Nationals Baseball: Monday Quickie - Panic? What are you talking about?

Monday, June 22, 2015

Monday Quickie - Panic? What are you talking about?

72 hours ago things looked as grim as they had all season for the Nats.  Bryce had hurt himself and was going to be out an unknown amount of time. The team just went 6-14 in their last 20 and found themselves in a 1.5 game hole and were about to play a series against a legit contender. If things didn't go the Nats way fans could wake up Monday morning to find the Nats more than a series back and with no Bryce Harper to help lead the come back.

Everything did go the Nats way.

Bryce missed just a single day, in a rare instance where the Nats medical staff's dart hit the right diagnosis on the dart board. The offense scored a bunch of runs against a pitching staff that had been cruising and the Nats own starters threw 23 innings on 1 run ball. The Mets meanwhile got swept by the Braves meaning the Nats were now 1.5 games in front.

The starting pitching thing is huge because that was the given that turned out not to be. We did know that the offense wasn't great and was injury prone. We did know the bullpen was a weakness. But we still thought the NL East was winnable because of two facts. The NL East is a horrible division. The Nats starting pitching was too good to fail. Well, the NL East is a horrible division, but the Nats starting pitching wasn't too good to fail, or at least flail.

 Scherzer, ZNN, Stras, Gio & Fister...if they all pitched to their max expectation, to meet the better of their past 2 seasons, they could all be #1 on a major league team. Even those down on Gio (in decline?) and Fister (lucky?) didn't see those guys as worse than a #3, and they were the Nats #4 and #5. Plus Tanner Roark sat in the pen as a potential replacement and he'd been great in 2014, and they had AJ Cole, a good prospect waiting for his turn. But things didn't work out. Fister pitched poorly, went out for injury. Strasburg pitched poorly, went out for injury. Gio pitched poorly. ZNN took a step back. Cole failed in his audition. Suddenly the strength, the rock the Nats could rely on in any storm, was gone.

But now it could be back.  Scherzer is a clear #1, possibly in all the majors. (AL to NL never fails). Joe Ross has stepped up. If he keeps it up and Gio or ZNN or Fister or Stras, just one, pitches to max expectations, or if he goes down and two of them step up then the "best staff ever" might just happen for the last 90+ games of the year. Seems a lot to ask but the Nats are finally, presumably, 100% healthy as a staff. And regardless of whether the pen issues are solved, or the offense ever gets settled into a spot that you can count on production, that would be enough to take the East with ease.

What to do with the rotation if Strasburg is ready? You can't not start Strasburg, at least for a couple times around the rotation.  Even if you don't like him, he was one of the Top 5-10 pitchers in the game the past three seasons. You can't pull Ross though after pitching like that. I suppose you kind of hoped Gio would put up a stinker so you could "DL" him but he just tossed a gem. I guess we'll see how Fister and ZNN perform. ZNN has had a rough June (7.63 ERA in his last 3 starts) but was his old reliable self in the last one versus Tampa Bay.  Fister didn't have his best stuff but it was only his first game back from injury.   If either just blows up in their next start, you could probably "DL" them again but just a moderate fail probably wouldn't allow for such a move. No, it looks like Ross will have to go back down. Which will only make the Nats fans dislike Strasburg even more as nothing is as loved by fans as the new hotness (think about how Tyler Moore's fast start in 2012 basically gave him 3 seasons of fan love), and that's Joe Ross right now.

For those saying "deal a starter", no. You just had two guys on the DL and struggled to find a 5th and keep your pen going ok. You can't deal anyone, not during the season.  What's the best solution? I don't know. But I don know "too much good starting pitching"... that's a first world baseball problem. Glad to be back there.

37 comments:

Miles Treacy said...

I know they've been trying to keep guys on the track of starter vs. relief guys and it might slow down Ross's development. But I'd sure as hell like to see him in late relief over the likes of Treinen right now since we're in a win now mode. You have to ride the hot hand in my opinion.

Jimmy said...

No Tabata hot take? Also we the odds on favorite for a CY Young and an MVP this year yet?

Harper said...

Move him into relief and he does well and you could be damning him to a life in the pen. Fans will demand it. The only remember Joba.

Jimmy said...

@Miles Treacy- I think you have to send Ross back to the minors to keep him stretched out and to continue to develop his changeup. Also I may be in the minority but I always respected Carpenter and think his addition along with Roark back in the fold will really solidify the BP.

Harper said...

Jimmy - I have no Tabata hot take. I don't think he did anything wrong. I say bunt for a base hit in a no-hitter, take one in that back in a perfect game. The game shouldn't change for you just because your opponent might do something special.

Scherzer has gotta be the favorite, but If Cole leads the league in ERA and wins (he's close in ERA and 3 wins ahead) that's hard to vote against. Greinke needs more Ws to match Max and Cole. Harper Dark Horse - Carlos Martinez. The guy has been red hot for almost two months now and the Cardinals will get him the Ws.

MVP is between Bryce and Goldschmidt (who's hitting .350+ with power), though right now the only way I see Bryce not winning is if the Nats miss the playoffs and the D-backs make it (though hell maybe Goldschmidt flirts with .400)

Anonymous said...

