Nationals Baseball: Saving Grace

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Saving Grace

I was all prepared to be positive today, really I was. I had something about Espy and Ramos and even Desmond coming back around brewing in my head. But with Zimmerman now looking like he'll miss extended time, the feeling around the team is as negative as can be for a squad that just took over best record in the league. 

I'll give it to you straight and you can choose to believe it or not.  This team cannot win with this offense as it stands today.  They are 12th in the NL in runs per game.  They were closer to average, and average probably would be good enough, but as guys like Desmond and LaRoche and Werth have cooled down, no one has heated up to take their spot.  They haven't scored more than 4 runs in over a week. If Zimmeman is out for a week or two, then I still believe the Nats are fine. It would take an immediate reversal of fortune to pull this team out of the favorable position it's put itself in, and Zimmerman is an impact bat that should snap out of his doldrums. Maybe they do go 6-8 or something. No biggy. But what if he's out for longer? In that case I can't see the Nats doing any better than treading water, and probably doing worse.

But "Wait!", you say. "The Nats haven't stopped winning. Clearly the pitching is good enough that they can keep the Nats on track regardless of how the offense performs."  I agree. If the pitching keeps being this good then yes, the Nats will keep winning. But I don't think you understand exactly what that means.

The modern day single season ERA leader is Bob Gibson in 1968 with a 1.12 ERA. The Nats have three guys Detwiler (0.56), Strasburg (1.08) and ZNN (1.29) that are currently "challenging" that. If you are more of an ERA+ guy 2000 Pedro is your man with a 291.  The Nats 3 are at 654, 338, and 285 respectively.  Gio, with his measly 1.59 ERA / 240 ERA+ is only looking to challenge for Top 10 all time in ERA+, the slacker.

For the first thee weeks of the season the Nats have basically had four pitchers get results on par with the best seasons of all time. Forgive me if I don't see that continuing. If these 4 guys had pitched to a 2.50 ERA combined (a half-run better than ZNN, Gio, and Detwiler have ever put up), which would have been great and  all Nats fans would have taken in a heartbeat, and the Nats had even luck, we'd be looking at a 9-8 win team right now.

And that's the saving grace for the season right there. The Nats have been lucky, both with the fluky pitching performance and a few wins breaking their way.  They ARE 13-4. This gives them some room to fall back. They don't have to keep playing this well.  They can even drift below .500 for a while and still end up in a good position.  Look at it this way, if Zimmerman misses some good time - say 60 day DL, a couple months - but is back this year, and the Nats are say 41-37 come July 3rd, which would be playing 28-33 ball until then, and Zimm and Morse are both returning to the lineup, wouldn't you still feel good about their chances to make the playoffs?
The Nats season has been an fun season so far but it's had a measure of uncertainty hanging over it's head. Would the hitting pick up enough to keep the Nats on track when the pitching comes back to Earth? If so would that be enough to hold onto a playoff spot or maybe even the NL East.Now that's not even a question.  The hitting picking up enough to compensate for a couple months would take everything going right.  Now the question becomes; can the Nats survive long enough for the players they need to come back in a position to make a run?

First goal - finish this road trip still in first place in the NL East. Then we'll look at, how long Zimm is out and what that means for where they need to be when they start a big NL East road swing around May 20th. 

Survive, so they can advance.


Justin Schell said...

I do remember last year, towards the end, people commenting on how well the pitching had gone and if they could sustain that level. They thought it was impossible that the pitching could be that good. I know what you're saying...last year's good vs. this year's good is the difference between All-Star and All-Universe. I get that. I'm also just saying that perhaps the pitching is better than we thought it would average out to be...maybe it is one of the best staffs ever...still a lot of games to play, but who knows. That's the beauty of getting to watch the games.

Nattydread said...

Would it be out of line to say that, over the first tenth of the season, D. Johnson's management has been worth 2 - 3 added wins?

As devastating as the (short-term???) loss of Zimm is, you have to like the apt play-calling. Johnson seems to have motivational and strategic skills that squeeze the extra performance modicums out of 36 year old journeymen.

