Nationals Baseball: May 2013

Friday, May 31, 2013

Of streaks

Kilgore made an interesting point yesterday.  The Nats sat at 27-26 and during the middle of last year's remarkable season, in fact directly after going 14-4, the Nats had a 27-26 run. (If you are wondering they did not go 27-27 they won that next game) His question was - did the Nats have a 3 week hot streak in them like that 14-4 to put the team in a situation akin to last years?  Of course that's only part 1 of the question. The next part is would they, after that hot streak, be able to repeat what was done last year at this point in the season. This question made me want to dig a little deeper into last years streaks.

First off, you can honestly go much farther than 27-26 to pull a mediocre record out of the Nats 2012 season.  After starting 14-4 the Nats went 39-35 in their next 74 games, that's an 85 win pace over almost half a season. Why didn't we quite recognize that? Well first, the Nats started with that 14-4 record.  When you start out 10 games over that hides a lot of mistakes.

But secondly, there weren't a lot of mistakes.  When you start 14-4, it's natural to look for the 4-14 to even it out (especially when you start the season thinking your team is a high 80's win team, not a high 90s win one.) The Nats almost had that with a 5 game losing streak to bring their record to 14-9, but then a 4 game winning streak put them right back where they were before. Thus went nearly the entirity of the next half season.  Look at the streaks during that 74 game stretch.

-5, +4, -3, +3, -1, +1, -1, +1, -3, +3, -1, +3, -3, +1, -1 , +2, -1, +6, -4, +2, -1, +1, -2, +2, -1, +1, -1, +4, -1, +1, -1, +1, -1, +1, -1, +2, -3

Only one streak longer than 4 games after those first 9 games. Only 3 longer than 3. Every small set of losses was answered with a small set of wins and vice versa. This wasn't a roller-coaster ride which may expose the flaws of a team, but rather an gentle country drive where you got to enjoy the view from up on top of the division.  Let's take out the "call and answer" streaks and see what you have.

-5, +4, -3, +3, -1, +1, -1, +1, -3, +3, -1, +3, -3, +1, -1 , +2, -1, +6, -4, +2, -1, +1, -2, +2, -1, +1, -1, +4, -1, +1, -1, +1, -1, +1, -1, +2, -3

The Nats did drop a couple of games but that was it in the first 35 games or so. Hardly anything to concern a fan. Then came a nice little two week plus stretch when the Nats made up for that and more putting them at a new high of 13 over. A little more than a week later they would go 16 over. The only even mildly concerning part would happen at the end of this time frame when the Nats would drop back to 14 over.  Even then, if you'd had been willing to wait out any 3 game losing streak since the start you'd hardly be concerned. You'd probably expect another 3 game winning streak right now.

Instead the Nats took off, they'd win 18 of their next 22 (36 of their next 51) to put the division essentially out of reach.

Looking back you could hardly ask for an easier ride to the title. One bump in the road around the 30 game mark at the beginning of this 74 game stretch where the Nats were "only" 6 over and tied for first.  They'd only be tied one more time after that and really spent the entire season slowly, then speedily putting Atlanta in the rear view.

All I'm telling you is what you already know. Last year was great for Nats fans. What does it mean for this year?

What it means is this. The Nats have fiddled around for a third of the year so far. They can even fiddle around a while longer. Throw in a 9-10 finish to 2012 and they basically played average ball for stretches that added up to 93 games of last year.  But if you do that you need to be AWESOME in the other 70 games. The Nats would go 50-19 for the rest of the games which is basically playing 40% of the season like one of the best teams ever. Even if you don't want 98 games, you just want 90, you'd have to play as well as they played last year, a 98 win pace.  It's not that that's impossible, but (1) it's damn hard to keep up that level of play for a single long stretch and (2) if you play like an 85 win team for the first 60% of the year, why would you think you'd suddenly play like a 98-win team for the last 40%?

The Nats shouldn't fiddle around much longer. Two average months is ok, even typical, for a division winner.  Three average months though? That's a back-breaker. That's a fight for a WC team. Winning this Braves series would be a good start but a tall order. Win 1 of these games and then, if they want to be serious division contenders, they have to start winning series after series in June. There's no way around it.

Thursday, May 30, 2013

ZNN in brief review

ZNN gave up a bunch of runs last night, but that's ok the guy isn't perfect. And besides it's not like anyone was thinking he's the best pitcher on the team. It's not like there was some kvetching over signing the guy long term even though he won't be eligible for free agency until after 2015.

Oh people did? And they were?

People look. ERA is great and all but it's not the best way to judge how a pitcher is going to perform going forward. That's because ERA is defense dependent. So the fact that ZNN's ERA since the beginning of 2012 is nice but it's hardly telling. Instead you should look at stats like FIP (takes into account a normal league BABIP) and xFIP (adds in a normal HR/FB ratio) to try to gauge who will be your best pitcher going forward.

ZNN ERA since 2012 : 3rd
ZNN FIP since 2012 : "only" 19th
ZNN xFIP since 2012 :  a hideous 24th

Are there guys that can seemingly outperform FIP stats constantly? Sure. You knew one, you loved one : John Lannan. The guy well outperformed them for almost 425 innings, got injured, did a little bit worse than them, then got healthy and well outperformed them for another 180. But here's the thing - that's A LOT of innings. ZNN has outperformed xFIP for 2 almost full seasons now so he can start to assume that he might beat that number regularly (thanks to a tendency not to give up homeruns) but he only really outperformed FIP itself last year (and the first part of this year). You can't really roll on that being dependable just yet.We'll take another look at it after the end of the year.

(Also - I know you want to say BUT THE NATS D IS SOOOOOOO GOOD! It is good, which keeps BABIP down some, but it's not that good)

But as you see it's not that he goes from "maybe the best" to "maybe the worst" or even average looking at these stats. He's still really, really good. 19th in the league? That's a #1 starter for half the league. Certainly a #2 anyone would be happy with. But here's the other thing.

Gio FIP since 2012 : 8th
Stras FIP since 2012 : 5th

Gio xFIP since 2012 : 21st
Stras xFIP since 2012 : 1st

You have two guys in the rotation, one who is arguably better, and one inarguably. Sorry Strasburg haters but the guy having this terribly mediocre year (that by the way has put his ERA at 10th in the NL right now) is better (and younger) than ZNN.  Is he more of an injury risk than ZNN, I suppose but then again

Should the Nats try to re-sign Jordan? Most definitely. Sometime after this year (which is what he wants anyway) or into 2014 they should look to extend him because he's a very good pitcher and he's not old. You want very good pitchers who are not old. But he's not the best pitcher on the team and with Gio and Strasburg guaranteed to be in DC cheaply up through 2016, if the Nats don't re-sign ZNN it will probably still be ok.

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Doing what they are supposed to

Now that was a lot like last year. Gausman is obviously not ready for prime time and the Nats punished him for reaching for more. The Nats offense was never a juggernaut but it could beat up a terrible pitcher and Gausman, right now, is a terrible major league pitcher. Four homers? One from Moore and one from Bernadina? If that doesn't earn him a ticket back to AAA, the O's haven't been following baseball at all this year.

