Nationals Baseball: June 2012

Friday, June 29, 2012

Tyler Moore and Who's out

Nothing like a 12 inning loss on getaway day to buck up everyone's spirits.  Oh well, the thing we're all curious about is whether the offensive explosion (33 runs in the last 3 games - you'd have to go back a dozen games before that for the Nats to total up that much) is real or not.  Atlanta can be a launching pad but it's no Coors and the pitching should be better.

On Tyler Moore - yesterday I got called out for a couple things.  One is that my argument "he strikes out too much" was terrible. You guys were completely right.  I just threw half an argument out there and thought "you see where I'm going with this" and called it a day. I'm fine being lazy, but I don't want to be lazy and fail to make my point. Strikeouts in the majors by themselves don't really matter - As DC Natty pointed out I've even said this before. So I don't mean to suggest they do for Tyler. What I wanted to say about Moore and his strikeouts falls into two arguments

1) Tyler Moore struck out way too much in the minors.  So what, you say?  Why would that matter in the minors but not the majors? Well, here's the thing.  Remember that "really" in "strikeouts don't really matter"? that's because strikeouts do matter a little bit because they are tied to making outs. While balls put in play are the subject of some luck on if they become a hit or not, strikeouts aren't. So you don't want to strike out too much in the major leagues or that will kill your average to a point where your slugging and/or patience may not be able to make you a decent hitter overall. By too much though we're talking like 30% on up.  That's a lot of strikeouts.

Thing is Tyler might just get there. You tend to strikeout more in the majors than in the minors, certainly those first few years. This makes sense, the pitching is a lot better in the majors. Tyler struck out 23% of the time in the minors at every level.  He's striking out 24% of the time now, but if that number bumps up to around 30% he'll find himself in that danger zone.  It should be higher in the majors - the only question is if it'll be say 27% which you can work with or 33% which you can't.

2) Tyler Moore doesn't walk enough and in conjunction with the high K% - that's a problem.  If you don't walk in the majors and you make too many outs you aren't getting on base enough to be helpful to the offense. Striking out too much is one easy way of making too many outs. OK OK If you are some sort of power prodigy perhaps you can make up for these deficincies, but outside of that no. Not even if you hit 30+ homers. Tyler's walk rates in the minors were pretty terrible.  On average around 6.5%.  That's not enough, especially if we expect his K-rate to rise a little bit.

Which bring me to the second call-out, that I tend to think young players can't improve. Right now Tyler is maintaining his K% and he's brought his walk rate up to like 10% in the minors, 11% in the majors.  That's not great but is certainly good enough, with his power, to play at this level. Why wouldn't I think "he's just gotten better".  He's young enough to do so, right? Well...yes "but".

The majority of his career as explained above suggests that he won't maintain these levels. He has 1871 minor league plate appearances telling me one thing.  He has 176 PAs this year saying something else. To me, even though the most recent information should matter the most, it's not enough to dispel the large amount of information in the past. He has to keep this up for a long period of time, probably over a season, for me to believe he has honestly improved. It's not about believing he CAN change, certainly he can, it's about believing he HAS changed.

It's the same reason I haven't bought into Desmond. He's shown a ton of power in May and June but career wise that seems flukey (though I'm more likely to buy Desmond than Moore because there has been this occasional flash).  It doesn't work just one way though. Moore hit for a ton of power in the minors. If he goes the next month and doesn't hit a homer, I'm not going to think he can't hit the deep ball in the majors. It'll take more than a season of slapping singles for me to accept that's his role in the majors.  Danny Espinosa showed very nice power numbers in the minors and was as good at getting the XBH last year. So I'm not going to worry about him just because his first few months show a drop in power. Historically he's hit well, so I expect he'll pick it up.  He has to prove to me he can't do it.

Still in the end the Nats should be playing Moore everyday because it's not about what should happen, it's about what does. Should is about planning, the Nats shouldn't expect to pencil in Moore at first or the OF next sesaon, they shouldn't expect him to carry the offense through the stretch run. They should have plans in place for these things. But at the same time because he is performing right now, he should play right now and if he keeps it up then you can throw all those plans away.

Commenter Donald suggested we could write off some of the pre-season playoff possibility teams like the Marlins and Phillies, because of their slow first halves.Are we there just yet? I would say aaaaaalmost. You can get a good idea of how good a team can play in the 2nd half by looking at how good teams have played in the first half. The Rangers, with a .623 winning percentage, are the best in the majors. Giving a little leeway, looking at some past 2nd half performances, let's say .640 is the best a team can do from here on out. (Sure it's far more likely the Nats would win at that rate than the Phillies but we're trying to be absolutely sure about this.) We then look at how many wins these teams need to get to 85, which is kind of the floor of "we can make the playoffs with this many wins".  Which teams need to win at a higher clip than .640 to reach 85 wins?

The Cubs, the Padres and the Rockies.  Those are the only teams I would definitely rule out right now.  The Phillies and Marlins stand at .583 and .574 rates respectively. That's like winning 93-95 games over the course of a year.  It's asking a lot but it's not impossible. Of course that just means I wouldn't technically rule them out. In reality their great comebacks would have to be matched with some great failures but those do happen.

At what point would the Marlins/Phillies hit that "can't come back" threshold if they keep playing like this? Somewhere around game 105 or early in August. Of course they can hit it faster if they play even worse.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Long range forcasting

When I made my prediction about this series the Rockies were 15-22.  They had gone through a rough stretch going 3-10 but had won 2 of their last 3 and were about to take on the Mariners in Colorado so you gotta think 2 more there right? Seeing this team now though, you won't be surprised to learn they got swept. While the Rockies would have a little bounce back at May's end, they've basically been the worst team in baseball for almost 2 months now.  Let this be a lesson to you - don't make predictions 45 days out. (of course if I made it 4 days ago I might have picked a Nats sweep)

Various quick thoughts

Desmond the All-Star - Kilgore gives it some play today.  Is it possible?  Sure. Thanks in good part to the groin of Tulowitzki, the ankle of Stephen Drew, and Jose Reyes being the below average player he showed he was capable of being every year except last year (everyone point and laugh at the Marlins now), Desmond is in line to be the 2nd best SS in the NL the first half of this year. Is it likely? Hard to say. You have to figure Gio and  Stras make it, after that it becomes a numbers game. Really it may come down to these last few weeks.

LaRoche is HR/RBI comparable to Joey Votto - Nats Blogging Legend Chris Needham took this pic said this was the stupidest on-screen graphic you'll ever see.  Now I share with you.  If he's wrong it's not by much.  Joey Votto is so much better than Adam LaRoche it makes me cry. Votto is having another HOF type year.  Adam is hitting a lot of homers for a good team.

