Nationals Baseball: May 2016

Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Tuesday Quickie - Nats'll do pig

 .500 is good enough for now so .500 is basically what the Nats are given us, splitting with the Cardinals before taking last night's game in semi-dramatic fashion. The Nats have been on and off for a couple weeks now, scoring both no runs (0,1,2 - 8 times) and a ton of runs (7+, 5 times) more often than scoring your typical amount of runs (3-6 runs, 3 times)

Could they go on a run now? They just took the first game in Philly and head to Cincy next so something like 5 of 6 should be completely possible. After that you have the reeling White Sox (3-13 in last 2+ weeks) then Philly again at home so 8/9 of 12 is right there for them. But I'll believe it when I see it. As far as I'm concerned these Nats are going no better than 7 of 12 against moderate competition until they do it.*

We are now at Memorial Day so where do things stand across the board?

.326 / .370 / .514
May .333 / .387 / .577
Week .263 / .300 / .421

Cooling down ever so slowly from a peak of .372 / .407 / .558 in early May by hitting basically what you'd want him to since, about .260 with pop . There doesn't seem to be much worry here other than the every present threat of injury with Ramos. So far so good.

.244 / .311 / .449
May .262 / .319 / .553
Week .261 / .292 / .652

Zimmerman has slowly moved from "not the first thing you are worrying about" to "the last thing you are worrying about" since the start of the season. He is starting to hit more like you'd hope for (.280ish with moderate patience) but he's on a bit of a home binge now (7 in past 3 weeks). As those balls fall back into the park (Zimm isn't hitting another 41 homers, sorry) the average and patience will drop a few points and will still be a little under where it "should be". But hey, not everyone can match or better expectations. Worry about this last.

.395 / .426 / .621
May .413 / .421 / .651
Week .421 / .450 / .652

Murphy isn't going back to normal. He's still super hot. Enjoy. Next.

.198 / .298 / .309
May .206 / .284 / .351
Week .158 / .238 / .474

After a slow start, there were hopes that Danny was turning a corner. A long slow corner back to acceptable mediocrity. Nope.  He's hitting with some pop but there isn't enough average there to matter. His glove is good but it's not too much to ask for a .220 average. Will Trea Turner be better? I don't know. When will we find out? I don't know that either. It's sometime this week they can call him up and probably get that extra year of service time. Right now, Espinosa is playing now at the whim of the team. I imagine he'll keep playing until the team starts to struggle.

.262 / .348 / .390
May .279 / .380 / .481
Week .333 / .368 / .556

Much like Zimmerman Rendon is getting back to normal. The question for Rendon though is "where is normal"? He's only had one full season in the majors and thus, unlike with Zimm, we don't exactly know what we should expect or hope for. We are hanging on to that .287 20+ homer season he put up in 2014, but maybe he's matured beyond that? Or maybe that year was a fluke? We'll have to see. But I think we're in a good spot with Anthony. We don't have to worry about him.

.242 / .415 / .535
May .200 / .422 / .363
Week .211 / .250 / .526

Hmmm. Hmmmm. Bryce had been one of the best hitters in baseball in April. Player of the month I believe. Then teams started walking him and he hasn't been the same since. Even now, when he's not being walked, he can't do much better. He's finally back hitting homers so maybe that will get him going? I won't say I'm worried, but I will say this is now over a month of poor hitting and it needs to turn around soon.

.179 / .232 / .275
May .180 / .237 / .281
Week .105 / .190 / .105

Revere has almost played a month now and... he doesn't strike out! I don't like what I'm seeing but a bad 3 weeks happens. He did have a nice run there fro a while (9-20 over 5 games) so it hasn't been a complete failure. Was that run a sign of things to come? I'd like to think so. We'll reevalute Ben in mid-June.

.195 / .235 / .328
May .217 / .265 / .348
Week .286 / .286 / .429

I think we've learned that Taylor is a 4th OF. Played at specific times against specific pitchers and providing late game defense is the best way for the Nats to use MAT. I don't see him getting another chance to start everyday barring injury.

.225 / .281 / .396
May .235 / .272 / .367
Week .190 / .190 / .333

Probably the biggest problem for the Nats going into the summer. Werth hasn't hit well this season and when he does have runs of good play it's not dominant. He might have a run where a couple balls go over the fence... but all in all he isn't hitting well. Or he might have a run where a few balls find holes... but he isn't hitting with power. Mix these in with slumps and the fact that Werth no longer contributes on the basepaths or in the field and you have a guy that probably shouldn't be playing daily.

So offensively Muprhy and Ramos have been fine. Rendon and Zimm have seemed to work themselves out to a point. Espinosa hasn't kept it up from the first 2/3 of last season as hoped and is ready to be replaced, the question is only when the Nats want to pull the trigger. Werth hasn't recovered as hoped and is ready to be replaced, a much thornier question. Bryce is on the verge of being a worry, however one probably still useful and you don't consider replacing. CF is on the verge of being a worry and that one you would replace.

*for those that see that as a dig, also understand that I also think these Nats are going no worse than 5 of 12 versus the same level of competition until they do it.

Friday, May 27, 2016

Bryce Harper HR edition

Well that was needed. That was a home run. Now let Bryce turn back into BRYCE and let the Nats roll. That's what I want to see. If he and Murphy could keep a team winning basically by themselves (ok Ramos too), imagine what they can do with a couple more bats going.

The Nats now extend their 2016 dominance over the Cardinals to 4 games. Most impressively is how they are doing it, limiting a potent offense to next to nothing. In the past 3 games they've given up 3 runs. Whatever I write asking if this is a great team or just a good one, I do not doubt they have a great starting pitching staff. The starter questions are merely "Oh right now the guys are pitching like 1-1-2-2-3 types perhaps they are only really 1-1-3-3-4 types"

Other notes :

Joe Ross pitched well. I think. I didn't feel like he got hit particularly hard, but I also didn't feel like he was dominating the Cardinals in a "fluke home run is only run" sense. It was more a case where the potentially damaging XBH balls were being hit at the OF while the less damaging single balls were getting through. He also got three DPs behind him which always helps. It was a 3-4 run outing with breaks.

I'll be honest do worry about his pitch counts. I'm not usually a pitch count worrier. I think we cut starters off too early confusing tiredness and decreasing pitch speed with effectiveness. Those things are correlated sure but you should react to the game in front of you, not the game that theoretically exists. If a guy is still getting outs then let him pitch. Maybe his stuff just works for that team on that day. Maybe the fact it's worked for 6 innings gives him a psychological advantage in the next couple. It should be judged then and there and not by some hard and fast rule... most of the time.

See I think for the most part once your body is done setting into place so to speak that you should just be set loose for a few years, to be reigned in at a more advanced age if injuries start to happen. But for me that's about age 23-24 to say... well usually 30ish when players start breaking down. This is when managers can go out there and let you throw 120 pitches if they like, in my opinion. Ross just turned 23 a couple days ago so maybe he's not ready? It's tough to say from the outside. But the fact that every single start of his this year, excluding the one he left after 2, would qualify in his Top 3 starts in pitches thrown last year... that bothers me. Let Stras, Gio, Max, and Tanner go until they look like they can't anymore. But maybe hold Ross back a little for another year.

I really like a rested Felipe Rivero. Keep working in those 2-days off breaks in there if you please.

There's really a gap between the guys hitting; Murphy, Ramos, Revere and Rendon - all above .925 in OPS in past week - and the guys who are not; Zimm, Bryce, Espy, Werth - all below .625 in OPS in past week.  Thanks to the homers last night both Bryce (.561 - he had stopped walking along with hitting and you didn't even notice) and Espinosa (.516) pass Werth (.455) in OPS for the past week.  Werth has hit better in the 2nd spot but more accurately he's had one really good game (2-2 double, 3 walks) that's pushing up a mediocre run in the other 10 (8-34, 2 doubles, 4 walks). If the Nats need another bat replacing Turner for Espinosa is the easiest move. But that has very little guarantee of success. Replacing Werth for someone else is far more likely to make an impact. 

Thursday, May 26, 2016

I'm obsessed

I don't know why I am obsessed with trying to define the Nationals position in baseball's pecking order but I am. I know they are good. The record says it. The runs scored and runs allowed say it. Just watching the team conveys that. But HOW good? 95 ish wins, normally an easy division winning total? 85 wins, normally a fighting for Wild Card total? I'd like to believe the former but I don't fully not yet.

There are two things working against the easy defining of the Nats. First is simply where we are time wise. At this point some teams define themselves by beating everyone in their path (Cubs) and others define themselves the opposite way (Twins, Braves). But for everyone else it's not that simple and how you are defined is in large part how you do against specific teams. Who are you beating? Who are you losing to?

