Nationals Baseball: Who shut off the offense?

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Who shut off the offense?

It's only been a week or so, but here are the Nats offensive totals for the past few games: 3,2,1,4,2,1.  With a little luck and some great pitching the Nats have gone 4-2 in those games but that's not a recipe for success even if the Nats starters were pitching like they should. Now before I get too far into this we need to understand the Nats lead the NL in scoring. Coming from a place of "there's a problem with the offense" is being way, way too negative. So let's make sure we frame the post correctly. What we want to know is how we should define the Nats offense and then how we should look at the recent issues. A great offense that has had a down week? A very good one that got on a roll coming back to Earth? A good one that got really lucky? (I'm not going below that)

The first thing I'll note is that the Nats offense has not been consistent. It's been streaky. It's an odd coincidence but the Nats have followed 20 game patterns offensively so far. In their first 20 games they scored 69 runs or 3.45 per game. For a season that would put the Nats at... 14th in the NL a step behind the 14th place Mets but well ahead of the 15th place Phillies. No wonder they went 7-13 during this time. Game 21 started the recent winning streak and the Nats in the next 20 games would score 133 runs. That's almost double for an amazing 6.65 runs per game. Game 41 begins the streak I noted above - it's early but 2.2 runs per game if you are interested.

The 6.65 is not an impossible number given the entire history of baseball but in recent years, in these offensive conditions it would be close to that (it's around a game above even the steroid era, no humidor Rockies), whereas the 3.45 is poor but far from unprecedented.  This tells you the high scoring run streak is more of an outlier than the low scoring run. Fine. The Nats won't score 6.5 runs a game. They won't even score 5.5 runs a game. But they don't need to. They are at 4.7 for the year now. 4.5 will likely be Top 3 in the NL. Can they do that?

Looking quickly (stuff to make up for this Memorial Day week) I'm not sure. Bryce and Denard should both take steps back but that's going down from guys whose hot streaks were big reasons for the 6.5+ runs a game. Bryce will slow but could easily end up around the best Miggy seasons (near 200 OPS+). Denard won't stay on a 30 homer pace but .300+ again with a bit more pop is possible. Those are guys that can be keys to a Top 3 offense.

The rest of the offense gives pause. The next two best offensively are Danny and Yuney. Danny is beginning to drift back to old Danny. His K rate is up over 30% the past week. There's potential here for a breakdown if it keeps up, but even in the past week he's been Danny. If you twisted my arm I'd say lower average still with patience and pop. Pre-injury "old Danny" not post-injury "old Danny" which means about league average type.  Yuney I've never liked and the .315 average is hard to buy into. If he doesn't keep his average up, he's not useful at the plate. He was hitting well but has lucked into more hits as the season progressed to keep the average up. (.350 BABIP). It's going to be dicey if he can keep around average.

And that's it for the above average starters. Now we see trouble. If Bryce and Denard and Danny and Yuney all step back (all reasonable guesses - remember a step back for Bryce is still arguably best in decade type season) that's fine. Remember we are coming down from the top of a mountain. Even minor corrections from the rest of the line-up should keep the Nats atop the NL East. Unfortunately the best offense in May after these guys has come from the likes of Uggla and Moore. Guys you don't expect to play or keep up that level of offense if they do. Can't adjust those up. Ramos hit better during the stretch but is struggly mightily recently. I don't see a reason to think he'll be any better than the overall slightly below average we see now.  I like Zimm, I think he can do better, but the past week is just dragging him down again after a moderately better May. Michael Taylor is still adjusting, is not hitting, and can't be trusted to.

That leaves the best bet for offense currently healthy as Ian Desmond. It hasn't been a great year for Ian and he's definitely trending down career-wise (those K's are going up and up) but his power is real, has room to return to normal, and there's no injury concerns here. After him its Werth coming back to replace Taylor, which may or may not be better giving how he looked so far, and Rendon coming back which may actually push out Danny, who as I noted above I kind of like to keep up average offense, for Yuney who I kind of don't. There isn't anyone out there that I think - oh yeah this guy is going to pick things up.

I don't know how I feel overall. I know I don't like the Nats to be best in the NL. The only reason they sit there now is because of an insane 20 game run pushed by an insane month by Bryce. But Top 5...  Let's look at it another way.  They were Top 3 last year, Werth was very good, and Rendon and LaRoche were right behind him. Span, Bryce, Desmond and Zimm (when playing) were all good.  This year Bryce could be great and Span should be good and... and... I don't know.  There's all those injury returns. If Desmond gets good like I think he could and Espy plays and stays around average and Werth/Zimm are around average and Rendon is back and good... yeah Top 3 is there. If Desmond stays below average and Rendon who struggles, pushes out Danny while Yuney drops below average and Werth/Zimm never get it going... they could drop to something probably right around average. It would be a team carried by Bryce and yeah I'll say it, Span.

