Nationals Baseball: November 2019

Monday, November 25, 2019

Monday Quickie - Braves reload as the Nats wait

It is forgotten in the euphoria of the World Series win but the Nats didn't win the division last year. The Braves did. And while the Nats are presumably held back awaiting the decisions of Strasburg and Rendon the Braves are forging forward.

They have re-signed Tyler Flowers. He had an unusually good fits couple of years in ATL but has been his general poor hitting self the last couple of years. To cover for him they brought in the perfectly acceptable Travis d'Arnaud who was average last year and a few years younger. It's a mediocre catching duo at the plate and behind it but catcher is a hard spot to fill. This fills it I guess. It wasn't good last year with the aged McCann getting time. It probably won't be good in 2020. But it also probably won't be worse.

They resigned Nick Markakis, continuing my favorite non Yankees, non Nats subplot - the Marchkakis to 3000 hits.  For those unfamiliar, by virtue of rarely missing games, hitting at the top of line-ups, and being a decent average hitter, Nick currently sits at 2355 hits.  That's still a good 5 seasons away from 3000 and at 35 he probably won't get there, but a couple flukes in 2020 and 2021 getting to 2700 hits and there will be some interest in grabbing him - first off he would have hit well and second only 300 hits away. Anyway for the Braves he's a pretty solid 3rd/4th OF type which keeps ATL having the flexibility to work in prospects as needed and deal with injuries.

Most importantly they signed Darren O'Day, Chris Martin, and Will Smith for the pen.  Smith is the prime get.  He's spent four of the past 5 seasons as a top notch reliever. He had been a little wild but in the past 2 years has calmed that down.  If he can avoid fluky homer issues, he's lockdown and he's killer on lefties, which is important to have in a division with the likes of Soto, Bryce, Conforto and McNeill. O'Day got hurt last year but is worth a flier on for the couple million they are spending seeing how he's been good for a decade when healthy. Martin is a guy who has developed pinpoint control and has strikeout stuff.  He gave up longballs in Texas, but if that was just Texas the Braves, who are keeping him after acquiring him mid season last year, are getting a guy who could be elite.

The Braves are still in an iffy position because of the rotation. They've finally given up on the former ace Teheran and Keuchel is out, meaning they need two arms.  If they succeed in getting Cole, or piecing together two strong alternatives (Bumgarner and Hamels?) they may be early NL favorites.

The Nats are stuc, unfortunately. They proved they can get over a guy like Bryce in an off-season. So if Rendon or Strasburg leaves they can figure out the plan around that. With Bryce because it was just him, they were able to say at a point - we're moving on - and do it. But with Stras and Rendon both sitting out there they can't do that in the same way. They have to make a choice on which one they want and throw money at that guy, then see what happens. But of course if you are the guy they are throwing money at you know you have the Nats in a good position and can work them for more. That drags things out and the longer it goes on the worse for the Nats. If they are really going to play this game and NOT commit to giving one of these two basically what they want no questions asked but instead try their usual working of a fair deal, then they need to hope one gets off the market soon, or else they could watch the B and C plans go away waiting on which A plan they settle on.

(Or as always - not my money, give them both what they want) 

Thursday, November 21, 2019

Offseason Position Discussion : Shortstop

Ok, ok. I'll stop saying the Nats should get Frazier.  Geez. Replace all that with Thames I guess.

Last year discussion revisited

We expected and got Trea all day. There was a little worry after 2018 that Trea could be an average hitter and an average hitter can put up a below average year but even then he'd be cheap, he can field, and he can run. He's a starter. The good news is that he didn't have a below average year, he went in the other direction. Like everyone he hit more homers, but also walked less and struck out more. Defensively the one season "THE BEST" that I warned you not to pay much attention to, revert back to the usual "He's fine" level. All in all a very positive player considering position and cost. There's probably good reason to think he won't be a star and the half-season we saw in 2016 was the best he can be but that's not really worrying.

What is worrying is we saw when he's hurt the Nats don't have a good plan.  Difo started a lot when Turner was out early and he was so bad they went with not carrying a back-up SS for a good portion of the time when Turner was healthy. Kieboom spent the other time there and he wasn't good and is wanted to play 2B.

