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August 3, 2017 / Nat Anacostia

Nats’ July in review: It’s a continual experiment

In July, the Nats sent five players to the All-Star game and traded for three relievers—all with experience as closers—as well as for an experienced utility player. They also battled injuries and were giving a lot of playing time to the backup players. Their record in July was 16–8, and they ended the month with a 14-game lead in the NL East and a playoff berth almost guaranteed.

The month began with the Nationals in St. Louis, playing the last two games of a 3-game series against the Cardinals. They had lost Game 1 on the last day of June. They lost Game 2 also, though  it was close—a 2 to 1 loss with the last out recorded with the bases loaded in the top of the ninth. In Game 3, which was televised nationally, Bryce Harper hit two home runs and Max Scherzer pitched 7 shutout innings as the Nats avoided being swept.

Returning home, the Nationals swept the first two games of a series against the Mets, the second an 11 to 4 Independence Day victory. Game 3 was postponed due to a heavy rainstorm. The start of the first game of the next series, a four-game set against the Braves, was delayed three hours based on faulty weather forecast of heavy rain that never materialized. The result was a rare home game that was played after most fans were asleep. The Nationals lost the game and Michael A. Taylor suffered an oblique strain that sent him to the disabled list for the rest of the month. The next night Brian Goodwin took over the center field position, and the Nats came back from a three-run deficit to tie the game in the ninth and win the game 5 to 4 in the tenth. In the following game, Stephen Strasburg was hit in the hip by a come-backer and left the game after three rough innings. The Nats lost 13–0, suffering their first shutout of the season. (They would suffer two more before the end of the month.) The Nats won the final game of the series 10 to 5, garnering a split just before the All-Star break. But even the victory was costly, as starter Joe Ross had to leave the game with an injury. A few days later we would learn that his season was over, as he had to undergo Tommy John surgery.

The Nats were represented at the All-Star Game by starters Bryce Harper, Daniel Murphy, and Ryan Zimmerman, and Max Scherzer was the starting pitcher for the NL squad. Stephen Strasburg also made the team, though he didn’t appear in the game. Scherzer pitched a scoreless first inning with two strikeouts. Harper went 1 for 1 with a walk and gave a live on-air interview while playing right field. Murphy went 1 for 2, and Zimmerman went 0 for 2. The National League lost the game 2 to 1 in 10 innings.

There was some good legal news during the break, as an Appellate Court ruled in favor of the Nationals in their long-standing legal battle with the Orioles over their share of MASN revenues. The court ruled that their share of TV rights should be determined by an MLB committee, as the Nationals had argued. While there is no immediate financial effect, hopefully it will eventually shore up the long-term finances of the team.

After the break, the Nats began a road trip against the Reds in Cincinnati. They took advantage of the short fences and swept the four-game series, scoring 35 runs. We also learned that the foot injury that had kept Jayson Werth out since early June involved a fracture in addition to the previously announced bone bruise. Meanwhile, GM Mike Rizzo helped fix the team’s bullpen problem by trading with the Oakland A’s for relievers Ryan Madson and Sean Doolittle. The Nats had to give up Blake Treinen, who had been ineffective this season with the Nationals, and two prospects, Jesus Luzardo and Sheldon Neuse.

The Nats next went to Anaheim to face the Angels in a two-game series. In the first game, Edwin Jackson returned to the Nats for the first time since 2012, taking Ross’s place. But the media was focused on the fact that Harper was facing off against AL superstar Mike Trout for only the second time. Each player hit a solo home run in the first inning, but Harper went on to win the match, going 4 for 4. He only missed hitting for a cycle because he was thrown out at second by former Nat Ben Revere while trying to stretch a single. His lead-off triple in the eighth inning allowed him to score the go-ahead run in what would be a 4 to 3 Nats victory. Harper missed Game 2, which the Nats lost 7 to 0. They won the last series of their road trip in Arizona against the Diamondbacks two games to one, going 7–2 overall on the road trip. In the final game in Arizona, Strasburg had to leave the game early and was placed on the disabled list with “right elbow nerve impingement.”

