Nationals Baseball

Thursday, July 19, 2018

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

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

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

RIGHT

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

WRONG

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, July 18, 2018

Juan Posto

This will never live up to the hype, of Soto or the delay in this post. But here we go. Soto has been up for two months which is actually a really good time to start to look at his stats.  We can easily overreact to what happens in the first couple of weeks when a player comes up, just like we can overreact to a player's start to a season.

If that start is unusually bad or unusually good it can carry a while. For example if you are a .270 20 HR type of guy and you hit exactly like that for a month, but started with a crazy 2 weeks, your numbers would still be way off.  If you were crazy good to start you might look like a .320 30 HR hitter still, crazy bad and .220 14 is possible.  But around 2 months in a crazy two weeks starts to dissipate to the point where you kind of think what you are seeing is really real.  So what do we see?

Well we can look at just his raw numbers but to try to get to the heart of things even more, I like to look at rolling averages. I want to see what he has hit like for most of his time here and if there has been any trends as the league has reacted to him.  So here are some 10 game rolling averages (with trendlines!).

 

(Yes I did move the Yankee game back into June) At first glance you see a general downward trend in his stats.  Looking more specifically, you see a pronounced downward trend in SLG, a mild downward trend in AVG, and a very mild one in OBP. But what is the effect of the hits going through and what's the effect of his actual patience and power? If we isolate SLG and OBP (pull out the influence of singles basically) we see another angle on what's going on.

 

His SLG going down pretty steadily, while his OBP has actually gone steadily up.  Now these can be pretty influenced by singular events. His two homer game (around the 11 mark here) makes the SLG jump for 10 games while his 3 walk game (around 29) does the same for his OBP.  But I think there are real things here. He is hitting for less power, one homer and 2 doubles in July. He is still getting on base, seven walks in his last 11 games which doesn't include that 3 walks one.

It's hard to piece out right now how these may be related. He is not particularly seeing more balls (or at least his ratio of strikes to balls is pretty consistent - but that will include fouls as stirkes) but they may be giving more pitches that he doesn't like and he maybe taking them more for good and for bad. Try not to read into it too much beyond the surface analysis - remember 2 months.

In general I'm very enthused by these numbers - yes his average has gone down as they've managed to get him to hit more grounders but it's a slow fall and it's a drop that right now has him around .300. And his plate discipline, usually the hardest thing for young players to develop looks completely real. His OBP is amazing for a player of his age.

Does the power drop bother me? He's 19! Nothing outside of complete terribleness bothers me! What I would say is that he looks like a guy that crushes mistakes left out and over the plate. He's seeing less out and over the plate so consequently fewer XBH but he's got YEARS to learn how to hit other pitches for power. (and maybe he doesn't but hits them for average and that's still probably good enough!)

The league is adapting to Soto and he will have to adapt back but from what I've seen he's holding his own despite the league adjustments. I see a guy that I might pencil in as .280/.290 hitter next year with great patience and useful pop with the possibility of much more. This could change if the average keeps dropping but we'll revisit at the end of the year. I'd be surprised if his floor was much lower than say .250/.340/.400 which is basically league average at the plate.

Now if he hits his floor that may not be good enough. We haven't talked about it but Soto is NOT a good fielder and it's more likely that he gets worse than better. I know there is a lot of variability there but bodies don't get more athletic as they age. You get bigger and slower. He's got a lot of natural talent but so did Bryce and you see he never developed into anything more than a mediocre corner OF. I wouldn't bet on Soto being anything more than passable until he's pushed to 1B at some point later in his career (mid 20s? early 30s?)

OK I know you are thinking "this is negative!" but what I'm saying is - the floor I think the kid has set AT 19 is league average bat with below average fielding. That's not great but it's also probably a starting OF for a few teams in the league. That in itself, a floor that high, is super positive. The ceiling? Well the sky's the limit. He knows the zone. He's shown the ability to work outside pitches the other way and crush meatballs nearly every time they are presented to him. And I mean crush. The natural power is there so you have to think when he does get some more experience the homer numbers could really jump.  Everything is there so that if it comes together a Bryce-like "best season ever" is possible. Can he hit .330? Seems like it. 42 homers? Probably. Walk 124 times? He might be able to do that now.

Now mind again this is after only 2 months of data, and things tend to mellow out for nearly everyone even if you can't immediately see the how. But the age and the numbers lead you to a very positive place right now. Soto is almost certain to be an everyday starter and has all the makings of a star. Can the league adjust to him in a way he can't adjust back? Is that happening now? If so, then the question becomes one of when, as you expect 19 years olds to grow as hitters as they age. If not, then the question is how high does his star rise.

