Nationals Baseball: June 2013

Friday, June 28, 2013

Next time I see you the season will be half over

That's right. Tonight is game 79, tomorrow 80 and Sunday 81, marking the midway point of the season.  I know we like to think of it as the All-Star break and usually that isn't too bad a guess but the All-Star break is unusually late this year, the latest since 1985 (LaMarr Hoyt beat Jack Morris.  Hey isn't that guy supposed to pitch big in big games?).  The Nats will have played 95 games at that point, closer to 60% than 50%.

Anyway the Nats are where they have been for a month now, around .500 and about 5 games out. The Braves and the Nats have both played mediocre baseball, but thanks to a terrible division there have been no reprecussions.  The Braves can't give up their healthy lead, and the Nats can't shake 2nd place even if they tried.

A few weeks ago Boz was declaring that after that last Braves series the Nats would enter
Four months of potential bliss against the dregs of the National League East and almost every other lousy club in the majors.
How that worked out for them? 11-10 so far. That's not playoff baseball.

Of course that was always a bit of fudging. Boz relying a lot on last year's results to make this year's schedule look easier. But the truth is the Nats do have two extended sets of games vs teams that don't figure to be any good this year. One is in stretch run from Aug 19th-Sep15th. The other starts right now where they play the Mets, Brewers, Padres, Phillies, Marlins (break) then Dodgers. Out of those only the Padres are within 4 games of .500.

Here I'll admit I was wrong. I thought the Nats would have to start winning at the same time Boz did.  The Braves had up their lead to 7 games and looked like they would be running away with the East. But they've won 1 of their last 6 series and gone 8-12 in the last 3 weeks. The Braves' middling play has saved the Nats season. But the Nats can't keep on counting on that. Nor can they count on catching the Braves at season's end with that other easy stretch. It could be argued the Braves don't play a good team after the Cardinals on August 25th. No the Nats need to make up ground now when the Braves do have a couple of tougher series (albiet at home) vs the D-backs and the Reds.

There are 17 games before the All-Star break. Let's break it down.  They need to win 2 @ the Mets, 5 of the 7 at home vs MIL and SD, then at least 4 of the 7 away at PHI and MIA. That's 11-6.  

Other Notes

It's tempting to say the Nats are actually lucky to be where they are given their circumstances. Pythag has them at 36-42, they are 15-10 in 1 run games, but they are within the realm of where they should be. The Pythag estimation is not meant to be exact, and the Nats are 5-13 in 2 run games. That kind of washes out the 1-run luck.

Thursday, June 27, 2013


Since no one is writing about Anthony Rendon I figure I will to...

Hmm oh the Post did? And the Times? And Zuck (for CSN Washington if anyone thinks of it that way)?

What did they say?  readreadreadreadreadreadread

Ok pretty basic stuff, but he's only played 26 games. Going into the fancy stats at this point is like doing it at the end of April.  It's kind of pointless. Maybe he is very good (35.4% LD rate) and something like this will continue with a batting average well above .300. Or maybe he's just remarkably lucky (.420 BABIP) and he'll drop down to something in the mid to high .200s. We can't really say. It's been only a month and for every point you can bring up for/against a counterpoint can be made.

  • His minor league numbers suggest he'd strike-out more  /  He's still a kid and learning so it's possible it would go down. 
  • His walk rate is unfavorably low  /  He's shown much more tendency to walk throughout his minor league play
  • He hasn't shown the pop you'd like him to with only 1 homer  /  Again minors show the likelihood of power to come.  
  • Didn't people get all excited about Tyler Moore last year?  /  Yes, but Rendon has a much better pedigree
  • He's not really fielding all that well like people are saying  /  Well he's not a 2nd baseman, he's not awful, and he likely won't be playing there in a couple years.
  • He's an injury risk  /  He's not injured now
  • Isn't he just taking advantage of the period where major league pitchers see if they can get you out using primarily fastballs because that's the easiest way to do it?  /  Ummm ok you got me there

Remember the whole thing about last year that Bryce wasn't getting fastballs or strikes?  That's pretty atypical for a rookie because most of the time they want to see if they can get you out with fastballs that are strikes because that's what they want to throw.

63.7% of the pitches Anthony Rendon has seen have been fastballs. That would put him around 10th in the league if he had enough at bats.  47.9% of the pitches he's seen have been inside the zone. That would put him about 20th. Basically pitchers are challenging him

The good news is that he is obviously more than up to that challenge.  Each team will probably take there chances doing the same, making sure it's not just a fluke of small sample size that we're dealing with. When that fails (and it seems like it will) He'll see a more standard mix of pitchers. That'll give us a better idea of what kind of hitter he'll be for the rest of this season. 

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Offense and catching the Braves

Is the offense back? No, not yet.

Since the start of the Twins series the Nats have scored 69 runs in 17 games or just over 4 runs a game. It's still below league (4.06 to the average of 4.07) but it's right there. Even better in the past week they've scored 27 runs in 6 games or 4.5 runs per game. That's pretty damn good. But before you get excited let's look at the lines :
.252 / .312 / .392 since Minnesota
.263 / .316 / .400 in the past week

Those aren't good lines. They aren't terrible mind you but they are more in line with the average 4 runs a game Nats, as opposed to the 4.5 runs a game Nats we've seen recently. What's the difference then? My guess is some better luck with RISP.  Just last night if I counted right they were 5-13 (or .385) in those situations. Also maybe better timing with the home runs? Desmond did have a grandslam and LaRoche had a 3-run job recently. Anyway, it's luck, but it's about time luck it turning the Nats way as far as the offense in concerned.

Better news is that Bryce is coming back. No, he isn't a savior but he does (or at least should) immediately make the offense better. Get lucky with 4.5 runs a game for a few more days then actually earn it. That would work just fine.

