Nationals Baseball

Thursday, May 28, 2015

Don't end, May!

On May 9th (Hey!) Bryce completed his 6 homers in 3 games streak. He bumped his season total from 5 to 11 and was technically on a pace then for 57-58 homers. Ha ha. 58 homers! What is this, the roid era? He'll hit a bunch, sure, but it'll slow down.

In his next 16 games he has hit 7 more home runs, increasing his pace to 62 homers for the season.

OK Hmmm. Hmmm. I was totally wrong on this. We could very well be witnessing some history in the making here.

Let's have some fun with pacing.
  • If he hits HRs like he has the season so far (18HR/47g pace) he'll hit 62.
  • If he hits HRs like he has since that little barrage ended (7HR/16g) he'll hit 68
  • If he hits HRs like he has since that little barrage started (13HR/19g, hey - I said we're having fun) - he'll hit 97
Dammit not 100. He'll have to pick up the pace to do that.

Remember the Bryce/Trout post from a couple weeks ago? Two of those goals I put out there were monthly goals. Ten homers? Bryce has busted way past that with 13. .500 OBP? Bryce is on that now, with the opportunity to pass with three hot games.

How good exactly has his month been?  I checked to see how many times in baseball history someone posted a OPS of 1.400 or higher in a month (while playing at least 22 games - I don't know why 22, seemed right, this is all arbitrary anyway).  How many times? 53. You might think that's alot. Then you realize each player has 6 months that they can play around 22 games. The Nats in 2015 alone would account for say 40 chances at least. Then expand it to all 30 teams. Then expand it to 100 something years. That's a lot of potential months that haven't been this good.

To be even fairer to Bryce we can sort by sOPS which is basically saying "ok but how's he doing relative to everyone else". Offenses change and a Sosa month in 2001 isn't the same as Bryce's month now.  Bryce's month sits at 22nd best.  Who's ahead? Bonds' run. Babe Ruth, Ted Williams. Arguably Hank Greenberg's best month, Frank Thomas' best month, Rogers Hornsby's best month. A couple flukes of playing time (like Josh Phelps in 2007 playing in 24 games and hitting .516 / .579 / 1.065 but in only 38 PAs) The "worst" players ahead of Bryce (right now) are Tony Perez and Harry Heilmann, both Hall of Famers.  There are others just below Bryce that aren't Hall guys but are very good and dammit you get the point*

Bryce has 18 HRs, 41 runs, 43 RBI, and 42 BBs right now. I don't have to tell you where those rank in the majors (first or tied for). He'd rank 4th, t6th, 6th, and 6th on last years team. That was a decent offense for a team that won 96 games. Right now if he stopped he'd already lead the 2008 team in home runs. By four.

If he played the rest of this season like last year - which he hit .273 and had his worst power numbers of his career he would end the season hitting .290 with 33 homers.

This is a fun. Bryce is fun.


*There are a few "that guy?" names on the list but generally they have half a month of PAs or less. Basically it's a hot two weeks and if I looked at it that way I bet we'd find a ton of guys with two weeks just as good. There is only one guy on the list with a full month of at bats you'd blink an eye at. Richard Hidalgo had a MONSTER end to the 2000 season.

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Who shut off the offense?

It's only been a week or so, but here are the Nats offensive totals for the past few games: 3,2,1,4,2,1.  With a little luck and some great pitching the Nats have gone 4-2 in those games but that's not a recipe for success even if the Nats starters were pitching like they should. Now before I get too far into this we need to understand the Nats lead the NL in scoring. Coming from a place of "there's a problem with the offense" is being way, way too negative. So let's make sure we frame the post correctly. What we want to know is how we should define the Nats offense and then how we should look at the recent issues. A great offense that has had a down week? A very good one that got on a roll coming back to Earth? A good one that got really lucky? (I'm not going below that)

The first thing I'll note is that the Nats offense has not been consistent. It's been streaky. It's an odd coincidence but the Nats have followed 20 game patterns offensively so far. In their first 20 games they scored 69 runs or 3.45 per game. For a season that would put the Nats at... 14th in the NL a step behind the 14th place Mets but well ahead of the 15th place Phillies. No wonder they went 7-13 during this time. Game 21 started the recent winning streak and the Nats in the next 20 games would score 133 runs. That's almost double for an amazing 6.65 runs per game. Game 41 begins the streak I noted above - it's early but 2.2 runs per game if you are interested.

