Nationals Baseball: Doing what they are supposed to

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Doing what they are supposed to

Now that was a lot like last year. Gausman is obviously not ready for prime time and the Nats punished him for reaching for more. The Nats offense was never a juggernaut but it could beat up a terrible pitcher and Gausman, right now, is a terrible major league pitcher. Four homers? One from Moore and one from Bernadina? If that doesn't earn him a ticket back to AAA, the O's haven't been following baseball at all this year.

Of course Nate Karns wasn't much better. Sorry, standing O people, but he was actually pretty bad. He gave up 3 long balls and put 7 guys on base in 4 and 1/3rd.  He did come up "big" in one spot striking out Yamaico Navarro and an AL pitcher to end a rally but that's near the minimum of what you'd expect from a pitcher. He got lucky (every ground ball hit resulted in an out, Duke got a DP to immediately wipe out his baserunners) and still his stats don't look good. Of course I'll take the bad over the terrible every day.

ZNN should win tonight. The Orioles aren't a patient team, ZNN doesn't walk anyone so unless they are the team to hit him hard they aren't scoring more than a couple off him. After that you get an off-day from watching baseball as Dan Haren takes on Freddy Garcia and you have better things to do with your life than watch that.

What's up with Ian? 

While we've run roughshod over nearly everyone on the team so far this year, Ian Desmond has mostly escaped our wrath. Sure his hitting isn't exactly like last year's but it was still over average and good for a short stop. And yes, his fielding isn't exactly like last year's either but that fault is in ourselves. True fluke defensive years happen all the time. Adam Dunn ruled first base for the Nats in his last season. You need to very much be on guard about anyone having a particularly good singular year after years of mediocrity. 

But recently he hasn't been hitting, and if he isnt' hitting and isn't fielding... well that matters.  A .209 / .263 / .337 line in the past 28 days, .150 / .205 / .200 line in the past 2 weeks.  It could just be a fluke of the BABIP. That has dropped from a too high .373 to a too low .239 from April to May. But the power has dropped too, while the walks have gone up (yes it would have been hard for them to go down).  This suggests something else might be going on.

One of the things I've said about Ian Desmond over the past 2 years, is I wonder why anyone would throw him a strike. He doesn't walk. Last year he was 22nd "worst" in the league at drawing walks, and this year he currently sits at 24th "worst". Did pitchers finally catch on?

The zone% data confirms that he's seen fewer pitches in the zone in May than in April.  Down from 49.2% to 44.3%.  You can see from the charts below showing the type of pitches he took in May and April, that they are working the outside of the plate more in May, as opposed to trying to hit that corner, just missing it all together and seeing if Ian can adapt.

The good news is that he doesn't seem to be swinging at a lot of those bad pitches. I don't see anything below particularly worrying

And what we see from the numbers looks like Ian is adapting. He's swinging at slightly fewer balls out of the zone and more balls in the zone. However, that can be misleading. He's getting more junk thrown at him. If they are letting the straight fastballs go out of the zone and giving him offspeed stuff in it, that may explain a loss in BABIP as well. The contact he's making isn't on the same type of pitch and thus isn't giving him the same hard hit balls as before. But the numbers don't seem to really go with that. Line Drives are up slightly. Of course there are line drives and there are LINE DRIVES so it's all subjective. What we do know is his contact outside of the zone is up, while inside its about the same.

To sum it up, even though he's recognizing the balls and strikes better, he still isn't doing a great job at it and he's not getting the same types of balls and strikes that he had been so when he does swing he's not getting the same result. I'm not getting worried about Ian just yet. It could easily just be an off month or a better quality of pitcher. Or, if you want to be an optimist, it could be a bump on the road to an even greater improvement. He does need to recognize balls and strikes properly in order to keep hitting like he did last year and at least in May the movement in that direction is there. This is something to keep an eye on though.


blovy8 said...

It seemed like he was hitting breaking balls fairly well before the slump, so I don't know that the pitch selection will affect him either. Probably just not seeing the ball well, or whatever cliche is in vogue now.

Harper said...

b8 - yeah, like I said, I'm not worried. Everyone is entitled to an off month and just because you find something different had happened doesn't mean that's the cause. Could be coincidence. I went looking for something so odds are in all that data I'd find SOMETHING, connected or not.

Booyah Suckah! said...

I just stuck this on the last thread, then saw the new one all about Desi, so I'll throw it up here too...

