Nationals Baseball: How did they get here - Part 1

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

How did they get here - Part 1

.500.  May 22nd. Not season ending by any means (the Tigers were 3 games under .500 on July 3rd last year) but they've certainly dug themselves a shallow hole they need to get out of.  How did this happen to a team that was the WS pick for like 40% of all predictions?

Before the season I came up with two scenarios. A dream scenario where the Nats challenged for the best record ever, and a nightmare scenario where the Nats miss the playoffs. Since the nightmare scenario is playing itself out (for the first 30% of the season at least) let's take a look at what I said and what is happening.

To summarize I said that assuming the Nats got a full season of Werth (even at diminished expectations) and Bryce continued to develop, they needed everyone else to regress to their normal offensive and pitching production, have Dan Haren fail and have a big injury or surprise flameout.  Right away we see one problem. The Nats aren't getting a full season of Werth, so that opens up a door. We also know that Dan Haren is failing. Now we're left with just regression and surprise injury/flameout to take the Nats down.  Let's look

Suzuki - 2012 (Nats) 97; 2013 - 95  KEPT UP
LaRoche - 129, 89 FLAMEOUT
Espinosa - 94, 30  FLAMEOUT
Desmond - 127, 112 REGRESSION
Zimmerman - 122, 124 KEPT UP (Was at normal)
Werth - 126, 95 FLAMEOUT
Span -  104, 87 REGRESSION
Bryce - 120,  165 
Bench - I don't have to calculate this for you to know  FLAMEOUT

Bryce has progressed so that's good. But outside of that only Kurt Suzuki is keeping up a level you might not think he's capable of. Espy is an obvious flameout as is the bench, but both LaRoche and Werth are performing well below expectations taking the year as a whole. Desmond has regressed (and it's more meaningful than just this number as his defense went from surprise plus to his usual negative). Span regressed to normal and good ol' Ryan Zimmerman keeps hitting like Ryan Zimmerman does. 

Gio - 136, 94 FLAMEOUT
ZNN - 133, 231 BREAKOUT!
Stras - 124, 141 KEPT IT UP
Det - 115, 136 BREAKOUT!
Haren - 88, 68 FLAMEOUT
Relief - ~120, ~88 FLAMEOUT

Pitching is a mixed bag. Both ZNN and Detwiler have improved, while Gio and the relief core as a whole are well underperforming. The thing is the Nats were so high last year that this kind of mild disappointment still puts them as one of the better staffs in the NL. It's just not team carrying anymore.

What's the current count then?

1 expectedly good performace (factored in) - Bryce
3 unexpectedly good performances - Suzuki, ZNN, Det
3 expected normal performances - Zimm, Ian, Stras
7 unexpectedly bad performances - Espy, LaRoche, Werth, Bench, Gio, Haren, Relief

That'll do it. Up until this point the Nats performances that have been unexpectedly good have been more than doubled by the performances that are unexpectedly bad. I don't expect this to continue. LaRoche is a notorious slow starter. Gio's had a little bad luck (it is ERA we're using) and has pitched much better recently. But at the same time is ZNN going to challenge for a Cy Young? Is Detwiler a below 3.00 ERA pitcher? There's pushback either way. I'm guessing more on the positive side for the Nats than the negative.

But is it enough? If Haren, Espy, and Werth all drastically underperform this year due to injury/flameout that puts the Nats behind the 8-ball. They'll need more than a great year from ZNN to account for that. Strasburg will have to be one of the best pitchers in baseball. Someone offensively will have to break out and have a big year. There will need to be enough big positives to counter these big negatives to keep the Nats in the hunt for a division title. Playoffs? That's low hanging fruit with the 2nd WC now. All these bad things would have to keep happening (or more would have to come up) for the Nats not to be in the hunt come season's end.


cass said...

There's a difference between "in the hunt" and "in the playoffs". With the second WC, it's easy enough to be in the hunt, but it's not so easy to actually get it. Lots of teams tend to be bunched around the second WC and only one will actually make it.

Last night was typical of this season. Starting pitching was fantastic, but you can't win games if you can't hit. And the Nats can't hit. Then the bullpen coughed it up cause they're not very good this year either.

