Nationals Baseball: 2017

Friday, June 23, 2017

Calling it

Meant to do this after the weekend series vs the Mets but I'm calling the NL East all official like. Well ahead of schedule as last year I didn't call it until August 15th. That's like 2 months from now.

It's over. Plan your Octobers* accordingly.

Of course this comes with two major caveats
1) The Nationals don't suffer a series of major injuries. I don't think one injury changes anything but if say Murphy and Scherzer go down? Ok that might matter. 
2) This is based on the rosters as they currently stand. If the Braves say trade for Sonny Gray and Jose Quintana and Lorenzo Cain and JD Martinez then maybe they can catch the Nats. Otherwise? eh.

We're a little more than a week away from the half-way point of the season and the facts are clear. The Nats, despite their issues, are one of the best teams in baseball. The other teams in the NL East will have to fight to get to .500. This is all a repeat of probably a half-dozen other posts but consider this the topper. We're done talking about the NL East.

So how is everything else going? A month from the All-Star Game** with trade deadlines looming.

The Nats offensively are still coasting off their amazing start.  May was merely average and June was a more standard "best of the rest" type of season.  The line-up has really divided into have and have nots but the haves (Bryce, Murphy, Zimm, Rendon) have been so good that the have-nots (Wieters, Turner, whoever else in in OF) are hard to notice.  It's probably something the Nats are not going to address and that's fine. However a late season injury could tip things here making very good lineup into one that can be exploited.

The starting pitching is also an issue of the greatness covering for the mediocrity and honestly covering for the other not as great but still greatness. Max is fighting to be the best pitcher in baseball and has all the spotlights on him.  Strasburg though is right there with no issues to speak of.  Then things get dicey.  Gio's had his best year in a while but the stats suggest there are some smoke and mirrors involved. Roark is struggling not to be hit.  Ross and the gaggle of others can't hold onto the 5th spot. Unlike the line-up, these holes can't be hidden in the playoffs because Max and Stras can't start every game. The Nats struggled not having a 4th starter last year and it looks like they might have a similar issue this year. I'd expect them at least trying to pick up a 4/5 cheap at the deadline.

The bullpen... well you know. Oddly the middle of the pen - Treinen/Romero/Perez have settled in June, but anyone put in pressure still folds. For the sake of the psychology of the team this will have to be addressed, but just how it will be without taking the top off a system that is just fair will be interesting to see.

This all feels like rehashing I know, but I wanted a solid start to this new part of the season. The post divisional concerns part. That's where the Nats are right now because the NL East is all but won.

*Well at least the early part

Wednesday, June 21, 2017


First off - we have to ask is there really something wrong with Tanner? Up until his 2nd start in June I would have said probably not. His ERA of 3.95 was a little higher than you'd like but with an opponents OPS of .663, 7.4 K/9, 2.83 BB/9 were all in line with what you'd expect. His H/9 was up (8.3) but not too far off his 2014 number. You could see how the combination of all this would lead to a slightly disappointing season but since he had been a pleasant surprise skirting the Top 20 of starters in 2014 & 2016 that would be ok.

The past three games, though, have been a different story. 26 hits in under 14 innings, 9 strikeouts (eh), 6 walks (not good), 4 homers (bad).  Something is up.

Now of course when things look bad it's usually in part out of their hands and a .431 BABIP suggests a few more balls finding holes than normally.  But still over the course of 14 innings that's a few hits - certainly not enough to go from "pretty good" to "god awful".  Looking at the game by game stats one telling thing is the lack of softly hit balls the past few games, and for the season in general.  If you look at this game by game you are bound to see a lot of bouncing around, but since the beginning of May Tanner hasn't gotten more than 15.4% softly hit balls in any game.  That's important because you want his soft hit rate to be over 20%. Hard to get the average over 20% when your peak isn't over 16%.

Now what you might expect from here is some sort of pitch failure. Either a pitch is becoming more hittable (check FB speed) or that there's been a negative change to the pitch selection (check percentages of each type of pitch). Well I looked at these for the past few games and there really isn't anything I see. If we take April to be fairly normal - he did see a drop in FB speed at the beginning of May but he's back up to speed maybe even faster. That could mean a bit of overthrowing but it doesn't explain the lack of soft hits in May. Maaaaybe he's throwing his curve a bit less but that's a stretch to say based on this info in my opinion.

We can look at location (a little bit).  I don't really see much of anything here.  I can tell you he's getting more contact in the zone, fewer swings and misses, but that's really just in the past 3 games not since May. So it's not like he's missing the zone a lot - but that's to be expected from the K/9 and BB/9 numbers.

So what this would tell me at this point is that Tanner has one of two issues (well maybe three)

1) Something to do with the movement of his pitches.  His fastball and change are being hit when they are usually his plus pitches. So I'd look there first. Of course even if we pick up on something here I can't tell you what it means. Some suggested an issue with run back fastballs. I can't figure out what are runbacks or not just from the averages over a game. That's more of a game film type of analysis. Just in general I'd guess more movement is better but too much movement is probably bad too. You're looking for a sweet spot. Of course for each pitcher there are different sweet spots and probably several combinations that work... This is why teams have pitching coaches and not bloggers

2) Something to do with the sequence of his pitches. This is a little more able to be picked up with stats. I'm not going to do it now but I suppose you could see if he's putting together too many fastballs in a row or always following a slider on 2-0 with a change or something like that.

3) I suppose - he could be tipping his pitches in some way.

The good news is that it's not an obvious problem that suggests injury, like loss of FB speed. The bad news is that it's not an obvious problem that suggests injury. Tanner is getting hit harder than he has been in the past. He has been since the start of May and things are not getting better. It doesn't seem like just a slump. What we could surmise from here is something made his FB velocity drop - he got hit hard. To compensate he's tried to ramp it back up and perhaps he's overthrowing - he gets hit hard. But I kind of doubt that's all of it. Let's hope the professionals can figure out what's wrong

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Tuesday Quickie

Hmm Roark looks worth diving into doesn't he?  Ok so I'll do that.  Maybe later tonight.

Despite the Nats cruising down easy street Roark being bad would be a big issue. You need at least three starters for the playoffs (see: 2016, Nats) and as great as Gio's results have been Im not sure anyone is ready to trust him in the playoffs against anyone but the lefty heavy Dodgers.  The pen is still suffering so you'd basically be asking, nay demanding, Max and Stars to win their starts.  Of course the Nats won't actually go into playoffs with both these as issues but a starter issue means it's harder to come together on a relief solution.

Ok. I said it quick.  Back later

Friday, June 16, 2017

Feel better?

You should.

I mean about the NL East. The Mets continue to break down like a rickety jalopy as they go through the season. A completely healthy Mets team is competition. This Mets team is lucky to be hanging on. True they could win the next 3 (including games vs Strasburg and Scherzer) and feel a little better but honestly I don't see that happening. I'm more interested now in the possibility that the Nats sweep, put the Nats 12.5 out, likely hold a 12 game lead over the Marlins and we can all put the NL East to bed and focus on enjoying the last month of ASG baseball before we get consumed in trade talk.

Also praying no one gets hurt in this long stretch of games. There's that too.

What about Gio? Well if you like Gio - he's sporting his best ERA since his first year here and is 6-1. Also if you like Gio stop reading.

It's pretty much a sham. Last night was a legit good game but overall it's not pretty. His strike-outs keep dropping, his walks keep going up, his homers are now a problem. He's being saved by a ahistorical for him low BABIP rate and one of the best LOB% in the game.  So maybe he's become a pitcher that can bear down, fool guys when needed into hitting the ball exactly as he wants to. Or maybe he's just been lucky. Given everything else looks worse, I'm leaning toward lucky.

Sweep now so all of us can focus at yelling at the Lerners to spend money to help the bullpen.

Thursday, June 15, 2017

Tired, Dirty, but will they be Happy?

The Nats are staring at the half-way point of what could be the breaking point of their season. After tonight they will have played 23 games in 24 days and have antother 23 games in 24 days to go.  It's a hard road made necessary by an unfortunate "rainout" make-up with the Orioles, but them's the brakes. What the Nats need to do is buckle down and forge on through. What they are doing is sniping and infighting. I'd say it's up to the manager and team leader to get them through this but both are known for using the media to play up their unhappiness and, let's be honest, that bullpen issue, and not getting paid, are things that are reasonable to be unhappy about. In other words, don't expect it to get better through force of personality.

The Nats have honestly had only one bad stretch of games so far, if you can call it that, where they lost the last two games at the Pirates then the opening two at the Braves. But it came after a stretch of 4 wins (2 walk-offs) in 5 games so the Nats weren't at all reeling. They also had things lining up in their favor. They had a day off after that first win of three. They came back home to face two West Coast teams making East Coast swings, a mediocre Mariners team made for the AL and a terrible Padres team. It was set up nicely for a bounce back and they did.

The Nats now don't have the same situation. It's a longer, more pronounced stretch of bad play (2-6) that does feel a little bit like reeling. They now head away from home for 7 games and rest is a week away. It'll be a test.

How can it get better in the fact of this if the team can't rally? Through force of talent. The Nats have a team that's very good all it tekes is a couple of great pitcher performances (Scherzer and Strasburg back to back) or offensive bust outs (They scored 10 in two of the last three games) to get the team feeling good again and back on track. This team could easily reel of a 5-2 stretch without an ounce of luck.

They don't need a 5-2, though. They don't need to thrive, they just need to survive. Thanks to their great start and the NL East's terrible one they still maintain a healthy lead. A split, at home and with some measure of momentum, would be a loss for the Mets.  A winning series, which would put them 6.5 out, is a bare minimum. They Mets still really need to sweep just to get that lead down to something workable (4.5) and change the feel that this is the Nats division to lose. The onus is still all on the Mets.

Go out tonight and kill that any thinking that this is a race game one. Win tonight, put the Mets 9.5 games out and desperate to hang onto the last threads of hope. Make them think about .500 and a Wild Card. Keep things where they have been all year.  This can be where the season changes but far more easily it can be where nothing changes. Let's make sure of it ASAP.

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Did it!

The bullpen didn't blow a game! That's the first time in like a week!

