Nationals Baseball: THUD

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.


Jimmy said...

Well by your own metrics if were only down 3-4 we should be good. I'm not to worried beat (at the time) a red hot Giants team and got swept by the Cardinals leaves us at 5-5 for the west coast trip. If you had said to me at the beginning of the week we would be at 5-5 after a 10 game west coast trip playing 2 potential playoff teams I would have definitely taken it.

Harper said...

Jimmy - expectations change but I'm ok with the trip and I'll be ok heading into ATL unless they happen to get swept by the Astros and lose 2 more games in the standings.

Anonymous said...

Agree that expectations change. After Game 3 in SF, you heard the "can't do any where than 5-5" comments but the implication was that they would surpass that. The bigger issue though continues to be "who are these guys". Are they over-achieving when they go on a tear like they did on the first 5 wins or are they slumping when the lose like in the last 5 games. I think that is the same question I've had for the last 3 years. Funny but reading the Giants' blog during the Nats' wins, their fans seem to have the same questions. I guess it just goes with the territory.

blovy8 said...

Well, I do think that you are employing a ridiculous standard for Span, but maybe it's the automaton version of trolling humor. Waiting until the 0 for 18 happens only means you are EXACTLY as wrong as the Span hot streak posters you deride in that you waited for an endpoint to reiterate your inane point that Span is somehow a "bad" hitter. His BABIP so far this season is a little low for his history, that's all the variance really needed to explain things. He's swinging a little bit more, missing a little bit less, but hitting more fly balls. That's quite correctable over a larger sample. If Span is "bad" with an 2013 RC+ of 97, is 103 then "good"?

I mark the last post 73 out of 100 due to unoriginal, regurgitated small batting samples, hoary cliches about "mental blocks", and confirmation bias regarding certain players. By the grading system you've set, I have to call it a failure.

Jay said...

I vote go get a second baseman that can hit - Aaron Hill or Chase Utley and leave Zimmerman in LF when Harper comes back.

Of course Philly and Arizona will probably want something ridiculous for either of those guys, so we'll have to ride it out.

I have no idea why the plan is to move Zimmerman back to 3rd when Harper comes back. Leave Espinosa at second - at lease he bats 7th or 8th in the lineup.

I really have doubts that the line up as it currently is constructed (even with Ramos and Harper back) has a chance to make it far in the playoffs.

Bjd1207 said...

@Jay - I'm confused by the second half of your post. I get the first part, you want a 2nd baseman that can hit, leave Rendon at 3rd, Zim in LF, Harp in CF, and Span 4th outfielder.

But if we don't get a 2b, no way Espi stays on the field. At that point we're comparing Espi to Span in offensive contributions, and Span def still wins that.

Our opening day lineup is top 5 in baseball top to bottom, just gotta get back to it

Nattydread said...

Agree with blovy8 on Span. When he was hot, Nats were winning. No, he doesn't walk. But his approach at the plate is good and he is dangerous when on base. A tad too streaky, yes, but best choice for lead off when hot.

Why did the Nats go flat in StL? Why indeed. I think they need to change hotels.

Harper said...

blovy8 - a 73 a failure? That' my highest post score since April 20th!

I never said Span was "bad" (well maybe I did somewhere but not here). I said Span is below average. RC+ last 5 years 88, 91, 105, 97, 89. I don't see where you can argue otherwise. Let's not confuse "Not good" with "bad"

I have no issue mentioning Span being hot when he is (I noted it last Tuesday) but I feel like people wanted him singled out for some reason. I get the impression people are hoping for him to be a good hitter, where good is above average, and everytime he goes on a 2-3 week hot stretch they think "Ok now he's going to keep hitting .280+ with some doubles power". But that's not him.

Somewhere in the comments in the past week I told a Span guy I'd bring him up specifically if he could keep it up a week or so longer. At that point I think the chances are slim enough that it's just a hot streak that we could maybe think "Hey something is different here". But he didn't keep it up. He came back as expected, and in loud and emphatic fashion.

Donald said...

The streakiness is definitely frustrating as a fan, but the slumps can't last any more than the hitting jags. And most teams aren't completely balanced top to bottom. Take Freeman out of the Braves line-up or Stanton away from the Marlins for half a year and see what impact it has on them. Losing Harper has been similar to that. It's just that the Nats have enough other guys that we expect them to not miss a beat.

As for going far in the post-season, I think their rotation alone gives them a chance at that. Add a few hot hitters and we'll be okay.

At this point, I expect to be down 1.5 games on the Braves at the start of that series (we go 1-1 and they go 2-1). Win the series and we'll be back in 1st.

Kenny B. said...

5-5 west coast trip, not terrible. I know, I know. But I so sick and freaking tired of losing to the damned Cardinals. I have formed an irrational hatred of the city, the sanctimonious fan base, and most of all the team since 2012. It's like a slap in the face every time they're on the schedule.

Sonny Sharma said...

Well, when your manager's expectation are so low that he can't beyond 5-5. How can you have the same guy hitting a HR in each of the 3 games. Don't these pitchers talk to each other. It is frustrating.

blovy8 said...

You have promoted Span to "below-average" in this post, it's true, but that seems unusual around here, because even if his fielding value is noted, it's typically grouped with something like "can't hit". Nobody's going to look good right after an O for 18 and admitting to "back tightness". Hell, you could expect a Nats starting pitcher to go on the DL with that description immediately!