Tyler Moore busts out - Tyler Moore is the new Nats hero blasting long homers and generally being the next young thing Nats fans focus on, now that Singly Steve Lombardozzi's flavor has run out.  Can Tyler keep it up? I sincerely doubt it. See, Tyler's power is for real but his issue has always been striking out way too much (and not walking).  While his walk rate has improved (in both the majors and the minors) his strikeouts are still way up there, meaning we shouldn't see that much improvement over his minor league numbers. He has a .412 BABIP.  One out of every 4 flyballs he's hit has gone out. Those are unsustainable numbers. And when pitchers get a chance to figure you out your K numbers usually go up (see Bryce) and if Moore's goes up anymore it's hard to see him hitting at all.

Now on the good side for Tyler he doesn't have to sustain it those crazy numbers.  If he keeps the walk rate up, and can hit .270 whatever - he's a nice player to have, especially for late inning pop. Better yet - the Nats don't need him to even do that. All they need if for him to be hot for another month or so until Werth comes back. Can he do that? Sure.

Note: If you want to read "Not a great All-Star", "Not Joey Votto", and "A rookie might not keep up his hot start in limited at bats" as being crazy negative go right ahead. You could also read it as Desmond is an above average NL shortstop this year, LaRoche is hitting well especially for power, and Tyler Moore could help the Nats bridge the gap to Werth.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Just one of those day or a start of something?

I must start with a confession. I've got a little BCSadness today. I've always had a soft spot in my heart for the way college football anointed their champ because they really didn't allow a fluke team who didn't deserve it to be crowned. Along with bikini tan lines and guys who talk to much about themselves, that's one of my pet peeves. A team who is obviously not the best team in a season makes the playoffs, gets hot, and wins it all. Then everyone acts like they were the best team all along (and acts like the best team wasn't all that good).  It's really that last part that cinches it for me, because playoffs are great fun and I can get behind great fun... as long as everyone agrees that's all it is. Playoffs are great fun that crown not the best team, but the winner of a small tournament filled with good teams.  Unfortunately the narrative is "the champion is the best" so that never happens.

By basically having a 2-team playoff (and that is what it was - ALREADY a playoff) college football made sure you had two deserving teams playing for the title. The thing is, out of all sports, college football is the one you could most easily argue needs a playoff.  It has a huge number of teams, that play the fewest games and thus have the least amount of common opponents. With the worst possible league to make this stand making this stand you knew it wasn't going to last. So hello "completely reasonable" 4-team tournament.  Enjoy your short life before "not really justifiable" 8-team playoff comes into play, followed by the final, "Really? This team gets to play for a title? That's a joke" 12 or 16 team playoff settles in.

Anyway the Nats felt like touching you and busting loose and absolutely killed the Rockies last night.  It could be the start of an offensive surge that was taking way too long to get here, or it could be just a fluke night. I don't know. What I do know is, that however wise the plan is, shot-up Ryan Zimmerman hits the ball a lot better than in-pain Ryan Zimmerman. At the very least that'll help.

Tonight the Nats face their 2nd question mark of the series (the first being injury returning Jeff Francis.  Don't let the 7.00+ ERA fool you.  He isn't that bad and actually pitched ok the two starts before the Nats.  It was a hideous first start back that has given him that ridiculous ERA)  They get Edwar Cabrera in his major league debut. Maaaaaaybe the Rockies 4th best starter prospect in the spring, injuries and ineffectiveness to the others have bumped him up to this role. He is supposedly a change-up guy with good, but not dominant, minor league numbers. It's worth noting he's been consistently old for his league (24 in AA when called up) which makes his stats a bit more suspect but he seems to keep people off base at least.  Versus ZNN the smart money is obviously on the Nats. After that they get Josh Outman who is terrible so really the Nats have no excuse not to win these last two.

A game like last night is such an aberration it's only good for one thing.  Well two things. A nice enjoyable blow-out game to watch with no feeling of pressure and USELESS FACTS:
  • Most runs Nats scored since May 10th of last year, 2nd most runs scored since an offensive explosion at the end of 2010, when they scored 11, 14, and 13 runs in the course of 10 days. 
  • 21 hits is the most since the Nats drubbed Houston 13-2 in 2009. 
  • The Nats have only scored exactly 12 runs in one other season.  In 2007 they did it twice. 
  • Desmond had 3 doubles last night.  The last Nat with 3 doubles in a game? Alberto Gonzalez in 2009. 
  • It was the most homers (4) the Nats have hit in a game since September 5th of last year when Werth, Desmond, and Morse (x2) went deep vs the Dodgers. 
  • The Nats were the 28th team to score in double digits this year (still waiting : KC, MIA)
  • Yesterday was the 20th game all year where a pitcher got a hit for the Nats tied with Cincy for most in majors. The Nats are the only team with multi-hit games from the same pitcher this season.  They have 4. (2 ZNN, 1 Stras, 1 EJax)

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Could Bryce Harper be tired?

The Nats offense is terrible. Maybe it shouldn't be, but it is. Zimmerman is playing through an injury.  Morse doesn't seem back from his yet. LaRoche has come back down from the heights of his first 30+ games (hitting .150 since May 18th).  Espy and Desmond haven't progressed from being average. Flores hasn't played everyday at the major league level this long since 2008.  Given all this, Nats fans are already counting on their young super prospect Bryce Harper to carry the day.  Early on it looked like he might just be able to do that, but lately even he seems to be failing.

There are two schools of thoughts with young players.  The first, and less popular one, is that they are less likely to get tired over the course of a season because "Hey, they're young". Anecdotally, this makes sense.  I remember what I could do at 19 and it was a lot more than I can do now. But the more popular theory is that the are more likely to get tired over the course of a season because they simply aren't used to the length of the baseball year yet.  Their bodies, while willing, haven't been trained for such a long haul. Perhaps more importantly, their minds haven't been trained for it either.  It's one thing when you reach 60 games into a season and you see the stretch run to the post-season unfold in front of you.  It's another when you reach 60 games into the season and you see a slog of 60 more games in the heat of summer before you get to anything interesting.

Two years ago Bryce Harper played 66 games in his college season.  Last year, he played 109 and after the first 72, when he was called up to AA, he struggled mightily.  .256 / .329 / .395 over the last 37 games.  Perhaps he was overmatched, though from what we've seen this year I find that hard to believe. Perhaps he was bored, which is possible but I think a call-up would excite anyone for at least a few weeks. Perhaps though, perhaps he was worn out.

We've all seen that Bryce doesn't have an off switch, he doesn't have a lower gear.  He plays hard, maybe overly so, every play, every day. That has to wear on a body, even a 19yr old one. This year he's already played 71 games. That's maybe a week ahead of the pace he played last year. That's not a big deal and it's still 30 less than he played last year. In that context it's easy to see his recent slump (.186 / .255 / .256 with 14K in his last 11 games) as just a slump and expect a bounce back sometime soon*  But sometime in early August he'll reach the most number of games he's played in a year and he'll have 50+ ahead of him, not counting any playoff games.

I tried to do some quick analysis here but my usual roots failed me. Looking at ROYs isn't right because I'm sure part of the reason that these guys end up winning the award is because they don't slump as much in the 2nd half.  Just general rookie performance can be difficult because a guy called up in September isn't the same as a guy playing in the majors all year.  I know what people say "Yes, rookies wear down" but backing it up with numbers is what I'm looking for. I'll keep seeing if I can get something more concrete.

