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September 2, 2015 / Nat Anacostia

Where was Rafael Martin last night?

Last night, for the second consecutive night, the Nats lost to the Cardinals with the bullpen squandering a late-inning lead. After a catastrophic 26-pitch outing on Monday when he gave up 4 runs, Matt Williams called on Casey Janssen again last night to pitch the ninth inning, and he gave up a 3-run walk-off home run to Brandon Moss. Needless to say, the critics are piling on Williams, calling for his firing.

My own take is similar to Rob Neyer’s. On Tuesday night, Williams was managing his bullpen pretty much the same way that all major league managers do. Maybe it would be better if managers weren’t so wedded to using their relievers in rigid, pre-defined roles, but that’s not the way that modern modern bullpens are managed, at least during the regular season. And even with the season slipping away, Williams really can’t treat each game as an playoff elimination game; there are too many games left to play.

The bigger problem facing Williams was that in the bottom of the ninth with the score tied, only three relievers were still available. In August, that situation would be understandable, but it was September 1st and the Nats were free to call up reinforcements. Despite a tired bullpen due to relatively short outings by Stephen Strasburg on Sunday and Gio Gonzalez on Monday, Mike Rizzo only called up a single reliever, A.J. Cole Sammy Solis.

In last night’s game, wouldn’t you rather have seen Rafael Martin come in for the ninth rather than the tired, beat-up Janssen? Who’s Martin? He appeared briefly (and ineffectively) in April, but he’s been outstanding in the last two seasons at Syracuse. In 89-2/3 innings AAA innings over the last two seasons, he has 110 strikeouts, allowing 23 walks and 4 home runs with a 2.31 ERA. If Martin got into trouble and had to face a tough left-hander, like Moss, with runners on, how about Matt Grace? Yes, he had some rough outings with the Nats earlier this year, but he’s had a 2.40 ERA in Syracuse.

This afternoon we got the news that they’ve both been called up, but once again the Nats management seems to be reactive rather than proactive. While I’ve had many concerns about Williams’ bullpen management this year, I’m laying more of the blame for last night’s debacle on Rizzo for not calling in the reinforcements soon enough.

But the main problem, as is usually the case, was mistakes made by the players. In particular, in the critical eighth inning error, the problem was that throwing to third base was a bad play, even if Drew Storen’s throw and Yunel Escobar’s catch had been clean. With no outs and runners on first and second, even ignoring the risk of a throwing error, the play needs to have at least a 70% probability of success for the advantage of getting the lead runner out to outweigh the potential cost of having the bases loaded with no outs if the play fails. In other words, they should have taken the sure out unless they were very confident that they’d get the runner out. It was a bad decision that was compounded by poor execution.

September 1, 2015 / Nat Anacostia

Nats’ August in review: We’ve obviously dug ourselves a hole

As the month commenced, the Nats continued to be NL East favorites, leading the Mets by two games and New York facing them for the last two games of a three-game series, having lost game one. By the end of the month, the Nats had gone 12-17, while the red-hot Mets had gone 20–8 for the month, leaving the Nats 6-1/2 games behind and facing long odds for making the post-season.

In their first series, the Nats proceeded to lose the last two games for a Mets sweep and ended the series in a virtual tie for the division lead. The Nats’ offense was shut down by the Mets’ pitching, scoring only 5 runs in the three-game series. Matt Williams took a lot criticism for his handling of the bullpen in the series, as he failed to use either of his two bullpen aces—Drew Storen and Jonathan Papelbon—in a series of close games.

Returning home, the Nats dropped their first game against the Diamondbacks and slipped into second place for the first time since June 20. In the home stand, they split a four-game series with the D-backs and lost two of three to the Rockies, with their win coming with Stephen Strasburg‘s return from the disabled list. The Nats were trailing the Mets by 1-1/2 games when they left on a road trip to the West.

In their first series was against the Dodgers. They won the first game, but then lost the last two to Greinke and Kershaw. Next came a disastrous four-game series against the Giants. Strasburg pitched well in the first game, but the Nats’ offense was shut down by Peavy. Their pitching was the problem in the next three games, and the Nats were swept by the Giants. At that point, the Nats had won only 4 of their last 17 games, and had dropped to 4-1/2 games back.

