Nationals Baseball: April 2016

Friday, April 29, 2016

I said stay calm

It's a good rule of thumb to say you want to win 2/3rds of your games versus the "bad teams" and 1/2 of your games versus the "good teams".* This amounts to winning every series against the dregs of the league (with an occasional sweep thrown in there to compensate for the occasional lost series) and winning every series at home and grabbing a game on the road versus quality opponents.  If your schedule breaks down evenly between the bad and good this is a 94/95 win pace. That's usually good enough to challenge for a division title, and almost certainly good enough to make the playoffs.

The Nats didn't get to 15-6 but they are 14-7 against the "bad teams" and that's 2/3rds. They remain on target. It's a little disappointing given that at various times they were 9-1, 11-3, and 14-4 but such is a baseball season. It ebbs and flows. It does not follow a strict pattern.

So do the Nats need to go .500 in this road trip? No, they need to go .500 in these games and say the DET series at home after it and the STL series at home in late May and the Cubs series at home in mid June combined. The better they do on this trip the easier that will be. A good goal would be a 4-6 record. That means they either won a series or they took a game from everyone and two from the Cubs.  3-7 would also be acceptable. Anything less would be trouble. Anything more than 4-6 would be a success.

3-7 is not a big hurdle, no. But let's reiterate - this is the hardest stretch the Nats will likely play this year. It is 3 quality teams, including 4 games against the best team in baseball right now, all away, with no days off leading up to it or during it. They may not have a stretch again where 3-7 is ok. In fact let me check... no probably not. There's a CLE/SFG/ARI road trip at the end of July where 3-6 might be a goal if those teams keep their heads above water. I suppose PHI/CIN/CHW might also fit that at the start of June but you'd have to assume the Phillies stay around .500 and the Reds stop crashing. And still 3-6 is better than 3-7 so they still aren't getting to that level. This is the lowest acceptable stand a good Nats team will have all year.

Just as important as winning 3 games though, will be scoring runs. The Nats haven't scored in 22 innings and have only scored 11 runs in their last 5 games, which includes an extra 7 innings so it's almost like 6. They have an OPS as a team of .553 over the past week, which means the team is hitting like 2015 Dan Uggla. They are still only 9th in R/G which doesn't seem that bad but they are a full half-run behind 8th place which is a HUGE gap. Better to say there is no difference right now between the Nats and middling offensive teams like the Reds, Brewers, Padres, and Marlins that make up #s 10 through 13.  The Nats have 5 starters with OPSs under .670 (if you prefer BAs under .235).

We keep grasping for someone to heat up. Maybe Zimm... no. Maybe Werth... no. Now it might be MAT (4-7 with 2 walks over the course of Sunday and Tuesday)... but probably not. The Nats had survived these guys not hitting earlier. What's killing the Nats now is Murphy has cooled off a bit. The pressure now is completely on Bryce and you can see him taking it in. A bit to anxious at the plate in a big spot. A bit too slow in the field on a big hit.

This first two games of this trip are crucial in my mind. Right now the Nats are on a slide but a new series is a fresh start, especially in a different location. The Cardinals, unlike the Royals (very good) or the Cubs (great) are only good pitching wise and the Nats catch the consistently mediocre Mike Leake and the inconsistent Jamie Garcia to start the series. If they are going to hit anyone in St. Louis it'll be these two. They match up against Stras and Ross who should provide the Nats with their best chance of winning assuming they can score some runs. Lose both of these and all of a sudden you are leaning on the struggling Max to beat the fantastic Carlos Martinez in the last game to avoid a sweep. You don't want that.

OK, let's get this party started. 

*Basically if you hear anyone say the Nats "should have" gone say 16-5 or 17-4 to start the year versus these teams that person is an idiot and you shouldn't listen to their opinion on this subject.

Thursday, April 28, 2016

Everyone remain calm

When I first noticed the "Road Trip of Dooooooom" coming I noted that I wanted the Nats to be at least 13-9 when they started it. That's a 96 win pace - a pretty good place to be against the dregs of the league if you want to make the playoffs. After the burning down of Atlanta I amended it to 15-6 (there was a rain-out if you are wondering what happened to that other game). That's a 116 game pace against the worst. That's the sign of a dominant team if kept up for the season.

The Nats could still be at 15-6 with a win today.

There are a couple things going on at the same time that make things feel worse than they probably are. They are 5-5 in their last 10. They are losing at home going into the road trip. It's apparent that the offense has some issues. The Mets are streaking and now sit only a game behind. But 15-6 (or 14-7) after 21 games is still a great place to be.

Could the Nats be in trouble? Could they match up poorly against the better teams in the league? Sure. But we can't tell that today. We'll get a good feel of where the Nats sit in the MLB pecking order from this road trip. Could the Mets be better than them? Perhaps. But two back to back losses at home to the Phillies isn't a big clue. A week after the "RTOD" they'll play 6 games against the Mets in 9 days. We'll get a better feel about that then.

All we know right now is that the Nats are a much better team that the likes of the Braves (6-0), Twins (3-0), Marlins (3-2) and yes Phillies (2-3). Did you know two years ago when the Nats won 96 games they had a losing record vs the 73 win Phillies? Yep. Killed the Marlins. Killed the Mets. But the Phillies won 10 of the 19 H2H games against them. It happens. Doesn't mean the Phillies were better. and 2-3 doesn't mean the Phillies are better.

This is all we know and it's a good thing to know. 

Now, still you don't want to go into a road trip reeling. Win today. Ok?

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Hey. It's the Mets!

This season had been defined very simply at the start of the season. Beat the Mets. The Phillies, Marlins, and most certainly Braves, were not going to challenge for the NL East. They would probably not even be in the Wild Card picture. The division race was going to come down to one of two teams, the reigning champion NY Mets or the champion of the year before, Wasington Nationals. So beat the Mets and the Nats are in the playoffs and out of the Wild Card. Simple as that.

10 games in and there was a little bit of hope that the Mets were going to stumble for a while. The Nats were 9-1, the Mets were 4-6, and the Nats had a nice little 5 games lead. Early? For sure. But the easiest way to get to a nice lead halfway through the year is to get to a nice lead a quarterway through the year and the easiest way to get to a nice lead a quarterway through the year is... you get my point. Since then though the Nats have gone 5-4* and the Mets have gone 8-2. Suddenly a 5 game lead is a 2 game lead.

All this means is if the Nats are to win the East, it's probably not going to fall in their lap. They'll have to beat the Mets. Nothing has changed from pre-season expectations. We hoped they might have. They didn't.

Even if the Nats struggle in the "Toughest Road Trip Ever" the two teams will almost certainly still be close come their first meeting. So circle that date. Tell the spouses and kids you need the those nights off. May 17th-19th and then May 23rd-25th could go a long way to deciding who's on top in October and who's at best playing in a one-game winner take all Wild Card game.


The offense again fails to impress. They aren't terrible but they are below average for the league. This is with the best offensive player in the majors remember. Last night we saw what that could mean as the Phillies chose to walk Bryce three times last night, and clearly were ok with walking him in his final at bat**. When they pitched to him, he came through. He's going to get fewer and fewer at bats that matter. That means they'll need someone behind him to pick it up. Werth, who I was hoping might be on the rise, went 0-4 with a K. Zimm had a big hit, and also a big K. Can they go Bryce / Murphy back to back?

What's up with Max? I talked about it yesterday here, in the comments, and on Twitter. But let's review as there are two things going on. 1) Last year's master of control was unlike Max historically. While it's possible to change, what we are seeing now - the increase in walks, the missed spots - is in line with past performances. 2) He's likely missing up more (I'll have to check on that) the result being more HRs given up (I don't have to check on that). He's gave up more HRs than anyone last year after the All-Star break and that isn't counting the 3 in two games he gave up right before that. He's on a HR a game pace this year. Either #1 or #2 by themselves isn't too bad because Max can dial it up when needed and get a big strikeout. You can deal with that and still be pretty damn good (see Max last year where he was only dealing with #2 for half the year) But 1 & 2 together present problems. We'll just have to keep watching.

