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.