Nationals Baseball: September 2018

Friday, September 28, 2018

Bryce ruminations

It's hard to quantify Bryce. I've think there is some underestimation of what Bryce is by both the non-Nats fan public and the online Nats fan. The non-Nats fan public takes a glance at the stats, the lack of playoff wins, remembers the hype and the very early "attitude" problems, and calls the whole thing disappointing. The online Nats fan, understands better what should be dismissed about the above, but they tend to be a little too dismissive about his impact off the field.* 

Bryce is someone that loves the spotlight and does well in it. He is the touchstone for the team, especially the younger and casual fans. His personality is admittedly rather bland when you get him down to interview, but despite that he's able to be sold as some sort of bad boy basher because he has that X-Factor. 

Rendon might have been just as important but leans away from it. Zimmerman is the long time face and probably only a little blander in interviews, but just doesn't have "it" (see: Trout, Mike). Max is great, but Max you see only every 5 days. Doolittle is pretty good, but hasn't been here long enough to have a deep following and might be right back out that door after next year. Soto, Robles, and Turner, while talented, haven't shown any sellable spark yet.

But Bryce is not the end all be all. He hasn't come through every year, often hobbled by injuries turning a team-carrying superstar into a mere star. He's had big playoff moments but because of the same tendency to get injured has rarely been able to have the impact you think he should. He's ALMOST the player he was expected to be, the generational talent that could define great offense for the next 15 years, but he's not that. Instead he's a guy that's continually on the precipice of that. A season here, a half-season there. And because of his age that still works, but it won't for much longer.

That last statement is what makes signing Bryce different than your typical free agent. Bryce is still only 25. He's half a year younger than Wilmer Difo. Here are the Nats in 2018 that had at bats that are more than a year younger than Bryce : Juan Soto, Victor Robles, Andrew Stevenson.  Here are the pitchers that threw a pitch for the Nats this year that are more than a year younger than Bryce :  

That's no mistake - there aren't any. Bryce is still young. Not very young, but young and that means his future is still a future. The fact that he's had so much experience by now makes it a pretty clear future but there is still room for change and growth. But the primary selling point is not improvement, it's that the fear of non-injury based decline anywhere in the plannable future - even out to 5 years, is minimal.  That is rare in a long-term signing.

What is clear is if he's healthy he's an All-Star plus caliber offensive player. What's not clear is how he fits into a defense scheme and if, in fact, he can stay healthy.

I don't know exactly what to do here. Bryce has the ability to be a singular player, but as we've seen with the Angels, a singular player by himself, even the best one, cannot get a team to the playoffs himself. That's not how baseball works. So if you are betting on Bryce, signing him and bringing him back, you aren't just betting on Bryce. You are betting on your own ability to build a winning team around him with the remaining funds available.** For the Nats that may be only 10-15 million more in 2019 if you sign him. Can you do that?  The Nats have been able to do build a winner with less money than that but that was when they found themselves with 3-4 underpaid starting pitchers and 3-4 underpaid starting offensive players for 4-5 years. Now they have a similar base of offensive players - maybe even better if both Robles and Soto hit - but possibly no underpaid starting pitchers.  Is the best move going forward putting that much money into the offense?

That's the crux. The Nats going forward likely can be good enough offensively to win already, at least in 2019. They may not be able to be good enough on the mound. Do you double down on the more reliable offense, and sign the team defining player, or do you try to throw money at the more variable issue in pitching? They arguably tried the latter this year, ignoring a hole at catcher and buying into the pen. That didn't work.  And if you do choose the offense there's even a choice. Do you build around Bryce as part of your core for the next four years, or bet on being able to do it with Rendon - the more reliable strong defender with a bat but who's older and has no real interest in being marketed?

I'll say this - signing Bryce will not be the wrong move. He's a great offensive player that makes a team better. The Nats may follow it up with other wrong moves and fail to win. Or they may follow it up with no moves and fail and blame budget, but that's on them, not on Bryce.  It's never a mistake to sign a good player.

*The online fans are right in their overall point, though. It's winning that drives the bus for attendance. Bryce may help boost it, but he's the finishing touch, not the main ingredient. 

**Really in a sense you are betting on your ability to build a winning team around 90 million for Bryce, Max, and Stras - assuming Stras stays. 

Wednesday, September 26, 2018

First go at it

How you feel about the Nats and Bryce depends a lot on your outlook on the Nats.

The future is limited
Scherzer is 34 next year and time has to eventually come for him. Strasburg is 30, remains an injury risk, and has opt outs after 2019 and 2020. Rendon, who's like the secret key to the team could leave after next season as well. The Braves arrived a year early and the Phillies almost did. One or both of them are going to build teams for the next 5 years. The Nats need to focus on these next two years, when a semblance of the teams that brought them four playoff trips remain. 

The future is mushy
The pitching doesn't look great down the road but Robles and Soto are here now and with Rendon and the other offensive weapons the Nats could remain playoff competitive with just a few tweaks. Sure in a few years the Nats could be out of pitching, but 3 years is forever in baseball time so we shouldn't assume that. We also saw the Mets rise up and fall out of contention so while we should be wary about the Braves and Phillies we shouldn't assume they'll be contenders for years. 

