Nationals Baseball: Nats are healthy and good and healthy

Thursday, June 16, 2016

Nats are healthy and good and healthy

The only real stain on the Nats season so far, the only thing you could say had gone really wrong, was when, in early May the Cubs swept the Nats out of Chicago. The games were mostly competitive. The gap between the teams didn't seem all that large. But still, as we say here "a sweep's a sweep" and the Nats seemed to be a step behind the Cubs. For a team wanting to make an impact in the playoffs that seemed important.

Now of course there's a 100 games between now and October and a lot happens in 100 games. So did it really matter? No. It's very likely two slightly different teams would be facing off in the fall, if they even met. But a win now would quell the inevitable "Nats can't beat Cubs" story beats that would carry from now till season's end. Not only the Nats win a game, they won a series, and put the whole thing back to where it probably should be. The Nats and Cubs are both very good teams. The Cubs may have a slight edge. Let's see this series!

For those of us (re: Me) looking for the Nats to define themselves they have in June. They took 6 out of 9 games in a road trip, followed by winning 5 of 6 at home. They beat great teams at home (Cubs), good teams on the road (White Sox) crushed the season of a previously lucky team, now flailing (Philly) and ok, had a hiccup (Reds).  That happens. They are a great team.

This isn't a team firing on all cylinders. The starting pitching has been hit or miss during this time. The pen has had a couple misfires.  Ryan Zimmerman died and no one noticed.  But it's a team that is very healthy and teams that are healthy win games. Being healthy lets the assembled talent shine through and Rizzo assembled a pretty good team. Murphy, Espinosa, Rendon, Bryce, Werth, Ramos are all in line to play full seasons. Zimm would currently be in line for a little less than that, in part thanks to missing games due to the birth of a child. Revere has been back for over a month now. The bench has been stable as well. Scherzer, Strasburg, Gio, Ross and Roark have made every start so far for the team. The Nats have only used 8 relief arms.

Is it Rizzo? Is it Dusty? Is it luck? Probably a bit of all three. Rizzo has spent each offseason making the Nats better (other than 2012-2013 where he rode a bench that could not possibly repeat it's performance) It's been mostly tweaks here and there with the occasional Scherzer, but tweaks matter. Drew, Heisey, Robinson, Taylor vs Moore, Lombo, Tracy, Bernadina? It's a better team top to bottom in 2016 then it was in 2015 than in 2014 than in 2013.  That's Rizzo.

I'm not convinced that Dusty has helped the Nats arms stay healthy. They have a pretty long history now of being so (betting on young arms is a big part of that) and both Davey and Matt presided over healthy staffs. And like many of you I wonder how the rotation will hold up down the stretch*. However, I'd be inclined to say Dusty might be helping getting these bats back after injury. Letting them play, rotating in some bench guys, always working advantages to give players the best chance at succeeding. Dusty was a batter, he knows what he needed. He is playing with a lot of veteran guys, no starter not playing in at least his 4th major league season, and 6 starters in their 7th year or more.** This is an offense made for a guy like Dusty.

Is it luck? Sure. Of course. Healthy can be planned for but injuries happen. We've seen dives into bases, running into walls, running into players, bad hops, all take out players. The Nats can work to avoid the repetitive injuries, lessen the chances of injuries due to age, or use. But they can only do so much and can't avoid the flukes. So far so good.

The Nats were built to be a very good team and luck has been on their side so they can show that. You can't really ask for more.

*don't call me worried - call me curious. I think staff can go harder and longer than they are given, but I also worry about staffs trained a certain way for years might need a bit more... ramp up.  Of course I might also say damn the torpedoes - blow these arms out - get a title. 

** Also Lobaton, Heisey, and Drew are at that level of experience. Robinson is at the 4th year level, but is 31. Really only MAT is young and relatively inexperienced. 

26 comments:

Carl said...

I for one like the confidence Dusty has shown in the starters, and the willingness to extend them. That's not always the right strategy (see "Prior, Mark"), but for this team at this time it seems to be. Aside from Ross there's nobody who I'm worried about ruining their arm from overuse, and aside from Gio (sometimes) there's nobody who makes me say "Get him out of there NOW, I trust the bullpen more than the starter to get this next out." Sure, there will be exceptions, and when Giolito gets here that method could be harmful. I was skeptical of the Dusty hire at first, but clearly he's the right guy for THIS team.