Ross didn't have a great game. He got through five a lot on luck, with some key double plays and lineouts going his way. But eventually nine hits and three walks will catch up with you. The bullpen then did its job. I'm not exactly sure why you bother to pull Kelley with 2 outs in the 9th with a 5 run lead. But then again I'm not sure why you use Kelley two days in a row and three times in four days. Yeah - it's a limiting situation, but you don't create bad situations on purpose to prove a point.

Zimm homered twice back. Much like yesterdays "I KNEW THIS WOULD HAPPEN" guys, Zimm's "I'm just healthy" is a take that makes all the sense to him but can't be true. Zimm has never hit like this. Not in his history. So something has changed or he has literally never been healthy since being drafted. I'm going to guess the former.

Today should be an easy win. Roark's favorite team to pitch against by far is the Braves (at least that's what the results say). Teheran has had constant trouble with the Nats, including being crushed by them earlier this year. Remember before these series started I said the Braves/Mets had to kind of go 6-1 over these 7 game stretches to set up a possible post ASG threat. That's hard to do if you lose 2 in the first series. Maybe I stretch it to 5-2 if I feel good about the team closing in but the Braves would fall 12 games out and there isn't a compelling reason to think they'll surge in the second half. I'm not sure even a 4 game sweep going into the break would sway me. So I'd officially stick a fork in them if they don't win today. Making them the 2nd NL East team that's done, the other being the Phillies who have spent two months sticking forks in themselves going 10-33 since the third week of the season.

Miami has pushed it's way back into the same area that the Braves and the Mets were at thanks to a recent run. They don't have the same 7 game but they do have a 3 game set coming up. They probably need to sweep it but we'll see.

Honestly this is all leading up to the four game Mets series this weekend. It probably won't decide it all (I have more reason to believe the Mets could surge given their talent and recent history) but a sweep by the Nats should do it, and a sweep by the Mets would dramatically change the feel of the season. But more about this tomorrow.

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

It always has to be about you doesn't it, bullpen?

I didn't want to talk about. I laid out reasons we should move on (for now) just yesterday. And yet here we are again, with the number one story for the Nationals being the bullpen blowing another lead, another game, and making themselves the story for another day.

But what is there to say at this point that hasn't been said? I guess I can talk about how I'm tired of guys saying "I KNEW THIS WOULD HAPPEN!!!" because, no, no you didn't, not like this. I've mentioned it before but after Blanton was signed there were three camps. There was the "cautiously optimistic camp", who saw three arms (Blanton, Treinen, Kelley) that were very good/great in 2016 and an arm they really liked (Glover) and thought they saw a good pen forming. There was the "neutral camp", who saw these four guys, but also saw the problems with them. This camp assumed the pen would be ok but would need and get some sort of bump at the trade deadline. Then there was the "mildly pessimistic camp", who wanted a damn shutdown closer, was mad the Nats didn't get one, and figured the Nats would muddle through with closer issues until the trade deadline. Notice there isn't a "wildly pessimistic camp" in there where people assumed that every piece in the bullpen would fail in one way or another by June. Because this camp didn't exist. Ok it DID exist but only as part of the crank "wildly pessimistic every year" camp, who also thought the Mets would win 100 games, that Bryce would stay hurt, that Murphy would crash, that Giolito would be pitching no-hitters in the majors now, etc. etc.

I guess I can talk about how I'm still surprised how much of a pass Dusty gets in all this. In 2015, when the pen was meh, Matt Williams took a lot of blame for picking the wrong guys at the wrong times. In 2016, when the pen was among the leagues best, Dusty (and Maddux) got a lot of credit for picking the right guys and the right time. But in 2017? Crickets. We don't talk about it. Why? I'd like to assume it's a new found realization that the manager is the small piece in this equation. However, I know it's because you guys all love Dusty. He gets mad when the pen is bad! He's like us! Except he's not like you. He's the one putting guys out there. He's the one that thought it would be a good idea to not use Oliver Perez for 2 whole weeks for no reason. He's the one that thought it would be a good idea to immediately use a returning from injury Kelley in back to back games, then after that failed, do it again. Dusty is a good manager. The record speaks for itself. But come on, put a little blame on the guy (and Maddux I guess if you were praising him).

I guess I can talk about how this reminds me, a little of 2013. Let me explain exactly. In 2012 the Nats were surprisingly good and a big reason for that was the surprise performance of the bench. Roger Bernadina was good. Tyler Moore was better. Chad Tracy was good. Solano & Leon* were combined good. Lombo was ok. None of this was predicted from previous performance. But going into 2013, you had good reason to keep it the same. Lombo, Moore and Leon were all under 25 - they could still be learning. Maybe Solano just got it. Even if Bernadina didn't get it, he was still a decent player. Maybe Chad Tracy finally adapted to a full time bench role. In 2013 though - the expectations took over. 68, 65, 55, 42, 1, -100 those were the OPS+ of the same guys. The plan didn't fail - it failed spectacularly and really only the crashing of Bernadina, who had quietly been a blah 4th OF before, could be called a surprise. The bullpen plan in 2017 wasn't exactly the same. Blanton and Kelley had been good for two solid years, so there was more reason to believe in them. Glover had good minor league stats, there was more reason to believe in him. Treinen had never actually been bad, there was more reason to believe in him. But there was still as sense that they were relying on three guys to replicate years that they probably weren't going to and a rookie to perform at a high level when he probably wasn't. A straight mediocre pen was quite likely.But again - straight mediocre isn't what we are seeing is it?

Kelley is hurt. Glover is hurt. Blanton is I don't know. Treinen is that one guy in each pen that can't handle closing for some reason that spoils it for all middle relievers and is now messed up. Enny Romero is too wild and hittable to take on real important innings. Perez has pitched better than you think but can't be trusted to face righties in a big spot. Matt Albers is a pleasant surprise that you ride until he isn't that anymore which could be any moment.

If you bring one guy in I'm not sure it does any good. Because there isn't a sense of order or dependability to this bullpen. If that one guy succeeds it'll still need to be set up behind him and if that one guy fails (which is possible!) then it just adds to the chaos.

Here's what I do now - since it can't get any worse - DL Kelley. Let him and Glover sit not until they are healthy enough to pitch but until they are without a doubt ready. If you have to have a deadline then after the all-star game. In the meantime bring up what ever crappy arm you got (and trust me they are crappy) just let them pitch and blow it hoping to find one guy. When it's time to bring back Glover and Kelley (and honestly let Kelley sit and wait if Glover takes more time - as I keep reminding people the guy walked off the mound in the most important game of his career because he couldn't throw anymore just 8 months ago - how about an extra week or two rest, just in case?) then you make a deal. Transform the pen in one fell swoop. New guy, presumably a closer is in. Glover, healthy is your 8th inning guy. Kelley is back as an every other day 7th inning guy. The best of whoever was up is kept, the others are tossed without a second thought.

This pen doesn't need an injection, it needs a fresh start. You can't have that putting one guy in here and there and hoping something happens. Hold your best arms out on the DL and bring them all back at once. Make it feels like a huge change. Bring back confidence when you make that trade that we all know you are going to make. You'll have to suffer through 5 weeks or so of this crappy pen, but with a endpoint in sight it would make it a lot more palatable, instead of the infinity pool of tears the Nats have now. 

*Hitting .223 / .269 / .355  for the year. No, the Red Sox didn't find a star. Duh. Duh everyone who thought that.

Monday, June 12, 2017

Monday Quickie - Max attack

Look. I know the pen was terrible again. We can keep talking about it or we can accept the following points.
  • You won't care nearly as much how the bullpen is doing in June as compared to how the bullpen is doing in September.
  • At this point there will have to be some trade made to improve the pen, so evaluation of it now is not evaluating it as it will be when it matters. 
  • Even if the bullpen became lights out today, you'd still worry about it in the playoffs because of these first two months and playoff history and because we're all just worrywarts at heart. 
It sucks.  It'll have to be dealt with. But at this point accept it for the absurd joke it is and don't let it get to you. If you want to concentrate on something, concentrate on hearing what we need to in the rumor mill because we're only like a month away from the post All-Star Game activities.

As for the Max question - I wrote about how Max was #2 last week, even appeared on a podcast to talk about it. Apparently that's more controversial than I thought because a lot of Nats fans think Scherzer is the bestest! Even Boz got in on the action, kind of insinuating that Kershaw and Max are neck and neck. Of course I can't let a good clumsy attempt at proving something using stats by Boz go unchallenged. It's like how every month or so I need to go to Taco Bell and get a bean burrito and a double decker supreme. I just have to. I don't control this part.

Boz mentions that they they are close in wins. Yeah, that's a middling stat for evaluating how good a pitcher really is but I'm not going to argue that point strongly. I like wins. Then Boz brings up strikeouts which is totally fair, but only one aspect of a pitcher's ability. Weak case so far. Then Boz brings up ERA.  He notes Kershaw has a career ERA of 2.36, and Scherzer's is 3.34. BUT he says - Scherzer's ERA in the NL is 2.79! So haha?

There's a few things wrong here. Immediately we have the implied assumption that if Scherzer was in the NL all these years his career ERA would be around 2.79.  Of course that is unlikely to be the case because Max just wasn't as good when he was younger. He did pitch in the NL first and put up a 4.12 ERA in his first full year. A couple years after that, in the AL, he put up a 4.43. It's likely if he was never traded he still would have struggled early on.

Second, look at that gap! 2.79 to 2.36 is 0.43 or nearly half a run better. That's a BIG gap. It's almost the difference between Max last year (2.96) and Joe Ross (3.43).  Would you try to compare those two as being close to the same last year?  It's a bit of a mind trick because Kershaw and Max are both kinda in the "mid" 2.00s so you can fool yourself to think that gap isn't as big as it is. But it is! Boz basically says "These guys are close!" then put out a stat that says "These guys aren't close!". 

Now getting into the nitty-gritty of the comparison. First I hate comparing two unequal time frames. Everyone's career generally starts slow so if you compare someone's best 3 years to someone else's career it's going to favor that first guy. We'll tackle a career to career comparison in a minute but what about Scherzer with the Nats to Kershaw the past 3 years?

