Nationals Baseball: April 2015

Thursday, April 30, 2015

Gentley rebuking Boz

Another win! Another Mets loss! Only a four game winning streak from... .500?

Ok there is a lot of work to be done, but they are starting to do it. Huge four game set coming up at not Shea. The Nats don't necessarily have to win it, but the certainly can't afford to lose it. The team in general and the offense in particular looked good the past couple of games (I'm especially heartened about Span) but the Braves are not very good. After a 5-0 start (which included 3 2-run wins and a 1-run win) the Braves have gone 5-11.  They stink. PU. The Mets are not best record in baseball good, but they don't stink. This series will be a lot more telling if the Nats are running on all cylinders or not.

Ok onto Boz.  The Nats are winning so there is no need for vitriol directed at this fine practitioner of the journalistic arts. However, I did find one or two minor points of conflict with what Mr. Boswell may have disseminated to the public in his latest on-line question and answer session.
The '79 Orioles "started" 3-8. They went to the seventh game of the World Series. 
When it is understood enough by you that this "start" is so short that the word needs to be placed into quotation marks, I would suggest that perhaps you know that this makes a poor comparison.  The 2014 Nationals did have a 3-8 streak (one, lasting one game), the 2012 Nationals did not but I would imagine many teams who win 95 games have a dip like this. However "a dip" is an important phrasing. It is doubtful that they would manage two separate dips of this magnitude and still win 95+ games. Not impossible, just doubtful.

Also we were looking at a Nationals team that started 7-13.  How did that '79 Orioles team look after 20 games? They would be 12-8. Again poor comparison, dear chap.
The '80 Orioles looked like a disaster and started 16-21 -- six games behind at the peak of the buy-a-pennant Yankees. They won 100.
This is a better comparison. However the lesson learned is questionable. The Baltimore squad did find themselves in a hole after 37 games (this would be their nadir - but it's fine to cherry pick in this case) and they did come back to win 100 games. However they would finish the season 3 games behind the team they would chase the rest of the year, and they would miss the playoffs. To me the lesson is not "The Nationals could still have a very good year".  I would hope everyone understands that is easily a possibility. To me the lesson is "Dig yourself a hole and you may not be able to catch up"
What's happened so far that matters? Harper looks excellent, more mature. You couldn't have better news. Nobody (yet) appears to have a serious injury.
This is an interesting take on the first 22 games of the year.  He is of course correct. Bryce does look better at the plate to me. And there haven't been any new serious injuries. But forgive my impertinence, but there are certainly things that matter that are not positive. Jordan Zimmermann has seen a marked drop in performance backed by a drop in velocity. Ryan Zimmerman may have a nagging injury that could affect his performance all year long. Jayson Werth, who is 36,  has not looked good coming back from injury. Several potential key bullpen pieces have performed poorly in pressure situations. And most importantly Anthony Rendon has yet to see the field, playing in a single minor league baseball game so far.
The Nats think that, until the last half of last season, Janssen had actually been  etter than Clippard over a 3 1/2-year period. Yes, analytics -- performance adjusted for everything, including phases of the moon. But what if the second half of '14 was the true indicator of Janssen's career stage -- injuries, aging. We'll see. But he is the hidden player that fans don't realize is important to Rizzo and the front offices plans.
This won't be a direct dismissal of Boz, because he does deliver both sides but it will be a more truthful accounting. Is it true that from  2011 through the middle of 2014, Tyler Clippard and Casey Janssen prouced similar results, with perhaps Janssen being better? Yes. However the Nats do not have Casey Janssen magically transported from July 1st 2014. They have the Casey Janssen of today. Do not gloss over the injuries and age. Janssen has a shoulder injury. Most will tell you shoulder injuries are much harder than other injuries for pitchers to return to form from. Janssen is an old 33 (he'll be 34 in Sept). The smart money would be on Janssen being far less effective in 2015 than in the recent past.
That's why baseball is the sport where the SAME team can go 14-3, 15-4, 3-14 and 1-12 in the same season. Happens all the time. 
This is what we call hyperbole. Remember what I said earlier? About "a dip". Great teams can and occasionally do go 3-14 (and 14-3 and 15-4), bad teams can and occasionally do go 15-4 (and 1-12 and 3-14) but multiple great and multiple terrible streaks all in the same season? Happens far from "all the time" I suppose a middle of the road team could be exceptionally streaky and produce runs like this, but just looking at some recent .500 ish teams I couldn't find any examples with two great streaks and two terrible ones. Baseball has so much history I'm sure we can find an example or two but they are the exceptions not the rule.

Baseball streaks tend to top/bottom out in the 12-5/5-12 range (if looking at 17 games you can extrapolate from there). The better your team is the more chances you have for great streaks, but conversely the less chances you have for terrible ones (and vice versa).  On a certain level Boz is right, teams get hot and cold all through out the baseball season. But rather than 14-3, 15-4, 3-14 and 1-12, if you are going for "all the time" its more like 9-3, 11-4, 6-14, and 5-12

And for the Nats - the great teams (note I'm not saying the "playoff teams") rarely have two terrible streaks. They've had one. If they want to be great they'll be hard pressed if they have another.
Last year, the Giants had a 20-36 slump that lasted two MONTHS. By August 12th, they were 5 1/2 games behind and you couldn't find 10 people in the Northern Hemisphere that thought they had a chance in hell to win the World Series
Yes again. If Boz's point is that you can play poorly for a long period of time - like 2 months and still end up in the playoffs then yes. That is completely true. The Nats proved that just last year. You can even win the division if your division is terrible. Again - Nats last year. But Nats fans aren't looking to get in through the Wild Card. They want the division title and that's different. The 2014 Giants mentioned above? Much like the 1980 Orioles they had a hot finish... and never caught the team ahead. 
Since Storen came back from the DL and the minor in August of '13, he has pitched in 93 games. His ERA is (pick one): 1.31, 2.31, 3.31, 4.31 or 198.31? Answer: 1.31. All his other statistics in those 92 games are: awful, mediocre or Better Than Mariano. 82 2/3 innings, 66 hits. 19-70 W/K ratio. Home runs allowed in his last 93 games: 2.
Yes, and how many of those 93 games were in the closer role? About 20. I'm very very dismissive of the whole "can't be a closer" thing. But for Drew post 2012 I don't feel one can be. We'll see. 

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

What is that weird curly shape you are writing in that book?

I was going to tear Boz apart for the nonsense he spouted during his chat but that didn't seem appropriate today. The win last night was so crazy and wild and desperately needed that it felt like a playoff victory. Why bring the mood down?

Wins like last night are tough on us soulless automatons because I know what's coming the minute the last out is made. Stories and tweets and comments about how this is a season-changing event, about how the Nats are going to turn around the year because of the magic of a game like last night. In other words classic narratives that are at best unprovable and at worst complete malarkey. It's the way our minds think. There is a big event. Things happen after it. Therefore the big event was the trigger.  Was it really?  Don't you remember all the times you said/thought something similar and it proved to be nothing? Who cares!

Usually then I kind of hope for a few losses to wash that nonsense out of our systems but the Nats really can't afford a few losses right now, so I'll just have to suck it up. The Nats will very likely go on a nice run now. I wouldn't be surprised if they were at .500 by game 40. But it's not because of one win. It's because they are a very good team who you expect to win more than they lose.

The most important thing was the win. This is why we were worried and not panicking. Today the Nats are 7 games out, a point where I'd still favor the Nats to take the NL East. Not by much, but by something. And that points out something else - when you had the Nats winning the East at the beginning of the year it wasn't a YES/NO type thing, it was a percentage thing. Let's say 95% certainty. This slow start has knocked it down a lot, let's say 60%. 60% is pretty good though!  And if we pass that personal midpoint I mentioned yesterday? All that means is the odds drop below 50% for you but 45%? 40%? Those aren't bad odds.  Barring a second 20 games like the first, the Nats are in the NL East hunt for a while. Maybe not as favorites if things don't swing back soon, but in there.

So even panic wouldn't be PANIC!!!, not this early in the season, not unless the Nats are drifting 12, 13 games or more behind the leader.

