Nationals Baseball: September 2014

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

How is everyone doing?

Cold? Hot? It doesn't really matter as (1) we really can't quantify when these streaks begin and end and (2) even if we could there is a lot of down time between game 162 and the next game you play nowadays so there's plenty of time for a reset. Still it's nice to know who has been doing well and who has been doing poorly because it could be a measure not of a hot or cold streak but of something more. Injury? Fatigue? Something clicked?

Who's hot
Werth : . 324 / .478 / .479  Sept; .462 / .588 / .692 in last week
Rendon :  .337 / .429 / .506; .333 / .500 / .583
LaRoche : .263 / .352 / .539 (7 homers); .375 / .444 / .563
Span : .321 / .394 / .488; .500 / .545 / .600

The LaRoche one is the most important to me as he was ice cold in July and hit a measley .235 in August (with decent patience and power though). When LaRoche is off that's 1/3rd of the LHB that you like, and your best source of power, taken from the lineup. It's good to see it doesn't appear to be age slowing him down at the end of a long season.

Who's warming
Desmond : .277 / .351 / .458; but .286 / .421 / .571 in past week

Another good sign because when Desmond is off he can be a black hole with his propensity to strike out.

Who's cold
Espinosa : .250 / .323 / .286;  .231 / .286 / .231
Ramos : .203 / 323 / .286;  .200 / .200 / .200
Cabrera : .217 / .290 / .361; .133 / .278 / .200
Zimmerman : .188 / .235 / .188 past week

Boz talked about how nice it would be to have a rested catcher ready, but I'm not sure that extra days off is going to matter here for Ramos. Despite the lost time this is still the most games Ramos has played in since 2011. There is no good answer at 2nd and AssCab is showing why the Indians would deal him for Adam Dunn v2.2.

The Zimm thing is most worrying to me though.  Ramos has to play and we knew 2nd base would be an issue, but Zimm is a choice. He's been slow to warm up from injury before. Do the Nats feel forced to use his bat because of what it might bring? If so - it only makes sense right now to move Espy/Drubal out to make it happen, and that means Rendon to 2nd. All it will take is one 0-4 for Rendon at the keystone for fans to rebel on that plan.

Anything else?
Bryce is doing fine. Just didn't fit in this line of thinking. A little better recently but not enough that I I'd put him in "warming"

Bench-wise Scheirholz and Moore are doing the best which GOD I hope doesn't effect bench choices. Both Hairston and Frandsen are rounding into form, and by that I mean they aren't embarrassing. The only bench guy looking like a nothing is Lobaton, but you can't leave him out.

Pitching? You know the starters are all doing really really well. Either overall (for everyone not named Gio) or more recently (for everyone).  How are the relievers doing? I'll note these "recent" numbers are very rough. Don't take it to be end all be all - this is far more "just noting" than what we were looking at with the batters.

Hot :
Storen 0.00 ERA 0.811 WHIP, in Sept; 0.00 ERA, 0.833 WHIP recently (2 weeks because 1 week is unworkable).
Barrett 0.00 ERA, 0.857 WHIP; 0.00, 1.00 WHIP

There hasn't been a lot of great pen work this past month. I didn't include Thorton even with his low recent ERA because of a high WHIP and a tiny IP (3.1). Even Barrett is pushing it at 7IP

Warming : 
Blevins : 3.00 ERA, 1.111 WHIP; 0.00 ERA, 0.462 WHIP

He might have kept himself on the roster. Although I'll warn you again that anything in the two weeks even is dealing with single digit innings - very big variance. One bad outings really screws with those numbers.

Cooling : 
Detwiler :  3.52 ERA, 1.174 WHIP; 10.13 ERA, 2.625

Case in point. Detwiler - this catches his getting beat up in the ATL game. I did leave him out though because his next two appearances weren't great either. a one out affair where he gave up a walk and a 1.1 IP where he gave up 2 hits.

Cold :
Stammen : 7.94 ERA, 2.118 WHIP;  22.50 ERA, 3.00 WHIP

The funny thing with Stammen is that all the runs here come from a single terrible Marlins blow up. However Sept before that wasn't perfect - he pulled a couple of escapes from sticky situations he set out himself. and man that was a bad last outing. That's not a taste you want left in anyone's mouth. 

Monday, September 29, 2014

Monday Super Quickie

Some people would call that a statement game for the playoffs.  "We're here ! We're ready!" That's kind of silly. Actually, that's really sillly. The Nats didn't need a no-hitter to do that. That was accomplished by playing great baseball basically since the All-Star break. When they were hot they were dominant. 9-1 a couple weeks ago, 10-0 in mid-August, 9-3 at the end of June. When they were cold they were .500.The Nats didn't have a 3-7 stretch over 10 games since the end of May.

What was the game if not a statement? It was a culmination. The 2nd half of the Nats season was a starting pitching masterpiece. Fister 1.98 ERA, ZNN 2.18. Roark 2.65, Stras 2.70.  September was even better. Stras 1.13, ZNN 1.32, Fister 1.87, Roark 2.45, Gio 2.48.  The no-hitter was the exclamation point on that finish. You didn't notice what we were doing over here because the Braves have been dead for 10 years?  NOW YOU NOTICE.

Going into the playoffs the Nats have 5 guys pitching like #1s, 3 pitching like dominant #1s. It's a whole new seasons, but I expect the Nats to be favored like crazy at this point. I might even have to take back my "Kershaw 2-3x" caveat. (though the Dodgers have been pretty good themselves)

I'm also extremely glad the Nats now have a truly great OF catch to talk about. It was big time caused by the positioning of Souza. He was shaded down the line because you don't expect a lefty to drive it in the LF gap at this point. If it's a normal game the catch is probably nothing more than a nice running grab. But he was there and that forces the full sprint and the over the shoulder aspect that took the catch to a special level. No more Bernie's "unecessary jump because as usual I don't know where I am and probably took a bad track" (a top notch CF sprints, slows and catches that at the weird corner with a hand out to feel the wall). No more Werth's "robbing of a double off the top of the wall, maybe" from the playoffs. I'm all behind seeing this one for the next 20 years.

Playoff preview etc. coming this week. (Let's wait to see who the Nats face)

Will rest be an issue? If you go Stras, Fister, Gio ZNN then you got guys starting on 5, 7, and 7 days rest (Gio next would be on 11 days rest or so)

Span hit .300, Rendon led the league in R, Stras led the league (tied) in Ks, Desmond did not lead the league in Ks (3rd, Howard was 1st)  

Friday, September 26, 2014

Shut it down.

As Strasburg gets ready to pitch Game 1, we all know what's coming. Pretty much our favorite thing in the world. Articles about the 2012 Shutdown!

Here's the thing to remember as people say "Shutdown was smart!" until the NLDS is over, where, if the Nats lost, it becomes "Shutdown was dumb!" again.

We know nothing. Zero. Zilch. Nada.

We know nothing at all about whether the shutdown was a good idea because it was based on a hypothetical for which proving the negative is impossible. Here's what we might have, maybe, you can stretch and make an argument for, decided when it comes to the shutdown.
  • If the Nats didn't shut Strasburg down and he was injured in the playoffs or in Spring of the following season, you could say the shutdown was probably a good idea. 
  • If the Nats didn't shut Strasburg down and they went on to win the World Series and he was a big part of the winning, you could say the shutdown was probably a bad idea. 
  • If the Nats did shut Strasburg down and they went on to win the World Series, you could say the shutdown was probably a good idea. 

These equivocating, mealy-mouthed, maybes based on immediate results are the BEST we can say. For the first one, maybe he gets injured anyway. For the second maybe they would have won it anyway and maybe this hurts him long term. For the third, maybe they would have won it easier with him. We don't know. We can never know. We can't run alternate realities to see what would have happened. It's all conjecture.

Now we're years later. There are so many influencing factors on today outside of the shutdown that even mentioning it is idiotic. I'm more stupid for writing this piece about how it's stupid. Just because Strasburg is healthy right now proves nothing. Maybe pitching in the playoffs in 2012 would have made no difference on his arm. Maybe it would have hurt him, but the Nats would have made a trade for David Price and he'd be dominating, or rushed up Giolito and he'd be dominating. Who knows? Not you. Certainly not them.

