2007 Sabermetric Year in Review: Arizona Diamondbacks

Kids, if you’re out there reading this, take the following piece of advice.† Never ever ever ever do a baseball annual.† When I first started this series, I actually figured I’d be done by Spring Training.† What was I thinking!?!?!† We end our very long tour (stop #30) of the U.S. in the Arizona Desert to look at the Diamondbacks.
Record: 90-72,†1st in†NL West (won NLDS 3-0 over Cubs, lost NLCS 4-0 to Rockies)
Pythagorean Projection (Patriot formula):††78.90 wins (712 runs scored,†732 runs allowed)
Team Statistical Pages:
Baseball Reference
Baseball Prospectus
FanGraphs
MVN Blog:
Out in the Desert
More†Diamondbacks Resources:
Latest News
Contract Status
Trade Rumors
Overview:††A team that was outscored by its opponents ends up with the best record in the National League and comes to within one step of the World Series, only to be beaten by a team that is on an equally improbable run.† Ain’t baseball great!
What went right: Eric Byrnes is perhaps the world’s perfect fantasy baseball player.† He’s not the best player in the league and your brother has never heard of him, so he slips under the radar.† Still, he puts up a .286/.353/.460, leads his team in RBIs and steals 50 bases.† Plus, he threw his dog into McCovey Cove at the All-Star game.† Byrnes though is that guy who is a better player in fantasy ball than he is in real life.† That’s not to say that he’s a bad player.† But, he’s got an RC/G rating of 6.2.† So, a lineup of 9 Byrnes clones would score about 6 runs per game.† Not bad, but not exactly elite.†
And the award for “Third Best Pitcher in the League” Award goes to Brandon Webb.† (That would be the Steve Trachsel Award, if I’m not mistaken.)† First off, Brandon Webb has thrown 230 innings in each of the last three years (OK, so it was 229 in 2005…)† He’s nearing 200 K’s for a season and walks relatively few batters.† Plus, his luck indicators show that he was all natural last year, and the year before that.† And he does it with a fastball that tops out in the high 80s.† Impressive.
What went wrong: Randy Johnson got hurt.† It was kinda stupid to rely on the back of a 43 year old man not to give out, but then again, Johnson had pitched 200+ innings in the previous three years and while not invincible any more, he was still looking like a pretty good pitcher to have going every fifth day.
Stephen Drew went from hitting .316/.357/.517 in 2006 (and in 226 PA’s) to hitting .238/.313/.370.† In some ways, Drew was a better hitter in 2007, striking out less and walking more.† However, he hit fewer line drives, and… well he just wasn’t able to sustain his preternatural .391 BABIP from 2006.† I don’t know what his minor league BABIP was, but that’s probably the better gauge of what he can really do.† But all of you who thought that he was J.D. Drew’s little brother, you were wrong.
Yeah, that about sums it up: Jeff Cirillo pitched?
How often does that happen?:†What?† Cirillo pitching.† His first time.† But that’s not what I meant.† If the Pythagorean record were perfect, then the Diamondbacks would have been a 79 win team last year.† As it happens, they outperformed their Pythagorean record by 11 games.† How often does that happen?† Would you believe once every 10 years?† At least that’s what the stats would predict.† The Diamondbacks had some really good karma going last year, or at least they won a lot of close games and lost a lot of blowouts.† Here’s the thing that gets people swooning about baseball.† Last year’s NLCS was a contest between two teams that had done statistically improbable things.† Is it just that baseball is magic like that?† No, it’s that the way you get to the NLCS is to do statistically improbable things, like win 90 games in a season.
Should I be worried about Brandon Lyon as the closer?: Here’s a really good example of how perception is very relative.† Lyon has had two good years over the past two seasons, and was very much improved from the previous two years in the majors (2003 and 2005… not sure where he went in 2004).† Last year, in particular, he was particularly effective.† So, the D-Backs sent Jose Valverde packing to the Astros figuring that Lyon was a good candidate to close.† What they missed is that Lyon gets very few strikeouts (and doesn’t have a good K/BB ratio), and that most of his success last year could be chalked up to the fact that he had a nice little valley in his HR allowed (directly attributable to his HR/FB percentage dropping down to 2.2%… about 9% is league average).† He’s going to give up more HR this year.† Throw in the fact that his BABIP was low (coming down from two years, 2003 and 2005, in which it was in the .360 range), and it gave the illusion as someone who was rapidly improving, when it was simply a mediocre pitcher going from someone who was really swinging from someone with bad luck to someone with good luck.† His strikeout rate has actually been decreasing, as has his fastball velocity, over the past few years.† D-Backs fans, I hate to say this, but you should be having nightmares about Lyon.† Then again… it’s really not that hard to rack up 30 saves on an average team, even for a journeyman pitcher.† So, in that sense, Lyon will do just fine.
Outlook:†Hope you enjoyed last season D-Backs fans.† I appreciate that adding Dan Haren is a better option than hoping in Randy Johnson’s back (although there’s still a good deal of hoping in Randy Johnson’s back going on in the desert).† The NL West is a bit of a mish-mosh right now, and I suppose the D-Backs could slip into the playoffs again, but look me in the eye and tell me that you really believe that this team, particularly this offense, is of the calibre that wins championships.† You can’t do it, can you.
Finally: A big thank you to those of you who have read these year-in-review pieces†and commented on them.† Thanks to Eric for writing the Kansas City piece a while back when I thought that this project was going to bury me.† Thanks to MVN for supporting the project behind the scenes.† I’m just happy I managed to write all 30… or at least 29 of them…

