Nationals Baseball: Monday Quickie - Bad timing

Monday, July 22, 2013

Monday Quickie - Bad timing

Back when the Nats were losing in May and June, we at least could take comfort in knowing the reason for their inability to get over the hump.

The Nats front office was fooled by unexpectedly good 2012s into thinking that the bench of Moore, Lombardozzi, Tracy and  Bernadina was a strength not a weakness, and that Zach Duke could handle the middle relief role. When injuries inevitably came, the bench was exposed and the offense staggered. When a big bet on Dan Haren came up snake eyes (he not only didn't pitch well, he pitched so poorly the Nats had to rely more on middle relief, not less) Duke was exposed. Add to that a oddly formed bullpen (no lefties, H-Rod) that left the Nats' more traditional manager confused and you had a recipe for a disappointing first half.

It may not be a simple explanation, nor an satisfying one for fans, but it was one that made sense.  It was also one that lead to some hope for a late season charge. If the offense just got healthy then the bench issue would be moot. If the Nats could find some bullpen arms, which isn't that difficult, then the pen could be a strength again. If the Nats could find a fifth starter, which is a bit harder and might require a deal, then the staff would be in good shape. If that all happened then there is no reason the Nats couldn't go on a extended run. Maybe it wouldn't be enough for a playoff spot but it would sure be enough for an exciting finish at least.

They haven't found that 5th starter yet, but the pen is formed back up and the offense is healthy, so here come the wins, right? Nope. They are losing now more than ever. 2-8 in their last 10. Their worst ten game stretch by wins and losses for the season.

Why? A bit of it is bad luck obvious to the eye. They are 0-3 in one-run games and 0-3 in two run games over the last 10. Really they should be more like 3-7. But 3-7 still isn't good. What's going on? The offense is still failing despite all hands being on deck.

In the past 2 weeks, Desmond (.684 OPS) and  Rendon (.673) have been mediocre.  Bryce (.607), Span (.579), & Zimmerman (.566), have been bad. LaRoche has been horrible (.364).  Only Ramos (.781) and Werth (1.171) have been hitting and even they have been pretty selective. They are combined 4-24 (5 walks) with men on base. Werth has 4 homers in the last 10 games, all solo. Basically Ramos and Werth are hitting .420 with pop when the bases are empty and are .170 slap-hitters when men are on base.

All these guys (except probably Span and maybe Rendon - hey we don't know for sure!) are good hitters. You shouldn't see 6 of them slump at the same time. Except maybe you should. I know it's been too long and hard a season for Nats fans to just say "fluke of timing" and move on, but that's really what it is. Look at their historical stats. LaRoche (106 OPS+) has these types of years. So does Span (86).  Desmond (120) and Zimmerman (121) are still on line with expectations. Rendon (106) is not a surprise. Bryce (141) is still high thanks to that scorching start. Werth (132) and Ramos (121) could actually get worse. That isn't a 2.4 runs a game offense. Except it will be sometimes, that's the way baseball works, and now happens to be that sometime.

Sometimes you hit, sometimes you don't. How you score is based on how it works out timing wise. Earlier the starters were hitting but the team wasn't scoring because half the lineup was the terrible bench. Now they are all here and the starters are not hitting and thus not scoring.  It can't and won't last forever. If they all remain healthy they will score more. They will score at a decent clip.

It may not be a good clip though. LaRoche and Span are on the bottom ends of their expectations and could stay there. There is no reason Bryce and Rendon have to break out this year. Zimm and Desmond could just float along at roughly the pace they are hitting now. The bench is still terrible. Last year the Nats scored the 5th most runs in the NL with nearly everything going right.  This year they won't have that happen, so what kind of scoring team will it likely be from here on out? Probably average. That wouldn't be enough, not even if the pitching was again best in the league (which it's not. Very good but not best). 5th best pitching and average run scoring is a team that wins 85-88 games from start to finish. That's not a team that can make up the ground necessary in the time left.


Matt said...

Nice post -- thanks Harper.

This is slightly off-topic but I guess goes with the what's-gone-wrong theme, and is something I've been thinking about recently: I'd add Detweiler to the list of woes this season. More critically, I think management both over-valued him and ignored some big risks. (I don't want to come off as too harsh here -- I think most of us, definitely including me, bought into the promising young starter finally fulfills potential story from late last season).

If you look at his history, he has spent a fair bit of time being injured. The fact that a team with 2 injury risks (both Haren and Detweiler) didn't stockpile a better 5th starter now looks rash.

