Nationals Baseball: Second half worries

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Second half worries

I was going to do this on Friday but it would have interrupted the trade stuff and I wanted to get that out of the way. The Nats have a pretty clear run at the NL East title but that does not mean that they don't have any worries. In fact if you squint hard you can find a worry anywhere.

Catcher - These guys stink. Wieters is hitting a measly .245 / .295 / .377  and since the end of April is "hitting" a "robust" .219 / .246 /.313. That's nearing "Inaugural Guzman" territory. Making things worse is Wieters is not good in the field either making him a complete failure. Making things worse than that, Wieters' god-awful last few months are still better than Lobaton who's hitting .140 / .202 / .267

First base -  Zimmmerman's montlhly OPS's
April : 1.345 (AMAZING!!!)
May : .905 (ALL-STAR!)
June :  .791 (Solid Starter, though maybe not at 1B)
July : .631 (RIP)

Zimm doesn't field well anymore so if he's not hitting he's not helping and he's not helping right now.

Second base - Daniel Murphy got injured last year. It could happen again. This is also the worry for Third base (Rendon) and Right Field (Bryce)

Shortstop - Trea Turner is out and Stephen Drew (.273 / .309 / .386 - eh) and Wilmer Difo (.258 / .336 / .325 - bleh) are in. Drew is a roll of the dice and Difo hasn't hit well since A+ ball. But you can't also just wait it out because coming back from a broken wrist is not easy. Turner had been hitting better but he still wasn't generating the same power as last year and the wrist means he's unlikely to do so this year either. So BEST case is he comes back healthy and is a good Singly Joe.

Left Field - Where is Jayson Werth? In the midst of capping out the contract with one more miracle year, Werth hurts his toe and is never seen again. As he's aged Weth has been more prone to injury and has found it harder to come back from them so expect that if he comes back he won't be the hitter he was to start the year.

Center Field - MAT looked to be finally settling in to at least a passable starter, if not better and then suffered an oblique injury and will be back who knows when with an injury recovery bat. His replacement Goodwin has shown flashes of impressive play but is hitting .227 / .324 / .420  since becoming a starter. Those aren't starter numbers.

You may ask - if all these guys suck so much why are the Nats crushing it right now? Well Number one - Reds.  Number two - here are how Rendon, Bryce, and Murphy OPS'd that series.  2.107, 1.524, 1.500.  "Great" you say. "but three guys alone can't do all that damage." You're right. There are other guys hitting really well the past four games. Their names are Adam Lind, Ryan Rayburn, and Chris Heisey. Want to depend on those guys?

Starting Pitching - The Nats don't have a 5th starter and Roark had a terrible June that ended with him being strategically punted out of the rotation for a cycle or two.  It is completely reasonable to worry that he won't have any better a second half.  Strasburg has two numbers associated with him you should remember - 24 and 23. These are the number of starts he has made the past two years. Gio has been pitching well but we're all waiting for the other shoe to drop on him.  Max? Well I suppose he could explode on the mound.

Relief Pitching - The Nats finally have some arms! Doolittle and Madson should be good. But it's relief pitching so they'll throw like 20 innings and there's no guarantee they have to be good. And neither of them were closing games for the Athletics this year. That's not a high bar to jump over. So great stats or not, neither of them might be suited for a closer role either. Despite saving 30 games, the A's did not like Madson as closer. Doolittle is great but has thrown 74 innings in 2 and a half seasons and is probably best used judiciously.  There's room for improvement even from here for sure.

Did I properly satisfy the pessimists and nay-sayers? Good.

Now for the optimists - Who cares about this!? The Nats are going to win the division. Enjoy the baseball or go to sleep for two months. Either way it's the Nats in the playoffs back to back for the first time ever and anything can happen once you get in. 


elchupinazo said...

I have not checked the fancy stats (and I probably should before posting a bad comment), but is Zim really THAT bad on defense? I mean we all know he can't throw anymore, and I've seen him boot balls here and there and make bad throws even from 1B. But I've also seen flashes of brilliance (love when FP starts the gold glove talk), and is there really such a thing as a "good" 1B? I mean, how much is any team expecting from the guy who fields a batted ball maybe once a game?

