Nationals Baseball: Lucky or Unlucky : 2018

Tuesday, October 02, 2018

Lucky or Unlucky : 2018

We've gone over this before but every baseball season is a mix of things going right, things going wrong, and things going as expected.  We predict our fortune based on some sort of equal breaking of the right and wrong, but that rarely happens. Instead the breaks are unequal in distribution and impact and your record reflects that. Let's see what I take away from the Nats in 2018


Murphy being out longer than anticipated - The plan was initially made with the expectation that Murphy would be back, if not at season's start, then soon after. But as the off-season shifted to Spring Training it became apparent it was going to be longer than that. Slow injury recovery is not in itself unlucky but when one month became two and Murphy didn't get back in until mid June that meant half a year of subpar Murphy.

Eaton out early - Eaton was supposed to be a spark plug at the top of the line-up but was lost for 2017 a month in. Finally back he picked up right where he left off... and then got hurt again. Key piece missing a big chunk of time again.

Kendrick goes down - Injuries matter but how much they matter differ. What's important is not just there's an injury but who, when, and how long.  Kendrick was a key piece to the Nats providing coverage for multiple positions, specifically OF and 2B and when he went out relatively early in the season it created an issue because of the two injuries noted above. That was partially solved with Soto and partially not with Difo.

Doolittle, Kintzler, and Madson don't do what they are supposed to - this is a real tenuous unlucky because any group of three pitchers is going to have one likely get hurt or fail and we don't know how much of the failure here is the fault of Martinez's heavy usage (especially with Madson) but you'd kind of expect one to have a full very good year and the Nats didn't get that. Doolittle was very good, but hurt. Kintzler was ok, and hurt. Madson was not good and hurt.


Soto was more than ready - not much to explain here. He was forced into action and nearly won the ROY with possibly the best teenage season ever. You can't expect that. Short explanation for a big effect

Adams/Reynolds overperform - It was good planning to fill in the Zimm back-up role with quality players for the second straight year. But Adams, like Lind last year, was really good for most of the time, and Reynolds, who should have been just an ok fill in was better than that. Two for two here.


Max, Stras, Tanner - Max is to the point where Cy Young seasons are expected. Stras is to the point where good, but injury abbreviated seasons are expected. Tanner downshifted his expectations with his 2017 and matched it this year.

Wieters/Severino/Kieboom is a mess - We knew, we all knew catcher would be pretty bad in 2017. Well maybe not those that fooled themselves about Severino but the rest of us. They didn't overachieve and were all below average. This was painful but expectedly so.

Zimm is good at the plate for half a year - Look at his games played over the past few years. Look at his offensive performance the past few years. Nothing about this year could be considered a surprise. At this point 100G of 110 OPS+ is what Zimm is. There's a lot of variability but this is the base.

Trea Turner isn't special - Last year you could be disappointed by Trea's average performance but you could also chalk it up to injury recovery. This year you probably secretly hoped for more but there wasn't anything there despite being healthy enough to play in all 162.  Disappointing perhaps but not unlucky, not when what you are hanging your hat on is 70 games from 2 years ago. Now if you believe his defense suddenly became all-world then you might differ with this take but defensive stats are not meant to be annual and are iffy even in the 3 year view so I'm not going there

MAT is MAT - Look at MATs stats! LOOK AT THEM. THIS IS MAT. Low average, no walks, some pop, great D. In four of five seasons now he's been so remarkably consistent that expecting anything else would be insane going forward. Sure you might have hoped for more after last year's better numbers, but that hope should have been dashed when April produced MAT numbers again.

Deep bench depth was an issue - To be fair it's going to be an issue for most teams. You rarely go 25 deep. But Difo and anyone that needed to be called up bc of injury from AAA are barely major leaguers.

Pen depth beyond the three could be trouble - Lots of arms, but very little consistency or track record. There was a good chance most of them would flame out and most of them did. Did they find a decent arm here and there? Yep and that's expected too. Holland was very good in a brief spell. Miller was ok. Nothing here should surprise you. Why did it seem worse? Well they were supposed to compliment the top 3 but when those guys didn't hit their targets these guys became more important.


Bryce - unlucky? I wouldn't say so.  The season was a little worse than expected. The problem was more timing than anything else. He has his crash right when the Nats were crashing everywhere else with injury returnees and Gio and Roark struggling. But is that unlucky? I lean more toward as expected but I leave it open

Gio - same goes for Gio here. On one hand he didn't pitch that much worse than would be expected if you follow his historical track. On the other hand there last year was better so does that raise your expectations enough that you feel his fall is unlucky? I don't know. I'll leave it open but you'd have a harder time convincing me that this wasn't in the expected category.