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Wait for it, wait for it...

Honestly, if you want to panic now that's fine. The "don't panic yet" statement is based off the idea that you, like me, thought the Nats were about 10 games better than the Mets and you haven't radically altered your expectations. We talked about it the other day but with new information (the terrible start for the Nats, the great one for the Mets) you have to re-evaluate.  If you now view their talent level as being closer then 10 games plus then an 8 game lead at this point may very well be panic time.

Why panic with 142 games left? Because the cushion is gone to catch the Mets based on your current beliefs. We're closing in (or maybe passed - but I always suggest conservative changes) on everyone's personal midpoint, the point where if both teams play at expectations that the Nats take the East. It seems silly that we're here this early (12% into the season) in the season but that's what can happen if you play like the worst team in baseball and the team you are trying to catch plays like the best.

If I'm the Nats what do I do? First I make this the best team I can make it without deals - Uggla is gone, Reed Johnson is gone. Taylor is back as 4th OF giving Span and Werth the rest they seem like they need. I probably bring up Tony Renda too. Difo is better but only in High-A, he really does need more minor league at bats. Renda almost certainly can't hack it but he's reliable at 2nd and a contact hitter and frankly is only here until Rendon gets back.

Then I decide whether Roark is my long man or a short inning guy. If he's the long man use him as such 2+ innings each time out, might be 6th and 7th in a close game, might be mop up in a laugher. If he's the short inning guy - he's Matt's 8th. Matt needs structure - Blake Treinen, Aaron Barrett, Rafeal Martin each have failed to show they are ready.  Don't force it. Matt Thorton is the 7th inning guy. If Roark is long guy then Thorton is 8th and you have to rotate through these other guys in 7th. But say "this is the 7th inning guy" to Matt and let him ride it for a week or two.

Lineup wise just bat Harper second. I know you want him to get RBI chances but this team doesn't get on base and he hasn't driven them in, so just get him as many at bats as you can.

That's what I do.

Also I do break down the season now into smaller chunks. Right now - win the next two games. That's it. Don't think about catching anyone. You have your #1 AJ COLE! Who doesn't love AJ Cole?  and #2 on the mound against a beatable team. Get the job done and we'll talk about the next series when we get there. 

Monday, April 27, 2015

Monday Quickie - DOOOOOOOOM

Yeah, so that didn't go exactly as planned. Coming out of the Marlins series with no wins and an injury to Scherzer? That wasn't part of the deal!

The Nats are not this bad. This is a 60 win pace. There is no way this team wins around 60 games. But of course that's not the point with this team.  This team is going to be judged, fairly or not, by how many playoff series it wins, not by if it can put up a decent season. Right now a 7-12 start could still be just a bump in the road. A pretty big bump yes, but not a derailing one.

When I look at the Nats issues there are some things that have to resolve themselves. Ramos can't struggle AND Zimm can't be injured and bad AND Span/Werth/Rendon can't spend all year getting over injuries AND Stras/ZNN can't be this mediocre AND the bullpen can't keep blowing tight games.  That would be a year where everything goes wrong and the best thing going right unexpectedly is Yunel Esocbar hitting a little better than expected. That's the worst case scenario, it's where the Nats find themselves now and it's why they are 7-12. If that happens all year then sure, the Nats could lose around 100 games but that won't happen all year.

But some of it could happen (the bullpen probably needs at least a few weeks to figure itself out or force a move, ZNN has some troubling signs, surely one of those three injured Nats will have an off year) and if they don't get enough positive to counter balance the negatives, we have a problem. A problem where the Nats might find it hard to win 90 games and they might have a rival who can do that.

Worry now. Panic... well depends on what you are concerned about. If it's the NL East, panic when the Mets get a 9 game lead. That's about the spot I'd worry about catching up at this point in the season. In a week or two it ticks down to 8. If it's the playoffs at all... don't panic at all. right now the 10-7 Cubs and 11-8 Pirates would be the WC teams. That's not a distance away to be concerned about.

Saturday, April 25, 2015


The Hot Take

It's all about hubris. The Nats had too much pride. "Mike Rizzo's Nationals" "Where's my ring?" maybe even "hitting a baseball is the hardest thing in the universe" They didn't learn from 2013 and they still expect things handed to them. Of course the problem with this take is that the biggest egos are the guys actually getting things done. Rizzo did put together a team that's been one of the best in baseball the past three years. Bryce is doing well.  So it may not make the most sense but it is the one fans may relate to the most. They are angry. Give them a target.

The Optimist

It's all about the injuries. All those offensive ones. Stammen. Zimm looks hurt. The Nats just need time to get Werth and Span and Rendon all back healthy. Then the offense will click and away they go! The question is merely if they can weather the time until that happens. It's certainly the optimistic take and it does have some merit. Werth and Span aren't quite right yet. Rendon was that important last year. But this team shouldn't be this bad should it?

The Pattern

In 2013 the Nats spent 4 months struggling to get over .500.  In 2014 they couldn't get out of their own way until June. They are 72-38 in August & September. What is it about the Nats that they can't start well and how do we fix it? This is a good one if you don't like Matt Williams because it places some blame on the manager unlike the first two. You can easily spin this into a questioning piece on the rookie manager (check out that bullpen usage) however 2013 was under Davey so the pattern extends beyond just Matt. If it's even a pattern.

My Take

The Nats are not built for this year. They are built for no year. Steven Souza looked to be a very good 4th OF option for 2015... but he could be turned into a SS for the future. Tyler Clippard was going to be an indispensible 8th inning guy in 2015... but he could be turned into a bridge SS. Jerry Blevins was a useful LOOGY type for 2015... but he could be turned into some cash. Despite a team full of injury issues and actual injuries the bench was not strengthened. Despite a pen that looked shaky the relief arms were not supplemented. That's money not in 2 or 3 year deals that the Nats are now able to save for better players next season. If the Nats just go 90% in then 2016 and beyond looks that much better. 90% is good enough right?

The Nats aren't being specific. They aren't trying to win in 2015. They are being general. They are trying to win constantly. That's good if you like a good team constantly, but unless you spend a ton it leads to a team that is not great top to bottom. It will have some holes. For the Nats it's a team with a great surface offense but a questionable bench, a great rotation but a bad middle relief. It's a team that if the surface gets scratched too much the flaws really show. Maybe this is the team Mike Rizzo wants, maybe it's the team Lerner makes him build, but it's the team you have.

Friday, April 24, 2015

Close and Late

It may surprise you (it did me) that the Nats bullpen has an ERA of 2.82. It's actually 4th best in the National League. Say what?! Yeah I know. So I went digging.

Part of it is that they haven't been great at keeping inherited runners from scoring, but they haven't been terrible at that for the season. Part of it is the ER vs R difference, but that is a much bigger thing for the starters. (also all 3 UER for the relievers came in one Boston game) No, these things may make the Nats pen look worse but not that much worse, I doubt below average if we worked it out. No one here I hope, thinks the Nats pen has been average or better. So it's not just a trick of whose runners are coming home or a couple errors leading to runs not being counted for them. It must be in the when and where.

Let's start after the first two games of the Mets series when honestly the pen did a good job.  The held the first game close after errors dropped the Nats in a hole, and helped close out a 1-run win for Zimmermann. What are the circumstances the pen faced in each of the games after that and how did they do?

Game 3 - Came in down 6 runs. Allowed 0 runs
Game 4 - Came in up 1 with bases loaded. Allowed 4 runners to score.
Game 5 - Came in up 1, got two outs to get out of inning, Nats extend lead to 2, pen blows lead
Game 6 - Came in up 1, gives up run
Game 7 - Came in down 7 runs very early, let's one more run score rest of game, never close
Game 8 - Came in up 2, got two outs to get out of inning, next inning, in part due to errors, blows lead
Game 9 - Came in up 5. Allowed 0 runs.
Game 10 - Came in up 3. Allowed 0 runs. 
Game 11 - Came in up 6. Allowed 1 run in 1 inning.
Game 12 - Came in tied, gives up run that inning (to be fair, man on 3rd with 1 out), gives up insurance run two innings later
Game 13 -  Came in up 3. Allowed 0 runs
Game 14 - Came in up 1, holds lead for 2 innings before blowing it in 9th
Game 15 - Came in tied, holds lead for 1 inning before blowing it, gives up insurance run inning later
Game 16 - Came in down 1, gives up 2 runs in that inning.

