Nationals Baseball

Thursday, May 19, 2022

The extra inning question

The Nats won last night - after a "fun" ninth full of blown saves and initially blown calls. They won in extras by doing something that is somehow counter-intuitive in the ghost runner era. They bunted the runner over. 

There's a lot of agreement on what you should do and that's not it, but oddly enough there isn't a lot of research into proving that agreement makes sense. And personally I think that agreement is wrong. 

I'll note here that this is a very general talk. A lot of baseball decisions have to the with the EXACT situation on hand. Who's on second, who's up at the plate, who's up after them, who's pitching, how deep and good is your pen, and so on. Blindly following any rule is not the way to go. However, there can be a general guideline. 

The general consensus is you don't bunt the runner over. A man on second with no outs and a team trying to score as many runs as possible will usually score more runs than a team trying to score as many runs as possible with a man on third with one out. That out matters a lot. 

However, I posit that the first run is so much more important than the subsequent runs that the most important thing is that you score at all and you are more likely to score at all man on third, one-out than man on second, no-out. 

Early analysis into ghost runner data showed some things. Generally the winning team scored more than one run. Generally the away team won. Generally though, the teams that bunted men over won more. But there aren't a lot of one-run games so it's a lot of small sample size work. Though each year we do add to it.

There are ways of figuring this out. Getting all the games from 2020 on and analyzing them is probably the best way. Using expected runs to estimate outcomes. Generalizing strategy and running thousands of simulations.  It'd be great if someone did this, but as extra-inning games aren't all that common and the advantages are likely slight in either direction it's not a priority for teams. They weren't even sure it would be back. One of you must have the time though.  Me? I'm busy! I got a job! Kids to feed!

Expected runs would be the easiest but the problem is the numbers we have are not situational.  We know runner on 3rd, one out scores a run more often than runner on 2nd, no out.  But we know that in context of every inning of every game where it's more likely you are always trying to score as many runs as you can. What if you were JUST trying to score 1 run given the first scenario? It's likely that slight advantage that exists now grows. But to what? And if the road team doesn't score the home team almost certainly tries for one, also changing expectancy. We must also consider whatever the road team scores, the home team could play for that number - trying to extend the game more than trying to win it. Do they? I'm sure it happens. But is it the prevalent way the game is played?

Simply analyzing scores doesn't tell you what you need to know.  I can be playing to score as many runs as possible, but my first guy grounds to the right side and my second guy flies out and the last guy strikes out. I get a run but it's no different than if I just tried for one. I can be playing to score one, bunt the guy over, get IBBd to set up a DP and then my batter's attempt to just get one up in the air lands over the fence. Three runs when all you were going for was one. And let's not forget the potential pressure and situation. Teams do hit worse late & close, or in the 9th and extras, or when behind. If you score at all and you can put that pressure on and you can bring on maybe a better pitcher than you would if tied, shouldn't we factor that in?

This is why I think analyzing actual games is the best way to do it. There's assumptions we can make on strategy and then there is the way the game is actually played. And we CAN separate out "bunt first" half innings from others to see if there is success.

But until then right now we're seeing it comes down to feeling. A lot of people want as many runs as possible. I want just one.

Tuesday, May 17, 2022

Just bad bad baseball

 Jesse Dougherty said it best 

I'm not sure what else is there to say. This is the team they built on purpose. They punted on this year - reasonable with uncertainty about Strasburg's recovery (they lied to you about that), and with a bunch of younger players to evaluate. They aren't sure they will even compete NEXT year which is why they didn't bother grabbing a much needed SP or one of the FA SSs that would fit perfectly into this teams plans going forward*

They signed a bunch of veterans to one year deals to see if they could flip them. The problem is they went REALLY cheap and so far they haven't come through. 

  • Nelson Cruz             $12M         .194 / .279 / .298
  • Cesar Hernandez     $4M          .268 /.321 / .314
  • Steve Cishek             $1.75M     5.54 ERA, 1.692 WHIP
  • Sean Doolittle           $1.5M       0.00 ERA, 0.188 WHIP but hurt
  • Alcides Escobar       $1M           .213 / .271 .258
  • Maikel Franco         $700K        .257 / .284 / .393  (almost ok!)

