Nationals Baseball: July 2018

Sunday, July 29, 2018

Monday Quickie - Sell, sell, not that, sell

9 Week Status
Record: 52-53
Ground gained/lost in division last wk : 0 games to PHI, +0.5 games to ATL
Ground gained/lost in WC race last wk : +0.5 SFG,  -1 PIT, STL, -2 to MIL, ARI, COL

The Nats couldn't do it.  They couldn't put together the necessary run to make me think they have it in them this season. It wasn't asking for too much, especially after losing that game to rain in ATL making only a split necessary there rather than a series win. They were set-up to do it, winning the first two against the Marlins. But in the end, the Nats stumbled losing the last two and falling short of an adjusted 5-4 floor, with a 4-5 run.

The end result for the NL East wasn't too bad. Nothing gained but nothing lost either. In fact in two weeks of wheel spinning the Nats have managed to gain a tiny bit of ground on both Philly and Atlanta. But not every team can fail and the Nats lost a game in the WC and gave up a bunch to the teams already between them and that Plan B.

So what do the Nats do now? Well I'd say sell. If you can't beat the Marlins, why should I believe you can beat anyone? And with the trade deadline in front of us it means sell now, fast and hard. But that doesn't necessarily mean trade Bryce. If they want to have Bryce on their team next year (and I think they should) then they should keep the guy. If they trade him, they lose all chance at bringing him back. This doesn't mean offer him whatever he wants. It means keep him in good graces and offer him the deal you think he should. If they don't want him back, fine, trade him, but I don't see why you wouldn't want back a talent like his at age 26. Because Robles might be better, Eaton might be healthy, and Soto might keep this up forever? Good luck with that.

So who do they sell? Gio, Madson, Herrera, Murphy, Kelley.  If it's for bit pieces, then so be it. Accumulate stuff and then turn that stuff into something for 2019. That may mean you take all that you got for these guys and turn it into one ok reliever. Fine. It's still something. There will have to be other things done (FA signings) to make 2019 work but I'm done on 2018.  Wrong team, wrong manager, wrong time. Prove me wrong, Nationals. Prove me wrong.

But if you are more optimistic then me, or the Nats simply don't sell, then what can the Nats do this week to stay in it. The answer is simple - dominate. Its the Mets and Reds.  2 games and 4 games.  5-1.  That's the goal. 4-2 is the floor

Friday, July 27, 2018

Will Soto go under .300?

During the game against the Orioles on May 8th, Juan Soto went over .300 (don't pay attention to the game logs - they've moved that Yankee game remember) he hasn't been under since. But he's been a game away serveral times.

One Jul 6th he went 0-6 to drop his average to .310.  An 0-3 or worse the next day would have done it.  He went 1-2 with a walk

A few days later on Jul 4th he went 0-1 to drop his average to .306.  Again an 0-3 would have dropped him to .299.  He went 2-4, with a walk.

.305 on July 6th? 2-5 next game
.302 on July 8th? 1-4 to keep head above water, 3-4 next game
.304 on July 11th? 2-5 next game
.301 on July 15th? 1-3 next game, still in danger, 3-4 after that
.302 on July 24th? 1-3 next game, still in danger, 2-3 after that

Now technically he did midgame drop under .300 a couple times.  That 1-4 after July 8th? He started 0-2 which dropped him to .298. Same with the game after July 15th game.

But maybe even weirder he has 4 homers in July.  When? The game after July 8th, the game after July 15th, the game after July 24th.  Last night when still in danger. He's not sneaking back over. He's leaping back. This isn't quite true but it's something like almost every time he's dropped below like .302 his next hit is a homer.

So enjoy this little quirk until it goes away (I'm betting he ends the season under .300). Because at some point from here until the end of the season I'm going to be a killjoy on Soto for some reason. (Hey! Here's me doing it for Giolito. And tempering the expectations for Bryce)

And enjoy these games as much as you can. If there is one thing the Nats have done this year it's beat up on the Marlins (now 7-1 against them). They need to do it again (and probably two more times after this) so sit back, enjoy the likely 2-3 more wins and then get ready to face the stark reality of do or die baseball every series, for a team that didn't give up the ship.

Thursday, July 26, 2018

Strasburg IS hurt

So... we'll wait for that. 

Update - so it's said to be a pinched neck nerve.  The retroactiveness of the move and the short DL stint say "one missed start" but let's understand something. Strasburg's injury status is VERY important. Possibly the second most important to the Nats behind Max. The Nats plan for the next three years is built around Max and Stras 1-2 in the rotation and Eaton, Turner, Soto, and I think we can assume Robles in the lineup*  If any of those guys are not at least major league worthy then the Nats plans get derailed.

As a player I've noted with some resistance by some of you that Stras is an injury risk. While he hasn't suffered a major injury, he hasn't pitched a full season in years and that is worrisome. This is just another brick in that wall.

Another bad aspect of this is how the news was broken - through the transaction wires. The reason the beat writers, or a national writer, weren't informed first this was coming is unknown. It's atypical and feels like either willful deception or incompetence. It probably isn't either. It's probably a necessary quick decision** But it still feels like that.

Tommy Milone will start in his place. To add insult to literal injury, Rendon will not play tonight either as he has gone on paternity leave. Congratulations to him. Uh oh to the Nats.