Let's reorder these puppies:
Down 7 - GOOD performance (5.2 IP of 1 run ball)
Down 6 - GOOD
Down 1 - BAD
Tied - BAD
Tied - BAD
Up 1 - BAD
Up 1 - BAD
Up 1 - BAD
Up 1 - BAD
Up 2 - BAD* (Error game)
Up 3 - GOOD
Up 3 - GOOD
Up 5 - GOOD
Up 6 - BAD

The Nats pen has come into a game in what I would call a close situation (plus-or-minus 2 runs) 8 times. Eight times they've failed to do their job.  The best they've been able to do is arguably give the Nats two decent innings of pitching. We should see this reflected in those close and late numbers (defined as within a run, or with tying run on deck, in 7th or later) and we do.  .272 / .362 / .404 in close & late situations, and before you say that doesn't seem bad understand the NL average is .244 / .308 / .379.  It's not your slightly older brother's MLB.

So there you go, that's how the Nats pen can have a decent ERA while killing the team. The crazy optimist says the Nats offense will solve the issues by winning games by more runs when it gets healthy.I suppose that may be true. But how long will that be, until Werth and Span and Rendon are all here and all in full swing? And how is that ok? The Nats will lose close games but don't worry they'll win enough big ones to make it not matter?

I'm not telling you anything here you don't already know, though, am I? The Nats pen needs fixing, either through time and sifting things out, or through bringing in some ringers. 

Thursday, April 23, 2015

How good are the Mets? How "not great" are the Nats?

The Nats lost. No big deal.

The Mets won. No big deal.

The Nats lost and the Mets won. Big deal?

The Nats now sit 5 games out of first place. That may not seem like a big deal but the Nats never were 5 games out last year. They had a middling record at the start of June but their pace matched the Braves. Both had fast starts, though the Braves' start was faster. Both had bad Mays, though the Braves wasn't quite as bad.  The Nats basically hung around despite themselves, and when the Braves wilted away starting in June the Nats took over just by playing good, not great. (Eventually the Nats would pop the clutch and play great baseball from mid August on to make the "race" seem non-existant looking back at 2014.)

The last time the Nats were 5 games out was in fact the last day of 2013. Five games is not a ton of games if you assume that the Nats are underperforming (decent guess) and the Mets are overperforming (even better guess) but let's understand a few points.

(1) Regressing to expectations does not mean radically performing in the other direction to get to the expected level in the time alloted.

Say you thought the Nats were a 95 win team to start the year. And say the Nats started, oh I don't know, 7-8.  And let's say you still believe the Nats are a 95 win team. regressing to the mean does not mean the Nats will go 88-59 so they finish exactly 95-67. Instead it means that if the Nats play at a 95 win pace for the rest of the games they will be closer to expectations than they are now.

Current Pace : 76-86
Expected Pace (full season) : 95-67
Final Record assuming play at expected pace from here on : 93-69

See! Much closer to the expectation. If we had infinite games evenutally the difference between the expected pace and the last record would be close enough to be negligible. However the baseball season isn't infinite, so these slow starts matter.

The Nats have started slowly - you should adjust your expectations down a game or two. Conversely the Mets have started quickly - you have adjust your expectations up a game or two (or three - it's a pretty fast start). So if you had the Nats at 95 and the Mets at 85, maybe today you should have it as the Nats at 93 and the Mets at 88. This isn't an exact science but regardless whatever you thought about these two teams there should be no doubt the gap has closed to some degree.

(2) We have data now. Your expectations should be reevaluated.

We're in the real season now. These data are small sample sizes, true, but they are getting bigger every day and they are the data we currently have for the year.  You have to now at least take into account things that have happened this season so far. For the Nats - maybe the pen is going to be a mess for a while, maybe ZNN isn't right, maybe Ramos will never hit*.  For the Mets -  maybe Lucas Duda is an All-Star type hitter, maybe Wilmer Flores has put it together, maybe Colon has figured out how to be good to very good at 42.

You can't say anything is set in stone just yet but you have to look at what's happened and adjust accordingly. Maybe you do nothing. Maybe you think the Mets injuries and guys obviously overperforming (like Neise - a perfectly ok back of rotation guy getting some luck) will keep them at expectations. Maybe you think the injury returns will bring the Nats back up to their level for the rest of the year. That's fine. However you can't just dismiss what's gone on. you have to look at it.

(Me - I think the Nats bullpen flaws are worth knocking them a win. I'll hold off on giving the Mets any more props until we see how these injury replacements hold up. So Nats around 92, Mets around 86... I had them as kind of an 83-84 win to start the year)

(3) The season is not static. Injuries and break-outs and runs of bad/good luck can and will happen.

Those expectation I put out there - those are just best guesses based on what I know of the guys who are playing now. But there is a 100% chance someone on the Nats and someone on the Mets will go down to injury from here to the end of the season. Who? I got no clue. But it will happen which means that what you want to have is a cushion in case it's an important guy for a long time for you, and a secondary guy for a couple weeks for them. Breakouts will likely happen too. What if it's a middle relief guy for you and a starting SS for them? And just general luck will swing. Say you go 10-11 in one-run games and they go 15-5 (hey 2012 Orioles!).  Most likely the bad and good will cancel themselves out (mostly), but you don't know that for sure so you like to have some games to play with in case you get some bad luck, rather than good.

By spotting the Mets 5 games the Nats have given the Mets a cushion. If we're wrong about expectations, (possible - this is an ongoing analysis) and the Nats and Mets are closer than we think, then the Mets now have 5 games to lose that can cover some bad breaks for them or some good breaks for the Nats.

Last year the Nats did play mediocre ball for a long time and managed to still win the division in a walk. But last year was last year. If the Nats go a couple more games back 4-5 games (or more) you can say things were never this bad for the Nats last year (as "bad" as such a hole really is this early). The Mets may not be great but a few more wins in the pocket and you have to doubt they'll finish below .500 like the Braves did.  The Nats may not be bad, but can you expect them to go 33-13 again to finish the year and run away with the division? This year will almost certainly be different and the Nats can't just expect to end up on top.

A lot of this worry is just remnants from that 2-6 start. The Nats are actually playing pretty well right now, 5-2 in last seven. There have been no blowout losses, some nice wins, and the offense has scored runs. They need to keep this going. Win the series today. Win the MIA and ATL series away (at least win 3 games really). Don't revert back to the bad baseball we saw early on. You may not have things work out for you like they did last year.

* there are also good things - maybe Yunel is going to have a bounce back, maybe Bryce is taking a step forward, maybe Danny can be useful - and things yet to fall in any direction - maybe Strasburg isn't right, maybe the injury returnees will have rough seasons. Same goes for Mets, they have bad things and question marks

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Drew Storen is a problem

Drew Storen is not a bad closer. Drew Storen is definitely not a bad pitcher. He is not going to hurt the Nats if they stick him in the 9th and let him go the whole season saving games. He'll be at least decent, at best All-Star level great, and will save the vast majority of the games handed over to him to save.

That doesn't mean he's not a problem.

Drew Storen blew another game versus the Cardinals and no one, not even soulless automaton me, can feel good about Storen coming in to an important and close game.

I've been on the side of defending Storen because I truly believe Davey screwed him. Go back and read this if you want the full take, but basically Davey made a tired Storen face familiar batters. It was asking Storen to fail. After that he got replaced by Soriano, and we all watched him fail, putting up an ERA that nearly reached 6 before he was demoted to get his head back on straight.

He did work things out and since that demotion had been one of the best relievers in the game, finishing the 2013 season strong and carrying that over into 2014 where eventually in the last month, Storen earned back the closer role. He looked great.

