Nationals Baseball: Monday Quickie

Monday, May 13, 2013

Monday Quickie

Strasburg is dealing with a moving target right now. Remember how it was the first inning that was Strasburg's issue?  Then that cleared up so everyone moved onto first batter of an inning? And that wasn't an issue yesterday so it is now composure after an error is made? I'm going to guess next start, he loses 3-2, he's fine after two errors are made but he gives up 2 homeruns so now THAT'S the issue with him.

Everyone expects him to be great so if he's good, that's not good enough, and if he's not good like on Saturday, it's the most terrible thing in the world. It's unfair. It's also the life of an ace pitcher. He reminds me a lot of Zack Greinke.  Zack had a breakout year in 2009, and since 2010 he's been the 8th most valuable pitcher in regards to WAR. We can quibble about one thing or another but he's pitched like a #1 but thanks to a little bad luck, a couple bad teams, and an attitude that doesn't mesh with what we expect from our ballplayers he's not seen in the same light as some of his contemporaries (at least by the fans).

Strasburg didn't sign a big contract. He's not the veteran arm. He's not the only young important player struggling. Yet he's the guy getting singled out. You want to be the best this is how you are going to get treated.

Part of me thinks though this is a smokescreen to cover up the fact that even though they are in the worst division in baseball the Nats still are only 3 games over .500.  That's right worst division in baseball.  Oh ok, the AL West is giving them a run for their money but here is how each place team ranks by winning percentage against their counterparts in other divisions.

Braves .568 - 6th out of 6
Nats .541 - 5th out of 6
Phillies  .462 - 6th out of 6
Mets .412 - 5th out of 6
Marlins .289 - 5th out of 6

The Marlins might be the worst team in the majors. The Mets pitching behind Matt Harvey is terrible (their 2nd best starter has a 4.63 ERA).  The Phillies offense looks every bit as old as you expected. And the Braves offense has moved past the crazy Justin Upton start but is not yet over the terrible BJ Upton one.
And yet here the Nats are, presumptive 100 win team and World Series favorite, just better than middling. Thank god for the AL Central (5-0 vs Sox and Tigers), am I right?

The Nats have scored 2 or fewer runs in 18 of 37 games. 18! The only team worse is the Marlins. You don't win those games.  It's not one thing its everything. Some of it is timing. Bryce is super hot? LaRoche can't hit. LaRoche starts hitting? Bryce slumps (really - .107 / .235 / .214 over the past 2 weeks - that's how hot he was that his stats still look good). Some of it is injuries. They had injuries last year, but the bench has gone from best to worst. Werth is presumably slowed again by injuries, bad since mid April and now out. Some of it is just bad hitting. Danny still hasn't found his stride and Span and Suzuki have been just as bad for roughly a month, cooling down fast after hot starts.

The short answer though is they don't walk enough not to hit. When they don't hit they don't get on base and when they hit the occasional XBH (their power is still ok) there's no one on base to come home. They are perfectly ok with RISP (6th in the NL in OPS) but they never get the chance to have these at bats (dead last in the NL in PAs with RISP).  The team needs to start hitting better because they don't have the type of player that will work a lot of walks, nor do they inclination to teach patience.

7-3 for May which is still good but it's also exactly where I pegged them to be, except they'd be coming off a sweep of the Cubs.  Predicted 6-4 for this away trip. Let's see what happens. A few quick losses and this could get ugly fast.


Anonymous said...

Mostly, I have your back (and the backs of all soulless automatons). But "could get ugly fast?" They are 1 GB of the division lead, sh---y division or not. Win the division, heat up in Sept, that seems like a fine recipe. havent some recent WS winners followed this script?

Harper said...

Just mean in terms of the west coast swing. These things can wear on a team especially with no breaks. It'll be 12 in a row on that last day. So lose the first couple and it'll be hard to bounce back for a winning swing.

seasons chances will be fine barring a 1-9 or 0-10 collapse (which no one sees happening)

Froggy said...

I think what we see is what we are...a .540 club and will probably end up with 88-89 wins. And we go 5-5 on this trip.

I'm not really worried yet about Strasburg, but I do think this is the new normal as far as hitting goes. The Nats are near the bottom in the whole league in ave, RBI, and OBP. I think injuries are the obvious difference and not having another big bat (like Morse) in the line up throughout the season will come back to bite us. Zimmerman has settled into who he is for the rest of the season, and we will be supremely lucky to get 20-25 hr from him, LaRoche will have to go on monster tear to get over 25 hrs this year (ain't happening). Werth...who knows?

