Nationals Baseball

Thursday, May 24, 2018

Not good enough

After the rain washed out the Yankees two-gamer, the Nats had the Dodgers and the Padres at home for six.  They should win 4 of those games regardless of what you think of the Dodgers. 5-1 is probably more reasonable that 3-3. But the Nats can't do any of these and end up going 2-4. That's unacceptable.

And I mean it in the frame of the season. You have to beat the bad teams in order to get enough wins. Every win you don't get against a San Diego is a win you have to get against a Milwaukee. Even if you say LA is good - let's ignore them. The Padres are BAD - 4-2 is just enough against them. Who are the middling teams in the NL? The Giants? 1-2. The Mets (probably)? 2-4.  The Nats have weathered this by beating teams a step better 5-2 vs Arizona, 4-0 vs Pittsburgh, but that's not a workable long term strategy.  Hell it doesn't even work in the short term as the Nats are 3 games out of first and on an 88 win pace.

Yes, it's because of injuries. I know that. But the reality is the season doesn't stop until you can get healthy. We want the Nats to win the East. We'll grudgingly accept a Wild Card if necessary. That means they have to win the games they should win now, regardless of health. The next 6 games are away but are against two of the worst teams in baseball, the worse than their record 19-30 Marlins and the deserved 15-34 Orioles. 5-1 is the goal. 4-2 is the floor. It's not getting easier than this stretch and so far they are 2-4. They need to turn it around now.

Other Notes

Juan Soto - I love the patience. I also understand the NL is going through their paces right now. Can I get him out with normal fastballs? Can I get him to chase anything? Can I get him out with in zone junk? Do I have to really pitch to him?  As they do this some crazy stats might pop up for a while. Give it time. We are just now talking about how we can look at the stats for the guys who started the season with the team. Kid needs a good 150+ more PAs before we can start making judgments (unless he hits like 1000 homers)

Mark Reynolds + Matt Adams = something like .310 / .400 / .718 which would be challenging for the league lead in OPS. Yes this is fluke-y (Matt Adams has dropped as he's gotten more ABs. Mark Reynolds is still at 25 PA) but is anyone here rooting for Zimm to come back ASAP? To be fair to Zimm in his 5 games in May he did have 7 hits, 2 walks and a homer, which is actually really good.

On the flip side in May MAT, Stevenson, and Sierra would combine to hit something like .140 / .175 / .150.   Four XBH between them in 122 PAs! THIS is why Soto is up. Good, ok, fair, poor, even flat out bad is better than this.

Bryce is not walking as much any more (5 in May) but still hitting for power. But don't let your "this guy should be carrying us!" take blind you to Rendon hitting .208 / .323 / .434 in May. Things aren't dropping for him either. Rendon's BABIP is low (.264) but Bryce's is unsustainably so (.198) even if he's just smashing it into shifts. We should see some turn around (which should mitigate the eventual Reynolds/Adams slow down)

Wednesday, May 23, 2018

Schedule talk

So commenter Jay and I are having a disagreement about the schedule. He thinks, and there are others, that the Nats have had a particularly tough schedule in comparison to the rest of the NL East leaders. I say poppycock.  POPPYCOCK! So let's review

Overall the Strength of Schedule is very high for the NL East. Currently Miami is #1, Braves #2, Mets #3, Phillies #5, and the Nationals down at #11 thanks to the recent bout against the bottom of the NL West. This seems to suggest the Nationals have had the easiest schedule so far (in terms of teams played)

Jay's argument though makes three points 1) The Nats have had two West Coast swings already while only the Mets have made a road trip that includes the NL West yet. 2) The Nats have played a lot more games against teams who made the playoffs last year.  3) The other NL East teams have played a lot of games against eachother inflating their own SOS number

Let's take these in reverse order. Does it matter that you play a lot of games in dvision and can that inflate your SOS ranking? Generally I don't think so, but early enough in the year it may under certain circumstances and those circumstances would be - you play a lot of bad teams other than the teams we are comparing AND you do very well against those teams AND you basically split your games against the competition. It's the old SEC football out of conference thing that you hear talked about. They play lousy teams build up 3 wins so when they play eachother everyone seems stronger.

For example let's say PHI plays ATL 6 times in the first 12 games and the other 6 games they flip-flop series versus the Marlins and Padres. They go 6-0 against those teams and the games against eachother are now worth a lot more. 

