Nationals Baseball: Monday Quickie - Starting Pitching can't do everything.

Monday, April 13, 2015

Monday Quickie - Starting Pitching can't do everything.

Here's a stat for you :

The Nats starting rotation currently has an ERA of 1.91, best in the NL by nearly half a run. That's great and completely in line with the "best rotation ever?" questions that followed the team after the Scherzer signing.

Here are two more stats for you.

The Nats offense is currently the worst in the Nationals league in runs per game at a measly 2.17 a full half-run worse than any other team.  They are particularly bad at getting guys on base with a .256 OBP. .256!

The Nats relievers are a middling group with a 3.24 ERA. Nowhere near the worst (hi Miami!) but with meh numbers similar to 2013.

Hence 2-4.

I warned you that the Nats essentially lost their 4 best bats from 2014, who batted most often, and were the among most patient bats the Nats had.  That's a huge red flag. Still it's a little surprising that it's worst in the league bad. We expected the likes of Uggla (.111 with 1 double) and Moore (.000) to struggle, but Ramos (.200 with a .190 OBP), Desmond (.136, no homers), and Zimm (.130 with 8 Ks) have all been off. Half the Nats lineup has been terrible. Only Bryce and Yuney have been good. Luckily this issue may solve itself. Werth will be back if not today, very soon. Span seems on the early time frame for his recovery and Rendon is even doing baseball like things! If the Nats come out of this finding out Clint Robinson is the true good bench bat that they always wanted Tyler Moore to be then great. The Nats offense should be fine.

The bullpen is a more pressing issue to me because I don't know if it can be fixed with what's at hand. I'm not sure exactly what the problem is but Matt's moves feel... uncomfortable.  I think he wanted it to be Stammen/Cedeno in the 7th (depending on match-up) then Treinen. I think. That's what you would glean from the usage pattern though Stammen in the 7th with the lead could have been just getting him work in. The bulk of Stammen's work otherwise has been as "hold it together" guy after a lead is blown. That's a good place to use a guy you trust but an odd place for a by the numbers manager to use a "7th inning guy". Cedeno over Thornton doesn't make much sense based on their numbers historically (Thornton better vs lefties and better overall) but if you think contractually you get it. Cedeno is controlled and not old. Thornton is old and gone next year. You want Cedeno in that role. I don't like it - it's not a winning strategy - but I can see the big picture behind it. Going with Treinen is fine, the standard manager has to pick someone, though he's far from a sure thing.

But really the problem is in the last series the Nats kept blowing their tiny leads (1-0, 2-0, 2-1) in the 7th and 8th forcing Matt into the confusing territory of late inning ties. How a manager's mind works when there is no end game in sight is telling and I'm not sure what to think. He immediately turns to Stammen and after that (Stammen's been PH for the inning after appearing each time)  we've seen Treinen in a wasted inning, Roark in extras (I think because he could go two... I hope), and Barrett in a key role. Roark makes sense, but shouldn't Treinen and Barrett been switched? I guess he wanted to keep these guys working (Barrett pitched the day before that first game, Treinen didn't) but I don't know. And why put in Stammen, a guy who had 22 appearances of more than an inning last year, in places where you are sure he'll have to come out after at most an inning?

Nothing here is terribly wrong, but then again I could go in there and randomly select a pitcher based on the handedness of the batters coming up (and saving Storen for saves) and it wouldn't be terribly wrong. It feels like fumbling. I don't know it might be just me.

Anyway onto Boston SWEEP. That's an order.


Hoo said...

I believe this season is a deliberate test of the replacable disposable reliever mantra. That's fine when team wasn't a favorite for WS. But man that's a lot of pressure on Williams to figure out a brand new pen.

I give Matty more leash in the latter innings because he has to sort through his pieces. I guess they want Roark to be the Stammen of previous years. Then hope Treinin is Clippard and Barrett the Storen of '13/14 when they had an expensive closer for the 9th. Choosing Cedeno over Blevins.

This year's gameplan in latter innings should show how good Williams is at managing. When do you really get worried about Williams if pen is still a struggle? June? July?

Anonymous said...

