Nationals Baseball: Monday Quickie - Still don't worry.

Monday, April 22, 2013

Monday Quickie - Still don't worry.

I'll admit I'm a bit worried about the Nats.  Not that they won't make the playoffs or anything like that, but there's a little too much "let's try to recreate last year's magic" going on.  Let's sign a veteran arm to a one-year deal.  Let's call up our vaunted rookie at the first opportunity.  Let's assume guys like Moore, Tracy, Lombo and Bernie will again excel as subs and PHs.

The Nats didn't exactly rest on their laurels. They brought in Span and Soriano. But Span is mostly a defensive improvement and "bring in a big-name closer" is about as classic a bad move a team can make (not that it won't help, just that it won't help a lot).  The Nats chose to ignore both big names and depth this year, thinking they'd have enough on hand to be just fine.  And they do, but they left themselves open to a few bad breaks ruining a season, when they didn't necessarily have to.

Of course I do mean a few. The season is 1/9th complete and the Nats have had very little go right. Bryce Harper, of course. ZNN and Detwiler.  The catcher hitting. Ummm... Desmond's offense? Where as the things going wrong are far more numerous.  The defense. Zimm's injury. Espy's still not hitting. A terrible bench. Strasburg is a bit off. Gio is really off. Haren is Deep Woods, as in completely scary, off. The bullpen has been at best hit or miss, with Storen and Mattheus being knocked around and no one looking dominant.

And yet the team is still at 10-8.  Win tonight and they are on a 94 win pace or basically what we assumed they'd be, give or take a couple of games. There are no worries. Not yet.

Ok that isn't actually true. The thing to worry about is catching the Braves but hey, they got swept over the weekend so the Nats actually gained a game. So that's a mild worry. Call me back after the 4 game set at month's end.

Other notes

The Rendon move to me smacks of desperation. Anthony Rendon is no Bryce Harper. True, Rendon was hitting better in the minors than Bryce was when he was called up but here's the things. Rendon was a 23 yr old in AA. Bryce was a 19 year old in AAA. Anthony Rendon is a very nice hitting prospect. Bryce Harper is BRYCE HARPER. Last year when Bryce was brought up the Nats didn't necessarily need to win. They didn't know last season was going to turn out like it did. Expectations were still low. Now?  Now they need to win and I'm not sure Rendon is ready to help them. Will he be better than Lombardozzi or Wil Rhymes or Carlos Rivera? Almost certainly. Will he be better in 2013? Don't know.

In the past week Span, Werth, Zimm, and Espy combined for 2 XBH.  Only Bryce, LaRoche, and Lombo are hitting over .211.  .211!

I'm more worried about Gio than Strasburg.  I watch Stras and I see a guy who is right there. A mistake or two from getting the results he wants even without being in the groove. With Gio I see a guy who doesn't have command at all and can come unraveled at the drop of a hat.  Still "Wait Until Memorial Day" still applies.

Except for Haren.  There's being off like Gio and Stras and then there's being "please don't let me pitch again" bad, which is where Dan Haren is now.  He is getting hit hard and he's getting almost nothing on the ground. You know who gets more ground balls than Dan Haren? 172 of 174 other pitchers that have thrown at least 10IP.  One more god awful start and you have to think about making something up so he can go on the DL and work things out.


Kenny B. said...

Yeah, I was kind of confused by the Rendon move. Not really sure what the deal is there, but he can't be worse defensively than Zimm was so far this year, so if he gets a couple of RBIs while Zimm rests, I'll call it a neutral move.

Yesterday's loss to the Mets didn't really bother me too much, because they did look like last year's Nats, that is to say it was a low-scoring game that you felt like had the potential to break the Nats' way at any moment. It wasn't like these blowout losses we've been seeing so far this season, where you're basically just wondering how many homeruns Storen will give up before we can just be done with the whole stupid thing.

And Jesus, this defense is awful. Can we stick Desmond in the outfield or something? I mean, just ugh. I'm not sure I would be more comfortable if Haren was getting ground balls, because Desmond will just boot them and throw them into the dugout.

I agree that there still seems to be a pall hanging over the team, which as a fan I attribute to the way last season ended. They don't look relaxed or confident. Maybe they're trying too hard to remake 2012. Either way, everyone seems to lack focus, particularly in pitching and defense.

Stats question: I feel like the Nats pitchers are giving up a lot of homeruns. Are they out of the ordinary in that regard, and can we expect that to improve, stay the same, or get worse?

