Nationals Baseball: Monday Quickie - A different year

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


G Cracka X said...

I like the Nats Pats comparison. Both teams place a premium on contract value and rarely if ever go 'all in'. Consistency is more important to both. That being said, the Pats have tons of postseason success (unlike the Nats), so the Nats could learn a thing or two from the Pats.

While its great to see the Nats sweep the Mets (in New York!), the Nats are due for a correction. Could come as soon as this upcoming series vs. the Rox. Hopefully not. Don't think the Mets are done, they still have plenty of season to make a comeback, including the upcoming weekend series.

Enjoy all the 'gravy' from the Nats winning two more games last weekend than Harper said they needed to win!

Bjd1207 said...

To take a page out of Harper's book, Zimm and Bryce have overshadowed the rest of the office actually underperforming the past 7 days. Murphy, Eaton, Werth (injury), and Wieters all posting wRC+'s under 70. Rendon's been about average (96) with zero pop

But my point in this was that regression to the mean is just as likely (ok maybe not just as, but close) for that group of 4 as it is for Bryce/Zimm. As Harper's post points out, we're not outperforming our roster or getting lucky right now.

mike k said...

Man what a great weekend. The Mets not having Cespedes was huge - it allowed Baker to use Perez and Romero in each game effectively against the middle of the lineup. Those late-game situations where the Mets had runners on base go completely differently with Cespedes in there - even if he went 0-for, Bruce and Granderson probably get to face more righties.

While I agree the Nats have gotten lucky with their talent:record ratio - there's only a four records in the history of baseball better than .722, and they're all pre-1910 - I don't think you can use pythag to show that because of the Guthrie game (I don't know about third order). That game was an anamoly that won't happen again, as Guthrie is now out of the majors. Those runs will dissipate throughout a 162 game season, but right now, their effect on the pythag is higher than they "should" be under the purpose of the equation. The luck probably comes more from schedule. The only tough opponents the Nats have faced - the Cardinals and Mets - those games were during each team's low point of the early season (slump and injuries, respectively).

JE34 said...

Please no... no Patriots. Not here. I understand the intellectual exercise, but that franchise has made me hate football. Of course, my sad, beleaguered Bills had a lot to do with that as well. They even suck at sucking, what with all the middle-of-the-pack draft picks, perennial mediocrity, no playoff win in 22 years, garbage head coaches JH#@O&^TG&@*#^!&*^#&%!%

I'll be ok. Just need a minute.

mike k said...


BxJaycobb said...

Harper: we should notice with open eyes that starting pitching, pen improvement, and BRYCE/Zim have sort of masked the fact that Wieters, Rendon, and Werth have been horrible for about a week and a half. If Rendon is hurt (to be fair he looked like this beginning of last year), wieters is closer to last year than whatever he looked like week 1, and Werth is totally done (something I've been maintaining despite his early luck)....this is a different team. Granted the top 4-5 in lineup can carry them to a good offense regardless. But they won't be a GREAT offense if the bottom half performs like they have the last couple weeks. Granted the rotation and pen really look great overall. I know Mets are banged up, but they did face DeGrom and Harvey. Big time sweep.

Harper said...

JE34 - The big difference between Nats/Pats (and you can throw Dodgers in there too) is that the NFL and MLB playoffs are completely different animals. In the NFL the favored teams win at a better rate and playing one less game makes a huge difference, Not to mention the greater importance of HFA* So while the Nats (and LA) have recently feasted on the middling work of the other teams in their division (and you can't say they haven't 4 yrs w/o a 2nd team going over 90 is something) they doesn't translate to anything really beyond an easy path to the playoffs.

*plus think about the injuries avoided not having to play all out against these teams during the year, the lack of necessity for grabbing FAs or making trades, bc the talent gap is so large, factoring weather issues into HFA...

cass said...

It's probably irrational cause look at the Cubs, but I have this fear that coasting to victory with a great record makes it more likely the Nats will stumble in the postseason. Yes, I know. Irrational.

Mostly, I just care about the team being healthy in October. Getting all those injuries last year going into the postseason was depressing. That the Nats almost won a series without a bunch of their best players was impressive, but I'd rather we just go into the postseason healthy and see what happens.

I wish there were only two playoff rounds and four playoff teams total and that regular season baseball were more emphasized. But this is the system we have and the basic fact is no one cares about the regular season record. It's basically the preseason play-in round and the real season is October.

This won't change. Baseball will never go back to 1 playoff team out of every 7 or 8 teams. So this is the system we're stuck with. I don't know why we waste 162 games on a play-in round while the LDS series are at 5 games a piece, but that's where we're at due to historical accident.

Harper said...

Harper - oh 3 years for the Nats - the Braves were good at the start of this run. But also note the division never had 3 teams above .500 during this time frame (neither did the NL West by the way). It's not me making things up. Hell the 2013 team, arguably worst of the window went 37-20 vs PHI,MIA,NYM that year. Looking back one could easily argue this team making the playoffs 3 times in 5 years was underperforming... but I won't make it.

Fries said...

as mike k said, Nats are definitely overperforming their pythag after the Guthrie blow up. Probably by only 1 game, but luck has definitely been on their side so far.

