Nationals Baseball: April 2017

Friday, April 28, 2017

Put them away

Yesterday I said that I thought the Nats could effectively put the Mets out of the NL East title hunt this weekend.That was before they lost Cespedes, the game, and another game in the standings. Now I really believe it.

The fact of the matter is this. If the Nats sweep the Mets the Mets will be 10.5 games behind the Nats. Can a team make up 10.5 games in 5 months? Sure! It's not easy but it can be done. This is especially true for a team that you think is good and looks a little unlucky chasing down a team that you don't really like and who has looked a little lucky. Like say if the Dodgers had to make up 10.5 games to catch the Rockies.

But it's not the Dodgers and the Rockies, it's the Nationals and the Mets. You may have liked the Mets better than the Nationals, maybe. I didn't, but maybe you did. But did you like them to finish 10.5 games ahead of the Nationals? No one did. And now they'd have a month less time to play that much better than the Nats and they'd be trying to do it with a team that already looks hobbled 4 weeks into the season. It's not happening.

Or more accurately it won't happen if the Nats put away the Mets. If the Nats sweep the Mets and put the Nats 10.5 games back they will not catch the Nationals.  That means there isn't a chance for the Mets to win the NL East.

Before you get all worried, here are some things you might be thinking I'm saying that I am not:
  • I'm not saying the Nationals are going to win the East. There are other teams in the division and while I don't really love any of them, things happen. The Nats can get injured. Teams can really bolster a surprise contender with a trade. There's no handing the Nats anything on April 28th or May 1st.
  • I'm not saying the Mets can't make the playoffs. 8-13 is a bad record but it's not terrible or anything. If you think say ... 90 wins can make the playoffs then the Mets would have to go through the rest of the year at a 94 win pace. That's certainly possible. From 8-16 it would be that much harder but again in the realm of possibility. Plus right now the 2nd WC is the Phillies at 11-9. That's a catchable team with a mediocre record. (Not to mention the first WC would be the Rockies). There's no group of good teams running away from the rest.
  • I'm not saying teams won't make jumps of 10.5 games against other teams. Most presumed good teams will start to do better but really this is about bad teams crashing out. There's definitely a snowball effect that happens at year's end compounded by the good players on your team being traded away. Teams close to .500 now could easily finish 15 games under. That's 15 games without even trying. If the Nats were a surprise contender and the Mets were the heavy favorite I wouldn't even consider saying the Mets can't make up that ground. 
But getting back to it. The Mets, who were supposed to be the Nats biggest threat to another division crown, are wounded and stumbling. The Nats can all but finish them off as threats with a sweep. Do it.

Thursday, April 27, 2017

What happens

What happens if Bryce is BRYCE again?
What happens if Daniel Murphy matches last year?
What happens if Trea Turner has no sophomore slump?

Answer. It almost doesn't matter what anyone else does.

In the past week Bryce is hittin... I'll make you wait for that.

In the past week  Daniel Murphy has been hitting .296 / .321 / .593. It's not quite what he did last year but it's probably like 2 base hits off. (and he's .348 / .348 / .696 in the past 5 games)

In the past week Trea Turner is hitting .458 / .480 / .958.  It's way over what he'll end up with but a natural rebound from his slow start to put his yearly stats more in line with last year (.342 / .370 / .567 last year - .326 / .341 / .628 this year) It also makes you think what a crazy player he would be in a spacious pitchers park or at Coors field.

In the past week Bryce is hitting .526 / .640 / .842. I guess you could be disappointed that he's only hit one homer but Jesus, I just typed he's getting on base almost 2/3rds of the time.

In those last 6 games the Nats have scored 43 runs, or over 7 a game. These three have scored 22 of the runs and driven in 27 of them. They are an offensive juggernaut.

Oh how are the rest of the Nats doing over the same time?
Eaton OPS .656 (this is like Michael Taylor last year), Lobaton .599, Rendon .598, Werth .583, Wieters .397, Taylor (12PA) .083

They can almost do it all by themselves. I say almost because you might have noticed that I left out one guy. Ryan Zimmerman. He's hitting .381 / .458 / .857 during the past week. That's what puts it all over the top.

If Bryce is BRYCE, if Murphy is 2016 Murphy, if Trea is 2016 Trea you have three MVP worthy bats on the same team. If one of them is hot and one is just doing about what they should, that might be enough with the vagaries of who else is randomly hitting in the rest of the lineup to be a decent offense. If these three are going at the same time, and just one other guy is hot, they can bludgeon a team into submission. Right now it's Zimm. Next week it could be Rendon. Maybe Werth here and there. If these three all hit their max potential it's hard to see a better offense in the majors.  

So in short - don't get injured.

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Worst pen ever?

It's not that the Nats pen is bad. Bad pens happen, especially early in the year when the vagaries of small sample size and the "let's see if this guy with great stuff can hack it" philosophy reigns. It's how bad they are. Guys aren't just failing. They are blowing up.

Joe Blanton : ERA 10.13. Key Stats  HR/FB 36.4%, Soft % 7.4% Hard % 44.4%, Velocities FB : 91MPH, Sinker : 87.5 MPH

Blanton has gotten a little worse around the edges. That's not to be unexpected for an old pitcher coming off a surprisingly good year. But one thing has drastically changed and that's him giving up homers. He's not giving up more flyballs but guys are teeing off on what they are hitting and a decreased sinker velocity might be the reason. Blanton had gotten successful throwing a fast sinker that was - at least in speed - in distinguishable from the fastball. Now there's a clear difference between the two. Major league hitters are good enough to pick up on things like that. Of course his bread and butter is the slider. Zone info shows he's not as pinpoint as he was in 2016 with it. Could that be all it takes? For a one-pitch pitcher, maybe. I think the homers are a fluke but the big drop in effectiveness may not be.

Blake Treinen : ERA 9.82.  Key Stats : H/9 19.6, BB9 7.4, FS% 46.5% (down from 57%)

The idea of Treinen as a closer was always a question mark because he put a lot of guys on base. He put balls in play and he walked them, but the hope was he could temper that and let double plays and maybe a few more strikeouts make him successful. But instead of ramping down hits and walks, they've jumped way up in the face of more patient batters just looking to put the ball in play. Is a .517 BABIP against going to last? Of course not. But  even if it were half that his hits per 9 would be approaching 10. That's not good and paired with a crazy walk rate it's game over regardless of K's and DPs

If you want to be optimistic a lot of the fancy stats suggest Treinen is not pitching too different than last year. His issues are stemming from not keeping the ball down and not getting ahead on the batters (first strike % is way down). If he's not ahead batters don't chase. (swings outside the zone are down as well) But he's not a lights out guy if things are working and never has been. At 28/29 he's not a work in progress anymore. He's a high 3.00 ERA guy capable of getting a DP if needed.

Enny Romero : ERA 6.00.  Key Stats : H/9 14.1, wFB -2.0, Soft 12.5%

A lot of times with guys like Enny you have an unhittable wild mess that you hope to get under control. Enny isn't that. Enny is completely hittable. So while he has gotten his walks down to an acceptable level (2.3 BB/9). He's giving up hit after hit. The second stat tells a story.  It's kind of like "is your fastball good for you or not?". I usually ignore these stats, but for Enny they are telling. He's never had a good fastball.  A fast fastball yes, but not a good one. So guys sit on it and when they get that fast juicy meatball they hit it and they hit it hard.  Just like that FB stat - that soft percentage matches up with what his career numbers tell us. Guys make good contact against him. So unless you think Romero can survive on throwing nothing but sliders there's no place for him on a major league roster.

