Nationals Baseball: Rubber match

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)


BxJaycobb said...

Harper: I guess I would argue that the pen has over performed. The strand rate and BABIP both show exceptional luck with sequencing and batted balls. Put it this way: is there one person ...literally the pen who you feel really confident when he comes in? I don't. I suppose Kelley COULD be that guy, but we don't know until he's used more in situations like Monday. Rivero COULD be that person if he gets rest and returns to form, as he has the stuff. Treinens stats suggest maybe we should trust him, except I don't and constantly think he is going to walk 3 people in a row. Plus Harper: the Nationals are leading the major leagues in pitches per start. I think (I) that may reflect Dusty himself is not super confident in pen, whatever it's ERA, and (ii) it makes them susceptible to 1 or 2 starters burning out late in the year, requiring more pen help. Would it surprise anybody if Ross gets exhausted after going from like 83 pitches per game to 97 or whatever he's at?
Regarding Pap, sorry but you're wrong re his effectiveness. His save numbers are the definition of misleading superficial stats. Everything about him suggests we're on the brink of a Soriano style disaster:
1. In Pap's 25 games, he has allowed multiple base runners in 10 of them. That's unbelievable for a closer.
2. His 1.34 WHIP is the highest of any major league closer who's appeared in 20 games. In other words, he has been walking a tight rope all year and creating jams and then either barely getting out of them or (just as often) letting a run score while maintaining a 2-3 run lead. He also has blown multiple tie games he's blown which doesn't show up in save stats. And when he blows a 2 run lead against the royals giving up 3 runs....that's one blown save. But a heinous performance. I closer with a 3.5 ERA in the major leagues can be called effective. I'm sorry.
3. His 18.6% K rate is not only the lowest of his career by is 3 percent below the LEAGUE AVERAGE. For a closer! Sure, Ks aren't strictly necessary to close, but this isn't some extreme ground ball pitcher. If you can't get swings and misses you're at total mercy of balls being crushed right at people.
And it's not like the eye test betrays any of these numbers. The guy has basically got nothing left and is out there to hope balls are hit at fielders. Now I agree I wouldn't give up turner or giolito or Robles. But everybody else I would make available. Is that enough in a package (difo fedde and X or something) for a rental closer like chapman? Maybe not. Even if they don't get chapman (Miller will be WAY too expensive) they have to get somebody. Maybe Sean Doolittle or something. Even bringing up Reynaldo Lopez and having him contribute would help (supposedly scouts like Keith law say he has the stuff to blow away hitters in a late inning role right now, tho obviously he's young). But you can't go into the postseason with the current back end. (You can, but no other contender would. I mean if the Cubs are looking for relief help when they have strop and Rondon why in gods name wouldn't the Nats be looking for relief help with a wild dude, a 5 ERA guy who's burned out and a 35 year old who can't get a swing and miss? This teams pen has overachieved so far and they need help big time IMO.

mike k said...

Dusty confounds me sometimes. I loved some of his moves, specifically the double switch after Gio was taken out of the game to bring in Ramos and have Joe Ross pinch run for Lobaton so he didn't need to waste another bench player in the move, and bringing in the righty Heisey the game before to face the struggling righty Grimm with the bases loaded (I have a feeling that if he went conventional and brought in a lefty, Maddon would counter with a LOOGY who wasn't as wild as Grimm was that day). Neither move worked. But I liked them nonetheless. Then, as Bx points out at the end of the last thread, he has Sammy Solis pitch to three righties in a tie game in the 9th inning. Just weird.

And on Sammy Solis specifically - maybe it's just my eye and I'm wrong, but he doesn't seem to do well in big situations. Despite his superior stats I'm not quite sure he's ready for the big situations, and Dusty seems to be forcing the issue. A quick look at his stats shows his walk rate is high and his HR/9 and H/9 unsustainably low - though his HR/9 was always good in the minors, he'll definitely give up more base hits. Not that I don't like him, but I don't think he's big situation material.

One more point - yes Pabelbon only has 2 BS, but by my count he's also blown two tie games. Not arguing your overall point that he's generally effective, just that his "closer stats" are a little misleading (not to mention his peripherals!).

Froggy said...

Bx- agree with your Papalbon / Soriano comparison 100%. Intercostal soreness? I didn't know the VaJJ ligament extended all the way into the ribcage.

