Nationals Baseball

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

What happened to Jerry Blevins

From the post I wrote when the Nats got Blevins :
First thing to note is that Blevins is not a LOOGY.  Here are those splits I promised you

2011
v R : .220 / .314 / .322
v L : .250 / .340 / .419

2012
v R : .219 / .333 / .310
v L : .182 / .248 / .327

2013
v R : .190 / .267 / .314
v L : .253 / .299 / .442

See? If anything he's been better against righties over the past 3 years. The take away though is that he's been effective against both sides. 
What have we seen in 2014?

v R : .333 / .417 / .472
v L : .134 / .194 / .209

This year, Jerry Blevins is a LOOGY. What the hell, Jerry?

The high ERA (5.11 right now) isn't exactly his fault.  His LOB% is pretty high and for a relief pitcher that usually means the guys coming in after you aren't doing you any favors. But even given that you can't ignore the split we are seeing this year. The OPS that he's given up to righties this year is All-Star caliber, meaning that those righties would be an All-Star.  Pitching him against all but the weakest righties is a non-starter.

There's some issue with a high BABIP vs righties, but it's not just bad luck. Righties have a much higher LD rate (27.6%) than lefties (18.6%) and they've hit all the homers he's given out. His walk rate vs righties is way up. He's throwing more junk at righties this year and getting more swings and misses from righties, but they are hitting his junk harder this year when they do connect (lefties are too)

I'm just stating what I see at this point, I'm not going to suggest any deep knowledge here. Is he having trouble controlling his pitches this year? Is he pitching around righties more? Is there something psychological versus righties that is going on? What I do know is the facts are the facts and you can't use Blevins versus righties right now, unless you are talking about Lombo type hitters (at best... I might not let him face Lombo either - that's asking for a single).

The goal, down 0-1 with only one inning left, is not to minimize scoring but to eliminate it. You knew that if you brought in Blevins you'd see a decent righty (Reed Johnson : 286 / .300 / .408 vs lefties) so you can't do that. Based on how Blevins has done versus righties and the fact Johnson isn't bad you gotta think Johnson has what, a 40% chance of getting on base, most likely through a base hit?  Even if he gets the next two guys you are likely bringing up Stanton one more time, runner probably in scoring position, a situation you are desperate to avoid. I know if you bring in Clippard or Storen first you'd be likely facing 3 LH hitters, but both are pretty capable of getting them out (Clip .675 OPS for lefties this year - better historically, Storen .547 OPS) and you know what? If they fail to get the first lefty out (Garret Jones .267 / .334 / .467 vs righties) then you can still switch over to Blevins if you like. Or hell you could even wait until they announced Jones and then pull Clippard or Storen and let Blevins deal with all three.  The only thing you can't do with these three pitchers is let Blevins face that righty.

The game situation demanded as close to a sure out as you could get at all times. Blevins v righty batter is one of your worst match-ups. It should have never happened.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Following late inning logic

I don't know what happened last night

Ok I do know what. I just don't know why.

Let's recap. ZNN pitched well. Nats hit well. Took advantage of Marlins mistakes. Detwiler didn't blow it thanks in part to a big Storen K of Detwiler. 6-3 going into the ninth. Now let's go over all the logic that leads to the loss.

Soriano comes in. Why not keep pitching Storen? He's been very good. He only faced one batter and you hate to waste him on 1/3 an inning. Simply put you don't do that. Save situations go to the closer.  That's why you pay them the big bucks.  If he's closed like the last 3 games you give it to someone else. Other than that he has "first dibs" on every save situation.

Well if save situations go to the closer - why didn't you bring in Soriano to face Stanton? It would still be righty versus righty and then you wouldn't waste a Storen appearance on a single batter. This makes some sense but if at all possible the closer pitches the ninth and only the ninth. This rule is more open to changes but in general the save of more than 3 outs is rare. It takes a "bulldog" to want to go more than 3 outs. Gotta save these arms for the playoffs! A closer is a delicate flower who if asked to get more than 3 people out may explode.