Oliver Perez : ERA 6.75.  Key Stats .857 OPS vs LHB, 1.333 OPS vs RHB

There's barely any stats because he's barely pitched but the fact that he's barely pitched means the team buys into what these stats are saying which is Perez can't be used at any time. Last year he squeaked by because he was alright vs lefties and not terrible if he had to face a righty. So far both of those things are not true in 2017.  He CAN'T face righties, and he's not good enough against lefties for that to be his thing. Now again - VERY few at bats, I mean so small that one hit/out change, changes the story, so the Nats should still try to LOOGY him but the early indications are not good.

Shawn Kelley : ERA 5.00.  Key Stats; 60.9% FB, Soft% 4.3%

Just when you think you can't see a lower soft percentage here comes another one. Kelley, like Blanton, appears to be doing most everything about the same.  But he has also given up 4 homers in a short period of time. Unlike Blanton though, this doesn't seem to be flukey. Kelley is giving up a lot more fly balls and he's not getting soft contact. A few of those balls are bound to leave the yard.

All these guys won't continue to fail this spectacularly. It would be crazy if they did. But the pen was only built to be "deep enough" with the inclusion of Blanton. You want 3 good arms and another 2 decent ones. Blanton gave them four supposedly good arms, though none 100% reliable. You hoped to work at least 2 good ones from those four, while finding a 3rd hopefully there too, but maybe elsewhere, and the other two just rising to the surface of the middle innings as the season went along. That still might happen (say Glover, Albers, and Kelley keeping the ball down) but as of today the path to those 5 arms is less clear. No one pitching bad is solely a victim of bad luck.

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Under the Shadow of the Flat Brim

I'm a hack!

Really I'm just bored. The Nats losing a game because the B-Team bullpen (not Glover, Kelley) blew things the day after one of the rare, not typical, travel situations isn't a surprise. I figured this for a loss. So rather than talk about Enny Romero (sure he had two-outs but I'm not sure he threw a strike to Story), or try to excuse Blake Treinen (sinkerballers may have tough times in Coors because the ball will sink less), and as I wait patiently for Zimm to hit my self imposed May 1 or 100 PA deadline on looking at his stuff, I figure I'll tackle an enduring "mystery" of the Nats in a completely not serious post.

I'll tackle the Curse of Cordero.

In 2005 at age 23 Chad Cordero was named the Nats closer and successfully closed 47 games, made the All-Star game, even finished 5th in Cy Young voting (all it means is he got a vote but yes that happened). He would be the rare bright spot for the post inaugural Nats saving 29 in 2006 and 37 in 2007. He was the 2nd youngest player to hit 100 saves. But in April of 2008 he tore his shoulder and that's death. He was never the same after that and some say that upon being non-tendered by Bowden on a sports talk radio show (Bowden was the worst) he cursed the position of closer for the Nats.

Let us examine the doomed careers of those who followed "Under the Shadow of the Flat Brim" (that's what I'm calling the book I'm pitching as a hacky beat writer trying to find a niche that'll get me PAID)

2008 - Jon Rauch - took over for Chad, successful and promptly traded to Arizona where he was a bust. Only 38 saves post Nats career, bounced around for a couple years and career was over at 33

2008/2009 - Joel Hanrahan - took over for Rauch. Handed job for 2009, before he was done had a 1-3 record, with 5 blown saves in 10 attempts. Traded to Pittsburgh that same year. Tommy John would end his career at 31

2009 - Mike MacDougal - "Mac the Ninth" took over for Hanrahan. Non tendered by team after season. Spent most of post Nats career throwing to a 6.00+ ERA in AAA.

2010 - Matt Capps - Signed to take over duties. Traded to Minnesota before years end. After 1 and a half decent years, injured and at age 28 was never seen in the big leagues AGAIN.

2011-2015 Drew Storen - Drafted to be the closer. Immediate success, but injured. Came back in 2012 to reclaim duties right before playoffs. Successful twice before losing G5 and prompting Lerners to bring in Soriano and break Storen's little brain. Would go back and forth between successful closer, playoff disappointment, and replaced head-case 8th inning man. Traded to Toronto where he promptly wasn't named closer and again busted. Currently in Cincinnati doing well because they've convinced him he's part closer. Meltdown to come if not closer by Memorial Day

2012 - Brad Lidge - We do not talk about Brad Lidge with the Nationals other than to say his last pitch was made in this uniform.

2012 - Henry Rodgriguez - H-Rod, as he was unaffectionately known, was given the chance to close early in 2012 along with Lidge while Storen was out. Walked everyone. Walked right out of game two years later at age 27

2012 - Tyler Clippard - The "Best Middle Reliever in Baseball History" Clippard took over after the Lidge/H-Rod plan imploded and successfully conquered the closer job but Storen came back and the Nats wanted him as closer so back he went to middle relief. Eventually traded to Oakland in 2015 where he successfully closed for most of the year, but was traded to the Mets to do middle relief. Now successful in middle relief in NYY. NO CURSE CAN STOP CLIPPARD.

2013 - Rafael Soriano - Brought here after the G5 debacle because Scott Boras knows when you are most vulnerable, Soriano was a functional reliver for almost 2 years before his arm gave out. He would lose his role back to Storen and pretty much be done with baseball after that.

2015 - Johnathan Papelbon - Traded for in late July 2015 because Storen couldn't save G1 of the NLDS the year before. Papelbon would choke Bryce but because the Nats had no better options he stared 2016 as closer. He made it about half a year before flaming out and ending his career.

Successful closer careers that died in Washington? Check. Arms that couldn't pitch more than a couple of years before succumbing to the curse? Check. Drew Storen? Check.

Does this speak more to the choices the Nats have made? Perhaps. Does this speak more to the fragility of the relief arm? Perhaps. Does this ignore the good pre-injury performances like Hanrahan's back to back All-Star years, and Matt Capps successful Minnesota run to misrepresent the situation? Perhaps. Does this ignore Mark Melancon who will likely be pretty good for a few years for San Fran? Perhaps.

However some will always believe that there can be no saving the saver when he toils "Under the Shadow of the Flat Brim" HHAHAHAHAHHA!

(Except Tyler Clippard - He's awesome)

Monday, April 24, 2017

Monday Quickie - A different year

The Nats have inarguably had the best team in the NL East over the last five seasons. From 2012-2016 the Nats have had good to very good offenses mixed with good to great pitching staffs and have by the grace/curse of luck with injuries and competitor timing, either been division winners or also rans. But while the Nats have gotten lucky with injuries and the rest of the NL East presenting them with an AFC East for the Patriots situation, what the Nats have never been is lucky on the field.

Here are their win totals and their "expected" win totals (Pythag, and 3rd order). 

2012 : 98 (96, --)
2013 : 86 (84, 83)
2014 : 96 (97, 97)
2015 : 83 (89, 89)
2016 : 95 (97, 98)

Now I won't go into the details of what these other win totals mean beyond saying they are attempts to strip luck out of the equation. They attempt to answer the question - with an offense this good and a pitching staff that good, how many games should you have won in a vacuum? It's a completely pointless descriptive stat. When looking back on a year, who cares how many you should have won? But as a predictive stat it can be useful, if taken with the usual caveats. It's also useful for me showing this point.

The Nats have never really gotten that lucky on the field. The best they've done against the expected win totals is +2/+3 back in  2013. That is almost "noise". They did have one year that was probably unlucky winning 83 games when 89 was more likely given the talent* but they have yet to have that year when things break their way with the way the ball bounces on the field.

I bring this up not because the Nats are getting super lucky now. Their wins would be 13 (11, 12) and you actually expect more craziness early than late. I bring this up because isn't it time? Can't the Nats have a great team AND a team that is lucky all over and just coast to a title? Take a double digit division lead by Memorial Day and not look back? In 2012 they took a few game lead in mid June but never quite shook the Braves until late August. In 2014 the Nats actually spent most of the year trying to catch Atlanta before passing the Braves and not looking back in mid-August***. Last year was the closest we've come to the dream ideal where a sweep of the Mets in late June pretty much put the division away, but you could see a possible path back for the Mets until early August.