What can you say about the shutdown? Same thing you could have said in October of 2012. I like it or I don't like it.  Rizzo basically admitted a few days ago that he punted on 2012 by shutting Strasburg down when he said "I think the best team wins" in regards to the playoffs. He made the Nats worse. Of course that's how I see it. BUT maybe Rizzo figured the Nats weren't the best even with Strasburg, so losing him didn't matter. Or he thought that the Nats were the best even without Strasburg, so again losing him doesn't matter. Neither of these make sense to me but hey, I'm not in his head.

What I'm saying is you can basically ignore any article in the next few weeks that talks about the shutdown, unless it's titled "What I thought about the shutdown and why that moment has little to no bearing on the Nats of today" Anything else is a steaming pile of nothing.


We've kind of joked Strasburg's biggest problem is not himself but Kershaw. Strasburg was supposed to be the best and the fact someone else clearly is hangs over Strasburg regardless of how well he actually pitches. But that first part "Strasburg was supposed to be the best" is a bit unfair. If you take a look at Stras' early major legaue numbers and Kershaw's you can see that Kershaw had a leg up on being the best because he's always been unhittable. (led the league in H/9 in 2nd year never above 7.0 after that). Kershaw's issues were control based and the eternal question for guys like that are can they get control and remain unhittable. For 99 out of 100 guys the answer is no. For Kershaw the answer was yes. Strasburg seemingly can max out his talent and it'll be hard for him to pass Kershaw because Strasburg has never been as unhittable. (best H/9 in a full year was 6.7) He can get close, but the numbers aren't favoring him.

The way I'd describe the two is Strasburg is Mark Prior if he was healthy. Kershaw is Kerry Wood if he had great control. That chase, the goal of harnessing the ultimate raw talent and creating a "best ever" pitcher, is the goal that keeps scouts coming back for more. That's why the Henry Rodriguez's get their share of chances. In 2012 for the Nats his H/9 was 5.8. That's impressive. Problem is his BB/9 was 6.8. That's the worst. But it's that 5.8 that keeps people coming back and why the Nats, Cubs, and Marlins all took shots with him since then. 

I suppose Oakland could still choke out (they lost another 2 one-run games bringing them to 2-9 in their last 11 one-run games, which they've played since the start of September, which is a crazy amount of 1-run games) but Seattle doesn't look inspired.  The Tigers too could choke out but I'm just not seeing it.   Really the race to watch is the NL Central. The Pirates have a tougher road (@CIN) than the Cardinals (@ARI) but one game is one game. Let's tie 'em up and make Sunday decide the division (because a 163 to decide a division isn't all that fun to me)

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Wednesday AL

Strange to imagine it now but there was a time reeeeeal early in the season when we thought "Hmmm maybe the NL East isn't going to be as bad as we thought they were" On April 7th Miami would lead the division at 5-2. The Nats were 4-2, the Braves were 4-2, and the Phillies were 3-3. If everything went just right...

It didn't. The NL East sucks and the Nats are coasting on the dregs of this division. The Braves have given up. The Marlins lost their best player and team carrier. The Mets are currently fighting through the mental block that the Nats had with the Braves in previous years. The Phillies are run by Ruben Amaro.

Right now the 2nd best team in the NL, the second best, is on pace for 78 wins. You might say "That's because of the Nats, baby!" But only the Mets are dominated by the Nats. The Marlins have been handled, but not embarrassed (yet). The Braves and Phillies both have winning records against the Nats. No, the NL East's terribleness is real and it's spectacular. 

Anyway - this not discounting anything the Nats did. It's not like the Dodgers had a much tougher road with dregs like the Diamondbacks and Tulo-less Rockies. Just noting that the NL East turned out to have no 2nd team that was even good this season.

What's going on in the AL?  I was hoping for chaos (and a Yankee surprise) in the Wild Card. At the very least that required both SEA and KC to begin choking, and while SEA is being very accomodating, the Indians are pulling an Atlanta and barely showing up to their series with the Royals. That pretty much seals the deal for the Royals and A's as the Wild Card teams, with the Mariners holding onto an outside chance that will probably disappear tonight with another loss to Toronto and Cleveland taking and early flight home and forfeiting.

What does that leave us in the AL?

The Angels

The Angels are the real deal offensively. Their line-up has the same sort of "no-holes" make-up that the Nats do, but with better bats. They can hit for average and power, they walk allright, and they don't strike-out a crazy amount, especially now with Hamilton out of the line-up. Their only real issue comes from the fact that their former catcher manager loves his Hank Conger, so he'll steal some at bats from the better Chris Iannetta. The don't run as often but have a few players capable of doing so including their star Trout.The defense is solid with only Pujols being an issue.

Pitching wise they have big problems as their best arm, Garrett Richards, is out for the season. They've gotten some good results from fill-in young guys, but ran into some bad luck there as the best of them, Matt Shoemaker, got hurt. The truth is you only feel ok with Jered Weaver on the mound and that's only "ok" not great. If they can get to the pen that's a strength. They go four deep. Another thing that might help the Angels? Their weakness here lies in control more than anything. If the playoffs make bats jumpy these arms might be enough.

The Orioles

The Orioles are a good team offensively but are coasting on fumes right now. They relied a lot on the long ball this year but over the past few months lost Machado and Weiters, and are now waiting out a Chris Davis suspension. They've managed to keep up the pace with impressive part-time performances by the likes of David Lough, Jimmy Paredes, Ryan Flaherty, Alejadro De Aza, and Kelly Johnson but does anyone have faith in that group to do damage for the next month? They don't walk at all, don't run well, and strike out a ton. I'd have real fear that in the playoffs they'd get eaten up in any park that wasn't homer friendly.

As for the pitching - it's solid. There isn't a standout performer in the rotation, but every guy they put out there keeps them in games. Part of this is great defense up the middle of the infield with Schoop and Hardy, combined with no real problems in the field. It's the back of the pen where they really shine as Britton, O'Day and Miller all are shutdown type guys who can be expected to hold onto any late lead.

The Tigers

The Tigers are a top heavy team offensively. Miggy and Victor Martinez are great and JD Martinez has had a fantastic year. But the drop off after them is substantial. After Torii Hunter you have a lot of meh guys and they've never solved their SS issue leaving them with a big hole. In theory if you can pitch around those three you should be able to take care of the Tigers, but it's tough to pitch around three guys, so the real fear is not that another teams pitchers can come in and dominate this lineup but rather one or two of these guys go cold and the offense can't score. We saw it happen mid-season. 

The pitching is supposed to be their strength and it could be once it has been pared down in the playoffs. Price and Scherzer, could dominate for short periods. Beyond that, though, it gets hazy fast. The third guy out there should be Sanchez but he's been relegated to a relief role post-injury. The next guy out there maybe should be Lobstein but it's hard to rely on a rookie. Porcello is inconsistent. Verlander has the #1 cache but is clearly their worst starter this year. The pen doesn't inspire much confidence either with no one being consistently good and the aging Joe Nathan unable to close games effectively. (Don't blame him - he is 39 - that's older than me!). Not helping is the Tigers D. Miggy was never good. Castellanos hasn't shown anything. Hunter has aged out of playing OF.  Martinez is useless out there. If you can avoid the GB up the middle you have a decent shot at a hit. 

The A's

Poor Oakland. Honestly they are probably the second best team in the AL but they play in the division with the best team and they've watched luck bite them the past few weeks, at one point playing 8 one-run affairs in 9 games and going 1-7 in them. Was something lost with Cespedes? Possibly, but there are better explanations. Norris (catcher) and Crisp (old) have worn down. Moss, Reddick, and Lowrie always felt more like complementary players than straight good ones and having them all do well at same time was unusual. Only Josh Donaldson remains a bat to worry about. They get by on patience most of all, leading the AL in walks, and as increased pressure forces guys to feel like they need to swing that works to their disadvantage. It not a terrible offense, but it's not league leading worthy either.

Their pitching is strong and it'll only look better if they can get past that WC game. They've brought in a number of arms Lester, Samardzija and Hammel (who's come on strong) who help bolster a rotation that had a lot of decent but unreliable home-grown talent. The relief pitching is not dominating but strong. Their one weakness would be giving up the longball but if they can avoid that the pitching can carry this team.

The Royals

Why is Kansas City here? A good pitching staff and finally getting some breaks. The offense... ehhh it's admittedly rough. Alex Gordon is good, not great, and he's the best bat they have as none of those young studs (Hosmer, Moustakas) have developed. They don't walk (15th in BB) or hit homers (15th in HRs). Brought in to help with that is our old friend Josh Willingham. What they do is put the ball in play (last in K's) and run (first in SBs) manufacturing runs. You think that would only work at home, but in an age where scoring is getting depressed, this type of play has increased in value.  They also supplement this with good defense, including the best outfield in the majors.