Friday, July 13, 2018

Weekend Placeholder 2 : Place Harder

See. I like you guys so much I woke up early to put this in here (not really but I have a few minutes).

Nats need to finish this out 2-1.  They didn't get what they wanted from the Pirate series BUT 3-1 vs the Mets ensure 7-4 and basically stability, which is enough to keep hope alive. 4-0 would be better as it almost guarantees games gained but right now we are in triage. 3-1 should gain games on someone ahead of the Nats and avoid disaster. 2-2? That could be disaster.

They did beat the Mets but barely and with Max on the mound so what can we say?

OK I gotta run.  Have fun and see you at the All-Star Game because I will remain hopeful that one of my legions will magically provide me with tickets. Suite tickets. Also sweet tickets. And maybe sweets

Monday, July 09, 2018

Too busy

Sorry in this crucial week that I'm busy but hey - I asked you to fund my 100K Patreon account and you guys fell way short of the goal offering $23 and the entire run of Major Dad on VHS.  Sure I took it - but I feel I paid that off in two posts.

This might be my only post of the week but stay strong knowing that nothing has changed.  The Nats needed to rock this 11 game set. They still do. They rocked the Marlins well enough (3-1). It wasn't overly convincing and neither Roark or Gio snapped out of their doldrums, but it was 3-1 nonetheless. They did not rock the Pirates in game 1 but 2-1 is the goal. So win those two.  Win those two and go 3-1 versus the Mets that's a 5-1 run and probably another game at least gained on the Phillies or the Braves (whoever goes 4-2). 4 games out at the ASB? That's doable people!

Friday, July 06, 2018

Friday placeholder

How did the summer get to be so busy?

The Nats stabbed at the Marlins from hell's heart and with hopefully not quite their last breath spit on their huge lead with an improbable win. The Nats needed that win, but at this point the Nats need all wins. Easy 5-0 victories, Tense 2-1 nail biters, 8-6 hang-ons.  Whatever way they can get a W they need it.

I'm not enthused by the Hellickson performance, even if he was sick. There's a reason he was available and while he's not likely to get bombed each time out, he wasn't very likely to pitch to a 2.00 ERA for two months either. He's a true fifth that may not be 100% and the Nats don't have a good alternative. That can be fine depending on 1-4, but as of today 2 is out and 3 and 4 are also pitching horribly.  The Marlins aren't the best team to shutdown given how they've been since Realmuto's been back, but they aren't anything special either. Hopefully Gio and Roark can get back on the right track here.

Win 2 out of next 3. Get another game back. Easy peasy.

Soto post is coming. Don't worry.  The gist of it is, surprise, he's good.

Thursday, July 05, 2018

No rest for the weary

Another loss

Another shutout loss

Another shutout loss losing ground to teams ahead of them.

The Nats have played terribly for nearly a month now. They were 11 games up on July June 9th 37-26 with a half-game lead over Atlanta and a 4.5 game lead over the Phillies. Since then they have gone 5-17. They are now one game under, seven games back of Atlanta and 5.5 behind the Phillies.  The Phillies also currently hold the 2nd Wild Card spot so the Nats are 5.5 out of that as well.

There is no room for error left. If the Nats, who have played like an 80 win team through more than half the year, play like a 100 win team the rest of the way they should sneak to 90 wins. The Braves, on a 93-94 win pace only have to play like an 86-87 win team to hit the same level. The Phillies, looking at 91 wins, have to play like team winning 89 games.

The short of all that is that the Nats have to play much much better AND hope the Braves play worse AND hope the Phillies don't play better.

But beating this drum again, now is the time to do it. 4 against the Marlins, 3 against the Pirates, 4 against the Mets. If the Nats want to be relevant after the All-Star break they need to crush this run*. 7-4 minimum, 8-3 hopefully.  You get one loss per series.

The Nats know this, too. If they had been floating around thinking it would just click and they'd come out on top, those thoughts are gone. They met as a team yesterday and all that came out was they understand it's do or die time.

Some tried to paint it positively, noting that they might need adversity in the regular season to win in the playoffs.  Who knows? I'm sure it helps some teams and hurts others. And some teams lose despite the help or win in spite of the hurt. Whatever happens, we'll craft the narrative to fit the ending.

What if the Nats can't do it? What if they are 10 games out at the All-Star break? What then? Well we'll have a lot of time to talk about it then.  Right now we focus on the Marlins. 4 games. Hellickson, Gio, Max, and Roark. The Marlins have been about .500 over the past month. They are pitching better, hitting a little better, and getting a little luck. Pitching wise it's mainly been a big improvement in the relief pitching, finding a few arms to compliment converted starter Adam Conley and Bear Claw who have been good all year.  Urena is the only starter to worry about and since he went on the 4th the Nats are going to miss him. There truly is no excuse not to score on these starters.