One thing I've noticed about Desi lately (and it could just be me noticing it more) is it seems like he's flying out a TON more than usual. And more than that, it seems like he's popping out a ton. According to baseball reference, his IF/FB is up a little from last year (17% vs 14%) but his GB/FB is waaaaay down. Just a failure to recognize the top edge of the strike zone? Impatience? Getting more junk thrown at him high in the zone? Beats me... but I think he'll fix it. Cold streak, nothing more... one hopes.

Kenny B. said...

Here's a thought on the Nats' offense issues: how big a factor is the weather? I think announcers tend to overestimate the effect of the weather on hitting, but last night it got warm and muggy, and suddenly the Nats are a power club. Last year, their offense was bad early, and got better in the hot months, and proceeded to die again in October.

I guess this is a request for the fancy stats man to isolate the effect of the weather on hitting. Mostly mythical, or do the Nats actually prefer hitting in the more traditional, unpleasantly hot DC summer?

Harper said...

BS - Not sure. It was trending that way last year but only a little bit. It was this way in April too so I'm not sure it's a pitch mix issue. Maybe he's seeing himself as a power hitter and it's getting to him now?

KB - Last year they hit best in Sept then July, May, June, Aug and April. So...I don't know.

Really I can say alot of guys on the team have a history of slow starting. Not as bad as LaRoche who is infamous for it, but it's there. Of course that's for April. May I can't explain.

Eric said...

Very interesting breakdown of Desi's

I wouldn't say Karns was exactly bad. He was only 5 outs from a quality start.

But, I wouldn't say he was great, either.

BxJaycobb said...

Harper: first of all, big fan and longtime reader if not poster. Question on Ian. Do you think it might help (even a little bit) to put him in the lineup somewhere like 2nd, before Harp and Zimm, so pitchers are a little more wary of tossing him balls? Obviously if he swings at literally everything it wouldnt, but just to help him adapt?...I've always thought batting him 5th before Danny was literally the worst place in a 9 person lineup to put an impatient hitter.

Also, a question on pitch recognition. Is one's ability to have a patient approach to the strike zone a talent thing? in other words, can it be learned, or are you basically what you are. It seems like Ian has all the physical tools and athleticism, but he was never really projected to be the kind of slugging hitter he was last year (.270-.275, 25-30 homer guy over 162 games, etc). is it because he's always had a crappy approach?

JE34 said...

Apparently Davey and Rizzo thought Karns did reasonably well - Davey said on the Sports Junkies this AM that Karns will pitch against the Braves this weekend.

Harper said...

Eric - I'd say the pitching was poor but the results weren't. Rather have that than the opposite.

BxJc - It may, but it isn't going to happen, because he broke out last year hitting 5th and 6th and thus now that's his place. (forget that in 2011 he was good at leadoff).

As much as I like to say "just don't give him strikes" I bet that's harder than it sounds. You can't just throw bad balls, they have to be remotely hittable so it's not an easy walk. And you have to go off your rhythym to throw balls instead of strikes as you'd been trying to do all game. Rather than do that I think pitchers try to make minor adjustments - a few more breaking balls, aim for the outside corner. So I guess what I'm saying is I doubt what he would see would change all that much and without a big jump in stats, people will want him at 5th.6th because that's where they remember being good.

I think it's a talent, but also something that can be improved. Ian will never have Nick Johnson's eye, but that doesn't mean he has to be Vlad lite either.

Still, he was never projected to slug like that because he'd never slugged like that before. People thought it could happen but you'd like to have seen something of it in the minors. 20 HR, sure but 25-30 was pretty shocking. Maybe you think that when he's debuting but not after a couple mediocre major league season.

JE34 - Eh, no better options and maybe he'll be better? It's just one start so even though it was bad, we can't define him by it.

Froggy said...

Harper, could you do some pitch graph analysis for Moore as to see what his problem is? Or is it unnecessary? Also, are their similar color coded defensive range graphs for balls hit that are not gotten to? The last homerun by Pearce Moore just lumbered over to the wall and made a half-assed attempt at jumping for it, totally off rhythm and with no timing. An athletic Harper or Berni would have robbed that homer.

Moore brings absolutely nothing defensively to Left field to complement his absolutely nothing at the plate. Whoopie he hit a dinger yesterday.

And I'm getting tired of the 'a lot of guys have a history of slow starting' for crissakes it's June!

NatsVA said...

With that standing-O for Karns, I'm starting to think that Nats fans are the baseball equivalent of Packer fans. Not that it's a bad thing, mind you. I actually find it kind of endearing. Hey rook-you went five in your debut. We may never see you again and you weren't great, but good effort in a tough spot.

Harper said...

Froggy - not sure what a review of Moore would be worth - guy misses a lot of pitches. Its his thing. Just had one good month last year that made everyone think WAY too hihgly of him. Happens with rookies.