Nationals Baseball: Too far not to call

Monday, August 08, 2016

Too far not to call

Is what I could be saying in just a couple days.

The Nats continue to play quality baseball, and while the season has had it's ups and downs, the ups climb higher than the downs dig low. A 2-6 run, followed by a 8-3 sprint. The Marlins don't look talented enough to make go at it, and the Mets are too injured.  Honestly I would be surprised if this thing doesn't get called by week's end. But we'll still wait. Cleveland is a formidable opponent and if the Nats stumble for some reason against the Braves they'll be travelling to Colorado probably facing a team desperate for wins. Meanwhile the Mets play nobody (ARI, SD, @ARI) and the Marlins, well they play a decent schedule (SF, CHW, @CIN) but nothing crushing.

This is the last stand for the other teams in the NL East. Gain ground now, keep it in the 6 games out area until H2Hs come back, or cede the division. That's how I feel.

Going through our questions - the Nats can start to look toward shoring up the team's holes and arguably their biggest hole is at first base*. Zimmerman has had a terrible year. While the power is still sorta there and he's walking just a little bit less than he usually does, he is hitting a mere .222, rather than the .280+ he seemed to settle into after his MVP worthy peak.**  This turns a guy from a fringe All-Star to an Espinosa. Behind him, Clint Robinson, who filled in ably last year, has seen his production plummet across the board.

Is there any coming back from these drops? For Zimm, it's hard to believe so.  You could point to a low BABIP (.247) and the fact that his batted ball stats (GB/FB rate, where he hits it, how hard he hits it) don't look all that different to suggest he may hit again. But I would point to the fact that the things that are changing are not just a single year anomaly but part of a larger trend.  That BABIP? It was low last year (.268). His LD% is dropping like a rock, suggesting he can't square up on the ball. To back that up I see an increased swinging strike rate up to the highest of his career. Worse yet, the "pitch value" scores, numbers that try to tell how well a player hits certain pitches, shows a player having increased difficulty with a basic fastball.

If this were really an issue - that he can't hit a good fastball anymore that it should show up in power/finesse splits***. How do the power/finesse stats look?  You may want to shield your eyes and remove small children from the room.

vs. Power : .104 / .167 / .194  for an OPS of .361

If it makes you feel any better, he hits those finesse guys well! (.278 / .353 / .478)

There is one last thing. If he really couldn't hit the fastball they could just throw high heat right by him.  Onto the great Brooks Baseball to see his Whiff Rate on Hard Pitches.


Maybe it is an injury thing, but right now Ryan Zimmerman is simply not a capable major leaguer hitter.

So what about Robinson? Well he's having a similar mix of issues. Low BABIP (.211) likely driven by a low LD rate (11.4%) and trouble with the fast ball. Unlike Zimm though, there is no trend downward. These numbers are not just low but they are conspicuously so. It's 152 PAs or a little over a month worth's of games.  All that would have me lean toward "not enough evidence - assume it's just a fluke issue".  I'm not saying Robinson is going to light the world on fire, but I do think if put into a regular every day role at first base he should be about league average.

Is that good enough? For most teams no, but for the Nats it should be fine. They are getting best in the majors performance from catcher and second base, so a first baseman that only hits ok is workable. However, the Nats are not going in this direction. Instead they are shifting Murphy, moving Turner back to the IF and putting Revere back in the game. I don't think that's the right move.  Revere has had basically twice as many PAs as Robinson and has shown himself to be completely incapable at the plate. There are no signs it is getting better, in fact he's hitting worse. And while Robinson gives you some pop and patience, Revere is all average. If he isn't hitting, and he isn't, he is a complete zero at the plate. While this improves the defense, I think the Nats are adding a dangerous hole to a line-up that with Espy's troubles could find itself with a gaping bottom third heading into the playoffs.

Give Robinson a true shot. 2-3 weeks. During this time let Revere rest (I believe his drop off is too severe and sudden not to be injury related) If Robinson is ok by the end, let him keep at it. If not, give Revere a shot I guess. Zimmerman? He's done. At least for this year. The Nats have 3 more seasons to think about. Shut it down.

*Only Phillies have had a worst 1B situation and that's the moldering corpse of Ryan Howard.

**Seriously. Disregard the vote totals because they are driven by the wins of the team.  He wasn't better than Pujols, but for a brief 2-years span (09-10) Ryan Zimmerman was a Top 5 player in the game. 

***Power guys strikeout a lot of guys but walk a lot of guys.  Finesse guys do neither. This works pretty well as a measure of power because strikeouts generally drive this number.


