Nationals Baseball: March 2013

Thursday, March 28, 2013

So What Do I Think?

Updated Predictions :  6 out of 11 picking the Nats to win it all. A perfect 12 for 12 in NL East Pennants

OK enough pussyfooting around.  The season is just around the corner and unless the team falls into a cult and loses half its players to missions in Asia, the team is set.  It's time for a season prediction.

94-68, NL East Champions

Offensively the Nats are ripe for a regression. I wouldn't be surprised if Desmond and LaRoche both took steps back, if the bench played more like we'd expect them to, if Werth couldn't repeat the average of last year and his power is still gone, if Span hits more like 2011 and 2010 Span than 2012 Span, if the injury bug again hits this team. With all that you might think the Nats would be in line for a big step back, but there's something standing in the way of that. Bryce Harper. I can't see him getting worse. He could get better. A lot better. Best in the majors better. All these little things might hurt but the ascension of Bryce will cover most of that. Add in chances for better production from 2B and C, and you get a team that might take a small scooch back, but it's not going to fall back below average.

Pitching wise they should remain on top. The unreliability of relief pitching is still ever present but the Nats have done what they needed to. They've filled the back of that corps with great arms. The starting pitching might also fall back.  Haren has looked bad. Detwiler and ZNN both could pitch a little worse. But I'm still betting on Haren to be at least ok, and when I say a little worse, I mean a little. No ticking time bombs here. Gio was legitimitely great last year and Strasburg could be even better.  This is a squad that's going to be tops in the NL.  Maybe not #1, but right up there.

They were a mid 90s win team last year, who managed to have a couple wins go their way.  I stripped out that luck and added that tiny regression and settled at 94.  At 94 wins, I just don't see anyone passing them in the NL East. They have to win those games vs their competition and frankly, I don't see the Braves or Phillies as being better than the Nationals. 

What happens in the playoffs?  Playoff prediction is a fools game, especially at this point.  Who's injured? Who's tired? Who's come up from the minors? There's way too much about October 1 we don't know now to make any reliable prediction. I think the Nats will have the best team in the NL, for what that's worth. They also will have a top of the rotation that can battle with anyone. So NL East title, home field advantage, just like last year. This year though will carry the expectations of much better results.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Nationals Baseball: Positional Keyhole : Jayson Werth

Way back in the glory days of 2010 I called Nyjer Morgan the "offensive keyhole" of the Nats. What I meant was :
  1. He was going to be a starter from Day 1 or play a lot of games at a position,
  2. He has presented a projection that we believe in but could be wildly off for non-injury reasons,
  3. His performance could significantly effect the performance of the team. 
Since then I've continued the tradition, naming Ian Desmond the keyhole of 2011 and Mike Morse the keyhole of 2012.  All three underperformed in that year given what was expected.* This year presented a difficult choice. Nearly every spot offered some level of outsized expectations. Single year break-outs (Desmond), career years (LaRoche), hot streaks (Zimmerman). In the end however, looking at the players and stats, one guy stood out; Jayson Werth.

Now things have changed since the Nyjer Morgan days.  What used to be meant by "significantly effect" was "could be the difference between more or less than 70 wins".  Nowadays its "could be the difference between an division title and a wild card", but I don't think anyone is going to argue that that doesn't matter.

Ok so what's the problem with Jayson Werth?

The first thing is the expectation game.  I think most fan's thinking with Werth follows this line : Werth was hitting real well before he was injured. He came back and hit really well again. He had that huge homerun and even robbed a home run** during the playoffs. The Jayson Werth the Nats expected is ready to come back! An average scraping .300, 25+ homers and great corner defense. Even the more realist fan is probably looking for .285+ and 20+ homers.

Except no.  Some where in the recesses of your brain and in the avalanche of Spring Training articles you might have run across the fact that Werth's power was way down last year. This doesn't seem to be a fluke as much as a trend.

2011 : .157
2012 : .140

Even in his terrible 2011 campaign he hit for more power than last year. Ok but that's just two years that might be explained away by injury.  Any other long term trends? How about home run rate.

2008 : 21.1%
2009 : 19.3%
2010 : 14.3%
2011 : 12.3%
2012 : 5.3%

That's harder to just wave away.  It happened in Philly and continues now.  I don't think he's a 5.3% HR/FB hitter - that's punch and judy stuff. But he's also no longer the guy that's going to get you 25+ homeruns. Maybe not even 20+.   It's not only the fact that he's hitting fewer homers when he gets the ball in the air.  it's also spurred on by a big increase in GB rate.

prime years : ~37.0%
2011 : 43.0%
2012 : 42.2%

He's simply not hitting the ball in the air at the same rate.  That's ok, right! He's still hitting for average.  Well yes, and no.  He did hit .300 last year but it came with the 2nd highest BABIP of his career. It's not terribly worrying.  If he gets around his career average BABIP you are looking at a ~.280 average. But if he gets a little bad luck for him and has a BABIP closer to .300 then your looking at an average around .260.  .260 and no power? That's not the Werth we signed up for.

