Nationals Baseball: Best team in baseball?

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Best team in baseball?

It's a legit question.  On May 28th the Nats lost to Miami and dropped to 25-27.  Since then they've gone 29-16 or the pace of a 104 win team. Normally I hate the "since May 9th" type of things, but in this case it's clear that the Nats have become a better team over time.

Pre-season : Fister out
March 31st : Ramos out
April 12th : Zimmerman out
April 25th : Bryce out

Three weeks into the season they lost a Top 3 starter and starters at 3 positions. That's tough to overcome.

May 7th : Ramos back
May 9th : Fister back
May 9th : LaRoche out

Early May looked like it might be the turning point but as soon as they got a couple guys back they lost another bat. It felt like they might never be healthy and it showed in their play.

May 25th : LaRoche back
June 3rd : Zimmerman back
June 10th : Ramos out again
June 26th : Ramos back
June 30th : Bryce back

But from the end of May until the end of June the team has finally come together mostly on a straight path with the exception of Ramos being out again for a couple weeks.

The gist is, I'm not saying the Nats are a 100+ win team, but the month+ long run they've been on is no mirage and the 2 month stretch prior to that is almost irrelevant. That team, from Mid April to the end of May was a different team and only serves to show how things could fall if there is another run of injuries.  If not, like we've said before, like everyone said before except the Braviest of Braves fans, the Nats should take the East.

Are they the best team in the NL? I think so. The run differential (which they lead) highlights the Nats' lack of flaws. They are a half-run better than league average when it comes to runs allowed per game, 2nd only to San Diego who plays in a run-depressing park. They are 3rd in the NL in runs per game and while that's not close to being as impressive as the pitching* it still means you are talking about a squad that's better than average now and likely has room to improve as guys get healthy and round into form.

In baseball? That's tougher. Both Detroit and Oakland have teams that are doing well both offensively and defensively. I'm not quite ready to say this. Let's see where the Nats are in a month though.

Looking at this, screw 5-4, road or not. I'm going for that 7-2 run. Let's start putting the East away.

*they are less than a quarter run better than average.  Or let's put it another way - the difference between the Nats offense and the 2nd to worst offense in the NL is 0.48 runs. That's equal to the gap between the Nats pitching and the average. The same kind of stretch comparison - we'll compare to the 3rd worst since the D-backs are a step worse than everyone else and the Rockies are the Rockies - get the Nats pitching to a 0.92 run difference.


Jimmy said...

Wooo! I like the 7-2 call set the bar high.

Jimmy said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
WiredHK said...

Being a bit more realistic: drawing Simon, Cueto and Latos @ Cincy won't be an easy task by any means. I'd expect two losses in that series alone, honestly. Ideally you'd like to sweep Col but 2-1 is fair here. So then, 2-1 in Miami would leave you 5-4. I think that's the most likely outcome, being reasonable. 6-3 would be the top end, in my opinion (sweep Col)...

cass said...

It's actually a 6-2 call since one game was already in the bag. :)

I'm just gonna worry about the bench because if you get optimistic, you can get disappointed. So I'll be Debbie Downer Nats fan. Strasburg, despite his elite K and BB percentages, is clearly cursed by the gods. Probably his father, Zeus, who always likes to attend his games. Or, actually, probably Hera. That'd make more sense. No other way to explain how he can have good enough stuff to miss bats and good enough control not to walk a ton but also give up hits on balls in play like peacock feathers on a peacock.

But the bench sucks. Bad. We're doomed.

Anonymous said...

Little early in the day to be hitting the sauce Harper, but I like the enthusiasm :).

Bjd1207 said...

@All - Haha I think Harper felt bad about yesterday's post and is trying to even it out.

"Since July 22, Harper has been the most optimistic nats blogger on the web. Can he sustain this, or is the real Harper not far behind?"

ocw5000 said...

There was a pretty solid piece on Grantland about Strasburg a month ago. The gist of it was: He has 3 plus pitches. His curve and change are especially ridiculous. But because he only has 3 pitches, it's harder for him to mix it up / easier for batters to guess correctly.

The piece talks about Strasburg's abandoned flirtations with a sinker and slider, but fundamentally it makes sense. Clippard has continued to be awesome by adding and mixing pitches. Last year, it was a guessing game of fastball or change-up (Justin Upton guessed right one time and blasted it to Mars). This year, he's using a splitter so the batter has more to think about. Storen, too, with the change-up this year. Keeps batters from looking fastball and adjusting to the slider.

I guess I'm trying to say that Strasburg is a headcase bum who we should trade right away. Maybe Stras and Harper for Dominic Brown and a Pat's cheesesteak (because Geno's sucks)?

DezoPenguin said...

I was going to make a "Who is this guy and what happened to Harper?" comment, but Anon and Bjd beat me to it. So instead I'll respond to Wired by pointing out that while Cincy's pitching is darned good, their hitting is...not. Harper being a Yankees fan, he may well be fueled a bit in his optimism by seeing a decidedly mediocre Yanks team sweep Cincy and recognizing that, much like the early-season Nats or the Braves all year, Cincy is one bad inning by the pitcher away from being in an unwinnable situation because they can't count on their offense coming up with four runs in a game.

Anonymous said...

espn insists that the Nats are underperforming and the Braves are still in it.