I want to enter the All-Star Break with a 15 game lead and have a summer of nothing but watching a great team play great baseball. I think this team, and this division, can give us that. The Nats offense (unlike the pen) is possibly the best they've ever had. There are no obvious holes, Bryce is BRYCE and Zimm looks to be healthy. The rotation is as good as it usually is. The pen could stand to have that one more great arm to anchor it, but we weren't wrong saying that talent was there. It'll just be a matter of getting lucky with health and shuffling things around until they find a fit. The Mets are already injury bit. The Marlins will have to have everything go right with that rotation to stay in it. The Phillies can't be real and lost Buchholz for the year. The Braves can't get over the fact they've built their line-up with two awful bats (right now**) wasting Freeman's potential in carrying the team.

As a side note : the other thing the Nats have never done is have an actual down the wire division race. The Nats' Septembers have been exceedingly boring when it comes to division games

2012 : Entered up 6.5, closest it got was 3 but with four games left.
2013 : Entered down 15, closest it got was 8 with 12 left
2014 : Entered up 6.0,  that was arguably the closest it got
2015 : Entered down 6.5, closest it got was out 4.0 on September 6th
2016 : Entered up 9.0, closest it reasonably got was up 8 on September 8th

So if I'm looking for an interesting, never seen it yet season and I can't have the easy season, I guess I want the Nats to go down to the wire with someone over first in the NL East. Of course I don't see that happening, and I think that you guys reading the blog would prefer the "OMG SO AWESOME" season, to a nail-biter one that might end with the Nats nudged out in the last week.

 *You can blame Matt Williams if you like. I don't think that's fair, (he didn't crazy underperform in 2014), but I don't think it ultimately matters, either. 89 wins wouldn't have gotten the Nats in the playoffs, and I think that ultimately would have led to his firing. What would have been bad would have been a lucky year that snuck them in over the 90 win Mets. 

**I liked the Braves to be a real threat if Dansby Swanson could become a star.  Update : He's the worst hitter in the NL currently.  .139 / .162 / .194  a .357 OPS. 

***Thanks 75% to a complete Braves collapse and 25% to a hot streak to start August

Friday, April 21, 2017

Did their job

Going into Phillies/Braves, I thought 4-2 was the goal, 3-3 the floor, so 5-1 is a very nice little run here. I also thought the Mets would do no worse than 3-3, turns out they could. They went 1-5 in the same time frame and what was a 1.5 game deficit for the Nats is now a 2.5 game lead. (With the Marlins between them)

This makes the weekend series that much easier. You are playing a good team away from home in a three game set. Just don't get swept. That's it. Low bar? Possibly but if you play .500 ball against playoff teams, matching series wins at home and series losses away, you are easily a playoff team because you'll be doing much better than that in the 100+ games against teams that miss the playoffs. So go 1-2 here and 2-1 in the series after the jaunt to Colorado and you're on track.

The Mets come into the series hobbled. Cespedes & Duda, are likely out for the series and d'Arnaud is banged up and probably coming off the bench for a couple games.  They have more injuries but Flores isn't as impactful and the way the pitching lines up the Mets lack of the 5th starter doesn't matter.

The match-ups are as follows: Roark vs deGrom, Gio vs Harvey, Scherzer vs Wheeler. I'm a little curious about the Scherzer start because of all his pitches thrown last time, but it's more a reflex based on his ST injury than pitch count. 116 is a number Scherzer hit in about a third of his starts last year.

The story of last night's game was really the closer debut of Shawn Kelley, who started out strong, then almost blew it, before closing the door. All the luck to you Mr. Kelley. While I just said a couple days ago Treinen needed to stay in the role, the whole premise of that was essentially two straight quick failures would make things worse. So there's a simple solution to that potential issue. Don't fail Kelley. Be dominant.

Ok beat the Mets tonight and the rest is gravy to me.

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Some quiet things

The Nats bullpen has for the most part overshadowed everything going on with this team, to the point I bet most of you don't know they could have the best record in baseball after tonight (helps that no one is running away). That doesn't matter much (Nats had a best and better record at this point last year) but it's a nice place to be nonetheless.

It would be hard to miss Bryce's great start, and most people see that Zimm is doing real well. Still some things may have slipped under the radar.  Note that all these are drafts of preliminary looks at early analyses.  They are meant as a "Hmmm let's keep looking at this over the next few weeks" and not as a "AHA! That is exactly what is happening!"

Anthony Rendon has been one of the worst hitting regulars in baseball. It's not so much the average, .226 is bad but at this point in the year far from irregular, but the peripherals.  Rendon has only 3 walks and is walking at half the rate he usually does. He had only 2 XBH (2 doubles) giving him an OPS of .532. He is not BABIP bit. That number is fine. He is just not hitting the ball well (LD% under 10% - which is pretty crazy bad). He's swinging way more than he usually does but it's not really an issue with recognizing pitches (swings outside the zone not a crazy number) I'm not sure what's up.

Batting at the bottom of the order is suiting Weiters. Hitting down there requires the ability to take a walk (because you'll get pitched around), but if necessary make contact (because you don't want to leave things up to the next guy).Weiters BB rate is almost double what it usually is.  His K rate is almost half.  His swing percentages are down and his contact percentages are up. His Fly ball percentages are down too. His pull rate is down and his opposite field hits are way up. But it's not like he's crushing the ball. he's actually hitting it much less hard this year than in previous ones. If I wanted to be optimistic Id say a guy that was always imagined to be a slugger is finally getting that he isn't one and adapting his game to his actual skill set. He is no longer trying to crush homers but just get good wood on the ball and maybe drive some doubles.

Adam Eaton stopped being a walking man. It was fun while it lasted but Eaton is Eaton, and what he is is a good average guy with moderate power and just enough patience not to drive you crazy.  That's fine.

Werth is doing really well. But before you get excited about that, it's pretty much a mirage. His K rate is super high. BABIP is super high (.370). He's not hitting the ball super hard or super well. HR/FB (20%) would be among the best of his career. He's crushed some mistakes and got some lucky IF hits and is the one hot batter most likely to cool off big time.

The Nats depth is non-existent. What you see is what you get. The Nats looked to Difo to fill the hole Turner left. He's not a major league hitter right now. .250 with NO power and NO patience. Sammy Solis and Enny Romero were hoped to be good middle inning guys. They've been bad. Solis might be hurt but Enny Romero is presumably exactly who Enny Romero is which is a guy that could be traded for nothing; way too hittable and way too wild. For someone like him you scour the stats to see if there is anything that tells you things are different and no, they are not. I'd drop him.

You could point to one or two places where Max is slightly behind last year but he's way ahead in one stat. 0 homers. When Max had problems last year they were usually connected to giving up a couple of bombs. Is it luck? Maybe - he's not really giving up fewer fly balls. But maybe not - he's giving up NOTHING hard (9.1% hard) If he can keep doing something like this it's another Cy Young type year from the guy.

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

If you hate Treinen the closer, he must stay as closer

Blake Treiene has been terrible.

There isn't any objective way to say any thing else. He's pitched in 8 games. He's allowed a baserunner in the last 7. He's allowed runs in half. His WHIP is a god awful 2.526. This is because he is getting hit (14.2 H/9) and he's walking guys like crazy (8.5 BB/9). He's come in for 5 save opportunities* and he's blown 2. He doesn't look like he will succeed as closer.

And yet, if you want Blake out of there you need to keep him in there. At least for now.

