Will Pitching Sink the Diamondbacks in October?

Major League Baseball’s surprise team may run out of luck in the playoffs. After finishing dead last in the NL West last season, the Diamondbacks currently lead the division by seven games, and look poised to enter the postseason. While their hitting and fielding have both been solid this season, the pitching has been the real reason for the Diamondbacks’ turnaround. Led by one of the worst bullpen performances we’ve seen in recent years, the Diamondbacks finished last in pitching WAR in 2010. This season, the Diamondbacks have improved to roughly league average due to breakout performances by Ian Kennedy and Daniel Hudson. Still, those performances may not be enough to lead the Diamondbacks to victory in October.

A quick look at the FanGraphs team pitching leader board reveals the obvious. Of the eight projected playoff teams — the current division leaders, plus the Atlanta Braves and Boston Red Sox — the Diamondbacks currently rate eighth in pitching WAR, dead last among playoff teams. When you break it down into starters vs relievers, the Diamondbacks don’t fare all that well either. The Diamondbacks’ bullpen rates fifth among the eight playoff teams, while the starting pitching still puts the D-Backs in last.

Pulling up WAR leader boards for starters is somewhat misleading, however, considering teams go to a three man rotation once the playoffs begin. A look at the individual pitching leader boards reveals somewhat of a surprise. Outside of the Philadelphia Phillies’ “Big Three,” the Diamondbacks have the two best starters in the National League playoffs according to WAR. The Diamondbacks may struggle in the “quantity” department, but they certainly have quality at the front of the rotation with Kennedy and Hudson.

But it would be foolish to ignore the third slot in the D-Backs’ rotation. Hurting for pitching, the Diamondbacks traded for Jason Marquis to shore up their rotation. Unfortunately, he promptly broke his leg and it’s unclear whether he will return for the postseason. The Diamondbacks could turn to Josh Collmenter — who has been their third best starter despite only throwing 130 innings this season — but he’s unproven in the playoffs. If all else fails, the team can turn to Joe Saunders. Which ever pitcher the D-Backs decide to roll with in the playoffs, the third spot in their rotation is going to be a problem.

The Diamondbacks’ bullpen also has two strong performers in David Hernandez and JJ Putz. They may not rate higher than the Braves back-end trio, the mustachioed man in Milwaukee or the Phillies duo, but Hernandez and Putz have put together strong seasons for the Diamondbacks. If the Diamondbacks’ starters can pitch deep into games, their pen might be able to hold things together this season.

On the surface, the Diamondbacks’ pitching looks overmatched entering the NL playoffs. Once we dig a little deeper, however, the Diamondbacks look like a team that might surprise on a national stage with their unheralded starters. At the same time, that third rotation slot is a major question mark that puts the D-Backs at a disadvantage no matter which team they face. The Diamondbacks have the quality arms needed to contend with the big boys, but they still lack the quantity needed for a deep playoff run.




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Chris is a blogger for CBSSports.com. He has also contributed to Sports on Earth, the 2013 Hard Ball Times Baseball Annual, ESPN, FanGraphs and RotoGraphs. He tries to be funny on twitter @Chris_Cwik.


26 Responses to “Will Pitching Sink the Diamondbacks in October?”

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  1. Woodman says:

    Collmenter is unproven in the playoffs, whatever that means, but Kennedy and Hudson are proven playoff performers?

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    • AndyS says:

      I’m actually supremely disappointed to hear about “proven playoff performer” on a site like fangraphs. Come on, I KNOW the writers here know that “proven performer” is bullshit.

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    • Black_Rose says:

      Collmenter may have a Rick Ankiel moment because he is unproven in the playoffs. He’s a rookie just like Ankiel in 2000.

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  2. JB says:

    That third spot in the rotation would look pretty good manned by Hudson. You know, with Dan Haren and Kennedy behind him…

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  3. JB says:

    In front of him, rather.

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  4. curious says:

    “Will pitching sink the Diamondbacks this October?”

    Answer: Maybe or maybe not, couldn’t say…

    There’s five minutes I won’t get back

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  5. qudjy1 says:

    As a Dback fan, I am perfectly fine with AZ being underdogs in any playoff scenario. The fact that we are talking about playoff scenarios and the Dbacks in the same sentence is beautiful.

