Nationals Baseball

Friday, August 26, 2016

Let it Schrock.

The Nats won last night as Scherzer was dominant and the Nats bats... well they did enough! Thus ends all four games of the "tough" part of the schedule from Mid-August to Mid-September. Now it's the Rockies and Phillies and Mets and Braves and Phillies and Mets and Braves and Marlins. This should be where the Nats officially start putting teams away one by one. The Braves should be any day now. Ideally the Mets will be eliminated in that second series and the Marlins in that last one, but we'll see.

Speaking of Maxs the Nats made a trade yesterday sending Max Schrock to the A's for Marc Rzepczynski. Who is "Scrabble" (the only time I'll use that nickname - though it isn't a bad one)?  He's a 30 year old southpaw reliever whose job it is to get lefties out and pretty much nothing else. Now you may say "But Harper - he isn't getting lefites out this year!" and you'd be right. Lefties have a .755 OPS against him (while righties have a .674 one).  But historically he's been death to lefties and a delicious feast for righties.

2015:  RHB OPS : .972  LHB OPS : .661
2014:  RHB OPS : .944  LHB OPS : .441
2013:  RHB OPS : .859  LHB OPS : .480

If you believe this year's just been a fluke so far he's a LOOGY, plain and simple.  And even if you worry about it not being a fluke - understand that the .755 OPS, somewhere between Chris Heisey and Jayson Werth is pretty much completely average and is mainly average driven. In 81 ABs he's given up only 5 XBH to lefties, only 1 home run. Plus he's struck out 23 lefties in 89 PAs. This pick up makes sense.

Now is Max Schrock too much to give up? Depends on who you ask. We went over this for the Melancon trade but if all you care about is potential future value nearly anything is too much to give up for a rental reliever. Relievers pitch such few innings that they are barely going to effect a team's season, especially not a team with as large a lead as the Nats. In the playoffs chance drives their impact and there's always the "couldn't have another pitcher gotten this out" hanging over them. Since outs happen far more often that hits, even in bad matchups, the answer is usually yes to that latter point. The impact a reliever can have over the alternative is just very limited.

But is all you care about potential future value? If you care about winning then it's usually fine to trade prospects for anything, even rental relievers. Most prospects amount to very little. This is especially true when considering the 10th best prospect, not for the sport or a league, but for a team. They don't make the majors or when they do their impact is limited. It may not feel like that's the case but it is. You can just look at the players the Nats have traded and hell, the ones they haven't, to see that. For every Turner there are a dozen Balesters, Coles, Milones, Norrises, Peacocks, Freitases, Meyers, Pineyros, Krols, Lombardozzis, Burnses, and Karnses. A mix of never-made-its, cups of coffee, barely role players, and maybe a good year or two. That's what you usually give up and what you usually get.

Then why do people care so much? The same reason they'd scream if you ripped up a lottery ticket. "But what if?" Schrock isn't a nothing prospect. He's 21 (although nearly an "old" 21*) and he's hit really well in advanced A-ball (.341) after hitting in low A and regular A. That's good. He doesn't have any power. He doesn't have any patience. He's not particularly known for his fielding. That's not so good. The minute he stops hitting for .300 or so, his usefulness ends. (For completeness he seems like an ok runner). He probably tops out, if he's lucky, as a useful bench piece for a couple years. A guy who can come up and put the ball in play for you. That's worth more than 40 games of a reliever yes, but it's also something you can get with a couple million dollars at any point.

In other words if Schrock develops into what most people think he will he'd be a good piece to have. But in no way should his presence make the difference between success and failure for a team. You can get what it is Max Schrock is expected to be for next to nothing as far as a baseball payroll goes. That's what the trade is. Something you could get for a couple million today (an effective LOOGY reliever) for something you can get for a couple million later (an ok bench player).  

Does the variability in Schrock, the potential, matter? Yes, but only in bulk. If your team consistently makes these trades, empties out prospects 3-13 for a few years in a row, you'll likely find yourself with a dearth of bench prospects and probably will have "unlucked out" into trading someone who might have a 5-10 year decent career. Instead of a couple million, you may have cost the current team something more like 20 million. That can matter to a team** But the Nats don't do that. A trade or two every year should be fine. 