Of course Nate Karns wasn't much better. Sorry, standing O people, but he was actually pretty bad. He gave up 3 long balls and put 7 guys on base in 4 and 1/3rd.  He did come up "big" in one spot striking out Yamaico Navarro and an AL pitcher to end a rally but that's near the minimum of what you'd expect from a pitcher. He got lucky (every ground ball hit resulted in an out, Duke got a DP to immediately wipe out his baserunners) and still his stats don't look good. Of course I'll take the bad over the terrible every day.

ZNN should win tonight. The Orioles aren't a patient team, ZNN doesn't walk anyone so unless they are the team to hit him hard they aren't scoring more than a couple off him. After that you get an off-day from watching baseball as Dan Haren takes on Freddy Garcia and you have better things to do with your life than watch that.

What's up with Ian? 

While we've run roughshod over nearly everyone on the team so far this year, Ian Desmond has mostly escaped our wrath. Sure his hitting isn't exactly like last year's but it was still over average and good for a short stop. And yes, his fielding isn't exactly like last year's either but that fault is in ourselves. True fluke defensive years happen all the time. Adam Dunn ruled first base for the Nats in his last season. You need to very much be on guard about anyone having a particularly good singular year after years of mediocrity. 

But recently he hasn't been hitting, and if he isnt' hitting and isn't fielding... well that matters.  A .209 / .263 / .337 line in the past 28 days, .150 / .205 / .200 line in the past 2 weeks.  It could just be a fluke of the BABIP. That has dropped from a too high .373 to a too low .239 from April to May. But the power has dropped too, while the walks have gone up (yes it would have been hard for them to go down).  This suggests something else might be going on.

One of the things I've said about Ian Desmond over the past 2 years, is I wonder why anyone would throw him a strike. He doesn't walk. Last year he was 22nd "worst" in the league at drawing walks, and this year he currently sits at 24th "worst". Did pitchers finally catch on?

The zone% data confirms that he's seen fewer pitches in the zone in May than in April.  Down from 49.2% to 44.3%.  You can see from the charts below showing the type of pitches he took in May and April, that they are working the outside of the plate more in May, as opposed to trying to hit that corner, just missing it all together and seeing if Ian can adapt.

The good news is that he doesn't seem to be swinging at a lot of those bad pitches. I don't see anything below particularly worrying

And what we see from the numbers looks like Ian is adapting. He's swinging at slightly fewer balls out of the zone and more balls in the zone. However, that can be misleading. He's getting more junk thrown at him. If they are letting the straight fastballs go out of the zone and giving him offspeed stuff in it, that may explain a loss in BABIP as well. The contact he's making isn't on the same type of pitch and thus isn't giving him the same hard hit balls as before. But the numbers don't seem to really go with that. Line Drives are up slightly. Of course there are line drives and there are LINE DRIVES so it's all subjective. What we do know is his contact outside of the zone is up, while inside its about the same.

To sum it up, even though he's recognizing the balls and strikes better, he still isn't doing a great job at it and he's not getting the same types of balls and strikes that he had been so when he does swing he's not getting the same result. I'm not getting worried about Ian just yet. It could easily just be an off month or a better quality of pitcher. Or, if you want to be an optimist, it could be a bump on the road to an even greater improvement. He does need to recognize balls and strikes properly in order to keep hitting like he did last year and at least in May the movement in that direction is there. This is something to keep an eye on though.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Tuesday Quickie

The Nats continue on hurtling through the season like an unimpressive comet hurtling through space. They can't seem to get traction, but they have to much talent to simply fade away. They won 2 of 3 from the Phillies, which is what they should have done. They should win 2 of 4 from the Orioles, we'll see, and then go 1-2 vs the Braves.

This sounds like treading water and it is, but that's what happens when a good team plays a team that's as good or better. The Nats are no longer 100 win challengers and the expectations have to change with that. It doesn't mean we won't expect the Nats to win more than they lose, they should go 5-1 over the Mets/Twins stretch, but that they'll lose only a little less than half the time as they inch back toward a 90 win pace.

Again, how did this happen? Well to sum up the last few weeks of columns - the hitting has been disappointing through a combination of injuries and a bench that has come back to Earth with such force it killed the dinosaurs. The pitching is still good, even very good, but it's not "best in the league great", and thus can't carry this disappointing offense. There's hope that it'll change but the Nats need everyone healthy in the lineup and everyone who can't get healthy replaced.

We can keep talking about this over and over but we all know where it stands. Fix the bench (get rid of Moore and/or Tracy and try something new), decide on what to do with Espy (if he can't get healthy enough to hit, you have to DL him and try something else - this offense can't carry an automatic out), make doubly sure that Bryce & Werth are healthy when they return and ready to play for the rest of the year, hopefully.

What's up with Drew?

Drew Storen was pretty unlucky the first month of the year. He didn't pitch all that bad but the hits had eyes and he gave up a couple poorly timed big ones and up went the ERA.  In May though he's just pitching badly.

His BABIP has dropped from a crazy .406 to a still pretty high .353. His LD% is up and his GB% is way up which is usually good, but I feel like he's getting hit harder. He's striking out far fewer batters (10.45 K/9 in April, 6.52 K/9 in May) and walking a bunch more (0.87 BB/9 to 3.72) His LOB rate which was at an unlucky 60.6% is not at a more normal 78.3% but his runs given up have still gone up because of all these extra men on base.

I haven't spent enough time digging through the pitch data but a cursory look does tell me that his "K" pitches, his slider and changeup are less effective in May and he's actually throwing them more. Trying to avoid contact after getting unlucky in April rather than trusting his stuff? Maybe. Again - we're drawing hypotheses here, not conclusions.

In an ideal world Drew's ERA would be inching up toward 4.00 and Nats fans would be saying "We gotta watch Drew, I don't like what I'm seeing and we can't afford for the bullpen to go bad, too".  But the world is not ideal. Drew didn't get to start with the 3.00 ERA he deserved so he doesn't have that leash. Nats fans should be patient with him. Really it is only one bad month of pitching that happened to get two bad months of results. But at this point I doubt anyone is feeling in a patient mood.

Friday, May 24, 2013

How did they get here - Part 2

It's easy enough to dismiss most of what has happened this year to bad luck or at least things out of the team's control. Werth's injury. Ramos' injury. La Roche starting slow. Gio starting slow. Some back-end bullpen blowouts from guys you trusted fully.  Even Espinosa, the current punching bag of the fans, who out there wouldn't have had him start the season and play at least a month, if not more? How can you blame a management when it's putting a team everyone thought was great out there and it doesn't perform.

But this ignores the fact that the team did take gambles during the off-season.  They were minor gambles, seemingly pretty innocuous at the time, but they've all blown up in the Nats faces and contributed a fair amount to the struggles up to this point.

