Nationals Baseball: July 2015

Friday, July 31, 2015

And now we enter en... not yet? Dammit. When are we going to get to endgame?

Despite the combination of God, the umps, and the Mets themselves conspiring to lose that game yesterday (I like to think the Padres were innocent bystanders and if they simply showed up something would have happened to give them that win) the Nats are still only 3 games up on the Mets heading into this weekend series. A sweep might put the Mets away for good but the more likely series win would only put the Nats 4 games up. I don't think anyone that's watched the Nats this year thinks they can't blow that lead.

Thanks to the Mets ineptitude all over the place the past few days Nats fans are feeling pretty good but let me bring some humility back. In all the fun of mocking the Mets, don't forget that the Nats are 100 games into the season and sit only 3 games ahead of what you consider an incredibly poorly run, snake-bit organization.The Nats just struggled to beat a dead Marlins team, scoring all of 1 run in the process. They bumbled through July at 12-12 giving them monthly records of 10-13, 18-9, 15-12, and either 13-12 or 12-13 depending. What looks like the outlier here? Yes they were moderately healthy during that 18-9 stretch but it's hard to unpack what was team health and what was Bryce Harper's adventures in putting up the greatest two weeks ever. 15-12 may be a better guess of the true Nats, or perhaps the 11-8 run with Rendon and Span playing, but these are low 90s win paces, not the paces of a dominating team. Play like that the rest of the year and you win the division, probably, but at 90 games.

That makes these games versus the Mets incredibly important. If the Nats, for whatever reason, don't have a 100 win pace run in them then they take a huge risk letting the Mets stay in it. The longer they do that, the more likely that another injury or a run of bad luck suddenly puts them staring at an 86 win season and staring up at the Mets with a handful of weeks left to play. You don't want to leave the playoffs up to the fickleness of timing,

These games, the head to head ones, they don't "count double" necessarily, but every Nats win here is a guaranteed Mets loss. Every Nats win is a guaranteed game gained in the standings (and vice versa). Win the series and the Mets have a bigger hill to climb, you have a cushion if a minor thing goes wrong. Lose the series and it's an easier road and the cushion does not exist.

I'm tired of watching this team stumble over itself. There are no more excuses. Get it done.

Thursday, July 30, 2015

The last appetizer

Nats win, Mets lose. Nats back up 2.

I wish that were the story of the night.

The Mets almost completed a trade for Carlos Gomez (for Zach Wheeler & Wilmer Flores) but it was nixed at the last minute because of injury concerns (could be Gomez' or Wheeler's for all we know right now)

I wish that were the story of the night.

Wilmer Flores got upset, cried on the field, and the whole world wanted to offer their take on how the Mets should have properly handled a guy getting upset because he thought he was traded because the word leaked out to early and how it was an indication of how the franchise was run or machismo in sports or something or other.

Jesus, people. That was the story of the night. Thanks for nothing.

As you can tell, I don't care. He can cry. He's a person. Mets can handle it however they want. Being traded is part of the game and you are well compensated for that possibility. Like an imaginary Oakland there's really no there there. Fin. Let's move on. No? I've gotta suffer through a whole day of hottakes? Oh well, there's always music.

Anyway the Nats did win and like we talked about the focus should be on the three injury returns since their performance is likely to be key down the stretch. If they are close to pre-season expectations the Nats could run away and hide. If they offer muted performances the Nats will still likely pull away from the Mets but it'll take more time. If they struggle the Nats are in for a dogfight. That is unless Bryce Harper becomes ULTRABRYCE again which is what he looked like last night.  He'd been on his longest HR drought of the season (tied with right before he exploded in May) of 9 games. Keep it up Bryce, make everything else moot.

What do I think so far? Well I think it's only been two games (4 for Rendon) so everything is just feeling but I think I like what I've seen from Zimm. There doesn't seem to be an issue driving the ball or moving around. Rendon, I'm not really sure about. Remember he was hitting ok before the injury but he didn't have much power and I'm not seeing that power right now either. Werth? Toast. The next ball he doesn't drive into the ground will be the first one. All in all if these early feeling are right, that'll still probably be enough.

The Nats are still not in "must win" territory but this is a game they really should win, with Max on the mound. The rotation wasn't adjusted so he'd get the Mets so if they can't get a win with him versus the Marlins it'll feel doubly wasted. He has not been particularly sharp in July but not every month can be perfect. I'm not worried... yet. A rough outing versus a usually punchless Marlins team? That would get the mind going places I don't want it to go. On the mound for the Marlins is ol Dan Haren who's had a little bit of a rebirth this season. He's still susceptible to the long ball (paging Dr. Harper. paging Dr. Bryce Harper) because he's spent the year getting guys to hit fly balls outs. It's worked though. Given my general feeling about the Nats pop right now (contained to Desmond and Taylor, who you can pitch to and Bryce who you should pitch around) it may be a long night of nothing fly balls. 

Speaking of Desmond - .387 / .457 / .839 with 4 homers and a triple in his last 9 games. His overall stats still look bad (that'll happen if you have two terrible months) but he's already 2nd on the Nats in homers and I don't know if I'd guarantee that he wouldn't still be there if everyone was healthy. This is why he plays. The Nats need that threat from someone.

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Papelbon Q&A

Q: Let's start with the most important question: Does this make the Nationals better?
A: Without a doubt. Papelbon is a All-Star level closer with little in his stats to indicate that he won't continue being so for the next couple years. Over the past three years he has a WHIP of 1.008, a BB/9 of 1.8, and a K/9 of 8.6.  He's only given up 11 HRs in 168 innings of work. His numbers have been stable over that time. As a closer or a set-up man he would provide an instant "no thought required" option for getting through an inning regardless of the batters coming up.

Q: Did the Nats really need him though? Aren't relievers fungible?

A: OK yes relievers are fairly easy to replace. Given a whole year most teams will be able to find one or two solid relievers that they may not have been sure of before. But note the conditions on that sentence; "Given the whole year" and "most teams". The Nats had not been able to rely on their middle relievers over 100 games. Whether it's because of the talent on hand, Matt Williams' feel for how to use the talent, or some combination of the two, the Nats have to deal with that reality. Is it likely that something would work out in the last 40% of the season? Yes. It's it certain? No. Right now the Nats need certainty if they want to hold off the Mets and feel confident about the bullpen if they make the playoffs.

Q : Was what the Nats gave up too much? Is Nick Pivetta going to be a star? 

A: Unlikely. He was of mild importance in the Nats organization and barely on the radar for the league. Tall, but not gangly, big, but not heavy, the 22 year old Nick is seen as having the ideal frame for a pitcher but that doesn't take you very far. He's a hard, but not overpowering, thrower whose control has been an issue. He has been able to work around that in the low minors but his limited time in AA has been far less successful. His development as a starter will likely be determined by his ability to develop a couple other pitches over the next couple of years. Otherwise he'll likely be converted into a relief pitcher focusing on the plus fastball.

Q : Why would the Phillies give up Papelbon for that? 

Well, for one, they wanted to get out from under Papelbon's contract, for which they'd have to pay him 13 mill next year to close for a going nowhere team. But that's only half of it. The other half is why didn't other teams offer the Phillies more? The answer is it's the world we live in now. Prospects are (too?) highly coveted by almost every team because what matters most today is not performance on the field but flexibility off. What GMs and presidents want is a stable of usable players they are able to pay relative peanuts to for 5 years or so. This makes it easier to add payroll when necessary and avoids the situation of having a loser with a high payroll that can often cost them their jobs.

Personally, I tend to believe this attitude lets the owners, rich men who purchased expensive toys that gain ridiculous value over time, off the hook on putting money back into the team. I also think, as I've made note of recently, that it fosters an almost "anti-sports" attitude in sports. Winning should be paramount in sports, not budgetting. However both the owners inside the sport, and the statistically minded outside, for who winning with a budget gives them a problem to solve, agree on this approach, making it unlikely to change anytime soon.  Anyway, off my soapbox. Good for the Nats - didn't give up much.

Q : OK, Grandpa. Let me wake up now and ask you - so how about that money? Doesn't this prove that the Lerners are in it to win it? 

A: Far from it. The Phillies are kicking in 4.5 million this year. Papelbon is owed 4.9 million for the remainder of the season. Meaning the Lerners are adding only an additional 400K to the Nats current payroll. That's an increase of less than half a percent. As for the 11 million owed for 2016 in the future (8 million in 2016 and 3 million deferred to 2017) we'll have to see what the payroll is like next season before deciding.

Q: The Lerners really have a problem adding money in season don't they?

A : Yep. And I have to imagine it does hamper Rizzo's ability to "damage control" the team. But he's a very good GM so he has been able to work around it so far. Of course in three seasons the Nats have missed the playoffs once and have won 0 playoff series, and they are fighting for the playoffs right now, so you have to wonder if a more generous budget would allow Rizzo to produce better results.

