Nationals Baseball: How a team got this far this quick

Tuesday, October 02, 2012

How a team got this far this quick

Skill and luck, as you'd expect

Met or exceeded expectations
Adam LaRoche
Danny Espinosa
Ian Desmond
Ryan Zimmerman
Bryce Harper
Jayson Werth
Roger Bernadina
Kurt Suzuki
Tyler Moore
Chad Tracy
Wilson Ramos

Gio Gonzalez
Jordan Zimmermann
Edwin Jackson
Ross Detwiler
Stephen Strasburg
Craig Stammen
Ryan Mattheus
Sean Burnett
Mike Gonzalez
Tom Gorzelanny
John Lannan
Drew Storen

Met or exceeded expectations but not with a good enough season to really help team 
Steve Lombardozzi
Rick Ankiel

Fell short of expectations but didn't hurt team 
Mike Morse
Tyler Clippard

Fell short of expectations and hurt team 
Xavier Nady
Mark DeRosa
Jesus Flores
Chien-Ming Wang
Henry Rodriguez

The Nats didn't have to waste a lot of at bats or innings on guys that hurt the team with their performances.  That's a combination of good roster management and good luck.

It's good roster management because there weren't a lot of players on the team, that even if they met expectations, still weren't good enough players to win games. Instead there were players that were talented enough, that even if they failed to meet expectations, like Morse and Clippard, they were still helpful.  Think about past Nats teams. Everything not only had to "go right" but had to go better than expected for the team to be any good. This team was going to be a  better than.500 team in at least the outskirts of a playoff hunt from the start of the season, unless things went wrong. The foundation was strong.

Good luck for a few reasons. Some of the few players that weren't necessarily guaranteed to be good enough to win games if they met expectations, instead exceeded them and were helpful. Think Roger Bernadina, Kurt Suzuki, Craig Stammen, Chad Tracy. These guys needed to have their best years to be useful and they did. No one important absolutely tanked. It can happen and you can't predict it well. Look at the Red Sox. Youkilis, Ellsbury, Lester, Buchholz, and Beckett all were All-Star caliber players last year who drastically underperformed for one reason or another and hurt the team. On the flip side the Nats did get an unpredictably great year from Desmond and the good starters met expectations, while the ok ones exceeded them.

Plus while they were knee-capped offensively early with injuries, they had their full team for pretty much the whole last two months* and they had a great lack of injury year on the mound.

*I was going to say they ended up with a typical injury year but I know some people will flip over that so I'm going to try to quantify it in another post to see exactly where the Nats fall with offensive injuries.  My guess is "not as bad off as you think"

Saying luck was involved is not meant to denigrate the Nats' accomplishments. The Nats put themselves in a position where they could succeed, where luck can make the difference. That is all you can ask of a team. In the past the Nats didn't do this. In 2006 you might say the Nats had more good luck than bad. Yes Jose Guillen tanked hard but they caught Nick Johnson's healthy career year, Soriano's best offensive year, and Ryan Church's too when he could play. They got great limited pieces of hitting from Daryl Ward and Escobar. Pitching wise Livan would have a bad year, but everyone else was what you'd expect (including injury risk John Patterson missing most of the year). All in all that team, too had more guys meet or exceed expectations than fail to live up to them. The difference was that team had a ton of bad players on it. Getting lucky only mattered in keeping the team above 70 wins.

This year the Nats held up their end of the bargain, putting together a team capable of competing for a playoff spot, and when things went their way we were all rewarded for it.


Bryan said...

Every player performs, game to game and season to season, on a sliding scale of 1-100. Great players hit 90+ regularly, good players can get there but fall into the 80s more frequently. Average players can hit the 80s, but more frequently fall in the 60s and 70s. Bad an injured players fall into the 40s and 50s.

Winning isn't always about having great guys, as much as it is having guys consistently perform at the top of their range.

The Phillies are maybe as good on paper as the Nats, but they are all over the place "slide rule" wise, even now. The Nats lineup is dangerous (and pitching) precisely because everyone can hurt you in some way, and likely will in any given situation. That is a far cry from "can hurt you badly, one in three tries."

Bryan said...

Lannan is perhaps the best example of this. He is "average" and as such can get into the 80s, but more regularly falls into the 60s and 70s. The difference between him and others is that he regularly performs at say 75, rather than dipping down into the 60s.

What does that translate to? Consistent results. He won't blow you away, but he performs the same game after game, meaning you won't often have a lost game because of one performance.

PChuck said...

Met or exceeded expectations but not with a good enough season to really help team

Steve Lombardozzi

Are you kidding? Lombardozzi FAR exceeded expectations and was a key part in keeping the team afloat through all of the injuries, in the infield and outfield.