The pitching is alot like the O's. Solid starters, great pen. I do like the Royals starters more in the sense that they are better equipped to pull out a gem. Ventura, Shields, maybe Duffy now. At the same time you can't go into a game expecting it.  Holland, Davis, Herrera. act as a 3-team stopper. (what happened to Aaron Crow? He's pitched poorly the past month and dropped out of key out position).

What does this all feel like? It's a tough road for the O's. They don't match up well with the Angles (in theory) and the other parks are death to their homer-heavy offense. The Tigers especially would worry me with the cavernous Comerica in October and some bats that could punish the good but not great pitching of the Os. The only team in fact I like less than the O's are the Royals who are really just lucky to be here. The Angles are the clear favorite, but the Tigers and A's hold decent shots. For the A's it's going to depend on if they can scratch out wins as the pitching looks to be secure but the hitting is doubtful to be a force. For the Tigers it'll be about the pitching and hitting meeting somewhere winnable. The Angels though get the nod because for them it's just the pitching staying the course. The bats should carry them through. 

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Tuesday Puppy Kicking

I assume that's what I did yesterday based on some reactions.  You've come here before. You know I tend to focus more on the "what needs improvement" as opposed to the "what's going along swimmingly" That's the way this thing rolls. Just because I say Rizzo's true test is what happens with the Nats after 2015, doesn't mean I don't think he's a good GM.  I do.  Just because I say the Nats lack a true superstar hitter that you trust to come through regardless of the pitcher on the mound, doesn't mean I don't think the Nats are favorites to reach the World Series. I do.

On the latter I said I do like the Dodgers over the Nats in a "Kershaw starts in Game 1" scenario.  But I give the Nats a better chance to beat the WC winner than I do the Dodgers to beat the Cardinals. Overall I'd give the Nats a slight edge as long as they hold onto that #1 seed (which seems very likely).  I haven't really thought about the World Series possibilities. We'll just hold off on that until that chance gets a bit more into focus.

Hmmm hmmm Well what else do we talk about?  The playoffs begin a week from today (AL WC). For the Nats it's a while though, a week from Friday. In the meantime, we're going to watch how they use Zimm and Soriano. I have a hard time seeing Soriano being left off the post-season roster and you know Zimm won't be, so let's see what happens over the next few games. That should tell us all we need to know about how they'll be used in the playoffs. We'll also sit and wait for the formal announcement of Gio as the 4th starter.  I will note, this doesn't actually have to happen until either the Nats lose an NLDS game or the NLCS starts. They could just not say anything because best case the Nats won't need a 4th starter until like October 15th.

The "funtracker" stuff 

Span :  . 298 . Back of the envelope has him needing 9 hits for the rest of the season to get up to .300. Maybe 10. Certainly doable. One or two hot games at any time would likely do it.

Rendon : 5 runs ahead of Pence. Unless Rendon just stops scoring he'll take this easy.

Desmond : 3 K's behind Howard, tied with Byrd. Stanton's injury knocked him out of the running but it looks like Desmond will just fall short to one of the Phillies.

Strasburg : He's 7 ahead of Cueto and Kershaw. Both he and Kershaw have one start left, so barring something really terrible/special he'll stay ahead of Clayton. Cueto could start twice, which would give him a decent shot. Does he start that meaningless last game when he's already at  235 innings? I think he might, if it could be win #20.

The playoffs

Any idea of how you'd like to see games covered? I'm going to do what works for me, obviously, but there could be several things that fit that bill.  Live tweet? Some sort of chat room? Nothing - you'll be too busy watching the games to be on a computer (how OLD are you)? Nothing - you'll be AT the game? 

Monday, September 22, 2014

Monday Quickie - Don't let it get away from you

A couple follow-up thoughts on things :

The innings thing with Roark makes little sense to me at this point. There is an argument for pulling him from the rotation to save wear and tear on an arm that hasn't pitched more than 160 innings ever. Or better said, there was an argument.  He's at 192 innings this year. He'll make his next start tonight. So he'll be at 198 or so.

For those that want to save his arm, Roark will most definitely be #4 if he was in the rotation. At most a #4 will pitch 3 times in a postseason with lots of rest inbetween.  Are you honestly saying "198 innings is fine, but 216? ARE YOU CRAZY THAT'LL BREAK HIS ARM!!!!" If the Nats wanted to rest Tanner they should have already started down that path. At this point the whole innings pitched point is moot to me. Other reasons to keep him out of the rotation might be reasonable but not this one.

One thing to remember about Soriano - we're judging him at his worst right now. Part of the decision making process is taking into account recent results, but part of it is not letting recent results cloud your judgment of how good a player really is.  Less than 6 weeks ago Soriano was holding opponents to a .188 / .254 / .297 line and had a WHIP under 1.00.  Are you going to dismiss months of work because of what you've seen recently? Honestly YOU CAN. Those 6 weeks matter more than the 6 weeks before that because they are closer to the "now", but don't dismiss the work Soriano had done before today out of hand. Consider it thoroughly then make your decision.

There are these "The Nats aren't letting up", and "the starters are awesome" themes that have been dominating the post-clinch coverage the past week. Those are nice stories.  It's also true that those aren't objective looks at the team, but rather the positive feel-good vibes taking over at a positive feel-good time.

Oh, it's true that they've gone 12-3 and their starting pitching ERA is back to the crazy level of that mid-season stretch that had us all excited.  It's also true that they are feasting on the fat part of their schedule, taking on no teams with good offenses (otherwise known as the NL East). The Phillies are below average. The Mets are below average with a healthy Daniel Murphy and he was recovering when playing the Nats. The Braves are awful and in a tailspin. The Marlins might be ok... but without Stanton I'd imagine they drop behind the Phillies and Mets. The pitching should dominate these teams and the Nats should win these games.

In fact they should win these games convincingly... and they haven't really. The pitching is doing their part and we should be happy about that. These are bad offenses but they aren't just holding them in check they are shutting them down. Still they've won 5 of 12 by one run, 2 more by two.  All in all they've had one blowout win during this whole streak and they've averaged 3.8 runs per game. Blame the resting line-ups if you want but there it is. This doesn't mean the Nats are playing poorly (pythag expectation would have them at 10-5 or 11-4 during this stretch), but it does mean against lesser competition (MIA and PHI both have bad staffs, the Mets are ok) the Nats offense is scuffling along letting the starting pitching do the heavy lifting. If you think that'll work in the playoffs... well it might but I would rather see the team really play well in all aspects of the game going into the playoffs, rather than it's going now, with the Nats winning and us just assuming they aren't having any issues.

Friday, September 19, 2014

Decisions, decisions, decisions

We've talked about these all before but since it's pretty much all we have to talk about (other than home filed advantage) let's go through where we are on the three questions facing the Nats for the postseason.

1- What's the rotation?

It should be a simple answer. You take your 1 through 4 pitcheres (or maybe even 1 through 3) and there's your playoff rotation.  The problem for the Nats is that their rotation is not easily defined. Let's not kid ourselves here.  As much as some may want to include Strasburg in the conversation and there is a legit "fancy stats" argument for including Fister in it too, the decision comes down to Gio vs Roark. Roark has pitched better, clearly so, but Gio hasn't pitched badly and is the Nats only LH starter.

Will the splits matter? I talked about it before but here they are in black and white. OPS totals

STL vs LHP  .712
STL vs RHP  .685

PIT vs LHP  .690
PIT vs RHP  .750

MIL vs LHP  .702
MIL vs RHP  .717

LAD vs LHP  .695
LAD vs RHP  .743

SFG vs LHP  .712
SFG vs RHP  .703

 There is no real case to be made for starting Gio because of splits for three opponents. The Pirates seem like an obvious choice but with Alvarez out for the year at this point the lefty-advantage mostly comes down to Neil Walker, who loses all his power when facing lefties (looking at it now Ike Davis / Gaby Sanchez washes out). The Dodgers are a possibility too as  Adrian Gonzalez, and strangely enough Puig, both are much better hitters versus righties. Gonzalez is basically completely nuetralized by a lefty.  (Ethier is as well but you figure he wouldn't start that game)

But do we even care about splits?  The idea is not just to make them face a lefty to hurt them in that game, but to make them face a lefty to throw off the batters for the series. Seeing righty after righty may allow the bats to get comfortable in a way that wouldn't happen if they have to adjust for a lefty.  Poppycock? Perhaps but it's a line of thinking.

