Nationals Baseball: May 2021

Friday, May 28, 2021

Treading water below the surface

The Nats have been stuck - half the time doing what they need to to start moving into contention, and half the time failing.  The Reds series was a failure. Yesterday they put away the Reds in the finishing of the suspended game. The Nats pen did hold, except for Rainey, and the Reds pen gave up a few more, as expected. Something I didn't think about but should have for game 2 is how that swings an advantage toward the Reds. Fewer inning for their big weakness, middle relief, to matter. And in fact Gray went 6 so it really was only 1 inning they had to get through.  Gray wasn't that dominant. The Nats bats looked weak. Both teams did in fact, as Strasburg seemed a little off but the Reds didn't really manage to get to him, the 2nd and 3rd runs more bad luck than good hitting. 

The Nats now move on to take on Milwuakee at home. Three games at home, .500+ team (with Yelich). Gotta take the series.

 The Brewers are a pitching first team. Their offense is one of the worst in the game with only the cather Omar Navarez hitting well. He had to prove that he could after taking a while to get going and limited play in two placed before here but he has done that. Kolten Wong and Avisail Garcia the only other guys doing anything but just a little. Yelich is a star but has been hurt and has not rounded into form yet. Some of these guys just aren't good (Vogelbach, Urias, Shaw), some are disappointing terribly (Bradley, Cain), Huira may be both. The Bradley one hurts the most after Yelich's injury because he's doing so poorly.  As a team they can take a walk and hit a homer, but they strikeout so much and just don't get hits otherwise. They are the anti-Nats offense in a sense. Worse for the Brew Crew the only change in the past week from any of the above is Navarez is in a big slump. The guys not hitting are still not hitting. 

Josh Hader, used properly for one inning, has been unhittable this year. Behind him are 3-4 guys who are all perfectly ok. The very back of the pen is not good but that's not strange in baseball. Unless the Nats really work the starters they shouldn't make much headway late. The starters have a couple dominant arms, one really good one, and a couple questionable ones on the back end. The Nats will miss one dominant, Corbin "Mr. No Walk" Burnes who didn't have a great start last time out but has been great otherwise. They'll also miss one questionable one, Adrian Houser, a guy with mediocre stuff and control issues. 


Brett Anderson vs John Lester - which Lester will we see? He started with 3 decent outings (outside of length very decent for a number 4) and has looked bad the last two times. Baltimore was the last team to get him. If he can't handle them and then can't handle this Brewers team? Yikes.  Brett Anderson is the other questionable arm. If he's right and/or lucky,  he'll force a lot of grounders. If he's wrong, and he more usually is, he won't and he'll give up a ton of hits.  He definitely won't strike anyone out.

Freddy Peralta vs Corbin - Like Lester Corbin has degraded from a very nice set of starts from late April to mid May. His last two outgins were also subpar but by keeping the ball in the park all those people on base aren't scoring as much as they could. Still he hasn't been good. The Orioles hit him and if the Brewers do too that's not good. Although Corbin's been so up and down who knows. Peralta on the other hand has untouchable stuff. His issue though is he can get wild and force himself out of games early. Conceivably a team could try to walk, foul, and get him out early but the Nats don't walk much which makes a bad match-up.

Brandon Woodruff vs Scherzer - This could be a really fun match-up.  Both these guys are bulldog pitchers who can go deep. The Brewers are more inclined to protect Woodruff  but he's gotten into the 8th twice in the past 3 games. He is enjoying a BABIP and HR/FB numbers that won't last but that doesn't mean he isn't pitching better. He was already a guy who was harder to hit, didn't give up a ton of homers, and had great control with swing and miss stuff. This slight improvement plus luck pretty much unbeatable - which the ERA of 1.41 shows.  If anyone can do it though, Max can. He hasn't been lights-out recently but he also didn't catch the Orioles. I can see this be a classic Max goes into the 8th with like 14Ks, second batter in hits a solo shot and he leaves giving up 1 run.  Let's just hope it doesn't put the Nats behind 1-0.  

Gotta win the series. Will be tough to do without taking the first one.

Thursday, May 27, 2021

Game Suspended

 picked up today at 2 followed by one of those awful 7 inning things. 

There's a question of when to use Stras - I'd still use him for his own game. a 3-0 lead in the 4th is a solid start that you can expect a team with a decent pen (which the Nats have) to hold on to.  You can also expect a team with a crap pen (which the Reds have) to have trouble holding the Nats to 3. No, save Stras for Sonny Gray and the possibility of needing an outduel.

Ross looked good for four which is great but also adds confusion back to the Ross or Fedde question. I don't know. Either answer is fine as in it could work or it could blow up in your face.

Wednesday, May 26, 2021

Stinks - Offensive talk


The Nats are having problems scoring. 

The Nats have the best batting average in the National League. 

What exactly is going on? 

Now if you look at counting stats it'll show the Nats lacking in several categories but the Nats (and the Mets) have played significantly fewer games than most other teams. So counting stats won't tell the full story. 

The first place to look is to check the other primary offensive statistics. The Nats can hit for average. Can they walk? Can they hit for power? (We'll limit this to NL since the pitcher hits and everything) There's a couple easy to find stats that clear this up, walk rate (BB%) and isolated slugging percentage, or slugging with the singles pulled out (ISO).  

If we look at the rank of the Nats ISO it doesn't look too bad. They are 9th in the NL. It's tempting to say they are about average in the NL. But the raw number is as further away from 8th (.156) than it is from 13th (.138).  They are distinctly below average when it comes to slugging. The Nats walk rate is 14th out of 15 NL teams sitting at 7.8%.  That is a fairly terrible rank and being as close to 13th and 15th means they are fairly judged at the spot they are at.

TLDR - The Nats don't hit for power and they REALLY don't walk. This is why despite having a batting average well ahead of #2 in the NL and 16 points ahead of #4 (.258 to .240) They only rank 4th in OBP  in a group of people pretty good but not great at getting on base. 

To put in another way the Nats hit...but they hit a ton of singles. The Nats hit a single every 6.3 PA, the next closest team is Pittsburgh at every 7.1 PA. That distance repeated is further than Pittsburgh, again the 2nd most "singly" team in the NL, is to the 11th most singly team. 

Is there anything else?  

The Nats don't steal alot (few teams do) but they do have a terrible SB rate - 61% which is good for 29th in the majors. They are not particularly bad at baserunning - their outs on the basepaths otherwise is normal - sorry Robles haters/Stevenson lovers. But this is in part because they are a pretty much station to station team - not taking the extra base often. They rank as a very slow NL team. As you can imagine from the singles they hit the most GBs (highest GB%) and as a slow team obviously they hit into more than their shares of double plays

But even all this doesn't explain why they are 11th in RS (thanks Orioles!) pretty far from the league average. So now we look to the situational stats.  They hit poorly with RISP, though not too badly with men on in general. They are even worse with with 2 outs and RISP, with remarkably little power. 


Take this all together and you have something. The Nats hit a lot of singles but don't walk and don't hit for much power which means they have to string together those singles to score, making big innings harder for them than other teams. They are a slow, groundball hitting team which also keeps them from manufacturing runs by taking extra bases and hurts them by increasing the chances of double plays wiping out baserunners. On top of this they have had bad luck in when they've gotten hits, doing worse with men on base especially with 2 outs, meaning a higher number of stranded runners than would be expected from the stats alone. 

The clutch hitting you can't do much about other than hope it evens out. As for the rest, the Nats haven't been a fast or powerful team for a while now. Going into this year they doubled down on trying to get more power bringing in two big bats in Bell and Schwarber. Both have actually lived up to that - when they do hit the ball it goes far (HR/FB rates are good) but both have very high K rates meaning they don't hit the ball often enough to make it count as much as the Nats thought it would. Starters Josh Harrison and Starlin Castro don't hit homers and Victor Robles REALLY doesn't hit homers (0 this year). Juan Soto has seen a significant dip in his power while also hitting more GBs and fewer FBs. And a guy like Yadi Hernandez might provide pop off the bench if he could get the ball off the ground. 