But the eyes of  Nats fans weren't really on Drew yet. When he earned back the closer role the Nats had a 7 game lead on a fading Atlanta with about 20 games left. The pressue was minimal. When the pressure was back on Storen in the playoffs, he floundered.  Only needing to get one out in Game 2 he gave up two straight hits and almost gave up the lead (Posey got nailed at home remember). He was better in game 4 but even staked to a four run lead he gave up two quick hits, then went 2-0 on Brandon Belt before getting out of things* just allowing one run.

Here's the thing about closing. For 95% of relievers, maybe more, literally almost ANY reliever, closing doesn't matter. Pitching the 9th as opposed to the 8th or getting a big out in the 6th will produce no difference in performance. But logic dictates that for a few guys it will matter. That they will perform fine in pressure situations in college, in the minors, and in the majors, but being the last guy out there in important games in the majors, that will be their breaking point. It'd be ridiculous to think that was the case for a lot of guys (which is kind of the basis for most of the dumb "proven closer" talk) but to think it's the case for none is probably just as silly. Some one has to be like this, probably just a handful (my guess is maybe 5-10 guys out of the dozens upon dozens of relievers used each year), but some precious few.  Is Drew one of those few?

Things may be different if Drew Storen had a long and established pattern of closing important games but he has just the opposite. I want you to take a guess at the number of saves Drew Storen has had since 2011. That's 3+ seasons. Got an idea?  Ok the answer is 22. Injuries and Soriano has made it so Drew Storen has had somewhat less than half a year of closing responsibility since running away with the role in 2011. 

Since those couple of playoffs saves we've seen Storen fail in important spots again and again. He might be fine. It is just a couple games over the course of several seasons, so small sample size warnings all apply. He deserves a shot to close all year. But he also deserves to go into any late season or playoff scenario with no confidence from the fans. He has to prove that he's not one of those few and unfortunately he'll likely have to prove it with the Nats playoff on the line.**

* I re-watched that ending and Storen was more on a tight rope than you think. Sandoval lucked into a hit but then Pence ripped his double. Belt had a great pitch to hit on 2-0 but just got around on it too early and smoked it foul. He then chased Ball 3 up, fouling it off, and let a completely hittable 2-2 slider pass. Crawford was next and got a decent pitch to hit himself but turned it into a lazy flyball. Ishikawa fouled off the first pitch, then had decent contact with the last pitch

** Of course that being said, anyone taking the role from Storen who hasn't shown himself to be fine in super high pressure situations would carry the same burden of proof. However, given my 95%+ estimation, you'd have to feel pretty good pressure wouldn't be an issue. I'd be more worried about a drop in talent than finding a guy who couldn't handle pressure, because Storen does have great stuff when he's on.

Monday, April 20, 2015

Monday Quickie - Phillies stink.

The Nats did what they needed to, taking 3 of 4 from the Phillies. Anything less would have started the season not only a depressing 5-8, but with a losing record against a team the Nats, injured or not,  should roll over. It would have also increased the Mets lead to 5 games. Every game counts.

A lot of other things happened - here's my quick takes

Span is back!  Great! I've never been convinced Span was a good offensive player. Last year strikes me far more as a lucky peak year than a transformation to a bat you want in your line-up. But still Span is not a bad bat and I like him much better in the field. Even if Taylor is a great fielder Span has advantages it would take Taylor at least months to catch up to. He knows the speed of the major league game. He knows the opponents. He knows the different parks. Most importantly, he knows what Bryce and Werth can and can't do (and they know the same about him).  We've seen that lack of familiarity cause break downs in the outfield. That shouldn't keep happening now.

Taylor goes down! To me this is another "future" move when a present one would make more sense. The best 4th OF the Nats have is Michael Taylor. There should be no doubt about that. You can make a case that you want him to get regular at bats, but to me regular AAA bats hold no value for Taylor anymore. Keep him up. Get Werth (injury risk) and Span (injury risk) a day off every 4th game or so. Give Bryce (injury risk) a game off every couple weeks. In the end Taylor would be playing every other/every third game. Make this team as good as possible. Don't worry about making 2016 maybe a tiny tiny bit better (and probably not)

Yuney goes down (in another sense)! Yunel Escobar has been fluky good early on. That wasn't going to last. But he could be average or very slightly above. Why not? He hopes to be back on Tuesday and he very well might be. MRI showed no issues other than slight inflammation and for everyone but Anthony Rendon that usually works out pretty quickly. But let this be another warning shot across the bow for you. This entire offense, save Ian Desmond, is an injury risk. It's hard for me to consider any of these guys "mild" risks either. It's a precarious situation that makes winning when they are mostly healthy (like now) paramount.

Strasburg pitched great. This should not surprise you. He's a very good pitcher.

Zimmermann pitched poorly again. Is it velocity (it's down a bunch after years of stability)? Is it location (issues throwing strikes past two games)? Is it stuff failing (K's are down a ton)? I don't know. I'd give it one more start.  The Red Sox game was a game where he didn't have it - he was hit hard. The Phillies game? That was more control issues and some bad luck. Desmond doesn't boot another one, Galvis' broken bat flare doesn't fall in and it's 2 runs in 6 1/3 despite the walks and no one is really concerned.

The Mets suffer two big injuries. Jerry Blevins caught a ball on the arm and broke it. Catcher D'Arnaud broke his hand. The latter could be a quick recovery - depends on the break. The former will be a couple months at least. Wright is already out. So the Nats got 'em right? Well we only have to look back to the 2012 Nats to see that isn't the case. Morse missed 60 games. Werth half a season. Ramos barely played at all. Storen missed half the season. The Nats still managed to win 98 games. If the Mets rotation stays intact and they get some luck with injury replacements, they'll be fine... meaning they could be trouble.

Friday, April 17, 2015

Worry worry worry. Too much worry.

How do we feel now? Better? 4-6 isn't good, but 2-8 would have been... well don't sound the alarm, but good teams have like one run like that a season. (Neither the 2012 or 2014 teams ever went 2-8, though last years team had a run in mid to late May that flirted with 2-8 several times) Put your hand on the alarm and watch the next two-three games.

As much as I'd like to say the Nats are turning the corner, I don't have any faith that the Phillies are a good team. Losing two games to them previously was terrible. Ruiz and Howard are over the hill. They are starting Ruf, Francoeur, and Sizemore at times. While you could expect Utley and Revere to hit a lot better, you have to expect Galvis and Asche to hit a lot worse. This team won't score. David Buchanan, is a bad team's 5th and he's their 4th. Jerome Williams is done. Once Harang's arm tires out this team won't pitch. If the Nats are going to be any good they have to fatten up on the weaklings they play. The Braves may or may not be weak (I'll go with "may") but the Phillies definitely are. You play this team 19 times, you better get 12+ wins. One loss this series is the limit.

It's also important because what follows. After the Phillies come the Cardinals at home, then the Marlins, Braves, and Mets away, then the Marlins and Braves at home. That's a lot of games, 22 more to be precise, that will set up the rest of the Nats 1st half. If they do well during this stretch, even after this slow start, it's likely that they'll have put separation between them and the other NL East teams, with the possible exception of the Mets (since the Mets have the best record right now and play the Nats the fewest times in this stretch). The first half will be about either keeping the Mets at bay, or widening the gap between the Nats and their closest competitor. If the Nats do poorly they'll likely have allowed a couple NL East teams to be right there with them (if not have a slight lead). The first half will be about keeping pace with whoever is in front, and fixing whatever is "wrong". Taking at least 3 from the Phillies will keep the first couple series from feeling apocalyptic if they go badly.

I told you a couple days ago you should let worry sit until they played another 8 games or so. Get 10% into the season, then see what you think. If you aren't seeing horrendous or amazing baseball it's what you have to do (Nats were close but not quite at horrendous). That's especially true with a team that has injury returns in it's pocket. But really it's about how good the teams are you think the Nats are competing against.

