Nationals Baseball: Learning with Boz

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Learning with Boz

So last time we went through a Boz Q&A (or was it column) we decided it wasn't to be taken as a ripping, but rather as an opportunity to learn.  I can't promise it'll stay that way if Boz drifts into the ridiculous (Don't make me bring up his 2005 Guzman opinion again! I'll do it! I swear!) but for now that seems better than picking on the minutia of someone writing macro-level columns or trying to write quickly back to a bunch of fans over the course of a morning.

One of the things we "learned" from looking at a question in his Q&A I put into yesterday's post. The Nats' arms in the minors aren't really anything special and will be of questionable help for 2014. What else can we glean?

The Nats have a poor record in close and low scoring games. So is season more "bad luck" than "bad play", an odd distributional fluke? Or maybe it is about the fundamentals?

Short answer : No, not really.

Long answer : If the Nats season was really a fluke, the first and biggest sign would be a gap between their actual record and the Pythagorean expectation. Anything in the 5+ win range is enough to give credence to the unlucky POV.  The Nats record 61-64, their Pythag expectation? 59-66.  Forget that it's a little bit better. This isn't meant to be spot on. +2 is in range.

So why are the Nats NOT unlucky? I mean a 4-12 record when giving up 3 runs seems pretty unlucky.  It comes down to two things. First, Boz is using the average scoring team to determine that the Nats should have 10 more wins when giving up 2 or 3 runs. The problem is the Nats are not an average scoring team. They are 3rd worst in the NL. They aren't going to win 65% of these games. They'll win fewer. How much fewer? For the sake of not doing regressions to link the RS of a team to WP in these type of games, let's just estimate 3 fewer.

Ok so they are still 7 under where they should be here. Why isn't that unlucky? Well it IS but it's more a product of small sample size than anything else. Look at any individual scoring result and you'll see fluky results. The Phillies are just about as bad as the Nats scoring runs. What is their record in games where they give up 3 runs? The exact opposite of the Nats, 12-4. When you look at all runs allowed scenarios for the Nats you see places they got lucky. They've never been shutout 1-0 this year. They've won 32% or so of games when giving up 5 or more runs when the average team only wins 26% or so of these. (and that's as a worse scoring team) So let's give them a 1 run loss and a 3 more 5+ losses to even out the luck there.

Now they are still 3 under where they should be and that isn't crazy.  It may be the teeniest tiniest bit unlucky but really its more about our prediction method being imperfect than the Nats getting screwed in some way.

Oh and the fundamentals? Nats have a better record in one-run games than other games. The Phillies are 12-4 in games where they give up 3 runs and no one is screaming that they get the fundamentals right. It may be true but it's noise.

The Cards were 8 1/2 out and caught the Braves for the Wild Card. Does that mean the Nats have hope, even a tiny bit? 

Sure. It's not IMpossible. Hindsight tells us that the Braves were probably a little overachieving at the time and the Cardinals a bit underachieving, making the comeback make a little more sense.  Problem is, the underachieving part might apply to the Nats (depends on how you look at it), but really the only overachieving team above the Nats is actually the Pirates, who are 13 games ahead of the Nats. They may come down, the Nats might come up, but they aren't going to make up 13 games. The Nats don't need teams to simply play to their level. They need a team to collapse in a way that would be completely unexpected.

Another thing working against the Nats is that the Cardinals, on Sept 5th, were 74-66. In other words they were playing like a GOOD team. The Nats would have to go 12-2 in their next 14 to find themselves in a similar place. I don't see it. The Cards were a good team that got hot and caught another good team that was playing above expectations. The Nats are a middling team looking up at a bunch of good teams playing as they should.

Do teams really fold under the pressure of expectations? 

I'm not going to say no. Like I've said before, pressure is one of those things that exist but can't be quantified so I'm not going to deny it. I will look for more obvious answers though. Let's look at some examples brought up.

The 2013 Giants? They lost Melky and didn't make up for that. Vogelsong got injured and Cain stopped pitching well. (Hard to see a team that won 2 WS recently folding under pressure anyway)

The 2013 Blue Jays? Every starting pitching gamble failed in someway that could have been predicted, though not expected all at once.

The 2013 Angels? Two major bats in Hamilton and Pujols underperformed due to injury and age, and kept offense from being elite. Weaver injury killed what was already a suspect rotation.

