Nationals Baseball: Monday Quickie - Away we go?

Monday, June 23, 2014

Monday Quickie - Away we go?

Hidden behind the World Cup and Strasburg* is the fact the Nats finally broke their long Braves nightmare, taking the final two games of the series, splitting the series as a whole, and remaining a game and a half in first place.

Hidden behind that is the fact that the offense has some serious issues but hey - you win 2 games to hold onto first and you get a reprieve. Until tomorrow.

Fister and Roark came up big.  Fister, as far as I'm concerned, is the ace of the staff now. If he can avoid giving up the long ball it's nearly impossible to put up a big inning. Roark has pitched like an ace as well up until this point. Though I still worry about the guy.  Maybe that's unfounded but it seems to me he's laboring a bit recently and the Nats are starting to cut on him early in recent outings. This could be part of a plan. Roark has maxed out at about 160 IP in his career. If he kept going deep into games the entirity of September (and the playoffs) would be a big question mark. Pull him on the early side now and save him for later? That's the hope anyway.

For those of you saying - come on Harper your fears are unfounded. Roark will pitch this well forever... forever... forever... I have two words for you Zimmermann Jordan. (you could probably reverse them to make more sense).

Last year Jordan brought a 2.28 ERA into July and people were talking about him as if he was one of the best pitchers in the NL.  Jordan is great, but he doesn't belong in that class. Over the next three months he put up a 4.38 ERA and ended up with an ERA around what you'd expect. Water finds it's level. The thing on Roark's side is we don't really know his level. I suspect it's not this good - but hey - I can be wrong.

Milwaukee tonight. Another chance for the Nats to prove something or the opposite as the Brewers are the new "best team in the NL". It is the only hard set for a while so come out of here doing well and they should be able to hold onto first for the time being. Of course nothing has gone exactly as we thought so they'll probably sweep Milwaukee and then lose 9 of 10 to the Cubs and Rockies just because.

*Seriously I think the Nats could make the World Series. Lose 4 games to none while scoring all of 2 runs and if Strasburg gives up 3 runs in the first inning of the first game (despite going 7 and giving up 4) THAT would be what some fans will take away from the series.


Super Homer said...

I am a prognosticating god! 2 wins! Nevermind anything else I spewed forth. That Strasburg guy is a bum anyway. ;) Only 8 Ks. Shaking my head.

Also, go team! Do the things! Score the points!

Jimmy said...

Harper you goof our offensive woes were all caused by eckstein, everyone knows that, and Rizzo took out the trash last year. In regards to the predicted/preordaned/predestined apocalyptic strasburg meltdown that will just mean we should have struck when the iron was hot in 2012 but didn't because of the shut down, didn't you know the shut down caused strasburgs mental fragility? If i didn't know you better I would swear you didn't even follow the team, and you were a yankees fan or something, jeez.

Donald said...

I worry about the offense too, but they are missing their two biggest long-ball threats in Ramos and Harper. Being without two middle of the order bats has to hurt and getting them back will be a boast. But how Williams works Harper back into the line-up will be a challenge.

On another bright note, I think we are getting Milwaukee's 3-5 pitchers, while we have Gio, Znn and Strasburg. So there's hope.

DezoPenguin said...

Let's just hope Gio gets back to pitching like Gio. So far this year, he's been the #5 guy! (Actually, if he was "himself," he'd still be the #4-5 guy, but that's just because the rotation is stupid good apart from him.)

Jimmy wins best sarcasm of the month award! Unless he's secretly a MLB beat writer, in which case it wasn't sarcasm.

Anonymous said...

Donald, wouldn't you say Gio, Znn, and Stras are pitching like our 3-5 pitchers (though reverse the order).

Harper, I'm not so sure we can hold onto first. Looking at our schedule compared to the Braves headed into the break, we've got 7 games against quality opponents (O's and Brewers) while the Braves face a schedule with a current combined winning percentage of .435. I'll be ecstatic if we're in first at the break

Donald said...

@Anon -- maybe Gio is more like a 4-5 though when he's on, he can be as good as anyone in the rotation. We just haven't seen that this year, but hopefully that was due to his injury. As for Strasburg and Znn, they both have been very, very good lately. They may not have been dominant against the Braves, but mostly it was lack of run support that doomed the team.

