Nationals Baseball

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Under the Shadow of the Flat Brim

I'm a hack!

Really I'm just bored. The Nats losing a game because the B-Team bullpen (not Glover, Kelley) blew things the day after one of the rare, not typical, travel situations isn't a surprise. I figured this for a loss. So rather than talk about Enny Romero (sure he had two-outs but I'm not sure he threw a strike to Story), or try to excuse Blake Treinen (sinkerballers may have tough times in Coors because the ball will sink less), and as I wait patiently for Zimm to hit my self imposed May 1 or 100 PA deadline on looking at his stuff, I figure I'll tackle an enduring "mystery" of the Nats in a completely not serious post.

I'll tackle the Curse of Cordero.

In 2005 at age 23 Chad Cordero was named the Nats closer and successfully closed 47 games, made the All-Star game, even finished 5th in Cy Young voting (all it means is he got a vote but yes that happened). He would be the rare bright spot for the post inaugural Nats saving 29 in 2006 and 37 in 2007. He was the 2nd youngest player to hit 100 saves. But in April of 2008 he tore his shoulder and that's death. He was never the same after that and some say that upon being non-tendered by Bowden on a sports talk radio show (Bowden was the worst) he cursed the position of closer for the Nats.

Let us examine the doomed careers of those who followed "Under the Shadow of the Flat Brim" (that's what I'm calling the book I'm pitching as a hacky beat writer trying to find a niche that'll get me PAID)

2008 - Jon Rauch - took over for Chad, successful and promptly traded to Arizona where he was a bust. Only 38 saves post Nats career, bounced around for a couple years and career was over at 33

2008/2009 - Joel Hanrahan - took over for Rauch. Handed job for 2009, before he was done had a 1-3 record, with 5 blown saves in 10 attempts. Traded to Pittsburgh that same year. Tommy John would end his career at 31

2009 - Mike MacDougal - "Mac the Ninth" took over for Hanrahan. Non tendered by team after season. Spent most of post Nats career throwing to a 6.00+ ERA in AAA.

2010 - Matt Capps - Signed to take over duties. Traded to Minnesota before years end. After 1 and a half decent years, injured and at age 28 was never seen in the big leagues AGAIN.

2011-2015 Drew Storen - Drafted to be the closer. Immediate success, but injured. Came back in 2012 to reclaim duties right before playoffs. Successful twice before losing G5 and prompting Lerners to bring in Soriano and break Storen's little brain. Would go back and forth between successful closer, playoff disappointment, and replaced head-case 8th inning man. Traded to Toronto where he promptly wasn't named closer and again busted. Currently in Cincinnati doing well because they've convinced him he's part closer. Meltdown to come if not closer by Memorial Day

2012 - Brad Lidge - We do not talk about Brad Lidge with the Nationals other than to say his last pitch was made in this uniform.

2012 - Henry Rodgriguez - H-Rod, as he was unaffectionately known, was given the chance to close early in 2012 along with Lidge while Storen was out. Walked everyone. Walked right out of game two years later at age 27

2012 - Tyler Clippard - The "Best Middle Reliever in Baseball History" Clippard took over after the Lidge/H-Rod plan imploded and successfully conquered the closer job but Storen came back and the Nats wanted him as closer so back he went to middle relief. Eventually traded to Oakland in 2015 where he successfully closed for most of the year, but was traded to the Mets to do middle relief. Now successful in middle relief in NYY. NO CURSE CAN STOP CLIPPARD.

2013 - Rafael Soriano - Brought here after the G5 debacle because Scott Boras knows when you are most vulnerable, Soriano was a functional reliver for almost 2 years before his arm gave out. He would lose his role back to Storen and pretty much be done with baseball after that.

2015 - Johnathan Papelbon - Traded for in late July 2015 because Storen couldn't save G1 of the NLDS the year before. Papelbon would choke Bryce but because the Nats had no better options he stared 2016 as closer. He made it about half a year before flaming out and ending his career.

Successful closer careers that died in Washington? Check. Arms that couldn't pitch more than a couple of years before succumbing to the curse? Check. Drew Storen? Check.

