Nationals Baseball: July 2013

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

I got nothing, like the Nats offense

What can I say?  It's not like the Nats are going to beat the Tigers. If I had remembered to do so I would have predicted a Tiger 2-game sweep. They are the better team at home. (followed by winning 2 out of 3 over the Brewers). But you WANT them to beat the Tigers away because that would kind of prove that the Nats aren't an also-ran but a contender and thus these games still are frustrating.

Last night's talk was mostly of Strasburg's one bad pitch, which really wasn't one bad pitch, he had to load the bases somehow, but it was something to take the onus away from the terrible hitting which was once again terrible.

In July the Nats have basically had their core team playing. Bryce came back on the 1st. Ramos only July 4th. How is this team doing in July? At first it doesn't look bad.  They are 6th in R/G in the NL.  6th in OPS. Not great but a lot like last year overall. If the pitching was elite (which it's not) then the Nats could make a move. But the ranking hides a truth.

3rd 4.85 R/G
5th 4.16 R/G

6th 4.04 R/G

8th 3.93 R/G
13th 3.52 R/G

The Nats are closer to 8th place than to 5th. They are closer to 13th than 3rd. This isn't a noticeably above average offense which you might think seeing the 6th place ranking. They have everyone back. All cylinders are firing and they are... average.

An average-ish team in one aspect can still be carried by an elite group in the other aspect (see : Giants, SF 2010) but the Nats don't have elite pitching this year.

Also the Nats offensive numbers are skewed by the team's strange distribution of runs.  We've talked about this before but the Nats either don't score or score a bunch.

Only the Marlins have scored 2 runs or fewer more times than the Nats (53 to 49, Padres are next at 44). On the other hand, the Nats have scored 5 or more runs 42 times, good enough for 6th in the NL. Here's where it gets weird. The Nats have scored 3 or 4 runs in only 16 games. The next closest team is Colorado with 22 games. They've only scored 4 runs 4 times. (That would set a "record" if you must know) For those of you that like graphs, here is the Nats run distribution:

It's just a quirk of the system sure, but it misleads.  It means the Nats are playing more games where the outcomes are pretty well set. Score two runs or less and you lose over 70% of the time (in the 2013 NL). Score 5 runs or more and you win over 70% of the time. The Nats W-L record when factoring in their run distribution drops another game, to 49 wins. The same weird distribution holds true in July. 14 games with 2 or fewer runs scored.  2 games with 3 or 4 runs scored. 4 games with 5 and 6 games with 7 or more. It's just... odd.  The end result is that the Nats offense isn't even is as average as it seems, not even with everyone back.

Maybe there is a next gear for the Nats offense, but even popping it right now it's probably too late. We'll see. Nine out by Braves series... Here's hoping.

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Trade Soriano?

No they really shouldn't. Oh they can kick the tires on some deals, see if anyone is offering up a "next-year" top prospect for Rafeal. You know, just to see. If the Cardinals were like "Sure you can have Oscar Taveras." you do it. But barring that there is no reason to sell Soriano.

The Nats are in a funny spot. For many baseball analysts you are either a buyer or a seller. Buyers are teams with a good shot of making the playoffs (or really now with the play-in game, with a good shot of winning a division). Sellers are everyone else. For them everyone else should purge themselves of any 30+ year old veteran near the end of a contract for whatever organizational filler they can get. It's the way to win.

Except it's not. Well, not explicitly.  Look through the rosters of the teams that are winners right now and you'll see that these teams are by far mixes of draft picks and free agent signings. The "prospects" they have gotten back in deals when they were out of the playoff mix are few and far between. Part of the reason is that there just aren't enough of these type of deals done to matter to your team. How many veterans can you sell off a year? 2 or 3? Usually for low-level stuff in return. And that stuff has in general gotten worse over the years as teams realize the value (and in some respects over-value) their young talent and refuse to part with the best of it.

So you don't usually directly win by trading off veterans for young players.  For every John Smoltz there are a dozen Kyle Drabeks. How do you win then by doing it? Well there are two indirect ways. One is based on a terrible flawed theory that I hate and want to punch everyone whenever I see someone hinting at it. The other one helps a little.

The helps a little one is getting bad. You trade your veteran players. This makes you a worse team. You win fewer games. You get higher draft picks. The end. It's a cycle that matters but only if you can get so much worse that the draft picks you get are more than just a couple spots away, or if you are so bad that you might get one of the top slots. The Nats were masters of this.  In 2008 they were fighting for the worst spot. They dealt away Rauch and Ayala and when they couldn't get anyone to bite, they outright cut Felipe Lopez and Paul LoDuca. They finished the season on a 15-31 slide (6-17 at the very end) which got them Strasburg. In '09 they traded Hanrahan, Beimiel, Nick Johnson, and Ronnie Belliard among other pieces and crashed so hard (12-31) that even a 7 game win streak to end the year couldn't get them out of last.  Hello Bryce Harper.

Of course you can see both of these mattered because it was the difference in getting a generational talent or not. Now the Nats would be fighting between what? A 20th pick and a 16th pick? At that point I'm not sure getting worse really matters. It can't hurt, I guess.

The other way, the one that angers my blood, is what I like to call the "money bucket" theory. In this theory, there is only so much that is going to be spent on baseball. Money spent on veteran players is money that can't be used to sign better free agents next year, help resign your own guys, do work and sign guys internationally, and use on player development. It's better to get value on your dollar when you win so you have as much money as possible to do everything else. THIS IS NONSENSE. BASEBALL OWNERS ARE SUPER RICH AND COULD THROW AS MUCH MONEY AT THE TEAM AS THEY WANT. THERE IS NO MONEY BUCKET THAT ONCE IT IS EMPTY THERE IS NO MORE MONEY FOR BASEBALL.

If you go along with this line of thinking you are complicit in your ownership being cheap bastards. You, therefore, are also a bastard.

Anyway, I've rambled off topic a bit. The Nats are not going to get much better by selling veterans off. The return won't likely be good. The amount they would get worse (especially dealing a closer) would be minimal. Their owner seems committed right now to spending money to win. Most importantly the Nats aren't a rebuilding team. They are a team built for now that is hopefully having an off-year. Next year they want to, expect to, win.

