Nationals Baseball: June 2014

Thursday, June 26, 2014

The offense - Part 2

I hate duplicating work. It's such a time waster. Turns out James O'Hara at Citizens of Natstown did an Ian analysis not to long ago (I bet other places have too, but this is what was noted to me).  So go read that

Ok for those of you too lazy to read that the gist is - as of early June Ian is swinging wildly, but is walking more and is still hitting for power. All in all he's not the elite player from the last couple of years but he's still good. Let's see how things have progressed since the article.

Ian walks more! 

BB% :  7.9% in early June -> 6.5%
Outside Zone Swing % : 33.3% -> 33.9%

Turns out that since that analysis Ian has walked one, count 'em one, time in the past 18 games. The walk rate is now more in line with this career numbers - which is a big "eh". The swing rate isn't as bad but it's trending away from the "he can really ID those pitches" area. I'm thinking that it was a nice two months of an Ian willing to take a walk, but that's it. He's back to his old self.

Ian's got pop! 

ISO : .188 -> .189

Was there a question in your mind? Shouldn't have been if there was. Ian still has good power, especially for a shortstop.

Ian is missing those pitches he does swing at!

K% : 27.4% -> 28.7%
Contact% : 71.3% -> 70.0%
Swinging Strike% : 14.1% -> 14.8%

Everything here has gone from worse to worser. He is having trouble making contact which is giving him all sorts of problems

Ian is getting a little unlucky, but also he's not hitting the ball well!

BABIP : .268 -> .298
GB/FB : 1.23 -> 1.30
LD% : 11.1% -> 13.7%
IFFB% : 16.4% -> 13.0%

Everything else here is getting better. If you look at the last set of games he's hitting a bunch more line drives and ground balls which helps with all these numbers except the last one. What helps with that is the fact he hasn't popped up in the last 18 games.

OK! So that's a lot of fancy stats! What's the take away? Well, it looks like Ian has reverted to his old ways in the fact that he is no longer even faking trying to walk off the island. Not only have his walk numbers died a quick and painful death, he's taken those crazy swing and strikeout numbers and made them even worse. BUT this wild swinging is helping Ian hit more like he used to.  He's hitting .280 and slugging .467 in the past 18 games. That's right in line with 2013.

Unfortunately that's not great news. Before, Ian could hit like he wanted to striking out a little over 20% of the time and walking rarely. Now it's drifting into a scenario where he has to strikeout almost 30% of the time and walk once a month. His OBP during the past 18 games is .286. Remember to think of OBP as "not getting out" and that getting out is literally the worst thing you can do as a batter. Ian is getting out a lot more.

Is this Ian more useful than the Ian that walked a little bit more but couldn't hit? Of course. Is this Ian more useful than 2013 Ian? Nope.

Of course it's just 18 games, perhaps once comfortable he'll start walking again. Even at a level he had the past couple years that would be something. But I'm not betting on it. That K% continuing to rise shows me a guy wanting to hit his way out of a mediocre couple months and the average and slugging numbers tells me he can do it. I'd be surprised if his K-rate drops under 25% and I'll bet his BB-rate drops under 6% before the All-Star break. Think Alfonso Soriano-lite at the plate. A few more singles, a few fewer home runs. 

OK so Ian is getting out a bunch more and Werth maybe can't hit for power anymore. Can Ramos and Bryce ride to the rescue?

Probably, but with a but.

The "but" is the fact we have no idea how long it will take them to get back into the swing of things at the major league level. LaRoche picked up where he left off. Zimm is still struggling. A few off weeks is probably the best expectation with a month or so off not being out of the question. If it takes a while this does nothing for the offense. You have to play them to get them right.

The "probably" is the fact that they weren't doing all that well before going out. Bryce was pulling a Desmond - walking at a lower rate than he ever had and striking out more. More concerning, he was hitting with far less power than he had the past two years. His ISO dropped from .286 to .133, from slugger to singles hitter. To start Bryce was walking a lot and not striking out too much, and he's just a better hitter, so even all this didn't make him a bad hitter, but it was making him a mere above average guy when the Nats are looking for a star.  Ramos is even more worrying - older, playing a tougher position, more injury prone, not as good a hitter. His ISO dropping to .109 is even more important to him because he wont' put up the average or walk as much as Bryce probably will.

Still I like Bryce to get his act together at some point this year and Ramos isn't going to be worse than your average back-up catcher. By August at the latest we'd expect them to help the offense. Is that soon enough to avoid a major playoff missing let down? This year, in this division, probably so. Will they add enough to make the Nats a playoff favorite like we would have thought a healthy Nats team would be? We'll have to see.