Also, Jayson Werth is freakin' awesome.

Alex Freeman said...

Harper, do you see any deals the Nats might make before the deadline? Looking at this team top to bottom, there's really not any places where a trade can upgrade them. Werth was playing poorly, now he's back to his career norm. His spot is certainly safe. Revere is heating up as well, giving us a solid 1-2 combo at the top of the order provided they both stay healthy. SS was a huge debate point a couple weeks ago and I was on the "All for Trea Turner" team...until Espinosa started hitting .300 and popping one over the fence every other night. So lineup wise I see no moves that could help. Starting pitching shouldn't even be mentioned. Everyone seems to want to replace Papelbum but he's not terrible (yet) and any deal to replace him would be extra costly. Maybe we can get Chapman but how much would that cost? I see Rizzo riding this team out the rest of the year

Mythra said...

I see one or two moves by Rizzo, based on how the wind is blowing at the deadline. Certainly an ice in his veins relief sort that can take the mound during middle innings. Maybe he realizes that Petit is that guy and we see him used more than just as a long relief guy. But I see someone at the deadline that makes the question marks on Solis and Trienen less of a problem come October.

I also see Rizzo maybe making a deal for an impact bat. Yes, Werth is back to norms, but the first two months showed some age and worries. And with Zim disappearing again at the plate, I think he goes after a LF/1B impact bat under control for '17 or '18. Suppose it all depends on who is selling and what the asking price is. But I could see him trading for someone hitting .300 and can play LF and 1B.

Kenny B. said...

I, for one, will continue to write Werth's epitaph.

He so terrible at baseball. What a giant waste of money he was. He'll never be as good as he was with the Phillies. Can't even be bothered to cut his hair or shave. What a lazy bum. Get him out of the lineup and get somebody in there who can actually play.

G Cracka X said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
G Cracka X said...

How much impact has the new medical staff had on helping the Nats stay healthier this year vs. previous years? Is this just a 'correlation without causation' thing?

TWV said...

I know everything seems to be looking up now, but let's not overreact just because we took 2 of 3 from the Cubs without Arrieta and Lester on a wild extra innings walk-off win. Zim right now is a major hole in the lineup. I'm still optimistic that he can turn it around and be respectable, but he is running out of time IMO. Also, I know Werth and Espi are hitting well NOW, but just 2 or 3 weeks ago, most of us were saying they were done. The previous concerns just don't vanish after a couple of good weeks. Players go on hot and cold streaks all the time, we can't just assume the whole team will be on a heater the rest of the year. The starters have been great and the bullpen has been above average to good. As Harper said, a lot of this can be attributed to luck. I think we have a great team, but just because we've had a good stretch doesn't mean we can't improve. Personally, I'd use Espinosa's hot streak as trade material and see what we can get for him. I do think we need another good bullpen arm and a more reliable contact bat. I don't think any major changes are in order, but I don't think leaving the team alone is the correct move either.

I've been reading this blog for a while, but only recently started commenting, so feel free to let me know if I'm out of line, but we as a fan base seem to be falling into the typical DC fan attitude of getting too hot and too cold. We still have almost 100 games to go.

As always, great work, Harper!

Chas R said...

I could definitely see a move for a middle or late innings reliever, but I don't know who you would send down- Solis? He's pitching pretty good. Belisle? He just got back. I'd love to see them get Colome from the Rays, or if Houston ends up being Sellers getting Will Harris. Both of them are young, cheap, and under control for years. No way I see them paying high for big time impact bat. That would mean sitting Werth and/or Zim- ?? No way, especially with Werth hitting well now and Zim had hit well prior to the paternity leave. The bench is very good this year too, who would godown to make room? No way.

Bill Hicks said...

Chas R - I don't expect to see a deal for a reliever until much closer to the deadline--there just are not enough teams who are truly out of the running yet. That said, Belisle is highly expendable. He's 36, and his career ERA is 4.33.

I agree with you about the bats. Given that Werth and Zim are the two highest paid position players, they would have to be sub-Mendoza line or injured to lose their starting positions via trade. Werth also gave the Nats a salary concession, deferring money to (hopefully) after the MASN mess is sorted out so the Nats will have trade flexibility this year. I doubt he would do that just to end up on the bench.

