Today’s the deadline for all-star voting, and the teams will be announced beginning on Sunday. I’d like to put together an all-star team, but don’t know all of the players in the National League as well as I know the Nationals. I want to be fair, which means I want to use a systematic methodology based on statistics. A year ago, I came up with a methodology that I’m happy with.
I won’t go through all the details of the methodology here (you can read the other article if you’re interested), but the main idea is that I give quite a bit of weight to both this season and last season’s performance, plus a little bit of weight to career performance. Most of the dumb all-star selections have been players who hit a hot streak for half a season and were never good again. So I’m not going to select Scooter Gennett or Alfredo Simon just because they’ve been hot for a couple of months. My method does allow for a few exceptional players to make the team based on a single season of play (Billy Hamilton makes my team, and if I were doing an AL team, Masahiro Tanaka would definitely be on it), but generally I’m looking for those who’ve played very well for at least a year and a half.
The teams are mostly based on “points” that are calculated from wins above replacement (WAR), using this formula (in most cases):
Points = 4*2014 WAR + 2*2013 WAR + Square root(Career WAR)
Again, see the other article for details and some special cases.
Here’s my 2014 all-star team (with points shown in parentheses):
National League – Starters
C – Jonathan Lucroy – Brewers (26.4)
1B – Paul Goldschmidt – Diamondbacks (27.9)
2B – Chase Utley – Phillies (26.2)
3B – Matt Carpenter – Cardinals (28.1)
SS – Troy Tulowitzki – Rockies (36.0) – The overall point leader in my system
LF – Carlos Gomez – Brewers (34.1)
CF – Andrew McCutchen – Pirates (35.1)
RF – Giancarlo Stanton – Marlins (28.8)
DH –Freddie Freeman – Braves (22.9)
SP – Clayton Kershaw – Dodgers (33.4)
C – Yadier Molina – Cardinals (25.1)
C – Buster Posey – Giants (21.8)
1B – Joey Votto – Reds (22.8)
1B – Anthony Rizzo – Cubs (17.9) – The Cubs were the only team that required a “special selection” – bumping up a player who wouldn’t otherwise qualify in order to have a player from each team.
2B – Daniel Murphy – Mets (19.6)
3B – Todd Frazier – Reds (23.6)
3B – David Wright – Mets (23.3)
SS – Hanley Ramirez – Dodgers (25.0)
OF – Hunter Pence – Giants (26.8)
OF – Jason Heyward – Braves (23.6)
OF – Justin Upton – Braves (19.6)
OF – Billy Hamilton – Reds (18.6) – Selected because my system requires at least one “true” center fielder in both the starting lineup and as a reserve
DH – Yasiel Puig – Dodgers (23.5)
SP – Adam Wainwright – Cardinals (32.5)
SP – Johnny Cueto – Reds (25.1)
SP – Zack Greinke – Dodgers (21.4)
SP – Jordan Zimmermann – Nationals (20.9)
SP – Cole Hamels – Phillies (20.8)
SP – Bartolo Colon – Mets (20.3)
RP – Craig Kimbrel – Braves (13.3)
RP – Joaquin Benoit – Padres (12.4)
RP – Jonathan Papelbon – Phillies (11.6)
RP – Mark Melancon – Pirates (11.3)
RP – Huston Street – Padres (10.7)
Two players, A.J. Pollock (19.7) and Cliff Lee (22.1), missed my team due to being on the disabled list.
There you have it—Jordan Zimmermann is the only National player who qualifies to be on my all-star team. Several Nats came close—Anthony Rendon (19.5), Jayson Werth (19.5), Ian Desmond (18.9), and Rafael Soriano (10.5). Although the Nats media are lobbying hard for Adam LaRoche (12.5), his poor showing in 2013 ensured that under my system he wouldn’t beat the stiff competition at first base.
It will be interesting to see which Nats are actually selected.
In June, the Nats’ pitchers excelled and the injured position players came off the disabled list. By the end of the month, with Bryce Harper’s return, the regular lineup was finally intact for the first time since opening day. The Nats went 17–11 and picked up two games from the Braves, finishing the month with a 44–38 record, 1/2 game behind the Braves and 5 games ahead of the faltering Marlins.
The Nats’ month began with the final game of a series at home, facing the Rangers. Tanner Roark pitched well, but he was no match for Yu Darvish, but the Nats still won the the series over the Texans 2 games to 1. The Phillies came to town next, and Ryan Zimmerman returned from the DL and began playing left field for the first time in his career, where he replaced the still-injured Harper. The Nats swept a 3-game set with the Phils. In the MLB first-year player draft, the Nats had the 18th pick and selected right-handed pitcher Erick Fedde, who had undergone Tommy John surgery the week before the draft.