Furthermore, while Detweiler's recent performance decline might well have been injury related, you also have to notice that his newest approach -- all fastballs, all the time -- is nearly unique among starters in baseball (I haven't done any real research on this, but I can't think of anyone similar off the top of my head, so I'll throw in a qualifier and run with it. Sorry if I turn out to be wrong). So, I also think there's a real chance the league figured him out, and at the very minimum you had to factor in significant regression even when his superficial stats were top-notch. (To be fair, Harper pointed this out several months ago, but I think, in retrospect, the original post could have been even stronger: not only was the early performance unsustainable, but that there are further risks when you are the only guy who is taking a particular approach. Yeah, outliers exist -- see Lannan, John -- and pro baseball is full of outliers, but that's still no excuse to not be skeptical, at least until they have a longer track record than Detweiler's new approach does).

Chaz R said...

I went to all three games this past weekend thinking this was their moment and that everything would finally fall into place. Wow, what a frustrating few days. Actually heard a few boos from Nats fans, who have got to be some the most polite fans in baseball.

I guess we are close to getting ready to look forward to 2014.

Froggy said...

Back in April I predicted 88 wins and thought that was erring on the conservative side (secretly hoping for mid 90"s). Now I wonder if we get to .500 and stay there.

Bottom line is we have three great starting pitchers but are terrible everywhere else. By the end of July we'll know if the rest of the season is a wash in which case we start setting up for next season.

First thing is put Zimmy on the DL and get surgery on his shoulder as he MUST be injured...he can't really be this bad naturally. Or move him to 1b an put Rendon at 3b, LaRoche on the bench. And bring back Espi. DFA Haren after he loses tonight.

Finally, look to shop for that legitimate big bat (Hamilton, etc) and make whatever deal is necessary. Storen, Detweiler, good farm prospects, etc.

Oh yeah, and fire Rizzo.

Miles Treacy said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Donald said...

When you score 5 runs in 3 games, it's hard to win. Is it really just luck when you have guys get hits in low leverage situations and then fail to score with the bases loaded and no outs? Or is there something more going on here? I know 'clutch' and 'chemistry' aren't things that are easy to measure, but this team just doesn't seem to have it together.

The real problem may be what to do about 2014. If they finish this year roughly the way they've been going -- around .500, what do they fix? Clearly they try to get another starter, but I don't see how having someone other than Haran sitting on the bench and watching the past 3 games would have changed the outcome.

Froggy said...

Oh yes, really great post Harper! Hope work, moving, and travel are settling down for you and we get more of this type of a analysis for the rest of the season.

cass said...

I'm still disappointed that Harper didn't come back from the DL and do a Hulk Hogan impression.

He seems a bit lost. Maybe my expectations are too high, but late last season and during this April, his batting instincts seemed top notch. He laid off bad pitches and he hit the crap out of pitches in the zone. Since he came back from the DL, he seems to be swinging at more bad pitches (especially outside) and not making solid (or any) contact with pitches in the zone. Obviously, we can't expect him to hit Kershaw terribly well, but he hasn't faired well against everyone else, either.

I'm holding him to an insanely high standard and and a lot of my perceptions of him probably are the result of him being in a hot streak, but I do feel like something is a bit off. Not sure why. I don't feel pitchers are adjusting - I feel like April-Bryce would do well against what people are throwing him now. He just isn't as sharp now.

This season is really depressing. I've never been so disappointed in a team in my whole life. Not blaming anyone, but it's disappointing. I like pretty much all the players too and it's the same team that won 98 games last year, pretty much.

Maybe baseball has too much luck in it. Maybe it's a flaw in the sport. Too much random chance when you have a bat meet ball. I think hockey has similar issues due to puck and stick. This team either shouldn't be performing this poorly this year or shouldn't have performed as well as they did last year. Too much luck.

Sirc said...

If I was running the Nats I would be a seller at the deadline. I wouldn't purge or anything, but I'd sure try my bestest to cleanse a little.

-If Haren makes another start or two like his past 2 I would send him to a contender and offer to pay his salary in exchange for a bag of hammers. At this point Haren is just preventing questions from being answered about guys in the minors. A lot of questions on current minor league starters could begin to be answered by using his starts for something productive for the future. They should try to stop filling out the rotation with massive one year contracts every year. Use the rest of this year to see if one of the youngins can pitch.

-I'd trade Danny Espinosa for day old bread. If the team can get more, great. I think his existence on the roster is poisonous. Rendon is the present at 2nd base, possibly the future too. I don't see him as the future 3rd baseman because usually 3rd basemen aren't 5'9 and 170 pound gap hitters. If RZim ever moves to 1st base, and there is no guarantee he will, the team will need power to replace him. Teams NEED power from the corner infield and outfield positions, not singles and doubles and occasional power. Trading Danny is in the Nationals best interest in the long run.

-I'd send Storen to the minors when Mattheus is ready. It's a lost season for Storen. Let him go work on stuff and come back fresh next year.

