Nationals Baseball: Monday Quickie - Sweep

Monday, May 14, 2018

Monday Quickie - Sweep

If I want to state my feelings right now about the Nationals it would come down to three factoids

The Nats have gone 12-2 in their last 14 games.
The Mets have gone 4-10 in their last 14 games.
The Nats are still not in first place. 

The Nats have picked up 8 games in 14 games on their presumed main competition. Rather than a slow two-month slog back to topping the Mets the Nats have placed themselves where they thought they should be relative to New York in just over two weeks. That's amazing. Yet the Nats are not only not in first place, they are in third place and are at least two games away from being in first place. That's surprising.

This is a perfect immediate example of the warning we talked about earlier. The Nats can catch one team. In fact it would be expected. Catching three teams? That's a lot harder. The Nats just went 12-2. To not just pass but to put real space between them and the Braves and Phillies by the end of the month they'll likely have to repeat that.

This all sounds negative - but really the Nats are having the problems I expected in mid June in mid May. So that's great. The more time to come back the better, especially when you think you have the better team.


Do the Nats have the better team?... probably! Although relying on Matt Adams (he's good - not All-Star), Mark Reynolds, Andrew Stevenson, Wilmer Difo, Pedro Severino, whatever is this messed up mess that is MAT... well that's why you score 8 runs in the four games prior to last night. But having Max, Stras, Roark, Gio, Doolittle, Kintzler, Madson, Kelley for the oh-so-brief windows of health, that's why you hold teams to 5 runs in the FIVE games before last night. If the Nats don't get out of kilter with some odd short starting performances, or extra-inning games and get a few rest up days off (like they have 3 between now and the 25th), this is a recipe for winning. Not 12-2 winning of course, more like 8-6 winning which may not seem like a lot but that's a 92-93 wins pace.


Things we'll talk about this week :
- Adam Eaton - Comeback Player of the Year 2019
- In the long run do we just stick Matt Adams in LF?
- Trea Turner's Walking Machine
- What IS up with MAT?
- Anyone remember Brian Goodwin?
- Max Scherzer, now officially best pitcher in baseball
- Sean Doolittle, now officially in talks for best closer in baseball
- How the Hellickson is he doing this?
- Shhh Don't tell Roark he's not this good
- So... still rolling with this pen huh?

44 comments:

JE34 said...

Can we add to the list?

-- Is base stealing without elite speed statistically stupid?

BxJaycobb said...

Harper:
Re Matt Adams: Ideally, the Nats second half lineup is Robles in CF, Eaton in LF, Bryce in RF, and a Zim/Adams platoon at 1B. So that’s LONG RUN. Short run? Yeah. I have Adams or Reynolds “play LF” depending on matchups because we need the bat. Once Murphy returns, maybe we don’t need the bat.
MAT: does something have to be “going on”? He’s a terrible hitter who can’t make contact. He always has been. He’s not even striking out more than usual. He didn’t strike out LESS than usual last year. If you K 30+% of your ABs and have neither huge power nor BB skills, you’re not good enough to start in the major leagues. This is why I said over winter the obvious move is to trade him for whatever you could get following his largely luck and BABIP-driven 2017 (again, Chelsea Jane and Boz can write that he “cut down on his strikeouts” and “made more contact” until they’re blue in the face....that never made it true. This is what he is. A sub .300 OBP guy who occasionally is a .200/.250 guy. He can’t play every day. It’s not super complicated. But until Goodwin comes back or Robles is healthy, there’s not much to be done outside of play Bryce in CF (honest to god it’s not the worst idea in the world given the options and personnel right now). But yeah. Rizzo screwed this one up. And it was staring us in the face all winter.
Final point: Bryce can be a strange player. An insanely good player and he’s exactly zero of our problems. But I’ve never heard of somebody who every single year starts out as Babe Ruth the goes into a month+ long .200 AVG funk. It’s also worth noting that (for whatever reason) he has been the worst fielder in baseball this year by fielding metrics. (Literally). For whatever that’s worth. Still. GLAD TO HAVE HIM! :)
On Trea: Been sounding this bell for about 3-4 weeks. His walking is real. And despite not running a ton recently, this guy as a .380-.390 OBP player is a terror. This is a quiet but enormous development for Nats long term. Surprisingly big difference between a crazy-speedster SS who hits .290/.335/.450 and .290/.380/.450.