If you think the Nats are 10 games or so better than the Mets over the course of the season, then falling a game or two behind early is no big deal. It'll work itself out over the next 154. Worrying is kind of silly because your most likely scenario still has the Nats winning the division, but by around 8 games instead of 10. Falling 9 games behind in the first 16 though (tough to do) and you've set up a situation where the most likely situation to play out from this point, based on preseason expectations, is a neck and neck finish. Worry is valid. (plus your preseason expectations were probably off)  Of course the season is too long and variable to take that in anything but the broadest sense but the take away is worry is not only based on how a team is doing, but how you expect them to do going forward and how you expect everyone else to do. 2-6? There just isn't enough separation there to really matter unless a team you think will be as good or better than yours has gone 7-1 or 8-0.*

Since the Nats were such big favorites and have guys returning there's a nice big cushion to work with. Watch the Nats, watch the Mets, watch the Braves & Marlins a little. Enjoy (as much as the Nats play allows you to).  Try not to worry needlessly. 

*Does that mean Minnesota can consider it's season lost already? I won't go that far but I'd probably already write them off for an AL Central title. Harsh but true. You'd expect they were the worst and they are. Anyone want to be that they play at least a half-game better than CLE and CHW AND at least 4 games better than the Royals AND at least 5 games better than the Tigers? 

Thursday, April 16, 2015


But here, let's quickly talk about yesterday.

Is the Nats offense back or is it a function of facing a team with terrible pitching who play in a bandbox, lyric or not?  Doesn't matter. Even if it is the latter if you're a good team you should score a bunch versus a team like that. Plus sometimes a team like that is exactly what you need to get back on track.  Normally I wouldn't consider a series versus the Phillies telling since they don't have a killer pitching staff either, but the Nats will catch both Hamels and April Aaron Harang who sports like a 2.50 ERA in the month over the past two years. We'll see if the bats continue to be hot.

Is Rafael Martin that good? Of course not. But he's not Xavier Cedeno, a journeyman with no major league track record of success, so it's better that he's here and we see what he can do.

Like I said yesterday 2-6 isn't good but let's see where the Nats are 16 games in. If they are around 4-12 then go ahead worry. If they are closer to 8-8 just go with it. The Mets play the Marlins for four starting tonight. The Mets have a small lead on the Marlins, if they can expand it with 3 wins or a sweep then the Nats have a clear idea of who their challenger will be, at least for the first couple months. (The Braves no one really liked, they started 5-0 and already are 6-3 and Fredi Gonzalez is their manager.)

Ok a sweep at Fenway might have been too tall an order. How about a series win at home vs the Phillies? That's gotta be doable.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

All the information we have

2-6 is 2-6. Except when it isn't.

Both the equivalency and its opposite apply to the Nats.

2-6 is 2-6 in that going 2-6 for a week and a half now has the same effect on your record as doing it in May, or July, or Septemeber. On one hand that means you shouldn't worry about it. Last year's team (again under .500 on June 1st), went 2-6  three different times. The 2012 team never went 2-6 but they went 0-5 a couple times and 3-7. It, or something relatively close to it, happens, even for mid 90 win teams.

On the other hand teams that fail to realize these games can't be dismissed are teams that miss out on the playoffs by a game. They blame a single late season bad start or muffed play but should really blame the dozens of "could have been"s over the course of the year. Play hard, try to win every day, solve the problems at hand as soon as you can (like the Cedeno DFA), and don't shrug things off with "it's a long season" because you don't know how the season is going to turn.

2-6 isn't 2-6 in that when analyzing a team during a current season you have to factor in the data at hand. For those other Nats teams there was a lot more data, not just the 2-6, to help us figure out what kind of team we were dealing with. For this team, we only have the 2-6. What the 2-6 tells us is nothing good. The depth and quality of offensive talent is not strong enough that it can suffer through injuries. Sure it looks like Span and Rendon will join Werth sooner rather than later, but this is an injury prone team. The defense, which had a couple question marks, is failing. The bullpen, robbed of two of its better arms (Soriano and Clippard) and two useful ones (Detwiler and Blevins - Detwiler wasn't as bad as you think and Blevins at least had LHB flummoxed, if not a bounce back in him), is a mish mash of maybes with none of the clear hierarchy that can help a young manager out.  

But 2-6 is just 8 games so the data size is small. With 50 games under your belt last year, you could have questioned the Nats. They turned out fine. The data says bad things, but the data also says "there's a good chance I don't know what I'm talking about"

One thing that helped the Nats out in 2014 though was the lack of true challenger. On June 1st, they would be only 3.5 behind the Braves, a half game behind the Marlins, a half game ahead of the Mets and only 2.5 ahead of the Phillies. The Nats would go four games over in June. If they went .500 the rest of the year after that, that still would have given them the NL East. The Braves, Phillies, and Marlins would all play well under .500 for the rest of the year. If there are no challengers this year should go roughly the same. If someone rises up things start to look worrisome. The good thing is no one really has exploded from the gate but both the Braves and Mets are set up that they could over the next two weeks. You may not believe in the Braves but that's a good staff and the Mets were a possibility to start the year.

This season has stunk so far, but it's also not even 5% over. The next week or two will be telling on if you have to turn this "what the hell is wrong" into actual concern or if it's just a fluke of timing in the expected march to a title.

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Are the Nats stupid?

This isn't about their fielding. Yes, the defense has been terrible.  I've been saying all off-season that I was worried about the defense and hell if I'm going to not play up the one time I'm right. Outside of Rendon the Nats had no one young and great at D on the field. That means the whole shebang might decline and for some (I'm looking at you, Werth. It's easy for me to do that because you move so slowly) decline means a descent into awfulness. The injuries matter too because they took great fielders (and Werth) off the field and there is no telling if we'll get great fielders (and Werth) back. Add in a Yuney Escobar that might have become unable to field now moving to a new position, in place of an actually good fielder, and there were red flags all over the place. Now, I didn't see Desmond becoming Bootsy McThrowaway but hey, we can't get them all.

Nor is it about their hitting. Right now the team is hanging its hat on Yunel Escobar and Clint Robinson. That sound like something you'd hear about an expansion team, not a World Series contender. It's a slow start cross the board. One of the issues with a superstar less offense (and that's what the Nats are - though potential lies with Bryce and Rendon) is that while there are no holes to the offense, there is no one that's going to carry you either. Instead of one guy, prone to be hot anyway, being hot and driving the team forward, a certain number (at least 5, maybe 6 or even 7) have to be "not slumping" to keep the engine humming. With the injuries pulling three regulars out that basically means everyone has to be on, or one of the replacements has to hit.  The Nats are nowhere near that.

The hope though, is that when these guys get back and get acclimated things will be better. That's a fair hope. Werth is already back. Span is on the fast track. Rendon is looking like he won't be missing months.

Then why might the Nats be stupid? Because of this
Williams said Rendon is taking ground balls at both second and third base in Viera. For now, at least publicly, the Nationals aren’t prepared to say where Rendon will play once he returns...
You know what. I've already decided. The Nats ARE stupid, because even if Rendon ends up at 3rd and Escobar at 2nd like they should, they are considering doing this. They admit that 2nd base involves more twists and turns and pressure on the knee and yet they are making Rendon take grounders at 2nd. Rendon who just hurt his knee and has been out becuase that knee seems slow to heal. They are doing this because Yunel Escobar seems comfortable at third and they don't want to force him to change positions mid season. Yunel Escobar. The man who over the last three seasons has hit .256 / .318 / .350 with 25 homers total. The man who they brought in hoping his slick-fielding at SS would come back. They want him to play third and they want to move Rendon back to 2nd. Let's say this again.

The are at least entertaining the thought of moving Anthony Rendon, their 24 year old who finished 5th in the MVP voting, back to second, increasing his chance of injury so Yunel Escobar, their 32 year old "stopgap to Trea Turner" who was possibly the worst regular shortstop in the majors last year, can play third.

AAAAAAAA! It doesn't make sense. 

It so much doesn't make sense I'm convincing myself this isn't about Escobar. It's about dealing Desmond now, shifting Yuney to SS and getting a 3rd baseman. That's the only way it makes sense right? Of course who would trade a young good 3rd baseman with control for a SS with one year left? No one right? Doesn't make sense. Maybe they do go after Beltre then and Yuney can be the Beltre stop gap for Texas while their young guys get a little more playing time. Yes, that's it. They are about to trade Cole and Escobar over the Texas for Beltre. You heard it here first!