Next came a west coast road trip. They took 2 games of 3 against the Padres, with the victories featuring shutouts on pitching gems by Roark and Jordan Zimmermann. They finished the San Diego series in a 3-way tie for first place in the NL East. Next, they had a 4-game set in San Francisco facing the Giants, who at the time sported a 42–21 record, the best in baseball. With continued excellent pitching, the Nats took the first three games of the series and moved into first place, before losing the finale. Over a span lasting 51-2/3 innings from June 3 through June 10, Nats’ starters struck out 51 batters and didn’t issue a single walk—something that hasn’t happened in at least the last century.
The Nats then headed to St. Louis to face the Cardinals. They were missing Wilson Ramos, however, who had suffered another hamstring injury and went on the 15-day DL. Facing Lance Lynn, Shelby Miller, and Jaime Garcia, the Nats bats were silenced as they managed only 3 runs over the 3-game set and were swept by the Cards and fell back behind the Braves.
Back home, the Nats took a two game set against the Astros and regained the division lead. Next, the Braves arrived at Nationals Park for a 4-game set. At that point, the Braves led the Nats 5 games to 1 in this season’s match ups, and were 18–7 over the Nats since the start of 2013. The Braves shut out the Nats in the opener. In game 2, an Anthony Rendon home run against Kimbrel sent the game to extra innings, but the Braves ultimately won in the 13th inning. But the Nats came back to shut down the Braves, 3–0 and 4–1 in the last two games, splitting the series and ending with the same 1-1/2 game lead that they had going in.
Going on the road, the Nats faced the Brewers, who held first place in the NL Central and had overtaken the Giants for the best record in the National League. The Nats won the first two games, with the second victory coming in a 16-inning marathon, before losing the third game. With Ramos coming off the DL, they next had a 4-game set against the Cubs. The Nats lost the first two games, but swept a doubleheader to split the series. The Braves slipped back into first place by a half game. The month ended with the Nats back in Washington facing the Rockies on Bryce Harper bobblehead night, with Harper returning to the lineup after more than two months away. Zimmerman returned to third base and the Nats beat the Rockies.
Despite the returning starters, the team’s offense continued to be weak in June. The Nats were 8th in the National League in runs scored in June with 109 and 11th in weighted runs created relative to league (wRC+) with 83 (that is, they created 17% fewer runs than the average team, taking account of park effects and quality of the league).
On the other hand, the pitching was excellent. The starters’ ERA– (earned run average adjusted for park and league quality) was 72 in June (that is, 28% better than average), the best of any major league team. The relievers’ ERA– was 89 in June, which was 8th in the NL, but their fielding independent pitching (FIP–) of 74 ranked best in the NL and second in MLB.
18-10 (3.89 R/G – 2.93 RA/G)
Playoff odds at the end of the month:
Baseball Prospectus: 61.5% for Division championship, 73.2% for playoffs
FanGraphs (projection mode): 71.5% for Division, 88.3% for playoffs
FanGraphs (season-to-date mode): 57.8% for Division, 69.1% for playoffs
Jordan Zimmermann (3-2, 1.43 RA/9, 6 G, 44 IP, 6.1 H/9, 8.4 K/9, 1.7 rWAR).
Most valuable position player
Anthony Rendon (.310/.369/.560, 25 G, 6 HR, 19 RBI, 1.4 fWAR).
Most valuable relief pitcher:
Rafael Soriano (0-0, 1.50 RA/9, 12 G, 12 IP, 3.8 H/9, 9.8 K/9, 3.40 RE24, 0.5 rWAR).
This month it was the bench players. Although Scott Hairston went 1 for 13, Greg Dobbs will get the award for for getting designated for assignment after going 1 for 11 this month.
Denard Span led MLB in doubles in June with 12. Ian Desmond led MLB in strikeouts with 40, and Danny Espinosa led the NL in strikeout rate with 38.7%. Jordan Zimmermann tied with Hamels and Kershaw for the NL lead in innings pitched with 44.
Best start this month:
Jordan Zimmermann (June 8, 6–0 win over the Padres in San Diego) pitched what may have been the best start in Nationals history. It was a 2-hit shutout with 12 strikeouts and no walks, for a game score of 95, the highest ever recorded by a Washington National. Honorable mention goes to Tanner Roark for another 6–0 win over the Padres pitched two days earlier, in which Roark gave up 3 hits and struck out 11 in 8 innings (game score of 87).
Stephen Strasburg (June 25, 9–2 loss to the Brewers in Milwaukee) gave up 8 hits, 7 runs, 3 walks, and 2 home runs in 4-2/3 innings, while getting 2 K and a game score of 19.