Dr Trea (formerly #werthquake) said...

It's a real shame to see the demise of Ryan Zimmerman right before our eyes.

Think how nasty this team would be if he was still a truly elite player? Wow.

With how buffalo is playing he is almost certainly ubretainable after this year and Murphey's career year, Strasburg too to a lesser extent, max looking great but not getting younger this is truly our best chance we will have in... Decades? Likely.

So with that being the case it would've really been nice to see another move for a bat at the deadline..

DezoPenguin said...

It is sad to see Zim starting to fall apart, almost certainly because of the relentless injuries he's suffered, and how many years he spent as one of the few bright spots in front of Washington fans. He was much like the Gary Carter or Andre Dawson for those of us with a little more experience with the franchise.

(And as a side note, the idea of announcers calling Denard Span "the best center fielder in the franchise's history" need to STFU, please. Dawson was a Hall of Famer and Marquis Grissom might have been statistically better. The Nationals are not the Baltimore Ravens, where from a legal standpoint a brand new franchise was begun that just hired all the players and staff from the old Browns; they're the Montreal Expos moved to a new city. It's one thing to say stuff like "best season in Washington" (especially if comparing to the Senators), another to try to wipe thirty-six years of the franchise's history just because it took place in a different country.)

I would like to point one thing out, though--it doesn't seem like Baker is necessarily starting Revere over Robinson but that he's working a platoon--starting Robinson at 1B, Turner at CF, Murphy at 2B against righties and Revere at CF, Turner at 2B, Murphy at 1B against lefties. Clint's splits aren't actually bad, career-wise, but he's also been used almost exclusively against right-handed pitching so it's been pretty clear that his coaches believe that his ability to hit lefties is minimal at best.

John C. said...

That chart about high heat looks very impressive (and sad) when you look at the whiff rate on high pitches ... until you look at the numbers that the percentages are based on. If he was really that vulnerable to high heat, don't you think word would get around and there would be more pitches up there? The entire top row of five boxes encompasses ... 30 pitches. That's a thin reed to rest conclusions on.

Zim's batted ball profile has constantly been the glass half full/glass half empty test. His average exit velocity is currently 8th in all of MLB. If you look at the other hitters in his cohort, it's pretty much the best hitters in baseball. The problem is his launch angle, not his ability to barrel the baseball. As Fangraphs noted in reviewing ball-in-play data for all 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."


We are always too quick to dismiss players who are struggling (and to accept as the new normal those that are doing well). We're fans; it's what we do.

Carl said...

My question: once the Nats are far ahead enough to call it, should they DL Bryce and let him heal up? I saw this piece last week--short version, Harper's exit velocity has gone from MVP-caliber to league average, which means he's either having a REALLY bad time picking his pitches, or he's nursing some mystery injury.

I say, shut him down for a couple weeks to heal up, but bring him back in time to re-adjust before the end of the season.

Josh Higham said...

I really like the infield when Murphy shifts to 1st. However, I despise the outfield. It's becoming clear that the Nats outfield is, to use an FP-ism, sneaky weak. Werth is hitting reasonably well and clearly is managing the strike zone much better than he did in the first 6-8 weeks of the season, although the popup that dropped in front of him on Saturday was a good reminder that the Nats have apparently erected a statue of him in left. Bryce is fielding the position well, but not hitting worth beans (I take back my previous appeal to put the slump narrative to bed--I felt OK about it when he was actually hitting about .230, but in the time since, he's hit more like .120). Trea is, to my eye, not bad in the outfield, but at least is an champion on offense.

However, as soon as you plug Revere into CF, it's totally possible the pitcher is the best hitter in the bottom half. If Danny can get back to normal Danny production, I don't mind the black hole of Revere as much, but we don't have a whole lot of reason to believe Danny (whom I love, to be clear) can hit in the second half of the season. Robinson is going to have a puncher's chance of hitting doubles or at least a sac fly, relative to the groundout to second machine.

Anonymous said...

1.)Zimm will be given another chance weh his qrist ios better and I havent given pu on him yet. He gets the 3 weeks to show it.

2.)If he is hurt or shows no improvement, I believe Drew will get the call at first (or Murph at 1st, Drew at 2nd). Thats the way to go...Drew deserves a shot to show he can provide that spark as a starter. Also, i really like Turner in CF.....he speeds over to balls and gets squarely under them that most p;layerrs would still be making a running (riskeier) catch on.

Bottom, line, we have a couple of things to work out but its coming together.

mike k said...

Man Harper, I was actually having a good Monday morning before I read your post. Thanks a lot.