DezoPenguin said...

So, we get the Yankees this week. The question is, do we get beat outright by them, or instead does God descend from above and hand the Yankees victory through a series of late-inning comebacks? Which variation would you consider more upsetting, the one where we just aren't good enough overall or the bitter taste of "if only!"?

Ole PBN said...

MAT struck out twice last night and grounded out to the pitcher. God. And one of those strikeouts was on a 3-2, 79-mph knuckle-curve that started below his knees and ended up in the dirt. Swung and missed it by a couple feet. The guy doesn't have a clue up there.

PSA: I will continue providing daily blunders by this kid as evidence to the fact that he shouldn't be playing until the team needs are met (i.e. BENCHED).

Anonymous said...

Dezo, judging by our current health and current lineup, no we are not good enough. Yankees on paper are better 1-9. But that's why we play the game. I'd settle for a split.

mike k said...

ooooooh this looks like fun. HOT TAKES:

- Adam Eaton - coming back late in the year. Ankle cartilage is not kneee ligament.
- Matt Adams LF - yes, 60% of the time, until Murphy comes back. Pre-Murphy return: sometimes you put him at first with difo at 2b and Kendrick in left, and sometimes you rest him. Those both combine for 40% of games. Post-Murphy return: probably not.
- Trea Turner's Walking Machine - Yes please.
- What IS up with MAT? - Not a great hitter and he's pressing.
- Anyone remember Brian Goodwin? - I do!
- Max Scherzer, now officially best pitcher in baseball - Yes.
- Sean Doolittle, now officially in talks for best closer in baseball - ehhh let's wait until the all-star break.
- How the Hellickson is he doing this? - Excited to be on a good team? IDK but keep him on a short leash because a regression to the mean will hit hard and fast.
- Shhh Don't tell Roark he's not this good - This happens with him every so often. Honestly he's done it for long enough in the past that I have hopes that it's real.
- So... still rolling with this pen huh? - Won't change unless disaster strikes. Only thing I'm not 100% with Rizzo on.

BX - I don't think you were the only one calling for MAT to be traded. Only problem is: if *we* know that he was smoke and mirrors last year, then other teams know too. You're not tricking other teams into taking a subpar player because he lucked into some hits last year with the most publically tracked non-standard stat that exists (babip) blowing up. I think I've said this in a prior thread - while he's not good, he's what the Nats needed at the time. You're not starting anyone else in CF (Stevenson? Bautista? Eaton wasn't gonna happen after last year), and he's a placeholder for half the year until Robles is called up. Even being a strikeout machine that's still more use to the Nats than they could've gotten for him in a trade, IMO.

G Cracka X said...

MAT has a dip in BABIP. For his career up to this year, he's been north of .300. Obviously, last year's .363 was unsustainable, but he had .311 and .319 the two years before that. This year, its .264. If his BABIP goes up 25-30 points and his power comes back (no guarantee on either), he'll be fine. He's tied for 1st in DEF on the Nationals.

Bryce is 7th-worst in Fangraphs DEF among qualified outfielders, and I agree it is really strange. I know defensive metrics can be suspect in small sample sizes, but this just seems off. He stil has speed and a big arm.

mike k said...

G Cracka - quick baseball reference check shows MAT's line drive rate went down by almost half from last year (and career) and his GB/FB ration almost doubled. So as of now I'd say the dip in babip is real. Doesn't mean he can't turn it around, but it's not just luck.

By contrast, and to support what I said above - neither of those numbers (or his K rate) were different from his career numbers last year, meaning the rise in babip last year was most likely luck.

ocw5000 said...

MAT's BABIP is low but his Soft% contact is way up from 18% the last 3 seasons to 27% this season. So not just bad luck. He's seeing more junk (curveballs and sliders) and swinging outside the zone more and making more contact with stuff outside the zone, which would explain the softer contact. This was all on display last night.

Josh Higham said...

@ mike k Re: Doolittle,

The article that drew lots of attention to the "Doo may be the best" train looks at a much bigger time horizon than just this year. Over he career he's always been good at strikeouts and limiting good contact, but the last 2-3 years he's been phenomenal at it.
https://www.mlb.com/nationals/news/sean-doolittle-may-be-baseballs-best-reliever/c-275690874

Mark said...