The other big reason to start Gio would be relief experience. Gio hasn't appeared in relief since 2009 while Roark did so as recently as August of last year.  But that doesn't mean that Roark has a ton of relief experience. Tanner isn't a converted reliever and hasn't been used primarily out of the pen since 2009. (Gio never has) So whatever advantage Roark might have as a reliever - one has to believe it's minimal. In fact Gio's make up - relies on fewer pitches has the faster FB, would tend to be favored for relief in comparison. Of course if you delve into armchair psychology you can come up with other reasons (how will Gio react to demotion? Roark's been there just last year should be ok with it.)

If it's that tough why not use all 5? Well, that could be done but the days off built into the playoffs make it hard enough to keep four pitchers on a good rest schedule. Add in a 5th and you could easily have pitchers waiting a week between starts.

In the end I think Roark is the better call because he's the better pitcher right now, but Gio isn't a bad call. I expect the Nats to use Gio not Roark for the simple reason that Gio has been their starter for years and his use can be justified. A Gonzo-Roark combo is possible, but more likely is Roark being saved for any SP failure.

2 - Does Soriano make the postseason roster?

Soriano pitched a perfect 9th yesterday but  as we all know has been crashing since mid August putting up a 7.36 ERA and managing only 4 perfect outings in his last 16 trips to the mound. In fully half of them he's given up a run. It's not just a run of bad luck either. As we've discussed he's just not pitching well.

While Soriano has had past success in set-up roles, he's generally been unhappy in that position and at a time where you need guys to focus immediately because every game matters can you afford a guy like Soriano coming out of the pen?

Barrett (0.00 ERA in 7 appearences, with 1 walk and 5 Ks)  and Cedeno (1 HR to Ryan Howard, otherwise no hites or runs) have made cases. In the end I do think Barrett makes the roster... but not over Soriano.

Soriano was brought in not primarily to be a closer for the Nats, but to be a difference maker play-off closer. Storen, while looking much better in 2014, has had already a couple of shaky relief appearances. How would it look if you left Soriano off the roster & Storen blows saves in the first two games? What do you do then? Well you move Clippard to the closer roles but that's not the point. The point is you signed a guy specifically for this moment, you need him, and hey, he's sitting at home!

That doesn't mean you have to make Soriano your closer, but it does mean you are taking a risk by leaving him at home. If you lose because you had to rely on him as Plan Band he doesn't come through - that's on him. If you lose because he wasn't even around, even if it can be justified, that's on you.

So how does Barrett make the roster? Because Detwiler or Blevins doesn't, most likely Detwiler. With Roark or whoever moving into that long relief role Detwiler, who is seemingly not a favorite of this organization anymore, loses his specific role. Blevins, for all his failings, is better versus lefties, so can be the "other" lefty in the pen now that Thorton has taken his spot. Stammen can handle an emergency long outings.  Kilgore has Blevins out and I can see that. Neither Blevins or Detwiler has been pitching well though so it could be either, but Soriano is definitely in.

Stras, Gio, ZNN, Fister
Storen, Clippard, Stammen, Soriano, Barrett, Thorton, Roark, Blevins

Ramos, LaRoche, Cabrera, Desmond, Rendon, Werth, Span, Bryce
Frandsen, Hairston, Zimm, Lobaton, Espinosa

That's what I expect the 25 man active playoff roster to be. But what about a LHB on the bench?  What about it?  Schierholtz is BAD. Are you really messing with your roster to make sure you have a lefty bat that has hit .188 / .236 / .310 versus righties this year is kept? Frandsen vs RHP - .238 / .296 / .308.  I don't like Frandsen but unless there is a submariner reliever out there you are scary afraid of having righties face it makes no sense to keep Schierholtz who does nothing for the team.  The Nats might end up with the best record in the NL and they haven't had a good LHB on the bench all year. (really if you are that concerned with having a LHB the way to go is 3rd catcher - use Lobaton as the LHB but thats not great either.  Just keep Frandsen)

3- So Zimmerman makes it.  Does he start?

Zimm with the Nats this season : .282 / .345 / .456
Cabrera with the Nats this season : .230 / .314 / .399

If Zimm can hit it isn't even a question. You want that bat in the line-up. But how to get him in?  The easy answer is he takes over for LaRoche or Bryce versus tough lefties. OK. What about the other 80% of the time?

This question has no good answer. If Zimm plays third you'd worry about every ball hit there and if Rendon happened to slump you know everyone would blame the move back to second. If Zimm doesn't play third than you run the real risk of Cabrera bringing down the line-up (there's a reason CLE traded him). Not a lot, but if a couple other guys slump and with the pitching better in the playoffs it could matter alot.

I don't have an answer here. How I expect the Nats to use him is as a LF versus tough lefties. (Which as we've noted before is silly because LaRoche is really the one that needs to sit but hey, it is what it is) If Cabrera goes 0 for his first 3 games or something, then I expect to see Zimmerman back starting at 3B.  If Cabrera is ok or better Zimm stays on the bench.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Still dreaming...

The Fait Accompli became just accompli last night as the Nats clinched the NL East. Most of us had called it at least a couple of weeks ago and you could have been justified calling it as early as Aug 23rd after the Braves put up their first good run in a long while going 7-2 over nine games... and they lost a game in the standings to the streaking Nats.

Still that doesn't make it any less exciting for Nats fans. The whole "Waffle House" thing turned me off a little as it totally went against my DBAD life philosophy but find me a fanbase that wouldn't react in a similar manner and I'll point out that you are referencing a fictional population from children's book about fair play.

I titled this post in reference to a post I made after 2012, in which I noted how the Nats were propelled to their title in large part due to great pitcher health. They literally had 0 starts that year made for injury reasons. Wang started 4 games when they thought he could be the 5th, and one game to set the rotation back to normal rest after a double header.  Lannan started 2 DH games and four games in place of Strasburg. Gorzelanny started 1 to set the rotation for the playoffs.

In 2013 things got a little worse, but still weren't terrible.  The Nats had 22 injury starts (Ohlendorf made 3 starts related to DHs) primarily for Detwiler who suffered an injury early, then after a brief comeback was out for the season. There were also a couple starts for Haren and one for Stras.

This year? More health. The Nats have had 9 injury starts (Treinen had a DH spot start) as Fister (5 Jordan, 1 Treinen) and Gio (3 Treinan) both missed a little bit of time.

Assuming all goes to plan over the next dozen or so games the Nats will have had only 31 injury starts over the past 3 seasons. In other words the guy they wanted to have on the mound was there almost 94% of the time. The Braves, for contrast, lost about 31 starts just in 2014 just for Beachy.

It's tempting to say Rizzo is great! Shutdown worked! but I'm not sure we can go that far. Rizzo does right by giving the Nats young arms, arms with history of health, and keeping the immediate rotation depth strong, but beyond that the Nats were fortunate. Some pitchers are going to get hurt; see : Detwiler, Purke, Solis, hell Strasburg went out under Rizzo. The Nats haven't had bad luck cost them.

Other notes :

I haven't heard and I hope I never hear "No one believed in us".  Everyone believed in the Nats, and that's after the Nats burned everyone last year. The talent on this team was undeniably better than anyone in the NL East.

I'm curious - what would make a March 2015 version of yourself satisfied? Obviously a World Series victory is the crown everyone wants but how far would the Nats have to go for you to look back and say it was a successful season? Personally I'm going with "make the World Series".  Obviously another NLDS exit wouldn't do it. They need to improve on the past. An NLCS appearance though, doesn't feel like enough to me.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

NL East Champs


Some revisiting

Before the bubbly gets broken into some looking back at some pre-season and mid-season predictions


I didn't do as many straight up predictions this year. I did worry about Soriano, say Sammy Solis wasn't going to help the 2014 Nats, and completely dismiss Tyler Moore for what feels like the 100th time.

I did some guesses based on fangraphs projections which I rightly guessed they were undervaluing Desmond (just barely though), ZNN, the pen, and Werth. On the flipside, I was too optimistic on Bryce and not optimistic enough about LaRoche or the Nats pitching health.

