Nationals Baseball: Dead Team Walking

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Dead Team Walking

It's a hard end to the season for this Nats team. I really think even if the fans, the media, and the numbers didn't believe they could come back (in decreasing order of willingness to believe) the team did believe and being out of the playoffs is a shock to their system. You get over that but it takes a few games and dammit if there isn't just a few games left in the year. I can really see them losing out in Arizona, or at least the first two before thinking finally "We don't want to go out like this".  Shame.

Just a note that someone mentioned in the comments and it had been on my mind before. Prior to the introduction of the 2nd Wild Card we looked at the "last in, first out" for the single Wild Card and found that for the most part about 92 wins was where your WC chances went up a bunch, and the first out was often a little below 90.  The thought was then that winning 89 games could get you in the playoffs more often than not. Well in the past two years we've seen that that may not be the case.

Last year the 2nd WCs won 88 and 93 games respectively. This year it'll likely be 92 and 90. I'll have to do some AL checks (I've only looked at the NL during the single WC period for this analysis) but doing some extrapolation the average last team has gone up about a win, maybe close to 2.  I'm gonna do some more digging but if this holds it means the work is that much harder. Each successive win is harder to come by, forcing teams to win one more is a big deal. 

What's happening? It's probably a chain reaction. Teams are trying harder to win the division to avoid the WC game which pushes the bar higher. Other teams interested in just making it have to do better just to keep up with teams in this first group that don't win the division. This increase in play didn't necessarily happen back in 1995* when the divisions split into 3 and the WC was added. Each playoff spot held the same allure. But now that it's a one game playoff teams have good reasons to go for the division titles. Anything can happen in one game and you do not want you're season to go down like that.



Chaz R said...

Yes, very depressing Harper. They just looked flat yesterday. From Davey's post-game comments, he seemed very disappointed in their play and enthusiasm. I think you are right, the Nats genuinely believed they could do it. What a real shame for ZNN. It would have been great to see him win 20.

Jeff Hayes said...

But the 2nd WC spot's sample size is so small.

It's a shame to think that how hard a team tries has such an impact. I'd like to think everyone gives every game their all. I know that sounds pollyannish, but with all the other factors at play (skill, experience, knowledge, equipment, field conditions, strategy, weather, and luck/BABIP), isn't it sad to think a player might not want to win a game enough to make a difference. And not just one player, but the whole team.

I read a book on Walter Johnson last year. The value they placed on finishing in the first "division" or being relegated to the second "division", in the days when only one team from each league made the "playoffs" makes me wonder how that dynamic impacted players. Even if you were many games behind the league leader, you still have something, not even tangible, to fight for.

If that system existed today, would the Nats not have finished in the first "division" on the merits of having a winning record?

Donald said...

I agree, Jeff, though it seems like players always do better in their contract year. That seems like they have the ability to play harder but only do so when money is on the line. Maybe that's just a perception. Do players really do better in their contract years?

Harper said...

Chaz R - Maybe ZNN can pitch relief in the last game if it comes to it

Jeff - True. We're obviously not going to get anything statistically significant for years. Not sure about the historical divisions. I think pride in person and team can push players to do well for most of the years but I think if you are out of it there are depressive lulls. Obviously when you realize you are out is going to be one and unfortunately that might be the taste left in Nats fans mouth rather than the great 40 games before that.

Donald - Contract year pushes overall don't seem to exist. I think the problem is, like momentum, pressure, etc. that it's really individual based both personal and circumstance. Maybe as a 28 yr old with no big contract behind you Player A can turn it on and Player B can't but we can't really know that. And maybe Player A at 33 wants to turn it on but just no longer has the skills.

I would say it happens, but there's no telling for who it's going to happen for, so it's not something you can build a team around.

WiredHK said...

Look who turned into Boswell all of a sudden? :) So, let me play Harper, then.

We lost to StL because they are better than us, at their core (and this series didn't even feature Craig or Holliday), not because there was team-wide depression. One is very tangible and has numbers to back it, one is a touchy-feely that we cannot know, measure or, therefore, prove.

I think this is the easiest, simplest and most correct version of events over the last three games. Sorry to rain on the post-event narrative, though. Carry on!

blovy8 said...

Yeah, and also, what the hell difference does it make? I think they'll hit better in AZ, just because it's easier to hit in AZ. The matchups look pretty even however. Not much for the D-Bags to play for either.

blovy8 said...

The strategy now has to be that you go into the season trying to win your division and you become willing to settle for a WC if you screw up or get injured along the way.

Anyone want to touch that 10yr/$300 million contract for Cano? He's not coming here, that's for sure. I bet the Dodgers make the Yankees sweat some on that deal this winter.

I agree that the easiest improvements to be made next season will be in pitching. How hard can it be to get some random starter to come in and pitch better than Haren?

There's a glaring need for a really good corner 1b/3b/lf type guy to pencil in for 400 PA. Moore can't be that guy. Walters isn't ready to be that guy. They already gave Lombo a shot at being that guy and he's pretty much a 2b.

If they did get a quality 2B, and gave up on Espy, Rendon could possibly be that guy, but they probably wouldn't do that to him since they expect him to be a quality everyday starting player given his tools. But I can't imagine they're comfortable with Hairston as the best bench OF.

I just think it's a bit glib to blame Rizzo for everything. Given DJ's latest comments, even he's starting to piss on Rizzo's roster construction now, as if he didn't have any imput at all. So we can thank him for supplying the left-handed "balance" in the lineup, but the quips regarding left-handed relievers' off-season activities never made the papers. He had his power bench guys Moore and Tracy for all the good it did. If you go by what he said in April, seems like Duke was ok with him until a AAA veteran was ready.

I don' think there was the minor league depth to upgrade the parent club talent level by much. They could offer their top 4 prospects and not get a guy like Stanton, and even then they'd have no big talent coming for a few years and have to rely on luck with mediocre free agents and low-round non-prospects filling in around what they have now.

Rizzo is trying to build the entire system to Cardinals/Rangers level. They probably can't aspire to be Tampa-level in efficiency of resources. The assessment may have been wrong that this roster had 90 win talent, but what that should do is spur him to make the 2013 roster have 95 win talent.

Alan Wiecking said...

Okay, so where is everybody on the "Jayson Werth as player/manager"? I think the last guy to do both was Frank Robinson and I would be shocked if the Nats went that route. Dead issue walking by my call.


Nattydread said...

The Reds lost their last 5. Oh what could have been! Or are they just coasting because the Nats were eliminated?

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