The road trip concluded in Denver, where the Nats took two of three from the Rockies. Returning home, they took took two of three against each of the Brewers, Padres, and Marlins, but continued to slip in the standings as the Mets continued to win. During the Padres series, Denard Span returned from the disabled list, giving the Nationals their full intended roster for the first time this season. But the return was short-lived, as Span went back on the DL after two games, facing season-ending hip surgery.

The month ended with the Nats in St. Louis playing the first game of a 3-game set against the NL-Central leading Cardinals. The Nats lost the game 8 to 5, as the bullpen failed to hold a 5–3 lead. According to FanGraphs, their odds of winning the division, which had stood at 83.1% at the beginning of the month, had plummeted to 13.1%.

What went wrong? The pitching, which had been one of the team’s strengths in the first half, failed them this month. The starters had an ERA of 4.40 and an ERA– of 114, or 14% worse than the MLB average, ranking 8th in the NL. Their fielding independent pitching relative to league (FIP–) was 107, or 7th in the NL, as they led the league in home runs allowed with 31. Max Scherzer‘s ERA was 6.43 with 7 home runs allowed, and Gio Gonzalez had an ERA of 5.46. The relievers were even worse, with an ERA– of 120, 12th in the league, and an RE24 of –10.65, 11th in the league.

The Nats’ batting statistics for August actually looked alright. They were tied for 4th in the NL in runs scored with 135 and were 4th in weighted runs created relative to league (wRC+) with 109, or 9% better than MLB average, based on a batting line of .254/.335/.425. These statistics, however, hide a dramatic difference between the first half and last half of the month, with the Nats scoring only 3.7 runs per game with an OPS of .671 in their first 16 games, compared with 5.8 runs per game and an OPS of .869 in their last 13.

Record:

12–17 (.414)

Pythagorean Record:

14–15 (4.66 R/G – 4.72 RA/G)

August MVPs:

I’m going to make it a joint award this month, given to two players each having an outstanding month—to Bryce Harper (.327/.460/.449, 28 G, 2 HR, 24 R, 9 RBI, 1.3 fWAR), who’s now won or shared all five monthly MVP awards, and to Ian Desmond (.314/.375/.539, 28 G, 6 HR, 14 R, 18 RBI, 1.2 fWAR).

Most valuable starting pitcher:

Stephen Strasburg (3–1, 3.00 RA/9, 5 G, 30 IP, 10.5 K/9, .216 opp OBP, 0.8 RA9-WAR).

Most valuable relief pitcher:

Blake Treinen (0–0, 0.00 RA/9, 11 G, 12-1/3 IP, 8.8 K/9, .225 opp OBP, 7.46 RE24, 0.5 RA9-WAR, 1 of 6 inherited runners scored). He had an excellent month that, unfortunately, had little effect, since—with one exception—he was always brought in to pitch in low leverage situations..

Worst month:

Drew Storen (1–2, 8.49 RA/9, 12 G, 11-2/3 IP, –5.63 RE24, –0.5 RA9-WAR). He had a rough spell when he allowed runs in 5 of his 6 appearances between August 7 and 23 (overwork may have been an issue).

Best start this month:

Stephen Strasburg (August 8, 6–1 win over the Rockies at home) gave up 1 run on 3 hits with no walks and 12 strikeouts in 7 innings. His game score was 79.

Worst start:

Gio Gonzalez (August 15, 12–6 loss to the Giants in San Francisco) gave up 6 runs on 5 hits and 2 walks in 2-2/3 innings, with 1 strikeout. His game score was 23.

Tough losses:

  • Jordan Zimmermann (August 12, 3–0 loss to the Dodgers in Los Angeles) gave up 1 run on 2 hits and 1 walk with 9 strikeouts in 7 innings (game score 77).
  • Stephen Strasburg (August 13, 3–1 loss to the Giants in San Francisco) gave up 2 runs on 7 hits and 2 walks with 8 strikeouts in 6 innings (game score 56).
  • Max Scherzer (August 28, 4–3 loss to the Marlins at home) gave up 4 runs on 6 hits and no walks with 8 strikeouts in 7 innings (game score 57).