Following straight logic what I said above sounds a little silly, but everyone does it and they aren't terrible rules in certain circumstances, such as when your bullpen is deep and your closer is good. That describes the Nats. I don't have any big problems yet.

McGehee walks on 4 pitches - Not a good start but this changes nothing

Jones doubles to deep right center - crushed and brings the tying run to the plate, but you don't pull Soriano or even look to yet. Rookie righty next.

Ozuna singles to right center - Kind of a flare, which might have been caught (or at least dove for) if the OF wasn't playing deep to prevent XBH. Stinks.

At this point you start to look ahead. You may pull him for a lefty (Blevins) now, but if you do you need a righty to follow-up, because you don't want Blevins facing righties this year. Salty has some pop but strikes out a lot so you probably keep Soriano in and hope for the best. If not then Blevins and Clippard.

Salty hits a sac fly to right - not the best, but not the worst. If you've gone with Soriano at this point he pitches to Hechavarria, but someone is warming up in case this guy gets on. Clippard threw 21 pitches the night before, but would still make the most sense. You just rule him out entirely for Tuesday. Barrett, who pitched badly but only threw six pitches, wouldn't be a bad choice either. You are probably saving Stammen for the potential extra innings.  You'd might also warm up Blevins to go up versus Yelich if the righties failed in some manner, but really you'd probably just let Clippard try to seal it.

Hechavarria tripled to deep right center - hell of an at bat by Hechavarria but also telling for three reasons. First Soriano doesn't have his put away stuff. He hasn't K'd anyone at this point and Adeiny managed to foul off 5 pitches. With the winning run on third and one out - you really are looking for a K here.  Second, Soriano didn't have his location and threw a wild pitch. With the winning run on third you don't want that threat on the mound. Third, Soriano is now up to 25 pitches thanks to that long at bat. He's gone 26 three times, never longer and he'd have to go longer to finish this game.

With three big red flags it's an easy decision. You pull Soriano now.  But for some reason Williams decided that Clippard and Barrett were both not going to pitch tonight regardless of the situation. It's a silly decision - these guys should be able to go two nights in a row and you can see how this hamstrings Williams. You are left with two guys in the pen then, Stammen (R) & Blevins (L). The Marlins have R-L-R coming up (beyond that is Stanton but it's difficult for the Nats to get there and not have lost the game) You can't work the match-ups as you like so you're left with three choices.
  • Have Stammen come in now, finish out the inning - you don't like the Yelich match-up but you can pitch him carefully and get two righty on righty match-ups.
  • Have Blevins come in now - You don't like the Solano match-up, but it's Donovan Solano. Plus, Blevins has better K-stuff.
  • You keep Soriano in for one more guy, let Blevins pitch to Yelich, then bring in Stammen for Baker and beyond. This get you only favorable match-ups but Soriano as we explained is toast. 
Williams appears to choose the third

Solano HBP - terrible. Blevins is the call and the call is made

Yelich strikes out - sweet! Things worked out as planned. Now just bring in Stammen and maybe you can win in extras if he ho...wait.  Stammen wasn't warming up? But that means Blevins has to face a righty (a righty who kills lefties I might add) and that means...

Baker "singles" to deep left - Crushed over Bryce's head. No chance. Nats lose, Nats lose.

The failures that had Soriano pitching the ninth are the failures of the game, not Williams. In fact, most people wouldn't consider those decisions wrong. Even though I think they are, (especially if you know Clip and Barrett are not pitching tonight - makes a lot of sense then for the 4-out save) having a good pitcher in to pitch the ninth is never a bad thing and that's where the Nats ended up.

In the ninth the first time Soriano could be pulled was for a lefty to face Salty but just three batters into the ninth I don't see you doing that. And once Salty gets out, you don't pull him against Hechavarria.

Given that the first big mistake comes with letting Sorinao pitch to Solano. The sad part is that this wasn't a mistake caused by in the moment thinking. It's a mistake caused by strictly following a decision made to start the game. Clippard and Barrett weren't pitching tonight. That decision was made. Now, in a close game, he's suddenly left with a LOOGY and a long reliever. I still don't pitch Soriano at this point but you can see how he got to that decision.