Presumed Plan : Turner plays short. A FA shortstop is on the roster to back him up.

Reasoning on Presumed Plan :I hope I don't have to explain why Trea should start. If you rank SSs he doesn't look that great. Middle of the road in the field, lower Top 10 in hitting. But SS is deep right now and Trea is a very positive player in this very competitive position. Depending on how you put things I can see him as your #3 SS in the majors or the #8 but anyway you slice it he starts.

But last year he again missed major time. The Nats did not have a good plan in place for this and suffered for it. That's why I think they take the time to bring someone in. I think, in line with yesterday's plan this guy will also cover back-up 2B for Kieboom and free them up to spend money on other back-ups, positions, and the pen.

Problems with Presumed Plan :The big issue is the SS field is not deep. There are four FA SS and while they are all decent choices, they are likely to be grabbed up pretty quick.  I think everyone's thinking is the same here. Watch Didi sign somewhere to start, try to catch the slick fielding Iglesias as a back-up.  A lot of teams are going to be disappointed because Iglesias can't play for 10 teams.  After that there will be a scramble for Jordy Mercer (eh) and Hechavarria (eh) and then... nothing. If the Nats don't act quick they can supplement from the deep 2B FA class but the fielding will suffer

So act fast or suffer when Trea gets hurt and Trea will likely get hurt at some point given his history

My take : The Nats are dumb if they don't do a better job backing up Trea. History tells us that. Should they bother to act fast and overpay? I don't know. Depends on what their overall strategy is here. It doesn't look like they are acting fast on the pen and its quite possible having both Rendon and Strasburg in discussions has slowed everything else down. So I'm worried it'll be Difo again.  Better than that would be Kieboom and a solid back-up for him. Then if Turner gets hurt you slide Kieboom over and the decent back-up in. That's probably the smarter play.  But still I'd rather keep Kieboom where he is if possible.

I have no issues with Trea the starter as long as he's here. He's not quite as good as you think but he's also slightly more important that he should be. His skill set (speed) add something to the offense it lacks when he's out. He puts pressure on the D and the pitcher whenever he doesn't strike out. I'll note I'm not enthused by the direction of his stats and can easily see a straight average year coming in 2020 but again, that's still a starter in 2020 and we can worry about 2021 after 2020.

Out of the box suggestion :
I have none. I guess maybe re-sign Dozier and let Kieboom back-up two positions rather than start? Nah that's not OOB.  Really my 2B suggestion is the OOB suggestion here. Trade for Lindor, move Turner over.

Tuesday, November 19, 2019

Off-Season Position Discussion : Second Base

Last year discussion revisited

Something that will be apparent as we run through this is that the Nats were not very good in a lot of places in 2019.  But they were so good with the starting pitching and in a couple other places and no one in the NL other than the Dodgers were overall great that the Nats rose to the cream of the non-Dodger crop. Second base was one of those not very good positions.

After a bit of back and forth, second base became mostly Dozier's spot with a late season Asdrubal Cabrera run.  Dozier rebounded from a disappointing 2018 featuring a dismal late season/ playoff run to be kind of average. He was ok in the field again and hit acceptably at the plate. His big time power seemed gone (20 homers in the 2019 environment is not impressive, even in 135 games), but enough remained that with some patience he wasn't a hole. Still it wasn't good hitting so when Howie could play there Howie did play there (and hit as usual) and later Asdrubal basically took the position from him. All in all as a catchall position second worked out to be about average but Dozier had to be carried the last few steps there. Dozier heads to FA and really whether he comes back or not is only a big deal if they don't bother to figure out a plan to replace his averageness.

More importantly for 2020 - a trial run for Carter Kieboom went spectacularly bad. He hit .128 with no two homers as his only XBH and 16 strikeouts in 43 PAs. The hope for the Nats, that Kieboom would roll into the line-up as at least a starting player like guys like Turner (for Desmond), Soto (for Bryce) and Robles (for the gaping CF hole) did was not met. This leaves the Nats in a bit of a bad position.

My OOB idea (trading for Merrifield and Sal Perez, re-sign Bryce) would have been fun and good and cost you Kieboom and Robles but the Nats would have been very damn good last year. Of course it's a fantasy land trade.

