Nationals Baseball: June 2015

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

What happened in June

It was the worst of times, it was the best of time. June was a schizophrenic month in a schizophrenic year for the Nats. The first part of the month continued a losing streak that started a few days into May. They would go 3-8 those first 12 days of June (3-11 overall on the streak) to drop them from up a 1.5 to down the same (yes that means the Mets went 6-5 ish during this time - again hooray for this division). Then the Nats turned it on and before the 2nd double header loss they go 11-3 to get right back to the 9 games over they were a month ago. Ah symmetry

Offensively we've talkd before about the odd distribution of scores and how their standing (currently 2nd in the NL in runs scored) isn't quite reflective of the performance on the field. I think it comes down to Werth and Zimmerman being hurt then out, and Rendon being out then hurt. Without these guys in the line-up the Nats become a very free-swinging team. Moore, Ramos, Taylor, Yuney, Ian all have walk-rates in the lower half of the majors. Espinosa is seeing his walk-rate drop like a rock. This leaves Bryce and Span as the only two players right now who can work their way on base.  Also without these guys hitting like they should when healthy, the team loses a lot of power. Moore, Taylor*, Yuney, Ian (hey that sounds familiar) aren't hitting for much pop. Again Danny, who had been good before, is dropping here too. Ramos here takes the place of Span (who is having exactly the type of power month you'd be afraid he'd have after he started out with so much pop in the bat - 4 doubles and nothing else closing in on 100 PA)

What this all means is that the Nats offense right now is dependent on a lot of base hits strung together and Bryce Harper. That's not terrible because these guys are hitting for average Yuney is at .324, Span at .305, Rendon at .290, Robnison at .272 in limited play, but you can see why the offense will bounce around a lot. Walks provide stability in base-runners when luck (or great fielding) is working against you. Power provides stability in run driving in the same situations. Without those working for the Nats we're going to keep seeing peaks and valleys, depending on how many guys are hot/lucky or cold/unlucky at the same time. Now if we can get Rendon healthy again and Werth and/or Zimm back and hitting...

Pitching wise - hopefully June is the month where the Nats rotation turnes the corner.  I don't think I have to tell you anything more here, but what the hell. One of the hallmarks of the Nats last year was control. Remember they had that long stretch without giving up a walk or something like that. In June we saw that again, Fister (0.73 BB/9),  Ross in 3 starts (0.89), Max (0.93), ZNN (1.44), Stras in 2 (1.50) all had superior numbers. When you couple that with either low HR/FB rates or high K/9 rates (or both) you get superior pitching. Will it last? I have no issues with Max or ZNN.  Strasburg and Fister warrant closer attention, as would anyone coming back from injury but so far so good. I worry most about Gio, as his K-rate has dropped significantly and his BB-rate hasn't fallen with it. His saving grace is that he's become a complete Derek Lowe type GB pitcher all of a sudden. In theory, he'll give up runs, that'll happen with baserunners and a lot of balls in play, but won't get killed that often. It's working now but such a total change strikes me as odd. I hope he can pull it off but I'm not buying it just yet.

Bullpen? Work in progress. Let's see if Matt can settle into a rhythm by the All-Star break. At least we can rely on Storen

*OK Moore sucks, but where did Taylor's power go?

Monday, June 29, 2015

Monday Quickie - hanging around

1 0 2 1 1 0 2 2

Those were the runs given up by the Nats during their 8 game win streak.

1 0 0 0 0 0 2 2

Those were the runs given up by the Nats' starters during the same stretch

Gonna win a lot of games when you pitch like that.

The only real complaint I have about the weekend was the use of Roark as the spot starter. Roark started the year and the "emergency - break glass" guy who could take over if a starter went down for a few weeks. Right now though that spot has to go to Joe Ross. Not because Ross is guaranteed that much better a pitcher, but because Roark is being used and is needed elsewhere. What if you need an arm just for one day and you don't want to through Ross off kilter? Use whoever. Just don't start Roark and effectively make him unusable for 3-4 games.

I can see stretching him out again if, god forbid, two starters are out again for extended periods of time. He's better than the AAAA Jordan or the not quite ready Cole. But otherwise? Roll the dice with anyone else.

Meanwhile the Mets are hanging around, taking four in a row. It doesn't concern me in a "Look out! Here comes the Mets!" way. It's more of a way to keep the Nats on their toes and a reminder that this year's Mets are better than last year's Braves. A healthy Nats team should still win the division easily, but a banged up Nats team with the healthy guys playing below expectations? That team at least has to worry about luck and timing working against them - as you saw over the first 60 games or so.  If the Mets make a move and the Nats take another big injury? Things change. But just as easily it could work in reverse and the Nats would be on cruise control.

Starting tomorrow the Nats can pretty much end Atlanta's division hopes before they hita series of tougher games heading into and then out of the All-Star break. San Fran, Cincy (not a good team but did sweep the Nats earlier), Baltimore, BREAK, Dodgers, Mets, Pittsburgh, Miami, Mets.  I don't get the sense that this team will put the pedal down, but I expect this week as they play Atlanta, SF, and Cincy that they'll put more room between them and the Mets (Cubs, Dodgers, Giants) and then it'll just be a matter of slowly pulling away from the Mets. We'll see how large those two Mets series loom when we get closer to them, tiny chance they are huge, better chance the first one is the Mets last gasp, small chance they barely matter at all.

