Nationals Baseball: March 2020

Monday, March 30, 2020

Monday Quickie - Gaming the System

Whenever baseball is to come back there is a new rule in place. The "three batter minimum" is an attempt to limit the number of pitching changes and take away a bigger source of extra time in the game. A pitching change usually involves a slow trip to the mound, a run in from the bullpen, and a series of warm-up pitches, and then possibly an announced PH change to match it.  All in all it's only a few minutes per game, but without making a huge shift in how the game is played it's going to be tough to make the game immediately much quicker. Instead it's going to be picking at the margins hoping the entirity of what you do ends up hacking off 15 minutes or so.

But like any rule the trick is how to use it in your favor.  Here is the rule. (I can't find an official 2020 rule book). If you are too lazy to click - basically you pitch to three batters or until the inning is over, unless injury or illness (and I imagine extended delay though that is not written). Imagine this re-written for three batters I guess
If the pitcher is replaced, the substitute pitcher shall pitch to the batter then at bat, or any substitute batter, until such batter is put out or reaches first base, or until the offensive team is putout, unless the substitute pitcher sustains injury or illness which, in the umpire-in-chief’s judgment, incapacitates him for further play as a pitcher.
Now... let's try to break it.

Let's get the obvious out of the way - fake injuries and illnesses. It may happen here or there, but it will be very minimal.

The first thing to focus on is the end of the inning circumvents the rule. So that puts an impetus on getting relievers in mid inning as opposed to the start of an inning. This could go two ways. You could see more starters (or previous pitchers) stretched to get a batter or two more to start an inning.  You could also see more starters pulled before an inning ends rather than letting them finish the inning to save a reliever.   I'd expect the latter.  Essentially your first reliever being one-out guys who finish the starters last inning.

You will also see more walks. Since it's three batters faced, you can burn one by walking him.  Of course that puts a man on which isn't ideal but after you get to two outs putting a man on first still keeps the expected runs per game low. So if you think you have a clear advantage over the next batter you might as well walk that first guy especially with two outs.  Also we'll see more pitchers brought in to walk the guy ahead of the match-up you want. This is not a huge change but generally managers liked the leaving pitcher to issue that walk.  It would give the reliever more time to warm up and not start him off throwing balls or now - pointing for the IBB - god I hate that. In fact the IBB rule will make this something that definitely happens. You'll never see a guy purposely issue a walk to end his outing.

Will we see fewer pitching changes?  Probably so. Maybe one less. That's my guess.

Thursday, March 26, 2020

Monday, March 23, 2020

AMA - Corona

So we don't want to talk about the corona virus a lot here BUT I figure I'd give you a chance to ask any questions you might have. Now you might say "Why would I ask you?" and that's a good question but first, consider it asking the entire group of people who may comment here, someone here may be an expert on what exactly your question is. Certainly a few here are going to be very well read on the subject.  As for specifically me, well my job is as a public health statistician. There are certainly people you bring in before someone like me if you want to interview, epidemiologists (who study how disease spreads), virologists (who study viruses), specific doctors or health professionals who have been through these things before. There are literally thousands of these, maybe tens of thousands, probably a couple in every minor city / major college, so there's no reason to go down to the C-Team if you are a TV or a paper. But I'm way more familiar with the topics at hand than Joe Schmo* out there, or even Dr. Jane Schmo* who has been very online during this. Given that I figured maybe I could help clear up a thing or two and if not - great. We move on to more fun stuff that doesn't involve possibly dying, unless it's Bobby Henley sending you home because then you are dead.

*Mr. Schmo got his degree in Communications with a minor in Portuguese

*Dr. Schmo (unrelated) is a Food Chemist who works in developing proper textures for crackers, chips, and other baked snacks. 

Friday, March 20, 2020


To round out the media triumvirate (sorry Fibber McGee & Molly we aren't doing ol' timey radio shows - but a trial of SiriusXM had me listening to too many of those) let's go with what you are reading. Now currently reading or reading last year will only work for voracious readers. For the rest of us just put out some of your favorite books.

I'll start - I'll note that I pretty much never read fiction. Well that's not true - sometimes I'll quickly read through some of my kids books (ask me about Diary of a Wimpy Kid) but adult fiction eh.  I keep saying I'll pick it up again but there's always a good non-fiction book right there. OK given that caveat and the caveat that I pretty much forget what I don't own. So this is pretty much limited to what I see on my shelves right now. 