Q: So what happens to Storen now? He doesn't seem happy. He's in the 8th now right?

A: Storen does indeed become the 8th inning guy now and I wouldn't be happy either. When he lost his closer role to start 2013 one could at least see the reasoning behind it. He was relatively new to the role and he blew the last playoff game (though Davey didn't help him out). The owners saw an opportunity to bring in a proven, veteran closer and did so. It was sketchy logic but it was there. Now Storen, with another 70+ games finished behind him and arguably pitching the best in his career (and possibly the best in the league), is forced to move because a whiny, but talented, closer on another team refuses to pitch in set-up. It shows a complete lack of faith and support in Drew Storen the player.

For the Nats it doesn't matter, Papelbon to Storen or Storen to Papelbon, the last innings should be hell on opponents. The question remains though will it matter to Storen (or if he ends up in the 8th before all is said and done, to Papelbon) and will that effect their performance.

Q: They could trade one right? They don't need two closers.

A: Then what was the point? You brought in Papelbon to address an issue. Trading one would only recreate the same problems the Nats were facing before the trade. No, Storen isn't going anywhere in 2015, nor should he.

Now in the off-season you can see one of these guys being shipped out. They will owe a lot of money to these two relievers next year. Money was a good part of the reason Clippard was traded last year.  But again, the pen question hangs over that as well.  If they do deal Papelbon or Storen aren't they just starting 2016 in the same position they started 2015, with a pen with one reliable arm and a bunch of question marks? Isn't there something about learning from history? That's an offseason question though.

Q: Anything else happening? The Nats still have a lot of trade pieces left, I imagine. Can we get help for the bench? 

A : Possibly. The Nats don't need much, in theory, when healthy. With Taylor, Espinosa and Robinson manning the bench it will have speed, some pop, IF and OF defense, and a left-handed bat. To be a completist though, Taylor and Espinosa are swing and miss types so the Nats could use a contact bat on the bench, preferably left-handed. Right now with Span's health being a concern an OF makes more sense than an IF. That's all I can think of. I'm sure Rizzo is looking for whatever bargains he can find.

Q: So the Nats are set? Full speed ahead? 

A : Well.... look. The Nats have had problems all year. It's easy to dismiss them as related to being forced to use the bench, but you look at what happened and you'll see that Werth, Rendon, Zimm, Strasburg, they were all playing poorly at various points in the year. They were part of the problem.  IF it was injury based and IF they are completely healthy, then yes full speed ahead. But it's far more likely that some of that with Werth and Zimm (and maybe Stras) was related to aging. And it's far more likely that rather than 100% they are at some percentage of health less than that, a percentage that let's them play but does not let them max out their performance. The lower that performance is, the more the rest of the season remains a dogfight with the Mets.

Do I like the Nats better than the Mets? Yep. I don't see how you couldn't right now. Whether that holds up will depend on the injury returnees performances, but just going with modest performances for those guys, I'd still have the Nats with an edge. Can the Mets be better than the Nats with the right pick-up? Maybe. It have to be a pretty big pick-up though. Do I feel confident that the Nats will hold onto first? I guess I'd say no, I'm not "confident". I'd put my money on the Nats. You wouldn't even have to force me to do it, but I wouldn't feel like it was a sure thing.

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Give him time

As much as it seems like I'm concerned over the Nats lack of movement, I'm really not. Mostly because I think it's just because we haven't gotten to the end of the trade deadline yet. Most deals take place right at the deadline. The Nats still have time to do something. They haven't in the past but like I said, there were stronger arguments that they didn't need to. Now there's a stronger argument to at least make a few minor changes so I'll expect them to do it until they don't.  They earned the benefit of the doubt with the Scherzer signing - as odd as the payout may be.

So we wait.

The Mets got Clippard which is good for them. The Nats could have done that. Did the Nats want to do that? Maybe. Heyman seemed to think so. I think more likely the Nats heard the Mets were interested, poked their head in to see what the going rate was. A-ball prospect probably didn't scare them off. Take his contract probably did. With no will (and no reason) to up the prospect to an actually good one the Nats walked away. At least that's how I see it.

There are better arms available and certainly more arms available. I trust the Nats will get one.

In the meantime let's focus on watching Rendon and Werth hit and seeing what we think. 

Oh just for funsies I got a hypothetical for you :

Strasburg never gets healthy. Fister never gets good. Gio gets inconsistent again. Roark never quite gets it going. The Nats in mid September look real good for the playoffs and Scherzer, ZNN and Ross are their clear Top 3 guys. Rizzo sits Ross because he reached his pre-set innings limit. How do you react?

(There are plenty of ways this doesn't happen. Plenty. But it isn't impossible so I'm curious)

Monday, July 27, 2015

Dead at the Deadline?

In July of 2012 the Nats were playing great baseball and were in a fight to keep the Atlanta Braves off their backs.
In July of 2013 the Nats were finally healthy and struggling to get back in the playoff picture
In July of 2014 the Nats were playing middling baseball and were in a fight to keep the Atlanta Braves off their backs

In 2012 - August 3rd - the Nats dealt David Freitas to Oakland for Kurt Suzuki and cash to cover remaining 2012 salary. It would be their only trade of the deadline.
In 2013 - July 8th - the Nats dealt Ivan Pineyro to the Cubs for Scott Hairston and cash to cover some of the remaining 2013 salary. It would be their only trade of the deadline*.
In 2014 - July 31 - the Nats dealt Zach Walters to the Indians for Asdrubal Cabrera and cash to cover his remaining 2014 salary. It would be their only trade of the deadline.

Notice anything similar? Only one deal made. A minor leaguer of little to no consequence dealt. Most importantly - the Nats always got cash back.  Why is that important?

Aroldis Chapman - due almost 3 million
Craig Kimbrel - due over 3 million
Jon Papelbon - due almost 5 million
Tyler Clippard - due over 3 million.

The Nationals don't seem to get a lot of deals made. You can rationalize that if you want. In 2012 the window was opening - there was no impetus to deal young players for an old player. In 2013 the Nats were rather far out of the Wild Card and would stumble going into the deadline making deals closer to the end of July look foolish. In 2014 the Nats, much like this year, seemed to have the talent to separate from their next best competitor, they just didn't yet.

However, rather than rationalizing each year with a separate reason, it makes more sense to look at the thread going through all of them. The Nationals don't add salary for the current year. Hairston was the only one who didn't cost the Nats $0 in their current year. He only cost 1.5 mill or so AND the Nats got 500K for the following season. Also - the Nats would actually end up dropping the payroll later by dealing Suzuki.

This fact alone naturally limits the type of deals they can make, explaining both the low number of deals and why these deals lack the impact you might expect from a contender over three seasons.  Teams may throw in salary for a good player but either you have to up the prospect (Zach Walters was at least on the outskirts of propsect radars) or you have to eat other money. For both Hairston and Suzuki the Nats were committed to paying them the year after the deal as well. It wasn't a lot for the following year but it was something.

If this holds up - what does this mean for the Nats at this trade deadline? Clippard isn't owed anything in 2016. To get him back and pay nothing the Nats would have to up the prospect.  Papelbon isn't technically owed money for 2016... yet. There's a vesting option that he's in line for right now, but not so obviously in line for that the Phillies couldn't weasel out of it. The Nats are helping the Phillies out if they take him in a deal, but more out of a difficult situation than eating money. So the Nats would have to up the prospect, maybe not as much as with Clippard but somewhat. Either one then would be a pretty good prospect.

Chapman will be owed money in 2016 - he makes 8 million now and is due for arbitration, making a 12 million due not unlikely. So Chapman in theory could be had with cash without causing the Nats to up the propsects needed. Problem is of course the current asking price for Chapman is very high. Not upping it doesn't mean that much. Kimbrel is owed the most. 11 million for 2016 and 13 for 2017 plus a million buyout in 2018. His current cost is high but not as high as Chapman. That makes Kimbrel the most likely target for the Nats. Of course right now they supposedly asked for Turner so the cost isn't low, it just isn't the current asking price for Chapman.

The other possibility is rather than getting cash, getting the other team to take Fister or Desmond, two guys making a lot and not likely to sign next year, back in the deal. Desmond would be pretty unlikely. Despite the fans turning on him, the management never did (and luckily never were in a position to) and he seems to be coming back into form. The Nats need pop more than any other offensive attribute and that's what he gives them. Fister though... if Strasburg is healthy you have to like Ross at least as much as Fister. So Fister could go. But it would be just like asking for cash. The effect on the prospect asked in return would be the same.

