Nationals Baseball: May 2012

Thursday, May 31, 2012

Time to "finish" strong

It was still a good road trip. That's what you can take solace in. They took on 3 decent teams away, and came back with a 5-4 record. You know who does that? Good teams.

Back when Werth went down the thought was they'd have to keep around .500 until the team started to recover from injury.  If they could make it to Morse's return simply losing a game for every game they won, they'd be in pretty good shape. Well they've gone 11-11 since then. That's good.  Don't get messed up by the 14-4 start.  That's a fluke. Teams don't do that all year. But 15-17 since then, with two key offensive players (Werth and Morse) and one useful young player (Ramos) lost, that's ok. That means when you get Werth and Morse back this is at least a .500 team, maybe a few games better.

That may not seem like much in the way of praise, but look at this from a playoff perspective.  If they can go 4-2 on this home stand and then go merely .500 (48-48 if I back of the enveloped correctly) after Morse comes back that's an 86-76 team.  That's a team with a chance at the playoffs.  A couple games over .500, say 50 and 46, in the same time period and that's an 88 win team and that's real close to a virtual lock. This is what the 14-4 start afforded the Nats.  It's a head start on making the playoffs.

All which makes this home stand kind of important. It's really the last chance to be "reeling" without a big chunk of their offense. They kept their head above water for this long, just a little bit longer and the team can simply play to the talent level that we think is on the field and have a good shot of making the playoffs.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

The Underappreciated Edwin Jackson and Boras' potentially wrong move

When you think of the Nats starting pitching you do tend to forget Edwin Jackson.  Obviously Strasburg is the first name that comes to mind, followed by Gio and the year he's having. ZNN is probably next given he's the only one that pitched last year, was good then, and is good now. Then maybe you think of Jackson, but probably you thought of Detwiler early on with his great start, then nobody, and now you're thinking about Chien Ming Wang.'

I'm not saying this is necessarily unfair to Jackson. He's less talented than the Top 3, older than everyone, and the only one not guaranteed to be here next year. He started slow, and he has only 1 win. Still... he's you could argue* he's been the Nats second best starter this season.  He's 2nd to Gio in WHIP and H/9, 2nd to ZNN in BB/9, 3rd in K behind Strasburg and Gio (yes 3rd out of 5 isn't a big deal, but Gio and Stras are fighting over the league lead).  It's his best season ever, so far. According to pitching WAR he's been the 18th most valuable starter in the NL. You can believe in the ranking of that number as much as you want but it nails what all the other stats say too.  He's pitched like a #2 guy out of the #4 slot.

But that factoid - that he's in the #4 slot - is what makes makes his signing here a mistatke.  Not by Rizzo but by Boras. You only sign a one-year deal at age 28 if you want to use that one-year as a springboard to something bigger. That elusive long-term, big-money deal that all players want. But to justify that to the fans and to the owners you need more than fancy stats. You need results. You need wins - as many, in as big as situations as possible.

The "many" part is a problem, because of the offense behind Edwin. The Nationals line-up is low-scoring, you can't deny that.  It may improve in the future, but for a good 3rd of the season it'll be in the bottom of the NL and it's not likely to jump above average at any point in the year. Those type of offenses create games where wins and losses are decided almost at random, and often late in the games.  If you can't just shut a team down (like Gio and Stras can) you can easily end up with a well-pitched loss. The Nats are tied for 4th in wins in the majors, but have only 2 pitchers with 4+ wins.  The other three teams have at least 3.  Edwin has been on the receiving end of some poor luck when it comes to this and has only 1. His luck could turn but then again, it could not.

The "big situation" could also be part of the problem. As the 4th guy in the rotation, who's to say what his role will be come playoff time? Certainly Strasburg and Gio will go 1, 2 (assuming Strasburg's arm is ok to do it). That next game feels much more likely to go to ZNN than Edwin. ZNN might not have as good stats as Edwin this year, but he's almost as good (and might be better come year's end), he's shown he's more capable of pitching that plus-level game (he's more little girl with the curl to EJax's "Steady Eddie"), and he's the guy you are going to want to keep happy since he's coming back.  That leaves Edwin in the 4th spot, but if the Nats fall down 2-1 in the playoffs, are you going to really going to go with Edwin over Gio or Strasburg again?  (OK probably over Strasburg again - if you are pitching him at that point you are going to be very arm aware)

Suddenly Boras is trying to sell a guy with a 9-12 record who was left out of a playoff rotation as a guy worth a big mutli-year deal? Good luck with that. We'll see what happens - maybe Strasburg does shut down and Edwin wins a playoff MVP.  Or maybe he reverts to pitching like the last few years, continues to get no support and is a 4.00 ERA pitcher with a 6-14 record looking for a 5 year 100 million dollar deal.  Whatever happens this isn't a Nats problem. They are golden to have Edwin pitch like this out of the #4 slot, but depending on what they actually turned down it looks like it might be a misstep by the Boars regime that could cost his client millions.

* You could. I personally would still argue Strasburg is the 2nd best (and pretty easily so) but the argument could be made.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Tuesday Quickie

Almost a perfect weekend for the Nats and already a winning road trip.  It still could end with a bad taste if the Nats happen to get swept by the Marlins, but you gotta believe they'll take at least one game (though they don't have a definitive advantage in either of the last two games - not a disadvantage either though Edwin Jackson has pitched solidly all year, and in game 2 Josh Johnson hasn't come back fully from injury). 6-3 or 7-2? That'd be crazy good.

The Braves were dinged up, sure, but their offense performed competently in the face of adversity.  It was the pitching that failed them.  So the weekend story is either the Nats offense or Braves pitching, depending on how you look at it. Right now you'd say the Braves pitching since they gave up eight to the Cardinals, while the Marlins held the Nats to 3, but let's give it a few more games to see if the Nats offense has turned a corner. And hell - maybe even into next series, since the Marlins park can depress run scoring.

Some quick notes

Perfect example of why the closer role is idiotic. In an important series the Braves best reliever, Craig Kimbrel, pitched one garbage inning at the end of an 8-4 loss. He's pitched one whole inning since the 20th of May. The Braves are not using their best arm in important situations because they might need him later. Except 'later' hasn't come for 2 weeks. It is a maddening waste of resources, akin to the Rangers keeping Josh Hamilton on the bench for 9th inning pinch-hit home run opportunities.

Wang takes over for Detwiler in the rotation. Anyone surprised?  Anyone?

Bryce Harper is easily the hottest Nat over the past week. .389 / .500 / .722.  On May 18th he was hitting .230 / .318 / .419 and it was perfectly reasonable to think if he slumped into June that he might be flipped for Morse.  Now that's crazy talk.  He won't keep that up that line obviously, but it's next to impossible to see a scenario where Bryce doesn't spend the whole year here.  You just can't see him go into the kind of slump necessary to force that move.

