Nationals Baseball: Maybe the pitching won't have to carry this team...

Friday, April 13, 2012

Maybe the pitching won't have to carry this team...

Two days ago the Mets tried to make the game a blowout. In the last 4 innings they walked the Nats 8 times, including 6 times in the 6th and 7th innings. Yet the Nats only managed 1 run during those two innings and 3 in the last 4.  Yesterday it took the Nats extra innings to get to 3 runs, and they didn't even drive in the final run. Part of it is a run of bad luck with RISP, but part of it is the fact that without Morse you are going to have some combination of DeRosa/Nady/Carroll/Ankiel hitting between the 5th and the 7th spot (why the catcher must bat 8th in Davey's lineups is anyone's guess).  It's not a lineup conducive to scoring runs.  So the question we usually ask is can the pitching hold down scoring enough for the Nats to make the playoffs. That might be the wrong question.   Maybe we should be asking if everyone else's offense is even worse.

This isn't your twin brother's who happened to come out first National League. In 2006 NL teams were scoring 4.76 runs a game.  It's steadily decreased from then; 4.71 in 2007, 4.54, 4.43, 4.33, and finally 4.13 last year. The NL league average is under 4 right now. I know it's very early but it fits with a recent trend. What if the average run scoring doesn't top much past 4 this year? Prince left. Pujols left. The best guy the NL got in return was Michael Cuddyer.  Howard and Utley are down. David Wright's been hurt. Brandon Phillips (both timing nicely for the Nats). Buerhle came over. Papelbon. Gio. Assuming the pitching holds up (and it looks damn good right now) all the Nats really have to be is average for the league they are in.  It's all about context.

Here are the NL East early season breakdown for R/G:

WSN   4.00
ATL     3.67
MIA    3.14
NYM   3.00
PHI     3.00

Again it's WAY early, and one big game or shutout can throw this all out of whack, but it feels telling that the Nats - who seem to be struggling to score runs - actually have the most productive offense in the NL East right now. I've said early on that things are actually going well for the Nats. Outside of the 2 OF spots you can't complain about the performances they've received at the plate.  Even Zimm and Espy, who aren't hitting well, are getting on base.  So things might get worse, but even then - there's still room to fall.  Maybe by simply treading water without Morse, maintaining the level of offense they had last year, the Nats will become average because the rest of the NL will regress around them. Average with a great pitching staff would be enough and it does look like a great pitching staff.


Anonymous said...

I was thinking the same thing the other day. Due to injuries and age, there are no really strong offensive teams in the NL East this year.

Shane said...

I've been reading this Blog for a while now, and this is the first overall positive (without any hidden negative) post I think I've read!

But seriously, is it just me, or does everyone else get sick to their stomach when they see all those guys LOB?

Wally said...

Hmmn ... But with Morse out for 2-3 months, wouldn't our chances look even better if we got more hitting for LF?

I understand your consistent point that it is about 2013; I haven't agreed necessarily, but I get it. But at what point do you think it is appropriate for the FO to say 'things have changed, because our competition is hurting; we should accelerate our timetable without unduly hurting our expected run'.

I think the time is now and would like to see them add a productive hitter that could play every day, but I have said that here and in some other blogs, without many people agreeing. So ok, maybe I am wrong. But what conditions do you need for it to be the time? Never?

Bryan said...

At 5-2 and in first place with what appears to be the really good pitching staff we expected and with the NL hurting, its hard for even Harper to be negative.

Wally - I think its early for what you are suggesting, but not out of consideration. If this team makes the All-Star break/trade deadline in contention, you consider trading for a bat. I don't want to trade now only to see us 10 games out and wishing we had our prospect back for next year. If at the deadline we are in a legit race, I'll bite and trade someone -but only if they can help in 2013 as well, not a one-year rental.

Hoo said...

The Nats are grinding out at bats being among the league leaders in walks and pitches per plate appearances. If the team keeps this up, they'll be able to keep facing the other team's middle relievers and the Nats have a pretty big advantage in every aspect of pitching but closer at the moment.

I expect Zimmerman's expected increase in hitting will be offset by Dez's regression. Maybe the Nats get a bit more from CF on offense (and OF defense will be better with Bernie in left and Ankiel in CF when team has a lead).

