Nationals Baseball: Monday Quickie - Savings on the Back End

Monday, July 29, 2013

Monday Quickie - Savings on the Back End

Friday at around 5:00 things looked their darkest.  Jordan Zimmermann got hit hard again ballooning his July ERA to 7.18 and Davey's pen mismanagement led to a very odd sequence of events which ended with Tyler Clippard slamming the organization. Yet today a sense of hope permeates the Nats fandom. The trio of Ross Ohlendorf, Dan Haren and Taylor Jordan* held the Mets to a single run a piece in each of the next 3 games, and this was backed up by some stellar pen work, giving the Nats the series 3 games to 4.

This wasn't a good homestand. They went 4-7 when we wanted 7-4.  They lost ground early during their1-5 slide and weren't able to make it up with these recent wins because the Atlanta "Champs By Process of Elimination" Braves finally played some good baseball and swept the best team in the NL, the St Louis Cardinals. That's the problem the Nats face now. They need to win AND the Braves (or Cincy and Arizona) need to lose.  That's a tall order.

But still the modest goal I set was to get to next Monday within 9 games of the Braves. This sweep kept that hope alive when the Braves could have buried the Nats completely.

Notes :

In the past week 5 Nats have an OPS of .950 or better; Desmond, Bryce, Ramos, Werth, and Zimm.  That's the flipside of no one hitting. Sometimes everyone will hit. Now can they keep it up just a little while longer? 8 games maybe?

Anyone worried about ZNN? Needham put out a "simple" path to a possible playoff spot and with Nats-colored glasses on you can see it working, but not if ZNN is injured or otherwise stinks.  That's a season-ender in my book.

Anthony Rendon's July (.190 / .236 / .333) is going to force an issue that no smart fan wants to see forced. Should Lombardozzi play more? The guy is better than the .250 singles hitter he has been this year. The problem is that just means he's a .265 singles hitter or so. His value comes from being a contact bat off the bench that can play 3B/SS/2B (BUT NOT OUTFIELD DAVEY!) well enough to fill-in if necessary. But there are going to be some that look at that .357 AVG in July (ignoring the .417 BABIP) and say he needs to start. Is Rendon going to get better (.203 BABIP)? Probably. Would Danny be a plus fielder the Nats bats might be able to carry (if they are going to carry Rendon or Lombo anyway)? Yep. Will people care about either of these things? Nope.

So how did Davey screw up the relief in ZNN's game? He didn't have a plan for if Mattheus, just back from injury, couldn't make it through 2.  He put Mattheus in in the 8th down 5-0 and he went out to finish the game up in the 9th, but all of a sudden he struggled and was up over 40 pitches in his first appearance. He had to come out. But for who? It was a double header with Ohlendorf to pitch the night game and Haren going tomorrow. At this point it looked likely relief help would be needed if not tonight than tomorrow. All his best arms went the day before and using them here would likely keep them out till Sunday. So the decision was made to use Storen who was supposedly sick and pitched like it. Storen got bombed. Fans revolted. Storen got sent down.

What should have Davey done? Stuck Stammen out there in the 8th had him finish it out. Or better yet, said "screw it" let Stammen come in to pitch to Murphy and finish out that inning and have Abad finish the game. Either way you don't bring in a guy off injury and plan on him pitching 2 innings first time out. That's just dumb.

What about Storen being sent down? I feel the same way about this as I do with bringing in Soriano. Right move, handled horribly.** Storen had been struggling terribly. He should have been sent down before Friday. If you couldn't do that then you find some other meaningless time to put him out on the mound and when he gives up another run then you send him down. Anything so it doesn't look like he's being punished for going out on the mound with the flu and not getting outs. Of course it was the DH that necessitated the timing of the move but still. Just awful handling, managing to turn something nearly every fan agreed about (Storen should be sent down) into a rally cause against the team for a weekend.

*An idea of how far Haren's star has fallen. He's now just one of Ohlendorf, Haren and Jordan.

** How was the Soriano deal handled badly? All you had to do was talk to Storen and Clip and say "Soriano is one of the best closers out there. This isn't about the way 2012 ended. This is about 2013. We have a chance to get him and make our back end unstoppable. We're going to do it." But the Nats didn't talk to them first and even though Rizzo said it wasn't about game 5 he also said "(Storen's) a young closer that was thrust into the closer role as a very young man and a very young major leaguer. We feel that we benefit having Sori on the club. Not only by pitching the ninth inning, but also by mentoring a good young potential closer in Drew Storen."  Young, young, young. Potential closer? I don't know how you read that and don't come away with the impression Rizzo didn't think Storen wasn't ready to keep closing.


