Nationals Baseball: Post Mortem

Friday, October 14, 2016

Post Mortem

I've said before but for me a game is far more often lost than won. That winning is less about making great plays and more about avoiding mistakes. It's not always the case but that's how I look at sports (kind of life too if I'll be honest) and that's going to be a lot of how I look at this game right now. This doesn't mean I don't think it was a pretty well played game and series. I think both those things. It's just how I see things play out in terms of deciding who win and who loses.

Anyway let's take a look at the key moments from yesterday and see how we ended up here today.

Pre game
Dodgers start Rich Hill. There are arguments that can be made for starting a pitcher on short rest. They are difficult arguments to win and none apply to Rich Hill. You saw Urias. He was pretty good, wasn't he? He should have started and Roberts was lucky he didn't get burned worse by this decision.

Bottom 2
Lobaton can't get the ball in play to possibly score another run. Espinosa had just come up with a big hit and the Nats had 1st and 3rd with one out. If you're Lobaton, you have to hit it hard and hope for the best. Yes, a double play is certainly possible, but so are sacrifice flies and fielder choices. You can score a run on an out here fairly easily. With the pitcher spot looming behind you it's even more imperative to get that ball in play as he is unlikely to drive the run in. But Lobaton fouls off two pitches and then strikes out. Scherzer would follow with a K of his own and the Nats would only score once.

Top 3
Dodgers let Max off the hook. Max pitched well last night, but it was obvious early on he didn't have his usual control. If the Dodgers could take a smart approach to facing him they could have him out early, maybe even sometime in the 5th if they were really lucky. Maybe that's without scoring but still the advantage the Nats had going into last night was Max. Get him out and it's a brand new game.  He sat at 35 pitches with no outs in the 3rd inning and had just thrown 5 straight balls. But then the Dodgers' brains locked up. Toles swung at a strike at the bottom of the zone and grounded into a double play. Rich Hill swung at a first pitch ball and grounded out himself. Now not only was Max not on the ropes, but he was set up for a long outing. A simply terrible approach that for a long portion of the game sat with me as the key moment.

Bottom 3
Werth can't get the ball in play to possibly score another run. Hey if I'm going to get on Lobaton I have to get on Werth here too. Turner had singled, stole second and advanced to third on Bryce's deep fly ball to center. With his speed almost any GB out, or halfway deep FB scores Trea. But Werth strikes out on five pitches. There is a slight difference as at this point it didn't feel as precarious for Hill as it did earlier.

Anthony Rendon's liner goes right to the CFer. Rendon had a bad series, but he really squared up on this one. There's no fault here - it's just a shame as it would have scored two.

Top 5
With the bases loaded, Max strikes out Ethier and gets Utley to ground out. After being no-hit for 4 innings the Dodgers finally got to Max with three singles. I'll note here that the last one, by Toles, might have been caught by a better 2B as Murphy was caught flat-footed then couldn't reach it with his jump. It would have been a very good play but I think it was possible. Anyway with both singles going to Bryce and that last one having a chance to be caught, the Dodgers hadn't managed to plate a run. The Dodgers brought in Ethier to get a big hit but Max struck him out on some nice pitching. Then keeping the ball down he got Utley to hit a ground ball that didn't go through.

Bottom 5
Dusty lets Max hit for himself. Look, it ended up pretty much working out as Max would get through the heart of the Dodgers line-up the next inning, but it was still the wrong decision. Results don't always match up as they should. Why was it wrong? Max's mistakes can be HR mistakes and he had missed up a couple times in the 5th inning, including on Reddick's base hit. At around 86 pitches and getting ready to face the Dodgers line-up a third time it was time to give him a big hug, thank him for keeping it scoreless and move on to the pen. With the top of the line-up following Scherzer, a guy getting on would have a good chance of scoring. But instead he sticks with Max, Max K's and the Nats don't score that inning.

Bryce gets picked off. With two outs, not terribly impactful but don't get picked off, even on a questionable move.

Bottom 6
Henley sends Werth, Werth is out at home. Now we finally take the most important moment away from the Dodgers dumb swings in the third. The Nats had been testing the Dodgers all night and the Dodgers had been coming up empty. They weren't making mistakes per se, but when the situation called for just solid baseball plays - throws on target with decent speed - the Dodgers couldn't do it. So being aggressive is arguably the right call. But this wasn't aggressive it was stupid.