As for catching the Braves. I know you look up and see 6 games and think "oh that's not that much" and Boz can regail you with stories of teams that have made up that ground in just a month. That's fine but here's the reality. Usually a team is 6 games ahead of you half-way through the season because they are demonstrably better than you are. When that isn't the case (and I'm not convinced it is) 6 games is still a lot of ground to make up. While a few teams have done it, most teams throughout history have not.

At the end of April the Nats were only behind 4.5 games. That wasn't a lot. At the end of May the Nats were only down 5.5 games. That wasn't a lot. Now it's 6.  Do you see what's happening here? Since that opening stretch Atlanta hasn't played any better than the Nats but that doesn't matter because they don't have to. They can simply match the Nats and run away with the division.

The Nats have 86 games left in the year. Their best 86 game stretch last year was 55-31. So if they play that well for the remainder of the year they'll be 93-69. Possible? Sure. A bit of a stretch given what we've seen this year but it could happen. The Braves would have to go 48-36 to match that. That's not easy but you have to see it's easier than going 55-31.  The worse the Nats do, the easier the job is for the Braves to maintain that lead.

The Braves have two things on their side. A big lead and a diminishing number of games to make up that lead. Luckily for the Nats the Braves haven't made it tougher on them, but time has. The Nats are still in an window where they can simply outplay a good Braves team and end up on top, but the window is closing fairly quickly. Soon they'll need both to play well and the Braves to collapse to make it work. That's asking a lot. The Nats need to start making up ground now, make up a game or two before the All-Star break to make this a possibility heading into the last part of the year. 

If I sound like a broken record so be it. I like hope just fine but I want it to be realistic. Heading into late July 8 games behind and hoping that the Nats could comeback because you can cherry pick a half-dozen teams from the multi-decade history of baseball that have done it is not realistic. Let's not end up there.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013


Over the past couple of days I've seen shout-outs to both Ian Desmond (from Boz) and Jordan Zimmermann (in my comments) saying "Hey! Look over here! These guys are awesome and you aren't appreciating them!" So how about a happy day for once? Let's look at these two guys

First things, first. While we can appreciate Ian Desmond, we can also be realistic about that appreciation. Ian Desmond is not Cal Ripken. Sorry Boz. It's not crazy to compare players like this, but you have to use the right comparisons, OPS+ not OPS.  Best years vs Best years, not one guys best years vs another's career. And fielding percentage? Are you kidding me?

So what can we say about Ian Desmond then that's fair?

In the last 2 years he has been as effectively offensively as Cal Ripken was in his first 10.

That may not seem impressive but Cal Ripken was a Hall-of-Famer. Ian Desmond is hitting like Cal in his prime. Not hitting like him at his max, mind you, but as he would in any random prime age year. Notice we do leave out defense. That's not really a dig at Ian. He was good last year and he's not hurting anyone this year. It's really that Cal was awesome in his time. There just isn't a comparison to make here.

I feel like I'm making Ian look bad. Stupid Boz, making me compare Ian to Cal Ripken.  Let's look at Ian vs his contemporaries.

Well he's no Troy Tulowitzki. And Jean Segura is having a great year. Jhonny Peralta is doing real well. And how about that Everth Cabrera. But Ian, Ian is definitely the 5th best SS in the majors this year. That's pretty good right? Right? Oh come on that's pretty good.

Ok this didn't go as I thought it would. What we're seeing here is a bit of an illusion. Ian really has been the best non-pitcher on the Nats this year (with Bryce out for as long as he has been) but that doesn't make him special. It's a .500 team with a terrible offense that he's the best of. Ian isn't a complete player. His fielding is at best adequate (when he cuts down on the errors) and he never walks meaning he makes alot of outs. But he can hit for a decent average with good pop and he can play SS, which let's the Nats forget about that potential trouble zone. He's good. He's very good. Be glad the Nats have him. But let's not move into reverence just yet. Let's see if he can compare favorably to Jhonny Peralta before we compare him to Cal Ripken, ok?

What about Zimmermann can we at least be positive about him?

Yes yes we can. I argued about a month ago that letting ZNN go wouldn't be a terrible thing because both Strasburg is better and Gio is at least as good. I still hold that that is the truth, though in all honesty, if contracts weren't an issue I'd choose ZNN over Gio.

Why? Because ZNN is seemingly improving in the areas he can improve. His walk rate (1.25 per 9) is the 3rd lowest in the league. His GB% has gone up significantly every year. 31% -> 43% -> 50%.  This is what you want to see from your pitchers. He could, I guess, strike out a few more guys, but he's getting the results he needs right now. I'll take a low K rate. Put no one on base, get a lot of GBs, let luck sort out if you happen to get dribbled to death by seeing eye hits one day.

Are more of those hits going to get through (.241 BABIP)? Sure. Are more of those FBs going over the fence (8.7% HR/FB rate)? Probably. But we're not talking collapse here.We're talking a 3.00 ERA instead of the low 2.00s. This is a guy good enough to be anyone's #2 and some (most?) teams #1. I would make signing him a priority.

Commentary Corner
I was sick and assume no ones going to check back in yesterday's comments to see if I responded so here it is in blog post form

Sirc - Yes it is strange that Haren's K rate is up with his career average. Part of it is the culture of strikeouts has been growing so more guys are striking out. He is getting worse in comparison. But still it's high. My theory is that guys are going after everything and when he can locate and.or has movement they'll miss. When he doesn't they kill it. Not much inbetweern

Chaz R - Storen trade rumors. I think they would deal him (now that Abad and Krol look good), especially if Mattheus looks good on return but I can't see him being a centerpiece of a deal. That wouldn't fetch much worthwhile.

C&S, sec 22, Froggy - My guess is this : They'll 15 day DL then bring him back for a few starts. I'm not sure what exactly the "fix" will be. I think they are hoping just some time off will help clear his head. If that fails they will probably 60 day DL him. I don't think DFA is an option, because no one is going to deal for him with that contract. You'd basically be DFAing him to get rid of him. 60 day DL pretty much does something similar (opens up his spot) without throwing him off the team. Double face save.

