Continuing our recap of the 2011 Arizona Diamondbacks' season (Overview, Bullpen), this article looks at the starting pitching. As a group, the starters improved from a 49-65 record with a 4.40 ERA in 2010 to a 71-54 mark in 2011 with an ERA of 3.84. The highlight of the 2011 rotation was the emergence of Ian Kennedy as a serious Cy Young contender, as he finished the year at 21-4 with a 2.88 ERA. Another bright spot was the development of Josh Collmenter, who made the jump from AA all the way to the #3 starter in the postseason. The team greatly benefited from good health from its top 4 pitchers, as Kennedy, Daniel Hudson, Collmenter, and Joe Saunders were able to take the ball every fifth day. The only real problem with the starting rotation was the #5 slot, as the team shuffled different pitchers through that position all season. Let's take a closer look at the performance of the starters in 2011.
The Diamondbacks improved by 29 games from 2010 to 2011, and the biggest area of improvement was in the bullpen. The 2010 bullpen was one of the worst in baseball history, but the 2011 version actually was a strength for the team. As a group, the 2011 bullpen allowed 100 fewer runs than the 2010 group, in the same number of innings, bringing the ERA down from 5.74 to 3.71.
|2010 - Pen||16||32||5.74||35||24||439.0||485||280||6.79||4.59||1.27||.314|
|2011 - Pen||23||14||3.71||58||13||439.1||413||181||7.75||3.40||0.80||.295|
The Arizona Diamondbacks' 2011 season ended with an extra-inning Game 5 defeat to the Brewers in the NLDS. But even with the defeat, the 2011 season must be viewed as an outstanding season for the team. This was a team coming off a 65-97 season in 2010, and expectations for the team were very low heading into 2011. I participate in Jim Baker's Predictatron, where contestants predict the final record of each team before the season. This year's contest had 40 players, including writers from ESPN, Sports Illustrated, and Baseball Prospectus, and only 1 out of 40 picked the team to finish over .500. The median projection was 73 Wins for the D'Backs, and most people's expectations moved even lower after the team went 12-25 in Spring Training. Yet somehow, the team improved by 29 Games in 2011. In the first of several articles recapping the season, let's start with an overview of how the team went from worst to first in a single season.
|Year||W-L Record||NL West Rank||Runs Scored||Runs Allowed||Pythag Record|
|2011||94-68||1st, 8 Games Up||731||662||88-74|
|2010||65-97||5th, 27 Games Back||713||836||69-93|
The Diamondbacks offense was better in 2011 than in 2010, despite the loss of sluggers Mark Reynolds and Adam LaRoche. The 18 run improvement in offense is even more impressive considering that the NL average offense decreased by 33 runs in 2011. But the biggest improvement was in the Runs Allowed department, where the improvement was 174 runs. Overall, the team went from a -123 run differential to a +69 in one year. It is interesting to note that the Diamondbacks underperformed their Pythagorean record by 4 games last year, and out-performed it by 6 games this year. This is consistent with having a bad bullpen in 2010, and a good one in 2011.
A closer look at the offensive components shows that the team actually was slightly worse in the AVG/OBP/SLG stats in 2011. In fact, the only obvious areas of improvement were in strikeouts, stolen bases, and grounding into double plays. Yet the overall result was an increase in runs scored by 18.
On the pitching side, the reasons for improvement are a little clearer. A lot fewer walks and home runs allowed in 2011, and also a slightly better BABIP, due to the lower line drive rate and a higher percentage of fly balls. And clearly, the bullpen was a big reason for the overall statistical improvement.
Over the next few articles, we will break down each aspect of the Diamondbacks' season, including batting, baserunning, fielding, starting pitching, and relief pitching.
The Diamondbacks got big performances from rookies Josh Collmenter and Paul Goldschmidt in Game 3 of the NLDS, and will now turn to veteran Joe Saunders in Game 4. Saunders is a tough pitcher to analyze, because he strikes out very few batters while giving up a decent amount of walks and home runs. What are some keys to success for Saunders? He needs to get double plays, avoid first inning damage, and get the left-handed hitters out.
Daniel Hudson has been one of the NL's best starters in 2011, finishing with a 16-12 record and a 3.49 ERA (3.28 FIP). But there are two problems that have plagued Hudson most of the season, and that he must avoid in Game 2 on Sunday against the Brewers.
