Nationals Baseball: Exactly where they need to be

Thursday, April 11, 2019

Exactly where they need to be

If we had done the whole "this set of games" outlook like we like to do here sometimes, and you had presented me with 11 games versus the Phillies and Mets, 5 home 6 away, I would have put the Nats goal at 6-5.  It's not dominant - but it shouldn't be if these teams are any good. But it is above expectations if all these teams were the same (that'd be 5-6). What it shows is that the Nats still have a leg up on these teams, a slight advantage that over the long haul could push the Nats to another division crown.

Where are the Nats now?  6-5. Right on target.

But we also see the flaw in this.  The Nats are 6-5 and still in 4th place in the East.  They only trail the other teams by one game - they aren't significantly better, at least not right now, but they are there.  The Nats may have an advantage but they can't expect the advantage alone to get them to the finish line. They can't slip. They may need some luck, too.

The bullpen had a couple of good games in a row and that will happen. The bullpen is still an issue but the bullpen shouldn't be a season ending thing. Grace, Miller, Barraclough, Suero - these guys are all fine.  The problem isn't with any of them individually, but that if Doolittle is stuck in the closer role and Rosenthal doesn't shape up to be lights-out (smart money is on no for that) that important situations are going to be coin flips for this pen.  Sometimes it'll work out fine. Other times it won't.  You like to have a little more assurance than that - but don't expect that to come for the Nats before the trade deadline.  This pen is "good enough" and the Nats love "good enough"

We'll still let the numbers stew until around game 20 so let's take a look at the schedule. The Nats will be home for 6 games starting tomorrow 3 v PIT and 3 v SFG. Pittsburgh is a solid team relying on a really quite good starting staff to carry a less impressive offense. The Nats will get their best three (Taillion, Archer, and Williams) making this a tough series to win, but one you still have to expect the Nats to pull out.  The Giants are as mediocre as expected with a pretty hideous looking offense but a good enough pen to maybe keep things above disaster.  The rotation actually might be ok, but still it's hard to worry about it. The Nats should miss Bumgarner but he might sneak in there in the last game if the Giants are trying to maximize his outings. This is a 4-2 home stand at least.  Maybe 5-1.

In the meantime the Mets take on the Braves then the Phillies, so someone is going to lose ground to the Nats unless the Nats blow it.  The other team the Phillies face is the Marlins and the Braves will take on the D-Backs early next week.  Given these match-ups I think in a week the Nats should be hoping to be in 2nd by themselves, a game behind the Phillies

35 comments:

Anonymous said...

Mets got to face Marlins already. Phillies will too. If they're a game back after that, you could call that tied or even in the lead. This early, just stay close. The Nats have always done most of their damage against the crap teams.

G Cracka X said...

I think 5-1 is unlikely. 4-2 seems doable, but 3-3 feels more likely. Hopefully they'll go 6-0!! (quite unlikely, though)

BxJaycobb said...

General point. I know that teams are supposed to be better at home. But honestly in baseball it’s pretty marginal even large sample size. And it really does seem to vary by team. And for whatever reason the Nats have always been a particularly meh home team, probably because no visitor gets the willies coming to face the crowd.....(for gods sake they’ve lost like 4 elimination games at home). so I don’t see any reason going forward to say Nats will be better at home than the road. I don’t know if that affects this prediction. Just go 4-2. That’s getting job done.

Jay said...

I think Pittsburgh usually gives the Nats fits. Plus teams with good pitching and an ok offense also seem to give the Nats fits. I'm hoping for 4-2 at least 3-3. They need an 8th inning guy at this point. I agree that Rosenthal isn't likely to be that guy any time soon. They can sign Kimbrel and move Doolittle to 8th. I think that gives them a really strong pen imo. They can sign Norris and hope he can pitch the 8th. That could blow up in their face though. I really wish the Lerners wouldn't try and cut corners like they do. They aren't cheap - see Scherzer, Strasburg, and Corbin. However, they always love to cheap out on the BP.

Jay said...

Deal with Norris fell through per Jon Heyman. The Nats felt Norris was more than a month away from being ready to pitch.

BxJaycobb said...