Returning home, the Nats faced the Brewers and lost the first game 8 to 0, their third shutout in less than three weeks. But their offense was either hot or cold. The next night, Harper came to bat in the bottom of the eighth with the scored tied 2 to 2, one out, and runners on first and third. He struck out, but angrily argued a strike call and got ejected. The next batter, Zimmerman, hit a double, driving in two runs and giving the Nats the lead, and the Nats went on to score 6 two-out runs, ultimately winning the game 8 to 5. The next game, the Nats offense exploded for 15 runs, including 8 homers. In the third inning, the Nats hit four consecutive home runs (tying the MLB record) and five home runs overall.

For the next series, they hosted the Rockies. The first game was rained out, and would be made up in a Sunday doubleheader. With the trade deadline looming, the Nats traded for Howie Kendrick, who took Chris Heisey‘s place as the right-handed bench player. The Nats lost the first game against the Rockies, then split the doubleheader. On the last day of the month, the team made its final trade just minutes before the deadline, getting relief pitcher Brandon Kintzler from the Twins. The last game of the month was against the Marlins in Miami, taking place on the 25th birthday of the late Marlins pitcher, Jose Fernandez, ten months after his death. Gio Gonzalez, a Miami native and friend of Fernandez, got the start for the Nationals and took a no-hitter into the bottom of the ninth, when Dee Gordon broke it up with a lead-off single. Doolittle then came into the 1–0 game and got the save.

As in the previous months, the Nats success in July derived from the offense and starting pitching. Their on-base percentage, .330, ranked seventh in the National League; their slugging percentage, .475, ranked fourth, their batting average, .268, ranked sixth; they were second in home runs with 37, third in runs with 128, and fifth in weighted runs created (wRC+) with 106.

The starting pitchers ranked second in the NL in park-adjusted ERA relative to league (ERA–) with 69, and ranked fourth in fielding-independent pitching relative to league (FIP–) with 89. The relief pitching continued to be below average. They ranked 14th of 15 NL teams in RE24 (–8.65), 9th in shutdowns (16), 12th in ERA– with 113, and 10th in FIP– with 103.  The trades have upgraded the bullpen but results haven’t yet showed up in the numbers.

Record:

16–8 (.667)

Pythagorean Record:

15–9 (5.33 R/G – 4.17 RA/G)

July MVP:

A tie between Bryce Harper (.378/.456/.778, 23 G, 9 HR, 26 R, 22 RBI, 1.8 fWAR) and Anthony Rendon (.392/.500/.689, 22 G, 5 HR, 13 R, 19 RBI, 1.8 fWAR). They were the top two players in fWAR in the NL for July, though the league’s player-of-the-month award went to fifth-ranking Nolan Arenado.

Most valuable starting pitcher:

Gio Gonzalez (2–3, 2.14 RA/9, 6 G, 42 IP,  7.9 K/9, .235 opp OBP, 1.9 RA9-WAR).

Most valuable relief pitcher:

Ryan Madson (1–0, 0.00 RA/9, 5 G, 5 IP, .222 opp OBP, 2.57 RE24, 0.4 RA9-WAR, 4 shutdowns, 0 meltdown).

Worst month:

Sammy Solis (0–0, 18.00 RA/9, 4 IP, .500 opp OBP, –5.64 RE24, –0.4 RA9-WAR, 0 shutdown, 1 meltdown).

Best start this month:

Max Scherzer (July 2, 7–2 win over the Cardinals in St. Louis). Scherzer pitched 7 shutout innings with 12 strikeouts, allowing 2 hits and 2 walks, for a game score of 83. Runner up is Gio Gonzalez (July 31, 1–0 win over the Marlins in Miami). Gonzalez carried a no hitter for 8 innings before giving up a lead-off single in the ninth. He struck out 5 and gave up 3 walks and one hit batsman, for a game score of 82.

Worst start:

Erick Fedde (July 30, 10–6 loss to the Rockies at home in the first game of a doubleheader). In the major league debut of the Nats’ top pitching prospect, Fedde gave up 7 runs on 10 hits and 2 walks with 3 strikeouts in 4 innings (game score 15). I wonder how long he’ll have to carry that 15.75 ERA.

