Nationals Baseball

Thursday, September 29, 2016

Nats Lose but win

Nats lost last night and Gio was Gio. With each terribly maddening and unimpressive start the "Gio Game 1" bandwagon grows.  I now assume he'll start Game 162, give up 5 walks and 4 runs in 3 innings and everyone will agree he should somehow pitch three times against the Dodgers.

I'm not saying Gio starting game 1 is a bad idea. He's going to start anyway. It would be silly not to try to take advantage of the Dodgers splits. Max isn't going 1 and 4. He said as much. Dusty said as much. So either Roark goes 1 and 4 or Gio goes 1 and 4  or, far more likelier, no one does and if no one does, what's it matter if Gio starts G1 or G3?

My big concern is what I have talked about before. With Max or Roark if they start G1 and are terrible you chalk it up to a fluke and use that short outing to bring them back in G4*. Gio doesn't get that benefit of the doubt. If he's terrible then he is done for the series outside maybe an emergency LOOGY situation.  So if Gio goes G1 and is terrible and the Nats make it to G4, you have a situation where you are going to be forced to start Ross/Latos/Cole etc. To make matters worse you'll have no Max or Roark available in emergency. They'll have pitched too recently. 

The idea that the Nats could do a bullpen thing, go with Solis for 2, Rep for 2, Perez for two - throw in a righty when needed - to get to the 7th/8th and the usual closers is a nice idea but too unusual for the playoffs. I just don't see it happening unless forced into it by a terrible start by a normal starter. It's not happening to start a game.

Further, I wonder about the things we can't measure. What does it say to the team when you decide "We're not going with Max Game 1. Kershaw is real good. We're going with Gio and maybe hope to steal one" Maybe you can convince them you'd be doing what is best for the team. Talk about home away splits (Max is better at home - Roark and Gio don't have big splits). Talk about Gio's starts against the Dodgers and how he's never been hit by them (5 starts as a Nat against LA:  32 IP, 20H, 6ER, 12BB, 34K or something close to that I did this quick). Maybe that works. But maybe they see it as giving away a game they can ill afford to lose. Any game in a short series is crucial. This is Dusty's job, to read the team, but I have a suspicion that they'd want to go with their big gun first.

Also I think it's important to remember that all these machinations, they probably don't really matter all that much. The change in the chance to win the series isn't going to be all that great and it's going to be overwhelmed by the simple luck that happens in any short series. Is the starter on his game? Do you get a few seeing-eye hits or bloops in the same inning? That'll be the driving force for winning the series - not idealized pitching match-ups. If you want to go ahead and do it. Maximize your advantage, but don't kid yourself that that is going to be the tipping point because it almost certainly won't be. This isn't like running with Strasburg or shutting him down. It's just shuffling stuff around.

So in the end I like just going with Max G1, Roark G2 (or flip that if you want), Gio G3 and worrying about G4 if and when you get there.  It's like how I feel about planning out how the NLDS rotation leads into the NLCS rotation. You can worry about setting up for the NLCS. I don't. I worry about winning the NLDS then figuring out the NLCS.

Anyway Dodgers lost too and the Nats keep a 2 game lead for HFA which at some point was going to be my point here. There are 4 games left so probably the Nats only need 2 wins to clinch it, maybe even 1. Let's hope the rain holds off and the Nats (and Padres) finish it today.

*Yeah I just said Max wouldn't go G1 and G4. But in this scenario he's going like 3 1/3 in G1.  I think that would change things

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

The answer key

Hey Svrluga and Kilgore decided to get together and argue out position by position which division winner was better. No, not between the Red Sox teams of the past 15 years, though that's not a bad guess. Between the 2012, 2014, and 2016 Nats. Since the link to all players doesn't work yet I can give you my opinion without being tainted with what should be smart and fair analysis but may not be because they already messed up picking 2012 Det over 2014 Gio.

C - If you go by in-season performance it's an easy win for Ramos '16 over Ramos/Lobaton '14 and Suzuki/Ramos/Flores '12. If you are really going by playoff starter, now that Ramos is down, Suzuki '12 wins out. Wilson's inabililty to take a walk was at its peak terribleness in 2014.