Cheap wins: 

  • Jordan Zimmermann (August 18, 15–6 win over the Rockies in Denver) gave up 6 runs (4 of them earned) on 9 hits and 1 walk in 6 innings with 6 strikeouts (game score 39), though I’m a bit reluctant to label any win at Coors Field as “cheap.”
  • Jordan Zimmermann (August 23, 9–5 win over the Brewers at home) gave up 4 runs on 8 hits and 1 walk in 5-2/3 innings with 7 strikeouts (game score 43).

Best shutdown: 

Matt Thornton (August 6, 8–3 win over the Diamondbacks at home). He entered in the top of the seventh with the Nats ahead 4–3, one out, and runners on second and third. He got out of the inning on a fly ball and a ground out without allowing a run to score (win probability added .272). The offense later tacked on 4 insurance runs.

Worst meltdown:

Drew Storen (August 7, 5–4 loss to the Rockies at home). Although Storen had pitched on three of the last four days, he got the call to come into the top of the eighth in a routine set-up situation with a 4–1 lead. He got fly ball outs from two of the first three batters, walking the other one, and then the train went off the rails, as he gave up singles to Reyes and Arenado to load the bases, then a grand slam home run to Carlos Gonzalez, giving the Rockies a 5–4 lead. He finally struck out LeMahieu to get out of the inning. (WPA –.663)

Clutch hit:

Ryan Zimmerman (August 31, 8–5 loss to the Cardinals in St. Louis). In the top of the seventh, with the Nats trailing 3–2, two outs, and Bryce Harper and Danny Espinosa on first and second, Zimmerman launched a 3-run home run over the center field fence giving the Nats a 5–3 lead (WPA .535). Unfortunately, the bullpen was unable to hold it, when Casey Janssen and Felipe Rivero surrendered 5 runs in the bottom of the inning.

Choke:

Yunel Escobar (August 26, 6–5 loss to the Padres at home). In the bottom of the seventh, the Nats were coming back from a 6–2 deficit and were trailing 6 to 5 with the bases loaded with one out when Escobar came to bat. On a 3–0 pitch, he swung at a sinker low in the zone and grounded into a rally-ending double play (WPA –.256)

August 29, 2015 / Nat Anacostia

Don’t write off Bryce as an MVP candidate

In the Washington Post’s “Fancy Stats” column, Neil Greenberg wrote, “the Nats find themselves 6 1/2 games behind the Mets… taking [Bryce] Harper out of the MVP conversation.” He then analyzed several other candidates (basing his analysis on FanGraphs’ wins above replacement) and concluded that Clayton Kershaw, last year’s NL MVP, was the most viable candidate.

Now, ordinarily I try to avoid paying attention to the MVP and other awards until the last couple of weeks of the season. With 20% of the season remaining, it’s likely that some of the candidates will go into a slump or that other players will experience hot streaks and emerge as viable candidates. But in this case, Greenberg’s analysis was just so faulty that I’m going to break my own rule and write about the MVP race, based on the current statistics.

Greenberg’s biggest mistake was to place too much emphasis on the tendency of voters to avoid voting for players on non-playoff teams while ignoring their tendency to avoid voting for pitchers. While Greenberg noted that only 6 of 41 MVPs since 1994 have come from non-playoff teams,* he failed to mention that only 2 have been pitchers (Kershaw and Verlander).

*(Note: he should have said 6 of 40 MVPs since 1995, since no playoffs were held in 1994. The 6 from non-playoff teams were Walker 1997, Bonds 2001 and 2004, ARod 2003, Howard 2006, and Pujols 2008.)

He also used the version of fWAR that is based on fielding independent pitching (FIP), whereas actual voters tend to pay more attention to ERA. If he’d used the version of WAR based on runs allowed, Zack Greinke would be well ahead of Kershaw.