Eric said...

I wonder if the Rendon move is at least as much in reaction to bench productivity as it is to Zimm's injury...if Rendon hits well, might he stay on as a sub/PH if especially Shark doesn't pull it together?

Carl said...

Am I the only one who wonders why Stras isn't more aggressive? On Friday he'd get two strikes on a guy and then throw a bunch of breaking stuff off the plate. Matt Harvey would get two strikes on a guy and then throw a neck-high 96 MPH heater, which more often than not the hitter would swing at and miss. Even HRod was trusting his stuff and getting outs. Mr. Strasburg, you throw 95+, act like it.

Hoo said...

Nats bet on defense and pitching, both have come up short. I think the team knew it would struggle to score but the fact that most hitters are in a tough space is a problem

Anonymous said...

I can't help but think the move to bring up Rendon means Zimmerman may be a little more injured than they're letting on right now. Plus he's a better hitter than half of the team and certainly better than anybody on their bench.

Hoo said...

Team won't use Rendon as a bench/ph player and they shouldn't. Bench production, except for Shark and Chad Tracy being a little low has been what should be expected. But Rendon as a bench player would be marginal improvement on Tracy/Moore and not worth giving up development.

Zimmerman probably has a strain they don't want to get worse. Team is hanging in there despite almost everyone being cold at same time. Will say Desmond's hitting is nice although his field play blows. Espinosa needs to get his act together soon.

Anonymous said...

Rendon is a top level prospect that knows he is getting sent down as soon as Zimm gets back. But there is no harm in letting him get some big league experience for 10 days to help his development, and to keep Tracy on the bench to PH. Nothing to expect from him at this point. Anything he does produce should be a serious wake up call for Espy, though Lombo is the next guy up for that position this year, the line to replace 189 strikeouts is forming up. If things take a turn for the worse at any point this year, Espy could be one of the scapegoats that gets shipped out. -Vdub

Wally said...

Hard part of their schedule, still on 90+ win pace, and several guys in their prime not performing up to recent standards (meaning, without an injury, its reasonable to expect them to revert to better performance). I don't think it is cause for worry, I really don't.

The bullpen worries me, since it is reasonable to assume variation, and we could be unlucky that many of them are having off years at the same time. the defense is just puzzling, though. I assume that it cannot keep going at this pace.

I also don't think the Rendon move is desperation. There was a lot of similar desperation talk about calling up Harper last year (even though he is now 'BRYCE HARPER, of course he can make the transition'). I actually defer to Rizzo and his staff that they think Rendon is ready. Although if I am Carlos Rivero, I am on the phone with my agent begging to be released. If he doesn't get called up now, when does he get called up?

Chinatown Express said...

There are two ways to interpret the last 18 games.

A: The Nats have played terrible teams, for the most part, and they're still only 10-18! They're going to get killed once they play a stretch of good teams!
B. The Nats have made a tremendous number of errors, most of the lineup isn't hitting, one of their starters is a black hole while their 1+2 guys are pitching like 4s, yet they're still 10-8. Most of these things will regress to the mean! They'll improve or hold steady even once they start playing good teams!

The answer is probably in the middle, but I lean toward the latter. I think they've been bitten by some bad luck with small sample sizes. A few things that actually concern me:

1. Both Stras and Gio are nibbling, and I don't understand why. The solo homers don't bother me, but the walks sure do.
2. Both Clipp and Storen look awful. I actually feel more secure with Henry taking the mound than either of them.
3. The team would be much, much worse without Bryce Harper. I wonder whether carrying a playoff team at 20 is going to be bad for his development. And which is worse for his future development: failing or succeeding?
4. Desi looks way worse defensively than he did in even 2011. I hope this is just a matter of the sample size and he'll regress to somewhere between 2011 and 2012.

Things that don't worry me, but are super interesting:

5. Rendon is being called up to replace Chad Tracy, not Ryan Zimmerman, if we assume Zim's trip to the DL is based on actual injury. It generates a little excitement in the fanbase (I'm going tonight!) and gets Rizzo a good look at Rendon. And he won't be up long enough to impact his Super 2 status, presumably. I can't imagine the Nats would compromise his development by keeping him on as a bench bat. As soon as Zimmerman is back, he's going to AAA (or we're trading away a starting infielder to make room in the starting lineup. Maybe trade one for a starter to replace Haren if he stinks it up again tonight.
5. Is anyone else still REALLY confused by Werth swing in the 3-0 count last night? I'm also confused by Davey throwing him under the bus. Maybe it's just an indication that Davey views Werth as a grownup who doesn't need to be coddled, but wtf?

