Nationals Baseball: Monday Quickie

Monday, April 15, 2019

Monday Quickie

Almost there - almost to the point where I'll take a more critical look at the stats. Next week. But until then we are still dealing with a aingle 0-4, 2-4, 4-4 game being the difference between  a current batting average of .227, .273, or .318.  We need a little bit more time.

We can look at the team however and find why the Nats are .500.  Of course we all know the main issue - the relief pitching.  Worst ERA in the majors currently at 7.75. If there is a silver lining here (and there isn't - it's more like a possibly long term cancer causing BPA lining) its that the Nats aren't THAT bad.  They don't really have the worst pen in the league. But they aren't a good bullpen cursed with bad luck. They don't strike out a lot, they walk too many, give up too many hits, give up too many homers, don't induce a lot of easy out (not great in getting pop-outs, league low in GB rate). Take it all together and you have a mediocre bullpen at best, which is what you'd probably expect from Doolittle + 6 guys who are all ok guys to have as your last 1-2 men in the pen. Rosenthal being the complete failure is the biggest issue but Barraclough, who was hoped to be the next guy up, has traded his control issue for being hittable, and Tony Sipp, who may have been a great late pick-up has basically tossed batting practice out there. That's 0-3 in your first go around trying to figure out who could fill in that 7-8 roles. Rosenthal and Barraclough at least will have a few more chances, especially with no one beating down the door, but the failure to get a more secure very good reliever to fill in the pen is the biggest issue the Nats face.

The Nats starters have been very good, as you'd probably expect, but not exactly as it was written up.  It's limited starter Jeremy Hellickson who is doing well so far to counter a strugglinlg Strasburg.  At this point takes can be dominated by a single bad start so it's important not to take too much from this. Just know to make up for something like the reliever probelms above the rotation would have to be special, and they have not been that. Max has been merely good. Stras struggling.

That combination is kind of an average team but a great or terrible offense could swing the Nats record in either direction. The Nats offense has also been good, but it's a bit of a mirage. The Nats have the second best OPS with RISP leading them to score more runs than you might expect looking at their other stats ok batting average, pretty average batting across the board otherwise. This is likely due to the fact that the Nats offense is the haves and have nots.  Kendrick, Rendon, and Robles, all have been very hot to start the year.  Zimm, Dozier, Difo and the Cs have been cold.  The same guys are getting on and being driven in by the same guys. 

In the long run this makes me a bit worried. The relief pitching should get better, but there's no reason to think it will be good. The offense, I feel, has great potential for collapse as while I like Soto to pick it up past average, there isn't any reason for me to think the cold guys will rise up to take place of the production that the Nats will lose when the hot guys cool down. If the offense collapses then you don't have enough to take this team to the playoffs.  The path to victory though is there. Strasburg starts pitching better. The SP gets dominant and Turner coming back balances out the offensive issues I see happening down the like. Dominant SP, Good Offense, Poor Relief pitching. That can make the playoffs. Of course the easiest solution would be to clear up the relief pitching problem but I don't expect to see that happen.

OK Sweep the Giants, or at least really beat them up in a couple of these games. A lost series here would be a big problem if any of the other NL East teams make a push


coolsny said...

Do you actually think Kimbrel would get this team to where they need to be

Jimmy said...

I personally think Kimbrel totally falls off a cliff this year or next given his usage and his decline from last season.

Jimmy said...

But it's not my money and even at a decline he'd be at least the second best guy in the pen.

DK said...

How about that Felipe Vazquez guy from Pittsburgh? No, wait. I mean that Felipe Rivero guy from Pittsburgh. You know, the guy that was part of the package for Melancon. The Man With Two Names. The one Dusty . . .

Never mind.

JWLumley said...

Yeah, this team has the markings of not being good. Scherzer has been good, not great, Strasburg has been bad. The bullpen and Dozier have both been awful and while the Dozier problem is fixable, it also isn't because he was supposed to supply the power lost from Harper. The Trea Turner injury still really hurts as Difo is sub-replacement level. I think this team will hover around .500 before falling off a cliff sometime in June or July. At least we can look forward to some decent draft picks.

SM said...


Was there not a discussion last season about how the Nats organization seemed incapable of developing first rate relievers/closers?

If Treinen and Vazquez (a.k.a. Rivero) are any indication, the Nats' scouts seem able to spot the raw talent, but the organization's development side cannot somehow refine that raw talent. What Pittsburgh and Oakland can do, Washington apparently can not.