The end result is a team that we said, doubled down on trying to get more power, at the expense of already questionable speed, and has created a weird boring amalgam of a team. One that gets a lot of hits, which should be exciting, but not enough hits or walks or big hits to drive people in. A lot of single and stand there moments. Part of this should go away as that luck in "clutch" spots evens out a little. But this is the team as constructed. Harrison, Castro, Robles don't hit for power. Bell and Schwarber strike out a bunch. Only Schwarber might walk with Soto.*  Chances are that when the guys hit their singles the big bats will strike out, and when the guys bomb things out there won't be more than one guy on base. 

Soto is really a key here though - as a star he is supposed to walk a ton and hit a lot of homers. He should drive in anyone hitting the singles and be on the base all the time for the guys hitting the homers. He's still getting on base well but not the "all the time" presence he was in the past. He's not driving in the runs. If he gets right, like all the way to "Ted Williams" right, the offense could work even with the flaws of the players around him. But as a mere star Soto isn't enough to power production.


*I haven't mentioned Gomes at all - he's fine!   He doesn't walk, but his power is ok.

Tuesday, May 25, 2021

Are the Nats are actually the luckiest NL East team?

I've been constantly hearing chatter this year about how the Nats, despite having nothing go right for them, are still in competition for the NL East crown. The implication being that when things balance out for the Nats and the other teams in the league the Nats will start winning more and maybe take the division.  But is that true?  Is it true the Nats haven't had things go their way?  Is it true that the other teams have? 

Let's start off by saying usually you can just look at last year and say something but 2020 is obviously a flawed year for comparison. So most of these looks will be based on the idea that 2019 and 2020 form a kind of bracket on expected performance and anything kind of in the center of this bracket is normal.  Also there's always history so if someone hits like 110 every year up to 2019 hits 150 in 2019 but 110 in 2020 and is hitting 110 this year I wouldn't say that was "bad" just because it was the bottom of the bracket so to speak.  Anyway let's look at the Nats. 

Inarguably they have had two big issues. Juan Soto has been hurt, has missed about 10 games and has underperformed. Yes, even if he's got a 129 OPS+ that's underperforming and counts. It hasn't been a HUGE problem - as he was hitting sort of before and is sort of back to normal now - but it's a thing gone wrong.  In the HUGE problem category is Strasburg's injury missing about a month of this short season and pitching badly before coming out. 

Patrick Corbin's sub-rotational performance is also a negative. Josh Bell while clawing his way back to "not the worst thing ever" still is at the bottom of his bracket which is underperforming for him historically and in a sense a bad break. Tanner Rainey was surprisingly TERRIBLE when even bad might have been disappointing but not a surprise.

What's been good? Well Josh Harrison has hit better than he ever has. Trea Turner and Kyle Schwarber (yes Kyle Schwarber, look it up) are both hitting at the top end of those brackets with no indication historically that that was a given. Zimm is also hitting better than he has in years. Yadiel Hernandez has been a better bat than expected. Daniel Hudson has gotten some ERA luck along with pitching better than he ever has. 

All in all a mixed bag. Slightly unfavorable I'd say, but a recent batting surge against some bad pitching has evened out a lot of batting issues from earlier in the year. Not that this is a good offensive team mind you - but it's doing mostly what it was constructed to do. 

How does this compare with the rest of the NL East? 

Mets - their two big FAs (McCann and Lindor) are vastly underperforming and Dom Smith is surprisingly bad. The rest of their batters are literally hurt, with 5 starters currently on the IL. Also the best pitcher in baseball deGrom is injured. They did have some luck on the mound. Walker was surprisingly good... now injured. And a couple bullpen arms (May, Familia, Castro) are doing better than expected. Still those line-up issues are devastating

Phillies - Their star catcher and another starter are both out on the IL and their biggest hitter, Bryce, has been up and down after taking a pitch to the wrist and face. Their back-up catcher has hit so terribly it has to be mentioned with their starter out. They've had issues keeping their only good CF healthy. Their gamble on Matt Moore as a 5th starter not only didn't pan out it failed miserably in less than a month. Several bullpen arms are hurt and they have gotten the year Kintzler falls apart.  On the positive side Segura bounced back very nicely and Brad Miller has hit like, dare I say, a superstar. Wheeler has also developed into a top of the rotation guy. 

Braves - their starting catcher is gone for the year and their big FA signing Ozuna has been awful. Freeman has underperformed in a way he hasn't ever (though like Soto the bar is high so he's not bad just bad for him). it's looking more and more likely Mike Soroka - looking to be a #3+ in the rotation, won't pitch at all this year instead of being back in May. Charlie Morton and Max Fried are both having unexpected down starts. On the positive side... uh Austin Riley has really blossomed. Oh and Pablo Sandoval has been great off the bench, even better than could be expected. 

We'll leave the Marlins out for another month. But what I see is a Nats team luckier than the Braves, luckier than the Mets, and about as lucky as the Phillies. By strength of schedule the Phillies have played a harder schedule (the Braves maybe a touch easier).  The Nats have a neutral expected record based on their runs scored/allowed (Mets +2, Phillies +1, Braves and Marlins -2) So despite, DESPITE, having no worse luck and having no harder schedule, and in fact probably having the easiest combination of the two, the Nats are still in 5th place trailing all these teams.

Is it lucky to have less bad luck than other teams? Maybe in 2021 it is. Luck is transient and fickle and it can turn around for the Nats and not the others. The Mets and Braves have harder schedules coming up by a little so that's another thing in the Nats favor. There's a path here. Just don't confuse where they are now as a product of bad luck.  I'd argue it's a product of good luck they are where they are. They need to take advantage of it. 

And to start they need to beat the Reds. As I said yesterday the Reds are a mashing team - second in runs scored - who can't pitch - last in runs allowed. Jesse Winkler and Nick Castellanos make an extremely formidable 1-2 with 25 homers between them already and Tucker Barnhardt and Tyler Naquin complement them with some decent hits. The line-up was even tougher but Votto is out with a broken thumb and Mike Moustakas will miss this series. Their replacements have not been good. A lot going forward is going to depend on if Eugenio Suarez, up to 2019 a pretty good bat, finds his groove again. He's been striking out SOOOOO much, at times closing in on 40%. He hasn't gotten any better in the past week (in fact he's been worse) and Barnhardt and Naquin have been slumping so it's been a tough week offensively. Still I'd expect runs from this group. Castellanos in the past week is hitting .524 and even if they don't hit Suarez and Naquin swing big all the time.

The Reds starters aren't the problem, but they aren't a solution. The Nats won't get no-hitter man Wade Miley, who's hurt. They'll also miss Luis Castillo, the expected ace who's been the worst starter this year. The problem has been the bullpen. It has no shutdown arms and only 3 useful ones, the closer Tejay Antone is good, maybe very good. Hard to hit, hard to homer, makes you miss.  Ryan Hendrix and Sean Doolittle are solid but with an issue that keeps them from being better (wild and a little bit too hittable, respectively). Get past the starters early, or really at all before the 8th in a couple games in a row, and this is the softest of soft underbellies.


Tyler Mahle vs Scherzer - Max wasn't his best last time out but you don't really worry about Max.  I do think ScHeRzer might make an appearance here given the amount of homers the Reds hit, but it's pretty likely to be solo shots given the middling patience and half a line-up they currently have. Mahle, just an all around 4th starter type with some decent stuff, had been pretty ok before laying an egg last time out. Let's hope it's a trend.

Jeff Hoffman vs Ross - With Fedde out Ross gets another shot despite a weak outing last time against the Cubs. I'm not enthused. Hoffman had been a bad starter with the Rockies, but taking him out of Coors has helped limit his hits and homers given up turning him from an AAAA guy to a 5th starter. He had a good outing last time out and has yet to either put it all together for a game or have it all fall apart.