Outside of Bryce and Jesus Flores, no one is hitting exceptionally well but they are all hitting with power. Ankiel, LaRoche, Zimm, and Espinosa all have 3 XBH in this past week. Even "Singly Steve" Lombardozzi has a couple doubles and ZNN has a homerun.

Just when you thought he was breaking out Desmond goes ice cold .100 / .143 / .150 over the past week.  He is what he is. Also shows you that if a team is hitting well, they can carry a bad bat.

The starting pitching has been fallible but the relief pitching has been close to perfect. Gorzo, Perry, Burnett, Clippard, Stammen no runs allowed. If only H-Rod wasn't still terrible (told ya it wasn't closing)

 Don't be worried about Strasburg.  He's getting unlucky with BABIP over the past month (.360+) and is still pitching good enough.  He'll be dominant again as soon as the luck turns.

Friday, May 25, 2012

Everybody (re: me) is working for the weekend

What can I say - sometimes you get busy.  If you guys want to pay me... let's say 100K a year, I'll do this full time and you'll get some damn good blogging action.  That would be a successful Kickstarter, right?  I'll throw in creating a comic based on Jesse Pinkman's superhero sketches.  Rewindo will walk backwards into your hearts!

Anyway get excited - this is arguably the Nats most important series since late in 2005 (I'll have to flip through Svrluga's masterpiece, but looking at the game log - the season unofficially ended losing 3 straight to the Marlins at home in early September).  The goal is minor - one win (probably Saturday) and stay in first. They could easily do better and only a sweep by the Braves would be worth losing sleep over. Even then the Braves have proved time and again this season that they are allergic to success and would likely promptly lose the next 4 in a row.

Win tonight and play with house money over the weekend.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

The fate of Detwiler is in his hands

Can't they please do a little switcheroo? Give Detwiler another day off so we can have Strasburg/Hudson, instead of Hudson/Detwiler and Strasburg/Minor? At least Beachy/Gonzalez is there as the match-up between surprise Cy Young candidates

Back to the scuffling Detwiler, who's got a 5.40 ERA in his last 5 starts.  Remember when I said Detwiler's personal stats might be showing some real signs of improvement?  Yeah, forget that. His GB%, which was a big part of his success early, has dropped from 64.3% to 54.5%.  54.5% is still probably around what the Nats want, but really this means in his past 5 games he's been under 50%.  His career numbers suggest he isn't a ground ball type so I'm guessing those early games were flukes.  Same goes for his K-rate, which over the same time is more around the 5 K/9 level that has been his career average up until now.  He has continued his minor improvement in BB-rate but it's real small.

As far as more general stats, his BABIP has come up to a more normal range these past 5 games and his HR-rate has actually declined. That was already low - this can't last. The digners are coming. On the bright side for Detwiler, he's gotten pretty unlucky with runners scoring.  His LOB % dropped from 73.5% to 63.3%.  63.3% itself is low, what he must have been averaging (guess in the 58% range) the last few games is fluky unlucky.  This makes sense though. Yes, Detwiler isn't a 0.68 pitcher, but he isn't a 5.40 pitcher either.  He's a 4.00 + guy... most likely.   Still it's only been 8 games, a quarter of a season, so if I were in charge he'd get at least till the All-Star break to see if he really is the "no reason to screw over John Lannan" type starter that we assumed he was.

Of course he won't get that chance because Chien-Ming Wang is chomping at the bit to get in the rotation.  And by "chomping at the bit" I mean, "Rizzo signed the guy, he's got no options, and the Lerners are paying a lot of money for him; so there are absolutely no circumstantial reasons for Wang not to be pitching every 5th day".   In reality 32 yr old Wang is about Detwiler (who like we just said is about Lannan) but Detwiler is cheap so he'll get the boot if he can't throw a good game.  I'd expect Wang to get in this game if Ross struggles early, Wang to get the next start if Ross struggles at all. If he pitches well? I'm not sure what the Nats do. I guess just stick Wang in long relief until they get the excuse they need from Detwiler or an injury.

I say enough of this pussyfooting around. You want the best pitching staff in the league? Trade for (and then sign - or just wait until next year and sign) Zack Greinke.  I'd take this offense with Strasburg, Gio, Greinke, and ZNN as the Top 4. Oh wait, dammit! He's not a Boras client.  What about Hamels?  He's almost as good and.. no, no Rizzo hates him now and again not a Boras client.  Jamie Shields... no. (checking, checking) Ok well an early "Welcome" to Kyle Lohse, Derek Lowe, or Dice-K the Nats 2013 5th starter.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Not sure I can post today...

Keyboard is wet and I can't work under those conditions because I type so fast.

Oh ok. You twisted my arm. The thing is, and we can't say it enough, THIS IS WHO HENRY RODRIGUEZ IS. Lots of K's, bad control leading to lots of walks and WPs. This is who he has been in the majors. This is who he was in the minors. I'm going to go out on a limb and say this is who he was pitching amateur ball in Venezuela.

It has NOTHING to do with being a closer. He was great as a closer the first month.  I know some will say "Oh but he was splitting the duty then" but you're being silly. If it was some sort of pressure thing why would he randomly have a bad game or two last year? Or in 2010 with Oakland? And why not early this year? Was he randomly feeling pressure the last two seasons and overcame that this year enough to be a great pitcher when splitting closer duty (which still has some pressure, no?) but once he began to close by himself he couldn't ignore the pressure and started failing all the time? Is THAT the story you want me to believe?  Doesn't it make more sense to think this is what he does, and he just happened to have a nice 10 game streak to start the year followed by a bad one? It's not a shock his stats are what they are. It's a shock that he didn't have these bad games sooner. This isn't a situation issue, it's a distribution one.

But whatever, what's done is done. H-Rod likely won't be closing anytime soon (though Davey hasn't ruled out giving him one more chance) which most Nats fans are pleased with. What would be optimal is using whoever makes sense at the time. Clippard against a righty when you need a K. Burnett against a lefty. Stammen when you need a ground ball. But as I've said many times, that's not going to happen. The evolution of the whole "set inning role" bullpen over the last 30 years that gave us closers, set-up men, and 7th inning guys has given managers a pass on managing. Not only that, it's become so expected that to break from this standard is asking for criticism even if the results are the same as before. Lose a game because you put in the wrong reliever and it's on you. Lose a game because your set-up man or closer blew it, and it's on them.

At best expect a Stammen/Burnett pairing until Lidge comes back. At worst pick one of those (probably Stammen since Burnett is the lefty arm). It'll be fine whatever they choose, because those guys are fine relievers.

Monday, May 21, 2012

This time it counts!

Losing the series at home to the O's was not what anyone wanted. But it's also not that big a deal.  Losing games to your inter-league opponent is like losing games to the dregs of your own league. These losses only hurt you in one way, since they aren't helping a team fighting for your playoff spot. The Orioles (and Yanks, Sox, & Rays) are the Padres or Cubs for all the Nats care. 

