Nationals Baseball: The upbeat family with heart and camaraderie who wants to win

Thursday, August 01, 2013

The upbeat family with heart and camaraderie who wants to win

Well it's August at least. In July the Nats were supposed to face another weak part of their schedule and they finally had everyone back. It was break out time!  Instead, they ended up with their worst month of the year.  In fact it was their worst month since May of 2011, a month where Jerry Hairston & Alex Cora started a bunch of games, and even Brian Bixler worked his way into the starting lineup a couple times. (even that team averaged 4.07 R/G in May). Ugh.

Will it change? Can it change? I'm not sure. And we want to be sure about it before calling it a season.

The head-to-head factor

Some out there take issue with "pace" notes. You know, when someone says "If the Braves go X and Y the Nats need to go A and B to catch them".  They don't like it because it exaggerates the impossibilty of tasks when there a lot of head to head games left. This is because in a head to head game your win and their loss are not separate events. You win and they lose (or vice versa).

Let's say you had 3 games left and needed to make up 3 games of ground. If you think your team will win 60% of the time and the team you are trying to catch will also win 60% of the time vs who they are playing, then your odds of catching up would be (.6)*(.6)*(.6) * (.4)*(.4)*(.4). In written words, it would be the odds of you sweeping multiplied by the odds of them being swept. However, if you are facing eachother and put the odds at 50% you win any game then your odds of catching up would be (.5)*(.5)*(.5), the odds of you sweeping. There is no separate three games to factor in for the other team. Your sweep is them getting swept.  Your odds change from the nigh-impossible 1.3% to a reason for hope 12.5%. 

Anyway that's the crux of the argument and it does matter but it's a lot less powerful an argument the more you trail and the more other games you have to play. The Nats do have 9 games left vs the Braves and trail by 11.  If they were to sweep the Braves in those 9, they'd still have to outplay them by 2 games in the other 45 to tie them. Two games over 45 is not crazy, but when you start the argument with "if we sweep them over the 9 games" you really don't want anything else making your odds even worse.

It was a lot easier to see a path back when the Nats trailed by 5-6 games. In that case a more reasonable (but still hard) 6-3 record vs the Braves to finish the season would leave the Nats with a task that wasn't daunting. Now though, now it's all come down to a dream sweep. Even a 7-2 record in the remaining head-to-head games would only make up 5 games and leave the Nats with the task of making up 6 over a month and a half worth of games. In that case you can work the pace. If the Braves go 23-22 can the Nats go 29-16? It just doesn't feel like it'll happen. But I'll give the Nats the next series to catch up at least.

The heart factor

I wanted to address this just because I wanted to clear up what I think is a misconception about "intangibles". Things like momentum, heart, pressure, clubhouse atmosphere, scrappiness, whatever, it's NOT that they don't exist or that they don't effect the outcome of games. We all can relate to having our performance suffer or appear to be better depending on circumstance and mood. It's that we can't accurately measure these things. There's simply no way to know really things like "who's out hustling who", "who wants it more", "who's getting rattled".  We dismiss it because there isn't a way to bring it into the argument without adding a ton of bias. People themselves aren't always good judges of how their performance is being effected. Forget about being on the outside trying to make judgements. Managers have a puncher's chance, maybe. Reporters are just fooling themselves. Fans might as well be making stuff up.

Plus, there are all these other things we can measure that do a really good job of leading us to the right outcomes. All those fancy and non-fancy stats. We focus on what we know, not what we think. It's the best way to being successful more often than not.

So when Bryce goes off on heart and family, I don't dismiss it as pure nonsense. Maybe it does matter. But it's hard to think it matters more than LaRoche's 33 year old body, or Rendon's lack of experience, or the base talent level of Span, the bench and the back of the rotation. I suppose one or two of those things could turn around. But all of them? Or the actual talent of the team going on a stretch where they only hit highs and no lows? I just don't see it.

The Nats may be a good team trapped in a terrible season, but even a good team can't make up this much ground. I'll give them to the Braves series because I want the idea of one last stand to turn it around but we're at the point where the doctor says "There's nothing more medically we can do. It's in HIS hands now"


Doug S said...

Perhaps the Nats (and their fans) should focus on more achievable goals like finishing above .500 and staying ahead of the Mets (who were 15-12 in July).

Harper said...

Doug - as long as they have a glimmer it's worth it to shoot for the playoffs. There's plenty of time after August 7th (assuming the Nats haven't started a miracle comeback) to focus on the sad reality.

