Nationals Baseball: Right where they should be

Friday, June 08, 2012

Right where they should be

At the beginning of this tought stretch in mid-May I tried to peg where the Nats would be at the end of it.  Up to this point I had them at 10-8.  They've been 9-8 with a rainout, so kudos to me. The next stretch is where we could really diverge though.  I had them going 6-9 vs the AL East and 3-4 on the road stretch after that for a less than impressive 9-13 finish. I'm gonna stick with that and I'll tell you why; I didn't see anything in the recent home series to make me change my mind.

The Mets sent out a mediocre pitcher coming back from injury and a AAAA guy the first two games. The Nats coudn't run either of them. When they faced a good pitcher in game 3 they were held in check.  I don't know how many times we have to go over this but the offense is not good.  It's not terrible with everyone healthy, but even with Bryce meeting all expectations and Morse back, it's not good. "But Zimm has been slumping!" you say.  "Morse isn't fully back yet!" cries you.  Sure. Fine. But that's what happens to offenses.  Guys slump.  Zimm will bounce back.  Morse will start hitting.  But then Bryce will be in a slump or Flores will have stopped hitting or Nady/Bernadina won't combine to be solid subs like they have the past 2 weeks.  In a usual offense you have some guys doing well and other guys not so much and the Nats have an offense that can't suffer a 2-3 guys slumping.   It needs nearly the whole thing to be humming for the wins to come easy.

Luckily for all Nats fans the pitching is that good. It will keep the Nats in games, and as long as they keep the score down, with this offense it makes the winner a coin flip situation. (that sums up why they've been .500 most of the year in a real quick and dirty way). That's good enough to stay in the race. And once you make it in the playoffs - well then it's really a crapshoot.

Other Notes

We'll look at this more and more as Werth gets closer to coming back, but in the battle between Danny, Ian, and Steve, I go Danny and Steve all the way.   Ian's the oldest, hits FA first, and has a huge amount of data saying this is who he is.

Mike Morse might not be in stride yet, but his .668 OPS is miles better than Nady, equal to Ankiel, and not too far behind Bernadina.  Short of it : he can't help but make the offense better.

The most interesting bat in the lineup to me right now? Jesus Flores.  Back in 2009 he put up a very nice 30 games before getting injured. Last year he had a stretch of two where he hit really well.  He's in one now. We've never gotten a good chance to see if he can put it together and hit well over the long haul.  We will this year.

Medicore Wang start #2... Detwiler watch not on, but there's only a couple commercials to go.

Rest of the pitching is awesome.  Carry on.


DezoPenguin said...

The guy I worry most about in the offense is Zimmerman. Basically, ever since last year's injury, he hasn't hit a lick. I pray for a bounce-back to happen, but the big worry is that this is who he actually is now, basically Lombo with more walks, a little more power, and less average. If that's the case, the Nats are in trouble.

Other than that, Morse and LaRoche are quality major-league hitters from whom one can expect success, and the evidence suggests Harper is the same. Hopefully Werth will recover from injury to be the guy he was before getting hurt. Epsi, Desmond, Lombo, and Flores are all limited in different ways.

Lastly, I agree with Espi and Lombo as the two-out-of-three MI choice. We know who Desmond is: good speed, some pop, no ability to get on base. Espi is better on defense and might be a better hitter if last year's version was closer to the "real him." Lombo *might* be the guy we're getting now, a contact hitter who gets on base a lot by slapping around a lot of singles and doesn't K very often. He's flawed even so, and better suited to a utility role, but it's not like Robinson Cano and Troy Tulowitzki are showing up to take the job away.

Donald said...

I have a slight disagreement about Desmond. If we end up landing that prototypical lead-off CF next year, we're looking at the middle infielders batting 6th, 7th or 8th (along with the catcher). I kind of like Desmond's pop in the 6th spot and he's certainly been clutch. He probably provides a little better protection to the number 5 guy. Espinoza could move up if we go with Lombardozzi but once we solve the leadoff issue, would you really rather than him near the bottom of the order more than Desmond? And Desmond's defense has been pretty good too.

If Lombardozzi starts hitting more doubles into gaps, I might change my mind, though.

Positively Half St. said...

I have read in a few places (and I am sorry that I don't remember where or the exact metric) that Desmond is actually near the bottom in the field. However, even with a pathetic OBP, I bet some teams would be interested in him in a trade because of his pop and some clutch hits he has managed.