In the end I can't bet on the Nats do anything of note. They haven't in 3 other seasons. This season is different though - being at the end of a window - so maybe that spurs them on, but I have to put a lot of weight on what we've seen so far. But if they do do something, what could it be? I still think Rizzo tries to pull a deal - decent prospect for a good young relief arm (potential Storen replacement). Maurer in SD, Blazek in MIL, Smith in SEA. Something unusual this time of year, getting a young guy from a team dealing. But the Nats have some SP depth - certainly enough to toss Cole into any deal. Sure wish he didn't look like crap and have a history of teams being half-heartedly behind him.  The other option would be getting Uehara or F-Rod, both owed money, but not an onerous amount, in 2016, from their prospective clubs.   Uehara especially is interesting and the Red Sox just want live arms and the Nats have that.

So there you go - have me bet on one thing? Uehara in to fill in that 8th inning role for say Cole and some A ball guy (Pivetta)? Voth+?

*Later in August - far after what I would consider the deadline - they'd do the funky DeJesus deal where they got him just to flip him. They'd also give up and send Suzuki back to the A's. 

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Now what?

I said it constantly over this series of the games but this Mets team does not scare me (for an NL East title) The Nats team I expect to see over the course of the rest of the season is better than the Mets team I expect to see over the course of the rest of the season. There are 60 games left. That difference will show. That doesn't mean I like this Nats team, the one on the field for the series, better that the Mets. That's kind of a push. It means that with Strasburg, Rendon, Werth, Zimmerman all likely back soon and Span maybe back later, that team is certainly deeper and almost certainly better than the Mets. So while the comeback victory was super fun it merely confirms what I had already thought.

I'd like the Nats to pull away now so we don't have to even talk about this anymore, but with Washington playing Pittsburgh, a pull away is probably not happening. It'll have to wait until the next series versus the Mets in a little over a week. Oh well.

The question then is 'What do the Nats do now?' Yunel Escobar seems slated for a DL stint, perhaps a long one, but with Rendon back that's not so much of a problem with the line-up as with the bench. Ian might even be hitting again (maybe... maybe)! Do the Nats make a move to get better when they likely don't have to to take the division?

I say yes. 

I've talked about this before, but it bears repeating. In my opinion, the point of athletic competition, as opposed to athletic endeavor, is to win.  In professional sports the dual nature of winning, winning games versus winning championships, can be seen as leading to conflict between now and later. But most understand this is faux conflict. Everyone agrees that the winning of championships take precedence. If you are not in line for a championship, it make sense to sacrifice the winning of games now to try to set up the future. If you are in line for a championship, it make sense to sacrifice the winning of games in the future to try to set up the now. That is in large part how it worked in the past. However, in today's baseball, a third type of winning has been introduced, the winning of theoretical championships in the future, and that type has for some reason assumed the top position. Now even teams in one piece away from the playoffs or one fix away from fielding the best team possible refuse to deal prospects of value. The future must be protected. 

In reality, the future is extremely volatile. In baseball, you have 30 teams, each trying to do the same thing, where a good team wins 56% of their games and a bad team wins 44%. With that slim difference between success and failure, an injury or two can derail a season, and a break out or two can turn a maybe team into a powerhouse. Planning for future success is smart, but depending on it is a fool's decision.

Don't believe me? We can even look back in the Nats brief history to see that it is true.  In 2012, the Nats were in arguably the best position a team could be. Heading toward the high 90s in wins. A very young pitching staff (23, 26, 26, 26) with three guys pitching like aces and a 4th guy that looked almost as good. A lights out closer just as young (24) and a decent group of not old set-up men. At worse top 5-ish young position players at 2b (25), SS (26), and 3B (27), another with that potential at C (24), and the league's best offensive prospect, who was still a teenager, in the OF. The only "old" players that were important were a 30 year old OF masher, a do-it-all veteran who had been injured but came back to put up a solid half-season, and a dependable 1B bat.

The questions for 2013 were limited - could they find a LHRP? Who would be the 5th starter? And the biggest one - do you re-sign the OF masher or dependable 1B because both are up for FA and you'd rather move the teenager to a corner OF spot? That's it. That's the list. All those names I mentioned above that weren't FAs to be? Only one would be a free agent before the 2015 season was over. You could hardly find a team in recent history better set-up for a window of success.

So when time came to potentially sit one of those aces because he was returning from injury it seemed like a safe move. Strasburg sat. They sacrificed the now in some measure for a future that looked completely secure.

In 2013 - Strasburg pitched well but the Nats missed the playoffs
In 2014 - Strasburg pitched well but the Nats won the NL East by 17 games. They did finish 1st overall in the NL by 2 games. He pitched a decent Game 1 but the Nats lost the game.
In 2015 - Strasburg, arguably injured, pitched poorly, sat out, pitched well briefly, went out again. He has barely helped a team struggling to overcome injuries to take the division.

So in 2012 the Nats looked to the future and saw the potential need for a healthy Strasburg to lead them to multiple titles. In mid-2015 we can look back and say if Strasburg did pitch in those playoffs and blew his arm out, that it would have had nearly no impact on the Nats fortunes since then. It would have probably cost them the #1 seed in 2014, that's it as of today. And that was as sure a scenario as I can possibly come up with.

Let's go with a classic and timely example - Doyle Alexander for Smoltz. You certainly know Alexander didn't get the Tigers another title and Smoltz became a Hall of Famer. You probably know Alexander did basically all he could and without him the Tigers don't make the playoffs that year. What it's doubtful that you think of is what Smoltz on the Tigers would have been like. The Tigers would miss the playoffs by one game in 88 but Smoltz was seen as unlikely to be playing for the Tigers by then and in fact struggled in a brief major league outing with the Braves. The Tigers wouldn't come close to the playoffs again before Smoltz would hit FA, though I suppose with Smoltz that maybe the 91 squad would have been close enough to make a move around the trade deadline. Maybe. Getting Smoltz helped the Braves, yes. But losing Smoltz really did nothing to the Tigers.

I can pull out a deal where things worked in reverse too. Deals where a guy was dealt for nothing and helped the team win (McGriff, Schilling, Lee got the Phillies to WS). But the reality is most trades are CC Sabathia for Matt LaPorta, Rob Bryson, Zach Jackson and Michael Brantley.  Did the Brewers win? Nope. Did all those players become good? Nope. Did the player that did become good help the team win any championships? Nope.  Or they are Matt Holliday for Clatyon Moretnsen, Shane Peterson, and Brett Wallace. Did that player help the Cardinals win under his current contract? Nope. Did any of those players become good? Nope. Holliday would help the Cardinals in later years but they still had to sign him to a big contract. The trade merely got them an inside track. Most trades are nothings.

With most trades being nothings you may say "why bother trading?" Ok that's fine if that's your opinion, you nihilist. But for me it comes down to the point of athletic competition again. There is no one out there that thinks that hoping these guys all hit coming back from injury and hoping the pen works itself out is the best option for the Nats winning this year. How can you look at the players and say "You give it 100% to win it all. We in the front office are going to give it 90-95%! That should be enough! Team!"

This doesn't mean trade everyone for anything that helps a little in 2015. It means that the balance needs to be set correctly. The guys that are B-Level prospects who might be ok next year or down the road should be actively shopped. The A-level prospects who are already helping or seem like good bets to be good next year shouldn't be untouchable. The Giolitos... well there's a reason why people go back to Smoltz/Bagwell for lopsided deals. The "seem like sure things" aren't traded often.

I may be a soulless automaton, but I'm a soulless automaton who was programmed to understand that winning it all is what matters. The caution that made sense in 2012 when the window was clear, does not make sense in 2015 when the window is muddy. There are big changes coming to the Nats in 2016 and beyond. They could be good. They could not. All that I am sure of is they are very likely to make the playoffs this season and based on those facts above they need to act in a more urgent fashion. Anything less is an antithesis to the reason you get into competitive sports in the first place.

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Hard Pard?

Come on, it was Harvey, deGrom, Syndergaard. You couldn't in your right mind expect a sweep. Hope, sure. Expect? Nah.

The question of the night was why did Matt Williams pull Ross for Barrett. If you squint you can kind of see where MW was coming from. Barrett had pitched well recently. Ross had been limited (on purpose) in his minor league starts, I'm guessing so if needed he could pitch for the Nats down the stretch and not increase his innings too much. Ross had been missing fewer at bats and has getting hit harder this time through the line-up. Matt probably thought that Barrett had the better chance of getting the K and keeping the Mets from tying it. Still Ross wasn't getting crushed, they hadn't reached the top of the order again, and more importantly the Mets don't have any threatening PH to bring up there. Eric Campbell? I think the kid should have had that shot to get Campbell out.

After that MW's second mistake was conceding the game in the 9th when he shouldn't have. After a single and walk and single, most relievers would be pulled to try to keep the game within a bloop and a blast. (especially with Bryce and your second best HR threat Espinosa up the next half-inning), but Matt stuck with Roark and the Mets put the game out of reach.

