Nationals Baseball: Worst pen ever?

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Worst pen ever?

It's not that the Nats pen is bad. Bad pens happen, especially early in the year when the vagaries of small sample size and the "let's see if this guy with great stuff can hack it" philosophy reigns. It's how bad they are. Guys aren't just failing. They are blowing up.

Joe Blanton : ERA 10.13. Key Stats  HR/FB 36.4%, Soft % 7.4% Hard % 44.4%, Velocities FB : 91MPH, Sinker : 87.5 MPH

Blanton has gotten a little worse around the edges. That's not to be unexpected for an old pitcher coming off a surprisingly good year. But one thing has drastically changed and that's him giving up homers. He's not giving up more flyballs but guys are teeing off on what they are hitting and a decreased sinker velocity might be the reason. Blanton had gotten successful throwing a fast sinker that was - at least in speed - in distinguishable from the fastball. Now there's a clear difference between the two. Major league hitters are good enough to pick up on things like that. Of course his bread and butter is the slider. Zone info shows he's not as pinpoint as he was in 2016 with it. Could that be all it takes? For a one-pitch pitcher, maybe. I think the homers are a fluke but the big drop in effectiveness may not be.

Blake Treinen : ERA 9.82.  Key Stats : H/9 19.6, BB9 7.4, FS% 46.5% (down from 57%)

The idea of Treinen as a closer was always a question mark because he put a lot of guys on base. He put balls in play and he walked them, but the hope was he could temper that and let double plays and maybe a few more strikeouts make him successful. But instead of ramping down hits and walks, they've jumped way up in the face of more patient batters just looking to put the ball in play. Is a .517 BABIP against going to last? Of course not. But  even if it were half that his hits per 9 would be approaching 10. That's not good and paired with a crazy walk rate it's game over regardless of K's and DPs

If you want to be optimistic a lot of the fancy stats suggest Treinen is not pitching too different than last year. His issues are stemming from not keeping the ball down and not getting ahead on the batters (first strike % is way down). If he's not ahead batters don't chase. (swings outside the zone are down as well) But he's not a lights out guy if things are working and never has been. At 28/29 he's not a work in progress anymore. He's a high 3.00 ERA guy capable of getting a DP if needed.

Enny Romero : ERA 6.00.  Key Stats : H/9 14.1, wFB -2.0, Soft 12.5%

A lot of times with guys like Enny you have an unhittable wild mess that you hope to get under control. Enny isn't that. Enny is completely hittable. So while he has gotten his walks down to an acceptable level (2.3 BB/9). He's giving up hit after hit. The second stat tells a story.  It's kind of like "is your fastball good for you or not?". I usually ignore these stats, but for Enny they are telling. He's never had a good fastball.  A fast fastball yes, but not a good one. So guys sit on it and when they get that fast juicy meatball they hit it and they hit it hard.  Just like that FB stat - that soft percentage matches up with what his career numbers tell us. Guys make good contact against him. So unless you think Romero can survive on throwing nothing but sliders there's no place for him on a major league roster.

Oliver Perez : ERA 6.75.  Key Stats .857 OPS vs LHB, 1.333 OPS vs RHB

There's barely any stats because he's barely pitched but the fact that he's barely pitched means the team buys into what these stats are saying which is Perez can't be used at any time. Last year he squeaked by because he was alright vs lefties and not terrible if he had to face a righty. So far both of those things are not true in 2017.  He CAN'T face righties, and he's not good enough against lefties for that to be his thing. Now again - VERY few at bats, I mean so small that one hit/out change, changes the story, so the Nats should still try to LOOGY him but the early indications are not good.

Shawn Kelley : ERA 5.00.  Key Stats; 60.9% FB, Soft% 4.3%

Just when you think you can't see a lower soft percentage here comes another one. Kelley, like Blanton, appears to be doing most everything about the same.  But he has also given up 4 homers in a short period of time. Unlike Blanton though, this doesn't seem to be flukey. Kelley is giving up a lot more fly balls and he's not getting soft contact. A few of those balls are bound to leave the yard.


All these guys won't continue to fail this spectacularly. It would be crazy if they did. But the pen was only built to be "deep enough" with the inclusion of Blanton. You want 3 good arms and another 2 decent ones. Blanton gave them four supposedly good arms, though none 100% reliable. You hoped to work at least 2 good ones from those four, while finding a 3rd hopefully there too, but maybe elsewhere, and the other two just rising to the surface of the middle innings as the season went along. That still might happen (say Glover, Albers, and Kelley keeping the ball down) but as of today the path to those 5 arms is less clear. No one pitching bad is solely a victim of bad luck.

28 comments:

Anonymous said...

Not even a mention about the cycle? A meaningless stat but fun nonetheless

JE34 said...

