Nationals Baseball: May 2023

Wednesday, May 31, 2023

They Nats are who they say they are

When I say we're now at a time where stats are real I mean we're at a time where it takes more than a hot week to change your fortunes. I've mentioned this before but let's take an example. Joey Meneses is hitting .294 / .333 / .381 right now. If he were to get SUPER HOT over the next week, hit .500 with 5 doubles and 2 homers, get walked 3 times (a lot for him) his stats would shoot up to... .319 / .360 / .440 .  It's a nice bump but he's not suddenly great or anything.  If he were to go ICE COLD, hit .100 with a double and a walk his numbers plummet to... .270 / .309 / .351   Disappointing but not a problem player. 

No, at this point you need to have an extended run of good or bad hitting to make a sea change. Guys can (and will!) get better and worse but we have a good sense of around where they'll end up.  Most will end within 20 pts of their OPS+.  Yeah it's a big range but it also tells you things like it's really unlikely Joey Meneses ends up a star again. or that Lane Thomas will be anything worse than average. 

To be clear the forecasting we're doing here is 2023 only, not related to how these guys might pan out over careers or anything. 

So what seems real today? 

Keibert Ruiz / Luis Garcia / CJ Abrams - not going to be stars this year with a non-zero chance of collapsing.  I'd guess all three end up around where they are now, maybe a tick higher. Both Ruiz and Garcia have stats to back up a little better numbers and Abrams has the pedigree. But for a team looking for stars it's not coming from these guys this year. 

Thomas - certainly a starter and might be special? He came from an overstocked Cardinal OF not because he wasn't liked, but because they liked others better. The talent was there to be something and he's never failed when getting the time to shine. 

Meneses - is not special? There was a fair amount of thinking the Nats found something last year but with teams having a book on Meneses and the fairy dust gone away they've cut his power by feeding him more junk. Maybe if he were 19 you'd say he could adjust but at 31, nah. Be glad he has talent enough to keep that average up.

Candelario - good gamble. Plays solid D and hits fine. Mostly proves last year was the injury fluke the Nats were hoping it was.  I'd try to lock him up for a few years with no IF on the immediate horizon. If he gets pushed by like House then 1B seems open. Speaking of which. 

Smith - money back. He started poorly but has rebounded to a point. The big issue is the power of 2019 and really 2020 - remains gone. If the BABIP goes unlucky he'll be an anchor. He's a back up player for most teams in 2023. For the Nats he holds ground if they want him to. 

Call -  bad gamble.  They liked throwing him out there but he never got going at the plate. With the upside being average and the downside being terrible, the Nats should move on.

with less conviction :

Robles - transformation at the plate makes him good again. Play him everyday if/when he gets healthy. 

Garrett - got his shot (Really did this time) and doesn't look to be anything, but may benefit with another set of PAs if the Nats give up on Call like I suggest. 

Corbin - A rotation guy.  Outside of 2021 he has been this honestly but some bad luck made him seem worse and when you are pushing 4/5 worse is out of baseball. This year things are more in line and he doesn't miss bats anymore but he's adapted enough with increased patience and focus that he can eat innings. 

Gray - Also a rotation guy but cloudy on where .The ERA says 1. The FIP says 4. He's basically the same pitcher as last year but the HRs are WAAAAAAAAY down and the Ks are down a little. It's a good trade. But his LOB% and HR/FB% are at the level you expect regression... The good news take away for 2023 is he's not threatening to be pulled from the rotation. He's here to stay. The rest of the year is clarifying where.

Gore - Mid rotation guy right now. Slight improvements across the board from last year. Really working those Ks. Don't see him falling past 4 but probably not jumping to a 1 in 2023. 

Williams - Like Gray but the range is more 2-5 than 1-4. He's not doing anything well with more IP under his belt. striking out fewer while giving up a few more hits and homers. The end result is he's losing his gamble on himself. For the Nats small chance he bottoms out of the rotation, but more likely not. Really the Nats got him to trade him so on that end they remain a little lucky. He's not pitching well but his ERA is hiding some bad stats now. Yes, baseball guys would know that but there is also selling it to your fans and owners. If he improves and pitches to the ERA (3.90) you can sell that easier than if he improves but he's coming down from 5.18 and sitting at 4.55. 

I'm not going to bother the less conviction of the bullpen and 5th starter. Too many to throw out what amounts to 50/50 guesses

Tuesday, May 30, 2023

It's Real and It's Not Spectacular

The Nats are real... ly mediocre! 

That's the first takeaway getting to Memorial Day and 1/3* of the way through the season. Reading a season can be hard because we want to put weight on the more recent games but that's not how a season works. The first 18 games count just as much as the next 18 as much as the next 18.  For the Nats that means 5-13, 10-8, and 8-10 all have meaning. Terrible + OK + Meh = Mediocre. 

The Nats have done this through acceptable pitching, especially when you subset down to the better arms, and just enough offense to be ok. They are better than bad teams (12-11 against under .500 teams) but clearly not near real competitive squads (11-20 against .500+ teams).  For most Nats fans this low bar is a pleasant surprise. There seemed to be a good chance the Nats would challenge for worse team in baseball and they clearly won't. They aren't the clearly worst A's or clearly 2nd worst Royals, and while they may end up 3rd worst, they seem at home in a giant blah pile from 24 to 28 and anywhere in that stretch is reasonable. The key is that there isn't much feeling they will fall and there is a long way to go to catch the worst teams. But squint your eyes at the team and maybe you even see them getting up to the next group which would get them into "best of the bottom third of baseball". Even if it's only a rung or two up a tall ladder there seems to be only up to go. 