Does this speak more to the choices the Nats have made? Perhaps. Does this speak more to the fragility of the relief arm? Perhaps. Does this ignore the good pre-injury performances like Hanrahan's back to back All-Star years, and Matt Capps successful Minnesota run to misrepresent the situation? Perhaps. Does this ignore Mark Melancon who will likely be pretty good for a few years for San Fran? Perhaps.

However some will always believe that there can be no saving the saver when he toils "Under the Shadow of the Flat Brim" HHAHAHAHAHHA!

(Except Tyler Clippard - He's awesome)

Monday, April 24, 2017

Monday Quickie - A different year

The Nats have inarguably had the best team in the NL East over the last five seasons. From 2012-2016 the Nats have had good to very good offenses mixed with good to great pitching staffs and have by the grace/curse of luck with injuries and competitor timing, either been division winners or also rans. But while the Nats have gotten lucky with injuries and the rest of the NL East presenting them with an AFC East for the Patriots situation, what the Nats have never been is lucky on the field.

Here are their win totals and their "expected" win totals (Pythag, and 3rd order). 

2012 : 98 (96, --)
2013 : 86 (84, 83)
2014 : 96 (97, 97)
2015 : 83 (89, 89)
2016 : 95 (97, 98)

Now I won't go into the details of what these other win totals mean beyond saying they are attempts to strip luck out of the equation. They attempt to answer the question - with an offense this good and a pitching staff that good, how many games should you have won in a vacuum? It's a completely pointless descriptive stat. When looking back on a year, who cares how many you should have won? But as a predictive stat it can be useful, if taken with the usual caveats. It's also useful for me showing this point.

The Nats have never really gotten that lucky on the field. The best they've done against the expected win totals is +2/+3 back in  2013. That is almost "noise". They did have one year that was probably unlucky winning 83 games when 89 was more likely given the talent* but they have yet to have that year when things break their way with the way the ball bounces on the field.

I bring this up not because the Nats are getting super lucky now. Their wins would be 13 (11, 12) and you actually expect more craziness early than late. I bring this up because isn't it time? Can't the Nats have a great team AND a team that is lucky all over and just coast to a title? Take a double digit division lead by Memorial Day and not look back? In 2012 they took a few game lead in mid June but never quite shook the Braves until late August. In 2014 the Nats actually spent most of the year trying to catch Atlanta before passing the Braves and not looking back in mid-August***. Last year was the closest we've come to the dream ideal where a sweep of the Mets in late June pretty much put the division away, but you could see a possible path back for the Mets until early August.

I want to enter the All-Star Break with a 15 game lead and have a summer of nothing but watching a great team play great baseball. I think this team, and this division, can give us that. The Nats offense (unlike the pen) is possibly the best they've ever had. There are no obvious holes, Bryce is BRYCE and Zimm looks to be healthy. The rotation is as good as it usually is. The pen could stand to have that one more great arm to anchor it, but we weren't wrong saying that talent was there. It'll just be a matter of getting lucky with health and shuffling things around until they find a fit. The Mets are already injury bit. The Marlins will have to have everything go right with that rotation to stay in it. The Phillies can't be real and lost Buchholz for the year. The Braves can't get over the fact they've built their line-up with two awful bats (right now**) wasting Freeman's potential in carrying the team.

As a side note : the other thing the Nats have never done is have an actual down the wire division race. The Nats' Septembers have been exceedingly boring when it comes to division games

2012 : Entered up 6.5, closest it got was 3 but with four games left.
2013 : Entered down 15, closest it got was 8 with 12 left
2014 : Entered up 6.0,  that was arguably the closest it got
2015 : Entered down 6.5, closest it got was out 4.0 on September 6th
2016 : Entered up 9.0, closest it reasonably got was up 8 on September 8th

So if I'm looking for an interesting, never seen it yet season and I can't have the easy season, I guess I want the Nats to go down to the wire with someone over first in the NL East. Of course I don't see that happening, and I think that you guys reading the blog would prefer the "OMG SO AWESOME" season, to a nail-biter one that might end with the Nats nudged out in the last week.

 *You can blame Matt Williams if you like. I don't think that's fair, (he didn't crazy underperform in 2014), but I don't think it ultimately matters, either. 89 wins wouldn't have gotten the Nats in the playoffs, and I think that ultimately would have led to his firing. What would have been bad would have been a lucky year that snuck them in over the 90 win Mets. 

