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Updated: 2017-10-19T08:20:05.458-07:00

 



Lucky or Unlucky - 2017 version

2017-10-18T06:35:32.993-07:00

I've done posts like this before but it's always fun to try to look at a season impartially in regards to luck. Most fans percieve their teams as unlucky regardless of what happened during the season. The good is expected, the bad is not. But that's not the way it goes. I don't expect to find that the Nats were super-lucky or anything. This team was built to be good, but I do expect to see a lot of lucky in there because teams don't win 95+ games without some things going their way (or NOTHING going against them)Lucky (Better than expected)  Zimmerman bounces back like one of those balls you can buy for a quarter at the front of a grocery store - For a good chunk of the season Zimm was sort of a "best case" in terms of reasonable recovery.  From May 1st through August 30th Zimm hit .269 / .330 / .476 with 18 homers. Forecast that out for a whole year and .270 with 28 homers? It's almost 2013 pre-injury Zimm again!  That itseslf would have bordered on lucky. But what pushed it over the top was how he hit in the other two months. .325 with 7 homers in the last month. Best hitter in baseball in the first one. These were long stretches of baseball we didn't think we'd see again from Zimm. The Nats got two of them in the same year. There was a minor slump mid-year but there was no low that matched those highs.Anthony Rendon better than ever - It could be reasoned that Rendon doing well as he ever had done was as expected. But Rendon did better than that.MAT breaks out - 75 OPS+, 73 OPS+, 70 OPS+.  See a pattern? We all did and those first three years of MAT in the majors all spelled out the same thing - below average hitter. But an injury to Eaton meant they had to run with MAT and in what might of been his last chance to be a starter MAT broke out. Now, for the seaosn that actually only meant he hit around average. But given his fielding that turned a 4th OF into a starter.Rolling straight 7s on the bench - That any one of Lind, Kendrick, Starter Difo, or Goodwin, would hit like they did isn't too much of a surprise. Difo maybe a little but it was a limited time frame. The fact that they all basically gave you what you would want is though. Gio reborn - Gio was on a slow decline and even though he'd probably do better than he showed in 2016, putting up a Cy Young vote season was beyond expectations. Unlucky (Worse than expected)Adam Eaton misses most of season - pretty self-explanatory. Played 310 out of 324 games past two years. 28. Every team gets this kind of bad luck with a player it's the who and when that determines how bad that luck is and Eaton going out early is pretty bad bad luck.Matt Wieters RIP - While it could be expected that Matt Wieters would continue a decline it was generally considered that he'd float along as a below average hitter for a few more years. With the exception of a month of great hitting in 2014 that was his MO. Usually a little below average, sometimes surprising with a little above average. And at only 31 going into this year there were still a couple more years before you were sure age would play a role. Instead Wieters was one of the worst hitting regulars in baseballTrea Turner gets injured - I can't call his performance unlucky because we only got half a year from the kid so far. However, you don't expect your young SS to miss 40% of the year. Bryce Harper gets injured - ok this is only a mild bit of bad luck because injuries are a thing for Bryce, but he had managed to play basically full seasons the last two years so it's reasonable to think as a very young guy he could put his early injury history behind him. Also the injury itself was a fluky slippery base step thing, as opposed to gotten by swinging the bat too hard or just running around the bases. Rolling straight 12s on the bullpen - Bullpen swings are not unprecedented. And there was a lot of things last year that were question marks going into this year. Could Blake Treinen repeat? How was Glover's health? How was Kelley's health? Why was Joe Blanton left in FA for so long?  Were one of these guys[...]



Monday Quickie - Now you see why Davis pitched 7 outs

2017-10-16T06:45:57.345-07:00

While the Nats beaters go down meekly to the back to being all-powerful Dodgers, the Nats themselves must go on. And as the team does, so does the paper of record. Janes managed to put together the 5 biggest offseason questions without actually including the biggest one (extending Bryce). Boz wrote a column about the Nats lacking intangibles that the Cubs have that looks only more ludicrous after a weekend of losing and continued bad managing.   I could pick that column apart but Boz is reeling just as bad as any of you, so I'll pass.* **What we'll do is go through the offseason position discussions again. Probably starting this week. Today though, because some of these decisions may be made sooner rather than later, we'll go over all the free agents the Nats have and what I think will happen with them and why.Dusty Baker - the biggest free agent of all is the manager. While I've made no secret I don't love the Dusty persona as much as most fans (and nearly all media) it is undeniable that Dusty wins games where ever he goes.  It's also undeniable that he doesn't win in the playoffs. Why? I don't know if there is a particularly good reason. I think Dusty is an average tactician so he can get outmanaged, but more often than not it's just the breaks of a short series versus a team of equal talent.I think Dusty will be back because the Nats and Dusty line up really well. Dusty wants to win a World Series so he can make the Hall of Fame. He needs a team that's a good shot to make the playoffs. It's hard to argue that any team is a better shot to do that next year than the Nats. The Nats are all about winning enough to get to the playoffs and using the "quantity, not quality" argument to find themselves in more important playoff rounds. Dusty wins a lot of regular season games.What's the hold up then? Money. That's the only thing that differs between the two. Dusty would of course rather get paid like managers of his record and experience get paid (and probably thinks he deserves a bit more than that). He'd like a contract with some long term assurances. The Nats like to pay their managers around the low end of what managers make and for short term deals so they don't get locked into a Matt Williams situation again (paying a guy not to manage).I expect the Nats to offer Dusty a deal with a modest raise for 1 year with a team option for a 2nd. Does Dusty take it? Well any team likely to make the playoffs and wanting to go further is probably not going to hire Dusty, given his track record. So right away, the teams Dusty would want to be managing to hit his goal are out. That leaves him with teams on the cusp of the playoffs who think Dusty could put them in with a solid regular season. The Mets? The Mariners? The Angels? The Orioles? It would be a gamble for Dusty and a gamble is probably only worth it if one of these teams pays out big time for him. I don't see it happening. So I think Dusty reluctantly signs back on.Jayson Werth - Werth is gone. There's no way around that. With Eaton's return and Zimmerman's resurgance and MAT's... uhhh... "surgance" there isn't a place for Werth on the field. It's possible he could be a bench player but Goodwin showed enough that you'd probably pencil him in as the 4th OF. And we're not even mentioning where Robles ends up (likely AAA but that's not the only development path). No, the team is crowded with OF and the only way you take a Jayson Werth back is in a Chris Heisey type of role, where  you pinch hit unless on the field injuries make you play everyday. That's not a role I think Werth wants. Not when he can probably get a team to buy in an a full time DH job in the AL, at least for a year. Unless the Nats pull a trade and they suddenly need an OF, this is the last we've seen of Werth in a Nats uniform. Howie Kendrick - He's not going to make 10 million a year but last year showed he wasn't washed up. At a reasonable 34 next year ome team will give him a deal to start in the outfield or maybe even at 3rd, for starter money. The Nats don'[...]



Lost, goddammit, lost.

2017-10-13T07:26:02.659-07:00

Last year I ended up doing a post where I went through any moment I felt was pivotal to that game 5. I feel like if I did it for this game I wouldn't stop writing until next Tuesday. So instead I'm just going to spread the blame around where I feel it needs to go.Worst Player EverMatt Wieters already had an iffy play in the top of the 3rd. With men on 2nd and 3rd and with two-outs Gio threw a pitch that went exactly 60 ft and skidded off the back of the plate. With a man on third a catcher needs to block that pitch and try to keep it in front of him.  Wieters instead reached out with a backhand. It hit his glove/arm and went to the backstop and Contreras scored. This would only be a prelude for things to come. It was supposed to be the inning where the door began to close on the Cubs. Max Scherzer, MAX SCHERZER, was coming out of the pen and he would shut down the Cubs for as long as he could giving the Nats 2 or 3 turns at the plate to expand on their one-run lead. He set down Bryant and Rizzo but then the Cubs got some breaks, an infield single, a bloop right, and a sharp gorund ball down the line to score two. The lead was gone, the momentum was gone, but the Nats were still just a run behind and in this game that didn't feel like anything.  If they could hold them here, at 5-4, surely they could score 1-2 more runs.But they couldn't and the reason why was Matt Wieters. After a couple of errant pitches they decided to walk Heyward and reset. They'd focus on getting out the free-swinging Baez. And Max did it. Struck him out on three pitches. But the third one got away from Matt. It wasn't a particularly tricky pitch. Just a ball in the dirt that a catcher should smother in place. But Wieters stood up, protecting against a crazy high bounce I guess, and the ball went right through his legs. The Cubs scored again.  6-4. Not only that Wieters mailed the ball somewhere to RF allowing the runners to move up. Max would have to bear down again, now facing two runners in scoring position, and on a 1-1 count he got a foul ball that put LaStella behind but wait Wieters wasn't finished. He reached out too far and LaStella's bat caught his glove. Catcher's Interference. Bases loaded. Now Max had no room for error and he made his one true mistake - hitting Jon Jay - to bring in another run. 7-4. The game wasn't over but it sure felt like it to a lot of people.Wieters wasn't done yet. the Nats would come back with two outs in the 6th. They would plate two and Mike Montgomery would IBB Rendon to get to Wieters. Montgomery had already walked one and off of an IBB patience was probably the order of the day. Of course you swing at your pitch but anything close you let slide at first to see if you can't get him into a bad position. Instead Wieters would swing at the first pitch, a fastball high and off the plate, and fly out to RF. A strong hit but not the right move on a 1-0 pitch when literally anything can score a run.Mercifully a double switch would take him out. If this game was normal outside of these instances Wieters would be getting killed today, and maybe he still will be. Second Worst PlayerMomentum is a funny thing. It's an intangible so you can't measure or plan for it, but you sure can feel it when it's there. Gio Gonzalez had already put the Nats behind because of some bad pitching including a Wild Pitch so bad that I can't in any way, shape, or form pin on Wieters. (Believe me I would, see the one above) but the Nats exploded for 4 runs to give him a nice lead. All Gio had to do was get through the Top of the 3rd without giving up a run and the Cubs would be headed toward a bad spot, where soon half-innings where they HAD to score would follow half-innings where they HAD to keep the Nats from doing the same.  He couldn't do it.Rizzo would get a hit and he'd walk two guys. After getting Russell to ground out, Gio would then unleash the wild pitch I talked about in Wieters thing. It wasn't all Gio's fault, unlike the first inning wild pitch, but cert[...]



