Nationals Baseball: August 2017

Monday, August 21, 2017

Monday - super super quickie

I'm not watching the eclipse (well I don't think I can completely avoid it) but I'm otherwise occupied. In quick notes

Strsaburg good! - Great. I want to see him do it twice on a regular schedule before I put it out of my mind and that won't happen next start either (he'll have an extra day off) so it'll be a while before I can assume health but there isn't anything right now that isn't positive. It didn't need to be a great start (though it really should have been) but it was.

Max hurt again! - At this point we're very close to hoping he just doesn't wake up on the wrong side of the bed right before the playoffs right? One is a fluke, twice is a pattern.

Werth and Turner rehabbing - as was pointed out to me Turner is stuck in rehab until the 29th because of a 60 Day DL thing. Werth is stuck in rehab because Kendrick has been real good. We've talked about pushing Kendrick out but Difo has also had a hot bat for a good long while. He does have some bad splits historically and he's not a "PROSPECT" so you'd sit him for Turner but it can be hard to stop doing something that's working. Of course "Oh no we have to sit our great performing back-ups to get back in our respected veteran leader and last year's nearly ROY" is a "problem" everyone would like to have.

OK that's it. Told you it was quick.

Friday, August 18, 2017

Saturday?

Strasburg has been all but put on the mound for Saturday's game. It's still not official. He's not on the probables, but I haven't heard anything about him not pitching. That means the "non official" status is all about getting one more day from someone on the roster before they have to be moved for Strasburg to come off the DL. I'm not reading anything into it.

There could hardly be more favorable conditions for a pitchers return. It's his hometown (he pitches well on the West Coast in general). The weather is good. It's a twilight game (thought to favor pitching - and this year and historically he pitches better during the day). It's against the lowest scoring team in the National League in one of the most run depressing ball parks. He's following Scherzer which means there isn't going to be much pressure on him to eat up innings.This is being gently eased back into the pool, inch by inch.

What am I looking for? Nothing much beyond throw ~90 pitches of decent baseball.  I suppose I'd like to see a higher percentage of strikes, as it was his control that was going that last game.  The velocity isn't an issue. It wasn't one before he left so it shouldn't be now. I mean, don't get killed obviously, but I'm not going to throw up any alarms for a 4 run, 5 1/3 outing where he has good control. Even with such favorable terms, it's still his first game back in the majors, and I still only care that he's healthy, not that he's ready to potentially shut down the Dodgers next week.

Other notes

The Nats are feeling the offensive woes from all these injuries but thanks to the solid pitching staff taking on some weak offenses the Nats haven't felt it in the win column. They've scored 3-3-10-3-3-2-6-3-2-2 runs in their last 10 games, and it took a walk-off grand slam to get that 6.  I'll be curious to see how the Nats hang through the Astros - Mets - Miami - Mil stretch.  Still it's just for curiousity's "what if Bryce doesn't come back" sake. Standing wise you can go ahead and assume HFA for the NLDS and a #2 seed overall. They are up 9.5 on the Cubs, and trail the Dodgers by 13. And if Bryce does come back in time to get back in the swing of things, how the Nats did without him hardly matters. 

Kelley is back and Madson is down. Madson hurt his finger. They are going to sit him and hope it feels better in a week. That's the only good news that accompanies all these injuries. The Nats are so secure that every one that happens they can sit people and let them take all the time they need because there is nothing in doubt. Kelley has been in Syracuse and has pitched to a 1.80 ERA. Sorry that's a typo. I mean an 8.10 ERA. Ouch. Most of that was early damage though. He gave up 5 runs in his first three outings. In his last 5 outings (4IP) he's given up 1 run (a homer of course), striking out 3 and walking none. He's as ready as he'll ever be.

Updating that injury post : Scherzer did come back. The finally are ready for Kelley. Raburn still sits in limbo until roster expansion (maybe)

Werth is still nowhere, last seen jogging bases apparently waiting to see when he can run and it hasn't happened yet. After having the team point to a general time frame and missing that, it's hard to figure when he'll return at this point. That's really the only bad news the Nats have had on the recovery front. Strasburg was delayed an additional week but as we said should be back Saturday. MAT was brought up very early that 3rd week.

Drew is taking grounders and seems to be on schedule for an return sometime this month. Turner is as well but still needs to swing a bat before he can get a rehab assignment. End of the month seems more likely and I'd be surprised if he wasn't with the team by Labor Day weekend. Glover has seemingly gotten the clear to ramp back up but given his current state is probably still a month away. Any setback but the mildest one would probably put him down for the year.


Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Howie Kendrick - Secret weapon

Howie Kendrick has been on a tear since joining the Nats. .386  with 4 home runs.  That can't last can it? Well, no but It isn't impossible that Kendrick has one last really good season in him and this is it.