This feeling is cemented in when arguably the biggest reasons are two starters pitching well.  Gray, with the best ERA but probably getting a bit lucky, and Gore, probably the actual best pitcher. Even if you take a dim view - these guys are their FIP ERA and a weaker #2 (Gore) and blah #4/5 (Gray) you still have two pitchers to build around that are not old. That's huge. If you want anything to work out well it's young starting pitching.

The future also includes guys not on the Nats and you do hear positive rumblings. Now this is in part because the Nats actually had several real prospects. When one falters another one might be doing well so you can always here positive takes on what's coming. But you don't need to hit on all, or most, or even some.  You can hit on one or two, I mean REALLY hit, and that's enough. Let's look at some names you might have heard about. 


Millas - The C surprise who suddenly got it in AA ball, was moved up to AAA a couple weeks ago and has struggled. As the Nats have their catcher of the future Millas is more insurance / trade bait. 

Pineda - Hurt and doing poorly in High A

Downs - Hurt and doing poorly in AAA

Baker - Dusty's kid who based on all the stats is catching every break is still catching them but there isn't a place for him in the majors unless you want to unseat Garcia or Abrams or DFA Vargas who has hit very well. He's likely stuck in AAA until September which will make him prove this can last. 

Alu - got his shot. He is what he is - a marginal major leaguer

Kieboom - healthy and up in AAA and doing nothing that makes you think he's going to be in the majors soon. 

House - set the world on fire in late April, May has been more quiet and he's settled in at low A for now.

Antuna - crashing and burning

Rutherford - you might not have heard this name but way back when he was a legit prospect in the Yankees system (18th pick). But he got traded to the White Sox and was slow to move up and was kind of stuck in AAA so he opted for FA and the Nats picked him up, stuck him in AA and he's just turned it up a notch.  Something to keep an eye on. 

Hassel - Was Hurt. Still slowwwly working his way back to where he was

Wood - Ding Ding Ding! Ruled High A just moved up to AA

de la Rosa - the OF prospect before the real OF prospects got here. Working at it in High A

Green  - set the world on fire in early April - since big trouble with the swings because of the misses.

Rutledge - Not too bad in AA. Expect a move to AAA soon

Henry - Was Hurt. Carefully being ramped up but has looked very good in extremely small amount of work so far

Susana - Still unhittable in Low A but this year extremely wild 

Cronin - hitting some bumps in the road in AAA.

As you can see the offensive prospect depth is decent, but the pitching prospect depth is weak. So so far they might be really hitting on one (Wood) they have a decent shot to still hit on another (Henry) and there might be a surprise brewing in another (Rutherford). If Wood or Rutherford don't pan out there are several other guys that might turn it on. Maybe they do REALLY hit on two? Probably not but that's still ok if they sort of hit on 2-3-4.  Pitching is more a high-wire act.  If Henry slows down then the Nats are really relying on getting a surprise from Rutledge or nailing the draft. There isn't much else here. 

All this is not enough by itself but it's not a bad place to be in depending on what you need in the majors. 

What we think about where the Nats are there tomorrow!


Thursday, May 25, 2023

Almost Memorial Day!

 The day when I officially declare "things are real". When we get to the point where a hot week doesn't change you from a bad hitter to a good one, where a bad start doesn't totally wreck your ERA. 

The Nats lost to the Battlin' Sotos and they beat the Battlin' Sotos so today is the rubber match. Really the only news out of the first two games, other than Soto is Soto and the beginning of the year talk was silly, was Finnegan was handed the closer job again and closed it out.  There was some question on whether this would be the case, with Davey kind of giving a shrug answer to if the bullpen had set roles, but there he was again on the mound in the 9th yesterday.  It may not ALWAYS be the case, but my assumption is he gets the bulk of the chances. 

Since next week will be all about chewing some Nats stats let's look around the league today and tomorrow.  Today the AL. Standings wise not that much has changed if you were looking at it a month ago at least narratively.  

The AL East is still dominated by the Rays with the surprising Orioles in 2nd and the rest of the division solidly following.  The Rays only weakness might be the back of the pen... if you can get that to matter. Everyone is hitting with 8 players (2 regularly used bench guys) with an OPS+ of 130 or better. The Orioles are doing it through hitting - Rutschman is a star and guys like Ryan O'Hearn and Austin Hays are having career years giving them a lineup with no super bat but more importantly no breaks. the Yankees remain carried by Judge, Cole, and the relief core, but all those pieces can do a fair amount of carrying. The Red Sox, a question to start the year have, found some spark from new OFs Masataka Yoshida and Jarren Duran to keep the line-up deep despite the departures enough to make up for an average staff. The Blue Jays, a pre-season favorite, are close, but just seem to be missing something.