1B - I'll take the more powerful, younger '12 LaRoche, over the more patient, older '14 LaRoche.  Both look curiously at the mess that now occupies 1B for the Nats

2B - If '16 Ramos' win was easy, '16 Murphy's win just happens without you even doing anything. Espinosa's defense is better but come on.  '12 "peak" Espy beats '14 "should have gotten the surgery" Espy

SS - These are are strangely non-competitive choices so far. '12 Desmond was a revelation. He'd get worse each subsequent year so he bests '14 pretty handily. It's tempting to pick '16 Espy over '14 Desmond because "defense"! But no. Danny isn't super elite anymore and there's a big gap between offensively as Danny has been terrible for months now.

3B - The heart wants to go with 2012 Zimmerman. It was arguably the last year of his peak, before arm troubles in 2013 took him down. And he felt like a big clutch player still. But Rendon in 2014 was a legit MVP candidate. He did everything Zimm did at the plate, was possibly better in the field, and definitely better on the basepaths. If I'm team building I may pick '12 Zimm for leadership, but I'm not so '14 Rendon wins. '16 Rendon hasn't been bad at all but these two set high bars

LF - OK I pick 2014 Bryce here. He was the only one of the three who was not a liability in the field and 2012 Mike Morse wasn't so much better at the plate that I'd have to choose him. Plus if you look past Bryce shaking off the injury rust and recovery in July he's right there at the plate. Better probably - he's the only one that seemed to hit in the playoffs. Though if you want to go with Morse I won't blame you. You probably get mad that they traded him, too. '16 Werth is fine but not in the running.

CF -  This to me is the most fascinating choice. You have rookie, out-of-position but still athletic, '12 Bryce, defense first, (though slipping) surprising offense force, '14 Span, and a possibly misleading half-season of rookie sensation Trea Turner. If it was 120 games of Trea doing this it would be a slam dunk but you have to wonder if in 3 years we look back and go "Oh that was quite a run. Wish he could do that again". Still... I pick Trea. I mean we have to go on what we have and it's been awesome. Even fielding - Denard was on the way down in '14 so it's not as big a fight as you'd think. I also pick '14 Span over rookie Bryce if we have to order

RF - 2014 Werth was everything but the fielding. He bests 2016 Bryce, who's the best fielder probably but has been hobbled. He bests '12 Werth who was a Singly Joe coming back from his injury. A very good Singly Joe, but a Singly Joe nonetheless.

Now are we going playoffs or reg season? I say reg season. Feels more right. Ordering pitchers is hard bc how they fit into a rotation may not be about performance. It may lefty - righty based. It may just be where they slide in after injury. I'll try to use performance and reality of perception to separate, but it's not going to be perfect.

SP1 - This is a tough challenge but '16 Max has been 100% worthy of a Cy Young. And you feel a little more confident with Max, don't you? '14 Stras was masterful. '12 Stras was unhittable. You can't go wrong but that's the order I put them in.

SP2 - 2012 and 2016 are deep staffs but you can't find the bottom of 2014.  2014 ZNN was one of the great underrated pitching seasons of all time. After that, I like '16 Stras over '12 Gio. The pitching performances are comparable but '12 Gio was still a bit wild, where as '16 Stras was just rounding into veteran form in my opinion. It's very close though

SP3 -  2016 Roark. 2012 ZNN was very good but didn't quite have it together yet. 2014 Fister was good but also a tightrope walk that we all rightfully knew was going to come down at some point. You can choose that over young ZNN but not over this Roark showing for the second time what he can do over the course of a season.

SP4 - The one we saw and they are wrong. I know we've all grown tired of Gio and his inefficiency making his average outings seem to drag on and his below average outings unbearable, but '14 Gio was a slight nod back to his 2012 season and he did practically everything as good or better than '12 Detwiler. His best would blow Det's best out of the water and even if you had them even overall, '14 Gio, walks and all, would more reliably give you longer outings. I don't see how they made their choice. '16 Ross is good but not in the discussion

SP5 - 2014 Roark. Two Roarks! '12 Edwin Jackson was better than we give him credit for because we remember the playoff performance over all. '16 Gio is also not that bad. I tell you these are deep staffs. Honestly I probably pick this Gio over that E Jax.

