Nationals Baseball: The Nats with the Curl in their hair

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

The Nats with the Curl in their hair

Yesterday I pointed out that Boswell's assertion, that the Nats were succeeding because of depth, was crazy. But I can't say something like that and not come up with an alternate reason.

Usually all it takes is a simple glance at the stats. How is the offense doing? 9th in average, 6th in OBP, 9th in slugging. That's alright, I guess, but it wouldn't explain the Nats coming away with a few more wins than last year. Maybe they are just hitting better at the right times? Nope - 9th in average, 11th in slugging with RISP.

What about the pitching? Even less explanation here, a starter ERA of 5.72 (14th in the NL), a reliever ERA of 4.03 (7th in the NL). Nope, there's no simple explanation to be had here.

Now of course there is one thing. The Nats are 6-3 still in one and two run games. I guess I could say "luck" and be done with it, but I don't think that's being fair either.

What I think is going on is that there is two distinct Nats teams out there.

Team 1 is a team that gets a good start, turns the ball over to Clippard and Capps, and closes out the close win.

Team 2 is a team doesn't get a good start and/or gets to the Nats other relievers. The Nats lose.

That's it. I know that may seem simplistic and sure it's in part by design (Clippard and Capps will only pitch in the games the Nats can win), but Clippard and Capps have been so good AND the Nats bad starts and bad relievers have been so bad AND the offense is so unable to crush another team BUT able to score some runs that it really is an either/or situation. Good Start + Clippard + Capps = Win. Anything else = Loss.

How many games have the Nats won out of 10 that didn't feature a good start and Clippard/Capps pitching the majority of relief innings?

Three - Livan's complete game, Livan's first game where Bruney and Bergmann pitched as many innings as Capps (though Bruney almost blew it), and Lannan's win against the Brewers where Bruney and Burnett pitched for more innings than Capps. That last win is the only win the Nats have had when they used the bullpen after a good start and the majority of relief innings worth a damn weren't pitched by Clippard and Capps. There are no bad start wins. There are no other good start wins that feature other relief pitchers.

How many games have the Nats lost out of 10 that feature a good start and Clippard and Capps pitching the majority of relief innings?

Zero. Clippard and Capps have not blown anything.

How many games have the Nats lost out of 10 that feature a good start?

Three. Livan getting outdueled (Bruney pitched in relief), the extra-inning loss to the Dodgers (Capps threw 2 scoreless, Batista lost it but in his third inning of relief), and last nights game where Bruney blew it. Or to look at it another way - the Nats have had one good start where the non Capps/Clippard bullpen pitched more than 2 good innings, that extra inning game with LA.

The Nats don't have the offense to generate enough runs to win a slugfest. They don't have a good enough bullpen to hold down the fort if they get a less than quality start. They don't have the arms to win many games if they can't simplify the pitching down to Clippard and Capps. The Nats have gotten 7 wins out of a formula that has little room for error and in the process have ridden Clippard to the 3rd most innings in relief in the NL (with 14.2) and Capps to a nice 11.1 which is a bunch. It's a formula for success, but for how long, or more the more accurate question, is it long enough to last until Storen and Strasburg can get to the majors... I'm not sure.


Hoo said...

Well written. I like what Riggs is doing to maximize the BP's strength. And he obviously doesn't trust Burnette to repeat '09 although he's using him a bit more. Bruney has been not so good while Walker/Batista are what you expect. So the Nats have a thin winning formula, but again it's a lot better than previous years. When was the last time that Nats fans could think, if we just have a lead in the 7th, we'll be ok? The glory days or Rauch/Cordero?

On offense, I'm not too concerned. Yes, Pudge will fall to earth and so will Guzie. But Zim is the best hitting 3rd in the league, and he's been unavailable. His last two pinch-hits have been really well hit, a hard liner to second and a deep fly homer except the win caught it (And Walker lucked out that he didn't give up 2 dingers last night).

Riggs has the right strategy. Use Clips/Caps in any winnable game and hopefully that will keep the team over .500 till June. Then Storen and Stras arrive and you get more tools.

I really like what he's doing, other than I'd try to see if Jesse English can be a lefty specialist too.

the other part of Riggs strategy is really hope that he gets a really solid 7IP performance through the rotation so Clippard only has to go 8th.

Bryan said...

Great analysis and nice writing.

What your analysis really shows is this team's need's, as they stand right now, are minor upgrades to starting pitching (coming in the minors), more quality relievers (possibly coming in the minors) and an upgrade to hitting (crickets).

Yes, they have flaws, and yes, they have a winning formula that is built on thin foundation.

But that is still a long way from the last 2 or 3 years, when they didn't have a formula outside of "hope the other team is having a significantly bad day.

Hoo said...

