Nationals Baseball: Things to Watch

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Things to Watch

Unlike last year,Nats fans going into the second half don't have to find things to be interested in. They have the whole PENNANT RACE thing to keep them busy.  But even playoff caliber teams have a lot of questions and the Nats are no different.  We'll table the Strasburg discussion for now, and the injury returns of Werth and Storen, but here are some other things to keep an eye on as the 2nd half progresses. 

What kind of production will the Nats get from the catcher position?
For few weeks after Ramos went down Jesus Flores played capably.  But the past month has been brutal for him.  The Nats have caught a good start from Solano but a 26 year old who has never hit higher than .275 in the minors isn't going to hit .350 in the majors... or .300.. or maybe even .250.  (the BABIP bares that out - .360 so far.  Unsustainable for him) If Solano hits like he should and Flores doesn't bounce back, this spot could be a big hole in the lineup.  

Can Ian keep it up? 
For the past 4 plus months (going back to last year) Ian has hit with renewed and consistent power.  For the past 2 months Ian has hit like one of the bets power hitters in the league. The Nats stuck with Ian for a long time hoping for this outcome, but how real is it?  Great half-years do happen. Nothing in the fancy stats, though, is so out of whack that a collapse is inevitable. Although you'd have to expect some return to normalcy, the smart money right now is on a good second half buoyed by another 10+ homers. 

How long will Ryan's bounce back last? 
Ryan Zimmerman got hurt and returned to hit so terribly, that Nats fans felt he may be better served getting back on the DL.  Instead Ryan opted for a cortisone shot and since then he's hitting .333 / .394 / .683.  He's also been one of the unluckier Nats (.270 BABIP), so it's not out of the question that this super hot run lasts a long time through a combination of luck and feeling better.  Then again, this is injury based and perhaps you can shoot up for only so long before the pain knocks Ryan back down. The Nats need Ryan's bat because until Bryce can do what he does for a whole year, Zimmerman is the elite bat for the team. 

Bryce Harper, good rookie or immediate impact player?
After an initial adjustment period it looked like Bryce was going to own this league from the get-go. But just when Nats fans were starting to crow "You really think Mike Trout is better than Bryce Harper?" Bryce crashed hard at the end of June.  July has been slightly better but the power hasn't returned yet.  As the season plays out and Bryce plays longer than he ever has against the best possible competition, you have to wonder what level of play will come from him this season.  He's good enough you don't expect him to be bad, but the Nats need impact bats. 

Will Mike Morse ever get back to Beast Mode?
During a hot stretch Mike upped his average from .217 to .299 and Nats fans who were worrying about him took their eyes off Mike for other things.  But Mike's still not the same guy as he was before.  His power, which had been great in 2010 and 2011 (isoSLG  .230+) is much lower in 2012 (.141)  Worse yet his BABIP is high (.343) which suggests that average is going down, not up. Optimists will point out that Mike started slowly last year too, but he's 30 year old with <2 years of success coming off an injury.  We really don't know what to think. 

Can the Nats elite pitchers keep up the homer gap?
Last year Gio gave up 17 homers in a spacious park.  Last year Tyler Clippard gave up 11 home runs. These are typical numbers for these two.  This year so far Gio has given up 4 and Tyler 0.  Their HR/FB numbers are crazy low. Neither is going to suddenly be terrible but it would be pretty remarkable for them to keep up this pace and if they don't that means a few more runs here and there, but more importantly some kinks in the armor of what is now an impenetrable staff. 

What kind of 5th starter will Detwiler be? 
The Nats depth at the back of the rotation has taken a hit.  Wang has looked terrible and has been demoted to AA to work out his kinks. No Nats fans wants to see him back.  Lannan has been unimpressive in AAA, and frankly, Rizzo has always seemed to me to be the type of macho ass that carries a grudge so I don't expect to see Lannan unless there is no other option. That means it's Detwiler's spot to lose.  After an initial hot start, Detwiler pitched rather badly to lose the spot to Wang in the first place.  After a nice start in his first one back, he's had back to back unimpressive games. (though one of those might be Davey's fault more than Ross's) I really think those great performances weren't his true level but Ross doesn't need to be great.  He just needs to give the Nats a chance to win.  

Can the "other guys" in the pen keep stranding runners? 
Thanks to some terrible performanaces by the last guys in the pen (Wang, Perry, Lidge) the Nats pen doesn't seem all that special keeping runners from scoring but Burnett, Stammen, Mattheus and Gonzalez all have higher numbers than you expect.  It's something that can easily be kept up for a season, given how few innings these guys pitch, but it could also come crashing back down very quickly.


Harper said...