Max :  41-23, 2.79 ERA, 147 ERA+, 0.928 WHIP, 6.5 H/9, 1.1 HR/9, 1.8 BB/9 11.2 K/9
Kershaw :  36-15, 2.00 ERA, 192 ERA+, 0.835 WHIP, 6.2 H/9, 0.7 HR/9, 1.3 BB/9, 11.0 K/9

It's not all that close. And understand it's not all that close and Max Scherzer has been FANTASTIC. Here you see the things that Boz didn't bring up. Kershaw gives up fewer hits. Kershaw gives up fewer walks. Kershaw gives up fewer homers. So even if Max is a better strikeout pitcher, Kershaw has been a better pitcher in regards to everything else a pitcher does.

Ok so what about career to career. Turns out there IS a stat that takes into account the league and ballpark they are in. It's imperfect but it's definitely your starting point for comparisons between time periods and between leagues. So what is the career ERA+ comparison?

Max :125*
This is great! Plenty of Hall of Famers around here. Smoltz, Drysdale, Feller. Hey! There's  Bob Gibson!** Now what about

Kershaw : 160!

Oh.  That is literally the best ever for a starting pitcher. I'm sure it'll go down as he ages and hits those off years but again. Currently. Best. Ever.

Here are the arguments you can make for Max vs Kershaw.
  • You can argue Max has become a better strikeout pitcher than Kershaw. I would completely agree here. Sure it can be a matter of approach and what they are trying to do, but Max strikes out more guys. End of story.
  • You can argue that so far in 2017 Max has been a better pitcher than Kershaw. That's completely reasonable. It's only 40% of the season but I'd listen to this. I might even agree.
  • You can argue that you like Max's future more than Kershaw's. This is a little tougher because Max is almost four years older than Clayton but I suppose Kershaw's recent brush with injury could worry you. I would probably disagree here. 
That's it. Those are the comparisons you can make as we stand right now.  If we get to the end of the year and Max has had a better 2017? Then we can argue that he can take the crown away as the "best pitcher now" if he's better in 2018. That would give him two straight years of better pitching and three straight years of more value (since Kershaw pitched better in 2016 but only 150 innings). But right now? Kershaw is the King.

*Strasburg? 126.  Not saying at all he's better than Max right now. Max's Nats ERA plus is close to 150, but again it shows Strasburg has been really good and can definitely accumulate stats into a Hall of Fame career with luck. 

**It's kind of funny that all the live ball era pitchers I pulled out around Max are guys that I immediately thought "Hey that guy is kind of like Max!"

Friday, June 09, 2017

This is the story of Dr. BRYCE and Mr. Bryce

Well, if Ross keeps doing that every third game, you keep throwing him out there.

When can I worry about Bryce without seeming like a worry wart?

Now maybe?I'm gonna stream of consciousness this so early apologies if it doesn't flow well. Bryce has had a bad three weeks hitting .155 / .242 / .310 before last night. And while he went 3-4 last night it was far from an impressive break out. Before now I checked for an obvious injury that might have happened but Bryce's only problem was a groin issue in early May and he came back to hit .429 with 4 homers over the next week. So that makes me think an injury - or at least an obvious one that happened this year - is unlikely.

I also checked and it's not exactly like last year because last year he began to slump even before April was over.

The simple answer is "everyone has slumps, just wait it out" but if you want Bryce to be BRYCE that may not be true.  Let's check out his worst stretch in 2015 then. In 16 games - which is what we are also looking at in 2017 - hmmm he hit .216 / .406 / .353 at one point... That's not quite as bad but it's not a crazy far away if you are just looking at AVG and SLG. 

And here's the thing about that bad 16 games.  It was April into May. Remember BRYCE of 2015 has hitting .245 / .405  / .457 on May 5th.  So a slow start isn't crazy in fact you could argue that he's a had a slow period each of the last three seasons in the first couple months. In 2015 it pretty much started the year before he broke out in May. In 2016 it started at the end of April after a hot start and never really went away. In 2017 it started mid May. So part of me really wants to say wait another week at least.

But there are worrying signs though. K-rate has spiked and his isoSLG has dipped and this isn't BABIP driven.  Take a look at his soft hit percentages by month

April 9.7%
May 19.4%
June 30%

His GB rate is jumped way up... It's all bothersome, I'll admit. Of course June is just a week so one game versus Kershaw can skew it but still. Let's look at 2015 monthlies... K-rate happened.  isoSLG issue happened. (not in same month) The 19.4% - higher than any month in 2015.

Here's my real worry. What was wrong with Bryce last year? We don't know. We assume he was hurt (and I think that's fair) and he never got better as the year went along. When he started hitting to start this year, we assumed he was 100% healthy again but what if he isn't. What if he was just healthy then with a chronic issue waiting until a certain bad swing, tough fall, or just wear and tear brought it back to life? I'd feel better if we knew exactly what the issue was last year so we could rule this out but we don't so it's completely rational to be in a place where you are thinking it might be happening again.

But I'll stay with cautious optimism that it's just a slump. This upcoming homestand makes a nice line in the sand place. Neither Texas nor Atlanta have good pitching in general. You are facing both of them at home. If he doesn't have a decent homestand then I'll join you in worry. What's decent? Well you'd like him to hit like .275+ with power but sometimes you don't get the luck, so I'll be looking at that and at how he's hitting the ball.  A bunch of weak grounders and I'm worried regardless if a few trickle through. A bunch of line drives and I feel better even if they are right at people. 

The Nats don't need Bryce to win the division, so there's that, but he's a guy that seems to step up in bright lights so having him healthy for the playoffs would be nice, even if its just for an immeasurable psychological boost for me personally.

Thursday, June 08, 2017

Joe Ross' last chance?

The Nats have a LOT of leeway right now. The division is already at the point that situations where the Nats don't win the division are all "Nats play terribly (which is nothing like they've played so far) and other team plays great (which is nothing like they've played so far)"* That means in theory they can run Joe Ross out there over and over again and really it doesn't matter.

Still, do the Nats want to do that?  Joe has had three starts since coming back. His first one was great. 8IP 5H 0BB 6K.  He induced 12 GBs in compared to 9 flyballs. His next two starts though, were retreads of his pre injury starts.  Combined he threw 7 innings gave up 19(!) hits, and only induced 9 ground balls to 22 flyballs. A bad start today would give Joe 5 in 7 outings and really call into question whether he's healthy and/or whether he has major league talent.

Now I know there are going to be some of you that say "He should be in the bullpen!" Let's hold off on that. Yes a lot of pen guys are failed starters but that does not mean a lot of failed starters end up being pen guys. Nor does it mean that anyone failing at starting needs to be shifted to relief ASAP.

First let's take an objective look at when you give up on a starter. I would say that I'd want to move a starter into a relief roll if he had continued failure and he was past prospect age - something around 26/27. I guess I could be convinced if he didn't have outright failure but it looked as if his success where not sustainable, but I'd have to be convinced.

So let's apply this to Joe.  Is he old? Not at all, in fact he just had his 24th birthday less than a month ago. He's not a spring chicken, but he's young enough. Has he had continued failure? No, his failures are pretty much limited to the 1/3rd of a season we've had so far. Maybe if you want to be picky you could point to his 4 starts in Syracuse last year but that's really it until you go back to him as a 19 year old.  Has his past successes been mirages? I see good to decent WHIPs, fair enough K/9 ratios, consistently low HR/9 numbers. No, nothing here that says he was destined for the awfulness we are seeing now.

Now this doesn't mean Joe is destined for greatness. He gave up hits at a much greater rate in the majors in 2016 than 2015. It's possible teams are figuring him out. At the same time the change between before injury 2016 and after injury 2016 seems dramatic and quick enough that I can't deny that injury feels like the biggest factor. This is big to me because if it is injury and not adjustment then moving Joe to the pen isn't likely to help.

I know the Nats need bullpen help but rushing Joe back didn't seem to bring success. I can't imagine rushing him into a relief role, which is what this would be, would bring success either. What he needs now is more time to heal. I know, I know. Voth has been garbage this year. Cole is Cole. The Nats best AAA starter is Kyle McGowin who should be a fill in starter in AAA. Ross is the best option the Nats have. But if the Nats have the leeway to throw Ross out there every fifth day in this condition, they can run Voth or Cole out there as well. (Really they should just pick up WS charm Jake Peavy and tell him not to embarrass himself) 

*For example if the Nats play under .500 ball for the rest of the year (51-53) they finish 88-74. For the Braves or Mets to pass them they will have to play 63-42 ball the rest of the year, which is like a 97 win pace.

Wednesday, June 07, 2017

All Hail Max - Queen of the Pitchers

Another game - another gem by Max Scherzer. He's had one minor blip in his time here in Washington, a bit of an early problem with the long ball last year, and literally that's about it.

Here's his ranks in baseball since joining the Nationals (this at a very generous 60 IP or more in a year for a starter so Rich Hill is all up in these).

IP : 1st
K : 1st
K/9 : 2nd
BB/9 : 11th
H/9 : 4th
ERA+ : 6th  
W : 2nd
opponents OPS+ : 4th

He's pitching more than anyone and with an insane level of success.  If it wasn't for that little longball tendency, he'd be pretty close to perfect. You could make arguments for other pitchers being better over that time  - Arrieta, Greinke, Kluber - but the argument for #2 generally comes down to Sale, Bumgarner, or Scherzer. Right now Scherzer is the most consistent of the three in his greatness.  Of course, you may have noticed I said #2, and that's because of the guy the Nats will see today.

K/9 : 3rd
BB/9 : 2nd
H/9 : 2nd
ERA+ : 1st 
opponents OPS+ : 1st

I took out the non-rate stats because Kershaw missed 70 IP last year. If he hadn't missed that time he'd be 2nd in Ks, and probably tied with Max with wins.  Now of course he DID miss those innings last year and that cost him the Cy Young but all you have to do is look at that Opponents OPS+ to get an idea of why it's not a question if Kershaw is better

Max : .200 / .247 / .355
Clayton : .194 / .227 / .293

Max is FANTASTIC. Great enough that he's noticeably a step better than the guys 5-10. And still Kershaw is a step better than that (if not two).

