Nationals Baseball: Monday Quickie - The Braves are a threat

Monday, June 04, 2018

Monday Quickie - The Braves are a threat

A third of the season is now passed and the Nats are not in first place. They had a chance to hold onto their one day half-game lead, or expand it, as long as they didn't lose the series to Atlanta in Atlanta, but they did. You'll hear it said they could have easily been swept and that's true, but it's also true that they could have easily won a couple more of these games. Game 1 was 3-2 Braves into the 7th, Game 2 was 0-0 going into the 7th, Game 4 was 2-1 Nats going into the 7th. Yes, the Nats bats weren't doing much (19 hits in 4 games... 41 innings!) but a lucky bounce in any one of those games and the Nats are still in first. The pitching is good enough to beat the Braves and in the battle of the Nats pen vs the high-scoring Braves offense... well the Braves offense won but it was hardly the decisive blowout feared.

This is what we can expect for the immediate future. The Nats have a pennant winning rotation (even with Hellickson hurt) and a good enough bullpen to back that up (and maybe more if Justin Miller can finally be the 1-2 season wonder the Nats never seem to find*) But the lineup is going to struggle against good pitching until something changes. It could be injury returns but I don't think that's enough on it's own. The Nats got Goodwin back but Goodwin is Goodwin - maybe a 4th OF. Murphy was supposed to be the big get but he doesn't look right. Zimmerman and his "oblique strain?" is MIA.  So really we are looking for Eaton to get back to spark the offense and while I like Eaton in the line-up he's hasn't been around long enough to bet on him (1) being good, (2) staying around long enough.

So the Nats also need some hitting help from what's here now.  MAT has finally turned his bat around but Trea Turner, Anthony Rendon, and Matt Adams are mired in some terrible recent slumps. Mark Reynolds is reminding us why he was basically a free pick-up. Severino and Kieboom are not major league hitters and it's looking more and more like Difo is not either, not even from the bench. The latter is important because it means the Nats are often looking at the dreaded "bottom third" issue where the opposing team can dismiss the Nats every third inning. A good offense 1-7 can carry an empty 8th. A good offense 1-6 has problems covering an empty 7th and 8th and if you have a couple guys slumping? Forget about it.

The Nats need guys who are here now to start hitting. Bryce needs to be, not just very good, but a superstar. Rendon needs to be an All-Star. Trea Turner needs to be well above average. Adams needs to right his ship. If the Nats are going to win this division they need to have a complete team and they don't have it right now.

Other thing 
We're starting to get our first Soto data that can be analyzed. The BABIP is high - but not crazy high especially given we don't know where he should be in the majors. He is hitting a lot of GBs and his soft hit % is not low so I'd guess some drop though. His walk rate is impressive (even accepting some pitching around) and his K-rate hasn't jumped too much. Swinging strike rate is low.

The Braves pitched him better than the teams before him. Only 3 hits over the series, though 2 walks and a homer make it acceptable. Three strikeouts isn't too bad, either.

It'll be interesting to see what happens in the next couple of series. Did the Braves have a sense of how to pitch to him? Was is a little BABIP correction? I like to go 2 months before truly evaluating a player for the season, so that means the ASB for a real analysis. So far so good though.

*Doolittle shutting down the 9th, Miller as the unstoppable force, Kintzler, Madson, Collins, Solis as the good enough other guys? That'll work. 

30 comments:

ocw5000 said...

We should proceed with the assumption that Murphy's career is over and act accordingly. Go get Brian Dozier or Yangveris Solarte or whoever. We got 10 WAR out of him for $37.5M that's a bargain. Completely sucks for Murphy but watch that MiLB footage and convince yourself he's playing this year.

mike k said...

I'm actually very happy with how the pen performed. They collectively pitched 15 2/3 innings the last two games and gave up 3 runs to one of the better offenses in the majors. I was screaming (internally) at my TV when Davey picked Roark for the ninth though. His track record in the pen isn't very good. But I'm not sure what else they do in that situation. Was anyone else besides Dolittle available?