Set-Up - was Storen or Clippard the closer in '12? I'll say Storen. Clippard only got the saves in the interim. So this is Clippard vs Clippard vs... well Rivero was it. Then Kelley.  Let's go with Kelley.  This is tough.  Nothing against '12 Clippard, you were very good, don't let the ERA fool you, but you have to sit this one out. You may not have noticed but Kelley has been dominant, striking out more and walking less that '14 Clippard. But as I said recently - Clippard may be the best middle reliever in baseball history when it's said and done (it's true!) and this was one of his two best seasons. I just trust him more. Plus Kelley has a HR problem that Clippard just doesn't have. You can work around a walk. You can't work around a homer.

Closer - Without looking I bet 2014 Storen would have the best stats but screw that head case. Give me fresh-faced '12 Storen. The one in line for the fictional NLDS MVP before he was set-up to fail by Davey and still almost pulled it off if not for some borderline calls, bad fielding, and bad breaks. Melancon slips inbetween the two because 2014 Storen was post-pouting Storen who had to prove he could do it to me and he didn't.

There you go - now let's see if the link is working and who they picked. Nope.  Well we'll come back when the Post gets their act together

Ed Note -

It's working now the order SP differently (by playoff starter) so here are my choices for their order

SP1 - '16 Max, '14 Stras, '12 Gio
SP2 -  '14 ZNN, '16 Roark, '12 ZNN
SP3 - '14 Fister, '12 EJAx, '16 Gio

They also add general RH relief, LH relief, and bench
RH relief - '12, '16, '14 - '16 Treinen is the best individual but '12 really just had no weakness Stammen and Mattheus were solid. Garcia was the flash in the pan they should have ridden the next year.
LH relief - '12, '14, '16 - You could flip '14 and '16 if you like, '14 wasn't impressive at all getting Blevins worst year, but '12 was easily best.
Bench - '16, '12, '14 (2014 had more talent but 2012 caught like 3 career yrs for these benchies)

They also put Asdrubal in for 2014, but personally I still take '12 Danny over that. 

If we score 3-2-1 then - using their match-ups we get 33 pts for 2014, 32 for 2012, and 31 for 2016. That's really close. The 2012 team had OF issues and their starting pitching was great but young and understandably in question for the playoffs. The 2014 had a killer rotation but some infield issues and real questions on the bench and in the pen. 2016's offense is fine but doesn't inspire the same confidence and could be a real issue with the injuries. If you count losing Ramos that becomes 34, 33, 29 and if Murphy is gone that's 35, 34, 27.  

Tuesday, September 27, 2016


Just two years ago, in 2014, something historic happened. The 88 win SF Giants beat the 89 win Kansas City Royals in the World Series. It was the first time in history two teams with under 90 wins met to decide who would be crowned baseball's champion. While that was a unique situation, finding one such team in the World Series is not. The Detroit Tigers in 2012, St Louis Cardinals in 2006, Houston Astros in 2005, and New York Yankees in 2000 all have made the World Series this century with under 90 wins.

Anything can happen in the playoffs.

Which is good because last night Wilson Ramos hurt himself and without Ramos and Strasburg and either Bryce or Murphy the Nats probably resemble a team that would struggle to win 90 games. Even if the injury isn't serious, it may not matter. It only has to be an injury that would take a couple weeks to heal in order to have a drastic effect on the Nationals playoff chances. Things are beginning to look very bleak.

Truth : The Nats could be losing their All-Star .307 / .354 / .496 22 HR catcher

Further Truth : That's overselling Ramos who had a first half unlike any other extended period in his career. Since the All-Star break, a time which featured at lot more rest to try to keep Ramos fresh, Wilson hit .279 / .317 / .447.  That's probably more indicative of the player the Nats are potentially losing for the playoffs. Not a fringy MVP candidate, but a guy who gets All-Star consideration if he has a hot half and it's a weak year.

Further further truth : But even if they are losing that it's a big deal because the gap between that and Ramos' replacements is very large. Lobaton is near end of life as a useful back up and has hit .220 / .317 / .363 while spelling Wilson. Severino has had success in the majors but in a week of plate appearances over two years, and he was hitting an empty .271 in AAA this year.

