Nationals Baseball: Monday Quickie - the regression to the mean talk

Monday, April 01, 2019

Monday Quickie - the regression to the mean talk

The Nats salvaged the last game of the series with Trea Turner heroics but the issues which we thought might come up with the pen, seemingly have. Tony Sipp and Matt Grace both have had issues leaving the question of "who's our go-to lefty" open, as well as the question of "which Sipp did we get?" Trevor Rosenthal has been a mitigated disaster, only saved from unmitigated by the fact it has been 2 appearances not 10. If the pen is this bad - which is terrible - yes the Nats will really struggle. But for now you have to suck it up, say small sample size, and see what happens in the next series.

Three games are just three games. Trea Turner is unlikely to be a Triple Crown threat with 100+ steals. Juan Soto is probably not going to be outslugged by Victor Robles. Dozier will get a hit. I swear.

But while we can try to wait on players we can't ignore that these games matter. I say it every year. I'll say it every year. A game in April counts the same as a game in September.  Games the Nats lose here, ground the Nats lose here, has to be made up. Some people rely on the idea of regression to the mean to make that happen but don't quite understand what it means. It does not mean everything that has happened before will be wiped out.

Take a coin flip. Fair odds so 50/50 heads/tails. You expect to see 50% heads. You flip it four times. You get four tails. You see 0% heads.  Regression to the mean means that we should see as we move forward, that 0% get closer to 50%, but it doesn't mean we HAVE to get to 50%. In fact you wouldn't expect it to for a very long time.

What you expect is every flipped group after this to be at 50% and that to drag up your heads percentage.  Flip 6 more. Expect 3H/3T. Total becomes 3H/7T.  30% Heads, much closer to 50% than 0%.  Flip 96 more. Expect 48H/48T.  Total becomes 48H/52T.  48% Heads.  Almost there!  But still not.

Anyway this doesn't quite work in the same way for baseball because we don't know the "real" win percentage like we know 50% for H/T, and the win percentage changes in baseball, which doesn't for your flipped coin. But the general idea holds.

If you think the Nats are a 94 win team say - then you expect them to play like it for the next 159 games and get to 93 or 94 wins because of the lost series. If you expect the Phillies to get to 90 wins - they you expect them to play like it for the next 159 games and end up with 91 to 92 wins after that sweep. So right now if those were your preconceptions, they were correct, and they play out that way for the rest of the year - the Nats are still good.

What happens if the Phillies get too far ahead? Well then things change and you might like the Phillies better.  But even then, when you have one team you liked less quickly get out ahead, hope is far from lost. Look at last year. The Mets started hot. So hot, that I bet the odds favored them coming out of those first few weeks. But all the Nats needed to pass them was the Mets to play a little worse than expected and the Nats to play as expected.  The Nats didn't hold up their end, playing middling baseball, but the Mets played like one of the worst teams in the game. Voila! The Nats passed them.

Now they didn't do well - they also dug a hole in comparison with the Phillies and Braves. Much smaller holes, but still holes and when the Braves played well and the Nats middling, that was enough.  And that's really the lesson - If you like the Nats and they start slow it's nothing to be worried about. It's probably nothing to be worried about even if someone else starts pretty hot. BUT if the Nats dig enough holes, there's a decent chance they can't play well enough the rest of the year to climb out of every hole. Now, with the above analysis, this early things almost have to be out of whack. Three coin flips, for example, can only give you 66%/33% which is off anyway you look at it. So don't focus too much on this now, this is more for a week down the road at least

And that brings us to the next few series. The Nats play the Phillies twice, Mets three times, and Phillies three times. Can a season be over by April 10th? Not officially, but if the Nats do REALLY poorly and the Phillies and Mets do REALLY well.  Well then that's two holes to dig out of.  What would that look like? Something like 2-9 / 3-8 at the end of this stretch for the Nats while both these teams are around 8-3/ 9-2.  Let that happen and let the worries flow.  Anything else - like the more likely coming out of this 5-6 and maybe the Phillies 8-3 at the time, that's fine.


ocw5000 said...


I think the bigger issue is: who do you trust coming out of that pen, after a start like that? All of them except Doolittle could self-immolate at this point and it wouldn't surprise me.

JDBrew said...

Biggest things I feel a 1-2 start does (especially with the win occurring the way it did) is:

1) Rocks the team's confidence


2) Partially wipes away a later season good 4-1 run

The confidence thing being the biggest component. All of the sudden Martinez is afraid to go to Rosenthal or Bear Claw in a big spot and puts in a Matt Grace or a Tony Sipp instead. Or they get into a close game and suddenly we get too aggressive on the base paths and run into outs because a 2 run lead isn't safe. Or something like that.

