Nationals Baseball: 2019

Thursday, June 13, 2019

Trap Series

Four days from now (or five depending on how you look at it - or three if it's how my daughter choses to count days till) the Nats will start a 7 game set that will likely determine their path for the regular season. Seven games against Philly and Atlanta in DC.  Dominate (7-0) and the Nats will be back to .500 on the legitimate fringes of playoff consideration. Merely win (5-2) and the Nats will move ever closer with the easiest portion of their schedule straight ahead to put them over the top. Lose (3-4) and the Nats are now forced to hope for a "best of the season" pre WC run (like 10-1 against that easy stretch) to keep hope alive. Get dominated (1-6) and it's time to pack it in.

But that's four days from now.

In the meantime the Nats will start the homestand with 4 games against the Arizona Diamondbacks. The Diamondbacks are 6-1 in their last 7 8-3 in last 11. Like the Nats it's a stretch where the they have won convincingly and lost by a few runs.  If you look at the whole season you see a team that's better than their record (40-29 pytag, 36-33 real) who is dealing with overcoming some bad one-run luck (11-16). The Nats will catch Greinke tonight, a better performing Ray tomorrow, and likely an "all-hands on deck" bullpen game on Sunday covering for an injured starter missing a turn. This is a team that can come in here are win 3 out of 4. And if that happens shift everything I said above down. Even merely losing that stretch 3-4 in 7 would probably put an end to the Nats season.

I worry about this because I think focusing the Nats is probably Davey's biggest weakness. He aims to loosen the team but seems to distract the team.

The D-backs are simply solid.  The offense actually has scored the most runs in the NL by having only one real weakness at the plate (Nick Ahmed). They have 5 guys who will hit 20+ homers and a catcher who has similar pop. They will put it in play more than strikeout while doing this and while they don't walk alot nearly all their regular will take it if it's given to them. The relief pitching is more spotty but they got a great closer in the “Nats had him” Holland. It’s a team that can beat good teams. It certainly can beat a surging but flawed Nats team.

Wednesday, June 12, 2019

What's up with Corbin?

Don't worry about the Nats loss last night.  They still won the series as far as I'm concerned and their run has gone like this

Marlins series at home? Won.
Mini-series at Atlanta? Won.
Cincy series away? Won.
Split Chicago home and home? Won.
Padres series away? Split.

Like I said they had one split afforded to them. One split is all they have so far. Now comes the Diamondbacks at home. Win this, go 3-1, and they've done exactly what they should have going into the Phillies and Braves series that will likely decide whether there really is a season remaining or if it's just a team playing out the string.

The Nats offense is humming. The Nats back of rotation and bullpen are doing well enough. But remember that one of the keys to the Nats making a comeback was the Top 3 pitching like the Top 3.  One guy hasn't done this. Corbin has now had three poor games in a row and while you see people pointing to the Marlins complete game as a possible turning point (too many pitches I guess?) the fact is he had a bad start before that as well, putting nine Mets on and giving up two homers in just 5 innings. Is there something we can note about what's going on?

1) He's become way more homer prone. In those 4 games (skipping the Marlins one) Corbin has given up 6 homers in 17 and 2/3rds innings. That's about 3 homers every nine which is... quite bad. Part of that is a GB rate that isn't as good as it was to start the year. As well he's getting hit harder. Simple enough equation to work out here.

2) He's kind of walking more and striking out less. Kind of. You know it's five games and there isn't an OMG thing here. Just a vague general trend that suggest he doesn't have his best stuff.

3) He's getting hammered when he puts men on. This is one of those stats that is hard to decipher. Could be that he's messing up somehow when guys get on base. Too distracted? Too much focus? Could be just some dumb luck not going his way.

4) He's had some bad BABIP days.  That Cincinnati game was fluky bad for BABIP. Almost .600 which likely mean a handful of seeing eye hits all getting through. Other games aren't as bad and more go along with the - just getting hit harder so there are more hits.

There's no super telling thing here. The first point is the most telling - hit harder and more balls in the air - and after that there's a mish-mosh of things that might matter, might be artifacts of Corbin adjusting for the first point, or might be bad luck.

Has he changed his pitching? He seems to think his issue is fastball location, which helps negate the effectiveness of his slider. Maybe he's throwing a couple fewer sliders for a couple more changes and curves.  But he's basically maintaining how he pitched before in terms of hards/changes. He notes that as far as the "hards" go, he's going more with sinkers recently but it isn't working the same as the sinker is usually a pitch you pitch to be chased down in zone but are also ok if it gets hit (since it induces GBs). Fancy stats agree that his fastball and slider have been ineffective, and less effective lately (Other pitches - which are thrown like 10-15% of the time are stable). Fancy stats also do agree he's hitting the zone less now than earlier in the year and batters are making more contact, both in and out of zone.  And fancy pitch specific stats show that while the slider is consistent, his fastball has more horizontal movement (which could indicate less control) and is finding itself more in to batter than it has all this year (and last mind you) and looking at hard pitches exactly you see far fewer in the zone recently.

To summarize that last paragraph - he seems to be on it.

Corbin isn't able to locate his fastball. I'm going to assume he is falling behind early (i could dig into counts to find out for sure but I don't have unlimited time people!) and so batters are more likely to lay off a suspected slider. He can adjust with more sinkers but that's only going to work if he can locate the sinker in a way I suspect he hasn't tried before - nailing the bottom of the zone. If batters aren't aggressive then he's still going to fall behind. (This is probably why he still did well in that Marlins game - they an aggressive team who also don't work walks) Then they can wait for a good pitch. It may not come but if 7 batters for every 9 gets to wait for two pitches, instead of say 3 - well you see the difference.

Is there any adjustment he can make? Probaby not. He doesn't seem to pitch the slider or sinker to get called strikes, using the fastball for that. Nor does anything but the horizontal movement of the fastball seem to have changed. If it were slower, if other things had changed, you might try to look for something bigger to fix. For this we're left with trying to watch him figure it out what minor tweak is needed to get that one thing back on track.

Monday, June 10, 2019

Monday Quickie - Keeping on

The Nats almost got derailed in San Diego. They lost the first two, Friday's loss with Doolittle blowing it was particularly agonizing, but they picked it up to win the last two behind Max and Stras.  The Nats could afford A split. This was the split. Now they have to keep winning. 4-2 in the last 6 to hit the 10-5 goal.

Again - can't emphasize enough how, if this is going to happen, it's likely to be a long slow slog.  After the Mets debacle the Nats were 19-31. Now they are 30-35. That's a great 11-4 run. They were 5.5 behind the Mets, 8.5 behind the Braves, 10 behind the Phillies. That made a good dent, but just a dent. Now they are 2, 6, and 7 games behind respectively.

Think about it. Everyone goes on same pace again.  Nats on a 22-8 run. 1.5 ahead of the Mets, 3.5 behind the Braves, 4 behind the Phillies. Not there yet. Again. 33-12. Mets in the rearview. 1.0 game behind the Braves. 1 Behind the Phillies. Still not there. Only need a third of the run then to catch them.  Something like 3-1 or 4-2.  Let's say 4-1. FIRST PLACE!  Now look around.  The Nats had to go 37-13 over 50 games. We're on the other side of the All-Star Break. And all they did is catch them.  Now it's a two month push to hold onto first.  And that's if everything goes perfectly playing as the best team in baseball for two solid months (they are at 2 1/2 weeks right now).  Slow it down and you are looking at catching these guys in August. That's after the trade deadline, after the chance to make moves, or perhaps after you yourself have given up.  It's unforgiving, but it's what lies in front of the Nats.

Thing is - if this were one team the Nats were chasing, you could feel pretty good but it's three. The Braves in this scenario are going like 28-21, the Phillies 28-23.  Again while the Nats go 37-13.

But hey - as of today this is still possible. Hang onto that. Go 4-2 or better. Get to those Philly and Atlanta series and see if you can really say something about the second half of this season (the ATL series will end with game 78) 

Friday, June 07, 2019

Kimbrel and Kuechel - not Nats

Kimbrel and Keuchel are now both off the table. Both would have ultimately helped the Nats. Both went different routes in signing.


Kimbrel took a multiyear package. He didn't get the 6/100+ that he looked like he was gunning for. Instead he got 3/42 (with the potential for 16 more or a buyout) that falls well short. Ultimately he was done in by the new unofficial age guidelines which basically throw you out the door in your early 30s. Kimbrel wanted something that no one is prepared to give a pitcher, certainly not one where you can't get some under 20 years, a multi-year middle 30s commitment. Holding out for that cost him probably that 4th year as guaranteed.

Keuchel looks to be gambling on himself with a 1/13 million dollar deal.  Keuchel was undone by the fact he wanted to be paid for how he pitched in 2014, 2015, and 2017 but 2016 and 2018 happened as well.  The first Keuchel deserved the 5 year / 100 million deal he was likely after.  The latter Keuchel is a 2 year deal guy. Based on fancy stats hes a high 3.00 ERA guy for the next couple of years which means he probably had something out there akin to Lance Lynn's 3/30 at best. Can he beat that next year coming off an age 31 year? Possibly - if he throws like 2015, but that's a long time ago. More likely he rolls out a year around a 3.80 FIP and settles for a 2 year deal next offseason for 15-20 or so million. If he can do that - well he nets himself a couple million considering he didn't pitch a third of this season but it probably wasn't worth it.

Anyway - how does this effect the Nats?

Keuchel is the obvious one to look at as he goes to a division opponent in the Braves.  The Braves rotation, hasn't shaken out like they wanted. While Fried and Soroka have come up from the mass of young starters as they hoped, Folty and Gausman haven't provided the stability in the middle of the rotation they were looking for. With a spotty pen, they need someone to eat innings well and Keuchel might be able to do that. He's been injured in the past, but not is only looking to go 2/3rds of a season. He should replace Gausman and settle things a bit. If Folty keeps pitching ok as he has been, that might be enough to keep pace with the Phillies. If someone else falters, he should keep Atlanta in the playoff mix, by making sure the staff doesn't fall apart.

That's overall. H2H Keuchel doesn't particularly concern me. He's a good pitcher but not great and the Nats hit lefties. There isn't a good reason to think he's going to beat them any more than any other good pitcher. He shouldn't be a game changer here.