The Nats have a good pen. Not a great one. We don't know if Storen is going to come back. I've expressed great admiration for Clippard but he has been used heavily and is getting up there in age (well,  in baseball age).  Abad and Krol are is a both rookies. Stammen is ok. Mattheus got injured. The Nats need a Soriano type to anchor this pen.  Do I wish they had one that was cheaper and not an ass? Yes. But they have what they have and he is at the very least a good reliever in hand right now.

If the Nats weren't ready to win then I'd say trade Soriano anyway. Who cares if a bad team has a bad pen?  But the Nats have a core that they believe can win. Ramos, Desmond, Zimm, Werth, Bryce, Strasburg, Gio, ZNN, Clipp. They have young guys they think can help right away Krol, Rendon. They have a window set up right now until about 2016-7. At that point Werth is too old, Zimm is probably too old, and they can't keep everyone else signed. They want to try in 2014 & 2015, not trade away talent with the hopes of finding something that works in the meantime all for the chance at maybe being slightly better in 2016 than they would be anyway.

Unless Soriano can return something that helps as much as Soriano would next year it makes no sense to trade him. That is assuming you think this Nats core is still good enough to win a division in the next couple years. I do. 

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.

Friday, July 26, 2013

Sweep the Mets!

Of course we'd all like to see the Nats in the playoffs but they dug themselves quite a hole. There's a long way to go to get out so I find it better to focus on the intermediate steps first and worry about the playoffs when (if) it comes to that.  Immediate goal : Sweep the Mets.  Intermediate goal : Reach the August 5th Braves series no further out than they are now. We're basing hope on the "Nats sweep Braves rest of the year" theory. If they enter that series 8 games out (or hopefully less) and manage a sweep, then I think it's worth while holding onto the dream.  If not...  At the very least Nats fans can have one last "big game" to rally around.

The first goal isn't modest but it seems doable outside of the Harvey game (ed note - There you go, Hoo). Still the Nats are inexplicably relying on Dan Haren tomorrow. Taylor Jordan is always a cross-your-fingers type of guy who any given day could get beat by the ground balls having eyes. Who knows what to expect from Ohlendorf? At least they have Zimmermann starting it off, right?  Right?

Oh you must be quiet because you, like me, noticed that ZNN has been TERRIBLE in July. And it wasn't just the last game. He wasn't good vs Milwaukee, didn't impress vs the Padres, and things could have / should have ended up worse in Philly. The Dodger beatdown wasn't a surprise, it was unavoidable given how he was pitching.

What's up with ZNN? Well it could be bad luck or it could be bad pitching. Probably a little of both. His BABIP is too high (.377) and the HR/FB rate is the same (22.2%) but you can't just say it's gotta come back down to normal. These things can get high by the balls bouncing through the right hole and drifting over short fences. They can also get high because you are getting hammered. There is some evidence ZNN is getting hit harder.

His LD% is up at the highest it's been all year at 28.6%.  He's given up 10 doubles in his last 4 starts, when he had given up 17 (and two triples) in his previous 16 outings. The contact rate for batters facing him is up, which isn't a bad thing when paired with GBs, but LDs are another matter. Everything out of his hands is just a tick slower in a game where ticks matter.

I'm not going to say anything yet. One of the worst things you can do with data is start drawing conclusions from a small amount of information. Yeah, his fastball has been slower in July, but it was its fastest for July in the Dodger game. That didn't quite work out, did it? Conclusions from data play out over the course of months (if that), not games. Instead look at these things as just some things to watch for tonight. Does he have that good fastball speed? Do his off-speed pitches seems to have good movement? They've been a little flat. Are batters jumping on his first pitches? His first strike percentage is way up which should give him an advantage but not if it's based on guys whacking that first pitch. 

The Nats need ZNN at the top of his form to have any chance. Hopefully tonight he bounces back nicely.

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Bryce Harper - Superstar! or Superstar?

How nice of Davey Johnson to illustrate my point yesterday.  There was no need for Storen to pitch at that moment. Only Krol (who has now become Davey's go to guy) had pitched in the last two games making him off-limits. Clippard was available. Soriano hadn't pitched since the 20th. If you felt like you had to keep the game close to have a chance to win it you NEEDED to bring in one of those guys. But out comes Storen because righties were up and he's the righty non-8th inning or closer guy right now. Oops.

That alone didn't cost the Nats the game (but can you at least admit he pitched poorly, Dad?). Neither did the missed call on the tag. The main reason the Nats lost the game was that the offense stunk again.  We can point to any number of reasons why the offense is still flailing despite everyone being back and presumably healthy (have you seen Rendon in July? This is why I warn you people not to get too excited. It's HARD to be good in the majors) but the main reason, in my mind, is the descent of Bryce Harper.

Let's get this out right now. Bryce hasn't just been bad since coming back from injury.  He's been bad since April ended.

April : .344 / .430 / .720
May : .193 / .319 / .368
July : .214 / .329 / .329

Now he wasn't likely to keep up that April.  The BABIP was a little high (.338) and the HR/FB rate was also up there (30%). What you see in May was the reverse luck on BABIP (.198). See it all the time, nothing to worry about. Given Bryce still walked a decent amount and his power was still seemingly good (thanks to a 27.3% HR/FB rate - again on the high end) he was still somewhat effective. But it turns out that May was an illusion and we're finally seeing through it in July.

In May Bryce's power still looked good, but that was a fluke of the HR/FB rate. It's not that you can't have a HR/RB rate over 25% in a month. It happens all the time. But it doesn't give you a true indication of a guys power overall since even the sluggiest of sluggers usually fall in the 20%-25% for a season. To check power it's also helpful to look at other XBH. In April Bryce hit 6 doubles and 1 triple. In May Bryce hit 1 double. That's it. That's worrisome.

Fast foward to July. You all remember that he came back and hit a home run on his first at bat, right? Do you all know he hasn't hit one since? He does have 3 doubles and a triple but it looks like the drop in power from April might be harder to shake off.  Worse is that batting average.  In May you could blame luck. In July his BABIP is .286. That's actually pretty reasonable. What's going on? He's striking out A LOT more.

