Nationals Baseball

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Offseason Position Discussion : First Base

Last year's discussion 

A lot of last year's discussions were obvious. The Nats were pretty much set all over the place. For first base, my take was no different than pretty much everyone else's. The Nats were stuck starting Zimm because even though he was rarely healthy (156 games played in 2014 and 2015) they had him on a big contract deal and when he did play - he hit, so there wasn't an obvious upgrade without spending a lot of money.  I noted it was a bad position for the Nats as they pretty much had to do this and it was almost sure not to work. So good for me on nailing that because it didn't work at all.

Zimm still got injured (missed 40+ games) and now lost his ability to hit, putting up a .218 / .272 / .370 line that was a Ryan Howard away from creating the worst first-base situation in baseball. The assumption that Robinson would help mitigate the problem didn't work out either as Zimm was healthy enough to play a bulk of the games and Clint only put up a .235 / .305 / .332 line when he did get to hit. First base was a disaster and in my mind is the Nats biggest problem going into 2017*

My out of the box plan would have been fine but not earth-shaking, at least not for 2016. Trading Zimm and starting Robinson would have probably produced better results. How much better? Probably just a little but every bit counts I guess. More realistically it would free up the Nats to make moves now based on the idea that first base needed an external solution. As for who the Nats got back I basically said trade him to the Mariners for any of their failing OF prospects (re: Not Alan Jackson). Would any of them had worked out? Austin Wilson - no. Gabby Guerrero - no. Patrick Kivlehan - no. Jabari Henry - no. Brayan Hernandez - eh.  Tyler O'Neill - yes! Ok let's say the Nats got O'Neill then! ... ok the trade would have been a nothing but the contract (or at least some of the guaranteed money) would now be freed up - so overall win.

Presumed Plan

The Nats start Ryan Zimmerman with Clint Robinson as his back-up.

Reasoning for presumed plan

If Ryan Zimmerman was almost untradable last year - to the point I had the Nats eating money and taking back a mediocre prospect from a thin system - then he's literally radioactive this year. Coming off his third straight partial year, having his worst offensive performance ever and still owed at least 48 million over the next 3 years (that inclues 2 million buyout at end) no one is touching Zimm, not unless the Nats eat 90% of this deal. Zimm's on the team then.

Ok well if he's on the team he likely gets at least one more crack at playing first full-time. Last year was a disaster, yes, but you can look to a few things to give you hope heading into 2017. First, last year was the only year he hasn't hit. Even when spending half the year on the DL, he was an above average bat when playing. He had an OPS of .858 in May before facing injuries the rest of the year. The fancy stats don't suggest he's hitting the ball too softly which is usually a huge warning sign of being done. He spent a lot of the year hitting the ball as hard as anyone.  His post-season performance (6-17 with 2 doubles and 3 walks) was promising.

If Zimm gets another crack at first, it only makes sense to give Robinson, a good hitter in 2015 who is cheap and compliments Zimm's RHB, another crack as his back-up.

Problems with the presumed plan

It's pretty obvious, isn't it? Zimm's always had an issue staying on the field.  Last year he wasn't just a bad hitter, he was terrible. It might have been a slight aberration but you have to think the most likely scenario for 2017 would have him playing say... 100 games and hitting like .230 with unimpressive patience and power. That'll put him, and the Nats, near the bottom of the first base rankings again.

All the reasons for hope can be dismissed. Yes, last year was his first bad year at the plate. But he's been trending down since 2013 so a 69 OPS+ might be a surprise but a below average number would not have been. His OPS in May was very good, but he wasn't hurt in April or most of June and his OPSs there (.603 and .573) were not good. He did hit the ball hard but that was more concentrated in the beginning of the year and as we've discussed before, while he could hit it hard, he had issues hitting it hard and not directly into the ground. His post season performance is of course dealing with small sample size and it came after extra rest that he wouldn't get during the regular season.

There are also more worrying fancy stats, like a big drop in contact in the zone coupled with an increase in swings overall. The second year in a row where Zimm can't produce results against fastballs.

Meanwhile, Clint Robinson has had so few major league plate appearances (590) that you can't really pin down which Robinson is the "real" one, 2015 or 2016. He could easily be as bad as last year again. Given he'll be 32 in February the smarter money is probably on more 2016 than 2015 in Clint's future.

We don't usually talk about these things because they don't usually apply to first baseman but it's important to note neither of these guys are wizards in the field and are slow around the bases, so if they don't hit they don't offer much.