It's just another indication that whatever "feel" managers have for when and where to use what bullpen guys, Matt Williams still doesn't have that. Which again makes getting another arm that's unhittable important so down the stretch and in the playoffs, MW isn't forced to make these decisions. Give him an 8th inning guy he desperately needs. Let him try everyone in the 7th until someone clicks (one person will, right?) and then if the Nats need a guy before the 7th, well, the starter failed, good luck.

Ross in general? I think a good team would have gotten to him early last night when he didn't seem to have great control. I also think that he's 22 and there's something about the way he pitches where he seems able to raise his game. It's not all there yet, but it's ZNN esque. I like more about him than I don't like, but I also feel like the fanbase likes him way, way more than I do. If he pitches for a while he'll have some interesting games - rematches vs Pittsburgh and the Mets, then the D-backs, Dodgers and Giants, all good hitting clubs - that'll give us a better indication of whether he's a stud for 2016 or a rookie with some nice games and potential.

A lot of people are again on Desmond for a couple key Ks. I don't like it either but there can be a shuffling with him and Danny (middling for a month now) when Rendon comes back. What's more worrisome to me is Michael Taylor. He had a great catch in Game 1 but he's 1 for his last 23 with 10Ks and 0BBs. Makes Desmond look like Miggy. And Denard Span is the only guy not starting his rehab which means he'll play. If he keeps playing poorly the other option is denDekker which is to say there isn't another option.  Desmond's issues stink but there are solutions for today and tomorrow. Taylor's issues don't have either.

This game tonight is important.  The game tonight is not important. To me it's important only for "what if?" scenarios. What if Bryce gets hurt? What if the Mets go out and bring in a bat or two? The Nats are better. The Nats should take the NL East. Simply losing to the Mets isn't going to throw me into a panic. What it will do though, is make me very worried about the unknown.

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Easy Peasy

The Nats beat the Mets last night. The Mets beat the Mets last night. Hard to win a game 2 teams against one.

This is why I said I still would have the Nats for the NL East even if the Mets swept 'em. The Nats are just a fundamentally better team. What is most apparent is how Bryce in the line-up changes everything. Beyond that the line-ups aren't all that dissimilar (right now). A couple decent bats, a couple ok ones, lots of issues. But Bryce... you have to think about him constantly. How do I pitch to the guys in front of him? Do I intentionally walk him? Do I unintentionally walk him? Do I challenge him? If he gets on base then suddenly your options to the next batter are limited. He's a speed bump for any pitcher trying to cruise through the Nats line-up.

The Mets have nothing close to that. What they do have is pitchers, but as we well know pitchers can be a persnickety bunch. Matt Harvey is not happy because he's not on a strict 5-day rotation and he pitched poorly to start last night. If the Mets don't have the starter going well then, you might as well change the channel. They had Eric Campbell playing first for god's sake. Matt Harvey drove in the only runs last night and no one was surprised. They are 4 for their last 72 with RISP. No I didn't type that incorrectly. 4 for 72.  The defense can be iffy and it was.  It was just a team failure.

And that's the 2nd best team in the NL East.

Still here the Nats are - a mere 3 games ahead of them closing in on 100 games into the season. You can look at the Mets and be surprised they are where they are (and fairly - they actually have been on the lucky side this year). You can look at the Nats and say "Jesus, guys. You are on an 89-90 win pace. Get it together". You should probably do both.

The Nats don't need to put away the Mets here. This Mets team isn't catching the Nats barring major injury or surprise trade. But I want them to do it. I want it for the obvious reason of putting your closest competitor in the rear-view ASAP. I also want it because I want to see the Nats of 2015 that I expected to see and that Nats team wouldn't be fumbling trying to distance themselves from a team who might not make the 2nd Wild Card, injuries or not.

deGrom tonight. He's the Mets All-Star. Beat him with a minor leaguer. Crush him. End this middling start to the year and begin the 2nd half run we all want to see.

Monday, July 20, 2015

Monday Quickie - Must win is a little strong

No matter what the outcome of this series I still like the Nats going forward. The worst case scenario, the dreaded sweep, would only put the Nats a game out. The Nats would have guys trickling in, returning from injury, playing roughly as equal schedule as the Mets from here on out. Two games better? Yeah, I think they can do that.

Of course what would be best is for the Nats to crush the Mets' dreams right here and now with a sweep of their own. If you didn't know it, the Nats are kind of in the Mets' fans heads, much like the Braves were to the Nats fans for a couple years. The Mets have not fared well against the Nats during this window, with the Nats holding an enormous 41-15 advantage over the previous three years. 2015 stands at a more even 4-3 Nats edge right now, but Mets fans are expecting the shoe to drop at any minute. I'm not sure about the Mets team, but the Mets' fans would crumple over beating Harvey then DeGrom.

Unfortunately for the Nats they are struggling right now. It's not just Kershaw and Greinke. They are averaging under 3 runs a game in July, scoring 2 runs or fewer in 8 of 13 games. Chris Tillman, Anthony Delscafini, Manny Banuelos, old Jake Peavy and Matt Wisler have all had their turns putting in good performances versus the Nats.  As a team they are hitting a woeful .207 / .272 / .329 for the month (and that's with Bryce still being All-Star good). Some current performances

Clint Robinson : .268 / .348 / .390
Danny Espinosa : .213 / .275 / .362, 14K in 13 games. 

Party might be over for these two. Those aren't unworkable lines as the 7th/8th guy in the line-up but the Nats are scarily depending on these two. Why such dependence?

Michael Taylor : .191 / 224 / .255
Wilson Ramos : .167 / .205 / .238
Ian Desmond : .075 / .116 / .125

That makes the other OF spot be it denDekker (.200 / .250 / .533) or Moore (.241 / .241 / .379) worth considering. Werth is closest to returning, but remember that when Werth was here he was hitting just like the rest of these guys (.208 / .294 / .287).  I know a lot of you think once Rendon comes back and we get rid of Desmond things will be ok, but there is more than just one hole out there right now.

The Nats are going to likely need killer starting performances and Scherzer just went. Gio is up tonight.  He's been pretty good since June started, with only one bad outing, and a couple of solid ones. He's getting a bit more wild to be effective but the Mets aren't a particularly patient team. Joe Ross will likely take the mound in game 2. He's looked good down in AAA and we all remember what he did up in the majors. One thing you should remember though is those last two games were atypical for Ross. He's not a big K guy. If minor leaguers can get bat on his pitches, so should major leaguers. That doesn't mean he can't be very good on the mound though and if there's a team you want to make contact with your pitches it's the punchless Mets. ZNN will pitch game 3 looking to rebound from a blah outing in the lights-out game.

It's a good group. The Nats' starting pitching is very good remember. But it isn't the 1-2-3 I would have liked to see. So normally I wouldn't feel great about getting shutouts but it's the Mets. It took them 18 innings to score 3 runs. They've scored 2 or fewer runs 16 times in their last 26 games. (and in 7 of the other 10 they scored 3 or 4 runs). If there's a team that can be shutdown it's these guys.

Get ready for some tight baseball games this week. 

Friday, July 17, 2015

Odds and Ends

Happy Baseball! Now don't blow it Nats.

Bryce Harper has hit .350 /. 455 / .650 since May 29th. Why is that random fact of interest to me? Because May 28th marked the end of his remarkable 3 week run where Bryce hit .460 / . 570 / 1.175. So since he's "cooled off" he has a line that would put him t1st in batting average (w/ Cabrera), maybe t2nd in OBP (Cabrera, Goldschmidt), and 1st in slugging in the major leagues. Bryce is awesome.

I got in a little Twitter discussion yesterday about the state of the team in the future. I'll admit I'm a pessimist. I see the Nats offense led by Bryce, yes. But I also see the 2nd-5th most valuable bats this year being gone in 2016 (Span), connected to an unsustainable BABIP (Escobar), with a guy Nats fans were ready to run out of town a year ago he was so bad (Espinosa), and a 30 yr old career minor leaguer (Robinson). That's the thread holding this offense together. I'll give you it could continue in 2015, there's less than half a season left. But come 2016 there has to be an expectation of this motley crew not carrying the team again. So who does? Rendon, ok, I'll buy that. But who else? 37 yr old Werth? Zimmerman, 2 years removed from a full season? If they don't come through. That puts a lot of pressure on MAT and Turner to be good next year. Not to mention the Nats losing ZNN and Fister and Thornton. Anyway the Nats will have money freed so there is room to spend/trade to fix these issues. But if they don't do anything there is potential here for a crash that hasn't existed since the window opened.