You are also right about the bench, which is another reason why barring injury we won't see Turner anytime soon. Which is okay given that while Espinosa has been on a tear, Turner is slashing .214/.267/.286 in 10 games since his return to Syracuse.

Fries said...

@ Chas

I have to think any deal for a reliever would have the Nats sending one of the current bullpen arms to the other team. That introduces a whole new can of worms with who'd get traded. If you want someone "high impact" (like a Chapman), you're probably going to have to cough up a reliever with a bit of team control left (Solis is my bet). But who knows

Clip&Store said...

Lollzz. Don't forget how terrible he is in the clutch!

Ric said...

@TWV, "I know everything seems to be looking up now, but let's not overreact just because we took 2 of 3 from the Cubs without Arrieta and Lester on a wild extra innings walk-off win."

I agree in general that most forums go too high or too low on a team on any given moment. But in this particular case, I think you are lowballing. Most people here aren't on a high because of 2 of 3 from Cubs. I think optimism is warranted because we have the second best record in baseball. If you can't be high on your team 40% of the way into a season when everything is finally clicking, when can you?

And you bring up Zim being a major hole in the lineup. After having multiple holes in the lineup for the first 50 games, it is good to have only one hole. (That reads bad; heh!) Most teams would love to have that be the most glaring problem in the clubhouse.

There's a lot to be hesitant about. The moderator has a reputation for being a pessimist (I think he is just more a realist). But I think a few days of optimism this deep into the season when pitching is at the top of the league and batting is improving isn't a concern. And I haven't read a single comment insinuating that we don't have room to improve. Just the opposite.

Kenny B. said...

The only other thing this post needed was a WAMW update. OP gets at the general benefit of Dusty, but I want a number. Anybody who watches more often than me want to run a solid WAMW estimate?

Ric said...

I don't have a WAMW estimate. But Dusty putting Belisle in the save situation, his first day back, over Kelley, was confounding. Only person who agreed with that move was Papelbon.

Chas R said...

WAMW would be hard to compute. I think Dusty has about buried Ol' PBN.

TWV said...

Ric,

Maybe I am lowballing a little bit. Don't get me wrong, I love the fact that we are on pace for 100 wins. But as you say, everything is clicking now. I don't expect this to continue for the rest of the season.

The type of comments I'm referring to aren't "we have no room to improve" per se, but when it comes to the topic of Espi vs Turner in particular, general consensus seems to go back and forth from one week to the next. A few weeks ago, most seemed to agree with the idea that Turner would help the Nats more than Danny overall. Now that Danny is hitting, the general consensus is that we should stick with Danny and leave Trea in AAA. Are we going to change our minds again when (not if, it's going to happen) Danny slumps?

As for who would we send down, do we really need Belisle that bad? Or Drew? I know Drew has had a few clutch hits lately, but those are flukes if you ask me. They've been great, but it would be dangerous to expect that kind of production from him. If we acquire a bat and/or an arm before the deadline, those are my first two picks to be sent down or released.

Maybe you're right that I need to just sit back and enjoy it. I swear I'm not usually this pessimistic. I work with a few Mets fan who have already taken to crowning the Nats NL East champs in an effort to jinx us, so maybe I'm just trying to make sure I don't fall into the trap of taking it for granted.

I'll stop being a wet blanket and try to enjoy this more. As you say, if I can;t be high on them now, then when?

GO NATS!

Mitch said...

Forgive me if this has been covered recently, as I haven't visited in some time...

Is it time to start worrying about Bryce Harper? He's had a pretty significant power outage for a pretty significant amount of time. Just wondering what others are thinking...

SB said...

@ Ric - I was also very confused with the Belisle choice in the 9th, particularly with Kelley available. I haven't heard if Dusty or others have actually addressed that decision, but my only thought is that he figured he was "easing" him back in because he was only going to pitch to one batter, with Perez coming in for the lefty next. I'm would argue a high-leverage situation against one of the best hitters in the game is not a good situation for someone just back from injury, but I could see that being the explanation.

@ Mitch - I've been worried about Harper for a while now, even though he did have a bit of a streak on the most recent road trip. He's still talking walks and hitting enough to not be a problem, but I think someone commented yesterday whether 2012-2014 Harper was more the "norm" and last year / this April were more the anomaly. We obviously have seen what can happen when he gets hot, and he's still contributing more than enough, but he hasn't been BRYCE in a while...

