Nationals Baseball: October 2012

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Gold Glove Throughts

Adam won it.  Ian didn't. Danny really should have been a finalist... Anyone care about these things? For years the awards were our way of looking at disparate stats (for example on offense : average, RBI, HR, etc.) and deciding which player had the best combination that year given his various circumstances. It was a stamp that signified "Yes you were the best at X this year" because we knew no better way of doing it.

Now of course we do know a better way.  Not a perfect way of course, just a better one, relying on statistical analysis to at least narrow the award fields to a couple of legitimate choices from which whatever personal bias you prefer to throw in there can make the final decision. It's the way things are slowly moving and frankly it's a pretty boring end point. At some point the analysis will be good enough to make all the choices a 1 in 3, 1 in 4 affair at best and more often than we'd like, a obvious no-brainer. Yawn.

What advanced statistical analysis should let us do now is liberate the awards from any sort of statistical backing. Not just Adjusted OPS, (fWAR+bWAR)/2, and UZR but also RBI, AVG, and W.  We know who is the best X this year. That's settled. Why argue about it? What's the point in having an award that says "Yes, 2+2 does equal 4."?

Future votes shouldn't be framed like that.  It should just be "who do you think is the best".  Have fun with it.  Stress that "valuable" in MVP like some people do and explicitly say that means what ever you want it to mean. Best player down the stretch? Sure. Inspirational story? Sure. Most fun player to watch? Sure. Let it be everything. Awards are silly emotional things so just run with that and encourage people to vote anyway they want.

Except Adam LaRoche for MVP.  That's just stupid.

Friday, October 26, 2012

Wrapping up EJax

On a bit of a vacation so this will be brief.  I'm going to leave out any sort of deal talk involving some of the other pitchers because I didn't get a chance to grab all of them.  Thanks to Alan Fawcett, Alex Howard, Robert Schiff, Wally, Chaos, Chaz R, and John Doerr for the E Jax questions, which I've combined a bit here.

Outside of a FA acquisition or trade, who would fill the void? Lannan? Garcia? Duke? Who's in the minors?

Lannan is the obvious candidate.  He's a pitcher the Nats (or at least Rizzo) don't particularly like, who makes a lot of money (relatively), who will be a free agent after next year, but who is young enough that his value as a back of the rotation guy should be stable enough to attract attention. Therefore you pitch him, don't really hurt yourself (because he is a decent #5) and you try to deal him.

Outside of Lannan pickings get slim fast. Everyone likes what they saw of Garcia but the 64 innings he pitched this year were his most since 2005.  He needs to be stretched out and it'll take a year at least. On the older side the Nats had Zack Duke look ok in AAA this year.  Once a Pirate staple, now a baseball vagabond, he's likely to take a job that gives him a better shot at a major league rotation.  I'd expect to see Yunesky Maya, if only because Rizzo hates to admit a mistake, although he did have a decent AAA season.  As for younger pitchers, you might see a Jeff Mandel or a Trevor Holder depending on how their 2013s go, but neither are considered good prospects.

What is then promising for the future that we might see next year? Two names, Daniel Rosenbaum and Alex Meyer.  Rosenbaum is more likely to be seen first, having already pitched well in AA.  He's improved consistently in the minors, has excellent command, and is a ground ball type of guy.  He's not young per se but just young enough. Meyer is the true prospect, live arm type of guy who has been progressing ok for a year now, but he's only hit high-A so far so I really doubt you'd see him before September.

Should they give him a qualifying offer?

Yes.  Edwin is good enough that you wouldn't mind having him back next year at fair market value and you don't want to lose a potential draft pick you would get by making the offer.  There isn't a terrible downside here unless you think the Nats REALLY want to jettison EJax.

Without Edwin Jackson would the rotation worse than what he started last year with?

Well maybe technically, but it wouldn't be worse than what Rizzo thought he had when he opened 2012.  Strasburg is guaranteed the whole year. ZNN was great.  Gio blossomed into a Cy Young contender.  Detwiler looks better than Edwin.  In hindsight yes, losing Jackson will potentially make it worse, but the Nats will be opening with much higher expectations from the rotation with or without him

Thursday, October 25, 2012

What to do about : Edwin Jackson

The Adam LaRoche / Mike Morse situation is the most pressing thing facing the Nats this offseason. The second most pressing? Edwin Jackson's future. That's a good thing, when your second most pressing issue is clearing up your 4th/5th place starter position. The Nats are a pretty settled ball-club that just won 98 games. But you only get to 98 if you have that rotation settled on so let's get to it.

First let's traipse through E Jax's  fancy stats and compare them to the rough 2-year average I calculated earlier in the year. First the "lucky" ones

BABIP :  .278 (.320) 
HR/FB :  11.7% (9.4%)
LOB% :  71.2% (72%) 

It really does look like Edwin had things more go for him than against him that year.  That is a big drop in BABIP from his previous two years.  Given that everything else here and below are pretty stable, it's probably not because he suddenly became a better pitcher.  Now it could have something to do with the Nats team. The BABIP for the team was at .282. There may be a little luck there but it's mostly great defense.  That doesn't mean that the .320 he had in the past was just a team issue and he'd put up another .278 if he came back with the Nats. Edwin averaged around .025 pts higher than the team BABIP over 2010-2011. More than likely he'd be looking at a .305 or so, maybe a little less given you have to take into account how he did this year.  Let's say about 12 or so more non HR hits in the year.  That's more baserunners, more runs given up, etc. etc.   The other numbers are stable. You might expect a couple fewer homers or so. Overall I'd expect next year to feature very slightly worse pitching from Edwin* given all else being equal.

*I'd expect a very slight increase in xFIP which would mean an ERA expectation of about 3.80 / 3.85 or so, but that would be a better ERA.  That's the way it breaks sometimes. 

GB :  47.3% (46%)
K/9 :  7.97 (7.4)
BB/9 :  2.75 (3)

Everything here trended right.  He gave up more GBs, struck out more guys, and walked fewer. At the same time nothing was that different than it was before.  A little bit of growth maybe but given his age and the small changes I doubt we're going to see continued improvement in these, at best you can hope for is stability.

So what does that all mean. Pretty much Edwin Jackson IS the pitcher he was in 2010 and 2011 which is a guy with an ERA likely to be just under 4.00.  There really isn't anything down deep in here, unless you want to bite on the idea that the end of the season and his playoff performance were indicative of something (I don't other than Nats fans would not like to see him out there next year).  Now, having a guy like that as your 4th or 5th starters... that's pretty good.  Looking at his ERA and his xFIP and the above... I'd put him in the 30-40 range of NL starters. On a bad team he'd be your #2, on your average team, he'd be a 3rd starter, on a good team he's 4th. For the Nats he could be 5th.

Is that worth 11 million a year? Yeah it roughly is given the innings Edwin throws out there. That's what the market says. (The Nats are getting HUGE bargains on Strasburg, Gio and ZNN in case you don't know) Is it worth 11 million to the Nats in 2013?  Probably so.  Is it worth it to the Nats as part of a multi-year deal though, that's the real question.  For one more year I could see it but as I've said before I don't think Rizzo's MO includes signing older pitchers to long term deals. I think on the open market Edwin will be offered a deal in the 4 years 50 million range? If he can't get that 4th year it'll still be close to 3 years 40 mill. I don't see the Nats offering that and I wouldn't either. Expect a 1yr 13 mill, or 2 year 20 mill deal floated out there for Edwin to reject.

The Nats like Detwiler meaning that unlike last year when they had only 3 spots sewn up before signing EJax, this year they believe they have 4 AND they don't need the innings as much with Strasburg out of his shutdown year.  I think they'll try to trade for a decent 5th starter type young arm but I could also see them doing something similar to last year, wait and see what value lies at the end of the FA year for a short-term deal, or possibly sign a older guy they like right away to a one year deal. Worst case is that fails and you roll with Lannan and use that spot to test out some young arms you like later in the year.

(I'll check the EJax Q's from last week tonight and make sure I addressed all the points - you'll see anything missed tomorrow) 

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Prosecution's Closing Statement

Boz takes questions and in with making up stuff about David Eckstein that didn't happen like he says* and talk of chemsity and stuff, he tries to defend Davey's Kozma non-decision:
"Davey said (last week) that he didn't want to walk the bases full and risk walking in the winning run. What he didn't say is that a .167 pitcher vs a rookie hitter ought to be an overmatch."
True enough, but that removes all context from the game.  Here are some other facts :
  • Drew had just gone walk, walk, single (albeit to a lefty). 
  • He had just blown the lead for his team in the top of the 9th of the deciding game. 
  • He was up to 22 pitches, had appeared in the previous two games, and had thrown 26 pitches the day before. 
  • Kozma had seen Storen in both previous games. He had lined out and walked. 
  • By walking Kozma you would either force the Cardinals closer, Jason Motte, out of the game, or force him to hit.
  • If Motte was removed for a PH, as expected, arguably their top 4 relievers would be out of the game. The Cardinals also had also already used Boggs, Mujica, and Rosenthal. 
.167 vs rookie says "keep Storen in and pitch to Kozma".