The Nats have to start winning at a faster clip. The next 10 games is a time that the opponents line up favorably. They need to make a move now, bc if they don't they won't have another chance like this until season's end and that means they'll have to somehow make up games in stretches where they should be aiming to hold ground. They need to go 3-1 minimum and they don't have Strasburg and they don't have Rendon for now.

Good luck, guys. 

*Probably Kieboom too Though his AA right now don't suggest he'll start in the majors next season.

**why - probably bc of something the way Stras decided to inform them about the decision

Wednesday, July 25, 2018

Sellers? Ask yourself three questions

The Nats lost again. They are still hanging around the fringes of the playoff hunt but are now on their third week of "they should really make a move now. please" They have failed at that, but they also haven't found themselves removed from the race either. This puts the Nats in that unnatural spot, too close to give up, too far away to go all in. The choice to be made now is a complete choice, not one obviously dictated by circumstance.

Should the Nats be buyers? Sellers? Stand pat? Let's ask the important questions.

1) What kind of realistic chance do the Nats have at the playoffs? 

The Nats are currently 6 games back of ATL and 7 games behind the Phillies. They are 6 games out of the 2nd WC populated by the Braves and the Diamondbacks. The Rockies, Pirates, Giants, and Cardinals all have better records than the Nats.

You can go by the odds listed in various places.  Fangraphs has them at 45.2% for playoffs 33.6 to win division. Everyone thinks that's high.  Baseball America at. 15.2%, 8.5% seems low. 538 is at 21%, 14% That seems about right.  A punchers chance to win the division.  A decent chance to sneak into a 2nd WC if things break right. (FWIW MLB is at 52.6%, 38.3%, which is crazy)

You can go by the basic narratives that have to happen. Either (1) the Nats need to play like one of the best teams in baseball and the Braves and Phillies have to play like .500 teams, or (2) the Nats need to play really well and the Braves and Phillies both have to collapse, or (3) the Nats need to play like one of the best teams in baseball and a number of teams between them and the 2nd WC need to play no better than ok.*  How do you feel about these narratives? Pretty good? Eh? Don't buy it? It's going to depend how you feel about these players, this manager, this GM, and what you expect everyone else will do.

You can only answer this question for yourself but try to be honest. Don't just scream "NO CHANCE"

2) What will the Nats get back for what they want to trade? 

There's a sense of "well get anything for what you have" once you trade but really it's a balance against the chances of winning this year. What's better having say... Gio Gonzalez and a slim chance he helps you get to the playoffs this year or an middling 20yo A-ball prospect? The reality is - it's Gio 9 times out of 10. Baseball history tells us that.

Since no one is talking rebuild, we only look at expiring and the Nats have expiring contracts to deal. The problem is they are all underperforming players, the types that contenders aren't inclined to go after. Gio is pitching poorly. Murphy is coming back from injury and pitching poorly. Same with Wieters. Madson is injured and was pitching poorly. Herrera has looked shaky. All these guys are likely to get you back very little. Just think about what was sent FOR Herrera. When he was pitching well and there was more of the season to go. He got a nothing player and a prospect that's like 5 years off if all goes well. He'd get less now.

So who's of real value to trade? Well Gio still - starters are starters. Hellickson as well for that reason. Shawn Kelley and Matt Adams are probably the best two guys you have to deal, but each has a bugaboo holding value down. Kelley was real bad earlier, and at previous times, and has an injury history. Adams hasn't been a full time player in a while. All these guys can be traded with the idea of just getting a bag of trash and searching through it for something good. Sometimes that works (Guzman got Roark) but usually it doesn't (Willingham got Corey "Lesser Goodwin" Brown and Henry Rodriguez)

Of course I didn't mention the elephant in the room Bryce Harper. He could get you something back. Not nearly what he might have if playing well and probably not nearly worth what he could possibly do for this team down the stretch. But if you are going to trade you almost have to trade him. Of course if you do trade him you lose that draft pick you'd almost certainly get for losing him. Teams love their draft picks nowadays, Nats included and that's probably a big enough factor alone to keep him here.

3) What are the chances the Nats are in a better position next year?

Since you aren't rebuilding this is really the question you are asking. You are going to get some AAA pieces that may help next year, some far off prospects that may help way down the road. You aren't getting a good player for 2020, not by plan anyway. What are the chances those AAA are helping out a team in better straits?

Well What's the projected rotation, pen and lineup next year sans FA

Max, Stras, Tanner.... uh Fedde, and Jefry
Doolittle, Kintzler, and... well a mess of the other guys there. Glover, Solis, Grace, etc.
Eaton, Turner, Soto, Rendon, Zimm, Robles probably, Difo, and Severino

Guys - that's a .500 team if it's lucky. There's no back of the rotation, the pen is it's usual meh self and the lineup is half bad.

Of course you say "But they'll get better players!" and they will! But they need to hit 3 good players to get from .500 to playoff contender. (or one great, one good, and one ok). Let's say they sign Yasmani Grandal, Patrick Corbin, Asdrubal Cabrera, Craig Kimbrel - probably the best C, SP, 2B, and RP on the market. You think the Nats go 3 for 4 there and get enough good value for it to work out? Or any one is great? What about if it's Ramos, Dozier, and a flier on Lance Lynn and no relief pitcher. Or  more realistically a cheapo deal for Mesoraco, Murphy back on a bargain deal, money going to Dallas Kuechel, and a couple affordable deals for some relief arms like say... Cody Allen and Sergio Romo. Is that going to be enough?