    AZ will be loose, and have ZERO pressure on them – playing with house money, etc, etc. Gibson will eat the underdog role up.

    Will they get crushed, probably – but nothing surprises me anymore with these guys…

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    • big league chyut says:

      Taking the words out of my mouth qudjy. I can’t legitimately say we *will* beat the Phillies (because that would be pretty ludicrous), but this team already surpassed expectations over a month ago. Anything that happens is just gravy. And it’s always a bit dangerous to play a team with absolutely nothing to lose.

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  6. Adam says:

    Jarrod Parker???

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    • qudjy1 says:

      No. he isnt on the 40 man roster.

      There was some discussion about Bauer – but i think they are concerned with piling innings on.

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      • Mike Flamer says:

        Trevor Bauer, Jarrod Parker and Tyler Skaggs, the “big 3″ pitchers for the Dbacks of the future, are pitching for the Mobile AA team in the playoffs. I doubt any will be called up. But, they all are talented pitchers, when teamed with Kennedy and Hudson, could form a formidable starting rotation either next year or the year after. Also, unsaid is the fact that the Dbacks have finally shed their 2001 contract commitments and will have $20 million more to spend on talent. Could get very interesting for its fans.

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      • qudjy1 says:

        Thats true Mike – and thats not counting Collmenter who has been pretty good, Miley who looks promising (gotta keep the walks down), and that next tier (Holmberg, Corbin, Archie Bradley needs some time, but profiles as a front line guy), etc…

        That AA mobile looks like a decent MLB rotation RIGHT NOW.

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  7. Collmenter would actually be a very intriguing option for Game 3. His arm angle is incredibly difficult to pick up, which could be valuable in a short series. He’s faced the Phillies, Braves and Brewers before twice each and allowed 3 ER in 34.2 IP combined, so there is no case that the three playoff teams have truly seen him well even if they’ve seen him. He’d be my choice for a Game 3, and I’d be fairly confident with it. He HAS been exceptional at home.

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    • qudjy1 says:

      I think i agree – esp when you consider Saunders lack of success against LHers in his career.

      AZ has enough odd guys in their staff to make a short series interesting. They could piece together a 3rd game with Collmenter starting, to Owings, to Zeigler to Shaw to Patterson, etc. Short series are so different – you just never know.

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    • SM Jenkins says:

      Solid reasoning.

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  8. michaelfranko says:

    I don’t see what the problem is in starting Collmenter; he’s their third best pitcher in all likelihood.

    This team is supposed to be a bunch of young guys who weren’t supposed to win much anyway… It’s more of an issue for a bigger market team.

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  9. dxclancy says:

    Looking forward to the Giants rendering this article irrelevant.

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  10. ValueArb says:

    shouldn’t this be titled “pitching is why Diamondbacks will do well in playoffs”?

    The playoffs aren’t the regular season, the front end of the rotation and bullpen get a higher percentage of innings in the playoffs. So using aggregate WAR stats for ranking the playoff strength of a teams pitching components is foolish. Given the DBacks top two starters and Collmenter, they are probably a top three playoff pitching staff. of course I’m too lazy to do the math, but make me a staff writer and consider it done.

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  11. jimedbrown says:

    OH YEA OF LITTLE FAITH, DIAMONDBACKS IN PLAYOFFS 4 TO 2 OVER THE PHILLIES AND THEN ONTO THE SERIES THEY WILL BE THE CHAMPS ITS THEIR DESTINY

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  12. SonnyH says:

    How SWEEET it is! I love the fact we are even talking about our DBacks and the Post Season!

    Colmenter has done a fantastic job this year, and I see no reason why he wouldnt be our 3rd…His W/L record is skewed a bit and our BP has let him down a few times…Saunders in no way should be considered for the 3rd spot.

    I too believe this team can beat ANYONE! They have proven time and time again that they are for real, and will be for years to come.

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  13. southpawryno says:

    The way it’s written “Unfortunately, he promptly broke his leg” it sounds like Marquis took a hammer to his leg immediately after being traded.

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