Nationals Baseball: Things we learned yesterday

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Things we learned yesterday

Other than you should not have sing-alongs to the Dave Matthews Band lest you tempt my wrath.

1) Gio Gonzalez is also having non-ignorable problems. Hidden behind the "There's something wrong with Strasburg" and "Where did ZNN's fastball go?" lies "Gio is having problems, too.". Stras' issues seem fixable to some degree because Stras in likely injured (in my mind at least). ZNN's you can sort of wash your hands at because he is almost certainly gone next year. But Gio? Gio is a guy you were hoping to have on the cheap through 2018 and his problems seem like the dreaded "steady decline".

His WHIP is way up - part of that is BABIP (now .387, isn't going to last) as I noted a couple days ago - but part of that is how he's pitching now. He used to be a FB guy. If you can get them to hit flyballs but not homers (and Gio has done that since 2010) you get a lot of outs. This year he's given up way more GBs (58.2% when his career average is 47.1%). GBs go for hits more often than flyballs. Strikeouts are a bit down, walks a bit up. Maybe he's going through a mid-career conversion to a crafty lefty... but I doubt it. Crafty lefties tend to have great control. That's not Gio.

I'm not crying DOOM here but part of the "dominant Nats scenario" was having 5 starters who would be another teams #1 or #2. The original three are all failing at that right now and given Gio and Stras' importance for the next few years, there's a lot of pressure on the now.

2) It's nice to have an actually good 4th OF.  Remember when they sent down Michael Taylor because Mike Rizzo loves the vete.... I mean Taylor needed daily at bats? Yeah that was stupid. We said it then, I say it now, Taylor belongs in the majors spot starting, covering for Werth on D late in games, and otherwise filling in for the Nats OF crew. He's a possible starter now, which means he's the perfect fourth outfielder on a team that fancies itself a championship favorite. Or do you still favor Clint Robinson (.205 / .244 / .282), Reed Johnson (.222 / .263 / .278), or Tyler Moore (.207 / .281 / .448)*?

Now can the Nats find and will they pay to get the IF equivalent? Or will they just hope Espinosa and Escobar are still hitting real well when (if?) Rendon comes back?  (forget about the C equivalent - Lobaton is fine, not THIS good certainly, but as fine as you'll get for a back-up catcher)

3) They may be stretching out Roark. He was a late inning guy for a few weeks and seemed to be getting the hang of it. Yesterday they had him throw almost 2 full innings. My gut says they expect Stras to land on the DL and Roark will take his place. Of course as we talked about before that leaves a late inning hole in the pen. The Nats tried to fill it with Barrett. Didn't work. They don't have another dominant arm in the pen so we're looking at musical chairs if what we think is going to happen happens. It won't be pretty but hopefully the Nats can keep up the decent offense and make late inning hiccups nothing to worry about. 

4) The Nats are almost over the hump.  The Mets lead is down to 1.5 games. They've played poorly (but not like an exact inverse of their start) and the Nats have played great. But here comes the real test.

NYM : 1game v CHC, MIL, STL, @PIT, PHI, MIA, @SD, @ARI, SFG

The Mets play 8 games versus teams currently over .500 over the next rough month. The Nats play 15.  It's probably true that Pittsburgh (who the Mets play but Nats don't) is better than their .500 record, but it's also probably true that SF (ditto) is probably worse - giving the Mets some more easy games. MIL, PHI, MIA (imo), ARI, SFG are all should win series for the Mets. PHI and maybe TOR are should win series for the Nats.

What's it all mean? Here's the deal. The Nats have done exactly what they needed to, beating the Mets in the head to head series and fattening up on NL East teams and a bad Arizona team. In turn they've watched their rival, the Mets, flounder against a harder schedule. That's basically how the Mets climbed to the top in the first place. For the Nats now the goal is simply not to lose a lot of ground. This may be their hardest extended schedule stretch of the year. This may be the Mets easiest. If the Nats hang around the Mets and come out the other side only a couple games out then you have to really, really like the Nats chances to overtake the Mets for good sometime well before the season is through. (there are schedule chunks right before the All-Star break, in mid August, and mid Sept where I like the Nats to gain ground, Mets have shorter chucks where I like them an the beginning and end of August)

In turn if the Nats lose a lot of ground, well then it will doubtfully be enough to panic (one of these two teams would have to go on a 10-0/0-10 ish run to do that), but it will likely make the climb season long.