A tough loss is in which the pitcher is charged with a loss despite pitching well (a game score of 50 or higher):
- Jordan Zimmermann (June 13, 1–0 loss to the Cardinals in St. Louis) gave up 1 run on 3 hits (a solo home run did the damage) with 1 walk and 5 strikeouts in 8 innings (game score 76).
- Stephen Strasburg (June 14, 4–1 loss to the Cardinals in St. Louis) gave up 3 runs on 7 hits with 1 walk and 5 strikeouts in 6-2/3 innings (game score 52).
- Jordan Zimmermann (June 19, 3–0 loss to the Braves in Washington) gave up 2 runs on 7 hits with 1 walk and 6 strikeouts in 7 innings (game score 60).
Ross Detwiler (June 24, 4–2 win over the Brewers in Milwaukee in 16 innings) pitched 4 innings (the 10th through the 13th) without giving up a run, with the score 2–2. He didn’t allow a base runner in the 10th or the 11th. In the 12th, he gave up a hit, then got a double play. In the 13th, after letting the leadoff hitter on, he got Braun and Gomez out to get out of the inning. (Win probability added .534). In the 16th, Zimmerman homered to give the Nats the two-run lead, and Soriano got the save.
Rafael Soriano (June 7, 4–3 loss to the Padres in San Diego). Soriano entered the 9th with a 3–2 lead and got the first two batters out. With one out to go, Yonder Alonso hit a game-tying home run and sent the game to extra innings. (Win probability added –.334) Craig Stammen went on to give up the deciding run in the bottom of the 11th.
Anthony Rendon (June 20, 6–4 loss to the Braves in Washington). With 2 outs in the bottom of the 9th, the Nats trailing 4–2, Craig Kimbrel on the mound for the save, and Nate McLouth on first, Rendon blasted a home run into the visitors bullpen to tie the game (WPA .492). However, Jerry Blevins gave up 2 runs in the top of the 13th, so the Nats weren’t able to capitalize on Rendon’s memorable home run.
Denard Span (June 12, 7–1 loss to the Giants in San Francisco) came to bat in the 5th with runners on first and third and one out, trailing the Giants 2–1. Tim Hudson got him to ground into a double play ending the rally (WPA –.172).
As the Nats get ready for Bryce Harper to return next week, the team faces its first major roster quandary of this season. Over the last three weeks, Ryan Zimmerman has proved to be a reasonably good left fielder while filling in for Bryce, but now decisions will need to be made about where to play him and how that will impact the rest of the lineup.
The two main choices are to move him back to third base, Anthony Rendon to second, and Danny Espinosa to the bench, or to keep Zimmerman in left field, move Harper to center, and Denard Span to the bench.
If Zim is capable of playing third base adequately, logic argues in favor of moving him there and sitting Espinosa. Simply put, Span is a good player and Espinosa isn’t. For example, the projections available from FanGraphs show Span with a projected slash line of .273/.323/.380 (close to a league average hitter, plus above-average defense) and Espinosa with a slash line of .221/.283/.361, which is about as low as it gets for players with significant projected playing time.
Of course, other variations could be used on occasion—Zimmerman might occasionally give Adam LaRoche a day off at first base, or let Harper move to right to give Jayson Werth a day off. But those variations, barring an injury, would be used only on occasion to keep the team rested.
So the big question is whether Zim can still play third base. If he can, I’d suggest a somewhat unusual platoon arrangement. Espinosa hits much better against left-handers, so I’d suggest playing Zimmerman at third against right-handers, and move Harper to center and sit Span against lefties. Espinosa’s career slash line against right-handers is a terrible .217/.288/.369, but against lefties it’s an impressive .266/.338/.457. Span, on the other hand, doesn’t have much of a platoon differential, but he lacks Espinosa’s power against southpaws.
The Nats’ other roster puzzle (at least to me) is their utilization of Ross Detwiler. In Tuesday’s night’s 16-inning marathon, he pitched 4 scoreless innings to keep the game tied—probably the Nats’ single most impressive relief appearance this season, which allowed Zimmerman to eventually hit the winning home run. But overall, Detwiler’s season has been pretty horrible—his opponents’ slash line of .290/.389/.442 indicates that he’s probably been even worse than suggested by his 4.36 ERA.
With the poor performance has come a willingness to use Detwiler mainly in low leverage situations when the team is either several runs behind or has a large lead. Of his 21 appearances, 14 have come with a leverage index of .75 or less (that is, a low leverage situation), with 12 of these in situations where the Nats were down by 3 or more runs or up by 5 or more runs. Tuesday’s extra-inning marathon (leverage index of 2.52) was his only appearance with a leverage index greater than 1.50. (Note—a leverage index of 1.00 represents an “average” situation.)