So that's what's going on.  Is there a why?  We can speculate on a couple of reasons.  One thing that's going on is that he's not hitting fastballs like he used to.  Fangraphs has a little stat that measures a player's runs above average on a type of pitch.  It certainly isn't something I'd stake my life on but Werth's numbers do show a definite drop.  In 2008 his value was 17.4, then it went 19.4, 23.1, 6.1, and 4.7.  So when he's hitting fastballs he's not doing the same damage as before.

Possibly corroborating this is his swing percentages.  His swings outside of the strike zone have increased from around 22% in his prime to 24.2% in 2011 and 25.7% in 2012.  His contact rate for pitches outside the strike zone has also increased from 68.1% in 2010 to 72.4% in 2011 and 76.8% last year.  That may sound good, that he's making more contact, but contact on pitches outside of the zone lead to more weak hits.  I'd like to blame the Nats agressive philosophy but overall he's not really swinging at more pitches, so it's hard to do that.

The good news though is he's not swinging and missing more. That would be a strong signal of the last decline. More K's, average goes, career goes.  Werth doesn't seem to be there yet.

Now you may have noticed that I called him a "positional keyhole" rather than an offensive one. That's because his defense has also been in decline as well.  His Zone Rating has been below average for right fielders for 3 years now.

2010 : -7.2
2011 : -3.5
2012 : -7.7

It was reasonable to think after 2010 that that was just a fluke of the data. Single year fielding statistics can be unreliable.  But three years is harder to write off, especially at his advanced baseball age where we expect to see a decline in defense.  Backing this up is the fact that his CF numbers last year were not just bad, they were terrible.  He's no longer the solid defender he was in his prime.

Is this the end of Werth?  I'm not going that far.  He's still a good baserunner. He still sees a lot of pitches and walks a good amount (both rarities on this team).  One might even say he's morphing into the classic batter for his spot in the lineup. A .280 guy with a little pop, who fouls off a ton of pitches and works his way on base?  Sounds like a #2 guy to me. Granted that's usually a 2nd baseman and you usually aren't paying him close to 20 million a year but that line is not hurting the team. As for the defensive deficiencies, they are going to be mitigated by having Bryce and Span in the outfield. They can allow Werth to cover a lot less ground than he did last year when he was trying to help out an inexperienced Bryce (who in turn was trying to cover for the statue of Mike Morse in left).

Perhaps in the future, 2015 or so, Werth will morph into a very good platoon player. He did crush lefties last year to a tune of .395 /.471 / .566. This is something that was a hallmark of his early good days, 2007-2009.  As he comes back down the ladder, it might be something he's able to exploit again.

For now though, what do I see from Werth?  I see something like .280 with say 18 homers and 40 doubles, helped to average D in right?  I don't think that really diminishes the Nats pennant chances at all.  With a little bad luck though that could be more like .265 and 13 homers and a D that still hurts the team.  If the Nats end up in a situation where every game matters, a declining Werth could be the 2 game difference.

*To be fair Mike Morse's injury really made that call moot, and frankly it looked as if he had the whole season that maybe he'd do well enough to break the streak. Still, he did what he did, so... half credit? 

**didn't happen.

Monday, March 25, 2013

It begins - Nats Championship Predictions

I'll post all "official" Washington Nationals WS winning predictions here.  I'll just keep updating as I find more. : Verducci and 3 others out of 7 predictions. (7 out of 7 NL East Pennants)

Yahoo Sports : 3 out of 4 predictions - Passan is the only one not to pick the Nats (4 out of 4 NL East Pennants)

Sporting News : 2 out of 4 predictions (Witrado also picks division winners - Nats to win NL East)

ESPN : 16 out of 43! predictions.(38 out of 43 NL East pennants)

Sportsline : 0 for 1 (NL East Champs)

Fox Sports : 1 for 2 (2 for 2 in NL East pennants)

Monday Whoopsie

Not "whoopee" - get your mind out of a gutter from the 70s. Whoopsie as in "I made a mistake".  Just deleted a days worth of comments.  Sorry about that.

This comment thing is getting on my nerves. It's not terrible mind you.  I'm not popular enough for that. But this also isn't my job so it's not like I can float in every couple of hours to delete comments. What I'd like to do is just force people to put in a name, even a made up one, because nearly all the spam I'm getting right now is "Anonymous" and I don't think people would care about tossing in a fake name, but there's no way of doing that here. Still thinking. 

Meanwhile the Nats carry on.  The most important way to describe the Nats spring? Unscathed.  Not a single injury that means anything (sorry Christian Garcia!).  While we're all focused on the NCAA Tournament the same thing applies to Spring Training. It's not about doing well.  It's about surviving. Just make it to Opening Day healthy.

Best team in baseball.  No controversy. No injuries.  (Jealous?  Yes. Yes I am)

Let's go already.