The 6.65 is not an impossible number given the entire history of baseball but in recent years, in these offensive conditions it would be close to that (it's around a game above even the steroid era, no humidor Rockies), whereas the 3.45 is poor but far from unprecedented.  This tells you the high scoring run streak is more of an outlier than the low scoring run. Fine. The Nats won't score 6.5 runs a game. They won't even score 5.5 runs a game. But they don't need to. They are at 4.7 for the year now. 4.5 will likely be Top 3 in the NL. Can they do that?

Looking quickly (stuff to make up for this Memorial Day week) I'm not sure. Bryce and Denard should both take steps back but that's going down from guys whose hot streaks were big reasons for the 6.5+ runs a game. Bryce will slow but could easily end up around the best Miggy seasons (near 200 OPS+). Denard won't stay on a 30 homer pace but .300+ again with a bit more pop is possible. Those are guys that can be keys to a Top 3 offense.

The rest of the offense gives pause. The next two best offensively are Danny and Yuney. Danny is beginning to drift back to old Danny. His K rate is up over 30% the past week. There's potential here for a breakdown if it keeps up, but even in the past week he's been Danny. If you twisted my arm I'd say lower average still with patience and pop. Pre-injury "old Danny" not post-injury "old Danny" which means about league average type.  Yuney I've never liked and the .315 average is hard to buy into. If he doesn't keep his average up, he's not useful at the plate. He was hitting well but has lucked into more hits as the season progressed to keep the average up. (.350 BABIP). It's going to be dicey if he can keep around average.

And that's it for the above average starters. Now we see trouble. If Bryce and Denard and Danny and Yuney all step back (all reasonable guesses - remember a step back for Bryce is still arguably best in decade type season) that's fine. Remember we are coming down from the top of a mountain. Even minor corrections from the rest of the line-up should keep the Nats atop the NL East. Unfortunately the best offense in May after these guys has come from the likes of Uggla and Moore. Guys you don't expect to play or keep up that level of offense if they do. Can't adjust those up. Ramos hit better during the stretch but is struggly mightily recently. I don't see a reason to think he'll be any better than the overall slightly below average we see now.  I like Zimm, I think he can do better, but the past week is just dragging him down again after a moderately better May. Michael Taylor is still adjusting, is not hitting, and can't be trusted to.

That leaves the best bet for offense currently healthy as Ian Desmond. It hasn't been a great year for Ian and he's definitely trending down career-wise (those K's are going up and up) but his power is real, has room to return to normal, and there's no injury concerns here. After him its Werth coming back to replace Taylor, which may or may not be better giving how he looked so far, and Rendon coming back which may actually push out Danny, who as I noted above I kind of like to keep up average offense, for Yuney who I kind of don't. There isn't anyone out there that I think - oh yeah this guy is going to pick things up.

I don't know how I feel overall. I know I don't like the Nats to be best in the NL. The only reason they sit there now is because of an insane 20 game run pushed by an insane month by Bryce. But Top 5...  Let's look at it another way.  They were Top 3 last year, Werth was very good, and Rendon and LaRoche were right behind him. Span, Bryce, Desmond and Zimm (when playing) were all good.  This year Bryce could be great and Span should be good and... and... I don't know.  There's all those injury returns. If Desmond gets good like I think he could and Espy plays and stays around average and Werth/Zimm are around average and Rendon is back and good... yeah Top 3 is there. If Desmond stays below average and Rendon who struggles, pushes out Danny while Yuney drops below average and Werth/Zimm never get it going... they could drop to something probably right around average. It would be a team carried by Bryce and yeah I'll say it, Span.

There isn't anything here to worry about playoff wise. Max looks great. ZNN looks very good. Enough of the pen is decent. There shouldn't be an absolute hole in the offense just dips. At absolute worst what are we talking about, average pitching and average offense? A .500 type team? .500 from here on out is still playoffs. And that's absolute worst.

