Nationals Baseball: June 2016

Thursday, June 30, 2016

The season?

Gotta be a short one today.

The Nats put themselves in the driver's seat by sweeping the Mets out of Washington. The Mets have one strength - starting pitching - but circumstance served to dilute that strength and without that the Mets can't beat the Nats. The Nats can hit. The Mets cannot.

Now the Nats have a golden opportunity to perhaps stamp the season as "ALL BUT OVER". Seven more games at home. Four vs Cincinnati (29-50) , three more vs Milwaukee (35-42), before facing the Mets again with four in NY.

But really it's less about the Nats and more about the Mets. This is a stretch that can put an end to the Mets season easily. The Mets have to take on the Cubs for four games next then they meet the current 2nd place Marlins after that. If they can't take that series from the Marlins they could be facing a 3 game deficit to the fish, let alone a possible double digit one to the Nats going into that next Nats series. If that happens, that series becomes do or die for New York. Lose it and you almost have to write the Mets off. The Marlins* then become the competition. If things break right the Nats could quickly find themselves in a Cubs like position.

But like we've talked about all season, the Nats haven't broken things right just yet. They've had opportunities but have managed to always come back to the pack. Leading the pack sure, but still in it. Tonight is game 80.  That was the story of the first half of the year. The story of the 2nd half could begin tonight. Will it be more of the same or the story of a team preparing for the playoffs?

*In the same time frame the Marlins have games @Atlanta and vs Cincinnati, so the expectation would be that they'd be around enough that the Nats can't shift into cruise control just yet.

Wednesday, June 29, 2016


Given what we thought of the NL East going into this year, I can think of no good reason why a healthy Nats team shouldn't be winning the East by several games over an injured Mets team. The Nats are healthy. The Mets are injured. And lo and behold, a healthy Nats team IS winning the East by several games over an injured Mets team. It's always nice to see what you feel are basic assumptions validated.

We've talked about this time frame - starting with the Phillies road trip on May 30th and ending with the Brewers series that finishes up on July 6th -  being a chance for the Nats to really separate themselves from the Mets (and Marlins). After starting red hot* - the Nats had bopped around against a decent schedule for about 30 games**.  Now the Nats were finally getting cracks at the bottom of the divisions. PHI twice, removed from their hot start. CIN twice, MIL twice, the Padres, the falling White Sox. It was as full of easily beatable teams as the stretch before was not. The stretch started as expected, the Nats playing well and extending a 1 game lead to 5, but then the losing streak happened. What had been a possibly season defining 13-4 run morphed into another pedestrian looking 13-11 one and the lead shrunk back to 2 games.

But the stretch still was only 2/3rd done. There was time for redemption. It's odd to see it work exactly like this, a long stretch of losses in between two great stretches, but it's baseball. There's an example of everything happening. And so far what we've seen suggests we may get that second great stretch. 3 wins in a row. The time frame now reading 16-11. The lead back to 4.5 games (over the Marlins). The season of fits and starts might actually punch through at the half-way point in the season.

Last nights game  - Giolito looked capable. He struck out only one but in general looked solid. He wasn't really hit hard; one sharp grounder, a couple deepish fly balls. His control did waver. His two walks were on 8 pitches total, but the Mets didn't really press that issue, swinging early in the 2nd and 3rd innings. It would have been interesting to see what the 5th and 6th innings brought. If the Mets had finally gotten it through their thick skulls to force the kid to throw strikes combined with him getting up in pitches we might have seen a shift but I guess that's for another start.

Ramos is still hitting. Murphy is still hitting. And look out because Bryce continues to be the watched kettle, heating up ever so slowly. Werth isn't hot anymore but he is mixing in timely hits with walks - 18 in June, 16 in his last 15 games, 8 int he last 5. Even the bullpen didn't blow it. Nothing but good times.

The series looked like a tough one for the Nats. Syndergaard first game. Harvey second. But thanks to Noah's bone spur that really isn't affecting him continue to let him pitch with it please, and the weather the Nats had to only face these guys for under 7 innings. That's the Mets strength and it's been effectively eliminated for the Nats the first two games. Without that the Nats are just better. Finish it out today with Matz out for injury.  The sweep is there. Take it.  

** 16-15!

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Bury them

Noah Sydergaard wasn't himself last night.  Of that there can be no doubt.* The Nats needed to take advantage of that and for about 2 1/2 inning it didn't look like they were going to. Ross was having trouble finding a groove and the Mets had scored four times. Meanwhile the Nats blew a bases loaded no one out opportunity in the first.  Down 4-0 it might only take a few more bad breaks and failures for the Nats to lose a game that hindsight will tell them they should have won.

Those bad breaks and failures didn't happen. Instead the Nats got two big two-out hits in the third to take the lead. Sydergaard was pulled as a cautionary measure and the Nats teed off on Gilmartin. Meanwhile, the Mets offense got the bad breaks (three line drives at people) and Ross was able to get a big DP to keep the Mets from scoring again. By the time the dust settled 3 1/2 innings later the Nats were on their way to an 11-4 victory.

Now the pressure is off the debut of Lucas Giolito. If the Nats don't win tonight that's ok.

Oh yes, the double elephants in the room. Lucas Giolito is starting tonight and Trea Turner played CF last night for Syracuse.

The Trea Turner move I get. There is no doubt from how he's performed in AAA and in the majors that he is ready for a shot at a starting gig. However, the Nats chose control over contribution early in the year and Espinosa used that to his advantage to work out his kinks. Danny had a little run of decency in mid-May to keep the wolves at bay and in June has been the Nats best player. Seriously.  He's hit .297 / .391 / .635  which falls a half-step behind Ramos' line for the month. But Danny has 2 SBs while Ramos contributes 4 DPs and the assumption is Espinosa is still giving you plus defense.

So Trea is currently blocked there and in reality is blocked not only in the immediate future but for about a month at least.  Given how hot Danny has been you aren't going to give up on him after a couple of bad weeks. Where to find Trea some playing time? There are other positions the Nats have had issues with currently. First base is one, but it seems a waste to put Trea at that position. You could, perhaps, let Trea play 2nd and move Murphy to first, but managers are loathe to move players around who are doing well and it could be hard to sit Ryan. The other position where offense is an issue is CF. Neither Revere nor Taylor have very strong sentiment behind them like Ryan. So you give Trea a shot to see if he can play that position.

If you believe Trea is a bad SS this could be hurting him. He's not getting reps he'll need at the position he'll most likely end up at. However, that's not how I lean. I think he's a fine SS and a few games in CF won't hurt him. I wouldn't want him playing the rest of the season at CF (unless the Nats were sure he was going to come up as one), but a handful of games between now and the All-Star break to see if they have someone who can replace MAT / Revere down the stretch if need be? That seems like a smart play. Of course MAT or Revere could get hot and again block Trea, but that's a good problem to have.

The Giolito move is a bit more confusing to me. The Nats had two pitchers who would line up with a Tuesday start. In AAA they had Austin Voth and in AA they had Lucas Giolito.  Some stats please

Voth : 2.99 ERA 1.107 WHIP 7.9 H/9, 0.6 HR/9, 2.1 BB/9, 8.3 K/9
Giolito : 3.17 ERA, 1.423 WHIP, 8.5 H/9, 0.3 HR/9, 4.3 BB/9, 9.1 K/9

but that could be all April games what about recently! June stats:

Voth : 3.30 ERA 1.264 WHIP, 7.5 K/9, 11 BB, 1 HR in 30 IP
Giolito : 3.18 ERA, 1.368 WHIP,  11.9 K/9, 7 BB, 1 HR in 22.2 IP

I'd give the edge to Giolito here... until I remember he's in a whole league lower than Voth.

It's hard to read the above and not think Voth has the best chance to win tonight's game of the two and isn't that what a spot start is all about?

