Nationals Baseball: September 2015

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

The hump in hump day is full of terrible opinions

I can't blame the talking heads too much. They are paid to give their opinions, so when someone comes and asks them about something they really don't know anything about, they are put in a bad spot. It's literally their job to have something to say. The best, and the unfortunately rare, answer gracefully, noting their lack of inside information, coming up with example where they do have first hand knowledge for comparison, then noting again it may not apply.  The worst, and most common, charge ahead with a simple "I don't follow the team day to day" then act like they know what's going on, perhaps adding "I talked with a couple guys who used to play the game" as if lack of information about a situation can become wisdom through a game of telephone.

Really though it's not their fault. Gotta get paid! It's more the fault of the person asking the question. The talking head hosting the show, not coming onto it. If your guest starts by saying "well I don't know what's going on there", you should really stop the answer right there. There's nothing to be gained from it but a random guys opinion. Does it have worth because he's a sports talking head? Maybe a tiny bit, but you have access to several people whose responses have much more validity. Go get them on your show and ask this guy about something he knows about.

And don't get me started on newspaper or internet writers weighing in. They could actively avoid trying to give responses to a situation they admittedly are unfamiliar with and they have time to craft their take, if they feel they must have one, in a way to frame it correctly. No excuse for idiocy here.

Anyway this is just a long way of saying, when it comes to the Nats, it's up to us to filter the nonsense out. The media isn't going to do it for us. Read the beat writers, other guys you know are following the team day to day, or had been recently. This doesn't mean they are right, some guys quit thinking critically a long time ago, but it's by far the best place to start. Supplement with national baseball guys who you respect, who may not be following the team day to day but follow the overall sport daily and have a sense of the big picture. These guys may also have some inside information beat guys don't have. And finally read some team bloggers you like. They're the anti-national guys. No inside information, no big picture, but they see the day to day dealing from the outside looking in and sometimes that can give a fresh perspective. Obviously there are cranks here but hopefully you can weed them out. That's it. Take all those perspectives and pieces, read them, take some time to digest them, and you probably have the closest approximation at what the actual situation is.

That's all I've got today.  Too tired from reading terrible points of view on this team, both terrible because they are thought and written by guys who have no idea what they are talking about and terrible because they are written by guys that do and the team is terrible.

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

The offense is perfectly fine, but is it? - Part 1

The Nats offense is problematic. It's hard to see it that way as it should end up as one of the Top 3 scoring offenses in the National League, but as I explained before there's a couple points that are ignored by just looking at RS/G.  One point is how much the offense is Bryce Harper dependent. Another point is that while the Nats are in the Top 3, the distance between the league average and the top teams is the smallest it's been in years. A third point is that distribution of runs scored matters.  It's this last point that I'll tackle today.

Usually when you deal with trying to figure out how many wins a team "deserved" you look at their Pythagorean Record. This takes the runs they've scored and the runs they've allowed and projects a winning percentage. But the statistic breaks down when your runs scored or allowed doesn't follow the usual distribution.

For example, let's say you are a team that alternates scoring between 0 runs a game and 20 runs a game. Game 1 you score 0 runs, Game 2, you score 20. Game 3, 0, and so on. Let's say it happens for a whole year. The pythagorean method will see a team that averages 10 runs a game and probably project that the team should have 145+ wins or something. But obviously the team will have something very close to 81 wins, as it can't win a game it scores 0 runs in and will almost certainly win every game where it scores 20 runs. The pythag will say the team is 60+ games "unlucky" but that's very far from the truth. The Nats "should" have 85 wins by the pythag. Were they unlucky? Or is that far from the truth?

Let's take a look at the distribution of runs scored for the Nats. How many times did they score 0 runs and what are the chances of winning that type of game? How many times for one run, etc. etc. It's still not perfect by any means, but it can correct for odd distributions of runs scored, as we see in that extreme example I noted above. What do I see when I do that for the Nats? I see an offense that should have won, based on the distribution of runs scored in a game, 80 games. (79.97 to be exact).  The Nats have won 80 games. We can do the same with pitching and it shows the same thing based on the runs allowed.  The Nats should have won 80 games (80.394) and they have.

The reason this works is that basically scoring your first run does little to help your chance of winning, and the same goes for scoring your 8th run and beyond. You are certain to lose a game you score 0 runs in. Adding 1 run to go from 0 to 1 and you are still almost certain to lose that game (~91% chance).  You are almost certain to win a game you score 7 runs in (like ~85%) Adding one run to go from 7 to 8 (or 8 to 9, etc.), barely improves those chances. Basically scoring that 8th run and beyond pads your expected win total. Which team in the NL has scored 7 or more runs the most times?  The Nats. 37 times.

Does this really mean the Nats haven't gotten unlucky, though? Well it depends how much you buy into luck as a factor. By ignoring the actual distribution the pythag method of win expectation is implicitly assuming a distribution close to expected for your RS and RA, and a random distribution of RS and RA per game. In other words you don't bunch your RS/RA at the high and low ends and you don't happen to match up your high scoring games with your low allowed score games. Either of those situations skew the results. But let's look at those assumptions

Is the distribution of RS and RA in individual games random? This has been looked at and the answer is yeah, pretty much. Let's call this the "Jack Morris" point. Teams don't seem to score more when they allow more, or score less when they give up less. Or looking at it the other way, they don't seem to allow more when they score more, or allow less when they score less. The distribution of runs does appear to be close to random. So in that the pythag has things right.

Is the bunching of RS (or RA) unusual? This is less clear. If a starter is doing poorly runs can come around very quickly. It's known that HRs tend to bunch. Also teams tend to use their worst pitchers in games that get out of hand. You have a big deficit, you trot out the bad pitchers on a team, the soft underbelly. If they fail you tend to follow with even worse pitchers. It would stand to reason that there are times/teams that can bunch runs, at least on the high end.

But then there is another thought that I have and it's harder to pin down. Each batter has a chance of doing well against each pitcher and for the most part it has to do with how the pitcher is doing that day. Bryce Harper has a certain chance to hit "On Scherzer" and a certain chance to hit "Off Scherzer", as does Dan Uggla. These chances are certainly going to be overwhelmed in an individual at bat by other factors, but in a game or certainly accross several games, you can imagine it stabilizing. At this point here no one can hit and you lose. At that point there everyone can and you win. Now assuming that, what if your team is made up of players all at a similar level of offensive talent? If that were the case rather than a slow shift from where you can't hit to where you can, that shift may be dramatic. When certain pitchers cross certain thresholds the combined effect on the line-up could be like flipping a switch. That type of line-up would tend to see bunching.  It's kind of like the "type of hitter" idea, where if you have the same type of hitter you may be easier to pitch to by good pitchers, but based on talent, not approach. I don't know if this is measurable. I don't know if it's measurable if it's something.  But if it is something then the Nats, as a team that bunches RS on the high end and has more games scoring 2 or fewer than expected, may have it. I don't know I'm definitely rambling now.

Anyway this is all a way to say the offense wasn't necessarily "ok" this year, despite the Top 3 ranking it'll end up with. It didn't outscore opponents in a way you'd normally expect given it's ranking because of the unusual grouping of teams this year. It also didn't score runs game by game in a way that you'd normally expect, instead scoring runs in bunches which isn't as helpful to winning as having a lot of 3-4-5 run games.  Is this something to worry about next year? Will the offense be boom and bust again? Was that a product of injuries? Good questions Let's look at part 2 though, first. How the offense is taking Bryce out of it.

Monday, September 28, 2015

Quick angry little post

You're going to read a lot of pieces the next couple of days about the Nats. Their season is over and accounts must be taken. Plus you know, the jerkiest jerk that ever jerked a jerk tried to kill the MVP. They'll be talk about leadership and chemistry and the clubhouse... blah, blah, blah.

The Nats have plenty of leaders. They have a leave-it-all-on-the-field, it's-my-team, I'm-better-than-you, fan favorite leader. They have a quiet, play every day, clubhouse leader. They have a fire a fastball by them, squirt some syrup on you leader. They have a put-this-team-on-my-back MVP leader. They have a handful of guys that have been around for 5 plus years, including one guy who's been around from damn near the beginning. They had veterans hugging and rookies who "don't know any better".  They had one of the most respected managers of this generation for 2 years followed up by a hard-driving marine-type former all-star and world series winner. This is all led by a I'll-do-my-job-you-do-yours GM that did his job and turned around a perennial loser.

They are goddamn flush with leaders. The clubhouse outside of Storen and Papelbon, pretty much said everything they should have said and kept trying till... well at least a week ago when reality must have set in. You know what? It didn't matter.

Papelbon didn't go after Bryce because the clubhouse was out of control. Papelbon went after Bryce because the team just got eliminated and everyone is pissed and Papelbon is an ass.

