Nationals Baseball: Putting goals through the paces

Friday, April 27, 2018

Putting goals through the paces

OK so what do we want out of this 10 game stretch? Or really what do I want and how do you react to that? Three vs Diamondbacks, Four vs Pittsburgh, Three vs Phillies.

You want to beat your intradivision rivals at home. That isn't something you can really waver on. That means I want the Nats to take two of three from the Phillies. The Pirates and Diamondback series are tougher to call. The Diamondbacks are one of the better teams in the National League with pitching that's strong enough to carry an offense that's just ok to 90 wins. Normally the Nats are clear SP favorites but in this series the biggest mismatch is Corbin vs Hellickson. Pencil that in as an L and understand they are probably right now better than the Nats and you see 2 of 3 as an iffy proposition even at home. Pittsburgh right now is bashing its way to an above .500 record but it's hard to see that holding up given the only fair starting pitching and the tire fire bullpen. If the Nats are healthy they should handle this pitching and this four game set should feature both Max and Strasburg. Still 3-1 is a lot to ask. If the Nats played 162 games against the Pirates they wouldn't win 75% of the games.

You gotta end up somewhere so I'll say 1-2 vs D-backs, 3-1 vs Pirates, and 2-1 vs the Phillies for a bar of 6-4. A couple notes - first, really I see it more as 4-3 vs the D-Backs and Pirates than those separate series results. Second, there isn't leeway here for a 5-5. That's not good enough for a team that started as the Nats have and is facing the competition it seemingly is. You can't lose a series at home to the Diamondbacks, then split one vs the Pirates and think you are a better than .500 team. You can't go 5-2 vs the first two but then get swept by the Phillies and think you are ok in your quest for a division crown.  6-4 is the bar to get over but it's a bar set on the ground. To go under 6-4 is the dig yourself a hole.

As for the rest of the NL East, let's talk about paces. The Mets have slid back to the pack (as expected - they weren't going to win 110 games) but the Phillies and Braves didn't similarly stumble. Instead of a series of teams for the Nats to catch and pass, there is now one big clump. I've seen some talk about the Nats pace needed and I always like talking about that because I think it's a good way to see the remainder of a season until you get to a couple weeks left.

The Nats sit at 11-14 with 137 games left. Let's say they need... 91 wins.  How good will they have to play to hit that goal? Well simple math tells you they'd have to go 80-57. That's a .584 winning percentage or a 94-95 win pace for the year.  Doable? Sure. You wouldn't say it's a given but that's about the win total we expected from the Nats to begin with. Let's say you give the Nats a 90% chance of doing this.  Great!

But now what are the chances the other teams end up with 92 wins (or more?) and simply beat out the Nationals?

The Mets sit at 15-8 with 139 games left. To get to 92 wins they need to go 77-62, a .554 WP% and a roughly 90 win pace
The Phillies are 15-9.  They need to have a roughly 90 win pace as well
The Braves are 14-10. They need to do a little better, a 91-92 win pace.

Ok so let's say you didn't like any of these teams to be this good. Maybe you give the Mets a 30% chance of doing this and the Phillies and Braves 10% chances each.  Seems pretty good for the Nationals, right? Well

90% chance Nats win enough to get to 91 wins x  70% chance Mets don't get to 92 x 90% Phillies don't get to 92 x 90% chance Braves don't get to 92 = .5103 or 51%

It's a coin flip whether the Nats can take the division in this scenario*.

Now probably it's not really a coin flip.  These probabilities are interconnected. If the Nats are likely to win more the rest of the NL East is likely to win less because some of those Nats wins will come at their expense. But you get the idea. It's not easy even if you really like the Nats and really don't like the other teams. That's why say the Fangraphs playoff odds page has the Nats as only 58% chance of winning the division**. This is reality. This is the hole the Nats have dug I keep talking about.

You can see here how the Phillies and Braves matter.  If it were just the Mets and Nats it would be 63% from the above numbers. Even if you don't like the Phillies and Braves they've banked those wins and now to make the playoffs or win the division they don't have to be as good the rest of the year. They can play closer to what you think they are talent wise so it takes something that looked very unlikely and makes it less so. Enough less so that it takes a chunk out of the Nationals chances. Not a big chunk but a chunk nonetheless.