Detwiler hasn’t taken well to relief and still aspires to be a starter, but that isn’t going to happen with the Nationals, who have brought in Blake Treinen or Taylor Jordan when they needed a replacement starter. He’s being paid $3 million this season, which seems like a lot for a player in such a marginal role. His fasball velocity is still fine, but he relies on it too much. With a season and a half until free agency, I think it may make sense to try to trade him. Perhaps another team thinks it can succeed where the Nats have failed, in developing another pitch and allowing him to move back into the rotation. Without Detwiler, the Nats could move Treinen or Taylor Hill into the long-relief role, or bring up Xavier Cedeno as a lefty specialist. Detwiler wouldn’t bring much back in a trade, but I still think it may be better for both him and the Nats to trade him.
In May, the Nats’ offense died and the team went 11–15. Fortunately, the Braves (13–16) did almost as poorly, so the Nats lost only a half game in the standings, ending in third place with a .500 record (27–27), 1/2 game behind the surging second-place Marlins and 2-1/2 games behind the Braves.
Of course, injuries were the Nats big problem. Despite several players returning from the disabled list, Bryce Harper and Ryan Zimmerman spent the entire month on the DL. Furthermore, several players who had played well in April, including Danny Espinosa and Anthony Rendon, went into slumps. Despite the return of Doug Fister from the DL, the starting pitching was still hit-or-miss, with Gio Gonzalez having a couple of awful outings, then going on the DL, and Jordan Zimmermann also performing below average.
The Nats had trouble scoring runs when they needed them, going 2–7 in one-run games. If their runs scored and given up were distributed more evenly (their “Pythagorean win-loss record), they would have gone a more respectable 13–13. They had a long stretch where the pitching was good enough to win, but they couldn’t scratch out the runs.
The Nats started the month on the road facing the Phillies, and lost that series 2 games to 1. They then faced the Dodgers at home, with Scott Hairston and Wilson Ramos coming off the disabled list. They took that series 2 games to 1. Next came a road trip. Fister was activated. The Nats were swept in three games by the Athletics, but they managed to win two of three against the Diamondbacks. After the first Oakland game, Adam LaRoche went on the DL with a right quad strain.
At home, the Nats took two of three against the Mets. At that point, the Nats were still 3 games above .500 (23–20), but then the month went downhill fast. In the first of three games against the Reds, they lost a 15-inning heart breaker, in which several opportunities to win were lost, including a couple of highlight reel plays by the Reds. The Nats lost two of three to the Reds, then went to Pittsburgh where they lost three of four, with LaRoche back in the lineup for the victory in game 4. At home facing the Marlins, they were swept in two games. Now two games below .500, the bats suddenly came alive as they beat the Rangers by scores of 9–2 and 10–2 to end the month.
Despite the return of Ramos, the team’s offense was awful as several players went into month-long slumps. The Nats finished 14th (or next to last) in the National League in runs scored with 96 and 13th in weighted runs created relative to league (wRC+) with 86 (that is, they created 14% fewer runs than the average team, taking account of park effects and quality of the league). Their defense, on the other hand, went from worst in the league in April to merely below average in May, with UZR of –3.2.
The starters’ ERA– (earned run average adjusted for park and league quality) was 107 (that is, 7% worse than average), ranking 9th in the NL. The poor defense obviously hurt their performance in terms of runs allowed, and the starters fared better on the fielding independent measures, with a FIP– of 100 (league average), which ranked sixth, and an xFIP– of 97, which was ninth in the NL.
The relievers were the bright spot, with an ERA– of 61 (39% better than the league average), which ranked first. Their FIP– of 81 ranked second, but their xFIP– of 106 ranked 12th. The difference between FIP– and xFIP– reflects their low rate of home runs allowed (0.33 per 9 innings), second best in the league.
13-13 (3.69 R/G – 3.77 RA/G)
Tyler Clippard (2-0, 6 holds, 0.00 RA/9, 13 G, 11-2/3 IP, 10.0 K/9, 3.1 BB/9, 4.6 H/9, 5.72 RE24, 0.89 WPA, 7 shutdowns, 0 meltdown).
Most valuable position player
Ian Desmond (.229/.327/.458, 26 G, 110 PA, 6 HR, 10 R, 16 RBI, 0.6 fWAR, 5.90 RE24). Honorable mention goes to Adam LaRoche (.341/.417/.585), but in only 12 G and 48 PA due to a stint on the DL.
Most valuable starting pitcher:
Stephen Strasburg (2-2, 3.35 RA/9, 6 G, 40-1/3 IP, 8.3 K/9, 1.6 BB/9, 2.56 RE24, 0.8 rWAR).