I don't know what I'm saying here other than the offensive discussions we had during the offseason still hold. Is this a top offense or not? We don't know. We know Bryce can literally put the team on his back. With just a couple of other guys hitting well he can help carry the team to record type offensive production. Bryce Harper's ascendance pretty much assures to me this offense won't be a below average one. So where will it fall from say 1-9?  That I still don't know. I'd bet not 1 or 2 but anything else I think is still in play. There are too many questions for me to feel good about saying anything else.

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Tuesday Quickie : Calling it

Is it premature to call the NL East for the Nats? Yes. Am I doing it? Yes.  Well more accurately I'm saying right now that if the Nats and Mets rosters don't significantly change the Nats will win the division. The Nats have expanded their lead to 2.5 games. While they keep playing well and catching breaks (two more one-run wins over the weekend), the Mets don't have the offensive players to keep up with the Nats (it's almost like they had to make one additional off-season move after getting Cuddyer.  Strange that no one ever thought of or mentioned that).

Is it silly to say in May "if the rosters don't significantly change"? Yes, one more time. But it highlights the talent gap that is apparent now. We saw that gap to start the season (which is why we all had the Nats winning the East by 8-10 games or so) but at the beginning of the season there are the lingering "what will happen really when we get going?" questions. We've gotten going now. There isn't likely to be a surprise flop or breakout anymore. We see Strasbrug, Gio, platoon Danny, Bryce breakout and we can account for all that. We see Plawecki, not Wright, Familia and we can account for that. Unless we see a huge trade or injury I don't see the Nats losing their grip on first.

So while the Nats potentially skate to their title and playoff run let's go over some things I've heard over the weekend that I want to voice an opinion on :

Strasburg is hurt. That's what I said. That's what I believe.  Here are your options. 1) Strasburg was always bad! 2) Strasburg is a head case! 3) Strasburg is injured.  #1 is the intelligent design of arguments. Nothing backs it up.  #2 is fun but this would be the first time I ever saw a guy being not right in the head proven by a lack of bite in the curve and a fastball missing by a few inches. #3 isn't backed up by anything either if you believe the Nats doctors but why would you do that?  Where is Rendon now? Didn't they say Danny didn't need surgery - only rest? I suppose that is true but I think you'd usually bite on the surgery if the "rest period" turns out to be almost 3 years. And beyond that who am I supposed to believe? Bloggers looking at video and data points and making (slightly) educated guesses? Uhhhh, no. That's not statistics, that's witchcraft. He's pitching worse than he ever has by far. I'm sticking with injury.

Please don't declare a trade or contract a winner/loser before it is complete. Even the Fister deal, which was apparently a very good starter for three AAAA pieces, I wouldn't call right now. The Werth deal, still two seasons from completion, is still up in the air. You have to see how the whole thing, WHOLE thing, plays out and then make a judgment. Does that mean maybe waiting a decade? Yeah, yeah it does.

Don't use D stats for anything but "it looks like" talk. This is for both good and bad views. I don't know how we all got to this point. It was pretty clear a year or so ago that defensive stats were questionable to the point it was recommended you kind of use a rolling 3 year average to get a better feel for the abilities of a player. Then it was pointed out that that made WAR very flawed as a single season measure and so the response was "I guess it's ok to use defensive stats for a season, then".  It feels like when push came to shove the people pushing these stats were more interested in protecting the stat then standing by the work. I guess they feel that eventually with all the data someone will come up soon with a good way of measuring annual defense and therefore if they hole up, protect the stat, and ride out the storm, that they'll emerge on the other side with the same level of influence? I don't know. I'm digressing.

It'll be nice to look at the team over the next 4 months and see the good performances shine. But understand that for probably I'd say 75%-80% of the fanbase what really matters is how they perform in October. Harsh but true. I've said it before but if they win 105 games and Storen saves 55 and then they lose in the NLDS and Storen blows a game, that's not ok! They failed! It doesn't mean they are a bad team or that they are bad players, but it does mean that they started the season with a goal and they did not achieve that. And that matters! A lot! Especially this season because next season (no ZNN, no Desmond, no Thornton, no Fister?, no Span?) begins the 2-season exodus that will reshape the team. It may not be as sure a winner when we wake up on Opening Day 2017. The time is now, not to have a really good season, but to win in the playoffs.