-I'd trade Ross Detwiler. The fact that he's hurt sucks, but I doubt that will be a major factor for most contending teams. He's young and cheap and under team control beyond this year. He's also the only asset that the Nats can get any real return on and likely won't be badly hurt by his departure. I know that this suggestion seemingly contradicts my stance on letting minor leaguers take Haren's starts, but I don't see Ross Detwiler as a long term solution in the rotation. He throws 1 pitch 95% of the time. And the Nats have 2 MASSIVE paydays coming up with JZim and Stras. There is almost no chance that they will be keeping Ross once he hits the open market. The team could get an actual prospect in return for him.

The team needs a little bit of a shake. I think these moves would shake things up just a little, but not so much that the team would seem to be panicking. There is value to the rest of this season beyond just trying to win games. They always took the position that they were building for the long run. Well, the long run requires change in moderation. The plan for this season hasn't worked. That doesn't mean it was a bad plan, just that they didn't get it exactly right.

Tweak it.

Harper said...

Matt - I think that's fair. Detwiler is a woe. But he's a woe that looks worse in retrospect. If Haren is cruising along at a 3.50 ERA we just shake off the Detwiler issues. He was going to get a chance to start given his good 2012. You are right though. We didn't focus on SP depth enough. I don't think anyone thought Haren would flame out so spectacularly. And injury in mid-season (which is what I think we were all thinking) is a diff't animal than being terrible from Day 1.

Chaz R - close. Give it this homestand. 7-4 still possible

Froggy - they aren't TERRIBLE everywhere. relief is still ok (if Davey could stop relying on Storen), Desmond is a top SS, Werth is hitting well, Ramos too; Zimm is a good 3B overall, same with Rendon at 2B...

You want Hamilton?

Donald - it's not just luck, because we all know psychology must play a role in it, but we can't measure that and thus we really can't do anything but observe it.

Is Werth pressing to drive in runs? Maybe. But the guy has been in big spots before a bunch. Why does it matter now? the contract? OK but why not last year? Because they were winning? So many caveats and conditions. You kind of have to just look at the big pic and leave the little ones be.

The fixes would be - add a starter, add starter depth (or see if yours has developed), add a big bat (replace Span - who can't hit but can field or LaRoche - who is old and you don't want anymore after 2014 anyway), make the bench better.

Of course then the question is who. kendrys morales and Jacoby Ellsbury are probably the best two FAs to be in those spots.

Harper said...

froggy - they'll be a couple dead weeks between now and Labor Day, but with this team will it matter?

cass- I'm not sure. I'm a bit worried by his lack of power (1HR) and how that may be making him approach differently (looking for HRs - King a lot more)

luck is not a residue of design, it's the exposer of design, bad or good. The Nats had some bad luck with injuries and failures expose a team poorly designed to handle that.

sirc - Haren - agree. Espy - don't but I'm an apologist. Do agree that the team will need some power but you can hit for enough power with 6 guys hitting 20+ homers. Storen doesn't have to be demoted that way but he should be lowered in the bullpen pecking order for a while. Detwiler - NO! not because I like the guy all that much but SP depth is already an issue.

Wally said...

Harper - good post. It actually took a little of the edge off of this weekend, thinking that at least two of the games could and maybe should have gone differently.

But the idea of looking towards 2014 feels realistic to me. Boz was right in today's article: why won't their performance still be the same next year? Without shaking it up, they will look like the exact same team, albeit with a new #5 starter. If they conclude that they need to make changes (and I agree with you that Span and/or ALR are the only places that I can see), then they should at least see whether a 'so-called' contender would pay more now than in the offseason.

Froggy said...

Ok, so the 'team' isn't terrible, they are just playing (or being managed?) terrible. Shake things up. I'll take Hamilton if the halos eat some of his contract. Point is we need a legitimate homerun bat who has a history of 35-40+ dingers a year.

My biggest question is how do all these other teams find a way to get power but Rizzo has such an aversion or ineptitude in doing so?

Section 222 said...

Totally agree with Sirc on Rendon/Espi. Why move a guy with a plus bat for a 2B to 3B where he won't be a top hitter until his power develops, even if you assume it will at some point? Lots of folks seem intent on reopening 2B for a rejuvenated Espi. I just don't think that day will ever come. That doesn't mean you need to trade him now, but don't make any moves (like Zim to 1B) that assume he'll ever be ready to return.

I think Det is an interesting trade chip for a package that gets us a top tier starter, which I doubt he will ever be. But I wouldn't trade him for prospects, even good ones, given the state of our starting pitching.

Good post Harper. Realism is setting in for this team.

Kenny B. said...

The core of this team is still good, so there's that. 3/5 pitchers are essentially #1s on most teams, you can fill two bottom of the rotation slots without dropping tons of cash (unless you want a 90s-era Braves rotation, which I'm down with if the Lerners are; it ain't my money).

