Nationals Baseball: Monday Quickie

Monday, July 09, 2012

Monday Quickie

Back!  What'd I miss?

So I went away and while I was gone the Nats took on one of the hottest and one of the coldest teams in the majors. San Fran was 18-9 coming into the Nats series and had won 7 of their last 10. The Nats promptly swept them.  It didn't even seem that close to me, the Cain game being the only one the Nats went into the late innings with a chance of losing.  Colorado had gone 9-22 coming into the Nats series, which included a pasting by the Nats at home and had gone 1-5 in their last 6.  The Nats lost 2 of 3 to the Rockies. It kind of felt, too, like they were one bad inning away from maybe sweeping the Nats.

Such is sports. The Nats wanted those Colorado games as much as the San Fran games, but they lost anyway to a much inferior team. This is why it's all about getting to the playoffs.  Get in and see what happens because anything can and often does.

The story of the first half is still the same though, awesome pitching overcoming some mediocre hitting. 

Here's an easy way of breaking down how great the Nats pitching has been. 

Better than Expected (*career year)
Gio Gonzalez*
Edwin Jackson*
Craig Stammen*
Sean Burnett
Ryan Mattheus*

As Expected
Jordan Zimmermann
Stephen Strasburg
Ross Detilwer
Tyler Clippard
Henry Rodriguez
Tom Gorzelanny
Mike Gonzalez
Ryan Perry

Worse than Expected
Chein-Ming Wang
Brad Lidge

Thirteen out of the fifteen guys who have pitched for the Nats this year have seasons at least as good as expected (hey - what did you expect from Perry?).  The only ones who have failed were a possible 5th starter and a should have been middle-inning reliever. Almost a third of the staff (you could argue Burnett's case as well) are having career years.

Is it luck? Is it talent? Is it timing? Yes. Yes. Yes. Rizzo has put together a staff that is both young and full of talent. It was primed to be a very good staff. The fact that they've gotten a bit lucky and nearly everything has worked out* when really everything doesn't always work out has made it special. And really in my mind the only uncontrollable thing that went wrong was Wang. Lidge should have not gotten big innings, certainly not right off the bat.  H-Rod is too up and down to be trusted over and over with important innings, which the closer will get, if not every time. Davey doesn't screw these things up and the Nats staff is almost flawless. It's incredible.

Baseball has enough seasons and teams that saying "this doesn't happen" is impossible. But I guarantee this, that everything goes right with a pitching staff, rarely happens.  

  • Ian Desmond's 17 homers is only 2 less than all other NL East SS's combined. 
  • I know that the SF series probably got some people excited but that's what happens when you have 5 or 6 guys hot at the same time. You score runs.  Thing is you don't usually have 5-6 guys hot at the same time.  A couple guys cool off and ta-da! you get the Rockies series.  Nothing about this team has changed. It still could use another bat.
*Yes Storen got injured but as I keep saying and as Clippard should have helped prove, good relievers are almost interchangeable. How many of the Top 11 guys in saves this year had 10 or more saves last year?  Four.  That's right FOUR.  And one of those is Heath Bell who's been pretty bad despite having 19 saves.  This is how it's like every year. I don't know how many practical examples of this non-believers need to see.  H-Rod didn't fail because it was too much pressure.  He failed because the way he pitches one out of every three times out is going to be an adventure.  Lidge didn't fail because he can't be a closer. He failed because he is old and no good anymore.


Donald said...

I can't help it but whenever the Nats lose, I brace myself thinking that it's the beginning of the long slide back to mediocrity. This year really should be different though. They don't have as many holes to expose.

In trying to think of what could go wrong to derail this team, it seems like the biggest issue would be the loss of Gio or Zimm. They don't have a lot of depth at starting pitcher with Wang not producing. So when Stras is shut down, it's probably Lannan? They can live through that for a month if they're still holding their own. But if they lost Gio or Zimm, the staff would be really pretty weak after Stras sits.

The only other thing that might be an issue would be the lose of Desmond. Kinda ironic, but he's a real leader and while they have decent options (they dealt with the lose of Zimmerman after all), it might take an emotional toll.

Kenny B. said...

"I brace myself thinking that it's the beginning of the long slide back to mediocrity"

I couldn't have said it better myself. But the thing that calms me is the Nats knack for losing simultaneously with the Mets.

blovy8 said...