WIN GODDAMMIT WIN

2017-10-12T06:48:16.281-07:00

In 2012 the Washington Nationals informed the sporting world that Stephen Strasburg, the youngest and most talented of their three aces, would not be pitching in the playoffs. It was an understandable  precautionary measure designed to keep their most important pitching piece healthy for the remainder of his time with the team. But in protecting his arm, the team left his reputation open to attack. Over the next 5 years, that reputation would face many slings and arrows, both fair and unfair, until it was left in tatters and the narrative was set. Strasburg was a player who would never live up to his potential because he was too fragile. He was too fragile physically and too fragile mentally.But last night Strasburg, put an end to the attacks, repaired the reputation, and destroyed the narrative. Last night Strasburg delivered a masterful performance facing poor conditions both internal and external when his team needed him most. Last night, Strasburg became the star he had never quite managed to be seen as before.I'm not sure exactly when the narrative took hold for good. My guess is early in 2013. Strasburg's first two years were a shooting comet, spectacular but fleeting because of the TJ surgery he would need. 2012 was a year for recovery but the Nats management messed up. They didn't expect the NL East title and the playoffs so they didn't keep Strasburg limited early in the year. When it came to the end they had no choice, really. Allowing Strasburg to pitch down the stretch and in the playoffs would have opened him up to up to 70 more innings than they had planned for, or the possibility of a random infuriating stoppage during the playoffs.Even though stopping him made sense the fans would only accept it if Strasburg then reached his potential and/or the Nationals won in the playoffs soon after. Neither of those things happened. In 2013 Strasburg had a rough start, had another minor injury midseason, and couldn't get wins. The team that was supposed to bounce back into the playoffs with a stud pitcher leading the way was instead being left in the dust by Atlanta with Strasburg sitting at 5-9. No matter that he was actually pitching well. Now the shutdown looked like it was for nothing. No playoffs, no ace.2014 would be better but by this time it was clear that the generational pitching talent was not Strasburg but Clayton Kershaw putting up sub 2.00 ERAs and going 21-3 in LA. At the same time Jordan Zimmermann, his own teammate, was pitching just as well and more importantly, winning games. A strong playoff performance could have helped but the Nats offense died on the vine and there would be no opportunities for a defining run. 2015 was the nail in the coffin as Strasburg would miss a couple months and the team would again miss the playoffs that they were sure they were going to make before the season started.It wasn't just the performance, nor was it just the emergence of Kershaw, but it was also Strasburg's penchant for giving reasons for his poor performances. These were not meant to be complete explanations for his rough outings but fair responses to the questions raised. Why didn't he have great command of my curve? It was too humid and he was sweating a lot. Why did he give up those big early runs? Well it's cold out and it took a while to warm up. These are fair statements but fans don't see reasons, they see excuses.In the end, Strasburg became seen as the guy who wasn't the best pitcher in baseball, who might not be the best pitcher on his own team, who made excuses for everything, and couldn't stay healthy despite having a whole playoff series ruined for his sake. Of course that is all nonsense. Well not the "wasn't the best pitcher in baseball" part, that was true, but he was a very very good pitcher, close to great if not there for 4 years. He was a guy who if not for some niggling injuries here and there (he averaged about 170 IP per season) would have been a Top 10, maybe a Top 5 pitcher in baseball over that time[...]



You gotta know when to hold them, know when to mold them

2017-10-11T06:36:09.298-07:00

Yesterday at this time Nats fans were universally praying for rain. Rain would set up a scenario where Strasburg, the hottest pitcher in baseball, could go on normal rest today in G4 and Gio, who's having a remarkable year, could go on normal rest in G5. It would by no means guarantee anything but it would give the Nats a better shot and that's all you can ask for down 2 games to 1.Then insanity happened. For those of you that went to bed at 6PM last night here's Castillo's recap and Boz's take.  Strasburg would not pitch Game 4.Immediately the focus was on Dusty making a stupid move but it soon became apparent that it wasn't Dusty's gut, but Strasburg's body that was driving this choice. Word got out that he was sick and would not be able to pitch. As Boz points out, it got out in the most confusing way, as Dusty - one of the smoother managers in front of the mic - bumbled his way through a couple explanations at one point insinuating that Strasburg took his bullpen session* that morning. That both didn't make sense strategically and informationally as no one reported a Strasburg bullpen session that morning. Dusty ended up blaming mold in the hotels for making the team sick and we were left with more questions and no answers.  Boz's piece attempts to fill in the blanks. It paints Strasburg again as the warrior, willing to throw through pain for the team. However the team decided it was best to give Strasburg another day and that the miscommunication on Dusty's end had to be all Dusty. The immediate question you ask yourself when presented a story is - does it pass on first glance. This one doesn't.Strasburg's reputation aside, there is next to no reason to announce Strasburg wouldn't start on 5:00PM Wednesday at 5:00PM Tuesday. Baseball is a tough sport because of the length and grind** of the season. It's an almost everyday sport that covers half a year. Players will get sick. That isn't unusual. But sickness is typically taken as a day by day injury. Whether you can play tonight is not decided the day before but upon coming to the field the day of and evaluating then. Perhaps a morning decision in cases where the decision is an obvious one.A decision the day before hints at two things. Either a pitcher who chose not to rise to the occasion, or an illness of such strength that no re-evaluation the next morning would change their feelings. But the latter would suggest an illness that may keep Strasburg from pitching for more than just one day, yet the team had very firmly stated that Strasburg would go in Game 5, with no equivocation about health.So it's unlikely that it IS that type of illness.The other thing that is bothersome is Dusty's reaction. His meandering responses are not the responses of a man who has come face to face with a deathbed ill player and now has to deliver that bad news to the press. They are the responses of a man who is faced with a decision that caught him off-guard and doesn't know how to present that to the press. Does he take the blame (Roark was slated), does he blame it on the illness effecting today's preparation (creatures of habit), does he run with a given excuse fed to him (bullpen today), or does he just say "He's sick" for some reason and have that be the end of it (mold). We've seen Dusty for 2 years out in front of the cameras. If he saw a super ill Strasburg earlier that day, if he thought that might keep him from pitching and then was in on the decision - this is not the Dusty we would have seen.What is that Dusty? Something that makes sense - like the responses to the Max injury pushing him out to Game 3. So it's doubtful again that this was an illness so debilitating that it could be judged to be start altering the day before.Add to this Bob Nightengale's story from an unnamed source that Strasburg said he couldn't go and you have all the facts reaching the same conclusion. Which is the story that is presented to us by Boz is not the unvarnished truth.What w[...]



