Nationals Baseball: September 2012

Friday, September 28, 2012

So comes the weekend of doom or joy

or neither.

This weekend should kind of wrap things up for the Nats (although leaving HFA wide open and thus making getting the rotation ready a mess). I see the Braves winning 2 of 3 over the Mets, the Nats winning 1 of 3 from the Cardinals, and the lead shrinking to 3 games. That doom scenario where the Nats don't win the NL East outright in the regular season would then be up to two sweeps to end the season (Philly over Nats, Braves over Pirates) which isn't going to happen. You can basically start struggling with the champagne corks at that point.

However with the season so close to being over, one game in a different direction and everything changes dramatically. The Nats getting swept or Braves sweeping, and it's a two game lead and uh oh.  The Nats winning two of three or the Braves only winning 1 and the Nats are popping the bubbly on the side bar of the Post sports section, right next to whatever huge pic of RGIII they are showing.

The less likely scenarios still aren't crazy.  The Nats hoisting a pennant on Saturday? All it would take is a couple Nats wins and Braves to lose 1of 2 to start, or a couple Braves losses and the Nats to win one of the first couple in St. Louis. Perfectly reasonable scenarios. A sweep by the Braves is not insane. Neither is the Nats getting swept.  Both at the same time would mean PANIC.  

It's set up to be a weekend of wild emotional swings for Nats fans. Grab some brews and hunker down. 

Bryce Harper and the teenage HR record.

Bryce Harper has a lot of records for a 19 year old. A lot of that is because he's had more plate appearances than any other 19 year old. Don't get me wrong. That's a very good thing. It means he's that good at 19 to deserve to get those appearances. But it also means some of the usual conclusions you might draw aren't correct.  Like thinking if he hits the most HRs as a 19 year old he's the best power hitting 19 year old ever. That's not true. Tony Conigliaro was a much better power hitter at 19 than is Bryce.

Tony : 18.5
Bryce : 27.5

isoSLG (league isoSLG)
Tony : .240 (.135)
Bryce :  .201 (.147)

He hit HRs more often and hit for more power in a harder time to hit for power. It's not even a question here. Bryce may very well be the best all around 19yr old (not sure about Conigliaro's fielding but he didn't run the bases like Bryce) but just having the HR title doesn't mean he was the best power hitter. (I'm still saying Bryce had one of the best power season at 19. That's still awesome.)

Some Tony C things to shoot for. He led the league in homers at 20.  He reached 100 homers in his 22 yr old season. I like Bryce to match both.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

You can't get that from here


Last night, primarily, was an emotional win for the Nats. Almost since the Nats arrived DC, the Phillies have been the bully on the block. Not only did this have to do with winning 90+ games and the division year after year, but they would literally come down to the Nationals home and embarrass them. Droves of fans coming into DC, sometimes invited by the Nationals franchise, to watch the Phillies beat up the Nats. From 2007-2010, when the Nats were at their worst, no team beat them like the Phillies.  A 21-51 record for a .292 winning percentage only surpassed by a couple stray interleague opponents.

The Nats got a measure of revenge yesterday when former Phillie Jayson Werth, who chose to take the Nationals' big pay day and came over to the Nationals rather than sign for less and stay with the Phillies*, delivered the big hit to help win a game that fans felt they had to have. A win that punctuated the truth that in two short years, the former perennial basement dwelling Nats were in the playoffs and the former perennial penthouse dwelling Phillies, were not. 

*PLEASE don't kid yourself.  The #1 Reason Werth came here was the money.  The #2 reason was money. The #3 reason was money.  Did he think this team could be good during his contract? I bet so. But $ $ $. Also the Phillies fans were stupid because no one signs for less to stick around. 

I get all this. I understand that this is the case. Yet what I thought when Werth hit that single was this  :
Nice to get a couple of insurance runs to help the Nats in their quest for HFA throughout the National league playoffs.
Not exactly "WOO HOO! Jayson Werth says SUCK IT PHILLY!" The Nats weren't likely to lose the game. They had a 1-run lead and had Drew Storen coming in. Storen has a 0.79 ERA in September. He's struck out 13 in 11 innings and walked none. He was going to face three hitters who were at best average in Nix, Rollins, and Mayberry. Even if they somehow end up losing the game, a 3 game division lead with 7 left is still rather unlikely to be lost. If the Nats were to go 3-4 in their last 7 the Braves would have to go 6-1.

I just want to have this out there because as the playoffs go on you won't be getting the shared highs and lows from me you probably will from every other Nats blogger. I know that's part of the reason you guys come here but there's a good chance some new eyes will be on these pages come playoffs and I wanted to have something out there that at least says "I warned you"

Upcoming games

So how likely are the Nats to go 3-4?  Here are the upcoming games and the probable pitchers (listed already for the Cards series, guessed for the Phillies one) and what I think about them.

Cloyd @ Gio
This should be an easy Nats win. The Phillies hate lefties. Gio is one of the best in the game. Cloyd is one of those meh major league pitchers that the Nats have been beating up lately

E Jax @ Wainwright
ZNN @ Lohse
Det @ Lynn

This is admittedly a tough stretch for the Nats. Wainwright is a good pitcher. Lohse has been great this year. Lynn has been fantastic recently after hitting a rough patch mid-season. In the Nats favor is that E Jax is also good and ZNN can be great, too. Plus the Cards prefer to face lefties. I don't like the Nats to win the series but they shouldn't be swept.

Kendrick @ Lannan
Cloyd @ Gio
Lee @ E Jax

Lee hasn't been that pitcher this year, so don't make that game a slam dunk for the Phils. No, the slam dunk is again, Cloyd v Gio.  I also like Lannan to win his game.

Overall I see a 4-3 finish to the Nats season. What about the Braves?

Turner @ Hanson
Hanson hasn't been good and Turner has been but there more talent in Hanson that Turner, and with the Braves being a better hitting team I'd go with a Braves win here.

Niese @ Hudson
Young @ Minor
Mejia @ Medlin

You have to like Medlin to win, but Hudson vs Niese is another one like Hanson v Turner that the pitching could go either way. I like Young more than Minor but it's not like either of these guys are good**.  I like the Mets to take 1. Or more accurately I like the Braves to be 3-1 in this first four.

Maholm @ Locke
Hanson @ Correia?
Hudson @ Burnett?

** my Braves friend says Minor is good.  Looking at his stats...ok maybe. But I don't like him anymore than Young

Locke isn't good so you like the Braves to take that one. The Pirates have shown interest in wanting to get some young arms out on the mound but I would hope that if the Braves and Nats are still fighting for a pennant they would put out their good arms. I like the teams to split those last two in that instance.

So a 5-2 finish for the Braves.  They gain 1 more game and finish 3 games out. Nat clinch on that first game of the last Phillies series. That would be my guess. If I'm off by a game for both (Nats go 3-4, Braves 6-1) the Nats still take the division probably clinching in the 2nd Phillies game (then losing a meaningless game in the standings on that last day).

Hmm I admit this is a lot closer than I thought, but I can't see the Braves sweeping the rest of the season because that is just too much and I can't see the Nats winning less than 2 games since those Gio games are so heavily in favor for the Nats. So I can't see that Nats falling into anything worse than a tie and that's worst case scenario here.  Really we are assuming ALOT of the Braves. One errant loss in a game they should win, which happens all the time in baseball, and this is all pretty much over for everyone, not just me. 