Tough losses:

  • Gio Gonzalez (July 1, 2–1 loss to the Cardinals in St. Louis) gave up 1 run on 2 hits and 2 walks with 9 strikeouts in 7 innings (game score 76).  
  • Gio Gonzalez (July 6, 5–2 loss to the Braves at home) gave up 3 runs on 7 hits and 2 walks with 6 strikeouts in 6 innings (game score 50).

Cheap win: 

  • None

Best shutdown: 

Sean Doolittle (July 31, 1–0 win over the Marlins in Miami). With a 1–0 lead, Gio Gonzalez had  given up a lead-off single in the bottom of the ninth, breaking up his no-hit bid. With the heart of the Marlins order coming up, Dusty Baker brought in Doolittle for the save. He got Giancarlo Stanton to ground into a double play. Then, after giving up a single to Christian Yelich, Doolittle got a pop-up from Marcell Ozuna to end the game (win probability added .329).

Worst meltdown:

Enny Romero (July 21, 6–5 loss to the Diamondbacks in Phoenix). Romero got the call to pitch the bottom of the ninth in a game that was tied 5–5. He gave a lead-off triple to A.J. Pollock, leaving him in a bind. Baker ordered intentional walks to Jake Lamb and Paul Goldschmidt, loading the bases with no outs. (NOTE: I don’t approve of issuing intentional walks to load the bases, especially with a pitcher who walks nearly 10% of the batters he faces.) After getting the first out on a short flyball, Romero gave up a single to Brandon Drury to lose the game (WPA –.353).

Clutch hit:

Ryan Raburn (July 3, 3–2 win over the Mets at home). With two outs in the bottom of the 9th, runners on first and third, and the score tied 2 to 2, Raburn hit a blooper to left that Yoenis Cespedes trapped, driving in the winning run. On replay review, the call was upheld, giving the Nats the victory (WPA .362). Raburn has been a pretty marginal player this year, but for at least one game he was the hero.

Choke:

The statistics say this should go to Adrian Sanchez (July 1, 2–1 loss to the Cardinals in St. Louis). In the bottom of the ninth, trailing 2 to 0, the Nats had rallied to score a run and had the bases loaded with two outs, when Sanchez, in his major league debut, got the call to come to bat as a pinch hitter. Facing Cardinal reliever Matthew Bowman, Sanchez battled to a 3–2 count. The ninth pitch of the at-bat came in outside, and Sanchez took it; he should have driven in the tying run. But umpire Manny Gonzalez called “strike 3” instead, and the game was over (WPA –.230). I think you can identify the pitch—the only red dot of the night that’s clearly outside the strike zone:

 

So I’m going to give the “Choke” award to umpire Manny Gonzalez instead of Sanchez, who deserved a better outcome than that from an outstanding first plate appearance.

Favorite defensive plays:

I’ll link to two of them this time.

  • Anthony Rendon dives into the stands to catch a foulball, with Stephen Drew falling in there behind him, in the first inning of the July 1 game in St. Louis.
  • Brian Goodwin ran in to make a diving catch to rob Mike Trout of a hit, in a game in Anaheim that at the time was tied 2–2 in the bottom of the seventh inning.
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August 3, 2017 / Nat Anacostia

New book on the 1948 Homestead Grays

I’m not an expert on the Negro leagues, but the Homestead Grays of the 1940s (who split their home games between Washington DC and Pittsburgh) were arguably the most dominant team in Washington baseball history. So a few years ago I posted items on their 1943, 1944, and 1948 Negro World Series champsionship. I described the 1948 series between the Grays and the Birmingham Black Barons (who featured a young Willie Mays) as forgotten because of the relative dearth of information about it.

Now I can report that there’s quite a bit more information, thanks to a new book from SABR (Society for American Baseball Research), Bittersweet Goodbye: The Black Barons, the Grays, and the 1948 Negro League World SeriesThe E-book is free for SABR members and inexpensive for non-members, and even the hardcopy is quite affordable. The book includes not only more detailed information than I was able to find about the series and the league championship series leading up to it, but also detailed biographies of the members of both teams. Many researchers contributed to this fine book. So if you’re interested in this relatively obscure part of American baseball history, I recommend that you get the book.