I loved the Fister deal (who didn't?) but did say that if you forced me, and you'd have to because I didn't feel sure about it, I'd guess both Porcello and Scherzer would have better years. The result right now? Personally I'd say they pitched similar enough to make any call impossible. You may want to bring ERA to the comparison, but if you do that I'm bringing wins. You could also say "well he didn't pitch in April because he was injured" and I would respond "Yes. He didn't pitch in April. How is that helping him?"  In the end Fister may have pitched just slightly better but pitched a month less. Draw your own conclusion.

I said the team defense wouldn't be great and it isn't (if you think it is you shut your eyes when balls are hit to the right side of the field)

And the big one?

94-68 NL East champs - this looks pretty good.  8-5 in their last 13 would do it. (fun looking back at that post and see Braves fans argue why Atlanta would easily take the East again)


Nailed all but one. I guess there is still time to be wrong though.

LaRoche's BA drops : .279 at the time, .259 now
Zimm HR rate goes up : 7.4% at the time, up to 8.2% then injured.
Soriano's ERA jumps : 0.97 to 3.20
Fister's ERA climbs a bit, Strasburg and ZNN's drop a bit: Fister dropped 2.90 to 2.55, ZNN dropped from 3.03 to 2.83, Stras dropped from 3.46 to 3.37

Monday, September 15, 2014

Monday Quickie - Playoff managing

As much as we like to pick on or praise Matt Williams, the truth is there hasn't been much to distinguish him from your prototypical modern manager. He bats the speedy CF first. He tries to set up a 7-8-9 finish to the pen. He bunts with the pitcher or when it's close late in the game. He follows the managerial course that years and years of baseball seasons have carved out. There's nothing in particular that makes him stands out.

In the regular season this is fine. Rizzo has built a strong enough roster that when it's healthy the Nats should be able to win 90+ games under standard operating procedures. But in the playoffs things are different and require more creativity and forward thinking from your manager. For a lot of teams it's a playoff type atmosphere from August on and if you've paid attention you've seen managers unable to change their ways to accommodate the situation. I spent most of early to mid August mad at Joe Girardi for failing to pull Betances and Robertson out of their set roles in the 8th and 9th. Betances has actually faced fewer batters per appearance in the stretch run than he did earlier in the season, as he has moved into the 8th inning role. Robertson has come in before the 9th one time since the start of July. He's pitched more than an inning just 3 times in those 30 appearances. And understand, Girardi is considered a pretty good manager.

What does a bad manager do? Here you go. Ned Yost didn't use his Kelvin Herrera to get the last couple outs in a crucial situation in the 6th because Aaron Crow is the 6th inning guy, Herrera is for the 7th.

Yikes. I feel bad for the Royals but that's a guy who shouldn't be managing. Not "shouldn't be managing in the playoffs", or "shouldn't be managing in the majors", but "shouldn't be managing, should be running a car dealership". 

To be a completest there are actually two types of "playoff" managing. There's the regular playoff game, and then there's the elimination game. The regular playoff requires that forethought. This is the issue that Davey, an otherwise well thought of manager, ran into in 2012. You want your best players (primarily pitchers but it can be applied to injured offensive players as well) to be rested, but not rusty. To do so you have to properly take advantage of the days off given. Davey didn't. He gave Mattheus a 2nd day of work in Game 2, not Storen. Then afraid Storen might get rusty after the day off, used Drew in Game 3 when he didn't need to setting up the 3 days in a row situation that helped doom the Nats.  (Lessons to be learned :  If you are going to be afraid of rustiness, use all your key relievers the day before a day off if possible.  If the way the series is going sets up a possible 3 days in relief in a row err on giving the reliever an extra day of rest)

Elimination game managing requires no forethought. Everything is about the game in front of you. What's the best way to get out of the situation presented right now. Does it mean using 6 relievers in a single game? Fine. Does it mean at least trying to use your best reliever for more than 2 innings? Fine.  Typically managing is about managing assets to maximize wins over the course of a season. That goes out the window in an elimination game. You can't care about setting yourself up for the rest of the series because the rest of the series may not take place if you don't win the game. It's the ultimate extension of the philosophy that uses the best relievers in the most important spots, inning be damned. 

I'm really interested to see what Matt Williams does in the playoffs. It's easy to say he'll be like the standard manager, but truth is we don't know.  He's had little need to work outside the box this year with the talent he has and the Braves failing to put up serious competition. That kind of easy success will be harder to find in the playoffs. Who knows when faced with those stressful situations, how exactly the man will react? 

Friday, September 12, 2014

Everything pen

The commenters wanted a Drew Storen column. The commenters get a Drew Storen column!

Well, sort of. It's hard for me to do a Drew Storen column without doing a Rafeal Soriano column, too, so entwined the two of them are.

It hasn't even been 2 years since Drew Storen was beaten by the Cardinals in Game 5 and started this whole thing in motion.  The viceral reaction to vilify Storen for the loss was understandable. The long-lasting dislike though confused me, and not just because I am a soulless automaton who knows with whom the blame should truly lay with.  Didn't Storen just have a fantastic season half-season in relief and an impressive previous one as closer? Didn't he pitch 3 times before Game 5 in that playoff series being nearly perfect (1 walk/baserunner in 3 outings) picking up a win and a save? Didn't those things count? It was if after belting the game winning homer in Game 4, Werth had hit into a bases loaded double play to end a one-run loss Game 5 and suddenly fans started calling for his head.

This reaction wasn't confined to outlier fans. It extended all the way to ownership. In came Soriano on what was arguably not a Rizzo move. It wasn't a terrible acquisition in theory - "strengthen a strength" and all that, but while Soriano anchored the pen Storen blew up. It may have been lingering effects of his bone chip surgery. Perhaps he powered through the end of 2012, but he didn't seem like the same pitcher. When 2014 started there was more apprehension with Storen than hope. Over the first half though Drew re-asserted his dominance, pitching as well as he ever had. But the closer role was still out of reach as Soriano put up an 0.97 ERA. No one thought he was that type of pitcher but regardless even if he was a 3.00 ERA pitcher that would be good enough to hold on to the closer role.

But since the All-Star break, or more accurately since early August*, Soriano has been terrible. In the span of 11 appearances he blew two saves, had four other shaky save outings, and one more shaky appearance in an blow out. That was enough to put Soriano on watch and after he blew the Philly game he was out. (Lost in all this is that Clippard pitches well - remains in the 8th hole - which is why he gets pissed if he doesn't get to finish the 8th. If the Nats won't let him "graduate" to closer on merit, then at least he wants ownership of the 8th)

OK that's the history. What's the reasoning? Why has Soriano collapsed? Why did Storen bounce back?

Soriano is the easy one. It's one part regression to the mean. Remember that doesn't mean "I'm a 3.00 ERA guy putting up a 1.00 ERA, so I have to put up a 5.00 ERA from here on out to end up at 3.00".  It means "I'm a 3.00 ERA guy, so I should put up a 3.00 ERA from here on out and end up with a 2.00 ERA closer to the what I truly am than this 1.00 ERA I have now" Soriano was not a 0.97 pitcher. An ERA of about 3.00 would make more sense for him.

Of course he hasn't put up 3.00 he's put up like 7.00. The second part is Soriano is getting older and he's losing speed. All his pitches are at the slowest they've ever been. But they are just a tiny tick slower than last year and not slower than the early part of this season so there is one more component. His pitches aren't moving anymore.  Here's the horizontal movement on Soriano's sliders :

2012/2103 : let's say 3.25

APR : 3.35
MAY : 3.56
JUN : 2.74
JUL : 2.71
AUG : 2.74
SEP : 2.51

Soriano thinks the sliders are up in the zone. Are they? Not really - or at least not anymore in the 2nd half than the first.

And what about the vertical movement of his sinkers?

2012/2103 : let's say 6.50, but a range of 6.00-7.50 is probably more "accurate"

APR : 5.67
MAY : 6.43
JUN : 6.09
JUL : 5.72
AUG : 5.90
SEP : 5.48

You don't have to know what the numbers mean other than bigger means more movement. Soriano's sliders aren't sliding, his sinkers aren't sinking, and his fastball is too slow to be an out pitch. We'll see in a minute that less movement isn't necessarily bad, but there's no reason for optimism here. He may be hurt, or he may just be old. He did see a similar 2nd half issue with the sinker last year and with the slider the past 2 years. Either way despite his early success you can't count on him right now.