And you include him in the same category as RICK ANKIEL? Again, are you kidding???

Josh Aebischer said...

Saw Rick Ankiel hit a Grand Slam against the Braves in August 2011. It was awesome. Probably the best moment of that dude's life. Was sad to see him go, but he did pretty much nothing for the team.

Harper said...

Bryan - I agree I think. I think pitchers can use a lineup that isn't great 1-8 as a crutch. "If I can just get through the first 6..." The Nats lineup right now is pretty much so that you have to pay attention to each batter. Phillies never had that this year.

That injury thing you bring up is big. I think a big not talked deal about the Nats this year is their injured guys except More never missed a beat in performance. I don't know if that's rare but it feels so.

PC - he may have far exceeded your expectations, but I think most guys would have him project out to what he was - a decent Singly Joe with ok defense. He held is own and didn't HURT the team in a way say Flores or a Freddy Galvis did, but he wasn't good overall. (His last starting run he did hit over .300 so that left a nice impression for Nats fans. But he had an earlier run where he hit .200 or so; and he's been pretty poor in his fill-in role since the team has been healthy)

Harper said...

Ankiel had enough pop (still more XBH than Bernadina) that he didn't hurt. Not like Nady/DeRosa.

Harper said...

" never missed a beat in performance" before you bring out Zimm I'm talking overall season. not any isolated time period even a month-long one

Froggy said...

Great assessment Harper. I'm gonna disagree a little bit re Lombo. Yeah, he had a few stretches where he was hitting the ball well, and that fell off as the season went on. But I thought his contribution defensively while Desmond was out was critical.

And being that I'm a Beast fan, my blinders are on. He can do no wrong!

Harper said...

Froggy - let's put it this way. I wanted to distinguish between the guys who are necessary spare parts that fall into a nice season (Bernie, Chad Tracy) and the guys who are necessary spare parts that play like it (Ankiel, Lombo). Latter doesn't elevate team in the same way. Sure he could have really helped for a few games or even few weeks but I'm looking at the season as a whole.

Anonymous said...

Harper do you know how much better their record would have been without injuries to offensive players and Drew Storen? Look at the numbers for offense for 1st half and 2nd half, its crazy. No way Zimmermann should have 12 wins, Detwiller 10, Ejax 9. The pitching was so good early on but no run support. Plus horrible calls against Yankees, Reds, Braves cost us games. Hrod cost us games just being Hrod. This could have been a 105 win team with some luck.

Donald said...

I'm still not sure how to interpret the data, but my initial thought as to how the Nats captured the division title this year was partially due to the huge underperformance of the Phillies and Marlins. At the start of the season, there were a lot of analysts picking them to be at the top of the division.

But what's odd is that our record against the Marlins was 9-9 and we're currently 7-9 against the Phillies. It's the Mets, who probably over-performed if anything, that we really beat up on to the tune of 14-4. We're 10-8 against the Braves, which is about right.

So if the Phillies and Marlins had done better, I don't know if that would have pulled down the Nats or pulled down the Braves, Reds, Card, Giants, etc.

In any case, I definitely feel like we did better than expected but we also had the luck of some teams doing worse.

Donald said...

I have a small issue with the relief pitchers. I don't think it's fair to list Storen as doing as well or better than expected while putting Clippard in the 'fell short' category. It's only because of Clippard's performance through August that Storen's injury and slow recovery didn't hurt the team. Maybe your expectations for Clippard were really high, but he was awesome as the closer for most of the season. It wasn't until you had already called it for us that he started to slide in a big way. Overall, he blew 5 games and saved 32, plus a bunch of holds. I think he helped the team quite a bit.

Also, you should probably add Brad Lidge as an underperformer who hurt the team.

Harper said...

Anon - you're right those guys should have more wins but that the offense's fault for not scoring early enough. Those wins didn't disappear. They were mostly split out amongst the relievers.

What you aren't saying is the Nats would have 105 wins with a little luck, what you are saying is the Nats would have 105 wins if everything that went right still went right and NOTHING went wrong. I'd agree with that. But that's asking for a hell of a lot.

Donald - I'd say Phillies/Marlins helpd Nats win 96 games, but assuming all else equal the division is there's right?

It's totally a "while healthy" thing so that's why Storen is in the do well. I did have decently high expectations for Clipp - ERA under 3.00, he's been a bit wilder that I'd hoped - like I said fell short but didn't hurt the team because the expectation was up there.

It seems like you guys want Lombo & Clip moved into meet/exceed expectations which would only make the Nats seem luckier, you know?

Donald said...

Mostly, I just want Brad Lidge to show up in some totally underperformed category, since he blew a bunch of saves and then acted like a douche when he got cut. I may not agree with where you put Clippard, but I can live with it.