 

July 3, 2017 / Nat Anacostia

Nats’ June in review: It is what it is

June was  tough month for the Nationals. With their 14–14 record, they were only playing at a .500 clip. Fortunately, the other teams in the weak NL East didn’t take advantage. By the end of the month, the Braves moved into second place, 8½ games behind. On June 29, the Nats’ young shortstop, Trea Turner, suffered a wrist fracture when hit by a pitch and the team learned he will probably be out of the lineup until September. In June, Turner had stolen 22 bases in 26 attempts, hit .298, and scored 23 runs.

As June began, the Nats were on a west coast road trip that had started with a sweep of the Giants. In a three-game series against the Oakland A’s, the Nats took two of three with scores that wouldn’t have been out of place for football—a 13 to 3 win, a 10 to 4 loss, and an 11 to 10 win. Next came the Dodgers in Los Angeles, and the Nats again took two of three, though with scores more befitting of a pitcher’s stadium—wins of 4 to 2 and 2 to 1, followed by a 2 to 1 loss. The Nats’ record on the road trip was an excellent 7–2.

Returning to Washington, the home stand began with a make-up game against the Orioles for an earlier rain-out. The Nats won 6 to 1. But the rest of the home stand turned bad, as the Nats were swept by the Texas Rangers. Their bats seemed to have died, as they only managed to score 6 runs in the three-game series. But their bullpen woes also returned in the second game of the series, when Koda Glover blew a 3 to 1 save opportunity in the ninth, and Shawn Kelly gave up a 3-run home run in the 11th for a 6 to 3 loss. After the game, Glover admitted to back injury and was placed on the disabled list (an injury report that was later expanded to include inflammation of the rotator cuff). In the third game against the Rangers, Oliver Perez and Blake Treinen were unable to keep the game tied in the eighth, resulting in a 5 to 1 loss for the Nats. The Braves were the next visitors, and the Nats bullpen again surrendered a lead in the ninth, with Matt Albers giving up a 9 to 8 lead with a 3-run home run. The Nats lost two of three against the Braves and ended the home stand with a 2–5 record.

Their next road trip began with a four-game series against the Mets. The Nats played well and won the first three games. Their next series was a three-game set against the Marlins in Miami. The Nats lost two games, both by one run, for a 4–3 record on their road trip.

Returning home, they faced the Reds for three games. They won the first game in walk-off fashion, 6 to 5 in 10 innings. They also won the second game, 18 to 3, before losing the finale. They next hosted the reigning  World Series champions, the Chicago Cubs, in a four-game set. In the first game, they avoided being shut out by staging a four-run rally in the bottom of the ninth, only to fall short with a 5 to 4 loss. They won the next two, but the Cubs were able to split the series when the Nats’ bullpen again blew a save in the finale, with Treinen taking a 4 to 2 lead into the ninth and giving up 3 runs. That was also the game when Trea Turner suffered his broken wrist. The month ended with the Nats playing the Cardinals in St. Louis, where they suffered an 8 to 1 loss.

In June, the Nationals’ strength continued to be its offense. Their on-base percentage (.341) ranked 5th in the NL, and their slugging percentage (.480) ranked 2nd, while their weighted runs created (wRC+) of 111 ranked third.

The starting pitching also performed well, ranking fourth in park-adjusted ERA relative to league (ERA–) with 93, and third in fielding-independent pitching relative to league (FIP–) with 89. They also led the league in innings pitched per start with 6.06. The problems of the relief staff were also apparent in the statistics. They ranked 14th of 15 NL teams in RE24 (–13.04), 12th in shutdowns (15), 14th in ERA– with 127, and last in FIP– with 113. After the third consecutive month of abysmal relief pitching, the Nats fans (and probably their players) are anxious for a pre-deadline trade.

Record:

14–14 (.500)

Pythagorean Record:

16–12 (5.75 R/G – 4.93 RA/G)

June MVP:

Max Scherzer (3–2, 1.98 RA/9, 5 G, 36-1/3 IP,  12.6 K/9, .187 opp OBP, 1.7 RA9-WAR).