Bryce Harper is a great player.  Nothing we've seen from him this season lessens the "future Hall of Famer" vibe that everyone gets watching him play. But counting on him to carry this team down the stretch might be asking too much. 

*though maybe not during this road trip.  If you didn't see my tweet, this is a brutal away stretch weather wise. 100 degrees at game time last night. Daytime high for their next 6 games: 103, 94, 96, 95, 95, 95.  Three of those games are afternoon games. The Nats have had no days off since last Tuesday and none to come until this is done. I'm getting tired just typing about this. 

Monday, June 25, 2012

Monday Quickie

The Nats are doing great. That may be funny to say after a putrid offensive performance over the weekend, but it's true. Yes, the Nats are 3-6 in their last 9 games and I'm sure if you asked Nats fans which two teams they didn't want to lose series to during the AL East stretch, it would have been the Orioles and Yankees but  remember, we're looking at the macro here. Since starting this "rough stretch" of NL East and AL East games the Nats have gone 18-14 (I pegged them at 16-17 at this point, not terribly off but I would certainly like a chance to go back to 7-8 vs the AL East, rather than 6-9) you can't ask for much better. That's a playoff team

They aren't quite out of the woods yet. This is their "no break" part of the schedule and they go from Baltimore, to Colorado, to Atlanta.  It's not a question of wearing out the bullpen, the pitching is too good for that to be an issue, but it is still a trying and tiring trip. Anything 3-4 or better (not involving an Atlanta sweep of the Nats) should be seen as a positive end.

Why are the Nats doing so well? Pitching, followed by pitching, then more pitching. Their top 4 starters all have an ERA of under 3.00. The back of their bullpen all have ERAs under 2.00.  Here is the breakdown of runs given up during this stretch

>=8 - 0 times
7 - 1
6 - 2
5 - 4
4 - 5
3 - 7
2 - 10
1 - 2
0 - 1

They've given up 2 runs 10 times in 32 games.  That's fantastical! If the Nats scored 3 runs a game, every game, which would be the lowest scoring offense the game has seen since the expansion Padres over 40 years ago, they would have gone no worse than 13-19 during this stretch. Say they win 3 of those 3 run games in extra-innings or something? That's 16-16.   Basically the offense has to do nothing and the Nats are a .500 team.  Unfortunately the offense is seemingly taking that to heart but whatever, as long as the Nats pitching holds they are no worse than .500 and .500 from here on out makes the playoffs.

  • We'll go more into the sustainability of the awesome pitching later this week (preview : it'll get a little worse but probably not enough to matter) but there is one guy that you can always count on.  Strasburg.  His xFIP (fancy stat trying to rip out all luck from pitching results)  is 2.39 which is the best in a decade.  He's that good. 
  • Speaking of phenoms, the Mike Trout vs Bryce Harper debate looks lopsided offensively (Mike has a better AVG, OBP and SLG than Bryce) but Trout is propped up by a .394 BABIP.  He's fast but that should drop and the slight advantage Bryce has in patience and power will be more apparent.  (Of course Trout is a plus fielder who also is tied for the AL lead in SB but we'll worry about that argument when it's the proper time) 
  • In the past 28 days the team is hitting .223.  Past 14?  .210.  Past 7? .188.  
  • In the past 7 days here are the regulars who are hitting well : 
  • Here are the regulars who are getting on base well : Bryce Harper
  • Here are the regulars who are slugging well : 
  • The 2010 Giants is an interesting comparison to make but in all fairness, both the Nats pitching and the Giants hitting are demonstrably better than their counterparts.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Trying not to be negative

Seeing the Nats offense curl up and die after the first didn't leave me with a good feeling about the team, even though the outcome was in their favor and in the long run I'm still putting money on "playoff team".  But let's hold off on the negativity and see what happens tonight.  Maybe the offense busts out (ha!) or maybe Gio shuts them down and once again shows the pitching is too good for the offense to drag down. (possible - but watch it.  Gio has been good in the past month, but just good, not great)  Either way a win will basically wipe away the bad taste of the sweep and the Nats will head into the O's series heading in the right direction and assured of a winning stretch vs AL East.

If I'm going to be positive there is one way to go : Strasburg.  He had a little rough patch at the end of May, with uninspiring outings versus the Braves and the Padres of all teams, but June has been very good to Strasburg.

A 2.08 ERA.

40 Ks (and only 5 walks) in 26 innings.

A WHIP under 1.00.  


That is all.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Bad Form, Great Gamesmanship

The Nats lost. That makes 4 in a row but when you have great pitching you tend to feel like these streaks are going to end right away. Like, tonight for example. Tonight Strasburg pitches vs a substitute pitcher, a live arm with a mediocre AAA ERA. You expect a win. If he loses, Gio goes tomorrow.  Sure Matt Moore is good and has loads of potential but Gio has been phenomenal. You expect a win. Don't treat this streak as a thing until at least both of these games are lost.

As for last night, the story of the game was Davey calling out Joel Peralta as a cheater and getting him ejected from the game for having an illegal substance on his glove.  Most Nats fans understandably took the  position of "Davey's so wily! Maddon's a cowardly cheat!".  That's what you do as a fan. I don't think it was that cut and dried though.  I thought this move was bad baseball form, but great gamesmanship.

Why bad form? Because you'd prefer to win without showing up the other team in any way. You don't watch your homers go out. You don't steal up 10 in the 7th. You win but you don't embarrass. Davey embarrassed. Unless he was just informed of Joel's habits right as he took the mound, Davey could have addressed the problem without showing up the Rays. He could have went to Maddon pre-game and said "You know Peralta used to be one of our guys and we know what he does. If he comes out we're going to check him".  After that no way Maddon sends him out with a substance on his glove. Problem solved and no one is called out in public.

It's also bad form because implicit in accusing other teams of cheating is the idea that you'd never do such a thing.  Davey doesn't have the cleanest history himself.  His mid 90s Orioles had some of the most famous proven (Palmeiro), and suspected (Brady Anderson) steroid users of the era.  His mid 80s Mets were among the most notorious drug using teams of their day.  Even in his playing career he has that inexplicable, out of nowhere 43 homer season for the "This whole idea makes us very uncomfortable so let's just agree to never talk about it" Early 70s Atlanta Braves. That's just off the top of my head.

Why great gamesmanship? Because screw everything I said in the last two paragraphs. Your goal is to win the games you play.  Letting the Rays warm-up Peralta, put him in the game, and then pulling this stunt gives you an advantage.  They had a plan and you've forced them to change it immediately.  If that allows you to score a couple runs and win the game - that's all that matters. Maybe Peralta gets suspended and is out for the rest of the series.  Maybe he's just thrown by the ejection and attention.  Either way it would be another thing in your favor.  Davey likes to play these psychological games with pitchers, accusing or implying that they are cheating.  Mike Scott, Jay Howell, Orel Hershiser, Jake Arrieta earlier this year. Whatever it takes to get an advantage.