No matter what the reason, now we get 15 days to audition 'closers'. By the time he comes off maternity leave we'll either be missing him and glad he is back or won't even know he was gone.

DaveB said...

I think KC has caused the conventional wisdom these days to start thinking that a shut-down back of the bullpen can be one of the few true difference makers in the playoffs, where the off days allow those guys to be used as much as is needed. Not sure if I agree, or if I just think it's that recency bias, but regardless I agree with you that it would be a mistake for the Nats to give up a huge amount for one of those hot names. Beyond it being expensive, I think it would probably destroy whatever effectiveness you do get from Papelbon, as he seems to both value that closer role highly, and also have convinced himself that he's less effective in another spot (which would probably make it self-fulfilling). The net gain would therefore be mitigated, and still not get the Nats to that position of having 2-3 dominant, proven backend relievers to shorten the game.

da Bote Man said...

Do you really want Papelbon out there in the playoffs when the Phillies are sending up their lethal lineup???

But seriously, folks, Rizzo was on that ridiculous sports talk station this morning when they asked him point blank if Papelbon has a clause in his contract that requires him to be The Closer™ and Rizzo emphatically said no, no way, no friggin way, that's ridiculous. So just another data point to keep in mind when MASN Commenter starts up about it.

Josh Higham said...

Bx: On the whole, I think that the bullpen has done a sustainable job, if perhaps slightly lucky on average.

FIP/ERA comparison suggests that Perez, Rivero, and Kelley have actually been unlucky by about a run per 9 each. Rivero, as we've discussed is likely overused and a bit worn out, but Perez and Kelley have FIPs of 2.07 and 1.97, respectively. We can reasonably expect slightly better results from them moving forward.

On the other hand, Solis, Treinen, and Petit have overperformed/been unlucky by about the same amount (or a little more) by the same metric. The rest of the bullpen is doing about what we would expect.

Summary: If the bullpen has been lucky/overperformed, it's only been by a little bit. A move would be good but not essential. I agree 100% on Pap. By the easy numbers, he has not been a big liability, but tell that to my cardiologist.

da Bote Man said...

Remember that the key to Treinen is sensible usage. Until very recently he has proven next to useless against LHB, and I think Dusty recognizes this. (Although Dusty had him pitch to a lefty in the Phillies series when he surprisingly came out unscathed.)

Dusty seems to be a lot better than that other guy whose initials are M.W. at setting up his players for success, relievers included. If proper usage of Treinen helps him improve his self-confidence and therefore his performance, then I'm all for it. Given that, I'm not overly concerned about losing Papelbon for a period of time, which now might be measured in weeks since they don't want to tear the tissue that is currently strained. So we might not see his ugly face on the mound until the All-Star Break.

Jay said...

I say go get Andrew Miller, bc he's under team control for a few years. However, I wouldn't trade the farm for him. My guess is they may get a minor upgrade guy. Remember, there are a bunch of closers in the free agent market next year. I don't see Rizzo trading away something big for a rental when he can just sign someone in the offseason. The guys I know of off the top of my head that are free agents this coming offseason - Kenley Jensen, Melancon in Pittsburgh, Storen and Clippard (haha), Papelbon, Chapman.

Would you take Clippard back now and make him the 8th inning guy again? He's doing fairly well in Arizona, and we need an 8th inning guy in my opinion. That would settle out the bullpen. Doolittle wouldn't be bad either. Please no Fernando Rodney.

I think deadline moves could be big this year like last year. The Mets look like they need some help, since their offense has been struggling lately. I doubt they will just stand by and do nothing.

Mythra said...

Anyone else see the difference in Gio's reaction when pulled and Lackey's? There might be something to Dusty's long leash. Lackey had a few choice words for Maddon.

I think, on the whole, the bullpen has been what we needed it to be. Compared to last year, the improvement has been light years better. Yes, Felipe is gassed a bit, and yes Papelbon is giving me heart trouble, but tell me you don't want this year's bullpen over last year's?

Cubs are on a magical regular season pace right now, and we've been in every game so far. (Remember, no Revere for 4 in CHI and still close games)

Sammy Kent said...

(Moving from earlier entry...seems more germane here) Papelbum is feeling good this morning. Somebody else gave up the winning run in the ninth inning--and he gets to fancy himself as the Nats best hope for a if he's been lights out. So, no, I don't miss him yet. And I bet fifteen days from now I'm still not missing him. But I've been wrong before. Stras goes for #11 this afternoon.