EVERYTHING ELSE says "no, don't do that".

*So he says basically the Angels were down 5-0, Dusty gives Ortiz the game ball, Eckstein goes crazy and whips the Angels into a frenzy. They comeback win game and series. Except I can find ZERO stories on line that tell that story. You know the media loves Eckstein with an undying passion. If that had happened it'd be noted somewhere right? Instead I get Tim Salmon saying the game ball thing didn't matter. Plus when Ortiz was pulled there were two men on and Spezio, the next guy up, hit a homer so what did Eckstein do? Run out to the plate and start screaming in Spezio's face?  Eckstein gets enough love for not growing tall and running around a lot.  Let's not give him credit where it's completely not due, ok? 

Monday, October 22, 2012

Mailbag Monday

The Nats and first pitches  Matt Nowak

Like everyone, Matt noticed the Nats swung at a lot of pitches, and that includes first pitches.  He was curious on how they did on these pitches and if we'd see a change in philosophy that encouraged more patience.

Where did these stats come from? Baseball-Reference has first pitch swinging stats, and also gives you player-level stats for pitches put into play by count.  You can get first pitch strike stats from fangraphs.Given all the information I think there could be a lot you can tease out from here.  Unfortunately first pitch swinging strikes is not one of them.

So what does the information we do have say about the Nats and first strikes?   As expected the Nats swing at the most first pitches in the majors (32%) and that means they have a high percentage of first pitch "strikes"*, third in the majors at 61.6%.  The first number does not really track with success but the second number mostly does.  The Yanks, Braves, Rangers, A's, Tigers, and Cardinals are all in the bottom 10.  This doesn't preclude success (the Reds were 1st) but it does seem to point to a hole in the Nats game. They swing a lot at the first pitch, and that's ok, but they aren't all that great at identifying if the first pitch is a ball or not. I didn't get the exact percentage but they are 12th in the NL in 1-0 counts, even though they are 3rd in plate appearances.  That means they are not seeing a lot of counts in their favor.

*This includes ball put into play 

Who's the "worst" offenders.  As you'd expect, Ian Desmond swings at 47% of all first pitches (2nd in the major), Espy at 43% (7th), Bryce at 41% (10th).  Ian is 1st in first pitch strikes, Espinosa 6th (remember - includes balls put into play). So are the Nats going to change their ways? I doubt it and that's mostly ok.

You see if you can put the ball in play on the first pitch you usually do pretty well.  The league line for that is .333 average, .545 slugging (OBP is meaningless for first pitches).  The Nats do pretty well .326 / .539.  Now that is kind of a relative drop in hitting compared to overall. They were 8th in the majors is OPS but only 17th on first pitches, but it's still nice number to have.  If you can put the ball in play. And for someone like Desmond this appears to work.  His 1st pitch swinging percentage is WAY up, and he's had the season of his life.

The question is not if first pitch swinging is a good idea, it's is this philosophy being applied in the right way for everyone. Some guys can't do it.  Zimmerman rarely swings at the first pitch and is terrible when he makes contact (at least this year).  His line was .143 / .159 / .286.  The uber patient Werth also doesn't swing much at the first pitch (Suzuki is the only other Nats regular under league average).  When Jayson does swing he does make good contact (.333) but his power is not all there (.467 SLG). Danny doesn't have a problem when he makes contact but given his high strike number on the first pitch and overall low average I bet there are a ton of swings and misses there. He might be better served with a more patient approach.

The Nats aren't going to stop the aggressiveness. As a team it's worked very well.  Perhaps next year other teams will catch onto it and will feed the Nats more junk on the first pitch, but let's see them do it before adjusting.  However, they need to look at how it is effecting these players on an individual basis.  They may be letting Werth and Zimm get a pass because they are vets but they shouldn't try to apply this as a blanket policy to all their young players.

Tampa Trades

Several people were interested in trades with the Rays for pitching.  Why? Well the Rays have a bunch of good pitching and have offensive needs.

Would you trade Morse for Cobb? Wally
In a heartbeat.  Strictly contract/age wise it's a no-brainer.  Morse is 30 and will make nearly 7 mill next year and then will be a free agent.  Cobb is 24 and he's in pre-arbitration meaning he'll be a free agent sometime around the World Cup in Qatar (which isn't the next one).  Also Alex Cobb is built for this team.  He throws lots of groundballs, (58.8% - best on the Rays)  Of course that being said I see no way Tampa makes this deal.

 How about Shields for Morse and prospects? OCW or Espy & Morse & prospects? Wally

Ok so same information deal - Shields 30 can make 9 mill next year, 12 million year after (team options).  Danny 25 free agent in 2017. Let's assume for a moment I want Shields. I think we're looking at something in-between these two suggestions. Yes I love Danny the player but if you honestly look at his stats, well they weren't good this year, at least offensively. They were fine but the Nats are selling low. Even with all that control, I'm not sure Danny for Shields would happen. If that's a maybe not then Morse and prospects is a non-starter unless that prospect is Rendon or a couple pitchers. (which the Nats wouldn't do right now).  Espy and Morse and prospects would get it done but would be too much for the Nats to give up in my guess.  I'm thinking Espinosa and Rosenbaum maybe would be the market price. 

That being said I don't do it.  Without security that Rendon is going to fill in, you could be suffering a big drop by trading Danny.  Lombo could easily be a .260 singles hitter with less range and speed. Plus Shields is 30. As much I like AL guys moving the the NL, no, don't do it, unless you "win" the trade.
And what about David Price for one of our MIs?
Kevin Harris

Understand Price will cost you. He's only 26, he's under team control until 2016.  If the Rays trade him it's an arm and a leg.  (My guess is the cost is too high for anyone to do it now)  How high?  Desmond straight up won't do it.  Desmond & Rendon might not do it.  You might think that's absurd (Desmond plays every day!) but look at what top pitchers get paid. Now look at what players like Desmond gets paid.  THAT'S the value of these guys. Desmond is a player with one good year under his belt. Rendon, for all his potential, is still a guy with health concerns that got injured like a month into his first pro season and has yet to hit above A ball. Price is a #1 starter.  There's no comparison here. So what about Desmond & Rendon & Rosenbaum? Ok maybe you're getting somewhere. (I'm being honest here - remember it's your tendency to way overvalue your own guys.  There's a Rays fan somewhere reading this and saying "A decent SS, and two unproven minor leaguers? Ha!  Do you think the Nats will give us Bryce?" 

Thing is I'd do it.  Price is young and cheap and is moving from the AL to the NL. He could be DOMINANT. A rotation of Price, Stras, Gio, and ZNN set for the next 3 years, with the top 3 in DC for four? That is a stamp your playoff ticket in April rotation. That's a "one-guy goes down maybe you have to fight for the division" rotation. Hitting? You can pay for hitting, you can find hitting.  Bryce will be a star. Zimm is good if  he's healthy. Werth will be decent. There's a core there that's good enough without the guys you are giving up. I mean that's a historic era-defining rotation.  Myabe Detwiler will grow into that 4th but I say when you get a chance like that, to make history, you do it.  I don't see it happening, but there you go.

Friday, October 19, 2012

Mailbag Friday*

From now on the Mailbag will be on Mondays. Or maybe Tuesdays... we'll see how it shakes out, but definitely not Fridays.  Turns out that people actually read this blog so I got more than the 2-3 questions I expected.  Which is great! Except looking through them and responding by Friday is a bit daunting when you have a job and family and stuff. Monday works better because that gives me the whole weekend to get this done.

But still a promise is a promise and elephants never forget or something like that. So I will answer a couple questions today. The most common questions had to do with the Edwin Jackson/5th starter situation and either LaRoche or Morse, which in my mind are inexorably linked. A lot of good points were brought up but I'm going to try to address them in single posts.

What to do with.... Danny Espinosa? (Rob Evans, Evan Slagle, David Leyva, Chaz R, Keith Watts, and Rea Hederman)

So alot of people seem to be worried about Danny Espinosa. I know why, but I also don't. Let me explain that second part. You see Danny's offense was not terrible. He ranked 14th in qualified 2nd basemen in OPS which basically makes him league average. If that were his only attribute than sure maybe you try to replace him (though finding decent 2nd basemen isn't easy), but Danny does everything else well.  On the basepaths he's a plus, stealing 20 bases to only 6 caught, and having a rather high "speed" score, top 10 for 2nd basemen. In the field he is one of the better 2nd basemen in the majors, using fantastic range to cover the right side of the field. Top 5 type for 2nd basemen. The total package makes him one of the top 10 best 2nd basemen in the league (I could say higher based on his WAR but let's leave it as Top 10).  If having a Top 10 2nd baseman is a problem, then I don't want to be... without... a problem?

