Nationals Baseball: Offense and catching the Braves

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Offense and catching the Braves

Is the offense back? No, not yet.

Since the start of the Twins series the Nats have scored 69 runs in 17 games or just over 4 runs a game. It's still below league (4.06 to the average of 4.07) but it's right there. Even better in the past week they've scored 27 runs in 6 games or 4.5 runs per game. That's pretty damn good. But before you get excited let's look at the lines :
.252 / .312 / .392 since Minnesota
.263 / .316 / .400 in the past week

Those aren't good lines. They aren't terrible mind you but they are more in line with the average 4 runs a game Nats, as opposed to the 4.5 runs a game Nats we've seen recently. What's the difference then? My guess is some better luck with RISP.  Just last night if I counted right they were 5-13 (or .385) in those situations. Also maybe better timing with the home runs? Desmond did have a grandslam and LaRoche had a 3-run job recently. Anyway, it's luck, but it's about time luck it turning the Nats way as far as the offense in concerned.

Better news is that Bryce is coming back. No, he isn't a savior but he does (or at least should) immediately make the offense better. Get lucky with 4.5 runs a game for a few more days then actually earn it. That would work just fine.

As for catching the Braves. I know you look up and see 6 games and think "oh that's not that much" and Boz can regail you with stories of teams that have made up that ground in just a month. That's fine but here's the reality. Usually a team is 6 games ahead of you half-way through the season because they are demonstrably better than you are. When that isn't the case (and I'm not convinced it is) 6 games is still a lot of ground to make up. While a few teams have done it, most teams throughout history have not.

At the end of April the Nats were only behind 4.5 games. That wasn't a lot. At the end of May the Nats were only down 5.5 games. That wasn't a lot. Now it's 6.  Do you see what's happening here? Since that opening stretch Atlanta hasn't played any better than the Nats but that doesn't matter because they don't have to. They can simply match the Nats and run away with the division.

The Nats have 86 games left in the year. Their best 86 game stretch last year was 55-31. So if they play that well for the remainder of the year they'll be 93-69. Possible? Sure. A bit of a stretch given what we've seen this year but it could happen. The Braves would have to go 48-36 to match that. That's not easy but you have to see it's easier than going 55-31.  The worse the Nats do, the easier the job is for the Braves to maintain that lead.

The Braves have two things on their side. A big lead and a diminishing number of games to make up that lead. Luckily for the Nats the Braves haven't made it tougher on them, but time has. The Nats are still in an window where they can simply outplay a good Braves team and end up on top, but the window is closing fairly quickly. Soon they'll need both to play well and the Braves to collapse to make it work. That's asking a lot. The Nats need to start making up ground now, make up a game or two before the All-Star break to make this a possibility heading into the last part of the year. 

If I sound like a broken record so be it. I like hope just fine but I want it to be realistic. Heading into late July 8 games behind and hoping that the Nats could comeback because you can cherry pick a half-dozen teams from the multi-decade history of baseball that have done it is not realistic. Let's not end up there.


Chas R said...

Thanks Harper. I was really happy to see the offense show up last night. A top of the lineup with Rendon, Harper, Werth, LaRoche, and Desi should be pretty good. I'm not feeling very comfortable with the bottom, especially with T-Mo back, and Tracy and Bernadina still inconsistent.

Do you think Rizzo can/will make some moves to improve the Nats' chances of catching the Braves in the last half? What the Braves? Are they likely to make any moves?

Joe C said...

With Werth, Span, and Harper in the OF (healthy) and Zim, Desi, Mullet, and LaRoche stay healthy we won't need to worry about Tracy and T-Mo at the bottom of the lineup. Shark and Lombardozzi (who deserves his own bobblehead night)are both viable bench players who are heating up. With Ramos coming back after the ASG and Suzuki hitting the ball on the nose (just not falling right now) it will be a pretty well rounded lineup. If we can cut it to 4 before the break I think it will be very do-able to catch ATL.

Chris Needham said...

I've never liked those "if they play at this pace" kinds of analyses, especially with so many games left between the teams.

I think they have 9 left. Say the Nats go 6-3 there.

Now we're talking about the Nats having to make up just 3 games in the other 80 games. That's nothing.

Harper said...

Chaz - what Joe says is true. Everyone healthy is going to mitigate the bottom to a Suzuki issue and nothing more. But that assumes Werth/Zimm can stay healthy.