Also, I'm not sure how consistent you are being with injuries. By 'while healthy' do you mean off the DL, or actually recovered? Zim underperformed and hurt the team until he got the cortizone shot. Morse has been playing with a bunch of nagging injuries and still has 16 HRs and a .300 avg. Are you judging Zim just post- shot, but Morse the entire time he's been off the DL? Either way, I think I understand why they are where they are, so I'm good with this as long as Lidge takes his lumps.

Harper said...

Donald - oh yeah Lidge isn't on because of an innings limit. I didn't want to list EVERYONE and he sucked so bad that he only got 9 innings in.

Looking at full year. Zimm underperformed then was awesome so the net result is he was around expectations. Morse is actually hitting .286 and while 17 homers is good (again didn't HURT) it's not the slugging he put up before that most Nats fans were looking for.

Nattydread said...

While you're on the subject of luck, it might be useful to analyze managerial luck in games and GM luck-of-the-draw so to speak.

Davey Johnson seems to generate his own luck. His baseball intelligence is off the charts.

Rizzo made some clunker moves -- Brad Lidge, HRod and Wang -- but also some gems. Suzuki, Gio (he and Beane must really get along!), Chad and, finally, Laroche & Werth. A good deal of luck there.

Nattydread said...

Difficult to put John Lannan in the "met or exceeded expectations" category. Not my expectations, at least.

JonQuest said...

Maybe I'm putting too much emphasis on one phase of the game, but I'm not sure Flores hurt that much. He didn't contribute much with the bat, but he was reliable and seemed to really call a good game. Our starters seemed to perform best with Flores behind the plate. That could be luck or maybe the reality doesn't match my perception, but that's my sense.

Nice way to look at the team as a whole though. I think it is valid to say the team overperformed. Some of that feeds on itself though. If the guy behind you is hitting, then you see better pitches. If the infield plays great then pitchers look even better. I think the key to the rise primarily came from three sources... Desmond, Gio and Harper. I think without those guys having amazing seasons the rest of the overperformers might not look quite so good. Although thinking back to early in the year, LaRoche really carried the offense.

Froggy said...

Nattydread - C'mon, don't you know there is a bromance between Harper and Lohn Jannon?

Harper - after taking another look at it, I see your point about Lombo. However, I think Clippard should move up one, and (I know this borders on heresy...but,) I think in spite of his 9 wins, Jackson should move down to the 'Fell short but didn't hurt the team' category.

I guess if your expectations are for him to do what he did, then yes he met expectations. But I expect pitchers to either win .500 of their games to meet expectations. He was net neutral in IMO.

On the other hand, the playoffs bring a new season and maybe this is where we make our money off of Jackson with his experience of already been there.

DezoPenguin said...

I don't know about Lombo. Overall I'd have to agree with Harper's assessment when looking at the full season, but he played his best ball of the year early on when he was the fill-in LF and leadoff hitter, back when Werth was hurt, Morse was hurt, Zimm was underperforming, Epsi's hitting was still awful and the team desperately needed anyone to go out there and do something useful. Without him being productive, the month of May could have turned out several games worse than it did and we might be looking up at the Braves right now. He tailed off rapidly to become the singles-hitting utility infielder with mediocre speed we all thought he was, but by then that was all he had to be. I'd bump Lombo up out of the Ankiel category simply because of the timeliness of his performance--something obviously created by pure luck, as Harper already commented, but...yeah, we *did* get lucky there.

DezoPenguin said...

I think Harper's point about Lannan is this: he was the #7 starter. Every time he pitched a game, he gave the team a chance to win (and indeed, the team *did* win most of them). That's "exceeding expectations" for any #7 starter that I've ever heard of.

Kind of agree with Froggy on EJax, kind of don't. That is to say, he pitched to expectations. He was pretty much the same guy he was last year, some sparkling games, some duds. But again, he was the #4 starter and he considerably outpitched most #4 starters, and by doing so, that makes him a net asset to the team's success. (Whether he pitched to his *contract*, now that's a different story; I'd say he fell way short of that.)

Froggy said...

I want Ejax to go out and prove me wrong tomorrow and make me feel like he should be in the first tier.

Prove me wrong Ejax!

Also, is Coach DeRosa one or two hits away from ending the season above Mendoza line??

Anonymous said...

PChuck - Lombardozzi finished with a sub .700 OPS. I love the guy, but .700 OPS is right about replacement level.

Anonymous said...

Hey Harp, Moore just hit his 10th homer today. I know in the past you said he strikes out too much, is your opinion still the same after his major league exp so far? Do you think he has a place on this team as a starter or no?

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