It's nearly playoff time and the Nats need to optimize for that. They aren't going to spend a ton of money so they will tweak here and there. LOOGY is something that looked like it could be improved. Rizzo did it. What's left? I guess they could find a bench player you like better than Difo. But I'm not sure there is one. He's good enough defensively and a fast enough runner to fill those roles. You'd really have to bring in someone who is a special at either of those to matter. I suppose a truly great contact hitter might be worth grabbing. Really we're at the margins here.


*If you have forgotten or never knew I like to make distinctions between "young" and "old" ages. Since the age for a player in the great baseball-reference website is set of July 1st that year it gives you the impression that someone who turned 25 on June 29th was the same age as someone who turned 26 on July 2nd, when they were more accurately closer to a year apart. That's not a bug. The line has to be set somewhere. But in order to lessen that false impression I call players who have a birthday in the first half of the season (OD-July1st) "young" and those in the second half (July 1st -October whatever) "old"  It's less important as you age, but it matters for minors IMO. 

**Though as always - it shouldn't matter. Rich men's toys whose valuations grow rapidly should not have payroll issues. There is no money bucket. However, I understand it will matter. 

Thursday, August 25, 2016

Opposite Directions

I tweeted something yesterday that encapsulates exactly why I would call the Nats season with so many games (at the time) left to play. Here is an expanded version.

After the games of August 5th, the Nats had won their 4th game in a row and had opened up a large lead over their closest rivals for the NL East title. They were 7 games ahead of the Marlins and had a 9 game lead on the Mets. In the 17 games since then the Nats have gone a middling 8-9. But they are in no worse position after the games of August 24th then they were then. The Marlins are still 7 games back and the Mets have even lost ground, now down by 10.

You can take negatives from this. This isn't how a winning team plays*  The NL East sucks**  I prefer to take a positive. The Nats will make the playoffs.

Now let's talk about a couple of guys going in opposite directions.  Do you want the bad news or the good news first? How about the Danny Espinosa, I mean "bad news", first. Sorry, slip of the tongue.

Danny is hitting .220 / .318 / .400. As it stands now he is holding on to the "good enough" level that we've talked about with Danny at the beginning of his career. If he can walk ok and hit homers ok then the low average doesn't matter as much. But he's only holding onto it by the skin of his teeth.  .235 is ok. .215 is not.  You could say the trend is not good, that he's flailing recently but that's not really the truth.  Here's the truth.

Danny's first 57 games : .196 / .289 / .348
Danny's next 26 games : .357 / .455 / .762
Danny's last 39 games : .168 / .269 / .248

Danny had one great month and almost 100 games of offense so bad you'd have to sit him. Being streaky is fine, but that word suggests you go on and off streaks all year. You run hot and cold. Danny... he isn't doing this. This is more fluky that streaky. It's more 2014, where he started with a good month and that was it, than 2015, where he played well for most of the first half and had a decent 3 week stretch right around now.

Even if you are inclined to like Danny and think he's more of the pre-injury guy (hovering in the 90-100 OPS+ range) than the post-injury guy (somewhere from worse than that to "if I played baseball"), there isn't much to hang your hat on. There's no unfortunate BABIP (it's .286)  His K rate, the bane of his offensive existence, which had dropped to a reasonable mid 20s% is back up well over 30%. The crazy HR/FB rate that helped power June went away, as expected. He's hitting a lot of balls softly. He tanked the end of the last two years. While you can excuse that last one (circumstances differed) you can't deny it and hope for a late season explosion.

This is basically Danny. If he hits a little better you can take it. If the team as a whole is pretty good offensively, you can accept his flaws in the 8 hole. But at some point he won't hit enough, or the team will struggle too much, and it just won't be worth it to keep the slick fielding around. This is why Trea Turner was brought here and Daniel Murphy signed. Danny is short term. Let's hope that doesn't mean "last year"


But now good news and one Mr. Anthony Micelli Rendon. Wait. Nope. The "M" stands for Michael. How disappointing. And Boring. But knowing the Nats it's pronounced MY-CHEY-EL

Like Danny is Danny, Rendon is Rendon. He will hit if he's healthy. The problem was it was taking a long time for him to get healthy. It was a very slow April (.242 / .310 / .286). May was ok but June seemed to be a half-step back from that. Given that we were half-way through the year at that point, it was reasonable to ask if he'd ever get it going in 2016, or if fans would have to wait until next year.