The future is bright
This team missed out on the playoffs because of bad luck and injuries.  Next year they'll be right back in the hunt Bryce or no Bryce. The Braves have shown they are nothing special and the Phillies aren't even a .500 team after all this. Soto and Robles set-up a core through the middle of next decade that they can pretty easily find a way to build around in an NL East who's quality remains murky at best.

Which one are you? 

Here's a fun exercise :
30 Million - Bryce
20 Million - Corbin
12 Million - Grandal
12 Million - Happ
5 Million - Random Reliable Reliever A
5 Million - Random Reliable Reliever B

You have 40 million or so to spend for next year after margin work. Make no assumptions on length of deal. You can lose Eaton's 8.5 Million in a trade if you sign Harper but at most that trade brings in one of those random reliable relievers.  Go.

Monday, September 24, 2018

Monday Quickie - Officially official

The Nats were officially eliminated from the playoffs this weekend.  To give you an idea of how the math plays with fans hopes think about that for a second. You could have honestly started arguing the Nats were out of the playoffs for months now, but only this past weekend did it become actually impossible. Crazy. You'd think these things get decided a lot earlier but since we allow for "one team wins every game, other team loses every game" scenarios you almost always make it to the point where the games left to play equal the games behind. Odds help put the chances in better context but still possible means possible and some fans are always going to hold onto that. And why not? We've now got 5 months of no winning baseball to get through.  Why make it 7?

Anyway here's your CY and ROY updates

Max : 17-7 2.57  213.2 IP  0.917 WHIP, 2.1 BB/9, 12.2 K/9, 290 K overall
DeGrom :  9-9 1.77 209 IP, 0.938 WHIP, 2.0 BB/9, 11.2 K/9, 259 K

Max had an off game and frankly has had an off finish to 2018.  In his last 5 starts he's posting an ERA over 5.00. Even throwing that in though, he's pitched as well this year as last, and he's going to throw 20 more innings. It's a Cy Young worthy season. The problem is, of course, that there's a slightly better season sitting out there in deGrom who has a touch fewer Ks but doesn't give up the homer a game like Max does. The crux ends up being what would you rather have over the course of four games -  37 Ks but 3 homers, or 34 Ks and 1 home run. That's a trade you make every time.  Max's hope comes down to getting to 300Ks and deGrom just blowing completely up with a 7 run 1.2 inning type outing. The former is a good bet on happening. The latter is extremely unlikely.

Soto :  .293 / .405 / .509  20HR, 72R, 65RBI, 5 SB
Acuna :  .289 / .364 / .561  26HR, 77R, 58RBI, 15 SB

Is it done? I'm not going to say that. The talent we're dealing with here for both players is the type that can have a week where they hit .500 and blast out 6 homers.  Soto does that while Acuna struggles and that last impression maybe puts him over the top. However failing that Soto is out. After getting back in the race by topping Acuna in the H2H series, Soto has had a terrible time. He's gone 2 for 23 with no walks and 5 Ks. Acuna hasn't been great but this drop off erased all the good Soto did in those Braves games.

What's interesting in this final week now that the Nats are done? Well, I mentioned at some point that the scheduling gods haven't been kind to us to end the year. We'd like this last week to have MIL/CHC, LAD/COL, NYY/OAK, maybe even ATL/CHC but we get none of those. Nearly all teams still in an interesting spot are not facing off directly.  The best bet for a singularly interesting game is the Brewers and Cardinals who face off to start the week. For neither team is WC HFA the biggest deal. The Brewers are hoping to catch the Cubs for the Central title. The Cardinals have to worry about missing out on the playoffs entirely if the Rockies catch them. But in the end they are still battling for something and if the Cardinals win Game 1 that'll be the big deal for the rest of the series.  Ending the season the Cardinals Cubs might play out to be interesting but more likely it won't.  If we get one chase still around by Friday I'll be happy.

Thursday, September 20, 2018

Can the Nats develop starting pitching?

It was a point brought up in the comments yesterday, but that wasn't the first time. It seems like people believe the Nats can't develop starting pitching. My off the cuff thoughts are yes they have had problems with it, though I'm not sure how that relates to other teams. And that a good part of the reason why is how they draft. The "go big or go home" draft strategy of picking risks to get value IF they get right has been the culprit lately. Be it Giolito and Fedde facing injury or Seth Romero and his head. But that's just my off the cuff take.

It's kind of hard to measure this because "develop starting pitching" isn't an easy thing to gauge. Sure you draft someone, bring him up in the minors, and he starts multiple years for your team is a success point. But what if you draft someone, bring him up in the minors, and then trade him away where he finds success as a starter? Or if you trade for someone in the minors and he becomes a multi-year starter for you? And what if there's a trade inbetween, who gets credti? And how long after leaving your team is it about your team? 2 years? 5? What about starters you trade for and get better for you? Does that matter?

