9-14, fifth place in the West. It's hard to deal with. It doesn't seem real. Somehow, I just can't believe our team is really this bad. We do have a good team, don't we?
Going on the belief that our team is really better than they've played, I started trying to observe other factors that might explain our dreadful start. One tthing that struck me is that we seem to have overwhelmingly faced good pitching. Penny twice, Owalt twice, Cain twice, Lincecum twice.
But we all know that perceptions can be deceiving. Have we really faced the best pitching out of anyone in the West? And what about our offense? Is it all pitching? Are there other reasons we have struggled?
My conclusions are below the fold. Come along, if you please.
To try to make some sense of the chaos, I used Baseball-Reference's game logs to examine which starters each team in the NL West has faced so far this year. Once I had the list of starters each team has faced, I recorded the ERA+ (a normalized, park-adjusted number. 100 is average. Anything above 100 is good, anything below is bad. ERA+ is also a percentage, so a pitcher with an ERA+ of 114 is 14% better than the average.) for each starter. I also used the 2007 figures for each starter, as I didn't want our crappy offense to artifically inflate the numbers. In instances where the pitcher was a rookie, or didn't throw enough innings in 2007 (below 50, for my purposes), I used career numbers where available, or 2008 stats (for rookies). This isn't an exact science, but it should give us an idea of what we faced. For relievers or spot starter in 2007 who are now starting in 2008, I used their 2007 numbers.
Below are the average ERA+ of starters that each team in the West has faced this year. I have also listed repeat starters each team has faced (along with their ERA+) and any rookies or pitchers who didn't log enough innings in 2007 ( where I had to use numbers that may not be indicative of their true ability).
Los Angeles Dodgers: 102.76
Starters faced more than once: Peavy (159) and Haren (137).
Potential Outliers: M. Valdez (81) and J. Bennett (94)
Colorado Rockies: 110.23
Starters faced more than once: Webb (156) and E. Gonzalez (137).
Potential Outliers: None.
San Francisco Giants: 111.43
Starters faced more than once: Maddux (98), Wellemeyer (98), Pineiro (104), Webb (156), and Owings (109).
Potential Outliers: H. Kuo (87) and M. Parra (98).
Arizona Diamondbacks: 113.32
Starters faced more than once: Francis (114), Morales (140), Billingsley (138), and Zito (98).
Potential Outliers: Cueto (107) and Kuroda (145).
San Diego Padres: 118.13
Starters faced more than once: Oswalt (138), Backe (117), Penny (151), Lowe (118), Cain (122), and Lincecum (111).
Potential Outliers: Kuroda (145)
As you can see, we have indeed faced the toughest average starting pitching of any of the teams in the West. A quick look at the repeated starters gives us a good indication of this. Some of our opponents have also had the good fortune to repeatedly face starters in 2008 who haven't been nearly as effective as they were in 2007 (Billingsley, Francis, and Morales).
Now, does this tell us the whole story? So we faced some good pitchers, is that all? What about where we've played? Could it be that in addition to facing the toughest pitching around, we've also played in places that make the job even tougher on hitters? We all know that Petco is a tough place to play, but how has our schedule comapred to other teams in the West? For these numbers, I used the 2007 Park Factors from ESPN.com. I tabulated the number of times each team played in which park, and averaged the factors accordingly. For Park Factors, any number greater than 1 means it's a hitters environment. Any number lower than 1 means it favors pitchers. Petco had the lowest Park Factor in baseball in 2007 at 0.775.
Arizona Diamondbacks: 1.093
Colorado Rockies: 1.032
Los Angeles Dodgers: 1.005
San Francisco Giants: 0.982
San Diego Padres: 0.883
Now, Petco does unduly affect these numbers. But it's important to realize that the most hitter friendly place we've played has been Chase Field, where we played a total of 3 games. Other than Chase Field, only Dodger Stadium posts a "hitter friendly" number of 1.053. Staggeringly, even Minute Maid is below 1, at 0.901.
Some of our opposition has the good fortune to play in environments that are more conducive to scoring runs. But what about other places they've played?
Arizona, who leads the division in run-friendly places, has also played games at Coors Field (1.16), Dodger Stadium (1.053), and Great American Ballpark (1.095). Chase Field posts an extremely friendly 1.111.
Colorado, whose home field posts a robust 1.16, has also played games at Chase Field. All of their other games (aside from home games), come in parks with Park Factors below 1 (Busch Stadium at 0.933, Petco, and Minute Maid.)
Los Angeles, who has a surprisingly high Park Factor of 1.053, has also played games at Chase and GAB. Only Petco and Turner Field (0.912) are difficult places to hit.
San Francicso, like us, has a tough home environment. However, AT&T is not as low as you'd imagine, as their PF of 0.987 is near average. Other than Busch Stadium and Petco, the Giants have played games in hitter friendly places such as Chase, Dodger Stadium, and Miller Park (1.011)
I'm not sure what, if anything, this means. Maybe our team really is better than they're playing, and they've had an extraordinarily tough schedule for the first month. Not only is Petco a tough place to hit, but we haven't exactly played a ton of games in places where it IS easy to hit. Coupled with the ridiculuously bad luck we've had in terms of the starters we've drawn, it's understandable that our offense has struggled.
I am in no way proposing that this is an excuse. They are professional ball players. But maybe, just maybe, we should all back away from the ledge. It is unlikely that this kind of horrifically coincidental scheduling will continue throughout the season. We're bound to see Barry Zito at some point.
(If anyone is interested, I can send out the Excel file I used to compile this data. I'm sorry for the long diatribe, but I hope it's been worth your time.)