Chas R said...

I think the real problem with Span is he is a #7 or 8 hole hitter masquerading as a Leadoff man. Just because he doesn't strike out much and is fast, doesn't mean he should be in the #1 spot. I'm fine with Span's poor hitting combined with his +++ defense. Please get him out of the leadoff spot.

Anonymous said...

Yes, when Span is hot, the Nats score... because when Span is hot, they have their leadoff man on base.

For the season, Span's OBP is .305. That includes the hot streak. .330 is league average for leadoff guys...

Wouldn't it be nice to have a leadoff man who was on base more often, even when he wasn't having an incredible hot streak?

Donald said...

Before the west coast road trip, you said that you expected one of the Braves or Marlins to go 7-3 or 8-2 over that stretch to grab a lead. Both have gone 4-6 over the last 10 games, so it's not like the Nats are the only team in this division with issues. No one is running away with it.

blovy8 said...

The good news is the Braves haven't made a trade to improve their chances. The Nats seem content to just wait for Harper. Is he going to have enough time before the trade deadline to make a difference? As much as we like to cut guys slack when they come off the DL, it would be nice to have a guy just start popping homers immediately like Adams did for St. Louis.

Unknown said...

I think the problem still comes down to their offensively challenged bench. Even with their improvements over last year, they still have given 256 plate appearances to McLouth/Frandsen. The two of them are just awful at the plate, McLouth can take a walk but besides that they both do everything else poorly. Also, 256 would be 5th on the team in PA. I definitely can't wait for Bryce Harper to come back.

jesterboo said...

both the Braves and Marlins lost in extra innings last night and now we are .5 out of first. Hurray for days off!

Anonymous said...

1. What will it take for Williams to stop batting Span leadoff? How low will Span's OBP have to drop?
2. Why does Williams insist on batting our team's worst hitters in the #2 hole? Over the past week, for instance, Kevin Frandsen (.239/.290/.304!)and Nate McLouth (.180/.295/.243!!) have both batted second in different games--and McLouth batted second against a LEFTY for crying out loud.
3. Relatedly, do you think Williams is (a) unaware of hyper-advanced sabermetric stats like OBP and SLG; (b) aware of said statistics but unable to comprehend their meaning; or (c) aware of the importance of said stats, but believes that scrappiness/moxy/grit is a more important indicator of value to the team?
4. I could do a better job setting the lineup than this clown.

Bjd1207 said...

@Greg - I can't explain McLouth in lineup at all, much less the 2 spot.

But I think you're coming down a bit harsh on MW for the rest of it. I 100% guarantee that he understands both OPB and SLG, those have been around for quite awhile, are relatable to real-life situations, and I wouldn't qualify them as hyper-advanced.

You're right that MW is an old school guy. And that camp is much more focused around your 3/4 hitters and setting up the rest of the lineup around them. Traditional knowledge says your best hitter hits 3rd, and you put a power guy behind him. Traditionally beyond that managers look for "speed" at the top spot and a "bat-handler" in #2 to try and get a guy into scoring position for the 3/4 hitters.

New-age thinking has exposed the flaws in much of that. The more runners you have on base the better (maximize OBP), steals/bunts don't add as much value as traditionally thought (often your better not giving up the out), and you should get your best hitters more AB's (loading up the top of the lineup). Many managers understand the lot of that, but are still nervous when their rookie 2b steps to bat with their leadoff guy on 2nd. They want a veteran, professional hitter up there to move him to third and score him with your 3/4 guys.

And while it's easy for us to sit here and say "yea but ON AVERAGE you'll do better with this lineup construction," remember that if that nightmare scenario plays out in a playoff game you better believe the fans will be screaming for his head. "He let WHO bat second?! Why didn't we have our vet up there?!"

Bjd1207 said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Donald said...

One additional defense of the use of McLouth (and Frandsen), though not in the 2 spot, is that the manager has to assume his bench is what it is. MW can't send McLouth to Syracuse or cut him. If he just decides not to play him, or only as a pinch runner / late inning defensive sub, he's basically giving up a spot. It's tough to win with a 24 man roster. And it pisses off your boss if you try to force his hand to swallow a big salary. So if you're MW, your only real option at this point early in the season is to hope that McLouth can play his way out of his slump.

Donald said...

In other news, the Phillies just swept the Braves in Atlanta. I'm sure doing so has violated some unwritten baseball rule for which the Braves will be required to bean Ryan Howard the next time they meet.

Richard Parker said...

And all of a sudden the Nats have their largest lead in the NL East since 2013. I think it's funny how Harper is all about his biometrics until it comes to talking about the Nats vs. the Braves or Cards. Then all of a sudden it's about mental issues they need to overcome, usually an irrelevant anathema to Harper.

Anonymous said...

One other thing on the lineup construction; I remember Earl once talking about putting a guy in a slump in the 2 spot on the theory that if the leadoff man is on base #2 will see more fastballs to prevent a steal and better pitches because a pitcher doesn't want to face #3 and 4 with 2 runners on. Only works once around the lineup, though.

Front row of 135 for tonight's game, 5th for Sunday. Time to put the boot on the Braves' neck.