Well what if it's not a spot start? If they think Strasburg is done for a while - perhaps they are ready to sit him through the AS break - then it becomes more about who they think will be better overall then just who is better today. Everyone likes Giolito's stuff more so maybe they assume that in 3, 4, 5 games Giolito's advantages would begin to shine through. This is the best I can figure.

The other thing that is apparent though - you don't bring up Giolito now unless you are fully prepared to bring up Giolito later this year. Why start the clock for a game or two on a guy everyone loves but that you aren't sure will stick in the majors even to start next year? You don't.  No, you bring up Giolito now if you are ready to hand him a starting gig no later than the start of 2017. If that's the case then it brings up an interesting situation where the Nats have 6 starters for 5 slots. Stras and Max are set which means either Ross gets dealt, Roark gets dealt, or Gio doesn't get extended. Since the Gio one is the only one they really control (Rizzo is not the type to dump a player - he goes for value) then I kind of guess that decision has been made. They'd like to not resign Gio. One Gio replaces another.

That's not to say he couldn't come back. Maybe someone comes in with a deal for Roark/Ross that is killer and Rizzo pulls the trigger on that. Maybe Stras or Max goes down with TJ. In those events depth is needed and even average Gio is on a fair deal for 2017. But right now I think the Nats are ok not resigning Gio if nothing comes along that makes that necessary.

But back to Lito. Like I said, if this is one or two games, I don't like it. I don't see the point really of starting his clock for a spot start or two when a perfectly good alternate option exists that isn't making a jump from two leagues down. But if it's something longer, well then at least I can see the why there.  

*If you didn't hear he walked three in the first 11 batters and he hadn't walked three in a game since last July.

Monday, June 27, 2016

Monday Quickie - Once more

Well that was a bad stretch now wasn't it?   But look! Nats are still in first. They are still pacing for the 90s in wins (93/94 if you must know). And they still have a chance to knock the Mets for a loop. Three games at home starting tonight. Four games, in NY, right after the 4th.  In between, what should be 7 games vs patsies, Cincinnati and Milwaukee.

If all goes according to plan the Nats will be 4 games up over the Mets by Thursday morning. Five or 6 games up coming into the July 7th series. Then they are a soul crushing 3-1 series win from being around 8 games up. Season over? Not quite. But the ride on out would be smoother. This is what I'm expecting. Well maybe not the 3-1, but being up around 6 games going into that series.

That may be big talk coming off a 7 game slide but the Nats didn't actually play all that badly during that slide.  They didn't get blown out in any game losing by 4 - 3 - 3 - 1 - 1- 2 - 1. That's not usually how 0-7 teams play. I'm not saying the Nats played well. I'm just saying that the Nats played not terribly enough that it really should have been a 2-5 ish slide. If the Nats had done that they'd be up by 5 and we'd be nothing more than mildly annoyed they aren't playing better.  "Mildly annoyed they aren't playing better" had been the team slogan from Mid April until very recently.

Any way. Mets series. Win tonight. Win the series.

We won't of course, get out of here without talking about Strasburg. A weight room incident? I guess.

The Nats need Strasburg if only to help avoid streaks like they just had. Scherzer should be the stopper but showed that he's just flaky enough with the HRs this year that you can't count on him 100%.  I'd probably say the same thing sort of thing about Stras. He's just not great enough that I'm not sure he'll win. However, you give me Max and Stras back to back and I'll bet on a win. Now that there's no Stras a lot falls on Max.

Ross and Roark are solid, but they aren't stoppers. Gio, well Gio might actually be a problem to solve, which is another reason they need Strasburg back. The Nats aren't exactly swimming in SP depth. Yes there are Giolito and Lopez but both are still in AA more likely to be held back for 2017. Austin Voth is a decent enough arm to give a chance to but he's just one. If Stras is here you can work out between those three, who can replace a Gio if that becomes necessary.  If Stras isn't here, then you need two. Are there two here for 2016? I don't know.

When will we see Stras again? It might have to do with how the Nats handle the next few games. If the Nats take a nice lead, there is little reason to rush him back and for the sake of three more starts you could rest him right through the All-Star break. If it gets close there will be more pressure on him to return, certainly for that big 4 game set at CitiField. Hopefully he's not all that injured and he'll be back next go around.

The Nats need Stras this year. There's too much of the season left not to.  They can live without him though, for a few weeks, as long as they take care of business vs the Mets and some middling teams in the meantime.

Friday, June 24, 2016

Problem or not?

The Nats have lost 5 in a row. No biggie. It's a long season and the Nats are still where they want to be. In first place with a 95+ win pace. It's hard to say anything is wrong. The Mets and Marlins remain more than a double sweep (Nats get swept in 3 game series, they sweep their series) away.  This weekend is favorable to the Nats. The Mets are breaking down and can't beat the suddenly hot (7 of last 8) Braves. Miami has 3 more at the best in baseball Cubs. Meanwhile the Nats get to play the Brewers. All signs point to an expansion of the lead, not a contraction.

If the Nats do go into the Mets series closer than 4 games out well then there's the Mets series sitting there to put it right. And after that Cincy and Milwaukee again at home to pull out of any dive they may be undergoing.

The Nats schedule through the 4th is set up for them to stay in first. So if we wake up on July 7th and the Nats are staring up at someone, well then something has gone wrong.

Speaking of wrong, let's talk about Ryan Zimmerman.

Ryan Zimmerman is having a terrible June (.190 / .222 / .328). He had had a terrible April (.219 / .301 / .301), but his May was perfectly acceptable (.262 / .316 / .542). 

At his peak (2009-2010) Ryan hit nothing soft and hit a ton of flyballs. He didn't strike out much and had good patience. Then he got hurt. In his next two full years (2012-13) he would morph into more of a line drive hitter who hit nothing soft. That cost him a little power. He would strike out a bit more and walk a bit less. That cost him some average and OBP. All in all still a very good hitter. Then he got hurt again. And again. Now he's still a hard hitter but he's hitting ground balls. That costs him some average again. He's striking out even more and walking even less. Again more average more OBP.

None of these changes are dramatic. You look at how he's hit over the years there's been a gradual shift. His numbers in 2015 aren't actually all that different from 2012.  You could hope that it has been a bit of bad luck in hitting them were they ain't, but it's also likely a bit of other things. Not as much speed in the legs to beat out hits or go for two. An approach that's a little less all field.

There are things about his stats that can't be denied if you look at his full season stats. He is gradually making less contact. He is gradually being more aggressive.  He's not hitting the ball as hard. I'm not saying Ryan can't be a useful player but I do think the cumulative effect is that he's likely no more than average for a full season.

If you want to try to be more positive you can hope that this is just Ryan's streakiness coming into play. I've looked and there is something to that - at least starting out or coming back from injury. But I'm not sure I buy it and this midseason dip is unusual. I suppose you could argue his May wasn't all that great - probably got lucky in the HRs* which boosted him almost .100 OPS. If you say that than you can say there is no "midseason dip" and he just never got hot. But then again you are arguing that we're 70 games into the year and he hasn't really hit well.

Ryan is clearly not the hitter he used to be, certainly not as his peak, but not as of a couple years ago either. It's not his fault. Injuries and age have taken a toll. It happens with all players, just usually not this early in a career. Right now I'm not advocating sitting Ryan (Robinson is a great bench piece but not a great player) or replacing him. But I am saying he should have his ABs limited as there are clearly 5 hitters you want to have more ABs than him. Normally that would make him 6th in the line-up but the whole lead-off situation is it's own thing so Zimmerman should bat 7th.  If we're at the All-Star break and things haven't picked up we can discuss other options. They likely won't be taken. There doesn't appear to be a lot of affordable 1B options coming up to trade, nothing in the pipeline,  and there are multiple off-field reasons not to sit Zim. But we can discuss them

Other notes :

Since the Phillies (NOT THE CUBS) began the "walk Bryce" movement he's hit .223 / .384 / .349. That may seem ok because that is a nice OBP but the "walk Bryce" movement has pretty much ended. Starting with the Marlins series in mid-May (he was walked 4 times in a game v the Mets the series before so this makes sense as a cutoff for me) he's hit .250 / .323 / .389. That's over a month now. Now he is hitting better in June. If you want to be real favorable to him we can carve out a .288 average period, but the OPS is still under .800.  That's not fine for your superstar.  Bryce might be slowly coming back around.  If not, we're about to have a big Bryce conversation.

