Nationals Baseball: April 2024

Monday, April 29, 2024

Monday Quickie - Better than the Marlins

So that answers that. At least as far as I think.  Yes, the Nats have played a relatively easy schedule and yes, they've gotten a bit lucky by the metrics, but I think checking out the first three games of this series, there's no doubt they are the better team. They have what looks like a complete offensive player in Abrams, a young pitcher rounding into form in Gore and a bullpen full of fairly good bets that turned into a solid pen. Add in a few FA and returning surprises and it's a competitive team. Are they really .500 ish? Nah. but let's see how long they can pretend to be because if it gets into June some kids might come up and then they may not need to pretend.  Fake it till you make it. 

Let's take a look around the league! 

NL East

The Braves are good. The Phillies are good. The Mets are ok.

To get into it more - the Braves' offense is deep mixing guys likely to cool down (D'Arnaud) and guys likely to heat up (Acuna) They had SP injury worry but the minor league depth of a few years ago finally is paying off as Bryce Elder has stepped in nicely. In the meantime Reynaldo Lopez has looked very good? 

The Phillies are more a hot and cold offense (Castellanos is currently dead) but their pitching as been great. Ranger Suarez got his control under control and the gamble on the injured Spencer Turnball paid off. Caleb Cotham, who came in when Zach Wheeler did seems like an excellent pitching coach.

The Mets pitching, especially the pen has been a strong suit but their hitting is a bunch of below average bats. Neither Alvarez or Baty have become anything yet. Feels like they could get better but they are the Mets so...

NL Central

There isn't a really good team here. The Brewers can hit. The only guys not are their prospects Frelick and Chourio. But their SP and RP are both super shallow. The Cubs basically the same on the mound, but aren't hitting as well. The Reds are more consistent throwers but good or bad at the plate. De La Cruz though is a stud. The Pirates can pitch and might be interesting next year with Skenes if they add some bats. The Cardinals can't hit. Turns out they bet wrong and sent the better OFs (Thomas, O'Neill) away

NL West

The Dodgers finally turned on the jets and have begun separation. They are great they just have to figure out what pieces aren't working anymore (Chris Taylor) and replace those parts with what they have in house which will work. The D-backs should climb out of their hole. They can hit and the pitching is ok. The Padres don't have enough arms. The Giants don't have enough relief pitching. The Rockies don't have enough anything.

AL East

Yankees are holding off the Orioles. Soto is the engine that lineup needed but the young guys are coming through and the pitching all turned around from last years "everyone's worst year" issue. But the Orioles, once they get the pitching in order (it's ok) will be hard to hold off. Have you seen that lineup? 8 players deep with one guy at 30 and everyone younger. Scary. Red Sox are surprising thanks to several "Why is that guy playing like THAT" performances. The Blue Jays are depressing because they aren't old but the young guys at the plate all seem to have regressed already and they were supposed to carry an averageish staff. The Rays are lost at the plate without their rapist of the future, and the pen feels like it's finally run out of young arms to break.

AL Central 

The best division or the division that gets to play the White Sox? Hard to tell. Indians line-up is solid and bullpen is great, which cover their minor rotation woes. I have no idea how the Royals are scoring runs but the pitching is mostly good. The Tigers are basically the Royals without the runs scoring luck. If their kids ever hit they could turn a corner. The Twins are America's average team who could use another starter or two (like your average team!). The White Sox are trash but Erick Fedde is good?

AL West

Like the NL Central if it has two Cardinals teams and the White Sox. The Mariners have a fantastic pen and don't really have a rotation hole, but are a bat off. The Rangers are fine at the plate, but need one more reliable starter, or more likely for some sleeping bats like Seager to wake up. The A's stink but have cobbled together a workable staff and the pen is actually good. For the 99th year in a row the Angels have no pitching.* The Astros have caught some bad luck scoring runs but their pitching has absolutely imploded.



*For former Nats prospect Alex Meyer to go from the Nats, who looking back didn't show much skill at developing pitchers, to the Twins, possibly the worst SP developers of the 00s and 10s, to the Angels, who have turned out very few pitchers despite overloading on them, was a pretty cruel turn of fate. 