**I liked the Braves to be a real threat if Dansby Swanson could become a star.  Update : He's the worst hitter in the NL currently.  .139 / .162 / .194  a .357 OPS. 

***Thanks 75% to a complete Braves collapse and 25% to a hot streak to start August

Friday, April 21, 2017

Did their job

Going into Phillies/Braves, I thought 4-2 was the goal, 3-3 the floor, so 5-1 is a very nice little run here. I also thought the Mets would do no worse than 3-3, turns out they could. They went 1-5 in the same time frame and what was a 1.5 game deficit for the Nats is now a 2.5 game lead. (With the Marlins between them)

This makes the weekend series that much easier. You are playing a good team away from home in a three game set. Just don't get swept. That's it. Low bar? Possibly but if you play .500 ball against playoff teams, matching series wins at home and series losses away, you are easily a playoff team because you'll be doing much better than that in the 100+ games against teams that miss the playoffs. So go 1-2 here and 2-1 in the series after the jaunt to Colorado and you're on track.

The Mets come into the series hobbled. Cespedes & Duda, are likely out for the series and d'Arnaud is banged up and probably coming off the bench for a couple games.  They have more injuries but Flores isn't as impactful and the way the pitching lines up the Mets lack of the 5th starter doesn't matter.

The match-ups are as follows: Roark vs deGrom, Gio vs Harvey, Scherzer vs Wheeler. I'm a little curious about the Scherzer start because of all his pitches thrown last time, but it's more a reflex based on his ST injury than pitch count. 116 is a number Scherzer hit in about a third of his starts last year.

The story of last night's game was really the closer debut of Shawn Kelley, who started out strong, then almost blew it, before closing the door. All the luck to you Mr. Kelley. While I just said a couple days ago Treinen needed to stay in the role, the whole premise of that was essentially two straight quick failures would make things worse. So there's a simple solution to that potential issue. Don't fail Kelley. Be dominant.

Ok beat the Mets tonight and the rest is gravy to me.

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Some quiet things

The Nats bullpen has for the most part overshadowed everything going on with this team, to the point I bet most of you don't know they could have the best record in baseball after tonight (helps that no one is running away). That doesn't matter much (Nats had a best and better record at this point last year) but it's a nice place to be nonetheless.

It would be hard to miss Bryce's great start, and most people see that Zimm is doing real well. Still some things may have slipped under the radar.  Note that all these are drafts of preliminary looks at early analyses.  They are meant as a "Hmmm let's keep looking at this over the next few weeks" and not as a "AHA! That is exactly what is happening!"

Anthony Rendon has been one of the worst hitting regulars in baseball. It's not so much the average, .226 is bad but at this point in the year far from irregular, but the peripherals.  Rendon has only 3 walks and is walking at half the rate he usually does. He had only 2 XBH (2 doubles) giving him an OPS of .532. He is not BABIP bit. That number is fine. He is just not hitting the ball well (LD% under 10% - which is pretty crazy bad). He's swinging way more than he usually does but it's not really an issue with recognizing pitches (swings outside the zone not a crazy number) I'm not sure what's up.

Batting at the bottom of the order is suiting Weiters. Hitting down there requires the ability to take a walk (because you'll get pitched around), but if necessary make contact (because you don't want to leave things up to the next guy).Weiters BB rate is almost double what it usually is.  His K rate is almost half.  His swing percentages are down and his contact percentages are up. His Fly ball percentages are down too. His pull rate is down and his opposite field hits are way up. But it's not like he's crushing the ball. he's actually hitting it much less hard this year than in previous ones. If I wanted to be optimistic Id say a guy that was always imagined to be a slugger is finally getting that he isn't one and adapting his game to his actual skill set. He is no longer trying to crush homers but just get good wood on the ball and maybe drive some doubles.

Adam Eaton stopped being a walking man. It was fun while it lasted but Eaton is Eaton, and what he is is a good average guy with moderate power and just enough patience not to drive you crazy.  That's fine.

