Nationals Baseball: September 2016

Friday, September 30, 2016

On predictions

The Nats won yesterday, but since the Dodgers won as well HFA is still up in the air, though heavily favoring the Nats. The most likely scenarios for the weekend are the Nats win 2 over the Marlins, who they are better than, and the Dodgers win 1 or 2 over the fighting for their lives Giants. That would be enough. I will worry though if the Nats lose tonight and the Dodgers win.

Really I only want to see one thing tonight. Bryce playing. I know some of you think he should sit as long as it's slippery out there because he coud aggravate his injury. Me, I think he should get a few games in because it's a long wait until the NLDS starts next week. Plus if you're that worried about rain-caused injuries to susceptible players I have a first-baseman, third-baseman, and left fielder that I need to talk to you about.

Murphy? He's not playing. They have him as ready for the NLDS, which is good, but not great. First, because with each game he's out the next game becomes suspect. If he plays in this series you can be fairly certain he will play in the NLDS. If he doesn't, you can't. We'll get updates next week that might clear it up - he'll run or play in a fake game or something, but on Day 162 you can't say for sure you'll see him in the NLDS and that's scary.  Second, assuming he is ready he'll go from sitting for 3 weeks to facing Clayton Kershaw. Good luck with that. There's normally an adjustment time coming back from injuries and Murphy will have none. Even if it takes Murphy just a couple games to get back to MVP level that could put the Nats in a hole that they can't climb out of.

OK on to more fun things, like mocking me (sort of)

When the season started and we were putting up predictions I put up my own. Nats win 90. Miss playoffs.  Instead, they'll win like 95 and the NL East. Oops!

Now if you want to stop there and make fun of me I guess that's your right. But I'm going to do a little deeper look at what I said to see how bad my prediction really was. Here's a teaser - the Nats win total would not be what I consider my worst prediction.

So being more specific what I did was basically say three things and add a caveat. The three things were :
  • The Nats would win 90 games
  • The Mets would win 91 games
  • The 2nd WC would win 91 games.
The caveat was "if anything bad happens to the Mets (and nothing to the Nats, or really more bad to the Mets than the Nats) the Nats should have an easy time winning the division."

Basically all predictions should be made expecting even luck with injuries for the teams involved. Anything else would be akin to wild guessing. This is not the same as saying "all teams will have the same amount of injuries". Some teams (older, injury-prone players, pitching dependent) are more likely to be affected by injuries that others.What it means is that these teams have the amount of missed time due to injuries you could reasonably expect given their make-up. For the Nats that's about what happened*. For the Mets things were worse. So taking the caveat into the equation the Nats season played out as I expected it would if the Mets were to suffer more injury losses than the Nats. The Nats would easily win the NL East. They did.

Now if you asked me what it meant for win totals I'd toss a couple more on for the Nats - say 92 and cut a handful from the Mets - say 86. For the Mets that's going to be close to dead on, but I'm still enough away from the Nats total, especially given the late season injury rush costing a win or two, that I do feel like I undersold them a bit. We'll go over it sometime after the season as a whole but I think, reading through the projection, that I didn't get the pitching right. Most of that was not figuring Roark for the year he had and pen being better than I thought. Offensively it feels like the surprises balanced the disappointments, so the read I had on that stayed pretty solid.

So, in my estimation, I had the Mets about right and undersold the Nats a couple games. Since I had the Nats losing the division by one game that probably means I should have had the Nats winning the division anyway. Oh well. I'm not bothered.

But what does bother me is the whiff on the second wild card. I said the Nats would miss the playoffs because the second WC team would win 91 games. This was mostly because in 2015 the second wild card in the NL won 97 games. 97! Well looking back that was an extreme event. In reality there have been only three times in the past four years of two Wild Cards that a 90 win team would definitely not get in. Last year's NL and the AL in 2012 and 2013. That's as many times as a 90 win team would have been first WC (2014 both leagues, 2015 AL). That's not counting this year, where it looks likely that the AL WCs will be 89/88 game winners and the NL WCs will be 87/86 game winners. Even with the prediction of 90 wins, I really should have had the Nats in as a Wild Card, maybe even hosting it. That would have been more likely with 90 wins than missing it alltogether.

Whether you consider it a mild miss, like me, or a big one, can I make up for this miss with playoff predictions? I don't know. I don't love making playoff predictions because of the inherent variability of them. I've checked past years and I can only find one in a post since 2012 where I bothered. But I guess I'll try again because I nailed that one - picking the Royals in 5 over the Mets in the Series.**

*For the season as a whole. For the playoffs it looks like they will have bad luck with injuries.

 ** Don't do the same! The safest prognosticator route is to take the favorite in the maximum number of games possible. Why? Your pick has a built in one-game cushion, meaning if the favorite wins in 6 or the underdog in 7 you can point to your prediction and say "basically right!". If the favorite wins in fewer than one less game than predicted you can still say you picked the winner correctly. Also sweeps are hard. Think about how hard it is just to sweep a random series against a nobody team mid-season. Now you have two teams of around equal talent trying to win at all costs. Hard to have it go your way three or four times in a row without it ever going the other way. You can't worry about them. So really you are only likely to "lose" if the underdog wins in a shorter series. That's a good bet to make. 

However you should throw in a random underdog winning here and there just so you can point to it for the rest of your prognosticating lives, even if it wasn't all that crazy a prediction. No one remembers you picking against a heavy favorite that wins, but you'll never let anyone forget you picked against a heavy favorite that lost.  

Thursday, September 29, 2016

Nats Lose but win

Nats lost last night and Gio was Gio. With each terribly maddening and unimpressive start the "Gio Game 1" bandwagon grows.  I now assume he'll start Game 162, give up 5 walks and 4 runs in 3 innings and everyone will agree he should somehow pitch three times against the Dodgers.

I'm not saying Gio starting game 1 is a bad idea. He's going to start anyway. It would be silly not to try to take advantage of the Dodgers splits. Max isn't going 1 and 4. He said as much. Dusty said as much. So either Roark goes 1 and 4 or Gio goes 1 and 4  or, far more likelier, no one does and if no one does, what's it matter if Gio starts G1 or G3?

My big concern is what I have talked about before. With Max or Roark if they start G1 and are terrible you chalk it up to a fluke and use that short outing to bring them back in G4*. Gio doesn't get that benefit of the doubt. If he's terrible then he is done for the series outside maybe an emergency LOOGY situation.  So if Gio goes G1 and is terrible and the Nats make it to G4, you have a situation where you are going to be forced to start Ross/Latos/Cole etc. To make matters worse you'll have no Max or Roark available in emergency. They'll have pitched too recently. 

The idea that the Nats could do a bullpen thing, go with Solis for 2, Rep for 2, Perez for two - throw in a righty when needed - to get to the 7th/8th and the usual closers is a nice idea but too unusual for the playoffs. I just don't see it happening unless forced into it by a terrible start by a normal starter. It's not happening to start a game.

Further, I wonder about the things we can't measure. What does it say to the team when you decide "We're not going with Max Game 1. Kershaw is real good. We're going with Gio and maybe hope to steal one" Maybe you can convince them you'd be doing what is best for the team. Talk about home away splits (Max is better at home - Roark and Gio don't have big splits). Talk about Gio's starts against the Dodgers and how he's never been hit by them (5 starts as a Nat against LA:  32 IP, 20H, 6ER, 12BB, 34K or something close to that I did this quick). Maybe that works. But maybe they see it as giving away a game they can ill afford to lose. Any game in a short series is crucial. This is Dusty's job, to read the team, but I have a suspicion that they'd want to go with their big gun first.