I'll also note that the unexpectedly bad performances are not entirely unexpected:

Espinosa: playing with a torn rotator cuff
LaRoche: in his decline years
Werth: in his decline years
Bench: far exceeded expectations last year. Bernadina had a career year out of line with his norms, Moore was unexpectedly good, Lombardozzi was unexpectedly good, and Tracy had been in Japan the previous year if that tells you anything.
Gio: had a career year.
Haren: injured pitcher, losing velocity.
Relief: Soriano is in his decline years. The other guys have either had injuries recently (Storen) or may have been overworked (Clippard). Plus, bullpens are always fluky. Very few teams sustain good bullpens over a number of years.

Harper said...

cass - i said what I said about the 2nd WC for a reason...

While the bad performances aren't shocking you still can't expect huge dropoffs (except in injury related circumstances) LaRoche, Werth, Gio, the Bench and the Pen could (should?) all be doing worse than last year but better than this one.

Froggy said...

Wow, looks like my prediction of a 5-5 road trip was wrong and we might go 4-6! Most likely though unless Gio no-hits the Gigantes we go 3-7.


I think you nailed it Harper except for the 2nd WC low hanging fruit comment. Unless this teams changes dramatically, it ain't happening.

Now I'm virtually asured I'll be selling Memorial Day weekend tickets to fat, trailerpark Phillies fans for pennies on the dollar, as you know they want to rub misery in our faces.

blovy8 said...

Be prepared to get back on the bandwagon in July, Froggy. I doubt the powers that be will accept .500 now that the window is supposedly open. I actually think offense is easier to fix than pitching. As you say, it's more worrisome to be further out of wildcard contention than the division lead. There has to now be a realistic revision of what you can expect from right field and 2nd, and to a lesser extent, catcher and fifth starter. Hamstring injuries linger. Right now, Kobernus and Rendon are likely to be better than Espinosa. The question is how much longer can they put that guy in the lineup, and how much longer can they wait for a string of decent atbats from a bench OF? Moore has got options left.

Miles Treacy said...

Got to feel for Stras. He's pitching his tail off, but all anyone at the hellhole called ESPN cares about is W-L, so Stras gets to hear how bad he his for another 5 days.

The offense just sputters. I couldn't believe my eyes when we hit 2 doubles in the first. Then we went to our normal 2013 selves and late had the giants on the ropes and couldn't put up any insurance. leadoff double, and can't get 1 run in? that's horrible.

I'm also not a fan of harper bunting. Got to love he's willing to do what it takes to scratch out runs for the team since he realizes that's what the nats havne't done all year, but i'd like to see him swing and drive balls into the gap or over the fence.

Seems danny's leash just keeps shrinking everyday.

Miles Treacy said...

Also, the MASN feed on MLBTV was messing up last night, so I had to watch the Giants. They said one stat that our 6-9 hitters are hitless. how many times has that happened this year? pithcers are able to cruise once they get to that part of the order.

Erich said...

I think the question of Espy to the DL needs to be addressed. Has the team even checked to see how bad the torn rotator cuff is at this point? (Because it seems pretty bad.)
Other things, I think, will bounce back to an acceptable "normal." Well, maybe not Werth -- and that may become a really big long term problem. I don't think anyone naively believed 2012 LaRoche would be returning.
The WC should remain a possibility -- it's only because the Braves haven't played very well that the NL East still seems possible.

Kenny B. said...

Count me as one who is off the bandwagon. Happy to jump back on in July if there is one, but I can't justify putting faith in this team right now. I'll let the automatons do their thing, but I'm an overly-invested fan and I can't believe this team does well enough in the rest of the season to beat out Atlanta or any of those teams currently vying for the wild card spot.

I already had tickets to the Philly game on Saturday, so I'll go to that. But I fully expect to see errors, blunders, and another epic Haren meltdown. I'll reminisce about the good ol' days of '08 and '09 when you could just laugh at it, instead of feeling like opportunity is constantly, slowly drifting away.

Prove me wrong, fellas. Prove me wrong.

Harper said...

Miles - real quick, pretty often 6-8 are hitting .217, .186, and .225 respectively

Harper said...

Froggy - .500 is enough to be in the hunt, do you think they aren't even getting there?

blocy8 - I'm not sure there is a quick fix by the team. Send down Moore, make the pen make sense, DL Espy bring up a minor leaguer - it's not going to make a big change.

Erich - as much as we say "it's lukcy the Braves have [played bad and the Nats are in the East race" really it's "It's lucky the Nats have played bad so the Braves can have a nice lead" They are far more the beneficiary of bad play.

