Nationals Baseball: 2017

Monday, October 16, 2017

Monday Quickie - Now you see why Davis pitched 7 outs

While the Nats beaters go down meekly to the back to being all-powerful Dodgers, the Nats themselves must go on. And as the team does, so does the paper of record.

Janes managed to put together the 5 biggest offseason questions without actually including the biggest one (extending Bryce). Boz wrote a column about the Nats lacking intangibles that the Cubs have that looks only more ludicrous after a weekend of losing and continued bad managing.   I could pick that column apart but Boz is reeling just as bad as any of you, so I'll pass.* **

What we'll do is go through the offseason position discussions again. Probably starting this week. Today though, because some of these decisions may be made sooner rather than later, we'll go over all the free agents the Nats have and what I think will happen with them and why.

Dusty Baker - the biggest free agent of all is the manager. While I've made no secret I don't love the Dusty persona as much as most fans (and nearly all media) it is undeniable that Dusty wins games where ever he goes.  It's also undeniable that he doesn't win in the playoffs. Why? I don't know if there is a particularly good reason. I think Dusty is an average tactician so he can get outmanaged, but more often than not it's just the breaks of a short series versus a team of equal talent.

I think Dusty will be back because the Nats and Dusty line up really well. Dusty wants to win a World Series so he can make the Hall of Fame. He needs a team that's a good shot to make the playoffs. It's hard to argue that any team is a better shot to do that next year than the Nats. The Nats are all about winning enough to get to the playoffs and using the "quantity, not quality" argument to find themselves in more important playoff rounds. Dusty wins a lot of regular season games.

What's the hold up then? Money. That's the only thing that differs between the two. Dusty would of course rather get paid like managers of his record and experience get paid (and probably thinks he deserves a bit more than that). He'd like a contract with some long term assurances. The Nats like to pay their managers around the low end of what managers make and for short term deals so they don't get locked into a Matt Williams situation again (paying a guy not to manage).

I expect the Nats to offer Dusty a deal with a modest raise for 1 year with a team option for a 2nd. Does Dusty take it? Well any team likely to make the playoffs and wanting to go further is probably not going to hire Dusty, given his track record. So right away, the teams Dusty would want to be managing to hit his goal are out. That leaves him with teams on the cusp of the playoffs who think Dusty could put them in with a solid regular season. The Mets? The Mariners? The Angels? The Orioles? It would be a gamble for Dusty and a gamble is probably only worth it if one of these teams pays out big time for him. I don't see it happening. So I think Dusty reluctantly signs back on.

Jayson Werth - Werth is gone. There's no way around that. With Eaton's return and Zimmerman's resurgance and MAT's... uhhh... "surgance" there isn't a place for Werth on the field. It's possible he could be a bench player but Goodwin showed enough that you'd probably pencil him in as the 4th OF. And we're not even mentioning where Robles ends up (likely AAA but that's not the only development path). No, the team is crowded with OF and the only way you take a Jayson Werth back is in a Chris Heisey type of role, where  you pinch hit unless on the field injuries make you play everyday. That's not a role I think Werth wants. Not when he can probably get a team to buy in an a full time DH job in the AL, at least for a year. Unless the Nats pull a trade and they suddenly need an OF, this is the last we've seen of Werth in a Nats uniform.

Howie Kendrick - He's not going to make 10 million a year but last year showed he wasn't washed up. At a reasonable 34 next year ome team will give him a deal to start in the outfield or maybe even at 3rd, for starter money. The Nats don't have a position for him out there nor are they going pay him a lot to sit the bench just in case. They might for a younger player who they may see as being able to bridge a post Bryce, post Muprhy era, but Kendrick ain't that.

Oliver Perez - Perez is a LOOGY now, but not a dominant one. When you talk about replaceable bullpen pieces, this is what they mean.  While the Nats could offer him a cheap-o deal to stay, I don't think they bother. They let him walk and Solis becomes the LHP guy.

Joe Blanton - What a terrible year for Joe Blanton. Despite a great last two years as a reliever, no one trusted him and he sat out on the FA market for such a long time that the Nats were able to sweep in and get him. Then he showed why no one trusted him as injuries and poor performance regulated him to the middle innings. There may be another year or two in Joe Blanton's future but that's for another team to figure out. The Nats aren't against taking chances, but I don't see them taking one with Blanton.

Stephen Drew - Drew is a good player but ended the year injured and is obviously nearing his career's end. Meanwhile Wilmer Difo had a very fine year filling in. I don't know if you want to go into next year with Difo/Goodwin as your top bench players though so there is room for a guy like Drew to come back. However it would have to be a minimum type deal. I think it's possible because he has a good relationship with the team, but I think the Nats will explore other options first.

Brandon Kintzler - He's gone. Not that the Nats couldn't use him but they'll be paying a cool 12 million for Doolittle and Madson next year and keeping Kintzler for the 5 million or more it'll cost the Nats is a bridge too far I think. I also think there is just a natural tendency to look away from guys who are going into their 30s and don't strike anyone out. He'll find a team, everyone needs bullpen help, and probably a team to close for.

Jose Lobaton - Why would you bring back Jose Lobaton? The Nats have to keep Wieters (he'll pick-up his option, and no one will take that contract and the Nats won't eat it). They are desperate to prove Pedro Severino can hit in the majors. Lobaton is terrible. This isn't difficult.

Matt Albers - Sometimes things just work out and Matt Albers becoming a solid reliever with the Nats is one of those things. When things do work out, a lot of times you lean toward keeping that good thing going, so I can see Albers wanting to stick around. The Nats of course would want him to stay but Albers does only have one good year behind him and isn't young (35 in January). I think the Nationals cautiously offer him a deal like Dusty. 1 + option, maybe two, for a modest cost. And I think Albers takes it. The one caveat is you never know if the reliver market is going to explode and if it does Albers could be offered a deal he can't refuse.

Adam Lind - I think both sides want Lind in Washington but I don't think it'll work out. Like Werth and Kendrick before, there isn't a good place for Werth and he has proven he can still hit like an everyday player. He probably needs a DH role though because he doesn't field well. Perhaps the Nats could still lure him by offering to pick-up the option for 5 million but that's a lot of money for a bench player for this team. In the end I don't think the Nats can offer Lind the money or the time he'll find elsewhere, not even close really, and it won't be much of a choice.

*I will note that it's no coincidence that the first player Boz blames for the loss is Bryce Harper. He's setting the fans up for a post-Bryce world.  

**I'll also agree that praising Wieters and Werth for being angry at losing while not addressing how they were among the biggest contributors to the losing is ridiculous. OK I'm done. I swear. For now.

Friday, October 13, 2017

Lost, goddammit, lost.

Last year I ended up doing a post where I went through any moment I felt was pivotal to that game 5. I feel like if I did it for this game I wouldn't stop writing until next Tuesday. So instead I'm just going to spread the blame around where I feel it needs to go.

Worst Player Ever

Matt Wieters already had an iffy play in the top of the 3rd. With men on 2nd and 3rd and with two-outs Gio threw a pitch that went exactly 60 ft and skidded off the back of the plate. With a man on third a catcher needs to block that pitch and try to keep it in front of him.  Wieters instead reached out with a backhand. It hit his glove/arm and went to the backstop and Contreras scored. This would only be a prelude for things to come.

It was supposed to be the inning where the door began to close on the Cubs. Max Scherzer, MAX SCHERZER, was coming out of the pen and he would shut down the Cubs for as long as he could giving the Nats 2 or 3 turns at the plate to expand on their one-run lead. He set down Bryant and Rizzo but then the Cubs got some breaks, an infield single, a bloop right, and a sharp gorund ball down the line to score two. The lead was gone, the momentum was gone, but the Nats were still just a run behind and in this game that didn't feel like anything.  If they could hold them here, at 5-4, surely they could score 1-2 more runs.

But they couldn't and the reason why was Matt Wieters. After a couple of errant pitches they decided to walk Heyward and reset. They'd focus on getting out the free-swinging Baez. And Max did it. Struck him out on three pitches. But the third one got away from Matt. It wasn't a particularly tricky pitch. Just a ball in the dirt that a catcher should smother in place. But Wieters stood up, protecting against a crazy high bounce I guess, and the ball went right through his legs. The Cubs scored again.  6-4. Not only that Wieters mailed the ball somewhere to RF allowing the runners to move up. Max would have to bear down again, now facing two runners in scoring position, and on a 1-1 count he got a foul ball that put LaStella behind but wait Wieters wasn't finished. He reached out too far and LaStella's bat caught his glove. Catcher's Interference. Bases loaded. Now Max had no room for error and he made his one true mistake - hitting Jon Jay - to bring in another run. 7-4. The game wasn't over but it sure felt like it to a lot of people.

Wieters wasn't done yet. the Nats would come back with two outs in the 6th. They would plate two and Mike Montgomery would IBB Rendon to get to Wieters. Montgomery had already walked one and off of an IBB patience was probably the order of the day. Of course you swing at your pitch but anything close you let slide at first to see if you can't get him into a bad position. Instead Wieters would swing at the first pitch, a fastball high and off the plate, and fly out to RF. A strong hit but not the right move on a 1-0 pitch when literally anything can score a run.

Mercifully a double switch would take him out. If this game was normal outside of these instances Wieters would be getting killed today, and maybe he still will be.

Second Worst Player

Momentum is a funny thing. It's an intangible so you can't measure or plan for it, but you sure can feel it when it's there. Gio Gonzalez had already put the Nats behind because of some bad pitching including a Wild Pitch so bad that I can't in any way, shape, or form pin on Wieters. (Believe me I would, see the one above) but the Nats exploded for 4 runs to give him a nice lead. All Gio had to do was get through the Top of the 3rd without giving up a run and the Cubs would be headed toward a bad spot, where soon half-innings where they HAD to score would follow half-innings where they HAD to keep the Nats from doing the same.  He couldn't do it.

Rizzo would get a hit and he'd walk two guys. After getting Russell to ground out, Gio would then unleash the wild pitch I talked about in Wieters thing. It wasn't all Gio's fault, unlike the first inning wild pitch, but certainly he has at least half the blame if not more.