Presumed Plan : Kieboom gets his run.  Nats bring in a solid back-up in case that plan fails. Kendrick or Dozier would work fine if they can make it happen. Along with Dozier, Starlin Castro, Johnathon Schoop, and Jason Kipnis are fringy starters who would make excellent back-ups. There seems to be enough middling talent out there to repeat last year's aaproach which waited out the early market then pounced in January on the best available with a reasonable one-year deal.

Reasoning on Presumed Plan : The Nats like to find out things early and Kieboom is developmentally at the stage where he should get a long run in the majors to see if he can hang. He hit fine in Fresno last year not letting the bad MLB experience get to him which is good and at an old 22* . If he is ready that goes a long way to cementing a position for the Nats who looking forward only have a couple of spots (CF, LF) covered for more than a couple of years with good young talent. 

The Nats also need to find out what they have in Kieboom in part to figure out what to do with Luis Garcia, another 2B prospect and going into last year probably their 2nd best overall prospect behind Kieboom.  Garcia struggled a bit in 2019, and did again down the stretch in the Fall League, but is another real young guy (20 next May) so has a good 2-3 years left to straighten out.  If he does that, and Kieboom is usable, that is a problem - but a good one. They need then to figure out where everyone goes, or if they use someone to get say... a young starter?

Anyway - it all starts with Kieboom. But you can't rely on him being good, especially after last year so you bring in a guy to back him up that you'd be ok with starting. FA seems to have a glut of middling talent here so they should be able to find someone here. 

Problems with Presumed Plan : Sure he hit in Fresno last year. It's the PCL. Everyone hits.  His .903 OPS was 4th on the team and just ahead of Andrew Stevenson who we've seen enough of to know he's not a real good hitter. He was better than average at a young age but nothing in particular makes you think he'll be a star. Competent major leaguer is more likely the end point for Kieboom. That's fine but it's not what they were hoping for.

If he takes a couple more years to find his footing, which is possible giving the lack of overwhelming talent, he will give you a below average option at second. Then you probably have a choice between Kieboom and his below average run and the veteran back-up who's likely a little better but still below average.  Basically you are setting up this position, at least in 2020, to be below average. There's hope for better but not expectations.

My take : This is the position to short change. You need to see what Kieboom can do so let him. There are so many options in the market that you can probably get an ok guy like the ones I mentioned, cheap, and a decent player dirt cheap. Also that means there will likely be a whole set of replacement options available in August if the position doesn't work out and the Nats are heading for the playoffs again.

Second base isn't the star turn position right now.  Try Carter. Hope he works out or Garcia has a breakout minor league season and sets himself up for 2021. In the meantime make sure all the other positions are secure. Bring back Rendon and Strasburg, make the better compromise at first (Frazier) and platoon catcher and get some pen guys.

Out of the box suggestion :

Move Turner over to 2B. Empty the miors for Lindor. He's arbitration cheap for a few years and a great SS and Turner, who's a solid SS, would likely be a great 2B. Yes this basically ends the long term run for the Nats as their minors would be bereft of talent, but with the pitching staff the age it is aiming for the next 3 years makes more sense then trying to figure out how this works long term or praying another Soto like star drops in their lap.

*remember July 1st is the cutoff date for ages and for me "OLD" is turning the age sometime July-Oct of the previous year and "YOUNG" is turning it sometime Apr-June of the current year.  Older you get the less it matters but I like to not it for guys under 25 coming up.  Next year Kieboom will be an old 22 (he'll turn 23 in season) and Garcia will be a young 20 (he'll start the season at 19)

Friday, November 15, 2019

Off-Season Position Discussion : First Base

Is it that time of year already? Actually we're doing this way later!

First thing though - what about the QO calls yesterday.  Quick thoughts - Odorizzi accepting and Abreu accepting bumps up the market for SP and 1B respectively.  I don't think it really effects what Stras was asking for (and what the Nats should pay him). Wil Smith going to the Braves is a shame - the Nats need relievers because the playoff plan won't work over 162 games in 190 days. 

