Nationals Baseball: I'm obsessed

Thursday, May 26, 2016

I'm obsessed

I don't know why I am obsessed with trying to define the Nationals position in baseball's pecking order but I am. I know they are good. The record says it. The runs scored and runs allowed say it. Just watching the team conveys that. But HOW good? 95 ish wins, normally an easy division winning total? 85 wins, normally a fighting for Wild Card total? I'd like to believe the former but I don't fully not yet.

There are two things working against the easy defining of the Nats. First is simply where we are time wise. At this point some teams define themselves by beating everyone in their path (Cubs) and others define themselves the opposite way (Twins, Braves). But for everyone else it's not that simple and how you are defined is in large part how you do against specific teams. Who are you beating? Who are you losing to?

The problem is though, if you are not defined, how exactly can we define the teams you are playing? Teams get lucky. Teams get unlucky. Sometimes you face all the good pitchers, sometimes you face all the bad ones. Sometimes you play teams when they are hot, sometimes you play them when they are cold. You expect that all to even out over a season, (you expect...) but over 50 games? It remains a question.

The other issue is that the league this year has several teams playing truly terrible baseball, but only one playing true great baseball. Three teams are currently playing at a 50 win pace and only one is winning at a 110 plus win pace* This is skewing the data to create more over .500 teams. Going into yesterday we had 18 teams .500 or better (17 today). So simply saying "Look at all the .500 teams we've played" doesn't necessarily mean you are playing teams better than average. The average has shifted up.

Bringing it back to the Nats the Nats have played roughly .500 ball (19-18) after they started the season 9-1. Some have noted that this is against a tough schedule that features one team under .500 (Twins). But what does that really mean?  When we look at records, the Cubs, as mentioned before are clearly great. The Twins clearly terrible. The Mets are very good. The rest? PHI, KC, MIA, STL, and DET are 12th - 17th (with LA sneaking in at 15th) in winning percentage. So that would suggest the Nats are doing ok (13-11) against ... good? above average? C+ B-?  teams

But is record the best indicator? What if we look at the pythag record that tries to estimate a teams wins and losses purely looking at runs? Nothing you can imagine changes about Cubs, Mets, or Twins. But the Cardinals look better, while Miami and KC drop a little and the Phillies (14-4 in one run games) look much worse. So the Nats would be doing ok against a mix that comes out as decidedly average.

What about SRS which tries to take into account strength of schedule with all the flaws noted so far? The Mets are no longer very good, merely good. However, STL is now a Top 5 team. But none of the other teams are above average so the Nats are beating up on not an average schedule but a below average one.

Of course during this whole time the Nats are being ranked too and that's what I keep coming back to. They are 5th in winning percentage, 3rd in pythagorean winning percentage, t3rd for strength of schedule. All of it agrees that the Nats are very very good.

Now what I want is that to translate to a nice long winning streak. Of course that isn't likely to happen soon. They face one across the board bad team between now and June 15th. They also play those darn Cubbies again. The other games are 6 vs the Phillies** (probably much worse than record), 4 vs STL (probably better than record), and 3 vs White Sox (probably at record - which would be like the Mets).  All in all... I guess .500 during this time would actually probably be ok?

I said earlier that not being bad mixed with the occasional hot streak makes a very good baseball team. That's true. But Nats have a schedule as a whole that really doesn't clump the good or the bad together. And right now are in a weird place with a super long stretch with no gimmes. A place where not being bad is all that is really asked for, and yet going say 55 games (a third of the season) playing .500 ball can't help but feel like... well like playing 55 games of .500 ball.

Other Notes

Just an aside but I noted yesterday on the Twitters that for May Bryce is hitting like 35% of his balls in play softly. That's bad. Like one of the worst for the month out of anyone with enough ABs. Like no one does that for a season bad. So it's not just bad luck with BABIP. The balls he's hitting shouldn't be hits a lot of the time.

*in another sense the Cubs winning percentage, if kept up for a year would be 15th best since 1900. The Red Sox, currently with the 2nd best W% in baseball, would be t 96th.  In contrast the Twins and Braves would be 6th and 7th worst and the Reds would be 39th worst. 

**You know what I blame the Phillies. If they were just losing like they should we could really hold that 2-4 record against them against the Nats. Stupid lucky Phillies.