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Davey and the 3-man rotation

So yesterday I mentioned that Davey had pitched guys on short rest in the playoffs several times.  Upon further review he did it a lot actually, out of the nine postseason series he's managed so far, he's gone to the short rest start in 7 of them and in one of the other 2 he didn't have a chance.  On the flip side you can argue that he didn't have much of a choice in a couple of those that he did go short.  Let's take a look at each series and see what you think,

1986 NLCS - No short rest starts 
The 1986 Mets had a pretty good pitching staff.  Gooden, Darling, and Ojeda were all excellent. The 4th starter, Sid Fernandez was above average, but was a significant drop-off from the Top 3. In the NLCS with a 2-1 lead in games, Fernandez pitched game 4 (Mets lost 3-1 to Mike Scott) allowing everyone else to pitch on regular rest.

1986 World Series - 3 short rest starts
In the series though the Mets skipped Fernandez and pitched Darling, Gooden, and Ojeda on short rest.  (Darling would pitch 3 times but a rain-out allowed his 3rd game to be on normal rest). Age didn't matter to Davey.  Darling was only 25 at the time and Gooden was 21. The Mets were down 1-2 and 2-3 when using Darling and Ojeda, so the need to win may have been a driving factor. 

1988 NLCS - 1 short rest start
The 1988 had another great staff.  Cone was the only one with a truly excellent season, but there were no weak links from 1-5. In this one Darling, the Mets worst pitcher that year (but still ok) ended up pitching game 7 on short rest. It's hard to blame Davey for this though.  For one he DID use a four man rotation, it's just that the NLCS lacked a day-off for travel between game 5 in NY and game 6 in LA. Also Bob Ojeda had a fingertip severed at a bar in a playoff clinch celebration and missed the playoffs.  He might have gone 5 deep if Ojeda was available.

1995 NLDS - No short rest starts
The Reds won the series 3-0 so there was no opportunity for one.

1995 NLCS - 1 short rest start
Pete Schourek was surprisingly a very good starter for the Reds for this (and only this) year. With the Reds down 3 games to none the 26 year old got the short rest call in game 4. The Reds did have a decent 4th starter in Mark Portugal but thanks to the 3-0 win in the NLDS and the scheduling of the NLCS you're talking over a week between starts if he goes out there. Is that better than a 3 day rest?

1996 ALDS - 1 short rest start
This is probably the most confusing of the short rest starts. The 1996 Orioles had an odd pitching year, basically getting Mussina & Wells worst years in the time frame, and Erickson before he had his decent stretch.  The 4th starter Coppinger wasn't any good, but no one was this year.  Also when Davey went to Wells to pitch on short rest the O's were up 2 games to 1 and the rest of the games were slated to be played in Baltimore. I guess you could say he had no faith in Coppinger.

1996 ALCS - 1 short rest start
There were no off days between Game 2 in NY and Game 3 in BAL so Davey had to use a 4 man rotation (going with Coppinger in game 4) and  was forced to use Erickson on short rest in game 5.  The other choice would be to use 2nd year pitcher Rick Krivda in the game when you are down 3 games to 1 in the series.  I don't think that's much of a choice.

1997 ALDS - 1 short rest start 
Did I say the 1996 ALDS was the most confusing? Take everything about 1996 but replace 4 pitchers having bad years with four having good ones. The 1997 Orioles had 4 good starters in Mussina, Erickson, Key and Kamieniecki. But in the ALDS up 2 games to 1 and in no danger of going back to Seattle, Davey pitched Mussina on short rest instead of Kamieniecki. Mussina was much better, don't get me wrong, but Scott was still good.

1997 ALCS - 2+ short rest starts
Both Scott Erickson and Mussina started on short rest (with the O's down 1 games to 2 and 2 games to 3 respectively), but Davey made up his mind that this was a 3 man rotation early. In game 2 Jimmy Key pitched ok and then Davey brought in... Scott Kamienieki to pitch middle relief. That essentially killed any chance at a 4 man rotation since the O's never found a 5th starter worth a damn.  Just looking at the stats for the year it was a real curious.

In the end, while his hand was forced a couple time Davey seems to have no problem with the short rest starts, regardless of age or even it seems some people's logic, prefering a great pitcher on 3 days rest over a good one on normal time down. The only time he chose to go to a 4 man rotation where everyone got a full rest was his very first playoff series. After that he only went to the 4 man rotation when he had to prevent a pitcher from pitching on TWO days rest.

Like I said yesterday, I'd expect Gio to start on short rest this playoffs, if the opportunity arises, but we'll see.  This is the best 4 man rotation he would have had in any playoffs.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Who's your #3 : Detwiler or Jackson

Last week Nats fans were ready to declare Detwiler the third starter for the playoffs. Then Edwin Jackson came out and pitched 8 innings of 1 run ball and made the situation confusing again.

The 3rd starter role is going to come down to alot of things. How much does Davey want to alternate righties and lefties? What's the tendencies of the team you are facing?  Are the Nats truly going to a 4 man rotation or are they going to try to role with 3 so Gio or ZNN could potentially pitch 3 times? Even if we could answer these what it could comes down to is who pitched better in their last start, and there's no way we can know that now.  We'll take a look at recent stats though and try to get a feel.

Davey and L/R alternation

Davey's L/R tendencies aren't clear.  He's only pitched back to back lefties a couple of times before Strasburg was shut down, and since then only back to back righties once, when Wang took over for Lannan and it was unavoidable. So it seems he favors alternating. Then again all he really did was set the rotation up as anyone would. Strasburg, Gio, ZNN, Jackson, Detwiler? That's how I would have ordered the rotation by talent to start. The alternation is just a happy side effect.

Looking at his other teams doesn't help clear things up. His Dodgers teams tended to be overly righty making a judgement impossible. His Orioles teams showed no strong inclination to split up righties and lefites, going RRRLL for a fair amount of the 2nd half of 1997.  His Reds teams were a mess of injuries but in general I'd say he favored alternation there. 


The Giants and Reds show a slight preference to facing lefties, but it's not strong enough that I'd base any starter decision on it.  The Braves struggle against lefties, Bourn, Heyward, McCann, Freeman are all lefty batters and Chipper hits noticeably better from that side. The Cardinals are very strong against lefties. Craig, Molina, Freese, Holliday all bat from the right side and Beltran shows way more power there.

4 man rotation or not?

No idea. Davey has often gone 3-man. He did it with Darling, Schourek, Mussina, Erickson, Wells. Young and old, when he had decent 4th pitchers, and when he didn't have necessarily a good #1. It's actually been something he's been pretty consistent about and deserves a deeper look into in another column. It was different times though. Guys are protected more. I'd be shocked if ZNN pitched on 4 days rest.  He hasn't gone over 7 innings or 108 pitches this year.  Gio... maybe.  Old Davey would have probably set something up like Gio, ZNN, Jackson, Gio, Detwiler, ZNN, Gio. New Davey?  

Recent Performance

Edwin Jackson
2nd Half :  ERA 3.81, WHIP 1.23, K/9 9.63, HR 11, BABIP .310
Last 6 : ERA 4.06, WHIP 1.19, K/9 9.80, HR 3, BABIP .340
Last 3 : ERA 5.00, WHIP 1.22, K/9 7.50, HR 3, BABIP .308

Ross Detwiler
2nd Half :  ERA 2.76, WHIP 1.07, K/9 5.06, HR 5, BABIP .251
Last 6 : ERA 2.57, WHIP 1.20, K/9 6.17, HR 3, BABIP .274
Last 3 : ERA 2.65, WHIP 1.29, K/9 6.88, HR 3, BABIP .269

While the ERA gap screams start Detwiler, everything else, especially more recently, is not as clear. Detwiler is going to have a lower BABIP than Edwin. He's a GB pitcher on a team with great IF defense. But that much better, suggests a bit of luck (either bad for EJax or good for Det, or both).  Detwiler's Ks are moving in the right direction but he's also getting hit/walking more. Edwin's K's are heading down (but are still better than Det's) while his WHIP is stable. Edwin's last 3 include his last bad game.  He looks better in the last 2 obviously.  I'd say Detwiler has the edge here but not by as much as you think

Other things to consider

Edwin's last start really highlights something he can do that no one else is allowed to.  He will pitch deep into games. Whereas Detwiler has an unofficial 7 inning 100 pitch limit (hit 7IP 5 times, 100 IP once, never past), Edwin has no such limits.  He's gone over 100 pitches 13 times and he has 6 7IP games... and 4 8IP games... and one complete game.  Edwin is a veteran arm on a one year deal. Stretching him out makes much more sense than risking Detwiler, young and in control for a few more cheap years. If the pen needs that long game, there's no question you try to go with Edwin.