Now though, things change. Any loss here is a game picked up by a direct competitor. Lose here and you are definitely losing ground.  Up first are the Phillies, who squeaked back over .500 only to get knocked around by the Red Sox the last two games.  They are at .500 right now, 3.5 games back of the Nats. The Nats don't get as lucky as last time, this time it's Kendrick, Halladay, and Hamels. Given the Phillies offensive woes, though, this is the series to win on the road.

Two goals - (1) stay close to the Braves (1.5 games up) so the weekend series (where they likely catch both Delgado and Minor) can get them back to first (2) stay up in the WC (2.0 up on the Marlins/Mets). 

Notes -
  • The Nats have found some power.  They've hit 21 homers in the past 13 games, after hitting only 18 in their first 28. 
  • Morse wants to come back a week earlier than currently scheduled.  I wouldn't expect it (the Nats would be smart to work him in slowly as only a DH - they can't afford to lose him for any more time this year) but they do desperately need his bat. That last OF spot is killing the Nats. In their last 43 at bats Bernadina/Nady/Ankiel /Moore have a total of 5 hits. Whatever you think of Morse - he's better than that.
  • Detwiler has not looked good the last couple times out and hasn't been great since start #3. He's given the Nats every excuse to switch him out with Wang. One more bad start and he could be done.  Worse yet for Detwiler he misses the Phillies B-team offense and catches the Braves.
  • Despite a bump or two, the bullpen still very very good.  Even Drew Storen's professional seat warmer Ryan Perry looked ok.

Friday, May 18, 2012

Now comes the fun part...

This disappointing little 2-2 homestand marks the end of the Nats' "easy" stretch to open the season. Out of the 7 NL teams currently under .500, the Nats have played series against 5 of them. They've exhausted their home series against 4 of these clubs and they are completely done with the Pirates and the weakest team in the NL, the Padres. They've played 20 games at home, which is a series more than the Braves, Marlins, or Phillies.  The parity of the NL makes it so the Nats schedule hasn't been super easy, but all in all it has been favorable to them and has contributed to the fast start.

Now what happens? Ten out of the next 11 series are against teams that currently sit at .500 or better, the Red Sox being the 11th, with slightly more games away than at home. These teams are going to provide a challenge for a Nats pitching staff that suddenly looks vulnerable.  Boston is the 3rd highest scoring team in the majors, the Braves 4th.  Colorado is a good scoring team too and they'll be playing in Denver. Hell, the entire AL East is above league average in R/G.

What can we reasonably expect from the Nats? Let's break down these series, under the same assumption I've been using all year, that the Nats are a good team:

Interleague Rivalry Weekend (no really this time!)
Orioles - Home :  For years this series has been between two dead clubs walking, already playing out the string to a season that seemed like it would last forever.  We expected the Nats would change that up this season, but the Orioles being good? Icing on the cake. As for the series, the Nats should take 2 at home against all but teams demonstrably better than them.  Right now no team fits that description. 

NL East - Away Swing
Phillies, Braves, Marlins - Most important set of games the Nats have had so far? Yep.  Every win here is a loss for a direct competitor in a home game for them, and it's the first time playing the Braves which will be huge. 4-5 is probably the most reasonable expectation.  Win one series, lose other two, but no sweeps.

NL East - Home Swing 
Braves, Mets - Seriously, when are the Mets going to start to lose? That offense can't be that good, can it? 4-2 sounds right.

Touring the AL East
Red Sox (away), Jays (away), Yankees (home), Rays (home), Orioles (away) - These are all good teams so standard procedure would be 2 wins at home, 1 away, for a 7-8 stretch, but I'm going to lower expectations by a game because I'm an AL East homer. 6-9.  This is also when Mike Morse should be back in the lineup.  Will he make a difference?

Finishing up Away
Rockies (4 games), Braves - These aren't actually part of the 11 series, but the Nats don't really face any terrible travel burdens this year.  Since this might be the worst, going from Baltimore, to Colorado, and finishing in Atlanta, I figured I'd include it in the "hard" stretch.  I'm going to say 3-4 because I can't see the Braves sweeping the Nats or the Rockies taking more than 2.

So the reasonable expectation is 19-21 for a 42-36 overall record going into an easier stretch around the All-Star break. I would take that right now if you gave it to me.

I think the real key is going to be that first away swing.  A breakdown there say, 3-6 or 2-7, and it sets the Nats up for an uphill climb.  They'll have an immediate chance to make it back versus the Braves and Mets but with a losing series vs Baltimore it would drop the Nats right near .500. That psychological barrier and the chance that any other NL East team could be on fire, would give the Nats season a sense of... desperation is too strong a word, but close to that...  it hasn't had yet. The rest of this hard stretch would seem much harder when games start to take on the "must win" label.

On the other hand, if they can manage to come out of that away swing with a winning record they'd have most likely distanced themselves from two of their challengers, and would be almost certain of reaching the "Morse is back" point in good position, several games over .500 and close to first place, if not in it. Being in first when the guys start coming back from injury and playoff dreams start becoming playoff realities.

Anyway that this stretch turns out, hopefully we'll see a lot very good baseball these next few weeks.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Desmond's power

Last night, in his 36th game of the year, Ian Desmond hit his 5th homerun of the season.  Last year, in 154 games, he had 8 homers. The year before that in 154 games, he had 10 homers.  Ian also has 11 doubles, compared to the 27 he had in both of the past two years.  Projecting out for a whole season Ian would hit around 22 homers and have almost 50 doubles. Is this power surge for real?

Let's be frank here. Ian's value is coming from that power.  His average is ok (.276 right now) but that can almost directly be attributed to the increase in power.  A couple homers turn into fly balls and he's hitting .264.  Ian also doesn't walk and that stat is worse than ever.  His walk rate is an abysmal 3.5%.  He's seeing a ridiculously small number of pitchers per at bat (3.27, 2nd lowest in the NL).  So, even though he's hitting over 20 points higher than last year, he's a bad at bat away from matching last year's OBP.

But this is all ok if he keeps slugging like he has been. Don't get me wrong, Ian is not a league leader in slugging, not even close. But this power bump turns Ian into a useful offensive player rather than the lineup hole he has been.  Can he keep this up?

His minor league stats would suggest it's possible. He had isoSLG of .168 his third go round in A+ ball, and .188 his third season in AA. His .172 right now looks reasonable in light of that.

There's nothing currently odd about his major league numbers right now either. BABIP is at .313 - about what he did the past two years. HR/FB rate is at 10.4% - higher than the past 2 years but not abnormal (like the 17.4% he had in his brief rookie stint).  That alone wouldn't explain the power surge, but Desmond is also hitting far less ground balls and a lot more fly ones (and a few more line drives).  True, flyballs tend to be outs a little more often than ground balls, but they also, with line drives, are where the power comes from.  He's swinging a lot more (both his in-the-strike-zone and out-of-the-strike-zone swing percentages are up) but his strike out rate is down a bit. So it doesn't seem to be an issue with strike zone judgement spurring this on.