Losing Strasburg is a blow but given the performance of Scherzer and Roark this season, and the problem the Dodgers have with LHP, it merely created a problem for one game in the NLDS. Losing Ramos would be an issue but his likely performance level was something that could be covered for. Even together it's far from a death blow for the team.

However if you add a loss of Murphy, who hasn't played a full game since the 17th, or Bryce who apparently has special x-rays that can't be read right away, that takes it beyond something the Nats can reasonably adjust for. Murphy has been their best hitter all year long. Stephen Drew has done a fairly amazing job off the bench but he can't be expected to replace an MVP candidate. Bryce, for all his issues, has been the second or third most important offensive presence for the Nats this year and is by far the most likely National to work a walk. Heisey has done yeoman's work in the OF this year with timely home runs, but he can't replace that presence in the middle of the lineup.

After having pretty even, maybe even good, luck with injuries over the course of the season, things have come at this team fast and hard. The Nats post-season comes down to the health of these players. Losing one is fine - nearly every team has their one. Losing two can be worked around. But losing three or four? That makes the Nats a different team, a team that makes one point to the variability inherent in a short series to have any real hope.

Monday, September 26, 2016

Monday Quickie - Now we can get to it

The Nats won the NL East and fans and the team have had all weekend to celebrate. Great!

Got that out of your system?

Because it doesn't matter.

This Nats team, like every Nats team since 2012, won't be judged a success unless they win in the playoffs. It's as simple as that. I'm not talking by you or me in particular. I'm sure some of you would call them a success today. I'm sure some of the more generous fans might even call a winning season a success.  I'm sure the harshest of you (Sammy?) might not judge them a success unless they win it all. But for the sports world at large the Nats need to at least make the next step. They need to progress. They've had their misstep. They need to win the NLDS vs the Dodgers.

The Nats need it, because they've lost twice now in DSs when they were favored, blowing up in the late innings in key spots. Even if it's a pretty unfair characterization, they've been seen as a cocky team ("World Series or bust" "Where my ring?" "nothing harder in the galaxy") that can't back it up when it counts. In their last appearance Tim Hudson colorfully suggested the Nats didn't have the inner fortitude to win, then they got beat in 4 games.

Dusty also needs it. Despite being a very successful manager Dusty has not had much playoff success. His teams have made seven playoff appearances, and have won a combined 3 playoff series. In his last stop, Cincinnati, he couldn't make it out of the first round be it the NLDS (swept out by Phillies in 2010, collapsed after taking a 2-0 lead over the Giants in 2012) or the Wild Card (giving the Pirates their only playoff success in recent vintage in a non-competitve game).

Right now both the Nats and Dusty are looked at as having issues in the playoffs. A series win would go a long way to putting that to rest. A series loss and, well I'm afraid it becomes a "thing". That becomes how people see the Nats and Dusty going forward until they prove otherwise. Playoff chokers. I don't think they have to win it all. Usually just making the World Series gives you a measure of credibility. I don't even think they have to beat the Cubs*. That is a juggernaut team that everyone believes has mojo on it's side, excusing whoever they beat on the way. But they have to beat the Dodgers.

Other Notes

So Bryce keeps stupidly sliding head first into bases and yesterday it might have done serious injury. Mind you we already believe he is injured so this only adds to it. Some fans were screaming at Kang for deke-ing Bryce into sliding. I wasn't watching the game so I assumed that when several stated the Pirates "got no advantage" from the move that I would see a play where Kang saw the ball clearly in the hands of a Pirate player ready to fire home for an easy out if Bryce tried to keep going. Instead I saw a ball miss 3rd by 15 feet and roll slowly past the bag.

This is not only a situation where a deke may happen, it's a situation where a deke SHOULD happen. You try to trick the player into sliding so he doesn't advance further. It's an old trick usually lauded by players and fans alike. But Bryce got hurt so somehow this time it's wrong and bad. Seriously? This was a perfectly acceptable play and if you don't see that, I don't know what I can tell you. I guess be less of a crazy homer?

Offensively the Nats had a good weekend which is good. But like the bad games the preceded the Pirates series they don't really mean too much. I want to see them hit the Dbacks. I really want to see them hit the Marlins. I accept that none of that may matter for the NLDS, but I want them coming in hot rather than cold if I can have it.

