Nationals Baseball

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Monday meaningful, Tuesday meaningless?

It's always funny how we pick out certain games or moments to be meaningful. The late inning comeback. The blown big lead. These are somehow turning points or defining games but the solid 5-2 win where you went up 3-0 early? Somehow just another game. It's all about the emotions we attach to the game.  On Monday the first game versus the Cubs had special meaning. The defending WS champs, come to DC and win a tight game where a few mistakes by the Nats make a big different. Suddenly this is telling about how the Nats may perform in October. Yet yesterday, same teams (different starters) Nats win easy behind Max Scherzer and... hmm nothing.  Why isn't yesterday about October as well?

Oh well, we humans are who we are.

Like how we take 60 games of MAT and fewer of Goodwin and decide that that's what they really are. Could it be? Sure! Is it far more likely that the 100s of games before that are more telling? Yes!

Is there a set of games you should get more excited about? How about the 70 games of Anthony Rendon? In Anthony's 2nd major league season he mixed an excellent defensive season with a very good offensive one to put him in the MVP argument. It wasn't a strong argument but it was his second season! First full! But Anthony is fragile and got hurt and the next two years were not nearly as good. Now finally healthy (see, here it makes more sense Ryan!) Rendon is performing better than ever, finally continuing that improvement you expect young batters to make in their mid 20s.

What's the big difference with Rendon this year? You could point to the power as "Tony Two Bags" becomes more "Two Four Bags". It's a lasting change likely (more FBs hit, reasonable HR/FB rate) but at the same time one or two ball drops in front of the fence and you aren't picking this out in the same way. No, what's really the change is a newer, more patient, Anthony Rendon.

Pitches seen per plate appearance are up at 4.50 which is a full half-pitch more than last year (that's a lot!).  It's a league leading P/PA change and only in line with his half-played injury year where the patience seemed like more of a reaction to not being able to hit. This seems different. It's leading to an increased walk rate near 15% and the highest of his major league career. But that doesn't seem fluky because he's been improving that every season.
And it's not the highest of his full career.  His minor league numbers often were around this high. Meaning it's even more likely this change is more permanent then temporary.  Add that to a set of contact/zone info is all tweaked in the right direction; making better contact in zone, swinging less out of zone, and Rendon looks exactly like you'd want a player to. Someone who seems to be tweaking himself in the major leagues to become a better hitter, back to the hitter he was in the minors. Remember Rendon was a Top 20/30 prospect in the majors.

So this brings it all back to MAT and Goodwin again. Rendon's improvement - a step up from his major league best, presumably continuing his natural improvement that was derailed a bit by injury, matching what he showed he could do consistently in the minors through basic and minor improvements, meeting expectations that outside sources had set for him. These all scream this is real.  Big jumps? Stats that seem to change out of the blue? Stats that seem way different than what you've ever done before? Defying the analysis and ratings of experts? These all scream that it's not. So while you can enjoy Goodwin and MAT, don't hang your hat on them. Hang it on Anthony Rendon becoming a true MVP candidate.

Monday, June 26, 2017

Monday Quickie - Keep on Trucking

You need the "g".  What am I some sort of philistine? Wait. Why do we say that... Hmmm that doesn't seem fair. Is this troublesome? Are you Millennials going to come after me now?

Anyway I continue to wander about the Southern United States like a vagabond with only what's in my bindle and my old hound Sherman to keep me sane. In the meantime, nothing has changed. The Nats have basically been a .500 team in June. That's not great but you have to assume it's their floor and in June they basically haven't lost any ground to any other team so it's just a shrug your shoulders thing. They aren't losing the division even if they go .500 here on out (which they won't barring injury).

Roark had another bad outing, as much as you want to look at the last several innings you can't ignore the first two.. Strasburg pitched poorly but everyone can have a bad game. Three in a row is basically where I get concerned. Speaking of three in a row Ross pitched well, but he's on a pattern where he pitches well every third game, basically to make me think he should stay in the rotation. The bullpen had a surprisingly quiet weekend so good for them. 

Offensively there doesn't seem to be much worry per se. Yeah Werth is still out but Michael Taylor and Brian Goodwin are doing their best Tyler Moore / Roger Bernadina 2012 impressions (sorry if you think there's more here). Yeah Bryce has been lukewarm for a while, but it's not like last year when he went cold. Yeah Turner isn't having the year you wanted, but he's hitting .300 in the past month. Yeah, Wieters has dissolved into a pile of nothing but... well you can't win them all! Regardless while there are little issues here they've all mostly been covered.

This is a quickie so I'm out. I've got a train to jump

Friday, June 23, 2017

Calling it

Meant to do this after the weekend series vs the Mets but I'm calling the NL East all official like. Well ahead of schedule as last year I didn't call it until August 15th. That's like 2 months from now.

It's over. Plan your Octobers* accordingly.