BxJaycobb said...

Elchu: yes Zim is dreadful on defense. At least by the metrics on fangraphs he is about as bad as it gets. The throwing isn't really where he damages you because there aren't THAT many of those plays. He just has terrible range. And that is where a good first baseman does help (like a goldshmidt) because they eliminate a lot of those singles in the hole between first and second. In Murphy and Zim the Nats probably have the worst defensive right side of the infield in MLB. Luckily when they have Trea, the left side is excellent defensively.

BxJaycobb said...

As you can see here, only Wil Myers is a worse defender at 1B in baseball than zim.

Josh Higham said...

The fancy stats don't like Zim. Depending on which ones you use and who is calculating them, he ranges from worse than average to downright bad. One explanation is the plantar fasciitis that made him slow on the basepaths also made it very costly to try hard for borderline plays. Doesn't necessarily make sense to lay out for a liner he probably misses, if it means he'll have to rest his foot for a couple of days.

That said, my guess is that it's his arm more than his range that drag him down--fielding well hit balls but failing to get outs. If he dives into the hole to stop a rocket, he has a much harder time than most guys getting the ball to first. Or if a double play grounder goes to him, he's not quick or confident throwing to second. Over the course of a season, there are enough plays like that relative to shoestring catches and diving snags that he is a bad defender, even though he can still flash the leather.

BxJaycobb said...

if you look at UZR, it's his range that is the problem. But this may be related to his arm. When he didn't have arm issues Zim used to play super deep at their base and get more range. Then he has to start playing on the grass because he couldn't make the throw. Wouldn't be surprised if he wants to avoid being so deep that he can't under hand flip it to the pitcher from first.

John C. said...

This post shows why the Nats should just trade Bryce, Murphy, Gio and Rendon now while they can still get something for them! DOOM!

Ryan Zimmerman isn't fast, but he's not slow. In fact he's one of the best baserunners on a solid baserunning team (he rates as a +1.6 on Fangraphs' baserunning metric). He currently ranks 5th on the team, behind Turner, Taylor, Eaton and Difo. Suffice it to say, he's not Adam LaRoche or Wilson Ramos out there.

Harper said...

eh chu -

JE34 said...

I'm going to pretend I didn't read this post lalalaICantSeeYoulalalala

Too late. You've confirmed my eyeball sense re Zim... his blazing hot start to the season is masking generally poor performance. He looks like he's sliding back into hitting hard ground ball outs. Pitchers are getting the ball in on his hands and he's not able to elevate it. Earlier this season he was able to turn on inside pitches and barrel them up. Here's hoping he gets hot when the leaves start to turn.

Also re Wieters: bad hitters who are first pitch hackers drive me nuts. Of all players, catchers should know that you want to make pitchers work more. Take a fwiggin pitch! At least *try* to get ahead in the count, to get a pitch you can drive!

Josh Higham said...

John C. - Zim running the bases quickly is new this year, at least compared to 2015 and 2016 (he's fast for a first baseman but exactly league average this year, much worse the previous two years -

And anyway, max speed is different from quickness. Rendon, for example, is not particularly fast on the basepaths but is lightning quick laterally at third. Also, base running stats captures effectiveness as a runner, which is heavily influenced by "savvy" elements of base running as well as speed, so a slow runner can have positive ratings by those stats.

Froggy said...

So not only is the glass half full, it is a dirty glass and containing Reds water.


Bjd1207 said...

A .631 OPS also would be good for Zimm's second BEST month of 2016 (apart from May). And he just went 3/5 with a HR yesterday, so he's nowhere near his 2016 version even still.

And like we've always said, if 2/3 of the Harper/Murphy/Rendon core is producing at any given moment, then we only need the occasional step up from Zimmerman, Turner, Drew, Heisey, Werth, Goodwin, Taylor, etc.

We've seen each of those guys have hot stretches of anywhere from 2 weeks to 2 months over the past year. It's not unreasonable to expect one or 2 of those guys to be "on" (Difo & Raburn currently, Taylor/Turner/Goodwin in June, Taylor & Zimm in May)

mike k said...

