Nationals Baseball: September 2017

Friday, September 29, 2017

Post-season Roster

OK let's start with the obvious ones

Wieters, Zimmerman, Murphy, Turner, Rendon, Werth, MAT, Bryce

Scherzer, Strasburg, Gio, Roark

Kintzler, Doolittle, Madson

You gotta have your starters (yes that includes Werth right this second), your starting pitchers, and the back of your bullpen.  That is 15.

You have to have back-ups though.

Catcher - Lobaton. He's started twice recently compared to Severino's once and Severino has done nothing to earn a spot.
Infield - Lind, Difo, Outfield - Kendrick . These are obvious choices based on performances and how often they've played recently.
Relief - Matt Albers - best of the original pen arms and continues to pitch strong

That's 20.  So we have 5 spots left.  Is there anything that can inform us about which way these last 5 get distributed? Sure there is. There's last years 25 man. After the "Key 15" it broke down like this.

1 Back-Up C (Severino - Ramos was out remember)
3 IF Back-Ups (Drew, Difo, Robinson)
2 OF Back-Ups (Heisey and MAT - Turner was in the OF, Espy was at short)

1 long reliever (sort-of) Lopez
3 lefty relievers (R-Zep, Perez, Solis) - this assumes the back of pen was defined as Kelley, Treinen and Melancon.

There's no good reason to assume the Nats will take MORE pitchers. There are actually two off days in the NLDS (have been since 2013) and that lets guys get rest more easily. So we need two more bats and 3 more arms.

Here are the stats for the potential players over last two weeks

Robles : 16 PA  .214 / .267 / .357
de Aza : 15 PA  .231 / .286 / .538
Sanchez :  9 PA .000 / .000 / .000
Bautista : 6 PA .000 / .167 / .000
Stevenson : 5 PA .000 / .200 / .000

If you look at the last week to see if you can see any late movement you see Robles (11) and de Aza (10) with the most PA then Stevenson (5) and Sanchez (5) with Bautista basically done (1 PA)

It's pretty obvious from here the Robles and de Aza are the ones that make it.

BUT WAIT! Some complications. Season long bench players Drew and Goodwin are trying to make it back in time.  Drew is not going to be ready so that takes him out but Goodwin is in the instructional league getting as many at-bats as he can get. Do you bring in Goodwin?

Let's understand first that the question is Goodwin or Robles. de Aza is pretty solidly the 5th OF right now. He's an experienced vet who's doing the best (in comparison) and getting the most playing time. He's a lefty bat which is more complimentary to the bench set up so far (Difo is a switch hitter but favors batting right by a good margin. Lobaton is better from the left side historically but as the back-up catcher and as the terrible hitter he is - he's the last man pinch-hitting) He's also splitting time equally between RF and LF as you'd want someone to do who could come in to cover any position in an emergency.

So the question is - is Brian Goodwin good enough that you risk him not being up to major league level and just stick him on the bench? Or do you go with Robles? Personally I go with Robles. For the things you will want that last player to do - basically pinch run - you want Robles to be that guy. He's super fast. Do the Nats go with Robles? Without knowing how Goodwin is doing in Florida it's hard to say. All I know is that they wouldn't be going through this trouble if they didn't think Goodwin was better than Robles*. I'll go ahead and guess Goodwin makes it then, though I'm hoping it's Robles.

For the three relief arms, you can look at the last two weeks as well

Perez : 4g, 2 IP 0.5 WHIP
Solis : 4g, 3.2 IP 0.818 WHIP
Blanton : 3g, 3IP, 1 WHIP
Romero : 3g, 3 IP, 1.3333 WHIP
Grace : 2g, 2 IP, 0.000 WHIP

and then there's

Cole : 2g, 10.2 IP, 1.594 WHIP
Jackson : 2g, 10.2 IP, 1.500 WHIP

The last week show Solis in 3 games, Blanton and Romero in 2, and both Cole and Jackson having much better outings.

This is a tough call which in part is why I think you see different sites starting from 8 and 9 man bullpen spots.  I just don't see that happening. If they didn't do it last year, what is the impetus to do it this year? You hope guys like Max and Stras give you at least 6. You hope K, M, D shut down the 7th, 8th and 9th. So you are going to carry around 5 more arms and cost your self a bat for what exactly? Nah I see another 7 man pen so let's roll up our sleeves and guess at it.

I'm going to say... man I keep wavering here... ok I think Solis is in. He's a lefty, which they need, he gets out lefties, which is the point, and he's been pushed over an inning here and there which makes him a potential long man - really only like a 2-3 inning one but it's there if you need it.

So the pen needs two more arms. Ideally a left and a righty. On the left side, Grace feels edged out, leaving Perez and Romero. I think Dusty likes Romero more - as a guy you can just stick in and use. However, like I said with Solis, I think the point of the lefty is to get lefties out and Romero just doesn't do that. With Rizzo and Schwarber (and solid bench bats Jay and La Stella) sitting out there I think Perez wins out.

That leaves the righty arm. Kelley is dead. So it's Cole or Jackson, if you want a real long reliever, or Blanton, if you don't. I'm going to guess, because of his regular use and not crashing and burning, that Blanton makes it. Jackson was the leader in the clubhouse coming out of August but his September was just too bad to ignore and he's never been used as a reliever by the Nats, which is almost certainly the role he'd have in the playoffs. Cole has been used as a reliever but hasn't in the past few weeks, making me think they took a look at him in that spot and decided against it.

So there you go

14 bats
Wieters, Lobaton (2)
Zimmerman, Murphy, Turner, Rendon, Lind, Difo (6)
Bryce, Taylor, Werth, Kendrick, de Aza, Goodwin** (6)

11 arms
Scherzer, Strasburg, Gonzlaez, Roark (4) 
Doolittle, Kintzler, Madson, Albers, Solis, Perez, Blanton (7)

*Better today obviously.  Ideally I think they'd want Goodwin and Robles with de Aza the odd man out. But you can't do that if Goodwin hasn't played a game in the majors yet, imo. You need at least a little security that your guy is major league ready. 

**though I'd prefer Robles

Thursday, September 28, 2017

Who's your G4 starter.

Werth Watch : 1-4 with double, a long out, a walk and 2K. This is fine. Not the dog in the burning building "fine" but actually fine. The "Not asking for much" tour continues in Pittsburgh.

Bryce Watch : 1-4 with a K, SB and 2 GDP.  Carry on.

Robles Watch : DNP, Coach's Decision

I guess the important news from yesterday was that Tanner Roark, in his last start of the season, looked bad. He couldn't find the strike zone (5 walks) and was very hittable giving up two doubles and a triple in his 7 hits in less than 5 innings.

So closes a disappointing 2017 for Tanner, one of the few (the only?) outright disappointments for the Nats that didn't involve injury or the pen. Roark finished the year with with an ERA of 4.59 and he kind of deserved it. He wasn't particularly hard to hit, his control wasn't great, and he gave up a few too many homers. Roark made himself into the #4 starter this season as much as Gio has won the #3 role. If you want to look on the bright side, he was a much better pitcher in the 2nd half (1.450 WHIP to 1.155 WHIP) and if you look at the splits what you generally see is a pretty good pitcher who went off the rails a bit in June.

It's an interesting season in how it matters for the Nats future. There aren't any strong contenders currently in the Nats organization to fill in Roark / Gio 's role let alone help cover for a 33 yo Max and an injury prone Strasburg. Erick Fedde is the closest thing and he's yet to show he can really put it together. Ross was a shifting target even before major injury. That means next year, like last year, it's up to Max, Stras, Gio, and Roark again. There's ways that works out very well, but as we keep moving forward in time we have to admit there are ways that doesn't work out at all. You still would bet on that rotation more than 25+ rotations in the big leagues but that doesn't mean you can't see the potential concerns.

Being specific to 2017. Would you take a chance on Roark in the playoffs? It depends. If the Nats are down 1 game to 2 going into the 4th game, you might not. Going with Max on short rest may seem more prudent in that instance. Last year the situation wasn't the same, the Nats were up 2-1, and that muted any debate. Yes, a few people didn't want to put out the shaky Ross and instead wanted to try to finish the Dodgers with Max. But most fans were perfectly happy taking on a tired Kershaw with Ross and saving a rested Max for Game 5. Rested Max = win in most circumstances right? 

In Dusty's career He's been in 4 other NLDSs that have gone at least 4 games.

In 2000, down 1-2 Dusty chose to go with Mark Gardner instead of going back to his ace Livan who shut down the Mets in G1. It probably wouldn't have mattered - Bobby Jones 1-hit the Giants, but Gardner was not good and they lost.

 In 2002, down 1-2 Dusty again went with his #4 starter, rather than his #1 who won game 1. The situation was different as the #1 Russ Ortiz, didn't dominate, and the #4 Livan was a savvy veteran, but Livan wasn't having a good year and see above. In the end the Giants won as Livan did perfectly fine (3 runs in 8 innings) and the Giants had a 4 run lead on Tom Glavine before the 2nd inning was done. Russ Ortiz and a series of relievers would hold off the Braves in G5.