Friday, June 26, 2015

It's still the pitching

Hot potato goes over to Scherzer again who has allowed 1 hit in 18 innings.

There isn't a good reason why this pitching dominance can't keep going on a little longer. The Nats are on a streak where they haven't faced a decent offense in a while. Milwaukee is bad, Tampa is bad, Pittsburgh is below average, Atlanta without Freeman is not good, and now Philadelphia, worst in either league.

Did I hear "Johnny VanderMeer"? (hopefully not because even no-hitting a bad team is extremely hard)

Six win in 7 days, it can't all be the starting pitching though, can it? Well, yeah it sort of can. The relief pitching has merely been ok, preserving Ross' game and a couple of blowouts, but giving up runs in three straight games including the two close ones with Atlanta. The offense managed some runs during this time but that included some error filled rallies.  You may be surprised there are as many Nats struggling at the plate over the last week (Desmond, Escobar, Espinosa, Span) and doing well (Rendon, Bryce, Taylor, Ramos).

The Rendon thing is the most exciting on the surface and the least believable when you dig in. Rendon has the ability to help Bryce put the team on their shoulders and carry the offense through dry spells. So seeing Rendon hit .583 in the past week is exciting. But he has only 1 XBH and is carrying a .700 BABIP, meaning this is more a function of balls finding holes than Rendon turning things on. In fact Rendon has been back 3 weeks now and has only 5 XBH all doubles. Bryce is Bryce - it curious that he hasn't walked in the past week (even forcibly) but let's give that more time before reading into it. Ramos is having some luck as well but really why I'm not getting excited over Wilson is that I want to see power from him and that switch hasn't been flipped yet.

So who am I excited by? Taylor.  The kid is hitting but more importantly, the kid isn't striking out. Only twice in the past week, none in the past 4 games. Michael Taylor may or may not be a good player. I can't tell you that. But what could keep him from being a useful player are the Ks. Strikeout too often and the average drops too low and it doesn't matter how decent his pop is or his speed on the basepaths. If he can keep putting the ball in play, I like his chances to be at the very least a useful replacement, if not probably more.

So I looked at the good hitters and tore them apart, can I build up the bad ones? Yeah sure. Ian, Yuney and Span are all suffering from various BABIP luck issues. In a week a single game can change a view (Ian went from terrible to just bad after yesterday's HR) but Span is working some walks which is good in his position ahead of the big hitters. Only Danny is truly doing badly and completely earning it but right before that - like really just the game before this past 7 day period, he was doing quite well, so worrying about him suddenly reverting to old Danny is an overreaction.

Hmm talked alot about that offense didn't I? With the pitching this good the offense just has to be ok and I don't have any fears that it can jump that modest hurdle, either instinctively or looking at how these guys are performing. So sweep the Phillies and let's get on with it.

Thursday, June 25, 2015

It's the pitching, stupid

Let's recap

Zimmermann 8 IP, 6 H, 0 BB, 3 K
Strasbrug 5 IP, 4 H, 1 BB, 6 K
Gonzalez 7 IP, 4 H, 2 BB, 4 K
Scherzer 9 IP, 0 H, 0BB, 10K
Ross 7.1 IP, 6 H, 1 BB, 11K

Combined 36.1 IP, 20H, 4BB, 34K and oh yeah 1 ER

That's an ERA of 0.25, a WHIP of 0.66, a BB/9 of 0.99, and a K/9 of 8.42

This is why the Nats were pre-season favorites.

We talked about it Monday but it's worth going over again. We figured the offense could struggle. We figured the bullpen could struggle. These things though, weren't the difference between a good team and a mediocre one. They were the difference between a great team and a good one. The reason "good" was the base (and I take that to be high 80s/ low 90s) was because of that pitching staff because let's just say you quasi-averaged the last two seasons for these guys

Max : 3.02 ERA, 1.074 WHIP (in AL)
ZNN : 2.96, 1.08
Stras : 3.08, 1.09
Gio : 3.45, 1.23
Fister : 3.12, 1.21

and let's say you tweak Max down a little for the shift and the rest up a little because you are a pessimist

Max : 2.90 ERA, 1.00 WHIP
ZNN : 3.10, 1.15
Stras : 3.20, 1.15
Gio : 3.60, 1.30
Fister : 3.50, 1.25

Outside of assuming perfect health, you've done nothing crazy here. There is no magical improvements or bounce backs to best years ever. Just their recent typical year, even downgraded a bit because you tend to do that as you age.

Here's where those numbers would rank now in NL ERA

Max : 9th
ZNN : 14th
Stras : 16th
Gio : 26th
Fister : 25th

and this is now where you have some oddly low ERAs that should rise. Even if you expand past qualified and let in some more ERAs based on like 40IP  you get 11th, 17th, 19th, 33rd, and 30th. You felt good about the Nats because if you were an optimist you had 3 #1 types and 2 #2s in your rotation. If you were a pessimist you broke it down as a #1, 2 #2s, and 2 #3s. Either way what you had was much better than what they had. 

The Nats were baseline good because of this. But when this went didn't materialize for various reasons - that assumed baseline dropped and if the hitting failed (like it kinda has) and the bullpen failed (like it kinda has) you were looking at a .500 team. Now though it looks like the baseline has re-established itself. They aren't perfect, they are coming back from injury, but there is an energy I'm feeling now, a "you can't stop us because if you happen to beat us tonight we'll shut you down tomorrow" that's building. If the Nats can get a 3-4 more very good to great performances in the next rotation turn I think the attitude takes a definitive shift.