Batting wise JT "Should have been a Nat" Realmuto is having an All-Star season and has upped his trade value a good deal. Dietrich, last OF standing, is also a good hitter doing well. Bour is fine. Castro is fine. The making of a good line-up is there. It's just that everyone else stinks. But to be fair to these guys - none of them should be good. It's almost entirely older prospects who aren't quite major leaguers. A half line-up of Brian Goodwins. Lewis Brinson is kind of the key player - the one true prospect currently up. He's doing better but that's only in the macro sense. He's not doing well. This line-up should score a couple runs but shouldn't do any blowing out.

It's there for the Nats. Start it out right. 3 of 4, minimum.  Go.

*and again again I'll note that baseball is crazy and this might not actually be the case. The Nats could go 7-4 and lose ground or 5-6 and gain it. But we're trying to come up with the most likely circumstances.

Tuesday, July 03, 2018

How much should you worry about the starting pitching?

Yesterday on Twitter I took the starting pitching to task for a while because it has been the worst.  I don't mean "worst" in the teenage slang sort of way. I mean they were literally the worst staff in the major leagues (by ERA) for the month of June.  Everyone not named Max was terrible.  Here's a quick cut and paste from one tweet.

Hellickson - 2 GS, 5IP, 5.40 ERA
Roark - 5 GS, 26.1 IP, 5.47 ERA
Strasburg - 2 GS, 8.2 IP, 6.23 ERA
Fedde - 4 GS, 21.1 IP 6.33 ERA
Gio - 5 GS, 21.1 IP, 8.44 ERA
J-Rod - 2 GS, 9IP, 9.00 ERA

Rough combined 20 GS, 4.5 IP, 6.77 ERA

Now this is not the problem the offense is. The offense was bad in April, good in May, and terrible in June. The pitching was good in April, great in May, and terrible in June. However there's the same underlying issues with the pitching that we have with the offense. Can guys come back from injury? Can guys get back to hitting as we believe they should?

These aren't all going to be in the affirmative. Eaton has been ok. Murphy has not. Rendon has found his stroke. Turner is still scuffling around.  So it's reasonable to think maybe one of Roark and Gio don't come back to the modest needs the team has. Maybe one of Stras and Hellickson can't really find themselves for a while. It's a potential problem.

If I was to worry about the pitching would I worry about Gio or Roark more? It depends.They both are having sort of the same issues - too many homers and walks. Gio is pitching more like a bad version of himself. Stats like how they hit him and his FB speed are pretty consistent. Roark is pitching different than usual. Roark has lost a MPH on his FB and is getting pulled more. That sounds like Roark is more of a worry but Roark could also be a quick fix, as he needs to correct something that's changed. I don't know.

If the Nats are going to catch anyone now they need to be firing on all cylinders. They are firing on none. I agree, you worry about the offense and getting healthy and then you see if the pitching is a need, but you only have a few weeks to do it.

A note on 1-run games

So Boz noted that the Nats are 8-16 in one-run games.  That's pretty unlucky.  They are more likely a 12-12 or 13-11 type team based on record. So why doesn't Pythag (record based on runs scored and runs allowed) have them at something like 46 or 47 wins but 45? Well because the run difference distribution doesn't just begin and end with one-run games.

You see the idea is good teams win blowouts. It's a pretty consistent finding. If you are good you don't lose a lot of blow out games. Makes sense. Winning a game by say 6 runs means you either scored a lot (good hitting) or shut them down (good pitching).  If a lot of these go against you that means you lack one of those things and you aren't good. It's not that complicated. As you get closer to 1 run games though the percentage of games good teams win gets closer to 50%. Luck takes over more than skill.

So the Nats are obviously not performing as expected in one-run games but what if we expand that?
1-RUN : 8-16
2-RUN : 15-11
3+ RUN : 19-14

If you like the Nats the 3+ run 19-14 is roughly about right.  What do you think about how the Nats have played? A 90 win team sound about right? Well since the 1-run games are going to be about .500 the bigger wins need to be at a better rate to compensate for that. 19 out of 33 in 3+ run games? That's 93 wins and sounds right. But then logic tells you if it gets more random the closer the games get that the 2-run game outcome should be closer to .500 but 15 out of 26? That's actually a little BETTER pace.

In other words the Nats may have gotten unlucky in one-run games but in two-run games they've probably been a little lucky. Not as much so it cancels out but it gives a simple reason why the runs scored/runs allowed doesn't exactly get you to where you think you'd be by "fixing" the one-run issue.

Note : this is all real surface analysis because I don't like looking at one-run games without looking at everything else too. It's kind of arbitrary to pick that outcome.