Here’s a link to the FanGraphs chart showing the leaders based on a 50/50 weighting of FIP and runs allowed. Right now (August 29), the leaders are:

  1. Bryce Harper 7.5
  2. Zack Greinke 6.6
  3. Paul Goldschmidt 6.2
  4. Clayton Kershaw 6.2
  5. Joey Votto 5.9
  6. A.J. Pollock 5.5
  7. Andrew McCutchen 5.3
  8. Jake Arrieta 5.3
  9. Anthony Rizzo 4.8
  10. Buster Posey 4.8

In a recent article, Joe Posnanski made an interesting observation about WAR statistics and the MVP contest. He noted that since WAR statistics have been widely available (roughly the last 7 years), the leaders in WAR haven’t been any more likely to win the MVP than they were in the past. They’ve always won about half the MVP awards. What’s changed, according Posnanski, is that the availability of WAR has driven out the quirky winners, who somehow built an MVP argument despite not playing that well overall. He notes that “Since 2008, which is just about when WAR and similar complex statistics started to become mainstream, every single MVP has finished Top 5 in WAR.”

In other words, before WAR became available someone like Kendrys Morales might have made his way into the MVP discussion because of his RBIs (89, currently 3rd in the AL) while playing for a division-leading team, even though his WAR (1.6) and other statistics (.287/.355/.464) are not MVP quality. Posnanski observes that the availability of WAR has driven those types of candidates out of the discussion. Consequently, I’m going to limit my discussion of the NL race to the 10 players listed above.

Based on their current statistics, several players can easily be excluded. Goldschmidt and Votto don’t play for playoff-bound teams and their batting statistics are clearly comparable—and inferior—to Harper’s. It would be really hard to vote for either of them ahead of Bryce. Similarly, Pollock also plays for a non-playoff team and his case is too closely tied to advanced fielding statistics, about which many voters remain skeptical.

Three pitchers—Greinke, Kershaw, and Arrieta—have a case. I note, however, that the only two pitchers who have won the MVP in the last 20 years have each dominated their league, so having three viable pitching candidates probably works against them all. I’ll also note that the “Tango Tiger Cy Young Points,” which are tracked on baseballmusings.com, are a better guide than WAR to voters’ evaluation of pitchers. In addition to runs allowed, strikeouts, and walks, the formula includes factors like wins, losses, and shutouts, which are not included in either of the FanGraphs pitching WAR formulas. Greinke has a lead over the other two pitchers in Cy Young Points and will probably also receive some MVP support, though I doubt it will be enough to overcome the bias against giving the MVP to a pitcher.

McCutchen and Rizzo will also get some support, and if the Giants manage to make the playoffs, I can see Posey drawing quite a bit of support. But at this point, basically none of the playoff-bound candidates appear to have an especially compelling case.

Turning to Bryce, while the Nats’ poor performance definitely hurts his case, I still think he’s a pretty strong MVP candidate. He fits the profile of past non-playoff bound MVP winners—great hitters who are pretty clearly the best hitter in the league. In the absence of a compelling rival, I’d still consider him at this point to be the leader in the MVP race. He won’t get unanimous support—some voters simply refuse to vote for a player on a non-playoff bound team—but if the vote were held today, I tend to think he’s the likely winner. Of course, there’s a lot of baseball left to play over the next 5 weeks, so we’ll take another look at the race later.

August 29, 2015 / Nat Anacostia

Update – How many games do the Nats need to win?

Last week I provided some calculations on how many games the Nats need to win to beat the Mets. Since that post went up, the Nats have done pretty well, winning the last 2 games against the Diamondbacks and taking 2 of 3 against the Padres, before falling to the Marlins last night. Going 4–2 is close to the 29–12 pace that I suggested that they would need.

The problem is that the Mets did even better, going 6–1, so the Nats fell 1.5 games further behind, making it even harder for them to catch up. As I said, my calculations were based on the Mets doing as expected, and if they stay super-hot it will basically be impossible for the Nats to catch up.

So let’s suppose the Mets revert to “expected” performance. Both FanGraphs and Baseball Prospectus now expect the Mets to end the season with 90 wins. For the Nats to win 91, they would now need to go 27–8 the rest of the way. While not impossible, it’s clearly improbable. What that means is that in addition to needing to play exceptionally well, the Nats now need to count on a Mets collapse.