The team didn't lose this year because the clubhouse was bad. The team lost because seasons like this will happen when you gamble on health and allow no room financially to get dealt back in the game.

The team didn't lose in the playoffs in past years because the clubhouse lacked something. The team lost in the playoffs because good teams lose in the playoffs.  See all those teams making it this year? 2 won't get past Game 1.  Another 4 won't win a real series. The last two will fail to make the series. They'll all magically go from teams that have what it takes to teams just not able to come up big. 

We've spent our sports following lives being forced fed a tautology. Winners win because they are winners. They've defined what winners should be and then they fit those that win into that definition. It's stupid. It's wrong. But it's easy and simple and impossible to argue against so there you go. 

They do the same with losers. Losers lose because they are losers. Make no mistake, the 2015 Nats are losers. But if we sit here and focus on how to make them winners through some sort of clubhouse fix we might as well do nothing. It'll probably have the same effect. 

The Nats need to either reshape the team with reliable bats and dependable bullpen arms or they need to be committed to spending more money, maybe a lot more, to fix issues when they come up. If not, well the Nats might be fine next year or they might win 84 games depending how the wind blows.They squandered two years when the wind didn't blow right. Next year could be the last competitive year in the next few.  Don't let them squander another focusing on the wrong things. 

Friday, September 25, 2015


Another day, another uninspired loss. The Nats did in fact take the lead in the 7th, rather than blow it, only to blow it in the 8th. Mixing things up I guess.

Matt Williams keeps on picking exactly the wrong guy at the wrong time. This time it was Blake Treinen. Overall his numbers are, well they are ok, 3.86 ERA/ 1.365 WHIP  It's not good but as the 4th or 5th arm in the pen you could do worse. But he is special. In June I looked at Treinen pitching in tight games and found him... lacking.  Let's see if those numbers improved.

Entered 3 game when Nats were down 2 : Made it worse 1 time
Entered 11 games when Nats were down 1 : Made it worse 7 times
Entered 9 games when Nats were tied : Made it worse 3 times
Entered 6 games when Nats were up 1 : Made it worse 1 time
Entered 4 games when Nats were up 2 : Made it worse 2 times

Combined close game appearances : 33.
Made it worse : 14 times
42% soul crushing average
Technically better (was at 50%)! He went from crushing your soul every other time out there to crushing your soul every third time out there. Progress? 

This highlighted the big issue with the pen. It looks passable, but close and late things blew up. 

Grace : .414 / .528 / .517
Roark : .333 / .349 / .548
Treinen : .330 / .433 / 432
Janssen : .293 / .341 / .480
Storen (7th / 8th inning)  : 9.15 ERA
(Cedeno and Martin also were terrible here in very limited outings) 

or you can look at "high leverage" 
Grace : .478 / .538 / .609
Janssen : .348 / .392 / .500
Treinen : .317 / ..391 / .450 
Barrett : .319 / .333 / .404
Rivero : .259 / .286 / .444
(Cedeno, Solis and Cole also were terrible...)  

Small sample sizes understood but the point is you usually want a couple of complete shutdown guys, who almost always get the job done, some middling guys who screw up every once in a while but are effective far more often than not, and some guys who pitch like the above, screwing up every 2,  3,  4 outings who you hopefully work out of the pen in favor of others.

Storen as a closer was a shutdown guy. Thronton was pretty close to that, too*. In the middling area you had Rivero, Roark when settled, Barrett during his second go around before getting hurt. (It's true!).  The rest, Storen as a set-up guy, Roark when transitioning, Janssen, Treinen, Grace, most of the one-offs brought up, were garbage.

That may seem almost like a fair split but when you work out the timing, in reality that meant that the Nats had a working pen** for about a month. Rivero came up in early June but at that time Roark was starting and Barrett was out, meaning that you went from 3 pen arms (Storen, Thornton, Roark) to 3 pen arms (Storen, Thornton, Rivero).  This group would expand to 4 when an effective Barrett returned on July 10th and would expand to 5 (look Ma! He's working like a real grown up bullpen!) when Roark finally got settled after transitioning back to a relief role in late July.

This doesn't mean that the Nats could capitalize on this theoretically good bullpen. There was no way to know Barrett would be ok until he threw a handful of times, and no way to know when Roark would get settled (he'd blow one game and put another out of reach before he did) If Williams was given this pen : Storen, Thornton, Rivero, Roark and let's call him Better Barrett;  for a while, maybe by the middle of August he would have found a rhythm. But by August 5th Barrett would go down and Papelbon would come in effectively weakening a strength and creating a new weakness elsewhere. Williams' chance at a pen that he could manage was gone.

Eh this depresses me.

Tonight is ZNN's last home game. Not being in DC I don't really have anything to say about that and will hold off my appreciation for his last start. But you guys, who've spent years watching him on that mound, this is the last time in a Nats uniform that he'll do it (likely) so feel free to share some ZNN memories below.

* One of the bigger questions is how an effective former closer like Thornton never got a real chance to be the set-up guy.  He would do the job nearly every time tasked with it but never came together into him handling the 8th. The season definitely started with Treinen and Barrett as the favorites for 8th inning guy. But as both of them failed Thornton came in and was fine... but then the Nats didn't settle on him. Instead Solis, Grace, Roark, Barrett a little got chances. Then Barrett again and Janssen, then Carpenter, then Thornton (finally). But he blew one game and then it was Janssen again. At this point we get to Papelbon.

Why was the effective Thornton not used at the very end of close games? You could argue it was because they were trying to use that role to find the future closer. That's any youngster that showed a hint of promise was used there, Treinen, Barrett, Grace, Solis, not to mention cheap old guys (Carpenter) or guys that perhaps could excel there for relative peanuts (Janssen). But if that's the case why didn't Rivero every get a shot? Do they not see him as a future closer? 

(Some people noted that Thornton's age/recovery might have played into this - makes sense, at least for the first couple months) 

**as defined as a couple shutdown type guys, with 2-3 other reliable arms.

Thursday, September 24, 2015


Disappointing till the end, huh?

The Nats are in theory playing for something (we shouldn't believe that but the players should) and yet here's another half-hearted effort and another loss. Welcome to 2015.

Should Max have been pulled? Probably. Again you see the wheels turning. Max was due up first the next inning, so let's see if he can quickly get through the 7th, even though he's at 104 pitches. Fine. He's Max Scherzer. The bullpen is terrible. But then there's a lead-off double and the memories of recent Max Scherzer. Time to go to whoever. But MW was committed and Scherzer almost escaped. Almost.

Again even if I'm sure the Nats are out (and I am) the team shouldn't be and MW should be managing every game as if it were a playoff game.  Sadly though, I think he IS doing that, which is why I say if you expect to fight for a playoff spot next year you have to fire him. There can be no trust that he knows what he's doing in close and late situations. 

On the offense - some people will look at the Nats rank (currently #1 by the width of a hair) and say "The offense is great! The pitching sucks!" (rank #7)  Here's the thing though.  The Nats offense is 0.35 runs better than average, the Nats pitching is 0.24 runs better than average. That is not a big difference. You have to go back 17 years (if I'm right) to find the last time a NL leader (not couting Colorado - though that makes a difference only like twice) was within 0.35 runs of the league average. The Nats offense isn't great. It's as we hoped good to very good. It's just that no one has a very good to great offense this year. So good to very good can be on top. It's pretty amazing that the Nats hit expectations with all the injuries and soul crushing disappointments (thank BRYCE mainly, but also Yuney, Clint, and Espy) but don't let that convince you that this offense couldn't have been improved.

Right now Werth, Rendon, Desmond and Ramos are all slumping terribly and Michael Taylor a bit. Can't have much of an offense with 5/8ths not doing anything. The pitching has been steady but mediocre as defines this season. How about you guys wake up and don't get swept. Is that too much to ask?

Wednesday, September 23, 2015


The Nats are now 6 games from the inevitable elimination. The Braves beat the Mets keeping the number from going down 2 but the Nats couldn't win their game. The O's pitched around Bryce and the team got 3 hits around him. TICK

Tonight Tanner Roark goes for the Nats and it reminds me that with all the talk of Matt Harvey and shutdowns the Nats are in the midst of their second shutdown. Joe Ross, who had been vital to keeping the Nats in contention while Strasburg battled injuries and Fister battled the harsh inevitabilities of age that will come for us all, was pulled from the rotation a couple weeks ago. It made some sense. The Nats had moved from long shot to miracle. No sense to burn out an arm on a quixotic dream.  

And yet, Roark hasn't pitched all that well. The Nats lost both games he pitched and the latest one was definitely on him. If the Nats had won that game and currently sat 5.5 out... 

It's easy to say that shutdowns are never the answer, but really shutdowns are almost always the answer for the player. The only reason we don't simply let it pass is SPORTS. 