You know who's good? Felipe Rivero. You know who's been ridden pretty hard so far? Felipe Rivero. 10 appearance in 19 games and 11 and 2/3 innings. That's an 85 appearances and 99.5 innings of work pace. Now before you get all "Dusty!" I don't see any evidence he rides his best relievers any harder than anyone else. I expect under 80 appearances and a lot fewer innings pitched per game. In other words, I expect Clippard usage. Heavy, but not an burden. But even if he wants to overuse Rivero, I'm ok with that. This is the new normal. Minors filled with high 90s arms ticking like time bombs. Bring them up, use them up. It's ok with me.

*This is more a fluke of where we're picking the Nats schedule up than anything. You get the L in the last game of a series that they won 2 games to 1 and the L to start this new series. It's not meant to represent how the Nats are playing right now, (they still haven't lost a series) but just to illustrate how the ground was made up.

**Bryce totally tried to come through swinging at borderline pitches in the 9th that he'd probably take otherwise. Unwise? Perhaps, but the way he's hitting I'll take Bryce trying to make something happen on tough pitches than these other guys. Now, I just assume the situation dictated his approach. If instead it's frustration and he starts doing this with no one on in the 4th, that'll be a problem.

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Eight-Ninths to go

The Nats have played 18 games, or 1/9th of the season. While we wait patiently for the big away trip coming up (just win the Phillies series) to see exactly where we should rank the Nats on the list of NL teams (right now - probably a tentative runaway 2nd), are there any other things we can watch for?

Is Ramos for real? He's cut his K-rate down from last years career high of 20% to 12.5%. His swinging strike rate is at an all-time low (7.8%) It seems too like he's more discerning as his swings at pitches outside the zone are at an all-time low too (26.6%)  On the other hand he's not walking anymore - in fact that's a career low too (1.7%), and pitchers are challenging him in the zone. He's seen more pitches in the zone than he ever has, and that could explain some of the above. He's also not necessarily hitting the ball harder according to his LD% and speed of the ball off the bat. So is he a more discerning hitter able to make more contact? Or are other teams just daring him to beat them and for now he's getting lucky with balls dropping in?

Has Werth turned a corner? Someone else has to hit in this lineup. Sure they scored 8 and 6 runs versus the Twins but that 6 was in almost 2 games worth of innings. In the last 8 games they've scored 3 or fewer 5 times. Werth has hit three homers in the past 2 weeks, and has gotten on base 6 times in the last 4 games, only striking out 3 times. Given that Rendon and Zimm have yet to really show anything, Werth may be the best chance right now at getting another bat going and maybe getting some consistent output from the offense.

Can Danny get his power back? Danny's offensive worth was never in batting average so a ~.200 BA you may be able to live with. But to do that you need him to be patient and have pop.  Espinosa isn't actually hitting that bad, or at least he shouldn't be. He's striking out a lot less (still a lot but a lot less too) and walking a lot more which is helpful. But he's hitting a ton of flyballs... which are all staying in the park. No homers yet this year. If he can't start getting a couple of those to go over the fence Trea Turner can tell the moving trucks the exact date he'll need them.

Is Max ok? As we noted last time he seems to be a little off. The walks are explainable - that's probably who he is more than last year's control master. But he's been a little too hittable, given up a few too many homers.  A bad game from any other Nats starter would be a throw away - Ross, Stras, Gio it's going to happen at some point. Roark - well jury's still out but it's not a surprise. But a bad game again for Max and the worry continues to grow. It's not really a worry about 2016 either - as the Nats look strong rotationally and should be able to weather an off-year from Scherzer. But it is a worry for the future as Max is here for years and was expected to help cement the rotation with Giolito and now Ross.

Is this already the end for MAT? He's still not hitting. He's still striking out a ton. And Chris Heisey seems perfectly decent to play the few games between now and whenever Revere comes back. Does Taylor get shifted to the bench?

Monday, April 25, 2016

Monday Quickie - Specialness

On April 28th, 2015 the Washington Nationals' record stood at 7-13. They were 8 games out of first place to start the day and while the Mets had lost earlier that night, the Nats looked destined to stay exactly where they were. Spot starter AJ Cole was crushed by the Braves early and the Nats attempt at digging out of that hole was stalling out just short.  Down two runs and down to their last two outs, Matt Williams sent up pinch hugger, Dan Uggla, to try to get a big hit against the Braves closer. On an 0-2 count Uggla miraculously delivered, hitting a three run home run and giving the Nats a 13-12 lead that Storen would close out.

Starting with that game the Nats would go 20-5 over the next four weeks and would climb from 8 games out all the way to a 2.5 game lead. That game turned the season around. That game sparked the team to a division lead. Those fun-loving chocolate sauce pouring guys were special!

Except then they'd find themselves unable to shake the Mets, playing .500 ball through the end of July until a sweep by the Mets would give New York a lead they'd never relinquish.

I bring this up not as a warning, or to try to draw comparisons between last year and this one. I bring this up because I'm hearing a lot of talk recently about how "special" this Nationals team is. The strong start, the big hits, the apparent camaraderie. I'm here to remind you that the history of baseball is littered with the corpses of teams thought to be special. The 2007 Rockies that went 14-1 to end the year and swept through the NL... only to get swept themselves in the Series.  The "best team in baseball" Seatttle Mariners of 2001 who won 116 games in the regular season, best record in half a century, only to lose in the ALCS to the "9/11 inspired" Yankees.  Those same Yankees who got 2-out, bottom of the ninth, home runs in back to back games to take a 3-2 World Series lead... only to lose the championship in 7. Hell, I bet a good chunk of you felt that the 2014 Nats who cruised through August and September (33-13 to end year) and capped the season with a no-hitter were special. I could go on.

This happens every year in a half-dozen cities in every sport. Fans buy into a seemingly obvious truth. Your team wins a lot, therefore they are special.  It's just a trick though. A way to explain why a team is doing better than expected without taking away anything from them.  If it isn't fleeting, if it is something intrinsic to the team, why then it can go on forever.

It won't. Those teams were not "special" in some way beyond the talent assembled. Neither are the Nats.

What are the Nats then? The Nats are a very, very good team. The Nats are a team that most people picked to make the playoffs, many people picked to win the NL East and even a few had winning it all. They are a team with Bryce Harper, who has in one month moved from arguably to inarguably the best player in baseball. They are a team with a good shot of having the best starting pitching staff in the majors. They are a team that has started out hot and have moved themselves from slight underdogs to win the NL East to solid favorites. They are also a team who have played the weakest schedule by far in baseball and a team that might have gotten a break or two along the way.

But the reaction to that last sentence should be "so what" or "we'll take it", not to try to make this team into something beyond what they are. There's nothing that happened with this team that can't be explained by the talent and the competition.

Side Note :
I think some portion of this has to do with the strangely polarizing effect Dusty Baker has had for fans in regards to not the team, but HIM. Dusty has held some questionable views, has never been able to win a championship, and has had some messy exists in his past. This has left various fanbases and pundits selling him short on a career that shows he is nothing but a day to day winner. At the same time, Dusty has shown himself a master of controlling his story, and in engendering enough good will with those around him to create "Us vs Them" scenarios. This has left the current fanbase (and media, IMO) far more willing to ignore his occasionally poor decisions and side with Dusty in instances where that's really not necessary. For a soulless automaton like myself, dealing with a LOVE/HATE persona is unnerving.

Friday, April 22, 2016

Under the surface

So the Nats win again and finish out the roadtrip 5-2 just like we... what was that?  They lost?

For the first time in 2016 the Nats failed to meet a target I set for a series. I wanted 3-1 for Marlins games. I got 2-2. Oh well. I really can't get worked up about this. They have plenty of cushion to lose a game. They went 4-3 on a road trip which is still pretty good. They are set up well, with a 3.5 game lead going into a six game homestand vs the not that bad anymore but still probably not good Twins team and a Phillies team they just beat in Philly. 4-2 is doable, which means the 15-6 mark I wanted a little more than a week ago is still doable. They could easily do better and even if they go 3-3, they are in a good spot. Really they'd have to go 2-4 to bother me.

Still that's not to say everything is perfect in Nats land. Max pitched a bad game yesterday. The worst of the season. He has yet to throw up a great game and has yet to really face a good offensive team (Marlins sans Stanton can't count).  Part of this is return to form. Here are his walk rates, first strike %, and swinging strike % from recent years

2011 : 2.58, 62.2, 9.9
2012 : 2.88, 61.4, 12.4
2013 : 2.35, 64.5, 12.2
2014 : 2.57, 63.3, 11.8
2015 : 1.34, 71.3, 15.3
2016 : 2.88, 60.2, 10.2

Now which year looks most like an outlier? It's not 2016, is it? It's 2015.