2008 Rockies? In 2007 nearly every pitcher had one of their better years of their career. Obviously couldn't keep that up. Tulo and Helton would miss major time and the bench was not good enough to compensate (sounds oddly familiar this scenario)

1990 Cubs? Again the rotation died. Sutcliffe got injured and they couldn't replace him. Bilecki had his best year in 89 and was more normal (bad) in 1990.

1987 Red Sox? In 1986 Hurst would have his best year, Schiraldi was lightning in a bottle for an otherwise bad pen, and Seaver was dependable help for a few months. In 1987 Hurst was average, Seaver was retired, and Schiraldi stopped being magic.

1971 Reds? 1970 Reds had two ROY candidates (Simpson - SP & Carbo - OF) that would basically never play that well again. Another OF contributor would get injured and another SP would fail, leaving them with gaping holes to fill. Also 1970 Reds played 11 games over Pythag.

1967 Orioles? Ok maybe! They got a little worse but played oddly well under (12 games) Pythag and were basically good before and after.

Really looking through these does tell us a few things.
  • Great years are often combinations of individuals having career years and the team as a whole outperforming expectations. 
  • Collapses are often centered around SP staff implosions, which makes sense for a number of reasons. 
  • Generally great teams who come out of nowhere, return to nowhere. 
The last couple points are interesting because the Nats problems aren't really staff related (though that hasn't helped) which makes them an outlier in that respect. As for the "out of nowhere" aspect. Well, that's something for the history books. The Orioles were a great team before that who had a one year drop. That's not the Nats. They haven't proven anything yet. The Nats are either the Reds or the others. The Red Sox, Cubs, & Rockies were all teams that popped up only to drop back down again to whence they came from. (decency for the Sox, mediocrity for the Cubs and Rockies). The Reds popped up in 1970, well above expectations, and then had a one-year blip down on the way to a dominant run. Of course the Reds did it, in large part, by fleecing the Astros in the offseason and getting Morgan, Geronimo & Billingham. Sooo... empty out the system for Kendrick, Bourjos, and Vargas?


JWLumley said...

Harper, all good points, but while the numbers say I shouldn't believe, for some reason I just can't help myself.Still, the Nationals aren't nearly as good as everyone expected them to be. Based on the age 20 seasons of past players like Tony C, Trout, ARod and others everyone expected Harper to hit like an MVP and he's merely been very good.

If everyone else had been close to what was expected it would be a different story, but LaRoche has pretty much been a tire fire offensively and offered replacement level player value. Span is what happens when you rely too much on scouting and averages, failing to take into account silly stats like OPS or the fact that he hasn't posted a good enough OBP to make up for his lack of power since 2009. Soriano's FIP and xFIP both indicated that he'd been fairly lucky last year and was an arsonist the year before. Put it all together and the Nats are a fairly flawed team with big names at 1B, CF and, yes, even 3B that are big names who don't necessarily produce like it. For some reason,I keep holding out hope of a miraculous run though, but the scary thing that's beginning to creep into my mind is that a front office that decided Alex Meyer for Denard Span was a good idea will be relied upon to fix what's broken in the offseason.

Harper said...

I think the bigger problem with Bryce is not that he hasn't met expectations (he's actually hit a bit better overall) it's that he's been pretty pedestrian since an absolutely scorching start. We haven't seen the "good" Bryce since April.

The Span gamble isn't as bad as you think. I believe that they thought the rest of the offense was going to be good enough to cover for Span and maybe, just maybe, Span would be decent too as he showed flashes of in the past. The problem was with everyone else, small regressions, big failures, that makes a Span far less tenable.

JWLumley said...

If that was there thinking on Span, I could perhaps see it, but if that was the case then why bat him lead-off every night? If you thought the rest of the offense could compensate for him why isn't he hitting 7th or 8th and why give up a blue chip prospect?

As for Bryce, I agree he hasn't been the same since he hit the wall in LA and given the Nats training staff's track record, it's fairly concerning that the power seems to be lacking since returning. It might be time to put him on the shelf for the rest of the year if there's any issue with the knee.

Harper said...

Answer to Q1 : Because that's where you bat speedy OFers, especially if you don't have a typical speedy player elsewhere. That's baseball. (You can now shrug your shoulders)

Answer to Q2 : He's a very good defensive player and he's relatively cheap and the Nats were buying high (off a decent offensive year) so the Span gamble was probably just a "maybe" rather than the "maybe, just maybe" I characterized it, if that makes any sense.

I think for Bryce rest will come in the offseason. This team is very... play friendly, let's say, when it comes to possible injuries.