And we're talking in a vaccuum here. The Braves will need to make some moves but are only losing two real keys, Markakis and both catchers. (Yes Sanchez is a key but if they are planning on a Sanchez 2019 like 2018 they are dumb). They'll likely be going after some of the same players the Nats will and will have a better team and likely better contract to sell them.  The Phillies are losing... Trevor Plouffe and have tons o' money. 

This last question is the one that makes me say "don't be sellers". The Nats have a chance now. Not a good one but a chance. I don't like the chance that they will be in this position next year. So if you aren't going to rebuild (which means trading Rendon, Doolittle, and Kintzler) then you need to stand pat and maybe add and go for it. Because there isn't a bright future right around the corner where sending guys off for nothing returns might help.

Of course this changes if the Nats do collapse - lose tonight - lose first 3 to Miami. The chance goes away and the Nats have nothing to play for this year. They may not get anything from these deals, but maybe nothing is better than definitely nothing.

*Yeah there is a fourth that would get the Nats into the WC doing just ok but the chances of all the teams ahead of them playing like crap (which would almost necessitate a couple bad NL teams playing like the best team in baseball - someone has to win) is too far fetched for me to consider.

Tuesday, July 24, 2018

Charlie Amble

Well that was an ugly loss and not just because Gio was recent Gio - not making it through the 6th and giving up 5 walks and 6 hits in that time frame. It might have actually still turned out acceptable because Gio is apparently magic, but neither Miller or Solis could hold down the fort.

It was ugly because Trea Turner didn't bother to run out a fair bunt. His explanation meshes with what I thought - he was thrown off-balance by the play and knew it was an easy out so he decided not to run. That's not great but Chacin picks up the ball fast and tags him or fires it to first and we probably barely notice. But Chacin was confused by Trea walking away and just stood there and so we were treated to 3 odd seconds of nobody doing anything. The end result was something that looked much worse than it should have.  Look - you always run. Maybe you don't go all out on an obvious out but you 90% it down the first base line in the hopes that they screw something up. Trea should have been running around when Chacin got to the ball, slim chance or not. But are we talking about it if Chacin just threw him out? Probably not, or at least not as much as we are.

It was ugly because Martinez brought in Sammy Solis (not getting lefties out this year) to face Christian Yelich (hitting lefties quite well this year) in a crucial spot and got burned for it. This isn't the worst move. Solis has had a little more success versus lefties. Yelich has had a little more trouble with them. But it's not the slam dunk - oh you gotta make this move these things normally are and given the stats this year, it's hard to see why you'd be compelled to make the change. Still I put this more on the team than on Martinez because every team needs a lefty killer. There are just certain big time lefty hitters that have real problems with leftys and a lefty adept at getting them out is an advantage. Matt Grace isn't that. Sammy Solis isn't that. Tim Collins was kind of that but they sent him down because... ummm... well he wasn't great overall and they wanted to see if they could find someone that was great amongst all these guys they looked at before and weren't great then? God, that's not a good reason.

The Nats can't afford to make mistakes. They can't afford to lose games they could win. At least this didn't appear to be one of those games as the Nats offense was thoroughly shut down*  And the Nats (at least in my book) are only looking to take 1 of these games, so a loss is expected. But all this doesn't bode well for what they have to do now - which is take 4 of the next 6.

*Want to really yell at Martinez for something? Batting Zimm clean-up first time back after injury?

Monday, July 23, 2018

Monday Quickie - 10 weeks to go

10 Week Status
Record: 49-49
Ground gained/lost in division last wk : +0.5 game to PHI, 0 games to ATL
Ground gained/lost in WC race last wk : +0.5 game to SFG, STL, ARI, MIL, -0.5 game to COL, -1.5 games to Pittsburgh. 

Since it was All-Star week there wasn't much the Nats could actually do here. 3 games is three games, except when you only play two and even less can happen.  The only team to really do well over the weekend was Pittsburgh, who swept the Reds and swept back into WC contention.

There were a bunch of mini-stories to the Nats short weekend so let's take them in order

1) Max and Stras yelled at eachother.  My official take is (1) it's nothing and (2) it's more Max's fault. The first note, well guys yell at eachother all the time. There wasn't any physicality to it and they both gave the right words to the media after. I'm not saying there won't be lingering ill will but will it effect the team? I don't think so. The second note isn't popular but the way it looked to me is that an angry Strasburg walked back to the dugout and was rude to someone - Max, the pitching coach, whoever. Max called him out on it. That in itself is fine but to do so in public like seconds after he sits down? Let him blow off some steam for like, a minute!before digging into him. That's not too much to ask.

2) Stras pitched poorly. First game back it could happen. It can't keep happening if the Nats want to win

3) Doolittle is out for weeks. Turns out his foot issue is a stress fracture. The Nats couldn't afford this so they need to have something break their way to make up for it. The easiest path forward would be Kelvin Herrera is a pretty dominant replacement until Doolittle comes back.  Do they need another reliever? Yes. The time frame seems like 3-8 weeks so figure a month? That's almost half the time left in the year. The Nats can't assume things will hold up until then.