I don't see anything necessarily funny here. Chances are Desmond is sitting dead red and pouncing on anything that he thinks might be a decent pitch to hit trying to drive it up and out. Most of his XBH have come off of FBs and he seems to do the best versus FBs and sliders. He is seeing less straight fastballs this year but they are mostly being replaced with cut fastballs which Ian is handling just fine. There is a chance of regression here. Given his current swing tendencies, fastballs and sliders further out of the zone, or a mix of a lot more off-speed junk could have Ian flailing away again.

Tentatively, though, I think Ian may have found a niche where he can survive in the majors. It's important to understand a couple things here. Because he gets on base so infrequently, this power bump does not make him a good offensive player, merely one you can accept having in your lineup.  Also, he's not a complete batter so like I said pitchers could figure him out. But given that Ian is not terribly threatening, and is in that position ahead of some hitters they'd rather not face with men on, chances are pitchers are going to pitch him like they pitch everyone else. That means a couple of fast pitches in/near the strike zone in every at bat and for Ian that means a couple chances at the big hit that's making him a useful part of this lineup.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Trouble at the start

In their first 18 games of this season, the Nats went 14-4 and were cruising.  Obviously this was unsustainable (they weren't going to win 125+ games), so a dip was expected.  Maybe the Nats go 11-7 in their next 18, or 10-8.  Well in the next 18 the Nats went 8-10.  That's not terrible, but after that fast start we'd kind of expect to find the Nats over .500 in any long stretch of games. What happened?

The easy answer is injuries killed the offense. Werth has gone down.  Zimmerman missed some time.  Ramos is now out.  But that doesn't explain everything or even most of it. LaRoche came up in game 12 and has crushed the ball.  Desmond has bounced back recently.  Werth and Ramos before they went down were doing pretty good. Bryce Harper is up (though not doing all that well... SHHHHHH!)   The offense averaged 3.78 runs in the first 18 games.  They averaged 3.44 runs in the next 18. A little dip but not enough to explain the swing we saw. In fact they've actually been league average in May.

The real story is the pitching has gotten much worse.  Now, to be fair the pitching was PHENOMENAL. They gave up 2.67 runs a game during those first 18.  But they've been very mortal in the last 18 with an ok 3.83 runs per game. They've gone from far and away the best pitching in the majors to an average squad in the National League.  Ok you say. I get it. I've seen H-Rod blow those games in the ninth. It's gotta be a relief issue. Nope. It's the starters and it's worse if you look at just May.

Starter ERA April : 1.78   May :  3.81
Relief ERA  April : 3.48   May : 3.71

Although Henry Rodriguez's failures have been so... hard to ignore, the relief pitching has been fairly steady.   Stammen, Mattheus, Clippard, Burnett, even Gorzelanny have had good to great Mays and have offset some of the other failings. The starters though - they've gotten universally worse. On one hand, what could we expect? Four of them had ERAs under 2.00 to end April. That's crazy.  On the other, you really hoped for a gradual return to form, with maybe a couple guys continuing to be phenomenal.  Gio's hung on to being great, and ZNN has slipped back to normal (which is still pretty good), but Detwiler and Jackson are pitching kind of like you'd have expected them to on April 1st, and Strasburg has been, well, blah. I'm assuming Strasburg's situation is just a blip and he'll bounce back, but Gio isn't going to keep up these types of numbers either. They should get better but is a 4 & 5 of Detwiler and Jackson best in the league like was thought at the end of April, or are they merely typical 4 and 5 starters?

This highlights again the problem for the Nats we've been talking about all year.  Unless their pitching is great, not good, but great, this offense cannot generate enough runs to win games. Their pitching was "best month ever" in April and that helped hide the offensive failings.  Their pitching is average in May and that makes the Nats no better than a .500 team. For the pitching to be great, it really needs Detwiler and Jackson to be better than 4.00+ in ERA, and the other three to pitch up to their expectations. 

I know what you are thinking - if the offense is league average in May, then it should be fine going foward once Morse is back. That's true, if you believe LaRoche will keep hitting like an all-star and Bernadina and Lombardozzi can keep up their hitting, and Desmond doesn't slump again.  Sure we like Zimmerman to get hot at some point, but there's a lot more going unexpectedly right for the Nats than wrong on the offensive end since May 1st and they still can only manage league average. The answer isn't Morse alone. Maybe when Werth comes back, that will be enough to get them to league average. Maybe.  But it's a long way between now and then.  Let's hope the starting pitching goes back to being 4 Bob Gibsons and a Bob Welch.

Monday, May 14, 2012

Monday Quickie - H-Rod edition


Taking the series 2-1 vs the Reds salvages the road trip at a respectable 3-3.  If the red-hot Braves weren't able to sweep the Cardinals (didn't see that coming) the Nats would indeed still be in first place.  But the Braves did and the Nats aren't.  Luckily they have a medication for this condition. Take four games with the Padres and Pirates at home and call me on Friday.  Any worse than 3-1 can be seen as a disappointment.  Going 3-1 likely keeps the Nats within a game of first, if not back on top in some manner.

The loss of Ramos is a big deal, but Ramos wasn't necessarily starting over Flores because he was THAT much better. It was far more a age, contract, development, thing. Starter wise, for 2012 the change may not end up mattering, though it does probably hurt the all important 2013 squad.  It also weakens the bench.  Flores was not doing well in the bench role, but compared to most back-up catchers he wasn't an automatic out.  Sandy Leon, despite 27 games this year that have been good, is in more of the typical no hit variety. His best combined line (taking the best BA/OBP/SLG from any year) going into 2012 was .251 / .345 / .362.  Expect nothing.


Henry Rodriguez blew it didn't he? Nats fans are calling for his head and it's hard to blame them. However, objectively is it terrible that H-Rod is the closer? Well yes and no.

H-Rod is a high-walk, high-K type of guy. This type of guy is useful in a bullpen for those "need a strikeout can afford a walk" situations. Say... one run up, nobody out, man on 2nd; or tie game, man on third, one-out.  He's not ideal for those situations either because of his propensity for wild pitches, (Yes Ramos had something to do with those but I get the impression fans treat catchers like NFL recievers.  You get your hands on it you should get it. Anyway getting off topic) but that's the place I'd want him in. Since he could easily put 2-3 guys on in an inning due to wildness, you wouldn't want him pitching a lot in a close game which is essentially the closers job in a nutshell.  Pitch a whole inning in a game where the other team is relatively close to you.

However, H-Rod can be a fuel to the fire type of pitcher, his walks putting runners on, forcing others into scoring positions. His wildness moving guys over without the fielders having a chance to make a play.  It's actually not a terrible idea to have this guy start an inning, where his wildness can do the least damage. And the... well let's just be frank here... rigid idiocy of the closer role means he won't necessarily be facing the best batters, the ones that could most use his wildness against him.  Instead sometimes he faces the good ones, other times he faces the free swingers at the bottom of a lineup.