I wonder how you reconcile Zim's high exit velocity with his inability to hit fastballs/power pitchers in general. Is he just not hitting those pitches? Is his exit velocity artificially high because he only hits junk from finesse pitchers? Could this have anything to do with his long swing...his marginally slower speed due to age + long swing = can still hit good mlb pitching but not power fastballs? That last part seems likely. But then again, I know nothing.

Zim's not going anywhere. I think the team is committed to getting him going, not only because of his popularity or contract, but because a career average Zim in the playoffs is better than any alternative they have right now.

On Revere - I thought he was hitting decently (.280-ish) for a while now, it just hasn't affected his average much because of how long he was bad. Or is that old news and he sucks again...I haven't had the opportunity to watch a lot of games the last few weeks.

Josh Higham said...

@mike k: .129 in his last 10 games (in one of them he didn't record an at bat). BA dropped 6 points to .208. He's hard to watch again. I remember the stretch you're talking about when he was hitting about like we expected when he first arrived, but it's over.

Froggy said...

So I guess now is the time to give Goodwin an extended shot in the OF. Below replacement level is better than Revere.

JE34 said...

I have never understood how Revere can hit with that weird stop in his forward movement prior to the bat coming through the zone. It is reminiscent of Charles Barkley's old golf swing. Has he done that his whole career?

Harper said...

John C / mike k - I'm not resting conclusions on one chart. It's a piece in a larger puzzle. The chart, the splits, the pitch value, not to mention my general perception, all saying the same thing. No one piece of evidence should ever be used by itself. (well there's always exceptions but you get my point).

So let's look at exit velocity. First - Zimm is up there no doubt. I'm not sure 8th (I see him as 11th at best - depends on where you set PA limit) but up there. But at any point you have to give a nod toward recency. That is the problem with citing that fangrpaphs post. It is old and basically ended it's time frame at exactly when Ryan's May push ended. It gives you absolutely the rosiest view of Zimm this year. Spitballing - they have his avg velocity at 95.2 at that time - that was about 200 PA in. He's had about 120 PAs since and his exit velocity has dropped to 93.7 so he's hitting the ball in Jun/July around 91.1 MPH - a far cry from what he had been doing. This guess jives with the Soft/Med/Hard numbers. In fact that shows what you've probably seen - it's getting worse. More likely is he hit something like 92-93 in June and was maybe under 90 in July. This would also explain why his HR/FB rate has died on the vine.

At this point I realized I can get the exact numbers for his hits and indeed 87.8 MPH average in July

We aren't quickly dismissing a player who is struggling. We are fairly evaluating a player who has degraded quickly into a non-usable entity. If you want to say give him two weeks off and see if he can hit, fine. There are no good options for the Nats so you might as well. But he had time off - almost 3 weeks in July, and nothing seemed to improve much. I think he's done for 2016. I'm standing by that unless they shoot him up with cortisone again. I'm willing to listen if you can find evidence that he is getting better, but I don't see it.

1natsfan said...

Why on earth did the twins trade away Eduardo Nunez. That guy absolutely killed us this weekend. Wasn't he an all star. Don't know if this series was an aberration, but I'm glad we don't have to see him again.

Rob said...

Zimm is done.Exit velocity not with standing. It's a early occurrence for us to sit around and wait for some miracle that he gets healthy and reverts to some level of serviceability. It seems like every year we're putting up with a wasted 1/3 to 1/2 a season worth of at-bats hoping he'll provide something useful for 60 or so games. I don't think it's worth it. I'd give Clint the ABs for the rest of the year and DFA Zimm in the off season.

Harper said...

Mike k / Josh - Revere had a long .300 type run from early June to Early July but has hit terribly in the past month. If I didn't think it was injury related I'd let him hit it out - history suggests too strongly that this shouldn't happen. But I do think something is physically wrong.

Hoo said...

Zimm is a great case study why you shouldn't try hard for loser teams. For youngsters, may be hard to comprehend but at one pt Zim hadn't taken a day off spanning 3 seasons. Of course this was the Acta era nats and Zim was the only reason to watch the team (other than to see who's name came up for starter roulette).

I have no stats to back it up, but I have to think at some pt taking a slew of cortisone slots to mask injury degraded Zim's body ahead of its natural progression. My guess is some of his upper body muscle groups are just a mess at this pt.

Seeing Zim's breakdown in such horrifying fashion this season has sucked much of my joy from the season. It's like Fridge scoring a td instead of Payton in the SB.

Moral of the story: Don't get hurt for bad teams b/c you want to be able to play if your team ever gets good.

Harper said...

