Nationals Baseball

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Zaprudering the Ejection


OK so here goes. Bryce takes a pitch low that gets called a strike. Bad call. 


Bryce chirps at the ump about it (by his own admittance he said he did this).


Then he steps well out of the batters box. Definitely showing displeasure here. 
 

Ump says get back in. Bryce gets back in. It appears ump is chirping back at Bryce at this time. Probably along the lines of "don't you argue with me or step out of the box again, rook!" because baseball and manliness. But Bryce is in and pitcher is getting set looks like the storm has passed until...


Ump takes off mask to argue with bench. Williams made it seem like this came out of nowhere but come on, when have you ever seen that? An ump just deciding mid at bat to yell at a relatively quiet bench? Williams surely was chirping at ump at this point (bad move) and the ump decided not to just let it go (bad move)


Seeing the Ump out of the box,  Bryce steps out of the box. Way out of the box. If you are generous to Bryce you could just say he's stepping out to a logical stopping point (the grass), but it seems more likely he's trying to insinuate himself in the conversation by stepping kind of between ump and bench. This becomes apparent when...
 

Bryce points to place he says he was standing. The ump was still facing the same direction at this point so it appears he was still arguing with Williams and Bryce was reacting to something said. Most likely it was "He was outta the box!" "He was in the box!" "He was outta the box!" Bryce is saying "Hey no, I was right there."  


The ump now faces Bryce and they twice have the same discussion with both the ump and Bryce pointing toward the box. Finally Bryce comes over and with his foot shows the ump where he was standings and the ump runs him.

There's a lot you can say against the ump and manager. The ump didn't have to keep chirping at Bryce to begin with, or engage Williams, or engage Bryce. Williams didn't have to insert himself into this. But I kind of see both of those. The ump chirping is typical baseball just like Bryce's first chirping. It happens you have a back and forth and then the bat goes on. Williams interjects because he's looking especially at watching Bryce's back. The ump goes after the bench because he was just telling the player not to do this and now the bench is doing this. He argues with Bryce because at this point what the hell is going on.

I'm very confused at Bryce's actions. Not the initial chirping. Like I said that's very typical. If the ump were to eject players every time that happened you'd lose a handful a game. Bryce was just letting off steam like ball players do. But why did he feel the need to interject himself into the bench vs ump argument? And even more strange why was he so adamant he was in the box when he was so clearly wasn't? Even in the post-game while the ump and Williams both implied Bryce was out of the box after that strike, Bryce implies he never did step out. But he did. I don't get the sense he's purposely lying. I kind of think he really did think he had a foot in the box the entire time. But he so clearly didn't that the ump felt like this kid was mocking him or something.

I don't know. As a twitter follower of mine (Steven Maguire) said it's a shame that because not one of three guys could cool it that Bryce had to be thrown out.

Lucky + Good = Dominance

The question is often asked, would you rather be lucky or good? The gut answer is usually lucky but with more thought it becomes clear you can't answer with the information on hand. How lucky? How good? A bad team that hits well with RISP might score a few more runs and win a few more games than it should, but it won't make it a good team. But that kind of luck can turn a good team on the cusp of missing the playoffs into a good team securely in it. A bad team whose every hit is a seeing-eye dribbler or swinging bunt leading to a .500 BABIP, that team may go much further than it should and it can make a good team seem unstoppable. Speaking of which...

The Nats are in first place now. They've gone 17-4 in the past 21 games. The pitching has been what you've seen. 3 steps forward, 2 steps back. A little behind what you'd have expected from the Nats, but given that what you expected was really good, it's still a winnable result. The offense... well the past 21 games is pretty much May (the streak started on April 28th) so we can easily see what kind of numbers they are putting up in the luck stats. A .336 BABIP (high) and a 20.6% HR/FB rate (high) on offense. I imagine if we threw in those last 3 games of April, where the Nats scored 13, 13, and 8 runs it would skew even more. It's a good offense (with an MVP pillar to build around) getting the breaks and NL best in runs scored (by 15% over the 2nd best team - which is silly unless you are an exceptional Rockies offense) is the result

The Nats have gone 9-1 in their past 10 1 and 2 run games. The entire history of baseball has shown us that these types of games are basically coin flips. You might think a great pen or clutch hitting would skew these numbers but they don't. A bad team with a bad pen might do better in one run games than a division winner with the best pen ever. (For example last years Royals were 22-25 in one-run games) The Nats are catching breaks here too.