Hoo said...

I prefer Dez over Lombo. While Dezzy has a poor OBP he can get streaky and carry the team for a game or two due to his pop. Lombo doesn't have that pop at all, which hurts b/c this team overall doesn't get on base much. I also think that Dez's defense at SS is probably better albeit with maybe a few more E's. I think Dez's maturity (read holding the ball more) has been appreciated this year.

Offense has been teetering with LaRoche/Dez and to a lesser extent Zim cratering at same time. More than offset the upside from Morse's return.

The impressive part of this team is that they can beat quality teams with 5/8 position players posting sub .300 on base for the week.

Anonymous said...

Lets not worry about Zim just yet. He has hit a lot of balls really hard the last 2 weeks that went straight at position players for unlucky outs. Lets give him at least til the all star break before we start worrying. If this continues the whole season though, he could be on his way to becoming the 6 or 7 hole hitter with pop who plays great 3rd base. Lets give it some time before we start dreading that nightmare...

Harper said...

Dezo / Anon - I agree with Anon on the idea and the time frame. Zimm is always proving me wrong when I write his stardom as fading. They would be in big trouble if he can't hit though. Ton of money tied up in him and Werth

All - the way I see it with Desmond is that we're sure who he is. Like 100%. the other two might be something special. I doubt it, but there's hope there. Maybe Espy can hit .260 which with his other skills would make him a very good offensive force. Maybe Lombo can hit .300 and get on base at a near .400 clip. That's better for a team than Desmonds occasional pop.

This is all long term though.

Anonymous said...

In the battle for our middle infield positions Lombo also has "local talent" edge on Ian and Danny. If all the actual baseball statistics are essentially equaled out, I would think Rizzo would keep the local area kid. Italian Ichiro isn't going anywhere as long as he keeps that .300 average.

Jeff Hayes said...

It is premature, to say the least, to assess RZimm's long-term prospects based on this small a sample size. Looking at his past six seasons, he has finished with an above average OPS, and even flirted with a great OPS twice, every year. We're only a third of the way through the season and he spent time on the DL. I'm far more worried about his durability than I am with his performance when he is healthy.

Ben said...

AL east homerism aside, I think your 6-9 is still too pessimistic partly for the reasons given your own analysis. That is, how many "good/great" pitchers in the AL east are there outside of Tampa? I even think the nats are going to miss CC, so that leaves them a lot (10 games at least by my judgment) of games against mediocre/bad pitching. Granted their offenses are much better than the nats but I think pitching usually has the advantage in the battle of unfamiliar hitter vs. pitcher (especially when you throw strikes). I'm going to predict a happy 8-7, so there!

Anonymous said...

Gotta think you're not paying attention to the guy who's opinion matters the most here, Harper. Davey Johnson will be playing Desi and Espi until the winning percentage forces him not to, which isn't happening. Lombardozzi will get to play some in left, some in the infield but will be getting spots to give the other guys days off. I'm still on the fence for Ian defensively, he has good range, a great arm, is just a space cadet sometimes. As a #6 or 7 hitter, he's a plus. Going a few years down the road, you keep all 3 but the youngest plays all over to spell everybody else. I honestly believe Davey sees Desi/Espi as the second coming of Whitaker/Trammel. He might not be wrong.

Chaos.....and Chris Young is a not a AAAA pitcher, he just can't stay healthy. RA Dickey is just sick right now. I'll take the series win.

Donald said...

Nice way to start the series in Boston. Would love to see Gio dominate today.

Anonymous said...

I have been a die-hard fan since the team moved to town and, despite the 50-31 start to that first season, I knew that team was not a playoff team. It was fun, but you could tell that they just weren't that good. Now, I hate to say/type this, but this team has suckered me into believing in them this season. I know that there is still nearly 2/3 of the season to play, but man, it is fun needling my Phillies fan friends right now

Nattydread said...

If 2013 is Rizzo's "target" year, 2012 is turning out to be the players & DJ's target year.

Johnson, in his consultant role, probably scouted Harper more --- and had a better idea of his impact potential.

Desmond, Espinosa and Lombo have all had their moments (pro + con) this year. I'm liking Desmond as a keeper right now.

DezoPenguin said...

What I think is kind of interesting is, while Desmond has only gotten a little better than last year, overall, the rest of the league seems to have worked its way down to his level, so that he's now an average or maybe even above-average ML shortstop.