Of course that's not to say he's going to be bad, or that even the results we've seen to this point are going to continue. We was very very good with those numbers in 2014 and 2013. He won a Cy Young for god's sake. His HR numbers are a little high but he's not getting hit particularly hard. Instead he's not getting good results with men-on / RISP. Is that something bigger or just a fluke? I'm willing to bet on the latter.

The whole thing with Max (and Bryce) at the start of the year was that last year was so phenomenal they could take a step back and still be really good. This is what we are likely seeing with Max. 2015 was peak Max, now we're going back to regular Max. What does that mean? It means a 3.20 ERA guy, WHIP about 1.000. Still a winner, still a number one type, just not the amazing pitcher of last year.

Moving on , here are some numbers for you 2, 3, 58, 64, 73, 95, 96. Can you guess what those are? Ok that's not a fair question but I bet you understand what they are showing. This is the offensive component of WAR rankings for Bryce, Murphy, Werth, Zimm, Rendon, Espy, and MAT. This is out of 98 qualified NL batters. So simply put the Nats have two of the best offensive players in the National League this season and two of the worst.  Meanwhile a big chunk of their line-up is also performing well below average. (since you'll ask Ramos slots in at 39)

I talked about it yesterday but this is a precarious situation. When Murphy stops hitting like this, if Bryce cools down a bit, the Nats don't really have an offense to speak of. Those two guys have been carrying the team.

The bigger problem is that what exactly is the surprise here, the thing that simply can't go on? It's Murphy. He's not going to hit .400. He's not going to go from a 115 OPS+ type to a 200 OPS+ type. Maybe the Nats get his best year and he's something like 140-150 OPS+, kind of a better version of what they got with Escobar last season. That's possible. But this good, no. Otherwise...

Is Werth a surprise?  No. He's a 37 year old recovering from injury matching exactly his production from last year.
Is Zimm a surprise? Maybe a little, but he's a perennially injured 31 year old who's trended down offensively the last 3 seasons.
Is Rendon a surprise? Maybe a little, but he's also perenially injured and currently recovering.
Is Danny a surprise? No. He was god awful three years ago and hasn't exactly been good since.
Is MAT a surprise? No. He was bad last year before the league had a book on him.

All in all there isn't anything here that HAS to change. There are certainly things I would bet on changing. Rendon is young enough that he should be able to bounce back from injury. It's doubtful Danny is this terrible. All in all I'd probably bet on all of them getting better. But none of it is like Murphy. They don't have to happen. It's not inevitable they get much better. Now this would be a terrible roll of the dice, rolling snake-eyes on each of these players, but that's a possibility. Unlikely but possible.

What to think? Well the Nats are winning so that affords them the great luxury of time. Taking them singularly Werth, Rendon, and Zimm should be afforded at the very least the entirity of April (which is 8 more games or basically 50% of what they've played so far - so big swings are possible), and more reasonably until Mid May before any judgment really is laid down. Espinosa was simply keeping the spot warm for Turner so if the Nats keep winning he can hold down the spot until that service time milestone is reached. Turner seems to be doing fine in AAA and should be ready. MAT was always to be in a time split situation with Revere so as soon as Ben is ready he'll play a lot less. But MAT has that time (a week?) to change our perception of what needs to be done.

The Nats have gotten away with having a quarter of their offense be an absolute hole and over 50% be well below average. A couple of super hot players and great pitching have kept them winning a bunch of games.That's great! But it's not a plan for a season. Murphy will cool down. A couple of these guys, or their replacements, are going to have to start hitting. They have ~ 3 weeks to do so or until the Nats start losing a bunch of games, whichever comes first. Let's hope it's the 3 weeks.

Thursday, April 21, 2016

Thursday : Bryce Day

The Nats pitching staff is very very good so far. That shouldn't be all that surprising. It was #1 in 2012. It was #1 in 2014. It was 6th in 2013 and last year. They made noticeable improvements to at least the likely variance of the bullpen and jettisoned their worst starter. I want to give the staff some credit because they are really carrying the team (the offense is ok - 6th but pretty much dead average in runs per game) but I'm going to talk about Bryce again because BRYCE.

I was looking through old Bryce posts yesterday just to see what I had said in the past and found some interesting notes and tidbits. Well, at least to me and it's my blog!

First off a notice to Bryce. I said this on twitter and I'll repeat it here now (and over and over the next few months) Bryce Harper HAS TO BE IN THE HOME RUN DERBY. This isn't just a fan wanting to see the best home run hitter in the game in this exhibition of power. This is an understanding that if Bryce wants to "make baseball fun again" he needs to appear in what casual fans probably consider the most fun thing about baseball.* Bryce has said he doesn't want to do it the next couple years. Too bad. Unless you want to be labeled a huge hypocrite you have to get out there and hit dingers. You can't sit and complain about how baseball is tired and doesn't attract fans because it lacks drama and flair and then sit out what is seen by non-fans as the least tired and most "flair-riffic" part of the baseball season. CAN'T.

Bryce vs Trout? It's hard to say there is an offensive comparison anymore because Trout doesn't steal bases anymore (he has 1 this year - Bryce has 3) and more importantly Bryce is the best hitter in baseball by a wide margin. However for those of you focused on career numbers, because Trout hasn't had a down year yet (though he's certainly starting slow in 2016) while Bryce battled some injuries in good but not great years, Mike still has the career edge.
Trout : .303 / .396 / .555
Bryce :  .290 / .385 / .526
My guess is that Bryce can't pass Trout overall this year either. He'll probably pass in OBP, but assuming Trout bounces back will still be just behind in avg and power. But it's coming. Bryce is just better at the plate.

This column by Boz still rankles me two years later. Written after Matt Williams sat the kid for failing to run out that pop-out, it is a terrible mish-mash of armchair psychology, bad stats, and bad opinions including the idea that Rendon might be better or that Bryce wasn't even among the half-dozen best players on the team (silly things to think even given the fact that he wasn't running on full cylinders). It's Boz at his worst - acting as conduit for the team that wanted to send a message to Bryce - and defying logic to do it. Whenever I think I'm being too hard on Boz, I should go back and read this.

In 2015 the Nats offense around Bryce was pretty bad. How is it in 2016? Well... look. Daniel Murphy has been great but Zimm, Espinosa, Rendon, Werth, MAT are all below average this year. That's... not good. Bryce can be BRYCE but there is no way Daniel Murphy keeps this up and frankly I'm doubtful that Ramos can be above average through May let alone for the season. Someone has to step up. If they don't... well honestly if the pitching staff has one of it's "It's an even year. We're the best!" seasons, maybe BRYCE + a very good Murphy will be enough. I don't want to find out though. The Nats wasted one of the best offensive years in recent memory, maybe even not recent memory, last year. Someone else hit better! 

I still say put 15/500 on the table now.

Last year Bryce set the Nats single-season records for AVG, OBP, SLG, OPS, OPS+, and BB. He finished one behind Soriano in Rs (118 to 119), one behind Dunn in IBB (15 to 16), and second to Soriano in HRs (42 to 46). He was further behind in 2B, RBI and H.  What does he project to so far this year?  Playing 154 games : 77HRs,121 R, 231 RBI, 12 IBB, 44 2B, 176H.  OK he's not going to hit all those numbers but I'd be surprised if HRs and RBI and IBB don't all fall to Bryce this year. 2B will be hard because he hits too many homers. H will be hard because he walks too much. Runs? That could fall too but it depends on ths guys behind him hitting. Which as we've seen - they haven't.

In 2013 I basically guaranteed Bryce would break out at some point. "It could be this year, maybe 2014, but at worst by the end of 2105 he should have that great season." So kudos to me! If my memory serves me correct it did eventually waver to the point after 2013 and 2014 that I was giving him a 2015 like 2013/2014 Werth which would have been close to but not quite great. But 2015 was the year I think if he didn't put anything up I would have started doubting him. He was ok though, if I remember right.

You've probably heard this but part of Bryce's issues in seasons before 2015 was striking out a bit too much. He's not doing that at all this year. He's not swinging at pitches out of the zone and he's hitting everything in the zone. Here's one article on it. You can find others I'm sure.

