Nationals Baseball: April 2012

Monday, April 30, 2012

Monday Quickie

On one hand, that was a damn ugly trip.  On the other, if you told me going in that Zimm would be out for the entire thing, I would have taken 2-4.  Plus they are still in first place and about to face one of the worst pitching teams in the NL in Arizona.  Maybe that'll be a little bit of a cure. For those down in the dumps think of it this way. The Nats were getting lucky at the end of games for a while now. The luck has evened out a bit.  The team is still 14-8 (100+ win pace). This weekend didn't suddenly make the Nats a non-contender.

Moore is up too now.  That's good. He deserved it and he makes at the very least a nice potent mash bat on the bench.  Though with Bryce and Moore up, expect to see a lot of games like yesterday, where the Nats help some pitcher close in on his career high in Ks.

As for the Bryce thing - since it's being treated as a move with no strong downside - I do want to go over the one way that bringning him up now could end up being a mistake.  If Bryce Harper gets yanked around from the majors to AAA for the next couple years then bringing him up was a mistake because you started his FA clock way before you needed to. I don't think this is likely. Anyone who saw this kid this weekend would have a hard time buying the fact that he wouldn't be able to stick in the majors until 2014 or something. I think anyone that would put money on that is stupid but there is a lose situation possible.

Other Notes
  • The Nats offense is currently Adam LaRoche, Wilson Ramos and pray for HBP.   LaRoche is crushing the ball at a .435 / .500 / .826 pace the past week and Ramos is hitting .333 with a .500 OBP.The next best regular?  Ankiel with a .214 average. Espy, Desmond, Werth, Nady, Tracy, Lombardozzi, all hitting under .175 for the week.
  • Yes Ramos needs to work on his fielding - no it isn't that bad. I thought it was weird how seemingly H-Rod got a pass for what was indeed a terrible pitch just because Ramos' stabbed at it instead of shifted over.  You did see how Ramos was set up outside and the batter could have simply bent his knees a bit more and got hit right? There's a good chance if he moves like Pudge that ball still bounds away. I'm not defending Ramos, but the lion share of the blame goes to H-Rod on that play.
  • Not to harp on a subject but Desmond is back to hitting roughly what he has the past 2 years.  I wish Lombardozzi was the answer but he doesn't look like it.  The only positive is that with this going the way it is Danny should have all year to work things out. Espinosa is a top-notch fielder with good pop.  He deserves a long chance to stick permanently. 
  • Let's not forget why the Nats will remain contenders.  The pitching is still very very good.  Strasburg gave up a run, Gio 2, Detwiler 3.  You'll take that every time. And outside of the Sat night debacle the relief pitching was great again too.  No runs in 4 innings on Friday and Sunday and a shutout inning for Clip before the H-Rod flameout. (plus really H-Rod was one good pitch away from getting out of his mess.   Seriously I don't know how you overthrow vs Dee Gordon.)

Friday, April 27, 2012

Roll them Bryce

Bryce Harper will come up on Saturday.  Did he earn the promotion? No. Not at all.  He had a decent past week but he's hit 1 homer in 20 games and he's getting killed against lefties. Is it bothersome that the kid is getting this handed to him without earning it? I guess. But really what it comes down to is how he performs when he's here.  If he hits, no one will care unless he's a total ass.  If he hits great. no one will care, period.

I'm not big on the whole "it's too early to bring the kid up" thing.  If he's going to be good, he's going to be good. The important thing to remember, as far as I'm concerned, is that it's just money.  Assuming the Nats didn't hold him down for a whole another year (which isn't necessarily a bad idea the way he's hitting, but then again it probably depresses team expectations for a few games in the key year of 2013), all this does is make him eligible for a Super 2. All that means is that the Nats will have to spend more money to keep him during his years before free agency.

This isn't a win NOW move. If they wanted to win more NOW, all stats say Tyler Moore would have helped the team more in the immediate future.  What it is is an "let's get ready for 2013, and maybe we get lucky in 2012 move" and I don't see anything wrong with that. Didn't cost the Nats a year of Bryce. Just money.

Still on target

It wasn't the finish most Nats fans were expecting, from a team that has made a habit out of pulling close games out late in 2012, but it happens.  The Nats did exactly what they needed to do, take 2 of 3 from a bad team on the road.  Now they can look at what may be a challenge, taking a game from the Dodgers in LA. 

The Dodgers aren't the superpower that they seemed to be over the first few weeks, but they are a very solid club.  Andre Ethier is a good bat but most of the rest are average, replaceable hitters (Maybe AJ Ellis has found a couple year groove) and the left side of the infield is doing terribly, giving the Dodgers two holes in the lineup, including leadoff.  Of course the whole lineup is made 10x better by the Triple Crown threat that is Matt Kemp. It's almost scary to think how impressive his stats could be with some decent hitters in front of him. The guy is leading the league in RBI, but has only driven in 23 guys despite 10 home runs and 31 hits over all.  He's almost single handedly given himself his biggest threat to the RBI title by getting on base so much (.513 OBP) that Ethier has inflated RBI numbers.  How the Nats pitchers handle that 3/4 will be interesting.

But really the question will be if the Nats can score enough runs to win.  That 7 run outburst was the only time in 8 games they've scored more than 4 runs. (only second time they scored more than 3). Kershaw is one of the best arms pitching today and Billingsly can be almost as good when he's on. Capuano is the third pitcher the Nats will face and he's fine, but he's a nice closer for the Nats as he is beatable if they go into that 3rd game needing the win. The pen is solid though their closer has had a rough couple outings  against the Braves.

I like the Nats to take that 1 of 3, at least.  I just can't see a sweep when the Nats are putting out Strasburg and Gio, pitching as well as he has, in two of the games.

Other Notes:

  • How long before Clippard goes out with an injury? I'm not saying that in the "ha ha Nats Med staff is terrible" way.  I really think most pitchers pitch with minor injuries all the time and they are only seriously looked at when they start to pitch poorly. 
  • At what point do you start worrying about Danny Espinosa?  He has the potential to be that .200 hitter and he's no longer in the unlucky BABIP club - he's just not putting the ball in play.
  • On the flip side,  Jayson Werth is crushing the ball when he hits it and is striking out a lot less this year than he ever has. Even when he's struggling to get a hit (only .214 over the past week) his ability to take a walk and smash an XBH makes him a good offensive player.  This is the Werth the Nats wanted.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Who needs Zim?

Well, the Nats do, but for one night things are ok.

Yesterday, I said that the Nats rotation would clearly fall back to Earth, and I meant it. They can't have 4 of the best seasons of all-time. But how far will each pitcher fall and for that matter will tonight's pitcher Edwin Jackson pitch any better.   It's time for a traipse through some fancy stats.

These are values that can vary from pitcher to pitcher but in general fall within a defined range.  There can be an outlier or two in any given year but they are rare and barely fall out of the expected range.  For these if any Nats are outside the range you'd have to really expect them to fall back into it.

BABIP (usually ranges from .250-.325)
Strasburg: .262 (rough, back of the envelop 2-year ave  .275)
Gio: .228 (.280)
ZNN: .200 (.270)
EJax: .250 (.320)
Detwiler: .238 (.272)

This is a big one and we're gonna see some regression.  I LOVE the fact that Strasburg is not far from how he's done in his past and completely in line with the usual range.  The rest of the group, including E Jax unfortunately, are going to have a few more hits fall in. ZNN should feel it the worst.