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Zaprudering the Ejection


OK so here goes. Bryce takes a pitch low that gets called a strike. Bad call. 


Bryce chirps at the ump about it (by his own admittance he said he did this).


Then he steps well out of the batters box. Definitely showing displeasure here. 
 

Ump says get back in. Bryce gets back in. It appears ump is chirping back at Bryce at this time. Probably along the lines of "don't you argue with me or step out of the box again, rook!" because baseball and manliness. But Bryce is in and pitcher is getting set looks like the storm has passed until...


Ump takes off mask to argue with bench. Williams made it seem like this came out of nowhere but come on, when have you ever seen that? An ump just deciding mid at bat to yell at a relatively quiet bench? Williams surely was chirping at ump at this point (bad move) and the ump decided not to just let it go (bad move)


Seeing the Ump out of the box,  Bryce steps out of the box. Way out of the box. If you are generous to Bryce you could just say he's stepping out to a logical stopping point (the grass), but it seems more likely he's trying to insinuate himself in the conversation by stepping kind of between ump and bench. This becomes apparent when...
 

Bryce points to place he says he was standing. The ump was still facing the same direction at this point so it appears he was still arguing with Williams and Bryce was reacting to something said. Most likely it was "He was outta the box!" "He was in the box!" "He was outta the box!" Bryce is saying "Hey no, I was right there."  


The ump now faces Bryce and they twice have the same discussion with both the ump and Bryce pointing toward the box. Finally Bryce comes over and with his foot shows the ump where he was standings and the ump runs him.

There's a lot you can say against the ump and manager. The ump didn't have to keep chirping at Bryce to begin with, or engage Williams, or engage Bryce. Williams didn't have to insert himself into this. But I kind of see both of those. The ump chirping is typical baseball just like Bryce's first chirping. It happens you have a back and forth and then the bat goes on. Williams interjects because he's looking especially at watching Bryce's back. The ump goes after the bench because he was just telling the player not to do this and now the bench is doing this. He argues with Bryce because at this point what the hell is going on.

I'm very confused at Bryce's actions. Not the initial chirping. Like I said that's very typical. If the ump were to eject players every time that happened you'd lose a handful a game. Bryce was just letting off steam like ball players do. But why did he feel the need to interject himself into the bench vs ump argument? And even more strange why was he so adamant he was in the box when he was so clearly wasn't? Even in the post-game while the ump and Williams both implied Bryce was out of the box after that strike, Bryce implies he never did step out. But he did. I don't get the sense he's purposely lying. I kind of think he really did think he had a foot in the box the entire time. But he so clearly didn't that the ump felt like this kid was mocking him or something.

I don't know. As a twitter follower of mine (Steven Maguire) said it's a shame that because not one of three guys could cool it that Bryce had to be thrown out.

Lucky + Good = Dominance

The question is often asked, would you rather be lucky or good? The gut answer is usually lucky but with more thought it becomes clear you can't answer with the information on hand. How lucky? How good? A bad team that hits well with RISP might score a few more runs and win a few more games than it should, but it won't make it a good team. But that kind of luck can turn a good team on the cusp of missing the playoffs into a good team securely in it. A bad team whose every hit is a seeing-eye dribbler or swinging bunt leading to a .500 BABIP, that team may go much further than it should and it can make a good team seem unstoppable. Speaking of which...

The Nats are in first place now. They've gone 17-4 in the past 21 games. The pitching has been what you've seen. 3 steps forward, 2 steps back. A little behind what you'd have expected from the Nats, but given that what you expected was really good, it's still a winnable result. The offense... well the past 21 games is pretty much May (the streak started on April 28th) so we can easily see what kind of numbers they are putting up in the luck stats. A .336 BABIP (high) and a 20.6% HR/FB rate (high) on offense. I imagine if we threw in those last 3 games of April, where the Nats scored 13, 13, and 8 runs it would skew even more. It's a good offense (with an MVP pillar to build around) getting the breaks and NL best in runs scored (by 15% over the 2nd best team - which is silly unless you are an exceptional Rockies offense) is the result

The Nats have gone 9-1 in their past 10 1 and 2 run games. The entire history of baseball has shown us that these types of games are basically coin flips. You might think a great pen or clutch hitting would skew these numbers but they don't. A bad team with a bad pen might do better in one run games than a division winner with the best pen ever. (For example last years Royals were 22-25 in one-run games) The Nats are catching breaks here too.