Sonny Gray vs Strasburg - Strasburg one-hit Baltimore through 5 but he did walk four and the Orioles are garbage. Let's see him against a better line-up which this is even in its slightly injured state. Gray started out 2021 pretty strong with one stinker keeping the ERA high so no one noticed. But since he has been more mediocre. On the top of his game he'll still walk a couple but will control the game with few hits and a lot of Ks.

On the train back to contention this is a series the Nats need to win, no question about it. And with Max and Stras pitching against a team 4 games under .500 AND at home, you'd almost want to call for the sweep. But Stras is still an unknown and that makes it harder to ask for that. Still consider this a strong 2-1 series win for the Nats needed where a 1-2 is very much a disappointment.

Monday, May 24, 2021

Monday Quickie - Weekend Warriors

In May the weekend Nats have played like the 90+ win team they need to. They swept the worse than them Marlins (better than expected), lost to the better than them Yankees away (talent difference is clearer now then it might have been then), won a series at the worst than them D-Backs, and swept the worst than everyone(?) Orioles at home.  The problem is the midweek Nationals who got swept by ATL at home, lost a series to the Phillies at home, and lost 3 of four at Chicago. 9-3 Friday through Sunday, 2-8 Monday through Thursday.  

This past weekend the Orioles series was closer than it should have been, imo, beating the Orioles by 1, 2, and 3 runs. On game 1 the pitching held (of course - it was Max) but the bats looked a little off, in game 2 and 3 the bats came alive against the AAAA pitching but the starters, and some relievers, failed. But all in all this doesn't matter. It didn't line up against so both failed at the same time and the Nats pulled off the sweep they needed. 

It's hard for me to take much away from this series, kind of like the sweep of the depleted Marlins. It's good. They should do this. But they should do this soooo much that doing it shows bare competence. If there is anything I do take away it's that against a bad team both Corbin and Lester didn't look good. All in all that's not terrible from Lester. It's kind of what you should expect from him and his 4th spot. Sometimes he'll be bad and can't get out a bad time. Sometimes he'll be good and hold down a good team. But now that's what I think of Corbin too meaning your supposed strong #3 is really just a regular up and down #4.

While the Nats swept the NL East made sure they somehow both ended up in a better place AND didn't get out of 5th. The leaders stumbled. The Phillies lost 2 of 3. The Mets lost two of three. The stragglers gained. The Braves swept the Pirates. The team the Mets lost to? The Marlins. God bless the NL East. The NL East lacks a truly bad team but man it's a mediocre bunch. 

Up this week are two NL Central squads. The Reds are a bunch of mashers with poor pitching. But the pitching isn't SO bad that I don't think they can shut down a quiet Nats line-up.  They'll have to hit someone who should be in the majors, as opposed to whatever the Orioles were putting out. The Brewers are the opposite - a pitching heavy team with no lineup with Yelich out... but Yelich is back so a lot will depend on which pitchers line-up because they have a couple guys they Nats can beat and a couple guys they'd have to hope for some Max or Stras domination for.

Friday, May 21, 2021

Nats still stink - but O's are worse

1-3 in Chicago isn't good enough. Neither was Joe Ross' performance. He didn't finish 4 innings, giving up 5 hits and a walk with a homer in 3 and 2/3rds. It could have looked worse on the old ERA, but ultimately errors counted for a couple runs and coming in in relief Sam Clay almost had it break open on him but held it together. 

After the last couple performances and Fedde's great one I kind of think the Nats have to go with Fedde now. At least for a couple starts. However, Fedde is out on COVID protocol having tested positive on Wednesday. That puts him in quarantine for 10 days potentially freeing him on the Sunday before Memorial Day. This gives Ross one more rotation go, though with a day off the Nats could choose to skip a spot (they won't). 

1-3 isn't cutting it but hey, they weren't going to do everything they were supposed to. Most would be fine. What's supposed to at home versus the Orioles?  That's a sweep. 

The Orioles, unsurprisingly, are not a good team.  They have a couple good bats in Trey Mancini and the emergence of Cedric Mullins. Austin Hays is probably ok, Galvis is probably having a fluke start and that's the extent of the guys you have to think about (DJ Stewart will take a walk, I guess). Maikel Franco has shown why he wasn't pursued. Pedro Severino you know. Ryan Mountcastle is their DH alot of the time and the prospect has had REAL issues with major league pitching (50 strikeouts and only 6 walks). They DFA'd their 2nd baseman for being too bad and their replacement is worse. It's a bottom of the line-up you should sail through as a pitcher. 

The relief pitching is actually not terrible Paul Fry, Cesar Valdez, and Cole Sulser have all pitched very well. A couple other guys have had decent results. The starting pitching on the other hand is John Means, who is excellent, and 4 terrible guys. The Nats miss John Means - a guy with great control that gets a lot of weak contact. They also miss the worst pitcher in the rotation Dean Kremer. But don't worry the other three are nearly as bad.

Jorge Lopez vs Strasburg

We have no idea what to expect from Strasburg, who struggled before getting pulled for an injury. Even against this bad squad let's set the expectations low; 5-6 innings, a couple runs. He should be able to do that and I'd take it and move to next game. Jorge Lopez  has bounced around the league and has only ever been good in relief. That didn't translate though to a short start opener. Just a guy that does nothing particularly well.

Bruce Zimmermann vs Lester

If the Nats are going to lose a game I guess this is it? Lester showed that he is that back of the rotation guy last start. A good back of the rotation guy, but a back of the rotation guy nonetheless. When he's off he can be hit pretty hard. Zimmerman can have a good start now and again. He has some potential for good control and in the minors excelled at keeping the ball in the park. Hasn't been able to keep that up in the majors though. Had a good start last time shutting down the Yankees after some time off.

Matt Harvey vs Corbin

Corbin has looked good and should again here. If you can say one good thing about Harvey - he doesn't give up the home runs or at least he didn't. Two in his last game along with his usual walk or two and hit an inning and no K's.  Man what a bad staff. 

If the Nats are any good they need to sweep this series. 2-1 won't make me angry but unless Strasburg isn't right or one of the starters gets injured there is no excuse. These are bad starters so the Nats should score runs. It's a bad line-up so the Nats should hold them down.

Thursday, May 20, 2021

Like old times

Max wins. Soto homers. Robles get the fans excited. Hudson does well.  Is it 2019? 

If you want to be truthful - Max wasn't Max - walking 4 in 5 hasn't been him in a long while. This version of Max gets forced out early but is probably preferable to the ScHeRzer version which puts the Nats in a hole. 

That was a classic Soto homer though. It was a pitch that was supposed to catch the bottom of the zone, toward the middle of the plate, that drifted up and in (but still in the zone). A mistake that went into Soto's wheelhouse and that he didn't miss. A great thing to see after everything I talked about last time. 

Robles was also himself - in that I mean he's a below average hitter who's a good fielder who can come through at times. He's still only 24 so he probably isn't peaked, but the base for Victor is this kind of 90-95 OPS+ type of player. In his heart he'd rather not walk and I say don't make him.  Leave him be. Let him hit .260 with 15-20 homers, play some nice D and hold a spot in the line-up you can accept. Maybe in 2022-24 you catch a break and he gets better and becomes a .280 20+ homer guy for a few years. Maybe he just flukes into it once. I know you wanted another star and he's not it, but as an overall player he's fine. Don't worry about replacing the fine players. Worry about the post Harrison/Castro plans and the what was a two-year Bell plan. And paying for Trea. Worry about that alot.

As for Hudson... look the guy has gotten EXTREMELY lucky this year. He has a .107 BABIP. He has a 100% LOB. Those are not sustainable. Not that he's pitched poorly, but he's a 3.50+ pitcher sporting a 1.25+ ERA. I'm not asking for everyone to not say he's doing a good job but a realization that you're getting away with a little here would be nice. 