The second mistake comes by not having Stammen ready to face Baker. I don't see why you wouldn't do this. Someone has to pitch the extra-innings if you get there. It's unlikely that the pitcher spot would come up next inning without the Nats scoring a run (5-6-7 up) so PH for the pitcher is probably not a huge necessity. This makes sense on even the basic "this is what's done in baseball" level. Williams basically broke from the rules at this point to do something stupid, which is like extra stupid.

Can Williams get this team to the playoffs? I think so. Of course I think anyone can.  Can he win there... well they aren't going to win because of him, not managing like this.

Monday, July 28, 2014

There's no "sensible way to manage your star player" in TEAM

Told you not to worry about Cincy. They can't hit. Can't. As good as the pitching can be (see Cueto, Jonny) it hardly matters when they can't score more than three runs, which should be the case versus a good pitching team (which the Nats are). Seriously - here are their runs scored since the All-Star break. 3, 1, 2, 2, 3, 1, 1, 1, 2.  This is a team that could find itself in last place by the end of August. Most likely not (the Cubs have gotten themselves a great "lead") but I'm not betting against it.

Anyway, the Nats will have to sweep the Marlins to go 7-2, like I demanded they do.  Don't they listen to me? They are better than the Marlins. They should win the series. 6-3 is fine. 5-4 is not ok.

The bigger story over the weekend is how the management has treated Bryce Harper and how the fans are turning on him.  He has not hit particularly well since coming back (.209 / .329 / .328). He seemed to have something going for a few games there but has gone back to slumping. During that time there was a questionable non-start versus Franklin Morales (not exactly a lefty who dominates lefties), an odd "fake bunt" call in a key point, and a few overly aggressive baserunning moves which everyone loved so much last year, and now everyone hates because... ummm...  Well, there's the stated reason why they hate these moves, because they cause outs. But you know what? They caused outs before too. The turn can be caused by a team losing when they should be winning, but the Nats have taken 1st place and don't look to be slowing down. No, the big reason why they hate the moves now, something that has changed from previous years is the team (and the media - Hi, Boz!) have told them they should hate it now.

Now you have people throwing out trades for Bryce, or suggesting he go down to Syracuse for Souza.  It's created this weird ironic situation where in order to show that Bryce is not more important than the team, that the team's success is paramount, the Nats are doing things that most likely will hurt the team's success.  So I guess send the management down too?

Bryce is arguably the most important piece for the future success of the Nats. Everyone else is either too old, to injury prone, or too unproven to take that title from him. The only possible challenger to Bryce is Rendon, but here's a fun fact; in Bryce's 2nd year (last year), he got on base more and hit for more power than Rendon is doing now in his second year. He was also four years younger than Rendon. Bryce's potential to be a team carrying star cannot be ignored. He doesn't have to be coddled, but he does have to be used properly.  Preferably that would be batting higher in the line-up but hey, if they just set-him and forget-him for 2014 in the 6 hole I'd be fine with that. Sit him versus tough lefties, otherwise he plays everyday. Don't ask him to do things you wouldn't ask other players of his talent to do. It's not that difficult.

Sigh. What a stupid thing to be talking about.

In other news - Denard Span. You all know I'm not a big fan of Denard Span. It's pretty much all about him batting leadoff, as I don't think he should be sat and certainly not traded. Recently he's made the leadoff question moot, getting on base at a crazy clip. Of course a lot of that is just luck (please someone tell me his .441 July BABIP is sustainable) which happens with speedy slap hitters, but he did increase his walk totals in each of the past three months. Six in May, eight in June, twelve so far in July. If he keeps it up he might not be terrible leading off when the batting average cools down. That's important because like it or not, he's leading off for this team.

I'm one to think that Span's option year should be picked up. Does that mean Souza (or whoever) doesn't get there chance? Maybe. But the Nats OF D is pretty shaky and Souza is still learning the position. Bryce hasn't been able to turn his athleticism into good OF play and Werth can't get around out there anymore (sorry Werth fans).  They need Span in CF.  If he happens to hit like crap (or if Souza shows himself to be an unstoppable force in the majors when he plays) then you can bench him - he would make a great 4th OF / defensive replacement / pinch runner in that case.An expensive one yes, but the Nats should be able to afford it without affecting their future plans.

