Nationals Baseball: September 2023

Friday, September 29, 2023

Three to win 1

Well that didn't go well. 

The Braves three game set is the last chance to grab that elusive 70th win and an important symbolic number. It is getting more necessary as people are starting to come back to the realization that this team is not in fact good (sorry Kolko) and they are pretty much bottom of the barrel for September. On August 29th they sat at 62-71. They've gone 7-19 since and while you can't discount the wins that happened, everything else around THIS team says they aren't a 70 win team*. It deserves a hard look in terms of how it was built and what their plans are for 2024. A 70th win though can soften those looks a little. 

The other seasons are over and yesterday, in reaction to a team shill "the minors are filled with competitiveness!" column I posted the records of the minor league teams

  • AAA : 66-80 3rd worst in IL 
  • AA : 59-77 tied 2nd worst in EL 
  • A+ : 55-75 2nd worst in Sally 
  • A : 65-63! 
  • FCL : .500! 
  • DSL: historically bad

The Nats were not good anywhere and bad most places.  Now what this means for the MAJOR league team is up for debate. Most of what I found in a cursory examination is that it matters a little bit. Obviously it is better if your minor leagues look really strong. I can tell you as a Durham Bulls goer (Rays AAA affiliate) that they are usually very good and Hey! They major league team is usually very good! But far more important is how your organization is ranked. That's looking at the potential major league talent that exists not the totality of talent. The Nats are ok there. But in terms of having a competitive minor leagues... yeah they don't. They might have a bunch of OFers who compete against each other, but that would be about it. 

Seasons almost over and we could talk about anything now, but we'll leave it be. Let's watch Rutledge pitch Monday then we can get to the hard look because I'm not softening anything, 70 wins or not.

*A little clarity - what you are is X.  How you do is Y.  Y is more important than X because that is what matters in terms of a season. It's the reality.  No one is saying "We won 90 but should have won 70, we will skip the playoffs" But looking forward X is more important. You don't have to give wins back. You do have to understand what those wins mean - if they were luck or skill. 

Monday, September 25, 2023

Monday Quickie - 5 to win 1

The goal is to win 70 right now. With one week ahead of them this is a minor victory they can point at to say things like "we were in the 50s in wins and now we are in the 70s" all winter long. But they were better and were fun so give them 70 I guess. 

The Mets have made things interesting as far as last place goes, currently on a four game losing streak and holding a 3-7 record in the last 10 to keep the Nats in the race for 4th. Granted it was a lot of one-run losses in there and the Mets are better than the Nats but there's an opening. Plus the Mets take on the Marlins who are still in the thick of the WC hunt. Of course the Nats play the Orioles who still need wins to sew up the AL East so don't expect an easy game tomorrow. Maybe if the O's win and Rays lose on Tuesday, the O's will let up on Wednesday.

What we saw was Jackson Rutledge have a 2nd good game in a row without the "it's the White Sox" caveat.  Yeah the Braves kind of "split-squad" the double header, but the top of the line-up 1-5 were still good hitters and Rutledge handled them well. Honestly it was a game that made you think he could be a #5 here.  He struck out some guys! He didn't give up a homer! And I hope to see him once more before the year ends. 

 If you're up late tonight tune into the Padres/Giants and watch one dreamer get basically eliminated and Houston take on Seattle in an absolutely HUGE WC3 series in the AL. You guys I'm sure hate Houston more.  Hell, I probably do to. But I'm not shedding any tears for Seattle.

Thursday, September 21, 2023

See I did it

All I had to do was doubt the Nats and they'd run off a couple of wins.  Why if I just said they stunk every day they'd be 162-0.  Barring a complete 0-9 meltdown to end the season I'd have to say it was mildly successful in terms of what happened on the field. There are some sneaky bad things about this team that should give pause to what we expect in 2024, but again this isn't about 2024 it's about 2025. Eyes on the prize. 

 What should we focus on team wise in the last 9 games? 

Can Garcia show a spark of life? He had a .259 / .293 / .362 line when he was sent down for spite and he's hit .237 / .293 / .447 since being called up because the alternatives might have been worse. The mild spike in power is nice, but we'd like to see even more because he's going to be pencilled in as the starter to start 2024 but guys like House and Lipscomb might need a home. 