The early season run was because Bryce had become a monster for a month. The team was carried by him but that carried with it the knowledge that if this one guy slowed down merely to very very good (like he did) the train would roll to a stop (like it did). This run that maybe starting is different. If one guy struggles the next guy in line is there to pick him up.  It's time to put these jokers in the rear view permanently. Sweep.


Why did I mock the NL East yesterday? Because two reasons (1) the NL East really does stinks. Sorry if that offends you, but it's true. There's no way to look at the records or numbers and come across with any other conclusion. If the Braves or Mets collapse we'll start the "worst division ever" discussions. This doesn't mean the Nats stink. It means they could get away with playing mediocre ball for almost 3 months and still find themselves in first. The Nats are a good to very good team, (I think we can agree that right now various issues keep them from having great potential) trying to find their way. Once they do (and I think they are right there) they'll trounce these clowns, and (2) I didn't want to right about what I was thinking which was - Strasburg comes back from injury, throws shutout ball and a chunk of Nats fans are talking about how the Braves offense stinks or how his off-speed was worrying. I honestly think there is a group out there who want to see Strasburg fail, if he can't be the awesome generation defining pitcher they thought he would be. And I hate that.  (Strasburg did what we all want to see pitchers do - find out what's working that night and work it as well as you can.)

Also - yeah the Yankees lost 2 in a row to the Phillies. It happens. The Nats got swept by the Reds. The Reds aren't better than the Nats. Hell, the Yankees aren't better than the Nats. I can admit that. If the Yankees finish with a better record than the Nats I'd be shocked. Now granted a big part of that is NL East. But I'd say that if they were tossed today into a neutral division.

Next time I'll warn you that I may offend your NL East loving sensibilities.

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

NL Least

Some fun facts about the rest of the division the Nats will win

The Nats have gotten a little distance between themselves and the competitors in the NL East and if the season ended today they would take the division. Also if the season ended today they would be 2 games out of the final Wild Card spot. 

The Mets are currently in 2nd place with a .500 record. They would be in 3rd place in the NL West. They would be no better than t4th in any other division. 

The Marlins are entrenched in 4th place in the NL East, 5.5 games behind the Braves but 4.5 ahead of the Phillies. The Marlins would be in last place in every division but the NL Central where the Brewers sit as the 2nd worst team in baseball.

The Reds at 32-37 are further to first in their own division than the 26-47 Phillies. (This is an NL East fact and a "man, the Cardinals are having a great season" fact)

The NL East has one other above average offensive team, the Braves who clock in at 4.15 R/G.  However the Braves are not actually that far off the league average of 4.04 and are clumped with a mess of teams between 4.04 and 4.22 R/G.  If that's where the clump is why isn't the average in there? Because there are more teams dragging the average down than pulling it up. Who are the anchors? Why the Marlins 3.81, the Mets 3.64, and the Phillies 3.32 are three of them.

The Mets are last in the NL in hits and total bases.
The Braves are last in home runs. If you removed Freddie Freeman from the team the Braves have 6 more home runs than Bryce Harper.
The Phillies are last in runs (obviously) and slugging.
The Marlins are last in doubles (not as interesting but I was on a roll)

The Phillies have also given up the most hits, runs, home runs and walks in the National League. Hamels has an ERA of 2.96. Harang 3.41.  Here are the rest of the ERAs for guys who have started more than 1 game. 4.30, 5.34, 6.43, 6.75, 8.69, 8.76. If we throw in 1 start wonders we alos get a 6.94 and a 13.50 but a 1.59 too. Adam Morgan to the rescue.

Atlanta doesn't look that bad in all this - decent O, decent P? Their relief pitching has an ERA of 4.45, 14th in the NL and almost a half-run worse than 13th. (almost a run worse than the Nats)

Jeff Baker is hitting .256 / .356 / .564 vs LHP.  I say this for no reason other than IT MADE SO MUCH SENSE TO SIGN HIM LAST YEAR

Amazingly, despite the cross game effect, right now the Nationals, Mets, Braves and Marlins would all have worse records if you took away their games versus the NL East. It's less "beating eachother up" than "falling over eachother".  And lest you think it's a "they are all beating up on the Phillies" thing. It isn't. Only the Mets are (8-1) and even taking away those games this holds for the Mets.

In conclusion, the NL East is a hideous garbage division. How are the Nats not winning this division by 10 games already? Despite jerking around the first 70 games of the year or so, the Nats should win this division with ease. If they don't, that's a huge failure injuries or no injuries.  

Let's get on with it. Sweep the Braves. End their dreams.

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.

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Prepare to Panic

All hands on the deck of the SS Panic.

Everyone assume panic positions.

P-Minus 10, 9, 8...

We're almost out of reason.  We're gonna try insanity.  Brace for Panic

Hey they proved my point

1 run - almost certain loss
16 runs - has to be considered a certain win
0 runs - certain loss

Expectation 1-2.

3 game average = 17/3 = 5.67 R/G! Probably 2 wins (given average pitching), maybe 3!

Expectation 3-0!

Reality? 1-2.

See! Distribution matters! Now over the course of a season it's supposed to even out but occasionally it doesn't. Now you might say "Hey Harper - if the runs they score shouldn't match up with the wins they get - why is the Pythag Expectation (33-33) so close to the reality (34-32)?" Well glad you asked. The answer is that the Nats are hanging with expectations in large part because of luck in 1 and 2 run games.