In 2003, up 2-1 Dusty stuck with his #4, Matt Clement. Clement wasn't a bad pitcher but the Cubs had Wood, Prior and Zambrano at their best. A short-rest Wood must have been at least a little tempting, when you could in theory follow him with short-rest Prior and throw day Zambrano. Dusty didn't bite. Clement was bad, but Wood followed up with the 8-inning fairly dominant performance that Max 13 years later could not.

In 2012, The Reds were up 2-1. They had been up 2-0 and people were starting to look askew at Dusty the playoff manager. He got swept out of the playoffs a couple years back and the lasting memory of the Cubs faltering in 2003 still lingered. Johnny Cueto, the #1 guy, came out after the 2nd batter in G1 because of injury and wouldn't pitch again in the series. Mat Latos, who had a good year and was the planned G3 starter, came in and threw a light 57 pitches in relief. But rather than push him in G4, Dusty went with Mike Leake who had been brought up to replace the injured Cueto. Leake, a middling starter was knocked around in a loss. In G5 a rested Mat Latos pitched poorly and the Reds were out.

The takeaway. I think we're going to see Roark regardless of the situation.Well unless the Nats sweep the Cubs out of the playoffs.

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

10 days!

Werth Watch : 0-3 with a walk and  2 K.  So he did follow it with an 0-fer. Great. He's struck out 11 times in the last 5 games which is not how Werth hits. I don't think he's actually having issues. He was normal Werth about strikeouts up until this stretch. I think he's pressing and trying to get those hits and force his way out of this slump. It's not happening. This is going to get awkward.

Bryce Watch : 0-2 with a walk and a strikeout. Hit some balls hard, just not fair. Seemed fine to me.

Robles Watch : 0-1 with a K, came in the game for Bryce who they are working back slowly.

I didn't re-visit it but going into last Thursday the Nats had a real shot at that 100 wins.  They had gone 3-2 since I noted that if they went 4-2 I'd start paying attention. They had a game against Atlanta, then the Mets, Phillies, and Pirates. 8-3 would be tough, but win the last ATL game and make it 7-3? You start seeing a path forward pretty easily.

Of course the Nats didn't win that game, or the next one, and with the loss last night the Nats have to go 5-0 to end the year to finish with 100 wins. Certainly possibly but no leeway remains. What's more is that they'll have to go at least 4-1 to take the best record away from the 2012 Nats. I kind of want them too because this is a better team, in my opinion.

100 wins is hard. You can't really afford more than a month of off a .600 win pace. In 2012 team had the best shot. They had started super hot 14-4, and kept playing pretty well that when they took off a little after the All-Star break they were set up well. Of course when I say "took off" I mean TOOK OFF going a a run of 24-7. They nearly lost it losing 5 in a row but immediately came back with another great run 12-3.  That's 36-15 or a 114 win pace for almost 2 months. At 89-54 they only had to go 11-8 to get to 100.  But the team stumbled to a 9-10 finish and came up just short.

2014 was never that close. They sat at 63-53, an 88 win pace, in early August. They needed to sprint and go 33-13, including a 12-3 finish, just to be close.

After another fast start of 14-4, 2016 was never that type of season where 100 seemed possible. The team floated along with a short stretch of good play, followed by a short stretch of bad play. Very even keel three steps forward, two steps back, two steps forward, one step back, 5 steps foward, 4 steps back kind of thing, all the way to the end of the year. That meant there was never a time where a mediocre run would get to 100. It always was a good, long, stretch of great baseball away.

Another thing to note here is the Nats have seen these division winning seasons end three ways. A great team having a middling finish, an OK team crushing it through the tape, a very good team keeping up the same pace until the end. Three different experiences. Three NLDS losses. How you finish doesn't matter. It may not matter regardless but it certainly won't matter once you set up nearly a week between the end of the season and the playoffs. There is no momentum good or bad after a week off.

What is 2017? Sort of like last year writ large. The strong stretches are long, that's why 100 was out there. A great April into the very beginning of June. A month of mediocre play. A great July into early September.  The finish is still up in the air. 8-8 over their last 16 games but 6-3 over last nine. Is that showing us a strong finish or just a blip before another .500 type ending? We'll find out and then we'll move onto the playoffs knowing that whatever happened it probably has no carryover into the next series.

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Werth Watch

Werth Watch : 1-4 with 2 K.  Good enough - if he can not follow it with an 0-fer

Bryce Watch : DNP. "Flu-like symptons".  We'll see if he plays tonight.

Robles Watch : DNS, 1-1 as a pinch hitter

Ryan Zimmerman Wa.... wait? what?

I heard the idea of sitting Werth than platooning Kendrick and Lind but why not look at a more natural place for Lind? Here are Zimm's splits in the July-now versus various handed pitchers

LHP: .324 5 2B 4 HR, 9 BBs, and 15K in 79 PAs  (.324 / .392 / .574, 11.4 BB%, 19.0 K%)
RHP: .229 4 2B, 11 HR, 15 BBs and 51K in 183 PAs  (.229 / .301 / .452, 8.2 BB%, 27.9 K%)

This kind of split isn't new. Ryan had a massive split in 2015 (.672  OPS vs 1.058 OPS) and as would be expected has hit lefties better than righties for most of his career. He's not a useless hitter at all vs RHP because his power remains, but he's definitely favoring one side now. But this isn't just Zimm in a vacuum. How about Adam Lind (and we're just going to look at RHP because who's starting Lind vs LHP)?

RHP : .290 6 2B, 8 HR, 13 BBs and 24 Ks in 153 PAs (.290 / .346 / .507, 8.5 BB%, 15.7 K%)

It's better, clearly, but not that much better. Strip out the names, and yeah you start Lind, but you can't just strip out the names, can you? 

Now are we being fair here, Zimm might have just had a crazy bad month in the last half, or Lind a crazy good one. Why not take the whole year?  That is one option though I worry about doing that for Zimm, who was the best player in baseball in April and hasn't come close to repeating that for any other month. In this year, and in his career that seems like an outlier. But you don't want to just take out the best month, so what I'll do is pull the best and worst months for Lind and Zimm vs RHP (by OPS) and see what we come up with in the rest of the time.

LIND : .329 / .377 / .580
ZIMM : .279 / .339 / .490

That feels right, don't you think? Lind is a righty masher - that can't be denied. Zimm, he's had some good months vs the righties and is capable of hitting them. This may be a little high average wise, but just a little.

How is Howie doing - I'll just pull out his RHP for the year, I'm tired. .313 / .361 / .447 and a 3 -year history at least of having no issues hitting RHP. Plus Howie gives you defense that the other two don't so why would you sit him? You wouldn't.

And this is where optimization to the Nth degree gets you - a lineup with Lind platooning with Zmm and Kendrick replacing Werth. Is that what you want? Of course this isn't happening and it shouldn't happen. We could have made this argument in several other places as well. Difo hits LHP better than Murphy are we sitting Murphy? In fact Turner is the one with the most problems vs LHP why not sit him for Difo? Bryce hasn't hit LHP as well as Kendrick, if Jayson gets hot why not an all RHB OF Kendrick-MAT-Werth for Kershaw? 

I guess the point I'm trying to make is that while it's fun to look at splits and figure out who'd be best, these splits were made under particular circumstances and expecting them to exactly follow through in the limited time in the playoffs is a bad assumption. There may be other things at work than just raw talent versus a particular handed pitcher effecting a team when it rolls out to try to win a Division Series.

The same thing holds true for slumps and hot streaks.You can't simply rely on them to tell you how it's going to be in the playoffs, especially given the week off in between. The information has to overwhelmingly favor one-side to go against what you knew before. In Werth's case, it IS close to overwhelming, that's why a discussion is being had. But that means it won't take much from Werth to make it not so overwhelming and in that case he starts.

Monday, September 25, 2017

Monday Quickie - Bryce is back?

Seems like it.

I think we are all thinking the same things. Hope he's not pushing himself too hard. Hope he doesn't re-injure himself. Hope he can find his swing in a week.

Honestly I don't even really care if he doesn't find his swing. You can't learn much in a week and there is a good week off between the Nats' last game and the first game of the playoffs. If you think he looks fine, despite the results on the field, you play him. End of story.

What does this do for the roster? We'll get to that at the end of the week just because if I can wait it out maybe injuries can make it obvious. I'm pretty sure they'll go with 7 relief pitchers again which is fine. The NLDS schedule is set-up in a 2-2-1 format which means there are never three days of games in a row (barring rainout). That means it's actually more of an issue keeping guys fresh, especially after the long lay off, than it is overworking guys. Your only issue with over working arms is the aforementioned rain out or a long extra inning game.

The question now for the team, other than "watch Bryce" and which marginal player plays in the NLDS, is the Werth question. I've said from the beginning Werth will play unless he does something crazy like hit under .100 after he comes back.