This is only doom if you assume that once the players hitting well start htiting worse, the players hitting worse won't start hitting better.

Despite it being the Reds, I'm very happy with what I've seen from the offense. Instead of "this is going to be bad when the hot hitters cool off", I'm of the mind of "this offense is so great that even with several injuries and several players in slumps, they still have the ability to be an above-average offense". Though I understand that doesn't fit the narrative of the post.

Nats have one goal between now and October (roster moves aside): no more injuries.

I know it's hopeful thinking, but has Eaton officially been ruled out of returning?

Anonymous said...

Saw the announced starter for today's game- good ol' Edwin Jackson!

Then got a slightly queasy feeling in the pit of my stomach.

Then went back and looked at the box scores from 2012 NLDS and remembered why....

John C. said...

On Zim's fielding, the standard line is that you need three years of fielding data to be confident of the result. Zim gets slammed for his UZR/150 which is terrible this year. Let's have a look at the past three years. Zim's UZR/150: 2015: -2.7. 2016: -1.0. 2017: -11.8. Like the song goes "one of these things is not like the others."

Further, in looking at Inside Edge Fielding (you can find this on his FG page), I note that Zim is actually above average in nearly every category. He gets none of the "impossible" plays, or even the "remote" (<10% chance). But he has made 50% of the "unlikely" (10-40%) plays, 75% of the "even" (40-60%) plays, and 100% of the "likely" (60-90%) plays. For "routine" (90-100%) plays he's right in line at 94.5%. So he's par for "impossible" and "routine" plays, slightly below par on "remote" plays and above average for "unlikely," "even," or "likely" plays.

His "range factor" is below MLB average, and that's where he's really getting killed in UZR ... but is that because he's not making the plays, or because the ball isn't being hit to him? I note that the Nationals as a staff are below average (43.4%) in GB% (44.3%). It's not clear what the distribution of those ground balls happens to be. His Inside Edge numbers at least put on the table the possibility that Zim is making the plays on the balls that are hit where he can get at them - which tracks with the Mark 1 eyeball test.

ssln said...


You missed one other potential problem. The sun may not come tomorrow which would render all your concerns moot.

Froggy said...

John C., To one of your points, how much do you think the slightly below ave GB% is due to being weaker up the middle with Murphy, and the SS du jour?

I'm happy to take that trade-off in exchange for the offense numbers we have this season, no?

John C. said...

Froggy, not at all - I don't think that the pitchers are altering their approach because of Murphy. Remember they have Rendon at third, have spent most of the season with Turner at SS, and even Difo has been OK defensively. I'd be shocked if any of the Nats' pitchers were trying to get batters to elevate because of the Nats infield defense.

Jay said...

New bullpen looked better. Still think we could use a closer. Thankfully no more Robertson rumors. Notice he'll be a set up guy for the Yankees. Nats are all over the rumor cycle. We'll see if they do anything else. I could see them waiting for Kelley and Glover. Bryce mentioned hopefully getting one more during his post game interview with Kolko.

Bjd1207 said...

Is there any reason we shouldn't go get Tyler Clippard for some cheap ass prospect? He's got half a year left on the White Sox now with about $3M remaining. Gotta be a better option than Turner/Blanton right?

Froggy said...

Ah...I see where I misunderstood your GB% reference to pitching staff, I thought it was a defense metric for GB fielding efficiency. My bad.

Ben said...

If we still need bullpen help -- which, obviously, we do -- apparently the Giants are willing to hear offers for a 29-year old right-handed reliever with a 1.99 ERA, a 9.8/9 K rate, and control through 2021 (

In fact, he is remarkably similar to Jonathan Papelbon in some ways . . .

Fries said...

@Bjd - Clippard's control has been terrible this year. No need to go out and get a guy like that, we just traded one of those to the A's

@Ben - I'm not so sure Bryce would enjoy getting choked out by another reliever

Bjd1207 said...

Still think I'd take Clippard with control issues over Matt Grace

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