The signing of Dan Haren was the first gamble. On another team this would have been a bigger deal, but on the Nats, with 3 rotation guys who were expected to be good to very good and Detwiler looking like a fine back of the rotation guy, Haren didn't have to be great. He merely needed to be ok and eat up innings. He did battle an injury last year, but he seemed to pull through it and get stronger as the year went on. If he was right, he could be fantastic moving from the AL to the NL. Edwin Jackson, who filled this role last year, wanted a big contract and proved to be unreliable, so why not take a chance on a guy that might end up giving you one of the best rotations of all-time?

The problem though was depth. In that the Nats have none with starting pitching. Edwin Jackson was a machine went brought in for this role. He had no significant injury history in the past 4+ years and was only 28.  Haren on the other hand had just battled injury and was going to be 32 and that's less reliable.  If you didn't want to dip into your AAA pitching because it wasn't very good, then bringing in Haren was not the best move. Now it turns out he hasn't gotten injured, but he has given the Nats a performance very much like what they'd expect from a throw-away arm that would replace an injured Haren.Worse yet with a slow start from Gio and Stras not being dominant, the Haren issues meant more innings were needed from the front part of a pen which was a problem because of gamble #2.

The second gamble the Nats made was to cut out some of the middle reliever cost and set up a slightly unusual bullpen contstruction. Rizzo knows enough that a pen doesn't really need a lefty. If you have good enough pitchers they will get anyone out. For this reason he let Mike Gonzalez & Sean Burnett walk
to be replaced by Rafeal Soriano. With Soriano, Clippard, and Storen at the back end it presumably wouldn't matter who they faced because they'd get them out. This gamble worked out ok for the most part.

But then he also decided to roll with Zach Duke instead of Tom Gorzelanny to save a few dollars. While Gorzelanny had proved over the course of a couple grooming years that he was up to the job of middle relief, Duke had only one year post his last failed starter attempt and the results were mixed. Yes while up with the Nats he looked good, but the longer time he spent that year was in AAA and the stats are decidedly unimpressive. The other gamble he took was keeping H-Rod on the staff.  H-Rod had no defined role. He's just a live arm that is around because Rizzo is desperate to prove he didn't lose that Willingham deal. Maybe he'll develop, maybe not, but he's nothing to be relied on. Of course with a rotation and back-end of the pen like the Nats have, the two gambles would hardly matter, right?

Back to where we ended gamble #1 - Haren failed though, and Gio wasn't sharp and Stras wasn't going deep.  All of a sudden the Nats didn't need fewer bullpen innings they needed more. 20% more in April in comparison to 2012. Add in a couple of back-end blow-ups with Storen looking especially shaky, and you really do need all hands on deck. But Duke's shown he is that mediocre AAA arm that he looked like last year. And H-Rod remained an enigma. A guy you wanted to use when you are up a lot or down a lot just to see if he can get it, now had to be used when needed. He hasn't been as terrible as Duke but he hasn't done well and he's flirted with disaster enough times that you don't want to use him. The Nats pen went from strength to weakness in the blink of an eye. It's might have evened out with Strasburg and Gio doing better so Davey can pick and choose as he likes, but Ross got injured, leaving that Haren and "not Detwiler" spot as trouble. Hopefully when Detwiler comes back that'll help finally put the top back on this exploding soda bottle.

The third gamble was the worst one. Rizzo, bet hard on the bench. Last year Bernadina put up a career year. Tracy hit better than he had in years. Moore hit better than could ever had been expected looking at his minor league stats. Lombo basically maxed out initial expectations. Rather than see this as a lucky break that needed to be addressed, Rizzo doubled down. This was to be his bench. It would probably not be an issue. With Span replacing Morse, only Werth and Zimm had an injury history and both looked pretty healthy to end last year. The Nats might not even need the bench that much.

Whoops. Werth did get injured again (as one would expect at his age) and Danny, who looked injured at the end of last year, still looks injured. Zimm has predictably missed a few games (he will every year) and Bryce managed to bang himself up. It's not any more time, I bet, than last year with Morse being out a lot early and then Werth going down, but if Rizzo was hoping for fewer at bats from his bench he didn't get it. The bench in turn didn't only predictably regress, it crashed right past that. Bernadina is putting up the requisite worst year of his career to balance out the best one. Tracy isn't hitting at all. Moore is being exploited as badly as we thought he might based on his minor league numbers. Lombo is hitting like expected which is not exactly a good thing. They are the worst bench in the majors right now.

I've said before that if you are going to scrimp and save somewhere you do it at the edges. Your bench and your middle relief are the first two places to start. But as this season has indicated, you really don't want to scrimp and save anywhere if you want to be sure you will win. You don't know what will happen and you don't want a few bad performances or injuries to reveal your team's soft underbelly. This is why the best teams generally have the highest payrolls. Along with the superstars, they keep the Gorzelannys. They look at the OF situation and they sign a Reed Johnson or Scott Hairston and try to work it out. It doesn't mean that these moves will succeed (look at Hairston's numbers right now) but they try to get to the most wins, not the most wins per marginal dollar.

The Nats paid for this shortcut approach and a Haren gamble gone badly with a .500 record up to Memorial Day weekend. The Haren gamble may turn around, but the shortcuts will need to be addressed. Can it be done internally? Eury Perez? Anthony Rendon? Abad & Rosenbaum? Maybe. But that's a question Nats fans were hoping not to have in late May.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Bryce taketh away, Bryce giveth

How many games can you win with a good start and Bryce Harper carrying the Nats to victory?  Hopefully about 70 more. The Nats end the west coast trip 4-6, when 6-4 was the goal so they are now behind for May, but only by a couple games. A day off and a the Nats enter, to me, the most interesting stretch of games theyhave all year.

3 home series that the Nats should win - Phillies, Mets, Twins
4 games vs their interarea rival - The Orioles
A road series vs their crucial interleague rival - The Braves

It just feels like a lot can go wrong here or a lot can go right.  The blessing is that it ends with the Mets and the Twins so barring complete embarrassment to start there's that chance for a redemption with a strong 5-1 or 6-0 finish. The Nats still aren't hitting but they miss Cliff Lee and it's likely Chen will still be out for the Orioles when the two teams meet. So if there's any time to turn it on, it's now.

At the same time if any problems after this break you feel they have to move on them.  One month slump? Ok. Two months? Getting very tired of it. Three months? You don't go to 3 months. Not unless this is a star player you are talking about. As bad as they've been you can try one last stretch with the guys you have now. But after this stretch, with the All-Star break staring you in the face, you'll be forced to do something.
Last chance boys.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

How did they get here - Part 1

.500.  May 22nd. Not season ending by any means (the Tigers were 3 games under .500 on July 3rd last year) but they've certainly dug themselves a shallow hole they need to get out of.  How did this happen to a team that was the WS pick for like 40% of all predictions?

Before the season I came up with two scenarios. A dream scenario where the Nats challenged for the best record ever, and a nightmare scenario where the Nats miss the playoffs. Since the nightmare scenario is playing itself out (for the first 30% of the season at least) let's take a look at what I said and what is happening.