And since you may ask my guesses are : Terrible, Not like the past two months but at a good enough pace, For the rest of the year, Good rookie, Not for any extended period of time, no for Gio yes for Clip, not a good one, sure.

Nattydread said...

Does Teddy win a race? It's time.

ocw5000 said...

Morse's BABIP is right on the money:

.330 (2010)
.344 (2011)
.343 (2012)
.346 (Career)

This is who he is. Now if he can just walk more and hit a few more bombs...

Lee said...

I'm watching Rizzo.

Will he make a move for another bat? Will it be Denard Span? Do we still want Denard Span?

Will he go after another starter as insurance for when Stras gets shut down? Any chance it's Greinke?

blovy8 said...

Your post made it seem like you thought Detwiler would be a good fifth starter. If he even manages league average for five innings a game, that's a good enough. Hell, Lannan has done that and no one believes in him anymore. Detwiler will likely have to be a good fourth starter by September if no deals are made.

To me, the most worrisome thing on that list is Zim needing more than just one cortisone shot. Those things damage tissue. If they have a good lead come September, it might make sense to shut him down for two weeks. They have the depth for me not to worry about the other stuff, unless Werth comes back as his 2011 version. I'm betting on Morse getting a cortisone shot if he doesn't hit a homer soon.

My guess is the regression in some areas will be made up for by the return of two very talented players, and the fact that Flores in the eight spot barely needs to do anything. But I really wish the guy would put his bare hand behind his back when the pitcher delivers.

Positively Half St. said...

Well, your thoughts on the subject all add up to a tight pennant race. I know we would all prefer the Nats cruise, but it is a lot to ask.

However, I think that it isn't quite as uncomfortable if you simultaneously ask similar questions about the Mets and Dodgers. I would consider the chances of the Mets regressing to be much greater, and one only needs to look at the Dodgers' full set of position players to wonder how they are still in first place.

It won't be easy, but hopefully the Nats are deeper than other teams who could keep them out of the playoffs.


Harper said...

Nattydread - I said if he doesn't win the race at the first home playoff game they need to stop doing it.

otrain - bah, don't know how I overlooked that. You're right that the average is probably not going to take much of a hit. I will note he is hitting a TON more GBs than he would usually. as he reverts to a more FB hitter that should drop the BABIP.

Lee - I expect nothing so I can be pleasantly surprised if news pops up.

bloy8 - I think he can be an average 5th starter. "good enough" but not "good". Unless Davey really watches him closely.

Zimm is interesting in that there could be long term issues here, right? Shooting up and playing through pain? He just signed a 100yr deal, let's maybe think about this.

I don't think there's enough things that can break badly enough to do anything but slightly slow the Nats.

+1/2 st - I haven't looked at the Braves but I don't think it will be tight. I don't think the Nats win going away either though. I think it's more of a constant 3-5 game lead where you feel one bad series could make things a toss-up but it never quite gets there.

Like I started - every team has questions and for the good teams, there's usually a lot more "Is this going to go bad"? because a lot has gone right.

Ben said...

Just out of curiosity Harper, what is your case for liking (or at least not hating) the Mets chances going forward. By your frequently used test of "gone right/gone wrong", what hasn't gone right ... Ike Davis is more bad Adam Dunn than good Adam Dunn and their bullpen sucks even more than they should on paper?

Also Blovy - pertaining to Flores, I can't remember noticing any MLB catcher actually put his hand behind his back, I think most often its just kinda hanging out and above their leg ("above" as in being visible from the bat's perspective anyway), and whether it is there or more where Flores keeps it I think it is mostly bad luck and not bad technique. I assume they don't fully hide it, even with no runners on base, to establish the habit of always being ready to throw.

Anonymous said...

Q: Can Ian keep it up?

A: Really? This still is happening? He is an elite shortstop, just deal with it and move on.

Q:How long will Ryan's bounce back last?

A: He says he feels fine, unless he re-aggravates his shoulder he's going to rake in the second half, no question.

Q: Bryce Harper, good rookie or immediate impact player?

A: Have you watched him play? Because that answers your question. Kid's a stud. (Side note-He's still outproducing Trout if you go by games played and include Trout's miserable debut last season)

Q: Will Mike Morse ever get back to Beast Mode?

A: Again, are you watching the games? Beast Mode IS back.

Q: Can the Nats elite pitchers keep up the homer gap?

A: Only a moron (like you) thinks they can't. Oh, and what a surprise, you again try to toss Gio and Clippard under the bus even though they prove you wrong every time you doubt them.

Be honest, do you actually watch the Nats play, or do you just look at box scores and statistics?

Harper said...