Kendrick, we discussed earlier, is a high average guy He hasn't hit over .300 since 2008 but he's had a .291, a .297, a .293, and a .295 since then. The last one was as late as 2015 so the thought he could go not only over .300 but well over .300 isn't that far fetched. Especially given his moderate 33 year old age.

We noted that he didn't have a lot of pop. His career best HR total is 18, second best 13. He's not much of a doubles hitter either - career best 41 but next best 33. But this season... this season is different for a lot of people. The league isoSLG (SLG - AVG, basically pulling the singles out of slugging) was under .140 then last year it jumped to .158, this year it's over .170.  That's not a HUGE difference .140 to .170 but it's the difference between last year's MAT and last year's Werth. The difference between a guy hitting 26 doubles and 17 homers and a guy hitting 28 doubles and 21 homers. A half-step up at least.

Well what if you have a guy that always has made good contact, who always hit the ball hard far more than he hit the ball soft, who tends to put the ball in play and drop him into this environment? Seems like he's ripe to take advantage of that. Maybe not for as much advantage as the guys that swing for the fences all the time* - I'd like him to keep up this bombing if he hit more flyballs - but for getting those frozen ropes to now carry into the gaps? Yes.

Ultimately this may present an issue that we wouldn't have thought but was brought up in the comments. If Kendrick is now a guy who can hit .300+ with reliable doubles power, if he's a guy who can field left moderately well and who is more than an outside threat to steal a base... don't you have to consider starting that guy over Jayson Werth, if he gets back?

The Nats probably won't do that. Werth is more than a player, he's a totem. He's someone the team rallies around and someone the fans identify as the face of the good Nats. This could very well be his last season here. If he's ready, he'll play. And let's not forget Werth has shown he's a smart, adaptable hitter. He would likely take advantage of the souped up balls as well. He was already on pace for 25+ homers in a 140 games or so season before going down. But Werth can't overcome the defense gap that would only be worse with a gimpy foot, and his smart though not all that fast baserunning would be affected as well. It's very likely down the stretch in 2017 that Howie would be the slightly more valuable player.

*This would be an interesting thing to look at. SLG has gone up. Who gets the biggest push? Is it guys with a lot of fly balls or guys with a lot of hard hit balls? It would suggest the guys to pick-up / avoid when something changes in the equipment being used.

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Strasburg's coming

Probably.

Today is probably the biggest day - he threw a real 75 yesterday (well actually a real 66 - then another 9 in the pen because A ball isn't exactly a challenge for a guy who could be a #1 in a major league rotation) and felt good. All signs say he could be back this weekend. Feel normal today and I don't see that plan being derailed. Then the real review begins as we watch him for a start or two in the majors as he's forced to go all out for 100 pitches a couple times in a row. That's something we never saw post-recovery last year because he just slid from injury into the post-season. We've verified that about a month is enough to get him back to where everyone thinks he can keep pitching. Now we just have to see that they are right.

Gio Night!

Gio has had his best season for the Nats since his first year here. Why is that? How did someone seemingly declining through age at a slow and steady pace turn things around? Has he turned things around?

The second is a real question because if you look at the first fancy stats we generally look at, FIP and xFIP* and BABIP, it looks like Gio is skating along. The FIP stats suggest a "true ERA" of closer to 4.00 and the BABIP is extremely low and the lowest of Gio's career. This all suggest some extended amount of luck.

Part of that is true. Gio has been lucky. However what that means has changed over the course of the year

Month  ERA  FIP  xFIP  BABIP
Apr 1.62  3.82  4.41  .258
May 4.37  5.85  5.08  .297
June 2.53  3.29  3.85  .221
July 2.14  3.30  3.89  .193

To start the year Gio pitched ok but got very lucky and got great results. In May, Gio pitched terribly but got lucky and looked passable. In June Gio pitched well and got maybe a little lucky. In July Gio pitched well again and his luck again kicked in.

So in the first two months of the year Gio pitched ok to terrible but got SO lucky that he looked fine. Since then, while he's still seen luck drive his ERA down, he's pitched quite well.

Now I keep saying he's lucky but if Gio is generating a lot of ground balls and soft contact - well that could explain a lot and that's on him, not luck.  We'll compare to last year. Ground ball rate? It's down. It's actually the lowest it's been for a few years. That's not necessarily a bad thing. Gio's always been naturally a flyball pitcher and the attempt to become a GB pitcher a couple years ago may not have suited him. His HR/FB rate is a little low, but it always has been. Gio has been a flyball pitcher who's been able to keep the balls in the park. There was thoughts when he came over from Oakland that it was park based but nope it's him. What does this mean? It means that the xFIP up there - which tries to normalize HRs - is probably more off than the FIP which doesn't. Except for May, that's good for Gio.

