Nationals Baseball: How good are the Mets? How "not great" are the Nats?

Thursday, April 23, 2015

How good are the Mets? How "not great" are the Nats?

The Nats lost. No big deal.

The Mets won. No big deal.

The Nats lost and the Mets won. Big deal?

The Nats now sit 5 games out of first place. That may not seem like a big deal but the Nats never were 5 games out last year. They had a middling record at the start of June but their pace matched the Braves. Both had fast starts, though the Braves' start was faster. Both had bad Mays, though the Braves wasn't quite as bad.  The Nats basically hung around despite themselves, and when the Braves wilted away starting in June the Nats took over just by playing good, not great. (Eventually the Nats would pop the clutch and play great baseball from mid August on to make the "race" seem non-existant looking back at 2014.)

The last time the Nats were 5 games out was in fact the last day of 2013. Five games is not a ton of games if you assume that the Nats are underperforming (decent guess) and the Mets are overperforming (even better guess) but let's understand a few points.

(1) Regressing to expectations does not mean radically performing in the other direction to get to the expected level in the time alloted.

Say you thought the Nats were a 95 win team to start the year. And say the Nats started, oh I don't know, 7-8.  And let's say you still believe the Nats are a 95 win team. regressing to the mean does not mean the Nats will go 88-59 so they finish exactly 95-67. Instead it means that if the Nats play at a 95 win pace for the rest of the games they will be closer to expectations than they are now.

Current Pace : 76-86
Expected Pace (full season) : 95-67
Final Record assuming play at expected pace from here on : 93-69

See! Much closer to the expectation. If we had infinite games evenutally the difference between the expected pace and the last record would be close enough to be negligible. However the baseball season isn't infinite, so these slow starts matter.

The Nats have started slowly - you should adjust your expectations down a game or two. Conversely the Mets have started quickly - you have adjust your expectations up a game or two (or three - it's a pretty fast start). So if you had the Nats at 95 and the Mets at 85, maybe today you should have it as the Nats at 93 and the Mets at 88. This isn't an exact science but regardless whatever you thought about these two teams there should be no doubt the gap has closed to some degree.

(2) We have data now. Your expectations should be reevaluated.

We're in the real season now. These data are small sample sizes, true, but they are getting bigger every day and they are the data we currently have for the year.  You have to now at least take into account things that have happened this season so far. For the Nats - maybe the pen is going to be a mess for a while, maybe ZNN isn't right, maybe Ramos will never hit*.  For the Mets -  maybe Lucas Duda is an All-Star type hitter, maybe Wilmer Flores has put it together, maybe Colon has figured out how to be good to very good at 42.

You can't say anything is set in stone just yet but you have to look at what's happened and adjust accordingly. Maybe you do nothing. Maybe you think the Mets injuries and guys obviously overperforming (like Neise - a perfectly ok back of rotation guy getting some luck) will keep them at expectations. Maybe you think the injury returns will bring the Nats back up to their level for the rest of the year. That's fine. However you can't just dismiss what's gone on. you have to look at it.

(Me - I think the Nats bullpen flaws are worth knocking them a win. I'll hold off on giving the Mets any more props until we see how these injury replacements hold up. So Nats around 92, Mets around 86... I had them as kind of an 83-84 win to start the year)

(3) The season is not static. Injuries and break-outs and runs of bad/good luck can and will happen.

Those expectation I put out there - those are just best guesses based on what I know of the guys who are playing now. But there is a 100% chance someone on the Nats and someone on the Mets will go down to injury from here to the end of the season. Who? I got no clue. But it will happen which means that what you want to have is a cushion in case it's an important guy for a long time for you, and a secondary guy for a couple weeks for them. Breakouts will likely happen too. What if it's a middle relief guy for you and a starting SS for them? And just general luck will swing. Say you go 10-11 in one-run games and they go 15-5 (hey 2012 Orioles!).  Most likely the bad and good will cancel themselves out (mostly), but you don't know that for sure so you like to have some games to play with in case you get some bad luck, rather than good.

By spotting the Mets 5 games the Nats have given the Mets a cushion. If we're wrong about expectations, (possible - this is an ongoing analysis) and the Nats and Mets are closer than we think, then the Mets now have 5 games to lose that can cover some bad breaks for them or some good breaks for the Nats.