Not only did this inning get the Cubs immediately back into the game when they could have felt out of it, it pushed Gio out in favor of Matt Albers, a move that would cost the Nats a reliever down the road and set in motion the pitching moves for the rest of the game.

This is the second time Gio has been tasked with a 5th game and a lead and all he had to do was not not blow it early. This time he was even worse than last time, when he would give up 3 runs over the course of the 4th and 5th, walking four and uncorking a wild pitch in those two innings to get himself removed.

Also noteworthy

There is this feeling that if you are going to lose in a game this big, you want to lose with your best arms on the mound. You may ask them for too much, but you'd rather lose on a Chapman or Jansen stretched out to the limit, than a Baez or failing Betances fresh and rested. Since, the data really isn't there to support either strategy (you don't usually stretch out relievers that long so there's little to look at on that end for comparison) it's a bar room argument but one where most fans would side with the original sentiment.

This is the same feeling that puts Max on the mound, despite being on short rest, not having relieving experience and having Roark ready. So anyone wanting to call Dusty out here is pretty much calling out every manager and most fans of the game in an argument based in feelings not fact.

But if the above is the case, if you want to lose with your best on the mound, then why would in the 7th inning, Dusty use Sammy Solis? Solis was a decent reliever this year with a good finish, but arguably the 2nd to last man out of the pen coming into the series. During it he had been good during a game 2 showing, but in game 3 gave up 2 hits and didn't get an out before being pulled.

More curious was the first batter of the inning was a righty, Javy Baez. Perhaps bringing in Solis to face a lefty would make sense but a free swigning righty with pop like Baez? That was asking for trouble. The most sensible thing would be to let Kintzler start the inning. Get the out or not and see who was brought on to PH for the pitcher. Circumstances would tell you if you needed a lefty or a new righty and then you go with Doolittle or Madson or stick with Kintzler.

It just didn't make any sense at the time and doesn't now unless you believe you have to save Doolittle but in a game 5, in what was now a two-run ball-game, every at bat was important even those in the 7th.  Hell in an ANY run ball-game it's important in a game 5. But Solis got the call and after getting Baez out (he tried to bunt for some reason) he gave up back to back singles. Madson would come on and get the ground ball they needed but it was just too far over, the Nats arms just not strong enough, and Bryant was just fast enough to avoid the DP. Another run, what ended up being the deciding run was scored.

We can talk more about the game some more there are a million things to talk about. I'll list them here but won't go into it

Lobaton getting picked off
The interference call on Baez that should have been made

Oh hell let's try to go in order...
  • What the Nats were doing wasting that challenge in the first
  • The amazing difference between 1st-2nd-3rd inning Gio.
  • The inability to score Turner in the bottom of the first
  • Wieters' bunt
  • Zimmerman coming up repeatedly small with 2 outs and leaving 6 men on base
  • The strike zone with no low strikes
  • Maddon not only not pulling Hendricks in 2nd but letting him bat in the 4th
  • The odd use of Robles as an early pinch hitter
  • The lack of use of anyone as a pinch runner
  • Max's inability to put anyone away. 
  • Kris Bryant dying after G2 of the series. 
  • The Nats not bothering to try to manufacture a run after Murphy walked
  • Kintzler failing again
  • Werth not scoring on Bryce's double
  • Zimm not scoring on Murphy's double
  • Why Dusty didn't pinch hit for Wieters with Kendrick in the 6th
  • Maddon using Schwarber as a PH vs Solis with no one on
  • Dusty's double switch strategy leaving Nats with Wieters - Lobaton at bats rather than likely Kendrick - Lind at bats in the 6th and 7th 
  • Dusty going with Madson and not Doolittle in an have-to get an out situation
  • The challenge on Jay's DP slide
  • Maddon using Carl Edwards AGAIN and then pulling him immediately
  • Bryce just missing that pitch with the bases loaded
  • Maddon going with Wade Davis for a 7-out save
  • How the hell Contreras let the pitch go and hit the ump square in the face  
  • The umps subsequent harder than necessary "playful" punch of Contreras
  • Why after two straight walks, Lind swings at the first pitch from Wade Davis
  • Why after two straight walks, and one pitch to Lind, on a 1-0 count MAT swings at the second pitch from Davis
  • The fact Lobaton got a hit
  • Why Turner swings at the first pitch from Davis, despite him throwing 4 out of 5 first pitch balls in the inning 
  • The challenge on Lobaton's pick-off being super questionable from what we could see
  • Why Turner swings at the first pitch from Davis in the ninth
  • The fact that Werth wanting to play, gets a chance to do something in the ninth and strikes out
  • The fact that Bryce wanting the chance to be the hero, gets a chance to do something in the ninth and strikes out
Did I get them all? I probably didn't.  The Nats ended every inning but the 9th with a man on base! The Cubs went 1-11 with RISP! The Cubs walked 18 men in the last two games! The Nats had 14 hits in this game after having 16 in the first four games of the series. The Cubs scored 9 runs after scoring 8 in the first four games. OMG I actually did totally forget Werth missing that soft liner! How could I forget that? I could go on and on.

Thursday, October 12, 2017


In 2012 the Washington Nationals informed the sporting world that Stephen Strasburg, the youngest and most talented of their three aces, would not be pitching in the playoffs. It was an understandable  precautionary measure designed to keep their most important pitching piece healthy for the remainder of his time with the team. But in protecting his arm, the team left his reputation open to attack. Over the next 5 years, that reputation would face many slings and arrows, both fair and unfair, until it was left in tatters and the narrative was set. Strasburg was a player who would never live up to his potential because he was too fragile. He was too fragile physically and too fragile mentally.

But last night Strasburg, put an end to the attacks, repaired the reputation, and destroyed the narrative. Last night Strasburg delivered a masterful performance facing poor conditions both internal and external when his team needed him most. Last night, Strasburg became the star he had never quite managed to be seen as before.

I'm not sure exactly when the narrative took hold for good. My guess is early in 2013. Strasburg's first two years were a shooting comet, spectacular but fleeting because of the TJ surgery he would need. 2012 was a year for recovery but the Nats management messed up. They didn't expect the NL East title and the playoffs so they didn't keep Strasburg limited early in the year. When it came to the end they had no choice, really. Allowing Strasburg to pitch down the stretch and in the playoffs would have opened him up to up to 70 more innings than they had planned for, or the possibility of a random infuriating stoppage during the playoffs.

Even though stopping him made sense the fans would only accept it if Strasburg then reached his potential and/or the Nationals won in the playoffs soon after. Neither of those things happened. In 2013 Strasburg had a rough start, had another minor injury midseason, and couldn't get wins. The team that was supposed to bounce back into the playoffs with a stud pitcher leading the way was instead being left in the dust by Atlanta with Strasburg sitting at 5-9. No matter that he was actually pitching well. Now the shutdown looked like it was for nothing. No playoffs, no ace.

2014 would be better but by this time it was clear that the generational pitching talent was not Strasburg but Clayton Kershaw putting up sub 2.00 ERAs and going 21-3 in LA. At the same time Jordan Zimmermann, his own teammate, was pitching just as well and more importantly, winning games. A strong playoff performance could have helped but the Nats offense died on the vine and there would be no opportunities for a defining run. 2015 was the nail in the coffin as Strasburg would miss a couple months and the team would again miss the playoffs that they were sure they were going to make before the season started.

It wasn't just the performance, nor was it just the emergence of Kershaw, but it was also Strasburg's penchant for giving reasons for his poor performances. These were not meant to be complete explanations for his rough outings but fair responses to the questions raised. Why didn't he have great command of my curve? It was too humid and he was sweating a lot. Why did he give up those big early runs? Well it's cold out and it took a while to warm up. These are fair statements but fans don't see reasons, they see excuses.

In the end, Strasburg became seen as the guy who wasn't the best pitcher in baseball, who might not be the best pitcher on his own team, who made excuses for everything, and couldn't stay healthy despite having a whole playoff series ruined for his sake. Of course that is all nonsense. Well not the "wasn't the best pitcher in baseball" part, that was true, but he was a very very good pitcher, close to great if not there for 4 years. He was a guy who if not for some niggling injuries here and there (he averaged about 170 IP per season) would have been a Top 10, maybe a Top 5 pitcher in baseball over that time frame.  But enough fans couldn't see that that his performances became a joyless slog into nitpickery as opposed to a fun watch. The struggle for Strasburg's baseball reputation seemed to be eternal.

That is until yesterday. 24 hours ago it looked like these negative fans would have the ultimate validation and that narrative would be set in stone. Strasburg wasn't pitching. He was coming up small again. He could never live this down, skipping out on a elimination game, when he still had the strength to get up out of bed and come down to the park. But that didn't happen and now we live in a world where Strasburg can be enjoyed again. Strasmas is saved.

Other notes

We can talk about the "how" he came to start later. It is its own long post. No, I still don't buy the official story being fed out there, what seemed like nonsense yesterday still seems like nonsense today but why have that argument before a Game 5 (and probably not the day after either - because we'll be recapping at the very least)? There's time later.

To wit though- the Nats who HAD to name Tanner Roark starter Tuesday afternoon, did not name a starter after last night's game (or by this time this morning) I think it'll be Gio. Why go with Tanner? I don't see the reasoning.

Did MAT come into his own last night? Ehhhh I mean that was a carrying flyball that just got over into the net. Tyler Moore got a big hit in a series, remember? MAT is much better than Moore, but next season is going to define his future far more than that one swing. The question of course is where he will play... and it's a good one. For the offseason.

The Nats as a whole swung the bat a lot better last night it seemed. A lot more line drives, if not base hits. Still everybody but MAT (and 2-2 Lind) is below .200 in their batting averages. Wieters is a big fat 0. Does Dusty do anything different? Lind for Werth is an obvious move versus the righty Hendricks but can he do it? He did (finally) pull Werth for defense last night, however it was after what would likely be his last AB of the game. I'm not sure it happens otherwise. Maybe in 9th. If you do put Lind in - well he's not better than Werth in the field. Prepare for that.

Going along with the above the Nats still need help to score. A wild pitch and an error helped bring in the first run. A trio of walks were needed to load the bases for the grandslam, two of them may have involved a total of one ball thrown in the zone combined.