Soft contract is up a little and hard contact down. about 3 percent for both. That isn't nothing. But there is something else here that I found a bit interesting. Guys are pulling the ball more than ever against Gio and hitting the ball to the opposite filed a lot less. This generally isn't a good sign. It means guys are getting around on your pitches more and probably making more contact in general (K rate, swinging strike rates and contact rates suggest that's true a little bit) but there could be some deep thinking going on here. RHB are now pulling almost 7% more balls than they used to up to almost 46%. They are also hitting over 6% fewer balls to the opposite field. LHB are pulling more balls as well (about 3%) but are hitting more to the opposite field as well - more than 5% more.

What is the overall picture to what's going on here? Gio is getting A LOT more balls hit to the Rendon - Turner - Bryce side of the field than the Murphy - Zimm - Werth Statue park in right.  By my quick and dirty calculations he's gone from having like 36% of batted balls going to the "good side" and 29% to the "bad side" to 44% to the good and 25% to the bad. In other words, he's getting more batters to hit the ball where he wants them to toward the better fielders. (One would think)

What's the end conclusion? Well Gio is getting a bit lucky, it's hard to suggest otherwise.  Guys who walk people like Gio does and strike out people like Gio does don't usually flirt with 2.00 ERAs But he is pitching better. He's gone back to being a FB pitcher which is fine for him because he doesn't give up a ton of homers. He's getting more favorable contact, getting fewer hard hits and more soft ones. And maybe just as important, he's driving batters to hit balls to the guys on the field most likely to turn those balls into outs. All in all I can see a pitcher who is throwing, especially in the last two months, like a guy with a low to mid 3.00 ERA should.

I know your natural instinct is to say "So he's a 3.40 ERA guy. Great. So a #3 type maybe, probably a #4" but remember. We WILDLY overrate how good pitchers should be by their rotation spot.  A 3.40 ERA is good enough for TENTH in the NL in qualified pitchers. I won't say Gio is pitching like we'd want a #1 to pitch, but he could be some teams #1 and he's certainly pitching like a #2.

Can this continue in the playoffs? I'm not sure. You want a guy like Max who can impose his will on the other team not just get them to hit it to a certain side or in the air and hope they don't hit it too hard. Playoff teams usually can hit it hard enough. However there are far worse pitchers to throw out there, including 2016 Gio. If he can keep this up for another two months, I'll want to see if he can GB to SS and lazy FB a team to death in the NLDS. 

*These are different ways to pull out luck from the ERA. Things like HR rate and BABIP tend to bounce around for pitchers and a run of luck (bad or good) with these can make your ERA really not represent the talent behind the throws. This tries to normalize those values and see how a pitcher would do then. It's imperfect, because it doesn't take into account a guys personal ability to keep these things down (which does exist) and things like home park, but it's good for a quick look at how much luck a pitcher may be skating on. A BIG gap (say 1.5 runs) and a history of BABIPs that go against what a pitcher is doing now? You'd be wise to start with "He's been affected by luck" and then use a deeper dive to try to prove otherwise.

Monday, August 14, 2017

Monday Quickie - Down but not out... well out for now

There was one over the weekend story and that's the injury to Bryce. For those of you who think negative lines of code have been insert / d into my programming, let me tell you that I was firmly on  the "who knows, let it play out camp" and reviewing the footage of the Eaton injury said "Oh. It doesn't look like that".  I went on to hazard a guess that it wasn't a tear and he wouldn't be out for the year. I also noted I know basically nothing other than what was said above and my opinion is close to worthless.

But it turns out that Bryce doesn't seem to be hurt that badly, that the MRI shows no major ligament or tendon damage, and while the timeline is still fuzzy, there is certainly potential for him to be back for the playoffs. It could be even sooner but let's be honest, few of us care whether he's back August 20th or September 20th.

This isn't to say "I'm right." This is to say "That is where the (admittedly sparse) evidence suggested the most likley outcome is (based on my low-informed opinion)" I am giving the same sort of take when I speak about Strsaburg who's about to pitch in Potomac tonight. Ideally he will go 5 innings and throw around 75 pitches. If he feels well he could join the Nats in time to pitch against San Diego on Saturday. He was hurt on July 23rd and would return to pitch on August 19th. That's fairly close to a month which is what a calm review of the initial injury seemed to suggest as the most likely scenario based on the admittedly sparse evidence fed into the low-information opinion producing me.  We can disagree but I'm not crazy here.