The win means the Nats can still get that split that was expected. This is a winnable game though Trevor Williams might be good since it's home so don't expect a cakewalk (although he's no good so a cakewalk could come). This is a HUGE game for Ross as Strasburg is slated to slot back into the rotation in the next go round. If Ross is bad and Fedde is not in these next starts it'll be extremely hard not to go with the latter going forward

Of course they might have already started leaning in one direction. The Nats have no named starters yet after tonight and Strasburg has been angling to replace Fedde's spot timing wise, so we'll see. But if Ross is terrible then you make the decision just on that.

Wednesday, May 19, 2021

Back for Max

 There's been a lot of talk about trading Max this year and a lot of reverse talk about how it's not worth it.  I probably lean toward the latter category - teams are valuing... well value too much and will hold on to guys they might have given up in the past. But you can back and forth trades all you want - what do actual similar trades show you? Ace - end of contract - traded away? 

 2018 : Greinke goes - return was Astros 3-4-5-22 guys

Seth Beer - 24 a guy they used to love who got stopped by high level minors pitching. Now a slap hitting, no-walk first baseman who looks like a utility guy / bench bat with no position.

JB Bukauskas - 24 former Fedde/Ross prospect who failed in minors. D-backs are trying him as a reliever. 

Corbin Martin - 25 another Fedde/Ross. A wild AAAA guy right now

Josh Rojas - 27 Older AAA hitter whose age made him a guy with no place to go in Houston. Found himself in 2019 though and looks to be a solid player for the D-backs. 

2017 : Darvish - return was promising Calhoun, and a couple of very young high ceiling guys 

AJ Alexy : 23 seemingly hit ceiling as a starter in high-A, being looked at as a reliever but might go back

Brendon Davis : 23. Struggled in A and High A but got challenge call-ups.  Too bad in AA to get another. Traded again and struggling in High A for another team.

Willie Calhoun : Immediately called up and has been mostly bad. Not a particularly good defender and not paitent at all he's an average an power guy who doesn't K as much as you might think. However the power has been on and off. Good so far in 2021. 

2015: Johnny Cueto - return was Royals 3/4/5th best guy in Finnegan. Reed and Lamb were top 20ish 

Brandon Finnegan - Immediately got the Reds a year of 5th startering - but got dropped down to AAA where he looks like he won't make it back. 

John Lamb - They'd use Lamb immediately too. He'd be terrible though. Traded again and still is terrible. 

Cody Reed - you know the drill mostly bad to terrible as a starter. He flashed some skill as a reliever and has since been traded to Tampa where he's a last man in the pen type

Any of these returns for Max grab you?  You almost certainly aren't going to get a pitcher likely to succeed.  The BEST is getting something in the Fedde/Ross mold and you've seen how that's worked out. Maybe a couple far off prospects to join? Or grab an older guy who hits with no place on the team and hope he's not a AAAA bat?  If the best guy involved in a deal here is Willie Calhoun or Josh Rojas is that what you want for Max's last months? Ryan Pepiot, Jake Vogel and Sheldon Neuse back?

There are other ways to go : Do you want a teams 2nd or 3rd best starter? (Straight up for a Bobby Miller type - though probably not him since he just got drafted last year so this is everyone's first pro look at him) Do you want 5 of their 20-30 guys? But the return won't be for someone they think will definitely be good enough to start in 2022.

Tuesday, May 18, 2021

Whatsamatta with Soto, he's not right.

The Nats lost. They got a few men on base, hit a couple homers, but in the end the Cubs got a few more men on base and hit more homers. Lester looked like the 4th starter he is now, having an off day that put the Nats in a bind but not out of it. But with the offense as it is, the Nats were behind and Davey, rightfully, used the B Team.  They did ok, but couldn't hold the Cubs scoreless, while the Cubs very solid pen could do that to the Nats. The Nats should be favored in the last two, given Max is Max and Trevor Williams is the worst starter going in this series, but let's not make those HAVE to wins. 

The offense can't get off the ground in large part because Soto can't get the ball off the ground. Jesse "Don't call me Dough-er-tea" Dougherty* talked about his launch angle decline the other day. He's hitting a lot more groundballs (59% a good increase from last years 52% and a huge bump from 2019s 42%) add to that minor declines in hard hit balls (more medium speed) and fewer pulled balls (more in the middle) and you get a sense of a guy who's swing is off. 

Normally you might disregard that idea, but he has the most important backing stat out there working in favor of a swing issue. He has an injury.

It's utterly apparent in the stats he's hurt.  He has barely any extra base hits this year (2 doubles and 3 homers) and only one since coming back. His isoSLG (best measure of power) sits at a measly .120 which is somewhere between career Robles and career Difo. He's on pace for the worst month of his career with an OPS of .653 when his previous worse was an .800 in his rookie year.  This is not a healthy normal Soto. Since coming back his GB rate is a whopping 74%, with a LD rate of 12% and a FB rate of 15%.  He has hit one ball that wasn't a GB in his last 6 games. His pull rate is almost below 20%.  His hard hit ball rate is under 30%.  

This should all be apparent watching the guy but we can keep piling it on. What fancy stats do you want? Since coming back...

Exit velocity? 87.7

Barrels? 2

Launch Angle? -2.3  Yes. MINUS 2.3. His average hit is coming off the bat going down.  I don't know exactly how fast you'd have to hit a ball off your bat going down to have it reach the OF grass on the fly** but I'm guessing fast enough to make it very hard to do

Soto should be hitting like a star. As a 19yo kid he was almost doing it and it's not like the league has figured something out about him. He got better every year. But he isn't hitting better. This isn't a slump, where you hit basically the same but a few bounces go the wrong way. This is something wrong. The sooner the Nats admit it and get this guy looked at again, and maybe get him more rest, the better.

*It's "Dockerty".  No I don't like it either. 

**Yes I can look it up probably and figure it out.  I'm sure "very fast" is the answer.

Monday, May 17, 2021

Monday Quickie - turned?

Quick one today - 

The Nats missed Bumgarner (the D-backs wanted to line him up with a division opponent) and so had an extra advantage to win the series. And win the series they did although they lost a game you might expect them to win* the D-backs, a team with a bad pen, going with a bullpen game. Ross was bad, Fedde was good, Strasburg is ready putting that whole thing in question again. Once more around the mound.

Finally a no rest time so the Nats are back on the field tonight. They'll go up against the confounding Cubs, a team coming to the end of a few years where they should have been dominant, but some FA misses and some lack of commitment, led them to be also rans. This year they have an ok offense and a decent pen but are struggling with rotation issues. 

Like a lot of teams this year the Cubs have big holes and an unbalanced line-up. Bryant, Rizzo, Contreras, Baez are all hitting but fill-in guys like Bote & Sogard are not along with Happ having a bad year (though he might be heating up) and Heyward returning to mediocre ways after a couple ok years. They are patient and active on the basepaths so it's a fun team to watch hit.  Unlike almost every other team they have no real pen issues - going 4 deep in arms they like and almost the full pen of usable arms. If they can get a lead they have a good chance of holding it. 

The starters? They've been a mix of bad and mediocre but the Nats miss one of the worst. Hendricks, who is just having a terrible year (but was good last game). A lot of these guys pitch a lot better at home, where the Cubs are 13-8 as opposed to the road, where they are 6-12.

Jon Lester vs Adbert Alzolay - Lester has looked like the Nats would want him to so far, but this is that "return to home" game which is always a Wild Card.  Alzolay is probably the Cubs best pitcher but that only means he's been consistent in his 3/4 type performance. A former low-Top 100 prospect, he's kind of what the Nats are looking for with Ross/Fedde. Consistently giving the team a chance to win (they don't score for him though). Good control, good K stuff, hard to hit. If he gets past his homer issues (doesn't everyone have them this year?) he has potential to be a 2.

Corbin vs Zach Davies - Corbin was very good in his last game although it was that weird get-away game where everyone looked like they gave up after the first and the ump started calling everything a strike. Give me this game against a good line-up in a good hitting park with no caveats and I'll completely buy he's back. Davies has mediocre stats but it's a terrible April and a pretty good May so think of him as a middle of the rotation guy. He keeps the ball in the park but is wild and hittable otherwise.

