Nationals Baseball: How to manage games that don't matter

Friday, September 01, 2017

How to manage games that don't matter

Dusty is in a weird spot and has been there for a while now. The division has been called since... June 23rd.  The Dodgers ran away and hid with HFA as July ended. The Nats effectively put away the Cubs chances at grabbing the two seed in early August. So Dusty has been piloting a ship being pulled by a tugboat into port for a month now and has a month to go.  How do you manage such a team?

It's easy enough to say "just don't get anyone injured" but baseball players you want to keep in their standard rhythm.  You want position guys to play most every day. You want starters to go about as long as they usually do. You want relievers to see action enough to keep fresh. You also want to keep your best back-ups fresh, get injury returnees enough time, and get any questionable roles decided. And you want to put in an honest effort to win games against teams still in the playoff hunt because you expect the same when you need it. Honestly, it's probably a harder job with more variables to manage then trying hard to win every game.

Of course this is in reference to last night where Gio Gonzalez threw 115 pitchers in a loss, including several after seemingly tweaking something.  It's not the 115 that bothers me. Someone's 115 is someone else's 100 is someone else's 85.  There is no magic to 100 pitches. It's arbitrary and teams probably have much better ideas of how far each individual pitcher should go. Going over 105 is common place for the sometimes wild Gio, and around 113 seems to be where they like to pull him based on this year's pitch counts.

What bothered me though was the leaving in after he appeared to be in pain. He was over 90 pitches and even though we can't say Gio is at a limit, we can say he's probably on the tired side of his start. At this time of year "I'd rather be safe than sorry" should dominate Dusty's thinking. That doesn't mean doing things out of the ordinary. It means that if a question arises on what to do, the safest option should be chosen. The Nats have 30 days to get through without losing anyone. That's the #1 goal. Even though you need to factor in everything else we talked about that needs to win out every time. Last night it didn't. I don't think it mattered as he seemed ok the rest of the inning, but that's Dusty catching a break on taking a risk. He should not be taking those. Not now.

What are we watching this Labor Day weekend :

Werth & Turner - They have looked fine coming back but it has only been a few games. Let's see them keep it up through the weekend then we can all feel better.

Zimmerman - Zimm's been not hitting for a good long while now.  .230 / .300 / .398 split since Jun 14th.  That's almost half the season. Since his minor HR surge (5 in 8 games) he's hit under .200 with no homers in the past two weeks. The Nats don't need a great Zimm to win but they'd appreciate a good one, especially with it apparent now Wieters just isn't going to hit.

How Dusty continues to use Difo, Kendrick, and MAT.  All three continue to do well, which suggests playing time. But Turner and Werth are going to start barring some sort of craziness so all three of these guys can't. That's not even going into what happens when Bryce returns. Dusty has his work cut out for him cycling through these three bats who at this point in this season all deserve to play.

Tanner Roark - He's been better, like I said - good enough to throw out in G4 if it's not a must win. But can he step it up in September? Brewers are a quality team but not all that with the bats. A impressive game tonight would be nice

If Max sleeps correctly.

How does the bullpen keep forming. Kintzler had a couple rough outings but nothing that would pull him from the back end just yet. We keep hoping Shawn Kelley can become dominant but every time you think he's about to turn a corner he comes crashing back and right now Albers still looks like the third best arm in the pen. While there are things we'd like to see this is more an observation activity than a set of events that need to happen. The pen will shake out how it shakes out and that'll decide who gets used when. But it's still a jumble until you get to Kintzler and Doolittle.


Donald said...

I think part of what Dusty has been doing it to help players reach individual goals. Gio had an outside chance of reaching 20 wins, so Dusty may have been keeping him in a little longer in hopes the Nats could come back in the 7th and get him a win. Similarly, he's said he wants to get Kintzler 30 saves so he'll probably give him the 9th again a few more times. It wouldn't surprise me if most of the guys on the team have some personal goal or milestone that Dusty is aware of and trying to help accomplish.

Commonwealh Kid said...

If Difo and Zim both keep hitting like this through September what do you think the chances of a Rendon, Turner, Difo, Murphy infield is?

Jimmy said...

@Commonwealh Kid-


PotomacFan said...

@Commonwealth Kid: the chances are zero. Dusty will stick with his veterans.

@Harper: I was screaming at the TV last night for Dusty to take Gio out of the game. Gio cannot reach 20 wins, and no one should even be aiming for that.

