Nationals Baseball: July 2014

Thursday, July 31, 2014

Trade dreadline

See what I did there?

Let's break down where the Nats stand right now. At the plate, Ryan Zimmerman is out, likely for the remainder of the year. Zimmerman is a .285 bat with 25 HR power and ok patience. Unsurprisingly, the Nats don't have a replacement for that. Currently Ryan's injury would likely force Danny Espinosa (.217 / .283 / .347 - but with a .295 / .375 / .474 line against lefties and plays great defense) to play everyday, or perhaps platoon in some manner with Zack Walters (he of 16 Ks in 43 PAs, but lots of pop).   That's not a terrible fix but it is likely a weak spot in the lineup, in comparison to what they did have.

One weak spot in the lineup the Nats can cover.  There isn't a bad bat in the bunch, (yes - even Span. I'd expect him to slump but he's on average a mediocre bat, not bad) and there are several guys who can carry a team when hot.  However, there isn't a true superstar guy who can carry a team when not hot, and that puts the Nats in a position where one more injury would likely put a serious hurt on this lineup. The weak spot would become a weak inning. Werth, an injury risk coming in, has been balky recently. Span, Ramos, Bryce, and LaRoche have all missed significant time this year. (Did you know Espy was 5th on the team for games played?). It seems prudent to get another bat in here now, even if there isn't a need to solve problem staring them in the face. A 2B would be the obvious solution, but just a good bench bat would do.

In the pen, the Nats don't really need anything but there is a strong desire to add a lefty who can also get righties out to the relief core. As we discussed yesterday Blevins has devolved into a LOOGY this year and that really limits his usefulness.  When used as he should be now, he's a 1-2 batter pitcher, and forces the team into more 2 pitcher innings than they'd like.  

There you go - that's where the Nats stand right now. Of course they could use a great bat or arm in any place, but since they don't NEED them, I don't see them making a move for them.

Now will they make a move? As we discussed earlier, Rizzo is apparently never all-in. He's not planning on making deals he feels he might lose big-time in the long term. (not that it can't happen - like if Alex Meyer ends up being Steve Carlton, just that it isn't a very likely scenario). He's looking for value in the deal meaning he's not giving up more than he thinks he's getting back. Also the Lerners have said they are "beyond topped out" which means adding big salary is unlikely.  Those two things combined make trading a lot harder.

We've heard some names bandied about (Murphy, Cabrera) but honestly I think it makes a deal for a 2B nigh-impossible as good ones of those will likely be costly in either prospects or salary (or both).  If the Nats are kicking the tires on these guys it's likely to see if they can get that deal. No harm in asking really if say the Rangers would trade Beltre for Sammy Solis and Tony Renda.

I'd expect a deal for a relief arm. I'd expect Andrew Miller to end up on the Nats. Probably for an outfielder. That's my guess.

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

What happened to Jerry Blevins

From the post I wrote when the Nats got Blevins :
First thing to note is that Blevins is not a LOOGY.  Here are those splits I promised you

v R : .220 / .314 / .322
v L : .250 / .340 / .419

v R : .219 / .333 / .310
v L : .182 / .248 / .327

v R : .190 / .267 / .314
v L : .253 / .299 / .442

See? If anything he's been better against righties over the past 3 years. The take away though is that he's been effective against both sides. 
What have we seen in 2014?

v R : .333 / .417 / .472
v L : .134 / .194 / .209

This year, Jerry Blevins is a LOOGY. What the hell, Jerry?

The high ERA (5.11 right now) isn't exactly his fault.  His LOB% is pretty high and for a relief pitcher that usually means the guys coming in after you aren't doing you any favors. But even given that you can't ignore the split we are seeing this year. The OPS that he's given up to righties this year is All-Star caliber, meaning that those righties would be an All-Star.  Pitching him against all but the weakest righties is a non-starter.

There's some issue with a high BABIP vs righties, but it's not just bad luck. Righties have a much higher LD rate (27.6%) than lefties (18.6%) and they've hit all the homers he's given out. His walk rate vs righties is way up. He's throwing more junk at righties this year and getting more swings and misses from righties, but they are hitting his junk harder this year when they do connect (lefties are too)

I'm just stating what I see at this point, I'm not going to suggest any deep knowledge here. Is he having trouble controlling his pitches this year? Is he pitching around righties more? Is there something psychological versus righties that is going on? What I do know is the facts are the facts and you can't use Blevins versus righties right now, unless you are talking about Lombo type hitters (at best... I might not let him face Lombo either - that's asking for a single).

The goal, down 0-1 with only one inning left, is not to minimize scoring but to eliminate it. You knew that if you brought in Blevins you'd see a decent righty (Reed Johnson : 286 / .300 / .408 vs lefties) so you can't do that. Based on how Blevins has done versus righties and the fact Johnson isn't bad you gotta think Johnson has what, a 40% chance of getting on base, most likely through a base hit?  Even if he gets the next two guys you are likely bringing up Stanton one more time, runner probably in scoring position, a situation you are desperate to avoid. I know if you bring in Clippard or Storen first you'd be likely facing 3 LH hitters, but both are pretty capable of getting them out (Clip .675 OPS for lefties this year - better historically, Storen .547 OPS) and you know what? If they fail to get the first lefty out (Garret Jones .267 / .334 / .467 vs righties) then you can still switch over to Blevins if you like. Or hell you could even wait until they announced Jones and then pull Clippard or Storen and let Blevins deal with all three.  The only thing you can't do with these three pitchers is let Blevins face that righty.

The game situation demanded as close to a sure out as you could get at all times. Blevins v righty batter is one of your worst match-ups. It should have never happened.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Following late inning logic

I don't know what happened last night

Ok I do know what. I just don't know why.

Let's recap. ZNN pitched well. Nats hit well. Took advantage of Marlins mistakes. Detwiler didn't blow it thanks in part to a big Storen K of Detwiler. 6-3 going into the ninth. Now let's go over all the logic that leads to the loss.

Soriano comes in. Why not keep pitching Storen? He's been very good. He only faced one batter and you hate to waste him on 1/3 an inning. Simply put you don't do that. Save situations go to the closer.  That's why you pay them the big bucks.  If he's closed like the last 3 games you give it to someone else. Other than that he has "first dibs" on every save situation.

Well if save situations go to the closer - why didn't you bring in Soriano to face Stanton? It would still be righty versus righty and then you wouldn't waste a Storen appearance on a single batter. This makes some sense but if at all possible the closer pitches the ninth and only the ninth. This rule is more open to changes but in general the save of more than 3 outs is rare. It takes a "bulldog" to want to go more than 3 outs. Gotta save these arms for the playoffs! A closer is a delicate flower who if asked to get more than 3 people out may explode.

Following straight logic what I said above sounds a little silly, but everyone does it and they aren't terrible rules in certain circumstances, such as when your bullpen is deep and your closer is good. That describes the Nats. I don't have any big problems yet.

McGehee walks on 4 pitches - Not a good start but this changes nothing

Jones doubles to deep right center - crushed and brings the tying run to the plate, but you don't pull Soriano or even look to yet. Rookie righty next.

Ozuna singles to right center - Kind of a flare, which might have been caught (or at least dove for) if the OF wasn't playing deep to prevent XBH. Stinks.

At this point you start to look ahead. You may pull him for a lefty (Blevins) now, but if you do you need a righty to follow-up, because you don't want Blevins facing righties this year. Salty has some pop but strikes out a lot so you probably keep Soriano in and hope for the best. If not then Blevins and Clippard.