I think Rizzo will wait on this team to see if they close ground before seeing what type of move they'll make. Injuries have been off and on so need changes. As for the Braves they'll fritter at the edges. A lefty reliever probably, maybe a backup MI.

Joe C - you had me until the Lombo bobble head. Heating up for him is 3 singles every 10 at bats and nothing else. Still think the Nats can do their part to catch the Braves, just not betting on the Braves to lose enough.

Needham - Why say they'll go 6-3? They are 3-7 so far. ATL has the better record. Even with 2 home series I'd say 5-4 is the best guess with means 5 games in 77 games. A smidge different than 3 in 80 but all the difference in the world.

At this point too, the whole statistical H2H thing is washed out by the number of games left in total. If the Nats are better than the Braves they'll have to prove it, not just luck into some wins versus them and match them in the rest of the games.

Plus this really isn't meant to do anything but keep expectations where they should be. Although I know you're not going to jump to anything before it's time.

"Feelin pretty good. This is the last day the Nats start in second place this year." May 18th


Anonymous said...


I think you are glossing over Harper's initial point, which is that generally when a team is 6 games back at this point of the season, they can be demonstrated to be worse than the team they are trying to catch.

What you seem to be putting forward starts with the assumption that the Nats and Braves are roughly statistically equal, so of course going 6-3 against them head to head and making up a few games here and there is very conceivable. But they aren't statistically equal, so the hill to overcome is far tougher. Taking two equal teams and spotting one of them a 6 game lead is bad enough, but that same 6 game lead when one team is trending significantly better than the other is really something else entirely.

Like Harper said, it can be done and has been done on occasion in the past, but the simple breakdown of what you suggest doesn't support the reality of where the two teams are right now.

Froggy said...

Anon- where I'm going to disagree slightly is that a healthy Nats (that can stay healthy) us better than a healthy Braves. I think our starting 3 are better than theirs and Abad, Krol and the new and improved Storen are the welcome surprise. The real difference will be if Jordan and Mr Throwback Ohlendorf can pitch .500 or better.

Chris Needham said...

No, I'm not convinced the Braves are a vastly better team. I think they were roughly equal teams to start the season. But due to injuries and regression, the Nats have played worse than their expectations. And the Braves have played roughly to theirs.

Going forward, yes, I'm comfortable with sticking with my initial thoughts that they're roughly equal teams.

So, yes, 6 games back isn't ideal. But given the number of H2H games they have left, who the hell knows. If they do go 6-3 in those games, a three game swing over the other 90 is basically just random variance.

I'd give the Nats about a 30% chance of pulling it off.... whereas I'd have had them at about 60% or so to start the year.

Joe C said...

Harper-Was 45% kidding about Lombo bobble head night--just saying him and Bernadina (even with his slow start) are better bench options than most teams have.

What do you think about Jewett? Runner on first and second with nobody out, and you send a below average runner (Rendon) on one of the best arms in the NL instead of leaving the bases juiced for Desi? I know its easy being the Monday morning QB, but this isn't the first time he's made some questionable decisions out there. Can't remember Bo doing this.

Donald said...

I agree with your analysis but also Chris Needham's comment. It might take 'luck' but the Nats still have some degree of control over their fate given the head to head match-ups. If they aren't demonstrably better than the Braves, then they won't catch them and don't deserve to. But the Nats and Braves play 19 games. If the Nats are even slightly better, you'd hope for them to finish 10-9. We're currently at 3-7, so if we hit that mark, it means winning 7 of the last 9, which picks up 5 games out of the current 6 deficit.

Is that possible? Maybe not, but do you really think the Braves are THAT much better than the Nats to warrant a 7-3 record against us? If not, then broader sample should move in our direction.

Harper said...

Anon - Yeah the key to Chris' argument is that the Nats and Braves are pretty much equal. I don't agree but I also don't think it's a crazy idea.(if healthy)

Froggy - I think the core Nats (lineup maybe, top of the rotation definitely) is better but the Braves make it up in the margins. Back of the rotation, middle innings pen, bench. Nats have maybe fixed the Middle innings prob, but not the rest. Is that alone enough to put the Nats ahead, and ahead enough to matter? I don't think so, so you're right. that 5th starter (and Ross' 2nd half) will matter greatly.

Needham - I think it's fair to call them equal. I don't think I agree but the argument can be made especially if the Nats are healthy. But now you're up to 90 games! It's 77.

