Nationals Baseball: First Pla... DAMMIT METS

Wednesday, May 30, 2018

First Pla... DAMMIT METS

The Nats are soaring. The Braves are also doing well and the Nats can't quite catch them...but that hardly matters as there are still over 100 games to go and there are H2H games coming up in about... 36 hours. Catch them or not tonight, they will be close enough that a series win against the Braves will put the Nationals in first. They control their destiny this week.

Jeremy Hellickson has had another good game and it's shocking honestly. His walks are less than half what they were last year and well below his career average. His homers are less than half of last year (a third actually) and well below his career average. It's not just a fluke though as he's keeping the ball down and getting ground ball after ground ball which the defense* is gobbling up. He's getting first pitch strikes as well which keeps him in control. It's as simple as that. Pitching 101 you might say. 

Is there any changes to what he's throwing or where? Yep. He's mixing in a lot more off-speed stuff, throwing his fastball barely more than a third of the time (usually closer to 50%) and throwing the curve a quarter of the time, almost double what he usually did over his career. Both these pitches have been very effective this year. Most of those curves are going to lefties and he's hitting his spot (low and inside) over and over. Same sort of thing is going on with RHB. He's throwing what he usually throws (sinkers in) and this time in about the same amount, but he's hitting his spots.

Are there any signs this will come crashing down? Well not crashing but there is a high LOB% (85.2%) which unless you believe Hellickson has learned to bear down a decade into his career will drift back to normal.  So he will give up more runs and some of those ground balls find holes. But his BABIP is usually pretty low so you aren't necessarily expecting it to jump much.

Oh, the whole "third time through the order" thing, maybe there is something to it but he wasn't good the second or even first times through the order in most of his recent years. I guess thinking you aren't going deep can change how you pitch but I think he's simply pitching better.

Eventually it's likely that his control, which seems pinpoint this year will get a little out of whack. It's what his entire career tells us. But until that happens Hellickson can take the pitching basics, get ahead, keep the ball down and on the ground, and have success. 


*minus Murphy and Zimmerman - when you wish to have them back you get the whole package which includes two pinball bumpers that you hope the opponents hit the ball at in the field.

27 comments:

Johnny Callison said...

Just a thought and probably one that makes no sense at this point. Would the team benefit from putting Murphy at first, Difo at second, and Adams in left? Murph no longer has second base range and his future is probably as first base/DH in the AL. I get that it would mean Murph learning a new position, and bumping a productive Soto for Adams. But Zim is so limited defensively now, and with Murphy recovering from knee surgery, I wonder if playing second will be harder for him now. At least second base would have a good glove, and Murphy may be as good or better at first than Zim now is.

Johnny Callison said...

By the way, Mets fans at the SB Nation "Amazin' Avenue" blog are really funny, sarcastic, and cynical, "celebrating" the Mets' two recent BP meltdowns, where they failed to use their closer in two key situations (one a save situation, the other a tie game in the ninth--they used a rookie with a 7 ERA--it's now up to 10!) in a way only New Yorkers can. They are very pessimistic about their team's chances, and have somehow found the humor in it. Very New York.

It's great that the Nats have convincingly passed the Mets, caught and just passed the Phillies, and all but caught the Braves. Great month of May. Fantastic starting pitching. Let it continue!

Kurt Stahl said...

I'm very curious about what will happen when Zimm returns. If Dusty was still managing, there is no doubt that Zimm would go right back in the lineup because of how loyal Dusty was to veterans. I feel like Davey puts more stock in hot players like Adams and Reynolds rather than trying to get back to the opening day lineup.

G Cracka X said...

Is Hellickson the best #5 starter in the league, or at least in the NL?

Johnny Callison said...

Rizzo misses once in a while, no doubt, BUT: Lind, Kendrick, the Firm of Kintzler-Madsen-Doolittle, Matt Adams, Hellickson, and now (maybe) Collins and Miller. At the very least, he now seems to realize that you don't just wait for the BP to improve, you keep tinkering. It's great that they have Doo and Kintz (team option) already for next year, so that headache will not be a migraine (there will always be tinkering).

But I also just wanted to note the following: Austin Voth, Austin Adams, Adam Lind, Matt Adams, Matt Reynolds, Mark Reynolds (not to mention MAT, Madson, and MASN). I try to explain a game to my wife and she just stares into space when I say what seems to be the same name several times.

Anonymous said...

Perhaps Zim can go in for the full 20 days worth of minor rehab and get the Spring Training that he never bothered with done, and by then the situation will have worked itself out?

Harper said...

JC - If Adams keeps hitting yes- but he's a terrible OF.

I've found Mets fans to be insufferable winners (like pretty much all fans to be honest) but great losers. Somehow able to have fun with fatalism rather than say the old Red Sox.