*Yes Tyler Moore hit a home run. Anyone who's read this blog for a couple weeks knows I don't like Tyler Moore. But if you've read it for at least a few months you know I admit that he will probably hit some homers if you give him enough at bats. But he brings nothing else to the table. He is not patient. He will not hit for average. He does not run well. He does not field well. The Nats are good but they cannot afford such a one-dimensional player on the team. Really they need to complement Michael Taylor and since he can field, run, hit for decent enough average and power - they need a patient bat or a contact bat. Preferably lefty. Again this is not Moore, not close.


Robot said...

Totally feeling the Taylor love. That kid needs to get regular playing time.

Also, I was at work during most of the game yesterday - can anyone tell me what got Bryce tossed?

JE34 said...

@Robot - he argued a borderline check swing call. Got rung up at the plate, HP ump did not get help from the 3rd base ump and Bryce lost it.

jaybeas said...

Robot - Bryce had a check swing that the home plate ump immediately called for strike three. Bryce got heated because the ump didn't appeal to the third base ump. After the game, he said the ump said something like "You're gonna act like that?" and Bryce didn't appreciate being talked down to.

Robot said...

Thanks, JE34 & jaybeas. Though it's a shame to hear he lost his temper (he hadn't been tossed in over a year, if I'm not mistaken), I imagine a comment like that would set a lot of people off.

We need Bryce in close games, especially when he's hitting this hot. Then again, ejection --> Michael Taylor --> grand slam. Poetic justice or something, I guess.

Chinatown Express said...

So, maybe Stras isn't hurt? Or he is? Fangraphs would like to know.

WiredHK said...

Has Gio been that bad? Not looking deeply into advanced metrics, he has had 7 GS this season. Two (including yesterday) were bad, one was meh and four were good. Other than the bad ones being really bad, that "feels" like typical Gio to me. Help me out on this one, Harper. I'm not seeing much reason for concern just yet for him.

WiredHK said...

I should clarify my "not looking deeply into advanced metrics" - since you did, and thus the post. I was more suggesting, if we set advanced metrics aside due to relative SSS this year, the quality start vs games started metrics look about right for Gio. No?

Strasburger said...

Harp - You know I love this blog more than anything, but you have to admit that you can be a bit of a pessimist. The Nats will take the division lead far before the ASB.

Also want to point out you essentially said you don't believe in turning points, but since that comeback in ATL, we've won 12 of 15...I feel like that might be a turning point.

You have any new updates on Rendon? Still thinking after the ASB?

I also wanted to get your take on Bryce; I think this group would love a deeper dig on his stats this year! FP Santangelo (even though he is mostly out of his mind) said he thinks Bryce will hit for average (like .300). Do you agree with this, or do you think he'll top out around .275 an hit for a ton of power?

In between all the stressful stories we need some happy ones!

John C. said...

I'm much less worried about Gio than Harper is. Gio's K/9 and BB/9 are pretty much where they have been his entire Nationals career (and are actually better than his career numbers). I think that a major contributor to his increase in GB% is his increased use of the changeup as an effective weapon, especially against RH batters. Which has actually encouraged me, because I think that it should enable him to remain above average as a starter even as his FB velocity declines a bit.

Once his BABIP normalizes he'll be fine - even if it normalizes slightly higher than his career numbers because more ground balls, the decreased FB% should keep his HR/9 totals down as well.

Robot said...

Well, I don't want to take *ALL* the credit, because the Nats have certainly been playing some great ball, but I would like to refer people to comment #26 on Harper's April 29th post:

Harper said...