HR/FB  (6.0% - 13.0%)
Strasburg: 0.0%  (4.5%)
Gio: 0.0% (8.5%)
ZNN: 4.2% (14%)
EJax: 5.0% (9.4%)
Detwiler:  9.1% (10.6%)

So few homers!  Strasburg just doesn't give up homers.  He'll give up a handful but not much more than that.  Gio might be in line for a big bump backwards here. ZNN is an interesting case. He had terrible luck here 2 years ago (22%) and great luck here last year (6%).  I expect some real improvement here but I'll need him to go through the whole year giving up just a couple bombs before I'll believe he's changed into a Strasburg. Dewtiler is fine.  

LOB% (66% - 80%)
Strasburg: 82.5% (71%)
Gio: 80% (77.5%)
ZNN: 80.7% (73.3%)
EJax: 51.3% (72%)
Detwiler:73.5% (78.7%)

Here's where Edwin has gotten screwed.  He's actually gotten lucky with hits and homers, but has bad luck when guys have gotten on base. Tipping his pitches, maybe? Strasburg should get a little less lucky here but not terribly so, maybe ZNN, too.  Others are pretty close.

Personal stats
Here what we want to see if anyone has improved enough in these stats to justify the change in results we are seeing on the field. There IS a range but it's very broad and frankly I think it's more telling to look at their stats last year. It's difficult to improve on something like BABIP or LOB%. but I like to believe you can for the below.

Strasburg:   42.9% (42%)
Gio: 52.7% (48%)
ZNN: 48.7% (44%)
EJax: 51.1% (46%)
Detwiler: 64.3% (43%)

Detwiler's GB% is a bit crazy. You have to go back to 2007 to find someone who did that well for an entire year.  Can he do it? Maybe. Certainly he can be up around 60%, but given it's only been a few games, he hasn't done it before then I want to see it before I expect it.  I think it's nice to see here that everyone has improved.  Edwin's numbers give me pause a bit, though I'll get back to exactly why.

K/9  BB/9
Strasburg: 9.00 / 2.16 (11 /2) 
Gio: 10.27 / 2.66 (8/4)
ZNN: 5.33 / 0.67 (7.5 / 2.3)
EJax: 9.47 / 1.42 (7.4 / 3)
Detwiler: 8.44 / 2.25 (5.5 / 2.73)

The big things to notice here are how Gio has made big strides in both striking people out and walking fewer.  Maybe it's just having that pitcher respite, but the guy looks really good here.  ZNN is walking no one, 2 walks in 27 innings, while Detwiler is striking out a bunch more.  Edwin has improved too - so again I'll get back to it.

What does all this mean? It means that the National pitchers are in general getting lucky AND pitching better.  That makes is far less likely that we're going to see a stretch where everyone sees their ERAs bounce back close to 4.00.  For Strasburg I see the least change. He's pitching how he always has. He may give up a couple more runs but honestly this is a guy that should be in the low 2.00s. Gio's numbers are exciting because even though he should be giving up a couple more runs, he's pitching much better. The more I see him the more I like him to be under 3.00 as well. ZNN has the farthest to "fall" out of any of them.  A lot of his great pitching so far has been based on things going his way.  Not that he's going to be terrible or anything.  Based on the limited info we have so far, he should end up with a year a lot like last year and that's good. This is a damn good 1 through 3.

Detwiler and Jackson are the question marks. Detwiler IS pitching very very well.  Not 0.56 ERA well but arguably better than ZNN. The question though is how much of that is a fluke of small sample size? He's so far off some of his numbers that it's hard to just buy this as improvement. Is he suddenly Brandon Webb at his peak? If we were talking about 20 starts here maybe you start to buy into it, but for now it's a situation where Ross is going to have to prove it every time out for a couple months before Nats fans can get excited about him.  As for Jackson, as the most veteran arm you tend to buy into his history more than others.  That makes his improvements in GB%, K/9, and BB/9 a little less believable in my eyes. And I'm not enthused by how right now he's getting a screwed by his pitching with RISP, when the Nats talked about that as a strength ("he was tipping!") and the fact that he's getting lucky in other areas. This can go a lot of ways but I don't see him developing into that #2 type guy that some people were thinking he could be. I see more just repeating last couple years of minor disappointment in the high 3s.  But hey - an awesome game today could change everything.

I think the key points are
  • Very early but the Nats are pitching better and getting lucky
  • Should see some regression but again pitching better so they should still be among the best in the majors
  • Strasburg and ZNN are as good as most expected. Gio may in fact be better. 
  • Detwiler is so far off his history, but we have so little history for him that we just don't know if this is real.
  • Jackson's not necessarily in for a large improvement.  I wouldn't bet on it but I can't rule it out either.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Saving Grace

I was all prepared to be positive today, really I was. I had something about Espy and Ramos and even Desmond coming back around brewing in my head. But with Zimmerman now looking like he'll miss extended time, the feeling around the team is as negative as can be for a squad that just took over best record in the league. 

I'll give it to you straight and you can choose to believe it or not.  This team cannot win with this offense as it stands today.  They are 12th in the NL in runs per game.  They were closer to average, and average probably would be good enough, but as guys like Desmond and LaRoche and Werth have cooled down, no one has heated up to take their spot.  They haven't scored more than 4 runs in over a week. If Zimmeman is out for a week or two, then I still believe the Nats are fine. It would take an immediate reversal of fortune to pull this team out of the favorable position it's put itself in, and Zimmerman is an impact bat that should snap out of his doldrums. Maybe they do go 6-8 or something. No biggy. But what if he's out for longer? In that case I can't see the Nats doing any better than treading water, and probably doing worse.

But "Wait!", you say. "The Nats haven't stopped winning. Clearly the pitching is good enough that they can keep the Nats on track regardless of how the offense performs."  I agree. If the pitching keeps being this good then yes, the Nats will keep winning. But I don't think you understand exactly what that means.

The modern day single season ERA leader is Bob Gibson in 1968 with a 1.12 ERA. The Nats have three guys Detwiler (0.56), Strasburg (1.08) and ZNN (1.29) that are currently "challenging" that. If you are more of an ERA+ guy 2000 Pedro is your man with a 291.  The Nats 3 are at 654, 338, and 285 respectively.  Gio, with his measly 1.59 ERA / 240 ERA+ is only looking to challenge for Top 10 all time in ERA+, the slacker.

For the first thee weeks of the season the Nats have basically had four pitchers get results on par with the best seasons of all time. Forgive me if I don't see that continuing. If these 4 guys had pitched to a 2.50 ERA combined (a half-run better than ZNN, Gio, and Detwiler have ever put up), which would have been great and  all Nats fans would have taken in a heartbeat, and the Nats had even luck, we'd be looking at a 9-8 win team right now.

And that's the saving grace for the season right there. The Nats have been lucky, both with the fluky pitching performance and a few wins breaking their way.  They ARE 13-4. This gives them some room to fall back. They don't have to keep playing this well.  They can even drift below .500 for a while and still end up in a good position.  Look at it this way, if Zimmerman misses some good time - say 60 day DL, a couple months - but is back this year, and the Nats are say 41-37 come July 3rd, which would be playing 28-33 ball until then, and Zimm and Morse are both returning to the lineup, wouldn't you still feel good about their chances to make the playoffs?
The Nats season has been an fun season so far but it's had a measure of uncertainty hanging over it's head. Would the hitting pick up enough to keep the Nats on track when the pitching comes back to Earth? If so would that be enough to hold onto a playoff spot or maybe even the NL East.Now that's not even a question.  The hitting picking up enough to compensate for a couple months would take everything going right.  Now the question becomes; can the Nats survive long enough for the players they need to come back in a position to make a run?