Stats in order of use 
BB% : walks per PA, Outside Swing % : how often you swing at pitches that are outside the strike zone, ISO : same as isoSLG, SLG taking away your singles to see "true power", K% : strikeouts per PA, Contact% : how often you make contact when you swing, Swinging Strike % : How often a pitch to you is a swing and miss, BABIP : you know this, GB/FB : groundball to flyball ratio, LD% : percent of your balls in play that are line drives. IFFB% : how many of your FBs are pop-ups.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

The offense - Part 1

Great win this morning! First place!

But I said I would get on the hitting and dammit if I won't just do that.

As I said before the season, this offense was built with the idea that you had potentially 7 above average bats, with only Denard Span not fitting that definition. There wasn't exactly a proven star among these players, some were too injury-prone to count on, others too young, but that's ok. Chances are with that many above average bats, that someone would have a big year and even if they didn't an offense without any real holes can still be potent. That is a perfectly good line-up plan... assuming everyone stays healthy. Of course they didn't and hence the Nats are at a point where they are scoring 3 or 4 runs on a good day and that's probably not good enough to win it all.

(Yes, it will change - we'll get to that though) First, let's just mention the obvious issues.

Denard Span hits first - We can argue how good a hitter Denard Span is. Is he bad? Is he average? (No and No - something in between) but what we can't argue about is that having Denard hit first, especially when the team is mostly healthy, is sub optimal. At best he's the 7th most potent bat in the line-up, he does not get on base (58th out of 83 qualified NL batters), he does not take pitches (75th). He does nothing but give the Nats an extra out or two a week than they might not have had if he was batting at the bottom of the order. 

Danny Espinosa is no longer a major league hitter - Some people think Danny's defense makes it worthwhile for him to play everyday. I'd love to believe that. But since a quick first 20 games, Danny has hit an ice-cold .201 / .262 / .324 in his next 51. That's an OPS of .586 which is basically the bottom of the NL. That's just not good enough to play every day. Can he hit better? I don't know and I certainly can't depend on it. The numbers I just mentioned are actually better than last year.

Jose Lobaton is not a starter - It's not his fault. He's just not. But he wasn't meant to be. What he is, is someone that shouldn't embarrass you at the plate in case your catcher has to miss some time. That worked out at first, but not so much now. His line as a starter is down to .211 / .284 / .305.  Should it get better with more time? I'd think so, but it could still be well below average. So it goes when you are depending on bench players.

Right now, the Nats are rocking a 7-8-9-1 that is among the worst in the NL. There's not too much the Nats can do about the latter two. Injuries have forced their hand. Moving Span will help, but very little, and it's certainly not a cure-all. It would be hard to cover this with great bats 2-6.  And the Nats don't have that.

The good news is that Rendon and LaRoche look fine, even better than that at times, but Rendon is not quite great yet and LaRoche is falling back to his level in fits and starts. I wouldn't expect them to carry the team. We all know Zimmerman is struggling coming back from injury and there are two more "secret" issues that the Nats are dealing with.

One is Jayson Werth's lack of power. Jayson Werth hitting .271 with an OBP at .352 is only very mildly disappointing to anyone that looks at his history. He never was a .320 type hitter and last year stood out as an anomaly. No, .270s is more his style - maybe into the .290s in a good year, years which at 35 most assume are coming to an end relatively soon. He always could take a walk but that skill is fading too as pitchers realize they don't have to walk him. His isoOBP (how much he gets on base taking out the hits) has trended down for a while now and at .081 is almost the lowest he's posted in his career. It's still a good number though and it's a slow decline.

What's really the issue with Werth is his lack of power. The HR issue is obvious as he's on pace for under 15 homers for the year. But he's also hitting doubles at a lower rate than he has since that terrible first year in DC. Combined he has the lowest isoSLG (slugging taking out the singles) in his career.  More disturbing though is the trend.

2010  0.236
2011  0.157
2012  0.140
2013  0.214
2014  0.110

Nats fans wanted to believe that his power issues were all injury related and that once the wrist healed he'd be slugging again. Maybe they even were mostly that. But some part of it is simply the aging process and you can't look at the above and not think 2013 stands out as a fluke. As Werth has gotten older he's having trouble slugging. 

You could blame a big drop in HR/FB rate (at 6.1% now) but that could be explained by getting older. You see the same general downward trend in that stat when you exclude 2013. You could blame it on big drop in LD% leading to fewer gap hits, but last year's 26% was high for him and this year's 19% is right on target with most of his career. BABIP is fine. He's hitting like he always has hit - he just isn't getting the same results off the bat.

You may be able to look positively at his HR distance (401). That's in line with LaRoche and Rendon. But I can explain that away (Rendon is less a HR hitter than a LD masher - LaRoche has a 336 ft HR that drags his numbers way down) and Werth has yet to crush one (414 is his longest which struggles to make the Top 20% of homers in distance). If I were to guess I would say he should hit a homers at a slightly better pace, but only slightly better. 