Also I think it's important to remember that all these machinations, they probably don't really matter all that much. The change in the chance to win the series isn't going to be all that great and it's going to be overwhelmed by the simple luck that happens in any short series. Is the starter on his game? Do you get a few seeing-eye hits or bloops in the same inning? That'll be the driving force for winning the series - not idealized pitching match-ups. If you want to go ahead and do it. Maximize your advantage, but don't kid yourself that that is going to be the tipping point because it almost certainly won't be. This isn't like running with Strasburg or shutting him down. It's just shuffling stuff around.

So in the end I like just going with Max G1, Roark G2 (or flip that if you want), Gio G3 and worrying about G4 if and when you get there.  It's like how I feel about planning out how the NLDS rotation leads into the NLCS rotation. You can worry about setting up for the NLCS. I don't. I worry about winning the NLDS then figuring out the NLCS.

Anyway Dodgers lost too and the Nats keep a 2 game lead for HFA which at some point was going to be my point here. There are 4 games left so probably the Nats only need 2 wins to clinch it, maybe even 1. Let's hope the rain holds off and the Nats (and Padres) finish it today.

*Yeah I just said Max wouldn't go G1 and G4. But in this scenario he's going like 3 1/3 in G1.  I think that would change things

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

The answer key

Hey Svrluga and Kilgore decided to get together and argue out position by position which division winner was better. No, not between the Red Sox teams of the past 15 years, though that's not a bad guess. Between the 2012, 2014, and 2016 Nats. Since the link to all players doesn't work yet I can give you my opinion without being tainted with what should be smart and fair analysis but may not be because they already messed up picking 2012 Det over 2014 Gio.

C - If you go by in-season performance it's an easy win for Ramos '16 over Ramos/Lobaton '14 and Suzuki/Ramos/Flores '12. If you are really going by playoff starter, now that Ramos is down, Suzuki '12 wins out. Wilson's inabililty to take a walk was at its peak terribleness in 2014.

1B - I'll take the more powerful, younger '12 LaRoche, over the more patient, older '14 LaRoche.  Both look curiously at the mess that now occupies 1B for the Nats

2B - If '16 Ramos' win was easy, '16 Murphy's win just happens without you even doing anything. Espinosa's defense is better but come on.  '12 "peak" Espy beats '14 "should have gotten the surgery" Espy

SS - These are are strangely non-competitive choices so far. '12 Desmond was a revelation. He'd get worse each subsequent year so he bests '14 pretty handily. It's tempting to pick '16 Espy over '14 Desmond because "defense"! But no. Danny isn't super elite anymore and there's a big gap between offensively as Danny has been terrible for months now.

3B - The heart wants to go with 2012 Zimmerman. It was arguably the last year of his peak, before arm troubles in 2013 took him down. And he felt like a big clutch player still. But Rendon in 2014 was a legit MVP candidate. He did everything Zimm did at the plate, was possibly better in the field, and definitely better on the basepaths. If I'm team building I may pick '12 Zimm for leadership, but I'm not so '14 Rendon wins. '16 Rendon hasn't been bad at all but these two set high bars

LF - OK I pick 2014 Bryce here. He was the only one of the three who was not a liability in the field and 2012 Mike Morse wasn't so much better at the plate that I'd have to choose him. Plus if you look past Bryce shaking off the injury rust and recovery in July he's right there at the plate. Better probably - he's the only one that seemed to hit in the playoffs. Though if you want to go with Morse I won't blame you. You probably get mad that they traded him, too. '16 Werth is fine but not in the running.

CF -  This to me is the most fascinating choice. You have rookie, out-of-position but still athletic, '12 Bryce, defense first, (though slipping) surprising offense force, '14 Span, and a possibly misleading half-season of rookie sensation Trea Turner. If it was 120 games of Trea doing this it would be a slam dunk but you have to wonder if in 3 years we look back and go "Oh that was quite a run. Wish he could do that again". Still... I pick Trea. I mean we have to go on what we have and it's been awesome. Even fielding - Denard was on the way down in '14 so it's not as big a fight as you'd think. I also pick '14 Span over rookie Bryce if we have to order

RF - 2014 Werth was everything but the fielding. He bests 2016 Bryce, who's the best fielder probably but has been hobbled. He bests '12 Werth who was a Singly Joe coming back from his injury. A very good Singly Joe, but a Singly Joe nonetheless.

Now are we going playoffs or reg season? I say reg season. Feels more right. Ordering pitchers is hard bc how they fit into a rotation may not be about performance. It may lefty - righty based. It may just be where they slide in after injury. I'll try to use performance and reality of perception to separate, but it's not going to be perfect.

SP1 - This is a tough challenge but '16 Max has been 100% worthy of a Cy Young. And you feel a little more confident with Max, don't you? '14 Stras was masterful. '12 Stras was unhittable. You can't go wrong but that's the order I put them in.

SP2 - 2012 and 2016 are deep staffs but you can't find the bottom of 2014.  2014 ZNN was one of the great underrated pitching seasons of all time. After that, I like '16 Stras over '12 Gio. The pitching performances are comparable but '12 Gio was still a bit wild, where as '16 Stras was just rounding into veteran form in my opinion. It's very close though

SP3 -  2016 Roark. 2012 ZNN was very good but didn't quite have it together yet. 2014 Fister was good but also a tightrope walk that we all rightfully knew was going to come down at some point. You can choose that over young ZNN but not over this Roark showing for the second time what he can do over the course of a season.

SP4 - The one we saw and they are wrong. I know we've all grown tired of Gio and his inefficiency making his average outings seem to drag on and his below average outings unbearable, but '14 Gio was a slight nod back to his 2012 season and he did practically everything as good or better than '12 Detwiler. His best would blow Det's best out of the water and even if you had them even overall, '14 Gio, walks and all, would more reliably give you longer outings. I don't see how they made their choice. '16 Ross is good but not in the discussion

SP5 - 2014 Roark. Two Roarks! '12 Edwin Jackson was better than we give him credit for because we remember the playoff performance over all. '16 Gio is also not that bad. I tell you these are deep staffs. Honestly I probably pick this Gio over that E Jax.

Set-Up - was Storen or Clippard the closer in '12? I'll say Storen. Clippard only got the saves in the interim. So this is Clippard vs Clippard vs... well Rivero was it. Then Kelley.  Let's go with Kelley.  This is tough.  Nothing against '12 Clippard, you were very good, don't let the ERA fool you, but you have to sit this one out. You may not have noticed but Kelley has been dominant, striking out more and walking less that '14 Clippard. But as I said recently - Clippard may be the best middle reliever in baseball history when it's said and done (it's true!) and this was one of his two best seasons. I just trust him more. Plus Kelley has a HR problem that Clippard just doesn't have. You can work around a walk. You can't work around a homer.

Closer - Without looking I bet 2014 Storen would have the best stats but screw that head case. Give me fresh-faced '12 Storen. The one in line for the fictional NLDS MVP before he was set-up to fail by Davey and still almost pulled it off if not for some borderline calls, bad fielding, and bad breaks. Melancon slips inbetween the two because 2014 Storen was post-pouting Storen who had to prove he could do it to me and he didn't.

There you go - now let's see if the link is working and who they picked. Nope.  Well we'll come back when the Post gets their act together

Ed Note -

It's working now the order SP differently (by playoff starter) so here are my choices for their order

SP1 - '16 Max, '14 Stras, '12 Gio
SP2 -  '14 ZNN, '16 Roark, '12 ZNN
SP3 - '14 Fister, '12 EJAx, '16 Gio

They also add general RH relief, LH relief, and bench
RH relief - '12, '16, '14 - '16 Treinen is the best individual but '12 really just had no weakness Stammen and Mattheus were solid. Garcia was the flash in the pan they should have ridden the next year.
LH relief - '12, '14, '16 - You could flip '14 and '16 if you like, '14 wasn't impressive at all getting Blevins worst year, but '12 was easily best.
Bench - '16, '12, '14 (2014 had more talent but 2012 caught like 3 career yrs for these benchies)

They also put Asdrubal in for 2014, but personally I still take '12 Danny over that. 