So what does the Bryce injury mean? A lot. The Nats are an offensive juggernaut. That is how they win games. They are second in baseball in runs scored per game (to Houston) well past 3rd place Colorado. We are used to the Nats being led by their arms, and backed up by a very good offense.  Here's a quick ranking

YEAR : SP ERA RANK, RP ERA RANK, RS RANK
2012 : 1 3 5
2013 : 6 11 6
2014 : 1 2 3
2015 : 6 6 3
2016 : 2 2 4
2017 : 3 15 1

Now obviously the relief pitching is now better than 15th. But is it dominant? Probably not. And the starting pitching isn't dominant either as a whole. No, what's carrying the team in 2017 is the offense.  Bryce isn't the offense by himself as he was kind-of sort-of in 2015, but he IS the best offensive player the Nats have. He was hitting  .326 /  .419 / .614 at the time he went down. You don't replace that. Guys like Stevenson, Goodwin, Kendrick, might catch a good week or two but eventually the Nats will feel it.  MAT is back and Werth could be coming back. That may help but they aren't Bryce. Rendon is a great bat. He's not Bryce. Zimm is having a decent August holding off some decline fears. He's not Bryce. They will score fewer runs. They will lose more games.

Will that matter? For the next 7 weeks - hell no. They are up by 14 games. The next best team in the NL East sits at 4 games under .500. They could literally take off two weeks, forfeit the games to give their team a rest, and it wouldn't matter.  After that it most certainly will. To win as it has in the regular season the Nationals need Bryce Harper.

This isn't to say a Bryce-less Nats team couldn't survive, even thrive in the playoffs. Even without Bryce the team is games above .500 and you put that kind of team with a Max level starter in the playoffs and it can win. But it'll probably have to win in a different fashion than it has been all year long.

Thursday, August 10, 2017

Straction Day

Actions speak louder than words. However, what happens when you have limited access to the actions?

Over the past... now 18 days, there's been a growing argument on how to view the injury situation with Strasburg. I tend to advocate a reaction that is more "action based". Set your view and wait until you find out about some action that may alter it. Most on the other side have gone with a more "word based" reaction. Let the team set the view and don't let your own opinion get in the way because there are unseen actions taking place. Neither is wrong and have certain strengths and weaknesses. You can appear foolish if you follow my way if things are quickly settled in a way contrary to how you thought they would. On the other hand, following the other way may make you seem foolishly naive, if the source of the information, even if they are the best available source, is unreliable - either by choice or chance.*

In this particular case, my way has proven pretty strong. Strasburg's injury resembled last year's injury so assuming that it would follow a similar path and need perhaps a month away from starting, seems to be the way it will eventually turn out. All the while the team has sent out a string of milquetoast positivity, suggesting that Strasburg's return is closer than it has turned out to be.

There were another set of words yesterday from the team, but finally there may be actions behind them that we can hold on to.  Rizzo said Strasburg could be pitching right now and they are just being cautious with him. In itself, pretty meaningless. Rizzo said the same during Strasburg's recovery last year. Strasburg pitched again and said he "felt really good" yeseterday. Again, in itself pretty meaningless as he said that earlier in this injury recovery . But the actions yesterday (and hopefully today) matter.

Yesterday Strasburg pitched a simulated game, an important step on the road to recovery. This is much more than a bullpen session where you throw 30-40 pitches and see how he feels. Instead, he throws a simulated inning, sits, comes back and does it again, throwing probably 50 or so pitches with that important break, cool down, and return added in. If this goes well then he should be in line for a real recovery start, my guess would be Sunday or Monday, in the minors and then back with the team in the majors for a start at the end of next week. Not ultimately the best case scenario, which I had pegged at missing 3 starts, but close as he'd miss only four I think.

That's the next action we need to see. And while I consider the words to be pretty meaningless we could hear something important today.  At the tail end of July Strasburg through a bullpen session they thought went very well. They said if he felt well the next day he could just miss one start. This was followed by conspicuous silence. There was a similar feeling coming from the team yesterday. If we hear that Strasburg is on track for a recovery start today (or maybe tomorrow) then everything lines up. We've seen the actions we want, and we've gotten the words we want, and if he's moved somewhere we get an important set of confirming actions. If we don't hear anything today or tomorrow, well I'd be worried. I'd still have to see Strasburg not be assigned anywhere, or regress in his recovery, before I take it back down but it would be a bad sign.

So keep your ears to the ground today. It just might tell us whether to renew worries, or to get ready to set them aside.


*To be honest - most times these different approaches arrive at the same place because really we're both just waiting for confirmation on the type of injury from the team. It's only in these types of unclear situation where the differences can become apparent.  And really it's not like either side is ALL action or words. It's a mix for both, just what takes precedence is different.

Wednesday, August 09, 2017

On Nicknames

Back in 05/06 some of us internet followers of the Nationals had what we thought was a great idea. Saddened by the seeming lack of modern nicknames in the vein of those of old, we would try to bring them back by giving a new young star player a nickname reminiscent of one he'd receive in the pre-war era.  So Ryan Zimmerman, he of the German last name, was christened "Dutch" Zimmerman.