Werth's splits since coming back :
.129 / .191 / .226

and that's including that first game back where he hit that homer. If I say take just September...
.100 / .179 / .140

There's nothing useful there. And given he's at best a small liability in the field, what do you do? His play is forcing an issue where no one wants one.  Dusty doesn't want to sit Werth. The team doesn't want to sit Werth. I don't want to sit Werth. That can very easily become a distracting talking point* going into the NLDS and no one wants that.

But what do you do? This isn't a key starter slumping going into the playoffs. This is an aging useful bat coming back from injury who seemingly can't hit right now. If it weren't Jayson Werth, who is what amounts to the team leader, this discussion wouldn't be happening.

So start hitting Werth! Just hit like .200 over the next week with another homer. That's it. There's the bar, we've set it down near the ground, just step over it so this isn't a "thing" come October.

*It doesn't have to be - Werth could graciously accept a bench role if he can't hit but my guess is at best we'll get an "It is what it is. He's the manager and he makes the decisions" type of response.

Friday, September 22, 2017

Baseball is not cooperating

Part of the deal with this whole WC business was the idea that more divisions and more playoff spots would create more contenders and more interesting games as the season wound down. 2017 is working hard to be the exception to the presumed rule.

Multiple division races were done early. The Astros have had complete control of the AL West since Memorial Day. The Nats have held a two-series lead since the very start of May and have had a 10 game lead since the All-Star break. The Dodgers streak put away the NL West at about the same time in July. The Indians gained the upper hand in early August and drove the stake through the Central around Labor Day. That's four races over just when you are checking in to see what's exciting.

The other two are theoretically better but haven't managed to get over the hump. The Yankees took 3 of 4 from the Red Sox right before Labor Day weekend cutting the division lead to 3.5 games and have gone 12-4 since then. But the same teams the Yankees are wiping the floor with the Red Sox are too, going 11-4. With no head to head series after that last one (great scheduling - when has NYY/BOS ever been important late in the year?) there's nothing to do but passively scoreboard watch and be disappointed. Basically we're watching the 2nd best team in baseball over the past 2 1/2 weeks try to catch the 3rd best team*. Great baseball. Bad drama.

The NL Central was setting itself up for a slam bang finish. After finally getting the lead and then some breathing room (up 5 on 9/7) the Cubs promptly got swept by the Brewers. Up just 2 on the Cardinals and Brewers with a STL/MIL series, a MIL/CHC series and TWO STL/CHC series to go there seemed no way this could not finish strong. I mean what was going to happen? The Cubs were going to blast off and win all the H2H games?

Cubs 8-1, 4-0 in H2H games so far.

The Cardinals and Brewers haven't played badly otherwise but who cares if they didn't play well when it mattered. We're a Cubs win today away from basically the Central being over.

Well then the WCs right! The WCs will save us... I suppose. The first spots are occupied by good teams that have been mostly safe for a while. Both the D-Backs and Yankees got off the strong starts, faltered a little bit but turned it back on. In the NL the D-Backs have been in control of the #1 spot since Labor Day. In the AL the Yankees had a minor scare but ended the conversation with a sweep of the current #2 seed Twins this week. That's the story of almost all these races up here so far. The challengers are lined up just to get knocked down.

So we're down to the red-headed stepchild of playoff spots, the 2nd WC.  The NL spot will probably be decided with 88 wins if we're lucky, the choices being the free-fall Rockies or a Brewers/Cardinals fight between two teams unable to win big games this month. The AL is even worse, where 84 wins should take it in a true race to the bottom. Check out the September records of the teams in question.

TEX 10-9
KC 10-10
MIN 9-11
SEA 8-11
LAA 7-11
TB 7-11
BAL 6-14

I suppose if you wanted you could work yourself into something resembling interest for two of these teams battling H2H this weekend, you know as long as it wasn't the worst two teams playing eachother. Guess what the only H2H match-up is this weekend! That's right TB vs BAL!  In fact thanks to an incredible quirk in the schedule here are the H2H match-up between these teams from 9/10 and now :


Hope you were a fan of the Rangers! Who as a reminder started at the end of August on the very fringes of the WC race. Watch them slowly catch up to the stumbling pack by not tripping over their own feet! And from now to season's end?


The two of the worst playing teams this month, one who's out of it play a couple series against each other. So the hope is what? Seattle catches fire while KC, TEX, and MIN crash to set-up a winner take all Angel Mariner clash? That's our hope? Ugh. I'll have the clam juice.

It's not that the idea isn't strong. More teams - more playoff spots - more interest should work. But it doesn't always have to and this season is proving that exception in spades. 

*The Indians dummy!

Thursday, September 21, 2017

Boz is excited

And he should be! While his premise is flawed from the start (we can't see the Nats at their best because Eaton isn't coming back) He's right that everything is lining up just as you'd hope to end the year. With every positive Bryce update we hear, it becomes more possible that everyone that can be here, will be here. Whether they hit like they could (I'm looking at you Jailbird) is up in the air, but that's up in the air for any short series. The Nats will be the best Nats they could be since they broke out to a 16-6 record in April

He seems amazed that this has happened with all the "adversity", pointing to things like one starter going out for the year and one struggling as another log on the fire as opposed to something that happens to 30 out of 32 teams a year.  He does have something here but it's not with the pitching.

How could the Nats pitching be this good with a pen that bad, Ross injured, and Roark struggling? Well the pen was fixed with three acquisitions. The rotation was always top heavy and Max and Stras have both had another great and (relatively) healthy year. The struggles of Roark have been matched by the performance of Gio which is just the good and bad balancing out. All in all this all makes perfect sense. A great rotation was great. A bad pen was fixed. Nothing crazy happened here.

The line-up though. That does require something else. Assuming around 150+ games played MAT will miss 30+ games, Bryce 40+, Trea 60+, Werth 80+, Eaton 120+.  You could see that team holding on, but they didn't just hold on. They could lead the NL in scoring.  How? Well in this case almost everything came up Milhous.

  • Ryan Zimmerman was reborn - Super hot beginning of the year, followed by a reasonable best-case for the remainder. 
  • Anthony Rendon was reborn  - looked like a superstar in the making in 2014 but injuries clouded that since. Injury free this year and finally lived up to that promise
  • When healthy Bryce hit like BRYCE - Bryce has had an up and down career. It's just that the downs are "above average" and the ups are "OMG" This has been an up year.
  • MAT had a good year - I hesitate to say breakout because the guy is barely above average but he was well below average previously and was kind of on his last legs as a "maybe this year" guy
  • Adam Lind had a better year than expected - He hits righties well and has trouble with lefties but this year he mashed righties and didn't have as much issues with at least getting hits vs LHP in his rare ABs vs them. 
  • So did Brian Goodwin - hit better in majors in 2017 than he did in any minor league since the AFL in 2012, including AAA this year.
  • So did Howie Kendrick - sure he was hitting well in Philly but it was 40 games. He's putting up his best numbers since 2014. 
  • So did Wilmer Difo - forced into a starting role Difo hit .333 / .382 / .467 for 2 months.* Outisde a brief 19 game second stint in A+ ball in 2015 that's better than he's hit in any minor league stint ever.
  • Adam Eaton was as good as advertised - for a month but still that's like a sixth of the year.
That's a lot coming up right for the Nats that didn't have to. What came up wrong outside of injury?
  • Matt Wieters has been awful - Its the worst year of his career at the plate by far. You could have expected a below average year but this is beyond that.
  • Jose Lobaton has been unusable - To be fair this skirts expectations as he was unusable in 2014 and 2015 too but he's especially so this year. 
  • Chris Heisey came up empty? - He's usually good for a couple homers and doubles, but he had nothing this year.
That's about it. Werth?  Nah the guy was below average in 2015 and 2016. He's hitting around what can be expected for a 38 year old. I mean for half a month before the toe injury he was hitting .148 Turner? Really? I don't think you can really have strong expectations from a guy that played half a season last year. He's above average. That's not crazy by any means.

The Nats have had poor injury luck to be sure, but in terms of performance the Nats have had way more things go their way than not. That's how they got to be so good despite injuries. Does it continue beyond 2017? Who knows. But also - who cares right now? Just keep it going for this year because a team catching the breaks is a team that wins in the playoffs.

*how about when not in a starting role? You sure you want to know? Sure? OK it's like .188 / .230 / .240.  Told you you didn't want to know. That's why he's well below average overall.

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Wednesday Update - Manager Stuff

Max threw 112 pitches last night. That was fewer than last time so... what was the point really? I'm happy that Max looks fine and that they didn't go for say 120 pitches but that would have made sense. Now the 116 doesn't look like an intentional stretch out but a mistake by Dusty that Max was willing to cover for. I don't know. Since Max's arm didn't fall off yesterday, let's just forget it and move on.

Speaking of Dusty though - there is that whole "no extension" thing hanging over the team. The question is - why hasn't it been done? The given answer is "that's just the way we do things here" suggesting that they don't look at contracts until they have to. Of course they have extended contracts mid-season several times, including signing Strtasburg's deal and extending Rizzo, so that argument doesn't feel right.