One thing about Bryce that makes him pretty much like everyone else? He has his most issues against power pitchers. In previous years he couldn't hit them. In 2015 that changed and he hit them pretty well. But given how Bryce hit overall in 2015 "pretty well" is a distinct drop off from "OMG!". How is he doing this year? Not that great although the Nats have faced very few of these pitchers so it's only 7 ABs. Of course the flipside of that is he KILLS non-power pitchers. Like decapitates them and hits the head out of the park. That's still happening too. We'll check on this again in a month when there's more data. Remind me.

I had a Bryce tracker back in the day for his age 21 year. How does that stand now for "through age 23 season"? Well for HRs he needs another 50 this year to set the record for most HRs by end of their age 23 season. Not likely but certainly possible given how he's hitting. More reasonable will be 35-40 more which would put him in 4th at 139-144 career behind Eddie Mathews (153), Mel Ott (153), and A-Rod (148).  As for OPS+ (went with 400 games played), he's at 16th now with 145. This is a hard read but I'll guess he finishes the year around 155 which would put him Top 10. The Top 10 right now. Ted Williams, Cobb, Trout, Musial, Pujols, Sam Crwaford, Mathews, Mantle, Foxx, Ott. For reference even if he hits like he has so far for then entire 2015 (which would be a Top 15 season EVER) he still doesn't make the Top 5 in this group. As far as first ballot HOFers he started at only a moderate pace.That is your worst current knock on Bryce. "As far as first ballot HOFers he started at only a moderate pace".  Enjoy this kid.

*Before last year I would have fought them on it. The HR Derby was a slog that you watched for 1 1/2 batters or 30 minutes before you gave up on it. But last year's rule changes finally made it interesting.

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Wednesday Quickie - is this the year?

In 2009 the Nats drafted generational talent Stephen Strasburg.
In 2010 the Nats drafted generational talent Bryce Harper.

The forward thinking fan thought that by 2013 or maybe even 2012 these guys would be in the Cy Young and MVP discussion every season and would be leading the Nats to the promised land of titles both divisional and championship. But fate is cruel and player health is fleeting and that future never materialized.

In 2010 Strasburg flashed that amazing talent putting up a crazy numbers in ~40% of a season of work. 7.4 H/9. 0.7 HR/9. K-BB number of 9.9* Since 2010 only two other guys have hit that K-BB mark for a full season, Kershaw and Sale, but they didn't do that until 2015 when they were 27 and 26 year old veteran arms respectively. Stras did that as a 21 year old rookie. But instead of getting a chance to improve on those he would get injured and have to get Tommy John, setting him back a year. His comeback in 2012 was good, and he's been very good since but he hasn't been able to get back to dominance. He's been just slightly more hittable, slightly more prone to the long ball. Perhaps though, that has been the fault of injuries. A tweak of the back/should midseason in 2013, a stiff neck and an oblique injury in 2015.  Maybe they set Strasburg back just a bit, which may not seem that much, but just a bit is the difference between Kershaw level and the next step down where Strasburg has been.

In 2012 Bryce would come up and put up some very impressive numbers for a 19 year old including smacking 22 home runs in an abbreviated season. Things looked bright but in 2013 things would go off track. He'd put up a line of .360 / .444 / .744 before crashing into a wall and hurting his hip and ribcage. He'd crash into the wall again on May 13th and hurt his knee. He'd only hit 11 home runs after the first crash (he had 9 at the time) hitting .251 / .349 / .417 for the rest of the season. In 2014 he was hitting .289 / .352 / .422 but then tore up his thumb sliding headfirst into third. He'd hit a decent but nothing more .268 / .342 / .424 for the remainder of that year. In 2015 he finally put up a full healthy year and, well, you know the rest.

You could argue that right now we have a good chance to have a healthy Bryce and a healthy Strasburg together at the same time in May for the first time ever**.  If we go by Stras was healthy coming back on August 8th this is what these two guys have done since then in about 40% of a season.

Bryce : .324 / .459 / .671  20 homers 50 RBI  55 R
Strasburg : 9-2  1.74 ERA, 0.80 WHIP, 11.6 K/9, 1.5 BB/9

Push that out into an entire season and you get Strasburg with a 25-5 record. You get Bryce hitting 51 homers, driving in 127 runs and scoring 139 times.

The Nats have had some good performances, but those two doing that at the same time? Wow. Six years ago we thought it might happen 4 times or more if they kept Strasburg. Now we are hoping for one. I'll take it though.

*This is a better tracker of domination than K/BB rate as that can give too much credit to hittable guys with fantastic control.  It's not a bad stat - I usually start with it because it's easily available and we're smart enough to pick off the Kevin Sloweys of the world, but K-BB is better. Shows unhittableness and control. 

**So in review : In 2012 you might say that but Bryce was raw rookie and Stras was in a recovery season. In 2013 they were both healthy that first month then Bryce would go down at the end of April and Stras would get injured in June and would both fight injuries rest of year. In 2014 repeat that story again for Bryce plus you could probably say 1 HR to start year meant he was still recovering from off-season surgery. (Also Stras's super slow start suggested less than perfect health as well - though I have no confirmation of that).  Last year Strasburg fought off ankle issues coming in from Spring Training for the first part of the season and arguably wasn't right until August.

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Honestly we should have expected that.

Roark vs Jose Fernandez? If the Nats are going to lose a game against the Marlins, that match-up is screaming "Pick Me!" The next three all favor the Nats : Strasburg vs Conley, Ross vs Chen, Scherzer vs Koehler. Conley and Chen are perfectly ok starters, but Stras and Ross are better. Worst case scenario where they lose those two? That Scherzer vs Koehler game should be a mismatch.

With a three game lead a loss tonight wouldn't matter much, but still it would have some psychological meaning. The Nats currently sit at 9-3, second best record in the majors. 9-4 shouldn't be much different, but there is the whole Braves subtext here. The Nats are 6-0 vs the Braves and currently 3-3 vs the Phillies and Marlins. While a win is a win in terms of standings, you'd like to see the Nats separate themselves from all these other teams. A win tonight and they don't have a losing record vs anyone. A loss tonight would put them under .500 outside of Braves games and honestly some doubt can creep in at that point. Was it just that the Braves (who just swept Miami mind you) were playing really badly? Or match-up poorly? Probably not, but it'd be nice to enter that killer road trip with nothing but positive feelings around this team.

The other thing last night was the question of how long the Nats can go with Danny Espinosa. The easy answer is - until they stop winning, or more realistically, until they stop winning AND they don't have a comfortable lead. The more truthful answer is the last one plus "after Trea has had enough service time in the minors to give the Nats another year of control". Can you justify it? Yeah probably.  Danny was thought of as clearly better in the field. That may not be true but it's going to take more than a couple weeks to really see if Danny has lost that step and if Trea, who's a bit erratic, has gotten it together. Yes, Espy isn't hitting and Trea is hitting in the minors but the Chiefs have played even fewer games than the Nats. In the past two nights Trea's average dropped like 130 pts (from .500 to .368) thanks to a couple 0-5 outings.  How about we don't declare a guy major league ready after 8 games?

Oh and as for Roark being replaced with Giolito?  Not happening any time soon. For the first part they are still stretching out Lucas. He threw 4 innings in his first outing and less than 4 in his second. He still hasn't topped 75 pitches which won't fly in the majors. For the second part he hasn't been dominant. One good outing, maybe a tad wild. One poor outing, with 7 hits and 5R (though only 1 earned) in that 3 and 2/3rds. I'm not backing down from my claim that I would have liked to see him start the season in the rotation. But I never said I was sure he was ready to dominate. It was a gamble that he would do better than Roark. Looking at his first couple of starts, it's not clear he would have.

Monday, April 18, 2016

Monday Quickie

It's cliche to say it but it's true. You are going to lose at least 60 times in a season. That's a lot! The best team in baseball history basically lost every third game and a 90 win team is like 14-11 in a randomly chosen 25 games. That doesn't seem very good but it adds up over time. So the Nats lost a game. No worries.

until you lose that third in a row. Then you panic

The starting pitching looked good (21 2/3rds IP, 12 H, 3BB, 2 ER). Especially of interest was seeing a good game from Max, who looked off against some lesser opponents early.

The offense finally broke out scoring 17 runs in those first two games. MAT and Werth haven't quite broken out of their slump but MAT did homer and all 3 of Werth's hits were doubles. Bryce put his foot on the gas going 7-11 with 3 homers.