Last year discussion

Another year of rinse (Zimm is your starter, with a LHB backup) and repeat.  I was surprised that the Nats could get Adams back because he was really good in 2018. In 2019 you saw why as the wheels came off and he struck out an amazing 115 times in only 333 plate appearances.  Ryan Zimmerman wasn't healthy either playing only 52 games and hitting a measly .257 / .321 / .415.  By all accounts the plan failed.

But Plan B worked great. Howie got nearly as many PAs at 1B as Zimm (166 vs 170) and was fantastic.  Parra got some decent ABs here early as well.  All in all first base ended up a disappointment in comparison to the league, but it did give Howie a place to settle and do his thing so it was merely below average instead of the terrible hole it could have been.

If there was any issue beyond that it was that no one playing first could really field the position. But first base is a place you can hide that and with Dozier bouncing back to OK, instead of Daniel Murphy manning the keystone, the Nats weren't in a terrible place there.

My OOB plan - which are remember just trying to come up with things that haven't been thought of or maybe have been and are crazy, I do not advocate these things as things that should be done. - was to bring in Daniel Murphy. He ended up costing too much, beyond what I would have been ok with for this role. Then he got injured, stunk when he started the season and never got his final season stats back to where they should have been

Presumed Plan : Is there one? I think the fans would welcome Zimm back. I know the fans would welcome Howie back.  Adams is gone to the ether. I'd love to see Soto there honestly but they aren't going to push that until they have to. So what happens? Bring Asdrubal Cabrera back?

Twist my arm and I'll say Zimm is back under a cheap deal and the starter is... (twist) OW!  Matt Joyce! 

Reasoning on Presumed Plan :
I think Zimm was ready to retire but winning (fun) and not leaving on his terms (disappointing) brings him back for another year. I think he'll be more than accommodating to whatever contract the Nats want to give him. But I think his play suggest he's a bench bat, not even a platoon.  A back-up for a full-time first baseman. (In that way I guess it doesn't matter if the full-timer is right or left handed.)

Howie would be ideal here but he deserves a solid 2 year deal, even in the new baseball, and would be best served by taking that sort of deal for an AL team where he could  also DH. So I think he's going to price himself out of returning. After him the first base market is dead slim. Eric Thames is the best option and he is good - but as the only option above guys like Moreland, Smoak, and Neil Walker he's going to get more than he should.

So that leaves guys you move around. Dozier is a possibility, though it feels iffy he'll stay here because I think he wants to play 2B and the Nats would be best served giving Kieboom time. Donaldson would be an idea or Moustakas but they are pricey and it's a waste of their skill set to sit them at first. They are more likely "post-Rendon" targets.  Going through the OFs there are again not a lot of good names, but there are more options that should hit ok.  Going through there I'm looking for the cheapest good option with relatively consistent work and I come up with Matt Joyce.  He'll be cheap because of his age (36 next August) but he's gone 118 OPS+ or better three of the last four year. He is not a bopper - instead has 10-20 HR power and spent last year walking like a machine and getting familiar with NL East pitching with Atlanta. 

Look it's just a guess here. There is no plan that I see so I'm looking at the best option given some assumptions - Howie gone, Dozier gone, Nats spend money on SP/3B situation not 1B. If you want my preferred order in plans it would be
  1. Howie back!
  2. Dozier back splits time between first and second, but mostly plays first
  3. FA 
although I'll admit there's a lot about 2 I don't like either. But I don't think 1 or 2 is going to happen so here we are in the presumed plan area.  After him I guess I can see the Nats going after Todd Frazier - same reasonably reliable production and health but hasn't gone over 118 OPS+ since 2014

Problems with Presumed Plan  : 
 For mine specifically - Joyce doesn't homer and isn't a natural fit in the Nats line-up that starts with Turner/Eaton. The best fit, assuming Rendon is back, would be a righty masher. He's old. He hasn't played first. He's slow. He's not a particularly good fielder.

For a FA in general - unless you move a great hitter moved or go after the best 1B available there are huge question marks with every choice. Todd Frazier? Asivail Garcia? Starlin Casto?  Slick defender Logan Forsythe?