Now it is not surprising at all that this didn't take off. A few dozen people on the internet (at best) are going to have a tough time making something like this into an on-the-field reality. However, what was surprising was the unearthing of a group of people who found the idea of fans giving a player a nickname extremely offensive. "NO!" they said "He already has a nickname! It is ZIMM! and it was given to him in the CLUBHOUSE! How dare YOU think you can name him!" Honestly I still don't know what to make of it.

That is the truth though. Most players do get their nicknames through the clubhouse and since writers don't stand between us and them nearly as much as they used to, the "Sultan of Swat"s and "Sey Hey Kid"s of old have been replaced by "Mac"s and "Jonesy"s   They are utilitarian unimaginative nicknames much like, well regular nicknames. Thomas becoming Tom or Tommy isn't the height of inspiration.

A weekend in late August we'll see the Nats featuring a bunch of nicknames on the back of their jerseys and it gives us a good cross-section of the different types of nicknames around a baseball team.

The most common is the last name shortening. This usually takes one of three forms; the "straight-shorten", the "shorten and add an s", and the "shorten and add a y sound".  You see two of these types for the Nats

Straight-Shorten
Daniel "Murph" Murphy
Stephen "Stras" Strasburg
Ryan (ed note - sigh) "Zim" Zimmerman 
Sean "Dooooooooo" Doolittle* 
Chris "Heis" Heisey

Shorten and add a y sound  
Matt "Wiety" Wieters
Jose "Lobi" Lobaton
Matt "Albie" Albers
Matt "Gracey" Grace - case where your last name is only one syllable thus can't be shortened

Another popular nickname derivation is combining the first initial with a shortening of the last name. Think A-Rod. The Nats have their share of these as well.

First Initial - Shorten Last name 
Brian "B Good" Goodwin
Edwin "E Jax" Jackson
Tanner "T Ro" Roark
 
Others name and initial plays are seen as well. The shortening of the first name, like the last one. Basically your traditional nickname.
Anthony "Ant" Rendon
Oliver "Ollie" Perez

The use of the last initial or both initials
Joe "Joe B" Blanton
Joe "JR" Ross
Gio "Double G" Gonzalez
Jayson "Dub" Werth

Or both first name shortening and an initial!
Michael "Mikey T" Taylor

All of this is very standard and typical. We also have simple nicknames based on some physical attribute, like "Shorty". This can be a bit more creative but a lot of times it's putting the adjective "little" or "big" in front of things. Nats are a little better here though with an actual comparison for a nickname from their injured CF.
 Max "Blue Eye" Scherzer
Adam "Mouse" Eaton

Last we get to a group of standard nicknames that are around the game. For baseball some are limited to Little League ages, like "Slugger" while some carry on.  Drew's one of these guys
Stephen "Dirt" Drew.

Finally we get the interesting ones. Ones that come from somewhere other than the obvious derivations.

Bryce "Big Kid" Harper - I've never heard this before, but actually it's been out there  Here's Ian using it in 2015. There's a Span tweet with it too. Seems like it caught on in clubhouse around that time.

Trea "Triple T" Turner - This isn't an initial thing (His middle name is Vance). It could be as simple as "He hits triples" (led the team last year despite playing only 73 games - still leads team this year)

Koda "Bear" Glover - Koda is a Cherokee word for "bear" or so they say.

Shawn "BAK PAK" Kelley - no clue

Adam "Donnie" Lind - also no clue

Ryan "Blest" Madson - Near as I figure this is not a nickname but a religious call out.

Enny "Hernandez" Romero - So you guys know how Hispanic surnames work, right? No? Read this a little ways in. Anyway Enny's full surname would be Romero-Hernandez so this is a shout out to his mother's side.

Wilmer "El Lindo" Difo - Translates to something like "The Good Looking Guy"

Ryan "Bobby" Raburn - This is the most involved one as it is a reference to THE FAN, a baseball movie from about 20 years ago. It was trash but the baseball star played by Wesley Snipes was named Bobby Rayburn.  So there you go - obscure pop culture reference for you, but probably a pretty familiar one inside baseball where I imagine they watch nearly every baseball related movie.

Also I'd be remiss to not acknowledge, some people don't have a nickname. Or don't want to use their nickname. So we end with that guy
Howie "Kendrick" Kendrick

My guess is that if he has one, it's not a name-based one. Howie is a good informal sounding name to use in a clubhouse and "Kendry" or "Kends" or stuff like that doesn't sound all that good.

*It's more imaginative in the spelling but guys just call him "Doo" I'm sure.