Nearly everything looks rosy.

Ok ok there is Papelbon. He did blow the save yesterday. He hasn't looked particularly sharp despite good results. It's still early but we're rounding into third when it comes to "ok now we can do some evaluation".  What do the early fancy stats say?

FB MPH : 90.9
Suggests loss of arm speed but not unusual for older pitchers to start slower.

Swing% - 45.4% 
SwStr% - 8.1%
Contact% - 82.1%
Suggests batters are waiting for hittable pitches then hitting them.

LD% - 30%
Soft% - 0.0%
Oppo% - 20%
Suggests batters are not fooled or behind.

Of course - it is still early. He has appeared alot but it still only amounts to 5.2 IP and 24 batters faced. Werth gets a month. Papelbon wasn't hurt or terrible last year. He gets more time.

Of course that depends on results but understand when your job is simply to get through one inning with 1 or fewer runs allowed against a random part of the order your job isn't very hard in the baseball scheme of things. While a lot is made about great relievers who seemingly struggled in the closer's role, the truth is a lot of mediocre pitchers have been just fine closers. Even if Papelbon is off his game, he'll probably be good enough.


Bryce 6, Any random two Nationals 3.  Who bet on any random two? You guys are fools!

Friday, April 15, 2016

The big fish

The Nats have finished beating up on the Braves for a while. 6 games. 6 wins. See you in August.

The next two series might tell us whether the Nats are really good. I say "might" because even with a strong showing it may be that the Phillies and Marlins aren't that good and the Nats are just feasting on bad teams.You know what? That would be great news, too.

Why? Because those bad teams would be in the Nats division. It would be confirmation of what we assumed at the beginning of the year, that there would be no competition from the lower half of the NL East. That the Nats may ride easy to the division crown depending solely on how they match up with the Mets.

Even if the Nats are not a great team that's not important. What's important is that as at least a good team, they make the playoffs. If they beat up on the Phillies and Marlins over the weekend and continue to separate from the pack it sets up a clear delineation between Washington and the bottom of the East. Whether that line marks the difference between great and ok or good and bad is unimportant. A gap would exist. The Nats would feel comfortable in their position, especially so if the Mets continue to spin their wheels.

We want to figure out how good this Nats team really is. In this quasi-transition, sort-of last season of window A, year we want to know if the Nats can reach the heights of 2012 and 2014, or if 2015 signified a definitive change in the talent level of the team. We probably won't be able to figure that out soon. But if all we learn this week is that the Nats seem much better than the Phillies and the Marlins and that they hold a nice lead on both those teams at the end of this stretch, we'll have learned plenty.

Notes :

Bryce! After a few games behind Bryce reties his nebulous HR opponent "Any Other two Nats" at 3.  We're still waiting on our first homers from Rendon, Zimm, Espy, and Taylor. The first two bring up "Has their injuries sapped their power" questions. I'd be more worried about Rendon than Zimm. Zimm showed last year post injury he could still get it going (10 HRs in 35 games). He may have an issue hitting homers but it's more likely to be a current injury than some lingering effect of the last one. Rendon on the other hand only hit 5 homers last year. It may take him a good long time to get back to the ~25 HR type power we thought he could develop. As for Espy and MAT, power and defense is what makes these low AVE guys viable. Without power things get dicey. Espy has a good eye (when he's being encouraged to use it) and can still get on base ok. MAT though does not. He really needs to get hot. Of course if the Nats keep winning no one will care.

Strasburg looked pretty sharp didn't he? One of the things I'm sure that will annoy me this year is that we're likely to see praise for Mike Maddux with little evidence that the pitching staff actually improved. It was 6th in the NL in ERA. It was 1st, 6th, 1st in preceding years. Sub out Fister for a Roark who shows that it was the jerking around last year that messed him up. Add in more reliable bullpen arms picked up in the off-season. Already you are looking at a staff likely to skirt Top 3. All he'd have to do then is luck into a career year from Strasburg (which we've all thought was possible for years now - just been waiting for health, psyche, and run support to align) and Maddux could bask in the praise that comes along with a staff that is best in league. Right place right time matters kids. Get on the right trains in whatever you do. It reflects well on you, if not with a knee jerk talent evaluation, than at least with a realization you can pick winners.

Thursday, April 14, 2016

More winning

You can only win the games put in front of you. That's what they say. Unfortunately for us wanting to make early season pronouncements, after today the Nats may have played 75% of this young season against the worst team in the major leagues. Of course maybe the Braves have played 75% of their young season against the best team in the major leagues? Maybe?

It's always tough early season when you might play the same team 6 to 9 times in a short period of time. Is it us, or is it them? The Braves rank 14th out of 15 NL teams in RS and 14th out of 15 NL teams in RA. They can't hit and they don't seem to pitch particularly well either. If this were a surprise you might lean toward the "Nats are really good" line of thinking. But it isn't. Everyone knew the Braves were tanking and could be really bad. Here we are.

So there isn't much to learn from these games, I'm afraid. I suppose you can pull out unexpectedly disappointing early season performances (Scherzer, Taylor) and worry about those but I'm inclined just to throw everything out. All you can take away from playing a team this bad is that you should beat them like a drum. The Nats have played 5 games versus the Braves. They have won all 5. You can't do any better.

Today's game is a freebee. They don't want to lose it of course, but they already have the commanding home series 3-1 win they wanted. A loss today would be unfortunate but nothing more. Then we can finally move on to playing some different teams and start to pull some actual conclusions from what we are seeing. Maybe. Of course no one thinks much of Philly or Miami either and the interleague opponent waiting for them? Minnesota, who currently stands at 0-8 themselves with easily the worst offense in baseball.

I wanted the Nats at no worse than 13-9 come that end of April road trip against teams people think are actually good. I think that has to be amended. First - there's a game lost to rain. (13-8?) Second going 7-7 from here on out? Versus PHI MIA and MIN? I can't think that's ok. No. Now factoring in the "Braves are awful" adjustment. I set the target at 15-6 at the end of April 28th. Is that fair? Maybe not. We can discuss changing it back if the Braves actually win a couple games.

Sweep 'em.

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Win win win win win

Nats win again and almost as important the Mets lose again. It's a ~156 game season now and Mets have to play 4 games better than the Nats to win the division. How much did you like the Mets, if you liked the Mets, over the Nats to start the year? A game? Two?

Of course it's both that simple and not. Team talent is not static. You get hurt. You bring up guys. You make trades. Your strength of schedule get skewed. You don't win at a constant pace. Rather you have ebbs and flows and all that matters is not where you are at game 152 or where you'd probably be at game 172, but where you end up after game 162. So you can dislike the chances of the Mets roster today being a nebulous "4 games better over 156" than the Nats and still accept that they could totally win the East.

Still, I for one think the balance, precarious as it was, has shifted. From a slight edge for the Mets to a slight edge to the Nats. Nothing earthshaking. Nothing set in stone. Just a realization that if you didn't think the Mets has a distinct advantage over the Nats, then they have already put themselves in catch-up mode.

Notes :

Another day another close win. Blowouts please. Just one.

Jayson Werth got another hit! Woo! What's more surprisingly is that he has been walked 5 times. At this point if you aren't just busting him inside of the strike zone and making him prove he can hit it you have failed as a pitcher. Werth is in "prove it" time.

It was the Braves but Gio looked pretty good didn't he? Really though Gio's performance makes me more worried about Max than feel good about Gio. Depends on how you feel about the Braves I guess.

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Rambling on Intangibles

1 2 2 2 2

Those are the margins of victory in the games the Nats have played this year. Would it kill this team to blow someone out? Or at least score some runs and hold the other team down at the same time? A nice easy victory?

What do a lot of close games and a 4-1 record in them mean? Probably nothing. You'd might want to believe it means the pen is better and maybe it is, but it's far too early to tell. I mean, they've given up runs in more games (3) than they haven't (2). It's just a matter of the when and how much not mattering. As much as "pitching to the score" sounds good I doubt a reliever in the 7th was pitching with the idea that giving up a run is ok because the Nats are up 2.

You might want to believe it has something to do with the manager being better, and maybe (let's face it - almost certainly*) he is but that's going to be lost to the ether. In his Q&A Boz notes how he finds sabrmetric dismissing of manager intuition funny but you have to be careful here. There are two types of dismissal.