My take
I don't like this move. Any choice I see the Nats making here is a compromise so it's not going to be ideal and it'll have the same downside as all the Ryan Zimmerman+ ideas that they've had for the past half-decade and little of the upside.  But I'm thinking that given $ to 3b and SP this is what I think they do. They make a compromise move to cover first base. 

I lean with a guy like Joyce because I am leaning a little more toward the Nats aiming for a guy likely to give ok production and likely to be pretty cheap. They've rarely see a reason to throw decent money at C+ players like say Frazier or Garcia might get given their range of production possibilities. But with something like this we'll all have our own opinions. I personally do like Frazier.  A bit more healthier. I think his power fits into the Nats line-up better. Maybe health is most important to you. Or homers. Or maybe you are willing to shell out a little more for a 1B and try to save money elsewhere (as usual with the Nats that would likely be skrimping on the bullpen). This is less a take, and more a shrug and a guess.

Out of the box suggestion :
The likely scenario is an out of the box suggestion I think but I guess I'll go back to MOVE SOTO.  He did get better yes, but he wasn't good. He doesn't get great jumps and he misreads balls all the time and at some point that body is going to age into something that can't compensate for those things. You can say he'll keep getting better but you are talking about a guy who's been instructed on the OF for half a decade now. Where is this magical improvement going to come from that makes him so good that when he starts to age in a year or two that his skill is good enough to cover for that?

Move him and use the entire selection of OFs to replace him in LF.

Monday, November 11, 2019

Veteran's Day quickie

The GMs are meeting but these meetings are essentially just a starting point. Things rarely happen here in comparison to the baseball Winter Meetings and even that time frame (early December) seems to be falling by the wayside to "waiting everyone out to get a deal and if not shrugging their shoulders and telling fans 'it wasn't cost effective' and letting the analyst fans and media defend the teams actions as 'forward-thinking'"

Why does little happen here? Well part of the reason is it's so early in the process qualifying offers don't have to be decided on yet. Technically both Rendon and Strasburg are sitting on theirs.  Everyone expects rejection. As Cab, Dozier, Hellickson, Hudson, Parra, Rodney, Adams, Gomes, and Zimm all did not get QOs and are free to go where ever.  Today a quick review :

Middle Infield

Cabrera : aging MI best described as a back-up 2B/3B, and 2B is iffy. Up and down career, he was having a run of above average seasons at the plate before dropping below last year. Switch hitter

Dozier : also aging, but a year younger, 2B.  Looked bad in 2018 but rebounded in 2019 to look... well useful. Defense came back with slightly limited playing time. Bat, not so much. Pop and some patience righty who can mash lefties still (if 2018 is a fluke which seems to be likely)

Out of the two Dozier gives you better D. Offense is a mixed bag. Switch hitters are obviously real useful and with Kieboom likely up gives him a more natural back-up. But a guy that can really hit one type can be a very useful bench bat.  I'd expect Dozier back and not As Cab, dependent on Dozier not finding a starting job somewhere else which is possible.

First Base

Adams : Brought in to platoon with Zimm, Adams was a nice piece in 2018, but last year his K rate went up to a staggering 34.5% and in an environment of exploding offense didn't do much more. Mediocre fielder

Zimm : When healthy will hit veteran wasn't healthy and didn't hit. No range anymore at first. Keeping him would be an entirely sentimental move with the idea that he backs up a LH firstbaseman and as a non-starter, he can get healthy again.

If you want a ruthless move, neither comes back.  There is great sentiment though to keep Zimm but it can only work if he takes a very low salary. If you take Zimm though, it's hard to keep Dozier imo because the bench doesn't need two guys to pinch hit against LHP.


Hudson : Did everything the Nats asked him to, but a quick look at the stats suggest a guy who relied on weak fly balls? Is that a thing.  No reason to think he can't be useful in a pen but a back end role seems unlikely to match his performance

Rodney : Fun but not good last year - but good for the Nats and good in most years before last. He's a high GB guy who is wild but strikes people out.  Age is of course a concern but workload in 2019 was limited so might have one more useful year left.