Will they do it through FA (The "Greinke" scenario)? Reason to be optimistic - the Lerners have cleared, however painfully slowly, all money hurdles so far. They signed someone to a big deal (Werth). They showed they'd do it again and for homegrown talent (Zimm). They showed they'd do it for a pitcher and raise their payroll to that "below the biggest spenders" range for a year (Max). The next question is will they remain in that 170 mill range? Reason to be pessimistic - the Lerners were bitching at 130 million about being "topped out" and although they did sign Max it was a funny contract that pushed money out over the next century. It also seemed like the issues with the pen (trading Clippard, Blevins) were money related.

OK enough about next year. I talked about the potential contenders yesterday. When you get down to the last few month SoS is important to consider. How does that break down? The NL East means that the Nats and Mets should both cruise for the rest of the year (12th and 11th easiest). That's also why I give the Mets an edge over the Cubs for the 2nd WC.  Meanwhile the Pirates have a little rougher road than the Cards, the Giants a rougher road than the Dodgers which makes catching them a bit tough.  The Giants in particular must survive this stretch (@TEX, @ATL, @CHC, HOU, WAS, @STL, @PIT, CHC, STL, @LA) That's a month with no patsies. Twist my arm and I'll say Cards, Nats, Dodgers, Pirates, Mets. so Nats play Dodgers first round. That'd be my guess today, but injuries and trades can change everything.

We're on the last legs of "Wilson Ramos can be a star" aren't we?  Wilson gets to hide behind all the bigger problems and surprise solid players but it's been a disappointing year for him. Finally healthy we hoped for a decent bounce back and we haven't gotten it. His walk rate has dwindled over time to a terrible 4.3%. His K-rate is going up each year. But the Nats don't have anyone close to ready to replace Wilson (Lobaton really isn't an improvement, Keiboom is middling in High-A). So Wilson it is.

I expressed my concerns with a Yuney/Danny/Clint led offense but in all honesty, I kind of like Clint's chances to stay productive for a few years. He never failed in the majors previously, just didn't get the chance, so we can't say that what we're seeing now is odd. He doesn't have crazy K numbers in the minors that suggest he'll be overwhelmed by major league stuff (see: Moore, Tyler). There's no unsustainable numbers helping him out. He isn't death against lefties (he's hit them quite well this year actually). With regular at bats in June and July his numbers have been relatively consistent. I just don't see any warning signs. I don't know where exactly he'll fall (above average or below are both reasonable) but I don't see him being so bad he couldn't sit on a bench for another couple years and he may actaully be a good bat there.

I'm also very curious to see Felipe Rivero more. His issue in the minors, which he arguably never solved, was he was too wild. And yet he's walking no one in the majors. His zone numbers suggest more pitches thrown in the zone (not a good or bad thing pitching wise if you are wondering - there are great pitchers on either end) so I'd guess it is an improvement that can be kept up, but I want to see more.  I don't know if a trust that it just clicked when he hit the majors after not getting it in the minors since 2012 - including in Nats org.

xFIP suggests* that the Carpenter, Janssen, and Thornton all should get worse. It does however like Treinen and Barrett. So trade for someone I guess, I'm tired of these guys.

BABIP suggests Escobar will dip (Bryce is up there but he's doing something special, Taylor is up there but we don't know his level). Zimm and Werth would both be candidates for improvement if we didn't think that the BABIP issues could be injury related. So the best hope for a rebound 2nd half? Desmond. Nothing huge though - he is hitting the ball weaker.

Also read this on Desmond. It's a lot of what we were saying over time but put together nicely.

*Why do I say suggest? Relievers pitch so infrequently these things can last the 30 IP or whatever they have left. xFIP is more of a year to year thing to look at, but a glance now isn't completely without value.

Thursday, July 16, 2015

Stacking Up - Part 2


Nats : BRYCE
As constructed now can you really rely on Clint Robinson, Yunel Escovar and Danny Espinosa to perform to the levels they have been? If not the current line-up, which is passable with only one true hole, collapses. Note that they've not only overachieved based on the bats in the lineup, they've scored more runs than expected based on those overachieving stats. There's double the room to fail. Yet, like a reverse Damocles' sword, Span, Rendon, Werth, Zimmerman all could come back and be impact bats. Despite the above questions, we have to put a lot of weight on where we stand today. One thing that is sure is that they have arguably the best hitter in the majors in Bryce and he's already proven he can carry the offense by himself when hot.

Mets: DUDA
The Mets offense is hideous. There's not a true star or even very good bat in the line-up right now. There are at least two holes, and Lagares is close to that as well. If D'Arnaud can ever stay healthy it might not be embarrassing but right now this line-up is undeniably a huge problem.

Cardinals :  HOLLIDAY
The Cardinals have no holes. Molina may finally be wearing down and Reynolds replacing Adams is a downgrade but both are simply below average. The Cardinals have no stars. Holliday is very good and bats like Peralta, Heyward, and maybe the kid Grichuk have the same potential but there is no singular player you worry about containing.

It's a line-up similar to the Nats with a star that can carry the team, a number of solid bats in the line-up, and maybe a hole or two. The difference is McCutchen, as good as he is, is not '15 Bryce at the plate, and the bench is not very good. So the Pirates match-up with the Nats now, but a few healthy returns and they won't anymore.

Cubs : RIZZO
I's not terrible but the lineup is a problem. Rizzo is an underrated star bat, but only Bryant of the kids (Soler and Russell being the others) are hitting right now. Castro has devolved much like Ian Desmond. With no help from the bench, and a mix of average bats elsewhere the Cubs are kind of stuck relying on hope that that at least one of these guys, if not all 3 come through.

The Dodgers offense is really good. Everyone but Rollins (who's a hole - what is it with these SSs this year?) is at least good with Grandal and Turner carrying the team. You may think that this is just as precarious a situation as the Nats Yuney/Danny/Clint thing, but people have been thinking Grandal could do something like this for years and Turner was this good last year too. There's more reason for faith here. Also, the bench is deep and Puig and Pederson have strong potential to perform better. I really like this offense

Giants : POSEY
The Giants offense is rock solid. They don't have a lot of punch, but much like the Royals of last year, they put the ball in play really well. Plus Hunter Pence is finally back and at least in the week he played he looked like his old self. That would reduce the below average bats in the lineup to simply CF Pagan. There's a little bit of overachieving in the IF but Duffy and Panik are both young enough that it could continue.  

My Ranking as of today (in series): 
Dodgers, Giants, Nats, Pirates, Cardinals, Cubs, Mets

To me, offensively the difference between the Dodgers and the Cardinals is equal to the difference between the Cardinals and the Cubs.

Overall Rankings : 
Cardinals, Pirates, Nats, Dodgers, Cubs, Giants, Mets

No one wants to hear this but really the Cardinals are a team with no weakness. The worst thing I can think of to say about them as a team is that they lack a dominant presence on the mound or at the plate, so if any of the teams in the playoffs get hot, they can take the Cardinals. They aren't unbeatable. Of course if the Cardinals get hot, or if no one does, they have to be the favorite.

I like the Pirates a lot, maybe even more than the Cardinals in a series. There's no real series weakness and that pen is a game changer. But they are very McCutchen reliant (offense spun its wheels early when Andrew did), and it's AJ Burnett and Francisco Liriano you are saying are very good. They have been but still it's hard to get 100% behind that.

The Nats are the wild card of the bunch. Good enough to be better than the Cardinals, injured enough to be down with the Mets. However it breaks though I've seen enough of Max and ZNN to feel really good about those two in the playoffs and BRYCE! means I'll never count the Nats offense completely out. Plus the Nats should walk to the division title if they get even a little healthier.

The Nats over the Dodgers was a tough call for me but in the end Kershaw's injury issues/playoff issues give me enough pause. LA was already going to have an iffy #3 and a shallow pen. If I can't feel like I can be sure about him then the team takes a hit despite the offense. They are in kind of the same boat as the Nats. The pieces could fall into place to make them incredibly formidable. But right now I'd like the Nats just a touch more, though that could easily change in 2 weeks.

Now we get to the flawed teams. The Cubs are all about potential. Lester could revert to form. Those hitters could get it. There's worry that these things could happen if you face them in a series. But I can't deny that right now it isn't there. Not the pitching, not the hitting. On the cusp but not there.

The Giants, I just don't like their starting pitching. Sure Bumgarner was great last year. But that doesn't guarantee future success. Lester was awesome... until he wasn't with the A's. Morris had the greatest World Series, then was garbage in the series the next year. 2014 gives you pause about facing him but I'm not quaking if it comes to pass. Vogelsong, Lincecum, Peavy are all working on multiple blah years. Hudson is 39. So it all comes down to Heston who was never a great prospect. I just don't see them keeping an offense down and the offense isn't dominant enough to count on them beating a pitcher on his game.

The Mets don't have a flaw they have a death wish. That offense is easily dominated and unless it gets hot the pitching will have to be perfect. Either is possible (the offense is hot or the pitching is perfect) but those are big things that would have to go right for the Mets to take a series.