This is an issue that injury returns won't help. Jayson is still a guy you want out there. He does a lot of things right and overall should still be better than average this year. But he's 35. Anyone in your mid 30s can tell you it's hard to do things you could do with ease in your mid 20s. Don't expect a big comeback, instead hope for a small bump in power, enough to keep his head above water.

You know, this is getting long so we'll tackle Ian Desmond and the injury returnees tomorrow.

Monday, June 23, 2014

Monday Quickie - Away we go?

Hidden behind the World Cup and Strasburg* is the fact the Nats finally broke their long Braves nightmare, taking the final two games of the series, splitting the series as a whole, and remaining a game and a half in first place.

Hidden behind that is the fact that the offense has some serious issues but hey - you win 2 games to hold onto first and you get a reprieve. Until tomorrow.

Fister and Roark came up big.  Fister, as far as I'm concerned, is the ace of the staff now. If he can avoid giving up the long ball it's nearly impossible to put up a big inning. Roark has pitched like an ace as well up until this point. Though I still worry about the guy.  Maybe that's unfounded but it seems to me he's laboring a bit recently and the Nats are starting to cut on him early in recent outings. This could be part of a plan. Roark has maxed out at about 160 IP in his career. If he kept going deep into games the entirity of September (and the playoffs) would be a big question mark. Pull him on the early side now and save him for later? That's the hope anyway.

For those of you saying - come on Harper your fears are unfounded. Roark will pitch this well forever... forever... forever... I have two words for you Zimmermann Jordan. (you could probably reverse them to make more sense).

Last year Jordan brought a 2.28 ERA into July and people were talking about him as if he was one of the best pitchers in the NL.  Jordan is great, but he doesn't belong in that class. Over the next three months he put up a 4.38 ERA and ended up with an ERA around what you'd expect. Water finds it's level. The thing on Roark's side is we don't really know his level. I suspect it's not this good - but hey - I can be wrong.

Milwaukee tonight. Another chance for the Nats to prove something or the opposite as the Brewers are the new "best team in the NL". It is the only hard set for a while so come out of here doing well and they should be able to hold onto first for the time being. Of course nothing has gone exactly as we thought so they'll probably sweep Milwaukee and then lose 9 of 10 to the Cubs and Rockies just because.

*Seriously I think the Nats could make the World Series. Lose 4 games to none while scoring all of 2 runs and if Strasburg gives up 3 runs in the first inning of the first game (despite going 7 and giving up 4) THAT would be what some fans will take away from the series.

Friday, June 20, 2014

I don't want to hear it

Every loss matters and losses versus division rivals doubly so because you are guaranteeing them a win. But there are others thing to consider that determine how much you should concern yourself with them, like where the teams are, where they are headed, and how much time is left.

The Nats are in first and getting healthy with Bryce Harper coming back soon. The Braves are trailing and just lost another pitcher in this "God doesn't want you to win" year for them. With 90 to go, the Nats could lose all four games and still be in good position.  No one wants it to happen. It's obviously better if it doesn't happen, but it's not going to kill this team to lose these games.

If this division was different, if the Braves were healthy or the Marlins ready, then you can go overboard with these losses because they are probably putting the Nats 5, 7 9 games back. Instead the Nats might lose the series and fall... a half game out of first. The reality of the season in front of us lessens the impact of these losses where they really matter - in the standings. 

Where they remain large is in the nebulous realm of reporting about the team. The losses to the Braves are a story. The Braves are in Nats fans heads, possibly in the Nats heads. Nevermind two years ago the Nats did beat the Braves more than they lost and won the division, so it isn't an epic years long domination. Nevermind the fact that last years team finished 10 games out of first and that they would have had to win 12 games over the Braves to make that up and take the division, so you can't single out those games for the failures of 2013. Nevermind they just were in first place despite getting beat up by the Braves earlier in the year, so you have to admit winning the NL East this year, under these conditions, can be done regardless if they win 6 games or 13 versus the Braves*. Nats fans should be able to look past these losses right now, but things like this, they have a way of getting to you.

It's insidious. It gets eyes on the page. It makes for an easy joke, which I'll admit, I'll go after. I'm not above that. It matters, but circumstances have made it not as impactful as it was last year. That's the truth. This year it's really just a battle, not the war.

Tonight is Strasburg. Tony crushed the best Braves. Now it's your turn.

*Now if they win like 1 game - ok talk to me.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

What the next month will be about could start here.

What did you think about the Nats and the NL East when the seasons began? That the Nats were slightly better than the Braves and that there was enough talent in the division that someone might surprise, but you also wouldn't be surprised if at least one of those other teams tanked?  Well Seventy games in (43% or so) and here we are.The Nats are a game and a half better than the Braves. The Marlins have surprised and kept pace while the Mets and Phillies take turns going after the worst record in the league. I'd argue that the whole division is about a half-step behind where I'd thought they'd be, but in comparison to eachother they are right on target.

