Nationals Baseball: Lucky + Good = Dominance

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Lucky + Good = Dominance

The question is often asked, would you rather be lucky or good? The gut answer is usually lucky but with more thought it becomes clear you can't answer with the information on hand. How lucky? How good? A bad team that hits well with RISP might score a few more runs and win a few more games than it should, but it won't make it a good team. But that kind of luck can turn a good team on the cusp of missing the playoffs into a good team securely in it. A bad team whose every hit is a seeing-eye dribbler or swinging bunt leading to a .500 BABIP, that team may go much further than it should and it can make a good team seem unstoppable. Speaking of which...

The Nats are in first place now. They've gone 17-4 in the past 21 games. The pitching has been what you've seen. 3 steps forward, 2 steps back. A little behind what you'd have expected from the Nats, but given that what you expected was really good, it's still a winnable result. The offense... well the past 21 games is pretty much May (the streak started on April 28th) so we can easily see what kind of numbers they are putting up in the luck stats. A .336 BABIP (high) and a 20.6% HR/FB rate (high) on offense. I imagine if we threw in those last 3 games of April, where the Nats scored 13, 13, and 8 runs it would skew even more. It's a good offense (with an MVP pillar to build around) getting the breaks and NL best in runs scored (by 15% over the 2nd best team - which is silly unless you are an exceptional Rockies offense) is the result

The Nats have gone 9-1 in their past 10 1 and 2 run games. The entire history of baseball has shown us that these types of games are basically coin flips. You might think a great pen or clutch hitting would skew these numbers but they don't. A bad team with a bad pen might do better in one run games than a division winner with the best pen ever. (For example last years Royals were 22-25 in one-run games) The Nats are catching breaks here too.

None of the above is to suggest the Nats aren't the best team in the NL East (they are) or aren't possibly the best team in the NL or MLB. I'm just highlighting what it takes to have a 17-4 type run. It's not enough to be good. A good team goes 12-9 or 13-8 in 21 games. Those are 93-100 win paces. To get to 17-4, a team has to be lucky too. There are no teams simply good enough to win 132 games (the pace the Nats have been on). You have to be lucky.

But that doesn't mean it will eventually turn on you. All that means is it will eventually trend back to normal. The Nats had a mildly unlucky start followed by a lucky run just as long. The end result is finding themselves about where they should have been with just normal luck from the start. A roller coaster ride instead of the gentle ascent. After that start you'd have thought it would take 40-50 games to get back into first (if they went 13-8 like I noted a 100 win team would be around they'd still be 3 games out right now). Instead, they got here in 20. Consider it a shortcut back home. Now they have a chance to put the Mets in the rearview with a sweepable series vs the Phillies while the Mets finish up vs STL and go to Pittsburgh. After that the Mets have a easier time but if the Nats can put 3-4 games between them and New York by the time Monday rolls around... I don't see the Mets making that up, easier schedule or not. 

There's no luck necessary at this point. Just do what you should do - have the Mets do what they should do and this brief interlude may all take care of itself in a matter of days, not months.

15 comments:

Anonymous said...

I had a fever dream where harper was a fan of a baseball team...

Anonymous said...

I have The Beatles "While My Guitar Gently Weeps" stuck in my head: I look at the floor and I see it needs SWEEPing

Seriously though, no comments on the Harper/Williams ejections? Or Storen getting A-Rod looking, twice, in the 9th: once in a tie game, once to close it?

SM said...

Acknowledged that 1-run games are largely luck. (Too bad there aren't run banks where you can deposit extra runs and withdraw them when needed.)

The Nats have a strange symmetry: They're 8-4 in one-run games. But they're also 8-4 in blowouts--which is a far better indicator of how good a team is.

Chaz R said...

Completely agree, Harper. Fangraphs projections were scary during the bad luck start, but I see now the Nats are about projected where Fangraphs had them at the start. Keep in mind though, all this the Nats offense has done without Rendon, and largely without Werth, and a 'meh' Zim. The bench, initially considered a weakness, has not been bad.