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Stacking Up

It may be premature but it was asked for. How do the Nats stack up versus other contenders? Pitching today.

1-2-3 Starters

In the playoffs the depth of your rotation no longer matters. Do you have a killer Top 3? Then you're good with the 4th slot there if you choose to use it or not. The #1 spot matters too if you end up in the Wild Card

Nats : MAX, ZNN, Stras? (Gio?)
The Nats have arguably the best pitcher in the NL, and while ZNN isn't quite having the year we expected I think we all trust him. The 3rd spot has all the potential in the world but who's it going to be? Strasburg is the first choice but he's been injured. Gio has been a little off, Fister both injured and off. Right now 1-4 could be a powerhouse or the Nats fans could be complaining why Roark isn't #3.

Mets: DEGROM, Harvey, Sydergaard (Niese)
That's better than the Nats right now. Sorry, but completely verifiable by facts. It's never been playoff tested is about all you can hang onto. As for #1 DeGrom is right there with Max. You like Max better (or I do) but there's no obvious advantage.

Cardinals :  LACKEY?, Martinez, Wacha, (Lynn?)
The Cardinals are 5 deep right now. Every one of their preferred rotation guys has an ERA under 3.00. On the flipside, three of them have an ERA over 2.90. I put Lackey (worst at 2.99) in the #1 hole only because of "veteran presence". What this gives the Cardinals is a lot of leeway with injuries and drops in performance to figure out who slots where. What this doesn't give the Cardinals is a guy you feel 100% sure of in a 1-gamer

Pirates : COLE, Burnett, Liriano (Locke?)
The Pirates are top heavy with a great 3 and a blah back of the rotation. They're very likely to pull the 3-day rest thing if they do make it. Cole is only a half-step behind the very best in the league and could rise.

Cubs : ARRIETA, Lester, Hammel, (Wada?)
The Cubs rotation is not as impressive. Arrieta is really good but Lester is still trying to find himself and there's no good reason to trust Hammel to continue to be this good. Both Wada and Hendricks are fine but just that. Rotation wise the Cubs have a distinct disadvantage in a series, and a small one in a one-game.

Dodgers : KERSHAW, Greinke, Bolsinger? (Anderson?)
The Dodgers are even more top heavy than the Pirates. With Kershaw rounding back into form they have arguably the best 1-2 in the majors. But beyond that they have a couple decent arms and then a morass. This makes for an interesting series match-up putting a lot of pressure on Greinke and Kershaw who has a history of underperforming in the playoffs. Still wouldn't want to face them in a one-game though.

Giants : BUMGARNER, Heston, Hudson? (Vogelsong?)
The Giants' rotation is scary only on history. Bumgarner is a bit down this year. Heston is good but a rookie. The rest are just trying to hang on. If Cain gets it right you figure they can put up a fight, if not you are hoping for more Bumgarner magic.

My Ranking as of today (in series): 
Cardinals, Mets, Nats, Pirates, Dodgers, Cubs, Giants

Relief Pitching

The Nats closer has been excellent this year, as you well know. As you also well know, he's faltered in the playoffs. Outside of that they haven't zeroed in on reliable arms yet, getting decent performances but some terrible ones in key moments.

Familia has become as reliable a closer as anyone in the league.  However, the Mets have had issues getting to him. They might be able to cobble it together though. Gilmartin is good and Parnell is back and doing well in the set-up slot. If Blevins returns and keeps killing lefties, you start to like this pen more. Right now though, I'd say it's passable, but iffy in a series where you'll have to use someone else and everyone else is not trustworthy. How much can they lean on just 3-4 guys?

Cardinals :  ROSENTHAL
Rosenthal is good. Siegrist setting up is good. Beyond that they have some ok arms having good years and better arms trying to put things together. What they don't have though is a guy they are currently using that you hate to see enter a game. This isn't a pen that wows you, but there's no real weakness here.

Pirates : MELANCON
Melancon is great. Watson might be better. Hughes is just a step behind. All were this good last year too so it's not a fluke. Caminero and Bastardo are both fantastic arms that are probably a bit better than their ERAs suggest. Best pen in the NL.

Deep pen with the Top 5 arms all doing well. The biggest plus is that their best arm has no defined role so you can see Justin Grimm at any time. He can be wild but he's unhittable now that he's in relief. The rest of the pen is solid.

Dodgers : JANSEN
Jansen was out for a while but picked up exactly where he left off. He might be the best closer. Unfortunately beyond that things aren't clear. Yimi Garcia has all the talent in the world but hasn't harnessed it yet. JP Howell is as good as anyone but is often regulated to outings of less than an inning. After that you have a couple good arms and a lot of not good ones. If Garcia settles that 8-9 will be untouchable. If he doesn't the Dodgers are in trouble anytime a starter doesn't go deep. 

The pen is ok. Romo has the best stuff but doesn't seem right this year. Kontos is effective but a "get yourself out" reliever. Castilla is fine. We all know about Strickland. There's nothing really wrong with this pen. It's ERA is the worst of the playoff teams but not that far off. But it inspires no fear at any point that "oh the game is over now"

My Ranking : 
Pirates, Cardinals, Cubs, Mets, Nats, Dodgers, Giants

Overall Pitching Ranking : 
Cardinals, Mets, Pirates, Nats, Dodgers, Cubs, Giants
The ranking may surprise you but as we'll see tomorrow where the (healthy) Nats have the advantage is not on the mound. It's at the plate. 

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Tuesday review

1) When will all the guys come back from injury and is that even a good thing?

I think I agree completely with you guys. Span Strasburg and Rendon? Yes good. Zimm & Werth? ehhhh. But we are completely being led by what we've seen so far this year. The guys who did good will keep doing good! The guys who didn't won't! I think we all understand too, that if these guys are healthy enough to play they are playing everyday, damn the results.

One by one, if I want to be more soulless I'd say this:

Werth's injury is the most likely to keep affecting him into the season. We saw what happened to him and what happens to others with wrist injuries. They have no power. So the best we can hope for is a rehash of the 2nd half of 2012 where he hit .300 but had no pop. Of course that Werth was a 33 yr old, not a 36 yr old coming off of shoulder surgery so even an empty .300 might be too much to ask for. .270 with a lot of walks? I worry about his comeback most of all.

With Zimm's injury it usually is an issue or it isn't. It's a light switch. As long as the Nats don't force Zimm back he'll probably be a useful bat. Thing is I think Zimm and the Nats both want him back sooner rather than later so a forcing back is completely possible. We have to wait to see how he's hitting when he's rehabbing. If he looks good I'm enthused. If not, I put him in the Werth category.

Rendon may have issues with pop all year long. There's just too many separate issues (knee, oblique, quad) that he's trying to overcome. That's ok, he's young and showed he can still be a useful bat and I don't see the quad making things any different than they were at the plate. What I do worry about with the quad is re-injury. Unlike the knee or oblique the quad is tested every time he sprints or quickly changes direction. Given that he can't compensate for the quad by putting stress on other places because everything is recovering, I'm going to be on pins and needles from the moment he comes back. But I don't worry about his usefulness

Span is a bit less concerning than Rendon because the long-term injury history isn't there but in the past 7 months the guy had a sports hernia, hurt his abdomen, his knee, and his back. I think he needs extended time off. I think he should be fine when coming back though. I do note the power loss because while you can have low power, you can't have no power, or else you are putting a lot in the hands of BABIP luck. But I think it's injury related so I think he'll be back to normal. I think.

Strasburg - I think both sides are being overly careful. I think he'll come back and be fine and if it was late September he'd be pitching.

2) In the meantime, and after that, what to do about Desmond?

In the meantime nothing. He plays straight through September if that's what injuries dictate. Does Turner come up September 1st? If Ian is still this bad and Rendon is still out and Turner is killing AAA then yes. Any of those not taking place then no, sorry. I think both Turner and Giolito are May next year guys for the sake of the extra year of control. I think Difo, Cole and Ross all got calls because Rizzo saw them coming up this year anyway.

Ok now what if Rendon comes back in a week or two?  I'd hate to be the one to make that decision. I feel like he has to sit but a lot of that is based on how Danny and Yuney are doing and how Danny and Yuney are doing is a bit of a mirage. We've talked about Yuney's BABIP luck but if he were simply having the best BABIP he ever had outside his rookie year his line would be more like .285 / .333 / .390. Better than Ian, yes but not a guy you have to have in the line-up. Not to mention his 3B defense has been nothing special. Danny on the other hand has spent the past month quietly reverting to more typical Danny. Lot more K's. Average around .220.  If not for that timely 3 run homer vs Baltimore I think we'd be looking at him a lot more critically right now.

So I don't like Danny and Yuney in the long run, but Ian is really forcing our hands. There isn't a good decision but if Rendon is ready early and Ian isn't hitting, he kind of has to sit.