Dewilter has also worked the pen this year and was really good in his limited time (~13 IP - which by the way is why his ERA is lower than Strasburg's.  He has a 3.26 starter ERA.  YOU CAN'T JUST IGNORE THIS PEOPLE)

My guess, barring a flame out by either, is that the tendencies are going to drive the decision in the NLDS.  If the Braves are the team, then Detwiler gets the nod.  If it's the Cards then you'll see Jackson. The differences in their pitching right now aren't big enough not to try to play away from the other team's strength.  If the Nats get there, in the NLCS and WS, I think we'll see whoever's hot. If there is no clear "hottest" then I give the nod to Jackson, based on his ability to go deep and Detwiler's success in the pen. In either case, I'm also thinking that we will see Gio pull a 3 dyas rest thing if necessary, maybe a couple times.

Monday, September 24, 2012

LaRoche for MVP?

Until recently voting for the MVP was a pretty easy affair.  You looked at the division winners and maybe a team or two that was in it until the end, and picked out anyone who was leading his team in RBIs and preferably homers. You then compared him to other such candidates and found yourself a winner. Occasionally things would get confusing and maybe a dominant HR/RBI player from a bad team could win, or something more crazy, but in general this strategy worked. The Nats are one of the best teams in the majors and a near lock for a division title.  It makes sense that they should have an MVP candidate. Under this voting style the candidate is obvious : Adam LaRoche.  Thirty-two homers, 98 RBI, both team leading.

In the past few years though, a consequence of the statistical revolution has been re-evaluating the concept of value. Runs batted in have been a particular victim. Since a batter can only drive in runs if someone gets on base before they hit, RBI are very dependent on something outside of a batters control. Therefore, RBI tend to fall behind several other offensive categories when determining how to best evaluate a player. Few young sabermetrically inclined voters would give RBI more than passing consideration in determining their vote. Also there is increased interest in including fielding in the consideration, since some of the new fangled stats do a better job of determining how much worth a player's fielding is to a team. At the same time we are still running against an old argument of what is meant by "value". Can a team that loses 100 games have an MVP player since in the end they would still miss the playoffs with or without him?* How does all this effect the Adam LaRoche lobby?

*I honestly don't care which side you're own.  It's just a silly award. So pick your method and run with it.  Just maintain your internal logic please.

First we have to see if Adam LaRoche is even the best representative from the Nats. We have to admit there isn't a better "at the plate" offensive candidate than LaRoche on the Nats. Sure he's had ~30 more PAs with RISP than anyone on the team. So? Given a full season Ian Desmond, Ryan Zimmerman, or Jayson Werth might have ended up with better numbers than LaRoche, but they didn't play a full season. LaRoche did. We're not evaluating these players going forward we are looking at the season passed. LaRoche wins. 

Now what if we consider baserunning? LaRoche loses big time there. For stolen bases LaRoche is basically a non-factor, while Werth (7SB, 2CS) and Desmond (19,6) matter. For everything else, there isn't an exact measure but fangraphs "Spd" stat tries to put it into context. Desmond is up near the top of the team with a 5.2, Werth has a 5.0, Zimm an ok 3.7 and LaRoche a terrible 1.9. Even if you can't wrap your head around these numbers and what exactly they mean, you can understand the concept behind them. Desmond goes from first to third on a single. He scores from second on a single, from first on a double. He might break up a double play or beat out a slow FC. LaRoche can do none of those things. He is catcher/pitcher slow.  His running hurts the team because he can't do what even an average runner can.

Now what about defense? LaRoche is having a fine season that's true, but first base is where the bad fielders hang out for a reason. Great defense at first does not matter as much as other positions. You can argue it's worth more than RF or 3B if you like, I wouldn't but you can, but there is no way it's more important than SS, and Ian Desmond is having an equally nice year there. As good a year at a tougher position, then nod has to go with Ian.

So while Adam maintains a slight lead in the pure at bat stats by vitrtue of playing 25 more games, Ian tops Adam in everything else. It's not much of a tough call for me. Ian is the more worthy candidate. There are more you could argue are more worthy than Adam. Zimm's has had great fielding and is closer than you'd think in RBI (89 for Zimm, 98 for Adam) and is better across the board in all stats but HRs. Bryce's has had great (though personally I think a bit overrated by fans AND stats) fielding in a tougher position, and has had amazing baserunning.  He's the guys scoring all those runs for LaRoche. Gio Gonzalez's excellent season can't be denied.  He's going to finish with 200IP and an ERA under 3.00. Strasburg, Espinosa, and ZNN also have cases that are nearly as strong as LaRoche's.

So right there it should end, LaRoche is not an MVP of the league if he's not the clear MVP for his team, But let's say you dismiss pitchers, and you just like those RBI and HR numbers sooo much that you can't get past it. How does Adam stack up to other NL candidates? Let's just pick two.

LaRoche : 32 homers, 98 RBI
McCutchen : 30 homers, 93 RBI
Braun : 40 homers, 100 RBI

pretty good... oh wait I forgot somethings.

LaRoche : .271 average, .342 OBP, 70 RS, 1 SB
McCutchen :  .336 average, .406 OBP, 103 RS, 19 SB
Braun :  .317 average, .405 OBP, 100 RS, 29 SB

Ummm... neither of those two are on playoff teams! McCutchen faded when his team did, so I choose to ignore the fact that we wouldn't even have been talking about them fading if it wasn't for the awesome display he put up until September. And Braun, he did roids! No way I'm voting for him. Who else you got?

Posey : 23 homers, 98 RBI
Holliday :  27, 98 RBI 

ok Adam is better than th...

Posey : .332 average, .405 OBP, 94 RS, 1SB
Holliday :  .298 average, . 379 OBP, 93  RS, 4 SB

dammit. Well he ties Posey in SBs!

I'm even purposely ignoring guys like Heyward and Molina whose value is tied up in baserunning and/or fielding tougher positions. The point is if you just expand your look beyond HR to RBI to even other simple stats that have been around for years LaRoche falls short, arguably well short, of potential candidates on division winners and teams that are/were in the playoff hunt.

Clearly not the most valuable in the league, clearly not the most valuable on his own team when everything is considered, the Adam LaRoche for MVP discussion is one that isn't worth having. (I just wasted a column!) 

Friday, September 21, 2012


That's all that's been guaranteed. A 163rd game. It is a playoff game, since all that means is a game played after the regular season that helps determine the champion. But given that the 1-game format is different than the rest of the playoffs, and only the non-division winners have to compete in this game, I can see why some prefer the term "play-in".  In the past extra games used to break ties have been considered part of the regular season, while the playoffs were for series of games. But this is the new system, and we just have to deal with it.