The problem is though, if you are not defined, how exactly can we define the teams you are playing? Teams get lucky. Teams get unlucky. Sometimes you face all the good pitchers, sometimes you face all the bad ones. Sometimes you play teams when they are hot, sometimes you play them when they are cold. You expect that all to even out over a season, (you expect...) but over 50 games? It remains a question.

The other issue is that the league this year has several teams playing truly terrible baseball, but only one playing true great baseball. Three teams are currently playing at a 50 win pace and only one is winning at a 110 plus win pace* This is skewing the data to create more over .500 teams. Going into yesterday we had 18 teams .500 or better (17 today). So simply saying "Look at all the .500 teams we've played" doesn't necessarily mean you are playing teams better than average. The average has shifted up.

Bringing it back to the Nats the Nats have played roughly .500 ball (19-18) after they started the season 9-1. Some have noted that this is against a tough schedule that features one team under .500 (Twins). But what does that really mean?  When we look at records, the Cubs, as mentioned before are clearly great. The Twins clearly terrible. The Mets are very good. The rest? PHI, KC, MIA, STL, and DET are 12th - 17th (with LA sneaking in at 15th) in winning percentage. So that would suggest the Nats are doing ok (13-11) against ... good? above average? C+ B-?  teams

But is record the best indicator? What if we look at the pythag record that tries to estimate a teams wins and losses purely looking at runs? Nothing you can imagine changes about Cubs, Mets, or Twins. But the Cardinals look better, while Miami and KC drop a little and the Phillies (14-4 in one run games) look much worse. So the Nats would be doing ok against a mix that comes out as decidedly average.

What about SRS which tries to take into account strength of schedule with all the flaws noted so far? The Mets are no longer very good, merely good. However, STL is now a Top 5 team. But none of the other teams are above average so the Nats are beating up on not an average schedule but a below average one.

Of course during this whole time the Nats are being ranked too and that's what I keep coming back to. They are 5th in winning percentage, 3rd in pythagorean winning percentage, t3rd for strength of schedule. All of it agrees that the Nats are very very good.

Now what I want is that to translate to a nice long winning streak. Of course that isn't likely to happen soon. They face one across the board bad team between now and June 15th. They also play those darn Cubbies again. The other games are 6 vs the Phillies** (probably much worse than record), 4 vs STL (probably better than record), and 3 vs White Sox (probably at record - which would be like the Mets).  All in all... I guess .500 during this time would actually probably be ok?

I said earlier that not being bad mixed with the occasional hot streak makes a very good baseball team. That's true. But Nats have a schedule as a whole that really doesn't clump the good or the bad together. And right now are in a weird place with a super long stretch with no gimmes. A place where not being bad is all that is really asked for, and yet going say 55 games (a third of the season) playing .500 ball can't help but feel like... well like playing 55 games of .500 ball.

Other Notes

Just an aside but I noted yesterday on the Twitters that for May Bryce is hitting like 35% of his balls in play softly. That's bad. Like one of the worst for the month out of anyone with enough ABs. Like no one does that for a season bad. So it's not just bad luck with BABIP. The balls he's hitting shouldn't be hits a lot of the time.

*in another sense the Cubs winning percentage, if kept up for a year would be 15th best since 1900. The Red Sox, currently with the 2nd best W% in baseball, would be t 96th.  In contrast the Twins and Braves would be 6th and 7th worst and the Reds would be 39th worst. 

**You know what I blame the Phillies. If they were just losing like they should we could really hold that 2-4 record against them against the Nats. Stupid lucky Phillies.

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

3-2, 1 game to go

House money. In a very literal sense too as the worst the Nats can do now is break even. Good.

Last night was a bit worrying a couple innings in if only because the Nats should win that game. Strasburg's been very good. Harvey's been very bad. The game is in DC. There really isn't a good reason the Nats should lose. Yet sometimes you do and this would have been a bad time for sometimes.

It was a power explosion, but after watching Harvey two times now I don't want to say anything about the team's offense. He's bad. Let's see what happens versus Matz. Hopefully this tee-ball session gets the bats back in a hitting mood after Colon kept them quiet.

So if we aren't talking about the offense, how about dem Strasburgs?

Another solid outing in a season literally full of them.  His worst game was probably that first game of the DH vs Miami where he gave up 3 runs over 6 innings while walking three and "only" striking out 7.  That's certainly acceptable, in fact better than acceptable in my opinion. He has yet to have a bad game this year, or even a mediocre one. He has 8 wins and no losses. He is second in the league in K/9 and second in Ks.

Now given that you might wonder why he isn't chasing down the likes of Kershaw for Cy Young. Well he hasn't had anything but good games this year but he's also only had one great one. One dominant game where he went into the 8th. But as you can tell from his results good games are winners most of the time too. He hasn't been cheated out of a win yet. Seven times he's held the other team to 2 or fewer runs over at least 6 innings. Seven times he's won. The only games he hasn't won are the two games where he's given up 4 runs.  Keep giving the team these "high-quality starts" and hello 20 wins.

I'll maintain the key to Strasburg's resurgence is just letting him go. He's had 10 double digit strikeout games since coming back form the DL last August, as many as he had from basically the 3 season period from mid year 2012 though July of 2015. The Nats wanted to make all their pitchers Greg Madduxes, contact pitchers who could get the K when needed, but all pitchers aren't the same. Perhpas it was bringing in Max that changed things. Not for Strasburg in a psychological sense. Get that nonsense out of here. But for the Nats in terms of "Why are we letting this guy do what he wants and be successful and trying to tell Strasburg not to do the same thing when he might even be better at it?"

One thing connected to the swings and misses, is that Strasburg has stopped trying to pound the bottom of the zone. From 2013 to DL 2015 Strasburg was throwing just over half of his pitches at either the bottom of the zone or below.* Since then he's under 42%. As you can imagine it has a effect on the converse. He was only throwing about a quarter of his pitches up in the zone 2013 to DL 2015, but now is throwing about a third. "Get the ground ball" has been replaced with "Get the out" and trusting Strasburg can do it.

Now as much as I know some people want to scream MIKE MADDUX! BESTEST! the facts are this started last August. The Nats changed something then and it's continued into this season. Good for Maddux for not changing what's working I guess but he wasn't really the cause of this improvement.

So Stras is Strasburg again, to some degree. The Strasburg he was in 2010-2012 that electrified DC. The one free to strikeout a dozen guys if he feels like he has the stuff that day. He's still a half-step away from dominance sitting in the very very good camp, but if we're lucky dominance is coming.

*thinking about the zone as a grid with top, middle, bottom.

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

2-2, 2 games to go

Gio wasn't going to be in the Cy Young conversation. At least that's what five of six of his full seasons tell us. So a game like this was going to happen. It's just bad timing that it had to happen against the Mets. It's not all bad timing mind you. The Mets are good. But Gio did manage to keep them in check just 5 days ago, so hoping for one more good start wasn't asking for much.

It is notable to point out that the Nats have not faced many good offensive teams this year. The Braves, Phillies, and Twins are terrible offensive teams. The Royals are surprisingly bad so far.  And Miami and the Mets aren't particularly good.  That accounts for 35 of the Nats 45 games. I'm not making a point about the quality of the wins the Nats have*. But I am noting that if you are a Nats starter and things fall right for you, you might have racked up some nice numbers with only a game against top competition.

This brings it back to Gio. He had only faced one good offensive squad so far, the Cubs.** He got hit pretty hard. So maybe Gio's early success was a bit misleading. We'll see as the Nats face better bats as the schedule moves along.

The loss itself isn't very meaningful. I mean, you want a win sure but they don't need it. Just one win in the next two would break the 6 game set into a 3-3 tie, perfectly acceptable for two teams of roughly equal talent going H2H home and away for 6 games. They are favored today and assuming it goes to plan then tomorrow's game, where they won't be, becomes a "house money" game. They can do no worse than split and they can't lose 1st place. So make it happen Strasburg.

Other notes

Now that's more the Colon we've seen over the past few years. The "have all the singles you want", Colon. He's not a scatterer, as much as he relies on the fact you won't be able to put a lot of them together and with no walks there isn't anyone to drive in other than other single hitters. Of course it's only moderately successful, he has had an ERA over 4.00 the past two seasons. But it keeps a career going in the back of a rotation.

Bryce hti before the game. Bryce hit after the game. Bryce is starting to press. Looking at zone maps from before the 3 walk game and after isn't very telling, in part because there's only so many pitches in each little box. But he is seeing far fewer pitches in the zone and opposing pitchers are really focusing on low and away. It looks like that effort has made him over eager to swing at pitches off the plate INSIDE. He's also swinging and missing more at low pitches although that might be attributed to the mix of what he's seeing there. I'd have to look into that more. Hard to tell the guy to swing less but that may be the best plan. Look for something over the plate and up, or else take.