If we score 3-2-1 then - using their match-ups we get 33 pts for 2014, 32 for 2012, and 31 for 2016. That's really close. The 2012 team had OF issues and their starting pitching was great but young and understandably in question for the playoffs. The 2014 had a killer rotation but some infield issues and real questions on the bench and in the pen. 2016's offense is fine but doesn't inspire the same confidence and could be a real issue with the injuries. If you count losing Ramos that becomes 34, 33, 29 and if Murphy is gone that's 35, 34, 27.  

Tuesday, September 27, 2016


Just two years ago, in 2014, something historic happened. The 88 win SF Giants beat the 89 win Kansas City Royals in the World Series. It was the first time in history two teams with under 90 wins met to decide who would be crowned baseball's champion. While that was a unique situation, finding one such team in the World Series is not. The Detroit Tigers in 2012, St Louis Cardinals in 2006, Houston Astros in 2005, and New York Yankees in 2000 all have made the World Series this century with under 90 wins.

Anything can happen in the playoffs.

Which is good because last night Wilson Ramos hurt himself and without Ramos and Strasburg and either Bryce or Murphy the Nats probably resemble a team that would struggle to win 90 games. Even if the injury isn't serious, it may not matter. It only has to be an injury that would take a couple weeks to heal in order to have a drastic effect on the Nationals playoff chances. Things are beginning to look very bleak.

Truth : The Nats could be losing their All-Star .307 / .354 / .496 22 HR catcher

Further Truth : That's overselling Ramos who had a first half unlike any other extended period in his career. Since the All-Star break, a time which featured at lot more rest to try to keep Ramos fresh, Wilson hit .279 / .317 / .447.  That's probably more indicative of the player the Nats are potentially losing for the playoffs. Not a fringy MVP candidate, but a guy who gets All-Star consideration if he has a hot half and it's a weak year.

Further further truth : But even if they are losing that it's a big deal because the gap between that and Ramos' replacements is very large. Lobaton is near end of life as a useful back up and has hit .220 / .317 / .363 while spelling Wilson. Severino has had success in the majors but in a week of plate appearances over two years, and he was hitting an empty .271 in AAA this year.

Losing Strasburg is a blow but given the performance of Scherzer and Roark this season, and the problem the Dodgers have with LHP, it merely created a problem for one game in the NLDS. Losing Ramos would be an issue but his likely performance level was something that could be covered for. Even together it's far from a death blow for the team.

However if you add a loss of Murphy, who hasn't played a full game since the 17th, or Bryce who apparently has special x-rays that can't be read right away, that takes it beyond something the Nats can reasonably adjust for. Murphy has been their best hitter all year long. Stephen Drew has done a fairly amazing job off the bench but he can't be expected to replace an MVP candidate. Bryce, for all his issues, has been the second or third most important offensive presence for the Nats this year and is by far the most likely National to work a walk. Heisey has done yeoman's work in the OF this year with timely home runs, but he can't replace that presence in the middle of the lineup.

After having pretty even, maybe even good, luck with injuries over the course of the season, things have come at this team fast and hard. The Nats post-season comes down to the health of these players. Losing one is fine - nearly every team has their one. Losing two can be worked around. But losing three or four? That makes the Nats a different team, a team that makes one point to the variability inherent in a short series to have any real hope.

Monday, September 26, 2016

Monday Quickie - Now we can get to it

The Nats won the NL East and fans and the team have had all weekend to celebrate. Great!

Got that out of your system?

Because it doesn't matter.

This Nats team, like every Nats team since 2012, won't be judged a success unless they win in the playoffs. It's as simple as that. I'm not talking by you or me in particular. I'm sure some of you would call them a success today. I'm sure some of the more generous fans might even call a winning season a success.  I'm sure the harshest of you (Sammy?) might not judge them a success unless they win it all. But for the sports world at large the Nats need to at least make the next step. They need to progress. They've had their misstep. They need to win the NLDS vs the Dodgers.

The Nats need it, because they've lost twice now in DSs when they were favored, blowing up in the late innings in key spots. Even if it's a pretty unfair characterization, they've been seen as a cocky team ("World Series or bust" "Where my ring?" "nothing harder in the galaxy") that can't back it up when it counts. In their last appearance Tim Hudson colorfully suggested the Nats didn't have the inner fortitude to win, then they got beat in 4 games.

Dusty also needs it. Despite being a very successful manager Dusty has not had much playoff success. His teams have made seven playoff appearances, and have won a combined 3 playoff series. In his last stop, Cincinnati, he couldn't make it out of the first round be it the NLDS (swept out by Phillies in 2010, collapsed after taking a 2-0 lead over the Giants in 2012) or the Wild Card (giving the Pirates their only playoff success in recent vintage in a non-competitve game).

Right now both the Nats and Dusty are looked at as having issues in the playoffs. A series win would go a long way to putting that to rest. A series loss and, well I'm afraid it becomes a "thing". That becomes how people see the Nats and Dusty going forward until they prove otherwise. Playoff chokers. I don't think they have to win it all. Usually just making the World Series gives you a measure of credibility. I don't even think they have to beat the Cubs*. That is a juggernaut team that everyone believes has mojo on it's side, excusing whoever they beat on the way. But they have to beat the Dodgers.

Other Notes

So Bryce keeps stupidly sliding head first into bases and yesterday it might have done serious injury. Mind you we already believe he is injured so this only adds to it. Some fans were screaming at Kang for deke-ing Bryce into sliding. I wasn't watching the game so I assumed that when several stated the Pirates "got no advantage" from the move that I would see a play where Kang saw the ball clearly in the hands of a Pirate player ready to fire home for an easy out if Bryce tried to keep going. Instead I saw a ball miss 3rd by 15 feet and roll slowly past the bag.

This is not only a situation where a deke may happen, it's a situation where a deke SHOULD happen. You try to trick the player into sliding so he doesn't advance further. It's an old trick usually lauded by players and fans alike. But Bryce got hurt so somehow this time it's wrong and bad. Seriously? This was a perfectly acceptable play and if you don't see that, I don't know what I can tell you. I guess be less of a crazy homer?

Offensively the Nats had a good weekend which is good. But like the bad games the preceded the Pirates series they don't really mean too much. I want to see them hit the Dbacks. I really want to see them hit the Marlins. I accept that none of that may matter for the NLDS, but I want them coming in hot rather than cold if I can have it.

Daniel Murphy hasn't played a full game in over a week (it was the Saturday before last), taking two PH at bats since then. He doesn't need to play today, not really, but it would be nice. Really if you want to go full "DOOOOOOOM" about it - wait to see if he's not ready for the Marlins series. Then I would worry. He's been active. He's played 145 games or whatever. It wouldn't even be a full two weeks out. It shouldn't take him more than a few games to get back into the swing of things.

*Now if it's the Mets or Cardinals or Giants? Yes, the Nats have to beat them too. In fact it's more imperative because those are three teams who are seen as gutsy winners. Lose to them and you not only damn the Nats but you push the other guy up. You make things worse overall for me by extending this stupid narrative. Lose to the Dodgers and well, that hurts the Nats but no one is going to be screaming about scrappiness and grit for LA.

Saturday, September 24, 2016

Friday, September 23, 2016

Bryce and Daniel.

Bryce Harper is hurt.

We've guessed about this before but it's almost certainly true.  If it isn't true here is what you believe :
The year after generational prospect Bryce Harper broke out and had one of the greatest offensive seasons of all time, he had the 3rd worst and worst months of his career so far. That after slugging 44 doubles and 51 homers in a season and a month he would regress to the point of having the worst isoSLG of his career*

But why would this be? All those walks (NOT STARTED BY JOE MADDON) got in his head? Maybe but he'd have a decent June and a good August after that. Adjustments by the pitcher or by him? Hard to believe that 5 years into a career. Natural variation? That's a little tough to believe but I won't rule it out if that makes you happy. I'd need to look more into it.