The mistakes that are made

2017-10-10T08:23:06.174-07:00

The brink of elimination.  For the fourth time in four tries the Nationals find themselves a loss away from a long cold (well eventually cold) off-season of wondering what went wrong this time. If it's any consolation the Nats have fared pretty well in first elimination games, winning them in 2012 (down 1-2) and 2014 (down 0-2) but losing in 2016 (tied 2-2). Will they play today? Depends on the weather but baseball is determined to try to make it happen, the schedule being more important than the possibility of a prime-time showcase with no competition. Keep your eyes on the skies because a rain out changes everything by putting a Strasburg / Gio back to back scenario on the table.But does that even matter- having these two pitchers having great years on the mound? This series it hasn't. But we'll get back to that. Last night we saw Dusty* make his first really bad strategical move. It was NOT, repeat, it was NOT taking out Max. Taking out Max at that point was a 50/50 call. He was tiring. The previous inning he gave up a very hard and deep lineout to Jon Jay and followed it with a 5 pitch walk to Bryant. Some say he was squeezed on the walk, but the calls were all technically correct (according to the Gameday app) and what it appeared to me was that Max was just a little off where he wanted to be. That is fine when he's aiming for a corner and misses a few inches outside or low. It's not fine once he aims for the edge and the ball trails into the zone a few inches.Presented with an extremely similar situation last year, Dusty chose to keep Max in and Joc Pederson would take him deep to tie Game 5. This year he chose what I would recommend, batter by batter usage until he lets a man on. I like this because sometimes a pitcher's effectiveness is not just because of the sharpness or speed of his stuff but because of his feel that day or how he is reading the opponent. As well, there is likely a psychological advantage where the line-up feels like they cannot hit an opposing pitcher and creates a tension that works against the batter. As long as that tension remains, as long as it appears that the feel/reading can overcome any physical slippage, why not keep him in?That is what Dusty did and after Contreras was stuck out Ben Zobrist crushed a ball into the outfield. It not only broke up the no-no - it was the second high speed 300+ ft shot over the last two innings. It was time for Max to go. With Schwarber up next you can't take the chance of the same type of mistake now because he won't hit a 300ft line drive with it, he'll hit a 400 ft home run. But who to put in? Schwarber is a lefty and has definitive splits, which is another reason to remove Scherzer, and it figures to put in a lefty. Thing is the Nats don't have a shut them down LOOGY. You can't use Enny. He's never in his career been able to get out lefties despite being one. Perez was a LOOGY but then couldn't get the job done in 2016. He's been better this year though not dominant. About the same this year has been Solis, who was also good last year. Finally there was Doolittle. He's been good against lefties in the past two years but in very limited at bats with the Nats lefties have 6 hits in 18 ABs. At the time I thought they should go to Kintzler. Historically Kintzler has been very effective against lefties, more so than righties in fact. Kintzler is also probably your best bet to keep the ball in the park, important against a bat like Schwarber. It would be counter-intuitive though and it wouldn't take advantage of Schwarber's splits. You could also walk Schwarber to get to Heyward - but you'd want a lefty to face Heyward who is a bad hitter either way but worse against lefties.Of course you have to also factor in what the opponent will do and if you bring in a lefty to face Schwarber they are likely to counter with a righty bat, probably Almora. You likely aren't going to get the LvL or RvR match-up you want at first.[...]



The first 16.5 innings and the last 1

2017-10-09T08:07:55.726-07:00

The truth is there aren't two separate games to look at when we look at the series so far. There are 16.5 innings that were on thing and 1 inning that was something else. 16.5 innings of great pitching and no hitting leading to an explosion and release the Nats and their fanbase desperately needed.Game 1I mentioned this a couple days ago but Strasburg was great. You can't have watched that game and thought otherwise. Well, I guess you can because there are people complaining about him not being able to finish the job, but it's hard for me to watch that game and think that he could have reasonably done better.  His stuff was basically unhittable and ridiculously sharp. His "failure" of an inning was an inning where he gave up two singles to two of the best hitters in baseball. An inning that should have yielded no runs (if Rendon fielded the ball cleanly) or one run (if Bryce had kept Bryant on first rather than overthrow the cut-off man). If you only judge greatness on results I can see your point, but I also think that's a terrible first way to judge greatness. Performance first, then circumstance, and the performance to me was undeniable.On the other side the Nats couldn't piece together anything. Bryce singled in the 1st. Wieters was HBP and then Taylor singled and that was it base hit wise for the game. The Nats would walk a few times but never threaten. Dusty felt their approach was too patient. Were they? It didn't feel like it at the time but the did average almost 4 pitcher per AB which is on the patient side. On the other hand only 7 of the 27 guys Hendricks faced ended the at bat on an 0-2 or 1-2 count. So the Nats weren't forced into their bad hitting by a lot of pitcher counts*Regardless of the reason though the Nats couldnt' get pressure on Hendricks. They only had two men in scoring position all night and none before there were two outs. They had one leadoff man get on (Murphy with a walk) and that was erased by a double play from the next batter. Hendricks had no very stressful batters and a handful with any stress at all. With only Rendon and MAT getting on base after the 4th Dusty couldn't do much either.The only other thing to be said about Game 1 is Madson didn't get the job done, giving a leadoff double and then a 2-out double to drive in another run. Ultimately it's water under the bridge for the game but it's something that'll come back the next time we see him in the series. Game 2A game is still just a game. Maybe Hendricks was just at his best. That is part of what you accept in baseball playoffs. One hot or cold pitcher can dominate the outcome of a game and potentially change a series. But Hendricks was a very good pitcher all year. Jon Lester was not so continued failure against him would signal that the problem could very well be on the Nats side.The Nats did seem to be a bit more aggressive, but I'm not sure that was a good idea. Lester is a wilder pitcher than Hendricks. Regardless of whether than mattered the Nats saw their issues continue. It seemed like things might have changed when a Rendon flyball carried over the RF fence but the next 10 Nats got out. Once again the Cubs starter was completely comfortable as the Nats couldn't get a man on base or do anything else to force some pressure on Lester. I add the "anything else" because here I do feel Dusty could have done more. He could have called for some bunts (Lester is a notorious for his throwing issues to the bag) or, when Zim led off the 5th or especially when Wieters got HBP in the 7th, he could have used a pinch runner to try to bother the Cubs starter with steal. He may have even gotten more creative, having batters drag out at bats with time called and the like. Anything to disrupt what had been an too easy half-game but Dusty didn't do it. Gio on the mound pitched well enough to win, victimized a couple times by the HR favorable weather. There was a moment of w[...]



Off - Day Posting

2017-10-08T06:44:56.302-07:00

Six outs from disaster.  Instead thanks to Bryce and a carrying wind the Nats are going to Chicago with a fighting chance as opposed to an outside one. We'll discuss these two games in more detail tomorrow but the general problems remained for 7 innings.  No hitting. No getting on base.  No pressure on the Cubs pitchers. No runs.* Was the 8th a sea change or a momentary respite.


*Same almost goes for Cubs. They are being carried by Rizzo / Bryant



G1 Venting and G2 Whatever

2017-10-07T04:26:02.213-07:00

You need to score to win. You need to hit to score. The Nats haven't hit so they haven't scored.  Simple as that.

Strasburg was great (though not everyone thinks so - you can see this looking to my Twitter responses saying he was great) but an error and a overthrow turned 0 runs or 1 runs into 2.

In 2012 and 2014 the Nats couldn't score. This feels similar.  Change things up. Blow them out today.



NLDS Preview Part 2

2017-10-06T07:56:21.808-07:00

Let's keep goingROSTER UPDATE :  It's out. What you expect, especially after the noises yesterday. I missed on the fringes. Romero instead of Blanton, Goodwin instead of de Aza. It's not a big different but I worry about two things (1) Dusty using Enny to get out lefties when Enny has shown no proclivity for doing that. (2) Needing a big hit from Goodwin and him not facing live major league pitching in two months. I do love Robles being on the roster for PR purposes. Do the Cubs have any particular weakness like the Dodgers did last year? No, not really. If you want to stretch things in a way, they don't like power pitchers in comparison to others and like RH starters a little less so does seem like a positive for the Nats who have two of the better power RH starters in baseball. Of course no one does well against power pitchers really - the Nats have much worse splits in this regard. So I doubt it's telling. Same with the pitching a pretty even keel.The Cubs don't run much. Anthony Rizzo, who's not a bad baserunner but would never be confused with the fastest guy on the Cubs, is tied for the team lead in steals. They strikeout a lot but it's the tradeoff any of us who've watched baseball in the past few years is familiar with.  They can be prone to the long ball and give up a walk or two.  The only one of those that really play into the Nats though is the strikeouts. Max or Stras or Gio might dominate through missing bats alone.Are they bad at fielding then? Nope. They are way worse than last year's defense as a commenter pointed out in yesterday's post. But that says more about last year's team than this years. Last year's team was a defensive powerhouse, head and shoulders above the league in some stats. This year's team is simply above average. It's not bad, it's not average, it's still good. It's just a long way from "super great".Is there anything particularly bad about the Cubs then? I mean maybe bullpen depth? Like the 5th/6th arms tend to be pretty bad so get them in war of bullpens where you are switching out a ton, or hit up the starter real early, or wear out the normal pen in a couple games and maybe you got something? But really the Cubs are a great team playing great with no particular weakness to exploit. You just have to beat themCan the Nats do that?We've talked all the time about the Nats but a quick refresher because sometimes things get away from you. They've been super consistent all year with their records in 5 out of 6 months ranging from a high of 17-8 to a low of 16-12. There have been no amazing runs, but the "low" point was a month of .500 baseball. They were once the most dominant offensive team in the league but injuries have taken their toll and the team is scrambling a bit in that regard late in the season. They were once the worst team in baseball on the mound in late innings, but a total bullpen overhaul has turned that into a model of consistency and by domino effect shored up the middle innings. They have arguably the best 1-2 in baseball and Gio has pitched all year in a way in the way that Roark did in years before him, making it more of a 1-2-3. The rotation depth has been an issue but that is mostly a moot point in the playoffs.  What isn't a moot point is how Scherzer is feeling.The Nats, when healthy, are the most complete offensive team in the game. The thing they do the least is hit homers* and still have 5 guys with 19+ and Adam Lind hitting 14 from the bench. Turner and Taylor steal bases. Werth, Rendon, and Bryce work their way on base. Taylor is the only starter terribly prone to strikeouts. There are no telling splits on the pitching side either. Like the Cubs - no real split issues (other than that power pitcher thing I mentioned).If I wanted to press like I did with the Cubs, they do have a little trouble gett[...]