*HR/FB rate suggest that is the case. Looking at HR distance too. Not really killing balls. Then there's the inside the park one he got on a catchable ball that turned into a collision

Thursday, June 23, 2016


The worst part about last night for me wasn't the loss. Worry about the Nats if they can't pull out of this in Milwaukee. The worst part was staying up past that interminable Top of the 9th only to lose. You were making a deal with the devil then. I'll stay up and watch this but because I want to see the Nats win a game. And then the devil gets you.

So now what in CF?
In short : Nothing.

In long : 

It would be completely unfair to look at last night and demote or otherwise get rid of MAT. That was pretty much the lowest point for the kid and it is not likely to be repeated. However it isn't unfair to look at MAT's stats at nearly 200 PA (he's got roughly a quarter season worth) and his stats for his career and think the same things. In 2014* he OPS+ 75, in 2015 it was 72, this year so far it is 75. He struck out 39.5% of the time in 2014, 30.9% in 2015, 31.4% this year. The line on MAT has always been that when he makes contact his combination of speed and power make him a dangerous offensive player. However, he's not making enough contact. Not now, not ever at the major league level. It's easy to think that MAT should be a 5th OF. It's easy to think he should be the type of player that is a late inning D replacement (yes, I know - like good defenders don't make errors, smart guy), pinch runner, bat you send up if you are hoping for a bomb. 

Whether that is premature or not Taylor isn't the 5th OF. He's being used as a platoonish starter right now, and that's because of how Ben Revere is doing. Revere was the assumed full-time starter and he doesn't seem right. Given his overall consistency I'd guess he's still feeling the effects of injury but either way the results have been unusable. Ben is guy who lives and dies by the single and he's not hitting them.  A .206 average in a few less at bats than MAT has. He's hitting a lot more flyballs this year, worthless hits for a guy like him with no power. He's striking out a bit more. He hasn't been a good fielder in years, and his speed is only helpful if he gets on the base paths. He hasn't been starter worthy either for the season.

If the Nats were inclined to make a dramatic move or were in panic mode we might see neither Taylor or Revere starting. In fact I'm sure there'll be calls for den Dekker, as he's the type that leaves a good impression. But he's currently hitting .219 in Syracuse, and in brief outings this year he hit worse than MAT. He might be passable in a strict platoon but probably not. He's just ok in the field too and not as fast as these other two.There's not a conspiracy holding this guy back. He isn't that good. Chris Heisey is no better.

What's in the minors?  People might ask to see Brian Goodwin called up just to try it. He is hitting .294. But he also doesn't have any patience and meh power. He has been toning down the Ks as the season has worn on. He had 21 in 77 PAs in April, 11 in 77 PAs so far in June. So maybe? It doesn't feel like a smart move though. More throwing stuff at the wall to see if it sticks. Stevenson or Robles? Too far away.

So... trade? Not so fast. The truth is the quasi-platoon Dusty was throwing out there was working, at least it has been recently. Revere has hit .308 in his last 12 games.  Yes, absolutely no patience or power but he's been getting his singles. He's been sitting not because of his stinky overall numbers, but because there have been a lot of lefty starters recently. MAT has been allowed to face those guys and in the same rough time frame (since June 5th) MAT has hit .348 / .375 / .587.  That includes last night's 0 fer. How can you ask for more than this? CF the last 2 weeks has been good.

It's doubtful the position is ever going to be what you want it to be. Revere is a lifetime averag-ish singles hitter coming off of injury who fields ok. Taylor is a clearly below average hitter who strikes out too much to play everyday, but fields well and is enough of a power threat to make his bat useful. That's who these guys are.  Use them smartly and you might squeeze out a position that's a little above average. For the season that hasn't worked out but for the past couple weeks it really has. The Nats should not worry about last night and keep doing the same.

The All-Star break is still a month away. Let it play out until then. Maybe this keeps working and you ride it all season long. Maybe Revere starts hitting, MAT cools down, and you start to make Ben the full-time guy again and MAT a spot starter. Maybe they both go back to failing and you know you have to make a move. But these guys have not been hurting the team in June. To change things up now would be going after something that just might be fixed. Maybe. Possibly. Don't let one terrible night lose sight of that.

*Yes, yes. Small sample. It's more of a backward allowance. Fits pattern shown in other years so we don't throw it out like we might a 120 OPS+ or a 40 OPS+. Not really fair but this isn't high level analysis here just pointing out a pattern.

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

What, you worry?

The Nats have lost four in a row for only the 2nd time all year. Unlike the last time, a sweep at the hands of the potentially historic Cubs, these games have been against more normal competition, the playoff caliber Dodgers and the cellar dwelling Padres. It almost feels like it hasn't happened, since these have pretty much all gone in the books after midnight on the East Coast, but it has. Is it concerning? Nope.

Good teams, great teams, lose 4 in a row.  The 2014 Nats, who ended up winning 96 games, went 0-4 twice.  The 2012 team, which won 98 games, did it three times including a 5 game slide. It's not going to happen a lot but a couple more times this year is easily possible.

If you shouldn't worry now (and you almost certainly shouldn't) when should you? That depends on what you are worrying about. 

I'm worried about making the playoffs

We are 72 games into the year and the Nats are playing at a 96/97 win pace.  Basically that means that the Nats would have to play around .500 for half the year* to be in the danger zone of missing the playoffs.  Regardless of how you parse the season**, that's a worse Nats team than we have seen. For me, that means we need some kind of run that would fundamentally change how I view this team. A five or six game slide is certainly not enough.  I'm thinking maybe something like 0-10? 2-13? Something that drops them to that under 90 win pace. Something that makes one stop and go, "woah, maybe this isn't the 90+ win team I thought these guys were"  We're a long way off from this right now.

I'm worried about winning the NL East

This one is a bit tougher because it involves other moving parts; how the Mets (and ok, we'll throw in a Marlins mention here) are doing. The Nats could go 6-5 but if the Mets go 11-0 then it's a dead heat. The Nats could go 3-8 but if the Mets go 0-11 then the NL East feels wrapped up. So there can be nothing really definitive here, unlike the playoffs where generally things end up a certain way.

We could set the bar only at what the Mets are pacing right now - which would be 87 wins. However, if you are worried about losing the East, I think you are worried about the Mets playing better rather than the Nats sinking down to finish the season with 85 wins.  I think the safest bet is to make that bar a little higher than the last one, maybe like 92 wins.  In this case the losing is a little less dramatic as those that would cause a playoff miss. These are streaks that would likely bring the Mets back into close contention.  If you figure the Mets to be a little better than .500 than extending this streak to around 0-8 would probably do it, or something like 2-10.*** Basically the Nats have to repeat what they just did.

I'm worried about home field advantage in the playoffs

Ok if you want to be a worry-wart, here's a legitimate thing to worry about. The Cubs have slowed down a bit, but just a bit, and are still on pace to win more than 110 games. To put it another way - if the Cubs play .500 ball here on out, they'll finish 93-69.  No one expects them to play that "poorly" so to have any chance to keep up with the Cubs the Nats basically can't afford to fall much off a 95+ win pace, which they are only a little bit above now.

If the Nats keep winning as they are and I'd give them a puncher's chance to overtake the Cubs, but they are on the cusp of being in real trouble. So maybe a couple more losses? 0-6? 2-8? That would likely put them 6+ more games behind the Cubs with a half-season to go. I wouldn't like those odds.