None of the above is to suggest the Nats aren't the best team in the NL East (they are) or aren't possibly the best team in the NL or MLB. I'm just highlighting what it takes to have a 17-4 type run. It's not enough to be good. A good team goes 12-9 or 13-8 in 21 games. Those are 93-100 win paces. To get to 17-4, a team has to be lucky too. There are no teams simply good enough to win 132 games (the pace the Nats have been on). You have to be lucky.

But that doesn't mean it will eventually turn on you. All that means is it will eventually trend back to normal. The Nats had a mildly unlucky start followed by a lucky run just as long. The end result is finding themselves about where they should have been with just normal luck from the start. A roller coaster ride instead of the gentle ascent. After that start you'd have thought it would take 40-50 games to get back into first (if they went 13-8 like I noted a 100 win team would be around they'd still be 3 games out right now). Instead, they got here in 20. Consider it a shortcut back home. Now they have a chance to put the Mets in the rearview with a sweepable series vs the Phillies while the Mets finish up vs STL and go to Pittsburgh. After that the Mets have a easier time but if the Nats can put 3-4 games between them and New York by the time Monday rolls around... I don't see the Mets making that up, easier schedule or not. 

There's no luck necessary at this point. Just do what you should do - have the Mets do what they should do and this brief interlude may all take care of itself in a matter of days, not months.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

You didn't listen

They were pretty simple instructions Nats. Gio was on board with it. Perhaps Nate Eovaldi was just so bad you couldn't avoid getting hits. This is what we get pulling guys from the dregs of the NL East.

"We got an NL East starter!"
"From the Nats?"
"No."
"Well that's ok. The Braves aren't quite as stacked but have a lot of young talent."
"Not them either."
"The Mets traded cross town? Sandy Alderson is getting bold."
"Nope"
"Oh that's right! How could I forget Hamels?"
"..."
"What's left? Someone like Tom Koehler or Nate Eovaldi?! Haha! I mean come on."
"sobs"

ZNN is here and there, but Adam Warren is nothing special, so tonight really it depends on the ZNN that shows up.

Anyway the Nats are back in first. Some people are taking this as a triumph of sorts. To me it's like the Nats wasted 40 games. If you assume the Mets are the only true challenger to the Nats (and that seems the most generous view of the NL East, arguably the worst division in baseball) then Nats record compared to the Mets one is the only one that matters. They are tied a quarter of the season in, the season starts anew. Do I like the Nats position? I think you have to. If you liked the Nats by 10 to start the year, and nothing has changed, you like them by 7-8 from here on out. I liked them for the season, so I like them for 3/4 of the season. I'd like them for 1/2 the season, or a month, or even a 10 game stretch no questions asked. (When you get down to just a couple series then you have to look at match-ups more closely)  The more games, the more likely it is the Nats talent advantage will shine through. 122 games is not 162, but it's plenty.

Some may say you shouldn't have been worried. They're wrong. The Nats were one bad stretch (which will happen at some point) and one great Mets stretch (maybe won't happen but as we saw not impossible) from being in real trouble. Like panic time, trouble. It wasn't likely that both those things would essentially happen back to back to start the year but like flipping a coin heads 10 times in a row - it becomes a lot more likely if I tell you you've already done it 5 times. The Nats wasted away their cushion. Now they've built it back. The worry state officially ended... I'd say about a week ago. Pulling within 3 games kept a bad series/good series combo from putting the Nats 6+ out*. It's not quite hammock time but I'd feel good right now. 