Harper said...

Carl - I agree I'd like to see Ross pulled back some. The rest - let them go 110. I think they should be able to handle it. Should is good enough.

Alex - given success I agree with some below comments. I think they wait until All-Star break and see where they are. It's a month away. Maybe someone goes down. Maybe Zimm gets hot. Don't want to jump too early and Nats have the cushion to wait now.

GCX - It's hard to say bc honestly the Nats are generally healthy. I think 2012-2014 all had them with better than average health if not more. This is really something you have to look at over multiple years.

TWV - The Nats can improve but improving from average to good is hard (and good to great is very hard). Espy is average now. Maybe he skirts a little below that but improving from him will be costly because the quality of player that must replace him to ensure improvement. Zimm is bad now so that's the spot to go after... assuming he stays bad for another month.

Chas R - good Q, that's why you wait. Something will make itself clear I bet.

Ric/TWV - I do like to think I'm realistic. I think the Nats are just in a really good position right now. Lots of health. 2 out of 3 injury concerns gone away. Roark putting behind any doubts that he might be ok in 5th role. Espy showing he can likely hang for a season again. Ramos having a career year. Can the Nats improve? Yes. But i think its more prudent to use this cushion to wait it out. The worst thing that the Nats can do is spend some prospects to possibly slightly improve at a position (say an Espy to Asdrubal type move) only to have say Gio go down with TJ in July. The Nats are in a good place. They can id issues and also wait those issues out.

KB - +2

Mitch - if you are a a Bryce Harper is the BESTEST type - yes worry. I don't like this for the 1st ballot HOF type talk we were spouting early in the year. If you are just wondering if the Nats need this guy to step up. Don't worry so much. He's off and still useful.

mike k said...

Don't forget Dusty started warming up Belisle + Perez when it was still a tie game. Up by one you can use Kelley to get one batter, but tied, when the game is likely to go to extra innings, that would be insane. IMO he had time to switch after the HR, but I don't know Kelley's warmup speed, and it's only one batter...

Then again he could have went Treinen instead. Still maybe didn't want to waste him on one batter with the game likely to go extras, but not as bad as wasting Kelley.

Fries said...

Nats are on pace for 100 wins, I'll take that any day. But I don't think this team is a 100 win type team. As we were saying at the beginning of the year, they are a 90-93 win kind of team. So there's a cushion now which is great, but I still think the Cubs are in a league of their own, and honestly I'd say the Giants and their even-year successes are better than the Nats.

Chas R said...

@Fries- are you Mets fan????

Sure, most of us (under Harper's tutelage) projected the Nats as a 90-93 win team and hoped that would be enough to sneak past the Mets. Fangraphs projected the Nats at 89 wins, Mets about the same. I think Fangraphs had the Giants at about the same or less, but don't recall specifically. You have to adjust projections as you get more real data. Mets are imploding, Nats are excelling. Fangraphs now have the Nats at 96 wins and Giants at about 93. Nats may not win 100 games, but they also very well could if things continue to line up for them and health stays a non-issue.

BornInDC said...

Something that should help the Nats' health in the last half of the season is that after the current road-trip they will be playing 49 games at home but only 37 games on the road. And two of the road games are in Baltimore.

Barney said...

I do think that training staffs matter a lot and, if I was an owner (which I would be if a team sold for $1000) I'd try to hire the best. Many times I've noticed a player's performance drop in mid-year and never recover. Then, after the season it is "discovered" that he had been playing with a stress fracture or some strain and never reported it.
Which, of course, brings us around to Harper: he was hurt a couple of weeks ago and now he seems to be getting the walks on his reputation. When pitchers discover the man behind the curtain his plate performance could suffer even more. I don't know how long it will take for him to recover, but if you need something to worry about then this stretch of being mortal following an injury qualifies.

Josh Higham said...

I appreciate a healthy dose of pessimism. Every time I start getting excited about a good stretch, I come here and remember that half the roster is lousy. On the other hand, when I'm a bit concerned by a slump, I get reminded that 3/4 of the roster is lousy and the guys who aren't lousy will be lousy soon. That way, no matter what actually happens on the field, it's an incredible achievement and will probably never happen again.

Harper said...

josh - when you worry that half the roster of the Nats is lousy, peruse any roster other than the Cubs. It'll make you feel better. Lots of "lousy' around