Nationals Baseball: June 2024

Friday, June 28, 2024

Well I was right

The Padres were a perfect team to beat the Nats.  It was elsewhere but basically the Nats win bc their pitching staff doesn't give free passes or a lot of home runs. The Padres score their runs by stringing together hits.  The Padres lose bc their pitchers, especially a bad pen, give up too many long balls. The Nats don't really hit longballs.The Padres hit 3 homers and took 9 walks over 3 games (both under league average). The Nats managed only 2 long balls.  Sweep. 

Ok not a big thing to be right about and the games were close and it's just one series, not particularly telling. 

The real problem, for those wanting the Nats to try for a playoff spot, is that the Padres were one of the numerous teams in competition for a WC spot. The Nats sweep put them into WC2. 

That will be the talking point for the run to the ASG.  After dealing with the Rays (in spitting distance of the much more competitive AL wild card), they'll play the Mets and Cardinals for 11 games (4NYM, 4STL, 3 NYM). Both these teams are ahead of the Nats in the playoff race and any negative showing, even a 5-6 run, likely sets the Nationals up on the outside looking in. If the Nats are making a serious play to playoff contention it will probably be decided now and then the usual All-Star break trade talk can take whatever form it will. 

In other news - James Wood has played back to back days once since being called up.  You could say it's being cautious, you could say it's being extra cautious, you could say it's slow playing his build up to a point that it makes sense when you don't call him up until he can definitely be in the ROY race next year. I'd agree with all of those. 

This all ties together in how I see the next couple months go. 

Nats don't make an undeniable push toward the playoffs. The front office trades away the bullpen and what they can elsewhere. At that point there isn't much of a reason to call up Wood in early August as opposed to early September so they hold on the move probably citing Crews needing more AAA seasoning and wanting to bring up these guys so they can play everyday together. Called up for Yankees/Cubs series? Maybe depends on the rookie dates and you might not even need the push for that to be well attended though. 

So prepare for a muddle through of the dog days with the highlight being what lottery ticket Dylan Floro can bring back before the sweet sweet relief of Labor Day weekend and actual prospects that matter

Update I know nothing

Monday, June 24, 2024

Monday Quickie - 4 games from the halfway point

The Nats are what they are at this point. A just below average team who have been lead by starting pitching and a core relief set. The pitching has not been lucky, but instead has used a Top 10ish walk rate and a Top 5ish HR rate*, to limit run scoring. The K-rate is low. The defense isn't great. But if you don't put those extra guys on base and more importantly if you don't give up those home runs that score everyone, you can win games. This is the end point of a league that has devolved into approaching offense by the three true outcomes only.  It's ok if you K as long as you walk and hit homers too. If everyone is trying to do that instead of get base hits then the Nats approach is ideal.

Their offense is just passable enough to keep them winning about as many games as they lose, as the pitching keeps them in game after game. CJ Abrams remains a top player and Jesse Winker has been healthy and therefore good. The rest you can take or leave ranging from average to terrible. They used stolen bases to help boost scoring in the first two months but have lately relied more on sequencing luck than anything else, getting the right hits at the right time, yesterday being the perfect example. 

In terms of stats this is very much like the 2011 Washington Nationals team who rode a decent set of starters and a below average offense to a .500 record. 

What changed between 2011 and 2012 to start the near decade run of success and can** that happen again? 

  • Introduction of a superstar OF? Check! 
  • Continued success of a young IF? Check! 
  • Successful bench bats? That's variable but no reason why not!
  • Savvy shifting of players to cover weak position? Not exactly sure where that would be coming from. 
  • Bounce back from well respected veteran FA bat? No, that's not here. 
  • Bounce back from OTHER veteran FA bat? See last one. 
  • Unexpected bat surge from an up the middle position?  How much do you believe in Ruiz?

OK well offensively there needs to be some work done

  • Former first round pick rounding into star pitcher? Check! 
  • Continued improvement from young reliable starting arm while a second one gives the Nats an average year? Sounds like a good projection for Irvin and Parker! Check!
  • FA pitcher has Cy Young vote getting year?  Ok well that HAS to come later anyway. 
  • FA pitcher has solid year in 4/5 role? Two FA pitchers? Well I can't rule it out yet can I?
  • Retention of every single good youngish bullpen piece but one (out of like 6) and as a group they all pitched just as well?  Well the bullpen isn't young so that's a wrench, and we have to see what they do at the deadline here, but I'm not hopeful on points 2 or 3.