Anyway I do understand though why people worry about his production.  

His first and last impressions were bad.  It's pretty standard thinking that you remember the first and last things a person does.  Danny's first month was terrible (.205 /.300 / .269).  His postseason was worse (.067 / .176 / .067). People thought he stunk, carried it through the year, then saw it validated at the end

His comparative peer was awesome.  It's only natural to compare players in similar situations.  See : Bryce Harper and Mike Trout. You compare young middle infielders to other young middle infielders. Turns out there is one just across second and he's making Danny look bad. Last year Ian Desmond's .253 / .298 / .358 line was terrible and in comparison Espinosa's .236 / .323 / .414 looked ok. This year Desmond broke out and hit .292 / .335 / .511.  Danny's line of .247 / .315 / .402 wasn't too far off what he did the year before but now the bar has moved way up.

The guy behind him had a much higher average and struck out a lot less.  We can talk about Steve Lombardozzi vs Espinosa until... well not very long.  Danny is better (walks more, hits for way more power, fields better, is probably a better baserunner). BUT let's admit it, even though we've all grown to understand some of what matters and what doesn't in statistics, we still gravitate first toward the classics. Batting Average.  Strikeouts. Espinosa hit .247 this year. Lombardozzi hit .273 and was at .280 as late as mid September.  Espy struck out like every 4th at bat. Steve every 9th.

He did get worse compared to last year and he was the worst regular hitter on the team. It's not like Danny haters are completely crazy.  He didn't get much worse but if you want improvement and you get regression that leaves a bad impression.  At the same time if the offense fails like it did in the playoffs it's only natural to look to see what you can improve. Granted he was the worst mainly because the Nats had no holes, but that doesn't mean he wasn't still the worst.

So what to do with Danny? Nothing really, certainly not for next year in my opinion. He's a quality player who is cheap. You don't need an All-Star at every position. 

Will Danny ever be something more? It's doubtful he'll be a great player. Outside a brief AAA stint he was a .260 hitter in the minors which makes it hard to project something much better than what we've seen so far. The power should come back though. It was consistent in the minors, it was decent last year. I'd expect this year was an aberration. I think he could be a patient player but this isn't the team for him to do it on. (in fact you could say the team's penchant for aggressiveness works against Danny's strengths) Still, I wouldn't give up the dream just yet. Ian Desmond's progression gives us hope. He had a similar minor league situation. Nothing special until a short AAA burst. A couple of ok (if that) years and then break out at age 26.  Danny will be 26 next year. With no FAs sitting out there (unless the Yankees for some reason don't exercise their option on Cano), and little in the minors until Rendon proves himself, sticking it out with Espinosa is the obvious answer.

Do teams hit worse in the playoffs? (Paul Andre Wilton)

Yes, in general. I looked at the last 10 years of playoff stats in comparion to regular season stats and the drops on average were 21 pts in batting average, 18 points in OBP, and 34 points in slugging.  Only 2010 saw any reasonable increase, where the slugging went up by 23 points. Other than that, any increase could have well been noise and there were plenty of legit decreases.

Why? Well the playoffs are only the best teams so you'll only get the best pitching. Ah, you say but don't you also get the best hitting too? Yep. But the pitching is even more concentrated.  Fifth starters are gone. Fourth starters might not get their chances either. Middle relievers that aren't any good just aren't used as you ride your best arms night after night. You don't get that type of concentration in hitting. You can't just lop off your 8th and 9th hitters. True you don't use your worst pinch hitters but you don't normally use the last PH off your bench like you may use the last man in the pen during the regular season either.

Is it odd for a single team them to have a post-season OPS well under .700, (the Nats had a .685 this year) when that is only for the worst teams during the season? Not at all. Plenty of examples.  In 2010 EVERY NL team hit worse than the Nats this year. The Reds got 11 hits in 3 games.

Slumps are going to be magnified in the playoffs because you aren't going to get that bad pitcher to get a couple of good swings against. It's nothing but good pitcher after good pitcher and what might have been a 4-20 slump in the regular season becomes a 2-20 one in the postseason.

Don't you hate pants? Asking for a friend (Rocket1124)

Actually I love pants. I love jeans in particular (regular fit), but dress slacks and khakis have places in my heart as well. I think a short sleeved shirt and pants are the perfect outfit from 50 degrees to 90 degrees. Here's a hint for you shorts wearers - no one wants to see your legs. No one. Shorts are for sports, swimming, and when you run out of pants. "Fun" fact : I pronounced khakis "cockies" until I was out of college. Never heard the word before college and assumed that's how you said it. I mean come on, look at that word and tell me "cocky" doesn't make more sense than "caaky"

Ok so I will definitely answer the "first pitch" question you posed Matt on Monday.  Was going to today but thought of something else I wanted to look at, plus quick looks at a couple others and definitely posts on EJax, Morse and LaRoche coming up in the next couple weeks.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

NL East Offseason

While we'll be looking at the Nats this off-season, trying to figure out how they deal with their issues big (what happens at 1st), moderate (what about that 5th starter), and small (no more DeRosas please), they don't play games in a vacuum.  Every other team in the NL East, which is now officially out of the playoffs,  (bad showing for the "best division in baseball".... hahahahhaha) is trying to get better too.  How they end up improving (or not) will play a big role in how the Nats do next year.  Let's take a walk around the division and see what they might be up to these next few months.

Atlanta Braves

The Braves are losing Chipper to and will likely lose Michael Bourn to free agency. Consequently, they'll need to fill holes at 3rd and center.  Since 3rd base is likely to be a weak spot in FA, the Braves will probably look to move Prado to the infield (where he'd rather be anyway) and try to find two outfielders.  The Braves have said they are willing to spend money so it'll be interesting to see who they come up with.  Early thoughts have them looking at Pagan in CF and potentially trading for that LF spot and they have the minor league pitching pieces everyone likes to get to make a nice deal. I can also totally see something like the Braves dealing a 2nd rate prospect for Adam Lind and watching him get back to hitting .280+. Stupid Braves.

Outside of that there isn't much going on here. The could let McCann go by not picking up his potion (they won't) or let David Ross go by not re-signing him (they won't) so the rest is fiddling with the bench and middle innings.  

Philadelphia Phillies

The starting pitching and the closer are fine, but the Phillies are kind of a mess offensively. Victorino and Pence are gone in trade and neither Mayberry nor Brown look like long term answers.  Poor Placido Polanco died at 3rd (1998-2012, Never Forget!). A healthy full year of Utley and Howard will certainly help but it can't be just them, Ruiz, and a prayer that Rollins can have 3 straight decent years (last done by him 2006-2008). They'd also like to shore up a pen that couldn't quite get games to their big name closer. 

They've shown no issues with spending money in the past, which is good because there's nothing in the minors to speak of to trade. There has been talk of going big, and it would make sense somewhat if they could limit those deals to 4 years or so.  They look like they are going to crash hard and ugly so they might as well double down on today.  That'll be hard to do at 3rd, so I look for them to be big players in the OF for "now" type players. Bourn for sure (even if Charlie Manuel likes Rollins at leadoff better - Amaro is not Charlie-dumb), but maybe Swisher or Hunter? A year of Suzuki? Phillies fans are holding out hope for Hamilton who would be scary in that park.

New York Mets 

The Mets could lose a couple of huge pieces in Wright and Dickey.  If they lose those you can forget about this team for the Nats planned success window. Most likely though it seems like they'll use their money to re-sign both these guys and that's about it.  That's not going to sit well for Mets fans who are desperate for the team to make a splash in free agency but Alderson isn't stupid and IF this team is going to be good it's not next year. It makes more sense to wait for Bay's and Santana's contract to come off the payroll ($41 million combined!) and see what happens.

Then again the 2014 class is going to be terribly weak so pulling the trigger a year early knowing fully well there will be little chance of improvement next year could be a smart move. Still I can't see the Mets making that gamble. I think they'd rather let their young starting pitching develop and wait till the pre-2015 offseason to make moves. I look for just a re-signing of Wright and Dickey, definitely a catcher, maybe a low-rent OF (can't be any worse than what they have got now) and some bullpen help. Unless that catcher is somehow Mike Napoli this team will be pretty similar to last year.