To summarize I said that assuming the Nats got a full season of Werth (even at diminished expectations) and Bryce continued to develop, they needed everyone else to regress to their normal offensive and pitching production, have Dan Haren fail and have a big injury or surprise flameout.  Right away we see one problem. The Nats aren't getting a full season of Werth, so that opens up a door. We also know that Dan Haren is failing. Now we're left with just regression and surprise injury/flameout to take the Nats down.  Let's look

Suzuki - 2012 (Nats) 97; 2013 - 95  KEPT UP
LaRoche - 129, 89 FLAMEOUT
Espinosa - 94, 30  FLAMEOUT
Desmond - 127, 112 REGRESSION
Zimmerman - 122, 124 KEPT UP (Was at normal)
Werth - 126, 95 FLAMEOUT
Span -  104, 87 REGRESSION
Bryce - 120,  165 
Bench - I don't have to calculate this for you to know  FLAMEOUT

Bryce has progressed so that's good. But outside of that only Kurt Suzuki is keeping up a level you might not think he's capable of. Espy is an obvious flameout as is the bench, but both LaRoche and Werth are performing well below expectations taking the year as a whole. Desmond has regressed (and it's more meaningful than just this number as his defense went from surprise plus to his usual negative). Span regressed to normal and good ol' Ryan Zimmerman keeps hitting like Ryan Zimmerman does. 

Gio - 136, 94 FLAMEOUT
ZNN - 133, 231 BREAKOUT!
Stras - 124, 141 KEPT IT UP
Det - 115, 136 BREAKOUT!
Haren - 88, 68 FLAMEOUT
Relief - ~120, ~88 FLAMEOUT

Pitching is a mixed bag. Both ZNN and Detwiler have improved, while Gio and the relief core as a whole are well underperforming. The thing is the Nats were so high last year that this kind of mild disappointment still puts them as one of the better staffs in the NL. It's just not team carrying anymore.

What's the current count then?

1 expectedly good performace (factored in) - Bryce
3 unexpectedly good performances - Suzuki, ZNN, Det
3 expected normal performances - Zimm, Ian, Stras
7 unexpectedly bad performances - Espy, LaRoche, Werth, Bench, Gio, Haren, Relief

That'll do it. Up until this point the Nats performances that have been unexpectedly good have been more than doubled by the performances that are unexpectedly bad. I don't expect this to continue. LaRoche is a notorious slow starter. Gio's had a little bad luck (it is ERA we're using) and has pitched much better recently. But at the same time is ZNN going to challenge for a Cy Young? Is Detwiler a below 3.00 ERA pitcher? There's pushback either way. I'm guessing more on the positive side for the Nats than the negative.

But is it enough? If Haren, Espy, and Werth all drastically underperform this year due to injury/flameout that puts the Nats behind the 8-ball. They'll need more than a great year from ZNN to account for that. Strasburg will have to be one of the best pitchers in baseball. Someone offensively will have to break out and have a big year. There will need to be enough big positives to counter these big negatives to keep the Nats in the hunt for a division title. Playoffs? That's low hanging fruit with the 2nd WC now. All these bad things would have to keep happening (or more would have to come up) for the Nats not to be in the hunt come season's end.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Those monsters! Not Bryce! Not Bryce!

Bryce Harper since April 27th. .143 / .271 / .286

Sad thing is I'm looking so much at terrible hitting stats these days I had to sit here for a second and think if a .286 SLG was actually all that bad.

It feels awful but that was basically a throw-away game. They were fine losing it (and they did). Its not the end of the world.  Let's re-iterate the point from yesterday. You can win enough games to make the playoffs even with 3 mediocre months of baseball. The Nats haven't even finished the 2nd. As bad as it looks now, there's plenty of time for this to become water under the bridge.  Thank the Nats that went 7-2 to start the year and 10-4 from late April to early May for that.

Think about that.  The Nats finished up a 10-4 run... 11 days ago.  Not even 2 weeks ago. Remember all the untucking?

Of course there are more hurdles to overcome.  Mattheus broken hand (given that athelets have done this numerous times over the years you think clubhouses would have a designated padded punching wall). Werth continuing to age like the finest China doll. Rizzo refusing to give in on his initial plan for the season (one LH in pen and he's a mediocre long man, H-Rod still there to do... something?, a bench made up of uniforms stuffed with straw) that at this point has gone terribly awry.

But still, after all this, one game over .500. If they can pull out a win in either of the next two games, they'll be at .500 staring at 11 of the next 16 at home with series versus the Phillies, Mets and Twins in there. All teams worse than them.  An extended West Coast swing is not about gaining ground, it's about holding it. They can still manage that. Then comes the time when they should make their move.  We hope.

Monday, May 20, 2013

There's something wrong with your starter(s)

Memorial Day.  Memorial Day.  Memorial Day.

What's that? Memorial Day is next week? 

Flag Day. Flag Day. Flag Day.

The Nats are a .500 team. That's what the record says. But beyond that the Nats are playing like a .500 team. Losing 2 of 3 on the road to the Dodgers and splitting with the Padres? That's what I'd expect from a .500 team. Things have shaken out enough to tell that it is primarily (only?) an offensive issue. Ok, well the fielding could be better, but it's not the pitching staff's fault, yesterday excluded.

We've lambasted the bench several times ("Fun fact" : since saying that Tyler Moore should be sent down on the morning of the 8th he's actually hit MUCH worse.  1 hit in 24 ABs with 9 Ks, for a line of .042 / .042 / .042. If you are hoping they'll pull the trigger on DLing Espinosa consider that they still haven't touched this guy.) but they are still just the bench.  Let's take a look at how the offensive players ranked at their position in OPS and WAR (bWAR for those that care about such things), as of last night. This is based on 100 ABs by they way.

Suzuki : 
OPS : 8th of 13
WAR : 8th of 13

8th is a little unfair to Suzuki they way the numbers break.  In reality he's a pretty average catcher, which means he can't hit and is not much of a fielder. But it could be worse right?

LaRoche :
OPS : 11th of 14
WAR : 9th of 14

Sorry, Adam. April counts. Last year Adam rose to the top in part because everyone else sunk. This year Votto is healthy, Rizzo and Alonso are rising, Gonzo is NL full-time. Say goodbye to "one of the best first baseman in the league" LaRoche and welcome back "average hitting, good fielding" LaRoche.

Espinosa :
OPS : 14th of 14
WAR : 12th of 14

Why is Espy still around?  Despite being possibly the worst everyday offensive player his D ranks highly enough he's not the worst 2nd baseman in the NL. While the rest of the infield has is either regressing or not shining defensively he's still right in that department. However, man is he bad at the plate. Given his history (minor and major) it screams injury which we all in fact know he has, so he's still here because Rizzo really thinks any guy he can bring up won't match Espy in his combination of skills. Scary thought.

Desmond :
OPS : 4th of 14
WAR : 6th of 14

Bet you thought he was higher. To be fair to Ian there's a big drop offensively after him. Then again Tulo and Jean Segura as a clear step above offensively.  He's not the huge plus he was last year especially since his 2012 fine fielding stats look flukish now, but he's the 2nd best guy on the team right now.

