Nationals Baseball: Monday Quickie - what I said

Monday, May 12, 2014

Monday Quickie - what I said

Last week :
"In fact I fully expect the Nats to be in 2nd (or 3rd - since the division is so tight) by the time May 11th rolls around What I also expect is the Nats to be within a game or two of first"
What genius said that? Oh it was me! 

I wasn't quite right, the Cubbies rolled over for the Braves giving them a sweep when I expected the Braves to simply win the series, and the Nats rolled over for the A's when I expected them to take at least one game, but a half-game doesn't change the point. The Nats are close enough to first place to take it back in the next two weeks.

They have a golden opportunity to do schedule wise.

Over the next 13, the Nats play :
D-backs (15-25)
Mets (17-19)
Reds (17-19)
Pirates (16-21) .

The Braves play
Giants (24-14)
Cardinals (19-19)
Brewers (24-14)
Rockies (23-17) (when did that happen?)

The Marlins play
Dodgers (20-19)
Giants (24-14)
Phillies (17-19)
Brewers (24-14)

In short the Braves and Marlins should struggle to go .500 over the next two weeks. The Nats should easily go a couple games over. Those scenarios would have an end result of the Nats in first place.  I set 8-5 as the low bar for these 13 games and really want a 9-4 or 10-3 stretch, injuries be damned. It's time for the Nats to pitch their way to the playoffs.

First place on Memorial Day is no reason to celebrate. The script flips on the Nats and in Mid June they face all the good teams. Unless the Braves and Marlins both tank over the next two weeks while the Nats soar, chances are June would be a dog fight to hold onto that spot. First place is simply where they should be if they want ito be in good position for a post-season run.

NOT first place on Memorial Day though IS reason to worry.  I'd expect given the schedules for the Nats to lose a few games to the Braves (easy stretch end of June through AS Break), and Marlins (easy stretch the middle of June) before the All-Star game. If the Nats sit in 2nd down a couple on Memorial Day, that would put them 4-5 or more games out come the break. While certainly a comeback from there is a possibility It's not where you want to be. One streak in the wrong direction at this point ends your year.

Now's the time Nats.


Wally said...

I think that this ignores what the true talent level of this team currently is: with McLouth, Span, Moore/Frandsen and the pitcher taking 4 lineup spots, they may be lucky to score 3 runs a game on average. That team may be lucky to be .500 against those opponents. This is an example of being unlucky, I think. Be nice to be fully healthy and beat up on the weak guys, but oh well.

They could pitch their way to a 9-4 stretch, but it would be a low percentage play, I think. Like it or not, I think the best hope is to stay within 2 ganes by the ASG, and hope the 2d half is relatively injury free, and that their true talent level carries them to a close finish.

In that scenario, the defense continues to be a big worry for me. Often times the difference maker in tight games, and also feels disproportionately disheartening, although maybe that is just a fan's reaction.

Harper said...

wally - I don't think at this point you can hope for the team to be "injury free" for any length of time. Who playing right now is not an injury risk? Desmond? (Who is kinda playing like he might be injured) It may get better but I think "2 starters out" has to be the baseline setting for this team. With that reality now, with no starting pitching injuries and an easy schedule, is the time to strike.

Bjd1207 said...

Skipped right over Fister's first start. Thoughts?

He got rocked but no walks is promising. As he trusts his stuff a little more I think he'll move farther and farther out towards the black and should be OK. Got a solid 4-yr pro track record to back that up. I'm calling fluke (or not fluke really but first start rust/jitters)

JWLumley said...

What to do about Desmond? He's been awful, like worse than 2011 Ian Desmond. Is he hurt? We're past the point where many stats begin to normalize so what's going on? I think it's more than plausible that the Nats best move is sit Desmond when Zim returns (provided LaRoche is back by then). Espinosa is the far superior defensive SS and right now, he's hitting better too.

Also, Detwiler looked pretty good once he got into a groove in relief of Fister. What a wasted asset. Also, I'll go on record again as saying that Roark is a 4A pitcher whose black magic will eventually wear off. I hope I'm wrong, but guys just aren't that bad in the minors only to turn around and be this good in the big leagues with marginal stuff.

Clip&Store said...

Its actually somewhat bad news is Arizona is 3-15 at home, which means they're due for some home wins, right?

Wally said...

If it is true that we should expect two starters out as the base case, then upgrading the bench has to be a priority. Version 1 worked out fine, but if two of them will be pushed into starter roles, then upgrades over at least two of Hairston/Moore/Walters/maybe Frandsen need to happen.

But what to do about the defense? Only 2 lineup spots have contributed positive defensive value - C and CF. The remaining 6 spots are all negative, and in some cases very negative. But at least Desi, Espy and Rendon all recently were plus defenders (or projected to be plus). For all the grief that RZim has gotten about his throwing, Rendon is currently grading out as a significantly worse 3B. Didn't see that coming.

I know it is SSS, but that is all we have to go on right now. It is a tough call - aberration or change in talent level?

blovy8 said...