The one thing I would bet on is that all of us Nat's fans feel better right now than Dodgers fans.

Jon Quimby said...

Will there be 4 buyers in the NL east this year?

Harper said...

JH - Doolittle's been this good nearly his whole career. What's kept him from being seen as special is 1) a mid-career injury which cost him some games and hurt his performance a little but mostly 2) he's never been a big time #1 closer and we focus on big time #1 closers

cass said...

Even with Michael Taylor's poor offensive this year, he's still been just above a replacement level player.

Probably because:

1) He's produced the most baserunning value in baseball this year so far (Trea is #2):

https://www.fangraphs.com/leaders.aspx?pos=all&stats=bat&lg=all&qual=y&type=6&season=2018&month=0&season1=2018&ind=0&team=0&rost=0&age=0&filter=&players=0&sort=4,d

2. According to Statcast, he's been the best fielder in baseball:

https://baseballsavant.mlb.com/outs_above_average?type=player&year=2018&min=5

If his BABIP reverts to the mean (it's currently 60 points below his career average!), he'll be a fine center fielder and an average player.

The worrying sign? His xwOBA is the lowest it's ever been, so he's not just getting unlucky. He's not hitting the ball with authority. Primarily because his launch angle is way down.

https://baseballsavant.mlb.com/savant-player/michael-a-taylor-572191?stats=career-r-hitting-mlb

Ole PBN said...

The way I see it, and call me old-fashioned, but if you possess the following tools, this is what you get:

- Arm = defensive sub?
- Speed/base running = pinch-runner
- Fielding = defensive sub
- Hit for Avg = starter/pinch-hitter
- Hit for Power = pinch-hitter/starter

Right now, MAT is only providing speed/base running and fielding at a valuable level. That spells "bench player." A great option for late-inning defense and pinch-running. Let me offer the comparison of these two players: Murphy vs. MAT. Murphy is terrible in the field as a 2B, but MVP-level at the plate. MAT is great in the field as a CF, but terrible at the plate. If MAT's offense is equal to Murphy's putrid defense, then why wasn't anyone calling for Murphy to be benched? Actually, people were suggesting moving him around the diamond because his bat is so valuable. MAT can't hit, so what do you do? His defense is not enough to carry him - I am so tired of hearing that as a rebuttal for a terrible hitter. My point is, is that the 5 tools a player can possess are not all created equal. If you can hit, you have a spot on the field. If you can't, you're more likely part of the problem. Name any great fielder and they were a sub-par starter, a bench player, or (in Omar Vizquel's case) a good hitter as well as a great fielder. MAT is missing the key ingredient. Is this so hard? He's benched the day we get healthier or Martinez decides to slide Bryce to CF.

Ole PBN said...

... Brendan Ryan was great as a SS - couldn't hit though. And rightfully so, saw his playing time drop significantly until he was out of baseball.

JE34 said...

It was a different time, but Mark Belanger somehow played 18 seasons with a career .228 BA. 20 career homers... and 8 gold gloves.

I'm not advocating playing MAT every day, unless offensive production at every other spot in the lineup is above average. Which it ain't.

blovy8 said...

I think the bad numbers defensively for Harper are real. He pulls up on a lot of semi-playable stuff now to avoid injuries, just like he won't run routine plays out. Not many guys run on his arm, so the assists aren't there for that. I suppose it's possible he keeps some runners from moving up, but I don't know if that is part of the metric.

Preventing runs is just as important as scoring them. The defense has been good but not so strong that you can start blowing off center field. Stevenson probably deserves to get a few starts in center as long as he's having decent at-bats, but lets not pretend that will make a big difference.

Sometimes it takes a while for a guy with Taylor's tools to whiff his way out of the states and into Japan. The awful thing is that he knows better than anyone what the problem is, and can't stop it.

JE34 said...

One other thought on last night's game: it is staggering how bad Alex Rodriguez is as a commentator. I can't believe ESPN pays him to do that. The ESPN Sunday Night Baseball broadcast crew is straight up awful.

BxJaycobb said...

We have a better rotation. They have a better everything else.

BxJaycobb said...