Zimmerman :
OPS : 6th of 14
WAR : 8th of 14

I mean, it's fine and all but this isn't what he's getting paid the big bucks for.  Plus everything is saying the GG days are behind Ryan Zimmerman, even at this young age. He hasn't had superior range since 2010.

Bryce :
OPS : 1st of 13
WAR : 3rd of 13

A legitimitely great all-around player. 

Span :
OPS : 9th of 13
WAR : 7th of 13

The guy can field, I'll give him that. Can't hit though. He's right behind Ruggiano and Pollock who are really fill-in players. For those thinking he'll get better take another look. 2010, 2011 and 2 months of 2013 tell you one thing. 2012 tells you another (and all that is telling you is that he's average). A couple more XBH maybe but this is Span. 

Werth :
OPS : 15th of 16
WAR : 14th of 16

Just as bad as Espy? No. The numbers are unkind to Werth as he's probably a good week from being 10th. And RF hit much better than 2B. So it's a soft 15th, I guess. Still you'd want more for your cash and the future's so dim, you have to wear a miner's helmet.  He's 34 (today! Happy Birthday you cash-sucking, half-time playing, one big HR hitting son of a bitch!) and getting paid 16 million dollars. Next year he'll get paid 20. Then 21 the year after that. Then 21 the year after that. Did I get them all? Nope. Then 21 the year after that.

What's it all end up saying? Yes the bench is failing miserably and Espy is hitting like he's part of that bench, but virtually no one else is hitting expectations. Bryce is great, Desmond is one of the better shortstops, and Suzuki (miracle of miracles because I would have pegged him 1st as likely to be a disappointment) is average. The other 5 hitters are disappointing in one way or another this year.

The Nats had a good offense last year, maybe very good. But to get to that point they needed everyone but Bryce firing on all cylinders. They needed several "best years" to mix with a team that had nearly no disappointments. A regression to a more average offense was in the cards even if expectations were mostly met.  But this is the nightmare scenario. No one surpassing expectations. Many falling below them.

Panic time? Only for those that were 100 wins or bust. For everyone else, it's still ok.  Most playoff teams have 2-3 months of average play during the course of a season. The issue is, of course, if you have your 3 months to start the season, you have no room for error the rest of the way. You can't compensate for a late-season injury or couple weeks of bad luck. The Nats don't NEED to turn it on right now, but it's... let's say "advisable" that they do so.

Friday, May 17, 2013

So what's the problem now?

He should have shut them out? He didn't go 9? He didn't go strikeout strikeout after the error?

Thursday, May 16, 2013


There are no good options. I don't just mean for Espinosa here, I mean in general. I know you all think that Espinosa is the worst thing since bread wasn't sliced (which is silly, because except for processed sandwich bread what bread do you actually prefer to come sliced? Are you the reason all the crusty fresh-baked loaves in my grocery store are 95% sliced? If so I hate you.) but there are three batters hitting worse than he is (.502) in May by OPS. The three? Roger Bernadina (.452), Steve Lombardozzi (.441), and Tyler Moore (.315). In the matter of one offseason the bench went from "secret weapon" to "black pit of despair" in no time flat. Whenever anyone has gone down they've been replaced by a terrible offensive player.

I'm not surprised this happened to Tyler Moore, but Lombo is a little surprise and Bernie's is a a flat out shock to me. He didn't just regress from his best year, he free falled.  The knee-jerk reaction is to say "small sample size" and maybe this is just a fluke.  Ok, let's see then, how much is this BABIP? Given their average BABIPs (I used .300 for Moore and Lombo, .290 for Bernie (and Espinosa for the hell of it)) they would be hitting this: Lombo .271, Espinosa .234, Moore .179, Bernie .178. Without looking any further that would explain why Espy isn't at his usual "just decent enough average not to turn fans against him" and Lombo isn't at his "deceptively high enough average to make fans want to see him play everyday even though all of those hits are singles". But it doesn't help Moore and Bernie much.  Why? As we explained earlier with Moore - too few balls in play. Too many Ks.  Moore is striking out an alarming 44% of the time, but Bernie is up there, too, near 35%.

And this tells us something important about strikeouts.  Everyone hates the fact Danny Espinosa strikes out so much (around 25% of the time right now) But it's at those rates getting around 30% and higher that you need to worry about K's. Adam LaRoche is heating up in May with his hitting streak and a .356 average in the month. He's still striking out 26% of the time this month.  Desmond and Zimm have been the best non-Bryce hitters on the team this year and they've both struck out nearly as often as Danny. It's not the Ks.

What is it with Danny?  Right now it looks like an inability to drive the ball. LD-rate at 9.8% which is significantly lower than the past couple years (16.1% and 18.9%) . Same with HR/FB rate, 8.1% after years of 13.5% and 12.6%.  It could be just small sample size. Maybe. Patience is wearing thin but I'll keep saying I think we should wait until Memorial Day. You can have a bad month. You CAN have two but at that point you may need to make a decision, which would almost certainly be a DL decision, because if you have a third then half the year is gone.

So who replaces him? Minor leaguers? Sure there are guys hitting ok Rhymes & Kobernus come to mind but neither is someone you feel good enough about to pull Espinosa right now. (and no one fields like Espinosa).  Rendon? He's a 3rd baseman to this franchise. He's played only 4 times at 2nd in the minors this year.

And speaking of having no good options, Detwiler and Ramos went down. You'll probably see Solano for Ramos. He is hitting .167 / .196 / .204.  Why him if he's hitting that bad? Because the other AAA catcher is Maldonado and he's .098 / .159 / .098. Sandy Leon? He's hitting this year like he hit in every year that wasn't 2012 (poorly).  As for Detwiler the Nats don't have a real prospect pitching well above High-A right now. Daniel Rosenbaum is doing ok, but he's a paradox.  He's not good enough that you expect him to stick (the Rockies had him as a Rule V this year and tossed him back) but he hasn't started his clock yet so you hate to do that just for a spot start. Look instead for one of the terrible veteran AAA arms (Young, Maya, Perry and Ohlendorf) to step in.

1-2 vs the Dodgers isn't bad. But they really need a strong showing vs the Padres with the Giants waiting at the end of the road.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Hey, Haren is good again! So that's good.

It's Kershaw and it wasn't a bad day so what are you going to do? Since the Nats don't work walks they weren't likely to get to the pen early.  So you cross your fingers, hope to string together a few hits or get a timely XBH and that your pitcher was doing well enough to win.  They got the latter but not the former.

The latter is good news though.  After looking like he was done a month ago, Haren seems better. Mostly his control is back and that's enough to avoid the catastrophes that were taking place to start the season. Two walks in his last 4 games. But also he's not getting hit as hard as before.  Three out of four games with  2 or fewer hits categorized as line drives. He might not be over that hump just yet (the Tigers had 9 such hits which is usually trash fire territory) but he's trending in the right direction.

Any other notes?