But power should be sort of stable right? Let's see what we see when we look at his isoSLG monthly after his last struggling rookie month

.213 .313 .376 .175

Wait! What happened there? Well that corresponds to May 2013. On April 29th he crashed into the wall and might have hurt his hip. On May 13th he crashed into the wall and did hurt his knee.

-- .178 .208 .091

Woah woah I thought he was getting better! If you are going to hang your hat on something I guess this month - September of 2013 looks to be one. (he didn't play in June if you are counting up months that's the "--") He seems to be getting better then he struggled. Accumulation of injuries? Perhaps but nothing immediate. We move on.

.133 -- -- .114

Hold it again - ok the .133 suggests lingering issues but the .114? Well that's the month after came back from breaking his hand.

.211 .133

At this point we're at the end of 2014 and Bryce is either (1) not that great or (2) pretty injured. Those last rookie months into his 2nd year and a smattering of back from injury months suggest (2) but a couple months in there suggest (1) might be the case. What does 2015 hold?

.259 .524 .321 .275 .122 .414

That should help rule out (1), but .122, there's your second hat hanger. Just a ill-timed slump. Started pretty much Day 1 of August. He still hit well - just no pop. He did hurt himself a little in August but was actually better after that. So even on his game Bryce can have some short periods of no power. Now 2016

.428 .163 .139 .143 .226 .087

So here we are. I think you could write off May as an affect of the walk strategy. It seemed to throw him off for a couple weeks. June or July could be a slump, maaaybe even both, but it would be his first extended slump like that. And then there's the .087? I suppose it could be another ill-timed slump (it did happen to start Day 2 of September) but now your saying Bryce just happened to have three slumps, including his worst ever, in the same season. A season where age and recent success suggest he should be in his prime. It just doesn't make a lot of sense. Coupled with the other low numbers, the general history of slugging issues when injured. I think injury is just the more reasonable guess.

Now if we were just guessing, like before, it's easier to rule out. Fans being fans. But now that we have a source and a credible reporter saying the same, it seems more foolish to not buy into it. They have no good reason to tell us that he's injured either, unless they plan for him to sit. So don't expect any news until the off-season but right now I think it's foolish to think he's working through anything other than an injury.

Daniel Murphy is injured.

They don't know what it is.  He has been able to pinch hit twice so there is that. But that first PH seems like he's grimacing, no? The 2nd one didn't inspire confidence either - weak reaching ground ball on an almost one-handed swing - but looking at other GBs he hit on pitches like that it's not different enough for me to point it out. 

This is a big deal. Bigger than Bryce, honestly. If Bryce is hurt - well then Bryce has been hurt most of the year and he's battled through it and the team's been ok because they've had other guys they can rely on. If Murphy's hurt - he's carried the team all year. Early with Bryce, mostly with Ramos, lately with Turner and Rendon, but he's been there all year. If he can't hit like he has that's the heart of the 2016 Nats line-up cut out.

Let's hope he plays today and this can be just unecessary concern. If he doesn't play I'd even accept a diagnosis because honestly all that matters is that he's healthy enough to get a few good swings in before the seasons end and how us that he'll be ok for the playoffs.

*if you recall this is SLG with batting average pulled out. It helps adjust for BA fueled SLG percentage highs and lows. For example when Bryce was getting walked all the time in May and only hit .200 his SLG of .363 looked hideous. However the isoSLG of .163 was merely bad. It wasn't that he wasn't hitting for power - he was just slumped.

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Nats do as Nats do

Ramos was made an offer said Heyman.  How much? Let's go to our resident psychic and see what he said just a couple days ago!
I can see them offering Ramos something like 3/30+ to begin with to see if he would take it and then offering him the QO.
Yay me!  It WAS apparently something like 3 years slightly more than 30 million.  Why is that what the Nats offered?

1) It was the lowest reasonable comp available. When I listed all the recent decent catchers signed Francisco Cervelli had both the shortest contract (3 years) and smallest per (10.333 million).

Is Cervelli a good comp? Kind of. Much like Ramos he was coming off a career year in his late 20s. He wasn't seen as the same type of hitter or defender as Ramos. Cervelli is a high average hitter with ok patience. Ramos is a mid average hitter with good pop.  Cervelli is a decent plate blocker and run-gunner but a great framer. Ramos is a good plate blocker and run-gunner but only a fair framer. The end result though was a year going into a contract that was roughly as productive as Ramos' current season.

However Ramos was a good prospect who had previously hit well over 200 games in parts of 3 separate seasons before succumbing to multiple injuries. 2016 has been a career year, yes, but also a bounce back year of sorts. Cervelli was not a prospect and had never hit, in part possibly because of injuries, prior to his surge up to the year before his contract. That surge up only constituted 66 total games. Cervelli was much more of a gamble.

Also Cervelli's deal covered his 31-33 age seasons, while Ramos' deal would cover his 29-31 age seasons. At a position where wear and tear can play major issues with players, younger is better and worth more.

So you could argue Cervelli is a decent comp but there hardly is anything pointing to Cervelli being worth a bigger deal than Wilson making him more of a decent base than a direct comparison.

2) The Nats offer fair deals at around the lowest reasonable offer. The Nats don't go under market, at least in my mind. They look at a player. They look at the market. They figure out what is the lowest the market would give. Then they offer something around that.

Is it an opening offer? A best and final? Depends on the player, I'm sure. But that's how they roll. The worst that can happen I suppose is the player can be insulted but you know what? Feelings of insult go away pretty quickly if more money is involved.  So if the Nats really want a guy, they can up the offer. There's really very little harm done seeing if you can get a guy to accept the low-end of what he's worth. And in fact it can lead to a lower contract being accepted than if you came in with a more standard market offer.

Of course all Nats fans care about is the two questions I just asked "Is it an opening offer? A best and final?" and history tells us it's probably closer to a best and final. It's hard to say though. The market dried up for ZNN and Desmond as teams pursued mid-range pitchers and Desmond killed his value with a career worst season. This made the Nats' offered deals look more reasonable then they were when initially put out there. They didn't have any reason to up their offer (and in fact as far as I know they took Desmond's deal off the table). So perhaps if Ramos explores free agency and the money is there the Nats might up their offer a little. It's new territory.

However, go back and read what I said a couple days ago. Assuming the Nats want to stick with a payroll of under 150 million, it'll be very hard to fit in a 10+ million dollar catcher into the team's ledger. The Nats have a enough holes to plug in the offeason that they are going to use up their funds before even getting to catcher.  The only way I see them keeping Ramos is if they raise the payroll. It's happened once but I'm not sure it's happening again.

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

The Rotation Question

Nats lose again, right? Yes. But Mets lose and Dodgers lose so there you go. Tick tick tick.

Buried inside of Verducci's "Bryce is hurt" article (read it if you haven't - we'll get to that another day soon) is a nugget of info that could drastically effect the Nats postseason plans. Turns out Max Scherzer does not think pitching on short rest is a good idea. Here's the quote
“That’s asking a lot,” he said. “You’re trained to give everything you have every fifth day. You might be able to get through it, but where it would really show up is your next start.”
Now I'll never go against a pitcher that says something like this. While I totally think pitchers CAN go on short rest, I also understand they've been trained their entire professional lives to go every 5th day. The body develops a rhythm and anything that throws that off is sub-optimal. Hell, getting an extra day probably isn't good for most pitchers. And remember I noted a week ago or so that Max has never started a game on short rest.