Here's the play (apologies for the needless "statcasting") If you pause it at 29 seconds (during the close up on Werth running) you can see in the distance Toles clearly having thrown that ball before Werth is reaching third. Werth has already taken his eye off the ball, rightly expecting his 3rd base coach to give him the correct call. Henley though inexplicably sends Werth. Pause it again at 1:01 right when the angle changes. In the corner you see Toles in his throwing motion. In the foreground Henley waving Werth around not facing the throw. Perhaps he think Toles mishandled it. But then he looks up and HAS TO see the ball is in the air. Yet he keeps sending.

You could argue he was in the wrong position too. He should be between 3rd and home to give himself maximum time to make the decision but you can see that he had to first think about seeing into that corner so maybe drifting toward home was superceded by that. Of course that doesn't explain both how he didn't see what was obviously in front of him, and why he kept moving UP the line away from home rather than down toward home after deciding he would send him. If he simply bounces the other way there might be a chance for a last second "WOAH I SCREWED UP" and hoping Werth can scramble back but going in the other direction he takes that away as a possibility.

Anyway Toles throw was quickly made but completely average. The same could be said of Seager's throw. Werth was still out by 30 ft. If say it had been Puig and an Espy type throw by Seager it honestly could have ended up with Werth scrambling back to third.

Top 7
Max stays in and Pederson homers. I had been saying after the 6th that I could see going with Max on a batter by batter situation. I hate taking out effective pitchers "just because". A lot of why a pitcher is working well in a given night is particular to that night. How he's feeling, how those batters are seeing him. To have an advantage and throw it away seems foolish. But I didn't think it through. Max wasn't exactly dominating, though the 6th was pretty good the whole story of the game said something else. Max has a tendency to make "home run" mistakes. Joc Pederson is useless against LHP. All that taken together should have meant Max should take a seat. It was all true going into the 6th, nothing changed for the 7th other than Max was 11 more pitches in. Now Max didn't make a mistake. He made a good pitch and Pederson made a great swing. But now, if not earlier, was the time for match-ups to take over and that meant Max should have come out. However, I'm not going to kill Dusty for this one. If you want to live and die with your ace currently throwing a shutout, not gassed, and with no opportunity to lose the game only the lead, that's fine by me.

Rep walks Grandal Grandal was the Dodgers Rendon. A good hitter that was having a terrible series. Yet Rep walks him on four pitches, none particularly close. Inexcusable.

Culberson fails to get his bunt down. This is kind of like the Bryce getting picked off situation. Not all that impactful in the course of the game, but get your bunts down

Dusty lets Solis face Ruiz, Rendon fails to come up with Ruiz's grounder.  You understand the first one somewhat. Dusty doesn't want to burn one of his lefty arms without throwing a pitch. But it's endgame and you have to worry about what's in front of you not what might be in front of you later. Ruiz hits lefties much better than righties. At this point Gio has to be considered a usable arm so you still have two lefties if need be - plus your closer and set-up guy. That's gotta be enough to get 8 outs. But Dusty sticks with Solis, Solis gives up a shot. Reminiscent of Game 5 when Desmond couldn't come up with a hard shot that was playable, Rendon lets this one get by him and the Dodgers take the lead. Hard play? Sure. Impossible? No, not even close.

Dusty brings in Shawn Kelley to face Turner despite Turner's splits, Turner delivers. This to me is the defining moment of the game. Turner has reverse splits meaning he hits righties better than lefties. It's not even close really. Here's his numbers for 2016

vs RHP : .305 / .356 / .563
vs LHP : .209 / .303 / .337

Sometimes this can happen as a fluke but that isn't the case for Turner. He's hit righties better than lefties every year since 2011 (he only had a handful of ABs in 2009&2010) except 2014 and that's not because he didn't hit righties that year. He did. He just had a fluke year where he hit lefties too. So his career splits are .832 OPS vs RHP, .695 vs LHP. Everything said you use a lefty, not a righty, to face Turner.