I know that may sound counter intuitive but let's look at the facts. Before the season started. Hell, right now, its very likely that you would say that 6.1 IP tells you nothing. You would say that 2 BS in 5 attempts is bad but not change worthy (certainly so for an established closer). You would say a closer needs at least a month to really figure out if he can hack it. You would not be wrong. Pulling Treinen now would be an admittedly quick hook.

If you pull Treinen now you set up two scenarios. The first thing you do is you set up the return. Treinen gets pulled. Kelley or Glover come in. They aren't good. Maybe they get injured. Treinen is lights out in the 7th/8th. The clamoring begins. Maybe not from fans, but from the same supporters who wanted him in the closer role in the first place. "He's got his head on straight now" "He's figured it out" "It was only 6 innings!" These aren't arguable points. Treinen would have gotten a very brief chance so a second one seems more reasonable. 

The second thing you do is you set the base amount of time you need to evaluate a closer. Whoever comes in next; Glover, Kelley or whoever, has about 8 games to not stink or else you have to make another change right? I mean you pulled your first choice after that time frame, are you saying that if one of these guys blows 2 saves and has a 5.00 ERA over 8 games that you won't pull him? Doesn't make sense. These guys enter with a clock ticking on them, ratcheting up any pressure they may feel.

The short of it is - you create a situation where if the replacement for Treinen doesn't succeed, then you've made an absolute mess out of the pen by mid May.

What would make more sense would be to let Treinen keep going. Let him have his month (or really nine more games) to be the official closer and see what happens. Most likely he'll do middling and the team will say it's time to move on, but the decision will be definitive. No one could say Treinen didn't have a fair shot, that the team stuck by him when they could have bailed. You also set-up  a situation where the next guy understands he'll get leeway. He'll have a shot that includes maybe stumbling a bit and ample time. He'll fell he has a fair shot at succeeding.

I understand the pressure to change, but it's not as if the Nats have suffered much because of Treinen the closer. They are in first place in the East 1.5 games ahead of the team they believe will most likely be a rival. Those eight games Treinen has pitched in? The Nats are 7-1 in them. I suppose you could say using Treinen in other games, in another role, may have created more success. I suppose.  But the reality is the Nats are not in panic mode. They have the leeway to let this play out as everyone thinks a closer trial should, before they are in the midst of a failing one.

Let Treinen close. Let Treinen probably fail. It's for the best.

*The Nats actually haven't had many save opportunities since the first week of the season. A lot of blowouts and ties into the 9th.

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

The landscape 2 weeks in

The Nats are also 7-5, which isn't great. But baseball isn't absolute, it's relative and today the Nats find themselves in first place. How did that happen? And how is the rest of the NL East shaking out a couple weeks into the year? Is there anything surprising that may be real?

NL East

The Mets offense has been a little better than expected, even with Jose Reyes apparently forgetting to bring a bat up to the plate, but the back of the rotation is in a bit of trouble with Gsellman getting crushed and the depth on the DL. One could say they should be better after figuring out that but it's hard to see them keep hitting at these paces. The recent Marlins series, against some relatively weak starters, is probably more their speed. Really though this is the Mets. 7-6 over the course of the season is an 87/88 win pace.

The Marlins aren't terrible?  The bullpen has come around since the Nats series to be the strangely built Achilles heeled force I thought it would be. The offense has been fine enough even with Ozuna and Stanton switching bodies a la Parent Trap. The real surprise has been the rotation though. It hasn't blown up. However FIP suggests it's a temporary situation, so unless you think JT Relamuto can keep hitting like Mike Piazza the Marlins are looking at a fade.

The Braves started the season with three series on the road and it showed. They are undefeated since coming home. For the most part the offense is as expected. Freddie Freeman and a bunch of other decent guys. But Swanson being terrible is a surprise. The pitching looks ok  Teheran is back to being great and Colon and Dickey are holding up their ends of the bargain. I get a feeling that the offense should be better so if they can find any solution to the #4/#5 rotation spot they could be interesting. If not, won't get over that hump

Remember last year when the Phillies started hot? Funny. The Phillies offense isn't any good with Maikel Franco still in his 2016 form.  They are getting some unexpected contributions (Nava, Hernandez) to keep them afloat but that can't last. Meanwhile their pitching is a story of haves and haves not. Like every other team they have a back of the rotation problem. Unlike the other teams they also have no depth to the relief pitching. A couple of decent arms were brought in and they've been decent but I worry about any time they have to get 6th/7th innings out of these guys.

So nothing terribly surprising in the East. Swanson's bat should heat up. Marlins rotation should collapse. But things are pretty much as they should be which is why the division has kind of lined up right.

NL Central

This division is all topsy turvy with Cincy and Milwuakee with early leads and STL crashing out.  Is it lasting? Cincinnati... doubt it. Unless Eugenio Suarez is truly a superstar. They could very well have a decent pen but beyond that I don't see this being anymore than a mediocre team that's sort of hot. Milwuakee might have a bit more staying power as Thames might actually be really good and we all know what Braun can do. There isn't any particular reason to believe in the cast around them but they aren't garbage either. So maybe if they all get a little better at the same time? Career years or such? The Cubs are suffering from an offensive dip but here's a secret for you. That might continue. None of these young guys HAVE to hit better (except maybe Bryant) They could all be kind of average. Age out Zobrist and accept the new normal for Heyward and you have an ok offense at best. Pitching should still take care of them though. Pirates aren't any good as the replacement bats for McCutcheon's slide never really worked out. Still have a young rotation that could come together though. To me the most real thing here is the Cardinals might be bad. Their best reliable bats are over 30 and their other bats aren't super young either (one player under 26). The rotation is good and looks good but the apparently have no pen. Defense is pretty bad too. This is 1/3rd a team.

NL West

The DBacks being ok shouldn't surprise you. They were built to win last year and then... didn't. But a lot of the same pieces are still there. It has a young offense that could surprise, a potentially solid rotation, a workable pen if they can find a closer (Archie Bradley might be that guy). Out of all the surprise contenders I like them the most. And for the flipside here are the Rockies who are completely powered by 1-run game luck. The Rockies, like the Marlins, went all in on the pen and it's very very good! But I don't know if the rotation holds up. Maybe it does. Maybe Bud Black is a genius who kept the Padres from years of 50 win seasons. Offensively though I don't see this group keeping pace. CarGo is done. Story was never that good. LeMahieu is at best a very good Singly Joe. The bench is garbage.  The Dodgers are fine. Again back of the rotation issues but offense, bullpen, and presumably the first three arms will all be good. They'll be back up. Padres are not fine, but we knew that. The pitching in particular is top to bottom awful. The only thing that'll probably keep the offense from being as bad is Wil Myers finally getting it, assuming he has (I think he has). The Giants fixed the pen (Melancon has been fine since the first outing) but not really anything else. They are still trying to work Matt Cain in for god's sake. If they can sneak into the playoffs Bumgarner and the experience make them dangerous but I'm not sure they can. Maybe they can hit their way in - you can almost see that if they can find that last OF. But they certainly can't do that without a healthy Posey.

I never made predictions but I'll give you some standings on Memorial Day guesses and see if they hold up

NL East
Nats - Mets - Braves - Marlins - Phillies
NL Central
Cubs - Brewers - Pirates - Reds - Cardinals
NL West
Dodgers - D-backs - Giants - Rockies - Padres

Monday, April 17, 2017

Do your job

The Nats as a team did their job this weekend. They took 2 of 3 from the Phillies. I would have liked a sweep but I can't argue that they deserved anymore than they got.

This simple act - winning a series at home versus a team that is not as good as you - has put the Nats in a good position because the Mets failed to do their job and got swept by the Marlins. Baseball is full of simple things that are very hard to do. Throw the ball over the plate. Hit the ball with a bat. Win the games you should. Do you job and good things will happen because I guarantee most everyone else won't be able to.