Friday, July 25, 2014

For Rizzo, the time is never now

There is one quote in the story that Kilgore wrote about Rizzo that stands out to me, a dangerous quote for Nats fans who want the Nats to go all-in
"You can’t do things for short-term gains that are going to harm you long term.”
The rumor mill suggests this isn't just talk. Despite losing Zimm potentially for the remainder of the season, the Nats appear to be only looking at upgrading their LH relief pitching. It makes sense to do that, Jerry Blevins' complete LOOGYness this season limits his usefulness, but it would seem like the Nats should do more. One more bat or one more big arm could likely guarantee a NL East pennant and the advantages that come with that.

It makes sense to go all in now. The iron is hot and it seems very likely to grow colder by 2016. Ian Desmond, Jordan Zimmermann, and Doug Fister all could be gone after the 2015 season. Adam Laroche, Denard Span, Rafael Soriano, and Tyler Clippard are also up for FA after 2015 and not all of them will be back*. If LaRoche does come back he'll be 36 in 2016. Werth will be here and he'll be 37. Zimmerman and Ramos are both high-injury risks. It's clear that this particular window, with these particular players playing leading roles, has another 2 years tops.

That's not to say the future is grim. You can see where the Nats' plan is going. In 2016 Rendon and Bryce will anchor the offense while Gio and Strasburg anchor the rotation. Storen re-takes his closer role and a guy like Barrett moves into a set-up role. Filling in the gaps will be Taylor or Goodwin or Souza in the OF. Cole and Giolito will take their places in the rotation. I imagine a trade will be made for a MI and maybe a SP.  Who exactly I can't tell you . You're probably looking for a guy who is becoming a FA after the 2017 season at least (the Nats don't deal for 1 year players) and may not have gotten on the radar yet. (twist my arm and I'll say Starlin Casto)

But you can see that alot has to go right. Giolito and Cole (or whoever but these are the likely two) have to be as good as ZNN and Fister. Strasburg and Gio have to be as good as they are now. Along with Zimmerman and Ramos, Rendon and Bryce also have to remain healthy. Storen can't go head-case again. They have to be able to make a trade for positions other teams value highly. If the Nats want to keep position as NL East favorite a couple years from now, it'll take some good GM skill AND some good luck.

I understand the impulse to protect the future and I get that making deals for now are no guarantee of success, but here's the truth :
  • If you sacrifice the future to try to win now, you'll probably lose now and your future will be a question mark.
  • If you don't sacrifice the future to try to win now, you'll probably lose now and your future will be a question mark. 
These things only change by degree. There are no guarantees, not of current success AND not of future success.

Rizzo wants to focus on the future because that's what the owners most likely want. A stable, winning franchise. That builds the fanbase and makes the franchise more valuable. Trading for now could darken a future that is already cloudy. Focus on winning games, not championships, because winning games is an accomplishment that's far less up to the fickle hands of fate. One bounce, one bad start, won't take you from winning 90 games to 75, but it can take you from winning a playoff series to losing one.

Is that what you want though? A series of half-measures on whatever is going on in the current year? A tweak here and there every 2 out of 3 summers when the Nats are still in it? Or do you want the big move, knowing full well the team still could, and probably will, fail at obtaining the ultimate goal?

*My early guess. I think LaRoche will resign on another 2-year deal. So Zimm plays LF / platoons with LaRoche. I think Clippard and Soriano walk for greener pastures. I think the Nats let Span go because they just don't have room. I think they manage to sign Fister but not ZNN (who let's face it, doesn't want to be here) or Desmond (who will get more money elsewhere)

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Don't give away games

Yesterday Matt Williams gave away a game.  With Zimmerman out "days off" become a commodity that must be handed out carefully. Does Werth need another day to rest his ankle? Fine. But then Ramos needs to play.  It wasn't even asking too much of him.  He didn't play Sunday. Rockies night games start a little earlier (6:40 local) which lessens the day-night issue a little bit. (which really is just a made up thing anyway - like 5 more hours would make all the difference. You sit catchers on day after night games not because they can't handle such a crazy act of fortitude, but because you should give catchers more rest and day after night games are spread out enough that they make convenient places to remember to do that). But Williams had his set rules and he had to go ahead with them.