What about Storen? That's harder. What you'd like to see is a single easily identifiable change that explains why 2013 was an outlier in comparison to 2011, '12 and '14. Sorry but I can't find one. The biggest change last year from 2011/2012 was upping the use of his change-up, but as you might have read he's using that pitch even more in 2014 than 2013. Some people are even citing it as a reason for success, saying he introduced it late last year (Storen was much better in Aug/Sept 2013). That would make sense... except it doesn't jive with the numbers. He threw his change up far more in the first half of 2013 and barely at all in August and September. So it isn't just a "change-up" per-se. Perhaps an entirely different approach to that pitch but not just that pitch. 

He threw more sliders in 2013 - but he threw a lot in 2011. He stopped using his sinker as much in 2013 in comparison to 2012 but he's using it the same amount this year. There isn't a good pitch-type reason.

Is it pitch movement? Yes that has changed a bit. His slider is moving more horizontally, but the change-up and sinker you could argue have less movement. That's not a bad thing necessarily. The issues may just come down to command.

If you look at his zone info you see he's producing a ton more swings this year than he ever has, both inside and outside the zone. They are making a lot of contact outside the zone but no more contact inside the zone. This is really good. You can read it as he's getting them to hit HIS pitches. Less movement in this case can be seen as "more controlled" movement. It's possible that the sinkers that last year were obvious to hitters are less obvious in 2014, producing more weak ground balls. It's possible that the change-ups that last year might have floated a bit and not produced off-balance attempts are staying more around the zone in 2014 and are now getting those bad swings. Add to those a slider that's biting more and you have a repertoire of pitches that all work in concert to keep the hitter from being comfortable at the plate. This interpretation lines up with having the lowest walk rate of his career.

Why does he have better control? Got me. You can read the the Pavlidis and Kilgore pieces from last year explaining his changes in delivery. Seems to me to be as good a reason as any. Even if the change didn't improve his command, it may have made him think it improved his command. That's just as good if it produces results.

So there you go - Storen column.

oh also meant to link this - Storen's approach as a closer from Stuart Wallace on the District Sports Page. It's interesting. 

*Soriano's ERA doesn't look good from Jul 20th-Aug 9th but that's all because of one hideous Miami blow-up.  Take that single game out and he was as good as he had been in the first half.  

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Fun tracker

We don't have to think about the playoffs, (spoiler : the Nats are in) so how about some fun stuff to keep track of regarding the Nats?  

Can Span hit .300? 

Barring a complete collapse, at age 30 Span will have his best year of the 10's. Such things happen especially in easy pennant years. (I'm looking at you Daniel Nava, Mike Carp, Jarrod Saltalamacchia... basically Boston 2013) Right now Span is hitting .300 (actually .300036) so he has to hit .299 or better the rest of the year to do it. That's a little high for Span historically.

A prolonged super hot streak this year (.447 for 23 games) elevated his stats but really the Span you've seen for the other 120 games is the "real" Span.  He's can get hot, but not THAT hot (.340 in past 11 games) and he can get cold (.226 for the 15 games beyond those 11) It's a back and forth that gets you to a .275/.280 average.

We're in the home stretch so timing of these streaks is going to matter more than anything.

My bet : No.  Falls just short in the .295 range.

Will Rendon lead the league in runs scored?

Rendon bats 2nd, but his OBP isn't special and the hitters behind him are good but not great. How is he leading the league in runs scored? OK that has a lot to with PAs (he has a lot) and the situational hitting of the guys behind him (Werth - great, LaRoche - pretty good) but why not Span who has a better OBP and hits in front of Rendon? A little bit of it is Rendon's HRs where he knocks himself in, but the rest of it is just fluky. Rendon has 18 homers. In theory Span should have been on base for 6 or 7, but he was only on base for 5.  Werth has homered with Rendon on base 6 times, but Span only 3.

Anyway - Rendon leads the league a couple runs ahead of Hunter Pence. Pence is the only competition as 3rd place is 10 runs behind Hunter.

My bet : Yes. Nats are better at scoring than Giants. Giants are either in SF, LA, or SD for all but 3 of their remaining games.

Will Desmond lead the league in strikeouts?

We've dealt with Ian's issues before, but suffice to say he's striking out a lot.  Still it's MLB in 2014. Everyone strikes out a lot.  Ian's 171 is only good enough for #2.  Marlon Byrd is #1 at 172 and both Stanton and Howard are within 3 of Ian. It's anyone's game.

My bet : No. Nats will give Ian some rest down the stretch cutting his ABs enough that either Byrd or Howard will pull away.

Will Strasburg lead the league in strikeouts?

The reverse of Desmond because K's here are good! Strasburg is currently 2Ks ahead of Cueto and 5 ahead of Kershaw. Kershaw strikes out very very slightly more guys per inning than Strasburg, while Cueto has pitched more innings .Normally you'd have to go Kershaw - he also pitching a lot of innings per start and he'd be well ahead if not for missing those first few weeks, but it's not an even race from here on out. Strasburg pitches tonight, Cueto tomorrow, Kershaw not again until Sunday.  Barring some moving around to ward off the charging Giants, Clayton should get one less start than the other two.

My bet: Yes. Strasburg is the only guarantee for getting four starts (Cueto should get #4 on the final day but who knows if the Reds will bother putting him out there for a meaningless game and him up around 240 IP). 

Tuesday, September 09, 2014

Who do you want to face?

I totally called that. Where's my prize?

Nats win. 8 games up, only the most ardent pessimists are not calling it. In the commentary talk shifted to who you want to play and who you don't want to. It's a mostly silly argument. At this point any team that gets into the playoffs is good and could take 3 of 5 from the Nats. It's not like "oh this team, that'll be a piece of cake".  At the same time you do have preferences based on your own team.

The Nats strength is its starting pitching.  Against a weak offense, like the Braves, they can dominate and win a series all by themselves. They don't give up home runs and they don't walk people (well Gio does). Maybe you could say they don't go deep in games but they haven't had to. I expect in the playoffs that would change. The worst thing you can say about the pitching is that they let the ball get put in play (only 7th in Ks) but the defense of the Nats is pretty good, with the exception of down the right field line. The relief pitching is good, too, but a little less reliable as the Nats are now leaning on a lefty waiver pick-up in Thorton and a closer in Storen who 6 months ago no one had any confidence in.

While the Nats also have a very good offense, they don't have any dominant bats. They are often quieted completely by the upper echelon of starters. (I know, "Who isn't?") and beat up on other arms. They don't have any strong righty lefty preferences and have good balance between power and patience. If they have a weakness it's that they don't get a ton of hits (8th in hits, 8th in average, 5th most Ks). They would match up pretty poorly against the Nats staff actually.

So I'd say the Nats ideal opponent would (1) have no dominant starter so the Nats bats can possibly break out, (2) their pitching in general would be inclined to give up walks and homers, (3) have a weak offense reliant more on homers and walks then hits so the Nats pitching can possibly shut them down completely, (3) have an offense that does worse versus RHP because the Nats are stronger from that side of the mound.


The Dodgers are the match-up that everyone wants to avoid because they have THE dominant pitcher in Clayton Kershaw. In a 5 game series he'll pitch twice and the Dodgers will be heavy favorites to win both those games meaning you have to win the other 3. Of course after Kershaw you have Greinke who Ks a lot of guys and isn't homer prone, and Ryu who never gives up homers and is pretty good with the walks (ok with the Ks). It's tough the see the Nats scoring a ton of runs in this series

Offensively the Dodgers are a hits and walks team which is somewhat good for the Nats but not a perfect match-up. They do better versus right-handed pitching. I don't see the Nats shutting the Dodgers down completely in a series.


The Cardinals  have Wainwright, but he's not Kershaw. He's death to home runs but can walk guys sometimes and doesn't K guys. All the Cards guys you'd expect to see in a short series (Lynn, Wacha) kill homers in fact. But they are wild and only Wacha can strike out a bunch. The Nats have a chance versus these starters.

The Cardinals offense hasn't been able to get off the ground, but they'd have a chance against the Nats as they work on hits and not walks or homers. I mean really no homers at all, last in the NL. They have lefties but given the lack of power I'm assuming the RF line would be ok and splits show they don't hit RHP all that well.


Bumgarner should be a mini-Kershaw versus the Nats. Doesn't walk, doesn't give up the homer, Ks a lot of guys. He could win two easy. Hudson, as we've seen many many times, does OK versus the Nats but since he can't work the strikeout like he used to he can be beat. Anyone else pitching doesn't specifically worry me, but overall the staff has very good control which takes away a Nats strength.