ATL : 5 Cubs, 4 Reds, 3 Rockies, 7 Marlins, 3 Giants, 2 Rays
PHI :  3 Dbacks, 1 Orioles, 3 Reds, 6 Marlins, 4 Pirates, 4 Giants, 4 Cardinals, 3 Rays
NYM : 3 Dbacks, 3 Reds, 3 Rockies, 5 Marlins, 3 Brewers, 3 Padres, 6 Cardinals, 2 Blue Jays
WSN : 7 Dbacks, 3 Reds, 4 Rockies, 6 Dodgers, 4 Pirates, 5 Padres, 3 Giants

OK so I went ahead and quickly underlined the teams currently +2 over .500 and better and bolded the teams -2 or worse. It's not perfect because SOS is an at the time measurement but it gives us an idea of the good / bad breakdown

ATL : 8 Good, 11 Bad
PHI : 8 Good, 10 Bad
NYM : 12 Good, 11 Bad
WSN : 8 Good, 14 Bad

OK so what this would suggest is that the *gasp* the Nationals might be benefitting from an easier schedule and thus have their records inflated. Now their SOS wouldn't be inflated but the teams who have played them the most might.

ATL : 6 games
PHI : 3 games
NYM : 6 games

This is kind of a double edged sword here. It could be argued that the Braves and the Mets have had their SOS a bit inflated by playing a team that has had THEIR record inflated by some lousy out of conference scheduling. But that team we are talking about is the Nationals.

But now we need to move onto point 2 - this is dependent a lot on the idea that this season is what matters and being only 1/3rd or so into it - is that reliable? Or to put it more bluntly - are the Dodgers "bad"?  No one doubts that any of the other teams bolded above are bad. You probably only glance a side-eye at the Pirates being good but it's not crazy enough to dismiss it. But the Dodgers being bad? Last year's NL Champ? A team most had winning the West?  To me the "made playoffs last year" isn't fair. Teams do get bad and good all the time. Outside of the first few weeks of the year I wouldn't rely on last year's record at all. But that doesn't mean that the Dodgers are as bad as their record right now. There are other things to look at even if we disregard last year.

It's hard to say the Dodgers are turning around - yeah they've won 5 of their last 6, but that's with the 3-0 against the Nats mucking things up. So we'll have to wait on the record to show us anything, but what about the peripheral stats?  Pythag has the Dodgers at 25-23, not world beating as predicted but FAR from the terrible team the record would suggest. They are 5-8 in one-run games, and 1-7 in two runs games. This also suggest luck has played a big part in their current poor record and it isn't actually reflective of their talent. There's nothing to suggest though that they are getting better - April is a lot like May, the bad luck has stayed around at about the same clip.

If we look at the Dodgers like this though -it's fair to look at possible outliers for anyone else. Genearly outside of +-2 pythag wins.  Unlucky with the Dodgers, seems to be the Cubs.  Lucky seem to be the Rockies - maybe the Mets, Brewers, Giants and Marlins.

What does this do to the above? Braves schedule seems a little weaker, Phillies a little weaker, Mets more than that weaker, the Nationals probably a push (Dodgers up, Rockies, Giants down - this makes sense bc likely most of LAs bad luck would be transferred to good luck for other NL West teams)

Then we get to the final part which is the West Coast swings and at this point I throw up my hands and say I don't know. I've searched for evidence that these matter but haven't found any.  It's anecdotal.  I will say that as someone that's followed baseball I've never felt that West Coast swings themselves were that bad. I focused more on road trips that jump mulitple time zones with no rest, and stretches of play, home or away, with no days off. Only one of the Nats road trips here potentially qualify - a trip to SD then AZ with no day off before the swing started at the end of a 17 games no-rest swing. Of course that is when they did the best.

People study these things pretty relentlessly. I feel if there were a link it would have been found and presented. So I'm inclined to dismiss this. As much as we feel there might be something here, the history of baseball has shown there really isn't, at least not in the face of talent and other sports randomness

So what do I think at the end of all this?

I think the Nationals schedule is a bit better than it's getting credit for and the other NL East teams a bit worse and given that there's a little, emphasis on a little, of the internal boosting going on here. I also think the west coast trips don't matter nearly as much as you'd think. Even if you do buy into it, they did it would be a wash when the West Coast teams come east and pretty much all of the Nats West Coast opponents have.