Is this the right place to voice a concern? Ok. Strasburg’s average velocity MPH is 2 less than his average Spring. 95 to 93 is a HUGE difference, such that he now has a below average fastball, at least league average. And he may be much diminished as an elte pitcher. Wild how his stuff has deteriorated. Other TJ guys get all their velo back and he clearly didn’t. (I’m not talking about the recent drop in velo, I just mean he lost like 3 MPH from pre Tommy J then has continued to lose more. Has his rate of decline been normal? Seem like it’s faster than usual? We’re talking 100 to 93 in 8 years, or perhaps (even worse) he’s hurt. But it’s weird nobody’s discussing. 2 MPH in one year is not normal velo diminishment. Even Mets announcers were like “woahhh 4 that’s not normal strasburg

blovy8 said...

You can be concerned about Strasburg adhering to the usual age curve if you want, but that's baseball. Have you looked at the swinging strike percentage on his curve, change, and slider? Admittedly, I haven't. His best pitch has never been a fastball and IMO, the big inning that happened against the Phillies was the usual prissy discomfort around the mound and command, rather than stuff. He was throwing 94 most of the time, which is no worse than Max. Of course, that doesn't matter much, because high velocity executed poorly gives up lots of dingers or walks. Rosenthal got the margin to throw 96 to 100 last night and was pretty much the same roller coaster except the drama was ruining a shutout. The real issue was that Strasburg and Gomes thought it was a good idea to throw a change up to Harper three times in a row.

Ric said...

BxJaycobb said: " ... so I don’t see any reason going forward to say Nats will be better at home than the road."

The Nats have been better at home than on the road every season since they moved to Washington. Literally all 14 seasons of their existence they've been better at home than on the road.

This is a smart blog so I'm trying to be nice here. But your comment is so wrong it's laughable.

Anonymous said...

Last year the Nats were 41-40 at home and 41-40 on the road.
In 2017 the Nats were 47-34 at home, but an even better 50-31 on the road.

You're right abut 2016 through 2013, though.

blovy8 said...

I can see how he'd feel that way Ric, because the Nats had a 10-16 record in the home games I saw in person last year.

Sammy Kent said...

Forget Norris and Kimbrell. We don't need any more closers. Sean Doolittle is the best we've ever had, and it ain't close. We need middlers....legitimate, dependable set-up men and long men and a good loogy. You will not have prolonged success taking guys that are used to being the ninth inning stopper and making them long men or 7th-8th inning guys. They tried it with Storen, Kintzler, and Madson and it worked only for a little while, and they're all gone now. Instead of that, get a pitching coach that can teach these fellows we now have how to pitch more effectively. Personally I think Doug Fister would make a great pitching coach if he wants to do that.

BxJaycobb said...

@Ric .mAre u....looking at their records? Or just saying things because it feels right? Every team over a large enough sample is better at home by a few games. But the split can be dramatic. The Nats have a smaller split than most teams and multiple seasons during their recent 2012-2018 run they had no advantage at all at home. So....it’s not remotely laughable to say “this team is usually around the same on R and H so let’s not be like “well since it’s a home series against the Mets it’s a must win and if it’s a road series just don’t get swept.”

BxJaycobb said...

@Anon. That’s what I mean. All four of those years the Nats were no better a team at home than on road. Thus. I don’t see why we feel better about a series when it’s at home. To me it doesn’t really matter where they’re playing. For some teams like the Yankees it seems to matter a lot.

BxJaycobb said...

@Sammy Kent. But Doolittle has spent as much of his career as an 8th inning guy as a closer. Kintzler and Madson were just as effective in non close appearances. The only outlier is stored who is a headcase. The Yankees have like 7 guys who have been closers and they have a dominant pen. They simply need excellent pitchers. I don’t care where and when they’ve pitched.

Anonymous said...

I don't think the issue is getting guys who were formerly closers and don't know how to pitch any inning other than the 9th. It's the same game and the job is to get 3 outs no matter what the inning is. I think the issue is that the Nats go hunting for guys who used to be closers but are available now because they've declined and aren't stud relievers anymore. That's fine in that they just need pretty good, not great relief, but this way you're inherently looking at guys who have already started their decline. Best case scenario you get some of those pretty good innings and then you get progressively more disappointed. Worst case scenario you get nothing except a guy angry about how he can't do as well as he used to.