To recap, four losses in a row ain't nothing. Unless you are aiming for 100 plus wins, it's going to happen (and I'm sure some of those 100+ win teams had it happen too). The Nats have stumbled which hurts their chance at home field, but given how they, and the Mets, have played so far, it affects little else.  If they continue to stumble, or worse fall flat on their face, there would be something to worry about**** but as of right now there's nothing.

*Depends where we draw the line but if we say "under 90" we're looking at something like an 83/84 win pace for 90 games. 

**If you are positive about the Nats then they are who they are, a 96/97 win team. If you are negative you might say they lucked into a Braves team who couldn't get out of their own way early and really they are more like the record the team has put up since mid April. That is more of a 88/89 win team. Either way it's a long way from .500

*** Of course we are getting into a Mets series during this time frame so that's a little different but I'm talking vague generalities here. 

**** Also unspoken is after the Dodgers comes the Brewers who currently are only slightly better than the Padres. The likelihood of continuing a long losing streak against them feels really unlikely.  After that is the Mets, but then Cincy and Milwaukee at home. You can slip up against anyone but it's a lot less likely against teams like these. So most of this is more things to look at heading up until the stretch run rather than what could happen right now. Most. The 0-4 is here now so that counts for something. 

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Gio thoughts

I don't try to come up with a story from a Kershaw vs Petit match-up.  The Nats were pretty well handled by Kershaw (as expected).  I wouldn't go as far to say the Nats were dominated, but I'd also don't think Kershaw had his A+ stuff either.  On the Nats side Petit did pretty much what you wanted him to do, go 6 and hold it close. The bullpen let in another run. This time it was Perez, who they tried to work into just getting out lefties, but Chase Utley got a big single to add an insurance run. Solis looked good but how much of that was a 3 run lead in the top of the 9th with Jansen coming in and it being 96 degrees I don't know.

So with nothing much to say about that I wanted to talk about Gio for a second. I've heard some "what's wrong with Gio" talk. I've heard some Biogenesis whispers. This is all silly. There is a very simple explanation for Gio's decline.  He's getting older.

When Gio came to the Nats the big worry was that he'd give up a lot of homers. That had been an issue early in his career and on the road as an Athletic.  Since DC wasn't as pitcher friendly as Oakland it seemed that it might be an issue here, but that didn't happen. He adjusted. Not only did he not give up a lot of homers, he reigned in his control, too. In 2012 he paired that with being harder to hit, which gave us the Cy Young contender year, but even after with more typical "hittability", he kept those other things going and gave the Nats two solid years.

This makes sense in hindsight. He had a few years under his belt and was still improving.  He was entering the window most people think of as peak, 26-28 years old. He was going from the AL to the NL, always a nice bonus for pitchers. Everything was lined up for him.

Now he is exiting his peak. He can't keep it up. What's being effected now is his hittability. The hits per nine are going way up the past two years. He countered that by becoming an extreme ground ball pitcher last year, which kept his home runs down. But it's hard to keep the ball down, yet close enough to the strike zone to not walk a lot of guys and induce strikeouts. Gio saw his walks bump way up and his K's go down. He saw his IP per game go down to 5.6.  He was doing ok, but not great and he wasn't lasting long enough.

So he adjusted again. He's been putting move balls in the zone this year. His IP per start is back closer to 6 now. The walks are down but the flyballs go up. His stuff is just in general more hittable so the homers go up a lot too. He plugs one hole in the dam here, another one opens up over there.

Gio was a great strikeout pitcher (9th in K% for qualifying pitchers* from 2012-2014), with iffy control (16th worst in walks), who was hard to hit (4th in BAA - better than Stras or ZNN, even taking out 2012 he only drops to 12th). He could concentrate on keeping the ball in the park to make himself a top pitcher.

Gio IS a very good strikeout pitcher (26th 2015-16) with iffy control (13th worst), who is no longer hard to hit (20th worst). Simply keeping the ball in the park no longer works to make himself a top pitcher. He now has to pick his poison. He can keep the ball in the park, but give up more hits (BA goes up with GBs as opposed to fly balls) and probably more walks and less Ks too. Or he can worry about keeping the walks and Ks where he likes, probably control the hits a little bit, but give up more homers.

This is who Gio is now. A pitcher with flaws that can't be hidden or worked around. It doesn't mean he can't be an effective pitcher.  He can be. Hell he'd probably be a 3 on most teams. But hoping for anything better than what you are seeing in general, for any long stretch, is probably asking too much.

*131 from 2012-2014, 74 from 2015-2016 if you must know. It does inform.

Monday, June 20, 2016

Monday Quickie - Cruisin'

Remember when you all said the NL East was super tough? That the Nats not only had an equal challenger in the Mets but game 3rd and 4th place teams with the Phillies and Marlins? Well the Phillies are garbage (6th worst record! congrats on the free fall) and with a few injuries the Mets are close to a .500 team. I guess the Marlins are ok, which is amazing considering the year Stanton has had. Still I can't look at that rotation and feel worried at all.

The Nats have a nice opportunity to put the reeling Mets and the Marlins away but haven't yet.  Part of the reason is the pen which had another rough go on Saturday. I know I said recently that the pen is ok, but man, watching those Padres games shook my faith in the stats.  One clean outing (Kelly had a 2/3rds of a inning with no runners in the first game) compared to 6 shaky ones (where you give up at least two baserunners in an inning).

Here are the WHIPs for the reliever over the past two weeks

Kelley 0.706
Belisle 1.125
Solis 1.400
Petit 1.500
Treinen 1.571 (0.00 ERA! Not my guys scoring!)
Perez 1.875
Rivero 2.250

That's not pretty.  Basically you like Kelley and that's it.  Maybe Belisle is ok, we'll probably see it put to the test over the next week or two. The structure of the pen has rapidly changed. For a long time is was basically a very good Rivero (occasionally Kelley) rolling into an effective (but yes scary) Papelbon closing games. Other guys fit into situations that were most advantageous. Now Rivero looks broken and Papelbon is. Kelley is shunted toward the closer role, Solis/Treinen taking over for Rivero/Kelley. But Solis isn't as effective as April/May Rivero. Treinen isn't as effective as Kelley. Perez is out of the LOOGY position. Petit is forced to get a scoreless inning rather than what he had been doing - soaking up a few frames limiting damage.

These things are all about timing and context though. We've mentioned this a few times this season, but good teams have one aspect cover another. That allows for problems to work themselves out rather than trying to force quick solutions. In this case, the bats have been hot and had helped cover the recent issues with the pen. Plus, as we noted before the Mets have tanked. I think we'd really be upset with the pen if the Nats had lost that last game to the Phillies and the game to the Cubs and were looking at a 3-5 run right now, with the Mets 2 games behind.

But the bats have cooled down a bit the last few games and get Kershaw next, then a much better Urias (at least for 4-5 innings) to end the series. If the pen wants to stay as is, the pen needs to get better sooner, rather than later.

Other notes

MAT is red hot.  .500 with 2 homers and a double in the last week. What does this mean? I don't know. I'd rather see one of these guys (Revere) start everyday and one back-up but Dusty might be going back and forth looking for, then riding out, the hot hand.

On the flip side Rendon is ice cold. Part of that is your usual small sample size bad luck (.083 BABIP) but he has struck out 9 times in the past week. Only the contractual obligation that is Ryan Zimmerman has struck out more times.

It's easy to forget Gio's last couple games weren't that bad.  But last nights' game was. Gio's season has had a general trend that's bothersome, but the last couple of games had me hoping he had pulled out of things. An excellent game vs the Padres would have been a capper. Instead we get that. Oh well. The bad game is not completely telling either.  Yes, the Padres aren't great offensively and yes, it's Petco, but they've been hitting better lately and hit lefties better. So let's see what he does next time.

Friday, June 17, 2016

Nothing today

Well except this so your comments today and over the weekend have a place to go.