The Nats AREN'T stupid. They are sneaky! Right Rizzo? Right?

Monday, April 13, 2015

Monday Quickie - Starting Pitching can't do everything.

Here's a stat for you :

The Nats starting rotation currently has an ERA of 1.91, best in the NL by nearly half a run. That's great and completely in line with the "best rotation ever?" questions that followed the team after the Scherzer signing.

Here are two more stats for you.

The Nats offense is currently the worst in the Nationals league in runs per game at a measly 2.17 a full half-run worse than any other team.  They are particularly bad at getting guys on base with a .256 OBP. .256!

The Nats relievers are a middling group with a 3.24 ERA. Nowhere near the worst (hi Miami!) but with meh numbers similar to 2013.

Hence 2-4.

I warned you that the Nats essentially lost their 4 best bats from 2014, who batted most often, and were the among most patient bats the Nats had.  That's a huge red flag. Still it's a little surprising that it's worst in the league bad. We expected the likes of Uggla (.111 with 1 double) and Moore (.000) to struggle, but Ramos (.200 with a .190 OBP), Desmond (.136, no homers), and Zimm (.130 with 8 Ks) have all been off. Half the Nats lineup has been terrible. Only Bryce and Yuney have been good. Luckily this issue may solve itself. Werth will be back if not today, very soon. Span seems on the early time frame for his recovery and Rendon is even doing baseball like things! If the Nats come out of this finding out Clint Robinson is the true good bench bat that they always wanted Tyler Moore to be then great. The Nats offense should be fine.

The bullpen is a more pressing issue to me because I don't know if it can be fixed with what's at hand. I'm not sure exactly what the problem is but Matt's moves feel... uncomfortable.  I think he wanted it to be Stammen/Cedeno in the 7th (depending on match-up) then Treinen. I think. That's what you would glean from the usage pattern though Stammen in the 7th with the lead could have been just getting him work in. The bulk of Stammen's work otherwise has been as "hold it together" guy after a lead is blown. That's a good place to use a guy you trust but an odd place for a by the numbers manager to use a "7th inning guy". Cedeno over Thornton doesn't make much sense based on their numbers historically (Thornton better vs lefties and better overall) but if you think contractually you get it. Cedeno is controlled and not old. Thornton is old and gone next year. You want Cedeno in that role. I don't like it - it's not a winning strategy - but I can see the big picture behind it. Going with Treinen is fine, the standard manager has to pick someone, though he's far from a sure thing.

But really the problem is in the last series the Nats kept blowing their tiny leads (1-0, 2-0, 2-1) in the 7th and 8th forcing Matt into the confusing territory of late inning ties. How a manager's mind works when there is no end game in sight is telling and I'm not sure what to think. He immediately turns to Stammen and after that (Stammen's been PH for the inning after appearing each time)  we've seen Treinen in a wasted inning, Roark in extras (I think because he could go two... I hope), and Barrett in a key role. Roark makes sense, but shouldn't Treinen and Barrett been switched? I guess he wanted to keep these guys working (Barrett pitched the day before that first game, Treinen didn't) but I don't know. And why put in Stammen, a guy who had 22 appearances of more than an inning last year, in places where you are sure he'll have to come out after at most an inning?

Nothing here is terribly wrong, but then again I could go in there and randomly select a pitcher based on the handedness of the batters coming up (and saving Storen for saves) and it wouldn't be terribly wrong. It feels like fumbling. I don't know it might be just me.

Anyway onto Boston SWEEP. That's an order.

Friday, April 10, 2015

A teenager at Strasmas

Stephen Strasburg is a very good pitcher. Stephen Strasburg is not a great pitcher. He's had runs of greatness. At the ends of seasons you can look back and say "if he just does A and a little of B he'll be great" but he has yet to put together a career that would make you say he's great.

This should be fine. We should be able to go into a Strasburg game hoping for a great game, expecting a good one, and ready to complain about off ones (like yesterday). And yet we can't (or at least I can't) because of the dark cloud of ill will that surrounds Strasburg. Where did that come from? Why is it here?

Looking back I'm pretty sure it all started with that most dreaded of Nats' topics, the "Shutdown". Right now it would be silly to think Strasburg could have pitched if Mike Rizzo wanted him to sit. We all know that the team is, as Mike Rizzo affectionately calls them, "Mike Rizzo's Nationals". Outside of Teddy coming down and saying "Little Scottie Boras and I made a deal", what Rizzo says, goes. But at the time of the shutdown there was still some question. Davey Johnson was a strong presence. The Nats had just began to win. So there was a non-ignorable amount of Nats fans that thought if Strasburg just made a big enough stink, they'd have to keep him pitching. At the very least they wanted him to throw a fit and see what happened. Instead Strasburg said "I want to pitch but the coaches told me to sit so that's how it goes"  Not good enough, ya pansy!

A larger set of fans thought, with some justification, "If Strasburg is so good that we'll screw with our playoff chances, he better be the damn second coming of Walter Johnson". The shutdown made the beginning of 2013 a judgment on if Strasburg was worth all this special attention. Nevermind the attention wasn't really special. ZNN was treated the same way before. Other teams had innings limits but tried to work it so they missed time at the beginning, leaving playoff pitching open. Strasburg was being singled out as the greatest arm ever that had to be protected under all circumstances. Let's see what he can do.

Well how did 2013 open up? With a shutout win!... then a loss, and another loss, and another loss, and another. With the judging eyes of a baseball nation upon him, Strasburg went 1-5 in his first 8 games, taking to mid-May to pick up win #2. Outside of the second game of the year he didn't pitch poorly, but he had a lot of unearned runs scored on him. The onus of him being a guy that wilted when the defense failed him stuck. It isn't true. But having 3 such games come together in close proximity when everyone was trying to see if the shutdown was worth it, made it seem so. We're not really ones for going back and re-judging people. It's much easier to sit around and pick out the moments that confirm what we already think.

Plus he was a loser! 1-5! What fans didn't know in the moment is that the Nats' offense was taking a step back toward average in 2013, and the lack of offense would especially hurt Strasburg with low run support. Strasburg would go on to have a very good rest of the season, but would never get over .500, losing three games after reaching 5-6, including his best game of the season a 2 hit, 1 run, 8IP, 12 K gem. He would finish 8-9. By year's end you had that initial group of skeptics now convinced. Strasburg wasn't worth it. He wasn't a winner. Jordan Zimmerman, at 19-9, was a winner (no other Nats would win more than 11)

Still going into last year it wasn't fully set yet. Many people could read the season that was hidden underneath that record and were convinced that Strasburg would bring it all together in 2014. Just watch! You'll see! Again the Nats fans turned to Strasburg early in the season and... he blew Opening Day and he pitched poorly in his next game versus Atlanta and he pitched poorly in his 4th game vs Miami. Going into his last start in April he had a 1-2 record and a 5.33 ERA. Stras would pitch well from then on out but the wins wouldn't fall his way. Despite a good offense and a good ERA (3.14 from that last April start), Stras would only go 6-7 and would be at 7-9 for the year. The conversation was over. There were going to be no more converts to Strasburg. Those that wanted to hate him had another "fact" on file that he wasn't a good pitcher. Strasburg would pitch even better the rest of the year, including putting up a 2.29 ERA and 8-3 record over the past two months, but for naught. Everybody but Gio pitched great and ZNN even finished the year with a no-hitter. Perhaps a dominant playoff performance would start Stras on the road back but he only gave a workman like one.

At this point it would take at least a half-season, a FIRST half of the season, that was the best in the NL to start turning anyone who dislikes Strasburg back toward him.