Was what Davey did a "p***y" move? Sure. But if we're supposed to wink at cheating, because the guys that do it are just trying to win games, then we have to wink at "p***y" moves, because the guys that do those are just trying to win games, too.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Nats success : The pitching by the pitchers and the hitting... by the pitchers

The Nats pitchers are the reason the Nats are as successful as they have been. You can toss in Bryce Harper in there if you like and maybe Adam LaRoche* but beyond that it's all about the pitching.  Hell they've even done some carrying at the plate.

The Nats pitchers are hitting .200 / .226 / .300  for an OPS of .526.  OK that's certainly not good, but it's not terrible for the pitcher spot. Since 2003 only two teams (the 2008 Cubs and the 2010 Brewers) have had staffs hit over .500 OPS. Their 5 doubles lead the league.  Their 2 homers lead the league. They are hitting as well as Mike Morse has been this year.  Much better than Xavier Nady.

It's one thing to say your pitching staff is not the worst but everything in baseball has to be looked at in comparison to everyone else. The next best staff is hitting .161 /.179 / .203 for an OPS of .382.  That's a huge difference. Looking at fancy stats like wOBA and wRC+ what it comes down to is the Nats staff is like a very bad part-time player, among the worst in the league.  But the other teams staffs are like players that would be struggling in AA. The other teams pitchers are basically automatic outs, the Nats pitchers can't be ignored in the same way. It's a little difference in the long run but little differences can add up. When the playoffs are a matter of a game or two, having a set of pitchers that can hit is something that can maybe make up that difference.

Of course with a different guy hitting every day some guys will be doing well and other guys are as bad as everyone else. Who are the ones that really need paying attention to?

Strasburg : .350 / .381 / .650
ZNN : .318 / .348 / .500
Edwin Jackson : .160 / .160 / .160

Why include Edwin? Well unlike Strasburg (alot) and ZNN (a little), Jackson isn't propped up by a high BABIP.  And he hit well last year too (.267 / .281 /. 267).  I think he fits the bill of can't being ignored. Are Strasburg and ZNN going to keep those paces up? Of course not.  But Strasburg has taken to hitting rather well considering he hadn't done it since high school.  ZNN has a very favorable K% rate for a pitcher and has his entire career.  He is going to put the ball in play.

One of the keys to success in the NL for pitchers is being able to dominate the pitcher spot.  You sort of locate a couple fast balls, throw an offspeed pitch and move on to the real batters.  Gio Gonzalez has done this.  Pitchers are 0-21 against him with SEVENTEEN strike outs. Strasburg too (0-21 with 14K).  Against at least these three starters - pitchers have to at least think about what they are doing and it has to make a difference.

*The state of 1B in the NL has taken a dive with the loss of Pujols and Fielder.  The 2nd-4th best hitting first basemen so far this year in the NL are Bryan LaHair, LaRoche, and Paul Goldschmidt. After that it's Todd Helton who's hitting .242 / .338 / .434.  He ranks 42nd in the NL in OPS.  For a position that should be able to be filled by any oaf who can swing a bat the NL teams are having a tough time finding oafs. 

Monday, June 18, 2012

Tom Boswell - Sore Loser

I just couldn't let this pass...

In his Q& A Boz says the following :
*One of the great failures in sports is the Yankees record since '00. More than $2-billion spent in salaries for one world title. Yet their fans act like they've done something. They have. They've consistently underperformed. And frequently choked in October.

Sorry, just the facts.
Just the facts Boz?

A while back I argued that a underlying reason people hated the Yankees was not only because they won a lot and spent a lot to do so (Don't kid yourself, the former matters more than the latter.  My NL friends are already kind of hating on the Nats and they've been good for about 4 months. You'll probably see this fullbore in a year or two) but because they were lucky.  They shouldn't have won THAT many titles.

Why? Because, the playoffs is a crapshoot. Despite the idea that you are trying to buy championships, anything can happen in a short series and the Yankees had had more of these short series go their way than you'd expect. It's even worse nowadays with 3 series, including a 5 gamer, standing in between you and a title.

So between 2001 and 2012 how many titles should the Yankees have won? It depends on how you look at it.  I won't bore you with the math but if you think the Yankees were just as good as any other team in the playoffs then you'd expect them to win 1 to 2 series. If you expect they were better (and I take that to mean about a .550 winning percentage versus these other quality teams) then 2-3.  A disappointing showing to win only one? OK, maybe. One of the "great failures in sports"?  Hardly.

And that brings up another point - Where does this "great failure" line get drawn? I assume the Cardinals - who spent around 900 million for "only" 2 titles - they are ok, right? Doing it the right way. What about the Red Sox, around 1.5 billion for their measly 2 titles, is that a great failure? What about the Dodgers, Mets, Cubs and Braves - they are around a billion for ZERO titles. Hell the Cubs only made the playoffs 3 times. The Mets once!  I guarantee you there isn't a sports fan out there that reasonably thinks the Yankees are bigger failures than any of these teams. Not to hit too close to home but isn't it a greater failure to spend as much as you are able to in a system arguably designed to get everyone into the playoffs every 2-3 years and only make it three times in the last 2 decades?

If it makes Boswell feel better to say what he does, more power to him. But stating "just the facts" doesn't make it true and doesn't mean he's not going to get called out on it.

*Before this he does say something about the Yanks having an unfair competitive advantage - which I don't necessarily disagree with.

Monday Quickie

This sweep is a good example of why you can't look at the micro when it comes to baseball.  Using a marathon analogy, looking at a 3 game series is like checking a half-mile split and basing your feeling on that.  The Nats are still well ensconced in first place and they are 6-3 in their AL East stretch, where prior to the start of it you would have taken 8-7 and walked away happy. Unless the Nats get swept out by both the Rays and the Orioles, this set of games can't be viewed as a disappointment.

Still no one likes to get swept, at home, when everyone was watching you.  The Yanks would do what they always do - work the starter but in all cases the Nats starter didn't collapse.They all had to leave early but made it to the 7th and kept the Nats in the game. Given the talent in the Nats bullpen things should have worked out in at least one of these games.  But strange things happened. In Game 1 Davey brought in Lidge instead of the likely candidate Stammen and while he didn't pitch poorly (you could argue he only gave up one hard hit the entire series) he didn't get any outs not handed to him. Mike Gonzalez didn't fare any better versus Tex and that ended the game.  In Game 2, the bullpen strength would be negated by the sheer length of the game. The LaRoche single in the bottom of the 8th (more on that in the notes) was the last hit either team would get until the Top of the 14th (Lidge again). In Game 3, it was the lack of lead that made the bullpen advantage moot. It's the story of the season - can the pitching be good enough to compensate for a less than potent offense? Most of the times it has been.  In this series it wasn't.