I’m going to declare it a 3-way tie between Danny Espinosa (.125/.195/.263, 24 G, 87 PA, –0.5 fWAR), Ross Detwiler (0–1, 1 meltdown, 10.38 RA/9, 15.6 H/9, 3 HR in 8-2/3 IP, –0.5 rWAR), and Gio Gonzalez (0–3, 7.98 RA/9, 12.3 H/9, 3 HR in 14-2/3 IP, –0.6 rWAR) before going on the disabled list.
Doug Fister led the National League in strikeout-to-walk ratio in May with 11.5 (23 strikeouts and 2 walks allowed). Tyler Clippard was one of seven National League relievers with an ERA of 0.00 for the month. On the other side of the ledger, Danny Espinosa led the majors in strikeouts (37) and in strikeout percentage (42.5%; it was a dominating lead with # 2 at 33.7%). He also had MLB’s lowest batting average (.125) and on-base percentage (.195), and the NL’s lowest on-base plus slugging (OPS) with .458, lowest weighted on-base average (wOBA) with .205, and lowest weighted runs created (wRC+) with 22. Jordan Zimmermann led the NL in highest batting average allowed (.342). Ross Detwiler led MLB relievers in highest ERA (10.38).
Best start this month:
Tanner Roark (May 10, 4–3 loss to the Athletics in Oakland) got a no-decision, but he gave up only 1 run (a solo home run) and 2 hits in 7-2/3 innings. He didn’t walk anyone and had 5 strikeouts for a game score of 76. He left the game in the bottom of the 8th with a 3–1 lead, and Clippard got the last out of the inning. But Rafael Soriano blew the save, giving up two runs in the 9th, and Drew Storen gave up another run in the bottom of the 10th for the loss.
Gio Gonzalez (May 10, 9–1 loss to the A’s in Oakland) gave up 9 hits, 7 runs, 3 walks, and 2 home runs in 4-1/3 innings, while getting 4 K and a game score of 18.
The idea of a “tough loss,” which Bill James introduced in one of his Abstracts, is to illustrate the effect of offensive support by identifying games where a pitcher is charged with a loss despite pitching well enough to win. It’s defined as a game where the pitcher is charged with a loss despite a game score of 50 or higher. The Nats had quite a few tough losses this month:
- Gio Gonzalez (May 4, 1–0 loss to the Phillies in Philadelphia) gave up 1 run on 4 hits with 2 walks and 7 strikeouts in 7-1/3 innings (game score 71).
- Stephen Strasburg (May 13, 3–1 loss to the Diamondbacks in Arizona) gave up 3 runs on 8 hits with no walks and 6 strikeouts in 7 innings (game score 55).
- Tanner Roark (May 21, 2–1 loss to the Reds in Cincinnati) gave up 2 runs (1 earned) on 6 hits with 3 walks and 2 strikeouts in 6 innings (game score 53).
- Blake Treinen (May 22, 3–1 loss to the Pirates in Pittsburgh) gave up 2 runs on 4 hits with 5 walks and 4 strikeouts in 5-2/3 innings (game score 52).
- Stephen Strasburg (May 24, 3–2 loss to the Pirates in Pittsburgh) gave up 3 runs on 7 hits with 2 walks and 7 strikeouts in 7 innings (game score 56).
- Tanner Roark (May 26, 3–2 loss to the Marlins at home) gave up 3 runs on 5 hits with 1 walk and 4 strikeouts in 7 innings (game score 58).
The opposite of of a tough loss, a cheap win is when a starter is credited with the win despite a game score of 49 or less:
- Jordan Zimmermann (May 18, 6–3 win over the Mets at home) gave up 3 runs on 8 hits with 2 walks and 1 strikeout in 6 innings (game score 43).
Aaron Barrett (May 19, 4–3 loss to the Reds at home in 15 innings) pitched the 13th and 14th innings without giving up a run, with the score 2–2. In the 13th, he got a double play to get out of the inning, and in the 14th, after letting the leadoff hitter on, who was sacrificed to second, he struck out the last two batters to get out of the inning. (Win probability added .255). In the 15th, Detwiler gave up a two-run homer to lose the game.
Rafael Soriano (May 10, 4–3 loss to the A’s in Oakland). I already described this game in the item on the best start. Soriano entered the bottom of the 9th protecting a 3–1 lead. The first three batters all got hits—a single by Jaso, a double by Lowrie to drive in Jaso, and a single by Donaldson to drive in Lowrie. Soriano did get the next three outs to finish the inning with the score still tied. (Win probability added –.421) Storen gave up the deciding run in the bottom of the 10th.
