Nationals Baseball

Thursday, April 27, 2017

What happens

What happens if Bryce is BRYCE again?
What happens if Daniel Murphy matches last year?
What happens if Trea Turner has no sophomore slump?

Answer. It almost doesn't matter what anyone else does.

In the past week Bryce is hittin... I'll make you wait for that.

In the past week  Daniel Murphy has been hitting .296 / .321 / .593. It's not quite what he did last year but it's probably like 2 base hits off. (and he's .348 / .348 / .696 in the past 5 games)

In the past week Trea Turner is hitting .458 / .480 / .958.  It's way over what he'll end up with but a natural rebound from his slow start to put his yearly stats more in line with last year (.342 / .370 / .567 last year - .326 / .341 / .628 this year) It also makes you think what a crazy player he would be in a spacious pitchers park or at Coors field.

In the past week Bryce is hitting .526 / .640 / .842. I guess you could be disappointed that he's only hit one homer but Jesus, I just typed he's getting on base almost 2/3rds of the time.

In those last 6 games the Nats have scored 43 runs, or over 7 a game. These three have scored 22 of the runs and driven in 27 of them. They are an offensive juggernaut.

Oh how are the rest of the Nats doing over the same time?
Eaton OPS .656 (this is like Michael Taylor last year), Lobaton .599, Rendon .598, Werth .583, Wieters .397, Taylor (12PA) .083

They can almost do it all by themselves. I say almost because you might have noticed that I left out one guy. Ryan Zimmerman. He's hitting .381 / .458 / .857 during the past week. That's what puts it all over the top.

If Bryce is BRYCE, if Murphy is 2016 Murphy, if Trea is 2016 Trea you have three MVP worthy bats on the same team. If one of them is hot and one is just doing about what they should, that might be enough with the vagaries of who else is randomly hitting in the rest of the lineup to be a decent offense. If these three are going at the same time, and just one other guy is hot, they can bludgeon a team into submission. Right now it's Zimm. Next week it could be Rendon. Maybe Werth here and there. If these three all hit their max potential it's hard to see a better offense in the majors.  

So in short - don't get injured.

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Worst pen ever?

It's not that the Nats pen is bad. Bad pens happen, especially early in the year when the vagaries of small sample size and the "let's see if this guy with great stuff can hack it" philosophy reigns. It's how bad they are. Guys aren't just failing. They are blowing up.

Joe Blanton : ERA 10.13. Key Stats  HR/FB 36.4%, Soft % 7.4% Hard % 44.4%, Velocities FB : 91MPH, Sinker : 87.5 MPH

Blanton has gotten a little worse around the edges. That's not to be unexpected for an old pitcher coming off a surprisingly good year. But one thing has drastically changed and that's him giving up homers. He's not giving up more flyballs but guys are teeing off on what they are hitting and a decreased sinker velocity might be the reason. Blanton had gotten successful throwing a fast sinker that was - at least in speed - in distinguishable from the fastball. Now there's a clear difference between the two. Major league hitters are good enough to pick up on things like that. Of course his bread and butter is the slider. Zone info shows he's not as pinpoint as he was in 2016 with it. Could that be all it takes? For a one-pitch pitcher, maybe. I think the homers are a fluke but the big drop in effectiveness may not be.

Blake Treinen : ERA 9.82.  Key Stats : H/9 19.6, BB9 7.4, FS% 46.5% (down from 57%)

The idea of Treinen as a closer was always a question mark because he put a lot of guys on base. He put balls in play and he walked them, but the hope was he could temper that and let double plays and maybe a few more strikeouts make him successful. But instead of ramping down hits and walks, they've jumped way up in the face of more patient batters just looking to put the ball in play. Is a .517 BABIP against going to last? Of course not. But  even if it were half that his hits per 9 would be approaching 10. That's not good and paired with a crazy walk rate it's game over regardless of K's and DPs

If you want to be optimistic a lot of the fancy stats suggest Treinen is not pitching too different than last year. His issues are stemming from not keeping the ball down and not getting ahead on the batters (first strike % is way down). If he's not ahead batters don't chase. (swings outside the zone are down as well) But he's not a lights out guy if things are working and never has been. At 28/29 he's not a work in progress anymore. He's a high 3.00 ERA guy capable of getting a DP if needed.

