Nationals Baseball: Under the surface

Friday, April 22, 2016

Under the surface

So the Nats win again and finish out the roadtrip 5-2 just like we... what was that?  They lost?

For the first time in 2016 the Nats failed to meet a target I set for a series. I wanted 3-1 for Marlins games. I got 2-2. Oh well. I really can't get worked up about this. They have plenty of cushion to lose a game. They went 4-3 on a road trip which is still pretty good. They are set up well, with a 3.5 game lead going into a six game homestand vs the not that bad anymore but still probably not good Twins team and a Phillies team they just beat in Philly. 4-2 is doable, which means the 15-6 mark I wanted a little more than a week ago is still doable. They could easily do better and even if they go 3-3, they are in a good spot. Really they'd have to go 2-4 to bother me.

Still that's not to say everything is perfect in Nats land. Max pitched a bad game yesterday. The worst of the season. He has yet to throw up a great game and has yet to really face a good offensive team (Marlins sans Stanton can't count).  Part of this is return to form. Here are his walk rates, first strike %, and swinging strike % from recent years

2011 : 2.58, 62.2, 9.9
2012 : 2.88, 61.4, 12.4
2013 : 2.35, 64.5, 12.2
2014 : 2.57, 63.3, 11.8
2015 : 1.34, 71.3, 15.3
2016 : 2.88, 60.2, 10.2

Now which year looks most like an outlier? It's not 2016, is it? It's 2015.

Of course that's not to say he's going to be bad, or that even the results we've seen to this point are going to continue. We was very very good with those numbers in 2014 and 2013. He won a Cy Young for god's sake. His HR numbers are a little high but he's not getting hit particularly hard. Instead he's not getting good results with men-on / RISP. Is that something bigger or just a fluke? I'm willing to bet on the latter.

The whole thing with Max (and Bryce) at the start of the year was that last year was so phenomenal they could take a step back and still be really good. This is what we are likely seeing with Max. 2015 was peak Max, now we're going back to regular Max. What does that mean? It means a 3.20 ERA guy, WHIP about 1.000. Still a winner, still a number one type, just not the amazing pitcher of last year.


Moving on , here are some numbers for you 2, 3, 58, 64, 73, 95, 96. Can you guess what those are? Ok that's not a fair question but I bet you understand what they are showing. This is the offensive component of WAR rankings for Bryce, Murphy, Werth, Zimm, Rendon, Espy, and MAT. This is out of 98 qualified NL batters. So simply put the Nats have two of the best offensive players in the National League this season and two of the worst.  Meanwhile a big chunk of their line-up is also performing well below average. (since you'll ask Ramos slots in at 39)

I talked about it yesterday but this is a precarious situation. When Murphy stops hitting like this, if Bryce cools down a bit, the Nats don't really have an offense to speak of. Those two guys have been carrying the team.

The bigger problem is that what exactly is the surprise here, the thing that simply can't go on? It's Murphy. He's not going to hit .400. He's not going to go from a 115 OPS+ type to a 200 OPS+ type. Maybe the Nats get his best year and he's something like 140-150 OPS+, kind of a better version of what they got with Escobar last season. That's possible. But this good, no. Otherwise...

Is Werth a surprise?  No. He's a 37 year old recovering from injury matching exactly his production from last year.
Is Zimm a surprise? Maybe a little, but he's a perennially injured 31 year old who's trended down offensively the last 3 seasons.
Is Rendon a surprise? Maybe a little, but he's also perenially injured and currently recovering.
Is Danny a surprise? No. He was god awful three years ago and hasn't exactly been good since.
Is MAT a surprise? No. He was bad last year before the league had a book on him.

All in all there isn't anything here that HAS to change. There are certainly things I would bet on changing. Rendon is young enough that he should be able to bounce back from injury. It's doubtful Danny is this terrible. All in all I'd probably bet on all of them getting better. But none of it is like Murphy. They don't have to happen. It's not inevitable they get much better. Now this would be a terrible roll of the dice, rolling snake-eyes on each of these players, but that's a possibility. Unlikely but possible.