None of the above is to suggest the Nats aren't the best team in the NL East (they are) or aren't possibly the best team in the NL or MLB. I'm just highlighting what it takes to have a 17-4 type run. It's not enough to be good. A good team goes 12-9 or 13-8 in 21 games. Those are 93-100 win paces. To get to 17-4, a team has to be lucky too. There are no teams simply good enough to win 132 games (the pace the Nats have been on). You have to be lucky.

But that doesn't mean it will eventually turn on you. All that means is it will eventually trend back to normal. The Nats had a mildly unlucky start followed by a lucky run just as long. The end result is finding themselves about where they should have been with just normal luck from the start. A roller coaster ride instead of the gentle ascent. After that start you'd have thought it would take 40-50 games to get back into first (if they went 13-8 like I noted a 100 win team would be around they'd still be 3 games out right now). Instead, they got here in 20. Consider it a shortcut back home. Now they have a chance to put the Mets in the rearview with a sweepable series vs the Phillies while the Mets finish up vs STL and go to Pittsburgh. After that the Mets have a easier time but if the Nats can put 3-4 games between them and New York by the time Monday rolls around... I don't see the Mets making that up, easier schedule or not. 

There's no luck necessary at this point. Just do what you should do - have the Mets do what they should do and this brief interlude may all take care of itself in a matter of days, not months.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

You didn't listen

They were pretty simple instructions Nats. Gio was on board with it. Perhaps Nate Eovaldi was just so bad you couldn't avoid getting hits. This is what we get pulling guys from the dregs of the NL East.

"We got an NL East starter!"
"From the Nats?"
"No."
"Well that's ok. The Braves aren't quite as stacked but have a lot of young talent."
"Not them either."
"The Mets traded cross town? Sandy Alderson is getting bold."
"Nope"
"Oh that's right! How could I forget Hamels?"
"..."
"What's left? Someone like Tom Koehler or Nate Eovaldi?! Haha! I mean come on."
"sobs"

ZNN is here and there, but Adam Warren is nothing special, so tonight really it depends on the ZNN that shows up.

Anyway the Nats are back in first. Some people are taking this as a triumph of sorts. To me it's like the Nats wasted 40 games. If you assume the Mets are the only true challenger to the Nats (and that seems the most generous view of the NL East, arguably the worst division in baseball) then Nats record compared to the Mets one is the only one that matters. They are tied a quarter of the season in, the season starts anew. Do I like the Nats position? I think you have to. If you liked the Nats by 10 to start the year, and nothing has changed, you like them by 7-8 from here on out. I liked them for the season, so I like them for 3/4 of the season. I'd like them for 1/2 the season, or a month, or even a 10 game stretch no questions asked. (When you get down to just a couple series then you have to look at match-ups more closely)  The more games, the more likely it is the Nats talent advantage will shine through. 122 games is not 162, but it's plenty.

Some may say you shouldn't have been worried. They're wrong. The Nats were one bad stretch (which will happen at some point) and one great Mets stretch (maybe won't happen but as we saw not impossible) from being in real trouble. Like panic time, trouble. It wasn't likely that both those things would essentially happen back to back to start the year but like flipping a coin heads 10 times in a row - it becomes a lot more likely if I tell you you've already done it 5 times. The Nats wasted away their cushion. Now they've built it back. The worry state officially ended... I'd say about a week ago. Pulling within 3 games kept a bad series/good series combo from putting the Nats 6+ out*. It's not quite hammock time but I'd feel good right now. 

All the Nats have to do right now is avoid injury... well any more injuries. The team could absorb one OF injury with Taylor in the wings, one SP injury with Roark in the swingman role (nicks and dings have meant so far they've only needed spot starts) and maybe one IF injury with Espinosa (though no one expected him to hit this well). They've kind of gotten all of those, so they are on the edge. Will they get healthy before going over? That's the question. It's not a cliff's edge, it's a step's edge but it's there. You know what - really just keep Bryce and Max in bubble wrap between games and they'll probably make the playoffs one way or another.

(God willing the eventual Nats slow down - they aren't winning 85% of their games from here on out - doesn't coincide with some silly injury like Uggla going out for the year and people start saying "his veteran leadership mattered so much")

*It depends on what you think of your team / their team but for the Nats right now, 40 games in,  I'd say it breaks down like this for me

8+ games out : Panic Time
4-7 games out : Worry Time
2-3 games out : Annoyed Time
1 game ahead to 1 game out : Interested Time
2-3 games ahead : Blood in the Water Time
4-6 games ahead : Hammock Time
6+ games ahead : Tempt Fate and Look Ahead to Playoffs Time

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Lose.

Lose big. Lose small. Lose early. Lose late. However you want to do it. Just lose. This isn't personal. It's just that when the Yankees are involved there is one team of good guys and 28 others and one team of bad guys. For the next two days the Nats are just one of those 28.