So bringing it back to this home stand. The Nats do what they supposed to do, win at home at a better than .500 clip, and it starts them down the path they need to travel on to fulfill their end of the bargain up there (and it helps Phillies do their part in not reaching 92). They don't do that and they've just lost a home stand and 10 more games to make it happen.The Nats necessary pace goes up to 95+ wins. Likely one of the teams ahead of them sees their necessary pace go down. The Nats' odds get worse. There's wiggle room but with three teams ahead of you by a few games there is not a lot even this early in the year. The Nats need to start winning like they need to soon*** and this home stand would be an ideal place to start.

*Yes I realize this allows teams to tie the Nats at 91.  Let's just forgive that for now, it doesn't mess with the point.

**Baseball Prospectus has the Nats even lower. I don't buy that. Not that I can't see a Nats below 50% scenario but I don't buy giving the Phillies that big a shot and that's driving their numbers. Especially when they have their playoffs odds move around as much as they have. This looks like something that needs more time to settle before taking seriously. Which I assume they would agree - but then again they put it out now so who knows? 

 *** Or have the other teams start losing!


Anonymous said...

One sticking point I always have with your posts like this one regarding pace:

Baseball statistics (maybe statistics in general?) tend to come in clumps. Teams—good ones and bad ones—earn wins and losses in streaks. Players usually hit home runs and accrue hits in streaks as well. So, of the 94-95 wins we may have expected from the team at the beginning of the year, it’s possible that a chunk of the losses are coming now and we could expect a chunk of wins to come later at something higher than a .584 win percentage. Look at what the Dodgers did last year, for instance. At the end of the year, they had won 104 games. That’s good for a .642 winning percentage. That’s high, but not really unheard of. They went on a crazy tear in the middle of the summer when they went 43-7, good for a .860 win percentage—something that would be impossible if amplified over the course of a season (139 wins). They also only went 12-17 in the month of September for a .414 win percentage. That’s also something that would have been more or less unreasonable to expect from the Dodgers in April 2017 if projected over the course of the entire season (67 wins). The point is that part of the Dodgers getting to a somewhat reasonable, albeit high, .642 win percentage was a .860 win percentage and .414 win percentage.

I agree with you that the Nats have dug themselves into a hole, but I’m not sure how deep the hole is or how hard it will be to climb out of based on what we still don’t know about the team. We can’t know if this early season sample is part of the pre-season expected win percentage of .584 (that naturally would have included hot and cold streaks) or if this is part of some new, worse, trend that the Nats will have to overcome to win the division.


Chas R said...

This is a disturbing and discouraging post. I hate math.

Harper said...

Anon @ 7:22 - that's part of the reason I said I like doing this until a couple weeks left. Once you get fewer and fewer games left variability starts becoming a more powerful factor. A bad team won't go 28-12 but will go 7-3 at some point in the year.

You're right - we don't really know what this 11-14 is until the season ends, but if we take that thinking to the illogical end, every team could come back from any deficit as long as there were enough games left. What's more fair - and probably factored into the playoff odds that I linked, rather than my back of the envelope work - is that we use what happened to inform our pre-season notions and make our best guess from there. So if you like the Nats at 95, Mets 88, Phillies 82, Braves 78, now you might think that should have been Nats 93, Mets 91, Phillies 88, Braves 84 and you use that new baseline to look at the year that remains. It's imperfect but the other way is just throwing up your hands and saying we know nothing. That's tempting but more often than not this way works pretty well. I think that's the key. we get thrown by exceptions rather than noticing that the rules are pretty solid.

For the Nats in general I still think they are a 94-95 win when healthy and this 11-14 is a reflection of injury mostly. Because of that I think it more likely to "stick" as opposed to being just a bad run for a 95 win team. Could they catch enough hot vs cold to get to 95? Sure. But I think it's just as likely they catch enough cold vs hot to drop below 88. So I stick them in the middle.