While it's unfair to judge any hitter after facing Kershaw. Tyler Moore went 0-fer again. He's currently 4th worst in WAR in fangraphs and while it's real unfair to judge something like that now, there are a couple things to note. 
  • Usually if you are getting screwed with WAR it's because they hate your fielding too much. 40 games of fielding information is like a couple weeks of hitting at best. Way too variable to be certain of. While they don't like Moore's fielding its not driving this bus.
  • WAR is a playing time dependent stat so the other guys that are up there are mostly every day players. The fact that Moore can be 4th worst in 1/3rd of the at bats of these guys is pretty depressive (that's the opposite of impressive, right?)
Couldn't figure a Haren win over Kershaw but still I wanted a 2-1 series win so the Nats  need one tonight. Can Detwiler outduel Strasburg West?  Normally I wouldn't like the Nats chances but coming off the DL we have no idea what kind of Greinke we'll see.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Oh Bryce

You silly kid. Some guys you put at first base because they don't have the talent to play elsewhere. Other you put at first base because you don't have room for them elsewhere.  And a select few play first base because if you put them in a position where they can run into walls at full speed they'll do it. I'm not saying Bryce should play first now, but there's something to be said about keeping this kid healthy and "lucite box with holes punched in it" is still not an official position.

Otherwise good start. ZNN was fantastic again. Ok there was a lot of stranded runners again (you aren't going to scatter hits forever) but once again he had no walks and only 4 3-ball counts (Fun Fact #1 : he gave up a hit in each one saying to me - I'd rather throw a meatball than give up a walk. Not the best 3-ball approach but if it's what's keeping him not walking people in general throw them meatballs.  Fun Fact #2 : ZNN has only gone 3-0 to one five batters this season. That's a commitment to throwing strikes.  Was better when I thought it was 1 though)

The offense was more timely than impressive, taking advantage of another team's errors for once, but whatever. They win.

Tonight it's Kershaw vs Haren. Haren's pitched better lately but around that quality Atlanta game was a couple of outings that were as much luck as good pitching. Last game, to me, looked like a Tiger crushing that just never quite came together in time. So we'll see. The Dodgers aren't a particularly good offensive team but they've been hotter recently. Kershaw of course is Kershaw and we'll see if the Nats can scratch out a couple or catch him on a bad day.

Monday, May 13, 2013

Monday Quickie

Strasburg is dealing with a moving target right now. Remember how it was the first inning that was Strasburg's issue?  Then that cleared up so everyone moved onto first batter of an inning? And that wasn't an issue yesterday so it is now composure after an error is made? I'm going to guess next start, he loses 3-2, he's fine after two errors are made but he gives up 2 homeruns so now THAT'S the issue with him.

Everyone expects him to be great so if he's good, that's not good enough, and if he's not good like on Saturday, it's the most terrible thing in the world. It's unfair. It's also the life of an ace pitcher. He reminds me a lot of Zack Greinke.  Zack had a breakout year in 2009, and since 2010 he's been the 8th most valuable pitcher in regards to WAR. We can quibble about one thing or another but he's pitched like a #1 but thanks to a little bad luck, a couple bad teams, and an attitude that doesn't mesh with what we expect from our ballplayers he's not seen in the same light as some of his contemporaries (at least by the fans).

Strasburg didn't sign a big contract. He's not the veteran arm. He's not the only young important player struggling. Yet he's the guy getting singled out. You want to be the best this is how you are going to get treated.

Part of me thinks though this is a smokescreen to cover up the fact that even though they are in the worst division in baseball the Nats still are only 3 games over .500.  That's right worst division in baseball.  Oh ok, the AL West is giving them a run for their money but here is how each place team ranks by winning percentage against their counterparts in other divisions.

Braves .568 - 6th out of 6
Nats .541 - 5th out of 6
Phillies  .462 - 6th out of 6
Mets .412 - 5th out of 6
Marlins .289 - 5th out of 6

The Marlins might be the worst team in the majors. The Mets pitching behind Matt Harvey is terrible (their 2nd best starter has a 4.63 ERA).  The Phillies offense looks every bit as old as you expected. And the Braves offense has moved past the crazy Justin Upton start but is not yet over the terrible BJ Upton one.
And yet here the Nats are, presumptive 100 win team and World Series favorite, just better than middling. Thank god for the AL Central (5-0 vs Sox and Tigers), am I right?

The Nats have scored 2 or fewer runs in 18 of 37 games. 18! The only team worse is the Marlins. You don't win those games.  It's not one thing its everything. Some of it is timing. Bryce is super hot? LaRoche can't hit. LaRoche starts hitting? Bryce slumps (really - .107 / .235 / .214 over the past 2 weeks - that's how hot he was that his stats still look good). Some of it is injuries. They had injuries last year, but the bench has gone from best to worst. Werth is presumably slowed again by injuries, bad since mid April and now out. Some of it is just bad hitting. Danny still hasn't found his stride and Span and Suzuki have been just as bad for roughly a month, cooling down fast after hot starts.

The short answer though is they don't walk enough not to hit. When they don't hit they don't get on base and when they hit the occasional XBH (their power is still ok) there's no one on base to come home. They are perfectly ok with RISP (6th in the NL in OPS) but they never get the chance to have these at bats (dead last in the NL in PAs with RISP).  The team needs to start hitting better because they don't have the type of player that will work a lot of walks, nor do they inclination to teach patience.

7-3 for May which is still good but it's also exactly where I pegged them to be, except they'd be coming off a sweep of the Cubs.  Predicted 6-4 for this away trip. Let's see what happens. A few quick losses and this could get ugly fast.

Friday, May 10, 2013


that's me.

Dan Haren pitched goo... wel... fai... Look, he won all right.  He got hit pretty hard.  Lots of line drives and deep flyballs. But he got the win so concerns can be pushed back another start.  I personally don't think he's getting better, but then again I don't think he's an unsalvageable mess. He's a 5th starter nominally and in talent right now.

6-1 so far in May, a very nice leg up on the hoped for 17-11. That was factoring in a sweep vs the Cubs so we'll see if the Nats can keep it up and get those "Look out.  Here comes the Nats!" stories going.

The Nats are only 2 games behind the Braves and the Braves had their hot start (12-1) BUT they also had a longer but not quite as definitive cold streak too (5-11).  So it's not like they have been awesome and the Nats have kept pace. They're back to where they should be.

While it's nice to say the Nats have gotten it together and got their chemistry going in this recent 9-4 stretch but take note that they are 5-2  in one and two run games.  In other words, things are breaking for the Nats (and it's not like they had bad luck before - it was more neutral).  Think that's a sign of chemistry? Everyone said  last years Nats were some sort of chemistry perfection. Last years Nats were 6 games over in one-run games for the season (about in line with their W-L percentage) .  This year's Nats are already 4 games over. Not saying the Nats are going to regress back to April's W-L pattern.  I am saying if they want the last 13 games to continue they need to start hitting better because they won't win close games like this all year long.