Enny Romero : ERA 6.00.  Key Stats : H/9 14.1, wFB -2.0, Soft 12.5%

A lot of times with guys like Enny you have an unhittable wild mess that you hope to get under control. Enny isn't that. Enny is completely hittable. So while he has gotten his walks down to an acceptable level (2.3 BB/9). He's giving up hit after hit. The second stat tells a story.  It's kind of like "is your fastball good for you or not?". I usually ignore these stats, but for Enny they are telling. He's never had a good fastball.  A fast fastball yes, but not a good one. So guys sit on it and when they get that fast juicy meatball they hit it and they hit it hard.  Just like that FB stat - that soft percentage matches up with what his career numbers tell us. Guys make good contact against him. So unless you think Romero can survive on throwing nothing but sliders there's no place for him on a major league roster.

Oliver Perez : ERA 6.75.  Key Stats .857 OPS vs LHB, 1.333 OPS vs RHB

There's barely any stats because he's barely pitched but the fact that he's barely pitched means the team buys into what these stats are saying which is Perez can't be used at any time. Last year he squeaked by because he was alright vs lefties and not terrible if he had to face a righty. So far both of those things are not true in 2017.  He CAN'T face righties, and he's not good enough against lefties for that to be his thing. Now again - VERY few at bats, I mean so small that one hit/out change, changes the story, so the Nats should still try to LOOGY him but the early indications are not good.

Shawn Kelley : ERA 5.00.  Key Stats; 60.9% FB, Soft% 4.3%

Just when you think you can't see a lower soft percentage here comes another one. Kelley, like Blanton, appears to be doing most everything about the same.  But he has also given up 4 homers in a short period of time. Unlike Blanton though, this doesn't seem to be flukey. Kelley is giving up a lot more fly balls and he's not getting soft contact. A few of those balls are bound to leave the yard.

All these guys won't continue to fail this spectacularly. It would be crazy if they did. But the pen was only built to be "deep enough" with the inclusion of Blanton. You want 3 good arms and another 2 decent ones. Blanton gave them four supposedly good arms, though none 100% reliable. You hoped to work at least 2 good ones from those four, while finding a 3rd hopefully there too, but maybe elsewhere, and the other two just rising to the surface of the middle innings as the season went along. That still might happen (say Glover, Albers, and Kelley keeping the ball down) but as of today the path to those 5 arms is less clear. No one pitching bad is solely a victim of bad luck.

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Under the Shadow of the Flat Brim

I'm a hack!

Really I'm just bored. The Nats losing a game because the B-Team bullpen (not Glover, Kelley) blew things the day after one of the rare, not typical, travel situations isn't a surprise. I figured this for a loss. So rather than talk about Enny Romero (sure he had two-outs but I'm not sure he threw a strike to Story), or try to excuse Blake Treinen (sinkerballers may have tough times in Coors because the ball will sink less), and as I wait patiently for Zimm to hit my self imposed May 1 or 100 PA deadline on looking at his stuff, I figure I'll tackle an enduring "mystery" of the Nats in a completely not serious post.

I'll tackle the Curse of Cordero.

In 2005 at age 23 Chad Cordero was named the Nats closer and successfully closed 47 games, made the All-Star game, even finished 5th in Cy Young voting (all it means is he got a vote but yes that happened). He would be the rare bright spot for the post inaugural Nats saving 29 in 2006 and 37 in 2007. He was the 2nd youngest player to hit 100 saves. But in April of 2008 he tore his shoulder and that's death. He was never the same after that and some say that upon being non-tendered by Bowden on a sports talk radio show (Bowden was the worst) he cursed the position of closer for the Nats.