Clippard/Sanchez/other Sanchez/DSG - minor league deals     minors, 7.94 ERA, hurt, .167 / .167 / .167 respectively 

They basically had $20M to spend on FA, put $12M into the Nelson Cruz basket and are watching that money burn. The remaining $8M they just tossed into a garbage can fire to start. 

Bad plan going bad. It's so bad that they are literally keeping a player (Luis Garcia) in the minors to "work on his defense" even though he hasn't made an error since April 9th and he's hitting .354 / .411 / .639. It's indefensible and if I were Garcia I'd be like "screw this team" and be looking for the exit as soon as I could get there (which admittedly so far away things could easily change)

I wish I could say all this above is normal rebuilding stuff. You know, keep guys down, let's see how the kids do, convert some starters,  maybe hold onto a Bell or maybe not.  But there's a sword of Damocles hanging over everything. The Nats have a homegrowm HoF player (ANOTHER!) who they need to either sign or trade. That's what this season is all about. 

If Gray and Ruiz and Garcia when he's burned enough service time and Rainey and House and de la Rosa and Cavalli and Henry and Rutledge and whoever else don't develop enough Soto will be gone. That, hanging over everything, turns a typical long but "that's baseball" season into something far less enjoyable.

Could I be wrong? Sure. But if you are going to deal Soto this offseason will fetch you way more than next one. Given the pending sale as well there are only two ways this can go in my head. Team on obvious upswing, Soto resigned, selling a playoff caliber team or Team going nowhere, Soto traded, selling a team with very little on the books. So start rooting for those kids. Hard.

*Garcia isn't a SS. House probably isn't a SS. At least not optimally. 

Monday, May 16, 2022

Monday Quickie - the worst non-Reds team

 The Nats got beat up by Houston 

Jo Jo See-Ya gave up 3 homers on Friday and presented the worst of what he could end up as, if his timing doesn't work out.  He only walked 2 in 6, and gave up 3 other hits. But you aren't going to win many 3 homer games. 

Fedde was Fedde. 3 runs in 4 innings is bad (It's a 6.33 ERA) but it's Fedde. I've stopped looking at him. You should too. 

Corbin has been usable the past few starts but trying to stretch him out won't always work and this was one of those "didn't work out" times. I like the fact he's usable again but this is kind of the worst case scenario of usability. A 4-5 innings eater to take a loss but save the pen. 

The pen remains in that "below average but whatever" area with a bunch of guys who are not good, but not so bad you can't stand to see them come in.

The offense had been a relative bright spot - slightly above average! - but it's cooled down to worse than that as well. It's basically been a 3 man offense (Soto, Bell, Yadi) all year with no change. There isn't that one guy on the bench doing surprisingly well. Escobar is still playing regularly. It's a mess

Still I don't see this as a 54 win team - neither does Pythag - so we get back to my dislike of Davey and how he, in 2018 and 2020 and 2021AND this year, has gotten the Nats to do less than I'd expect them to do.  Since it's hard to qualify manager impact all you can really do is go by feeling. Is the team doing worse or better than you think they should. Nats are doing worse, imo. 

Now of course - what's the point of firing him is a valid thing to say. I can't answer that other than there's never a good reason to have someone bad around (see: Escobar, Alicides)

Oh well this is depressing. What a long summer this will be. BUT

Strasburg and Ross are getting back to every 5 day pitching which puts them at coming back in the Memorial Day time frame (though probably a bit later as there is no rush). They immediately become the best and 2nd best pitchers in the rotation and it goes from Corbin-Gray-Adon-Sanchez-Fedde to Strasburg-Ross-Gray-Corbin-? 

If you ask me today Fedde takes that spot but that is not at all clear and a lot can happen in a month.

If you are wondering about the AAA rotation from best to worst in ERA

Tetreault : the new "Next guy up" he's been pretty decent and very solid in May. If he's still pitching this well come June... there wouldnt be a good argument not to give him a shot. 

Sharp : Also better in May though not as good and not as solid overall and with worse stuff. Not really sure why you'd go to Sharp over Tetreault

Cavalli - Having a hard time dialing in, with some good performances and some bad, but that's why he's there.  Doesn't seem like he'd be moved up this year right now. 