Monday, August 07, 2017

Monday Quickie - Good news, bad news, good news

The Nats were 6 outs or so away from losing 2 of 3 to the Cubs. That wouldn't have been a terrible outcome, probably the expected one playing another talented team on the road. However, it would have left the Cubs 5.5 games behind the Nats for HFA in the NLDS, continued the momentum of the Cubs, and would have set up the narrative for the time being. Instead the Nats rallied back took the game and put the idea that the Cubs might catch the Nats record on the back-burner. It could still happen. Seven and a half games in under 3 months is far from unheard of, especially when you are being chased by a souped up former champion. But as of today that's not the story. The story is the Nats setting themselves as the clear 2nd best team in the NL.

The story is the bullpen, as we got a taste of what are likely going to be the roles for the pen going forward (despite the attempts to tell us there are no roles). Kintzler to Madson to Doolittle. They pitched 5 2/3 innings in the series, seeing this order twice giving up 3 hits, 1 walk, and striking out five. Most importantly they gave up no runs. I don't personally have 100% confidence that any one of these guys isn't going to give up a couple hits, maybe a run in any outing. These aren't shutdown guys. But I do have confidence that if one does falter, the other two are likely going to be able to deal with the problem created. The Nats pen has been less an issue of individual failures, which happen, than cascading ones. A bad outing leads to a deficit that never seems to go away. The pen puts the Nats 3 behind, the Nats get back 2 runs, but the pen gives one right back. The Nats looks set up with the heart of the order for the ninth but the pen gives up 3 in the top of the inning. And so it goes. It's that kind of feeling that I don't have anymore, the helplessness of feeling the game was constantly teetering on the edge of unrecoverable disaster after the starter existed. That's gone.


The bad news? Strasburg is not listed among the Nats next 4 starters which means Strasburg is missing his next start. That's three. Does it mean doom and gloom? No but it means that we were right to think the injury was more serious than they let on. Given that anyone still want to doubt that we are probably right that the injury, which seemed to resemble last years, will take on a similar path to that one? Anyone want to doubt that the best case has Strasburg pitch sometime this weekend - after about 3 weeks off - and the worst case has Strasburg missing over a month. Anyone want to doubt that even when he pitches again it's basically a huge question mark how many starts he can go because we never actually saw that tested last year?


The other good news? Max is pitching tonight. He could have pitched yesterday but like we said Friday, that would be trying to sneak in an extra start by moving the rotation up taking advantage of the day off. It's a good idea normally, but with Max a bit hurt, letting the rotation continue as normal and giving him one extra day of rest seems a lot smarter. Assuming all goes well, and you have to think it will given the nothing we've heard about his neck since, the doomsday scenario of having Strasburg AND Max gone for the playoffs is officially back to being just another thing up to the fates, rather than something precariously close to being real.

Friday, August 04, 2017

Weekend

The Nats are 6.5 games ahead of the Cubs for HFA in the NLCS*. Yes, I'm assuming the Cubs win the Central. I think given the fact that they've stretched out their lead to 5.5 1.5 games already, they tried to get better while the Brewers stood pat, and, well, they are the better team, makes that the safe bet.  The Nats play the Cubs in a three game set. Any sort of Nats win... I won't say it will seal up HFA but it just as well might. 7.5+ games with under two months to go is a tough ask.  Not impossible mind you, but really tough.  5.5 or less though, that can happen. Two games do make a difference.

In this important series the Nats won't have Strasburg as he misses his second start after initially being noted as "may not even miss his next start", Gio (paternity), and Scherzer (giving an extra day). So the team has it's work cut out for it but good luck I say.

If you are worried by Scherzer not pitching this game don't be. It could have gone either way, with him likely to pitch because it keeps the 4 days off schedule, but possibly not pitching because if you go in order per game Monday would be his start with an extra day off.  So why not give him an extra day off and let him pitch at home if that's not even really doing anything crazy?  I would.

Anyway post away as the Nats try to keep the surging Cubs at bay.  They've won their World Series so now they are definitely full of themselves bad guys easy to root against. Go Nats.


*Nats are 12 games behind the Dodgers so forget about that.

Thursday, August 03, 2017

Injury Updates -

You know, the Nats weren't shut out for the first 86 games of the year. In the last 20 they've been shutout 4 times. Also in the last 20 they've scored 10 or more four times.

As the Post notes, just when you thought it was safe to go back to the bullpen, Enny Romero is probably off to the DL. What we assumed was back issues, something he's dealt with recently in his career, the word is it's forearm "tightness".  Neither is good but forearm tightness could be really bad. Whether you liked Enny or not, he was certainly in the rotation of guys that could be brought out at some point in games that were still in question. So his loss would hurt.

Since we're talking about injuries - where does everyone else stand?

Strasburg - "elbow impingment" - Waiting to throw an "intense" bullpen session before returning.  He threw a regular bullpen and they liked what they saw, suggesting he could make that next start, but have back-pedalled since then.

Scherzer - "stiff neck" - Had been dealing with it before the Marlins game but thought he could get through it. Expected to make next start as of today. Will see a chiropractor. Hey, whatever works for you.

