Nationals Baseball: Don't give away games

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Don't give away games

Yesterday Matt Williams gave away a game.  With Zimmerman out "days off" become a commodity that must be handed out carefully. Does Werth need another day to rest his ankle? Fine. But then Ramos needs to play.  It wasn't even asking too much of him.  He didn't play Sunday. Rockies night games start a little earlier (6:40 local) which lessens the day-night issue a little bit. (which really is just a made up thing anyway - like 5 more hours would make all the difference. You sit catchers on day after night games not because they can't handle such a crazy act of fortitude, but because you should give catchers more rest and day after night games are spread out enough that they make convenient places to remember to do that). But Williams had his set rules and he had to go ahead with them.

Then there's the line-up. You can understand putting Desmond 5th, sort of. Williams seems to have an unnatural fear of having lefties back to back in the lineup, and a desire to put Bryce in his place, so Bryce won't get the chance to bat in Zimm's spot. Desmond getting it makes the most sense I guess. So be it. That's the hand Nats fans have been dealt. But switching Rendon to the 3rd spot so Hairston can bat 2nd? What the hell is that? I'd rather see Hairston bat 3rd - at least you can use the "we are keeping guys in their usual spots" excuse.  There are optimal lineups but given the way Matt coaches we'll never get those. Even taking that into account, why can't we see a lineup that's Span-Rendon-LaRoche-Werth-Bryce-Desmond-Ramos-Espy? Doesn't that make sense with Zimm out for say a month? Arrgh

Look, the Nats should be good enough to lose a game they should win here and there and still take the NL East, but you want to minimize the number of these losses because you never know.  Maybe Werth needs a DL stint too. Maybe ZNN goes out and blows out his arm next start. Then what? Then you are fighting for a WC spot and you get to the end, you lose out by a game and you say "Well, that's baseball!" No. That's you screwing around in games you should win costing the Nats a playoff spot. 

Meanwhile Strasburg remains an enigma in 2014.  You can say nothing is wrong and it's just bad luck and hey, maybe it is. These things can last a while, even a season. But when it's going into a 2nd half you really have to start to look at a player. There are a lot of theories being bandied about (My least favorite one - "He needs another pitch!" Like pitchers haven't gotten by on 3 or fewer pitches before) My personal take - when you have an elite fastball, like in the upper 90s, it doesn't matter where you throw it. Guys can't hit that. But when you start drifting into the mid to low 90s location starts to matter. That's where Strasburg is moving into. It's still a good enough fastball not to get killed, but it's not good enough to be dominant on speed alone. Of course the caveat is that I can't really tell how much he's missing his targets. I can tell you prior to 2014 he was keeping the fastball away from righties and in to lefties and he's giving both more pitches to the middle. But is that by design? Going for contact? Command statistics exist but as far as I know are not out there for you and me so it's just eyeballing and guesswork unless someone wants to chart all of his games.

Here's the highlights from last game.  By watching Ramos you can see  he missed badly on the Dickerson hit. He might have missed a little low on the Paulsen hit. He missed on the DP ball, it was supposed to be outside and low - perfect for inducing DPs - but it went inside. It was still low and Stubbs isn't a great hitter so they got what they wanted but it could have been worse.

Here's the Brewer's game.  He misses down to Gennett on the HR, arguably in a lefties wheelhouse. Misses in to Davis on his HR. Misses at least out over the plate (maybe a little up too) on the lazy pop-up that the Nats' movers couldn't bring the statue that is Jayson Werth in to catch fast enough.

These hits seem to agree with the idea that he's having an issue hitting spots, especially cross his body (in to lefties, outside to righties). Of course there is a huge bias problem here when we're looking at only the other teams hitting the ball. I'd be shocked if we didn't see a lot of missed spots. We'd see the same thing if we looked at all the hits versus Kershaw, King Felix, or old video of Jason Simontacchi. What we really want to know is how often this happens. Pitchers miss spots every game. You miss a few times in 7 innings you are dominant. You miss a few times to each batter and you are toast.

Anyone have hours and hours free?

15 comments:

Jay said...

Thinking out loud, maybe Strasburg's biggest issue is the lack of a plan when he pitches. Fister has a plan (induce grounders with sinker). Zimmermann has a plan (hard away, hard in, slider when necessary). I wonder if Stras is trying too hard to induce early contact, and compounds his problem by missing spots. Maybe he needs to know, and own, who he is as a pitcher. Try for 12 Ks every time out. Pitch up and out of the zone with the fastball more. Start off the game 96, instead of saving that gas for the 7th. If he's done after 6, maybe Storen will actually get to pitch.

Honestly, I'm baffled by the whole situation. I've seen him start dozens of times, and this is my best guess at what's changed since 2012.

emdash01 said...

Even worst to me than the bad lineups is the in-game strategy. Having your leadoff hitter, who had three hits that day, sacrifice bunt with no outs and two on down two was the worst strategic decision a Nats manager has made probably since the Riggleman days. A manager's instinct shouldn't be to play for a tie - in Coors Field! - but it seems like Williams's often is.

Carl said...

What emdash said. I was yelling at the radio in the car when that happened. Don't play for a tie in that situation, especially at Coors Field; play for the big inning.

Harper said...

emdash/Carl - plus Span is fast and not hitting a lot of GBs so DP is not close to given. Doesn't strike out all that much. Does pop-up though. But yes, you have him hit away 10 times out of 10.