Daniel Murphy hasn't played a full game in over a week (it was the Saturday before last), taking two PH at bats since then. He doesn't need to play today, not really, but it would be nice. Really if you want to go full "DOOOOOOOM" about it - wait to see if he's not ready for the Marlins series. Then I would worry. He's been active. He's played 145 games or whatever. It wouldn't even be a full two weeks out. It shouldn't take him more than a few games to get back into the swing of things.

*Now if it's the Mets or Cardinals or Giants? Yes, the Nats have to beat them too. In fact it's more imperative because those are three teams who are seen as gutsy winners. Lose to them and you not only damn the Nats but you push the other guy up. You make things worse overall for me by extending this stupid narrative. Lose to the Dodgers and well, that hurts the Nats but no one is going to be screaming about scrappiness and grit for LA.

Saturday, September 24, 2016

Friday, September 23, 2016

Bryce and Daniel.

Bryce Harper is hurt.

We've guessed about this before but it's almost certainly true.  If it isn't true here is what you believe :
The year after generational prospect Bryce Harper broke out and had one of the greatest offensive seasons of all time, he had the 3rd worst and worst months of his career so far. That after slugging 44 doubles and 51 homers in a season and a month he would regress to the point of having the worst isoSLG of his career*

But why would this be? All those walks (NOT STARTED BY JOE MADDON) got in his head? Maybe but he'd have a decent June and a good August after that. Adjustments by the pitcher or by him? Hard to believe that 5 years into a career. Natural variation? That's a little tough to believe but I won't rule it out if that makes you happy. I'd need to look more into it.

But power should be sort of stable right? Let's see what we see when we look at his isoSLG monthly after his last struggling rookie month

.213 .313 .376 .175

Wait! What happened there? Well that corresponds to May 2013. On April 29th he crashed into the wall and might have hurt his hip. On May 13th he crashed into the wall and did hurt his knee.

-- .178 .208 .091

Woah woah I thought he was getting better! If you are going to hang your hat on something I guess this month - September of 2013 looks to be one. (he didn't play in June if you are counting up months that's the "--") He seems to be getting better then he struggled. Accumulation of injuries? Perhaps but nothing immediate. We move on.

.133 -- -- .114

Hold it again - ok the .133 suggests lingering issues but the .114? Well that's the month after came back from breaking his hand.

.211 .133

At this point we're at the end of 2014 and Bryce is either (1) not that great or (2) pretty injured. Those last rookie months into his 2nd year and a smattering of back from injury months suggest (2) but a couple months in there suggest (1) might be the case. What does 2015 hold?

.259 .524 .321 .275 .122 .414

That should help rule out (1), but .122, there's your second hat hanger. Just a ill-timed slump. Started pretty much Day 1 of August. He still hit well - just no pop. He did hurt himself a little in August but was actually better after that. So even on his game Bryce can have some short periods of no power. Now 2016

.428 .163 .139 .143 .226 .087

So here we are. I think you could write off May as an affect of the walk strategy. It seemed to throw him off for a couple weeks. June or July could be a slump, maaaybe even both, but it would be his first extended slump like that. And then there's the .087? I suppose it could be another ill-timed slump (it did happen to start Day 2 of September) but now your saying Bryce just happened to have three slumps, including his worst ever, in the same season. A season where age and recent success suggest he should be in his prime. It just doesn't make a lot of sense. Coupled with the other low numbers, the general history of slugging issues when injured. I think injury is just the more reasonable guess.

Now if we were just guessing, like before, it's easier to rule out. Fans being fans. But now that we have a source and a credible reporter saying the same, it seems more foolish to not buy into it. They have no good reason to tell us that he's injured either, unless they plan for him to sit. So don't expect any news until the off-season but right now I think it's foolish to think he's working through anything other than an injury.

Daniel Murphy is injured.

They don't know what it is.  He has been able to pinch hit twice so there is that. But that first PH seems like he's grimacing, no? The 2nd one didn't inspire confidence either - weak reaching ground ball on an almost one-handed swing - but looking at other GBs he hit on pitches like that it's not different enough for me to point it out. 