Dezo - I wouldn't say Span is the definitely the better choice, especially on offense. Upton still walks and hit for power so if you want to bet on his low average being a fluke, I can see that argument. Now as a complete player though - Span's D still puts him as the choice... for now. (BJ Upton in June .246 / .366 / .478   Denard Span in June .208 / .260 / .278)

Donald - it's more the Braves are unbeatable at home (Mets series excluded) and bleh on the road.

Monday, June 24, 2013

Monday quickie

Here's a joke, Mike Rizzo told me earlier in the year*

I went to the doctor and said "Doctor, It hurts when I do this!" The Doctor said "Well the alternative is doing something else, which may hurt more. I say keep doing what you're doing again and again and maybe eventually it won't hurt anymore"

Rim shot!

Finally though even Mike Rizzo couldn't ignore what was infront of him.  Dan Haren is bad right now. The reason isn't injury, it's apparently mostly age affecting velocity. but you can't go to the DL with that. This is bad news for the Nats, who were relying on Haren to eat innings and at least be decent, but it's worse news for Haren. He isn't just going to rest and come back and be good. He needs to be a different pitcher from here on out. Can he learn to do it? Maybe. Can he learn to do it fast enough to help the Nats? I'll be honest. I doubt it.

For now it's the Ohlendorf show. He's not the best option in the world, but sometimes you get lucky (My favorite example of this, which I'm sure you've seen me quote before is the 2005 Yankees. Struck down by injuries and bad pitching the Yankees had to throw out Aaron Small and Shawn Chacon for 21 games at year's end. They combined for roughly a 3.00 ERA and a 15-3 record. The Yanks won the AL East. Small would be out of baseball before the next season was over)

The offense is still trying to pull itself together, they are almost up to around 4.00 runs a game since the Twins double header!  (sounds unimpressive but they weren't much over 3 a game from late April until that doubleheader) But that's still not good enough. They are still waiting on Bryce to put them over that hump.

*Not true. Mike Rizzo and I only discuss the expanding role of women during the Gilded Age when we converse. Which is never.

Friday, June 21, 2013

The 3 outcome guy has become the 2 outcome guy.

On twitter, Chris Coxen asked me about the recent strikeout article that ESPN did. You can see it here but I'm sure you've heard/read something similar elsewhere.

The gist of it is "batters strike out too much, that's why runs are down" (though they do touch on what I'll go through below) It's not that simple. Working the count is good. Starters are usually better than relievers, certainly better than middle relievers, and effectiveness does decrease as pitch count increases. So work the count and get the starter out as soon as you can.

The problem is that the purpose of working the count has been perverted. You should be working the count to get on base and the effect on the starter is a very nice secondary effect. Players now are working the count in order to get a pitcher out of the game and getting on base through a walk is no more important than it was before. The end result is a more pitcher friendly counts. Given our love for the all or nothing hitter that means a lot more Ks. Sure home runs are increasing (or more accurately staying high) but creating more outs is more detrimental than hitting home-runs is helpful (at least at the rates they usually happen). 

More outs + same men on base = less runs. Regardless if you can hit a few more bombs out of the park.

(Graphs over the last 31 years 1982-2012)

They'll win tonight too

Or else the curse of untuck isn't real and that would be silly.

Defending Danny Espinosa

Recently Danny Espinosa has been sent down to the minors officially and I just want to reiterate, after reading comments and even columns that seem to suggest otherwise, that Danny Espinosa is not a terrible baseball player. He's not someone that normally would have an issue with major leag ue pitching. He doesn't strike out too much to play in the majors. He is not someone who's "offensive production steadily dwindled" (Sorry Kill-Gore)

He is a good player that got injured and for whatever reason is not getting surgery.

Let's just look at the facts here. Here are Danny Espinosa's minor league stats. Low average, good patience, good pop especially for the age/level combination. Yes, a lot of strikeouts which made you wonder, will he be able to keep up that average in the major leagues, or will major league pitching overwhelm him? A .210 average won't cut it but a .240 probably would. Cut to the majors

First call-up, it was a bit what you feared. The pop was there but the .214 average was just too low.  You needed to see how he did with more time.

First full season - .236 / .323 / .414.  The average picked up a bit and while he wasn't a star he was certainly a player you should keep playing. He was already worth starting and he could get better.

Second season after a slow start Danny picked up his game and was hitting .258 / .324 / .420 when he jammed his shoulder.  That right there is an above average hitting year. Better than the previous year by a touch. It is a tiny bit disappointing that he didn't break out but you'll take steady minor improvement. Plus he was so good in other areas (mainly defense, but a solid baserunner) and 2nd base was such a weak position that Danny was in the Top 5 2nd basemen in overall.

You read that right. As of Sept 8th, 2012 Danny Espinosa was likely somewhere around the 4th most valuable 2nd baseman in the major leagues. Even discounting defense entirely it is likely he was in the Top 10. 

Then he jammed his shoulder. He said he had no strength in it. But yet he kept wanting to play and the team kept putting him out there
Sept 8th on. : .171 / .247 / .271
Playoffs : .067 / .176 / .067*

Look familiar? 
2013 : .158 / .193 / .272 

So what happened? Does he finally get surgery? Nope. He gets sent down. Great.

Now a couple things could be happening here. Danny can't be forced to get surgery so maybe he's refusing it and the minor league assignment is punitive in a way (also necessary since he can't hit right now). But if this is the case why are they trying to change his swing mechanics? And why is Danny still not having surgery? It's one thing to say "I don't want to give up my spot to have surgery. I might lose it". It's another to say "OK, I lost my spot regardless, but I still don't want to have surgery because I need to work my way back ASAP". That's a little more stupid. It's not like he's making progress. He's doing terribly right now. Next is "OK I'm out of the majors but if I have surgery now, I might be too old to get another chance". It doesn't make much sense to me.