G Cracka X said...

I think the Strasburg velo question is more interesting/concerning than the Home vs. Away debate. Per the 'Website that shall not be named.......':

"Stephen Strasburg: A 1.5 mph drop and loss of strike-zone command are killing his value. The walks are up to a career high of 3.8 BB/9 and he’s getting hit around (1.1 HR/9, .311 BABIP) leading to 5.40 ERA. He needs to start pitching off his non-fastballs more but he’s gone the other direction. This season his fastball rate is up from 52% to 56%"

I feel like this should be qualified with an 'Its early still', and SS was on the very bottom of the list of pitchers with an elevated injury risk based on 2018 to 2019 differences, but still, not a list you want to be on (especially given his injuries the past few years). Spin rate is also down. Maybe its done on purpose by him to help his longevity/durability?

DezoPenguin said...

I think Anon @ 5:53 has it right. Kimbrel has refused in the past to do anything but be an "I will pitch the 9th, period" guy, but the vast majority of good relievers aren't like that. Storen was definitely the outlier (but an outlier Rizzo really should have seen coming). The problem is judging how much Kimbrel has left in the tank vis-a-vis the money paid for him over the years of the contract. A one-year pillow deal would be a small risk, but if he's holding out for 4-5 I think we should just step away. We need competence, not reputation.

BxJaycobb said...

@Dezo. Kimbrel wants to only pitch 9th because he has a shot at all time saves record. Understandable. But Doolittle would 100% pitch the 8th so what’s the problem, right?

Yeah Strasburg’s velo and spin rate drop are terrifying. He’s either hurt or something is going on if it doesn’t correct. It’s not a usual drop due to aging. He’s not himself. Even in the game he did well in.

JDBrew said...

Does anyone think that maybe part of not signing Kimbrel is that the Nats know Kimbrel will not pitch the 8th inning and as valuable as Doolittle has been they don't want to screw him over and demote him to a set-up role? Personally I would be a little upset if they brought in a new guy and moved Doolittle to the 8th. He's been huge for us, and seems like a crappy thing to do. Besides the fact that I don't think Kimbrel is worth what he wants. Kimbrel is asking for too much for too long and is too demanding for someone who is declining, (imo in steep decline) and who's last times pitching competitively he couldn't throw a strike. (2018 Post Season)

As much as I hate depleting the farm system, if they're going after it this year they need to make a trade for some real dominant middle relievers. Which i think will happen. I do not see the Lerners signing Kimbrel, and I'm happy about it. But it looks like they recognize there's a problem. Hopefully they address it by allowing Rizzo to do what he does best, make a deal somewhere.

Ric said...

BxJaycobb said: "The Nats have a smaller split than most teams and multiple seasons during their recent 2012-2018 run they had no advantage at all at home. So....it’s not remotely laughable to say “this team is usually around the same on R and H so let’s not be like “well since it’s a home series against the Mets it’s a must win and if it’s a road series just don’t get swept.”

Are you looking at all the other teams to see that their splits are larger, or are you saying things because it feels right? How did you determine that the Nats have smaller splits than most teams?

And you said to Anon: "All four of those years the Nats were no better a team at home than on road." But Anon said they were even in 2018 and better on the road in 2017 (still the fourth best home record in the NL, but they had an outstanding NL-leading 50 wins on the road). That's two years, not four years. And from 2005-2016 they were better at home. So, in their 14 season they were better at home 12 years, even 1 year, and better on the road the one year that they still went 47-34 at home.

So yes, I do see areason going forward to say Nats will be better at home than the road.

So yes, it is remotely laughable when you say “this team is usually around the same on R and H." But even that is changing the goalposts. You didn't say that originally. You said "so I don’t see any reason going forward to say Nats will be better at home than the road." Well, there is a very obvious reason going forward to say the Nats will be better at home. The fact that they've always been so.

I do agree with you that the majority of teams perform better at home than the road. But go back three years and further, and even your example of the Yankees falls short. They are better at home, but no more than most teams; 2017 and 2018 were exceptions, not the norm, for NYY.

Ole PBN said...