A player has trained all his life to do one thing. If he's lucky he can do it and get paid well to do it, for about a decade. Fifteen years if he's really lucky. If someone presents to him the scenario where being conservative could extend those years and increase those payments substantially, he'd be foolish not to strongly consider it, even with that scenario being backed up with little to no evidence. It would be different if the other side, being risky, had the support of the science, but it doesn't either. A player is taking a coin flip chance on his career when he is presented with this. All for a very slightly better chance, nothing close to a guarantee, of ending up a champion. The choice should be crystal clear.

This is normally where the story would end if it were any other business but since this is sports, there are wrinkles added.  There is an ultimate goal that one team, and only one, will reach every year. Most players see this as a goal of theirs. What if shutting down conflicts with that goal? We've said for the player the choice is easy, but that's a vacuum scenario, where the player only effects himself. In reality a player is part of a team and his choices effect that team. If he chooses to shutdown he's not only slighty effecting his chances, he's slightly effecting the chances of other players who want to achieve the same goal, of people in management who have spent millions to achieve that goal, of fans who have also spent millions collectively in support of the team. What is a simple choice is now clouded. To make it Star Treky, do the wishes of many, outweigh the wishes of one? 

This at least in part* why, in the end, some players do try to play through injury. Should Matt Harvey? That's up to him. What is his ultimate goal? 

What made the Strasburg shutdown so curious is that the management, who should normally be against it**, was for it. We've talked about how that was a very special case. Strasburg being seen as a generational talent. The Nationals stocked with young good players in control for years and minimal holes to fill. Even with all that you could probably fall on either side of the fence on the decision. 

Ross isn't the same as Strasburg. Ross is not generational. He's a good prospect who is projected to contribute probably closer to a 2-3 now, but still not special.  The team is not stocked with good young players in control for years. They have a set of them, but they also have older players like Werth, Zimm, Scherzer and guys who will be gone soon like Strasburg and Storen. They aren't without holes. Relief remains a big issue. The rotation, infield and catcher will likely need an influx from FA in the next couple of years. But with Ross you effected a very small chance of winning the division, not an small chance at winning a pennant. The ultimate goal was so far off that this might be a reasonable move. But still I linger on the "might" 

I'm not really saying anything here. Just ruminating. It's clear that if a player's goal is solely to make the most money / have the longest career, they might as well be conservative. That's Harvey's situation. I'm sure he wants to win, he just wants to be paid a lot of money to play baseball for as long as possible more. A conservative team is really no different. The goal is win consistently, with cheaper players, to maximize revenue and minimize costs. The goal is to make as much money as long as possible. 

This isn't unique to the Nats but given the Nats haven't been bad since 2010 I think we might have forgotten about it, or assume that the Lerners will make sure years like that are the exception, not the norm. But I worry about that sometimes, with the Nats. What happens if Turner doesn't pan out? If Giolito hurts his arm again or Rendon goes down? What if the Nats find themselves in the next couple years at a point where they aren't a good bet to challenge for the playoffs? Does management strip it all down again? Being in contention means bigger crowds during the year, later in the year. It means more sales and more interest and more revenue. It means potential playoffs shares, and merchandise sales. That why you put money into a good team. It's a good investment. An 80 win team? That means none of that. 

*Why "in part"? Well some who do this could have plenty of money and don't care about an extra 10 mill when they've made 120. Some might be fringe players who view playing through injury as a gamble to show that they are worth keeping. Etc. Etc. Very few things ever boil down to just one reason. 

**Player health is so fungible, success is so fleeting, that valuing one player's health over any increase in odds of winning it all is questionable to say the least. 

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

More odds and ends

I have some ideas for longer posts but since they aren't germane to the season at hand I feel I can hold them off. This season only is going to last two more weeks.


That just really hit me. The season is only going to last 12 more days for the Nats. Of course I still have the Yankees, but they are a loss away from stamping their WC ticket which only guarantees a few more days of baseball that I really care about. And this does nothing for you. Sure we'll watch the other games, but with far less interest.

OK well nothing to do now but watch baseball.


If you are overly Nats focused here's a quick rundown on the rest of the majors and series to watch.
AL East : Blue Jays have a solid lead, playing Yankees now. The Yankees need to take both left in series to have a good chance at winning East.
AL Central : KC put this away a while ago
AL West :  Texas and Houston are in a dogfight. Their series this weekend (in Houston) is the must watch series of the rest of the season.
AL WC : Yanks are pretty well set to be in it unless they take the East (6 games up on first out Minnesota) and have a leg up on hosting. The loser of the Houston/Texas should be the other WC, but a tank job could open the door for the Twins, Angels or even Cleveland.  To that end Cleveland and Minnesota play 7 times starting tonight. The Angels end with 4 vs the Rangers. We'll see what matters.

NL East : No idea.
NL Central : The Pirates couldn't close on the Cardinals but they have a 3 game set coming up in a week. The Cubs are too far back to worry about the division.
NL West : Dodgers hold the second biggest lead in the majors. The division is done.
NL WC :  There are really only three reasonable possibilities. Pirates host Cubs, Cubs host Pirates, or Cardinals host Cubs. The Pirates and Cubs also play this weekend, that should clear up if the division or the WC hosting is the talk of the final week.

The NL East is closing in on a "Top 5 worst divisions ever" status with a current combined winning percentage of .457.  They play eachother a lot to end the year so how they ultimately finish will be down to about one series a piece for each team.

NYM : 4 games @ Cincinnati
WAS : 3 games v Baltimore, 1 v Cincinnati
MIA : 3 games @ Tampa Bay
ATL : 3 games v St Louis

Hmmm only 14 games. The rest of the games are going to be .500 so I think literally even if they lose all these games they'll gain some ground and probably avoid Bottom 5 status. Congratulations?

Monday, September 21, 2015

Monday Quickie

As much as I don't want to hear it - I do enjoy the elasticity of Nats optimism. Just on Friday there was a feeling of "ok if the Nats can get through the weekend and be down by 5 on Monday..." yet the Nats lost their game 1 and the Mets won theirs, making that impossible. Things go right the rest of the weekend but here the Nats are 6 out on Monday. I'm assuming rather than say "Well, they didn't hit that threshold. Time to pack it in" the optimist is now saying "You know...six is pretty close to 5. and the Mets have lost two in a row... And the Nats have won 7 of the last 8..."  Let's face it, the optimist will remain until the Nats find themselves practically eliminated. Down 5 with 5 to go? They can do it! Down 7 with 8 to go? Sure!  To each their own.

We talked about Bryce last week but he hasn't slowed down. Since this is going to be a real quick one how about some more Bryce?

Bryce is hitting .435 / .543 / 1.000 in Sept.  Yes, that's right - he has a SLG of 1.000 for a month right now.

We talked about hot streaks earlier in the year. The September streak above might qualify for a Top 10 streak of 80 PAs or more (it's right on the border from what I can tell) More recently Bryce has hit .519 /.556 / 1.111 in 30+ PAs. If he can have a great series vs the Os he'll close in on that Top 10 for 50 PAs and he'll definitely be in Top 10 for 100 PAs. This is all just a roundabout way of saying - Bryce has had two of the hottest streaks ever in baseball, in the same season.

You are seeing greatness here people. Even if some don't want to accept it, or desperately are trying to qualify it.

Here's something fun. Bryce Harper's worst month was August. He hit merely .327 / .460 / .449. That OPS of .909? It would rank 5th in the National League. Bryce's WORST MONTH is still a Top 5 season if spread out over a year. Who can say that?

Enjoy this

Friday, September 18, 2015

Friday - the death of optimism

Now come on. You have to throw in the towel now right? You've been holding on to a silly fantasy, straining to hear an echo of the 2007 season when an up-and-coming Phillies team would take the NL East away from a Mets team a year away from collapsing. The Mets aren't quite the new Phillies, the Nats aren't quite the old Mets, but surely you can see how the roles aren't fitting. Clearly you can see the end of the road now. Do I need to link Boyz II Men? I don't do I?

Ok on to Tanner Roark. The guy some fans were upset at being pushed out of the rotation after a fantastic 2014 finds himself struggling when given the shot in 2015. You can't have watched his last few games and been confident about his presence in the rotation next year. Part of it is he's pitching worse. The Ks are down, the BBs are up and the balls are getting hit harder. But part of it is luck. He's on the high end for BABIP, the high end for HR/FB.  The latter could give you hope that next year would be more like 2014.... except that in 2014 he was in the low end for those luck stats.  In essence in two seasons we might have gotten the best and worst that Roark can offer a team right now. So split the difference.  Can you live with a guy sporting an ERA around say 3.75? In the 5th spot? I think we can.