First goal - finish this road trip still in first place in the NL East. Then we'll look at, how long Zimm is out and what that means for where they need to be when they start a big NL East road swing around May 20th. 

Survive, so they can advance.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Expectation Check

The Nats are off for a quick road trip.  Three in San Diego to face a bad Padres team, and three in LA with the league leading (and lucky) Dodgers.  A good team would be expected to win 2 out of 3 versus the lowly Pads, even on the road, and take a game from the Dodgers setting up a 3-3 road trip.  That's what a good team would do. A GREAT team though would go 4-2 or 5-1 even.  (granted this is all of course with the usual small sample caveats and in any 6 game stretch a good team could go 6-0 or 0-6, etc. etc.)

Now that the Nats are 12-4 what are you expecting? Not what you want, mind you, but what do you think is a fair guess of how well the Nats would do and if they don't get that you'd say they failed. Would 3-3 disappoint?

Monday, April 23, 2012

Monday Quickie - Division runthrough

The Nats didn't beat the Marlins two out of three, but only because the third game was rained out.  The Nats took another couple of great pitching performances and turned them into close wins behind whoever in this lousy offense happens to get a hit at the right time. The Nats are now 12-4 with a two game lead in the division and thoughts drift more and more away from "Can they make the playoffs?" to "Can they win the division?".  Premature?  Totally.  But let's see why the other NL East teams aren't carrying their share for the early favorite for Best Division in Baseball 2012. 

New York Mets - The Mets were always going to be the whipping boy in the East but they've been the one positive surprise out of the remaining 4 teams. Why aren't they 4-12? Because 75% of things have gone right.  An offense that would be at best mediocre given a bunch of average hitters has done better than expected thanks to Thole, Tejada, and Nieuwhatever taking a step foward (so far). That may not last but if one of these guys is ok and if Davis and Duda (the bats they really like) rebound, and they get a bit more luck this lineup will still be fine.  On the staff side Pelfrey, Gee, and Neise are all pitching well and Santana is healthy enough. That helps cover up a failing bullpen.

Can they keep the Nats from the division title? Not likely.  They are roughly where they deserve right now (some good luck winning has balanced out some bad luck scoring runs) and this is arguably a best case scenario. So I sincerely doubt it.

Philadelphia Phillies - The pitching is still "great except Blanton" but what a hideous offense.  That sums it up.  The worst part for Phillies fans is that the only good bat seriously underperforming is Hunter Pence.  Polanco was simply holding his own and now he might have went off that age cliff.  Rollins last year was most likely a minor fluke and he'll be a hole in the lineup. Victorino and Ruiz are simply hitting like they should.  Imagine how bad it would be if Wigginton and Pierre weren't overperforming?

Can they keep the Nats from the division title?  With that group of starters it's possible, but they'll need Utley back ASAP and Pence to have a great year to have a shot.  You can't count another career year from Victorino and everyone else is on the wrong side of 33. Right now it doesn't look good.

Miami Marlins - Even though the pitching staff has been solid without Josh Johnson returning to form yet, the Marlins offense has sputtered. The two guys that were supposed to carry it along with Hanely Ramirez, Reyes and Stanton, haven't gotten it going yet.  Worse, Gaby Sanchez is crashing. However all these guys are young enough that they should bounce back.

Can they keep the Nats from the division title?  It's possible.  The pitching is good and the one guy who hasn't done well is their best pitcher who you expect to pitch much better. The hitting hasn't been good and Omar Infante can't keep this pace up (.325 with 4 homers) but two guys that haven't done well are 2 of their best 3 hitters who you expect to play much better.  These aren't old guys or overachievers they are counting on like the Phillies. As long as they can hang around a few games back, I give them a shot.

Atlanta Braves - They actually haven't disappointed and are now in possession of the best lineup in the NL.  There's some overperforming going on here.  Heyward isn't this good.  Bourn isn't going to hit near .340. But all in all it's a lineup that since Fredi realized he shouldn't jerk Heyward around, has only one weak spot.  The pitching staff has had its ups and downs but Tim Hudson is close to returning and no one doubts the talent they have on hand.

Can they keep the Nats from the division title?  Yes.  If we ignore their tendency to play just well enough not to win titles and playoff spots, the combination of offensive and pitching talent is there.  The offense may be a bit precarious. Most of the team is not great at getting on base if they are struggling to get hits so expect week long scoring slumps, but there's no weakness here and so far they've held the closest to the Nats. It's the games versus the Braves that I'd watch most closely.

Friday, April 20, 2012

Nats lose?

Odd.  Looked down at the books and there were the same amount of Curly W's in it as the day before.

The Nats face an interesting weekend.  While they try to knock the Marlins around, the rest of the NL East faces the non Dodger part of the NL West. The Phillies keep playing a Padres team that has problem scoring runs against bad pitching let alone Hamels and Halladay.  The Mets take on the fairly punchless Giants. And the Braves, who have scored 7, 9, 14, and 10 runs in 4 of their last 5 games, take on the D-backs.   Honestly I expect one of those teams to sweep the weekend so the Nats really do need to take 2 of 3 at least, to keep their little lead.

Since no one wants to talk about a dumb loss how about a look around the league at some former and could have been Nats? 


Prince Fielder : .354 / .418 / .521   Yep he's that good.  Still going to be death at the end of that contract though. 

The Gio Deal

Tom Milone : 2-1, 2.84 ERA
Brad Peacock : 1-1  1.42 ERA in AAA
AJ Cole : 0-2 4.80 ERA in High A
Derek Norris: .306 / .302 / .612 in AAA

I wouldn't take the deal back, because Gio gives the Nats the NOW stats they need, but the 2013 A's likely will owe 2/5ths of their rotation and their starting catcher to dealing Gonzalez.   Glad to see a deal work out for everyone. 

The Centerfield Mess

The "settle for these guys" the Nats didn't settle for
Marlon Byrd : .075 / .159 / .075.  Just noting.
Kosuke Fukudome : .143 / .200 /.143.  Yep done.  

The foreign gambles passed on 
Norichika Aoki : .300 / .417 / .300   Numbers look good but he's been strictly a PH so far.  13 PAs.
Yoenis Cespendes : .222 / .340 / .533.  May have made a mistake here because that power is for real. 

The "trade for these guys" not really on the table, but felt available if the Nats would pay through the nose 
Dexter Fowler : .216 / .326 / .459.   Don't buy the power.  15 homers over last 3 years.
Peter Bourjos : .206 /.229 /.324.  Not this bad, but not as good as you might have thought.
BJ Upton : Should play first game today. 