The end result is Strasburg, a very good pitcher with great stuff, is no fun to watch anymore. Every god damned game he pitches has become a 3 hour referendum on his ranking in the pitching world. Every fifth day, one half of Nats fans shout "HE'S THE WORST" and the other half has to keep from punching the first half in their stupid faces because their stupid faces deserve punching. Add to that a national (and most local, to be honest) media that still is stuck on "See, Strasburg isn't the best pitcher ever!", a fact that any sane person following this franchise moved on from a couple years ago, and any joy has been sucked out of the day. Dad got stuck in the chimney and died. Strasmas is ruined.

But otherwise, how are you today?

Thursday, April 09, 2015

Season Back On!

A win! Everything is better now. Until they lose again. But then they can win again!

Escobar had a hit. Ramos had a hit. Storen looked good. Treinen looked... well he did his job. Nothing going.

The most interesting thing going on right now is the fact that the supposed best challenger to the Nats, the Marlins, got swept by the supposed door mat to the Nats, the dismantled Braves. It's just 3 games but every game does matter and if you liked the Nats to be say... 8 games better than the Marlins over 162, with a win today they'd only have to be 6 games better over 159 to do it.

Of course you're saying "that's a real long time" and you're right. That's part of the fun of baseball, this double hope thing it has every season. In the beginning of the year you have an idea of where these teams will end up and a long season should help smooth out any luck that might arise. But the long season introduces other things, mostly injuries but also surprise crashes, surprise falls, trades and call-ups, that can change the make-up of the team with 40+% of the season to go. Every team in every sport starts with hope but in baseball it lingers longer for more teams because of the number of games in front of you where things can change.

And just when the hope of "something may change" dies out because the number of games becomes too small to matter (sometime in the dog days of August) and a few non-contenders wave goodbye a new hope arises for the rest. The "maybe we just get hot" hope. At this part of the season you have a much better feel for the teams. You know how good they are, where their faults lie. You should be able to predict the finish. But now the season is short enough for luck to play a role and in no sport is the line between winners and losers as thin as it is in baseball. This hope can linger for most teams all the way to the last week. "If we can just go 7-2 and they go 2-7" That's sort of crazy but it can happen and probably did at some point in the year.

The whole thing adds up to a lot of  fun for the teams doing the catching and a lot of worrying for the teams they are trying to catch. The Nats are definitely the latter so just be ready for worry all year barring a dominant wire to wire season.

Are the Braves any good? Offensively no. They scored 2 runs twice so far and are barely above average in their stats. There is no revelation here. They just had one shot versus a pitcher totally off his game.  The pitching though - it could be this good (1, 2, 0 runs allowed). The Marlins were an average hitting team last year and should be better. That's a nice start for those arms. The back end of Stults and Cahill is weak, but Minor returning from the DL should knock whichever of these guys stinks worse off the mound.

Should the Marlins worry? Offensively I wouldn't. Slow start - but three games and Stanton, who's the key, was off. But again 3 games. I'd be very interested in Latos' next start as the Marlins are fielding a rotation that's in holding pattern for the return of Jose Fernandez. It can't really afford a crash out. The pen was also not impressive and might be an issue. Too early to be concerned but a things to keep an eye on.

Wednesday, April 08, 2015

What am I watching for?

Early season analysis is all about reining it in. Anyone can have a hot/cold couple of weeks and when that's all the data you have it gets magnified. The smart analysis looks at this early data and only tweaks the assumptions they had going in.  Plus, a lot of things don't matter in the long run.  Bryce or Zimm struggle? They still will be starters the rest of the year. Espy gets hot? Yuney is still option #1. The team will temper your excitement or worry if you can't do it yourself.

This leaves us with only a little to really be interested in the first few weeks of the season. There are things I care about (like a slow start for Ian meaning he's collapsing as a hitter, or a Werth return with no pop meaning it'll be another HR challenged season) that aren't going to change anything the Nats do. These you just have to ride out. And there are things that may happen (Cedeno can't get out lefties, Tyler Moore still can't hit) that I don't really care about.  These don't excite me. We have to hit that sweet spot. Things that I care about that might effect change. Where do I see that?

Ramos may not hit. Yuney may not hit. Yuney may not field.

In an healthy Nats lineup - these are the only two regulars who hit below average last year. They are also the presumed starters not only for 2015 but for 2016 as well. 

For Ramos, we assume that it's a health thing. It always feels like he hits well when healthy, he hit well just 2 years ago, and he's only 27. But last year Ramos looked beat after managing to play 20 healthy games in a row (with an All-Star break tucked in there). He finished the year hitting .230 / .254 / .391 in his last 45 games.  Was it a fluke? Was he figured out? Was he somehow not conditioned enough (that's terrible conditioning, if you believe that)? It's important because the Nats don't have a guy lined up to replace Ramos soon

For Yuney, we hope it's a fluke thing. He hit a little better in 2013 and more importantly he fielded great. Fielding stats are often wishy-washy and we assume an injury, that he's now over, affected both his bat and his glove. But history tells us that even decent Yuney at the plate, just below average, is probably the fluke, not the numbers he put up last year. He can, and has, done a lot worse. So it will come down to the glove. Yuney isn't a young player anymore and things you might get past at 25, you don't at 32. Plus the injury was a shoulder one which may explain the increase in errors, but it's hard to understand how exactly that would effect his range. Getting down on the ball? Well if that's the case his oblique injury in Spring is a ominous portent. The Nats do have a MI replacement in Turner lined up, but he's to take Ian's place. If Yuney goes bad then you need Turner AND Difo to get good in a hurry. Possible, but far from likely.

I trust Rizzo in a deal but there are only so many good C and MI around. Anyone playing fantasy baseball can tell you that.

Can Barrett or Treinen step up? 

You have to understand what the Nats were thinking when they traded Clippard and let Soriano walk. They looked at the rotation and thought "Middle relief isn't as important with these guys. We only really need two strong arms and our regular bunch of ok guys. So let's deal Clip, insert Barrett in the 8th. He'll be great. Storen will be great. The pen will be fine then we can deal Storen in the offseason and promote Aaron. SOLVED"

Of course Aaron Barrett is no sure thing. He had moments last year where he looked great but moments (in certain months beginning with O) where his wildness caught up with him. His minor league numbers are favorable, but the last step is the hardest.  Treinen is likely next in line to be the "controlled for a long time" reliever the Nats would want, but he's a former starter who's stuff isn't as electric as Barrett's. Both are 27 this year and relievers are brief candles. If neither develops and/or Storen doesn't perform, all of a sudden the Nats are left with nothing at the back end of their pen*

Relievers are easily found and acquired but trading for a reliever (even one with a couple years of control like Chapman) for a decent prospect? That doesn't feel like this team at all.

*If this happens and Yuney doesn't work out they would have effectively traded Clippard to turn one problem into two

Tuesday, April 07, 2015

Season Over

Early season analysis is great, isn't it? Nats lose and in what was basically a slide show of all the things you might worry about with the Nats this season.

You might worry that the Nats won't hit with Rendon, Werth, and Span out.

First of all Span? Come on, he had one good year. He really could regress to below average and it should be no surprise. But yes, I do like him better than Taylor so him being out does matter and yes, Rendon and Werth are big bats to be taken out of the lineup. And hey - they didn't hit! What has been undersold, though, has been the loss of patience. Adam LaRoche was a patient bat, he's gone. Werth works counts, he's out. Rendon saw a fair amount of pitchers, he's out. The Nats walked once yesterday. Not a coincidence.

You might worry that the pen will be shaky

Well they didn't give up any runs but Barrett, in line to be the next back end star, couldn't finish out a single inning.You can lose a guy or two from the pen and make it work. You can't cut two of your top three and a couple other pieces and expect to be the same. At least not right off the bat.

You might worry that the defense may suffer

 Remember Yuney was terrible last year. Rendon was great. Span held the outfield together. Tyler Moore and Dan Uggla are playing. No, none of these directly came into play yesterday (it was all Desmond's fault, and I don't think Span would make that catch... I don't think) but it's a general worry that came true, if not exactly how you envisioned it.

You might worry that the Mets may be a threat to the Nats

They won. Nats lost.