  • I don't think Lidge leaving is a huge boon for the pen. He wasn't as terrible as Nats fans have made him out to be.  Still I don't see any reason to keep him on staff.  You pick up a Lidge to at worst be a dominant member of a 7th-8th-9th group, at best a back-up closer.  Lidge wasn't going to be put in either of those situations so his spot is better taken by a younger arm that maybe becomes something special. 
  • Yes Tyler Moore was probably safe, but when you have to look at it in freeze frame and even then it's not obvious I can't blame the umpires. Especially given that in these types of plays they tend to award outs based on ball arrival as much as tag location.
  • Bryce Harper was fed a steady diet of sliders on Saturday and looked terrible. What does that mean? Well - I wouldn't like his chances against a good LOOGY but in general it's not a huge deal. Not every pitcher has a great slider. He can hit the fastball, he can hit the change, he can hit the curve. That's gonna be most of what he sees.
  • Did you feel like the pitching was terrible?  Well the 16 runs given up was the most the Nats have in a series all year (tied with a 4 game one vs the Astros where they gave up 11 in one game) Sixteen in a series isn't good but to have it be the worst showing is another indication about how good the pitching staff is. 
  • On the flipside the only time they've scored less than the 6 they did versus the Yankees was in that Dodgers series earlier in the year. 
  • Zimmerman is doing terrible. Low average (in part BABIP issues) and no power.  That injury time off has not helped him as he's hitting just as bad since then, maybe a tad worse. Still not worried overall but if you want to be it's the lack of power that's most concerning.  The average will bounce back somewhat guaranteed,

Friday, June 15, 2012

Me v You

It's time. 

Well actually it's time #3. The Nats have played the Yankees in the past (winning both series 2 games to 1) but this time it's different. Sure, that could be said about most every series the Nats play this year, seeing as they are finally a good team, but there is something more special about climbing up the ladder and taking on the teams that have been the measuring stick for recent success. Unfortunately, some of those teams (see: Sox, Red; or Lies, Phil) are flailing making us look for secondary stories focusing on the ballpark, or the fans in the stands, or the opposite trajectories of the teams. But this isn't one of those series. The Nats are among the best teams in the majors. The Yankees are among the best teams in the majors. The Nats are red hot, sweeping their last two series and winning 9 of their last 11. The Yankees are red hot, sweeping their last two series and winning 15 of their last 19. This is the series of the weekend for everyone who follows baseball*

Can the Nats take the series, or even sweep the Yankees? Sure. Anything can happen. I don't mean that in the a derogatory sense. I mean that in the - Hey the Cubs could roll into DC and sweep the Nats - kind of way.  It's just 3 games. Just look at one of those previous Yanks/Nats series. In 2009 the two teams couldn't have been any more different. The Nats would go 59-103 and have the worst record in baseball.  The Yanks would go 103-59 and win the World Series. The Yankees played the Nationals in the Bronx. Who there is thinking the Nats take 2 of 3?  It could have been a Nats sweep too.  Shairon Martis had held the Yankees down for 6 innings, but the bullpen blew it.  Then John Lannan beat Wang, and the Yanks were shut out by the deadly combination of SP Stammen, Villone, Tavarez, Beimel, and MacDougal.  Anything can happen.

Who do I pick? Well I'm gonna stick to my guns and say 2-1 Yanks.  Honestly if you look at the pitching match-ups 2-1 Nats makes more sense (2012 Gio is better than the enigma of Hughes - in fact 2012 Gio is better than almost everyone and Jackson is better than Nova. Pettitte and ZNN are close to a toss-up but ZNN's problems lately have to do with the long ball and the Yanks are best in the majors at hitting those), but 2-1 is just a couple bounces from 1-2 and since I picked that to start, why change? If you don't like that just remember I had it 2-1 Blue Jays and you saw how that turned out.  

I'll be assuming the role of hated enemy on Twitter and possibly doing some live blogging- not sure yet, depends on how I'm watching the game at the time.

*(though there are a lot of good series going on White Sox v Dodgers, Orioles v Braves, Reds v Mets, hell I'm interested in Pirates v Indians) 

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Playoffs far away but in sight

I mean they are going to make it now, right? This isn't 2005 when we all knew that this was all just phony baloney.* We've moved past the point where you are trying to figure out how the Nats are going to make the playoffs and are now are thinking is there anyway they can't make it.  
  • Could ZNN, Gio, Edwin or Wang pitch worse?  Yeah.  In fact I'd bet two do.  But they aren't going to pitch THAT much worse.  Even if all fall back to career averages that's still a good staff. 
  • Could the relief staff start pitching worse?  Yes they can.  Mainly because the IP is small enough that you can get some variability.  But the arms are good and when you deal with 7-8 guys they can't all go bad at the same time.
  • Could the offense completely collapse? I suppose - it's really being carried the past 2 weeks by Bryce Harper, Danny Espinosa, and hot batter of the day. A Harper slump alone would be pretty impactful. But it's never going to be worst in the league bad.
  • Could they get unlucky? Sure - they've been a game or two lucky so far, but just a game or two.  They aren't playing with fire like 2005, when they had a crazy 1-run game record and were losing all these blowouts. There's no big regression to come here.
  • Could there be an injury? OK yeah - this could hurt the Nats a bunch.  Bryce, Strasburg, Gio... But you can't worry about that. 
So what do you end up with as a believable miss the playoff scenario?  The pitching gets a little worse, the hitting get a little worse, the Nats get an little unlucky and they are a game or two under .500 the rest of the year?  Ok that would probably do it, but for how much longer will that be the case.

With each series win they have to pitch and hit that much worse, they have to get that much more unlucky, to miss the playoffs.  We're getting to the end of credible doubt as it is, where you can say the Nats missing the playoffs is a legitimately reasonable expectation. A few more weeks of play like this and the Nats missing the playoffs shifts over to the incredible.  Of course the incredible does happen, ask the Red Sox last year, or the Mets teams of few years past, but like an injury you can't worry about that. All you can do is just stand there like you're watching a car crash (or flip side - like your lotto numbers are coming up.  For someone to be losing out, someone must be unexpectedly winning in these incredible situations.)

If that seems crazy, to call a playoff spot in say... Mid July, thank not only the level that the Nats are playing at but the extra Wild Card, too. There's that much more cushion for the Nats to back in, if they need to and it makes a big difference.  But let's not get ahead of ourselves.  It's still another month of great play that's needed.  You've waited 7 years.  You can wait one more month.

*Though for funsises at this point in 2005 the Nats were 35-26, had just gone 8-0, and in the middle of a 23-5 stretch.  23 and 5! They'd be 50-31 when they were through.  This Nats team would only need to go 12-8 to hit that spot and would almost certainly not completely die down the stretch like that team did.  This team isn't adding Preston Wilson and Deivi Cruz and acting like that's enough.  At the very least this team is getting back Jayson Werth and Drew Storen.  Those are players whose presence won't actually hurt the team!  