Thursday, June 16, 2016

Nats are healthy and good and healthy

The only real stain on the Nats season so far, the only thing you could say had gone really wrong, was when, in early May the Cubs swept the Nats out of Chicago. The games were mostly competitive. The gap between the teams didn't seem all that large. But still, as we say here "a sweep's a sweep" and the Nats seemed to be a step behind the Cubs. For a team wanting to make an impact in the playoffs that seemed important.

Now of course there's a 100 games between now and October and a lot happens in 100 games. So did it really matter? No. It's very likely two slightly different teams would be facing off in the fall, if they even met. But a win now would quell the inevitable "Nats can't beat Cubs" story beats that would carry from now till season's end. Not only the Nats win a game, they won a series, and put the whole thing back to where it probably should be. The Nats and Cubs are both very good teams. The Cubs may have a slight edge. Let's see this series!

For those of us (re: Me) looking for the Nats to define themselves they have in June. They took 6 out of 9 games in a road trip, followed by winning 5 of 6 at home. They beat great teams at home (Cubs), good teams on the road (White Sox) crushed the season of a previously lucky team, now flailing (Philly) and ok, had a hiccup (Reds).  That happens. They are a great team.

This isn't a team firing on all cylinders. The starting pitching has been hit or miss during this time. The pen has had a couple misfires.  Ryan Zimmerman died and no one noticed.  But it's a team that is very healthy and teams that are healthy win games. Being healthy lets the assembled talent shine through and Rizzo assembled a pretty good team. Murphy, Espinosa, Rendon, Bryce, Werth, Ramos are all in line to play full seasons. Zimm would currently be in line for a little less than that, in part thanks to missing games due to the birth of a child. Revere has been back for over a month now. The bench has been stable as well. Scherzer, Strasburg, Gio, Ross and Roark have made every start so far for the team. The Nats have only used 8 relief arms.

Is it Rizzo? Is it Dusty? Is it luck? Probably a bit of all three. Rizzo has spent each offseason making the Nats better (other than 2012-2013 where he rode a bench that could not possibly repeat it's performance) It's been mostly tweaks here and there with the occasional Scherzer, but tweaks matter. Drew, Heisey, Robinson, Taylor vs Moore, Lombo, Tracy, Bernadina? It's a better team top to bottom in 2016 then it was in 2015 than in 2014 than in 2013.  That's Rizzo.

I'm not convinced that Dusty has helped the Nats arms stay healthy. They have a pretty long history now of being so (betting on young arms is a big part of that) and both Davey and Matt presided over healthy staffs. And like many of you I wonder how the rotation will hold up down the stretch*. However, I'd be inclined to say Dusty might be helping getting these bats back after injury. Letting them play, rotating in some bench guys, always working advantages to give players the best chance at succeeding. Dusty was a batter, he knows what he needed. He is playing with a lot of veteran guys, no starter not playing in at least his 4th major league season, and 6 starters in their 7th year or more.** This is an offense made for a guy like Dusty.

Is it luck? Sure. Of course. Healthy can be planned for but injuries happen. We've seen dives into bases, running into walls, running into players, bad hops, all take out players. The Nats can work to avoid the repetitive injuries, lessen the chances of injuries due to age, or use. But they can only do so much and can't avoid the flukes. So far so good.

The Nats were built to be a very good team and luck has been on their side so they can show that. You can't really ask for more.

*don't call me worried - call me curious. I think staff can go harder and longer than they are given, but I also worry about staffs trained a certain way for years might need a bit more... ramp up.  Of course I might also say damn the torpedoes - blow these arms out - get a title. 

** Also Lobaton, Heisey, and Drew are at that level of experience. Robinson is at the 4th year level, but is 31. Really only MAT is young and relatively inexperienced. 

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Rubber match

Cubs win game 2. Gio didn't look terrible, which is what I was most paying attention to. The Nats got themselves back into the game and the Nats pen lost it in the end. Which brings up the question of the moment. Is the Nats pen in trouble?

It's clear that the Nats don't have a shutdown closer. Papelbon is effective but hittable. Rivero is untested and possibly overworked. Treinen is peaking but still wild. Kelley could be the man but even if he is it creates the cascade issue. Where Kelly pitched before someone has to step in, and where that player who stepped in pitched, another arm has to go. Weaker arms are forced to pitch in more important times.

It feels like trouble but all indications is that the Nats pen is fine. Better than fine in fact. Better than good. They are 3rd in the NL in ERA, in a group with #1 and #2, much better than #4. They have the third lowest batting average against.  Third lowest opponent OPS. 5th best in stranding inherited runners. Blown the fewest saves (tied with 4 other teams) which is not a fluke of chances as they have the 2nd highest save percentage (told you Papelbon was effective). They've pitched the second fewest innings and have no one outside of maybe Rivero who's been worked particularly hard.

And has Rivero been worked hard? I think he had been, appearing 11 times in 19 days (not games but days) from April into May, and mentioned that. However that didn't appear to effect his performance. Instead it was 3 straight appearances at the end of May that might have tipped the scales. He was at one time on pace for 90 appearances when he had only been a reliever full time for one previous season, and pitched in 57 games.  So was it being worked too hard. Maybe. It's hard to tell with pitchers. He has been used sparingly since as Dusty has worked Solis and Perez into games more. We'll see if he can bounce back. And as I've said before - I'd ride relief pitchers until they break. These are fungible arms that rarely give you more than a few good years. Squeeze all the blood you can from that stone.

There are two questions here - do the Nats NEED bullpen help and are the Nats going to get bullpen help.  The first question, I honestly think they don't. No, Papelbon in the playoffs doesn't inspire confidence, but as I said before - he's effective. By replacing him you are gambling that the Nats will be in a close game, Papelbon will blown that game, but this new magical closer, let's call him Androldis Millman, wouldn't.  That's a lot of check boxes to be marked to give up something good for.  I guess if your goal is unstoppable another arm is necessary but even the best laid plans can be beaten by a stray hit, some unfortunate usage, (see Storen in 2012)  or a guy just not doing it that day (see Storen in 2014)

But still even if the Nats don't need it, they may get it just because they can. Bullpen help can be had a bit more cheaply given the limited impact. So I wouldn't be surprised if the Nats didn't add an arm or two down the stretch. I just don't expect it to be a Miller or Chapman. I expect it to be a solid middle relief arm that can be had for a song. And looking at the pen so far - I think that's the most defensible move.

(Of course All-in Harper says - BE UNSTOPPABLE.  This year is going well for you. No half-measures)

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Nats win. Narrative killed

I'll admit that possibly the bigger part of the reason I wanted the Nats to beat the Cubs is not because of some psychological advantage (though I do think that can be real) but because I didn't want to hear about that possible psychological advantage constantly leading up to the playoffs and a possible series. It could matter like I said but it wouldn't be treated as one of a number of possible impactful items. It would be treated like the number one important thing going in and would stay that as long as it continues. So it's dead. Good. I suppose if the Cubs trash the Nats the next two games it may pop up but I'll worry about that then.

Trea Turner did apparently have an effect by being called up. Since he got sent down Danny Espinosa has been on fire.  .385 / .448 / .808 in 7 games. Three multi-hit games when he had 7 in his first 55. Stephen Drew isn't slacking either. .500 with 2 homers and a double in 12 ABs. Is this really about Trea? Probably not, but it's nice to have the motivating factor of players on your tail.

This kind of motivation might extend to other players too. Ben Revere can't struggle for too long because MAT is there looking for another go, getting solid play in favorable conditions. MAT can't struggle for too long or he may not get to play. Jayson Werth can't struggle for long because they might go in a different direction come trade deadline.  This is all armchair psychology but there can be more than just the most important "capable players ready on the bench" benefit to having a quality bench.

The Nats offense is rolling and that means that Zimm, who is like the only Nats really struggling recently, can have all the time he needs to get better. The Nats can ride out the inevitable rough patch** with the starters. The Nats can figure out exactly what they want to do with the back end of the pen. A good team has the luxury of time, because they don't ever fall too far out of where they want to be. The healthy Nats are a good team.