Of course the alternative, that no one on the team actually believes he's injured, makes even less sense. Do they think it's a swing thing that amazingly happened at the same time as when he injured his shoulder? What a goddamn coincidence. The numbers above are pretty irrefutable. 

I don't blame Danny for this. Players are going to want to play unless the actually physically can't. It's their nature. It's up to the team to pull them when they need to be pulled (I think you guys know of a QB that this might apply to). But at this point Danny has been pulled so the onus is back on him. He needs to get surgery. He needs to think about not 2013, not even 2014, but 2015 when he'll still be a cheap commodity and LaRoche will likely be gone. Zimm to first, Rendon to third... 2nd base opens up again.

Defending Storen... sort of

Rob Neyer in a recent column says that Drew Storen would make a good acquisition for a team needing a closer.  I don't necessarily disagree with a lot of his points, (so now being an established closer isn't enough for these guys? You have to be an established closer for a good team? What's next - "Kimbrel is ok but I want Brian Wilson. That guy saved games for a WS winner!") but he is way too dismissive of this year's performance. In particular he's too dismissive of Storen's HR/FB rate.

2011 : 11.1%
2012 :  0%
2013 :  13.8%

Obviously that 0% year is a fluke.  He does give up more than his share of home runs. At the same time he has pitched worse this year and given up more flyballs. So the homers are an issue. Also in 2011 he was great but he had a high-end LOB rate that made his performance look at bit better than it was.

Storen is a good pitcher right now. Good, not great.  Honestly he would be a fine pick-up for someone looking for a closer, but not because he's a special talent right now, because nearly anyone can be a decent closer if given the chance.  If you are looking for a great arm in the pen though, picking up Storen only makes sense right now if you are betting that his issues are all mental and that you can manage around that. Otherwise you just got yourself another ok arm.  

*It's a little talked about fact that in a series decided by a couple of close games the Nats failure to realize/accept Danny was injured and unable to hit as he normally would may have been a scale tipper.

Thursday, June 20, 2013


Says the simpleton. Of course some were convinced that the debacle loss to the Braves in mid-July last year, when the team was up 9-0 going into the final innings and ended up losing 11-10 in extras, was going to spiral the team down out of the playoffs. (they went 45-26 after that) There are no season changing wins (well... you know what I mean). There are only wins that take place at the beginning of a series of many wins that in retrospect people feel ok about assigning importance to. In other words a season changing win can only exist with multiple other wins happening. They are all collectively season changing.

And you know what - here's the chance for a season changing set of wins. 14 of the next 17 at home. the three away against the Mets. What do they need to do here? The first 7 I'll say 4-3 at home. That's a nice ramp up to winning 2 out of 3 at the Mets and taking 5 out of 7 vs the Brewers and surging Padres (that's right - check them out).  That's a 11-6 set and a 46-42 record heading into the last set of games before the All-Star break.

This isn't pennant winning baseball.They don't get a winning June here (they'd finish 13-13 through their supposedly easiest month). Given that it would likely take 3 great months to take the NL East crown.  But it is playoff baseball.  Keep this kind of modest winning going and they'll be in the mix.

They didn't turn the corner with the Mets and Twins at home (partially because of weather). They didn't do it on the road trip through teams that were bad last year so some were saying they must be bad this year. If they don't do it over the next 17, if they go something like 8-9 or worse, then pack it up. See you in 2014.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Ross Detwiler ERA Challenge Update! (and WIN)

Because who wants to talk about this lousy team

Right now Ross has an ERA of 3.34.  We'll round for the official winner but as for right now that's good enough.  Currently in the lead are :

3.33 bsimon24, Robert Gittings
3.35 Strasburger, Kevin Fries

My 3.65 is looking pretty good I think.  The real question is if Ross will pitch enough innings to qualify (164.1).  Right now he probably would, but miss a few more starts and that could be that. (Oh sure if it's close to 164 I'm not going to be a jerk about it)

As for the team...

A game like last night is trouble for fans. It was Cliff Lee v Ross Detwiler's first start back from injury. The Nats were likely going to lose regardless if they played like 2012 or 2008. But fans have seen enough losing that "they were supposed to lose" doesn't matter anymore. They've seen too many "they were supposed to win"s turn out the other way at this point.

Enough time has passed that we can see that 2012 was... well not an illusion, but a nearly maxed out result. We can't be putting too much weight on that. This isn't a team that will brush up against 100 wins because LaRoche and Desmond and Span and Werth and Suzuki, and the entire bench are not going to again put up numbers like they did last year (this includes D). Bryce may get better but that's not enough for the offense match last year. It doesn't mean they should be bad, but this was a team that averaged 4.5 runs per game last year, with everyone doing well and the bench playing out of it's mind. This year, league average would be more in line. (Boz pegged the Nats to actually be BETTER using "modest" assumptions - that's crazy)

This team out there now IS the team expected without Bryce in the lineup. Oh, ok yes Ramos should be there but we had no firm idea on how well he would play. And yes, Espy would be there but is anyone thinking Rendon won't at least match Espy's offensive production?  This is the Nats offense. It should still be decent without Bryce.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

DL Haren

Is he really injured? No, probably not. But it's the way you save face for pitchers doing badly that you don't want to outright cut.

Fancy Stat Time!

BABIP (ranges between .250 - .325) 
Career: .292  This year : .319

HR/FB (6%-13%)
Career:  10.8%  This year: 15.5%

LOB% (66%-80%)
Career:  72.9%  This year: 67.9%

On some level you want to believe he should turn more toward the averages, both of his career and baseball in general, and be better.  But these things aren't wildly off. Ok, maybe a few more balls stay in the park, but the BABIP, the LOB%? These could easily be the sign of a bad pitcher, too. They are in the range so it's not like it HAS to come back down.