Not to bring in old baseball adages, but everybody's go to guy for baseball quotes, Mr. Berra, did say that baseball is 90% mental. I think that kind of hits on the head the problems with the Big Marine and the clubhouse right now. Williams isn't thinking (again) and the rest of the clubhouse is overthinking. We've got a lot of talent on the roster, that's why everyone picked the Nats to win it all (both talent and depth). These guys just need to play the game they have always played.

Now I know that sounds a lot like 2013 critics and the "they're crumbling under the expectations!" quotes, but there's a lot to be said for just relaxing, which is not what this team is doing.

Harper said...

Hoo - I'm a big believer in disposable relievers but I also understand finding those 2-3 good ones can take a big chunk of the year. In a close race where single games may count it's questionable you want to do that (hence why contenders often overpay for proven bullpen arms) Are the Nats good enough that a few lost games won't matter? Do they feel confident enough they'll end season with 3+ good arms (you can find 2-3 but injuries can take them away)? I guess Rizzo answers both yes.

worried? Assuming it isn't killing the Nats post trade deadline. Up until then the Nats can fix it and just give Matt a 7th-8th-9th (or add one if they just need one).

Anon - They should be better but this isn't a rampaging 100 win beast team until it's all healthy. 2-4 is disappointing but I'm not going to kill the way their playing until they get healthy and underperform (which happened in 2013 - injured most of year but played bad when healhty for a month before getting it right.)

A Fly Moses said...

Cinsidering Nats media guys are physically incapable of mentioning Treinen without bringing up the awe inspired in scouts/other teams by how hard he throws and how much movement that pitch has, does anyone have an explanation for how he can generate so few swings and misses? Even if he was trying to pitch to contact, he should be missing more bats just by accident.

Bjd1207 said...

@A Fly Moses - Your problem is listening to Bob/FP at all. You're completely correct about Treinen. He looked great in his first outing, but Barrett looked better to me comparing their later outings. Those 2 are about equal for me, and are the ones competing for the 8th inning job right now/7th inning w/the lead job once Jannsen is back and we're sure he can throw.

But FP was ranting yesterday about how he still thinks wins are a useful stat. That there's someting about the "makeup" of certain guys that just gets wins, no matter what people say. And then Bob chimed in with a condescending "Its not a video game"

If these idiots want to hold onto their outdated and flat out WRONG metrics for evaluating players, that's their MO. I just wish they wouldn't be so flippant about the community who is actually trying to develop accurate measures of our players.

JWLumley said...

Matt Williams is terrible at managing a bullpen. I don't think this can be overstated. Consider that yesterday, according Chelsea Jane at the WaPo, Cedeno had warmed up 5 days in a row. Also, Cedeno is the worst pitcher in the Nats bullpen. I think this is relatively accepted as fact. He should almost never face a right-handed hitter and should absolutely never face a right handed hitter with power when that hitter represents the tying/go-ahead run.

Saturday, Treinen was used on back to back days for the first time in his career. In a late, tie ballgame on Saturday, Sandberg made the right choice and just started using his best pitcher available each inning, old PBN was saving Storen for the SAVE! Although Roark wasn't a terrible choice, Storen would have been a better choice. Storen also needed work because he had only pitched 1 time since the 4th of April. To me, I think Treinen can be the 8th inning guy. Watching him break bat after bat on Friday said as much. If Storen's the 9th, the Nats only need to cover the 7th most nights and the hierarchy should be Thornton then Barrett (with a quick hook if the control's not there) then Roark then Stammen then Cedeno to face a lefty since he's a LOOGY.

Also, Espinosa put together some nice AB's on Saturday, Uggla has been horrible, why not play Espinosa? Tyler Moore is a 4A player, this should be apparent to all at this point.

Anonymous said...

@Bjd1207 - I totally agree. When are we going to get a simulcast of Charlie and Dave?? One can only hope...

JWLumley said...

@Bjd - Yeah, I don't mind FP so much until he gets on the wins, RBI's and gamery, grittyness--or shall we call it Kevin Frandseness?--of players. Bob is almost insufferable to me, in an outdated get off my lawn sort of way. I was actually tweeting at him after his initial comments and then I think he mentioned people on Twitter, but later on that day Fernando Rodney was kind enough to prove the utter and complete uselessness of the win stat, when he got shelled, blew a save and got the WIN. Even if they disagree, being condescending about it is just bad form.