Friday, March 22, 2013

O-Minus 10 days

Or 9 or 8 depending on how and what you are looking at.

Some random thoughts (as I'm focused on some round orange ball related things right now)
  • Reading through the comments on the last post it's obvious that the Storen deal is a vocal minority of haters, with a silent majority of supporters. Good to know Nats fans haven't yet reached that "everyone must be an all-star" level of thinking. Yet
  • Also - I didn't say I was sort of glad Davey was retiring because of Game 5 or anything to do with his actual managing.  I said it because I'm getting a little tired of the whole "I'm an old man. I can say what I want. grumble grumble anachronistic saying" bit.  Davey's a good manager as much as that matters.
  • The good thing about the WBC?  No teams forced to travel across the world for games that count a week before the season starts.   I'll take the WBC every year over having teams shipped to Asia in mid-March for "regular season" games.
  • Here's praying that everyone gets the last "clown question" jokes out of their system before the season starts. 
  • I don't think interleague everyday will bother me other than the fact the daily boxscores will have to include that as a section just for one game. 
  • Do the winners of the Grapefruit and Cactus Leagues get anything? I think they should get Cactuses and Grapefruits respectively. See how the other half lives. 
  • Chapman to pen. Give the Reds fans what they wanted. Also good for the Nats and good for me (kept Leake in a fantasy league hoping this would happen) Hooray for everyone! 
  • Speaking of Chapman, let us also pray that the Nats never bring up Giolito or Solis or Purke, etc. to close games late in the season. They'll look good and then we'll have to deal with this stupid argument.
  • Also, that first weekend series against the Reds is immediately must watch right?
  • The distance from Pitchers and Catchers to Opening Day this year is the same as Opening Day to May 20th. Interminable...except it isn't. Almost over. Almost starting.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Storen paying for Davey's mistakes

Drew Storen has had a pretty bad spring.  So what?  As we've said 1.39 million times, Spring Training stats don't matter. But Nats fans are ready to give up on Drew.  Don't you remember?  HE LOST GAME 5!!!!  HE CAN'T HANDLE PRESSURE!!!! HE EXXCUSESDS AND HEADCASES AND ELEVELENTY!

Let's review shall we?
  • Drew Storen took over the closer role in 2011.  He was great according to the standard stats. He had a 2.75 ERA. He blew 5 saves and converted 43. He was great according to the fancy stats. He had a 1.022 WHIP, and 8.8 K/9, a 3.14 xFIP.  He was probably a Top 10 closer. 
  • Last year after coming back from injury he pitched great again during the regular season. Both his WHIP and ERA dropped. He didn't give up a single home run.  
  • In the playoffs he appeared 3 times before the finale.  He came into game 1 with a one run lead and got out the heart of the Cards order, Jay, Beltran, and Holliday, to save the game for the Nats.  He came into game 4 tied and got out Freese, Descalso, walked Kozma, then got out Carpenter to hold the lead and set up Werth's dramatic home run. In those first 3 appearances he pitched 3 innings, gave up no hits, walked 1 and struck out 4. No one scored on him for a 0.00 ERA.
Now, I mentioned Game 1 and Game 4, what happened in game 3? In that game Storen came in 8 runs behind. Why did he come in 8 runs behind? To get work in.  Davey didn't use him in game 2 and there was a day off between games 2 and 3, so to keep Storen "fresh" Davey wanted him to throw. He did and he did well, as you might have expected, getting out Freese, Descalso and Kozma in order. Fine.

The problem is this unnecessary use in game 3 set-up a dangerous situation. What if Storen was needed in Game 4 and Game 5?  They were scheduled to be played back to back, which would mean he'd pitch in 3 consecutive days.  He'd done it before (twice since coming back from injury) but both times he had very easy 2nd outings.  In the first case he was asked to get 2 outs against the Astros and did it in 8 pitches.  In the second case he was asked to get 1 versus the Mets and did it in 3.  His role was different now. Davey wasn't going to use him just to get 1 or 2 outs.  What if he had to pitch a whole inning in his 2nd appearance and labored through it?  Wouldn't that set-up a no-win situation where either a tired Storen would have to come in for the 3rd game in a row or you'd have to go with a arm you believed in less?

So getting TO Game 5 Davey blundered twice.
  • He chose not use Storen in Game 2, prior to the off day, to keep his arm warm for the remainder of the series. If he had he probably wouldn't have felt compelled to use him in the Game 3 blowout. Maybe he'd have to use him in 3 straight games but it would be dictated by necessity.
  • He did use him in game 3, even though he didn't need to which set-up a potential situation where a tired Storen could be necessary for a critical spot in Game 5.  It wasn't the most likely scenario but it is what in fact transpired. 
In Game 4 Storen held the line and helped set-up the biggest win in Nats history, but there were no easy at bats. He came in to face the exact same 3 guys as he had the night before. They were more comfortable against him and worked him for 24 pitches. In Game 5 Davey was faced with a situation where he basically needed to go with Storen. He'd burned through his #2-#4 relievers (Clippard, Burnett, and Stammen) and the Nats were clinging to a 2 run lead. It'd either have to be Storen or the untested Christian Garcia to finish the game off. (Mattheus being the 3rd option).  Davey went with Storen.  Etc.  Etc.