But while the Nats as a team did their job, the bullpen once again failed. Oh I'm sorry, did I say "once again"? I meant twice again, as they failed on both Saturday and Sunday.

On Friday Glover, Treinen, and Kelley got into a close game and didn't blow it. Treinen did try though, putting two men on with one out before getting the double play. And thus you see the overall issue with Treinen. He's not a shutdown guy. Men will get on base. He will live and die with DPs and slow GBs. But DPs don't always happen and slow GBs are sometimes hits. On Friday he got lucky, on Sunday he didn't.

Gio was pitching well and Dusty tried to squeeze one more batter out of him than he should have to avoid going to the pen. Suddenly, thanks to an error (more on that in a second), you had the tying run at 2B with one out. Who do you go to close this out? Dusty chose his favorite Koda Glover who promptly wild pitched the runner to 3B then, after a K, gave up the game tying single. Rizzo chuckled to himself I'm sure thinking "should have brought in Blake". But his boy came on in the 9th and gave up the game leading run before loading the bases. It took MY favorite Shawn Kelley to come in and stop the game from becoming a blow out.

In the meantime, on Saturday Joe Blanton gave up another home run. His third of the season it was after a HBP and it gave Philadelphia the lead. Matt Albers got through the 9th - another DP needed though.

The state of the Nats pen is as follows. Blake Treinen, the annointed closer, is a mess doing basically nothing right other than amping up his Ks. His WHIP is 2.00. 2.00! Joe Blanton has near perfect control of the strike zone (no walks), but within it he's leaving the ball up and it's going out (3 homers).  Koda Glover is somewhat effective, but the one this you figured he would do - strike people out - he isn't doing (though he got two yesterday).  Kelley is doing that but he's also been giving up the long ball (though more effective recently). Romero, Solis, and Perez have each been awful leaving the Nats with no reliable LHRP.

It's a mess. I think that Glover and Kelley are finding their forms. I think. Kelley in particular looks to be past his "Hmm, everything I give up is a flyball" period. If that's the case there go the HRs and he's good again. Blanton isn't pitching particularly bad per se. He's just making one or two crushable mistakes each outing. Of course that's not workable in the long run, but right now it gives me more hope than if there was some deeper issue across the board. Treinen though - is Treinening it. He's not THIS bad but he is this type of pitcher. That may work for some teams but this one...

The Nats defense is bad. We thought it might be, but with Tre Turner out, it definitely is. I'm not sure if Turner is great, good, or passable at short but it's clear Difo is no more than passable. That creates a domino effect across the infield. The defense up the middle is shakier. Murphy can't shade to help both Zimm and cover the hole. More balls go into the hole for an old, DH to be, to field Jayson Werth. Eaton, not a plus CF to start with, has to shade over to help Werth more making his job covering the CF harder which weakens the OF.

First things first, the Nats need a healthy Turner back to reset these dominoes. I thought it would happen tomorrow so let's see.

(The good news? Even with AAAA Difo replacing Turner the offense has merely slowed, not stopped. Bryce and Murphy both look great which can be enough to carry a team a long way, shaky relief or not)

Friday, April 14, 2017

Time for some goals

If the Nats want to keep pace they need to beat the teams they should beat. They have 3 at home vs the Phillies and 3 at the Braves.  You have to go at least 2-1 vs the Phillies and at least take one versus the Braves.  3-3 is the absolute floor.  4-2 over the next week is probably a more fair expectation.  I want a Phillies sweep because the Braves series opens with the mystery 5th starter.  I don't want to need that win.

Assuming the Nats go 3-3 Mets shouldn't do better than 4-2, so that's 2.5 games out. That's the most reasonable worst case expectation. That's fine. The reasonable normal expectation would be Nats and Mets stay where they are both going 4-2. Reasonable best case, Nats go 4-2, Mets 3-3 and Nats pick up a game. Could go worse or better, of course.

Anyway here's your weekend posting area. Do what you will. See you Monday.

Thursday, April 13, 2017

Shouldn't have loved Blanton

The Nats were stymied by Leake.  It'll happen though if you want to be worried, I'm pretty sure Leake is the first lefty starter the ninth righty starter the Nats have faced this year. In these cases Murphy and Harper can't shoulder the load, and the rest of the team has to step it up.  It's not a big deal today, but in October when you can play match-ups more it may matter. worry about why I always think Leake is a lefty in my head. (I am still curious how Nats v lefties will play out)

The bullpen still stinks but there will be some sort pf problem during your season and really what you care about isn't the bullpen being good. What you care about is winning. This is all a prelude until those Mets games. Stay close to the Mets, win the H2H battle, and play like we think they should and everything else should take care of itself. Why did the Nats fail in the past? Because they didn't do these things (for various reasons)

In 2013, the Braves started out 15-6.  The Nats were 10-11.  We knew this could be an issue, but assumed the Nats could make it up later, as long as they didn't lose anymore ground. But the Nats didn't play like they should. They floundered playing .500 ball almost through the end of August. They also didn't keep the Braves close in H2H games (at the time 0-3, they'd go 6-10 the rest of the year).

In 2015 the Mets started out 13-3. The Nats were 7-6.  Even early on that's a lot of games to make up. We assumed the Mets weren't as good as they turned out to be, and the Nats were better. Based on that information the Nats had time to make it up, especially with the H2H games left. But the two teams were closer in talent than expected. Despite seemingly taking a firm lead in the division by July 4th, the Nats couldn't get separation and didn't overcome the Mets one on one, going 8-11. One extended bad stretch put the Nats behind and unable to make up ground

The Nats are currently one game behind the Mets.  That's fine. It's super early so there isn't much separation to be had, but it's a good sign the Mets haven't started super hot nor the Nats super cold. It could turn in these next 5-10 games but let's hope not.

I don't feel panic and that's good because there shouldn't be any today. It's a middling start but a middling start in the face of nothing scary so far. The Mets haven't run away. No team in the NL East has shown signs of being a super surprise team. That's the realist take. If you're an optimist, then it's a start that puts us 9 games in basically where we were at the beginning of the year. So if you like the Nats then, you still like the Nats now. If you're a pessimist it's a start that doesn't eliminate the chance of the scary becoming reality in the next week or two.

5% of the season down ok, 95% to go.

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Best relief staff offense ever

When the Nats signed Matt Weiters, some questioned why. Mostly this was because they somehow missed the Nationals signing Adam Lind, despite, you know, covering baseball presumably being their job. But whatever! There was still some general truth to the statement. Weiters and Norris would be expected to hit about the same. Weiters and Norris would be expected to field about the same.  Why spend more for something you already have?

Well the reason is obvious and  has long been baked into negotiations. You pay for two things when you sign a player. You pay for their expected performance and you pay for the likelihood that they achieve that expected performance.

Weiters and Norris may both project to give the Nats about a 1.0 WAR. Weiters though comes off a series of seasons where he gave 0.9, 1.0 and 1.7.  Norris comes off seasons of 2.6, 2.4, -0.4. Now again, these numbers should be considered rough, but in relation to the point I'm trying to make they illustrate it clearly.  Weiters and Norris might have the same general expectation, but the variance in their possible performances is quite wide.  A healthy Weiters might have (and I'm just throwing numbers out here) a 75% to give you a 0.5 to 1.5 WAR.  Norris might have a 75% chance to give you a -0.5 to 2.5 WAR. If your goal is only to reach an expectation it may be fine to treat these two the same. However, if your goal is to avoid a terrible performance, you'd pay Weiters more than Norris. Weiters has little chance to be horrible, while Norris has a decent chance of that happening.

For a team like the Nats, who will likely be in the playoffs but want to avoid falling a few games out of home field, or the NL East, or maaaybe a few games out of the playoffs if things go poorly, that extra security is worth it.