Nats' thin lineup is starting to get exposed by good pitching. I was hoping they could stay just good enough until reinforcements come back. With the bench players coming back down, and some starters slumping, and Murphy's setbacks, it looks like that's not going to happen. Hopefully the easy schedule moving forward props the Nats up just enough for them to right the ship. It's definitely a good time for it.

Josh Higham said...

The Kendrick injury is looking a lot more like DOOM than you ever expect for an injury to your backup 2B to look.

Ty Miller said...

It was a real battle between the witless and the brainless.

Snitwit in game 2 managed to burn Winkler and Vizcaino both warming up with a 4 run lead. With a 4 run lead Braves had a 96% chance of winning and hardly needed to warm up their high leverage relievers, much less both of them.

In Game 3 Snitwit “had to rest” Winkler and Viz and pulled McCarthey to put in 5th best reliever in high leverage 7th Sam Freeman who promptly missed his target against Soto. Of course, DM did the stereotypical nonsense of saving Doolittle and got rewarded on Saturday.

However, on Sunday given he did not simply pitch Doolittle in 9th and instead warmed him up repeatedly he may or may not have been able to pitch on Sunday anyway. Not that he has the brains to not save Doolittle for the save. Anyway a relatively fresh Doolittle could have given Nats a chance against Braves in extras.

Not sure why front office analytics departments are not putting in a bullpen manager in charge thus sparing these clubhouse managers the fate of their clueless decision making.

Gabe Roark said...

The bullpen did an incredible job this whole weekend, aside from Shawn Kelley who needs to be abandoned for a better arm. I know the nats hate swallowing contracts but the time has come and better arms are available. The offense is the issue. Im willing to wait until after eaton comes back to see but with murphy looking rough in rehab games im not sure where the offense can really go at this point in season.

Sammy Kent said...

We seem to always have one guy in the bullpen that can't sleep at night unless he gives up a dinger, preferably in the late innings, and preferably in a lead/tie changing situation. Used to be Goggles. He didn't invent the late-inning two-run dinger, but he sure perfected it. Then Trienen. Since he got sent to the As in the Doolittle deal (WHAT A STEAL FOR US!!!!) it's been Shawn Kelley. Actually, Kelley was auditioning for the part even before ol' Blake got his transfer papers. For gosh sake, PLEASE STOP USING KELLEY. His only current value is to go in and mop up in games where we are hopelessly behind.

I wouldn't even use him in games where we are wildly ahead. Let this one soak in a few: four out of every ten hits Kelley allows are homers. We've seen games where even Max or Stras will give up five hits total, but two of them be homers and we lose the game. But those outings are about as rare as a total solar eclipse. How would you like it if they did that EVERY SINGLE GAME? That's Kelley. The radio guys mentioned yesterday that it was only his first official blown save this year. What they didn't mention is that 1. He's been on the DL for a lot of the season and 2. He's entered a lot of games in non-save-blowing situations. I guarantee you that some of those non-save-blowing situations he inherited became save situations after he was done.

Harper said...

Sammy - Tyler Clippard gave up a perfectly normal number of homers. He also, for example, from 2012-2014 only gave up 6 with any runners on. You can keep saying stuff about him but it's still not going to make it true. And Treinen's problem wasn't homers (he gave up fewer than most relievers because he's a sinkerballer) though he did have a slight (and I mean slight) tendency to do it with runners on (6 out of 13 given up total)

Now Kelley is different. His HR rate since joining the Nats is double normal and that includes his only slightly bad at giving up dingers first season. Basically in the past two seasons every 9th-10th batter hits a home run. That means every third time out you should expect a dinger. That's unusable for anything but mop up work and you'd rather have a young guy you hope to do better doing mop-up work. I feel bad for the guy but I agree with you and Gabe - it's time to cut bait

PotomacFan said...

Tanner Roark did not succeed in his relief role, but it's really unfair to require one of your starters to have to pitch in relief. No manager would ever ask Scherzer, Strasburg or Gio to do this (except in the playoffs -- and then only Scherzer could ever pitch in relief). So again, Tanner gets no respect.