 Miami Marlins

The Marlins lose no one.  Whether that's good news or not depends on what you think of this team.  The best thing you can say is that they need so much help, it'll be hard for them to not improve in the offseason. The worst thing you can say is that they need so much help that it'll be hard for them to improve enough to matter.

Normally you'd think being up for a firstbaseman when a lot of teams aren't is a good position to be in but this is a weak class WITH LaRoche.  They'll have to sign someone but I think it'd be smarter to pick up someone super cheap and just put them there for now. Third base is another hole, but why compete when you have other pressing needs.  I think they just ride with the offense they have and hope everything comes together around Stanton.  Instead I see them trying to get a starting pitcher (or two) and putting money into the pen.  It's slapping a fresh coat of paint on what's a jalopy, but there is no reason to spend big money when your offense could show itself to be worthless this year and then where are you?

The Braves should be good again next year and with a couple of right moves could be really good.  The Phillies, if they decide to go all in (like they should) could also be right there. The Mets and Marlins, on the other hand, should both be in a holding pattern.  The Mets waiting for young pitching to blossom. The Marlins waiting for a miracle.  It's going to be a Nats/Braves division for the next few years, the question is whether the Phillies make it interesting for the first couple years, and/or the Mets make it interesting for the last couple. 

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Last thoughts on the shutdown (one hopes)

As someone that doesn't live in DC or the nearby area, covering the Nats gives me an interesting view on Washington sports. While writing this blog, in the columns I read, the interactions I have, I feel I gather a pretty good knowledge of how the DC area as a whole feels about a topic. At the same time when I'm not looking into Nats things, I'm exposed to the national view of DC topics. This has rarely been relevant, because since covering the Nats DC has rarely been relevant (in football or baseball, at least) but with the emergence of the Nats I have begun to hear the national media chime in on the Nats here and there. Of all things, this Strasburg shutdown has been crazy to follow.

Inside of the Nats world most people have either put their faith completely with Rizzo and his staff, or accepted the arguments they were making after deliberating the pros and cons. That's not to say it's been completely harmonious. A small but vocal segment did want Strasburg to pitch but even they understood where the Nats were coming from, and could be forced to choke down the maddening consistency of their decision making process. Outside of the Nats world, however, there was almost universal bewilderment and, surprisingly, actual anger. Not just from sportscasters, who you can't really trust since they are paid to spout nonsense to attract attention, but from regular fans. Guys just calling in to talk about sports in New York or North Carolina would express their disgust with the fact the Nats, a team they don't follow or care about, made this decision. I'm not talking, "Oh 2/3rds of the people out there wouldn't have shut Strasburg down" I'm saying I can probably count those that I heard either agreeing with the shutdown, or even saying "they get it", on one hand.

It's an incredible split, and one that in all honesty probably helps separate the people in DC that are in tune with the town, from those that are more national level guys who occasionally pose as locals. Again, not that you can't disagree with Rizzo, but if you read someone berating the shutdown decision and they back it with a knowledge that is clearly little more that "Strasburg is good!" then it's more a cry for attention than adding anything to the conversation.(and it's these people that did the most to hurt the cause of Strasburg pitching into October. Too much ignorable noise in with the reasonable analysis on the detractor side)

Now that the Nats have lost the "What if" game begins. We can never know exactly what would have happened but we can address some of the newer questions that have arisen.

If they kept pitching Strasburg then they wouldn't have pitched Jackson, who was terrible! 
Nope, they totally would have, for reasons we went over.  That's why he was 3rd even though that set up a R-R situation, which Davey likes to avoid.  Detwiler was the clear 4th man and in a Strasburg led rotation would almost certainly have been 1st man out.

It's good the Nats pitched Strasburg like they did because if they pitched Strasburg like Medlen then the Nats are a Wild Card team. 
It's possible, but rather unlikely. In Strasburg games before August the Nats were 14-7. To end up behind the Braves they would have had to have gone (assuming all else being equal) 9-12 instead.  Not impossible, but consider that in the non "Big 5" starts by Lannan, Wang and Gorzelanny, the team went 6-6.  Then also consider that Strasburg would have been pitching from the pen, strengthening that unit (imagine no Lidge or a lot less H-Rod).  Do they still manage to go under .500 over those 21 games?  The Nats were a very very good team, and it's likely while they were 14-7 with Strasburg, they'd have been like 12-9 or 11-10 without him. Not enough to change the tide.   Now if the Nats pitched Strasburg like Medlen and the Braves pitched Medlen like Strasburg...

If the Nats had planned early to pitch Strasburg all year long then they wouldn't have needed Edwin Jackson and therefore... something?
There have been a lot of hard feelings about Edwin Jackson since the end of the year.  He finished September with a 6.54 ERA and blew up in the playoffs. But for the 25 games before that he was a quality pitcher. If they don't sign Edwin then they are not only using Detwiler, who might have reacted poorly trying to pitch through that first rough patch where he lost his role, but probably Wang, who's early injury trouble seemed much more like an excuse to see how Detwiler pitches than an actual inability to start the season. They'd be more inclined to give Wang chances than they even seemed to be this year. Lannan also would have been in the mix, and he's fine, but could he have put up the 3.50 ERA Edwin did from April to August? I'm not sure. And at 166 IP, Ross Detwiler was already pushing his arm to it's season max.  What if he was at 190 now? Would he have been as effective? I would bet not. "The Nationals + Edwin Jackson - 5 starts of Strasburg" are better than "The Nationals + 5 starts of Strasburg - Edwin Jackson"

Monday, October 15, 2012

Monday Quickie

With a disappointing regular season we usually tackle the off season right away but that's in part because we've been looking that way for months. The end of the season is not the shockingly abrupt end that a playoff year creates, but rather the culmination of months of trades and minor league call-ups and arizona fall league roster questions. It lends itself to the final "concluding paragraph" that is the October 6th "Season in Review" column. Not that you can't tackle the post-season right away if you do fall in the playoffs, but I know I haven't given it much thought.
I do know that it mostly boils down to two questions, and the necessary follow-ups :

Do you resign LaRoche?
If not do you move Morse to first and sign an OF, or keep Morse in the OF and sign a 1B?

Do you resign EJax?
If not do you sign another starter?

My early guesses would be Yes and they try to trade Morse, and no and no, but like I said, it's early and I haven't looked much at what's out there. The rest of the necessary moves are bench and middle relief related, which is important, but not the most interesting thing to speculate out on in the middle of October.

While I fritter around exploring some ideas that I have, quantifying the Nats offensive injury luck in comparison to the league, talking about the supreme waste of time and money Wang was, let's try something that requires next to no effort on my part, a mailbag. I doubt this will work, especially given the fact that readership is bound to plummet, but what the hell, right? If I try it now and get 2 questions, then I know not to try it again for at least another year. We all know we can just fall-back on stealing the questions to Ladson.

Rather than fill up the comments section, if anyone's got any questions, go ahead and email me at the gmail address : natsoftheroundtable and I'll reply to them in a column say... Friday.

Friday, October 12, 2012


Its the flip side to what I said yesterday. For a team to stare elimination in the face and survive, another team must have success in their grasp only to watch it slip away at the last moment. The Nats went from the survivor to the eliminated in one night.

Go ahead and wallow, swear, pointlessly kick inanimate objects, whatever gets you through the weekend. There will be plenty of time later for reflection. For realizing that the season was a surprise success, and that next season looks bright. There will be months. For now, if you want, Be pissed. Ignore the rest of the playoffs. Whatever.

You can blame a lot of thing for the loss. The dead middle innings. Gio's start. Clippard's inability to hold the game. But other than the obvious Storen flame-out, I still point to Davey's use of Edwin Jackson as the turning point. In what had to be fueled by ZNN's dominating turn yesterday, Davey turned to a starting pitcher, infamous for his bad first innings, and asked him to get 3 outs vs the Cards top of the line-up. Edwin would end up only giving up one run but went through enough batters that the heart of the Cards lineup would be ensured another time up. All other moves were standard, and in fact hard to argue with (other than maybe letting Storen pitch to Kozma). This was Davey stepping outside the usual to do something no one agreed with. It was maddening.

Of course this wasn't just a game. It was a series. And it was a series that featured far more failures than successes. At the plate only Zimm and Desmond had good series. Morse was ok, Werth and Suzuki acceptable. The rest were different levels of bad. Detwiler was great, Clippard, Garcia ok. The rest again just different levels of failure. That is the shocking part. Gio, ZNN, Storen, Burnett, Stammen, Gonzo, E Jax ALL pitching poorly? Only Detwiler pitching good? Never would have expected that, even against a lineup like the Cards.


That's the kind of game you dream about in the postseason.  Oh it's fun to win, sure, but the postseasons isn't just about winning.  It's about winning when you think you could lose.  It's about riding the roller-coaster.  It's about staring elimination in the face and surviving.

