Nationals Baseball

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Werth Watch

Werth Watch : 1-4 with 2 K.  Good enough - if he can not follow it with an 0-fer

Bryce Watch : DNP. "Flu-like symptons".  We'll see if he plays tonight.

Robles Watch : DNS, 1-1 as a pinch hitter

Ryan Zimmerman Wa.... wait? what?

I heard the idea of sitting Werth than platooning Kendrick and Lind but why not look at a more natural place for Lind? Here are Zimm's splits in the July-now versus various handed pitchers

LHP: .324 5 2B 4 HR, 9 BBs, and 15K in 79 PAs  (.324 / .392 / .574, 11.4 BB%, 19.0 K%)
RHP: .229 4 2B, 11 HR, 15 BBs and 51K in 183 PAs  (.229 / .301 / .452, 8.2 BB%, 27.9 K%)

This kind of split isn't new. Ryan had a massive split in 2015 (.672  OPS vs 1.058 OPS) and as would be expected has hit lefties better than righties for most of his career. He's not a useless hitter at all vs RHP because his power remains, but he's definitely favoring one side now. But this isn't just Zimm in a vacuum. How about Adam Lind (and we're just going to look at RHP because who's starting Lind vs LHP)?

RHP : .290 6 2B, 8 HR, 13 BBs and 24 Ks in 153 PAs (.290 / .346 / .507, 8.5 BB%, 15.7 K%)

It's better, clearly, but not that much better. Strip out the names, and yeah you start Lind, but you can't just strip out the names, can you? 

Now are we being fair here, Zimm might have just had a crazy bad month in the last half, or Lind a crazy good one. Why not take the whole year?  That is one option though I worry about doing that for Zimm, who was the best player in baseball in April and hasn't come close to repeating that for any other month. In this year, and in his career that seems like an outlier. But you don't want to just take out the best month, so what I'll do is pull the best and worst months for Lind and Zimm vs RHP (by OPS) and see what we come up with in the rest of the time.

LIND : .329 / .377 / .580
ZIMM : .279 / .339 / .490

That feels right, don't you think? Lind is a righty masher - that can't be denied. Zimm, he's had some good months vs the righties and is capable of hitting them. This may be a little high average wise, but just a little.

How is Howie doing - I'll just pull out his RHP for the year, I'm tired. .313 / .361 / .447 and a 3 -year history at least of having no issues hitting RHP. Plus Howie gives you defense that the other two don't so why would you sit him? You wouldn't.

And this is where optimization to the Nth degree gets you - a lineup with Lind platooning with Zmm and Kendrick replacing Werth. Is that what you want? Of course this isn't happening and it shouldn't happen. We could have made this argument in several other places as well. Difo hits LHP better than Murphy are we sitting Murphy? In fact Turner is the one with the most problems vs LHP why not sit him for Difo? Bryce hasn't hit LHP as well as Kendrick, if Jayson gets hot why not an all RHB OF Kendrick-MAT-Werth for Kershaw? 

I guess the point I'm trying to make is that while it's fun to look at splits and figure out who'd be best, these splits were made under particular circumstances and expecting them to exactly follow through in the limited time in the playoffs is a bad assumption. There may be other things at work than just raw talent versus a particular handed pitcher effecting a team when it rolls out to try to win a Division Series.

The same thing holds true for slumps and hot streaks.You can't simply rely on them to tell you how it's going to be in the playoffs, especially given the week off in between. The information has to overwhelmingly favor one-side to go against what you knew before. In Werth's case, it IS close to overwhelming, that's why a discussion is being had. But that means it won't take much from Werth to make it not so overwhelming and in that case he starts.

Monday, September 25, 2017

Monday Quickie - Bryce is back?

Seems like it.

I think we are all thinking the same things. Hope he's not pushing himself too hard. Hope he doesn't re-injure himself. Hope he can find his swing in a week.

Honestly I don't even really care if he doesn't find his swing. You can't learn much in a week and there is a good week off between the Nats' last game and the first game of the playoffs. If you think he looks fine, despite the results on the field, you play him. End of story.

What does this do for the roster? We'll get to that at the end of the week just because if I can wait it out maybe injuries can make it obvious. I'm pretty sure they'll go with 7 relief pitchers again which is fine. The NLDS schedule is set-up in a 2-2-1 format which means there are never three days of games in a row (barring rainout). That means it's actually more of an issue keeping guys fresh, especially after the long lay off, than it is overworking guys. Your only issue with over working arms is the aforementioned rain out or a long extra inning game.

The question now for the team, other than "watch Bryce" and which marginal player plays in the NLDS, is the Werth question. I've said from the beginning Werth will play unless he does something crazy like hit under .100 after he comes back.