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

An embarrasment of pitches

With Edwin Jackson's gem two nights ago (that would have likely beat the Jays regardless of Morrow's status) the Nats #1-#4 starters have ERA+s of 130 or higher. That's fancy stat shorthand for - they got 4 really good to great starters.  That got me thinking. Has there ever been a staff this good? And this young? (Assuming they can keep this up the whole year).  Digging around I came up with a couple of fun facts. 

Fun Fact #1 : If my research is correct there's only been two other teams to have a rotation like this (4 guys, ERA+>=130, all qualify for ERA title) in the last 100 years: the 1997 Atlanta Braves and the 1942 Detroit Tigers. A war year team and our generations signature squad for great starting pitching.

Fun Fact #2 : Leaving Edwin out of it (because he's slightly older and not beholden to the team after this season) the Nats have 3 pitchers age 26 or younger that have ERA+s of 130 or higher.  The only team since 1995 to meet that criteria?  The 2003 Chicago Cubs.

But we're having fun with endpoints here.  I could probably tighten a restriction here and make the Nats squad look like the best ever, or loosen a restriction there and lump this rotation with a bunch of good, but not special squads.  What we really want to see is who recently has had a pitching staff that's this young and this good?

So abitrarily I decided to look at teams with 3 pitchers, age 27 or younger, with ERA+s over 120 and at least 150 IP (to not leave out a good rookie - or Strasburg esque part time pitcher).  And I went from 1980 because that's about when I can talk with first hand knowledge.  Here's the teams a I found and how they did.

1985 Mets
  • Dwight Gooden (20), Sid Fernandez (22), Ron Darling (24)
  • Together until 1991, Fernandez and Gooden until 1993
  • 2 playoffs appearances, 1 WS appearance, 1 Championship
This was a different time really.  These guys never had the advantage of the WC and during their 7 year run together they'd have 4 2nd place finishes to go along with the 2 division titles. Suffice to say in modern times they might have looked even better.  As far as the talent goes this might actually be the least impressive group here.  While 1985 looked magical, neither Darling or Fernandez were elite pitchers during their time together.  Darling became average after a great '86, while Fernandez would have his best years starting with 1991. We all know the story of Doctor K (Not to be confused with John "The K Doctor" Patterson).

1993 Braves
  • Greg Maddux (27), Tom Glavine (27), Steve Avery (23)
  • Together until 1996, Maddux and Glavine until 2002
  • Until 2002 - 9 playoffs appearances, 3 WS appearance, 1 Championship
The Braves of this era go right up there with any starting staffs you can name. The only thing that keeps the franchise from being lauded is a lack of championships, but any fan that doesn't sign up for this level of success is a fool. Avery would get injured at the end of 1993 and would never really be the same but that hardly mattered.  Maddux and Glavine would go on to Hall of Fame careers and would be joined by another possible Hall of Famer when John Smoltz when he finally put it together in 1995 (at age 28).  The Braves would go on to have a 4 year run of the best starting pitching you'd ever see, where arguably each of their top 3 pitchers put up a #1 type season every year.  Eventually, an injury would force Smoltz to the pen to end the run.

1993 White Sox
  • Alex Fernandez (23), Wilson Alverez (23), Jack McDowell (27)
  • Together until 1994, Fernandez and Alvarez until 1996
  • 1 playoffs appearance
The 1993 White Sox? Really?  Yep, really. This team doesn't stand out in our collective memory because of circumstance.  After losing to the Blue Jays in 1993 playoffs, they'd finish first in the strike year. Then McDowell, due up for a big contract, was dealt away.  The Indians would rise and make the Sox perennial also rans, thanks also in part to some very terrible staffs behind Wilson and Alex. Fernandez would walk away after 1996 and Alvarez would be dealt away in the "White Flag" trade of 1997 where a competitive Sox team would "No Mas" a run at the Wild Card.  All three of these were pretty talented pitchers but all three would see injuries around 30 derail their careers. Only Alvarez would pitch past age 31.

2001 A's
  • Tim Hudson (25), Mark Mulder (23), Barry Zito (23)
  • Together until 2004
  • 4 playoffs appearances
Not quite Maddux, Glavine, and Smoltz, but possibly the best we've seen since then. The A's are probably best known for Billy "Moneyball" Beane's GMing during this time, but any knowledgable baseball fan will tell you it was the development of these three into stars that made the A's. They never could get to the World Series but were one of the dominant teams as long as these three were pitching.  Zito was the least successful of the three - slowly fading over time into an average pitcher. Mulder would be pretty good as long as he was with the A's and Hudson was (and is) very special. After 2004 the small market A's would let Hudson walk and would deal Mulder, up for his own FA deal soon, to the Cardinals. Mulder would end up getting injured in 2006 and be out of baseball at age 30.

2003 Cubs
  • Mark Prior (22), Kerry Wood (26), Carlos Zambrano (22)
  • Together until 2006
  • 1 playoffs appearance 
Oh the 2003 Cubs. Their only playoff appearance would be this very season as they'd watch an emotional implosion cost them a game they should have won that would have sent them to the World Series.  They'd actually win more games in 2004 but finish behind a great Cardinals team and the Astros. After that injuries to the pitching and a terribly constructed offense would make them an afterthought.  The injuries mean that it's not fair to say that the Cubs had these three together at any time after 2003.  Prior would have only one more decently full season in 2005. He'd lose most of 04 and 06 and then never pitch again.  Wood would be injured in 2004 but still do ok, then he'd pitch only 110 innings over the next 3 years before converting to a closer. Zambrano would continue to pitch well and still is today, though now for the Marlins. 

What do these glimpses tell us about the Nats young guns?  I'd say this. The Nats will be real lucky if they don't lose one to injury. Fully half these guys after the Mets saw their careers ended way too early by injury. That's gotta be the biggest concern to any Nats fan. Bad luck or bad medical staff work (uh oh) blowing this all up before it can even really get started.  Still, if that does happen then it's not automatically a death knell for a team. How well the rest of the squad is constructed plays a huge role in if they can continue to be a factor.  Put together a decent offense like the White Sox did and you might stay relevant. Let everything go to pot like the Cubs and you are going to find yourself a mess.  If the Nats do get real lucky though, and they could, the A's and Mets did, and have all three for all of 2012-2016 it's a recipe for sustained success, even if one or two of Strasburg, Gio, and ZNN likely show themselves to be more good pitchers than great ones.

But for sustained excellence, like the 90's Braves, which has to be seen as the ultimate goal, you need everything.  You need the health. You need the pitching to be great not just good. You need the good bullpen. You need the good offense. That last one is the key for this franchise because for the most part the Nats have the pen and back of the rotation covered (and developing into great pitchers year after year involves some luck).  Going forward if the Nats want to be a dynasty there is more work to be done. Bryce Harper is step one.

Monday, June 11, 2012

Monday Quickie (last quickie this week I swear)

It was shocking, seeing the Nats actually finish off a series, but they did it and swept the Red Sox right out of their own building. This can be both undersold and oversold searching for a narrative.