The Nats could help the Mets collapse, of course, if can sweep the 6 remaining head-to-head games (or at least take 5 of them). Collapses are actually not that uncommon – at least 28 teams have failed to make the playoffs after having odds of 90% or better.  (That list includes both the 2007 and 2008 Mets!)

So the Nats shouldn’t be written off yet, but to come back they really need to continue to step up their performance (especially the starting pitching) and they need to start getting luckier in their timing and in close games. (Since the most recent Mets series began on July 31, the Nats have gone 1–5 in one run games.)

August 22, 2015 / Nat Anacostia

How many games do the Nats need to win?

With 41 games remaining, how many games do the Nats need to win? With the Nats trailing the Mets by 5 games, the correct answer is 6 more games than the Mets win.

But we don’t know how many the Mets will win, so what’s our best guess of how many they’ll win? Projections are available from both FanGraphs and Baseball Prospectus, and they’re actually pretty consistent. Both sites tell us that that the Mets are expected to end the season about 88–74 (rounding to the nearest win. So, if the Mets play as expected the Nats need to end the season 89–73, which means they need to go 29–12 the rest of the way.

Of course, going 29–12 doesn’t guarantee them anything. If the Mets remain hot and finish their last 41 games at a 29–12 clip, giving them 94 wins, the Nats would need to go 35–6, which isn’t going to happen. On the other hand, if the Mets go into a slump, the Nats might win with considerably fewer than 29 wins. But let’s assume the Mets play as expected and look at what the Nats need to do to win 29 of their last 41 games.

This season the Nats haven’t had a winning spell last that long, but from April 28 to May 27 they did go 21–6. How did they do it? Both the hitting and the pitching had to improve—over the 27 game span, the team scored 5.6 runs per game (with an OPS of .821) and allowed 3.8 runs per game (with an ERA of 3.44). Most of the players contributed: Bryce Harper, of course, with an OPS of 1.417, but also Denard Span (1.023), Danny Espinosa (.841), Yunel Escobar (.752), Wilson Ramos (.747), and Ian Desmond (.730). The team’s top pitchers also contributed: Max Scherzer, with an ERA of 1.67, and Jordan Zimmermann (2.25), and Gio Gonzalez managed to go 5–0 despite an ERA of 4.15. There were, of course some exceptions—players who didn’t contribute. Ryan Zimmerman‘s OPS, for example, was only .679, and Michael A. Taylor, playing about half-time, had an OPS of just .466, while Stephen Strasburg went 2–3 with an 8.41 ERA. But the defining feature of this winning spell was that the majority of the players played better than their underlying ability.

Luck was also a factor. Their 21–6 win-loss record was better than their “Pythagorean” expected record of 18–9. They were 7–2 in one-run games.

So to go 29–12, the Nats basically need to:

  • hit, pitch, and field well,
  • win almost all of their remaining series,
  • sweep at least two or three of them,
  • win their two remaining series against the Mets (which is the only direct way they can keep down the Mets win total), and
  • have some good luck.

 

 

August 15, 2015 / Nat Anacostia

Nats’ 2015 season is slip slidin’ away

Over the last four weeks, Nats fans have watched the team’s season unravel. After losing the second game of a 4-game set against the Giants, our odds of reaching the playoffs, which recently had stood at 90% or higher, have plunged to 36% according to FanGraphs and 21% according to Baseball Prospectus. What happened? And more importantly, what can be done to turn things around?

We can break up the season into three periods. At the end of the first 45 games, May 25 (after the first game of a series in Wrigley against the Cubs) the Nats record stood at 27–18, a .600 winning percentage, or on pace for 97 wins. Although the Nats led the surprisingly strong Mets by only 2-1/2 games, the forecasts favored the Nats’ stronger talent to easily win the division—according to FanGraphs, their odds of winning the division stood at 95%, and of reaching the playoffs at 98%. The Nats had played well, scoring 4.8 runs per game while hitting .257/.324/.417, while allowing 4.2 runs per game, recording 8.1 strikeouts, 2.4 walks, and 0.6 home runs per 9 innings.