We've talked about this before but 1 run games are basically toss-ups. Good relief doesn't matter.  Year after year teams tend to win about 50% of these games, with minor variation based on talent. In other words good teams tend to win more close games, they ARE good, but less often than they win games with larger margins of victory. Good teams correlate much better with blowout wins, not close ones.

Anyway I'm digressing. The Nats have the best record when it comes to their record in 1 or 2 run games (I like to expand it out to 2 games which are less of a coin flip but still not strongly correlated) at 17-11.  In games decided by 3 or more they are a sad 17-21. The true team talent is a combination of both, but give more weight to those 3+ games.
That luck is balancing out the run scoring issues. If they were say a more reasonable 13-15 (based on their 3+ standings) They'd be 30-36 and fighting off the Marlins.

Am I saying the Nats have been lucky at least with what has happened on the field? Yep. They've had Bryce develop into the best offensive player in the NL. They've had Max be the best starter in the NL. They've gotten more breaks than any team in close games. And the end result is a team 1.5 games out of first. That shows you the underlying issues with the team up to this point. Injuries leading to some terrible offensive performances, leading to very deep reliance on a standardly deep bench (for a team that should have expected more than a standard number of injuries), bad starting pitching performances from three of the five rotation guys for whatever reason, bad late inning performances of the pen, mediocre at best defense, no help from baserunning.

"Up to this point" is key because perhaps Rendon and Strasburg and Fister returning to form after injury and Roark heading back to the pen fixes a good deal those underlying issues. But man, that's a list isn't it? That's Tyler Moore esque in things the team isn't good at.

The reason to be optimistic about the team hasn't changed. The team is better than the rest of the NL East. But we're more than a third of the season through the year. We're getting to the point we can stop believing these are things the team can overcome with a fast finish. June 27th was the date last year's team started playing better (they were a middling 41-38 before that) and that team was helped out by a scorching August and September (They finished 33-13  which is a 116 win pace) and a complete Braves collapse (at one point the Nats would go 7-7 and pick up 4.5 games).  This team isn't going to get the former and well.. ok.. I can see the Mets doing the latter.  Hooray terrible division!

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Per Game Explosion!

I have nothing to say about last night other than that was fun. Some games just everything goes right and you get to enjoy the ride. As to the question whether the offense is started another 20 game run of greatness or not, we'll still don't know. We have to see over the next few games. Let's hope the Brewers pitching sparked something.

It certainly will skew any "Nats averaged X R/G since..." numbers so be aware of that. That's something that we need to understand. The Nats offense looks great in comparison to the league. The 4.45 R/G it averages is 2nd in the NL and even before last night they were in 5th. But we've all watched the team all year and we wouldn't say they have a great or even very good offense. So what gives? It's a distribution thing.

We talked about this some other year - I forget which - when the Nats never seemed to score either 3 or 4 runs in a game, I forget which. It was a weird quirk. We see something similar this year, a team that either is great or terrible.

Scoring 2 or fewer games is pretty much a losing proposition. You win about 17% of your NL games this year when you do this. The Nats have done this 25 times in 2015 tied for third most in the NL only behind Milwaukee and Philadelphia. You might have heard of them. They are the worst and 2nd worst teams in the NL, but not in that order.

On the other hand scoring 7 or more runs in a game is close to a guaranteed win this year.  NL teams win about 91% of their games when they manage this many runs.  Who is best in the NL? The Nationals of course, tied for first doing it 17 times. (The also have 2 more games than any other NL team scoring 10 or more)

For the games of 3-6 runs, the Nats are dead last in the majors only doing it 23 times. The Nats are essentially all or nothing this year, with more nothing than all. However, this type of team will always look good in R/G because you can score a lot more over the average where as you are stuck at around 3-5 runs under the average because you can't score less than zero.

 Here's their rankings of number of times they've scored this many runs in a game.
 Shutout : 15th in NL
1 run : 1st
2 runs : 2nd
3 runs : 10th
4 runs : 10th
5 runs : t10th
6 runs : 15th
7 runs : t4th
8 runs : t5th
9+ runs : 1st

What's the take-away? Runs per game is fine to get a general sense of how a team scores or allows runs but not always the best at tying that to a teams fortune. If they don't have an even distribution then it can skew away from what your expectations may be.  The Nats so far this year are that type of  expectations skewing team.

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Ian Desmond - not what I thought

Since hating on Ian is the in thing to do (and completely rightfully so, he's been awful) I went back to see what I was worried about when I evaluated Ian this offseason. Contact rate dropping, swinging strike rate going up, unable to turn on pitches down the middle... OK well I guess things have continued on their unmerry way.

Except they haven't.

Looking at the fancy numbers he isn't making less contact, or swinging and missing more. You could argue a tweak here looks worse with his approach, but you could actually argue a tweak here looks better. If he's not getting worse at the plate in what he's swinging at and if he's making contact, why then is he getting worse results? It's not just bad luck (BABIP is fine).

One thing is his HR/FB rate is way down from 18.2% to 9.3%. Now that could be luck or it could not be. What do the charts tell me? Well without taking up all that space - he's turning pitches up and in (in the zone) that he used to hit for FBs into GBs. I don't have to tell you that you don't hit many GB homeruns. The pitches that he is hitting for flyballs on the inside of the plate are no longer going out.