Not that it's foremost in his mind, but Rizzo's constant raking over the ashes of other teams' discards may have something to do with Washington's erratic player development program.

Jimmy said...

Rivero had all the makings of being special when he was here. This notion that pittsburgh developed him at all has no basis for reality. He just became more consistent which was all probably due to reps. Trienan I honestly don't know what it was whether it was mental or wieters but he needed a change of scenery always had the raw stuff.

Josh Higham said...

The only silver lining to the Vasquez-Melancon swap in 2016 is that at least the Giants beat the Nats out in the Melancon sweepstakes in the offseason. I understand why you make that move and I think it was not a true clunker of a trade--Rivero was just decent and Melancon was borderline great--but boy does it hurt. The Nats could have lost in the first round in 2016 just fine without Melancon and would sure be better today with even a not-as-good Vasquez in the bullpen.

blovy8 said...

Well, when you're trying to win, you trade young guys who haven't put it together yet for veterans who have been and still are still good but getting or are expensive. The price you generally pay ARE relievers. It shouldn't be too surprising. I bet if the Nats had thrown in the towel in July, there would have been more new bullpen options. Certainly someone better than Rainey.

Anonymous said...

I'm on SM's side. It really appears that the Nats player development isn't great in comparison to their scouting. The number of players that had sat at the top of the prospect lists over the last decade or so only to never amount to anything in the majors feels staggering, but I haven't gone and compared it to other teams. But particularly with pitching, it always feels like the Nats have a lot of strong options that never amount to anything

SM said...

Well, yes and no, Jimmy.

He had all the makings of something special while here. Agreed 100%. But he had the reps here:48 IP in 49 games in 2015; and 49 IP in 47 games before the trade.

But I'll argue that 1)he was overused in 2016 and the fatigue was obvious (the attrition rate of young, hard-throwing relievers is astonishingly high); and 2)player development doesn't end with promotion to the majors.

Jimmy said...

The overused is really dubious, more like just fatigued from the reps. He pitched about the same (over 70 innings) after he left here. His jump happened in his S/O but he was incredibly effective with us the year before(2015). So I don't think Pirates development had much to do with his leap. I don't really buy our lack of player development theory either because really few guys have ever left here to become something. The list for pitchers is really just Trienan a guy who flashed at the major league level, Felipe a guy who flashed here at the major league level and Robbie Ray. Literally every other guy who've traded has yet to make the majors or looks to be a total bust.

Jimmy said...

I'm sorry Overused and Fatigued from the reps are the same thing. Point is he pitched roughly the same amount in Pittsburgh with no ill effects.

SM said...


We're not going to see eye-to-eye on this. So let me make a point about fatigue/overuse here and I'll end it.

Sure, Rivero/Vasquez pitched in roughly the same number of games in Pittsburgh. It's how he was used that matters. In 2015, aged 23, 48.1 IP in 49 games. In 14 of those games he pitched more than one inning.

The next year, prior to the trade, 47.2 IP in 47 games. And in 14 of those games he pitched for more than an inning.

In Pittsburgh in 2016? 27.1 IP in 28 games, but pitched more than one inning three times. In 2017: 75.1 IP in 73 games. Appearances of more than one IP: 12 times. In 2018, with a symmetrical 70 IP in 70 games: 9 games in which he threw more than one inning.

Put it this way: In 171 Pirate games, Rivero/Vasquez threw more than one inning on 24 occasions. In Washington, he pitched more than one inning per appearance 28 times in 96 games.

(What would be left of Doolittle's arm if he pitched more than one inning per appearance 30% of the time?)

One final point to fluff up the argument:

Craig Kimbrel became a full-time closer at age 23 in 2011, with 77 IP in 79 games. Number of appearances of more than one inning: 1. In 63 games in 2012? 1. In his 542-game regular season career, Kimbrel has pitched longer than one inning 26 times, 17 with Boston alone (which might provide one clue to his control issues last season).

In short, Pittsburgh acquired a gem and figured out the most effective way to use him. And that way--unless it was the name change--was not to work him like Washington did.

ocw5000 said...

Uhhhhhh... are we really trying to revisit the Melancon trade? Y'all remember our closer that year was Papelbon, yes? The Papelbon who promptly retired at the end of the season on account of being trash? You make that trade 100 times out of 100.

Anonymous said...

Rivero/Vazquez was a starting pitcher when the Nats traded for him. He was a starter the first year in the Nats system and then was converted to a reliever during his second year (Doolittle and Kimbrel were never starting pitchers, so these examples are irrelevant). Was converting him to a reliever not a successful move by the Nats' player development staff? Moreover, even after converting to a reliever, he was not dominant by any stretch in the minors. Given his history as a starter and his pecking order in the MLB bullpen when he was promoted, having him start out pitching multiple innings is perfectly reasonable and defensible.