Consider the AL East shortstops, for example: Jeter is a significantly better hitter, but Desmond's power plus the fact that he can actually play defense evens them out. Aviles might as well be Ian's clone, stat-wise. Ordinarily, Escobar *should* be better but he's having a crap year with the bat. Hardy's stat line, again, basically is Ian's with three more HRs but no SBs. Johnson apparently can't hit lefties to save his life and exchanges the power for OBP. There's not one of them that I'd point at and say, "Yes, I would definitely swap Desmond for this guy straight up and feel confident I got the better end of the deal."

Thinking it over even more, my list of SSs who are definitely better (this year) than Desmond is: Jed Lowrie, Starlin Castro, Asdrubal Cabrera, Rafael Furcal, Elvis Andrus, and Troy Tulowitzki. Of those six, Lowrie is the only one without a history of performing at this level, while Desmond could easily be the guy we're looking at (low OBP, good power, good speed, lots of Ks).

It's rather telling about the quality of shortstop play in the big leagues this year, but even so, it has me thinking that maybe it's not such a weakness for us regardless of which two of the three guys stick.

Froggy said...

Harper, even though you have a bias towards the Janquees and the AL East, I think (hope?) your prediction of the Nats AL East road trip will be off by a couple and we stick to our percentage by winning more than .500 of our games. We are 12 games over and without Werth, Ramos, Morse, Zimm, etc, various pitchers, blah, blah, blah for most of this season. Fact is we are a 'good' team playing fudnamentally good to sporadically great baseball on the road. Great pitching, good defense, some good hitters, and not a lot of power = Oakland A's.

Are we the A's of the National League?

Donald said...

So that series turned out better than I expected. I sure hope Bryce stays healthy. He's such a catalyst. There definitely seem like there are guys that just change the game by their presence -- Kemp comes to mind. These are the people that you dread coming to bat when you play against them. You are looking ahead to where they are going to bat 2-3 innings ahead and worrying about anyone getting on base in front of them. I think that stress makes the opponent play tight and make mistakes.

Sec 204 Row H Seat 7 said...

So if my math is right, the NATS come home 5-4 if the improbable happens and Toronto turns into the fish. I say the NATS come home 7-2 (EJ does his good thing, Wangs comes one games closes to being DFA's and Stras tosses another dazzler). We want Dallas, we want Dallas (Oops another team and another era)!! Bring on the Yanks!

blovy8 said...

I would hope we're better than the current A's. A sweep in Boston looks pretty good especially given how often this club has let the third game get away. Lester is no slouch, even if he's having a down year, his stuff looked pretty good.

I wouldn't be in a rush to decide among the three infielders. As it stands now, yes, Lombo will be the odd man out when Werth comes back, but it's difficult to stay healthy in the middle infield, and the Nats have been a bit lucky in that regard. I don't consider having three guys who can play to be a surfeit. Right now, the team is pretty athletic, Morse is about the only guy who isn't a good bet to be average at least. I guess Nady is usually pretty bad, but I can't admit that after the catch he made. I know the defensive metrics have a better handle on it than my eyballs, but it just seems like Desmond has been more solid at short this year, whether that's luck, positioning, or maturity, I don't know. He's still got the eight errors, which is old school "bad", but he seems more decisive, been better about getting to a good spot to field the ball, and has handled the hot grounders much more cleanly. The RZR numbers make me think he's actually having an above average year, but that may be only because watching the Mets recently made me think the defense at that position currently is crappy.

Of course, if they were going to deal Desmond at all, his value is probably as high as it'll ever be, but it's not like Espinosa has played short lately, and Lombo really doesn't have the arm for it.

The real decision will come if LaRoche has a good enough year to consider his option instead of putting Morse at 1st and getting a LH leadoff CF so that Harper can play in the corner. Lombo would still be pretty handy to have if Espy never gets his left-handed stroke going. I think the club is still concerned about having enough lefties. Really, you have power from Harper and LaRoche now - because Espy doesn't do much from the left side. That's ok, but who replace's LaRoche's bat if you put Morse at 1st? Zim, Morse, Desmond, Ramos, and the strong side of Espy are RH, and the likely CF wouldn't have 20 hr power unless they aren't really a leadoff type, like say, Upton.

I wonder how the Canadians will treat their lost team?