How does that make sense? How is it good and bad for Henry to close?  It's because the closer is a stupid position. For those thinking it's the pressure the got to Henry - shut it. This is the pitcher Henry is. It's who he was in the minors (6.5 BB/9, 11.6 K/9).  It's who he is in the majors (5.5 BB/9, 10.2 K/9).  While it fits a nice narrative of "some guys can't close" that is so far from the truth that the closest way to get back to the truth is to dig a hole straight through the center of the earth. The problem is less Henry than it is how he is used because of the idea of what a closer should be. Sometimes you want Henry pitching that 9th. Other times, like if the game is one-run and you are going into the heart of the lineup, you'd want someone else out there. For the Nats now, the guy you want in that situation would be Clippard or the re-invented Stammen.

Since Davey isn't about to reinvent something that gives managers a complete pass on, you know, managing the 9th inning. I guess I'd lean on pulling Henry out.  That way he can be used properly in innings 6-8. Hopefully his replacement will be someone good all the time that they won't miss much in the middle innings that have been held down so masterfully so far.

  • Danny Espinosa had a nice weekend. Five hits, including two homers and a double, plus 2 walks. He still has a ways to go to get his yearly stats where they need to be but this is the type of 3 game set you want Danny to have every other week or so. 
  • Roger Bernadina has also had a couple nice games in a row after kind of being given the starting nod.  All he needed was someone to believe in him? I don't buy it.  He's had too many at bats and too many tries for that to be it.  Just a lucky streak.  He's not terrible, but he's not the everyday LF for a good team unless he's the worst player out there. 
  • Break out the band!  The Nats scored 15 runs against the Reds, most in a series this year and tied for the most in any set of three games. Everyone was either doing good (aforementioned, LaRoche, Desmond) or ok (Zimm, Ankiel, catchers) except...
  • SHHHH - we're not supposed to mention it but Bryce is hitting .231 / .317 / .346.  Four homers is his last 71 minor/major league games.  Not to mention the sloppy fielding. Still think he should be up though. 
  • Lost in the H-Rod mess and the offensive explosion - the pitching wasn't up to snuff this weekend. The relief was shaky the first and last games of the series and Gio (9 baserunners - 2 doubles) and Jackson (5 hits - 2 homers) were lucky they didn't give up more runs than they did. Only ZNN acquitted himself nicely.  Five singles scattered over seven innings, with 9 Ks and only 1 walk. It's almost as if he knew he couldn't give up that 2nd run and expect the Nats to score a 3rd for him.

Friday, May 11, 2012

Salvaging a series and a possibly good weekend

The story hasn't changed much.  Nats pitching does well giving up 11 runs (9 earned) in 3 games.  The offense stinks scoring 10 runs (9 earned) in 3 games. This will be the song and dance at least until Morse comes back (probably as a DH in early June interleague games) to see if that makes a difference. In the meantime they try to hold onto first from the Braves and the ... Mets? First place is still secure.

But it almost wasn't.The Nats weren't too far from being swept by a Pirates team that would have trouble scoring in some sort of situation where scoring is very easy. However, they managed to hit 3 bombs for the second time in a couple weeks (last time before that was Sept 11th of last year) and came away with the 4-2 win.  Now they head over to Cincinnati and a pretty decent Reds team.

The first game will be Gio vs Mike Leake.  Leake hasn't pitched well this year and is susceptible to the long ball. Could we finally see Bryce's first Major League homer tonight? I'll go ahead and call it, what the hell.  On the other hand, I said earlier in the season that the Reds like to hit lefties and while it hasn't shown up much so far, given the bandbox they play in and Gio's luck having to change at some point, I think this is the game he gives up a couple of bombs. Still think the Nats pull it out - maybe in a barnburner. Then we got Zimmermann vs Latos. Latos has been pitching much better recently, though facing the Pirates should help anyone. ZNN was shaky in his last outing but still pretty decent. Given the team's hatred of scoring runs for ZNN - I see this as a 2-1, 3-2 loss. The last game is Jackson vs Arroyo. Arroyo also has been good recently and Jackson was a bit shaky last two games, getting hit a bunch vs the D-backs and giving up the long ball vs the Pirates. I'd go with the Reds in this one too. The Nats need 2 wins to match expectations heading into the road trip.  I'm not sure they'll get it.  I'd put money on 1-2 over 2-1.  A 2-4 road trip? Disappointing, but they'll happen even to the best teams. 

Luckily for the Nats the guys on their heels don't have an easy weekend either. The Braves are playing the Cardinals, while the Mets take on the turning-it-around Marlins. It's quite likely that even with a 1-2 weekend the Nats will head home to take on the lowly Padres still in first. Which means they should get to Thursday of next week in first as well. 

Some other notes : 

The last couple of weeks have featured some shaky appearances from H-Rod and a bad innings eating try by Ryan Perry, but the rest of the bullpen has been as good as it's been all year. In their last 21 IP, Burnett, Clippard, Stammen, Gorzelanny and Mattheus have given up 2 ER.

Let's hope Bryce does get that homer tonight. Since that 3-4 night, the kid is hitting .200 and while he's shown the ability to hit laser beams, he still hasn't crushed one deep. A bad weekend and he might be fitting into the Nats lineup in the wrong way.  I don't doubt he can keep that average in the .280-.290 range, but I'm curious to see if his power will come around this year or will Nats fans have to wait until 2013. No one can deny that he can get on base, though, so he'll have all the time he needs one way or another.

LaRoche hasn't cooled down yet; 4-8 with 4 walks and 2 homers since coming back.  Given Bryce's way working himself on base maybe we should see Bryce-LaRoche-Zimm 2-3-4? Eh, probably not. Managers hate moving what's working and LaRoche in clean-up is working.

Blog Notes : 

Marc Gunther hit me up on Twitter to ask for a way to subscribe to the blog by email. So I went ahead and took the 2 minutes to figure out how to do that and it's now on the bottom of the column on the right.

Commenter Barney asked for good baseball team blogs the other day. I admit I don't read many other blogs, even about the Nats so I didn't have much to say.  If there are any you like in particular feel free to share in the comments.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Do K's really matter?

The amount of times the Nats have struckout in the past few games has become a hot topic (I'm surprised I don't see a little "#Whiffsburgh" in the corner of highlights). The why is obvious. Strikeouts are the worst one-out thing that can happen in an offense. Since they don't put the ball in play there can be no positive outcome from the out created. A ball in play of course can become a hit, but even when it doesn't good things can happen. Runners can be driven in or moved over, fielders can commit errors. Force the other team to make the play and maybe they won't. Of course not putting the ball in play does have its advantages, namely no double plays, but I think we can all agree that you'd usually rather see the Nats make the other team work.