What to think? Well the Nats are winning so that affords them the great luxury of time. Taking them singularly Werth, Rendon, and Zimm should be afforded at the very least the entirity of April (which is 8 more games or basically 50% of what they've played so far - so big swings are possible), and more reasonably until Mid May before any judgment really is laid down. Espinosa was simply keeping the spot warm for Turner so if the Nats keep winning he can hold down the spot until that service time milestone is reached. Turner seems to be doing fine in AAA and should be ready. MAT was always to be in a time split situation with Revere so as soon as Ben is ready he'll play a lot less. But MAT has that time (a week?) to change our perception of what needs to be done.

The Nats have gotten away with having a quarter of their offense be an absolute hole and over 50% be well below average. A couple of super hot players and great pitching have kept them winning a bunch of games.That's great! But it's not a plan for a season. Murphy will cool down. A couple of these guys, or their replacements, are going to have to start hitting. They have ~ 3 weeks to do so or until the Nats start losing a bunch of games, whichever comes first. Let's hope it's the 3 weeks.

29 comments:

Sammy Kent said...

Yesterday's game encapsuled my biggest frustration with the Nationals over the years. Five moderate pitchers combine for a gotdang two hitter, while Marcell Ozuna hits a pretty darn good Max Scherzer pitch into the seats for a three run dinger, and the game, it turns out, is over after inning number 1. You have to have guys that can either fight off or actually hit good, tough pitches and generate some offense. Ozuna did that. Ichiro Suzuki did that. The Nats have never had that, and still don't.

They can hit bad pitching, tired pitching, below average pitching, or pitching mistakes. But it doesn't have to be great pitching to beat them. The Nationals can make a bunch of frickin' average pitchers having a good day look like Jake Arieta. Except for Bryce Harper the last season and this one, and Daniel Murphy right now (and who knows if he'll be able to maintain), the Nats have never had the kind of batting acumen to enable them to win a game or even score a run against a guy that just hits his spots and keeps the ball down.

Home for three against the Twins, then three against the Phillies. Crazy early season schedule. This is our first game against non-Eastern Division teams.....and it's not even a National League team. It goes without saying we better win both these series. We may need to, just to stay ahead in the division. The first road trip is going to really tell the tale on whether this team is the real deal or not. Three at St. Louis, three at Kansas City, and four at the Cubs. I hate to say it, but if history is any indication, we could leave Washington with a five game lead and come back home in second place.

Sammy Kent said...

Obviously, I meant the "next" road trip. Duh.

Chaz R said...

Every time I read Sammy's posts I want to go cut my wrists.

The offense is not great to start the year, aside from BRYCE and Murph. I agree it's more likely Rendon and Zim get better rather than worse or staying at mediocre. Murph will certainly cool down a bit, but Revere will be back and likely help the offense. Even if the pitching doesn't stay this good, they are likely to be decent. Hopefully that will be enough to edge the Mets!

Harper said...

Sammy - I don't know. Are you saying, for example, 2014 Rendon, 2013 Werth weren't this types of hitter? Certainly for Werth, one of his biggest plusses is the way he works a count. It's a shame that he's breaking down but I can't say the Nats never hit pitching like that, or better said, that they are any worse hitting pitching like that than any other team. I mean they've been 6th or better in RS since 2012. Unless they KILL every other type - they hit these pitcher on his game like every other team. Not good.

It's kind of the "our coach can recruit but he's not a good in-game stratgist" argument. Like 90% of fans thinks something like that, but that can't be true 90% of the time. I imagine 90% of baseball fans think their team is especially prone to being beat by mediocre pitchers having a good day.

I think what's true about the Nats is (1) their non-Bryce/Murphy players are hitting terribly now - against everyone (2) the Nats have always pushed aggressiveness which means a pitcher having a good day is going to get through the team pretty quickly. Probably just as effectively as any other team but maybe a few batters deeper, certainly with a feeling of cruising, just because the way the Nats approach the game. That's not to say Nats approach is wrong. It was bad 15 years ago but now with middle relief being much better than it was there might be something said about attacking the starter when you can.