Chas R said...

I concur Harper. I want to believe, but just don't see all the necessary fixes miraculously falling into place at this point. We have all been waiting for the "big run", for them to turn the corner and have it like 2012 again. It just hasn't happened.

What do you think the odds on a Wild Card berth?

Zimmerman11 said...

World Series or Bust.

Against current playoff teams, the Nats are 11-23. Playoff % on ESPN is down to <5%.

Zimmerman11 said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Donald said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Donald said...

Unfortunately, I think the fat lady sang when we went 0-6 out of the all-star break. We just didn't want to listen.

Unknown said...

Harper. Just pulled this of SI's power rankings. Any validity to their numbers?

"After a promising start, Denard Span has cooled off badly atop Washington's lineup -- and in centerfield. Over his last 63 games, his OBP has been a subpar .309, and for the season he has a Plus/Minus of 0, according to the Fielding Bible, meaning he's been no better than a replacement-level centerfielder despite saving 55 runs over the two previous seasons in Minnesota."

I know the bat has been bad (although as you pointed out when Washington made the trade, his bat was going to be bad and there is no reason why he should be considered a leadoff). But the glove also?

Froggy said...

So does the reverse analysis also mean the Braves only need to win 2 games against us in the next series to make it almost impossible for us to catch them?

The remainder if the season needs to focus on just playing good baseball one inning at a time.

Gentlemeb, You are all professionals. Each guy just do your job perfectly as possible and don't worry about the other guy.

Focus boys!

Dr Trea (formerly #werthquake) said...

Did anyone (other than the idiots who for no better reason than "because they never won anything before") see this coming?

I guess I will hold off on the second part to this comment until the end of the braves series, assuming it will still apply.

BTW speaking of Bryce and of defensive metrics, i saw Bryce is a negative .5 WAR defender this year according to baseball reference. Yes he was around a 1.5+ WAR in center last year. I really think its partly attributed to his injuries this year, and maybe being more comfortable in CF. Me thinks Rizzo should move Harp to CF for next year and acquire Choo or Hart via FA.

Anonymous said...

"Affect" is the verb.

Kenny B. said...

I don't see any reason to hold out hope that this team even makes the playoffs, much less wins the division. The only argument I see in favor of those positions is mathematical possibility. That possibility hinges on a large set of things happening, none of which have happened all season long.

It's been nothing but bleak since at least June. I personally haven't felt like this team was any good since April. Never more than a couple wins in a row, frequently losing in unwatchable blowouts, errors, errors, errors, managing mistakes, pitching inconsistency in both starters and bullpen, injuries, offensive underperformance of career sats from virtually every single player (including pitchers), baserunning mistakes.

I'm sure many of these things weren't as bad as they look anecdotally to a non-statistician fan, but I've seen all of these things at various times and in various combinations to make for a season in which some phase of the game pretty much was always either terrible, or only barely good enough such that a fan felt like the shoe would drop at any moment.

I don't even really know what's broken, and thus I don't pretend to know how to fix it. What I do know is that for me to maintain a decent disposition, I have to go back to perceiving the Nats as essentially a league-wide joke, such that seeing them lose in more spectacularly awful ways is part of the fan experience.


Harper said...

Chaz R - I actually like the WC berth a little better, b/c I think the D-backs are not very good, so it's catching up to the Reds who have to fight through 16 games vs Cardinals & Pirates, which makes it unlikely they could match a run if the Nats make it. Still though not a good bet. Check out Z11's playoff odds.

z11 - so you're saying bust. at least Davey was honest.

Donald - well if you ask me I was writing them off at the end of June when they failed to make a move on the Braves then. This isn't about realistic hope any more. It's about ANY hope, just something to hang a hat on for another week or so. Make the slog to season's end as short as possible.

MT - Fielding stats can be fickle on an annual basis. Fangraphs combined stats has him being pretty good but a lot of that is some nice arm outcomes and better sure handedness. Really what you want is range and that's dipped. But like I said you can't really judge on even one whole season. Trend over time didn't suggest this so I'd guess blip rather than something concerning.

Froggy - Impossible? depends on where we are entering that game. 12 out and they win 2 of 3? so that's 13 games out with 6 head to head that you must sweep and 7 others to make up in 42 games (milwaukee series now gone). I'd have to say yes.

8 out so the Nats are 9 out exiting it.... I wouldn't say impossible but I'd call the race.