Well, part of this is a depth thing, since they had enough of those "interchangeable" good relievers to allow normal patterns of starter usage. No one really has to go 120 pitches. People were ready to jettison Burnett last year, and Clippard had a rough patch early on, etc. - picking a random moment with a reliever isn't a good idea. Right now, someone might be convinced Mike Gonzalez is effective, well ok, until his loses his control again, then he becomes the third lefty you don't really need who's in Storen's way. There's almost always a better pitcher in the minors than your mop up guys anyway, you're just developing those guys as starters, or maybe trying the opposite as in the desperate case of Perry. I still wouldn't be surprised if Lidge caught on someplace as a mostly slider right hander. Of course, that will get a guy injured, but that's pitching.

The real luck was having a few infielders that could fake it in left field for a while because of the crappy depth there on the roster after losing both OF they were counting on to hit. Two major injuries in the starting staff would only have meant Lannan became the fifth starter. Kind of like pretty much every other fifth starter is.
Still, they were stubborn enough not to use Corey Brown.

The only real argument I have with that list is that Jackson's ERA+ is 109 which shouldn't be better than expected.

The thing is, in order for that big trade with Oakland to make sense, Gio had to pitch better than most estimated, because of the pitching depth that was lost. So maybe it was our expectations that were wrong, still the guy better start getting that curve ball back in order.

I guess we don't have to worry about losing Norris if Solano can keep throwing like this and even hit 100 points less.

Hoo said...

Lannan is probably the guy, barring Wang recovering. Lannan has bad AAA numbers but he's a pretty proven commodity at MLB. The best Skychief starter has been Maya who's also proven at the MLB level and not in a way that makes you want to see him in August. Zach Duke maybe.

Anonymous said...

Be honest: How stupid do you feel for all the Ian Desmond hate you spouted for two seasons leading up this one? He is now officially one of the best shortstops in the game, both offensively and defensively.

You owe him an apology.

Anonymous said...

Oh, and I forgot...

Gio is doing better than expected? Only to you and the other idiots who refused to accept that he's top 3 LHP in all of baseball.

And if you think Edwin Jackson is pitching better than expected you have never seen him pitch, because he's only going to get better the second half.

You have Tyler Clippard as expected, yet you bashed him all last season and said he'd never match the numbers he put up last season. Oops, he actually is.

Harper said...

Donald - long slide to .500 maybe (.500 play, not .500 record) if everything broke wrong but no, I don't see that Nats being below .500 without a major injury (or two).

Kenny B - The Mets actually haven't been that over their heads. They were to start but morphed into a team worthy of their record. That's the fun part of winning games you shouldn't. Sometimes it's only in that brief month or so when you are playing bad and getting lucky and it helps bouy an entire season.

blovy 8 - It's depth but part of that is putting talented guys on the right side of 30 in there like Clippard, H-Rod (still talented), Burnett (last year looked flukish and he pitched great down the stretch) and getting lucky with young guys developing as you best hoped (Stammen, Mattheus). Add in a Gorzelanny doing what he does and right there that's enough for a good pen that helps starters ut.

They did manage to catch Lombo being hot, then Moore being hot, but I hesitate to bring up luck with the offense. It was pretty hurt by injury and I can think of a bad thing for every good thing. Not so with pitching.

I could see the argument with EJAX. 109+ isn't better but that WHIP is.

Hoo - Lannan is fine for the fill-in role unless they have someone young they'd love to try. Maya doesn't seem worth the trouble to me over Lannan.

Anon - Desmond : Hate is a strong word, but I was definitely down on him. I didn't think he'd develop much past what he already was. He certainly has so far this year. Of course this is just half a season. The way I think is odd good halves happen (see Nyjer Morgan for one example), odd years... not so much. Odd two years - no, that's something different. So, I won't crown him just yet (just like I won't bury Danny) but come September I may (probably) have to admit I was wrong.

Gio : We've gone over this before, but one last time. You are the only person I heard that was so high on Gio. I even looked back after you first made that comment to see if I missed something and I couldn't find anything. Stats guys, former players, former managers all ran the gamut to "he'll be worse" to "He'll be slightly better". That's it. If you can find a couple counter example more power to you, but the other commenters here couldn't. You should be reveling in picking up on something almost everyone else missed.

EJAX: Edwin (like Burnett) is skirting the better than / expected line. He's right there with his best control and Ks. There's room for him to pitch a little better.

Clippard : Early I said I didn't think he'd be as good as the year before. That was a bit of a coin flip gut feeling. He was much better. I ate a sandwich.

Early this season I said I didn't think he'd be as good as last year. This is based on like very few pitchers in history putting up back to back year that good - like 8 since the strike. He's been a tiny bit worse ERA wise but I certainly wouldn't claim any points for that. We'll see but I still think his ERA is no better than say 2.30 or so. Which is still really really good.

