For a second, set aside the recent rough patch heading before the All-Star break. The Arizona Diamondbacks can direct credit for their best start in franchise history a number of ways.
There was the new front office led by Mike Hazen making key, veteran additions. There’s the new manager, Torey Lovullo, instilling confidence in his team with his communication skills.
A.J. Pollock — and the entire team for that matter — entered the year healthy compared to a season prior.
Young players like Jake Lamb and Brandon Drury began the year with a bang.
But there is also the pitching staff, one that has consistently carried Arizona in the first half of 2017. The Ringer’s Michael Baumann is making the case that the D-backs just might have the best rotation in the majors, and the stats back him up.
According to Baseball-Reference’s wins above average, the Diamondbacks have the best starting rotation by a win and a half over second-place Washington. FanGraphs has them at 11.2 WAR, six-tenths of a win behind the first-place Dodgers, but by ERA-, Diamondbacks starters are in first place. Arizona’s fifth in starter K%, though the gap from second to sixth is half a percentage point.
Each of those leaderboards contains an odd outlier or two, but if you look at them together, a group of five teams keeps ending up near the top: Cleveland, Washington, Arizona, Boston, and the Dodgers.
Surprisingly, the statistics also indicate the Diamondbacks are more than a top-heavy rotation led by Zack Greinke and Robbie Ray, both All-Stars who hold sub-3.00 ERAs and have excelled striking out opponents.
This, mind you, considering Arizona hasn’t been completely healthy this season.
There are 29 starters this season with an ERA+ of 130 or better in at least 60 innings pitched. The Diamondbacks have five: Greinke, Ray, Godley, Taijuan Walker, and Randall Delgado (who’s not really a starter, with five starts this year against 24 relief appearances). Houston (Dallas Keuchel, Lance McCullers, Brad Peacock) is the only other team with more than two such pitchers. Arizona’s used eight different starting pitchers this year, and seven of them have at least a league-average ERA+. The exception, Braden Shipley, has thrown only 11.1 innings in 2017.
Godley, who replaced starter Shelby Miller after the latter underwent Tommy John surgery, is perhaps the biggest surprise. His basic ERA numbers were nearly on par with Greinke and Ray’s before a rough loss to the Braves on Sunday in which he allowed a season-high six earned runs — he’d not allowed more than three in any of his 11 prior starts.
Baumann suggests Godley’s performance so far is no fluke.
Throw in Walker’s blister-induced DL stint and Delgado’s replacement of him, and there’s a strong case the pitching depth is perhaps the best in baseball.
Of course, a lot can happen between now October. It doesn’t help that Delgado went on the 10-day disabled list over the weekend due to elbow inflammation, and if Ray and Greinke finally hit bumps in the road, maybe the D-backs will appear more vulnerable as they try to climb out of
It doesn’t help that Delgado went on the 10-day disabled list over the weekend due to elbow inflammation, and if Ray and Greinke finally hit bumps in the road, maybe the D-backs will appear more vulnerable as they try to climb out of hole after losing 11 of their last 14.
But to this point, Baumann finds it possible to say the Diamondbacks’ rotation is among the best.
There isn’t a compelling statistical case that the Diamondbacks haven’t had the best starting rotation in baseball this year. You can argue that a more top-heavy group might fare better in the playoffs, or that Ray or Godley might falter down the stretch, or that having more familiar names in the back half of the top five is just more comforting. But no matter how you look at it, the Diamondbacks are probably headed back to the playoffs, and they’re doing so on the strength of outstanding starting pitching.
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