Werth's splits since coming back :
.129 / .191 / .226

and that's including that first game back where he hit that homer. If I say take just September...
.100 / .179 / .140

There's nothing useful there. And given he's at best a small liability in the field, what do you do? His play is forcing an issue where no one wants one.  Dusty doesn't want to sit Werth. The team doesn't want to sit Werth. I don't want to sit Werth. That can very easily become a distracting talking point* going into the NLDS and no one wants that.

But what do you do? This isn't a key starter slumping going into the playoffs. This is an aging useful bat coming back from injury who seemingly can't hit right now. If it weren't Jayson Werth, who is what amounts to the team leader, this discussion wouldn't be happening.

So start hitting Werth! Just hit like .200 over the next week with another homer. That's it. There's the bar, we've set it down near the ground, just step over it so this isn't a "thing" come October.


*It doesn't have to be - Werth could graciously accept a bench role if he can't hit but my guess is at best we'll get an "It is what it is. He's the manager and he makes the decisions" type of response.

Friday, September 22, 2017

Baseball is not cooperating

Part of the deal with this whole WC business was the idea that more divisions and more playoff spots would create more contenders and more interesting games as the season wound down. 2017 is working hard to be the exception to the presumed rule.

Multiple division races were done early. The Astros have had complete control of the AL West since Memorial Day. The Nats have held a two-series lead since the very start of May and have had a 10 game lead since the All-Star break. The Dodgers streak put away the NL West at about the same time in July. The Indians gained the upper hand in early August and drove the stake through the Central around Labor Day. That's four races over just when you are checking in to see what's exciting.

The other two are theoretically better but haven't managed to get over the hump. The Yankees took 3 of 4 from the Red Sox right before Labor Day weekend cutting the division lead to 3.5 games and have gone 12-4 since then. But the same teams the Yankees are wiping the floor with the Red Sox are too, going 11-4. With no head to head series after that last one (great scheduling - when has NYY/BOS ever been important late in the year?) there's nothing to do but passively scoreboard watch and be disappointed. Basically we're watching the 2nd best team in baseball over the past 2 1/2 weeks try to catch the 3rd best team*. Great baseball. Bad drama.

The NL Central was setting itself up for a slam bang finish. After finally getting the lead and then some breathing room (up 5 on 9/7) the Cubs promptly got swept by the Brewers. Up just 2 on the Cardinals and Brewers with a STL/MIL series, a MIL/CHC series and TWO STL/CHC series to go there seemed no way this could not finish strong. I mean what was going to happen? The Cubs were going to blast off and win all the H2H games?

Cubs 8-1, 4-0 in H2H games so far.

The Cardinals and Brewers haven't played badly otherwise but who cares if they didn't play well when it mattered. We're a Cubs win today away from basically the Central being over.

Well then the WCs right! The WCs will save us... I suppose. The first spots are occupied by good teams that have been mostly safe for a while. Both the D-Backs and Yankees got off the strong starts, faltered a little bit but turned it back on. In the NL the D-Backs have been in control of the #1 spot since Labor Day. In the AL the Yankees had a minor scare but ended the conversation with a sweep of the current #2 seed Twins this week. That's the story of almost all these races up here so far. The challengers are lined up just to get knocked down.

So we're down to the red-headed stepchild of playoff spots, the 2nd WC.  The NL spot will probably be decided with 88 wins if we're lucky, the choices being the free-fall Rockies or a Brewers/Cardinals fight between two teams unable to win big games this month. The AL is even worse, where 84 wins should take it in a true race to the bottom. Check out the September records of the teams in question.

TEX 10-9
KC 10-10
MIN 9-11
SEA 8-11
LAA 7-11
TB 7-11
BAL 6-14

I suppose if you wanted you could work yourself into something resembling interest for two of these teams battling H2H this weekend, you know as long as it wasn't the worst two teams playing eachother. Guess what the only H2H match-up is this weekend! That's right TB vs BAL!  In fact thanks to an incredible quirk in the schedule here are the H2H match-up between these teams from 9/10 and now :

SEA@TEX
TEX @ LAA
TEX@SEA

Hope you were a fan of the Rangers! Who as a reminder started at the end of August on the very fringes of the WC race. Watch them slowly catch up to the stumbling pack by not tripping over their own feet! And from now to season's end?

TB @ BAL
SEA @ LAA
BAL @ TB

The two of the worst playing teams this month, one who's out of it play a couple series against each other. So the hope is what? Seattle catches fire while KC, TEX, and MIN crash to set-up a winner take all Angel Mariner clash? That's our hope? Ugh. I'll have the clam juice.