However, we can't deny that this presents the Nats with a problem. Conventional thinking likely had the rotation (at least for the NLDS) going like this

Max - Roark - [OFF] - Gio* - Max - [OFF] - Roark

This way you maximize the use of your healthy and best starting arms. There are days off between games 2 & 3 and games 4 & 5.  That means Max's second game would be on short rest, but Roark's would not. If Max really would prefer not to pitch on short rest though it begs the question what do the Nats do? A lot depends on what we see going down the stretch I imagine. Let's run through some potential plans.

Plan A - Keep rotation as expected, but defer to only use Max on short rest in emergency
Max - Roark - Gio - Max (if down), Ross/Cole/Latos (if up) - Max (if not used), Roark (otws)

While Max says he's not really for it, I'd bet he'd do it if asked. Plus you may not even need him. The Nats may sweep (or get swept).  You may balk at using a lesser option in game 4 but really you don't need Max to go since you can technically afford to lose. Plus you can really go with an all hands on deck (AHOD) rotation. So if someone isn't working you can immediately go to someone else. Would we rather see Max, no matter what? Probably. But this I think, is the most reasonable plan.

Plan B - 4 man rotation
Max - Roark - Gio - Ross/Cole/Latos - Max,  or
Max - Gio - Roark - Ross/Cole/Latos - Max 

This makes some sense if Ross seems fully healthy by the time the season ends. He's been a good pitcher during the year while healthy so giving him a shot (with the AHOD caveat) is reasonable. It would feel a little funny going with Ross if the Nats were down 1-2 at this point but if he looks fine I don't see how you don't consider this option. Now some will note Ross has had issues with lefties and LA hits righties well so it's a bad match-up. That's true, which is why this is my Plan B. I can see doing it but I'd rather do A. In this case it doesn't matter where Gio or Roark go as neither would be called on to pitch later in the series. If Ross doesn't seem ready to go though, this plan loses a lot of appeal and might not even be a recognizable letter grade. Latos or Cole potentially in a must win game? No thank you.

Plan C - Short rest Roark
Roark - Max - Gio -  Roark - Max 

While Max would rather not go on short rest, former reliever Roark might not care as much. Plus Roark, if you haven't noticed, has been real good this year. There's no reason why he couldn't succeed in the playoffs as he has all season long. This also has the added benefit of giving Max normal rest without any tricks. Max is pitching great now, why mess with that at all? The problem would be the idea that you are starting the series with your second best pitcher. Not starting with your best foot forward seems... wrong. Can you get over that?

Plan D - Split Attack
Max - Gio - Roark - Max - Gio

Like I said, the Dodgers don't hit lefties. I told you to look at the splits. Did you? No. Fine. Here. That's a big difference! They are literally worst in the league against lefties. That's a little over-stated - Kendrick is better vs lefties than this season shows and Puig is back and will start, but still worst is worst. If they are a little better than they've shown maybe they are what? 3rd worst? Attacking your opponents weakness is never a bad idea. If you start Gio in games 1 or 2, then you have the option of using him twice. In this scenario, with Gio getting game 2, you get your righty lefty righty mix going. You have to short rest Max, though, as I don't think anyone would be comfortable with the idea of going 5 games and using Max and Roark once each.  The downside is you are using Roark once, since if he pitches game 3 he won't be available game 5, even in relief**.

Plan E - Maximize Gio
Gio (AHOD) - Max - Roark - Gio (AHOD) - Max

If getting Gio twice is good, then getting him twice as soon as possible is better, right? With this plan they get Gio twice in the first four games with the caveat, that since he'd be looking at short rest, if he seems to not have it (1 in 3 chance, right?) that you shift over to someone else quickly. The downside is now you aren't even starting with your 2nd best option. You are on your 3rd and a severe step down from 1st and 2nd.  Plus you are going with your 3rd best option on short rest. That's a real gutsy call that would probably have to be amended if Game 1 didn't go exactly as planned, and your options on changes are limited. 

I fully expect the Nats to go with Plan A or B. It's defensible. It's traditional. However they aren't the only possible plans available. Plans C or D are interesting and feasible plans that create some favorable situations for the Nats. They may not be the way the Nats go - but they are certainly worth a look. With Strasburg out, it may pay to be creative.

*look at the splits, and how he's pitched in general since break. It's the right move barring complete late September meltdown

**well unless he's bombed. That's how ZNN came back to pitch an inning in relief against the Cards in 2012. 

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Nats Lose - Time marches on

The Nats put up another uninspired effort but I will say I was a bit more pleased yesterday than the previous couple nights. Last night was more about failure to get the big hit than it was a failure to get the guys on. That's progress right? I don't know. Like I said yesterday - season is too far gone to worry about East. HFA is still relatively secure (we'll revisit at series end) and all I really care about is that the Nats start hitting a week from now. And even then that's for impressions going into the playoffs more than anything dependable.

Let's talk about Ramos shall we? A big FA overview - not a look into his recent slump.

Wilson Ramos, gotten in a trade for Matt Capps so long ago, was supposed to be the Nats catcher of the future. In 2011, at age 23,  he was eased into the role playing 113 games. He had an OPS of 113 and finished 4th in ROY voting.* The Nats believed in Ramos so much they dealt away another potential starter, Derek Norris, in the deal to get back Gio. A solid receiver, it looked to be the beginning of a fruitful career, where the Nats could take advantage of having a plus player for cheap in one of the hardest positions to fill.

Then the injuries came. 

A torn ACL in 2012 limited him to 25 games in 2012. A pulled hamstring in 2013 kept Ramos out for much of the first half  and he played only 78 games. In 2014 he broke his hand on Opening Day and would be limited to 88 games. Finally in 2015 Ramos would be healthy enough to play a reasonable amount of games. The problem was he was terrible. He hit .229 / .258 / .358.  Given the last four seasons had been nothing but heartache it looked like 2016 would be the last time you'd see Wilson in a Nats uniform.

Then Wilson got LASIK and it all seemed to turn around. A .316 / .328 / .491 line in April was followed by an even better .333 / .400 / .522 line in May and an even BETTER .364 / .414 / .636 line in June. Wilson was an All-Star, the best hitting catcher in the league. But seasons are long and surprises usually find a way of stopping to be such. Wilson would have a solid July, .291 / .351 / .442, but August would be a slow down .261 / .293 / .446  and September would be a dead stop .229 / .288 / .354.

As Wilson prepares to enter free agency we have to ask ourselves 'Who is the real Wilson Ramos'? Was the first half just a fluke? Or is this just fatigue? Do the Nats re-sign him?

Let's look at it dispassionately

Wilson Ramos just turned 29. He's had an excellent 2016 overall. He has a history of injury but recently has been able to stay healthy. His history suggests that both 2015 and the first half of 2016 were not representative of his actual offensive talent level. It is more likely that he is a .270 hitter with 20+ homer power but absolutely no patience and no speed.  As far as you can trust the stats, he is still a solid defender, and not a great framer but not a bad one either.

If you believe in the above then Wilson is an attractive target as he would remain a Top 10ish catcher in the league with that profile. With catcher production hard to come by, fully a third of the league would do very well to pick up Wilson. Given his age he's not necessarily limited to only contenders expecting 1-2 good years as he could reasonably give you 4 years or more of similar production. There is also a dearth of quality FAs on the market. Matt Weiters, the only real likely rival, has not done well after taking that qualifying offer. The second best available catcher may be one-time Nat Kurt Suzuki, who has managed replacement level offense at a reasonable value.  Some of the teams that may be in the market for Wilson include rivals such as the Mets, the Braves, and the Orioles, along with teams like the Tigers and Astros.

As far as contract goes, four recent comparisons include Brian McCann (5/85), Russell Martin (5/82), Sal Perez (5/52.5) and Francisco Cervelli (3/31).  Given his age and production and the scarcity of the position, I'd probably say he'd be closer to the 17 million than the 10 average salary so let's give an estimate of 4years, 56 million for what Ramos would get. However, the Nats could offer him a QO which could diminish his value because teams are stupid.

