Nationals Baseball: And you may ask yourself, well How did the Nats get here?

Thursday, July 19, 2018

And you may ask yourself, well How did the Nats get here?

The Nats are 48-48.  A .500 team. The Nats expected more. We expected more. How does a team expected to be say... 56-40 right now end up 8 games behind where they should be?

A couple of those games can be thrown out to luck.  Pythag has them as a 51 win team based on runs scored and runs allowed.  They are about 4-5 games behind where they should be in one-run games. But they are still underperforming.  What's gone right? What's gone wrong?

RIGHT

Though it feels like nothing, the Nats haven't been devoid of some good fortune this year. Mark Reynolds and Matt Adams have teamed up for basically a full half-season of GREAT offense. Juan Soto has been a two month revelation hitting at star levels as well.  That's almost two positions in the order that have unexpectedly hit like stars for a couple months. When healthy, Rendon has been Rendon and Eaton has been Eaton which can't necessarily be expected off of injury. Speaking of guys being themselves Max has been Max, which means the best pitcher in baseball which is expected in a way but you can never expect THE BEST as a planner, just up there. Hellickson has been more than that Nats asked for in his limited 5th starter role. Doolittle was probably his best self in the first half earning an All-Star berth.

WRONG

Yes, Zimm was replaced by a weird star amalgam. Yes, Eaton went down and the OF struggled for a while, but then the Nats found Soto. If those were the only problems the Nats would still be on track. But you know the drill. Rendon missed a month. Kendrick went down a month and a half in and Difo failed at providing offense at 2nd. Zimm was awful for his month before going out. Murphy has been awful for a month since coming back.  Catcher has been the expected hole with Wieters healthy or without. There has been an injury issue that overwhelmed the acceptable depth they created, and exposed the unacceptable lack of depth they did not address.

Add to that MAT reverting to being MAT, Turner not progressing at the plate, and Bryce finding himself in a months long slump and you have an imbalance. Despite finding two stars in the pocket the Nats needed more and for the first half as a whole they have found themselves a middling offensive team

Still that shouldn't alone make the Nats, a team built around a best in baseball rotation, a .500 team. The Nats needed more failure. There have been the injuries to Hellickson and Strasburg (4th non-full season in a row for Stephen) which exposed the lack of depth behind the originally planned 5. Cole, Voth, Rodriguez, and Fedde are all questionable in a major league rotation at this time. But about three months missed out of like 17 and a half potentially missed by your starting 5? Every team would sign up for that to start the year. That's actually pretty good. Maybe I should have mentioned that in the right section. No that's a blip compared to the more pressing issue.

Hellickson has been great but he's also been limited. That was the plan, but it meant the other starters were supposed to pick up slack so the pen could help finish the games Hellickson started. Strasburg's injury pushed that but at the same time Gio and Roark started flailing badly.  Now instead of covering for 1 pitcher the bullpen needed to cover for 3-4 pitchers and no pen can be expected to do that.

The pen itself found itself predictably exposed for the 193rd year in a row. Neither Madson or Kintzler had been as good as they should have been meaning the Nats really needed someone to step up and no one did. Solis looked like he might but he faltered then went out. Miller did step up for a while but the magic only lasted so long. Guys like Grace and Collins have been fine but just as other guys. Kelley had been maddeningly really bad at giving up homers, making it hard to trust him as he started to put it back together.  Injuries, the variable bad performances, and the as always questionable last couple arms made the Nats dig deep into their minors and it hasn't been great. They did try to address it with the trade for Herrera but he hasn't been good. It could be the timing, coming in about when the pen was asked to do far too much. Or it could be Herrera just isn't that good anymore, his 2017 being thoroughly mediocre. It's not that the pen has been bad. It's that the pen, once again, was not planned to be a strength so unsurprisingly it isn't one.

The end result is a pitching staff putting up numbers just as middling as the offense.  Middling + Middling = .500.

The first half has been a little unfair to the Nats.  They planned for injury issues with a good enough bench. Kendrick and the new Lind, Matt Adams? You aren't often asked to dig 3-4 deep for very long. Then again they knew they had more injuries than normal coming in to the year and they knew catcher would be an issue. It probably would have been wiser to add one more ML bat to the mix. It still wouldn't have been enough to cover everything, but it would have softened the blow of the deeper than expected injuries.

While the offense was something like planning for a level 2 emergency when anyone could see a level 3 one coming and then getting a level 4. The pitching was a failure to plan for anything at all. Again. By now we've learned that three reliable arms in the pen is the minimum and the Nats finally got there this year, but a minimum is a minimum and a major league team looking to win it all should do more than that. The starting pitching on the other hand was no plan at all, assuming that the years of good fortune with health and talent would continue on indefinitely. This is always a gamble but it's also one that most teams swallow because good pitching is expensive. Plus it was an issue that bum-rushed the Nats in a month with the injuries and failures piling up on each other. So, to me the lack of depth is a little forgivable. The failure to do something going forward would not be.