It's another decent offense (these are all playoff teams so they'll be good) that gets hits. The Giants are even less walk reliant but do like the home run. Given that, I'd expect a playoff that would be a continuation of their meetings this year. Sometimes the Giants would be shut down completely, other times they blow up. They scored 1,2,2,2,6,7,10 runs in Nats games. They are either going to be able to hit it out that day or not. They don't have significant splits.


The Pirates staff is very wild and survive with a measure of power control. But just a measure, they still aren't better than average in giving up the homers. They lack an ace and instead rely on solid pitching from good but not great arms to win enough games. I think the Nats could really punish this squad. 

The Pirates have a special bat in McCutchen who can overcome the Nats pitching, and otherwise they are good across the board. They walk, hit for power and just hit in general. The Nats can counter some of that but I'd expect the Pirates to score some runs. They hit RHP especially well as their 2nd best hitter Neil Walker is a huge homer threat against righties (17 of his 19 homers) and Ike Davis is completely useless versus lefties but a fair threat versus righties. I'd expect a lot of 6-4 type games in this series (Nats favor of course)


The Braves pitchers can be walk prone, but they are ok with the K and good with the homers which is why they seemingly match-up well with the Nats. Still it's hard to see the Nats being shut down for a series by this set of arms. If they can maintain a little patience they should score a few runs.

That should be enough the win because the Braves offense is terrible. They strike out a ton, don't hit, and aren't good with the power, meaning they rely on walks and luck to score runs. That won't work versus the Nats. They also hit RHP much worse than LHP so that's another thing in the Nats favor. Seriously, if it wasn't for the history you'd LOVE a match-up versus the Braves.


The Brewers seem to be dying and it's easy to see why. Their pitchers give up a few walks and a ton of homers and don't strike anyone out. The starting pitching is perfect matchup for the Nats. If for some reason the Nats got into their pen the story flips. A ton of high K guys a few of which are hard to homer off of. Overall they actually give up very few walks but it's more a story of only having one guy prone to walking people, as it is having a few that walk no one, so I think the Nats would find their way on base just fine in a series.

The offense is homer heavy and not much else, which the Nats should be able to handle just fine. While they are a righty-heavy lineup they don't show much in regards to splits.

OK so based on the above how would I rank them from most want to face to least? Being completely honest and cutting out "experience" and the like :

1. Braves - there's no reason the Nats shouldn't hold that offense to 0 or 1 run in 3 out of 5 games.
2. Brewers - The Nats should be able to score a good amount of runs and assuming the Nats starter that day isn't particularly homer prone, should be able to shut the Brewers down.

3. Pirates - There's a gap here as I'd expect the Nats to beat the Braves or Brewers quickly. Now we're in 5-game territory. I flip-flop the Pirates and the Cardinals because I think the Nats have the same measure of edge versus either. Why #3 for the Pirates? I expect higher scoring games in this series and I like luck to factor more for low-scoring games.
4. Cardinals - It would probably be a low-scoring series but the Nats are the better team and match-up ok so should win. Still when you are talking 3-2 a bad bounce can make all the difference.

5. Giants - I would right now make the Giants a toss-up.  Bumgarner is good enough to dominate the Nats if he's on and Hudson to keep them in it. If their offense is on that series the Nats could get swept away. If it's off they Nats could do the sweeping. This series could swing all over the place.  Now if Bumgarner has to be used for the one-game play-in I still put them as my 5th team but they drop back into the Pirates/Cards territory.

6. Dodgers - I think the Dodgers have the edge over the Nats assuming Kershaw pitches twice. If it's after a one-game playoff then it's more a 50/50 scenario. Still this is the match-up I don't want in a 5 game series.

I'd say the ideal scenario for the Nats finish with the best record, the Dodgers falter and fall into one-game playoff where the Braves or Brewers knock them off (Pirates out in this scenario). The Nats beat up on them and take on the winner of the Giants/Cardinals who went through a 5-gamer  with either Wainwright or Bumgarner pitching twice. Make it happen Fate.

Monday, September 08, 2014

Monday Quickie : A now we enter... the place where we realized endgame happened at least 2 weeks ago

I've already called the NL East (for good reason) but some of you might be holding out. Six head to head games left! Six!

It's true - if the Braves sweep the Nats in those six games, it's a dogfight for winning the division. But that's what it would take. The Braves go 5-1? Not good enough. That would make up 4 games on the Nats leaving the Nats with a 3 game advantage in their other 15 games (and Braves 13).  If the Braves were super hot in those other games too and went 10-3, the Nats would have to go 8-7 to drop into a tie. (in other words you'd be having the Braves go 15-4 and the Nats 9-12 to end the year).  No, 5-1 won't do for the Braves. Leaves too much still in other teams hands. No it has to be 6-0.

And you know what? Why would you think the Braves could do that? Their offense is 14th in the NL. The Nats starting pitching staff has the 2nd best ERA in the majors and that's only because Kershaw is Kershaw. #2-#5 the Nats are the best. Someone will shut out the Braves or at least hold them to one run. You rarely win games where you score one-run. You can't win when you don't score yourself. Their bats don't have it in them to otuscore the Nats so in probably 4 or 5 of the games they need their starter to pitch a gem. That's too much to ask of a pitching staff that is good, maybe even very good, but not team-carrying great.

That's why it's over for the Braves. They can't sweep the Nats and if they can't sweep the Nats, they can't win the East.

What to watch tonight then? DET/KC in the only premier match-up for the next few days. MIA/MIL is the next best set, which quickly doesn't matter if Miami doesn't win tonight. CLE/LAA would be the third choice but really - why aren't you watching DET/KC?  It better be a blowout. (or maybe you are a NY Giants or Lions fan and are excited by how bad the other teams in your division look)

Yep Nats v Braves in September doesn't even make the watch list outside of fans of these teams.

(Sadly looking ahead the season ends with a whimper.  It's likely no two teams playing for something will be playing eachother in that last series. Fluke of the schedule. The 2nd to last series though holds a lot of potentially interesting games so I'll hold out hope for that)

Friday, September 05, 2014

Stream of Nonsenseouss

I looked into Ian Desmonds's eyes as he stood in the batters box.  DRIVE.

I looked into Jordan Zimmermann's eyes as he leaned forward on the mound. FOCUS.

I looked into Anthony Rendon's eyes as he inched in, waiting for the bunt.  DETERMINATION.

I remember the last time I stared into this team's soul to gauge whether they were ready to take the next step.  It was October of 2012 and what I saw left me somewhere between frightened and revolted. Gio Gonzalez's eyes? APATHY.  Ryan Zimmerman's? DOUBT. Jayson Werth's? FEAR. Despite leading the majors with 98 wins, and taking Game 1 of the NLDS I not only knew they were going to lose, I knew that they SHOULD lose. They didn't deserve to win anything. They weren't a team. They were a collection of cowards who happened to get lucky over and over and over and over and over again.

I was proven right the next year when they failed to make the playoffs, a clear indication of a team that couldn't play the right way when they had the weight of a target on their back, something that all true winners need to be able to do. Not only was this bunch feeling the pressure of being the lead dog and trying too hard, they were thinking winning would just come to them and they weren't trying hard enough. It takes a special team of failures to manage that double.

It continued into 2014 when they sputtered around for the first half of the season just because they had a couple of boo-boos. They would go on to take 1st place soon after and my feeling for them started to turn a little. Still, I could tell they still wouldn't fit in the World Series. They might end up winning a lot of games and making it, but it wouldn't be right, you know? Even if they could find success through talent, this wasn't a championship TEAM. They might earn it on the field, but they hadn't earned it yet in their hearts.

It wasn't until they started winning ALOT did I see the change in their demeanor, in their manner, in their very essence. Shows of anger after big outs no longer meant the players were letting emotions get the best of them, they now meant the the players cared. Fun celebrations and smiles in the clubhouse were no longer displays of being content with minor successes, they were signs of looseness on the big stage. It takes a trained baseball mind who has spent years watching the sport to notice those changes, but they were apparent to anyone that knows this wonderful game.

It was then after that big 10-0 run that I saw that they were finally a team that if they ended up in the World Series I wouldn't retch with disgust at their good fortune. Teams don't luck into winning a lot. You don't just bring together your roster healthy for the first time all year, expectedly play better in every aspect of the game, and wins follow as if the baseball gods sprinkled fairy dust on you.  No, winning like the Nats have recently... that's a sign of something bigger, something your fancy WARS and BOBOPs can't measure. It's a sign that this group of dirt dogs and red asses is utterly and completely, in the depths of its very being, A World Series Team.