@JDBrew - Doolittle has said that he’d be the first person to welcome Kimbrell into the clubhouse and would gladly take an 8th inning role. So I think there’s nothing to worry about in that regard. It’s not Papelbon/Storen 2.0 if that’s what you’re worried about. And as fungible as these relievers are nowadays, I would argue that high leverage innings aren’t always the 9th. That’s part of what made Cleveland’s pen so formidable was having a guy like Andrew Miller pitch anywhere the game was on the line. I could see Doolittle being that guy and having Kimbrell take on the 9th... damn. What’s not to like? Oh, the Lerners lose some money....??

JDBrew said...

@OlePBN
Fair points. And I don’t disagree with the leverage thing. I guess my biggest concern is nobody is touching this guy for what he wants. There’s gotta be a reason for that. Not gonna lie, I haven’t followed Craig Kimberly too too closely. And maybe I’m succumbing to regency bias, but the last time I watched Craig Kimbrel (2018 post season) he was TERRIBLE. Guess I’m most worried about dumping a bunch of money/resources that the Lerners are willing to spend on a guy that won’t be productive. The Lerners seem like they will spend X amount of money. What if that money buys Kimbrel and no more, and then he proves to be the 4.50 ERA pitcher we saw last post season and not the 2.50 ERA pitcher we saw last season? Then we’re stuck for a number of years with someone who, while more effective than the 108.00 ERA Rosenthal, is not the dominant relief arm we need. There has got to be a reason the Red Sox or Cubs aren’t beating down this guys door. I could be crazy, but is nobody else here concerned about what Kimbrel brings to the table?

Anonymous said...

This pen is unbelievably bad. And Davey is managing scared.

Sammy Kent said...

@BXJacob....Madson and Kintzler were effective early in their time here, but eventually their effectiveness in set up innings waned badly. By the time they left here they were blowing leads as good as the next guy. If they were still that good they'd still be here. Now that Doo has been the MAN for two seasons, he's not going to be pleased if he's pushed to earlier innings. Closers do not want to become set up or long men. Neither Craig Kimbrell nor Sean Doolittle would be happy if they were used in the seventh or eighth innings and someone else was getting the saves. That's just the mindset of the closer and the way baseball culture has become. They've all turned into Sparky Lyle, and I don't think you can turn the clock back. I want guys that are happy to get the call in the seventh inning, not a bunch that feel like they're being used too early.

Kubla said...

The clear answer is to enclose and soundproof the bullpen so the relievers never know what inning it is when they get the call.

mike k said...

This whole "we can't bring in top relievers because they all want to pitch the ninth and will pout if they don't" argument is ridiculous. Papelbon was an a$$hole and Storen was a headcase. Other teams (Indians, Yankees) pitch closer-worthy relievers all over the place and their pens are just fine.

The pen is a disaster. Three games now they lost (maybe 4 but even good pens blow a game in 12). Nats starting pitching and hitting have all been very good, and they're 6-6. The optimist in me says this is ok - all the Nats need to do is fix the pen and they're golden. But the pessimist says that Nats are firing on all cylinders now so this is when they need to win games, and they aren't because of the pen. It's a long season, and when (not if, when) some hitters start slumping, or a starter has a bad stretch, or there are injuries, they will have wanted a cushion against their opponents, which they are supposed to be building now when everything is working. Fixing the pen at that point will be too little, too late, and the Nats will find themselves falling behind.

I've supported Davey before with his pen decisions, arguing that no one has worked out so you can't blame the manager, but I don't understand why he brought in Tony Sipp in the 8th up by one run. That was a disaster waiting to happen. Maybe he'll be good but he doesn't have it now. Should have been bearclaw from the beginning (the single he gave up is an out if the Nats don't have the infield in).

BxJaycobb said...