For me, the only reason to downplay this accomplishment is because the Nats are in-line for a bigger one, the NL East title. The playoffs are nice, but with the team fighting for a #1 seed, the WC game really isn't on anyone's radar, even as a fall-back. You could see that last night. They knew they were very very likely to get into the playoffs a month ago. This just confirms that they didn't horribly go off the rails in the past 30 days. Congrats, handshakes all around, now let's go home so we can rest up for tomorrow's game.

How is everything else going? NL East is still in line to be locked up by month's end. Sorry doomsayers. Like I said the sweep meant nothing in terms of the NL East title. Not to say that was completely meaningless. It meant a lot for the Braves and the Wild Card, essentially locking that up for them. It also knocked the Nats back a game or two so that they are in a dogfight for home field, the Reds a mere half-game behind after encountering the exact same level of resistance from the Cubs that you'd expect. The Reds take on Dodgers next, who are basically on death watch for the playoffs.  A opening game loss and a they might start packing it in. The Nats face the Brewers who have clawed their way back into contention, 2 1/2 games behind the Cardinals. That's a gap the Brewers can cover, though they can't afford more than a couple losses. They should be fired up.

How'd the Brewers do it? I think the key is understanding that they've always been good. They had a rough start in every way. Aramis had an ice cold April. Lucroy got hurt. The inevitable decline of Nyjer happened.  Rickie Weeks was god awful. This all brought down what should have been an impressive offense. At the same time the starters struggled to pitch well early.  All that led to the Brewers being in 5th place in the NL Central, 7 games out and 9 games under .500 before the end of May. Slowly this was all corrected.  The starters got back on track, Aramis hit again, Norichika Aoki took over for Nyjer and hit well. Rickie Weeks wasn't terrible.  But the pen never got on solid footing and after clawing back to 3 games under they went on a bad luck 1-9 stretch where they lost five 1-run games, including four games in a row lost by 1 run. (The 5th one was a game against the Nats where they blew a 7-3 lead after 7, 9-7 lead after 8).  Another hole, another clawing out. Finally though the relief started evening out. Axford, Frankie Rodriguez, Livan weren't terrible. A kid named Kintzler is up and throwing pretty well.  With no weaknesses left to speak of they've been unstoppable recently. 22-6 in the last month.

This will be a nice test for the Nats.  The Brewers right now have the make-up, if not the record, of a playoff team. (unlike the Dodgers who can't hit even with their new players and aren't close to a playoff team with Kershaw and the rest injured).  The 2nd and 4th games of the series are the most interesting. In game #2 Wily Peralta, a pretty good young pitcher who's been lights out recently, takes on Gio who is trying to win that 20th game and possibly a Cy Young.  In game #4 Marco Estrada, a former Nat who has really come into his own for the Brewers, takes on ZNN.  These should be like playoff games.  Game #1 is a question mark between two decent pitchers, Shawn Marcum and E Jax, that haven't been pitching well recently.  Game #3 is a throw away with Wang facing the Brewers ace Yovani Gallardo.

If the Nats want 100 wins and/of HFA, a win tonight is a must because I have a hard time seeing them winning on Sunday.  Anything can happen sure but a loss tonight and I'm thinking you jump at a 2-2 split. 

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Nats staff kept doctors away

The Nats and Reds are the only two teams with 90 wins so far.  They have one very important thing in common.

Nats Starters :
Gio - 30 starts, ZNN - 30 starts, EJax - 28 starts, Strasburg - 28 starts, Detwiler - 24 starts (removed from rotation because of Wang love, not injury or performance)

Reds Starters :
Cueto - 30, Latos - 30, Bailey - 30, Arroyo - 29, Leake - 29

It's not a coincidence.  As much as we may focus on offensive injuries, like the one to Danny, you can work around most of those. First of all, you probably have a decent bat that you can fill in for the guy. Maybe not great but someone where the drop-off isn't astronomical. You are going to try to use that guy, who's actually probably not even your 9th best hitter, but more like your 6th or 7th and ride it out in the field. It is possible. First and corner OF spots are playable by nearly anyone. Usually another OF can pretend to be a CF for a while (so you can put a hitter in the corner), or a bat can hope to hide at 3rd. Even if your shortstop goes down, you may be able to shift a 2B to SS and put a "should be a corner IF" at second (it's the Danny Murphy story!). Only catcher is the place where you can't possibly cover the loss of a bat if you so wish, and really the number of elite bats at catcher don't make me go over to the 2nd counting hand. Plus that injury is still only one bat. If he has to miss a month well maybe his replacement happens to have a hot streak for a couple weeks and the other time the rest of the team starts hitting. You can get lucky and have it go by unnoticed.

Lose a #1 or #2 pitcher though and you have a hell of a time recovering.  You are immediately getting your #6th best starter, no way around it, and the drop-off is going to be severe. It's like going from Albert Pujols to James Loney. The good news is it's only every 5th day. The bad news is that 6th guy is unlikely to go on a hot streak for a month. He may give you a good start or two, but miss any significant time and you will notice this guy is much worse than the original. That's with one major injury.  What if you have 2 starters miss significant time? That happens all the time. 3? Not uncommon.  Suddenly that rotation is at best hanging on and at worse pushing your team right out of contention.

I bring this up because last night you saw what an injury could have meant.  John Lannan and/or Chein-Ming Wang.  I think John is a fine back of the rotation starter, but the Nats don't really have a back of the rotation.  They have an extended top, followed by the middle. John is a step down from what they are putting out there. A major injury to one pitcher and the Nats are losing a few more games, putting them in a dogfight with the Braves.  A major injury to two and they are probably behind the Braves and maybe fighting for a playoff spot (depends on how bad Wang and whoever else really is).  Probably in the lead for one, but still fighting.

This isn't meant to be a comment on Strasburg. We don't know if the shutdown will help future injuries, so we can't say the shutdown is right. We also don't know the make-up of next year's squad and we can't say that the Nats can't compete for the title if they do get more normal luck and see a guy or two go down, so we can't say the shutdown is wrong.  This year though, 2012, the Nats are able to be where they are, on cruise control toward an NL East title, because of some nice injury luck with the pitching staff. 

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Crisis averted! (Possibly)

Danny Espinosa doesn't have a major injury.  It's just a bruise and he'll be shot up with cortisone and sent out there to play. Great! Two things though

(1) Just because cortisone seemed to work perfectly for Zimmerman, does not mean it will work perfectly for Espinosa. You have to assume it'll help, why else would they give it to him, but don't assume it's going to be the miracle cure it was for Ryan.

(2) The Nats and "accurately figuring out the seriousness of injuries" have not been the best of friends. Look at the last two minor injuries. Morse, who should be back today, was only going to miss a couple of days. He missed a week. Desmond was fine, then not serious, then ending up having a extra-long weekend off.  Ok those are just a couple days, but it's part of a larger pattern. Hell, that's not the only injuries this year with these two players I can point to, lest you forget Ian's oblique "strain" that definitely wasn't going to end up on the DL, that was actually a tear and he then ended up on the DL but only for a couple of weeks MAYBE, which he ended up coming back from about a month later? Or Morse's going to be ready for Opening Day or soon after?  (He came back in June).  The Nats doctors seem to assume best case in all scenarios.

Just some food for thought.

Meanwhile the Braves lose. OMG! I thought they were going to win forever! It's OVER. OVEROVEROVEROVEROVER.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Losing Espy

Could the playoff fate of the Nationals hinge on one player's shoulder? We'll find out today what's up with Espinosa and if he misses a lot of time, or doesn't take to the cortisone like Zimmerman did, that is a big blow to the Nats.