The Kimbrel move is less directly impactful but the Cubs who weren't necessarily bad in the pen, did need that extra arm to complete this team.  The hitting is Top 5. The rotation is Top 5.  This makes the pen Top 5 and puts the Cubs in the Dodgers level. If given a choice I think the Cubs would have liked to gone and get an ace. The rotation is good but there's no dominance there. But Keuchel wasn't that so this was the move. What the Nats need to worry about now is how this effects the Central and how that effects the other teams currently in the hunt. Do the hot and cold Brewers make a counter move to stay with the Cubs? Do the Cardinals react to that? If the Cardinals react do ATL or PHI make another move down the stretch to stay in the playoffs. Or whoever is in position in the West? 

 A lot will depend on how things shake out over the next 3 weeks. Best probably case for the Nats is the Brewers drift off and you end up with a lot of middling teams fighting for the WC with no real impetus to spend a lot trying to catch that spot given their mediocre play not indicating a likely WS run. Something like it is now if MIL was at 33-30 instead of 35-28. That would give a closing in on .500 Nats team a punchers chance to emerge from the scrum given both WC would be in play and close.  This is a scenario where high 80s takes the WC spots.

Worst case for Nats is the Brewers stay close, the Cardinals catch fire and as they both gear up to challenge the Cubs through trade neither ATL or PHI falls back and in fact stay close to eachother and someone (ARI?) emerges from the West. In that scenario, even if the Nats are closing in .500 there'd be three teams ahead of them for the WC looking to really try to improve down the stretch to try to win the division who won't do that and will end up in the WC slot. Plus a WC team in whoever comes out of the West. I can't see the Nats managing to come back in this scenario as in here the WC spot probably ends up with a mid 90s and low 90s team.

Thursday, June 06, 2019

Beat Bad Teams

The Nats are heating up. After going the first 50 games without a 3 game win streak, the Nats have pulled a 3 game AND four game (and counting) streaks out in this 9-2 run. It hasn't been a bunch of lucky breaks either. They've otuscored their opponents 74-48 over the streak, winning only game by one run, and two by two. The starter got the win in 6 of the 9 games, and in another Fedde didn't get it because he only went 4.

I asked more people to step up and they have.  Here are the past two weeks of hitting

Kendrick .444 /.448 / .889
Soto .415/ .500 / .707
Rendon .359 / .500 / .667
Suzuki  .400 / .455 / .550

If you have four guys hitting like that, you have to have a terrible other 4 to kill the productions. Instead you also have...

Adams .257 / .316 / .571
Dozier  .296 / .394 / .481

and Turner and Robles and Eaton... they aren't terrible.  Turner is right around average. Robles is under but hitting for ok power. Eaton is under but getting on base.

Now if we look at the past week Kendrick is slowing down but Dozier had a great week. Turner and Eaton are struggling but Robles and Parra have picked it up (just a tick).  And still four guys are OPSing over 1000, well over.

Now true this is against the soft underbelly of the schedule. Miami is terrible. Cincy is no better than average. San Diego, coming up, is like Cincy. They should beat these teams, and if the Nats are a true playoff contender they should beat them at a 2/3rd clip minimum.  And that's what they are doing!  They are playing like a playoff team right now.

But here's the rub.  It's 11 games. When the Nats started this streak at 19-31 they needed to go 71-41 just to hit 90 wins.  That's a 104-105 win pace. Now they need to go 62-39. That's still a 99-100 win pace*. Is this team, with a flawed back of the rotation and questionable pen a 99-100 win team? Do they have THAT in them? Is 90 even enough?

The finishing of this weak stretch will be interesting. The Padres, as we noted, aren't a good team. The White Sox, who follow them, are a bad one. But the conditions aren't ideal for the Nats. They played Tuesday and Wed, flew to SD and play tonight, then on Sunday they'll play a game, then fly to Chicago and play Monday. As far as baseball schedules go, it's a rough go. During thie 9-2 run they were at home then ATL and CIN then back home, with two days off in there. It was pretty nice.

The Nats have done what they should do, but if you broke this season into 6 parts, it's only the last 6th we can say that. Do it again and then again - which will then mean beating good teams in DC -  then they'll have done it for the last third of the season. That's nearly a month of baseball. That will be meaningful. But for now we still aren't talking about playoffs seriously.  Close a little more ground these 6 games, close a little more H2H, then run through the easiest portion of the schedule and see yourself at the ASB over .500 and a couple games out at most. That's the goal.

If you think you want to talk about the playoffs seriously, think about this instead. The Nats have entered a 100 game season, spotting the Braves 5 games and the Phillies 6 and a half (and the Mets a game if you are a pedant). They have 17 games left versus the Braves, but only 11 against the Phillies - though mostly at home, and for the pedant 6 versus the Mets. How do you like their chances of ending up on top of the NL East?  What if I add in the Phillies and Braves schedule, heavy on Marlins in the first 6 weeks, is now no harder than the Nats schedule?

*brought up in Twitter by @DCoruscant 

Monday, June 03, 2019

Travel Day

for me.   Nats did what they have to in first series.  Only 4 to go.

Friday, May 31, 2019

Goals For the next 15

The Nats are still not in a good position.  They are 8 games under .500. They are 9 games out of first with 106 games to play, behind a team you probably wouldn't have them as being 9 games better over 162 games. They are 6 games out of the second Wild Card with 7 teams between them and that consolation prize.

However because they have played better recently we can have fun plotting a path forward. We talked about it two days ago but let's set the next easy stretch in stone now. 

The Nats start with three games in Cincinnati (26-30, 5-5 in last 10) , then host the White Sox (27-29, 15-15 in May) for a quick two*, then at Padres (29-27, 12-14 in May) for 4, at Chicago for the next two**, then a 4 game set at home versus Arizona (28-29).  What would you expect a 90+ team win to do against this schedule? Win every series. Taking the White Sox as a 4 game set that means 2-1 over Cincy, 3-1 over the White Sox, 3-1 over the Padres, and 3-1 over the D-backs. That's 11-4.  That's a little much. Usually when you are saying "win every series against bad teams" you are asking for winning two out of every 3 games. But the Nats play three teams four times each during this stretch and winning those is a higher clip.  Think of them together and you'd want them to win 8 of those 12, not 9.  So they split one of those sets... 10-5.  I think 10-5 is the goal.

If they go 10-5 they will be 34-37, they will likely make up at least a game on the other NL East teams and then face an opportunity to directly make up ground.  But we'll talk about then then. Assuming they get there.

Can they do 10-5? Sure. Why. Well they have Corbin, Scherzer, and Strasburg pitching like they should. This sets up the Nats well.  good team will win like 2/3rd of these games. Assuming that holds you are starting at like a 6-3. Getting the 4-2ish needed in the other ~6 games will be harder. I don't want to depend on Sanchez or Fedde. I don't want to depend on the bullpen. That means depending on the offense to just mash it's way to some wins.

You can do that several ways but I think for the Nats the plan would be - 2 stars, 2 good hitters, no more than 1 hole.  They have the two starts.  Rendon is hitting great. (.288 / .406 / .588 since he's back) and Soto is hitting great (.358 / .436 / 1.048). They have the two good... for now.  Kendrick is hitting very good (.338 / .345 / .588) and I like that to hold up. Parra (.940 OPS) and Suzuki (.831 OPS) are the other guys hitting good.  I'm not as confident in them, and neither is a full-time player. But take those three as a group, and include guys like Robles, Adams, and Turner... I bet at least two of all those are hitting well.  The no more than one hold thing though... that's the hurdle. Gomes, when they use him is struggling (.608) Dozier when they use him is not much better (.689). I don't like either to turn it around and while neither of these guys has to see a lot of playing time, they will certainly be worked in.  The same way I like Parra, Suzuki, Robles, Eaton, Adams, and Turner to shake out with at least one good bat during this stretch... well I'd bet on them having one hole too.  So it's going to be tough. Strikes me as more of a 9-6 stretch. That's normally ok - it's a 97+ win pace over the course of a season. But given the hole even just being one game off 10-5 I think won't be enough.

Looking at this team - I see the top end starting pitching being good enough to make this comeback. But either the back end of the rotation or the bullpen has to surprise or the offense needs to take a step up.  I think the latter is most likely but I still look at this squad and see a team one bat short. Someone has to step up. Robles/Eaton/Adams/ Suzuki have to be good. Turner hast to be a mini-star. Something has to happen here for this run to happen.


*Giolito? Not unless there is a rainout in Chicago and no DH schedule - he's pitching Sunday
** Giolito? No again if the schedule holds - two off days after their Sunday match means he's pitching next Sunday too - right before Nats series

Thursday, May 30, 2019

Re-Visiting Friends around the league

So we don't obsess over if the Nats are turning a corner and if they are doing it fast enough, why not take a stroll around the majors and see whats up?

NL East - you know what's going on here right? Well maybe not, because while you've been cheering on some good baseball finally coming around, the Phillies have been streaking, winning 9 of their last 12. The NL East no longer has the worst first place team! (Cubs at 31-23) or second place! (plenty of choices).  It's like a real grown-up division.

The former Nat you are probably most interested in is Bryce and "how's he doing" isn't straightforward.  How's he doing in general? Ok. Hitting for power and walking but striking out a ton and carrying a low average. Better recently (a .304 / .344 / .589 line since bottoming out at .219). Still not a mess in the field - never trust one year statistics (which goes too for Bryce this year if he ends up as "good")  How's he doing for that contract? Pretty miserable. He's probably playing like a 10-15 million dollar player and getting paid twice that. The Phillies can afford that but it's a lot of money off the table. Do the Phillies need him regardless? Oh god yes. Even before Herrerra's troubles the 3rd OF OPSs were 64 (Herrera), 47 (Gosselin), 21 (Williams), -17 (Quinn), -64 (Altherr).  So he's doing all right and helping the Phillies (and they are winning), but he's not earning his pay (but the winning has kept most boos away)

Ramos is doing ok for the Mets (.256 / .337 / .375) they probably expected more but they also were living with a lot less before him.

Nick Pivetta pitched himself out of the rotation. Blevins (ATL) is at the end of his career.

NL Central - Milwaukee has almost clawed it's way back to the top over the Cubs, while the Cardinals have freefell (free-falled?) going 6-18 in last 24 (last series won? vs the Nats!) to drop to 4th. Pirates and Reds, who are a little snake-bit, maintain their pretty decent for bottom of division status.

Gio has stopped the crazy great pitching but overall is still a positive innings eater the Brewers hoped for. His last start though - 102 pitches over 4 2/3 innings giving up 4 runs... if you want a reminder why it was time for him to go watch that. Roark has settled down and has been dependable. Not sure he can keep that HR rate down as far as it is, but here's not there to dominate.