Kenny B - No! I just ordered seat cushions!

blovy8 said...

The difference between 10 for 40 and 1 for 40 is how much Harper?

Miles Treacy said...

has anyone seen Soriano's comments on Bryce

blovy8 said...

Kenny B must have left out the "not an" before overly-invested. Why he'd rather the Phillies' fans invest!

Chaz R said...

All makes sense guys, I guess I was just really looking forward to that record breaking season. All these months of anticipation after the kick-in-the-gut loss to the Cards. I think that night at Nats Park will be seared in my memory forever now that this season has started so miserably.

I'm in it for the long run... regardless... UGH...

Froggy said...

Harper- if it were just a hitting of pitching problem I would be more inclined to feel the law of averages would swing around in our favor. It is the injuries that have me concerned as there duration and severity are unpredictable. I don't buy this stuff that Werth has a hammy that will keep him down for 2+ weeks especially with modern rehab techniques. I think there is something else going on.

To answer your question though 85 wins and 2nd WC looks pretty optimistic with the current composition.

And just what the hell was Bryce / Davey thinking bunting with a runner on 2nd?

Kenny B. said...

"Kenny B must have left out the 'not an' before overly-invested. Why he'd rather the Phillies' fans invest!"

I don't think I get your comment. I'm going to the game. I'm just lowering my expectations because I'm sick of being disappointed.

blovy8 said...

I'm not talking about a quick fix, Harper, and everything is basically adding up increments. It just takes getting on base a bit more here and there to bunch up guys to score a run or two more. You've been ragging on the bench for a month, Harper. You've beaten this outta me. The bench would be better described as Werth and Ramos at this point, for all the playing they will probably do. The Bernadina/Moore platoon has more atbats than Werth, and at his advanced age and rapidly declining HGH-levels, who's to say that's not the truth for the entire year? They can't carry a corner outfield platoon that's OPS-plussing about zero for another 400 atbats, can they? Danny's 30 OPS+ looks positively Ruthian by comparison. That is, when Ruth was a fourth grader, or something.

blovy8 said...

KB, bandwagon fans get on and off. You say you are happy to get on and off depending basically on the win-loss record at the time. That is the most shallow of definitions of "fan" there can be, and perhaps it's a misnomer to call it being a fan at all. If all you meant by "invested" is that you paid for some tickets, I take it all back, because that doesn't require you to be a Nats fan at all.

Froggy said...

For the record (and to not encure the wrath of Blovy8) ;-) I am a Nats fan win or lose, and will go to the games win or lose. It just would be nice if they were winning as it makes it easier to break sorta even on season tickets.

Carl said...

An OPS+ of 30?!? Holy stinkin' bejeezus. Davey's faith in his players to turn it around has usually borne out, but when do he and Rizzo finally say enough is enough for Espinosa?

Kenny B. said...

Blovy8: I think the breakdown comes in our differing definitions of "bandwagon." I'm a fan, win or lose (I stuck it out in '08 and '09 when all seemed hopeless), I just don't think this is the team we thought it was. My expectations are readjusted to somewhere around 2011 levels.

Being a fan doesn't mean you have to delude yourself into thinking the team will do something it hasn't done all season. And in any case, I don't think it's helpful to castigate other fans as somehow "not real fans," unless they are Yankees or Red Sox fans with fashion hats on.

Booyah Suckah! said...

Amen, Blovy. I've watched at least the first half of every game on this West Coast swing, much to the chagrin of my wife trying to sleep with the TV on. I was up until 1:30 last night to see Soriano and Maya choke a W away. Maybe that's overboard, and that's fine. But if I can do that, the least some people can do is continue to be a "fan" even when the W-L rate is below .600.

Kenny B. said...

Okay, I think of the "bandwagon" as the collective idea that the team is very good and deserving of a lot of national attention. This does tend to bring in "bandwagon fans" who are only fans so long as there is a "bandwagon" to be on. So, in this construction, which I have now had to lay out to the point that it has made me appear ridiculous, I would be a "fan" but one who is not "on the bandwagon" since I no longer believe the team is very good. I still love the team, and I want it to be good. I just don't see the turnaround happening in time.