Anonymous said...

Is there any justification for batting Lombardozzi ahead of Ramos on the days he spells someone?

DezoPenguin said...

Well said. I don't know if it's just because last year's results were better and this year's are shaky, but Johnson's managerial decisions with lineup and bullpen management have seemed more and more indefensible this season.

Chaz R said...

We were at the game yesterday- that sure felt good! The big question is whether they can keep it up. I think, as Harper has previously pointed out, next week with the Phillies and Braves series will be D-Day.

I really just don't know about ZNN, a part of me feels he may still have the neck problems, but Davey insists he is perfectly fine. So many remaining questions all around consistency- can Haren, Ohlendorf and Jordan maintain their most recent levels? Is Span coming back to his normal career hitting numbers? Everyone else seems to be coming back to "normal"- Zim, Desi, Werth... except LaRoche. That is still a big hole in the lineup.

I still see reports about the Nats buying before trade deadline for bench production and pitching, but Rizzo will never buy a season rental. If the Nats won't have control past this season, I don't see him making a move until the offseason.

Froggy said...

Agree with you and Needham that there is no way to get to the post season with ZNN pitching like he did in July. Hopefully it is all out of his system and Aug brings better results. Good thing he misses the Tigers too.

Also agree that Clippard had a good point in the crappy way he publicly handled (or didn't) bringing Soriano on board. I wonder how a player's GM like Nolan Ryan or Cal Duplin would have handled it?

Froggy said...

That should have read the public way Rizzo handled it.

Froggy said...

Cal RIPKIN !! Dang spell checking smart phone!!

bdrube said...

A lot of things haven't been handled well by management this season--which is a big reason why this team is under .500 in late July.

I'm surprised you didn't mention Span, who gets dropped in the order and suddenly turns into Frank Howard. What do they do with him now? Leave him down in the order where he must feel more comfortable, or reinstall him as the leadoff hitter? I'm expecting Harper to go on another tear at some point, and it would be better if he were back in the three hole when that happens.

Chaz R said...

Oh, and yes... totally agree with the poor handling of the Storen situation. A lot of mixed messages, no wonder the poor guy was likely paranoid and neurotic.

Hoo said...

Rizzo being a jerk and that has repercussions? Talk about a bolt from the blue and totally unexpected. I simply can't believe it!

I think the Soriano is probably the one Rizzo decision that worked out this year. But everyone knew it's a vote of no-confidence with Storen and he's had to learn how to adjust to his new role and new warmup routine. Seen several staff members saying that Storen doesn't know when to warm-up or adjust to his new roles in pen. But Soriano is better and Storen needs to learn to adjust.

That said, Rizzo's year has been a disaster. Haren's karmic return for Lannan; Duke (-.9 WAR) over Gorzo (.9), Morse, H-Rod, Christian Garcia to starter, the bench..Just ouch.

Miles Treacy said...

I kind of liked Harper at leadoff this past weekend. Although, I think Werth would be a better option for the whole lineup setup. I think if Span likes being down there, you leave him. Harper will hit in any spot. Also, seemed when we needed a hit with RISP this weekend Harper was up because of batting leadoff and the lineup turning over. I'd take Harper over Span. The walk off. And yesterday harper came up and got that 2RBI single (although in the long run of the game those 2 runs don't matter, but I get really excited when I see the Nats score 3 runs before the 8th these days).

Harper said...

Anon - Ramos handles the 8th spot so well they don't want to move him. That's the justificiation. It stinks but it's baseball.

Dezo - Yeah, maybe he did make these mistakes last year and we just didn't notice but they are apparent now.

Chaz - I'm worried about ZNN too. I fear the whole Danny road of "I don't feel injured - let me play" being OK'd by the Nats until we find out post-season surgery is needed

Rizzo won't buy something just for this year. It'll have to be someone available for a couple years and most likely cheap. Not sure who that would be.

Let's not give Storen a complete out though. He should have still pitched better. Team didn't help but still mostly his fault

Froggy - Cal Duplin makes a fine sweet wine. I think so many of Rizzo's issues with players is the fact he doesn't feel it necessary to communicate anything to anyone. What he does is not there job so deal. It's a way to run a business but it's a bad way.

bdrube - Guarnatee they leave him down in the order which is fine by me. even historically he's not a great leadoff hitter. Doesn't get on base well. Bryce down would be better though, but you aren't going to see it. Nats don't have the high OBP nothing else guy that would be the best fit for the sabermetric lineup (for as much as lineup matters)

Hoo - Yeah, I cant say it didn't work. The pen is better with Soriano. We have no idea how Storen would have been without Rafeal here. Could have been just as bad.