I'm also with Harper in that I'm still not convinced Roark is going to be this good for the long run. I'm not saying he isn't. Just waiting to see how he does later in the season.

Harper said...

SH - I think I did see your visage in a Mayan Temple.

Jimmy - Poppycock. I love the Virginia Senators and always will.

Donald - certainly the offense should get better with those guys. Right now they are putting out one hole (Espinosa) and two blahs (Span, Lobaton), making the bottom (AND TOP!) of the lineup not much to worry about.

Dezo - Gio is due for a great game right?

Anon - I said for the time being. After MIL Nats have CHC and COL. before hitting BAL. so that's about 2+ weeks of 1st place, since they should be able to whip those guys. Around the AS break, you're right - it gets dicier.


JWLumley said...

The offense is offensive, hidden behind Denard Span still not being a leadoff hitter is the fact that Werth and Desmond have not hit at all like middle of the order bats. Desmond looks lost at the plate until someone throws him a mistake he runs into. Werth needs to eat his Wheaties or something, because his power seems gone. With him it really could be fatigue. He's still an above average hitter according to wRC+ and wOBA, but not by that much.

Maybe Davey had some magic dust he sprinkled on Desmond, because he looks like pre-Davey Desmond. It's almost to the point where you have to ask yourself if Espi's defense is enough to give him the edge over Desmond's power because neither gets on base with enough frequency to outpace the other.

As for Strasburg, I'm not in the camp of him being a head case, just fascinated by why his results--thus far--have not matched up with his stuff. I'm beginning to believe it's location and pitch sequence. Strasburg's stuff is so good he hasn't had to locate or really learn to pitch. His pitch sequences are super duper predictable and still misses too often in the middle of the plate and up. Part of that could be Lobaton, but it's ultimately on him--not that that justified McCatty's response--he needs to call Greg Maddux every night before bed and get some instruction.

blovy8 said...

I'm as happy as a fan of Portugal.

Yeah, I have a bad natitude.

Seriously, that's a terrible ad campaign that must be responsible for underperforming the talent level.

blovy8 said...

You can justifiably pick on Desmond JW, but he's still hitting enough bombs to forget about that slappy guy he was for Acta and Riggleman.

Jimmy said...

bloviate: Portugal? you have to be trolling. This a blog about America's greatest past-time and (excuse the Hyperbole)literally the greatest team involved in that past-time how pray-tell can you not root for America? The term Communist gets brandied around to much these days, but methinks you are pushing the envelope.

Anonymous said...

I just want to see a healthy lineup and rotation for 15 days. Just go through the rotation 3 times with a healthy lineup. I just want to see what happens. Please.

Anonymous said...

JW, this analysis says essentially what you are, that Strasburg gets by on talent rather than mixing up his pitches (also that his attempts to develop a 4th pitch have been unsuccessful). I don't know enough about baseball to make an informed judgment but I thought it was interesting nonetheless.

blovy8 said...

Calm down Jimmy, it's a topical simile. I'm not a fan of Portugal, but I'm not going to let a bit of enthusiasm over recent results disguise the fact that my team, the Nats the overwhelming favorite by fanGraphs, Baseball Prospectus, the MLB network talking heads who formerly wore ballcaps, ESPN, etc. has only managed to scrape together a 2-2 draw after having played so poorly against the club. There's still a lot of work to do to win anything.

blovy8 said...

In fairness to Strasburg, if he's just sticking to the game plan, and not shaking the catcher off, how is he supposed to be at fault for throwing too many fastballs? Maybe Lobaton should have released the other finger. McCatty's response was that he can throw whatever he wants, but you see how easily things can unravel - just look at the Teheran/Gattis kerfuffle the next night. The biggest problem was he outed their scouting report on Heyward. It's like Nuke LaLoosh stole Crash Davis's lines.

Jimmy said...

I was also being slightly facetious sorry if it came across differently.

Richard.Parker said...

Four out of five now against the two best teams (by far) in the NL. You know, the Nats may end up 7-8 over .500 at the midway point, which only projects to 88-89 wins, but considering the injuries to key players during that stretch, you have to think it evens out to at least 93 , if not more, wins.