I still recall, when I was at NLDS game 3, there was a drunken fan shouting awful things at the team (you'll remember that was an 8-0 loss). Some other fans asked him to stop, and he started shouting them down too, essentially saying in colorful language that they were not "real fans" because they did not share his level of frustration. The whole thing was really ugly. We've got a nice community going here on this blog, so let's not head down that path by questioning the commenters' level of fandom.

DCNatty said...

does anyone else find themselves rooting for Espi to K every time up now? the hopes itll get him sent down? haha. seems to be backfiring tho. He keeps K'ing and they just give him a day off now and then. So its worse. No real changes are being made.

so it goes. Im a fan...and will continue to destroy my morale on a daily basis by watching the team and going to games...ive just tmepered my expectations. majorly.

blovy8 said...

Hey, I'm not angry, I'm just disappointed...

It's just as easy to make fun of me for making distinctions at all regarding a club with so little actual following as this one. Maybe I'm a crank who just wants my elbow room back at the ballpark. That will never happen if the double-wide Phillies fans return as obstacles in my aisle.

We're beaten over the head in DC with that "bandwagon" terminology, since it is so often thrown around regarding the Redskins. Even though it's the most popular team in the area by far, a portion of the fans of that team are not football fans in any sense, and are somehow proud of that ignorance. This doesn't seem to be true of Kenny B, so lets call it what it is then, a hiatus from watching bad baseball. Even a fan needs to take a break occasionally.

I've been fool enough to watch those late games, but normal enough to fall asleep during them.

Anonymous said...

@Erich: I mean, the Braves are sporting a .600 record and a very healthy +39 run differential. You and Espinosa may not be impressed, but that's about the pace you expect a division winner to be on.

Kenny B. said...

"Got to feel for Stras. He's pitching his tail off, but all anyone at the hellhole called ESPN cares about is W-L, so Stras gets to hear how bad he his for another 5 days."

Seriously, can we talk about how bad the ESPN baseball coverage is? It's clearly just filler to stick between announcements that NFL teams have tweaked their logos and discussion on LeBron James's tweets.

Booyah Suckah! said...

Hey, a win! And a legit win, not a win that we backed into by being just good enough to not lose. I'll take it.

Kenny, fair enough. Define fandom how you please, I'm with blovy... Every fan deserves a break.

Side note, anyone else notice how befuddled Espinosa seemed when he got on base after that walk? It was like he forgot what the view looked like from first base. My wife started saying, "Remember Espy, counterclockwise!"

Erich said...

@ Anonymous:

Actually, you're right. It's more of perception thing, and being only 0.5 game out just a few days ago. In fact, the win percentage the Nationals had at this point last year: .605. The Braves are at .609.

Anonymous said...

I saw the stat today that keeps me squarely on the bandwagon--When the Nats score 3+ they're 20-3; less than 3, 3-20. They are going to hit better. Period. The bullpen will be better. Period (well, as long as Maya isn't allowed into a game, Rizzo).


DezoPenguin said...

...counting tonight, that's more than half of the Nats games in which they've scored 2 or fewer runs? Wow; the fact that we're still over .500 says a lot for the pitching, especially considering the bullpen troubles...

The good news is, the upside looks a lot like the 2010 Giants: great pitching and adequate hitting, bolstered by a late-season acquisition or two to tweak the lineup's weak spots. Bryce has been generally awesome, Desmond looks like his batting advances from last season are real, Zim and LaRoche are getting past their slow starts, Span and Suzuki have been adequate. That leaves LF, 2B and the bench as the real sore spots, and those can be addressed (heck, look at the Yankees and what they've done with finding useful flotsam and jetsam to shore up OF, 1B, and bench positions).

I'm not wailing over letting Morse go, because frankly, he's not doing that great: sure, 10HR. but .769 OPS and can't field his way out of a paper bag: according to ESPN's Baseball-Reference numbers, Morse's fielding is so bad (-1.5) that his WAR is -0.8 for the season! Werth was virtually as good on offense and is a much better fielder--it's his injury that's the real problem.

But I have to ask: Tyler Moore? What do we have to do to get Johnson to stop putting him in the lineup. We're all wailing about Espinosa's hitting, but he's actually *better* than Moore across the board in all categories, and Moore can't play defense and he's at positions where offense is something you're expecting to get. Play Bernie, who can at least help with his glove. Play Tracy. Do SOMETHING, but get Moore the hell out of there NOW.