The next question is will the Nats go there. If you go by history it's unlikely. As far as re-signing players go, the Nats love to get a deal on the remaining arbitration years to off-set the over pays necessary for the free agent years. This is what they offered for ZNN and Desmond, and seemingly talked about with Strasburg. Thanks to injuries and performance the Nats didn't do this for Ramos. They also apparently haven't made any overtures to Ramos about re-signing him this year.

But if the Nats don't resign Ramos they don't have a good plan B. Jose Lobaton was a fine back-up when they got him but is close to end of life for MLB. Organizationally they like Pedro Severino but he hasn't been impressive in AAA. He is starting to hit for a bit of average and he doesn't strike out a ton, but has no patience or power to speak of. He is only 23 so there's time for him to improve but the best you could probably hope for in 2017 from him is an empty .260+ average. He is supposed to be a very good defender though. Beyond Severino there really isn't anything. Kieboom is older and hasn't clicked at AA.  There's a handful of young catchers in the low minors, Read, Cabello, Reetz; worth keeping an eye on but no one that looks to be imminent.

Payroll-wise the Nats will likely have little flexibility. With Strasburg and Ross injuries in the second half, the retention of Gio is necessary. That keeps the payroll up in the 145 million range which is where they seem to like it. They could save about 10 million by letting Petit walk and jettisoning Ben Revere but the Nats are going to need the re-fill the bench (Drew and Heisey are FA) and do a little bullpen work. Melancon, Rzepczynski, and Belisle are all FA this year. Even if you key in say Kelley as closer and Treinen as set-up, you still probably want a reliable veteran arm in there. All that together will be pretty close to 10 million.

Competition wise the Nats find themselves with a leg up on the NL East competitors going into 2017. They are more talented than the Marlins, who find themselves lacking starting pitching with a depleted minor league system; and healthier than the Mets, who also desperately need to keep Cespedes. With Trea Turner looking like an All-Star caliber player there is enough of a core - Byrce, Rendon, Murphy, Turner - to build an offense around without Ramos, while if healthy the pitching staff should remain one of the better ones in the National League.

My guess is the Nats don't re-sign Ramos. They probably don't want to given the payroll and they can convince themselves pretty easily that a "good enough" solution for 2017 will work, while they see if Severino can hack it. Ramos' injury history and 2nd half makes him a gamble and the Nats may be less willing to make such a move given the questions raised by the recent long term retention deals signed, Zimmerman and Strasburg. I can see them offering Ramos something like 3/30+ to begin with to see if he would take it and then offering him the QO. I don't see Ramos taking either of those however. To me the most telling sign is the lack of contact between the Nats and Ramos. They aren't shy about saying they want to sign guys even if they don't think it will work out. The fact Ramos hasn't heard anything to me tells me they don't have any plans.

*Because you are wondering Kimbrel won it. Freeman was 2nd. Third was Vance Worley.  Espy was 6th.

Monday, September 19, 2016

Monday Quickie : Weekend in reveiw.

While you were off doing whatever it is you do on the weekend the Nats lost a series to the Braves, and the Mets swept the Twins. Fortunately this late in the year, that does little but push back the clinching date* and give the Dodgers a reason to check the HFA standings after they are done with this Giants series. For Joe Q Fan, now you are far more likely to see a NL East clinch in person if you grab one of the first couple games versus the D-Backs. So maybe do that!

For the Nats, the story of the weekend was Trea Turner - who bashed 3 homers in the first two games and who sits with a .355 / .377 / .590 line right now.  The only downside? Trea doesn't get to face the Braves again. He's hitting .475 / .492 / 1.424 against Atlanta. He his them so well that before this weekend he already had more of his HRs against Atlanta than any other team.  Is he as good as Mike Trout as Ray Knight suggests? Well in Mike Trout's second season he hit .326 / .399 / .564 for the year. That's right about what Trea is doing. Except that was a full year. Oh and Mike Trout was 20-21 that year. And he played GG defense in center. "But Trea steals bases and hits triples. Did he steal bases and hit triples?", you ask. Yes, yes he did. 49SBs and eight triples. So.... no, Trea isn't Trout. But if Trea can be say 90% Trout? Take it and run with it. 90% Trout is still a HOFer.

The second story is Joe Ross is back! And in limited time he was... alright, I guess! He got into trouble, but worked out of it. Given that it was his first outing back I'm not going to read much into it. Really all I was looking for was "not terrible" and he cleared that low bar easily. Let's see how he does in 5 days going 5 innings or so. If he's let's say... "fair" or better then we are moving along nicely. It may not mean he pitches in the playoffs but it means the Nats will start to have that as an option and the more options the better. Because...

The third story was Gio struggled. This isn't itself that surprising. Gio is who he is. A decent pitcher who's a little inconsistent and can toss out too short outings at the drop of a hat. The thing is he had been pitching better recently. That gave Nats fans this idea that if he just rolled through his last few starts against middling competition, that putting him out there in the NLDS versus the Dodgers would be an obvious move. The Dodgers do struggle against LHP. However a game like this puts doubt back. 2016 Gio can deliver a stinker anytime and anyplace. Is that who you want on the mound in a short series even with a distince platoon advantage?

How did the offense do otherwise? Well the Nats crushed John Gant on Friday scoring five in an inning and 2/3rds. Great start! They would go on to score only 7 more runs in the next 25 and a third. Bad finish. Murphy keeps hitting and Werth had an ok series 4-13 with a double. Pretty much everyone else continues to be stuck in a rut.  If you're looking for good news, no one started more than one game and went 0-fer weekend.  If you're looking for bad news, well just look at the arms the Braves tossed out there this weekend. No good excuse why they didn't score more or at least hit more.

In other pitching news, Max helped his Cy Young case (a little) with a very good but not dominant outing. (For those on the Cy Max bandwagon tonight's a big night. Syndergaard, Bumgarner and Kershaw all go).  Relief wise only Gott pitched more than once as Dusty saves up the arms. The kids you were hoping would play the role of unstoppable rookie fire-ballers in the playoffs, Lopez and Glover, both didn't do well. Rep also had a rough outing but he's not going to be used to face righties in the playoffs (one would think). Yeah Freeman got a big hit but that was 4 batters in. Rep shouldn't be going 4 batters in in the playoffs. That's not his role.

Tonight's games of choice BOS @ BAL - can Baltimore keep the division race interesting or will Boston get the separation it wants to set up for the playoffs?; SF @ LAD - Like BOS/BAL but higher stakes. SF is fighting for its playoff life as much as the division, LA could all but end the West race with a sweep. TOR @ SEA - two teams travelling in opposite directions but the Blue Jays still have a two-game edge. The Blue Jays could fortify their position with a series win. Seattle (2 out) really needs it to keep playoff hopes up. Detroit (2), Houston (3), New York (4), and KC (5) all take on the lower half of the AL in the mad dash to a Wild Card.

*when would we talk collapse? I suppose if the Nats lost 5 in a row and the Mets won 5 in a row, you could bring that up.

Friday, September 16, 2016


The Nats will win the East. At this point they have the 2nd biggest lead in baseball (and the second best record by a half-game over the Rangers). so it will happen soon.  How soon?  Well sorry for you hoping to close out the Nats time in Turner Field with a division title. Atlanta isn't possible. Even a double sweep puts the Mets 13 out with 13 to go. (I'm sure some of you would still find a way to worry in that situation.) It's most likely going to be Miami or Pittsburgh.

I assume fans would rather clinch at home, but at the same time don't exactly want to risk the thing getting close to do so. That's not exactly what would have to happen, but it would probably take a minor Nats stumble. Both the Nats and Mets are playing well and playing bad teams so let's say they win 2 out of 3 going down the stretch. With that assumption the Nats cut down 3 on the elimination number each 3 game set. That puts the E-number at 4 after Atlanta, 1 after Miami, and the Nats celebrating on the Roberto Clemente Bridge sometime next weekend. Betting odds would be on the 23rd.