But right around that half-way point he began to heat up and he hasn't slowed down since. .312 / .386 / .584 starting with game 82. Rendon does have a little high BABIP recently but for the 2nd half it's a reasonably high .327. His K-rate, up in the 23% range, has dropped like a rock under 12% in the second half.  He's stopped hitting ground balls (down to 28% from over 40% earlier). He's probably a little lucky but the question isn't if he can be hit like he's hit post-break. That'd be great but it would be a Murphy like transition to MVP favorite type. No, the question is can he hit like the .287 / .351 / .473 line from 2014? I think it's safe to say yes. That guy had a .314 BABIP a K rate around 15%, similar hit patterns and fancy stats. I can't promise you Rendon is better than that (though he might be - he's still youngish) but I feel pretty good saying I don't think he'll be worse.

The Nats aren't a perfect offensive team by any means, but there enough good pieces here when everyone's healthy to make a very good offense. While guys like Zimm and Rendon got their feet under them other guys have picked it up. Ramos, Drew, Turner.  For a month Danny put the team on his back, but that's probably all he can do. It is time for the injury guys to step up and they have. Rendon is back to being Rendon.

*Not true.  Did you know the Royals went 8-16 in September last year? In 2014 the Giants finished the year 6-9?  In 2012 the Giants spent the end of July and first half of August going 11-13? The 2011 Cardinals spent most of the month before Labor Day going 12-14? The 2010 Giants went 12-16 for a stretch in August. The 200... I hope you get the point. Middling, even bad stretches, late in the year don't mean you can't win in the playoffs. In fact August and September cover a third of a season. It's more likely that you have a middling stretch in there than you don't.

**Now this has some teeth. The Nats lost only a half-game to the Phillies and gained ground on the Braves which means that since August 5th the NL East as a whole has played like garbage. The Marlins have the worst record of a second place team right now. The Mets are 5 out of 6 for third place teams. The Phillies - hey the Phillies are ok! I mean in terms of rating 4th place teams. And the Braves are the worst team in baseball.

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Strasburn

Strasburg is on the DL with elbow soreness. This was after the Nats said repeatedly that everything was fine and he wasn't hurt. It may be true that this isn't a serious injury but given that the Nats haven't been forthcoming at all (nor need they be, mind you) there isn't any good reason to believe them.

Well, perhaps there is - Tommy John injuries are usually preceded by a loss in velocity - or at least that's what we've been told.  You know I hate "just saying things".  Nate Eovaldi just underwent surgery. Let's check out his velocity. Check. Down to 94 in his last game from the 97-98 range.  That's promising I guess. Let's grab some other recent starters that had TJ mideseason.  I see Lance Lynn, Alex Cobb, and Homer Bailey. Lynn no. He did have the dreaded "forearm tightness" in early June and missed two starts but continued to pitch the rest of the year with no discernable change in speed - at least not to me. Granted Lynn is not a power guy, averaging around 93 MPH.  Alex Cobb... looks like that injury happened in ST, so no stats.  Bailey?  Yes. Down at 93.5 then 90 for a guy that was more a 95-96 type. Oh Jason Vargas, what about you? Yes. Down to 86 from 88+.

It seems like something is here but that Lynn one bothers me. He did get in in the offseason, but it's not like he was pitching much from the playoffs to Halloween to explain it. Let's look at some more. Jose Fernandez? Maybe. It was down but not as much as some of these others. Ivan Nova? Not particularly, not as convincing as Fernandez. Matt Moore? Again maybe? Let's end with Matt Harvey. If you are going to compare anyone to Strasburg, he seems the most fitting. Looking at the velocity, I would say yes. Like Fernandez it wasn't a sudden large drop but the average velocity was down at the end. If you are looking for the trend you see it.