The AL Central is the OK Twins and a bunch of crap. The Twins rotation is surprisingly GREAT with Sonny Gray and Joe Ryan fighting for a Cy Young right now and Lopez and Ober good enough to be most teams 2/3. If Correa can heat up they could be dangerous. Detroit has one great starter in Rodriguez but the young bats have mostly failed. A similar story in Cleveland with the Guardians who have seen leaps back by Gimenez, Rosario, and Kwan which has gutted the offense. The White Sox should be better than this but Tim Anderson and Benintendi are either disinterested or hurt, Eloy IS hurt and the rotation and pen is only good enough to keep the team in games not win them.  Giolito is doing fine though. The Royals... well Sal Perez is good! And Zack Greinke is still going. 

Texas' play for the AL West crown is paying off this year. Another deep lineup that like the Rays can go 6 deep at any time with guys hitting 130 OPS+ or better. And even with deGrom hurt - insert spit take here - the rest of the rotation has stepped up to be good or great in Eovaldi's case. The Astros have clawed their way back to a decent record with excellent pitching. Barely a bad arm on the staff, but age and defections have made the offense less potent so they have to play catch up. The Angels are trying desperately to stay relevant but are like 60% as good as anyone and 40% kind of crappy. Last year's darling the Mariners have the pitching with maybe the best rotation in baseball and a solid deep pen but not the lineup. Julio Rodriguez is in a big sophomore slump.  The A's ... well I'm going to be fair. The line-up isn't the worst. They have some decent hitters but suffer because their bad hitter are REALLY bad. It wouldn't take much to correct this and get to average. But the staff is terrible with 1 guy who'd be in the back of most staffs and 4 guys who wouldn't even be that. The relief pitching isn't any better. They are on pace to set a new record for Runs Allowed in a season since the 62 expansion by a good 50 runs or 5%.  That may not seem like a lot but it's as big a difference between the worst recent season (1996 Tigers) and the 13th.

Tuesday, May 23, 2023

Bring Back Soto?

Barry asks the question and despite early season issues, Soto is still Soto. 

Now the obvious answer is "Yes you pursue him, he makes your team better and what are you doing if not trying to have the best team" but baseball owners don't think that way, considering money spent toward getting better but not necessarily challenging for a title a waste. 

So the question is - what will it take for the Nats to challenge for a title then? We can look to the past and see. I looked at 2012, 2014, 2016 and 2017 and it seems like to start you need 6 decent bats (some 120+ OPS+ some 110+) and 4 decent pitchers (2 130+ ERA+, 1 120+, 1 110+) and a deep pen. The better hitters you may have, the fewer good hitters you need.  You might be able to get away with say 4 if one is a legit star like 150+. Same with relievers - you don't have to be as deep if you have a few guys you can rely on every time. Starters have a bit less leeway. You can probably have only 3 above average starters but they kind of have to be dominant.  

Where do the Nats stand right now? 

Hitting : 

Well let's assume Soto is supposed to be the last piece and a legit star.  That means the Nats can get away with fewer bats. Think 2016. Murphy was a near MVP, Turner was great but part time, Bryce, Ramos, and Rendon were all ok and Werth was around average. 

Currently the Nats have... maybe an ok in Lane Thomas. They do have guys that technically right this minute fit the other spots but no one thinks Riley Adams is going to be great or that Vargas and Meneses can definitely be ok in 2 years. None of this is the plan, or even an outside hope.  The remainder of the team isn't even average. So there is a lot of work to be done. 

The most likely planned scenario would be Wood or another youngster fills the Turner role and three of Garcia, Abrams, Ruiz, ? become the ok hitters.  That's a lot that needs to go right.  They could supplement with a FA but we'll have to see what else is needed before we go down that route. 

Starting Pitching : 

Starting with what they have now the Nats MIGHT have a dominant pitcher between Gray, who is getting the results but pitching only ok and Gore who is pitching pretty well but not quite showing how good he is pitching. Neither right now looks like the complete ace package. We'll be generous and say one ends up very good and one good. Like a 150+ and a 130+. That means the Nats need like a 140+ and a 120+ as well.  Or another 150+ Or... well you get the point. They need another pitcher and it's not going to be Corbin or Williams or Irvin. Cavalli, Henry, and maybe their draft pick could all blossom but by 2025 it isn't likely that the Nats get a dominant rookie out of the gate or two guys ready to be competitive definitely. 

Relief Pitching : 

Relief is funny in that you can find great players from anywhere for a season and then they go away so it's hard to predict what you'll see.  But the general sense looking at the Nats relief core as it stands today is that there are no dominant arms and no depth. I haven't heard much about dominant arms in the minors just waiting for their chance. 

In review it seems like the Nats will need a good bat, a good starter, and some relievers. Along with signing Soto... that's a lot for the Nats to bring in in FA and unlikely to happen. So they need something to happen beyond the good fortune noted above. Oh you don't think it's good fortune to say Wood becomes Turner and you don't suffer injury setbacks anywhere that makes what you project worse? You simple child. 

They need something that would seem unexpected now. They need that pitching group to produce that ROY starter or 2-3 ok guys immediately. They need Abrams/Garcia/Ruiz/? to produce two good hitters. They need to find a bunch of dominant reliever arms in the minors. They need to have something happen that mitigates the need to spend money on a bat and a starter and relievers because somewhere the money has to go to Soto. 

And yes, you can work out a way it makes sense without the luck. But chances are you'll need to spend the money somewhere, and even if you don't it would be wise to sign more extensions for these young guys which will push up that base payroll. Maybe you do get lucky or maybe you are ok trying to win in a tight window, or maybe the new owners will be Cohen-esque. But the most likely scenario is the Nats need something special to happen in order to make signing Soto worth it for a Nats team heading into 2025. 