Did you know Gio's last game was hot garbage? It's true! You can't trust that guy.

Zimm (.235 / .286 / .235) and Ramos (.273 / .308 / .273) have both cooled way down! Desmond and Escobar have similar blah numbers the past week.  Danny is crushing lefties that is true. Which hand does Eovaldi throw with again? Oh yeah the right one.  Werth has been hot, and he's not playing (Booo Nats for real though - for taking away my chance to heartily root against Werth). Bryce? Ummm... we'll pitch around that guy, between talks with Scott Boras on what small island he'd like the Yankees to give him in a few years.

Here are some potential terrible HR calls from John Sterling for when Bryce joins the Yankees.

"Bryce crushes it over the canyon!"
"I don't want to harp on it, but it's another home run for Bryce!"
"Bryce Bryce Baby!"
"Isn't it nice, another homer for Bryce!"
"The Bryce is Right!"
"Bryce up your life!"

Let's do this!

Monday, May 18, 2015

Monday Quickie : Bryce Ascending

There is a scary thought lurking behind the transformation of Bryce into BRYCE.  That's the gamble that the team was laboring under on Opening Day. If Bryce hadn't started fulfilling his full potential at this instant, a completely reasonable assumption given he hadn't yet and is 22 coming off injury, where would the Nats be?  Other performances have helped the Nats but were more predictable.  One of those starters was sure to be great right? Someone would hit (though if you told me it would be Espinosa/Escobar...) but Bryce becoming the most feared hitter in the NL? Better yes, but instantaneous reaching of peak potential, no, that wasn't on the radar. And without it the Nats would likely be around .500 wondering why they can't piece everything together.

But that's a scary alternate dimension thought because here in Dimension @09ia... I mean here in the only current reality that exists there definitely aren't other ones I travel through, Bryce is BRYCE and the Nats are right on the Mets heels.  If you don't read the comments someone asked what I thought was going to be the future of the division race and the way I see it has the Nats taking the lead soon, losing it again, then having a back and forth before finally pulling away around the 4th.  That might be optimistic for the Mets, but I like their schedule and they are due for some luck to turn... well back even at least. So there you go. Can you wait... 6 weeks?

The big question with Bryce is what happens when teams stop pitching to him.  Williams would almost certainly use Werth or Zimm or even Desmond to back him up and that right now is garbage, meh, and poor. Will they pick it up? Of course "when they start giving us free baserunners..." is a good way to start any problem question.

Strasburg looked ok yesterday so maybe he isn't hurt and as it was suggested maybe he's having some sort of post-injury recovery issues putting himself back in form?  We'll see. San Diego is basically home.

Rendon, like a SNL joke that people thought was really funny back in the mid 70s and they trot out every special for some reason, is still dead. (though back involved in "baseball activities" which for his health I hope means putting baseball cards into plastic sleeves.)

Friday, May 15, 2015

Bryce finally passes Trout... well for now... sort of

When Bryce Harper was called up in 2012 there was a a big kerfuffle among his supporters and his detractors on how he compared to this young phenom for the Angles named Mike Trout. Bryce backers kept noting that Mike Trout had played 40 games prior to 2012 (plus had the beginning of the year while Bryce was in the minors). They also noted the age difference as Trout was actually on the way to turning 21 while Bryce would be 19 all season.  Basically they were grasping for any explanation how their phenom could end up playing second fiddle to this other one. Mike Trout would end up hitting .300+ with 30 HRs and stealing 50 bases while Bryce was heading toward .274 20 and 11. They kept it up the following year but after Bryce basically matched his numbers and Trout traded some steals for a lot of walks the fight was over. Mike Trout was the better player.

He still probably is. Trout's going to steal more bases (at a great success rate) and he's a slightly above average fielder in center while Bryce is a slightly below average in right. Those things matter. However as of the end of that homer barrage a few days ago, Bryce is currently sitting with better offensive stats than Mike Trout

Bryce : .303 / .449 / .664
Trout : .289 / .396 / .562

It's still early and things will still swing but if Bryce can keep this up this comparison will finally be something it never was before, reasonable to make. Would you want the all around player - above average at everything, or the dominant offensive presence who frankly isn't really bad at anything? That's a fun argument to have.

Trout guys may try to tell you Bryce's numbers are definitely going to fade. Yes the HR/FB rate of 32.4% will drop, but how far?  The .347 BABIP might indicate some luck (though he was at .352 last year) but he is hitting everything hard, making great contact (in the zone contact % best of his career), swinging and missing less than he ever has, and identifying strikes and balls better than he ever has (or ever has tried to) before. There's a dip in homers coming. Everything else? I can't be so sure.