What Weiters ensures is that the Nats have a deep line-up 1-8.  Right now a good chunk of them are hitting great at the same time so everyone is overly excited about them. But what I like most is the depth.  You need several bats going at the same time (unless they are super hot) to score some runs and the Nats have good coverage now. If someone is cold, if someone is injured, there are enough bats here, and on the bench, to cover that. Of course we are almost immediately asked to test this theory as someone is cold (Rendon) and someone is injured (Turner) and it worked for a couple days at least. But now Drew is injured too and we're getting into the deep bench. Presumably Turner will be back soon but right now we've hit the bottom of MI depth. It can happen that fast.

While this seems unfortunate, and it is, imagine where the Nats would be without Weiters. You'd very likely have a 6-9 hole in the lineup until Turner returns.  I'm not promising the line-up will look this good all year. In fact, I'm telling you it won't. However if Werth and Zimm can produce even at average level there are no obvious holes in the line-up. With no obvious holes, they can whether the occasional storm as well as anyone. Turner and Drew out with Rendon struggling is a storm. They should be able to weather it.

Monday, April 10, 2017

Dear Bullpen, stop trying to answer my question ASAP

The Nats went through kind of a hellish weekend in regards to the bullpen. On Friday, Max was this side of dominant, but watched along with us as the pen nearly blew a 7-0 lead that he had set-up.  On Saturday, their best laid plans on how to get Joe Ross slowly ready to pitch in the majors again went as badly as possible. That's not an exaggeration. In a baseball sense, there's hardly a way that that could have gone worse.  Guthrie was "kicked out of baseball" bad and Enny Romero did nothing to stem the flow. Game over before your first beer had a chance to lose its head. On Sunday it was a 1-run given up situation but given everything that led up to it during the weekend and the miracle 2-out PH Zimm HR that it took to tie the game it felt like another huge pen failure.

I'm going to game by game bullpen work just on the basis of whether I think they did their job. A point if I think they did. No points if I think they didn't.  If I have a question - half a point. No lingering. (I kind of think a single scoreless inning is the goal for those that enter to start inning. In the middle the goal is to keep that run from coming in but depending on situation may not be your fault)

Game 1 : 
Solis : Yes (1/1)
Treinen : Yes (1/1)

Game 2 : 
Romero : Got an inning. Gave up a quick run next though. Half (0.5/1)
Blanton : Got out of jam with no runs scored. Yes  (1/1)
Treinen : Got save but gave up run. Half (1.5/2)

Game 3 : 
Glover : Yes, though I remember him being hit hard (1/1)
Kelley : No (0/1)
Solis :  Half, gave up two baserunners. But got DP and 2outs  (1.5/2)
Treinen : No, maybe gets a break against a better hitter but couldn't get Tyler Moore out (1.5/3)
Blanton : No, 3H and a run (1/2)

Game 4 :
Solis : No (1.5/3)
Romero : No (0.5/2)
Glover : Yes (2/2)
Treinen : No, got save but gave up two runs. Maybe I give him 1 but not two (1.5/4)

Game 5 : 
Guthrie : NO (-10000000000/1)
Romero : No (0.5/3)
Blanton : Yes (2/3)
Perez : No, I can be forgiving but 2 triples and a homer in 2 innings? (0/1)
Kelley : A generous half (0.5/2)

Game 6 : 
Solis : Yes (2.5/4)
Glover : No (2/3)

So as of it stands
Perfect : None
Passable : Blanton (2/3), Glover (2/3), maybe Solis (2.5/4)
Poor : Kelley (0.5/2), Perez (0/1), Romero (0.5/3), Treinen (1.5/4) 

Perfect is a high standard that you don't expect anyone to hit for a season. However, six games in? Yeah, you'd expect a couple perfects in there.

If you add it all up (including Guthrie as a zero), it'd be like 9/21. This isn't scientific at all but that gives you an idea how the bullpen has done. In 21 outings they've given you about 9 decent showings, with a half decent one here or there. That's a pretty abysmal record. It feels worse right now because it started something like 5/6 and since then is something like 4/15. That's akin to three out of every four guys you roll out there failing. 

What do you do? They already did the one obvious move - shooting Guthrie into the sun. There's no room for any arm that is terrible and there's no reason to look at Saturday and his history and think anything but. After that? I don't know what you do but keep on keeping on. Treinen has to keep closing for longer so you can make an informed decision and make it hopefully once. Blanton and Glover are already back innings guys so there's no promotion or shifting necessary in close games. As for the great middle - it's only one outing for Perez; and Solis and Kelley aren't at any point of no return yet. You could close the book on Romero for now if you like, but that's about it.  Not sure they Nats have anyone they are dying to bring up though.

The pen is shaky right now. Over the course of a year you are going to have shaky weeks. The question is - is this a shaky week? Or is this a shaky pen?  They got about 9 games to figure this out because they play six H2H games versus the Mets to end the month and they don't want to blow those.

Friday, April 07, 2017

Bullpen - really good? Or not?

Of course we don't know the answer to this today.  I think we entered the year with a couple of fair thoughts.  First, this was the most talented and reliable collection of arms the Nats had started a year with perhaps during the whole window. Second, there was still a measure of variability in these arms beyond the usual "Hey, it's the pen! they don't pitch much!" kind of variability.

The first sounds great but it also speaks to the general questions the Nats have usually allowed the bullpen to start with. This isn't an "A" pen right now. Looking at it it's a "B" pen with potential. But the Nats have been content to start with "C" pens and "B" pens with little potential, so this becomes a high water marks.  The latter speaks to the fact that while all these arms looked good on the mound last year there are fair questions to be asked of each and every one. What would not be a question? A healthy young arm that has pitched well in the majors the past two years. Well Treinen has pitched well for one. Kelley is questionably healthy. Blanton is old.  Glover has little experience. Each one of these have a lacking quality.

This doesn't mean the pen is bad. Like I said "B".  It doesn't mean they can't be great. But it does mean it's fine to have concerns about them and to look to the beginning of the year to allay/confirm those concerns.

How long should we wait?  I'm looking at about 12 normal situations for each pitcher. Don't ask me why 12. 10 seemed a little short. 15 a little long. 12 would be about a month of usage a tad on the heavy side but just a tad. 

What should we want to see? Here's a little quiz.  What do you think the average save percentage was in the majors last year? No. Lower.  No.  Lower


If that seems low remember that you can have multiple blown saves in a game but only one good one. So it's not a great stat for seeing what a pen should do but you could use it to see how the Nats are looking compared to average.  Another thing that could be done is looking at just the save leaders and see how they do.  In general an average year for a good reliever will have about a 90% save percentage. So you should do your job about 9 of every 10 times out. You can give a little leeway for those in middle relief. Maybe say... 10 of 12? If you are around 9 of 12 that's getting to be not good enough. 11 of 12 and that's great.

It's a rough idea. Come up with your own if you like but that's where I am.  I'll update these stats as the year goes on and see how it works and how it matches up with the "feels" and with what the team is doing. 

Thursday, April 06, 2017

Nats probably good, Marlins probably bad

Two games in and my general impression about this team is that it just feels right.

The players added feel right. Eaton feels like the perfect addition to the top of the order while Wieters is a more than acceptable 8th hitter.

The lineup in general feels (mostly) right.  I'd swap Zimm and Rendon but that's a minor quibble.

The bench feels right.  Drew as a PH followed by Lind? That makes sense. 

The pen feels pretty right.  Nice lead, bring in a fireballer with potential and see what he can do? Feels right. Uh oh, he's starting to waver, bring in a dependable veteran? Feels right. Big lefty batter, bring in that LOOGY. Feels right.

There will certainly be ups and downs but two days in I have no complaints. All the pieces are here.