Anyway I'm rambling. I do agree that road trip will help clarify what kind of team the Nats really are.

Chaz F - 147 game season with a 3.5 game lead. Should be enough

Anonymous said...

Sammy - take a look at Toronto. Outside of Bryce and Murphy (right now), I'd take their starting 9 over ours any day. Bautista, Encarnacion, Tulowitzki, Donaldson, Pillar, Russell Martin, Saunders, etc. What has that gotten them? 8-9 record so far. And if it weren't for Texas committing one of the most epic meltdowns in playoff history last year, Toronto wouldn't have advanced further than the Nats ever have.

Pitching wins, plain and simple. A minor league-level arm can have his day and beat the best team in the league every once in a while. If you treat the MLB season like the NFL - you're in for multiple strokes and a lot of disappointment. At their best, the Nats may lose 60 times... 60 TIMES! And some by blow-out proportions.

My only complaint so far is Taylor leading off and Rizzo betting on Zimm to be the Manny Ramirez to Ortiz for Bryce. He whiffed on that. Outside of this - Nats look good and I couldn't be happier with first place :)

Mythra said...

Zim hasn't hit his 6 weeks of a streak yet. It'll happen, and then he and BRYCE will punish teams for a while. Not high on Werth being anything but a .260-275 hitter with waning power. He's gonna have to adjust to 2-3 ABs a night and getting replaced in double switches when we have a lead. Rendon is not horrible. He is getting nothing to hit because MAT isn't on base like Revere would be. MAT needs to take a page from Span's book and stand in the box for a bullpen session from a starter. Span did that a few years back when his timing was in between on fastballs and offspeed, which is where MAT clearly is now. Stand behind a screen while 98 is whistling in and go through the stride. All that said, it'll be mid-May before Revere is in game form again.

The bullpen has been a great improvement this season so far. I don't think that is a fluke. A couple nervous opening day jitters, but they have held leads and guys are slotting in well. Petit fills the long relief slot well. Ross, Stras and even Gio have looked good. If Roark keeps getting blown up every 5th day, that's a concern. But there are options out there (Arroyo, if he recovers, or Giolito once service time is up)

Just have to keep winning more often than the Marlins and Mets. Schedule helps, but that road trip will be a good test.

Donald said...

I'm worried about that rough road trip too. But in reality, good teams should win series at home, so if the Cards and Royals take 2 out of 3 from the Nats, it's not really an indication that the Nats aren't as good as they seem this year. Ideally, they'd split 2-2 against the Cubs, but that'll be tough too given how well they are playing. So for me, 4-6 would be a successful trip against those teams. 3-7 would be disappointing, but maybe expected. Anything worse and it would set off some red flags. Anything better than 4-6 would be a huge boost for the team's chances.

What do you think? What would rate a success or failure on that tough trip?

JC said...

Right now Danny, MAT and Werth are making it seem like our starting line up has 4 pitchers batting. It is hard to string together runs when we are giving away outs. Heavy reliance on the long ball at this point. MAT really needs more time in AAA to figure out how to get the strike out rate down or he cannot be a reliable bat.

G Cracka X said...

If Trea Turner gets called up, how will they make room for him? After the service time requirement, will they wait to call him up until someone gets injured?

Anonymous said...

G Cracka:

How will they make room for him?

That's probably the easiest question ever.

Have den Dekker go back to AAA once Revere is healthy

Harper said...

Donald - I think I agree, 4-6 or better would be a success. 3-7 might be a problem though - depends on how competitive they are. Lose a bunch of close games and that's ok. Get blown out and get a couple lucky wins and you start to wonder especially if that's the way it goes in Chicago. Right now it's Cubs and Nats so you want to go toe to toe with them. It's still possible to do that and go 1-3 though. Seems like a low bar - "Well played 3-7 is acceptable" but this is probably the hardest 10 game stretch they'll have all year.