Turner - broken wrist - Down in Florida starting recovery, but only at soft toss, some fielding now. No timetable on return though original thinking of late August seems to be still target.

Werth - broken toe - Has sloooooowly gotten back to baseball activites. He starting hitting about a week ago, started running on treadmills a day or two ago. Will start doing some simulated game action soon. If that goes well should see a couple minor league games before heading back up to the majors. So could be late next week if nothing derails plan.

MAT - oblique strain - began rehab in Potomac. 3 games in and everything seems fine. Dusty suggested that Werth might be back before MAT so they may take it slow with Taylor, but early indications make it seem like sometime in the next two weeks is a certainty.

Koda Glover - rotator cuff inflammation - began throwing again in early July but just recently got back to 90 feet.  Still on flat ground.  A return in August seems unlikely, but September hasn't been ruled out.

Shawn Kelley - rehabbing in Syracuse. In two appearances has given up a home run in each one. Expect Nats to wait until he gets 2-3 good outings in a row to bring him back. Could be as early as early next week.

Joe Ross - Tommy John - had surgery in mid-July. They thought it went well.  Should be back sometime next season but maybe 2019.

Adam Eaton - torn ACL - said a couple months ago he was "ahead of schedule" but nothing uttered since. Given even then the suggestion was 2017 was still out the silence suggests there's no reasons to change anything up. 2018.

Stephen Drew - abdominal strain - Just placed on the DL recently. Was not performing well so there's no real hurry to get him back. Expectation probably has him moving from 10 day to long-term if Kendrick and Difo keep looking good, and Turner's rehab goes as expected.

Ryan Raburn - shoulder - Does it really matter? Could have returned yesterday.  Do you see him? Raburn will be back from the DL whenever the Nats think they need to bring him back from the DL.

For those lazy - if all goes well here is the return timetable

WITHIN A WEEK
Scherzer - presumably next start
Kelley - whenever they feel he's ready
Raburn - if they care to 

WITHIN TWO WEEKS
Werth - late next week
Strasburg - supposedly he'd make his next start around late next week as well
MAT - probably early the week after that

AUGUST
Drew - if they want him he should be ready to go
Turner - maaaybe at the tail end of the month

SEPTEMBER
Glover - remains a possiblity

2018
Eaton - should be back for start of season
Ross - current TJ rehab cycles suggest we'd see him very late in 2018.

Wednesday, August 02, 2017

Wednesday quickie

What!? You got two good posts to start the week. Don't be greedy

Max goes out last night. It highlights how precarious the Nats situation is but it also highlights how precarious most series hopes are. Each team has one or two pitchers whose injuries would dramatically tip the odds against them. Each team has a handful of batters who, if out for the playoffs, would have them scrambling to replace that production. Before the trade deadline there's usually only one or two guys out there able to match a real star type player.  After the trade deadline there usually none. At this point it's up to the fates.

You can and you can't blame Rizzo, so both sides should be happy.  You can because, like we've talked about, betting on the Nats having 4 healthy and good rotation arms seemed like a risky bet. Chances seemed likely that Strasburg will be hurt OR Gio would crash OR Roark would never get it going. Given that, bringing in another "playoff caliber" arm would have been nice. This doesn't mean a Darvish or a Gray. It could mean a Lance Lynn or an R.A. Dickey. There's still time for a deal like this - veteran guys with large deals often can pass through waivers - but Rizzo missed one chance to make it happen.

You can't because no one expected Max to go down and you can't make up for losing the 2nd best pitcher in baseball. Whatever Rizzo would have done would not have fully compensated for a Scherzer season-ending injury.  Luckily that didn't happen so this argument is moot but we got a glimpse of what that would be like and it would be BAD.

So while the Nats are cruising to an NL East title and this weekend will be looking to solidify home-field advantage during that series, they are cruising like a sober person driving home at 3AM on January 1st, hoping that nothing out of their control wrecks their drive.


Tuesday, August 01, 2017

The big bet

Make no mistake. Despite not trading any of their Top prospects the Nats were one of the biggest gamblers at the trade deadline. But instead of betting on a player coming in, or players developing, they bet on an arm. They bet the season on Strasburg's arm.

If Strasburg is healthy, the Nats had arguably their best trade deadline ever. After years of limiting themselves to that one piece* to make themselves better, the Nats brought in four pieces. They brought in three quality arms to shore up a bullpen that had blundered and injured itself to worst in the league. They brought in a quality bat to hopefully bolster the bench, but potentially play a starting role if injured players recover slowly. With the players returning from injury over the next few months the Nats could be the weakness free team they looked like they could be at the start of the year.