Is 3 games within variance over 77? Sure. but so is 3 games the other way. I'd give them maaaaybe a 20% chance. I'm not as down as BPs odds (which I think sell the Nats short) but not as high as yours. Of course I would have gone over 60% to start so what do I know.

Joe C - I think the key is if the other runners could advance on the throw. If they can you figure you still got a very good chance for at least one more run, because worst case is 2nd and 3rd one out. The problem was you had gimpy Werth and slow LaRoche as the runners. So in this case no, but not really for the reason you'd think. I don't care about the out at home that much up 6-3 in the 8th if I think I can score one more.

Donald - be careful that you're not making a classic error in the regression to the mean assumption. You flip 10 heads in a row, you aren't going to get 10 tails in a row to get back to 50%, instead you are going to see the expected over the next X chances and that pulls the numbers back in line. Say 100 more flips - see 50/50 - you're head percentage drops from 100% to 55%.

So with the Nats and the Braves even though we expected say a 10-9 split the 3-7 is done and can't be factored in. We'd expect going forward something close to the 5-4 I said (or maybe the 6-3 Chris did depending on you Home field views). And that's assuming you think the Nats are better.

Kenny B. said...

Interesting that we're also 6 games back in the wild card standings, so to make the postseason the Nats also need to play better than the Padres and the Rockies (who are also six games out), while playing six games better than the Reds and/or Pirates.

All this is to say, I'm not hopeful that we'll see October baseball in DC this year. At best I expect we'll get a mildly interesting September.

But as always, prove me wrong. I would love to be bad at predictions like this.

Anonymous said...

Wow...give it up Nats...the Braves are playing hurt right now and are still way better. You had a nice little run last year, but your little league team was all fluff just like your stud pitcher. If it wasnt for wouldn't even be mentioned.

Anonymous said...

We need an Anthony rendon ld% and babip analysis, stat, Harper. Enthusiasm abounds.

Nattydread said...

Boz often makes the point that good seasons are made up of several hot streaks and a lot of .500 ball. The Nats have not had a hot streak yet --- last year they caught fire twice and hovered for the rest of the time. They need a couple of 14-4 hot stretches --- that's how they'll catch the Braves.

Hopefully the hot stretches coincide with the H2H meetings.

Harper said...

ND - Boz isn't wrong. The problem is the Nats were bouyed by streaks of 14-4, 15-6, 18-4, and 12-3 last year. That's 76 games worth of streaks. They've had one 10-4 streak so far (and a 7-2 one if you want to call it that) so maybe you take out one.

Basically they need 3 long streaks of good play in half a year. That's a lot to ask. Hoepfully one just started on the 19th. We'll see.

blovy8 said...

5 1/2 games. I think it's not ideal, but possible, since Fredi can lose half that lead on his own, regardless of how you spin the actual talent level.

What we have to factor in about whether the lead will hold up is also the Braves side of things. Is their OF going to really be this bad after all the hype? Has Kimbrel got a real problem or just a glitch? Is Johnson going to continue to hit, and will Gattis with less playing time? When does Maholm turn back into a pumpkin?

Assuming Harper comes back healthy after this weekend and can maintain reasonable health going forward I'd have -

McCann/Gattis better than Suzuki/Ramos/Onion
Freeman better than LaRoche
Rendon better than Uggla
Desmond better than Simmons
Zim better than Johnson (notwithstanding his #s now)
Harper better than JUpton
Span and BJ even
Heyward and Werth maybe even? I would have given Heyward the edge at the start of the year there, but I can't now. The Braves have a better bench - but I think the Nats may have the better lineup in the 2nd half. It's really unlikely Harper will play enough to gain a real advantage, and Bernadina is below average. Just an average OF making too much money would be fine to get for cost-controlled Tyler Moore at this point.

What goes unnoticed is that the Braves have pitched better than the Nats so far too, a lot of that has to be Haren's fault becuase I see this as -
Stras better than Minor
Zimm better than Medlen
Gio better than Maholm
Hudson and Det even
Tehran better than Nats presumed #5

Kimbrel is much better than Soriano, but with Venters and O'Flaherty hurt, the rest of the pen matchup would seem to favor the Nats down the stretch given the new lefty blood, and Mattheus' return from anger management class.

Am I wrong to think that the Nats may actually be better on paper after the break even after the Braves deal for a setup reliever?