Albers is ok in the pen for the Brew Crew. Kintzler is still pitching well for the Cubs, a bit homer prone but otherwise strong.  Tim Collins is looking strong for them, but in Iowa. Vazquez is having an All-Star closer season. Wieters is annoyingly doing great in his role backing up Molina.


NL West - Dodgers have separated from the Padres/Rockies/D-backs who all sit around .500.  Giants are an afterthought.

Murphy had been doing so poorly (OPS down to .572) that you wondered if his career was over but in the past two weeks looks like he has woken up. I still think he can't help but have a decent season in the thin air Colorado but we'll see if it matters at all. 

Stammen is doing fine in the pen for the Padres. Greg Holland is looking to join Felipe at the Mid-summer classic.  Desmond is still taking the Rockies money for below average play but he was doing worse as well. And they do love him in the clubhouse. Gott was doing well but is hurt now, supposed to be back on Tuesday.

AL East - Yankees and Rays are fighting it out for the top spot, while the Red Sox have expectedly come back into contention. The Blue Jays are just biding time until the trade deadline. The Os are the worst team in baseball

Sandy Leon is still providing poor back-up play for the Red Sox living off that odd 2016. Edwin Jackson's record breaking stint shows you why 13 teams gave up on him. Jimmy Cordero (TOR) is the rare Nats reliever not thriving elsewhere.

AL Central - Minnesota not only still holds their surprising lead but have the best record in baseball.  It won't last - they are pushed to these heights by some ridiculous best years ever (See : Schoop Castro  Odorizzi) but they probably have enough talent in guys like Sano, Kepler, Berrios to hold on. And for all we know Cleveland, who didn't try this off-season, might just throw in the towel anyway.  White Sox are fighting to show they are good enough to land FAs next year. Tigers and Royals are bad.

Lucas Giolito has finally broken out is seems. He's flirted with decent results before but he's now pitched decent in 7 straight outings, and very toog to great in 4 of the last 5. We hadn't seen that before. He's also back up on the radar gun and hitting high 90s when he needs to. This does look like an honest to good ness breakthrough. Now that doesn't mean he's a staff ace, but from what I've seen I'd be surprised if he finished this season with anyone doubting he's a Top 3 in a rotation guy and obviously there is upside. He turns 25 so he's not old either. Easy to forget how young he was.

Jefry Rodriguez is maybe hold onto back of a rotation spot good, but you knew that already. Clippard is back and pitching with the Indians and is doing Clippard things (being good but somehow not being appreciated for it). AJ Cole is in Cleveland too and has done ok but 9 innings! I don't buy it! Reynaldo Lopez isn't having the same breakout as Lucas, in fact, he's been pretty bad. So as a guy who always like Lucas more... Ha! Kelvin Herrera has plummented allowing runs in 9 of his last 14 appearance and multiple runs in each of his last 3. ZNN pitched poorly, pitched well, got hurt which about sums up his time in Detroit.

AL West - Houston still dominates. After a slow start Oakland is back up to two and after a hot start Seattle their 6-23 run makes St Louis look like unstoppable juggernauts. I'd say "poor Seattle" but I've found many Seattle fans to be the most insufferable Yankee haters outside of Boston so  "whatever Seattle"

Brad Peacock still lives and he's back as a starter for Houston and doing well. Last year he started one game, two years ago 21. But they seem to know what they are doing with him. Speaking of the Gio trade - Milone is pitching with the Mariners and is an ok stop gap. Austin Adams was picked up by Seattle and is doing great. Shwan Kelley (TEX) is also doing serviceable work in the pen. Treinen is not as unhittable as last year but he's still fine. Asdrubal (TEX) probably is at his last stop. The "what the hell is Brian Goodwin doing being good" has been slowly leaking air all month. Numbers are still good but the .240 no power no patience that has been chipping away at his fast start is probably the real Brian.


Probably missed a few but the bullpen thing is striking. Last year the Nats chose to move on from Madson, Kintzler, Kelley, Jefry Rodriguez, Milone, Collins, Holland, Gott, Cordero, Herrera, Cole, Enny Romero, and Austin Adams.  That's 13 arms. As of today Kinztler, Kelley, Holland, Gott, and Adams would make up one of the best pens in baseball. Milone, Collins, And Rodriguez, would probably be useful depth. That's an almost 75% miss rate in evaluation.  They aren't all OMG what did you do! moves. I can see moving on from Gott, J-Rod, Milone. Time may bring some of them back to Earth. But still when it seems like you were a "trade Doolittle, make Herrera the closer" away from being 100% wrong - that's bad.

Tuesday, May 28, 2019

Monday Quickie - Timelines

I haven't called the Nats season yet. It's just too early to do something like that, although the general historical examples brought out means we aren't actually far from that point.  Only a couple teams started as bad as the Nats and still made the playoffs. The Nats are trying to be the next and to do that they need to win. A lot. Soon.

The examples are last years Dodgers (16-26) and the 2005 Astros (15-30), but you'll notice that both of those records encompass fewer games than the Nats have played.  At this point their comebacks had started to various degrees. The Dodgers going into game 55 had gone 10-3 to pull to a respectable 25-29, and you could more easily see them coming back. The Astros had gone a mediocre 5-4 to bring their record to 20-34 (worse than the Nats now!), slowly turning the ship around. They hadn't made that move yet but were a only couple games from a 5 game win streak that would be followed by an 18-5 run that would put the season right. The Nationals, at 19-31 a few days ago, might have started something, and you won't know until you are a dozen games in and able to look back at it.

What we want to know right now is when will the Nats seasons officially be over? Or, if a miracle happens, officially be turned around? The Nats schedule sets up fairly well. Nats only have a 2 game set vs ATL next. A sweep or being swept is hardly telling. But then they go CIN CHW SDP CHW ARI.  That's a couple of underachievers, in the Reds and Dbacks, a mediocre squad in San Diego, and a bad one in Chicago. It's probably the second weakest run in the Nats schedule when you throw in these Marlins games. So that means a stumble here, even just .500 over the next 17 games... well 8-9, and I'd throw in the towel. If they can't win now there's no reason to believe they'll pick it up after the All-Star break when the schedule gets harder again.  That's easy enough.  So if you want a counter - 9 losses before June 16th. 

What about a turnaround? That's gotta wait until after this stretch. With a weak schedule the most likely scenario is the Nats start winning a bit more and over the next 17 games go something like 11-6, putting them at 33-38. We could see a 12-5 or 13-4 even. But with this schedule I'd be wary about getting too excited.What happens next would be the turning point. After these 17 the Nats play 7 at home (part of a homestand started with the D-backs) versus the Phillies and Braves.  Dominate there 5-2, 6-1 and you could officially take whatever decent record they put up over the last 17 (say even 10-7) and plot a path forward. Sure low-end here they are... 37-41, but then comes the easiest stretch of the Nats season MIA DET MIA KC (PHI) BAL.  You'd have a Nats team who, starting with this Marlins series, would have gone 18-10 going into a 17 games stretch where they'd be expect to go another 10-7 minimum.  28-17 from going into the Marlins series puts them at 47-48 and you can start thinking about surging to a Wild Card as the Nats would be one of the better teams in baseball for two months. It would still be a precarious situation but it would be conceivable. (and this is the absolute low-end of what I would consider - tick those each up a game 11-6, 6-1, 11-6 and you have the team going 31-14 since the Marlins series and sitting at 50-45 and no one would blink twice at backing that team)

Anyway so that's where I am.  I'm 9 losses in these next 17 games from calling the season lost. We're probably* 25 games from even thinking about whether the season is truly turned around and probably waiting for the 17 games after that to truly buy into it. Certainly at least the All-Star Break.

*Because of course like a 15-0 run would do it. We have to leave open the improbable, but not impossible scenarios

Friday, May 24, 2019

Four paths

The Nats are not really at a crossroads. This season is all but lost and they need to focus on what comes next.  Primarily that means either firing Davey or saying flat out they aren't firing Davey. But secondarily (and I mean that only in a timing sense here - it is the primary concern) they need to figure out what has gone wrong with a team that looked to win over 90 games and make the playoffs for the 3rd time in 4 years. Flopping around .500 is bad luck. This? This means there are structural issues.

What isn't looking like a problem for next year? The three aces are as promised. No one is lighting th world on fire here but they all have ERAs between 3.00 and 3.50 and have no reason to believe those ERAs are flukily good. (in fact Stras and Max might deserve lower numbers - that's what happens when the pen let's every runner you leave on base score). Doolittle, despite the blip, has to be seen as a reliable back end reliever. Soto, while not hitting as well as you'd hope, is still doing well and is a cornerstone to build around if not someone who might carry a team. Robles is almost in the same position, though his K-rate gives you pause and the less than impressive defense adds time to that stoppage, you still would start this guy in CF next year and expect an average league performance. Turner has come down from his hot start but history suggests he's an average bat with great speed and can handle short. One less things to worry about.

That's a pretty solid core!  Three aces, which any team would love to have. A reliever, Two OFs (one might be iffy but he's there in CF) and a SS. It covers some tough spots like SS and CF. But of course that isn't enough. They need to (1) find at least one star bat, if Soto gets back to MVP type, if not two, if he doesn't (2) make sure no more than 1 spot in the line-up is a hole to start the year (3) add a couple reliable arms to the pen and (4) get a good #4 and (5) either get something to eat innings in #5, or flesh out the bullpen to be reliable up to the last arm.

I'll note now, you can probably get away with (and probably will have to get away with given the limited solutions) catcher. The siutation isn't ideal but the two headed monster is in fact working out in some fashion with Suzuki hitting average.Assuming they don't both suck at year's end there's your catcher plan for next season.

That leaves 1B, 2B, 3B, OF, 4th SP, 5th SP, and at least two more RP - probably three if you don't make one of those other RP a star. (along with not leaving the bench and deep pen terrible but we'll ignore that for now)

OK what can the Nats do?

1) The No-Rebuild.  Basically you resign Rendon. There's your 3B. There's your MVP bat. You resign Howie. There's your 1B and decent bat there. You sign/trade for an OF. (Dickerson?) Sign/trade for a 4th starter. (Chacin?). Sign a couple relief arms (Jansen and Stammen?) Trade Eaton for another one. And do #5.  Let Kieboom have his full start and hope this works out.

This would be very Nats (well if you replace Jansen with say... Jeremy Jeffress) and assuming Soto picks up a little you'd look at the team and go - ok - it's probably around 90 wins and then hope the issues in the bench and pen don't come into play .