Yeah pitching too. But that should be expected if you are planning to jump from 81ish wins to 95ish wins. 

There are pieces in place but there are also things missing. There are young bats who can likely fill the important star roles and create a solid bench. There aren't reliable veterans signed for next year that were good and should be better. These can be signed (Winker is an example. Candelario last year) but you can definitely whiff on those (Gallo, Maikel Franco). There are solid arms that should at least get you three deep of NOT back of the rotation pitching. There are a bunch of bullpen arms that are holding down the pen. There aren't a handful of 24-27 aged bullpen arms throwing well and under control for a while.

It would seem for a big jump the Nats need both FA commitment to a couple bats AND a couple arms for next year. I suppose Jesse Winker can be re-signed cheaply but he's not as reliable as Werth or LaRoche would have been. It's a bigger gamble to make him one of the two. You could also try Herz/Cavalli/etc to play the Edwin Jackson role.  It isn't asking for that much but pitching prospects are notoriously fickle. If they do have to spend, that's a fair amount of money

It would also seem - sort of worrying - that the bullpen is set up for now, with no later in the picture. Guys well over 30 under short contracts and running out of team control. Keeping is an option and probably wouldn't be too costly, but the bullpen is aging not peaking. So trading is an option. You can certainly try to rebuild it for next year but we've seen the track record for that is like three bad years for every two good ones. This will be an interesting piece.  Honestly I'd almost like to see Herz moved NOW to fill one of these roles. Literally there is one pen arm under 30. It's Harvey and he's 29 and a half. 

Good season. Fun season. Like 2011. But the Nats had more in place in 2011 and all it took was a couple key moves (and of course some luck - every team needs it) to make the next two steps to constant contender.  To get next year to be a great season is not going to just happen with a couple key moves and luck. There's a bullpen riddle to solve and there's a handful of moves that need to happen.  But it's there for the taking potentially.

(ed note - I think I'm mostly saying - don't expect 2025 to be 2012. Expect it to be an intermediate step if the Nats commit to a couple FA. Something like mid to high 80s in wins and a real good WC chance.)

*Or bottom 5ish - depends on how you are looking at it. They don't give up homers that's what we're saying. 

**Just saying 'can' here. The pieces are in place. 

Wednesday, June 19, 2024

RIP Willie Mays

Mays has no real Nationals connection but anytime possibly the best player in the history of your sport dies it's worth a moment. 

There are basically three camps you can fall into for "Best Player Ever" : Ruth, Mays, Other.  There is no definitive answer and comparing across time and space is inherently flawed, but these two have the greatest number of backers.

Mays for his time frame - basically post war to expansion* was one of several great outfielders that defined the generation. He outlasted the self-destructive Mantle and out-fielded the underrated but still right fielder Hank Aaron**.  But it's not by any means meant to be read that he just sneaked by these guys because of longevity or fielding. He was as great as they were at the plate. As has been said, he had no flaws. He was the ultimate 5 tool ballplayer.

Three guys, three of the greatest ever, all in the OF at their peak at the same time? Two happened. Ty Cobb and Tris Speaker. Ted Williams and Stan Musial. But three was special (not to mention that Frank Robinson would show up a little later and be one of the Top 20 players of all-time and be completely overshadowed because of these guys) and Mays was considered the best. Not much more needs to be said about how he was viewed as a player. 

When I think of Mays in the recent past it's mostly been about how angry I get about the "Willie Mays stumbling in the OF" idea of thinking. That great players should retire early because god forbid you see them play as anything other than great.  It's a fragile person that believes that, who ties their own self identity to how their favorite players present themselves. I will always believe you should play baseball until they tear the game away from you. Because once it's gone - at some point in your late 30s likely - there's no going back. You can't do it again later. This is it.  Squeeze all you can from it. Willie did.  His last year hitting a pale .211 with 6 homers in 66 games. Good for him.

* I like looking at pictures of rookie Mays and veteran Mays to see the change in uniforms from the flowy wool to ease movement to tight synthetic fabrics we're used to today.