And that's if Soto is available and the Nats outbid other teams.

Phew - being good is hard!

Monday, May 22, 2023

The offense stepped up

Scoring 6, 5, and 6 runs over the weekend will win most series and they did just that. Really capitalized on facing neither of the Tigers ok starters.

Now they can enter the Padres series with no real danger of being thought of as on a major slide (though a sweep would put them back on that line) 

The Padres are a fascinating team right now because they stink! They are barely better than the Nats. Now they have faced a pretty hard schedule (outside of the AL East who have no in division breaks, it's the Tigers*, the Cardinals** and then the Padres). But that might excuse hovering around .500 not multiple games under.  If you were vaguely paying attention you might think the problem was they can't pitch and Juan Soto failing to come up big. In reality they pitch very well and Soto is clear and away their best hitter after going from Mid April to Mid May hitting .322 / .451 / .567.  What is the issue then?

The rest of their starts aren't hitting like stars.  Tatis Jr is hitting fine. Bogaerts ok. Machado, pre-injury, like crap. And no one has really stepped up outside of a nice little performance from Matt Carpenter at the DH spot. Everyone else is below average except for the catcher Austin Nola who would have to go on a two-week tear to see below average. Worse is that the bench is complete garbage so every time someone can't play they are replaced by someone who is basically an automatic out. 

The starting pitching match-ups play out with a nice symmetry. Gore gets Darvish who is having another solid year. Williams gets Weathers, a couple of perfectly competent pitchers. Irvin gets Snell, two guys hoping to do better than they have recently. 

For the Nats Candelario, Thomas, and Vargas are hot and Adams has come in to hit well when needed and none of that is likely to last or particularly helpful for the future. But not every win is going to be young guys doing well. If the Nats are to have a decent season you need stretches like this where other guys do ok.  They never got them last year. 

It could be a fun series. If the Nats win regardless of what Soto does and take an almost certainly temporary standings lead over the Padres Nats fans will crow like fans of bad teams do. 

It could be a awful series. If the Padres win with Soto doing well dropping the Nats down to the bottom of the standings while signalling maybe San Diego is turning things around. 

But either way it's a series with actual interest outside of "baseball is fun" and "lets see how the young guys are doing". Not going to get many of those this year

*So maybe they aren't bad? Oh wait we just saw them. They are. 

**Ok maybe THEY aren't bad

Friday, May 19, 2023

Let's see if something can step up

The Nats honestly played the Marlins pretty well but came away with losses in each game. It was pretty much a microcosm of the season and the view of the Nats in general.  The Nats don't hit well and only pitch ok meaning both have to be working as best as they can be for the Nats to do well. Over the course of their run, from the Minnesota series through the Mets series they were doing that. A 13-10 run where if we throw out lowest/highest games on both offense and pitching* we get scoring averages of 4.4 R/G scored and 4.0 R/G allowed.  In the NL that would be slightly below average scoring and 3rd best pitching. With a little leeway you can see how a meh offense and a good but not great pitching staff would find itself fighting for .500. Contrast that with the 5-12 start. Same rules we get 3.25 R/G scored and 4.75 R/G allowed, or the worst offense in the league and a below average pitching staff. 

These are pretty close to the numbers seen in the Marlins series (3 1/3 vs 4 2/3) and that fits. A little bit better hitting (but still terrible) and a little bit better pitching (but still below average) and the Nats inch toward wins but can't quite get them.  Play the series again and they win 1 or 2, but they almost never win 3. The Nats need someone to step up and either get a run of hitting or pitching. 

Most likely it will be pitching. The Tigers don't hit. At all. They are the worst in the league. They have the Nats power and the Nats patience but also hit 30 points worse. And it's been worse recently. They have maybe two guys that can hit and are carrying on a depressing Miggy Goodbye Tour. The pitching is made up of a decent pen and a couple decent starters, but the Nats miss both of the decent starters. There's no reason they shouldn't run through this series pretty easily other than the fact they Nats themselves are easy targets at the plate and while they do put balls in play the one thing the Tigers do do well is turn balls in plays into outs. I see a couple of 3-2, 2-1 type games coming.

But the next series is a set-up.  Juan Soto and the Padres are after the Tigers, and you'd rather not go into that series feeling like you need a good one because if you don't get it one reason will be staring you in the face for 27 innings. Take 2 of 3 from the Tigers. Candelario is hot.  Revenge series. Let's go with that.


 *because it's such a short time frame outliers can get screwy. The Nats gave up 16 runs one game throwing the whole thing out of balance and not being really indicative of how they pitched. But if I take that out I gotta take out the lowest too and should do it for the offense as well. 

Tuesday, May 16, 2023

What's the most real?

CJ Abrams has 4 homers. 

Luis Garcia has 10 walks

Joey Meneses is hitting .300 

Which of these is most real? Meaning more likely to continue and grow? 

Luis Garcia - 10 walks.  10 walks may not seem like too many.  It would only put him in a tie for 159th place in baseball. So why talk about it?  Because last year in 93 games he had 11. And the year before that in 70 games he had 11. He has not shown patience at the major league level and in the minors it's been no great shakes either. He is walking at a 6.7% rate and in the minors only broke that in a couple of quarter AAA seasons. 