OK so I guess I'd say yes. I don't think it's impossible that we don't see a drop in velocity but it does seem that you usually do. However the 95 MPH guy suddenly throwing 90 and grabbing his elbow isn't a given. Sometimes it's more subtle. Sometimes it's more of a drop over time as opposed to a singular event. So what about Strasburg? There is a VERY subtle drop from early in the year. Usually guys take a couple starts to warm up. This year Stras would get to 96+ by the end of April and he topped out at 97 on May 19th. Since July 8th though he hasn't topped 96 as an average and he even went under 95 for a game. The latter is not unheard of - he did it once last year, three times in 2014. But the former... a streak like that he's only done once. In 2014 he went a full 12 games without breaking 96 for an average fastball speed. That seems more like a concerted effort than an injury given he was faster before and after.

What about other Nats?  Do I see any gradual season long VERY subtle drops? Max - no. Stable. Gio - no. Actually going up. Tanner - maybe? What about other years? Does Strasburg just slow down typically over the course of a year? 2015 - No. 2014 - No. 2013 - No.

I'm going to have to stop now but what I was trying to do was eliminate the possibility that this is a big bad Tommy John surgery type injury and I'm afraid I cannot. Strasburg has not had a quick noticeable drop in velocity. That is good - it would clearly indicate an issue. But that itself doesn't eliminate the possibility. Clearly noticeable drops in velocity don't happen every time. Sometimes the drop is more gradual and limited. Rarely you don't see it at all. The latter though seems pretty rare, especially for a power pitcher. Therfore, if Strasburg had no drop in velocity I wouldn't be worried at all. But I do see a drop in velocity. Not a big one, I'd even struggle to call it a small one. But there is that very slight trend down. If I were able to dismiss that as a "all pitchers have that happen over course of season" or "Strasburg always slows down" that would help, but neither of those is true.

So do I think this is a major injury? I have no idea. But I can't say with certainty that I believe it's not one. I'm just waiting in the dark like I was as a 12 year old getting info from the nightly news and daily paper. 

Monday, August 22, 2016

Monday Quickie - See Last Monday

Are you still worried? Miami has won 3 in a row. The Mets 2 (like for the second time since June or something like that). The Nats have arguably played terribly and their pen was taxed to the max. God - it must be close now!

Nats Monday August 15th - 8.5 game lead over Marlins, 10.5 over Mets
Nats Monday August 22nd - 8.5 game lead over Marlins, 11.5 over Mets

Just saying your energy should probably be directed to making sure the Yankees sweep the Mariners to (1) hold onto their slim Wild Card chances and (2) keep Seattle from making it. Personally I'd rather have Detroit, or Kansas City or Houston before Seattle. Baltimore's kind of a toss-up for me. If it's Boston or Seattle, of course, Seattle. But pretty much everyone else above the Mariners.

Oh wait - Nats blog, right.

That was some pretty terrible baseball. Especially last night - five errors! But there were also four in the three games before and that led to a lot of runs being scored that shouldn't have. The Braves are not a sneaky good offensive team. They are a bad one. In the 8 games before the Nats series the Braves scored 3 or fewer runs 6 times. So the Nats should have won these handily, especially given the starters performances. Lopez did exactly what they all should have.* Roark was ok. Max and Gio were passable. But errors and some poorly timed failures to get outs forced the pen into progressively more work. 2 IP to 2 2/3 to 2 2/3 to 4. That's a lot of innings for a pen in four days. Worse, outside of Treinen, pretty much everyone got hit. Again, Braves have a bad offense, so it's a bit more concerning, right now just as something to note.

Now it's up to Strasburg to go deep into the game, 7+ one hopes, and give the pen some rest. But it's not just the pen that makes this a big start for Stras. He's been progressively worse the past three outings. He was SHELLED the last time. He needs a good outing. The incidentals all line up for him. The weather should be fine (sorry "sweat excusers"). He only threw 71 pitches last time, and has only gone over 100 once in his past 4 starts, so he shouldn't be gassed. If not at home, he's close enough that I assume he stayed in his own place last night. The game itself will be hard though because the Orioles have a good offense with the only real hole in the line-up being Weiters, who hasn't gotten himself going all year. Is that an excuse? The other team is good? Sorry, not for me. I think Stras has to be good tonight. If he's mediocre, oh well, I'll take it in the sense it won't make me worry more and that's something. If he's bad though - don't come here with that "don't worry" stuff.