And Gio's back! Best rotation in MLB!

Richard Parker said...

Also, for the whiners out there, we snapped a 4-game Milwaukee winning streak (in Milwaukee and quite easily, btw). As for the offensive deficiencies, there aren't any. It's called a slump. One of our large mammalian nicknamed hitters comes back this week. Guaranteed that's the end of our offensive "slump" so that we'll definitely score four runs per game and win 4-1 and 4-0 instead of just 3-0 and 3-1.

blovy8 said...

Gio is pitching like Gio. 114 pitches in 6 innings against a free swinging team even though he shut them out.

I kind of wish they would have given Storen the ninth inning after he only threw nine pitches, but I guess those multi-inning appearances aren't happening anymore unless it's extras. They probably should be guarding against overworking Clippard, and Storen hasn't really pitched that much recently.

BooyahSuckah! said...

Blovy, funny you should mention multi-inning appearances in extra innings. The other night with the Barves, I thought for sure that Blevins would pitch the 12th only. We still had Barrett and Det in the pen. I figured, okay, Barrett for the 13th, then Det for as long as he has to go, since, you know, he's a former starter. Then I saw Blevins come back in and I knew it was over. Don't get me wrong, I like the guy, but he's a one inning guy. Hell, arguably he's a one batter guy. That was a mistake from the word "go".

BooyahSuckah! said...

MW's bullpen management continues to baffle me. I've made my peace with the weirdo lineups and the insistence on batting Span first. But that extras decision (leaving Blevins in) combined with the decision to bat Treinen instead of pinch-hit for him against the Cards (I think... Cards, right?) has me just shaking my head in bewilderment.

JWLumley said...

@Richard.Parker First of all, props for posting with your real name--or at least I assume it's your real name.

Second, the offense has some very real issues no matter how you look at it, unless you think slumps last years. Span is a below league average hitter, Werth has hit like a slightly above league average hitter, Desmond and Espinosa have hit like below league average hitters as has Zim although SSS applies. So unless, someone turns it around or in Span's cases reverts to a form he hasn't had in 4 years, what you have is a team with 3/8's of its starting lineup hitting below league average, 1 league average hitter, 2 above average hitters (LaRoche & Rendon) and 2 unknowns (Harper and Ramos). On days when Lobaton starts it's 4 below league average hitters or if Werth rests and Lobaton starts that's 5 below league average hitters in one Lineup. Considering that two of those hitters (Desmond and Espinosa) don't take a ton of walks which means the lineup is a lot easier to go through especially the first two times through when the pitcher bats.

Also, it's not like their below average hitters play great defense. Outside of Espinosa the others are either average to below average defenders.

All that being said, the offense is good enough to win the NL East and if Harper and Ramos hit as expected good enough to go far, but that doesn't mean there aren't any deficiencies.

JWLumley said...

@Booya I think someone else said, it's like MW is learning on the job, but this isn't the team to learn on the job with. Nats should've hired Knorr. Look at his bullpen management yesterday. He knew when to go get Gio and also knows that Clippard is better when he pitches a lot. The Blevins decision baffled me. Blevins may have gotten righties out in the past, but this year, he's a LOOGY, that's what he is, but MW insists on using him as if he isn't. Bullpen has been great, but I think that's in spite of MW, not because of MW.

blovy8 said...

Before you go crazy praising Knorr, he did have Blevins warming up for the ninth and the Brewers don't have any lefty hitters in their lineup.

Jimmy said...

JW: everyone learns on the job. You can't prepare for the unknown, MW has done some interesting things that I don't know if I would have done, but I certainly don't think he has cost us any wins that davey wouldn't have. He's done pretty well considering, and its nearly impossible to say how knorr would do things do to an incredibly small sample size. The Blevins decision was the result of a completely spent bullpen.

Bjd1207 said...

@JW (sort of)

I've said it before and I'll say it again, Espi's defense is not a reason for him to be on the field in and of itself. You have to be the BEST defender in history (like Andrelton 2013) for it to have a large impact in your overall value. Batting contributes vastly more, and Desmond's bat is still much better than Espi even with his dip in avg. Baseball reference has them with a 3 run difference in DRS, fangraphs only 2.