All in all I think the numbers that currently state that the Nats have had an easier schedule are probably inflated, but not enough to say that the reverse is true, that the Nats have had a tougher schedule. I'd be inclined to say that things have been pretty even with the NL East teams so far and that what we've seen is indicative of the talent on the field currently. The Nats have a good chance to prove that wrong though - Beat up Atlanta in Atlanta. 

Tuesday, May 22, 2018

Soto comparisons

Juan Soto is doing something few players has ever done. He's playing in the major at 19.  Here's a tweet that grabbed the names of the guys that did it since 2001 and it give you an interesting cross section of talent to look at.  There are future Hall of Famers and complete busts, but the general take away is Soto is likely to be a useful player. But just as important as what they became is when they became it. The Nats need help today and the primary question is if Soto can give them that help.  There's a small enough number here that we can actually go through all of these guys and see what they became and when they became it.  We'll skip Julio Urias and Felix Hernandez because they are pitchers.

Wilson Betemit -  Signed at 14 1/2*, worked up minors, he had 200 good PA in AA before getting a September call-up. He'd start the next season in AAA and not do great, getting slightly better the year after and the year after but still not good in full AAA seasons. Eventually though the Braves stuck him in the majors for good and at 23 he was an average player. He'd remain so for most of the rest of his career.

Jose Reyes - Had 295 AA PAs in one year, started next season in AAA, and was ok over 180 plate appearances. Then the Mets called him up was ok for half the season, then injuries and a position change helped him regress in his second year. His third year wasn't much better but he finally got a full good season under his belt at age 23, which he'd then repeat for a decade. A speed and defense call-up primarily.

BJ Upton - Was hitting very well over 120 PAs in AA and 300+ PAs in AAA. Didn't do so well in call-up so sent back down and spent all of next year in AAA hitting well but being kept down. He'd be back-up in 2006 and for good in 2007 at 22. That would be his best year though as he'd bop around the game and the diamond as an average player until 2016.

Justin Upton - crushed it in 150 High A and 300 AA PAs before getting call-up. Wouldn't go back down. He'd have his first better than average season at the plate at age 21. Never quite put it together after that as he'd have very good seasons intermixed with good ones but no prolonged stretches of greatness.

Mike Trout  - At 18 had great 370 PAs in A ball, a good 230 in High A. Followed with a great 400+ PAs in AA before being called up. Was below average that first fall, but next year at 20 was a ROY and MVP candidate and hasn't looked back since

Bryce Harper - Was merely good in 150 PAs AA at 18 and 80 PAs in AAA at 19, but called up due to need. He would immediately be pretty good. But injuries would dog him. When healthy he put up one of the best 50 seasons in baseball, but having a hard time fighting through niggling injuries and proving he's a dependable transformative player rather than a merely very good one.

Jurickson Profar - Great in 500+ A ball at bats at 18, Good in 500+ AA at bats at 19. Was pretty bad in his short stint so started next season in AAA, where he was good for 170 PAs before being called up again. Would then hurt his shoulder and miss 2014 and pretty much all of 2015. Since coming back has continued to not be very good.

So we see a couple things of note here.

On the negative side - only Bryce really was very impactful at 19, playing enough games at a high enough level to matter. Trout became what he was at 20, Justin Upton at 21,  BJ at 22, and Reyes and Betemit at 23.  That would suggest that Soto is likely not to be impactful this year. It is also possible to be a highly thought of prospect brought up at a young age and amount to nothing. 

On the neutral side - Soto has gotten a very very small  number of at bats in comparison to this group. The only other ones to have anywhere near as few in High A and higher is Bryce. Of course we don't know if that actually means anything. Bryce is the one that did fine and I don't see any correlation between time spent in the high minors and major league performance**.  I can say we have less assuredness about what Soto might be given that limited exposure, but that's all I can say.