I would like to see roark used aggressively out of the pen. With Ross looking like a super deluxe 6th starter the move could even be 'permanent'.

Anonymous said...

Also, why does Goldschmidt have so many more ibb ?

SM said...

Throwing a pitcher under the age of 25 into late relief--especially if his innings pitched and game appearances total over 150--increase the chances of arm trouble and oblivion. As always, there are exceptions, of course. But if Ross is really as good as he's shown in his limited showcase, the bullpen isn't the way to go.

Not that it proves anything, but I wonder what kind of career Pedro Martinez would have had if Felipe Alou, unlike the Dodgers, hadn't insisted Pedro was a starter.

And yes, pitching is a first world baseball problem. Earl Weaver would flick cigarette butts at you if you suggested otherwise.

Chaz R said...

Wow, what a weekend and reversal of fortunes! Now, they have upcoming 6 games with the Braves and 3 with the Phillies; time to slam the door!

Sadly, I think Joe the Boss Ross will have to got back to AA/AAA; hopefully AA where they seem to have a better team and better young prospects. But, you gotta feel good about the future of Nats' SP with Ross, Giolito, and Max.

Bjd1207 said...

@Anon - I think the IBB difference can be explained by who usually bats behind Harper/Goldschmidt. Goldschmidt has had Trumbo or Tomas behind him for the majority of the year, both righties. So no change in pitcher needed and you can just walk Goldie. Bryce is usually between two righties, and so bringing in the LOOGY means less total IBB

Harper said...

Anon - I'm all for Roark 1-2 innings out of the pen on a regular basis, then maybe a deal? The thing is assuming Fister and ZNN walk - you have Ross and Cole in their place, that's not a guarantee.

BJD/Anon - another thing is that Escobar has spent a lot of time in front of Bryce and Yuney has hit for high average but lower power - lots of singles. You fear Bryce but not enough to keep moving a guy into scoring position.


SM - Does it? I don't know. I think any young arm should be able to handle a bullpen stint for a year and stretch back out (see Carlos Martinez) I think the injuries are probably not any more common than for any young pitcher.

Chaz R - I don't like to go much past next year when looking at pitching, too many questions. And next year looks... ok on paper. I think you can say 2017 (Max/Ross/Lucas) looks good too - but 2018? I start to doubt Max's health at that point.

Nattydread said...

Never any panic here. I wonder how a team can have such variable performances, just that. Perhaps in the absence of Werth, Scherzer has stepped into the clubhouse to be the grown up. He and Harper are putting a lot upon their shoulders. But then again it's nice to see Ramos, Espy, Span and even Robinson bring something to the table.

G Cracka X said...

Looks like the SS Panic went the way of the Titanic.....

G Cracka X said...

Also, do not deal T-Ro! He's your 4th starter next year, and has many years of team control left. Ross/Cole can be your 5th and 6th starters

Clip&Store said...

You think scherzer could end up like Halladay and go from great to done? This would be worse cuz it's a longer contact too

SM said...

Actually, I did a study on it--oh, somewhere around Eisenhower's first term--and was surprised at how frequently it happened.

It really started in the late '80s when I watched how hard the Jays were riding Duane Ward. (Tom Henke was closing.) Aside from a physical freak like Mike Marshall (look him up), I wondered why so few pitchers could, say, throw 100+ innings and appear in 80 games. (This was well before Tommy John surgery became as common as rhinoplasty.)

I looked at about 75 or so pitchers--the digging was excruciating; there wasn't even a damn World Wide Web yet--and found a surprising amount of serious arm trouble as a common denominator for pitchers under age 25, whose appearances (minimum of 50) and innings pitched totalled at least 150.

150 seemed to be the tipping point. Blown arms didn't always occur the next year, but more than enough to raise suspicions. Toronto was ga-ga over the Jays at the time, and I remember cautioning in a long-forgotten article about the danger of overworking Ward's arm.

Anyway, hardly definitive. But I keep watching out for the same pattern, and it continues more often than you'd think. (It's not a true correlative, but it does somewhat explain why a former starter can be become an effective closer later in his career.)

Anonymous said...

Also, why does Goldschmidt have so many more ibb?

Baseball is full of silly, jealous, emotionally stunted man-children.

The league has an irrational, visceral dislike of Bryce, and over the last couple of years they allowed his injuries to truly delude them into believing that he isn't all that good.

And now, like a degenerate gambler on a losing streak, they're refusing to face reality and are desperately clinging to that bias in the belief that things are going to finally turn around in their favor any moment now.

By the way, this is a very good thing for us, and we should all encourage the league to keep holding onto this hatred and irration self-delusion for as long as possible!

Clip&Store said...

Of course, I might actually prefer that over the Sabathia course which includes stuck with crappy performance and being paid a boat load

Kenny B. said...

I'm fine with Scherzer going the way of Halladay if that means he gets us a WS win first. I won't even demand the no-no in the playoffs. Just a few solid playoff performances on the way to a WS win will be fine.