But Dusty went with the typical move - bringing in a righty to face Turner. I suppose you could argue that he just wanted a better pitcher in, Kelly being better than Solis, but I don't believe that. I suppose you could argue "Kelley gets out righties better than Solis does!" but that's all based on the basic truism that lefties hit righties better and vice versa. Unless you have a freaky motion or some sort of particular trait that would seemingly affect a batters ability to hit you there's no reason to believe a pitcher's split is particular to the pitcher, but rather an accumulation of splits particular to batters. In other words a lefty pitcher doesn't get lefty batters out well because he is particularly good at pitching to lefty batters, but because lefty batters are particularly bad at hitting lefty pitchers.

Anyway he should have kept Solis in - which not only would have likely been more effective against Turner than throwing Kelley out there but if he was successful would have allowed him to pitch to Gonzalez as well and save Perez.  But he didn't. And Turner would triple off of Kelley giving the Dodgers a big lead that they wouldn't fully relinquish.

Bottom 7
Heisey homers.  Heisey does not have any strong splits so keeping Dayton in to face him is not a mistake. The pitch Dayton threw though, that was one. He had made the same error Rep did - he walked the first man he saw on 4 pitches - and he also paid for it as Danny came in on Heisey's HR. Now it's back to a 1-run game, albeit reversed, with 9 outs for the Nats to score one run (and keep holding the Dodgers)

Werth strikes out swinging, Bryce takes second.  This is questionable. Did it really take the bat out of Murphy's hands? Sure with first base open it was an easy call. You aren't moving the winning run into scoring position with the walk. However, I'd still have walked Murphy. There's no reason to take a chance on him RHP vs LHB when struggling Rendon is coming up next.

Rendon strikes out. Overmatched.

Bottom 8
Espy fails to get the bunt down.  I had actually just said before this that I wondered if Jansen was particularly hard to bunt on. He doesn't appear to have great movement watching him, but guys just miss his pitches in a way that suggests that he does. I've found that usually means a "rising" action that gets guys at the plate and that means, yes, a particularly hard pitcher to get a ball down on. But still get the bunt down.

I also kind of have issues with the decision to bunt. Your next two batters are Pedro Severino and Michael Taylor. Danny isn't great, but he's better than them and had, for whatever reason, looked a lot better at the plate last night (no Ks!). If I'm going to try to get Drew home, I think your best chance is with Danny rather than Severino or MAT facing Kenley Jansen in their first AB of the night.

Bottom 9
Murphy pops up. No blame but we're talking key moments and this was definitely one. You're hoping at worst to move the runners over where a passed ball or wild pitch or error could score them, at best for a hit. A pop-up doesn't even allow for an error thanks to the infield fly rule.

Difo K's. Again no blame. Yeah he shouldn't have swung at the last pitch but Kershaw threw some nasty stuff early in the at bat to get to that point setting Difo up for being too protective of the plate. It would have been a miracle talked about for decades if Difo got a hit here.

So there you go. For the first 6+ innings it looked like the biggest play of the game would be some silly swings in the 3rd that allowed Scherzer to go as long as he did. But then Henley made a terrible call to run the Nats out of a potential run-scoring situation, and Dusty ignored the splits to put the Nats in a disadvantageous situation and those plays decided the game.

That's it. I'm beat. We'll be back next week for some full season post-Mortem


John C. said...

Heh. Over on Nationals Arms Race Todd Boss and others are castigating Dusty for taking Scherzer out; here we are castigating Dusty for leaving Scherzer in too long. I'm not certain that there's a third option.

Harper said...

castigate him for not cloning Scherzer? I don't see how you can blame dusty for taking out Scherzer. He makes another mistake (increasingly possible at 100+ pitches) and the lead is gone. Just bc the pen failed doesn't make it the wrong move.

Robot said...

I'm agnostic on the Max decision. In hindsight, pulling him when Dusty did was a disaster, but what would have happened if he stayed in? If he had been pulled earlier? No way to know. Max had gone six shutout innings, his pitch-count was still in the low-90's (or upper 80's, I don't recall), and he'd just had a solid inning. There were plenty of obviously bad decisions made last night, but I don't think letting your ace go out in the 7th was one of them.

Josh Higham said...