Friday, April 26, 2024

2024 : Battle to gain respect or to avoid embarrasment?

After that disappointing finish to the home stand, the Nats head to Miami for a four game set. I see this as a season-setting series. The Marlins are very bad, but after a 0-9 start they are 6-11. That's like "usual worst team in the majors this year" as opposed to the "is this a historically bad team?" their record might suggest.

The Marlins' starting pitching is fine and back of the pen is fairly reliable and they might be coming around depth-wise on both of these to form a more average ish squad, maybe even good. This is in line with the last couple of years. But their offense remains terrible after they decided to not put money into the what was the obvious problem the past couple seasons. Presumably this cheapness is what ran off people like Jeter and Ng who thought they might be committed to something other than "trying to be the next Rays or A's" There isn't anything about the offense really under-performing.  Old friend Josh Bell should be better, and Arraez could hit a bit more, but this is who they are. They are a team that can't score. The minors aren't sending help. The Nats pitching should keep them in check.

I call this a season-setting series because how the Nats do here could define what this season is about. A 3-1 series win will put the Nats at 13-15 and the Marlins at 7-23.  That's would give the Nats quite a lead over their challengers for the bottom of the NL East. It would set the Nats up for a "ok are they a 70, 75, or even 80 win team" type of season. A 1-3 series loss would put the teams at 11-17 and 9-21 respectively and set the season up for a basement battle. 

In other news. Gore looks really good, huh? Fancy stats aren't telling us much different. His BABIP is actually HIGH which would suggest fewer hits in the future but the HR/FB rate is low and he's giving up a fair number of FB/LDs so that should swing the other way.  Whichever you think is more important would lead you to believe how close he stays to what he has been. 

It's been noted that if the Nats can come out of 2024 with a 1/2 Gore and a star Abrams confirmed, that's a good outcome.  Early returns are promising, but let's see Gore do something he's never done - throw over 150 innings - because the Nats of the future need a 1 or 2 Gore who is actually on the mound in practice, not in theory.

Wednesday, April 24, 2024

Lane Thomas hurt - Lipscomb not wood gets the call

 Lane Thomas went to the IL and there was some hope James Wood would get the call. Sorry. Trey Lipscomb is back! 

Why? Why replace an OF with an IF? Well from biggest reason to smallest... 

1) Trey is already on the 40-man. So to bring him up you don't have to make room.  You would if bringing up nearly anyone else as the rest of the 40-man is basically injured guys and pitchers. Except... 

2) The OF on the 40-man is Alex Call. They gave Alex a good long trial last year. He can sure field, but he can't hit.  He's currently hitting .212 / .312 in AAA (though with 6 homers?!?!) We don't need to see him again

3) James Wood slowed down a bunch after his start. In his first 10 games James Wood was a house on fire :  .432 / .563 / .757 with just as importantly 8 Ks in 48 PAs. In his last 9 games James Wood is the ashes : .180 / .256 / .205 with just as importantly 14 Ks in 43 PAs almost double the rate. If you wanted an excuse to keep him down he's given you a good one. 

4) As we discussed before, if Wood stays down long enough, he can qualify as a Top 100 prospect the Nats can bring up to start NEXT season and get various rewards if he does well. 

So really I think it's just a roster thing. Rizzo has historically been a guy who will lean toward not forcing roster changes even if the talent being used is sub-optimal. He's not bringing up Wood until he keeps him up forever and he's not doing that now, while Wood is in a slump. 

Oh well.

Monday, April 22, 2024

Monday Quickie - When can we say the Nats are good?

The Nats have had a good start. They continue to be fed by close wins (yesterday was only the second time they've won a game by more than 2 runs) and a relatively weak schedule* but if they are beating the worst that likely means they aren't the worst themselves, which was an honest question to start the year. But of course we only have the start of the year to go on and that's not much.  If you look at all the worst teams last year they all had longer stretches of better baseball at various points. The A's went 13-12 at one point. The Royals finished they year 15-12. The White Sox pulled off a 22-15 stretch, which is actually really good. And the Rockies went 13-8. 

