Nationals Baseball: The Appetizers and the Main Course

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

The Appetizers and the Main Course

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What about the starters?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Froggy said...

Did you read Bryce's lips in the dugout after his bomb? "I killed that pitch...Heh, heh, heh."

It might have crossed the Allegheny and landed in downtown if it hadn't hit the back row fence.

Fries said...

That ball was murdered. I was mocking FP for constantly saying Bryce could hit it into the "Monongaleny" since that river is a bit further out than McCovey Cove at AT&T, but that fence seriously did probably prevent a splash down

On a more reasonable thing FP said last night, I do agree with him that Trea's trying too hard. He's chasing the high pitches and trying to murder them, while letting his hips fly open on the away pitches. Trea's gotta be realistic and recognize that he is not a 25 homer kind of guy, despite his numbers last year. If he can learn to hit those outside pitches down the RF line instead of trying to pull it, the kid's gonna lead the league in triples.

Anonymous said...

I'm a bit worried about Strasburg. I thought he was lucky last night - there were a number of very hard hit balls that turned into outs. The K% is down (though he was definitely robbed of a K in the 7th inning last night) from ultra elite to decent - a big drop. My theory is that it's pitching from the stretch, not that he's trying to induce more weak contact. I suppose if pitching from the stretch does contribute to him pitching more innings, then the downturn in performance may be a net benefit overall. I'd prefer to take my chances with the strikeout monster going back to the stretch.

Having said all this, it's just 50 innings, so maybe the Ks will go back up soon. But he did not pitch well last night, no matter what the outcome was.

PotomacFan said...

Did we know that Treinen could throw 99 mph? Maybe he should stick to his fastball, and use the sinker/slider only occasionally (like last night, for the strikeout).

G Cracka X said...

Fangraphs projects the Nats to win 94, so do you think that is a more realistic number? I recognize that 100 wins is possible. Maybe deadline deals will bridge the gap (though a 6 win jump would seem high). Do the bullpen woes cut into the possibly 100 scenario?

Rob Evans said...

I have no problem with the pitch-to-contact Stras.

Besides, strike outs are fascist, grounds balls are democratic.

SM said...

@ Rob Evans:

Actually, ground balls are communist: shared by everybody, but not equally.

Either way, I think there's graduate dissertation potential here.

Robot said...

I'm glad to see Rendon heating up, especially with Murph and Trea sliding a bit. Michael K. Taylor has been lucky so far, and the strikeouts are still piling up.

My biggest concern at this point is wearing out the starters by the end of the season. We're constantly seeing them left in the game an inning longer, reaching 120+ pitch-counts, because there's not a bullpen arm the team can rely on.

Also, the team is currently sitting pretty at 25-13, but how many of those losses do you think could have been avoided by a bullpen that rose to the level of "mediocre," rather than out-and-out awful? Easily three or four, probably more than that. That's how good this offense and starting rotation is.

Rob Evans said...

@SM... right on!

I was just quoting the minor league HR champ...Crash Davis lol

SM said...

@Rob Evans

Good on you!

I was just imagining what Nuke LaLoosh would have said if he'd spent any time at school.

Chas R said...

BRYCE'S BABIP is higher than MAT's, and his HR/FB rate is over 33%. I think those are unsustainable and we should some dip in his numbers. He is hitting the ball harder than last year and more consistent with 2015. He also is super patient and BBs over 18% of the time, which is consistent with what he has always done.

Bjd1207 said...

Trevor Gott was a disaster in his 2nd and 3rd appearances. But since then he's given up 2 runs in 12 innings over 10 appearances. Good for a 1.50 ERA

Just put Blanton on the "DL" but called up Grace again. FREE TREVOR GOTT!!

NG said...

@PotomacFan. We did know Treinen can throw 99, in fact he can throw 100. I saw it on Jeopardy!

Anonymous said...

Anybody know how to contact Rizzo and his team?? I'm getting my mit out of the garage and I'd like to audition for a bullpen role. My contract demands would be meager and a cost benefit for the club!

Ole PBN said...

Am I wrong in thinking that the only reason Trea is leading off is because "he's like, really fast"??

At his age and experience level, thats a tough spot to hit in. Plus, Harper said it himself, pitchers are attacking his lack of patience. Patience is a virtue - especially if you're a lead-off hitter. Slide him down in the order. Put Werth in leadoff for godsakes.

Josh Higham said...

Ole PBN, Dusty is a firm believer in speed at leadoff. I think your analysis is totally right.

Fries said...

God we need some relievers. Roark out to start the 6th with 106 pitches already. Everyone's arms are going to fall off by the ASB

Anonymous said...

My thoughts exactly Fries

Josh Higham said...

At this point the bullpen has advanced to losing games indirectly by tricking Dusty into leaving gassed starters in the game. Wonderful!

Josh Higham said...

This way they can work on getting their ERA's down by letting inherited runners score instead of their own runners!

JE34 said...

...IF they could keep runs from scoring themselves, which they can't.

Yes it's just one game, but it's Keystone Kops games like today that make you wonder how this team has the best record in the NL. Just goes to show you how they've mashed their way through things so far.

John C. said...

To be fair, Tanner hacked up a furball all by his lonesome. He didn't need bullpen help today.

As for "speed at leadoff" I'll point out that there were a helluva lot of commenters who refused to even entertain the thought of batting Eaton at leadoff because they didn't want to cramp Turner's style on the bases (or some similar rationales).

Anonymous said...

That was...ugly

G Cracka X said...

Why not flip Taylor and Turner in the lineup? Taylor has speed, and has a better wRC+, BsR, and Off score right now.