This is the hardest to judge if it's a fluke because even if we went into seeing if he was getting fewer strikes (doesn't seem to be the case), we don't know if there is a reason for that - like pitchers thinking he's going to chase. What we can say is his swing rate out of the zone is WAY down (28.3% from 43.7%) and when he is swinging out of the zone his contact rate is way up (82.4% compared to 66.3%).  That's a whole hell of a lot fewer swings and misses. His swinging strike rate is down to 6.2% from 13.4%.

There's nothing here that isn't sustainable. I'd say there's a good chance that Garcia will continue to walk at this rate. This rate isn't special mind you, but it was BAD before. It's not bad now. 

CJ Abrams - 4 homers. Like Garcia and his walks, Abrams didn't do homers. He had 2 with the Padres last year in 46 games and 0 with the Nats in 44. Also like Garcia, he had a couple of AAA quarter seasons that showed some pop promise but in the notoriously hitter friendly PCL.Otherwise his pop has been minimal. 

Power is something they say develops but there's also a bit of luck involved which we suss out from abnormal HR/FB rates.  Abrams though is only around 11.1% like Garcia it's not a great rate. Along with that he is hitting a tick more flyballs and he's hitting the ball a little bit harder.  All in all there isn't anything screaming he can't keep hitting like this. 

Also like Garcia this isn't special.  If he keeps this up he'll hit 16, 17 homers but when you were thinking it might be a number under 10 it turns an area of concern into... not an area of concern. 

Joey Meneses - .300 average.   Joey was meant to supply power to the Nats, as he did last year with 13 homers in 56 games. And his minor league numbers show full seasons with good pop. He hasn't quite done that only putting two over the wall in 40 games so far. However he is hitting .300 which gives the Nats value.  

This is the one that isn't likely to last.  While he hits the ball pretty hard, he's hitting it softer than last year and while he hits a good number of line drives he's hitting fewer than last year. Ultimately he's hitting a bunch of balls lower and not as hard but more are finding holes leading to a .371 BABIP.  That's a number you do see but it's usually for guys with the legs to beat out a lot of grounders. Joey doesn't have that. 

I don't know where it will end up .280? .240? but Joey hitting for this average won't keep up.  He still needs to find his power stroke.

Monday, May 15, 2023

Monday Quickie - Things aren't changing

 The Nats have lost two of three so far to the Mets with the final game coming today. In a match-up of disappointing lefties Patrick Corbin takes on David Peterson. Corbin has been doing ok as of late and the Mets are a mess so a decent chance for him to continue that. For the Nats Abrams has had an ok series but no one is knocking the cover off the ball, while some guys are failing.  Hey Jake Alu might not be good! Who might have guessed other than dozens of evaluators over half a decade?

One of the weirder things is how the Nats bats have streaked one way and another to all end up in the same place : 

  • Garcia OPS+ 98
  • Garrett 96
  • Abrams 95
  • Call 94
  • Meneses 92
  • Ruiz 92
  • Smith 90

This is where problems happens because while "just below average" isn't a good place, it's not terrible and getting to a sure "above average" is going to cost you. What you want is some guys doing really well and some guys doing horribly that you can easily upgrade to "just below average" because you pay those guys nothing (see: Nats payroll 2023). The Nats don't have anyone doing really well - Thomas and Vargas are both a bit above average. And in a repeat of 2022 the only player currently hitting poorly is the FA signing Jeimer Candelario, who's been awful for nearly a month now.  

 The Nats have upped their power... well at least to the point a single player isn't going to be ahead of them, but they have dropped their walk rate and are rapidly approaching the bottom of that.  Trying to skate by on batting average just isn't working as 2 3 and 2 runs in the past 3 games attest to. Not that they are likely to get shutdown completely - they get the bat on the ball and if you do that 2 or 3 times in a row good things can happen, but explosive scoring will mostly elude them. They need top notch pitching and they don't have that. They have averagish pitching. 

I sound down on them but I'm not really at least in a 2023 sense. There is very little that's very bad and that makes the team middling instead of terrible and ok to watch. It's just I still get a sense of "good feeling" and I'm trying to judiciously warn you it's still likely to be a long summer. 

Some random notes

Games are still much quicker. There's no way around the fact that the clock is doing it's job.  It almost had to but you still wanted to see it. Auto strikes and balls caused by pitch clock violations are steady so nothing is being learned. By the way the Nats are up there for both auto strikes and balls as batters and are not up there as pitchers. Not sure what that means, probably nothing the numbers are so small.

Stolen bases attempts are still way up compared to 2022 and highest since 2012 but the success percentage is down to almost the break even point. That means we likely won't see more and more SBs.

Batting average is up a tick and the GB and LD averages are up accross the board, so the shift is working in a sense. But guys are still mainly trying to homer and are ok if they strikeout while doing it so it'll take a team willing to show they can win through contact to change minds.  Can the Nats be that team?  Maybe but they need to walk and steal more bases. Singles aren't going to do it. 

Thursday, May 11, 2023

Sunk Costs

First I want to speak to Corbin.