Of course this comes with two major caveats
1) The Nationals don't suffer a series of major injuries. I don't think one injury changes anything but if say Murphy and Scherzer go down? Ok that might matter. 
2) This is based on the rosters as they currently stand. If the Braves say trade for Sonny Gray and Jose Quintana and Lorenzo Cain and JD Martinez then maybe they can catch the Nats. Otherwise? eh.

We're a little more than a week away from the half-way point of the season and the facts are clear. The Nats, despite their issues, are one of the best teams in baseball. The other teams in the NL East will have to fight to get to .500. This is all a repeat of probably a half-dozen other posts but consider this the topper. We're done talking about the NL East.

So how is everything else going? A month from the All-Star Game** with trade deadlines looming.

The Nats offensively are still coasting off their amazing start.  May was merely average and June was a more standard "best of the rest" type of season.  The line-up has really divided into have and have nots but the haves (Bryce, Murphy, Zimm, Rendon) have been so good that the have-nots (Wieters, Turner, whoever else in in OF) are hard to notice.  It's probably something the Nats are not going to address and that's fine. However a late season injury could tip things here making very good lineup into one that can be exploited.

The starting pitching is also an issue of the greatness covering for the mediocrity and honestly covering for the other not as great but still greatness. Max is fighting to be the best pitcher in baseball and has all the spotlights on him.  Strasburg though is right there with no issues to speak of.  Then things get dicey.  Gio's had his best year in a while but the stats suggest there are some smoke and mirrors involved. Roark is struggling not to be hit.  Ross and the gaggle of others can't hold onto the 5th spot. Unlike the line-up, these holes can't be hidden in the playoffs because Max and Stras can't start every game. The Nats struggled not having a 4th starter last year and it looks like they might have a similar issue this year. I'd expect them at least trying to pick up a 4/5 cheap at the deadline.

The bullpen... well you know. Oddly the middle of the pen - Treinen/Romero/Perez have settled in June, but anyone put in pressure still folds. For the sake of the psychology of the team this will have to be addressed, but just how it will be without taking the top off a system that is just fair will be interesting to see.

This all feels like rehashing I know, but I wanted a solid start to this new part of the season. The post divisional concerns part. That's where the Nats are right now because the NL East is all but won.

*Well at least the early part

Wednesday, June 21, 2017


First off - we have to ask is there really something wrong with Tanner? Up until his 2nd start in June I would have said probably not. His ERA of 3.95 was a little higher than you'd like but with an opponents OPS of .663, 7.4 K/9, 2.83 BB/9 were all in line with what you'd expect. His H/9 was up (8.3) but not too far off his 2014 number. You could see how the combination of all this would lead to a slightly disappointing season but since he had been a pleasant surprise skirting the Top 20 of starters in 2014 & 2016 that would be ok.

The past three games, though, have been a different story. 26 hits in under 14 innings, 9 strikeouts (eh), 6 walks (not good), 4 homers (bad).  Something is up.

Now of course when things look bad it's usually in part out of their hands and a .431 BABIP suggests a few more balls finding holes than normally.  But still over the course of 14 innings that's a few hits - certainly not enough to go from "pretty good" to "god awful".  Looking at the game by game stats one telling thing is the lack of softly hit balls the past few games, and for the season in general.  If you look at this game by game you are bound to see a lot of bouncing around, but since the beginning of May Tanner hasn't gotten more than 15.4% softly hit balls in any game.  That's important because you want his soft hit rate to be over 20%. Hard to get the average over 20% when your peak isn't over 16%.

Now what you might expect from here is some sort of pitch failure. Either a pitch is becoming more hittable (check FB speed) or that there's been a negative change to the pitch selection (check percentages of each type of pitch). Well I looked at these for the past few games and there really isn't anything I see. If we take April to be fairly normal - he did see a drop in FB speed at the beginning of May but he's back up to speed maybe even faster. That could mean a bit of overthrowing but it doesn't explain the lack of soft hits in May. Maaaaybe he's throwing his curve a bit less but that's a stretch to say based on this info in my opinion.

We can look at location (a little bit).  I don't really see much of anything here.  I can tell you he's getting more contact in the zone, fewer swings and misses, but that's really just in the past 3 games not since May. So it's not like he's missing the zone a lot - but that's to be expected from the K/9 and BB/9 numbers.

So what this would tell me at this point is that Tanner has one of two issues (well maybe three)

1) Something to do with the movement of his pitches.  His fastball and change are being hit when they are usually his plus pitches. So I'd look there first. Of course even if we pick up on something here I can't tell you what it means. Some suggested an issue with run back fastballs. I can't figure out what are runbacks or not just from the averages over a game. That's more of a game film type of analysis. Just in general I'd guess more movement is better but too much movement is probably bad too. You're looking for a sweet spot. Of course for each pitcher there are different sweet spots and probably several combinations that work... This is why teams have pitching coaches and not bloggers

2) Something to do with the sequence of his pitches. This is a little more able to be picked up with stats. I'm not going to do it now but I suppose you could see if he's putting together too many fastballs in a row or always following a slider on 2-0 with a change or something like that.