Better yet, the unhealthy Mets may not be.

Another thing to note - which is a surprise to me - is that the Nats have found their identity offensively.  They are a homer hitting team. Six players with 9 or more home runs right now which translates to 6 or more 20 HR hitters. Drew and Heisey have been HR threats off the bench, as is MAT I'm sure.  The Nats are 7th in BA, 9th in OBP, which keeps them from being a crazy special offense and also notes that that isn't who they are. They are bashers. Homers in 15 of 16 last games.

Power pitching. Homer bashing. Fun team right?

*It may not even exist. Though I don't really believe that. 

** In that these patches happen to all teams, even ones with superior rotations like the Nats. You'd need like 4 number ones to really not have a rough patch come up. 

Monday, June 13, 2016

Monday Real Quick and Pretty Late - Cubs!

Late post today.  The Nats ended the Phillies season over the weekend (see you in 2017) and look to be cruising.  So far they have done pretty much everything they should and nothing they shouldn't.  that's a 90+ win team with ease.  But now comes the Cubs.

Now, of course, this is baseball and momentum is only lasts as long as your next starting pitcher, but I do still think it matters to take a game from the Cubs.  I do think each series is a reset, so go 0-7 in the regular season and the Nats can wipe it out with a win in Game 1 of the playoffs, but I feel that after that first game the pressures all come down again. 

So don't get swept. That's it.

Friday, June 10, 2016

Second Gear

See? Didn't I tell you? What a difference a game makes?  Magically a disappointing 2-4 finish to a road trip that started with a sweep becomes just a very very good 7-3 road trip.

So there was a hiccup against the Reds. So what! First place by 2 and a half games. The Phillies and Marlins are showing themselves to be, as expected, non-contenders. The Mets are struggling to keep pace.  Fourth best record in the majors but literally a half-game from 2nd best.*  Finally a bunch of guys are hitting at the same time. In the past week Ramos and Werth are killing it. Espy and Murphy are hot. Bryce, Rendon, and Revere are doing well. MAT and Zimm are contributing. Literally the worst guy over the past week is Zimm who has only had 3 hits but they were all XBH and he's walked a few times to boot.You're not going to lose many games given that.

This is good because the pitching has been not so hot. Scherzer was great, had the first game he didn't give up a homer since the first of May. But Ross and Roark were terrible and Stras and Gio had their struggles. Anything to worry about? Eh not yet. You know I was on Gio, but he bounced back nicely after that first inning, although admittedly I did say these are the types of teams he should do ok with. I'd be real wary of that Cubs game next week. But maybe he'll surprise? The rest - chalk it up to a bad week for now.

That still doesn't cover the pen, which had several failures. Let's ignore the failings of Perez (it was mostly RH doing damage, which will happen given that he's pretty much a LOOGY) and Papelbon (which we are aware of). Neither Kelley nor Rivero have pitched well recently. Rivero, by all rights, could just be wiped. Kelley I'm confused by and it seems Dusty is too. Here is a quick rundown of how Kelley has been used this year.

April 4-12th : 7th/8th inning of close games. Performed well. 1H, 1BB, 3K in 2.2 IP. Opponents line .111 / .200 / .222. One bases loaded walk in the first game, otherwise no possible complaints. No runs one hit.

April 16th-22nd : complete garbage time usage. 7 runs leads each time used. Was hit a little. 4H, 5K in 2.2 IP.  .333 / .333 / .333.  Allowing a couple inherited guys to score in a game

April 26th-May 5th : A mix some close games, some not close. Again mostly very good work, though an a falter at the end letting an inherited run score, but the game was mostly lost at that point (down 4 in became down 5 for 9th). Still no runs charged to him. 3 H, 5K in 3.1 IP. .231 / .231 / .385

May 6th-14th :  late inning close games. Gave up a big hit in a close game vs the Cubs. Other four outings perfect. 2H, 1BB, 6K, in 4.2 IP.  .125 / .176 / .188

May18th-29th : Garbage time again. A couple runs finally charged to him, but not necessarily terrible overall. 2H, 2BB, 5K in 4.2 IP.  .143 / 235 / .500

June 4-Today : mostly close games. Garbage time issues against White Sox otherwise ok.  3H 1BB 6 K in 3.2 IP.  .214 / .267 / .571

Kelley hasn't been great with inherited runners but overall he's been very good. Yet, being very good or having a problem or two hasn't really effected how Kelley has been used. Instead, it feels like he is at the mercy of how Dusty feels about Treinen on a certain day. He's consistently plan B for late inning RH relief pitching and I don't know why. I don't really know if this is a Dusty thing or a team thing, but it certainly feels like they desperately want Treinen to be the heir apparent to Papelbon and are going to try to force it. I don't think it's the right move. I still think Treinen is too wild and that will be his downfall. But they are going to do what they are going to do and they are winning so what do I know.

I don't know how we got going down that tangent. Oh yes I do. The pen hasn't been great. Unlike a lot of previous things that I've brushed off this does concern me. Rivero having issues is troublesome because with hittable Pap in the 9th and their Treinen obsession that means now the Nats really effective late inning guy is down to... well no one in my opinion. I can't say I like Sammy Solis if I don't like Treinen considering they basically have the same control issue. I think the answer is there. I think Kelley is good. But the Nats aren't going in that direction and I don't know why

Of course, if you're an optimist, I just spent most of this post worrying about the 8th inning guy. That's a pretty good thing to be your major concern at the moment. 
OK so the Nats come home and they are going to get the Phillies and the Cubs. They can effectively end the Phillies with a sweep. The Phillies aren't particularly good so their whole season rests on staying in it long enough so that they can't fall out of it. Be that by luck or pitching or the combination that got them through the first 40 games. But they are pretty much falling out of it now and need to take a game from the Nats simply to try to keep their heads near the water line of .500. A sweep would make them 29-34, 5-17 in the past 4 weeks and basically dead in the water. 

The Cubs series is an entirely different animal.  There's been some attempt to wipe the sweep away since it happened. They were competitive, and it was in Chicago, and the Nats have been fine since then. Still a sweep is a sweep and the idea you can't beat a team can hang over your head. The Nats have to think they will have to beat the Cubs in the playoffs so taking a game here is imperative. It doesn't have to be more than that (thought a series win would better set up the teams as competitive). Just a win will allow the Nats to walk into a playoff series without the idea that they can't beat the team they are playing.  They won't play again this year so this is the time.

*What's the catch for the pessimist? Well if you are such a guy the WC race is going exactly as expected. The Mets, Pirates, and Cardinals are in the mix and the likely scenario has the second WC finisher not too far off of 90 wins. Any stumble by the Nats could put then in a danger zone. But this is life for everyone in the NL except for the Cubs (who'd probably have to play games under .500 ball to miss out). It's a tightrope any non-historic pace team will have to walk this year.  Better to walk it with a several game lead in hand 40% through the year. 

Wednesday, June 08, 2016

On Assignment

I'm on the road so posts will be pretty brief for a couple days.

A couple weeks out I thought, wouldn't it be nice if when the Nats got to the White Sox series if they didn't have to face Sale or Quintana? Lo and behold here we are and the Nats don't have to face Sale or Quintana.  They don't even get Rodon. Instead they get the quickly turning back into a pumpkin Latos, journeyman Gonzalez, and "Competant Game" James.

The Nats season is almost a microcosm of how I believe sports events are generally decided. I don't feel like teams win. I don't think teams rise to the occasion often, playing better than normal. Instead I feel like teams lose. One team does what they are supposed to with minimal effort, what by all rights they should be able to do. The other fails to do these expected tasks. They can't move runners over. They can't get a 2-out hit in say, 5 chances. They make an error. The Nats in 2016 are the team doing what is expected. Around them the teams and league falls leaving them on top.