Of course that makes big assumptions. It assumes that Roark is not aging out of his prime (he'll be 29 next year) and that teams haven't figured him out a bit.  The former we're probably ok on. Pitch velocity is a good indication of age taking control and his speed is fine, actually up from last year (which is not to say he's getting faster, it is to be expected given more short stints in relief).  The latter... I don't know.  He hasn't started many games so it could be an issue getting back into form. but he has done particularly poorly vs NL East opponents.  His worst game was vs the Phillies, next worse vs the Marlins, 4th worst Marlins. That's kind of strange given how utterly incompetent the NL East has been offensively (we're not talking the post trade deadline Mets here) However, if you assume teams are figuring him out, it would be natural for NL East teams to be on the leading edge of that.

Roark and Ross has big shoes to fill for the Nats. Gio is slowly leaking air working his way down the rotation. Strasburg is good but you have to be worried about his health. That leaves the potential for Ross and Roark to need to be #2 and #3 esque pitchers. That is a tall order. To be more secure you could bring in another big-time pitcher (there are a few available in the off-season) and force Roark out. You might think that strange (didn't they just try that?) but the reality would be that Max and this other guy would be replacing ZNN and Strasburg and Giolito would be the 3rd gun. You could bring in a one-year type (A reviatlized JA Happ hoping to prove it wasn't a fluke? A desperate Jeff Samardzzjia looking to show he's worth a longer deal?) and push Roark down for depth purposes (Giolito is probably September at best). This was the plan used in 2012 (Edwin Jackson) and 2013 (Dan Haren).  You could try to find another Fister like trade (Bucholz?). Or you could simply run with Roark and maybe grab someone as organizational depth

Roark's performances create a question where the Nats really didn't want one. Hopefully he can pull out a couple good starts to end the year.

Oh and a commenter is asking for food recommendations near the park in the thread from yesterday's post. If you got any - go help him out.

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Bryce Harper Tracker

The Nats gained a game on the Mets last night, just as they did the night before. They are 7.5 back with 17 to play and thanks to those stupid 2007 Mets there's a sense building that the Nats just... might...


You only feel that way because two days ago the Nats were 9.5. If they were 5.5 two days ago and just lost two games you'd be talking doom and how the season was just blown. Think objectively about the situation at hand. 7.5 out on September 17th, before you utter one word. In fact, don't even utter. Talk to me when the Nats are 5 games out or closer. Not a second before.

Bryce Harper

You've probably heard Bryce is only 6 behind the Washington Nationals  record for HRs in a season (46 by Alfonso Soriano in 2006).  Where is he in other single season stats?

Average : .338 (Currently) : 1st
Yuney is actually 2nd, too, believe it or not. Dmitri Young hit .320 in 2007, for the record so Bryce is safely ahead here.

OBP : .467 : 1st
It'll surprise no Nats fan that Nick Johnson is 2nd (.428) and 3rd (.408).  Bryce again comfortably in lead.

SLG : .670 : 1st
Soriano's 2006 was 2nd at .560, another easy win forecasted. (Mike Morse is 3rd at .550 in 2011)

OPS+ : 204 : 1st
Bryce's 1.137 OPS was obviously going to be first (Nick Johnson 2nd at .948) so how about OPS+ to highlight just how much better his season has been in comparison with any other Nats year. Oh yes. 2nd is Werth in 2013 with a 153.

R : 109 : 4th 
Bryce will easily finish in at least 2nd passing '09 Zimm (110) and '14 Rendon (111). '06 Soriano at 119 is a harder goal but certainly reachable.

BB : 112 : 2nd
Adum Dunn walked 116 times in 2009.  Bryce will pass him. Nick Johnson walked 110 for 3rd. 4th place? A mere 84 ('05 Wilkerson).  Nats don't walk.

IBB : 14 : 4th
Top is 16 ('09 Dunn) It was often a R-L-R-R lineup for the Nats (with that 3rd R often garbage) so he got the benefit of that. Bryce could pass it or he could not get a single more IBB. Too situational to judge.

H : 159 : 12th 
Well when you walk as much as Bryce does you aren't going to get a lot of PA. First ('14 Span at 184) is probably out of reach but it's not impossible. More likely would be a finish around 175 if he stays hot and 8th-5th place. 

2B : 34 : 23rd
Bryce hits too many homers to win the doubles ('06 Zimm with 47 - '07 Church is 3rd ). Since Bryce only has 1 triple I'll note here that the leader there is '13 Span with 11 but Bryce is 2nd with 9 in '12.  I'll also throw in here that Alfonso's 41 SB from that 40/40 season still leads the Nats. Nats don't steal bases.

RBI : 92 : 9th 
You probably could have guessed that Bryce wasn't close to leading this category. '06 Zimm does with 110 RBI in a freaky year where he somehow lead the league with AB with RISP by a wide margin. Like hits a possible, but not probable, top finish but a Top 5 season more likely.

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Dulller Wednesday

Strasburg was great.  Bryce was great. Nats win and stave off seeing their elimination number drop into the single digits for another day.

As others noted, last night was a good reminder that 2016, not 2015 marks the closing of this chapter of Nats history. There will be big losses this year but the team is equipped to handle them. Next year Ross/Roark slide in, Danny holds the spot for Trea, and MAT takes over officially. It may not work mind you, but there is a plan in place. If you are a sunshine and ponies type, add a bullpen arm or two and get lucky with injuries and this team could win the division pretty much as is.

Of course this kind of plan would be exactly in line with 2012-2015, setting up scenarios where "get lucky with injuries" isn't a hope, but a necessity. I think we all are expecting more, especially given a Mets team that should be a rival next year, assuming they keep the right pieces or bring in the right replacements.

The other story that floats around is the "question" of whether Bryce Harper should be the MVP. Look, he's going to win it. He's having the best season in over a decade and is head and shoulders more productive than his competition. But because we are inclined to link value with playoffs, and the Nats aren't making it, there's push back. Then, as long as it remains a story, you'll have off-shoots that go in other directions. Like this which actually tries to quantify value in a number. It's not a bad goal, but I'm of the mindset if you are asking people to vote - let them decide for themselves based on their own opinions. It's fine. The world won't end. Sabrmetrics has great value in creating a team, but for giving awards? To me that's like coming up with an algorithm to judge a beauty contest. It's an interesting angle but it misses the larger point. We are wanting to come up with personal interpretations of an abstraction. It's art, not science.

The Nats are actually 16-11 since August 18th. You know I hate arbitrary dates but if we say "this is the date when everyone was healthy again" it ceases to be arbitrary and has some meaning. Small sample but this is a 96 win pace. The problem again isn't the healthy talent but the hole they dug themselves when injured/recovering. After losing on the 16th, they Nats were a game under .500, 4.5 out of first and 9.5 out of the WC. They've played well but at that point playing well wasn't enough. They had two non-crazy ways into the playoffs, beating the Mets H2H or have the Cubs collapse. They didn't beat the Mets (and the Mets play outside of the Nats games has almost made that moot*). The Cubs didn't collapse, going 16-12 over that time.

All games are important. That opening 7-13 swoon? The post-May 9-16 malaise? The "we don't need anyone new" 4-13 run? It adds up. You can keep telling yourself you have a chance as the season winds down. The Nats did. But you don't want to have to do that. You don't want to have to figure out how if things break you can still win.

That last run was the back-breaker. At the trade deadline the Nats were up 3 in the division, 1.5 games out of the 2nd WC. Not only were they in good position but 2015 was looking SO familiar in comparison to 2014. In 2014, they were only about 10 games over at the time. They were just ahead of the next team (last year the Braves) as the deadline approached. They were getting injury return guys back into the swing of things. Why not do what they did last year, make a middling deal? It worked, didn't it? But there were big differences. The fact that the injuries were less severe and the players returned a month earlier in 2014. The fact that the Braves made no substantial moves to get better, but the Mets did. The Nats assumed things would work out to the point they didn't try to put the Mets away in that July 31st series. The Mets took that series seriously. After that the Mets were ahead, the Nats were free-falling, and the trade deadline had passed.

Sigh. Oh well. Maybe Bryce will hit another 3 homers tonight.

*Mets have gone 20-7 in that same time frame. Even if the Nats sweep the Mets they are still 2.5 games out right now, fighting to make the last series relevant. Ok, yes "if the Nats sweep though maybe they play better or the Mets play worse" yeah yeah. But maybe it sparks the Mets to try harder in these other series, or maybe the Nats get complacent against some of these teams. Let's just assume what happened, would happen, ok?

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Dull Tuesday

There is plenty of exciting baseball going on. Just not with the Nationals. A high-scoring back and forth game with the Phillies that is won in extras and the reaction is basically "Stupid Papelbon blowing another save". But that's what the reaction should be. The season is over. The Nats are playing out the string.
If you want exciting baseball, might I suggest rooting for the Yankees? Very exciting finish last night. Or maybe Texas or Houston? Having a crucial series right now. How about the Pirates who are trying to catch the Cardinals or their opponent this week, the Cubs who'd like to have a home game in the Wild Card if possible. As a stretch maybe the Indians who are fighting for their "sabrmetricians loved us" lives in a series versus the Royals.