My take 

The Nats got lucky last year. Basically the right side of the infield did what it was supposed to but in reverse and cranked up... to the extreme! Murphy put up an unexpected MVP type season while Zimm cratered. Along with that, the other line-up issues (Espy, CF) and his strong May keeping his stats ok, allowed Zimm to sort of fly under the radar during the year. There is no denying though, he was terrible and the Nats can't count on another lucky season

It's time to try something new. I'm not sure what (we'll get to one idea) but the Nats usually move on a season sooner rather than a season later. You could argue last year was a season too late, but this year definitely is. The Nats need to find a new answer at first base. There are multiple possibilities. You can always sign a FA or trade for someone, but the fact that it's first base opens things up. The Nats can sign/trade for a 2B and shift Murphy to 1st. The Nats can sign/trade for a LF and shift Werth to 1st. The possiblities are limitless**

It will be a tough move but it has to be done. You can't stick with Zimm. If he were relatively healthy and just had an off-year, ok stick with him. If he was still hitting ok, just not able to get on the field, ok stick with him. But he's doing neither. A move has to be made.

Out of the box idea. 

How about LaRoche?

Ok seriously there are literally so many options that are reasonable, if you accept Zimm doesn't have to start, that it's hard to come up with something out of the box. From offering the Twins a Giolito/Robles/plus package for Dozier and shifting Murphy, to offering the Diamondbacks an EVERYONE package for Goldschmidt  to signing Steve Pearce to a reasonable 2 year deal to take your pick.  So how about this:

Trade to the White Sox for Adam Eaton and shift BRYCE to first. I've talked in the past about possibly shifting Rendon to first to help keep him healthy. The problem with that is Rendon is an excellent third baseman. You'd be wasting that. Bryce is not an excellent OFer. I like Bryce but his athletic ability has never translated to anything more than "eh" in the OF with a strong arm. He may not like as it will hurt his potential FA market, but if the Nats aren't going to re-sign him what do they care? Bryce at first keeps him healthy as possible (remember we all think his struggles this year are at least partly injury related) and Eaton is a good defender in RF (he'd aged out of CF) and a good bat. Imagine a Werth type trading a little power for defense and speed. Plus he's cheap through 2021. 2021! With team options the last two years!

Seriously any team with a strong farm system not looking to throw it at the White Sox for Eaton + Sale or Eaton + Quintana is a foolish team.***

*A lot of talk is centered around the idea the Nats have to move Turner to SS to get Danny out of there. That's a plan. However in my mind Danny is 4th in line for "things the Nats must solve" behind First, Catcher, and Center Field. Maybe even behind closer though I don't think that's a talent issue like these other ones. That's more a question of choice.

**Not true. I literally listed them. There is a limit 

***Why aren't the White Sox better than with all this realitvely cheap tradeable talent? (There's also Todd Frazier! and Jose Abreu!) They played in the toughest division in baseball last year. They lack that one definite All-Star type bat (though Frazier or Abreu are capable of having that type of year), while having two gaping holes in the lineup. Sale/Quintana aren't the lights out #1/#2 you think they are, but merely above average starters, while #3/#4 were holding on and the #5 spot might have been worst in the majors. It's an interesting team, who's ages and contracts suggest "Strike Now" so the moves last off-season made sense but they needed to go further. Thing is - only Frazier is a FA after next year so there is still time to try in 2017, so an offer will have to be good.

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

World Series!

Watch it.

Well if you want to, but I'll remind you that this will be the last real baseball for 5 months.

I had the Cubs at the beginning so I'll stick with them. Seems like the smart way to go. If you want a length... I'll go with another 5 gamer.  The pressure was about getting to the World Series.  I had a pretty good playoff prediction set there. So far only miss was Indians over the Blue Jays.

Some various playoff factoids you might have missed

After the Cubs and Indians all the championship droughts are for expansion teams. Senators/Rangers, Astros, Brewers, Padres, Expos/Nats, Mariners.

It's pretty amazing though that if we don't count the Expos/Nats as one thing, the longest WS appearance drought is "only" 40 seasons (Mariners). Every avid baseball fan 45 and older has seen every team that has made a World Series in a World Series. In the past 10 seasons, 13 different teams have made the World Series.  In the past 19 seasons, 20 teams have. So basically every adult has seen 2/3rds of the teams in baseball reach the World Series.

The Dodgers have now lost 4 consecutive NLCSs, accounting for 4 of the last 9.  They were also the last team to lose back to back CSs (2008-09 to the Phillies) before Toronto took that crown from them this year.

Since it started 5 years ago the AL wild Card has featured 9 different teams, the Orioles this year were the first repeat team.