@Sammy Kent. Huh? I mean, you’re just wrong on this—especially re Doolittle. If u follow him on social media and his general personality....There’s seriously zero chance he would object to being a set up man. He seems like the most solid teammate, non me first person I can think of who has played for the Nats. If they got Kimbrel he would be delighted.*** In fact he has literally been LOBBYING for them to sign Kimbrel**. (Read Boswell pieces on this). Moreover, relievers no longer get paid more if they’re closers. They get paid based on their BB/K and contact profile, etc.. If you’re an elite reliever you get paid the same no matter where you pitch. Look at Ottavino, Britton, et al former closers all signed w big bucks to be set up guys. You think they took discounts? The whole “if they’ve been closers and u move them to the 7/8th they will be suddenly bad” narrative just has no evidence i can think of besides Storen’s weird meltdown. Think of the Yankees. Or the Mets with former great closer Familia signed to be a set up man for Diaz. Guess what? They’re all still unhittable. The Phillies relegated their former closers when they got Robertson and all is well. NYY have literally like 4 former closers pitching middle innings. You think Betances, Britton, Ottavino care? It’s just a nonsense argument. I want the best pitchers period. The Nats appear to have one reliever who is above average right now. I’ll take improvements anywhere I can get them. Being picky about not wanting former closers is just a bizarre perspective. Again, the rest of baseball ignores such things and stock piles awesome arms who miss bats and get outs in the pen. That’s 2019. There aren’t “7/8th inning guys and closers by trade anymore.” There are “elite relievers who are used wherever the most leverage is and they’re needed.” If you don’t want Kimbrel because you don’t want Doolittle to pitch the 8th and suddenly become a different pitcher because it’s not the 9th you’re not thinking clearly. The only exception is Kimbrel I’m sure DOES want to catch Rivera’s saves record.

BxJaycobb said...

@Mike K. Agreed. Although I wouldn’t say they’re firing on all cylinders. The offense hasn’t been great. It’s been ok. Dozier’s been terrible. Soto’s been slumping a bit. Zim isn’t hitting. Turner is out (HUGE difference going from him to difo, who simply is not a major leaguer—they should bring up Kieboom.) it’s basically been Anthony Rendon WHITE HOT carrying team with some early help from Robles, plus solid starting pitching.

Anonymous said...

Sammy and others: Doolittle has said, he would welcome Kimbrel...

https://larrybrownsports.com/baseball/nationals-closer-welcome-addition-craig-kimbrel/487590

I don’t know why reading is so damn hard these days.


Chaos56 said...

Turn back the clock day at the park yesterday--two and a half hour pitchers' duel, Archer is pretty awesome when he's on (at least it looked that way from the front row in LF). Sanchez looks great as a #4. Great win with a solid bullpen performance.

However. Having watch Soto play LF for 9 innings, there is still a LOT of room for improvement. At least 4 batters, he was still jogging to get in position, the missed catch was a lousy route, and he was clearly frustrated on a couple of occasions when the Nat's coach couldn't get to the top step fast enough to give him positioning instructions. Having only watched him on TV this year, it was kind of a shock to see how much work he has left to do out there. On the other hand, Robles is ridiculously fast without any apparent effort. He just glides around out there. Only critique is he still needs to figure out where the wall is out there, very tentative going back on two balls hit deep.

Chaos56 said...

.......and no, you can't find any of that on that site. Simply personal observations, no empirical evidence necessary.

JDBrew said...

Anon 6:14

I don’t know why not being a prick so damn hard these days...

Sammy Kent said...

Doo says all the right things. And in his heart, I'm sure he means it. But it just never turns out as good as it sounds.

Max David said...

With the rest of these guys I don’t even think Kimbrel will help.
Phils bullpen (and rotation for that matter) stinks too, but 1-6 or 7 in the order is best in the NL
Mets bullpen pretty good starters have been iffy. Alonso has been great, Cano & Nimmo have sucked.
Nats rotation has been great. Rendon white hot, Robles has been good, minus the few base running errors. Soto struggling, Zim struggling, Dozier struggling.
Braves are meh and have some starters out and just finding their way back.
I don’t see how this is better than a 3rd place team even if they bring in bullpen reinforcements. Rendon’s not going to hit like this forever, the starters will blow up with a horrible start at some point, is the bullpen going to bail them out in that case?? Probably not.

Nattydread said...

Nats bullpen is bad. But relative to what?

"The Nationals' pen isn't the only one struggling, however. Check out the ERA rankings entering Sunday:

Braves: 17th (4.53)
Phillies: 22nd (5.44)
Marlins: 24th (5.84)
Mets: 27th (6.18)
Nationals: 30th (7.71)>