JWLumley said...

I said it after game 1 and it's not the results, but the swing of Brian Dozier is concerning because the bat looks sloooowwwwww. Hopefully it's just a mechanical tweak away from being faster or some timing issue, but it could be something to keep an eye on.

As for the bullpen, I think there's at least some BABIP bad luck in there. I mean, if Trea Turner has a longer glove, he doesn't have to walk them off and at least yesterday, there were a number of flares that fell. Still don't like the way Davey is using the bullpen though and think that given the same bullpen as another manager, his bullpen will have a higher ERA because of how they're used.

Max David said...

People laugh at me when I try to tell them games on April 1 count the same as games on September 21. "Oh Max, you are crazy, there's still 160 games to go, you can lose a couple in April and still be fine."

The I go back and look at the first 2 Brewer's games from last season in San Diego. Game 1 on opening day they had a 1-0 9th inning lead, gave up a run in the 9th to go to extra innings. Padres had the bases loaded in the 11th couldn't score and the Brewers ended up scoring in the 12th to win. Game 2 they were down by 3 entering the 9th facing Brad Hand and they ended up winning the game. Now I'm sure I could find other examples throughout the year where the Brewers had a dramatic come back win or come back loss throughout the season, but those 2 examples make me feel vindicated in the "games in April sure as hell count." Just looking at things from a vacuum if everything else went as it did for the Brewers last year meaning every other game they ended up winning they did, and every other game they ended up losing they did, if the Brewers lose either one of those first 2 games the NL playoffs are totally different….because the Brewers don't tie the Cubs for the division, and instead the Cubs win the division, and the Brewers face the Rockies in the Wildcard. Maybe we come out to the same NLCS anyways, so it's a moot point, but the fact remains, the Brewers didn't win the division specifically right there on March 28 & March 29 of 2018, but it sure as hell kept them from losing the division.

Hopefully this bullpen implosion at Nats Park this past weekend didn't end up costing the Nats the division in the long run.

BxJaycobb said...

I guess the one piece of good news—and it’s hard to conclude anything from 3 games—is the offense looks good and the starting pitching looks fine (for example, slightly less likely this is the year Max gets old) the problems are contained to the pen. Except....they are huge problems not small ones. Trevor Rosenthal wasn’t just bad last few games. He looked bad in the spring too. Walking people left and right. I think it’s fair to say he is not a reliable set up man. It’s *not fair to say he’s useless and terrible. Also good news for now and the next 6 years: Victor Robles can hit, and he has real pop, even at 21. He just collected like 5 XBH off of DeGrom, Thor, and Wheeler, all tough RHP. We don’t know how good Robles will be. But I am very confident he will be a good offensive player.

Kevin Rusch said...

I really wish there were a good-but-not-great reliever available. I rather dislike Kimbrel, but the bullpen needs help badly, and that's the only option. Even with a small sample size, these guys look like they really need help. Yeah, there were a handful of BABIP issues, but there are also too many walks and too few Ks from the bullpen.

Maybe if the Nats sign Kimbrel, they can arrange something where he and Doolittle work more innings but fewer outings (studies show that's a better way to get more work from your best relievers without adding injury risk) and the gas-can crew can spend more time watching good pitchers pitch and less time backing up home plate.

Jay said...

What do people make of the Svrluga article - Harper wanted to stay but the Lerners are just too cheap?

Anonymous said...

I believe it. Harper, despite his occasional on-the-field antics, always genuinely seemed like he felt there was something to being a career player for a team, like there was more important things than the final value of the contract. He didn't want to be shorted, but he wasn't acting like an entitled brat. And both Lerner deals were horrendous with those deferments. You can argue over discount rates, but who cares if you're getting Bobby Bonilla level deferments.

BxJaycobb said...

@Jay, Anonymous: yeah that’s exactly my take. I’m just curious at the Lerners. Harper seemed like if the Lerners merely offered the same 300/10 at Las Vegas and just allowed them to haggle over the deferred payments he’d still be here. It’s literaly worse than just the deferrals. Once he was in FA for a couple months they literally cut their offer in half. They offered 250m with like 130 present day value. That’s literally insulting. They basically wanted to sell fans that they tried but didn’t want to pay him a big contract. I’m just honestly super pissed at them. Borderline don’t want to support team for a while until I cool down.