Other than Kelley on Turner and arranging the lineup so Taylor and Severino follow Danny, I don't think Dusty made any real mistakes ex ante. The former was a big one. The latter small. I think even in a close game, prior to 100 pitches it is really hard to take Max out. Ex post, Max probably couldn't have been worse than what happened the rest of the 7th. Taking Zimmerman out was a hair questionable but Clint worked out fine.

Hoo said...

Harper: Thoughts on Zim doubleswitch? I know you gotta have a run but that's still pretty early for taking out one our key people this series and you know that he'll get another AB. I know you don't want to leave anything in the cupboard but it also means that sometimes you open the pantry and all that's left is bread crumbs and some old processed cheese.

Dusty's 7th seemed like an epic job of overmanaging.

I would have left Zim and then you pinch hit instead of trying to get an extra inning out of your reliever. The Zim double switch makes me think that Dusty didn't want to use starters as relievers. Roark-Gio have to available in the pen!

BTW, game sums up much of the Zim career. Solid game ending in Nat's failing again and his work is overshadowed by a bumbling coach.

Harper said...

Hoo - My thought - I would have done the double switch, it's as much about keeping pressure on LA with the hitters as keeping the pitcher in the game, but would have taken out Rendon at that point. It's a batter sooner than Zimm but he hasn't looked good all series. Zimm was hitting the ball pretty well.

Jay said...

I think this series was in trouble before it began. The failed Espinosa experience all year. Imagine if the Nats had brought Turner up and let him play SS in May like he should have. Instead, we told him to go win a batting title in AAA. To top it off, we then put him in CF. If he's playing SS everyday and Espinosa and his softball swing is gone, then maybe the Nats go get an OF like they needed to do at the trade deadline. When Strasburg - he of the glass arm - went down, the Nats were in serious trouble. When Ramos went down they were even more trouble. I think the big mistakes were in roster construction for the playoffs. Ross should have never been allowed to pitch in game 4. Maybe they should have carried Belisle or maybe even another lefty in Burnett. Ross was a waste of a spot. If Lopez starts in game 4 then maybe the Dodgers only score 2-3 runs instead of 5. Also, Michael A Taylor. Why is this guy even in the MLB? He's a AAA player all the way. Nothing like seeing him strike out on 3 pitches swinging as hard as he can and missing by 2 feet each time.

In the playoffs it becomes hard to hide guys. Guys like Lobaton, Severino, Espinosa, Taylor, Ross, Difo - those aren't empty roster spots. They need to have some hope of producing. In the end, they couldn't. I think Rick Shu has to go. I'm so tired of seeing player after player fail to adapt to a pitch on the outside corner by going the other way. Everyone tries to pull everything. If the entire team is doing it, then it has to be a coaching thing. Shu has needed to go for a long time. Henley's send in the 6th was laughably bad. The single worse send I have ever seen in a baseball game. 2nd and 3rd with 2 outs against a rookie pitcher even with Espinosa up is a lot better than out by 40-50 feet. I saw a picture last night that showed Werth was 5 or so feet from 3rd base as Seager was throwing home. Unless Seager completely airmailed it to the backstop, there was no way Werth was making it.

I'd sign Rizzo and Baker to 3-5 year extensions in the coming weeks. I think if these two guys are given time they will get the Nats further into October.

Finally, I have to blame the Lerners too. They are the richest owners in baseball. Stop and think about that for a moment. They have more money than Illitch in Detroit. Yet they continue to pinch pennies and complain about being at max payroll. No one asked them to be the owners of a sports franchise. People get mad when this topic comes up. Oh they signed Scherzer, they signed Strasburg, etc. I agree those signings were great, but if they step up and sign Cespedes, or O'Day or any other number of moves. The Dodgers have an unlimited payroll and now they are stocking up on international signings so they have the ability to go make more trades in coming offseasons.

Anonymous said...

A few thoughts.....

If they were hell bent on having an extra OF over having an extra RP, why not bring Goodwin or Revere instead of MAT. Goodwin had actually played well in his appearances and would have been 1000% more likely to put the ball in play than MAT. There was absolutely zero purpose for having MAT on the roster for this series. Good grief.