Scherzer vs Arrieta - two vets go at it but while Max is still at the top of his game, Jake is a middle of the rotation filler. He is also very consistent 3/4 (one bad game with no good ones is why his stats look a little worse than that).  You know it's not a bad rotation really but they have no ace or guy who can go out there and WIN it and sometimes you need that. The Nats, for example, have Max. 

Ross vs Williams - This could be a blood bath. Ross has mostly not pitched well this year and is on the verge of losing his rotation spot to Fedde once someone needs to be kicked out. Williams has been incredibly bad on the road this year but decent in Chicago. Still he hasn't gone longer than 5 since his first start, and hasn't gone longer than 4 in May.  I'd still give the edge here to the Nats


A four game set on the road is a 2-2 expectation no matter how you cut it.  You have to have a pretty big swing in talent to go for something different and even with hoping the Nats play like a 90+ win team and the Cubs being a .500 win team that difference is just not there.  2-2 it is. 

*Ok yes. The game you'd expect them to win is the Scherzer game.

Friday, May 14, 2021

Time to turn it around

In a game that was obviously written up before the season began, the Nats cruised to an easy victory as Corbin looked like an ace pitching 7 innings of 5 hit, 9K, no walk ball and the Nats got big homers from both their free agent power bats - Josh Bell and Kyle Schwarber. The reality of watching the game was the Phillies got 1 in the first, the Nats got 4 and everyone kind of packed it in after that. The ump widened the zone and both teams would have 5 baserunners a piece for the next 8 innings. There was a small bit of worry as Rainey couldn't help himself from causing issues but that ended up being nothing as Hudson shut the door on the rally. It was a getaway day game in all it's glory. 

The Mets have taken advantage of an easy section of their schedule to build up a little lead, the Nats in last falling 5 games behind. But now the Mets take on the Rays and the Braves - likely a .500 stretch at best and a chance for the Nats to start making up some ground (if they are going to do it). 

Onto Arizona! 

The Dbacks have the bad luck of being in the division with the two pre-season best teams (SDP and LAD) and the biggest surprise of the year (SFG).  They've been a .500 team since playing the Nationals and have developed some hitters. Carson Kelly - once a solid catching prospect - is hitting like an All-Star and Josh Rojas has come out of nowhere to slug in the middle of the line-up. Add to the solid vet bats of Asdrubal and David Peralta and it's a solid core. Around that core though - without Calhoun (out for 2 months or so) or Marte (should be back soon - maybe this series? not tonight though - playing a sim game tonight) - it's weak.  They keep playing around with positioning to get the worst hitters out and hotter bats in the line-up but it's a shell game. So far they are winning, but for how long. 

Pitching wise the pen peaks at ok and goes downhill from there. Caleb Smith and Stefan Crichton might develop into a good 1-2 at the end but aren't there yet. So if you can get to the middle of the pen, you're gold. Pitching wise the D-backs only go two deep, one of which Zac Gallen - is out for at least a month, maybe the season. The other in Bumgarner.  The Nats will miss the two guys I'd want to face, just a 5th starter Merrill Kelly, and not even a 5th starter Matt Peacock (assumed no relation)


Scherzer vs Riley Smith - Scherzer was great last time out.  Arizona can be a homer filled place but Max can be awesome anywhere. Games against Riley Smith are sequence determined. He'll give up hits and walks and not strike out many, but doesn't give up the longball. How grouped they are will determine how bad it gets.

Ross vs ??? (but it's Luke Weaver's turn) - Ross was acceptable again against NY but the 5 walks was a troubling new problem. The D-backs are another walking team. He should pitch about 5, give up 3 and we'll see if the pen can hold. Weaver, once a top prospect, is a fun watch. His games either seem to go one way or the other and a cursory examination doesn't give me any reason why. Usually goes the opponents way though

Fedde vs ??? (but it's Bumgarner's turn) Fedde has lost the strike zone and with it his effectiveness. He can manage a not bad start (last one wasn't bad) but it's on the edge for something worse. I'm not excited for this one. Bumgarner has pitched like the Bumgarner of old the past month. A 0.90 ERA in his last 4 starts, 12 hits, 2 walks, and 34 K s in 30 innings.  Big advantage here for the D-backs. 

Normally .500+ vs .500+ (which is how I see these teams in a vacuum) you give 2 to the team at home but the Nats can't afford another series loss. There isn't time to do what the Nats are expected to do because the Nats have to play like a good team (90+ wins) the rest of the way to have a shot at the playoffs. It's not impossible but it's gotta start sometime. Now is a time that it could. 

Thursday, May 13, 2021

Bad Hand?

 When closers struggle it's the worst. Being 3 outs away with supposedly one of your best relievers on the mound and then losing hits extra hard.  Brad Hand is struggling. It happens. The home run was one of those things - he hadn't given up one all year and he was going to at some point, he struck out three, and he didn't walk anyone - which was his issue this season that suggested he wasn't the 0.00 ERA guy he started the year out.  I don't know. I don't find myself overly worried about Hand.  A bad run can happen at any time and the earlier in the year it does the worse it seems.  I'd be more worried by Kyle Finnegan looking tired because he's shouldered a much bigger early load and hasn't had the history of success.

I'd love to give Hand a shot to work back with a 3-run lead. Unfortunately the only way that might happen for these guys is if the starter is throwing a shutout. As soon as I talk up Yan Gomes he goes into a slump and Juan Soto, god bless him, has been struggling to get back into form. Still what really kills the offense is the number of bats just STRUGGLING. In the past week here are some OPSs

Stevenson .533

Gomes .529  

Harrison .492

Robles .485

Bell .403

Hernandez .308

If you don't know OPS is OBP + SLG. And for that, assuming a .300 average, .400 and .500 are sort of goals. So a very good player has an OPS of .900. (Rendon in 2019 had an OPS of 1.010, Soto .949). A solid, if unspectacular player is around .800 (Suzuki in 2019) and a kind of bad player drops under .700 (MAT in 2019 was at .669).  Now stretches this bad aren't crazy.  We always talk about how being a .300 hitter doesn't mean you hit .300 every week. Sometimes you hit .250, sometimes .350, occasionally .200 and .400, on those bad or great weeks .150 and .450.  But having all these guys be this low... it means half the lineup is worthless. And that's why you see a team whose RS in the past 9 games is 3-1-3-2-11-3-2-2-2

This team can't win like this. Brad Hand closing games or not. 

Hit better.

Tuesday, May 11, 2021

State of the League and the Phillies

 The season is about 20% over now.  The Nats aren't there yet thanks to dum-dums not getting vaccinated and getting diseases but after this series they will be.  Where does the league stand? 

AL East - Every team has something going for it (The Orioles pitching has been surprisingly ok) but Boston has shot out ahead after a poor start with a great offense. One thing that's interested people is that it's NOT a walk/homer heavy offense - a lot of hits and doubles. If they didn't strike out it'd be ideal but they are kind of average there. Yankees have roared back but will have to beat some division teams to stay there. Tamps and Toronto are both right there with the Yankees. 

AL Central - The Royals held the division for a moment, but it was on the strength of a 6-0 record in 1 run games (8-1 in 2 runs or fewer, 10-2 in 3 runs or fewer) anyway - that luck has moved on. The White Sox have moved into their expected first place with an deadly pitching staff (Giolito is the 5th best starter and he hasn't been terrible) and a very good offense. They may be the most complete team in the majors. Cleveland has been hanging on with great pitching, especially the pen. Twins have taken steps back across the board. Tigers are the worst

AL West - Oakland was the worst but have rode some luck back to first, but Houston is probably the best team in the division. Rangers are below average. Seattle is worse than that but had gone 8-2 in two run or fewer games so they had a moment in the sun. Angels continued pitching plan of "maybe if we do nothing we'll get lucky" has failed again. When Rendon comes back though that offense is going to be pretty impressive. 

NL Central - I regret to inform you the Cardinals are the best team here. I will happily inform you they aren't super good though. Solid team as usual. Cincy can hit well but can't pitch. The Cubs don't hit as well but don't pitch as poorly. Milwaukee has decent pitching but is hurt - healthy they could catch the Cardinals. The Pirates can't hit and one of the worst teams out there.