So the Nats are looking to correct their strikeout issues. Which is going to probably get them exactly nowhere.

You see, while strikeouts may be a bad thing, not getting on base and not hitting for power is far far worse.  If you are looking for reasons a team can't score, those two things are going to be driving the car, strikeouts will be slight breeze gently buffeting the back of the vehicle.

Take a look at how K's correlate with runs scored per game the past few years. (For those not familiar with correlations the closer to 1 the stronger the connection, anything below 0.3 is usually ignorable, and if it's positive they move together. In this example then, a positive number means "More Ks = More runs")

2012: +0.01
2011: -0.47
2010: +0.11
2009: +0.36
2008: +0.03

What do you see? A big mess of nothing really.  Strikeouts per team had no correlation at all with scoring runs in 2008 and so far in 2012.  In 2011 it was moderately correlated in a negative way, but in 2009 and 2010 it was moderately and ignorably correlated in a positive way.  Basically - there is no good connection between Ks and scoring runs.

Why is that? Well it's because strikeouts generally go hand in hand with the drivers of offense.  If I look at strikeout's correlation with average, yes of course strikeouts are bad for that.  They are more outs and more outs = less hits.  At the same time if you look at OBP and SLG you don't see that same negative correlation. If you take average out of the equation and look at isoOBP and isoSLG you see a pretty strong historical positive correlation. (I can show you these numbers if you so demand)  Again what that means is the same guys that strikeout a lot tend to walk alot and get a lot of XBH.  They do these things enough so that the drop in average isn't important, and you score runs anyway.

And here you get to the Nats offensive issues. They don't have guys that can slug and, with Werth out, aren't so great at getting on base, either.  Espinosa isn't killing the Nats because he has 39 Ks.  He's killing the Nats because he has 4 XBH and his below .200 average kills his OBP. Desmond and Ankiel aren't getting on base. Lombo and Ramos aren't slugging.  Nady and Bernie can't hit.  Some of this will be solved by guys getting back into the groove (like Zimm), some will be solved by injury recovery, but the solution to the offensive woes is not striking out less, it's getting better hitters in this lineup.

Wednesday, May 09, 2012

How do you solve a problem like Espinosa?

Coming into the season the Nats felt pretty secure offensively at 6 positions. That's not to say they were happy at 6 positions. Desmond at short and whoever you consider the "other" OF, were basically fill-ins, hopefully average bats that would good enough for 2012.  The other two positions, C and 2B, were going to be covered by a couple of young players that were heading into their 2nd year. If they developed further the offense may in fact be pretty good.  If instead they crashed, the offense would likely fall along with them.  Wilson Ramos has disappointed a little bit so far, not hitting anything in the air (66.1% GB rate!) has killed his power but the average is still there and the patience has improved enough that Ramos isn't on most fans radar. Danny Espinosa is another matter.

Danny's standard line is one that will grab attention right away. .186 1 HR  13RBI.  Anytime you hit below .200 that is going to attract attention. Whle that isn't good, that isn't so much the issue. For one thing, he's been a little unlucky with BABIP and wlll likely float back a little over .200 sometime soon.  For another, average was never going to be Danny's strong suit. No, you liked Espinosa because he had patience and power, and if he could hit even .230, like last year, that was enough to make his bat useful.  His patience is fine, (despite hitting .70 points lower than Desmond, they almost get on base the same amount) but his power is nowhere to be seen.  He currently ranks 177th out of 185 major leagers in isoSLG, with a .049. Basically he's one of the weakest hitters playing everyday.

Whats wrong? What stands out most is the increase in strikeout rate. He's up to 31.1%, which is basically once every three times up.  But a high K rate isn't usually a problem for sluggers. You find a pitch you think you can smash and you try to smash it. That can work fine (look at Adam Dunn - no really look at him, he's back to normal) but when he is hitting the ball Danny is not smashing it. He's hitting over 50% of his hits on the ground and less than 30% in the air. Sure he's gotten unlucky on his HR/FB rate but his pop-up rate is low too.  The typical Danny Espinosa hit in the air is a lazy fly ball.

He is being pitched to differently, which is to be expected in his second year.  Teams now have a book on Danny and it is throwing him less straight fastballs and more breaking stuff. But it's not a huge difference.  Instead what we are seeing is Dany swinging more and more at pitches outside the strike zone (29.6% to 36.3%) and hitting them at a worse rate (61.6% to 55.8%).  He's gone from swinging and missing at pitching outside the strike zone at an 11.4% rate to a 16.1% rate. or if you prefer once every 8.7 swings or so to once every 6.2 swings.

Unfortunately now we're getting into advanced analysis area. Not necessarily tougher analysis, just involving a lot more time and effort. The stuff teams should be doing not this blogger. What you want to say is he's lost strike zone judgement because of that increase in swings and misses outside the zone. But his walk-rate says the opposite. His strike zone judgement seems fine. It could be that he's simply trying to get walked more often. That might give us these results. Then again it could be that, early in the count he's fine, but he's consistently chasing the third strike out of the zone. That might explain the increase in swings and misses outside of the zone but a high walk rate. We know the problem, but we still don't know the root of it.

Getting out of the why, we now move to the what as in what to do about Danny.  If you send him down you leave the Nats with Desmond and Lombardozzi - two flawed hitters at best.  Ian might give you pop, but has no patience, Lombardozzi might get on base through a single or walk, but won't give you the XBH you need. From what I've heard neither is the fielder Danny should be.  Do you bring up a Josh Johnson or Jeff Kobernus, neither of who have a minor league career that shows they'd be any better than what's up here already?  There's no good solutions here.

If I were making the decisions, I would have Danny keep taking his hacks in the majors. I'm not one to see the benefit of sending players down. I think if they can make it, they'll make it. If circumstances were different and there were some players worth giving everyday at bats to out there, you might go that route.  Every game this year could be important.  But those players don't exist, at least not in the majors or upper minors for the Nats.  So let Danny try to work things out and if he hasn't by mid-season maybe you look to deal. Or maybe you don't and you hope Rendon might be back and tearing it up by then... maybe? No?

Much like the Nats hitched their wagon to Ian Desmond a couple years ago, they did the same with Ramos and Espinosa this year. It's time to ride it out and see where they take you. Better to do it this year than next, when Bryce has a year behind him, they might have better luck with injuries, and hopefully Rizzo will have made that last move to fill the OF hole.