Salty hits a sac fly to right - not the best, but not the worst. If you've gone with Soriano at this point he pitches to Hechavarria, but someone is warming up in case this guy gets on. Clippard threw 21 pitches the night before, but would still make the most sense. You just rule him out entirely for Tuesday. Barrett, who pitched badly but only threw six pitches, wouldn't be a bad choice either. You are probably saving Stammen for the potential extra innings.  You'd might also warm up Blevins to go up versus Yelich if the righties failed in some manner, but really you'd probably just let Clippard try to seal it.

Hechavarria tripled to deep right center - hell of an at bat by Hechavarria but also telling for three reasons. First Soriano doesn't have his put away stuff. He hasn't K'd anyone at this point and Adeiny managed to foul off 5 pitches. With the winning run on third and one out - you really are looking for a K here.  Second, Soriano didn't have his location and threw a wild pitch. With the winning run on third you don't want that threat on the mound. Third, Soriano is now up to 25 pitches thanks to that long at bat. He's gone 26 three times, never longer and he'd have to go longer to finish this game.

With three big red flags it's an easy decision. You pull Soriano now.  But for some reason Williams decided that Clippard and Barrett were both not going to pitch tonight regardless of the situation. It's a silly decision - these guys should be able to go two nights in a row and you can see how this hamstrings Williams. You are left with two guys in the pen then, Stammen (R) & Blevins (L). The Marlins have R-L-R coming up (beyond that is Stanton but it's difficult for the Nats to get there and not have lost the game) You can't work the match-ups as you like so you're left with three choices.
  • Have Stammen come in now, finish out the inning - you don't like the Yelich match-up but you can pitch him carefully and get two righty on righty match-ups.
  • Have Blevins come in now - You don't like the Solano match-up, but it's Donovan Solano. Plus, Blevins has better K-stuff.
  • You keep Soriano in for one more guy, let Blevins pitch to Yelich, then bring in Stammen for Baker and beyond. This get you only favorable match-ups but Soriano as we explained is toast. 
Williams appears to choose the third

Solano HBP - terrible. Blevins is the call and the call is made

Yelich strikes out - sweet! Things worked out as planned. Now just bring in Stammen and maybe you can win in extras if he ho...wait.  Stammen wasn't warming up? But that means Blevins has to face a righty (a righty who kills lefties I might add) and that means...

Baker "singles" to deep left - Crushed over Bryce's head. No chance. Nats lose, Nats lose.

The failures that had Soriano pitching the ninth are the failures of the game, not Williams. In fact, most people wouldn't consider those decisions wrong. Even though I think they are, (especially if you know Clip and Barrett are not pitching tonight - makes a lot of sense then for the 4-out save) having a good pitcher in to pitch the ninth is never a bad thing and that's where the Nats ended up.

In the ninth the first time Soriano could be pulled was for a lefty to face Salty but just three batters into the ninth I don't see you doing that. And once Salty gets out, you don't pull him against Hechavarria.

Given that the first big mistake comes with letting Sorinao pitch to Solano. The sad part is that this wasn't a mistake caused by in the moment thinking. It's a mistake caused by strictly following a decision made to start the game. Clippard and Barrett weren't pitching tonight. That decision was made. Now, in a close game, he's suddenly left with a LOOGY and a long reliever. I still don't pitch Soriano at this point but you can see how he got to that decision.

The second mistake comes by not having Stammen ready to face Baker. I don't see why you wouldn't do this. Someone has to pitch the extra-innings if you get there. It's unlikely that the pitcher spot would come up next inning without the Nats scoring a run (5-6-7 up) so PH for the pitcher is probably not a huge necessity. This makes sense on even the basic "this is what's done in baseball" level. Williams basically broke from the rules at this point to do something stupid, which is like extra stupid.

Can Williams get this team to the playoffs? I think so. Of course I think anyone can.  Can he win there... well they aren't going to win because of him, not managing like this.

Monday, July 28, 2014

There's no "sensible way to manage your star player" in TEAM

Told you not to worry about Cincy. They can't hit. Can't. As good as the pitching can be (see Cueto, Jonny) it hardly matters when they can't score more than three runs, which should be the case versus a good pitching team (which the Nats are). Seriously - here are their runs scored since the All-Star break. 3, 1, 2, 2, 3, 1, 1, 1, 2.  This is a team that could find itself in last place by the end of August. Most likely not (the Cubs have gotten themselves a great "lead") but I'm not betting against it.

Anyway, the Nats will have to sweep the Marlins to go 7-2, like I demanded they do.  Don't they listen to me? They are better than the Marlins. They should win the series. 6-3 is fine. 5-4 is not ok.

The bigger story over the weekend is how the management has treated Bryce Harper and how the fans are turning on him.  He has not hit particularly well since coming back (.209 / .329 / .328). He seemed to have something going for a few games there but has gone back to slumping. During that time there was a questionable non-start versus Franklin Morales (not exactly a lefty who dominates lefties), an odd "fake bunt" call in a key point, and a few overly aggressive baserunning moves which everyone loved so much last year, and now everyone hates because... ummm...  Well, there's the stated reason why they hate these moves, because they cause outs. But you know what? They caused outs before too. The turn can be caused by a team losing when they should be winning, but the Nats have taken 1st place and don't look to be slowing down. No, the big reason why they hate the moves now, something that has changed from previous years is the team (and the media - Hi, Boz!) have told them they should hate it now.

Now you have people throwing out trades for Bryce, or suggesting he go down to Syracuse for Souza.  It's created this weird ironic situation where in order to show that Bryce is not more important than the team, that the team's success is paramount, the Nats are doing things that most likely will hurt the team's success.  So I guess send the management down too?

Bryce is arguably the most important piece for the future success of the Nats. Everyone else is either too old, to injury prone, or too unproven to take that title from him. The only possible challenger to Bryce is Rendon, but here's a fun fact; in Bryce's 2nd year (last year), he got on base more and hit for more power than Rendon is doing now in his second year. He was also four years younger than Rendon. Bryce's potential to be a team carrying star cannot be ignored. He doesn't have to be coddled, but he does have to be used properly.  Preferably that would be batting higher in the line-up but hey, if they just set-him and forget-him for 2014 in the 6 hole I'd be fine with that. Sit him versus tough lefties, otherwise he plays everyday. Don't ask him to do things you wouldn't ask other players of his talent to do. It's not that difficult.

Sigh. What a stupid thing to be talking about.

In other news - Denard Span. You all know I'm not a big fan of Denard Span. It's pretty much all about him batting leadoff, as I don't think he should be sat and certainly not traded. Recently he's made the leadoff question moot, getting on base at a crazy clip. Of course a lot of that is just luck (please someone tell me his .441 July BABIP is sustainable) which happens with speedy slap hitters, but he did increase his walk totals in each of the past three months. Six in May, eight in June, twelve so far in July. If he keeps it up he might not be terrible leading off when the batting average cools down. That's important because like it or not, he's leading off for this team.

I'm one to think that Span's option year should be picked up. Does that mean Souza (or whoever) doesn't get there chance? Maybe. But the Nats OF D is pretty shaky and Souza is still learning the position. Bryce hasn't been able to turn his athleticism into good OF play and Werth can't get around out there anymore (sorry Werth fans).  They need Span in CF.  If he happens to hit like crap (or if Souza shows himself to be an unstoppable force in the majors when he plays) then you can bench him - he would make a great 4th OF / defensive replacement / pinch runner in that case.An expensive one yes, but the Nats should be able to afford it without affecting their future plans.