The "trade for these guys" not available
Adam Jones : .321 / .357 / .679  Hey look Luis Ayala is on the O's and doing ok!
Denard Span : .327 / .364 / .442.  Off the market once they got rid of Delmon last year. There's a reason these guys weren't available.
Old Friends and such  

Adam Dunn :  .222 / .340 / .400.  A slow start for Adam in a season where he needed a fast one. He's still a couple of 0-fer games from being terrible and he hasn't hit a home since Opening Day.  I'm not ready to call this 2011 redux just yet but he needs to get a streak going or something.
Livan Hernandez : 4.70 ERA.  Unimpressively eating up unimportant innings for the Braves.
Laynce Nix : .188 / .278 / .313.  Just one small part of the Phillies offense problem.
Erik Komatsu : .273 / .385 /.273  The Rule V grab is so far hanging on as the last OF on the bench for Cardinals.
Nyjer Morgan : .139 / .139 / .139   Is the honeymoon over? Probably, but at least the Brewers can feel good they didn't get suckered into a long term deal after last season.
Josh Willingham : .340 / .411 / .700   No he won't keep hitting like this but he's still a good deal at 7 million. And the 3-year deal means he won't get traded this year.  Enjoy your calm offseason Josh.
Justin Maxwell : .250 / .308 / .500.  See Aoki, though he's getting some starts now.  Good for him.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Don't worry ZNN, it'll be different soon

ZNN Game update:

WRONG: Ben, Froggy, Bryan, Nattydread, Anon, JRinAustin, BenDen,
RIGHT: Me!, Natsochist

Sorry ZNN, better luck next time.  I really do mean that though.  You should see better luck next time.

As Harputron 2000, soulless automaton watching and blogging about the Nationals, I view the team with a distance that is different than most others.  And in this role, I have something I need to to get off my robotic chest.  You see, over the first few weeks, to the impartial observer such as I, it doesn't feel so much that the Nats are winning these games, as much as they are surviving them.** They are hanging around until the other team screws up and then they sweep in and grab the W.

I know what you are going to say (besides "Shut it, jerkface!"). This plan is in fact the key to victory.  A team should wear down the opposing pitcher, get to the soft underbelly of the bullpen, and feast on it. Bullpens are usually a teams weak link, even more so if you can get into their middle relievers. I agree with this 100%.  But this ISN'T what the Nats are doing.

They aren't wearing down the opposing pitchers. They work a walk vs the starter about once every 12 and a half plate appearances. 

They aren't feasting on the bullpens.  They have an ok, but nothing more than that, average and slugging versus the pens they've faced.

No, what the Nats are doing is getting a crazy amount of walks from relievers. More than once every 6 at bats, the opponents are putting the Nats on base for free. Now sure, some of that is the approach the Nats are taking, but if it were just the approach you'd expect to see the Nats have roughly the same standing with starters and they don't. They are good, but not great working their way on base versus starters, 7th in the NL. They are head and shoulders above every other NL teams at working their way on base versus relievers, 1st in the NL more than 20% better than the next best team.

Now before you get all worked up, because I know you will, it's not that the Nats can't keep winning.  Nor am I saying that the Nats are getting lucky.* All I'm saying is the Nats can't keep winning like THIS. They can't keep going into the late innings, tied or behind by a run or two and expect the other teams pen to walk and wild pitch them to victory.  The wins are going to come.  They are just going to come in a different way.

*Well... it's not what I'm saying here.  They do have an ungodly HR/FB rate that won't hold up which means a few more runs given up.  In all honestly, talent level on the field, they are probably more an 8 win team than a 10 win team right now, but that's still good enough for first place so I don't see why people would possibly get worked up with me saying this. Then again, you are fans.  That's what fans do. So go ahead. Get worked up. Harputron 2000 is incapable of feeling hurt. 

**of course that's just a silly feeling.  The Nats ARE winning, almost entirely because of great pitching. These wins, no matter how they've been gotten, are banked now.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

The Zimmermann game


Those are the number of runs scored by the Nationals at the time Jordan Zimmermann exited his last 6 games.  The Nats did score 4, 5, and 6 runs before the measley 1 run they scored last night so it seemed like the offense was getting to a nice average place. They are up against Lucas Harell tonight. He threw a solid shutout in his first game, but was roughed up a bit in game 2.  A pitch to contact sinkerballer - when he has control he can be tough, when he doesn't it's lights out early.

I'm going to set the over under at 1.5 runs.  Do you think the Nats will score more or less for Jordan Zimmermann by the time he exits the game tonight?  Game on!

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

He's that good

Strasburg, I mean.  The rest of the staff may or may not meet expectations but Strasburg... he's as good as advertised, right? Even he thinks he's this good.  The Astros got some good cuts on him with runners on and his thought process isn't "Oh I'm getting tight.", it's "Oh I must be tipping my pitches.".

Where does Strasburg's first 20 starts rank (roughly) all-time? Pretty high. There are 273 guys that started their first 20 appearances* in recent times (at least since 1948 maybe a few before that).  Here's where Strasburg's stats rank

ERA : 2.35  (5th)
K/9 :  10.9 (4th)
BB/9 :  1.9 (7th)
HR/9 : 0.4 (18th)
H/9 : 6.8 (12th)

Pretty impressive . Not every great pitcher is included on this list, not even close, but a lot of very good starters are.  Seaver, Marichal, Mussina, Gooden, Glavine, Smoltz. Mark Prior and Kerry Wood.  Sabathia, Weaver, King Felix, Hamels, Lincecum, Verlander, Kershaw. Really this is a decent way to compare among contemporaries, not so much for even 20 years ago.

The most impressive stat to me though was K/BB.  Usually, young guys will have no problem striking out batters, but have a problem with control. Not only was Strasburg 1st, he was first by a huge margin. Strasburg sits at 5.625. 2nd was Andy Sonnanstine (he got hit and gave up homers - if you are wondering) at an even 4.00.  Then Prior at 3.85 and Greinke at 3.76.  The difference between 1st and 2nd, between Strasburg and the best out of these other 272 guys, is the same as the difference between the 2nd best guy and the 38th.

What about the career leaders in this stat that didn't make this list of 273?   Clemens was the best of the ones you'd probably look at, around 4.3, but he'd regress for a few seasons and 4.3 is still a good deal behind Strasburg. Pedro? Just over 3 in his first 20 starts.  Randy Johnson?  Maybe 2.5 area but wouldn't break 2.00 again until he was 29.  Schilling?  Under 2.50. Koufax? Not much past 2 if at all. Maddux, Halladay? Don't break 1.5, by my back of the envelope calculations.

The fact is the CAREER mark is 5.03 by a guy named Tommy Bond, who threw his last pitch in 1884. After him it's Schilling with a 4.38 mark, then Pedro, Dan Haren (who's suceptibility to giving up hits and the occasional long ball keep him from being elite) and Mariano Rivera are the only other ones over 4.00.

What does this all mean? It means we have never seen a combination of stuff and control at the beginning of a career as we are seeing from Strasburg.  It's quite possible, since these things tend to improve a bit over time, that we've never seen this combination of stuff and control ever, though I have a tough time wrapping my head around how it could get better.  Averaging 8 Ks and 0.5 BB a game? It's crazy how good Strasburg is, and it's mind-blowing how good he could be. 

*I couldn't get first 20 starts, only first 20 games.  And I didn't want to include relief appearances since thy can skew things like K/9...  I'll let you figure out if I'm failing baseball-reference or if baseball-reference is failing me.)

Monday, April 16, 2012

Monday Quickie

The Nats fell one game short of being THE baseball news of the day. Instead the Dodgers hold that spot by themselves (Yay, Don Mattingly!)  I actually kind of prefer that the Nats remain on the sidelines. A hot start like this isn't sustainable (sorry to be the first to tell you - the Nats aren't going to win 113 games) and I don't want the story to become "What happened to the Nats?!".  I also don't want the story to be about the grittiness or the "new attitude" the Nats may have.  This happened in 2005 and it was frankly unbearable.