Division Series Picks and Preview Pt 1

2017-10-05T07:32:04.128-07:00

We'll start with the picks. (Except the Nats series - since I'm deep diving I'll leave that until tomorrow)ALCS : Indians - Yankees. The Yankees might have been the second best team in baseball this year. It may be hard to believe that but it's true. You look at the runs they scored and the runs they allowed playing in the (once again) best division in baseball and you come away with the feeling that this was team that didn't catch the breaks on the field (18-26 in one run games). Yet they still won 91 games and were in contention for a division title until the last week against a very very good Red Sox team. The problem for the Yankees is they are probably up against the best team in baseball this year. One that after a middling May has been gaining momentum like a rolling stone. 15-12 in June, 15-11 in July, 19-9 in August, 25-4 in September. 25-4! What I think will tip the scales is the Indians rotation and the WC game giving them just enough advantage that they will have more leads to let their excellent pen hold on to then the Yankees will.  Indians in 5. ALCS : Astros - Red Sox. The Astros and Red Sox met in the last series of the year and a half-trying Houston won three of four from a Red Sox team who needed a win in every game but 162. The Red Sox have one big advantage over the Astros and that's a very very good bullpen, up there with the Indians and Yankees. The question is going to be whether they can get to it with a lead. I don't think they will. Another team maybe, but the Astros hit homers, and the Red Sox team, even guys like Sale, can give them up. The match up is bad on that end. The flip side - Astros pitching vs Red Sox hitting - is more even but as long as the Astros starters can keep Boston down, the Red Sox will be playing catch-up most of the series. Eventually playing catch-up catches up with you. Astros in 4. NLCS ; Dodgers - Diamondbacks.  The cliche response here would be to ask "which Dodgers show up" but the short of it that what we saw was an aberration. We saw the best month of pitching line up with the best month of hitting and vice versa causing two crazy streaks. But pull away the streaks and what do you have? A team that was 35-25 in early June, a team that went 16-5 after the crazy hot streak, and a team that finished the year 12-6. It's a very very good team.  Still the Diamondbacks are not far behind, with one of the best top to bottom rotations and an offense that is one of the best since gaining JD Martinez. In an even series with everyone at peak it'd be a tough call. But that's not what we have here. Greinke is working through issues and Robbie Ray was used in the WC putting the Diamondbacks in a hole early. It's a hole their team may be best equipped to handle but it's still a hole. The early series games should go to the Dodgers and then it's just a matter of sneaking one more through once the teams reset. I think they can do that.  Dodgers in 4Let's talk about the Cubs.  Trying to figure out this Cubs team by looking at the stats for the year is the wrong way to do it. There were two Cubs teams this year. The Cubs that went 43-45 through the All-Star break and the Cubs that went 49-25 after it. What changed?The offense was maligned a bit in the early going because it was easy to pick out the problems. Zobrist , Heyward, and Russell were all playing hurt and hitting badly. Schwarber hit so poorly they sent him back. down. Javy Baez couldn't find enough holes to get the average up or hit enough homers to cover for it. But the thing is- the offense was still ok. Bryant and Rizzo were still hitting like stars. The Cubs depth covered for other holes as Ian Happ, Tommy La Stella, and Jon Jay all hit well. They weren't the best team in the league but they were a solid outfit that[...]



Woo! and ugh.

2017-10-04T06:14:49.340-07:00

Onto a real series for the first time since 2012. This is lack of real series is something the Nats haven't dealt with in back to back years since 2010-2011. That's a nice run there.If you didn't like last night's game (because of the way it was played, not because of the outcome) I have some bad news for you. This is the way the game is heading.We've reached universal understanding in the past couple decades that1) While a walk isn't as good as a hit it is WAAAAAAAY better than getting an out2) Strikeouts aren't that much more detrimental than any other outWe've always known "Home runs are good" and that fits nicely with the first two to form a hitting philosophy. If it looks good, swing as hard as you can and try for the homer. If not, take it. It's not a new philosophy but with smaller parks, pitchers throwing harder, and a tighter strikezone you have some more elements that all favor homeruns.What we saw this year, with the almost certainly juiced ball, was a concession to this philosophy. Essentially the league is leaning into it after seeing this philosophy lengthen games but not help scoring in the early half of this decade. At the same time we've also come to fully understand that 3) Pitcher performance really suffers each time through the line-up. Like 1 & 2 it's not something new, but rather an idea that is now creating a strategy. First it was the closer, then the set-up man, taking away the late innings from a tired starter. Soon it'll be a legion of relievers taking over after the 2nd time through a lineup. It won't be as bad as you saw last night. The regular season doesn't lend itself to the idea of 5-6 pitchers a game as nicely as a one-off Wild Card. This is the perfect storm really. It's not that the game is broken, unless you think it's always been so and we just haven't noticed. It's that the rules are being exploited in new ways to squeak out a couple more wins a year.It's not that the game is all that different. Do you think the mind notices the difference between a 2:50 game and a 3:00 game? That there were 18 balls in play instead of 21? But the idea that it is so much worse has taken hold so much so that each long game with a host of pitching changes becomes another piece of evidence rather than a game you wouldn't have really given a second thought to 20 years ago. Baseball is going to be forced to do something. There isn't an easy solution. Limiting the time between pitches. limiting visits to the mound, shortening commercial breaks. These are fiddling at the edges. Dealing with the symptom but not the cause. You have to somehow make the things you don't like less advantageous and this isn't doing that.What could work? Limiting defensive shifting and expanding parks could make GBs more advantageous and the HR mentality a little less so. Making a reliever face 2 batters, might give a manager more pause on how he uses his pen.Maybe more drastic changes are needed though. But understand that each change will only bring a new set of rules that will be looked at to see if it can be exploited. You can make a change in good faith only to see it blow up in your face. A change to cut down on strike-outs by making the results of them more punitive (say next time up you start 0-1) may lead to a vast increase in strikeout pitchers attempting to take advantage of that. A change to cut down on strike-outs by making it harder for the pitchers to get them (lowering mound) may have no effect as more guys swing from the heels against an easier to hit pitcher. You don't know until you try it.Luckily for the major leagues you have a laboratory you can use to experiment with these things. It's called the minor leagues. It'll effect development slightly but it's better than the alternative, which is introducing chang[...]



Wild Card and playoff picks from other places

2017-10-05T08:05:46.898-07:00

Before I get to the WC games som prediction aggregationSI : 9 pickersNLDS WIN : 5NLCS WIN :  1WS  WIN : 1ESPN : 30 pickersNLDS WIN : 8NLCS WIN :  8WS  WIN : 4USA Today : 6 pickersNLDS WIN : 1NLCS WIN : 4WS  WIN : 0Washington Post : 4 pickersNLDS WIN : 0NLCS WIN : 3WS  WIN : 0CBS Sports, NBC Sports.  Didn't see any. Get your act togetherYahoo Sports : Only did WC games so far. How utterly reasonable. How are these takes hot?!?  So combined so far49 pickersNLDS WIN : 14NLCS WIN :  16WS  WIN : 5UPDATE CBS Sports : 5 pickers - only NLDS in another completely reasonable and infuriating for this purpose method of pickingNLDS WIN : 3NBC Sports : 3 pickersNLDS WIN : 0NLCS WIN : 2WS WIN :1Yahoo Sports : 4 pickersNLDS WIN : 1NLCS WIN : 1WS WIN : 0This changes the percentages to NLDS WIN : 43/61 = 70%NLCS WIN : 25/56 = 45%WS  WIN :6/56 = 11%I miscalculated previously and had the Nats NLCS number too low. It was around 43%, not around 33%. About 70% have the Nats at least beating the Cubs. Almost a third have the Nats in the World Series and about 10% have the Nats winning it all. I'll update if I see any more large groupsDespite mocking them, I am a Yahoo Sports type though. How can I make a DS pick when I don't know the match-ups nor what happens tonight. I'd be silly of me to say "Hey D-Backs are beating the Dodgers" only to have the Rockies win or watch Paul Goldschmidt and JD Martinez collided and break legs. So we'll wait two days for all those.Tonight I like the Yankees. For those of you new to the blog, or just sporadic readers, here is my... what do you think? Tri-yearly? ...note that I am a Yankee fan. I grew up a Yankee fan and have had no reason to change. Yes, this means Nats v Yanks in World Series I'm not pulling for yours I'm pulling for mine.Wild Cards are the hardest to judge because it is just one game. All I figure you can do is look who (1) is the better team (2) has the better starter for tonight and (3) has the better bullpen. Maybe look at it now and in the past monthYankees v TwinsTeam : YankeesStarter : YankeesBullpen : Yankeesand in past month?Team : Yankees (20-9 to 15-14) Starter : Yankees (Severino 2.10 ERA 0.700 WHIP to Santana 3.31, 1.075) Bullpen : Yankees (2.74, 1.017 to 3.78, 1.295)This is all pointing heavily toward the Yankees, but all it's really telling us is that instead of a 55% chance of winning, maybe the Yankees have a 60% chance? 65%? I mean it's still not all that high. But you gotta pick someone.Diamondbacks v RockiesTeam : DbacksStarter : Dbacks (I did check home/away splits to verify Gray wasn't a huge Coors field victim)Bullpen : Push (Bradley is the single best pitcher but Rockies - Neshek, Dunn, McGee, Estevez are all very good) and in past month?Team : Dbacks (17-11 to 15-14) Starter : Rockies (Gray 2.57, 1.029 WHIP to Grienke 3.90, 1.067) Bullpen :Dbacks (3.64, 1.213 to 4.39, 1.328). Probably not all that different if I could look at H/A splitsI guess tomorrow I like the Dbacks, but it's not as screaming a pick. Greinke has two iffy starts his last two outings. He only went 4 in each, the first one he got knocked around hard - 3 homers, and the latter one he was better but still way too hittable. Of course the start before these two he went 8 and gave up 2 hits and before that he held the Rockies to 5 hits, with 6 Ks and 2 runs over 7.  But the question mark on "good Greinke or bad Greinke" hangs over this one. I'll say good Greinke, or at least "good enough Greinke" and a good enough pen to just hold it out.[...]