It's time for more narratives to die. It's time for the Nats offense to perform big in the playoffs. It's time for the Nats to win a division series.


Wednesday, October 11, 2017

You gotta know when to hold them, know when to mold them

Yesterday at this time Nats fans were universally praying for rain. Rain would set up a scenario where Strasburg, the hottest pitcher in baseball, could go on normal rest today in G4 and Gio, who's having a remarkable year, could go on normal rest in G5. It would by no means guarantee anything but it would give the Nats a better shot and that's all you can ask for down 2 games to 1.

Then insanity happened. For those of you that went to bed at 6PM last night here's Castillo's recap and Boz's take.  Strasburg would not pitch Game 4.

Immediately the focus was on Dusty making a stupid move but it soon became apparent that it wasn't Dusty's gut, but Strasburg's body that was driving this choice. Word got out that he was sick and would not be able to pitch. As Boz points out, it got out in the most confusing way, as Dusty - one of the smoother managers in front of the mic - bumbled his way through a couple explanations at one point insinuating that Strasburg took his bullpen session* that morning. That both didn't make sense strategically and informationally as no one reported a Strasburg bullpen session that morning. Dusty ended up blaming mold in the hotels for making the team sick and we were left with more questions and no answers. 

Boz's piece attempts to fill in the blanks. It paints Strasburg again as the warrior, willing to throw through pain for the team. However the team decided it was best to give Strasburg another day and that the miscommunication on Dusty's end had to be all Dusty.

The immediate question you ask yourself when presented a story is - does it pass on first glance. This one doesn't.

Strasburg's reputation aside, there is next to no reason to announce Strasburg wouldn't start on 5:00PM Wednesday at 5:00PM Tuesday. Baseball is a tough sport because of the length and grind** of the season. It's an almost everyday sport that covers half a year. Players will get sick. That isn't unusual. But sickness is typically taken as a day by day injury. Whether you can play tonight is not decided the day before but upon coming to the field the day of and evaluating then. Perhaps a morning decision in cases where the decision is an obvious one.

A decision the day before hints at two things. Either a pitcher who chose not to rise to the occasion, or an illness of such strength that no re-evaluation the next morning would change their feelings. But the latter would suggest an illness that may keep Strasburg from pitching for more than just one day, yet the team had very firmly stated that Strasburg would go in Game 5, with no equivocation about health.

So it's unlikely that it IS that type of illness.

The other thing that is bothersome is Dusty's reaction. His meandering responses are not the responses of a man who has come face to face with a deathbed ill player and now has to deliver that bad news to the press. They are the responses of a man who is faced with a decision that caught him off-guard and doesn't know how to present that to the press. Does he take the blame (Roark was slated), does he blame it on the illness effecting today's preparation (creatures of habit), does he run with a given excuse fed to him (bullpen today), or does he just say "He's sick" for some reason and have that be the end of it (mold). We've seen Dusty for 2 years out in front of the cameras. If he saw a super ill Strasburg earlier that day, if he thought that might keep him from pitching and then was in on the decision - this is not the Dusty we would have seen.What is that Dusty? Something that makes sense - like the responses to the Max injury pushing him out to Game 3.

So it's doubtful again that this was an illness so debilitating that it could be judged to be start altering the day before.

Add to this Bob Nightengale's story from an unnamed source that Strasburg said he couldn't go and you have all the facts reaching the same conclusion. Which is the story that is presented to us by Boz is not the unvarnished truth.

What we are left now with is speculation. I don't think Boz or Rizzo would flat out lie. I don't see that in any past work. But feeding you half facts to try to paint a different picture? I'd buy that.What are the likely facts then.

Strasburg is sick, perhaps strongly
During activities Strasburg did not feel right, not completing a pen on Monday and not feeling right on his run on Tuesday
Strasburg told Rizzo "I'll give you what I got"
A group decided Strasburg would not pitch.
The group didn't communicate to Dusty the exact way they wanted him to present this
Dusty talked about players being "creatures of habit"

What we can put together is a more likely picture then the one painted by Boz. In this one an ill-Strasburg comes to the park on Tuesday and is unable to prepare like he prefers to before a game. He couldn't do his pen on Monday as he liked and now he can't do whatever it is he does on the day before a game to his satisfaction. Because of that he tells the Nats he doesn't want to pitch. He's a creature of habit and simply doesn't feel like he can pitch tomorrow if he can't get his exact prep in the day before. The Nats press him and ask him if he can go to which Strasburg answers "I'll give you what I got" not in a defiant scream against the illness, but in an matter of fact statement of the situation. He'll pitch if the Nats make him, and he'll do his best, but he'd rather have things in the way he likes them. The team defers and tells Dusty he's gotta go with Tanner. Dusty who either wasn't in on this decision or was just coming from the meeting where it was decided, is taken aback, used to the idea if an athlete can stand, they are going to go out there and try. To fly the white flag a day before an elimination game is unthinkable and now he's gotta explain something to the media that he can't really expalin to himself.

Is that really what happened? I don't know. It's a story. But it's a story I think that fit the facts better than what the Nats want us to believe.  

So today it's Tanner vs Arrieta. Good luck and WIN GODDAMMIT WIN.

*Longer throwing sessions off the mound in the pen, usually done Day 2 but sometimes Day 3 of 4 day off-period. Day 4 is universally for rest of the arm.

**Available in paperback - Christmas is coming up! 

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

The mistakes that are made

The brink of elimination.  For the fourth time in four tries the Nationals find themselves a loss away from a long cold (well eventually cold) off-season of wondering what went wrong this time. If it's any consolation the Nats have fared pretty well in first elimination games, winning them in 2012 (down 1-2) and 2014 (down 0-2) but losing in 2016 (tied 2-2). Will they play today? Depends on the weather but baseball is determined to try to make it happen, the schedule being more important than the possibility of a prime-time showcase with no competition. Keep your eyes on the skies because a rain out changes everything by putting a Strasburg / Gio back to back scenario on the table.

But does that even matter- having these two pitchers having great years on the mound? This series it hasn't. But we'll get back to that.

Last night we saw Dusty* make his first really bad strategical move. It was NOT, repeat, it was NOT taking out Max. Taking out Max at that point was a 50/50 call. He was tiring. The previous inning he gave up a very hard and deep lineout to Jon Jay and followed it with a 5 pitch walk to Bryant. Some say he was squeezed on the walk, but the calls were all technically correct (according to the Gameday app) and what it appeared to me was that Max was just a little off where he wanted to be. That is fine when he's aiming for a corner and misses a few inches outside or low. It's not fine once he aims for the edge and the ball trails into the zone a few inches.

Presented with an extremely similar situation last year, Dusty chose to keep Max in and Joc Pederson would take him deep to tie Game 5. This year he chose what I would recommend, batter by batter usage until he lets a man on. I like this because sometimes a pitcher's effectiveness is not just because of the sharpness or speed of his stuff but because of his feel that day or how he is reading the opponent. As well, there is likely a psychological advantage where the line-up feels like they cannot hit an opposing pitcher and creates a tension that works against the batter. As long as that tension remains, as long as it appears that the feel/reading can overcome any physical slippage, why not keep him in?

That is what Dusty did and after Contreras was stuck out Ben Zobrist crushed a ball into the outfield. It not only broke up the no-no - it was the second high speed 300+ ft shot over the last two innings. It was time for Max to go. With Schwarber up next you can't take the chance of the same type of mistake now because he won't hit a 300ft line drive with it, he'll hit a 400 ft home run. But who to put in? Schwarber is a lefty and has definitive splits, which is another reason to remove Scherzer, and it figures to put in a lefty. Thing is the Nats don't have a shut them down LOOGY. You can't use Enny. He's never in his career been able to get out lefties despite being one. Perez was a LOOGY but then couldn't get the job done in 2016. He's been better this year though not dominant. About the same this year has been Solis, who was also good last year. Finally there was Doolittle. He's been good against lefties in the past two years but in very limited at bats with the Nats lefties have 6 hits in 18 ABs.

At the time I thought they should go to Kintzler. Historically Kintzler has been very effective against lefties, more so than righties in fact. Kintzler is also probably your best bet to keep the ball in the park, important against a bat like Schwarber. It would be counter-intuitive though and it wouldn't take advantage of Schwarber's splits. You could also walk Schwarber to get to Heyward - but you'd want a lefty to face Heyward who is a bad hitter either way but worse against lefties.

Of course you have to also factor in what the opponent will do and if you bring in a lefty to face Schwarber they are likely to counter with a righty bat, probably Almora. You likely aren't going to get the LvL or RvR match-up you want at first. So the question is - what is the match-up you want?  If I were to rank them I'd say

Kintzler vs Schwarber - Kintzler does well vs lefties and doesn't give up the homers.
Doolittle vs Almora - Not ideal but Doolittle is one of the guys you brought in for this and you can pitch around Almora if need be, to get to the more favorable Heyward match-up (although he may pinch hit for him too with Happ)
Solis vs Almora - not great, when he's been hit by RHP he's been hit hard but like Doolittle you could try to pitch around Almora to get to Heyward. Though same PH rules apply.
Scherzer vs Schwarber - no, the HR chances too high, imo
Madson vs Schwarber - I haven't liked what I've seen from Madson this post-season.

Perez vs Almora - God no, he's terrible against righties

Dusty went with Solis, didn't have him pitch around Almora and Almora punished him, knocking in the tying run. Letting Solis pitch to Heyward was the right move after that but Solis couldn't put Heyward away either meaning Kintzler would have to pitch across innings.

This was the game changing because of a bad move by Dusty. There's no denying it. This late in the game you have to turn to your best pitchers and Solis is not one of those guys. Even if you try to say the two most important goals were avoiding Schwarber's bat and saving Doolittle, you still don't let Solis take on Almora. He should have been pitched around or just intentionally walked. Setting up Solis vs Heyward or Kintzler vs Happ.