April : 15%
May : 19.7%
July : 25.9%

Even though his luck has turned for balls in play, his average isn't going up because he's not putting as many balls in play. That's a disturbing trend.

Monthly swing data isn't easy to come by but I can tell you overall for the season nothing looks funny in the fancy stats. Of course that could be (probably is) that he was doing super good early and terrible now so take it with a grain of salt.

What I can tell you is that pitchers are pitching him differently in May and July as compared to April.  He's getting a lot more sliders and two-seam fastballs (presumably I'm not sure exactly how these sites tell this). He's getting more pitches down and away than in April, too. So maybe the pitchers are figuring him out, but before you go down that path I'll let you know that he saw a lot of off speed stuff down and away last year too. Despite that, in September he hit .330 / .400 / .643.  The pitch mix isn't exactly the same, he's certainly seeing more sliders and two-seamers than he has in the past, but I have a hard time buy that that's the only reason for the decline. 

You can armchair psychologist this if you want.  Another road to look down might be the injury route, but before the knee, I might look in this direction. Really there is no good place to get injured and if this was more than a mild bruise and it got overlooked because of the more immediate knee issue, well it could be something. Mike Morse hit for less power last year than he has in recent memory. Mike Morse injured his lat last year. Of course it could also be nothing. I'm just guessing here. Looking in through the window. The hope is the Nats are being more thorough and have covered this base.

Either way I'm not inclined to say "Bryce Harper was so overrated!" just yet. I'm not convinced it's the league catching up to him and anything else I can think of- luck, pressure, mild injury - should go away in the offseason if not sooner. He adapted to the league just fine over the course of last year and he still can't legally drink in America until October.  Smart money is still on him.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

The Tragic Misuse of Tyler Clippard

While the Nats have struggled this season, there is one player who may actually be living up to the lofty standards we had for the team when starting 2012. Out of relief pitchers used with any regularity this season Clippard ranks 5th in ERA at 1.85.  His WHIP stands at 0.87.  It's a little fluky to be sure, his .172 BABIP isn't something you can bet on every year, but this is the pitcher that Clippard has been since 2009. Here are his BABIPs since that season :

2009 : .197
2010 : .284
2011 : .197
2012 : .259
2013 : .172

Being under .200 is kind of fluky but he's a guy who despite giving up no groundballs (22.0% this year, not over 29.8% in last 5) is still kind of hard to hit. He's also been pretty consistent in keeping balls in the park.

2009 : 11.1%
2010 : 6.7%
2011 : .9.5%
2012 : 6.8%
2013 : 5.5%

Combine this with an acceptable walk rate and a good ability to strike out guys (9.9 K/9 this year, best on Nats) and you've got a guy who's going to be an effective pitcher at worst, a damn good one when things break his way, like this year. Plus he's been crazy durable.  He's appeared in the 7th most games since 2009 and has pitched the most innings of anyone who hasn't started a game during that time.

All this suggests he should be a potential go to guy coming out of the pen, and he has been used 44 times this year (one less than appearance leader... Drew Storen?) The problem is when he's come in.

Only 5 times out of 44 appearances has Tyler Clippard come into a game when it wasn't 0 on, 0 out, none since May 29th. Only 6 times (inluding last night) has Tyler Clippard appeared in a game when the Nats were behind. None of the two instances overlap. Clippard has only entered a game in a situation where he had to clean up someone else's problem to keep the Nats in it twice (well maybe 3 times).  On April 20th he entered a tie game with a man on 2nd and 2 out.  On May 29th he entered a tie game with a man on 2nd and no one out. (On May 17th he entered a game with men on 1st and 2nd, but ahead 2 and with 2 outs, so I don't count that, maybe you would).

By vitrtue of appearing in the 8th in so many low scoring games Clippard's leverage index (an attempt to use potential win probability change to measure pressure of a situation) isn't bad. But it's still lower than Storen and if we look at specific situations it looks, and is, all out of whack.

# times in a game with runners on
Clippard : 5
Storen : 10
Stammen : 9 (in 33 games)

# times in a game with runners on and the Nats within 2 runs of the other team
Clippard : 3
Storen : 7
Stammen : 4

# times in a game where Nats were 3 or more runs from the other team (ahead or behind)
Clippard : 19
Storen : 14
Stammen : 13

# times in a game where Nats were 4 or more runs from the other team (ahead or behind)
Clippard : 12
Storen :  7
Stammen :  10

Ok so it does look like Stammen is getting more mop up duty but those early numbers are the ones that should bother you.  Ian Krol has appeared in 17 games. He's already matched Clippard the number of times coming in with runners on base (5) and has been in more tight scenarios in these cases (4).  Abad, 22 games, 3 with men on, 2 of those within 2 runs, isn't far behind. Even Ryan Mattheus who's only seen action 14 times, has been called in with men on base 3 times. Hell Ohlendorf has done it twice in 7 games.

The point is this; it's easily arguable that the two most reliable arms in the Nats pen are Rafeal Soriano and Tyler Clippard. In classic fashion Soriano has been pinned to the 9th inning and frankly, for him, that may be the only answer. He's a big baby who can't handle anything outside of normal expectations. Clippard though, Clippard has been everything in his major league tenure. Starter, closer, long relief, and the guy you use in important situations to get you out of jams.  In fact that's how he was used in the past with the Nats.

2010 : 1.4
2011 : 1.7
2012 : 1.6
2013 : 1.2

Forget the math behind this and focus on what this is saying. In 2013, in a year the Nats goal was "World Series or Bust" they took one of their best arms previously used in all sorts of sticky situations and stuck him in an 8th inning only role. They took him away from the most pressure filled situations, where games are won or lost, and replaced him with lesser arms because that's the way things roll stop questioning conventional wisdom have you ever held a tape recorder in the face of a guy wearing only a towel?!?! Then shut it!!(sorry got taken over by Jason Reid there for a second)

We don't get to talk about this much with winning teams, because most fans and reporters want things to stay as is.  Clippard in the 8th only but the team is going to win 95 games? Don't rock the boat people! Since the Nats are losing though maybe, just maybe the team can do something about this misuse of an asset. This isn't something that's going to turn the Nats into a winner, but it's one of the little reasons, a forgotten one perhaps, on why this year's Nats aren't as good as they could be.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Dead dog

At this point there is nothing other than inertia keeping Dan Haren going out to the mound every 5th day. If the Nats are serious about trying to launch a late season comback, Haren has proven he can't be trusted to go out and give the Nats a quality start. If the Nats are ready to throw in the towel, giving Haren the ball is pointless given that he won't be here next year.