NL West - Yes the Giants are still in first, but it's mostly about 3 journeyman starting pitchers all having the best seasons of their career so far, and a bunch of old hitters hitting like they played half a season last year and had rest. The pitching cannot hold but maybe the hitting can? Probably not.They've played a crazy amount of close game though.  The Padres have no punch. The Dodgers are 4-10 in one-run games - they've lost 7 straight and 2 2-run games. They should come roaring back, sorry. Arizona have nothing standing out pitching wise and are sliding away. The Rockies go one deep in starters and two deep in the pen. That's no good. 

The Phillies! 

In this season of surprises and strange play, the Phillies are almost who we thought they are.  They have a solid line-up that's probably a little underperforming, a solid top 3 in the rotation and a middling shallow pen that's better than last year but that's a low bar to get over. They are a .500 type team whose fans somehow believe there's a division winner trapped in here if they could get rid of Girardi. He's definitely doing some over managing but they are actually fine in close games and like I said - hitting their expectations - this is what this team is. 

Offensively Bryce and Realmuto are carrying the team, Hoskins is hitting homers and Segura is having a bounce back year. Brad Miller is offering nice support from the bench and almost everyones favorite Phillie, Cutch is heating up. Gregorious is a bit disappointing but once again the real problem is the lack of internal development. This time it's Alec Bohm not hitting. Nick Maton has shown a little but given his history it's hard to see that keeping up. It's not that these guys are bad - they are terrible. It makes everyone else have to be good and recently Bryce back from injury, Didi, and Rhys are all in mini-slumps.

The pen is hurt and like I said - shallow.  Coonrod has amazingly paid off well. No he isn't a 1.00 ERA guy, but he has pitched very well. He's been the main fireman, and Alvardao, despite some shakiness (he can be real wild) has done what they wanted.  Neris is the third best healthy arm and he's usuable.  After that the mess begins again. Their main signing Bradley got hurt and won't be back for another week. Brogdon was never good. Hale was always a question mark. Old friend Kintzler might have hit the age of no return. Suarez and De Los Santos are just arms to throw out there and see what happens. There is a hope that OF COURSE HE WOULD fail starter Matt Moore might re-invent himself for the pen.  An actual swingman? Crazy. Anyway if the Nats can get to the starter there's a soft underbelly of middle relief here assuming Moore isn't the help they need. The Nats miss one of the Phillies bad pitchers, the Moore replacement Velasquez, but also their probably best pitcher in Aaron Nola, though that's up for debate in 2021.


Chase Anderson vs Erick Fedde  - Nats best chance for a win is here. Not that they can't win the others but Anderson is a guy who fills innings and nothing more. None of his stats are good.  He should give up hits and walks and the occasional homer and some runs in less than 5 innings. The question is what Fedde shows up. I talked last time that he wasn't missing bats and if he doesn't up the Ks... well he's basically Chase Anderson. Given the two offenses an Anderson vs Also Anderson match-up would favor the Phillies.

Wheeler vs Lester - Jon Lester looked nice and solid and like the #4 they signed him to be last time out.  he gave up some runs but always felt in control to me. Zack Wheeler has always been a decent pitcher and we're seeing the best of him now. A couple more Ks, best control, hard to hit a homer off off. He's not giving other teams a lot of chances to score which is bad news for an offense also not giving itself a lot of chances to score

Eflin vs Corbin - Eflin was been great too but it's mainly because of pinpoint control (second best BB/9 in majors). He gives up hits and while you might that that's a little bit of bad luck (.331 BABIp is high) he's had a little but of luck with homers (8.7 HR/FB rate) to make up for it. He's good though. Corbin has kind of settled into a mediocre middle of not being able to have control and limit homers at the same time. So he can give up bombs with no one on base or put guys on base but keep them in the park. Either way some runs will score. 

I have a hard time seeing the Nats take this series, but they kind of have to. At home against a divisional opponent not much better than they are (if they are at all).  They have to win these series. 2-1 or it's a disappointment.

Monday, May 10, 2021

Monday Quickie - no cigars

If you want to be fair, the end result of the series with the Yankees was exactly what the Nationals expected to see. 1-2 against a pretty good opponent on the road is the aim and was achieved. But whenever you grab the first game in a series going 1-2 feels like a disappointment, especially when the next two games were both very winnable. Scherzer pitched a gem and Ross held the Yankees in check but in the end the bullpen, specifically Brad Hand, failed and the Nats lost two straight walk-offs. The Nats, once lucky, have lost three straight one-run games bringing that record to 5-5. The Nats you see now are who the Nats are now. 

What does that mean? It means they are a team with BIG offensive problems.  They aren't the worst team in the NL but they are closer to the worst team (the Mets) then they are to the next team ahead of them (the Brewers). They are bad.  Robles still isn't hitting*. The Yadi experiment seems like it's over. Bell and Schwarber are still having big trouble. Harrison has cooled down a lot. And the big one - Soto hasn't hit since coming back. Though much like at the beginning of the year he does have some hard hit balls that suggest better things coming. So while Starlin Castro and Yan Gomes (111 OPS+ now) are now hitting that's just not enough to keep an offense afloat. They lack power - 9th in SLG despite being 1st in BA.  They lack patience - 8th in OBP.

Pitching wise it's been ok. The starters have had their terrible games early but are better than average getting past those. The relief core has been surprisingly decent despite the recent failings. If they could solve Tanner Rainey, or resign themselves to not using him, they'd be quite good. It's not the pitching... well it IS the pitching. This is a pitching team and the pitching, especially the starting pitching, needs to be great. But it's not the pitching's fault this team is below .500. The Nats have the pitching of a .500+ team and the hitting of a 65 win team.

What can be done? Not much. Hope Soto starts hitting like a star again and hope your FA bats wake up. You can run in Zimm a bit more for Bell but no one else on the bench is going to make a big difference outside of a brief hot run. 

There's a big series with the Phillies next, where the Nats could be buried if they get swept. After that the Nats will go over two weeks without playing a division opponent so this is the last time in a little bit to directly effect the competition. They are also now done with the odd section of their schedule with SO MUCH REST.  They had gone

Day off - 3G - Day Off - 2G - Day Off - 3G - Day Off - 6G - Day Off

That's not a baseball schedule. 14 games in 19 days, leading off with 8 games in 12 days. Crazy.  The next run goes 

13G - Day Off - 13G - Day Off - 9G 

So that will be, by the very end, 35G in 37 days. If the Nats are going to break by schedule -  it could be here.  It'll be their hardest run until the late August until end of year push.** 

Phillies series preview tomorrow. 

*Stevenson is hitting objectively worse so don't even

**They do have a 20 day straight run in June/July but before it they have two days off around a series and after it they have the All-Star Break so there is an ability to rest up for it and rest at the end of it.

Friday, May 07, 2021

Nats were up above it, now they're down in it

Swept.  That's not fun.  And by an in division opponent. That's no good. Instead of starting to poke the rapidly coming to temperature Braves team with a fork, the Nats play let the Braves back in the thick of the division and sent themselves to the bottom of the NL East standings. Granted in this mish mosh of mediocrity that only means three games under .500, but still last is last. 

Yesterday might have been the most bothersome loss of the three. Drew Smyly, who outside of Nats games has an ERA of 10.38 this season, is a pitcher this team needs to score on. Also arguably the Braves second best reliever, Minter, would probably not pitch given he saw action in both the last two games. This was a game they needed to score some runs. They scored two. Smyly continued his one team domination holding the Nats to 1 run in 6 innings (and bringing his Nats 2021 ERA to 2.25).  They had limited opportunities early - the best being a 2 on 2 out situation in the first. But beginning in the 6th you saw four straight chances be blown. A man on first, no one out in the sixth. First and second, no one out and Soto, Turner, Yadi coming up in the seventh. First and second no one out in the eighth. Man on second, no one out, in the ninth.  Four chances ranging from decent to great. One run scored.  The focus is on a low strike call to Robles to end the eighth turning bases loaded two out Zimm up to an ended inning but I have a hard time getting worked up about a borderline call* when you had 12 out with men on in the last 4 innings and pushed across one run.