Ok let's get this going. The 40 game race to get the Wild Card winner starts now and the Cubs have a 5 games lead. The Nats can't afford a slip up.

*Please remember this. We seem to treat all good major league performances the same. They are not. Lopez faced the Dodgers - an average offensive team - and got shelled.  He faced the Giants - with a below average post-break offense - and got hit a bit. It's only when he faced the Braves - worst offense in the NL, still below average post-break - when he had good performances. Show me something against Baltimore, Colorado, and a healthy Mets team and I'll buy into it. 

It's funny how optimistic fans can be some times. Strasburg has three bad outings against mediocre offenses. "It's not enough to judge him. Give him a couple more starts" Lopez has two good outings against mediocre offenses. "He's a stud! Keep him in the rotation! Trade Gio when Ross is back!"

Friday, August 19, 2016

The Amazing Jayson Werth

Jayson Werth's time with the Nats is amazing. It's not about this on-base streak thing. That's slightly interesting but far secondary to the fact that he's been good during that time. Maybe very good (.264 / .382 / .460 - borderline. I'd go "good") certainly not great, but good is great when you were expecting bad.

Is that right?

Yeah, I think that makes sense.

And it's not about the fuzzy leadership you get from a guy described anywhere from the ultimate gamer to a huge egotist who cares not for your laws.

No Jayson Werth's time is amazing because he's twice now brought his contract back from the brink to acceptable levels.

Understand a couple points. First, the Nats overbid themselves for Werth, and paid him way more than necessary. You may want to argue this. Don't. No one has looked into this more than me. That's usually hyperbole, but I honestly believe this. I can have long discussions about the market at the time, the public expectations from people in the know, the idea of bad teams having to pay more to get players, the level of contracts similar players got during the time period, etc. etc. Just trust me on this point and keep reading because it's becomes sort of a side note anyway.

Second, contracts for guys in their 30s are always some level of overpay. That's the way the system works. You get underpaid when you are young, partially because your performance is more variable, mostly because they can underpay you. You get overpaid when you are old, partially because your performance is less variable, mostly because you can work the scarcity angle to force them to overpay you.

In general then, a player will never be worth what he is going to be paid for a long contract that ends in his latter 30s. That's what you accept when you make a deal. Because the Nats overpaid, that near certainty stood out even more*. But it doesn't mean necessarily these are bad deals on the field. The goal of these deals is different. It is not to get value over the course of the contract (sorry fangraphs!) but to get value immediately and to turn that into wins. On a 7 year deal you probably expect something like this:

Current level, current level, lower, lower, lower, lower, whatever.

For Werth at the plate that would be an OPS+ of something like 140 140 125 115 105 95... I don't know 70. Consider those contract years 1 through 7 for continuing discussion.

When Werth started he immediately came in and at the plate gave Nats "contract year" number... six. That is a disastrous result.  Now of course he wasn't well but that doesn't make it better. He's 32, injured, and just put up a mediocre year. This could have easily lead to the Nats getting absolutely nothing out of their highest paid player for 6 years. You can hardly have a worse outcome from signing a player long term, especially one that had just put up 3+ years of high level performance.

He would come back the next year and give something akin to year 4 or 5. He hit better than that yes, but only played half a season. It was better but the prospects for ever coming close to either getting back what you paid for, or getting what you expected seemed grim. What was he going to do? Have an OPS+ around 140 at 34 and 35? Ha!

Ha?

Amazingly the answer was yes. In 2013 he hit even better than that, with only missed time costing him the chance at exceeding "contract year 1" expectations. In 2014 he more or less hit them. So the Nats got "contract year 1" and "contract year 2" only instead of in actual year 1 and 2 they came in year 3 and 4. Now things looked pretty good. If he regressed slightly each year, not a terrible assumption at least for the next couple years, he would provide them with that year 3 and a year 4 and they'd be on target for expectations. Maybe, just maybe, if he pulled out one more great year, they could have gotten more. I blogged about this at the time, but coming from where things stood the middle of 2012, that was a goddamn miracle.

