Nationals Baseball: Offense is Offensive

Wednesday, June 13, 2018

Offense is Offensive

Last year the Nationals offense was great. They scored 5.06 runs per game which was just under the Rockies (5.09) and just ahead of the Diamonbacks (5.01) two teams that played in offensively minded parks. They were up there with the Cubs (5.07) like 5% better than the next best team in a normal park (the Marlins at 4.80).  For a long time the Nats had been very good, but had peaked as "the best of the rest". Last year they truly were one of the best

This year they Nats sit at 4.26 runs per game. This is 8th in the NL and below average*.  What has happened? They were ok in April and May. Not great but their usual up around 5th/6th and above average. But the bottom has fallen out in June, they are hitting an anemic .198 / .268 / .297 in June, with an OPS that sits at 13th in the NL for the month with a cavern between them and 12th place (.565 to .643).

Alot of the blame has fallen on Bryce but the truth is nearly every planned starter has had an issue this year.

C: Wieters : Didn't underperform but we were expecting below average and he delivered.  Then he got hurt

1B : Zimmerman : Was awful then got hurt and disappeared from the face of the Earth outside of Capitals playoff games.

2B : Murphy was not ready to start the season. Kendrick who became Plan A, hit ok in his place but got injured.

SS : Turner (June : .175 / .214 / .250) has not only not become the star the Nats were hoping for after that incredible end to 2016, he's been decidedly average since then. He put up a modest .284 / .338 / .451 line last year and the hope was it was injury recovery that held him back.  .254 / .338 / .385 this year suggests not.

3B : Rendon (June : .194 / .256 / .250) is supposed to be a lynch pin to this squad. A guy hitting .280+ with good power and great in the field. He got hurt early but he's been back for a month and is struggling to be impactful at the plate

RF : Bryce (June : .188 / .297 / .281) has slumped noticeably, which highlights how well he had been doing before despite the low average to still be a well above average bat for 2018 overall. However, "well above average" isn't what the Nats expect. They expect "star". 

CF : Taylor (June : .333 / .400 / .556 !) had an incredibly bad start to the year. So much that the week and a half of June games hasn't gotten him anywhere near average. It was hoped that the 2017 season and the playoffs were a turning point but more likely they were a fluke of BABIP.

LF : Eaton (June : .250 / .333 / .250 in 2 games mind you) was injured almost immediately. His numbers for the season look good but he's had as many PAs in 2018 as a whole as Trea Turner has had in June.

Now the Nats lucked out in a lot of places at least for a while. Kendrick did well forced into starting duty. Zimmerman was replaced mostly by Adams (June : .267 / .267 / .533) who has been a lifesaver, and Reynolds (June : .143 / .217 / .143) who was effective early in his limited role. Soto (June : .320 / .452 / .600) has arguably started a ROY campaign despite being called up just a month ago. This has helped kept the Nats afloat. But as these guys cooled off or got hurt themselves the solutions not found for injured players stopped being hidden. Pedro Severino (June : .053 / .143 / .053)  took over. I say this again because you guys don't ever seem to get this - Severino is not a major league catcher. He cannot hit at the major league level. Not that he's below average but that he's terrible enough that you can't play him everyday. If you want to be generous, not now, but very likely not ever. Wilmer Difo was forced to play every day after Kendrick went out (June : .182 / .206 / .303) and looks every bit the last player on the bench we've been saying he is for four years now. A similar take can be had with the returning Goodwin (June : .000 / .154 / .000).  Sierra and Stevenson and Kieboom and Sanchez were all AAAA players who the Nats took fliers on in time of need that held no surprises.

The Nats offense is flailing. It's as if the entire team has taken a collective step back from 2017. That will happen on a player by player basis but if you take three supposed to be healthy players (Bryce, Rendon, Turner) you don't expect ALL to take steps back. And some of that (Zimm, MAT) was likely unsustainable but they shouldn't have dropped back as far as they have. Add to that the injury issues (Zimm, Murphy, Eaton, Kendrick) and the poor planning (Difo maybe, Severino definitely) and it's a perfect storm right now.

The Nats offense should get better. It is not the clear 13th best in the NL caliber it has been since the last few days in May. But can it be good enough? If the pitching maintains it's best in the NL status? Probably so. If not, and with recent starter injuries that's a bigger question than ever, then I honestly don't think so, not unless three of these guys end up on the All-Star level.

*How are they still winning games? The pitching is tops in the NL. A step above #2 Chicago and a quarter run ahead of third place at this point in the season. That's a lot!


Bjd1207 said...

Hahahaha from my POV I've been hearing everything you've said about Severino, and just respectfully disagreeing based on what we had seen at the time. I think my quote at the time said if he could hang around .240-ish even with no power then I think he's a net positive. Well he obviously hasn't cleared that bar so yea, I'm with ya

Robot said...