The M's 138 Win pace said...

There's not much about the 2019 version of Nats baseball that I'm certain of.

One thing that I can predict with 100% confidence is that the team will play a 3 game set against a team we need to beat and have a bad, but not terrible result.

This will happen again.

If this were a three game series in July it would still rankle, but we wouldn't kick the team over it unless it had been a persistent problem prior.

On April 2 it hasn't risen to the level of persistent problem.

Ben Natkin said...

It wasn't a great offer, and yeah it sounds like they wanted to do the bare minimum to say we tried, but it takes two to tango and Harper/Boras never countered either of those offers. If the Lerners open with 300/10 with a bunch of deferments then you can pretty easily say "I'll take that with zero deferments" or "ill take that plus a little and don't be as extreme on the deferments." It's a negotiation and you can't be pissy just because they didn't come out of the gate with the deal you wanted and then moved on when you took until March to get serious about signing somewhere.

Jimmy said...

The freaking O's took two from the Yankees.

Harper said...

Max David - I was at that Padres / Brewers game!

Anonymous said...

If we believe Svurluga - and why shouldn't we - there were two different firm offers by the Nats. We should look at them differently. The first was a bonafide effort to sign Harper. Harper could have negotiated off 10/300 but he didn't. He wanted to see what the other offers were before negotiating with the Nats. That's fine. But I don't think this offer was for show; a deal could have been made but it wasn't. The second offer, I think, was an effort to get Bryce on the cheap. After they didn't sign Harper, the Nats moved on and spent some of the Harper money on Corbin. They saw Harper's market not develop and thought Harper might give them a discount. "You want to come back here - well here's what we can do now." I don't think they really thought Harper would take such a deal. I think it's ok to fault the Nats here - they COULD have made a better offer. But the first one wasn't just for show, IMO

JWLumley said...

Ultimately, I think Boras negotiated Harper out of DC. The Nats wanted to sign him before the offseason began and he wanted to test the market. Once he tested the market, however, the deal was done. If he'd really wanted to come back, he could have negotiated something before the season ended or shortly thereafter. When his market didn't develop, they took a flyer to get him on the cheap, didn't work, but not a bad idea. He's in Philly now, and I believe will be the same maddeningly inconsistent yet gifted player he was before. Forget Dave Winfield, Harper is truly Mr. April. They shouldn't pitch to him at all this month, just walk him, I doubt Scherzer will do this, but it should be fun. Hope Rendon and Soto go nuts.

Ole PBN said...

Anon 8:55 has this right. Plus, seeing Harper is Philly is purely an emotional reaction. Like seeing your ex with another person, seeing them happy, and thinking that directly correlates to your unhappiness. It doesn't. My little kid heart aches and wishes Bryce were still here. My adult intellect says Philly got a talented, marketable, young player for a decent price. Will it result in championships? It didn't here, and I don't miss that.

Really just fed up with our fans pining over a former player who won an MVP four years ago, and an exhibition HR derby event last year. Move on. To me, Bryce's true value is in his marketability (ticket sales, jersey sales, etc). Outside of that, he's Giancarlo Stanton... maybe (42 is less than 59 home runs, though). Miami misses him because they have nothing else. We have plenty to be excited about and its silly that a 1-2 start has people pissed that Bryce isn't here to "save us." I wish him the best and CANNOT WAIT to face him every year. I hope this gives everyone a chip on their shoulders that our star player LEFT US for a rival team. If our pitchers aren't fired up, we are exactly what Tim Hudson said we were. Bring it on Bryce. Bring it on Nats.

Jay said...

Reading all of this stuff about Bryce does make me a little sad. It makes me wonder if it was an ego thing between Boras and Mark Lerner. Boras thinking he had Ted in his back pocket to go to to sing or push up the price of bidding at the last minute and Mark Lerner bc he was going to show Boras that he is his own man and wouldn't be pushed around by Boras. I think the Nats really have to sign Rendon at this point. It's a little worrisome that there has been zero news on that, but the Nats beat reporters are some of the worst in the league. Barry Svrluga for all of his PR spin for Harper and Boras in that article sure didn't have any inside info over the winter. It does feel a little disingenuous on Harper's part to me. Anyway, Harper coming back really makes me wish the Nats had a better bullpen. They really need to sign Kimbrel as well. If it's close in the late innings of these games it could get really ugly really fast for the Nats BP.

Jay said...

*sign not sing.