Offense in baseball is a funny thing to measure. In a sense, it’s the heart of what most baseball fans watch the game for; the homers, the steals, the walk-off hits (too soon?). But the problem with offense is that it’s often inconsistent. Measuring something that comes in fits and starts can be problematic, especially when just over 20 games have been played. The sample sizes can make things like batting average, slugging percentage and other traditional stats tough to fully embrace. Last week I wrote about Mark Trumbo’s approach at the plate. I checked on Monday and he was hitting .260. After a couple hot games, he was hitting .324. This is exactly why we don’t use batting average to evaluate a player. Advanced metrics, like weighted runs-created plus (wRC+), can give us a better picture, and that’s what we’ll use here.

And just like it can be difficult to measure a particular player, it can also be difficult to measure an entire team. A team, as you know, is really just the sum of it’s parts. Perhaps there’s no better example of this than what we see with the Diamondbacks. You have guys like Paul Goldschmidt, A.J. Pollock and others looking like potential all-stars while the bottom of the lineup is really just pretty terrible. So measuring the team as a whole provides it’s own challenges. If only there was a way to look at the whole team but also look at the parts at the same time…

That’s where some (very rudimentary) data visualization can come in handy. Let’s have a look at the team and through a different lens. Measuring each players wRC+ via radar graph, we can see where the production has come from:

Dbacks wRC+The team has really only had six producers so far in Goldschmidt, Pollock, Jake Lamb, Ender Inciarte, David Peralta and Mark Trumbo. Of course, Lamb’s on the DL and Inciarte and Peralta don’t play every day, so that whittles it down to Goldy, Pollock and Trumbo on a daily basis with some mixing and matching. Still, that doesn’t provide a ton of context as we don’t really know what this graph looks like across the league. Or, maybe I should say we “didn’t” because we do now:

Atlanta Braves
Braves wRC+
Milwaukee BrewersBrewers wRC+ St. Louis CardinalsCardinals wRC+ Chicago CubsCubs wRC+ Arizona DiamondbacksDbacks wRC+ Los Angeles DodgersDodgers wRC+ San Francisco GiantsGiants wRC+ Miami MarlinsMarlins wRC+ New York MetsMets wRC+ Washington NationalsNationals wRC+ San Diego PadresPadres wRC+ Philadelphia PhilliesPhillies wRC+Pittsburgh Pirates
Pirates wRC+ Cincinnati RedsReds wRC+ Colorado RockiesRockies wRC+

If that’s at all confusing, let me try to explain some ways to use these visuals for analysis. The rounder the shape, the more evenly-distributed the offensive contributions. If it were an even, congruent polygon, you’d have completely equal production across the lineup. That’s a hard thing to ask for and no one ever completely achieves it, though some teams have come close than others. The more area that the shaded region occupies, the more offense that’s been created by the team. Compare the the Philliles and the Rockies, for example. Not a lot of red because the Phillies are bad and a lot of purple because the Rockies can score some runs even when we filter for park effects.

So where does this leave the Diamondbacks? Well, as you can see, Arizona is sort of leading the bottom third of the league. They’re not the worst offense in the league, but they’re a far cry from teams like the Dodgers and Cardinals. And the main culprit is the bottom of the lineup. Chris Owings has made a tiny bit of headway, but is still underperforming. Nick Ahmed is doing nothing when he’s not in the field and Tuffy Gosewisch is, well, Tuffy Gosewisch. The graph belonging to the Diamondbacks above illustrates that point incredibly well; rather than a robust shape, it’s really just some shading on half of the graph. The other half just isn’t contributing, and with this pitching staff, there’s no room for laggards.

So how does that get fixed? Well, when your 40-man roster only has the spare parts of Brandon Drury, Socrates Brito, and, well, no one else, you’re essentially stuck. What options does the team have? Calling up Drury who just isn’t ready yet, starting his service time clock and shelving someone else who needs playing time to try to work out of their funk? Promoting a super-raw and underprepared Brito and inserting him into an already-croweded outfield situation? These just aren’t realistic and/or helpful moves.

The teams simply stuck with what they have. I understand the clamoring for more middle infield production, but where are they supposed to find it? I’ve recently noted some thing in Chris Owings’ swing and Nick Ahmed’s approach while Ryan just laid out Aaron Hill’s struggles, but those guys just aren’t going anywhere and there are only so many ways to shuffle them into and out of the lineup. They’re missing Jake Lamb’s hot start in a big way and Yasmany Tomas is making contact that’s pretty much devoid of power. Honestly, there’s just no quick solution.