We gotta set some limits so For now I'm going to say you get credit for a pitcher developing if he pitched A ball and AA ball for you OR he pitched a rough season worth of AA ball. So this cuts out maybe an almost ready prospect you sit in AA for a half a year before moving him up. I'd also give credit to the last team to have these qualifications so if you got him to AA but he pitched one more AA years for someone else, that's their guy. I also set the limit off your team at 2 years. If he's been gone for 3 years and hasn't been an impactful starter that's not on you. This is all imperfect and we can talk about it.

Now we're going to look at the Rizzo time frame and I set it at 2011 because (1) he took over fully in 2009 and (2) it takes a couple years to get guys going. How many pitchers have pitched at least two full seasons of baseball?*

There have been quite a lot - 185 pitchers to be exact. But I realize this includes a lot of old guys - Hey Roy Halladay you don't count here - so I then set the limit to guys who are pitching one of their first 8 seasons in here. That isn't perfect because you are getting guys who may have season 8 in 2011 but it'll whittle out some we don't care about and we're down to 149. We can probably put an age limit on it too. Like most pitchers would start by 25? so 33... let's say 34 to be conservative.  147 that didn't do much.

OK well evenly distributed that would be like 5 a team. Who here was developed by the Nats? I'm pretty good with memory stuff so I think I can get them all.   First off there's Jordan Zimmerman, with 5 such years. Nationals born and bred.Then there's Roark and Strasburg with 4. Roark, you know was a trade get. I thought he was a A ball guy but he was a AA when the Nats got him.  Still he pitched a season-plus in AA for the Nats, so under my rules up there he goes to the Nats. Strasburg was of course a drafted and developed talent.

Now these all happened a while ago, ZNN debuted in 2009, Stras in 2010, Roark in 2013 but I'm going down the list from most of these years to least. Older guys have more time to hit this criteria so this end should skew older debuts. Let's keep going.

I don't see any Nats with 3 such years. How about 2? OK I see Nick Pivetta's name... he did reach AA with the Nats so they would get him but 29 starts in AA... that's enough to give the Phillies credit under my rules. So no Nick.

Robbie Ray! OK here's a classic tough case. He did reach AA with the Nats. He was traded and pitched in the majors the next year but was bad. Was dealt again and was good. So he both reached the majors and pitched well in the majors within the 2 year limit. he also spent very little time in the minors outside of the Nats. This looks like the Nats get Robbie Ray. 2014 first appearance.

And hey there's Tommy Milone! A middling pitcher to be sure but a usable starter for a couple of seasons. No doubt about it - a guy they Nats drafted and brought up to be a starter. 2011 first appearance.

So the Nats have developed 5 starters in this time frame which works out to be completely average. While you can debate whether Milone was good enough to want to take credit for - the other four were at least good if not very good. I'm not going to argue with the fact they developed starters. But of course it's not a steady drip.  The debuts weren't 2009 2011 2013 2015, and 2017.   They were 2009, 2010, 2011, 2013, and 2014. There's a distinct older skew here. If they are average now, the Nats had been really good at developing starters, but since have fallen off.

Now this leads to another point. Perhaps the Nats didn't develop starters because they didn't need them at the time. ZNN, Stras, Gio, Roark, Fister, Max... they literally forced Roark out in 2015. That's going to force some skewing to be sure.

But Fister was gone by 2016 and ZNN left then too. The Nats have needed pitchers. There's been space since. How many guys have had at least one full year in the past 3 seasons?  How many of those have been Nats?

Cut down to 22 starts (to account for rest of 2018) I'm going to get a handful more guys in here. And let's make it through 4th season since we're looking for guys the Nats have developed for this new time of need.  There have been 88 pitchers with at least one full year here. We would expect 3 Nats.  Ray's in here - but just barely (get's his 3rd and 4th seasons in 16-17) that's not what we're looking for.  With one year we see both Reynaldo Lopez and Lucas Giolito**.  They were both Nats developed. Both debuted in 2016.  And... that's it. So a little under expectation but not much.

So this quick stroll through the pitchers in the league would seem to suggest the Nats are not bad at developing starting pitchers. Average over the course of the time frame we are looking at. Maybe a little skewed toward the past but still mostly able to develop full-time major league talent for 2018. Given that the latest three who have become full-time starters (Ray, Lopez, and Giolito) were all dealt I'd say the problem recently is less development and more identifications of the ones to keep and the ones to let go. Maybe a problem identifying who are the real injury risks and who are minor ones.

Of course there's a lot of hemming and hawing up there so have at the methods of this.

*And what's a "full season" I mean literally it would be 32/33 starts but I set the limit at 25. See! There's a lot of lines that have to be drawn for this analysis.  And what if they aren't GOOD seasons? You should get more credit for the good, right? And what's development and what's just drafting? Lots of questions! 

**How are they doing?  Lopez has had an EXCELLENT September. 1 ER in 3 starts, 22K and 4 BB. Best he's pitched all year, balancing out his terrible July to give his year proper representation in the final stats. Which is to say he's been perfectly fine as a blah 3 or good 4. Giolito's gone the other way, with a terrible September so far. Knocked out early by Detroit and knocked around by Baltimore. Walks, which plagued him, aren't too bad but strikeouts almost gone with it. His numbers now 5.77 capture his year, too which is a roller coaster with a few mild highs and a lot of real low lows. He's a guy that starts as a 5th starter in 2019.  For both guys 2019 is going to be where their careers are set likely. 