That leaves Bryce and Desmond, who could each do 30+. If they don't continue to have a good to great season we will be very lucky to get to 88 wins.

BxJaycobb said...

question. Do you think Eckstein needs to go? This is a World Series pick hitting .228 or something. That is remarkable. We routinely start 4 guys in the lineup below the Mendoza line. At what point is there accountability? Yes, the players must perform, and I defended Eck early in the year last year, but this is simply inadequate. We have like 5 starters hitting as poorly as they ever have in their careers. What needs to happen for a change to be made? It's just not good enough.

Kenny B. said...

Still, despite all this, the team is one game out of first in the division, and one game out of a wild card spot. The baseball gods continue to give the Nationals chances to redeem themselves.

The season won't be a first place cruise like last year, but we're a hot streak away from making waves. Here's hoping that hot streak ever comes.

Could we say yet that the team lacks grit and determination?

Anonymous said...

Ha - grit and determination. That's an attack. You are just provoking Harper at this point.

blovy8 said...

It would be easier to accept the offense, if the defense weren't also giving up so many runs. The strikeouts without adequate power and patience are no surprise to me. This was set up from last year.

I don't think Morse would be a savior batting .220 with four or five homers off the bench and not getting to any fly balls. Maybe he wins an extra game, maybe not. It's just not that simple to not play every day and be decent. He started off great for the Mariners and hasn't done much since, who's to say the Nats wouldn't have gotten the poor hitting month out of him and everyone would be complained about how lousy a fielder he was, and why isn't Tyler Moore coming up from AAA where he's raking?

Froggy said...

But we aren't talking about that. Moore, Tracy and Berni are not producing. Moore is just plain terrible and if you take away the month of June last year, he was borderline terrible last year as well. I would gladly take Morse in every position that Moore played this year in exchange for 9 dingers, .292OBP and .5 WAR over a 1hr .157OBP and -5.

Kenny B. said...

"You are just provoking Harper at this point."

You caught me in some Monday morning trolling. I thought about suggesting we should bring back Ankiel to make the team significantly grittier and improve our outfield arms.

Booyah Suckah! said...

" we will be very lucky to get to 88 wins"

I just don't agree. As I started doing this year, I mentally break the season down into nine 18-game sections. We went 10-8 in the first, 10-8 in the second. That alone suggests a 90-win season, I really don't think this team is as bad as they've played over the first 37 games. Most of these bats are notorious slow starters. Zim, Span, and LaRoche are not this bad, even if you think they're not All Stars. Even Espy isn't as bad as he's looked so far. And I think Desmond and Harper are every bit as good (or better) than they've played so far. If the other starters just played to their career average and the SPs continue to pitch the way they have over the last 3-4 starts, the run support will come back. I don't see any problem with predicting 10-8 or 11-7 (or 12-6 for one or two) for the remaining seven "18-game sections". Meaning a season win total in the 90-96 range. Which I still think will take the East, and almost definitely a wild card.

nicoxen said...


Statistically speaking, what is the advantage gained/lost by pinch hitting for GIO in the bottom of the 7th. It was clear he could have gone at least 8 innings. Why remove a starting pitcher for a guy who's hitting a whopping .139, especially at the top of the inning with no runnners on base?

I don't get it. This has got to be the 3rd or 4th time this year we've blown a quality start by removing our starting pitcher.

Froggy said...

This time last year we were 23-14. Yes only a 3 game differential, but I don't see the fundamentals doing as well as last year. Errors are off the chart this year. If it weren't for ZNN being 6-1 we would be in much worse shape. As Harper points out, we had bench production and lights out pitching. Remember we led the league almost the whole season in every pitching category.

On the other hand, we go to the Left coast and go 8-2 or 7-3 and I'll be singing a different tune.

Kenny B. said...

I have a bad feeling about the west coast trip. I get this sense that the Nats are going to end up being the team that all those NL California teams beat up on to get their seasons back on track. Then they get to write articles on winning the "big series" against the "contending" Nationals. Ugh, it hasn't even happened yet and I'm already dreading it.

Maybe it's just because I've spent too much time watching the Redskins who have played that part so well. Here's hoping I'm wrong, but ZNN is statistically due for a meltdown, and those huge west coast parks are not exactly friendly to an already shaky lineup.

Anonymous said...

I was re-reading the comments, and taking into consideration the tone of gordek's tweets, it made me wonder whether the parenthetical "(which no one sees happening)" wasnt a Sports Guy-esque attempt at a reverse jinx.Just how soulless are you, automaton??

blovy8 said...