4) Goodwin was traded to KC for Jacob Condra-Bogan. Goodwin had become very unecessary in an outfield crowded with Eaton, MAT, Bryce, and Soto all healthy and playing. And while you could argue that group is hurt/bad/young enough to warrant extra depth, Goodwin provides no security in providing useful depth. Better than Stevenson, Bautista, et al? Yes. Good, or even ok? No. Condra-Bogan is a live arm.  He's not young (23 and just into High-A ball) but he's a great story and more importantly can hit 99 without it seems losing too much control. Orgs now have a bunch of guys like this so it's not as exciting but an arm is an arm

5) Koda Glover was activated, optioned, and threw a scoreless inning in Syracuse.  The guy is at least intriguing if healthy and should be good. Can he stay healthy? Right now all we care about is can he stay healthy for 10 weeks.

In short - the Nats got a new problem but Glover, a recalled Solis, or perhaps a fast-tracked Condra-Bogan could help with that. Still I'd add an arm because I don't want three questions. I want one answer.

Next up Milwaukee. Don't get swept.  Pretty simple. Anything more than a game is gravy that sets the Nats up nicely for making a move this week.

Friday, July 20, 2018

And you may also ask yourself, how do the Nats get where they want to be?

The Nats have to play better in the 2nd half. The first problem you run into though, is that the second half isn't actually a half, it's a little more that 40% of the season. That is not a lot of time.  To illustrate that let's see what happens when the Phillies and Braves, both playing well above .500 ball, struggle in the 2nd half and play only .500.

Braves : 52-42 now. Go 34-34. End up 86-76.
Phillies : 53-42 now. Go 33-34/34-33. End up 86-76 or 87-75

That doesn't seem so bad BUT

Nats: 48-48 to get to 88-74, clear of the Phillies and Braves in this scenario, they have to go 40-26.  That's not an insane pace, right around 98 wins, but it's up there. And this is figuring the Braves and Phillies both fail.  If one of them plays decent, not great just decent, the Nats will have to play like the best team in baseball from here on out to win the division. And if one of them plays great, it's game over.

The Wild Card isn't much better. While you can see one of these two having a middling 2nd half there are a number of teams waiting in the wings to take that spot. If you asked me if the Nats are going to catch one of the Braves or Phillies, I'd probably say yes.  If you asked me if the Nats are going to catch one of the Braves or Phillies... and all of the Cardinals (0.5 games ahead), Giants (1), Rockies (3), and Dbacks (4.5)... I'd have to say no.  

Probably the fairest goal for the Nats fan is for the Nats to play like one of the best teams in the league after the break (somewhere around 100 win pace - trust me a couple teams will be up around here and one or two over) and then just hope things break the Nats way.

OK so how exactly do they do that? Well...
(1) No more major injuries.  The Nats can't handle an injury to an important piece at this point.

(2) Everyone healthy plays like they are healthy - Rendon and Eaton are doing it. We need Bryce and Murphy to do it too. That alone would give the Nats a pretty strong lineup.  Pitching wise Strasburg needs to come back no worse than he left and, Gio and Roark need to pitch like last year. That's not asking for a lot given their history.  That gives the Nats back their top rotation.  Add in Kintzler and Madson and Herrera pitching at least decent and you've got a very very good team

(3) Someone needs to step up or keep stepping up.  Juan Soto keeps being a star. MAT gets his mojo back. Trea finds his star stroke. The Nats trade for a catcher or pitcher who does really well. (1) and (2) would get the Nats close - it would basically be the team expected at the beginning of the year who we thought could win in the mid 90s but the Nats need to be slightly better than that.

(4) No one is miserable who isn't planned for. Look if they don't do something at catcher so be it. They knew it'd be lousy. We knew it'd be lousy. It's an easy upgrade but at the same time they can win with that hole. But they can't win with that hole and MAT being a hole or Hellickson crashing and burning.  They can have a couple back of the pen arms do poorly but everyone past those four mentioned can't all underperform.  The margin for error isn't there.

Basically get healthy, have something go right and nothing go wrong. There are other ways to get there that allow for some wrong, like Bryce is magically 2015 Bryce or Strasburg matches Max, but the above is the simplest path.  Just everyone do what you are expected to and hope to stay on the field and have someone step up.

Scheduling wise the Nats have a bunch of H2H games left with ATL and PHI. The Atlanta games are spread out and the Phillies are bunched together. The Nats don't HAVE to win these, but it's the best way to ensure you get wins and they get losses which is something that has to happen. With 9 games a piece left here you'd love to see a trouncing like 8-1, but as long as they can keep their head above water in these games that gives them a fighting chance 5-4 minimum, 6-3 hopefully. If we look at the teams between them and Wild Card 2 they get a chance to take out the Cardinals and 3 against the Rockies H2H as well. They should plan on winning those match-ups as well (4-2 and 2-1 respectively)

If you look at the schedule overall the Nats have an easy stretch from July 26th - Aug 5th where they need to pick up games. They didn't do it in the easy stretch heading into the ASB so they have to do it here. They have a stretch against the best of the NL Central in late August into the Labor Day weekend they'll need to survive, but it is at home. The Phillies alternate good and bad pretty much the rest of the year, so there are no clear places to pinpoint gaining or losing ground. The Braves have a hard stretch right after the Nats one, so that might be a place to gain ground on them late.