Let's start with baseball

Of course there's the Nats Trilogy - Jesse's book, which I'm sure is fine. National Pastime, Barry's book on the honestly pretty crazy 2005 season, and The Grind which is an expanded verison of the collection of articles Barry wrote that year about... well the grind of the baseball season.  I'll recommend all.

The Soul of Baseball - Posnanski goes around with Buck O'Neill in exactly the type of book Joe Posnanski should be writing.

The Arm - now that you all love Daniel Hudson it's worth a read to find out how he got here. 

Not baseball

Battle Cry of Freedom - a big but not dense single volume tome on the Civil War.  I liked it so much it's the only book I've purchased multiple copies of (I have the illustrated hardcover)

Candace Millard's books are usually great - River of Doubt (Teddy Roosevelt stupidly goes dwn the Amazon), Destiny of the Republic (Dumb doctors basically kill a saveable James Garfield). Erik Larson's as well - there like a dozen here.

If you can handle tough subjects Killers of the Flower Moon and Devil in the Grove are great books and Columbine is fantasticly thorough and sensitive take on that incident.

Less harrowing - I enjoyed Rocket Men (about the flight to space before the moon landing), K Blows Top is fun (about Kruschev touring the US), Pictures of a Revolution (about the 5 best pic nods in 1969 and how they showed the end of the old guard and beginning of the 70s golden era)

Ok that's a start. 

Wednesday, March 18, 2020


Hey sorry. I spent last night making a lemon blueberry loaf instead of typing a blog post.

BUt today we'll move on to movies, a subject I'm not well experienced in as I'll default to watching TV if given the choice. But occasionally I'm on a plane or want to do something different so i will pick up a movie or two. It would probably take forever to go over everyone's favorites, there's literally over 100 years of movie (for example the masterful Nosferatu is 98 years old this year) so how about we limit it to the past few years.

This way I can literally just list the movies I've seen

I've seen nothing that has come out this year

I saw Harriet and Ready or Not on my last plane ride.  Ready or Not was fun. It could have been great but it was still good and that girl can scream.  Harriet was also good but with any historical story a little hard to get real drama going. I know she isn't dying.

I got kids - however the one that can watch movies isn't into them either so I've seen Frozen II (ok not better than the original) and Aladdin (eh)

ummm...  that is it. Like I said I don't watch movies

Ant Man and the Wasp - It's good. This is the only series I've seen all (technically both) the movies. I pretty much have seen zero sequels. Part of it is bc I like my super hero movies to lean kiddie. They shoot beams out of their hands and fly around. I don't need that to be serious at all.
Crazy Rich Asians - also on a plane. It's really good. Not as funny as I thought it would be but nails what it is.
Halloween - not great. Part of what made the first great is ramping up the horror with a vaguely human antagonist that kills like 4 people. This is more like later horror movies with an unstoppable baddie that mows down a dozen plus.  Story is good but needed someone to tone down the killing and up the horror.
Rampage - plane movie. Honestly the best type of plane movie bc if I never saw the end it'd be ok.  But still I think this is the best Rock hero movie of the bunch.  He's overgrown in size and personality and he needs a backdrop that's similar. This gives it to him. It's not good but it's fun
The Spy who Dumped Me - look I prefer to be on my computer if I'm at home and so I want something on in the background. This was allright. Oddly violent. I mean watch it if you think you want to.
Three Identical Strangers - I also like documentaries.  This one is a trip that starts and ends in totally different places.

Kids - Ralph breaks the internet (see Frozen II)
Nutcracker and the Four Realms - there's a good movie in here somewhere but it didn't make the screen
Teen Titans GO! to the Movies - I really liked this. Sometimes I listen to the song for fun.

OK that's enough - so in the past 2+ years - give me your movies to watch. I probably won't get to them but someone here might.

Monday, March 16, 2020

Monday Quickie : What are you watching right now (or recently)

If you didn't see Friday's post go back to it and throw in your two cents.  We're all in this together (well unless you are in like rural Nevada - Contact looks nice) and if a little content everyday helps keep every a bit saner, well that's just the type of sacrifice I am willing to make.

First off something real simple for the Monday Quickie - what are you watching right now (or very recently passed) How do you spend the time when looking at your screens? It doesn't have to be good TV or movies, but if for some reason you watch things you hate don't mention those.  If it's something streaming be sure to note the service because oddly enough not everyone pays for every streaming service like some dummies (well I don't have the Apple one). 