I'm not saying a smooth ride to a title can't be fun (I'm looking at you 2008 Tar Heels and relaxing as I enjoy a beer in the 2nd half with your large lead! Woo!) but there is something to be said for getting there with some adversity.  There's no way around it.

This is a signature moment... but I will say the power of the moment will depend a lot on tonight's result and the rest of the playoffs.  The Nats need to finish this off for Werth's homer to really take on life as a legendary clout. Can they do it?

YES. Gio is better than Wainwright.  They are at home.  The bullpen has shown it can not simply hold the lead, but dominate the opponent.  Gio can't be as bad as last time. Matheny is managing the Cards* The only question is if the bats can wake the hell up or not. If they can the game might not be close.  If they can't, get ready for another heart attack inducing finish.

Called the Nats in 5.  Go Nats!

*When they brought in Lynn I honestly though the game was over.  But I REALLY thought "oh this is where Bryce makes his name with a homer, but it'd be cool if Zimm did it" so apologies to Werth for overlooking him.  Why did I think it was over?  Because Lance Lynn should not have been pitching then.  When you get to the 9th it's basically a series of one run games, and you should go through your bullpen from best arm to worst arm (with some exceptions for what part of the lineup is up).  Motte shoudl have been used. He wasn't. The Nats made the Cardinals pay big time.

Notes from the road :

I did catch the end of the game (from the 7th on) and the beginning till the top of the 4th.  Missed the middle but apparently nothing happened there?  

I find searching for weak AM radio stations you barely get airing the game kind of fun.  But I understand it's certainly something you can't do with non-baseball fans in the car.  Some people have no tolerance for broadcasts that are 65% static. 

Thursday, October 11, 2012

On the road

I'm driving to NY today so I'll be on the road for most, if not all, of the Nats game.  SO PLEASE WIN

At best I say it's a toss-up.  Any advantage the Nats have in fielding, relief, being at home, is mitigated by Lohse vs Detwiler. Not that Lohse is THAT much better but he is enough so anyone can win this game.

Does this strategy give the Nats the best chance at winning the series? I guess.  Let's say you like short rest Gio better than Detwiler. Well then you might put your odds at winning each game as

Game 4 : Gio : 60%
Game 5 : Det, et. al : 55% (I like the Nats pen to be a strength)

as opposed to

Game 4 : Det : 50%
Game 5 : Gio : 70%

so your chance of winning the series increased in the latter from 33% to 35%. Yeah these numbers are just guesses but the point of it is there. Even if you like Gio better than Detwiler the Nats do have a better chance at winning it all in the scenario they are going with.

Of course I say who cares? The increase is marginal at best (unless there is something to suggest short-rest Gio may be a train-wreck) and anything can happen in any game so when it comes to a decider - I say just get there and then worry about what to do. 

Allright - I'm off.  Good luck Nats. 

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

The biggest game of the year until the next biggest game of the year

Edwin Jackson pitches today.  If you are unclear why, some over-arching stats help explain it.

v RHP : .265 / .329 / .397
v LHP : .287 / .358 / .478

Edwin Jackson
v RHB : .236 / .293 / .385

Ross Detwiler
v RHB : .263 / .320 / .414

The Cards have a right-heavy line-up that does worse against RH pitching.  Edwin is a right-handed pitcher who does better than Ross, a left-handed pitcher, against righty heavy line-ups.

For those of you like "Well Zimmermann was right-handed and look what they did to him!" I'd bring up two points

1) ZNN actually pitched better against lefties.
v RHB : .268 / .295 / .428
v LHB :  .234 / .300 / .350

2) Yeah, well, that'll happen and there's nothing you can do about that.

Statistical analysis is a long term thing. Start Edwin vs the Cardinals 20 times and Ross vs the Cardinals 20 times and odds are very good Edwin will have the better stats at the end of this experiment. But start Edwin once and Ross once, and while you'd still expect Edwin to have the better stats, the odds drop a lot. Anything can happen in one game.  All you can do is set up your best chance for success, in this case starting Edwin this afternoon, and hope it works out.

That makes me double reluctant to say anything about Chris Carpenter.  The guy has started three games this year. Three! Forget small sample size, that's almost no sample size. I will say if he's healthy and on his game the Nats will have a hard time winning this game. He's better than Edwin. That being said, he's 37, coming back from injury and again, three starts, so who knows.

Any Cards hit Jackson especially well? Molina maybe (.667 with 2 homers) but that's 14 PA worth - so 3 games. I only mention it because it's SO overwhelmingly good. But again - 3 games. No real trends worth noting for the Nats vs Carpenter given the amount of at bats. 

Any good news for the Nats? Well, the park favors lefties over righties a bit, especially depressing doubles by righties.  The deeper gap in left is the culprit. You'd expect that then lefties might hit more homers, but the wall height discrepancy between the power alleys helps even that out.

Not much else left to say other than I really hope the sun doesn't play a major role in this game.  The early start I think will help if the game can move quickly enough. If it does play a role with the Cards messing up then great! If it plays a role with the Nats messing up... there's really no excuse for that. You play there all the time, you should be better at dealing with it than opposing teams, and from what I've seen this year the Nats aren't.

Go Nats!

Tuesday, October 09, 2012

You will know playoff pressure

Every playoff game is tense but it gets amped up to a whole nother level once your opponent is just a couple games from winning. It's not elimination game tense, but whereas in games 1 & 2 (thanks to the win in game 1) you might still have an ability to let the game unfold and see where it takes you, there is precious little of that going forward. You get maybe a run through the lineup before every at bat feels like it's the most important one in the world. Every out made by your team is by a player who doesn't care. Every run scored by their team is a pitcher who's terrible and a manager who's asleep at the wheel. It's intense and terrible and great all at the same time.

Of course there isn't an overwhelming reason for it to be. If the Nats lose game 3 they still only need to win back to back games at home to win the series. I'm not going to look but I imagine they've done that many many times this year. They wouldn't be favored to do so, but the odds probably wouldn't be all that low.  Fans can feel that palpable odds shift, though. From up 2-1 where you'd have to think they'd be favored to win the series 80-85% of the time, to down 1-2 where they'd be around 33% underdogs.  From "Ok we've got this" to "We're out".

Zimmermann's game was not a good omen for the rest of the playoffs, but for the series it matters little more than the loss. He won't pitch the rest of the series now. So the question of was it the Cardinals, or was it him pitching poorly like he's done a lot more coming down the stretch than he had all year is moot right now.  I'm more concerned with the fact the Cardinals hit up the bullpen. Part of the Nats strength is feeling they could go 4-5 guys deep in the pen and still get you out. Yersterday, Stammen was hit, Gonzalez was hit, and Burnett was hit. I suppose you could go Mattheus, Garcia, Clippard, and Storen, but out of those are you really confident about anyone but Drew right now? Let's just hope Jackson goes deep and the Nats get a big lead so we don't have to worry about such things.

Offensively the Nats did get some big hits, but they still aren't hitting like you'd want them to. Bryce is espeically frustrating.  He's going to get a lot of at bats at the top of that lineup, but he's not hitting, he's not walking, and he's providing a lot of empty strikeouts. I'm never in favor of line-up tinkering this late in the game so you just hope a return home will pick him back up.  The team has also only managed two walks off the Cards pen (both by Lynn).

It's not the end of the world yet. You want to split the away games. The Nats did that. They didn't take advantage of an opportunity to put the series awaym but they certainly did not blow it in any shape or form. In all honesty, the Nats are where they probably expected, if not wanted, to be.  Focus on that for now.

Monday, October 08, 2012

Monday Sickie

Not me, the li'l one, but I'm a bit pre-occupied. Still it means I'll be home at 4:30.

So ... WIN!

I know Gio looked bad, but it's not like he had bad stuff, he just had no control. So while he wasn't a "stud" in the traditional sense the Cardinals still couldn't get the big hit they desperately needed.  Of course you could have almost said that about the Nats too.  Thing is they did get plenty of hits, just spread out and no power. The moment of the game was of course Mattheus work, which came down to part skill (getting those ground balls) and part luck (those ground balls were hit right where the Nats needed them). I've been talking about that alot recently. You can't be as good as the Nats and not have skill and luck on your side. It's hard to make it through the playoffs without it either.  This is a nearly level playing field that includes only the best teams in the league.