Fries said...

Dusty really hurt me yesterday. In a game that everyone (at least on this blog) agrees is big psychologically - firmly planting the team as better than the Mets and giving momentum into another big series - Dusty throws Taylor and Heisey in the lineup. Just why? As soon as you saw that lineup you knew it was going to be 0 or 1 runs scored for the Nats (maybe you get lucky and have a couple homers). Roark had no chance. That game really knocked Dusty's WAMW.

Donald said...

Another reason why it's really hard to characterize the Nats is that a lot of their players are hard to characterize. It feels like almost the whole team is either playing way better or way worse than career or last year averages, that it's hard to tell if this is the new Ramos / Rendon / Werth / Zim / Gio / Roark or if they are going to revert to some mean. It seems like only Espinosa, Strasburg and Scherzer are right around where you'd expect.

If Ramos, Murphy, Gio and Roark revert to last year numbers the team is merely good. If Rendon, Harper, Revere and maybe Zim play up to expectations the team is very good.

Ole PBN said...

When you look at it this way - the Nats just need to maintain a 6-4 record over a repeating 10 game schedule. They'd finish up 97-65 on the year. Seeing it like that doesn't seem that out of reach, right?

On the lineup yesterday, I fully agree with Fries. If Harper needs a day off - do it when we're not facing a team like the Mets. A lineup like that, with Roark on the hill is a loss. I feel for Tanner as it seems every time we trot out a AAA lineup, he seems to be on the bump.

Josh Higham said...

I kind of like that Dusty goes big when he's sitting regulars, in that he almost always sends out the best 8 guys available, maximizing the team's chance of winning almost every day. He also does a pretty good job keeping the bench guys busy. Unfortunately the tradeoff is that we have days like yesterday that 2-4 (depending on how you feel about Werth/Zim and who is injured) guys we really want playing on the bench instead.

Since theoretically a win is a win and it doesn't matter who you beat as long as you have 90+ wins at the end, it makes sense to pull a Popovich and sit your best guys for "big games," (i.e. ones you're less likely to win) and hope you can surprise everyone in the playoffs by beating pitchers who've owned you all season, because suddenly you're throwing all your best guys at them at once.

However, I agree with Fries & co. that it's got to be demoralizing for the whole team, and especially for the pitcher when he gives up 1 ER and 1 Murphy Run and never has a shot at the win, because of a managerial decision combined with a tough opposing pitcher.

Donald said...

While I probably wouldn't have sat Harper yesterday, I have a hard time thinking it would have made a huge difference in the outcome, against a very tough left-handed pitcher. It's not like he's been lighting it up lately and in the one at bat he did have, he grounded out weakly. I'm willing to chalk up the loss to running into a hot, dominant pitcher more than blaming it on the manager.

G Cracka X said...

I'm not sure the reason for figuring out exactly what the Nats should be considered (OK, good, better than good, very good, etc.). I want them to win the division. Sure I'd rather them do it as a 'very good' team (say 96-98 wins like '14 and '12) so that they seed better in the playoffs. But if 89 ends up being good enough to take the division (likely not, but it could be), that'd be fine with me.

I'm OK with Taylor starting against a lefty. Dusty explained his logic behind sitting Harper. He looked ahead at the schedule and he didn't see any games in the near future that he wanted to sit Bryce for, so he chose yesterday. Since he's been cold for most of the month, we don't know how much of an impact starting him yesterday would have had on the end result. He did get an opportunity to do some damage in the 8th.

Nats are 2nd in MLB in team ERA, starter ERA, and reliever ERA. This seems due for (downward) correction. But the bats seem to be underperforming a little overall (Murphy nonwithstanding). Fangraphs agrees. They project the pitching to give up more than half a run a game for the rest of the season, while the offense is projected to pick up slightly. Of course, mid-season acquisitions could alter the equation.....

G Cracka X said...

@Donald agreed. Its scary that even with Harvey not performing well, the Mets still have Thor, Matz, and deGrom. All young and all very talented.

Zimmerman11 said...

I said lots of bad words, out loud, at work when I saw the lineup for yesterday's game. I agree wholeheartedly that with a chance to move the lead to 2.5 games, you don't rest your dudes vs the NYM... That was asinine.

That said, Bryce is hitting BELOW .200 for the month of May... with just 2HR. Joe Maddon really screwed us up.

