Nationals Baseball: Five games in

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Five games in

Sorry if you're looking for strong opinions from me just yet.  It's still too early to make any real judgements on how people are performing. The batters are working on 20 ABs, the starters on one start, and the relief pitchers on 3 appearences. That's just too little data to say anything for sure. You have to be careful about applying too much importance to what could very well amount to nothing but random variation. For example, Ian Desmond is hitting .364 / .417 / .545 right now.  Last year, just a few games into the season, Ian put up a 5 game stretch hitting .360 / .385 / .600.  Has he turned a leaf or is it just one of those 5-game stretches a player will have ten times in a year? You don't know right now.  You can't know. 

But it's also important to remember that these games count just as much as games won and lost in September.  Yes, games won and lost are also subject to random variation. That's why the Red Sox' terrible start last year didn't damn them to a 60 win season. But when you are dealing with playoffs, one game can make all the difference. Assuming nothing else changes - if the Red Sox started last year 3-9, instead of 2-10, they make the playoffs. That makes a nice start by the Nats, and poor starts by other teams, important.  If the Nats want to get to 88 they have to win 85 more games.  If the Braves want to get there they have to win 87.  Those two games could make a difference.

Losing Mike Morse

Mike Morse's lat is not getting any better.  Apparently the injury doesn't effect his swing but it does make him unable to throw the ball. This makes playing the field virtually impossible.  You could put him at first, but that creates several problems.  Where do you play the now healthy LaRoche? Do the Nats have to keep starting these subpar OFs? Most importantly, what if balls are hit to Morse and he has to throw the ball?  If I'm the other team I'm bunting down the first base line with any decent runner. I'm sending every runner on second to third on pick-offs to first. It's something you can't hide from.

What does this mean for the Nats? It's not good. Even if you didn't like Morse (like I did...n't) he accounted for A LOT of the offense last year.  For those that like fancy stats - those numbers have his wRC at 97, which given the Nats total runs scored last year put Mike as responsible for over 15% of the offense.  This kind of loss can be made up. Werth bouncing back should be worth a few more runs. Same with Zimmerman playing a full year. Most importantly a full year of a healthy LaRoche should be worth a bunch more.  But remember - that only gets the Nats back to about where they were last year. 624 runs scored. 12th in the NL.  That's not where the Nats need to be to make the playoffs.

We're already seeing this play out. With arguably only two regulars struggling (and in a minor way) and against rather unimpressive pitchers, the Nats have been nothing more than average in the NL. It seems more likely to get worse than better. For the Nats to improve significantly now, in comparison to last year, they'll have to catch some breaks. Maybe everyone else improves slightly with the bat. Maybe one of the young players breaks out. Maybe (and probably most likely) Bryce Harper comes up and is ROY worthy.

If Mike Morse misses significant time this is the scenario the Nats find themselves in.  The pitching improved but the offense struggling to provide them the support they need.

15 comments:

Unknown said...
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Strasburger said...

This is a bit pessimistic. I don't like the news on Morse either, (and I do like him) but Desmond seems to have a swagger he didn't have last season, and with our rotation I have to think if the Nats can continue to give SOME offensive support, we will be able to win enough games to make the postseason. That being said, I miss having a legitimate third outfielder just as much, and guys like DeRosa just aren't going to get it done. If Werth begins to play like he did last night, and Danny can get his bat going (he seems adequately frustrated) then I think we will be in really good shape. Plus whenever we are graced by Storen's return were going to be lethal with a late game lead.

Hoo said...

A legitimate 3rd outfielder? What about a legit 2nd outfielder? Not sure I count Ankiel at this point!

Except for injuries, everything is going as well as could possibly be hoped. Including the Braves slow start, the Marlins imploding with major issues.

Unfortunately, injuries will probably blow a huge hole in this team's prospect. This team was assembled already with a hole in centerfield. Now it has 2 holes.

That said, you have to be encouraged by Ross's start. He did what you expect facing a bad lineup: make them look awful. The Nats now have a strong stable of 4 starters for the future. That's $10 million that can be spent on first or CF next year.

I do think you can say that LaRoche has his power back. He may not hit well and look overmatched at times, but he can still pop.

Anonymous said...

What the hell are you talking about in this article?

The team looks great this year. You're focusing on things that mean nothing.