If we must talk about the Nationals, Werth hit two homers last night. That's good news for next season. You're never sure when the power is going to go and not come back, but it looks like it's not this time either.  Rendon hit one, too. Glad to see these guys work out their kinks so we can focus solely on "will they get injured" and not "are they any good yet" in the offseason.  Once again no rookies are seeing time, no Turner, which is what we really care about. No Severino. Should start soon as the Mets refuse to lose.

A couple notes as we head into the offseason

Yes 50 million is coming off the books but with payouts, arbitration, and scheduled pay raises the Nats payroll is expected to be at least 132 million next year before anyone is signed. That does give the Nats room to spend... if they are going to keep the payroll up.

One goal could be bringing in a LHB because the typical Nats lineup is very RH heavy. Assuming Turner starts the season in AAA, Bryce will be joined by Espinosa as the only LHB in the lineup and he's a better RH hitter. Bringing in a guy is interesting because they have a player who probably deserves a shot to be that LHB in Clint Robinson, but to do that you have to sit Zimm (nope), Werth (nope), or MAT (probably not going to happen for Clint). They also have pretty much every position covered so if you bring someone in, someone else is going out. The affordable Yunel Escobar makes an interesting trade piece (Daniel Murphy in at 2B?) They may give up on Ramos (Matt Weiters?). They might be willing to sit MAT for the right guy (Alex Gordon? Jayson Heyward?). But first thing is figuring out where the payroll is.

Monday, September 14, 2015

Monday Quickie - keeping Matt Williams?

Did the Nats play? I suppose they did but for two games at least it didn't seem like it. Zimmerman, who's bat was so key to the pre-Mets surge, still hasn't played since the last game of the ATL series and at this point why bother?  Bryce had to come out of the last game and unless he's 100% you don't trot him back out there. For some reason they trotted Joe Ross out for the 6th on Saturday. It was his first time on the mound since his last start. I'd shut him down at this point but I suppose if you want to wind him down by pitching an inning or two every few games that's ok, he's just under 150 IP this season.

Why isn't Taylor starting? Or Cole or Jordan getting a start? They should. Over the past weekend the Nats' "chances" went from merely historic to needing possibly the greatest comeback in the history of sport. The series loss to Miami while the Mets swept now tied for worst in the majors Atlanta (Oh so THAT'S why the Nats swept) have the Nats now 9 1/2 out with 20 to play. Even for teams who like to play seasons until the buzzer sounds so to speak, that's gotta be a breaking point, no? If that isn't enough in of itself, the Nats play PHI (twice), MIA, BAL, ATL and a one-gamer vs Cincinnati*. None of those teams are near playoff contention so it doubly doesn't matter who's playing right now. Everyone gets rest all the time from here on out. You can start everyone again in the last series of the season against the Mets where HFA for the Mets/Dodgers series may be decided (we'll have to see where that stands).

 This weekend Boz wrote a column about how Matt Williams would be more of a scapegoat that anything if he ends up getting fired. While the first half of his premise, "Look how good the team did last year!" is nonsense**, the second half "It really isn't his fault this team is around .500" isn't. Matt Williams is just one thing wrong with this season, and not even a big thing. He's easily replaceable though, so if you don't think he's a big time manager there really isn't a reason to keep him on. Unless...

Unless you rebuild. I mean you gut this team and start over. Rizzo is trying to bridge the gap between the current window and what I imagine he sees as the Bryce/Rendon/Max/Giolito window where the mass talent exodus (Ian, ZNN, Fister, Span, Thornton this year; Papelbon, Strasburg, Storen, Ramos, Stammen - and maybe Yuney and Gio, next) will be countered with savvy signings and potentially a trade or two to keep the Nats in the playoff hunt without interruption. If this is the case, you kind of have to fire Matt because he's been at his worst in pressure situations and you are forseeing more of them in the near future. But if you scrap the slow leak / slow fix plan and instead let all the air out at once, maybe you keep Williams. If you not only let those guys who could leave go, but you trade the talent leaving in 2016, you could reap in a very nice package of young players. Stras and Ramos? Gio and Papelbon and the renewed Escobar? Those are immediate big improvements for some teams. 

This may not exactly work. Bryce, Rendon and Giolito should all be ok age wise but Max may age out during these years. But let's face it, neither may trying to bridge the gap. The only thing you know is a vague sense of how good the team on the field should be next year if healthy. (I'd peg the Nats around 88-90 if everyone leaves and no one replaces them) So, trading everyone is not a terrible idea. If you do go down this path then there wouldn't be a big reason to get rid of Matt Williams. He could absorb the losses (think Acta) and you could evaluate if he got any better over the course of a year or two. If not, when things are lining up you toss him to the curb. Easy Peasy. I know I said he should be fired but in this instance, I wouldn't be mad at the Nats at keeping the lug around for a year or two.

*That's a  Monday 3:05 game that is SOOOOO tempting to drive up and go to because it is going to be ridiculously empty in the park.

**Basically he's saying if you hand Matt Williams a great team and have barely anything go wrong injury-wise or surprise drop in talent, that he'll win games. Yeah, ummm, I'm thinking that goes for pretty much everyone. You shouldn't get congratulations for not actively destroying greatness.

Friday, September 11, 2015

Discussion topics to put on your index cards for September parties.

So we have 23 games left and barring intervention from St. Al* - the patron saint of comebacks born of true baseball collapses - the Nats season is over. If not actual baseball results, what can we talk about? Plenty!

The short goodbye: Barry Svrluga brought this up a week ago on the radio but the Nats team we've grown to love (and sometimes hate) is going to be very different next year. They've lost pieces here and there over time; Morse, LaRoche, Clippard, but have had a substantial core that has been the same for the entire 2012-2015 period. This offseason the exodus truly begins as Jordan Zimmermann (most starts 2012-2015) and Ian Desmond (most games played 2012-2015) likely say goodbye. Both have been Nats since 2009, meaning they were here for the lows before the highs, and for Nats fans truly represent the franchise in some ways. Since the Nats like to deal guys they aren't going to re-sign we could also see the loss of other key pieces of this run. Strasburg, Storen, Ramos, and Stammen all hit FA in 2016, and Gio has an option for that year (likely to be picked up but it doesn't have to be). Anyone of them could be dealt. Good or bad, it is the end of an era.

The MVP "debate" : I'm not going to begrudge anyone that thinks some one other than Bryce Harper should be MVP. The fact is if you ask people to vote on it, you are asking their opinion. Who do you think is the "most valuable"? If you want to take it to mean "most valuable to a playoff team" that's fine. If you want to take it to mean "most valuable to a playoff team solely during the post All-Star break pennant race time"... well I'll disagree with your mind set, but you have that choice.** However, the statistics Bryce Harper have put up are hard to ignore. He basically leads the NL in all offensive categories and seasons like that, playoffs or not, are hard not to commemorate. He'll almost certainly be the first non-playoff MVP since Albert Pujols in 2008.

Playing time : So the season effectively, but not officially, is over. Do we see more Trea Turner? He hasn't gotten a lot of opportunities since being called up and he also hasn't really come through (one IF single). Do we shutdown Joe Ross? What about scaling back Strasburg? Do we see them try to work out Storen's issues now - either for next year or for trade bait? Or do we see the working of arms like Solis and Rivero more? What about Cole? It's likely the answer is - none of this will happen. The Nats will play as if they have a chance until they almost mathematically do not. But should they? 

Filling out the 2016 roster : The Nats have plans for all the starting roles. Roark and Ross for ZNN and Fister. Taylor for Span. Some combo of Escobar/Espinosa/Turner for what is now Escobar's and Desmond's spots. But do you like that rotation? Do you like Taylor? And what about the deep bench and more importantly the pen? Do the Nats offer a QO to Span and cross fingers? Do they try to re-sign the under utilized but probably second best reliever all season Matt Thornton? How to best fix a pen knowing money may be an issue? This is more offseason talk than in-season. I'd say start ruminating about it but we'll hold off on discussion till closer to October.

Who's the manager :  Another off-season topic, but one that's far more likely to hit the Nats as a question as soon as the season ends. If Matt Williams goes who replaces him? A hot name is Cal Ripken but that would be another "no experience" guy coming in. MW didn't work. Brad Ausmus didn't work. It's a small sample size and the results are questionable but generally you try to go away from what wasn't working, if only to try a new approach. Bud Black might be the best "former manager, not old" out there. There are always plenty of coaches people seem to like, for instance the former Yankees crew over in SF (Dave Righetti, Roberto Kelly, Hensley Muelens). And there's Bo Porter out there, a former Nats coach that was highly sought after as a manager for a couple years. He didn't win but no one blames him for that and he was mainly fired because he didn't mesh with the Astros GM. That shouldn't be an issue with his pal, Mike Rizzo.