Roark looked a little slow to come around but did eventually which is all you can ask for for an first start. Don't look terrible. Don't get hurt.

I think the key moment(s) in the game were obviously the fielding woes of the Marlins in the 4th.  The Marlins had gone out to a 2-0 lead early but the Nats had narrowed the gap on a solo HR and now had Eaton on first with the heart of the line-up coming up. Straily though got Bryce to foul out... except the Marlins couldn't make the play. Then he got him to foul out again... though this time the Marlins looked even more foolish in letting it drop. Bryce would eventually hit a run scoring double. A few batters later the Nats were up 3-2 with one out and men on 1st and 2nd. Jayson Werth hit a pop fly that should have been caught and wasn't. Instead of 2-out 1st and 2nd, with the possibility of pitching Wieters carefully to force the Nats into a "PH for Roark or not" situation, the Nats had bases loaded and 1-out. Wieters couldn't be pitched around and he promptly hit a run scoring single. Game sort of over.

Get the outs you should have gotten and the game, at least at that point, is different. Defense is important. Last night though it was the other side that proved the argument.


Man I want to do stuff like look at the stats or look around the league but none of that is remotely defensible. Even things I might be able to do 3 games from now, like simply comment on fast/slow starts from teams, is out of bounds. 2-0? 0-2? Would you ever care about that midseason?  The closest thing I can come to a story is how the Astros swept the Mariners. Some felt the Mariners could rival the Astros for a division title. You can't get these H2H games back and starting out 0-3, even away from home, is a little concerning (emphasis on little).  That's all I got.

Wednesday, April 05, 2017

Pondering Roark

Annual reminder that I'm on Twitter doing mostly baseball stuff during the season @harpergordek for those that do Twitter.

Tanner Roark is probably the most interesting piece in the Nats rotation. Five years ago, in 2012 at 24, he was bumped up to AAA after two straight unimpressive AA years, to see what he could do. He continued to do nothing special, eating up 150 innings with a mid 4.00 ERA. At that point he had "organizational innings eater" written all over him. Maybe he'd get a fill-in shot in the majors or maybe he'd move into long relief. No one thought he'd become a top of the rotation starter.

Yet that is exactly what happened. Don't buy into the "Nats always believed in Roark" narrative. After a slow climb through the system powered by the "let's see what he can do at this level now that he's this age" forces that keep players moving up as long as they are passable, he seemed to have reached his end point in AAA. Following a 3.2 IP 12 hit, 10 run start early in 2013, the Nats gave up on Roark the starter and moved him to the pen. He only got another shot at starting in AAA after he pitched well enough and circumstances opened up. He'd take advantage of it and impress enough to be called up but still he was brought up as a reliever, not a starter. He'd get his chance at starting only after Ross Ohlendorf, who he was originally brought up to replace, grew tired in the starters role. He impressed again, enough to fight and earn a starting role for 2014. He flourished. The Nats didn't buy it. They signed Max and pushed him into the pen in 2015. But when circumstances brought him back into the rotation in 2016, he did flourished again. Once is a fluke. Twice is a pattern.

How and why did this change happen in 2013? Roark credited a renewed focus on throwing strikes and attacking hitters. Others noticed a greater tendency to keep the ball down. The numbers seem to back both thoughts up.  Roark has never had the best arm with a fastball hovering in the 92-93 range and was never a big strikeout guy.  If you aren't a strikeout guy you need to be a control guy who limits homers. Prior to 2013 Roark wasn't that.  He wasn't terribly wild but his walk rate of around 3 per 9IP was a far cry from a control guy. And while he didn't give up a lot of homers he wasn't especially great at avoiding them either. You can completely see why he was an ok minor leaguer. He was ok at everything but not good at anything.

But since 2013 things have been different. Roark did seemingly attack the zone and throw more strikes. His walk rate dropped to be about 2 per 9. He did seemingly keep the ball down. His HR rate was nearly cut in half.  There you go. I don't want to understate though that this kind of change is incredibly hard. Everyone says the same things. "I need to hit my spots and keep the ball out of places the batter can kill it." But few people can do that.

So, Roark is a good pitcher now, end of story? Well...

We'll skip 2015 for obvious reasons and move ahead to last year. In 2016 Roark was a different sort of pitcher. His control reverted back to his old ways and he walked over 3 per inning again. Why didn't that show? Well a small part is that his HR rate was still lower than it had been. Another small part was he kicked up his K rate a little. Both those things helped. But the big reason is that he's gotten a bunch of soft contact.  He had always been pretty good at getting it (since 2013 at least) but has managed to improve over time.  He had the third best "soft hit" rate for qualified starters in 2016. He had already been a GB pitcher and the combination of those two things makes for a lot of easy outs. Or at least it should.

This bring us to 2017.  I mentioned a couple days ago that the Nats D worried me. It was almost certain to contribute less than last year and if a couple things break the wrong way (Rendon is really hurt, Turner is nothing special) it could face a precipitous decline. No Nats pitcher would feel the brunt of that more than Tanner Roark. He relies on ground balls not finding holes. This gets him his outs and if someone gets on, it keeps them from scoring. This worked out for him last year as it did in 2014 and 2013. This year is more of a question mark.

Roark was almost certain to not hit the same ERA mark as he did last year. He had some situational luck that probably wouldn't be replicated. But a few ticks in the ERA shouldn't matter. 3.10 ERA instead of 2.85? Whatever. What could matter though is if those ticks come with a few more balls getting through and just a tad bit of a decline. A couple more guys on base, a couple more balls out of the park. At 29 years old that's certainly not given, but it's not a crazy thought.

Roark isn't walking a tightrope here. It's not a Doug Fister situation where we were all going "This is going to end badly when it ends". Roark won't flop out of the rotation. But he could find himself with an ERA almost a run higher doing basically nothing different. He could move from that 3rd guy you like to see go out there to a reliable back of the rotation arm. Some are going to want to blame a change in prep from the WBC but I'm looking at it and seeing things in place already.  We'll start to see where it ends up today I guess.

Tuesday, April 04, 2017

A win!

The Nats win and... that's it!

This is the hardest part of the first few weeks of the year. Unlike Spring Training data, these stats aren't meaningless. It's the best players trying their hardest to win. The question, though, exists every season. What do these stats mean? Are they signs of a trend that is new to this season? Or are they only as meaningful as X number of games pulled from any point in the year?

We all set our timelines for deciding when to pay attention to these stats. For me I wait about 3 weeks.  That feels right to me. I'm sure we'll talk about it before then but hopefully I can stop myself from putting any real importance on them.

So what happened yesterday that I want to talk about? I have a couple things that I noticed.

On the negative side, I don't like Werth striking out three times. While he's not afraid to swing and miss he generally only strikes out 3 or more times a little more than once a month. To start the year with it, against at best a fair strikeout pitcher, bothers me. I'll probably be watching Werth a little more closely the rest of the series.

On the positive side, there was the whole Lind PH home run thing. There's actually two positives here. The first, and obvious one, is that the Nats have a true lefty power option on the bench now. Lind can't do much else but he can hit and he has hit for most of his career. Drew, Lind, Heisey, and Turner make up a great combination of players to have on a bench featuring some D, some speed, some power. All that's lacking is a true contact hitter but I'm not going to fault Rizzo for not having a perfect bench.

The other positive is the flaw in one of the teams they'll face 19 times this year. The Marlins have no lefites in the pen.  I looked it up yesterday and while Lind can hit, Lind can't hit lefties. That isn't surprising. Most lefties have trouble with LHP and Lind wasn't brought in here to hit lefties. But the difference, especially in power, is stark. Only 11 homers in 693 PAs over the course of 7 seasons. He's Roger Bernandina's bat in Adam Dunn's body facing lefties. But the Marlins couldn't counter. Instead they had to leave out a RHP and Lind, as he does, crushed it. The Marlins will eventually correct this and bring in a LHP, but the Nats don't have just one good lefty bat off the bench. They have Bryce and Murphy sitting at the top of the lineup and competent hitters in Weiters at catcher and Drew on the bench.  The Marlins will have trouble matching up with the Nats in late innings all year long. As good as I think their pen may be (and I still think that) this is a serious flaw that almost negates that talent.