But Werth didn't slightly regress. He got hurt and crashed again, basically giving the Nats "contract year 7" in year 5. At 36 it was quite possible he would be done and that would be that. The Nats managed to squeak out enough value that the contract wasn't a disaster but it would still end up a loss with three albatross years at the end dragging it down.

But again, like a beardy phoenix rising from the ashes of a flaming high-speed car wreck, Werth has come back. He's far more limited today than he was a couple years ago but he's giving the Nats a year that again will hit that 4/5 year level. That will pretty much mean that Werth will hit his expectations for the 7 years when the Nats signed him. 

This is all very broad and macro-level but at the end of the day twice in the span of Werth's contract it looked like things were going to turn out badly. First it looked as if it would be a possible "worst contract ever" contestant, later, it looked to be more a typical bad contract where the player's viability went away too quickly. In both instances he performed above expectations to make sure things turned out ok. First performing at an All-Star level at age 34 and 35, later, giving the Nats above average play at the plate at age 37.  That's not nothing. How many 34/35s or older are giving their teams All-Star play at the plate this year? Just three. Ortiz, Cruz, and Beltran. How many 37s or older and giving above average OPSs? Just a handful more with Ortiz and Beltran - Victor Martinez, Suzuki, Beltre.

You probably noticed I haven't mentioned defense and yes, Werth quickly became a bad defender which does go into this. But defensive stats are still being worked out, so I prefer to talk about them only in the broadest multi-year sense. In general you would have hoped Werth 2010 was a fluke. He had been a good fielder early in his career, bordering on very good. At the same time you probably would have expected him to age out at some point. Year 2 was probably quicker than you hoped but it was always going to happen. Only elite defenders can keep their worth that long. Also not in here is baserunning. Werth is a savvy baserunner and that has helped. He basically kept up his Phillies levels through 2014 before age caught up to him. This all matters but because hitting has the most reliable numbers I'm focusing on that.

Barring getting a complete zero from him next year, something worse than last year, Jayson Werth the player has been a good signing for the Nats. Not a good contract, but a good signing. He has nearly met expectations. Not in the typical way at all, but he's done it. That's all you can ask. And while it's doubtful he'll unleash a 125ish OPS+ year next season, I'm not going to doubt it at this point. He's twice defied being kicked into the abyss. What's one more miracle year? 

*and it's the main reason I'll always say it was a bad deal off the field. If you can get something for $100 and you pay $120, even if you get $120 worth of value for it - you made a bad deal.

Thursday, August 18, 2016

Time to worry about Strasburg?

Strasburg had a terrible outing yesterday. That in itself is not telling. The number of bad outings in Coors field is close to infinity.  However, that outing didn't happen in a vacuum.  Strasburg's last three outings have all been bad and it's got some of us concerned. Should we be?

First let's understand how out of place these bad outings were. On August 1st Strasburg shutdown Arizona over 6 innings and lowered his ERA to 2.63.  After yesterday's game, just three starts later, his ERA has ballooned to 3.59.   He's pitched to a 14.66 ERA during this time, with opponents hitting .414 / .462 / .776 off him.

It's been progressively worse too. On August 6th he faced a good Giants offense, and got hit around a bit, giving up 8 hits in 4 2/3rds.  That included two doubles and two triples, but he also walked only 1 and struck out 8.  On August 12th he faced a garbage Braves offense and got hit around again. It wasn't as many hits (7 in 5 1/3rds) but it included 3 doubles and 2 homeruns and he walked 2, and struck out 7. Given the decrease in talent he was facing that was definitely a step down performance.  Yesterday, he faced the Rockies in Coors, which is almost always a tough outing and got blasted. NINE hits in 1 2/3rds. No homers but 4 doubles and a triple and worse - 3 walks (and only 3 Ks but out of 5 outs that's about right).  At least it can't get any worse right?

Yesterday was his worst outing of the year. The game on the 12th was his second worst outing. The game on the 6th was his third worst outing. (his 4th worst outing was Jul 21st). Could it be the heat? I suppose it could be an issue getting used to it. July was a problem in 2012 and 2013, but he hasn't shown much of that in the past few years. Plus he was always ok in August. So it makes a nice excuse but probably not.