Looking deeper, there were some causes for concern. Several key players were out with injuries (Anthony Rendon, Jayson Werth, Denard Span, Doug Fister) while others seemed to be struggling (Ryan Zimmerman, Ian Desmond, Stephen Strasburg). The team appeared to be overly reliant on two big stars—Bryce Harper, who had emerged as perhaps the best player in the National League, and Max Scherzer, who was dominating National League hitters. Another pleasant surprise was the renewal of Danny Espinosa‘s ability to hit.

Our second period runs from May 26 through July 17, the first game after the All-Star Game (that bizarre game when the lights kept going out, which was won the next day on Matt den Dekker‘s 8th inning home run). During that period, the Nats went 22–21, or just a little over .500. Their hitters fell to 3.8 runs scored per game during that span, while the pitchers improved to 3.5 runs allowed per game.  The team, which was suffering from injuries, wasn’t playing great, but the Mets were also playing .500 ball so the Nats still had a 3-game lead. At that point, the Nats were 10 games over .500 and on pace to win 90 games.

During that period, Strasburg, Zimmerman, and Span went out on injuries, and Rendon came back and played 18 games, then went on the DL again. The team became increasingly reliant on Harper and Scherzer.

Over the four weeks from July 18 to August 14, the Nats have gone 9–18, and are now trailing the Mets by 4 games, only one game over .500. They’ve scored only 3.6 runs per game, while they’ve allowed an average of 4.3 runs per game. They are striking out more (23.7% compared to 20.7% through July 17) and are walking less (7.9% compared to 8.2%). Their batting average is down more than 30 points (.224 compared to .255) and slugging is down 45 points (.357 compared to .402).

It’s true that the Nats have faced some tough pitching. Kershaw, Greinke, Harvey, deGrom, Cole, and Fernandez would be on anyone’s list of the top 15 starters in the NL.* If starts were distributed randomly, the Nats would expect to face one of the top 15 starters in 20% of the games, whereas they’ve faced these pitchers 10 times in the last 27 games—and have lost 9 of  10! They’ve also lost games to pedestrian starters like Rubby de la Rosa and Ryan Vogelsong.

I think the key reason that I’m pessimistic is that the Nats seem to be straining. In the second half, their “whiff” (swinging strike) rate of 12.4% is the highest of all major league teams. In comparison, in the first half their 9.9% rate was only slightly higher than the major league average (9.7%). As the situation becomes ever more dire, they are chasing pitches and trying to hit home runs, leading instead to more strikeouts.

Mike Rizzo missed an opportunity at the trade deadline to try repair the team’s weak bench and provide the depth that’s needed. What can they still do? Here are my suggestions:

  • Move Werth into a partial platoon with Clint Robinson. Werth came back to soon and is still struggling to find his stroke. It isn’t clear yet whether he’ll find it this season, but for now, I’d have Robinson start in his place about half the games we play against right-handed pitchers, or 2 or 3 times a week. I’d also have him replace Zimmerman once a week against right handers to give Zim some rest.
  • I’d also try to start Espinosa at least three times a week, spelling Rendon, Desmond, and Yunel Escobar. Between his glove and his power, he’s a valuable player and should be used regularly, both to keep him sharp and to keep the others rested.
  • I’d try to pick up a bench player (preferably left handed) with good on-base skills. Having a bench with Espinosa, Tyler Moore, and Dan Uggla, all of whom are home run threats but severely deficient in getting on base, gives us an extremely unbalanced bench. Sometimes you need a pinch hiter who can lead off an inning and get something going. It would be even better if this bench player were a decent defensive outfielder. It’s hard to get a prime player at this time of year, but something may be available on a waiver deal. When such a player is found, I’d release Moore. (I’d be happy to release Uggla as well if we can find two decent bench players.)
  • Never again bat Michael A. Taylor in the lead-off spot. It reflects terribly on Matt Williams as a manager that he’s asked Taylor—who has a .286 on-base percentage and a 31% strikeout rate —26 times to start a game as the lead-off hitter. That’s really, really poor percentage baseball. Unfortunately, with Span gone, Rendon and Escobar are the only really viable options to lead off. (If Werth’s on-base skills come back, but not his power, he might also be considered as a lead-off option.)
  • Scherzer looks like he may have a sore arm. If nothing warrants putting him on the DL, I’d at least consider letting him rest for one turn through the rotation, skipping his next start that’s scheduled in Colorado. While Williams can be forgiven for letting him pitch complete games in his 1-hitter and no-hitter, he clearly overworked him in several subsequent games, and I’m wondering if Scherzer’s arm is now paying the price.
  • The bullpen is mediocre, and although Rizzo made a move at the trade deadline, it’s really a problem that was foreseeable and should have been repaired last winter. I’m doubtful that much can be done with a waivers deal, so my best advice is to ask Williams to focus on: a) making sure that the relief pitchers are used regularly, neither over-worked nor under-worked; b) concentrate on using the lefties, Matt Thornton and especially Felipe Rivero in favorable platoon matchups. Right-handed batters have an .851 OPS against Rivero, compared to .468 by lefties. Yet 57% of the batters that Rivero has faced have been right-handed. In too many games, I see Williams send out pitchers in seeming disregard for the platoon advantage.
  • I guess the last thing is somehow, let’s try to get the confidence and the swagger. This team is good—I think it’s still fundamentally a better team than the Mets—and it only takes a few victories to start turning things around.