Carl said...

Re Werth swinging 3-0--despite my derping out Needham on Twitter yesterday when it happened, I actually agree with his original notion. I am fine with Werth swinging 3-0 IF it's a good pitch to hit. I'd respect Werth's strike zone judgment there. Apparently, though, he decided he was going to swing regardless.

CSN had a graphic this morning--I don't know how far back it went (I'm guessing since he joined the Nats), but before yesterday, when Werth swung at a 3-0 pitch, he was 6 for 9. Them's pretty good odds.

Strasburger said...

I don't like the Rendon move.

The erros scare me, a lot.

Bryce looks like every AB he doesn't get on base he is visibly upset. This bodes very well when you are talking about arguably the most talented player in the world.

Nattydread said...

While we wait for Memorial Day.... Any really good statistical news without the initials BH?

cass said...

I'm starting to worry that Strasburg is tipping his pitches. Strasburg is actually throwing in the strikezone just as much or perhaps even more (raw pitch/fx and BIS disagree) than last year. His velocity is up. The movement on his pitches is just as good and he' throwing them in the zone just as often.

And yet batters are swinging at his offspeed pitches far less this season and their swinging at his fastballs more. And so his swstr% has gone from elite to average. Instead of batters swinging and missing at his offspeed stuff just out of the zone, the batters aren't swinging and getting balls. Then they swing when Strasburg throws strikes and hit the ball.

I really wish Fangraphs included plate discipline data in the monthly splits - I'd like to see how the variance was last year so I know whether this is highly unusual for Strasburg (ie - he might be tipping his pitches) or if it's just a bad luck streak.

Eric said...

"1. Both Stras and Gio are nibbling, and I don't understand why. The solo homers don't bother me, but the walks sure do."

I have a couple of theories:
1. Stras--and maybe Gio?--is learning to pitch to contact, which is a very different approach for him. I suspect it's quite difficult to subtly change the way you dominate opponents ;).

2. Stras, Gio, and the Nats are *extremely* high profile and did very well last year. I have a funny feeling many teams, especially NL contenders, spent a lot of time picking them apart and finding weaknesses. If so, and if that's the reason they've been getting banged up, it's probably in their heads at this point, so they're being squirrely. After his start in Cincy, Stras himself said he wanted to look at videos and see if he was tipping, which is part of why I'm wondering about this.

Eric said...

cass, it's also possible that they know he's recalibrating to improve efficiency, so they're looking for pitches that induce grounders and punching them into the holes. If I'm not mistaken, a LOT of the hits off Stras have been singles.

cass said...

One correction - his Zone% on curveballs is down by 5%, while his Zone% one his other pitches are all up. I still find the fact that his Swing% on curveballs has fallen from 34% to 24% to be significant. And the Swing% on his changeup has fallen from 53% to 44% even has he's hitting the Zone more with it (24.6% to 30.1%).

Eric: Somehow I had forgot that Strasburg had mentioned he was worried about tipping his pitches. That's comforting, as I kind of wanted to make sure he knew about this but didn't want to raise flags in case it was just a SSS thing.

Just looking at the raw pitch f/x data, it seems Strasburg's throwing just about the same stuff like last year, only harder. So I do wonder why the results haven't been better.

cass said...

Oops - forgot to include this link:

As for allowing singles? Actually, his AVG/OBP/SLG against stats are all remarkably similar to last year, even while his babip is way lower. So more balls in play than last year and fewer strikeouts, but the same number of singles, doubles, and home runs, just about.

Anonymous said...

Interesting about the Rendon move- Davey seems not to want to put Lombo at 3rd. Even earlier in the year Tracy got starts there instead of him.
Lombo played a few games there last year and looked solid, and he's off to a good start with the bat this year. Even if you subscribe to the argument that 3rd basemen need power and not be a singles hitter like Lombo- you got silly power in the middle infield.
All that said, damn, Rendon looked good in that AB against Miller, getting his first hit.

Strasburger said...

Harp, get these Anon creeps out of here.

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Scott Fleming said...

Um....7.5 games back a month before the allstar game. Face reality the may not make the playoffs if they don't play better.