He's not eating innings (Less that 5 1/2 per game). He's getting blown up often (5 times in 18 games he's left with the Nats trailing by at least 5 runs).  He's the 2nd worst qualified starter by ERA in the majors this year. If you believe his HR tendencies are a fluke perhaps he can bounce back, if you don't he's likely calling it a career.

The pitch data isn't in yet, but I can tell you that yesterday's game looks a lot like the rest of his awful season. Guys hitting everything for line drives or fly balls (only 4 GBs vs PIT), waiting on pitches and crushing them when they guess right. He's right when he says that this season he's getting punished for his mistakes. What he fails to realize is there's a reason behind that. Every pitcher makes mistakes. Some more than others but no one throws the perfect pitch every time. When your thing is not missing the plate, your mistakes are more likely to be hittable. When your repertoire isn't distinct enough, your mistakes are more likely to be hit hard.

Up next for Haren would be the Mets who have a surprisingly acceptable offense this season. Then after a stop in Milwaukee, it would be the Braves.  Do you want him pitching that game under any circumstances? Why wait then? Pull the trigger now so you aren't sending up a rookie in his first start to do battle in a must-win situation.

It was a gamble. It wasn't even necessarily a bad gamble. But it failed miserably. Time to wave the white flag. Time to throw out Caleb Clay or Taylor Hill and see if they can be the depth the Nats need next year or if they'll have to go and sign a bunch of mediocre major leaguers to roster fill Syracuse in place of the Mayas and Tatuskos that should be cut.

Where did I go wrong? 

Like most pundits I had the Nats winning the NL East this year. I wasn't as gung-ho about it as some but 94 wins was still a solid total. Looking back it's pretty easy to see what I had wrong. I knew the offense was going to regress. However, I thought that the combination of Werth full-time, Ramos full-time and improving, Bryce full-time and improving, and Espinosa possibly improving would cover for the regression elsewhere. It would be a safety net of sorts that would catch the offense that was falling. What happened? Espinosa was hurt. Bryce got injured. Ramos got injured. Werth also got injured for a little bit. The safety net disappeared to be replaced by a downdraft slamming the Nats to the bottom of the NL.

Such is the life of a pundit. You know injuries will happen but you don't know to whom and when. Imagine this alternate scenario : Espy has surgery early and is replaced by Rendon. Span goes down and is replaced by Bernie for a month and a half. Ramos goes down late and is replaced by a rested Suzuki in Sept. That happens and maybe the offense doesn't miss a beat. But Espy plays through it, Bryce goes out, and Ramos goes out? Everything is going down and nothing is coming up to match it.

I also said Haren would not be a disaster. So much for that.

Read this by the way.  Great piece on how the Nats could fail so miserably with seemingly most of the starters hitting/pitching like you thought they might.

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.

Friday, July 19, 2013

Any moves on the horizon?

The Nats head into the last 70 or so games looking like they'll stick to the same plan in which they started the season. Keep everything the same and hope it all goes according to plan. It doesn't sound like a good idea but the Nats don't really have a ton of better options.

It's the offense that has failed the team but now that everyone is finally healthy and playing together I don't see anywhere they could make a deal and substantially improve the team.  Really, who do you trade over? Span is the only real option and the possibilities here don't excite anyone.  Trade for De Aza and have a terrible fielding OF? Take a chance on Denorfia? Move Bryce over, trade for Alex Rios and hope he hits better? The only move worth making is for Stanton and the Marlins wouldn't trade him for anything less than the entire Nats farm system (if they'd even trade him in division... if they'd even trade him).  

No, the Nats made their OF move and that was trading for Hairston. He should play vs tough lefties while Span sits. Not really anything more you can do.

In the infield everyone is entrenched so unless you want to do something radical like trade for Morse and platoon him and LaRoche (not a terrible idea if Morse is being given away), again we turn to the bench. Given that the starters are all good with the bat, really the bench has to be glove-focused. There are plenty of back-up glove men available for a song out there, but why deal when you have one in the minors right now in Espinosa? Bring him back up, say bye bye to Lombo and there you go. Easy fix.

I suppose Tracy could also be replaced but there aren't many decent lefty bats out there. Ibanez? He would cost too much to park on the bench for 90% of the time. I'd say if anything bring up Steven Souza and see if he can pull a Tyler Moore 2012.

So that leaves pitching. A month ago a LH relief pitcher would have been paramount but both Abad and Krol have been good enough to no longer feel that's necessary. One of those guys, Soriano, Clippard, Stammen and/or Mattheus, Ohlendorf in long relief.  That's really enough. When you are bringing in the talented but flailing Storen as the 5th choice out of the pen, you have a good enough pen.

We're down to starting pitching. Assuming you like Detwiler enough (or want to give Haren another try given his decent last start) the Nats would only be aiming for one pitcher and it would have to be a good one to make an impact given that they are going to start probably 13 times. Garza is likely gone elsewhere so what's left for the Nats?

Phil Hughes is on the market as the Yankees have finally accepted that his homer issues make him a bad fit for that park. Love AL to NL moves but not really the difference maker. John Danks has pitched better than his ERA would indicate (1.133 WHIP), has been very good in the not distant past, and isn't old. But he's owed 14 million a year for the next 3. You'd be choosing him over ZNN or vastly upping your payroll. Kyle Lohse is more intriguing as he's pitched very well for 3 years now. Unfortunately he's 34 and under contract for two more years after this. James Shields / Ervin Santana - the Royals may listen to offers for either one and both would be worth offering.  Ervin is a FA next year though and Shields has only one year left. While that may appeal to other teams, the Nats tend to want to deal for cheap control. Jake Peavy also offers an interesting possibility if healthy.