GCX - This is one of the "worry when we get closer to it" things as they have a tendency to work themselves out. I'd say if it was TODAY. denDekker would go back down. if it was post-Revere and all these stats are the same you might actually see Taylor go back down. just guessing though. Robinson gives them corner OF flexibility to only keep Heisey up. Bryce can play CF if needed in an emergency

Bryceroni said...

Nats need another revere quality outfielder. Doesn't really matter what their skill set is (power, contact, patience w/e), just needs to be a legit 1-2 war MLB player.

A couple names in the range I'm talking about are Gregor blanco and Gerardo parra.

Bjd1207 said...

@JC - Werth is not in a category with MAT/Danny. Those two are hitting at pitcher level. Werth, while still underperforming is now hitting about like Zim and better than Rendon.

MAT and Danny are the gaping holes, and Revere and Turner are the solution. The waiting is the hardest part (someone write that down, would make a good song lyric)

JE34 said...

@JC and @BJD: funny thing is, the pitchers are hitting at better than pitcher level. The pitchers combined are hitting .200 (6 for 30, plus three walks).

Ric said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Ric said...

What bjd1207 said. After a horrendously (and expected) slow start, Werth is hitting .259 in his last eight games.

We shouldn't be in panic mode; at least not concerning Jayson.

Hursty said...

And Murphy stays hot! I'm really glad he isn't playing for the Mets right now.

Sammy Kent said...

Good win last night for Gio. Finally got some run support before running out of gas in the 7th. He was absolutely dominant innings 1-6. I have to give SlowPoke Defensive Liability Jayson Werth some kudos for making two really nice back-to-back plays on defense, robbing one batter of a homer and another of at least a double, possibly a triple if the ball gets by him. Add a dinger on top of that, and he's Co-Player Of The Game.

Here's hoping Tanner gets it together today. Would love to take the first two, because Dusty has already said Bryce and a couple others are probably getting tomorrow afternoon off.

Sammy Kent said...

Saturday Afternoon.

Let the record show Ryan Zimmerman just did what I've been talking about. He hit a really good, well-placed pitch on the ground up the middle to score two runs with two outs. That makes me very happy. Tanner has some runs now. Great stat the TV guys showed: the Nats have scored more runs in the first inning this season than any other team has scored in any other inning. Add two to that number.

John C. said...

Here's Harper's take, in a nutshell: OK, things look good, but if bad things happen they will be bad.

Yeah, Murphy isn't likely to be this good (he isn't this good). But as he comes back to Earth others are likely to come around. What is really driving the Nats' train at this point is the pitching, which outside of Scherzer has been really, really good. The bullpen has been solid, and Strasburg, Gio and Ross have been GREAT.

Robot said...

@Sammy Kent - Looks like Tanner got it together.

Fantastic outing

Josh Higham said...

@Mythra I don't know what you mean about Roark getting blown up every 5th day. He had the home opener interrupted by rain, throw that out. Then at the time of this comment, one below average but not dreadful outing and a really good one. Add in today's K show and he's had two great starts, one flukey bad one and one normal, clearly his fault bad one. I'll take that from a back of the staff guy on a cheap contract.

DezoPenguin said...

@Josh: Yeah, Roark's spent April being the San Francisco Giants of pitchers: godlike in even-numbered starts. I'll take that out of my fifth starter, please and thank you (especially since he's already had two starts this year better than anything he did last year, which makes me hope for a more 2014-like year out of him).

The important thing is, we're taking advantage of the soft early-season schedule to rack up the wins that we should get. After all, every game we blow to the Braves or Twins is one that we can't afford to lose to the Mets later on.

Revere getting healthy is pretty important, given the question of Werth's health and general age-related malaise and MAT's ongoing batting issues. He doesn't have anything like Taylor's glove, but if Taylor can't hit at all then Revere will be worlds better. (I still think MAT's upside is 2015 Kevin Pillar, which I would be ecstatic with, but he has to hit the ball once in a while. A .230 average and .300 OBP makes him an asset, particularly with his speed and defense.)