Werth is toast, that's obvious. Last year of his contract so this was to be expected, so why don't the Nats have another LF ready to go...?

I'm not worried about Weiters in the 8-hole. As long as he's patient he'll be fine.

Rendon, though, I'm slightly worried about. He's just not seeing the ball well at all. Constantly hitting the ball straight up or straight down, getting weak contact on the pitches he actually squares up, etc. Hopefully he gets out of this funk

Zimmerman11 said...

The sweep was kinda huge. Hopefully win at home this weekend series... 3-0 to start the year against the Mets, and up five and a half games. If you say the Nats and Mets play "everyone else" to the same record... then the Mets would have to go 12-4 in the remaining H2H contests to make up that difference. Assuming this line of reasoning spurred on Harper's schmaltzy post today about a dream like, runaway season. But we're coming to the end of a win streak, here... and Mets PROBABLY coming to the end of a losing streak, so projections are bound to be overly optimistic.

But, firstly... gotta go get a split in COL, then win at home this weekend... I'll take 4-3 this week... that might even be good enough to increase the lead by one. Let's go Nats!

Anonymous said...

Harper - idea for a post: how much of Zimmerman's early season performance is real? You touched on this a bit a few posts ago, but I'd like to see a longer take. Has he had a streak this hot go on for this long in the post 2012 era? How does exit velocity/launch angle from 2017 compare to 2016? Are we getting to the point where it makes sense to have Zim hit between Harper and Murphy permanently (as Dusty has been doing recently)? I know Zim will come back to earth as the season goes on, but I'd really like Zim's 2017 earth to be closer to 2009 than 2015.

Froggy said...

With Strasburg on the paternity list this week, the question I have is why Jacob Turner vs AJ Cole? Not that I'm a Cole fan necessarily, just wondering if he is another Guthrie or a legitimate potential 5th starter prospect or a long innings BP guy.

Fries said...


Based on what I've seen in my cursory glance at his stats, I think it's a combination of the fact that he's already pitched a decent amount in the majors compared to Cole and that they're looking at him as a long innings guy with his ability to get ground balls at a decent clip. Realistically Turner just needs to go deep into the game and keep the Rox within striking distance (say 6 innings, 6 runs). What the Nats need out of him tonight is what Guthrie was supposed to do. Keep it close enough so that the offense might pull out a win without burning through the bullpen. Because it's 4 games in colorado with no scherzer/stras, so the bullpen is gonna get it's work in.

Anonymous said...

I fear Guthrie is a BP--Batting Practice--guy.

Anonymous said...

. . . and so is Turner.

Bjd1207 said...

@Froggy - He def could be another Guthrie start. Has bounced around the majors unsuccessfully his entire career but is currently our best starter in Syracuse. So roll the dice I guess?

Josh Higham said...

I don't keep track of who's turn it is in the AAA rotation, but I'd be willing to bet that starting Turner today gives the AAA guys closer to normal rest through the rotation. If Cole and Turner are both expected to be bad but not horrible in a callup start, might as well pick the one who's on 4 days rest.

Froggy said...

~ BJ and Fries, yeah I hope he is not a Coors Field is the less than ideal place to experiment.

Josh Higham said...

Cole started yesterday, as it turns out. Turner pitched 1.2 innings in a rain-shortened appearance on Thursday last week. Chiefs are off today. Either realistically could have taken the spot today based on their own rest. But if the big league club really wanted Cole, the Chiefs probably wouldn't have pitched Turner on two days rest and would have had to piece something together. I guess 3 days they're fine with since his last outing was so short.

Voth started the 21st, so definitely not available.

Oh yeah, Cole also has to serve 3 days of his suspension, if I'm not mistaken. Wouldn't be eligible anyway.

mike k said...

Y'all are talking about Turner not beiing another Guthrie start in general, right? Because if he also gives up 10 earned runs in .2 innings, I won't even be mad - I'll be impressed.

Jay said...

The Post said the Nats didn't want any of their young pitchers to make their first start in Colorado. Plus, I don't think it's a bad thing to have Strasburg miss a start in Colorado after last year. I'm sorry to say it, but I have a real hard time taking Colorado seriously since the park is such a launching pad. Bud Black is going to want to stick to Washington bc of that whole 1 year contract offer stuff. I really wish the Nats had signed Holland. I've read a couple of places that the Nats are still looking for a closer. I vote sign Wieters to an extension and trade Severino. That's it for me. I'll be thrilled with a split. That makes an 8-2 road trip. It's fun when they are winning.

Anonymous said...

Bryce and Stephen Souza Jr. named MLB Players of the Week, with Souza--on MLB TV-- expressing heartfelt gratitude to the Nationals organization for his development. (It's his birthday today, too.)

Sometimes we forget that the Nats' organization is pretty good at its job.

Froggy said...

The Catch by Souza will always be one of my all-time favorite in person baseball memories.

Ole PBN said...

"Control" when referring to a pitcher is not only about walks or his K:BB ratio. Its about hitting spots and missing spots... something that Romero and Treinen are experts at (missing spots). Blakes sinker starts on the corners and ends up right down the middle. He hasn't been about to throw that pitch outside the zone and make it break back on the corners. Until he can do that, I don't want to see him on the hill. 6 hits in a 1/3 of an inning? Get otta here.

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