Yesterday is what you should expect until at least two of the three bats missing are back. Close game, where the starting pitcher dominates. The Nats should win more of these than they lose. Hell, Max almost won that game by himself. This is just one game and even if the Nats are 5-5 after ten, whatever. Don't worry about it.

But let's not get swept by the Mets at home, ok.

Monday, April 06, 2015


93 wins.
NL East Champions.

As always I don't predict playoffs because there's no point. Might as well predict who's getting the most hits today in the game. I can make an educated guess that's barely better than the other guesses.

I think the season will unfold slowly with the Nats going back and forth with someone through Memorial Day, but right when the story shifts to "This is a fight the Nats didn't expect to have" the Nats start pulling away and get some breathing room by the All-Star break. They end up finishing about 5 games ahead of 2nd place whoever (Marlins) but that's closer than it seems.

Of course this is dependent on injuries but everyone's season is dependent on injuries.

What about the recent bench changes? Nothing to note. I didn't hate Frandsen. He was a contact singly guy with the ability to play (but not necessarily play well) multiple positions. He's Lombo, a useful last guy on the bench but anyone can take that role. Uggla over him is probably mostly because Rizzo drafted and loves Uggla but whatever. Last guy on bench is last guy on bench.

Robinson, Reed Johnson, Matt den Decker? Placeholders. There is no real improvement here. Werth should be back in a week so one of these guys gets dropped then. Only question is does one get hot and do the Nats try to unload McLouth in that case to save another couple bucks.

Any questions?

Edit : As I do annually, here's where I let you know I am on twitter. harpergordek. If you are in to such things.  Mostly Nats stuff, even though I don't necessarily want it to be, that is how it turns out.

Thursday, April 02, 2015

2012 v 2013 v 2014

Injuries!  Oh no this is going to be just like 2013 when injuries killed the team! Panic!

Or, as many have pointed out, injuries happened in 2012 and 2014! The team was fine! Don't worry!

At this point you are probably thinking "Jesus, Rizzo. Can you please plan for this with some depth? It's the 4th year in a row it's happened!" but after that you are probably thinking "So which of these years is 2015 going to be most like? Will injuries make it a mess like 2013 or will they be a barely noticeable bump in the road like 2012 and 2014?"

First let's get a feel for the games lost to the starting offense in those other years. Ideally you'd get what? 130 games from the catcher and 154 games from everyone else? That would be 1208 games. How'd does that compare to what the Nats actually got the past 3 seasons?

2012: Ramos+LaRoche+Espy+Ian+Zimm+Morse+Werth+Bryce :    936 games
2013: Ramos+LaRoche+Rendon+Ian+Zimm+Span+Werth+Bryce : 1033 games
2014: Ramos+LaRoche+Rendon+Ian+Zimm+Span+Werth+Bryce : 1043 games

Not all the missed time was due to injury but you get the point. Missed some games the last couple years, more in 2012.

What would be our guess for 2015? Right now I'd pencil Span in for 40 missed games and Werth and Rendon for 10 a piece. Based on that pace, my guess is 2015 should be more like 2012 than the last two. It's still not impossible to have a relatively healthy year but it would pretty much require a nearly perfectly healthy rest of the season. A lot of games missed early is not a good start.

Now that we have an idea of what type of injury time lost to expect, how did these offenses do?

2012 : Ramos (almost all), Morse (2mo), and Werth (1/2 season) missed significant time, while Bryce spent a month in the minors. However across the board everyone hit, including these guys when healthy. LaRoche and Werth bounced back from bad 2011s, Desmond broke out, only Espy dipped below average. They ended up 5th in runs scored.

2013 : Ramos (1/2 season), Bryce (40 games), and Werth (25 games) missed time. Rendon took two months to get to the majors. Werth and Bryce hit better but Espy was terrible, LaRoche and Desmond took steps back, Span and Rendon were below average. They only dropped a spot to 6th in the NL but were roughly as close to 5th as 10th.

2014 : Ramos (almost half), Bryce (60 games), and Zimm (90 games) missed time. Ramos, Byrce, Werth, and Desmond all stepped back while Span, Rendon and LaRoche all stepped up. Finished 3rd in the NL in runs as close to 6th as to 2nd.

Those rankings matter because while the finishes are relatively close; 5th, 6th, and 3rd, the circumstances were completely different. The 5th in 2012 was about right - good, close to very good, but not great. The 6th in 2013 was illusionary. They were basically an average team who happened to pop out on the top end of that list. This is important because some people still like to float out "They were 6th!" Context, people. Context. The 3rd place finish last year was a bit of a mirage too. It sounds like an elite status but they weren't really close to the top. Still they were very good, about peak of what I would expect.

The Nats offense is generally good, can be very good, but has not been great. It hasn't really challenged for best in the league and it's dipped to around average. It's not a problem, but I can't all it a strength, either. It's part of the success but the smaller part.

Reading through this though you might see that the general feel of the offense remained roughly the same. Guys went up, guys went down. If the starters generally played about the same as a whole why don't the rankings follow the missed time? Glad you asked.


2012 : Miracle year where Lombo, Tracy, Moore, Bernadina, Suzuki, Ankiel were all at least not terrible and somewhat good. Despite the missed time this held the Nats offense up.
2013 : In a quick return to form everyone was universally terrible. The missed games cut deeper.
2014 : Mostly closer to 2013 than 2012 with a couple minor exceptions. Those exceptions helped not pull the team down like an anchor

But wait! I said 2014 was a peak and yet the bench wasn't great. Sure there were slightly fewer injuries than in 2012 but is there something else here? Yes, yes there is and it has to do with batting order.

The four best bats on the 2014 Nats were Span, Rendon, Werth and LaRoche. They also did not miss significant time. They batted 1st, 2nd, 3rd and 4th in the order, the slots that get the most at bats during a season. Contrast that with those positions in 2013. Span was still first and was below average, Rendon got a lot of time in the 2 spot and was below average. Lombo and Bernie, who were awful accounted for another 31 games there - that's almost 20% of the season. No one batted more often in clean-up than the off-bat of LaRoche.

What does this all mean for the offense in 2015? Well, given Span and Rendon are the biggest injury concerns and Matt Williams seems to love to plug their replacement in their batting slots, this does not bode well for 2015. Maybe I'd feel better if the bench was stronger but it's not. It's not that this means the offense is going to be terrible or anything. I would just expect a year closer to 2013's average output than 2012/2014's good to very good. Before you panic and scream "2013!" please remember the team won 86 games that year with that average offense.

How did they do that? Let's quickly check the flipside.

Starting pitching

2012 : Great!
2013 : Steps back accross the board. Detwiler hurt, Haren bad. Still good, close to very good, but no longer team-carrying.
2014 : Great!


2012 : Braves were a legit threat. No one else was
2013 : Ditto
2014 : Braves collapsed. No one stepped up

And here you see the path to victory.  Great starting pitching carried the team to a division title against stiff competition in 2012. Sure the offense might slip a bit from that year but the competition isn't there either.

Of course there is always...

Relief pitching

2012 : Very good!
2013 : Eh.
2014 : Great! (really - check it out)

Here is a place the Nats could stumble. Storen hasn't pitched much. Soriano and Clippard are gone. Janssen appears to be no good. Blevins was cast off. It could be like 2013. Honestly, it could be worse. Relief is hard to pin down but a betting man says it's not going to be very good in 2015.

The short of all the above is that 2013 really was a perfect storm in a way. Well storm is too big a word. The perfect annoying drizzle. Not only did the offense kind of bottom out in expectations, but the starting pitching dipped, the relief pitching was mediocre, and the competition was there. In 2015 we don't expect a pitching dip or stiff competition. So even if worst case the offense does fall to mediocre, that pitching staff and the lack of a true threat should keep the Nats at 90+ wins and a decently easy ride to a division title. That starting pitching staff shelters you from a lot of problems.

Now could it be different than we think? Yes. If the bullpen falls apart AND if the Marlins (or Mets, I guess) are really good AND if the offense is affected a lot by these injuries then yes the Nats may have to fight to make the playoffs. But right now I'm still not worried. Wake me when Rendon is ruled out for the year and Max needs Tommy John.