**Why is it "Willie, Mickey and the Duke" and not "Willie, Mickey, and the Hammer"? Well more than musical flow - it's a NY thing... sort of. The writer of the song was inspired by these guys (and Joe DiMaggio) showing up together at an Old-Timers Day at Shea in 1977. Obviously no reason to invite the non-NY Hank to that. Funny thing is if the song was written in 1956 or so "Willie, Mickey and the Duke" would have been understandable. At that point they were clearly the best players of the last half-decade. Aaron was a couple years younger and just starting his career at this point.  Snider had the same injury track as Mantle but also didn't burst onto the scene as brightly as Willie or Mickey. Hence why he's merely a Hall of Famer and not a mythical figure.

Monday, June 17, 2024

Monday Quickie - To sell or not to sell

Morosi is saying teams are interested in the Nats pen. 

The Nats are currently in a playoff spot, albeit under .500.  

Sell or no? 

The Nats aren't probably better than San Diego, Arizona, or Cincinnati as it stands now but 

  1. As long as the starting pitching keeps doing this they are barely worse
  2. We might see the end of Corbin and the beginning of kids that can hit* improving the team
  3. There aren't particularly guys in the wings waiting to do what this bullpen has done

I think they deal. Bullpens are generally highly variable and the same set of guys aren't likely to be this good again. They can use the kids and changes to see if they can stay competitive in a weak NL.

Please remember when answering :  

  • if you want that playoff game that's not the best way to get it. 
  • if you want future success trading these guys vs keeping them will likely barely matter. 

*although we're still waiting on Wood to play again and they managed to really hide an injury that has kept him off the field for a month.

Thursday, June 13, 2024

Just don't be terrible

I'm not talking about what I want from the Nats. I'm talking about a plan to be ok. A plan the Nats are following.  If you can be mediocre, you can be entertaining. Maybe not directly off a run of great play, but definitely off a run of bad play, which is where the Nats are. 

The Nats last year were 12th in runs scored in the NL and 14th in runs allowed.  This year they are 13th in runs scored (!) and 8th in runs allowed. The difference is noticeble but doesn't seem to explain a rise from a lucky 70 win team to one that is knocking at the door of 80.  Surely average + below average doesn't equal average? 

But it's rank getting confused with actual talent level.  

 Last year the Nats ended the season about a third of a run scored (.36) from average. They were below average but were worst or second worst in a crowded field of  mediocre as close to 8th as to 14th.  That's not actually a huge problem. Pitching though the Nats ended the season over half a run (.56) worse than average, and were further from 10th than 10th was from 3rd. They were significantly worse than everyone. 

This year the batting is only one rank lower but closer to average (.31). Really though they are a little worse off being in a group 11-14 a drop from the more average teams are. In comparison to the teams they play they feel and are a step worse offensively. But pitching wise they are 8th and .10 BETTER than average. They kind of clump in with the Pirates as right around average not quite good enough to be good like the Reds or Padres have been, but not bad enough to be a problem like the Cubs and Cardinals. 

The drop in runs scored does signify a slightly worse situation, a little more likely to have issues outscoring opponents based on this distribution, but just a little. The pitching s a significantly better situation, going from outright losing games because of the pitching to having the pitching consistently keep them in games. 

What that means is that while the offense struggles in a general sense there are a lot of teams that they have a chance against. Only teams with good pitching and not bad hitting would have a clear advantage. Phillies and Dodgers of course, the Brewers.  The Reds and the Padres.  And that's it.  The Nats won't finish 6th best in the National League but if the pitching holds there is no reason they couldn't expect to win a series against a team that good. And yes, it is in part because the NL is crap this year with only 5 teams like this but the AL is only going to have like 7-8 teams that fit this bill. That's your average total in a year. 

That's really all it takes to be competitive. Don't be terrible. Don't have a gaping problem with your team that puts you in a hole game in and game out. The Nats haven't been able to do that having terrible pitching compared to the league average since the pandemic year. Now they have it.

Monday, June 10, 2024

Monday Quickie - turnaround

The Nats were sliding but then came the Braves and that righted the ship. There's an Elephant in the room Nats related people are avoiding talking about but we'll get to that in a minute. 

The Nats hold on to respectability and the outside chance of a playoff shot in the weeeeaaak NL where currently one game UNDER .500 San Diego holds the 2nd Wild Card all to themselves. Parker, Irvin, and Gore all looked good, which is what you want.  Herz did not but he was going up a first time starter who looked worse. 

In the meantime the Nats offense is being carried by Jesse Winker who has 11 hits and 5 walks in his last 27 PAs (ok all singles but still that's a .550 average!). You could say the team is getting timely hitting but really it's getting the runs it deserves. If you get a bunch of singles all the time someone is going to come home other times you'll get enough XBH at the right time and the pitching is good enough to win games this way.  Not enough mind you - they are still 30-35 - but more than a lot of teams!