To give a range - generally you expect to cut 2-4 games every 3 game set. That means the likely range for elimination has it happening anywhere from the 20th to the 26th. So an outside chance of it happening in DC without a major issue, but real unlikely.

How about HFA in the NLDS? Going by the same 3, and 2-4 assumptions, it'll basically happen sometime that last homestand. Back of the envelope stuff but anywhere from Sept 26th to the last day of the season is "in range" with probably the 29th being the bettors date right now.

What about awards? The Nats are right there for a lot of awards this year.

NL Cy Young
Kershaw is the best pitcher in the majors right now, but he's going to end up with 140-150 IP. In comparision guys like Max, Fernandez, Syndergaard, Hendricks, and Bumgarner will end up with 190-220. That's a big difference some won't get over and I think it'll be enough to cost him the award. Any of these five could get it in my opinion. Jose probably has the hardest time given he has the highest ERA and no pressure games to sell voters on down the stretch. He has to hope for stumbles. Max is probably in the driver's seat right now but everyone else is going to have the chance to pass him with some significant points and he can't do much about that. Sydergaard and Bumgarner could pitch their teams into the playoffs. Hendricks could drop his ERA under 2.00. It's totally up in the air right now and each start is going to matter.

Roark? You could argue underrated but there are a LOT of great pitchers this year and he's just not quite there when you dig past ERA and W, which you have to do to separate these guys.

It's Bryant or Murphy.  Here's the lines.

Bryant : .295 / .388 / .562  37HR  114R 95RBI
Murphy : .348 / .393 / .598  25HR  88R  102RBI

If you made me bet right now I'd say Bryant takes it. It's a better story nationally and if he goes .300 and 40+ homers? 100+R and 100+RBI? I think there's too many things checked off there. But it's no guarantee.

Seager is also a good candidate but he won't win it because....

Seager is going to win this. Yes Trea has been awesome but Seager has been like that all year long. If you expand Trea's time in the majors to 142 games you get 30 doubles, 15 triples, 20 homers, 75RBI, 102R, and 60SB.  Well Seager has 39 doubles, 3 triples, 25 homers, 69 RBI, 96R and 2 SB.  Basically when you think "How awesome a season would it be if Trea did this for a full year" the answer is look at Seager and add stolen bases.  Plus Seager is really good in the field.

There are no compelling terrible in 2015 to almost playoff teams. So we can ignore everyone not in the playoffs. The Dodgers, Cardinals and Mets will all make it winning fewer games than last year (assuming they do). That makes it unlikely that they get any major support for votes, though I'm sure each one of them will have their "injuries made it tough!" supporters. The Giants, if they make it, will have done it with a few more wins but Bochy isn't going to get a MOY award for sneaking into a Wild Card. He's set his bar.

So it's Dusty or the weird wuss. Dusty has the team on the biggest turn around. They will win 10+ more than last year. He's also undeniably a good story. What's against him? Well, no one really believes the Nats were an 83 win team turned around by Dusty, rather they were a good team who had an off year last year. Maddon has the perennial loser Cubs as the best team in baseball by far. Media types love him and while Dusty is a good story, this is arguably THE story of the year in the game. What's working against him? Well he just won it last year and only one guy (Bobby Cox) has ever won the award twice in a row. Of course Dusty has won it too. Twice, so there isn't much "give it to him" drive I bet.

Voters like the bad to good stories and there aren't any this year in the NL. So failing that if I were a betting man think if Maddon gets the Cubs to 104 wins (most in over a decade in the majors) he takes it. If not I think Dusty has a chance if he can finish within five games of the Cubs.

Thursday, September 15, 2016


Nats win.

It wasn't the constructive offensive game I wanted to see, but once Dusty was out for the game that pretty much ended the whole "treat it like a playoff game" idea. I mean if your manager is not around, what's the point? So stick them out there, let them play, see what happens and what happens is a win. Great!

There's a lot of talk about the offense (yet so little about the pitching - it's as if I didn't write half of what I wrote yesterday). Is it bad? How do you judge that? If so, how bad is it? Will it stay bad? Of course there are no "true" answers here. It's all conjecture and opinion really, which is why you can have a lot of back and forth about it.

They have been hitting poorly recently. That's not really arguable. In the last two series as a team they are hitting .224 / .290 / .365.  Does this in itself matter though? Not really. This is like week 23 or something. You are going to have a bad week and as weeks go, well that's bad but it could be worse. Stretching out until August 27th (the 2nd COL game) the Nats are hitting .245 / .302 / .371.  That's about 2 1/2 weeks of below average hitting. That's more meaningful as it's both like a tenth of the season so far and still going on. Is it an arbitrary endpoint? Oh definitely. But we're not looking to define the offense as bad or good in general (at least I'm not). I'm simply noting for how long the offense has been scuffling. That's the point I'd start at.

The question though remains - how bad is it? How do you judge that? It's easy enough to pick out a time where they struggle and an average and compare that to the league but baseball isn't static. You go up and down. Is this down now really that unusual? Well for fun, because let's face it we're crusing until the playoffs, I went ahead and calculated the rolling 10 and 20 game averages for the Nats over this season

Ten Game

Twenty Game

Neither the current 10 game average or 20 game average look all that bad. For the season the Nats are hitting .255 so the 10 game average is right on and the 20 is just a tick below.  Now of course that counts the ATL series but the ATL series happened. I can't just pull that out and say I don't think it counts. Maybe it was the Braves, but maybe it wasn't. We're trying to be objective.

I think though we see two things going on. The first is how our expectations have shifted, perhaps unfairly. About 40 games ago, right around the start of August, the Nats offense started to heat up. Soon, the Nats were hitting as well as they have all year. That set a bar, and honestly one that's probably one that's a bit unfair. The Nats aren't going to consistently hit .270+. The only team doing that are the Rockies for obvious reasons. .257 in fact, is good enough for 4th in the NL. Yet in our heads .265/.270 is probably what we are thinking the Nats should do because well, they just did it for 3 weeks, obviously they can do it forever right?

However, while we are probably reacting too strongly to the current state of hitting, there is definitely a trend that's happening. The Nats are coming down. That's not in itself an issue if they are going to settle around where they average, but they are starting to dip below that. That could spell trouble.

We've said this many times, but it bears repeating. It doesn't really matter if the Nats are the best or the worst hitting team. All that really matters is how they hit in the playoffs and in a short series anything can happen. Still we'd like to believe that they are good going in rather than not good. Nothing wrong with that. Right now the offense is scuffling but it's not particularly out of line with previous scuffles during the year. If it goes on a couple series longer though that's going to be something because it'll put the Nats around their lowest points for hitting all year just as the season is wrapping up. I don't know anyone that is ok with that.

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Prove it

If not for anything else, than so we can maybe not talk about it for the next 3 weeks.

The Nats faced a great pitcher on his game and wilted. That's not surprising, just disappointing when you are looking for them to step up and put together a good showing. And by that I don't mean much, I mean manufacturing maybe 3 runs over 7? Is that too much to ask?

I get it. Sometimes that IS too much to ask. Sometimes the other guy is just that good but still...

I just browsed so this could be wrong, but it seems like the last decent (sub 4.00 ERA) starter the Nats really got to in any way was Teheran on the 19th of August (6H, 3 BB in 5 innings) and before that Danny Salazar on July 26th. Yeah yeah part of that I'm sure is facing an easier schedule so there aren't going to be as many good starters to go against and yeah yeah  part of that is that you don't do well against good pitchers or else they wouldn't be good pitchers, but there is something offensively going on you can't deny.  Last night was the 12 time in the last 17 games where they've scored 4 or fewer runs (9th in 16 scoring 3 or under). If you want to be cruel and pull the Atlanta series out those numbers become 12 in 14 & 9 in 13.  They've been a bad offensive team for going over 3 weeks now.

