Nationals Baseball: Heavyweight fight

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.


John C. said...

Fun read, I largely agree, this should be fun. A couple of follow on points:

(1) in my experience, the perception among a certain bloc of fans is that, if the Nats actually beat a team, the team isn't good. For example, for the first few weeks it was "the Nats haven't beaten anyone, just wait until the Road Trip of DOOM against the Cardinals, Royals and Cubs!" With the Nats going 5-1 against the Cardinals and Cubs, and come within an eyelash of sweeping all six games, these fans have largely decided that the Royals and Cardinals aren't good. Because if they were, how could the Nats have done so well? Just wait - if the Nats have a bad weekend in Chicago against an excellent team playing at the top of its game right now, the drumbeat of "the Nats haven't actually beaten anyone good" will start again.

(2) Prospects not developing? This can only refer to Giolito's uneven start, because I've been pretty amazed and pleased by the Nationals' prospects so far in 2016. It's not just Robles and Turner; the light seems to have gone on for Drew Ward, and Stevenson and pretty much everyone from the 2015 draft (other than Wiseman) are making that draft class look like a potentially great one. Take another look at the farm system, Harper - the kids are all right.

Robot said...

Thoughts on Pittsburgh? They just dropped four straight, but it was against the indisputably top-notch Cubs, and they seemed pretty hot before that.

Chas R said...

Nice review, Harper. I'm really looking forward to these games and think we will at least win one with a strong possibly of two wins given the favorable pitching matchups in the first 2 games. Any predictions?

G Cracka X said...

RTOD now stands for.......Road Trip of Destiny?

Anyways, the worst case scenario is now 5-5. Obviously that would be disappointing now, but before the trip started, I would have definitely taken 5-5. Even taking just 1 game out of 4 from the Cubs on the road should be good enough at this point of the season.

If the Nats falter in Chicago, maybe some fans will beat the 'Nats haven't beaten good teams' drumbeat as John C. noted that some fans might be tempted to do. Instead of that, I will beat the 'RTOD Mission Accomplished' drumbeat. Boom, boom, boom, boom.........

(P.S. Is Ben Revere back in the lineup tonight? How much impact will adding him have?)

Bjd1207 said...

@GCX - I've seen reports that Revere is with the team today, but he's being "evaluated" before they decide to activate him. Haven't seen any news of roster moves so at this point I don't think he's active. But I'm watching twitter like a hawk

Rob said...

Revere being back has to have a positive impact, right? Decent defense and speed. And if he hits better than your avg American League pitcher, he'll be better than MAT lol

Steven said...

Nats fan in Chicago, going to the game on Sunday and contemplating scalping tickets either tonight or tomorrow. I know 5-5 would have satisfied my expectations going into the road trip, but I'm going to be disappointed if they don't grab at least one of the four games against the Cubs, mainly because it will start those same arguments of whether the Nats are actually very good or just good against bad teams.

It seems like some of the bats are starting to perk up a little bit (Zimm especially), which has helped cover for Harper's slump, but I think Revere will make a huge difference once he's back in the lineup. I just hope he doesn't need 2-3 weeks to get back into game shape, although his production will still be on par with MAT even if he is slow to return to form.

Pittsburgh and the Cards are are still legit teams, and I expect them both to be in the 90-win range at the end of the year.

Rob said...

Not sure where you're getting Revere's production will be on par with MAT's. By almost any offense measure, he's a better player...

Kenny B. said...

It's fun, but none of this really matters since the Giants are going to win the World Series.

Sammy Kent said...

Right now, we're good. Really good. Just want it to stay that way. I've said for five years Mike Rizzo can build a winning roster, but not a championship one. I've wanted to be wrong about that more than I can say, but no time moreso than now. I know we won't score 13 runs or 10 runs or even 6 runs every night, but in the past the Nationals have been notorious for following up a double-digit scoring barrage with four or five straight games of zero runs or maybe one. The time is now to break that habit.

Old Man River said...

@ John C. - to add the prospect pipeline, one name that no one seems to mention is Koda Glover who just got called up to Harrisburg. That kid is going to be special, perhaps a closer in waiting. Mound presence like I've never seen, mid-upper 90's heat, and great pro numbers to-date. Excited for what his future holds with us!

Josh Higham said...

@Sammy Kent, how do you differentiate between a winning roster and a championship one? The only real difference, on average, between a championship team and any other very good team is that a championship team gets 11 or 12 great starts from its staff (and/or offensive explosions) in about 20 games in October/November and other very good teams stumble for a week in October. I don't see how anything other than being a prophet or having Warren Buffett money that could allow a GM to "build a championship roster."