Is it a huge blow offensively?  Well, on one hand you can say Danny is who he is. A low average guy with some patience and some pop. I don't think it's quite fair to just say "well if you take out his cold start he has hit X" and use X as a reference point to how he'll do going foward. Those early games count. His current line of .250 / .315 / .407 is fair. But I do personally think that while the average and OBP is right on line, that was an unusually low power period for him. I think he is more in the .420+ range which takes him from being a slightly below average hitter to a slightly above average one. As much as we may like Lombardozzi and his decent average, he has no power and overall is an below average hitter. Losing Danny will matter at least a little

But more than that, Danny is one more bat at the bottom of the lineup that can work the pitcher and get on base without a hit. The Nats have their share of free swingers. Desmond, Morse, whoever is catching, they don't attack the pitcher in the same way that the top of the order does. That may sound dumb but just because you are in the bottom half of the lineup doesn't mean you have to swing away. Espinosa is a good example of that. He's 3rd out of qualified Nats in P/PA (Werth would be #1 by far). He doesn't walk a ton, but he does find his way to first through free passes and the more than occasional HBP (league leading 13).  Lombardozzi is not like this at all. He hangs out near Desmond, seeing the fewest amount of pitcher per plate appearance in the league. Morse - Desmond - Lombardozzi - Suzuki - pitcher; that's a bottom of a lineup an opposing hurler can fly through if he's on his game.

But Danny is more than his bat, he's an excellent fielder as well. The scouts think it and the fancy stats back it up. Danny's range is 4th among all 2nd basemen this year, and he's had continuously good fielding stats in his brief career. Lombardozzi is ok but he's not in Danny's league. And while Danny is not the fastest baserunner, a stolen base is not out of the question (19 SB, 6CS). Lombardozzi feels a step slower (5 SB, 3 CS)

Power is lost, patience is lost, the bottom of the lineup becomes nothing but free-swingers, the defense is diminished, speed is lost. While offensively the gain in average might make the loss in power and patience a smaller step back than it normally would be, the total combination is a harsh reality for the Nats. They get worse in nearly every way with Danny replaced by Steve. (if you think I'm ignoring DeRosa, I am and so should Davey and Rizzo)

The one consolation I can think of, light hitting MIs have a way of becoming hitting heroes in the postseason.  In fact in 1987 one such nobody hit .267 with a .353 OBP in the ALCS, followed by a .412 / .474 / .647 World Series performance. That guy?  Steve Lombardozzi Sr.

Hey, if it is bad news you might as well grab onto whatever you got, right? 

Monday, September 17, 2012

Monday Quickie - Panic !

A 5.5 game lead. 16 games to go. That's a huge lead. Why does this inspire fear and trepidation in a fan base? Is it because of the dreaded "momentum"? Do you not remember all the way back... oh, 4 games ago, when the Nats swept the Mets and the Braves were swept by the Brewers? Momentum is only as good as your most recent game. All this sweep means is that the Braves have spent the past 6 games not moving any closer to first. I'll start looking over the Nats shoulder if the Braves can pull to 3.5 during this homestand.

Now if you want to feel a bit of worry because Morse is hurt and Danny is hurt, ok fine. But it shouldn't be "Oh no here goes the division!" worry. More like "What's this mean for the playoffs?" worry. I'm sure you've seen the numbers by now.  If the Nats finish the season horrendously, the Braves would still have to be good.  If the Nats finish the season around .500, the Braves would have to be phenomenal. Every single AL race is closer. Worrying about this is wasting energy.

Other things

ROY :  Wade Miley pitched a good game but lost.  Todd Frazier had a good weekend but sat the middle game because Dusty is going to drive the Reds to a first round exit. Bryce had a good weekend but didn't show any classic Bryce moments for the TV audience.  Still, advantage Bryce.  One more good series and I'd make him the favorite again.

MOY : Pirates have faded.  It's all Davey

CY : Gio did not have a good game. Watch Dickey tonight - if he has a good game vs Cliff Lee it's going to give him some separation on Gio.

HFA : Cincy spent the weekend losing 2 of 3 to Miami, still that closes a game and with the Nats taking on the Dodgers while the Reds get the Cubs, it's anyone's guess who takes this.

100-wins : This is where the sweep really matters.  This is a serious blow to 100 wins. 11-6 to finish out is still possible, but we're getting into pretty unlikely territory. 

Friday, September 14, 2012

Fitting the story

As much as we like to believe a nice conspiracy theory - of either some random LA Times reporter or Dr. Yocum being big liars or that everything said was true until the Nats "got to him" and made him reverse his story - they are rarely true.  The first two make no sense and the latter seems a little bit too far fetched.  So what's the reality?  I don't know.  But here's a way you can fit in everything that was said.


Dr. Yocum talked to the Nationals medical staff about Strasburg's recovery.  It wasn't about how long to pitch him, just about how he was looking, his arm movement & strength, what they saw in this pitch movement, etc. etc. Yocum gave his opinion (likely a lengthy version of "Yep, seems like he's recovering just fine") and that was all. Using that information, Rizzo decides to shut Strasburg down, just like they did ZNN who was recovering fine last year. When hearing about the shutdown, Yocum understands there is no clinical proof to do it this way, but can get behind the decision because the whole area of TJ recovery is still ill-defined.

You have a story that makes sense and almost nothing in the first story out and out contradicts anything in the clarification. Usually the simple answer is the case and here we have a simple answer.

So what is contradictory? Just one thing.
Report: "Yocum said he had not talked with Nationals General Manager Mike Rizzo since last year."
Clarification:  "I have been contacted repeatedly and have had numerous discussions with the Nationals GM Mike Rizzo... as recently as mid-August"

There is a possible explanation. Yocum could have been saying that he hadn't talked to Rizzo about the shutdown since last year, and miscommunication between the doctor and Shakin led to the insinuation that Rizzo and Yocum hadn't spoken at all. I guess that's possible. My feeling leans more toward him never really having discussions with Rizzo, and the inclusion of Rizzo in the clarification being one of those half-truths. Like if the Nats told him Rizzo was on a couple of the conference calls about Strasburg's recovery but was just not talking, or if in the passing of other information Rizzo mentioned to Yocum that the Nats medical staff told him that Yocum thought Strasburg was coming along ok and Yocum said "yeah, looks fine".  Did Yocum talk to Rizzo about Strasburg's recovery?  Yes. Is it in the way they insinuate? Not really. Does it matter? Not really.

Rizzo gathered all the info he wanted, from various doctors, medical personnel, and yes, perhaps from Scott Boras, and made the call.  That's the truth. Nothing said from Yocum contradicts that.  The question of how much influence Boras played in the decision is the most interesting and relevant part of this whole thing, but nothing said from Yocum gives us any insight into that.

Now back to baseball and a series that will either put away the Braves or will drag out the Nationals NL East coronation for a extra week.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

What to watch - Home Field and 100 games

See I tell you it's over, the Braves climb within 5.5 (5.5!) and panic starts to bubble up again. What happens then? Nats sweep and Braves get swept and now it's 8.5 games!  Basically if the Nats play ~.500 ball the Braves have to win every single game. It's not going to happen. (Even though the Nats are now done playing bad teams)

Again though, that leaves Nats fans with the odd situation of having a boring (but way more fun) end of September. With no pennant race what else can Nats fans keep an eye on?  Last week I mentioned the award races (quick update - Gio's gained ground but still not likely the leader, Bryce has gained ground but still not likely the leader, though Dusty being an idiot and benching Frazier for Rolen will help, Pirates are fading making Davey the clear leader)This week? Home field advantage and 100 wins.