I think the Nats are league average at most hitting spots. 1/8th (3b) is the best in the league. Another, RF, is probably among the worst. But the rest range from maybe slightly below to slightly above average.

Dez and Maxwell are both below average, but that's ok given their development process.

If they improve (or if Nats get a new RF), the Nats will have the hitting that can make a playoff run. It's not the Phillies but I think it's a >.500 hitting lineup (assuming that Willy T. never takes another at bat. I'm shocked, shocked that his scorching spring hasn't carried over. Instead, we're looking at sub .200 OBP with no pop and a bunch of at bats already. That has to be the worst in the majors at such a premium hitting spot). This is a black mark on Rizzo given how thin the Nats bench already is. Wouldn't it be nice to have a team that doesn't have to regularly pinch hit for his right fielder?

Anyway, the upgrade to hitting should be looking at improvement of Desmond/Maxwell and if you're really hopeful, Mench/Morse return for the OF and a possible Jesus Flores for Nieves.

But as Harper said, hitting is adequate. Starting pitching is troublesome. And um, I'm not exactly loving Lannan's start so far.

Harper said...

Hoo - Acta really didn't stand a chance last year. It may have been of his own making (unable to ID or unwilling to use his good pitchers) but I think he just didn't have any to start the season. Give Riggs last years bullpen and the Nats are 8-12 at best. I don't think the current strategy will keep them over .500 (these guys are going to blow a game at some point) but it will keep them closer then not doing it.

The offense will get better but not all that much. Zimmerman is a big help but there is still a lack of power here.

Bryan - hmm what do you do about the hitting? It'll be interesting to see what the Nats do because it could get real bad. Trade Willingham and Dunn and make no moves to replace them - you're looking at one of the worst offenses in the league. There is NOTHING in the minors and as much as everyone loves Bryce Harper he's still killing SCENIC WEST pitching right now. That's a big step down from a regular conference, let alone the minors.

I think the best bet would be trade Dunn and try to work out a real cheap deal with a Berkman or Konerko or Lee for a year or two as a stop gap, but we'll see. If Marquis never comes back you'll hear the "don't sign anyone" morons come out of the woodwork.

Harper said...

hoo 2 - you're right. Really it all hinges on Desmond (I think RF is a lost cause - Harris/Maxwell or Bernandina) If he can pick it up the offense will be in that 2nd tier of NL offenses - good enough if matched with good pitching. If not, then it'll be like last year - right around average where the Nats would need superior pitching to make a run.

Basil said...

Really good post, and this --

I know that may seem simplistic and sure it's in part by design (Clippard and Capps will only pitch in the games the Nats can win

-- isn't just a simplistic insight. Being able to stretch Clippard and to a degree Capps has really enabled the Riggler to keep close games in the hands of the so-far competent ... as opposed to the rote 7/8/9 formula that Manny loved and that gave Needham many Saul Rivera-induced nightmares.

He's otherwise managed the bullpen in finding a staff soaker (Batista), a lost cause artist (Walker -- every apperance has been in a loss!), and ... well, the rest is kind of touch and go. But in general he has a formula that is good to go, for as long as it can go.

The other thing -- and this is purely anecdotal observation -- is that Riggleman will get 7 innings out of a good start when Manny would be satisfied with only six. I don't know if the numbers back this up, but the proof in the pudding of that will be in the concentration of 80-99 starts. Manny was the king of those, with little variance either way.

Harper said...

Basil - I'm not sure about those numbers either. Looking at this year the Nats have 7 such starts (7IP or more) but I haven't seen one that was real iffy yet. Let's remove the 3 Livan starts, and Stammens 8 inning gem (only 94 pitches!) and look at what the rest had going out of the 6th.

Lannan : did not bat in 6th, at 88 pitches, tied 2-2

Stammen : did bat in 6th, at 83 pitches, ties 2-2

Olsen : did not bat in 6th, 88 pitches, up 1-0

the good news (if you like Rigs stretching pitchers) is that all these games were close. It's not like he just let a guy keep pitching for the hell of it. The bad news is I can't really see a reason why anyone would have pulled these guys after 6. MAYBE Stammen for a PH, but he was only at 83 pitches and had given up 2 through 6. In other words... I think it's more the starts than the manager - but we'd have to check Actas stuff to be sure

Mark said...

Great post. The bull pen --- or the pair of bulls in the pen --- is the difference.

So how do defense and improved management and game prep feature in this?

After Desmond's initial week of stage fright, he seems to have settled down, and the defense seems much better locked in --- even when Zimmy can't play.

At the same time, Riggleman's tinkering with line-ups and his use of subs has on the whole worked well. As an example, based on previous match-ups, he put Willie in against Ubaldo and got two hits (even tho we lost the game). Lots of smart decisions here?

In short, I don't think Acta would be getting what Riggleman is getting out of the team.