There isn't anything here to worry about playoff wise. Max looks great. ZNN looks very good. Enough of the pen is decent. There shouldn't be an absolute hole in the offense just dips. At absolute worst what are we talking about, average pitching and average offense? A .500 type team? .500 from here on out is still playoffs. And that's absolute worst.

I don't know what I'm saying here other than the offensive discussions we had during the offseason still hold. Is this a top offense or not? We don't know. We know Bryce can literally put the team on his back. With just a couple of other guys hitting well he can help carry the team to record type offensive production. Bryce Harper's ascendance pretty much assures to me this offense won't be a below average one. So where will it fall from say 1-9?  That I still don't know. I'd bet not 1 or 2 but anything else I think is still in play. There are too many questions for me to feel good about saying anything else.

25 comments:

Anonymous said...

Harper, I'm glad you recognize that Span is playing quite well right now. I feel like Span is all but certain to not come back next year, being that we think we have his replacement. I am just worried that Rizzo is content with Taylor to take over next year. Not that I don't like Taylor, but I am not impressed. I still feel like he's a couple years away. If Span leaves, who do you like in the lead-off spot? Werth? Or someone not on the roster?

Harper said...

Anon - if Span leaves (and we'll see - I bet the Nats want him back but they also probably want a 2 year deal given his age and injury history) Taylor will hit first. Don't think about it. Just accept it. Speedy CF will hit first. If he fails to hit (not get on base that is not how they do it), they'll probably flirt with Danny and Yuney in that spot. Matt Williams is typical - Mike Rizzo doesn't seem to particularly care about lineups.

(and honestly given the very modest gains of moving to an optimal line-up from a traditional one you could make the argument that keeping people happy is more important)

Anonymous said...

The only lineup mov e that matters is Bryce to the 2 hole. Max abs for him because he is so much better.

SM said...

Your Hamlet-like doubts have certainly thrown a contemplative gloom over your normally chatty correspondents.

blovy8 said...

The obvious benefit of a return to decent from Espy is that "when" Rendon comes back, it will also mean a better bench than we expected. But if I can believe that, I can also believe that Moore is a viable player! He might be better than some guys the Angels are using in their OF. Neuwenhuis?

I came into this season no real fan of Escobar, but even if the BABIP comes down he'll probably be able to hit an empty .300. There's a role for that contact stuff on this club, especially when the postseason comes. It's maddening that a guy smart enough to make adjustments like crowding the plate against sinkerballer Henrdicks (resulting in an HBP), and who seemingly has some of the best situational atbats on the club thus far is also dumb enough to get picked off the bases TWICE in a close game.

I'm hoping it's too early to write off more power from Ramos. I was at the game where he hit that monster homer. I don't know if that's enough to offset all the throws home that he drops, but I have a fan's faith.

Money talks, but it might be a tough sell to retain Span for just two years. If he hits .300 there's gonna be clubs who will give him more than that. You run up against the classic free agency arguments, in that you will have to overpay to keep them, and Taylor will be many millions cheaper.

Harper said...

Anytime I get a oddly low number of comments I just assume there's one of those holidays that government employees get off that no one else does. Even if that's not true I like to think that.

Anonymous said...

Harper we need more things to complain about!!

I don't think this suggestion got much attention so I'll run it back:

Given that Fister comes back healthy AND Roark doesn't run out of voodoo magic AND Stras doesn't turn things around, why not turn Stras into a true relief ace. Some thoughts:

1. Stras needs time in the rotation to try and get right.
2. Roark could also work as a relief ace, but stras stuff seems better suited to the role.
3. Goal would be to get Stras between 120-130 innings per year to keep value up.
4. Bring him in in high leverage situations and then he can pitch 2 or 3 innings.
5. If the starter goes well, Stras can bridge to the closer.
6. If you need a spot starter, boom there he is.

Nattydread said...

After Harper, Span and Rendon, the key to an above average offense has to be Zimmerman. Like Harper, he's been plagued with nagging injuries over the past few seasons. If he can leave the injuries behind and get hot, he can carry the team.

Anonymous said...

Anon - Have you not watched Stras pitch in the first inning of games? Why would we think that his first inning throwing is going to be any differnt just because it's the 7th instead of the 1st? My heart can't take that kind of stress or disappointment...

Mitch said...