Werth does seem to be waking up, Harper is still awesome, Murphy will likely come back to Earth but he's still likely to be consistently good with the bat, and Ramos...you know, when a guy stinks on ice, has eye surgery in the offseason, and is immediately good on his return, I think there just may be something to it. Even Espi is starting to show a little bit of improvement.

Flapjack said...

Since 2013, Roark has been a cypher: sneaky good when no one was suspecting it; stinky bad when we expected more. Then there was yesterday, when he had stuff, real stuff. Precision and movement on four pitches, all of them + to ++ (though Dusty had him throw too many, in my view.) Too early to say whether this was an inflection, but it's the kind of sign you'd hope for at this point in his career. One measure of Roark's worth to the team can be found in the $10MM+ back-of-the-rotation innings-eaters like Jackson, Haren and Colon make in the FA market. The good teams, the ones that compete year in and year out, find guys like Roark and Ross, whose measure then is reflected in financial flexibility in other areas... as in finding a mid-season replacement for MAT, who is showing a regrettable lack of nerve. (It seems Rizzo was right to have nibbled at Heyward and Cespedes.)

The apparent maturation of Straus and Gio bodes well. Worth, Rendon and Zimm are all likely to gear up. Ramos feels like he is taking a step up, both on the field and as a team leader (if this keeps up, re-signing him could be important). So I'm feeling good about the upcoming stretch against winning teams. A nice result puts us on track for 95 wins.

BxJaycobb said...

Here's what I think is likely rest of year:
1. Rendon is going to pick it up. Not like 2014, and not nearly as many homers, but he'll end up hitting more doubles and getting on base at a .340-ish clip instead of his current .300-ish clip.
2. Harper and Murphy will cool off (Harper a bit with people walking him more, and Murphy a lot)
3. Willy will be cool off a bit as well.
4. But our gaping holes in CF and SS will be filled in next 1-2 months--not with beasts, but there's a big difference between below replacement level production and average offensive production. And for CF and SS, average on offense is what revere and Turner will be (it's crazy how bad the average offensive SS is).
5. I'm MUCH less concerned about Werth who I was pretty sure was 100% finished...as in...cannot turn around a fastball. I think he's capable of being about an average offensive force in LF (or slightly below avg).
6. I just don't know about Zim.

Froggy said...

Yesterday's 6-5 win was the craziest yet most fun game I've been to since Werth's walk off HR in 2012.

I believe in Dusty now.

Ric said...

@Froggy:

I was at the game also. (And my gf stayed all 16 innings!)

I thought Dusty made quite a few questionable moves. Maybe not awful, but here are things I would have done differently. For instance, the first batter he faced in the seventh, he was still throwing 94 mph, but seemed to struggle. He was "overthrowing" and the pitches were missing badly. He looked very tired. I would have pulled him two batters before that monster shot that took him out of the game.

I think I understand why he waited, but why not pinch run for Ramos right away? He had him stay in as a runner on second base for one additional batter, THEN lifted him for Espinosa. I would have made the switch immediately.

I'm sure this last one is argued all over the place, but he should have kept Harper in the game. I know he says he "promised" Harper that if he pinch hit, he wouldn't be left in the game because it was is day off. But really? I'm sure Harper wanted to stay in. Monday is a day off also. That just seemed silly.

I don't believe in Dusty yet. I think he is an upgrade. But I'm not willing to anoint him yet.

Froggy said...

@Ric
I'm not saying it's all Dusty either, but I do feel like the guys are a lot looser and seem more relaxed in the dugout than under Ol' Paint By Numbers Matt Williams.

And I agree that he should have lifted Strasburg after the second basehit. On the other hand Stras grooved Dozier a fastball and on the previous pitch (a FB) Dozier hit it to the left foul pole. Something low and away or a change would have probably fooled him or worst case loaded the bases.

Ric said...

@Froggy: "Guys are a lot looser and seem more relaxed in the dugout." That's what they said at the end of 2014 when they named Matt Williams MOY.

Regarding Strasburg probably fooling Dozier with a different pitch: Dozier had hit the ball hard all three previous at bats against Strasburg. That alone was reason to lift him, seeing he was at 110 pitches also.