I know some will take that to be dismissive of the Nats, but it's not meant to be. It's how I think nearly every season plays out. A couple talented teams manage to stay healthy and play as they should. The rest of the league either gets injured or can't hit their potential or both. The Nats are no different than the Royals from last year or the Giants the year before that, etc. etc. There is skill in not playing bad, in not messing things up. The best teams show this skill.

The Nats merely need to win one of the next two to make that the story once again. The Nats went on the road against inferior teams and came out winners, like they should. They didn't run roughshod. They simply did what they needed to. Keep it up and as we've seen from the Mets, other teams won't and the Nats will end up where they want to be.

Monday, June 06, 2016

Monday Quickie - Escaping from the Unlocked Jail

The Nats shouldn't have had to escape Cincinnati with a win. But they did have to, and they did do it. Teams stumble during a season. You'd like it to be explainable but it's often not. For example, I pointed out this weekend that the Cubs have only lost 4 series this year. The most recent one, SF in SF is easily explainable, but the others are MIL (@ MIL) and COL and SDP at Wrigley.  None of these teams are better than 5 under .500 and yet they all have a series win versus the Cubs to point to.

So the Nats lost a series to Cincinnati, big deal. The point isn't the individual series but the general trend. What's the general trend? Still positive, but teetering. Going into this 9 game road trip you'd probably have aimed for 5/6 wins. The Nats are much better than the Phillies* and the Reds and normal better than the White Sox**. They should win all the series but a slip-up in one, probably the White Sox one, would be acceptable.Given that outlook the Nats only need a single win at Comiskey. However, it's hard to feel good about 5 wins when you start the road trip with a sweep.

The macro view of the road trip doesn't change. Five wins is still be good. But the micro view does amend itself after the sweep. If the Nats don't win this series, it would again feel like the Nats have stalled out when they should be starting to really thrive.

Other Notes

On Trea? Looked good that first game. Looked ready to get a run playing in the majors. But it's not to be. Why? Ask Rizzo, not me. Best guess is they want him playing everyday but have no current plan to sit Espinosa. It's going to take an injury or  Espy flailing for a couple weeks to get this guy up and starting everyday. 

Strasburg was fine, but didn't win. Ok. Roark was bad but he had been good three games in a row and bad games happen. Ok. Gio though... this is three straight games for Gio where he had a poor outing. I noted about the time this started that Gio had feasted on bad hitting teams (ATL, PHI, MIN, KC, MIA, NYM) and had bombed against the only good offense he faced.  If the rotation holds he'll get the White Sox and the Padres in 2 of the next 3 (Cubs in between) and they are below average offenses so hopefully he'll put together some good outings.

Felipe Rivero is floundering. Is it because of overwork? I think so. He's appeared in the 2nd most games in baseball. Last year he appeared in 57 games. He's already appeared in 29 this year and we're little more than a third through the year. I like riding former starters as relievers hard but Rivero made the switch at a young age and after injury. I'm not as inclined to believe he ever built up that arm strength.

If you're looking at a silver lining to the above note - Sammy Solis has pitched well recently. So there's potential just to keep him up and let Rivero work/rest in AAA for a few weeks. 

The Nats are not exactly hitting well right now. Ramos, ZNN, and Bryce are the ones hitting over .300 the past week, but Zimm's been out and Bryce has been sitting so both of them have few enough at bats that one hit taken away puts them into "not hitting" So really only Ramos is doing real well. However the Nats ARE hitting home runs. Espinosa three hits in past week - 3 homers. Werth 3 hits past week - 2 homers. Muprhy cooling down - but 2 homers. Drew - barely comes up - hits a homer. This is helping to keep the runs coming in even as the team stops getting on base. Spin it positively : Good teams do stuff like this, have one thing compensate when another thing fails.

*Finally things are catching up with the lucky Phillies. 4-12 in their last 16. With the Cubs and Nats coming up could easily end up being a 4-18/5-17 run. 

** Who themselves are 6-18 in their last 24 but they are a solid .500 ish team. 12 of those games were one-run affairs and they went 4-8 in them.

Friday, June 03, 2016

Tray Ternur Day!

By now you know Trea Turner is going to be up with the team. Hooray! End of talking about when Trea Turner would be up with the team! Early indications have Zimm to Paternity Leave, Murphy to 1B and Trea to 2B. The other option would presumably be Clint at 1B, Trea at SS and Espinosa sitting, but given the Nats are facing a LHP I would give this about a 1% chance of actually happening tonight. Maybe another day though.

Is this good? Well it's a good decision. The Nats aren't losing much bringing him up now, and Trea seems ready for the majors, or probably more accurately phrased, ready to move on from AAA. His numbers for AAA stand at .310 / .376 / .472 with 22 BB and 43K in 50 games. You can parse the season so far several ways to make him look better or worse but given that in 48 games last year his AAA numbers were .314 / .353 /.431 with 13 and 41... things seems pretty stable. The questions would be about the walk rate and slugging, both up in 2016. It could be him getting better, but could it also just be a function of the short evaluation time? I can't really tell from the minor league numbers either way. Twist my arm and I'd bet these are a tiny bit high for 22/23 yo Trea in AAA but I don't feel strongly about that. For sure they'll dip in the majors though, so it's kind of moot to talk about these unless you feel they are crazy out of whack and I don't.

For those of you wondering when the service time counter kicked in and gave the Nats another year of Turner the answer is clearly "before today". So the Nats have another year of control. Unless Trea was going to stay down until 2017 they weren't going to get anymore from keeping him down except maybe save a year of arbitration. That's not nothing, but teams don't usually let that stop them from bringing up someone qualified at this point in the year.

While Turner's call up is all well and good, what I'm looking for is the Nats to really put some separation between them and the Mets before their next go around. The Mets have lost 4 of 5 and are at a decent Miami team while the Nats have won 4 in a row and travel to Cincinnati. Can the Nats get another game by the time these series are over? It'd be nice. Whatever Turner does, this is going to be how I judge the next couple weeks. If he's good that's a bonus. If he's bad that's a minor note.

OK let's keep it going 2 of 3 at the very least Nats. Make it happen.

Thursday, June 02, 2016

I don't want to sweep alone

The Nats might just be doing it. After starting 9-1 and looking like maybe the best team in baseball the Nats have hunted elusively for that next streak. They pulled out 5-1... only to follow that up with a 3 game losing streak. Which they promptly followed with four wins in a row to make it a 9-4 stretch ... only to follow it up with a 1-5 stretch. 4-1 was followed by 0-3.  3-0 by 3-5. Nothing is given but given that six of the next nine games are at Cincinnati, who after a 5-1 start have gone 13-34 and might just be the worst team in baseball (take that Twins and Braves!), and against these same Phillies in DC, it seems that now is the time.

It seems quite possible that the Nats are going to either put up a streak such that a possible small stumble like 0-4 or 1-5 won't take the shine off it. Something like 11-2. Or they'll go like 9-4 but with games at SD and MIL and home vs CIN and MIL through July 4th weekend, they'll be able to follow it up with a .500 set as opposed to one something like 4-9 to bring them right back to where they started.

This is good.

So apparently Danny vs Trea is a hot button topic for you people. I think I've been clear. I would bring up Trea, because I'm all in for 2016 and I think there is a better chance Trea would produce more than Danny than not. BUT I can see the Nats side because (1) they are winning, (2) there is a moderate chance Trea wouldn't be better, and (3) the Nats get something for keeping Trea down, be it $ or service time.

Number 2 there seems to be a sticking point because projections suggest that Trea is clearly better. Well let's talk about that for a second.

Projections are made in a way to decrease error across all players. They attempt to answer the question of how can we create a single system that gets the closest to projecting everyone's stats for the next season. That's a HUGE question and understandably projection systems are far from perfect. Even though they are generally good there is still a lot of error in there and often the difference between the best system and the simplest is actually pretty small. For a GM trying to put together a team over several years that may matter, as little things add up. For us picking apart a single player it really doesn't. The error bars. My god, man, the error bars!