Why are the Nats a half-step behind?  Injuries are a big part of it. Offensively, the Nats were equipped to handle two big injuries, OF & C, and they've had three (OF, C, and 3B) and one important minor one (1B). The injury replacements have offered no surprises, and for each "success" (Lobaton, Espinosa) there is a no quote needed failure (McLouth, Frandsen). But injuries aren't all of it. While Adam LaRoche has performed shocking well, Ian Desmond has fallen off his pace of the past two years and Jayson Werth has seen a dramatic loss of power with no wrist injury to blame. The sum of these parts is an offense that has struggled to be average. That would normally be big trouble for a team looking to win a division, but the Nats have been bouyed by a remarkable performance by the pitching staff, which the majority of staff sporting ERAs in the low 3.00s or lower. A combination of one big surprise (Roark) and nearly everyone else performing at the high end of expectations has made this the best staff in the NL. The net effect has been to pull the Nats a few games over .500.

Why are the Braves an half-step behind? A somewhat similar scenario. Injuries bit the Braves hard too, but for them it was in the rotation. Unlike the Nats they did get some surprising injury replacement help in the form of an amazing start from Aaron Harang.  The rest of the staff has been a mixed bag of performance but it's a talented staff and going forward like the Nats offense, they are expecting health to help this aspect of the team perform at a high level. Outside of a minor injury to Gattis the Braves offense has been relatively healthy, but mostly disappointing. Dan Uggla played his way out of a starting job while BJ Upton remains a lineup hole. Last season's miracle, Chris Johnson, is underperforming, while Jason Heyward remains unable to live up to his potential, and Simmons works through what they hope are growing pains. Even though Freeman, Justin Upton and Gattis have hit well, the total sum of the above is a team lucky to be .500.

Where does this leave these two teams? Well now that they are about as healthy as you can expect a team to be from their Opening Day rosters you have two teams trying desperately to prove they are who we thought they are. The Nats are trying to prove they belong in the "best team" discussion and looked to be trending in that direction with their impressive winning streak, but the St. Louis sweep keeps the old demons in play, the biggest one being their recent lack of success vs the Braves. The Braves want to show that despite the pre-season staff injuries they can compete for a playoff spot, but they are struggling to go anywhere flailing over the last 3+ weeks despite beginning to waive white flags on some expensive offensive pieces.

In short, this series could determine the Nats/Braves stories for the remainder of the pre-All-Star break season. Nats win 3+ games? They are looking to be crowned again with the Braves likely searching for external and internal answers to their offensive (and possibly pitching) issues. Braves win 3+ games? Atlanta probably feels confident enough to hope regression to mean cures most of their ills, while the Nats get caught up in silly off-field talk of leadership and heart and look to Bryce's return for another new starting point. Both teams need this series to go well for them or else the issues become ISSUES.

Monday, June 16, 2014


"The only question for me is how much of this offense is a mirage and how much is a reality."

Here are Nats fans, standing in the middle of the desert with mouths full of sand.

The Cardinals and the Braves are the Nats two biggest hurdles to climb. Since the Cardinals eked out that NLDS victory the Nats have gone a combined 9-29 versus these two teams. How terrible is that? The Nats have played like an 85 win team since the start of 2013.  Take away the games versus STL/ATL and the Nats play like a 95 win team. If they played even ball versus these guys they'd be a 93 win team.  They are likely to face one of these two teams if they make the playoffs. They need to get over whatever mental block they have.  "Luckily" they have another chance to do it in just a few days.

The offense was garbage over the series, but really it extends back to the Bumgarner game. In the past 6 games (or 54 innings) the Nats have managed 33 hits and 18 walks, (opposing WHIP 0.94) so they aren't getting on base. (And really 8 of those walks came in the Matt Cain game) Worse they are combining that with an inability to hit for power. Only 5 XBH in the past 6 games and only 1 home run.

I had wondered why the Nats had been able to score so many runs while hitting for a fairly pedestrian pace. (.263 / .333 / .448). That's not a bad hitting line. In fact, for a team that's pretty good. You are throwing in all those pitcher at bats and stuff. Certainly good enough for 2nd in the NL if you extend it out for the season (behind Colorado who, as you know, play in Colorado). But you look at a team OPS of .781 and you are probably averaging somewhere between 4.5 and 5.0 runs a game. The Nats were scoring almost 6 a game. Short of it - the offense was hitting well but it was also catching some breaks and making Nats fans a little too confident that they have a top offense without Bryce around. (Note : They don't)

Who's the biggest offenders in the recent slide?

Denard Span is 0-18 with 2 walks. For all you Span defenders who complain when I don't talk about how hot he is, THIS IS WHY. He's not good at the plate and I don't want to give the impression that he is. Should he play? Yes. His defense is good and the Nats have questionable players on the corners. But he's a below average bat - the vast majority of his career has shown this. Don't pretend he's anything else.