I stayed up to see the cycle happen - awesome - then thought... it's late, and they're up 8. They couldn't blow this in two innings, could they? Yeesh.

How bout some love for Matt Albers? And his intro music totally needs to be this:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=r87cIxZXEME

G Cracka X said...

Is Albers this year's Belisle?

Given that you profiled 5 of the relievers, it would be interesting to see your take so far on Solis, Albers, and Glover.

Anonymous said...

Dusty sure seems to love him some Enny Romero...

Josh Higham said...

Anon 9:21 - but of course! Enny is just like Chapman except slower and wilder and less nasty. But otherwise the same!

BxJaycobb said...

I don't buy that the pen is going to be anything close to this bad. There are too many guys with decent track records. I think they will end up middle of the pack or in the worse half of the league. It won't be terrible. Good enough to succeed in playoffs? No way. And they'll need a great closer to add. But Harper's theory of "if a guy gives up more homers than usual over 8 appearances in April that likely means his true talent level has changed" I continue to be dubious of. remember last year when we heard that because max was giving up more homers that meant he was probably beginning to fall apart even though his stuff was unchanged?
Not so much. I'll say now what I said then. Unless velocity is different (so yes I have concern on Blanton), whatever is going on in a SSS where HR/FB is up and BB are up is likely mechanics/locating poorly/bad luck and can be fixed or will regress to the mean. Hopefully it will be.

Nattydread said...

It says a lot that the Nats can pull off an 7 - 1 road trip with a bullpen this bad. The overall team ERA has slipped considerably.

Hot bats cover up quite a few weaknesses. Harper, Zimmerman and Murphy all are top 10 in most important hitting stats.

Wonder if Rizzo is going to make a move. And when....

BxJaycobb said...

Just to add an overall take: while I am a big fan of Harper's observations, I think this blog's biggest weakness is rushing to judgment on super small sample sizes. Unless something fundamental like a pitcher's velocity or a player's health has changed, April performance should really lead to no change in opinion of a player's value. The only thing that is changing by the day that is real is banking wins or losses. So when we read: rendon is hitting poorly first few weeks so we should worry about him (then he returns to form last 3/4 of last year), Wieters is hitting well first few weeks so the Nats may have gotten a steal (then he returns to being Matt Wieters), Max is giving up homers so he may no longer be an ace last year (then he returns to being Max), Kelley hasn't had a great first 6-7 appearances so let's change our view of him....chill. It's simply not a significant amount of data points....whether you're talking about players looking good initially (wieters) or bad (rendon). Always bet on the expectations being the expectations until about a month and a half has passed. Of course banking losses and banking wins is real. So their performance matters, but not as a predictive indicator for the rest of the season for a while longer.

Harper said...

Hey! I'm not saying talent changed on anyone, in fact pretty much everyone but Perez is pitching close to expected. But there are things wrong as opposed to just balls finding holes or a couple more balls going over the fence than luck would have it. I expect Kelley (assuming health) to keep the balls in the park better. I expect Treinen to be back to his 3.75 ERA, DP in the 6th inning self. I expect Enny Romero to keep getting hit.

Perez I question because age and usage pattern. He might not be able to get into a rhythym.

Blanton I question bc of age, velocity, and he was INCREDIBLY precise with the slider - like to me something I'm not sure can be sustained. He's not bad at it now, but it's just not the laser focus and maybe he needs that. But still I don't think he'll be awful, I'm just having a harder time saying "He'll be Joe Blanton of 2015/6" with confidence.

But because it isn't just luck all these things, in theory can keep happening to some degree. These don't have to come back to Earth because it's not just chance. Of course it would be pretty crazy that you strike out on 5 relievers, so that's why I expect what I do. That the younger guys will "bounce back". So to speak

Anonymous said...

Bx - not sure why you are railing on Harper so much. Yes, he mentioned all those things but I feel like every word I've read so far this season has been followed by "... but we need a larger sample size"

As far as the pen goes - they have been awful and you cant blame it all on luck. That is a fair assessment.

Bjd1207 said...

Yea I'm with the last Anon. This thread would be pretty boring if we only could talk about things that had been proven over a large enough sample size. The statement "we should be worried about Rendon" means exactly that. No further baggage about true talent level, at least at that point. Just that, as a fan watching these games night in and night out, this is what your mind is drifting toward.

Harper's done a spectacular job over the 5 years or so I've been reading him of balancing current "takes" with reasonable analysis. He points out where guys have deviated from career norms and in almost every instance it ends with "lets see how this pans out"

mike k said...

I've always thought Harper was great with tempering expected extrapoliation with sample sizes. Particularly better than other blogs (though that should be a given). In scenarios where the sample size is still small, but everything seems to be going right or wrong, you get posts like this one - an explanation that the sample size is low, but lets look at things that stay more consistent/aren't as influenced by sample size/aren't as influenced by luck and see if we see a pattern or not.