So bad teams do have good stretches. But all of these teams started badly. Some had good Mays, other good Augusts, but no good Aprils. But you don't have to go back too far to find a 100 loss team that started 10-11. The 2022 A's did. The short of it is you don't really know until you get well into a season, like Memorial Day if they Nats are around .500 you can feel pretty good they aren't going end the year with triple digit losses. 

That's a long way away! Well it's a long season. But let's work in reverse.  Let's say the Nats finish April one game around .500. In the past 2 seasons what teams have done that.

In 2023 no one finished the month .500 or one game under. A bunch of teams were one over.

  • NYY - finished 82-80
  • LAA - 73-89
  • PHI - 90-72
  • SDP - 82-80
  • BOS - 78-84
  • CHC - 83-79

In 2022 four teams were around .500

  • SEA (+) 90-72
  • HOU (+) 106-56
  • PHI (E) 87-75
  • OAK (-) 60-102


Huh. Well that didn't help. In 2023 we saw kind of what we'd expect. If your April was around .500 you are probably a .500ish team. You might push a bit higher like the Phillies getting 9 over or fall a little lower like the Angels falling 9 under but the window was there.  In 2022 we saw one team play amazing the rest of the way*** and another team play terribly****. So I guess anything CAN happen.

Ok well we don't know much, other than this is a nice surprise that they team is not starting slow. Whether it is really real and they might be .500, sort of real and they are going to be not good but competitive, or not real at all, well I guess that doesn't matter right now.  But the longer they keep it up the more likely it is this is who they are. That is a fact.


*You wouldn't have thought it to be going into the year but that is what it looks like now. The Astros are among the worst teams in baseball. The Dodgers are barely over .500. There is a big mish mosh in the middle of baseball right now with a handful of actually good teams** and the Nats haven't played any of them, except maybe the Philles or Reds (but not both).  Meanwhile they've played the A's, Astros, Rockies, and Giants, half of the worst 8ish teams in the league.

** By record - Yankees, Orioles, Cleveland, Atlanta, Philly, Milwaukee, Cubs.  By stats - Orioles, Red Sox, Guardians, Royals, Atlanta, Mets, Milwaukee, Reds. 

*** The Astros after starting 7-9 would have runs of 15-2, 20-5, and 22-6 during the year. They'd only lose back to back games 8 times the rest of the year and three in a row once.

**** The A's after starting 10-9 would have runs of 7-25, 3-12, and 7-21 during the year.

Thursday, April 18, 2024

Average teams win games half the time

There's no doubt about it, the Nats had a good road trip. 5-4 away puts the Nats at 8-10 and not in any contention (the Mets and Phillies have picked up their respective games as expected) but into "decent season" territory which is what they needed to make 2025 one that fans could pins hope to. Of course it's only 18 games but better this than the alternative (see; Marlins, Florida) 

So how did this happen? 

Well somethings are going WAY right.  CJ Abrams, who should have been signed long-term last year, is looking like a star with that power surge noted before continuing. Jesse Winker is hitting like an MVP candidate. Luis Garcia Jr is hitting like we would hope he would. Vargas, taking over 3B now, is very good. Gore is looking very good, and so is Trevor Williams? And Jake Irvin? The bullpen - that looked like a possible strength before is forming into that

But there are things going wrong. Gray's performance and injury. Kiebert's injury. Thomas and Meneses are both terrible. Corbin is Corbin. Rainey hasn't been good ... I guess. The bullpen has been good. 

It seems like these things should even out somewhat, right? 

Here's the thing... they should and it is? 

The Nats are 8-10.  8-10 is a 72 win season.  Better than expected but last year they won 71 games. While people like me will be excited by 72 because we know last season was a bit of a fluke, regular fans will probably get less excited if this is where the Nats are headed come August. It won't feel like that step forward. 