Now it's Detroit and kind of an NL/AL test. These are similar-ish teams in league in my mind, not in terms of build but just base talent to the rest of their league. Interested to see it play out. 

Ok so the elephant.  There's a lot of people celebrating these Atlanta wins as some sort of triumph but guys... the Braves are bad. Maybe not Opening Day Atlanta, but since late April the Braves are not good 16-21 (a 70 win pace).  They were 14th out of 15 NL teams in runs scored in May, 11th so far in June. The only reason they haven't cratered out of the playoffs is what we noted above. The rest of the NL stinks too.  Beating this Braves team is good but not because it shows the Braves beating a good team, or as I laughably saw this weekend talk about holding down a "strong lineup". It's good because the Braves are a mediocre team and if you want to be king of the mediocre teams (which possibly might sneak you in to the playoffs) you gotta beat the other mediocre teams.

Friday, June 07, 2024

If not Corbin then who?

 Ok yes "ANYONE" is a fair answer but let's see what the Nats actually got. As I said yesterday Corbin isn't doing anything for the team.  You know he's pitching poorly but he's also not soaking up innings.  He's averaging just under 5.5 innings per start. That's about an out better than Williams and Parker, but an out worse than Gore and Irvin. That might be understandable. "He's pitching bad so he's going over 100 and needs to be pulled" but that's not the case. He's only thrown more than 93 pitches 2 times in 13 starts.  If you aren't using Corbin to soak up innings then and instead are treating him like any other pitcher on the staff - what the hell are we doing here? 


So what's the entire AAA staff?

Joan Adon - traditionally the first man up the last couple of years it's mostly been because they don't want to start someone else's clock.  He's not been good in the minors since 2019, with ERAs in AAA of 4.68 in 2022, 4.62 in 2023, and 5.64 this year.  He's not an option so much as a defensible organization strategy. He's both very wild and hittable without a lot of swing and miss stuff. It's not the WORST combination - homers are the biggest issue for a pitcher and he's ok there - but it's close.  He should not replace Corbin in the rotation. 

DJ Herz - the Candelario return doesn't seem to have major league starting stuff. He's exceedingly wild  (had a 7.3 BB/9 in AAA before call up) so that means his stuff has to play as unhittable. It sort of does in the minors but first crack in the majors with a couple step up in bats didn't go well. Most everyone thinks reliever. A good one but reliever. Maybe worth trying out but if you sort of want a guy to go longer, he's exactly wrong for that. 

Jackson Rutledge - the lastest "maybe this guy" nothing about his performance in AAA (over two seasons 5.36 ERA, 9H/9 1.1 HR/9, 5.2 BB/9, 8.7 K/9) says he's anything. And plus he's 25.  This guy is an org guy through and through. 

Spencer Watkins - 31 year old Jackson Rutledge. Paid his dues and hung around in the minors moving up because someone had to until eventually he got a decent couple months in the minors and a few cups of coffee in the majors. First one was bad. Last one was bad. Middle one was 5th starter type. Hittable guy with mediocre control. There's nothing here. 

Thaddeus Ward - a fringy prospect a half-decade ago who never got back on track after the pandemic and Tommy John.  Not everyone does! Thoroughly mediocre in AAA with a K/BB ratio approaching 1. (that's not good. that's actually very bad) 

What about the guys I might have heard of? 

Cole Henry is hurt again hasn't pitched for a month.  Cade Cavalli is "taking a rest" from rehabbing and hasn't pitched for a week. Check in on that again soon.  Jarlin Susana JUST had his first really good start in A-ball after a mostly bad start to the year. Travis Sykora has only been pitching for a month to middling results. So we are left with

Andry Lara - I feel like he keeps bouncing up and down but he did well enough in High A to get promoted and is holding his own in AA. He does seems hard to hit but he doesn't have the complete package going that would suggest you could jump him from AA straight to the majors. He's had wildness issues and is fighting through that in AA. 

Ok well is anyone in AA making that case?


Brad Lord - Lord is pitching to a 0.64 ERA over his last 7 AA starts, with 41 Ks, 15BBs and 2 HRs in 42 innings. His big thing is he keeps the ball down (his GB rate in 2023 was over 60%) and is terribly hard to homer off of. Upping the Ks a bit is good. How far can that skill set take him?

