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May 1, 2014 / Nat Anacostia

Nats’ April in review: Who is going to step in?

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.

Record:

16-12 (.571)

Pythagorean Record:

16-12 (4.50 R/G – 3.86 RA/G)

April MVP:

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).

Worst month:

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.

League leaders:

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.

Worst start:

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.

Tough loss:

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)

Best shutdown:

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).

Worst meltdown:

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)

Clutch hit:

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.

Choke:

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).

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