Wednesday, September 19, 2018

So what's gone right?

Not everything is bad. The Nats aren't going to make the playoffs, but they have played as well as the other teams in the NL East since the break meaning that the talent to challenge for the East is still there (whatever you think of that bar). Of course it's one thing if this was spurred on by guys either out the door or soon to be, it's another if it was spurred on by talent staying in DC. What have the Nats numbers looked like since the break?

Crushing it
Bryce : .304 / .444 / .560
Zimmerman : .299 / .377 / .565
Soto : .296 / .414 / .522
Rendon : .335 / .394 / .510
Murphy : .340 / .370 / .904

A mixed bag. Murphy is gone and unlikely to come back. Bryce could be gone. Zimm is a strong bet not to reach 120 games. But Soto could get better and Rendon will likely be here unless they rebuild. So that's a very solid two-batters to build around

Eaton : .274 / .377 / .400
Turner : .270 / .329 / .405
Difo : .218 / .302 / .427

Yes Difo has well outslugged Eaton and Turner. That's not a good sign, especially for Turner who doesn't have the "I've been injured for two years! Give me some time!" excuse Eaton does. Difo doubters (like me!) will note that it has been just 127 PAs which isn't enough to shake out the flukes and historically he's more a .370 slugger. None of this is good, but it's workable for the other guys in the line-up if your first bunch is strong enough.

Kieboom : .204 / .317 / .370
Weiters :  .246 / .327 / .358
all the other OFs (Sanchez, Robles so far, Stevenson, MAT)

Severino barely played in the 2nd half before getting injured but he was worse than these two. Wieters will be gone but that's it that has to go. Robles is likely to start if Bryce leaves and his production range going into next year will vary wildly from ROY candidate to AAAA guy.

The offense has a decent start with Soto and Rendon, but around them there isn't quite enough. Zimm can hit when healthy but that's like half the time. Eaton should get better with health, but that's no guarantee either. The rest of the "here next year" crew isn't special. Of course we don't expect the Nats to stand pat here. But the early look says - if Bryce is gone, a lot is going to ride on Robles. Is he a third core bat or just decent line-up filler?

Nasty stuff
Holland : WHIP 0.873, 11.3 K/9, 2.88 K/BB
Scherzer : 0.944, 11.9, 6.33
Doolittle : 1.000, 9.0, 10.00 (in 5IP)
Madson : 1.000, 9.0, 6.00 (10 IP)
Kintzler : 1.000, 7.2, 4.00 (5 IP)

Hey. There was a reason the Nats had built around those three in the bullpen. No, the results didn't always match what these numbers suggest.  Madson was real prone to the long ball.  Kintzler has had consistency issues. But these guys had talent and are going to have to be replaced.  Could Holland be one? Perhaps... if he sticks around.

And of course Max is Max.

Mixed Bag
Man there's a lot of pitchers... ok Fedde, Roark, Miller, Hellickson, Ross, Collins, Grace, Suero, Jefry, and Stras all fit in here. Ross barely pitched. Fedde, Stras, and Collins have good stuff but had control issues. Miller, Hellickson, and Grace had decent control but no stuff. Jefry is smoke and mirrors to be even passable. That leaves Roark who has compensated for a complete lack of stuff (only a 6.6 K/9 in 2nd half) with complete control. 7 walks in 65+ innings. 

What does that all say. It says the Nats have plenty of "other guys" to fill out the pen but no one you really love. It also says that the rotation may be an issue. Roark has been ok, but is pitching in a way that he hasn't historically which is something that makes you question how sustainable it is. Strasburg actually looks better when you take a look at his game log - the trends are what you want to see in terms of him getting back to his old self, but again he doesn't pitch a full season. Add in that Fedde is a question mark and Jefry is a mirage and you have to figure another rotation arm is needed.

Get him out of here stuff
Milone, Glover, Gio, Kelley, Herrera, Solis, Williams, Cordero, Gott. Gio was pretty terrible in the second half but he's gone now. Milone is incredibly hittable, especially over the fence type of hits. Glover, Kelley (gone), Herrera, Williams and Cordero all showed little stuff and Glover, Williams and Cordero were all wild. Gott barely pitched but was bad. He and Williams, Solis were all homer prone as well.

Starter wise there isn't anything here to worry about. Gio and Milone weren't in the plans for 2019.  We already noted they need a new starter and it's good to see that Fedde and Jefry, at least one of who will likely fill in a rotation spot, aren't in this group (though Jefry is skirting it).  Bullpen wise though you see a lot of names here of guys they hoped to be big parts of the Nats pen moving forward. Solis, Glover, and Gott were probably three guys they expect to run out there in big spot by now. Instead they are being run out of town. Williams was the next guy they said to get excited about and he's been just as bad.  There's a lot of small IP in here but also a lot to worry about.