No one else seems to agree with me, but I want Danny off the field when all the bats are healthy. If he was the best infielder ever I'd listen, but he's not. He's just very good, with a very bad bat. Those guys become utility infielders

Eric said...

"He knew when to go get Gio"

You mean as he walked back to the dugout after inducing a DP to end the 6th. That's not really "going to get Gio."

In any case, I was surprised Gio went back out there for the 6th sitting on like 105 pitches and with spotty command all day. IMO that could have very easily blown up in their faces, a la Stras in Pittsburgh.

But, it didn't, so I guess Knorr's a genius who got robbed of a job ;).

blovy8 said...

Do we even know Knorr wasn't getting calls from clubhouse anyway?

John C. said...

Booyah, the decision to leave Blevins in for the 13th last Friday was the right one. To start with, when Blevins was acquired one of the things touted by Rizzo was his ability to pitch against LH or RH batters and his ability to pitch more than one inning.

Beyond that, Barrett was unavailable having worked three days in a row, and the team was trying to avoid using Detwiler because he had thrown 45 pitches (essentially half a start) two days before. That said, if Blevins got through the 13th it was going to be Detwiler as essentially the last man standing.

But why not go to Det in the 13th? Because the pitcher's spot was up 4th in the bottom of the 13th. Putting Detwiler in meant committing to having him bat no matter what, with his one at bat this season and .069 career average, because as the last man standing he was in for the duration. At least by having Blevins finish the 13th then you could PH. While the Nats had used every single one of their bench players, Williams could still use one of the other pitchers, say Roark if you needed a bunt or JZim if you needed someone to hit.

If you think it through, you realize that Williams thought it through. He was right, you were wrong, it just didn't work out.

BooyahSuckah! said...

JW, I sort of need to take exception with a couple of your assumptions there. The MLB averages so far this year for BA/OBP/SLG/OPS are .251/.316/.391/.707

1. Harper (.273/.353/.476/.829 career, .289/.352/.422/.773 this year). There is absolutely nothing to suggest that Harper is anything other than an above average hitter. Obviously he hasn't played much this year, but no one anywhere thinks the guy will just be average when he comes back. Calling him an "unknown" seems terribly unfair to me.

2. Desmond (.269/.315/.431/.746 career, .235/.294/.428/.722 this year). Yes, he's striking out a ton. Yes, his average is down. But again, we're talking about someone who over the last two years has shown himself to be an above-average hitter (125 and 115 OPS+ in 2012 and 2013, respectively). And his power is still very much there. Ask everyone but the Rockies if they want to trade their SS for ours, and I'll bet 25 of those 28 teams would do it in a heart beat.

3. Werth (.274/.366/.465/.831 career, .278/.359/.391/.750 this year). He's on a few-week-long cold streak, but like Desmond, has shown himself over the last 4-5 years (except his miserable 2011) to be an above-average hitter.

By absolutely any definition of the word, those are all above-average hitters. I would also include Zimm since, again, there's no reason to think he won't finish the year somewhere near his career numbers when it comes to non-counting stats.

So by my count, that makes 2 solid above-average hitters (ALR, Rendon), 3 above-average hitters who seem to be temporarily struggling (Werth, Desmond, Zimm), one perfectly average hitter who is miscast as a leadoff man (Span), and one below-average hitter. Plus catcher, which changes depending on the night. Again, I think there's nothing unknown about Ramos' bat, just his health. When he's in, he's dangerous.

So I see really one full-time lineup hole (who is offset by his ++ defense), a half-hole (whoever is subbing for Ramos), and a guy who wouldn't be a hole if they just batted him 8th (and has + defense).

I guess it just depends on how you look at it. I'm looking at career and recent-season numbers that make me think all of the above. You seem to be looking at very recent performance and assuming that what you see now is what you get, based on your comment about, "unless someone turns it around". I think they will, given the 90 games or so still to be played and everything we know about these guys' histories.

Also, don't discount the fact that many of these guys have spent a good chunk of the season batting in a lineup where they had very little protection because of the heavy hitters (Harper, Zimm, ALR, Ramos) spending so much time on the DL. I have no doubt that the numbers of the Desmonds and Werths and Spans of this lineup were hindered by the presence of the McLouths and Frandsens.