Honestly out of the two I'd keep Rodney.  Rodney will likely come back for a cheap 1 year deal, where Hudson might parlay his success into something he slightly does not deserve (nowadays no one gets really overpaid). Yes, that means the Nats need bullpen help

Everyone else

Gomes : Gomes' non-option is the closest thing to a surprise for the Nats off-season so far. There was a sense he would be the catcher for a while if things worked out. But he while still solid behind the plate, his mistakes jumped out at you and with his bat disappearing for the second time in his career it was easy enough to move on if you wanted to. 

Hellickson : He was hurt and looked bad and has disappointed the Nats health wise two years in a row. Even if they liked him they can't bring him back outside of a NRI. They need something more reliable.

Parra :  After a fast start was sneaky terrible for the Nats whose best trait is "not a terrible corner OF".  I have a hard time justifying why he should be on a major league roster in 2020.  Bench coach? Maybe.

I suppose out of the three Gomes might be back, the Nats cutting him loose to try to sign him back at a contract more in line with his production. The catcher pipeline still isn't demanding any chances, but at this point maybe you try Read/Gushue just to see what you have? Hellickson and Parra there just isn't any sound justification outside of "bring everyone back" to do it. Neither should be productive in 2020.

Other than that a bunch of organizational depth was let go - no one you have to care about at all. Like really - nothing interesting. 

So I guess I've talked myself into bringing back Rodney maybe? OK. I'm fine with that.

Thursday, November 07, 2019

Best postseason ever? Good luck figuring that out

So a little side note - before contract stuff mainly because contract stuff is likely to drag on at least until early December and more likely until the new year. 

The Nats had an amazing run this year. From 19-31, comebacks through multiple elimination games. There were a bunch of things the Nats did that were either rarely or never done before. Because of that there's a lot of fans and local media that want to crown this team a miracle squad who had the best post-season ever, or failing that the most improbable. On one hand, nearly every team does this in some fashion.  Either your postseason was the most dominant, or most exciting, or most crazy, etc. etc. It's what fans do.  On the other hand, even outsiders are getting into the bit.  So what does I say, the outsider's insider? Was this season the most improbable run imaginable?

It's hard to figure out!

First let's go to two points that are generally brought up. The Nats came back from 19-31 record to make the playoffs. The Nats won 5 elimination games after trailing.  What does that tell you? Well it does tell you that they did things that were never done before. But in terms of improbability are we looking at it the right way?

It's true that precious few teams overcome a start as bad as the Nats do to make the playoffs (forget about win the WS for a moment - these things follow separate rules and should be seen as two distinct things imo).  But there's a good reason for that that has nothing to do with the fortitude of the team involved. The vast vast majority of teams, pretty much all, that start as bad as the Nats did fail to make the playoffs because they are bad teams who lack the talent to do so. That's not the Nats. The Nats are a good team. Most pundits and projections had them in or near the playoffs. So what's really strange isn't the fact they made the playoffs but that they bungled to the start they did. Should they be "rewarded" for this?  Given praise for the fastest clean up of a mess of their own making? It seems kind of weird to me. This isn't to make coming back from 19-31 less impressive a feat, the run after that is remarkable, but I want to make sure we understand the 19-31 wasn't some arbitrary burden given to this team. They did this. Part of their season was crashing so hard that they needed a tremendous run. That is not good. That should detract from their accomplishments, not add to it.

That same sort of "how'd they get here" should be taken into account in series and games as well, though to a far lesser extent. Good teams shouldn't start seasons bad, but series where good teams against good teams will create elimination games for someone, and every team will have to comeback in games regularly. So there's far less of a "detract" component here. But there is a reality that needs to be injected. There is a chance that the Nats win every series they are in. There's a chance they win it in 4 games, 5, 6, 7 and a chance they lose it the same. The improbability of what we end up seeing is really the chance that they ended up at this point (and won) + the chances they could have lost earlier MINUS the chances they could have won earlier.

Let me elaborate. The Nats beat the Astros in 7 games. The improbability of that (in the sense the Nats won) is not only the chance that that happened, but it also has to add in in the chances a negative outcome would have happened, the chance the Astros win in 4,5,6,7 games. But on the flip side there was a chance the Nats could have won in 4,5,6 themselves. That they didn't do that has to work against them.