Specifically the second half kicks off with 3 at home vs Atlanta, then three in Milwaukee and four in Miami.  Starting out on the right foot is a good idea so win the series at home (2-1), you probably can't expect to win at the Brewers (1-2), but then you need to take that Miami series (3-1).  But at this point - when you want to play like the best you gotta surprise here and there. So all in all it's a 6-4 stretch at minimum, 7-3 hopefully.  5-5 wouldn't end the season but it would set up some needed 7-3s (and better) down the road. 6-4 probably gains a game on Atlanta and holds ground with the Phillies.  Right now the Nats have a little bit of wiggle room. A little. A game or two. You don't want to waste it immediately or hope that fate gives you more.

Go. Fight. Win.

Thursday, July 19, 2018

And you may ask yourself, well How did the Nats get here?

The Nats are 48-48.  A .500 team. The Nats expected more. We expected more. How does a team expected to be say... 56-40 right now end up 8 games behind where they should be?

A couple of those games can be thrown out to luck.  Pythag has them as a 51 win team based on runs scored and runs allowed.  They are about 4-5 games behind where they should be in one-run games. But they are still underperforming.  What's gone right? What's gone wrong?


Though it feels like nothing, the Nats haven't been devoid of some good fortune this year. Mark Reynolds and Matt Adams have teamed up for basically a full half-season of GREAT offense. Juan Soto has been a two month revelation hitting at star levels as well.  That's almost two positions in the order that have unexpectedly hit like stars for a couple months. When healthy, Rendon has been Rendon and Eaton has been Eaton which can't necessarily be expected off of injury. Speaking of guys being themselves Max has been Max, which means the best pitcher in baseball which is expected in a way but you can never expect THE BEST as a planner, just up there. Hellickson has been more than that Nats asked for in his limited 5th starter role. Doolittle was probably his best self in the first half earning an All-Star berth.


Yes, Zimm was replaced by a weird star amalgam. Yes, Eaton went down and the OF struggled for a while, but then the Nats found Soto. If those were the only problems the Nats would still be on track. But you know the drill. Rendon missed a month. Kendrick went down a month and a half in and Difo failed at providing offense at 2nd. Zimm was awful for his month before going out. Murphy has been awful for a month since coming back.  Catcher has been the expected hole with Wieters healthy or without. There has been an injury issue that overwhelmed the acceptable depth they created, and exposed the unacceptable lack of depth they did not address.

Add to that MAT reverting to being MAT, Turner not progressing at the plate, and Bryce finding himself in a months long slump and you have an imbalance. Despite finding two stars in the pocket the Nats needed more and for the first half as a whole they have found themselves a middling offensive team

Still that shouldn't alone make the Nats, a team built around a best in baseball rotation, a .500 team. The Nats needed more failure. There have been the injuries to Hellickson and Strasburg (4th non-full season in a row for Stephen) which exposed the lack of depth behind the originally planned 5. Cole, Voth, Rodriguez, and Fedde are all questionable in a major league rotation at this time. But about three months missed out of like 17 and a half potentially missed by your starting 5? Every team would sign up for that to start the year. That's actually pretty good. Maybe I should have mentioned that in the right section. No that's a blip compared to the more pressing issue.

Hellickson has been great but he's also been limited. That was the plan, but it meant the other starters were supposed to pick up slack so the pen could help finish the games Hellickson started. Strasburg's injury pushed that but at the same time Gio and Roark started flailing badly.  Now instead of covering for 1 pitcher the bullpen needed to cover for 3-4 pitchers and no pen can be expected to do that.

The pen itself found itself predictably exposed for the 193rd year in a row. Neither Madson or Kintzler had been as good as they should have been meaning the Nats really needed someone to step up and no one did. Solis looked like he might but he faltered then went out. Miller did step up for a while but the magic only lasted so long. Guys like Grace and Collins have been fine but just as other guys. Kelley had been maddeningly really bad at giving up homers, making it hard to trust him as he started to put it back together.  Injuries, the variable bad performances, and the as always questionable last couple arms made the Nats dig deep into their minors and it hasn't been great. They did try to address it with the trade for Herrera but he hasn't been good. It could be the timing, coming in about when the pen was asked to do far too much. Or it could be Herrera just isn't that good anymore, his 2017 being thoroughly mediocre. It's not that the pen has been bad. It's that the pen, once again, was not planned to be a strength so unsurprisingly it isn't one.

The end result is a pitching staff putting up numbers just as middling as the offense.  Middling + Middling = .500.

The first half has been a little unfair to the Nats.  They planned for injury issues with a good enough bench. Kendrick and the new Lind, Matt Adams? You aren't often asked to dig 3-4 deep for very long. Then again they knew they had more injuries than normal coming in to the year and they knew catcher would be an issue. It probably would have been wiser to add one more ML bat to the mix. It still wouldn't have been enough to cover everything, but it would have softened the blow of the deeper than expected injuries.

While the offense was something like planning for a level 2 emergency when anyone could see a level 3 one coming and then getting a level 4. The pitching was a failure to plan for anything at all. Again. By now we've learned that three reliable arms in the pen is the minimum and the Nats finally got there this year, but a minimum is a minimum and a major league team looking to win it all should do more than that. The starting pitching on the other hand was no plan at all, assuming that the years of good fortune with health and talent would continue on indefinitely. This is always a gamble but it's also one that most teams swallow because good pitching is expensive. Plus it was an issue that bum-rushed the Nats in a month with the injuries and failures piling up on each other. So, to me the lack of depth is a little forgivable. The failure to do something going forward would not be.