Eric said...

I agree Zim has been ~meh~, but I think the effect has been fairly heavily blunted by a number of productive outs. The man has 31 RBI, after all.

Kenny B. said...

In line with Chaz's point, other than Bryce Harper, the Nats effectiveness has come from more or less unlikely places, while those from whom you expect more have done little. I don't know if those unexpected players have put something good together, whether coaching has improved them, or whether we're just getting 2012-level bench luck. But if there is regression from unexpectedly good to about-what-we'd-expect as a team, then on an individual player level, we might see better play out of our "stars" (thinking Zimm, Werth, Desmond, and everyone in the pitching staff not named Scherzer). That, along with continued success from BRYCE when the umps let him play, still makes for a pretty scary opponent, even when the bounces aren't going the Nats' way.

WiredHK said...

They weren't as bad as they showed early on, and they're not as good as they've been lately. All things added together means they are where they should be - with room for growth as Rendon, Werth and Fister return and room for regression as Harper, Ramos and Espy come down a bit from current levels (relative to their own skills).

One real wild card is Strasburg - he has been so bad this year, I'm just curious if he's hurt or if things (for him) will also progress back to more "normal" career numbers. If they do, I really, really like this team. If they don't (or if he needs to miss time), this team just won't be as good as it should be (until he is healthy)...

Anonymous said...

Harper, are you intentionally avoiding mentioning Moore's homer in the 4th?

The NATural said...

This post reads as if the Nats just beat one of those "28 other teams."

I don't see Stras or Geo making opposing batters worried this year. I'd be interested to see if Rizzo looks to add another lefty at some point. Do you think there will be any significant moves before the deadline?

Donald said...

TyMo -- lucky or good?

Harper -- With Ellsbury injured, the Yankees will need another outfielder. Maybe Moore was auditioning for a trade. Since the Yankees seem to have surplus bullpen arms, how about TyMo for Betances, straight up?

Anonymous said...

@Donald - trade denied. I hope that was sarcasm...

Harper said...

Anon #1 - there was a Captain on the field and a giant made of money blowing hot air from on top of the stadium

Anon #2 - Storen has done well. He will be a good closer for the season.

SM - We should just figure out playoff spots by pythag!

Yeah - Nats are good. Very good/great, really. Expect more "blowouts" (and by that I think 5-0, 6-1 wins)

Chaz R - there is potential again for this team to win 105+. That was always the "everyone healthy and playing right" possibility. Kind of ruined to start but now Nats are back so it's back.

Zimm - lot of that Bryce character on base to drive in.

Kenny B - yeah until the "other guys" stop performing you have to say Oh Zimm, Ian, Werth... watch them they are cold, but should be better. Oh Espy, Escobar... watch them, they shouldn't be this good, but they're hot! No real relief that comes with bad players playing badly.

WiredHK - I feel I'm back where I started the season. Expect Division title - watch season to see how I feel about those chances.

Anon - Not intentionally.

NAT - for you that's how it should be. I don't see any moves unless the Nats suffer another injury. Don't see Rizzo messing with his thin but talented org depth.

Donald - Lucky. He'll hit homers and do nothing else (witness the almost miss of the fly ball) if that's ok with you so be it. I think Nats can do better.

No. How about Betances for Taylor?




Kenny B. said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
G Cracka X said...

Since the Nats won both games, can we get a post on one of the following:

1) how Span is unequivocally a good hitter now

2) TMo's quality at-bats the past week or two

3) Storen's consistency since late 2013 (sans playoffs of course)

Harper said...

GCX -
1) It's coming together
2) No. What 15 ABs? That's silly. Plus I can pull a couple stretches like this from each of Moore's seasons.
3) Boz did a pretty good column on this so I'm not sure I'll redo that.