Is it Trea Turner time? Sure. (Well when service time dictates)  But don't expect anything.

*They are 5-5 in those other 10 so it's not like they are struggling there. 

**Since you must know, Ross and Max have faced all 3 good offensive teams (STL, CHC, DET), Stras missed the Cubs. Roark and Gio only faced the Cubs.  So on the flipside of Gio, Ross' struggles might be related to the effort of going STL, CHC, DET in consecutive outings. Even though he pitched well there, maybe the stress of doing so effected him in some way? I don't know. We're all guessing here.

Monday, May 23, 2016

Round 2... FIGHT!

It's versus Blanka.

In the first 40 games the Nats started hot (9-1) then played middling ball for the remainder of time. (15-15). This sounds bad but it's actually not. If you have one really hot streak followed with .500 ball for a quarter of a season, and manage to repeat that 4 times you find yourself going into the penultimate game of the year 32 games over .500 (96-64 for those bad at math).  That's not a good team, that's a great team.

It seems odd that avoiding being terrible is the hallmark of a great team but it is. The season is long and being terrible for a stretch is something that happens to most teams. If you don't get it under control quickly it can break your season. Take for example, the greatest team ever, the New York Yankees.  They have been one of the best teams in baseball in May going 13-8 since the month started. However, they were one of the worst teams in baseball in April going 8-14 during the opening month. If they manage to keep up their play for the remainder of May, they are going to find themselves playing the best baseball in the majors... and also just a game or two above .500. Their margin for error has been mostly wiped clean. Another long round of bad baseball likely would sink the season.

So the Nats may have not played great baseball going into that first Mets series, but as important, they weren't playing bad baseball either. If the Nats' floor ends up being a month close to .500 then the season will be a breeze.

So that's the question of the moment, are the Nats a .500ish team that happened to have a hot streak at the exact right time to make us think otherwise? Or are the Nats a 90+ win team who will potentially fight for best record in baseball? Well, since the Mets series started the Nats have won 4 of 6 on the road versus a good Mets team and a capable Marlins squad. They seem to be answering the question in the latter direction. This next homestand, 7 games versus those same Mets and the not-clicking but still dangerous Cardinals, can get us further away from the idea that great play from this team is a fluke.

This series with the Mets is also important in the micro sense because the Nats can continue to force the Mets to play catch-up for a while with another win. Playing catch-up can be hard psychologically because you have to maintain your high level of play long enough not only to get to the team ahead of you but to pass them. Often you may accomplish the former only to slide a few games back soon after. It just happened in fact as the Mets took the division lead for 4 days two weeks ago. Or think of the Nats last season who twice climbed hills with runs of 18-4 and 11-3, only to see those leads slip away. The season becomes a bit easier for the team ahead because a loss or two isn't the end of the world. You are still ahead. And since losing the lead is often because of an extended period of good play by the other team it can be spun as "ok they had their hot streak, now it's our turn", rather than worrying if they are pulling away or you are fading. It begins to feel like the team ahead is the better team that must be beaten.

On the other hand if the Mets win the series then they set up the dogfight scenario we expected from the season. The Mets a half game up or up by 1.5 would be the rival the Nats would have to scoreboard watch nightly. A loss or two here would be a big deal and an extended run by them or crash by you sets up a chase scenario.  The teams feel more equal in this scenario as they fight to stay close to eachother hoping to catch a hot run or for the other team to stumble.

This is all just feelings more than facts, especially at this point in the year. What feels like an insurmountable lead can disappear in a week in baseball even when we feel sure we know what these teams are. However, I've been looking to define the Nats all year and after a couple of false starts I might find myself with a good sense of what this team really is.

Other notes :

Ben Revere is finally having balls in play break his way as pretty much everyone said would happen. 7-14 in last few games and the average is up to .182. As long as you don't expect more than a bunch of singles from Ben Revere you'll be happy. Rendon too is having things go his way as expected 10-20 in past week, with 4 XBH, and 5 walks.

Scherzer had another good outing. So if for some reasons you were still on the edge of despair with him, get away from that edge. He did of course give up a home run but the walks were down again. He's not 2015 Max, but 2012-2014 Max were great pitchers too.

If you're looking for something new to worry about. Joe Ross might be the next thing up. His May has been decidedly blah (4.50 ERA, 1.50 WHIP) and his last three starts especially have been unimpressive. Not that this is too big a worry. Roark looks fine and even these numbers are ok for a 5th starter. But for those looking at Ross as a #2 type it'd be nice to see a good start in one of his next two outings. He'll have STL next - who still have a great offense. After that will be Philly, who struggle to score even at home.

The Nats schedule isn't hard coming up but it isn't easy. They'll play 4 versus a Cardinals team I maintain is dangerous to finish up the homestand. Then they'll go away to the lucky Phillies, and terrible Reds, before ending the road trip with a tough White Sox team. Back home they'll get the Phillies again and then the Cubs. It's an overall stretch where if they beat the Mets .500 will probably be ok.  The Nats schedule went easy - hard - but for the rest of the year it's pretty even assuming the NL East teams hold up. If the Mets are on their tail, they'll have their best chance to get separation, in late June as a @SD, @LA, @MIL road trip flows into an NYM, CIN, MIL homestand. Although I don't like to count on west coast trips for anything.

How is the Mets schedule after this series? They get the disappointing Dodgers and the White Sox at home then go on the road to play Miami, Pittsburgh and Milwaukee.  About the same. The Mets schedule for the rest of the year probably skews a bit tougher overall but they also have an easy stretch in Sept (@CIN, @ATL, @WSN, MIN, ATL). If things are close past the Nats/Mets series around Labor Day you probably give the Mets an edge down the home stretch. But a lot of baseball between then and now.

Friday, May 20, 2016

2-1, 3 games to go

Some games are given to you. Some games are taken. Two nights ago, the Mets gave the Nats a win putting thirteen men on base without making them get a hit, while barely working the staff to the tune of 131 pitches over 9. Last night, the Nats took the win, pounding out 8 hits in 2 2/3 innings while Strasburg & company struck out 14 Mets and allowed no XBH. Last night was the type of win you want to see. A complete victory full of hard hit balls and dominant pitching. Now the Nats have a solid lead on the Mets and have a chance to put even more space between the two teams with a series at home coming up after this weekend. For the moment the pressure is all on the Mets.

Strasburg again came up strong with a solid game. Personally I think the change we've seen in the past 120 innings of his career is about accepting the type of pitcher he is. Strasburg strikes out a lot of guys. That's who he is. The Nats wanted to change that a bit. They wanted him to tone down on the K's a little, get more weak contact, last longer into games. That's great in theory but in practice it took away Strasburg's strength. While by no means bad, his performances in 2013, 2014 and the first four months of 2015 were to me a step behind what he did in 2010, 2012, the last two months of 2015, and what he's doing now. Maybe this means he doesn't go 8 innings. That's up to the Nats. But I'll take 6 innings of this guy every day.

But god forbid we take anything about Strasburg and not make it a memorandum on something bigger. Last night and today we're hearing more and more "shutdown" talk, as Strasburg, who was shutdown, looked great while Harvey, who wasn't, looked terrible.  I don't like repeating myself but when the world does not listen, or understands but willfully ignores for the sake of a story, I have to keep yelling.


If Strasburg wasn't shutdown maybe the Nats win the series, maybe they lose the DS in 3. Maybe he pitches the same as he is now, maybe worse, maybe better. WE DON'T KNOW

If Harvey was shutdown maybe the Mets get knocked out earlier, or maybe they win it all. Maybe he pitches the same as he is now, maybe worse, maybe better. WE DON'T KNOW

Let me repeat


The GMs with their gut don't know. The agents with their binders don't know. The players, the very people who's arms we are talking about, don't know. And the media and us? HAHAHAHAHA. We REALLY don't know. 

Arrgh. It's so frustrating. In part because those talking on either side of the shutdown talk with such conviction, be it the two-thirds who say "keep pitching" or the one-third who say "protect the arm". They are so sure of themselves, that their way is the right way, when assuredness should be nowhere near this conversation.

All you can do is make a guess on what's the best course of action and hope it works out. There isn't even a good chance for being right in hindsight here. You pinch hit Tyler Moore and he comes up with the winning hit, while it might not have been the optimal choice at the time, in reality it was "a" right choice. It worked. Nothing else matters for that team in that moment. Well for the shutdown "it worked" boils down to winning the World Series and having the pitcher be healthy for years. Good luck getting that to happen.

