Nationals Baseball: 3-2, 1 game to go

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.


G Cracka X said...

"Seven times he's held the other team to 7 or fewer runs over at least 6 innings." True, but you meant to say '3 or fewer runs' right?

Sammy Kent said...

The game was getting a little frustrating before the bats cut loose on Harvey. Here's the bottom of the third courtesy ESPN's PBP:

Strasburg singled to right.
Revere flied out to left.
Werth fouled out to first.
Harper flied out to center.

I mean the freaking PITCHER leads off with a sold line drive hit and the top of the order not only fails to plate him, they don't even MOVE him! I've said all year if the rest of the team could hit as good as the pitchers we'd have something. SMH.

jcj5y said...

Interesting to see numbers backing up something I had noticed from observation: Strasburg using high fastballs more to go for swings-and-misses. Maybe you don't credit Maddux for telling him that, but I wonder if it helps that McCatty--who relentlessly preached pitch-to-contact--is gone.

Harper said...

GCX - 2 or fewer actually. You got me between my initial post and my edit. (I like to post it and then read it)

SK - that was a bit frustrating but they weren't going to try to push Stras over and make him run. They were just going to try to get hits and couldn't do it. also - that's what you take away from last night?

jcj5y - well McCatty had been here for years and wasn't always a pitch to contact guy in my memory. I think that was an organizational decision once the Nats lined up a bunch of young arms they liked in attempt to keep pitches per game down without sacrificing innings pitched.

NatsVA said...

Be interested in hearing yours and others thoughts on the overblowing of the lack of "proper" attendance last night, Harper. I feel like we go through this every year, but so does every team. If the Mets fans hadn't bussed down, would anybody even give a sh*t how many people were at the game last night? This stuff happens in nesrly every MLB city, but when it happens here DC sports fans are immediately labeled as "the worst." The Nats were 11th in attendance last year, which could be better but ain't bad.

Fries said...

Honestly I'd say this is the most dominant Stras has been in his career. Outside pre-TJ 2011, his ERA+ is miles ahead of where his career average has been, his more standard stats like WHIP and FIP are better than his career averages, his FIP- puts him at 40% better than league average (only bested by Kershaw, Syndegaard, and Jose Quintana of all people). Looking at almost every advanced stat, he's in a league with Kershaw, Arrieta, and Thor. That's good company.

Strasburger said...


I knew you'd come around on my boy.

I have to say you were very, very complacent there for a few years, but the talent and stuff was always there. He just seems a lot more confident on the mound, and I think you're right that he/Nats have just decided to let him pitch to his strengths.

No chance he'll get the Cy though, with Clayton in the same league, right?

Anonymous said...

Harper, your "lots of very good games but no great ones" touches upon something I've been wondering about Strasburg. The current version of him seems exceptionally consistent on a number of fronts. He's a K machine, but he doesn't seem to have the huge 15-16-17K days that other pitchers with his K% do. On that same front, he rarely has a night with fewer than 6 or 7. Just casual observation, but I've seen less variance in his fastball MPH too. He may vary from start to start, but he tends to sit in the same place for the whole game, with few outlier pitches. Perhaps he's just a low-variance pitcher in many different phases? It probably wouldn't be too hard to figure out what Stras's variance is on multiple factors, but figuring out what the norm is for all starters (or top 20 starters) is probably much more difficult.

Hoo said...

"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."

You should really change the second sentence to this. "There really isn't a good reason the Nats should lose. Yet Levale Speigner!"

Captures the sentiment perfectly and a throwback to a very under-appreciated part of Nats lore.

David said...

Not really sure I agree with the 'house money' concept for today's game. If the Nats lose, it's like the Mets broke back. The Nats really should win 2 out of 3 at home and don't want to give up the advantage gained by winning the series in NY. Plus, I'd like to see the Nats be able to beat one of the Mets top 3 pitchers. I don't want to hear from Mets fans that they'd have won 5 out of 6 if it weren't for stoopid Harvey.

Bryceroni said...

I think the stras's lack of 16/17 k games is more that he tends not go super deep in games where he gets a bunch of strikeouts.

@harper would you be willing to take a stab at diagnosing Harvey's issues? Seems like a velo drop + less effective breaking ball (either less sharp, or easier to adjust to off the slower fb)

Harper said...

NatsVA - I tweeted last night that attendance lags results. People expect "Oh you
are good now! Fans should be out" but it doesn't work like that because season ticket base won't reflect it and casual interest takes time to build, especially pre-memorial day. Crowds now have more to do with missing playoffs in 2015 than how they are doing in 2016. Last nights game was like 8-9K more than other Tuesday games this year so it's building back up.

Fries - well he's in a league with Arrieta and maybe Thor. Kershaw though...

Strasburger - Come around? When was I ever not there? Complacent? If you didn't like my takes on Strasburg I hate to think how you were reacting to Joe Q Public's opinion.