And that’s okay, because remember that discussion we had this winter about the team experimenting? That’s what’s going on right now. And if you remember way back to your sixth grade science class, not every experiment you ran went as planned. It’s still all about development and some struggles will continue. Let’s just hope we see some improvement along the way, because the offense is what it is for the most part, and any growth that happens is going to have to come from within.


11 Responses to Diamondbacks Offense, Visualized

  1. Tim says:

    Given Ahmed’s struggles, what do you think the ideal time share looks like once Lamb is back? Do you think he will realistically get enough playing time given the Tomas investment?

    I feel they should start Owings more at short to give Ahmed routine days off, hoping Hill can get on track. There doesn’t seem to be room in the outfield for Tomas, but do you think he gets spot starts?

    I really dig those new visualizations as well. Provide good insight to where the production comes from.

    • Jeff Wiser says:

      Even though Owings hasn’t been good, it’s really a question of whether Ahmed or Hill should get the other starts in the MI. You can argue that Ahmed needs the starts to progress and that Hill needs them to build value. Take your pick, I won’t fight you one way or another. If I were choosing, I’d say go 65/35 Ahmed, but I could be swayed.

      Lamb has to get back in the lineup when he’s able. Tomas has a cool little batting average at the moment, but it’s a lot of slappy contact and he’s not driving the ball at all. But that’s a whole other conundrum for another day.

      Glad you thought the visuals were helpful, it’s always fun to find a new tool!

  2. rye says:

    I’m for calling-up Drury exactly because this is an experiment and you don’t know what’s going to happen. He started the season slow but has heated up lately (hitting .326 in his last 10). I guarantee he’ll provide more offense to the big-league team than Ahmed. And…service-time/schmervice-time. He will be called up at some point this season, it’s just a matter of when. The big-league team could really use his bat right now not to mention his ability to play 3B. If the goal is to get the team ready for 2016 Drury will need to see some MLB ABs; the more, the better. I don’t buy for a second that calling him up hurts his development. His defense is ready IMO and seeing MLB pitching will only help him develop.

    The huge hole behind the plate is driving me nuts. The fact that O’Brien, after more than a month of destroying baseballs in the PCL, hasn’t caught one game is pissing me off to no end. I know they wanted to “give him a month break from catching” but that month is up. Still, he’s playing 1B and outfield. I understand that the chances of him sticking at C are slim to none but those odds are better than doing nothing. The off-season FA catcher market looks barren from my recollection and the team has zero internal options beyond Hernandez who might not be any better than Tuffy. The team can maybe afford a defense only shortstop OR a defense only catcher but it can’t afford both.

    • Jeff Wiser says:

      Your comments here have been superb, so don’t take my disagreement as disrespect. That said, yes, I do think it’s reasonable to think that Drury could get a look this season, but now’s not the time. What’s the corresponding move? Are you willing to promote Drury ahead of the Super Two cutoff because he had a good ten games? He’s struggled some against better pitching; a lot of his spring success was against AAA arms. Spring stats can be incredibly misleading. I do think you’ve got a point that at sometime in the very near future, he needs a bigger challenge and I think that will happen, just not quite yet and I’m okay with that.

      The hole behind the plate is a problem, but Peter O’Brien is not the answer. Period. I know he has caught in the past, but he was never considered a legitimate catching prospect by anyone other than the Diamondbacks, and a lot of their comments were simply for the sake of PR. Every scout in baseball knows he’s not a catcher. It was a fun experiment, but it’s much bigger than his errant throws to the pitcher as they’ve reported. His pop times are way too slow, his arm isn’t all that accurate and the skill of receiving the baseball is an art that cannot be learned quickly. The reason he’s not catching is because he’s not a catcher. I don’t know what else to say. I have spoke to a ton of people on this, many of them scouts, and not a single one has ever said that he’s a viable catching option outside of a role as an emergency backup guy who plays as little as possible behind the plate. I know he was marketed as a catcher, but that was misleading.

      • rye says:

        Fear not insulting me as I respect you and the work you do too much to feel harmed. The Ahmed experiment is not working. He is as advertised; a fantastic defensive short-stop with little to no bat. He’s not even doing the little things well. Working counts, bunting, drawing walks, stealing bases are completely absent from his game. I’ve seen zero adjustment in his approach or any indication that he’s heading in the right direction.