It could be his bat speed is going (he is hitting more soft hits and fewer hard ones) It could. It could also be his bat is just a little off, balls are hit softer when you don't hit them square. Either way that drop in power is the difference between a .222 guy with 5 homeruns you are wanting to see benched and a .242, 10 homer guy you say "there are bigger issues right now" about.

However that's not the only issue. His walk rate is down significantly. This is a bit of a conundrum. How do you manage to take half as many walks without making less contract or seeing more pitches in the zone (that could be taken for strikes)? The answer is potentially in bad contact. Although he's not swinging and missing more, he's swinging a bit more, and doing this more outside the zone than inside.  He's making more contact outside the zone so potentially that would mean more foul balls. And yes - that's what we see. A bump in foul balls by over a percent from last year.

Other numbers that have changed - his 3-0, 2-0, 3-1 counts seen are down...  his strikes looking hasn't changed.... his P/PA is way down... ok a clearer picture is coming into view.

Despite all the K's Ian isn't wildly flailing at pitches trying for homers, at least it doesn't appear that way. It appears he is being increasingly aggressive (he's swung at neatly 45% of first pitches) and making contact but not good contact. He's fouling away more balls and putting more weak balls into play. He's ending up with a ton of K's again because he's putting himself in a lot of bad counts when he isn't grounding out, but not because he's losing his ability to tell strikes from balls. (He was never all that good at that).

This gives me some hope that it could be an approach issue. If he's trying toget more base hits, either under pressure of free agency or to combat the dropping batting average (or both), then we can see a better Ian the rest of the year. In this case he's just not playing to his strengths, which is crushing mistakes and "his pitches", while lucking into a few walks, and maybe someone can get him back to doing that. He may be a .250-.260 20-25HR guy, crashing because he's trying to put balls in play he normally wouldn't trying to be a .290 guy that he was that one year.

The other possibility is that he's just not able to make good contact anymore. He's just missing on pitches he should be hitting hard and it's bringing down his biggest skill set, his power. Everything else doesn't necessarily have to be this bad. Because we don't see other stats falling, it's likely the extras swings we see are compensation for the lack of power. Frustration swings, let's call them. Calm him down and he could hit .235+ and walk a bit more. Of course this is just a band-aid. Without the power he's not going to be a worthwhile offensive player.

Monday, June 15, 2015

Monday Quickie - Super Max

First impressions are huge. Max Scherzer is making a great one. He's arguably the best pitcher in the NL right now and along with Bryce Harper, he's a huge reason why the Nats are fighting for first and not fighting for .500 (though it's the NL East so that's a marginal difference)

While I'm not as big a fan of the Max contract as most, I was really glad he got an impressive win yesterday instead of another hard-luck loss because we were a couple of those away from "He's just another Strasburg!" "All we does it pitch well but doesn't win!" "Blah blah blah stupidity" We're still not definitely clear of that, especially if he ends up like 12-12 and the Nats miss the playoffs, but the further we can get away from that now, the less I have to worry about it. Let's focus on important things.

Game 60 ended the Nats 3rd 20 game stretch with an offense that was pitiful it made game 1-20 offense look like Murderer's Row. Ended up averaging 2.95 runs a game. But it seems to be turning around, after scoring 4 or more only 3 times in 18 games, they've done it the last 5.  Now of course the Brewer's pitching is garbage (worst non Rockies NL team) but hey, again, at least they are doing it. We'll really see with the next two opponents though. Tampa and Pittsburgh have staffs that have been very very good this year. Doesn't mean they should beat the Nats (they have some offensive issues) but can the Nats score or was this a Milwaukee reprieve?

Friday, June 12, 2015

Barrett & Treinen

Someone asked me how many times Treinen and Barrett took the Nats from not losing to losing. The answer was 8 times, but it didn't really nail how bad these guys had been in close games.   So here's a pitcher specific update for "Close and Late"

Blake "Not only a fastball but a fastball with sink!" Treinen
Entered 1 game when Nats were down 2 : Made it worse
Entered 8 games when Nats were down 1 : Made it worse 5 times
Entered 3 games when Nats were tied : Made it worse 1 times
Entered 3 games when Nats were up 1 : Never made it worse!
Entered 3 games when Nats were up 2 : Made it worse 2 times

Combined close game appearances : 18.
Made it worse : 9 times
50% soul crushing average

Aaron "Storen blows a playoff game and we get Soriano. I do it and guys are dealt to make me a set late inning guy!" Barrett
Entered 1 game when Nats were down 2 : Didn't make it worse!
Entered 5 game when Nats were down 1 : Made it worse 2 times
Entered 8 games when Nats were tied : Made it worse 5 times.
Entered 6 games when Nats were up 1 : Made it worse once.
Entered 0 games when Nats were up 2 :

Combined close game appearances : 20.
Made it worse : 8 times
40% soul crushing average

These aren't necessary games blown for the Nats but when you give up runs in close games you dramatically effect the chances of the Nats winning. When you hold your ground you help the Nats a little bit. I don't care how good their stuff is but killing the Nats every other close game appearance is not good enough.

I didn't look closely at anyone else but I think Grace is next at like 33% SCA and Hill/Rivero/Martin combined for like 80% or 75% or something. What's a great reliever look like? Storen's done it twice in 15 times, (13.3%) and not since mid April.

David Carpenter saves the day? Probably not but worth a try. Anything is worth a try really. 