The pitching has been a trouble spot in the 2nd half in compared to the offense and there isn't much to make you optimistic as the season ends. I guess you can feel ok about the rotation. Max is Max, Stras is rounding back into form, Roark should be rotation worthy if not actually good and Fedde isn't terrible. If the Nats get a legit contender #2 type then it'll be a pretty good rotation especially the top end. But the pen is a different story. There's seemingly no one between Doolittle and the space filler part of the bullpen and the guys you were looking toward to play important rolls haven't stepped up, they've fallen down.

The second half Nats have shown an ability to compete. To keep that up in 2019 it looks like a couple decent signings might keep the offense up because what's here is pretty good. A good signing might keep the rotation up because what's here is workable. But the bullpen is in shambles, again, and nothing here is showing they are worth relying in 2019 on outside of Doolittle.

Monday, September 17, 2018

Monday Quickie - promise kept by me


It was Max that couldn't keep the promise for you dreamers. The Nats would win the second and third game but with the loss of the first the situation shifted.  It could have been a 'tragic number' of 8 with 12 left. Now it's 6*. Sorry. Blame him. Nats go 9-3 and Braves 3-9? Not good enough.  Call me when the gap gets to three (iow 2019) 

Speaking of Max here's the Cy Young battle as it stands

Max : 17-7  2.53  0.915 WHIP, 12.1K/9, 2.1BB/9, 0.9 HR/9
deGrom :  8-9 1.78  0.950 WHIP, 11.2K/9, 2.0BB/9, 0.4 HR/9

(I could give you Nola's stats but I don't see the point. Maybe if the Phillies were taking the East but they are most certainly not)

I don't see how Max is winning this but I've been wrong before.

In good news though Soto took the weekend over Acuna, dominating the last two games after Acuna won the first.

Soto : .305 / .421 / .532,  20 HR, 72 R, 64 RBI, 5 SB
Acuna : .292 / .368 / .574,  25 HR, 71 R, 55 RBI, 14 SB

This is back to being anyone's award. 

*If you are curious it's 7 for the WC but it's 7 looking at three different teams.

Thursday, September 13, 2018

My promise to you dreamers

I have promised that if the Nationals sweep the Braves I will post a very detailed post on their chances for the playoffs. This is movement from yesterday where I said they had to be 5 out. I'm giving them today. Look at me, all generous and stuff.

While I'd love for the Nats to take full credit for killing the Phillies chances - the Phillies have been playing particularly bad baseball for a long while now. Before this sweep they lost series @NYM, @MIA, vCHC, vNATS, @TOR, @NATS, vNYM...


@SDP and finally @ARI.

That's a month of losing series. Remember when I said to catch a team the Nats would have to play like the best or they like the worst? Well the Phillies played like the worst and the Nats caught them. 

The other thing that happened last night (well other than Soto bombing another HR, but that doesn't change the Soto v Acuna series coming up, just makes it better) is that the Nats took it to Aaron Nola. It wasn't a bad outing but it was decidedly mediocre, and in this Cy Young race, that's not going to cut it.  You can officially cut Nola out of the voting. Thanks to all who made me put him in and waste all that precious time! Days of 24hr research by my staff, for naught!

Today is the infamous Cubs make-up game which the cubs fans are treating like the MLB is sending them in a plane into the eye of Florence so they'll die so the Brewers can win. Win this game and shut them up.

Wednesday, September 12, 2018

Not too little, but too late.

Four in a row!  As noted the Nats haven't done that since the very end of May.  Should it be enjoyed? Yes! If you are still following the team live it up. Good baseball is better than bad baseball is better than no baseball and soon you'll have no baseball. Should it be celebrated? Naaaaaaaaaaaah.

Now of course a run like this starts the mind going on about furious finishes. But that's where the too late comes in. Even if the whole league was cooperating the Nats would still be 4 out of first and with 17 games to go that's a pretty big hurdle. 12-5 vs 7-10 or something. A run that could be derailed by a simple Atlanta win in the series against the Nats (which may be played somewhere other than Atlanta - which would get all the stories going) or Colorado win at the end of the year.

Notice I said "even if the whole league is cooperating" because it isn't. The Braves have also won four in a row turning that 12-5 vs 7-10 dream into a 15-2 vs 6-11 nigh impossibilty*  The Wild Card keeps churning and while the Nats have made major gains against the Phillies, Dbacks, and Dodgers, the Cardinals have basically held ground (now 8 ahead) and all it was going to take was one of those teams holding position to make the WC2 a non-issue.

Why am I still talking about the season? Because why not? It's still going on so I'm still talking about it until it has it's last breath. I'm not saying there's a chance again.**

What I will mention is Juan Soto homering his way back into the ROY race. This squeaks his OPS back over Acuna's (who tripled and walked twice last night) Soto is still a half-step behind because of all the other mitigating factors (Acuna better in field, on basepaths - that we've been allowed to see, team is going to beat Soto's team).  Barring someone going 0-8 or 8-8 this will dovetail nicely into the Braves/Nats series. FOR ROY SUPREMECY!

*I never say never because it's never never until it's technically never. 

**When would I? I suppose if they are able to hold at 8 and then sweep the Braves? Basically go into next Monday 5 back or closer. That's not a good spot but the MIA/NYM/MIA games would set up for a run that could get you thinking.