Most years the GM who "builds a championship team" actually has a worse regular season record than at least one GM who only managed to build a "very good team."

Bjd1207 said...

@Sammy Kent - Yea I agree with Josh Higham. Without resorting to post-facto records, what exactly distinguishes a championship roster from a winning? I'd be willing to bet its extremely hard to distinguish, and we'd find traces of championship roster building in Rizzo's track record.

As I was thinking more on your point from the other day, the Daniel Murphy signing I think was a big break from Rizzo's previous moves. It may have been forced by the deals signed by Brandon Phillips and Zobrist, but landing Daniel Murphy is exactly the kind of offense-first move that you point out has been severely lacking in most of Rizzo's campaign. Someone like Phillips fits the mold of who we usually see. Good to great on defense, solid and reliably productive all around player, but ultimately average or a little above with the bat. Instead we went for an impact bat.

Looking at Phillips and Zobrist this year, we'd probably be voicing many of the same frustrations in years past (Bryce and a bunch of 90 wRC+ players)

Mythra said...

Severino should be in the pipeline discussion as well. He got a taste with Ramos out and has the defensive tools already. If he bats, he writes Lobaton out of the equation (Assuming we re-sign the Buffalo, which early looks are he's back to hitting well.) after this season.

I am excited with the Cubs matchup as well. But I still would be fine with a split or winning 1 of 4. The reason? If the Cubs are still the out front team, that plays better for the Nats chasing them. The Nats of the past few seasons have had issues with performance as the front runner. I'd rather they stay a hunter and not the hunted.

All that said, I will still smile if they stomp the Cubs and win the series. It would be good momentum to take into the homestand.

sirc said...

I was happy to see the Nats put up a lot of runs yesterday without hitting a bunch of homeruns. They have had a problem putting up runs without the benefit of HRs this year. With the obvious exceptions, this team hasn't hit very well with guys on base.

Rendon got his third RBI yesterday. Yikes. For all of the complaints about Taylor and Espinosa, they've both been far more productive offensively than Rendon. He's been pretty terrible. I'm sure that when Bryce looks at his opponent's lineup tonight, that he will be envious of Rizzo and Bryant for their run production opportunities.

Steven said...

@Rob Evans, to clarify, I was saying Revere's production during any adjustment period (if he's in spring training form again) would still be on par with MAT. Once he gets back to form, he's no doubt a clear upgrade.

Bjd1207 said...

@sirc - Measuring offensive productivity by RBI's? Could it have anything to do with the spots ahead of him being Espinosa, the pitcher, and MAT in most cases?

Rendon definitely hasn't performed to the level most expected (including myself). But he's a step ahead of Espinosa and 2 steps ahead of MAT

Froggy said...
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Froggy said...

As a reminder, if it weren't for the Papalspawn meltdown this would be a 6-0 road trip so far. Which would lead me to being content with a split with the Cubs.

The one ding I have with Baker is he tends to leave SP's in a half an inning-ish too long before making a change. That said has the bullpen been lights out or what.

sirc said...

@bjd1207 -

No, not just RBIs. You choose a measurement. I was using BR/BRS/BRS%. But you can go down the list. Offensively Rendon is LVP of the Nats for April.

He also isn't hitting the ball hard.

Bjd1207 said...

@sirc - Do those stand for Base Runs?

First just looking at conventional slash lines:
Rendon - .231/.297/.306
Espinosa - .185/.292/.272
Taylor - .184/.221/.296

So Rendon's better across the board, and I'd argue the only reason Danny's so close in OBP is because he's in front of the pitcher.

By fangraphs primary offensive metric wRC+, Rendon checks in at 63 compared to Espinosa at 47 and Taylor at 34. By Baseball References Batting Runs Rendon is at -6 (so still below average) with Espinosa at -7 and Taylor at -9

But like I said, I'm unfamiliar with the stats you're looking at and I'm always up for a fresh perspective.

Jay said...

Actually, Rendon and Zimmerman have both been hitting the ball hard. Exit velocity and all that. Baker was saying just last week that he expected Rendon and Zimmerman to take off any time now. Zim just had 4-5 doubles in the last series and seems to be heating up some. Rendon has mentioned the fact that he feels he needs to take a lot of pitches because Michael A doesn't. Also, I agree Revere on the bases making pitchers nervous in combination with Harper batting behind him should equal a lot of fastballs to hit. I'd give it another 3-4 weeks with Revere back before you pass judgement on Rendon's season. 2 years ago he was the equivalent of a right handed Daniel Murphy. I think he'll bounce back soon.