It is true that Corbin's salary is a sunk cost. What that means is that the Nats are paying it regardless and they need to judge whether and how much Corbin should play based solely on what is best for the team.  It is NOT a measure of evaluation.You can still look at Corbin's salary and his performance and say it is bad and it hurts the Nats that they have put that many dollars in and gotten that little out of it.

I certainly am not mad at Corbin (get your $$$), nor suggesting he shouldn't pitch.  Maybe prior to the year it was a question but right now it is not. He's throwing like a 3-4 which is more than good enough to keep starting.

I can be angry... well that's a strong word... annoyed at those that suggest that we should change our evaluation of Corbin based on the new low expectations he set. 

You're paying him like an ace. He's pitching like a mid rotation guy at best. That is bad. But he's pitching like a mid rotation guy at best so he stays in the rotation because the Nats (and arguably most teams) don't have 5 guys better up to this point in 2023. It is good that he is here now in comparison to where he was, which was pitching so bad it was a question if the Nats, a team with no depth, should keep using him. But it is not good in general. 

Let us speak now of better things- like Josiah Gray!

Yesterday was a fun game because for the past 6 starts after his first terrible one, he's been keeping the ball in the park BUT he hadn't been keeping the other team from hitting fly balls. In other words he was sort of just getting lucky. But yesterday for the first time all year, he did produce more ground balls than fly balls. 

For the most part it looks like his games are tracking in a way where hen he tries to strike out guys he tends to give up more fly balls. He hasn't been touched for the homers like in previous years, but that might be a function of like I said, luck. His hard hit % isn't down much. Though kind of a reverse Soto - he's not giving up "barrels". Guys are hitting it hard but not as square. That's not surprising given the change away from being so FB heavy. Still that's a tightrope walk.

Yesterday, and in the other days with low K totals, we see much closer GB/FB numbers.  It's not necessarily so that you have to be a GB pitcher to succeed, but looking at his fancy stats the HR/FB rate and the LOB% rate stand out as likely unsustainable. IOW, if he keeps giving up those FBs he'll start giving up HRs and probably with some mean on base.  So I think it's best if he focuses on keeping the ball in the park even if it means fewer Ks. 


For the Nats it's a day off and you can take the day off too. What to watch if you don't want to?  The marquee game is the Yankees - who as of right now somehow have the 8th best record in baseball but the 5th best record in the AL East - versus the Rays early season juggernaut. But for the Nats there might be more interest in the solid Padres at Twins finisher.  Not only because Soto who in the past two weeks has hit .400 / .547 / .700 to raise his season numbers from  .178 / .339 / .344  to .246 / .406 / .454 but because of the Twins starter today.  Bailey Ober is sort of the guy Gray might want to become if not going with more ground balls*.  Ober is unapologetically a flyball pitcher. 55% this year up from 51% last year and 46% in 2021 but he gives up almost no homers because he's giving up fewer and fewer hard hit balls. He generally has excellent control as well which makes up for not being a K pitcher.*  It's this sort of ideal - lazy flyballs and no one to score on sac flies that works.  

Of course I say this and he'll give up 5 homers today.   

*Basically if your history shows you can do something unusual I'll believe you can. Ober has that. Gray doesn't. So for now I'd by regression back to some homers and runs for Gray if he doesn't lean into GBs.  BUT he can prove me wrong and Ober is an example of it working in that direction

**He could be a K pitcher though - some people think he has that stuff and he should minor league promise.

Wednesday, May 10, 2023

Is Irvin something? Is it ok that Corbin is nothing?

Two games, two solid performances, but two wildly different circumstances. 

Jake Irvin, a guy who you weren't even sure would see the majors in 2023 shut down the Giants over 6+ in his second start ever while Patrick Corbin, a guy you have been kind of forced to see over the past few years because of a giant contract, kept the Nats in the game despite some untimely errors. Doing well matters, but where you are coming from matters too. 

For Jake the question is now raised - is he any good? Is he a piece to the puzzle? A Roark type? 

There isn't much in the minors to suggest that. His H/9 HR/9 are fine at 8.2 and 0.9 but don't suggest he's unhittable or a homer stopper.  His BB/9 at 2.8 is a little high and when paired with a K/9 of 8.4 which is a little low you'd guess he's a guy that will survive in the minors but lacks the stuff to stick in the majors. The most compelling counter arguments are "He was actually good High A to start last year with all these numbers ticking in the right direction", to which the response would be "I hope he would be he was 25" and "actually those numbers would play in the majors", to which the response would be "Sure, but you don't usually hold steady in the majors, especially as a 26 year old non-heralded rookie" 

He was a decent K guy in college, and survived a Tommy John, so maybe he's working back to something, but at 26 there's only so much time before you lose what it was you were working back to. The short of it is that there was a reason Jake Irvin wasn't a prospect (20th in Nats system on MLB, 11th by Keith Law) and that most had him pegged for a conversion to the pen to see what that did. 

The good news for Jake though, on a team like the Nats he doesn't have to be a good pitcher to stay in the rotation, merely a good enough one. With no prospects banging on the door, each ok start buys Jake more time to figure things out at the major league level, something guys in the minors don't always get. Chances are slim he is in the rotation in 2025 or even the end of 2023 for that matter but it's not going to be circumstance that keeps him from it. He's gotten his chance. 