In my opinion, the Nats new what they had in Rivero/Vazquez - there were lots of articles touting him as a "future closer" - and traded him because he had not yet put it together and they needed someone more reliable for the stretch run in 2016. Had he put it together in 2016, (a) they would not have needed Melancon as much and (b) they would have been able to trade Rivero/Vazquez for something a lot more valuable than a half season of (then) very good relief pitcher. Sometimes it takes time for talent to translate to results, and time was probably the most important factor in the Pittsburgh-Washington trade. The Nats knew they were giving up a more valuable player to get a less valuable one; they needed the less valuable one because they thought he could provide more value in 2016, which is what mattered at the time. You can quibble with the fact that they let go of Vazquez/Rivero and not someone else (but who knows what the alternative was?). But to say he's an example of player development failure is absurd. He got better because sometimes really good players aren't really good right away.

Treinen is a different story.

BxJaycobb said...

A few things. 1. The Melancon trade isn’t that horrible given the Nats needs that year. 2. They 100% over-worked Vasquez. Anybody who watched 2016 can attest to that. The guy was pitching like 2 innings back to back days. 3. The Nats have a shocking—truly shocking—inability to develop good relief pitching. Let’s even include Vasquez and treinen in our discussion. Even if u include them! The Nats have had arguably the worst internal development of relievers in baseball. It’s actually astonishing how few decent relief pitchers have come out of our system and are able to contribute as solid options.

PS as I have said multiple times and nobody has really covered in the media for some reason——strasburg is a problem. He’s lost a ton of velocity af has been bad this year. I don’t know why given the velocity loss we should expect that he is (1) healthy or (2) if he’s healthy, that he’s still an elite starter.

Max David said...

Seeing these last 2 games, I'll just say I'm not disappointed that most of my weekends and weeknights through the end of July are going to be spent at AAU practice or AAU tournaments. This looks like the Nats/Expos (I'm probably the only person that was an Expos fan and remained a Nats fans) from 1996-2011; I'll follow them from afar in Connecticut, when I'm down in DC at the end of July for the end of year tournament I'll go to a couple of games, but I'm not going to get emotionally invested. Just getting At Bat scoring changes and final alerts the last couple of games has made me want to chuck my phone at the wall, have a couple more games like this against the Giants and I may just turn off the At Bat notifications.

Anonymous said...


(1) Strasburg's velocity was back last night during innings 1-4 when he was cruising. He was sitting 94 and regularly touched 96. It dipped after the fourth inning when he gave up three homers. This isn't purely good or bad news. It's good in that it suggests the velocity is still in there. It's bad in that it (potentially) suggests he's less effective with lower velocity; (2) His K and BB numbers in 2019 are perfectly in line with his career norms. This suggests that stuff is not the problem, and some combination of bad command, bad contact, bad luck with hits/homers explains the poor performance; (3) Strasburg was effective at the end of last year with lower velocity; (4) Strasburg has had periods in the past (e.g., the beginning of 2015) when his results have not matched his peripherals and has bounced back. Yes, that period (and others) were not accompanied by a velocity loss like this one, but they are nevertheless relevant; (5) Strasburg is one of three *elite* NL East starters who is having a tough time in April, along with Nola and Syndergaard. All three have ERAs over 5. Strasburg and Syndergaard's peripherals are in line with career norms whereas Nola has a dip in Ks and a HUGE uptick in BBs. His numbers are also the worst of the bunch. Still, this ought to drive home the point that we're talking about ~20 innings in April. We need more data.

I think it's reasonable to be worried about Strasburg, but you should temper that worry. He's striking out 11+ per 9 innings and walking 2.78. Those numbers remain elite. I'd be MUCH more worried if there was a dip there. My (very very) amateur scouting: his changeup - one of the best pitches in MLB - is less effective because it's ending up in the zone. I wouldn't be surprised if he's given up more XBH on his changeup in April this year than in entire years in the past.

Jay said...

It seems like the last few games the sequencing and execution/location have been problematic. Several home runs have been given up when well ahead in the count 0-2 and the like. Hopefully this improves for the entire pitching staff. I don't think this will fix the bullpen any though. I know it is early but it seems like the season is slowly slipping away. The bullpen implosions, Martinez getting thrown out of a game. There is a long way to go but every game still counts.

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