You've got a pretty decent set of entrenched infielders, your left and right fielders are decent, one old, one young. You've got relatively young, better-than-average offensive talents at two of the hardest spots to fill with hitters (SS, C) (Ramos injury history notwithstanding).

That's all good, but it's also frustrating, because as a fan you want to see such a huge disappointment of a season result in bigger changes, but that just wouldn't be wise at this point. Fill out the rotation, upgrade the bench, and fill in the few gaps that remain in your everyday guys by dropping a few bucks on some good FAs. Guys from the system are fun, but they are often question marks, and if you never make the big money move, you're doomed to be the Kansas City Royals. Meanwhile, too many trades depletes the system and hurts too much for the long haul.

On the one hand, the meteoric rise of 2012 has totally skewed our perceptions of this team, but on the other hand, 2013 looks more and more like a worst case scenario where every flaw in the team's design has come back to bite them. Overcorrecting those flaws could derail the longer-term plan and make this potentially flukey season into a bigger deal than it needed to be.

I just don't know, and I'm glad the decisions aren't mine. I'm still inclined to give Rizzo at least two more seasons to see what happens. If they're both failures and his moves continue to play out poorly, then we hit the GM market and redesign "the plan."

Chris Houser said...

Kenny B.

Well said. I think as a fan one of the biggest issues is that last season was pretty much HISTORIC as a NATS fan and ten we shut Strausburg down. I'm not saying that wasn't in his best intrest but to think that this season was just going to be a walk in the park for us was being very arrogant. To think no one else was going to do anything to improve their teams so I guess in retrospec we brought this on to ourselves it just sucks knowing we haven't been to the WS since like 1927 and now this year unless a miracale happens the season will be over by the 1st of Aug. The talent is so good I just wish we could get it together. I do remember the Rockies went on that tear a couple of years ago so I know it can be done and now is when we need it to happen our next 5 of 8 series are against playoff teams. Lets GO NATS!!!!!

blovy8 said...

Well, the other elephant in the room is Zimmermann's neck, so things may get worse. If you have Ohlendorf, 2013 vintage Haren, and Jordan starting 3/5 of the time, there just isn't enough offense or middle relief to make up ground. Even so, the Dodgers have some guys who can pitch. It's not an excuse, it's a fact that getting 2 runs in a Kershaw start is a pretty usual type of thing.

The trouble is bloggers comparing Strasburg to him before the year started.

I kid.

Anonymous said...

As a Braves fan, I heartily endorse the notion of the Nats acquiring Hamilton.

DezoPenguin said...

I think that we already have the "overpaid, aging, underperforming injury risk OF" slot fully covered with Werth, thank you, and he's actually having a better year than Hamilton (Ham: .688 OPS, 98K, 14HR in 350 AB; Werth: .845 OPS, 57K, 12 HR in 243 AB) across the board in every category except "staying healthy." Plus, Werth's supposed to be a good clubhouse guy, for whatever that's worth. I mean, I'd trade him if Rizzo can pull an Anthropoulos-shedding-Vernon-Wells imitation, but I'd want actual value back.

(Hey, there's a thought. Apparently, the Angels *love* overpaid, aging, underperforming OFs in decline, since they took on both Wells and Hamilton. Send 'em Werth and Espi for Howie Kendrick. And we'll graciously offer to reduce their impending OF logjam this deal creates by taking Bourjos off their hands, even!)

BlueLoneWolf said...

Eckstein finally got it in the neck.

cass said...

Everything will be better now that Eckstein is gone. He was obviously the problem. I'm pretty sure he was secretly knocked over the head during the last half of 2012 and the only reason the Nats made the playoffs is because he wasn't actually on the job. By firing him, the Nats will save the season.

Chaz R said...

Yup, just saw Eckstein got whacked. I bet Davey's not happy about that. It probably hasn't happened sooner because of Davey.

Did anyone see the article on an interview of Cal Ripken interested in a job with the Nats?! Wow, the Angelos family would lose their collective minds!

Froggy said...

Eckstein is gone...I told you so. Not that I think he is responsible for where the Nats are, but you know Rizzo is looking out for his own neck and sure isn't going to fire himself and he sure isn't going to recommend firing Davey in his retirement year. The long knives have been out for a while so no surprise.

Dezo~ yes Werth is 'aged and underperforming' and having a better year than Hamilton, and I'll take it. The last thing Hamilton needed was to go out to the land of fruits and nuts and compete with Pujols and company.

Anonymous said...

well that was another frustrating ballgame. what do you think?

Anonymous said...

Poll: how many more homers will Werth need to hit between now and the trading deadline for someone to take him off our hands? That would make this season go from a complete waste to fair-to-middling.

Tod said...

This is fantastic!