Sean said...

Hey Nats fans,

Just a quick question for all:

What would a successful 2016 season mean for each one of you?

Personally, I feel like if this team can make it past the NLDS and compete with (likely the Cubs) and force at least a Game 6, then it has been a good all-around season. I don't know if this team is talented enough at this point to link a WS appearance to a make-or-break season. I still think our team is one RBI-guy (in our 5 losses to the Cubs we can never seem to get the big 2-out hit, although Murphy roasted the ball last night every at-bat) and another power bullpen arm away from being a serious contender for a WS title.

Ric said...

@BxJaycobb, "Would it surprise anybody if Ross gets exhausted after going from like 83 pitches per game to 97 or whatever he's at? "

He has gone from 85 to 94 pitchers per start. (An increase of 9 is much less alarming than an increase of 14.)

You are spot on about Papelbon. WHIP, K/9, velocity, and other stats are all beyond worrisome. These are bad numbers for a pitcher that you bring in for mop-up duty, let alone closer.

What I like about Baker over MW (and I am not a Baker fan) is that whereas some might think Dusty is overusing our starters, MW last season overused our bullpen. The starters seem to like being used more than last year, and by midseason last year I thought our bullpen was looking strained. Sure, we might have a couple of starters tire later in the season. But the bullpen, being sparingly used so far, will be up for the task of making up the innings.

Fries said...


I agree with you. It's pretty clear to all involved that the Cubs are the best team in the game right now (and potentially one of the best of all time). Success to me would be the Nats making the NLCS and not getting swept by the Cubbies. Major success if they win the NLCS and OMFG THIS IS AMAZING LIGHT THE COUCHES ON FIRE if DC finally gets a championship. But after 2012 and 2014, I can't handle another NLDS loss

Jay said...

I sound like a Braves fan when they made playoffs each year and flamed out, but success to me is making the playoffs. The playoffs are so much about little breaks and who is hot and so on. Case in point - Storen flaming out in two different playoff series for us versus Murphy last year pretty much singlehandedly carrying the Mets to the Series.

I will say again that I would like the Nats to get another bullpen arm. I am a big believer in the KC model of dominant back end of the bullpen. Even MW couldn't mess up Storen to Clippard to Soriano in 2014 when they were all going strong. Imagine something like that in the playoffs. However, I am not sure the Nats can pull it off even with a move. You'd pretty much have to get a 7th or 8th inning guy bc Papelbon is going to be a major head case and a waste if he's not "closing".

DezoPenguin said...

I'd like to see us win a playoff series. Either the WC game if we don't win the division, or the NLDS if we do win the division. Basically, something that says "better than 2012/2014." I don't want the Nationals to basically be the Giants, except that instead of getting a trophy every even year we get the division. That improvement would be "success" in my book, even though I recognize that the playoffs are crapshooty.

Bullpen-wise, I mostly agree with Jay. Papelbon is not a pleasant character, but he's done the job. The lack of confidence in him isn't invalid, but it's valid in the sense of "we do not have Wade Davis/Andrew Miller as our closer." I mean, Kenley Jansen just coughed one up the other night, and I think we'd all say he's objectively better than Papelbon.

I absolutely would not want to trade for Chapman. Yes, he's definitely better than Papelbon, but (a) he's also gone after the year, (b) he's expensive, and (c) I don't want a DV guy anywhere near a team that I cheer for. Andrew Miller, I'd love to have, since he will be around in the future (now that we have that Stras/Harper window), is also objectively great, and has already shown the character that he can go between the 8th and 9th innings without going full headcase. Unfortunately, the Yankees know this, and are unlikely to trade him without getting a huge payday in return, and that huge payday just isn't worth it. (I mean...look at the Yankees; last year they lost only 3 games that they led after 6 innings. They replaced Justin Wilson with Chapman to plug that "problem." That's...not using resources to address an area of need.

Josh Higham said...

@Sean: I don't even need to win the NLDS. I'd be content (although not exactly happy) with going to the NLDS and playing at least 4 good games (at most one blowout or choke loss), or if there's a minor collapse and the Nats get a WC spot, winning that one and making the Cubbies work.

Harper said...

BX and others - Ok well there is a difference between "effective performance" and "quality performance" and there's a difference between "has been" and "will be". So I stand by saying Papelbon has been effective.