It's not that the idea isn't strong. More teams - more playoff spots - more interest should work. But it doesn't always have to and this season is proving that exception in spades. 

*The Indians dummy!

Thursday, September 21, 2017

Boz is excited

And he should be! While his premise is flawed from the start (we can't see the Nats at their best because Eaton isn't coming back) He's right that everything is lining up just as you'd hope to end the year. With every positive Bryce update we hear, it becomes more possible that everyone that can be here, will be here. Whether they hit like they could (I'm looking at you Jailbird) is up in the air, but that's up in the air for any short series. The Nats will be the best Nats they could be since they broke out to a 16-6 record in April

He seems amazed that this has happened with all the "adversity", pointing to things like one starter going out for the year and one struggling as another log on the fire as opposed to something that happens to 30 out of 32 teams a year.  He does have something here but it's not with the pitching.

How could the Nats pitching be this good with a pen that bad, Ross injured, and Roark struggling? Well the pen was fixed with three acquisitions. The rotation was always top heavy and Max and Stras have both had another great and (relatively) healthy year. The struggles of Roark have been matched by the performance of Gio which is just the good and bad balancing out. All in all this all makes perfect sense. A great rotation was great. A bad pen was fixed. Nothing crazy happened here.

The line-up though. That does require something else. Assuming around 150+ games played MAT will miss 30+ games, Bryce 40+, Trea 60+, Werth 80+, Eaton 120+.  You could see that team holding on, but they didn't just hold on. They could lead the NL in scoring.  How? Well in this case almost everything came up Milhous.

  • Ryan Zimmerman was reborn - Super hot beginning of the year, followed by a reasonable best-case for the remainder. 
  • Anthony Rendon was reborn  - looked like a superstar in the making in 2014 but injuries clouded that since. Injury free this year and finally lived up to that promise
  • When healthy Bryce hit like BRYCE - Bryce has had an up and down career. It's just that the downs are "above average" and the ups are "OMG" This has been an up year.
  • MAT had a good year - I hesitate to say breakout because the guy is barely above average but he was well below average previously and was kind of on his last legs as a "maybe this year" guy
  • Adam Lind had a better year than expected - He hits righties well and has trouble with lefties but this year he mashed righties and didn't have as much issues with at least getting hits vs LHP in his rare ABs vs them. 
  • So did Brian Goodwin - hit better in majors in 2017 than he did in any minor league since the AFL in 2012, including AAA this year.
  • So did Howie Kendrick - sure he was hitting well in Philly but it was 40 games. He's putting up his best numbers since 2014. 
  • So did Wilmer Difo - forced into a starting role Difo hit .333 / .382 / .467 for 2 months.* Outisde a brief 19 game second stint in A+ ball in 2015 that's better than he's hit in any minor league stint ever.
  • Adam Eaton was as good as advertised - for a month but still that's like a sixth of the year.
That's a lot coming up right for the Nats that didn't have to. What came up wrong outside of injury?
  • Matt Wieters has been awful - Its the worst year of his career at the plate by far. You could have expected a below average year but this is beyond that.
  • Jose Lobaton has been unusable - To be fair this skirts expectations as he was unusable in 2014 and 2015 too but he's especially so this year. 
  • Chris Heisey came up empty? - He's usually good for a couple homers and doubles, but he had nothing this year.
That's about it. Werth?  Nah the guy was below average in 2015 and 2016. He's hitting around what can be expected for a 38 year old. I mean for half a month before the toe injury he was hitting .148 Turner? Really? I don't think you can really have strong expectations from a guy that played half a season last year. He's above average. That's not crazy by any means.

The Nats have had poor injury luck to be sure, but in terms of performance the Nats have had way more things go their way than not. That's how they got to be so good despite injuries. Does it continue beyond 2017? Who knows. But also - who cares right now? Just keep it going for this year because a team catching the breaks is a team that wins in the playoffs.


*how about when not in a starting role? You sure you want to know? Sure? OK it's like .188 / .230 / .240.  Told you you didn't want to know. That's why he's well below average overall.

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Wednesday Update - Manager Stuff

Max threw 112 pitches last night. That was fewer than last time so... what was the point really? I'm happy that Max looks fine and that they didn't go for say 120 pitches but that would have made sense. Now the 116 doesn't look like an intentional stretch out but a mistake by Dusty that Max was willing to cover for. I don't know. Since Max's arm didn't fall off yesterday, let's just forget it and move on.