After all that though, I don't think the Nats deal for any one of these guys. A Santana-type move would be a classic contender move (its what I would suggest.  Well actually I'd suggest going after Shields first) but the Nats have shown no inclination to make that sort of deal. Is there anything out there that they might pull off? If they had a better farm system I'd say they may try to throw it all at the White Sox for Sale, but I don't think the Nats have the chips to pull something that crazy off, not unless they want to include Rendon. So what do I think they do? Maybe surprise (disappoint) everyone and toss a few of their decent but not exciting prospects at the Padres for Andrew Cashner. Young, in team control for a while, groundball pitcher. Yes, he has a bad home/away split but the fancy stats suggest it's a little fluky and he actually pitched better away from Petco last year.

That might be the extent of it, if the Nats even go that far. I could see them easily doing nothing. That's the problem with putting a team together on paper that should dominate. If they don't get injured it's hard to find guys out there you like better than the guys you already have. You either have to break the bank on one of the best players in the game, or you gotta make a bunch of minor improvements, each one at a pretty hefty cost themselves.

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Have you seen me

An equation for future reference :

Selling house + travel for work = blog death.

I'll be back tomorrow but here are some quick grades for the Nats because that seems like something everyone is doing that's fun.

Zimmermann : A+
Gio : A
Strasburg : A, but it's not in a course that counts for college credit
Storen : Got a C-, but father is petitioning school board for review. 
Espinosa : Failing, sent to repeat previous grade.
Werth : B-, and costing the school a fortune in special lunches.
Bryce : B+, but come on he's a 12 year old senior.
Tyler Moore : Politely asked to attend vocational school  
Lombardozzi : E for Eckstien. Also because he deserves between a D- and an F.
H-Rod : Flunked out. 
Ramos : B+, has to come in on Saturday's the rest of the year to make up for absences.
Clippard : A+? Wait this guy is finishing as salutatorian? (1.99 ERA, 0.91 WHIP)

Monday, July 15, 2013

Monday even quicker than usual but not the quickest ever

Suuuuuuper busy so this is what you get today. 

The weekend was a bust. This team is close to being a bust.  It's time to stop looking at this team as an underacheiving 95 win squad and start looking at it like a high 80s win team that may or may not make it to (past?) that point.

And you could argue it isn't even that - the record says the Nats are a .500 team.  The run differential says the Nats are worse than that. They are 5th in runs allowed, which is good but not team-carrying. They are 13th in runs scored which is terrible. Injured Espinosa (5% of the Nats PAs) was an absolute hole for 2-plus months.  Span (11%) is bad.  Suzuki (7%) is worse. The main bench of Lombo, Bernie, Moore, and Tracy (15.6%) has been cringe worthy.  Leave Span out and toss in a couple stragglers like Marrero and Solano, and add the pitchers and you have around 30% of all plate appearances for the Nats being TERRIBLE.  Add Span back in and that's probably over 40% that have been well below average at best. That's how they got here. Closing in on half their at bats have not been major league worthy.

A few weeks ago the Nats finished up the first part of a stretch some were saying was easy.  The Nats went 11-10, but I noted that calling that stretch easy was a bit unfair.  I also noted that the Nats were truly going to hit an easy stretch coming up and they needed to make some headway and catch the Braves

At that point the Braves were up 5.5 games.  They went 9-7 from that point on.  The Nats could have caught up to 4 games by going 11-6.  They went 9-8.

There is one more easy stretch but is it even going to matter?

The hope is that with Ramos, Rendon here now and rest of the team healthy they can score. Right now their stats suggest that Bryce, Werth, Zimm, Desmond, Ramos, Rendon all could finish among the Top 5 offensive players at their positions. Maybe this will work out. But is Werth really back to being this good? Can Ramos and Rendon sustain what they've done in admittedly few at bats? Is there something wrong with Bryce? Can Zimm stay healthy? We thought that it was going to turn around a week or so before now and we're staring at ice-cold LaRoche, Zimm and Bryce to add to Span and the pitcher meaning over half the lineup is doing nothing.

Maybe this will work out. Maybe it won't.

Friday, July 12, 2013

Sweep the Marlins

Hey, it worked last weekend.

See ya Monday

3 games out : This team is finally doing it! I'm taking off October!
4 games out : Ok, I'm cautiously optimistic the Nats are poised for a 2nd half push.
5 games out : When's the next Braves series because I'm not buying anything until after that.
6 games out : Welcome back to early May. This team is going nowhere.
7 games out : OK so how far are they from the WC now?
8 games out : Ready to call this a season.
9 games out : BLOW THIS TEAM UP!

Thursday, July 11, 2013

A stroll through the Positional Players

Pop! There we go.  Now I want to see 25 runs tonight. Make it happen. 4 games left, make up 1. Baby steps.

Since we're getting to the end of the "1st half" here are some random facts that I haven't been able to put into a whole column :

Ryan Zimmerman is no longer a good 3rd baseman. Forget the error problems for a second. Here are Zimm's ranges pre and post abdominal injury:

Pre : 15.5, 1.7, 11.5, 15.1
Post : -2.8, -0.4, -8.1

Zimm can't get to the same balls that he used to. Perhaps some positioning coaching would help but for those that want Zimm at 1st in a couple years and Rendon at 3rd there's more to back-up that line of thinking than just the throwing.

Bryce Harper is still the teams best offensive player. If he had enough at bats he would lead the team in OBP and SLG (ok well Ramos would lead in SLG if he had enough ABs but I'm not sold that'll stay that high). This is with having an average of only .274.  His BABIP is a career low .279. If there's any one that you should bet on having a killer last 70 games it's this guy.

Poor (but not for long) Ian. He's picked up his fielding recently which has made his overall value soar back up. He's arguably the 3rd best SS in the majors. Here's the problem. The best? Tulo. 2nd best this year? Everth Cabrera. 4th best? Rookie sensation Jean Segura. In the AL he'd be an easy pick for the All-Star game. In the NL he's an also-ran this year.  Troy and Segura are tied up for a while. Ian comes into FA a year before Everth (and isn't suspected of PED use). Translation : The Nationals better be renting dump trucks for the money they plan to drive to his house.