Yeah, this offense is unbelievably bad lately. Two consecutive shutouts. Ouch!

Pitching had been amazing up to this point, of course, including a surprisingly "Okay" Hellickson. Now we have Stras and Jeremy injured, though...

Rob said...

The Nats will probably sneak into the playoffs, but that's not good enough. The team is not built to make a good run deep into the playoffs.

I think the window with Bryce has closed. It's now up to Rizzo to find the next set of guys. Players like Soto and Robles are a good start. Gonna need more offense from somewhere and some SP help real soon.

Alex Freeman said...

I don't really get the mentality that a team that sneaks into the playoffs has no chance at a WS. The Giants won it 3 times in 5 years and never topped 88 wins. If you sneak in you could get hot/lucky and win it all. But yes we've got a problem right now. And even more worrying is that I don't see a clear trade opportunity for a position player to fix a clear hole (except at catcher, so maybe a Realmuto but he'll cost a lot). It's just a lot of players unexpectedly regressing (except Taylor and Zimm imo) so you don't wanna just replace them if you think they can still pick it up. Not sure if a SP and reliever that the Nats are trying to get will make a huge difference but we'll see

JE34 said...

Which starting pitchers (esp lefties) around the league are likely candidates to be dealt at the deadline? I expect the Braves to deal some of their farm depth to get a good one (maybe more).

The Braves can hit... they hit last year too, but couldn't outscore their opponents because of their crappy pitching. Now they have a strong pen. A couple SP arms will make them very very hard for the Nats to overcome, unless their bats go cold like the Nats have.

This is an annoying state of affairs.

G Cracka X said...

They have had two straight zeros on offense, but before that, didn't they have 11, 5, and 7? I'm thinking the June issue has been the beginning of the month + last two days.

How long will MAT keep up his hot streak? Is it fair to say he's been carrying the offense for the Nats in June? These triple slashes don't take in account his base-running ability, which per Fangraphs, is better than anyone else on the team (including Trea!). Overall, Fangraphs now has him at slightly under average at total offensive production, which paired with his defense, means that only Bryce and Trea have more position player fWAR.

Despite the recent hot streak, I'm fine with starting him only against lefties and using him as a defensive or base-running sub against righties. He won't hit .333 for the rest of the season.

Johnny Callison said...

Bryce and Rendon need to carry the team, but they aren't. Turner needs to just focus on getting on base. And I think Reynolds is already back to being the guy who a bunch of teams let go because he strikes out so much and only occasionally hits a homer. So, I say, play Adams every day at first. I would like to see Soto playing five games per week, and I think Bryce needs a day or two off in a row, unless his walk/HBP game is a sign of him becoming more patient. If MAT is hot, let him play till he's not.

Murphy's return looks a little desperate to me right now. I predict he is back on the DL when the interleague games are over.

I don't see how they can get an upgrade in trade based on what they have to give, but it's scary when you think that the Braves might be able to land a key starting pitcher or two. I would like to keep both young OFs (Robles/Soto) and young Kieboom and other minor league infielders coming up, so that makes it hard to trade. I love Rendon, but he also is inconsistent and seems to recover very slowly from injuries, which will only get worse as he ages, so we're going to need those young infielders if Rendon asks for huge FA money.

Harper said...

GCX - offense thing is stretching through May 8th really. They occasionally have bursts of offense. A 9-4-5-6 stretch into Memorial Day, the 11-5-7 last week but the trend is like 3.5+ runs per game since Early/Mid May. We didn't notice because during most of that stretch the Nats were playing near .500 ball scoring 3 runs or less (6-7 from May 8th to June 3rd) which is crazy

BxJaycobb said...

@Harper. I agree with everything in here, except for one thing. Trea Turner is clearly a star player. So unless you merely meant to say “Turner has been an average league HITTER THIS YEAR SO FAR” you’re just wrong. Here is his career slash line in his first 260 MLB games (bit more than a full season and a half, closer to 1.75 realistic seasons of healthy playing time:
.291/.346/.464. 114 wRC+ about 9 WAR total
His average value over a full season of healthy play is over 5 WAR, all-star level. In other words, he has been a better player (offensively, see wRC+, and value, see WAR, so also all around) than the equivalent beginning to Derek Jeter’s storied career. (And this is with him playing some of these games recovering from injury).

It’s clear he is at least a slightly above average league hitter, basically the best base runner in baseball, and an above average defensive shortstop. All before hitting his prime. That’s a star now and if he develops, a possible superstar in his prime. Maybe because of the crazy glut of total beast shortstops recently (the best class in history), like Correa, Lindor, Seager, Machado (unclear he can stick at shortstop defensively actually), now Torres (who knows but looks good), or because we prefer an power bat/crappy glove and non value run combo to Turner’s mix, maybe we have lost sight of how phenomenal a start Turner has had in not many games, given some perspective.