Can Abrams get to 20 homers? We like round numbers like that. 

Any last minute pushes by a call-up or wannabe 2024 player?  Alex Call has spent 3/4 a season proving he can't hit. Jake Alu only 1/4. Remember the brief "Ooooh Carter Kieboom" era? Yeah he stinks again. Can Blake Rutherford get some major league hits to make other teams interested in him because he's probably going to get passed like a Accord on the Autobahn at the only position in the Nats org where there appears to be a surplus of talent.

Can Gray keep pitching well? A couple of good outings against trash teams has got his ERA down to 4.00. He'll have two more starts and the competition is tougher. How much can he build on 2023 other than to say he can pitch a whole season?

Can Irvin hold the 5th starter role to start next year? Depends on the Nats really. Corbin is STILL here, Williams is also under contract, and they want to start Gore and Gray. That leaves one spot. Irvin has done enough that you'd stick him in there but if you want to try ANYONE else he's the guy kicked to the curb. A couple really good starts to finish the season and maybe you see if you can move Williams for trash.

Not that intersting but it's a team with it's eyes locked two years into the future. If we just let the Nats play out the strings before talking about them, what should we focus on instead in these last three series if not the team's performance? 

The NL divisions are all but over. The East (Braves) and West (Dodgers) are done and the Brewers have opened up an almost insurmountable lead on Chicago. Basically either they have to completely crash or the Cubs have to completely dominate. The Braves are in the HFA driver's seat so it comes down to the WC.  Right now the Phillies look in good position, but the last two spots are up for grabs. The Dbacks slightly ahead of the Cubs, Marlins, and Reds with outside chances for SF and SD if they do something special.  With the true balanced schedule though none of those teams play eachother this weekend and only one series is set up between any two - SD @ SF at the beginning of next week. 

In the AL there's a lot more to play for. The AL East is still up for grabs with Baltimore holding off Tampa Bay, and the AL West is even more contentious, the Astors only a half game up over the Mariner and Texas.  Of course the flip side of that is the Wild Card is much less interesting. The Orioles/Rays loser will have a spot and will be joined by two of the Blue Jays, and the losers in the AL West. One team out. Everyone else in. All the head to head excitement is limited to the Mariners who play the Rangers this weekend and then follow up with the Astros then the Rangers again. So those would be the games to watch. 

The postseason awards are lining up to be pretty low invitation affairs. Ohtani should get the AL MVP putting together 3/4 of a season of MVP hitting with 3/4 of a season of good pitching. There really isn't anyone close*. It's only a question of if enough voters choose to take "valuable" in the "get my team to the playoffs" sense.  The NL MVP is either Acuna or Betts. It'll probably be Acuna though because it's the fielding difference that makes it a toss-up and it's not like Betts is amazing or Acuna is a slug. Betts is just very good and Acuna below average so there isn't anything compelling "move the needle" there. 

Cy Youngs are in theory more open in these days of no one throwing innings or getting wins. Though Cole probably gets it in the AL - most IP, best ERA in league. Sonny Gray might have pitched just as well but at 8-7 there isn't a reason to fight for him. Luis Castillo of the Mariners and Zach Eflin of the Rays are probably 2/3 in some order. In the NL there's Snell with the ERA, Strider with the wins and the "in a vacuum" best stats, and Zac Gallen and Justin Steele who are in the mix. I think this is still up for grabs if someone wants to finish very strong, but Strider probably has the best path.

*Even full season Judge, who did deserve it last year - he didn't just hit homers -  wouldn't have been that much of a challenger this year, though he would have easily slotted in 2nd

Tuesday, September 19, 2023

Tuesday Quickie - Water finding it's level

While this is sure to make the Nats win a few games in a row, the Nats were never a 70+ win team but an extended stretch of good play and good luck put that modest goal in easy reach. Now an extended one of bad play and bad luck (unlike most of the year which was just bad play) has almost wiped that clean away.  A modest finish of 5-6 could still do it though the competition left makes 4-7 more likely. Still that is 70 wins. 