Span is not even close in his quest for a home run. Take a look at the spray chart.  (Ok yes it's superimposed on Nats park only but you can go through parks one by one if you like at foxsports. It's not updated for some stadiums but you'll get the point).  He's not even getting warning track balls. He's never been a power hitter, but he's never been THIS impotent.

Lombo is no good people. He's the 2nd worst player in terms of WAR behind Tyler Moore (which is impressivley bad  for Tyler considering its a cumulative stat and Lombo has 75% more ABs than Tyler).  Part of this is Davey's fault. Lombo is an acceptable infielder. He is not an acceptable outfielder. Davey put him in the OF a lot. But he's a hitter with no patience (lowest walk rate on team for hitters that matter) and no pop (ditto lowest isoSLG on team), who's deceptively unimpressive on the basepaths. He's a late inning IF defensive replacement for a team that doesn't need one. He's really only useful on a team with an Uggla type roaming the IF. Even then I bet you could find a ++ fielder in your system that can't hit a lick that might be more suited to that position than the ok fielding Lombo.

Does Jayson Werth have his power back? Yes and no. Yes he's hitting with more power so far than he ever has with the Nats. No, he's not up to the levels he was hitting with the Phillies. Not really even close. What I find most interesting is this is currently the third season in 4 years (granted some are short seasons) where his BABIP is over .350. Usually one can have a BABIP that high repeatedly because you are fast (Jackson, Fowler, Trout, Bourn). Once in a while you can do this by hitting a lot of line drives (Mauer, Cabrera). Werth doesn't really fit into either category. Luckiest man alive?

LaRoche's K-rate is the highest non "Swing for the fences D-Backs" season of his career.  His isoSLG is the lowest non "I'm terribly injured why am I still playing Nats" season of his career.  Both are just ever slightly in the wrong direction so I wouldn't worry for 2013 but i wouldn't be shocked if LaRoche falls off a cliff in 2014 or 2015. I'd maybe even bet on it... gotta see where he ends up.

It's not always a great thing to hit a lot of line drives, but it usually means you are hitting the ball well.  The current leader in the majors in LD% is James Loney wiath 28.9% (check it out - he's having a damn good year). Anthony Rendon has a LD% of 32%. I still think he'll slip under .300 this year but that "maybe he'll hit .250 with some bad luck" statement is looking silly right now. (still think it's technically possible but it would likely have to be a "hit a lot worse in Sept because he never played this many games" situation)

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Back to where they started

This isn't necessarily as bad as it looks. No, the Braves won't lose the series to the Marlins but they do have a four gamer with the Reds coming up. That could go badly for them and only one more win before the All-Star break isn't crazy to hope for. As for the Nats, if they can sneak by Lee tonight, they finish the first "half" with 4 easily winnable games.They could get back to the 4 games out level I was hoping for by the All-Star break.


After getting as close as a half-game out in mid-May, the Nats had fallen to 4.5 games behind over the course of 4 straight games. The Nats would fall a game further out by the start of June and would spend the entire month at least 5 out. Getting back to 4 games out was a psychological hurdle for everyone. This wasn't the middling team from June. It was already closer than that team ever was. This was a team that was going to make up ground. It already made up a half-game from that early season debacle. To watch it slip away so quickly is.. confidence killing.

But that's the sport right? You can lose 4 games of ground in four days and think your season is doomed, then gain back those 4 games in 4 days and think you are on the way to a title. We'll look back again when we get to the break.

Dan Haren

So did Haren do anything differently? Yes. A couple things. Of course any singular game worth of data is kind of suspect unless something jumps out at you (like Haren throwing 5 times as many curves against the Rockies as he usually does), but here's what the data said

Dan's split was the slowest it has ever been.  The Post story noted this and it bares out in the numbers. He had been usually between 83.5 MPH and 85.5 with it. Monday it was under 83. We mentioned his issues with similar velocity to his pitches before and I think that curveball party was in response to those concerns. It is by far his slowest pitch. Thing is I don't think Dan necessarily likes/trusts his curve. He does throw a splitter far more often so if he can keep it effective and just take a little bit off, it should mix better. 

Dan threw more sinkers than he normally does. Brooks Baseball has him throwing it 41 times. It's not necessarily an unusual number - he's been in the mid 30s before.  He was never dominant in those games, but like Monday night he was homer sparse in (1HR in the 4 games he threw 30+ sinkers) those games which keeps him from being bombed early at least. 

Dan kept the ball out of the top part of the zone. If you can imagine the strike zone, split up into nine little squares Dan had an issue throwing too many balls in that top part. 8.06% in the top three, 14.81% in the middle three. Monday night he threw in those spaces 5.27% and 9.48% of the times, respectively.  This is almost certainly related to the higher number of sinkers thrown and possibly with the slower splitter.

So in the end Dan saw the fewest percentage of fly balls hit against him all year. 26.7%. Some games he had been as high as 66.7%.

This isn't a universal key to success. Some guys can live blowing the ball by guys up in the zone, or fooling them into lazy fly balls. But based on his past work, Dan had been giving up too many flyballs and was getting them crushed enough to matter. The increase in sinkers and the working away from up in the strike zone will help curtail that issue. Will this make him an effective pitcher though? Let's see what happens next week.

The offense?

No clue. Well not really no clue. The power is out. Did you know they manage to score 32 runs over those 4 games with only 8 XBH? Even though their batting average is great looking at the past week, their isoSLG (SLG with the singles cut out) was only .110, which for the season would put them 15th out of 16 NL teams.

In the two game 23 run burst just before that 4 game stretch they had 17 XBH. The Nats have had one 3 XBH hit game since then (July 1st) and nothing better. You can still score that way, but you need a lot of walks and/or timely hits.  The Nats were walking but it's not their strong suit.

Let's see some pop boys.

Tuesday, July 09, 2013

Lannan's revenge

You guys all know I have a soft spot for the Lannan. The guy anchored the team's staff when they were really no good, and after they built up a good team they gave him the shaft. That's how I see it. He could have been the 5th starter, but the Nats went in another, quite baffling direction (let's just say it was the Wang way.  Get it  GET IT).  After Lannan didn't dutifully say "Thanks for the opportunity, General!" but instead voiced a greivance, well his time here was done.  