Monday, May 07, 2012

Monday Quickie

For me, there are two takeaways from the weekend :
  1. The Nats did what a good team needed to do at home when playing two ok teams. They won both series and ended the brief homestand 4-2.   So far this year they've done everything they needed to time after time. Next up is the Pirates and Reds. We'll look at it more closely tomorrow but 3-3 seems about right, though you could convince me of 4-2.
  2. Werth went down with a broken hand and is basically out until the All-Star break. It's a tough blow for the Nats but with Zimmerman and LaRoche coming back (we assume) this week, it puts the Nats back exactly where they have been all year. Trying to survive by pitching until the whole team is together.  So far this hasn't been an issue and coming up they have 7 of 10 games against the two worst scoring teams in the league (PIT, SD). 
I'm not concerned with Hamels hitting Bryce on purpose. Whatever. I'm not going to get all crazy about Bryce's steal of home which was made possible by a criminal level of neglect by Hamels and a terrible throw home by Nix. Whatever. Getting excited is one thing, winning games is another and this is more side show than anything else.
Some notes
  • The schedule has been very kind to the Nats.  The Braves, Cardinals, and Dodgers are the other best teams in the NL  The Nats have played 3 games total versus these teams and don't play another until May is almost over.  The Braves, Cardinals, and Rockies are the best offensive teams in the NL by far. The Nats have played 0 games total versus these teams and don't play another until May is almost over.  After the next 10 games, things will get tougher for the Nats. That's the next goal, I see.  Be first going into the Orioles series.
  • Sometimes it's better to be lucky - The Nats offense survived the last week by getting hot stretches from Desmond, Lombardozzi, Ankiel, and Tracy. That wasn't going to keep happening, but with LaRoche and Zimmerman coming back wer're assuming it won't have to.
  • The homers finally started to come for the opposition.  4 in the last week off the starters when it was something like 4 total going into the series. Pitching is still good enough so that these fallng now aren't going to make the difference between wins and losses, only incredible ERAs and very good ones.
  • The Nats may in fact have the same weakness as most other teams.  A soft underbelly of mediocre middle relief pitching. Of course with the starters pitching strong it's not much of an issue. They really only have to get to the 7th for the strong back of the pen to take over.

Friday, May 04, 2012

Pitching still awesome

I know the focus on the Nats has shifted.  It's gone from "what a great start with great pitching" to "what did Bryce Harper do tonight?"  The kid is already being diefied by Nats fans, seemingly unable to do any wrong.  Every at bat is a great one whether he gets a hit or not.  Every hustled out is inspirational rather than, you know, an out.  Hell, he can't just be very good.  Every double is a home run that just missed.* A very good throw from a little bit in in LF to create a bang-bang play on Hairston becomes the BEST THROW EVA even though Nats fans had just seen a much better throw 2 weeks earlier from Ankiel. The kid, at 19, NINETEEN, has done well in 5 games in the majors. Why can't that be enough?**

Anyway, the real story hasn't changed though. The pitching is still awesome. They faced their 2nd decent offense and while it wasn't the complete shutdown they rendered to Houston, they held the D-backs to 10 runs in 3 games, or 3.33 R/G, about a run less than Arizona has averaged this year. During the recent 5 game slide they gave up 2,3,4,2,5 runs or 3.2 a game. The starting pitching is still particularly mind-blowing. They are 2nd in the NL in quality start % (19 out of 25 games), and lead the league in R/G given up. (and they are tied for the lead in no decisions, thanks offense!)   Basically outside of one random Edwin Jackson game they've done nothing wrong. Twenty five out of twenty-six games you'd look at the line (ignoring unearned runs) and take it. That's crazy.

The point right now is - still talk about the pitching.  It's still awesome and as long as it is the Nats still have a chance.  If the offense picks up, as it possibly could a month or so down the road, and is even just league average the Nats should find themselves winning a lot of games and might even be the new favorite to take the division. If the offense remains terrible, as it possibly will for the immediate future, than the Nats will be in a lot of close games and it'll come down, somewhat, to luck. (I know some don't believe this but it really is true. 100 years of baseball tells us great relief pitching or hitting with RISP is not strongly correlated with winning close games.) Don't let Bryce or other late-inning heroics make you forget where the games are being won.

A good team would take 2 from the D-backs and they did. A good team would take 2 from the Phillies. That's what we want to see. Really though a sweep either way is the only really meaningful outcome. Phillies take 2, they are still 2.5 games out, with the Braves likely between them and the Nats.  The Nats take two they are still only 4.5 games up and won those games at home.  Let's see what happens.

*To be completely honest, when I saw Putz's meltdown against the Nats I thought - why didn't Bryce crush the ball like Desmond? They were both terribly flat fastballs right into the batters' wheelhouse. Desmond easily clears right center.  Bryce can't carry it out. Sure, that's just one hit but despite the BP theatrics the kid does have only 4 homers now in his last 62 games. I'm not saying they won't come.  Again, he's 19. I think they will, but it is curious to me.

**Eh I know why it can't be enough, because fans are inherently stupid and prone to theatrics and that's part of the fun of sports. I've paced around the living room for many a Yankee playoff game with a mini-bat because I thought it was good luck. But as more of an outsider, man it can be annoying.

Thursday, May 03, 2012

Quick thoughts on attendance

I didn't really care to talk about attendance (despite the fact that I really am fascinated by it) but the comments I see out there seem pretty one sided to me.  Cransick insinuating it's terrible, Boz backing the side of it's fine. So I figured the souless automaton should weight in and see what he sees (and hopefully never speak of it again.)

I recently tweeted (harpergordek, if you must know) that you only need to know 7 words about this.  Still Bad. Getting Better.  Judge Next Year.  I stand by that, so if you want to skip the rest of the column go right ahead.  See you tomorrow.  If you are interested in this stuff like I am though - here's a bit more.

Still bad

DC is a Top 10 metro area in the US.  The attendance should reflect that but it does not. They are 13th in NL in attendance per game.  We can talk about other draws and weekend games and weather but the bottom line is - that's not good enough, not for a city this size. 

This isn't anything new.  The Nats have had bad attendance since their 2nd year. At first people put a fair amount of blame on RFK. However, when Nationals Park opened I did a lot of attendance comparisons between DC and other cities that opened new parks and in every way the Nationals fell short.  Was it the economy? The lack of baseball history? The terrible play? Something inherent to DC?  Yes. Yes. Yes. I don't know.

To me the why isn't nearly as important as the what. What low attendance does is make management reluctant to spend money.  Why invest if there is no return? Attendance needs to improve. And it is.

Getting better

After the little park bump year of 2008, the Nats attendance was dismal. 22.4 K a game in 2009, 22.5 K in 2010.  Well no duh. They won 59 games in '08 & '09 and 69 in '10.  But in 2011 they won 80 games.  The attendance went up.  Sure it was only 24.3 thousand a game but when half the league is losing paying customers moving up a couple thousand a game is a nice bump.

This year it looks even better the Nats are up more than 3K a game in comparison to last year at this time (don't buy 5K a game figure - it includes a rainout forced DH 0 attendance game 1)  Last year they faced the Braves, Phillies, Brewers and Mets at home to start.  This year it has been the Reds, Astros, Marlins, and Diamondbacks. The weather has been nicer I think, but again let's not let the look for the why overshadow the what.  Attendance is trending in the right direction.  Management is seeing that winning draws more fans. It seems obvious but sometimes even the obvious things have to be spelled out to people.