So is it trouble? Well the good news is that it is probably not arm based trouble if it is. Usually you look for a sudden drop in velocity when that happens and that isn't the case here.

Then what is it? It would be remiss to write off three bad starts, each worse than the last, as just "this happens". Let's speculate!

It's the pitches per game
Strasburg had pitched 20 games by the crash. In 16 of them he hit the "magical" 100 pitch threshold. In three of the other four he reached 95 pitches. Maybe Strasburg is just a 6 inning pitcher who has been overworked. Of course he hasn't been worked overly hard either. He's only hit 110 pitches 3 times and tops out at 114. I'm not sold on this.

It's the slider
After you look at velocity you look at movement and only pitch that looks to be different is the slider. It's moving less side to side and more up and down. Strasburg always seems to want to tinker with a fourth pitch to go along with the fastball, change, and curve. However, fancy stats don't say there is an issue with the slider.   He's been getting killed on his straight pitches - fastball and change. So the slider change is interesting but not telling.

It's the location of the straight stuff
From April to July Strasburg was able to mix things up pretty good. Looking at where those fastballs and changes went it was a pretty even distribution. More in the middle but a good 38% at the bottom of the zone or below it. In August though (first 3 starts) he's only been able to hit that spot about 27% of the time and out of the zone has dropped from 18% to 9%.  This goes along with the batted ball stats which show that the number of groundballs he's inducing is down to 27.3% from 35% or higher in every other month. Also the number of soft hits is down precipitously and hard hits are up. Hmm we seem to be onto something here. However, August data is slim so you have to take that into account and percentage of strikes don't suggest he's getting more wild in general.


If it is a locating issue than that still doesn't answer the question unless for some reason the Nats have told him not to throw low. If he's having an issue getting the fastball to stay down then the question is still why? Why is that? What I would do next is look at his other pre injury times. Did he have trouble keeping the fastball down then? If so a similar injury isn't a bad guess. But it's still just a guess. His form could just be off. His landing spot could have shifted slightly. This is what you are getting paid for Nats staff. Figure it out.

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

The failing fallacy

Commenter Donald brings up some points about calling it now that I'm sure are echoed by every one still worried about how the next ~45 games are going to play out. We've seen teams lose 3-4 in a row and win 3-4 in a row all year long. If the Nats were to do something like the former and the Marlins like the latter, and the Nats were only up by 5, 5 games from now, surely I wouldn't call it then.

He's right. I wouldn't. Not with six head to head games left. But there's something at play here that we need to address. Just because we've seen teams win and lose in streaks like that does not make it likely. It just makes it possible. How possible is what drives "calling it". If that wasn't the case, you'd never call it before mathematical elimination.

So how possible is the scenario described above? Well both teams play 5 games in 5 days and the Marlins are 8.5 games out so technically 5 games out at the end isn't possible. But let's give the Marlins a rain out. Let's make the Nats go 1-4 and the Marlins 4-0.  That would do it. Those don't seem that crazy do they?

Well let's look at how many times these two teams have actually hit those marks in a 5/4 game stretch this season. We'll include overlapping streaks because well, they count too.

The Marlins have had 116 four game stretches (from games 1-4, 2-5... all the way through games 116-119) They have won all four games in those stretches 6 times. The Nats have had 114 five game stretches. They have lost four or more games 11 times. So if we take these things to be completely random you'd figure the chances of the Marlins having a 4-0 streak right now while the Nats were to have a 1-4 streak to be 6/116 * 11/114. That would be 66/13224 or real close to 0.5%.

That's not 5%, that's 0.5%, meaning there would be a 99.5% chance of that NOT happening.