The positive is that you get to see a first ballot Hall of Famer at work today (and you got to see another possible Hall of Famer last night) The bad news is that Kershaw has taken the idea of ace and skewed it so much that we are literally calling like 10 pitchers "#1 quality". There's the guys I named, Kershaw, Max, Bumgarner, Sale, obviously. Sydergaard is up there as well. Darvish. Kluber and Arrieta still probably make the cut even with bad 2017s so far. Greinke I guess. Keuchel has probably come back into the group. That's 10 right?  And I'm sure people will argue with some of the names I've tossed out so far. What happens when I go to Price, Archer, Hamels, deGrom?

There are goddamn 30 teams in baseball and we act like the 11th best starter isn't good enough to be a #1. It bothers me.  Oh my point in all this is the other guy pitching today. I'm sure you've heard the talk about Strasburg not being an #1 guy. Here are his rankings since 2014.

K/9 : 7th
BB/9 : 33rd
H/9 : 24th
FIP : 7th 
opponents OPS+ : 18th

Strasburg is a #1 guy.  He's not going to wow you day in and day out like Max, no. He has a tendency to give up runs when he gets in trouble and that skews his ERA up when looking at his FIP, but he is a Top 20ish type pitcher. He could lead a rotation and it would be perfectly fine. The 1-2 combination of Max and Strasburg is arguably the best one in baseball today. Enjoy it.

(note : don't come back at me when Strasburg goes out and gives up 5 runs in 5 innings today) 

Monday, June 05, 2017

Monday Quickie : One regular season opponent left

The Nationals biggest problem isn't the bullpen, or the current lack of a reliable 5th starter, and it's certainly not an anemic MI bench (though it exists! That's literally one of the last things to worry about). No, the Nats biggest problem is simple. It's that the playoffs don't start for another 4 months.

The Nats are clearly the best team in the NL East. So much so, they might have already put that away. They already have a great offense (best in the majors), and a great starting staff (~5th best in the majors and that's with the #5 spot sporting an ERA near 8) Does the relief pitching need work? Of course. But they are going to make the playoffs, and likely are going to have several games where they have a comfortable lead after 6-7. At least this is how you'd "most likely" the playoffs if it started today.

But they don't start today and that means things that are going right have a chance to go wrong. There's some natural bounce back that's going to happen. Weiters and Zimm and Rendon and Werth and MAT and Lind and Goodwin aren't all going to hit better than they have in the majors in recent memory while Murphy and Bryce hit at MVP levels again. Gio is not going to avoid the big hit all year long. But these aren't the things I worry about. These changes might slow the train down, but they aren't stopping it.

What could stop it is injury. What I worry about is 415, 400, 389,  378,  271, 225 out of 486 - which are the number of games played in the last three years by the guys on the team experienced enough to be playing the last years. I worry because Werth looks on the verge of missing a lot of time and Eaton is already gone. I worry because if something is going to derail this team, this is it. Ross is obviously not right. Kelley is obviously not right. The Nats have survived two months but they are out of depth and I doubt they are done with the significant injuries for the year.

The hope is though the ones they get matter less. A month missing from Wieters, Lind sidelined until September, rather than Murphy out for the year. Gio tweaking something and AJ Cole breaking down after two good starts instead of Strasburg out again. This isn't anything different than what any other team deals with but this team is so good and solid in it's lineup and the top of the rotation that I want the story in late August to be "can the newly put together bullpen can gel before the playoffs", and not "can a limping Nats team make an impact", like it kind of was last year.

This feels a lot like 2012.  You might see MAT doing well and Goodwin being decent and think "development is paying off" You might see Lind crushing it and think "smartest FA signing ever!".  I see all that an think Lombo and Moore and Bernadina and Tracy putting up career years. Some years things just work out for you. Outside the pen I feel like this is one of those years. I hope it keeps going.

Friday, June 02, 2017

A second pass at Zimm and Koda's Korner

I said I'd look at Zimm again around Memorial Day. Well actually I said mid-June but I've already started down this path so we will look now and look then too. He didn't collapse, obviously, but how much of what we're seeing is remnants of April? 

Some.  Ryan finished May with a more reasonable line of .319 / .363 / .543 (compared to  .420 / .458 / 886 in April). Unsurprisingly he couldn't sustain what would have been the best BABIP of all time by a big distance (.450). His .366 BABIP for May is still high for a slow guy but in the realm of possibility.  Things were a little worse earlier in May but he has heated back up in the past week. Again - .500 BABIP but those are things you see all the time when you are looking at a handful of games.

One thing I asked about is what happens when teams start facing Ryan 2nd/3rd times and start pitching him differently.  Will he react with more patience?  Well at this point those types of teams are still a little few and far between. What I can say is that he has started to swing and miss more but hasn't struck out more, or walked significantly more. So it's possible there's the beginning of testing to see how much Ryan will chase but there hasn't been a full out shift on how to approach him just yet.

Right now I don't see any reason he couldn't keep a May type season up for the rest of the year, if he can be healthy.  It's still probably a little high average wise but it's more in line with his peak years, with the trade of some patience for power. I think everyone would sign-up for that right now right?

Koda Glover has taken over as closer and has been successful. That isn't a surprise. That's mainly because I still firmly believe most relievers would be fine as closers. Problems are (1) we don't want fine, (2) fine overall can't overcome lousy to start because impressions are set, (3) we vividly remember the 15% or so who can't do it.

But the Nats have had specific issues with their attempts this year. We can assume something is up with Blanton (and something could be - oh I'm too old now) and that Kelley is injured. But the real issue was trying Treinen. Treinen was particularly ill-suited to a closer role (wild, hittable, not completely stopping the longball). This is important because a team's approach in the final inning changes. You want to get on base first, then when a guy is on base you want to try to put the ball in play to move him over and/or score him. Treinen gave teams the perfect pitcher to attempt this against. What he excels at is forcing a ground ball. That's great if you have a couple guys on base with one out and a big hitter not looking to walk up. It gives you a real good chance at a double play. But with a light hitter looking to work a walk? He's got a good chance to get on base. With a man on second and no one out? He's got a good chance at being pushed to third. A Treinen type can work, but the margin of error is slim.

Glover doesn't have Treinen's issues with stuff. He is not particularly wild, and his K rate is expected to be higher. At worst, if he happens to give up long balls a little more than he should - see last year - is that he'll be ok. Now yes he wasn't ok last year but maybe that was injury, and maybe that was just learning curve. He wasn't striking out as many as you'd expect. He was walking more than you'd expect. Those are now both generally more in line. At best, if he controls that better - see this year so far - he becomes very effective.

Dusty wanted Glover over Treinen because he believes in make-up, but Glover over Treinen makes sense because of stuff as well. Given the other options are no options, let's hope this works long term like I think it should because if not I don't know where the Nats go.

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Trea and MAT

Is Trea in trouble? 

Last year Trea Turner came in like a lion.  He hit so well over the course of just 70 games, .342 / .370 / .567, that he nearly won the Rookie of the Year award for less than half a season.* There was some thought that he couldn't keep that MVP type of production up in his sophomore year but clearly the Nats had a star on their hands. Yet a quarter way into 2017 Trea looks nothing like a star and more like a guy who needs more AAA seasoning.  What gives?

Well, onto the fancy stats. Is Trea say... making less contract? Hitting the ball worse when he does make contact? Or is he just getting unlucky?

His contact rate overall is pretty much on target with last year (77.9% if you must know) His K-rate is up but just a little and at around 20% it's fine. His swinging strike rate is done just a little. His swings outside the zone done a step.  There's nothing here. Moving on.

He is hitting fewer hard shots - but he isn't hitting a lot of soft balls. Neither of the percentages are worrying in the least. He is htting fewer line drives in lieu of ground balls and flyballs but that alone isn't the cause of his slump. Although that FB rate is higher than it has typically been for him.

So is it mostly luck then? Well his BABIP is down almost 100 points. But it was at .388 last year which is a very very high number. He is very fast but still people don't usually sustain that type of number for very long. His .291 is more typical but given his minor league numbers I'd imagine he'd be high, not typical. Over .350 is possible given his speed and age.

Could it be injury? Perhaps but there wasn't a clear "great before, bad after" split. Actually what we see is odd.

Before Coors : .214 / .241 / .286
Coors : .524 / .524 / 1.095
After Coors .198 / .234 / .322

Trea looks bad now, but imagine his year without that amazing series? He's barely breaking .200 and has little power. You can't say Coors messed him up either - he was mediocre before that. Makes me wonder if all these stats are being skewed by that series. But we'll see.

We don't really know what Major League Trea is. So we have to use not only what we've seen so far up here but his minor league stats as well.  From that I would say this:

Trea will hit better. His BABIP should be higher, he is typically a better LD hitter. It could be, could, that some luck with HR/FB rate (the 16.7% last year was best of his career) got him thinking he was more of a HR hitter than he is. That's why his FB rate is this high. If that's the issue and he can fix it - he goes back to a .300+ hitter.  The question there is how useful a .300+ hitter he will be. He doesn't walk. That's a given. Like he's terrible, worst in the majors at it. In the minors it bounces around all over the place making me think it's something he can do better but isn't inclined to. Given that a lot of his worth is then going to be in his power, which I regret to inform you is nowhere near as good as last year. Maybe he grows into it, but right now he's a singly/doubly Joe.

So what does this mean? I don't think Trea is in trouble as in he's a below average offensive player. But I also don't think he's a way above average hitter either. .310 / .340  with 35 doubles 15 homer power? Something like that. Good player. Fun player to watch. Player with potential to be great. But just as I wouldn't expect him to keep hitting .250, I wouldn't expect him to be able to carry a team for a while like he did last year. At least not in 2017.

Is MAT (finally) for real (finally)?  Finally?  

I know MAT and his big issue has been strikeouts. If those are way down and there is no sign of luck, he could be a late bloomer.

K-Rate 35.5%.   That's 'uh-oh" territory, but with that rate he shouldn't be doing that well unless...

.387 BABIP.  We just talked about it with Trea but that's like the natural limit of where BABIP can be and it usually isn't sustainable. Unlike Trea too, MAT is more in a .330 area.

And well... that could be that. His BABIP goes down. His average goes down and you have MAT. A .230 hitter who K's all the time, no patience, decent pop when he makes contact, good fielder. But I suppose we could look for anything that has changed.