Even more annoying is the sense that the one-third are changing the way to look at shutdowns entirely. Strasburg is pitching better than Harvey. Therefore the shutdown worked. Harvey's playoff performance somehow becomes inconsequential. That's just luck. The long term performance is what really comes from the shutdown. Not only then do people who say this think the decision to shutdown was right, they think the decision to shutdown CAN'T BE WRONG. In essence, they are infallible. It's insanity.

I'm angering up the blood over here. Look I was for the shutdown. Made sense at the time. Glad to see he's stayed healthy and pitched well. THE END.

Thursday, May 19, 2016

1-1, 4 games to go

And just like that the pressure is on the Mets. They don't HAVE to win tonight, but if they don't they'll find themselves 2.5 games out with a 3 game set in DC on the near horizon. If they couldn't beat the Nats 2 out of 3 in NY, how could they expect to beat them 2 out of 3 in Washington just a few days later? Of course they pretty easily could

Last night was a good night, though it was obvious that Colon was off. The man who hasn't walked more than 30 men in a season the past four years gave 5 guys free passes last night. As much as I'd like to credit the Nats amazing patience that's probably not the truth. And so just like I can't go too much into evaluating an offense that fails to score against one of the best pitchers on a day that he's dealing, I can't do much evaluation for an offense that scores against a meh pitcher having an off day. I will say you NEED to score on such days and the Nats did so they didn't blow their shot.

Now it's Strasburg's turn versus Matt Harvey.  I'm not sure we'll hear many "Harvey's better" chants today.  He's been a mess this year. His ERA (4.93) is bad and his WHIP (1.533) shows it isn't much of an accident of timing. He's peaked at "decent" this year with more bad games than ok ones. He's walking more and striking out fewer but the real issue is he's become incredibly hittable. Supposedly it's just a mechanics thing but we'll see for ourselves tonight .

Strasburg's historically been pretty good versus the Mets and in a crucial game last year went toe to toe with the Mets' best pitcher of 2015 Jacob DeGrom before getting forced out and watching Storen serve up a gopher ball to Cespedes. He's pitching better in 2016 than he has in the past couple years and that's saying something because at worst you'd say he pitched good in those years (and that's selling his performance short IMO).  He still hasn't broken out - no Kershaw like dominance - tonight would be a good night to have that start.

Even if the Nats lost tonight it's fine. They are playing in Queens. They needed one win and they got it.

Hey Harper how are the prospects doing?

Trea Turner - finally got hot again after a nearly month log slog (.250 / .302 / .344 from April 17th through May 11th) dulled the excitement of his fast start. He's got a little 8 game hitting streak right now, though the prudent move is to keep an eye on him. The strikeouts aren't bad but he's stopped walking even while heating back up. Right now I don't think I'd move him up today but he's close. He might actually time a reasonable call-up with what service time would dictate.

Lucas Giolito - the good news - only 3 hits in 5 innings last time out! the bad news - 5 walks and only 4 Ks. He did have a couple errors behind him.  The short of it is that they are starting to stretch him out now and we have to see how he reacts to that while trying to pick up his game.

Victor Robles - He's slowed down a bit but he still hasn't gone hitless in 3 straight games yet. Unless the Nats are trying to teach him patience (he does not wallk - 1 walk in the past month) there's no reason he shouldn't be moved up soon.

Catch All of names you heard of at some point - Lopez is doing ok in AA, better recently. Cole is scuffling along in AAA. Fedde is struggling big time in High-A. Difo is trying to pull himself back up after a painfully slow start.

Other guys in upper majors - Severino holding his own at AAA which is great since he's 22. Not major league ready yet but gives you hope he will be in a year or two. Goodwin is doing ok in same place, though fading recently. In AAA you have some of the usual maybe useful relief arms but nothing exciting. Voth has probably claimed the "first up" if there is a rotation hole. He's been good, not great. In AA there isn't much to excite. De los Santos was interesting and got bumped up and has done poorly in AAA.

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

0-1, 5 games to go

The best way to look at the Mets / Nats games is an extended 6 game home and home series. We assume these teams are fairly evenly matched so the expectation for each team is 3-3 going in, 1-2 away and 2-1 at home. If one team manages to go 4-2, they'll claim a slight psychological advantage.  Go 5-1 or 6-0 and you put the other team behind the eight ball early.

So last night was pretty much par for course. Mets at home, with their best pitcher in 2016, won. We haven't ruled out anything other than a Nats sweep. Lose tonight, though and something tangible changes. The Nats lose their chance to really put the screws to the Mets over these six games, and Game 3 looms ominously.

How did Max do last night? Well enough. Very good, even. He walked his tightrope successfully. You can say "oh once Max stops giving up homers he'll be dominant". Sure. You can also say "oh once Max starts giving up some hits he'll be in big trouble". Both are true. The guy gives up WAY WAY  too many home runs. That's not a good thing. It means he has to do everything else right. Last night he pretty much did. How long can he keep it up? Don't know. But given how good he was last year, and how successful he's been before that, you give him the benefit of the doubt when he performs. After waiting a month, he's performing now. He's built up a bad game cushion. Time to worry about something else. 

And there are things to worry about, such as the blah offense. I'm not going to say anything about last night. It's hard to judge the team fairly against a great pitcher on top of his game and that's Syndergaard right now. Colon, though, is nothing special and should be scored upon.  If they fail to get 4 runs tonight, I won't be happy win or not.

Now how about some more player check-ins? Anthony Rendon is arguably the most disappointing bat in the line-up right now. He's not the worst but Werth we all understand is old, and Zimmerman we all have seen get injured time and again. Rendon though, we've only seen one injury and he has yet to turn 26. What's up with him?

Well I'll start off by saying just because we haven't seen it doesn't mean it didn't happen. Rendon had two serious injuries in college and one more in the minors before getting to the Nats. In seven years he's had 4 major injuries. You have to keep that in the back of your mind. That means there is potentially more permanence to the decline with each broken bone and strained muscle.

OK with that said Rendon is hitting .229 / .314 / .314 right now, showing both a lack of average and a lack of power. Is the average bad luck? His BABIP is low but not crazily so (.270). I think the key here is that last year his BABIP was .321. That was similar to 2014 (.314) and 2013 (.307).  Unless you think he got more injured in the offseason, it seems likely that number will go up. His LD/GB/FB percentages, and soft/hard percentages are right in line with past years, lending more credence to this belief.

If there is a flag, it's the pop-ups. Part of the reason his BABIP is low is a big increase in pop-ups, basically automatic outs. If this is something that carries forward the BABIP likely won't get to the .310 range of past years. Nothing suggests that he's being fooled. Swinging strikes are up a bit but aren't high. K's are similar. He isn't swigning more at pitches outside the zone. My first guess was it could be a pure "can't catch up to high heat" issue, but the data doesn't agree. He's popping up balls in the middle of the zone. Soo... I don't know. Looking at the zone charts it just looks like his effective area has shrunk.

The lack of power is more concerning. His HR/FB rate dropped from 10.2% (ok) in 2014 to 6.2% (bad) in 2015 and is at 4.3% now.  Rendon never had great power (he was "Tony Two-Bags" and not "Tony Four-Bags" for a reason) but he was a decent threat and there was hope he'd develop a little bit more. Instead he has backtracked. This isn't something we can really predict going forward. All I can do is mention May hasn't been any better than April in this regard.

You play Rendon. His average will bounce back and he'll hit around .280. I'm willing to bet on that. The real question is whether his power can come back. On that I have no idea. The current Tony would be a solid infielder but no where near the MVP type of season he had in 2013. All we can do is watch, wait, and hope.

Let's get into something positive, Wilson Ramos. After years of struggling through injury, apparently bad vision, and even a kidnapping, Wilson has put together a great start to 2016. He's hitting .340 / .376 / .524 and is one of the things keeping what constitutes the Nats offense moving.  Important things have changed in comparison to last year. He's making far more contact, swinging and missing less, and cutting way down on his strikeouts. He had gotten progressively worse in these things over the past few years. He's making better choices (his swings outside the strike zone are way down). All in all just has a better approach.

It's important to see what he's hitting change because how he's hitting hasn't really. He's hitting it not as soft, but not as hard, and he's making the same split of types of balls in play as previously. What may be telling is a big increase in the balls he is pulling in play. Is this a concerted effort to turn on pitches he can hit? Or is this a reaction to seeing the ball better and no longer swinging late? I'm not sure. 

Of course there is a huge red flag out there in the form of a .369 BABIP. For a guy as slow as Wilson that is ridiculously high, especially when not linked to a big increase in LDs or hard hit balls or something. So he is getting lucky and that .340 number is going oto go away.