Friday, July 25, 2014

For Rizzo, the time is never now

There is one quote in the story that Kilgore wrote about Rizzo that stands out to me, a dangerous quote for Nats fans who want the Nats to go all-in
"You can’t do things for short-term gains that are going to harm you long term.”
The rumor mill suggests this isn't just talk. Despite losing Zimm potentially for the remainder of the season, the Nats appear to be only looking at upgrading their LH relief pitching. It makes sense to do that, Jerry Blevins' complete LOOGYness this season limits his usefulness, but it would seem like the Nats should do more. One more bat or one more big arm could likely guarantee a NL East pennant and the advantages that come with that.

It makes sense to go all in now. The iron is hot and it seems very likely to grow colder by 2016. Ian Desmond, Jordan Zimmermann, and Doug Fister all could be gone after the 2015 season. Adam Laroche, Denard Span, Rafael Soriano, and Tyler Clippard are also up for FA after 2015 and not all of them will be back*. If LaRoche does come back he'll be 36 in 2016. Werth will be here and he'll be 37. Zimmerman and Ramos are both high-injury risks. It's clear that this particular window, with these particular players playing leading roles, has another 2 years tops.

That's not to say the future is grim. You can see where the Nats' plan is going. In 2016 Rendon and Bryce will anchor the offense while Gio and Strasburg anchor the rotation. Storen re-takes his closer role and a guy like Barrett moves into a set-up role. Filling in the gaps will be Taylor or Goodwin or Souza in the OF. Cole and Giolito will take their places in the rotation. I imagine a trade will be made for a MI and maybe a SP.  Who exactly I can't tell you . You're probably looking for a guy who is becoming a FA after the 2017 season at least (the Nats don't deal for 1 year players) and may not have gotten on the radar yet. (twist my arm and I'll say Starlin Casto)

But you can see that alot has to go right. Giolito and Cole (or whoever but these are the likely two) have to be as good as ZNN and Fister. Strasburg and Gio have to be as good as they are now. Along with Zimmerman and Ramos, Rendon and Bryce also have to remain healthy. Storen can't go head-case again. They have to be able to make a trade for positions other teams value highly. If the Nats want to keep position as NL East favorite a couple years from now, it'll take some good GM skill AND some good luck.

I understand the impulse to protect the future and I get that making deals for now are no guarantee of success, but here's the truth :
  • If you sacrifice the future to try to win now, you'll probably lose now and your future will be a question mark.
  • If you don't sacrifice the future to try to win now, you'll probably lose now and your future will be a question mark. 
These things only change by degree. There are no guarantees, not of current success AND not of future success.

Rizzo wants to focus on the future because that's what the owners most likely want. A stable, winning franchise. That builds the fanbase and makes the franchise more valuable. Trading for now could darken a future that is already cloudy. Focus on winning games, not championships, because winning games is an accomplishment that's far less up to the fickle hands of fate. One bounce, one bad start, won't take you from winning 90 games to 75, but it can take you from winning a playoff series to losing one.

Is that what you want though? A series of half-measures on whatever is going on in the current year? A tweak here and there every 2 out of 3 summers when the Nats are still in it? Or do you want the big move, knowing full well the team still could, and probably will, fail at obtaining the ultimate goal?

*My early guess. I think LaRoche will resign on another 2-year deal. So Zimm plays LF / platoons with LaRoche. I think Clippard and Soriano walk for greener pastures. I think the Nats let Span go because they just don't have room. I think they manage to sign Fister but not ZNN (who let's face it, doesn't want to be here) or Desmond (who will get more money elsewhere)

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?

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Back to the edge

The Nats won last night. The Nats have the best record in the NL. The Nats are playing arguably their best baseball of the year.


Zimmerman went down yesterday.

In of itself this doesn't stop the Nats from taking the NL East. Assuming it's something bad (and it seems like everyone does) Rendon takes 3rd, Espy takes 2nd, and the Nats end up with their best defensive group on the field. The offense takes a hit but if the Nats can't compensate for having one guy out of the lineup then they don't deserve to take the division.

The problem is what it sets the Nats up for, which is a scenario where one more injury cripples the offense. It may not - 60 games left you could get a decent run from a McLouth or even a Frandsen (it's not impossible!) - but one more injury would likely leave the Nats with the dreaded "easy inning" where Espy/?/pitcher gives the opposing starter time to relax and regroup. The offense never really clicked before whenever two guys (or more) were out. I don't see a reason why it would now.

It would also, in my mind, demote Zimmerman to Ramos status when it comes to injury, which is "hope to get 100 games out of him". That's probably not fair, he's played at least 142 games four of the last 5 years, but it's how I feel.  The every third year massive missed time due to injury has to catch up with a body, especially one a couple months from 30 years old who has spent the last year and a half dealing with an arm issue. Next year the Nats will have to plan around this. (Don't ask me how just now)

Do the Nats make a play for someone now?  Headley would have been the obvious choice, excellent defense, history, recent play, and home/road splits suggest he's due to hit better (and that he can hit righties - which could allow the Nats to do a platoon of sorts with Espinosa).  He's off the table now. With Luis Valbuena is crashing, the Nats are left with probably Martin Prado or Trevor Plouffe if they want guys that can play everyday. Both are better versus lefties.

My guess is that they don't make a play. Again - the Nats don't NEED to do something and Rizzo has shown a strong proclivity to ride the horses he brought to the dance (something like that) the past few years in that situation (hell, he's done it when they do need someone). So I don't see him making a move unless Zimm is out for the rest of the year.

Still, there's a chance it isn't too bad. Just keep repeating to yourself. 15-day DL.  15-Day DL. 15-Day DL. 

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.

Monday, July 21, 2014

Monday Quickie - Rested Roark

There isn't that much to say.  The weekend was almost a loser for the Nats. As a good team playing another good team the Nats should take 2 of 3 at home. They did, but they almost didn't. Weeks doesn't get caught stealing, Braun catches a little bit more of that ball...

But that's sports. There's a lot of wins that you could have lost and a lot of losses you could have won. No reason to dwell on it. The Nats did what they needed and now move on to what should be a relatively easy stretch of away games, Colorado, Cincy, and Miami. You'd love to see the Nats shift gears and run over these teams with a 7-2, 6-3 stretch. But 5-4 will do. They may lose a game in the standings to the Braves who are finishing out their last easy stretch of games for 3 weeks, but you'd expect them to make it up in August.

The most interesting thing from the weekend for me is Tanner Roark's game. Prior to the 13th Roark had taken a noticeable turn south. His outings were short, he was giving up a lot of hits, and it seemed like only providence was keeping him from having a terrible blow-up game. A 1.500 WHIP should show worse than a 3.68 ERA. But this looks to be "that year" for Roark and things didn't go as bad as they should have. Now his last two outings have been much better.

While there are a lot of things it could be, rest seems the most likely reason for the turn around. He had been pitching every 5th game all-season and from May 16th through June 27th he pitched on the 5th calendar day (4 days of rest) for 6 out of 8 starts. While Roark had always been a starter, he's never racked up a season close to 200IP, which is what he was pacing. The most innings he had pitched in a season since starting in the minors was 158, and that was last year. It's not crazy to think he was tiring of the pace, the effort, and the constant major league goal of getting deep into games. Then, just when he needed it, two days off in a short time frame (thanks to the Cubs DH) gave him six days between starts. He didn't do great that game but it set the stage. He'd next be schedule to pitch on Wed the 9th, but after a rainout took away Fister's start, the Nats decided to push Fister, skip Roark, and keep the rest of the rotation on track. Roark wouldn't pitch again until the 13th. That's eight days of rest for Roark. Then the All-Star break intervened and while the Nats threw Roark in early in part to give ZNN a longer rest, it was still five days of rest, another day longer than he might sit than during a long stretch of uninterrupted games.