*Most baseball collapses are a combination of one team playing below average and one team playing above. Say 7-13 and 13-7 in a 20 game stretch to make up six games. The 1962 Giants, managed by Al Dark, however ended the season with a middling 7-6 run. Unfortunately for Dodgers fans, they were still able to catch LA who went 3-10 during that time to blow a 4 game lead.  

** I said this in the comments yesterday but I feel like Mets fans saying Cespedes should win the MVP are kind of saying "Thanks deGrom for keeping us with the lead pack in the marathon for 20 miles. But did you see the way Cespedes ran the last 5 miles to get us the lead? He's the real hero!"  Personally I think a deGrom argument is stronger as he did the most rotation work to carry a limp offense until everyone got healthy and Alderson got the Mets real major leaguers to fill in the gaps. 

Thursday, September 10, 2015

Round 3 - Mets; TKO

Fire Matt Williams.

Yesterday, after the Nats bullpen imploded in spectacular fashion, I tweeted that the obvious take-away from that night was that the Nats couldn't use Drew Storen in a big spot again this season. I suppose if pressed, I might have said it could happen if he got through 3-4 non big spots with no issues, but the point was the season now hung on a thread. There is no time to work things out. If something isn't working you have to cut bait and cast anew. If you fail trying the unknown, so be it, but you can't fail trying something you know is a problem. Drew Storen, who had issues since moving out of the closer role, is a problem. Thornton would have to take his place, or Ross, or Martin. Someone, but it couldn't be Storen.

Yet, in THE VERY NEXT GAME, Drew Storen was used in a big spot. Forget everything that happened up until the game two nights ago. Let's say all you knew was Drew Storen came in to that game, gave up a smash double to Cespedes, followed by three walks and threw 22 pitches. You would probably try not to use him the next night. You'd certainly avoid using him in a crucial situation. And you'd have had to never seen a baseball game to have him come in to face Cespedes. And yet that's exactly what happened. It was a terrible decision just based on the past two nights. Factor in the work of Drew in the past month and it's unforgivable.

There was one glaringly obvious "You can't do this" move that hung out there. Matt still made that move. If he can't avoid making the obvious mistakes, what the hell is he doing here?

Yes, maybe he can steer a ship through calm waters, just like last year. But at some point there is going to be adversity, be it in a pennant push, in the playoffs, or what have you. You can't have someone in charge that not only can't push the right buttons, but seemingly seeks out the wrong ones to be pushed.

Fire Matt Williams.

That was a game, that if it happened in the first game of the series would have been a classic. It was well pitched by both starters. The big players, Bryce and Cespedes, came through. However, after the last two, let's admit, pretty horribly played games on both sides, it was hard to appreciate it. Oh well, Mets fans will have more games to appreciate probably. And for Nats fans, there's 2016.

Today, for me, the season is over. For you it might have ended a week or two ago, or it might still be going on, but here, at this blog, we're going to start looking at next season because I think any puncher's chance the Nats had at catching the Mets is gone. Even though the difference seems slim the gap is really huge. Picking up 5 in 23 is among the decade's best comebacks. Picking up 7 in 23 is historic. I never figured the Mets to falter much in these next 20 so the idea that the Nats could catch them, or at least get to the last series 3 out, was based on the Nats themselves catching fire. The Mets go 11-9, maybe a game behind what they probably should. Well the Nats can go 13-7, maybe, if everything falls their way. Now that 13-7 is 15-5? No. I don't see it. I don't see the Nats making their best 20 game run, or the Mets making their worst and then having a sweep. I don't see the Nats making their best 20 game run while the Mets make their worst. No.

I think the season might be best summed up by the fact Matt denDekker made the last out of this game, of this last important game. He was here because of money. As a reliever becoming a LH specialist Jerry Blevins made too much. The Nats had to cut some salary because "Topped Out" so he was dealt. denDekker was the return and he should have been incidental. He should have been organizational depth. But the Nats never looked at this injury prone team and decided to back it up with the necessary pieces, not knowing what they knew from previous seasons, not when these players were actively injured before the season even started, not even when they got re-injured during the season. So denDekker continually flirted with a 5th OF role. When on this crucial night, two injuries/illnesses forced the Nats to reach deep into the bench he is what was there. A 28 year old AAAA player with a .232 average and 3 homers in 300 plate appearances.

The Nats are a team that continually tries to find what's "just enough" to win and do that. These guys should be just healthy enough. These arms should be just good enough.  But when you do just enough, you don't put yourself firmly in success, you instead straddle the line between success and failure. In that situation you'll see what we have seen. A team that vacillates between reaching their goal and failing to do so. It doesn't have to be this way. At times, to save a season, you can gamble that you may unnecessarily waste resources. You can sign a guy that you don't end up using, or trade for a guy who takes a smaller role than you thought as the season goes on. All on the chance that you might need him when the chips are down. But when the choice is to possibly waste resources, be it money in signings, or players in trade, the Nats can't do it. So instead it's not Parra or Gomez or CarGo up to decide the game. It's Matt denDekker.

You see where that gets you. 

Wednesday, September 09, 2015

Round 2 - Also Mets

There's no "interesting" about last night. Even a soulless automaton can tell that was a disaster. To lose a three run lead late is one thing. One off reliever can manage that. To lose a six run lead? With two outs? That's takes a complete failure by the pen, and that's what the Nats got. Three relievers, three hits, and six, count 'em, six walks. Worse, of the six walks, only one took place with two strikes. The Mets could have almost come up to the plate without bats that inning. After the Nats lost the lead, the Mets won the game on Nieuwenhuis' pinch hit home run and now the Nats stare into the abyss.

How did MW do? Maybe he pulled ZNN too soon but it was a two-run game at that point and he wanted the lefty-lefty match-up. Plus ZNN was already at 100 pitches. I can't argue that was wrong. He probably kept Storen in two batters too long but that only cost the Nats a run (and that's assuming the next guy doesn't do worse than the "walk - out" that Storen put up) And then he rightly went to Papelbon to hold the lead.  Honestly his pen work was fine.

Of course that doesn't mean he didn't blow something. His big honking mistake was made in the ninth. After Jayson Werth singled, MW decided to put the bunt on to give Bryce the opportunity to tie or win the game. That was an iffy call to begin with. Even if he hasn't returned to 2014 form, do you really want Anthony Rendon bunting? And even if the bunt is successful it's likely that Bryce doesn't get a chance to do anything. It's far more likely that he gets walked (or at least pitched around) and you are putting the game in the hands of Escobar and a pinch hitter that's very likely Uggla? (Desmond was double switched out). Ok so the bunt was a bad call, but what made it so much worse was that Familia couldn't find the plate and Rendon was staring at a 3-1 count. If Familia has one big issue its control and while he's been much better in 2015, you have to give Rendon the chance to either work a walk or swing away at a hitters pitch. Matt kept the bunt on and there you go. Out given up. Bryce would get pitched around and Escobar would DP. Game over.

Is the season over? A lot of heads are saying that but that's just because they are as susceptible to "Uggla hit a HR! The seasons changes from here!" as Joe Q Fan. They just like to pretend they aren't. Last night was a huge loss and dammit if they don't want to buy into that narrative. But realistically what makes 6 out with 4 H2H games left that different than 6.5 with 6 H2H left, which is where the Nats were a week ago? It really isn't. If you wanted to, you could have said the season was over once the Mets took a 6.5 game lead. The chances of a Nats comeback from there were slim enough to throw in the towel. After that moment it became a personal decision. I think if the Nats can win tonight than the season isn't over. I said that going into the Braves series, I said it yesterday. Five games out is a bad spot but with the 3 game set to end the year the Nats merely need to make up 2 games in 20 to keep the season on life support. There's absolutely no reason to believe they can sweep the Mets to win the division at the end the year, given the results we've seen in the last two series, but whatever. You want to get there with a chance, if not reasonable than at least existant.

Lose tonight though, fall 7 games out with 23 to play, then you have to go beyond faith and numbers into crazy town to think the Nats can come back to even make that last series meaningful.  But hey, if it gets you through the next few weeks, more power to you.

We'll talk about firings, and trades, and blame later. We'll likely have plenty of time to do that in the next few weeks. Win tonight. Give your fans something.

Tuesday, September 08, 2015

Round 1 - Mets

Nats lose. It was an interesting game. Let's walk through the pivotal moments.

Scherzer, for the 25th game in a row, didn't have his best stuff. He kept leaving the ball up and got pounded for it. However the Mets couldn't get anyone on base so the game remained close despite the three bombs and in the 4th John "He's good too!" Niese proved that he's probably peaked as a pitcher and blew up. After a couple of singles, he walks Desmond (always a bad sign) then gets hammered by noted Met-killer Wilson Ramos. After Taylor singles and Scherzer bunts him over you have your first potential managin' moment. Collins left in Niese to face Werth.  I probably would have tried it too, down only 1 run and in the bottom of the 4th, but I can see why you'd pull him too.