Let us examine the doomed careers of those who followed "Under the Shadow of the Flat Brim" (that's what I'm calling the book I'm pitching as a hacky beat writer trying to find a niche that'll get me PAID)

2008 - Jon Rauch - took over for Chad, successful and promptly traded to Arizona where he was a bust. Only 38 saves post Nats career, bounced around for a couple years and career was over at 33

2008/2009 - Joel Hanrahan - took over for Rauch. Handed job for 2009, before he was done had a 1-3 record, with 5 blown saves in 10 attempts. Traded to Pittsburgh that same year. Tommy John would end his career at 31

2009 - Mike MacDougal - "Mac the Ninth" took over for Hanrahan. Non tendered by team after season. Spent most of post Nats career throwing to a 6.00+ ERA in AAA.

2010 - Matt Capps - Signed to take over duties. Traded to Minnesota before years end. After 1 and a half decent years, injured and at age 28 was never seen in the big leagues AGAIN.

2011-2015 Drew Storen - Drafted to be the closer. Immediate success, but injured. Came back in 2012 to reclaim duties right before playoffs. Successful twice before losing G5 and prompting Lerners to bring in Soriano and break Storen's little brain. Would go back and forth between successful closer, playoff disappointment, and replaced head-case 8th inning man. Traded to Toronto where he promptly wasn't named closer and again busted. Currently in Cincinnati doing well because they've convinced him he's part closer. Meltdown to come if not closer by Memorial Day

2012 - Brad Lidge - We do not talk about Brad Lidge with the Nationals other than to say his last pitch was made in this uniform.

2012 - Henry Rodgriguez - H-Rod, as he was unaffectionately known, was given the chance to close early in 2012 along with Lidge while Storen was out. Walked everyone. Walked right out of game two years later at age 27

2012 - Tyler Clippard - The "Best Middle Reliever in Baseball History" Clippard took over after the Lidge/H-Rod plan imploded and successfully conquered the closer job but Storen came back and the Nats wanted him as closer so back he went to middle relief. Eventually traded to Oakland in 2015 where he successfully closed for most of the year, but was traded to the Mets to do middle relief. Now successful in middle relief in NYY. NO CURSE CAN STOP CLIPPARD.

2013 - Rafael Soriano - Brought here after the G5 debacle because Scott Boras knows when you are most vulnerable, Soriano was a functional reliver for almost 2 years before his arm gave out. He would lose his role back to Storen and pretty much be done with baseball after that.

2015 - Johnathan Papelbon - Traded for in late July 2015 because Storen couldn't save G1 of the NLDS the year before. Papelbon would choke Bryce but because the Nats had no better options he stared 2016 as closer. He made it about half a year before flaming out and ending his career.

Successful closer careers that died in Washington? Check. Arms that couldn't pitch more than a couple of years before succumbing to the curse? Check. Drew Storen? Check.

Does this speak more to the choices the Nats have made? Perhaps. Does this speak more to the fragility of the relief arm? Perhaps. Does this ignore the good pre-injury performances like Hanrahan's back to back All-Star years, and Matt Capps successful Minnesota run to misrepresent the situation? Perhaps. Does this ignore Mark Melancon who will likely be pretty good for a few years for San Fran? Perhaps.

However some will always believe that there can be no saving the saver when he toils "Under the Shadow of the Flat Brim" HHAHAHAHAHHA!

(Except Tyler Clippard - He's awesome)

Monday, April 24, 2017

Monday Quickie - A different year

The Nats have inarguably had the best team in the NL East over the last five seasons. From 2012-2016 the Nats have had good to very good offenses mixed with good to great pitching staffs and have by the grace/curse of luck with injuries and competitor timing, either been division winners or also rans. But while the Nats have gotten lucky with injuries and the rest of the NL East presenting them with an AFC East for the Patriots situation, what the Nats have never been is lucky on the field.