So currently I'm watching

Better Call Saul (new episode tonight).  It's on season 5, seasons 1-4 on Netflix. 

Trapped - an Icelandic police show streaming on Amazon Prime. It's mostly in Icelandic (they speak English when talking to people from other places) so you have to read subtitles which is good if you want to put down your screens for an hour.

McMillions - HBO doc about people cheating the McDonald's Millionaire game. Like for every big prize. 

Will finish up Bletchey Circle - British mini-series about crime solving former code cracking WWII woimen - on PBS but I'm not sure it's streaming anywhere.  It wasn't before it came on here. 

Is that it? That might be it. With a baby free time is basically 9 on and it's a lot more vegging out than actively watching. Shows to veg out on

A lot of HGTV - part of the reason is when you have kids, HGTV is one of the few channels you can put the TV on and be sure you aren't going to put on something you don't want them to see or hear. But mostly because it's easy background noise when you aren't really paying attention to something. An hour to update a house? Yeah I don't need to see all that - I'll look at the beginning and then at the end.

Forged in Fire - I don't know why but even though every episode is basically the same there is something magical about turning metal into a blade then testing it against a bunch of object

Reruns of the Office - again easy background noise . And always on. Drunk History, when that is on.

I'm sure there's more.  Since I didn't get to movies, let's stick with series for now.

Friday, March 13, 2020

So now what?

No seriously. Now what?

There's little reason to keep doing what we'd normally be doing at this tim - popping in on the Nats Spring Training stats and stories, checking out the same for other teams, patiently waiting for real baseball to start.  Real baseball won't start (if we are very lucky) for another month.

So again, now what? 

I mean we'll keep our ear to the ground to monitor the baseball news, but I'm sure you'll hear about that elsewhere. And we'll keep a closer eye on the Nats health specifically and how that may effect things - though it's kind of a big mystery right now when you don't know exactly when the season will start and you REALLY don't know how bad the illness is striking people. God let's hope we're not here ever discussing the ripple effect of a death on the NL East race.

Shut it down? Deep dive into minutia for no reason? Ask Me Anythings? What would you like to see?

Thursday, March 12, 2020

Thursday - No baseball?

Say it ain't so, Joe!

Well it isn't so... yet.  But with sporting events being cancelled left and right to avoid unnecessary travel, close contact, and gatherings* it is easy to see a near future with no baseball. How long? Let's think about what we could see.


Probably first we will see a end to ST crowds. That seems apparent. What this effects is nothing really. Not as far as the season goes

Next we may see a pausing on Spring Training games for two weeks. This wouldn't do too much of anything either. Practices would presumably continue

After that you'd escalate to no Spring Training at all. No practice, training, intrasquad scrimmages.  This might cause a delay as players would only have less than a week to get back into ST shape but they could still push it to get it started on nearly the same day


A complete cessation of activities for more than two weeks would likely cut into the season. They could do a month now and maybe fit in 154 games (early season schedule is a bit lighter for weather make-up possibilities). I'd say that currently this is the most likely lightest situation we'll end up with as two weeks probably won't clear everything up (we'll need at least a week just to get a sense on where we are disease wise)

As you go more than a month you start to get into needing a good amount of pre-season practice now that they've been sitting a while (I'd imagine 2 weeks or so of pre-season) and more games cut. So a month pause today might lead to 154 game season but a 6 week pause now wouldn't lead to 145 games but something like 120 or lower.


Once you get much more than two months you start to get to the half-season possibilities. You start with the exhibition All-Star Game and then go into the season. Understand they'll try to fit in some sort of season regardless.  Half a season and the all important playoffs is better than none

When do they bother cancelling the season fully?  Hmmm I'd say you'd have to start drifting into August for a start date. There really probably isn't a time when they can't squeeze some blood from this stone but you start to functionally get to a weather issue again. They might even be tempted to do an unofficial / official tournament thing Sept / October just to get something out of the year, but when you start drifting into playing in November you start to limit yourself geography wise and profits can't be that high to say - have a Tuscon tournament in December.

*Sports are basically the worst at this, being a job that requires close contact, asks for gatherings, and depends on travel. All for entertainment purposes.