Most valuable position player:

Anthony Rendon (.300/.414/.638, 24 G, 7 HR, 18 R, 18 RBI, 1.3 fWAR). Also, Michael A. Taylor (.299/.330/.619, 26 G, 7 HR, 20 R, 18 RBI, 1.1 fWAR) deserves a mention as runner up.

Most valuable relief pitcher:

Enny Romero (0–1, 1.15 RA/9, 13 G, 15-2/3 IP, .302 opp OBP, 4.15 RE24, 0.7 RA9-WAR, 1 save, 4 shutdowns, 1 meltdown).

Worst month:

Tanner Roark went (1–4, 9.20 RA/9, 30-1/3 IP, .404 opp OBP, –0.9 fWAR) for the worst month of his career.

Best start this month:

Max Scherzer (June 21, 2–1 loss to the Marlins in Miami). You probably remember this game. Scherzer carried a no-hitter into the eighth inning and got 11 strikeouts in an 8 inning complete game, allowing 2 hits, 1 walk, and 2 unearned runs, for a game score of 84 in the quintessential tough loss. It all fell apart when Adam Lind couldn’t catch a throw for the third out. Also, the Nats’ offense couldn’t get anything going against Dan Straily and the Marlins’ bullpen.

Worst start:

Tanner Roark (June 19, 8–7 loss to the Marlins in Miami). He gave up 6 runs on 6 hits and 2 walks in 2-2/3 innings (game score 20), and left with the game tied 6 to 6. The bullpen took a tie into the ninth inning, but Romero gave up the walk-off run to the Marlins.

Tough losses:

  • Stephen Strasburg (June 7, 2–1 loss to the Dodgers in Los Angeles) gave up 2 runs (1 unearned) on 3 hits and 1 walk with 8 strikeouts in 6 innings (game score 67). He had the bad fortune to face Clayton Kershaw. 
  • Max Scherzer (June 11, 5–1 loss to the Rangers at home) left a 1–1 game with one out in the top of the eighth, after allowing a runner to reach on an error and another to walk. The bullpen allowed the runners to score, as well as two more, with Scherzer charged with the loss. He gave up 3 runs (2 earned) on 3 hits and 1 walk with 10 strikeouts in 7-1/3 innings (game score 71).
  • Max Scherzer (June 21, 2–1 loss to Marlins in Miami). We already talked about this one (see “Best start this month“) – a game score of 84.

Cheap win: 

  • None

Best shutdown: 

Enny Romero (June 10, 6–3 loss to the Rangers at home). Romero came into the game in the top of the 10th and got four consecutive outs, before being replaced by Shawn Kelley with one out in the 11th (win probability added .198). Kelley would get a strikeout, then with two outs give up a double, an intentional walk, and a 3-run homer for the Nats’ 6 to 3 loss.

Worst meltdown:

Blake Treinen (June 29, 5–4 loss to the Cubs at home). Treinen came into the game in the top of the ninth with a 4–2 lead, looking for the save. After striking out the first batter, he hit the second batter, then got a forceout at second. After a two-out single, the Cubs had runners at first and third. Treinen then allowed another single (scoring one run) and a double (scoring two more) giving the Cubs the lead. He finally ended the inning with a groundout (WPA –.723). Wade Davis set the Nats down in order in the bottom of the ninth for the Cubs win.

Clutch hit:

Bryce Harper (June 23, 6–5 win over the Reds at home). With two outs in the bottom of the 10th, runners on first and third, and the score tied 5 to 5, Harper drove a line drive into deep right field for a walk-off single. (WPA .362).

Choke:

Ryan Zimmerman (June 26, 5–4 loss to the Cubs at home). Down 5 to 0 going into the bottom of the ninth, the Nats rallied for 3 runs and had the bases loaded  with two outs when Zimmerman came to bat. Wade Davis uncorked a wild pitch, allowing a fourth Nationals run and advancing the other two runners. Zimmerman then struck out to end the improbable rally and the game. (WPA –.244).

 

 

 

June 30, 2017 / Nat Anacostia

My 2017 NL All-Star team features Murphy, Harper, Rendon, Scherzer, and Strasburg

Each year I select an All-Star team based on objective formulas and post it here.