Thursday, June 11, 2015

Turning it around

The Nats won! Sure they scored only 5 runs, versus arguably the Yankees worst starter and B-Team relievers, and they needed 11 innings to do it but scoring only 5 runs, versus arguably the Yankees worst starter and B-Team relivers, and needing 11 innings to do it is better than NOT scoring 5 runs, etc, etc.

It may seem that I'm damning with faint praise but there's an important point here. If the Nats are a great or very good team they'll win these games, games where in theory they have a clear advantage. They won this game. Sure they should also win other games as a great or very good team but let's worry about the "shoulds" first because they have 4 shoulds sitting right in front of them. Four games versus possibly the worst team in the league (but I believe in you Phillies!).

They need to take 3 of 4.

As for yesterday's doom and gloom - when I say it won't right itself I mean the whole thing won't get back to a point where they will be a contender for best team in the league. At least I don't see it. The thought was a great pitching staff would combine with a good/very good offense to win ~95 games. Maybe if the offense clicked they could challenge 100. I don't see that coming back. The rotation's injury concerns and bullpens extended "figuring it out" period means that in order to be that team that gets the division handed to them that offense needs to click to be a mid 90s win team. If you want the Nats to be that team, they'll need to do some work.

Why do I feel that way? Because where the Nats are right now. We set our current expectations not from March but from June.  You can't say "When Rendon and Span get healthy and hit and play everyday and when Desi and Ramos and Zimm start hitting again and when Werth is back and hitting" and add "with Bryce keep hitting like he has, same with Yuney and Danny" That's basically asking for everything to go right. That's a tough sell three months ago. It's impossible now. Will Rendon and/or Span hit? Probably. Will one of Desi/Ramos/Zimm hit? Probably. But not everything will go right. The reality for the Nats is what's in front of them. Injured guys hitting like it. Guys who we thought it was possible may not hit well, not hitting well. We have to give that more weight.

Can the Nats win 90 games and the division doing nothing? Yeah probably. Enough of the hitters should come around and Bryce, the most important bat, doesn't look like he'll flop. The pitching should settle with time to heal and find decent reliable arms in the pen. And look at this division of ragamuffins. If that's righting itself for you then ok, it could and probably will right itself. If you are looking for something more, for the Nats to hit a goal closer to pre-season expectations, to have no worry about winning the division, like I am, then they'll need a something else.

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

The offense is dead. Long live... wait what replaces offense?

The Nats are in free fall 2-9, 3-10, 5-11 it's been now a solid three weeks since Bryce Harper carried the team on his shoulders and put them on the top of the mountain, said "Stay here, while I look for food", only to have the Nats go "Wheeeeeeee!" and roll back down.

June, while not encompassing all the crash, makes an easy to look up split to see what's going on. The team is hitting a pathetic .231 / .275 / .342. Bryce, of course, is not the problem (.357 / .438 / .714 - which is scary to think that has been factored in.)  And Yuney is still on a magical mystery ride of crazy BABIP (.529 in June).  Other than that it is... well it's everyone else.

Danny is back to being classic Danny (Low ave, walks, hits for pop) which creates an average hitter. Lobaton and Robinson are being perfectly reasonable bench replacements - not good but not bad. These guys aren't helping the team but they aren't really hurting the team either.

Who is hurting the team?

Wilson Ramos : .217 / .217 / .391 - power is nice but a .217 OBP is death
Michael Taylor : .227 / .250 / .273 - failing in his 2016 CF preview
Ian Desmond : .167 / .167 / .300 - see Ramos
Anthony Rendon : .158 / .200 / .211 - may be healthy but certainly not ready
Denard Span : .143 / .182  / .143 - battling injuries
Ryan Zimmerman : .045 / .083 / .045 - what Ramos/Desmond are doing is slumping. What Ryan is doing is playing when he shouldn't.

Six regulars are hitting like garbage all at the same time. The problem is - who here do you like to come back and hit a lot better? Rendon yes. And.... Span if healthy but will he be? Ramos and Desmond I can see hitting a little better but not necessarily a lot. "Lower" could be their new level. Zimm's injury isn't going away. Taylor who knows?

You could argue the Nats need to solve the problem in the OF (a true contender may have a hard time carrying a player like Taylor), at catcher (Ramos might be age/injured into the player we see), at shortstop(see Ramos again), and at first (your first baseman can't hit like this). That's a lot of problems to solve and that's if Rendon and Span aren't too injured that they should be out. Right now it feels like the team is paralyzed, unable to find a place to start to fix this, hoping that it just all rights itself.

The truth is it won't. The pitching can't carry the team with the rotation hurt and the pen in bad shape. The only reason the Nats aren't in 3rd looking up at the Braves is that Bryce Harper had one of the best months in the history of baseball. If you are hoping for a resurgance you are hoping for a repeat of that, which means you are hoping for Bryce to have one of the best seasons ever.  It could happen... but that's not something to bet on.

Where do I start? I probably start in the OF - where the options are more plentiful and there is potential for a big problem if Span has to go out.  Then 1B maybe? A better back-up for Ryan who can play and give him rest? I don't know, but the time for waiting and seeing as a good plan is closing. Do the Nats throw up their hands and just expect to beat a bad division? Or do they do something?

Tuesday, June 09, 2015

Fine. Here's your CHuBOUVs. Happy?