Kevin Frandsen (May 12, 6–5 win over the Diamondbacks in Arizona). With the score tied 5–5 and two outs in the top of the 9th, Frandsen hit a home run to take the lead (WPA .419). In the bottom of the 9th, Soriano gave up two hits but still managed to get the save.
Scott Hairston (May 22, 3–1 loss to the Pirates in Pittsburgh) came to bat as a pinch hitter facing lefty Tony Watson in the top of the 8th inning with two outs and the bases loaded, and the Nats trailing 2–1. He popped out to shortstop to end the inning (WPA –.174).
Addenda - I meant to include this:
Playoff odds at the end of the month:
Baseball Prospectus: 44.4% for Division championship, 57.8% for playoffs
FanGraphs (projection mode): 47.7% for Division, 68.9% for playoffs
FanGraphs (season-to-date mode): 25.9% for Division, 39.6% for playoffs
At the start of 2013, the Nats were the consensus pick to win the AL East, and a number of pundits saw them winning the pennant or even the World Series. Instead, they fell behind the Braves early, suffered a series of injuries, and never really got going until the last two months of the season when the pennant had slipped out of reach.
Does it sound familiar? Once again, a much hyped Nats team has stumbled out of the gate. On May 29, 2013, the Nats were 27–26 and 4.5 games behind the Braves. This season it’s arguably worse, as they’re 25–27 and 2.5 games behind both the Braves and the Marlins. I’ve already seen an article asking which players they should be selling before the trade deadline. Are the Nats destined to repeat last year’s disappointment?
Last season I did several long posts assessing the team’s progress as the year went along. I won’t attempt a similar analysis here, but one thing I was looking for was evidence that our expectation from certain players had shifted as the year went along. In 2013, as early as mid-May it was pretty clear that several Nationals (Stephen Strasburg, Gio Gonzalez, Dan Haren, Danny Espinosa, Tyler Moore, Ryan Zimmerman, and Steve Lombardozzi) were not living up to expectations, and that we were probably going to have to downgrade our expectations. On the other hand, a couple of players (Jordan Zimmermann and, at least early in the season, Bryce Harper) were exceeding expectations.
This year, when I look at the numbers, I’m not seeing something similar. Although some players have had hot spells and cold spells, for the first two months as a whole, with only a couple of exceptions, I’m not seeing the players who greatly exceed or fall short of expectations. The players who are falling significantly short of expectations are the injured players. It’s really as simple as that. If they can come back from their injuries without a dropoff in performance, there’s not reason to think this team can’t play as well as anticipated for the rest of the season.
Of course, that may not be enough. FanGraphs still sees the Nats with a 44.8% chance of winning the division and a 61.5% chance of making the playoffs. Baseball Prospectus has them at 38.4% and 48.8%. Both numbers a down quite a bit from where they started the season. But with a weak division and opponents who have their own health problems, there’s no reason the playoffs should be considered out of reach. The hitters who are in slumps need to start hitting, and Strasburg and Zimmermann need to have some regression in their batting average allowed on balls in play. I still think the keys to this season will be Harper and Strasburg, so I’m hoping that when Harper returns he will be fully healthy. This team still has lots of talent and has a good chance to turn the season around.
The Nats got off to a lackluster start as the injuries mounted and the defense sputtered. One of their starters was consistently inconsistent. Meanwhile, the Braves raced out of the gate to a solid early lead in the NL East. Unfortunately this seems like an ominous sequel to the start of the 2013 season.
The Nats started the season with Doug Fister on the disabled list with a lat strain, with Taylor Jordan moving into the fifth starter role. They opened the season, and Matt Williams’ tenure as manager, playing the Mets in New York City. They swept the series, with a notable come-from-behind win in ten innings in the opener. Unfortunately, it was also a costly win, as Wilson Ramos suffered a broken hamate bone in his left hand, placing him on the DL.
Returning to Washington for the home opener against the Braves, the Nationals lost the first two before getting a win in the third game. They fared better against in their next series against Miami, sweeping the series and ending the home stand in first place with a 7–2 record. Scott Hairston went on the DL with an oblique strain.
The team’s next series was in Atlanta, and the Nats were swept by the Braves and were knocked out of the lead. Ryan Zimmerman fractured his right thumb diving into second base on a pickoff play, and Denard Span went on the 7-day concussion DL after a base path collision. Moving on to Miami, the Nats took two of three from the Marlins.
Next came the Nats’ longest home stand of the season. Facing the Cardinals, they split a four-game series. They lost the next series to the Angels, two games to one. Jordan gave up Albert Pujols’ 500th home run. The home stand ended with a four-game series against the Padres, which the Nats again split. But this series was also a costly one, as Bryce Harper suffered a torn ligament in his thumb on a headfirst slide into third base and had to undergo surgery. The Nats’ record on their home stand was 5–6, which wasn’t what the Nats had been hoping for.