2) The No-Rebuild Plus - Do the above but then fill out the bench and pen with legit arms that you like all but the last one or last guy on the bench. The goal for either of the first two is contending in 2019. The first plan is to do it the way the Nats usually do. Decent solutions where needed, cheap around the margins, hoping those things don't get exposed. The second way is more of an all-in, at least as much as you can with limited resources to deal and a FA market that's generally old.

3) The Quick Rebuild - you trade Rendon and Doolittle and others for a couple others for guys ready next year or the year after. You do something like sign Cole and Jansen in the off-season and note you are ready to spend for a bat next off-season depending on where greatest need is but really you are eyeing guys like Springer and Betts to fill in the OF gap and hoping Garcia and Keiboom can fill in the IF. The idea here is 2020 would look like an 80-85 win team but with some strengths that could find the team catchy a lucky break into the playoffs and with an obvious path forward for Max's last contract year.

4) The Long Rebuild - You trade those guys and you trade Max. There is no real plan here other than hoping it comes together for 2021 or 2022. You don't sign anyone this off-season but instead plan to use 2020 to evaluate the guys you got in trade along with Kieboom, Garcia and any starting or relieving arm you even sort of like who ends 2019 in A+ ball or above. You are hoping it works out that next off-season (after 2020) you start filling holes with FAs but if not you are prepared to wait a year after that, possibly now dealing Turner if Garcia and Kieboom both look like major leaguers because he'd only be around definitely in 2022

The No-Rebuild Plus is probably the way most guys would go here. But it's the most expensive going top notch in some places (Jansen) and leaving no holes. The Long Rebuild is what most "experts" will probably suggest (hell they may suggest trading Stras which makes little sense to me) but all it guarantees is that the Nats won't win soon and are ok with not winning later. I assume the Nats are going to be the Nats though and look at #1 as the likely future (sans Jansen).

Thursday, May 23, 2019

Davey never stood a chance

Look I said it at the time. The Nats, after letting Dusty go, could do one (or both) of two things.

They could :
1. Hire a manager with a track record of getting to the playoffs and succeeding, or
2. They could hire a manager with no track record, hand him a foolproof team, and hope he can win in the playoffs by skill or luck

They chose to do neither. They hired a manager with no track record in Davey, but they handed him a team that wasn't foolproof. It was arguably the best put together Nats team going into the season (A bullpen with three arms you paid for that should be good? I'm fainting) but it still wasn't foolproof. The depth in the pen wasn't there, nor was the lights-out no thinking finish. The lack of depth meant the "two-time Hellickson" plan would be contingent on nothing going wrong with the first 4, a risky proposition with any rotation even if the Nats were probably the best set-up for that a team can be. They didn't fix catcher at all leaving a huge hole. They didn't bring in a 4th OF when it seemed like a decent bet they could need two at some point of the year given the injury and performance history of the players involved.  Pretty much all these came to roost on Davey and he didn't handle it.

This year they went in with a worse team. So two years removed from Dusty coming one game from winning the Nats first playoffs series they had a worse team with a worse manager by design. The results are part of why we are seeing what we are seeing.

Wednesday, May 22, 2019

Trade Value Post!

This is how things are going. Admitting anything less is delusional. The Nats are closing in on Memorial day fighting for the worst record out of the non-historically embarrasing teams. Chances for a division title are dying, playoffs is slim, and even .500 is no longer guaranteed.

If the Nats are to give it up and pack it in (which they could very easily in a week) what do they have to offer?We say "OH they can trade Rendon for a bundle!" but the new MLB doesn't value production as much as it values cost and control and Rendon is a FA next year with a decent contract number which lowers his value. 

The good news for the Nats is that they rarely sign bad contract so there is barely anyone you look at his deal and say"untradable". The bad news for the Nats is they don't have a ton of players who are seen as good and are doing well right now (that they'd want to trade anyway).  Let's start down this road!

We're assuming the goal is to be good in the 2022 range and that means keeping Turner, Robles, Soto, Strasburg and Corbin who are all in contol to (and past) that year.

FAs after this year
Rendon is the prize here providing solid D and a great bat. The 18.8 million isn't too bad when cut to part of a season but it's not ignorable either. Kendrick is also a nice piece for a team to have as he still hits and has at least flexibility in name. Dozier might bring back something. Parra should be traded now. Hellickson is worthless right now.

FA with a team option for next year 
Doolittle comes in here and that contract (7 mill this year, 6 million or 500k! buyout next) is super favorable. I can see Doolittle bring back more than Rendon. Zimm and Rosenthal are like Hellickson. Matt Adams, if he can come back and hit, might bring back the most. Or perhaps Gomes, given a non oppressive 9 million 1 mill buyout for anyone needing a catcher and willing to take a chance. Sipp might alos bring back something. Eaton is interesting as if you like him he's cheap through 2021. But there seems to be baggage here and his performance this year isn't making anyone more interested in him.

FA after next year 
Suzuki would probably be a good answer for anyone needing a catcher. MAT is still under arbitration right now and his value is probably a bit too high given he's stopped hitting.

FA with a team option after next year. 
Anibal Sanchez is the only one who has only this and he worhtless. Gomes and Eaton also have options for 2021 (along with options for 2020) which make them fun gambles if you like them but again not sure anyone does right now. You are selling low on both. 

FA after 2021
The last batch of guys you'd consider dealing. The control value here is high. You know you have these guys under control.   Max is the elephant in the room here. I don't know how you can trade him.  He's basically become the Nats in his time here, but the fact is he's probably not going to be along for the next window. Barraclough with his cheap current deal (1.73M) and being under arbitration would get back something, especially if he can have a little run here.  Ross might be interesting if he can ever stay healthy. Time your decent healthy run right Joe!


If the Nats deal I see Doolittle bringing in the most. Max would pass him, even with that contract, if the Nats can part with him. Rendon, FA to be slips in right behind that. Suzuki and Kendrick would bring back something interesting. Right now nearly everyone else that could be dealt (Adams, Sipp, Eaton, MAT, Gomes, Barraclough) would be a sell low situation and have a more limited return.

Monday, May 20, 2019

Monday Quickie - the real test

The Nats needed to take 2 of 3 at home from the Mets.   DONE
The Nats needed to not get swept by the Cubs at home.  DONE

Now the Nats need to win 3 of the next 4 in NY.  Good luck.

Why do they need to do so much? Because it gets late early around here. 21-29 50 games means a 66-46 pace just to get to 87 wins. A 69-43 pace to get to 90 wins. That's a 100 win pace. To get to 90 wins. Which may not get you anywhere.

Of course one win hardly matters I guess, but winning 3 would also put the Mets in the Nats rear view and mean from that point on they'd only have to outplay two teams not three. This is important because they'll be 13 games into their Mets set and with only 6 games left, there's only so much catching up you can count on yourself to do.

With Corbin, Max and Stras lined up in the series (not in order but you get the point), with almost everyone that matters back from injury and with a couple games under their belt, there is no excuse.  This is 95% the Nats team you expected to have at the start of the year. They have to play completely up to their potential from here on out to have a chance. And "from here on out" means "from here on out" today. Get on it

Other notes :

Soto got a hit in every game this last series, with a couple doubles (one that was nearly a homer). Hopefully it's him heating up.

Everyone is hitting right now, except for Yan Gomes who appears to be pushed to a back-up role for Suzuki. Oh well. This is why you got two starters. Let's hope Suzuki's defensive issues don't matter so much.

Nothing can be said about the bullpen. It's still a mess. They still won't deal with it, hoping I guess that a miracle will happen.  Boz writes an optimistic piece that notes if you look at career ERAs the pen is a nasty surprise no one could have seen coming. Of course that's a stupid way to look at it, and the fact Rizzo plays along (or asked for this take) is insulting.  Let's look at the numbers he puts out there for a second. These were the ERAs before yesterday's games

13.50 ERA - that's Dan Jennings. 2.96 career ERA. Basically has been a LOOGY type and really had bad splits in 2018. If used for LHB only this would be a surprise but he isn't (and can't afford to be) used in that matter. Not a surprise.
36.00 ERA - Rosenthal. Was a very good pitcher but an huge injury risk coming in having not pitched since 2017. Not a surprise.
8.55 ERA - Grace. 3.54.  OK maybe we have one here. Grace was good last year. He's awful this year. No two ways about it. If he was putting up a 4.50 even I might say not a surprise but an 8.50? Ok you got me.
5.82 ERA - Suero  3.59 career. He's actually pitching ok, A little bit unlucky, and with some bad bullpen help for him, leading to a high ERA. But he's pitching basically like he should overall. It's a surprise his ERA is high but not his actual pitching.
4.02 ERA - Miller. 4.48 career. They actually had this wrong to start using only his Nats numbers. He's pitching worse than his 4.02 ERA would say but a guy that put up two years of over 5.00 ERAs and then missed a year with injury doing poorly a couple years later? Not a surprise. 
6.00 ERA - Sipp 3.67 career. A joke to try this. He had a 4.95 ERA in 2016 and a 5.79 in 2017.  2018 looked fluky and 2019 proves it. Not a surprise.
4.86 ERA - Barraclough. 3.21 career. But 4.20 last year. He's pitching worse but it's questionable if it's enough to say it is a surprise.

So overall there is one pitcher throwing surprisingly poor (Grace), another maybe (Barraclough) and one getting surprisingly poor results (Suero) but once you add in all these bullpen guys failing you see where that comes from. Any guy Suero leaves on is coming home. The surprise is not that any one of these guys is doing poorly it's that they all are. But let's think about this again.  Who could be doing exactly as expected? Doolittle, Jennings, Rosenthal, Suero, Miller, Sipp. So you have one guy under-performing slightly in Barraclough and one under-performing a lot in Grace. That's not some sort of impossible scenario. What are the chances of 2 under-performing guys and no over-performing ones in a group of 8? probably pretty decent.

The problem here is with Jennings and Rosenthal and Sipp they were wrong. These are obviously guys who are bad now. It was a possibility. They took a chance. But just because they might have worked out we can't say "oh these are coin flips. Darn our luck" Nothing about these guys suggest they were ever anything more than trying to get lucky. Proper evaluation should have caught these guys. You can't bring in 3 20% chances and pretend they were three 80% ers. There's a reason these guys lingered in FA. Also Miller is not really good.  The pen was half bad to start. They are trying to pin it on surprise, say it's almost impossible but it's wasn't. This was failure by design. 