Speaking of Dusty though - there is that whole "no extension" thing hanging over the team. The question is - why hasn't it been done? The given answer is "that's just the way we do things here" suggesting that they don't look at contracts until they have to. Of course they have extended contracts mid-season several times, including signing Strtasburg's deal and extending Rizzo, so that argument doesn't feel right.

More likely is the Lerners have a certain belief on what a manager should be paid and how he should be paid. They like to offer contracts on the low-end of what managers should be paid and for very minimal time frames, single year if they can get it. They also don't really care what these guys want and are completely willing to show them little to no respect.

This isn't opinion here. Let's look at length first. Frank was on one-year deals in 2005 and 2006. Acta signed a two-year deal with two club options after that. Riggleman had what was essentially a one-year deals in 2010 and 2011*. Davey was on one-year deals. Matt Williams signed the same deal as Manny Acta. After picking up Williams' option for 2016 prior to 2015 and seeing that blow up in their face, Dusty was offered a two-year deal with no options.

As for the money that's harder to wrangle because the Nationals don't make that public**. If it gets public you know that comes from the manager. (Which is why we know what Dusty is making BTW. He wants you to know). Cot's contracts over at B Pro helps us out consolidating what we do know.

Frank - ?
Manny 500K in 2007
Jim - 600K per
Davey - ?
Matt  - 1 million in 2015
Dusty - 2 million per

A good guess puts the median manager salary a little under 1 million in 2005, closer to 1.5 million in 2010 and up over 2 million in 2015. Manny and Jim were certainly making near the bottom of manager pay. Matt Williams was probably about on par for a new hire with no experience. Dusty is close to average, but well underpaid for a manager his his experience and track record.

Respect? Well Frank Robinson is a HoF player and a groundbreaking manager. He was willing to manage the Nats for a few years while they figured out ownership but wanted a front-office or consulting job at the end. The Lerners, named owners mid 2006, didn't give him one. We all know about Riggleman, who basically just wanted to talk to the front office about his extension but got a "shut up and do your job" as a response. Davey Johnson, a legitimate HoF candidate as a manager, was given what seems like a take it or leave it deal for one more year then a force out despite not wanting to be done managing at the time. Dusty is twisting in the win after consecutive 90+ win division titles.  You can say you respect someone, and the Nationals are really good at that, but that's just words.

Managers are simply employees to the Lerners. Employees for a position where supply far outstrips demand. Dusty, who has perhaps mellowed in his old age or maybe has an understanding of his lack of leverage, has toned down the constant media war that you might have seen in San Francisco or Chicago to a mere quiet grumbling. He wants to be here. He'd like more money. He has made it known. The Nats have basically given him a more polite version of the Riggleman response.

What will happen when they year ends? I think it depends on how the Nats do. I think he'll be offered a contract regardless. The team likes him and it's playing well. But I think the contract offered will differ slightly. Another NLDS loss and I think it's a one-year deal at scantly more than he's getting now. A WS win might garner a two-year deal with a club option at a value scraping the bottom of the higher paid managers (3-4 million a year).  Does Dusty take it?  He was making about that much in 2008 when hired by the Reds. When he left the Giants under a contract signed in 2000 he was making 2.5 million*** Again, even at neaer 4 million it is an insulting number for a man with his level of experience and success. But I think he does take it. Dusty isn't going anywhere after this job except his winery. This is his last chance. If he wants to manage, and he likely does because he knows he needs a title to easily make the HoF, he has no choice.


*Technically Jim had signed a 2 year deal at 600K per. However he could be bought out for 100K after the first year, meaning effectively the Nats had him on a one-year deal for 700K if they wanted it. 

** That't not limited to the Nats. A lot of teams don't disclose manager pay. 

*** Again - you always know what Dusty is being paid.

Monday, September 18, 2017

Monday Quickie - Another look around

The Nats didn't need to win last night. After losing the first two, any thoughts of taking HFA throughout the playoffs, or through the NL side at least were pretty much dashed and the Nats were all but officially set in the #2 spot. However, the Nats still wanted to show they could beat the Dodgers, something they failed to do in the first two games with reasonable line-ups. The difference Sunday was they didn't trot out Edwin Jackson or AJ Cole. They brought Strasburg to the mound. If they failed to beat LA this time, that would resonate.

But they did! AND Bryce took BP before the game!

Now some bad news as Bryce is aiming not toward coming back in the regular season but for the first game of the NLDS. That's an extra 5 days of recovery for him and it seems like he is conceding he will probably need that.  The Nats are still good without Bryce, but it can't be denied that the offense is less potent without a healthy Bryce. Let's hope for nothing but good news and Bryce taking the field for that final regular season series.