Monday, September 10, 2018

Monday Quickie

3 Week Status
Record: 71-72
Ground gained/lost in division last wk : +1 games to PHI, +0.5 games to ATL
Ground gained/lost in WC race last wk : 0 to STL,  -2 MIL, 0 LAD, -2.5 PIT, -1 COL, +1 ARI

HOW BAD IS THIS LEAGUE? The Nats actually gained ground last week and didn't play well.  It's maddening really. But this is the last update. The Nats haven't gained any significant ground in the division since dropping to 7 games out during the "injury guys can't play" into "one-run loss massacre" time frame of late June early July. They haven't been factors in the WC race for 3+ weeks now. At this point they are out of time. The magic number for the Braves over the Nats is a bad day away from single digits. The Wild Card is a near impossibility. This is the dead man walking.

Scherzer : 17-6 2.31 ERA, 0.883 WHIP, 12.0 K/9, 2.0 BB/9, 0.9 HR/9 (2.66 FIP)  
deGrom 8-8 1.68 ERA, 0.963 WHIP, 11.0 K/9, 2.0 BB/9, 0.4 HR/9 (2.07 FIP)
 Nola : 16-4 2.29 ERA, 0.959 WHIP, 9.3 K/9, 2.4 BB/9, 0.6 HR/9 (2.87 FIP)

deGrom pitches tonight and didn't pitch last week. Scherzer had an impressive game vs the Cubs but everything but HR/9 nudge in the wrong direction. Oh and wins. Got a win. So did Nola but against the Mets it doesn't register like that Cubs game did.  Still anyone's game but I have to think Nola is losing any chance to make up ground. Not that he hasn't pitched well but if Max isn't going to falter then Nola needs to be spectacular. 

Soto :  .298 / .416 / .506  16 HR, 2 SB, 56 RBI
Acuna :  .293 / .367 / .581  25 HR, 14 SB, 53 RBI

I hate to say it but Acuna might be separating here.  He's drawn 8 walks in the past week to really push up the OBP.  Along with that he's hit 2 more homers (5 XBH) and stole three more bases. Everyday Juan has been limited in his ABs thanks to the rain but hasn't been able to rachet up the power in a long time.  He's nearing 50% of his time now running a line like .275 / .400 / .400 which on one hand is an incredible amount of patience, but on the other isn't going to win a lot of ROY votes over a guy slugging near .600.

Boz wrote an article this weekend saying "Keep Davey".  It's a fair take, in my opinion. Davey was the wrong guy to take over a team and task with winning it all. Inexperience does not jive with a plan that wants to squeak out wins where they couldn't before. But a one-year experienced manager motivating a young team to try to make the playoffs? Or riding out a couple resetting years and then getting a judgment at the end of year 3? Those aren't indefensible.  Do I fire Davey Martinez? Well yes. But they I have no compunction in re-hiring Dusty or throwing money at Girardi. Also I hate the camel schtick. But I'm not going to go crazy if he's here on Opening Day 2019. 

Friday, September 07, 2018

Aaaaand we're done here

We'll do one more update on Monday perhaps but even the dreamers have to stop dreaming now. With three straight losses and a 2-6 record in their last 8 games the Nats have finally managed to "out bad" the rest of the NL which had been either stumbling along (NL East) or trading hot and cold streaks (WC teams). They are now 8.5 games out of first, 9.5 out of the second wild card and officially in "double miracle" time.

Still want to dream just for fun? Sorry. 

The Wild Card is probably just a week a way from a legitimate mathematical impossibility. With so many teams ahead of them there are too many match-ups that give wins to someone fighting for the 2nd Wild Card. ARI plays LAD, STL plays LAD, STL plays PIT, COL plays PHI, etc.. Losses for one team are wins for another, which means the Nats not gaining ground on someone ahead of them. Technically if you like I can piece together a way it would work but it's nothing that should be considered even in fun. It's a "what if the Nats ride unicorns around the bases?" scenario. It's not going to happen.

The NL East will hold out longer because there are only two teams ahead of the Nats and the Phillies have been among the worst teams in baseball over the past 3 weeks (5-12). Unfortunately the Phillies and Braves do play each other 7 times over the last 11 games so the magic number will slam up on the Nats pretty fast.  How bad is it though? Well if the Braves go .500 (11-11) to finish a measly 88-75, the Nats would have to go 20-2 to beat them out. That's why it's double miracle time. The Nats need to go on an incredible run say... 17-5 AND the Braves need to suddenly be terrible, say... 8-14 (and that has to happen in a way where they aren't giving too many wins to the Phillies if the Phillies aren't just losing 2 out of every 3 games still).  Have double miracles happened in the history of baseball? Ok, yes. I'll admit they have. But when you have like 400 races over the history of baseball you are going to find an example of everything. One or two times it did happen mean it didn't happen 398 or 399 times.

The Nats are now spoilers.  Who could they spoil? Lots of teams. They could hurt Chicago, who has a nice but not insurmountable lead over the Brewers, if they can win the rest of these games. (and who doesn't want to see the Brewers instead of the Cubs?).  They could knock the Phillies out of contention with a sweep of the three games following that. If you prefer the Phillies over ATL they could get swept by the Phillies then sweep the Braves. They end with a series in Colorado where they could swing the NL West. A lot of opportunity to play an important role.