On the positive side - none of these guys were hitting it like Soto. Now, probably that goes hand in had with the neutral point. If you only get like 30 or 60 PAs it's easier to put on an impressive show. In comparison A-Rod crushed in in AAA (over two seasons at 18 and 19) in 350 PAs.  However Soto did crush it as opposed to not crushing it

What will Juan Soto be? Chances are, given the team's belief in his ability to call him up at 19, his minor league stats, and the comparisons (here's some more) a pretty damn good player. There's bust potential but HOF potential too but that is probably the case with any group of minor leaguers if you think about it - so what are really saying? But the chances of Soto being a pretty damn good player this year are slim as even the best ever - Trout, A-Rod - didn't put up that type of season at 19.*** So expect to enjoy Juan Soto playing for the Nationals for a long time, either as a great player or a solid one, but don't expect to enjoy Juan Soto carrying the Nationals to the playoffs this year. He may help a little, but more likely he's along for whatever ride the Nats take this year****

*Against the rules. The Braves got punished for it.
**and even if I did - only 7 guys here. That's not a meaningful sample.
***Which is why we made a big deal of what Bryce did at 19 - however "merely good" it was
****If he IS good this year - then get very hyped 

Monday, May 21, 2018

Monday Quickie - Almost as bad as it could have been

The Nats got swept out of their own building this weekend by the Dodgers.  Meanwhile the Phillies took their expected single game in St. Louis and stand 2.5 games ahead of the Nationas. The Braves didn't manage to sweep the Marlins but did take 2 of 3 and increased their lead over the Nats to 4 games. Even the Mets surprisingly swept the Diamondbacks* and have once again passed the Nationals.

The Nationals are in fourth place. It may be because of injuries. It may still be early (just past a quarter of the season done). But it's also a cold hard fact. The Nats needed to start making a move and instead they've stumbled. I wanted 14-7 out of a 21 game stretch that began with the Dodgers series. Now I need 14-4 to make that happen. They just had a 13-2 stretch so it's possible, but I'm not going to bet on it.

Other things

Juan Soto is up. This is both a move born out of desperation and a deserved move. The Nats would rather keep Soto down. While he crushed A ball and then crushed high A and then crushed AA the at bats were 60, 60, and 30.  No one believe that 30 at bats tells you all you need to know about a player. But the facts were the Nats needed another bat in the majors and by attrition, Juan Soto was easily the most justifiable call-up on a talent level.

Ideally you'd call-up a 2B/3B to replace Kendrick but the choice in AAA is Irving Falu, a 35 year old journeyman with no real talent to speak of who's not on the 40-man, who is there in case of emergency. Do you really want to DFA a guy for someone with no more talent who you may never want to play again in the majors after this stretch? In AA there is a player on the 40-man, Kelvin Gutierrez, but he's struck out so much and has no patience or power that you'd have to think a major league call-up would be feeding him to the wolves. And remember these are the best choices.

So you look to the OF instead, except anybody with any talent has already been called up.  Who is left? Stevenson is up. Sierra is up. Robles is hurt. Bautista is hurt. Jose Marmolejos, eaten up by AAA pitching and not a true OF. Yadiel Hernandez, who just got moved to AAA and is 30 and not on the 40-man. Hunter Jones, not on the 40-man, a last chance organizational depth pick-up who's having a nice start to 2018, but all history says it's a fluke? Maybe if these were temporary 5th OFs, but the call-up will likely play and you can't want any of these playing even occasionally. There are no good choices, so you make the best bad one and in this case it's bringing up the guy that might be able to hang in the majors, the guy that you figure will get to the 40-man if not by the end of this year, to start next.

I don't expect success from Soto this time out. We'll talk more tomorrow but the base expectation is - good player in a couple of years - with a huge amount of variability. But let him play a little, get a taste, see what he may need to work on to be successful up here, and then get him back down to work on those things on an everyday basis.

Ryan Madson is hurt. This isn't too surprising. He was kind of hurt at the end of last year, is the oldest of the Kintzler, Madson, Doolittle trio and frankly pitchers will get hurt. One of these guys was likely to go down at some point.

The starting pitching was good enough to win a couple games that series. The Nats could only score 1 run game 1, Doolittle blew G2 (hey, it'll happen), and the middle relief let the game get out of hand in G3 (hey, it'll happen... like every third game probably).  This is what I talked about. The starters + KMD can't compensate for the offense forever.

Most telling about the offense is the complete inability to hit lefties. A split of .220 / .304 / .356 against all LHP and .201 / .294 / .341 against lefty starters. It's easy and perhaps right to put some blame on Bryce for this. But here's the thing - Bryce has a split of .163 / .393 / .372 against lefty starters.  That gives him the 5th highest OPS on the team against lefty starters. Even average wise. Difo is worse. Turner is at .175. Rendon at .217. MAT at .218.   The team isn't doing their job.