K/9, BB/9
Career 7.58 / 1.88  This year : 7.09 / 1.49

Career :  42.8% This Year : 34.9%

The strike-outs and the walks might fool you.  His control seems great and he's striking out enough guys not to be worried about it. But the GB% tells the story. He's not fooling anyone here. He can't get anyone to hit the ball down anymore.

Why is that? Ben Duronio at Fangraphs explains it nicely.  Nearly everything Dan Haren throws is in the upper 80s. Guys can time pitches when they have the speed down. They may be fooled still by a pitch with good movement but they aren't going to be off-balance anymore. They are just hacking away at what Dan throws (11th in pitches swung at by opponent). We talked about this earlier but in 2011 when his FB velocity started to come down, he moved to a cutter that was devastatingly effective. At the time his FBs averaged 4.7 MPH faster than his cutter. Now it's 3.4.

To show you in another way how much pitch speed matters, here are two pitchers stats for balls (O-swing is precent of times the opponent swings at pitches outside the strike zone, Z-Swing is inside, others should be self-explanatory)

O-Swing 32.7%, Z-Swing 67.2%, Swing 49.5%, Contact 81.5%
O-Swing 34.6%, Z-Swing 63.5%, Swing 50.0%, Contact 82.6%

OK Guy #2 here is doing a little better perhaps because guys are swinging at more outside stuff and less inside stuff, but the numbers are pretty similar enough that you'd expect them to be relatively the same.

Guy #1 is Dan Haren
Guy #2 is Cliff Lee

Now check out pitch mix and (speed)

FASTBALL - 37.0% (89.2), CUTTER 40.4% (85.8), CURVE 3.7% (77.6), SPLIT FINGER 18.9% (84.8)

FASTBALL - 57.9% (90.7), CUTTER 19.5% (86.9), CURVE 8.1% (74.5), CHANGE 14.1% (84.2)

Cliff Lee's cutter is 3.8 MPH slower, Haren's is 3.4. Not too different. His change is 6.5 MPH slower, Dan's split is 4.4. That's a big difference. Lee's curve is 16.2 MPH slower. Haren's curve is 11.6. Big difference again. What's more is that Lee actually thows that curve more than twice as often as Dan throws his. Toss in the occasional 81MPH slider and Lee has a repertoire that can keep a hitter unbalanced.  It doesn't matter that they can "hit" Lee because they aren't hitting him well. The same can't be said of Haren.

This stuff matters as much as pure velocity. Jamie Moyer in his Phillies years had a fastball that averaged around 81MPH but because he could work in a 75 MPH chance and a 69 MPH curve 25-30% of the time he kept hitter off balance enough to survive.

Why not just pitch everything else slower? Sorry - doesn't work that way. For almost every pitcher you throw pitches at speed X. That's where you feel comfortable. That's where it works for you. That's where you have the movement and control you like. You've learned this over years and years of pitching. You can't just say "oh I'm going to throw my change 2 MPH slower because I lost 2MPH on my fastball."

Could Haren throw the curve more? Perhaps. But it's never been a great pitch for Haren. It would require him to be a different type of pitcher. One that doesn't look to set up a great cutter or slider or fastball, but instead really pitches to every batter never relying on a single pitch to get him out of trouble. It's a different mindset really.  And he'd need time to figure out how to do this. Say 15 days at least, maybe 60.


Here's a nice visual interpretation of pitch speed differences from Brooks Baseball.

Monday, June 17, 2013

Monday Quickie

It's the offense. I think we are all in agreement that it's the offense, right? It isn't Strasburg's fault. Have we gotten past this yet? (for those of you doubting people are calling him mediocre, check out the Nats' head cheerleader, "He's having a decent but mediocre season."  If HE'S saying it other people are thinking at least the same, if not worse)

It's the offense. We're all sure about that now. Sure Haren has been very bad but check out most NL staffs and you'll find a guy near or above 5.00.  That alone can't explain why the Nats are where they are.

It's the offense.

It's honestly hard to explain. The Nats added Rendon to replace the injured Espinosa and he's been lining balls all over the place. He's not going to keep it up (.500 BABIP) but there's no reason he can't have a good "Joe Randa's best year"-esque rookie campaign on the way to something more special in the future.  Werth is back and after the opening Mets series has been basically doing what he needs to (.424 OBP last 8 games).  How can the Nats add two bats and still can't score? It's because there's been a big crash by other players.

LaRoche : .091 / .167 / .136 in the last week
Span : .083 / .185 / .125

Suzuki is still bad.  That last OF position is still bad. There you go.  It's a lineup with 4 holes right now, not counting the pitcher.

What can the Nats do about it? I'm guessing nothing. Not unless they want to deal for a C or an OF. I want to say this is just bad luck. That the pieces are finally there, but the Nats are just going through a bad stretch, but I think that may be a bit too kind. The Nats have two holes with C and OF. That seems to mean within the remaining 6 spots, they can't have 2 guys slumping at the same time. You see what happens. They can be down a bit, or maybe one guy can slump. But 2 guys slumping require 3-4 guys being hot to have any offense going. The Nats only have 2 guys hot at the plate right now.

They NEED Bryce back. They need his bat because he's that good, and they need that extra batter of leeway, so a couple guys can slump at the same time without bringing the whole offense to a grinding halt.  