Sorry that turned into a book. Slow day at work.

John C. said...

Eric, I generally agree with you that hitting > fielding when it comes to making a determination about who sits and who plays. But I'm open to the idea of sitting Span over Espinosa because of the impact over several positions. If you sit Span, then you take a slight step back in CF (Harper vs. Span; Harper graded out very well in CF but I still think Span is better) and in LF (Zimmerman vs. Harper). Zim's glove and instincts are better in LF than I expected, but his arm is still a liability.

But if you sit Espinosa, the OF defense is a bit better but the infield defense takes a major hit at 3b and a minor hit at 2b. I have no fear that any of the OF configurations will botch routine plays; I can't say that about any IF configuration that involves Zim playing third base. And it's the botched routine plays that are so demoralizing.

Eric said...

John C - I believe you're replying to Bjd, not me. I tend to agree with your POV. It's a difficult problem.

JWLumley said...

@Booyah, I based it on catchall's like wOBA and wRC+ that also adjust for park. So those would be the definitions by which they're below league average.

Harper I said is an unknown mainly because it will remain to be seen how he bounces back from the injury. Ramos is an unknown, because who knows if he'll stay healthy.

wRC+ MLB average is 100, average MLB wOBA is usually around .330. I tossed in OPS+ for more perspective

Desmond - 101 wRC+, .318 wOBA, 98 OPS+
Werth - 114 wRC+, .337 wOBA, 109 OPS+(more important here is the .113 ISO)
Don't want to belabor the Span argument, but his wOBA is .312 and wRC+ is 97 by any definition that's a below league average hitter. 97 OPS+.

I could see an argument for Werth being above average an not average, in fact after looking closer I'd say that's probably the case, but the absolute disappearance of his power is cause for real concern.

As for your point about 25 teams wanting Desmond, the Nats should consider what those 25 teams are willing to give up if that's the case. Hitters who have a poor approach at the plate like Desmond do not typically age well and if he doesn't hit, you don't want his defense in the game. Espinosa won't hit as much as Desmond, but his defense is outstanding and perhaps, I said perhaps Espinosa + return on Desmond may ge greater than Desmond's performance over the next two years.

JWLumley said...

@John C I'm not sure that Span's defense is better than Harper's in CF. I know that's the narrative, but the numbers seem to disagree. I will preface this by saying that I don't trust defensive metrics a ton, but Span doesn't have a great arm, Harper does and it's kind of wasted in LF.

So far this year, Span has had 0 DRS and had just 3 last year. His UZR/150 this year is -8.7 as opposed to 9.9 last year.

During Harper's one season in CF he had 13 DRS and a UZR/150 of 19.1.

Most of the other defensive metrics I looked at seemed to say the same thing and while you could make a case that Harper will only get better, I think it's safe to assume that given Span's age he is on the decline defensively.

BooyahSuckah! said...

JW, fair enough. There's obviously room for argument.

To be clear, I'm not arguing that Span is an average hitter. I'm arguing that his hitting is good enough for his position and his defensive skill, giving the other threats in the Nats lineup. Assuming, of course, you bat him 8th. Or even 9th.

Like I said, when Ramos is in, he's a threat. The question is whether he can be healthy, not whether he's a good hitter. Same for Harper, and I'll just assume (naively, maybe, considering our training staff) that he's going to come back to his old form until I have some reason to think otherwise.

So even if we take out Desmond, that's still a largely above-average lineup that will soon have protection once the heavy hitters are all back. I'm optimistic.

But then, I was last year too.

JWLumley said...

@Boyah - Part of me shares your optimism, but it's a small part. My biggest concern about the Nats lineup isn't necessarily how good, but the type of hitters they are. There's a lot of guys in the lineup who don't see a ton of pitches and don't take walks. I think that aspect will be helped a ton by Harper's return, but the Nats are still susceptible to getting shut down by soft tossing junk ballers (for the best example see: Hudson, Tim)or guys that are effectively wild like Gio was last night. Harper and Ramos' returns should help tremendously, but it's still an imperfect lineup.

Also, as I pointed out previously, I think there's a real case to be made that Span is not anything resembling an elite CF and may in fact be below average.

John C. said...