I was about to write that today's game is huge, but in a 5 game series EVERY game is huge. Maybe that 3rd game is kinda less important if it is the Nats heading home at 2-0, but lose that game and the 4th game is huge so, it's kind of huge itself. It'll be interesting, both teams will be looking to be better at the plate.  The Cards have hit ZNN hard before (but not in the last start) so they'll be looking to get a lot of base knocks against him. The Nats will probably be looking to hit Garcia hard as well, including taking a few over the fence to make up for Sunday's power outage. Both could be mistakes.  ZNN can have his wild games and if you can get a wild game to exploit you should always try that first. Let them beat themselves. Garcia is one of the best GB pitchers in the game (better than Detwiler who's the most "groundbally" Nat) trying too hard to go big against him and it could be a busy day for Descalco and Kozma.

Force me to guess and I see two offenses trying too hard and getting little but this game could go in 1000 different directions, just like yesterday.

Sunday, October 07, 2012

Nats PLAYOFF preview

This is not a test.  This is not a dream.  This is the playoffs with the Washington Nationals.

You get the impression that the Cardinals might not be a good team, since they won "only" 88 games and clinched a playoff spot on the 2nd to last day, but that is far from the case.  The Cardinals run differential points is impressive. Scored 765 runs, Allowed 648 runs. That's better than the Reds, and much better than the Giants. So why didn't they win closer to the 93 wins you'd expect?  A bit of bad luck 21-26 in one-run games, 6-12 in extra innings, and 7-17 in 2- run games. But since roughly 40% of the way through the season the Cardinals have played like one of the best teams in the leauge. And I think that's how Nats fans need to approach this series.  The Nats are aren't playing a Wild Card team lucky to have made it.  They are playing one of the best teams in the league that's just a tick worse than they are.

My keys

Gio has to be a stud. The WC cost the Cards Kyle Lohse.  For all that you think about the guy he was one of the best pitchers in the majors this year. After him the Cards are a bunch of good but not great guys.  Normally this would be a big advantage for the Nats who basically had two of the best #1s and one of the best #2s all year long, but now that Strasburg's shutdown and ZNN has been up and down to end the year, the advantage basically boils down to Gio.  He has to shut down this Cards team.  It won't be easy.  They are ok with patience (I take back what I said earlier) and have a lot of righties that can mash. Freese and Beltran are basically Adam"MVP" LaRoche.  Holliday, Craig and Molina are better than any bat the Nats have. But if Gio can pace himself he should be able use on of the Cardinals weakness, a middle infield that can't hit, to relax and gear up for the next gauntlet

The Nats have to hit some home runs That's a silly key right? but not really.  The Nats weakness on offense is the lack of patience.  These guys don't take walks. Since the Cardinals don't give up a ton of walks then the Nats can't expect free passes. The batting average is good enough to compensate somewhat for that, but really this offense is driven by the long ball.  The Cardinals also don't give up a ton of homers but this is not a weakness vs a strength, like with walks.  This is a strength vs a strength and the Nats have to prove their unstaoppable force is better than the Cards immovable object.

The Nats defense has to be on the top of it's game. The Cardinals put the ball in play. High BA, low K's average homers. The Nats infield D, and to some degree their OF, need to make sure every out they can make is made. Occasionally we've seen it break down, be it wild tosses by Zimm, or bad routes by Bryce.  That can't happen in these games because 2-3 extra runs vs a Cardinal team capable in all aspects of the game likely means a loss.

I like the Cards to score runs.  Maybe not every game versus every Nats pitcher, since every Nats starts can spin gems, but in more games than not.  I like the Nats to score runs in more games than not, because there is no shutdown  pitcher that can keep the Nats completely down. It's going to be a barnburner but I'll give the Nats an edge because I think they are more likely to get two gems from their pitching staff than the Cards are. Thank the new WC kids.

Nats in 5.

Saturday, October 06, 2012

Quick calls on tonight's series

Detroit v Oakland 

Neither offense is really good, the Tigers are Prince/Miggy heavy while the A's are more balanced so the A's have a little edge there.  The A's also have a defensive edge.  The Tigers aren't as bad as you might think despite their corner infielders of doom, but the A's are good. The A's have good starters and a shutdown pen,while the Tigers have a great 1 and a very good 2, it kind of falls apart after that.

So of course I like the Tigers.  Why? Because Verlander is too good to not dominate a series at least once right? Right?

Cincinnati vs San Francisco

In your head you think Cincy=mashes it, SF= great pitching, but in reality the Reds have the better pitching and the Giants the better hitting.  You could argue the Giants should be able to squeak out enough runs and pitch around Votto so they can take the series. I'm not so sure.

I think the whole thing comes down to if the Reds can split the first two games.  The Giants Top 3 are good pitchers but fall off alot once you take them out of their home stadium.  The Reds hitting may not be great but put them up vs mortal guys and I think they can do enough to be the ones scoring just enough runs, while their pen shuts the Giants down.  In a normal series I like them to win at least two of the games in Cincinnati.

So I'll say they split 1 & 2 and take Cincy.

About last night

Nats playoff preview tomorrow - got stuffs to do. (besides the game isn't till tomorrow) 

The Infield Cry 

The BEST thing you can say about the call that led to yesterday's debacle is this:
The rule is written in such a way that allows for an interpretation so that the call made on the field is not technically incorrect.
That's it.  When that's the BEST thing you can say about a call, well, it's a terrible call. 

The rule as written is ths:
An INFIELD FLY is a fair fly ball (not including a line drive nor an attempted bunt) which can be caught by an infielder with ordinary effort, when first and second, or first, second and third bases are occupied, before two are out. The pitcher, catcher and any outfielder who stations himself in the infield on the play shall be considered infielders for the purpose of this rule.

When it seems apparent that a batted ball will be an Infield Fly, the umpire shall immediately declare ''Infield Fly'' for the benefit of the runners.
So the judgement calls lie in the terms "ordinary effort" and "when becomes apparent".

"Ordinary effort" is usually seen as two separate pieces. The first part explicit. Does the play requires an extraordinary effort to achieve?  For example, does the infielder have to dive or run full speed to make the play? The second part is implicit. Is the play itself extraordinary? We'll get back to this in a minute.

"When becomes apparent" is usually a second or two after the ball has been struck. Enough baseball has been seen by these umpires to understand very quickly, from contextual clues and from the flight of the ball itself, where a ball will land. If it falls in range for an infield fly, the hand goes up.  If not - no hand.

Why does the infield fly exist? As we all know it exists to prevent the infielder from purposely dropping a pop-up to turn a double play.  It exists to protect the offense. That is why the umpire must rule "immediately when apparent". To give the runners the time to determine whether or not they want to try to move forward based on what they see taking place, knowing that they are not forced to do so because the batter has been called out. It is also why the implicit understanding of "ordinary effort"exists. A high enough fly ball could be tracked down at a normal jog by an infielder as far as the warning track in some parks.  While requiring ordinary effort that would be an extraordinary play, and any purposeful drop would be impossible to turn into one out, let alone a double play.

This why the park erupted and why the internet was full of angry, embarrassed baseball fans. We've all seen enough baseball to understand a SS that deep in LF was not an ordinary play, and that to turn two from a planned drop would be likely impossible. We understand that the call was made at such a late time that the runners would not be able to obtain any benefit from it. It was not an infield fly call as we have come to know it.

Under the BEST interpretation of the rule, which is in fact the normal, everyday interpretation we see used throughout the season, the protest of the play would have been upheld. However, MLB was not interested in the best interpretation, only if an interpretation existed that could technically defend the umpires call so the games could move on. Such an interpretation does exist.

As I said ANY flyball could in theory be called an infield fly by the rule as written, it's just as judgement call for the umpire on the infielder's effort.  It's not even based on whether a DP is possible off a drop, it is just on effort. A short high fly to left field could be fielded by the SS so therefore it was technically correct.

When did it become apparent that the play would take ordinary effort is again open to interpretation.  The LF ump called IF when Kozma camped under the ball. Should he have been able to determine if Kozma was going to reach the ball with ordinary effort before that? Yes, of course. But can you say it wasn't apparent to him until the infielder was actually under the ball waiting for it to drop? Yes, that is the very last minute you can say that, but you CAN say that.

What you essentially saw last night was a blown call by the LF ump, most likely because he was playing far deeper than he normally would and such assumed the IF/OF interaction was happening closer to the field than it really was.  Because all the controversial aspects call were based on an umpires judgement, the remainder of the umpires did not want to call him out.  It is one thing to say I saw something you did not, it's another to say, I saw what you saw but what you decided from that was incorrect. After that happened it was easy for MLB to rule to deny the protest, because an interpretation of the rule could be made that followed the course of action on the field. It may have in fact been the worst interpretation of the rule, twisting the rule to cover the decision, rather than using the rule as a guide to protect the offense, but it was a valid interpretation.

Friday, October 05, 2012

Playoff Baseball in 3, 2...

Is the tension killing you? Just wait until you get to an actual game.