Every year now this team is consistently trying to win games 1-0, 2-0, 2-1, 3-2, 3-1, in the regular season and in the playoffs. We've got to put players in the lineup that will not K 2-3 times a game. There should be no place for that on this team, regardless of how great a defender they are.

Crucify me if want, but I hope Rizzo takes whatever job they wanna give him out in AZ. We need a different approach on the type of players we acquire or what we are willing to give up to make a deal. It seems we only make deals for pitchers. This team must put players in the game that know how to hit, plain and simple. We will never win a playoff series until that is addressed.

Anonymous said...

Have the Cubs stopped laughing yet?

Max David said...

I'm surprised the Turner 13 pitch at bat in the 4th didn't make one of those defining moments. Max with a scoreless inning, but threw 30 pitches and went from 37 to 67 in that inning I think just because Turner kept fouling off all of those pitches.

Anonymous said...

2 thoughts:

(1) Biggest Dusty mistake IMO was the double switch of with Melancon and Rendon. I said to my friend at the moment that this means Difo comes up instead of Rendon if we get something going in the ninth. I would rather leave in Perez to get the last out of the 8th than have a bottom lineup of Difo, Drew, Severino and Taylor. I have no problem with leaving in Scherzer, and probably would have left him in to finish the 7th. His strike to ball ratio got much better in the 5th and 6th innings.

(2) To echo some of the thoughts above, this team had no bench. How can a team wanting to compete in the post season have roster spots for Difo, Taylor and Ross/Lopez. I'm all for playing rookies and developing talent, but when Ramos went down, that left too many non-hitters in the game. We need to get a serious 4th or 5th outfielder and a big thumper to play third. I dangle Rendon and Giolito/Lopez for a big bat - either in center or third.

SM said...

If nothing else, there is a long, long winter ahead to mull over roster, coaching and management reconstruction.

Better for now to lie down, bleed a while, and enjoy as much as possible what remains of the baseball season.

Mitch said...

"Your next two batters are Pedro Severino and Michael Taylor."

And your next game is in April.

Robot said...

Heh. Are we seriously going to be getting a bevy of fair-weather Cubs fans coming over to gloat? That's even more pathetic than the Mets guys last year.

Pffft, more likely it's the same people.

Anonymous said...

Robot--Not A Cubs fan. Loathe them, actually.

Merely suggesting that the only teams that took their series to the limit and exhausted their pitching might be exactly what the Cubs were hoping for from their opponent--regardless of which team won.

Sammy Kent said...

Is it too early to fire up the hot stove? Lucas Giolito for Freddie Freeman. MAKE THE TRADE, RIZZO!!!!

SM said...

Too soon, Sammy.

More than enough time before we have to start reading about delusional trade suggestions. You know: MAT and Danny for Mookie Betts, or (ahem) Giolito for Freeman.

Now Bryce-and-Trea Turner for Kershaw-and-Seager--that's another kettle of fish.

P.S. Just having a little fun with you, Sammy. Can't for the Hot Stove sessions to begin either.

SM said...

That's "can't wait," Sammy, as in "I'm ready, too."

Anonymous said...

"Dusty doesn't want to burn one of his lefty arms without throwing a pitch."

As in, they considered faking an injury??? A pitcher can't be replaced without facing a batter otherwise.

Zimmerman11 said...

saw a dusty interview where he says the dodgers will "pay the price" for using jansen and kershaw when they get to chicago... the point, being, dusty... that they are GOING TO CHICAGO... this does not bode well hopes dusty might find religion on using your best options in the highest leverage situations... in spite of the fact that more managers are seeing the wisdom in doing so we will likely be stuck with the old school mentality for awhile.

Anon21 said...

Disagree regarding Turner. He only has about 1,400 PAs against righties and 686 PAs against lefties in his career, so you have to regress his observed platoon differential heavily towards league average.

Unless you're talking about Ichiro, you are always safe to assume that a righty hits lefties better and vice versa. Dusty made the right call.

Chas R said...

Great analysis Harper. Sorry just reading this now. Very helpful review and assessment of key points in the game. It was clearly there for the Nats to win, but the Dodger just made less mistakes, especially at key times.

JE34 said...