Zimmerman is 3-23 with 1 XBH.  This isn't too surprising. Ramos started the same way post-injury and Zimm was probably rushed back a little. It's more surprising to me that LaRoche came back on fire. Give it time

Desmond 4-23, 0 XBH. I'm not sure what to think of Ian. He had a very nice 24 game stretch starting in Arizon and ending with his 3-5 game in San Fran. He hit .272, walked 9 times (alot for him) and was a slugging machine - 14 XBH with 9 of them being HRs. Problem is the Nats haven't played 24 games, they've played 68 and in the other 44 he's been hideous - only 9 XBH, hitting close to .200 and not walking at any rate you'd like. I'm hoping that he did get on track and this is just an off week, which happens, and he'll start hitting again. We'll check back after this week.

Espinosa 3-16, 0XBH. Danny is Danny. Should have gotten that surgery.

Rendon 5-23, 0 XBH. Probably nothing to worry about - but it is his second slump in a row where the power has gone completely (from May 7th-28th hit hit .147 and slugged .191). You don't want players to be on-off switches like this. You want more his slump from April 11th-24th.  Hit .193, but slugged .368.  Rendon is a good bat, whether he'll be a great one depends on if his slumps are the former or the latter.

LaRoche (.235 / .381 / .294) is slumping but still getting on base. Werth (.227 / .320 / .409) isn't really slumping perse - because when you get on base AND hit for power... well .230 isn't terrible. We're talking a week here - one more ball finds a hole and he's hitting .265. 

This slide should even out even if you don't trust Span and Espy (and I don't). You only have one guy hitting well (Lobaton) and one guy holding up (Werth). The rest are on some level of slump. That combination will stop sometime soon. Of course with the Braves series coming Nats fans need it to stop now.

Friday, June 13, 2014

Under the radar

It's a very busy weekend for sports. The World Cup is starting. Both the NBA and NHL finals are potentially coming to a close. And for non-poor white people, the US Open is happening. Even with all that I felt that a Nats win last night with another great pitching performance would have forced them into the news. Winners of 9 of 10 and sweeping what was the best team in baseball at their place, with their like 13th great start in a row? Heading into St. Louis to play the defending NL Champs? It may not get talked about first, or even before the first commercial break, but it would be the first baseball story.

Now for a few more days at least the Nats get to fly under the radar, probably until the Braves series starts. Basketball and Hockey will likely be over by then (fun fact : If the NBA finals reaches Game 7 they play it next Friday. Stretch it out will ya?)  Golf definitely will. If it's just the World Cup and baseball, the Nats will be prime to get their due.

Now of course there are 5 games standing in the way of that attention, the three versus the Cardinals being the ones you worry about.

The Nats finally lost a no-doubter. So we can go back and look at the amazing run they just put up. Over the previous 12 games the Nats went 10-2. Scored 70 runs (Almost 6 a game) and gave up 21 runs (less than 2 a game).  They trailed at the end of 9 of 110 innings, which makes you wonder how they lost. (If you forget there was the Yu Darvish gem where the Rangers broke through late and the Padres game that Soriano blew.) They didn't actually blow the doors off with their hitting (.263 / .333 / .448) the hits were imtely and pitching wise they did dominate - 1.52 ERA, 0.85 WHIP, 11 walks and 92 strikeouts. I mean that is freaking amazing pitching by a staff for a 2 week stretch. Take the best pitching season by a pitcher you ever saw. Now assume that pitcher pitched for your team for 12 straight games and never lost anything on his stuff. That kind of gives you an idea of how well this team has pitched.

The Cardinals are next, the Braves in the hole (Astros on deck - It's like an All-Star game at an NL park and the pitcher is hitting).  Who wouldn't love to see the Nats exercise some demons, if only for a week.

Thursday, June 12, 2014

2014 is 2014

You can feel a sentiment rising as the Nats go through this dominant run. This team is special. The clubhouse feels different. When this happens you start to get the explicative stories that are meant to be silly and are, like Matt LeCroy's eating habits, and ones that are meant to be serious but aren't, like Werth getting a text from a friend saying "Feels like 2012". 

Why is the latter silly? Well not two weeks ago, as the Nats exited a stretch of play where it felt like they rolled over and died in the face of adversity, everyone was asking "Why does this feel so much like 2013?" Well which is it? The team today is pretty much the team of two weeks ago. Is it a 2013 or a 2012 team? Are they filled with a special camaraderie that will carry them to the best record in baseball or are they chokers who can't handle the pressure of being a target?  I'm not sure - let me see if they won last night.

Yes, they've added two players, but are we to assume the clubhouse is so fragile that losing LaRoche and Zimmerman sent Werth, Desmond, Zimmermann, etc. into a tailspin where they could no longer rally the spirit of the team to win games they should win? Is that what you are telling me? That the alchemy of a clubhouse full of grown men is so delicate that the loss of one particular reagent makes sure lead stays lead?

