Nationals Baseball: Was it the Mets? Was it the Braves? Yes! No! Both! Neither!

Monday, April 07, 2014

Was it the Mets? Was it the Braves? Yes! No! Both! Neither!

Coming into the Braves series, the Nats' bats looked like all-stars. Some cheerleader or another said "where are the outs in this lineup?" and it was hard to disagree with him at the time. However, a lot of that damage came against the Mets bullpen, which might end up being the worst pen in the NL this year. The Nats weren't really hitting good pitching. To illustrate, here is how the Nats have done versus starting pitching this year.

Game 1 : 6.2 IP, 4 runs
Game 2 : 6 IP, 3 runs
Game 3 : 6 IP, 3 runs
Game 4 : 5 IP, 0 runs
Game 5 : 7 IP, 2 runs
Game 6 :7 IP, 2 runs.

All in all that's 14 runs in 37 2/3 innings, or about 3.34 runs per game. That's not good. Of course it's really a tale of two series. Versus the Mets, while not eye-popping like the Nats destruction of the relief pitching, the offense versus the starters was at the very least what you'd like to see. Versus the Braves it dried up to next to nothing. Did the Mets just really suck? Is the Braves pitching just that good?

This is the frustrating part about the early season. There isn't an answer. The Mets pen looked better versus the Reds, but the Reds are among the worst offenses so far in the NL. So was it that the Nats bats were that much better than the Reds bats? Did the Mets just figure out their pen rotation? Did the Nats just get lucky? Is it just 3 games and thus hard to draw any real conclusion from it?  DING DING DING

Six games in you can say nothing definitive. I know, I know, "cop out", but it's the truth. We need a couple weeks in before saying anything about the team. A good month before drawing conclusions about players. Before that just enjoy the ride (as much as you can) and look for trends that you want to keep an eye on, but not necessarily buy into. What are some of these trends?
  • The aforementioned difficulties versus starting pitching.
  • Bryce not just not hitting, but missing the ball entriely. 10 strikeouts while seeing more fastballs then ever. 
  • Desmond, Rendon, Bryce, & Zimm combining for 1 walk in 6 games. Might have something to do with that first bullet.
  • Meanwhile LaRoche has 6? Two years ago he had 67 for the season. An increase in OBP would be a great help.
  • The pen looks to be as strong as expected. Barrett is fitting in very nicely. 
  • Strasburg not looking like Strasburg. BB/9 up well over 4, usually in high 2s. Getting hit, not particularly hard (2 XBH) but hit. Stuff is there but control isn't?
  • Matt Williams having a hard time leaving well enough alone. Five lineups in 6 games, jerking Bryce around. Possibly overly aggressive base-running. Team scheduled days off before real days off for guys that aren't nursing injuries. Feels like a guy sprinting at the start of a marathon.
4-2 ain't bad but 1-2 at home versus your likely competitor is not a good start. They need to even that out during the upcoming away series. Meanwhile the Marlins, which pretty much everyone including me had said something to the effect of "you know what - these guys will be better, probably 3rd in the East" are playing even better than that and the Nats catch them in 6 of the 9 next games. Tough important week ahead where which of those trends are real and which are small sample size illusions will loom large.


ocw5000 said...

Dollars to donuts: Bryce got a concussion on Opening Day, "passed" all the concussion protocols because he wanted to keep playing (having learned actually nothing from the knee injury last year) and now is having some vision issues that are leading to those Robdeerian strikeout rates.

cass said...

Well, at least the Nats are currently projected to have the second best record in baseball. So there's that.

As for Strasburg, I wonder if the change-up could have something to do with his problems. It's his best pitch but he's only used it 11.6% of the time in 2014 compared to exactly 16.0% of the time in 2012 and 2013. In the limited use its got this season, it seems even more effective than last year.

Strasburg seemed to fall in love with his new slider on Saturday night, the results were pretty good in terms of whiffs and BIP. The only thing is that all three balls in play all for hits. Actually, no - looking at it, one of those three sliders in play was Zimmerman's throwing error, which was a good result if we didn't have a 3rd baseman who couldn't throw. So yeah, being slider happy didn't really hurt.

JWLumley said...

I don't think Bryce has a concussion because he wasn't hitting in Spring either. I think his swing is off and he's too emotional to fix it as quickly as someone a bit older would. He'll hit as long as he stays healthy.

cass said...

(My source for the Strasburg pitch f/x data is

Donald said...

My gut feeling is that so far, this year feels a lot like last year, which scares me. The Nats had a habit of making average starting pitchers look like Cy Young last year and may be doing that again. Since it's mostly the same line-up, I guess I shouldn't be surprised. Still, there are reasons to be optimistic. The pen looks better than I had hoped and improved over last year. Rendon seems to have progressed. The bench looks capable.

JQuest said...

What scares me is that we had some injury concerns and ALREADY some of them have hit. Ramos is the biggest loss. History tells us that was going to happen, but for him to not even get through a single game was devastating. I also figured Zimm would break down at some point, but for it to happen already is alarming. You had to assume a starter would have some problems at some point, but already Fister is out. When you're flipping a coin a hundred times it's never good to start out with 4 tails in a row.

Bjd1207 said...

@Cass - I think you're definitely onto something with the change-up % down and the slider in the mix. There were at bats against heyward and freeman where I was begging for the changeup and instead got heaters inside and the slider under the hands. Dunno if he was just trying to show off pitching them inside but both of those guys need to be soft away and he just seemed unwilling to go there. He's not getting hit especially hard so I don't think it's location/stuff thats at fault. I think its pitch selection and he's getting himself wrapped up too tight with the new pitches, keeping track of runners, etc. He has a history of getting inside his own head.