In the 8th Kintzler, who issued one walk in the past month, did the inexcusable and walked the leadoff batter. He still got out Jay (who was fine for Kintzler to face bc he'd be bunting) and Bryant. That set up Rizzo. As I noted before Kintzler is good versus lefties. I'll add that Rizzo's splits are basically very good vs lefties and great vs righties so there is an advantage but you aren't going to shut Rizzo down here by bringing in Doolittle. Kintzler was as good a choice as any to face Rizzo. But Dusty went to Perez. That's fine too - see everything we talked about above. They aren't pinch hitting for Rizzo so you aren't going to get to Perez vs a RHB.

Now should you face Rizzo? I wouldn't, not with a base open. I'd rather take my chances with Contreras. Again there aren't great splits here. He hits righties fine but if my choice is Rizzo vs LHP or Contreras vs RHP I take Contreras. Dusty chose to face Rizzo, which wasn't the garbage choice everyone thinks, but was probably not the best choice and Rizzo just blooped one into the OF. Rizzo then acts like an ass acting like he did something other than get lucky but you get to do that when you win. Don't want to see that? Don't lose.

So that was that. Dusty made three decisions but only one was an outright mistake at the time. You can pull Scherzer. He was probably lambasted by the same people last year for keeping him in. You can pitch to Rizzo. I wouldn't but you can. You can't go with Solis.

But the above is just a bunch of paragraphs talking about the positioning of the china in the shop and ignoring the bull you let in. The problem is not that the Nats pen and Dusty's choices have allowed them to score a couple runs late in the game. The problem is that all it takes is a couple runs to win these games. The problem is Trea Turner is pressing so hard that he can't get on base at all. The problem is that the one guy that seems to be hitting as he would during the season is batting 8th. The problem is Wieters or some other terrible hitting catcher has to play. The problem is Daniel Murphy is doing nothing. The problem is outside of one swing apiece so are Bryce and Rendon. The problem is Werth is old and hurt.

What can you do about that? Very little. Do you pull Werth, the emotional leader of the team in a win or go home game? I don't know that you can. But if you don't Lind, who kills righties, is wasting away on the bench (Zimm hasn't been great either but he's basically been the best of the worst, so you can't replace him). Can you switch MAT with Turner in the lineup? Maybe you can but then again maybe Taylor is having the success he is because of how he's being pitched with a pitcher behind him. Nothing guarantees success.

However I do know that we have to see something today. We have to see some line-up change. Three times Dusty's put out this line-up and it hasn't worked. He has to change something.

Other notes :
Does a better LF get to Zobrist's fly ball? I looked at it and my guess is... maybe. That's a ball that is caught a step in front of the wall and is coming in fast. A better LF may get there but you are almost certainly looking at a jump and crash into the wall situation. Do I think some come down with it? Sure. Do I think some miss it? Yes. Do I think some catch it for a moment only to have it jarred loose by impact? Yeah, probably that too.

Does a better LF get to Rizzo's bloop? I think so. If you watch the replay Werth pulls up about when we first see him. This is fair. Taylor is about same distance and in a full sprint and Turner is closer. Werth isn't going to catch this ball. But a faster LF would be closer to the ball at that point and probably is able to get to it on the fly on a full sprint. Of course Werth is Werth and we all know that and so do the guys in the field so it's hard to blame Werth here for just being him. Especially when (1) Taylor could have reached it . I don't know if he would have caught it. It's a full sprint slide/dive combo but it deserves a try (2) Turner really could have gotten there but he totally misreads it taking a path almost straight out from short. It's a hard play but one he didn't even put himself in position for.


*Is Dusty not the oddest manager in terms of public opinion we've seen in a long while? Some people, re: the Washington sports media, absolutely love him and seem to turn everything he says into wisdom handed down from the mount. In interviews and articles he's the coolest, smartest guy to ever put out a line-up. On the other hand, some how the 2003 series loss to the Marlins while managing the Cubs turned a whole legion of fans against him. I will accept the Cubs fan hate because fans aren't rational. But how did random people not associated with the Cubs come to think so poorly of Dusty? The truth is Dusty is a winner. The regular season numbers back that up. Can he manage a strategic playoff game? Eh - I mean he's not a savant but from what I see he's does as well as average manager in the playoffs. But soulless automatons are soulless automatons. 

Monday, October 09, 2017

The first 16.5 innings and the last 1

The truth is there aren't two separate games to look at when we look at the series so far. There are 16.5 innings that were on thing and 1 inning that was something else. 16.5 innings of great pitching and no hitting leading to an explosion and release the Nats and their fanbase desperately needed.

Game 1

I mentioned this a couple days ago but Strasburg was great. You can't have watched that game and thought otherwise. Well, I guess you can because there are people complaining about him not being able to finish the job, but it's hard for me to watch that game and think that he could have reasonably done better.  His stuff was basically unhittable and ridiculously sharp. His "failure" of an inning was an inning where he gave up two singles to two of the best hitters in baseball. An inning that should have yielded no runs (if Rendon fielded the ball cleanly) or one run (if Bryce had kept Bryant on first rather than overthrow the cut-off man). If you only judge greatness on results I can see your point, but I also think that's a terrible first way to judge greatness. Performance first, then circumstance, and the performance to me was undeniable.

On the other side the Nats couldn't piece together anything. Bryce singled in the 1st. Wieters was HBP and then Taylor singled and that was it base hit wise for the game. The Nats would walk a few times but never threaten. Dusty felt their approach was too patient. Were they? It didn't feel like it at the time but the did average almost 4 pitcher per AB which is on the patient side. On the other hand only 7 of the 27 guys Hendricks faced ended the at bat on an 0-2 or 1-2 count. So the Nats weren't forced into their bad hitting by a lot of pitcher counts*

Regardless of the reason though the Nats couldnt' get pressure on Hendricks. They only had two men in scoring position all night and none before there were two outs. They had one leadoff man get on (Murphy with a walk) and that was erased by a double play from the next batter. Hendricks had no very stressful batters and a handful with any stress at all. With only Rendon and MAT getting on base after the 4th Dusty couldn't do much either.

The only other thing to be said about Game 1 is Madson didn't get the job done, giving a leadoff double and then a 2-out double to drive in another run. Ultimately it's water under the bridge for the game but it's something that'll come back the next time we see him in the series.

Game 2

A game is still just a game. Maybe Hendricks was just at his best. That is part of what you accept in baseball playoffs. One hot or cold pitcher can dominate the outcome of a game and potentially change a series. But Hendricks was a very good pitcher all year. Jon Lester was not so continued failure against him would signal that the problem could very well be on the Nats side.

The Nats did seem to be a bit more aggressive, but I'm not sure that was a good idea. Lester is a wilder pitcher than Hendricks. Regardless of whether than mattered the Nats saw their issues continue. It seemed like things might have changed when a Rendon flyball carried over the RF fence but the next 10 Nats got out. Once again the Cubs starter was completely comfortable as the Nats couldn't get a man on base or do anything else to force some pressure on Lester. I add the "anything else" because here I do feel Dusty could have done more. He could have called for some bunts (Lester is a notorious for his throwing issues to the bag) or, when Zim led off the 5th or especially when Wieters got HBP in the 7th, he could have used a pinch runner to try to bother the Cubs starter with steal. He may have even gotten more creative, having batters drag out at bats with time called and the like. Anything to disrupt what had been an too easy half-game but Dusty didn't do it.

Gio on the mound pitched well enough to win, victimized a couple times by the HR favorable weather. There was a moment of worry when he opened up the 4th Double, Homer, Walk but he got out of it and got through the fifth without too much trouble.

Then came the Nats best chance for a big inning of the series so far. Zimm hit a seeing eye single up the middle and after two fly ball outs he started to do something. He stole 2nd. This seemed to unnerve Lester who uncorked a wild pitch sending Zimm to 3rd. Even more off his game he would walk MAT and then Dusty would choose to send up Kendrick rather than Lind, who had hit much better down the stretch than Howie, to face Lester. Dusty would get the righty on lefty match-up or he'd force the Cubs to make a move and then perhaps bring in Lind. The Cubs decided to stick with Lester and he'd walk the bases loaded. Now it was Lester vs Trea and again, with a two-run lead behind him, Maddon kept Lester on the mound and he wiped out Turner.

It felt like the end but as long as the game was 2 runs apart, a bloop and a blast, there was still hope.  The 6th would give the Nats nothing but the 7th would give them a Wieters HBP and really Dusty's only glaring mistake of the game, not pinch running here to do something.

Albers, Solis, Madson, and Perez would keep the Cubs off the board for the next three (Madson would concerningly give up another hit) and the Nats were down to their final 6 outs. When Maddon brought in Carl Edwards he knew he'd get Adam Lind. That was the choice he made and Lind made him pay with a nice piece of hitting singling down the third base line. Trea would K and then Maddon made the curious decision of letting Edwards face Bryce. Bryce is fine against lefites but he KILLS righties to the tune of .322 / .433 / .654.  But Edwards did well against lefties all year so Maddon took that chance.

We know what happened.

Edwards would walk Rendon and then Maddon brought in Montgomery to face Murphy. He singled setting up a lefty on righty match-up. Montgomery, like Edwards did well against batters from the opposite side. But while Zimm hit RHP fine, he hit LHP much better.  .331 / .385 / .654 Still Maddon didn't learn from relying on how his guys did and Zimm skied one that just got over the fence. Tie game became a three run lead and that was that.

Looking back on the two games these are the overall take-away

The Nats pitching has been great. There's a little shakiness in the pen here and there but they got through it and that's pretty much how I'd describe this pen especially the underbelly.

Corollary to that only Bryant and Rizzo have really hit the first two games, and Contreras, who bats after them, has worked himself on. There's a lot of empty at bats coming from the other side.

If you must be concerned about a pitcher - Madson has given up 3 hits in 6 batters, I think.

Bryce does have the pop still in him and he's the only man on the team with 2 hits. He's fine. Werth on the other hand is 0-7 with a walk and looks like he shouldn't be out there. My prediction (Cubs in 5) was based on these guys not being right. Bryce is. Werth isn't. So it'll come down to Scherzer. Of course that's pretty obvious at this point.

Even worse than Werth is Turner who is 0-8 with 4Ks. He looks lost and at the top of the line-up is constantly giving Bryce and Rendon, who look ok, nothing to work with. No batters on base. No pressure on the pitcher. I doubt Dusty will mix it up but a MAT / Trea flip wouldn't be a bad idea.