In 2005, the Nats had an amazing first half powered by a number of quality starts by Livan, John Patterson and Esteban Loaiza, some timely relief pitching, and a great amount of luck from a terrible offense. The story should have been about that pitching.  But it wasn't.  Since they had won some crazy number of 1-run games by the time that Cubs series ended in early July, the story was about the "heart" and 'hustle" and "scrappiness" of the team.  Feel free to blame Tom Boswell for this - I do.  Then suddenly (and unsurprisingly) the team started to lose a lot of those 1-run games. The story became about the Nats free fall (I guess they didn't care anymore! Washed off the grit!) and remained that way for the rest of the year as Bowden tried to patch holes in the leaky boat using tissue paper and CheezWhiz. The pitching never got it's due.

This year the pitching has been amazing. 

STARTER ERA : 1.75 (1st in the NL by 0.6 runs!)
RELIEF ERA :  2.43 (4th, sad face!)
TOTAL ERA : 1.99! (1st)

The starters are :
  • 1st in Opponents OBP (a mere .235) 
  • 1st in Opponents SLG (a ridiculous .256) 
  • Obviously 1st in OPS (by over .100 points!)
  • 1st in WHIP
  • 2nd in K/BB
  • 2nd in P/PA
  • 3rd in K/9
  • Tied for most IP (3rd in IP/G)
  • 5th in BB/9
THIS IS THE STORY. Let's not forget it this time

Other notes
  • Bad news and good news on the hitting front.  The bad news is that all of the guys doing well are being propped up by super high BABIPs : Werth (.467), LaRoche (.444), Desmond (.410).  They should fall.  The good news is that all the guys doing poorly are being held down by super low BABIPs : Espinosa (.231) , Zimmerman (.212), Ramos (.208).  They should all get better. 
  • Speaking of crazy BABIPs - Davey please don't use Flores more because he's hitting well.  His BABIP is .667.  Basically that means he made a deal with the devil for a few games. 
  • It was great that Nady was able to hit that homer but the "other" OFs still stink.  Nady .208/ .269 / .333, DeRosa .091/ .259 /.091, Bernie .143/ .200/ .243.  I hate to say it but Rick Ankiel can actually make things better.
  • Adam LaRoche already has 6 walks.  In his best year he only walked 69 times.  Maybe he learned something last year while fighting that injury as he had his best BB-rate of his career in that short span.
  • It's not the average or patience killing the offense, it's the power. Only 5 homers in 10 games.  Werth and Zimm are still waiting for their first. 
  • While I praise the starters - let's not forget about the relievers. Stammen, H-Rod, Gorzelanny, and Burnett have given up a combined 2 runs in 19 IP. (and the stats say only Tom has been real lucky here)
  • Also - no homers given up by the relief corps yet.  Other than H-Rod and Clippard, they are doing a good job of forcing the ball down, especially Stammen and Burnett
  • Speaking of Clippard though - barely used over the weekend.  Ineffective when pitching.   How long until he hits the DL for surgery? Over/Under says April 30th.

Friday, April 13, 2012

Maybe the pitching won't have to carry this team...

Two days ago the Mets tried to make the game a blowout. In the last 4 innings they walked the Nats 8 times, including 6 times in the 6th and 7th innings. Yet the Nats only managed 1 run during those two innings and 3 in the last 4.  Yesterday it took the Nats extra innings to get to 3 runs, and they didn't even drive in the final run. Part of it is a run of bad luck with RISP, but part of it is the fact that without Morse you are going to have some combination of DeRosa/Nady/Carroll/Ankiel hitting between the 5th and the 7th spot (why the catcher must bat 8th in Davey's lineups is anyone's guess).  It's not a lineup conducive to scoring runs.  So the question we usually ask is can the pitching hold down scoring enough for the Nats to make the playoffs. That might be the wrong question.   Maybe we should be asking if everyone else's offense is even worse.

This isn't your twin brother's who happened to come out first National League. In 2006 NL teams were scoring 4.76 runs a game.  It's steadily decreased from then; 4.71 in 2007, 4.54, 4.43, 4.33, and finally 4.13 last year. The NL league average is under 4 right now. I know it's very early but it fits with a recent trend. What if the average run scoring doesn't top much past 4 this year? Prince left. Pujols left. The best guy the NL got in return was Michael Cuddyer.  Howard and Utley are down. David Wright's been hurt. Brandon Phillips (both timing nicely for the Nats). Buerhle came over. Papelbon. Gio. Assuming the pitching holds up (and it looks damn good right now) all the Nats really have to be is average for the league they are in.  It's all about context.

Here are the NL East early season breakdown for R/G:

WSN   4.00
ATL     3.67
MIA    3.14
NYM   3.00
PHI     3.00

Again it's WAY early, and one big game or shutout can throw this all out of whack, but it feels telling that the Nats - who seem to be struggling to score runs - actually have the most productive offense in the NL East right now. I've said early on that things are actually going well for the Nats. Outside of the 2 OF spots you can't complain about the performances they've received at the plate.  Even Zimm and Espy, who aren't hitting well, are getting on base.  So things might get worse, but even then - there's still room to fall.  Maybe by simply treading water without Morse, maintaining the level of offense they had last year, the Nats will become average because the rest of the NL will regress around them. Average with a great pitching staff would be enough and it does look like a great pitching staff.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Five games in

Sorry if you're looking for strong opinions from me just yet.  It's still too early to make any real judgements on how people are performing. The batters are working on 20 ABs, the starters on one start, and the relief pitchers on 3 appearences. That's just too little data to say anything for sure. You have to be careful about applying too much importance to what could very well amount to nothing but random variation. For example, Ian Desmond is hitting .364 / .417 / .545 right now.  Last year, just a few games into the season, Ian put up a 5 game stretch hitting .360 / .385 / .600.  Has he turned a leaf or is it just one of those 5-game stretches a player will have ten times in a year? You don't know right now.  You can't know. 

But it's also important to remember that these games count just as much as games won and lost in September.  Yes, games won and lost are also subject to random variation. That's why the Red Sox' terrible start last year didn't damn them to a 60 win season. But when you are dealing with playoffs, one game can make all the difference. Assuming nothing else changes - if the Red Sox started last year 3-9, instead of 2-10, they make the playoffs. That makes a nice start by the Nats, and poor starts by other teams, important.  If the Nats want to get to 88 they have to win 85 more games.  If the Braves want to get there they have to win 87.  Those two games could make a difference.

Losing Mike Morse

Mike Morse's lat is not getting any better.  Apparently the injury doesn't effect his swing but it does make him unable to throw the ball. This makes playing the field virtually impossible.  You could put him at first, but that creates several problems.  Where do you play the now healthy LaRoche? Do the Nats have to keep starting these subpar OFs? Most importantly, what if balls are hit to Morse and he has to throw the ball?  If I'm the other team I'm bunting down the first base line with any decent runner. I'm sending every runner on second to third on pick-offs to first. It's something you can't hide from.