Home Field Advantage / #1 Seed 

It'll be interesting to see how the #1 seed advantage plays out over the next few playoffs.  If you look at the history of the Wild Card era playoffs, the #1 seed has not been all that advantageous. About a third of the time the #1 seed has found themselves playing a team with a better record than the #2 seed because of a combination of the Wild Card not always being worse than the #3 division winner and the whole "can't play a WC from your own division".  Starting this year the second factor is no longer relevant, and while the first fact will continue to be the case, the Wild Card the #1 will face will now have a distinct disadvantage of having used its #1 pitcher on a 1-game playoff with the other Wild Card. This year though the WC team will host the first two games of the division series so that may mitigate this advantage*

*In 2013 they'll go to 2-2-1.  You think this year is bad? Back before 1998 the division winners with home field were pre-determined.  Therefore a division winner may find themselves playing the 2nd best team in the league just because.  It happened in 1995 in the AL. Cleveland won 100 games, 14 more than the #2 seed  Red Sox, but had to play them because the AL East and AL West had home field. Since the Red Sox couldn't play the WC Yankees, the Mariners had to and thus The #1 seed Cleveland Indians had to play as the away team to the #2 seed Red Sox.  It wasn't a huge issue only because the Indians were so awesome they made the WS anyway

Beyond that the #1 seed only comes into play if the Reds and Nats both meet in the NLCS.  The Nats hold a 2 .5 game lead right now but let's look at the remaining schedule.

Nats : @ATL, LAD, MIL, @PHI, @STL, PHI
Reds : @MIA, @CHC, LAD, MIL, @PIT, @STL

That's a tough road to hoe for the Nats.  Not a below .500 team in there. You could note the Dodgers and Cards are kind of cold. but the Phillies and Brewers are red hot of course those games are a bit off in the future. Really though you can't deny the Reds have a much easier go.Can the Reds play 3 games better than the Nats though? (Nats hold tie-breaker since they are 5-2 vs the Reds, catching them early in the year when they were playing blah baseball)  That's alot ot ask of them too.  We'll see if the Reds can make up any games during this Miami, Chicago swing while the Nats go to Atlanta and host the Dodgers. If they can close a game or so, we'll re-evaluate.  If not then I think the Nats will hold on.

100 wins

The Nats stand at 89-54 at 143 games into the season.  With 19 left the Nats only need to go 11-8 to hit that exclusive 100 win plateau.  Meaningless? Sure. But it doesn't mean you don't want to get there.

The Nats schedule though features nothing but good teams, teams that you'd expect would hold ground at home and not get swept away on the road. Let's play it out in this fashion, not what I think, just what convention tells us.

1-2 in ATL, 2-1 vs LA, 3-1 vs MIL, 1-2 vs PHI, 1-2 vs STL, 2-1 vs PHI

What does that give the Nats? A 10-9 record and 99 wins. They are RIGHT there though if everything goes as expected a simple bad bounce in once game could be enough.  If the Nats were to get to 100 easily I think it starts with winning the Braves series.  They've beaten up on the Braves all year long.  The Braves play worse at home.If the Nats are to fall a few games short I think it's that first home series that does it. 5-2 at home vs two pretty competent teams with some good starting pitching might be a bit optimistic. If they do lose that series to the Braves and go 3-4 or 4-3 at home then you need a killer finish.

What do I see... Hmm I'd say

2-1 in ATL, 2-1 vs LA, 2-2 vs MIL, 1-2 vs PHI, 2-1 vs STL, 2-1 vs PHI
Extra wins in ATL and STL, an extra loss at home v MIL.  11-8 and 100 wins on the nose. It'll almost certainly come down to that last Phillies series too. So if this matters to you you'll have soemthing to keep an eye on all the way to the end.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012


ZNN got the results he wanted - a few runs given up and the win, but I guarantee he'd want to pitch better than that. The strikeout total was nice, especially given that David Wright accounted for 2 of the 6.  He was wilder than the Nats would like (3 walks and 104 pitches in 5 innings).  If you squint you can tell he was leaving pitches up more than down, and that's confirmed by the fact we see 4 GBs to 10 FBs.  So I'd say one good thing, two bad? I think anyone following the game would agree it could have been worse and against a team who has a guy hitting over .265 after the 1st three, or a team with a guy with an OPS above .640 in the bottom half of the lineup, it probably would have been. Seriously, I don't think a Met outfielder would make the Nats team even as a bench player. They started Jason Bay and he's been dead for 4 years.

So, I'm not enthused but because it all worked out, no verdict, wait until next time.

Also last night Morse decided he wasn;t 100% and wanted to get his hand looked at.  A perfectly reasonable request though I imagine if Strasburg made it people would be Dibbling up and calling him out. Who will get the starts? I imagine Davey will platoon Moore and Bernadina depending on the starter. Personally I'd start Bernadina every day for his defense, but Moore is probably the one fans want to see*. Either way a long injury to Morse would likely matter, so hope for a full recovery.

Tonight : Lannan! Lannan! Lannan! 

*I know you guys all love Moore, and as I said I think the power is totally real but let me make a comparison for you.
133 ABs  .293 / .352 / .504  36 Ks
138 ABs  .283 / .344 / .536  38 Ks
The second set of numbers are Tyler Moore's.  The first?  2007 Wily Mo Pena with the Nats.  I'm not saying Moore = Pena, but I'm saying there are good reasons he wasn't a top prospect coming into the season so temper your expectations if he plays more regularly, either now in place of Morse, or next season. 

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

A test for ZNN

When July ended Jordan Zimmermann had a stupid low ERA of 2.28.  He now stands a 2.99 just a bad game from popping back over 3.00.  That's still good.  That's still really good. But to lose 3/4 of a point of ERA in one month this late in the game requires a good drop in performance.

Here are his starts since August began
MIA 5IP, 7H, 1BB, 3K, 0HR
HOU 6IP, 3H, 0BB, 11K, 0HR
SFG 5.2IP, 8H, 2BB, 4K, 0HR
ATL 5IP, 8H, 2BB, 2K, 1HR
PHI 5IP, 5H, 3BB, 3K, 1HR
STL 3.2IP, 8H, 1BB, 3K, 2HR
CHC 7IP, 5H, 1BB, 9K, 1HR
Thta's a 5.54 ERA stretch right there including those couple of gems. What's the problem?  A little of everything. He is walking more than he usually does. He's not striking out as many (against the good teams*).  He's giving up more fly balls. Any one thing wouldn't do it, but they are all trending the wrong way together. Also he's seeing some reversal of his previous great luck.  More of the flyballs are going over the fence. More of the hit balls are falling for base hits. More of the guys on base are coming around to score. He's pitching worse and getting bad luck.

*Everyone goes through rough patches and besides he did have two starts that stood out. He pitched gems vs the Cubs and the Astros. Here's the thing though. The Cubs are the 2nd worst team in the NL in runs scored, with 3.79 per game. The only team worse? The Astros at 3.60.  Of course the flipside of that is also true. STL is the best offensive team in the league. The Braves are good. SF is above average.  The Phillies have been hot. The Marlins... well there's no good excuse for that. 

What does that mean going foward? Well just like the good luck couldn't continue, the bad luck can't as well.  He's not going to have 45% of runners score, or have other teams have a .345 BABIP against him the rest of the year. Those should even out.

The pitching worse is something to keep an eye on though. Zimmermann doesn't need to strike out a lot or walk none to be successful, but he usually can't strike out none and walk a few in the same game and be ok.  He had 6 games in his first 21 starts where he struck out only 2 or fewer men more than he walked.  He's done that 5 times in the last 7 games.  Even that wouldn't be so bad if he was giving up more ground balls but that gap has been increasing.  Two of his 4 worst games in giving up FBs in comparison to GBs have taken place during this stretch, 3 of his worst 7.