The end result is that when Roark next takes the mound, with another day off in between now and then, will have pitched 5 times in 29 days. If you were keeping on a strict schedule you'd make your 5th start on Day 21. Granted it's rare that you have 21 days without a break, but more a than a week longer than expected is a lot more rest than you'd usually luck into.

If it is rest the question will be what happens in mid August. The Nats will go from July 25th through August 10th without a scheduled day off thanks to the Oriole make-up. Roark would be pencilled in for that first game and then pitch 4 straight games on normal rest, the last one being a potentially huge one in Atlanta. Will the arm, then around 140 IP be tired again? Or is this time off in mid July enough to recharge his arm for the season? Was a tired arm even the issue? A lot can happen between now and then - rainouts, injuries, etc. but it's something to keep an eye on.

Friday, July 18, 2014

Up, Down, All around

Occasionally we like to peruse the fancy stats and try to pick up on things that are unsustainable. The truth is though, there is enough variation in these stats, their relationship to each other, and the number of events in a single baseball season is small enough, that a lot of what we say is little better than coin-flipping.

Span has a .299 BABIP but usually has a .315? So he should get better... unless he's just getting older. But his LD% is up a little which is better... But his GB% is up a lot, which could be worse, and LD% is the flukiest of those... His HR/FB% is down too, so should that bounce back or is it aging as well... but like from 3.5% to 1%... He's slightly more selective O-Swing rate down, a better eye maybe... but he's making more contact on these pitches and less on pitches in the zone...   Conclusion? We shouldn't be making conclusions here.

I like to look at these fancy stats to try to explain things that have happened, but as a predictor of things to happen it gets dicier. I prefer, especially with less than half the games left to only focus on those things that seem truly out of whack.  Here's what I think have a good shot to be true for the rest of the season

Adam LaRoche continues to see his numbers fall. LaRoche started out so hot that this is kind of an inevitable, but what I don't like is that .315 BABIP.  It's not far enough off his career numbers (.306) to be even glanced at, but his numbers the last two years are .298 and .277.  That jives with what I would expect from an aging, occasionally injured, slow player. It also matches what I've seen - he's not getting faster. His range numbers, kind of an independent way to judge speed/quickness, are getting worse. Really I can't see any reason for the high BABIP other than "getting lucky".  I'd expect numbers more based off a base .240 average going forward.  He won't be bad, but he'll be decidedly shruggable.

Ryan Zimmerman will hit homers at a better rate. Ryan's 7.4% HR rate is way out of line with his past numbers, almost half his average. It may be a legit drop in power (flyball distance is down) or a bat speed issues (spray charts show a lack of deep balls pulled) but I'm going to chalk it up to injury recovery. Ryan in the past has shown a tendency to recover slow and be a totally different hitter when feeling good as opposed to a little off (remember those cortisone shots). I don't think he'll go on a tear but he could end up with 15 or so, a decent ending considering he has 4 now.

Rafeal Soriano will have a rougher end to the season, so will Fister. Rafeal Soriano is floating with a .207 BABIP well below his average of around .252, his LOB% is the highest of his career, his HR/FB% a ridiculously low 2.2%.  Soriano has had a past year where he produced a lot of poor contact fly balls so I could forgive a single out of line number, but all three? He doesn't have to collapse or anything, just not an ERA under 2.00, let alone 1.00. Fister's BABIP is also below normal - part of that is the switch to the Nats from the Tigers, but the Nats D is actually seasonally trending in the wrong direction. Most of the staff are seeing BABIP rises, Fister's .263 stands out as unusual in comparison. His ERA should rise.

Strasburg and Zimmermann should see their ERA dip. First I want to note that while the Nats defense did improve over the course of the year, that's really only because it was oddly bad at the beginning. Guys like Span, who has shown himself consistently to be a good defender, and Rendon, who everyone likes as a defender, had oddly poor stats. Such is the way when looking over a few months at stats that need combined years to find consistency.  Are the Nats suddenly great in the field*? I doubt it.  I see the Nats as an average defensive team at best. Which means that I don't like a sudden drop in the BABIP the team is putting out for the pitcher. That's bad news for guys over achieving but for ZNN and Stras, who are putting up higher BABIP than normal they should see a drop which should show up in their ERA. It doesn't have to be huge, just lower.

Those are the bets I'd make for the last 70 games

LaRoche's BA drops
Zimm HR rate goes up
Soriano's ERA jumps
Fister's ERA climbs a bit, Strasburg and ZNN's drop a bit.

All in all a mixed bag, so no big push in either direction that would boost or serve as a detriment to the belief we all have that this is a good Nats team that should win most of these games coming up.

*Did you know a significant part of DRS that Kilgore cites is something called rGFP? Which is a "good fielding play" as observed from someone watching film. That potentially has its own issues but it's an interesting way to try to encapsulate things that don't show in your typical or even fancy stats. The thing is the majority of these good plays came from Frandsen, Moore and Lobaton (7 of 12). Not that they didn't happen - these guys could be "smart" if not they are not good. Doesn't matter. They aren't playing

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Avoiding this mistakes of last year

The 2013 Nats season has been boiled down to a simple set of statements. The Nats suffered important injuries early in the year. In the starters' places, the bench, questionably remaining the same from an over-their-heads 2012, produced hideously. Rizzo was too slow to make any changes. When the team finally got healthy and made a push at season's end, it was too late. End of story.

However, this convenient cliff notes version leaves out something important. From game 115 on the Nats went on a 32-16 run, playing better than anyone in baseball, but the team was back together healthy at game 85.  What happened from game 85 through game 114?

After Bryce came back on July 1st, Ramos would return to the team on July 4th, game 85. The Nats would immediately win 4 in a row and pull within 4 of the Braves and 4 of the 2nd Wild Card. Here come the Nats, right?

Wrong. The Nats would then go 2-5 leading up to the All-Star break and would follow that up coming out of the All-Star break 6-13. That 8-18 stretch culminated in a sweep by Atlanta that left the Nats 15 1/2 games out of the NL East lead, 9 1/2 out of the 2nd Wild Card and unofficially ended the season.

Stories tended to focus on this period as if it was simply a continuation of the earlier season and whatever conclusions that they had drawn from those first three months were re-inforced by the poor record. But this was with the full team, it had to be different and it was. The starters, as good as one would expect every other month, had their worst month of the year in July, putting up a 4.53 ERA. ZNN (7.18,  next worse month 3.86), Gio (5.34), Stras (4.62, next worse month 3.24) - blame went across the board. The relievers put up their 2nd worst month by ERA (0.01 better than March/Apr) and probably their worst pitched month (1.438 WHIP, next worse was 1.328), with Stammen, Soriano, Mattheus and Storen all putting up ERAs over 4.50.

The bad pitching hurt, but it could have been mitigated by some timely hitting now that the band was back together. But while Wertth and Ramos hit well, they were cancelled out by Rendon (.556) and LaRoche (.511) completely crapping out. The remainder of the team, Bryce, Desmond, Span and Zimmerman, all produced at a average level (OPS from .732 to .786). End result a very average month hitting (7th in NL in runs scored).  The hitting wasn't the problem, but it wouldn't be the solution either.