What do I think is the end for Ramos? Well I think it's something a lot like 2013. That year he put up a .272 batting average and hit 16 homers. His K% is very similar to that year and while he's not hitting the ball as hard he is hitting more like drives.  I bet that balances out. Wilson's power is real and if we're willing to bet drop-offs in the past two years were due to injury and other things, it could bounce back a bit. Not quite to 2013 range but better than the recent years. 

I'd expect something like high .270s in average (thanks to this fast start) and maybe something around 20 in homers in about 125 games? The more games he plays the more likely he is to get more homers. The kind of season that'll make it tough to watch him go in free agency but also expensive to keep.

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Revere? Who said anything about Revere? Werth? Who sai... oh right that was me.

My note yesterday that Werth wasn't pulling his weight somehow turned into a Werth / Revere issue in the comments. It's true that Revere isn't doing well. Ok that's an understatement. He's doing horribly.  However it's also true Ben Revere has played in 10 games. Everyone can slump for 10 games.

Bryce Harper Games #24-33 : .154 BA, SLG .269

See? Here are some facts about Ben Revere

He's been remarkably consistent offensively the past few years.
2015: .306 / 98 / .338
2014: .306 / 92 / .330
2013: .295 / 93 / .344

As noted by commenters, he's getting very very unlucky with BIP.  .105 right now.  That would only make sense without luck if he was (1) hitting everything softly, or (2) hitting everything in the air (history has proven he doesn't have the strength to get those over the wall).

Ok let's check. (1) Well what's his soft% (percentage of balls that leave his bat at a relatively slow speed)? 18.4% That's not high. And his hard%? 28.9%. Not fantastic but better than he usually does.  He's not much of a hard hit guy as you can probably tell from his complete lack of power.

(2) Is his flyball (FB)% any higher? Nope 18.4% Right in line with his traditional levels.  This isn't a problem either.

Is there anything that's off? Well he's striking out a bit more and he's pulling the ball a lot more. So he's probably losing some slap hits the other way that he normally beats out with his legs. But honestly TEN GAMES! Everything here is screaming bad luck.

Is Ben Revere just a Singly Joe? Yep. But he's a singly Joe who should hit .280+ at least.  Just calm down and wait. MAT had like 30 games (and even that might not have been enough IMO). Come back to me with Revere issues in early June.

Now Werth, this is something different. We aren't working off three consistent seasons from a guy that just turned 28, like we are for Revere. We are working from a pretty awful season from a guy who's a couple days away from 37.  Last year Werth hit .221 / .302 / .384 and at this age looking at the past 3 years is too much. He's not going to hit like a 34 yr old again. Let's stop pretending that he might.

Yes he is getting unlucky with BABIP as well though not nearly as egregiously as Revere. A .232 BABIP is very low but when you see that he had one of .253 last year (also very low) you start to think that this could be his new normal.  Let's check the same things for Werth we did for Revere.

(1) Soft % - Nope nothing up here 14.8% and his Hard % is fine too 38.6%. So he's not suddenly hitting the ball a lot different in a way we can tell from this stat. 

(2) Oh ok. His line drive (LD)% is WAY down 15.9% which would be his lowest (though not by far, he didn't line drive much in his Phillies years) and his FB% is way up 50.0%.  Even taking into account that his HR/FB ratio is higher than last year this is a problem. Fly balls are generally outs if you can't hit them over the fence and his HR/FB percentage isn't anything special.

Anything else for Werth? Yep. Lots. His K's are up to 25.8% which is up from last years 22.2%. His walks are WAY down to a paltry 6.8%, which is embarrassingly low for a guy like him who used to walk twice as much. He swings and misses more, his contact is down, and he's just swinging more in general. He's seeing a lot more pitches in the zone. Everything here looks bad. This isn't Werth 1.0 or Werth 2.0. This is a new Werth, let's call it Werth AAA.

Werth 1.0 was the prime Phillies Werth. That guy would work the zone and swing hard at pitches in the zone. He'd walk a lot, strike out a lot. He generated a lot of power, but not as much average. He was a guy going for the big hit, the home run, but also a guy with very good speed and a good eye.  The strikeouts were a choice, a trade-off for the power, and they were not haphazard. They were from battles with pitchers in the strike zone.

Werth 2.0 was the prime Nationals Werth. Injuries had taken some of that power away so Werth adapted. Instead of going for the HR, he started going for the hard hit line drive attacking fastballs. While the power went down a bit the average went up. He still worked the strike zone but he became more discerning and tried to put the ball in play more and his K's fell. He still had decent speed so he could continue to use that as well.

Werth AAA is having more trouble making contact. He can no longer do much with pitches out of the strike zone and can't catch up to some fastballs. This is increasing his stirke outs. Those balls he can hit he's hitting less squarely. Injuries and age have now taken his speed, so he can't leg out hits anymore. This is decreasing his average. He's swinging from his heels now to compensate, trying to drive balls out of the park. He's trying to hit more FBs, and is pulling the ball more. It's working but only to a point. Pitchers aren't very afraid of that outcome so they are challenging him more in the strike zone. This has ruined his ability to get on base and work the count. Along with the lack of walks, his P/PA is basically a quarter of a pitch lower than what had been career lows in 2013 and 2014.

Werth is not hitting LDs and doesn't have speed so while the BABIP should improve and with it the average, expectations should be muted. As of today Werth is a one-trick pony, Werth is a Tyler Moore. He sits on pitches and tried to turn on them to knock them out of the park. That's it. He doesn't walk anymore. He can't field anymore. The hope is that he will return to form from injury but we are now 120 games and a full-offseason into "recovery". The chances of a large improvement are small and grow smaller daily. 

Werth is a problem. Given that the on-hand solutions are iffy at best, the Nats should play it out to the fair endpoint (IMO) of Memorial Day. At that point Werth will have had a third of this season and more than 80% of a season worth of games in total since coming back from injury telling us what he is now. At that point the Nats need to start making decisions on how the rest of the season plays out. It doesn't mean that on June 1st Heisey or Robinson is starting in LF. But it does mean that the Nats are planning out a post All-Star break future that does not include Werth in the starting line-up. It means feelers are going out to other clubs for trades and internally discussions are being held for the best course of action.

You've got 14 days Jayson. Make them count.

Sunday, May 15, 2016

Monday Quickie - on the road

I was out Friday - I'm out today, but here's a discussion topic.


Here's another one. Nats have now officially been playing .500 ball for a month. 14-14 since April 16th. Outside of MAT doing really well in strategic usage nothing has really changed. Bench, Bryce, Ramos, Murphy do well. Rest don't. The result is an average offense that the pitching has to try to carry. Biggest hole is Werth. What's the play here? MAT back full time? Platoon use of bench? Do you really think either are long-term solutions?

Talk amongst yourselves.

Thursday, May 12, 2016


Ok it's not K's but it feels the same to me.

Scherzer was fantastic last night. Yes the strike zone was a favorable as was the Tigers approach. But really that's like saying they left the door open a crack for a sniper shot. Max shot a nuke into the building. His control was spot on. He had the velocity. he had the movement. He was going to get a bunch of K's last night even given different circumstances. All the above did was help him get 20 instead of say 15 or 16.

So he's back right! Woo!

Ummm... probably!

Starting pitchers are hard to evaluate. We only see them a little more than 30 times a year. If we take games as individual events, like we would a bad relief outing or a 5-5 2 HR game, then we are stuck waiting two weeks to get the 3-4 data points we'd like to say something as simple as "He's hot" or "He might need a day off". Opponents, feelings, location all matter immensely as well. One game they might be off for some reason against a good hitting team in a band box. Another game they might be on against punch and judies in a cavern. We have to take those data points and treat them the same because that's all we have. So evaluation becomes more of a rolling thing.

What does that all mean for Max? For the season you'd say that his starts were something like Good, Not Good, Good, Bad, Not Good, Great, Terrible, Fantastic. I guess the feeling we sit on today is "Rusty first month, but Max is probably back in form" and treat that last terrible start, against the best team in baseball, as a fluke. Then we wait for the next start. Another good or better start and the data starts telling you something with a lot more confidence. Something less and that confidence is gone. You may say "He just was historic!". That's true. That's why I'm not really asking for much here. Really I'm just waiting for him to have two good games in a row. Surely you can see that isn't setting too high a bar for "being back"

Honestly Max has made it to the point where the Nats are as a team, for me. We think they are really good. We keep waiting for them to prove it beyond a shadow of a doubt.

How was the rest of the team last night? They won! Now they have a day off!

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

At least the Mets lost right?