Walk-rate? Nope. Still bad. HR/FB luck in either direciton? Nope about the same as before. Hitting more LDs? Nope. More GBs actually which is usually bad. More hard hit balls and/or fewer soft hit balls? NopYES! A little bit, but it's something I guess. A different hitter in terms of pull / go with? I can't really say that looking at all his minor and major stats. Overall Swinging Strike down? Nope actually up a little. Fewer swings outside the zone? Nope, more.

There's nothing here that makes me think MAT is anything different than what he's always been. He's had some luck with where the ball is falling, which has inflated his BABIP. He's gotten a couple of triples instead of doubles, which has inflated his slugging. Take these things away and he's a guy with maybe one more homer this year than last because he's hitting a few more FBs.

MAT is MAT. You shouldn't rely on him and you should feel lucky the Nats don't need to.

*And honestly he would have if Corey Seager didn't have a Trea like year for nearly a full season. 

Side Note :  Corey Seager isnt' doing as well as last year either. Of course he's still hitting .285 with a .388 OBP and a .468 SLG.  So he is better.

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Monday Quickie - Memorial Day landscape

Work, work, work. Too much work.

Here's a follow-up to the "two-weeks in" post.

NL East
Guess : Nats - Mets - Braves - Marlins - Phillies
Currently Nats - Mets - Braves - Marlins - Phillies

Nailed it. Of course technically the Mets and Braves are tied and for a bunch of the time between then and now Atlanta actually led, but I think things are evening out. The Mets have been crushed by injury, but much like the Nats of years past, at this point you have to say that's the gamble the Mets took coming into the year, rather than blame bad luck. They've managed to hang on though and assuming they can get healthy should separate from the Freeman-less Braves. With out Freddy the offense becomes as mediocre as the pitching and Atlanta looks headed to a 75 win season at best. Of course the bottom two NL East teams would love to get to 75 wins. The Marlins starting pitching is as bad as expected and the bullpen isn't as good as they hoped. They might though have a little run in them, at least to 70 wins. The Phillies though, God bless their little hearts, are heading straight to the bottom as they've seemingly gone 1 for 20 in prospects for 2017.

So by the end of the year the order might change but I think it'll only be a flip of ATL and MIA if it happens, and I'll say it doesn't. Nats - Mets - Braves - Marlins - Phillies

NL Central
Guess : Cubs - Brewers - Pirates - Reds - Cardinals
Currently : Brewers - Chicago - Cardinals - Reds - Pirates

The division is super tight (3.5 from top to bottom) so really the order is meaningless but hey - I didn't specify it had to be meaningful when I guess at it. The Pirates on the bottom is easy to explain - they lost their best hitter to suspension. They should struggle all year to get the offense to support a solid pen and good top of the rotation. The Reds second to last was the only spot I got right and it's not hard to be down on them. Even with a good pen and a surprising offense the starting pitching is so bad to keep the team down. Well the offense may not keep being surprising and bullpens are volatile so expect the Reds to keep sinking. The questions for the Top three are more about what is real or not.  How real are the Cubs offensive and pitching woes? My guess is not all that real - at least not real enough to keep them from winning the division again. They are only held back by these surprise disappointments. Is the Cardinal starting pitching good enough to last? My guess is yes - but that should probably just put them in a holding pattern a little over .500. Can Milwaukee's offense carry the team to the playoffs?  It's held on this far but I remained unconvinced.

I will give them some benefit of the doubt though as I like a team relying on bats rather than arms. Fragile, fragile, major league arms. I'll Go Cubs - Brewers- Cardinals - Pirates - Reds for EOY

NL West
Guess : Dodgers - D-backs - Giants - Rockies - Padres
Currently : Rockies - Dodgers - D-backs - Giants - Padres

Everyone ok with the Padres being the worst? Ok moving on. I was completely right the Dodgers would be fine. They might actually be the best team in the NL, putting records aside. (Either them or Nats).  And I was right to feel good about the D-backs. This is why when you build a team to be good and don't fill up on veterans, you can't give up after one bad year. Bad years happen. The Giants are surprise bad. The talk is about Bumgarner, but the reality is that the offense was full of "why are they hitting like that" guys that are no longer hitting like that. Pence being gone is just what makes a bad offense terrible. They should gain ground but not enough to compete for the playoffs and thus expect a sell-off of sorts. But the biggest question is the Rockies. The offense will always score a lot being in Colorado but it's not a bad line-up getting lucky. They have three good bats and only one bad one. And looking at it you can see potential rising and falling balancing out here. But the pitching. Can the Rockies really have the 5th best staff in the majors? There's a great back of the pen going on here lead by Greg Holland and the pitching staff is across the board... well ok. And for Colorado that's shocking.

I'll say the Dodgers catch them, they are just better but this feels like something real to me in Colorado. The question is only if the Dbacks are more real.  I like the D-backs so I'll go with them but it wouldn't shock me if both WCs come from West. Dodgers - D-backs - Rockies - Giants - Padres

Oh the fight?  I don't care about it. Strickland was a moron. Everyone knew it. Rather Bryce didn't go after him because I think that's nearly as silly and dangerous as throwing at someone. But I do understand it so I don't think anything of it. And the Nats are so comfortable right now a suspension is fine.  In fact given that we're at the beginning of a long stretch of games with little break, maybe this will help keep Bryce fresh so he can carry his more tired teammates down the path a little.

Thursday, May 25, 2017

Roark was... ok

Roark had a better outing last night than his last two, but it wasn't exactly the Roark we've came to expect to see last year. He was still missing wildly at times. He was still getting hit pretty hard. On the other hand, he wasn't just catching breaks on where they hit them. He did pretty much manage to get the ball over to every batter on one of the first two pitches. That's not trivial as it kept Roark away from a count where it felt like he needed to throw a strike or a pitch that looks like one.  His pitching, Seattle being a bit aggressive, and the Nats having a nice lead all added together to present few "have to" situations for Roark.

That's good enough and not good enough at the same time. It's good enough for the season, as you saw last night. The Nats still have a good offense. Maybe not the killer, carry the team all-season offense with Eaton, maybe one that can go into a funk now and then, but it's good. They will score and that means the pitchers can relax a bit. But it's not good enough for the playoffs. You at least need a reliable third arm in the playoffs and I didn't see that from Roark last night. I don't expect to ever see it from Gio - he's limited to starting against teams that can't hit lefties. I'm not sure Ross will get there. So Roark being '16 Roark again is pretty important for a team whose goals are not just to make the playoffs. There is plenty of time to work that out though.

The Nats Blog brought up re-signing Werth for next year and... well... I don't know. I noted last year that Werth had pretty much hit best reasonable expectation for his contract. He didn't do it in a usual way - the order of the productivity of his years were all out of whack - but he did it. I feel kind of sure that he won't get out of 2017 with a 120+ OPS+ but more like something around 100 and that's great! Really! That means he's still a viable player, though a lower end one because of defense, for an OF.  So he still fits into the Nats OF... maybe. Assuming Eaton is back and Bryce is Bryce you have one spot left. Is that for MAT*? Is that for Robles? The question is one of is the team better served in the long run by letting a young guy patrol that corner spot rather than trying to squeeze out something from a guy at best 2-3 years from being put out to pasture?

That's probably yes, in the long run, but what if you are just worried about 2018? 2018 could be the last year of Bryce and of Murphy as both head into free agency (also probably Weiters as Severino is nowhere near ready with the bat right now). With a big chunk of the offense potentially gone the next year do you really want to "try out" a guy in the OF and maybe cost yourself something? Wouldn't it be better for 2018 to sign up Werth for one last go at it?

It's a tough question. I suppose honestly the hope is the Nats win it all this year and then - hey! Who cares!? Champions! Woooo!

*Yes, I'll talk about MAT and Trea - maybe tomorrow, maybe post Memorial Day.

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

All eyes on Roark

No real post today because sometimes you gotta put seeded rye on the table. But I wanted to note that today Roark is starting and that is more interesting than nearly any other start at this point. Max, Stras, and Gio are all pitching like I would expect them to. The 5th spot needs to be cleared up but you can't really tell much from one or two starts. Although I'll admit Joe Ross came pretty close to it last night.

So I'll guess I'll segway segue into that first. The Nats don't really NEED the 5th starter spot to clear up. We went over earlier how a pitching to expectations Max, Stras, and Roark could nearly get the Nats to the playoffs on their own. Once in the playoffs the 5th starter is somewhat of an vestigial appendage.*  But a decent 5th helps. It helps keep the bullpen rested (although as we've seen the IP of the bullpen isn't all that high), More importantly it gives you cover in case of injury. Up until now, the Nats were praying another arm didn't go down because they didn't have a good option. If Ross can be a decent but reliable 5th then in case of another injury they could fill in behind him with the same barely working mess they were doing before he came back. We don't want to see what's after that.

Even if you understand Seattle is a middling team who's best bat is thrown off in an NL park by having to actually play D he still shut them down solidly for 8 innings. You can be impressed by the efficiency but Ross actually was pretty efficient per batter before going out. It was getting hit that was the problem.  The home run is a continuation of issues he had before but if you don't give up a lot of hits and walks you'll be good enough for 5th.  That's the bar I'm looking at now. Yesterday he cleared it with ease. Let's see the next game.

Back to Roark, Roark hasn't been efficent all year and has been downright bad about how many pitches he's thrown in his last 5 starts. He's averaging over 4.7 pitches per batter. Even his 6IP with 0ER start against the hapless Phillies he threw 100 pitches to only 22 batters. In his last two games the combination of hits and inefficiency got to the point that it meant an early exit. Once is whatever. Twice is "hey look at this". Three times is a problem. These haven't been great offensive teams he's facing either.

It's not necessarily as simple as "pound the zone". Last year he was at 62% strikes. This year he's at 60% and even in the last five games he's at 59%.  Over the course of a game that's 3-4 pitches. I guessed earlier that he's having issue missing like he'd like to, especially to lefties so I'm going to pay particular attention to how he does the first time through against Gamel, Seager, and Cano who are all decent hitters. Can he get them to chase? Can he hit the corners? Are they getting hard hits on pitches out over the plate?

