Nationals Baseball: Average teams win games half the time

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. 


Nattydread said...

Unpredictability is an interesting feature of sporting activities. Projected stars often do not become stars and, conversely, good players (and stars) emerge from the lower ranks of prospects. A desired feature of general managers is an ability to sift through the coal dust of prospects and to ID gems.

Predicted stars will blossom (Abrams??) or flop (Keibert, hope not Gray).

And its luck, yes, happening across all teams. But when pitchers like Jake Irvin or Mitchell Parker step up to become #3-4-5 starters it makes a big difference in the predicted season outcome. (Parker's start was a fluke --- or LA hadn't scouted him properly?). Guys like Riley Adams, Trey Lipscomb, Joey Meneses or Lane Thomas become solid "good". It happens.

The second level youngsters can get the team to 75 wins --- and the incoming stars? --- they could add five more wins.

Anonymous said...

On the “CJ Abrams, who should have been signed to an extension last year,” the usual reminder that signing an extension isn’t solely up to the Nationals. They’re clearly willing to sign extensions - see, e.g., Keibert Ruiz* - and so it’s a fair inference that no extension =/= no effort was made.

*For many Nats fans, signing Ruiz to an extension merely enable them to smoothly transition from “sign players to team-friendly extensions!!!” to “NOT THAT GUY!!1!1!l

Anonymous said...

This is the measured and fair take that we'd expect, Harper. But even you have to admit the on-the-field "good luck" so far is pretty slight. Less than 1 win to the good on pythag, basically even after sequencing adjustments. And 2-3 in 1-run games to partially balance that 2-run luck that you mentioned. They've been playing like a 72 win team. And that is a very important, if somewhat moderate, step forward given that I think we all agree that last year included 4-5 wins of luck.

I'd also point out that the most important over-performances are plausible development that might continue or nearly so (Abrams, Gore, Garcia, Winker, even Irvin and maybe Parker, though one start is just one start). Harvey isn't this good (0.10 FIP!) but we knew he was very good.

During spring, FG had that article about top 200 players and the Nats didn't have any. Obviously short term variance is going to be a big part of this, but as of right now, you look at their combined WAR leaderboard and there are 4 Nats in the top 100 and 3 more in the top 200. And while I wouldn't bet on very many of them maintaining this pace and producing 4 WAR this season, only Williams feels like a total meaningless fluke to me. And, like you call out, there are some significant underperformances happening too. There's plenty to like about this team, and if the prospects keep coming like we hope / plan, a run at contention next year is completely plausible.

I'll also say that it's much much better for the Nats to have one big win and two total busts from Winker/Rosario/Gallo, instead of three mediocre players that no one wants at the deadline. (Though Gallo has only been a half bust so far; this isn't too far from what was expected.) I just hope the team doesn't wait until after July to release Rosario like they did with Dickerson. I'd cut him as soon as Garrett or Robles is back. He's better than this, but I can't see him recovering enough to establish any meaningful value by the deadline.

And, @ND, cake's not baked yet on Keibert. Dude's just 25, and if he can hit on the low end of average (like he did last year and the year before) and field on the low end of average (like he did two years ago and has so far this year), that extension has tons of surplus value.

Ole PBN said...

@Anon 10:55AM - wholeheartedly agree with everything here. Can’t say enough how hard it is to get a top tier catcher. About as slim as developing a true #1 ace like Max. So long as Ruiz mediocre and we have Riley Adams (what about that guy?!), then we avoid the black hole/automatic out platoon that was Ramos/Lobaton. Idk about you all, but I’d take Gomes/Suzuki over that any day of the week.

And as a friendly reminder to everyone monitoring “the kids” progress: when it comes time to content (hopefully in 2025), that the biggest piece of the puzzle likely isn’t even in the organization today. It will come from FA. It doesn’t have to be Wood/Crews/Hassell in the OF and House, Abrams, Garcia, Morales on the dirt with Ruiz behind the dish, followed by a rotation of Gray, Gore, Cavalli, Irvin, Parker/Rutledge and Harvey/Finnegan holding down the pen…. No team has that kind of luck and success with player development.

…. Only Baltimore does that lmao.

Anonymous said...

I have been reluctant to subscribe to any hype on Jake Irvin, but at some point you have to start thinking that he could at least be a long-ish term #4 for the Nats. A younger, cost controlled, viable #4 would be great for the long term prospects of the rotation. Having not to spend $8m-$10m a year on a Michael Wacha level pitcher would be extremely helpful.

As a “regular fan,” I would be extremely excited for a 72 win season, particularly if it was driven by actual progress from some of the young players.

Kevin Rusch said...

I think there have been some positive "surprises".
- Garcia seems to be finally turning into who they'd hoped. If he's a for-real 3-win player, that's value that the forecasters wouldn't have factored in. His BABIP is high, and his K rate has gone up and BB have gone down, so this may not be sustainable. However, his "hard hit rate" has soared. Is that sustainable? I don't know that stat too well. If it means he's changed the way he is approaching at-bats, that's really encouraging.