If Strasburg is not healthy, then despite doing all that, this trade deadline was woefully inadequate. Losing their #2 arm, they would need another starter for the playoffs and they didn't get one. What makes it worse is that Darvish, as a rental, was rather affordable and could have been had without losing Robles or Soto. Instead he goes to the best team in the National League, shoring up a potential playoff opponent.

Was it a good bet? Well there are actually two bets going on. On the first one, strictly on Stasburg's arm, we have no idea. We aren't talking to Strasburg in confidence. We aren't talking to his doctors. We aren't scouting his bullpen session. We have to assume it is a good bet. We have to assume with all that knowledge, they have a strong confidence (90%? 95%?) that Strasburg is fine**. Because if not, why would they roll with this gamble? If they think that there's like a 35% chance he's done for the year and they didn't make a move, I mean, that's fire-able right?  We don't know if it's a good bet or a bad one, but logic makes us assume it's a good bet.

The second bet is a larger one about the staff. The Nats would like to have four starters for the playoffs. Max is a given. Second best pitcher in the majors the past few years. Healthy. You assume he's one. The other three are all question marks though. You have to question, even before the injury, if Strasburg would make it to the playoffs given his limited innings in the past two years. You have to question if Gio, having his best season since 2012, is real in the face of the decline that his recent pitching history has shown. You have to question if Roark, having his worst season as a starter, is going to bounce back before the post-season starts. You have questions with 2-4 (and no real #5). That all three of them will go negatively is next to impossible. But that any one of them will is a good possibility.***

The last two are in direct opposition to eachother. If you like going with recent performance then you like Gio but hate Roark. If you like going with history then you like Roark but hate Gio. Either way there isn't a consistent train of thought - other than "good things happen to the Nats!"  - that would have you thinking both those will go the Nats way. Unlike the specific bet on Strasburg's current arm health, we can get a feel about whether this is a good bet or not. Is it smart to bet on Strasburg's general health, Gio's continued success, and Roark resurgance?  My take is no, it is not. I think it is the smarter move to bring someone in who you think could pitch in the playoffs. 

That's just off the last bet. Couple in the extra odds, whatever they may be (they ain't 0%), from the first bet and that just adds to this feeling. For me, by the time we hit the trade deadline, I felt pretty sure the Nats should have brought in another starting arm. They didn't. So the Nats roll with what they have.

I'll admit, even though I felt that way, I understand it still really comes down to that first bet. If Strasburg is good to go then it probably doesn't matter. The Nats will have a killer 1-2 and their #3 will likely be a "good all season" Gio or "strong finish" Roark. Either way you probably aren't going to write off the Nats because of the starting pitching just because the #4 starter doesn't look good. You just hope they don't NEED that G4 win.

TRADE

Who is Brandon Kintzler? He's a proven closer! Sort of. He's saved games for the Twins the past season and a half so make that into whatever you want. He lives by inducing soft-contact ground balls for easy outs. He's pretty good at it, among the tops at both GB% and Soft%. The added benefit of being a good GB pitcher is that he doesn't give up a lot of home runs, either. Top it off with effective control and you have a very solid reliever. The downside is that he strikes no one out so in some respect success is up to the BABIP gods. Also we need to consider the defense behind him.  Looking at the past 3 years of D stats as a general guide - Mauer is passable at first, Dozier is ok at second, Polanco currently average at SS, Sano below average at third.  When Adrianza plays he's a very very good defender.  So it's an average bunch in general.  The Nats? Zimmerman and Murphy are among the worst fielders at their positions. On the flip side Turner/Difo has been good and Rendon is a gold glove candidate. It's a tale of two halves.  What that will mean for Kintzler I'm not sure but it's likely lefties will get a few more hits and righties maybe a couple more outs.

Who is Tyler Watson? HS late round draft pick. Looked very good in rookie/low A with control and strikeout stuff. It got people thinking there could be something more here. However his brief stint in A-ball last year and continuing this year show a guy a little too hittable. Why did the Twins take him then? Beacuase he's young and he's got good stuff and good control. That's not necessarily a combination you see every day. It's kind of the basis for a good pitcher though really he's not a prospect and a longshot at best.


*Now last year that did mean one expensive piece so the money put up this trade deadline was similar to at least last year. About 4 million this year to 3 million last.  I'm not going to argue if you want to say that this deadline actually had the same driving approach (spend $X) but just went at it a different way. 

**personally I don't see how they could feel this way given his history but I'm not a professional. 

*** Math time! If you give each a 10% chance of negative then the chance all three happen is .10*.10*.10 or .001 or one in a thousand.  Not good. Don't worry about it. The chances any of the three happen? It's the opposite of the chance that none of three happen so it's 1 - (.90*.90*.90) or 1-.73 or .27 or 27%. Add in the chance that any two happen and you have about a 30% chance of needing another arm. And that's with 10% negative odds which I think are kind of low.