They could have made Robles their starting CF and kept Goodwin as a safety net. Which is what they should’ve done. All I can tell you is—although I’m sure I wasn’t the only one to say the opposite—-many people were saying Taylor had broken out and wow he could be really good. I wasn’t expecting anything awesome for just him. But you could’ve dealt him + Carter Kieboom for something pretty good.

PhthePhillies said...

Here's another topic for discussion, Harper:
If Reynolds stays on a pace to match his .839 OPS, 30 home run performance from 2017 and Adams continues to do what he has been doing (or at least a more realistic, sustainable version thereof), wher is there a place for Zim on the active roster?
I know it's early to speculate on Reynolds and he played in Colorado, but...

BxJaycobb said...

Right but those years when his BABIP was normal (like .300-.310) he was unplayably horrible. A sub .300 OBP hitter and replacement level. Now he’s worse than that. Like the worst hitter in MLB as opposed to just not close to good enough to be a regular. To be a regular give his defense I would say he needs to hit .250/.300/.410 at minimum. Never done that until last year and won’t this year.

BxJaycobb said...

What I think is fair to say is Doolittle is one of the 5 best closers in baseball without any doubt.

BxJaycobb said...

No. I think either the Phillies or Mets—-I would guess Mets—will fade to a sub .500 team and not buy. But there may be 3 buyers

BxJaycobb said...

Fielding metrics and value is way way way too unreliable to mean anything right now with this sample (really? Mookie Betts isn’t as good a right fielder as Corey Dickerson?). We all know Michael Taylor is a great fielder. But he produced enough value to be a decent starter last year only as a result of luck. That was his ceiling. The entire rest of his career he’s been replacement level. You don’t want to have a replacement level player as an every day starter if you want to be a good team, and the Nats have at least 2, even with everybody heathy (catcher). I just don’t understand why given that robles is ready or just about ready, they didn’t deal MAT and other pieces for a catcher or relief arm etc. At the very least I think now u have to platoon Goodwin and Taylor (once G is back), and see if u can get MAT going by only facing lefties.

Ole PBN said...

"Preventing runs is just as important as scoring them." Are we talking about pitching? Because if not, this is silly.

Who would win this best of 7 series?

A team of Tucker Barnhart, Justin Smoak, Yolmer Sanchez, Nick Ahmed, Andrew Romine, Peter Boujos, Byron Buxton, and Randal Grichuk ... or...

A team of Evan Gattis, Jose Abreu, Daniel Murphy, Jed Lowrie, Miguel Sano, JD Martinez, Charlie Blackmon, and Justin Upton?

Defense is important - just don't over exaggerate it's importance. If you don't score, you lose.

BxJaycobb said...

A sabermetric wizard (i forget who it was...somebody from fangraphs?) broke down player position value this way as a general rule, with the statement that if you can total 40%, you’re a starter. (So if you get on base, you’re a starter, no matter what; if you can hit for power, if you can do anything else you’re a starter; if you can’t hit at all; you better be supernatural (I.e. break the model on the other two) to be a starter.
*Get on Base Tool/OBP (more relevant than hit for average): 40%
*Hit for Power/SLG: 30%
Fielding (including arm): 20%
Baserunning: 10%

And I recall also that he said All stars are 70% or more. And MVPs are 90% or more.

BxJaycobb said...

This is obviously different but related to the 20-80 scouting scale, because it actually WEIGHTS the various tools.
So as an exercise:
MAT is a 30-40, depending on whether you’re giving him some real power. (Marginal starter).
Murphy is a 70. (All star)
Rendon is probably somewhere in the 70-100 range based on whether you really want to say he hits for power (he tops out at 25 homers probably).
Bryce is probably a 70-100, depending on how you feel about his base running and fielding.
Trea is probably a 60-70, depending on how you feel about his power and OBP.
Mike Trout is a 100.
Manny Machado is a 90 probably. Etc.
not a scientific method at all (sometimes a player is superhuman at one tool and it breaks the model. I.e. Turner and Rendon are both fast, but not equally. Bryce and Eaton both get on base, but not equally. Etc. but it’s a vaguely useful tool. This is all to say: yes, fielding is less than half as important as the combination of OBP/SLG tools, but it is also MORE important than base running, etc.

BxJaycobb said...