Do you think Bryce will be back for the NLDS? I don't see it. Dusty doesn't see it. So, will we see Werth in left field and Lind/Kendrick platoon in right field? That would be an awful defense, particularly when combined with a terrible defense on the right side of the infield.

Natsochist said...

@PotomacFan - Since Kendrick seems to be taking well to LF, Dusty seems content to have Werth patrol RF until Bryce is ready. It does make a degree of sense, since Werth played there early in his contract with the Nats, but it certainly leaves his arm exposed on defense.

Agreed, however, that it creates an awful defensive outfield for us.

Jay said...

Harper may still be back in time for the play offs. It's only 9/1. I agree that some of the things coming out recently have been worrisome. However, I think if it's close then Harper plays even slightly banged up. Give it 3 weeks and then we'll see.

Anonymous said...

I just got the large side of the wishbone, which clearly means:

We beat the Cubs with the roster we have now

Harper comes riding in on his white horse for the Dodgers series and carries us to the upset

Eaton shows up out of nowhere for the World Series, just in time to dispatch the Indians

See....nothing to worry about. See you at the parade.

Bjd1207 said...

Werth still has a pretty good arm I think. His range is the problem, and while Kendrick's may be a little better I suspect Lind's is probably similar. So yea, Werth in RF gets my vote

@CommonwealthKid - Problem is Difo's splits don't help him out. He crushes lefties, but Trea, Rendon, and Zim are all better hitters than him against lefties. The only potential for a platoon split would be with Murphy and he's a better hitter than all of them against any pitcher

DezoPenguin said...

This year's Nats remind me a heck of a lot of the 2012 Nats with the way the bench has stepped up: Taylor's basically nailed his upside, Difo's been off the charts (hitting aside, his fielding has been great too), Goodwin was really good for a long while, Lind has been the guy he was two years ago, Kendrick has been insane since he got here, even Raburn was starting to hit before he got hurt. The only difference is that guys like Lind and Kendrick can actually be expected to be better than the Roger Bernardinas and Steve Lombardozzis of the world.

If Zim's hitting continues to tail off, the simplest solution is to just have a straight 1B platoon with Lind (who can't hit lefties at all but mashes righties). That leaves a primary outfield of Kendrick/Taylor/Werth until Harper returns, with Difo filling in for Murphy, Werth, Turner, Rendon, or Kendrick as required to give them necessary days off (be it for wear and tear or to not push them too hard after injury as appropriate). De Aza's sole job should be to give Taylor days off where required and to be a late-inning defensive replacement, and he can be replaced in those jobs by Goodwin if and when he returns.

As far as the bullpen goes, while it isn't a pile of Andrew Miller clones, it's no longer something I worry about being inadequate over the short term. Doolittle is good and has been good over his career. Albers has been good all year and has also been good in his career (2016 aside). Kintzler is solid. Perez is an adequate LOOGY. If either Madson or Glover or both can return from injury, those six plus Romero are a very good and very deep pen; if we can just keep from having to use Solis, Blanton, or Kelley in anything resembling an important situation it's not going to be heart attack country at least.

KO said...

@Dezo there's no way dusty platoons adam Lind for 2/3 of the time while RZ hits the bench

BxJaycobb said...

Harper: I feel like the Nats fan base (and this blog?) hasn't yet come to terms with the fact that the chances of Bryce playing in the postseason are below 50%. And the chances of him getting any ABs and having timing back before playoffs is like 10%. Honestly not that much else matters if that's the case. This team will have trouble scoring against excellent playoff pitching without him in the lineup--it important to note....there's not really that much power without him (will the Nats be the only playoff team without a 30 HR guy in a year when everybody and their brother has 25 homers?) Yes the Nats have continued winning since he went down....but only because their pitching has been outrageously good. Their offense has gone very very quiet. The folks around Harper seem to really wilt when he's not in there.

Fries said...


While the Nats may not have a 30 HR guy, they have plenty of guys with 15. The Nats are only 2 behind the Dodgers in team HRs, and they're ahead of Cleveland, Arizona, Colorado, and Boston of which at least 3/4 figure to be playoff teams. I'm not worried about the teams power...though I agree about the Bryce situation definitely being closer to 10% than 90%...

BxJaycobb said...

Fries. I guess what I'm saying is the Nats total power is less right now that the season totals would indicate. Bryce is hurt. He's their biggest power guy. Zim has hit like 9 homers since mid May. Murphy and Rendon haven't hit for much power recently, etc. maybe that will change. But it's hard to not notice how anemic the Nats offense has been without Bryce.