What's the point?  The point is even though the Nats are healthy they aren't immune to long periods of bad play. If you are just assuming the Nats will take over first and coast to the playoffs, you are getting ahead of yourself.  They should do it. For one thing, you can argue that the team is slightly better with Fister, Roark, a head on straight Storen, a more seasoned Rendon. For another, they are starting from a better spot. 51-42 and tied for first rather than 47-48 and 6 games out. But should isn't will. Even without a major injury the Nats could see 30-45 days of poor play for no other reason than "it happens". Don't take anything for granted.

It's a message for the fans, but it's a message for the team too. They should make those minor improvements. They should try to maximize the team's potential, even if by just a game or so. Remember last year at this time they traded for Scott Hairston... and that's it. They did nothing for three months leading up to the Nats being healthy again, and they did next to nothing when they were healthy but struggling. They assumed when healthy the Nats would win and that would be enough. They waited... and waited... and waited for the cream to rise and quite possibly waited the team out of the playoffs. You don't know if those games will matter, even for a healthy team capable of winning 2/3rd of their games for long periods of time. It happens.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Still no baseball

Well some - but Clippard looked good didn't he?
So why not delve into some various blog topics brought up by yesterday's celebration of a decade of destruction? But first - some All-Star thoughts.
  • The All-Star game "hat tip" to Jeter actually didn't bother me. As fan service in game form it's the proper venue for such things. What makes far less sense to me is the city by city shows of love. Why does Kansas City need to give Jeter a present?
  • I am totally in favor of one player per team. I remember when the Yankees weren't good and I watched the game to see if Roberto Kelly would do anything. As a kid, it matters. Thus I can see trying to work these "singles" into the game. But I don't think you need to work in as many players as possible. If there's already a guy on the team who's played (say Alfredo Simon for some reason) than there's no reason to bring the game to a halt to bring in Aroldis Chapman. I mean, for example. 
  • I also think the first two SP used on each side should go at least 2 IP each, and every offensive starter voted in should get at least 2 ABs. That's how I'd manage it. 
  • If managers managed like the above it's far easier to avoid the extra-innings no players left tie game situation and thus we can get rid of the ridiculous no one cares about home field advantage stipulation. Still want a safety valve for it? Have an honorary All-Star that's a recently retired pitcher who can pitch for his league if the game goes past the 13th or whatever.
  • The game should be moved to Sunday night. Teams won't like the lost weekend revenue but it would be better for the sport and you could start the ceremonies, etc. earlier without worrying about the West Coast getting home from work. 8:19 is too late for first pitch. 
  • I tweeted it but MLB should totally play up the Futures Game more than it does. Essentially it's baseball's "draft", in that it's a showcase for players that are likely to be helping their teams this year or next.
 Ok enough of that - some blog history now!

So if I've been posting since 2004 why does the archive only seem to start in Dec 2009?  Here's the story:

Back in the mid 2000's guys in the sports blog world were trying to create aggregated blog sites (think SBNation) that they could turn into successful money-making ventures. was one (here's what it looked like at the time). It collected some of the best baseball writers on the internet (and also OOPS Carroll), but then there was some disagreement and a bunch of the talent (and also Carroll) went off to form their own site (baseball toaster - which I believe runs the sports internet now, right?) and all-baseball was sold to some guys. Those guys ran a site called "The most valuable network" and started recruiting other blogs to cover more teams. After probably a half-dozen other Nats blogs turned them down (no joke), I said sure. I was going to write anyway.

I didn't mind being on all-baseball. The site was pretty clean and ad-limited, and even though they had a co-writer on the blog (Needham called him JP LaFrogge) he was more... writerly (he was the one that had a blog named "Oleanders and Morning Glories" that was kept hence where the subtitle to this blog comes from), so it didn't clash with what I was doing. But these owner guys, remember, are looking to make something they can sell so eventually they consolidated all-baseball into the new mvn. was terrible. It looked like this. That doesn't look too bad now, but with 2007 download speeds and stuffed with ads thankfully gone from the archived version it was awful to visit. I hated it. I also didn't love working with a partner. Thought about stopping a bunch. Didn't. Eventually folded as most "Idea -> ? -> PROFIT!" sites do and I went back to the blogspot site and haven't left. All those posts on MVN? Lost to time.

For those that don't know, I am ESPN's Sweet Spot's official Nats blogger, which means that a few years ago after a couple other Nats blogs turned them down (progress!) I said ok. It's basically been links on their site in exchange for a banner on mine, so in other words a pretty perfect arrangement for me.  Oh - I don't get paid from them. I could have been paid by MVN (they did cut checks for the ads on site) but I just let them keep the small amount of money because I fear the taxman.

There you go! History! 

Other things

Pay no attention to the time stamps. They are wrong and I can't be bothered to fix them because what does it matter. I currently live in Chapel Hill, NC, not the West coast.

Wally summed up what makes this work for me for 10 years "Just post when you want, on whatever topics you want". Yep. Early on I equated blogging to running a race. If you go at your own pace for your own goals you'll be fine. It's when you start comparing yourself to everyone else that you run into problems. For those of you that don't run... I don't know compare it to a hot dog eating contest.

Wired HK wrote that I would say -"Thanks for the supportive comments, but I honestly didn't write this post to receive kudos. It was more just to remark at how easily something that started on a lark can turn into a much larger project."  and he was dead on. I was writing that initially but couldn't make it sound right. You know me too well.

Has my attitude toward the Nats shifted? Yes it has, as many of you have noticed. I like them more now than I did. Before it was more player based and honestly I barely cared if they won or lost. Now they really are my NL team (though I still don't hate any other NL East team and carry some fondness for the Braves). Overall as I've aged my baseball fandom has waned ever so slightly, just enough to notice. It's still far less a drop than my football fandom (even though in NC you can still pretty much catch 10-12 Giants games a year thanks to one regional team and all their primetime appearances) 

Most of you get this but don't compare me to beat writers. Different jobs, different realities. They have to be far more... diplomatic than I do because they have to cover the team everyday and get those quotes. And they have to cover the team everyday. Win or lose. Interesting or not. From like mid March to October. Ugh. I actually think Nats fans have been extraordinarily lucky starting with Svrluga and now having Kilgore and Zuckerman. Sites like MASN or MLB can't really be objective because of the business partnerships, and sites like ESPN don't have any incentive to have specific team writers outside the super-fandom based teams like the Yanks and Sox. I guess what I'm saying is there's a reason things are different here beyond me somehow magically being better than other people. In fact I like to think of myself as the constantly 2nd best Nats blog, first to Capitol Punishment, then FJB, and now NatsEnquirer (who himself will hit 10 years pretty soon)

Tuesday, July 15, 2014


Forgive the diversion away from the Nats... 

Ten years ago on this day I wrote my first blog post about this franchise.  You can see it here at expos baseball DOT blogspot DOT com (I prefer to pronounce it emphasizing the dots).  Impressive, right? By my accounts this means that I've been writing about this team longer than anyone save "Rocket" Bill Ladson.  When I think about that it strikes me as completely and utterly absurd.

It's absurd because as most of you know, I don't live and die with the Nats. I live and die with the Yankees. It's nothing personal. I grew up in New York (state) and I've never lived in or even near DC (or Montreal for that matter). But if that's the case, why write about the Expos and then the Nats? Well because when I started I was afraid that by writing about a team everyday it would change how I viewed the team. I kind of think now that was a stupid thought but maybe it would have, I don't know. 