I like Lannan not because he's a nice guy or anything. I have no idea. I like Lannan because he defies expectations. This is his 7th year pitching in the majors an outside of the one which he was injured, he's beaten his xFIP in every one. He's doing it again this year (if you take out his pre-injury start he's got a 3.13 ERA actually). He's a living reminder that models don't work for everyone. They can't work for everyone. That's not how models behave. There are somethings out there in baseball that we still can't explain. That doesn't mean you should disregard the models for everyone else. That's dumb. But it does mean there can be someone that defies the model. That there's hope that a guy you like or a guy your team needs to perform, can come through despite what the numbers tell you, not because of something silly like guts or heart or even "luck", but because the story the numbers tell is still incomplete. 

You'd be foolish not to believe what the numbers say, to plan accordingly. But you're not stupid to hold out hope the numbers are wrong in this one particular situation. 

Haren pitched well last night. Once that data is in I'll come back and do a post to see if he did anything differently or if it was just one of those nights where he caught a break. 

Monday, July 08, 2013

Monday Super Quickie

Swept the Padres! Won 4 in a row for the first time since early May!

The Nats should have gone 5-2 and they did. Didn't happen exactly like you'd expect but that's why you gotta wait these things out.

Next up? 7 game road trip. Phillies and the rejuvinated Marlins. (yes, they lost 3 in a row but it was in STL and they lost 4-1, 5-4 and 3-2).  I'm giving the Nats a modest goal of a 4-3 away stand. A split in Philadelphia and a series win in Miami is the most likely way it'll work out. That'll take the Nats to the All-Star Break with a record of 50-45. Not where they want to be but it'll the first time they've been 5 over since May 10th.

The Braves play the Marlins on the road and the Reds for 4 games at home.  Lets say the Marlins win that series (you'll get the benefit of the doubt Atlanta when you deserve it) and a split at home for a 3-4 game set. That would leave the Nats 3 games out at the break.

I wanted them to get to 4. Three would be great.  Three is a series away.

Before you get all super excited know that there are Braves fans sitting out there thinking "Man, we've played .500 ball since mid-April and we still have a 4 game lead".  That is the case you know, the Braves have been one game over .500 since starting 12-1 and their lead has gone from 4.5 games all the way to 4 games. It was a hole the Nats dug and they've just again reached level. DO NOT FALL BACK IN THAT HOLE. 

oh on Hairston - I said when looking back at the year that they should have signed a Hairston-type so you know I think it's the right move. Looking back we can say maybe it wouldn't have worked out but I would have loved to redo the first half of the year with Hairston taking ABs from Moore/Lombo in the OF.

Quick Note:

The pitching has not been good. It hasn't given up less than 4 runs in over a week. Which is fine when they are playing dregs that they can bomb. But coming up the Nats face Lannan (5.1 IP and 4 runs coming up), an improving Hamels and Cliff Lee. That could be trouble. Let's hope all those runs are from the Nats running out their B-Staff over and over, right?

Friday, July 05, 2013

Sweep the Padres

That's the job the Nats left for themselves to get to 5-2 for the homestand. The Padres are in a tailspin so it's certainly not as hard a job as it may a look 10 days ago. But there you go. Meanwhile the good ol' "We're great at home! Oh wait, did we just drop a series to the Marlins"* Braves continue to flounder just as badly as the Nats have. They have a road stretch right now which should be trouble for them because they are bad away from home. But we'll see. This season hasn't exactly gone as planned.


Nothing new here. When Rob Neyer tried to make it out that he could be a steal by another team to close, I pointed out that while he may have been a bit unlucky you couldn't just dismiss that HR/FB rate jump.  That had been more about bad pitching than bad luck. And here we are.

Whatever is wrong with the kid right now, head or body, he can't be trusted in any sort of high leverage situation. Yesterday it was fine bringing him in, even fine leaving him in after the Betancourt HR, but once that tying run could come to the plate you had to pull him because of his HR issues. That's where we are now with Drew. He can't pitch in a situation where the tying run would be at the plate. Not right now.

Do I trade him? Well you could make him part of a deal, yes. The pen looks better situated than it has in the past. But if you are thinking the Nats can take their damaged goods like Espy and Drew and turn it into a good 5th starter, you are mistaken.


He's been fine. The lack of K's concern me because it means his game is going to be all wrapped up in how many GBs does he get and does he get lucky with where they are hit. It's the same sort of game Detwiler throws and you've seen how that has worked out recently.  Not that you can't have a guy like that as a #4/#5 guy but this team right now needs something better to try to close the gap. 

Can I say that I'm really up for that Marquis vs ZNN match-up? Crush that guy.

*Since July 5th the Nats have the 2nd best record in the NL East. That's the good news. The bad news is that it's only 14-12. Basically a month has passed by since the top 4 teams in the NL East have shown themselves to be anything but mediocre. The best record in that period? The Marlins who have gone 16-8. The Marlins! I feel like I should be Revenge of the Nerds John Goodmanning over here.

On Opening Day, your fans looked down and had one hope. That you finish the season division champions. And here you are getting shown up by the Marlins. THE MARLINS! Well if I were you I'd do something about it.

Wednesday, July 03, 2013

Stay Calm and Continue doing what you were doing

No limey sayings over here. This is America on July 3rd! That's almost July 4th.

Nats lose. As will happen. The homestand goal was 5 wins, 2 losses. Two losses. Have to happen sometime.

Happy 4th everyone.

Tuesday, July 02, 2013

Bryce is back

That's more like it. Now this team is an offensive juggernaut (note - this team is not an offensive juggernaut). While the Brewers might not be the best measuring stick for the Nats to see if they are back to where they should be, who cares? They are a team the Nats can beat, should beat, and hopefully will beat.  Worry about how the Nats measure up against good teams after the All-Star break.  For now, feast! Feast!

Time for a quick look back at the Strasburg and Bryce trackers.


