A while back, I discussed how the Diamondbacks have been hurt by the home run in 2013. And by hurt, I mean totally annihilated. It’s come on both sides of the ball, too. Arizona ranks 26th in the majors in home runs hit, having only put 117 balls over the fence all year. The pitching staff hasn’t faired much better, ranking 24th in home runs allowed by giving up 156 dingers. For reference, the Pirates are first in the league and have only surrender 91 homers. That should illustrate just how home run-prone the team has been this year.
So, it got me thinking: the organization should really try to emphasize a groundball-heavy approach when acquiring and grooming pitchers. Given that Chase Field usually ranks in the top third of the league in park factors, it’s critical to keep the ball on the ground as those in the air often have a way of finding themselves in seats, relatively speaking. And while I was on this train of thought, I figured I should get a feel for who’s responsible for all of these fly balls, mostly those that leave the yard.
When I jumped into the stats, though, I was surprised. The team that ranks 24th in home runs allowed also happens to rank 5th in groundball percentage. Yeah, 24th in dingers, 5th in grounders. How does that work, exactly? Since I’ve never seen a groundball go over the fence (has there ever been an inside-the-park home run ground ball?), I was really shocked by this discrepancy. So where are all of these home runs coming from if the team does such a good job of generating ground balls?
Naturally, I began with the starting staff. Since they throw the lion’s share of the innings, I figured they must be behind these home runs. When I filtered for starters and looked at where the Diamondbacks’ starting staff ranks in home runs allowed, it turns out they’re 9th in the majors, not bad by any means. No, they aren’t perfect, but they’re in the top third of the league. Better yet, they rank 4th in the majors in groundball percentage as a staff.
While that’s something that the starters can be proud of, it also points the finger squarely at the bullpen. Sure enough, they’ve allowed the 7th most home runs of any squad of relievers in baseball. On a related note, they’re rank 19th in the majors in ground ball percentage, nearly into the bottom the third of the league.
These findings are intuitive if you’ve seen Diamondbacks baseball in 2013. Heath Bell’s surrender a dozen of them and David Hernandez, even after spending a good chunk of the year on the bench or in the minors, has allowed ten homers. JJ Putz, Tony Sipp and Eury de la Rosa have combined for 12 home runs in 72.2 innings, as well. Josh Collmenter’s seven dingers are more palatable considering he’s thrown nearly 85 innings and he’s just a really cool dude.
Put simply, this bullpen needs to be remade and that’s not exactly a new discovery. What should to be advocated for, however, is more groundball tendencies from the Diamondbacks’ future relievers. The starters are keeping the ball on the ground and giving the defense a chance to make outs. The bullpen, however, is allowing a few too many walks and way too many home runs to keep the team competitive. The 27 blown saves have come back to haunt the team and several of those were due to the long ball. An average bullpen this year has blown about 18 saves, meaning that had the Diamondbacks’ bullpen simply been average, it may have resulted in an extra eight or nine wins. Eight or nine more wins puts us in the thick of the wild card battle rather than looking forward to 2014.
I hope that Kevin Towers realizes the need for relievers who do more than just throw hard. Velocity is nice, but hard and straight goes over the fence when it get’s squared up. An emphasis on sinker/slider relievers could really help turn the tide next season and a couple of strategic, low-cost moves could really pay dividends for the bullpen, the pitching staff and all of DBacks Nation.
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