You said he played like a star in half of 2016. No. He played like the best player in baseball basically (a guy who does that and who is a good defensive shortstop too?). Since then his BABIP has been lower than I think it probably will even out to be given his speed. But look at the whole sample (I mean, you have to, given even the whole sample is only 260 games...otherwise stats become increasingly meaningless.)

To NOT see Turner as a star player, you basically have to say “the first half of 2016 will never happen again, because pitchers adjusted to him, he won’t adjust back, and there will be no development or increased patience and power in his let’s only look at SINCE 2016. Well EVEN IF YOU DO THAT, his overall WAR value and wRC+ is basically jeter’s first two years. EVEN THAT is an above average defensive shortstop who hits league average and steals more bases than anybody in baseball. And doing that is statistically silly.

So. Does turner now look more like an average player or a star. I think only a fool or somebody obsessed with homer and offense numbers who ignores the rest of baseball value would say he looks like an average player. THIS year, with his BABIP below what it will end up at for somebody as fast as him, he’s thus far been an above average starter. And actually he’s shown a new skill/ability: walking.
Short version: Trea Turner is not the problem, now or in the future. He’s a great player, maybe a phenomenal one (can’t tell quite yet)’s more guys like Rendon, Bryce, Zim.....the people who have been wayyyyy less than they usually are or have contributed zero due to injury or being terrible. But way off on Turner. People don’t understand how crazy promising the beginning of his career has looked. He’s overall played at an all star—again, Year 1-3 Jeter Level— when on the field, and hasn’t hit his prime.

BxJaycobb said...

For those wondering, Jeter’s first two full seasons: 106 and then 110 wRC+. Again, Turner’s career wRC+ is 115 wRC+. And he’s a superior base runner and fielder by all fielding metrics. So....not a star? Nonsense. The only question is if he stays at this level (4-5 WAR player, All-Star in production if not election) or makes a Jeter type leap to being more like a 6-7 WAR player.

JE34 said...

@Johnny Callison - sensible to play Adams and Soto more, but with Murphy, Eaton, Bryce... that's a LOT of lefties in a lineup that is awful against lefties (except Soto, so far).

@BX - I dig the impassioned defense of Trea.

Jay said...

I don't disagree with you on Turner. I just wish the guy would lay down a few bunts and hit a few on the ground. The Cubs figured out go away and high on Turner and he'll hit a flyable to right. He was doing better with that this year, but at times he seems to get in a rut and fall back into that.

Hopefully, Rendon can get rolling again. If he doesn't does that affect the possibility of an extension for him?

I still think the Braves are playing over their heads and will come back to the pack. Folty left his start the other night with triceps pain - usually a precursor to elbow issues. I still wish the Nats had signed Arrieta. You had to know there was no way Strasburg would make it the entire year. Add in the uncertainty in the 5th spot and it is a bit of poor planning.

Finally, no way Fedde beats NY tonight. Braves already beat the Mets (who have really fallen off a cliff). Looking like 2 games back. It is not the end of the world, but it is somewhat worrisome.

BxJaycobb said...

Agree on all of this. If I were Trea i would lay down a bunt any time I was facing a really tough pitcher i knew I wasn’t picking up well basically.

JE34 said...

What an infuriating baseball team this is. Same pickoff move nets two outs in consecutive innings. (It's a very good move, yes. But the second guy has to be ready, right?) Two more outs via bad base running. In three innings. When you're struggling to score.

They deserve the results they get, with crappy inattentive play like this.

BxJaycobb said...

@Harper. Can we get a re-evaluation of Juan Soto at 20 games vs his fellow teenager peers in recent history? Like: “here are the first 20 games for all the guys I listed on that post a while ago when I SHOWED NO FAITH IN THE TRANSFORMATIVE POWER OF “CHILD BAMBINO.” No but seriously, humor us. (Doesn’t wverybody else want this too? Chime in, friends!

G Cracka X said...

@BxJaycobb Yes!! Excellent idea, thanks for suggesting it. So glad they hung onto Soto.

Combined with your impassioned defense of TT, another fun post would be, 'Who is going to give more value to the Nats over the next 4-5 years?

Mark said...

How is this team NOT built for the playoffs? You have the best pitcher in baseball and another #1 starter. You have 5 guys with a track record of being well above average offensively. One analytically driven article recently made the case that Doolittle is the best closer in the league, plus at least 3 other reliable bullpen arms.

They have had injury issues and early season under performance. No guarantee they come back around or all get healthy, but I wouldn't bet against them. The Capitals looked pretty bad early in their season and all the whiny "experts" wrote them off.

Jay said...

I was wrong. That is why I love baseball. I figured no way they win with Fedde on the mound. He wasn't great, but Soto sure was. Wow. That kid needs to play everyday imo.