It's absurd because I didn't start blogging because of some goal of being a sports reporter, or media liaison, or sabermetrician. I didn't start because I was bursting with things to say either. Why did I start? Spite. I started because I wanted to prove to a friend how easy it was to blog about something on a semi-daily basis because he wasn't updating his blog enough for my taste. Really once I proved him wrong, (IN YOUR FACE DAN) I should have stopped. Say... September 2004? Early 2005?

It's absurd because 10 years is a long time to do anything. A decade! That's like a third of my cognizant life! Wasted! Why am I still doing it though? Because I found that I really like to do it. I like digging into stats to find something interesting. I like following a team on a crazy level. I like writing stuff, having people read it, and interacting with them (on some level - it was easier when there were fewer of you). At one point I was responding to a comment and I was writing something like "I'm not writing this for anyone to read" which I realized was not true, because if that were the case all this would be scribbled notes in a row of journals in my house, not online.

Anyway, I didn't want this moment to pass without recognizing it.

Return to baseball tomorro, maybe.

Monday, July 14, 2014

Monday Quickie - Margin call

I like the All-Star break where it is. It separates the baseball season not into exact halves but into "don't worry there's plenty of time" and "uh oh, you need to start winning like, now" time periods. It starts with two weeks of "do we need to deal for someone now or not" where every at bat or start from a marginal player is picked apart. After that it's August and the stretch run begins getting increasingly tense as the number of games left gets smaller and smaller. 

If the All-Star game were half-way through the season, you'd come out of it with a full 3 months left to the season. Even though it's only about 2 extra weeks of baseball we're talking about, you'd lose that a sense of immediate urgency.

Anyway where do the Nats stand now? Depends on Zimmermann.

If Zimmermann is not healthy then a starter becomes an obvious priority.  The Nats wouldn't actually NEED a starter at that point to continue to contend for a play-off spot with Stras, Fister, and Gio slotted 1-3. But not getting one would leave their playoff chances to the mercies of fate. A ZNN injury would kill what little depth the Nats have (no one in AAA is pitching particularly well recently) so one would think one more pitching injury would probably cripple them.

But all signs are that Zimmerman are healthy so let's leave the SP discussion out for a few days. What other areas of improvement do the Nats have? Well whether they start Span or they start Espinosa they have a spot in their lineup that could be improved. Span is the better offensive player so the question really is can you find a OF or 2B that will improve on Span's bat by alot. Two remote possibilities (Stanton and Daniel Murphy) are non-starters as those are intradivisional rivals who expect to challenge the Nats in the next couple of years. They aren't trading good players to the Nats.

As far as the OF is concerned there is no one straight up good enough to be a slam-dunk replacement of Span. A couple guys can hit, like Willingham, Byrd, or Alex Rios, but they are more corner outfielders, which means you'd have to bet on Bryce to carry CF with questionable talent at the corner spots. I don't feel good about that unless the bat you are bringing in is a game changer and those guys aren't.

Oddly 2b gives you a few more options, along with Murphy, Chase Utley would be a great fit, and the Phillies would be waving a white flag to the next couple years by dealing him. But it's a tough trade to see happen unless the Nats wow the Phillies and the Nats aren't the type of dealer that gives up a lot in prospects.  Plus, Chase has no interest in being traded.

So the only starter type-deal that would make sense for the Nats is one for Ben Zobrist who can play 2B and OF. This would be ideal. Zobrist is patient (his OBP would immediately be 3rd on the team), hits at the top of the line-up (could take that spot from the ill-suited Span), and plays good defense. He could play 2B float most of the time allowing Rendon to play 3B and Zimmerman to play OF and if that isn't working out he could play OF with Bryce shifting to CF without missing a beat. Plus, the Rays and Nats have trade history together with the Karns/Lobaton deal happening just this offseason. However, Zobrist is a starter and will cost a lot if he's up for trade. The Nats have yet shown they are ever going to be "all in" and I don't think they'll start with a mid-season trade. 

So that leaves back-ups. The Nats could use an IF replacement that can hit and a late inning defensive replacement in the OF or 1B.

The former is nigh-impossible to get. Maybe a Luis Valbuena or a Sean Rodriguez? They would provide pop that Frandsen does not, while admittedly providing the low average Frandsen does give. In the minors if you don't like Zach Walters (and I don't - I think he's useful only in HR or nothing scenarios) then the cupboard is bare.

As far as the OF would go, there isn't an obvious defensive replacement out there.  They could probably pick up a Cameron Maybin for cheap. Gerardo Parra or Ryan Sweeney... maybe Emilio Bonaficio (not my choice)? Of course this would only be worth it if the manager would pull Werth or Bryce late in the game, and I don't know if Matt Williams is that kind of thinker. A more interesting solution, if the Nats weren't inclined to worry about "starting clocks", would be bringing up Michael Taylor. He looks good enough at the plate in AA to maybe hang in the majors. True at first he'd probably be a lot like Walters but we're talking D not O for the OF, and Taylor is supposedly one of the best in the minors.

That's about where the Nats stand now. They are waiting on ZNN to see if he's really ok like they say. If so they could maybe make a big splash and grab a Zobrist, but more likey (for a number of reasons) will go small. The question is does that mean grabbing a Valbuena or Rodriguez and calling up Taylor to better round out the bench? Or does that mean doing nothing because nothing is easier, cheaper and hey- they aren't pressed to do something right now? We'll see.

Either way the likely move is playing at the margins for a team that should make their push in July to the top of the heap. 

Thursday, July 10, 2014


Before I get into this I would just like to say - Anthony Rendon would be a fine All-Star. Anyway you look at him, fancy stats or traditional, 2B or 3B, you can make a good argument that he should be on the squad. Of course when it comes to the All-Star team, good arguments aren't always enough. The one-per-team rule (which I wholeheartedly agree with), the veteran/star skewing perceptions of the fans and players, and the manager's desire to pick his own players all work to make only the most standout players sure things. But good arguments are worth putting out there and fun to discuss, which is why I'm dismayed that perhaps the worst argument for why Rendon is a better player than the ones selected, is the one most frequently cited.

By this I mean the focus on Rendon's Runs scored and RBI totals. As far as ranking the absolute talents of a player, these are very questionable stats to use* because they rely on two factors, the talent of the player himself and the talent of those around him. For example a player that gets on base at a .400 clip would be likely to score a lot of runs. But if he's followed in the lineup by Danny Espinosa and the pitcher he's going to score a lot fewer times that you'd think. Conversely .320 OBP guys shouldn't score that many runs, but put him ahead of Miggy and Trout and he's going to score more than you'd expect.

One way to see if Rendon is outperforming in these categories because of things beyond his control is to compare his rankings.  OPS correlates very well with runs scored. This should be obvious. You get on base, you have a good chance to score. You get a XBH, you have a better chance to score. OPS factors in both and the correlation is high. Rendon ranks 4th in the NL in Runs Scored. He ranks 20th in OPS.

It's easy to see why there's this discrepency though. Rendon is followed in the line-up by two hitters having good years in Werth and LaRoche.

Werth  .279 / .364 / .421,  .321 / .427 / .556 with RISP
LaRoche .289 / .393 / .470,  .302 / .467 / .476 with RISP

They are hitting well in general and better with men in scoring position. (After a total non-clutch year, Werth is doing the opposite this year. .315 / .402 / .490 with men on, .251 / .333 / .369  with no one on) Not every player is going to have this following him.

RBI is slightly different in its correlation. Factoring in OBP is not great for RBI because walks rarely drive in runs. Instead you are better looking at SLG alone (other fancier stats would be better but SLG works well enough for this - there's not that much variation for Rendon).  Rendon ranks 8th in RBI and 17th in SLG. He's outperforming here too.