Could Werth come out? Maybe. If he's 0fer today and is terrible I could see somehow working Lind into the line-up for Arrieta G4 (assumptions made here) but I'm only giving that a slight chance. 10%.  Dusty will live and die by what got him here.It's why players love him. It might also be why he's died so much.

I'd love to see more aggression from the Nats. Not necessarily in when to swing, but what they do. I think Dusty DID want to be aggressive on the paths when guys got on, but guys aren't getting on. This means Dusty has to get more creative. I'm sure he'll let things go for 3-4 inning today to see if the 8th inning has any carryover. But if the Nats get to the 5th with nothing I'll be upset if I don't see something from Dusty.

It's been a pretty clean series. The mistakes haven't been egregious. There haven't been a lot of "should have"s or "could have"s. Just a lot of solid pitching and bad hitting. 
*Strasburg had 11 bats out of 27 end with an 0-2 or 1-2 count.

Sunday, October 08, 2017

Off - Day Posting

Six outs from disaster.  Instead thanks to Bryce and a carrying wind the Nats are going to Chicago with a fighting chance as opposed to an outside one. We'll discuss these two games in more detail tomorrow but the general problems remained for 7 innings.  No hitting. No getting on base.  No pressure on the Cubs pitchers. No runs.* Was the 8th a sea change or a momentary respite.

*Same almost goes for Cubs. They are being carried by Rizzo / Bryant

Saturday, October 07, 2017

G1 Venting and G2 Whatever

You need to score to win. You need to hit to score. The Nats haven't hit so they haven't scored.  Simple as that.

Strasburg was great (though not everyone thinks so - you can see this looking to my Twitter responses saying he was great) but an error and a overthrow turned 0 runs or 1 runs into 2.

In 2012 and 2014 the Nats couldn't score. This feels similar.  Change things up. Blow them out today.

Friday, October 06, 2017

NLDS Preview Part 2

Let's keep going

ROSTER UPDATE :  It's out. What you expect, especially after the noises yesterday. I missed on the fringes. Romero instead of Blanton, Goodwin instead of de Aza. It's not a big different but I worry about two things (1) Dusty using Enny to get out lefties when Enny has shown no proclivity for doing that. (2) Needing a big hit from Goodwin and him not facing live major league pitching in two months. I do love Robles being on the roster for PR purposes.

Do the Cubs have any particular weakness like the Dodgers did last year? No, not really. If you want to stretch things in a way, they don't like power pitchers in comparison to others and like RH starters a little less so does seem like a positive for the Nats who have two of the better power RH starters in baseball. Of course no one does well against power pitchers really - the Nats have much worse splits in this regard. So I doubt it's telling. Same with the pitching a pretty even keel.

The Cubs don't run much. Anthony Rizzo, who's not a bad baserunner but would never be confused with the fastest guy on the Cubs, is tied for the team lead in steals. They strikeout a lot but it's the tradeoff any of us who've watched baseball in the past few years is familiar with.  They can be prone to the long ball and give up a walk or two.  The only one of those that really play into the Nats though is the strikeouts. Max or Stras or Gio might dominate through missing bats alone.

Are they bad at fielding then? Nope. They are way worse than last year's defense as a commenter pointed out in yesterday's post. But that says more about last year's team than this years. Last year's team was a defensive powerhouse, head and shoulders above the league in some stats. This year's team is simply above average. It's not bad, it's not average, it's still good. It's just a long way from "super great".

Is there anything particularly bad about the Cubs then? I mean maybe bullpen depth? Like the 5th/6th arms tend to be pretty bad so get them in war of bullpens where you are switching out a ton, or hit up the starter real early, or wear out the normal pen in a couple games and maybe you got something? But really the Cubs are a great team playing great with no particular weakness to exploit. You just have to beat them

Can the Nats do that?

We've talked all the time about the Nats but a quick refresher because sometimes things get away from you. They've been super consistent all year with their records in 5 out of 6 months ranging from a high of 17-8 to a low of 16-12. There have been no amazing runs, but the "low" point was a month of .500 baseball. They were once the most dominant offensive team in the league but injuries have taken their toll and the team is scrambling a bit in that regard late in the season. They were once the worst team in baseball on the mound in late innings, but a total bullpen overhaul has turned that into a model of consistency and by domino effect shored up the middle innings. They have arguably the best 1-2 in baseball and Gio has pitched all year in a way in the way that Roark did in years before him, making it more of a 1-2-3. The rotation depth has been an issue but that is mostly a moot point in the playoffs.  What isn't a moot point is how Scherzer is feeling.

The Nats, when healthy, are the most complete offensive team in the game. The thing they do the least is hit homers* and still have 5 guys with 19+ and Adam Lind hitting 14 from the bench. Turner and Taylor steal bases. Werth, Rendon, and Bryce work their way on base. Taylor is the only starter terribly prone to strikeouts. There are no telling splits on the pitching side either. Like the Cubs - no real split issues (other than that power pitcher thing I mentioned).

If I wanted to press like I did with the Cubs, they do have a little trouble getting lefties out in comparison to righties. This is mostly because they only have one lefty starter and a little bit because their two most used bullpen lefties, Doolittle and Romero, don't have the usual dominant lefty/right splits. But it's not like lefties kill the Nats. They do better than most against lefties. A great team with no particular weakness to exploit you are just going to have to beat.**

What it comes down to then for me is the unknown. It comes down to Werth and Bryce and Max. If these guys are healthy then I think the Nats offense is just a touch better than the Cubs. I think the Nats 1-2-3 punch is more than a touch better than the Cubs. But I can't KNOW this. The last we saw Max he walked off the mound and hasn't thrown a bullpen yet. The last we saw Bryce he was struggling to get any sort of rhythm and power back after coming back from an injury that just missed being season-ending. The last we saw Werth we were looking at a seven game run of .222 / .300 / .407 with 11 Ks and saying "good enough to start!". As long as this remains unknown I have to say the Cubs have the advantage at the plate and the Cubs have the advantage on the mound. And well if you have the advantage at the plate and on the mound then you win the series. Cubs in 5.

I will say that this will be proven right or wrong probably very quickly. We'll see how Bryce and Werth look tonight and if they look fine then the Nats get a huge boost. I'd probably switch to Nats in 5 at that point (as long as Max wasn't out for the series for some reason). But that's not really fair to pick a series after a game has been played. I have to go with what I know today right now. That's kind of why picking these things is stupid. But we do it anyway.

Speaking of stupid let's play the whole thing out then

ALCS : Indians over Houston
NLCS : Dodgers over Cubs

WS : Indians over Dodgers

Man, that's original.

Oh yeah - for those on Twitter I am also. Just my name harpergordek, if you want to follow along.

*It's true - this year has been crazy and if the Nats were really good at hitting homers they would have hit more. Again I know we've seen plenty. It's a crazy year. 

** OH WAIT! I forgot. The Nats defense is not good. Or more accurately it's got some exploitable weaknesses. The right side of the infield has no range and Werth in LF has been declining for years.  All these guys are competent fielders but they don't have the ranges in comparison to most guys in baseball. 

Thursday, October 05, 2017

Division Series Picks and Preview Pt 1

We'll start with the picks. (Except the Nats series - since I'm deep diving I'll leave that until tomorrow)

ALCS : Indians - Yankees. The Yankees might have been the second best team in baseball this year. It may be hard to believe that but it's true. You look at the runs they scored and the runs they allowed playing in the (once again) best division in baseball and you come away with the feeling that this was team that didn't catch the breaks on the field (18-26 in one run games). Yet they still won 91 games and were in contention for a division title until the last week against a very very good Red Sox team. The problem for the Yankees is they are probably up against the best team in baseball this year. One that after a middling May has been gaining momentum like a rolling stone. 15-12 in June, 15-11 in July, 19-9 in August, 25-4 in September. 25-4! What I think will tip the scales is the Indians rotation and the WC game giving them just enough advantage that they will have more leads to let their excellent pen hold on to then the Yankees will.  Indians in 5. 

ALCS : Astros - Red Sox. The Astros and Red Sox met in the last series of the year and a half-trying Houston won three of four from a Red Sox team who needed a win in every game but 162. The Red Sox have one big advantage over the Astros and that's a very very good bullpen, up there with the Indians and Yankees. The question is going to be whether they can get to it with a lead. I don't think they will. Another team maybe, but the Astros hit homers, and the Red Sox team, even guys like Sale, can give them up. The match up is bad on that end. The flip side - Astros pitching vs Red Sox hitting - is more even but as long as the Astros starters can keep Boston down, the Red Sox will be playing catch-up most of the series. Eventually playing catch-up catches up with you. Astros in 4. 

NLCS ; Dodgers - Diamondbacks.  The cliche response here would be to ask "which Dodgers show up" but the short of it that what we saw was an aberration. We saw the best month of pitching line up with the best month of hitting and vice versa causing two crazy streaks. But pull away the streaks and what do you have? A team that was 35-25 in early June, a team that went 16-5 after the crazy hot streak, and a team that finished the year 12-6. It's a very very good team.  Still the Diamondbacks are not far behind, with one of the best top to bottom rotations and an offense that is one of the best since gaining JD Martinez. In an even series with everyone at peak it'd be a tough call. But that's not what we have here. Greinke is working through issues and Robbie Ray was used in the WC putting the Diamondbacks in a hole early. It's a hole their team may be best equipped to handle but it's still a hole. The early series games should go to the Dodgers and then it's just a matter of sneaking one more through once the teams reset. I think they can do that.  Dodgers in 4

Let's talk about the Cubs.  Trying to figure out this Cubs team by looking at the stats for the year is the wrong way to do it. There were two Cubs teams this year. The Cubs that went 43-45 through the All-Star break and the Cubs that went 49-25 after it. What changed?