Werth doubles. Now here's a clearer "managin'" moment as Collins brings Carlos Torres in and double switches Kelly Johnson (who homered) out. The idea was right. The Nats had taken momentum and would fully have control if they could keep the Mets from scoring in the next half-inning. Scherzer might even start cruising staked to a lead. However the pitcher was due up. So a double switch makes sense... except why not bring in a better one inning reliever (rather than your long man) then pinch hit for him in the next inning? You have a better chance of getting out of the 4th with no more runs scored and you still get that bat in.  I suppose this saves an arm to be used later but in September your bullpen should be chock full of arms. Anyway it works out because Torres does get out of the inning unscathed and the double switch works exactly as planned. Mets score and while the Nats have the lead they don't feel in control. Game is still up in the air.

Now we get Matt's first and maybe only "managin'" moment. The Nats get a couple of guys on and with two outs the pitcher spot is due up. Scherzer could potentially have two more innings in him and if you think he could give you two more scoreless innings you might let him bat here. But he's given up a run in 3 of 5 innings and has been hit rather hard all game. Chances are pretty good he'll get into trouble and have to be pulled before the 7th is over. So you should just go ahead and pull him now. Yes, the bullpen is not good, but you can't assume failure. All you know is what you have in front of you and what you have is a struggling pitcher hanging onto a one-run lead and a chance to plate two more runs. But Matt lets Max hit. Max gets out. Max gives up a run in the Top of the 6th and Matt pulls him to start the 7th. (That would be his second "managin'" move - though a far lesser one - why pull him then?)

The pen chicanery that followed in the 7th? I don't really blame Matt for. He's trying to use what he's got and they are not coming through.  Treinen couldn't get two outs. Rivero couldn't get one. Janssen couldn't get one. Thornton got his one and him facing Cespedes isn't a bad idea actually. Thornton doesn't have big splits versus RHB and Cespedes, for whatever reason, doesn't hit LHP all that well. It was actually a pretty smart call. A smarter call though would have been probably pitching around Cespedes and letting Thornton take on Conforto who does have a big issue with LHP but I'm not jumping on MW for that. Rafael Martin for the 8th (and then 9th) was a curious move, kind of a surrender flag wave, but he did fine and it keeps other arms fresh.

There were no more important moments as the rest of the game went pretty quietly. Matty has had a distinct lack of urgency and once again that lack of a killer instinct came back to haunt him. This time it was trying to get one inning too many from Max instead of trying to put the Mets away. These games are playoff games. You have to play them for the W today with no thought about tomorrow. Let's see what happens tonight.


All we know after one loss is that the demise of the Mets is not imminent. Or better said for Mets fans, that win makes it very unlikely the Mets won't be in it at the end of the year. They'll be at least three games up coming out of the series and even if they were to somehow start to stumble against bad competition, it would probably take the Nats two weeks or so to get into first. That'd be great fot the Nats but remember that H2H to end the year works both ways. Even if the Mets completely crash they can still hold out hope if THEY are within three of the Nats by year's end. I think now that's a very safe bet.

I don't think the Nats HAVE to take the next 2. If they win one of two they are where I'd thought they'd be before the Braves series. 5 games out fighting to make up 2 games of ground in 3 weeks. They do have to win 1 though because making up 4 in 3 weeks... I just don't see it. I mean it's possible but we're now talking about a comeback that will be talked about for years. They happen but... I don't see it.

We don't have to talk about the WC2 as I thought we might. The Cubs swept their weekend series.

What is wrong with Max? We'll look at it more after the series. Some say overwork, but I'm a pitch guy, not an inning guy and by pitches he was worked harder in 2013 and 14. I think it's a change in approach more than anything. He's walking far fewer batters in 2015 throwing more pitches in the zone to do that. When you do that you have to be better at locating them and he hasn't been.  He's trying to hard not to miss out of the zone that he can only miss in the other direction - more in. Just a theory. 

Monday, September 07, 2015


The Nats are playing as well as they have since being the best team in baseball back in May. They've gone 13-6, won five in a row and five out of six series. The only series they lost was to the best team in the majors and they were in each game. They've only picked up a half-game in total but their continued great play means they were able to stay close to the Mets when NY surged and get back those games when the Mets cooled off.  And the Mets have cooled off going 4-5 in their last 9 and losing series to both Boston and the Marlins.

Everyone on the Nats is hitting. Literally.  Wilson Ramos in the past two weeks is putting up a .279 / .289 / .442 line. That's totally acceptable. He's the worst Nats starter at the plate over that time.

Zimm is slugging .898 and has a remarkable 24 RBI over that time. How's he driving in that many runs? Bryce's .607 OBP over that time has something to do with it I bet. The starters still haven't really put it together but the relief pitching, if you can believe it, has been very good. I mean, if you aren't "third closer" Casey Janssen that is. Everyone has an ERA under 2.08 (yes, Storen too - remember his bad inning was caused by Lobaton telling him to go to third, him winging it, and Escobar missing it) 

How are the Mets doing? Pretty good, considering. Granderson, Uribe, and Cuddyer are struggling in the past week but the rest of the team is still hitting well. Their starters as a whole are doing better than the Nats but Niese is way off and Sydergaard is scuffling. deGrom could be doing better too. The Mets also have a handful of middle relievers who are getting hit hard. 

The Nats are peaking at just the right time but you're only as good as your next starter. Tonight it's Scherzer vs Niese. Nats have the advantage. This is an important game because the Mets will have the edge Harvey v ZNN and will have it again with deGrom vs Strasburg since we don't know if Stras will really pitch and how healthy he'll be when he does. 

As long as the Mets don't sweep the Nats, they'll have a chance heading out of this series*. But don't get swept isn't the goal. The goal remains the same. Win the series. 

*I'd say this 
Mets sweep, Nats 7 out: season effectively over
Mets take 2, Nats 5 out: Mets have full control, a lot of scoreboard watching trying to catch-up to at least 3 games out. 
Nats take 2, Nats 3 out: Both team have some control since Mets will have division lead but Nats will be in "last series sweep" distance. Mets will be fighting to take Nats out before last series. Nats will be fighting to get into better position so sweep not needed. 
Nats sweep, Nats 1 out: Nats have all the momentum. Only outcome that may end up with the Nats expected to overtake Mets for division but it would be closer than you think since Mets schedule is just as easy as Nats and they have HFA for the last series. 

Friday, September 04, 2015

The lead up to Labor Day

Pessimistic Nats fan : We went 10-6 and lost a game and a half of ground to the Mets
Optimistic Nats fan : The Mets went 11-4 and didn't put us away.

God, the Braves look bad right now, don't they? I know it feels like a sweep is coming but sweeps are hard. Four game sweeps even harder. 3-1 is fine. So don't get all crazy if the Nats lose one.

I'm just going to repeat myself at this point. Right now the Nats are in a zombie like state. Not dead but not alive. Too close to write off the season, too far away to get excited for a comeback. That Mets series sits out there and it's has more potential than any series up until now to change this. Bury the Nats or give them new life, either is completely possible.

Of course the boring option happens more often than not, meaning the Nats won't go into the series 9 games out and last gasp desperate, or 3 games out and rolling. They'll go into it 6 games out. They won't get swept or sweep, they'll win like 2 of 3 and set up a slog of trying to make up 2 games in 3 weeks, to give the last series some meaning.

That last series. More than "6 H2H" that last series is what gives this chase seemingly unending hope. A Nats sweep is admittedly unlikely - let's say you give them a 45% chance to win each game - they would have 9% chance of sweeping. But compare that to say the chance the Nats win three games vs Team X while the Mets lose three to Team Y to end the year.  Even if you give the Nats something like 55% chance of winning and the Mets 55% chance of losing (and really why would you do either?), that chance drops under 3%.  And again - that's with unrealistic odds here. It's not close. A sweep, even if you don't like the Nats chances against the Mets, isn't crazy. Two sweeps is.

So we're set up for a long slow death because they Nats don't have to get close to first place ASAP to maintain hope. They only have to reach 3 games out by game 159.  They are 6 games out of first with 29 to play, but they are 3 games out of having a chance with 26 to play.

Side note :  Just to note in case it becomes something the Nats have picked up 2.5 games on the 2nd Wild Card Cubs in the past 9 days. The Cubs are still 7.5 games ahead of the Nats but if they go into free fall.... like I said just putting it out there in case it matters in a week.

Thursday, September 03, 2015

Exactly where Nats were supposed to be

Why can't we be more like the Mets? The Nats took on The Cardinals in Saint Louis. The Mets took on the Phillies at home. The Nats went 1-2. The Mets went 2-1. Those would probably be the most likely scenarios coming into these series. The Mets though, had the courtesy to do it with little drama. 8 innings of shutout ball from Colon, then two games that were pretty much blowouts. Isn't that nicer than three straight games of 7th-8th-9th madness?