AL WC teams are 1-4 in the DS, the only exception being the World Series reaching Royals in 2014.  NL WC teams are 3-2 in the DS.

The ALCS hasn't gone 7 games since 2008.
The last 4 World Series have gone 5 games (Road win in finale), 7 games (Road), 6 games (Home), and 4 games (Road). The last 5 before that went 7 (Home), 5 (Road), 6 (Home), 5 (Home), 4 (Road). That's a pretty good run of different types of series. We need a 4 game-sweep winning at home or a 6 game series, winning away to help complete the set.

If you're curious - last 6 game winner to do it away is the Marlins in 2003. Last 4 game sweep to end at home was the Yankees in 1999.

Monday, October 24, 2016

Offseason Position Discussion : Catcher

I'm going to mix it up again tacking on the last-year revisit before looking at this year.

Last year discussion revisited

My take ended up being just roll with Ramos and Lobaton as planned and hope for the best. It was a pretty easy take. Catcher can often be a barren position and if you didn't want to sign Weiters (and I didn't) then you really didn't have a better choice than sticking with Wilson and his improved defense. Maybe he would hit?

Well of course he did hit, better than ever, presumably thanks to LASIK. For a long stretch, basically all of June and July with a bit of carryover into the adjacent months, he was one of the best hitters in baseball. He hit .350 / .403 / .596  from May 29th through August 7th. It got overshadowed a bit on the Nats because Murphy was doing even better but that's team carrying offense right there. Plus his defense remained sharp. Even though he sputtered toward the end of the season (he hit .232 / .272 / .352 starting with the Cleveland series in early August) and got injured at the very end, he was an extremely big reason the Nats were as successful as they were in 2016. Ramos' rise was doubly important because Lobaton showed only a mild turn around slapping his way to a .232 / .319 / .374 line. On one hand, that's not all that good. On the other hand, for a back-up catcher you probably aren't going to find much better, especially if you focus on his split vs RHP (.262 / .344 / .393)

My outside the box move - trading for Derek Norris - would have been a disaster. I wanted Lucroy but I always want Lucroy so I went for something different. Norris crashed and burned after three years of being a good to very good hitter. My deal actually shipped out Yuney (fine), Storen (great!), and Ramos (ugh) for Norris and Melvin Upton. Before you wonder - no he wouldn't have been any better in CF than Revere/MAT.  Ok maybe a little but that's not saying much.

OK onto this year

Presumed Plan : Rizzo will trade for Stephen Vogt or Wellington Castillo.

Reasoning on Presumed Plan : OK the Nats can go four ways. First they can do nothing and go with Lobaton and Severino.  This, in my mind, is a non-starter.  Lobaton had an acceptable year in 2016 but it was after a couple of really rough ones. Last year was probably the best you can get out of him and trying to match that means playing him as a pure back-up (39 games played) against RHP only. That means it's not really a gamble on Lobaton and Severino, but a gamble on just Severino. Oh sure, Pedro hit .321 with a handful of XBH but it was in an extremely limited 34 ABs. You are betting not on that Severino as much as the Severino that hit .271 with no power in 80+ AAA games, and the guy that hit .250 zero power in 90+ AA games the year before. Severino has never hit for an extended period of time and expecting him to do it in the majors at 23 is a fool's gambit.

The second way they Nats can go is try to sign their catcher of the future. Unfortunately there isn't one out there. Matt Wieters was supposed to be the prize but he couldn't come up with a decent 2016, hitting for low average with little patience. After him though it's dire with probably the oft-injured Alex Avila being your best bet for a 3-4 year catcher. I'm serious. There isn't a catcher of the future here that I see. Free agency is not the long-term answer. Moving on...

The third way is finding a stop gap. Who is that stop gap? I'm not sure but Kurt Suzuki is a decent choice for his durability, ability to hit lefties and familiarity with the team. If not him ... well I'm kind of at a loss. Everyone else is pretty much worse (Iannetta, Salty, Pierzynski) or too injury prone (Soto, Avila, Chooch). I think Suzuki will get a decent 2 or 3 year deal which the Nats won't match so that leaves...

That leaves us with the fourth way to try and trade for a catcher. There aren't any great ones that have a one-year deal on them outside of Lucroy who I assume is going nowhere. My guess is that the best trade targets will be Stephen Vogt (decent hitter up until last year - cheap for a few years) and Wellington Castillo (perfectly acceptable catcher with a non-prohibitive salary for a season). Neither of those are particularly exciting but are acceptable and cheap-ish. If you go with Vogt then you likely trade Lobaton, who has some back-up catcher value, and let Severino back up. If you go with Castillo you keep Lobaton and see if Severino can hit in AAA. Are these great catchers? No. But they are likely the best available, plus the Nats don't have a lot of depth to trade from. If you are going to throw out a package of Treinen and Difo, or Voth and Shrock, well this is what you are going to come back with.