What does this mean for the Nats? It's not good. Even if you didn't like Morse (like I did...n't) he accounted for A LOT of the offense last year.  For those that like fancy stats - those numbers have his wRC at 97, which given the Nats total runs scored last year put Mike as responsible for over 15% of the offense.  This kind of loss can be made up. Werth bouncing back should be worth a few more runs. Same with Zimmerman playing a full year. Most importantly a full year of a healthy LaRoche should be worth a bunch more.  But remember - that only gets the Nats back to about where they were last year. 624 runs scored. 12th in the NL.  That's not where the Nats need to be to make the playoffs.

We're already seeing this play out. With arguably only two regulars struggling (and in a minor way) and against rather unimpressive pitchers, the Nats have been nothing more than average in the NL. It seems more likely to get worse than better. For the Nats to improve significantly now, in comparison to last year, they'll have to catch some breaks. Maybe everyone else improves slightly with the bat. Maybe one of the young players breaks out. Maybe (and probably most likely) Bryce Harper comes up and is ROY worthy.

If Mike Morse misses significant time this is the scenario the Nats find themselves in.  The pitching improved but the offense struggling to provide them the support they need.

Monday, April 09, 2012

Monday Quickie

The Nats were getting dangerously close to being a "story" early in the year (I think 4-0 is when the National media starts to weigh in if there is nothing else interesting going on) even though without Kerry Wood the Nats may be staring at 0-3 right now. That's the fun of early season baseball.  Every streak seems bigger than it really is because that's all we have to go on. Teams like the Orioles and the Mets can have hope that they may be the surprise team this season. Teams like the Red Sox and the Braves can act like it's the end of the world.  And the best part is that everything will change by this time next week.

If it's all fun nonsense so far, what can a Nats fan take from this opening series?  I would say this : The Nats are going to be much better than the Cubs. When you play a team you are much better on the road, you should take at least 2 games in the series. The Nats did that. Good teams win the games you think they will and they do it over and over again. Mets in NY?  The Nats should take 2 out of 3.  Reds at home?  At least a split, hopefully 3 out of 4.  Astros at home?  You want to sweep.  Let's see what they do.

Other things to keep an eye on :
  • Jayson Werth continues to have flatulence problems.  It's not the 0 for 10 that bothers me, it's the 5 Ks.
  • Gio will have a lot of eyes on him next start being that it's the Nationals home opener and given his poor first outing, and that may not be a good thing. He'll be up against a Reds righty heavy lineup that was by far the best hitting team versus lefties in the NL last year. 
  • Bullpen looks as strong as last year. If Jackson and Detwiler/Wang/Lannan can hold up their end of the bargain it should be fresher, too.
  • 6 XBH in 3 games is pretty sad, but it's what the Cubs put up too.  Let's see if the Nats can put up some more power at home. 
  • No one has distinguished themselves in the OF yet and honestly I don't expect anyone to. Almost made it through Spring without the annual "This is the year Bernadina lives up to his potential" story. Given how he looks so far I'm going out on a limb the say next year is when we'll finally not see that story.
  • Notice Steve Lombardozzi hasn't gotten as much play as you might have thought he would?  It's not because Desmond has been so hot, it's because he's got an option left and he'll be gone once Morse and Ankiel are ready. There's no reason to work him in now.  Again - most of us would agree he's a better option for the team to have on the bench than say Xavier Nady or Brett Carroll but this isn't about what's best for the 2012 Nats. The sooner you understand Rizzo still has his eyes on 2013, the better

Friday, April 06, 2012

Just one game

Desmond isn't necessarily a great lead off hitter. LaRoche isn't necessarily a terrible clean-up hitter. Chad Tracy isn't necessarily a lucky bastard who got one of a handful of XBH he'll have all year (though probably...)

The "nay-sayer"s aren't wrong. Neither are those predicting a deep playoff run.

It's only natural that we want to draw some conclusions right away. Finally meaningful data! But it's just as silly to do it with game #1 as it would be to randomly pick game #130 and say that Brian Bixler going 3-4 with a HR proves he should be starting.

I'm never going to tell anyone what to do. Go crazy about it if you want. But I will tell you you're silly for doing what you want. You're silly! (sorry for working so blue)

Thursday, April 05, 2012

Last Lannan Thoughts and predictions

So I spent some time thinking about the Lannan stuff going on and I keep coming back to one basic question : Does Rizzo even talk to his managers? This is the type of question that I must rely on our intrepid reporters to answer because I just don't know. But it sure seems like he doesn't.  Why else would Davey come out with the "he's my guy" comment like he did unless he had no idea Lannan would be sent down? 

(Well I do have one last theory - Rizzo told/wanted Davey to play up Lannan as the 5th starter even though he knew he was going with Detwiler in order to raise up Lannan's trade value.  If so, well then the actions become more understandable, still real jerky, but more understandable

I know some think this was Davey's call but seriously - do you really think anything on this team isn't Rizzo's call.  Davey practically begged for Bryce Harper to break with the team and Rizzo decided it wasn't best for the organization (he's right) and sent him down. Davey talked openly about wanting a big bat on the bench and what do we see? A bench with less pop than a Wisconsin Mormon's 7th birthday party.  This is Rizzo's team, no way this wasn't a Rizzo led decision. 

Some may not believe that Rizzo could be such a jerk as to not let Davey in on what may or may not happen until the last minute, but isn't that why the whole Riggleman fiasco blew up last year?  Because Rizzo's idea of talking to his manager was pulling him aside and saying "I'm not going to talk about this.  Just shut it and do your job"?

The problem that we're at now has never been the decision. Baseball wise it's a bump in the road. It was with how the decision was presumably handled.


I think I've made it clear how I feel about Ramos and Morse this week.  What about everyone else and the team as a whole?
LaRoche : Really don't know.  I'll say he takes a slight step back because of the injury to .250 with 20 home runs but I don't feel strongly
Espinosa : There's hope he can get better and reasons to why he'll regress but I think he's found a nice happy medium.  I expect a year a lot like last one, maybe with a few more walks.  .230-.240 with 20 homers, .330-.340 OBP
Desmond : Improves just enough to hold onto the job for one last year. .255 / .310 / .380  12 homers
Zimmerman : I really like Zimmerman to have a year like 2009/2010.
Werth : He'll bounce back to something like .265 / .360 / .460
Bernadina / Ankiel : Nothing new.
Bryce Harper : struggles enough in AAA to delay his call-up to September. Deserves it a few months earlier than that, but didn't force Rizzo's hand enough to help 2012 so he keeps him down.

Pitching wise I don't see any surprises.  I like Gonzalez to do a bit better than most think - hanging on to that low 3.00 ERA.  I like Jackson to do worse than most think - ERA popping up to mid 4.00s.  Detwiler won't do well enough to keep Wang out, Wang won't do well enough for the Nats to think he's going to be any sort of answer.  Strasburg and ZNN will be great and very good, respectively.  Bullpen wise - someone will flame out, most likely to injury (I'm thinking Clippard) but all in all they won't miss a step with only long relief being an issue which really isn't much of an issue at all.

Final standings - I think the offseason moves for Gio, Jackson and Lidge, took this team to the brink of the playoffs... and then nothing else was done outside a quixotic attempt to lure Prince Fielder here with the new cache of playing for the up and coming Nationals. It's not enough. The Nats need one of those 90% of things go right to be in the thick of things come September. The pitching was pretty good last year so the improvement there can't push the Nats to the next level. The hitting was pretty bad last year and the improvements made there were too minimal.

I say 84 wins. Two or three games out of the playoffs and with everyone jumping on the bandwagon for 2013.