We've gone over this before but in Game 5 Davey made two critical errors.
  • He pitched Edwin Jackson in relief for no goddamn reason. Both Mattheus and Garcia were available.  Instead he went with his gut, used Edwin, who nearly blew the game right there. He got lucky, only gave up one run, but turned the line-up over so the big bats would get one more turn up.
  • He kept Storen on the mound in a position that was ripe for failure. You could argue he should have used Garcia but even I think you have to try Storen there first. Sure he might have been (and was) tired but sometimes that works in your advantage.  And it seemed like it would work. After a double came two outs, but then he walked Molina and set up a situation where Storen was about to face the same 3 guys - Freese, Descalso and Kozma for the third straight night. He was obviously was not the same pitcher, and had already thrown 16 pitches in the inning. It was time for him to sit down.  But Davey chose to stick with him. And he walked Freese.  So now he's thrown 22 pitches, he's just walked the bases loaded on back to back bases on balls.  He's about to face ANOTHER guy that saw him in each of the last two nights.  YOU HAVE TO TAKE HIM OUT.  Yet Davey keeps him in and the guy gets a hard shot off of a diving Desmond that ties the game.  THEN REPEAT EVERYTHING I JUST SAID EXCEPT ADD A HIT.  And yet Davey keeps him in.
Sorry about this. Getting out of hand a bit.

Look the point is this. Up until the very last game he pitched in 2012. Drew Storen was not a good relief pitcher, he was one of the better ones in the majors. Not Chapman, Kimbrel dominant but reliably very, very good. In the Cardinals series alone he had a big save and even a bigger hold. In the last game, he was set up to fail by a series of dumb decisions by Davey Johnson leading up to Game 5, leading up to the last inning of Game 5, and in the last inning of Game 5.  If you told me Davey's ultimate goal was that he wanted Storen to lose this game, I could almost believe you. And eventually, after almost getting out of it, Storen did lose it. 

I can't argue with picking up an arm like Soriano.  They lost Burnett. Clippard labored at the end of last year. Bullpens are notoriously fickle. They needed another arm. They got a great one. But adding Soriano as the closer doesn't mean Storen should be disrespected. He's not a bad pitcher.  He's a damn good one that had one bad game in the worst of circumstances and he's taking far too much heat from fans that should be directed at the manager.

Monday, March 18, 2013

Monday Quickie

So in the hidden "weaknesses" post, which mostly devolved into a commentary about announcing - shows you how truly strong the Nats are, commenter "blovy8" pointed out that I somehow totally missed the fact the Nats strike out too much. Does it matter?

Well, even though striking out isn't the terrible avoid at all cost thing it used to be, it still isn't a good thing. Anyone with decent speed or the ability to keep the ball off the ground in DP circumstances would be better served putting the ball in play.  But strikeouts are more of a problem when they hint at larger issues; an inability to distinguish strikes and balls, inability to make good contact with the ball.  So really you have to look at other things along with it.  Are the Nats able to take a walk?  Are they able to slug ok? The answers are no, not really and yes.  So the slugging isn't an issue but the walks may be.  Something to look at this season. Will pitchers, can pitchers, just pitch around the Nats and hope they chase?

Also I want to add something more to the hidden "weaknesses" list.  Hubris.  Any front office that thinks they can take a 3 time injured arm (2 TJ surgeries), who hasn't started or pitched significant innings in years, and rely on turning him into top notch starting pitching depth thinks a bit too much of themselves. A little less "no comeuppance" next time, please.

Friday, March 15, 2013

Hidden "weaknesses"

It can't be helped.  You are always looking for things to improve in a team.  You win 100 games, you want to find out how you can win 101. But it's tough to find weakness in the 2013 Nationals.  On a macro level : Starting Pitching?  Great.  Relief Pitching? Very Good.  Defense? Very Good.  Offense? Good.   On a micro-level, I suppose LH relief pitching is a weakness, but that was a choice that mostly makes sense for the Nats (how many times a year do you need to get out a LH who is terrible random against ok lefties but will crush the great righties the Nats have?).  And I guess... maybe catcher? I mean, it's not a strength right now.  It sure could be though.

Even expanding it out - manager, GM, owner... no complaints.  TV Announcers? Park and location? Batting practice ballcaps?

No team is good at everything, even the Nats. So where do these Supermen fail? What minor little quibbling things can you find if you get bored and pour over some stats?