Problems with Presumed Plan : No matter which direction the Nationals go, they won't be able to replace Wilson's production at the plate with a catcher. It just isn't possible as the other decent hitting catchers are all on playoff contenders (Posey, Lucroy, Contreras, Grandal, Leon?) or on a division rival (Realmuto). So right off the bat free agency isn't going to make the team better than last year or even as good as last year. It'll be worse. Even focusing on defense won't help that much as Ramos was a solid defender. You probably aren't getting improvement there unless you really give up on the hitting. I suppose you can improve pitch framing, Ramos never showed well there. But you see what I'm getting at. The presumed plan isn't fixing a problem, it's minimizing the damage.

The other issue is that with Vogt or Castillo (and even more so with anyone they get if they go the free agent route), there's a decent chance they won't be any good at all. There isn't a solid bet here outside of Wieters, whose combination of offense and defense and age should keep him a top half catcher, and someone is likely going to pay him more than the Nats would (or should). So the Nats are forced into a gamble situation at the catcher spot no matter what they do. Vogt isn't too far off though so expect him to cost more than Castillo. In other words - expect Castillo.

My take : It's kind of a no-win situation. There is no way to replace Ramos and there is a good chance that whatever you do will end up making the Nats much much worse as catchers have a tendency to be the little girl with the curl, when they are bad, they're awful. Just look at Norris' nose dive or hell, any recent Ramos year before 2016.

Trading is Rizzo's preferred move. I'm trying to think of a time where he signed someone bad just to have someone at the position and I can't. Not as a starter at least. When he needed a CF he traded for Span. When he needed it again he traded for Revere. When he needed a 3B he traded for Escobar. When he needed a starter he traded for Fister. I don't think he's against a signing but there really isn't anyone out there worth signing. Plus I think there's just enough junk in the minors to get it done. However the targets are limited. So I can easily see a fall back to Plan B which would be Suzuki or someone like him if the targets are acquired by others or are just not on the table. I suppose if not Suzuki I might roll with Jason Castro - a good pitch framer, young, and a good hitter at one point. Hell, if you are hoping for a miracle he's a decent place to look.

What does it mean for 2017? It means you better hope for a lucky Ramos type season from whoever they pick up and Severino to show you something for more than two weeks worth of PAs.

Out of the box suggestion : Trade for Mesoraco. If you are trying to go for an all or nothing gambit he's your man. Three seasons ago he matured into an All-Star power hitting catcher. Then he got hurt and couldn't play. Hey sounds like Ramos! He's not cheap anymore so the Reds would likely deal him for a reasonable price and reasonable price is what the Nats are likely to give up. It's a gamble sure but if you are looking for a way to get a Ramos type season next year from a catcher this might be your best bet. Of course that also means playing 30 games and hitting like crap but them's the breaks when you are hunting for Buffalo

(Look I can only say Giolito for Lucroy so many times) 

Thursday, October 20, 2016


I guess we'll start with the offseason reviews next week. Makes more sense to start it clean on a Monday, no?

Anyway this offseason is the most interesting for a Nats team in a long while. Or at least it has the potential to be interesting. You can honestly say that you can't be 100% sure you know who's going to be playing where on Opening Day next year. Sure you keep Murphy, Rendon, Bryce, and Trea, but are they going to be where you think they are going to be? Move Trea to SS then Bryce could play CF. Somehow get rid of Zimm and Murphy shifts over to first leaving a spot for possibly Rendon to go back to 2B. Werth's in his last year and amazingly you could get something for him. Do you trade him? Are the Nats done with Espinosa? 

The rotation is more set - but only in the fact that you can put Scherzer #1 in pen.  Who's #2? Strasburg? That's assuming he can pitch Opening Day. Roark? If you don't trade a guy who's arguably never going to be worth more. Gio? A far more likely trading chip than Roark given his reasonable salary and the fact you aren't giving up multiple cheap years when you deal him. Ok, Ross will be in there somewhere. That's the other given. The pen is going to be dependent on what they do with closer.  Do they try to shift Kelley or Treinen? Does the other one stay in the 8th role? Where do all these other arms fit in?

Individually none of this stuff is really all that likely. Strasburg appears to have no issues that'll keep him from pitching in April. He almost pitched in October. Rendon is playing third. They aren't trading Werth or Roark. They can't deal Zim. But as a whole all these possibilities combine to create a lot of uncertainty with the 2017 Nats. If any one domino falls, everything else can change and most likely a domino will fall.