Quick Notes
  • What happened last year? The OF had a rough go early on with Morse out and Bryce not there yet, and the team wasn't scoring. But in a month+ they were back and the team was ok. Werth would go down but the bench covered for him better than expected. That left the only hole at catcher after Ramos went down. When the Nats got Suzuki he filled that hole for 2 months with better than expected play. So there was precious little time when the Nats had more than one hole and arguably 2 months with no holes at all.
  • That being said with all that luck the offense was still only good, not great. The pieces aren't here for a great offense. And unless LaRoche and Werth can have a renaissance while Bryce and Rendon hit their max expectations there won't be one here. Sorry. This is a pitching and defense team
  • And Span thanks god for that. He has been very good in the field at times having to cover for 2 OFs that shouldn't be out there (you try to play CF with a statue in right and a second-baseman in left) but any hope that Span was really 2012 Span at the plate and not 2010-2011 Span is gone. The batting average could bounce up a bit but no patience and no power mean that his just above average 2012 is what his best years will look like. Despite how Boswell is trying to rewrite history, the geeks knew this. It was his "going by the gut" type of fan that expected more. 
  • It's all fine and well to compare Rendon's numbers to Espinosa's, but doing it without noting Espy was injured at the time is terribly annoying to those of us that understood his unique value over the past couple years. Does this happen with other players? Did I just block out people saying how much better Bernadina was than injured Werth last year? 

Remember the goal was simply a winning record on this road trip. Baby steps. They have to win the series vs the Phillies to do that. But do it and there are still moving in the right direction. Never let one bad series get you too down (unless it's a sweep against a direct rival)

Friday, June 14, 2013

The mythical 3 game winning streak

On May 10th, 34 days and 30 games ago, the Nats beat the Cubs 7-3 to bring their winning streak to 5 games. They were at 20-15, 1 game behind the Braves, and ready to take their place among the best teams in the league after a slow start. That would be the last time they'd win more than 2 games in a row. Tonight they get another chance to get over than hump.

It's going to be an interesting series. Cleveland fancied itself a legitimate playoff contender through late May but they've been terrible going 4-16 over a 20 game stretch before winning their last 2. One team is going to come out of this little 3 game stretch feeling like they are never going to get back in this thing. The Nats could easily sweep this. Going for the Indians are three arms the Nats should score on. Masterson has been struggling, Kasmir is no good, and Kluber is an emergency old prospect call-up. Going for the Nats are three guys (Gio, ZNN, Stras) that could shut down their potent offense.

I don't have much to say other than this lineup is much different when you feature only 2 guys who are bad (Catcher and OF) rather than four (Catcher, OF1, OF2, 2B). When (if?) Bryce comes back it might actually be good. Nine hits and 3 XBH. It feels like it's coming together. Let's see them continue it this weekend and gather some momentum before they get to the Phillies series and some good starters.

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Keep winning?

Hey they listened. Good game.

Should Ohlendorf replace Haren? Not quite yet. The guy did have a 4.27 ERA in AAA before getting the call up and a 4.52 ERA in AAA last year. He doesn't strike out enough to make up for the fact he will give up walks. But hey, you want to gamble with him as opposed to Haren, feel free. It's not my 13 million that would be riding the pine.

The Nats are scoring some runs again. They've scored at least 5 runs in 3 of the last four games. Have they turned a corner? Well... they scored more than 5 runs 4 times in 6 games in late May, and 4 times in 5 games in early May. If they can do this for a few more games then we'll talk, but the signs are encouraging. They haven't had a really bad offensive game since the Atlanta series ended.  They've had at least 3 XBH in every game since but one, and at least 8 hits in every game but one. No, these aren't world beater numbers, they might not even be playoff numbers, but with a healthy pitching staff, they are good enough numbers to be in the coversation. Baby steps, people.

Who's hitting well. Rendon (.400 / .429 / .550) and Desmond (.421 / .476 / .474) are but those are highly influenced by big BABIP numbers. (if you can make contact, sometimes you'll just have good weeks)  I'm more interested in Werth's .316 / .409 / .526 line. Good patience, decent pop, backed up by nothing indicating luck.

I feel like Werth is the linchpin in this offense, because I feel he has to play and his recent results have been so disparate. With the other guys I feel like I know their level. But "Used to be great, is he injured or just aging or both" Werth is an enigma. Is he at a place where any injury is going to kill his production like it did in 2011? Is he a good average, low pop guy like it looked like at the end of last year? Or can he give the Nats just 1 or 2 more years of power threat Jayson Werth when healthy? When Bryce comes back and starts hitting again (which I completely take for granted), which Werth we see will make the difference between the Nats offense being good and the Nats offense getting by.

Remember the doom and gloom around the Nats is all conditional. The season is pretty much over IF the Nats don't pull out of this slide by the end of the month. But it's not the end of the month. They might be reversing course right now. If so, on July 1st we can talk about playoffs position and if a division title is possible again.  Everything wouldn't exactly be right again for an pre-season WS favorite, but it would be a lot better.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013


Seriously. It was funny for a while. Ha ha. We should be better. Not sure what's going on!  Ha ha. And hell, we can let the whole "there goes the division" thing slide, since if Atlanta wins 100 games that would have been tough to catch even with the Nats hitting on all cylinders. But now, now you're messing with the playoffs. Now you are allowing those morons who don't know baseball and who at the beginning of the year predicted that the Nats would win like 80 games because of such valid reasons like "What have the Nats won?" and "they are getting too full of themselves", you're letting these idiots have their day in the sun.

First off, it may be time to put Dan Haren out of his misery. We went over this in the comments yesterday but Dan Haren's problem is age and that's not a problem you solve. He's lost velocity on his fastball from almost 92 in 2007 to  barely over 89 now. This was fine in 2011 when he threw a devastating cutter. Now though, be it because of the injury, age again, or something else, that pitch is nothing special. He now has an arsenal of below average pitches. When he can locate he can overcome their mediocrity but make a mistake and he gets pounded. This means as soon as he gets tired he gets hit and at this age he gets tired fast. A .196 / .208 / .304 line in the first inning balloons to a .327 / .339 / .655 line by the second. What does it mean when the team's opposing PITCHERS are hitting .353 / .421 / .471 against you?

Yes, Haren has no walks and an average number of Ks which indicates some level of command but guys are teeing off on his mistakes. If he's on, fine, but he has to be on all the time or they will crush these slow fastballs and flat curves.  I'll take a longer look at the fancy stats and pitch stuff but this is what I see.