If you follow this way of looking at it you get a more fair idea of "improbability". It's far more improbable that a significantly worse team sweeps 4 games in a row than an equalish team wins a 7 game series. That should be obvious, but the mind doesn't always work like that. We see a bad team buzzsaw as inevitable, a good team fighting to the end as catching breaks and needing miracles.

This kind of thought process can also be expanded to individual games. What combining the odds for all the Nats comeback wins does is tell you what are the chance the Nats would win all those games coming from their point of lowest chances. But it's not the chances they would win all those games apriori. The first tells us how improbable it is that we saw what we saw. The second one tells us how we should judge a team for the outcomes. You don't get a benefit for falling behind in the latter. You shouldn't do that! It's not good!

What you may be able to glean from the above is that the most exciting things in sports often involve a team doing something wrong and coming back from that. But we often dismiss that first part - that they dug a hole and focus only on the latter. If we're being completely fair we need to take the whole thing into account.

What are the most improbable series then? The ones where the worst teams best better teams quickly. The 88 win 2014 Giants who racked up a 11-5 record never once playing a team with a worse record. The middling 2003 Cardinals who did the same after an 83 win season, ditto the 2000 87 win Yankees. The 74 As, the 88 Dodgers, 90 Reds. I know I know these aren't FUN series in general. There's no excitement to be had with a Yankees team cruising to title number 4 in 5 seasons even if objectively the team they put out there shouldn't have been able to do that. But you didn't ask about fun and it's not how this postseason is being framed. It's not that the Nats wouldn't be somewhere up there - the opponents they beat were very good and they had to go through a lot of rounds - but the actual advantage the other teams had in a short series with the Nats staff? It's muted. So maybe the Nats aren't even Top five, maybe Top 10 in pure "improbability"  (Now of course to do this properly you'd have to go back and calculate all the odds of all these series somehow. I'm not doing that.)

In the end though - this is a lot of words that are kind of missing the point. It's not that you REALLY care what's the most improbable series - even though that's what ends up being said and annoying me - you care about what's the most... crazy? fun? Entertaining? series.  And that has to be measured differently. That has to be measured with comebacks and elimination games won and long series and historical importance. And clearly this Nats season would be up there for that.

If you dig a little you'll see that a lot of playoff winners had some adversity - either playing better teams, or winning elimination games so it'll take time to rank them all. Like scratch at a team... 1980 Phillies and you see a CS with 4  straight extra inning games - the last two being Phillies elimination game wins and a WS that features a ninth inning comeback to win G5. A team with a huge history of being terrible winning their first title. That's pretty good!

My personal favorite and one that I put above the Nats is the 1985 Royals. They had knocked on the door and lost some heart breaking playoff games in the CS and WS in years past. They clearly had a horrible offense (look for yourself) and faced two legitimately 100 win teams in the CS and WS (ok one was 99). Then proceeded to win 6 elimination games, 3 in each series, including a bottom of the 9th walk-off comeback in Game 6. 

That's the only one just looking off the top of my head I'd clearly have ahead of the Nats. This was a team that shouldn't have made the playoffs and once in shouldn't have beat either team. The Nats were not as good as the Dodgers and Astros but if you look at the stats they were almost equal teams if you could eliminate the pens and the Nats found a way to do that.

Would they fall beyond Number 2?  I don't know. Lots of stuff to look at.

Wednesday, November 06, 2019

Wednesday BLAST

So work emergency hit on Monday so that never got done and now we're even further out so I'm just going to blast through everything so far and we'll talk about it more later

Game 7

I talked about before that usually to win in the playoffs you have to be lucky and good.  In game 7 the Nats were as lucky as they ever were and as good too.

