Nationals Baseball: Max - AaaAaaa - Savior of the Universe

Tuesday, April 10, 2018

Max - AaaAaaa - Savior of the Universe

Listening to the first inning, I thought "Man, the Nats fans better appreciate Scherzer because he's possibly the best pitcher in baseball right now and at some point he won't be. He'll either get injured or lose a little on his pitches and suddenly we'll all be grasping at the occasional masterful start rather than the one that happens two out of every three nights".

Then I thought - "Idiot. The Nats fans get this already"

Fans have love affairs with certain players. Max is one of those guys. Nats fans love Max and Max has given the Nats 3+ seasons of the best starting pitching they could ask for.

Hidden by another Scherzer gem last night though, was a team that scored 2 runs. I know I said the offense wasn't a problem and it wasn't, but then Eaton stopped hitting all of a sudden and no one else has stepped up. Bryce has been good. Rendon's been good. Kendrick's filled in well. We'll skip catcher for now as that's been split this year. The other starters are struggling. Who's doing poorly and who's getting unlucky? To the Fancy Stats!

Ryan Zimmerman (.097 / .176 / .194) - Zimmerman's plate stats are a little worse than usual. K-rate is up, his swinging strikes are up, and his BB-rate is down.  But all these combined are not enough to explain this start. His batting stats tell more of a story with his soft hit rate way way up (22.7%) and his opposite field hit percentage being way way up (45.5%). From this you'd guess he's late on pitches and not hitting them well. Almost as if he didn't practice enough hitting real live major league pitching before the season. Huh. Must be coincidental. He's also hitting far more line drives which is usually good but because he's got no power behind them they are melting ropes to the outfield instead of doubles to the gaps. Still even with all these negatives Zimm shouldn't be doing this bad. His .095 BABIP is crazy low.  I'd say Zimm looks like we'd expect a guy to look that didn't really have a spring training. He's not up to speed yet. Zimm should see a bump in average just from his bad luck going away. After that - well it could go either way. Because of the whole fog of ST around him I don't want to say he'll definitely hit once he's ready but the line drive percentages are encouraging.

Michael A Taylor (.176 / .222 / .206) - First thing I want to check with MAT is the K-rate. That's his biggest weakness. Indeed it is up but it's also not that far away from last year. Same with walk rate and his swings and misses. Minor shifts but not explanatory ones, at least for a drop this big.  Unlike Zimm though MAT's .273 BABIP is maybe a little low but not crazy. Put a pin here though. MAT has barely hit any line drives (10%) - instead everything in GBs or FBs and he hasn't been able to hit any fly balls out yet. His pull stats suggest he's behind (usually dead pull hitter - around 50% - is pulling only 36%) and he's hitting the ball a little soft. I kind of see something similar to Zimm, in that MATs time off in Spring Training put him behind and he's trying to catch up. So eventually, probably pretty soon, he'll get to where he belongs. But now back to the pin. MAT had a BABIP of .363 last year . That would have been good enough for 6th in the majors if he played. MAT isn't THAT fast and doesn't hit the ball that hard to think that that's going to continue. MATs going to hit his homers but he's going to hit .230-.240 while doing it.

Trea Turner (.216 / .370 / .297) - Trea has walked a lot this season (9 times already when he walked 30 times last year) So much for putting him in a spot where he would just hit. His BABIP is low (.250) especially for someone as fast as he is who generally beats out GBs.  He's another guy hitting balls away more, but he's also still pulling them.  How hard he's hitting them is the same. Swinging Strikes are down. I guess the one this I see is that despite swinging at fewer balls outside the zone he's making a lot more contact on them. Making a wild guess is that pitchers are feeding him fastballs outside the zone and he's hitting them suboptimally (or just walking). Then again his pitches in the Zone % is only down a hair. This is just a mish mash of stuff which makes sense for 10 games into the year. I think honestly think this is just random fluctuation of stuff making him a below average guy right now but I also think that Trea is more of an average hitter than we want to believe.