What about this road trip? 3 at Colorado, 3 at Cleveland, 3 at Phillies. Three middle of the road team. If the Nats truly are a .500 team and nothing better than 3-6 or 4-5 is the expecation level for a trip like this.  If they are something more then they have to come out of this set with a winning record. For their sake I'll go 1-2 vs the Rockies, 2-1 vs Cleveland, and 2-1 vs Phillies for a 5-4 record. They almost got the 4-2 from the little homestand (3-2 with a rainout) so that set us up for believing they could do this.

H-Rod for Ian Dickson is hysterical. I mean it's funny because even though I've said numerous times that H-Rod shouldn't be in this pen, it's still a terrible deal. H-Rod is worth more than Ian Dickson. H-Rod is a borderline major leaguer. Dickson is failing in A ball for god's sake. Would H-Rod ever get it? Is he useful for any good team that doesn't have 5-6 dependable arms ahead of him in a well-constructed bullpen? Not right now, no. But still he's a "stick it in AAA" kind of player, that you maybe call up in Sept one year and he goes on a run and you quickly deal for something that's not crap. This deal strikes me as more of a tantrum than a trade. After weeks of "You want him out? Well I want him in! He's going to be great! You'll see!" Rizzo finally yelled "Fine! He IS terrible." and threw his toy to the ground.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

It's not walking (well it is but that's not anything new)

The Nats problem is they don't walk, or so they say.  It is true that their OBP of .291 is crazy low, and if they kept it up over the whole year it would be one of the worst OBPs in modern times. But this is the Nats

Last year .261 average, .322 OBP
This year .234 average, .291 OBP

It's not walking that's killing the Nats.  If we look at isoOBP (getting on base with the base hits pulled out) the numbers look like this

Last year : .061
This year : .057

Virtually identical. It's not that the Nats aren't walking. The Nats never walked. Its that the Nats aren't hitting.

Is this an BABIP thing? Perhaps. Their BABIP last year was .308, among the highest in the league. This year it's .281 among the lowest.  What if they were getting a number like last year?  That's another 41 hits, or a line that reads .254, .311 OBP. Much closer to last year's than where they are now.

So that's it then. Wait until the BABIP goes up to .308 and the Nats will be fine. Except the BABIP won't go up to .308, the league average is around .295.  The Nats won't likely ride regression back to a good offense. Plus, we're forgetting about SLG.

Last year : isoSLG (pulling singles out of it) .167
This year : .141

While their isoOBP is down around 6.5%, it's the slugging that's really killing them. They are down about 15.5% from last year's final total. I want to look at three people inparticular

LaRoche : .198 this year, .238 last year
Desmond : .198, .218 
Zimmerman : .162, .196

Why do I want to look at these three? Here's their isoSLG on June 10th last year

LaRoche : .232
Desmond : .174 
Zimmerman : .108

Both Desmond and Zimmerman hit the ball a lot harder as the year went on.  LaRoche didn't exactly but his stats on June 10th, 2012? .258  10 homers.  His stats on June 10th, 2013?  .252 10 homers. He may not reach the heights of last year thanks to fewer doubles and walks but there's no reason the notoriously slow starter can't hit .270 with 30 homers again.

There is hope. Now they need Bryce back and the starting pitching needs to get healthy and that 5th spot needs to be fixed and someone else from the bench or another spot in the lineup has to do something. But there is hope.

Monday, June 10, 2013

100 games

What do the Nats need to do to make the playoffs?

To win the Division : let's say, for the moment, 96 games (the Braves are on 100 win pace right now but to beat that the Nats would have to play like the best team ever here on out. Let's give the Nats a reachable goal here) To get to 96 the Nats would have to win 65 more games in the next 100, or a 105 win pace.  That's a tall order.  It can be done sure, but there basically can't be a bad two-week period. One single more .500 level month would likely do this dream in.

To win a WC based on last year / history : 89 would have done it last year and history tells us that that number is a virtual lock in all but the rarest years. That's another 58 wins, or a 94 win pace. Basically the Nats would have to play as well as they did last year (without the smidge of luck they had in close games) for the rest of the season. We know it's possible. They did it over 162 just last year. But you see that it's a high hurdle here as well.

To win a WC based on current projections : Uh oh. Here's where the big problem lies. To win the WC right now based on current projections the Nats would need... 96 wins. That's how much we said they needed to maybe win the division and then we said that was pretty close to over with. Here are the current paces of the playoff teams ahead of the Nats so far.

Cards : 105 wins
Braves : 100 wins
D-backs : 90 wins

Cincy : 95 wins
Pirates : 95 wins
Giants : 86 wins
Rockies : 86 wins

Can these teams keep it up? Well with Ryan Braun likely about to be suspended for a huge chunk of the season the bottom of the NL Central is terrible. I'm not sure that I'd expect 3 teams to win 95 games in the same division but they don't have to necessarily cool down. Really what this means is that hosting a WC looks like as daunting a task as winning the division. The Cards are so far ahead you can't see them finishing outside of the 90s in wins, and if one of the Pirates and Reds falter to give the Nats an easier path to the WC well then the other one is likely the beneficiary of that and is continuing to win a bunch of games.

On the plus side the NL West does not look to be a big impediment to the Nats, or at least it shouldn't be if the Nats are serious about making the playoffs. Here's the fun thing then. The Nats play the Rockies 7 times in the next 13 games. The best thing the Nats could do is crush those Rockies, knocking them as far from contention as possible while helping their own cause. They don't get the same chance with anyone else in front of them before the trade deadline (they play ARI 3 times and the Pirates 4 times, but catch PIT at the very end of July when they may have already made some moves)  In the next two+ weeks they have an opportunity to knock a team out of the game, right before they may start thinking about adding players to get better. They need to do that.