But Harper what if I just want to watch good, no-spoiler version, playoff relevant baseball? Well there are other teams to watch and baseball will be gone sooner than you think so I suggest tuning into those games. I'll be offering up suggestions for each series time frame. For this weekend, your best bet is the Dodgers at the Rockies. The Rockies hold a 1.5 game lead over the Dodgers in an NL West 3-way race that has stayed tight for a while.  The other team in that trio, the Dbacks, are hosting the Braves. Arizona needs those wins but Atlanta has no interest in letting Philly back into the race. Plus you can keep an eye on Acuna in the ROY race.  If you want good baseball or just earlier games the Red Sox and Astros are playing in a possible playoff preview. And if you are a late game person, the Yankees are in Seattle, with the Mariners clinging to playoff hopes while the clubhouse brawls eachother. And who doesn't like to see the team 9 out of 10 SABR guys seem to like fail? As a last choice you can watch Max's Cy Young rivals go at it in the Phillies Mets series; Nola tonight, deGrom on Sunday. (and Max on Saturday)

So watch some baseball - even if it's not Nats.

Thursday, September 06, 2018

The 2018 Nats deserve this

Underlying the whole Nationals season is an unsettling fact for Nats fans. Beyond the injuries and past the bad luck/variability, lies the simple truth that the Nationals have not played like a playoff team this year. This is not a division winner undone by circumstance, but a team that would struggle to make it in, now struggling to make .500 because of things not going their way. The only reason it doesn't look worse is because arguably the Braves and Phillies are both the type that would struggle to make it in as well.

The pythagorean record suggests this. A 77-63 record run is good, not great, on pace for an 89 win season that would miss the playoffs as often as make it over the window period. A quick jaunt through the schedule confirms this (and forgive me if this retreads ground) 

Mar 30 - Apr 29:  12-16 (14.3-13.7 pythag, which projects to 83 wins to help you understand)
The Nats would start fast but would then slow down as injuries piled up. Eaton and Rendon would both go down during this time, and Zimmerman would struggle mightily as it was clear something was wrong with him. With the Mets playing well, the schedule was on the harder side and honestly, but understandably, the team didn't play well during this time. Add in a little bad luck and it was a bad start.

Apr 30 - Jun 8 24-10 (23.4-10.6, 111 wins)
That would all change in May as they shed the bad luck and started to get better. Notice I didn't say healthy, because outside of Rendon coming back that didn't happen. But they got better players in the line-up. A struggling Zim would finally sit allowing Adams and Reynolds to play more. Soto would come up when Kendrick went down. Kendrick was good but he's no Soto.The schedule softened and the Nats took advantage of it and played like they should - dominating the bad teams*

At this point the season had gone to form. They had injury troubles and that cost them a little, but all in all a talented team, a playoff team, was playing up to its potential now. The bad luck hadn't been replaced by good luck but it had been mitigated by a long stretch where things were pretty even. They were back in first place. All that was left at this point was to incorporate the injured players as they came back and cruise to victory. Instead the Nats suffered a reeling 1-2 combo.

Jun 9 - Jun 26 5-11 (4.8-11.2, 49 wins)
Now here's part 1 where the season changed. It was understood the Nats would need to reincorporate Eaton, who'd been out most of the year, and Murphy, who'd been out all year. They figured they'd bring them in and probably get even better. However, injury returns can be tricky. It wasn't out of the question that they might suffer a little. But they didn't suffer a little - they suffered a lot. These guys struggled, Bryce struggled, and Roark and Gio went off the rails. What should have been a period where the Nats went around .500 and held ground instead became a time where they crashed and burned. Thanks to some hot play from NL East rivals, they found themselves 4 games out.

They played extremely poorly and had no one to blame but themselves for the bad position they were in. It wasn't bad luck at this point. Nearly half way into a season being under 2 games off by pythag is nothing. It wasn't injury. They were healthy now. It was the Nats. They deserved to be where they were, set up for a fall.

Jun 28 - Jul 4 1-6 (3.1-3.9, 72 wins)
And here's part 2. The Nats would suffer 4 one-run losses in 5 games.  This run of bad luck would put the team behind the 8 ball for the remainder of the season. But please note - they didn't particularly play well here. Even looking at RS/RA, they weren't playing .500 ball against the good teams.

Jul 5 - Jul 15 6-5 (6.3-4.7, 93 wins)
So now the Nats were forced now to play catch-up. The good part is that they had a couple of easy stretches to get back in the race both before and after the ASB. If they could play like they did during May the Nats would make up the ground they needed. Maybe not all of it, but a large chunk, setting the team up for a fight in August and September. However, the Nats before the All-Star break were not impressive. They didn't dominate, but instead were merely ok against a soft bunch of teams which isn't good enough to make a real playoff run. There was the loss of Doolittle at this time but a team in the dog days is going to have to work around injuries.