Friday, May 17, 2019

What needs to happen

2 of 3.  That's great. Now can they do the 3 of 4 in the next series? And not get swept by the Cubs before that?  (Not sure. And probably so, sweeps are hard).  Sanchez being hurt is both a big deal and not. It's a big deal because the Nats don't have a replacement lined up. Their first choice would probably be to stretch out Fedde. It's something that was being bandied about before. But he got hammered yesterday in his second inning and doesn't look possibly ready to start. It's not a big deal because Sanchez was stinking up the joint, so replacing him with someone else who is likely to do the same doesn't change that spot in the order at all.

The biggest Q from yesterday is why use Doolittle in a 4 run 3 run game? Following a game he pitched? With no days off?   I get the idea that you want to put the hammer down on this game (ed - and get him a save) but you saw the almost worst case happen. Doolittle wasn't sharp, had to throw 31 pitches, and almost lost the game. He didn't, but now he's unavailable for tonight. It was the gamble Fake Davey took, that Doolittle could go 1-2-3 quickly, and when it didn't happen he was stuck because no one is behind Sean to bail him out. 

On with the season! The Nats are being saved by their utterly disappointing division, but as we talked about a couple days ago, it would take a very strong finish still to end up in the playoffs. But what would that take.  Here's my quick set of necessities for the Nats to make that 120 game run.

1) No Injury Issues - there's a lot of ways this could fall. You don't want Gomes and Suzuki out at the same time for instance. But really I narrow it down to two things - 1) None of the Big 3 starters go down for a long time and 2) Never again this season do the Nats have 2 of these 3 batters out - Rendon, Soto, & Turner.

2) Rendon is Rendon and someone hits like a star behind him.  Any good line-up needs at least two big bats in it and the Nats are struggling to find that 2nd one after Rendon. Ideally it would be Soto but he's flailing right now, striking out 40+% more than last year.  But it doesn't have to be Soto. Kendrick could keep this up (I guess, I'm not betting on it). Robles could round out. Turner could have his best year at the plate* Someone could surprise. But it needs to happen

3) Almost everyone else just do what you are supposed to.  It does't have to be everyone but take a look around and the disappointments (Gomes, Zimmerman, Dozier, Difo, Soto, Robles?, Eaton, Adams, Taylor) way outnumber the guys just hitting expectations (Suzuki, Robles?) or surpassing it (Rendon, Kendrick).  These numbers have to fall more in line. A couple guys ok. That happens. 2/3rd of your offense? That can't be overcome.

4) The Big 3 have to pitch like it.  The results aren't there but so far they are pitching how they should be. Keep it up

5) Either the 4 spot or the 5 spot has to be not garbage.  RIght now Sanchez has been bad and Hellickson worse. If you are asking your Top 3 to win like 70% of the games they pitch you can't have it undone by the bottom 2 losing 70%.  At least one of these spots has to become a 50/50 proposition.

6) The bullpen needs another 95% reliable arm.  Kimbrel would do it. Of course they aren't going to get Kimbrel because why pay that money when if any of the above 5 things don't work out it would be "wasted". So someone needs to step up and be good.  Maybe it's one inning Fedde. Maybe Suero gets his act together. Maybe Barraclough steps up.  I don't know. It would be kind of a surprise.

7) The bullpen needs to clamp down on inherited runners. This is different from the #6 thing because that's about shutting down late inning. Here the Nats just need to get to normal on letting inherited runners score. Right now they lead the majors with 42% of runners scoring. The average is about 30%. Given the imperfections of the back of the rotation and the rest of the pen, runners are going to be out there. They need to at least stop waving them around and giving opponents those extra 1-2 runs a game.

8) Play Better Defense - The Nats aren't suddenly going to become a good defensive team. They lack a lot of range in the OF and on the right side of the IF. But cut down on the errors. Position better maybe.  Get in the normal area of bad team defense and out of the "ooooh" place you are in now.


There you go. Do these 8 things, hell maybe 7 of 8, and I think the Nats can pull out that swing they need. 

*I think one year Turner will hit like .320 with 25 homers, 9 3Bm 25 2Bs and steal 40 bases and be a mini-star. One year. 

Thursday, May 16, 2019

Increment again

I kept meaning to update this post (remember when I said look out for the OF and you said "you crazy" and then the outfield wasn't good and had to be saved by an out of nowhere ROY season by Soto? Remember?) but never got around to it and now it's kind of cheating to do it 40 games into a season but still I want to see how the Nats plans would have done looking at things this way.

After 2018 - Now you can't avoid getting a C. You have to replace Adams and Murphy. Maybe get a better MI back-up to compensate for Kendrick's injury (or to replace him if he moves into 2B). Maaaaybe a new 4th OF?  You need at least two starters, and three full-season guys honestly would be better after the half-time 5th starter plan blew up in the Nats face. At least two dependable guys to get you to Doolittle. 

They brought in Suzuki AND Gomes at catcher - a VERY GOOD SOLUTION. In a normal year you might even say this was a great solution, but last year you actually had two great solutions staring you in the face with Grandal and Realmuto. This was a clever way to not do those and end up feeling good about your C spot but still you were finding a clever way not to do obvious great solutions.

They brought Adams back to replace Adams - GREAT SOLUTION

They brought in Dozier to replace Murphy or Kendrick, and that's it - POOR SOLUTION. It might have been ok if Kendrick was ready to start year, but he wasn't and they knew it far enough out to plan better. Difo has shown himself to be only an "emergency or expanded roster D" guy so you were entrusting 2B to a guy who ended last year on a real down note and a not ready player. Kendrick would come back relatively soon but in the meantime one injury threw the whole thing into shambles (and the 2nd made it even worse!).

They didn't replace the 4th OF, MAT kept it - GOOD SOLUTION. Look, I tried to find a better option. Adam Jones might have been it and really he's a tough fit here because he's a starter and yet he wasn't going to push anyone starting out. That would have been great but MAT is fine.

They didn't get three full-time starters - POOR SOLUTION. If it were just Corbin it would obviously be great. He's the best third the Nats have had since ZNN left and Gio turned for the worse. But starting pitching has to be viewed in total and they replaced the second Roark/Gio with a less reliable version of them who was likely to pitch no better and then decided to try the Hellickson plan again. It didn't work in 2017 and now they were going to try it again with a worse set-up. Boggles the mind. Sure it could work out better but objectively Anibal was more likely to need bullpen help and that's the key to the whole Hellickson plan.

They didn't get two dependable guys - POOR SOLUTION. I'm willing to accept Barraclough as dependable guy #2 if there was a better dependable guy #1. There wasn't There was completely undependable Trevor Rosenthal.  We've seen how that worked out.


This was more typical Nats than last year. They didn't just outright ignore problems this year. But they did try to skirt a corner here and there. And for the Nats that never seems to work in their favor does it? The starting pitching you can almost excuse. They upgraded the 3 spot and in return made the back-end worse. It was a trade-off. Ok. At second though they tried to sneak through a what would be a bad plan for the first month or so. Stop trying to do that! And in the pen they went with hope and prayers. I guess this is in response to last year when they did have 3 good dependable (but not great) arms back there and it didn't work out, but if a good plan fails you don't respond with a bad one. 



Wednesday, May 15, 2019

Worry about yourself

Nats fans are taking great glee in the struggles of departed star Bryce Harper. He's had a disappointing start* to his Phillies career (current' .219 / .370 / .432) and given the completely average play of Andrew McCutchen and the "OH DEAR GOD LOOK AWAY" play from any other outfielder, the Phillies have an OF that ranks among the worst in the National League.

But while you are snarking out in joy, right above them is a team that you might recognize. A team that was supposed to be lead by their OF to a playoff spot this season. You might have seen them play in Nationals Park, once, twice, or 81 times last year. Yes the Nationals outfield this year has rated out as somewhere around 12th best in the National League

Victor Robles has been the best of the bunch and he hasn't exactly lit the world on fire. He strikes out too much (27.6%) and never walks (4.3%!) and his defense, which by physical ability could be better than MAT, is in fact, not better than MAT**. There's some instinct thing he doesn't have which means he doesn't take full advantage of those gifts. But he's showing far more pop than expected (leads the Nats in HRs) and CF is a hard position to fill, so the little compromises at the plate and in the field currently means  in the NL*** the above description makes him an average CF.

Adam Eaton is rapidly losing any positive ability. When the Nats got him he was kind of a scaled down Werth at the plate in that he did a little bit of everything. It was all a step or two down from Jayson but in that same vein - he could hit for average, he walked a little, he was a solid baserunner, and he had just enough sneaky pop to make him a good offensive player. Meanwhile he was putting up great corner OF D.  But multiple injuries and age have sapped his power, going from an expected 30 2B, 15 HR guy to a 20 doubles, 10 HR type. Tweak the average down a bit, get challenged more so you walk a less - suddenly you are not good anymore. This could still work if he was putting up plus numbers in the field but he's now a negative there. It could just be a slow start and an average pick-up could happen, but the fielding and power losses are here to stay. At best he'll end up average,  right now he's just not a good player, a fourth OF masquerading as a starter.

So with rookie Robles working out kinks and Eaton on a decline, it's more imperative than expected that Soto follow-up his near ROY campaign with something great.  Instead he's arguably been the most disappointing of the three.  Worst case Bryce is what you are seeing in Philly, if his defense had kept being terrible. Well I'm sorry to say... that's kind of what's going on with Soto right now. Early on the diagnosis was simple - they weren't giving him fastballs. But as the season progressed they've fed him more and more, just not where he likes them (up in the zone) and they've figured out how to set him up to miss better as his K rate is way up.

He's only 20 so if you stopped the season right now and said this was Soto's year (.235 with 30 homers, 100 walks but 200 Ks) I'd say that's disappointing but it's still a decent season and he can grow on it. Bryce, for his youth, isn't going to get better. He may DO better - his history suggests it - but he won't get better. Juan can. But there's another issue here beyond the slow start. Soto is BAD in the field. Last year wasn't a fluke. He's not good. He's not getting better. He maybe can't play the OF? Like I mean Adam Dunn played the OF. But for Juan Soto at 20 to already looks like a guy that you say "Oh you gotta move this guy" to me doesn't even make me feel good about moving him to first. Juan Soto is probably a DH. Like now.

This isn't unexpected, but it is a problem. The idea of bad defense Soto taking up a corner OF spot was always OK because you had ++ defense Robles in CF helping him out, because + defense Eaton in RF didn't need it.  Now it's closer to average defense Robles, trying to cover for bad defense Eaton, or really trying to cover for terrible defense Soto while Eaton is left to fend for himself. The Nationals wake up in Mid May with the second worst defensive OF in baseball so far this year.