Last year the Nats did play mediocre ball for a long time and managed to still win the division in a walk. But last year was last year. If the Nats go a couple more games back 4-5 games (or more) you can say things were never this bad for the Nats last year (as "bad" as such a hole really is this early). The Mets may not be great but a few more wins in the pocket and you have to doubt they'll finish below .500 like the Braves did.  The Nats may not be bad, but can you expect them to go 33-13 again to finish the year and run away with the division? This year will almost certainly be different and the Nats can't just expect to end up on top.

A lot of this worry is just remnants from that 2-6 start. The Nats are actually playing pretty well right now, 5-2 in last seven. There have been no blowout losses, some nice wins, and the offense has scored runs. They need to keep this going. Win the series today. Win the MIA and ATL series away (at least win 3 games really). Don't revert back to the bad baseball we saw early on. You may not have things work out for you like they did last year.

* there are also good things - maybe Yunel is going to have a bounce back, maybe Bryce is taking a step forward, maybe Danny can be useful - and things yet to fall in any direction - maybe Strasburg isn't right, maybe the injury returnees will have rough seasons. Same goes for Mets, they have bad things and question marks


cass said...

For what it's worth, FanGraphs bakes in all this reasoning and spits out the following:

Nats 89-73
Mets 85-77

Too close for comfort.

sirc said...

I think close might do the Nats some good. Who knows, really, but the Nats ran away in 2012 and 2014 and went out. Maybe a genuine battle to the end would lock them into the playoff baseball mindset earlier. Or at least they won't have to gear back up for battle when the playoffs begin since they would have experienced it for the entire month of September.

Some teams are fine when going into the playoffs having spent half of September in rest and wait mode. The Nats, however, have not been fine.

blovy8 said...

Exactly. At a certain point, it's not all bad if it makes them address a need instead of assuming the club will play to a certain preconceived level. For instance, Matt Grace has now pitched in a major league game. Even if he doesn't stay up, there's a chance you'll need him again, and the experience will help. Martin had a hell of a time with the Cardinals' LH hitters, so you know that weakness. Same with Taylor's defense being a little less than you thought. While you're playing those guys, you may be a bit worse, but that is the only way to know if your young guys are ready, or if you need to get help.

Eric said...

Isn't a team's final W-L really like an average of their overall performance throughout the year? In other words, how often does a team play at or even close to the pace represented by its final record for the entire season?

IIRC, there were stretches last season where the Nats played at a pace that was way, WAY beyond what would be necessary to win 96 games overall.

To me, the only question about this season (aside from the...METS?! 10 in a row?!?!) is: do they have yet to pop the clutch, or did they already do so while playing Philly over the weekend? If the Philly series was high gear, we might be in trouble. It wasn't clean enough.

I tend to think we have yet to pop the clutch, but we'll see...

G Cracka X said...

The thing that scares me about the Mets is: their payroll isn't as high as the Nats (like, almost $60 mil different...). What if the Wilpons decide, 'This is our year, let's go for it!' and load up on a bunch of quality veterans. I think they have the prospects to get some nice pieces back and really take the team to the next level. Obviously, the Mets aren't going to add $60 mil in payroll from now to the end of the season, but you figure a team just south of $100 mil has room to add if they feel that this is the right season to do it. These types of things (theoretical trades, payroll adjustments) are challenging to quantify.

Jimmy said...

@G Cracka X-
The wilpon's are completely broke as in they barely didn't declare bankruptcy a couple of years ago. They lost a fortune to Bernie Madoff.

Kenny B. said...

Personally, I think I nice season-long rivalry with the Mets sounds like fun. The Nats and Mets are a couple of teams that have struggled to be relevant in years past, so it seems like a nice touch for league parity. I'd rather have something interesting to follow during the season than a months-long coast to the playoffs.

And it's good to get some new competition. I think we were all getting tired of the Braves as the team to beat in the East, and I don't think anybody likes the Marlins franchise. The Philadelphia era is long over, and may it remain long dead.

It's true that there's a lingering sense that the Nats just haven't put things together yet, but the streaks will come. Desmond will sort out the errors, the pitchers will find their grooves, somebody will have an unexpectedly good season (I'm looking at you, Escobar), somebody will get hurt (10 to 1 it's Ramos), etc. I haven't lost faith yet. And I just can't believe the Mets are really this good. Competition? perhaps, but it's not time to worry yet. We're not even a month into the season.