Eaton Part Two (.125 / .263 /.188) - At one point Eaton in G3 was hitting like .650 with 2 homers and 2 doubles, but since that moment he's cratered. As this isn't even the tiny 10 game sample (he missed a couple games and part-timed a few) I don't even want to dig into it. Just something to notice going forward.

So a quick look doesn't give me any particular reason to worry. I'm actually surprised by that because just 10 days of stats can throw some funny things at you. I'd expect all these guys to hit better. That's the good news. The bad news is I can't guarantee that when they have ML readiness and get over the luck hump that they'll be actually good. The question of whether Zimm is healthy will linger until he starts hitting. Eaton, who did look ready, faces the same thing now coming off his tweak. I think the expectations for both MAT and Trea are probably a little outsized.

Still if these guys can get back to normal, with Bryce and Rendon hitting as they should the offense shouldn't be a problem. Make it easy Eaton - hit a bunch today and look right.


G Cracka X said...

Good analysis as usual, Harper. My favorite phrase was 'melting rope'. Good one!

Bjd1207 said...

Guys, I'm freaking out a little less

But in all seriousness we've got backup plans for everything that's going wrong (except maybe kintzler). Zimm has until Murphy's return to get right. If he's not by then I expect we'll start to see Howie @ 2nd and Murphy @ 1st, or Difo/Howie if it's a lefty, or more Matt Adams at 1st. Plenty of options there.

Eaton I expect will even out somewhere between week 1 and week 2, which is plenty. And if Taylor can't get it together then as long as Robles isn't out for like 2 months I expect we'll see him sometime in the middle of the summer.

Dmitri Young said...

I wonder if Davey should scrap lineups with MAT hitting after Trea. MAT doesn’t seem able to get down a strike or two while Trea tries to steal.

T.S. said...

I don't understand using BABIP as a measure of "luck." If you're a good hitter, your BABIP will be higher. If not, it will be lower. If you have a lousy hitter who hits nothing but weak ground balls and fly balls to shallow center, how can you look at a low BABIP and say, "that's not sustainable - he's unlucky"? He's not unlucky, he's a bad hitter.

JE34 said...

Even when he was hitting everything pitched to him in week 1, Adam Eaton has been gimpy on the basepaths, clearly playing through discomfort. I hope to see him at 100% sometime this year.

I thought FP had a worthy insight (last night, I think) on Zim, remarking on his check swing on a ball that almost hit him. Zim can't be seeing the ball very well right now. His margin for error is much smaller, given the histrionics in his swing (in sharp contrast with the blessedly simple swing of one Daniel Murphy).

Bjd1207 said...

@ T.S. - It's more that you can use huge deviations in BABIP to indicate luck, good or bad. You're correct that hitters develop a certain BABIP range over the course of their career. Fast guys who hit the ball hard generally have a higher BABIP than slow guys who generate a lot of soft contact (pop ups or infield grounders). Also they tend not to deviate as drastically as real batting averages, because obviously they don't count the worst of the worst (strikeouts) or the best of the best (home runs).

So over the course of a season all hitters will generally fall between .250 and .350 BABIP, with a couple extreme outliers. And if you have a guy that usually falls toward the bottom of that range, say like .275, but this week he's hitting .800 on a .700 BABIP, you can be pretty sure that's an unsustainable "lucky streak" rather than some sign of improvement. Especially if his hard/soft contact %'s stay roughly the same. The opposite is true too, someone with an unusually low BABIP stretch (compared to their career average) is likely hitting some good balls right at fielders. Most baseball people would say you're just getting unlucky, because you can't manage where the hits go after they leave the bat, you just have to do your best to get solid contact.

Josh Higham said...

@T.S. For veteran players, (current BABIP - career BABIP) is a pretty decent measure of luck, assuming the player has not made a major adjustment a la Murphy (or prolonged period of injury, a la Zim). MAT's career BABIP is .330, a good bit higher than the MLB average (~.300), which indicates that he hits the ball harder than the average player and/or runs faster (which both fit his profile), so we use his career BABIP of .330, as the neutral luck baseline, ignoring the league average, which pertains to some average player with less power and less speed).