Jefry Rodriguez -  hard to hit, but remains wild which has been his issue in the majors when he's been up. Pure org filler and at 29 there's really no reason to see this guy in the majors outside massive injury problems. 

LoganVerrett - Fedde but 32, see the last sentence for Rodrgiuez although I guess you might spot start him as he's done slightly better than Rodriguez and there's no clock starting here. Of course - just start Fedde. He's already there. Save yourself a plane ticket. 

Ah well that ended up still depressing. 

Here. Here's Cole Henry's year so far. That's a up thing to end on. 

Friday, May 13, 2022

How about Josh Bell?

 In contrast to Nelson Cruz, Josh Bell has been unusually hot. Early on I said it couldn't last but he's at .345 / .439 / .513 still. Is this real? Even a little bit? 

The first reason to doubt it is while he's had pretty good seasons in the past they've been power driven.  His power this year is actually lower so far than his usual.  Instead this is average driven, and that usually says luck. But let's look! 

Does Bell usually start fast?

Doesn't really have a rhyme or reason to his production - which is how most players are I bet

You said average - BABIP high?

Yeah .372. 11th in majors, well above his usual numbers in the .270s/.280s.  It's not an impossible number for a season, but it's a near league leading one and usually reserved for guys with a little speed who leg out some GBs others wouldn't. Bell doesn't have that.

But you got to see how he's hitting right? 

Yep. If he's smashing LDs then there you go. And.... smashing? No. Hard hit % is down, soft is up. EV isn't high, not a lot of barrels. Nothing sneaky there - might even be hitting it LESS hard. 

LDs? those are up! 22.5% from 20% last year and in the high teens before that. GBs are down a good 5% over two years too. So LDs yes.  And you don't necessarily have to smoke line drives, as long as they aren't soft. 

So you'd say he's hitting it better?

Yes, not harder but better and I think better is more important than harder (see; injured Zimmerman, Ryan hitting 100MPH balls into the dirt in front of home plate) 

Anything else? What about Ks and Walks? 

A lot fewer Ks - the lowest of his career by far (around 11% when he's more of a high teens guy).  Walks a tick up but in the neighborhood of what you'd expect

So he's seeing the ball better?

I don't know about that - he's swinging at more balls outside the zone, so it looks like more just an approach change. 

Well great! 


Hey what's wrong? 

Nothing. But as you can imagine his BA isn't going to be .345. It'll be more like .325. Which is good don't get me wrong but there's that power drop. That lines up with his bad years. We're talking 15ish homers. 

Could it be just a HR/FB luck?

It could but then again - the hard hit%, the power, etc. He's not hitting the ball superhard. I'd say it isn't just bad luck it's sort of by design. 

 But .325 say... 20 homers, some walks, that's not bad

No it is good. But its not great. Not really. It's sort of good season DJ LeMahieu but without the defensive versatility.  Mark Grace but without the defense. It's just an unusual combination that's all. A high average contact first baseman that can't field particularly well.  The best comparison might be David Segui? But even he probably fielded better. You usually save 1B for the lumbering power hitter. 

So... is it a problem? 

Well it's a problem in that the Nats rank 14th in the NL in homers. If you want more power you generally stick them in the DH (where Cruz might be dead) at 1B (where Bell is doing this) or in the corner OF (where Soto IS hitting for power). So the Nats don't have a lot of options to cover for that power loss. Again - a good hitter is a good hitter so you don't move him off but you may have to get creative elsewhere to find that power if this is the New Bell and you keep him around.


Bell's start is obviously skewed but the general direction is looking more and more real. We'll keep an eye on that LD% (22.5%) and the K% (11%) to see if those hold, as well as hard hit % and homers over the next 3 weeks. If it's real that's good and does make him a better hitter than we saw last year but not THAT much better and it might present a line-up construction issue for the team. But given the team has a lot of crap "is 1B the best place for a good hitter that doesn't hit homers" is very low down the list of problems to address.

Thursday, May 12, 2022

Wanted Nelson Cruz - Dead or Alive?