The offense was maligned a bit in the early going because it was easy to pick out the problems. Zobrist , Heyward, and Russell were all playing hurt and hitting badly. Schwarber hit so poorly they sent him back. down. Javy Baez couldn't find enough holes to get the average up or hit enough homers to cover for it. But the thing is- the offense was still ok. Bryant and Rizzo were still hitting like stars. The Cubs depth covered for other holes as Ian Happ, Tommy La Stella, and Jon Jay all hit well. They weren't the best team in the league but they were a solid outfit that were smack in the middle of the NL despite the injuries.

That should have been enough. That average offense should have been covered by a pitching staff that was virtually unchanged from the staff that was by far the best in the majors last year, especially with Wade Davis providing the Cubs with the full-year closer they only got a taste of last year.  The average offense should have been kept a few games over .500 until it could get itself healthy and right again. But Hendricks got hurt and Lester, Arrieta and Lackey all pitched a few steps worse than expected. The pulled together 5th starter tandem of Mike Montgomery and Eddie Butler ended up being just as good as anyone else.  The pen was mostly fine but with few leads to protect it didn't matter. If you have an average offense and and average pitching staff you are going to get average results and they did.

In the second half, things righted themselves in both aspects. Hendricks cam back healthy (2.19 ERA, 1.179 WHIP), Arrieta and Lackey found themselves (2.28, 1.090 and 3.75, 1.208 respectively) and the Cubs traded for Jose Quintana who didn't pitch great but stabalized the rotation with a solid performance (3.74, 1.103). The pen slipped a little but it didn't matter. The Cubs got the best starting pitching of any NL team after the All-Star break. Meanwhile the hitting became the beast we thought they could be. Contreras stepped up and hit like a star joining Bryant and Rizzo. Schwarber came back fixed and mashing balls over the fence. Russell hit better as he healed up. Baez got enough balls over the fence. And the solid bench remained solid.  The Cubs had the best offense of any team in the second half.

It's far more reasonable that the Nats consider their opponent not to be the average Cubs squad that played in the NL the first half of 2017 or even the good squad that shows up if you look at the whole year but this juggernaut that won games at a 107 win pace since mid-July. Nats fans should expect a Cubs team that is far more like the Cubs team that won it all last year than some 92 win team that had to fight the Brewers. The picks from most of the experts have been a little blase about this I think. They know the Nats have been one of the best teams in baseball all season. They know the Cubs haven't. They give the edge to the Nats. But if we look at the 2nd half we see a Cubs team that deserves to be talked up as much as the Dodgers or the Nats. This isn't a series that favors the Nats in a way that should get 70% of fair analysis going their way. It's a toss-up at best. 

Wednesday, October 04, 2017

Woo! and ugh.

Onto a real series for the first time since 2012. This is lack of real series is something the Nats haven't dealt with in back to back years since 2010-2011. That's a nice run there.

If you didn't like last night's game (because of the way it was played, not because of the outcome) I have some bad news for you. This is the way the game is heading.

We've reached universal understanding in the past couple decades that
1) While a walk isn't as good as a hit it is WAAAAAAAY better than getting an out
2) Strikeouts aren't that much more detrimental than any other out

We've always known "Home runs are good" and that fits nicely with the first two to form a hitting philosophy. If it looks good, swing as hard as you can and try for the homer. If not, take it. It's not a new philosophy but with smaller parks, pitchers throwing harder, and a tighter strikezone you have some more elements that all favor homeruns.What we saw this year, with the almost certainly juiced ball, was a concession to this philosophy. Essentially the league is leaning into it after seeing this philosophy lengthen games but not help scoring in the early half of this decade.

At the same time we've also come to fully understand that
3) Pitcher performance really suffers each time through the line-up.

Like 1 & 2 it's not something new, but rather an idea that is now creating a strategy. First it was the closer, then the set-up man, taking away the late innings from a tired starter. Soon it'll be a legion of relievers taking over after the 2nd time through a lineup. It won't be as bad as you saw last night. The regular season doesn't lend itself to the idea of 5-6 pitchers a game as nicely as a one-off Wild Card. This is the perfect storm really.

It's not that the game is broken, unless you think it's always been so and we just haven't noticed. It's that the rules are being exploited in new ways to squeak out a couple more wins a year.

It's not that the game is all that different. Do you think the mind notices the difference between a 2:50 game and a 3:00 game? That there were 18 balls in play instead of 21? But the idea that it is so much worse has taken hold so much so that each long game with a host of pitching changes becomes another piece of evidence rather than a game you wouldn't have really given a second thought to 20 years ago. Baseball is going to be forced to do something.

There isn't an easy solution. Limiting the time between pitches. limiting visits to the mound, shortening commercial breaks. These are fiddling at the edges. Dealing with the symptom but not the cause. You have to somehow make the things you don't like less advantageous and this isn't doing that.

What could work? Limiting defensive shifting and expanding parks could make GBs more advantageous and the HR mentality a little less so. Making a reliever face 2 batters, might give a manager more pause on how he uses his pen.

Maybe more drastic changes are needed though. But understand that each change will only bring a new set of rules that will be looked at to see if it can be exploited. You can make a change in good faith only to see it blow up in your face. A change to cut down on strike-outs by making the results of them more punitive (say next time up you start 0-1) may lead to a vast increase in strikeout pitchers attempting to take advantage of that. A change to cut down on strike-outs by making it harder for the pitchers to get them (lowering mound) may have no effect as more guys swing from the heels against an easier to hit pitcher. You don't know until you try it.

Luckily for the major leagues you have a laboratory you can use to experiment with these things. It's called the minor leagues. It'll effect development slightly but it's better than the alternative, which is introducing changes to the majors that can screw your most important product up for years.

Tuesday, October 03, 2017

Wild Card and playoff picks from other places

Before I get to the WC games som prediction aggregation

SI : 9 pickers
WS  WIN : 1

ESPN : 30 pickers
WS  WIN : 4

USA Today : 6 pickers
WS  WIN : 0

Washington Post : 4 pickers
WS  WIN : 0

CBS Sports, NBC Sports.  Didn't see any. Get your act together
Yahoo Sports : Only did WC games so far. How utterly reasonable. How are these takes hot?!?
 So combined so far

49 pickers
NLCS WIN :  16
WS  WIN : 5

CBS Sports : 5 pickers - only NLDS in another completely reasonable and infuriating for this purpose method of picking

NBC Sports : 3 pickers

Yahoo Sports : 4 pickers
WS WIN : 0

This changes the percentages to
NLDS WIN : 43/61 = 70%
NLCS WIN : 25/56 = 45%
WS  WIN :6/56 = 11%

I miscalculated previously and had the Nats NLCS number too low. It was around 43%, not around 33%.

About 70% have the Nats at least beating the Cubs. Almost a third have the Nats in the World Series and about 10% have the Nats winning it all. I'll update if I see any more large groups

Despite mocking them, I am a Yahoo Sports type though. How can I make a DS pick when I don't know the match-ups nor what happens tonight. I'd be silly of me to say "Hey D-Backs are beating the Dodgers" only to have the Rockies win or watch Paul Goldschmidt and JD Martinez collided and break legs. So we'll wait two days for all those.

Tonight I like the Yankees. For those of you new to the blog, or just sporadic readers, here is my... what do you think? Tri-yearly? ...note that I am a Yankee fan. I grew up a Yankee fan and have had no reason to change. Yes, this means Nats v Yanks in World Series I'm not pulling for yours I'm pulling for mine.

Wild Cards are the hardest to judge because it is just one game. All I figure you can do is look who (1) is the better team (2) has the better starter for tonight and (3) has the better bullpen. Maybe look at it now and in the past month

Yankees v Twins
Team : Yankees
Starter : Yankees
Bullpen : Yankees

and in past month?
Team : Yankees (20-9 to 15-14)
Starter : Yankees (Severino 2.10 ERA 0.700 WHIP to Santana 3.31, 1.075)
Bullpen : Yankees (2.74, 1.017 to 3.78, 1.295)

This is all pointing heavily toward the Yankees, but all it's really telling us is that instead of a 55% chance of winning, maybe the Yankees have a 60% chance? 65%? I mean it's still not all that high. But you gotta pick someone.

Diamondbacks v Rockies
Team : Dbacks
Starter : Dbacks (I did check home/away splits to verify Gray wasn't a huge Coors field victim)
Bullpen : Push (Bradley is the single best pitcher but Rockies - Neshek, Dunn, McGee, Estevez are all very good)

and in past month?
Team : Dbacks (17-11 to 15-14)
Starter : Rockies (Gray 2.57, 1.029 WHIP to Grienke 3.90, 1.067)
Bullpen :Dbacks (3.64, 1.213 to 4.39, 1.328). Probably not all that different if I could look at H/A splits

I guess tomorrow I like the Dbacks, but it's not as screaming a pick. Greinke has two iffy starts his last two outings. He only went 4 in each, the first one he got knocked around hard - 3 homers, and the latter one he was better but still way too hittable. Of course the start before these two he went 8 and gave up 2 hits and before that he held the Rockies to 5 hits, with 6 Ks and 2 runs over 7.  But the question mark on "good Greinke or bad Greinke" hangs over this one. I'll say good Greinke, or at least "good enough Greinke" and a good enough pen to just hold it out.

Monday, October 02, 2017

Monday Quickie - Playoff week!

Wooo! The Nats had kind of a slow finish and while some will offer excuses (more on that in a minute) it doesn't particularly matter. There are 4 days off between now and the first playoff game and that's the longest break you'll have for your entire team during the season. There's time for injuries to heal, for loose joints to stiffen, for hot streaks to cool, and for cold streaks to be forgotten about. It's a new season.

How did our watches finish up?

Werth : 3 for 12 with a double and a homer, 1 walks, 3 Ks.  More than good enough for him to start.

Bryce : 2 for 12 with 1 walk and a strikeout.  He does not look "back" but are you sitting Bryce? Because I'm not sitting Bryce.

Robles :  0 for 1 with a K.  Seems doubtful that a guy pegged for off-season duty would just get one at bat over the last weekend, but we'll see.

The big news of the weekend was Scherzer walking off the mound again. Based on the neck injury thing, I assumed it was an "over abundance of caution" action, which is completely the right way to go for your last start of the season. However, then he had to go and get an MRI which is scary because this team does not do unnecessary MRIs. It arguably doesn't do necessary MRIs. Whatever the reason it happened though the results sounded positive. It was a tweak and Max should be ready for the playoffs. However, they wouldn't commit that he'd start in Game 1.