If you want to oversell it as a "defining series" : We all have our biases and for some beating the Red Sox in Fenway still holds a lot of cache, but the fact is this isn't your Irish twin older brother's Red Sox. They have repellant starting pitching and the Nats missed the only guy on the team holding it together somewhat (Josh Beckett). They got Felix Doubront, a talent who's yet to prove he can start in the majors, Dice-K who was only GOOD in 2008 (Really.  Look it up) but still gets trotted out there as if this year he'll get it, and a maddening Jon Lester who has seems all season to be just on the cusp of getting back to what he has been, but he never gets over that hump. 

If you want to undersell it as a "Red Sox stink" thing: A sweep is still impressive.  The Red Sox still hit, and that dichotomoy (great hitting, terrible starting pitching) is enough overall to be around .500.  You can't expect to go into a .500 teams place and sweep them. If you like your team you expect 2 wins, if you don't maybe 1. You can take a look at the 50+ games the Nats played before coming to Fenway for a dozen examples. But this time the Nats got three. Best of all it didn't feel like fluke wins, like bad error by the Red Sox, a closer just blowing up for them, an odd terrible pitching day from their best starter.  Watching those games you felt like the Nats were the better team on the field - no question and to look that way versus a decent team in their place is worthy of all the praise and good vibes you want to have. 

But in the end, the narrative, as boring and repetitive as it may be, hasn't changed.  The Nats have great pitching, especially their Top 2. They held the Red Sox to 9 runs in 3 games. That's what won them the series.

Now it's off to Toronto to face some decent pitching.  Sweep the Red Sox and the Nats are cementing their place as a legit playoff/division threat.  Sweep the Blue Jays and you can legit start talking best team in the majors.

Not so Quick Notes (answering some comments):

Am I too biased for the AL East?  Possibly. I even admitted as such. But the AL East teams outside of Boston do have good starting pitching. The Yanks, Jays, and Rays all have 3+ guys with better ERAs (it works for WHIPs too, if you prefer) than the Red Sox 2nd best guy and their staffs are all better than league average in R/G. The Yanks and Jays are not even close to the Nats but that's not the point I'm making. The Orioles are below average in R/G but if you catch the wrong 2 starters, they plus their dominant pen can win the series. But the sweep of the Sox makes my 6-9 much harder to get to - they Nats basically have to be swept by someone, and I didn't have that in my head as a possibility as they play the cream of the AL East in DC.

Desmond had a good enough weekend for his supporters to possibly pop back out and say something (I'm looking in the direction of your twitter feed Rocket Bill).  I have nothing against the guy.  He's fine. But to be a winning team - the type that wins 93+ games and division titles season after season - you need to have several dominant offensive players. You can't sit around with Bryce Harper and a team full of average guys*. Therefore you have to cut bait occasionally with actually ok guys, hoping to land someone better. The key is having someone in place that has that potential and is not significantly worse. I can accept that you don't think Lombo has enough potential, or that we've also seen enough of Danny, for them to be that guy. I personally don't give them big chances to be stars, but at least I give them chances, which is more than I give Ian. (*You know I like Zimm to be better than average - the point is you need several and the Nats are relying on a lot of "if" here. If Morse/Werth is healthy and can play good and don't age quickly.  If Ramos/Flores/Espy can take it to the next level.  If LaRoche or CF X can be another great bat.  Great teams don't have a lineup with 6 ifs.)

The Nats are 12 games over true but remember a LOT of that 12 games over came from that 14-4 start when they did have Zimm, Ramos, and Werth, they've been about a .500 team since. (WHICH IS GOOD - being .500 with important pieces of your offense out for long stretches -stop reading this as an insult). It's too early to say what Morse has brought back to the team but if the Nats go 8-8 over this set of games that would be great and on target with getting the team to the playoffs. .500 against the good teams, better versus the rest. Rinse. Repeat. Playoffs.

Friday, June 08, 2012

Right where they should be

At the beginning of this tought stretch in mid-May I tried to peg where the Nats would be at the end of it.  Up to this point I had them at 10-8.  They've been 9-8 with a rainout, so kudos to me. The next stretch is where we could really diverge though.  I had them going 6-9 vs the AL East and 3-4 on the road stretch after that for a less than impressive 9-13 finish. I'm gonna stick with that and I'll tell you why; I didn't see anything in the recent home series to make me change my mind.

The Mets sent out a mediocre pitcher coming back from injury and a AAAA guy the first two games. The Nats coudn't run either of them. When they faced a good pitcher in game 3 they were held in check.  I don't know how many times we have to go over this but the offense is not good.  It's not terrible with everyone healthy, but even with Bryce meeting all expectations and Morse back, it's not good. "But Zimm has been slumping!" you say.  "Morse isn't fully back yet!" cries you.  Sure. Fine. But that's what happens to offenses.  Guys slump.  Zimm will bounce back.  Morse will start hitting.  But then Bryce will be in a slump or Flores will have stopped hitting or Nady/Bernadina won't combine to be solid subs like they have the past 2 weeks.  In a usual offense you have some guys doing well and other guys not so much and the Nats have an offense that can't suffer a 2-3 guys slumping.   It needs nearly the whole thing to be humming for the wins to come easy.

Luckily for all Nats fans the pitching is that good. It will keep the Nats in games, and as long as they keep the score down, with this offense it makes the winner a coin flip situation. (that sums up why they've been .500 most of the year in a real quick and dirty way). That's good enough to stay in the race. And once you make it in the playoffs - well then it's really a crapshoot.

Other Notes

We'll look at this more and more as Werth gets closer to coming back, but in the battle between Danny, Ian, and Steve, I go Danny and Steve all the way.   Ian's the oldest, hits FA first, and has a huge amount of data saying this is who he is.

Mike Morse might not be in stride yet, but his .668 OPS is miles better than Nady, equal to Ankiel, and not too far behind Bernadina.  Short of it : he can't help but make the offense better.

The most interesting bat in the lineup to me right now? Jesus Flores.  Back in 2009 he put up a very nice 30 games before getting injured. Last year he had a stretch of two where he hit really well.  He's in one now. We've never gotten a good chance to see if he can put it together and hit well over the long haul.  We will this year.

Medicore Wang start #2... Detwiler watch not on, but there's only a couple commercials to go.

Rest of the pitching is awesome.  Carry on.

Thursday, June 07, 2012

Sitck or move.

We are now one-third through the 2012 season.  I know, it kind of feels like more, doesn't it?  The Washington Nationals remain in first place and I don't know how someone could deny that this team will be in the playoff hunt all year long. The harshest criticism you can lay on the team is that they've been a .500 squad, 18-18 to be precise, since their hot 14-4 start. I don't buy that exactly (the 18 games at the beginning matter, too) but I'll concede that as constructed during that time they might be a .500 team. So what? Just because they went 14-4 doesn't mean they are going to go 4-14 at some point.  No, being .500 from here out means finishing the season 86-76 and that's certainly in the playoff hunt. That's not taking into account the possible improvments from returning players like Morse, Storen, and Werth. Outside of injury or freak disappointments in the remainder of the year, the Nats will be in at least a hunt for a WC.