@SM - nice reference to Marv Levy referencing an old English poem.

(Please Lord, don't let my baseball fandom become like my football fandom. Go Bills!)

All the managerial mistakes & second guesses aside, the Ks killed them. They were in a position to win, if they successfully put the ball in play with runners on 3rd and fewer than 2 outs.

Attention Rick Schu:

Really liked having Marc Melancon at the back of the pen. Here's hoping they pay the man.

Dave said...

It would be nice to get a real center fielder to allow TT to move to short.
It would be nice to get a real power/RBI guy to stand in LF.
It would be nice to replace Glass Jaw Gio with someone less spastic and not on an obvious decline.
It would be nice to resign MM to be the closer for the next few years.
It would be nice if they could resign Wilson for a good price and he return from rehab like he was for the first 2/3 of this season.

Sammy Kent said...

Giolito for Freeman would be a great deal for both teams. The only reason to call it delusional is that Rizzo would never do it, and we all know why. First, Ryan Zimmerman has a god-like status within the Nationals' front office, precluding any move that would so clearly relegate the face of the franchise to backup player. Second, Rizzo doesn't do blockbuster trades. He just doesn't. To use a money analogy, he'll deal four quarters for a dollar or vice versa, but he'll never swap two fifties for a C note, or swap C notes, or give up a share of rising stock for a well used hundred. He's a free agent bargain basement shopper. And that's why we always falter at playoff time. It's an OK strategy for building a division contending or over .500 team, but it won't win championships.

SM said...

JE34--Thank you for getting the reference(s). (My poor, beloved Bills.)

Sammy--Delusional not because Rizzo would never do it, but because Atlanta would never do it.

Sammy Kent said...

SM: This is all in good fun, like trading baseball cards I guess, but my big point is that I feel we need a GM willing to make that blockbuster deal, whatever form it may take. Let me be clear, I'm certainly not suggesting that Rizzo take a baseball card approach to General Managership. Still, we could have MAYBE had guys like Tulowitzki, Frazier, or any number of proven veteran sluggers if Rizzo were a trader of stars--established or rising. He ain't. He doesn't even think about trades at that Tier 1 player level. But everybody's got a price. Freddie Freeman, Christian Yellich, Madison Bumgarner, even Bryce Harper and Trea Turner can be got for something. Rizzo goes to the free agent market. It's his way, but I'd like a GM with a little more creativity because the bargain basement approach just gets us more of the same.

John C. said...

Rizzo is actually pretty creative; at least twice that I know if he's made moves that were so creative that MLB had to change the rules to address them. One was the Trea Turner deal, that MLB essentially blessed after the fact. Another was dropping major league roster positions on draftees as an incentive to sign (Rendon and Purke). MLB banned that move after Rizzo did it. Rizzo was also one of the GMs most active in dropping big $$ on late round picks to lure them away from college commitments. MLB put the kibosh on that with the slotting process. But the point is that Rizzo isn't a one-process guy; he's always hunting for leverage and advantage.

Which leads me to my second point, that Rizzo doesn't typically trade four quarters for a dollar. Without going through the drumbeat we're all aware of, his record at trading is really good.

Like bunting, everyone assumes that trading and/or signing free agents always works out. It's easy to make "bet your franchise" gambles in a blog post, much more difficult in real life. Rizzo doesn't fall for that, and over and over walked away from the table when things got too expensive. Two free agent examples are Heyward and O'Day - two deals that are looking like very bad deals for their teams.

G Cracka X said...

@John C Agreed. Rizzo has made his fair share of mistakes, like any GM, but his overall tenure has been very good. The proof is in the 5 year W-L record: Nats have the 2nd most wins in the last 5 regular seasons, only trailing the Cardinals. And that all has been accomplished within the Nats' payroll constraints. And he has done that without mortgaging the future, either.

Adam Peters said...

Taking Max out is up there, but for me taking out Zimmerman and later Rendon were the two stupidest things Dusty did in Game 5. There were four guys who hit at all in the series: Murphy, Werth, Zimmerman & Rendon, in that order. So why not take two of them out of the deciding game of the series? Makes perfect Dusty sense.

Oh well, at least he never convinced Rizzo to sign Nefi Perez to play CF.