For everyone proposing mid-summer trades, please identify exactly what it is that the Nats have to offer for such a trade? Soto and Robles are off the table. I think we have to keep Fedde as a back-up starter (who will now vie with Rodriguez for the 5th starter slot). So, who else do we have that is worth anything? Can draft picks get us a quality player? Do we even want to trade draft picks. Can we trade someone on the team? Gio? Bottom line: I just don't see that the Nats have anything to offer.

cass said...

Treinen has been a dominant closer for Oakland. I wouldn't call that trade a steal.

Seems like a lot of relievers lately have become really, really good right after we trade them away.

JE34 said...

The Nats have lost 25 games.

They scored 3 runs and lost a total of 4 times.
They scored 4+ runs and lost a total of 5 times.

That means they scored 0,1,or 2 runs in 16 of their 25 losses. Generally, the pitching staff performed well enough to win in these games.

What I didn't expect to see: the Nats hitters have the fourth *fewest* strikeouts in the NL, to go with the 2nd most BBs, and the most HRs.

W. Patterson said...

@PotomacFan - You can ask Scherzer to come in and relieve in the playoffs - and we saw how that (didn't) work out. He's a starter for a reason.

Things'll change, I hope, for the better. I've still tickets to games vs the Mets and Phillies. One can hope for good games.

Johnny Callison said...

14 of Bryce's 18 HRs are solo shots, if my count is correct. Seems a bit high to me. I know he's batted with the bottom of the lineup preceding him, but my impression is that he's not doing that well with RISP. Right now he often either hits one out or strikes out. The decline in walk rate and the increase in Ks is worrying me at the moment. He seems to be putting a TON of pressure on himself as he plays for a big contract that might last the rest of his career. Because of that, and his non-stop attempts to brand himself, he doesn't get to relax much, and so he seems to be playing tight. I know his BABIP is due for a correction, but all those Ks and those (recently) missing walks and the so-so defense worry me.

If Murphy isn't himself for the rest of the season, Eaton and Soto are the only "new energy" we have to get the offense going (or Robles if he recovers and Rendon if he ever really gets going). Not promising. Still think Nats get at least a WC just on starting pitching, though. Need Adams to keep producing, too.

Harper said...

JC _ Bryce w RISP - .229 / .467 / .457. 19 BBs in 60 PAs.
Bryce with men-on - .284 / .470 / .507

although maybe looking at May would be a lot different. This is whole year.

Nattydread said...

Hard to be too disappointed after two sweeps and 3 out of 4 close games. Went in 0.5 game up, went out 1.5 back.

Very good fielding. There were some excellent plays out there. Especially MAT and Trea Turner. The team is better defensively than expected. Much better.

Hitting is cold. You have to like Soto, though.

Good pitching beats good hitting.

Over the last 20 games a lot of progress was made. Lets see what the next 20 bring.

Ole PBN said...

To Ty's point made earlier - I think a big issue with bullpen management in general (not just the Nats) is the overthrowing of warm-up pitches in the bullpen. In higher leverage situations, managers signal to the pen to get a pitcher "hot" (meaning he could put him in at any moment. Meanwhile on the field, the current pitcher gets out of the jam and its back to "cool it down." This cycle goes over again and again over the course of a few innings and often times a pitcher will have thrown 30-40 pitches without actually stepping on the field (which adds another 8-10 pitches). I think more emphasis needs to be made to get loose while you're tossing up in the pen and save the full-exertion pitches for your actual warm-up on the field. I have my thoughts that this has been a big reason why Kelley has had some injuries and overall ineffectiveness. I've seen it college and independent ball all the time, and knowing how some of these position player managers attempt at managing a quarter of his team from the other side of the ballpark... it's an issue often ignored/overlooked.

Ole PBN said...