You know I’ve often thought of doing additional things to go along with this little blog. A podcast is the most common thing I’ve bandied about, but live chats, presentations-type videos, back and forth page long discussions, have all been considered and re-considered. The problem with all of them is the same thing. Baseball is a daily game. It demands daily coverage (ok ignore the past week - I’m literally barely home right now). Who wants to listen to a podcast that’s a day old, talking about a guy who you say is cold, who just went 3 for 4? Given the short shelf life and the effort involved, well, let’s just say any of this is unlikely to happen anytime soon. 

What’s this got to do with Werth and his CHuBOUVs? Well what felt like a fine idea 7+ days ago now to me is old and stale. For god sakes the team is crashing and burning like pretty much everything in San Andreas (my review : if you think you’d like it - you will. if you think you wouldn’t like it - you won’t). So let’s quickly run through Jayson Werth’s 

Commonly Held Beliefs Of Uncertain Veracity

and get to more relevant and timely stuff.  These things come up anytime Werth hits the news and dammit if I always love talking about them. Mainly because these aren’t things I can say for certain are one way or another. Certain things aren’t always fun to discuss. These are things that are. 

The Nats needed to overpay to get Jayson Werth, hence the 7/126 million dollar deal

Honestly I think I’ve put more time into going over the articles and reporting on contracts during this time than anyone and every time I’ve looked at it I come to the same conclusion. The Nats overpaid in years and dollars per year. They outbid themselves. It’s true bad teams sometimes can’t just give the biggest contract. (though sometimes, I'd argue usually, they can) Sometimes there has to be clear separation.  But from what I’ve seen it’s years or dollars, not years and dollars. 

Now is it possible I’m wrong? Totally.  Hence “Commonly Held Beliefs Of Uncertain Veracity” rather than “Commonly Held Beliefs That Are Totally And Completely Wrong” I don’t know exactly what was going on behind the scenes. Neither do you. Only Rizzo, Boras and a few others really do. But when guys in the know are putting out Jason Bay deals (4/66) as floors, when someone who hit pretty much the same as Werth over the two pre-contract years while stealing a ton of bases, fielding much better, and being two years younger, only got a couple million more for the same amount of years… it should tell you the Nats overpaid. They probably could have gotten Werth for 7/102 or 6/108. 

Jayson Werth changed the perception of the team, making them winners

This one is a hard one to wrap around because it did and it didn’t, but it didn’t in the way people talk about most. It didn’t really change the perception for free agents looking to sign with the Nats. How do we know? Because no free agents came to the Nats after Werth was signed. Derek Lee balked. Zach Grienke thought the team couldn’t win. Carl Pavano wouldn’t lower his price. Brandon Webb didn’t jump at the chance. Willie Harris wouldn’t come back. And that was just that same offseason! 

No the players who came to the Nats did so either because it was the best deal offered (LaRoche - possibly the Nats 3rd choice) or after the Nats started to clearly get better. Werth alone changed nothing for no one in the game outside of GMs thinking “OK these guys might sign someone else now” Now again I don’t know but “Uh oh, look out for these guys who signed one guy one time on the FA market!” doesn’t seem a likely scenario. In fact they wouldn’t make a big FA splash again for four years. 

Outside of the game though it changed the media perception of the Nats, making a nice story for reporters looking to hang their hat on something after a couple years of terrible play. He was also a way to market the team and frankly he still is because it did change the fans perception of the Nats. That’s not being dismissive. Getting the fans interested and following it up with an improving team? That’s worth something. 

So is this commonly held belief true? Depends on how you look at it. 

Despite the cost at the time, Jayson Werth has been worth his contract

This was a clear no, that amazingly became a maybe yes, that is now dropping back to clear no. His first 18 months as a Nat was practically worthless and you could see the 2020 stories written on the worst contracts in baseball history including this one near the top. Then something amazing happened. An injured mid 30s player not only got healthy, he hit at his peak for two more seasons. That just doesn’t happen. This miracle now made it possible that the Nats would get value back if he could pull off a couple of good years and he just had a very good one so they could even “win the contract” so to speak. But alas and alack he got injured again as old players do and he’s far less likely to pull of two good years in the time he has left. 

What about the playoffs? What about them? Outside of one HR that won a non-deciding game the guy has been non-existant. 4 for 23 in 2012 with 2R and no RBI, 1 for 20 with 0 and 0 last year. He’s a one swing pony, which can be fine if that one swing ends up mattering. Outside of some fun photoshops it didn’t.

Of course this is being a bit harsh. The Nats won’t “win” the contract but given what he’s done so far - two more usable years, or one good one, makes it a soft loss. The HR might have been eventually meaningless but it was a lot of fun. So it’s not like he’s been worth nothing. Could things like leadership and entertainment and the perception I mentioned earlier put it over the top? Depends on what you think and feel. I can tell you purely on the field it’ll be a loser barring a second miracle. As a troll-doll selling package? Maybe not.

None of these things are provable to the point there can be no dissent, but that really isn’t what I’m trying to argue. In fact what I’m trying to argue is that these things are arguable but as commonly held beliefs they are often trotted out there as facts when they are far from it. I don’t like that. 

Tomorrow we talk about the crashing offense or maybe the Nats win and we find something positive to talk about 

Monday, June 08, 2015

Friday, June 05, 2015

Friday Thoughts

Since I was gone all week (Salt Lake City for work if you must know) I've accumulated some thoughts that I wasn't able to talk about.  Why not force all those thoughts down at once? A thought buffet to pick at over the entire weekend?