This is a big deal. Bigger than Bryce, honestly. If Bryce is hurt - well then Bryce has been hurt most of the year and he's battled through it and the team's been ok because they've had other guys they can rely on. If Murphy's hurt - he's carried the team all year. Early with Bryce, mostly with Ramos, lately with Turner and Rendon, but he's been there all year. If he can't hit like he has that's the heart of the 2016 Nats line-up cut out.

Let's hope he plays today and this can be just unecessary concern. If he doesn't play I'd even accept a diagnosis because honestly all that matters is that he's healthy enough to get a few good swings in before the seasons end and how us that he'll be ok for the playoffs.

*if you recall this is SLG with batting average pulled out. It helps adjust for BA fueled SLG percentage highs and lows. For example when Bryce was getting walked all the time in May and only hit .200 his SLG of .363 looked hideous. However the isoSLG of .163 was merely bad. It wasn't that he wasn't hitting for power - he was just slumped.

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Nats do as Nats do

Ramos was made an offer said Heyman.  How much? Let's go to our resident psychic and see what he said just a couple days ago!
I can see them offering Ramos something like 3/30+ to begin with to see if he would take it and then offering him the QO.
Yay me!  It WAS apparently something like 3 years slightly more than 30 million.  Why is that what the Nats offered?

1) It was the lowest reasonable comp available. When I listed all the recent decent catchers signed Francisco Cervelli had both the shortest contract (3 years) and smallest per (10.333 million).

Is Cervelli a good comp? Kind of. Much like Ramos he was coming off a career year in his late 20s. He wasn't seen as the same type of hitter or defender as Ramos. Cervelli is a high average hitter with ok patience. Ramos is a mid average hitter with good pop.  Cervelli is a decent plate blocker and run-gunner but a great framer. Ramos is a good plate blocker and run-gunner but only a fair framer. The end result though was a year going into a contract that was roughly as productive as Ramos' current season.

However Ramos was a good prospect who had previously hit well over 200 games in parts of 3 separate seasons before succumbing to multiple injuries. 2016 has been a career year, yes, but also a bounce back year of sorts. Cervelli was not a prospect and had never hit, in part possibly because of injuries, prior to his surge up to the year before his contract. That surge up only constituted 66 total games. Cervelli was much more of a gamble.

Also Cervelli's deal covered his 31-33 age seasons, while Ramos' deal would cover his 29-31 age seasons. At a position where wear and tear can play major issues with players, younger is better and worth more.

So you could argue Cervelli is a decent comp but there hardly is anything pointing to Cervelli being worth a bigger deal than Wilson making him more of a decent base than a direct comparison.

2) The Nats offer fair deals at around the lowest reasonable offer. The Nats don't go under market, at least in my mind. They look at a player. They look at the market. They figure out what is the lowest the market would give. Then they offer something around that.

Is it an opening offer? A best and final? Depends on the player, I'm sure. But that's how they roll. The worst that can happen I suppose is the player can be insulted but you know what? Feelings of insult go away pretty quickly if more money is involved.  So if the Nats really want a guy, they can up the offer. There's really very little harm done seeing if you can get a guy to accept the low-end of what he's worth. And in fact it can lead to a lower contract being accepted than if you came in with a more standard market offer.

Of course all Nats fans care about is the two questions I just asked "Is it an opening offer? A best and final?" and history tells us it's probably closer to a best and final. It's hard to say though. The market dried up for ZNN and Desmond as teams pursued mid-range pitchers and Desmond killed his value with a career worst season. This made the Nats' offered deals look more reasonable then they were when initially put out there. They didn't have any reason to up their offer (and in fact as far as I know they took Desmond's deal off the table). So perhaps if Ramos explores free agency and the money is there the Nats might up their offer a little. It's new territory.

However, go back and read what I said a couple days ago. Assuming the Nats want to stick with a payroll of under 150 million, it'll be very hard to fit in a 10+ million dollar catcher into the team's ledger. The Nats have a enough holes to plug in the offeason that they are going to use up their funds before even getting to catcher.  The only way I see them keeping Ramos is if they raise the payroll. It's happened once but I'm not sure it's happening again.