We want to talk about the year but there's plenty of time to do that later so a place holder to complain about the White Sox getting all worked up over Dom Smith celebrating one of his few homers

Thursday, September 14, 2023

Lotso Rizzo

Rizzo has been extended. It's "multi-year" though it's unclear what that actually means. Which means probably 2 years. 

You've been here enough to know my feelings on Rizzo. He trades well. He builds teams decently for the payroll levels afforded him. This includes building a team that could challenge (and eventually win) a title. The international free agency under him has seemed fine. His manager relationships and selections leave something to be desired as he seems to want managers who have old school tendencies but also bend to his will (Davey is ideal here which gives you an idea of why this pairing has lasted so long) He has struggled setting up a working drafting/development team and his own inclinations (bet big on talent underseeded for non-performance issues) hasn't worked out since picking up Rendon in 2012.  

The Nats could probably find someone to do better on the last point but overall would be a question mark.  In other words I think they could do worse pretty easily.

I also think he deserves a chance to see out this rebuild attempt. He successfully built a multi-year contender. Let him try again.  We should know by 2025 if this time worked out or not. If it did, great, extend him some more. If not you can move on if you want to. 

The 2023 Nats though keep stinking it up. They don't have to win today obviously for a number of reasons, but they are currently on a 4-12 run that is mostly deserved. The Brewers, who are up next, are trying to keep the Cubs away and likely view the Nats series going in as a needed sweep. The White Sox of course are trash and could roll over, getting the Nats close to 70.  After that you have a Braves team that has everything wrapped up but are too far out to rest and might have "best Braves team ever" on their mind. Then an Orioles team, who you hope is set. I say 4-8 for those games so win today and you get to 70.

Rutledge was bad yesterday but it's one start and also he probably is bad, at least at the major league level. Keep throwing him out there. Keep expecting losses but keep hoping for something more.  Because Adon and Irvin both have 20+ starts and you can start to feel pretty confident they are who their stats say they are and that is not really a 5 you want to have on a contending team. Now it's Rutledge's turn to confirm or surprise.

Monday, September 11, 2023

Monday Quickie - Not sure what's going on with Stras but sure Nats are losing.

I guess Stras is waiting for me to finish my series.  Smart guy.

There's been a lot thrown around the internet about Strasburg's aborted retirement press conference but I think you can boil everything down to just what we know for sure. 

  • Strasburg and the team were discussing his retirement. 
  • The team wanted to pay Strasburg in a way different and almost certainly in some way worse, than he was going to get paid. 

The latter can be "known" because it doesn't make sense for Strasburg and the team to decide he's going to retire and the team to say "ok we'll pay you as the contract stipulates" and Strasburg to balk at this. And even I can't see Strasburg trying to come at this using early retirement as leverage for more money. 

However it got to here and progressed, I'll leave it up to the media to find out but just the above two facts make the Nats look bad. Even if it was "we want to spread the same money over a longer time frame" or "we want to change the interest rates" or whatever, you don't use the end of a guy's career due to debilitating injury as a time to haggle. 

In other news the scouting purge continues as Kris Kline was bumped upstairs from his scouting role. Kline was holding the steering wheel when the Nats made their best draft picks in memory (though the assumption is Rizzo was a back seat driver). However both the draft of Strasburg and Bryce don't speak to Kline's skill. They were obvious picks you or I would have made.  From 2009 to 2012 the best pick made was Rendon (6th in 2011 first round) with other positive performance major leaguers drafted being : 

2009 : Storen, MAT, Nate Karns

2010 : Solis, Cole, Matt Grace*, Aaron Barrett, Robbie Ray

2011 : Alex Meyer, Brian Goodwin, Billy Burns**

2012 : Spencer Kieboom

Not bad I guess. But after being more of a head of scouting you can't say things have gone well. I'm not going to try to paint an overall narrative here because I don't have anything that makes sense and there might not even be one. 

On the field things keep going poorly but to be fair the Dodgers are really good.  The season is going to end with ATL / BAL and likely lost series so if they want to have any success in September it has to be with PIT, MIL and CHW.  They should be able to do that and if not... well that's gotta be a disappointment. 