*That Nats sweep seems way less impressive now.

Friday, May 18, 2018

Will the Nationals ever play baseball again?

The cries of "why did they even bother to try to play on Tuesday?" should have turned into "thank god they played a little on Tuesday" because with out those 6+ innings the Nats would be sitting on a 4 day layoff with more days off in sight. While I'd listen to arguments that such a long layoff is fine, I'm more inclined to believe it throws players off just a little bit. A little bit is enough to get into their heads and make a little bit a lot. But we'll see... once they actually play again.

The rain should knock out tonight's game and make doubleheaders on Saturday and Sunday unlikely.  They'll probably try anyway for one on Sunday but don't hold your breath.

With no game action to talk about and realistically not bothering to preview tonight's game let's go back to those points and cover the outfield ones.

Adam Eaton - Comeback Player of the Year 2019 
Eaton revealed that his injury last year also involved an injured ankle.  (And some of you acted like these guys would never hide stuff from us!  Ah, to be so innocent)  He got that surgered on and thinks he'll be back playing in 6 weeks, which would be the very end of June.  No one believes that.  After All-Star Game maybe? We'll see.

In the long run do we just stick Matt Adams in LF?
 Matt Adams is hitting better than he ever has.  That's almost not an exaggeration. He's hitting better than he ever has since Rookie ball where he was hitting .365 with modest power for 32 games. That tells you that this isn't going to last. That shouldn't suprise you that Matt Adams won't be an MVP candidate. However Adams can hit. Always has. So just hiding him away on the bench when Zimmerman returns would be silly.  No he doesn't hit lefties all that well, even this year, but he has shown patience against them and enough ability to hit them to change the dynamic from "never face lefties" to "sit against tough lefties". But where to you play him? Right now the answer is easy. He's at 1B. When Zimm comes back the answer gets a little tougher. Matt's not a great OF but still sticking him in LF makes sense. Neither Sierra or Stevenson are making a case to play over him. The next thing that could happen, though, will force a choice. If Murphy is back that means Kendrick can't play 2B. Do you stick him in the OF or Adams? (probably a strict platoon happens I bet).  If Eaton comes back then you have to consider sitting MAT (we'll check on that in a second) but the D would take a big hit with an Adams - recovering Eaton - Bryce OF.  I don't think I have an answer here other than if he's still hitting when the time comes you find a place for him until he's not. And sports has a way of answering these tough questions for you.

What IS up with MAT? 
I can't say I don't like to gloat because I do like to point out that I was wary about MAT having only a limited window of success (and Eaton staying healthy and Robles contributing) and everyone said I was crazy YET HERE WE ARE.  Three things have changed for MAT that are related but not necessarily joined at the hip. He's hitting more balls into the ground. He's hitting softer balls. He's seen a big drop in his BABIP.  I say they aren't joined at the hip because you can hit the ball hard into the ground (see Zimm 2016) and MAT's BABIP from 2017 was unsustainably high. It was coming down. But .264 is ahistorical, and very low for a speedy player who's not popping it up all the time (he's not).  So it's connected to the soft ground balls (obviously), but it's not the only reason for the drop. Is there a difference in how pitchers are going after him? In pitches - yes, the number of straight pitches is down (mostly fewer change-ups) and pitches with movement (sliders, cutters, curves) up. The location doesn't seem to change much but there may be something with offering up those movement pitches not only low, as they always have been, but catching a bit more of the plate. MAT never had much success with them and he's not having it now, turning these balls over into weak ground balls. Last year he made a stride by being able to hit the fastball and the change, but if he's not getting those he's going to have to learn to distinguish between balls and strikes with the movement pitches as they work them at his knees and his eye has never been his strong point. At 27 there may be time for one last adjustment but pretty soon the raw skills will start to diminish as well. It's kind of now or never for MAT.