1) First Inning Woes
In 33 starts, Hudson has given up a total of 27 runs (22 ER) in the first inning. Batters are hitting .319/.386/.526 (912 OPS) against Hudson in the first, compared to .255/.301/.394 (694 OPS) overall. He has allowed 5 HR in the first, the most of any inning, and his 15 BB in the first are also the most of any inning. Over his last 5 starts, he has given up first inning runs in 4 of them. Take away the first inning and Hudson's ERA improves from 3.49 all the way down to 3.05. With the Diamondbacks already down 1-0 in the series, the team can't afford to fall behind early.
2) Two-Strike Hits
For most pitchers, being ahead in the count is a good thing. But that hasn't been the case for Hudson in 2011. For National League pitchers as a group, batters are hitting .164 after a 0 Ball, 2 Strike count. But for Hudson, hitters are at .254 after falling behind 0 and 2. Looking at the more general case of hitter's counts and pitcher's count, the numbers for Hudson are just as strange.
|NL - Batter Ahead||.299||.468||.490|
|NL - Even Count||.268||.413||.413|
|NL - Pitcher Ahead||.201||.296||.296|
|Hudson - Batter Ahead||.228||.363||.401|
|Hudson - Even Count||.272||.275||.423|
|Hudson - Pitcher Ahead||.258||.270||.356|
NL pitchers as a group only allow a .201 AVG when ahead in the count, compared to .268 on even counts and .299 when the batter is ahead. Hudson's numbers are backwards - he actually allows the fewest hits when the batter is ahead in the count.
One possible cause for Hudson's unusual numbers may be his slider. On 0-2 counts, he has thrown the slider 25% of the time, compared to 16% overall. And it seems like that 0-2 slider is catching the plate a little too much. Usually pitchers try to make a batter chase a tough pitch on 0-2, but Hudson's 0-2 pitches may have been a little too hittable this year. Over the last few games, Hudson has done a better job in these situations, and he has been throwing a few more fastballs in those situations. It's something to keep an eye on in Sunday's crucial start.
Jaymes Langrehr, a writer for the Brewers Bar, answered some questions for us about the Brewers just before the upcoming series.
1) What are your thoughts on the Brewers going with Zack Greinke on 3 days rest for Game 2?
He only threw about 70 pitches in the season finale, so it is possible there won't be much of an effect. Even if it is a short start, the bullpen is strong enough to pick him up if needed.
2) Will the Brewers just use three starters in a Best of 5 series, or will Randy Wolf or Chris Narveson get a start?
Narveson likely won't be making many starts this postseason. I think they could get away with only using three starters this series, but whether or not they do depends on how Greinke feels.
3) The left side of the infield has been a weak link all year, with McGehee and Betancourt. Will the Brewers make a change for the playoffs?
It doesn't seem very likely now, and it's too late to really do anything about it. They best they could do is sprinkle in starts for Jerry Hairston, which would help a little.
4) How do the Brewers' fans feel about the possible departure of Prince Fielder? Is there still a chance he stays?
Fans have known it was coming for awhile, so I don't think there any hard feelings. There's a slim chance he stays, but I don't think it would be all that smart to tie up that much of the payroll into a single player.
5) Is Rickie Weeks back at full strength for the playoffs?
Offensively it's possible. Defensively, he's looked a half step slow and he hasn't been running full speed on the bases. Weeks at 80% is still better than the alternatives, though.
6) Nyjer Morgan is one of the most interesting and controversial players around. How do Brewers' fans feel about him?
Tony Plush is a rockstar in Milwaukee. Trading for him has been a big success on the field, and he finally has a fanbase willing to accept eccentric characters. In the clubhouse, he's kept guys loose and having fun. It seems like the teams that have a problem with him are those set in a traditional mindset (St. Louis, his old team in Washington, etc.).
7) What do you see as the key for the Brewers to win this series?
Avoid defensive gaffes that allow runs to score or extend innings. The starting rotation is very good, but can rack up a high pitch count due to strikeouts. They don't need misplays to further extending innings.
Thanks again to Jaymes Langrehr of the Brewers Bar for the insights.
This year, the 2011 Playoffs include two playoff teams that rank near the bottom in team payroll. Based on the opening day team salary numbers, the Diamondbacks rank #25 at $53.6M and the Rays are #29 at $41.1M. Interestingly, both teams had cut their payroll significantly this year, with the D'Backs dropping from $60.7M (#24 in 2010) and the Rays coming down from $71.9M (#19).
At the other end of the spectrum are the Yankees and Phillies, whose $202.7M and $173.0M payrolls rank #1 and #2. Filling out the 2011 playoffs are four teams from the middle of the payroll pack - Tigers ($105.7M, #10), Cardinals ($105.4M, #11), Rangers ($92.3M, #13) and the Brewers ($85.5M, #17).
The chart belows shows a graph of team wins plotted with opening day payroll.