This makes the "assumed plan" part of the offseason in reviews a little tough. So what am I going to assume? I'm going to assume the 2017 Nationals look a lot like the 2016 Nationals at the end of the year. Zimm, Murphy, Danny, Rendon around the horn. Bryce, Trea, and Werth in the OF. Scherzer, Strasburg, Gio, Roark, Ross as the rotation. Pen roles stay as is. Why? It's the path of least resistance. The Nats can recreate a 2016 team that won the East and nearly won their DS by doing nothing. Seems certainly plausible that they do just that and fritter around the edges filling in bench guys and bullpen arms that leave for greener (re: $$$) pastures.

That leaves the only true questions as C and closer.  I'll have to think more on what I'll assume the Nats plan is there. We're just guessing here so there are no wrong answers but I don't want to be unfair here. What do you guys think for these two? Do you think they are going out to get something or just shifting in house? I've got my leanings but I'm willing to be convinced that the assumed plan should be something else.

Monday, October 17, 2016

Monday Quickie - Rizzo goes nowhere

Mike Rizzo won't be the GM of Arizona. At least not anytime soon. They hired Mike Hazen. On one hand, everyone seems to like him and he has a work pedigree that includes some of the more successful current franchises (CLE, BOS). On the other hand, Arizona just did something similar to this a few years ago and it didn't work out. Also if you are looking for a strategic edge, hiring a GM that's young, ivy-league educated, and into the business/analytic side of the game is not exactly going to give you that. Plus it's Arizona, I'm sure Hazen is terrible then. His 1 year track record (under Dombrowski's heavy hand I'm sure) is less than impressive. Kimbrel move didn't work. Carson Smith was damaged good. Aaron Hill did nothing. Ziegler was a nice pick up I guess.

Anyway enough about the Diamondbacks. Rizzo is what we're talking about here. He won't go there which is one of three places I'd assume he'd want to go (the other two being the Chicago teams and those both look unlikely - Theo in entrenched in Wrigley with all the wins and Kenny Williams runs the White Sox with all the being friends with Reinsdorf) Good. You can complain about Rizzo here and there but the macro-level view has been very positive, especially if you make the seemingly fair assumption that he's very limited in mid-season transactions.

Is there something about the way he's built this team that it fails to get over the top? Maybe, but I have a hard time seeing it. It's talented. It's pitching based with a couple of aces. It had a strong back end of the bullpen. It can manufacture runs, but also hit a HR. It's got veteran leadership. All the general "this is what you need in the playoffs" boxes are checked off by this point. It seems far more likely that the 2016 Nationals were a victim of sports playoffs being what they are meant to be. Good teams playing a short series / one-game that often comes down to who plays slightly better.

Could someone do better here? Perhaps, but again I get the sense that working with the Lerners can be frustrating at time. A bit tight with money in odd places (I like to say "pound wise, penny foolish"). Sometimes prone to go over his head, especially with Boras clients. You need a guy with just enough lack of ego to take those in stride and keep getting his job done as best he can under the circumstances. Seems like Rizzo does that, I'm not sure all guys could.

Like I said I can find some faults with Rizzo. His gambles in drafts on injury prone talent create a fairly top-heavy farm system where depth can be an issue. He doesn't seem to get along well with managers (which will be interesting because Dusty has never left a situation well). He can be overly reticent to deal young talent mid-season that could afford the team a stronger return under the assumed financial constraints he's under. But I consider these minimal, I mean look at the wins. What's the alternative? That there's dynasty here being held back by Rizzo?

We'll get into specifics more this week - positional overview and all that, but the off-season is already off to a good start. Rizzo isn't going to Arizona.

Friday, October 14, 2016

Post Mortem

I've said before but for me a game is far more often lost than won. That winning is less about making great plays and more about avoiding mistakes. It's not always the case but that's how I look at sports (kind of life too if I'll be honest) and that's going to be a lot of how I look at this game right now. This doesn't mean I don't think it was a pretty well played game and series. I think both those things. It's just how I see things play out in terms of deciding who win and who loses.

Anyway let's take a look at the key moments from yesterday and see how we ended up here today.

Pre game
Dodgers start Rich Hill. There are arguments that can be made for starting a pitcher on short rest. They are difficult arguments to win and none apply to Rich Hill. You saw Urias. He was pretty good, wasn't he? He should have started and Roberts was lucky he didn't get burned worse by this decision.