The basic criteria is wins above replacement (WAR), giving roughly equal weight to performance in 2017 and 2016, with a small weight given to career performance (mostly serving as a tie breaker). Because my criteria are objective and use the same methods year after year, these results are not subject to fan bias. My team has five Nationals selections, with Murphy and Harper starting. Here’s the team:

Starters

C –  Buster Posey – Giants

1B – Paul Goldschmidt – Diamondbacks

2B – Daniel Murphy – Nationals

3B – Kris Bryant – Cubs

SS – Corey Seager – Dodgers

LF – Marcell Ozuna – Marlins

CF – Charlie Blackmon – Rockies

RF – Bryce Harper – Nationals

DH – Joey Votto – Reds

SP – Clayton Kershaw – Dodgers

Reserves

C – J.T. Realmuto – Marlins

C – Yasmani Grandal – Dodgers

1B – Anthony Rizzo – Cubs

1B – Wil Myers – Padres

2B – Josh Harrison – Pirates

3B – Justin Turner – Dodgers

3B – Anthony Rendon – Nationals

SS – Brandon Crawford – Giants

LF – Cody Bellinger – Dodgers

CF – Ender Inciarte – Braves

CF – Christian Yelich – Marlins

SP – Max Scherzer – Nationals

SP – Jon Lester – Cubs

SP – Carlos Martinez – Cardinals

SP – Zack Greinke – Diamondbacks

SP – Johnny Cueto – Giants

SP – Stephen Strasburg – Nationals

SP – Alex Wood – Dodgers

RP – Kenley Jansen – Dodgers

RP – Corey Knebel – Brewers

RP – Pat Neshek – Phillies

RP – Addison Reed – Mets

A few other notes:

  • The roster size is 32 players, down from 34 in recent years.
  • Nats fans may wonder about the absence of Ryan Zimmerman from the roster, but once you consider that I’m weighting both 2016 and 2017, the reason should be clear. However, even if we’re just looking at 2017 statistics, Zimmerman’s WAR trails Goldschmidt and Votto and is about equal to Rizzo’s. While Zim’s statistics are good, he trails them in on-base percentage, which is the most important single statistic.
  • Note that Wil Myers was selected in order for the Padres to be represented; otherwise, he would not have made the team.
  • For picking the starting pitcher, Scherzer and Kershaw were essentially even based on the last two year’s statistics, with Scherzer having a small advantage for 2017 and Kershaw having a small advantage last season. Kershaw’s superior career record wound up being the tie-breaker.

 

June 2, 2017 / Nat Anacostia

Nats’ May in review: A baseball is a weapon

May was a streaky month, with attention focused on bullpen problems early in the month and on a brawl between Hunter Strickland and Bryce Harper as the month closed. But the Nats managed to play solidly with a 16–11 record, finishing the month ahead of the second place Mets by 9½ games. By month’s end, the Nats’ odds of winning the division were reported as 90% by FiveThirtyEight, 93% by Baseball Prospectus, and 96% by FanGraphs.

May began with a 3-game set against the Diamondbacks at home. After losing the first game, the Nats won the next two. The next series was on the road against the Phillies. They won the first game, with Matt Albers getting his first major league save because Shawn Kelley and Koda Glover were both on the disabled list. Joe Ross, who had struggled in April, had been optioned to Syracuse, so A.J. Cole pitched the second game, which the Nats also won. The third game featured a bullpen meltdown, as the Nats failed to hold a 5 to 2 lead going into the bottom of the 8th inning and wound up losing 6 to 5 in 10 innings.

The Nats then played two games in Baltimore and lost both of them, with another bullpen meltdown occurring in the second game. Max Scherzer had given up 2 runs in 8 innings, and the Nats had a 4 to 2 lead going into the bottom of the ninth. The Orioles tied it, then won in the 12th inning. The next night Nats faced the Orioles at home and staged their own late inning heroics to come back from a 6 to 2 deficit through seven innings to walk off the O’s in the ninth. Then came two rain-outs—the second home game against the O’s, as well as the opener of a 3-game home series against the Phillies. The Phillies game would be made up with a Sunday doubleheader.