If Bryce keeps this up, hell even if the SLG drops .100 pts because of the expected HR rate slowdown, he'll have a better age 22 year than Mike Trout did in his 22-23 year, and that's not taking into account the ever disappearing offense for the sport as a whole. Trout has never hit this well (OPS 1.100+) this late into a season.  Bryce is forging his own path.

That's not saying Trout hasn't set lofty goals. He's hit over .325 for a season. Hit 36 homers in a year, drove in 111 guys, almost hit 40 doubles. He's carried a 1.000+ OPS into late September (2013). He hit 10 homers in a month (July 2012). He got on base half his PAs in a month (August 2013). That's impressive considering he's been in the majors all of 3 full seasons. But he's never hit like Bryce is now, on pace for 14 homers and 32 RBI in May. That pace is silly but I'm just saying. 

I'm not sure Bryce will every top the average (that's not really how I see Bryce) but everything else? That's in play, that's in play right now. Let's make this a bar argument worth having.

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Things we learned yesterday

Other than you should not have sing-alongs to the Dave Matthews Band lest you tempt my wrath.

1) Gio Gonzalez is also having non-ignorable problems. Hidden behind the "There's something wrong with Strasburg" and "Where did ZNN's fastball go?" lies "Gio is having problems, too.". Stras' issues seem fixable to some degree because Stras in likely injured (in my mind at least). ZNN's you can sort of wash your hands at because he is almost certainly gone next year. But Gio? Gio is a guy you were hoping to have on the cheap through 2018 and his problems seem like the dreaded "steady decline".

His WHIP is way up - part of that is BABIP (now .387, isn't going to last) as I noted a couple days ago - but part of that is how he's pitching now. He used to be a FB guy. If you can get them to hit flyballs but not homers (and Gio has done that since 2010) you get a lot of outs. This year he's given up way more GBs (58.2% when his career average is 47.1%). GBs go for hits more often than flyballs. Strikeouts are a bit down, walks a bit up. Maybe he's going through a mid-career conversion to a crafty lefty... but I doubt it. Crafty lefties tend to have great control. That's not Gio.

I'm not crying DOOM here but part of the "dominant Nats scenario" was having 5 starters who would be another teams #1 or #2. The original three are all failing at that right now and given Gio and Stras' importance for the next few years, there's a lot of pressure on the now.

2) It's nice to have an actually good 4th OF.  Remember when they sent down Michael Taylor because Mike Rizzo loves the vete.... I mean Taylor needed daily at bats? Yeah that was stupid. We said it then, I say it now, Taylor belongs in the majors spot starting, covering for Werth on D late in games, and otherwise filling in for the Nats OF crew. He's a possible starter now, which means he's the perfect fourth outfielder on a team that fancies itself a championship favorite. Or do you still favor Clint Robinson (.205 / .244 / .282), Reed Johnson (.222 / .263 / .278), or Tyler Moore (.207 / .281 / .448)*?

Now can the Nats find and will they pay to get the IF equivalent? Or will they just hope Espinosa and Escobar are still hitting real well when (if?) Rendon comes back?  (forget about the C equivalent - Lobaton is fine, not THIS good certainly, but as fine as you'll get for a back-up catcher)

3) They may be stretching out Roark. He was a late inning guy for a few weeks and seemed to be getting the hang of it. Yesterday they had him throw almost 2 full innings. My gut says they expect Stras to land on the DL and Roark will take his place. Of course as we talked about before that leaves a late inning hole in the pen. The Nats tried to fill it with Barrett. Didn't work. They don't have another dominant arm in the pen so we're looking at musical chairs if what we think is going to happen happens. It won't be pretty but hopefully the Nats can keep up the decent offense and make late inning hiccups nothing to worry about. 

4) The Nats are almost over the hump.  The Mets lead is down to 1.5 games. They've played poorly (but not like an exact inverse of their start) and the Nats have played great. But here comes the real test.

NYM : 1game v CHC, MIL, STL, @PIT, PHI, MIA, @SD, @ARI, SFG
WAS : @SD, NYY,  PHI, @CHC, @CIN, TOR, CHC, @NYY

The Mets play 8 games versus teams currently over .500 over the next rough month. The Nats play 15.  It's probably true that Pittsburgh (who the Mets play but Nats don't) is better than their .500 record, but it's also probably true that SF (ditto) is probably worse - giving the Mets some more easy games. MIL, PHI, MIA (imo), ARI, SFG are all should win series for the Mets. PHI and maybe TOR are should win series for the Nats.