Anyone remember Brian Goodwin?
Former prospect, turned has-been prospect, turned prospect again Brian Goodwin was providing some OF stability until he hurt his wrist in mid April. The jury is still out on how much he can contribute.  I'm skeptical. His good 2017 seemed real but his K-rate exploded this year. This is to be expected as pitchers learn how to pitch to him. His decent stats are all due to a .385 BABIP and a 25% HR/FB rate which will not last. (well I mean come on he has only 32 PA this year) That doesn't mean he can't be useful. I just don't see him as an above average bat. I'm digressing though. We'd all like to see him back just to see who's right and wrong. So where is he? We don't know. On May 9th he resumed swinging after being shutdown on May 1st while trying to get back and Janes said he was closer to returning than Murphy.  Well Murphy might be starting some minor league games by month's end.  Time for a re-evaluation?  I'll end with this though - pinning any OF hope on a returning from injury Brian Goodwin is not where you want to be.

(Ed Note - The WaPo crew takes on some Qs and the first one is about Goodwin! Their answer isn't all that more informative than the above though. They do add in more injury news and a take on Turner's walk rate)

The Nats OF has been middling this year. Bryce hasn't been BRYCE and the other two positions have flopped around. The good news is that they haven't been BAD yet and so haven't cost the Nats anything. However, how long that lasts is up in the air. Yes, the Nats are 5th in runs/game but I warned you about rankings. They are closer to 8th than 4th. They are more average than good. That's impressive for a team that's had so many injuries. It's also indicative of a team that has to rely on it's pitching.

If you want it framed in a good way though - the Nats weak stretch is here. So if there is anytime a suspect line-up can be carried over the line by a great rotation and solid back of the pen, it's now. Do that and then you could have a healthy team ready to hold off any challengers as we head deep into the season.

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

Let's play One and Seven-Eighteenths!

The Nats had the rare "suspended" game last night as they rightly figured they could sneak in enough innings to make it official, but were screwed by the fact the Nats and Yankees were tied at the time it would matter. The fact they started the 6th was kind of a joke, but when you tried hard to force the game in, it's too tempting to think "Well if the Nats can get the Yankees out quick and then score right away..."

So what do the Nats do? Well in theory tomorrow is an offday so they should have their full pens and what they do today shouldn't really matter. In practice though today looks spotty so you have to consider the possibility that there will be a game tomorrow. That's ok for the Nats (only Wander Suero might be out for that one) but it also would set up several pitchers who would have pitched in back to back games going into a stretch of six straight. It's a tricky thing to manuever around. Even if they do play both games tonight, it's very rare to see the same guys pitch in both games. The question then becomes how do you split up Kintzler, Madson, and Doolittle? How do you do it knowing Scherzer is on deck?

What I would do it try to Wander Suero the first game till it's finish. Three innings is probably too much but two shouldn't be and maybe you get lucky with quick swings from guys that know they'll have to be forced into some scheduling acrobatics if they don't end this game here. If he throws too many pitches - you go with one of KMD depending if you are winning (Doolittle) or close (one of the other two). If you aren't close (in either direction) then anyone else can pitch the top of the 9th. But Wander gets two, even if he gets in trouble. Consider it a learning experience.

Game 2 then you just treat as a normal game with Suero and whoever else pitched not available. Ideally Scherzer goes deep enough and the game is settled enough that all you need is the two of KMD you didn't use.

There are ways this can break down sure. Suero can be sitting at 33 pitches with one out and men on in the 8th. You'd have to pull him. Either game can go extra innings. The second game can also get suspended, or feature multiple rain delays. Scherzer can get knocked around, I suppose. But I kind of feel this is the best plan. Use one pitcher to eat up as many innings in G1 as possible (Suero makes the most sense to me as he pitched yesterday and thus already had his rest clock reset.)

Interesting game last night where it felt the Nats were both lucky to be in it (Gio seemed to be on the brink of giving up runs every inning) and unlucky to be only tied (the Nats were hitting Tanaka hard, especially early).  It was kind of fun it was leading to a tight finish but oh well. 162 games means 162 chances for something to happen.

Tuesday, May 15, 2018

Sean Doolittle - the elite reliever gets his elite closing gig

Here's some stats for you

A 2.92 ERA,  2.46 FIP,  0.912 WHIP,  0.8 HR/9,  6.5 H/9,  1.7 BB/9,  10.7 K/9.

That's Sean Doolittle's career.  It's good right? It's very good in fact. Maybe even scraping great. It's not elite no but wait...

A 2.88 ERA,  0.896 WHIP,  0.8 HR/9,  1.7 BB/9,  10.8 K/9

A little better, right? This is what happens when you remove the year Doolittle was injured. It was only 13.2 IP but it was clearly his worst year.