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5 Responses to 2007 Sabermetric Year in Review: Arizona Diamondbacks

  1. dan says:

    “look me in the eye and tell me that you really believe that this team, particularly this offense, is of the calibre that wins championships.”
    If I’m not mistaken, they’re leading the majors in runs. And if I’m again not mistaken (and this time I’m definitely right), Justin Upton is not human. I’m a big Yankees fan with no vested interest in the Diamondbacks (should they follow the Rays’ lead and just call themselves the Backs?), and I think they can get to the playoffs. When they get there, any team will have a tough time beating Webb and Haren.
    In terms of the offense, it’s going to improve a lot…. Chris Young and Drew should improve (projections say they will), Upton wasn’t there last year and would be a lock for rookie of the year if he qualified (the cutoff is 130 or 150?). I’m done looking stuff up, so I’ll just leave this comment right where it is.

  2. dan says:

    From the article linked here to your old blog… “It’s tempting to think that karma would allow the Indians to follow up last year’s bad luck with a run of good luck, but karma has no basis in statistical theory.”
    Interesting that this actually did happen.

    On an un-related note, when I move my mouse over the MLB label in the top left corner for the drop-down menu, I can only click sabermetrics if the advertisement below it is NOT the Ford ad. Right now it’s for capital one and works fine, but when the Ford ad is being shown, the lower-left side of the menu is blocked off. I’m guessing this is because the ford ad is the kind that pops out when you move the mouse over it.

  3. Dan quoted this too, and I can’t resist either:
    ” but look me in the eye and tell me that you really believe that this team, particularly this offense, is of the calibre that wins championships. You canít do it, can you.”
    I’m not going to describe their offense as championship-caliber…yet. Obviously, they’re off to a great start, but not one expects them to continue this ridiculous offensive output they’ve got going right now. But Dan’s right, their young hitters (particularly Justin Upton) will continue to get better. This year, though, I think they pitch their way into the playoffs.
    The one team in the NL West I actually fear is LA — the Dodgers have a good lineup with some solid starters and two awesome relievers. Colorado doesn’t have the pitching. Even if you’re right about Lyon, the D-backs have several other solid relievers, and I think you’re significantly undervaluing the addition of Haren. He’s not replacing the Big Unit in the rotation — he’s replacing Livan Hernandez. That’s a remarkable improvement.
    I do doubt that Johnson will be effective all season long, but let’s suppose for a moment he is. And let’s suppose Doug Davis comes back in a little over a month and does his usual thing. What team in the NL has a better 1-5 starting rotation? Even if Owings doesn’t improve, and I think he will, his offensive capability can effectively knock .50-1.00 off his ERA. Webb-Haren-Johnson-Owings-Davis will eat a lot of innings, and it’s possible they’ll all have ERAs under 4.30, with the first two in the low 3s.

  4. Josh says:

    “Diamondbacks (should they follow the Raysí lead and just call themselves the Backs?)”
    This is silly.

  5. Lyon reminds of Dan Kolb in the sense that they do not strike many out and rely on fielders. I initially thought the Kolb trade for the Braves was genius but a closer look at the stats showed that it would not work out and, it didn’t. I would think Lyon should be fine but not the savier.

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