DCNatty said...

If Zimm is out for a month or more this team is done. More then anything, the Nats need to hire a new training staff. Where are these docs getting degrees? TC Williams? unreal...a little discomfort for Morse has turned into 8 weeks of shutdown, a little elbow discomfort for Storen has turned into surgery to remove bone chip, a little shoulder discomfort for Zimm tunrs into ???

Its a sad sad Weds. Never felt so bad watching them win or be in first place. Probably cause I know the fall of the cliff is very near.

Sign me up for 2013.

brendan said...

"Ima let you finish but the Nationals have one of the best rotations of all time!"

Oh I wish. I don't know how they've kept it going for as long as they have (and hopefully I'm wrong and they do end up being terrific beyond belief) but no one expected them all to be this good. Yes players can have exceptional seasons but to have an entire starting rotation blast through like this would be the first time ever.

brendan said...

While I agree with you Natty that it's odd about Zimm and Morse and Storen, the training staff I must say did an excellent job on Strasburg and Zimmermann. So I'm kind of stuck in between saying whether or not they're good or bad...

Harper said...

Mr. S / brendan - Hey, some rotation has to have the best rotation of all-time right? Even though, they can't keep up THIS pace. No way. It's way beyond just having the best rotation of all-time.

Nattydread - some may think it'd be out of line. I'll admit I don't know. All the right buttons so far.

DCNatty / brendan - I'm not sure the training staff is bad. I think it's more a communication issue. The one thing you can't do is what the Nats are doing. Consistently provide the most optimistic view of injuries and let the rug get pulled out from fans when those best case scenarios don't come true. The other scenario is that they truly believe these best cases. in that case - yeah they don't have a good idea of what's going on north of a pitcher's elbow.

DCNatty said...

Its just more frustration then anything...and you're right, it probably is because they give such positive spins on it when you first hear about a problem. And obviuosly Im not ditching 2013 yet...Dream for this season is we tread water until June, then Morse, Zimm and Harper all get inserted into the linep. The pitchers take a step back and we become a slugging team that mashes their way into the playoffs haha. we can all dream right?

ps. Why Spring Training means absolutely nothin = Derosa

Keep squeaking them W's out Nats

Anonymous said...

Medical Staff:

The question is have their decisions delayed the players recovery and return? I'm not sure. Rest, not surgery, appears the key to Morse's return. So no delay in a procedure - it is simply going to take time. I don't think the initial optimistic diagnosis will delay his return - it was just an issue of dashing what turned out to be unrealistic expectations.

Storen's elbow seems like it will cause a delay. The misdiagnosis delayed the procedure which delayed the return. Not good.

Zimmerman's shoulder, unless it requires surgery is what it is. Wish they hadn't got my hopes up but if rest is what's required, he hasn't been asked to do anything that will ultimately have delayed his return.

Solis was clearly blown. The prescribed treatment was rest and surgery was delayed. Not good.

So, unless I have my facts wrong (which is possible) about Morse and Zimm, the medical staff will have caused two delayed returns - Solis and Storen with Storen being serious mistake.

Agreed though - I could do without the false hopes in all 4 cases.

Raleigh Nat

Anonymous said...

The team must add a middle of the order bat asap. In house candidate would be Moore as soon as he's deemed adequate in left. Give him a shot. Maybe he rakes. Worse case, he's no worse than trotting out what we have been sending in left field. BTW - Harper does not appear close to ready. Moore is performing, Harper - despite 1 HR - is not.


blovy8 said...

Negative? Zimmerman's numbers weren't much, even if you believe a good piece of it was bad luck. His production wasn't even average.

It's a tough way for Davey to get Lombo his atbats. If DeRosa really hits like a pitcher now, this is a way to find out, and get someone else who has some upside playing. It'll be an opportunity for Moore or someone similar. We can be pretty sure a trade isn't happening, maybe a waiver pickup.