Then there's the line-up. You can understand putting Desmond 5th, sort of. Williams seems to have an unnatural fear of having lefties back to back in the lineup, and a desire to put Bryce in his place, so Bryce won't get the chance to bat in Zimm's spot. Desmond getting it makes the most sense I guess. So be it. That's the hand Nats fans have been dealt. But switching Rendon to the 3rd spot so Hairston can bat 2nd? What the hell is that? I'd rather see Hairston bat 3rd - at least you can use the "we are keeping guys in their usual spots" excuse.  There are optimal lineups but given the way Matt coaches we'll never get those. Even taking that into account, why can't we see a lineup that's Span-Rendon-LaRoche-Werth-Bryce-Desmond-Ramos-Espy? Doesn't that make sense with Zimm out for say a month? Arrgh

Look, the Nats should be good enough to lose a game they should win here and there and still take the NL East, but you want to minimize the number of these losses because you never know.  Maybe Werth needs a DL stint too. Maybe ZNN goes out and blows out his arm next start. Then what? Then you are fighting for a WC spot and you get to the end, you lose out by a game and you say "Well, that's baseball!" No. That's you screwing around in games you should win costing the Nats a playoff spot. 

Meanwhile Strasburg remains an enigma in 2014.  You can say nothing is wrong and it's just bad luck and hey, maybe it is. These things can last a while, even a season. But when it's going into a 2nd half you really have to start to look at a player. There are a lot of theories being bandied about (My least favorite one - "He needs another pitch!" Like pitchers haven't gotten by on 3 or fewer pitches before) My personal take - when you have an elite fastball, like in the upper 90s, it doesn't matter where you throw it. Guys can't hit that. But when you start drifting into the mid to low 90s location starts to matter. That's where Strasburg is moving into. It's still a good enough fastball not to get killed, but it's not good enough to be dominant on speed alone. Of course the caveat is that I can't really tell how much he's missing his targets. I can tell you prior to 2014 he was keeping the fastball away from righties and in to lefties and he's giving both more pitches to the middle. But is that by design? Going for contact? Command statistics exist but as far as I know are not out there for you and me so it's just eyeballing and guesswork unless someone wants to chart all of his games.

Here's the highlights from last game.  By watching Ramos you can see  he missed badly on the Dickerson hit. He might have missed a little low on the Paulsen hit. He missed on the DP ball, it was supposed to be outside and low - perfect for inducing DPs - but it went inside. It was still low and Stubbs isn't a great hitter so they got what they wanted but it could have been worse.

Here's the Brewer's game.  He misses down to Gennett on the HR, arguably in a lefties wheelhouse. Misses in to Davis on his HR. Misses at least out over the plate (maybe a little up too) on the lazy pop-up that the Nats' movers couldn't bring the statue that is Jayson Werth in to catch fast enough.

These hits seem to agree with the idea that he's having an issue hitting spots, especially cross his body (in to lefties, outside to righties). Of course there is a huge bias problem here when we're looking at only the other teams hitting the ball. I'd be shocked if we didn't see a lot of missed spots. We'd see the same thing if we looked at all the hits versus Kershaw, King Felix, or old video of Jason Simontacchi. What we really want to know is how often this happens. Pitchers miss spots every game. You miss a few times in 7 innings you are dominant. You miss a few times to each batter and you are toast.

Anyone have hours and hours free?

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Back to the edge

The Nats won last night. The Nats have the best record in the NL. The Nats are playing arguably their best baseball of the year.

But...

Zimmerman went down yesterday.

In of itself this doesn't stop the Nats from taking the NL East. Assuming it's something bad (and it seems like everyone does) Rendon takes 3rd, Espy takes 2nd, and the Nats end up with their best defensive group on the field. The offense takes a hit but if the Nats can't compensate for having one guy out of the lineup then they don't deserve to take the division.