Monday Quickie - Playoff week!

2017-10-02T07:52:49.808-07:00

Wooo! The Nats had kind of a slow finish and while some will offer excuses (more on that in a minute) it doesn't particularly matter. There are 4 days off between now and the first playoff game and that's the longest break you'll have for your entire team during the season. There's time for injuries to heal, for loose joints to stiffen, for hot streaks to cool, and for cold streaks to be forgotten about. It's a new season.How did our watches finish up?Werth : 3 for 12 with a double and a homer, 1 walks, 3 Ks.  More than good enough for him to start.Bryce : 2 for 12 with 1 walk and a strikeout.  He does not look "back" but are you sitting Bryce? Because I'm not sitting Bryce.Robles :  0 for 1 with a K.  Seems doubtful that a guy pegged for off-season duty would just get one at bat over the last weekend, but we'll see.The big news of the weekend was Scherzer walking off the mound again. Based on the neck injury thing, I assumed it was an "over abundance of caution" action, which is completely the right way to go for your last start of the season. However, then he had to go and get an MRI which is scary because this team does not do unnecessary MRIs. It arguably doesn't do necessary MRIs. Whatever the reason it happened though the results sounded positive. It was a tweak and Max should be ready for the playoffs. However, they wouldn't commit that he'd start in Game 1.It could be a fake-out. Max could be completely ready and they might be trying to psych out the opponent for a couple days. It may be a reverse fake-out and maybe he's really injured and they are trying to get the Cubs thinking he will start. Most likely though it's just Max being 100% realistic. It's one-day out. He's pretty sure he'll be ready to go on Friday but let's cross all the Ts and dot all the Is. Let's see how the throw days go. Then he'll tell you for sure.Now about that excuses comment earlier. A few people will note that the Nats offense didn't exactly end the season on a high note. They had been comfortably leading the league but ended up getting edged by the Rockies and the Cubs (!) and almost caught by the Diamondbacks too. The "Lineup Truthers" will tell you it was just because Dusty was putting in some AAA line-ups into the games cutting into the Nats scoring. But the numbers don't back that up.First the Nats "slump"* is a half a season long. They were first in the NL by a lot with a .811 OPS in the first half. They were 8th in the NL with a .744 in the 2nd half. It was 5th in July (.802), 10th in August (.724), and 11th in September (.712).  Sorry but Dusty hasn't been rolling out AAA lineups for 2 and a half months.Second  Dusty has mostly been trotting out "1-guy out" lineups when he can. By that I mean he's giving one starter the day off for rest. True AAA line-ups where more than 2 starters**, beyond injury replacements, are few and far between. Since 9/13, when Werth came back from his minor setback after his original comeback, there have been 18 games and only in 6 of them did Dusty sit more than one guy. Ok you say but that still could have made a difference! If they were dragging in those AAA line-up days that could have brought the team down! OKAverage RS in "AAA lineup" games : 4.3Average RS in non AAA lineup games : 3.75Now you say It's the injuries then! And YES! THAT'S THE POINT!The Nats were crushing on offense until the injuries happened. Even losing Trea and Werth, they were able to keep chugging along. Maybe they weren't at the same level as before that - where they were running away with the scoring lead, but they were a solid offensive squad. Look at the July OPS. I can tell you the scoring in August through the 12th was 4.5 runs per game, still[...]



Post-season Roster

2017-09-29T06:46:30.708-07:00

OK let's start with the obvious onesWieters, Zimmerman, Murphy, Turner, Rendon, Werth, MAT, BryceScherzer, Strasburg, Gio, Roark Kintzler, Doolittle, MadsonYou gotta have your starters (yes that includes Werth right this second), your starting pitchers, and the back of your bullpen.  That is 15.You have to have back-ups though.Catcher - Lobaton. He's started twice recently compared to Severino's once and Severino has done nothing to earn a spot.Infield - Lind, Difo, Outfield - Kendrick . These are obvious choices based on performances and how often they've played recently.Relief - Matt Albers - best of the original pen arms and continues to pitch strongThat's 20.  So we have 5 spots left.  Is there anything that can inform us about which way these last 5 get distributed? Sure there is. There's last years 25 man. After the "Key 15" it broke down like this. 1 Back-Up C (Severino - Ramos was out remember)3 IF Back-Ups (Drew, Difo, Robinson)2 OF Back-Ups (Heisey and MAT - Turner was in the OF, Espy was at short) 1 long reliever (sort-of) Lopez3 lefty relievers (R-Zep, Perez, Solis) - this assumes the back of pen was defined as Kelley, Treinen and Melancon.There's no good reason to assume the Nats will take MORE pitchers. There are actually two off days in the NLDS (have been since 2013) and that lets guys get rest more easily. So we need two more bats and 3 more arms.Here are the stats for the potential players over last two weeksRobles : 16 PA  .214 / .267 / .357de Aza : 15 PA  .231 / .286 / .538Sanchez :  9 PA .000 / .000 / .000Bautista : 6 PA .000 / .167 / .000Stevenson : 5 PA .000 / .200 / .000If you look at the last week to see if you can see any late movement you see Robles (11) and de Aza (10) with the most PA then Stevenson (5) and Sanchez (5) with Bautista basically done (1 PA)It's pretty obvious from here the Robles and de Aza are the ones that make it.BUT WAIT! Some complications. Season long bench players Drew and Goodwin are trying to make it back in time.  Drew is not going to be ready so that takes him out but Goodwin is in the instructional league getting as many at-bats as he can get. Do you bring in Goodwin? Let's understand first that the question is Goodwin or Robles. de Aza is pretty solidly the 5th OF right now. He's an experienced vet who's doing the best (in comparison) and getting the most playing time. He's a lefty bat which is more complimentary to the bench set up so far (Difo is a switch hitter but favors batting right by a good margin. Lobaton is better from the left side historically but as the back-up catcher and as the terrible hitter he is - he's the last man pinch-hitting) He's also splitting time equally between RF and LF as you'd want someone to do who could come in to cover any position in an emergency.So the question is - is Brian Goodwin good enough that you risk him not being up to major league level and just stick him on the bench? Or do you go with Robles? Personally I go with Robles. For the things you will want that last player to do - basically pinch run - you want Robles to be that guy. He's super fast. Do the Nats go with Robles? Without knowing how Goodwin is doing in Florida it's hard to say. All I know is that they wouldn't be going through this trouble if they didn't think Goodwin was better than Robles*. I'll go ahead and guess Goodwin makes it then, though I'm hoping it's Robles.For the three relief arms, you can look at the last two weeks as wellPerez : 4g, 2 IP 0.5 WHIPSolis : 4g, 3.2 IP 0.818 WHIPBlanton : 3g, 3IP, 1 WHIPRomero : 3g, 3 IP, 1.3333 WHIPGrace : 2g, 2 IP, 0.000 WHIPand then there'sCole : 2g, 10.2 IP, 1.594 WHIPJackson : 2g, 10.2 IP, 1.500 WHIPThe[...]



Who's your G4 starter.