Is it just a slump? Perhaps. Look before we start to go down a "what do we do" road, let's see what happens today. Gsellman isn't Sydergaard, we can't write it off if he dominates the Nats. Gsellman isn't Montero, or at least in 4 games he hasn't shown that, we can't write it off if the Nats bomb him. We're going to take Gsellman as he stands right now, a decent middle of the road pitcher. A good #3 and we're going to see if the Nats can't score 3-5 runs in 5-6 innings off him.  Can they offensively create a winning scenario off a decent pitcher who's team really needs to win?

The flipside is the Nats pitching is really coming through. Because we're focused on finding problems it gets lost but the Nats haven't tanked along with the middling offense. They are 11-6 in their last 17 games. Their starters have been good in the past 3 weeks, which is meaningful given that they are using fill-ins for two spots. Their relievers have been great.  We remember the occasional mess-up, like last nights bomb off Melancon, but in total the relief pitching gave up 1 run over 5 innings last night. You can't ask for more than that.

The same sort of "well maybe Zimm is this and Espy is this and Ramos is this" shoe dropping that haunts the offense, makes you feel real good about the pitching. Maybe Kelley is dominant. Maybe Treinen has turned a corner. Maye Burnett is back and Rep can get all the lefties. Maybe Scherzer is the guy to carry the team in the playoffs. He is in the argument for Cy Young. Maybe Roark is good enough to be that 2nd up. He has a 2.38 ERA since his 2nd start after the All-Star break. Maybe Gio is ready to shutdown the lefty bats of a Los Angeles or San Francisco. He had a 3.16 ERA in July and August and just gave you one of his best starts of the year.

The Nats have always been a pitching first team. This year is no different. That was almost good enough in 2012, when it took some terrible bullpen mismanagement to lose that final game. That was almost good enough in 2014 when the Nats lost three one-run games in the NLDS. We can and should talk about the offense but as long as the pitching is doing this well the Nats have more than a fair chance to move further in the playoffs.

Back to today - I hope Dusty treats this game like a playoff game. Why shouldn't he? It's the last game versus a team with anything to play for until October. Tomorrow is meaningless and you have pitchers to burn. So make this a test run. Put in the line-up you'd have in the playoffs. Aim to manufacture runs if that's the way the game seems to be going. Score a handful against Gsellman. Keep the Mets, a surging team, down for the third game in a row.  Pivot the imaginary series your way. That's the way I'd look at today. 

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

You're only as good as your next Montero

We talked a little bit about momentum in the comments yesterday and I feel the Mets game encapsulates perfectly why you can't plan around it. The Mets had been hot. They took 7 of 8 and only lost that last game by a run. They got an initial run in the top of the first to take an early lead. Everything was going their way. Then Rafael Montero hit the mound. A bad pitcher (lifetime ERA over 4.50) having a bad season (ERA 4.63 going into last night) who had just come off a bad start (4 walks, 3 runs, 3 hits - including a triple and homer, in 79 pitches in only 4 and a third). If there was anyone who would precitably give a bad performance it was him. He did. He was unable to make it out of the second, walking another 4, giving up 2 homers and pretty much ending the game right then and there.

If the Mets lose tonight, Sydergaard vs Cole, suddenly they've lost 3 of 4 with the last game being their current ace losing to a fill-in from another team. In the space of 17 innings a hot team becomes a cold team, mostly because of one bad outing.

We know momentum exists. Trying to capture it though, harness it for use tomorrow, is seemingly impossible. It's fine to make marginal judgment calls to try to capture it, but going beyond that is too far. Like a wave, just hope you can ride it to your destination, if not be in position to paddle, rather than let the tide pull you back out.

As for the Nats. They did what they should do, and what they have done, beat up on a bad pitcher. I fully expect if the Nats catch a mediocre 3 or 4 in the playoffs that they should score enough to win (whether they give up enough to lose is another story). More important that the offensive explosion against the Mets D team* was the Nats C team holding the Mets bats quiet. They had been scoring 5+ runs a game recently. Yes it was against subpar pitching, but that's exactly what the Nats rolled out last night. And they came through. Now the Nats have to repeat that performance, because while it's possible to beat Syndergaard, it's very unlikely they'll knock him out early with a big lead.

A little side note here about Zimmerman (1-4 last night) and the idea of exit velocity.  Ok, so in the world of fancy stats there are a group of people excited by something called Statcast**. Basically it's MLB's attempt to capture everything happening on the diamond. They are capturing things like how fast fielders move and react, more accurate timings of how fast runners round the bases, and yes, how fast the ball leaves the bat after it's hit. This last one is exit velocity.

As you might expect in a very broad sense the harder you hit it the better. That's just common sense. However, when you look at the leaders in these values you see a suprising thing. Ryan Zimmerman is among the top ranked players, and is the topped ranked National. If you stopped right there (like Boz does) this may lead you to believe that Ryan is just getting very unlucky. He is hitting the ball hard but just hitting them "where they is". However that ignores a second important measure, the "launch angle".

The launch angle is the vertical angle off the bat the ball is going when it is hit. The more positive the more "fly ball" the more negative the more "ground ball"*** Why does this matter? Well as soon as you hit a ball it begins to lose speed. That loss is made much, much greater if it strikes something along the way, such as, you know, the ground. The end result is that the advantage of exit velocity is muted for groundballs.

This isn't supposed to be another look at Zimm, but instead a quick look at how to use stats and data. When you look at data know the limitations and know exactly what you are saying. See if you can't find more information that will corroborate or go against what you are trying to say. Zimmerman hits the ball hard. That is all exit velocity tells us. Now we need to see if he's hitting the ball like everyone else in general and if he's hitting the hard balls in any particular way. If he's hitting like everyone and hitting the hard balls no different than the soft ones then he is probably unlucky in some way. Or at the very least it passes the first tests of this theory.

Well he isn't hitting the ball like everyone else. Nearly half of all his balls in play are ground balls, for one of the higher percentages in the league. Next, if you look at the data, his hardest hits have an extermely low launch angle, and he ranks low on hard hit balls with a high launch angle. I'm going to guess with more digging we'd find that he is among the league leaders in "hard hit balls into the ground" so to speak. These two things suggest Ryan isn't just getting unlucky but is hitting the ball in a different way.

You could view that as a fluke. That it just happens that his contact is off in the same direction every time and it'll even itself out. But I don't. We look for more evidence and we get to something we talked about talked about before; Zimmerman has trouble hitting the ball up in the zone. This is where more line drives and fly balls come from. He doesn't make contact there. He makes contact low. Occasionally he will square up on a pitch and drive it. More often though he will pound a low pitch into the ground. This is what you'd see with almost any player. Zimm is no different.

I don't claim to have made an exhaustive look at Zimmerman, not now or before. It's certainly possible I'm missing something here. Perhaps if I look deeper we won't see him leading in hard hit grounders. Perhaps it has more to do with pitch type or pitch speed than pitch location and it is just mixed all up in there. These are the further analysis you assume teams are doing on every player. However, I hope you see from this how just using one stat can be misleading. Zimm hitting the ball hard or not, is probably not just unlucky.

*Did you know Ynoa gave up 2 runs in 2 IP last night and LOWERED his ERA? No even just by a little. By almost 4 runs! Yeah, Collins waved the white flag there.

**Note that this data is still incomplete and has known flaws in measurement. It's best used only in a broad sense

***It is not a simple as positive = fly ball though - the ball of course will immediately start to drop (gravity!) so you actually have to hit it around 10 degrees to get a line drive type hit. And if you hit it too positive, say over 45/50 degrees, it's "too high". Those are generally pop-ups.