For Patrick the question isn't can he keep this up - maybe he can.  His last two years were really rough but up through 2020 he pitched well enough to think that a 4.00 ERA was certainly doable for him. He's making it work by keeping the ball in the zone and letting the chips fall where they may.  With the better team defense it's working out as one would think. It's enough to throw 5-6 innings and give up 3-4 runs. Maybe you shut down a team with no power and get rocked by a team who hits homers. There isn't a reason to think, given everything, he will be an ace but this? He could do this. 

Of course there's a difference between expectations and standards and that takes me to a quote from Mark Zuckerman - the only man in the business covering the Nats as long as I have (note : I am not in the business). He said 

"That's 4 quality starts in Patrick Corbin's last 5 outings. Far from dominant, but he's giving them a chance, which at this point is all the Nats can ask from him."

No. That's all you can EXPECT from Corbin but it's not all you can ask from him. He's getting paid as a star pitcher would (11th in SP salary this season). He's not hurt. He's not old. What you can ask for him is to pitch up to what you are paying him.  Maybe guessing he was an ace was a bad one, but the Nats should want him to pitch like a 1-2 type. That's a fair ask. This above? That's moving the bar for him because he stunk so badly. You don't get to do that. You don't get to be so bad that your team says "All we can ask of you is that you don't stink anymore". No. That's silly. 

Corbin should be better than this. The fact he isn't is a mark on him and hurts the team. The fact that he's been usable is better than being the worst SP in baseball but it doesn't make it ok. Simple as that.

Monday, May 08, 2023

Monday Quickie - entertaining losers

There are a lot of ways to cut the Nats recent play.  Set the starting point at April 21 and they are 9-7.  Set the starting point at April 27th and they are 5-6 but anyway you slice it the Nats have been more entertaining, if not, you know, good. 

They had a terrible start to the year starting 1-6, and getting outscored something like 39 runs to 17. It wasn't fun. But since then they've been... well not great either with a 13-14 record, but that is probably more realistically who they are than the team looking like they might win 40 games. 

Since the first 5 games (so in their last 29 games) they have been involved in 13 one run games (6-7) and 5 two run games (1-4). They've been close. This is what teams with good pitching and terrible hitting often see.  The Nats don't have good pitching (it's ok) but their hitting isn't terrible either (merely bad). This seems right. If you figure they slip a couple games every 20.. with 130 or so left... puts them about 20 games under for the seeason so like 71-91. I think everyone would take that. 

I'm not sure they get there. The season is long, their depth is weak, and their relying on two young arms that might tire out still in September. But you'd have to say it's that kind of level they've been playing at. Garcia is hitting again. Thomas, Robles was. Candelario continues to spiral down. Neither Gore or Gray seems at their best. Will be an interesting next start for both. 

Harvey got a save but that's all Finnegan being tired.

Friday, May 05, 2023

It's all relative and your family is trouble

Today I saw a tweet where someone was pushing CJ Abrams leading the team in slugging as a good thing for the team. While it certainly SOUNDS good it turns out that he's "slugging" .386 which is good enough for... 107th in the majors among qualified batters. That means on a perfectly average team he's likely the 4th best slugger maybe the 5th depending on how many guys not quite qualified yet but likely to be that you'd put in front of him.  There's also probably a couple guys on the team that will never qualify that would be slugging better.

I'm not saying this isn't good news for CJ, because it is.  He'd been a decent slugging playing in the minors. Mostly doubles but like 40 doubles. But that power hadn't been seen much in the majors and seeing this edge back in that direction is a good development, even if it is early. 

But for the team... ugh. 

To put it in perspective in 2019, CJ would have trailed : Rendon and Soto of course, and Kendrick and Turner and Matt Adams. And Suzuki and Parra and Eaton and Cabrera and Gomes and Dozier and Robles and Zimmerman.   

Yes that's the top 13 PA getters in that season. .386 would have trailed all of them. 

To be fair the average slugging is down from .423 to .411 in the NL and in 2019 pitchers are still hitting so it's quite a dip but still.  STILL. 

Despite the homer to win yesterday this little win streak isn't driven by power. It's driven by a ton of balls in play, a few more walks, average pitching, and a little luck. They'll put balls in play. The pitching seems likely to work out to stay average. Will they keep walking? Will they keep getting a little lucky every 12 games? Then .500 (or really a few games under the rest of the way) is possible. But getting a little lucky every 12 games is tough. It's fine to be +1 wins for 12 games but to keep doing it and be +12 over your last 144? Yeah that doesn't usually happen. 

The soulless automaton is telling you to temper your expectations. Unless they develop power, this is about the peak of Nats performance you are going to see. Enjoy it, and don't get too mad at the 9-15 24 game stretch that may follow.

Thursday, May 04, 2023

Thursday Already?

Time flies when the team you write about isn't really relevant.

Today we'll talk about the bullpen, the back end is rounding into the solid staff we thought they might be. Over the past 28 days (so after the bumpy starts for Finnegan and Harvey) we see guys doing this : 

Harvey 1.64 ERA, 0.909 WHIP, 12.3 K/9

Finnegan 0.93 ERA, 1.035 WHIP

Thompson 2.30 ERA, 0.894 WHIP, 8.00 K/BB

Add to that Edwards mysterious 1.80 ERA (he's not pitching particularly well other than keeping guys from scoring.  Which is good! But also is something that doesn't usually hold - you don't end up with a 89% LOB rate and you have a pen that can really hold down the end of games.  One more good arm, especially if it's a good YOUNG arm (which only Thompson is here) and it might be a pen worth crowing about. Machado has had a good start but isn't young. 