We're beginning to see some patterns emerge from Dusty and one of those is trying to squeeze each last bit he can from his starter. It's one thing when you bring out a starter performing well to try to see how many more easy outs you can get, a la Strasburg two night ago. It's another when you can't bring yourself to pull a struggling starter because you want to at least get to PH for him in the bottom of the inning. That can lead to digging a hole you can't get out of and that's what happened last night. Ross lost his effectiveness in the 6th but Dusty kept him in too long. A few hard grounders and soft liners later and the Nats were down two.

It wasn't Dusty's finest moment but hey 20-13 so for now complaints should be at a minimum. For now.

If you are a glass half-empty kind of guy the Nats have not been playing well for a while. They are actually 3 1/2 weeks into an 11-12 stretch*. The question of "who have they beat" didn't go away like we thought it would during this time. The Cardinals are probably good (I'll hold onto that belief right now). The Marlins are probably ok. But the Twins are garbage and it wasn't the Nats beating the Royals that made them "bad". They really are not playing well. Bryce is being thrown for a loop it seems by all the walks. Since that first 3 walk game Bryce is hitting .146 with 1 HR and no other XBH. Plus he's struck out 19 times in these 15 games after starting out with only 9 Ks in the first 18. He does have a .463 OBP but taking the bat out of his hands is messing him up and therefore messing up the Nats offense.

The other concerning thing is the slow start for Revere. God knows he's going to (and should) get what, six weeks? two months? to get going but the hope was he'd provide an immediate spark for the Nationals. Instead he's actually hitting worse than MAT did. You didn't think it was possible did you? This is almost certainly temporary. Unlike MAT being a question mark with little major league success to base opinions on, Revere has been Revere for years. He may do a little worse, time and injury gets all players, but to be this bad for an extended time would be shocking. 

There was good from last night. Ryan Zimmerman FINALLY got going, hitting two home runs, one after a Bryce walk. He did fail to come up big in the 9th when they again challenged him but the guy was directly responsible for 3 of the Nats 4 runs last night. You can't ask for much more. We'll see if this keeps up.

The pen was ok and thanks to that was used as little as possible. Solis ate up two innings and Kelley one which is perfect. With the day off tomorrow a bunch of guys should be available for today. That's great because I'd love to get out of today with the likely overtaxed Rivero (10 appearances in 20 days) not throwing. Make it happen Dusty.

So now we come to the end of the long trip. Sixteen days of baseball in a row comes to an end today with Scherzer vs Zimmermann. Scherzer needs a good game today, not because of the whole Max vs ZNN thing we got going here (that's still a 3 year minimum analysis so call me at the end of 2017) but because he followed up his best game of the year; a 4-hit, 9K gem vs the Cardinals, with his worst game of the year; a 4 homer garbage fire against the Cubs. We thought he righted the ship. He didn't. A decent game or better today would go a long way to comforting Nats fans while another bad game could warrant some deep questions.

*If you prefer not to split series you can go 13-12 or 11-11, still pretty mediocre play.

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Strasburg signs

First let's get through a couple things. Last night was a good win, mainly because the way it was headed it looked liked the Nats would have to tax an already otherwise tired pen in extra innings. They didn't, so great! The fact they won the game was more icing to me. They still have "not Bryce, not Murphy, not oddly well-timed bench hits from otherwise struggling bench bats" issues but they get another day to try to fix them / hope they go away. Mets won. Marlins won. Nats won. Pace kept.

As for Bryce, it'll be talked about today because it was so public but it wasn't anything new. Players go after umps (and umps go after players). They sometimes, you may want to sit down for this, use bad words! It's not how you want these guys to act as public figures but it happens. He'll get fined, hopefully nothing more (I can't see how it would be without setting a crazy precedent) and it'll go away. Well it'll probably expand his strike zone for a day or two but it's Bryce. He can handle that. This is all the discussion this deserves. Let's move on again

OK Strasburg. First off I like the deal because it shows the commitment level to what I like to call the Bryce Window. Bryce will be with the Nats at least through 2018, meaning the best chance for the Nats to win goes through 2018. Next year had a good chance to be almost a rebuilding year if the Nats lost Strasburg, Ramos, Papelbon and tried to fill those positions with just young players. Signing Stras shows a commitment to winning when winning looks most possible. Sure it's possible the Nats will be a playoff level team post-Bryce. That is in fact the goal - create a good team for a long time. But looking at Rendon and Scherzer this year so far should tell you the pitfalls of planning for a future even just a couple years away. The Nats are good right now. Bet on this year. Bet on next. Worry about after that, after that. 

I do have other thoughts. I think if you are a "future looking" Nats fan this is a risky deal. Strasburg is a talent but he's also a guy who pitched one full season in five potential full professional seasons. There has been major surgery, there has been a big chunk of a season missed, and there have been nicks and dings. The thing that predicts future injury best is past injury and Strasburg has that in spades. On his side though is youth. He's a young guy so if he remains healthy it's doubtful he'll go through major decline for several years. If you are going to bet on someone with injury history, bet on a young guy with loads of talent. 

I am curious though how much of this is Lerner and not Rizzo.  Rizzo had real hesitation signing ZNN to a long term deal because in part to his feelings on the post TJ arm. Strasburg is the same situation and while younger is more injury prone. It feels to me exactly the type of deal Rizzo would shy away from. If it is a Lerner deal what does that mean for the unecssarily still ongoing "Rizzo not signed past this year" thing? This is all probably nothing but we'll see. 

As for other "probably nothing" things - what the shutdown has to do with this. Some people will claim it's a victory for the shutdown. We can go over again how that isn't anything close to provable at least in terms of his health or the positive impact for the Nats. Maybe it did help bring Strasburg back though, but this deal was fairly close to the max he could expect. Maybe he closes in on 200 mil. It was a weak year for FA starting pitching, but bc of the lack of tangible success and injury history he wasn't getting a Kershaw deal or a Price deal, which makes 7 / 175 look right on target. If you ask me to guess I would bet Strasburg put out feelers to the Southern Cal teams to see if any of them were willing to bid on his services this offseason. They said no and Stras thought - why go through FA to get a few more bucks to move somewhere else that's not home?  But this is just a guess. 

I do wonder what Ian's travails did to effect Strasburg. Could he fear an injury or down performance to end this year severely hurting his value? Certainly another arm injury now would crash that FA contract and it's not like he has a long history of being the best pitcher to fall back on. Very good? Yes. But not the best. I also wonder if ZNN walking on the Nats fair but nothing more deal got the Nats to pony up what would probably be market value for Stras. Could be both the player and team learned from what's happened in the past. 

The last thing I'll note is that while I like this deal it does have the potential to end very very badly. This is not just because "he could get injured" or "he could pitch poorly" but because of Stras' particular relation to the people in DC. That is to say - many fans and lookie-loos already are inclined to dislike him. He hasn't put up amazing seasons. He hasn't led the Nats to anything. His win totals are lower than they should be. Fans spent most of the past few seasons picking apart each start looking for a reason to complain. If he is now paid 25 million and fails to live up to it or get the Nats playoff success of some sort it could turn ugly. This is just the way it works with some guys. Werth was teflon. Zimm is a standard bearer. Strasburg never got the fans to his side. He still could, but if he doesn't then he'll be raked over the coals. 

So great deal in my mind. It's time to win now and this sets up winning now (or very close to now). 

Monday, May 09, 2016

Monday Quickie : Rounds 2, 3 & 4 Cubs

I fully expected, about halfway through the game yesterday, that the Nats were going to come out winners. It would have been a proper way to wrap up the road trip because with a win no one could think of the road trip as anything but a success. They would have gone 6-4. They would have held onto 1st place. They would have beaten the Cubs, yes only once in 4 games, but that's about what you expect playing a good team on the road and beating them at all is important. They would have ended the whole thing with a win.

Instead we walk out a bit fuzzy. Not worried mind you. Nats look good. They just went on the toughest road trip they are likely to have (still true regardless of what you think of KC/STL) and went 5-5.  They are still in a good position in general, just a half-game out of first and in solid playoff position. Just fuzzy. They were competitive sometimes, but were swept by the Cubs who are the standard bearers for the majors right now. The Mets, now on an easier part of their schedule, have taken the lead in the East. They did beat the Cardinals and Royals on the road but both those teams come into today at .500. At the same time the Marlins and Phillies, supposed patsies, have gone over .500. 

It's hard to figure how to slot the Nats because the other teams aren't cooperating by separating themselves. The Cubs are great.  The Nats haven't beat them. The Braves are terrible. The Nats haven't lost to them. The strong guesses are it's pretty likely the Reds, Brewers, and Padres aren't good. The Nats haven't played them. It's pretty likely that the Nats and Mets and maybe Pirates, are good. The Nats haven't played them either.  The other 7 teams? The teams the Nats have played their other games against? Good luck.