The month of April ended in Houston, where the Nats swept a two-game set with the Astros, while the Braves were losing to the Marlins. At the end of the month, the Nats had a 16–12 record and were in third place, two games back of the 17–9 Braves and slightly trailing the 15–11 Mets in the percentage standings (.577 to .571). According to the Baseball Prospectus playoff odds report, the Nats finished the month with a 49.6% chance of winning the division and a 71.8% chance of making the playoffs. FanGraphs, using the “projection mode,” showed probabilities that were a bit more optimistic (56.8% for the division and 80.6% for the playoffs), though with “season to date stats” mode the odds were quite a bit lower (29.7% for the division and 51.2% for the playoffs).
Despite the injuries, the team’s offense played well, finishing tied for second in the National League in runs scored with 126 and second in weighted runs created relative to league (wRC+) with 108 (that is, they created 8% more runs than the average team, taking account of park effects and quality of the league). Defense, on the other hand, is measured by many metrics and for this month all of the metrics were in agreement—the Nats were the worst defensive team in the NL. They had the worst fielding percentage (.975), the lowest defensive efficiency (.661; that is, only 66.1% of balls in play were converted to outs), the lowest defensive runs saved (–12), and the worst UZR (–14.2).
The starters’ ERA– (earned run average adjusted for park and league quality) was 107 (that is, 7% worse than average), ranking 9th in the NL. The poor defense obviously hurt their performance in terms of runs allowed, and the starters fared much better on the fielding independent measures, with a FIP– of 85 (15% better than the league), which ranked third, and an xFIP– of 91, which was second in the league. The relievers had an ERA– of 61 (39% better than the league average), which ranked second. Their FIP– of 80 ranked third, and their xFIP– of 88 ranked fourth.
16-12 (4.50 R/G – 3.86 RA/G)
Jayson Werth (.288/.383/.462, 28 G, 120 PA, 4 HR, 16 R, 16 RBI, 0.7 fWAR, 9.64 RE24, 1.78 WPA) edges out Anthony Rendon (.316/.352/.544, 19 R, 20 RBI, 0.8 fWAR) and Adam LaRoche (.312/.413/.495, 17 R, 17 RBI, 0.7 fWAR) on the basis of his exceptional clutch hitting.
Most valuable pitcher:
Tanner Roark (2-0, 2.76 RA/9, 5 G, 32-2/3 IP, 7.2 K/9, 2.5 BB/9, 4.63 RE24, 1.1 rWAR) edges out Gio Gonzalez (3–1, 3.25 RA/9, 6 G, 36 IP, 0.9 rWAR).
Most valuable reliever:
Rafael Soriano (1-0, 5 SV, 0.00 RA/9, 10 G, 10 IP, 10.8 K/9, 3.6 BB/9, 5.4 H/9, 4.43 RE24, 0.74 WPA, 5 shutdowns, 0 meltdown).
Taylor Jordan (0–3, 7.01 RA/9, –7.10 RE24, 5 G, 25-2/3 IP, 6.0 K/9, 2.8 BB/9, 11.9 H/9, 3 HR, 60.3% LOB%). Tyler Clippard (6 meltdowns, 2–2, 5.68 RA/9, –3.74 RE24, –1.38 WPA, 3 shutdowns, 6 meltdowns) is runner up.
Jayson Werth led the majors in clutch hitting in April with 1.78 WPA (win probability added). Stephen Strasburg led the majors in strikeout rate with 14.03 K/9. Rafael Soriano was one of five major league relievers with an ERA of 0.00 for the month. On the other side of the ledger, Strasburg also led the majors in batting average allowed on balls in play (BABIP) with .407. Tyler Clippard had the worst clutch performance of all major league relievers as measured both by number of meltdowns (6) and WPA (–1.38). Ian Desmond led the majors in fielding errors with 8.
Best start this month:
Tanner Roark (April 26, 4–0 win over the Padres at home) in the first complete game of his career, pitched a three-hit shutout with 8 strikeouts and 1 walks with a game score of 88.
Jordan Zimmermann (April 9, 10–7 win over the Marlins at home) lasted only 1-2/3 innings and gave up 7 hits, 5 runs, 2 walks, and a home run, while getting only 1 K and a game score of 20. The Nats bullpen held on to give up only two more runs, and the offense came back to take the lad on a Werth grand slam home run in the bottom of the 8th.