Here are their win totals and their "expected" win totals (Pythag, and 3rd order). 

2012 : 98 (96, --)
2013 : 86 (84, 83)
2014 : 96 (97, 97)
2015 : 83 (89, 89)
2016 : 95 (97, 98)

Now I won't go into the details of what these other win totals mean beyond saying they are attempts to strip luck out of the equation. They attempt to answer the question - with an offense this good and a pitching staff that good, how many games should you have won in a vacuum? It's a completely pointless descriptive stat. When looking back on a year, who cares how many you should have won? But as a predictive stat it can be useful, if taken with the usual caveats. It's also useful for me showing this point.

The Nats have never really gotten that lucky on the field. The best they've done against the expected win totals is +2/+3 back in  2013. That is almost "noise". They did have one year that was probably unlucky winning 83 games when 89 was more likely given the talent* but they have yet to have that year when things break their way with the way the ball bounces on the field.

I bring this up not because the Nats are getting super lucky now. Their wins would be 13 (11, 12) and you actually expect more craziness early than late. I bring this up because isn't it time? Can't the Nats have a great team AND a team that is lucky all over and just coast to a title? Take a double digit division lead by Memorial Day and not look back? In 2012 they took a few game lead in mid June but never quite shook the Braves until late August. In 2014 the Nats actually spent most of the year trying to catch Atlanta before passing the Braves and not looking back in mid-August***. Last year was the closest we've come to the dream ideal where a sweep of the Mets in late June pretty much put the division away, but you could see a possible path back for the Mets until early August.

I want to enter the All-Star Break with a 15 game lead and have a summer of nothing but watching a great team play great baseball. I think this team, and this division, can give us that. The Nats offense (unlike the pen) is possibly the best they've ever had. There are no obvious holes, Bryce is BRYCE and Zimm looks to be healthy. The rotation is as good as it usually is. The pen could stand to have that one more great arm to anchor it, but we weren't wrong saying that talent was there. It'll just be a matter of getting lucky with health and shuffling things around until they find a fit. The Mets are already injury bit. The Marlins will have to have everything go right with that rotation to stay in it. The Phillies can't be real and lost Buchholz for the year. The Braves can't get over the fact they've built their line-up with two awful bats (right now**) wasting Freeman's potential in carrying the team.

As a side note : the other thing the Nats have never done is have an actual down the wire division race. The Nats' Septembers have been exceedingly boring when it comes to division games

2012 : Entered up 6.5, closest it got was 3 but with four games left.
2013 : Entered down 15, closest it got was 8 with 12 left
2014 : Entered up 6.0,  that was arguably the closest it got
2015 : Entered down 6.5, closest it got was out 4.0 on September 6th
2016 : Entered up 9.0, closest it reasonably got was up 8 on September 8th

So if I'm looking for an interesting, never seen it yet season and I can't have the easy season, I guess I want the Nats to go down to the wire with someone over first in the NL East. Of course I don't see that happening, and I think that you guys reading the blog would prefer the "OMG SO AWESOME" season, to a nail-biter one that might end with the Nats nudged out in the last week.

 *You can blame Matt Williams if you like. I don't think that's fair, (he didn't crazy underperform in 2014), but I don't think it ultimately matters, either. 89 wins wouldn't have gotten the Nats in the playoffs, and I think that ultimately would have led to his firing. What would have been bad would have been a lucky year that snuck them in over the 90 win Mets. 

**I liked the Braves to be a real threat if Dansby Swanson could become a star.  Update : He's the worst hitter in the NL currently.  .139 / .162 / .194  a .357 OPS. 