On the other hand Ward is merely ok, Harris, Ramirez and the recently departed Banda not so much. So there's definitely a all or nothing aspect here. And that's a problem when you really want to give Gore and Gray as much support as you can.  If say Corbin or a guy like Irvin surprises you with a good game you want to try to win? You might run out these guys a few times and have them not be left for the Gore / Gray games you want to save. 

Granted this is good win-now strategy. Don't plan for saving games that may not be games worth saving. But this isn't a win-now team.  So I'm fine throwing Corbin and 5th starter starts to the wolves to maximize what the Nats can do for Gray and Gore.  

But really this all begs the question - when can we see Cronin up here? Wasn't he supposed to be the next big bullpen piece the Nats had plans for? Well he hasn't pitched since the 23rd so he's probably hurt, even if we haven't heard anything about it. After him there isn't much in AAA. 

AA has more interesting arms, and more hurt arms.  Trade acquisition Gerardo Carillo? Looking good until landing on IL. Trade acquisition Richard Guasch? Looking good until landing on IL.Still there's more. Former starter prospect Tim Cate, who has been death to lefties in his new role, Malvin Pena, and Amos Willingham. None of these guys is that young (Thompson is months younger than all of them) so you shouldn't feel bad pressing them to see what happens. 

So that's what I want. Some aggressive pen arm work in the minors. These guys arms don't usually last long and results are pretty variable. A dominant 19 year old, sure, take your time with. I don't really see the point of saving these guys, though  A lot of working a pen is striking while it is hot. The guys the Nats have up aren't all that special so if you have to DFA, then DFA.  But let's give the fans a bit more. This is easy and fun. Call up a couple. Say you are trying to build an unhittable pen. See what happens.

Monday, May 01, 2023

Monday Quickie - April in Review

The season is about 1/6 over, and exactly so for the Nats, so where are the Nats now? 

Well first off, the Nats aren't the worst team in baseball. This was always likely, with the A's doing the whole "crash and burn and bring nothing to Vegas and laugh and laugh and laugh at all the money they spend and the tears of Oakland fans" thing. And KC and the Rockies being a bit worse right now is no surprise. But the Nats manage to pass a couple of surprise crashes, the missed their window White Sox* and the not THIS bad but no one cares if they are unlucky Cardinals. They are right on par with Detroit, San Fran, the Reds, and ahhahahahahah The Mariners. 

But secondly, the Nats aren't secretly good. Maybe they are more an 11-16 team than 10-17, but that would only be a 66 win team, only a bit over the 62-64 I had them down for. They don't hit, they don't go deep in any particular skill, there isn't anything right on the horizon coming from AAA, or a big known contributor coming back from injury or playing way under expectations. This is who they are. 

Then why are Nats fans relatively happy?  Well they have been playing better recently 5-4 in their last 3 series, which featured some non-terrible teams. But mostly because Gray and Gore have been pitching well and if the Nats are to be good in the near future (say 2025) they need this to be a reality. 

If you take the month as one big chunk as you should, you can only be happy with two batters. Ruiz who looks about what peak Ruiz could look like; higher average, with enough patience and power to make him better than average. And Robles whose early season stretch of increased patience has given him value in a way he didn't have before. Otherwise, holding off on the two-week Garrett for another week, Call is the only positive. Abrams isn't where you'd like him to be, Smith looks bad, Garcia had a bad month,  Candelario struggled recently to go below average, Thomas is not doing well, and Meneses has disappointed. No one on the bench has been special.

The biggest problem lies with the rotation. Williams has been decent enough and Corbin has settled into usable 5, but the actual 5, Chad Kuhl has not been good. But there isn't anyone in AAA that looks good, or in AA for that matter. High-A isn't that great either.  Basically outside of Gore and Gray only Dustin Saenz (3.86) and Kyle Luckham (1.80) have ERAs under 4.00. This means there isn't a solution here and every 5th day is going to be a hard win for the Nats. With 1-4 not given with a weak offense, it's going to be tough to make any real noise. This team isn't going to surprise. 

The pen has mostly settled down to where we thought it would be with a strong front end and a weak back one. This wouldn't be too much of a problem if the Nats had say 4 decent starters or if Finnegan, who they were seeing as the best guy, wasn't having a bad start. Instead they have to save Thompson, Harvey and Carl Edwards Jr for a couple games a time through the rotation while running with some pretty bad choices the other three times. Maybe Machado up for Banda helps or Weems and eventually Cronin will work. But for now it's a pen that can hold late wins but can't hold other games close. And until we see more fresh arms the Nats are living on how long Carl Edwards keeps defying his stats.

It's been a good April with a nice finish and several important bright spots. What does May and beyond hold? Probably a worse record and tougher times, which when you are looking at a 66 win team already isn't fun. But as long as Gray, Gore, and Ruiz are coming through, Nats fans don't need much more to feel ok. Maybe one more guy up here being great. Another great month from Thompson. Abrams or Garcia going on a run. And maybe one of the young OFs moving up a level and still looking good. This season isn't about winning, which is good, because they still aren't going to.

*Giolito isn't doing too bad though. Lopez is having a terrible season as the new closer