More likely is the Lerners have a certain belief on what a manager should be paid and how he should be paid. They like to offer contracts on the low-end of what managers should be paid and for very minimal time frames, single year if they can get it. They also don't really care what these guys want and are completely willing to show them little to no respect.

This isn't opinion here. Let's look at length first. Frank was on one-year deals in 2005 and 2006. Acta signed a two-year deal with two club options after that. Riggleman had what was essentially a one-year deals in 2010 and 2011*. Davey was on one-year deals. Matt Williams signed the same deal as Manny Acta. After picking up Williams' option for 2016 prior to 2015 and seeing that blow up in their face, Dusty was offered a two-year deal with no options.

As for the money that's harder to wrangle because the Nationals don't make that public**. If it gets public you know that comes from the manager. (Which is why we know what Dusty is making BTW. He wants you to know). Cot's contracts over at B Pro helps us out consolidating what we do know.

Frank - ?
Manny 500K in 2007
Jim - 600K per
Davey - ?
Matt  - 1 million in 2015
Dusty - 2 million per

A good guess puts the median manager salary a little under 1 million in 2005, closer to 1.5 million in 2010 and up over 2 million in 2015. Manny and Jim were certainly making near the bottom of manager pay. Matt Williams was probably about on par for a new hire with no experience. Dusty is close to average, but well underpaid for a manager his his experience and track record.

Respect? Well Frank Robinson is a HoF player and a groundbreaking manager. He was willing to manage the Nats for a few years while they figured out ownership but wanted a front-office or consulting job at the end. The Lerners, named owners mid 2006, didn't give him one. We all know about Riggleman, who basically just wanted to talk to the front office about his extension but got a "shut up and do your job" as a response. Davey Johnson, a legitimate HoF candidate as a manager, was given what seems like a take it or leave it deal for one more year then a force out despite not wanting to be done managing at the time. Dusty is twisting in the win after consecutive 90+ win division titles.  You can say you respect someone, and the Nationals are really good at that, but that's just words.

Managers are simply employees to the Lerners. Employees for a position where supply far outstrips demand. Dusty, who has perhaps mellowed in his old age or maybe has an understanding of his lack of leverage, has toned down the constant media war that you might have seen in San Francisco or Chicago to a mere quiet grumbling. He wants to be here. He'd like more money. He has made it known. The Nats have basically given him a more polite version of the Riggleman response.

What will happen when they year ends? I think it depends on how the Nats do. I think he'll be offered a contract regardless. The team likes him and it's playing well. But I think the contract offered will differ slightly. Another NLDS loss and I think it's a one-year deal at scantly more than he's getting now. A WS win might garner a two-year deal with a club option at a value scraping the bottom of the higher paid managers (3-4 million a year).  Does Dusty take it?  He was making about that much in 2008 when hired by the Reds. When he left the Giants under a contract signed in 2000 he was making 2.5 million*** Again, even at neaer 4 million it is an insulting number for a man with his level of experience and success. But I think he does take it. Dusty isn't going anywhere after this job except his winery. This is his last chance. If he wants to manage, and he likely does because he knows he needs a title to easily make the HoF, he has no choice.

*Technically Jim had signed a 2 year deal at 600K per. However he could be bought out for 100K after the first year, meaning effectively the Nats had him on a one-year deal for 700K if they wanted it. 

** That't not limited to the Nats. A lot of teams don't disclose manager pay. 

*** Again - you always know what Dusty is being paid.

Monday, September 18, 2017

Monday Quickie - Another look around

The Nats didn't need to win last night. After losing the first two, any thoughts of taking HFA throughout the playoffs, or through the NL side at least were pretty much dashed and the Nats were all but officially set in the #2 spot. However, the Nats still wanted to show they could beat the Dodgers, something they failed to do in the first two games with reasonable line-ups. The difference Sunday was they didn't trot out Edwin Jackson or AJ Cole. They brought Strasburg to the mound. If they failed to beat LA this time, that would resonate.

But they did! AND Bryce took BP before the game!

Now some bad news as Bryce is aiming not toward coming back in the regular season but for the first game of the NLDS. That's an extra 5 days of recovery for him and it seems like he is conceding he will probably need that.  The Nats are still good without Bryce, but it can't be denied that the offense is less potent without a healthy Bryce. Let's hope for nothing but good news and Bryce taking the field for that final regular season series.

Taking a look around the league, what could have been a weekend that set up a furious finish instead solidified what we already knew. Along with LA putting distance between them and the Nats, the Cubs swept the Cardinals effectively closing them out. Milwaukee failed to make up ground on Colorado. The Yankees failed to make-up ground on Boston. Only the Angels made up a game on the Twins while the Royals, Rangers, Orioles, and Rays all spun their wheels and the Mariners lost a game.

Where we stand now in terms of interesting games -

The Brewers still haven't been knocked out of the NL Central though at 4 games out it's close to dire.  The saving grace is a four game set with the Cubs starting Thursday.  If they can do what the Cardinals could not, and not immediately make the series moot, then it could be a fun finish with the Cardinals given chance to spoil the Cubs season at the end (or spoil the Brewers' one) 

The Brewers are also 2.5 out from the Rockies whose difficult schedule has gotten significantly easier with SFG, SD, and MIA lined up before the Dodgers to end the year. While no one was looking at them, they swept the Dodgers and took the first two in Arizona in a four game series to set themselves up nicely for the finish. Milwaukee on the other had has the aforementioned Cubs series and a Cardinals one. You have to like the Rockies chances but it's close enough to warrant a glance.  If the Rockies pull away that isn't all bad because it makes the NL Central "Win or Out".

In the AL the Red Sox still haven't put away the Yankees, despite being crowned at least 3 times in the past month. However, they keep playing good ball and keep the Yankees at bay. With no H2H games left the Yankees chances at a division title are beginning to boil down to needing an epic run or an epic crash. Still despite being closer and featuring better teams, it's a less compelling race than the NL Central one with the lack of H2H games and the fact the loser is almost guaranteed a WC spot.

The 2nd WC spot in the AL is down to two teams as everyone else in the AL that was in contention can barely bring themselves to play .500 ball. Which is fair, because they are a bunch of barely .500 teams. The Angels are 2 games behind the Twins (who are 4 behind NYY, FYI). The Angels have a killer week lined up with Houston and Cleveland. Their saving grace might be that the Twins have a couple tough series left themselves with the Yankees next and Cleveland in a week. Even though we'd all love some important games here, the likely scenario is the Angels lose a game or two of ground this week and are just too far out to make a real play in the final one.

We'll see though. Tonight the "big game" is the WC preview Yankees Twins. Other games of interest - Brewers need a win versus the Pirates and Kershaw is pitching tonight after missing the Nats. 

Friday, September 15, 2017

100 Nats

The Nats have had very good teams, great teams really. The 2016 Nats won 95 games. In 2014 it was 96. And in 2012 the Nats won 98 games. But the Nats have never won 100. The franchise hasn't won 100 (The Expos peaked at 95 in 1979, though they were on a 105 win pace in 1the strike year 1994) . The city hasn't won 100 games (The 1933 Senators won 99 games, granted in a 154 schedule time period)  Can the Nats do it?

They were probably in their best position to do it a week ago after taking the 2nd game from the Phillies. At that point, with 21 games to go then had to merely go 13-8. That's a 100 game pace but hey, you want to get to 100 right? But since then they've gone 2-3 and now they stand at 89 wins with 16 games to go. That means the Nats need to finish 11-5. That's ... tough.

The good news is they will be the favored team in each series. Win each one and you go 2-1, 2-1, 2-1, 2-1, 3-1 or 11-5. Just enough to do it. Have the Nats gone 11-5 this year? Yep. Several times. They had a better run than that in April (peaking at 13-3), and continued that play into early May. They again did it May into June, again in July, again in August and August into September. It's completely doable with the talent on this team.

The bad news is the talent on this team may not all be playing. Even if you ignore Bryce being out as a difference maker the Nats will be resting guys and letting call-ups get at bats for the next two weeks. An optimal line-up trying hard may be able to do it. A sub-optimal line-up playing to get to the end of the year healthy? Probably not. 

I'd like to see it happen but call me if the Nats go 4-2 over the next two series.

Side Note #2 :
The Nats currently have a 21 game lead in the division. If you think that's special, you're right. Leads this big happen once a decade or so. The last time someone won their division by 20+ games was the 2008 Angels who finished 21 games better than the Rangers. If the Nats get another game in the standings you'll have to go back to the 1998 Yankees who won their division by 22 games (where second place won 92!). The records, which the Nats will be hard pressed to beat are 30 games by the 1995 Indians* (in 144 games!) and the NL Record of 27.5 games by the 1902 Pirates. However I think that's it. I think if the Nats finish more than 22 games ahead of the Marlins (or Braves) they'll have the 3rd greatest division lead of all-time.

*Braves also won their division by 21 in 144 games. 

Thursday, September 14, 2017

Bad Dusty! Bad Max! Bad Nats!