With that being said - what do the Nats do? It's hard to deny that this whole thing has been set up for 2013 to be the year the Nats make a serious run.  They didn't make any major signings to help a blah offense. They weren't necessarily planning on brining up Bryce this early.  They were planning to shutdown Strasburg at some point. 2012 was a practice run and if they managed to stay in the hunt and sneak into the playoffs, great. But all of a sudden it's not practice.  It's real.  The Nats could easily grab a WC, and could even take the division. They could do it without making another move but a little bit of bad luck, like honestly 2 or 3 games just break the wrong way, and the Nats could not make it. Do they shore up their chances now?  And how do they do it?

Almost every possible move is a gutsy one that forces changes that you might not be happy with. They need a CF.  You've seen Bryce in the field. He's got a great arm but he can be real awkward out there. The other option Werth isn't going to age gracefully if you put him in center. But you can't get a CF in 2012 because now means forcing Morse or LaRoche out of the lineup. You could deal for a MI. None of Ian, Espy, or Lombo is irreplaceable. But they've all shown flashes of major league talent and they are young, cheap and controlled for a while. That's the type of player Rizzo wants to keep. Plus bringing someone in means not playing two of these guys (though you'd have to figure one would go in the deal). You could deal for a starter, in part to keep with the plan of sitting Strasburg. You'd probably get them a bit early so Wang or whoever would lose their spot but you'd have to be ok with that right? But Rizzo prefers to develop his own starters. True he traded for Gio, but Gio was a special case. Again: young, cheap, controlled.  And a starter is nice, but they are less impactful than a bat and it's not like anyone thinks the pitching is a problem.

With no clear move it's quite possible they do nothing. You can envision a season where they keep up this + or - 2 games from first dance until the trade deadline and Rizzo pulls a "Getting Werth back is like making a trade!". Like I said they could easily still make the playoffs doing nothing, but that would feel like the move of a team one year away, wouldn't it? And even though it seems like the Nats will be a serious playoff contender in 2013, nothing's a given in baseball. What if Gio and ZNN get injured?  What if Bryce has a sophomore slump and Werth reverts to 2010 form? The iron is hot now, shouldn't they strike it?

This is a nice dilemma to be in, what to do when you are a year early in your plan to make the playoffs, but it still is s dilemma. Trade and move a couple pieces you were interested in looking at for the whole year? Stretch Strasburg out or bring in someone to help? Fans only care about results and if the Nats do nothing and get nowhere, they won't be happy.

Wednesday, June 06, 2012

Wednesday quickie

Some game, huh? If the Nats didn't win it in the 12th, I was going to suggest that Davey and Terry Collins just agree that both teams should take the "L". It was pretty terrible baseball all around, but with 162 to play they all can't be instant classics. The important thing is you come away with the "W", and the Nats did with a nice moment for Bryce.

What to make of last night? As I tweeted, unless the game is completely out of hand, say the Nats are down by 10 in the 8th, they are going to have a chance to win. As much as I'd like to say it's because the Nats offense with Morse back is that good, that's not the driving force here. It's that the Mets pen is that bad. They have an ERA of 5.39, dead last in the majors. If they were to improve by an entire run they would be tied for 28th in the majors. (If the 29th team, Milwaukee, was to improve by an entire run they would be 13th in the majors).  This is all quite amusing because basically the only thing Sandy Alderson did in the offseason was try to fix the bullpen. Maybe if he did nothing at all the Mets would be the best team in baseball.

Don't turn off your transistors early kids.

Monday, June 04, 2012

Monday Quickie

They were so close weren't they?  Don't tell me when they hit those back to back homers you weren't thinking "The Nats OWN the Braves!"  Well that, and the entire system of competition and compensation we call major league baseball, is why they play the game.  The Nats manage four hits the rest of the game (two by Espinosa!) and the Braves didn't quite fail enough against a scuffling Gio to lose the game.  (though it seemed at times like they were trying).

So it comes down to another Nats series with first place on the line versus the... New York Mets?  What? Are they still winning ball games?  There is a ton of luck involved in the Mets being this good.  Their Pythagoras record is 26-28, but a 9-5 record in one-run games has helped keep the team on the winning side of the ledger more often than not.*  Of course 26-28 is still better than we thought they'd be, especially given that every other team in the NL East is doing ok to great.  So how are they doing even that?  It comes down to one of those "everything goes right" seasons, at least offensively.

Here are the Mets performing as expected this year :
Jason Bay
Lucas Duda
Andres Torres
Ronny Cedeno
Josh Thole

Here are the Mets performing better than expected this year :
Ruben Tejada
David Wright
Kirk Nieuwenhuis
Scott Hairston
Mike Baxter

Here are the Mets performing worst than expected this year :
Ike Davis
Given that Johan has seemingly returned to form, and RA Dickey still is pitching well all you need to add to this is a "John Niese breaks through" and "The pen hold sdown its role" and it's pretty much the season a 12 year old super fan would predict in his head as he plans how he will get out of school for the Mets' ticker-tape parade down the Canyon of Heroes.

The above is how you can have a decent team even though you only have two reliable starters (though Miguel Batista has done well filling in) and a terrible bullpen. Add in a little luck and a year where no one team has managed to put everything together just yet and you find yourself with a chance to be alone in first place in June.

Of course a much better Nats team stands in their way.  4-2 was the goal.  The rainout makes that impossible but it's still the baseline to work off of. 4-1 would be great, 3-2 passable, anything worse a major disappointment.

Other Notes:
  • I'm not going to talk about Ryan Zimmerman, because every time I do he immediately hits better and makes me look like a fool. (and because I'm not superstitious).  He's good. He'll start hitting.
  • Now Mike Morse on the other hand.  Look, if you are expecting Morse to be Morse of last year, you are almost certainly going to be disappointed. If you are expecting Morse simply to be better than the junk that's been tossed out in the OF and make the Nats a better team, you should be fine. Just give it time.
  • The gap between those hitting (Flores, Espinosa, Harper) and those not (Desmond, LaRoche, Zimm) is huge. Also - I expect we'll hear from those big Desmond backers in what? 3 weeks, when he has another hot streak?
  • How many bad starts would it take to have the Nats clamoring for Detwiler? 3? 4? Let's hope we don't find out because 5th starter drama is not worth worrying about (and besides Lannan would be 4-3 with a 3.99 ERA and a 1.6 WHIP, driving people insane.)
  • On the positive side outside of Gio's allowable bad game, and Wang's poor second start, the pitching is great.  Starters great. Bullpen great. One good arm after another. If Davey hadn't handed the 4th best reliever the job fans care most about the complaints from the mound would be limited to - "the 5th starter hasn't been very good" and "the last guy out of the pen is pretty bad". That's it. It's embarrassing really - how good this pitching staff has been.
*Side note for those that firmly believe you win one-run games because you have a good bullpen. The Mets have the worst bullpen IN BASEBALL by almost a run.  They've been crazy bad.