Also luck has been on their side.  Pythag has them as more a 7 win team. Adjusted standings right at 8.  Or for those that don't like fancy stats : They are 5-0 in games decided by 2 runs. Things like that generally don't hold.

Are the Nats better than they should be? Probably a little. Are they also better than expected? Probably a little. There will be reckonings (Winker, Williams, Irvin, Finnegan) and comebacks (Rosario, Ruiz, Thomas, Rainey) and the Nats might have a couple actual stars (Abrams, Harvey). It's not a season that is shaping up to have a floor that isn't 50+ wins and that's great. 

Monday, April 15, 2024

Monday Quickie : Bad Teams Lose Games

A lot of them in a lot of ways.  Even if the Nats are showing some top level competence - Abrams is probably good! Winker could be a steal! - they are still very shallow and if you start to need the 2nd level or god forbid the 3rd level of the team to perform you are asking for trouble.

Still a win in LA will make it a successful road trip and a sweep by the Dodgers is basically expected and doesn't constitute a disappointment. That's not much of a hurdle.  

Gore did look good against the A's, so did Williams, and Jake Irvin.  Of course the key to that is the A's themselves.  They have the 2nd worst offense in baseball. Around the same as the Mariners who are both well behind the 4th worst offense in baseball. What did we learn? These guys can really beat the guys they should. So if the Nats played 150 games against the White Sox, A's and Mariners they'd really clean up. But they don't. We'll check on the pitchers really at the end of the month.

Well I'll make an exception in the meantime for MY BOY Hunter Harvey has a FIP of 0.11.  0.11! 

The NL East is interesting. The Braves got slammed by SP injuries so aren't a powerhouse and I think the Mets and Phillies can both make noise. That's not good for the Nats and I think the Nats remain clearly 4th. But the Marlins are both not good and not trying and I think that combination can really crush a team. The Nats may have a chance to just put them in the rear view soon with a 4 game set.

Early 10% Season League Notes  

AL East - Orioles are probably the class. The Yankees, who are in first, are good, but probably worse than Baltimore so they have to hold out hope they can keep getting lucky and hold them off. (which is what the O's did to the Rays last year). Only 90% of the year to go! Boston might be good but also Toronto and the Rays may not? 

AL Central - Royals are coming together and hopefully will rise about the mediocre slap fight that the Central has been recently. The White Sox are as trash as they seem

AL West - Sorry the Astros probably aren't bad. I mean they do have a 4/5 SP problem but otherwise are fine and should rise back up. Everyone else is who you'd imagine they'd be

NL Central - It's fun the Reds and Pirates are both pretty good now. Brewers are still probably the best. Cubs are close enough to consider as well. Could be a long season for the Cardinals and they aren't even that bad. 

NL West -  Is this the season the Padres actually win the games and not just produce the stats? Maybe. But Dodgers are still the best. Giants have an uphill climb and the Rockies are nothing.


Friday, April 12, 2024

Free James Wood!

James Wood had four hits yesterday including his first homer, and oh yes, his second homer of the season. He's currently hitting .441 / .558 / .794 in AAA and while that would obviously cool down given time, it's also obvious he can handle AAA pitching and is ready for the majors

Exhibit 1 is his stats.  Along with the above, in 2023 after some struggles in July and August, hit .353 / .421 / .569 in September. 

Exhibit 2 is his Ks.  The only real question about Wood is did he strike out too much. Not that it looked like that would keep him from being a good play but it could limit his ceiling in the majors.  While last year he K'd 20 times in 57 PA (like 35%) in that September, right now he's at 7 in 43 PA (like 18%).  The last thing you could use to hold him back has been overcome. 

Exhibit 3 is his Spring Training. If you need to use it in a tie-breaker, not sure which way to go fashion (the only way to use these stats) he literally led all players in OPS in Spring. 

There's nothing more to say. He's ready. 

I've always been highest on Wood. This isn't some crazy prescience. He did crazy good at extremely young ages for his level. I have my doubts on whether he will be so good he can just replace Soto (Soto at 21 1/2 put up a .351 / .490! / .695 line in the pandemic season) but as I've noted before "just regular star" is fine.  Wood doesn't need to be 1st ballot HoF potential. 