We noted a few weeks ago the Nats should be living by one simple rule "Better to be safe, then sorry" With last off-season diminshed with late-season injuries to Strasburg and Ramos, it should be apparent to everyone that goal #1 is getting to the post-season as healthy as possible. You can't fully avoid injuries of course. Players gotta play. But you rest a little more often, throw out some other arms and bats now open to you with expanded rosters, and you limit the stressful pitches your pitchers throw.

That is unless they ask for stressful pitches apparently.

According to the reports, Max went into last night looking to throw 110-120 pitches. The reasoning was two-fold. (1) Max assumes he will pitch deep into playoff games, pushing his limit. By throwing more times at that limit during the regular season he thinks it will help him be more effective in the playoffs. Kind of like marathon training I guess (2) It is not unusual to find Max going over 110 pitches in a season. However, because of some recent injury issues he's only done it once since the All-Star break. Plus specifically he's only gone 100-74-104 in his last three starts. He is building less stamina, not more.

OK well first - does Max actually have an issue pitching deep in playoff games? Apparently he does. However that doesn't factor in context. Such as how do most starters fare in that situation? Is that a product of one or two bad starts or is it more? Shouldn't it really be pitches?

The first one is hard for me to answer. Splits by inning for starters in the post-season isn't readily available. Instead I took the 8 guys who have gone over 100 pitches the most in the post season since 2010. Then I realized I'd still have to look at like 50+ individual games. So scratch that for now. Needless to say I hope you understand that ALL pitchers get less effective as the game goes on. That's not a Scherzer problem, it's a human body problem.You look at league numbers, the OPS for batters goes up the more times they face you in a game or the more pitches they throw.

But Max's numbers weren't just a little bad after 6 - they were very bad, probably worse than the usual split. Was this one or two bad games? Where these all breakdowns at high pitch counts though? The author mentions the Joc Pederson home run (solo shot - only run given up in game by Max). I looked up all the other 5IP+ outings where he gave up runs to see if one or two starts were skewing things. Looking at these 11 games the answer is not particularly no. He gave up late (6th or later) runs in a bunch of different games and never had like a 5 run 0.2IP inning thing going on.

Of course we have to stop here and understand something about aces in the post-season. They are generally going to go as long as they are effective. That means you pitch them until they start giving up runs. There numbers are going to look worse late in the game unless they can make it the whole way without being touched.

Ok but back to the question at hand. So Max may have worse splits for realsies but we're talking innings here. How many of these games did the issue come around 100 pitches, the hurdle Max is training to clear?  Well Max has only gone over 100p 4 times in his postseason career. In his very first game he did it and gave up no runs. What were the other 3?

2013 ALDS g1: Max goes 7 giving up 2 runs on a homer in the 7th on pitch 105
2013 ALCS g2 : Max goes 7 giving up 1 run on a double in the 6th on pitch 90
2013 ALCS g6 : Max goes 6 1/3 giving up 3 runs, 2 score on a HR given up by Jose Veras after Max goes 2B, K, BB and leaves game after pitch 110.

 But wait - I thought I said there were 11 games where he went into the 6th and in most they scored? What I'm saying here is that on maybe two of them he was stretched out and given up runs at the end of his physical limit. So that means...

Yep, Max's issues aren't with not being able to go 110-120 pitches in the post-season. Max's issues often come well before that - when his pitch count reaches the 80s or so.

Does that mean ptiching through tiredness in pitches 110-120 won't help him in some way? Maybe make the arm stronger in some way so the earlier pitchers are easier? Perhaps. But it seems to me that the focus is off here. Max doesn't need to focus on going deep into post-season games, going over 110 pitches. If anything, he needs to first focus on pitching well through 100 pitches in his post-season game.

And I say "if anything" because really Max did just fine last year. His first outing wasn't ace like but it kept the Nats in the game, and his second outing was ace like. No not as deep as you want but part of that is aggressive pen usage as much as anything.

This is a very long-winded way of saying - I don't think the Nats should have let Max pitch as deep as he did last night.  If he wanted to get back to 110+ pitches, last night was a good night to take him close to 110 then. A handful more than last game, the most he's pitched in a while, but not a ton more.Next outing he can go around 115 and then 120 if you like. Sure, these guys know their bodies better than we do, but they are not as objective. Max has a goal and wants to reach it. Dusty wants to put his faith in his veteran. These aren't terrible things, but there needs to be someone else out there. Someone objective that can say "I know what the plan is, but looking at it in the moment, now's not the time to do that".  If they can't find that person, they are going to keep pushing their luck and risk another post-season where the story is in part about the guys that are not there.

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Trade Gio?

Last night Gio hit the 180 innings needed to vest for next year, meaning the Nats will have Gio at a nice affordable salary for the 2018 season before FA hits him. I was never really worried about it. If Gio was pitching well enough and was healthy enough for you want it to vest, he would hit 180 innings. If he wasn't, he wouldn't either by chance or by choice.  Only a month long injury in the midst of a fabulous season could spoil things.*

So the Nats have Gio lined up for next year at an affordable price. The question raised now (here's my Twitter inspiration) is whether it is best to trade Gio in the off-season. Yes, it's not a question for today but for November, but it's not a crazy thought. As is raised in the tweet, Gio's probably not going to be this good next year (there's some luck here as we've discussed). He's got a very favorable contract for a short-term deal. He's a LH starter which is always valued. The Nats are unlikely to sign him past next season given his age and other pressing contract concerns. The Nats could get something pretty decent back for him.

But the problems with dealing him are evident. Gio is a healthy guy who has only once in 6 years missed more than a couple of games. While he hasn't always been good, he's really never been bad, and that combination of innings and a floor of decency is very valuable. Yes, it's something you can get back talent for, but it's also something hard to replace.

The Nats will have a bang up 1-2 in Max and Stras but Strasburg's next season of 30+ starts will be his first since 2014. Roark will likely make a decent enough 3-4, if not more, but that still leaves a couple of rotation spots to fill. In house, none of AJ Cole, Jacob Turner, or Erick Fedde should fill you with confidence on being able to pitch a whole decent season in 2018.  Joe Ross, good for a moment when healthy, has had shoulder issues and is coming back from TJ surgery mid next year.

Through FA, assuming the Nats don't want a big contract, they can gamble on the likes of Edwin Jackson, guys who they can pick up for a million or two at the end of the FA cycle, but there's a reason those guys are available. Anything significantly better would likely cost around the same as Gio. They might be able to split the middle and get a Marco Estrada type or a little worse for under 10 million but is it worth saving a few million a year?

Of course the other side of the coin is available to them, going big after a Darvish (who hasn't looked good recently), or Arrieta (who has gotten back on track). But it's hard to see them putting all that money into the rotation when Stras and Max are going to start to count 60+ mill against the cap for a few years. Shohei Otani, a 22 year old from Japan who's a two-way star, is going to be paid this year but the Nats are not in position to be big players in the international signings this year. They spent big last year which limits how much they can spend this year by MLB rules, and knowing that they've already started dealing some of the pool money in trades.

I suppose trades are an option but I'm not seeing anyone in the 2018-19 class that's some combination of young, cheap, and likely to be available. Instead you'd have to go out a year further for a Jake Odorizzi or Gerrit Cole and now you are talking heftier price tags. Not that it can't be done but it'll cost the Nats something.  Honestly if they were to trade Gio I'd think this would be the route they take to fix it.

In the end, I don't see a trade for Gio happening. He is just too hard to replace for that cost, even if you assume regression to a 2015/2016 level. I will give it an off chance however, if only because I think the Nats could weather his loss and still win the NL East, but that's about as real as I think this gets. Now, if they deal for a Gerrit Cole first? Then the situation changes, but it'll have to be a deal first situation, much like it was this season where Gio was going to be gone if Chris Sale was added to the team.  

*Or an injury now! Don't get injured Gio!

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Max for Cy? Gio for Cy? Stras for Cy?

The Nats have three of the best pitchers in baseball on their staff. Max spent the early part of the season in an argument with Kershaw for the number one spot. Gio spent a solid portion of early August going through the "Hey, look at this guy!" rounds.  Strasburg is the hottest arm in the game right now. Which one of these guys is the best? Is it even close? Is it still Kershaw first?* Let's look at the numbers and see

By the way I'm a firm believer in giving our awards by the "How did his season go?" criteria not "How did he pitch this season?"  This means I do care about things like wins and ERA, which are admittedly blah indicators of how a pitcher pitched in a season. Why? Because if you are going to just pick the pitcher who pitched best than it's nothing more than figuring out the best equation to use. There is no point in having a vote, which is subjective by nature. I'd rather have a vote, and for that trying to figure out who had the best season fits best.

Gio  14-6
Max 14-5
Stras 13-4
Kersh 16-3

Good numbers all around but the edge goes to Kershaw. Max and Stras slightly better than Gio here.

Gio  2.50
Max 2.32
Stras 2.64
Kersh 2.15

Again you can't fault anyone's numbers here but Kershaw is a step better. Max is better than Stras and Gio so he takes the Nats lead.