Technically, yes, this is true in the sense that back in March, everyone expected the Nats to have run away with it now. But this ignores three reality of the last few months. I'd say the bench and the team as a whole have over performed given the run of injuries and the tough schedule so far. Nats at full strength are playing as predicted. Atlanta is hanging on, but it's only gonna get harder for them from here

WiredHK said...

Dezo - I don't disagree with you, you're right about Cincy's poor offense (though they shockingly have scored more runs than, for ex., StL). I just feel like it being the road and all, and against three very good SPs, one could reasonably expect 1-2 there (in a bunch of 1-run games). If the 2-1s expected vs Col and Miami turn into sweeps, awesome.

But, again, being on the road and all -- 5-4 feels about right. 6-3 top end. Miami isn't totally inept, especially at home (28-24). I wouldn't be shocked if we sweep Col but go 1-2 vs both Cincy and Miami....

PS - I thought the same thing about Harper and the Yankees recent (home) sweep vs Cincy. Recency error? :)

JWLumley said...

Yeah, I expect the Nats to win the division and I think the Nats and Dodgers are the two best teams in the NL, which one's best is really just quibbling. Matt Williams still worries me. He just does nonsensical things and they always seem to be at Harper's expense. He may very well not have anything against him and just be this dumb, but it's hard to believe that given what's happened. I know we're not on the inside, they may very well like each other, but from the outside looking in it seems like a fractured relationship and MW seems cut in the same mold as Dusty Baker and Kurt Gibson with his love for veterans.

Still, it's a very good team that should make the playoffs, but the Cubs and Giants had good teams that Dusty Baker always seemed to manage out of the playoffs, so I kind of expect the same from MW.

Anonymous said...

Agree. Right now, MW seems like the team's biggest liability. Of course we don't know what goes on on the inside, but it appears to us observers that he has issues with Bryce

Froggy said...

Who is writing this blog and what have you done with our crotchety / familiar Harper?

I feel like I'm reading the Economist and someone has abducted Lexington!

Donald said...

I'd note that in the same timeframe Harper is referencing (since May 28th), the Braves have gone 26-21 or an 89-90 win pace. Their current pace is to win 88. So they've been fairly consistent all season. You gotta kinda wonder if they have anything planned for the trade deadline. Without a move of some sort, it's hard to see them getting much better than they currently are -- which is around an 88-90 win team.

Anonymous said...


Richard Parker said...

So Desi had seven hits in seven at bats in a row (no walks, etc.) -- five for five on Monday and two for his first two on Tuesday before striking out in his third at bat. I wonder how rare that kind of stretch is. For example, has any Nat done as well or better this year?

DezoPenguin said...

You know, I'm starting to there actually ANY manager who manages according to statistical principles?

What I mean is, for all of the teams that I follow and take an interest in, what I see are head-scratching decisions by managers. Appalling bullpen decisions. Lineups seemingly made up out of gut instinct. Affection for certain players and distaste for others completely at odds with what the numbers say. Bunts. And the fans left shaking their heads and hoping against hope that some of those decisions are made based on inner knowledge of the clubhouse which the public isn't privy to, instead of a flat refusal to either acknowledge or understand data.

I guess my point is, I see Williams hating on Harper, but I also see Fredi Gonzalez running Uggla out there night after night for most of the season and batting B.J. Upton second. I see Lloyd McClendon's affection for Willie Bloomquist, Endy Chavez, and Justin Smoak. I see John Farrell thinking the sun rises and sets on Johnny Gomes and that Daniel Nava is something scraped off someone's shoe. I see Joe Girardi putting Kelly Johnson at 1B and Brian Roberts at 2B and managing a farewell tour for Jeter at the expense of his team's chances of winning baseball games. I see Ned Yost...doing everything Ned Yost-like.

What I do NOT see is managers making out lineups based on sound statistical principles. I do NOT see them using relievers situationally. I do NOT see them accepting that certain veterans are not who they were three and four years ago.

And I start to wonder. Sure, Williams has done some things that confuse me. But are there any managers out there who actually do optimize their team's chances of winning? Or is it actually a wash when taken over a 162-game season, that Willams's dumb move tonight will be offset by Gonzalez's dumb move tomorrow, Bochy's dumb move Friday, and Matheny's dumb move Saturday?

Jay said...

DezoPenguin. I totally agree. Wasn't BJ Upton leading off for Atl at one point? I think that is why the media loves Joe Maddon so much. He actually somewhat likes stats. Also, Oakland continues to win (during the regular season) with teams that are all about OBP and HR.

JWLumley said...

@Dezo I agree, that most managers make some bad decisions and rely too much on gut. But I'd say Joe Madden and Bob Melvin both use a lot of analytics to help them with their decision making and surprise, surprise, the A's and Rays are two of the winningest teams over the last 5-10 years despite having two of the smallest payrolls. I'd also say, that Bo Porter uses statistics to make a lot of decisions, but people don't notice because the Astros are terrible and a lot of his decisions are based on development instead of winning.

I think what we tend to notice the especially egregious errors on the part of managers, like batting Denard Span 1st, hitting Harper 6th, batting Brandon Phillips 4th or BJ Upton 2nd. The moves that look like lunacy to those who are statistically driven, but also as someone else pointed out, don't even pass the old school logic test. I mean look at Hairston, he shouldn't have been hitting second yesterday, but he also should have more than 50 PA's at this point in the season.