All the Nats have to do right now is avoid injury... well any more injuries. The team could absorb one OF injury with Taylor in the wings, one SP injury with Roark in the swingman role (nicks and dings have meant so far they've only needed spot starts) and maybe one IF injury with Espinosa (though no one expected him to hit this well). They've kind of gotten all of those, so they are on the edge. Will they get healthy before going over? That's the question. It's not a cliff's edge, it's a step's edge but it's there. You know what - really just keep Bryce and Max in bubble wrap between games and they'll probably make the playoffs one way or another.

(God willing the eventual Nats slow down - they aren't winning 85% of their games from here on out - doesn't coincide with some silly injury like Uggla going out for the year and people start saying "his veteran leadership mattered so much")

*It depends on what you think of your team / their team but for the Nats right now, 40 games in,  I'd say it breaks down like this for me

8+ games out : Panic Time
4-7 games out : Worry Time
2-3 games out : Annoyed Time
1 game ahead to 1 game out : Interested Time
2-3 games ahead : Blood in the Water Time
4-6 games ahead : Hammock Time
6+ games ahead : Tempt Fate and Look Ahead to Playoffs Time

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Lose.

Lose big. Lose small. Lose early. Lose late. However you want to do it. Just lose. This isn't personal. It's just that when the Yankees are involved there is one team of good guys and 28 others and one team of bad guys. For the next two days the Nats are just one of those 28.

Did you know Gio's last game was hot garbage? It's true! You can't trust that guy.

Zimm (.235 / .286 / .235) and Ramos (.273 / .308 / .273) have both cooled way down! Desmond and Escobar have similar blah numbers the past week.  Danny is crushing lefties that is true. Which hand does Eovaldi throw with again? Oh yeah the right one.  Werth has been hot, and he's not playing (Booo Nats for real though - for taking away my chance to heartily root against Werth). Bryce? Ummm... we'll pitch around that guy, between talks with Scott Boras on what small island he'd like the Yankees to give him in a few years.

Here are some potential terrible HR calls from John Sterling for when Bryce joins the Yankees.

"Bryce crushes it over the canyon!"
"I don't want to harp on it, but it's another home run for Bryce!"
"Bryce Bryce Baby!"
"Isn't it nice, another homer for Bryce!"
"The Bryce is Right!"
"Bryce up your life!"

Let's do this!

Monday, May 18, 2015

Monday Quickie : Bryce Ascending

There is a scary thought lurking behind the transformation of Bryce into BRYCE.  That's the gamble that the team was laboring under on Opening Day. If Bryce hadn't started fulfilling his full potential at this instant, a completely reasonable assumption given he hadn't yet and is 22 coming off injury, where would the Nats be?  Other performances have helped the Nats but were more predictable.  One of those starters was sure to be great right? Someone would hit (though if you told me it would be Espinosa/Escobar...) but Bryce becoming the most feared hitter in the NL? Better yes, but instantaneous reaching of peak potential, no, that wasn't on the radar. And without it the Nats would likely be around .500 wondering why they can't piece everything together.

But that's a scary alternate dimension thought because here in Dimension @09ia... I mean here in the only current reality that exists there definitely aren't other ones I travel through, Bryce is BRYCE and the Nats are right on the Mets heels.  If you don't read the comments someone asked what I thought was going to be the future of the division race and the way I see it has the Nats taking the lead soon, losing it again, then having a back and forth before finally pulling away around the 4th.  That might be optimistic for the Mets, but I like their schedule and they are due for some luck to turn... well back even at least. So there you go. Can you wait... 6 weeks?

The big question with Bryce is what happens when teams stop pitching to him.  Williams would almost certainly use Werth or Zimm or even Desmond to back him up and that right now is garbage, meh, and poor. Will they pick it up? Of course "when they start giving us free baserunners..." is a good way to start any problem question.

Strasburg looked ok yesterday so maybe he isn't hurt and as it was suggested maybe he's having some sort of post-injury recovery issues putting himself back in form?  We'll see. San Diego is basically home.

Rendon, like a SNL joke that people thought was really funny back in the mid 70s and they trot out every special for some reason, is still dead. (though back involved in "baseball activities" which for his health I hope means putting baseball cards into plastic sleeves.)