Jon Lester pitched ok. Strong to start, getting shakier deeper in. It's the kind of game I'd expect from Lester coming off a long rest against a decent team, so after the MAAAArlins game this starts him off as expected. That's a plus I guess. Also Voth looked good again - which would be a nice find for the pen, and Hand and Hudson kept doing what they do. 

This series was about the offense. It was about scoring 6 runs in three games and failing to get big hits in big spots. Now the Nats try to win against one of the hotter teams in baseball. The Yankees! 

The Yankees have gone 11-5 in their last 16, turning a horrendous 5-10 start into a normal slow first 5 weeks. Their hitting has gotten much better. Stanton is past hot hitting .481 over the past two weeks with 6 homers and 4 doubles. Hicks is also hot (yes with a 89 OPS+ that's how bad it got). Judge and Lemahieu are doing their usual things and Torres is doing ok. On the flip side the catcher situation of hoping Higashioka would keep magically hitting great unsurprisingly didn't work out. They now have two guys not hitting. Left field remains a hole as Gardner plays out his last year and Clint Frazier still hasn't turned a corner despite a couple of big hits. It's a top heavy line-up the Nats will face but that top is really heavy. 

Pitching wise the Yankees pen is excellent, Chapman being almost literally unhittable this year. Even with Britton and O’ Day out Loaisiga and Cessa have stepped up. There might be one or two off arms beyond the usable five which would be fine if Boone knew not to use them in non blowouts (but he doesn’t! Gotta get them work!) The rotation is a little less impressive. There also isn’t a bad arm in there but Cole is the only sure thing. The Nats don’t have to face him (The other guy they miss is perfectly ok 4/5 Jordan Montgomery)


Corbin v Taillon : Corbin has been off and on this season but his basic truth holds. When he can locate his fastball everything else falls into place. He’s just has a real issue doing that.  Also homers. Taillon, reclamation project B, has pitched better than his record but has a homer issue and has been burned by some bad timing on that. 

Scherzer v Kluber : Max is Max which is to say nowadays sometimes he’s MAX but sometimes he gives up too many homers. That might be a problem against a team that relies on homers. Kluber, reclamation project A, has looked pretty good his last three starts. Of course the Orioles and Tigers will do that for you. I need more convincing. 

Ross v German : Ross we just talked about. Expect a 4/5 game but something surprisingly better isn't out of the question. German has had one good start and but has been middling otherwise. Ultimately he might show good control and an ability to miss bats but he's been homer prone all his career, that hasn't changed in 2021, and it'll probably limit him to a brief career at the back of a rotation and one similar to Ross/Fedde in that occasionally a gem might be thrown.

Away against a decent team?  1 out of 3 should be the goal. Preferably early because if they lose the first two the losing streak will become a thing and I hate things.

*On the MLB app and on the second run of the TV box you saw strikes.  The video of the side showed the pitch go across his front knee.  It was a call that really could have gone either way. It probably didn't scrape the bottom of the zone, but that's the best you can say. Probably. Given the situation in my mind it WASN'T a good take.  A good take is a pitch that is clearly a ball. This was not that despite what various outlets might want you to believe

Thursday, May 06, 2021

Still Ross over Fedde

That's the take-away you were looking for right?  The short answer is Fedde hasn't done enough to surpass Ross' history. The long answer is... well below. 

If you look at 2021 overall you'll see that Fedde has pitched better but Ross has the better results.  Fedde has gotten hit fewer times, given up fewer homers, and has struck out more. Ross has had better control. You can see why Fedde is ahead in pitching in a vacuum. But if you look at the game logs you might be able to tell why I prefer Ross. 

Joe Ross has basically pitched every game but one the same.  He doesn't give up a bunch of hits or walks, but he doesn't strike out many either. The ball is in play and he'll likely give up some runs (more so than he has in the good games this year but less than in that one - he basically had all bad luck shoved into one outing).  He'll also keep the team in the game. Yes he can throw out a stinker - but who doesn't? 

Erick Fedde either has it or doesn't. When he has it he's missing bats and forcing the other team to chase.  When he doesn't he's getting hit over and over again and walking too many and finding himself in big holes. While I can see the potential in a Fedde, if he just pitches like he did against Arizona or Toronto more often he'd be an intriguing middle of the rotation guy, give me the solid security of 5-6 innings of Joe Ross.  

Last night was bad Fedde and I mentioned early that I was bothered by the fact he had gotten so few swinging strikes so far  (he would have 2 in the first 14 batters he faced).  He was living on his sinker working and getting ground balls. If he got tired and things started hanging then the hits would be harder and further, and that's exactly what happened. The Nats pen held on but in arguably worse bad news for the Nats (and the NL East) Max Fried looked fine. He is a good pitcher when right and he seemed right to me last night. After doing his job the Nats did manage 2 runs against the Braves pen in four innings, which is reasonable, but it wasn't enough to come back. 

Last night also had some more questionable managerial decisions. 

Walking Freddie Freeman to get to Ozuna?  I wasn't a fan but not for the reasons you think. I didn't like it because Fedde walked Acuna before that which means you were forcing a pitcher who just had an issue throwing strikes to have to do it. He did in fact throw the ball all over the zone (2 strikes, 3 not close balls) before the grand slam. But I do get walking Freeman (even if he was struggling) to get to Ozuna, who has been terrible lately. I've even called for it at other times. But I hate the walking the bases loaded unless you are getting the obvious advantage doing it. I like pitchers to have some room for error 

Not pulling Fedde after 3 : It was a very rough inning but Davey chose to stick with him with the bottom of the line-up coming up. Sure, I guess. The game wasn't out of hand and the pen could always use as much rest as it can get. Didn't exactly work though as Contreras took him deep, but he did settle

Not PHing Soto in the 8th : The Nats quickly got to 2 runs back in their half of the 8th after a HBP and Turner homer. Two batters later there was one out and a man on 2nd. You could conceivably PH Soto anyhere starting here with Castro but they didn't. In part the Braves might have out maneuvered Davey, going with their set-up man Minter, a lefty, to face two straight righties. Also, because Stevenson came in the previous half-inning in a double switch to move the pitcher slot back, they couldn't bat Soto without changing the defensive line-up in some way. With Soto out from playing the field there would have to be a sub-optimal set-up. Would Davey pull either Castro (slightly better against LHP) or Gomes (much better) for Soto (guys hits everyone very well) given all this? Without the D question you could probably argue PH for Castro (not as much for the hotter Gomes) but the answer ended up being no. I'm ok with that. Castro would double and Gomes would strike out. But now second and third with two out up comes Schwarber. Schwarber historically has been bad vs LHP. Despite this year having a couple hits in his limited ABs against them, Soto seemed like an obvious call here. Yes you still have the fielding question but to me the driving question is simple - do you want to figure out what to do with a lead or do you want to keep doing what you know you can from behind? That's no question - you want the lead. You NEED the lead. That's the point. And Soto gives you the best chance of the lead here.  Schwarber would walk, moving the bar over to Robles and again I would have PH Soto. Try to get the lead, worry about what you do after that - after that. But he didn't Robles got out and the game was mostly over*

Smyly is the choice tonight. Like I said a couple days ago - he's been terrible but his only decent start was against the Nats. Don't make it a thing. 