Enough talk of the past. What's done is done. Tomorrow we talk about what needs to happen going forward.

Wednesday, July 18, 2018

Juan Posto

This will never live up to the hype, of Soto or the delay in this post. But here we go. Soto has been up for two months which is actually a really good time to start to look at his stats.  We can easily overreact to what happens in the first couple of weeks when a player comes up, just like we can overreact to a player's start to a season.

If that start is unusually bad or unusually good it can carry a while. For example if you are a .270 20 HR type of guy and you hit exactly like that for a month, but started with a crazy 2 weeks, your numbers would still be way off.  If you were crazy good to start you might look like a .320 30 HR hitter still, crazy bad and .220 14 is possible.  But around 2 months in a crazy two weeks starts to dissipate to the point where you kind of think what you are seeing is really real.  So what do we see?

Well we can look at just his raw numbers but to try to get to the heart of things even more, I like to look at rolling averages. I want to see what he has hit like for most of his time here and if there has been any trends as the league has reacted to him.  So here are some 10 game rolling averages (with trendlines!).


(Yes I did move the Yankee game back into June) At first glance you see a general downward trend in his stats.  Looking more specifically, you see a pronounced downward trend in SLG, a mild downward trend in AVG, and a very mild one in OBP. But what is the effect of the hits going through and what's the effect of his actual patience and power? If we isolate SLG and OBP (pull out the influence of singles basically) we see another angle on what's going on.


His SLG going down pretty steadily, while his OBP has actually gone steadily up.  Now these can be pretty influenced by singular events. His two homer game (around the 11 mark here) makes the SLG jump for 10 games while his 3 walk game (around 29) does the same for his OBP.  But I think there are real things here. He is hitting for less power, one homer and 2 doubles in July. He is still getting on base, seven walks in his last 11 games which doesn't include that 3 walks one.

It's hard to piece out right now how these may be related. He is not particularly seeing more balls (or at least his ratio of strikes to balls is pretty consistent - but that will include fouls as stirkes) but they may be giving more pitches that he doesn't like and he maybe taking them more for good and for bad. Try not to read into it too much beyond the surface analysis - remember 2 months.

In general I'm very enthused by these numbers - yes his average has gone down as they've managed to get him to hit more grounders but it's a slow fall and it's a drop that right now has him around .300. And his plate discipline, usually the hardest thing for young players to develop looks completely real. His OBP is amazing for a player of his age.

Does the power drop bother me? He's 19! Nothing outside of complete terribleness bothers me! What I would say is that he looks like a guy that crushes mistakes left out and over the plate. He's seeing less out and over the plate so consequently fewer XBH but he's got YEARS to learn how to hit other pitches for power. (and maybe he doesn't but hits them for average and that's still probably good enough!)

The league is adapting to Soto and he will have to adapt back but from what I've seen he's holding his own despite the league adjustments. I see a guy that I might pencil in as .280/.290 hitter next year with great patience and useful pop with the possibility of much more. This could change if the average keeps dropping but we'll revisit at the end of the year. I'd be surprised if his floor was much lower than say .250/.340/.400 which is basically league average at the plate.

Now if he hits his floor that may not be good enough. We haven't talked about it but Soto is NOT a good fielder and it's more likely that he gets worse than better. I know there is a lot of variability there but bodies don't get more athletic as they age. You get bigger and slower. He's got a lot of natural talent but so did Bryce and you see he never developed into anything more than a mediocre corner OF. I wouldn't bet on Soto being anything more than passable until he's pushed to 1B at some point later in his career (mid 20s? early 30s?)

OK I know you are thinking "this is negative!" but what I'm saying is - the floor I think the kid has set AT 19 is league average bat with below average fielding. That's not great but it's also probably a starting OF for a few teams in the league. That in itself, a floor that high, is super positive. The ceiling? Well the sky's the limit. He knows the zone. He's shown the ability to work outside pitches the other way and crush meatballs nearly every time they are presented to him. And I mean crush. The natural power is there so you have to think when he does get some more experience the homer numbers could really jump.  Everything is there so that if it comes together a Bryce-like "best season ever" is possible. Can he hit .330? Seems like it. 42 homers? Probably. Walk 124 times? He might be able to do that now.

Now mind again this is after only 2 months of data, and things tend to mellow out for nearly everyone even if you can't immediately see the how. But the age and the numbers lead you to a very positive place right now. Soto is almost certain to be an everyday starter and has all the makings of a star. Can the league adjust to him in a way he can't adjust back? Is that happening now? If so, then the question becomes one of when, as you expect 19 years olds to grow as hitters as they age. If not, then the question is how high does his star rise.

Friday, July 13, 2018

Weekend Placeholder 2 : Place Harder

See. I like you guys so much I woke up early to put this in here (not really but I have a few minutes).

Nats need to finish this out 2-1.  They didn't get what they wanted from the Pirate series BUT 3-1 vs the Mets ensure 7-4 and basically stability, which is enough to keep hope alive. 4-0 would be better as it almost guarantees games gained but right now we are in triage. 3-1 should gain games on someone ahead of the Nats and avoid disaster. 2-2? That could be disaster.

They did beat the Mets but barely and with Max on the mound so what can we say?

