Nationals Baseball: The 2016 Nats : Parts 1, 2, & 3

Friday, July 15, 2016

The 2016 Nats : Parts 1, 2, & 3

The Nats season has been undeniably successful. They have played very well and have a nice lead in their division. They are on pace to win 97 games and in a normal season that would be enough to challenge for home-field advantage. Then why are we still saying they can do better? It's in part because how they got to this point. Rather than a steady climb, or a slow start and gradual improvement, the Nats season so far feels like its had as much drag as go.

The Nats started super fast and by game 18 were already 10 games over .500. After that though the Nats spent the good chunk of the first half playing near .500 ball.  For the next 32 games they'd find themselves bouncing between 11 and 7 games over .500. After another week or so, they finally broke through going 10-2 over a twelve game stretch to reach a high of 18 games over .500, only to then lose 7 in a row to bring them back to 11 games over.  So 57 games since reaching 14-4 the Nats had manged to gain all of one more game.

The pessimist might say nothing had changed looking at the season. The optimist though could point to the Nats ceiling and floor both rising.  Yes, in those 32 games the Nats didn't really move the needle and played uninspired ball. But in the next 25 the ceiling went up to 12, the floor to 10, the ceiling up to 18, the floor to 11. The Nats may still have been bouncing back and forth but the good started to outweigh the bad. The Nats would then go 11-4 to end the half tying their season high of 18 over and having the floor move up to 15 over.

I think we have seen the Nats play their best ball. If we break the season into the start, then the middling period, then the rising it works to be : 14-4, 15-17, 25-15. A can't be beat 18 games, a disappointing 32, then a great 40. The 25-15 was a wild ride going fast up (10-2), then fast down (0-7), then fast up (6-0), but the ups took the Nats higher than the down brought them back. 25-15 is a 100 win pace. That's right up there with the best this team is going to do over that long a stretch.

We've talked about this upcoming schedule before the break. PIT, LAD, SDP at home; CLE, SFG, ARI away; SFG CLE at home. That's a tough 23 game stretch. Trying to set up an expectation :  you probably go for 6-3 at home, 4-5 away, 3-2 at home for a 13-10 record. I'd probably be ok with a slip-up to 12-11. Under .500 means something went wrong somewhere, while 15 or more wins should have you thinking best record in baseball with ATL, COL, ATL, BAL, COL, PHI finishing out August.

Basically, if the Nats don't collapse out of the gate I'm not sure that the Mets games around Labor Day will be meaningful at all. You have to figure 10-7 for a floor for those 2nd half of August games. If the Nats do go say 12-11 that puts them gaining 4 games over 40 games. Meaning to get within 3 games the Mets would have to go at least 7 games over or like 24-16. And that's figuring the Nats to go 10-7 over a stretch where it's very likely they do much better. We just said 25-15 in 40 is a 100 win pace. 24-16 is only a game behind that. In short, if the Nats take care of business now, simply by keeping pace, it looks like it'll be up to the Mets to do something special.

OK let's get this 2nd half started.

23 comments:

Chas R said...

Honestly, if the Mets don't make any moves to improve, I don't see how the current team can make up the ground and pass the Nats. Something would have to go terribly wrong with the Nats.

Jay said...

I think the first 6 games out of the break are key. Some years the Nats have really struggled out of the gate second half. It may be recall bias on my part, but I think last year they struggled and 2 years ago struggled losing like 6 or 8 in a row or something. It also seems like they always play the Dodgers right after the break. Anyway, the Pirates have been hot and rolling lately and are getting Cole back. The Dodgers will likely get Kershaw back by the time we play them. I'm hoping they can go 3-3 over those 6 games and then maybe 2-1 against SDP. That would be more than acceptable. What they need to avoid is a big losing streak. The Nats are now the only team that can keep the Nats from winning the division in my opinion. Definitely doesn't mean it can't happen, but if the Nats play well (not even great) during the second half 6 games is a lot to make up. Hopefully, they can add to it early and cruise from there.

Also, am I the only one that think the Red Sox are crazy for giving up one of their best prospects for Drew Pomeranz?? The Strasburg signing looks even better now imo.

Chas R said...

@Jay- you are correct, they have mostly been *meh* after the ASG since 2012

Jay said...

I went back and checked. 2015 6-8, 2014 7-6, 2013 4-9 with a 6 game losing streak out of the gate - the Braves finished the month with a 6 game winning streak which would grow to total a 14 game win streak and allow them to pull away from the Nats, 2012 12-7 with a 6 game winning streak mixed in there. If they can play slightly above .500 to end the month then I think they will most likely be fine. Updated ZIPS projections has them at 95 wins and the Mets and Marlins at 85 wins for the year. We'll see how it goes.

G Cracka X said...

Seems like the two biggest dangers to the Nats not winning the NL East are major injuries and a major hot streak by the Mets/Marlins. If those are the biggest dangers, I think the Nats are in good shape at this point.

BxJaycobb said...