Vdub said...

My first thought when I saw the lineup yesterday was MW hates Strasburg...

I basically agree with everything you stated today. Zim goes down with an injury, which is a big blow to the lineup, and then MW takes 2 other starters out for rest days...

Maybe he was thinking Stras can shut the Rockies down... in Coors... at altitude... so lets get some guys some rest. But personally, I was offended at the lineup and I hope Stras was too.

Booyah Suckah! said...

Okay, first, I'll assert again that managers probably don't add very many wins, but they sure can take them away. I just don't get it. It's like he found a dusty old copy of The Conservative Manager's Bible (with Foreward by Dusty Baker) under his childhood bed and can't make any decision that parts ways with the logic contained therein.

Second, on Stras, I think the problem is a combination of two things. Thing One, the guy's BABIP is impossibly bad. Crazy bad. And my understanding is that BABIP is MOSTLY (not all) luck and the ability of the defense behind you. His luck is bad, and his defense is merely average. Thing Two, he's said before (particularly after The Shutdown Saga 2k12) that he wants to be a workhorse, wants to go deep in games, wants to be the iron man of the team, yada yada yada. He's talked about how he wants to keep his pitch count down so he can go deeper and pitch more innings. Strike out pitchers don't do that. Contact pitchers do. He wants to get guys out on contact, but he hasn't changed anything about his pitching except to move his pitches into the strike zone more consistently to induce said contact. The few things he HAS tried (like developing a slider/sinker) he wasn't able to do, for whatever reason. And the increased contact without changing his pitching style probably isn't helping his horrible BABIP numbers.

Mitch said...

I've thought for a long time that Strasburg looks like he might be tipping his pitches, at least judging by the batters' reactions. His strikeouts seem to almost always be on breaking balls. Even at "only" 94-95 mph I feel he ought to get more swings and misses off his fastball, and yet it seems so often that hitters are locked right into it. Especially given his knee-buckling breaking stuff.

This isn't based on yesterday's game per se, but rather my overall observation.

JE34 said...

Since inning1 continues to be such a problem, maybe Soriano should start, give Clippard the 2nd, and give Strasburg innings 3-9... This might be listed in the back of MW's copy of The Conservative Manager's Bible, in the Index of Heresies.

Mitch - I've wondered that too. Maybe hitters are IDing the fastball, and maybe it's a really straight fastball. I dunno. What I do know is the 3-spot in the first inning seems to happen every 5 games, and I find myself wringing my hands from that point on.

blovy8 said...

Maybe he's just not very good at pitching.

Bjd1207 said...

I don't necessarily have hours and hours, but maybe we can crowd-source this.

What's the best resource for pitch-by-pitch recaps? Either in pitch-track or data form. Fangraphs only drills down to plays

Anonymous said...

@Jay- I agree with you! Just speculating, it seems like Stras is having a hard time finding out what "type" of pitcher he is. Look, McCatty is doing a great job, however, Stras is a strikeout pitcher and should throw his hard fastball and own that curveball and changeup, that's it! forget about the slider. I'm sure McCatty is closely monitoring Stras and working with him on all of this. I just hope Stras stays positive and doesn't let this get into his head.

I'm baffled too and don't know what to expect from Stras when he gets on the mound.

Froggy said...

Maybe the solution for Strasburg is he only pitches on home games where he is 6-2 and not away games where he is 1-6?

JWLumley said...

This may come as a shock to some, but I'm not the biggest fan of Matt Williams. I've said this before, but I really don't think they could have hired someone worse. Was DJ too lax, perhaps, but it worked for him in a lot of different places and his track record speaks for itself. I'm not sure why Rizzo felt he needed to run to the other side of the ship, but perhaps Randy Knorr would have been the right choice.

The thing that really scares me is that this is a good enough team to mostly overcome MW's ineptitude. Meaning, MW may cost them wins, he may cost them playoff series, he may cost them division titles, but they'll still win enough games to never cost him his job. Unless he goes all Dusty Baker circa 2002 and gets fired after taking his team to the World Series (and managing them out of game 6), we're stuck with this guy for the next 3-7 years.

The only way the Nats get a new manager is if Harper or someone else on the Nats says 'it's me or him', otherwise he won't be fired. Rizzo thinks he's The Fonz, Jack Bauer and James Dean all rolled into one. Oh well, could be worse I guess.

John C. said...

I think it was Werth's knee, not ankle, that was sore. Resting your 35yo OF when he's nicked, especially when it's a leg injury and you're playing at altitude in the largest OF in organized baseball, makes sense. I can also see not pushing Ramos in Colorado, because of his ongoing trouble with muscle pulls. The team just can't afford to lose Ramos when Zim is probably out until mid/late August.

Which is why Hairston had to start; against a LHP he was the best OF option to offer a bit of offense, and with Ramos, Werth and Zim out of the lineup offense was the big need even with Hairston's defensive shortcomings - which may well have cost the Nats a run, too.

But even thought I understand all that, Williams had a terrible, terrible game yesterday. The lineup I regard as a venal sin; in any one game lineups aren't likely to make that much difference. Span's bunt? THAT was a mortal sin. If that was really Williams's call (assuming that he wasn't protecting Span), then he deserves all the abuse. I offer no defense for that because there is none. I can only hope that he learns from the experience.

Jimmy said...

JW- you have to love he emphasis on throwing guys out and the shift, seems to be working out for us pretty good. Davey would never do any of those things.