Anon - variance is going to be difficult just because you have to factor in pitch count. Kershaw might have more variance but it could be bc he's starting faster and pitching into the 9th, so what would that mean?


Harper said...

David - House money means what it means. You can't walk away a loser because you are only putting what has already been won on the line. You'd certainly like not to give up the advantage but I refuse to give in on my concept. HOUSE MONEY! (insert picture of House with dollar signs photoshopped over his eyes)

Bryce - well having Max and seeing that Rorak game might have messed up our view. There's only been 11 games with 15K or more since start of 2015 (23 with 14 or more). So the lack of them is really because they don't happen often.

Kenny B. said...

I, for one, choose to view all of this as supportive of the notion that Strasburg is a headcase. Nats made him better by clarifying his contract situation, stopping the requests to pitch like someone else, and getting him a less error-prone defense. I know this doesn't really make sense in the timeline, but that's not how baseball narratives work. It's far too late to change the Strasburg narrative now.

Sammy Kent said...

@ Harper: Oh, please don't scold. You already said everything else positive about last night's game. ;-) I guess I could also have mentioned how nervous I got in the ninth with Kelly giving up a two-run dinger.

I'm just a very intense fan, and can't help it. I live and die with every pitch. I love winning, blowouts, great pitching, timely hitting, home runs, moving the line-- and my neighbors for miles around hear me cheering everything good that happens for the Nationals. I also hate undisciplined batting, defensive lapses, leaving any run on base, squandering leadoff baserunners and hits by the pitcher, and I never relax until the last out is made or the walk-off winning runs scores. It's just me. If the lows weren't so low, the highs wouldn't be as high.

Josh Higham said...

Not to take away from discussion of Strasburg's strikeouts and Sammy Kent's passion, but I just looked up Harper's first ever post about this franchise, and I'd like to lead a round of applause for our faithful Yankee fan keeping us all interested on weekday mornings for years. I was a Giants fan (and in middle school) when Harper started the long slog, but now I couldn't be more grateful.

"I was shocked...SHOCKED! to find that there was no good Expos baseball blog. Now, to be honest, I didn't necessarily want to read one, but someone somewhere out there probably did and, dammit, every team deserves a dedicated posting on the minutiae of trades and managerial mistakes and awful uniform changes. So here we go, it should be a short, fun ride for a while, then tedious random posting, then I'll quit." - Harper, 15 July 2004

Harper said...

Sammy Kent - ok as long as I never read "Nats win series. Local man found dead from happiness" Moderation my good man.

SM said...

. . . and the grammatical construction was better, too.

Grammar is always the first casualty in a political town.

Harper said...

Josh Higham - I obviously meant "short" in the cosmic sense

SM said...

Sammy's jittery early today because of the afternoon game.

My post was in regard in Josh's.

Bjd1207 said...

@Sammy Kent - Just be careful what you wish for in the heat of the moment. If Bryce Harper were ACTUALLY hitting like our pitchers I expect this blog would have several suicide notes posted on it by now.

@Josh Higham - Holy cow, 12 years. I feel like I came on in about 08/09 and it feels like this blog has "always been there." I don't say it enough for how often I use this blog as a pontiff for my own thoughts, all your work and dedication is absolutely appreciated Harper.

WiredHK said...

@BJD - Sadly, Bryce IS actually hitting like our pitchers over his last 75 ABs (a buck something avg, 1/3 Ks). Thankfully, he's still drawing walks or it might be worse than it already is lately.

And what it may mean is that the local Strasburg naysayers, faced with all this Stras Success, will likely transform in short order into Bryce Harper Naysayers ("2015 was a fluke, he's reverting to form, blah, blah, blah).

Brace yourself, DC....we love to get pissy over our nice things.

G Cracka X said...

July 15, '04, huh? Wow, that's a lot of consistent, quality work. Thanks for this blog, Harper. It is definitely unique and enjoyable. I think I started following in '13, and didn't comment for some time after that

Anonymous said...

Honestly, sometimes I'm not sure why I'm even wasting my time following these chumps when I know there's zero chance of them being a threat to do anything in the playoffs because they can't do dick against good pitchers.

Sammy Kent said...

Well, what I got out of yesterday's game was 0-fer with runners in scoring position. Was there anything I missed?

BxJaycobb said...

There's no statistical evidence that certain players/teams are better than others at hitting with runners in scoring position. IOW it's not a skill. It's just sequencing. Sure some years a team can do great with runners in scoring position (cardinals a few years ago) but that same group is just as likely to be horrible the next year. I cannot stand listening to fans complain about how player X stinks or the Nats stink with RISP. If your team hits overall, you'll probably hit with RISP. If you don't, then you won't. In the case of yesterday, they barely had anybody in scoring position. so por favor.... no RISP talk. Focus on offense overall not getting it done.