Zimmerman11 said...

All. The. Expletives. Little League HRs? Really? That was just painful enough for me to walk away for a week or so. Call me with Rendon gets back.

Donald said...

This is more for the last post, but in this series Storen, Trienen, Martin and Barrett were all charged with an earned run in their inning of work. If Storen is a problem, I'm not sure the Nats have the answer with their current bullpen. It's still too early to panic, but at this point, who are you confident in when the game is close? Thorton? Roark? Not really sure...

Anonymous said...

We got out managed by Mr Matheney plain and simple. And out-hit and runned, out-hr'd and out-pitched, and out scored, and out-Wonged, and...

Anonymous said...

The "It" factor that many teams lack, including us (especially us) is what the Cardinals, Giants, Red Sox, and to go beyond baseball, the Spurs, Patriots, all have. It boils down to an organizational philosophy. From the youngest/crappiest player in rookie ball - all the way to Buster Posey, all the Giants are on the same page. If I could tell you what that was, I would be running a team somewhere, so I don't know what "it" is.

We win 96 games based entirely on talent alone. Last year we were picked to win it all because of our talent and what we had on paper. Well they were right - over the course of a 162 game season, most often talent is going to win out. That's why I don't blame Rizzo for putting together this team - its a great team. But this team lacks an attitude, and organizational philosophy that is just not going to get over the hump. Sorry for the negativity, it has nothing to do with our slow start. Maybe one day talent will win out and Bryce will hit 9 HR in a postseason series and Strasburg will throw three shutouts this fall.

Now that I think about it, a pretty big stat that the Nats seem to not care too much about is...OBP. Just sayin...maybe that's our answer

Kenny B. said...

@ last anon: That sounds pretty post hoc to me. "These teams won multiple championships, therefore they have a secret 'it' factor." Maybe you're right, we don't really know, but these results are just as consistent with "talent + luck." Maybe there is an "it" factor that arises after that first championship is earned, and the nerves are gone. It's just the kind of thing you can't really know. The Giants made it in as a middling team wild card that came on strong at the right time. The Nats came on strong at the end of the season, and fizzled out in October. Maybe it's nerves, maybe it's the weather, maybe it's bad luck.

None of this stuff makes for any kind of cohesive e organizational philosophy. Should Rizzo go look for players who have been on championship teams before and build a team that way? Sounds messy and expensive. You build a team that can make the playoffs based on talent, and you pray in October. To me, that seems like the best strategy.

Anonymous said...

@ KennyB - my argument is that it is not as "get in, and pray" as we make it seem. Take Boston and San Fran. They have an organizational philosophy. Being a Red Sox fan for most my life, I can tell you that it is to be patient at the plate, see a ton of pitches, ad get to the bullpen as quick as possible. Every hitter in that lineup has that approach. Whether its a rookie who just got called up or its Pedroia. They all go up there with the same plan.

Some of these teams (like St. Louis) shouldn't be making the playoffs with guys like Jon Jay and Pete Kozma. But despite their deficiencies in major stat categories, they fit their organizational philosophy and line up approach perfectly.

The Nats, have no plan aside from the obvious. Get on base, get runs, so we win. Great! How do you plan to do that?? Desmond, Ramos, Zimmerman, Span, wouldn't have an answer for you. Last years playoffs were a perfect example. Every one of our hitters was trying to do it alone rather that 1-9 all on the same page. But talented players are going to run into a fastball every once in a while and that's how we won 96 games. In the playoffs, its not only luck. Its a general concentrated approach that every one buys into, no matter the pressure.

Anonymous said...

... and one more point to add. I don't put the blame on our players. For most of the ones I mention (aside from Span) it is how they are taught and brought up through the Nat's system. "Play your game." Boston molds patient hitters and if they acquire free-agents, then they only grab guys who fits and agrees with that approach.

I used to watch every game and just shake my head thinking this is all just a crap shoot every day and we just need to catch lighting in a bottle and we're champs. Not buying that any more. A small handful of teams can't keep getting so lucky so often. I guess the Cubs have just been really "unlucky" for the past 100 years...yeah...that must be it...