It could be a fake-out. Max could be completely ready and they might be trying to psych out the opponent for a couple days. It may be a reverse fake-out and maybe he's really injured and they are trying to get the Cubs thinking he will start. Most likely though it's just Max being 100% realistic. It's one-day out. He's pretty sure he'll be ready to go on Friday but let's cross all the Ts and dot all the Is. Let's see how the throw days go. Then he'll tell you for sure.

Now about that excuses comment earlier. A few people will note that the Nats offense didn't exactly end the season on a high note. They had been comfortably leading the league but ended up getting edged by the Rockies and the Cubs (!) and almost caught by the Diamondbacks too. The "Lineup Truthers" will tell you it was just because Dusty was putting in some AAA line-ups into the games cutting into the Nats scoring. But the numbers don't back that up.

First the Nats "slump"* is a half a season long. They were first in the NL by a lot with a .811 OPS in the first half. They were 8th in the NL with a .744 in the 2nd half. It was 5th in July (.802), 10th in August (.724), and 11th in September (.712).  Sorry but Dusty hasn't been rolling out AAA lineups for 2 and a half months.

Second  Dusty has mostly been trotting out "1-guy out" lineups when he can. By that I mean he's giving one starter the day off for rest. True AAA line-ups where more than 2 starters**, beyond injury replacements, are few and far between. Since 9/13, when Werth came back from his minor setback after his original comeback, there have been 18 games and only in 6 of them did Dusty sit more than one guy.

Ok you say but that still could have made a difference! If they were dragging in those AAA line-up days that could have brought the team down! OK

Average RS in "AAA lineup" games : 4.3
Average RS in non AAA lineup games : 3.75

Now you say It's the injuries then! And YES! THAT'S THE POINT!

The Nats were crushing on offense until the injuries happened. Even losing Trea and Werth, they were able to keep chugging along. Maybe they weren't at the same level as before that - where they were running away with the scoring lead, but they were a solid offensive squad. Look at the July OPS. I can tell you the scoring in August through the 12th was 4.5 runs per game, still an average value for this crazy year. But they Bryce went down and things changed and they've never gotten back. The bats have come back in body but only one has come back in performance.

Werth 2nd half : .213 / .296 / .348
Bryce since coming back : has 3 singles and 7 Ks since coming back.
Trea 2nd half : .297 / .371 / .525

If Werth and Bryce can't hit then the Nats have a problem. As well as the other 5 guys may hit (and they've all had Septembers ranging from excellent to good) there is a 4 player gap in that line-up that is going to keep the Nats from putting runs on the board and that's exactly what we've seen in this past month. If you're counting on "regular at bats" to get the guys going after injury stop. It's the playoffs. There are no more regular at bats.

This is where the Nats are going into the NLDS. Are they good enough to win? Yes. Are they at top form? It doesn't look like it. If they do lose what is going to be the most likely culprit? The injuries hampering the offense to the point where they can't score enough.

This is all just a guess. Turner, Murphy and Zimm all catch fire and it may not matter. Or maybe Max can't go and that's the issue. Or maybe luck goes the Nats way with the bats but the late pen blows the games since, as we've seen recently, they are not dominant. But the way I look at it the issue is going to be scoring runs if injuries mean the Werth and Bryce the Nats need don't show up in the NLDS.

*Slumping is really just "hitting like an average team" here. 

**I'm not counting C replacements here because Wieters has been so bad that there's little functional difference between him and a replacement bat.

Friday, September 29, 2017

Post-season Roster

OK let's start with the obvious ones

Wieters, Zimmerman, Murphy, Turner, Rendon, Werth, MAT, Bryce

Scherzer, Strasburg, Gio, Roark

Kintzler, Doolittle, Madson

You gotta have your starters (yes that includes Werth right this second), your starting pitchers, and the back of your bullpen.  That is 15.

You have to have back-ups though.

Catcher - Lobaton. He's started twice recently compared to Severino's once and Severino has done nothing to earn a spot.
Infield - Lind, Difo, Outfield - Kendrick . These are obvious choices based on performances and how often they've played recently.
Relief - Matt Albers - best of the original pen arms and continues to pitch strong

That's 20.  So we have 5 spots left.  Is there anything that can inform us about which way these last 5 get distributed? Sure there is. There's last years 25 man. After the "Key 15" it broke down like this.

1 Back-Up C (Severino - Ramos was out remember)
3 IF Back-Ups (Drew, Difo, Robinson)
2 OF Back-Ups (Heisey and MAT - Turner was in the OF, Espy was at short)

1 long reliever (sort-of) Lopez
3 lefty relievers (R-Zep, Perez, Solis) - this assumes the back of pen was defined as Kelley, Treinen and Melancon.

There's no good reason to assume the Nats will take MORE pitchers. There are actually two off days in the NLDS (have been since 2013) and that lets guys get rest more easily. So we need two more bats and 3 more arms.

Here are the stats for the potential players over last two weeks

Robles : 16 PA  .214 / .267 / .357
de Aza : 15 PA  .231 / .286 / .538
Sanchez :  9 PA .000 / .000 / .000
Bautista : 6 PA .000 / .167 / .000
Stevenson : 5 PA .000 / .200 / .000

If you look at the last week to see if you can see any late movement you see Robles (11) and de Aza (10) with the most PA then Stevenson (5) and Sanchez (5) with Bautista basically done (1 PA)

It's pretty obvious from here the Robles and de Aza are the ones that make it.

BUT WAIT! Some complications. Season long bench players Drew and Goodwin are trying to make it back in time.  Drew is not going to be ready so that takes him out but Goodwin is in the instructional league getting as many at-bats as he can get. Do you bring in Goodwin?

Let's understand first that the question is Goodwin or Robles. de Aza is pretty solidly the 5th OF right now. He's an experienced vet who's doing the best (in comparison) and getting the most playing time. He's a lefty bat which is more complimentary to the bench set up so far (Difo is a switch hitter but favors batting right by a good margin. Lobaton is better from the left side historically but as the back-up catcher and as the terrible hitter he is - he's the last man pinch-hitting) He's also splitting time equally between RF and LF as you'd want someone to do who could come in to cover any position in an emergency.

So the question is - is Brian Goodwin good enough that you risk him not being up to major league level and just stick him on the bench? Or do you go with Robles? Personally I go with Robles. For the things you will want that last player to do - basically pinch run - you want Robles to be that guy. He's super fast. Do the Nats go with Robles? Without knowing how Goodwin is doing in Florida it's hard to say. All I know is that they wouldn't be going through this trouble if they didn't think Goodwin was better than Robles*. I'll go ahead and guess Goodwin makes it then, though I'm hoping it's Robles.

For the three relief arms, you can look at the last two weeks as well

Perez : 4g, 2 IP 0.5 WHIP
Solis : 4g, 3.2 IP 0.818 WHIP
Blanton : 3g, 3IP, 1 WHIP
Romero : 3g, 3 IP, 1.3333 WHIP
Grace : 2g, 2 IP, 0.000 WHIP

and then there's

Cole : 2g, 10.2 IP, 1.594 WHIP
Jackson : 2g, 10.2 IP, 1.500 WHIP

The last week show Solis in 3 games, Blanton and Romero in 2, and both Cole and Jackson having much better outings.

This is a tough call which in part is why I think you see different sites starting from 8 and 9 man bullpen spots.  I just don't see that happening. If they didn't do it last year, what is the impetus to do it this year? You hope guys like Max and Stras give you at least 6. You hope K, M, D shut down the 7th, 8th and 9th. So you are going to carry around 5 more arms and cost your self a bat for what exactly? Nah I see another 7 man pen so let's roll up our sleeves and guess at it.

I'm going to say... man I keep wavering here... ok I think Solis is in. He's a lefty, which they need, he gets out lefties, which is the point, and he's been pushed over an inning here and there which makes him a potential long man - really only like a 2-3 inning one but it's there if you need it.

So the pen needs two more arms. Ideally a left and a righty. On the left side, Grace feels edged out, leaving Perez and Romero. I think Dusty likes Romero more - as a guy you can just stick in and use. However, like I said with Solis, I think the point of the lefty is to get lefties out and Romero just doesn't do that. With Rizzo and Schwarber (and solid bench bats Jay and La Stella) sitting out there I think Perez wins out.

That leaves the righty arm. Kelley is dead. So it's Cole or Jackson, if you want a real long reliever, or Blanton, if you don't. I'm going to guess, because of his regular use and not crashing and burning, that Blanton makes it. Jackson was the leader in the clubhouse coming out of August but his September was just too bad to ignore and he's never been used as a reliever by the Nats, which is almost certainly the role he'd have in the playoffs. Cole has been used as a reliever but hasn't in the past few weeks, making me think they took a look at him in that spot and decided against it.

So there you go

14 bats
Wieters, Lobaton (2)
Zimmerman, Murphy, Turner, Rendon, Lind, Difo (6)
Bryce, Taylor, Werth, Kendrick, de Aza, Goodwin** (6)

11 arms
Scherzer, Strasburg, Gonzlaez, Roark (4) 
Doolittle, Kintzler, Madson, Albers, Solis, Perez, Blanton (7)

*Better today obviously.  Ideally I think they'd want Goodwin and Robles with de Aza the odd man out. But you can't do that if Goodwin hasn't played a game in the majors yet, imo. You need at least a little security that your guy is major league ready. 

**though I'd prefer Robles

Thursday, September 28, 2017

Who's your G4 starter.

Werth Watch : 1-4 with double, a long out, a walk and 2K. This is fine. Not the dog in the burning building "fine" but actually fine. The "Not asking for much" tour continues in Pittsburgh.

Bryce Watch : 1-4 with a K, SB and 2 GDP.  Carry on.

Robles Watch : DNP, Coach's Decision

I guess the important news from yesterday was that Tanner Roark, in his last start of the season, looked bad. He couldn't find the strike zone (5 walks) and was very hittable giving up two doubles and a triple in his 7 hits in less than 5 innings.