SO/BB - Goal 4.57, Kevin Slowey .
  • Strasburg - 4.29.  He has regressed a bit as his control remains merely good and not pinpoint as he has flashed before.  As a commenter pointed out before though this really isn't a great stat to look at because super control pitchers will look really good here but if they don't K a lot of people they can be pretty mediocre pitchers (see Slowey, Kevin) so how about a new target that matches up better with success.  Ok bye bye SO/BB hello K%-BB%
K%-BB% - 7.69%, Mark Prior (remember first 4 seasons, 400IP here)
  • Strasburg - 8%.  If he keeps up the way he is I think he'll slip under Prior but we'll see. Stop walking anyone Steve.
ERA+ - 161, Howie Pollet
  • Strasburg - 139. No movement (the first look at this took into account his shutout start) but he should start gaining ground soon if he keeps that ERA under 2.50.

HRs - 61, Mel Ott. 
  • Bryce - 35.  Again, he needed 39 to tie to start the year. Injuries have kept him to only 13 meaning he'll have to go off and hit 26 in the last 80 games. That's a tall order but still, I'm not going to bet against him. His current pace would have been for 46-47 homers so is a 53 pace for 80 games crazy?
OPS+ - 145,  Ty Cobb
  • Bryce - 131. Again the injuries are going to cost him games and that will cost him influence over his career numbers. It's possible but tough.  Another 26 homers would help.
 Both still on track for greatness

Other notes

Bryce has played 184 games in his career. Over his first two years Mike Trout played 179 games. Hey that's pretty close. We can compare that right? Without the whole "Well Mike Trout at this point blah blah blah"stuff people were saying when someone dare suggest Mike Trout might be better than Bryce.

Bryce : .274 / .351 / .504  35HR  20SB  82BB
Trout : .306 / .379 / .532  35HR  53SB  76BB

Edge Trout. This year Trout is hitting .315 / .392 / .545 so Bryce has gotta keep swinging if he wants to keep up.  And before you go off, I'm not saying Bryce isn't going to be super awesome. He is. This is a Mays / Mantle comparison we got going here.

It's funny how Rendon's 18 fantastic games are how the guy really hits, and the 13 bad games are just a slump. He's a kid. He might hit .250 this year. It might have been just a super hot streak. I still think he'll be good (remember Pat Burrell that can field) but this is why we don't get ahead of ourselves.

I just said the Nats had a good fielding Pat Burrell, Mickey Mantle, and a non-injured Mark Prior all under 24 on their team and yet I have the feeling someone is out there upset I didn't say it was George Brett, Willie Mays, and that guy stinks why am I not talking about Jordan Zimmermann.

Monday, July 01, 2013

Monday Quickie - Pace Madness

Exciting news, a disappointing pre-season favorite finally has gotten its act together and has made up 5.5 games in just over a week! Sure it's the Dodgers but maybe they are contagious.   

The Nats won 2 out of 3 like they should have but it wasn't that simple because the Nats long ride around .500 has driven all their fans insane.  Let me show you what I saw this weekend

Friday - After being absolutely shut down by Matt Harvey for seven innings, the Nats come back against the Mets pen and take the game 6-4. Davey hailed it as the Nats "biggest win of the year". "They watched Drew Storen pitch a spotless ninth and felt, at least for a moment, that the dominance they experienced on so many occasions in 2012 had made an appearance." "...they had just captured their biggest win yet." "Indeed, this was the kind of victory that was commonplace in 2012"

Saturday - Dillon Gee stymies the Nats, while Taylor Jordan fails to impress and Stammen blows up. Nats lose 5-1.  It was "one of their shabbiest losses. A stirring comeback Friday night became a diversion on the way back to the familiar territory of a .500 record.". "The season is about to hit the halfway point, and the World Series contender remains stuck in neutral." "With half a year’s body of work, they are what they are: .500."

Sunday - The Nats bats bust loose while Gio cruises. They crush the Mets 13-2. "The preseason favorites have taken a bumpy path, but they have won seven of 11 games...Sunday provided plenty of evidence that the Nationals can make the second half far more enjoyable than the first" "Tomorrow they'll get their most-important player back after a lengthy absence.When Bryce Harper has been in the Nationals' lineup, they've gone 25-18, a .581 winning percentage that over a full season equates to 94 wins."

And that's just the beat reporters!

Who has it right in all this? A player? Yep, a player.
“It just kind of shows you that each game is completely individual and it doesn’t really matter,” Zimmerman said. “I think last night’s win was great, but that doesn’t really get us anything today.”
Damn straight Ryan. 

Ok, it's not so much that Kilgore, Zuckerman, and Comak are completely caught up in this mess of a season. It's more of a situation where they need to write daily stories about the Nats and the Nats aren't providing them with any larger narrative. There are no streaks, no hills and valleys. It's been a steady shot down Route 500 for a month now. How many times can you write the same "We don't know why we aren't winning more" story? The answer is a few times fewer than they already have. Exaggerating the impact of what they are looking at today is the only way to break out of that mind-numbing; "Might have something going on...nope Nats can't get over the hump" cycle that's been on repeat-peat-peat-peat-peat for a month now. 

How flat has this team been? Since May 21st the Nats have had one losing streak of more than 2 games and one winning streak of more than 2 games.  They were both only 3 games long and they took place back to back, immediately mitigating any impact the first streak might have had.

Seriously in this environment you grasp onto to anything that looks like momentum, not because you believe it exists, but you just want this damn team to win a bunch in a row or lose a bunch in a row.

Now they do have their chance though. Bryce is back and more importantly they have 7 games vs a Brewers team that looks like they've given up on the season, and a Padres team that has watched their small moment in the sun cloud up.*  They need to take 5 of these games at least. Do that and you're looking at a team that has gone 12-6 in their last 18.  That's a bonafide winning stretch you can be proud of! Like the ones real teams have!

But if they lose those couple games early, don't take it to be a sign that the season is over. Wait for the stand to play out. And if they start 3-0 don't start clearing your October schedule. Wait for the stand to play out. The beat guys have to look at the season a game at a time, you don't. 

*The Padres will probably have their best player Everth Cabrera back in time for the Nats series though, so they'll be a little better than they are showing right now.