And to add... some people say they need to be "ready" before they get called in to pitch. Then why are we warming up for 8-10 pitches after the pitching change? For those of us that have pitched at lower levels, its not like the game mound is an ant hill or have a super excessive plant-foot hole. These mounds are MLB regulated to highest possible standard, the clay is unbelievable, and the overall quality makes it impossible to not adjust from the very first pitch. Why are we throwing max-effort for 20+ pitches before we enter the game? No one takes that long to get "hot." I'm so tired of seeing this because it burns a pitcher without even using him, and if we do, he's unable to go beyond 20 pitches.

Ole PBN said...

Oh and Bryce needs to be BRYCE or he isn't sniffing $350M in a couple months. I wouldn't give him more than $200 if I were the Nats. That's what Scherzer is getting and he has been arguably the best pitcher on the planet for 3+ seasons with us. Same can't be said for Bryce, who isn't even a top 10 player in the league right now. (hopefully that was enough to ignite a spark?"

Josh Higham said...

Yo Bryce, ya hear that? We're zinging you here on this blog!

Totally agree though. He's still worth a lot in this reduced state, but he's not even close to a transformative or transcendent player right now.

BxJaycobb said...

Suero was available. That’s it though.

BxJaycobb said...

The Doolittle trade wasn’t a steal. Treinen is currently one of the best relievers in baseball (no really....apparently the Nats jusf didn’t know how to fix him), and both prospects sent to the A’s look like possible studs, especially Jesus Lazardo, who evaluators say looks like a top of rotation arm. The trade looks like a good trade for both sides. Not saying I wouldn’t do it again. But we won’t know how it turned out for a while. (Just like when people crowed about the Fister-Robbie Ray trade. Just hold your horses.)

BxJaycobb said...

Carter Kieboom projects as a starting third baseman and is certainly worth something, as is Romero, although his behavior sure has lessened his value. Ditto Goodwin or Taylor (we wont need him anymore in like a week with Eaton and then later Robles getting healthy) and of course our two picks from yesterday. We have pieces to make a deal but would have to use volume.

BxJaycobb said...

Jesus Lazardo looks like a future star as well at the moment. It looks like an even trade, and Oakland may well end up on top.

BxJaycobb said...

What I think is indisputable is Bryce has lost patience. Just guessing: I bet if you look at it he walked as infrequently as he ever has in May (and of course as frequently as he ever has in April). That’s not just rendon returning. The guy has simply stopped taking pitches. And he hits better when he is selective. He just seems to be swinging at everything remotely close. Not sure why, besides he just has thrown discipline out the window. Haven’t been impressed by Kevin Long’s impact on nats hitters. None of our players have improved their offense since last year (you could argue Trea due to being more patient—I’ll buy that). That’s it though. Rendon is worse. Bryce is worse. Zim WAS worse. Taylor is in the tank. Injuries are largely the problem, but still. Rendon and Bryce need to be better. Neither have been bad. But they need to carry the team until Murphy and or Eaton get back.

BxJaycobb said...

I imagine the easiest way to injure yourself as a pitcher is to go from tossing just to get loose to throwing 110% suddenly. I’m sure it’s a balancing act. But if throwing a lot of warm up pitches/overuse is a way to get injured and worn out, then throwing hard when you’re not fully warmed up is definitely a way to do the same (plus be ineffective). As easy as it is to say, these relievers probably know the minimum amount of warming up they require to be ready.

BxJaycobb said...

Nobody in the pen is throwing max effort. Not even close. Have you seen somebody warm up before? They do what they need to warm up. Going from sitting on a bench to throwing 95 mph with pinpoint control is not a journey that can be accomplished in 10 pitches. These guys have done this all their life. They know what is required to not get injured and have their stuff. First you need to warm up your shoulder and elbow and body. That takes pitches. Then you have to practice each of your pitches once you are warm. That can be 2-3 pitches. Then you probably want to move your fastball around. If you do all this at ONLY 70%, what do you think is going to happen when the first max effort pitch you throw is to a hitter? Fans judging this sort of thing is hilarious. Unless we have experience in a major league bullpen we know nothing. I imagine it’s a constant balancing act to throw enough to be read and not too much.

BxJaycobb said...