Look at the way they're playing, not the results. If they were 5-0 right now, but were playing at the same level they are now, I'd still be excited. Early in the season, the look is more important than the result.

Donald said...

I'm not sure what Anon is seeing. The look that I'm getting is of a team that struggles so score runs against mediocre pitching and is kept in the game by good pitching. Plus I don't think we can count on 3-4 hit nights from LaRoche, Desmond or Werth on a regular basis to bail us out. I'm not discouraged by what I'm seeing. They are playing up to their potential which is what we want to see and the Braves, Marlins and Phillies may not be playing up to theirs yet. But that could change.

Harper said...

Strasburg - I don't mean to make it out to be the end of the world. Pitching is better + Offense about the same = a few more wins. But the Nats were roughly playing out to be a borderline playoff team so if Morse being out costs the Nats a couple games that could matter. Ian finally being a legit hitter though could bring the Nats back up.

Hoo - I'll say LaRoche looks healthy - that's as far as I'll go. but even just that is good enough.

Anon - 5 games into last year the Nats were 1-4 and looked blah. Season ended ok. They are playing well now - that's great - but these things come and go. Let's see them play well for 10 games or 15 before. All I'm taking from the first few games is that Zimm and LaRoche seem to be healthy. Which is a good thing.

Donald - I see the same thing but it's early. If they are doing roughly the same at the end of the month, you can start to believe that the hitting/pitching combo can make it. (mainly because the pitching is that good)

Hoo said...

Harper: Dating back to last season, that's 0 runs in 3 starts, 18 innings for Detwiler. Last 10 starts and 9 of them gave up 3 or less ERs.

When does Detwiler's sample size become large enough that we're comfortable for him being an above average #4? If he's solid til Wang's return or the entire '12 season given that Detwiler never really dominated the minors.

Harper said...

Above average #4? - at least a season. His raw numbers - K's, hits, HRs suggest he's been a little lucky. That demands a lot of repeating before you can count on it.

An average #4/#5 - we might be able to say that right now.

Strasburger said...

Can someone please explain to me also why the Nats are giving Flores half of our games so far? I hope we don't expect this to last, because I really believe Wilson can develop into a solid hitter.

Wally said...

I agree with your post. The Morse injury, if it turns into 3 months or so, like Zimm last year, could be a back breaker to their chances this year. With their pitching, which I do think you could conclude will be above average, barring injury to a SP, I think they should look to add an .800 OPS+ OF. There is an opportunity here this year with the Phil's injuries, Marlins imploding quicker than even expected, and Braves injuries and struggles. They might be able to steal it.

Ideally a guy on the last year of his contract, so there isn't the angst about blocking Harper next year. maybe a salary dump guy.

Not sure who fits the criteria. Maybe Torii Hunter?

Hoo said...

Stras:

Ramos has played 4 games; flores 2. Flores played 2/3 vs the Mets b/c they want Ramos to open at home in another day game. I'd bet that Ramos gets 3/4 vs the Reds, today, Friday and Sunday. Flores gets Saturday.

I think Flores gets a fair amt of ABs b/c he was blooming into a very solid hitter before his injuries. He's a much better hitter than your normal back-up catcher. And if Flores's trade value will increase if he continues to play well in his 1/3rd starts.

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Anonymous said...

Anybody who doesn't recognize that his team is going to win 85+ games this year is an idiot, point blank.

I wouldn't be shocked if we won the division as long as the offense can improve just a little bit.

blovy8 said...

Morse started slowly last year, he didn't give us much in April. This lineup should fare well against lefties anyway. I think the issue is whether there's a left handed outfielder even worth playing. It's fine to break even with Ankiel's defense/offense giving you an averagish player, but should we try Tracy out in left a few times in favorable matchups? Lifetime .825 ops against RHP. I guess that's pretty desperate since he hasn't been out there since 2005. He's the most likely Nix replacement.

Anonymous said...

So...if there are runners on 2nd and 1st why on earth would there be a pick off attempt to 1st? That doesn't make any sense. I think the number of times a first basemen needs to throw is small enough for that not to be a huge issue.

Also, he is having trouble throwing from the outfield...do you know that he also can't throw 90 feet? Gunning someone down at home is a lot different than getting a force out at 2nd.