I'm enjoying the ride. And the incredibly weird feeling of seeing the Nats have the advantage in starting pitching 4/5 times. Where have you gone Odalis, Redding and Simontacchi?

Harper said...

Anon - probably - I think the Mets stink and the Phillies are on the way down, but we'll have to sit on the Marlins and Braves for a bit longer, both have potential.

Shane - you are the only one to catch the subliminal negativity in "Wilson Ramos, breakout star"

You're not the only one. Most LOB in the league, 2nd most LOB/G to the Yankees. I've been seeing A LOT of guys stranded these first weeks.

Wally - Not never. See you're right. All I'm saying is that on 2nd look, the current league conditions may not doom the Nats to missing the playoffs because Morse is out, but they still would be better served with another bat.

I'm not against moving foward now, either. But I can see that the circumstances need to be right. A trade is tough to do right now without decimating the young pitching - you'd have to think 2 or 3 would be needed to get anyone good. (maybe Moore's breakout will help). Rizzo won't do that, he sees pitching depth as paramount. Also you'd want to deal for someone that doesn't hold the Nats to a deal beyond this year (unless they are young). I guess the point is - who would you add? I think this may clear up by the trade deadline but right now any addition would be merely ok (like Damon) not necessarily game changing.

Harper said...

Bryan - oh I could be. Did you know Desmond's BABIp is .500? Let's see him keep that up! And Werth is still striking out WAY too much.

Yeah - and Bryan has a point here. You'd hate to deal say... Meyer and Purke for Upton and then watch ZNN and Werth go down to injury and the team get nowhere close.

Hoo - 2nd most in walks (though PA is pretty high so P/PA might not be as high - I'll check later)

"Where have you gone Odalis, Redding and Simontacchi?" Coaching high school? Working at car dealerships? Laughing at home on piles of money?

Hoo said...

Harper: From the post; The Nationals have produced so many base runners, in part, by staying patient at the plate. They’ve seen 4.00 pitches per plate appearance, fifth in the majors and up from 3.81 last season.

A nice reflection on the patience of Espi and a few others.

Section 224 said...

As soon as the Nats hitters realize they can win without Morse in the lineup, the sooner they relax and have days like the first 7 games this season. They are working into bullpens and lighting them up in every game. Woods and Marmol are one thing, but now they have trashed the Mets and Reds bullpens as well. And you have to like our chances to score on everyone else's bullpen while ours holds the line. Give me the Nats, down by 1 in the 7th with both starters out, and I'll take that bet every time this year. And I'll likely be ahead come September.

David said...

"Where have you gone Odalis, Redding and Simontacchi?"

I had completely blacked out the memory of that rotation.

And while I know its retorical I couldn't resist. Odalis pitching in Korea. And Redding signed a minor league deal with the Blue Jays back in Jan. Simontacchi though Im pretty sure he is done.

Strasburger said...

I agree with Shane. The amount of runners we strand is literally ridiculous. We just need one more solid bat that we can count on somewhere in the middle of the lineup. Bernadina seems to be making good contact but has gotten unlucky of late.

The pitching from Gio looked awesome, and I mean awesome. This is a guy who could send a lot of people to first on walks and so far he hasn't shown any of that.

Shitty news about Morse though, this is one of those things where you could see him being out for a huge chunk of the season.

Is Ankiel really a worse hitter than Nady or DeRosa? I think we should have Rick in the lineup as opposed to him but I guess its his fielding position that is barring him?

Mythical Monkey said...

It's early, that's for sure. But I'd rather be 5-2 early and know we have great pitching, than 0-7 early like 2009 and know we have a terrible team.

It's weird and wonderful after so many years to sit in the stadium and think "We're the best team on the field today." That and think the starters could throw a shutout every day.

Hoo said...

David: That's good stuff. I really miss Shawn Hill and J-Berg.

Theo Mackie said...

Any chance Strasburg throws in the playoffs if we make it?

Anonymous said...

Why is Ramos hitting 8th? It drives me almost as crazy as when Ian Desmond swings at the first pitch of every damn at-bat. But seriously, please move Ramos up in the lineup!