***Thanks 75% to a complete Braves collapse and 25% to a hot streak to start August

Friday, April 21, 2017

Did their job

Going into Phillies/Braves, I thought 4-2 was the goal, 3-3 the floor, so 5-1 is a very nice little run here. I also thought the Mets would do no worse than 3-3, turns out they could. They went 1-5 in the same time frame and what was a 1.5 game deficit for the Nats is now a 2.5 game lead. (With the Marlins between them)

This makes the weekend series that much easier. You are playing a good team away from home in a three game set. Just don't get swept. That's it. Low bar? Possibly but if you play .500 ball against playoff teams, matching series wins at home and series losses away, you are easily a playoff team because you'll be doing much better than that in the 100+ games against teams that miss the playoffs. So go 1-2 here and 2-1 in the series after the jaunt to Colorado and you're on track.

The Mets come into the series hobbled. Cespedes & Duda, are likely out for the series and d'Arnaud is banged up and probably coming off the bench for a couple games.  They have more injuries but Flores isn't as impactful and the way the pitching lines up the Mets lack of the 5th starter doesn't matter.

The match-ups are as follows: Roark vs deGrom, Gio vs Harvey, Scherzer vs Wheeler. I'm a little curious about the Scherzer start because of all his pitches thrown last time, but it's more a reflex based on his ST injury than pitch count. 116 is a number Scherzer hit in about a third of his starts last year.

The story of last night's game was really the closer debut of Shawn Kelley, who started out strong, then almost blew it, before closing the door. All the luck to you Mr. Kelley. While I just said a couple days ago Treinen needed to stay in the role, the whole premise of that was essentially two straight quick failures would make things worse. So there's a simple solution to that potential issue. Don't fail Kelley. Be dominant.

Ok beat the Mets tonight and the rest is gravy to me.

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Some quiet things

The Nats bullpen has for the most part overshadowed everything going on with this team, to the point I bet most of you don't know they could have the best record in baseball after tonight (helps that no one is running away). That doesn't matter much (Nats had a best and better record at this point last year) but it's a nice place to be nonetheless.

It would be hard to miss Bryce's great start, and most people see that Zimm is doing real well. Still some things may have slipped under the radar.  Note that all these are drafts of preliminary looks at early analyses.  They are meant as a "Hmmm let's keep looking at this over the next few weeks" and not as a "AHA! That is exactly what is happening!"

Anthony Rendon has been one of the worst hitting regulars in baseball. It's not so much the average, .226 is bad but at this point in the year far from irregular, but the peripherals.  Rendon has only 3 walks and is walking at half the rate he usually does. He had only 2 XBH (2 doubles) giving him an OPS of .532. He is not BABIP bit. That number is fine. He is just not hitting the ball well (LD% under 10% - which is pretty crazy bad). He's swinging way more than he usually does but it's not really an issue with recognizing pitches (swings outside the zone not a crazy number) I'm not sure what's up.

Batting at the bottom of the order is suiting Weiters. Hitting down there requires the ability to take a walk (because you'll get pitched around), but if necessary make contact (because you don't want to leave things up to the next guy).Weiters BB rate is almost double what it usually is.  His K rate is almost half.  His swing percentages are down and his contact percentages are up. His Fly ball percentages are down too. His pull rate is down and his opposite field hits are way up. But it's not like he's crushing the ball. he's actually hitting it much less hard this year than in previous ones. If I wanted to be optimistic Id say a guy that was always imagined to be a slugger is finally getting that he isn't one and adapting his game to his actual skill set. He is no longer trying to crush homers but just get good wood on the ball and maybe drive some doubles.

Adam Eaton stopped being a walking man. It was fun while it lasted but Eaton is Eaton, and what he is is a good average guy with moderate power and just enough patience not to drive you crazy.  That's fine.

Werth is doing really well. But before you get excited about that, it's pretty much a mirage. His K rate is super high. BABIP is super high (.370). He's not hitting the ball super hard or super well. HR/FB (20%) would be among the best of his career. He's crushed some mistakes and got some lucky IF hits and is the one hot batter most likely to cool off big time.