2017-09-28T06:55:32.213-07:00

Werth Watch : 1-4 with double, a long out, a walk and 2K. This is fine. Not the dog in the burning building "fine" but actually fine. The "Not asking for much" tour continues in Pittsburgh.Bryce Watch : 1-4 with a K, SB and 2 GDP.  Carry on.Robles Watch : DNP, Coach's DecisionI guess the important news from yesterday was that Tanner Roark, in his last start of the season, looked bad. He couldn't find the strike zone (5 walks) and was very hittable giving up two doubles and a triple in his 7 hits in less than 5 innings.So closes a disappointing 2017 for Tanner, one of the few (the only?) outright disappointments for the Nats that didn't involve injury or the pen. Roark finished the year with with an ERA of 4.59 and he kind of deserved it. He wasn't particularly hard to hit, his control wasn't great, and he gave up a few too many homers. Roark made himself into the #4 starter this season as much as Gio has won the #3 role. If you want to look on the bright side, he was a much better pitcher in the 2nd half (1.450 WHIP to 1.155 WHIP) and if you look at the splits what you generally see is a pretty good pitcher who went off the rails a bit in June.It's an interesting season in how it matters for the Nats future. There aren't any strong contenders currently in the Nats organization to fill in Roark / Gio 's role let alone help cover for a 33 yo Max and an injury prone Strasburg. Erick Fedde is the closest thing and he's yet to show he can really put it together. Ross was a shifting target even before major injury. That means next year, like last year, it's up to Max, Stras, Gio, and Roark again. There's ways that works out very well, but as we keep moving forward in time we have to admit there are ways that doesn't work out at all. You still would bet on that rotation more than 25+ rotations in the big leagues but that doesn't mean you can't see the potential concerns.Being specific to 2017. Would you take a chance on Roark in the playoffs? It depends. If the Nats are down 1 game to 2 going into the 4th game, you might not. Going with Max on short rest may seem more prudent in that instance. Last year the situation wasn't the same, the Nats were up 2-1, and that muted any debate. Yes, a few people didn't want to put out the shaky Ross and instead wanted to try to finish the Dodgers with Max. But most fans were perfectly happy taking on a tired Kershaw with Ross and saving a rested Max for Game 5. Rested Max = win in most circumstances right?  In Dusty's career He's been in 4 other NLDSs that have gone at least 4 games.In 2000, down 1-2 Dusty chose to go with Mark Gardner instead of going back to his ace Livan who shut down the Mets in G1. It probably wouldn't have mattered - Bobby Jones 1-hit the Giants, but Gardner was not good and they lost. In 2002, down 1-2 Dusty again went with his #4 starter, rather than his #1 who won game 1. The situation was different as the #1 Russ Ortiz, didn't dominate, and the #4 Livan was a savvy veteran, but Livan wasn't having a good year and see above. In the end the Giants won as Livan did perfectly fine (3 runs in 8 innings) and the Giants had a 4 run lead on Tom Glavine before the 2nd inning was done. Russ Ortiz and a series of relievers would hold off the Braves in G5. In 2003, up 2-1 Dusty stuck with his #4, Matt Clement. Clement wasn't a bad pitcher but the Cubs had Wood, Prior and Zambrano at their best. A short-rest Wood must have been at least a little tempting, when you could in theory follow him with short-rest Prior and throw day Zambrano. Dusty didn't bite. Clement was bad, but Wood followed up with the 8-inning fairly dominant performance that Max 13 years later[...]



10 days!

2017-09-27T07:30:58.368-07:00

Werth Watch : 0-3 with a walk and  2 K.  So he did follow it with an 0-fer. Great. He's struck out 11 times in the last 5 games which is not how Werth hits. I don't think he's actually having issues. He was normal Werth about strikeouts up until this stretch. I think he's pressing and trying to get those hits and force his way out of this slump. It's not happening. This is going to get awkward.Bryce Watch : 0-2 with a walk and a strikeout. Hit some balls hard, just not fair. Seemed fine to me. Robles Watch : 0-1 with a K, came in the game for Bryce who they are working back slowly.I didn't re-visit it but going into last Thursday the Nats had a real shot at that 100 wins.  They had gone 3-2 since I noted that if they went 4-2 I'd start paying attention. They had a game against Atlanta, then the Mets, Phillies, and Pirates. 8-3 would be tough, but win the last ATL game and make it 7-3? You start seeing a path forward pretty easily.Of course the Nats didn't win that game, or the next one, and with the loss last night the Nats have to go 5-0 to end the year to finish with 100 wins. Certainly possibly but no leeway remains. What's more is that they'll have to go at least 4-1 to take the best record away from the 2012 Nats. I kind of want them too because this is a better team, in my opinion. 100 wins is hard. You can't really afford more than a month of off a .600 win pace. In 2012 team had the best shot. They had started super hot 14-4, and kept playing pretty well that when they took off a little after the All-Star break they were set up well. Of course when I say "took off" I mean TOOK OFF going a a run of 24-7. They nearly lost it losing 5 in a row but immediately came back with another great run 12-3.  That's 36-15 or a 114 win pace for almost 2 months. At 89-54 they only had to go 11-8 to get to 100.  But the team stumbled to a 9-10 finish and came up just short.2014 was never that close. They sat at 63-53, an 88 win pace, in early August. They needed to sprint and go 33-13, including a 12-3 finish, just to be close.After another fast start of 14-4, 2016 was never that type of season where 100 seemed possible. The team floated along with a short stretch of good play, followed by a short stretch of bad play. Very even keel three steps forward, two steps back, two steps forward, one step back, 5 steps foward, 4 steps back kind of thing, all the way to the end of the year. That meant there was never a time where a mediocre run would get to 100. It always was a good, long, stretch of great baseball away. Another thing to note here is the Nats have seen these division winning seasons end three ways. A great team having a middling finish, an OK team crushing it through the tape, a very good team keeping up the same pace until the end. Three different experiences. Three NLDS losses. How you finish doesn't matter. It may not matter regardless but it certainly won't matter once you set up nearly a week between the end of the season and the playoffs. There is no momentum good or bad after a week off.What is 2017? Sort of like last year writ large. The strong stretches are long, that's why 100 was out there. A great April into the very beginning of June. A month of mediocre play. A great July into early September.  The finish is still up in the air. 8-8 over their last 16 games but 6-3 over last nine. Is that showing us a strong finish or just a blip before another .500 type ending? We'll find out and then we'll move onto the playoffs knowing that whatever happened it probably has no carryover into the next series. [...]



Werth Watch

2017-09-26T06:28:06.831-07:00

Werth Watch : 1-4 with 2 K.  Good enough - if he can not follow it with an 0-ferBryce Watch : DNP. "Flu-like symptons".  We'll see if he plays tonight.Robles Watch : DNS, 1-1 as a pinch hitterRyan Zimmerman Wa.... wait? what?I heard the idea of sitting Werth than platooning Kendrick and Lind but why not look at a more natural place for Lind? Here are Zimm's splits in the July-now versus various handed pitchersLHP: .324 5 2B 4 HR, 9 BBs, and 15K in 79 PAs  (.324 / .392 / .574, 11.4 BB%, 19.0 K%)RHP: .229 4 2B, 11 HR, 15 BBs and 51K in 183 PAs  (.229 / .301 / .452, 8.2 BB%, 27.9 K%)This kind of split isn't new. Ryan had a massive split in 2015 (.672  OPS vs 1.058 OPS) and as would be expected has hit lefties better than righties for most of his career. He's not a useless hitter at all vs RHP because his power remains, but he's definitely favoring one side now. But this isn't just Zimm in a vacuum. How about Adam Lind (and we're just going to look at RHP because who's starting Lind vs LHP)?RHP : .290 6 2B, 8 HR, 13 BBs and 24 Ks in 153 PAs (.290 / .346 / .507, 8.5 BB%, 15.7 K%)It's better, clearly, but not that much better. Strip out the names, and yeah you start Lind, but you can't just strip out the names, can you? Now are we being fair here, Zimm might have just had a crazy bad month in the last half, or Lind a crazy good one. Why not take the whole year?  That is one option though I worry about doing that for Zimm, who was the best player in baseball in April and hasn't come close to repeating that for any other month. In this year, and in his career that seems like an outlier. But you don't want to just take out the best month, so what I'll do is pull the best and worst months for Lind and Zimm vs RHP (by OPS) and see what we come up with in the rest of the time.LIND : .329 / .377 / .580ZIMM : .279 / .339 / .490That feels right, don't you think? Lind is a righty masher - that can't be denied. Zimm, he's had some good months vs the righties and is capable of hitting them. This may be a little high average wise, but just a little.How is Howie doing - I'll just pull out his RHP for the year, I'm tired. .313 / .361 / .447 and a 3 -year history at least of having no issues hitting RHP. Plus Howie gives you defense that the other two don't so why would you sit him? You wouldn't. And this is where optimization to the Nth degree gets you - a lineup with Lind platooning with Zmm and Kendrick replacing Werth. Is that what you want? Of course this isn't happening and it shouldn't happen. We could have made this argument in several other places as well. Difo hits LHP better than Murphy are we sitting Murphy? In fact Turner is the one with the most problems vs LHP why not sit him for Difo? Bryce hasn't hit LHP as well as Kendrick, if Jayson gets hot why not an all RHB OF Kendrick-MAT-Werth for Kershaw? I guess the point I'm trying to make is that while it's fun to look at splits and figure out who'd be best, these splits were made under particular circumstances and expecting them to exactly follow through in the limited time in the playoffs is a bad assumption. There may be other things at work than just raw talent versus a particular handed pitcher effecting a team when it rolls out to try to win a Division Series.The same thing holds true for slumps and hot streaks.You can't simply rely on them to tell you how it's going to be in the playoffs, especially given the week off in between. The information has to overwhelmingly favor one-side to go against what you knew before. In Werth's case, it IS close to overwhelming, that's why a disc[...]



Monday Quickie - Bryce is back?

2017-09-25T06:58:18.794-07:00

Seems like it.

I think we are all thinking the same things. Hope he's not pushing himself too hard. Hope he doesn't re-injure himself. Hope he can find his swing in a week.

Honestly I don't even really care if he doesn't find his swing. You can't learn much in a week and there is a good week off between the Nats' last game and the first game of the playoffs. If you think he looks fine, despite the results on the field, you play him. End of story.

What does this do for the roster? We'll get to that at the end of the week just because if I can wait it out maybe injuries can make it obvious. I'm pretty sure they'll go with 7 relief pitchers again which is fine. The NLDS schedule is set-up in a 2-2-1 format which means there are never three days of games in a row (barring rainout). That means it's actually more of an issue keeping guys fresh, especially after the long lay off, than it is overworking guys. Your only issue with over working arms is the aforementioned rain out or a long extra inning game.