So closes a disappointing 2017 for Tanner, one of the few (the only?) outright disappointments for the Nats that didn't involve injury or the pen. Roark finished the year with with an ERA of 4.59 and he kind of deserved it. He wasn't particularly hard to hit, his control wasn't great, and he gave up a few too many homers. Roark made himself into the #4 starter this season as much as Gio has won the #3 role. If you want to look on the bright side, he was a much better pitcher in the 2nd half (1.450 WHIP to 1.155 WHIP) and if you look at the splits what you generally see is a pretty good pitcher who went off the rails a bit in June.

It's an interesting season in how it matters for the Nats future. There aren't any strong contenders currently in the Nats organization to fill in Roark / Gio 's role let alone help cover for a 33 yo Max and an injury prone Strasburg. Erick Fedde is the closest thing and he's yet to show he can really put it together. Ross was a shifting target even before major injury. That means next year, like last year, it's up to Max, Stras, Gio, and Roark again. There's ways that works out very well, but as we keep moving forward in time we have to admit there are ways that doesn't work out at all. You still would bet on that rotation more than 25+ rotations in the big leagues but that doesn't mean you can't see the potential concerns.

Being specific to 2017. Would you take a chance on Roark in the playoffs? It depends. If the Nats are down 1 game to 2 going into the 4th game, you might not. Going with Max on short rest may seem more prudent in that instance. Last year the situation wasn't the same, the Nats were up 2-1, and that muted any debate. Yes, a few people didn't want to put out the shaky Ross and instead wanted to try to finish the Dodgers with Max. But most fans were perfectly happy taking on a tired Kershaw with Ross and saving a rested Max for Game 5. Rested Max = win in most circumstances right? 

In Dusty's career He's been in 4 other NLDSs that have gone at least 4 games.

In 2000, down 1-2 Dusty chose to go with Mark Gardner instead of going back to his ace Livan who shut down the Mets in G1. It probably wouldn't have mattered - Bobby Jones 1-hit the Giants, but Gardner was not good and they lost.

 In 2002, down 1-2 Dusty again went with his #4 starter, rather than his #1 who won game 1. The situation was different as the #1 Russ Ortiz, didn't dominate, and the #4 Livan was a savvy veteran, but Livan wasn't having a good year and see above. In the end the Giants won as Livan did perfectly fine (3 runs in 8 innings) and the Giants had a 4 run lead on Tom Glavine before the 2nd inning was done. Russ Ortiz and a series of relievers would hold off the Braves in G5.

In 2003, up 2-1 Dusty stuck with his #4, Matt Clement. Clement wasn't a bad pitcher but the Cubs had Wood, Prior and Zambrano at their best. A short-rest Wood must have been at least a little tempting, when you could in theory follow him with short-rest Prior and throw day Zambrano. Dusty didn't bite. Clement was bad, but Wood followed up with the 8-inning fairly dominant performance that Max 13 years later could not.

In 2012, The Reds were up 2-1. They had been up 2-0 and people were starting to look askew at Dusty the playoff manager. He got swept out of the playoffs a couple years back and the lasting memory of the Cubs faltering in 2003 still lingered. Johnny Cueto, the #1 guy, came out after the 2nd batter in G1 because of injury and wouldn't pitch again in the series. Mat Latos, who had a good year and was the planned G3 starter, came in and threw a light 57 pitches in relief. But rather than push him in G4, Dusty went with Mike Leake who had been brought up to replace the injured Cueto. Leake, a middling starter was knocked around in a loss. In G5 a rested Mat Latos pitched poorly and the Reds were out.

The takeaway. I think we're going to see Roark regardless of the situation.Well unless the Nats sweep the Cubs out of the playoffs.

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

10 days!

Werth Watch : 0-3 with a walk and  2 K.  So he did follow it with an 0-fer. Great. He's struck out 11 times in the last 5 games which is not how Werth hits. I don't think he's actually having issues. He was normal Werth about strikeouts up until this stretch. I think he's pressing and trying to get those hits and force his way out of this slump. It's not happening. This is going to get awkward.

Bryce Watch : 0-2 with a walk and a strikeout. Hit some balls hard, just not fair. Seemed fine to me.

Robles Watch : 0-1 with a K, came in the game for Bryce who they are working back slowly.

I didn't re-visit it but going into last Thursday the Nats had a real shot at that 100 wins.  They had gone 3-2 since I noted that if they went 4-2 I'd start paying attention. They had a game against Atlanta, then the Mets, Phillies, and Pirates. 8-3 would be tough, but win the last ATL game and make it 7-3? You start seeing a path forward pretty easily.

Of course the Nats didn't win that game, or the next one, and with the loss last night the Nats have to go 5-0 to end the year to finish with 100 wins. Certainly possibly but no leeway remains. What's more is that they'll have to go at least 4-1 to take the best record away from the 2012 Nats. I kind of want them too because this is a better team, in my opinion.

100 wins is hard. You can't really afford more than a month of off a .600 win pace. In 2012 team had the best shot. They had started super hot 14-4, and kept playing pretty well that when they took off a little after the All-Star break they were set up well. Of course when I say "took off" I mean TOOK OFF going a a run of 24-7. They nearly lost it losing 5 in a row but immediately came back with another great run 12-3.  That's 36-15 or a 114 win pace for almost 2 months. At 89-54 they only had to go 11-8 to get to 100.  But the team stumbled to a 9-10 finish and came up just short.

2014 was never that close. They sat at 63-53, an 88 win pace, in early August. They needed to sprint and go 33-13, including a 12-3 finish, just to be close.

After another fast start of 14-4, 2016 was never that type of season where 100 seemed possible. The team floated along with a short stretch of good play, followed by a short stretch of bad play. Very even keel three steps forward, two steps back, two steps forward, one step back, 5 steps foward, 4 steps back kind of thing, all the way to the end of the year. That meant there was never a time where a mediocre run would get to 100. It always was a good, long, stretch of great baseball away.

Another thing to note here is the Nats have seen these division winning seasons end three ways. A great team having a middling finish, an OK team crushing it through the tape, a very good team keeping up the same pace until the end. Three different experiences. Three NLDS losses. How you finish doesn't matter. It may not matter regardless but it certainly won't matter once you set up nearly a week between the end of the season and the playoffs. There is no momentum good or bad after a week off.

What is 2017? Sort of like last year writ large. The strong stretches are long, that's why 100 was out there. A great April into the very beginning of June. A month of mediocre play. A great July into early September.  The finish is still up in the air. 8-8 over their last 16 games but 6-3 over last nine. Is that showing us a strong finish or just a blip before another .500 type ending? We'll find out and then we'll move onto the playoffs knowing that whatever happened it probably has no carryover into the next series.

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Werth Watch

Werth Watch : 1-4 with 2 K.  Good enough - if he can not follow it with an 0-fer

Bryce Watch : DNP. "Flu-like symptons".  We'll see if he plays tonight.

Robles Watch : DNS, 1-1 as a pinch hitter

Ryan Zimmerman Wa.... wait? what?

I heard the idea of sitting Werth than platooning Kendrick and Lind but why not look at a more natural place for Lind? Here are Zimm's splits in the July-now versus various handed pitchers

LHP: .324 5 2B 4 HR, 9 BBs, and 15K in 79 PAs  (.324 / .392 / .574, 11.4 BB%, 19.0 K%)
RHP: .229 4 2B, 11 HR, 15 BBs and 51K in 183 PAs  (.229 / .301 / .452, 8.2 BB%, 27.9 K%)

This kind of split isn't new. Ryan had a massive split in 2015 (.672  OPS vs 1.058 OPS) and as would be expected has hit lefties better than righties for most of his career. He's not a useless hitter at all vs RHP because his power remains, but he's definitely favoring one side now. But this isn't just Zimm in a vacuum. How about Adam Lind (and we're just going to look at RHP because who's starting Lind vs LHP)?

RHP : .290 6 2B, 8 HR, 13 BBs and 24 Ks in 153 PAs (.290 / .346 / .507, 8.5 BB%, 15.7 K%)

It's better, clearly, but not that much better. Strip out the names, and yeah you start Lind, but you can't just strip out the names, can you? 

Now are we being fair here, Zimm might have just had a crazy bad month in the last half, or Lind a crazy good one. Why not take the whole year?  That is one option though I worry about doing that for Zimm, who was the best player in baseball in April and hasn't come close to repeating that for any other month. In this year, and in his career that seems like an outlier. But you don't want to just take out the best month, so what I'll do is pull the best and worst months for Lind and Zimm vs RHP (by OPS) and see what we come up with in the rest of the time.

LIND : .329 / .377 / .580
ZIMM : .279 / .339 / .490

That feels right, don't you think? Lind is a righty masher - that can't be denied. Zimm, he's had some good months vs the righties and is capable of hitting them. This may be a little high average wise, but just a little.

How is Howie doing - I'll just pull out his RHP for the year, I'm tired. .313 / .361 / .447 and a 3 -year history at least of having no issues hitting RHP. Plus Howie gives you defense that the other two don't so why would you sit him? You wouldn't.

And this is where optimization to the Nth degree gets you - a lineup with Lind platooning with Zmm and Kendrick replacing Werth. Is that what you want? Of course this isn't happening and it shouldn't happen. We could have made this argument in several other places as well. Difo hits LHP better than Murphy are we sitting Murphy? In fact Turner is the one with the most problems vs LHP why not sit him for Difo? Bryce hasn't hit LHP as well as Kendrick, if Jayson gets hot why not an all RHB OF Kendrick-MAT-Werth for Kershaw? 

I guess the point I'm trying to make is that while it's fun to look at splits and figure out who'd be best, these splits were made under particular circumstances and expecting them to exactly follow through in the limited time in the playoffs is a bad assumption. There may be other things at work than just raw talent versus a particular handed pitcher effecting a team when it rolls out to try to win a Division Series.

The same thing holds true for slumps and hot streaks.You can't simply rely on them to tell you how it's going to be in the playoffs, especially given the week off in between. The information has to overwhelmingly favor one-side to go against what you knew before. In Werth's case, it IS close to overwhelming, that's why a discussion is being had. But that means it won't take much from Werth to make it not so overwhelming and in that case he starts.