Let's hope those answers are yes, yes and no. Because if not another bad outing in a row and you have to start to wonder if something greater is wrong.

*Would a great 5th starter start in the playoffs, if circumstances called for a 4th starter instead of Gio? Sure. Would a a good one a step better than Gio? My guess is no. Gio presents a different match-up which managers like to think helps keep opposing line-ups off-balance. He in undeniably lefty which can take advantage of things the others can't. And I'm not feeling Gio in the pen, are you?

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Tuesday Quickie - I didn't want to do it

I really didn't want to do this but when even Barry, even Barry, is doing something wrong you have to step in right?

Look, if you are going to compare how many pitches the Nats starters have thrown in their first nine starts you can't compare it to the entirety of last year. You have to compare it to the first nine starts of last year. This is for two reasons. First pitchers definitely scale down as the year winds down. With more players available to managers with expanded rosters and with playoff situations becoming set, starters are asked to back off in order to ensure they are ready for the postseason. The other reason, which we will see in a minute is debatable, is because it is thought that pitchers often "ramp up" starting with a few briefer outings in order to get their arms back to major league readiness.

Of course it's an easy enough thing to check so here are the Nats current P/G through 9 games and what it was in 2016

Max :  106.2 (2017), 105 (2016)

Stras :  104.8,  103.2

Gio :  105.8,  98.3

Roark : 106.3, 104.5

How many 110+ outings? Ok that's a arbitrary line in the sand and we might see different things if we set the line at say 105 or 108, but I'll play along.

Max :  3, 2
Stras :  3, 2
Gio :  2, 0
Roark : 3, 3

It turns out that, surprise!, the Nats starters are pitching about as much as they did last year. The difference for Max, Stras, and even Roark who is obviously struggling, is not something close to a batter an inning, but rather just one or two more pitches. Surprising, right? The only one with a big difference is Gio. So yes, Dusty is trying to get more out of Gio, trying to wring an out or two more from a guy who he might have pulled early in 2016.

Why then the change in rank?  Well they did go up, but also because rank is kind of silly, especially the earlier in the year you go. If I throw 90 pitches a game but the league throws 80 I might rank #1. If it averages 100, I might rank #50. I'm doing the same thing, the league is changing. Rank without values can be misleading. To this end, I wouldn't be surprised if the overall P/G is down a bit in the NL given the increase in offense we are seeing this year from the league. The end result being the Nats being higher without really throwing more. Even if they all lost 2 pitches per game putting then UNDER where they were through 9 games last year they'd still rank #3, #4, #5, and #8 which would seem like an increase from last year even though again - they'd have been throwing fewer pitches (except Gio)

I'm not saying the bullpen isn't effecting the starters. There is something to be said about sticking it out for one more important batter and having X number of additional high stress pitches thrown. That may effect an arm. Though until someone shows me that is actually going on in a way different from last year I'm going to assume things are the same since the pitches are the same. There is possibly a psychological effect on the pitcher. He may be demanding more of himself earlier in order to keep the game close. But the straight up idea that the Nats starters are throwing significantly more this year because of the problems with the pen? It's just not true, except for Gio.

Monday, May 22, 2017

Monday Quickie - Relative or Absolute

The Nats are 9-9 in May.  10-10 since Adam Eaton was lost for the year.  Does it matter?

Well let's say that the Nats go .500 for the rest of the season starting at the point that Adam Eaton went down. They were 23 games in, 16-7,... subtract... carry the one... multiply by Plank's constant...
They'd end the season either 85-77 or 86-76. Those aren't great totals to be sure. And in a baseball vacuum, you'd worry, in this scenario, that they wouldn't even get a Wild Card berth.

Now let's look at some other numbers. Namely the records of the other teams in the NL East since that same date.

ATL 9-11
NYM 9-11
MIA 5-17
PHI 4-16

The short of it? The Nats have played .500 ball for 3+ weeks and have gained ground on EVERYONE in their division. They do not play in a baseball vacuum. They play in the NL East. Even in this scenario, they are fine.

Now that we satisfied any worry warts, why are the Nats struggling? They aren't a .500 team are they?  Well April / May makes a convenient break point, even if it is imperfect so lets look at RS/RA in the two months

April  6.8 RS/G,  4.88 RA/G
May 4.22 RS/G,  4.61 RA/G

So the hitting got a lot worse. Or more accurately, the hitting stopped carrying the offense. There were 6 (out of 25) games in April that the Nats almost could not lose where the Nats scored 11, 14, 14, 15, 16 and 23 runs. That certainly skews the month but it also, you know, happened.  There were also 5 more games where the team scored 6 or more runs. This is a usual win even against a Nats team struggling with the pen, a good run more over average. (they did in fact win all 5 of these).   Lastly the Nats scored 0-2 runs only two times during the months. These are close to automatic losses.

In May the Nats have had zero double digit scoring games, 5 games still over 6 runs scored (won them all again), and three games scoiring 0-2 runs. There's still a week to go but the Nats are playing a lot more "losable" games. What they aren't doing though is playing a ton more "unwinnable" games. Instead they are playing a lot of games where everyone is scoring some runs. This accentuates the late inning problems because these games are all relatively close. 

The relievers, believe it or not, have gotten better. Though that isn't saying much as they had a 5.70 ERA in April. The starters, in turn, have gotten a bit worse, up to a 4.20 ERA from a 3.90 ERA in April. So there are some

Where is 4.22 R/G? It's below average in a typical modern season, but not terrible.
Where is 4.61 R/G? It's above average in a typical modern season, but not terrible.

Really it's the combination for a below .500 team, but you know, that's like 1 game going the other way difference, we're talking about.

What this shows is that with a terrible pen, the Nats can still win... with a phenomenal offense and above average starting pitching. With an average-ish offense and average-ish starting pitching, you can't. This shouldn't really be a surprise. Average + average + below average isn't going to equal well above average.

Should you worry? Well about the NL East no. What about just in general? Maybe. The starters have been around a 4.00 ERA for over a quarter of the season, the relievers around 5.00. This may be what they are as a group. If that's the case it's a below average combination and the offense will have to carry the team. Can it? Probably. The questions start with Turner, who hasn't gotten anything going this year. That is ok, but that's about all you can afford. Then the questions turn to MAT. Can he be effective? If that's negative that sets up a problem for the team

There are still more questions that are now hanging around the Nats.Where does this drift back down end for Zimm? Can Rendon sustain success? But these are tabled for the moment secondary to the obvious ones above. If MAT and Turner can't hit and these are still questions, then these questions take on added importance drawing the line between a good offense and an ok one. If those questions are both answered negatively then things start to get dicey. Murphy and Bryce have to both be stars constantly which is too much to ask.

For all the potential worry, a possibly underperforming Nats offense and a disappointing starting pitching staff is still keeping the Nats at .500 with a terrible pen. If we're right about the offense and the starting pitching they'll pop back up. Probably not to April levels but above .500 and with a smooth sail to 90+ wins and the division title. You can worry about the playoffs but I wouldn't.  Not now.  Too much time. Too many things can happen. What I'd worry about is one more injury. One that could make this back and forth, disappointing .500ish May an expected result rather than a presumed dip. If that happens the new dips can be lower and that might open the door for someone. Probably not, but maybe.

Friday, May 19, 2017

Amusement Park

I want to say this season for the Nats is like riding a roller coaster. The offense and the starters provide the highs, the relief pitching the lows. But it's really not the season we're talking about. The season should end up fine because the rest of the NL East is pure garbage. There should be only highs and "not as high"s. It's individual games that provide the up and down excitement. So it's more like the season is a trip to the amusement park where you pick a ride, like a roller coaster, and go through great parts and scary parts and maybe some parts you don't like but you end up fine in the end. At least this is what the regular season is like.

With that in mind I guess we're already at the "sit back and enjoy it" phase. The season isn't clinched because there's time for craziness and there's a brutal schedule coming up, but I'm not expecting anything. Just enjoy these crazy roller coaster games for a while until the other rides open up at the trade deadline.

With that in mind it is vaguely hard to talk about stuff. We can talk about the relief pitching but dammit if we don't do that all the time. I'm sure Monday I'll talk about it again after another blown game. Other than that we have a lot of guys doing roughly what they should, or who are not where they should be but seem to be trending in that direction.  These aren't terribly interesting topics, especially if you are like me, and prefer to give more time, than less.

Looking at it I'm left with two reasonable topics, Werth - who's overperforming but glancing at stats I'll predict will fall soon and Roark who is underperforming. I guess Roark it is.

What you first need to understand is that you can't use last year's results as a baseline for Roark.  Well you can but I wouldn't. While I don't think his FIP or xFIP is fair (Roark has a history of lower than average HR/FB which these numbers will assume will be more average) I do think his LOB% is a little high. Can he stay near 80% - perhaps, but historically looking at minor league data as well he's normally lower. I'd think a low 70s would be more appropriate. That means more runs given up, higher ERA, fewer wins etc. I'm not saying he's bad, just don't go into this thinking he's a  2.80 ERA 16-10 guy. Maybe more of a 3.20 ERA 14-11?

OK so usual fancy stats thing

How's the velocity? 
Seems fine

How's the K/9? 

That's up

That's up too.

Ok that combo would suggest a lack of control and keeping the ball up. But I guess for the latter I'd expect a different group of hits if that were the case. Fewer GBs, more FBs. That could explain the homers - more pitches up mean more mistakes up. Eh - that is the case but only slightly. GBs down from 48.7% to 46%, FBs up from 31.2% to 32.7% I wouldn't attribute the HRs to that.

Is he getting hit harder then - does that explain the HRs? Or is it just a fluke - one HR does make a big difference here.
Yes that could explain it.  Soft percentage down a bunch, hard percentage up. But don't rule out fluke.

What about the walks? Is he out of control?  
No real change in percentages in the zone thrown would suggest not. The walks seem to be driven by swings outside the zone being down a bunch, swings inside up.Guys aren't biting on his stuff outside the zone.

But he's had no real difference in what's being thrown has he? 
No not really.