The question now for the team, other than "watch Bryce" and which marginal player plays in the NLDS, is the Werth question. I've said from the beginning Werth will play unless he does something crazy like hit under .100 after he comes back.

Werth's splits since coming back :
.129 / .191 / .226

and that's including that first game back where he hit that homer. If I say take just September...
.100 / .179 / .140

There's nothing useful there. And given he's at best a small liability in the field, what do you do? His play is forcing an issue where no one wants one.  Dusty doesn't want to sit Werth. The team doesn't want to sit Werth. I don't want to sit Werth. That can very easily become a distracting talking point* going into the NLDS and no one wants that.

But what do you do? This isn't a key starter slumping going into the playoffs. This is an aging useful bat coming back from injury who seemingly can't hit right now. If it weren't Jayson Werth, who is what amounts to the team leader, this discussion wouldn't be happening.

So start hitting Werth! Just hit like .200 over the next week with another homer. That's it. There's the bar, we've set it down near the ground, just step over it so this isn't a "thing" come October.


*It doesn't have to be - Werth could graciously accept a bench role if he can't hit but my guess is at best we'll get an "It is what it is. He's the manager and he makes the decisions" type of response.



Baseball is not cooperating

2017-09-22T06:48:00.899-07:00

Part of the deal with this whole WC business was the idea that more divisions and more playoff spots would create more contenders and more interesting games as the season wound down. 2017 is working hard to be the exception to the presumed rule.Multiple division races were done early. The Astros have had complete control of the AL West since Memorial Day. The Nats have held a two-series lead since the very start of May and have had a 10 game lead since the All-Star break. The Dodgers streak put away the NL West at about the same time in July. The Indians gained the upper hand in early August and drove the stake through the Central around Labor Day. That's four races over just when you are checking in to see what's exciting.The other two are theoretically better but haven't managed to get over the hump. The Yankees took 3 of 4 from the Red Sox right before Labor Day weekend cutting the division lead to 3.5 games and have gone 12-4 since then. But the same teams the Yankees are wiping the floor with the Red Sox are too, going 11-4. With no head to head series after that last one (great scheduling - when has NYY/BOS ever been important late in the year?) there's nothing to do but passively scoreboard watch and be disappointed. Basically we're watching the 2nd best team in baseball over the past 2 1/2 weeks try to catch the 3rd best team*. Great baseball. Bad drama. The NL Central was setting itself up for a slam bang finish. After finally getting the lead and then some breathing room (up 5 on 9/7) the Cubs promptly got swept by the Brewers. Up just 2 on the Cardinals and Brewers with a STL/MIL series, a MIL/CHC series and TWO STL/CHC series to go there seemed no way this could not finish strong. I mean what was going to happen? The Cubs were going to blast off and win all the H2H games? Cubs 8-1, 4-0 in H2H games so far.The Cardinals and Brewers haven't played badly otherwise but who cares if they didn't play well when it mattered. We're a Cubs win today away from basically the Central being over.Well then the WCs right! The WCs will save us... I suppose. The first spots are occupied by good teams that have been mostly safe for a while. Both the D-Backs and Yankees got off the strong starts, faltered a little bit but turned it back on. In the NL the D-Backs have been in control of the #1 spot since Labor Day. In the AL the Yankees had a minor scare but ended the conversation with a sweep of the current #2 seed Twins this week. That's the story of almost all these races up here so far. The challengers are lined up just to get knocked down. So we're down to the red-headed stepchild of playoff spots, the 2nd WC.  The NL spot will probably be decided with 88 wins if we're lucky, the choices being the free-fall Rockies or a Brewers/Cardinals fight between two teams unable to win big games this month. The AL is even worse, where 84 wins should take it in a true race to the bottom. Check out the September records of the teams in question.TEX 10-9KC 10-10MIN 9-11SEA 8-11 LAA 7-11TB 7-11BAL 6-14I suppose if you wanted you could work yourself into something resembling interest for two of these teams battling H2H this weekend, you know as long as it wasn't the worst two teams playing eachother. Guess what the only H2H match-up is this weekend! That's right TB vs BAL!  In fact thanks to an incredible quirk in the schedule here are the H2H match-up between these teams from 9/10 and now :SEA@TEXTEX @ LAATEX@SEAHope you were a fan of the Rangers! Who as a reminder started at the end of August on the very fringes of the [...]



Boz is excited

2017-09-21T08:24:50.571-07:00

And he should be! While his premise is flawed from the start (we can't see the Nats at their best because Eaton isn't coming back) He's right that everything is lining up just as you'd hope to end the year. With every positive Bryce update we hear, it becomes more possible that everyone that can be here, will be here. Whether they hit like they could (I'm looking at you Jailbird) is up in the air, but that's up in the air for any short series. The Nats will be the best Nats they could be since they broke out to a 16-6 record in AprilHe seems amazed that this has happened with all the "adversity", pointing to things like one starter going out for the year and one struggling as another log on the fire as opposed to something that happens to 30 out of 32 teams a year.  He does have something here but it's not with the pitching. How could the Nats pitching be this good with a pen that bad, Ross injured, and Roark struggling? Well the pen was fixed with three acquisitions. The rotation was always top heavy and Max and Stras have both had another great and (relatively) healthy year. The struggles of Roark have been matched by the performance of Gio which is just the good and bad balancing out. All in all this all makes perfect sense. A great rotation was great. A bad pen was fixed. Nothing crazy happened here. The line-up though. That does require something else. Assuming around 150+ games played MAT will miss 30+ games, Bryce 40+, Trea 60+, Werth 80+, Eaton 120+.  You could see that team holding on, but they didn't just hold on. They could lead the NL in scoring.  How? Well in this case almost everything came up Milhous.Ryan Zimmerman was reborn - Super hot beginning of the year, followed by a reasonable best-case for the remainder. Anthony Rendon was reborn  - looked like a superstar in the making in 2014 but injuries clouded that since. Injury free this year and finally lived up to that promiseWhen healthy Bryce hit like BRYCE - Bryce has had an up and down career. It's just that the downs are "above average" and the ups are "OMG" This has been an up year.MAT had a good year - I hesitate to say breakout because the guy is barely above average but he was well below average previously and was kind of on his last legs as a "maybe this year" guyAdam Lind had a better year than expected - He hits righties well and has trouble with lefties but this year he mashed righties and didn't have as much issues with at least getting hits vs LHP in his rare ABs vs them. So did Brian Goodwin - hit better in majors in 2017 than he did in any minor league since the AFL in 2012, including AAA this year.So did Howie Kendrick - sure he was hitting well in Philly but it was 40 games. He's putting up his best numbers since 2014. So did Wilmer Difo - forced into a starting role Difo hit .333 / .382 / .467 for 2 months.* Outisde a brief 19 game second stint in A+ ball in 2015 that's better than he's hit in any minor league stint ever. Adam Eaton was as good as advertised - for a month but still that's like a sixth of the year. That's a lot coming up right for the Nats that didn't have to. What came up wrong outside of injury? Matt Wieters has been awful - Its the worst year of his career at the plate by far. You could have expected a below average year but this is beyond that. Jose Lobaton has been unusable - To be fair this skirts expectations as he was unusable in 2014 and 2015 too but he's especially so this year. Chris Heisey came up empty? - He's usually good for a cou[...]



Wednesday Update - Manager Stuff

2017-09-20T07:50:09.298-07:00

Max threw 112 pitches last night. That was fewer than last time so... what was the point really? I'm happy that Max looks fine and that they didn't go for say 120 pitches but that would have made sense. Now the 116 doesn't look like an intentional stretch out but a mistake by Dusty that Max was willing to cover for. I don't know. Since Max's arm didn't fall off yesterday, let's just forget it and move on.Speaking of Dusty though - there is that whole "no extension" thing hanging over the team. The question is - why hasn't it been done? The given answer is "that's just the way we do things here" suggesting that they don't look at contracts until they have to. Of course they have extended contracts mid-season several times, including signing Strtasburg's deal and extending Rizzo, so that argument doesn't feel right.More likely is the Lerners have a certain belief on what a manager should be paid and how he should be paid. They like to offer contracts on the low-end of what managers should be paid and for very minimal time frames, single year if they can get it. They also don't really care what these guys want and are completely willing to show them little to no respect. This isn't opinion here. Let's look at length first. Frank was on one-year deals in 2005 and 2006. Acta signed a two-year deal with two club options after that. Riggleman had what was essentially a one-year deals in 2010 and 2011*. Davey was on one-year deals. Matt Williams signed the same deal as Manny Acta. After picking up Williams' option for 2016 prior to 2015 and seeing that blow up in their face, Dusty was offered a two-year deal with no options. As for the money that's harder to wrangle because the Nationals don't make that public**. If it gets public you know that comes from the manager. (Which is why we know what Dusty is making BTW. He wants you to know). Cot's contracts over at B Pro helps us out consolidating what we do know. Frank - ?Manny 500K in 2007 Jim - 600K perDavey - ?Matt  - 1 million in 2015 Dusty - 2 million perA good guess puts the median manager salary a little under 1 million in 2005, closer to 1.5 million in 2010 and up over 2 million in 2015. Manny and Jim were certainly making near the bottom of manager pay. Matt Williams was probably about on par for a new hire with no experience. Dusty is close to average, but well underpaid for a manager his his experience and track record.Respect? Well Frank Robinson is a HoF player and a groundbreaking manager. He was willing to manage the Nats for a few years while they figured out ownership but wanted a front-office or consulting job at the end. The Lerners, named owners mid 2006, didn't give him one. We all know about Riggleman, who basically just wanted to talk to the front office about his extension but got a "shut up and do your job" as a response. Davey Johnson, a legitimate HoF candidate as a manager, was given what seems like a take it or leave it deal for one more year then a force out despite not wanting to be done managing at the time. Dusty is twisting in the win after consecutive 90+ win division titles.  You can say you respect someone, and the Nationals are really good at that, but that's just words. Managers are simply employees to the Lerners. Employees for a position where supply far outstrips demand. Dusty, who has perhaps mellowed in his old age or maybe has an understanding of his lack of leverage, has toned down the constant media war that you might have seen in San Francisco or Chicago to a me[...]