The Nats depth is non-existent. What you see is what you get. The Nats looked to Difo to fill the hole Turner left. He's not a major league hitter right now. .250 with NO power and NO patience. Sammy Solis and Enny Romero were hoped to be good middle inning guys. They've been bad. Solis might be hurt but Enny Romero is presumably exactly who Enny Romero is which is a guy that could be traded for nothing; way too hittable and way too wild. For someone like him you scour the stats to see if there is anything that tells you things are different and no, they are not. I'd drop him.

You could point to one or two places where Max is slightly behind last year but he's way ahead in one stat. 0 homers. When Max had problems last year they were usually connected to giving up a couple of bombs. Is it luck? Maybe - he's not really giving up fewer fly balls. But maybe not - he's giving up NOTHING hard (9.1% hard) If he can keep doing something like this it's another Cy Young type year from the guy.

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

If you hate Treinen the closer, he must stay as closer

Blake Treiene has been terrible.

There isn't any objective way to say any thing else. He's pitched in 8 games. He's allowed a baserunner in the last 7. He's allowed runs in half. His WHIP is a god awful 2.526. This is because he is getting hit (14.2 H/9) and he's walking guys like crazy (8.5 BB/9). He's come in for 5 save opportunities* and he's blown 2. He doesn't look like he will succeed as closer.

And yet, if you want Blake out of there you need to keep him in there. At least for now.

I know that may sound counter intuitive but let's look at the facts. Before the season started. Hell, right now, its very likely that you would say that 6.1 IP tells you nothing. You would say that 2 BS in 5 attempts is bad but not change worthy (certainly so for an established closer). You would say a closer needs at least a month to really figure out if he can hack it. You would not be wrong. Pulling Treinen now would be an admittedly quick hook.

If you pull Treinen now you set up two scenarios. The first thing you do is you set up the return. Treinen gets pulled. Kelley or Glover come in. They aren't good. Maybe they get injured. Treinen is lights out in the 7th/8th. The clamoring begins. Maybe not from fans, but from the same supporters who wanted him in the closer role in the first place. "He's got his head on straight now" "He's figured it out" "It was only 6 innings!" These aren't arguable points. Treinen would have gotten a very brief chance so a second one seems more reasonable. 

The second thing you do is you set the base amount of time you need to evaluate a closer. Whoever comes in next; Glover, Kelley or whoever, has about 8 games to not stink or else you have to make another change right? I mean you pulled your first choice after that time frame, are you saying that if one of these guys blows 2 saves and has a 5.00 ERA over 8 games that you won't pull him? Doesn't make sense. These guys enter with a clock ticking on them, ratcheting up any pressure they may feel.

The short of it is - you create a situation where if the replacement for Treinen doesn't succeed, then you've made an absolute mess out of the pen by mid May.

What would make more sense would be to let Treinen keep going. Let him have his month (or really nine more games) to be the official closer and see what happens. Most likely he'll do middling and the team will say it's time to move on, but the decision will be definitive. No one could say Treinen didn't have a fair shot, that the team stuck by him when they could have bailed. You also set-up  a situation where the next guy understands he'll get leeway. He'll have a shot that includes maybe stumbling a bit and ample time. He'll fell he has a fair shot at succeeding.

I understand the pressure to change, but it's not as if the Nats have suffered much because of Treinen the closer. They are in first place in the East 1.5 games ahead of the team they believe will most likely be a rival. Those eight games Treinen has pitched in? The Nats are 7-1 in them. I suppose you could say using Treinen in other games, in another role, may have created more success. I suppose.  But the reality is the Nats are not in panic mode. They have the leeway to let this play out as everyone thinks a closer trial should, before they are in the midst of a failing one.

Let Treinen close. Let Treinen probably fail. It's for the best.

*The Nats actually haven't had many save opportunities since the first week of the season. A lot of blowouts and ties into the 9th.