Gio 163
Max 239
Stras 182
Kersh 182

A win for Max and not a little one. Clearly ahead of this bunch.

Innings Pitched
Gio  179
Max 178
Stras 156
Kersh 151

Well there's your problem Stras and Kershaw. You don't pitch enough. They'd still be behind Max if they did pitch more  - he has the best rate. But the comparison would look better (Stras as 208, Kershaw at 214) but you know what? They didn't do that.

Gio   1.141
Max 0.875
Stras 1.028
Kersh 0.901

It's getting pretty clear that Max is the choice for the Nats. He's more dominant and has pitched more innings. His record isn't crazy deflated by luck either. Kershaw is right with him here.

Gio   4.28  4.45
Max  3.20  2.90
Stras  3.25  3.36
Kersh  2.74  2.93

The fancy stats don't love Gio. It's a lot of things. Unusual BABIP. Very high LOB%. Relative to these guys - high walk rate. And as we talked before - Gio was getting pretty lucky early in the year and in the fancy stats, you can't shake that.  Kershaw is slightly favored over Max, with Stras a step behind.

WAR(s) f then b
Gio  3.0  6.9
Max  5.2  6.9
Stras  4.8  5.6 
Kersh  4.4  4.4

The basic truth coming out of this nonsense here is that the more you pitch the more value you can have. Max has pitched more and thus, gets higher values accros the board.  Gio comes out strong in the bWAR. A quick and dirty difference definition - fWAR starts with FIP which is like your ERA if once the ball is put in play it's just your D and luck that matter. bWAR starts with RA and assumes on some level the pitcher is doing things to help himself out. bWAR is more "what happened", fWAR more "what should have happened"

What is the end result? Kershaw is still the best pitcher in the majors. Sorry Max fans. But he's fragile enough that Max has more value during the season. Gio and Stras have put themselves into the conversation, but both Max and Kershaw would have to crash out their last 3 starts to give them any real shot at the award. My feeling is that it's Max's award to lose. There's a two game gap in wins and that isn't enough in itself, so if he holds that gap he'll bring home the prize. However, if Kershaw can widen that gap, especially without taking any more losses, then he'll have a good shot to win given that his overall superiority will shine through. In other words if the season ends like this

Max 16-5
Kershaw 18-3

I think Max takes it.  If it ends like this 

Max 15-6
Kershaw 19-3

I think Kershaw will win.

What to watch tonight - lots of games with impact but few ones where both teams are in it. NYY vs TB is interesting as the Yankees can pretty much eliminate the Rays from contention with a win or two more while the Rays can keep the Yankees from making the AL East interesting in the last two weeks. Probably the best single game though is the Rangers / Mariners as both are fighting for their WC lives. It's all dependent on how the leaders do (MIN in the 2nd spot and LAA a game behind) but this is a potential back breaker series for Seattle if they get swept and they already lost G1. A sweep would put them 3.5 behind the Rangers and likely 4.5 out or more from the 2nd WC with a mere 16 games to go.

*Are there other pitchers in the mix? I don't know. Frankly, I don't want to know.

Monday, September 11, 2017

Monday Quickie - Champs

You'll hear a ton of talk today celebrating the Nats NL East Championship and their run of 4 division titles in 6 years. You'll hear a lot of talk of the rise of the Nats from one of the worst teams in baseball to one of the best. If you enjoy these things then by all means be ecstatic. It is very impressive. It's almost getting to the point where it's hard to remember the Nats playing bad baseball. Almost. 2008-2009 were "special bad" and hard to forget. Maybe in another 5 years.

These are the first back to back division titles, not only for the Nationals, but for the franchise. In fact they are the first back to back division titles (and therefore playoffs) for a DC baseball team since the Senators won back to back titles in 1924 and 1925*. The Nats managed the end of the the "window" (see how that came together here, here, and here) well and came out the other side still in contention, at least for a couple more seasons, with a decent chance for relevancy beyond that. In part, that had to do with the cards they were dealt (NL East, Murphy becoming MURPHY at the plate), but they still had to play those cards properly.

There's no finer example of playing those cards properly than what they did for this season. 
  • Re-signing Strasburg. 
  • Trading for Adam Eaton. 
  • Bringing back quality veteran Stephen Drew. 
  • Bringing in righty-killer Adam Lind.
  • Signing Joe Blanton to round out the pen
  • Signing the best available catcher in Matt Weiters.
  • Trading for quality veteran Howie "Not Scott Hairston" Kendrick. 
  • Trading for Doolittle, Madson, and Kintzler when it was needed. 
Not all of these moves panned out, but that is going to happen with any set of moves. The trick is to make enough of them that when the ones that don't pan out, don't pan out, you are still ok.  It's a lesson they had to learn the hard way with the pen, but it was learned as the Nats didn't just bring in one arm, or even two arms, but three, building in the cushion needed if/when something would happen.**

This is all great. Send up the balloon. Bang Zoom go the fireworks as they say. 

But I'm sorry, that's not where my line is drawn anymore. The Nats have to win something in the playoffs. A World Series would be optimal of course. A League Championship would be nice. But even a division series I'd take.

If you want to say winning in the playoffs is an unfair bar to ask the team to jump over that's fine. It sort of is in any singular year. You are playing another very good team in a short number of games. If we just take your regular season winning percentage as a guide and assume no advantages the chance the better team wins would be like 52%. It'd be a coin flip. A crapshoot. Even going into it deeper and somehow coming out with a huge advantage wouldn't amount to much more than a 60% chance of winning a series.

But following professional sports isn't about being fair. It's not about trying hard, having fun, and being proud of your work. That's for amateurs. No professional sports, when it comes down to it, is about winning when it counts. While you can't expect it to be done every time, you can expect it should be done some time. The Nats have failed to do that again and again.

If it were up to me it wouldn't necessarily be this way. We'd give a lot of credence to the regular season - sometimes just stopping after that if there's a clear best team. (this year doing a Cle-Hou winner vs LA-Wsn winner would make the most sense in finding the actual best team) but that's not how the rules are set. You guys set them. I'm living by them.

So celebrate another job well done, but for me it's just Part 1. It's time for Part 2, winning in the post-season, to finally get done. This team specifically, the 2017 Nationals, won't be failures if they don't, but this franchise in general, the Washington Nationals from 2012-2017, will be.

*If you are into comparisons - the 16 Nats broke that by losing in the playoffs. The 1924 Senators won their only playoff series - the 1924 World Series. The 1925 team would lose to the Pirates. 

**Now please don't let them get bit by their inability to trade for a better back-up catcher which is basically the one flaw currently. You can claim "No real closer" but I don't buy into that - also Kintzler, Doolittle and Madson all have closing experience. You can claim "Could have gotten a better 5th starter" but they got a bit lucky or understood their players and Roark is making that a moot point. There's still a chance that bites you but getting a good starter is expensive and it's a hard sell when you have a 1-2-3 all in the Cy Young conversation and he may not really see post-season work. 

Friday, September 08, 2017

Next time I see you the Nats could be official

The magic number* is down to 4 as the Nats keep winning and the Marlins keep losing**. Given there is an opportunity to take 6 games it looks like there's a decent chance the Nats will clinch sometime this weekend. If I were in the area, Sunday looks like the best shot, with Monday following close behind.

Yesterday's posts remain relevant. Nats won and Dodgers lost, making the chances of the Nats/Dodgers series meaning something that a little more likely.  Robles is up and got a chance to hit (flied out) and in my mind, given the update that Goodwin is probably out for the year and the agreement from Dusty that they don't want Difo in the OF, is in a silent audition for the 4th/5th OF role. Good luck to him.

There were questions about can he be added to the roster and the answer is yes. Trying to be clear - MLB changed the rules a few years ago so anyone on the 40 can be part of the post-season 25 (chosen before each series).  They also allow for anyone in the system before Sept 1st to be added to the 40-man. I think at this point everything is covered since Fedde got bumped to the 60 Day DL to make room for Robles on the 40 man. He's good, no chicanery needed.

As for the Rule 5 question - Robles has one more protected Rule five draft period to go. He signed under 18 so had 4 minor league seasons to burn. This was his 4th so they didn't have to protect him. The thing about being added to the 40-man isn't that he wouldn't be still protected if he got taken off the 40-man, it's how to get him off the 40-man. To get him off the 40-man he'd have to be DFA'd and if Robles is DFA'd he'll 100% get claimed, presumably by the first team. The other way to functionally get off the 40-man is to be placed on the 60-day DL, but this is not relevant to the Rule 5 draft as DLs only function during the season.

Have a great weekend and for those in the path of the hurricane - stay safe.

*Fun fact about magic numbers - they are not exactly correct. The further you get from the best team the more wrong they are. For example the Chicago White Sox are the worst team in the AL. Their magic number for total elimination (so from 2nd WC) stands at 5. Yet they are almost certainly actually eliminated by now. This isn't about them winning their last 23 games. You do have to just accept that can happen when you come up with these numbers. This is about the sequence of events that would need to happen for them to take the second WC. Two of the following can't happen - Yankees win 3 more games, MIN 5, LAA 6, BAL 7, TEX 8, TB 8, KC 9, SEA 9.  Well you see what happens - these teams play each other. if one team loses that means another team has to win. That all these happen is likely an impossibilty. But for ease of use we just use total wins and figure it'll work well enoug and it does.