To be fair, Scherzer is the best big contract performance in a decade and has been worth well north (barring a total collapse) of what we paid him. Bryce doesn’t need to be the best player in baseball to be worth 400m. Trout isn’t on the open market at 25. Betts isn’t on the open market at 25. Judge isn’t on the open market at 25. Correa isn’t on the open market at 25 (yet). Only Bryce is. And he’s been “struggling” and leads the NL in homers and walks and all NL outfielders in OPS. Let’s all relax. I want him to be even better too. But um.....if literally any other player on this team had his numbers we would be insanely delighted.

BxJaycobb said...

True. I would wait to see what his numbers are at the end of the season. As I said, he’s “struggling” and is leading the league in homers and walks and has like a .380 OBP. So....an all star. With avg BABIP for his career he would be hitting .301 about and be the best offensive player in the NL. I would wait until end of the year to complain. But sure, he can be better. Totally agree.

BxJaycobb said...

One point to make regarding Nats defensive positioning and am wondering what you all think of this. I was looking at fangraphs. The Nats play their corner outfielder further off the lines than any other team by far—-they plug the gaps for reasons I don’t understand given that Taylor is ostensibly in the lineup for his range. Not coincidentally I have seen more balls into the corners go for triples and more flares down the lines drop this year than I ever have in my life (and almost nothing fall in the gaps). I agree that Bryce has played like a below average defender this year. I do not agree that he has performed like actual worst outfielder on defense in the NL, which the metrics suggest (and I imagine this is because he’s not getting to a lot of balls due to his positioning.....dWAR on fangraphs isn’t measured by range from starting position, but rather how many plays you make). Anybody been seeing this lately? Infield shifts get all the attention but I’m wondering what the hell is going on in the outfield.

Sammy Kent said...

Since there has been another blog entry since this one, I suspect these comments won't get noticed, but there's no sense to put them in the comment section of an unrelated column. I assure whoever DOES read them that I'm not arguing for the mere sake of arguing, and have no desire to be combative.... but I do appreciate the opportunity to defend my POV. I am not always able to contribute to the topic at hand in the most timely fashion.

@Harper, friend I guess we’ll just have to agree to disagree about Tyler Clippard. I really liked Goggles and wanted desperately for him to be the lockdown guy, but an inning of Tyler Clippard was like a ride down a mountain road in a car with iffy brakes. Sometimes we made it down safe…..sometimes we drove right off a cliff. Of course he didn’t fail every time he went in the game. He had lots of games where he pitched scoreless innings. But when they were over, for every fist-pumping cheer there were two sighs of relief for surviving the fright.

I understand the stats about “normal number of homers” but “normal” to me means “average,” and a late inning pitcher working consistently with narrow leads or tie scores has to be better than average. The plain truth is that Clippard gave up too many late inning dingers in too many crucial situations. If he hadn’t he might still be the Nationals’ closer. They tried him there, and had to move him back to set-up. Then he got moved back to set-up of the set-up. Finally he was used as much for situational pitching as for full innings. All because of this knack of his for giving up the long ball when you could least afford it. I will say he was pretty darn effective in New York, because Terry Collins was the only manager smart enough to let him pitch as long as he got guys out, then get him out of the game before he could do any damage.

Trust me, nobody wanted Tyler Clippard to succeed as much as I did. I still display his bobblehead in my house right along with Max’s and Zimm’s no-hit commemoratives…and I have no intention of ever taking it down. But he was a pitch-to-contact guy that unfortunately pitched to too much contact too many times for comfort.

Jay said...

I would argue that Clippard was a big part of the reason the Mets lost the World Series that year. Familia had to come into the 8th inning in 2-3 games because Clippard was going off the rails. I think Clippard was an elite BP guy for a few years, but I also agree that at times (especially in big moments) he gave up big hits or big home runs. There were times he had a scoreless inning but had several men on base, so it was a bit of a high wire act. Don't forget in the Cardinals game 5 Clippard gave up a solo home run in the 8th. The Nats scored in the bottom of the 8th to make it a two run game again, but that home run in the 8th did hurt.