Wednesday, April 04, 2012

Lannan down to AAA

Compared to the verbal stylings of Mr. Stan Kasten, Mike Rizzo is a pretty straight shooter. This makes me a little disappointed with what he's said regarding the John Lannan demotion because frankly they only make sense if he's doing the Kasten shuffle, providing us with half-truths and sorta honest comments, in order to smooth over a difficult situation.
But I look at it this way: Detwiler earned the job. He deserved the job. It was a prudent baseball move, for the current Nationals and for the future Nationals.
Let's ignore the fact that saying "He earned a spot in Spring Training" fits right between "We got him for his veteran presence" and "We've just signed Jayson Werth for 7 years, 126 million" as things you hope to never hear you GM say. It's the second sentence where the half-truths come in.

The current Nats aren't necessarily improved by making Detwiler the 5th starter rather than John Lannan.  Veterans are overpaid because they have less variation in results.  John Lannan will give you 180IP+ with an ERA of around 4.00. That's what history tells us. Detwiler may have the same base expectation level but while you can expect Lannan to fit between 3.90 and 4.30 or so, Detwiler has more variation in his outcomes ranging all the way from "surprisingly good" to "can't cut it and returns to long relief in less than a month". If you want the highest chances of that 5th starter putting out a decent season Lannan is the obvious way to go.

Disagree?  Think Rizzo is simply committed to bringing the best 25 to DC? Then I have a few names for you.  First one is Bryce Harper.  Next few are Xavier Nady, Rick Ankiel, Roger Bernadina, and Brett Carroll.  The best 25 is garbage talk. 

Then why chose Detwiler over Lannan? Well the simplest reason is because they can.  John Lannan has options left, Ross Detwiler does not. We've seen this thinking drive many a "but wait, doesn't that actually make the major league team a little worse?" decisions in the past and we'll see it again in the future.  GMs value control almost as much as they value winning.

It certainly could be because it helps the future Nats. Barring some sort of injury apocolypse, John Lannan just isn't part of the future in Washington. ZNN, Strasburg and Gio are all good through at least 2015. The Nats have a handful of other arms they like in the minors (Purke, Meyer, Solis, Ray) that they'd expect another starter to shake out from by the end of 2013. That's four slots taken. It's hard to beleive that the Nats would spend the moderate cash money to sign a back of the rotation guy like Lannan as he heads into FA in 2013 rather than spend big money to bring in another big name pitcher or spend no money and try to make do with minor league fill-ins. You know I'm a huge Lannan fan - signing him after 2013 is the least sensible thing to do. So given that, why not see if Detwiler (FA in 2016) can fill that "cheap minor league fill-in" role or do even better?

There is a second reason to start Detwiler though and it has to do with Rizzo's obsession with Wang (of the Chien-Ming variety, get your minds out of the gutter!)  And here it could be said, if you work through the double talk, that keeping Detwiler up is the prudent move for this year. When Wang is healthy Rizzo will want him to pitch. That seems obvious. It will be a lot easier to move Ross to long relief for Wang if he is doing fair or worse, than it would be to shift John Lannan down to the minors under the same circumstances. This for me, is really why Rizzo made this move. It's not that he values Detwiler more than Lannan.  It's that he values Wang more than either of those two and considers keeping Detwiler up "keeping the seat warm" for Chien-Ming.

But whatever the reason for a few games the Nats will be ever so slightly hurting their chances of winning games, same with leading off Desmond, or not fixing CF, of having to play any of that bench Rizzo constructed while drunk on Mai Tais at the Winter Meetings. If the Nats end up a game or two out you can look back to these in totality as much as any surprise underperformances.

Tuesday, April 03, 2012

Offensive Keyhole - Mike Morse

This was not an easy decision this year. In large part the problem comes from how I choose to define the term "offensive keyhole".  For those unfamiliar with the process (what - you haven't been reading this blog for years and memorizing everything I say?) I'm looking for someone that: 
  1. will start the season or play a lot of games at a position
  2. has presented a projection that we believe in but could be wildly off for non-injury reasons.
  3. who's performance could significantly effect the performance of the team. 
That #2 is the sticky point this season because you may not have a projection you believe in strongly if a guy hasn't had a lot of major league experience (Ramos, Espinosa), is coming back from injury (Zimmerman, LaRoche) or is coming off a career-best/worst year (Morse, Werth). I flirted with the idea of going with no keyhole but in the end decided that Mike Morse still fit the bill despite the career year.

I did consider others, mainly Werth, Zimmerman, and Espinosa. Werth though really did have some bad luck last year and while he'll never be 2010 Werth again, the smart money is on a bounce back year (around .265 / .360 / .470) within range of what I feel most people are expecting. Zimmerman's stats have been consistent enough, even through injury, that I can't predict a major drop-off from him. Worst plausible case scenario is that his power doesn't come back, but a .285 20 HR season would only be wildly off for those fans looking for an MVP season.  Espinosa has looked terrible recently and his huge K-rate is concerning. That .236 average may in fact be a high point, but I don't think anyone out there is expecting him to hit .280.  .215 with 21 HRs might be disappointing but I think he falls short in comparison to how Morse may disappoint.

OK so Mike Morse is the keyhole.  But why? Let's start off first with expectations.  Last season Morse hit .303 / .360 / .550 with 31 homers in a few dozen fewer at bats than we'd expect him to get as a starter.  Most Nats fans I think do see this as a "peak" year but at the same time they see the .289 / .352 / .519 line the year before and believe this level of production he's put up the past 2 years isn't far off of what they should expect.  I'm thinking the average Nats fans is looking for a .295 season with 33 home runs (given he plays roughly 155-160 games).

Why don't I think he'll hit .295 with 33 home runs?  Let's start with the power first.

Mike Morse hit 31 homers in a 2011 with a HR/FB rate of around 21.2%.  This is kind of a high number.  It's higher than he put up in the previous year, higher than he put up looking over his past few minor league seasons and it's a number high enough that it's not easily repeatable, even for the best power hitters.  For example, in 2010 12 qualified batters had a HR/FB % over 19%, only 5 repeated that level of home run hitting in 2011. I'm not saying that Morse is all of a sudden in going to become a slap-hitter. I'm just saying that I think percentage of time his FBs end up going out as HRs is going to drop slightly.  Let's say 17%, that's still Top 25 range. 

Mike Morse hit .303 last year with but with a healthy .344 BABIP.  That's not a crazy number given the BABIPs he has put up in the minors, but like the HR/FB rate is high.  It's getting toward a level where only speedy line-drive hitters are able replicate it year after year. For instance, in 2010 15 batters in the majors had a BABIP over .340.  Only 3 were able to repeat that in 2011, two speedy guys (Starlin Castro and Austin Jackson - who actually tumbled from .396 to .340) and one guy who may very well be the best hitter in the league (Joey Votto). Again it's not that the numbers suggest Mike Morse has to plummet here, but given his speed and recent minor league numbers I'd expect a drop to a more reasonable level of .325 or so.

So what do an 17% HR/RB rate and a .325 BABIP do to Mike Morse's projection? I can show my work if you like but based on 650 plate appearances, I have him now at a .288 average and 29 homers. (If you think he'll have less plate appearances knock off a homer for every 20 or so).  Not too bad right? .285+ and high 20s in homers?  Looking at projections this probably is a bit less power than they would have for Morse in the same number of PAs, but the average seems about the same. I'd say it hardly even qualifies as a mild disappointment.