The truth is 2014 is 2014. It's not 2012 and it's not 2013 and looking for off the field answers for what 2014 is silly, just as it was in 2012 and 2013.

2012 was 2012 because the Nats had awesome pitching (thanks to guys in their prime years) and their mild injuries were covered by great bench play.

2013 was 2013 because the Nats had very good, but not awesome, pitching and their normal injuries were made worse by terrible bench play.

There is no need to look off-the-field here. The numbers pretty much explain all. The pitching going from awesome to very good, you have to understand that is just variance. A guy might hit .340 and follow it up with a .310. There's no reason to drag off-the-field things into that. The only place where it might have been applicable is if one was looking for a reason why the bench was so good in 2012 and so bad in 2013. I prefer random variation and crappy players, but the swing was so wild that I admit I'm just guessing. I suppose if a Werth said "we lifted the bench up with our fantastic spirit" at least that would be trying to explain something that isn't clear as day.

What's going on in 2014? A combination of things (obviously). They've had awesome pitching again - thanks to a combination of the Fister acquisition and the Roark revelation. They took a very good rotation and tried to make it better and hey! It is! Not exactly how they expected it but it'll happen more often if you try. They've had more than their share of injuries and mixed results from the replacements. Lobaton was ok when replacing Ramos. McClouth was terrible but picking up. Espinosa was great but is trending down. It has been a very normal bench-like performance.

Awesome pitching + lots of injuries + normal bench = 88/89 win pace so far. Makes sense to me. No reason to look in the clubhouse for something that's obvious on the field.

The story of 2014 will write itself on the field, just like the the ones for 2012 and 2013 did. If the pitching keeps going at about this rate but the Nats keep losing offensive players for big chunks of time on the edge of the playoff race is exactly where'd I'd expect them to be.  If the pitching keeps going and the team remains healthy they should play much better, like they have recently, and win the division. No mayonnaise and banana explanations needed.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

See! It's ok!

The offense didn't come through last night but the pitching was so good it didn't matter.

The team has an ERA under 3.00 now. That hasn't been done since 1989, or if you prefer, before Bryce Harper. (Oakland also has an ERA under 3.00 right now)

The Nats team ERA in the past two weeks is 1.34.  Let me repeat that.

The Nats TEAM Era in the past two weeks is 1.34.

Two days ago it was crazy that "Roaznnburster" (Name modified to bring out more Zimmermann) had an ERA of 1.42 in their last 2 weeks of starts.  Add in the past two games they've LOWERED it. It would now be 1.30 including those.

Yesterday we talked about the offense just being hot all at the same time. It's only fair that we look at the pitching staff to see if we can see anything that might suggest they are just hot as well and due for a cooldown. I hope it's obvious that the relief core isn't 1.00 ERA good or whatever it is those crazy kids are posting now. But they are really good and pitch so few innings who can say what they'll end up with. Let's focus on the starters. Casually, I can see two places where a very mild concern exists. Fister's HRs and Roarks BABIP.

Fister has given up 6 homers in only 43 IP.  That's a lot. Now three were in that same disastrous first outing so you can forgive that a little, but Oakland is also a place historically hard to hit HRs. After that he's been giving up a HR every other game or so. It's not bad, that rate will probably end up under league average, but as a GB pitcher I'd like to see him further away from league average. That's usually where he's been in the past. It's never going to kill Fister because he doesn't put men on, but it might rear it's head in close games in HR heavy parks, and given that his walk rate should go up (he's never been THIS good with his control) it's likely to bring his ERA back over 3.00 at some point. (1.83 since first game)

Roark's BABIP sits at .255 right now. It's a number that pitchers hit every year but the numbers that hit it are very very few. He's basically skirting the area where you can accept his talent put him there. Now, in his defense, last year he also put up similar numbers in both the majors and minors so maybe he has developed into this elite pitcher. But if he hasn't then he doesn't have the peripherals to keep him among the elite pitchers in baseball. He's good at a bunch of things, but not really great. He needs those hit balls to be fielded to keep that ERA as low as it is.

There you go - there's your concerns. You might have to watch Fister in low-scoring games and Roark is possibly (I'd say probably) not elite. It's a salsa only containing boiled tomoates it's so mild.


Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Offensive explosion

In the 14 games without LaRoche/Zimmerman/Bryce the Nats averaged 3.42 runs a game. Extrapolated to the season as a whole that would put the Nats 15th out of 16 NL teams.

In the 13 games since LaRoche has come back (still without Zimmerman for 6 games/Bryce) the Nats have averaged 5.69 runs a game. Extrapolated to the season as a whole that would put the Nats 1st out of 16 NL teams.