They walk a few more guys than you'd like.  (10th in the NL last year)  Surprising on a team with control freaks like ZNN and Strasburg but it's true.  The Nats love "stuff" and when that's your default you'll rely on guys that can get a little wild sometimes.  Obviously this hasn't hurt performance, but I'd expect something similar this year. Even though most of the main offenders are gone, their best control relief guy (Burnett) is gone too, and the Nats really love the heat (look at how they are fawning over Karns and seem ready to give H-Rod a 3rd chance).

The left side of the infield makes a lot of silly errors.  Of qualifiers - Zimmerman is middle of the road in 3B Fielding Percentage, Desmond near the bottom.  This is something we've all noticed too. These guys sometimes have brain lock-ups and all of a sudden balls are flying every which way. The good news is that these don't show any pattern of repeating and frankly it's more important that they get to a ton of balls. Which they do.

They are kind of a slow starting team when it comes to hitting.  Every definite starter (with the exception of Bryce) tends over their career to start slowly in March/April.  That's usually the case for most batters in general, but the law of averages would say that someone on the Nats would be a guy whose March/April tend to be one of their better months. Nope.

They pick the wrong random old guys to lend a veteran presence.  Man, DeRosa and Lidge were bad last year.  The good news - No 35+ ers this year. Also no Nady, no Maldanado.  Even that ancient Wang is gone.  He'd have been 33 this year! Get outta here oldies! (everyday oldies excluded - watch out for Tracy to be bad! Oh no! Season over!)

and... you know that's really about it. I tried.  I lightly scoured, but this is all I could find.  And none of these things really matter.  The walks go hand in hand with the Nats Ks which are among the best in the league.  As long as their HRs remain down (also among the best in the league), and the relief pitching remains good (ditto) the walks are just a minor nuisance.  Zimm and Desi's brain locks are offset by the fact that they get a lot more guys out than your average left side. So even given the fact they give team's a few more extra outs on errors, they take away a bunch more on range.  They are a plus.  Who cares if the Nats are slow starters? It's not a one-month season.  And random old guys only matter on the fringiest of fringes. Maybe these guys will combine to cost you a game?

Nats are good.  Damn good. Best in the league good like everyone says. Watch out Nats fans, you are going to see a LOT of Washington Nationals as picks for WS winners this year, just you wait.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Every damn year

Anthony Rendon was cut from the spring training roster.  BUT HE WAS HITTING SO WELL!!!

Bryce Harper is a man on fire.  HE'LL HAVE A MONSTER SEASON!!!!

Stop.  Bryce Harper might have a monster season.  Anthony Rendon might cruise through double and triple A and be in a Nats uniform by June. But it has little to do with how they performed in what amounts to two weeks of at bats.

We've gone over this before pointing out the guys that led the team in hitting before (Mark DeRosa last year!) and yet here we are again. But it's not being crazy, you say.  I'm not being influenced by Spring! Perhaps if you see what's happening elsewhere, you might take a breath.

Jackie Bradley Jr for the Red Sox is tearing it up.  He hit .270 with limited power last year in half a AA season.  Fans are clamoring for him to start the season with the team,

Jeff Baker is having a super hot spring for Texas.  The 32 yr old career part-time player with declining stats has a good shot at opening the season as the Rangers utility guy.

Shane Robinson is killing it for the Cardinals. He is a feel good story on perseverence and proving something to people.  (lucky for the Cardinals they have their OF set so he's only in line for a small promotion to 4th OF from last year)

Donovan Solano crushing it for the Marlins.  He spent his minor league career as a mediocre average, no power, no patience guy. But thanks to a strong finish in the majors and a hot spring he could hit at the top of the order for the Marlins (though to be fair he might be their best hitter left after Stanton)

Adam Lind is having a resurgent March. He's watched his ability to hit lefties slowly degrade over the past 5 years until now he's just a platoon player at best. They Blue Jays still might waste a month of the regular season seeing if he's somehow regained that ability, in part based on how he hits them in the spring.  How many at bats will that be? 30?

I'm not even cherry picking here. That's really just picking the Top 5 guys by average from the Spring Training stats. You may not think that it can happen to you.  That there is no way that I could be affected by Spring stats anymore, but its a battle everyday to avoid falling back into that trap. It happens to everyone.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Gio and batting order position

Or "Fooling around with numbers to get nowhere"

Fangraphs did a nice little article yesterday on how Gio Gonzalez absolutely destroys the opposing team's pitchers when they come up to bat. This is something we noticed last year (and now I'm kicking myself for not following up) and can by itself explain why Gio took a step up to the top tier last season.  As the author says, this is simply demonstrative, and it isn't meant to be dismissive of Gio. He pitches in the National League. You have to pitch to pitchers. To do that better than anyone else is a very good skill to have.

It did raise a question for me though.  What if Gio pitched better to bad hitters and worse to good ones?