So playoff previews are out until tonight's game is decided.  I'll hopefully have one tomorrow though for you to peruse.  Today will be just some odds and ends

Live Something or Other

I couldn't NOT cover game 1 live, right? So I'll be somewhere on the internets doing just that. Do you guys prefer a Cover it Live type of thing? Is twitter good enough? Are you going to be so into the game you don't care if I'm out in the yard pruning the azaleas?

Wild Card predictions

I like the Braves to beat the Cardinals. Medlen's control plays to the Cards weakness of not being patient. Lohse's been ok but recently prone to the long ball (7 in his last 8 games) and he's not a lefty which means that middle of the Braves line-up looks much better.

Freeman OPS vs LH starters : .752, vs RH starters .822
Heyward OPS vs LH starters : .721, vs RH starters .867
Jones OPS vs LH starters : .697, vs RH starters .934

Braves get to Lohse pretty early, Medlen and pen shut the Cards down.

I like the Rangers to beat the Orioles. Both teams rely heavily on the long ball to score runs, but the Rangers hit much better, meaning they score more runs while the O's are more of a 3 homer, 4 run, watch the pen hold 'em type of team. Joe Saunders' year isn't a fluke really.  He's had strikeout years this good (5.8 K/9), and walk years at least in the area of this this good (2.0 BB/9).  This year he put it together.  But still he's not a strikeout pitcher, and he's not a GB pitcher (43.1%), so expect a lot of flyballs and some to go out of the park. He's given up 4 in his last 4 games (and 2 solo, 2 1-run so it didn't inflate his ERA)  Darvish strikes out more (10.4 K/9), gets up more GBs (46.2%), and while he had had control issues this season he's only given up 10 walks in the past 7 games, compared to 59 strikeouts.  While maybe the Orioles are able to tag one, I just don't see them scoring enough to win.  I see the Rangers holding a lead and steadily building on it, until busting it open knocking Saunders out. Orioles comeback but it's not enough.

Media Playoff Predictions

I've seen a fair amount of Nats World Series predictions.  Of course Scott Boras' Lambchop, Mr. John Heyman, picks the Nats but he's not alone. The Nats are 6-1 in odds right now trailing only the Reds and the Yankees (and you have to figure the Yankees odds are inflated because of their popularity*) which would put them 3rd out of 6  out of the non WC teams.

The ESPN mutli-"expert" picks break down like this :

Lose in NLDS : 12
Lose in NLCS : 9
Lose in WS : 3
Win WS : 5

That's a little interesting. Those that like the Nats as the class of the NL think they are the class of the league as well. There are a fair amount though, that don't like the Nats at all.  Contrast that to the American League where only 4 of the 29 have the Yankees losing to the WC winner (all Texas - only 6 think BAL will win tonight)

*not that Vegas has a Yankee bias, but more people like the Yanks and will pick them to win then should based on talent and those bets would drive the odds down

Strasburg Shutdown matters

We don't know what the playoff rotations are just yet but because of the off days the Nats could see Medlen or Lohse in Game #3 on regular rest. If Strasburg was still here I would say this

Strasburg vs #2 : ++ advantage
Gio vs #3 : +++ advantage
ZNN vs #1 : - disadvantage

Gio is basically another #1, so him versus anyone's #3 is in the Nats' favor bigtime. ZNN is like a good #2, so while you'd still like the other teams #1, you wouldn't be surprised if ZNN hung right in there. Now it's more like 

Gio vs #2 : ++ advantage
ZNN vs #3 : ++ advantage
Jax/Det vs #1 : -- disadvantage

That second game is still in the Nats favor, but it's not the seeming lock it was before, at the same time what was almost a toss-up in game #3 becomes one you expect the Nats to lose.

This isn't to say that they shouldn't have shut him down, that was an injury concern, but to those that don't think it matters because Strasburg was struggling, and Detwiler and Jackson looked good, just think about Detwiler vs Medlen or Jackson vs Lohse instead of ZNN being in that game and tell me it doesn't matter.

Thursday, October 04, 2012

So Braves or Cardinals?

The best way to answer this question is with an "don't care".  At this point every team you face is going to be good and it's just up to you to beat those good teams in front of you. For all the pieces of information we parse figuring if the Nats match up better with Team A or Team B, it can all go out the window with one bad start or one hot batter, especially in a series where it only takes 3 games to win it.

That being said - we have to spend our time between now and then doing something, don't we? So without going overly into stats here's what I feel.


The Cardinals are good.  The Braves are better.

The problems with the Braves rotation are a bit overstated. Yes, Medlen has been great and they've won all his games, but they scored more runs for him than any other pitcher. Maholm had a bump in the road in early September, but has had a decent last 3 games. Minor has actually been really good the past month. Hudson is Hudson, old reliable, likely to have that one bad inning so he gives up 4 runs in 6. On the Cards side Wainwright, Lynn, Garcia are just as good, but they are likely to use Carpenter who is a complete wild card, since he's only started 3 games this season. Is he really fine?

At the same time the Braves bullpen edge is too highly thought of. In the second half the difference between the Cards and Braves comes down a great deal to a lack of home runs given up.  The Braves gave up a silly few - like 9. So while I do think the Braves have a great pen the Cardinals isn't that far behind


The Braves are ok.  The Cardinals are good.

The Braves line-up was flying high but in the 2nd half it really was exposed as a have and have not situation. If you could get through the Prado-Heyward-Jones-Freeman part of the lineup, which was good but not great, the rest could be a cakewalk.  McCann, who will start most games, is a shell of himself due to injury. Bourn is MIA. They have no SS worth putting a bat in his hands. Uggla is Uggla.  The Cardinals on the other hand have Molina, Freese, Holiday, and Craig hitting as well as the best Brave since the All-Star break, and Jay and Beltran are no slouches either. They do have a middle infield issue (no Kozma isn't this good) so that 7-9 is real easy usually, but you aren't getting through their middle hitters as much as surviving them.

The one thing though that keeps the Braves from being beaten soundly in this comparison? The Cardinals don't walk at al the Braves have a couple guys.  In all honesty though neither see a lot of pitches. 


I think Fredi is dumb dumb dumb.  The Braves haven't given him much opportunity to show it this year but I can see a crucial 8th inning 1-out situation be left to someone other than Kimbrel because "who would save the 9th if we got there with a lead?".  I don't know anything about Matheny other than he's not Fredi.


I'd expect the crowds to be equally as raucous, it is the playoffs, but anecdotally you have to give the edge to the Cardinals.  Add in it's a longer flight, different time zone, and a stadium the Nats don't see as often and you get the feeling that coming away from St. Louis down 2-0 is more likely that coming away from Atlanta down 2-0.

As far as the last series went though, whatever psychological advantage that give would have to be stronger for the Braves. They swept the Nats and beat Gonzalez in the process. The Cards did pound the Nats recently but pounded Detwiler and Jackson, guys they might see combined once. Sure they crushed ZNN hard but that was a month ago, and he came back to pitch fine against them last time.

All in all I guess I'd rather face the Braves, the familiarity with the team, the lack of a strong offensive threat. I think the Nats could simply out pitch the Braves, winning games 4-2, 3-0. The Cardinals is more of a situation where the Nats would probably have to out slug the other team, and while that's possible, I don't think that's the Nat strength. It's an offense that feels like even facing a good pitcher would be hard to shut out, but would not prone to knocking him out.

Wednesday, October 03, 2012

Fun with endpoints

Why are people voting for Mike Trout for MVP?

Some jerkface rookie spent Sept 7th to the 23rd hitting a measley .241 / .313 / .431. He watched his team get swept by the team they were fighting with for playoff position and lose 3 games in the standings at a crucial time of year. You want us to celebrate him?  The guy had already tanked coming out of the All-Star break hitting .195 / .266 / .314 for over 40 games. Under .200 for 42 games! Four homers and only 12 RBI in a month and a half of baseball? Hell, even his vaunted speed wasn't much of a factor. The kid only stole 3 bases during that stretch and got caught twice. He was KILLING his team.

Ok now back to the opening question. People are voting for Mike Trout because... shhh now... you see he had a great season from the start. Since the Angels brought him up they've gone... hmmm? What do you mean I already addressed the opening question?  No no no. You misunderstood. I segued. That 2nd paragraph was all about Bryce Harper.

Yep. Bryce Harper, he who carves his bats from fallen branches of the Norse World Tree Yggdrasil, did those things I spoke of. It's funny right? Because all you've heard about him recently is that he's the best thing since bread (not sliced bread, bread bread) carrying the team single-handedly into the playoffs while lesser talents have withered under the glare of September spotlights. In reality though, all that talk about him being the best player in the league that's just a trick, same as the one that I pulled, in making Bryce look like the worse thing since... I don't know... rice cakes.

