Nationals Baseball: Bizarro Strasburg leads Lex Luthor Nats to the Braniac Wild Card

Sunday, May 09, 2010

Bizarro Strasburg leads Lex Luthor Nats to the Braniac Wild Card

You know me. I'm not going to look at the past 4 games and see a team that gritted out 3 gritty one-run gritty wins. I'm going to see a team that scored only 13 runs in 4 games and needed 4 good pitching performances including ones from major league probably nots Matt Chico and Craig Stammen to stay in these games.

OK, so I'm negative. But how do I turn how I see the team into a positive? All along I've said that the best thing about the strong start the Nats have had is that it can't be taken away from them. They have 17 wins and it doesn't matter, up to this point, if their talent would say otherwise. If they "played the season 100 times", yada, yada, yada. They only play it once and the Nats have 17 wins through 31 games.

Let's say that we were all right at season's start and the team really is a "75 win" team or so. And let's say they play exactly to that level the rest of the year. How many wins would that put the Nats at by season's end?

162 -31 = 131 games left... 131 * 75/162 = 60.64 + 17 wins already in the books...

77 or 78 wins. So the hot start has "gained" the Nats 2 or 3 wins. That's good, right?

What's different about this year is that while we thought the Nats would perhaps be a 75 win team, that didn't mean we thought they would have the same 75 win talent all year long. One view of the team is that they'll be much better as they move forward by adding Strasburg, Storen, et al. Let's say you think the team's an 80 win team with the young guns and they play like that. That would give the team about 64 wins to add to the 17 so... 81! A run toward .500 would be completely possible.

Now let's get crazy. Another interesting thing to think about is what starting Strasburg in the minors might have (and maybe will) cost the team. This is all conjecture mind you but let's say Strasburg starts in the majors. He doesn't take out the Marquis starts, unfortunately, but let's say it's him instead of Stammen. Figuring Stammen for 5 more starts and let's say one more win (2 total). What would have Strasburg done with 11 starts? Certainly not 11-0, but would 4 wins be out of line? 5? So 2 or 3 more wins? If you are a Nats true believer and think they are a near .500 team with Strasburg, well all of a sudden you are putting them down for 83 though 85 wins. You can't win a wild card with that but you might with 88 or 89 if things fall right. So perhaps a fortuitous trade for a RF? Or if Strasburg had a once in a generation start to his career?

Of course this is crazy best case scenario thinking. Really if Strasburg started the year for the Nats he wouldn't finish it because of what I hope would be an innings limit. And there is another school of thought for the team that has them dealing players like Dunn and Willingham which would of course make them worse not better as the year goes on. No the playoffs aren't likely and .500 still would take something close to a best-case scenario. But that's what the Nats' hot start has given the team and the fans, hope for something more. The past few years they started so poorly that a comeback to anything respectable was impossible to imagine. Now fans can imagine that and more.

Regardless of whether you think the hot start is a fluke or a sign that the team is better than we thought, there is no downside to winning more games than we thought they would.


Bryan said...

Well, your last sentence isn't completely true: regression to the mean could come into play. I guess that still doesn't erase the wins they have, but if this team isn't a >.500 ballclub, don't they have to start playing like one sooner or later? And doesn't that mean a couple weeks of <.400 baseball?

Harper said...

Regression to the mean is kind of misunderstood. It doesn't mean the Nats must underplay in order to hit their expected mean, just that they will play closer to their talent level from here on out.

Like imagine a flipped coin - 10 tails in a row doesn't mean I will expect 5 tails and 15 heads in the next 20 flips to get me back to average. I'm still expecting 10 and 10. And as we go on toward infinity we'll keep getting close and closer to the true average.

It doesn't help though that we actually don't know the levels of play these teams are at. We're just guessing (at a moving target). We'll only know at the end of the year really how good they were.

Hoo said...

The Nats are a bit of a statistical anomaly b/c there are a bunch of big outliers distorting the stats. IE, when Nats are bad, they get blownout big time which makes the stats look off (see Marquis, J.)

Take a look at Stammen. He looks like he's been bad with a nifty 5.63 ERA. But really he's been pretty darn gone in 3 starts, awful 1 and bad in the other 2. So despite the bad ERA, he's been about a .500 guy. Olsen is like that too..either lights out good or very bad. No real middle ground.

If you exclude Marquis, Nats have more quality starts than not (a weak stat but shorthand for starters going 6+ IP).

Right now the only guy who's been pretty consistently weak is Lannan. His starts have been pretty much what you expect from a guy spotting a 6+ ERA.

I think the big surprise, other than Clip N Save, has to be the Starting pitching. With Marquis being a massive bust, it's a pleasant surprise how good the SP has been although some like Atilano have been lucky.

Rizzo has a lot of tough choices to make. Atilano is a gonner but are you really gonna send Stammen down when over his last 4 starts he has a 18:3 K ratio and 3.2 ERA? I wouldn't be surprised to see Lannan on the DL if he keeps struggling.

In short, I think the Nats starters have been outliers ranging from really bad to really good. But the good is outweighing the bad which is why we're above .500 and looking better than the numbers indicate.