Ok but now comes the troubling stuff.

Mike Morse has a skill set that shows no recognition of the strike zone. Looking at the entire baseball history tells us that combination of K-rate, BB-rate, and production is unsustainable. In the 100+ years of baseball only 9 times has a player walked less than 40 times, struck out more than 125 times and hit over .300. Baseball has been around a long time folks. Even if I relax the standards to walk under 50 times and K 110 times or more, we only see 20 seasons of guys doing it. If you look at the guys on top of these lists you mostly find careers with much lower batting averages and with these high average years found during their peak age seasons.  Baseball players just don't hit like this consistently, even in this new era. If you don't walk, pitchers will eventually stop throwing you strikes. If you strike out a lot (read: make poor contact) those bad pitches will become poorly hit (or missed) balls. It's what history tells us. Perhaps Mike Morse is different. Andres Galarraga was able to put up a couple years past 30 of this type of approach and a high average. God knows I believe in the outlier (see: Lannan, John) but I'm not ready to buy into Mike Morse just yet. This means I'm far more inclined to believe that Morse will hit .275 than .285 (and even that is generous based on history). That drop in batting average also knocks off a couple of home runs as well.

Now we come to the injury.  Morse's injury is similar to the injury Zimm suffered last year.  While all of Zimm's stats were fairly constant there was one thing that stood out for Ryan. He didn't generate the same power as before. I don't think Morse will suffer the same dramatic drop, since his injury is not as severe, but a slight one would almost have to be expected.  Knock off another couple of homers.

Ok so now where is Morse?  Around .275 and 25 homers (and I feel I was being generous with the whole "strikes out way too much to hit .288" thing.)  You may still be ok with that but temember Mike doesn't contribute in any other way.  He does not field well.  He does not run the bases well.  He does not walk.  If he's not hitting for average and power he's not helping the team. .275 and 25 is getting to the minimum level of where a guy like Morse can be a positive.

If you're not disappointed yet consider I haven't factored in his age (30 - about where pure sluggers can start to fall off the cliff), the fact that he didn't hit nearly as well as a left-fielder which is where he'll be playing this year (be that a fluke or a legit psychological/physical reason), or his "only power" last month of the season.  While I'll go ahead and stop the descent at .275 and 25, there is the potential for something worse. 

Is there a bright side to this?  Sure - I could be wrong. I wasn't with Nyjer, and I wasn't with Ian, but I don't think this year it's as cut and dried. Remember I did say I almost put no one in this spot. And at this point I'll remind everyone that projections exist for a reason and while .295 and 33 is probably a pipe dream, you'd be better off betting on the .285 and 29 it seems like the crowd believes in, than on my .275 and 25 (or less - really tha BA may come down in a scary way).  These aren't people caught up in Beast Mode, they are guys trying to be objective and they all like Morse more than I do.

Monday, April 02, 2012

Wilson Ramos - breakout star

The general consensus on Wilson Ramos is positive. He'll hit around .270, smack 13-15 homeruns, and take a walk every so often.  Given that he's cheap, plays good defense, and most importantly is doing this all at the catcher position, most people agree he's a nice piece for the Nationals to have.

I don't buy it.

Wilson Ramos isn't a "nice piece" he's a star in the making.

1) His BABIP can get better, not worse. Minor League BABIPs are generally higher than major league ones, thanks to worse fields and worse fielding. Generally you expect BABIPs to go down in the majors, and that's what most people project for Wilson. He had a .297 BABIP last year, most are thinking a little less than that for this year. I disagree. Often minor league BABIPs are inflated by one or two out of touch seasons where it goes up to like .400+.  Wilson never had that crazy odd year and has pretty consistently been around .340.  This gives us a good starting point.

There's also a feeling that a high K rate can be a precursor of a good sized drop off in the majors. If you can't make a lot of good contact there - how will you in the majors? Wilson does K a fair amount, but he's improved since his early minor league days going from a 20% guy to a 15% guy (unlike say - Roger Bernadina who never changed from a 20% guy). While it went back up a bit last year, usually guys that are good tend to drop a few percentage points from their earliest major league years. I see him as maintaining that 15% level.

I like Wilson to be a .320 level BABIP guy for his career. If he had done that last year you are looking at a .285 batting average rather than a .267.

2) His walk and power rates were better than expected last season.  Two questions that are always asked about young free-swinging players is can they develop more power as their body matures and can they learn to take a walk now and then. Wilson never had much power and had some truly hideous isoOBP years in the minors, but in his first year with the Nats he put up his best isoSLG numbers ever, and a more acceptable (though still not great) BB-rate.

Flukes? Perhaps, but perhaps not. This isn't like Ian Desmond who put up a completely unrepeatable power line over a mere 20 games in his first call-up. This is 113 games and a power improvement that seems explainable. Of course there is that 13.4% HR/FB rate sitting out there. That's high looking at Wilson's minor league numbers. Even if he's developing a 10% rate may be more reasonable.  All in all I'll be optimistic and assume slightly higher than 10% but not so high that he couldn't pleasantly surprise.

As for the walk-rate, I'm not sure what to say. Sometimes guys get it, sometimes they don't. Will Davey help or hurt? Pudge didn't seem to hurt him and he's a big time hacker, even as his body began to fail him. I choose to believe he's moved to become a low-walk guy from no-walk guy.We'll just have to see.

3) He's still young.  That's really what makes all of the above possible. He won't be 25 until late in the season. There is a reasonable expectation he can continue to improve for 2-3 more years.  He has shown an ability to acclimated to each minor league level. He has shown immediate improvements upon playing in the majors full time. I see no reason not to believe he can't improve some more.

If I'm right then (given 450 at bats or so) Wilson should put up a line of like... let's say .285 / .350 / .450 with 17 homers. That may not seem like much but given the age and luck of some of the NL catchers a season like this might propel him to being a top 3 NL catcher offensively behind McCann and Posey (if they are both healthy).  Given his defensive prowess he may just be the best NL catcher overall*  in 2012.

And this is saying nothing about 2013 and beyond.  If he does follow the track I'm thinking without help from any crazy luck, then you'd go ahead and expect a little better year in 2013. .295 with 20 homers?  Maybe he still improves from there or maybe that's his level for the next few seasons.  Either way that's a start to a career few catchers have had.  Looking since 1996 only McCann and Pudge have hit .280 with 100+ homers by the time they were 28. Hell, if Wilson does what everyone ELSE thinks he will do (.270 and 13 homers or so a year), he's still in rarified air. Only 6 catchers hit .270 and 80+ homers by the time they were 28 since 1996.

I'm not prone to optimism, but I really am about Wilson Ramos. I think the numbers I'm seeing for him from everyone else are underselling what he will do. If that's true the Nats have more than a nice piece.  They have a cornerstone to build around.

*This is up for a lot of debate since catcher D is still ill-defined.  Brian McCann (28) is a subpar defender but can put up awesome offensive years. Yadier Molina (29) is a great defender but he may have peaked offensively last year. Buster Posey (25) is a great hitter but may or may not be a great defender, so far he's looked ok but the sample size is limited, and he's returning from that nasty injury. Underrated Miguel Montero (28) is also an ok hitter and fielder that should be included in the discussion. And you can see by age, Wilson Ramos (24) has a big edge on all of these guys except Posey.  They may start to decline while he's getting better.