3) Any improvement to the bench?

I don't see it. Though let me tell you how god-awful Dan Uggla is. In the last month we're all crazy about how bad Ian is. Ian has hit .169 / .218 / .282.  Uggla has hit .174 / .296 / .174.  Since hitting that homer against the Braves, Dan Uggla, a guy brought in to perhaps provide pop off the bench has had 2 XBH. TWO! No homers! He can't field! He doesn't run! He's kept his head above water by taking a few walks but come on.

Anyway, I don't see Rizzo doing something here because of what I said. Guys will get healthy and when that happens the bench improves. Also he probably can't get anything he wants cheap or with control. 

4) What about the pen?

OK I do see something done about the pen, which I guess is good since most of you want the pen addressed and not the bench. But I don't see a Chapman type that'll cost an arm and a leg. Instead I see them trying to get a Carson Smith or Brandon Maurer type. Someone under control for a few years, who might not cost as much (in dollars or prospects) but could easily slide into the closer role in a post-Storen world.

Not happy about my bench/pen predictions? Sorry. I don't think the Lerners want to add salary and I don't think Rizzo wants to trade prospects for rentals.  If Rizzo can't get a guy he likes long term or if he can't just pick up someone he might like for next to nothing (say... Aaron Hill if the D-backs eat almost all his salary) then I don't see any movement. Not with the team in leading the division. Talk to me again if the Mets blow them out 5 of 6.

5) Can the rotation keep it up?

Depends what you mean. If you are asking if they can still be really good, yes. Definitely. I'll admit I like Scherzer to slow down a bit. I think he's overly control focused now, if that's a thing and as the season wears on him, his goal of not missing the strike zone is going to turn into not missing bats... on a very minor level. You've seen it recently in late innings. That'll expand as he gets tired. Nothing crazy here. He'll still be really, really good. I'm just thinking he might fall to like 3rd or 4th in the Cy Young race. ZNN I trust in. I already said I like Stras to be fine. Gio or Fister might falter down the stretch but not both.

Now can it carry the team... I don't think so. Not carry. Maybe they have one more two rotation turn go around like they had earlier but putting in a month or more like that? I'm not going to bet on that. They'll be the strength, the rock the team relies on. Alone they can keep them around .500 and if the Mets don't push that'll be enough. But alone make the Nats special? I don't see it.

6) Are the Mets legit threat or not?

If they get a bat, yes. If not, no. That's my opinion.  While I said I don't think the Nats rotation can carry them, I do think DeGrom, Harvey and Syndergaard could carry a Mets team with an average-ish offense. They don't have that. They have two injured arms in Wheeler and Matz that could be dealt but they questions are the same one the Nats face - Will they take on salary? Will they trade the future for now? It's getting late in the year so if they don't do it soon, I don't see them doing it at all. There's only so much even the right trade can bring you with only 60 games left.

Monday, July 13, 2015

Monday Quickie - Questions

Back at work and only a couple hundred of email to sort through. So while I do that you ponder the questions facing the Nats over the 2nd half of the year and we can meet back tomorrow to talk more about it.

1) When will all the guys come back from injury and is that even a good thing?

The Nats have five key players out right now in Stras, Werth, Zimm, Span and Rendon. They could all be back by the beginning of August, though there isn't a set timetable for anyone just yet. In theory that would be great but anyone that saw Werth and Zimm hit while they were "healthy" has to have reservations. After a strong start Span had hit an slappy .279 (.315 SLG) in his last 29 games. Rendon looked ok, but was failing to generate power. Strasburg looked good in his brief return but was really bad before that and the Nats have options at SP.

It's not hard to argue that having all these guys back may not actually help the team.

2) In the meantime, and after that, what to do about Desmond?

I like Ian and I don't think this is all about his skills eroding, so I think there will be bounce back, but there is no denying that he's been one of the worst offensive players in baseball for the past month and a half hitting .137 / .179 / .229 since May 29th.  That's a bat that is nearly impossible to keep in the lineup. There's an easy out if Rendon can ever come back healthy. As painful as it may be, sitting Ian for a Espinosa, Yuney, Rendon IF makes the most sense. But what if Rendon doesn't come back soon?

As long as the pitching remains strong, the Nats can carry Ian and that seems the likely scenario, but fans will be tempted by the do-it-all promise of Trea Turner sitting in AAA.

3) Any improvement to the bench?

If everyone comes back healthy and hits the Nats have a nice little bench there with Espinosa (let's say Ian is hitting in this scenario), Taylor, and Robinson along with the perfectly usable Lobaton. There's no need for another bat. But the opening phrase "if everyone comes back healthy and hits" is a pipe dream. So do they grab another bat in case everything stops falling in for Yuney and Danny cools and Robinson cools and they are left grasping at straws?

It's a difficult position for Rizzo, because you could be bringing in a guy that plays a couple weeks then rides the pine the rest of the year or he could be asked to bat 5th through the playoffs. The injury and play situations as it is right now leave both as distinct possibilities.  Trade big and you could waste a propsect. Trade little and you could waste a season.

4) What about the pen?

The Nats are having a devil of a time finding a bridge from starter to Storen. Going into July it looked like they were settling in on Janssen and Roark having major roles.  Which two relievers had the worst July? Roark (ok maybe not fair but true!) and Janssen. Every button Williams pushing ends up not working out. Perhaps that turns itself around by why not just give him a button that only ends up with success when you push it?

5) Can the rotation keep it up?

It was supposed to be potentially the best rotation ever, but it had a terrible time getting out of the gates. From Mid June through the holiday, however, the rotation put together a remarkable stretch that carried an offense that would start to falter again. It had a iffy last week before the break but if you ask baseball followers what they think they'd probably say that that run you saw was something that could easily be repeated. Will it though with Strasburg out and Fister yet to return to form (He and Roark put up the only non-good outings from the 19th of June to July 5th)?

6) Are the Mets legit threat or not?

This will be answered real soon as the Mets and Nats meet six times in the next 16 games. Just when you thought the Nats were pulling away, sweeping SF and putting 4+ games between them and the Mets with only unimpressive Cincy and Baltimore left before the break, they stumble and the Mets streak. The Nats have a dsitinct schedule advantage in the past two months. Outside of a 6 game LA/SF stretch in mid August and a STL series it's nothing but patsies and Mets from August on. Step on the Mets now and they should cruise. Let the Mets in and things may get interesting.

Yes, I will note at this point the Nats have improved to the point they could make the 2nd WC not winning the division, but who wants that?

Thursday, July 09, 2015

Rizzo's roster was imperfect but more than good enough, how will Rizzo's dealing be?

At this point in the injury train we have to stop blaming Rizzo for one thing and start questioning him about another.

It's time to stop blaming Rizzo for the roster construction. It's tempting to say the Nats should have players that are good enough to sub in for injured players over a long time but five injured players? Werth and Span in the OF, Zimm, Escobar and Rendon in the infield? I think it's completely fair to have one guy in the holster for each broad location, someone that can play a month or two. And the Nats had general plans in those cases (Espinosa and Taylor) that were passable. I think a team with injury risks (which the Nats arguably had at every position but shortstop) should also have a 2nd guy on the bench you don't feel bad about playing in shorter bursts. I didn't like the Nats make-up there initially (Moore? Uggla? denDekker?) but Clint Robinson has made himself decent player of this type.

In the pen - well it hasn't really cleared up. I don't like it but it's clear that a decision was made to see if Treinen, Barrett, Grace, etc. can become cheap decent long-term fill ins at the end of games, or maybe the injury returning Casey Janssen can be a steal of a pick-up and they were going to run with that basic idea. They ran through other cheap young options from the minors, picked up Carpenter as another steal attempt. You don't love it but the Thornton, Carpenter, Janssen, Rivero they've landed at is currently fine.

So maybe Rizzo could have used one more reliable bat, and definitely the team needed that 2nd dependable arm in the pen rather than going with Storen and the pen of crossed fingers. Great we can get on Rizzo about that next year if we want. But the Nats are in first and could cruise to the East division titile... as long as they don't screw it up. The "should have built a better X" time is passed. Now we come to the "Fix in trade" part of the season. And will Rizzo do anything?

What do I feel needs to be done? Get that bat needed, get that arm needed, of course. There are two goals for the next few months. One is trying to get the team into the playoffs. These moves may not be necessary to do that. Obviously the team that played last game may not make it but surely more good players will come back from injury than go away... right? Right? I still feel good about winning the division and hope you do to.

The other goal is to get the best possible team into the playoffs. To maximize your chances of winning, however small that maximization would be. It's here where I really think the Nats should get those players. The last two times in the playoffs the Nats went with the "damn the flaws, if we're good enough to get in then we're good enough to win" game plan. They didn't get out of the first round. As I've said before if they want the players to give 100% toward winning, I want to see the team give 100% to winning. Fix the flaws as best you can.