Thursday, May 09, 2013

Get excited about ZNN, just not too excited, but still pretty excited

Jordan Zimmermann went out last night and pitched another masterpiece. He hasn't given up more than 3 runs in any start (and he only did that once) and his ERA sunk ever closer to 1.50.  Is he the ace of the Nats staff? So far in 2013, (in about a 6th of the season) there is no question. Will he remain the ace of the staff? Ehhhhh

Let's go through the fancy numbers! (I know you don't think this allows for growth but it does. Guys can get better.  It's just that they rarely get THAT much better overnight and a lot of times they are helped by out-of-whack luck on things they don't have much control over. Remember how we did this with Detwiler? Remember how he had a 0.90 ERA in his first 3 starts and we said it couldn't last and then in his next 3 starts he had an ERA of 4.50? That's why you need to pay attention here)

The Ranges - stats that can vary by pitcher but fall within a typical range. 
BABIP (ranges between .250 - .325) 
Career: .287  Last year: .288  This year : .209

Sorry, right here is a big reason ZNN is among the best pitchers in the NL right now. This early in the year, this is usually all it takes. Find a surprisingly low ERA and there is usually a surprisingly, and unsustainably, low BABIP behind it. Don't believe me? Jason Marquis has a 3.50 ERA and is 4-2. His BABIP is .223. This is going up. 

HR/FB (6%-13%)
Career:  9.0%  Last year: 9.2% This year: 4.9% 

Jordan has always been decent at keeping balls in the park. As you'll see below he's pitching in a way that we'd expect fewer homers.  Still, 5% is too low. This will also rise.

LOB% (66%-80%)
Career:  75.4%  Last year: 79.3%  This year: 84.6%  

Hey a pattern! Luck going completely for ZNN in a way that just can't be kept up.

You might be saying, "why can't these things be kept up?".  Well, I can't give you a specific physical reason.  What I can tell you is that the entire history of baseball featuring thousands of pitchers tells us a story. It tells us that outside of singular fluke years, the ranges fall where the ranges fall. Like take BABIP. The lowest pitcher in the history of the game with 1000 IP has a career BABIP of .240, the highest .330. That .240 (and those around it) are from a different era. Since the strike? It's .262 and it's Mariano Rivera. Unless you think ZNN is possibly the greatest pitcher of all time you can't believe he will keep these numbers up.

But that doesn't mean he's not pitching well or getting better. Let's now look at the personal fancy stats

The personal stats - is he getting better?
Career :  43.2% Last Year : 43.4% This Year : 50.3%

ZNN in the past has been more of a flyball pitcher. Flyball pitchers tend to live and die by the strike out and the walk because flyballs will become home runs, and you have to make sure you don't have runners on base when that happens. Groundball pitchers have a little more leeway. ZNN this year has been a pretty solid GB pitcher.

K/9, BB/9
Career 7.30 / 2.07 Last Year : 7.04 / 1.98  This year : 6.00 / 1.59

He's also walking fewer people.  While you don't want to see a drop in Ks the drop in walks is actually a bigger drop percentage wise (20% to 15%) and more important as he's moved from being a flyball guy to a ground ball guy so a drop in Ks matters less.

Pitch F/X data suggests that this isn't just fluky early season data.  ZNN is pitching differently. Yes, more change-ups, but also more fastballs and fewer sliders. A better mix of offspeed stuff and more reliance on a top-notch fastball.

While the pitch effectiveness of the curve and the change remains mediocre the movement has improved on each. (thanks to for the graphs)

And the whiffs on each pitch have increased dramatically. 
So while it's likely that his biggest mistakes are still with these pitches (which would explain the mediocre pitch effectiveness) they are doing their jobs overall. They are keeping the hitters off balance so that the he can finish them off with weak contact on the fastball.

You see, before 2013 ZNN would try to finish off hitters with an off-speed pitch. Despite being only 23% of his total pitches, the slider accounted for 30+% of his strikeouts. The same thing was seen with the curve, about 12% of his pitches, but 17% of the strikeouts. Meanwhile with the fastball, you saw the opposite.  He threw it over 60% of the time but it was only the "outcome" pitch (pitch where the AB ended) around 55% of the time and the K pitch around 50%. 

In 2013 things have flipped. It's a little early to be sure if he's laying off the curve (he doesn't throw it that often) but the slider K percentage is down to 21%. The fastball has been thrown more (68% of the time) and its use as the outcome pitch has jumped dramatically (69%) as well as the K pitch (55%.) 

This may not seem like much but there's a definite change here. The fastball,which is arguably his best pitch, is more entrenched as his out pitch. Which is as it should be. 

Anyway, wrapping this all up what does this mean? It means that even though ZNN has gotten lucky, will experience some regression and is not likely to be in the Cy Young conversation at year's end, he is pitching better.  He is throwing like a low-level #1 which, if Strasburg can pitch to his talent and Gio can pitch like last year, would give the Nats a 1-3 as good as anyone has had in a while.

Wednesday, May 08, 2013

The little things matter and Tyler Moore

Rainout! Hope you planned your ticket purchase around going out to the ballpark Tuesday night and potentially Thursday afternoon.  Kilgore points out that 13 of the 19 teams that don't play in domed stadiums and list a rainout policy on their website allow for exchanges for any future game (subject to availability).  Who were these 5 teams that don't?  I checked the Red Sox, them of the 3000 yr "sold-out" streak.  Nope.  Any game this season. The money-loving Yankees?  Nope. Any game 12-months from the date of the ticket.*

*Side note - this is how I got to see Doc Gooden's no-hitter. Friend had Opening Day tickets and the game got snowed out. Exchanged it for the Gooden game and by then I was back from college. 

So then I had a thought.  I'm thinking of the rich and successful teams. As much as the Nats have begun to emulate those teams in the standings, there's still a "you better weigh that mail and get the correct postage" heart beating deep in the chest of this team. Let's check the loser teams. The Royals?  Yep, there's one.  Cubbies?  Yep. Though they "try to get refunds". Hmmm White SoxDodgers. I'm not going to waste my morning looking for the others especially when these can get a bit confusing (like the Tigers don't allow for exchanges UNLESS its rescheduled for the same homestand, but not then if it's scheduled into a traditional double header)

Anyway, it's not the best move by the Nats. Not only is it fan-unfriendly, but to me it doesn't say "winner" it says "we want your money".  If you want to be a winner act like it from top to bottom.

Back to the game on the field, where the little things are going wrong for the Nats. Last year nearly nothing did. A few bad games for Wang, Lidge and H-Rod, otherwise the pitching was perfect. Offensively Morse disappointed, Espy never turned the corner, and injuries took their toll, but Morse still hit ok, Espy was still an average 2nd baseman at the plate, and the guys replacing the injured all did as well as they could. Even the pitchers were the best hitting pitchers in the league. It was a charmed year.

This year, the Nats aren't getting all the breaks. Let's look at a couple little things.

The pitchers aren't hitting. It's not a big deal, they don't get up much, get PH for, etc. etc. But still you'd rather have the best hitting pitchers than the worst. Last year the Nats smashed it to a tune of a .429 OPS. As I said before, that was best in the league. Now that's not good overall (Guzman's 2005 was never that bad) but it's a step above this year's 351 OPS.  It's not anyone particular's fault (only Gio is hitting). It's probably not going to get much better. This is a pretty average number for pitchers. It's also not something you can really blame the pitchers for. It's just one of those things that was nice about last year.