Werth is doing really well. But before you get excited about that, it's pretty much a mirage. His K rate is super high. BABIP is super high (.370). He's not hitting the ball super hard or super well. HR/FB (20%) would be among the best of his career. He's crushed some mistakes and got some lucky IF hits and is the one hot batter most likely to cool off big time.

The Nats depth is non-existent. What you see is what you get. The Nats looked to Difo to fill the hole Turner left. He's not a major league hitter right now. .250 with NO power and NO patience. Sammy Solis and Enny Romero were hoped to be good middle inning guys. They've been bad. Solis might be hurt but Enny Romero is presumably exactly who Enny Romero is which is a guy that could be traded for nothing; way too hittable and way too wild. For someone like him you scour the stats to see if there is anything that tells you things are different and no, they are not. I'd drop him.

You could point to one or two places where Max is slightly behind last year but he's way ahead in one stat. 0 homers. When Max had problems last year they were usually connected to giving up a couple of bombs. Is it luck? Maybe - he's not really giving up fewer fly balls. But maybe not - he's giving up NOTHING hard (9.1% hard) If he can keep doing something like this it's another Cy Young type year from the guy.

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

If you hate Treinen the closer, he must stay as closer

Blake Treiene has been terrible.

There isn't any objective way to say any thing else. He's pitched in 8 games. He's allowed a baserunner in the last 7. He's allowed runs in half. His WHIP is a god awful 2.526. This is because he is getting hit (14.2 H/9) and he's walking guys like crazy (8.5 BB/9). He's come in for 5 save opportunities* and he's blown 2. He doesn't look like he will succeed as closer.

And yet, if you want Blake out of there you need to keep him in there. At least for now.

I know that may sound counter intuitive but let's look at the facts. Before the season started. Hell, right now, its very likely that you would say that 6.1 IP tells you nothing. You would say that 2 BS in 5 attempts is bad but not change worthy (certainly so for an established closer). You would say a closer needs at least a month to really figure out if he can hack it. You would not be wrong. Pulling Treinen now would be an admittedly quick hook.

If you pull Treinen now you set up two scenarios. The first thing you do is you set up the return. Treinen gets pulled. Kelley or Glover come in. They aren't good. Maybe they get injured. Treinen is lights out in the 7th/8th. The clamoring begins. Maybe not from fans, but from the same supporters who wanted him in the closer role in the first place. "He's got his head on straight now" "He's figured it out" "It was only 6 innings!" These aren't arguable points. Treinen would have gotten a very brief chance so a second one seems more reasonable. 


The second thing you do is you set the base amount of time you need to evaluate a closer. Whoever comes in next; Glover, Kelley or whoever, has about 8 games to not stink or else you have to make another change right? I mean you pulled your first choice after that time frame, are you saying that if one of these guys blows 2 saves and has a 5.00 ERA over 8 games that you won't pull him? Doesn't make sense. These guys enter with a clock ticking on them, ratcheting up any pressure they may feel.

The short of it is - you create a situation where if the replacement for Treinen doesn't succeed, then you've made an absolute mess out of the pen by mid May.

What would make more sense would be to let Treinen keep going. Let him have his month (or really nine more games) to be the official closer and see what happens. Most likely he'll do middling and the team will say it's time to move on, but the decision will be definitive. No one could say Treinen didn't have a fair shot, that the team stuck by him when they could have bailed. You also set-up  a situation where the next guy understands he'll get leeway. He'll have a shot that includes maybe stumbling a bit and ample time. He'll fell he has a fair shot at succeeding.

I understand the pressure to change, but it's not as if the Nats have suffered much because of Treinen the closer. They are in first place in the East 1.5 games ahead of the team they believe will most likely be a rival. Those eight games Treinen has pitched in? The Nats are 7-1 in them. I suppose you could say using Treinen in other games, in another role, may have created more success. I suppose.  But the reality is the Nats are not in panic mode. They have the leeway to let this play out as everyone thinks a closer trial should, before they are in the midst of a failing one.

Let Treinen close. Let Treinen probably fail. It's for the best.

*The Nats actually haven't had many save opportunities since the first week of the season. A lot of blowouts and ties into the 9th.

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

The landscape 2 weeks in

The Nats are also 7-5, which isn't great. But baseball isn't absolute, it's relative and today the Nats find themselves in first place. How did that happen? And how is the rest of the NL East shaking out a couple weeks into the year? Is there anything surprising that may be real?