Anonymous said...

Now that is some quality trolling there "anonymous"!!!

.500 the rest of the way and we're at 96 wins... this isn't 2005 when our starters were:

Esteban Loaiza
Zach Day
John Patterson
Tony Armas
Claudio (chews on grass)Vargas
Tomo (switch hitting) Ohka
Livan Hernandez

We are in really good shape, citizens, now say your prayers, eat your vitamins, and let's enjoy the second half!!!

DezoPenguin said...

The nice thing about the lineup is that, except at catcher, there really aren't any weak spots (presuming that Werth returns as the same guy he was when he was injured, or that Moore continues to hit like he is). There's plenty of room for improvement, but that improvement has now reached the point of "replace good players with great players" instead of "replace sub-replacement-level jokes with legitimate major leaguers."

So Werth comes back and DeRosa gets DFA'd. Zim seems to have caught a hot streak (cortisone appearing to be the new performance enhancing drug...), and if Morse can turn back into, well, Morse that would offset a bit of backsliding from Desmond, maybe a little rough patch from Bryce. Moore becomes the first option off the bench, keep either Bernie or Ankiel as the 5th outfielder/defensive replacement guy (probably Ankiel since Werth and Harper will be the primary CFs in the regular lineup), Lombo is the utility infielder...Actually, DeRosa probably stays instead of Bernardina or Ankiel since he can play infield positions (albeit not well).

Unfortunately, with Morse and Zimmerman both having (thus far) down years, while the lineup is full of *good* hitters, it doesn't have the star-quality, impact bat that it really needs. And that's going to make things hard at the trade deadline, because the kind of players we need to acquire to justify making a move don't come cheaply or often. An upgrade to the 5th starter might be easier to arrange (not only would it be an immediate upgrade, but it means that Detweiler would be available to take over for Stras, which is a lot better than having Lannan or Gorzo or Wang try it).

Think Davey has the guts to bat Werth leadoff when he comes back?

Froggy said...

I don't know if it was the heat (100+ temps every day), or the distraction of the AS break, but the pitching looked flat during the Colorado series. That said, I thought the starters did a good job and we would have been 5-1 except for Burnett's lapse in yesterday's game.

But hey, I'll take 4-2 and 49-34 at the ASB any day!

Potential bright spots: Storen and Tracy are due back. Werth will probably take some time to spin up, but could be hitting a stride by end of season. So, I agree with you Harper, barring injury, pitching will remain consistent, but with potential limited innings for Strasburg coming up, there is the looming 4th and 5th starter issue. Wang is a bust, so maybe give Gorzo and Det, (Lannan?) a couple shots, but that really doesn't make me warm and fuzzy. Therefore, the 31 July trade deadline presents as a gap filler (?).

Too bad Det or Wang (Lannan?) haven't done better to use as potential trade bait. So, other than buckets of cash, what options if any do you see out there?

(ok, I'm going to say it: Hamels?)

Todd L. said...

If they go .500 the rest of the way, it's not 96 wins.

49-34 is a total of 83 games, leaving 79 still to play. .500 record across those 79 is 38 or 39. Add 38 wins to 49 and you get a final record of 87. Boz says that's almost always enough to barely slip into the 2nd playoff spot. Of course none of us think they'll only play at a .500 clip in the 2nd half.

Anonymous said...

Sorry... that's right... 86 wins.

That was a typo, honest! Yeah 100 win seasons are not that easy.

Anonymous said...

I'm a big BIG fan of shutting Strasburg down. Period. We need multiple years there, not another half season. Tommy John #2= no career. I don't see the need to sign a starter at all. With the current rotation, we make the playoffs. Playoffs are a 3 man job and G/Z/J is better than the rest of the NL. It's tough when you have to pitch a first rounder who's now learned to pitch after a devastating hip surgery and is in his prime (that's Det) if you need a #4. I think Rizzo is playing this hand as dealt unless somebody gives him a deal he can't refuse.

Chaos...Thursday was incredible, Friday not so much. Had a great time sweating out them both. One hit from 50 on Sunday

Harper said...

Dezo - maaaaybe. I can see Davey not wanting to mess with Desmond and that leaves Werth at 7th?

Froggy - if the Nats want to pay through the nose (talking Meyer AND Rendon, or one of those and a glut of their other prospects) I think you could get Greinke. Cheaper? A Cubs starter Garza, dempster.

Chaos - and I think he does get shutdown. They should be in "can't miss" when he's ready to go down so it'll be easier to do it.