The biggest concern to me is the lack of rage comments about Yuney getting picked off TWICE, as blovy said. Absolutely unforgivable at any point, and super-duper unforgivable when your offense is struggling and you do it once with Bryce up, and once late in the game when representing the go-ahead run on second with two outs. I would bench him at least a game for that. I've got my eye on you too, Michael Let's-see-how-close-I-can-get-to-getting-picked-off-on-every-freaking-throw Taylor.
(I do not like it when players run into outs.)

Donald said...

Hated him getting picked off too, though I may have hated Desi's bad throw more. I know you don't want to fault a guy for trying, but that was not only waaayy off target, but also waaayy late. If he doesn't throw that ball, the outfield plays no-doubles defense to keep the guy on 1st from scoring and that last play would have been a fly out.

Eric said...

Escobar even made a pretty good steal a bizarre adventure by inexplicably breaking for third.

Nats - NEVER let Escobar steal bases, even if the situation otherwise DEMANDS that he steal. He seems to do well running out his, but beyond that he seems clueless. After last night I half expect to see him attempt to steal home from second one of these days.

Eric said...

running out hits

Mitch said...

Wow, I had forgotten about him almost getting picked off after that steal. That was bizarre indeed. He is a bizarre man. (I grew up a Blue Jays fan so I've seen him quite a bit.)

Ryan said...

Apropos of nothing: what is up with the discrepancies in Bryce's fielding numbers? I know small sample size defensive metrics are highly unreliable, but I don't understand how Bryce Harper is a top 10 fielder by bWAR (0.9) but barely adequate by fWAR (-0.3). What's even weirder about that fWAR stat is that all the component numbers are highly positive: defensive runs saved, out of zone plays, ultimate zone rating, even Inside Edge fielding percentage. It doesn't make sense to me at all.

J. Henry Waugh said...

Nine series wins in a row. Another missed prediction by Harper. That makes three now, I believe in this particular stretch. Another save for Storen, the big choker. Hahaha! Okay, no more antagonizing our host from here on out. I was just being a bit irascible there for awhile. Although what if the Nats started losing if I stopped?!! Props to WiredHK for being the the first to identify J. Henry Waugh, Prop.

Ryan said...

Continuing my earlier comment: I think the positional adjustment must have something to do with it, since fWAR seems to hate right fielders, but that still doesn’t explain the bWAR-fWAR discrepancy.

Bjd1207 said...

@Ryan yea you hit the nail on the head, its the positional adjustment. Harper's still top in the leagues of all right fielders, but the defensive component is still less than guys who play CF, 3B, 2B, SS that you see around him in the leaderboard.

I believe it's also cumulative at that point, meaning that Right fielders essentially start "in the hole" and all of them have an overwhelming negative defensive component to start the season and have to dig their way back to positive.

Eric said...

I think it's worth considering at least the starting pitchers faced during this stretch of low-scoring games:

3 - Warren (meh)
2 - O'Sullivan (meh+)
1 - Hamels
4 - Harang
2 - Wada
1 - Kendricks
3 - Lester

It would be more concerning if they were all Warren or O'Sullivan caliber, but we've run into some pretty good pitchers lately.

Robot said...

Who is this Henry Waugh guy and what the hell is his problem?

Also, it can't be said enough right now: Bryce is AWESOME!

Harper said...

JHW - Just because I don't like to be misrepresented, I didn't say the Nats would lose all those series (that would have them on a slide almost as bad as the start of the year). I looked at the stretch and couldn't say for sure I thought they should win series other than the ones vs TOR and PHI. Think of it like they'd win TOR and PHI and win half the other series during the stretch. They are certainly doing better than I expected, but hopefully this clears things up for you.

WiredHK said...

Janssen saved the game last night, that was a fantastic appearance by him against the best the Cubs have to offer. I liked how he kept everything well down in the zone, nothing to elevate for anyone there. Huge, huge fire he put out. Looks like he really is the "8th inning veteran" guy we wanted. Also, even though it didn't work out for Grace, I appreciated MW matching up the bullpen properly last night.

Lastly, Scherzer and Harper are beasts. Having both a strong Cy Young and MVP candidate is a really nice thing...

Eric said...

Janssen was incredible! What an incredible relief performance, maybe one of the best I've ever seen, at least from an entertainment perspective.

Robot, I thought s/he was just another disputatious troll, but it appears s/he is owning it...

Jay said...

Does Janssen automatically get the 8th now? Wow.

Zimm doesn't hit till July. They make a big deal of it in late June every year. If he gets going and Rendon comes back and hits, then they will be fine.

Eric said...

Not to mention if Werth gets going...he's won July player of the month the last two years. Fingers crossed that he can at least get himself back in that discussion by then.

Pretty amazing to consider where we are with such major cogs (Werth, Rendon, Zim, Stras) not playing and/or not playing up to their potential.