Enough talk of the past. What's done is done. Tomorrow we talk about what needs to happen going forward.

26 comments:

cass said...

Why isn't Ramos a Nat again yet? Please soon.

Good writeup. Depressing to focus on the Nats again after the World Cup but just 5.5 games back isn't insurmountable. Mostly, they have to beat Atlanta and Philly head-to-head. If they do that, they should be right back in it. If they don't, they don't deserve it and will be buried.

Mr. T said...

A Braves fan buddy and I are going to the Saturday night game. I bet him $20 Gio wouldn't make it through the 5th. (Knowing my luck, Davey will probably let him finish the 5th despite being at 120 pitches and 7 runs down.)

Ok, positive thoughts. If Stras does ok and Max is Max, maybe we can win 2 out of 3. Anything's possible, right?

Chas R said...

I think this is a fair characterization. For me, the delusional plan for the rotation is particularly disturbing. Any team needs to plan for 6-7 MLB ready SPs to make it through a season. They were filling themselves to think Cole and Fedde would take a step up. They did have EJax,, and the timing of his departure was very unlucky, but they really needed to be better prepared for the inevitable Strasburg injury and Gio inconsistency, as well as solid SP depth.

BxJaycobb said...

@cass. Re Ramos, he just went on DL with injured hamstring. He’ll be out past the trade deadline. So if you deal for him he’s gonna be coming off injury and you might have to wait a week. Price would be even lower (like nothing) but you’re not gonna be getting help urgently.

G Cracka X said...

I give the Nats a pass on the depth because of the payroll. They are 5th in 2018, with almost $200 million in spending. $25 million more than the Mets and like $70-80 million more than tha Braves and Phillies. They did what they could given the money constraints, at least Rizzo did. Up to the Lerners to decide if they want to spend even more.

PotomacFan said...

@Harper: excellent, comprehensive, objective analysis. Thank you. I look forward to your analysis of what the Nats should do next.

Fries said...

I don't fault Rizzo for the SP completely. We all WANTED to get an Arrieta type in the offseason, but it wasn't really necessary per se. The Nats needed a reliable 5th man, and they picked up a couple of those. EJax unfortunately had to leave due to contract reasons, Hellickson has been good enough, and with all likelihood 1 of Fedde, Voth, Cole, or Rodriguez should have succeeded. To say that the rotation wasn't prepared to weather an injury or two is crazy.

The bigger issue is that Gio and Roark both fell apart (though Gio is showing signs of life) and the 5th guy that was settled on (Hellickson) can't be a reliable innings eater since 2 times through the order is the limit. Getting Stras back is going to be HUGE for this rotation, and I'm hoping a new facial hair style and some rest gets Roark straight.

Now Rizzo, PICK UP A GOD DAMN CATCHER

Chas R said...

@Fries I don't think it's crazy at all to judge their SP depth as inadequate at the start of the season. As Harper notes- Cole, Voth, Rodriguez, and Fedde are all questionable in a major league rotation. The only reason Rodrigues even got a shot was Cole and Fedde were so bad. They we're never good and relying on them was taking a big chance.

BxJaycobb said...

I think Rizzo generally is a little stubborn about admitting when players or prospects he selected/acquired end up being busts, so even though the rest of us were dubious of Fedde and Cole, etc, I think rizzo just was delusional about the rotation succeeding on the back end. Has Gio even been that bad? He seems to have had the kind of year you would project. It’s just that he followed a great first couple months with a hideous month at the worst possible time. Roark has been bad though.

BxJaycobb said...

Like if somebody asked me to predict Gio’s ERA this year in March I would’ve said like 3.6-3.9 or so. That’s where he is. It’s just that he hasn’t pitched as many innings as last year and the performance has been crazy uneven over time.

G Cracka X said...

Gio has had a down year, per Gio's career stats.

Start to start, you may not know what you're going to get, but I remember John C posting that he's actually one of the most consistent Nats when you take a look at the big picture. Every year starting from 2010 to last year has been right around 3 fWAR for him (the lone blip being the career year in '12). This year he's not on pace to get back to 3 fWAR, and its because the already high walk rate is even higher. Hopefully, with Wieters back, he'll pitch better and have a strong 2nd half.

Zimmerman11 said...

And you may find yourself
In third place in the NL East
And you may find yourself
Restrained from adding payroll
And you may find yourself on a baseball team
WHOSE WINDOW IS CLOSING
And you may ask yourself
How did I get here?