The Nats beat up on TY-LORE "Don't spell it McGill" Megill last night. It was a fun game for you guys because after it looked like it would go hard the other way - Mets scoring 3 before the Nats even got up - it swung right back to the Nats with a Soto homer and a lot of other hits. The bottom of the second and a Nelson Cruz homer put the game squarely in the Nats hands and you could go off and do other things or not.  It was fun for me because some joker at WFAN the other day picked Megill over Cortes in a Mets vs Yankees rotation discussion which was nonsense* and I'm glad to see it thrown immediately back in his face. 

The Cruz homer - only his fourth of the year - got me thinking about his season so far. It has been bad. There's no question about that. He is a designated hitter that has not been hitting. His line is .174 / .266 / .284 and unsurprisingly the Nats have the worst DH situation in baseball with those numbers. 

But is this the end of the line for the 41 year old (42 on July 1st!) Cruz, or is it just a slow start? We're not quite at Memorial Day - my official "Ok pay attention to stats now" date but we're getting late early now. 

Does Cruz usually start slow? 

Career wise? No. He's pretty consistent and while he's better in the second half usually, it's not that much better and April is usually a fine month. 

The past few years? Nope. 2021 and 2020 had hot starts and 2019 was very good, in a year that was great. 

Is it maybe bad luck? Bad HR/FB rate or BABIP? 

Could be! a .183 BABIP is super low and a HR/FB rate of 16% is low for Cruz. 

Why "could be"? 

Because he might just be hitting it worse, or it could be a trend at this age

Is he? Is it? 

Let's take the second one first... yeah it's kind of a trend. His BABIP and HR/FB in 2020 were both down from his more recent years.  

On the first one... Yes to that too. He's later to pitches than he has been in years (more oppo hits) and he's hitting fewer balls hard. He's not really a LD hitter but that's down too which agrees with these findings. 

Uh oh. Is he striking out more / walking less? 

Nope - on those he's fine. 

So it's not a recognition problem. 

Well... he's swinging a bit more at pitches outside the zone, just a bit, wouldn't call that an issue. But he's making a lot more contact on pitches outside the zone. That creates more bad hits - which would explain a lot of the bad results. 

Honestly his stats mostly remind me of his days in Texas when he was good, but not Seattle on when he was great. All the stats except...

Except what? 

GB/FB rate.  He's always been a guy that hit at least as many balls in the air than on the ground.  This year... it's 56% GB 29% FB.

That's not good!

No it isn't. Not for a guy that derives so much worth from homers. 

But he hit a homer last night? Is this getting better? 

The Nats have played 32 games so far and Nelson has played in 29 of them. After 5 games in a row he got off Game 6 of the season and he sat out 2 games in Colorado with back stiffness. Let's break that down

First 3 series - Cruz Games 1-10: 61% GB, 24% FBs, 15% LDs

Second 3 series- Games 11-20 : 38%, 42% , 19%

Away trip before Days off  - Games 21-24 : 73%, 13%, 13%

Since Days off - Games 25-29: 58%, 33%, 8%

If we take the last bunch of games together... 

Games 21-29 : 67%, 22%, 11%

Of course when you are dealing with so few games it's kind of silly.  He had a 4GB 0FB game as soon as he came back.  Without that the "Since Days Off" numbers would be like 38% 50% 12%

I'd say there isn't any indication of general improvement, he did show general improvement in this area before only to backslide, but if you want to be positive the most recent stretch of a handful of games looks better. 

Conclusion, please

It's still early so I'll give you two options

Cruz, completely unfamiliar with NL pitching, has been unable to read pitchers as he would forcing him to swing more at pitches outside of the strikezone. That created a slump to start the season that snowballed and he's now also reaching trying hard to make things happen, hitting balls for weak grounders that he'd normally let pass.

Cruz, getting older with slower bat speed, can't square up with pitches the way he used to. He's late which on his uppercut swing means a lower angle of impact (less FBs) and he's hitting with less power.

The former - gives a chance of course correction. He has hit the ball harder very recently (3 of his top 5 exit velocity games came in the last 4 games) and he is getting the ball up again. If he's not getting hits up at his normal level or even at his peak this year, when combined with the hard hitting, it gets a better outcome.

