Nationals Baseball: Of streaks

Friday, May 31, 2013

Of streaks

Kilgore made an interesting point yesterday.  The Nats sat at 27-26 and during the middle of last year's remarkable season, in fact directly after going 14-4, the Nats had a 27-26 run. (If you are wondering they did not go 27-27 they won that next game) His question was - did the Nats have a 3 week hot streak in them like that 14-4 to put the team in a situation akin to last years?  Of course that's only part 1 of the question. The next part is would they, after that hot streak, be able to repeat what was done last year at this point in the season. This question made me want to dig a little deeper into last years streaks.

First off, you can honestly go much farther than 27-26 to pull a mediocre record out of the Nats 2012 season.  After starting 14-4 the Nats went 39-35 in their next 74 games, that's an 85 win pace over almost half a season. Why didn't we quite recognize that? Well first, the Nats started with that 14-4 record.  When you start out 10 games over that hides a lot of mistakes.

But secondly, there weren't a lot of mistakes.  When you start 14-4, it's natural to look for the 4-14 to even it out (especially when you start the season thinking your team is a high 80's win team, not a high 90s win one.) The Nats almost had that with a 5 game losing streak to bring their record to 14-9, but then a 4 game winning streak put them right back where they were before. Thus went nearly the entirity of the next half season.  Look at the streaks during that 74 game stretch.

-5, +4, -3, +3, -1, +1, -1, +1, -3, +3, -1, +3, -3, +1, -1 , +2, -1, +6, -4, +2, -1, +1, -2, +2, -1, +1, -1, +4, -1, +1, -1, +1, -1, +1, -1, +2, -3

Only one streak longer than 4 games after those first 9 games. Only 3 longer than 3. Every small set of losses was answered with a small set of wins and vice versa. This wasn't a roller-coaster ride which may expose the flaws of a team, but rather an gentle country drive where you got to enjoy the view from up on top of the division.  Let's take out the "call and answer" streaks and see what you have.

-5, +4, -3, +3, -1, +1, -1, +1, -3, +3, -1, +3, -3, +1, -1 , +2, -1, +6, -4, +2, -1, +1, -2, +2, -1, +1, -1, +4, -1, +1, -1, +1, -1, +1, -1, +2, -3

The Nats did drop a couple of games but that was it in the first 35 games or so. Hardly anything to concern a fan. Then came a nice little two week plus stretch when the Nats made up for that and more putting them at a new high of 13 over. A little more than a week later they would go 16 over. The only even mildly concerning part would happen at the end of this time frame when the Nats would drop back to 14 over.  Even then, if you'd had been willing to wait out any 3 game losing streak since the start you'd hardly be concerned. You'd probably expect another 3 game winning streak right now.

Instead the Nats took off, they'd win 18 of their next 22 (36 of their next 51) to put the division essentially out of reach.

Looking back you could hardly ask for an easier ride to the title. One bump in the road around the 30 game mark at the beginning of this 74 game stretch where the Nats were "only" 6 over and tied for first.  They'd only be tied one more time after that and really spent the entire season slowly, then speedily putting Atlanta in the rear view.

All I'm telling you is what you already know. Last year was great for Nats fans. What does it mean for this year?

What it means is this. The Nats have fiddled around for a third of the year so far. They can even fiddle around a while longer. Throw in a 9-10 finish to 2012 and they basically played average ball for stretches that added up to 93 games of last year.  But if you do that you need to be AWESOME in the other 70 games. The Nats would go 50-19 for the rest of the games which is basically playing 40% of the season like one of the best teams ever. Even if you don't want 98 games, you just want 90, you'd have to play as well as they played last year, a 98 win pace.  It's not that that's impossible, but (1) it's damn hard to keep up that level of play for a single long stretch and (2) if you play like an 85 win team for the first 60% of the year, why would you think you'd suddenly play like a 98-win team for the last 40%?

The Nats shouldn't fiddle around much longer. Two average months is ok, even typical, for a division winner.  Three average months though? That's a back-breaker. That's a fight for a WC team. Winning this Braves series would be a good start but a tall order. Win 1 of these games and then, if they want to be serious division contenders, they have to start winning series after series in June. There's no way around it.


Donald said...

I think the Nats can go on a decent winning streak, but they'll need more of their regular players in the line-up to do it. We need Werth and Harper playing at close to 100%.