I'm both ok with and worried about the long run here. I'm ok, because given their youth I fully expect Robles to be a ML worthy OF (though maybe not a CF?) and Soto to hit better, probably much. Maybe Robles isn't the All-Star defender and Soto isn't the every year MVP bat, but two major league players under control through 2024? You can work with that. I'm worried though because these guys weren't supposed to be just pieces. They were supposed to be the bedrock you build on. Soto was supposed to be that MVP type, Robles that All-Star so the Nats could put some money elsewhere to plug holes, not a TON of money out there to bring in a star bat. If Robles and Soto lean toward the former instead of the latter, I'm not convinced the Nats will outlay the money necessary to keep the offense humming while at the same time continuing to cover for the lack of any real starting pitching prospects.

At the very least the Nats NEED Rendon back. He's a proven bat, if not one proven to give you three years in a row. They may need more.


*If you are a Phillies fans for some reason reading this blog - it isn't ALL bad. He still is walking enough to be a positive offensive presence. His defense has rated as good this year, and while I don't believe that, it means that what I also didn't believe - the OMG WORST FIELDER EVER scare from last year - was in fact nothing, and he should probably put up middling, don't have to replace him d, in the corner for a few years. Also you are in first place. You wanted Bryce and you wanted to be in first so here you are! 

**I still think Nats fans don't get that prime MAT was one of the best CF in the game. Not THE best, but probably the best of the rest after you got past the truly special players. 

*** You could probably argue that the top 5 CFs are in the AL.

Monday, May 13, 2019

Monday Quickie - Living on the Edge

And like the Aerosmith song - this is terrible.

The Nats didn't "survive" with a 4-6 run I wanted. They didn't collapse a 2-8 run I feared.  They split the difference and pulled out a 3-7, "things are bad but there is a glimmer of hope" run that of course they would run.  Let's look at the Nats season so far

They are 16-24. At 40 games they are at the quarter turn of the season. That's a lot! But it's also not too much to recover from depending on where you stand.  As always it's instructive to find the record you think is necessary to get to the playoffs/division win, and what it would take to get there.

The division - The Phillies are on a 95-96 win pace but they've also played maybe the weakest schedule in baseball. Let's say we think then they'll slow down and... 93 wins will be enough to take the division outright. That means in the remaining 122 games the Nats need to go 77-45. That's a .631 winning percentage or a 102-103 win pace. That's a tall ask.

What about Wild Card - The second wild card right now is in the hands of the Pirates on an 87-88 win pace. That's not an uncommon 2nd WC win total. Let's say 88 wins.  So the Nats need to go 72-47, or a .590 winning percentage. That's a 95-96 win pace. That's tough, too!

Basically however good you want the Nats to be they have an anchor of a 16-24 start to overcome. If you want them to be .500 by Game 80 (June 26th) they have to go 24-16 over that time. That's certainly possible! Six teams did it in the first 40 games (and the Phillies can join them with a win in their next game). But again - that's to be .500.  Then they have to be however many OVER .500 for the rest of the year to hit your target. You wanted 91 wins? That's 20 over. So they have to be 20 over in the remaining 82 games. 51-31.  That's 100+ win baseball. They've set up the year so they have to be one of the best teams nearly every month for the rest of the year.

The saving grace remains the mediocre NL East. IF the Phillies fall the Braves and the Mets seem like .500 teams. It's likely in this scenario that someone wins the division with 87/88 wins.  That's great - but it's also no better than the Wild Card situation. But the mediocrity opens up another possibility that it could it be under that.  84 or 85 wins? It doesn't seem like a big difference but in the end every game matters.

That makes these next two Mets series important. The Nats can force the issue by taking a few more from the Mets than would be expected.  Win 5 of 7. Set up these series. Let the Cubs one go. Of course they aren't doing that and Max, who could pitch twice against the Mets is only going once. Oh well, maybe next season!

Friday, May 10, 2019

Nats win!

Last night was the best example of how the 2019 pitching staff's season would go. Starter goes deep. Leaves with lead. In comes someone, maybe two if match-ups dictate or starter went out in 7th, and holds the lead. In comes Doolittle, finishes the game. Rinse, repeat 50 or so times. Last night was the 7th time you could possible say that's happened this season, putting the Nats on pace for 30, not 50 or so type games. Such is how 2019 has gone.

But a win! And in the first game of a series too! The Nats are on the precipice of irrelevance, which is hard to be on this early in the year, and they desperately need something to go right? Three out of 4 in LA when one looked likely would be that.

Tonight is an interesting game because tomorrow Soto comes back. Win tonight and all of a sudden there is a little jazz to that. 2 in a row, team back to "injured but not beyond what a talented team should be able to handle" status... There would definitely be a little "OK now we're getting back to normal and we're going to start winning!" (Now mind you the Nats were in a better situation than this through April 20th and managed a 9-10 record so it isn't like things were going swimmingly before injuries derailed them, but you take what you can get). However tonight is an Anibal Sanchez start and while the pen is rested, well, you've seen the rest of the pen.  The best bet will be Maeda continuing with control issues and the Nats winning a slugfest. I wish them well but I'm not putting money on these guys tonight.

Whatever the issues the Nats have had - they'd be worse off in any other division. Hell the NL East only has on team over two games UNDER .500 right now. If the NL East is no good, then the Nats could have more wins coming up than we thought, which means they can get things right.


A moment to talk about Corbin.

Corbin isn't Max. He's not even Strasburg. But he's right there and he's been pitching more like last year than years before that.  He has come back a little but that is probably to be expected that season at that age (28) was almost certainly a peak. But that doesn't mean he still can't be effective. Last year was Cy Young worthy. They don't need that from him. They need "hey this guy is also pretty good".  It's something they haven't really had since 2015. After that Gio started to slip and ZNN was gone. Sure Roark WAS good, but he wasn't someone you'd rely on for that. He just did it and you were glad.

Anyway so Corbin's walk rate is up and strikeouts are down and HR rate is up but for the most part last year matched career numbers. Last night you saw that 8 Ks in 7 is great but under what he was pumping out last year. 4BB in 7 is bad actually, and well above what we was getting.What's saving him now is a low BABIP (.266) which shouldn't hold. I'd love to tell you that's because he's fooling them into soft contact or getting a lot more GBs but neither is true. A lot of pop-ups? Yes. I'm not sure that's sustainable though. But that doesn't mean he's going to get rocked. These numbers are moving from career highs - a little worse is fine. that BABIP is low but not crazily so, a bump up will be ok.  It means he'll have that 3.50+ ERA instead of 3.20 but give me that and 6-7 innings and I'll take that every day.

Corbin gives you someone to rely on as a stopper again. Someone to rely on if the Nats make the playoffs. He resets the rotation to a Nats rotation you are accustomed to, which they haven't had for a year and a half at least - if you are just thinking about good pitching, and three years if you are thinking about three guys you feel you can count on.  It alone isn't enough - see all of this year so far and it's probably more fleeting than the 2012 arrival of this for Nats fans - but it's here in 2019 and it's a good thing to have.

Thursday, May 09, 2019

When you can fire Davey

First a thought experiment

Adrian Sanchez is not a good major league baseball player. He was not good when first brought up in 2017, and then into 2018 was also not good. While you could say the problem was a lack of major league experience the facts are he simply doesn't belong on a major league roster beyond emergency use status. This was clear after 2017 and is some small part of the reason Matt Adams was signed.  No one batted an eye. So someone shows they are clearly not ready for the job they are handed.  They are replaced. It is the way of the world and we are fine with it.

What makes managing different?

Well, of course the huge one thing is that there is only one hard and fast measurement of managing success, wins, and it's unclear how much the manager contributes to that. It's as if we could only evaluate pitchers by opponents BABIP. But our choices are (1) use the flawed measurement we have or (2) use nothing, and I'd at least take the flawed measurement into account.  That's what's going on with Davey.  He doesn't manage the team to win. That's a fact. It's arguable even considering injuries and the like, he doesn't get them to the success rate they should have. Does that overcome the other things we don't see? Well we fans REALLY don't see those things so it's mostly a shrug. Don't know. Don't care. That's why experience matters here. You may be able to point to testimonials from a long managerial career saying "No, this guy really gets it! This is just bad luck and timing!" But Davey doesn't have that either. So all we have is management's word that they aren't keeping him just because they are paying him, but he really is a good manager that's gotten some bad breaks.


At this point it just the flawed use of wins, versus the unverifiable use of words.  Fun times for us soulless automatons. Given the managements unreliability when it comes to dealing with managers, I feel compelled to go with the flawed use of wins and hope that Davey gets fired.

When? I've never been a fan of the dramatic firings.  Fans love it because it matches the anger they usually feel, but I think it's a poor business move that may make candidates think twice about coming to your organization.  Sure demand is high and supply is low, but you still want to be THE place people want to go to, not the place they go to because that's what's available.  you'll get better people the first way.  So I wouldn't fire Davey now. You could fire him as soon as the Nats are back home assuming they don't sweep the Dodgers or anything.

Alternatively, if you like Davey, or want to keep him around for other reasons, you can use the recent run to keep him around. Massive injuries, good teams, tough road trip (PHI -> MIL -> LA is a slog, even without mechanical issues). It was the worst case scenario. So you keep him around until Soto is back (Saturday) and Turner is back (maybe a week after that - he'll need a couple AA games probably - yes AA - he aint' going to Fresno) and the team has played a while.  That could be as late as June 5th.  You'd have to assume a poor or even middling showing with a full strength team when they go on a vMIA, @ATL, @CIN, vCHW run would be telling enough. Or even stretch it out to include the @SDP @CHW  road swing if you must. June 11th. That's the latest date I could possibly see a still underperforming Davey here. If he's here beyond that either the team has gotten better, gone through even more dramatic injury problems (and Davey is just here to suck up the losses), or you don't want to pay two guys. 

Wednesday, May 08, 2019

How bad is too bad?

When the Nats lost Trea Turner on April 3rd to a hand injury it was unfortunate, but not something to worry about. Unless you really believe in single year defensive WAR stats (and you should NOT really believe in single year defensive WAR stats) Trea was an important cog, but not the Nats best player. Almost every team will suffer through an injury to an important player, and should be able to soldier on with little effect. It was a typical baseball problem, just earlier than you'd like.

When Rendon went out on April 21st the situation became problematic. He is arguably the Nats best player. Even with a decent back-up in line (Kendrick) now you had two important cogs out. That's harder to overcome. Not impossible mind you, but a challenge. Especially when Kendrick was needed to spell some bad play elsewhere. This problem doesn't happen to every baseball team, but it isn't uncommon. Maybe half will fight out a stretch like this. It's tough but a playoff team should be able to play good baseball, if not winning baseball. 