But why? This one is harder to make sense of. The easiest answer would be that he's hitting better with RISP but that's not the case. He's hitting ok, but a bit worse than overall. (.284 / .340 / .491 to .259 / .330 / .482 with RISP). Hitting 2nd helps as it means more at bats, but that alone can't explain it. As you know Span is not particularly adept at getting on base and before him would be the 8th spot and the pitcher. Despite all that though Rendon is driving in more runs than expected and is seeing a fair amount of opportunities with RISP (20th in the NL). So I dug further and here is what I found.

(1) Rendon is hitting well and hitting a lot of HRs with men on.  RISP hits matter but so do hits with men on first and Rendon is killing it there. With men just on first he's slugging an amazing .702. Even though those only account for roughly 15% of his PAs, his hit 2 of his 5 triples (40%) and 4 of his 13 homers (30%) in these instances. Doesn't matter if they aren't in scoring position if you can hit well enough to knock them in from first. This is all him.

(2) The Nats 8th place hitters haven't been all that bad.  No a .235 / 304 / 349  line isn't good but compared to the rest of the league this combined OPS is 3rd out of all teams. I assumed the Nats 8th place hitters would have been among the worst. It isn't helping Rendon but it also isn't hurting Rendon as much as I thought,

(3) Matt Williams loves to bunt with his pitchers.  The Nats 9th place spot is 2nd in sacrifice hits with 28 and when we look at pitchers specifically they lead the NL (with 28 - not sure how Cincy pulled off 5 SH from non-pitchers in the 9th spot in their lineup but there you go).  Obviously this gives Rendon more shots with a RISP assuming they are still there after Span gets his turn.

(4) Span is really good at getting himself in scoring position for the players behind him - If we look simply at the number of times Span has put himself in scoring position (and not run himself out of it) we find that Span ranks very high in the NL. Third in fact. I estimate this by using this formula 2B+3B+SB-CS.  Obviously that's imperfect (some of those SBs could be of third, you can hit a double and get thrown out trying to stretch it) but I think it works well enough.  The only players who have done this more times are Dee Gordon and Billy Hamilton. This is a big reason why Rendon is seeing a lot of PAs with RISP**.

Rendon is good enough to be an All-Star, and he is better than some of the players selected. But let's not say he's better because of his high RBI and R totals, because a big part of that is the team around him. There are better ways of saying it.

*I actually don't mind using these stats at all for determining All-Star appearances or awards, etc. That's because I frame these things as asking the public "who had the better year" as opposed to "who is the better player". The former includes things like luck and the team around you and I think it's totally fair because THEY ARE JUST SILLY AWARDS. But I do have issue if you are going to use these stats to say the latter, which is how I interpret most of the Rendon push.

**Note: Please do not confuse this with "Span is really good". Part of this is that Span is incapable of hitting home runs and hitting home runs is the best thing you can do at the plate. Another part of this is that OBP matters less in this stat so Span's failing there barely matters here. We just told you OPS correlates well with runs scored. I'm sure better than my "get in scoring position" stat. Span's OPS is blah. Plus, we just mentioned how well Rendon has been hitting with men on 1st, and he's a natural doubles hitter. Imagine if Span was getting on base like a good leadoff hitter should.***  

***Remember, I'm also not saying Span is bad though. Just meh at the plate. Fields well, runs well, worth starting, just not batting first. Although you can probably also figure out how that really doesn't matter too much. Put Werth first and maybe he scores a couple more runs because he gets on base a lot and hits more home runs and now he has more PAs, and he drives in a couple more of those 8th and 9th guys. But there's a tradeoff from however else the lineup is adjusted.Overall it's a small difference which is why optimal lineup for a season is not a deal breaker. But you do want to see your team giving itself the absolute best chance to win and in a single game do you want Span up one more time or LaRoche or Desmond?

Wednesday, July 09, 2014

Shhh! Don't wake up Baltimore/DC!

I love talking about attendance. No really, I do. It the kind of tangental topic that can be bandied about easily between opposing parties because honestly - we don't know why things are the way they are and there are a lot of facts that can be thrown around without exactly knowing the magnitude of their effect.  Schools still in!  Weather!  Economy!

Boz tackles the current strong attendance of Baltimore and DC in a weird way. He gloats. He compares this area to other areas with two teams that currently have lower attendance figures. (Unfairly, I might add since those areas have a total of 0 winning teams. Then he excuses the fact that SF/Oak outdraws DC/Balt by saying those teams are powerhouses but (1) No SF isn't (2) Oakland has a notoriously awful stadium.)  He says MLB told him baseball wouldn't work here. He acts like he was the only one who said baseball wouldn't work in Florida (If I recall correctly that was an idea held by roughly 132% of all people)

Is he right?  Is the DC/Baltimore area a sleeping giant when it comes to baseball?

The easy thing to say, and something generally verified by looking at attendance figures is that attendance follows record.  You win you draw fans. You lose you don't. The effect is somewhat staggered, which is why a 98 win Nats team, after a long stretch of bad baseball, couldn't break the top half of the NL in attendance, and a 73 win Phillies team, after a long stretch of good baseball, can be 4th. You also need consistency - one good season followed by a downturn (or vice versa) will simply dent attendance trends. The Nats and O's are working on their 3rd seasons of above .500 ball and both are fighting for 1st place in their division.  Logic tells you fans will come to see that.

So the area is normal, right? Well Boz sets his own "this is when attendance goes up" rules which make the area look as good as he can make it. He states that winning a playoff series drives attendance up. Since the Nats and O's haven't done that - their rise in attendance is more impressive. This is a harder thing to prove.  What team has three years of good baseball and fails to win a series? But baseball has a lot of teams and a long history so let's see what we can find relatively recently.

2006-2008 Blue Jays : The Blue Jays led the league in attendance in the early 90s then the Jays slowly fell to mediocrity with average years puncutated by decent ones and poor ones. After a low point of 67 wins they bottomed out at 11th in 2005, despite a record near .500. From 2006-2008 the Blue Jays put up 3 consecutive 83+ win seasons without making the playoffs. Attendance by the last season? 6th.

2000-2004 White Sox : Prior to winning it all in 2005 the White Sox put up 4 consecutive winning seasons (well non-losing seasons - there's an 81-81 in there). The attendance in '99 was 13th. In 2004 was 8th. It's a bumpy rise because the Sox' best year was 2000 but it's a rise.

1999-2001 A's : The mid 90s A's were bad after dominating the late 80s time frame. By 1999 though they were back in business. They won 87, 91, 102 games and the attendance increased from 13th in 1998 to 7th in 2001.
2009-2011 Braves : But the Braves were always good! Nope. After losing 4 consecutive DSs the Braves missed the playoffs from 2006-2009, so by the time they put up these three winning years it had been almost a decade since they won a series. Far enough away? I think so. Anyway. 2008 10th. 2011 8th. (the Braves actually haven't drawn well since the newness of Turner Field wore off)

1997-1999 Mets : Mets really bottomed out from late 80s success and... I'm getting tired, let's wrap this up. 1996 12th (out of 14) 1999 7th.

That's about all I could find. I skipped a couple teams who might be draws in of themselves regardless of record and a couple other teams might have qualified but the time frame overlapped with a new stadium being introduced making attendance figures fuzzy to interpret. It's actually kind of rare to put up three above .500 seasons in a row and not win a series in the first two years, at least since the WC was introduced. Looking at the small data we see here - we see that DC/Balt is not special*. When you win consistently, division series win or not, attendance goes up.