Jay: I totally agree about the Red Sox. I mean...it's Drew Pomeranz. This is a classic Buy High situation. It is more likely in my view that he will have around a 4.00-4.50 ERA at Fenway than that he will replicate his first half performance. And they gave up a kid that a pretty close to unanimous group of scouts/evaluators believe has ace potential. I know I know....Harper will disagree with us, because he is a giant prospect skeptic. Prospects are not sure things. But prospects who look like studs (the A/A- prospects) are becoming busts more and more rarely. It's okay to trade those guys, but you better be getting a difference maker. Does anybody think Pomeranz is a difference maker? All the Red Sox need are non-bad pitchers. They didn't need to get a career Blah pitching at an All Star level for the first time ever. And it has been pretty unanimously panned by most talent evaluators as a giant mistake.

BxJaycobb said...

I do think the Nats need pen help, but I would rather they try out Reynaldo Lopez first before they give away great young players for a rental like Chapman.

JE34 said...

@Bx - I too would like to see Lopez, and he could be among the September callups... but what is the likelihood that he can mentally handle high pressure relief in September/October of this season, especially having been a starter thus far in his pro career? It would be a pleasant surprise for him to contribute meaningfully in the big league pen this season, but a surprise nonetheless.

Mythra said...

The 25 and 40 man rules always were a bit confusing to me, but I think a player has to be on the 25 man roster before they expand in September to play in the playoffs, barring an injury. I could be wrong, but that would mean Lopez has to be called up before then to contribute in October.

I doubt they give the kid a shot like Giolito has had, but it's possible. I certainly see it as taking a leap if they don't bring him up before the trade deadline. I think it more possible that Cole+Difo or Cole+Goodwin+MAT goes to NYY for Miller.

Kubla said...

@Mythra: If Turner and Giolito are off the table, the Nats don't have much to offer. Cole's value has tanked after how badly he's done in the majors and AAA (5+ ERA in MLB, 4.5+ in AAA). MAT is pretty much in the same category given his negative WAR over roughly half a season of PAs, plus his most notable action of this season being the 5K game with a game-ending error. There's enough information on those guys to strongly suggest that they just won't cut it.

Lopez and Fedde, and, to a lesser extent, Difo and Goodwin, could net something. However, every previous prospect that netted the Nats a good return had some small-sample success in the majors (Milone, Peacock, Souza), and even then it required packaging several of them. None of the guys in the farm system really fit that description right now. It would take trading most or all of the top prospects to bring back the legit bat or bullpen arm the Nats need. With the long-term deals for Strasburg and Max, it looks like the front office may care enough about the future to not swap a truckload of prospects for a marginal improvement now.

Rizzo's Jedi mind tricks did produce epic robberies like Capps for Ramos and Guzman for Roark, but at the time those weren't win-now slam dunks. It took a while to realize how much the Nats won those trades. It's unlikely he could scam a team into giving up an immediately useful piece for someone like Papelbon or Zim.

DezoPenguin said...

@Kubla: I don't know, I think pretty much everyone had a "how did Rizzo just rob the Twins blind?" on the Capps-for-Ramos trade. Highly rated, ML-ready catching prospect for a journeyman reliever enjoying a career year?

@BxJaycobb: I, too, don't want Chapman anywhere near the Nats. Firstly because of his DV issues; sometimes I think you just have to do the right thing regardless of how good someone is at baseball. (I mean, heck, as much as Papelbon is despised for *his* violent outburst, at least he attacked a grown man in public.) Miller is another story, though: like Chapman, he has a track record of exceptional success, but he offers two additional things: extra team control (because regardless of whether Papelbon gets through this year on luck and savvy, he's not coming back next year and nobody that we have now immediately screams "top-level reliever") and the psychological makeup to pitch well in any role (unlike Papelbon, who'd probably throw a screaming, kicking tantrum if told he was to be a set-up man, and unlike Meltdown Drew Storen, who's apparently still broken). While the price would need to be carefully measured, and maybe would be too high in today's market, he'd be a valuable addition to the team.

On the Red Sox and Pomeranz: Risky pickup, but even if he regresses, he's still likely to be better than what they've been throwing out there in the 4-5 slots. And if his new cutter and the last year and a half represent genuine improvement, then they have a #2-3 starter for the next two and a half years. And you can't fault a team that was in last place the past two years, has an exceptional offense, and is playing out a team legend's final season (in which said legend is absolutely killing it as opposed to being a sucking chest wound in the lineup), for going all-in. Moreover, given the depth of the Sox farm system, it's probably true that Espinoza was less valuable to them than he was to most other teams. You can argue that they should have gotten more for him, but the starting pitching market is a real seller's game right now, with the dearth of good candidates. (Which, incidentally, just makes locking up Strasburg for at least the next three years makes Rizzo look very good indeed. Effectively, he got by far the best starting pitcher in the 2016-7 FA class signed for a three-year contract at below-market rates.)