@Donald - While I agree the start to the season feels a little lukewarm, I think we're lightyears from where we were last year. If you look at the box scores for the first 6 games last year top to bottom you can see why I'm much less concerned about this year. The only position where we're worse off is catcher:

Span - Roughly Similar start
Rendon - .391 avg compared to Espi's hollow .180 at this time last year
Werth - Closer to his second half numbers so far.
LaRoche - MY BOY! Knew he'd be back. Compared to his .091 through 6 games this is night and day
Zimm - A bit better start (arm notwithstanding)
Catcher - Definitely better start last year (then Ramos went down)
Bryce - Obviously worse start

Last year we had Bryce killing it and NOTHING else. Everyone else was under .250 by this time with black holes at 1B, 2B, and our bench.

This year our ONLY cold hitter is Bryce who I think we're least worried about

Anonymous said...

Oh come on the Braves have scored 15 runs this season in 6 games and 6 came after a gift from Zimmerman. If the Nats dont run into 3 outs in the first game and Zimmerman makes a routine throw in the second game the Nats sweep that series. I like the Braves, I think they are solid, but the Nats always beat themselves vs. them.

Anonymous said...

It was really cold Saturday night, which could have affected Stras's ability to grip the changeup. He really did seem to fall in love with the slider.

His BABIP through 2 starts is .429. That's going to come way down.

John C. said...

The real messages that I take away from most Nats fan sites are:

(1) SSS stats that portend DOOM! are significant (Harper is concussed! Strasburg's fastball is gone ... er, OK, it did come back after one start, but now he's actually given up singles when BABIP'd do death!);

(2) SSS stats that are encouraging (Roark, Jordan, Rendon, etc) are meaningless and destined to regress;

(3) the manager is an idiot; and

(4) the organization is poorly run.

It reminds me of that quote: "Well, there are three things that the average man thinks he can do better than anybody else. Build a fire, run a hotel and manage a baseball team.”

On the last couple of points, I don't think that Rizzo or Williams are perfect by any means, but I do think that they have access to a LOT more information than I do, including on advanced stats and metrics. They balance a lot of factors in making their decisions, and just because some of those factors can't be quantified doesn't mean they're not important.

On DOOM, there were people crying DOOM all through 2012, just as there were in 2013. Does that mean that the DOOMsters were right last year and wrong the year before? Or was it that if you consistently see DOOM and DOOM happens about half the time, you'll be "right" about the DOOM half the time. For those who cried "SEE!" after the 2012 NLDS, the only way to be "wrong" about DOOM is for the team to win the WS. And even then some are bound to say that the team just got lucky.

There's plenty to be concerned about and plenty to like about the Nats' 4-2 start. I'm looking forward to seeing how it plays out. My only concern is that the team is 4-0 in "games I do not attend" and 0-2 in "games that I attend."

Uh oh. Maybe I'M the DOOM!

Sec 204 Row H Seat 7 said...

First happy 10th season! Been reading you since the Oleander days. Second, last years NATS would have been swept in this series. NATS "gave away" many games last year, only one so far. It will be interesting on how we do against the Marlins. Veteran NATS fans will remember when NATS were rotten and Marlins were less bad (but still bad), they owned NATS. Not so much recently. I predict 2-1 or sweep series for NATS, FP notwithstanding.

Sec 204 Row H Seat 7 said...

John C:

Don't despair, its a long season. I am 1-1 but it could have very easily been 0-2.

Nattydread said...

4-2. .667. Keep it up. We'll run away with the NL East.

Wally said...

I dunno, seems like they are where they were expected to be. The pitching has been great. Roark and Jordan look to be living up to their promise of last year, and the bullpen looks good.

The lineup only has 1 hitter who projects in the top 35 in wOBA, (Bryce, who is struggling himself), so you would expect them to be a team that beats up on weaker teams and struggles against good pitching. So far, it looks like the Braves have good pitching despite the injuries. But I think that is a formula for getting into the playoffs.

Zim is the real worry (obviously). It will be hard to lose his bat. It is even harder to watch him throw, unfortunately.

Sirc said...

Nattydread said...
4-2. .667. Keep it up. We'll run away with the NL East.


Friday and Saturday were frustrating. Sunday was almost as frustrating then it was joyous. That's baseball.

The formula:
Kill the bad ones, play evenly against the good ones. Win the East.

blovy8 said...

The thing to be encouraged about is Rendon. It makes it easier to sit Zimmermann while giving Espinosa that nth chance that management wants.

Donald said...

There's definitely a number of things to be encouraged about and the team does look better than last year. Storen seems like is back and Barrett is doing better than Matheus so far. Soriano has found his slider. Rendon may be having his break out season. Espinosa is doing much better. Roark and Jordan are doing better than Haren so far.

I think the angst comes from almost being swept by the Braves again. At least for me, watching them beat the Mets after trailing all three games felt like it was a different, better team than last year. I had very high hopes of winning the Braves series in resounding fashion and exorcising the demons from last year. Then to beat ourselves, and get beaten, in the first two was discouraging. And while we won the last game, it certainly could have gone the other way very easily. I agree with Harper, though, that the sample size is too small to come to any long term conclusions. It's just that had we swept the Braves, we'd be feeling SOOOOOO much better.

cass said...

Will there be a return of the "The Nats should win x number of games in this series" posts for upcoming homestands and away sets? I always liked those for keeping a medium-term frame of reference, even if they got quite depressing last year.

Harper said...

Sec 204 - thanks!

cass - Yes. It's a bit early for me to feel good about looking at teams (I didn't like the Marlins preview guess at all) so not for this homestand or the next 6 game away stretch. We'll look at those series one at a time since feelings can swing so quickly this early. I'll probably start doing the stand stretchs (which I prefer) with the STL, LAA, SDP homestand in a week and a half.