3) I suppose - he could be tipping his pitches in some way.

The good news is that it's not an obvious problem that suggests injury, like loss of FB speed. The bad news is that it's not an obvious problem that suggests injury. Tanner is getting hit harder than he has been in the past. He has been since the start of May and things are not getting better. It doesn't seem like just a slump. What we could surmise from here is something made his FB velocity drop - he got hit hard. To compensate he's tried to ramp it back up and perhaps he's overthrowing - he gets hit hard. But I kind of doubt that's all of it. Let's hope the professionals can figure out what's wrong

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Tuesday Quickie

Hmm Roark looks worth diving into doesn't he?  Ok so I'll do that.  Maybe later tonight.

Despite the Nats cruising down easy street Roark being bad would be a big issue. You need at least three starters for the playoffs (see: 2016, Nats) and as great as Gio's results have been Im not sure anyone is ready to trust him in the playoffs against anyone but the lefty heavy Dodgers.  The pen is still suffering so you'd basically be asking, nay demanding, Max and Stars to win their starts.  Of course the Nats won't actually go into playoffs with both these as issues but a starter issue means it's harder to come together on a relief solution.

Ok. I said it quick.  Back later

Friday, June 16, 2017

Feel better?

You should.

I mean about the NL East. The Mets continue to break down like a rickety jalopy as they go through the season. A completely healthy Mets team is competition. This Mets team is lucky to be hanging on. True they could win the next 3 (including games vs Strasburg and Scherzer) and feel a little better but honestly I don't see that happening. I'm more interested now in the possibility that the Nats sweep, put the Nats 12.5 out, likely hold a 12 game lead over the Marlins and we can all put the NL East to bed and focus on enjoying the last month of ASG baseball before we get consumed in trade talk.

Also praying no one gets hurt in this long stretch of games. There's that too.

What about Gio? Well if you like Gio - he's sporting his best ERA since his first year here and is 6-1. Also if you like Gio stop reading.

It's pretty much a sham. Last night was a legit good game but overall it's not pretty. His strike-outs keep dropping, his walks keep going up, his homers are now a problem. He's being saved by a ahistorical for him low BABIP rate and one of the best LOB% in the game.  So maybe he's become a pitcher that can bear down, fool guys when needed into hitting the ball exactly as he wants to. Or maybe he's just been lucky. Given everything else looks worse, I'm leaning toward lucky.

Sweep now so all of us can focus at yelling at the Lerners to spend money to help the bullpen.

Thursday, June 15, 2017

Tired, Dirty, but will they be Happy?

The Nats are staring at the half-way point of what could be the breaking point of their season. After tonight they will have played 23 games in 24 days and have antother 23 games in 24 days to go.  It's a hard road made necessary by an unfortunate "rainout" make-up with the Orioles, but them's the brakes. What the Nats need to do is buckle down and forge on through. What they are doing is sniping and infighting. I'd say it's up to the manager and team leader to get them through this but both are known for using the media to play up their unhappiness and, let's be honest, that bullpen issue, and not getting paid, are things that are reasonable to be unhappy about. In other words, don't expect it to get better through force of personality.

The Nats have honestly had only one bad stretch of games so far, if you can call it that, where they lost the last two games at the Pirates then the opening two at the Braves. But it came after a stretch of 4 wins (2 walk-offs) in 5 games so the Nats weren't at all reeling. They also had things lining up in their favor. They had a day off after that first win of three. They came back home to face two West Coast teams making East Coast swings, a mediocre Mariners team made for the AL and a terrible Padres team. It was set up nicely for a bounce back and they did.

The Nats now don't have the same situation. It's a longer, more pronounced stretch of bad play (2-6) that does feel a little bit like reeling. They now head away from home for 7 games and rest is a week away. It'll be a test.

How can it get better in the fact of this if the team can't rally? Through force of talent. The Nats have a team that's very good all it tekes is a couple of great pitcher performances (Scherzer and Strasburg back to back) or offensive bust outs (They scored 10 in two of the last three games) to get the team feeling good again and back on track. This team could easily reel of a 5-2 stretch without an ounce of luck.

They don't need a 5-2, though. They don't need to thrive, they just need to survive. Thanks to their great start and the NL East's terrible one they still maintain a healthy lead. A split, at home and with some measure of momentum, would be a loss for the Mets.  A winning series, which would put them 6.5 out, is a bare minimum. They Mets still really need to sweep just to get that lead down to something workable (4.5) and change the feel that this is the Nats division to lose. The onus is still all on the Mets.

Go out tonight and kill that any thinking that this is a race game one. Win tonight, put the Mets 9.5 games out and desperate to hang onto the last threads of hope. Make them think about .500 and a Wild Card. Keep things where they have been all year.  This can be where the season changes but far more easily it can be where nothing changes. Let's make sure of it ASAP.