*Update – I guess if I’m going to refer to the top 15 starters in the NL, I probably ought to give my list. Here it is, based both on this season’s statistics and on the projections shown at FanGraphs: 1) Clayton Kershaw, 2) Zack Greinke, 3) Jose Fernandez, 4) Jacob deGrom, 5) Max Scherzer, 6) Jake Arrieta, 7) Jaime Garcia, 8) Gerrit Cole, 9) Jon Lester, 10) Matt Harvey, 11) Madison Bumgarner (would rank higher if we included his hitting), 12) Shelby Miller, 13) Noah Syndergaard, 14) Tyson Ross, and 15) Stephen Strasburg (yes, I still rank him ahead of Zimmermann!).

In giving the statistics above, I debated whether to include Syndergaard, who—as you see—makes my own top 15, but the way I worded it was they’d be on “anyone’s list,” so I decided to leave Sydergaard off. Frankly, things get really fuzzy after # 11, so it isn’t clear that number 12 through 15 are any better than pitchers ranked 16 through 25. To fill things out, here are the near misses for my top 15 list: 16) Lance Lynn, 17) Michael Wacha, 18) Mike Bolsinger, 19) Francisco Liriano, 20) Carlos Martinez, 21) Jordan Zimmermann, 22) Gio Gonzalez, 23) John Lackey, 24) Taylor Jungmann, 25) Jason Hammel.

August 10, 2015 / Nat Anacostia

Memo for Matt Williams: Following up on overuse of setup man

August 9, 2015

Memorandum for: Matt Williams

Subject: Following up on overuse of setup man

My last memo pointed out that your use of Drew Storen four times in a five-day interval may have contributed to the lack of command that resulted in a game-losing grand slam home run given up to Carlos Gonzalez.

Two days later, Storen was again called on to pitch in the 8th inning, this time in a tie game, and gave up the game-losing runs. If four appearances in five days was excessive, then five appearances in seven days also seems excessive, especially when he had been called on to face 7 batters and throw 23 pitches in his last appearance. Today, again, he exhibited poor command, hitting a batter. I note that there were at least a couple of well rested pitchers available who haven’t been used for several days.

During and after the Mets series, you were severely criticized for failing to use Storen and Jonathan Papelbon when the game was tied. While this criticism was correct, it should also be emphasized that attempting to use these two pitchers in the late innings of every game that is tied or has up to a 3-run lead in the late innings will lead to overuse. It is therefore essential that the first priority should be not overusing or underusing any of your pitchers; the goal of using your best pitchers in high leverage situations has to be subsidiary to this priority.

I’ll also note that if you had refrained from using Storen in Friday’s game, which was not a high leverage situation, he would have been well rested for today’s game, which was indeed a very high leverage situation.

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