So we kind of reach the end of fancy stats analysis here. I can try to look at the zone profile now... ok I verify he's not really leaving the ball up more. I see big drops in the swing percentages inside for both RHB and LHB, but especially LHB.... His splits against RHB is fine. It is the lefties that are more of an issue. Zone profile doesn't tell me exactly how much he missed though

My hypothesis would be that whatever pitch he uses to attack inside, especially to lefties but maybe to both, isn't working the same. Maybe it's a movement thing, maybe location. Lefties are then able to sit on in zone pitches and attack a lot better (they have all the home runs and four of the 5 doubles he's allowed). Righties on the other hand just are able to lay off a few more pitches. This is just a guess though.

My other thought is that he's the victim of the decline in defense. As a RH GB pitcher there's a certain import on the ability of the 1B/2B side of the Nats infield to field and acoording to early stats Murphy and Zimm are worse than last year. This is of course - small sample size - (we like 3 years of D data and we're talking about 25% of one) but I think it's clear they ain't good.  The Nats starters except for Max are all GB guys now so that may explain the general slight shift down from them. Maybe - Turner though has been fine.  If anyone wants to track all the hits Roark has given up and see if this plays, go to it. 

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

The Appetizers and the Main Course

The bullpen didn't blow it last night. Of course it took a 6-1 lead to start and a very timely DP but they didn't do it.

We focus a lot on the pen, for obvious reasons, but the Nats are 25-13 with the 2nd best record in baseball. They have the best offense in baseball (not just the NL) and arguably the best starting pitching in baseball* Let's focus on all that for a moment, everything that comes before the terrible desert the Nats are serving up night after night.

Bryce is still BRYCE.  We're now 38 games in (almost a quarter of the season) and Bryce hasn't slowed down. After hitting .391 / .509 / .772 in April he's hitting .378 / .489 / .757  in May.  You may remember he had a fast start last year and worry a big fall is coming but (1) he was never hitting for this high an average and (2) he began his decline at the end of April (a week before the Cubs stuff if you must know). I'd say something about fancy stats and his average should drop but with talent like Bryce's sometimes you don't know the ceiling.

 Zimm is still hitting. .319 / .373 / .596 in May which is still excellent (he's still fighting Bryce for a NL Triple Crown right now) but is yes, a drop off from the HOF April. He'll have you know, if you'll listen to him, that it's not about any sort of stat analysis. I'm sure at this point he's telling dogs he sees on the street he's just suddenly hitting better than he ever has in his entire career at 32+ because of health. Ok. Sure. Whatever you want to believe. Just keep hitting. We'll get back when I said I would - end of May

This would almost be enough but you do need at least one more big swinging bat and in May, that's Werth. Werth is way up but is also carrying a unsustainable BABIP and a questionable HR/FB rate. Still it seems like "above average" is possible for him in season 7 and who would turn that down.

Three more guys are finding their level. The 3rd man in April, Murphy is slowing down a bit after a hot start, but his overall stats are about where you'd want him to be (25 homers is just not him). Wieters is in a similar boat - with a harsher slowdown (.583 OPS in May) to reach his more modest level (about average).  Rendon, on the other hand, is heating up and getting his overall stats back to the above average we think he should be.  Basically the Nats need a couple guys hot to complement Bryce at any time to keep the offense humming. They have five other bats that are at least average to get those hot months from. It should work out.

This leaves two guys to talk about. MAT looks good, but he's carrying a modest .266 average with a .404 BABIP, along with a 36.9% K rate and a 4.8% BB rate. In word form - his approach is garbage, and even though he's getting lucky he's still not doing great. Turner? Well we don't know exactly what Turner is and how hurt he still may be so I don't want to put up any expectations.  Sophomore season hasn't been good as they are getting him to K a lot more attacking his lack of patience.

What about the starters?

Scherzer has been great. He's matching last year across the board so expect a similar endpoint - maybe a little higher ERA since he outperformed a little last year. There isn't any particular warning signs unless you are like me and think that all the pitches he throws will catch up to him (now for me the timeline is very soon, like sometime before the start of next season - but hey I'm wrong all the time). Strasburg might be trading trading strikeouts for contact. GBs are up, HRs are down. Or he might just not be getting the ball by guys and getting lucky so far.  Probably somewhere in between. So he's very good now, I'd expect more of a normal good going forward. Gio is... let's talk about Roark first. He's basically doing what he did last year but not catching the same breaks. This is more in line with what he should do. Which is still good! So the Nats are set up 1-3 in my mind. It be nice if Stras can get back up to "co-ace" like talent but I'll take what they have now. Ok back to Gio.  IT'S ALL LIES. a .243 BABIP? a 91.4% LOB? K's way down. BBs way up? There's a reckoning coming.

But it'll be fine if the Nats can find that 5th starter because at this point in that 4th spot all they need is a decent arm that can put up 100+ innings of like 4.00 ERA ball.  It's probably not Jacob Turner or AJ Cole though.  2015 - early 2016 Joe Ross, where are you!?

You might be saying, hmm these don't seem like the best offenses and starting pitching in the league. Well offensively you're just not getting it. Bryce is a MONSTER. Zimm has been close to that so far this year as well. Werth might be getting lucky but he's still probably at least average, along with Wieters, while Murphy is simply "above average" and Rendon also should be there. That is a difficult six bats to get through. And with MAT getting lucky it's like Eaton didn't leave yet making it 7.  Should it slow down? Yeah probably. Zimm isn't a Triple Crown threat and as he settles back to somewhere between average and above average, and as MAT shows his true colors, there will be more instances of several guys slumping at once. But if Turner can just be average the Nats lineup will still be long in the eyes of a pitcher.

As for the starting pitching - well you're right, sort of. The Nats do have a 1-2-3 worthy of being in the Top 3. We WAY overrate what we think pitchers should be like. We look at the best rotations and think - ok yeah that's what it should be like. Instead you should be looking at the average one and comparing to that. Right now Max is a true ace (obviously) but Roark and Stras are both near the top of #2s.  Lots of innings at 3.50 ish would be great as a number 2 for 20 of 30 teams definitely. However the back of the rotation is shakier than you probably think and the only reason that hasn't seemed to come back to bit the Nats yet is some ERA luck. 

But for a team that is going to sail through the season (barring injury) what is a back of the rotation problem if you can keep 1-3 healthy? It's nothing. The offense and those first three pitchers should do what? Win 2/3rds of their games? I can see that.** That's another 50 wins. Win half of the back of the rotation games - essentially be a .500 team with the 4 and 5 guys, and the Nats are at 100 wins. That's the power of this offense with those three guys.

*What? No "Without Jeremy Guthrie..."  factoid? Look, it's not fair to pull out the Nats worst starting appearance and compare to everyone else's total. We'd need to pull out their worst too.  Well Guthrie isn't pitching anymore? Ok then we'd have to evaluate everyone's current starting 5. 

**They won almost 70% of Max, Stras, Roark starts last year with a less impressive offense. So I'm probably underselling this by a game or two. 

Monday, May 15, 2017

Monday Quickie - The shape of the bullpen is round

The Nats got through another garbage weekend from the bullpen or so it seems. On Friday though Turner, Romero, Glover and Kelley worked 4 innings keeping the game tied. In the next game Romero and Albers combined to keep the lead where it was for over an inning. In the last game, Albers came in and shut the door.

Yes, I'm cherry picking the good where there was bad every night but it's for a reason. The bullpen is beginning to take shape. And it's beginning to take shape around Albers, who has been great.

You have Albers now as the lockdown guy, until he's not anymore. You have Glover on deck. You have Kelley available (every other day). And you have Turner and Romero to fill in some innings. It's not a good pen. Turner and Romero both aren't good enough to be relied on in big spots. You can use them sure, but you are rolling the dice. Kelley's limitations are apparent and keep the Nats from maybe forming a strong everyday back of the pen with what they have on hand (especially with the schedule with no breaks coming up). BUT, but - there is enough here to keep the Nats safely away from the rest of the NL East until teams are trading. That says a lot about the NL East but also a lot about the Nats starters and the Nats offense, even without Eaton.

I'll admit it's a precarious situation. One wrong offensive injury (Bryce would be the obvious one) could depress the scoring enough to matter. One wrong starting pitching injury (Max obvious one here*) could expand the instability of the 5th starter role into the entire back of the rotation. One wrong bullpen injury (Albers) could send us back to where we were a few days ago with nothing good to say about anything pen-related. But precarious is better than where it was before.

Yesterday didn't look good in part because of the double headers but I feel like there is something coming together. Boz is right. This isn't a pen you want to go into October with. There the pitching is better the hitting is better and the games should be closer. But the question is really more - Is this a pen that can survive until July? Today I say yes.

*which makes yesterday infuriating. One thing the Nats will have to do between now and whenever they bring in bullpen help is use the weakness of the NL East to their advantage. Let Jacob Turner soak up a beating. Pull guys early rather than late when possible.  A loss this year does not look like it will be as important as a loss in other years. Could that change and you regret it? I suppose but you can't worry about the hypothetical. You have to work with what's in front of you today.

Friday, May 12, 2017

Where's the noting how easy the schedule is?

I'm just saying. The team was incredibly willing to complain about the weird start times and New York to Colorado after a Sunday Night game scheduling but you won't hear them saying what a dream it's been since then.

Home from the 28th - 30th, day off, Home 2nd-4th, to Philly 5th-7th, to Baltimore 8th-9th, Back home 10th-14th, day off.

That is a pretty damn cushy 2 1/2 week stretch where the "long away trip" is a city a 2 1/2 hour drive away.

Anyway. Not only are the Nats at the end of a virtual relaxing stroll period of their schedule travel wise, they are about to embark on a tour of the dregs of baseball.First up are the Phillies - in the midst of a 2-8 stretch and carrying a 13-19 record.  After that it's off to the window closed without Marte Pirates (currently 14-21), and the no threat with a terrible Dansby Braves (11-20). They then come home to best team they'll face in this stretch the Mariners (17-18), who could be over .500 by that point but are still hurt and coming cross country. That's followed by the garbage Padres (13-23). Then they start a road trip with the currently reeling Giants (12-24) that'll take the team into June. I won't say that'll be easy this far out but it certainly could be given how SF has performed this year.