I still think Morse was fine. (got Krol, Morse wasn't going to play) but overall he's definitely not had a good year. Maybe it'll all turn around in the next... 56 games! That;s it? uh oh,.

cass said...

Needham is back to blogging? And his site is "Nats Pennant Push"? Is this the same Chris Needham? I didn't really like the tone of his twitter, but I always liked his blog. Will have to add this to my list.

Bringing Storen in on Friday was inexcusable. Very unhappy with how they've handled him. No idea why they didn't move him to strictly low-leverage situations before demoting him. Davey's use of the bullpen has been terrible this year.

I really think there's a big schism between Rizzo and Johnson. Firing the hitting coach against the manager's wishes is a huge slap in the face, especially with someone as well-respected as Davey Johnson. I imagine the only reason he's still managing is because he doesn't want to quit on his team. But I gotta believe there's been a massive falling out between manager and GM.

The best news all season has come the last three games. If Jordan, Ohlendorf, and Haren can figure things out, that'll be huge.

cass said...

Small sample size and all, but Haren's July peripheral splits are encouraging. His BABIP is low, but not extremely so. Looks like he's trading a few more walks for fewer home runs. Pitching on the edges of the zone more, perhaps, rather than leaving pitches up and over the plate. And that k-rate is lovely. Hope he can keep it up. The never-walk-anybody approach wasn't working, so hopefully this will be better.

sej928 said...

I feel the whole thing with Storn could have been handled better. However, if I were in his shoes and they did that to me. I'd go out there and prove them wrong. He hasnt done that at all. It just proves Rizzo was right about him and hes not ready for that pressure.

I agree with Harper, D-day is approaching. We have 9 games left against the Braves. We need to sweep one and win the other 2 series to stay on top. Here's to hoping.

Kenny B. said...

They have done this to us before. I have a feeing the offense is only making a brief cameo this season.

I think Rizzo will stand pat, and I think that's a good thing. After an amazing 2012 and a rough-at-best 2013, you have to treat 2014 like a tiebreaker to determine which of the two years was the "real" Nats.

Of course, you hope that 2012 was the real Nats, and that the snakebite has now worn off. If that's the case, the post-season is not yet unreachable, and we could be in for a thrilling September. I think more likely the snakebite continues, or fails to abate enough to make the post-season, and 2014 has the Nats back atop the NL East, though the comfort level depends on what the Braves do in the offseason.

Harper said...

Miles - Bryce Harper at leadoff fits correct lineup generality #1 - You want your best players up as much as possible so put them at the top of the lineup.

cass- more like micro-blogging. Like half-way between tweets and blogs

It was a bad decision to bring him in but the Nats were in a bad place. I think they always planned on sending him down for the DH, but this made everything look much worse. I agree with a Needham tweet that said it was position player P time.

I still think Haren can re-learn to be a good pitcher but I just don't know if he can do it mid season. I think we'll see general improvement punctuated by absolute stinkers. Let's hope its not at ATL.

sej928 - yeah that's the crux of it with Drew. He was mildly disrespected. That's it. He had the opportunities to pitch better and either force the Nats hand or find himself in a better situation for him (through trade) and he didn't do that. That's on him.

Kenny B - I don't know. because of Werth and LaRoche's age and of course various injuries 2012 might have been a very fair representation of the Nats then, that might not come through in 2014 if they crash or if we see more injuries. But it would have to be an old person fail or unreasonable health issues. Any other thing would fit into your "true Nats" scenario.

egoodman8 said...

It's spelled RIPKEN, not Ripkin. Geez, he's only one of the best SS to ever play the game and he did it 40 miles from DC.

Mythical Monkey said...

I like Drew Storen. I think he has a future with the ball club. But I'd be more sympathetic to the notion that he's been ill-used if his ERA weren't 5.95.

If his ego is so fragile that the acquisition of Soriano has destroyed his value, then he doesn't have the mental toughness to be a closer on a contender in the first place. I mean, wasn't Clippard equally ill-used? and he's been the best pitcher out the pen all year. If Storen had also gone about his business and posted numbers in line with his career, then I'd feel sorrier for him. But a season long pout coupled with poor results? What does he reasonably expect?

I don't usually criticize ballplayers, and I'm not sure I'm criticizing this one now. Maybe what I'm criticizing is what I think of as "the Mike Wise thesis," that Storen's disastrous year is proof that he should still be the closer. To me, it's more like proof that he should be working out the kinks in Syracuse.

If the club wants you to close, then you close. If it wants you to pitch the seventh, then you pitch the seventh. And if it wants you to sweep up peanut shells after the game, then you become the best peanut sweeper in the big leagues. Do that, and you have a case. Don't do that, and you ride the bus in the minors.