Rizzo is one of the best dealers, FA signers in the majors EXCEPT when it comes to cheap young relief talent. Not a great drafter but makes up for it by dealing for young guys. He's one of the best and the fact he has to keep working on 1-2 year deals is silly.

KS - injury return gives Martinez the platoon option - "I'm slowly working him in!" That'll be the start. Of course that means Reynolds is out but Zimm isn't going to become a bench player.

GCX - In terms of performance so far - Without looking - Yes. (let me check houston... Yes again - but you'd rather have McCullers)

Shawington said...

Harper, you really think we'll dump Reynolds to bring Zim back? When Zim, Murphy, Eaton, and Goodwin are back, I think our bench (minus catcher) is Difo, Adams, Reynolds, and one of Goodwin/Soto/MAT (with another of those starting). Have to keep Difo, as he is only MI backup. Adams is raking. Reynolds wouldn't clear waivers, so dropping him from 25-man means losing him (I think, as I said yesterday).

So only real decision, it seems, is whether to keep Goodwin or Soto up. Goodwin has an option year left.

Injures may, of course, may make these decisions easier.

BxJaycobb said...

Harper: have you changed your view of whether Soto can help the team this year? Obviously only like what 10 games, but still. He’s impressive thus far. Frankly I am most compelled by his K/BBs. Suggests he’s not overmatched and likely WONT be overmatched (I’m curious how the other teenagers we have discussed have performed in that way....I.e. whether they have struck out more, etc.)

Ole PBN said...

Here's how Soto has compared to the other 19y/o debuts through their first 9 games...

Wilson Betemit: 3 AB | 0 H | 0 2B | 0 HR | 0 RBI | 1 SB | 2 BB | 3 K | .000 BA (0.400 OPS)
Jose Reyes: 35 AB | 8 H | 2 2B | 1 HR | 11 RBI | 1 SB | 0 BB | 4 K | .229 BA (0.651 OPS)
BJ Upton: 33 AB | 12 H | 2 2B | 0 HR | 1 RBI | 0 SB | 1 BB | 9 K | .364 BA (0.824 OPS)
Justin Upton: 31 AB | 9 H | 3 2B | 1 HR | 4 RBI | 0 SB | 3 BB | 7 K | .290 BA (1.030 OPS)
Mike Trout: 30 AB | 4 H | 1 2B | 0 HR | 2 RBI | 0 SB | 3 BB | 8 K | .133 BA (0.379 OPS)
Bryce Harper: 30 AB | 9 H | 6 2B | 0 HR | 3 RBI | 1 SB | 5 BB | 4 K | .300 BA (0.905 OPS)
J. Profar: 17 AB | 3 H | 2 2B | 1 HR | 2 RBI | 0 SB | 0 BB | 4 K | .176 BA (0.647 OPS)
Juan Soto: 28 AB | 11 H | 3 2B | 1 HR | 3 RBI | 1 SB | 5 BB | 5 K | .393 BA (1.092 OPS)

I like this kid.

Anonymous said...

BxJ: right now Soto is running a 15% BB rate and a 15% K rate. Both numbers are in range of his minor league numbers, though his BB rate has typically been a little better than his K rate. Right now, the projection systems project him to have an 8.7% BB rate and a 17.4% K rate going forward. The latter, I buy: a lot of guys' K rates jump at the big league level. The former seems implausible: he's never had a BB rate near that low in any extended stretch.

Still, I don't think we can criticize the projection systems as being light on Soto. Steamer has him as a 120 WRC+ player going forward. Bryce Harper at 19 had a WRC+ of 121, with a BB% of 9.4 and a K% of 20.1. His K/BB minor league numbers were mostly worse than Soto's - higher K rates and lower BB rates.

Soto hit 3 balls at > 100mph last night, and two of them were > 110mph, so he clearly has power. I think he has more "doubles power" than "homerun power" like Harper has, but I see nothing in his performance to suggest he's not going to continue being an above average hitter. 120 WRC+ for a teenager *seems* outlandishly high, but nothing in Soto's performance so far suggests it's unreasonable.

Even when Eaton and Robles come back, Soto is probably one of the three best outfield hitters the Nats have in the organization. If you're going to play the three best outfield hitters - Soto, Eaton, and Harper - how does this affect your defense? I'd be inclined to move Harper to CF and play Soto and Eaton at the corners. I think many of Harper's problems on defense stem from issues at the wall, and there are fewer walls in CF than in the corners. I think his speed remains fine and he could be *ok* in CF. But there would clearly be a cost on defense of playing the best three OF hitters. Does the gain in hitting outweigh the cost in defense/baserunning? If the player being replaced is MAT, the answer is almost certainly yes because the hitting gain is so large. Once Robles is healthy, the answer is less clear (though I think the Nats should give Robles plenty of rehab ABs to prove he is indeed healthy). Regardless, I think the OF needs to be Soto-Harper-Eaton after Eaton comes back. MAT could spell Eaton on a regular basis (and move Bryce off CF when he plays) and could play if you want to sit Soto against a tough lefty.