On to game 2!

Monday, April 03, 2017

Opening Day 2017 - NL East Predictions


The late news (other than "StepBrothers" """story""") is that Anthony Rendon might miss Opening Day.  He fouled a ball off his leg about a week ago and is nursing a bruised calf.  On one hand - a bruised calf should be something that clears up pretty easily. On the other hand Rendon has infamously terrible legs, having multiple months long injuries from the knees down. He should be back any day now, maybe today, but I'll breathe easier when I see it.

It's time for predictions

The Nats have only one obvious hole, Ryan Zimmerman, and they have enough better than average talent around the diamond to compensate for that. There's a way that the offense doesn't come through. If Werth collapses, Murphy regresses, Bryce doesn't bounce back, Turner sophomore slumps, Wieters gets hurt.... but it's as equally likely a scenario that the offense is unstoppable. If Murphy repeats, Bryce is BRYCE, Turner is near who he was in 2016, Rendon breaks through... Anyway you look at it, the addition of Eaton covers the CF mess from last year, and Turner for Espinosa is an upgrade at the plate. Wieters won't replace Ramos but that's the only obvious downgrade. With the addition of Lind, the bench is as deep as it's ever been which for the Nats is saying they finally have a bench that isn't a weakness. It's hard to put them any worse than their annual landing spot of "best of the rest".

The starting pitching remains strong. Scherzer is arguably the best non-Kershaw SP, while Strasburg and Roark are good enough to be half the leagues #1. Ross is having difficulty staying healthy and Gio is fading but they remain among the best 4/5s in the majors. The depth isn't there, Cole is first up and he's a AAAA arm. Voth might be better but it's telling that they haven't given him a shot. Fedde might be ready by year's end but it's doubtful he's good to go now. SP depth is always tested. so the question is if the Nats can get a little lucky here and either hold off injuries long enough or have the "right" arms get hurt and not too bad. Still they are starting from the point you want to be - near the best.

The relief pitching didn't get the huge upgrade everyone was hoping for. They didn't get that shut 'em down anchor that makes everyone else look better. However, after flirting with doing nothing for most of the off-season, they did add the very good arm of Joe Blanton giving the Nats a bullpen depth they haven't had in a while. The back end of the pen might still be a little rough. Perez is here to serve out his contract. Solis and Gott are question marks. There's a reason Romero was traded. But at least the Nats now have the arms in Treinen, Kelley, Glover and Blanton to survive an injury or bad performance. It's not an ideal pen still, but it's a workable major league pen with potential.

The Nats have two Achilles heels. The first one is a propensity for injury. They rely on a lot of players who have missed a lot of time in the past few years. Bryce, Werth, Rendon, Zimm, Wieters, Murphy have all missed from a month to virtually a season in the past 3 years. Strasburg and Ross have shown no consistency in health. Kelley is a double TJ arm. But they have enough depth in the pen and the line-up this year to cover for this. A SP injury would be more troublesome but we're likely looking at a team that will need multiple long injuries to bring it down. This is certainly possible - again look at the players GP histories - but it has to happen soon enough to derail the year.

The second Achilles heel is the defense. It wasn't great last year and it should be a little to a lot worse in 2017. The middle of the diamond moves from the surprisingly good Ramos, no longer exceptional but at worst very good Espinosa, and solid MAT/Revere combo to a passable Wieters, question mark (though probably ok) Turner, and likely overmatched but holding Eaton. In itself these aren't terrible moves, these guys should all be ok. But the former good defenders covered for the ones that weren't as good. Werth is a statue in LF.  Murphy is not good at 2nd and likely even more limited after his injury. Zimmerman is a clear minus at first, most likely to be replaced by a player even worse. If Rendon is hampered in any way by his injury well you could be looking at a brutal defense. Is it enough to matter? Probably not but don't be surprised if some ERAs float up and you not noticing any big difference in the way the guys on the mound seem to be pitching.

So where do I think the Nats will end up? Well I think overall the competition will be similar. I can't/won't predict major injury trouble so without that you have to admit the pen will be fine, rotation will very good and the offense has potential for greatness. With no real "first order" weakness to speak of, I'll stick with what I had earlier - Nats 94 wins.  I'll also say this gives them the NL East title.

Rest of the division

The Mets remain their main competition. They have a very very good starting staff and very good depth behind it. However, they are already tapping into their depth and we haven't hit Opening Day yet. As the Nats of 2015 can tell you, you don't want to go into the season already hurting. The pen is solid but not lights-out. The offense is no different than the offense was last year. You can twist your head and squint your eyes and see it as good, but it most likely tops out as average. To be anything more they'd have to have either no holes or someone will have to step up to match Cespedes (or better yet - both).  Neither seems likely. What you have then is the 2016 Mets again. That's a team that won 87 games and made the Wild Card. Unless they have everything come up Mets in the rotation they just won't pass a healthy Nats team. 88 wins and WC.

The Braves are my choice to surprise, and possibly challenge for a playoff spot. They weren't as bad as their record indicated last year and they were mostly brought down by glaring weaknesses.  Their SS was terrible.  Their SP was terrible. Glaring weaknesses are easy to fix though and the Braves have done it. Top prospect and ROY candidate Dansby Swanson takes over at short. Competent veterans Jaime Garcia, Bartolo Colon, and R A Dickey fill out the rotation.  These combine to make the Braves multiple wins better. Still nothing is great here, it's mostly barely good, and the bullpen is a little suspect. They probably won't be any closer than the fringes of the WC race. But with a little timing or some luck with development (Swanson a superstar? Peterson and/or Inciarte take a step forward? Surprise early developer from their deep but young minor league SP depth?) they could make it. 83 wins.

Everyone's favorite team to challenge last year is in disarray.  With the tragic loss of Jose Fernandez the rotation has no saving grace. It should challenge for worst in the league.  The question then is whether the bullpen and offense can be so good to make up for it.  The bullpen actually might. While they were floundering Miami actually put together a solid pen. Ramos, Phelps and Barraclough are all legit very good and they added the good Brad Ziegler to that. Whatever games are savable should be saved. Offensively though it's hard to be high on the Marlins. I mean,Tyler Moore. They struggled last year because their MI was a hole and they lacked depth. This year they have the same MI and still lack depth. If Stanton is STANTON I guess they have a chance but again it's gotta be great to overcome the pitching and that's too big a jump for this line-up.  74 wins.

Remember when the Phillies started the 2016 season hot and everyone was like "We don't think they are good but what if..." and then they totally tanked? The Phillies were a mirage last year and that's at 71 wins. The corner OFs are other teams' bench players meaning the rest of the lineup has to step up to keep them competitive. I suppose it's possible, Franco should bounce back and they are all young. However I don't see that 2nd star. I see a lot of potential OK. The bench is terrible. The rotation should be ok and this is where any surprise potential lies for the Phillies. They'll be rolling with two pretty decent vets in Hellickson and Buchholz (I love AL to NL guys) and three arms 25 yo or younger. If they are going to do anything it'll be because this comes together. More likely though is that one of those three are bad and another one of the four gets injured and then there is neither the depth or the star arm to keep them from collapsing. They added a couple of arms to stabilize the pen but the arms they added (Benoit and Neshek) are real old and they won't be compliments but key pieces. If Gomez has another off year this pen could be terrible. I just don't see anything here to be excited about. 63 wins.