Now I hear you.  OF COURSE that is going to be the case. Better hitters are better. Worse hitters are worse.  But what I'm saying is what if he dominates the bad hitters more than the usual pitcher and gets hit harder by the good hitters than the usual pitcher as compared to their own baseline pitching.  In that case Gio would bode poorly as a playoff pitcher (in a very broad general sense and against his own high level - it's not like you'd rather have Wang out there) because you usually face better hitters in the playoffs and while every pitcher would get hit a little harder, he'd tend to get hit even a little harder than that.  You follow?

So I compared the baseline OPS given up by an NL pitcher last year to the OPS given up by batting order position and the did the same for Gio.  Did I find anything to be worried about? Maybe...but probably not.

Overall, unsuprisingly the best hitters are 3rd, 4th, 5th and 6th. (although this is bad planning because your 6th hitter will get up less than your 1st or 2nd - it's not really killing anything. As we've gone over, lineup construction has a surprisingly small effect on scoring).  Gio has about the same ratio of "BOP OPS" (batting order position OPS) to overall OPS as the NL as a whole

3rd  NL : 1.14   Gio : 1.10
5th  NL : 1.05   Gio :  1.02
6th  NL : 1.04   Gio :  0.98

Clean-up hitters do hit Gio harder than his baseline in comparison to the rest of the NL (NL : 1.13, Gio : 1.27) but given what we see above it doesn't seem indicative of anything.   (A Note here - Gio's baseline of .582  is so much better than the NL's of .721 that even though #4 hitters hit him relatively harder, they still hit him a lot less than they do the rest of the NL.  OPS NL : .818   OPS Gio : .739)

What about the rest of the lineup?  Well here's where things are a little kooky.  Gio dominates pitchers like none other but he also is a LOT better at facing #2 and #7 hitters.

2nd  NL : 1.00   Gio : 0.74
7th  NL : 1.01   Gio :  0.70
9th  NL : 0.64   Gio :  0.39

But he's a LOT worse at getting out leadoff hitters and #8 guys.

1st  NL : 0.98   Gio :  1.46
8th  NL : 0.94   Gio :  1.20

What the hell does this all mean? Well I'm not sure. I could say that he's bearing down on the pitcher spot so much that he's actually hurting himself in the 8th and 1st spots.  But then what's up with #2 and #7?  

Really I don't want to say anything yet. There is some noise we have to get rid of here.  Are there more lefties in the 2nd and 7th spots than in your average spots? More righties in leadoff and 8th spots?  Are these spots specifically bad/good in the NL East? That could explain some of it. Or it could be just yearly fluctuation. Each position is roughly 1/9th of the batters Gio faces. That's not even a month worth of pitching.  You wouldn't (well... you shouldn't) get overly excited by a month of good/bad pitching, so there's no reason to get excited by what we see here. If you asked me right now, that's what I would assume right now. It's nothing.  A fluke of the limited data.

This is something to look at over the course of the year. It'll probably go away, or at least be really diminished by the time the season finishes up. If not, well then we can debate what it actually means and if whatever we decide really means anything in a practical sense because Gio's baseline is much better than the NL's baseline. 

Monday, March 11, 2013

Optimism is the new reality

The Nats are probably the best team in the major leagues. They had a great starting pitching staff last year. They arguably improved it. They had a great defense last year. They certainly improved it (assuming Danny stays healthy). They had a great relief core last year. They arguably improved it (but I'm not so sure the results will be better). They had a decent offense last year.  One could argue that they'll have a better season this year (there are forces pulling in both directions so either argument is valid).  They possibly have the best young starting pitcher and the best young offensive player in the game today.

They won 98 games last year. Nothing obviously got worse.

I'll still blog in mostly the same way I always have.  This is wrong. This could be better. This is good here and overlooked. This is fine, but this could use some work.  The difference is it's not .500 or even the playoffs we're talking about here. Any negative by itself fits into this season as a "how will this effect their chances of winning the NL East again". Pennants are the new baseline.

Could things change? Of course. Injuries, surprise let downs, great performances by other teams, these can all affect how the Nats season goes. It's a long year. But right now there is no overly optimistic view of the 2013 Washington Nationals, unless you are looking for 120 wins. 

Three weeks fans. 20 days.

Friday, March 08, 2013

Impenetrable rationality with apparent mystery

Boz is at it again. Even when saying something that is completely and utterly right - the Nats may be very successful over the next 3-5 years and never win a World Series - he has to play up some mythical angle. In this article it's about the "apparent rationality with impenetrable mystery" that is baseball. Thing is - that's backward. The rationality is not "apparent", it is in fact very real. The mystery is not impenetrable, it is in fact very explainable.

Baseball is so rational that if you gave me two numbers, just two, Runs Scored and Runs Allowed, I'd have like a 50% chance of getting a teams record within 2 games. I'd have a better than an 80% chance of getting it within 5. This is the case knowing nothing else about the team at all. The same applies to individuals. You give me a player's stats in his career, and I'll have a damn good chance of nailing his stats in any situation where he's had a lot of at bats. Playoffs, RISP, whatever. It's the fact that baseball is made up of repeated events over the course of a very long season that makes it entirely rational.