DezoPenguin said...

The NL is weird this year, I agree. Going in, I thought there were three extremely well-defined levels of quality:

Good: WAS, NY, CHI, PIT, St.L, LA, SF

Maybe: MIA, ARI


Yet on the actual playing field, things are different. St. Louis has been meh. The Dodgers have been meh. The Giants started poorly, then turned into the Cubs. The Phillies have been winning games even though the peripherals say they shouldn't. The Rockies have played .500 ball. Arizona has been dragged down by injuries and surprisingly bad pitching. You could make an argument that the NL East is the best division in the league and not look like an idiot. And the Phillies, whatever their flaws, have two starting pitchers that could legitimately flirt with ace status. And it's all a muddle, particularly since if you can't figure out what's really going on with the league, you can't figure out where you stand in it. (For example, if the Nats hammer St. Louis again, is it because the Cardinals are a meh-at-best team, or because we're really good? Or just because our strengths match up really well with their vulnerabilities? If they beat us, is it because they're good and were just slumping early on, or is it because we were overperforming?)

The one thing I'm feeling fairly confident about is that Tanner Roark, now that he has a set position in the rotation again, is overall pitching like 2013-2014 were in fact his true talent level and 2015 was a blip caused by poor organizational use.

Vdub said...

I hate the media machine that wanted to lambaste Baker for benching Harper yesterday, and I disagree with anyone who thinks it was the wrong move. It is so easy to second guess based on results, but we don't have the results with Harper in the line up. As noted above, he is currently hitting like a 7th grade girl. Honestly his bat in the line up would probably have increased Matz's stikeout total. If Baker wants to give his struggling superstar a breather, I am all for it. If Ramos, Zim, Werth, & Rendon can't hit even a little bit against a tough lefty, I would not expect to win anyway. Baker's decision, likely but not provable, did not affect that game in the least.

Lets also remember to thank Terry Collins for not managing like Baker. We got to face a struggling Harvey twice. Two wins gifted to us because these series are too important to give a guy who obviously needs a breather any time off.

The important story from yesterday was that Roark was awesome. The fact that we were never out of that game was huge, and we almost had that 9th inning rally that we all love so much.

Now bring on the Cardinals, and hopefully the start of a nice win streak and end to Harper's slump.

Zimmerman11 said...

G Cracka... PLUS Zach Wheeler up at the ASB.

mike k said...

OH MAN HARPER YOU REFERENCED MY ARGUMENT!!! I FEEL SO VINDICATED. It doesn't matter that you just reared up and shat all over it. (Pun intended.) I'm still happy.

It's true that their "one and a half months of all teams above .500 except the Twins" schedule features mostly teams just barely above .500, and this in a way this is the new average because there are a handful of teams hogging all the losses and only the Cubs hogging the wins. But still, if you look at the teams they have played during this stretch, these are all average or higher teams, except for the Phillies, who are winning (and the timing of when you play teams can almost be as important as their actual talent). By June 15, they will have played all their games against both the Cubs and Cardinals, but none against the Pirates and Giants. I think these are the "good" non-NL-East teams in the NL, maybe the Dodgers, and you're less than halfway through the season. Meanwhile, they will have not played, at all, the Brewers, Rockies, Diamondbacks, Padres, and half their games against the Reds. These are the "bad" non-NL-East teams. So most definitely, June 15 is a pretty big cutoff date in terms of a harder, then easier schedule.

When you said "t3 for strength of schedule", did you mean they had the third hardest schedule, or they were the third best team after taking into account strength of schedule.

BornInDC said...

My unscientific analysis: When your "4th" and "5th" starting pitchers pitch like Tanner Roark did yesterday and Joe Ross did tonight, your team is going to be in a lot of games, even when the offense is not producing much. Plus this means the bullpen is staying well-rested.

If the pitching keeps up like this, it's hard not to see the Nats as at least a Wild Card team.

Harper said...

mike k - I wouldn't say I didn't agree with your argument. It was more like "we don't know" It's probably right. or at least effectively right. The Phillies probably such but the Cardinals probably are good and KC and DET are probably better than we think. and all in all it's probably an above average stretch. But the probablys keep me up... well maybe 5 minutes past when I usually go to bed. This isn't really a big deal.