(And no, the Nats shouldn't have pitched Storen with the flu, but sometimes you take one for the ball club. They were sending him down anyway, they needed somebody to eat an inning, and they didn't want to waste anybody who'd be around for the rest of Mets series – who better than Drew Storen?)

cass said...


If your boss asked you to sweep peanut shells and you had a contract that said you couldn't work in your profession for any other company, would you become the best peanut shell sweeper? This comes after a few years of proving that you do a good job at your job.

Also, how would you feel about being asked to perform a task with a 102 degree fever that makes your performance terrible?

If I was asked to do these things, I would not be working at my job for very long. That said, the 7th inning is not at all like peanut shell sweeping and yes, he should have been able to handle that. But something went terribly wrong with his pitching and Davey should not have kept using him in high-leverage situations.

Strasburger said...

That was an inspiring couple of games.. there is hope.

We better hope Miggy is still taking sparse at bats in this next series, or it could get ugly for the Nats against the best batter on the planet.

blovy8 said...

Well, I think Storen took one for the team, and maybe we don't know the whole story. He needs to work on fastball command, holding runners, working faster, etc. Granted, when you're sick that's not a good thing, but it was not a pressure situation, and what really was the harm? We could blast DJ for putting a position player in there who proceeds to get hurt throwing the ball, or takes a liner off the coconut. That's the way the season has gone anyway.

DezoPenguin said...

Like a lot of people, I'd have more sympathy with Storen's plight if he hadn't spent the past four months doing his best imitation of Carlos Marmol.

Mythical has it right. If the end of last year plus Soriano's signing broke Storen's head, then he doesn't have the psyche to be playing professional baseball. Or at least he needs treatment for whatever it is that's going on (a la Greinke). Otherwise, he needs to be working on the physical or mechanical problems of playing baseball.

Johnson continuing to run him out there just exacerbates the problem. Maybe the pitching with a 102-degree fever was a little uncalled for, too, but on the other hand, he's had four months now of making the Nationals take one for him, so he can take one for the Nats.

The Morse trade looks better and better by the day, honestly. Krol has been, arguably, our third-best relieved this season after Clippard and Soriano. Meanwhile, Morse has been hurt half the season, hits no better than LaRoche, and fields poorly. He has, admittedly, been emphatically better than Tyler Moore in the sense that "bad" is better then "hellish," but there are cheaper ways to have players better than Tyler Moore on the team than paying $5M to a backup OF/1B who can't be used as a defensive replacement. Signing Soriano worked out OK. Signing Haren didn't, but a one-year gamble on a guy who might be good isn't a bad risk. Signing LaRoche didn't work out so well, but there was no reason to expect after last year that he wouldn't perform up to his career values.

Ultimately, Rizzo's failures in 2013 seem to be more a case of what he did not do than what he did. Letting Gorzo walk. Not doing anything to shore up the bench. Not having a solid backup plan for the 6th-7th starter spot in case the Haren gamble didn't pay off or injuries hit. The failures of the Nationals seem to be centered not around having a bad Plan A, but on not being ready to react with a viable Plan B when things went wrong.

Also, with Znn, Espi, Bryce, Zim last year, does it worry anyone else that the Nats' attitude towards player health seems to always err on the side of wishful thinking and hoping they can play through it?

Anonymous said...

The season is likely a loss at this point, but hopefully we can keep it close enough to keep it interesting. Anyone know what the free agent market for 2nd baseman will be next year?

Anonymous said...

Great points Harper!!!

Anonymous said...

Am I the only one who thinks that Johnson putting Edwin Jackson in to pitch relief in the playoffs was an utterly bizarre decision? One that has been echoed in several bizarre choices over the course of this last year?

It seems to me that Davey and Rizzo are both stumped for what to do when the chips don't uniformly fall their way. So they do absurd things like having their starter pitch relief when they have the lead in a vital playoff game, continuing to allow Henry Rodriguez within fifty miles of Nationals Park, letting John Lannan leave....

Froggy said...

Dezo~ I think you could add letting Burnett go to your list of Rizzo blunders.

Chemistry is what it is. My thoughts are at the end of last year we had all the ingredients to a great 98 win/Eastern conference champs recipe. Yes, there was no guarantee that we would repeat. So why mess with that recipe?

Simple, Rizzo's ego. In the immortal words of Prodigy:
"I'm a firestarter, terrific firestarter.

I'm the self inflicted, mind detonator.

Yeah. I'm the one infected, twisted animator.

I'm the firestarter."

Charles said...

This is fantastic!