Blovy8: you’re correct that preventing runs is just as important as scoring them. What you’re missing is they preventing runs is like (jusf ballparking excuse the pun) 85% pitching and 15% defense while scoring them is like 90% hitting and 10% base running....thus whether you can hit is way more important than whether you can play defense. It’s small part of run prevention, albeit not one you can completely ignore obviously. I would add that defense WAS a larger share of run prevention back when strikeouts homers and walks weren’t half of all ABs. Ball is rarely in play now.

Anonymous said...

I love Doolittle as much as anyone, but I fear he may be starting to overdo the “glove half covering the face” schtick. Doing it on the bullpen cart ride in is just a wee tad much.

BxJaycobb said...

Correct. See my above comment. It definitely matters. It’s not close to as important as hitting or pitching (ditto base running). And again, sabermetric has literally quantified value and they weight the “score” they give each tool of a player according to roughly a 40-30-20-10 scale (on base skills, power, fielding, baserunning).

DezoPenguin said...

Nobody called for Murphy's benching (though a fair number of people called for him to be moved to 1B when it looked like Zim was cooked) because the positive effect of his hitting drastically exceeded the negative effect of his defense. This isn't some debate between old-school meatheads who think people who can do math more complex than 2+2 should be shoved into a locker and new-school nerds who don't recognize which end of the bat you're supposed to hold; the statistics agree with the eye test, and it's why Murphy puts up more WAR than Taylor's best season. And if we had somebody who hit like Murphy and played CF like Murphy plays 2B, everybody here would say to run 'em out there.

We don't have that. We have Stevenson, Sierra, and Bautista, three guys who can't field like Taylor or run like Taylor, but do a great job hitting like Taylor. We have an injured Goodwin, who is sub-replacement-level because while a bat like Murphy's easily overcomes poor baserunning and defense, a bat that's slightly above league average doesn't. We have an injured Eaton, who's on the 60-day DL and no one is going to put him in CF when he comes back, anyway. We have an injured Robles, who otherwise would absolutely have been Plan C after Taylor's struggles and Eaton's injury. Harper isn't going to be moved to CF; he's already lousy in RF and we're already running guys like Adams and Kendrick out in LF anyway. It's not likely Soto's going to jump from a handful of weeks in AA straight to the majors.

Maybe Robles will come back healthy. That would be a great outcome, and if Taylor is still running a 52 wRC+ then the solution is obvious. Barring that, the plain fact is that the only place where a replacement for Taylor that represents actual improvement in value to the team--rather than just the emotional comfort of not having the seventh-worst hitter by wRC+ in all MLB among qualified batters--is going to come from is outside the organization by trade.

DezoPenguin said...

...And BxJaycobb basically already said everything that I wanted to while I was typing.

mike k said...

Dezo is right. All this anti Taylor stuff is merely arguing that he's not a starter-worthy player and that defense and baserunning are not enough to be a capable starter if you can't hit. I don't think anyone is opposing that logic, and I certainly wasn't in my above posts. What the anti Taylor analysis is lacking is a better alternative. Stevenson and Bautista are very likely worse. Goodwin is hurt, and I honestly believe there will be a platoon when he comes back if Taylor doesn't fix the soft-contact-on-the-ground problem (his K rate almost certainly won't improve). Robles is hurt and the Nats would rather get a full year from him on the back end over covering 40 or so extra starts this year. Eaton and Harper aren't playing center with Adams and Kendrick manning the sides. And "Taylor + X" would not get the Nats much more than what "X" would have gotten them on its own, because if we knew Taylor was smoke and mirrors last year, so did they.

I too cringe everytime he comes up with runners in scoring position. I still believe he's the centerfielder until people come back and/or Robles' clock resets, and the Nats were right in not trading him.

Josh Higham said...

I'm with Mike K. I'll swear at the TV/radio with the rest of you every time MAT strikes out or grounds out, but Goodwin and Robles are not healthy enough to play, Stevenson has not shown he can hit, Bryce is a bad fielder (or at least is determined to play like one), and Eaton very well might not play again this year, and if he does will not be his former (not very good) center-fielding self. There's always Moises "Thunder off the bat but hitting .140 with no walks or power" Sierra.

There are exactly 0 improvements to be made over MAT now. Almost no one will fight against benching or platooning MAT the second a better option is available.

Johnny Callison said...