As for the Nats, I really hope that we don't overpay at the deadline for anything. For SP, we're really talking about one spot unless Ross is seriously injured; I'd run through Gio, Giolito, Voth, and Cole before even looking at the market. Rich Hill is going to command a fortune and Beane knows it, and none of the other guys expected to be available are all that much better than Gio Gonzalez, anyway. For the 'pen, trying out Lopez certainly seems like an option, and Miller is likely to cost too much, but some increased stability would be nice. 1B is a real problem; right now Dusty seems to be willing to give Robinson a cup of coffee there, and maybe the solution ultimately is Turner to 2B, Murphy to 1st, but I definitely don't want to add a meh guy like Jay Bruce that we don't even know can play the position. Similarly, Revere and Taylor seem to be doing OK, so if they can continue their productivity from the last month we don't need to prioritize CF (and we definitely don't need to sabotage the defense by moving Bryce to CF to make room for an iron-gloved RF like, say, Beltran).

Really, I guess my thoughts on the trade deadline are, "don't panic." Unlike the Red Sox, we don't have gaping holes without depth even in our positions of weakness. We're in first place by six games. Aside from maybe adding another veteran relief arm (maybe a left-hander to take some of the burden off Perez and/or Rivero), I'd say Rizzo should go blockbuster or bust. And above all, don't overpay for meh.

BxJaycobb said...

@kubla: you're forgetting Robles. He's a top 20 prospect in baseball according to ESPN and baseball America. Projected as polanco type who'd be higher if he was closer to majors. On Twitter Keith law and Joe Sheehan agreed that one guys proposed trade of "Robles for Chapman" would probably be an overpay by Nats for a rental. So no turner and giolito are not their only attractive A prospects.

BxJaycobb said...

@JE: yeah I wasn't really proposing Lopez as the new closer. That seems impossible. What I meant was we just need help in back end of pen, and he could pitch in spots where Rivero and Treinen have been pitching along with Kelley. Frankly I don't know if we need to replace Papelbon as closer. I think this team simply needs more help and depth in back end. And Looez supposedly has better stuff than anybody in our bullpen, including Rivero (Lopez has an electric curve apparently.) and most scouts don't think Lopez will be a starter with his arm action. Guy throws 99 with offspeed and good control. We could really use that. I just don't want to deal away some great young player like Robles or Turner when we could either promote somebody or give up way less for somebody like will smith or Jeffress from brew crew.

Froggy said...

Harper, at what point do the Yankees realize they aren't overcoming a 9-10 game deficit, their season is over, and become sellers?

Kubla said...

I don't know if Robles is really that different from Difo/Goodwin/etc since he looks great in the lower minors but doesn't have a sample higher than that. He could be good, but I'm skeptical that a team would trade anything legit for him alone. A buyer is always necessary, even when an asset looks super valuable on paper. (If that weren't the case, my mid-90s all stars baseball cards would have made me a rich man years ago. I've got a Fred McGriff Rated Rookie if someone is interested).

On the other hand, with an excellent starting rotation, pretty good defense, and a lineup that doesn't need to fire on all cylinders to score some runs, is patience just the best MO? FiveThirtyEight has DC with the best expected overall record (98-64) at the moment. I don't know how seriously Elo rankings or pitcher scores are taken here, but it looks like a big trade isn't really that necessary. Most other models agree that the Nats should at least crush the NL east.

NotBobby said...

http://espn.go.com/blog/washington-nationals/post/_/id/1546/is-tanner-roark-the-nationals-most-valuable-pitcher

Great article on Roark.

Flapjack said...

I'm coming around to the view that win-now is an expensive mentality that could easily turn out to be worse than futile (see: Padres). Solis for Chapman, maybe.

Among playoff-bound teams who could use a shut-down closer, with the 4th best bullpen era in baseball, the Nats are probably the least desperate (SF is 16th, the Cubs 8th). So maybe we hold our chips until the offseason. Rizzo is paid to get these things right. (Too bad about Trevor Gott, but hey.)

NotBobby said...

Trade Rumors says Lopez to be promoted to Nats. Is he starting or is he called up to relieve? I guess he would be taking the place of Ross/Giolito if he is starting? I just do not understand why he would be called up to start instead of Giolito. I hope he is called up for relief... If he is starting then i can only think of three reasons: 1) Dusty/Rizzo don't trust Giolito to start 2) Giolito is injured 3) either Giolito or Ross or Gio are being traded????

NotBobby said...

Baker had a very rough night. Not walking Marte, burning Petit for one inning when we already knew it was an extra innings game, and not running MAT so that Werth hits into DP. Sheesh.

Fries said...

@NotBobby

Don't forget about not having Robinson bunt with no outs and men on 1st and 2nd...

BxJaycobb said...

He's being called up to start Tuesday. They say giolito needs more work in minors, but I agree it's strange, especially because we don't need to start somebody in Ross's spot because of the off day. I wonder whether they are showcasing Lopez for other teams. That would be my bet.

NotBobby said...

For sure. But that may be explained by C-Rob not being good at dropping a bunt?

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