Unless they start losing a bunch or get swept in that first playoff series. Then they are losers who tricked me.

Thursday, September 04, 2014


I said if the Braves couldn't pick up a game I'd call it. So I'm calling it. Nats win the NL East.

Hmm, no fireworks.

What to do now? For the Nats you start rotating in some younger players now on the roster. Give everyone a day off when they are even remotely strained, and once a week even if they don't need it. Start pulling Roark an inning earlier if you plan to put him in the pen (which I don't necessarily agree with but if that's the plan, that's the plan). Test out some of your other pen options in tough situations.

For you, Relax. Maybe enjoy some of the other games out there. There are going to be some good ones every night I imagine. If you haven't paid attention here are how things are playing out.

In the NL Central the Brewers are tanking hard (lost 8 in a row) and the Pirates not as hard (4 in a row) meaning the stupid Cardinals are in command right now by default. Things are close enough that it's still in doubt, at least for another series. But that could be it and the Cardinals and Brewers are facing off next. In the West the Dodgers are trying to hold off the hot and cold Giants (20-9 in May, 10-16 in June), which will make for some great baseball watching if they can keep it up.  Wild Card wise San Fran looks in good position, with the also-rans in the Central and the Braves duking it out for the last spot. Given how the Brewers and Pirates have been playing recently the .500 Braves might be your favorite to come out of that.  Favoring the Pirates is the fact that while the Brewers and Braves both had hot starts to the season and hung around, the Pirates started ice cold and slowly worked back into it. Favoring the Brewers is... ummm.  Interestingly enough the Marlins are the next ones out.  It's "need a miracle" territory, sure but if they go on a little run here they may have a lot to play for going into the Nats series. 

In the AL the East is decided with Baltimore using an easy stretch of Rays/Twins/Reds (8-2 so far) to make that lead insurmountable. They've been great; 36-17 since the end of June.  The Central is a fight between surprising Kansas City and perennial champion Detroit, who had scuffled since the season start. The Angels have all but taken the West going 38-18 in the past two months, while the A's died in August (12-17). In the Wild Card the A's have a solid lead over Detroit with the Mariners right behind. Cleveland and the Yankees aren't in Marlins territory just yet, but both would need September to be their best month of the year to have a chance.

So what are there interesting games right now? Det/Cle would be my choice. The aforementioned StL/Mil is a decent back-up, though I fear that's a burial waiting to happen.

And right now I'll make my plea to the baseball gods. Obviously I have certain preferences but please please do not let the World Series be San Fran or St. Louis beating Detroit. Please. There's nothing about that scenario that interests me. Nothing. You let baseball Satan choose the series last year, so give us a break in 2014.

Wednesday, September 03, 2014

RSVPs : Roughly Same Valuable Players

When Span went deep twice a refrain that has become familiar over the past couple months rang out again. Could Denard Span be a legitimate MVP candidate?  This often moves to can Anthony Rendon be a legitimate MVP candidate? before our attention is drawn elsewhere. The answer to the first is no, and to the second is probably, but really any Nats player has to fight the way the Nats are made up.

Let's look at the WAR totals for the Nationals, Dodgers, Cardinals, Brewers, Giants, and Pirates, because unless you are awesome it's playoff teams that get the MVP. Yes, I understand the flaws inherent in WAR*, but it'll give us a place to start. Given bWARs (Baseball Reference's WAR, which calculates defensive stats differently that fWAR Fangraph's WAR) numbers look a little funny in regards to Span, we'll use fWAR for this argument.

Best Player
LAD Kershaw 6.0
MIL Lucroy 5.6
SFG Pence 5.4
STL Peralta 5.2
PIT McCutchen 5.1
WSN Rendon 5.0

You may want to argue, say Peralta (.271 / .347 / .458) is not better than Rendon (.280 / .338 / .468), but as you can see the argument right off the bat doesn't have much merit. That's close to a wash offensively. Could Peralta be better than Rendon in the field?  Well, he plays a tougher position and the three-year cycles for defense suggest - yes, he's really that good - so yes, he could be. But really you are arguing a difference that is not meant to be definitive. They are pretty much the same. So Rendon has an argument.

But looking at the above Kershaw he should have a distinct edge. Even though the distance between Kershaw and Rendon isn't definitive, it does mean at some level it's more likely Kershaw has been more valuable. What does one think outside of WAR? That's difficult to say with stats, since you are comparing a pitcher and a batter. I can say Kershaw is historically good as a pitcher and Rendon... he's pretty good for an offensive player. And what does the gut say**? Kershaw (at least to me). To me it'd be cut and dried if the season ended today.

But there may be a contingent of "I won't vote for a pitcher for MVP" idiots out there. We all know that. So why do I keep Rendon at a "probably" when he seems to be definitely in the mix? A couple reasons. One reason, as I said earlier, is the make-up of the Nats. Let's continue looking at WAR.

3rd/5th/7th Best Player
LAD Ryu 3.2 / Gordon 2.9 / Uribe 2.5
MIL Ramirez 2.8 / Davis 2.1 / Lohse 1.7
SFG Bumgarner 3.8 / Pagan 2.1 / Blanco 1.6
STL Wainwright 3.5 / Molina 2.8 / Jay 2.3
PIT Harrison 4.3 / Walker 2.3 / Melancon 1.4
WSN Werth 3.7 / Strasburg 3.3 / Roark 2.6

No team is as balanced with very good players like the Nats are. The difference between their best player and 7th best player in this broad generalization, is easily the closest. The Pirates and Giants are top heavy, clearing out quickly to "just good" players. The Brewers aren't even top heavy. The Dodgers have balance but there is a bigger drop from Kershaw. The Cardinals are the closest to what the Nats have but are a half-step behind at every level.  More than any team in the NL the Nats aren't led by anyone. It's hard to get an MVP when your team is thought of in that way.

What else is hurting Rendon? Well, if we do focus on the more reliable offensive stats, which is something MVP voters tend to do anyway, Rendon is good but clearly behind players like McCuthen, Pence and say a Puig. In fact, he's most likely behind Werth in that respect. It's not helpful to your cause when you're not the best offensive player on your team.

Where's Span in all this? Around where Werth is, which makes sense to me. His defense may be getting undervalued but enough so that I think he's clearly more important than Rendon? I can't say that. Plus with Span you run into the McCutchen problem. McCutchen is clearly much much better offensively even with Span having arguably the best season of his career. To put Span ahead of McCutchen you have to first say Span's defense is being severely undervalued then you have to say McCutchen's defense is NOT being undervalued. That's a little too much picking and choosing for me.

So the Nats don't have an MVP. I wouldn't be surprised if they don't even get someone in the Top 5 in voting.  (Kershaw is a lock. McCutchen will be too unless the Pirates just die in September. Stanton won't win but he'll get enough votes to be top 5 because he's awesome). The Nats won't have a Cy Young (Kershaw). They'll just have to settle for having the best team.

And I mean that in the talent sense, not the nebulous "spirit" sense that some bad sportswriters boil it down to when you have a team without a great player. The Nats have a lot of very good and good players. Let's please not take the lack of an MVP and run it into some trite "good clubhouse" nonsense, ok? I'm talking to you Boz.

*WAR is a measure of offense and defense combined. While the stats community feels they have a pretty good grasp on offensive value, no one really trusts defensive statistics for a single year to be very accurate.

**Silly question? Not if you are asking for a vote. You are asking for people's opinions for God's sake. Why would they not use their gut?

Tuesday, September 02, 2014

Tuesday Quickie - Almost there

Super quick today but here's the deal for me (we each have our own guidelines) for me if the Braves can't pick up a game in the next two days, I'm calling it. Which means, conversely, if the Nats gain a game tonight, I'm calling it. That's where I am right now.

Also tonight is Kershaw.  What do the Nats do? Do they

1) Start Bryce, start LaRoche - playoff baseball preview?
2) Start Bryce, sit LaRoche - arguably makes the most sense given splits
3) Sit Bryce, start LaRoche - what they've been doing most of the year. At the same time, it's the dumbest choice
4) Sit Bryce, sit LaRoche - hey, at least they are consistent and Kershaw is a hell of a pitcher.

I'd go
1 -> 4 -> 2 -> 3 in terms of most sense to least but like above, you may feel differently.

Nats are hitting their stride at just the right time... except for the relief pitching but hey, there's still a month!