When his BABIP is .363, like last year, it's likely that was the result of some good luck (but it also draws his career BABIP up, leading to a higher baseline for neutral luck), so we expect him to put up a BABIP closer to .330 moving forward. When it's .297, right now, we expect him to put up .330 moving forward.

If his BABIP is .300 for the whole of 2018, we conclude it was a fairly unlucky year, but also bump down our expectations assuming neutral luck to the future to something like .320-.325.

TLDR: comparing a player's career BABIP to current performance gives you an idea of what to expect in the future. Comparing a player's BABIP to the MLB BABIP gives you an idea of the quality of batted ball and foot speed of the player.

Harper said...

T.S. - BABIP doesn't correlate well between years (guys don't seem to put up close to the same numbers year after year). It bounces around a lot from like .260-.350 with the few outliers. Good hitters see it go up and down as much as bad hitters do. For example

Bryce 2017: .356
Bryce 2016: .264
Bryce 2015: .369

Bryce wasn't suddenly a bad hitter in 2016.

There's some correltation like you say but, generally plodding guys who hit a lot of GBs (late career Lobaton) will have deservedly low BABIPs, and speedy guys will have higher BABIPs but there is a great range from whatever your "true" point would be.

T.S. said...

Thanks, Bjd, Josh and Harper. Harper, this is why I love your site - no better place on the web to learn about stuff like this (at least for a Nats fan).

Bjd1207 said...

LOL at the 3 answers, clearly we love talking about this stuff too...

Chas R said...

I second TS's post

Froggy said...

Two things:
Starting with the setup by Harper and the interrogative from TS to the explanations by Bjd and Josh, that BABIP tutorial was one of the most educational baseball-ly explanations I've ever read. Thanks guys.

And second...
...I'm loving the new home uni's!

BxJaycobb said...

Yeah this is just incorrect empirically. Batted balls in play over a large enough sample are within a given range (usually like between .270-.350), no matter who it is. You could be talking about mike trout or you could be talking about Danny Espinosa. Their lifetime BABIP is probably similar. It’s not about being a good or bad hitter. It’s small sample fluctuation (and yes, sometimes even a season isn’t long enough to get rid of the “luck” factor.) there are crazy outliers for people who are insanely fast as get infield hits like dee Gordon and also for people like aaron Judge who hit the ball INSANELY hard. You’re probably asking yourself “then why do we look at AVG at all!?” Great question. First, we probably shouldn’t look at it as much, since it is affected by luck....that’s why OBP tells you more about skill generally. And second, AVG incorporates bat to ball contact and good hitting more because it takes into account how much you hit homers (raises average) and how little you K (lowers average). So if you don’t K that much and you aren’t insanely slow....guess what! You’ll probably have a higher average! But for somebody like MAT, the reason last year’s higher AVG was a fluke is because his K rate didn’t move. He simply had better luck on balls he put in play

BxJaycobb said...

@harper. According to Chelsea Janes Eaton is probably going on DL with ankle. So yeah. The offense is not gonna be awesome for a while unless somebody wakes up. Something tells me we traded 2, maybe 3 guys capable of being decent starting pitchers in MLB for a guy who will play like 100 games for the Nats for 4 years. (IOW. Depending on how well Lopez Giolito and dunning do—Lopez looks better than Giolito at the moment—we may have traded an extended window for very small returns....or maybe I’m wrong and Eaton has a DL trip returns and is truly 100%. But um. I doubt it.)

Bjd1207 said...

@BxJaycobb - Ya I'm gonna have to disagree with you here. Did you look at your own example? Go look at Espinosa's and Trout's BABIP averages over a plenty large sample size. Espinosa gets above .300 ONCE, while Trout's is below .300 only once, his first year of 40 PA's (twice technically if you count this year).

There are discernable differences between player abilities looking at career BABIP

Bjd1207 said...

Sorry Danny was above .300 twice*