Hooo - hell you can argue you shouldn't get hurt for good teams b/c you want to be able to get paid.

Bjd1207 said...

@Hoo - You're also leaving out the part where he's paid $11M+ to go out and give it his all, results be damned. If I'm getting paid that much I'm going to feel a certain responsibility to the fans who pay to come see me. Plus if you've grinded(ground?) through literally countless hours beating out your competition at the little league, high school, college, and minor league systems you really think it's in these guys' DNA to give half-effort while they wait for a team to materialize around them?

Especially in baseball where you see parity between teams moreso than the NFL or NBA, everyone has a shot coming out of Spring Training. They believe they'll be able to carry a team, and that if everyone performs at the level they're capable of, they'll be right in the thick of things.

And lastly, you better believe Zimm will be celebrating harder than anyone in the DC metro area if we win a title, even if he doesn't play an inning.

Harper said...

BJD - I think what Hoo is saying is that when Zimm was on the bad Nats squads if he got cortisone shots or otherwise played through injuries late in the year that that might have been a mistake. It could leave you a broken mess. I understand giving it your all and I honestly expect players to try to play if they can, but it's the responsibilty of the team to keep them from over doing it. I don't know if this is the case with Ryan - I don't remember him playing hurt before the window opened, but it's been a long time.

Hoo said...

Harp: For my first witness, I call forth Deion Sander's to discuss tackling.... And since you brought up, the 2016 disasters of Zimms what the heck happened to ZNN?

bjd: Nats had no shot in Zim's prime. Some of their spring trainings where they had a huge open casting call for a starting pitcher like the movie Major League. Fun times!

Love to see Nats carry Zim to a crown like Broncos/Manning. But this is a tough season if you love Zim.

(phrasing was mostly tongue in cheek but Zim played a ton on bad teams and played through bumps and bruises. Wonder if his body would have broken down as fast if he had a few days off? B/c he went from uninjured to being constantly hurt. And yeah, the cortisone shots to mask pain probably has a long-term effect. That's my guess.)

mike k said...

Couldn't you also argue it the other way, though? That if Zimmerman didn't try as hard, he wouldn't have gotten that lucrative contract he signed a few seasons ago. He might not even have been resigned and would have to sign for meh money on a team that's not good, relegating his entire career to losing teams. You're also assuming that his playing hard/hurt during those years is what led to his decline. Maybe the decline would've happened anyway, but instead of a fat contract and job security, he'd be a AAAA journeyman right now.

I think you always play hard (easy for me to say from my office chair), because regardless of who you play for, having good stats --> fat contract. And if your team sill sucks, you can sign somewhere else. The guys I don't understand are guys like Stanton who sign extensions pre-free agency for teams that aren't good...but I suppose he likes it in Miami, it's his home, etc.

Bjd1207 said...

As if on cue...

Sammy Kent said...

My two biggest fears right now are that Joe Ross won't come off the DL, and that Ryan Zimmerman will. Everybody loves RZim, but I'd honestly rather have him stay on the DL because it's the best way to avoid the inevitable mess that his return is likely to cause. The chemistry is good right now. The trouble is that Zimmerman could go 0-50 and would still be starting. All I can figure is that Rizzo has determined that the face of the franchise is by gosh going to play no matter what. I like to think that Dusty has a little more backbone than either Davey or Matty, but I don't know that even he has the moxie to sit Ryan Zimmerman down even if it's the best thing. He may have been relieved that Zim went on the DL and saved him the worry of deciding whether to take Zim out of the lineup.

One of the big reasons Matt Williams lost the team last season was that when Rendon, Zim, and Werth all came off the DL within a few days of each other, they all went immediately back into the starting lineup. The guys that had actually put the team in first place--Taylor, Espinosa, Robinson--got sent to splinter collection, while the team endured spring training in August for the three wounded warriors and went 4-13 over the next three weeks. Add the resultant clubhouse turmoil, a GM too spineless and timid to make serious and necessary deals at the trade deadline except for the worst one he could possibly pull out of his hat, and a weak-kneed wobbly-legged manager totally out of touch with both his team and the fans, and it's no surprise the Nationals went from first place to the tank in a jumping jack flash.

Jay said...

MW lost the team when he ran Thornton and Aaron Barrett out there in game 4 of the playoffs against the Giants the year before. He talked about how Strasburg could possibly pitch out of the bullpen in game 4 with Znn starting game 5. Then he refused to do it and came up with some nonsense about how he was saving Strasburg to pitch in extra innings if needed. 2015 was just the Titanic going under. The iceberg was playoffs 2014.