        You asked my corresponding move and it’s to move Ahmed to Reno. There, he can inflate his numbers nicely until the trade deadline where either he or Pennington can be shipped or he can sit in Reno for the entirety of 2015 and take over the utility infield role next season.

        For Drury, I would be very happy if super-2 actually came into play. This would mean that he was ready and did well enough to stick. I’d personally think that trading a year of pre-arb for a Drury with considerable MLB experience entering 2016 would be worth it.

        As to O’Brien. Catcher or no (and, I understand, you are quite emphatic in your “no”) I want to see. He’s literally 3rd on the RHB, power-bat, no-defense, depth-chart. He very well may have value to another team as DH/corner outfielder type but he has zero value in that role to this team. I see absolutely no reason not to shove him behind the plate in meaningless MiLB games for the 1 in 100 shot that it works out. Catcher is the position he’s played the most, it’s the position he was drafted as, and it’s the only position he has any value at as a D-Backs. He’ll still have the same trade value as he is likely to hit regardless of position. I’m not asking the team to put all of it’s eggs in the O’Brien basket but completely giving up on him at this point seems foolish when there is not another clear option. On a completely related subject, I’d love to here your opinion on what direction this team should be taking on acquiring a back-stop. What FA catchers have appeal in the off-season? Any teams with near MLB ready prospect catchers that are blocked for years to come?

        • Jeff Wiser says:

          Great stuff all around. I could see the Drury/Ahmed swap, and maybe that’s what ultimately happens. It’ll be a while yet, but maybe sooner than later.

          And yeah, O’Brien isn’t a catcher in my mind, but he’s not about to play anywhere else, so letting him catch isn’t the worst idea ever. It’s not like he’s taking reps away from someone more deserving, necessarily.

          Which points to the larger problem of actually plugging the whole. This won’t work, no one the org has is capable of holding it down in productive way. It’ll have to come from outside. I think they end up trading for someone or signing somebody over the winter, and probably someone who’s just okay. I don’t know that this is where they’ll make their big financial splash, I tend to think that’ll come more on pitching and perhaps another impact bat (that’s not a catcher). The window has really passed to do something about it at this point for 2015, unless they think they can get something at the deadline, maybe by jumping in on some other deals as a third party. The next Miguel Montero might be a ways off in the future.

  3. Jim Ellis says:

    Dear Jeff,

    This post (as a few other have last season) became the basis of a math extension lesson that I taught to my seventh grade pre-algebra students just today. So, thanks. I’m teaching at an American International School in Vienna, Austria so you might imagine that the understanding of Baseball is limited among this rather international student body, but this post lead to other creative visualizations of data we wanted to represent. I think the New York name and the Met’s numbers made a few new fans. Perhaps next month you pad the Dbacks numbers if needed? I’d prefer they share my AZ preferences. Thanks again.

    • Jeff Wiser says:

      I’ll do what I can to brighten the future of Austria’s youth by steering their rooting interests our way!

      Seriously, I’m ecstatic that this could be of any use. I started my professional career as a high school teacher and still work in education, so to be able to share anything baseball related with students is just pure happiness. Thanks for letting us know, and if there’s something specific you’d like to do at some point in time, let us know (either here, or via Facebook or Twitter)!

      • Anonymous says:

        This is great. One suggestion on a way to decrease the Mets love would be to use the same 250 maximum for their graph as you do for all the others. Theirs is 200, which makes them look much better than they should. Not that they ate not doing well, just not THAT well.

  4. Anonymous says:

    Poor Tuffy, he was overused during st, so his start doesn’t surprise me. Owings, what his ball speed off the bat, compared to pre shoulder, he hasn’t been the same obviously. Wish they would of started him in aaa. Is his shoulder right? Hill if he got going again, would help make the polygon come together. More than anyone else. Temp moves, send co down when Jake is ready and does his two weeks. More penny and hill up the middle. More trumbo in two hole with ender in front and goldy behind.

    • Jeff Wiser says:

      I love Ender batting first, even though maybe Pollock is still technically the best choice. Still, having the flexibility to move A.J. down is nice. I’d like to go Inciarte, Goldy, A.J. and Trumbo/Peralta, but that’s just me. Getting Jake Lamb back has the potential to really lengthen out the lineup, provide he actually plays.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.