Admittedly I'm basing a fair amount of my assessment of defense on the Mark I eyeball. Defensive metrics are not only still rudimentary, even their proponents will admit that you need to look at data over multiple seasons before you can draw hard conclusions. Has Span really gone from superlative last year (+9.9!) to poor (-8.7!) from last year to this year? Or is the metric flawed?

Numbers look objective and sound authoritative. But just because it's a number doesn't make it accurate or a useful tool. I don't mind looking at the numbers, but I don't assume they are Gospel either.

JWLumley said...

@John C. I agree, I'm not a big proponent of defensive metrics, but I also don't think you can completely discount them either. I know some factor arm strength and Span's arm is at best average so that could be a cause. Still, a UZR/150 of 9.9 isn't anything all that special and ranked 20th out of centerfielders who had at least 140 innings in CF, not only was he not elite, he wasn't even average.

UZR has him in the top 10 at 8th, but not top 5. DRS says he's not in the top 20. rPM (fromt the Fielding Bible) was 5 or 14th in MLB. His Rtz was 15, good,but still middle of the pack. Point being, nearly all of the fielding metrics agree that Span is not an elite CF. If you take them in the aggregate, he's fairly middle of the road. My eyes tell me he gets to a lot of balls, but my eyes also tell me he has a weak arm and that catching the ball is only half of defense. My eyes also tell me he isn't Willie Mays.

Richard Parker said...

@JW. No, Richard Parker is not my real name and, frankly, it's kind of weird that you would care one way or another. Guess you're not a big fan of popular movies?

16 innings against the Brewers and another win. Game-winning hit from whom? Ryan Zimmerman? He's never done that before, has he? And seven extra innings of run-free ball by relievers? Which team do you think most experts would predict could pull that off if given a choice between the two?

Fun game tonight, but Nats win the NL East easily. Probably the NL, too. We'll get hot in August like last year and end up with 98 wins.

JWLumley said...

@Richard Parker Why is it weird to think it's better when people don't hide behind Internet anonymity and use their real name?

When did I say Zim hasn't produced walk-off type hits, he has. The offense scored 2 runs over 15 innings, but there's no deficiencies there? I hope you're right, I hope they win it all, but often times the best team doesn't win the WS.

BooyahSuckah! said...

I would've paid a significant amount of money to see LaRoche pitch like they planned if it had kept going. Damn it.

Donald said...

If Ramos and Harper can stay healthy, getting them back will be huge for this team. I just don't think the Braves are that strong. Their best chance of winning was probably to have a hot streak or two while the Nats were down and then hope to run out the clock.

At this point, I think the Braves will need to be a buyer at the deadline and also need to hope that they continue to win the head-to-head matchups against the Nats.

If the Nats really turned the corner against them last weekend, then I don't see how the Braves take the division. Really excited to have Ramos and Harper back soon.

JWLumley said...

@Donald I think you're right, the lineup will be helped a bunch by Ramos and Harper, but if anyone struggles I don't understand why they wouldn't bring up Souza and try to work him into the lineup. Watched him play a couple games last week in Norfolk and the kid is a beast. Who is tearing up the IL. I'm sure it'll never happen, but could be better to work Souza into the lineup when Harper returns than Span (I don't think Zim is going back to 3rd despite what MW says.)

The Nats should win the NL East, but they may need to get better to make a run in the postseason. As James Wagner pointed out they aren't hitting breaking balls all that well this year.

WiredHK said...

For what it's worth (Werth?), the team is now working pretty much exactly the way it was designed -- superlative pitching, average hitting (well, it will be around average with the lineup intact next week). This team only performed poorly when it had a rash of injuries to critical hitters and the SPs were a bit ordinary at the very same moment in time (May).

With water now finding it's level and people returning from injury, this is a roster formula that can and should get you to the post-season handily in the NL East.

The rest of this discussion is fun blog-stuff stat debatitude (new word!). I enjoy reading it, but there's not much to wring our hands over right now.

John C. said...

Wow, hanging in there for 16 innings, on the road, against the team with the best record in the National League, making a series of excellent defensive plays to keep the game tied until a big blast from Zimmerman wins it.

You know, for a team of self-destructing head cases who are cursed by their own mental fragility (etc., etc.) ... the players on this team are some mentally tough SOBs