What I would look for tonight, pitching against a below average offense in a park that is pitcher friendly, are these three things.  How many does he walk? How many does he strikeout? How many flyball and groundballs does he give up? If these look good, or even if two of three of these look good, I'll take that as a positive.  It doesn't matter if they score on him. That can happen with one bad inning where a walk, and a legit hit are combined with a couple seeing eye singles and a bad read by Morse or Bryce. The way he's pitching is more important than the results right now because it gives us higher expectations for results in the future.  If two or all of those stats look bad, then I've got to start to worry.  Is he tired (171 IP is his most ever and he had pitched 100 and 70 inning prior to the 161 last year)? Is something physically wrong?

ZNN is key to the Nats post-season plans. They need him pitching well or else they have Gio and 3 question marks, a long cry from the "3 studs, maybe more" people we're convinced the Nats had just a few weeks ago.

Monday, September 10, 2012

Monday Quickie

The Nats had a weekend to forget.
  • Strasburg pitched terribly in his last home appearance of the year and then was shut down a game early. 
  • His supposed replacements, Ross Detwiler and Edwin Jackson, had bad starts themselves, bringing up questions of how the supposed strength of the Nats, starting pitching, will hold up down the stretch and into the playoffs
  • Oh yeah, they lost two of three to the Marlins while the Braves swept and are now up by 5.5.  That's still too far to get concerned about (if the Nats lose 2 games in the standings to the Braves before their upcoming series AND get swept by the Braves in said series - they are STILL in first) but it returns them to the back of the mind at a time when distractions are most unwelcome. 
At least no one got injured. Tonight they get a very Cubs like pitcher tonight in the bad IRA period piece named Collin McHugh. His main problem is walks and that's not the Nats strength, but it's not like the kid is unhittable otherwise. Plus, it's Gio pitching, and he's been the Nats best pitcher of late. It should be a win. After that it's Dickey and Harvey, which should mean much closer games. ZNN pitches game 2 and he hasn't been the same pitcher in the past month as he was in the first 4. Lannan pitches in game 3. You guys know I am Lannan's #1 fan, but he'll likely give up a few runs. That's who he is.

Other SHUTDOWN thoughts

As I've said before I think the shutdown is the most logical move for a Nats franchise trying to maximize wins over the course of the Strasburg contract. However, there are good reasons to keep pitching him that go beyond macho bull.

While the national media has example after example of guys that demand Strasburg keep pitching, the local media all seems to side with the Nats.  Even the fanbase is taking it relatively well.  Dr. Gordek, Armchair Psychologist, thinks that the local populace seeing Rizzo turn this team around so quickly might be inclined to give him the benefit of the doubt on all his moves where the national media is only popping their head in here occasionally and doesn't have the same feelings toward Mike. Also, Dr. Gordek adds, that the newness of the team may add a bit of a cushion to this blow that people who have been fans of teams for decades might find difficult to understand. There is no life-long Nationals heartbreak, only a depressing 5 years of bad play. It is extended lack of success that creates the most urgency.

The Davey/Strasburg dynamic is not working well. Strasburg seems like the type that thinks he should be perfect all the time and along with taking it out on himself, he'll go through the other reasons why he may not have been successful. Davey is a let them play manager who doesn't want to hear any of it. That's not a problem in itself, but he'll also express this to the media which has created a kind of spotlight effect on every poor start.  Is he going to say anything other than "I pitched bad"? If so there's a small but growing section of fans that will jump on it.  There's no need for it to have gotten even to this mild point.  If keep it in the clubhouse is the rule for the players (see Lannan, John) it needs to be the rule for the manager too.

Friday, September 07, 2012

Fight fighfightifightifif

So here's where I, in my role as a soulless automaton covering the Nationals, tell you the fight means nothing. Good teams get into fights. Bad teams get into fights. Average teams get into fights. I'm not going to begrudge the beat guys if they try to milk it for all it's worth (you try to come up with original and interesting angles 130 games into a season) but any talk about "this shows what kind of team this is!" is a non-starter with me. Winning is the product of talent with a good dash of luck on top. Compare winning and losing teams and that's where the differences will lie. Attitude, chemistry, grace under pressure, etc. is mostly a side show, meant to make us feel that we can overcome gaps in talent and luck by sheer force of will, when 999 times out of 1000 we can't. All this fight shows is the Cubs pushed the right macho buttons on the Nats and the Nats responded.

Were the Cubs right to jump on the Nats for still going all out? No way. A 7-2 lead in the 5th is not a given. I do think it's silly to compare this game to the blown 9-0 lead versus the Braves. The Braves are good, the Cubs are terrible. The Nats have the playoffs and division pretty much sewn up and don't NEED the win. The Nats have only given up more than 5 runs in a game, let alone the last 5 innings of one, 3 times in the past 20 games* so a 7-2 lead for the Nats isn't the same as a 7-2 lead for other teams. But even with all that being said, 5 run lead in the 5th? That's not the time to ease off. And even if you don't NEED the win, you still want it, for home field advantage, and for the same reason you wanted all those wins before. No. You keep pounding a team when they are down until they are out. That's the lesson you want drilled into your team as they head into the do or die playoffs where one loss can mean everything.

The Marlins are next and the Nats get one more AAA pitcher in Jacob Turner before facing a real major leaguer again. Tonight is more importantly Strasburg's last home game. Enjoy it and this next week or so, because everything after that last game in Shea will be analyzed as post-Strasburg.

*Pitching, pitching, pitching!

Thursday, September 06, 2012

What to watch - Award Races

For me, the season is "over" now. The NL East is won, so we should just pack it up and get in some much needed reading before October, right? Oh ok, you want to watch baseball because the Nats are really really good or something. So what can you focus on, other than "don't get hurt" on as they beat up on teams like Cincinnati Chicago? (me - Must have been thinking ahead to the NLCS) One thing is the award races . 

OK not this one. Don't even bother. The Nats may have as strong a 1-7 as anyone, but it's balanced.  Werth might be the best hitter but he's only played 53 games. Ian is arguably the most complete player this year but he's only played 105 games. Zimm is the face, is also complete, but he spent months slumping so he'd need a moster September to get the numbers he needs. LaRoche has played the most with good hitting but it still hasn't been great, he's had his shares of slumps, and most people would rank him the 4th or 5th most important offensive player on this team right now.

It's McCutheon's to lose, assuming the Pirates stay in the playoff hunt.  .345, 24 HRs, 93 RBIs.  If they crash then it's wide open but still no Nats. I'd bet on Posey then

Recently this award has opened up to be more than "who had the most wins" but it hasn't opened up that much.  Wins are still important, with ERA, Ks, IP and let's say WHIP as a generic stat of general dominance, factored in.  When Felix pulled off his Cy Young year with 13 wins, he led the league in ERA and IP and was second in Ks (by 1) and WHIP. Plus no one else was right behind Felix in all these but with substantially more wins.