OK I gotta run.  Have fun and see you at the All-Star Game because I will remain hopeful that one of my legions will magically provide me with tickets. Suite tickets. Also sweet tickets. And maybe sweets

Monday, July 09, 2018

Too busy

Sorry in this crucial week that I'm busy but hey - I asked you to fund my 100K Patreon account and you guys fell way short of the goal offering $23 and the entire run of Major Dad on VHS.  Sure I took it - but I feel I paid that off in two posts.

This might be my only post of the week but stay strong knowing that nothing has changed.  The Nats needed to rock this 11 game set. They still do. They rocked the Marlins well enough (3-1). It wasn't overly convincing and neither Roark or Gio snapped out of their doldrums, but it was 3-1 nonetheless. They did not rock the Pirates in game 1 but 2-1 is the goal. So win those two.  Win those two and go 3-1 versus the Mets that's a 5-1 run and probably another game at least gained on the Phillies or the Braves (whoever goes 4-2). 4 games out at the ASB? That's doable people!

Friday, July 06, 2018

Friday placeholder

How did the summer get to be so busy?

The Nats stabbed at the Marlins from hell's heart and with hopefully not quite their last breath spit on their huge lead with an improbable win. The Nats needed that win, but at this point the Nats need all wins. Easy 5-0 victories, Tense 2-1 nail biters, 8-6 hang-ons.  Whatever way they can get a W they need it.

I'm not enthused by the Hellickson performance, even if he was sick. There's a reason he was available and while he's not likely to get bombed each time out, he wasn't very likely to pitch to a 2.00 ERA for two months either. He's a true fifth that may not be 100% and the Nats don't have a good alternative. That can be fine depending on 1-4, but as of today 2 is out and 3 and 4 are also pitching horribly.  The Marlins aren't the best team to shutdown given how they've been since Realmuto's been back, but they aren't anything special either. Hopefully Gio and Roark can get back on the right track here.

Win 2 out of next 3. Get another game back. Easy peasy.

Soto post is coming. Don't worry.  The gist of it is, surprise, he's good.

Thursday, July 05, 2018

No rest for the weary

Another loss

Another shutout loss

Another shutout loss losing ground to teams ahead of them.

The Nats have played terribly for nearly a month now. They were 11 games up on July June 9th 37-26 with a half-game lead over Atlanta and a 4.5 game lead over the Phillies. Since then they have gone 5-17. They are now one game under, seven games back of Atlanta and 5.5 behind the Phillies.  The Phillies also currently hold the 2nd Wild Card spot so the Nats are 5.5 out of that as well.

There is no room for error left. If the Nats, who have played like an 80 win team through more than half the year, play like a 100 win team the rest of the way they should sneak to 90 wins. The Braves, on a 93-94 win pace only have to play like an 86-87 win team to hit the same level. The Phillies, looking at 91 wins, have to play like team winning 89 games.

The short of all that is that the Nats have to play much much better AND hope the Braves play worse AND hope the Phillies don't play better.

But beating this drum again, now is the time to do it. 4 against the Marlins, 3 against the Pirates, 4 against the Mets. If the Nats want to be relevant after the All-Star break they need to crush this run*. 7-4 minimum, 8-3 hopefully.  You get one loss per series.

The Nats know this, too. If they had been floating around thinking it would just click and they'd come out on top, those thoughts are gone. They met as a team yesterday and all that came out was they understand it's do or die time.

Some tried to paint it positively, noting that they might need adversity in the regular season to win in the playoffs.  Who knows? I'm sure it helps some teams and hurts others. And some teams lose despite the help or win in spite of the hurt. Whatever happens, we'll craft the narrative to fit the ending.

What if the Nats can't do it? What if they are 10 games out at the All-Star break? What then? Well we'll have a lot of time to talk about it then.  Right now we focus on the Marlins. 4 games. Hellickson, Gio, Max, and Roark. The Marlins have been about .500 over the past month. They are pitching better, hitting a little better, and getting a little luck. Pitching wise it's mainly been a big improvement in the relief pitching, finding a few arms to compliment converted starter Adam Conley and Bear Claw who have been good all year.  Urena is the only starter to worry about and since he went on the 4th the Nats are going to miss him. There truly is no excuse not to score on these starters.

Batting wise JT "Should have been a Nat" Realmuto is having an All-Star season and has upped his trade value a good deal. Dietrich, last OF standing, is also a good hitter doing well. Bour is fine. Castro is fine. The making of a good line-up is there. It's just that everyone else stinks. But to be fair to these guys - none of them should be good. It's almost entirely older prospects who aren't quite major leaguers. A half line-up of Brian Goodwins. Lewis Brinson is kind of the key player - the one true prospect currently up. He's doing better but that's only in the macro sense. He's not doing well. This line-up should score a couple runs but shouldn't do any blowing out.

It's there for the Nats. Start it out right. 3 of 4, minimum.  Go.

*and again again I'll note that baseball is crazy and this might not actually be the case. The Nats could go 7-4 and lose ground or 5-6 and gain it. But we're trying to come up with the most likely circumstances.

Tuesday, July 03, 2018

How much should you worry about the starting pitching?

Yesterday on Twitter I took the starting pitching to task for a while because it has been the worst.  I don't mean "worst" in the teenage slang sort of way. I mean they were literally the worst staff in the major leagues (by ERA) for the month of June.  Everyone not named Max was terrible.  Here's a quick cut and paste from one tweet.