So I guess yes, 2 of 3 would do it for me unless the Braves lose the next 4 and Nats win the next 3 going into it.

C&S - No one. It took pretty much nothing going right to get here. These seasons happen, usually 1 or 2 a year, but you never think it's going to be you.

I think the truth about Bryce is that he's just not a good fielder. Athletic with an arm, yes. But how many athletic kids in your HS were made catchers? I think he'll hold up ok in the OF for a decade or so on pure athleticism but will spend the back end of his career at first.

Anon - noted. I don't do much of a grammar check.

Kenny B - I get you. The Nats have been bad pretty much all year. The last time they played and you thought "Hey this could be a good team" would probably be the early May stretch where they won the last 2 in ATL, 2 out of 3 in PIT, then 2 vs DET.

Yes a big problem going into next year is the "I don't know where the problem is" It's a lot of little things. That's harder to address than one big one, like if Espy was still out there hitting .100.

Hoo said...

"Yes a big problem going into next year is the "I don't know where the problem is" It's a lot of little things. That's harder to address than one big one, like if Espy was still out there hitting .100. "

4 spots are below league average in hitting: CF, C, 2nd and pitcher. LaRoche is better than the average NL player batting(including bench/pitchers) but is the worst first baseman.

Desi, Bryce, Werth, Zim are nearer the top but not at the top. So essentially your line-up is below average or just bad this year. Your best players are at the very good, occasionally great but not elite level.

Rizzo bet that Span would rebound, ALR continue at near career highs, Espi rebound. None of that happened. Might see some improvement next year but not enough unless Harper, espi/Rendon bounce back, Zimm gets his pop back and Ramos is healthy. A better bench helps a lot next year but you still have big problems at 2nd, first, CF and hoping Ramos can play 2/3 days.

Christopher B said...

New to this blog & really enjoy reading it!

Honestly, I have a hard time seeing us catching anyone right now. The last 10 days have been like a flashback to 2009. St Louis or Pittsburgh will have the fist wild card. So we have to make up what, 7.5 games on the Reds? The Reds are a .550 team as of today; their remaining schedule is not necessarily easy (10 vs. St Louis, 6 vs. Pittsburgh, a few VS. LA, Oakland, Arizona). So it's possible. But our remaining sched is only marginally conducive to making a run. 9 vs Atlanta (6 at home, 3 away), 3 at St Louis. Lots of games against the Mets and Marlins. So -- I am not ready to throw in the towel yet, but I feel like the end isn't more than 2 weeks or so from now.

Anonymous said...

Miles: A 0 DRS is league average, not replacement-level. And league average defense in center field is valuable. Geez, you'd think people would know that...

Anonymous said...

I feel like we need a story about why Espi refuses to undergo surgery - he's clearly not healthy. His minor league stats are similar to what he was doing with the big club this season: BA .198 OBP .265 SLUG .287

DezoPenguin said...

I have to agree with the Anon about Espi. His 2011-2012 (except at the end of 2012) bat, combined with his glove, made him one of the most valuable second basemen in the NL, regardless of all the Ks. Suddenly, last September he fell into a hole, and stayed in there this year. His bat's dropped off to the point that he's basically worthless except as a late-inning defensive replacement. And that was one of the big reasons why the Nats season ended up in a hole before it even began.

The question begs exploring: what, exactly, is wrong with him? Is he injured? If so, what is the extent of the injury? Is it something that surgery could fix? And if it is something that surgery could fix, then why the heck hasn't he had that surgery? Because his status isn't just hurting the Nats on its own, it's also torpedoing the rest of the IF, since we're forced to delay moving Zim to 1B, give more playing time to Lombo, etc.

This is something that I really wish could get a big, in-depth story about, because it's really been one of the signature elements of the season. Instead, all the national newswriting about the Nats has just been "it's karma for shutting down Strasburg last year" and ignoring everything else.

Santo Domingo said...

So would you say that the Nats have a better chance of catching the Reds/Dbacks even though we only have 3 games against the Dbacks and none against the reds left? Or should I ask God to intervene in the division? He is a busy dude, so I just want to know what the easier task would be for Him.

Angels14 said...

The Nats aren't a "good team trapped in a terrible season" although I wish it were true. More like "an average team playing at an average pace". If you would have told me at the beginning of the season the Nats would have struggled to be average, I would have scoffed and slapped you with my glove challenging you to duel.

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