Tuesday, March 10, 2020

Tuesday Quickie : Kieboom

How's Kieboom doing?  It's kind of the only question that matters this Spring and I've said earlier that unless he's complete garbage, I'd bet on him winning the 3B role to start the season.  How has he been? Not complete garbage!  .250 / .419 / .292.

Yes that's a .292 SLG (1 XBH in 30 PAs) but maybe he's working on patience?  I find working on patience in Spring a little bit odd, because the pitchers aren't necessarily concerned with throwing strikes, but hey, when are you going to work on it? To be honest his patience last year wasn't overly concerning. The big deal was the strikeout rate (37.2%!).  How is that going? 6 Ks in 30PAs... that's 20%. That's better!

Kieboom has started 7 games at 3B (Cabrera has started 5) and played twice as many inning there. All indications are as expected - Kieboom is your starter. We'll look back in another two weeks or so but don't expect it to change unless Carter strikes out 20 times in his next 30 PAs.

The other thing you might be interested in is 5th starter and Joe Ross , Erick Fedde, and Austin Voth have all looked ok.  An honest assessment of just the stats would put Voth ahead with his pinpoint control and Ross' lack of Ks, but again it's Spring and an honest assessment of the stats is like 40% of what's going on here. You might be able to pick out someone having issues (oh darn Barrett! oh no Doolittle! oh really no Hudson!) but two weeks in even those are just things to stick a pin in not to worry about. So far nothing about the 5th starter battle seems to be crazy good or crazy bad so you have to say that favors the incumbent, Joe Ross.

What to look for this week :
  • Does Harris pitch a real game?  
  • Let's see Strasburg back on the mound (terrible first outing, then a skipped start - pitching simulation)   
  • Let's see Robles back in CF full-time for several games. 

Thursday, March 05, 2020

Best Nats Pen ever?

The Nats have a history of putting together flawed bullpen. Sometimes they feel like they lack that shutdown arm, other times it's an important piece that's been overlooked, sometimes it's a 4-7 that seems more suited for a non-contender. But this year the Nats appear to have a solid bullpen to start the season. Nationals World Series hero Sean Doolittle in the closer spot has been backed by Nationals World Series hero Will Harris in the set-up role, and Nationals World Series Hero Daniel Hudson will cover other important at bats and innings. These are three relievers who were solid contributors last year and Doolittle and Harris were among the best in the game in recent years.

But is that good enough?  One way to try to figure that out is comparing it with other Nats pens of the past and seeing how those pens were structured and ended up

I took a look at the Opening Day bullpens** for the Nats from 2013 on* and here are the pens in a nutshell

2013 : Strengthening a strength: This is a pen that came about when a tired Storen ran into fate and the Nats faltered in the 2012 NLDS. Boras convinced the Lerners that they needed Soriano. This gave the Nats in theory a fantastic 1-3  and what looked like a solid pen overall with 2012 plus pitchers Stammen, Mattheus and Duke and a live arm in HROD

Result : Middling. The big thing was Storen having a mental breakdown at being replaced effectively screwing with the back-end of the pen. Mattheus had been effective but lucky, and stopped being lucky. Duke had a fluky bad start and was dropped and H-Rod didn't develop.

2014 : SaS Redux: With everyone still under contract the Nats did it again with Detwiler replacing Duke and unknown Barret replacing HROD.  Blevins came in to be a lefty specialist. There was a little more concern this season mainly because trying again with Storen seemed like more of a gamble. But it was again pretty solid top to bottom.

Result : They were great. Storen screwed his head back on and performed. Soriano faded at the end but was good far longer than not. Only Blevins disappointed.

2015 : Experience? We don't need no stinking experience:  Soriano walked, Detwiler was cast away, and the Nats traded Clippard for a needed part and Blevins for spite leaving them way short on innings. They brought in a veteran arm in Matt Thorton to help and hoped a transitioned Roark would shore it up along with newcomers Treinen, Janssen, and Xavier Cedeno.

Results : Bad at first but eventually. Janssen was terrible, Storen wasn't lights-out, Barrett broke, Xavier Cedeno failed, and Roark never gelled. But the Nats found a piece, Felipe Rivero, who did well and eventually added Papelbon who stabilized the bullpen, though not the clubhouse, at years end.

2016 :  We choose you Papelbon : The Nats were stuck with two relievers they didn't want in Papelbon and Storen and got rid of the latter. Only Treinen and Rivero survived as the overhaul included a bunch of solid but unspectacular names Matt Belisle, Yusmiero Petit, Oliver Perez and the best of the lot Shawn Kelley.