Andrew Alvarez was guile-ing his way through AA pretty successfully, got the call to AAA and got CRUSHED in his first start there. 

So the short of it is there are no great Corbin replacements. Herz is getting first dibs both because he's likely the best option and before you convert a guy to a reliever you want to exhaust looking at him as a starter. But after him I think there's a hope Cavalli will be ready. I suppose if Williams is ok. Josiah Gray just slots in. But as you see pitching injuries happen. It's sort of likely someone will be out or needing a rest. There's a lot of moving pieces here.

If it were me I guess I stick with Herz and probably try out the out of nowhere Lord. Remember the goal here is NO CORBIN. Let these guys throw until Gray or Williams come back and force one of them out. They might both be terrible if so there isn't a great option unless Lara has come together but by then we're heading into the ASB and maybe things have changed. Also maybe BOTH Gray and Williams are back so that doesn't matter. 

Anyway pick who you like as long as it's not Corbin. 

Thursday, June 06, 2024

That was bad

We have an opposite of the Godfather 3 situation.  Just when you think you are into the Nats they push you back out. This sweep sort of gives you the picture of what we thought the Nats would be.  Gore, filling the role of "bad outing by a young starter" had a rare off-night forcing the Nats to play catch-up.  Herz, "replacement starter", gave just enough to be acceptable in that role, which still means being down early. And Corbin was Corbin.  Get that guy out of here. 

The Nats offense is kind of what we thought it would be like, if some of the whos are mixed up. A pretty bad offense plus pretty bad pitching and there you go. A team that can get swept by a woeful Mets team that  were in a 12-27 stretch where only 1 of the 12 wins was by more than 2 runs. 

The sweep means the Nats lost a leg up from the two earned by beating Seattle and Atlanta. They don't have to get it back to have a good stretch, just hold court. 3-4 over the last 7 would do it. Of course saying "Oh good Irvin and Parker are next up" sounds really weird but that's what the Nats season has been about. Weirdly good starting performances. The Braves offense is fairly average without Acuna, hell maybe with it, so there's no real challenge here. Just do what you've been doing.

At this point though the Nats need to decide on what they are doing the rest of the year. I'm not saying "GO ALL-IN" or anything but how much do they care? DFAing Robles show they can move on. But keep it going. 

  • Corbin is terrible and not doing anything for anyone here. You managed to squeak out a barely acceptable 2nd to last year of the contract after hanging on to him for too long. Congrats. But you can't keep him going any longer. There's no point. Yes the Williams injury means you need a pitcher. Bring up anyone else. If you aren't going to mark each of his starts a lost cause to save bullpen arms and have him throw to 110-120 pitches per then I don't know why he isn't on the street. 
  • Cut ties with Joey.  Try some new bats at DH/1B while you have a chance.  Presumably in August we'll see the guys we want to see and space will be tight. Give them some hacks now rather than waste them on Meneses who presumably will be gone for 2025. 
  • Ruiz needs a reset. Either give him a couple weeks as back-up here or send him down to AAA to try to get his head on straight. Playing through it as the starter hasn't worked. 
  • Decide (and we don't have to know about it) whethere Harvey/Floro/Law are staying or going. If going - they can keep pitching as is. If staying you have to be a lot more judicious on their innings. The Nats don't have to have 3 guys in the Top 30 of appearances, especially when they've played 1-2 games fewer than everyone else. (and if they are going - who's filling their roles next year or are you gambling on FA relievers again) 

 If this year is about 2025, which it appears to be, let's see it. 

Monday, June 03, 2024

Monday Quickie - a good week and a sweep diverted

The Nats took a couple games from the Mariners - the class of the AL West.  Of course that's looking like not saying much. More importantly they also won the series against Atlanta, taking 3 of 4. The Braves are reeling - losing Acuna they followed the Nats series loss with a squeaking by of Oakland at home - and the Nats took advantage of it. These are things we want the Nats to do and the things that separate the Nats from the bottom of the pack where they've been mired the past few years. This week is the Mets and Atlanta in DC.  If they can go 5-2 then you have to start thinking about .500 for this year because they'll be right there with a pretty mixed bag of opponents the rest of the year. 

In the minors - Wood is hurt and taking a rest but Dylan Crews, Daylen Lile, and Jeremy de La Rosa have all had good showings recently. One thing that no one can deny about the Nats is that their minors is lousy with outfielders.