**The Marlins losing dropped them to 6 games under .500 which brought up an interesting question that I've been skirting around for a while. Are the MIA-ATL-NYM-PHI the worse 2-5 ever in division history? The answer, at least by record, is probably not. The 99 AL Central featured a 2-5 that went 75/69/64/63, the NL East projects to finish at 78/72/71/61 so not quite there. Plus with all the intra-division games it's going to be hard to crash hard enough. Sorry. We'll have to settle for 2nd worst 2-5 in division history. (and again because someone will complain - no this is not a knock on the Nats who play well versus everyone)

Thursday, September 07, 2017

Robles up?

Quick on this - there are plenty of ways to look at it from "Well the Nats don't need to play their starters now so there's plenty of time for a guy to get some looks in" all the way to "Bryce is dead. Werth is all but. They need Robles to save them!" What's the truth? Hell if I know

 The truth about the OF is that

1) Bryce is hurt.   We don't know right now how bad. Nats have the best idea - which can make this call-up seem discouraging but either way Bryce isn't playing for a couple weeks probably so there's some space to fill. 

1) MAT is MAT. Despite some flashes in the first half he sits as a below average offensive player right now. Do we accept that is what he is? A low-average, high K, high pop guy with plus D? Or do we cling to a couple months this season as a sign of change going forward? Regardless even if it's the first, as a CF he's fine assuming your corner OFs can produce a little bit more at the plate. That wasn't an issue with Bryce in a corner but he's not there now.

2) Howie is Howie. While that means good at the plate and acceptable in the field, it also means older, injury prone, and unlikely to be here in 2018. By all accounts 2016 looks like the aberration and he's a great fill-in in the OF for the rest of this season. But he's not a long-term solution and the Nats (who are likely to part ways with Werth after this season) could use a good long look at Robles while they have the chance.

3) Werth is not yet back. He hit a homer and everyone said he's back! Well not everyone. Someone said wait until the weekend was over. After the weekend was over it wasn't that clear and a couple games further in he hasn't been doing well. It doesn't mean things can't turn around. It's been like a week! Give the man at least another 2. But if he's hitting THIS poorly (like under .100 going into the playoffs) that could force an issue we never thought would be forced. I've said this constantly - he'll start unless something crazy happens and hitting like .080 going into the playoffs is crazy. Werth is a defensive liability now so you can't take a guy hitting NOTHING and start him. He should pick up. 95% sure he will, but if he doesn't (bc likely just not healed) then what?

4) Goodwin is still a question mark. He hasn't played a full season yet and his non-power numbers (which are of interest because this season in particular seems skewed) aren't good. His D hasn't been special either. At 27 he could be blossoming into some sort of not as good MAT maybe? That could be a solid bench piece but not a starter. You can obviously roll the dice for a bunch of short series but that's what you'd be doing.

5) Lind shouldn't be in the OF.  He also shouldn't face LHP. He has his uses and but 5th OF isn't one of them.

6) They'd rather not have Difo in the OF. Not if they can help it. Plus Difo has a platoon issue, crushing LHP and being very modest against RHP.  He might work out of it now, but you'd rather not stick him in the OF every day.

I don't know.  Seems to me you bring up Robles to see if he can kill it and if he does and someone isn't doing what they need to - then he's a solution. If they all are ok, you didn't really cost the team all that much. The Nats aren't a team overly concerned with starting clocks. They'll do it if it's easy but don't fret about bringing a guy up a little early. Let's face it - it's just a year six+ years down the road when who knows what's gonna be the case.

So that's how I see it - kicking the tires on Robles with the back-burner idea of "if this all goes well and we need him, then he's here"

Could the Nats catch the Dodgers? Do they want to?

The Nats won last night but that isn't special. They are going to win more than they lose especially against below .500 teams.  The Dodgers lost last night and that is special. Or more correctly it's more special that they are losing so much recently. 1-11 including two sweeps to the Diamonbacks and a 1-3 set with the lowly Padres.

The end result is that the NL West and #1 seed races have gotten a lot closer. However is it close enough? The NL West is probably a no. It was an 21 game lead so even after a terrible fall and the Dbacks being hot the lead is still 10.5 games. That's a lot. The #1 seed is at least thinkable. The Dodgers were "only" nursing a 14.5 game lead there so it's now down to 7. 

What is possible? With 23 games left probably the worst/best stretch that wouldn't be historic would be something like 5-18 / 18-5 or making up a 13 game difference. With each game going the other way you lose 2 games you can make up  6-17 / 17-6  makes up 11 games. 8-15 / 15-8 will make up 7.

So for Arizona to pass the Dodgers they'd likely have to go 17-6* or better and the Dodgers 6-17 or worse. Or in other words the Diamondbacks would have to be the best team from here on out and the Dodgers the worst. For the Nats to pass the Dodgers they'd have to play really well and the Dodgers really poorly but not to the "worst/best" levels. What do the schedules say

ARI : v SDP, v COL (4), @ SFG, @ SDP, v MIA, v SFG, @ KCR
LAD : v COL (4), @ SFG, @ WSN, @ PHI (4), v SFG, v SDP, @ COL
WSN :  v PHI (4), v ATL, v LAD, @ ATL, @ NYM, @ PHI, v PIT(4)

The Dodgers do have the toughest schedule with the Nats and 7 games versus the Rockies left (though they aren't playing so hot themselves). Plus 4 series on the road, rather than three. But it's not overwhelming. The Diamondbacks have to end the season with the always game Royals who might be playing for life and death. The Nats end the year with a Pirates team that's .500 quality. It's tough to see the Diamondbacks making up 10.5 games here.  The Nats however - there is that H2H set in DC.  Keep the distance between you and the Dodgers to 7 games or less and come out of that series 4 games or closer? It's not likely but it's interesting.

Of course then the Nats would set up not for the middling NL Central winner (probably the Cubs) and instead face potentially the 3rd best NL team - the Diamondbacks - assuming they get out of the WC game. You could roll the dice hoping to face a tiring Milwaukee or Colorado (though I never like the idea of playing playoffs in Colorado - the travel, the park...) but you could also end up with forever nemesis St Louis.  It's a tough call.

Of course the correct answer is you play hard and get who you get. Some sports lend themselves more to worrying about match-ups. That's not really baseball unless you a team with huge batting splits is involved. The D-Backs had the biggest split issue and it was a small issue against LHP. Then they got JD Martinez. So maybe the Rockies? Eh. It's not like the Dodger thing last year.

Is it really something to think about before you get to the Nats/Dodgers series and see where they are? Probably not. But what else are you doing baseball wise?

*Yeah I know they have one fewer game left - this is all back of the envelope stuff

Wednesday, September 06, 2017

The terrible NL East and how that can matter

Strasburg pitched well again putting him firmly into the Roark, Scherzer group of "great August, so far so good September" Yeah it was the Marlins but like I say - you have a job to do against every team, if you do it you have to take that as a success. I'd say going against the Marlins Strasburg needed to look impressive and he did. 6IP, 8K, 0 walks, 0 XBH. So put another one down in the "looking all ready" box.

With another defeat of the Marlins the Nationals have dropped Miami to 4 games under .500.  As it stands today, the Marlins are the worst 2nd best division team in the majors. The Braves are the worst 3rd best team. The Mets are (tied) the worst 4th place team. The Phillies are the worst team in baseball.The NL East isn't bad. It's one of the worst divisions in a long time.*

This isn't to disparage the Nats. They have been legitimitely good against all comers. I think right now it's like a 100 win pace against the NL East and a mere 94 win pace against every one else. They are good and have been good, but that doesn't mean the NL East being garbage hasn't affected them.

When you have no real challenge it means you can choose to develop in exactly the way the Nats have. You can bring along your prospects at your own pace. You can choose not to trade good young players for mid-season fixes. You can spend wisely. You can do all that and still take the division more often than not. It doesn't force you to win now so it can extend your window by allowing you to keep the best prospects and let aging FA who may help sooner but not later go.

Of course the flipside of that is that you lack the impetus to get really good in any one year. The off-season acquisitions are never overwhelming. The in-season trades are always fixing the margins. The team is very good but if it's going to be special it's because things happen to work out that way rather than the team planning to try to be special. You often end up feeling like you could have done more, especially if you lose in the playoffs, because you probably could have. You just didn't need to. For example - could the Nats have thrown a 15-20 best prospect and gotten a Kurt Suzuki type to help alleviate what is a terrible catching situation? Yeah. But they didn't need to so they didn't.