Doesn't really matter - what's really important is how the Nats stack up to the Mets and we'll know a lot more about that two weeks from now after the first round of H2H games is over.

I noted that he Cubs were using the Phillies strategy of walking Bryce and letting the rest of the team beat them. The Nats did score but I don't know how well they'd have done if the Cubs were sending out their best men. They did a lot of late damage against the likes of Clayton Richard and Travis Wood. It'll be interesting to see if the Tigers, and the rest of the league continue the trend. Given that the Nats are 2-6 now in games where Bryce walks 2 or more times (and they scored the most in the Cubs series in the game he walked once) I don't see any reason why they shouldn't. At this point you press what may be a psychological advantage.

The important thing now isn't beating the Tigers, it's staying close to or passing the Mets. If we're all right then the Nats and Mets are going to be good enough to be playoff teams, or at least challenge for that position. No one wants to be the Wild Card, not because winning from there is impossible. It's totally possible. But losing from there is down to the random bounces and outcomes from a single game. One bad day destroys a season of work.

So what about the Tigers series? Don't get swept. That's where I'm setting the bar. It's low but right now I'm just looking to settle the team and stay close to the Mets. Of course I want them to win the series. I think they should win the series. But I'm setting the worry level at "being swept"  That's what I'm saying. One win isn't good but it doesn't worry me.

Friday, May 06, 2016

Round 1 - Cubs

Somewhere yesterday someone asked about the Mets offense and I said that their consistent lineup produced fairly stable results. Lots of 3-4-5-6 run games. Then I contrasted them with the Nats whose (season so far) great + awful lineup produced more extremes. More highs but more lows. Yesterday was a low as the Nats were a two-out two-strike Werth homer from being shutout.

I don't really consider yesterday a big negative. The Nats were competitive and probably in the way they are going to be competitive against good teams all year long. They'll shut down your offense while their offense tries to eek out a few runs. As long as the pitching is good enough and the hitting is fair enough it'll work. See the whole season up to now. Even if they get swept, if they are competitive in these games I'll be ok. It'll be a disappointing end to an overall great road trip, but that's it. Right now only an 0-4 series with at least 2 non-competitive blowouts (or worse) would bother me.

The Cubs did what many teams are going to do this year, what the Phillies did successfully in that last series, pitch around Bryce and make the other guys beat you. That the Nats didn't score doesn't surprise me. Yes neither the Cardinals or Royals pitched around Bryce (he walked more last night than in those last two series combined), but despite Bryce not doing anything really during that run there may have been some psychological effect on the rest of the line-up. Some sort of "OK it's not on me. I can relax" effect that allowed them to hit better.  I don't know. I do know that the Nats are 2-4 in games where Bryce is walked 2 or more times, 6-6 in games where he takes a walk at all, and 13-3 in games he doesn't walk. If I were the other team I'd walk him. If you are worried about it Werth has looked better in the past week. So has Zimm. Ramos has maintained. There's optimism here that this strategy will eventually fail. (really it has to if the Nats are going to win the East)

Ross looked good and I was very happy to see a bunch of strikeouts. If he's truly going to get to a #1 type level he needs those Ks. Yes the Cubs strike out a lot, but to me that just sets up a situation if he doesn't do it - I'm bothered. He did it so I'm not bothered.  Now keep it up. I can spin some ... I don't call them "negatives" I call them "wrong way realities" at you, but I'll save those for before his next start. He doesn't let guys on base and in general isn't hit hard. He keeps the ball down seems very in control when he pitches. This is against good teams and bad teams now. There is nothing is terribly out of line in his stats either in comparison to last year (he's giving up more liners but fewer hard hit balls so that kind of evens out), or just in general. While 1.23 is going away, six games into his second season I don't see any reason why last year can't be repeated for all of 2016.

The relief pitching failed for the second time in three games, although this was keeping a game close rather than closing one out. Dusty has leaned heavily on a handful of arms in the pen, Rivero being the most utilized. I've said many times I'm all for this type of plan regardless of what it may do to an arm 2-3 years down the line. Win today. But as that theory implies, it has to be effective today. Rivero having a bad outing isn't a warning he's about to implode, but given two pretty bad outings in the past week  maybe 9 appearances in 15 days is a bit much. How about a couple days off for Felipe, Dusty? 

Thursday, May 05, 2016

Heavyweight fight

Are the Royals "good"? At this point the question of competition is becoming moot. Are the Cardinals and Royals are actually middling teams? (based on RS/RA, 1-run record,  the Cardinals probably are very good and the Royals are probably not good at all) Are the Phillies and Marlins in the resurgent NL East actually good teams? (Marlins are a bit of smoke and mirrors, Phillies are a 5 alarmer in a vanity factory). Regardless of how one chooses to answer these questions it is becoming clear that the Nats are better than the bulk of the National League and that is all that matters, Maybe (I don't think so) everyone stinks and the Nats are the best of the worst. Maybe (I'm not too high on this either) everyone is solid and the Nats are a super team. Results are the same and results are what matter in the end.

Now that the Nats are settling among the best teams in the NL the question becomes not where they rank overall but where they rank among their peers. The Nats' peers right now are the Cubs and the Mets*. Let's take a look at some stats

Cubs: 20-6 Run differential +93 #1 offense at 6.12 R/G, #1 pitching staff at 2.54 R/G
Mets: 17-9 Run differential +44 #6 offense at 4.62 R/G, #3 pitching staff at 2.92 R/G
Nats:  19-8 Run differential +50 #8 offense at 4.44 R/G, #2 pitching staff at 2.59 R/G

Cubs seem to be clearly a step ahead of even the Mets/Nats, who seems very similar here. Let's look at it more scouting report style.

Strengths : Front of the rotation has been amazing, Rizzo and Bryant are studs and hitting like it. Fowler is having an amazing start. Bench is deep. Very good defensive team.
Weaknesses : Corner OF having issues getting going, back of rotation merely ok results so far, middle relief questionable

Strengths : Very good and deep rotation. Outfield's offensive performance has been very good. Relief pitching solid and deep. No real holes in other positions.
Weaknesses : No real strengths in other positions. Not a good defensive team. Catcher offensive performance remains an issue. Bench may be weak.

Strengths : Very good and complete rotation. Bryce Harper may be the best player in baseball. Daniel Murphy is having an amazing start. Bullpen seems good and deep. Very good defensive team
Weaknesses : Multiple questionable bats in line-up due to injury returns, prospects not developing, and Danny Espinosa. Bench is not particularly good. Closer is problematic.

The Nats have legit issues offensively that we hope will resolve themselves. They seem to have been lessening over the past few games. The Cubs have legit issues but it hasn't seemed to matter much. The performance of the starters and back of the pen negates middle relief issues. The quality bench helps cover for the slow starters. Both of these could be tested more as the season wears on. The Mets don't really have any issues outside of defense, but "everyone's good" offense can be beat if no one is hot at the time as the beginning of the year showed.

I'm excited. In the next 20 games the Nats play the Cubs 4 times and the Mets 6.  These are clearly the best teams in the NL right now. How these games go could set up the narrative of the season, at least from mid May to the All-Star break. Are the Nats going to go toe to toe with these guys? Can they separate themselves from them? Or will they be left in the 3rd place position?

This is fun. Let's do this.

*The more I look at it though, the more I think the Cardinals could (should?) rise back up to this level. The hitting is legit. The pitching is only held down by a couple rotational issues but fix those and this is a 95ish win team. So in hindsight after looking at more than just the record and schedule, the Cardinals sweep is extremely impressive. So don't be surprised if right after that Mets series that the Nats are playing a hot Cardinals team who are also among the best teams in the NL.

Wednesday, May 04, 2016


Three important things to know
  • You don't have to be good to save a lot of games. (see Jones, Todd). It's getting three people out in a situation where you can have as large a lead as three runs and starting at a random point in the batting order.
  • You don't have to have a good closer to win a lot of games. (see 2014 Tigers).  While they will blow a couple games the truth is a good team usually wins games by a bunch of runs. Closers impact say 20-25 games within 2-runs? If they blow 25% of those that's 5-6 games and 25% is a ridiculous "replace me" percentage. More likely for them to stay at closer they blow 3-4 of those, 1-2 other games if they are bad. But probably 1-2 of those would have been blown by closer X and it's not like they wouldn't pitch at other times if relieved of closing duties, and it's not like if they were replaced entirely that the other pitcher coming in would be perfect. All in all the end result is maybe you blow 2-3 games you wouldn't have? Maybe? That doesn't turn a good team bad.
  • You don't have to have a great closer to win a World Series. See 2012 Giants (Casilla was good but nothing special.) or 2006 Cardinals (Isringhausen was not on his game that year and would be done in 2008). It's 7 games at most. It may not even come up that you need a closer.  Not saying it doesn't help. But you don't NEED it.