Judge next year

Attendance has a delayed effect.  Good teams don't necessarily draw squat as soon as they're bad, and vice versa.  Prove to me you're good and I'll come.  Show me you're bad and I'll stay home.

Last year was the first year the Nats have been any good since 2005. They should see a good percentage raise in attendance this year (as they have so far). Given where they started from though, it probably won't be enough to get the Nats in the upper regions of attendance. They should be in the middle of the pack and next year they will have had two straight years of decent play and maybe a playoff appearance, almost certainly a playoff race. They should jump up in 2013 to something more in line with where they should be.  If NEXT YEAR the Nats can't draw anyone, with a 3rd straight year of good play and entering their 9th year of baseball in the district, well then fine, go ahead and start to look for things thar are wrong if it makes you happy.

(of course none of this really matters - the team isn't going anywhere anytime in the near or even not so near future.  The lease binds them here and more importantly Major League Baseball wants them here.  There will be no Minnesota or Texas redux)

Wednesday, May 02, 2012

No homers club

The Nats aren't hitting.  That's not as terrible as it sounds because as long as you are getting on base and hitting for power you can compensate for a low average.  Now if you aren't hitting for any power...

Let's start with the good news.  The Nats ARE getting on base ok.  Not great, or even good, mind you.  Unsurprisingly if you don't get a lot of hits, you don't end up with a lot of men on base. but they are doing ok because they have learned to take a walk. The Nats are tied for 5th in walks and their isoOBP is tied for 3rd (quick and dirty calc - basically they've had less PAs than other teams so their walks mean a little more.)  Gone are the days of Nick Johnson taking a walk and then watching 8 guys go through 24 pitches before Nick came up again.  Espinosa, Werth, and LaRoche can all work their way on base, and all are currently seeing 4+ pitches per at bat (ok fine, 3.99+).   Zimmerman and Ramos aren't terrible at it either and Lombardozzi has this skill as well.  So even though they aren't hitting at all (2nd lowest average at .225) they have a passable OBP (.301 - tied for 10th)

The problem is driving those guys in.  The Nats are 3rd to last in homers.  Sometimes that can be a product of the parks they've played in early on.  So it's also important to note that they are third to last in doubles (and last in triples).  Tied for dead last in the NL in XBH (50), last in the NL in isoSLG (.098) (fancy way of saying the precious few hits they are getting are mostly singles).  46 players in the NL have 3 or more homers.  The Nats have one of these guys (Adam LaRoche - 4).

The problem is not just injuries, though sure injuries are a part of it. Even though I didn't have a lot of faith in Morse this year, surely he'd be slugging in some fashion and Zimmerman's being out doesn't help either (although he wasn't slugging much early on).  But the whole LF situation has been a terrible drain on power (Bernie + Nady + DeRosa = 6 XBH or one more than Ankiel) and Danny Espinosa is facing a power outage that threatens his time in the majors.  More than either of these though, it's a combination of everything.  Werth and Ankiel (so far) have been ok (.150+ isoSLG). Zimm when healthy and Desmond passable(.115+) . Ramos, you can accept it (.089).  The bench has been god awful - along with the OFs I talked about before,  Lombo (1 XBH), Tracy (1), and Flores (0), are contributing no power.  Sum the whole thing up and you have a team that no one fears is going to go deep on them.

Can things change?  The hope is that Bryce and Moore will cover the pop until Zimmermann heals up and starts hitting and Morse comes back.  That may be asking too much. Bryce hasn't found his power stroke since leaving Single A. Being somewhere on the high end of "passable" in his last 60 minor league games doesn't make me think he'll quickly become ok in the majors.  Moore has a much better minor league power pedigree but also has K numbers that suggest he might get eaten alive up in the majors. Maybe he can hit .230-.240 and bang out some homers, or maybe he just won't hit at all.

The Nats may be fine in the 2nd half of the year.  If Zimmerman is healthy, if Morse is healthy, if Bryce adjusts a little and Espy bounces back then the power can be... average.  (You might balk at that but the Nats power was average last year with an incredible Morse and a very solid slugging Laynce Nix.) Average power with good OBP skills and some more luck getting basehits (they won't hit .225 for the year) and that may in fact be enough. From now until Morse and Zimm show they are healthy it will be rough in the run scoring arena, unless someone, hell someTWO go on a tear.

Tuesday, May 01, 2012


Simple as that.  The Nats are at home for the next 6 games.  A good team facing these fair opponents, would expect to go 4-2 during this time, and preferably not 3-0 vs the D-backs and 1-2 vs the Phillies (though I'd still take that, if I were a Nats fan).

Offensively, the Diamondbacks are a team that can score some runs, and currently they could put together a whole lineup of guys hitting well.  The only guys struggling are Ryan Roberts and the guy you heard about maybe in all those Tyler Moore notes, Paul Goldschmidt. However a strangely hot Lyle Overbay and a Cody Ransom swinging from the heels can take those spots. The Nats pitchers haven't faced many decent lineups.  In fact they've only faced one team with a R/G significantly above the league average. However, that was Houston, and they held them to 5 runs over 3 games.  The Astros averaged 4.6 R/G before the Nats and 5.3 R/G since so the Nats pitching staff passed that first test with flying colors.  I'd bet on them again this time.

At the same time the D-Backs pitching staff hasn't been great, but unfortunately the Nats probably won't get to take advantage of that.  They miss the D-Backs back of the rotation and the worst of the pen, Joe Paterson, was sent down a week ago. They'll face decent pitching, but in my mind a decent team should be able to manage to score some runs against these guys.  If the Nats get shut down again you'd have to be disappointed. I'd want at least one 5+ run game here.

The Phillies, if you don't know, have crashed and burned offensively.  Ruiz and Wigginton are carrying them right now, with Polanco finally getting hot.  But you can't feel good about an offense where the big names are Polanco, Ruiz, and Wigginton. Pence, Victorino, and Rollins, might bounce back, but those first three won't stay hot.  They need Utley and Howard and they won't have them for this series. The Nats, led by Strasburg and Gio, should definitely shut them down.

Pitching wise the Nats catch a break here. They miss both Hallady and Lee. Hamels and Worley are no slouches, but if you had your choice in a 3 game series vs the Phillies you'd go with those two over Halladay and Lee. Outside of a couple arms, the Phillies pen has been pretty weak, so if the Nats can stay close (and really why couldn't they) you'd have to like them to score more than the Phillies in the late innings.

So what do I see? I do see 4 and 2. Problem is I don't see any blowouts here so every game will be close and close games are hard to pin down.  A couple hits/outs go the wrong way and 4-2 is 2-4.  If you ask me, though, the most likely way they'll get to 4-2 I'll go with this scenario - Nats lose 2 games to the D-Backs, but sweep the Phillies.  I think Nats fans would take that.