I didn't realize Bryce's fielding had dropped so significantly. Wow. If he only focuses on his value as a slugger who gets on base, he ignores an important part of his game. But maybe he can sell that to the FA market and his youth will cover up his defensive weakness for now (meaning the market may ignore this season as an aberration because he still has many years before he's out of his "prime.") The defense could come back to haunt the Nats in post-season. If Eaton comes back full speed (looking unlikely), then the D improves. And if Difo is starting at 2b, that's a plus. But first base and second with Murphy/Kendrick, plus Bryce doing whatever he's doing are hurting the overall D.

BxJaycobb said...

I think Bryce is perhaps figuring that staying healthy all year is more important to both his personal success and the nats success (he is correct on the latter) than being a good aggressive fielder. Although it will affect his stock as a FA if he is viewed as a bad outfielder who will get worse and worse.

BxJaycobb said...

It’s absolutely right that there are no better options available now. But what we are saying is (1) it reflects a misjudgment by FO this off-season and (2) once there are other options, you can’t stick with MAT. And I think many people (including the nats) would/might.

BxJaycobb said...

Yeah this is just not accurate according to reports. Supposedly teams were interested in both Taylor and Goodwin to pair with the Sotos/Feddes/and Kiebooms. And it wouldn’t be unreasonable. Taylor was as valuable as Zimmerman (discussed by some—misguided—people as MVP candidate last year) by WAR. Some were believers in his better hitting. Some weren’t. Not everybody KNEW* he was a .200-.230 hitter. Obviously. If the nats knew that, Taylor wouldn’t be the starting CF on a team trying to win the World Series. And no. It’s not *just* about complaining with no alternatives. Here’s the alternative: the second Goodwin is back, platoon him with Taylor. When Eaton is back, have him or Harper play CF and Adams/Reynolds platoon in corner. Defense is important. But a replacement level player making 3-4 outs every day is worse than sub-par OF defense that comes with plus offense at every position. Then when Robles is healthy and ready, call him up and give him CF. MAT can be a defensive replacement.

NotBobby said...

I think something being overlooked by the MAT haters is that I do not think Rizzo et al just want to throw MAT out there every day like he is now. He was supposed to man CF until Robles comes up. OR (and this is what I think is really overlooked) there was a non-zero chance he could Yadi Molina. Just play great defense long enough to figure out how to hit in the big leagues after seeing enough big league pitching and working with big league hitting coaches. I think Nats were hoping for this. Then trade MAT once Robles was solidified as starting CF and they know what happens with Harper.

But Soto is tearing it up so much that if Harper leaves Soto may just be the starting RF in 2019 or late 2019

mike k said...

What "reports"? Which "blievers"? After a quick search on mlbtr the only thing I saw last year for MAT was that the Nats were trying to trade him in a package to the Marlins for Realmuto and the Marlins didn't want him. The same Marlins that just traded two of their outfielders and are rebuilding, and could definitely use a young, cost controlled outfielder. You're citing WAR like other teams, with professional scouts and GM departments, would overlook what a couple of baseball forum posters are in complete agreement about. I might be wrong - maybe there were some that were actually interested. I still think that, given where the Nats were *at the time* with only Goodwin who can passably play CF (after Eaton's injury) and only needing half a year to build the bridge until Robles, that MAT had value as a platoon option. Then injuries happened. Everyone saying there's no alternative is saying so given Eaton and Goodwin and Robles are hurt. If MAT hit his career babip, that would be fine as a platoon option right now for half the year until Robles came up.

Mark said...

I think management knew MAT had a lot of batting luck last year and that the likely scenario was offensive regression but that they'd give him a shot until Robles hit his service time date, then likely call Robles up and then have MAT be a bench/defensive replacement. That wouldn't have been a bad plan coming into the year, especially if they didn't get any good trade offers for MAT, but all the injuries have blown things up, and MAT hasn't just had ball in play bad luck this year, but appears to have regressed in pitch recognition, plate discipline and solid contact rate and lost power.

Rizzo likes to say he has plans A, B, C, D,... N, so let's see what plan G will be.

Sammy Kent said...

I wouldn't put Shawn Kelley in the same breath with Max, Stras, Gio, Tanner, Doo, Madson, et al. He's at best comparable to Solis, Gott, Grace, and my forever late inning whipping boy Goggles Clippard....and IMHO doesn't really belong in that breath either.

No matter what, we should have kept Ollie Perez.