Nationals Baseball: Retrospective pause

Thursday, August 31, 2023

Retrospective pause

Works been busy. That explains the gap. The Nats have been playing well... well up until the last series but here are two important numbers for you. 



The first is the number of runs they've scored in the past 12 games. The latter is the number of runs they have given up. This would indicate a team in the midst of a pretty substantial bad run. 4-8 or so. What is the Nats record? 7-5. They've done it by winning 6 one-run games to losing only one. That can't continue. Even the best teams can't justify that sort of record. 

Now, as I've said before, they don't have to give them back. There is no need for them to go 1-6 in their next set to make things "right".  If they are a bad team then they'll go slightly below .500 in 1-run games here on out as they should and they will have "banked" these wins. So a W-L record above expectations is likely to be hit. 

But it's going to be mostly luck. And if you think it's some sort of magical scrappiness, why now? Why not any other time this year? Why not any time in 2022... or 2021... or 2020? And likely we'll ask, why not in September. 

Teams have ups, teams have downs. The Nats are overall better so their ups are pretty good and the bads aren't as terrible and long. But don't read into this or listen to any of the talk about this team having something special. It's just the long season playing out. Enjoy the wins, but don't expect many more.


Hopeful Fan said...

Here's what I love. The Nats are 62-72. So are the Padres. With that lineup and payroll. The Mets are 61-73. With THAT payroll. Heck, the Angels are 64-70. With "him." And "HIM."

That makes me smile. It's fun.

Things might (will?) change but we're 83% of the way through the season and here we are. LOL Mets.

Cautiously Pessimistic said...

Dammit Harper, I've been refreshing baseball reference playoff odds page regularly waiting for it to jump from 0% to 0.1%, don't rain on my parade!

But in all seriousness, I'm really happy with the way this team is shaping up. Yes a lot of this stretch has been luck, largely due to sequencing of hits and some not horrendous pitching, but outside of this series (lots of errors and mental mistakes), the team seriously looks as if they are making progress. Still a lot of room to grow, but the bats that need to succeed to open up the window in 2025 are succeeding (outside of Garcia of course) and the pitching has been rougher, but I chalk a lot of that up to innings (Gore is well past his highest IP total, and Gray is creeping up on his highest). Keep stretching these guys out next year and 2025 looks promising

Anonymous said...

Any pattern in 12 games is almost certain to be luck, but if there is anything here beyond luck, I actually think it's the opposite of magical scrappiness. It's strategically timed incompetence.

This team has a shallow bullpen, and there's tons of workload pressure on the few good arms we've got. Davey needs to find them days off, and doing so forces bad pitchers into the game. And of course he does that when we're way ahead or way behind, skewing our run differential out of proportion to our win probability.

While it's been settled that teams can't normally "play to the score", I do think this might be an exception. Davey is quite clearly managing the bullpen to fit the score.

It's no virtue, and it's not something that can be part of a winning team's strategy, but there's a chance that this team should be expected to slightly outperform its pythag.

But, yeah, it's probably just luck. +6 wins over the season is completely within normal variance. No real reason to look any harder at it.

Kevin Rusch said...

I think you're overlooking an obvious answer: management. When the bullpen is rested, they put the good relievers out there and eke out close wins. Because they're not very good and are maximizing what they have. And then about once a week, they just go out there and get shelled and have to let all the sucking happen in one game.

I don't see how "managers don't matter" and "Davey is terrible" can both be true at the same time, but given that both of those seem to be presumptive truths, the only remaining answer is "they must be lucky." But perhaps managers do matter, and they're arranging the players they have to win as often as possible.

John C. said...

I love how Harper's mission is to try to ferret out any sense of happiness or hopefulness and stomp it flat as quickly as possible. I suspect that it has something to do with the Yankees and their shocking plummet from relevance.

More seriously, I don't know anyone who thinks that this team is "good." The few "hey, they're only [x] games out of the Wild Card!" comments that I've seen on the InterNats have been with tongue firmly planted in cheek. But this team is young (younger by average batter age and pitcher age than the O's) and is generally (a few clunkers aside) fun to watch. That's a massive improvement over last year's sad, bad, and unmotivated team. No one is printing playoff tickets, much less planning for another parade. For now it's just nice enough to have a bit of hope. If it's OK with Harper.

Ole PBN said...

"This team is just so awesome." - Jake Irvin (last week)

To answer Harper's question (likely rhetorical): why not in 2021, 2022 or earlier in the year? Why in August? Answer = team chemistry. They have the right mix of unselfish guys on the team. No prima donnas as far as I can tell. Why are they not a playoff team? Lack of talent, obviously. They Mets had plenty of talent, but zero team chemistry.

I hate to admit it, but Davey has a lot to do with turning a crappy team into a "scrappy" one. But you can't quantify team chemistry or the effect that a "player's manager" can have on a clubhouse. But scrappy isn't the top of the mountain, which is why I don't think he's the guy to take a talented group of players and teach them to be unselfish. But you can't argue that he's been a detriment to the 2023 Nats success. I can guarantee that if my namesake (Matt Williams) were managing this team right now, we'd be giving Oakland a run for their money.

And I have zero metrics to back that up. Which is why baseball is beautiful.

Harper said...

Kevin Rusch - the thing about the "managing to try to win the games they are close in" theory is... well every team would be doing that no? And it would mostly even out. Some teams might have a slight advantage - great couple arms in the pen and a great PH, over a team more balanced but that's gotta be SLIIIIIGHT. Now, if you are doing something like the 2019 Nats and just saying "we're cutting anyone bad. We're barely using the guys that are fine. We are going to destroy our good arms" then sure. But you generally save that for the playoffs because of the long term problems.

John C- Hey! I've always been like this and the Yankees are usually good!

kubla said...


We could analyze it by looking at the spread between the best pen arms on a team and the worst. When a team waves the white flag and puts in their cut-rate relievers, how badly does it spiral out of control?

I have not run the numbers, but my initial thought is that while the Nats' best relievers are a shade worse than the top bullpen arms on other teams, their last guys up in the pen wouldn't even make another roster. With injuries to their middling quality relievers, it only gets worse, because now they actually have to use the worst ones regularly.

My other thought was maybe the singly nature of the team would lead to all-or-nothing scenarios where the hits either come all together or not at all, but they're actually not bad with LOB, having the 11th least runners left on. Part of that is because they're terrible about getting on base in the first place, but that wouldn't explain scoring lumpiness.

Even if the bullpen explanation holds up, it could still mostly be luck.

Nattydread said...

Good management of young players busting their asses to make a name for for themselves and win contracts wins a lot more one run games than bad management of superstars who have less to prove.

Sure, one can argue that ALL MLB players are top competitors and things even out in the long run.

But good luck doesn't just happen in baseball. Players have to be prepared to take advantage of opportunities. The Nats coaching staff *seems* to be communicating with the players and doing the off-the-field work well.

ocw5000 said...

The Nats are 16-11 since demoting Luis Garcia. Make of that what you will.

Anonymous said...

Looks like we’re having a run of bad luck now. At least we have 24 rolls of dice left…

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