Entirely rational does NOT mean that events can be predicted with 100% accuracy. But that's not "mystery", it's variability. Calling it "mystery" is akin to thinking demons must be in play if a dice roll lands on a 1 because 2 through 6 was far more likely. We know why we don't know.  It's because we CAN'T know. That's the way the world works. But to me that's not mystery. A mystery is something we can't understand, that can't be explained. The fact that random chance plays into a baseball season ultimately ending in success or failure, that random chance dictates who would end up performing the best in a short 4-7 game period, is both understandable and explainable.

This is Boz getting better though.  Taking the fact we can't predict the exact way things will play out and making it into mystery is far better than making it into a statement on heart or attitude or chemsitry.

Other notes

In the past three years which MLB teams have won the most games? The Yankees, Phillies, Rangers, Rays and Braves. .... None has won a World Series. Only one, Texas, has even reached the Series. That’s what being a tip-top team in a multi-year window insures you: nada.
Correct final point made BUT why does he stop at the five highest? Because if you toss in the 6th you get the Giants and 2 more WS appearances (and wins) in the past 3 years.  Why does he look at the last 3 years? Because if you go to say 5 years, you'd run into both the Yankees and Phillies winning (and the Phillies and Tampa Bay losing). I'd say the take away is really "That’s what being a tip-top team in a multi-year window insures you : multiple relatively small chances at ultimate success. The more chances you have the better."  

Is Boz right? The Braves should have only won 2 World Series over those 14 pennant years? Well the math is fuzzy. What chance do you give the Braves of winning a single game vs team X? It should be lower than their overall win percentage because they are playing better teams. Then again it should be adjusted too for the pitcher being used.  But making some fair assumptions, I think 2 sounds about right.  I could crunch it, but I'm guessing they'd have been expected to be in around 5 WS and win about 2.

Boz says this: 
The NBA Finals have had 44 Most Valuable Players. Forty winners (91 percent) are in the Hall of Fame or will be. Michael Jordan won six times. Of 47 Super Bowl MVPs, 32 are or will be in Canton. That’s 68 percent. 
True but it's kind of an unfair comparison. In the NBA and the NFL the offense is in control of the ball.  In both cases you are going to go through your best offensive player as much as you can. These are likely to be high quality, if not Hall of Fame type players. In baseball it's much harder to do this on offense because you don't control the ball and the structure of the game is working against you. Your best regular hitter is only going to get a couple more plate appearances than your worst regular over the course of a series, and that's if they actually pitch to him. On "defense" baseball is limited by fatigue. Your best pitcher is probably only going to be seen twice, one mediocre outing and his MVP chance is likely done.

Since ’81, just seven of the 34 World Series MVPs are or will be in the Hall of Fame. We could debate a few borderline players.
Fine point but it makes it seem like it's a total crapshoot who wins it when in reality it's more likely a good player will win the MVP than a bad one.  Wonder why Boz starts with 1981? It's not because of the strike (would make more sense to start with 1982 in that case). It's because from 1961 through 1980 future HoFers won 14 out of 20 MVPs (and one of the other 6 was Pete Rose).  Just saying. Kurt Suzuki might win the WS MVP, but a smart man puts his money on Ryan Zimmerman.

Thursday, March 07, 2013

The bar has been set and it's REALLY high

The Nats pitching staff is young and awfully good. Led by Strasburg, Gio, and ZNN, it's only natural to compare them to the best rotation in our collective memory, the Braves' staff anchored by Maddux, Glavine, and Smoltz.  Here's the thing though.  That staff was amazing.

Starter ERA* by year
1994 : 3.28
1995 : 3.25
1996 : 3.45
1997 : 3.05
1998 : 3.06

Nats 2012 : 3.40

*Yes I know ERA is imperfect.  Consider it pitching and defense if it makes you feel better. It's not like the Nats aren't proud of their defense too. And yes, luck is in there too. Deal. 

OK you say - that's not fair.  Totally different time periods. You're right. Let's add in league starter ERA (in parenthesis)

1994 : 3.28 (4.62)
1995 : 3.25 (4.63)
1996 : 3.45 (4.68)
1997 : 3.05 (4.60)
1998 : 3.06 (4.60)

Nats 2012 : 3.40 (4.26)

So not only were the Braves' staffs better, they were better in harder circumstances.  The Braves were around 30% better than league ERA over a stretch of 5 years.  The Nats were 20% better last year.  That's not to say the Nats staff wasn't really good, but it wasn't anything historic. Hell, going by comparison to league ERA, the Nats were neither the best NL staff of the past 2 years (Phillies 2011 2.86 (4.16)) or the best staff in the majors last year (Rays 2012 3.34 (4.40)).

But the Nats do have something those two teams don't have and that's a chance to keep the same group together for years to come. The Phillies are too old, the Rays too cheap. What do the Nats have to do to compare to these Braves teams?