Nats falling to 2nd - Like erasing the correct answer and putting down the wrong one, I called it and then I didn't.  On May 18th I wrote "the Nats taking the lead soon, losing it again, then having a back and forth before finally pulling away around the 4th (of July)". But then when they Nats went ahead and took the lead when I thought they should be slower to do so I went ahead and called the season.

Of course I can see an obvious reason I was wrong; injuries but hey that's the risk you take making any sports prediction.

Are the injuries/falling to 2nd a big deal? I don't think so, I just think it reverts back to my original thoughts. The Nats should bounce around with the Mets for a while but their easier schedule going into the All-Star break on should provide the break they need to put distance between them and the Mets. 

But the Nats last year... -  Someone, I think it was Wagner tweeted that you should basically not worry about the Nats because last year they were worse at this time and they were fine. I noted that the year before that they were better than in 2014 and things didn't turn out right. The point wasn't "you should be worried this could be 2013 all over again" but "take each year individually".  2015 isn't 2014 but it isn't 2013 either.  They lack the bats they had last year to put up that half of the season long streak they put up last year. LaRoche is gone. Zimm isn't Zimm last year. Werth isn't Werth last year.  BUT at the same time there are no 2013 Braves lurking to take the division and they have, with Max, an ace pitching like one which they didn't in 2013 (Stras, ZNN, and Gio all took steps back from great years to very good that year). BUT this year finally SP injuries are happening to a team that had been cannily and luckily avoiding them since 2012.

Take each year as it is. This one so far has seen a hobbled and bumbling Nats team unable to get themselves away from the WC-ish area of the league where it happens that the Mets reside.

Bryce v Trout - Just to follow up Bryce finish May .360 / .495 / .884 which bests any month Trout has had but doesn't quite top his .500 OBP for a month.

If you think he's slumping, he's not. He's hitting .357 / .438 / .500 in June which is great. It's just not team carrying like his May was.

Offense slowing - Told ya. Even with this terrible slump the Nats overall for the season are 4th in RS in the NL and the rank is a fair indicator of their overall success. Yes, Bryce got so hot that even with just one or two other Nats hitting well (Span and Espy with Yuney providing some singles and Ian providing some pop) that the May numbers were crazy. But you can't just write it off. Perhaps that can happen again. But in general beware rankings talk. Or at least look into it.  A favorite of some people is to note the Nats were 3rd in RS in the NL last year. True! But the use of rankings makes us assume equadistance between steps. In other words, they should be as close to 2nd as 4th, as close to 1st as 5th. It's just the way the mind works. But it isn't like that usually and in fact in 2014 the Nats were as close to 2nd as they were to 6th. As close to 1st as they were to 8th. They were far more "second tier" than "top".  2013 was similar. 6th in the NL but as close to 5th as 10th.  They've been deceptively ending up at the top of bunches such that rankings make them seem better than if you look at the raw numbers.

This year numbers are fair (right now). about as close to 3rd as 5th, 2nd as 6th. So 4th is about right. Now is that fair to expect for a season? For every 35 games that are cold are the Nats going to have 20 games that are blistering hot? Maybe? But I'm guessing it won't play out that way. 

Rendon back - Yay! If you are curious Rendon was out 85 days after the initial diagnosis of "day to day" I like what I saw of Rendon last night. Line drives, good at bats, so I don't have any real worry he'll perform ok. My real worries are all about re-injury. If he's ok and Bryce keeps being 2015 Bryce the offense will be ok enough regardless of if Zimm/Werth are never going to be right this season and if Yuney's magic singly tour comes to an end (BABIP some GB% increase, but mostly luck)

Bullpen thoughts - Get someone else. Forget the fact no one has succeeded enough to set roles. The facts are that no one has been good enough (outside of Storen and Thornton) so far this year to do so. The team and fans have tried to spin it but you can't say things like "it's ok that he was crappy this game because he was good for 3 games before that". A 25% failure rate for a reliever is a no go because bad leads to loss with far more certainty than good leads to win with relievers. You have one inning. You do your job you help out the team a little, you don't you hurt it a lot.

Strasburg - It's ok to say Stras is unlikable and not living up to his potential therefore I don't want him pitching for the Nats. Sports is entertainment and if someone is not entertaining you because of the way he comes across it's fine to want to watch something else. But please please please don't go from "He's bad at entertaining me" to "He's bad at pitching" because before this injury he most certainly was not bad at pitching.

If he actually couldn't handle pressure, or let things effect him than sure that would matter, but the fact is there is no data that backs it up. For example, there isn't data that backs up he pitches noticeably worse after errors (though a cluster at the beginning of ... was it last year? is what sticks in your head). Don't be fooled by appearances into thinking he's bad, but also don't let someone tell you that you have to like him either.

Anything else I'm missing?

Thursday, June 04, 2015

I'm not back!

But there will be something tomorrow. In the meantime let's clear the palate. Rendon's back. Game's gonna run until midnight. Fun times.

Monday, June 01, 2015

Monday Super Quickie

I had a column in my head about the CHuBOUVs  associated with Jayson Werth but you'll have to wait for that. Instead the Nats get swept and PANIC!

Ok nobody's panicking which is good because there's no reason to right now. Granted the team on last Monday that I liked to go wire to wire now has lost Werth and Strasburg for a lot and a little time respectively, but they are still better than the Mets. Yes. Still are. But the gap is shrinking.

Which is why Anthony Rendon's return becomes utterly important. Will it be this week? He played Friday and Saturday but not Sunday both at second base. Seems likely we'll see him.

Anyway WORK! Out