I might feel differently if the Nats weren't in a close division race, but all the games matter. The best guys need to play, and I think Soto is one of the best guys until proven otherwise.

mike k said...

Zimmerman hit .303/.358/.573 last year. We know he can hit great when (read: *when*) healthy. I don't care about his WAR due to defense in this scenario because Reynolds' dWar was just as bad last year with a much lower oWar (baseball reference). Mark Reynolds has 34 at bats this year and everyone is already complaining he's so much better than Zimmerman and he should be the starter (with Adams) going forward when Zimmerman gets back. Please. If Reynolds is still hot when Zimmerman gets back (might not be), then someone else will get demoted. Or someone else might be hurt. Or Reynolds might not be hot anymore. Lets see where we are after 150 at bats before I'm so worried Zim is gonna steal Reynolds' at bats.

Ole PBN said...

Mike - 150 AB's? With regular playing time, that's 40 games away at least... probably more like 50-60 if Matt Adams is going to play. Do you really think Zimmerman will be out until after the All-Star break? Zimm will be back before then, and I'm sensing Reynolds will be the guy demoted (and he won't clear waivers). Reynolds has the same AB's as Soto, but we're all in on the kid, not the vet? To me, Reynolds is a better Ryan Zimmerman. I think Zimm's 2017 was a complete fluke, and for whatever reason (call it health, call it lack of preparation by skipping out on ST), he's showing us it was a fluke by how he's played through 3x as many games as Reynolds.

Mark said...

I haven't heard any fans screaming that they are paying their hard earned money to come see Ryan Zimmerman play first base and hit into double plays... I just don't see how a sabermatically minded manager pulls the Reynolds/Adams platoon for Zimm as long as they continue playing like they have been.

blovy8 said...

If Murphy comes back soon, things are easier to figure. Then you're not stuck using a spot for a MI backup like Sanchez. Difo is pretty versatile.

As great as he's been, I think the odds are that Soto will go down when Eaton comes back. But while a Goodwin/Taylor platoon in center could certainly be less palatable than Eaton, Soto, or Harper playing there, I just doubt Martinez will do that. The odd thing about the roster is the lack of a power RH on the bench. If Taylor keeps starting, it kind of plays into Reynolds sticking around for a while somehow as long as he's decent especially if he can fake 3rd once in a while. You don't want to wear Rendon out either.

Anonymous said...

Mark Reynolds's WRC+ since 2012: 94, 87, 98, 101, 104, in 100+ games each year. He's a league average hitter. He's not going to be better than that even though he's on fire right now. He is mediocre year after year. That is what he is.

Ryan Zimmerman's WRC+ since 2012: 124, 120, 106, 67, 138. One of those years is clearly an outlier. Ryan Zimmerman is, simply put, a much better hitter than Mark Reynolds. He was, however, terrible for one entire season, and he gets hurt a lot, so he's a risky player. But he's better than Reynolds: they're the same age and they play a nothing defensive position. When Zimmerman comes back (and I'm in favor of that taking longer than it otherwise would if Reynolds remains hot), we say goodbye to Reynolds and thank him for a job well done. I just don't see how a sabermetrically minded manager could possibly think Reynolds is going to be anything other than league-average with the bat going forward.

And comparing Reynolds to Soto is insane. Reynolds has an enormously long track-record of mediocrity. He did not all of a sudden get better at age 34.

mike k said...

@old pbn - Yes, I do think you need to play at least 40 games before you prove you're a better hitter than you've been your entire career. In fact, it's probably a bit low. I will admit that the Nats will have to make a decision before that time, but I really hope they won't let under 40 games influence that decision *in the long term* too much. However, like I've been saying - if Reynolds is still hitting when Zim comes back, then the Nats should keep him. You can get by with one IF and one OF on the bench with Adams, Reynolds, and Kieboom, at least for a bit. So I'm not saying demote him 100% no matter what...but yea he's going to lose playing time to the player who's been a better hitter almost every other year of his career.

Also, I don't think Reynolds and Soto is a fair comparison, at all. Reynolds is 34 and has been in the league for 12 years. Soto is 19.

I mean, if you want to argue that if Reynolds is still hitting like this when Zim gets back he shouldn't lose too much playing time to Zim, then ok, I might disagree but I think you have an arguable point. But to say that Reynolds is an overall better hitter and will be moving forward...c'mon man. It's not even close.

@Mark - I think any "sabermetrically minded" manager sees Zim has been the better hitter for the last 12 years and won't have him lose his job over 34 at bats.