NL East

The Mets offense has been a little better than expected, even with Jose Reyes apparently forgetting to bring a bat up to the plate, but the back of the rotation is in a bit of trouble with Gsellman getting crushed and the depth on the DL. One could say they should be better after figuring out that but it's hard to see them keep hitting at these paces. The recent Marlins series, against some relatively weak starters, is probably more their speed. Really though this is the Mets. 7-6 over the course of the season is an 87/88 win pace.

The Marlins aren't terrible?  The bullpen has come around since the Nats series to be the strangely built Achilles heeled force I thought it would be. The offense has been fine enough even with Ozuna and Stanton switching bodies a la Parent Trap. The real surprise has been the rotation though. It hasn't blown up. However FIP suggests it's a temporary situation, so unless you think JT Relamuto can keep hitting like Mike Piazza the Marlins are looking at a fade.

The Braves started the season with three series on the road and it showed. They are undefeated since coming home. For the most part the offense is as expected. Freddie Freeman and a bunch of other decent guys. But Swanson being terrible is a surprise. The pitching looks ok  Teheran is back to being great and Colon and Dickey are holding up their ends of the bargain. I get a feeling that the offense should be better so if they can find any solution to the #4/#5 rotation spot they could be interesting. If not, won't get over that hump

Remember last year when the Phillies started hot? Funny. The Phillies offense isn't any good with Maikel Franco still in his 2016 form.  They are getting some unexpected contributions (Nava, Hernandez) to keep them afloat but that can't last. Meanwhile their pitching is a story of haves and haves not. Like every other team they have a back of the rotation problem. Unlike the other teams they also have no depth to the relief pitching. A couple of decent arms were brought in and they've been decent but I worry about any time they have to get 6th/7th innings out of these guys.

So nothing terribly surprising in the East. Swanson's bat should heat up. Marlins rotation should collapse. But things are pretty much as they should be which is why the division has kind of lined up right.

NL Central

This division is all topsy turvy with Cincy and Milwuakee with early leads and STL crashing out.  Is it lasting? Cincinnati... doubt it. Unless Eugenio Suarez is truly a superstar. They could very well have a decent pen but beyond that I don't see this being anymore than a mediocre team that's sort of hot. Milwuakee might have a bit more staying power as Thames might actually be really good and we all know what Braun can do. There isn't any particular reason to believe in the cast around them but they aren't garbage either. So maybe if they all get a little better at the same time? Career years or such? The Cubs are suffering from an offensive dip but here's a secret for you. That might continue. None of these young guys HAVE to hit better (except maybe Bryant) They could all be kind of average. Age out Zobrist and accept the new normal for Heyward and you have an ok offense at best. Pitching should still take care of them though. Pirates aren't any good as the replacement bats for McCutcheon's slide never really worked out. Still have a young rotation that could come together though. To me the most real thing here is the Cardinals might be bad. Their best reliable bats are over 30 and their other bats aren't super young either (one player under 26). The rotation is good and looks good but the apparently have no pen. Defense is pretty bad too. This is 1/3rd a team.

NL West

The DBacks being ok shouldn't surprise you. They were built to win last year and then... didn't. But a lot of the same pieces are still there. It has a young offense that could surprise, a potentially solid rotation, a workable pen if they can find a closer (Archie Bradley might be that guy). Out of all the surprise contenders I like them the most. And for the flipside here are the Rockies who are completely powered by 1-run game luck. The Rockies, like the Marlins, went all in on the pen and it's very very good! But I don't know if the rotation holds up. Maybe it does. Maybe Bud Black is a genius who kept the Padres from years of 50 win seasons. Offensively though I don't see this group keeping pace. CarGo is done. Story was never that good. LeMahieu is at best a very good Singly Joe. The bench is garbage.  The Dodgers are fine. Again back of the rotation issues but offense, bullpen, and presumably the first three arms will all be good. They'll be back up. Padres are not fine, but we knew that. The pitching in particular is top to bottom awful. The only thing that'll probably keep the offense from being as bad is Wil Myers finally getting it, assuming he has (I think he has). The Giants fixed the pen (Melancon has been fine since the first outing) but not really anything else. They are still trying to work Matt Cain in for god's sake. If they can sneak into the playoffs Bumgarner and the experience make them dangerous but I'm not sure they can. Maybe they can hit their way in - you can almost see that if they can find that last OF. But they certainly can't do that without a healthy Posey.