The first type of dismissal, the type that is ok, is the dismissal from analysis. You can't measure these things, manager intuition, leadership, clutchness, momentum, etc., accurately. If you can't measure them accurately then they can't be used in analysis. That's not only ok, it's the only reasonable thing to do. If you try to add it an adjustment for these things you are introducing a crazy amount of bias into your analysis, basically rendering it unusable. You feel Dusty might add a game or two to the Nats. There is someone out there, I guarantee, that feels, not sabrmetrically mind you just with his gut, that Dusty is terrible and should cost you a game or two. Who is right? Who knows. So you have to leave it out. You can put it in your opinion. You can say analysis leads the Nats to have 88 wins but I like Dusty so I'm making it 91. But you can't say your attempt at unbiased analysis lead you to that point.

The second type or dismissal, the type that isn't ok, is dismissing things from mattering just because you can't measure them. They can't be in analysis but that doesn't mean they don't matter. These things all exist. That's not an opinion. That's a fact. We know they do. We know from our own experiences. We know from psychological studies. Since they exist, you have to assume they matter at some level. How much? With who? Oh god, good luck trying to figure that out.

This is where things usually break down because people usually DO think they can figure it out. That they can see how much something matters because of the results. Here is where you get they are winning "because the chemistry is better" or "because they have some strong personalitites" or "because their manager's gut knows best" or "because their manager knows his analysis" or "because they are playing looser" or "because they are playing more focused". You see the problem don't you? There is no link being proven here. You are just taking a snapshot of the team when they are winning, pulling out what you think you see, and making those things winning attributes. It's likely some of that does matter, but the certainty in which it is usually presented is laughable. This, to me, is why you often get the "it doesn't matter" push back. It does matter, but it should be presented as a big question mark. Because it is presented with authority, then there is a natural tendency to push back in kind.

But that's also wrong and if you are going to claim to be taking a smarter view of the game, you really have to fight that urge. When you talk about it you have to note it matters, accept you don't know how and no one probably does, and that the reader can add his own impression of it to what you are saying.  You don't have to mention the "intangibles" every time, but you can't just dismiss them as not mattering at all. They don't matter to analysis that is working with only what can be measured, but they do matter in reality.

*Last year Matt Williams had an uncanny ability to pull the wrong guy at the wrong time. Bad luck? Perhaps. He didn't seem to have much of this issue in 2014. But maybe he just couldn't read the pen. Even though if that is true it takes some bad luck to have it matter. So does Dusty have a good idea of who to use and when? I don't know. I do know he probably won't have the same issue as Matt did, because even if Dusty can't read the pen either, we probably won't see it as bad as we did with Matt last year. Also the pen itself is just better. Not very good with certainty, but better talent. Veteran talent that you can get a better read on.

Monday, April 11, 2016

Monday Quickie

The Nats have only played 4 games this year but it feels like they've settled into a routine. Pitch effectively, though not impressively. Score a run or two to stay in the game. Wait for the other team to do something stupid. Win. While that may not seem like a winning strategy, when you play 57 games (35% of the season) versus the Braves, Phillies, and Marlins, it's probably going to be fine.

Barring inclement weather then Nats are in the middle of a long stretch of games. They didn't take two games versus the Marlins, but they didn't get to play 3 so I'm not holding it against them. They finish the homestand with 4 straight versus the Braves. I said the Nats should be looking to take 3 of these. I haven't changed my mind.

The Mets struggles against Philly highlight that if the Nats stay on their target for 90 wins, the rest may take care of itself. The Mets aren't a team with no recognizable flaw (like maybe the Cubs are this year). They have issues. They could win 85. Just win your games Nats and we'll see where we are come the All-Star game.


If you are going to give Roark a bit of a leash for being bad first time out, it works both ways. Ross looked pretty good but it's only one game. Normally I'd say wait 2 more starts but now that Minnesota looks dead in the water it might be 5 starts until any of these guys face a good offense.* I guess what I'm saying is that if any of these guys has a bad April... that would be worrying to me.

Right now Bryce (2) is beating any 2 Nats combined (1) in the HR poll.  Could HR power be an issue for this team? Yes. Yes it could. 

Any real surprises in the league so far. Baltimore is 5-0! Are they good or was Minnesota (0-6) bad? Cincinnati is 5-1 and 2nd in the NL Central right now. Wouldn't have bet on that. Again WAY early so let's come back next week and see if either are alone in first. Then we can start talking about when we can start talking about them.

Question :  Do you know who played interleague so far?  No, right? Until MLB expands to 32 teams, it should be scrapped. It does nothing but serve as 6 fun games for certain teams at certain times.

Trevor Story's 7 homers are the big outlier to start the year. But how about Eugenio Suarez with 4? This is a guy with 41 homers in the minors over 5 years.  Dallas Keuchel has 10 walks in 2 games. Both Greinke and Cueto have been hit around in their first two games. Rich Hill has somehow already hit 4 batters.

*It's only one week but the NL East ranks 9th, 11th (Nats!), 13th, 14th, and 15th in R/G. 

Friday, April 08, 2016

Early season stats

Like the "Spring Training stats" are meaningless post, watching Werth and MAT flail the past three days reminded me of another annual post. The "what do early stats mean" post.

First, they don't mean nothing. As of Monday, these players are playing real games versus other players who are trying their best to get on base / get people out. There's no working on taking the ball the other way or getting a slider over the plate. We can't question the validity of what happens in the same way we can for Spring stats.

Yet, their importance can be easily exaggerated.  Michael Taylor has gone 0-11. Jayson Werth has done the same. This happens during a season. Take Yunel Escobar. Perfectly good hitter last season. He went 0-12 over one stretch, and was 0 for his last 23. He had plenty of other stretches almost as bad. 1-15, 1-11, 1-13. And this was a guy who hit .314 last season. Two years ago Werth hit .292. He was the best hitter on the team and picked up some MVP votes. Yet he had stretches where he went 1-13, 1-11, 1-12, 0-11, 1-12, 1-11, and 1-11. Players have slumps. They go hitless for a few games. But because it is the only data we have now we tend to overemphasize what we see.

On the other hand, we can't simply say "It happens" and move on. It is the only data we have, so we do have to take that into account. MAT and Werth are hitting .000. There may be an issue here and it's worth, if not worry, then attention at least. Not deep focus on every pitch, but giving their at bats more than a casual glance. Is there something up here? Are they behind constantly? Fooled easily? Or is it bad luck? As just a fan watching can we pick up on something? Because if so - that's not a great sign.

Early stats must be looked at cautiously. They tend to make players look worse (or better - see Daniel Murphy) than they really are. Every player has bad series and even bad weeks. 99.9% of players will go 1-13 or worse at some point this season. For those with the bad luck of having these runs to start the season, like Werth and MAT, they will probably get more attention than is necessary. But a run to start the season isn't the same as a run mid-season. For the latter we have plenty of other evidence of how the guy is probably going to hit this year. For the former we don't. This is it. MAT and Werth aren't going to hit .000 for the year, but if you are worried they aren't going to do well, this is evidence in favor of that. It's not strong evidence. It's far far from decisive evidence. But it's evidence nonetheless and it's the only evidence we have from 2016.

(On the bright side we also have very weak evidence that Zimmerman is going to be fine, Murphy is going to be very good, and Bryce won't take a step back. If you prefer the positive spin)

Other Notes

I generally ignore the first start of a season for a pitcher. Weird weather, out of normal 5-day rhythm, pitching solely for "allowing for fewest runs in  6-7 inning" goal really for first time in 6+ months. It's not really fair. I go at least 3 before I make a judgment. Still not a great start for Roark, even before the rarely seen "go back in after rain delay" move. His next game will be against punchless Atlanta so we'd hope to see better results.

It's early and unfair but I didn't see anything in Belisle that makes me think Burnett or Gott would have been better choices for that spot.

Thursday, April 07, 2016

Get the win and get out


Strasburg didn't feel impressive. He allowed nine baserunners and had only 4 Ks over 6 innings, hardly anything to get excited about. The Nats offense was pretty dead for another day. Again pretty well shut down over the course of the first 6 innings, and needing some key mistakes by the Braves to get going enough to win the game.

But Strasburg didn't give up any XBH. The Nats did get the big hit when the Braves left the door open. And the Nats won the game. That's all that matters. No one is looking back and adjusting for "should have"s and preformances. A W is a W.