Obviously, the better those peripheral numbers, the better your expectation that the players will get better, and vice versa. But just because the peripherals are bad (as is the case here), just means the poor performance isn't all due to luck; it doesn't mean the players won't actually pitch better over time. Luck varies a lot over a small sample, but raw performance can vary as well. I think that's Harper's point when he says the peripherals show the pen's poor performance isn't due to luck but it doesn't mean all these pitchers suck now.

I'm a little worried. As Harper pointed out, this pen's effectiveness relied on Blanton being decent and reliable.

Also, I don't remember anyone saying "Scherzer sucks now" last year. IIRC it was more "man he'll be great when he stops getting unlucky with his HR/FB rate." That's why Harper gave soft hit %'s with the stats in this post.

mike k said...

I clearly didn't proof read that last post. Hopefully I was clear enough.

BxJaycobb said...

The post Harper just added in reply above I agree with 100%. I feel like that's not really what he said above. I hardly would call that "railing." I love Harper and his takes. I just disagree with the ones that we should draw larger conclusions from performances over a few weeks. That doesn't mean it's wrong to say "they've been terrible." They have. It's not just luck. But "balls finding holes" and "they've been bad...uh oh this is a huge problem the pen is terrible" are not the two choices. Rendon has performed terribly and below how he will eventually perform. Does that mean he's JUST been unlucky? No of course not. He simply hasn't been good in a small window of time. That means literally nothing about what he will be over the course of a season. Sometimes you have a crappy few weeks and and a few pitches find barrels. I'm just expressing a viewpoint. I hardly think that's "railing." If we can't disagee on specific points, what's the point of being on the site? I certainly am not being rude or personal or something. I may have just misunderstood the point Harper was making. It seems now Harper was saying "the pens been dreadful but they're not a dreadful group." Which I agree with. They probably have average to below average talent for a MLB pen.

BxJaycobb said...

I don't think folks are understanding what I was saying. First of all, Harper is tremendous. And I love this blog. Second, there's a very simple distinction to make. We discuss what has happened. We celebrate the success and say "darn it stinks rendon hasn't been great yet." What I would suggest we not do is look at something like an ERA for a reliever over 8 innings pitched. It's literally a meaningless statistic. What is meaningful is "X is clearly having trouble with control so far or Y has velocity uh oh as we say about Blanton or Z is hitting the ball with a lower exit velocity that suggests he has lost bat speed or is chasing way more which also suggests he's lost bat speed and is guessing." These are stats that stabilize immediately almost. my two cents is to say we should focus on things that are meaningful, rather than random statistical variance. I hardly thin that is a mean spirited suggestion.

Froggy said...

I wonder what we would be saying about "small sample size" if we didn't have this ridiculously potent offense to compensate.

I get the whole sample size argument if one guy is having an off first month to the season and we are looking at him through a 20 game microscope, but last night's 15 - 12 score pretty much sums it up. We now have one of those pens that other teams drool about getting to in order to get back in the game.

IMHO

BxJaycobb said...

I agree with almost everything here, except with the scherzer part. Harper last year said "scherzer is giving up lots of homers, let's watch this closely because it may suggest he is beginning to lose his stuff and perhaps starting his decline ." He was not saying "scherzer is giving up lots of homers. Once he stops, he'll be that much better." There's nothing wrong with that. I just at the time was stating "a pitchers HR/FB ratio spiking is rarely an indicator of diminished skills on its own, as long as the stuff/velocity has the same dynamism, and scherzers still got elite stuff, so there's nothing to worry about over missed location in middle of plate and randomness leading to more homers."

BxJaycobb said...

1. Is your point that SSS discussions are valid over 20 game windows, but not valid when it's one game at Coors field where the ball doesn't break and baseballs fly like golf balls? I don't get it.
2. Teams will always drool about getting to our pen. But that's mostly because they will be getting to not face strasburg or scherzer or Roark any more.

BxJaycobb said...

Re Scherzer, here's a post from last April where everybody--see comments also--was worried about Max and talking about how amazing ZNN was doing in Detroit and how maybe we should've taken ZNN instead because of his age. You'd think max was heading towards a step back regression year and ZNN was going to be a contender for AL Cy Young. Then Max won another Cy Young and ZNN got hurt and upon return looked nothing like even his Nats version (which was not in class of scherzer) and now may well be done as an awesome pitcher with Detroit looking at a contract where DET is the clear loser (max has been over 3x as valuable as ZNN by WAR over last couple years). Though I'll give ZNN rest of this year to see if he can come back from injury. https://natsbaseball.blogspot.com/2016/04/hey-its-mets.html?m=1

BxJaycobb said...