I'm far less certain about the Braves and Phillies which is what I'm concerned about.

Ole PBN said...

I think there are too many variables to make any predictions with our current health (which is no fun, I know). But what's the track record on a banged up Eaton and Murphy? Trea is walking a lot more, so what does that mean? Rendon will be alright, a healthy Bryce is predictable, Zimm's 2017 season was an anomaly. Taylor is predictable and so it Wieters. All together, assuming everyone comes back healthy, doesn't guarantee success. I would expect some growing pains for Murphy when he returns, and Eaton - who knows if he can stay on the field? Thus opening the door for more unpredictability. There are a lot of up and downs here and very few sure things (positive or negative). Our situation really sounds like what Mets fans have been saying for the past few seasons. "Oh if only we didn't have so many injuries." I'm of the opinion that sometimes injuries don't only detract from team success because of the time lost to injury, but the negative impact that player sometimes has when he returns from injury. The time missed in ST is huge for a lot of guys, so is a banged-up Murphy with thrown-off timing really better than Difo? Sounds crazy to think, but I'm not so sure. We've already dug ourselves into a hole and now rely on a lot of factors outside the normal levels of control to bring us back up: Braves/Phillies/Mets have to lose, injured players have to play better, bullpen has to not suck. Tough task if you ask me.

Johnny Callison said...

It was a mistake to assume that the Mets wouldn't recover their health (and benefit from adding a few pieces and moving Harvey out of the rotation) and that one or both of the Phillies would suddenly improve. The Phillies looked potentially dangerous to me with Hoskins emerging late last season, and then the addition of Arrieta and Santana.

That was why I thought the Nats should do at least one big thing to improve. Either improve a strength by adding a good starter (I had mixed feeling about Arrieta, but the kind of contract he signed with Philly would have been okay with me) or fix a weakness like catcher. And they pretended they were bringing back the same late in the season improved BP, but they weren't because they let go of super-solid Albers. I had thought he must've wanted too much money but his contract with Milwaukee made me think Rizzo just didn't appreciate what he had.

So: Black hole at catcher, terrible fifth starter, iffy BP, Zim/Taylor regression and bad luck with injuries (Eaton, Murphy, Robles, Rendon), PLUS three division rivals improving at once! Throw in a rookie manager and you are six games out in the loss column about 1/6 of the way through the season. Improvement of Mets or Phillies was predictable, I think. Braves, not so much, and I expect them to regress. But at least one or two of the three teams ahead of the Mets will probably stay good. As for Murphy, I think Rizzo thought signing Kendrick was enough to replace him for awhile, but I think that hurts the Nats' depth elsewhere. Robles would have been the replacement for Eaton, and so his injury adds to the pain.

I think the Nats have a reasonable shot at the post-season due to the two wild cards. But they have got to stop thinking they will assume their rightful position pretty soon; they aren't as good as we thought due to depth issues (and BP) and the Phillies are here a year early and look for real. Got their work cut out for them.

Johnny Callison said...

Sorry for the typos--didn't get much sleep. My youngest is sick.

Harper said...

But your youngest is probably no younger than 45 and you're a ghost so you can't be tired.

I think health and improvement were assumed. But the Mets were 90/87 wins when healthy and the Phillies could improve by 15 games (which is huge) and still only be .500. So you can see why they might not think a big move was necessary. The chances that three teams would be playing at 95+ win paces 4 weeks in didn't seem reasonable. But baseball is crazy sometimes.

I think the biggest obvious mistake, which probably wouldn't have helped much, was the catcher thing. They knew it was a problem. They didn't have a good answer. And they punted. It wasn't "maybe we'll find a solution" it was "we think we can cover for this"

As of now I think the Nats don't assume anything. They put down their heads. Try to win as much as possible and pick up their heads when they've been told they are there or Memorial Day.

BxJaycobb said...

The problem with all of this is that there’s no indication that the Nats are about to get healthy. They may not have a healthy team for another month. And with the current roster of players that are taking the field, that’s NOT a better than .500 team. So they may need to start winning soon. But I don’t think they’re about to start winning a ton. I also buy the Phillies way more than the Braves. I don’t see where the Braves pitching is going to come from over the long haul of the season, when a lot of younger arms get exhausted.