Papelbon is not pitching well.  Mainly he's not missing bats. He's striking out a lot fewer batters (K/9 down to 6.75 and trending down since 11.83 in 2012). This is backed up by a big drop in swinging strikes, a big drop in batters swinging at pitches outside the zone, and a big increase in batter contact. His fastball speed is down (and like K/9 on a long trend down though since 2011 - though to be fair this is what happens to every pitcher. Time gets all the arms except for Nolan Ryan). And batters are squaring up on him. This is backed up by a drop in opposite field hits and an almost non-existent percentage of soft hits off him (7.3%! You may not know that but that's crazy) This is why we see the percentage of line drives and fly balls that are being hit off him go up.

He's not going to get the big strikeouts anymore, but his control was pretty good before and might be better now (BB/9 rate is at a career low) and despite the hard hits he isn't prone to giving up the home runs and that hasn't changed. So scoring runs off Papelbon still will take a few hits in a row. In a game where generally only 30% of balls in play drop for hits that's going to be hard to do, even if you can hit it decently.

So will guys hit him? Probably. Will he still be able to save say 80-85% of his games? Probably. Is that good enough? Probably.

Hey what do you want from me? I always hated the guy and never wanted him here and root for blowout wins so I don't see him or for him to blow saves and have the Nats win in extras. This is the best I can, and will, do for the guy.

Tuesday, May 03, 2016

Wins wins wins wins winwinsinasdfhkla

The Nats keep winning, though unlike the Cardinals sweep, last night was more in keeping in form with the rest of the month. Fantastic starting pitching. Well managed relief pitching coming through. No real offense to speak of.

The Nats can win the East like they did the Cardinals series. They can't win the East with the above. Not unless you think the starters can keep up an ERA just over 2.00 for the season. So the lingering question is when will the offense come around. Oh, don't kid yourself it's still not right. Even looking at the past week, which takes into account the STL series, It's been struggling. The big hits have come from the bench; Heisey, Robinson, den Dekker. The only guy that's consistently hit (other than Murphy) is the guy you all want to replace, Danny Espinosa (and admittedly he hasn't hit that much). Surely it can get better though. Revere is injured. Werth, Zimm, and Rendon are coming back from injuries. Turner is waiting out time in AAA* It would only take a couple of these guys hitting to expectations to make the offense ok (as we saw in STL). But it would be nice to turn this idea of "it can" into "it is".

Baseball is about timing. Not just at the plate but over the course of the season. Hitting and pitching get hot and cold back and forth. What you hope for is things to line up in a way such that the hitting covers the pitching and the pitching covers the hitting. Right now it has lined up for the Nats and we're seeing the fruits of that. How good has the Nats starting pitching been? By ERA the Nats have 4 of the Top 19 starters. Basically 4 guys getting #1 results. By WHIP they have 3 of the Top 19 and all 5 in Top 54 (basically where the 1s and 2s would end up). They've been good. Sustainably THIS good? No (FIP and xFIP tell us Ross and Gio are among the "luckiest" starters and Roark isn't too far behind) but who could be?

From the outside looking in I like where the Nats are. Yes, there is kind of a sword dangling over the Nats head with this pitching staff (and with Murphy) but at the same time there's a shield waiting to be deployed with the rest of the batting order (and with Max).  This isn't a team firing on all cylinders where a crash has to happen. It's a team firing on half cylinders. Those guys can stop performing and other guys can pick it up. They won't maintain an 18-7 run (no the Nats aren't winning 120 games) but they can keep the Nats winning. Meanwhile the Nats are picking up wins against decent competition that count just as much as any win down the line. 

Side note :

I am annoyed by one thing with the Nats from the outside; the cult of Dusty. I've maintained that I think Dusty is a good manager. To look at his history and think otherwise is kind of fooling yourself. I've also said that any "ruins arms" talk is pretty much nonsense that hasn't been true in years (and probably wasn't even that true then)**  But you know what? My thinking isn't that special. Pretty much most of the outside (85%?) says the same thing about Dusty. When the Nats bungled the hiring of Bud Black and used Dusty's "last chance" eagerness to get him here, most everyone said "Hey, Dusty's good too. Maybe better"  Yet a month into the season and somehow the narrative has spun into "YOU GUYS WANTED BLACK AND SAID DUSTY SUCKS AND YOU STILL SAY DUSTY SUCKS AND DUSTY IS THE BEST MANAGER EVER!!!"

Ok it's not fully there quite yet, but this is the rumblings I feel from the outside. That there was some sort of massive show of disrespect for Dusty when really there never was outside of a few haters that maintain their hate. I'm fine picking on those guys, but making it out as if the world is against you is one of my least favorite sports tropes. The media, the baseball world, they all in general, really like Dusty. You don't need to have an enemy.

*Trea Turner's stats in AAA are good (.333 / 402 / .478) but after starting .500 in the first 8 games he's been a more pedestrian .258 / .299 / .371 in the next 15. You can't dismiss the first 8 games anymore than any other 8, but you can hold off and see what is happenining now. Just saying you might want to hold your horses here. 

As for other studs - Lucas Giolito has not been particularly impressive in AA. In his last 3 starts he's given up 18 hits and 7 walks in 11 and 2/3 innings and opponents are hitting .360 against him. The good news here is Lucas is 21 so if it doesn't come together in 2016 that's perfectly ok. 

If the two above updates get you a little down, Victor Robles is killing low A-ball. .357 / .471 / .571 with no caveats to give you. Expect him in Potomac soon. 

**and honestly I don't care much if it was true. Ride these arms till they break is a better scenario than be ultra careful with arms to protect a future that may not play out like you are hoping it will.

Monday, May 02, 2016

Monday Quickie - Better than the Cards

I told you to stay calm.

This series was meant to be a proving ground for not only the Nats, but the Cardinals too.  They too feasted on the dregs of the NL early. They won 7 of their 10 wins going into a series with the D-Backs against ATL (currently 6-18), MIL (9-15), and SDP (9-16) and two more came against the questionable but probably bad Reds (started 5-1, 5-5 to start STL series, now 10-15).  They lost the first game in Arizona to the "jury's still out" Diamondbacks to fall back within one game of .500 then stormed back to crush them in the last two games of the series by a combined 19-6. At 12-10 and seemingly on the right track (4-2 little road trip, 5-2 in last 7) this homestand would set everything right again.

Seemingly the narratives for this team and the Nats would begin to settle after this series. If the Cardinals took 2 of 3 the teams would probably be seen on equal footing, the Nats able to take a game from a good team on the road, and the Cardinals able to defend their home against a good team. If the Nats took 2 of 3 then the Nats would be seen as a good team that slipped up against the Phillies, while the Cardinals would maintain a sense of a good team that just isn't finding their way, a team that might remain a step behind the league leaders. If the Cardinals swept that reverses. St. Louis would be the good team that was struggling a bit to find their way but now was on track, while the Natst would be a good team still needing to prove they could hang with the best in the league.

But the Nats sweeping the Cardinals? What exactly does that mean?

Are the Nats really good? That seems to be the most likely scenario. They did shut down a potent offense limiting them to 6 runs. The Phillies sweep didn't make sense but they are rolling now sitting at 15-10. Perhaps they really are a decent squad and well, sometimes the breaks don't go your way against a decent squad - even at home. 

Are the Cardinals really not good? This though throws a monkey wrench into the Nats ascendant narrative. Not even winning one against the Nats, while being swept by the Pirates (scoring 7 runs) and losing 2 of 3 at home to the Cubs (scoring 6 runs), set the Cardinals up as no better than a middling team. Rather than prove something against a good team the Nats might just have beaten up another bad squad.

The latter is certainly not a bad thing. You want to beat up bad squads. You NEED to beat up bad squads.  But I think what we really wanted from this weekend was clarity and I don't think we got any, though I'll take strong hints in the "Nats are great" direction.

The good news though is that clarity is likely just around the corner. Kansas City may not be a division winner this year, but they shouldn't be worse than .500 and are notably defending champs. Chicago is legit great.

What's the worst case going forward? Nats win no more than 2 games, Cards flounder. Phillies flounder (though they do play eachother right now). Nats look like the not good enough team we worried they might be.

Best case? Nats win at least 4, Cards do well, Phillies do well. Nats look like a contender for best team in majors

So Nats win 3? Cards flounder and Phillies do well? Maybe followed up with a series loss at home to Detroit, who's ok? That would keep things nice and murky