Nothing is going to change unless the starters stop giving up early runs. Oakland is not an easy place to hit homers and the Nats staff made it look like Coors Field. Without LaRoche, and with other guys coming down to earth a bit, the regression seems to be coming on come-backs.

I blame Harper for that rosy post a while back!

blovy8 said...

I suppose the defense does play into the early runs, there are a lot of unearned runs scoring, and extra outs extending innings.

The Nats just signed Greg Dobbs. I figure that'll make McLough feel better about his batting average.

Froggy said...

Although he plays average LF and 1b, what genius said we should not let Morse walk as he would be well worth arbitration salary ($5million?) and easily get 400 AB, bat close to .300 and hit 25-30 HR a year backing up Harper and ALR?

And what genius said we shouldn't shut down Strasburg when the whole team was healthy, firing on all eight cylinders and probably in the best position to make a run for the WS?

And what genius said we should seriously make a play and just pay the big money for a Hamilton, Pujols, Fielder to play 1B?

Oh yeah, that would be me.

But no worries, we have Tyler Moore, Hairston, Frandsen and McLouth to fill in. No worries.

Chinatown Express said...

Clip & Store: That's reverse gambler's fallacy.

Bjd1207 said...

@Ctwon Xpress - Exactly right. There is equal weight to the argument "they're due" as there is "they're hot right now"

Harper said...

BJD - Not really thinking anything other than "bad first impression" Too much good history to accept healthy Fister pitching like this, too little info to prove not healthy

LWLumley - nothing, Nats are stuck. I'd sit him for a couple days, maybe a series, claiming injury, just to see if that resets him. But if he's healthy you have to play him.

I wouldn't sell Roark that short - some guys do learn new tricks, but I agree on the premise Detwiler is better option.

C&S / C Exp - Chinatown nailed it. They are "due" only in the sense if they play infinite games they should win a certain percentage (probably close to 50%) Next coin flip still has only 50/50 chance, doesn't matter if last 10 were all heads.

Wally - I can agree with that. I think they need a new OF (Span and Werth both injury risks) at the very least. McLouth was the right move - just wrong outcome.

Middle IF should stabalize. I can't believe Desi/Espy both lost their range overnight. Otherwise... not sure anything to do. I said earlier Werth & LaRoche aging, apparently Bryce/Rendon are not going to be GOOD.

blovy8 - meh - early runs / late runs I don't think that should matter. Are you thinking pressure gets to lineup?

Froggy - You should be GM!

Your Morse projection is way too optimistic but he would have helped. I think Bryce being an injury issue has really taken team by surprise. (I said deal him - I was wrong)

Your Strasburg situation is what most fans (and nearly everyone outside of DC) wanted. I didn't but I don't have the "WS or bust" mindset - being a soulless automaton. So I can't say I was wrong - but I will say for optimizing odds of winning THAT WS - not shutting him down was the right move.

Everyone wanted Fielder. Unless he got the Nats to win the 2012 or 2013 WS (not likely but not impossible) we were all wrong because he looks like he is CRASHING.

Now giving up some big chips for Anthony Rizzo after a disappointing 2013 - that was a genius plan. ME! HINDSIGHT!

Wally said...

Well, the more that I think about it, if they make a move, it should be a big one, not a bench one. I agree with your McLouth comment (right move -wrong outcome). Same could be said for Hairston, but no guarantee another comparable bench guy has better odds.

There is one guy that will be expensive but is a perfect fit: Joey Bats. Can play corner OF, and since he started as an IF, I am sure that he can handle first. If everyone is healthy, Span sits and Harper slides to CF. And he is under contract for this and next year (I think) at a reasonable price.

What would he cost? Cole, Goodwin and Walters, maybe an under-the-radar guy off last year's GCL team? Seems like it ought to be considered. He'd look pretty good in the 3 hole for the next year and a half.

Jay said...

I agree they need to get on a roll. The Braves are a good example. Two starting pitchers go down. BJ Upton can't hit his weight. Dan Uggla is now on the bench. They just put their set up guy Walden on the DL. None of that matters. They still have to win. Nats are in the same boat. It sucks that half the starting line up is on the DL. Still have to win. The teams for the next two weeks are beatable(especially in comparison to who Atl and Mia are playing).

JWLumley said...

@Harper Maybe I'm just having a short-term memory, but in 2011 I really thought Espinosa would be the better player long term between he and Desmond. They both still put together some terrible PA's and neither of them seems to see the ball particularly well, but both have power. The big difference to me is that Espi plays "GG if not for Andrelton" defense. Desmond is good at best, but terrible at times. I know it's a moot argument because Desmond will play, but if Desmond has a season like Espinosa had last year, the best thing to do may be to keep Espi and let Desmond go. Either way, with Espi's resurgence I think it's wasteful to keep both. Flip one of them for something while they're still valuable.

Either way, I don't know why in the world MW isn't giving Desmond more days off to clear his head. You've got to try something don't you? Obviously, what you're doing isn't working.

Wally said...

For me, the difference between Desi and Espy was that at Espy's peak, he was around average offensively (barely cracked 100 wRC+ once) but added top 5 defense. Whereas Desi was substantially above that offensively (125 & 116) with almost as good D at a harder position (I agree that Espy could probably play it too, but Desi actually did, which has to mean something).