When Juan Soto went out on May 1st, things changed to dire. Soto had been expected to be a huge bat for the Nats this year and while he wasn't exactly doing that he was still producing. Now you had three important cogs out. Your depth would be tested as far as it could reasonably be expected to go. And honestly all you'd be expected to do is hold ground give the players lost. .500 would be a fine run while this situation was happening.

When Matt Adams went out on May 5th things it became a situation of survival. Zimmerman, who Adams was replacing, being gone wasn't a huge deal because Adams was the very capable, arguably better, back-up for him. Adams isn't an important cog, but he's a decent piece. But more importantly, at this point, with three infielders and an outfielder out, you start to dig past your expected depth. If this was the only injury Kendrick or Dozier might be manning first. With this being the fourth you force someone not expected to play at all into an every day role. At this point the expectation is only to not be embarrassing. A 70 win pace would be fine. Winning 4 out of every 10 games more likely hoping you don't run into tough competition.


Suffice to say the Nats were in a bad spot the past few days. No team could be expected to continue to produce at major league levels with three important bats and another starter out. You'd only be expected to survive. But here are some records

After Trea : 8-7
After Rendon : 3-6
After Soto : 2-2
After Adams : 0-3

The Nats didn't play well enough, in my opinion, after Trea went down. They didn't play well enough, in my opinion, after Rendon went down. They did play well enough after Soto went down, and not after Adams went down, though those are both a more limited number of games.

The overall count after Rendon is 5-11, after Trea is 13-18. To me it's tough to look at those numbers and say "Davey is doing a good job keeping things together".  Where here do you see leadership translating to something on the field?

It would be fine if Davey had a history of doing such. It's five weeks of baseball and things happen. Catch even breaks and the Nats are maybe sitting at 16-19 which is more reasonable. We all know the bullpen issues. But Davey doesn't have this history. Last year's team faced some adversity and also crashed at one point running off a 9-21 stretch.

He may be keeping the clubhouse together but the results are about as bad as can be. There are only 3 teams in baseball with a worse record.  I ask you again - Where do you see leadership translating to something on the field? If it doesn't translate to something on the field, what is the value of it? If 200 games is not enough time for us to see it, how many games would be?

No manager is going to turn this ship around into a 90+ win playoff team. It might happen but it would be luck as the team would have to play like a 97 win squad the rest of the year just to get to 90 wins, which is above nearly all expectations. But another manager might get this team to play simply to expectations, something Davey has continuously failed to do, even adjusting for the situation at hand.  Play to expectations, get a few breaks, and you still might get a Wild Card or luck into winning this flawed division.

I suppose it could be just bad luck. The breaks not going his way for 200 games leading him to be about 10 games under where the expected W-L would be based on runs scored. I guess it could be. But is there anything here that makes you believe it's worth the chance that it isn't? Obviously we aren't in the clubhouse. Our call from out here is only slightly informed. But still to me the call is glaringly obvious. This isn't working.

Rendon is back now so we'll see. Can they survive? Getting to 4-6 on this trip is unlikely. 3-7 we hope? Then the stretch that should break Davey for eveyone if this level of play continues. Mets at home, Cubs at home, Mets away, Miami at home. Some tough games but not playing good teams on the road tough. A stretch that even a hobbled Nats team should be able to find more wins than losses. If they can't do that, I don't know what to say to even the most ardent defenders of Martinez.

Monday, May 06, 2019

Monday Quickie - Go Team That Doesn't Celebrate Poorly Played Games That Get Them Back To 4 Under .500 w Hijinx!

There's been some updating to the blog here. Sometime after Saturday night, when the Nats squeaked out a victory in an elaborate clown show masquerading as a game and then decided that it was worth smashing cabbage over, the automatic safeties were engaged and the title was changed. The idea that a win in the midst of a terrible start, that merely got a team hoping to win a World Series, back into sniffing distance of .500, that should be quietly thanked and used only as a way to focus on the next one, was treated as an excuse to celebrate suggests a dangerous take on leading this team that we are unable to endorse here at "Team That Doesn't Celebrate Poorly Played Games That Get Them Back To 4 Under .500 w Hijinx Baseball" the 2nd best blog about "Team That Doesn't Celebrate Poorly Played Games That Get Them Back To 4 Under .500 w Hijinx" on the internet

So for tonight, until the stink of that celebration wears off, we will be actively rooting for "Team That Doesn't Celebrate Poorly Played Games That Get Them Back To 4 Under .500 w Hijinx", which tonight is the Brewers.  Go Brewers! Beer! Cheese! Great old hats! Yelich! Gio! Teddy Higuera!

In non "Team That Doesn't Celebrate Poorly Played Games That Get Them Back To 4 Under .500 w Hijinx" news, the team that does do that, the Nats, managed not to get swept which was the base goal.  Now comes the harder part - finding 3 wins over the next 7 games. The easiest path would be a number of dominant performances by Max and Stras and Corbin. You can't win if you can't score. The Brewers, who has been hitting pretty well, have cooled down only scoring 10 runs over what amounted to 4 games worth of innings against the Mets. Shaw, Thames, Arcia, Grandal, and Cain are all majorly slumping. So this is possible.  Get 2 here and then you don't have to hope to split against the stronger Dodger team.

But can the Nats avoid being the team with zero runs? The Nats themselves are showing exactly what happens when you lose 2/3rds of your lineup to injury. Since April 26th they've scored 3, 3, 7, 3, 2, 1, 2, 2, 10!, and 1 runs. That's 8 out of 10 games scoring 3 or fewer. That's not good. But it can't be helped. It's one thing to expect the team to buck-up losing Turner and Rendon. It's another also losing Soto, Adams, too. Suzuki is trying to make up for it all by himself. 6 out of his last 12 with 3 homers and a double. But one man does not a team make.

That's bad news for the Nats but good news for "Team That Doesn't Celebrate Poorly Played Games That Get Them Back To 4 Under .500 w Hijinx.  Go "Team That Doesn't Celebrate Poorly Played Games That Get Them Back To 4 Under .500 w Hijinx"!

Friday, May 03, 2019

PROBLEMS SOLVED!

Lilly Quist is out. Not sure who thought a GIRL could be a pitching coach but know we have Men's Heart leading them so we know things are going to be good.

The Nats won last night - a tight game that featured good starting pitching and the bullpen continued on it's path on showing they aren't a historically bad bunch. But someone had to take the fall for the slow start and pitching coach seemed the most obvious choice. He was brought in when the highly regarded Mike Maddux skipped town after Dusty's "firing" and the pitching nosedived. Now, I''m not going to sit here and blame him. I'm just pointing out there was justification (or excuse) for firing by the stats. Why not the hitting coach? Injuries have hampered the team recently and before that they were scoring just fine. Why not the manager? Well...

My take is it's pretty clear Davey isn't the man for this job right now. He could be a good manager at some point but he isn't right now and this team needs a good one right now because it's facing some problems and is, in theory at least, finally in a good division. But he's Rizzo's second guy and Rizzo's first guy was a failure. If Davey II is branded a failure as well... well... why would you let there be a Rizzo Guy 3?

Now some of this is salary related - but most teams are looking for a cheap guy who will do what they want and and not a money guy. So if Rizzo took a job somewhere else it would be the likely scenario that he could axe the manager and be asked to replace him with a newbie. This failure to ID a workable newbie though, that would give me pause on hiring Rizzo, despite his ability to put together a pretty solid squad for a long period of time.

So that's what I think is going on here. Guesses and conjecture, etc. etc.

The Nats went 2-5 in the homestand. I had originally, incorrectly, said they needed to go 3-3 because I missed a Cards game, but I would have said 4-3 was the goal, 5-2 great, 3-4 blah. 2-5 is "uh oh".  The good news remains that the NL East is still a bunch of phonies. While the Nats currently have the 24th best record in baseball they are still only 4 games out of first. But now the Nats head on their first long road trip and face the Phillies, Milwuakee, and Dodgers over 10 games. 

The Phillies are the default leaders of the NL East. There's nothing overly special about how they are playing. Just a good team playing at a good pace. We'll get back to them in a second.  Milwaukee had a hot start but since has been pretty middling. The no name pitching staff of last year is in a shambles. They let Wade Miley go, Chase Anderson and Brent Suter is hurt and they made Junior Guerra a reliever.  This is why they brought in Gio. The lineup is very good though and I'd bet on them outscoring an injured Nats team. The Dodgers might be the best team in baseball. Their deep bench is paying off and they don't have a particular weakness. With Rendon and Turner sill out we're going to set the bar at 4-6. This trip is not about gaining ground or making a statement. It's about surviving. A bad team gets wiped away on this trip with a 1-9 or 2-8. The Nats can't let that happen. They need to win games and stay close.

Now back to the weekend series. The Phillies are 17-13 but have played a tissue soft schedule  recently. DET, MIA, NYM, COL, NYM, MIA and through that were only 10-9. This will be a test for them as much as the Nationals.  Bryce is struggling terribly*, which will make Nats fans happy, but the OF replacements for Odubel are continuing to show why Bryce was needed hitting just as poorly (Nick Williams) or worse (Quinn, Altherr).  Franco has also cooled down but the line-up is deep enough to cover for these issues, especially with Segura back.  Realmuto and Hoskins are hitting. The Nats will fce Eickhoff - who I like as a back of the rotation guy but just that. Arrieta who had been cruising this year until suddenly he wasn't last game. It'll be interesting to see where he picks up. Eflin had a little setback but is back on form.  For the most part the rotation and pen used the soft schedule to get back on track. The Nats send out Hellickson and Sanchez this series, with Corbin inbetween. That's bad news because the Phillies are a patient team and these guys are having big control issues.

I don't like the Nats chances to win the series but I don't think they need to. 1-2 then 3-4 the rest of the way. It's not pretty but it keeps them in the game until they can get right and face a weak stretch again. That's your real telling point. They should lose to these guys, and injured Nats team suffering through a 3-7 stretch against good teams on the road would be kind of expected, and maybe they fluke into a 5-5. But a healthy Nats team should go 7-3 against the bad teams. So while I watch this next set of games to make sure the Nats don't bury themselves, what I want to know is how good the base team really is. Hopefull we'll be able to find out the next time the Nats return home.


*What's up with Bryce? Likely pressing. Swinging strikes are way up. Pull numbers are way up. Has the feel of a guy swinging from his heels all the time.