I never made predictions but I'll give you some standings on Memorial Day guesses and see if they hold up

NL East
Nats - Mets - Braves - Marlins - Phillies
NL Central
Cubs - Brewers - Pirates - Reds - Cardinals
NL West
Dodgers - D-backs - Giants - Rockies - Padres


Monday, April 17, 2017

Do your job

The Nats as a team did their job this weekend. They took 2 of 3 from the Phillies. I would have liked a sweep but I can't argue that they deserved anymore than they got.

This simple act - winning a series at home versus a team that is not as good as you - has put the Nats in a good position because the Mets failed to do their job and got swept by the Marlins. Baseball is full of simple things that are very hard to do. Throw the ball over the plate. Hit the ball with a bat. Win the games you should. Do you job and good things will happen because I guarantee most everyone else won't be able to.

But while the Nats as a team did their job, the bullpen once again failed. Oh I'm sorry, did I say "once again"? I meant twice again, as they failed on both Saturday and Sunday.

On Friday Glover, Treinen, and Kelley got into a close game and didn't blow it. Treinen did try though, putting two men on with one out before getting the double play. And thus you see the overall issue with Treinen. He's not a shutdown guy. Men will get on base. He will live and die with DPs and slow GBs. But DPs don't always happen and slow GBs are sometimes hits. On Friday he got lucky, on Sunday he didn't.

Gio was pitching well and Dusty tried to squeeze one more batter out of him than he should have to avoid going to the pen. Suddenly, thanks to an error (more on that in a second), you had the tying run at 2B with one out. Who do you go to close this out? Dusty chose his favorite Koda Glover who promptly wild pitched the runner to 3B then, after a K, gave up the game tying single. Rizzo chuckled to himself I'm sure thinking "should have brought in Blake". But his boy came on in the 9th and gave up the game leading run before loading the bases. It took MY favorite Shawn Kelley to come in and stop the game from becoming a blow out.

In the meantime, on Saturday Joe Blanton gave up another home run. His third of the season it was after a HBP and it gave Philadelphia the lead. Matt Albers got through the 9th - another DP needed though.

The state of the Nats pen is as follows. Blake Treinen, the annointed closer, is a mess doing basically nothing right other than amping up his Ks. His WHIP is 2.00. 2.00! Joe Blanton has near perfect control of the strike zone (no walks), but within it he's leaving the ball up and it's going out (3 homers).  Koda Glover is somewhat effective, but the one this you figured he would do - strike people out - he isn't doing (though he got two yesterday).  Kelley is doing that but he's also been giving up the long ball (though more effective recently). Romero, Solis, and Perez have each been awful leaving the Nats with no reliable LHRP.

It's a mess. I think that Glover and Kelley are finding their forms. I think. Kelley in particular looks to be past his "Hmm, everything I give up is a flyball" period. If that's the case there go the HRs and he's good again. Blanton isn't pitching particularly bad per se. He's just making one or two crushable mistakes each outing. Of course that's not workable in the long run, but right now it gives me more hope than if there was some deeper issue across the board. Treinen though - is Treinening it. He's not THIS bad but he is this type of pitcher. That may work for some teams but this one...

The Nats defense is bad. We thought it might be, but with Tre Turner out, it definitely is. I'm not sure if Turner is great, good, or passable at short but it's clear Difo is no more than passable. That creates a domino effect across the infield. The defense up the middle is shakier. Murphy can't shade to help both Zimm and cover the hole. More balls go into the hole for an old, DH to be, to field Jayson Werth. Eaton, not a plus CF to start with, has to shade over to help Werth more making his job covering the CF harder which weakens the OF.

First things first, the Nats need a healthy Turner back to reset these dominoes. I thought it would happen tomorrow so let's see.

(The good news? Even with AAAA Difo replacing Turner the offense has merely slowed, not stopped. Bryce and Murphy both look great which can be enough to carry a team a long way, shaky relief or not)