@Anon - yea! You tell 'em!

BxJaycobb said...

Just a few words of caution here on nobody gets better at age 34, etc. I generally agree with you and you are almost certainly correct that Mark Reynolds is not capable of having a career year at age 34. Thing is, the live ball/launch angle stuff has changed things. Players more than ever before are becoming different players at ages that they NEVER would have had a breakout after such a long track record in the past. Take Markakis as an example. Also 34 I believe. He is having easily his best season ever after like 8 years of being a slap singles hitter. Now he is walking more and hitting for power. (Yes i understand Markakis had some great years in Baltimore a long time ago). Murphy also became a totally different player at an age that NEVER used to happen. Kurt Suzuki appears to have transformed himself as an offensive player as a guy in his 30s. Folks all over baseball are using the statcast launch angle, contact rate, exit velocity, pitch type data and making changes they didn’t used to. So yes. Mark Reynolds probably should not be the RH platoon over Zim. That said, I would add two caveats: (1) Zim has been an unplayably horrible player VERY recently. Only a year ago. He also has been great. He’s entirely capable of hitting like the worst 1B in baseball.
(2) He already IS the worst fielding first baseman in the NL by every metric (that play that Reynolds made on a grounder throw home that saved a game recently in Miami? Zim is physically incapable of that play. Same on a DP ball it to 1B. He also has horrid UZR range. He is a liability defensively. Reynolds is an average defender. What I’m saying I suppose is this. When Zim is fully healthy (and I don’t buy that he was in ST. That never made sense) he should come back and play against LHP, but LHP only. I think we should focus our ire on the possibility that he plays over Adams against RHP too. Because knowing the nats devotion to Zim, that is a possibility. But Reynolds can play 3B too. If there is some way, any way to keep him on the roster I would. As insurance against Zim being hurt or terrible. He’s also a hell of a “we need a late homer bat” to bring in late.

BxJaycobb said...

I have to say. I think soto is staying. Eaton has been practicing in LF and also CF. And Martinez clearly thinks incredibly highly of Soto. He messed with the lineup in the midst of a huge win streak to make the kid the lead off hitter. The other nats players clearly are obsessed with is ability. I frankly don’t think it would be great for morale in the clubhouse to send somebody who is playing this incredibly well back down to continue playing a guy who will have trouble getting his OBP above .250. Also, evaluators like Keith Law have said that Soto given his great speed is capable of handling CF. I predict he stays, unless he goes into a slump.

BxJaycobb said...

I mean we haven’t hurt anything about Zim doing anything. I wouldn’t be surprised if he’s out easily longer than Eaton and Murphy. Maybe late June return.

BxJaycobb said...

Couldn’t agree more with all of this. Although I will note that I could see Soto being better in CF than Harper. I wouldn’t play Eaton there. Let him stay in a corner. But I totally agree on your Bryce theory. His speed is undiminished according to statcast. It really does seem like a comfort/worry about injury and walks thing.

BxJaycobb said...

Regarding Soto’s power, he crushes the ball as hard as 19 year old Bryce clearly. Just from watching him I thing he has less loft in his swing, leading to more got shot ground balls and line drives and fewer moon shots, so I agree he may be more of a high AVG tons of doubles, but 20+ homers guy. Whether he’s a 40 homer monster who knows. But i do like in this age of the shift that he sprays the ball all over the place. It seems very tough this day and age to hit for high average if you pull everything

Josh Higham said...

Soto's single last night was a thing of old-school beauty. Gets behind in the count and goes into that deep crouch and chokes up, fouls off several pitches, then pokes a ball the other way to drive in a run. It was lovely to watch. I have been trying really hard to keep my expectations in check, but I love Juan Soto.

Jon Quimby said...

I agree Josh. That at-bat was brilliant. I also watched him take BP and warm up before the game at Camden Yards last night. The kid has natural power and a mature approach. I should have paid more attention to his instincts in the field, but I was too busy being in awe of Max.

Andrew said...

For all those saying Zimmerman shouldn't play, a look at his platoon splits is illuminating. Against left-handed pitching he's hitting .324/.405/.541 which is by a big margin the best on the team for anyone with a decent sample. LHPs have been a huge weakness of the team this year, so having him platoon with Adams actually likely would be the best bet.

When comparing him to Reynolds, it's also worth noting that the last time Reynolds could sustain decent hitting outside of Coors Field, Bryce Harper hadn't even played a Major League game.

Mark said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Mark said...

Anonymous mike k said...

I love you guys that take a players 12 year "track record" and declare them a good player based on the average, even when the player was really good 6-12 years ago and progressively got worse every year. Pujols is the worst hitter in baseball, McCutchen isn't very good any more either. Yes, they were great 4-5 years ago, but they are now hurting their teams but lets keep throwing them out there because of their track record.