This means ZNN is out. He has only 9 wins and he's really not in the Top 10 in any list except ERA and BB/9.  Detwiler and Jackson are non starters.  Here are the current challengers, including Gio and Stras, with W/L record and ERA, K, IP, and WHIP rank  (Yes I know K and IP will go together but voters aren't going to go down to K/9, which favors Stras and Gio, unless they are really stuck on who to vote for)

Cueto : 17-7, 1st, >10th, 4th, 9th
Dickey : 18-4, 2nd, 2nd(t), 2nd, 2nd,
Gio : 18-7, 7th, 3rd, >10th, 6th,
Strasburg : 15-6, 6th, 2nd(t), >10th, 7th, 
Cain : 13-5, 8th, 9th, 6th, 3rd,
Lohse :  14-2, 4th, >10th, 8th, 5th 
Kershaw :  12-8, 3rd, 1st, 1st, 1st

I'm thinking Dickey.  Strasburg has been very good but is just one of this pack and will drop in some of these with the loss of those last starts. I don't think Lohse or Cain have a Felix type case going on.  Kershaw might, but Dickey is basically right behind him and has 6 more wins. Cueto has the WAR fans (thanks to pitching in a much less pitching friendly home park) but anyone that compares Dickey and Cueto and does the first level dig down that I did would have to go with Dickey.  Gio has an outside shot but he'll need to finish strong and hope for Dickey to fall back because right now R.A. is beating Gio across the board.


Bryce almost played himself right out of the award talk, but with his recent hot streak (.333 with 7 homers, 4 doubles and a triple in the last 18 games) he is right back in it, though still probably in 3rd place. Leading the pack is probably Todd Frazier.  His line of .289 / .347 / .531 18HR 62 RBI beats Bryce's line  .259 / .330 / .449 17 HR 47 RBI stat for stat. You could argue that Bryce smokes Frazier on the basepaths (13 steals to 3) and in the field*, but I'm not sure voters will see it that way. Frazier has also been seen as more integral to his teams' success that Bryce. 

The other possibility is Wade Miley.  14-9, with a 2.90 ERA.  164 IP, 117 K and only 30 BB. (WHIP 1.123).  He's good but he isn't THAT good that voters feel they have to vote for him. I do believe that he can make that case though. He'll never get the Ks he needs but with a couple good starts and some luck he could be top 3 in ERA, top 5 in WHIP, and have 17 wins by seasons end. That's hard to ignore.

What Bryce does have though is that he's Bryce. The media is obsessed with him and every little thing he does.  If he's close I think he'll win by sheer force of personality.  I'd still rank him third right now, but maybe even just one more hot week will close the gap enough.  If in 10 days Frazier is hitting .285 with 19 homers and 65 RBI and Miley is 15-9 with a 2.95 ERA and Bryce is hitting .268 with 20 homers and 55 RBI? I think that's enough to make it a toss-up.

Manager of the Year 

People don't think alot about this but Davey has as good a case as anyone. The Nats are the best team in the league and were 80-81 last year. Who else has a shot?  Dusty Baker has the Reds fighting for that top NL spot and they were a middling 79-83 last year. Thing is he was also the manager in 2010 when they were 91-71 so do you give the guy an award because his team is much better this year under him, if just last year they were disappointing under him? I don't think so.  No, Dusty only comes in if the Reds get hot and the Nats go cold.  Otherwise the competition is Clint Hurdle.  The Pirates were 72-90 last year and are close to being in the playoffs this year. If they do it, I think he wins it.  If they fall well short - like 5 games out - I think it's Davey's.  Something inbetween? A last week knockout? Tough to call but I think the Pirates continuing terribleness will give Hurdle the edge.

*We've talked about this once or twice but fielding stats are best used as a guide looking over multiple years. Looking at one year of fielding stats is kind of like looking at 50 games of hitting. So is Bryce a "great" fielder? Don't know yet. Won't be sure for a couple years. We do know he's fast and has a fantastic arm, so he could be one. But we also know he's not the best reading balls off the bat. It's kind of a funny thing here. A lot of baseball fans love to say "The preponderance of stats lie! My eyes tell me how a guy fields!" but with Bryce it's the opposite "My eyes tell me he's not super-great but if this smattering of stats tell me otherwise, I'll believe it!"  Really it goes to show you that this isn't about belief in stats, it's about backing up what one wants to believe. 

Wednesday, September 05, 2012

It's Over

Pop the champagne! Pull up the banners! Print out the T-Shirts! Re-dust that spot on the mantle and put out the trophy!  (They get a trophy right? They should get trophies.)

The Nats are NL East Champions!*

*According to me. 

Say what you want about how this or that happened in the past. You remember that because it was unique.  The most common thing to happen with a big lead is you maintain it or expand on it. There are two other good teams in the NL East right now. One has a mental block that prevents them from succeeding, the other dug themselves such a big hole they only recently crawled past the dreck into 3rd.  If the Nats crash and go 7-20 the Braves still have to go 14-12. The NATS HAVE THIS. 

I don't have much to say about the games going on. The Cubs stink, and they rolled out a bad pitcher last night He had a 4.55 ERA in AAA this year. 4.00 ERA last year. He walks too many. He doesn't strike out that much. He gives up hits. He gives up home runs. He's here to fill a rotation spot because there is no one else to do so.  He's Mike Bacsik.  The pre-2011 Nats used to roll this guy out and hope he'd do just well enough that they'd somehow squeak out a win.  The post-2011 Nats pound guys like this. The NATS HAVE THIS.

What happens now? Stay healthy. That's about it. Keep playing hard, obviously, but stay healthy. Keep pitchers well rested. Give everyone some days off. Start thinking about getting these guys ready for that first playoff game.

Tuesday, September 04, 2012

Tuesday Quickie - my magic number

At the end of the Braves series I had the Nats "Harper-approved magic number" set at 8.  Not 8 more Nats wins/ Braves losses, but instead if the Nats got an 8 game lead I'd call the division for the Nats. Since then, I've lowered it to 7 (with fewer games left to play it has to go down) and the Nats almost got there twice. First the Nats blew it to the Cards on Saturday, then Papelbon melted down like a popsicle clutched in a toddler's hand. Oh well, while the Nats can presumably win most, they can't win them all. I bet some people are probably glad that didn't happen, just so I couldn't call it and jinx the team.

What the next week and a half amounts to is this. The Braves have to keep the Nats close enough so if they were able to sweep the Nats in that next series, making up the remaining games is feasible. The first part "Braves keep Nats close enough" is not likely but it could happen. The second part, the "sweep the Nats" part is where we start to drift into fantasy. Atlanta is 5-10 versus the Nats and is far more likely to get swept than sweep. But hey we've all seen teams lose series, so we have to maintain that as a possibility.

Anyway since we didn't do it on Friday

If the Nats went .500 for the rest of the year (which isn't likely) they would finish 96-66.  The Braves then, would have to go 21-6 to take the division (since a tie would go to the Nats)

We've already put the Nats in the playoffs over a month ago, but to prove that point even further, in the above scenario with the .500 finish, the Cardinals and Dodgers would have to go 23-4 and 23-3 respectively to force the Nats into a playoff for the wild card.

What else is there to talk about? Strasburg I guess. His last start is now penciled in for September the 12th.  That's pretty much what I figured.  I thought he'd make it to the last Braves series, and it just works out that he's going to miss it entirely. Whether you are in favor of it or not, the real shame of the shutdown is that whatever happens after that, the whole season will be framed by this decision. Any playoff series loss, outside of four epic 2-1/1-0 losses, will engender a "What if?" scenario.  A World Series win will take on an air of overcoming adverstiy/Rizzo can do no wrong. Instead of a good team, playing well getting the accolades it deserves for what will be in any case a successful season, we'll get even more armchair psychology than normal.*  Few things bother me more than lazy sportswriting that ignores analysis of the games and instead focuses on hazy concepts and hard to define, impossible to prove feelings as the drivers for results. This shutdown is going to bring on the laziest of lazy.

*Since the Nats have never been in the playoffs before the two story possibilities are as follows.  If they win it'll be "They didn't know that they should feel pressure" and if they lose it'll be "They weren't prepared for playoff pressure".