- Has Jake Irvin made a leap into "solid mid-rotation guy"? You can discount mowing down Oakland, but he was really solid against the Dodgers, who, last I checked, were okay hitters.

- Lipscomb looks, at the very lease, to be a really good sub. Given that's where Nats' top prospects (non Soto division) have peaked in the last 10 years, that's pretty great from a 3rd-rounder. He might become a solid regular to boot, which would be even better. There's no future in Senzel -- give him 3-4 weeks to prove he's done and unload him.

- Ildemaro Vargas is, by all accounts, a Gerardo Parra-level "special teammate". That's someone we should hang on to long-term in one capacity or another. I think his 125 OPS+ is probably not sustainable, but anything around 100 for a sub is someone to keep around.

- If, and I know that's a big if, but IF Mitchell Parker can become the next Jake Irvin, then the Nats' future looks a lot brighter indeed. I'm eager to see how he looks in his next couple of starts.

Hopefully there'll be a little bait-cutting on the veterans who aren't performing so we can find out more about the young guys who may or may not be on the way.

Kevin Rusch said...

And while we know Trevor Williams isn't this good, we also know that Lane Thomas isn't this bad. So I think those are kind of a wash.

Mike Condray said...

Following up on the "Anonymous" comment putting down standard marker replying to the "CJ should have been long term extension last year" (that it's not just up to the team--teams cannot FORCE a player to sign an extension).

Teams do have to make an offer to extend a player, of course. But players also have to be willing to accept an offer. Or even *gasp* open up the conversation by having their agent sound out the team on a possible extension.

Sure, agents almost always counsel players to aim for the Big Rock Candy Mountain of free agency. CJ has to have noted BEFORE last season all those $300M SS free agency contracts.

But it's also clear that agents work for players. Boras *hates* working extensions, but Strasburg directed him to do so and Boras complied (including opt outs, but he worked the extension). That is true.

And Ruiz cut Boras loose before signing his extension. That is true. Pure speculation on my part, but it is quite possible Ruiz fired Boras because Boras wasn't willing to work an extension for a young, largely unproven player.

The point is: Players Have Agency. If a player WANTS to explore an extension they have the power to start the ball rolling. That is true.

And when players tell their agents to get an extension done the Nats *have* been willing and able to get extensions done. That is also true.

So no, it's not 100% on the team to get extensions done with promising young players. It just is not true to say or imply that it is.

Hence constant pushback on continual slipping in comments about "shoulda signed X to an extension last year/whenever" as if it is purely or even almost largely up to the team (not the player) to get promising young player extensions done. That is not true.

And it is wrong to keep repeating that message as if it is true.

Kevin Rusch said...

@Mike Condray - agree 1000%. Keep in mind the Nats offered Harper a pile of money, with a lot of deferrments. Instead of saying "nix the deferments", Harper did what his agent told him to do and played the free agent biding party. He ended up taking pretty much the same money, and said he hated the process.

Is that the Lerners' fault?

We don't know if Soto ever even countered the (yes, pretty low all things considered) offer the Lerners made. Given that Soto's boss told him to go hit the free market without even making a counter to the extension, well, guess he's gonna go.

I would like it if the Lerners were like the Dodgers and Yankees and just paid whatever it took. Or if they were like the Braves, and could get their superstars to sign extensions for super cheap. But that's not the Nats.

The real thing is to avoid Boras clients or just get used to them leaving after 6 years.

Anonymous said...

Does it really make sense for a team to keep both Vargas and Lipscomb? No team needs two SS-qualified subs on the 26-man, although the second sub could be stashed in AAA. (If an SS-qualified sub has a good hit tool, they're likely not a sub. Vargas and Lipscomb both seem to have "meh" hit tools--perfect qualification for an MLB reserve shortstop/2B/3B/LF.) I like 'em both. Lipscomb is young and Vargas, as you point out, adds a lot to the locker room. The 2025 choice might not be an easy one.

Kevin Rusch said...

Anon - Lipscomb may still have upside. His play to start the season was great for a sub but not good enough for a regular. So I think some time in AAA and then an extended MLB look to see if he deserves to play full-time somewhere is warranted.

As for Vargas, if he keeps hitting like this, you have to find him a spot. Surely there aren't 9 better hitters than him, and given his defensive versatility, there should be some way to fit him into the lineup.

ocw5000 said...

Even when Mitchell Parker comes crashing down to earth, you gotta be happy for the guy. What a start to a career! Was thinking that Irvin is becoming a sort of Tanner Roark. Would be great to have another prospect blossom from out of nowhere.

I don't want to jinx it but Luis Garcia has a positive OAA per Statcast. It's 1 out above average, but that's still > 0 last I checked.