Donald said...

While I'm enjoying the run, this team could just as easily be 4-4 or 3-5, if just a few breaks went the other way. If that had happened, we'd all be lamenting the lack of offense and probably write off the season with Morse hurt.

Anonymous said...

Ah yes. Lots of things to change, move Desi down, get Ramos up, what team are you guys watching? Win. That'll do it for me....7-2
And the reason I read Harper's blog is because he's not a Nat's FAN. He's an observer with an opinion. You can get your fan-blog somewhere else where we sweep the Yanks in the Series a al the O's vs. the Dodgers back in the day. This blog is for ideas.
My book, pitching and defense win over the long haul. Do they win in the playoffs? That's a crapshoot.


DezoPenguin said...

This year's Nats is looking a lot like the Rays of recent years...really good pitching and pray that the enough of the pieces come together on offense. You can even make the comparison that the best position player on both teams is a homegrown third baseman!

Strasburger said...

Harper is most definitely a Nats "FAN", he just realistically looks at what seems most realistic. As for Ramos, he will continue to bat where he is, but its not all bad. It good to have some pop late in the batting order. Espinosa has the ability to be swinging MUCH better than he is right now. How can you be angry at Dessy at all, he's killing it right now. In fact I wish Werth would take a page out of his book and always swing at the first pitch because in his case they always seem to be meatballs (even so, hes been getting hot now too). Get ready, because a sweep of the Astros is very possible, which would leave the nats sitting pretty fourteen games in. To get our offense going the blame really only falls upon Zim who should be batting much better, but we all know he'll come around and drive in the numerous batters he has stranded in the future.

Harper said...

Hoo - That is nice and it's part an approach that Werth brings to the team. Fans may not like the longer games but they'll like the Ws

Sec 224 - Down by 1? Ok - now I've gotta keep track. From Fri night to Sept. Right now that only happened yesterday and the Nats lost...

David - thanks for looking that up. Simontacchi spent the spring travelling with the Cardinals caravan, and is doing some youth baseball instructing in the St. Louis area.

Strasburg1 - No, I think it's just slowly getting back from injury for Ankiel. He's a better fielder than those guys and I imagine can handle the corner if necessary

MM - Simply put - good time to be a Nats fan... who doesn't need to see dingers.

Hoo - People loved their Shaun Hill. Still don't know why. The Alex Escobar of the pitching staff.

TheoM - It'll be tough. Even if they limit his innings, he'll have a hard time making season's end. The only way may be on a VERY strict pitch limit (since he wouldn't stop throwing cold turkey anyway). 3-4 inning "starts"... Maybe. It's a nice problem to have

Nick - Asking myself the same Q. I guess he wants to keep the lineup spots steady and Morse/Werth/Bryce won't hit 8th. So even though the sucky OFs should be hitting there now - Davey won't put them there.

Donald - Shhhhhhhh! Today everyone is "The Nats are 2 bad calls from 8-2!" in reality they are a few favorable pitch calls and bad opponent D from being .500 like you say. But Shhhh! We're in the grace period still

Chaos - Do they win in the playoffs? Sure. Until they don't. That "just get in" idea is gonna be a key issue to this season. The Nats should be close to the playoffs come August. Do they make a move because once you're in anything can happen (see just last year) or do they hold back to try to increase odds of getting in for the next few years by holding onto a young player or two. Is Dexter Folwer worth Purke? Something like that.

Dezo - It's a good comparison except the last couple years everyone the Rays put in the OF can hit ok. They have a hole at SS that makes Ian look like... well like Ian so far in 2012.

Strasburg2 - well to spell it out, I'm a Yanks fan first, so while I root for the Nats to do well, I like to think I have a separation from what's going on in the field that someone that lives and dies with the team may not. I guess it depends on how you define a "FAN". Definitely not a fanatic, but may not even be a "fan" for some

A sweep of the Astros would probably make the Nats a national story int he 2nd half of the week - watch it though the Astros have a couple of decent starters and not a terrible lineup. There still a 60 win team but both Martinez and Altuve look like major leaguers so they won't embarras like they could have.