In this Atlanta series, you have to think that tonight's game with Strasburg on the mound is our best chance. Here's hoping the bats come around and Strasburg throws 8 shutdown innings at least.

Wally said...

This will sound more negative than I actually am, but the trouble with this kind of analysis for a fan is that it may give us more hope than is warranted, by making it almost just a numbers game (.500 here, then .750 for this stretch,...).

But if you look at why a team would go on those stretches, there has to be some reason to believe it other than 'cause I want them to'. When I look at very basic predictive measures on a place like Fangraphs, I see a team that is 11th in pitching, 27th in hitting and 19th in fielding. That doesn't suggest that they are a long run waiting to happen. Compare that to last year, when they were top ten in hitting (8th) and pitching (5), and middle of the pack in fielding. Those are the kind of numbers that make you think winning 18 out of 22 is possible.

So what do we have to believe in for this to happen? I think that it is mostly pitching. It seems more realistic to hope that Stras and Gio catch fire and throw up 100 innings of 2.00 FIP than it does to expect Danny, Suzuki or Werth to put up .900 OPS over the rest of the season. So I think that we are hoping for a lot of 3-2 wins. I just don't think it is realistic to expect this line up to climb to 15th by year end unless they make a big trade. I think that the only guys average or better for their position are Harper, Zim, Desi and ALR.

Harper said...

Donald - yep THIS team isn't going to do it, not without a great pitching streak like the one to begin 2012 AND a lot of luck.

Wally - you're right which is why I added that whole #2 point. I think RIGHT NOW you can still say "the Nats haven't been healthy and all together yet" while that isn't exactly true it has been a long while.

I do think that the pitching being Top 3 level is necessary though. THere just aren't enough bats here like you say unless Bryce, Zimm, LaRoche, Desmond and Werth ALL hit like last yr or better.

Sirc said...

/agree with Wally.

It will take a reasoned case beyond trending to convince me that this team can play .600 baseball for more than 10 games at a time. In the right 10 games any team does it. They have to play nearly .600 ball just to hit the magical 90 win mark now.

This simply is not a good team at the moment. With Bryce producing like he did in April they are closer, but still not a good team.

They have serious deficiencies in their lineup, and serious shortcomings in their bullpen, and recurring problems in their defense.

Optimistic fans believe that these shortcomings can be addressed through a combination of substitutions and specific players returning to 2012 form. I was one of them on May 1st.

June 1st is shouting for a more realistic outlook. Not pessimistic, just reasonable.

Right now I wish they were more fun to watch than they are.

blovy8 said...

I don't think it's encouraging that they are leaving Harper on the bench all weekend either, and robbing DJ of another viable hitter to use. It pretty much guarantees a lot of lineups where more than half the guys don't hit .170. Minoso could play everyday on this club easily.

Wally said...

Blovy - I agree with you. I don't follow other teams that closely, so maybe it is more common than I realize, but it does seem like we lose a guy for a few days and then he winds up on the DL anyway. Seems like we play down a player or two a lot.

Of course, if the call up is Corey Brown or Eury Perez, maybe it is an easier decision to go to let it ride with Bryce, hoping he can play a few days earlier than a DL stint would let him.

Always kind of wondered why DL stints have to be two weeks minimum. Seems like a week would be long enough to avoid abuse.

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blovy8 said...

I think it would be too easy to manipulate the roster with a seven day thing. I actually think Perez could at least come in for defense and maybe pinch run for someone. Kobernus isn't getting playing time at all, so your point is pretty well proven, these guys aren't going to do much but watch if they do come up, so why not wish for Cal jr. to give Harper some healing tips.

blovy8 said...

Well, they brought up Erik Davis rather than a fielder, probably makes more sense right now.

Donald said...

I'm still optimistic about the season. The main reason is that I don't see the Braves getting much better. The team they are currently fielding is the team they'll have for the rest of the season. They will only get worse if they have an injury.

The Nats could get a lot better. Werth and Harper will be way better than Moore and Bernadina. Rendon could be a big improvement over Espinosa, at least offensively. Christian Garcia could replace H-Rod. Ramos will be better than Solano. Detwiler will be better than Karns.

There's not a ton of time left, but the Nats will have a significantly better team at some point in the near future.