Anonymous said...


I demand an investigation of the people who respond to you. It was just ten days ago that I suggest that Dusty was going to start Werth in the playoffs. This brought forth half a dozen responses that included Werth is a defensive liability. He can't run, he can't field. He won't hit when he comes back due TO HIS WRIST INJURY. Then there was my favorite. I met Werth and he is too cool for school, you like there is a test for whether we are inviting these guys over for dinner at our house.
I happened to repeat my observation after Werth came back and the same guys showed up. Here, you do a throw away line like "Both Turner and Werth are going to start barring some sort of craziness and the crowd doesn't even respond. It is a throw away line because anyone who has followed the Nats knows he is one of the clubhouse leaders, which was my point.
Where is the too cool for school guy? How come he gives you a pass?
On a more relevant matter the Cubs are starting to heat up. They are scoring runs in bunches but their pitching remains substandard. Our pitching has been excellent but the power and run scoring is down as you noted. Great pitching vs great offense. That is what playoffs are about. Dodgers look human the past week.
Sometimes it is all about who has the big Mo going into the playoffs.
As to bone bruises, they take one to six months to completely heal so Bryce still being out is not unexpected. He has four and a half weeks to get healed. No one knows if he will be back so don't worry about what you can't control. Great players can do incredible things at crucial moments. Bobby Thompson and Kirk Gibson come to mind. If you need to worry about something, then worry. It is not going to change the outcome.

Jay said...

Am I the only person that thinks Harper is back in 2-3 weeks no matter what. Sitting him bc we have a huge lead is one thing. Sitting him out of the playoffs is quite another. I could definitely be wrong, but Dusty talks about "hero time" and stuff. I just don't see Harper sitting out of the playoffs. He might not be nearly as effective, but Harper at 80% is better than anyone else we put out there.

On an encouraging note, it looks like Turner is rounding into shape. That's a big deal. Second, Zim should not be hitting 4th imo. He's back to bad Zim. Oh well.

G Cracka X said...

'bad Zim' went 2 for 3 with a walk and a team-leading 30th HR of the season today. Strong day aside, he has definitely cooled in the 2nd half. Who do you propose hit 4th in his place?

Ole PBN said...

I demand an investigation of the people who respond to you." - Anonymous

Step right up there, chief.

Jay said...

I agree Zim has cooled off. My worry is that he is now hitting a lot more like last year than like April and May. Here are his lines by month for the year. avg/obp/slg

April .420/.458/.886 - player of the month
May .319/.363/.543 - still a great month
June .283/.323/.467 - still a great month in my book
July .234/.282/.455 - not good but look at the prior 3 months
August .233/.343/.433 - pretty similar to July

I saw something in the Post that he has hit like .220 since early June but I can't find it (that sounds too low to me). I also saw that his exit velocity has remained the same but his launch angle is now the same as last year (I'm sure of that bc Boz keeps bringing it up). Hopefully, he gets hot and helps carry the offense. Everyone has been off since Harper got hurt. Daniel Murphy had some of the worst at bats this weekend that I've seen from him. Rendon isn't hitting as well either. They scored 8 runs in 4 games off the Brewers. 2 of those in the 9th inning losing 7-0. They did beat up on the Marlins, but in the weeks before that the offense wasn't so great. I realize that Dusty will never move Zim at this point.

And to answer who should be hitting 4th - I'd go with Rendon. Having written all of that, they are still having a great year. I'm looking forward to the playoffs. We'll see what happens.

G Cracka X said...

All good points. I would like to see the offense get back to scoring runs more in line with the talent they are rolling out.

How do you feel about the Clutch stat? I think some people think it is completely flukey, vs. others think that 'Clutchness' is a skill. I notice that Zim has a career Clutch of 2.02, with .7 of it coming in the last 5 seasons. Rendon's clutch over the past 5 seasons is -2.92. I'm not sure if this means anything in regards to moving Rendon to 4th or not.

G Cracka X said...

By the way, interesting Boz article about Gio Gonzalez (arguably the most under-valued Nat). It seems that Matt Wieters might have had a role in Gio's improved season this year. If true, it makes me re-think Wieters' value to the team this year.

Nice stuff from Gio this year: Per Boz, 21 of out 27 starts have been quality, and he's gone at least 5 innings every outing. Looking forward to seeing if he can sustain this type of success in the postseason and next year.

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