But why does it feel like it could? Well part of the reason is that you aren't just following your team generally. You are following your team, and the teams that they are playing now, and probably playing next, and their divisional opponents, and maybe a couple other teams of interest.  All in all at any point in the season you may know how, let's say 8, different teams are doing.  Let's say they all have the same chances of winning 4 in a row as the Marlins. (probably not bc the Marlins are in the top half of the league but bear with me here).  The chances that any one of them are on a 4-0 streak at any given time is the inverse of the chances that all of them are not (the latter is easier to calculate and then we can just subtract from one). At any given point the chances of one of them being 4-0 is like a 1/3.  Let's say the chances of 0-4 are the same* and thus you have a 1/3 chance of one of the eight being on that streak at any moment too. The end result is that you have a pretty good shot at any one time, about 2/3rds, to find one of the teams you follow on a winning or losing streak of 4 games (or more)

It may not seem right but it is. If you are watching a bunch of teams, chances are someone is streaking. It's almost certain in fact if you are paying attention to half the league or more. If you are an AL fan Boston's won 5 in a row, LA has lost 4. Three other teams are on 3 game streaks. In the NL San Diego has lost 4 in a row and 4 other teams are on 3 game streaks. However the chances of any one specific team streaking in a certain direction and another specific team streaking in another direction at the same time are very low. They get even lower if they are going against what they have done all year.

This is just one part of why calling it makes sense though. Here's what simple logic tells us. The Nats are better than the Marlins. Therefore the chances the Nats gain a game in the standings is better than the chances they lose a game in the standings. It is more likely that we find the Nats 9.5 games up tomorrow than 7.5 games up (making a lot of assumptions - yes). Starting from this point it is more likely the Nats will be 12 up than 5 up after 5 games.  The streak analysis doesn't necessarily have to hold for this latter claim, teams can differ in how streaky they are, but it usually will, and in fact it does here. The Nats are pretty much exactly as likely to go 5-0 as the Marlins were to go 4-0, but the Marlins are way more likely to go 1-3 (or worse) than the Nats were to go 1-4. The end result is a 1.2% chance of the Nats expanding their lead to 12 games by this imperfect analysis.

By asking if the Nats are 5 games out a week or less from now would I have picked them at that point is essentially asking, "If you were to know an extremely rare and bad event would happen to the Nats in the next week, would you pick them" I might say no. But from this point I'll take the very very good odds that that extremely rare and bad event doesn't happen. Also note that when I made the call the Nats were in the beginning of a longish stretch against bad competition. The Marlins had just lost Stanton for the year. I didn't include that in any of the scenarios above but it is in there affecting all those odds in the Nats favor.

Donald also asks if maybe the Nats are not this good just on a hot streak now (and he doesn't ask but conversely let's go with the Marlins are better than this and are just cold) maybe they will streak to balance it out? He's right on the first points - though 120 games is a pretty good indicator, we don't really know the Nats true level. Part of that is just because that's a shifting target, with injuries, development, etc. But maybe they are a 92 win team instead of the 96 win team they are on pace for. (or the 102 win team RS/RA suggest or any other such projection) Who can say? And the Marlins could be better.

The problem is, for this worry, is that the "streak to even out" is not very likely. It doesn't work that way. Regression to the mean doesn't mean if you are a .500 team and you go 5-0 that you'll go 0-5 to get back to .500. It means that you'll play around .500 ball the more games you play and that winning percentage will drift back down to .500. 5-0 and a 1.000 winning percentage becomes 10-5 and 0.667, 20-15 and .571, 55-50 and .524.  If the Nats are worse and the Marlins are better, even if the Marlins are better than the Nats, it's hard for them to catch them because the most likely scenario over 20 games puts the Nats going say 11-9 and the Marlins 12-8, with the chances of different levels of success and failure rapidly diminishing from these central points. It's is very unlikely for a team, even if they are better to make up more than a few games over the course of a time frame even as long as a month.

Take the Nats - how have they done in a month? They've gained 1.5 games on the Marlins, 3.5 on the Mets, lost 2 games to the Phillies, and gained two on the Braves.  The Cubs have gone 20-8. That's huge! Back to their "maybe a top season of all-time pace" But even they didn't expand their lead by more than 4.5 games for three of the four teams behind them.

I called the Nats because it is simply very very unlikely for a Nats team that is better than the Marlins to find themselves losing all this ground in what remains of the season. Even if you don't think that the Nats are better, it's still very unlikely. Hell, even if you thought the Marlins were the best team in baseball and the Nats the worst, an 8.5 game lead over 45 games is pretty safe. It's over.


*This isn't the case, especially if you are looking at teams like the Marlins who are better than .500 but we're just spitballing here.