Well they need to get that ERA down to about 3.00. Can they do it? It's possible but it's going to be tough. Let's assume that Gio and ZNN are about where they should be. With ERAs slightly below 3.00, that gives the Nats a little cushion. If Dan Haren is healthy...  I guess you could pencil in a 3.00 ERA given the Nats D and the move to the NL.  Ok so where do you like Detwiler? 3.50? Now you've set Strasburg's bar at 2.70. Like him higher? 4.00?  Strasburg's gotta pitch to a 2.20 ERA or so.

Let's break it down to three things

1) The Nats need Strasburg to step up.  Maddux really was carrying the Braves claim to best staff. His ERAs over the course of this time?  1.56, 1.63, 2.72, 2.20, 2.22.  If the Nats are to match the Braves Strasburg has to be nearly as dominant.

2) It wouldn't hurt if Gio and/or ZNN could get better too.  In 1996 Maddux had an off year for him. Avery started to breakdown, Jason Schmidt was bad.  Denny Neagle was bad. So how did the Braves pull off another great year relative to the league?  Both Smoltz and Glavine pitched a little bit better. Not a lot better mind you, but both pitchers had been very good (better than Gio and ZNN) and they improved a little bit instead of declining like everyone else. It made all the difference. It's kind of unfair asking Gio and ZNN to match up with one definite and one maybe Hall of Famer, but if you want to compare staffs it has to be done.

3) The Nats need to keep finding decent guys behind these three.  Whether it was Kent Merker and Steve Avery, Denny Neagle, or an emerging Kevin Millwood, the Braves always had someone at the back of the rotation that was capable of putting up a year just as good as the guys in the front. That was necessary because some years that last spot is just not going to work out for you (see 1997 for a Braves example).  Despite statistical protestations, Edwin Jackson is not that guy. Dan Haren IS. Ross Detwiler might be - at least for a year or two. That should be long enough for someone else to emerge.

Oh let's add a fourth

4) Health - Smoltz got injured in 94 and 98 but managed not to miss that much time in either year (thanks to the strike in '94) and was only seemingly hampered by it in 1994 (4.14 ERA was the worst of his career until his final season).  Maddux and Glavine were completely healthy over this time.

It's a tall order for the Nats rotation to match up to these guys even for one season and it's probably more than a bit unfair to make the comparison at all.  But I look at like this; the fact that you can say that maybe the Nats staff can one day be looked back at by baseball fans as in the neighborhood of these Braves staffs is a huge compliment.

Wednesday, March 06, 2013

Quick q

So this spam thing. Would it be a pain if I made you guys log in to comment? Right now it's not so bad that I can't handle it (when I'm not on work travel - smart guy) but I don't know if it'll get substantially worse once the season starts. Any suggestions or ideas?

Friday, March 01, 2013

This season is taking FOREVER to get here

I didn't think an extra week of Spring Training would matter but man.... it just accentuates the drag of this thing.  Before you could distract yourself at this point with the build up to conference tourneys but now we're still finishing up the season.

Mattheus pitches some more innings!
Haren is feeling good!

It's fake baseball that doesn't matter and yet we have to talk about it because what else are we going to do? NOT talk about it?

worse, there's just more time for Boz to spout out nonsense like this column where he conveniently forget the Nats overpaid for their own egotistical malcontent (in arguably a position they didn't even need), Rafeal Soriano. If I wanted to do a "Boz job" on the Nats I'd also mention they paid a couple of kids 20+ million in total, one who blames every bad outing on something other than his pitching and then never talks about it, the other one who sprints around the bases in his Indian warpaint crying out for people to look at him so he can appear on another commerical lifting day-glo weights.

Not that I believe what I just said about Strasburg or Bryce, just that if you have an agenda to push (in Boz's case there's something overly special about the Nats) you can view things in a way that's favorable to your agenda. Let me flip the above.

"The Nats do what good teams do, strengthening a strength and taking some pressure off our young arms by bringing in the energy and drive of Rafeal Soriano to close. Forged in the pressure of playoff baseball in the AL East, he'll anchor what was already one of the best pens in baseball. But mostly they built this team the smart way, home growing talent like possibly the two most exciting young players in baseball. Strasburg brings a focus and determination to the team that it needs while his personality opposite, the enthusiastic Bryce Harper keeps things fun, hustling in a way we haven't seen from a player this talented since Charlie Hustle was diving head first into 3rd."

Gah gah gah. The truth is that every team has its mix and if they win, they tend to get along. If they lose they tend to argue. It really is that simple.  If you want to pick on the Dodgers for bringing in a ton of high-priced talent that has failed to produce that makes sense. It's a huge gamble with a lot of $. If you want to start saying a guy telling you the truth about why players make contract decisions is emblematic of a team that will be unable to win because their high-priced parts just don't care enough, that's dumb.

I don't know what I'm trying to say.

Yes I do.  START THE DAMN SEASON ALREADY. I need something real to talk about, not feelings and impressions.