I'm just saying Morse is 5-28 with a homer this month, Moore is 3-25 with a homer this month. It ain't a whole lot of difference.

Strasburger said...

You guys are all freaking out a sixth into the season. Even you Harper, I'm dissappointed. You were making your predictions based on talent and lack of injury going into the season. Yeah the Nats are banged up (they made an offseason trainer change btw which a lot of players are unhappy with) but the talent is still there. Stop jumping ship and watch into the All-Star break before you fret. Strasburg is close.

Froggy said...

I'm not freaking out, I'm just accepting reality. Harper must be rubbing off on me.

@blovy8, I don't think it is fair to say Morse can't get to 'any fly balls'. And yes, your stats comparison with Moore is true as far as this month's performance goes, but Morse's body of work says he will come back around. Moore's on the other hand, not so much.

jkmorrison said...

I'm not going to argue that the NL East isn't *currently* the worst division in the the Bigs because technically it is based on record, but isn't that blowing things out of proportion a little? If those 6 division leaders were all in their own 6-team division, the last place Braves would only be 3 games back of the first place Rangers. If the second place teams were together in their own division, the 5th place Nats would only be 2 1/2 back of the first place Orioles. Although there are 2 teams that have separated themselves from everyone else at the bottom (Astros, Marlins) no one else has really separated themselves elsewhere for terms like "best division" or "worst division" to have any relevance. Heck, even in spite of their poor play the Nats are only 3 1/2 games removed from the best record in the NL.

Anonymous said...

Is there any statistical indication of whether the errors will regress to the mean? Given how many of our starters are theoretically (or actually) Golden Glove-caliber defenders, it is unbelievable to me that we have given up more unearned runs than anyone else in the league. Is it just a fluke, or an indication of some deeper issue that will dog us throughout the season? (I thought the problem would resolve itself after a few weeks, but watching those last couple Cubs games it seems possible that something much more serious is going on.)

Harper said...

bxjc - the problem is he was the coach last year when everyone was hitting as well as they ever had in their careers.

Froggy - I'm not as pessimistic as you. I don't think this is the 100 win world beater team that people thought they might be but I can't find a better constructed team. The pitching will remain good, the hitting will tick better (even with bench issues that would be slightly better with Morse. Slightly.) and they'll win 90+. Fielding issues or no.

And not only were they 23-14 they were 23-17... then they went 15-6. Really the 2012 Nats didn't turn the corner until an 18-4 stretch from July to August. (but they have to be well above .500 going in not just a game or two).

Kenny B - The Nats are fine with grit. Team GBP is in line with Mark Grace levels, but the determination is low. Damn that the Nats lost out on Ankiel.

blovy8 - yeah but last year's O was able to overcome that to be pretty good. I am surprised by being bad.

BS - agreed except with the "take the East" 96 yes, 90 no so I'm torn on calling that at all.

nic - there's a lot of variables here but there is a clear big percentage gain in the possibility of scoring a run PH for Gio. (if you assume he's a .150 hitter and the ph is a .250 hitter than the chance of getting a single and a run goes from roughly 13.4% to 22.4% - and that's just assuming BA= singles. We toss in the increased probability of XBH and walks and it would be even larger)

The harder part is the lost replacing Gio. A pitcher going into the 8th vs a reliever? The starter is usually better than the reliever to start but this far in it would tilt toward the reliever... though it would depend on which one.

I think what I'm trying to say is in general that it's the right move. You significantly increase your chance of scoring a run, while not significantly decreasing the chances of giving up one. In any specific case it's a judgement call. I would have done it though.

Anon - well if it was a reverse jinx that wasn't a successful start.

Strasburger - we do have to adjust after a time. Liek I've said, I'm not making any firm comments until Memorial Day. Right now it's still observation mode. The Nats aren't hitting. They need to. Nothing more than that.

jk - that's fair. I do think that being in the position the NL East is across the board means something. But the worst division in baseball tag may not hold up even two weeks from now. It's a lot more - "they are not the best" than "they are the worst"

Anon - well you would expect a decrease in error rate back to average. The real problem is that the errors are concentrated on two players. One who has a known throwing issue that has resurfaced (so you'd expect more errors from him than average). The other who was an error machine that looked to be improving but it's quite possible that his 2012 career low E total was just a fluke of D-stats. So that too would push error totals up.

This is one of those - have to look at the situation on the field to judge and that's saying the errors may continue - not quite at this rate but at a rate much higher than the Nats expected going into the year.