The latter - well everything said above is true, but it's a mirage of small sample size, some more rest, and being at home. The overall problems don't go away and he hits like .200 for the year with 20ish homers before retiring.

Here are the numbers to come back to in... three weeks (well 6/1). 

FB% : 29.1%

Hard Hit% : 31.4%

He won't get them to where he has been the past 5 seasons (near 40%, over 40%) but let's see them get much closer.  Over 35% each. If so, I'll lean toward the former. If not, the latter.

*Megill has been great but only briefly this season.  Cortes has been phenomenal this season - and was good for like 1/3 of last year as a starter. Cortes is also only 7 months older, neither were Top Prospects. It's an easy Cortes pick. 

Monday, May 09, 2022

Monday Quickie - Tony Two-Wins

 On the plus side the Nats hung with a respectable team on the back end of a road trip. They got three "I'll take it" pitching performances and some big time relief outings. They looked like a real baseball team and finish the swing 4-5. That's not a good performance but it's middle of the road for a team that looked like far far less than that to start the year. 

On the negative side it's still 4-5. The Nats still are last in the NL East, tied for 2nd to last in the NL (those Reds are going to be hard to catch), and tied for 3rd to last in all of baseball (come on Tigers!).  The starts were all imperfect and the relief positives were balanced by a big (and completely expected) negative. 

All in all it's what you'd expect from a 70 win team that started slow.

So how about those pitching performances?

Adon - 5 innings, 3 hits, 5 walks, 6 Ks.  I really liked this outing because Adon was in big trouble - going Walk, Single, Walk, Double, IBB and facing Rendon, down 3-0, and Davey let him pitch.  He got a DP (part skill part luck) and got out of it. This is the type of thing the Nats need to be doing all season long. 

Voth/Espino/Arano - no runs. Arano put two on but also K'd two in his inning

Gray - 5 innings, 5 hits, 2 walks, 3Ks.  It was fine.  Jo-Jo See-Ya was back in effect with 2 homers and that that's going to be his issue going forward, but we know that. Keep the hits and walks down though and it'll play. It'll play as a 4/5 but it'll play. Get those K's up and maybe it even works. 

Cishek/Ramirez/Rainey - no runs. Ramirez ate a couple innings which is good and we'll want to see more of that given these guys are all going 5. 

Fedde - 5 innings, 2 hits, 5 walks, 4 Ks.  Too many walks with not enough Ks  More FBs than GBs... We'll check all the pitchers out stat wise around Memorial Day but there isn't anything to start with that looks much better. Sometime they hit it where your guys are.

Rogers - hit hard. We've talked about how he was not a good pitcher last year and to look at his results and think maybe you had something, as some were, would be silly. He's now back around his FIP which is high 5s.  Last guy in the pen stuff when you don't have a wild young guy you just want to stick in there for experience. 

 Finnegan / Voth - no runs.

Rainey... ok look there had been rumblings that maybe Rainey had turned a corner. And he has pitched better than last year, though it would be hard not to. He seems to have a bit more control, while sacrificing some Ks - which is fine that tradeoff works given the improvement in one to the falling in the other. But he's not a lights out closer.  He's a decent relief arm and guess what - a decent relief arm works as a modern "face a random 3 guys in the 9th inning" closer. He's better than the guy in 2019/2020 who was ok, but not much.  He's not giving up zero homers - he hasn't become a dramatic GB guy. Runs will come. But if you want to say he's the closer. Fine. He's the closer. He's cheap. He's got three years past this. You are getting something from this guy.

Friday, May 06, 2022

Juan Soto's "bad start"

The Nats have a couple hitters lighting things up in Yadi Hernandez and Josh Bell.  The talk recently has been of Manny Machado MVP.  And if you kept your ear to the ground you probably picked up some Arenado (4th in OPS) and Aaron Judge (9th - coming off a "bet on myself" contract passing) chatter. But little about Juan Soto. He must be doing not great right? 