One thing you may see - the Nats didn't get that unlucky when it came to performance. They hit a lot of expectations mainly, and Soto covered a chunk of their unluckiness. So maybe you have them a couple games off of expectations. 90 to low 90s instead of low to mid 90s.

Why then were they so far off? Well unluckiness outside of player performance is one reason. The one-run game issue* cost them a few games (but only a few). The rebirth of the NL East with a .500 Phillies team and a good Braves squad cost them a few more. You can't plan for the former, and the Nats were hoping to have a year longer before the latter became an issue. They were wrong there. The Nats were a little unlucky this year but not nearly unlucky enough to explain the 83 win record.

*you know I like to look at 2 run games too just to see if there was a wild swing there that either countered or enhanced what happened with 1 run games. Nothing to speak of. 21-22. Pretty normal.


G Cracka X said...

Nice post as usual, Harper, and thank you for all the great work in the 2018 season!

I don't consider Wieters to be a 'mess'. If you average the pre-season Depth Charts, Steamer and ZIPS projections, Wieters was projected for a 1 WAR season. He finished at .9 WAR. He was as advertised.

Also, I think they got a bit unlucky with Severino. He was projected for about .1 WAR, but he produced almost -1 WAR in just 200 PAs. In other words, Severino should have been replacement level, but instead he was a black hole. That's not what the projections were predicting.

Lastly, I think the Nats got bad variance on the backup starting pitchers. You would figure out of Cole, Fedde, Voth, and Rodriguez that most would not do well, but at least one would overperform. If you throw enough darts, something oughta stick

Anonymous said...

I think Bryce was unlucky, though mildly so. His BABIP was 30 points off his career norm, which is significant. Some of that is a function of shifts, and some of that is a function of his slump, but I think a not insignificant portion is due to bad luck on batted balls.

I think you identify the big area where the Nats were unlucky: injury timing. You mention Kendrick and Stras/Hellickson, but you don't mention Robles. Him going down at roughly the same time as Eaton forced the Nats to play an OF with only one MLB caliber hitter for weeks at a time after Kendrick got hurt. If you shift the Robles/Kendrick injuries to August and September, I think that conceivably could have made quite a difference in the outcome of the Nats' season. Of course, if we're using real hindsight, if Robles wasn't hurt, maybe they wait much longer to call up Soto (though I have to believe Soto would have forced the issue by running 200 WRC+ in the minors if he was kept down).

PotomacFan said...

Great post! Thanks for all of your work in 2018. I hope that Mike Rizzo is reading your blog.

DezoPenguin said...

The bullpen unluckiness, I think, goes beyond just the Law Firm. Glover was hurt (again). Solis was bad. Grace was hurt. Miller and Suero were just guys. Shawn Kelley started as a statistical meltdown and worked his way back to being an emotional meltdown. Enny Romero was supposed to be part of the middle of the bullpen rotation and wasn't. Guys like Gott, Cordero, Torres, Williams were all bad. Herrera was good in KC (and had been good for years before that), and then we traded for him to help and he stank then was hurt. The only pitcher outside of Doolittle who was genuinely *good* out of the bullpen was Holland, and given that he'd junk-heaped his way off the Cardinals we definitely got lucky with him, but otherwise everyone was either expected to be adequate and was either hurt, bad, or both, or they were expected to be bad and lived up to expectations. Poor roster construction didn't help, but bad luck in both injury AND performance completely killed the pen.

Beyond that, Harper's post sums things up well: the Nationals, as a team, were unlucky. Soto was one piece of extremely good luck, and Reynolds was definitely better than expected, but Adams's performance wasn't too out of line with his past (speaking of which, did anyone notice how drastically he fell off a cliff in St. Louis? It's like he swapped something with Holland when they switched cities...). And that's it. That's ALL we got for "good breaks" during the year. Yes, other things went well, but that wasn't so much good luck as it was a failure of bad luck to derail something expected to be good (Max Scherzer can be expected to be a good pitcher. Anthony Rendon can be expected to be a good third baseman.)

So, yeah, while I do think that the "superteam" moniker was misplaced thanks to predictable roster construction issues (catcher, starting rotation depth, the back end of the bullpen), I think that bad luck, especially injury sequencing (Kendrick's injury, especially, was an absolute killer--"Wilmer Difo, Full-Time Second Baseman" was Plan C and usually when you're down to Plan C you're in trouble) was the difference between "competing for a division title/WC berth and hoping to get lucky in the playoffs" and "barely over .500."

SM said...

Oh, oh. Two of three posts sounding either like a eulogy or the preamble to a White House cabinet meeting.

The last time you were awash in so many gushing compliments (after last season), you were suspicious, then prickly/funny.

Well, to hell with your good work. Hope that erases any suspicions.

