How the D-backs are outbattling everyone

October 14th, 2023

The most frustrating task in the 2023 postseason has become getting through the D-backs' lineup.

The other teams remaining might have more star power -- the Rangers, the Astros, and Arizona's opponents in the National League Championship Series, the Phillies. But so did the Dodgers. And that didn't stop the D-backs from outbattling them.

That's what this D-backs team does. It battles. Arizona's hitters outwork opposing pitchers, at-bat after at-bat, and whether it's sooner or later, they eventually get to everyone.

"I think this team is capable of doing anything," manager Torey Lovullo said after the D-backs upset Los Angeles. "We're a very dynamic team. It's about having mature at-bats and handing it off to the next guy, not doing too much."

Here's how the D-backs' top-to-bottom approach is pushing them through the postseason.

The D-backs, first of all, are seeing the most pitches of any team in the playoffs. They're the only offense averaging over four pitches per plate appearance, with hitters like Alek Thomas (4.52 pitches/PA), Christian Walker (4.52) and Tommy Pham (4.48) leading the way.

Most pitches/PA by team offense, 2023 postseason 

  • D-backs: 4.14
  • Phillies/Twins: 3.98
  • Braves: 3.92
  • Marlins/Rangers/Brewers: 3.89
  • Rays: 3.84
  • Orioles: 3.82
  • Astros: 3.79
  • Blue Jays: 3.75
  • Dodgers: 3.65

This is actually a pretty big difference from the regular season, when Arizona was a slightly below-average team when it came to seeing pitches. The D-backs ranked 18th among the 30 teams with 3.89 pitches seen per plate appearance; the MLB average for 2023 was 3.91. They've stepped up their game for the playoffs. 

And that number is even stronger when the starting pitcher is still in the game. Arizona hitters are seeing 4.33 pitches per plate appearance against opposing starters this postseason, and that patient approach has let the D-backs outlast every single starting pitcher they've faced so far.

The D-backs have scored at least three runs against each starter (Corbin Burnes, Freddy Peralta, Clayton Kershaw, Bobby Miller and Lance Lynn), and homered against four of the five -- three times against Burnes, once against Peralta and Kershaw, four times against Lynn. No starter has lasted more than five innings against Arizona.

D-backs star Corbin Carroll explained the team's mentality after they knocked out Burnes in their first game of the playoffs: "We wanted to get him out of there. I thought we took really patient at-bats and got rewarded with that patience by getting some balls in the middle of the plate that we were able to put good swings on."

That was a sign of things to come.

Starting pitchers vs. the D-backs in the playoffs
Corbin Burnes: 4+ IP, 4 R, 3 HR
Freddy Peralta: 5+ IP, 4 R, 1 HR
Clayton Kershaw: 1/3 IP, 6 R, 1 HR
Bobby Miller: 1 2/3 IP, 3 R
Lance Lynn: 2 2/3 IP, 4 R, 4 HR

That's 21 runs the D-backs have scored against opposing starters in just 13 2/3 innings across five games. If they don't get to the starter early, like they did to Kershaw and Miller, they'll get to him later on, like they did to Burnes, Peralta and Lynn.

The D-backs' hitters can do that because they grind out deep at-bats with the confidence that the pitcher won't be able to beat them. Arizona's offense leads all postseason teams with 20 two-strike hits, nine two-strike extra-base hits and six two-strike home runs.

Pham has six of those two-strike hits, tied with the Phillies' Trea Turner for the postseason lead. Gabriel Moreno has three two-strike home runs, more than anyone else in the playoffs (Austin Riley and Royce Lewis had two each for their now-eliminated teams).

"He doesn't give away at-bats," Lovullo said of Moreno. "He's engaged. He's not afraid to have two strikes. Every good Major Leaguer is not afraid to hit with two strikes on him."

So many of Arizona's key hits through their sweeps of the Brewers and Dodgers came with two strikes. They had 10 two-strike RBI hits between the two series:

  • Moreno's homer off Burnes in the fourth inning of Game 1 of the Wild Card Series
  • Walker's two-run double off Brewers closer Devin Williams in the ninth inning of that game
  • Ketel Marte's go-ahead single off Peralta in the sixth inning of Wild Card Series Game 2
  • Lourdes Gurriel Jr.'s single off Abner Uribe later that inning
  • Walker's double off Kershaw in the first inning of Game 1 of the NLDS
  • Moreno's three-run homer off Kershaw the next at-bat
  • Thomas' homer after a 14-pitch at-bat in the seventh inning of that game
  • Pham's homer in the eighth inning, still in Game 1
  • Gurriel's homer off Ryan Brasier in the sixth inning of NLDS Game 2
  • Moreno's homer off Lynn in NLDS Game 3, the fourth off Lynn in the inning

The average pitch count for those hitters in those 10 at-bats was 6.3 pitches. These D-backs are working deep counts, and coming through at the end of those long at-bats with clutch hits.

They have been disciplined, as Arizona has only chased 23.3 percent of pitches out of the strike zone this postseason, lowest of any team. And they have been resilient -- the putaway rate against Arizona hitters (the percent of two-strike pitches that get a strikeout) is just 18 percent, second best for any team offense, after the Orioles. D-backs hitters have fouled off or put in play 77.8 percent of the pitches they've swung at with two strikes, also second best after Baltimore.

They were good at those things in the regular season -- the D-backs had the eighth-lowest chase rate of any team (26.6 percent), and the eighth-lowest putaway rate (18.3 percent) -- but they weren't this good.

Arizona has turned into the most patient, best-battling team in the playoffs. That's the underdogs' formula for their deep postseason run.