The Nats MO in the WC, NLDS, and WS had been fairly simple. Have the starter go as long as possible so you only have to use Doolitte, Hudson, and the starter on off-day to close it out.  On the other side, wait until the other guys make a mistake and CRUSH them for it. Hader early after Pomeranz was cruising? CRUSH. Urias faces Rendon with a open base then sticks around after Soto to face Kendrick? CRUSH. Kershaw faces Rendon, nobody goes out to settle him? CRUSH. Pull crusing Maeda use Joe Kelly... didn't crush! Use Joe Kelly for second inning DESTROY.  Let Cole face Soto after a walk and two single in the inning? SOTO CRUSH. Try to get Verlander his win, then replace him with Pressly - like their 4th best reliever, don't pull Pressly after giving up lead? CRUSH. Try again to get a gassed Verlander with WS win CRUSH. *  That's like seriously almost all their playoff wins in these series.**

Game 7 was different. First off the pitching performance wasn't good. There had been wobbles in the past in the wins. Early inning tests that were either passed or lucked out of before the starter settled down and carried the team as long as they needed. Max didn't wobble. Max was kind of bad. We talk about Max having a gutty performance but it wasn't as gutty as we normally describe it. Usually when we say "gutty" we mean a guy not having it but still pitching in a way that gets the other team to do what he wants. But Max didn't do that. Max threw a whole lot of batting practice fastballs and got very very lucky. Just the two out hits : Second inning - line drive... right at Soto.  Third inning - 400 ft fly ball... to the deepest part of the park.   Fourth inning - line drive... right at Robles. Any one of those could have broken the game open.  Hell he almost got it again in the 5th where Correa smashed it but a full extension Rendon came inches from snagging it.  He did get a couple outs here and there that were big on his own but just a couple. Most were smashes that went to the right spots.

But the Nats weren't catching a huge mistake either. Grienke was doing great keeping the Nats off balance and was making things easy for Hinch. So the Nats needed to win against good performances. And they did. Rendon hit a pitch out, but it was the pitch, pretty much, that Greinke wanted to throw. Look at the replay and it might have been a couple inches more in the middle but he wanted an in the strike zone changeup and he threw it and Rendon didn't get crossed up. He hit it out. Then Soto after catching a break on what should have been trike one, and swinging at a curve out of the strike zone to even the count watched four almost identical pitches to the second one go by. He wasn't going to bite.  Hinch probably made the wrong move here. Whether you believe it as pulling Greinke, with his low count and effectiveness, or you believe it wasn't going to Smith/Osuna/Cole instead of Harris he did something wrong. BUT Harris didn't. He made the pitch he wanted. It was a pitch that you normally pull over for a DP if you don't guess, and you line into RF if you do. But hit a homer? No. You don't do that unless you do everything right. Kendrick did. 

After this the game reset to the normal MO. Harris pitched Cabrera into the shift (mistake) and Cabrera took what he gave him. Hinch panicked and pulled him for Osuna and who threw 12 pitches and forced Hinch to make a bigger mistake - keeping Osuna in the game. He almost got out of it but then came the middle of the line-up again. Soto got a hit. Game over. All while Corbin and Hudson hut the Astros down.

The Nats had to get as lucky as they ever had been to survive what should have been a brief and brutal Max start. They had to be as good as they could be to work a Greinke on his game and get him out and then take the best the Astros could give them (at least on that pitch) and win the game. They did both and now they are Champions

Oh wow - spent a lot more time on that than I thought.  SPEED RUSH

Was Stras' posteseason best ever? - No!

Was the Nats post-season the most unbelievable ever?  - Maybe! It's harder than you think to make that judgement! But I'd guess it's in the Top 5 of the multi-round playoff time frame (50 years) for sure. 

What about postseason stats in general? - Way too influenced by appearances to be anything but trivia.

Strasburg opting out - He should. He can get more. (I think he stays)

Rendon to FA - He's looking for Arenando + and he might get it (I think he leaves)

Celebration - Honest take - feels like a Caps imitation. But a completely deserved one. Every team should do this. 

White House stuff - Hoo boy. Just get in and get out. Don't do that.

I think that's all the big stuff. I can expound on anything but I think the Rendon/Stras stuff is of the most immediate interest. 

*Looking back it's amazing how many of these suboptimal choices came against the middle of the Nats lineup. Rather than treat Rendon/Soto as the two MVP type of terrible problem to get past, teams treated them as something they could get by. They could not.

**The one win - yes ONE WIN that didn't follow this for the vast chunk of the game was the G1 win over the Dodgers. The Nats just scored on Kershaw and won the game early.  The G2 blowout against the Astros was going to follow this but after exploding it - it didn't need to and the other arms got a chance to get in. Yes, I know Rainey was used for like an inning here in these games.