Juan Soto is currently 13th in the MLB in OPS+. *

That's few spots ahead of Vladdy Jr and few spots behind Judge. It's better now than Yadi Hernandez. The short of that is he is still one of the best hitters in baseball and has hit like it so far. Yes, a lot if it is wrapped up in walks. He has 23 now to lead baseball, 4 ahead of 2nd place Matt Olson**. But I think we're just so used to him being incredible that merely high All-Star level can seem like a disappointment. 

It doesn't help that he hasn't driven anyone in. He has only 7 RBI.  How odd is that?  The next worst hitter with that few RBIs is Yandy Diaz with the Rays (.301 / .440 / .425) but you can see his value is all walks (16) and singles (only 5 XBH). Then K'Bryan Hayes (same - no homers!) then Myles Straw. At that point you are at a guy with no homers and is hitting .271.  That's not comparable.

If you follow Dougherty on Twitter he's said many times it's NOT because of a lack of chances and he's right. He may not have a ton of them but he's certainly had enough to drive in more runs.  The problem is he hasn't hit well with RISP. I'm understating.  He's hitting HORRENDOUSLY .095 / .174 / .095.  If you can read that line you can see it's not about walks either. With a man on first he hits a lot better but it's all singles - a .474 batting average but only one XBH. Is it an oddity of small sample size or an effect of pitchers pitching around him and Soto wanting to do something? Probably a mix of both. But if it continues the Nats would actually be better served by Soto taking those walks instead of forcing things. 

Of course this tells you how great he's doing with no one on when pitchers will sometimes throw to him. A .268 average is meh - but a .453 OBP and a .661 SLUG (nearly .400 pts above his BA is crazy) are not. That's HoF type numbers. 

As of today, Juan Soto hasn't had a bad start, or even a "bad for him" start. He's had a great start. He remains one of the best hitters in baseball*** and Nats fans are lucky to have him for however long he's here. 

Some other baseball hitting numbers and sundries

The leader in GIDP?  Josh Bell. Tied with him? Maikel Franco. Yes the Nats lead the majors in GIDP.  The Nats actually have a very good average  (3rd in majors), they are average in walks which means their OBP is good. But they have no homer power (5th from last). Only Bell joins Soto with more than 2 (and only 2 guys have 2 - Franco and Cruz)

The best two hitters in baseball as of today are Taylor Ward and yes Mike Trout (and he's playing very good CF defense still! He is better than Soto taking everything in - but as we all have said by now - it's much like saying Willie Mays is better than Ted Williams). Ward won't keep that up but Ohtani is ok. Rendon is hitting again - though needs to get that average up.Walsh is a solid 1B bat. Marsh looks like he can hang in the majors. Stassi is good for a C. WIth Syndergaard pitching well, Lorenzen is fine. Sandoval looks fine... They can keep this up? Trout in the playoffs?!

JP Crawford is finally breaking out. Ok it's just a month but it's been great. 363 with 4 homers, 6 doubles and a triple and 13 walks.  But to be fair to Philly it took three additional years of patience to get him to here. That is a very long development time that a team trying to win usually can't do. 

Is Jazz Chisolm this kind of hitter? (.324, 4 homers, 5 doubles, 3 triples, 6 SB). Maybe. In the minors the problem was more average than homers with a ton of Ks (well into 30%s in K rate) early on. He doesn't have to be a contact guy, just keep K-rate under like 25% and he's a superstar. 

Rowdy Tellez always should have hit with this power. Now he is and Milwaukee has a guy to help them win this division. 

Rizzo won't hit 45 homers (I don't think) but having him, a healthy LeMahieu and yes Kiner-Falefa has helped transform the Yankees lineup with their low K rates. 

Franmil Reyes (CLE) strikes out so much (44% K rate)

*These things are still pretty variable - before yesterday he was 20th. But all I say will hold through even a bad series. 

**5 ahead of Anthony Santander.  The kid had 23 ALL of last year in 110 games! Talk about a change in approach. 

*** Defensively... he's one of the best hitters in baseball.  Look I've told you this for a while - he's going to age out of OF sooner rather than later in his career. He's been pretty bad this year but it's WAY too early to read into that. But suffice to say there's nothing here to say he's getting better from his current status as "ok for a RF" which for an athletic 23 year old is disappointing. But also he hits like he does so it's very very mildly disappointing.