Anthony Rendon said...

I vote move Gio to the bullpen. It seems to me his troubles are usually in the fourth or fifth inning. The bullpen will get rid of that.

Also who is MVP Bryce or Max?

Bjd1207 said...

Do we care if all our starters are righties? That's my only hesitation with moving Gio anywhere

BxJaycobb said...

I've never understood why it matters to have all righty starters. Most batters are righties. Wouldn't you want more righty starters than lefty starters? This whole "giving a team a different look within different games in a series" thing has never been shown to me to be real.

WiredHK said...

7 man rotation! Ok, just kidding (sort of?).

I don't have much else to add to this convo other than I think it's really swell that Stras gets to ease back into his rotation spot with a match-up against...wait, the Braves? Oh dear God....can Ross make just one more little start? Ugh.

Bjd1207 said...

@BxJaycobb - I'm with you that you probably want more righties than lefties, but I'm not sold on not having 1 lefty starter whatsoever. And the reason is if you run into a team who tends to suck against lefties on average, especially in the playoffs

So take the Dodgers for example. They currently have a team OPS of .799 against righties, but only .680 vs lefties. You wouldn't want to start a lefty against them knowing that?

G Cracka X said...

Can anyone explain why Span has a team-worst Fangraphs DEF score of -5.8? Makes no sense to me.

Harper said...

GCX - Part of it is the vagaries of defensive stats. Most of the newer ones are measured by taking the events that happened at a fielder and comparing what happened to what an average fielder would have done. That works... ok but if balls are hit in a certain way it can skew results. Think of it like this - they can only judge your fielding ability from where the balls are hit. If you have a lot of balls hit in an area you can't get to, and a lot of balls hit right at you where anyone can get to, you'll probably get a negative judgement because the negatives (that you can't catch the first type of hit) are outweighting the tiny positives (that you don't drop that second type) The stat can't see where you separate from a statue because it has no data from that area.

The second part is related - small sample size. You have less fielding chances then ABs so weird things like I describe have a greater chance of happening.

The third thing is Span is probably getting worse and it's showing up more as he compensates for other fielders, like Moore or Robinson or calcifying Werth. Areas aren't strictly defined as CF or RF, they can overlap. If the RF gets to a ball in a shared area that doesn't count against the CF, but if it falls in it does. THere are probably more opportunities for catches toward the outer of Span's area to fall in and he's getting older so more are falling in. (It's also cumulative so he may be last but no one thinks Moore/Robinson are better fielders. They just have played enough / gotten balls hit to them enough to accumulate the negative stats) He also has no arm so that works against him

(A last thing could be the quality of CF may be rising - since it is a comparison he may still look )

Clip&Store said...

@kenny b. Phillies won the world series before acquiring Halladay

ajtrue78 said...

Solution for Stras: welcome to the bullpen, my man. Can't make it through a lineup the 3rd time? Not mentally tough enough to overcome defensive miscues in the field? Potentially fragile body? Let's see how your stuff plays in max-effort, one or two inning stints!

Anonymous said...

Ajtrue78- Although I agree that it would be interesting to see Strasburg come out of the pen, and I think the fans would go nuts when he did, I don't think he has an aggressive enough personality necessary to be effective.

No, two things for certain would happen if he was asked to do it:
A) He would fold like a $2 lawn chair the second day of use
2) Scott Boras would lose his mind and demand a trade

Chaz R said...

ajtrue- new here? Interesting post... I suspect Stras would be a monster closer- not sure if he has the mental makeup- he surely has the physical gifts. Problem is Stras is a Top 10 SP. I think he is not done there, and no one else thinks that.

blovy8 said...

Core surgery for Span on top of him not liking to dive since his concussion problems lead to some ginger handling of certain plays, but most times he still looks solid. He's made a couple of pretty good leaps at the wall lately, so I suspect the numbers will improve if he stays healthier. I don't think he's slow yet.

Anonymous said...

We want a Bryce 'cyborg' harper obp prediction challenge !

Anthony Rendon said...

Span has been good defensively. It's mainly small sample size and how he played right after coming back from injury.

I believe your starting pitchers should be your five best options whether all righties or all lefties. My rotation would be Max, JZimm, Stras, Fister, and Ross. If one stumbles Roark gets first shot.

I believe Roark and Carpenter will help fix most of the bullpens problems.

Bjd1207 said...

@AR - I can't stare in the face of such a big lefty/righty split (like for the Dodgers) and say the handedness of my starter doesn't matter. Over the course of the season maybe but in a best of 5 series you don't want a lefty stretched out knowing that hit almost .200 points of OPS worse against them?

Anthony Rendon said...

@Bjd But for most teams the difference is marginal. If we face the dodgers in the playoffs we can start Gio and use our bullpen of Roark, Thornton, Chapman, Kimbrel, Carpenter, and Storen at the first sign of trouble. (hey a guy can dream about a new bullpen)

Kenny B. said...

Oh no, I'm losing my mind. Completely mixed all those years up in my head.

Bjd1207 said...

LOL @ AR. I like where your head's at