In the 7 games since Zimmerman has come back (still without Bryce) the Nats have averaged 6.14 runs a game. Extrapolated to the season as a whole... you should be able to figure that out.

The Nats are red-hot. Is part of it small sample size? Definitely. The Nats aren't going to score about 6 runs a game. They aren't the 1931 Yankees (who averaged 6.88 R/G for a season - in a higher offensive scoring time of course, but the average was still 5.14 R/G.  They scored 1.7 more runs per game than averge. Amazing. Even more amazing they don't get talked about in "best all-time" team discussion because the pitching was only slightly better than average. But I digress).

Offensive runs like the one the Nats are having are usually built on unsustainable hot streaks.  Those times of year when everyone gets hot at the same time. Is that what we are seeing here? Well, here has been going on in the past two weeks.

Rendon .371/ .405 / .714
Desmond .250 / .372 / .694
LaRoche .282 / .420 / .513
Span .365 / .389 / .538
Ramos .344 / .400 / .500

Roughly - the Nats have 5 regulars hitting like Top 20 offensive players. I'd argue that alone would suffice but wait!  There's more!

Werth .349 / .364 / .442
Espinosa .306 / .375 / .417

Not quite "team-carrying" level like the other 5, but it can't be argued that they aren't hitting well.

So what you have is 7 out of 8 regular hitters hitting somewhere between very good and OMFG XOXO GOSSIP GIRL. (McLouth is also FINALLY hitting ok). I think we're safe calling this unsustainable.  (And I haven't even talked about the pitching side of this run)

But the good news is - it doesn't have to be sustainable. 62-18 in RS and RA in the past 10 games - that works out to be a .922 expected winning percentage or roughly 149-13 record for the season. Let's cool the offense way down, take 30 runs from the offense so it's averaging 3.2 runs a game. That's terrible. If the pitching still pitched this well (32-18 in RS and RA) the Nats would still be expected to win 3/4 of their games. Or let's let the pitching come back up. 48 runs or 4.8 runs a game. Not good at all. If the offense is this hot though (62-48 in RS and RA) - that's still a team you'd expect to bash their way to 100 wins.

The Nats, when healthy, could have an offense that might be the best in the NL. The Nats when healthy have a pitching staff that might be best in the NL. Healthy, a team like that can weather a slump by either side of the game and still be a winning team, and if one side is hot when the other is cold they could still be a force.

The only question for me is how much of this offense is a mirage and how much is a reality. We know they aren't "best ever". Are guys like Rendon/Ramos very good or just good on crazy hot streaks (which happen)? How long can Span/Espinosa, who aren't this good, keep something like this up?   When LaRoche cools down (and he will) how far will that cool down go? The more questions answered in the positive, the more the Nats are a team that can only be stopped by the combination of injuries, slumps and bad luck.

Monday, June 09, 2014



There isn't another word to use to describe the Nats starting pitching right now. In the past 2 weeks, Strasburg has allowed 2 earned runs in 2 games, struck out 20 and issued 1 walk.  You could pretty easily argue he's been the WORST (Top 4) starter on the Nats during this time frame. Fister probably takes the title with his "shield your eyes" ERA of 2.77 (THE HORROR!) but he leads the starters in WHIP at 0.692.  Roark Leads in ERA (0.60), Zimmermann doesn't lead in anything but is 2nd in much of everything and has thrown one more start.

All in all here's how Roazburster has done over the past 2 weeks

 63 IP, 46 H, 6BB, 65K, 10ER

which leads to
  • 0.825 WHIP
  • 1.42 ERA
  • 9.28 K/9 ratio
  • 0.85 BB/9 ratio
  • 10.833 K/BB ratio
If that was a single pitcher they would be just a few innings from qualifying for league titles. They would lead the lead in ERA, lead in BB/9, be 2nd in WHIP (to Johnny Cueto), be 2nd in K/BB (to David Price), and 13th in K/9.  With a respectable 7 wins, you're looking at an early favorite for the Cy Young. 

The key to the complete turn around has been Zimmermann seemingly righting himself. Don't let the smiley joes tell you different, there was reason to be worried. Prior to the last 2 starts Zimm hadn't had a good start since April and had thrown up four straight bad ones. A month of bad pitching is certainly enough to raise an eyebrow. Especially since the competition was lacking and the other starters were showing that. Doug Fister had a bad start on May the 9th. The next bad one that wasn't ZNN or the injured Gio? We're still waiting on it.

Of course, now's the time for a little bit of cold water. There are 6 teams other than the Nats over .500 in the NL and they'll play four of them in the next few weeks.The Nats are at the Giants for four, then the Cards for three, after a day off and two more days off (Astros at home), they host the Braves for four, then head to Milwaukee for three.  They haven't been off for a week now so fatigue may set in right as they start this important stretch.