I'm still pretty encouraged by the team striking out less and walking more than in recent years. I don't think that approach is going away, and perhaps they can cash in a few more times with productive outs if nothing else.

Michael K said...

On luck:

Totally totally totally. I do think it's a bit unfair to assume the pitching will regress to the mean and get worse, without commenting on the hitting regressing to the mean and getting better. But then again, the amount the pitching is overperforming is a LOT more than the amount the hitting is underperforming. Especially since the lineup as is would expect to be around 8th-10th in the NL IMO. So really I agree. The "2.5 ERA --> 9-8" statement is both true and alarming. That being said, at this point the worst thing Rizzo can do is panic and make moves before Morse and Zimmerman return and Harper gets called up. But knowing what we know about Rizzo that won't happen.

I agree that the "wins are in the bank", but it's difficult to use that to say if the Nats perform "without luck" they are still in better shape. I know, I know - you count the mean from today, not from 17 games ago. But just seems that the Nats are due for a funk unless their hitting picks up.

One bright stat: since the Nats are 6-3 in one run games, they are 7-1 in games decided by more than one run.

michael k said...

On the medical staff:

Obviously I don't know what I'm talking about. BUT. It seems that EVERY top pitching prospect in the organization has needed Tommy John. Strasberg, Zimmermann, Detwiler, and now Solis? It's weird. Might be something in the way they are trained. But then again, I really don't know what I'm talking about.

Hoo said...

Michael K:

I don't remember Det needing Tommy John as a Nat. He had a major hip surgery. That was a case where Ross tried to pitch through it and I recall the Nats being rather unhappy that he didn't fully reveal his discomfort. He was battling for a spot and wanted to try to pitch through it. Instead he had a spring hip surgery which cost him a season.

Anonymous said...

How has Davey Johnson been worth 2-3 wins? First of all, that's a gigantic number. That's like saying that Davey Johnson has been more valuable thus far this year than Ian Desmond was all of last year. Second, how can he be worth that much if one of his main jobs (setting the lineup) has been questionable. I have said it before, but why the hell is Ramos hitting 8th? With Zim out, the case could be made that he is anywhere from our 4th to 1st best hitter. Yet, he is hitting behind the Mark De-Corpse-a, Xavier Nady, Bernadina, Chad Tracy (who bats cleanup when he subs for LaRoche??), and even Rick "The Stick" Ankiel each and every game. It drives absolutely crazy that in our below average offense one of our best hitters hits 8th every game. While I love Davey, it's hard to say he has been anywhere close to that valuable when he is not throwing out a lineup which would give us the best chance to score runs.

In terms of the training staff, it's time to start fresh. I am so sick of hearing that an injury is "minor," because it NEVER is. TJ is one thing, because that is becoming more and more common for pitchers. But the constant misdiagnosis and mishandling of injuries is unacceptable.

Anonymous said...

Relax, this Nats team isnt make or break this year. This team is gonna be built to win for at least the next 5 years with all the young talent. Pitchers were pitching around Zim, and we werent winning because of our offense anyway. If they were scoring 3+ runs with Zim, I dont think it will make that much of a difference. Guys just have to step up. And you have him out until the ASB because of a sore shoulder, lol relax.

A Fly Moses said...

Well, if we want to play for 2012 still and mitigate the rotation's regression, all we need to do is put Lannan back in the rotation and send Detwiler to the 'pen...amirite?

(That said, why Rizzo would call up Carroll instead of Moore is beyond me.)

blovy8 said...

I think the story was that Ramos is comfortable hitting 8th, which the numbers bear out since he's hitting .335 down there. Davey wants a set lineup it seems too. I know it doesn't make sense, but if you move him to fifth and he hits .100 points worse, that doesn't help things anyway.

Anonymous said...

Told ya, Zim just got back the results of tests, no structural damage, just sore and he needs rest. Day to day.

Froggy said...

The sky is falling!

The sky is falling!

The sky is falling!

How about we wait and see how this road trip turns out before we turn into Henny Penny (Chicken Little for those of you born after 1970)


Donald said...