Letting the days go by, let the Phillies run away
Letting the days go by, let the postseason get away
Into the cellar again after our free agents are gone
Once in a lifetime, with three first round playoff exits to show for it

Same as it ever was
Same as it ever was
Same as it ever was
Same as it ever was
Same as it ever was
Same as it ever was
Same as it ever was
Same as it ever was
Same as it ever was
Same as it ever was

Harper said...

Z11 - the video is not Byrnes chopping his arm and doing funny dances, but Henley waving guys into outs against a blank background

Jay said...

That is a good question. The Dodgers are going for it trading for Machado. The Phillies may well be going for it - they were trying to trade for Machado and will likely make other moves. The Cubs went for it and traded for Aroldis Chapman. The Red Sox have been going for it trading for Chris Sale and signing JD Martinez etc. Not all "all in" moves work out. However, the Nats have never approached going for it or going "all in." If this is the end of the "window" any regrets?? Should they have just traded Turner for Sale? Should they have spent more for Kenley Jansen? They did sign Max and kept Strasburg. Those were pretty big moves. However, it has always seemed the Nats were perfectly willing to leave some holes and see what happened.

Kubla said...

As long as we're playing the "catcher makes the rotation better even though they suck otherwise" game, didn't Gio really like pitching to Jose Lobaton? He'd come cheap.

BxJaycobb said...

@Harper, all: IMO the Juan Soto hype train is STILL kind of delayed getting out of the station/ the reaction has actually been more muted than it should be. And that’s saying something since we’re all excited. Here’s why. Somebody asked on the Juan Soto post where he ranks among teenage hitters. The answer is—right now—he’s literally the best ever. Here’s a sorting of all players with 200+ PA at age 19 or younger below. He is number 1 all time in wRC+. Does it seem like the reaction right now of local and national media is that we may well be catching a glimpse of the next Albert Pujols type bat? It doesn’t to me. Yeah, it’s possible that this is the best Juan Soto we ever see. But if that happens it will be the first time ever for such a development (possible i guess since the sample size is small). But anyway, here: https://www.fangraphs.com/leaders.aspx?pos=all&stats=bat&lg=all&qual=200&type=8&season=2018&month=0&season1=1903&ind=1&team=0&rost=0&age=14,19&filter=&players=0&sort=18,d

BxJaycobb said...

I understand that he’s not a plus on defense, but neither is somebody like Vlad Guerrero Jr....and he’s still in the minors and still has more hype. That’s my observation. That Soto is performing better than the most hyped teenage hitters ever (Griffey, ARod, Mel Ott, Harper, etc) and doing it with room to spare. So if he doesn’t regress a lot in the second half....I’m just saying, let’s all give this the proper “WTF THIS IS CRAZY” perspective.

Jay said...

I would agree that Soto is possibly under appreciated. I also agree that he reminds me of a left handed Pujols. I think the biggest thing is that he seems to be enjoying it. When he's in the box he sort of smiles at the pitcher like he knows he's going to come through with a hit or a walk. Hopefully, he can keep it up.

John O'Connor said...

"Z11 - the video is not Byrne chopping his arm and doing funny dances, but Henley waving guys into outs against a blank background."

That's gotta be the comment of the year. Henley runs us into so many outs it's not funny.

Other than that, I basically agree with Miss Tina.

Jimmy said...

The Karachi Prostitute bot has to be the post of the year.

G Cracka X said...

It will be interesting to see if Soto keeps it up in the 2nd half, but I do agree that he's been underhyped.

But there's something else that stands out to me about that Fangraphs link: Bryce Harper's 2012 Age 19 season was (by fWAR) the best MLB season EVER by a teenager. He was quite possibly one of the most hyped prospects of all-time, and I think that his rookie performance was actually under-hyped compared to his actual performance.

Now, speaking of Bryce, should the Nats have tried to trade him to Cleveland as part of a package deal to get Mejia?

Keith R said...

Speaking of making the big moves to succeed in the playoffs. I always felt like the nationals should have traded for Verlander last year to avoid starting Gio in the playoffs (though who knew he would have to start 2 games). What a 1-2-3 that would be.

DezoPenguin said...

I am ashamed of myself that I had to look up what country Karachi was in and realized that I thought it was in a different continent entirely from its actual location. I have been schooled by a bot.

G Cracka X said...

Nats have a decent future ahead. I saw on Fangraphs that they have 4 of the top 50 players in MLB in terms of trade value. Robles, Soto, and Turner project to be nice cornerstones for the team, while Scherzer projects for an astounding 5.2 WAR in his Age 35-36 (2021) season!

Dmitri Young said...

How many wins do we think the Nats need? 92? That means no more than 22 losses over more than 2 months...

Froggy said...

Karachi is in Venezuela right?