Harper: can I humbly request an Eric Thames post? Namely one addressing the question....what in gods name is happening? I just cannot help feeling...weird...about this. To use a careful, polite word.

Ric said...

BxJaycobb: "Here's a post from last April where everybody--see comments also--was worried about Max and talking about how amazing ZNN was doing in Detroit and how maybe we should've taken ZNN instead because of his age."

Dude, I read the comments. Exactly ONE anonymous (8:26) person agreed with Harper favoring Zimmermann over Scherzer. EVERY OTHER POST that weighed in acknowledged that Scherzer was the preferred signing.

I actually agree with the point from your first post. But you need to go back and read the comments of the post you cited. Because you clearly didn't read them.

BxJaycobb: "can I humbly request an Eric Thames post? Namely one addressing the question....what in gods name is happening? I just cannot help feeling...weird...about this."

No worries, it is an extremely small sample size. 😛

BxJaycobb said...

Ric: look man, I was overly casual with using "everybody"--I realize many people on the blog preferred scherzer to ZNN signing, and also grabbed the first post I saw....the point I was trying to make is that for April last year there was anxiety over scherzer's performance on this blog for an extended period until he struck out 20 people. I also spoke on twitter with Harper at length around that time (maybe he will remember) debating whether scherzer was "broken" or not. He took the position that the home runs he was giving up were significant as a possible indicator of that; I was arguing his velo and stuff was unchanged. That's the truth--u can ask Harper if he recalls that or not---I don't really care.
Re Thames, it's not SSS when a player's chase rate drops 40% and contact rate doubles---these are indicators that stabilize over a few weeks--- and hitting 11 home runs in 20 games after previously being a guy who could not stay in the major leagues. Clearly his skill level has materially changed. Yeah he's not going to hit 80 homers but you'd have to be an idiot to say "it's the same player as before just a SSS." His stats in the stabilized categories are crazy altered.
Finally, what's with the tone? Somehow I raised a substantive criticism about something I've noticed about the dialogue on this blog and generated animosity and personalized barbs. Do you want a blog where people feel welcome to politely disagree as I've done, or one where if you make a critical point everybody starts snapping and piling on? Just respond like an adult.

Ric said...

BxJaycobb: "Ric: look man, I was overly casual with using "everybody"--I realize many people on the blog preferred scherzer to ZNN signing, and also grabbed the first post I saw..."

Overly casual? Look man, bit of an understatement. You said everybody, there was ONE person; some six or eight others favored Scherzer.

BxJaycobb: "Finally, what's with the tone?"

I think you are now just getting defensive (maybe justifiably so) from earlier posts taking issue with your reasonable first post. I'd point you to what I also wrote, "I actually agree with the point from your first post." I mean, I'm the only person who said your point is valid, and now you are complaining about my tone? Come one, man. You are now overreacting in the same manner that you are accusing others (mostly correctly) of overreacting to your comment. I thought your criticism WAS substantive, and I've responded neither with animosity or a personalized barb.

Froggy said...

BX, my point was simply that regardless of SSS or not the Nats pen is in the drooling to get to by other teams category. That didn't used to be the case, at least not with the consistently inconsistent results we've been seeing (so far).

Maybe more Matt Albers will help?

BxJaycobb said...

Fine, I should've said "people" and not "everybody." As is said I was being casual---I'm not writing a legal brief. I recall a bunch of folks saying "we should've just resigned Zim why did we sign scherzer for more money"...I selected a post that touched on that and also scherzers home run worries for the sake of economy. It wasn't really my main point and didn't think it merited a snarky response. Maybe u say "u obviously didn't read this" all the time and don't expect people to take any offense. Who knows. Either way, This is becoming tiresome now.
More important GLOVER TO DL. Now you can count me as concerned.

Ric said...

Why take offense? You didn't read it. That is nothing to be offended at. Right?

Don't write 10 posts of 25 and then say, "This is becoming tiresome now." Don't make numerous claims that you were "writing causally," but then react hypersensitively to a single sentence from a person who takes your side.

This is a friendly blog, and honestly, the only baseball blog I read. We are all fans, and we are all on the same side here. Relax. Enjoy the company. And when others disagree with you, accept that also. You seem to take issue with people disagreeing with you, but then get passive-aggressive when you in turn disagree with them. No need. Right?

And for goodness sake, someone acknowledge my "Eric Thames/small sample size" joke! That was the [good-natured/no offense meant] snark. I even used a friggin' emoticon! Don't leave me hanging, people!

Dmitri Young said...

I didn't realize the bullpen had been so terrible even though I knew they were severely failing the eye test. This post increased my understanding.

Great blog, great analysis, usually great comments. Fangraphs writers who do this for a full-time job pump out less analysis in a week than Harper and have all 30 teams from which to pull stories. Tomorrow is another day.

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