It's a stretch of 18 games where 13-5 would be a perfectly reasonable expectation. Do that and the Nats start the next month 35-17, likely with the best record in the game, and likely dominating the East by 8 games or so.  Good teams create distance when the opportunity arises and the opportunity is here. It's not as direct as the Mets series where they didn't come through. It could take 18 games rather than 3 to pull away*, but it's there.

If you're curious, June through the All-star break will be hard on the Nats. They get a day off after that SF series - then on the 2nd start with at the A's and then at the Dodgers, they lose an off day to make up for the O's rain out, then face the Rangers and Braves. It's not a tough end, admittedly, but after a road trip and with the games in a row racking up it may matter. Then without a day off they are at the Mets and at the Marlins. Again probably not terribly hard teams but by the end it'll be 20 days in a row. If the Reds remain competitive then the next stretch could be tough too CIN, CHC at home, STL on road, NYM ATL at home to go into all-star break. 17 games in a row with no break and 37 games in 38 days, so even assuming the Braves are still garbage and with the Nats are at home they could easily be dragging.

*Mets schedule isn't hard but it's not as easy as the Nats, and they aren't as good right now, so 11-7 would be a nice projection for them and that would put them two games further out.

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Bullpen honesty

Look there are two objective truths here.

Objective Truth #1 : When Blanton was brought in, most people were satisfied with the pen. I won't say most people were happy. Most people wanted a lights out closer either Melancon or Jansen, and were disappointed when the Nats got neither. But Blanton made the pen whole. Kelley was very good. Treinen finally pitched well last year. Glover looked to be good. Solis seemed serviceable at the least. That's 4-5 arms. The roles were still undefined but once a closer was found things should shake out.

I define this truth because I'm hearing a lot of "I knew they needed depth! Rizzo didn't do his job!" type of comments and I think that's like 90% hindsight. A few probably did think that, not feeling comfortable with the mix of injury cases and brief successes. A few more probably think everything is always a problem and complained about it while complaining about the offense and the rotation as well. But at the time the majority felt that given the likely contract restrictions keeping him from getting a big money closer, Rizzo did a pretty decent job finding a handful of good arms with potential.

Objective Truth #2 : This isn't working. That the plan might have been ok at the time only matters in saying "Hey, don't blame Rizzo too much"* Congratulations. Now that you've had your cupcake, fix this. Treinen does look broken.  A 2.38 WHIP with 10 walks in just over 14 innings? He needs to go to Syracuse to get his head on straight. Blanton does look done. A 1.92 WHIP with 6 homers in 12 innings? He needs to be demoted to last man to see if they can get anything from him. Glover and Kelley should help solve things a little at least but given they are still not back from injury they can't be relied on until probably the end of May.

I keep saying that the NL East is garbage if the Mets aren't healthy and it is. I mean the Nats have gone 4-4 since May started and they've gained 2 games on the Phillies and 2 and a half on the Marlins. But the Mets have gained ground and so have the maybe dead Braves. The longer you let teams stick around the more chance they have of catching you. This bullpen issue is letting teams stick around.

Of course, as we went over yesterday, I don't know how to fix this. A lot of you brought up Turner. I mean, maybe he's growing into a relief role, but I look at his lifetime stats and I don't see anything encouraging. It's not like he's a guy who can dial it up and blow three guys away for you. He's bullpen filler. Move Ross or someone else to the pen has been floated out there too. Voth or Cole are both viable options. Both have some historically decent K-rates. Both are of an age where you'd try to transition them from failed starter. Ross I see less, just because the guy has shown he can be a good starter in the league and he's younger. I guess, I'm saying Cole/Voth into the pen makes sense as the next move. It's leaves you even thinner when it comes to rotation depth but it's not like you liked these guys anyway.**  However it looks like Cole is getting the rotation turns so maybe concentrate on Voth now.

Again - like yesterday - any team with a massive failure early in the year is in a bad spot. Teams aren't built to fix big problems early in the year and there usually isn't a good way to do it from the outside through trade or free agency. The Nats have to jury-rig a solution for the next 7 weeks or so.  It could stay ugly.

*He has to get some blame, of course, because he picked all these guys. Even if they looked ok, they did fail. 

**Sidenote : Have you seen the Nats AAA starter stats? Don't.  As for Fedde - he's fine in AA so far but not so great you can project him in the Nats rotation in 2017.  He's at least another month in AA and probably the season.

Tuesday, May 09, 2017

Bullpen whoas

Yes, I know it's "woes" but "woes" doesn't convey the amazing turn from "maybe the best pen they've ever had" to where they are now. The Nats best bullpen arm currently is Matt Albers. He's got an 0.77 ERA which is backed up by a 0.600 WHIP.  He's only pitched 11.2 innings so you have to take that into account but it's roughly the same amount of innings any Nats reliever has pitched.

The second best reliever is probably Koda Glover, who despite posting a 4.15 ERA has pitched better than that as his 0.923 WHIP and 1.96 FIP attest. Of course he's injured. So the second best active is likely Enny Romero. Enny has a 4.40 ERA, and deservedly so. While he's managed to keep his walks down he's been very hittable and has given up a few long balls in his limited innings. An ERA of 4.50 is probably fair.

I'm going to repeat that

So the second best active is likely Enny Romero. Enny has a 4.40 ERA, and deservedly so. While he's managed to keep his walks down he's been very hittable and has given up a few long balls in his limited innings. An ERA of 4.50 is probably fair.

That above, is basically a "last guy in the pen" description, yet for the Nats it's describing their second best option. You don't need me to tell you this, but the Nats pen is in trouble.

You could see any one of these things happening. Injury issues with Koda and Kelley, who both finished last year with health troubles. Treinen failing. Blanton somehow crossing an age line and no longer being effective. Enny not living up to his talent. Oliver Perez not having a comeback. Matt Grace not surprising. But that all of them happened in the same 6 weeks? That's coming up snake-eyes a few rolls in a row.

The question now is what can the Nats do? The answer is precious little.

The Nats can sit and wait. This is what they are most likely going to do. As we discussed yesterday the NL East is terrible so the Nats are not feeling any pressure to do much. The offense is very good. The starting pitching is very good. They will be winning a lot of games by several runs heading into the late innings. They can sit and wait for Glover and Kelley to get healthy. They can sift through any number of AAAA arms to see if something clicks like Albers has so far. Then they can re-evaluate the situation at the usual time and look to make a trade as we head past the All-Star break into the dog days of August.

The Nats can try to make a move now for a great reliever. This is tougher. Few teams are truly out of it at this point, and those that are may not want to admit it. Thanks to the Wild Card, teams that were looking at division titles that are floundering still have hope. The Rangers (5 out), Blue Jays (5.5) and Giants (7.0) can still come up with scenarios that get them in. All you are left with are the teams that were trading before the year started (Padres, White Sox, probably Rays) and teams that were on the fence that are now far behind (Royals).  Those are your four. Problem is - these guys know they are the four. They also know that as the season goes on the price goes up. To get a great reliever now would take a impressive offer. At the same time there haven't been many games to build up new prospects in the Nats system. You are going to have to give up a combination of players that includes Robles for sure, and probably Fedde and/or Soto and/or Keiboom the younger. The end result would be lopping the head off a system that's at best fair.

The Nats could make a move now for a solid reliever. This might be more doable than going after a Herrera type, but it would be introducing the same sort of question mark that got the Nats into trouble in the first place. Here is an ok reliever.  Let's see what he can do. It may be a sound move logically, but it's not going to assuage anyone's fears.

The Nats could look at free agent relievers. Talk Matt Thornton back into the game. Sign Luke Hochevar and hope for the best.  Honestly this may be the way to go although again - it doesn't solve the problem as much as bridge the gap to the time when a real solution is needed.

This is the reality for the Nats, or really any team with early season issues. If there are no good internal options, there are no good options. The Nats don't have to do anything so maybe they won't but I'd like to think they'd at least try to bridge the gap while continuously kicking the tires on better talent because hey - you never know.

Monday, May 08, 2017

Monday Quickie - 15 games

The Nats have to win the NL East by 15 games.  That's it.

Now granted that only has a small part to do with the Nats. The rest of it is up to four other franchises playing terribly but who's betting against that?

The Mets are an imploding mess just 6 weeks into the season. They've had a heaping handful of injuries, several seemingly made worse by trying to play through the initial pain. Their best pitcher, Syndergaard, will likely be out until the All-Star game. They have just had to suspend Harvey without pay for some sort of insubordination to which he's going to sue the Mets to get that money back. It's hard to see this team challenging for anything

The Braves have failed to develop into any sort of threat. Instead of helping to lead them forward Dansby Swanson looks like the worst regular in baseball at the plate. Bartolo Colon finally looks done and the bullpen is an a horror show. It's almost Nats bad! It's hard to see this team challenging for anything.

The Marlins' rotation is as bad as you thought it would be, and the bullpen isn't good enough to cover for that. The offense is full of middling bats and there is no help in sight for any of these problems. The Marlins were always an "if this and if this and if this" type of challenger and pretty much none of those ifs look like they'll come true this year. It's hard to see this team challenging for anything.

You almost feel good about the Phillies by default. They aren't good at anything, and pretty much every team is good at something. But they aren't bad at anything, either. Of course all that means is they are a team that if they are lucky may challenge .500 and most likely will win 70 games but deservedly so this time, instead of the lucky 71 of last year. Still 71 or 81, it's hard to see this team challenging for anything.

Don't think I'm calling it - I'm not. The Nats still haven't put that lead up I want to see. Hell, the Mets are still only 6.5 games out when a week ago we were hoping to put them 10 games behind. Without that lead the Nats are still subject to the surprise. Maybe that will be a surprise awesome run by some NL East team, but more likely it would be a surprise run of injuries for the Nats dragging them down. They are obviously deep enough to weather losing Eaton. But another bat and Scherzer? No. Of course that's worst case and we're more likely to see say Rendon miss a month and 5th starter continue to flounder with a league average 5th starter type - which is to say "not good".

The season is almost 20% over. A good chunk is done. The Nats seem to be in complete command of the division. They need to keep winning and keep pulling away slowly between bursts. They need to win by 15 because I don't see how the 2nd place team in this division finishes much over .500.

Now let's see what they do against a real league.