@Nick -- I disagree with the thought that one of Davey's main jobs was setting the lineup. That's the way Riggleman thought but I don't think that's where Davey's coming from. His may job is to get his players to play at or above their potential on a consistent basis. That's why he works with them on their approach to hitting, and why he put Gorzelanny back on the mound in the 10th inning the other day. It's impossible to quantify, but Desmond and Werth are both playing better since Davey took over. Letting Chad Tracy pinch hit might be another example. Dunno how many wins that translates into, but I think that's where Davey shines and why his teams win so many games above Pathagorean.

Anonymous said...

How do we know Ramos would hit 100 points lower anyways? I don't think there is enough of a sample to really make the case that he would be a worse hitter in that spot. And even if he were 100 points lower in that spot, he would still be a better hitter than DeRosa.

And yes, Desmond and Werth are playing better, but Desmond is still not walking and Werth was bound to be better than the train-wreck that was last season.

Donald said...

I guess the question is to what you attribute the Nats having a 15-4 record when their Pathagorean would indicate they should be 11 - 8 or whatever. Is it purely luck? Or do you give Davey some credit for winning games that they might otherwise have lost? And how much credit is reasonable?

And even if their record were 11-8, that would equate to 93 wins over the whole season, which is higher than anyone would predict for this team. How much credit should Davey get for the team playing to their max potential?

Would the Nats be 15-4 with a different manager? If you think yes, then that means the manager doesn't really matter and anyone could do it.

Harper said...

Overall - I have no idea how to figure a manager's worth. I do think more than a game or two is high based on all managers basically do the same thing, but again who knows? There's no good way to tell because you can't do tests with the same managers for the same team over the same time frame. Over pythag is helpful but limited.

As for Ramos - I assume it's less about his comfort than everyone elses. Some guys probably press in the 8 spot knowing the pitcher is behind them. Still I'm in the move him up camp. That's all hypothetical, the only thing that's real is Ramos will get more at bats if he's higher in the lineup.

Raleigh Nat - that's a good point and one that I didn't think about. It really depends how impactful the delays are though. Obviously offseason ones are ignorable, and a week may not matter. Storen though could make a month difference. (Strep throat my ass)

blovy8 - Even though Zimm wasn't producing he was expected to rebound and cover some guys falling back.

MK - You expect 90 wins, they'll be some 5 game losing streaks. If they begin with a 5 game losing streak do you still say they'll get 90 wins or temper it down to 89? Strict probability says temper it down. Past is past.

Moses - BOOOO! Any anti-Lannan comment is cause for immediate banning. Consider this a warning. Also note I have no idea if I can ban people or not.

Froggy - sky isn't falling, but all of a sudden thunder clouds rolled in. It be silly not to get in from the golf course.

Anonymous said...

I am generally in the camp that managers really don't create that much value, they can only detract value (think Fredi Gonzalez). I don't think it's fair to say that with another manager we would be exactly where we should in terms of Pythagorean W/L, because it's entirely too early to make that sort of judgement. The Indians/Pirates started out great last year and outperformed their projected W/L early in the season, and then regressed big time. It's not like Manny Acta managed his ass off the first half off the season, and then blew it the rest of the way. Two years ago when the Nats started 21-15 it was clear that they were playing way over their heads. It wasn't like Riggleman discovered a magic formula that helped the team win early on, and then forgot about the rest of the way. The team we had was playing over its head in terms of ability, and it eventually regressed. While I think the Nats are much, much better than any of the other teams I mentioned before, they are certainly not going to continue a 15-4 pace, and they are certainly not going to win every 1-run game they play.

Overall, a manager can do more to detract from a team (bullpen/rotation mismanagement, not optimized lineup) than he can do to help it. The only manager who consistently trots out an optimized lineup, take full advantage of platoons and moving players around is Joe Maddon. While I enjoy Davey and he is clearly a knowledgeable guy, I would have to disagree that he is the architect behind the Nats outperforming their pythag W/L, and attribute a lot of it to small sample size.