WiredHK said...

Lumley, your post is on point. Fully agree. Another thing, and maybe I'm being too naive, but Harper if you're hinting that Rizzo is "pushing" Williams to use Cedeno more instead of Thornton (for financial reasons), even if Thornton is better, man we are getting into some dangerously "Redskins"-like territory. And, we can all agree that is NOT a good direction for any franchise in any sport.

And yes, I read and saw Moneyball and love Billy Beane (i.e. smart GM trying to work with classic Manager that can't see reality) - but this would NOT be that. This would be, use the worse player, because we can pay him less and for longer?


Kenny B. said...

A few scattered points after the first week:

I definitely agree at this point that Espinosa should be out there instead of Uggla. At least you get plus defense with that configuration, and at this point, the Nats need all the defense they can get.

Zimm looks pretty good over at first base, and with Harper behind him in right, that side of the field is a tough place to hit against the Nats.

I think Desmond is the new Espinsosa, and I worry he's headed for total collapse this year. He'll have a long leash, but when do we think we'll see Turner if Desmond continues like he is now?

How do we feel about Taylor? He's a K-hole, but compared to the rest of the lineup, he's producing. I'd be interested in Harper's early assessment of him.

I would imagine the BABIP tells a story for the Nats. I mostly listen to games on the radio because I don't want to pay for MASN, but it seems like they are suffering from a ton of bloopy little no-man's-land hits and squib grounders. In the low scoring affairs we've seen, those hits and errors have made the difference. Hopefully the bloopy hits stop falling in (see Espinosa comment above for a suggestion to ameliorate this problem) and the errors eventually stop. Those corrections alone (one needs luck, the other skill) would probably make this team 4-2 instead of the other way around.

Harper said...

Kenny B - I'm encouraged by Taylor's performance. I liked Boz's comparison to Espy coming up - great all around skills but low average with lot of Ks. I don't think he's the same average hole as Espy - but I also don't think his D is as good, and I don't think he'll be as patient (especially since that's something the Nats kind of breed out of you in the majors). Basically I think if he doesn't get injured he'll be a solid player (with a small breakout hope) for as long as the Nats have him. If he does get injured - as we've seen with Espy - look out. His batting skills balance on a fine line and anything messing with that could be a problem.

Wally said...

I'd argue that relievers aren't disposable/fungible, they are just hard to predict year to year because their samples are so small, a relatively minor stretch of abnormal performance skews your impression of them. Kind of like picking a kicker in fantasy football. You would love to have the one that you know is going to break out, but you would be crazy to waste a high pick on predicting that correctly. Same logic goes for not throwing big money at relievers.

But they are still important. I have become a big Treinen fan, and was wondering the same as @A Fly Moses. Even in his second straight day, he was 98 with a ton of movement, so he wasn't tired. And he isn't just not missing bats, he has been getting hit hard, and luckily some have been right at people. My guess, and that's all it is, is that he is still figuring out how to command his stuff (he has experienced big velocity jumps in the last few years). His pitches move so much that he can't be precise with his command, and winds up with more pitches that end up over the heart of the plate than others with less movement (and more knowledge of where they can place it). MLB hitters will hit it there, regardless of how fast it. Even Ryan Howard. I think that he just needs to keep pitching until he figures out his command better.

But overall, the bullpen has the feel of trying out some guys to see what they have (looking at you, Cedeno). I'd be shocked if it looks remotely like this by season's end. I think we'll see Martin and Grace up before too long, and then if that fails, look for some trades to happen.

Hoo said...


Rizzo is a very good GM but he definitely has some unfun arrogance that is fine as long as he's a winner.

As Boz reminded us today, one reason Blevins was (supposeldy?) dealt for a minor leaguer is that Blevins beat the Nats in arbitration. To the Nats, that means there must be a reckoning.

JWLumley said...

The whole Blevins won $200k in arbitration narrative is silly. The Nats have Thornton, I think they know that Hill is their second lefty and they wanted to see if Cedeno could be a good low cost option. Turns out Cedeno won't be that, DFA him and bring up Hill.

Kenny B. said...