Now, the Nats face the Marlins who might be a decent offensive team with a core of Gordon, Yelich, and Stanton, but who probably can't pitch beyond Jose Fernandez. A sweep would be nice but 2 of 3 is enough. Let's get a fast start going. Doesn't look like the game is going to happen today though.

What would a fast start mean? Not too much but it's better than a slow one. How did the rest of the "window teams" start?

Last years team started slow (2-6, 7-13). The 2014 started fast (7-2) initially but then skidded back down to around .500.  2013 was very similar, also starting 7-2, also skidding back to .500, a game or two further down. 2012 was the only team to start super hot (14-4). 

It seems like these matter and well, they do, every win counts, but for the story of these seasons it isn't as clear as "fast start = win", "slow start = lose". Go through these seasons and you can see they are generally filled with ups and down and the divisions aren't really decided until August. Doesn't matter what the season opened like. Even the 2012 Nats, who started fast and never really slowed down, only started to look safe in early September because the Braves wouldn't go away (they'd win 94 games that year).

Basically all a fast start (or slow one) does is open the possiblity of your season being figured out early. But possibility doesn't mean likelihood. It's games in hand, little more. Still wouldn't you rather have those games in hand and open the possibility, however remote, of watching the rest of the NL East fade into the rearview by mid May?  So keep winning.
Anything else going on? Still waiting on Werth to get his first hit. MAT still knows how to swing and miss. I'm very interested to see the back end of the rotation have a go. Still a couple weeks before it's worth saying anything about individual players probably.

Wednesday, April 06, 2016

Mets won't lose 'em all


Otherwise the Nats were resting. Taking one of those ill-advised days off that the MLB slaps into most teams' schedules in the first week. Why does a team need a day off after just one or two days? They don't. But it does allow them to stagger 3 "Opening Days" in a row. Though someone should tell them that people only care about that third Opening Day if it's something more compelling than Tigers v Marlins.

It should be pretty easy for MLB to get this right. Traditionalists want Cincinnati to have the first pitch, but it's completely understandable that MLB and their TV partners want eyes on TV the Sunday night before. This is the world we live in now - probably should have been living in for 50 years if executives were smarter. So have your Sunday night game (featuring playoff opponents from year before - they got lucky this year but it could easily happen every year. Just wait a month longer to put out the schedule) then Cincy gets the first game on Monday at Noon and everyone else plays. See easy? If you want to have a "third Opening Day" then since you wisely waited until after at least the regular season was over to make your schedule, you can present a good match-up. Cubs Pirates? Blue Jays Rangers?  I'd watch those. Detroit Miami? I made a token pass at attempting to care but failed.

Speaking of traditionalists vs modern takes, yesterday we got to see the slide rule not only in action (we saw that Game 1 for the Nats) but actively decide the end of a game. It wasn't a hard call. Bautista did slide off the bag and grabbed at the fielder. You can't do that now, you couldn't do that before. What's changed now is the expectation of the call. Before the onus was on the fielder to make the play no matter what and only the most egregious tackles or slides into the infield grass would be called out by interference. Now anything that isn't a slide straight into second is up for grabs.

This speaks to the inherent issue with replay on judgment calls. It doesn't create fewer judgment calls. While it provides clarity on some calls, it opens up new ones to judgment that otherwise would have been left alone. All in all you get a few more right at the expense of time and the overall flow of the game. It's an odd path to go down for a sport seemingly so concerned with the speed of their game.

Oh well. Game tonight. Win it! 

Tuesday, April 05, 2016

One down, hopefully buried

They won. In a game that felt a lot like the end of last year (Bryce homered. Max was very good but not dominating. The bullpen was shaky) the Nats managed to pull the game out late* and in the end nothing else matters. It's a W, same as all the rest. You can say "oh this shows how the Nats aren't the same as last year!" or "oh this shows how the Nats are the same as last year!" but that's a game we've played 3 straight seasons before, coming up with armchair psychology to explain why this particular Nats team is winning/losing at the moment. It's 95% nonsense.

Revere went out with a rib injury which is perfectly ok for the moment, assuming it really is just a day to day thing. MAT is more than capable of playing everyday. It does make the first guy off the bench for the OF Heisey which isn't great but it's workable for a week or so. Let's not panic just yet.

What should the Nats goal be for April? Given how bad the NL East is the bar is probably pretty high. Take both in ATL, 5-2 vs MIA and ATL at home, 4-3 vs PHI and MIA away.  That's 11-5, maybe 10-6 by the time they hit the Twins, who may or may not be any good. You could look at it that way. You could also just say "be better than the Mets". That's fair too. Given how we see the teams are pretty even, just keeping ahead of New York - especially until H2H match-ups start, is probably good enough (unless they are tanking)

I think my goal would be hitting no worse than 13-9 by the time that first away stretch comes along.  See, the Nats toughest stretch may in fact be April into May. Starting on the 9th the Nats will play 32 games in 33 days. The back end of that has them facing the Cardinals, Royals and Cubs in succession on the road, and then the Tigers at home. That could be tough. They won't play a stretch that long again until August into September (33 in 34), but during that stretch they may not face a quality team outside the Mets. (Rockies and Orioles are the non NL East teams). If the Nats find themselves in a good spot come May 11th it could set themselves up well for the remainder of the year.

Oh and the annual reminder. I'm on twitter.  Mostly Nats stuff. If you are into that kind of stuff.

*Side bar here - why the hell does Atlanta still have Jason Grilli? The first guy to go for a rebuilding team should be the overrated closer and yet they empty the locker room for everyone but him? Yes, he got hurt but you know what? Someone would take him for a bag of balls. You get that bag of balls. 

Monday, April 04, 2016

Opening Day!

Wooo! And the whole season just got alot easier with that Mets loss, right!

Well it still counts!

Friday I did my season prediction (90 wins - no playoffs).  I'm fine being wrong and expect all of you to remind me of that come October. Onus on you!

How did the rest of the pundit picks shake out over the weekend?

ESPN had 31 experts pick : 17 had the Nats winning the East, another 10 had then in a Wild Card slot. Three had them in the World Series and 1, good ol' Eno Harris had them winning it all.

SI had a mere 7 experts pick : only one had the Nats winning the East, 3 more had the Nats in the Wild Card. One had them in the Series and winning it, Mr. Ben Reiter - from the WC spot, no less.

Fox had 5 experts pick, along with the fans and Twit-lebrity Old Hoss Radbourn. One had the Nats winning the East, 3 more in the Wild Card. No World Series appearance here.

Yahoo had 6 experts pick.  Two NL East titles, three Wild Cards, two NLCS appearances, 1 World Series appearance and titlle from Mr. Israel Fehr.

CBS with 5 experts. 1 Division win, 3 Wild Cards, no WS appreance.

NBC Sports Hardball talk chimed in 2 - no division titles or Wild Cards. 

Anyone else? USA Today? Sure!

USA Today had 7 experts. 5 NL East titles, 1 WC, 1 NLCS appearance. That's it.

So adding that all up....carry the 7....

That's 65 total pundit guesses from these major sports outlets. 27,  or 41%, had them winning the East.  That pretty much follows what everyone thinks. The Mets, who have to be around 59%, are favored, but the Nats have more than a punchers chance to win. It's generally seen as an either/or situation with the Mets with a slight edge.

Another 23 have the Nats making the playoffs through the WC slot, bringing the total that have the Nats in the playoffs to about 77%.  Most people think the Nats are good. Good teams usually make the playoffs... but not always. The Nats have a better chance of making it than not, but at a "not making it" guess rate of around 23% it's not a trivial chance that they miss it completely. That feels right, too, at least in terms of the vibes I'm getting from the season start. If the Nats can't win the East they can win the WC. These guys even think they probably will win the Wild Card in that case (60% rate in this situation). But if something derails them from a division title, it could be big enough to knock them out entirely. Or hell it could just be a tough year to get in.

About 7.5% have the Nats in the series with less than 5% having them win it all. The Nats are good, and generally looked at as a playoff team, but picking them to have the type of playoff success needed for a WS title is hard, given their recent past. Still they are in it, and they are talented, so if you are looking for a team to pick to make you stand out, the Nats are not a bad choice.