Bottom 2
Lobaton can't get the ball in play to possibly score another run. Espinosa had just come up with a big hit and the Nats had 1st and 3rd with one out. If you're Lobaton, you have to hit it hard and hope for the best. Yes, a double play is certainly possible, but so are sacrifice flies and fielder choices. You can score a run on an out here fairly easily. With the pitcher spot looming behind you it's even more imperative to get that ball in play as he is unlikely to drive the run in. But Lobaton fouls off two pitches and then strikes out. Scherzer would follow with a K of his own and the Nats would only score once.

Top 3
Dodgers let Max off the hook. Max pitched well last night, but it was obvious early on he didn't have his usual control. If the Dodgers could take a smart approach to facing him they could have him out early, maybe even sometime in the 5th if they were really lucky. Maybe that's without scoring but still the advantage the Nats had going into last night was Max. Get him out and it's a brand new game.  He sat at 35 pitches with no outs in the 3rd inning and had just thrown 5 straight balls. But then the Dodgers' brains locked up. Toles swung at a strike at the bottom of the zone and grounded into a double play. Rich Hill swung at a first pitch ball and grounded out himself. Now not only was Max not on the ropes, but he was set up for a long outing. A simply terrible approach that for a long portion of the game sat with me as the key moment.

Bottom 3
Werth can't get the ball in play to possibly score another run. Hey if I'm going to get on Lobaton I have to get on Werth here too. Turner had singled, stole second and advanced to third on Bryce's deep fly ball to center. With his speed almost any GB out, or halfway deep FB scores Trea. But Werth strikes out on five pitches. There is a slight difference as at this point it didn't feel as precarious for Hill as it did earlier.

Anthony Rendon's liner goes right to the CFer. Rendon had a bad series, but he really squared up on this one. There's no fault here - it's just a shame as it would have scored two.

Top 5
With the bases loaded, Max strikes out Ethier and gets Utley to ground out. After being no-hit for 4 innings the Dodgers finally got to Max with three singles. I'll note here that the last one, by Toles, might have been caught by a better 2B as Murphy was caught flat-footed then couldn't reach it with his jump. It would have been a very good play but I think it was possible. Anyway with both singles going to Bryce and that last one having a chance to be caught, the Dodgers hadn't managed to plate a run. The Dodgers brought in Ethier to get a big hit but Max struck him out on some nice pitching. Then keeping the ball down he got Utley to hit a ground ball that didn't go through.

Bottom 5
Dusty lets Max hit for himself. Look, it ended up pretty much working out as Max would get through the heart of the Dodgers line-up the next inning, but it was still the wrong decision. Results don't always match up as they should. Why was it wrong? Max's mistakes can be HR mistakes and he had missed up a couple times in the 5th inning, including on Reddick's base hit. At around 86 pitches and getting ready to face the Dodgers line-up a third time it was time to give him a big hug, thank him for keeping it scoreless and move on to the pen. With the top of the line-up following Scherzer, a guy getting on would have a good chance of scoring. But instead he sticks with Max, Max K's and the Nats don't score that inning.

Bryce gets picked off. With two outs, not terribly impactful but don't get picked off, even on a questionable move.

Bottom 6
Henley sends Werth, Werth is out at home. Now we finally take the most important moment away from the Dodgers dumb swings in the third. The Nats had been testing the Dodgers all night and the Dodgers had been coming up empty. They weren't making mistakes per se, but when the situation called for just solid baseball plays - throws on target with decent speed - the Dodgers couldn't do it. So being aggressive is arguably the right call. But this wasn't aggressive it was stupid.

Here's the play (apologies for the needless "statcasting") If you pause it at 29 seconds (during the close up on Werth running) you can see in the distance Toles clearly having thrown that ball before Werth is reaching third. Werth has already taken his eye off the ball, rightly expecting his 3rd base coach to give him the correct call. Henley though inexplicably sends Werth. Pause it again at 1:01 right when the angle changes. In the corner you see Toles in his throwing motion. In the foreground Henley waving Werth around not facing the throw. Perhaps he think Toles mishandled it. But then he looks up and HAS TO see the ball is in the air. Yet he keeps sending.

You could argue he was in the wrong position too. He should be between 3rd and home to give himself maximum time to make the decision but you can see that he had to first think about seeing into that corner so maybe drifting toward home was superceded by that. Of course that doesn't explain both how he didn't see what was obviously in front of him, and why he kept moving UP the line away from home rather than down toward home after deciding he would send him. If he simply bounces the other way there might be a chance for a last second "WOAH I SCREWED UP" and hoping Werth can scramble back but going in the other direction he takes that away as a possibility.