Robot - can't say I LOVE Taylor but he belongs here

CXP - Ok I can buy that it's not an injury per se, rather a by product of it. That would certainly be a more favorable diagnosis. We'll see. I still think a DL stint happens - of only to work out those kinks in a less stressful setting

Wired HK / John C - I don't know I guess I see it like this - Gio has never been a control guy. Guys get on base versus Gio, thus it's imperative he strikes a bunch out and keeps guys from homering. Yeah the GB% going up helps the latter but the latter wasn't an issue. so it has the side effect of increasing the number of hits we see. I suppose if he knew before hand he would be giving up a ton of homers and adjusted - GREAT! This is better! But I can't know that. ANd the Swinging strikes are dropping, contact is going up, that's why the K's are dropping. Basically I think there was outside hope last years improvement (even if it didn't show in ERA it was there) meant that he could get it back to 2012 levels or close. I think that's gone.

I'm not saying he won't be effective this year. I'm just saying he wont' be that #2 esque guy> I think we wanted dominance. We aren't seeing it from ZNN and Stras for various reasons and Gio I don't think will step up based on what I see. So I'm starting to accept that "greatest pitching staff ever" dream... it ain't going to happen. Will he be at the very least a acceptable 3/4 type? Sure. However, I think he'll be worse next year (and subsequent years). I'd say its more a worry for 2017/18 than 2015.

Strasburger - totally a pessimist... or more a realist who acknowledges but rarely discusses the optimistic side. If I were to guess... I'd say Nats take the lead in the next 7-10 days, fall back to 2-3 back by mid June, then they catch up again and the Mets have a little dance for a couple weeks before the Nats grab it for good around the 4th.

OK but if that's a turning point why not this?
or this

The first was a great late comeback following weeks of middling play - Nats lost more after that. The second was a standard blowout win versus a team that we'd find out was bad - Nats started cruising after that.

(I can find better examples with more time)

The thing is there have been probably a couple dozen games in the past 3 years that Nats fans have thought "maybe this gets them going" or "maybe this breaks their spirit" where nothing happened. There have been plenty of great and terrible streaks with no obvious game spurring them on. It's far easier to believe that this is coincidence to me - keep looking for these things and eventually you'll find them lining up - than it is to believe they suddenly can win when they for some reasons couldn't before.

Harper said...

Robot/Stras - forget what I just wrote. It's all because of Robot's gnome

Strasburger said...


A Fly Moses said...

Re: turning points, if you'll recall July of 2013, literally every win was followed by a "this will be the win that finally turns their season around" story from someone, and each time they followed it up with a loss.

John C. said...

I guess I'm OK with Gio as a #3, because I never got caught up in the "Five Aces" hype. And I never really thought the Nationals were going to roll to 110+ wins, because baseball doesn't work that way. I've been a baseball fan too long to fall for that. It does happen (I thoroughly enjoyed the 1998 Yankees), but as starting point?

In many ways the Strasburg Derangement Syndrome has similar roots to the perennial disappointment/negativity with the Nationals for not running the table on the league in an overwhelming show of dominance. If some talking head(s) say that Strasburg and/or the Nationals are the greatest ever, that becomes the expectation even if that expectation is unrealistic. It means that simply being one of the better pitchers/teams in MLB is suddenly subpar. Doing that is a recipe for a lifetime of disappointment.

Ben said...

Harper - Please apply your normal amount of "realism" to the Mets lineup so we can all have a good laugh at the idea that this will be anything close to a season long division race.

Chaz R said...

Well said John C! Cheers!

blovy8 said...

I love grand slams as much as the next guy, but I'm dubious Taylor can strike out this much and be successful long term. He can get the leg hits that Moore won't, and will do damage when he makes contact, but he still isn't a good hitter yet. The whole point of getting regular at bats Is to develop strike zone management and pitch recognition. He still will be mostly rotting on the bench not learning that for next year when Span is gone. Plus, Robinson can pitch...

J. Henry Waugh said...

Well, at least those two Yankees series should be sweeps.

Am. Sports Legacy Admin said...

Go does not have much left in the tank. I really think the Nationals need to take a hard look at how they replace him eventually.