Nationals Baseball: June 2017

Friday, June 23, 2017

Calling it

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

It's over. Plan your Octobers* accordingly.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

*Well at least the early part

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Tanner

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Tuesday Quickie


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

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

Ok. I said it quick.  Back later

Friday, June 16, 2017

Feel better?

You should.

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, June 15, 2017

Tired, Dirty, but will they be Happy?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Did it!

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Monday, June 12, 2017

Monday Quickie - Max attack

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Kershaw : 160!

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

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

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

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

Friday, June 09, 2017

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

April 9.7%
May 19.4%
June 30%

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

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

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

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

Thursday, June 08, 2017

Joe Ross' last chance?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, June 07, 2017

All Hail Max - Queen of the Pitchers

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, June 05, 2017

Monday Quickie : One regular season opponent left

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, June 02, 2017

A second pass at Zimm and Koda's Korner

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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