Results : Great! Even with Papelbon crapping out, Rivero being off, and Perez and Petit not contributing much Dusty worked the pen like a master, leaning on the guys that did work (Treinen and Kelley) and some young arms like Sammy Solis. Trading Rivero for Melancon in the end worked great honestly. Impressive job without impressive talent.

2017 :  Make chicken salad again Dusty : The Nats did add Joe Blanton late in the spring but otherwise were leaning on Kelley to lead a group with little experience (Treinen, Solis, Glover and Enny Romero, who replacied Belisle and Petit) or who did poorly the year before Ollie Perez. It was a bad set-up

Results : Pretty bad. Basically Rizzo would go 0-fer in the bullpen and they'd have to cobble together something workable from trades (Doolittle/Madson, Kintzler), free agents (Albers), and some young guys (Grace).

2018 : Don't peek behind the curtain : The Nats would keep Doolittle Madson and Kintzler giving them inarguably the best Top 3 going into a season since 2012... and that was it.  Treinen was gone, part of the deal for Doo & Mad. Kelley would still be around but was broken and bad in 2017. The rest repeated the issues of 2017 with Solis, Grace, and Romero leading the no experience brigade with newcomer Gott, as Perez left. It was extremely top heavy

Results : Average. Some thing worked, some didn't with Madson's failure being most important setting off a chain reaction of digging into that soft underbelly. The Nats would find Justin Miller and Wander Suero to eat innings and help not completely waste Doolittle's great year. But eventually would cut bait with effective arms in Kintzler and Kelley in an angry mid-season panic leaving a mess behind.

2019 : One and done : The Nats set up a nearly all new bullpen keeping only Doolittle from the previous Opening Day.  By Gott, Solis, Romero! Grace and Suero would make it, along with Justin Miller to fill out the back end of the pen. Tony Sipp would be thrown in there too and honestly it wasn't a terrible mix. But to make up for the loss of the 7-8 guys the Nats threw their lot in with Kyle Barraclough, who was bad in the previous year, and Trevor Rosenthal who was hurt.

Results : The completely untrustworthy back-end imploded fast repeating the chain reaction from 2018 only worse. The rest of the pen was ok, but not good enough to cover for that, leading to the throw at the wall see what stick plan for the rest of the season. What stuck for a while was Fernando Rodney and Tanner Rainey but really only Daniel Hudson stood out and when push came to shove the Nats went to a two-man pen to make the magic work.

What did we learn? Well I'd say that depth is probably the most important. You need guys in every position that are passable even if they aren't the best. Injuries and failures happen, but so do found pieces every year so you can cover some spots, you just can't cover a lot of spots and that's what happens if you lack depth. Also you can't effectively cover for back-end issues well so really you have to do your best getting those Top 3 in and set and hope for the best. 

In 2019 I'd say they did an ok job with that Top 3. Remember Doolittle's 2019 wasn't great and Hudsons was a little fluky.  It's strong (assuming Harris is ok) but I'd like 2013s or 2018s group better. The rest of the pen - Rainey, Suero, Elias likely and ?.  That's pretty dicey and looks a lot like the pens they've been having since 2018 where the rest of the pen is just a wing and a prayer. Maybe this is the year it works out but with the Top 3 having now three injury concerns, (Hudson's history, Doolittle's history and 2019, Harris being hurt now) I'm concerned. Not a terrible pen but a couple solid vet pen arms you could probably have cheap would have made it a good one.

Coming In to a Season
Best Top 3 : 2013 probably. Soriano, Storen, Clippard should have been dominant. Then the Doo, Mad, Kintzler group, then this years.

Worst Top 3 : No doubt 2017's  attempt with Treinen, Kelley, and Glover.  Doolittle saves last year's group.

Best Pen : 2013 probably, though I'll listen to arguments for 2016 given Papelbon should have been better, most everyone in it was good in 2015, and the couple that weren't had recent history of being good. I think the better Top 3 gives 2013 the edge though.

Worst Pen : 2017 without a doubt. 2019 was set-up to fail but had a great closer and a reasonable 4-7.  2017 had nothing.  YOU KILLED DUSTY DAMMIT. 

*I don't consider 2012 a planned competitive season

** Big thanks to Federal Baseball for making these things a cinch to find