Anyway Toles throw was quickly made but completely average. The same could be said of Seager's throw. Werth was still out by 30 ft. If say it had been Puig and an Espy type throw by Seager it honestly could have ended up with Werth scrambling back to third.

Top 7
Max stays in and Pederson homers. I had been saying after the 6th that I could see going with Max on a batter by batter situation. I hate taking out effective pitchers "just because". A lot of why a pitcher is working well in a given night is particular to that night. How he's feeling, how those batters are seeing him. To have an advantage and throw it away seems foolish. But I didn't think it through. Max wasn't exactly dominating, though the 6th was pretty good the whole story of the game said something else. Max has a tendency to make "home run" mistakes. Joc Pederson is useless against LHP. All that taken together should have meant Max should take a seat. It was all true going into the 6th, nothing changed for the 7th other than Max was 11 more pitches in. Now Max didn't make a mistake. He made a good pitch and Pederson made a great swing. But now, if not earlier, was the time for match-ups to take over and that meant Max should have come out. However, I'm not going to kill Dusty for this one. If you want to live and die with your ace currently throwing a shutout, not gassed, and with no opportunity to lose the game only the lead, that's fine by me.

Rep walks Grandal Grandal was the Dodgers Rendon. A good hitter that was having a terrible series. Yet Rep walks him on four pitches, none particularly close. Inexcusable.

Culberson fails to get his bunt down. This is kind of like the Bryce getting picked off situation. Not all that impactful in the course of the game, but get your bunts down

Dusty lets Solis face Ruiz, Rendon fails to come up with Ruiz's grounder.  You understand the first one somewhat. Dusty doesn't want to burn one of his lefty arms without throwing a pitch. But it's endgame and you have to worry about what's in front of you not what might be in front of you later. Ruiz hits lefties much better than righties. At this point Gio has to be considered a usable arm so you still have two lefties if need be - plus your closer and set-up guy. That's gotta be enough to get 8 outs. But Dusty sticks with Solis, Solis gives up a shot. Reminiscent of Game 5 when Desmond couldn't come up with a hard shot that was playable, Rendon lets this one get by him and the Dodgers take the lead. Hard play? Sure. Impossible? No, not even close.

Dusty brings in Shawn Kelley to face Turner despite Turner's splits, Turner delivers. This to me is the defining moment of the game. Turner has reverse splits meaning he hits righties better than lefties. It's not even close really. Here's his numbers for 2016

vs RHP : .305 / .356 / .563
vs LHP : .209 / .303 / .337

Sometimes this can happen as a fluke but that isn't the case for Turner. He's hit righties better than lefties every year since 2011 (he only had a handful of ABs in 2009&2010) except 2014 and that's not because he didn't hit righties that year. He did. He just had a fluke year where he hit lefties too. So his career splits are .832 OPS vs RHP, .695 vs LHP. Everything said you use a lefty, not a righty, to face Turner.

But Dusty went with the typical move - bringing in a righty to face Turner. I suppose you could argue that he just wanted a better pitcher in, Kelly being better than Solis, but I don't believe that. I suppose you could argue "Kelley gets out righties better than Solis does!" but that's all based on the basic truism that lefties hit righties better and vice versa. Unless you have a freaky motion or some sort of particular trait that would seemingly affect a batters ability to hit you there's no reason to believe a pitcher's split is particular to the pitcher, but rather an accumulation of splits particular to batters. In other words a lefty pitcher doesn't get lefty batters out well because he is particularly good at pitching to lefty batters, but because lefty batters are particularly bad at hitting lefty pitchers.

Anyway he should have kept Solis in - which not only would have likely been more effective against Turner than throwing Kelley out there but if he was successful would have allowed him to pitch to Gonzalez as well and save Perez.  But he didn't. And Turner would triple off of Kelley giving the Dodgers a big lead that they wouldn't fully relinquish.

Bottom 7
Heisey homers.  Heisey does not have any strong splits so keeping Dayton in to face him is not a mistake. The pitch Dayton threw though, that was one. He had made the same error Rep did - he walked the first man he saw on 4 pitches - and he also paid for it as Danny came in on Heisey's HR. Now it's back to a 1-run game, albeit reversed, with 9 outs for the Nats to score one run (and keep holding the Dodgers)

Werth strikes out swinging, Bryce takes second.  This is questionable. Did it really take the bat out of Murphy's hands? Sure with first base open it was an easy call. You aren't moving the winning run into scoring position with the walk. However, I'd still have walked Murphy. There's no reason to take a chance on him RHP vs LHB when struggling Rendon is coming up next.

Rendon strikes out. Overmatched.