You might have noticed that when Boz (or anyone) is talking about Bryce's awesome finish to the season that they say "since August 29th" or "in the past 5 weeks" (basically the same thing). Why? Because on August 29th Bryce went 2-5 with 2 homers. The next game he'd go 2-5 again with another homer and all in all it was a hot 8-18 stretch with 3 homers a double and 8 RBI over 4 games. Miss those games and Bryce's recent weeks are a tad less impressive.

There's no harm in including them though.  At this point all they are trying to do is capture how well Bryce is hitting since he got out of his funk. August 29th is inarguably when he broke out. End of story... except it isn't. The problem is they then equate it with something bigger, like the pennant race. They want you to believe that Bryce is leading the team through the most important games of the year. (We'll ignore the truth that the games in May count as much as the games in September) The "pennant race" is a nebulous time frame. Did it really only start on the 29th of August? Why not September 1st, or Labor Day? Why not post All-Star break?  Of course the reason is obvious - the pennant race needs to fit when Bryce Harper was hot.

I did the opposite. I molded the important time frame to be Sept 7th through the 23rd, which included the Braves sweep, because Bryce wasn't hitting well then. It's the classic mistake of fitting the data to your assumptions rather than making an assumption and seeing what the data tells you.

In the interest of full disclosure

July13th - August 28th : .195 / .266 / .314
August 29th - Sept 6th : .400 / .462 / .943
Sept 7th - Sept 23rd :  .241 / .313 / .431
Sept 24th - Sept 29th : .500 / .538 / .917

So how should you look at game by game stats? Well, first make your assumption. If you think Bryce has hit well during the pennant race, define the time frame first, without looking at his stats. Once that is done look at his stats, but don't make it a cursory glance. A .350 average with 5 homers and 15 RBI over 13 games can be accomplished with a big hit in every game or it can be one phenomenal series followed by a complete tanking. Those two scenarios mean different things and would inspire different interpretations of how a player is doing.

What do I want to say about Bryce? Well I think we were worried during that long stretch after the All-Star break that he had fallen into a funk that he couldn't get out of. It's apparent now that's not the case. He can still break out for periods of time, 5,6,7 games, with stats that are as good as anybody can produce. He also did this against some good teams and while it was mostly against bad pitchers (which is to be expected if you look at good stretches for ANY player) he did hit against some playoff quality starters. I'd take that to mean he could possibly win you a post season series. That's all you can ask of any star player.

Tuesday, October 02, 2012

How a team got this far this quick

Skill and luck, as you'd expect

Met or exceeded expectations
Adam LaRoche
Danny Espinosa
Ian Desmond
Ryan Zimmerman
Bryce Harper
Jayson Werth
Roger Bernadina
Kurt Suzuki
Tyler Moore
Chad Tracy
Wilson Ramos

Gio Gonzalez
Jordan Zimmermann
Edwin Jackson
Ross Detwiler
Stephen Strasburg
Craig Stammen
Ryan Mattheus
Sean Burnett
Mike Gonzalez
Tom Gorzelanny
John Lannan
Drew Storen

Met or exceeded expectations but not with a good enough season to really help team 
Steve Lombardozzi
Rick Ankiel

Fell short of expectations but didn't hurt team 
Mike Morse
Tyler Clippard

Fell short of expectations and hurt team 
Xavier Nady
Mark DeRosa
Jesus Flores
Chien-Ming Wang
Henry Rodriguez

The Nats didn't have to waste a lot of at bats or innings on guys that hurt the team with their performances.  That's a combination of good roster management and good luck.

It's good roster management because there weren't a lot of players on the team, that even if they met expectations, still weren't good enough players to win games. Instead there were players that were talented enough, that even if they failed to meet expectations, like Morse and Clippard, they were still helpful.  Think about past Nats teams. Everything not only had to "go right" but had to go better than expected for the team to be any good. This team was going to be a  better than.500 team in at least the outskirts of a playoff hunt from the start of the season, unless things went wrong. The foundation was strong.

Good luck for a few reasons. Some of the few players that weren't necessarily guaranteed to be good enough to win games if they met expectations, instead exceeded them and were helpful. Think Roger Bernadina, Kurt Suzuki, Craig Stammen, Chad Tracy. These guys needed to have their best years to be useful and they did. No one important absolutely tanked. It can happen and you can't predict it well. Look at the Red Sox. Youkilis, Ellsbury, Lester, Buchholz, and Beckett all were All-Star caliber players last year who drastically underperformed for one reason or another and hurt the team. On the flip side the Nats did get an unpredictably great year from Desmond and the good starters met expectations, while the ok ones exceeded them.

Plus while they were knee-capped offensively early with injuries, they had their full team for pretty much the whole last two months* and they had a great lack of injury year on the mound.

*I was going to say they ended up with a typical injury year but I know some people will flip over that so I'm going to try to quantify it in another post to see exactly where the Nats fall with offensive injuries.  My guess is "not as bad off as you think"

Saying luck was involved is not meant to denigrate the Nats' accomplishments. The Nats put themselves in a position where they could succeed, where luck can make the difference. That is all you can ask of a team. In the past the Nats didn't do this. In 2006 you might say the Nats had more good luck than bad. Yes Jose Guillen tanked hard but they caught Nick Johnson's healthy career year, Soriano's best offensive year, and Ryan Church's too when he could play. They got great limited pieces of hitting from Daryl Ward and Escobar. Pitching wise Livan would have a bad year, but everyone else was what you'd expect (including injury risk John Patterson missing most of the year). All in all that team, too had more guys meet or exceed expectations than fail to live up to them. The difference was that team had a ton of bad players on it. Getting lucky only mattered in keeping the team above 70 wins.

This year the Nats held up their end of the bargain, putting together a team capable of competing for a playoff spot, and when things went their way we were all rewarded for it.

Monday, October 01, 2012

Told you


Monday Quickie : game by game

Well this weekend went exactly as I said it would. Man, I really enjoy being right. Sure, the Braves inched one game closer to the Nats, but it took them 3 games to do it. Like INXS sang on the Coca-Cola 1992 Barcelona Olympics album there's not enough time. The Nats should clinch sometime in the next 3 days (my money is on tonight) and you can join me slowly sipping some rye whiskey in celebration as I have been doing for weeks now (Unless you want to be slightly more exuberant in your celebration)

Ok ok, the doom sayers will point out there actually IS enough time.  If the Braves sweep the Pirates (in Pittsburgh) and the Phillies sweep the Nats (in Washington), there will be a tie for first, fire, brimstone, freezing rain, etc. etc. But think about what you're saying. The Nats are better than the Phillies. The Nats are at home. Are they really going to get swept? The Braves are very good but the Pirates are a .500 ball club, and they are playing at home.  Are they really going to get swept?  One unlikely sweep? Maybe. Two unlikely sweeps? No.

I do expect the Braves to pick up a game on the Nats though. The Nats are not playing well and the Phillies are so I can see the Nats only winning 1. Same sort of thing going on with Braves and Pirates. I had it pegged as a meaningless pick-up in game 162, but if it happens tonight, circle the wagons. The doomsayers will be out in full force.

Some notes
  • Tyler Cloyd is out. That's bad in the fact that he's no good, but it's good in the fact that someone not as good as him should get that start. If I were to guess, I'd expect maybe Jeremy Horst to start the game? Go like 2-3 innings followed by recent call-up Brummett? This is versus Gio remember. So if the the worst happens tonight and the Nats haven't been able to take the champagne off the ice, remember tomorrow is hugely in the Nats favor. 
  • Another thing in the Nats favor, despite some noise made about getting young arms out there, the Pirates are slated to start Correia and Burnett to finish the season. 
  • I got all tweeted at by Chris Coxen noting how Detwiler and EJax have been pretty terrible since Strasburg's been shutdown. You can say that's a little unfair. Detwiler had 3 of 4 decent starts before tanking the last two and Edwin's last game can make any stretch look bad, but the actual stats these guys put up isn't the take-away. The point is Strasburg is MUCH better than either of these two on a game-in, game-out basis.  Anyway you look at it, the shutdown made the Nationals a worse team heading into the playoffs. 
  • HFA sits as a tie now. The Reds play at the Cardinals, who could still lose the 2nd WC, so they will be motivated, at least for one game. While in alternate hell universe the Nats could finish as the WC, the Nats cannot finish in the #3 slot (the worst they can do is tie SF and the Nats have the head-to-head advantage). So they will open on the road no matter what. 
  • As much fun as last year's down to the wire finish was, even with the 2nd WC we may not get a repeat performance.  Every playoff position could be sewn up tonight.