There is nothing for Wood to gain being in the minors.  If he's a star this team... well it still can't compete for a playoff spot but it could start to plan around yes this guy is a star. 

Make the move Nats.

Wednesday, April 10, 2024

A solid start

2-0 and feeling good. It might be that the Giants are bad. We are still feeling these things out. And definitely San Fran going 1-16 with RISP over the first two games is unsustainable, but as we always say here - you don't have to give the wins back.  Take them and run. 

As constituted the Nats still aren't playoff contenders but with the Marlins looking like maybe the worst team in baseball all it would take is the Phillies or Mets to disappoint (and both are so far) for the Nats to get a nice 4+ win boost just for being in the right division at the right time. Have some kids get hot and call them up early and you know, 70+ wins may not be crazy. 

Of course the Nats suffered their first pitching injury - Josiah Gray taking some time off to deal with forearm strain (but likely not extended time out).  Joan Adon comes up in his place and while Joan has never been good (and he wasn't really last night but the Giants as noted couldn't get the big hits) he can't be worse than what Gray was showing in his first two starts. So the injury isn't that significant right now but it leads to the necessity of digging throuugh their shallow starting pool in the minors earlier than they would have liked. A Gore injury or Trevor Williams going back to being NOT the hardest pitcher in the majors to turn balls-in-play into hits against and things could get grim on the mound.

Monday, April 08, 2024

Monday Quickie - 9 games in

9 games is still nothing.  It's not even the "way too early 1/10th of the season" talk I like to do. It's a stretch and we all know teams go 8-2 and 2-8 over these all the time. So there isn't too much to glean about it. It's the second stretch that starts making a team what they could be.The Nats are 3-6. Where will they be after a West Coast swing that takes them to the middling Giants, terrible A's and terrific Dodgers? 6-12 is probably expected for a worse than average team. Lower and you start to worry. Higher and it's a pleasant surprise.  Yes 7-11 is a pleasant surprise.  4-5 on a nine game road swing is pretty good!

I liked Gore's outing but I really want to see him dominate the As next before I think about him taking a step forward. 

Anything so far warrant your first side-eye glances at being "huh, is something going on here?" 


Well not totally "No" but be cautious because it's just 10 games and anyone can get hot for 10 games.  You don't care too much about the stats in the good/bad sense but maybe in the OMG!/OMG! or if they are showing you something unexpected. Anything like that? 

  • Two homers for CJ Abrams is interesting.  If he can be a 25+ homer guy that's a big thing with his other general skills. 
  • Eddie Rosario's 35% K rate and 0 walks is concerning in as much as you care about Eddie Rosario.
  • Generally 2 starts is too soon to worry about pitchers but Gray has been so off and not because of bad luck that I'll definitely be watching his next start closely. 
  • I liked the Floro/Barnes gambits. Barnes hasn't been good so far, but Floro looks like his pre-2023 self. A little wild but rein that in and you probably have a top notch arm to go along with Harvey who had one bad outing but has been near perfect (3.2 IP 7Ks 0BB 1 hit) since. I think Finnegan is fine too but hard to shake his one game-killing showing. 

On to the West Coast and some late night baseball. 

Friday, April 05, 2024

How long before you worry about Gray?

Josiah Gray has another bad outing. It's only two and 8 innings total but everything but the Ks are off.  He's shown bad control, been incredibly hittable and given up homers. This rotation in 2024 can't sustain a pitcher like this, and more importantly their plans for the future cannot either. 

This pitching is reminiscent of his August from last year (8.84 ERA). If his periods of greatness were unhittable then you might accept it but he's merely ok when on and terrible when off. The combination is a 5th starter at best. 

It's pretty fascinating because he was one of the Dodgers top prospects, rising to #2 in a deep organization list. In 2019 he dominated having a very high strikeout rate with control, while being hard to hit and hard to homer off of. Simply put he did everything right. In 2021 he looked in AAA that he hadn't lost anything doing almost the same over 4 appearances, with only the homer issue rearing it's head. It didn't seem like he would be terrible in the majors, but he has been.

