Nationals Baseball: The National Way

Friday, April 19, 2019

The National Way

Great Starting Pitching
Solid Offense
Questionable Bullpen
Kind of Shoddy Fundamentals

This is the Nationals Way. And what it basically comes down to is that first item. Here are the Nats ranks in SP ERA,  Runs Scored, and Reliever ERA*

2012: 2nd, 10th, 7th
2013: 7th, 15th, 17th
2014: 1st, 9th, 4th
2015: 7th, 10th, 10th
2016: 2nd, 8th, 2nd
2017: 4th, 5th, 23rd
2018: 13th, 8th, 15th.

The bolded teams are playoff teams and you'll note the Nats have made the playoffs with good, but not great offenses, and missed with the same (in fact they've been pretty consistent in producing good to very good offenses).  They have made the playoffs with great relief pitching and terrible relief pitching. But they have never made the playoffs with anything but great starting pitching. That's what this team is built on. That's why they spent money on Patrick Corbin. That's why they need him to perform more like yesterday.

The Nats way isn't the only way to win. You can certainly try bludgeoning the other team into submission, something the Nats have only really done once (remember these are MLB ranks not NL so 5th is very good without a DH. You can 6-7-8-9 and fundamentals your way to a good team and from there hope things break for you (hey 2015 Royals!).  You can just get both a dominant staff and offense. But starting pitching is like winning the line in football, or out rebounding in basketball, it's the base victory that can cover up your other mistakes if you are superior at it. Great starting pitching means fewer IP from relievers, mitigating bullpen issues. Close games go either way. With great starting pitching you make sure that when your team doesn't score they still have a chance and when they do, it's not close.

Where do the Nats stand currently in these?

2019: 8th, 9th, 30th.  Though it's still early. The Nats starting pitching ERA is good and within striking distance of the top.  It's more than fluky performances dominate the outer ends of the rankings.

How the Nats get to a good spot can differ but generally you have a couple guys under 3.00 ERA and a couple more under 3.50.  If you can get three under 3.00 you can have more leeway in the other spots but that might bite you in the playoffs**  Often when the rotation is "bad" it's still good. It's just that the number of great, under 3.00 ERA performances are limited to 1 or 2, and the number of good performances around 3.50 take up the bulk of the rotation. That's a very good rotation still - but it can't carry a team and demands the other parts of the equation - the offense and the relief - be good as well***

This is all just a way of saying - the Nats can't win like they have been playing this season and it's not just the pen. The Nats have had two great starter performances, one good one, and two poor ones. That's not a distribution that'll work for this team in any situation. Assuming Hellickson (currently great) and Max (currently good) swap they'll need Sanchez to step up or Stras to find himself. The offense is fine but is kind of walking a tightrope and shouldn't be relied on. The bullpen is what it is. These can bury the Nats but they can't save them. The rotation can save them.

*Yes imperfect measurements. 

** Like the 2017 Nats where Max, Stras, and Gio finished 1-3-6 in Cy Young voting and Roark 

*** that WAS the case in 2015 so what happened? The Nats got unlucky three times over. They lost a bunch more close games then they probably should, underperforming they Pythag record by 6 games. The Mets had a healthy season from their rotation getting 29 starts or more from 4 of them and 24 from Syndergaard. The Wild Card was won with record records of 98 and 97 wins.


Ryan said...

did you mean SP ERA, Runs Scored, and Reliever ERA?

Harper said...

Yes - didn't get to make my correction pass like I usually do after posting.

blovy8 said...

It only makes sense as their record is 9-8 which wouldn't get them in the playoffs. They're going to have a much tougher stretch of games between the next two Marlins series, and if they're above .500 after that without Turner and with a still awful bullpen performance, then there may be something sustainable about bunching the runs until you can get help at the trade deadline or your propsecty minor leaguers are ready. The recent Austen Williams Experience doesn't bode well for that idea. But wouldn't you agree that the easiest thing for a team to attempt to fix is the bullpen?

Harper said...

blovv8 - It's certainly where a fix would make the most sense at least. They arent' going to transform the offense into a juggernaut without some sort of craziness and they can't make the rotation better without sucking up some sort of loss (like Sanchez to long man)

JWLumley said...

I agree that this Nats season really hinges on starting pitching and even more so on Strasburg. If he can be 2017 Strasburg, the Nats have a good chance of making the playoffs. If they get 2018, or even worse more 2019 Strasburg, stick a fork in them, even if Max returns to being great, unless Hellickson stays great and Sanchez is pretty much 2018 Sanchez again.

One caveat though is that I'm not sure this lineup can be an above average lineup. Dozier+pitcher is 2 automatic outs and many of the good hitters the Nats have like Eaton and Gomes, don't possess a ton of pop. Toss in Zim's extreme streakiness/decline and the lineup is heavily dependent on Rendon and Soto.

blovy8 said...

Well, there is some scanty recent evidence suggesting we may see more of Kendrick and Adams, even if the accepted answer was Dozier having a bad toe and Zim getting the usual old guy rest. That would help the offense, at the expense of 2B defense, but would be fine. Zim seems a little better on D so far, at least he's making throws to 2nd sometimes (although Corbin saved him an error yesterday afternoon with an athletic play). Keeping Difo in front of the pitcher, and Rendon batting 2nd is a smart thing that DM seems to have fallen into accidentally.

blovy8 said...