The problem is what it sets the Nats up for, which is a scenario where one more injury cripples the offense. It may not - 60 games left you could get a decent run from a McLouth or even a Frandsen (it's not impossible!) - but one more injury would likely leave the Nats with the dreaded "easy inning" where Espy/?/pitcher gives the opposing starter time to relax and regroup. The offense never really clicked before whenever two guys (or more) were out. I don't see a reason why it would now.

It would also, in my mind, demote Zimmerman to Ramos status when it comes to injury, which is "hope to get 100 games out of him". That's probably not fair, he's played at least 142 games four of the last 5 years, but it's how I feel.  The every third year massive missed time due to injury has to catch up with a body, especially one a couple months from 30 years old who has spent the last year and a half dealing with an arm issue. Next year the Nats will have to plan around this. (Don't ask me how just now)

Do the Nats make a play for someone now?  Headley would have been the obvious choice, excellent defense, history, recent play, and home/road splits suggest he's due to hit better (and that he can hit righties - which could allow the Nats to do a platoon of sorts with Espinosa).  He's off the table now. With Luis Valbuena is crashing, the Nats are left with probably Martin Prado or Trevor Plouffe if they want guys that can play everyday. Both are better versus lefties.

My guess is that they don't make a play. Again - the Nats don't NEED to do something and Rizzo has shown a strong proclivity to ride the horses he brought to the dance (something like that) the past few years in that situation (hell, he's done it when they do need someone). So I don't see him making a move unless Zimm is out for the rest of the year.

Still, there's a chance it isn't too bad. Just keep repeating to yourself. 15-day DL.  15-Day DL. 15-Day DL. 

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Best team in baseball?

It's a legit question.  On May 28th the Nats lost to Miami and dropped to 25-27.  Since then they've gone 29-16 or the pace of a 104 win team. Normally I hate the "since May 9th" type of things, but in this case it's clear that the Nats have become a better team over time.

Pre-season : Fister out
March 31st : Ramos out
April 12th : Zimmerman out
April 25th : Bryce out

Three weeks into the season they lost a Top 3 starter and starters at 3 positions. That's tough to overcome.

May 7th : Ramos back
May 9th : Fister back
May 9th : LaRoche out

Early May looked like it might be the turning point but as soon as they got a couple guys back they lost another bat. It felt like they might never be healthy and it showed in their play.

May 25th : LaRoche back
June 3rd : Zimmerman back
June 10th : Ramos out again
June 26th : Ramos back
June 30th : Bryce back

But from the end of May until the end of June the team has finally come together mostly on a straight path with the exception of Ramos being out again for a couple weeks.

The gist is, I'm not saying the Nats are a 100+ win team, but the month+ long run they've been on is no mirage and the 2 month stretch prior to that is almost irrelevant. That team, from Mid April to the end of May was a different team and only serves to show how things could fall if there is another run of injuries.  If not, like we've said before, like everyone said before except the Braviest of Braves fans, the Nats should take the East.

Are they the best team in the NL? I think so. The run differential (which they lead) highlights the Nats' lack of flaws. They are a half-run better than league average when it comes to runs allowed per game, 2nd only to San Diego who plays in a run-depressing park. They are 3rd in the NL in runs per game and while that's not close to being as impressive as the pitching* it still means you are talking about a squad that's better than average now and likely has room to improve as guys get healthy and round into form.

In baseball? That's tougher. Both Detroit and Oakland have teams that are doing well both offensively and defensively. I'm not quite ready to say this. Let's see where the Nats are in a month though.

Looking at this, screw 5-4, road or not. I'm going for that 7-2 run. Let's start putting the East away.

*they are less than a quarter run better than average.  Or let's put it another way - the difference between the Nats offense and the 2nd to worst offense in the NL is 0.48 runs. That's equal to the gap between the Nats pitching and the average. The same kind of stretch comparison - we'll compare to the 3rd worst since the D-backs are a step worse than everyone else and the Rockies are the Rockies - get the Nats pitching to a 0.92 run difference.