I guess the question is kind of an insurance question. What would you give for the increase in certainty that a late inning close lead is held by the bullpen. There's no guarantee that Papelbon couldn't hold it. In fact he probably could - an average pitcher can. Papelbon is right around that. There's no guarantee that a better pitcher would, though its obviously more likely. You are paying for that "more likelihood". Really it's about how you feel. Would you be ok with Papelbon blowing a game or would you feel that the Nats left open a hole that was exposed? Would you be ok potentially wasting a prospect or two only to see Androldis Millman blow a save, because you knew you went all out? Or would that regret gnaw at you?

Bote - to be fair Papelbon as closer means he can pitch a lot of meaningless 3 inning lead, bottom of the lineup games too

Mike k - I think we're still evaluating Solis. I don't think he's special though

Dave B - I agree on the KC point. I think success is always seen as THE model even if it just happens to work for that team or at that time. I don't think every team needs to make the game a 6 inning affair to succeed

Josh - I agree. I think the pen HAS been a bit lucky but just a bit. It's not like this is a bad pen that's fooled everyone. It's probably a better than average one that has lucked into a "one of best in NL" first 60 games.

Mythra - I think Rizzo has improved the team incrementally every year (well except 2012 to 2013) but IN-CRE-MENT-ALLY. Slow, steady rather than "THIS IS THE YEAR" type moves. The past couple of years has been fiddling with the bench and pen. They are better - but still room to improve.

Sean - NLCS appearance. Just win in the playoffs - show you can do that so that ceases to be the issue.

Ric - well for certain if the pitchers do tire out Dusty will be blamed, his fault or not.

Anonymous said...

Totally random, but Harper, I saw your mlbtv issues on twitter, but don't have a handle so I can't tweet back at you. My guess: you are logged into a work vpn which is why mlb sees you in a location where you're not. Hope this helps; sorry to post here and not twitter.

Kenny B. said...

Writing this just after today's blown save. Yeah, I'm convinced the Nats need better relief pitching.

Zimmerman11 said...

Pretty sweet DP in the 10th. This team is fun to watch (even w/ the blown save).

Hursty said...

Great series. Hope we have a few more walk offs like that this fall against the Cubs!

Richard Parker said...

Harper, I'm not entirely positive he was referring to you, but I think Werth told you last night you could kiss his a**.

Zimmerman11 said...

Werth in a three question interview:

"That was some crazy sh!t"
"We got a hell of a plane ride tonight"
"They can all kiss my a$$"

:) :) :)

Harper said...

RP - tell him no thank you.

JD said...

As far as cheap Bullpen help, I'd love to see Clippard back. If we make a run for the WS, he should be here. Especially since I followed him over from the Yankees to become a Yankee/Nationals fan à la Harper.

Ryan DC said...

For the record, on May 15 I commented on this very blog, "Looking at batted ball information suggests that both Werth and Rendon have been crushing the ball, so once those hits start falling in and their HR/FB rates experiences some positive regression they'll be fine."

Werth pre-May 15 - wRC+: 77, BABIP: .232
Werth since May 15 - wRC+: 134, BABIP: .338

Rendon pre- May 15 - wRC+: 75, BABIP: .265
Rendon since May 15 - wRC+: 148, BABIP: .375

You're all welcome! I accept bitcoins and PayPal.

Rob said...

Walk-Off Werth with the expletive laden post it!

Anonymous said...

Werth is just awesome, Harper I'm glad you like Rivero cause he is much better than his numbers.

DezoPenguin said...

Max coming around. Stras/Roark still good. Ross/Gio with solid bounceback starts. Bullpen still good, though possibly in need of reserves. Rendon coming around in a big way. Werth and Revere starting to hit. Espinosa getting bat up to where it justifies his existence (also Turner in the wings if needed). Bench players, especially Taylor and Drew, starting to provide hits.

Really, at this point, Ryan Zimmerman is the only part of the Nats' roster where we look and squint a little. His bat is not performing (to this point, his wRC+ is 89 to Espi's 86, wOBA .305 to Espi's .302). He's 28th out of 32 in Fangraphs' defensive rankings among NL first basemen (even given the variability and suspect nature of defensive statistics as opposed to offensive ones, that is simply not good). Fangraphs has him at -0.2 WAR, Baseball-Reference at 0. He's been hurt the last two years. He can't play any position other than 1B and LF. He's a team and community leader in a way that even Bryce isn't. And he's under contract for three more years. He's flirting with "slightly cheaper Ryan Howard" territory.