Hellickson - 2 GS, 5IP, 5.40 ERA
Roark - 5 GS, 26.1 IP, 5.47 ERA
Strasburg - 2 GS, 8.2 IP, 6.23 ERA
Fedde - 4 GS, 21.1 IP 6.33 ERA
Gio - 5 GS, 21.1 IP, 8.44 ERA
J-Rod - 2 GS, 9IP, 9.00 ERA

Rough combined 20 GS, 4.5 IP, 6.77 ERA

Now this is not the problem the offense is. The offense was bad in April, good in May, and terrible in June. The pitching was good in April, great in May, and terrible in June. However there's the same underlying issues with the pitching that we have with the offense. Can guys come back from injury? Can guys get back to hitting as we believe they should?

These aren't all going to be in the affirmative. Eaton has been ok. Murphy has not. Rendon has found his stroke. Turner is still scuffling around.  So it's reasonable to think maybe one of Roark and Gio don't come back to the modest needs the team has. Maybe one of Stras and Hellickson can't really find themselves for a while. It's a potential problem.

If I was to worry about the pitching would I worry about Gio or Roark more? It depends.They both are having sort of the same issues - too many homers and walks. Gio is pitching more like a bad version of himself. Stats like how they hit him and his FB speed are pretty consistent. Roark is pitching different than usual. Roark has lost a MPH on his FB and is getting pulled more. That sounds like Roark is more of a worry but Roark could also be a quick fix, as he needs to correct something that's changed. I don't know.

If the Nats are going to catch anyone now they need to be firing on all cylinders. They are firing on none. I agree, you worry about the offense and getting healthy and then you see if the pitching is a need, but you only have a few weeks to do it.

A note on 1-run games

So Boz noted that the Nats are 8-16 in one-run games.  That's pretty unlucky.  They are more likely a 12-12 or 13-11 type team based on record. So why doesn't Pythag (record based on runs scored and runs allowed) have them at something like 46 or 47 wins but 45? Well because the run difference distribution doesn't just begin and end with one-run games.

You see the idea is good teams win blowouts. It's a pretty consistent finding. If you are good you don't lose a lot of blow out games. Makes sense. Winning a game by say 6 runs means you either scored a lot (good hitting) or shut them down (good pitching).  If a lot of these go against you that means you lack one of those things and you aren't good. It's not that complicated. As you get closer to 1 run games though the percentage of games good teams win gets closer to 50%. Luck takes over more than skill.

So the Nats are obviously not performing as expected in one-run games but what if we expand that?
1-RUN : 8-16
2-RUN : 15-11
3+ RUN : 19-14

If you like the Nats the 3+ run 19-14 is roughly about right.  What do you think about how the Nats have played? A 90 win team sound about right? Well since the 1-run games are going to be about .500 the bigger wins need to be at a better rate to compensate for that. 19 out of 33 in 3+ run games? That's 93 wins and sounds right. But then logic tells you if it gets more random the closer the games get that the 2-run game outcome should be closer to .500 but 15 out of 26? That's actually a little BETTER pace.

In other words the Nats may have gotten unlucky in one-run games but in two-run games they've probably been a little lucky. Not as much so it cancels out but it gives a simple reason why the runs scored/runs allowed doesn't exactly get you to where you think you'd be by "fixing" the one-run issue.

Note : this is all real surface analysis because I don't like looking at one-run games without looking at everything else too. It's kind of arbitrary to pick that outcome.

Monday, July 02, 2018

Monday Quickie - You can see the end from here

Yesterday I said that the Nats didn't need to win yesterday's game. I meant it. The Nats have a path forward to the playoffs and the division, thanks in part to an upcoming stretch that features 8 games against the Marlins and Mets and thanks to 18 remaining H2H games against the Phillies and Braves in the second half. The path can be laid out very simply :
  1. Get closer by the All-Star Break
  2. Win the H2H battle decisively
  3. Don't mess up the other games. 
You can question if the Nats can do this. They are playing their worst baseball of the season currently. They are currently losing the H2H battle against both teams. I understand if you are less than convinced.

And now that we're in the second half of the season you can see how that plan will fall apart. Not that losing to the Phillies itself ruins the plan, but how this is step one and steps two and three are apparent.  In this case losing to the Phillies (step 1) and getting swept by the Red Sox (step 2) would lead to the Nats being 7-8 games out of first and 4 out of the Wild Card.  Playing around .500 ball or worse, say no better than 6-5, in the stretch until the All-Star break (step 3) would then likely leave the Nats 8-9 games out with under 70 games to go, and 5-6 out of the Wild Card with three teams between them and the 2nd spot.  Game over.

Now, none of this is set in stone. Sports are funny. In the scenario above, the Nats could play like the best team in baseball in August and get back into all the races by Labor Day. Or the Nats could go 1-2 vs the Sox 7-4 in the 11, and yet still lose ground as the Braves and Phillies go on runs. All we are doing is trying to figure out the most likely scenarios but the truth is you reevaluate constantly at this point.

In the beginning of the year we talk about being worried, but it is a vague general worry. It's an "every game counts" type of situation where you are trying to get people to understand that a terrible start matters nearly as much as a terrible finish. In the middle of the year the worry turns specific*. The dominoes are set and while they may not all fall the first one has been pushed.

*At Labor Day the worry becomes desperate as you get closer and closer to only needing one domino to fall.