(*In fact I think a stronger case could be made that DC is actually still kind of disappointing, given the quality of the team and the population to draw from. But I say give the fanbase another 10 years to build before judging them as if they are on an even playing field)

Monday, July 07, 2014

Monday quickie - Who is the Nats ace?

As the Nats merrily roll along... 

I think in the past week I've heard each pitcher on the Nats staff described as the "ace".  It's a completely arbitrary and unimportant distinction that might have been settled for the time being by another completely arbitrary and unimportant distinction. Jordan Zimmermann got named to the All-Star team, no one else did - so he's the ace! Right?

Well I don't really care but hey, it's a Monday the Nats are rolling. Werth, Zimmerman, Ramos, and Desmond are all hitting. Even Span isn't doing bad. So unless you want to focus on a slow start by Bryce back from injury (which is completely expected) we've really got no issues to discuss right now. So let's delve into the mind of the John Q Fan. Who should be the Nats "ace"?

If you're looking at who is the best pitcher - just flat out who has the best stuff - of course that falls to Strasburg. Leads the starters in K/9 by more than a strikeout over #2 Gio and is 2nd in the majors. Leads in K/BB too and is 5th in the majors in that. xFIP is 3rd lowest in the majors which suggests (but doesn't verify - let's not confuse the two) that if everything broke fairly for Stephen he'd be among the best pitchers in baseball. Unfortunately the results don't line up with this. It may be unfair to pin the W/L record on him, but we're not talking about being fair, we're talking about calling a guy an "ace". An ace is still supposed to produce wins and Stephen hasn't done anything special. Everyone on the Nats has 7 or 6 wins and is over .500.

So what about the All-Star Jordan Zimmermann? Best ERA on the team, good fancy stats (xFIP good, 2nd out of starters in K%-BB% (17th in MLB to Stras's 2nd)). Plus fans love him for reasons I can't really explain. I mean come on, it's not like he's brimming with personality and he pretty openly has talked about leaving the team when his time is up. Another thing about Zimmermann is that his "ace-ness" is based more on consistency than electric performance. By the Game Score metric ZNN only 3 of the Top 20 performances (though all in the Top 10). 7IP and 2 runs is nice but "ace"?

Who is the shut-down guy? Well that's probably Gio. He owns 7 of the Top 20 performances and 2 of the Top 5. If you asked me which Nats pitcher is most likely to go 8 innings, strikeout 10, and give up no runs, I'd bet on Gio. Of course the flipside is that Gio gives you the stinker more often than any other guy (3 of the bottom 10 performances).  An ace is someone you can count on to shut down the other team not someone who might bomb out.

Fister is the guy least likely to give you a bad performance. Since that Oakland game to start out the season, he's given two mediocre outings and the rest have been good to very good. He's got the best results, too with a 7-2 record, tied for most wins on staff despite missing a month. For nonsense like this, that matters. But he lacks the great performance and he may not have the stuff to get it. Fister's stuff makes ZNN look like Nolan Ryan. Working that no-walk, GB thing to the extreme he's a very good pitcher that no one is afraid of because they can get the bat on the ball. Plus he's new.

Roark? It's not Roark. He is tied for the team lead in wins and has two of the best three starts for the team. But really you are going to hang the "ace" title on someone who is 7-6, is easily the 5th most accomplished pitcher for his career on the staff, and even this year ranks maybe 3rd out of the starters? A guy who in his last two starts (both vs the Cubs mind you) have given up 19 hits and 8 runs in 13 innings? That's your "ace"?

So again "who cares" is going to win out if you are asking my honest opinion, but let's finish this exercise. I'm ruling out Roark because he's Roark. I don't trust him and he's either gone out early or been hit hard in his last 5 starts. He may be a good pitcher but he's no one's ace. I'm going to cut Gio next because like I said Gio can very easily go out there and give up 8 runs in 3 innings and no one would be surprised. In fact I'd be surprised if it doesn't happen again by August. That's not an ace. I'll pull Strasburg off the table now. If this was a "best pitcher" argument, he could win, but it isn't. This is about feelings and even though it makes no sense Strasburg giving up 3 runs in 7IP feels like a failure while ZNN or Fister doing it would feel like a success. Your ace doesn't constantly disappoint if you have a choice.

So Fister or ZNN? Despite the nearly perfect post-Oakland run, I'm going to go with ZNN, mainly because he won 19 games last year, and he made the All-Star game which are big things when it comes to nonsense like calling someone an "ace".

Now would he be an "elite" NFL QB?

Thursday, July 03, 2014

Don't worry about the Braves

This is almost certainly at least 33% "easy schedule.  They've won mostly low scoring affairs - which shouldn't be a surprise given the Phillies and Mets are below average hitting teams and the Astros are the worst. They still can't score a ton of runs and all these teams can't pitch so that says those issues are real and will continue. Their schedule is so easy that I wouldn't be surprised if they passed the Nats before the All-Star break.  That's ok.  Just don't collapse here and fall into a 5 game hole and you'd expect an even-ing of opponents to put the Nats back on top. 

Meanwhile back at the Nat Cave...

What is there to say?  Here are your 2014 (and 2013 for the most part) Nats as you expected them.  They are good. They have no obvious holes. None. OK the defense might need a little sprucing up and it wouldn't hurt them to fix up the bench while they are healthy rather than waiting for a need but as long as they are healthy...

It's a holiday weekend.  Just sit back and enjoy for a few days

Tuesday, July 01, 2014

The other punching bag is back!

The Nats have finally gotten the band back together.  It took them exactly half the season to do it but they've done it. Now they should do what they did last night. Score runs, pitch well, win easy. It won't happen every night - that's not baseball. But it should happen more often than it does not. The Nats should start to pull away from the division

Of course should is an important word.  They should right now be in a position where they are chasing a better team, but the Braves injuries have kept them down and the Marlins haven't really blossomed. They should have caught up last year getting healthy at roughly the same time as they have this year. But instead they slumped through the end of July and couldn't catch up after that. Should is should. It's not will.

It's important to remember that because of what's being set-up right now.  If the Nats were to struggle for a month now the blame could very likely fall on Bryce. He's a disruptive force! He won't just shut up and do what he's told!  George Brett only said "yes ma'am" and "no ma'am" until his 4th year in the bigs!!! Willie Mays carried everyone's bags every day until he retired, AND THEN DID IT FOR TWO MORE YEARS!!!

Because Bryce craves the spotlight and is a potentially game changing player he's held to a higher standard than other players, even at the tender age of 21. But think about it:

Ryan Zimmerman said he didn't want to play 3rd.  He was asked to and he did it. HERO
Bryce Harper said he didn't want to play LF or bat 6th. He was asked to and he did it. MALCONTENT

Both are right.  (though as I said last night - Bryce's promoting the best offensive lineup for the team.  the most winning lineup? Might be sitting Werth.  Just a thought). Both shouldn't do it in public. There done. Thoughts complete until I both see that the team is struggling and I hear players complaining about it.

There's really no reason to make this an issue right now unless you are inclined to make it an issue to start. (which is likely because you've reached the "old fart" stage of your life) It hasn't effected the team - it's been a single game. The team has bigger problems with Bryce not in the lineup (witness the 10 game stretch when they couldn't get to 5 runs even spotted an extra 7 innings). They weren't some sort of "We Are Family" team winning at a 100 game clip when he was gone. They have bigger problems with Bryce in the lineup (let's see... Desmond, Werth, Zimm, Span come to mind).  To bring up this after one game just shows your biases.

Lets calm down, let a little nonsense wash over you, and move on with the goal at hand.