P.S. Gio is in the playoffs.

Ryan said...

Good post as always.

I think you are downplaying how bad Severino was, as much as we can talk about Wieters not being great, the pitchers love throwing to him. Severino's playing time lines up with the crash of Gio and Tanner. He just sucked, totally unplayable.

Matt Adams also missed time in June and didn't seem to get it back after he returned, and Rendon was mostly great but he missed some time too.

Jon Quimby said...

Not totally on topic, but I think another bit of good luck is that the Dominican Academy is starting to pay huge dividends. A plethora of players are now filling vital parts of the team and .. Soto+Robles. The group in charge of that part of the organization deserves a lot of accolades.

Josh Higham said...

I think I agree that the number and scope of unlucky things this year was only a little more significant than the number and scope of lucky things--that if you assigned every lucky/unlucky thing a value based on a vacuum, the Nats would qualify as a little unlucky but not super unlucky.

I don't think it can be overstated how bad the Nats were, on paper, in May. Moises "Thunder off the Bat" Sierra in the heart of the lineup, Difo depended on to drive in runs, Severino playing almost every day and being awful, Bryce unable to buy a hit within the fences, Gio and Roark collapsing simultaneously, MAT playing every day. This was a AAAA lineup--the kind that realistically ought to lose 2/3 or more of its games. If that bad luck had been spread out a little more fairly, I think the Nats finish much closer to their Pythag/ preseason projections. They'd be a little a little worse during their good months and a lot better in their worst months.

Of course, if they hadn't hit rock bottom in May, they probably keep Soto in the minors all year and that would have cost the Nats at least 2 wins. Now that I've typed up a novel I realize my point is no more obviously right than Harper's.

Josh Higham said...

Oh, when I say "If that bad luck had been spread out a little more fairly" I mean evenly. There is no fairness in baseball--ask the Rays.

BxJaycobb said...

@Harper. As of now, Trea Turner isn’t a special BAT. But he is a pretty special player. Or an all star level player if you prefer. This year he was a 5 WAR player, marginally outdone by Rendon as the Nats best position player. He’s been a 4-6 WAR player on a rate basis basically his whole career. He was and is fantastic: An excellent defensive shortstop (this has been consistent year to year now, across all defensive metrics, his range phenomenal due to his quickness so much so that he doesn’t need to make super flashy plays to be very good) who leads the majors in steals and is an above average major league hitter. That’s a star player. Think of it this way. If he had Ian Desmond defense (worse) and Ian desmond baserunning (worse), but hit .300/.360/.480 with 25 HR would you say “he’s special!” Because that’s how valuable he is. It’s just not the normal star player mix because we’re biased towards hitting being the indicator. Trea Turner: above average bat, at least above average glove (at SS no less), best baserunner in MLB basically. A few hot weeks from having a 50 SB, 20 HR, .300 season. Could easily peak with an MVP year (something like .320, 23 HR, 60 SB). He’s a stud now. He could peak as an animal. Fangraphs had him as a top 10 trade chip this year. Those who dismiss his value are fools. Don’t forget it.

BxJaycobb said...

Although I would like his to strike out less and lose his leg kick with 2 strikes. Sacrifice some power for more contact would be my suggestion to take the next step. Hitting .300 for him is more important than hitting 18-20 homers.

Josh Higham said...

I have watched all of the Rockies' last 5 games, and it seemed to me that yesterday Black caught a case of Managing-against-Maddon. Seems like his general approach to important games is a little on the strategic/analytic side, but it felt like last night he was just trying to out-trick the dumb fox. Dahl starting in RF was weird to me, then replacing Blackmon in CF also seemed weird. Putting no-good Butera in the game seemed weird (and was nearly disastrous).

I haven't been on twitter but the people I've talked to about the game seem to disagree with me. Am I wrong?

Ole PBN said...

Saw a stat on the Cubs that reminded me of our ball club: The Cubs averaged 4.7 runs/game this season (ranked 9th in total offense), but scored 1 or zero runs 40 times (25% of their games). Yikes.

Not sure it makes me feel any better to know we're not the only ones...

Froggy said...

Now to recover the season, my A's have to destroy the Death Star.

WS prediction: Red Sox and Brewers

Anonymous said...

During the last off season, I told anyone who would listen that I thought the Nats could have made a three way trade work with the Florida Marlins. Find a wealthy third team that wanted Harper. Have that team send two major league or major league ready players to the Marlins and have the Marlins send JT Realmuto and Christian Yelich to the Nats. Maybe, it would have needed a little more, but I believe that trade could have been engineered, possibly leaving enough for another starting pitcher. The Nats would still be playing. Reasoning that signing Harper after this year would be too much money and money that would be needed for other positions.