To summarize: The Nats up until the injured guys came back were in contention and not terribly unlucky. Injuries cost them a few games but things were fine. Then the Nats would play a month-plus of baseball that was not playoff worthy. They would play terrible for half that time. They would play poorly and catch some bad luck. They would play middling and not make up ground. The Nats were in position. The Nats failed. Even with even luck, the now healthy Nats should have only went something like 14/15-19/20. Strip away the excuses and for this month, there's a mediocre team underneath.

Jul 20 - Aug 5 9-6 (10.7-4.3, 115 wins)
After the ASB was better. Rizzo went a little nuts, trading away Kintzler and Kelley trying to force team unity. That is a risky move but the schedule was soft and if you were going to try something like this now was the time. And to be fair the Nats did respond and played this stretch like they should. For a brief two and a half week period the Nats were a playoff deserving squad again. On the down side they lost Strasburg and a good starting pitcher is a hard thing to cover for without a deal. They chose not to trade for anything. They didn't make up much ground in the division, but made some gains in the Wild Card race and set up a possible exciting finish, though at this point it was feeling like the normal playoff pace wouldn't do it and more would be needed.

Aug 7 - Aug 19 5-9 (6.3-7.7, 73 wins)
Turns out it didn't matter because the Nats couldn't even hit the normal playoff pace. Again the team wilted in the face of good competition and their season was relegated to "miracle please".  Once again a goal wasn't reached.

So now over the past 2+ months of baseball (Early June to Mid August) the Nats primarily played like a non-playoff team. Did they suffer bad luck? Sure. Did injuries cost them that first month? Definitely. But the main reason the Nats weren't contending was the Nats, when healthy and not seeing the ball bounce the wrong way, were not playing well.

Aug 21 - Sep 4 7-7 (7.6-6.4, 87 wins)
For completeness (doesn't count yesterday bc I did this last night). At this point, a reeling Phillies team would help the Nats stay .500 but they'd lose series to the Marlins and Mets, meaning not good against the bad. Then top it off with losses to the Brewers and Cards - not good against the good. The Nats were a different team now. Murphy had been dealt. Adams had been dealt. Gio and Madson would go at the trade deadline. It's hard to say this team could do any better than they have. But they certainly haven't overperformed.

The Nats were dealt a raw hand with the luck and the injuries but they also played worse than expected for a good chunk of the season. Where you want to lay the blame for that is up to you but you can't just blame outside forces. The problems were internal this season and it's that base that allowed everything else to turn this team into one fighting for .500.

*remember in general you go for around .500 against the good team, around 100+ win pace for the bad teams. Assuming relatively even distribution of these games you finish in the low 90s.

Tuesday, September 04, 2018

Tuesday Quickie : Updating for Updates sake

4 Week Status
Record: 69-69
Ground gained/lost in division last wk : +2 games to PHI, +1 games to ATL
Ground gained/lost in WC race last wk : +1 to STL, +1 SFG, -1 MIL, -1 LAD, +1 PIT, 0 COL, +2.5 ARI

It's not like the Nats are crushing it. Who's winning all these games?

Anyway - the Nats are making their move! At this pace the Nats will take first place from Atlanta on October 29th.  Of course the season ends well before that but moral victories are still victories? If we're lucky the Nats will hold onto this pacing for another week and then they can either (1) play spoiler and deal a finishing blow to the Phillies playoff hopes or (2) go on a crazy run in those 6 games against Philly and Atlanta (and at this point that means 6-0) and give us something to talk about for a moment longer.


Scherzer : 16-6 2.28 ERA, 0.878 WHIP, 12.1 K/9, 2.1 BB/9, 1.0 HR/9 (2.73 FIP)  
deGrom 8-8 1.68 ERA, 0.963 WHIP, 11.0 K/9, 2.0 BB/9, 0.4 HR/9 (2.07 FIP)
(and by popular request) Nola : 15-4 2.23 ERA, 0.974 WHIP, 9.3 K/9, 2.4 BB/9, 0.5 HR/9 (2.76 FIP)

Basically what the above says is that deGrom is the best pitcher in the NL and Scherzer is slightly better than Nola, but Nola is right behind in wins and a little ahead in ERA. If Nola can squeak by in wins he may get more votes than Max. UNLESS, Max makes a serious run at 300 Ks which is something we haven't seen in a while. Either way deGrom vs one of these two becomes another proxy vote about the importance of pitching wins. Voters pretty much decided that with Felix a few years ago but can they vote someone in with under 10 wins? A losing record? I think if nothing changes stats wise and neither happen - so DeGrom wins 10+ and finished .500 or better - he wins hands down. If he doesn't it could go any direction. Still looks like an award decided by who blinks first.

ROY Race

Soto :  .302 / .419 / .517  16 HR, 2 SB (in 392 PAs)
Acuna :  .292 / .357 / .568  23 HR, 11 SB (in 373 PAs)

Soto has been hot since we last checked in (over .400 BA) but Acuna hasn't cooled down (.333 BA) and nothing about the game has changed. Do you prefer great patience with good power (3 XBH, 1 HR, 7 BB since then) or great power and adequate patience (5 XBH, 2HR, 3 BB since? Much like the Cy Young this could be determined by the batting equivalent of one bad start - one bad week.  Right now I still like Acuna but if Soto can keep the average over .300 that has some psychological points.