It's now fairly clear that the Nats bats are healthy and hitting. Since the Colorado series here are some of the lines the Nats have got going

Ryan Zimmerman : .318 / .347 / .864
Wilson Ramos : .368 / .400 / .632
Bryce Harper : .342 / .490 / .526
Jayson Werth : .313 / .411 / .583
Anthony Rendon : .340 / .426 / .532
Yunel Escobar : .381 / .480 / .429
Ian Desmond : .302 / . 362 / .465

Ian's line would have been praised for most of the year, given how anemic the offense could be, yet in the last two weeks that ranks as the 7th best hitting for the team. Even Taylor isn't doing too bad. Only Espy is struggling. Now before you say "See! This is what the Nats can do when healthy!" understand there is another qualifier there. This is what the Nats can do when healthy... and hot.  You don't usually have 7 guys hitting well at the same time. Enjoy it. It won't last.

Of course there are only 4 weeks left in the season, so it doesn't have to last that much longer. A couple more weeks with the starting pitching backing it up and the Nats could get a run going that's impressive, not merely good as this 9-6 run has been. A run like May's 17-4. Play like that and you force the Mets to keep their game up. They can do it (they had a 19-6 run that ended a week ago) but that's tough for any team.

Any optimism has to be tempered with the bullpen issues though. Here there are no injuries or surprise disappointments to call out and expect improvement on. The talent is mediocre and the usage is terrible. Last night we got a glimpse of fair usage, what Williams can do with a few more arms. Really it's just play the matchups to an insane degree, but given what he was doing - hanging pitchers out to dry - it's a vast improvement. Could the pen get hot? Sure, they probably only have 30-40 innings in them for the rest of the season. But I'm thinking if you want the Nats to get on a run the SP/Offense way is a better bet.

Next up for the Nats is the Braves at home. It's a four game set so you want the Nats to go at least 3-1. The pretty much have to considering how bad the Braves have been. An insane 12-37 since July 7th and 3-19 more recently. The Mets are at the Marlins and even though it's away you have to figure the Mets win the series. Yeah the Marlins have won 3 in a row but were 2- 8 in the 10 before that. They aren't good. Let's say Mets take the series 2-1. So the Nats come into the Labor Day series 6 games out? I'll take that right now.  Of course, I bet the Mets would take that too.

Wednesday, September 02, 2015


I have nothing really new to say. The series is lost. The season grows ever closer to being the same.

Matt Williams repeats the same mistakes over and over again. I can sit here and guess once more at what he was probably thinking. How he wasn't crazy (well until Janssen came in in the 9th), how these weren't terrible decisions, just bad ones, etc. etc. The same stuff I've been doing for the past few weeks. But what's the point? When someone makes a mistake, however minor, you hope they learn from it. Matt Williams isn't learning.

It's not even to the point where these things are happening infrequently so you can maybe understand why he would stick to his guns. These things are happening day in and day out. Pitchers are disappointing necessitating early hooks that never come. Crucial situations are happening in the back half of games crying out for expanded roles for your two back end relievers which they never get. The Nats are playing close games more often that not, meaning each at bat should be carefully considered, but they never are.

Behind the fact that he keeps making these mistakes is the realization that no one must be telling him otherwise. Matt Williams isn't a maverick. I don't see him outright rejecting help from his coaches. I expect he tows the line with the GM. Why isn't someone grabbing him by both shoulders, shaking wildly and saying "Stop saving Papelbon for save situations that never come" But why should we be surprised that the team isn't doing this? The Nats are in fact only highlighting his weaknesses by limiting their September call-ups. It's a mess from the top down.  This is what makes the comeback potential of this team, even when healthy, limited. They have to win on talent alone, because nothing else is going to give them a boost. No trades, no hot hands, no smart managing.

The Nats may still pull off a miracle. You work backward. They need to be within 3 of the Mets by that last series. There's 20 games between that and the first Mets series. Picking up 4 games is, very unlikely, but not insane. To do that they need to be within 7 coming out of the first Mets series. That means you could even get to the Labor Day series 10 games back and hold out hope. That's a little bit into "every last thing must go right" territory for me. I prefer 5-6 out coming out of the LD series, and 8 games coming in, which gives a loss or two of wiggle room (but really - just a loss or two). But if you want to write off the team because of Williams and everything else... I can't tell you that's insane either. Missing the playoffs is the safer bet for sure.


If that inanity wasn't enough in comes "Joe Ross should be shutdown" talk. If he's going to get injured, he's going to get injured, be it this year or next, unless you are planning to pitch him 100 innings for the rest of his career. If you want to shut him down because he looked lost and you think Fister gives the Nats a better chance next time around, fine. If you want to shut him down to protect his arm then brush up on your Washington Nationals history.

Bryce Harper was walked for the 100th time last night. The next closest Nat has 33. THIRTY-THREE! That's another point in the 1000 points of darkness that have covered this season in eternal night. The injuries took away all the other walk threats in the Nats line-up.

I promise you Trea Turner will get a hit. I won't promise you Trea Turner will be a good major leaguer next year. Would I bet on him being at least usable, like slightly below average or better? Yeah, I'd bet on that. Would I promise you though? No. Not next year.

Drew Storen stinks (hitting a guy 1-2? come on man) but since you were probably watching the Nats broadcast, I'll let you in on something the Cardinals TV broadcast picked up on immediately, and Storen explained post-game. Lobaton was shouting to Storen "Three Three Three".  Why? Don't know. But I do know as a pitcher in that situation you trust your catcher. Storen can't see what's going on behind him. The runner on 2nd could have tripped. Rendon could be way late covering first. Lobaton has to tell him where to go.

Tuesday, September 01, 2015


Like this guy

Look at him truck!

Nats lost, Mets won. Nats lose another game of ground. I can't say it doesn't matter, because it does, but I can say it happened. It'll happen again. Get over it. Win series.

As for the actual game. Yeah, it was another Matt Williams "Ok I can see what you were trying to do" special. After a standard Gio performance the Nats grabbed the lead on the Zimm homer (the offense does look much better in the past week or two... if anyone cares). In came Casey Janssen. This is no surprise, as he's been designated the 7th inning guy. Someone had to be, I guess.

Reynolds starts off with a very typical single and then Moss follows with a broken bat slow roller. He should have been out. Zimm probably shouldn't have broke on it (if it was too fast and too far out for him to reach, it was too fast and too far out for him to go) but he did leaving Rendon to Janssen as the only option. However, Janssen was slowed by the broken bat looping over his head and wasn't able to beat Moss to the bag. So goes 2015. Still Janssen pretty much got the results he wanted two times and followed it up with a 3rd GB that got a double play. So you can understand why he gets to pitch to Carpenter. He walks him on four pitches. This is where it gets dicey.

Janssen still has only really had one bad at bat. Him facing Piscotty is reasonable, even if Piscotty has been hot, because the majority of scenarios (out, walk, single) here still leave the Nats with a lead to protect and two outs. In a normal situation only warming Rivero to face Heyward would make sense. But the Nats are at a point where they can't afford any lost games. Every game is a playoff game. With that mindset you have to realize that if Piscotty gets on in any way, it's a real tough call to let Janssen face Peralta. That would be 4 guys getting on base in 5 PAs, and even if they were fluky his pitch count would likely be over 20 for the inning. The smart call is to get Storen warming too. If Piscotty gets on, sorry Casey, but we can't take any chances.

Piscotty did get on, with the Nats playing to take away doubles and the lead, they gave up a single on a soft liner. Janssen, not Storen, faced Peralta and even though his hit wasn't impressive, it did the job and the Nats ended up giving up the lead once again with their best pitchers remaining on the sidelines. Rivero would come on to face Heyward, and Heyward would hit a ball that the statue that is Jayson Werth couldn't be rolled to fast enough by park employees. Over his head, two runs in, game over.

Matt Williams, despite being skewered and roasted today really didn't do anything WRONG. Janssen was getting the types of hits he wanted. You could argue he didn't give up a hard hit ball all night. But even though it wasn't OMG WHAT ARE YOU DOING WRONG to leave Janssen in, it wasn't the best option either. Storen was. This team needs the best option out there and Williams isn't giving them that. (Which in turns makes Williams himself not the best option either)

Williams is plagued not only by some sort of unearthly ability to pick the wrong arm and the wrong time, but by his own lack of urgency. Perhaps it's an overconfidence in the team, god knows Rizzo feeds that beat. Perhaps it's just his nature. But at this juncture every game is urgent. You can't worry about who's going to hold the lead in the 8th, you have to have all hands on deck to hold it in the 7th. You can't worry about who's going to be available for the next game, you have to burn through all your arms this one if need be. Stop playing as if it's May.