As for Davey and the "good manager" question. I don't think managers are super impactful, but I do think they can affect W-L records maybe even up to a half-dozen games. But I also think there isn't a good way to measure that so we're really just guessing. For me I use a "how good did I and every other pundit think this team was to start the year and how did they finish" line.  If we apply that to Davey the team underperformed in 2018, 2020, 2021 and 2022. And it wasn't even a little underperformance. In 2018 they were a favorite to make a run and won 82 games. In 2020, understanding the weird circumstances, they were seen as a sure playoff team and went under .,500.  In 2021 a good team that might have too many problems won 65 games. In 2022 a team unlikely to contend had the worst record in baseball.  

On the pro Davey side they were a playoff team in 2019 but one with a big hump to get over. They were in line to do disappoint again early in 2019 but we can't judge partial seasons. That's not fair. And even me, who thinks a great deal of success that year was bc of a forced shortening of the pen by Rizzo, has to admit they don't get to the point where that matters without turning things around first. So 2019 has to be a success even without considering the series. Just a playoff win was enough. The title makes it a rousing success. But one success with 4 big failures? It doesn't offset. 

How is 2023? Shaping up to be a mild beating of expectations. They have to win say 4 more games or so but you have to think they'll do that right? Split the Pirates and win the White Sox series and that's 3 games right there.  We'll come back but I expect about 69/70 wins which again would be overperformance from a team expected to be in the low to mid 60s in wins. 

Is he learning? Getting better? Is it a fluke of one-run success? All I know is that it is but I still can't say that overcomes those four seasons where they fell 10 plus under my expectations. Of course you could say my expectations were the problem and maybe but from 05-17 they bounced around. I don't see any reason I'd suddenly turn into Mr. Positivity for the team a few years ago.

*look just going by bWAR here. Matt Grace has one good year, one average year, and one bad year in the pen. It rolled out to 0.2 rather than -0.2  But I drew the line at 0. 

**Billy Burns? He was 5th in  ALROY voting in 2015! Quickly disappearing garbage after that but still that was enough 

Thursday, September 07, 2023

Scouts Ahoy

Still working but now catching up on the other works so that's better. This should be good news for you guys as I would have been all over that losing streak proving me right that the Nats aren't some sort of special scrappy team. No time to gloat now though. They won and media were right back saying "see this is the specialness that won them those games" Sigh. 

There is big news in Nats town though as a bunch of scouts are getting the heave ho. It started with Johnny DiPuglia, who had been here basically since the start of Rizzo's time as GM, resigning. Maybe it was to avoid being fired, maybe it was because a bunch of scouts were going to be let go, because next a bunch of scouts were let go. 

Has the scouting been good? Well, no. At home, as most fans will tell you, it's been pretty bad with the Nats producing woefully little from the draft for years in comparison to other teams. Now you could argue it's a development issues not a scouting one but I definitely can't speak to that (and you probably can't either).  Internationally it's been ok generally though weaker recently hitting a nadir this year with the Nats Dominican Summer team being very very bad. 

The real question is though - what does this mean for Rizzo.  Are these things he has to do to stay on? Are these things that might cause him to leave? Do you care? 

I'll maintain that Rizzo is ok, a GM with positives that outweigh the negatives, and I'd be fine with him coming back. If he goes you open up the possibility of getting a bad GM and with a bad manager* already in place for another two years you could really set back the franchise even with Crews and Wood looking like true major league talent. But then again maybe not! If you feel like Rizzo is spinning wheels here maybe you need a change. I'll say they've brought in enough young offensive talent that with a little spending they should have a good offense in a couple year. Yeah there's draft luck timing involved there but that's just one guy. I'll also say they haven't brough in enough you pitching talent to expect a top of the rotation starter to appear any time soon so they'll need a lot of spending to fix that. 

*look he is. objectively so as of this point. I just noted a day ago by the end of his contract he'll almost certainly enter an elite club of managers of more than 1200 games with a WP less that .450. As much as you can judge a manager we can judge Davey to not be good.