Thursday, May 02, 2019

A quick explanation the Hellickson and Sanchez

I'm not here to defend Davey. I didn't think Dusty should have been fired. I didn't like the hire of Davey. I think he should be fired now.  BUT he's not the big reason the Nats have the 2nd worst record in the NL right now. It was the pen - it's now the offense

Just by OPS+ listing

Soto (143 last year, 116 this) - Giving you the overall vague production of an Adam Eaton. Which is fine, but not what the Nats expected and now most definitely need. 
Rendon (138, 201) - Hit, but Mr. Slow Healer hasn't played in two weeks.
Bryce (134) - In Philly
Robles (128,  102) - Here and hitting average instead of good. And striking out SO MUCH. And never walking!
Matt Adams (119 for Nats, 98) - Here and hitting average instead of good
Eaton (115, 90) - Here and hitting below average instead of good
Zimm (115, 75) - Here and hitting terrible instead of good, now out which is probably better for the team
Kendrick (111, 166) - OMG! It's someone here, not injured currently, and hitting better than last year.  CELEBRATE
Mark Reynolds (110)  - In Colorado
Daniel Murphy (106) - Also in Colorado. Good schools I hear
Trea Turner (101, 215*) - broken finger - out for a few more weeks

So in short, the Nats had 11 average  or above hitters last year.  ONE, count them one, is playing currently and doing better than he did last year. That would be helped, a little, if the guys they brought in were doing well but Gomes, Suzuki, Dozier were never meant to be world beaters and are hitting middling to poorly.  They tried the "maybe we'll get another Soto" trick with Kieboom but he's not hitting either.

I said this two days ago, I'll say it again. Until Rendon and Turner on back this is a bad offensive team who needs luck to be above .500 let alone win. This period of the season may bury them if they don't have some luck and soon.  A few 1-run wins. A couple guys getting hot right now to carry the team. Something.



Someone asked me the other day about Sanchez and Hellickson and I wanted to give them another start before I looked at them.  They've had them and it's not pretty.

Let's start with Hellickson because this is a minor surprise. No one was counting on ol "Two Times Through, that's all I do" to hold up the rotation, but they figured him for 5 innings of decent ball a game. That's what he had been doing for a while now. You first look for some bad luck. LOB% is ok. HR/FB is fine. BABIP is reasonable. So it's not a fluke. GB/FB is roughly the same.  What it looks like from the data is maybe better scouting is doing him in. The guys aren't hitting him super hard (soft percentage up), but rather going with what he throws and taking him the other way (from 18.8% to 35.1% opposite field this year)  He's not missing any bats (K's basically lowest of career - swinging strikes down to an amazing 5.5% - or about one out of every 20 pitches).  The other thing, arguably the biggest thing, is he's lost control. His walk rate is by far the greatest of his career. This is particularly killer because it means they can't even get the 5+ innings they want from him. The positive would be - just 5 starts. Two starts ago he was sitting on a 2.63 ERA and looked ok. But it seems like to control his walks he needs to get hit so he has to choose. Either get the ball over the outside corner and have them hit it, or have it miss and fool no one. There's probably a decent look at the movement of his pitches to be done here. Either way it doesn't look like he'll be the same surprisingly good pitcher as last year. But his history and the decent start suggest to me that if he sucks up the walks he's likely to be a 5IP 4.00 ERA type which is kind of what the Nats were signing up for.

Sanchez is also getting beat up. It's not exactly his last few years in Detroit. There he was giving up a lot of hits and a lot of homers. Here it's homers and walks. Same checks - LOB% fine, HR/FB fine. BABIP fine. Unlike Hellickson it's all about getting hit harder.  The 26.3% soft hit rate is down to 19.6%, also his GB/FB rate which was over 1 last year, is back to under 1. More ball hit hard, more hit in the air, that's trouble.  He's not having trouble fooling people - or at least his stuff is about the same as it was. But he is getting it over less often and less often early. You fall behind, you get hit. With Sanchez I have less confidence.  Last year presented it self as a fluke. the suddenly reversed GB/FB, an oddly low BABIP and high than usual LOB%. He pitched better - that soft hit rate was the best since 2011, and he got lucky. Or maybe he pitched better because he got lucky. Whatever it was, this is more the Sanchez one would expect.  If he gets himself under control I would expect him to start giving up more homers. I'm not enthused.



*In 4 games. I let other small sample sizes slide but this is REALLY small. A return game 0-5 might drop him all the way to average

Tuesday, April 30, 2019

What is wrong?

It's the bullpen. That's what we hear. It isn't wrong.  The Nats bullpen is 2nd worst in the major leagues, worst in the NL, a good 3/4 of a run worse than the Mets, who along with Miami are themselves a good 3/4 of a run worse than the 12th "best" in the NL Dodgers. It's bad. Historically so.  But does that explain a 12-15 start?

How good would the Nats be with an average pen? Let's off the top it first. 15-12? Well then the bullpen is worse 3 wins over 27 games or probably something like 18 over the course of the season.  Do we really think a pen this bad would transform a 90 win team to a 72 win squad? Remember that's not a 90 win team with a great pen. That's a 90 win team with an average one. Seems like a bit of a stretch.

Ok let's be a bit more realistic.  The Nats pen has given up 59 runs in 80.2 innings so far, 56 earned. The average NL squad has an ERA of 4.29.  So over 80.2 innings that average squad would give up.... 38-39 earned runs.  About 20 runs less.  Plug that into the pythag and 13-14 (their current pythag record) becomes... 15.  Or technically being as precise as I can be it's a difference of just under 2 wins, like 1.6.  But remember that's 15 from 13 not 12.  Basically what the numbers say is the difference between this and an average pen is something more like 9-10 wins over the course of a year.  It's not 18 but that's HUGE. It could take a playoff team fighting for best record in the league of 95 wins and make it a 85 win also-ran.  That's the power of a historically bad bullpen, a run and a half worse than what the bottom of the league probably should be.

But there's another point here - where does that leave the Nats overall?  Well given an average pen the Nats expected W/L record would be 90-72.  That feels kind of right. They are a game unlucky so far (which is why they are 12-15 and not 13-14) so that doesn't go away... 89 wins? With out Trea.  I suppose that is right. But while it's right it's not NL East worthy. So even with an average pen this team is not a division winner.  Part of that is Turner and Rendon, but this early giving each of their missed time a game seems extravagent.  maybe together a game? Point is - it's not injuries either. With an average pen this team had been a Wild Card team.

And that's taking the overview. If we break the season into parts the first part - the NL East gautlet, ended with the Nats 6-5 when really they probably should have been 7-4 or better. Four of their losses were within 3 runs, while only 3 of their wins were and they had several blowout victories. It was team that just wasn't quite catching the breaks.  Since the end of the Phillies series though - 16 games, the Nats have scored 4.18 runs per game and given up 5.125.  They've gone 6-10. They have been deservedly bad and a good part of that is a below average offense.

This could easily change once Rendon is healthy and Turner is back. Rendon is star worthy, Turner a plus offensive player. This jives with what I see looking at the two week and one week batting splits it's not really one thing (though Robles is having a tough time - and probably will until he Ks less). It's more a lack of balance. There aren't enough hitters doing well to balance out those doing poorly. It's one or two batters off. 

There are two issues here - the first is as long as Rendon and Turner are out this isn't a good offensive team (nor should it be expected to be). The relief pitching is bad, meaning the starting pitching needs to be flawless to carry it through. Instead it's been an off start for the better pitchers and a bad one for the back of the rotation.  There is no recourse here other than to batten down the hatches and hope. Once Rendon and Turner are back though - this is still a ~90 win team and that's if the pen gets to average. If they fall too far behind now there isn't enough talent to catch up.  Perhaps I'm wrong. Perhaps Stras, Max, and Corbin will be in the Cy Young race. Perhaps Rendon will continue being an MVP and Robles and Kieboom will fight for the MVP. That's a squad that could roll with an average pen. But I don't think so. I think the Nats need some real luck over the next few weeks.

Monday, April 29, 2019

Monday - Hope Spring Eternal which is how old the Nats are

Yesterday's win was punctuated by 3 homers; one by Robles, one by Soto, one by Kieboom.  The interpretation by many hopeful that this season won't be another lost one, is that the kids are here and ready to take over. These three will carry the Nats with youthful exuberance to the promised land.The future has arrived!

And yet...

The Nats are still pretty old.  While this number will go down with continued Kieboom at bats and the eventual return of Turner, the Nats sit older than league average for batting age (28.8 vs 28.6). Gomes is in his 31 season*, Suzuki 35, Zimm 34, Dozier 32, Kendrick 35, Eaton 30, Adams 30.  Even the guys you thought of as young aren't really young anymore.  Rendon will turn 29 in a month, MAT is 28, Difo 27.  So while there is this true core of talent sitting around at under 22 there is a massive crater of talent between them and where the rest of the Nationals sit, on the downslope of the hill.  Seven years between Robles and Rendon with only Turner manning the gates.

Now take that and strip away the good young players and you have the pitching staff, second oldest in the NL.The over 30 club includes Scherzer, Strasburg, Sanchez, and Hellickson. Doolittle, Grace, Sipp, Miller. Instead of being balanced by a group of talented early 20s, instead it's a mess of middling mid to laters, the youngest being Joe Ross who will be 26 in a couple weeks.

While Soto, Robles, and Kieboom are an exciting trio they are an island unto themselves. They can't keep up the winning when the current generation fades because they have no help. They aren't a vanguard because the Nats minor leagues are top heavy with Robles and Kieboom being the important pieces. 

When the Nats first came up they were filled with young pieces Ramos, Espy, Zimm, Desmond, Bryce, Gio, ZNN, Stras, Clippard, Storen.  Not a one over 27 in 2012 and a bunch of other pieces that weren't old.  Of pieces that mattered only Werth, LaRoche, and Morse 30 or older. It wasn't a team with some exciting young players. It was a young team. That's what kept it up over the years.  This? I don't see that. And while it's good to have something - and these guys definitely are something - well no team has nothing.  It certainly is something to build around but then that begs the comment - why aren't they? Why are they pulling this "good enough" angle again aiming for 90 wins and a chance at the playoffs, where they could fall into 86 wins and a seat at home for October? If these are the guys to rebuild around then... well... rebuild.

But we'll see.  The hopeful ones are saying this comeback might spark the Nats to a run. I guess, unlike the last comeback that was supposed to spark the Nats to a run.

*Age on July 1