This year, Espy has recovered to his peak offensive performance (98 wRC+), but hasn't added the D. So that is a valuable bench guy for sure, but maybe not as interesting a starter as he once was, unless he recovers his top flight D (which is certainly possible). Desi has just crapped the bed so far everywhere except baserunning.

They each had a two year peak, and comparing the peaks, I think Desi comes out noticeably better. But the only thing that matters is, what are they going forward from this point?

Nick said...

Thank heavens Rizzo didn't flip Espinosa for 25 cents on the dollar after a miserable 2013.

JWLumley said...

@Wally Espinosa is a natural SS, he won the minor league gold glove at SS, he has done it and done it well. Most scouts universally agree that Espinosa's defense is superior to Desmond's and most would agree it's far better. Using defensive stats for anything less than a season is a fool's errand because the data is basically a SSS until a full season, but that's beginning from the premise you trust Total Zone or UZR (which I don't).

Desmond's offense has been better, but they're both flawed players and you have to decide if you like Desmond's offense or Espinosa's defense, I'd take defense at SS any day of the week, but I could probably be convinced otherwise. Still, we Nats fans are spoiled because even a 98 wRC+ is pretty good for a SS.

John C. said...

I wonder how many of those now calling for Espinosa to replace Desmond spent most of the offseason advocating that Espinosa be jettisoned for a bag of baseballs. It was a quite popular view in many corners of the Natmosphere.

Wally said...

@JWLumley I think the 'Desi's offense or Espy's defense' question is more of a narrative than borne out by the stats, at least when considering each player at his peak performance. At their best, they are both pretty good defensively. Espy's two full seasons produced 3.7 and 16.4 positive defensive value according to FG, and Desi's last three seasons produced 2.4, 10.3 and 11.6 positive defensive value. Those numbers suggest two excellent defensive players. The reason that Desi's peak WAR was almost twice as much as Espy's is that he produced both. Of course, if you don't think the defensive numbers are reliable (and I understand why people might not), then the eye test may give a different result in favor of Espy, since Desi has always been prone to the easy error, which is infuriating and has a way of being remembered.

But if you think these guys have come off their peaks already, maybe Espy is the better choice, since his defense will likely be more resilient because it is less dependent on the spectacular play, and his offense should maintain more OBP, which helps offset some offensive decline.

Kenny B. said...

I feel duty bound to point out that the player with the best average in the current lineup as I check into the game appears to be Jordan Zimmermann.

There are 3 sub-.200 guys in the lineup, with McLouth in the double digits for average. None of them are the pitcher. That is not a team that wins games unless their pitching staff is the mid-90s Braves.

JWLumley said...

@Wally It's not a position I'm really entrenched in, more thinking out loud. My fear with Desmond is that the book on him has finally gotten out and people are going to feed him breaking balls away and pitches out of the strike zone. His BB% has improved, but he still chases a lot of pitches out of the zone and puts himself behind in counts because of it. Espinosa has the same problem though and his BB% is even worse.

You're right about the defense, I don't really trust defensive metrics much. I think MLB's new tool that they had a sneak peak of at MIT will change all of that, but all of the current defensive metrics have a difficult time accounting for shifts.

On another note, I've never been a big fan of Steve McCatty and his pitch to contact philosophies, how much longer can this pitching staff with all of its talent pitch this poorly? The defense has been terrible, but the pitchers--especially the starters--have been equally as terrible at picking them up. Personally, if I owned the Nats I would pay whatever it cost to acquire Dave Righetti. Fangraphs did a piece on him a couple of years ago about how the numbers actually show that he makes pitchers better over a pretty significant sample size. You pay millions for players, why not pay for someone who will make 10-11 of your players better?

Eric said...

Bjd, I think Fister was just way over amped...seemed like he was pitching in fast forward the whole time.

Clip&Store, AZ had a home win in their sights 3 times last night...and it slipped away... ;)

OK, now, my new hope for the season is to have 30 wins by the end of May, which happens to coincide with game 55 of the season, AKA, 1 game more than a third of the season, which would put us on a 90-win pace. That would be pretty good given all our injuries, etc. It means we’ll have to go 10 – 7 for the rest of the month.

It’s a tall order, but we seem to have the weakness of schedule to make it a reasonable possibility...maybe something like this:
@Dbacks 1 – 1 (i.e., win the series)
Mets 2 – 1
Reds 2 – 1
@Pirates 2 – 2
Marlins 2 – 1
Rangers 1 – 1 (series closer is in June)

It’s not a lot of room for error, but somehow it seems plausible to me...

My hopes for April were met (split with Cards, at least 3 games over .500 on May 1 and we were 4 over); let’s see what the rest of May brings.

Bjd1207 said...

@John C. - Me. Right here. I must admit I wanted Espinosa's head last year. And I wanted Davey's head for waiting until late June for Danny to "come around"

I also held that position through the first week or so of Zimm's injury and even had a post on this board a couple weeks ago to the effect of "I really have watch Espy for the next month?"

He has showed me, no questions about it

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