Ben - I like the starting pitching (always been a fan of a healthy Chris Young), while the hitting has gone mostly right there's nothing there that's crazy. Wright is an elite talent. Tejada could be good (he's 22). The pen stinks but time helps because you realize who to pitch and when. A smart manager can get by on 3 decent arms I don't think they are a challenger to the East and probably nothing more than an outside WC challenger but I like them to go .500 the rest of the year rather than collapse.

Anon -
I want more than half a year to crown Ian, simple as that.

Agreed, Zimm is an All-Star when he's right and he feels right shot-up. I tend to accept the docs prognosis and if they say he can keep playing through it I'm not going to assume otherwise.

Kid IS a stud. But Mays was a stud, Aaron. Mantle. Bonds. Chipper. They all had good but not great first seasons. That's more common than the immediate elite status. That's what I think we'll end up seeing this year, something like .280 20 homers and a huge bump to an MVP vote getting season next. like 320+ and 30+ homers

I don't know. We definitely saw Beast Mode vs Col and ATL but nothing like that since then.

I said I thought Clippard could do it. With Gio you have everything going against him; MLB history (Only 5 starters since 2001 have given up 8 or less HR over a season pitching 175 innings or more.) His history (typically gives up more) and his recent starts. Gio's given up 3 homers in his last 3 starts. He's not going to give up 15 or something, but he should give up 6+ or so.

Anonymous said...

Still didn't answer this: Be honest, do you actually watch the Nats play, or do you just look at box scores and statistics?

Harper said...

Because of baseball blackout rules, I rarely can watch the Nats live. I listen to games (which is easier anyway - lets me cook, wash dishes, etc.) and catch up on archived games during my 11-2 "I'm awake no one else is" period.

Donald said...

Out of the gate, we play 4 games in Miami. Not to put too much import on one series, how do you see that playing out? They swept us down there earlier but now Stanton is gone. If we lose all 4, it could be trouble from a confidence standpoint. If we win 3 (or 4) it'll be a huge boost. Splitting would be fine by me. If we lose 3, it'll hurt but we could get over it. Might depend on how we lost them...

Froggy said... blackout rules?

You can watch all the games on I mean, you ARE the Nationals Baseball blogger for cry-zakes! Do I gotta talk to Rizzo for you or what?

Although I must say, I can't argue with your statistical / sabermetrics / money ball analysis, I go to a lot of games and or watch them on MASN when I can't go, and I see a different team on the field than what is represented in the box scores.

Anonymous said...


How do you sense the Strasburg innings limit situation will play out? Hollow words from Rizzo or do you think he'll actually sit once his innnings are up? I can't imagine the public anger in this area that would erupt if he sat Stras during the playoff push/race.

Anonymous said...

Stras is getting shut down, period, end of story. Gio, Zimm, Jackson, and Detwiler will be carrying this team in the post season. And really, that is still an amazing staff (especially if Detwiler continues to hold his own). Strasburg will rest, let the elbow finish healing, maybe make a pinch hit appearance at some point, and then continue his future hall of fame career next season where we can expect him to be pitching the first of many WS Game 1's. --Vdub

Anonymous said...

Let's go get Greinke!

Maybe we can trade Rendon for him straight-up? I think that would make sense for both organizations. Plus, Rizzo wouldn't have to take heat from the let's-win-now-or-never-to-hell-with-Strasburg's-arm crowd of Nats fans because we would at least replace an ace with a fellow ace. Then Rizzo could shut Strasburg down at 160 or whatever and all the reasonable Nats fans of the world would be happy.

Could you imagine our 2013 rotation? Best in all of baseball:


Allison said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Harper said...

Donald - I'm going with 2-2 but that's only because of the whole "can't beat the Marlins" thing. the back end of the series is in the Nats favor so 3-1 is possible with an early win.

Froggy - the short of it is I live in an area that's technically Nats territory (so can't watch on but has little Nats interest (no Nats on cable). If this were a job and not a hobby I'd certainly get Dish Network or whatever, but I'm not so whatever.

What do you mean about different team? Better? That's like 100+ win team then? Worse? I don't see that.

Anon #1 - I agree with Anon #2 He gets shut down (a game or two after he hits ZNNs innings limit) While Strasburg, Gio, ZNN in the playoffs would be a great strength, Gio, ZNN, and Jackson is no weakness.

Greg - I'd love that but I've been a huge Grienke fan for years. Rendon strainght up... maybe he is an injury concern. The Brewers might try to get more. However I think the main hesitance in on the Nats side. Gio was young and has years under control (re: Cheap). Grienke is slightly older and about to be tons more expensive. I don't see it. I'd more see them empty out the minor for King Felix than make a Greinke deal. (not that he's available)

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