Bottom 8
Espy fails to get the bunt down.  I had actually just said before this that I wondered if Jansen was particularly hard to bunt on. He doesn't appear to have great movement watching him, but guys just miss his pitches in a way that suggests that he does. I've found that usually means a "rising" action that gets guys at the plate and that means, yes, a particularly hard pitcher to get a ball down on. But still get the bunt down.

I also kind of have issues with the decision to bunt. Your next two batters are Pedro Severino and Michael Taylor. Danny isn't great, but he's better than them and had, for whatever reason, looked a lot better at the plate last night (no Ks!). If I'm going to try to get Drew home, I think your best chance is with Danny rather than Severino or MAT facing Kenley Jansen in their first AB of the night.

Bottom 9
Murphy pops up. No blame but we're talking key moments and this was definitely one. You're hoping at worst to move the runners over where a passed ball or wild pitch or error could score them, at best for a hit. A pop-up doesn't even allow for an error thanks to the infield fly rule.

Difo K's. Again no blame. Yeah he shouldn't have swung at the last pitch but Kershaw threw some nasty stuff early in the at bat to get to that point setting Difo up for being too protective of the plate. It would have been a miracle talked about for decades if Difo got a hit here.

So there you go. For the first 6+ innings it looked like the biggest play of the game would be some silly swings in the 3rd that allowed Scherzer to go as long as he did. But then Henley made a terrible call to run the Nats out of a potential run-scoring situation, and Dusty ignored the splits to put the Nats in a disadvantageous situation and those plays decided the game.

That's it. I'm beat. We'll be back next week for some full season post-Mortem

Thursday, October 13, 2016

What is there to say?

Not as gutting as 2012.

Not as infuriating as 2014.

But in the end, same result.

Should have won this game. Scherzer wasn't on the top of his game but he had enough big pitches and got enough breaks to get the Nats to one out in the 7th with their opponent scoring only one run. The Nats should have been winning by more at that point. They were not. After that the Max vs whoever advantage was lost and it came down to the pens and the Dodgers arms and moves were better than the Nats.

Sigh. Well do what you need to. Vent. Swear. Get it out. I'll be back tomorrow as usual.

G5 Evening Post

For those that would like to comment during the game on here... I guess I should look into a chat client or something. I don't know. That seems like work.

G5 Morning Post

Here we are. Staring at the most important game in Nationals history.

It's true that it's not the most important game in the history of DC baseball. The Senators won World Series! But the last time they were in it was 1933 and they barely were in the playoff picture after that. Twist my arm and I'd say you could make an argument for the double header the end of the season in 1945 season being as important as this game because if they won both they could have set themselves up to go to the World Series but the Tigers played three games after than and controlled their destiny*. So it's not quite the same. Senators/Rangers didn't come close to playoffs. So we're arguing at best there was a bigger game played in DC baseball history 83 years ago, at worst 71?

It's true that it's not the most important game in franchise history. That was G5 of the 1981 NLCS but there isn't anybody in DC who cares about the strict interpretation of the franchise and I'm not going to argue that they should.

It definitely eclipses the games in 2014, and surpasses the previous "most important game in Nationals history" G5 of the 2012 NLDS because that game was not as team defining. The feeling after that game, other than devastation about how it went down, was that the Nats were a young team that just got their playoff experience and that they'd be back. It was a tough loss but no one was ready to give the Nats a label just yet.

So again here we are.

A win changes everything surrounding the team in terms of its impression of itself. A win makes Dusty a DC legend of sorts.

A loss cements the Nats and Dusty as chokers in the national consciousness, until they are not.

Fair or unfair as it is (pretty unfair in my opinion), this is where things stand.

The Nats should win tonight. It should be fairly easy. The Nats bats should continue to do better than the Dodgers bats. Max shouldn't give up more than a couple runs. Rich Hill should not pitch much better than last time, given he's on short rest. The Nats bullpen should be a little more rested than the Dodgers. The Nats shouldn't end up getting 2 DPs that completely erase the trouble Hill got into.

But should is should. Max should give up a couple runs instead of none, given his pitching lately and the match-up. Lobaton should do something other than hit a 3-run homerun. The Nats should still strike out a bunch, as Hill has been doing exactly that since coming back.

Not all "should"s end up being "did"s and if the wrong ones go against you that's all that matters.

Ok here we go. See you at game time!

*As you can guess the Tigers did what they needed to and went on to the Series. They needed to win the last game to avoid a 1-game playoff with Washington. They were down 3-2 heading into the top of the 9th and Hank Greenberg hit a grand slam. That's big time baseball right there.