The fancy stats say for the most part he pitched the same way in 2021 and 2022  and there was a consitency in his stats over those two years. K-rate was good, hit-rate fine, but control and homers out of whack. He changed up in 2023, swapping in a cutter for his change and mixing up his pitches more. That brought the homers under control but the K-rate dropped and the walk rate went up. Essentially he became a luck pitcher - guys got on base and got hits but if they didn't do it in the right order he could do allright. In the first half they didn't, in the second half they did. He's added back in a change this year to try to improve but results have been poor.

The strikeout rate suggest his stuff is still there so what is going on? Is he simply an AAAA pitcher? Did the Nats, not known for developing pitchers, mess him up? Is he hurt? 

I'm leaning toward something like AAAA. I think that the early walk rates in the majors are the product of trying to avoid home runs. One doesn't usually suddenly lose command of the strike zone, and his early games in 2021 had far fewer walks.  So I think naturally he could probably keep walks and hits down and strike out a bunch... while giving up the most homers in the majors.  I think that's Gray's natural position. Is that usable? I don't know, we've never tried it.  

His fastball is not good. That's a tough truth to swallow but it is the truth. It just isn't, but it was necessary to set up effective sliders and curves.  But adding in a middling cutter at a speed closer to the sliders and curves, he's hurt that balance. 

Trying to make him a new pitcher doesn't seem to be working with only a lucky start to 2023 making people think otherwise. He isn't a better pitcher when avoiding homers with pitch mixing, because he can't control all those pitches well. He puts too many men on and can't finish others off. So let him go back to who he was.  Let him throw and give up 45 homers and see if that puts him at a 4.50 ERA or a 6.00 ERA so you can decide what to do. You have to get him comfortable with that idea though. You are going to give up homers. That's fine as long as you aren't walking guys. It may be hard. But I'm thinking that's the best path forward for him

Monday, April 01, 2024

Monday Quickie - almost better than expected... but not

 The Nats played a competitive series with the Reds over Opening Day weekend and were only denies a series win by an epic bullpen meltdown. Finnegan was hit hard the entire inning but lucked into the first couple hard hit balls being at Nats. The next one, after a fierce battle, was not and the last two were decidedly not. The bullpen was supposed to be... well not a weakness, so this isn't a great showing but remember when we talk all about this stuff that it is ALL small sample size.  Three games. They matter but things can swing from this VERY easily. Many things will. 

What did we see that we can focus on? 

A team that's going to run more. They stole 7 bases, 3 by Abrams, 2 by Thomas, and 1 by Lipscomb. Youth generally has a speed advantage and while they do have some slow players their prospects that hit and even a guy like Gallo aren't lumbering oafs. This is good and as long as they pick and choose when to run correctly, it'll make the team better and more fun to watch, to boot. 

Joey Gallo still looks lost. It was a terrible Spring and three games in you have to at least start to worry about a guy who is 0-12 with 6 Ks. They don't need Gallo but it'll force some decisions if he struggles like this for a while. The rest of the guys, some hot, some not, let's give it another series before noting.

Senzel hurt makes the Nats move on Lipscomb early so we'll get his evaluation done right now. Good.  You guys know I don't like Senzel and I don't have any idea why he was signed or starting. I think this only makes the Nats better even if Lipscomb is below average.   

The starting pitching is likely the issue we thought it would be.  Gray looked bad. Corbin looked bad.  Irvin was merely below average and that was the best. It's a tough start but unsurprising. They needed another arm and chose not to get one. Here the Nats are. 

We have no idea what to think so far. Who are the Nats? Who are the Reds? How representative were these games? Early indications are they are who we thought they are but maybe a bit more fun getting to their 100 loss season. The Pirates series will tell us a bit more. 

I'm most intrigued by Gallo. If he struggles the move is Joey to first, then... one of the OFs to DH and then... one of the kids up early?  Wood has started in AAA hot  4 for 10 with a double and 5(!) walks.  Just saying.