More mistakes, more runs. My God this team looks clueless in the field so far this year.

JWLumley said...

@KennyB It's early, they'll score 1 run. Now, if they give up 2 runs, you might want to change the channel.

JWLumley said...

Glad I'm at work instead of watching this on TV, it sounds painful to watch.

Kenny B. said...

Well the terrible hitting is made worse by the fact that BOS has already put up like 3 gem plays to take away hits. Like I said, I suspect the Nats' BABIP probably tells a story on both sides of the ball. Seems like a lot of bad luck combined with a lot of stupid, stupid defensive plays. Someone do the research for me.

JWLumley said...

@KennyB I did some research and confirmed that Ian Desmond isn't the best defensive SS out there, despite what FP says. I also learned that many players on the Nats roster (Moore, Uggla, den Dekker, Lobaton, Espinosa & Ramos) are not good hitters. Also, while I was typing this Desmond and Taylor struck out on a combined 3 pitches, but the both swung really, really, hard.

Froggy said...

I'm not too worried about the pen just yet, although I just don't see what Rizzo and MW see in Cedano. And I think moving Clippard was a huge mistake.

The offense is non-existant yes, but this year I feel more like this is a 2009 group of nobodies defensively than a continuation of 2012 or 2014. Seems like every ground ball to Desmond has me holding my breath instead of writing 6-3 in my score book.

JE34 said...

Possibly the worst half-inning of baseball I've ever seen going on right now in Boston.

Bjd1207 said...

Kinda glad I'm just game-casting.

What the actual F

Lol there goes the stellar SP stats

SAP said...

hey Harp, what do you think of this revolutionary idea: we have 6 bonafide starters, right? What if 4 SPs each pitched 2 innings a game, with each one getting every 3rd game off. With no injuries that'd be 216 IP at the end of the year, pretty comparable to total IP w/ no injuries for a traditional starter. This allows us to not need to resort to our average bullpen for 2-3 innings a game, but instead for just 1 inning. I know that it's easy to dismiss just because of how over-the-top different it is from the norm, but I think there's something there personally

Bjd1207 said...

@SAP - That idea's been floated in varying states over the past decade or so. Rockies tried to roll with 4 starters and 2 long relievers a couple of years ago.

The problem with that plan is what happens when your first starter goes up there and gets 6 K's in the first 2 innings. Are you really going to pull them from the game? That's why it's so hard to shake the starter/bullpen model. Because if you're starter's lights out, you're not using anybody else that game

Kenny B. said...

I think that this game ended up the way it did because of Zimmermann clearly losing his nerve after the Desmond error. He's not mentally tough enough, and lacks in grit.

@JWL, I can't tell if you're trying to mock me or not, but Desmond is indeed a terrible fielder, at least according to the error stat and the eyeball test in the first part of the last 3 seasons. Those hitters are indeed bad so far this year, but so is most everyone. I'm just wondering if all those bloop hits and grounders by opposing offenses are combining with opposing defensive prowess to make the Nats look even worse than they are so far (with the note that they are, in fact, still quite bad, but maybe not quite this bad).

It's early, it's early, don't panic, long season, etc. I will patiently wait for Harper's piece explaining to me that I should panic. Right now, this group is 2013 levels of frustrating to keep up with on a play by play basis, so I'll just check the box scores for a while until maybe they start to get a grip on this whole baseball thing that seems to elude them in odd numbered years.

Max David said...

I know it didn't matter, but why the hell was Cedeno brought out there to begin the 8th?? Due up first is Pedroia (a right-handed hitter), then you gotta figure up 5 runs with 3 outs to go Farrell is going to pinch hit Ortiz for Craig or another RH bat off the bench, then after that you have Hanley, yet another right-handed batter off the bench. After the disasterous first 3 innings they had outscored them 4-1 since then, and Boston gave up 7 in the first inning Sunday, so who's to say they can't give up 5 in the 9th today?? IF Cedeno hadn't pitched in a while I could see bringing him in, but when he's pitched like 3 times in the last 4 days, why bring in a lefty-specialist when you are likely going to get 3 straight right handed hitters??

Anonymous said...

Wtf was that shit.

I think we just saw an entire team get the yips.

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