Cardinal Ximinez said...

health, health, health. that's what it comes down to. Eaton is still not 100% so dont bring him back until he is close enough to 95% that playing at a major league level will make him regress. Rendon? i dunno... xray/mri or whatever was negative. so its a soreness issue. we'll see on the 29th. if he's not back? i'll have serious questions about a few things. i don't want to jump the gun yet. Murph? seems like not enough was done in the offseason to get him ready for April. same i guess can be said for Eaton. i mean afterall, weren't they speculating in Sept/Oct last year that Eaton might be ready for a playoff appearance??? seems to me if he was that close, an offseason would make him brand spanking new. so the rest of the team suffers. Bryce has no protection, so teams effectively pitch around him until his plate approach gets so frustrated and desperate that he's swinging at what he shouldn't. leadoff is hurt with no Eaton and Trea bouncing around the lineup. and the lineup isn't deep at all as a result. it's a doable thing now from an opposing pitcher perspective. so... get our boys healthy and the Nats will be a 60% plus win team. until then? we're mediocre and thats where Davey comes in. gotta get what you can out of what you have

Jay said...

Hope your youngest feels better soon. I agree that the Nats overestimated their chances and underestimated the chances of the Mets, Phils, and Braves. The Nats pretty much figured it was a given they were going to win the NL East. I would have liked to sign Arrieta, especially after hearing rumblings the Phils were going to get him. One you get a legitimate number 3 and keep the Phils from improving.

Can I also just say that Ryan Zimmerman drives me crazy. They beat the Giants Wednesday and the article in the Post is Zimmerman saying its early, no one should panic, everything is fine. Remember the check with me May 1 guy. He has had 1 good year in the last 3 - 2015 .249/.308/.465, 2016 .218/.272/.370, so far this year .188/.261/.375. Granted last year he was great, but in 2016 and so far this year he is one of the worst everyday players in the league.

Anyway, I don't think it is time to panic yet, but it is time to win some games. Another 3-7 home stand would kill this team. They are 8-14 since the Reds series. Its time to wake up, Tuesday is May 1st.

Huzzah! said...


Zim is what happens when an ownership group makes a player "the man" on a team for such a long time. its as though he feels no pressure to perform because he knows that ownership is behind him and will never bench him or cut him. a little accountability might do him some good. id take Fat Adams over him at 1st right now. as far as im concerned he was hot for 3 months last year and that carried his numbers the rest of the season. i remember when Bryce made those shirts about playing hard til the last game in 2013 when they were losing the division to the Braves and when asked about it, Zim said to the press something to the effect of "were all professionals we dont need to be reminded why were playing." it just struck me as an older player with no drive being sour. the nats need more of that youthful exuberance that the Cubs have shown the past few years, not some stoic automaton like Zim.

sorry for the rant but this team is pissing me off and the Caps and Wizards playoff results are not helping my mood lately

JE34 said...

Dave Martinez, do you even manager dude? As the kids say, I literally can't even right now.

How on earth do you put a AAA guy who has a history of wildness into a 2-on one-out tie game in the 10th? Why would you not go right to Torres?

Kenny B. said...

It ain’t happening this year, fellas. The sound you hear is the window slamming shut. Whether it’s injuries, bad luck, whatever, this team seems likely to underperform all year. It’s just not clear to me that a whole lot is likely to change for the rest of the season. There will be good stretches and bad ones, but the mediocrity has been pretty consistent.

JE34 said...

GAH! TAKE A PITCH with the bases loaded and the game on the line! This is basic baseball, isn't it? First pitch hacking by MAT in that situation is bonkers, isn't it? Or am I bonkers? Maybe make an effort to get ahead in the count?

Anonymous said...

This team is devoid of leadership and other than max/bryce and doolittle, players with intestinal fortitude.

Jonathan said...

1-8 in one run games, 2-9 stretch at home with a manager who makes the bad news bears look competent.

Jon Quimby said...

That 1-8 in one run gamesis starting to look like the manager is a problem.