Zim stinks in April and hits really well in May, if his numbers are bad on Memorial Day, then you can platoon he and Adams. He probably will still murder lefties since he's 5 for 10 off them so far, but it does make sense to work in Adams more this month. However, I really can't blame Martinez too much given the roster structure, because he'd have no lefty pinch hitters most days with this short bench. If you went offense first, the bench would be Zim, Dozier, backup catcher and Taylor.

Anonymous said...

[responding to the first *] "and Roark"..... WHAT???? WHAT DID HE DO???? DON'T LEAVE ME HANGING.

mike k said...

Harper I think your take is an interesting one but you're going to have a hard time convincing me that a rotation of Scherzer-Stras-Corbin-Sanchez-Hellickson, that is good for the 8th best ERA in the league (which is artificially inflated because of the pen giving up inherited runners), is the reason that the Nats don't make playoffs because it's not top five; and that the worst pen ERA in the league is not that reason. The pen is the reason the Nats are .500 right now. They should do something to fix it soon. The offense, as you put it, "is kind of walking a tightrope and shouldn't be relied on." At some point someone will get hurt (offense or SP), or start slumping, and then they will fall further behind. I don't think this is a "tread water until you find help" sort of situation. The division is too good. The offense is too precarious. They need to do something *now* and start winning before the inevitable slump happens.

Sure, that thing might be "a SP steps up and the Nats rotation is top 5", but instead of sitting around hoping that will happen, how about fixing the pen?

An aside - you think the Nats will be after Kimbrell after May 8?

Johnny Callison said...

If the Nats are worried about the offense, I think Kieboom HAS to come up. But I think they feel they've been burned by the Super-Two status thing a couple times already, so they may play it cheap and hold him out as long as possible, which may well be TOO long. If you're going all in, you bring him up and see if he can help you, because you have offensive black holes at three positions in the infield. If he hits, maybe you keep him up after Turner gets back, especially if Dozier has proven to truly be in decline. Imagine Turner and Kieboom both hitting effectively; that's a good lineup. But I think you can argue that the Nats almost NEVER go all in.

Dave said...

Unfortunately, I became a fan of the Expos forever ago. I have resigned myself to having to watch this team act like swimming is barely bobbing up enough to gasp for air then sinking below the surface. The Lerners are a scourge upon all Nats fans. All they care about is squeezing money out of a fanbase. They are not committed to much else. My only hope is for a team to relocate to my neck of the woods to allow me to divorce myself from this club.

Jon Quimby said...

Bullpen was horrible. It's getting better .it's never going to be great. Starting pitching has been good but has the potential to be great. Offense will ebb and flow based on streaky hitters and injuries. This seems like Nats baseball.

The Lerners are clueless baffoons said...

Dave hit the nail on the head with the following:

"The Lerners are a scourge upon all Nats fans. All they care about is squeezing money out of a fanbase. They are not committed to much else."

This ownership group refuses, on a consistent basis, to properly address the team's obvious weaknesses, those same weaknesses that were the cause of the team's unacceptable 0-4 record in the NLDS. The blocked Lerners are completely clueless about what it takes to win a World Series. The teams that win it identify their weaknesses, and then do all that they can to address them in a way that results in a World Series Championship.

Rookie managers Manny Acta and Mstt Williams were nothing but total disasters. Do the blocked Lerners learn from this? No, the hire Davey the Clueless Dunce, their third rookie Manager who is completely over his head, and expect a different outcome.

The window to win a World Series is slammed shut as long as this clueless ownership group remains in place.

BxJaycobb said...

Why are we sure it’s all Lerners and not Rizzo? Like...Rizzo has resources and he can’t build a half-competent pen. This has happened 3 years in a row now. He hand picked Matt Williams. He holds onto obvious horrible players solely because he picked them up and refuses to admit it was a mistake. Like, just tell Davey to play Kendrick over Dozier until (unless?) Dozier finds his stroke. But he won’t do that because it would admit that dozier was a mistake. Drop this idiotic Zim is Face of Franchise God nonsense and platoon him with Adams straight up. Adams has better numbers against RHP. Like....for the last 5 years this has been true. Against LHP play Zim. It’s simple. And call up Kieboom to play SS right now. They can’t have this many holes. When trea gets back if Kieboom is playing well then move him to 2B. If you’re asking what the Lerners (and not Rizzo) have done wrong recently it’s obvious: 1. not signing Harper (do the “Soto is already better than Bryce” and “Eaton will have a higher WAR than Bryce” folks want to retract those predictions now, or wait until later in the season?). And then not signing Kimbrel, who apparently had dropped his demands to 3 years. That’s on Lerners. Hideous bullpen AGAIN and an apparent whiff on dozier and a *possible* whiff on the catchers (instead of signing Grandal)? That’s Rizzo.

BxJaycobb said...

@Harper Remember that Davey never takes starters out and gives relievers a clean inning. Nats relief pitchers let basically every single inherited runner score. Nats starters probably each have an ERA 0.5 bigger than it should be due to the pen.

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