Rob said...

@Steven - no worries. Wasn't trying to jump on ya. Thanks for clarifying. Go Nats!

Harper said...

JC - (1) this definitely happens but adding STL and KC to the beaten team mix makes it unlikely the Nats will completely have no one that looks good in their resume. And even if they do that means there are a ALOT of bad teams and so good!
(2) I was actually talking about MAT. I like the minor league prospects just fine (though take another look at Turner. Wheels spinning since that .500 start I tell you) but they wouldn't have impacted yet even if they were on fire.

Robot - They are streaky but WC good. I won't give them more than that because the SP and middle relief have both been shaky and except for Cole who do you like on that staff?

Chaz R - Nats get lucky missing out on Lester. I'll say 2-2 just because they are playing too well to think otherwise

GCX - It's already a winning road trip to me. Get swept. I don't care. Long season, teams change. All that means is Mets series will matter more and we circle next CHC series to see if Nats can challenge them then.

Rob - has to be positive? no. almost certainly positive? I don't see how not. MAT has been terrible at the plate and i dont see D difference making that up.

Steven - I'll hold my money on Pitt.

Kenny B - Oh yeah? Who won in it 2010? Not the Giants.

Sammy K - Well it's not going to stay like this (5-1 on the road). Just be happy being in first and get ready to complain if the Nats screw up in the playoffs

OMR - Glover reminds me of a Cards reliever from a few years ago when they had like a dozen fireballers ready. He could be up by years end but I want to see what the talent in AA and more importantly discerning eyes in AAA do. And of course a reliever is a reliever. But for a playoffs they can be real big.

Mythra - I'm not enthused he'll ever hit. He has no pop and no patience. I guess that can develop but usually you see some sort of impressive performance in low ball. He's got nothing.

Froggy - and as a reminder the other way Minnesota doesn't choke and the Nats are on a 0-4 slide heading into the road trip. You blow games. The SP thing is interesting - could be building up confidence now? That's the positive spin on that. I just hope no one gets injured (which could easily happen regardless of the extra half-innings, I hope no one gets injured bc Dusty will be blamed and I don't want to hear that)

sirc said...

I'm stuck on an airplane with spotty wifi, and have tried posting this several times.

BR -- Total Number of Baserunners when batter at plate

BRS -- Baserunners who Scored
Total runners scored by batter (may not be by RBIs)

BRS% -- Percentage of all baserunners who scored on the batter’s play
(not necessarily with an RBI).

Taylor is an injury replacement, so I'm hopeful that Revere brings the leadoff spot back to respectable levels. His hit speed has been good, though. And his babip is alarmingly low, and relative to the average. Some of that has to be poor luck, right?

But the team really needs Rendon to be better. Much better.

Bjd1207 said...

Agree on both Taylor and Rendon. I think we differ on espi, I don't think I'd even classify myself as "hopeful" lol. Rendon I have confidence in

sirc said...

I'm not worried about Danny because his replacement is working his way up, and I believe, like most people, that Turner is going to be good.

Sometimes injuries take their toll, and guys never reach their potential. I worry about Rendon for that reason. He's had a career worth of injuries already going into this, his age 26 season. So when he has a prolonged slump, my worry comes out. A return to 2014 form for Rendon is so important to the 2016 Nats that it can't be overstated. Gosh I hope it happens.

Froggy said...

Well, so much for my bullpen being 'lights out' comment. Geez...

Dave said...

When the farm hands were mentioned earlier, I did not see mention of Goodwin. For whatever reason, his start this year has been almost a 180 from his previous years. I am hopeful the light went on.

John C. said...

Dave: I'm skeptical of Goodwin, but he's certainly gotten my attention. He homered again last night.

Froggy: The bullpen did fine last night; it was the defense behind them (and Ross) that let the team down. The Cubs scored five runs last night, and all five were directly attributable to defensive fail. If the Nats could execute a basic rundown then Solis never faces Zobrist (and arguably TLS was out at first anyway, but it was so close I have no problem with letting the call stand). MAT and Werth both whiffed on balls they should have caught, and Murphy turned a fairly routine 4-6-3 GIDP into a 4-3 FC. I thought the pitching was fine. The Nats defense had been excellent up until last night; #2 in MLB in both defensive efficiency and park-adjusted DE coming into last night's game.

#1 in both categories? The Cubs.

Froggy said...

JC, thanks for clarifying my perception of how things really went, thats encouraging. I couldn't watch the game last night because my wife decided to have a baby, 9lb 6oz Max. LoL

Froggy said...
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