Jordan Zimmermann (April 19, 4–3 loss to the Cardinals at home) gave up 4 runs—only 1 of them earned—on 7 hits with 2 walks and 6 strikeouts in 7 innings (game score 57).
Cheap win: (none)
Drew Storen (April 18, 3–1 win over the Cardinals at home) got the call to put out a fire when he relieved Clippard in the 8th inning with one out and runners on second and third, and a 3–1 lead on the line. He got Matt Holliday to foul out and Allen Craig to ground out to get out of the inning and end the threat. (Win probability added .216).
Tyler Clippard (April 21, 4–2 loss to the Angels at home) entered in the top of the 8th protecting a 1–0 lead. Pujols led off and reached on a Desmond error. Clippard struck out the next batter, but Pujols stole second and advanced to third on an infield single. The next batter popped out, but then Clippard gave up a single to Aybar that scored Pujols, followed by a walk and then a double by Ibanez that scored all three runners. He left the game with a 4–1 deficit, Ibanez on third, and still only two outs. (Win probability added –.699)
Jayson Werth (April 23, 5–4 win over the Angels at home). Werth came to bat in the bottom of the ninth with one out, Rendon and Span on first and second, and the Nats trailing 4–2. On a 3–0 count, he hit a double into the left field corner and scored both runners, tying the game (WPA .506). LaRoche was the next batter and drove Werth in for the walk-off win.
Jose Lobaton (April 24, 4–3 loss to the Padres at home) came to bat in the bottom of the 12th inning with one out, Harper on second base, and the Nats trailing 4–3. He lined out to the shortstop and Harper couldn’t make it back to the base, ending the game (WPA –.267).
I’ve been a strong proponent of instant replay review, so I’m surprised to find that after our first week of expanded review, I’m starting to have second thoughts.
During spring training (I have to admit that I only watched of spring training games) I heard reports that the reviews went pretty quickly, so I was surprised at how irritating the one-or-two minute delays are turning out to be. While I’d love to ensure that the umpire’s decisions are more accurate, I’m also a proponent of faster games. It seems to be hard to advocate for one without the other.
The rules seem smart—there’s a limit of one review per team, unless the team wins a challenge, in which case they get another one. That helps limit the number of challenges, but also gives an incentive to use the challenge in cases where the team thinks it’s going to win. As Adam Kilgore of the Washington Post observes, managers also have an incentive to hold their challenges for high leverage plays—plays where the score is close and there are runners on base with the potential to score. I’m actually fine with that—if we’re going to only be reviewing a few plays, I’d rather that they be the ones that really make a difference.
The challenge in the season opener, however, illustrates a scenario when the incentives work the other direction. In the top of the tenth inning, the Nats had just taken a 9 to 5 lead on Anthony Rendon‘s home run. Danny Espinosa came to bat with two outs and the bases empty (a very low leverage situation) and grounded to third. The throw pulled Duda off the bag, but he swiped Espinosa as he ran past. Matt Williams challenged the play, despite the fact that the play was very unlikely to affect the outcome of the game, because if he didn’t use his challenge then, he would lose it.
The game had already lasted nearly 3-1/2 hours, so I was pretty irritated by the additional delay. Is there a way to change the rules to discourage managers from using challenges in low leverage situations? One way might be to give managers not only a limit of one per game, but also a limitation on the number used in the season. If Williams had been limited to maybe 60 challenges per season, I think he would have held off on that challenge to try to use it in a more meaningful situation in another game. (Please note that I am not proposing that managers who save challenges be allowed to use more than one per game. Both the one-per-game and 60-per-season restrictions would apply.) Alternatively, an even simpler rule would be to simply say that a team can’t use a challenge if they have a lead of 4 or more runs.
Ok, so I’m looking to tweak some rules to cut back on certain uses of challenges. Are there any cases where I can see additional expansion of replay challenges? Actually, yes there are.
I’ve always been concerned that umpires do a pretty poor job with check swing calls, despite the fact that they’re calling on another umpire for assistance. I’d guess that their error rates are at least twice as high for check swing calls as for other calls of balls and strikes. Check swings, however, seem like something that could be automated. If cameras were set up in fixed locations and computers were programmed to instantly replay and analyze the check swing, I’d bet that the compute could give quick, accurate, and reliable calls. The home plate umpire is already asking for help on these calls; it really doesn’t seem a stretch for them to get the help from a camera/computer combination. If an automated program could be written that could analyze and report a decision within 10 seconds (which I think might be feasible), I’d support turning check swing calls over to machines (obviously with a quick visual check to make sure the machine is doing what we think it should be doing.)
It will take us a while to get used to expanded instant replay review, but in the long run it will just be one of the many minor changes that have slipped into the game over time. I’m glad that MLB has been trying to refine it.