Nationals Baseball

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