Baseball Evolution West: The Offenses

Baseball Evolution West: The Offenses

Going into play on Saturday, the National League leader in scoring was the Los Angeles Dodgers with 304 runs. Coming in at third in the National League was the Diamondbacks with 278. The interesting twist: neither team ranked better than 10th in the league in home runs. How each team is getting it done, and how long they can do it for.

Number (Rank) AZ LA AZ Home AZ Road
Runs 278 (3) 304 (1) 162 (2) 116 (13)
Home Runs 48 (11) 52 (10) 30 (7) 18 (16)
Batting Average .272 (4) .277 (1) .304 (1) .242 (14)
On Base Percentage .342 (4) .360 (1) .371 (2) .314 (14)
Stolen Bases 29 (8) 48 (2) 13 (9) 16 (8)

Both of these offenses are scoring runs by stringing together singles and doubles, not by simply waiting around for the three run homer. The main difference in their offensive approaches is that the Dodgers have Rafael Furcal, Kenny Lofton, and Jason Repko thieving bases everywhere they go (they are a combined 31-for-39), while the Diamondbacks mostly play it station-to-station.

This makes sense when the Diamondbacks play in hitter-friendly Chase Field. The D'Backs have no trouble scoring there, and quite frankly, neither do their opponents, unless Brandon Webb is starting that day. Why play for one run if the final score is likely to be around 8-5?

The trouble comes when Arizona is on the road. Their money must be faded from that Arizona sun, because they can't seem to buy a hit in any other city. The good news is that the Diamondbacks' 3.37 road ERA is best in all of baseball by a good margin. This produces a lot of 3-2 ballgames, ballgames in which it makes sense to play for one run.

But Bob Melvin hasn't altered his strategies to account for this disparity. In fairness, he simply doesn't have anyone with the speed of Rafael Furcal (who has scored more runs than any Diamondback despite hitting just .257 on the season) or the baserunning savvy of Kenny Lofton (21st all time in SB, one behind Ozzie Smith). They do have a remarkably efficient runner in leadoff man Eric Byrnes, who hasn't been thrown out in seven attempts so far this year, and boasts an astonishing 89% career success rate. He could probably stand to attempt a few more steals on the road.

Is there help on the way? Sort of. The Diamondbacks have some speedy players in Tucson, but none have swiped over five bases yet. The only player in Tennessee with more than three steals is Danny Richar, who's six-for-six. Richar plays second base, by the way, and could certainly work in a home/road platoon with the struggling Orlando Hudson (still using Hudson for his incredible defense when a groundball pitcher is on the mound, of course).
The other whisper…actually, more of a shout… is that the club should call up five-tooler Stephen Drew and move Craig Counsell over to second base. One problem I have with this is that Drew is just 1-for-4 in the stolen base department so far this year, and 4-for-11 in his professional career. He's obviously got a lot to learn about reading pitchers from first base, which makes me suspect that he needs more time to learn about reading pitchers from the batter's box as well.

But even if the organization decides not to address the speed issue, there are other ways to manufacture runs on the road. Going into Saturday, the club had only eight successful sacrifices on the road; only Milwaukee and Cincinnati had fewer in the National League. Melvin has used the Hit and Run some, but not enough on the road. Johnny Estrada, Conor Jackson, and Luis Gonzalez all have excellent strikeout rates this year, and should be counted on more often to protect runners on the Hit and Run play.

Basically, if the Diamondbacks want to be better than a .500 team away from home, they're going to have to do everything they can to move across the few runners that they put on base. While lacking in team speed, I honestly think that they have the personnel with strong enough fundamentals to do it. All they need is for Bob Melvin to deploy an old school offense away from Chase Field.

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