Nine out of ten ESPN experts are picking the Rockies to beat the Diamondbacks. So is 71% of SportsNation. And if the lines from various shady gambling entities are to be believed, that’s what the betting public believes as well.
It was only a week ago when I was just another garden variety Diamondback basher. At that time I wrote “The Diamondbacks … have one of the worst lineups ever for a team that reached the playoffs, a group that resembles the 1988 Dodgers sans Kirk Gibson”, and went on to pick the Cubs to sweep the series.
I mentioned in passing in that article that the Diamondbacks’ offense had been much better in September, then quickly dismissed it by using Augie Ojeda’s name as a punchline. Well, I now think I might have bypassed that performance too quickly. Take a look at the following:
April-August September PECOTA
Snyder .253/.330/.431 .246/.394/.439 .263/.340/.436
Young .234/.287/.468 .253/.333/.463 .283/.363/.541
Jackson .279/.362/.444 .326/.418/.562 .294/.380/.486
Reynolds .262/.333/.486 .300/.394/.522 .260/.325/.483
Drew .232/.308/.359 .266/.333/.426 .287/.349/.504
Upton .226/.278/.381 .214/.290/.339 .256/.319/.415
AVERAGE .248/.316/.428 .268/.360/.459 .274/.346/.478
Through games of August 31, the six pre-peak regulars in the Diamondbacks’ everyday lineup were averaging a .744 OPS. And then, from September 1st onward, with nothing particuarly remarkable happening on the Diamondbacks’ schedule, that average shot up to a .819 OPS. What was the average PECOTA-projected performance from these players before the season began? An .824 OPS — essentially identical to their September performance.
Considering how young these players are, I think we need to ask ourselves whether the Diamondbacks were getting hot in September … or whether they were simply regressing back toward their true levels of performance. It was the April through August performance that was the aberration, in some sense.
This is a gross oversimplification, of course, and it is not necessarily to say that the Diamondbacks are the better team. They do however have some structural advantages in this series, with Brandon Webb potentially getting to pitch three times, plus the home field advantage, plus some favorable match-up factors (and that’s how I picked it in my Sports Illustrated preview that hits newsstands today: Bax in 7). In general, there have been too many words expended on trying to explain away how the Diamondbacks outperformed Pythagoras … and too few how they might have underperformed their talent.