Monday Quickie - Another look around

2017-09-18T06:06:52.429-07:00

The Nats didn't need to win last night. After losing the first two, any thoughts of taking HFA throughout the playoffs, or through the NL side at least were pretty much dashed and the Nats were all but officially set in the #2 spot. However, the Nats still wanted to show they could beat the Dodgers, something they failed to do in the first two games with reasonable line-ups. The difference Sunday was they didn't trot out Edwin Jackson or AJ Cole. They brought Strasburg to the mound. If they failed to beat LA this time, that would resonate.But they did! AND Bryce took BP before the game!Now some bad news as Bryce is aiming not toward coming back in the regular season but for the first game of the NLDS. That's an extra 5 days of recovery for him and it seems like he is conceding he will probably need that.  The Nats are still good without Bryce, but it can't be denied that the offense is less potent without a healthy Bryce. Let's hope for nothing but good news and Bryce taking the field for that final regular season series. Taking a look around the league, what could have been a weekend that set up a furious finish instead solidified what we already knew. Along with LA putting distance between them and the Nats, the Cubs swept the Cardinals effectively closing them out. Milwaukee failed to make up ground on Colorado. The Yankees failed to make-up ground on Boston. Only the Angels made up a game on the Twins while the Royals, Rangers, Orioles, and Rays all spun their wheels and the Mariners lost a game.Where we stand now in terms of interesting games -The Brewers still haven't been knocked out of the NL Central though at 4 games out it's close to dire.  The saving grace is a four game set with the Cubs starting Thursday.  If they can do what the Cardinals could not, and not immediately make the series moot, then it could be a fun finish with the Cardinals given chance to spoil the Cubs season at the end (or spoil the Brewers' one)  The Brewers are also 2.5 out from the Rockies whose difficult schedule has gotten significantly easier with SFG, SD, and MIA lined up before the Dodgers to end the year. While no one was looking at them, they swept the Dodgers and took the first two in Arizona in a four game series to set themselves up nicely for the finish. Milwaukee on the other had has the aforementioned Cubs series and a Cardinals one. You have to like the Rockies chances but it's close enough to warrant a glance.  If the Rockies pull away that isn't all bad because it makes the NL Central "Win or Out". In the AL the Red Sox still haven't put away the Yankees, despite being crowned at least 3 times in the past month. However, they keep playing good ball and keep the Yankees at bay. With no H2H games left the Yankees chances at a division title are beginning to boil down to needing an epic run or an epic crash. Still despite being closer and featuring better teams, it's a less compelling race than the NL Central one with the lack of H2H games and the fact the loser is almost guaranteed a WC spot.The 2nd WC spot in the AL is down to two teams as everyone else in the AL that was in contention can barely bring themselves to play .500 ball. Which is fair, because they are a bunch of barely .500 teams. The Angels are 2 games behind the Twins (who are 4 behind NYY, FYI). The Angels have a killer week lined up with Houston and Cleveland. Their saving grace might be that the Twins have a couple tough series left themselv[...]



100 Nats

2017-09-15T06:26:06.849-07:00

The Nats have had very good teams, great teams really. The 2016 Nats won 95 games. In 2014 it was 96. And in 2012 the Nats won 98 games. But the Nats have never won 100. The franchise hasn't won 100 (The Expos peaked at 95 in 1979, though they were on a 105 win pace in 1the strike year 1994) . The city hasn't won 100 games (The 1933 Senators won 99 games, granted in a 154 schedule time period)  Can the Nats do it?

They were probably in their best position to do it a week ago after taking the 2nd game from the Phillies. At that point, with 21 games to go then had to merely go 13-8. That's a 100 game pace but hey, you want to get to 100 right? But since then they've gone 2-3 and now they stand at 89 wins with 16 games to go. That means the Nats need to finish 11-5. That's ... tough.

The good news is they will be the favored team in each series. Win each one and you go 2-1, 2-1, 2-1, 2-1, 3-1 or 11-5. Just enough to do it. Have the Nats gone 11-5 this year? Yep. Several times. They had a better run than that in April (peaking at 13-3), and continued that play into early May. They again did it May into June, again in July, again in August and August into September. It's completely doable with the talent on this team.

The bad news is the talent on this team may not all be playing. Even if you ignore Bryce being out as a difference maker the Nats will be resting guys and letting call-ups get at bats for the next two weeks. An optimal line-up trying hard may be able to do it. A sub-optimal line-up playing to get to the end of the year healthy? Probably not. 

I'd like to see it happen but call me if the Nats go 4-2 over the next two series.

Side Note #2 :
The Nats currently have a 21 game lead in the division. If you think that's special, you're right. Leads this big happen once a decade or so. The last time someone won their division by 20+ games was the 2008 Angels who finished 21 games better than the Rangers. If the Nats get another game in the standings you'll have to go back to the 1998 Yankees who won their division by 22 games (where second place won 92!). The records, which the Nats will be hard pressed to beat are 30 games by the 1995 Indians* (in 144 games!) and the NL Record of 27.5 games by the 1902 Pirates. However I think that's it. I think if the Nats finish more than 22 games ahead of the Marlins (or Braves) they'll have the 3rd greatest division lead of all-time.


*Braves also won their division by 21 in 144 games. 



Bad Dusty! Bad Max! Bad Nats!

2017-09-14T08:21:48.725-07:00

We noted a few weeks ago the Nats should be living by one simple rule "Better to be safe, then sorry" With last off-season diminshed with late-season injuries to Strasburg and Ramos, it should be apparent to everyone that goal #1 is getting to the post-season as healthy as possible. You can't fully avoid injuries of course. Players gotta play. But you rest a little more often, throw out some other arms and bats now open to you with expanded rosters, and you limit the stressful pitches your pitchers throw.That is unless they ask for stressful pitches apparently.According to the reports, Max went into last night looking to throw 110-120 pitches. The reasoning was two-fold. (1) Max assumes he will pitch deep into playoff games, pushing his limit. By throwing more times at that limit during the regular season he thinks it will help him be more effective in the playoffs. Kind of like marathon training I guess (2) It is not unusual to find Max going over 110 pitches in a season. However, because of some recent injury issues he's only done it once since the All-Star break. Plus specifically he's only gone 100-74-104 in his last three starts. He is building less stamina, not more.OK well first - does Max actually have an issue pitching deep in playoff games? Apparently he does. However that doesn't factor in context. Such as how do most starters fare in that situation? Is that a product of one or two bad starts or is it more? Shouldn't it really be pitches?The first one is hard for me to answer. Splits by inning for starters in the post-season isn't readily available. Instead I took the 8 guys who have gone over 100 pitches the most in the post season since 2010. Then I realized I'd still have to look at like 50+ individual games. So scratch that for now. Needless to say I hope you understand that ALL pitchers get less effective as the game goes on. That's not a Scherzer problem, it's a human body problem.You look at league numbers, the OPS for batters goes up the more times they face you in a game or the more pitches they throw. But Max's numbers weren't just a little bad after 6 - they were very bad, probably worse than the usual split. Was this one or two bad games? Where these all breakdowns at high pitch counts though? The author mentions the Joc Pederson home run (solo shot - only run given up in game by Max). I looked up all the other 5IP+ outings where he gave up runs to see if one or two starts were skewing things. Looking at these 11 games the answer is not particularly no. He gave up late (6th or later) runs in a bunch of different games and never had like a 5 run 0.2IP inning thing going on.Of course we have to stop here and understand something about aces in the post-season. They are generally going to go as long as they are effective. That means you pitch them until they start giving up runs. There numbers are going to look worse late in the game unless they can make it the whole way without being touched. Ok but back to the question at hand. So Max may have worse splits for realsies but we're talking innings here. How many of these games did the issue come around 100 pitches, the hurdle Max is training to clear?  Well Max has only gone over 100p 4 times in his postseason career. In his very first game he did it and gave up no runs. What were the other 3?2013 ALDS g1: Max goes 7 giving up 2 runs on a homer in the 7th on pitch 1052013 ALCS g2 : Max goes 7 giving up 1 [...]