What's it all mean? Here's the deal. The Nats have done exactly what they needed to, beating the Mets in the head to head series and fattening up on NL East teams and a bad Arizona team. In turn they've watched their rival, the Mets, flounder against a harder schedule. That's basically how the Mets climbed to the top in the first place. For the Nats now the goal is simply not to lose a lot of ground. This may be their hardest extended schedule stretch of the year. This may be the Mets easiest. If the Nats hang around the Mets and come out the other side only a couple games out then you have to really, really like the Nats chances to overtake the Mets for good sometime well before the season is through. (there are schedule chunks right before the All-Star break, in mid August, and mid Sept where I like the Nats to gain ground, Mets have shorter chucks where I like them an the beginning and end of August)

In turn if the Nats lose a lot of ground, well then it will doubtfully be enough to panic (one of these two teams would have to go on a 10-0/0-10 ish run to do that), but it will likely make the climb season long.


*Yes Tyler Moore hit a home run. Anyone who's read this blog for a couple weeks knows I don't like Tyler Moore. But if you've read it for at least a few months you know I admit that he will probably hit some homers if you give him enough at bats. But he brings nothing else to the table. He is not patient. He will not hit for average. He does not run well. He does not field well. The Nats are good but they cannot afford such a one-dimensional player on the team. Really they need to complement Michael Taylor and since he can field, run, hit for decent enough average and power - they need a patient bat or a contact bat. Preferably lefty. Again this is not Moore, not close.

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Strasburg without cheese

Some people will tell you Strasburg was never very good and always wilted in pressure situations. This is wrong. This is demonstrably wrong. I still strongly advocate the classic debate rebuttal tactic of face-punching when it comes to these people. If that fails, continue with the tactic as it will at least stop them from speaking more idiocy into the air.

However being good in the past is worth all of nothing. Right now we care about... well right now and Strasburg is not good right now.  This was a particularly bad outing, to be sure.  Atypical of what I think he'd put up the next time out. But he's only had one good game so far (7.1 IP 1ER 5 H 7K 2BB affair vs the Phillies) and one decent one (5.1 IP 2ER 6H 7 K 1 BB) the other five have ranged from disappointing to last night.

Here are Strasburg's numbers right now:
1.710 WHIP, 12.6 H/9, 2.8 BB/9, 8.8 SO/9, .327 / .381 / .464

Here is the worst he's done in these stats, cherry picking from various seasons (excluding his 24IP 2011)
1.155 WHIP, 8.3 H/9, 2.8 BB/9, 9.4 SO/9, .245 / .286 / .385

His worst month ever is arguably July of 2012. Here's how he did in that month
1.412 WHIP,  10.8 H/9, 1.9 BB/9, 10.2 K/9, .296 / .331 / .513

Strasburg is pitching worse than he has ever pitched, not by a little, by leaps and bounds. Why? Well you can argue declining fastball speed I guess (down to 94.4 from 95.7 in 2012) but that's usually not an issue until a pitcher gets much closer to 90MPH. You could argue the movement of his pitches, but there doesn't seem to be any appreciable difference in them statistically (though there is a lot more that goes into that than just movement numbers so I claim nothing here other than "it's not obviously this")  Even if it was one or the other it could still be the most likely culprit in my eyes. Injury.

If it is injury it would be a delightful litmus test showing how fans irrationally don't like Strasburg. He's been hurt. He hasn't really said anything to the media to make excuses. He's tried to pitch through it.  That's gritty! (and stupid - but it also takes a stupid team to bring it to fruition) and yet I bet if that's the case you won't hear any "I like his heart for trying!" Instead you'll hear "oh he's a head case because he couldn't pitch through it" or "he's too fragile" or some junk like that. Those that don't like Strasburg cannot be satisfied, hypocrisy be damned.

But that's just me railing, really the most important thing is what happens if he is injured and does go on the DL. The Nats can roll the dice with AJ Cole but he does not seem ready. Stretch out Roark? Sure, he's looked good, but that'll take time and what happens to the pen? Taylor Jordan? I suppose. Either way they aren't going to be 2012-2014 Strasburg.

Strasburg's issues are obviously not good news for the Nats. Not for this year or for next where Strasburg was to help cover the expected losses of ZNN and Fister. However, it's not devastating news even if he ends up being out for the year (or just stinking all year). Having 4 top notch starters is still really good. It does take out the Nats starting pitching cushion though so if another guy goes down, the strength of Nats team is no longer a strength and given the offensive and pen questions October plans become a lot more tentative. (SO NO ONE ELSE GET HURT)