Friday, April 01, 2016

2016 Prediction

How does one pin down their feelings about this team? How do I look at a team with 3 important, but still big, injury risks returning? A team that was kept in respectability by two career years, one historic and one simply Cy Young? A team that plans to rely heavily on a rookie come May, a second year starter with 75 ML innings under his belt, and a guy who was a good starter two years ago? A team who replaced one attempt to complete a pen with question marks with an attempt to complete it with smaller question marks? How do I look at a team with all those uncertainties and put down a single number?

Well one way is to not do it and say I like the Nats to win 83-93 games and leave it at that. That's kind of a cop-out though.  Especially considering this is no stakes. I don't get punished for getting it wrong. 

I'm going to take a breakdown approach. I'm gonna look at four pieces of the Nats; offense, defense, starting pitching, and relief pitching and figure out what I feel about them and go from there.


It should be easy to say the Nats should be better. Werth (88 GP in 2015), Zimmerman (95), and Rendon (80) are all starting the year healthy. But even if we consider them good bets to play more, though let's not say full seasons, in 2016, things nag at me. I remember last year the Nats were good offensively too. They had Bryce Harper's year that may very well not be replicated. They had suprisingly good years at the plate from Yunel Escobar and Clin Robinson. They had Denard Span play 60 games of high level ball that Revere or MAT will probably find hard to match.

Still I feel the offense is going to be better because of the following reasons :
  • Replacing 2015 Desmond with 2016 Murphy is a very safe bet to help the offense. 2015 Ian hit .240 / .311 / .409 for an OPS+ of 94. Murphy has never hit that bad and in the past three seasons averaged on OPS+ of 111. 
  • The potential of Werth/Zimm/Rendon trumps what Escobar/Robinson did last year. Escobar (113 OPS+) and Robinson (110) both had very good seasons for the Nats. They essentially matched what we just saw Murphy put up over the last three years. That's good production. In the past two seasons though both Rendon (125) and Werth (134) were noticeably better offensively than that. Zimmerman hasn't been significantly better recently but also has not been worse and has been consistent about it.  If we assume better health then I have to think it's a good bet that at least one of these three significantly outperforms what those two did last year. In that case even if we find one of the remaining two matching and the other underperforming we're at a wash, but at a respectable level for 3 positions rather than two
  • While Revere or MAT may not match Span/Taylor from last year, Revere AND MAT should. Revere is a player with consistent "on a good day average" offensive production. MAT is a guy who struggled last year but is strongly felt that he can do better. I don't trust either one to do better than 2015 Span or even 2015 Span + 2015 MAT BUT do I think the Nats can at least equal that offense by going with the hot hand of the two? Yes, I do.
  • The catching situation cannot get worse. If it does they'd have to go in another direction come the summer, right? 
  • The bench should be better. I don't think adding Drew and knocking one of Revere/Taylor necessarily makes the bench tons better than last year but the fact that the Nats are starting with these guys actually on the bench as opposed to on the field is a plus. 

Off the top of my head again you have what - Murphy replacing Espinosa (minus). Espinosa replacing Desmond (plus) but maybe Turner coming in (?). Rendon replacing Escobar (big plus over the sneaky bad Yuney). Werth getting older (minus). MAT likely playing less for Revere (minus).

I'm just going to throw up my hands here. There isn't a single overriding direction for the Nats defensive changes. They should be better on the left side of the infield, worse on the right, and a little worse in CF but can I say anything for sure? No. Especially given the vagaries of one year defensive stats. I'll just say it'll stay the same, which was essentially a pretty average D.


Three guys are coming back so I can take do direct feelings on those guys. I think Max will do a little worse. I LOVE AL to NL guys but I love them most that first year (see Fister, Doug).  I think there is a little comeback after that. I also look at Scherzer's age and how well he did and think it's more likely he doesn't repeat that than he does. Again - this doesn't mean he'll be bad, average, or even just good. It means I think he'll be All-Star worthy, fringe Cy Young candidate, rather than clear Cy Young candidate. Gio I like to get worse too. Frankly I was surprised he pitched as well as he did. Strasburg I like to think will see a little better results.

Now we reach the new pitchers. Can 2016 Ross replace 2015 ZNN? Twist my arm to put money on it and I'd say no. ZNN wasn't great but he threw 200+ innings of solid ball.  Can Roark replace Fister + Ross... It's unclear. The bar isn't actually all that high. It's an ERA of 4.00 essentially. But Tanner didn't get there last year. You'd think that without the jerking around he'd focus better but I don't know. I guess I'll say yes, but I don't feel great about it.

All in all I think I like the starters to be a little worse. I know that puts the Nats starters at right around average, instead of above it but I'll stick to my guns here. If you don't buy that maybe you'll buy the fact that once again the Nats had their starters throw a ton of innings. Scherzer and ZNN didn't miss a start. Gio missed one or two. Fister stunk but he only missed 5 before passing the torch to Ross who didn't miss any. Strasburg did miss about a third of the season but the overall effect is the pitchers the Nats wanted to pitch made over 91% of their starts. That's less impact than if one starter misses half a season and the other 4 basically stay healthy all year long. To expect that again especially with a rotation that's now 4/5ths 27 or older as opposed to 4/5ths 27 or younger, is foolish.


The plan was to get better and the Nats tried to do that by not necessarily increasing talent but decreasing variability. Bring in guys with major league success who are likely to repeat that. I'm all for the plan. But before you get too excited losing Storen, who was very good for much of the year, matters, as does letting Matt Thornton go. It's kind of a repeat of what we said going into 2015 losing Clippard and Soriano. Who is going to make up those innings? Last year the answer was Storen and ?. Didn't work. This year it's Papelbon and ?, but I'll admit I like the ? better this year.

Despite what it felt like the pen wasn't terrible last year. It wasn't as overall ok as the ERA might suggest. They blew more games than they should have. But it wasn't terrible. What it was, was terrible when you were watching. It started off the season with blown saves. Then, it kept going just long enough between them to keep you from changing your opinion on the pen. Then it blew up in important games down the stretch. That means it it seemed terrible, but really for a big part of the season it was fine.

So matching the production isn't a given. Still I like the plan and I believe that the talent in the pen hasn't gotten any worse, and is probably better. Given that, I have to believe they'll at least hit the same level of production as the 2015 pen. So even? Not quite. Simply by virtue of not blowing the same amount of important games I think they'll be more helpful to the 2016 Nats. So I'll say a little better.


I'm not going to really factor this in because I don't feel I can but Dusty can't be worse than Matt and the team chemsitry can't be worse than it was down the stretch last year. Well it can, but god help us all if it is.

So offense a little better, relief pitching a little better, defense same, starting pitching a little worse... that would get the team a couple more wins over last year. So 85-86 wins? No. The Nats got a little unlucky overall and by Pythag and adjusted standings were a better team, 89 winnish. Now I don't think playing under is ALL luck. So they may not be 83 wins but they aren't 89 either. 87/88 maybe? Then add the wins to that?  Ok. I said 91 earlier. I think I'll step that back one.

90 wins.

Now does 90 wins give them the NL East? Does it get them a WC? I'll go ahead and say... no and... no. I'll even go ahead and run with the scenario where the Mets take the division with 91 wins and the 2nd WC also has 91 wins. Meaning that the Nats attempts to save a buck with Giolito and in some ways Turner, will likely have made the difference between playoffs and not.

Of course the more optimistic way of looking at 90 wins is that if anything bad happens to the Mets (and nothing to the Nats, or really more bad to the Mets than the Nats) the Nats should have an easy time winning the division. I don't think the Mets are a clear step better. I think it's pretty even, meaning luck can easily drive who wins. So far in 2016 the Nats have gotten the luck. They got through spring unscathed and with everyone seemingly recovered. The Mets have not.

But there you go. My prediction for 2016 is 90 wins and just missing the playoffs two ways.  As a reminder even if I predicted them to make the playoffs I don't predict playoff results. That's silly.

FYI Past Predictions

2010: Predicted 73 wins. Actual 69 wins.
2011: Predicted 79 wins. Actual 80 wins. 
2012: Predicted 84 wins. Actual 98 wins. NL East crown. 
2013: Predicted 94 wins. NL East crown. Actual 86 wins.
2014: Predicted 94 wins. NL East crown. Actual 96 wins. NL East crown.
2015: Predicted 93 wins. NL East crown. Actual 83 wins.

Not terrible but not great. Given normal injuries pretty close, but big injuries in 2013 and 2015 lead to big misses, no surprise there.  That 2012 team really came out of nowhere to be incredible. 98 wins!