Ok can we do even better. Normally I like to look at the last three years before the current one when judging a player before the year starts. But injuries can screw that up, especially if you think the player is now over whatever plagued them. In Doolittle's case because the year after his injury wasn't a full year but a 2/3rds injury recovery year I'm tempted to remove that. So let's not include that. I think that's pretty fair.  But that only leaves us with one year before this current one as the injury years were years 2 and 3 previous. Given his relatively young age, and the fact it wasn't a rookie year I think it's ok to grab that year 4 years ago. So in essence we're looking at his last 2 full years before 2018 and throwing in what he's done so far.  What do we see then?

A 2.56 ERA,  0.748 WHIP,  0.8 HR/9,  1.4 BB/9,  12.1 K/9

Guys we're getting pretty close to elite here. Given that it's 2 years let's look at say... Kenely Jansen's past two years

A 1.58 ERA,  0.708 WHIP,  0.6 HR/9,  1.2 BB/9,  14.0 K/9

It's not quite at this level. Even if you ignore the ERA which can be an iffy the FIP would likely be something like 2.15 for Doolittle and 1.40 for Jansen. So Doolittle isn't prime Jansen, but prime Jansen was probably the best closer in baseball the past five years. A dominant force, really. How would these numbers over the past two seasons compare to a...

Greg Holland? Doolittle is better.
Roberto Osuna? Doolittle is equal*
Craig Kimbrel? Doolittle is equal**
Wade Davis? Doolittle is better.
Alex Colome? Doolittle is better.

Chapman? Iglesias? Allen?  Better. Better. Better.

Now I'm sure you could dig in a little more and quibble about the exact positioning. But that misses the point.  Doolittle is not peak Kenley Jansen or peak Andrew Miller but these guys are singular talents, the Mike Trouts of the relief world.  After them is there anyone better than Doolittle? Stats wise it doesn't seem so.

So why doesn't Doolittle get praise? Even when we look at that very top stat line he was still very good and that was including his injury years.  Well, because he never really got to close. He was a set-up man his first two seasons behind the very competent Grant Balfour. In 2014 it took a month and half for him to be named closer as the A's were planning on relying on Jim Johnson who crashed and burned.  He'd also miss 3 weeks late in the year leaving him with only 22 saves. He'd be injured early into 2015 and when he came back in 2016 Ryan Madson has established himself in the closer role. In 2017 Santiago Casilla was brought in AND the A's wanted to use Blake Treinen*** in that role so Doolittle would only get a chance here and there. In the end that meant despite being a top relief guy since 2012 Doolittle only amassed 36 saves in 5 1/2 seasons. That's not going to get noticed.

But with Jansen struggling, Doolittle is as good a closer as anyone in baseball currently. He's the guy the Nats have been looking for years****  Now will that hold into the playoffs? That I can't tell you. But what I will tell you is I don't see the Nats trading for anyone better to close out games this year. Doolittle is the guy.

I forgot to add the homestand goals. The minimum would be split v Yankees, and winning both the Padres and Dodgers series. But winning or sweeping?  The Dodgers and Padres are both playing awful so sweeps are certainly in play and you should sweep some bad teams at home (because you'll probably lose some series to bad teams away). But it's hard to go out and say they should sweep BOTH so I'll say sweep one, win one.  That'll put the homestand at 1-1 plus 5-1 combined or a 6-2 homestand overall and likely a game or two in the standings.  5-3 is acceptable. 4-4 is not.

*Forced to choose I'd say Osuna would have edge bc youth and bc most recent year he did pitch much better, but now he's injured  currently not playing because he's a bad person and Doolittle's not so that's moot. 

**Kimbrel strikes out a ton more but is prone to problems. Walks in 2016. HRs so far this year

*** 0.93 ERA currently! No he's not that good but he can close.  Problem was something in his head. Don't discount the Nationals tendency to always be looking for the next closing arm. 

****Now I'd argue that despite what you'd think the Nats closer situation has been EXCELLENT over this whole time period. These names of guys you hate - they were all good to really good. Storen's 2015? Fantastic. Melancon's time before and with Nats? Depressing for both runs and other teams. But failures in the playoffs, even if fluky and singular, aren't overlooked by fans.