Flapjack said...

All in = Aroldis Chapman, period. The farm system is loaded with talent that, like so many Clint Robinsons, is either near or already MLB-ready but won't get a serious look so long as the 25 man roster is loaded. From a business standpoint, these guys are wasting assets. It depends what the Yankees want in return, of course. But to them, Chapman is a wasting asset, so they have every incentive to deal. I'd be very surprised if discussions aren't underway at some level between the two clubs (and even more amazed if those discussions leaked into the public). Cross your fingers.

Bjd1207 said...

@Dezo I've got him 7th out of 11 qualified NL 1B by Fangraphs defensive metric.

BornInDC said...

More crazy stuff from yesterday's game:

Stephen Drew's pinch hit home run brought the total number of pinch hit home runs for the Nationals to 9, a team record, and it is still the middle of June.

This also means that now Stephen Drew and Chris Heisey have each 3 pinch hit home runs. For some perspective, the MLB record for pinch hit home runs in a season is 7 and either player could tie with a dozen other players for 4th in the number of pinch hit home runs in a season if he hits just 2 more pinch hit home runs the rest of the season.

John C. said...

To cheer people up about Ryan Zimmerman, I will point out that over the past 365 days (not falling back on his career marks here) his splits are .263/.324/.509/.833. His quality of contact is good, as noted in a recent article on Fangraphs (not specifically about Zim, but analyzing quality of contact by all MLB 1b/DH types):

"So who has the highest average exit speed among first basemen and DHs? How about Ryan Zimmerman. He crushes the ball in the air, on a line and on the ground. His limiting factors are a grounder-heavy BIP mix, also featuring a low liner rate, which should regress. He retains the athleticism to get his share of leg hits, and uses the field enough to avoid overshifts. He’s just a few more elevated baseballs away from being a high achiever at his position."


John C. said...

Of course, Fangraphs is probably not on the side of many commenters here. From Dave Cameron's chat yesterday came the following question:

Josh: Can you please explain Washington’s thought process in regards to Trea Turner? Is there any legitimate reason he shouldn’t be the team’s starting SS right now?

Dave Cameron: Because Danny Espinosa is a perfectly reasonable big leaguer? I know it’s fun for people to act like he’s atrocious, but he’s a very good defender, hits lefties well, and has enough power to be playable against righties. The upgrade the Nationals will get by putting Turner in the line-up is pretty small, and so letting him develop a bit more while they evaluate their options isn’t really hurting them.

Although to be fair the #freetreaturner drumbeat has died down since Turner has been in a bit of a slump lately, with his average now down to .293 and his OPS slipping under .800.

DezoPenguin said...

@Bjd: Yeah--the four guys below him on the full list are all qualified, so they're the same four guys below him on the qualified-only list.

@JohnC: If Zim starts hitting like last year, I will be ecstatic, but so far this year the article just illustrates the problem: he's pounding the ball into the ground over half the time. (It's also worth noting that his wRC+ has dropped ten points since the stats cited then.) Right now, his stats are basically level with Espinosa's in everything: BB% a touch worse, K% a hair better, ISO basically level, BABIP a hair better. And he doesn't run the bases well and he doesn't field well compared to his peers at the position. His offense is dead-level with a shortstop that half the Internet wants thrown out of the starting lineup while not doing the other things that the said shortstop does well. I mean, yes, we can give him more time (it's not like there are good alternatives to be found unless you believe Robinson will break out if given regular playing time or you think Werth can handle first with MAT playing full time in the outfield, or else the Yankees wouldn't be running Ike Davis out there), but at the least Dusty needs to start batting him 7th, where he won't be killing critical rallies.

Froggy said...

Yesterday's game was one of the funnest games I've been to in years. There appears to be that 2012 like confidence where this team truly believes they are in it to the last out. Drew and Heisy just seem to be in a competition as to who can do more pinch hit damage and bullpen by committee doesn't seem to be a bad strategy.

I'll admit that I wasn't a Dusty Baker fan in spring training, but I'm a wholehearted convert now. Old PBN would have lost that game after Rizzo's Homer.

Bjd1207 said...

@Dezo - Ah yea I see. I think limiting it to qualified is a little fairer of a representation due to the positional adjustments Fangraphs gives based on innings at each field position. For example, there's only 2 qualified first basemen in the top 16 of the qualified list: Wil Myers (what?!) and Anthony Rizzo.