Rememeber last year 6-13 vs ATL, 1-5 vs LA, 0-6 vs STL. This year vs teams above .500?  1-5 vs ATL, 5-3 vs MIA, 2-1 vs LAD, 2-2 vs STL, 0-3 vs OAK, 1-2 vs Angels.  No one will truly buy into the Nats unless they can beat good teams. Now's the time to prove they can.

Friday, June 06, 2014

On the cusp

The Nats are finally coming together... maybe.  The Rangers are beat up.  The Phillies stink.  The Padres, who the Nats play next, are also kindly referred to as flawed. (Remember that "team of Frandsens" I called the Nats during their slump a while back? - Meet the reality of that statement) So you take the current (and possibly future) winning with a grain of salt. But the plan is coming together.

The pitching is beginning to be the dominant force that we expected it to be.  No team in the NL has allowed fewer runs in the past month.  And they've been consistently good. No team in the NL has allowed fewer runs in the past 2 weeks or 1 week either.

The hitting is on a nice little roll as well. The past two weeks, with first LaRoche and now Zimm back, they've been a Top 3 force in the NL (let's not look before that). The combination of those two has lead to a 6-3 stretch and the Nats being back to 1 game out of first.

It's here that we notice how important it is that the Braves (or Marlins, I guess) didn't run away during that early stretch. If the Nats had a 6-3 game stretch and found themselves 5 or 6 games out the feeling would be a lot different. Less "Here we come" and more "What do we have to do?"  Given the peaks and valleys of a usual season coming back from a big deficit (8 games or so) can take a couple months, even if you are the better team. You gain 3 games over 10 games, then lose one in the next five. Rinse repeat...  the fact that they never fell further than 3.5 out is huge.

Last year the Nats were in a similar situation at the end of May - 4.5 out rather than 3.5, but rather than climb back up they dropped back and hit that 8 game deficit on June 5th. They would claw their way back to 4 games over and 4 games out over the next month but a 6 game losing streak after the All-Star break would end the season. They would follow that with a 11-7 run and would LOSE 5 games in the standings.

This should serve as two points going forward.  One - that plunge in July this took place with the full team in place. These things can happen even with everyone here so it's important to maintain strong play all year long. The Nats spent the first two months screwing around, half dealing with injuries. It hasn't cost them, but it could. Two - they have a tough stretch coming up after the Padres series but if they can make it out of that within 3-4 games out, they should be in good enough position for the rest of the year. We (or I really - I can't speak for you) didn't think they'd be here if they didn't take charge during their weak stretch, but sometimes things work out for you.  Didn't in 2013, but looking like it might in 2014.

Wednesday, June 04, 2014


Out of Blogfice

The offense kept scoring runs AND ZNN pitched great?  Why do I get a picture in my head of a bloodied and battered player in a Nationals uniform pointing a bat at the Braves and saying "You made one mistake. You didn't finish me off when you had the chance"

Comment away.  Should be able to post tomorrow something more substantial. Or, you know, relatively so.

Monday, June 02, 2014

Monday Quickie - The Starting Pitching is peaking

What?  You expected talk about the offense? It's going to take more than a couple of fluke high-scoring games to get me praising those guys again.  I did like what I see and you can't blame them for struggling against Darvish, who is that good, but the story of the weekend for me was the starters.

19IP 17H 3ER 4BB 19K

That's an ERA*of 1.42 and a WHIP of 1.11

*I asterick the ERA because honestly if it's YOUR error that causes runs to score I think it should be counted against you. Didn't do it - but if you wanted to the ERA jumps to 2.37

Strasburg, Fister, and Roark have been as good as any three pitchers in baseball recently.
  • After his disastorous first start, Fister has put up an 2.13 ERA in 4 starts, with a .585 OPS against and all of 2 walks. 
  • Since getting beat up by Philly, Tanner Roark has put up a 2.20 ERA in 5 starts with a .590 OPS against and a WHIP under 1.00 (24H, 8BB in 32.2 IP) 
  • In his last 7 starts, Strasburg has gone 7 IP or more 5 times. (pulled for needed PH in the other two) He's put up an ERA of 1.90, a .639 OPS against, and has struck out 48 batters in 47IP. 
Given Blake Treinen's successful outing there were only two things keeping the Nats from making a nice little run here : the ineffectiveness of Zimmermann and the terrible offense. (Which, yes is like saying a car can brake fine and only thing keeping it from running correctly is that it won't go.) Prior to the 9 run outburst, the Nats had scored 14 runs in Strasburg's last 5 games. They scored 13 for Roark in that same time frame and instead of a nine, just backed him up with a big fat zero in the most recent game.

But was that just Darvish being dominating? Is the offense better now? We'll see. If they are ok, they should score some runs against the Phillies with Lee out. A rookie, Burnett who hasn't been sharp, and Kendrick who has struggled lately and let's face it - isn't anything special.