But that's not to say projections aren't useful on a micro level. At this level they are less about being more accurate in their models than they are about being more accurate by removing bias. When you or I evaluate someone we bring our own experiences and prejudices to the table that can color an evaluation.We may like a certain type of player, or have feelings for his school, or the player he could replace. He may have played poorly or great when we've seen him. A projection system cuts all that out and gives us a straight answer influenced by nothing*. That's great! And it's not great! It's not great because our personal experiences and feelings have the potential to make projections better. That's right. Better. Because we don't know if we are making it better or not using a system makes a lot more sense. But it doesn't invalidate the potential of what we see and think as individuals.

Why do I possibly like my Trea projection better than Steamer or ZiPS? Because I'm not looking at a system created for 1000 players and trying to decrease error, I'm looking at one player. Why do I possibly like my projection of Trea better then Keith Law or John Sickels or whoever?** Because he's not 1 of 2000 players I'm putting in time trying to evaluate and grade, but just the one I'm looking at now. I could totally be wrong. I could totally be biased. I understand that. And you yourself should completely go with systems or experts over me, I would probably do that to you. But I'm here to give my opinions and this is my opinion.

We're guessing how a player will do. No one is wrong here. It wouldn't even be wrong if it were Trea Turner vs Stephen Drew or Lombardozzi or Jamey Carroll. "What do you think?" is the question. The answer is what you think.

While we're on the subject another thing about projections is that you really shouldn't use projections for one and then not use projections for the other. If you are going to compare Danny to Trea you have to do it using the same system. What does that actually play out to be? Well using what's available on Fangraphs and figuring 100 games for the starter...

Steamer : ~1.1 WAR for Danny, ~1.6 for Trea
ZiPS : ~1.3 for Danny, ~1.6 for Trea
(Depth Charts is just a combination of these two with Fangraphs playing time projections so it doesn't bring in anything new here)

These are rough because there are updates and RoS projection and non-updates for minor leaguers, etc. but both are pretty clear in how they project the rest of the season. Trea would likely be worth a half-win more than Danny. Now granted if we had access to the error information and distributions you'd see the chances Danny outperforms Trea in these projections is probably pretty high - 33%, 40% I bet  - but still this is the very general idea they present. Trea would be better. A little better.

But I'm not arguing that. I agree with it.

As a simple baseball offensive production question this isn't really complicated. Factor in defense and it gets a bit cloudy. Factor in intangibles and competing goals and then it really becomes an opinion piece and each of us have a different opinion but in the end only Rizzo's opinion matters.

*well outside any prejudices the people building the system might put in there. While real though they aren't going to be made for any specific player. 

** let's note that what we're really talking about here with me "going against" these systems is me literally saying something like "I think for 100 games in 2016 he'll be more like 85-90% of what they predict he'll be"  This isn't Atheism vs Christianity here, it's Lutheran Church of America vs Lutheran Church of Missouri Synod

Wednesday, June 01, 2016

The formula and Danny v Trea

The 2012 Nationals had the best pitching staff in the NL, and a Top 5 offense in the league.
The 2013 Nationals had a good pitching staff and an offense just above average.
The 2014 Nationals had the best pitching staff in the NL, and a Top 3 offense in the league*.
The 2015 Nationals had good pitching staff and a Top 3 offense in the league.
The 2016 Nationals have the 2nd best pitching staff in the NL** and a below average offense.

If you can't tell the Nats fortunes have risen and fallen based not on the offense but on the arms. The offense was very good in 2015 and the Nats couldn't make the playoffs. The offense is so-so through 60 games this year and yet the Nats have one of the best records in the game. It's when the pitching staff fails to carry the team when they get into trouble.

This year the staff looks like it can carry, or more precisely it looks like the rotation does not have a weakness and as long as they stay healthy that can mitigate any bullpen issues. When in close games you can go from the starter to Rivero, hopefully one day Kelley, and then the competent Papelbon you will be fine.

I don't believe that the Nats can win it all without the offense performing better, but I do believe they can take the NL East in such a manner. It depends on what the Mets end up doing and currently their offense is worse than the Nats.

The above matters because it informs the Trea Turner vs Danny Espinosa argument. Danny hit a homer last night. Maybe he's heating up, but probably not. Regardless he's hitting around .200 which can be borderline useful assuming the player walks a lot and hits for power. Is he? Again borderline on both for May. In the meantime Trea Turner is doing well in AAA.  Now don't confuse that with "tearing up AAA" as some people who can't read stats like to say, but he is undeniably doing very well. He had a hot streak and a cold streak and has come back to hit again. What kind of hitter is he in AAA?  .300ish with a few walks and speed-based power. (more triples than HRs).  Might strike out a bit much.

The question on Trea vs Danny hinges on two things. What do you think of Danny's D vs Trea's D and how do you think Trea will do on offense.

The D question is hard to answer but I've heard many people say they didn't think Danny was doing that well at short this season, so replacing him isn't a big deal. What do the stats say? By overall D 5th best SS in the majors. UZR tie 4th.  Range 6th well above 7th. Error, DPR they all say the same thing. He's better than a Top 10 defensive SS, maybe as good as a top 5. Now of course we are dealing with a third of a season of defensive data which is like the batting equivalent of 3 weeks of hitting. In other words - not meaningless but far from meaningful.

But still you have to figure that the Nats think that he's doing well at defense considering they haven't worked in Drew more. And history tells us that Danny is not just an ok fielder but maybe a great one. So on one side you have the data, the team, and Danny's history telling us he's probably doing better than good. ON the other side you have John Q Fanboy tired of Danny striking out telling us he's not.  I know which side a soulless automaton will fall on.

Of course this doesn't mean that Trea can't do just as well and his minor league range numbers are similar to Danny's at similar ages and levels. That doesn't necessarily tells us much but for a novice poking at the numbers there is nothing here that immediately disqualifies Trea.  He could be Danny's equal. However, with limited data it's here though that we have to trust the scouts. And in that there is a general feeling Danny is better. How much and for how long? Those are good questions but in the scheme of 2016 they don't matter unless the answers are "tiny and for like a week".  It seems like a good bet Danny will be a better fielder than Trea this season.

Ok so that means Trea needs to hit better than Danny in order for bringing him up to make sense in a pure 2016 sense. Will he? That's a tough question. It's going to hinge on a MAT type of issue. Trea strikes out a fair amount for a modestly powered middle infielder. When he came up to the majors that, as expected, increased and killed his average. Given that he's not a greatly patient hitter and his power is based on stretching hits, he didn't look good in any aspect at the plate. If that happens again, well Trea won't be any better than Danny. This isn't a long run issue. While he strikes out a fair amount it is not a crazy number like MAT might put up.  It's high but in an area where if he improves a little bit - simply down to AAA levels - he'll be fine. Most people think that's a given. But that's for the future. For 2016 it's a legitimate worry.

What do I think? I think if you bring up Trea and let him play the full season he'll do slightly better than Danny. Not a lot better. Just slightly. A little worse defensively, but not as much as most people think. A little better offensively, but not as much as most people think. Is that worth it? For a team that's leading the East, its a question that has to be asked. And answering it honestly - probably not, no. The extra year of Trea down the line is worth more than winning the East by 5 games instead of 4.

Of course that assumes the Nats easily win the East and there's the issue. Bringing up Trea now is trying to maximize wins. There's no guarantee that will happen, he could even be bad enough to cost the Nats wins, but it's apparent that it's not a bad bet that Trea could be better than Danny, so if you want the most wins for 2016 you roll the dice with Trea. But is all that uncertainty - that Trea will add wins, that the wins are necessary, worth the cost of a possible extra year? You know me - all in 2016, but by now you also know the Nats as well.

*though as I've discussed a bunch before Top 3 here doesn't mean what you think it might as they were really no different from average than the Top 5 team from 2012. Both very good. Neither great.

** to the Cubs, not the Mets.