Other quick thoughts :

On Rendon for Espy : Espinosa needed to go. He needs to have surgery. I hope he realizes that a healthy Espy is not the loser in a situation with Rendon called up and hitting well. No the loser is either an asking for way too much Desmond, or more likely 2015 LaRoche. This is a defensive minded team. If Espy get healthy and hits like he can they'll be a place for him and his "not a FA until 2017" butt on this squad

On Marrero for Moore : About damn time. Marrero also gives the Nats very little. He's not a plus defender. He's got no speed and little patience. But he can hit for some pop and he makes better contact.  Moore needed to go. He hadn't hit well in months, including last year. Chris was the obvious choice to fill that bench spot.

On Cristian Garcia being injured : TOLD YOU. Please. If this guy completes more than one season as a major league starter before he's done I'll be shocked.

On Bryce Harper's knee stuff : They need Bryce. They do not win enough games to make the playoffs without him. That's it.

Friday, June 07, 2013

Still on vacation

Oddly enough ran into the Nats offense yesterday. Man was that guy having a good time. I'm not sure he's ever coming back.

(Honestly the team NEEDS Bryce healthy. That's a game changer if he's out much longer. The drop off to the fill-in is huge and everyone else isn't going to have the years they had in 2012.  Bryce making up that regression was a big part of the offense remaining good.)

Wednesday, June 05, 2013

Sitting on a beach, earning 3.5% or so I think

Why oh why did I cash out those bearer bonds and put them into a Bank of America savings account?

OK so I'm on vacation and the Nats finally do something and then they won.  Hooray?

I question big time the timing of these moves.  As sports guys et al have noted earlier, that Braves series marked the end of any tough series the Nats.  Sure I don't think the schedule upcoming is as easy as some have made it out to be, but the truth is it isn't hard. They will start winning more regardless of the make-up of the roster. It's just going to happen. By waiting until yesterday to make these moves you guarantee that the moves will be associated with more winning, even if it would have happened on some level anyway.  It's a brilliant strategical move to make yourself look better.  It's a terrible move though to stand pat on moves that were obvious weeks ago.

But this is all speculation.  Perhaps Rizzo isn't trying to maximize the perception of his own value. Perhaps he really just is dumb and it took him this long to think that Espy needed a break, and that Duke and H-Rod weren't major league roster material on a team looking to the playoffs. I'm willing to hear that argument.

The important thing is that these moves were made. Were the moves the right ones, specifically. No. Espinosa needs surgery on his shoulder. His entire professional career says he's not this type of hitter. To shame him with a stay in the minors? That's crap. Then why do it? Because Rizzo knows that Espinosa back to his normal self gives them the best chance of winning. Even though last year was a fluke, Desmond still has ok range. Zimm has lost some range so Desmond should shade toward Zimm. Espinosa's superior range makes that possible. Put someone else at 2nd and you open up bigger holes in the infield for a team geared toward giving up ground balls. It's extra outs, extra pitches, the team doesn't want.

The associated Rendon move is a panic one. He's the only hitter worth anything in the minors so they bring him up a coupel days after Davey was saying it might take him months to learn 2B in AAA. It's not that moves made out of panic are bad ones, but let's call it what it is. You don't push someone to AAA for two days. That's not a plan. I'm sure he'll be ok at 2nd. But he won't be Danny.  He'll have to hit like hell to make it worthwhile and I'm not sure he's THAT good a prospect.

DFAing Duke and H-Rod? That's fine.  Someone may pick up Duke. But it's an acceptable loss. Looks more like last year was the aberration and he'd only be a fair arm at best in the pen.  Replaceable.  If someone else wants to deal with the H-Rod problem. I say let them.

Ok so back to baseball for real. Nats win. Barely but oh so necessarily.  1 win down. 3 to go minimum in this little 6 game set.  I'm pretty sure they'll do it.

Monday, June 03, 2013

No More Losing

The line in the sand has to be drawn somewhere and for the Nats it's right here, right now.  The Nats are a game below .500 staring at a very winnable 6 game stretch of home games. If they can't go at least 4-2 I'm calling the division. Silly? Yep. Usually when you call something like this you at least have the benefit of multiple teams standing in the way of your team and their goal. In the NL East, the Braves are the only team ahead of the Nats so all it would take is them to fail and the Nats to perk up to take it.  But if they can't win 4 of 6 at home vs the no-Harvey Mets and Twins, with Werth back in the line-up, I don't know why I'd believe they can make up serious ground on a very decent Braves team. (There's always injury I guess?)

Let's say the Nats can't win 4. Hell let's say they win 2. Panic.  But it's early right? No. Mid-June is not early. They'd be 2-6 for June looking at a road swing versus two decent (though maybe slumping a bit) teams in the Indians and Rockies*, and the thorn-in-their-side Phillies. Why expect the Nats to have a winning record on a swing like that when they can't beat a bad Mets team and a bad (though streaking) Twins team at home? Then it's home again for the Rockies and the legitimitely good Diamondbacks. And then? Then it's June 28th and the month is over. July may be very kind to the Nats but it can't alone make up for 3months of bad play.

Then again let's say the Nats win 4.  4-4 for June. If they can beat those teams at home, like a good team should, well then maybe there's reason to believe they've righted the ship and can manage to come through a fair road stretch and home set on top. Now you're  a few games over with an legit easy first 3 weeks in July staring at you.  The kind of stretch 14-4s are made of.

I'm not saying the Nats have to win the next two series. But they kinda do. At least if they want Nats fans to have any faith that something better is on the horizon and this is not just a team who may use that easy July stretch to put them back into serious Wild Card contention.

*Can I say something here?  Some people are fond of saying the schedule is easing up on the Nats because they are playing teams that haven't been good since 2012. Who cares how they did in 2012? Some teams change and get better, others change and get worse. 2012 is a footnote in comparison to how they are doing now and how they are doing now is ok. It's not bad. It's not like the Nats have a bunch of dominoes set-up to be knocked down. Not in June at least.