Taking a look around the league, what could have been a weekend that set up a furious finish instead solidified what we already knew. Along with LA putting distance between them and the Nats, the Cubs swept the Cardinals effectively closing them out. Milwaukee failed to make up ground on Colorado. The Yankees failed to make-up ground on Boston. Only the Angels made up a game on the Twins while the Royals, Rangers, Orioles, and Rays all spun their wheels and the Mariners lost a game.

Where we stand now in terms of interesting games -

The Brewers still haven't been knocked out of the NL Central though at 4 games out it's close to dire.  The saving grace is a four game set with the Cubs starting Thursday.  If they can do what the Cardinals could not, and not immediately make the series moot, then it could be a fun finish with the Cardinals given chance to spoil the Cubs season at the end (or spoil the Brewers' one) 

The Brewers are also 2.5 out from the Rockies whose difficult schedule has gotten significantly easier with SFG, SD, and MIA lined up before the Dodgers to end the year. While no one was looking at them, they swept the Dodgers and took the first two in Arizona in a four game series to set themselves up nicely for the finish. Milwaukee on the other had has the aforementioned Cubs series and a Cardinals one. You have to like the Rockies chances but it's close enough to warrant a glance.  If the Rockies pull away that isn't all bad because it makes the NL Central "Win or Out".

In the AL the Red Sox still haven't put away the Yankees, despite being crowned at least 3 times in the past month. However, they keep playing good ball and keep the Yankees at bay. With no H2H games left the Yankees chances at a division title are beginning to boil down to needing an epic run or an epic crash. Still despite being closer and featuring better teams, it's a less compelling race than the NL Central one with the lack of H2H games and the fact the loser is almost guaranteed a WC spot.

The 2nd WC spot in the AL is down to two teams as everyone else in the AL that was in contention can barely bring themselves to play .500 ball. Which is fair, because they are a bunch of barely .500 teams. The Angels are 2 games behind the Twins (who are 4 behind NYY, FYI). The Angels have a killer week lined up with Houston and Cleveland. Their saving grace might be that the Twins have a couple tough series left themselves with the Yankees next and Cleveland in a week. Even though we'd all love some important games here, the likely scenario is the Angels lose a game or two of ground this week and are just too far out to make a real play in the final one.

We'll see though. Tonight the "big game" is the WC preview Yankees Twins. Other games of interest - Brewers need a win versus the Pirates and Kershaw is pitching tonight after missing the Nats. 

Friday, September 15, 2017

100 Nats

The Nats have had very good teams, great teams really. The 2016 Nats won 95 games. In 2014 it was 96. And in 2012 the Nats won 98 games. But the Nats have never won 100. The franchise hasn't won 100 (The Expos peaked at 95 in 1979, though they were on a 105 win pace in 1the strike year 1994) . The city hasn't won 100 games (The 1933 Senators won 99 games, granted in a 154 schedule time period)  Can the Nats do it?

They were probably in their best position to do it a week ago after taking the 2nd game from the Phillies. At that point, with 21 games to go then had to merely go 13-8. That's a 100 game pace but hey, you want to get to 100 right? But since then they've gone 2-3 and now they stand at 89 wins with 16 games to go. That means the Nats need to finish 11-5. That's ... tough.

The good news is they will be the favored team in each series. Win each one and you go 2-1, 2-1, 2-1, 2-1, 3-1 or 11-5. Just enough to do it. Have the Nats gone 11-5 this year? Yep. Several times. They had a better run than that in April (peaking at 13-3), and continued that play into early May. They again did it May into June, again in July, again in August and August into September. It's completely doable with the talent on this team.

The bad news is the talent on this team may not all be playing. Even if you ignore Bryce being out as a difference maker the Nats will be resting guys and letting call-ups get at bats for the next two weeks. An optimal line-up trying hard may be able to do it. A sub-optimal line-up playing to get to the end of the year healthy? Probably not. 

I'd like to see it happen but call me if the Nats go 4-2 over the next two series.

Side Note #2 :
The Nats currently have a 21 game lead in the division. If you think that's special, you're right. Leads this big happen once a decade or so. The last time someone won their division by 20+ games was the 2008 Angels who finished 21 games better than the Rangers. If the Nats get another game in the standings you'll have to go back to the 1998 Yankees who won their division by 22 games (where second place won 92!). The records, which the Nats will be hard pressed to beat are 30 games by the 1995 Indians* (in 144 games!) and the NL Record of 27.5 games by the 1902 Pirates. However I think that's it. I think if the Nats finish more than 22 games ahead of the Marlins (or Braves) they'll have the 3rd greatest division lead of all-time.


*Braves also won their division by 21 in 144 games.