The bench isn't hitting. We've gone over this a few times. Lombo is hitting some singles, the rest of the bench is hitting under .200. Does that matter? Well sure, in comparison to 2012. Last year the Nats PHs hit for a .786 OPS. That's a super high number. That's Ian Desmond right now. That was the best in the league. This year?  .367 which is the worst in the league. Is that going to last? Is it really just a small sample size (64 PAs for subs, 42 PH ABs) and a low BABIP (.220)?  Maybe. But maybe not.  Remember last year Bernie had his best year ever.  Tracy his best since 2005. We probably would have said "that couldn't last" last year in May and it did. There's not enough at bats to necessarily expect a turn-around.

Also... Tyler Moore sucks.  Sorry Tyler Moore lovers (and I know you are out there. I remember yelling at you last year).  He does. The guy is striking out at a scary rate. 42.9%.   You think Danny strikes out too much?  Is Tyler had this rate and Danny's PAs from last year he would have struck out 282 times. Adam Dunn stop Tyler Moore in the street and tells him to cut down on his strikeouts. He's got a pretty good BABIP of .286 but his average is terrible.Why? Because he's not putting balls in play. He could have a BABIP of .500 (unbelievably high) and he'd still might be hitting under .300.

Is there a reason this is happening? You can point to an increased swing rate (7-10% more swings) and a decreased contact rate but the real reason is his strikeouts were terrible in the minors too.This is the player he is. There has been no real difference what pitchers are pitching him - the pitch type breakdown is very similar to last year. A quick look at the Pitch F/X data hints that maybe they aren't giving him pitches on the low and in part of the plate, instead focusing on the up and in part. But if that's all it takes it suggests that there isn't a hole in Tyler's swing where he can't hit it, but rather there's a hole in Tyler's swing where he can.

I don't hope for improvement mainly because this team promotes aggression. They are probably asking Tyler to swing through this when really he needs to re-evaluate his view of the strike zone. Add to this the facts that his walk rate has dropped under 5%, he's a bad baserunner and a worse fielder, and you get a guy contributing nothing to the team. You can't even give him the intangibles. Veteran presence? Nope that's Tracy. Youthful exhuberance? Lombo.

Let's take a baby step here Nats. Send Moore down. Bring Chris Marrero up. Can't hurt. Keeps the R/L things with LaRoche. The Moore Era is over.

Monday, May 06, 2013

Monday Quickie

How quick can I make this?  It looked like the Nats offense worked up over the weekend.  On Friday it was another bad showing, lots of people doing nothing. No XBHs no walks. Nats lose. On Saturday, the Nats got some breaks, but they made some for themselves.  Even though they had one fewer hit, they walked 6 times, and took advantage of those walks with some timely hitting. On Sunday the offense, even without Bryce, actually hit the ball and hit a couple of home runs. That was the first multi-homer game for the team since April 25th and only their third since April 9th.  (Fun fact - the Nats hit 14 homers in their first 7 games.  They hit 16 in the 25 since).

Can they keep it up? The next two games will be a good test because the Tiger pitching staff 2013 is looking at lot like the Nats 2012. 

Hmmm... too quick. Afternoon edition later.

Friday, May 03, 2013

Catch-Up Day

At work first then comments. As for the Nats they did exactly what they were supposed to do at ATL, take 2 of 4.  They didn't do it in the kindest way to the nerves but importantly the results are the same.

How did April finish up? Well from 17-10 expectations the Nats landed at 13-14. What should we look for in May? They started off with 2 games in Atlanta and next is 3 in Pittsburgh.  You'd figure a split again in ATL and at least one in Pittsburgh so 3-2 for that little stand (they already have a leg up with their two wins).  Tigers for 2 at home (split) followed by the Cubs (sweep) for a little 4-1 stop over. Then comes the Nats first real long set, a 10 game road trip vs the Dodgers (let's say 2-1), Padres (3-1), and Giants (1-2).  Home for the Phillies (2-1) and the O's (1-1) then away at the O's (1-1) and a game at ATL (0-1).  Add it all up... carry the one...

17-11.  And they are 2-0 so far.

It's a lot like the first month's expectations. People talk about the difficulty of the first month's schedule but to be honest it wasn't that hard. There were a big handful of games that should have been cakewalks and more games at home than away. Knowing what we know now maybe we adjust expectations to 16-11 or maaaaybe 15-12 but we'd never get to a place where 13-14 was ok.

Another word of annoyance. I really wish the articles that amount to "We're losing because we're not playing as a team" and "I wasn't playing well because I got away from what I should be doing" were permanently drained from the sportswriters "Well of Triteness".  If things were that easy everyone would be winning and playing well. I'm not going to blame the players for getting caught up in such things, but those on the outside looking in should use their perspective to shed light, not parrot things that sound good but mean nothing. 

Thursday, May 02, 2013

Saved by the ZNN

Goodbye Nebraska.  Thanks for the snow.

So Zimmermann saved the Nats last night pitching brilliantly again to make up for another anemic showing by the Nats offense.  Last year we saw something similar offensively but the Nats pitching saved their April with one of the best starting pitching months ever. (And that's something to remember when you continue your needless Strasburg bashing. You are basically bashing him for not saving the Nats. We'll see what Detwiler does in his next start but overall Stras and Det have basically pitched the same. The difference is grouping and DPs. Now we can't just dismiss those things but it's not enough to warrant gushing praise for one and heaping scorn for the other. You're frying anchovies here, people) 

The whole "all or nothing"  Nats offense continues.  Look one mor at the odd distribution of runs scored since the 13th.

0, 0, 0, 1, 1, 1, 1, 2, 2, 2, 2, 2, 2, 6, 6, 7, 8, 10,

That's just strange right? While the average isn't terrible they pack their runs into just a few games so you end up with some games you really should win, and more games you really should lose. This shouldn't continue as there really isn't a good rhyme nor reason to it (that I can see - I'll check) but hey I said that before.

What's the problem?  Well remember how you all hated how Danny Espinosa hit last year (even though it wasn't the worstest) Here's who's hitting noticeably better than that in the past 4 weeks

Bryce Harper
Ian Desmond

That's it. That's the list.

What I personally think is really making the difference is the collapse of the bench.  Last year the Nats had injuries but the bench made up for it. This year, Lombo, Moore, Bernie, Tracy and now Rendon are all hitting terribly.  This is not a surprise people.  They might hit a little better but not a lot.  There is a reason why they are the bench.

With the Super-subs now back to being a regular ol' stinky bench that gives the starting lineup no room for error. Can the lineup starting hitting? On the positive side we did note earlier that the Nats offense is made up entirely of slow starters so we should see some improvement based on history and just on the fact that they aren't this bad. On the negative side how much of this is injury related? Espy's shoulder? Zimm and Werth and Ramos are looking fragile at this point.  The more injury related it is the more chance the Nats have at being mediocre or worse at the plate.  And at that point even the expected turning around of Gio and the fixing of the Haren-spot likely won't save the Nats from at best a WC finish.