It's an interesting conundrum and it's one that the Nats are going to face for at least a couple more years***. The Mets, who are the current challengers to the throne, are going to be at least interesting if deGrom and Sydergaard both give full seasons, but as we saw this season, will struggle hard if they are not. Even if they are healthy, they gutted their old offense with trades. They need to either sign some players or run the table with development to have an offense good enough to compete. The Marlins, who are closest in wins, are about to kick the can down the road again with new ownership when a burst of smart spending could have created something.  The Braves have a great farm but didn't get any big positive suprises this year and in fact watched Swanson regress. It could have all come together next year but as of today it looks like 2018 is another development year.

 I find the Phillies currently the most interesting team but unlikely to be impactful for 2018. Unlike the Braves they did have some good young performances as Rhys Hoskins smashed the ball, Jorge Alfaro looks to be ML ready and Odubel Herrera and Cesar Hernandez kept up solid play from last year. Aaron Nola also stepped up into a top of the rotation type pitcher. Beyond this they have a LOT of dead at bats and especially IP but the farm system is very deep if not packed with stars. Plus it's an ownership that hasn't shied away from big payrolls in the past. It's easy to see a shoring up of the rookies next year and then a big push for 2019. But that's still for 2019 and still a maybe.

The short of it is the Nats will be heavy favorites next year and will likely be staring down a 2019 where the Mets and Marlins are bottoming out and the Phillies and/or Braves still might be a year away. How does that effect their choices re: Bryce, Gio, Murphy, and beyond that Rendon and Roark. They have potentially solid replacements for Bryce and Murphy but solid isn't superstar and those guys have been superstars over the past few seasons. They don't seem to have any starting pitching working out for them and then have a TON of money in Scherzer and Strasburg. Are they really going to make 1-3 in the rotation count for 90 million against the cap? Especially when there is no strong impetus to keep going because the way the NL East is playing out a simple high 80s win total might be enough?

This is what happens when you have a 17 game lead less than a week into September. You start talking about 2 years down the road.

*for funsies I added up the win totals for all teams since 2012 and the NL East is the worst. This includes the 2013 Braves who won the division with 96 wins and the recent NYM relevancy. It'd probably be a little worse for them if I started in 2014. It's not far and away the worst. The NL West is also pretty terrible**.  But beyond that the other divisions start to really separate. The best division (AL East) is over 150 games better over that time frame and if we take out the best team - which is really the point here - they are over 180 games better. That's a lot.

**The Giants tended to be bad or squeak in. They only won more than 88 once in this stretch. 

*** Which is all anyone should ever feel comfortable looking at. Even three years out is too far to say anything about. 

Tuesday, September 05, 2017

Four Weeks

That's all that stands between today and the playoffs. Not for the Nats mind you. Four weeks from today the Wild Card games start. The Nats won't be in those. For the Nats it's four weeks from Friday.

But still we're past the Labor Day weekend so we're getting our last couple of weeks where non-obviously injury related streaks can be worried about or gotten excited about. Everyone, EVERYONE, has 2 weeks of great or terrible baseball in them during a season. Usually multiple such stretches. Once we get to the 18th or so we can't really get to hung up on whether a non-injured guy finishes the season hot or not. Not only because of the whole, "it's hard to pull meaning from something that everyone does" but there will be almost a week off, they will face the better players on the better teams, they will do this in high pressure situations. It's different, almost too different to expect normal streaks to carry over.

So before we get to those last two weeks, we look for extended streaks that may carry into them. Are there any such issues for the Nats? Anyone have a bad/great August and has had it carry (so far) into September?

Batting- None.

No really. Kendrick was the only one (not counting Turner's brief set of games) to do really well in August. He hasn't done well in the first four games. Maybe you like Difo's good showing. He's also not doing well. But guys you might worry about, Zimm, Murphy - they are hitting better. I suppose Lind didn't have a great August and hasn't hit in Sept but it's only been 3 ABs.  Wieters hasn't hit in August, but he's also been sit down and plus Wieters isn't an "August" thing. He hasn't hit all year.

This isn't writing off the issues of August, or giving up on the hot bats. One good or bad game can throw September out of whack. However there isn't anything that seems that is "focus on" rather than "check in on" as of today, outside of Turner and Werth's continued on the job rehab. (Both had slow weekends)

Pitching : Roark, Scherzer, Kintzler, Doolittle

The pitching carried the Nats in August and it continues to do well. I'm very heartened at this point by Tanner Roark's re-emergence as a solid starter after a rough first half. Scherzer is still Scherzer. The back of the pen are the only guys who have pitched in multiple games so far and Madson was out most of August so he falls into the Werth/Turner rehab group. Kintzler and Doolittle keep looking good.

There was barely anyone who was doing bad in August - Cole, Matt Grace. And barely anyone bad so far in Sept - Perez had a bad outing. Same thing as above. We'll check in, in two weeks or so when more games are being played to see the long-term trends heading into the post-season.

Where's Bryce? When's Bryce? How's Bryce?

We don't really know, but a little less than a week ago he wasn't close to running. If he can't run, he can't play. He basically trying to keep every part of his body that isn't that leg in top condition so as soon as that leg is ready he can jump back into action. We don't know when that will be but we'd probably ideally want to see him back on the field in less than 2 weeks, the chances of that seems slim unless we hear something soon about his progress that suggests otherwise. That same date probably marks the playoff delineation line. For now he can still be back, even if it's for just a game or two of swings before the regular season ends. If we get to the 16th/17th weekend and there still is no clarity on his return then you can probably kiss the NLDS goodbye.

But remember - the playoffs are LONG. The last day of the regular season is the 1st of October. The first day of the NLDS is the 6th. That means Bryce still has a full month to heal to play in that (though yes you'd like him to get some swings in first). The first day of the NLCS is the 14th. That's 39 days from now. That's a lot of time.

Friday, September 01, 2017

How to manage games that don't matter

Dusty is in a weird spot and has been there for a while now. The division has been called since... June 23rd.  The Dodgers ran away and hid with HFA as July ended. The Nats effectively put away the Cubs chances at grabbing the two seed in early August. So Dusty has been piloting a ship being pulled by a tugboat into port for a month now and has a month to go.  How do you manage such a team?

It's easy enough to say "just don't get anyone injured" but baseball players you want to keep in their standard rhythm.  You want position guys to play most every day. You want starters to go about as long as they usually do. You want relievers to see action enough to keep fresh. You also want to keep your best back-ups fresh, get injury returnees enough time, and get any questionable roles decided. And you want to put in an honest effort to win games against teams still in the playoff hunt because you expect the same when you need it. Honestly, it's probably a harder job with more variables to manage then trying hard to win every game.

Of course this is in reference to last night where Gio Gonzalez threw 115 pitchers in a loss, including several after seemingly tweaking something.  It's not the 115 that bothers me. Someone's 115 is someone else's 100 is someone else's 85.  There is no magic to 100 pitches. It's arbitrary and teams probably have much better ideas of how far each individual pitcher should go. Going over 105 is common place for the sometimes wild Gio, and around 113 seems to be where they like to pull him based on this year's pitch counts.

What bothered me though was the leaving in after he appeared to be in pain. He was over 90 pitches and even though we can't say Gio is at a limit, we can say he's probably on the tired side of his start. At this time of year "I'd rather be safe than sorry" should dominate Dusty's thinking. That doesn't mean doing things out of the ordinary. It means that if a question arises on what to do, the safest option should be chosen. The Nats have 30 days to get through without losing anyone. That's the #1 goal. Even though you need to factor in everything else we talked about that needs to win out every time. Last night it didn't. I don't think it mattered as he seemed ok the rest of the inning, but that's Dusty catching a break on taking a risk. He should not be taking those. Not now.

What are we watching this Labor Day weekend :

Werth & Turner - They have looked fine coming back but it has only been a few games. Let's see them keep it up through the weekend then we can all feel better.

Zimmerman - Zimm's been not hitting for a good long while now.  .230 / .300 / .398 split since Jun 14th.  That's almost half the season. Since his minor HR surge (5 in 8 games) he's hit under .200 with no homers in the past two weeks. The Nats don't need a great Zimm to win but they'd appreciate a good one, especially with it apparent now Wieters just isn't going to hit.

How Dusty continues to use Difo, Kendrick, and MAT.  All three continue to do well, which suggests playing time. But Turner and Werth are going to start barring some sort of craziness so all three of these guys can't. That's not even going into what happens when Bryce returns. Dusty has his work cut out for him cycling through these three bats who at this point in this season all deserve to play.

Tanner Roark - He's been better, like I said - good enough to throw out in G4 if it's not a must win. But can he step it up in September? Brewers are a quality team but not all that with the bats. A impressive game tonight would be nice

If Max sleeps correctly.

How does the bullpen keep forming. Kintzler had a couple rough outings but nothing that would pull him from the back end just yet. We keep hoping Shawn Kelley can become dominant but every time you think he's about to turn a corner he comes crashing back and right now Albers still looks like the third best arm in the pen. While there are things we'd like to see this is more an observation activity than a set of events that need to happen. The pen will shake out how it shakes out and that'll decide who gets used when. But it's still a jumble until you get to Kintzler and Doolittle.