball.
The relievers had 40 strikeouts, 25 walks, five home runs allowed, four hit batters, and a 1.774 WHIP in 38 1/3 innings. They also allowed nine of their 20 inherited runners – 45% – to score. For comparison, the Major League average in 2020 is 30%.
Combining the starters and relievers gives an ERA of 5.29 (117 ERA-) and a 1.600 WHIP. They faced 387 batters, giving their opponents 32 more plate appearances than the Diamondbacks had. Keep in mind that in five of these games, the Diamondbacks opponents only batted eight times, so the Diamondbacks had 15 more outs than their opponents.
The season began with high expectations. A team that had finished 85-77 in 2019 had added pieces to fill holes. Many pundits picked them to finish second in the division and challenge for the Wild Card. Once the playoffs expanded, even more pundits pegged them as a playoff team. Then the season started, and the Diamondbacks lost eight of their first 11. When they won 10 of their next 13, many pundits were saying, “They just started slow. Now they’re playing up to their potential.”
Losing 10 of the next 11 makes us wonder if they were playing up to their potential or if it was fool’s gold. The answer is somewhere in between. No matter the reason, the skid has turned them from “potential buyers” at the deadline to “likely sellers.” This means that, by Monday afternoon, at least a few current Diamondbacks will be hopping on a plane to another city. Not what they expected in spring training, that’s for sure.
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