*There is another thing that could be relevant here - maybe Soto isn't right at all. If he can't be depended on as a solid bat of course you don't use him but if that's the case then what the hell would he be doing up on the active roster? I dismiss this

Wednesday, May 05, 2021

Ross misses the loss, Rainey umm.. travels the Allegheny

Ross got results last night but if you watched (or listened) to the game it was a lot of hard hit balls and not a lot of swings and misses. It was a performance that going into the 5th was a shutout but felt like it easily could have had the Nats 3 runs behind. The Nats weren't stupid and they saw it too and when a runner got into scoring position in the 6th with one out they cut their losses.  One could say it was an early pull. He had a low enough pitch count to keep going. He was getting knocked well by Dansby Swanson who'd be up in the inning, but if he got out Riley you could put him on and face Contreras (hell - they did that anyway) but I can see why they made the move.  If you look at his pitch speed, he was slowing down. Sinker speed was slower, slider speed was slower, and I have a sneaking suspicion that those "change-ups" that were his last pitches were actually fastballs he couldn't dial up. 

Anyway what was done was done and in came Tanner Rainey. I saw a lot of dumb moves last night by the Phillies and Braves putting in struggling relievers with leads. These made me mad because it's clear none of these teams are cruising and when a win is presented to you you need to grab it. Instead teams were still playing as if they had had comfortable seasons so far. Putting in Rainey without a lead isn't as bad, but it was still 1-0 and certainly a winnable game. Here is kind of where you'd put in your second or third best arm to try to hold it close. But... who is that exactly? Austin Voth as probably pitched the best but also is a converted starter on his first run as a reliever and 10 innings to his name. Harris was just brought back and is a question mark. Hudson is nominally the set-up guy but is walk and homer prone and is surviving on an unsustainable BABIP (.125!). Finnegan has ok results but is also walk and homer prone.  Espino maybe? Also homer prone. Sam Clay? Filler. Decent filler but filler. The bullpen right now is really Brad Hand and trying to get to Brad Hand. (Could they have used Brad Hand here? Sure - but you know that wasn't going to happen).  Rainey might have been a bad choice but it wasn't like there was a good one. 

So Rainey blows it with a homer to a pitcher which can't be forgiven but can be understood (usually just dialing it up and throwing an upper 90s fastball to a pitcher is enough) and there's the game. Like I said earlier the Braves would try to give the Nats a chance putting in their Rainey Tyler Matzek but he was able to get a big strikeout of Yadiel Hernandez and got Harrison to hit it a liner where they were. Ballgame. 

This was the toughest game for the Nats given the match-up so it's a shame they couldn't pull it out but also it was the toughest game for the Nats given the match-up. The next two are the better chances. Get them both.

Tuesday, May 04, 2021

Probables and The Braves

Have we stopped talking about the Nats early season losses to the Braves as being "ok because they might be one of the best teams in the NL" Because if not - look around. They aren't good. The Nats could really bury the Braves with a sweep here, where as with a Braves sweep the Nats would fall to a game behind the Braves, so this series is more important to them than the Nats. In general the Braves have been slipping. They've lost their last 4 and have been beaten badly, by 5 runs or more, 5 times in their last 9 games. Let's take a closer look

Line-up wise the big problem is Ozuna has been terrible. He's sporting a .204 / .289 / .306 split (that's pathetic power) but instead of pushing him down the line-up Snitker moved him up to the 3 hole and kept him there. Similarly Swanson (.202 / . 272 / .317) hasn't been punished for his lack of production, holding steady to the 6 spot. That means the Braves have two big holes in the line-up in the first six outs. Ozuna hasn't been AS bad recently - swinging at everything and hitting two homers - but still it's a bad position for a team that needs a bunch of runs because of various pitching issues. On the flip side Albies is back and hot and Austin Riley might have found his groove. Acuna is ok and Freeman is struggling but you bet on Freddie in a way you don't the other guys. D'Arnaud is now out for the year and backup Alex Jackson is hurt putting Willam "Don't call me William" Contreras behind the plate. He's a minor league hitter who shouldn't hit. Rounding things out is Christian Pache, back after a brief break.  He should hit eventually in the majors but no telling if he'll hit now. Properly set up it's a lineup that can score but Snitker will probably stick to his guns and make it weaker than it needs to be.  On the bench is Big Panda and he can still hit, but he can't play anywhere but maybe first and you aren't taking Freddie out. 

Pen wise it's not great. They do have a lot of arms and the back of the pen - Smith, Minter, now Tomlin, have done better than their ERAs might suggest. But no one else has stepped up and distinguished themselves. Luke Jackson has the best ERA but is a wild mess. Guys like Matzek and Dayton have been mediocre after some promising results in previous years. I still think it sorts out into something pretty good but sorting out takes time and the Braves don't have an unlimited supply of that.

But the real problem isn't a middling middle of the pen leading into a good but not great back. It's the back end of the rotation. Morton has been getting bad results, Smyly failed in the 5th spot and Bryse Wilson in to help cover spots, even more so with Fried hurt and Soroka's return pushed back, has been a disaster. A two man rotation is not a rotation, but Fried is back now and they should be able to right the ship - at least in the sense of play .500+ ball again. 


Huascar Ynoa vs Joe Ross - Ross bounced back from the bad outing in STL to beat the Mets in DC. He's been great at home so far, but honestly hasn't pitched great.  If you want to be concerned the K-rate, BABIP, and LOB% all suggest he's mediocre and getting lucky. The hard hit rate and GB numbers agree. All in all though he's probably as good as his ERA, but in a more stable 4 runs 6.1 innings way. Ynoa has been pretty good. Great control and swing and miss stuff. He can be a bit homer prone though. 

Max  Fried vs Erick Fedde - Fried looked pretty much like his old self in G1 then got terrible for his 2nd and 3rd games, and presumably was hurt as he'd go out after that. This will be his first game back so it's hard to say what the Nats will see but he's a guy who gets soft contact on the ground when he's on. You might remember that I kind of actually like what I'm seeing from Fedde? He can be more consistent and will probably give up some more bombs but he's missing more bats and everything else points to a 4.00 type guy which you'd take in a second. 

(These two games are gonna shape my Ross/Fedde thoughts going forward as I'm still a Ross over Fedde believer)

? vs Lester - Lester had a warm-up game against the Marlins AAA lineup and looked well enough. Let's see what he does against a team putting out more than one above average bat in eight. Either Bryse Wilson or Drew Smyly or someone completely different could be up. My guess will be Smyly because the only passable start either of these two put up was Smyly against the Nats on the 6th when he went 4 and struck out 8. Thats almost half his K's for the season. 

Win the series. That's the goal. Keep moving forward and keep the Braves down.

Monday, May 03, 2021

Monday Quickie - First place and little else to say

I was a little worried going into the Marlins series that we wouldn't be able to really evaluate the Nats pitching based on what happened in the series.  A line-up that no one was scared of to start the year losing three of their top 5 hitters and also a guy that they hoped would break out? That's weak. But I figured having Aguilar and Dickerson with a couple other starters in a line-up that was scoring was enough and even if one of those guys got cold it would be like facing a terrible major league line-up. You do that sometimes. The problem is the Nats never faced Aguilar and Dickerson in the same line-up over the weekend.  Dickerson sat out Friday and Saturday, Aguilar rested on Sunday. The effect was now the Nats pitchers were facing a bunch of guys you could only describe as AAAA. They held them in check but major league pitchers should hold minor league talent in check. There really is nothing to see here. 

The bats on the other hand - they faced some real pitching. You can say something about them and what you can say is that they are hitting much better.  Or really they are built different now and that has woken up the bats.  Harrison and Turner are hitting but so is the returning Zimm, and the call-up Yadiel Hernandez. Gomes is hot and Schwarber and Robles aren't terrible. There you go - seven guys doing ok or better and a functional offense. That can't last (usually you sit around 5 hitting well depending on the talent and I think 5 is right for this team) but it doesn't have to. It only has to last until Soto comes back. Six doubles and two homers in the last couple games. That'll do. 

The Nats are .500 now and it shouldn't be a surprise. We had them pegged as a WC contender and a high 80s win team.  Losing Soto and Strasburg hurts but also makes them about a .500 team.  Add in a little luck (5-2 in one run games) and a schedule break and it makes sense to me that things have evened out. This week plus will be an important run for the Nats - Braves and Phillies sets and taking on a now back to being good Yankees team. You can imagine some wild swings of results from that.