 People will say these fixes don't guarantee anything and they are right. They don't. Increasing your chance of winning a series from 35% to 40% is far from a guarantee. But dammit it's time to do this. To try as hard as you can across the board. If not now, when?

Monday, July 06, 2015

Monday Quickie

I'm in and out this week so forgive any short post you may see.

Nats are good. The rest of the east is bad. The only question right now is if the Mets can hold on over the next few weeks (thanks All-Star break) so those series of 6 games between the 20th of July and the 2nd of August matter (for the Nats - they'll likely matter for the Mets in some way). Strasburg's injury doesn't help (he looked fairly strong before it) but the Nats can cover one SP injury. It's two that kind of sets the mouse trap of losing in motion. I'd rather see Ross than Roark if Stras isn't expected to be gone long but either will work.

The offense still isn't together, nor should it be with Werth, Zimm and Rendon out. This is just a waiting game and then a watching game to see if those guys are any good after coming back. I'm not enthused based on how they were playing before but at least there is hope as opposed to a "maybe people who aren't good will get magically good" that other teams might have to rely on.

I could still see a move for a relief pitcher (won't happen because they aren't crashing and burning right now, Rizzo can't take on salary, won't part with pieces for a rental, sees RP as fungible) or a bat (won't happen because it's too expensive piece wise). The Nats are winning and can take the East will little help so I don't expect them to bother. Instead the injury returns will serve as the added pieces. Will that be smart? Don't know.

Thursday, July 02, 2015

Doug Fister

Fister was important to last year's Nats team, pitching very well.  Fister is a free agent after this year and all indications are that he is going.

No one seems to care.

Other than the "and Fister is really good" tag lines that follow discussions with anyone that half-follows the Nats, there is rarely any one talking about him. Why is that? Is it because he has only been here a year? Is it because he didn't turn down the Nats, they turned down him (or at least stopped talking to him)? I just find it curious that's all.

But really it's helpful because the Nats should not resign Doug Fister.  He'll be 32 next year. He's pitched one full season in the last three. His FB speed and strike out rates have been on a steady decline since 2012. Coming into this year he was a bad bet for anything more than a 2 year contract in my opinion.

Of course the question then for Nats fans is not is he going to be ok the next couple of years, it's is he going to be ok in 2015.  And... well I don't know.

Those concerning things coming into this year have all reared their ugly heads. He's been injured again. His FB speed is way down. His K rate is down again among the lowest of starters. Along with that his HR rate is up, his walk rate is up and his bread and butter, getting guys to hit ground balls, yeah that's not happening as much this year. 54.3% GBs in 2013, 48.9% GBs in 2014, 41.4% so far this year.

Of course it's only been 10 starts and this is only his third post injury return. He could just be revving up. Or he could have gone over the cliff we've mentioned occasionally with him.

What else can we say...
He's getting hit harder (Hard% 25.7% last year, 30.8% this year), they are pulling the ball more (40.9% -> 46.6%), he's relying on his FB was more than he used to (50.7% -> 63.7% -> 70.3%) , guys are making more contact (86.8% -> 88.8%) and missing the ball less in general (8.2% -> 6.1% -> 5.3%).

Basically it's mostly explainable by the lack of FB speed. He's throwing an easier to hit ball and guys are hitting it, harder. However some of these trends are more than just last year to this year. Why didn't we see more problems last year? Well he got guys to hit balls weaker, on the ground more, and had a better defense behind him. He may not have missed bats but he made their contact bad. Whether that was movement or pitch sequence, I don't know.

One thing I can tell you is that he's not leaving the ball up more often. He is more down in the zone than he might have ever been. Is he being too consistent and not spreading the ball around? Is he not being as good at pounding certain spots that worked before (outside to lefties, insider or low and away to righties)? That's possible but why fewer groundballs? I'm still thinking it's a speed thing, not a location one.

Wednesday, July 01, 2015

A tale of two FAs

We're getting dreadfully close to entering the dog days of summer early, aren't we? That's not really a complaint. The Nats' pitching rotation has come back to life carrying the rest of the uneven injury prone talent to first place and slowly pulling away from the rest of the maybe completely not good NL East. If the Nats don't stumble soon, I just don't see how the season can break any other way than winning the division.

That NL East sucking might be a topic you are tired of but it is probably going to be a sticking point for the rest of the year. The Nats are clearly good, dozens of prognosticators aren't wrong, but how good are they? Are they very good or are they just very good in comparison? Unless the Nats start dominating the non NL East competition (they are below .500 against them right now) this is going to hang over their heads until the playoffs. (And it'll be decided by the playoffs even though that's completely not a fair way to do it, win or lose)

But what are you going to do? The Nats have to deal with the hand that has been dealt to them so if they win the pot, we can't worry too much about whether they won it with a pair of 10s or with a flush. At least we can't worry about it in early July.  We'll look at the team come the All-Star break, see where they could improve through moves (even though none will probably take place). We'll look at the team come September and see how they are setting up for the playoffs. Until then we wait. (Hopefully - injuries can derail the best of trains)

Last night was a microcosm of the season for Jordan Zimmermann (7.2IP, 6 H 6K, 0BB last night) and Ian Desmond (0-4 4Ks), who both refused big, but below market, deals from the Nats in order to cash in on upcoming free agency. We should bear them no ill-will for these decisions as they both did what anyone would do. Not "trying to get paid!" but "trying to get paid fairly". However, things have fallen apart for Ian, while ZNN seems in line to get a big deal

Ian Desmond had a bad start to the season hitting .211 / .279 / .316 in his first 24 games. Really that isn't far off the typical off month for Ian but it was coupled with a crazy 9 errors in his first 20 games. It's harder to ignore an poor hitting month when you hurt the team in other ways too.  The next 24 games were actually really good for Ian (.309 / .337 / .495 with 4 errors) but hardly anyone noticed for several reasons. As far as the middle infield was concerned, Yunel Escobar had a fast start and continued to hit, while Danny was surprising everyone with his comeback. Mostly though Bryce turned into a monster and overshadowed everyone. So the "oh ok Ian is back to being normal" that should have happened never did. As soon as Bryce returned to mere mortal status, and we could pay attention to everyone else, Ian floundered again. That's actually putting it lightly. Ian started the worst slump of his career. He's hit .149 / .187 / .248 in the past 27 games. He may be righting the ship (he hit .123 / .163 / .173 for the first 22, .250 / .286 /.550 in the past 5), and his error clip has been normal the past 50+ games. but at this point as far as Nats fans are concerned he stunk, they looked away, and when they looked back he still stunk.  They are ready for a replacement. Difo and Turner are theoretical replacements and Rendon being healthy looms over the MI.

It's a difficult spot for Ian. I don't see any reason why he shouldn't get to play through it. His bat, if right, would be more influential than Danny (who's been slumping) or Yuney (who's been lucky) and the team should be comfortably ahead. But if the Nats want to prepare for a post-Ian world, why not sit him? Because it would show all your FAs to be and possibly coming in how you treat players? Possibly, but FAs are 99% motivated by money, so it's a small worry. Short of it - Ian better right himself before Rendon is back or he may not get that chance. He'll still make money, but the huge deal we thought he might get will have faded away.

As for ZNN everyone talked about his FB speed to begin the year. I wasn't sure why everyone cared that much. Sure it was slow, but outside a disastrous outing in Boston he still pitched well. Isn't that what matters most?  Well, as far as that's concerned it's been climbing ever since. Is it still down on the past few years? Yes. But it was almost 2 MPH slower in April, to a mile and a half slower in May, to less than a mile slower in June. Consequently we see the one worry area of his pitching (the K/9 numbers being low) getting better each month. Maybe this tells Jordan something about his Spring Training approach that needs to change as he ages but I have few worries about his arm. I have no worries about his ability to pitch. His control is as good as ever. His ability to keep the ball in the park is still great. The K's give him ace potential but even without it he's still a top of the rotation type pitcher. (Even shaking off rust he's 28th in the NL in ERA).

Short of it - Jordan is going to get paid. Of the deep FA class Samardzjia, Fister, and Latos are all having off years so far. Fister, Latos, and Cueto all have injury questions hanging over them. Cueto and Samardzjia could be dealt and in this day and age teams are more likely to wrap up acquisitions than go for 1 year rentals. This leaves Price, Greinke and ZNN as the likely top of the class. You really never know what Greinke will do but personally I'd be surprised if he leaves LA. He's pitched very well there after a mildly disappointing stint in Milwaukee. Price has a decent chance to stay in Detroit. Worst case ZNN ends up 4th on a list of FA guys, but the way I see it he'll likely be one of the top 2 available. That's a dump truck full of money situation.