The Nats took the first game against the Phillies with a Harper walk-off home run. They then split the doubleheader to win the series. Although Glover and Kelley had returned from the DL, the team’s bullpen woes, however, weren’t over. The loss in the afternoon game featured yet another bullpen meltdown, while in the nightcap the bullpen also gave up a lead in the top of the 8th, but the game was salvaged by a Michael A. Taylor home run in the bottom of the 8th. From May 7 to 14, the Nats bullpen had given up leads in the 8th inning or later in four of seven games, with the team losing three of them.

The Nats woes continued on their next road trip. They lost two of three against the Pirates in Pittsburgh and two of three against the Braves in Atlanta, as both the offense and the starting pitching sputtered.

Then the Nats returned home, and everything seemed to turn around. In the opener of a series against the Mariners, Ross returned from Syracuse and pitched well for 8 innings, as the Nats won 10 to 1. At this point Ross had received 62 runs in support of his first four starts of the season, a major league record. The Nats split the last two games and won the series. They next faced the Padres, and with Dusty Baker away attending his son’s high school graduation, bench coach Chris Speier took the helm for the weekend. The Nats won the first two games behind superb pitching performances from Scherzer and Stephen Strasburg, but in the finale Ross pitched poorly and took the loss.

The month ended with a road trip to the west coast, where the Nats played three against the Giants. In the first game, played on Memorial Day, Tanner Roark pitched well, Ryan Zimmerman hit a home run, and the Nats won 3 to 0. But their fine play was overshadowed by the fight that occurred when Giants reliever, Hunter Strickland, nursing a nearly three-year-old grudge from the 2014 playoffs when Harper twice took him deep, faced Bryce for the first time since that series. Strickland drilled Harper on his first pitch with a 98-mile-per-hour fastball. Harper charged the mound and the two players briefly engaged in fisticuffs until they were pulled apart as the benches cleared. For 24 hours their fight was the baseball talk of the Internet, and Harper received a three-game suspension.

The Nats went on to win the final two games against the Giants for a sweep, with Scherzer pitching a complete-game, 11-strikeout, 3 to 1 gem in the finale.

In contrast to April, when offense had driven the Nats’ success, the team’s offensive production was subdued in May. Their 116 runs scored ranked 11th in the NL for the month, their 34 home runs was tied for 5th, and their weighted runs created (wRC+) was 96, ranking 7th among the 15 NL teams.

The Nats’ starting pitching played a bigger role. Their ERA of 3.39 ranked 2nd among NL starting staffs, and their ERA– of 79, which is adjusted for park and is relative to league average, ranked 3rd. The starters’ strikeout rate of 26.2% led the league, and their adjusted fielding-independent pitching (FIP–) of 92 ranked 4th.

While the bullpen improved in the last half of the month, for the month as a whole it was nevertheless mediocre. The bullpen’s RE24 (a measure of runs allowed relative to average, which accounts for the situation when a pitcher is brought into or leaves the game) was –1.82, which ranked 9th in the NL. Their 15 meltdowns was 4th in the league, whereas their 20 shutdowns was tied for 9th. Turning to more traditional statistics, the relief corps ERA of 3.93 ranked 9th, and their 5 blown saves was tied for 3rd most.Their FIP– of 94, ranking 9th best, suggests that their mediocre performance can’t be attributed to poor fielding.

Record:

16–11 (.593)

Pythagorean Record:

16–11 (4.30 R/G – 3.67 RA/G)

May MVP:

Max Scherzer (3–1, 2.27 RA/9, 6 G, 43-2/3 IP,  12.4 K/9, .235 opp OBP, 1.8 RA9-WAR).

Most valuable position player:

Anthony Rendon (.308/.422/.615, 27 G, 6 HR, 15 R, 17 RBI, 1.5 fWAR).

Most valuable relief pitcher:

Koda Glover (0–0, 0.00 RA/9, 9 G, 8-2/3 IP, .194 opp OBP, 4.72 RE24, 0.6 RA9-WAR, 5 saves, 2 shutdowns, 1 meltdown).

Worst month:

Chris Heisey went (.080/.115/.080, 26 PA, –0.4 fWAR), only to finish the month on the DL with a bicep rupture.

Best start this month:

On consecutive nights, I’m calling it a tie between Max Scherzer (May 26, 5–1 win over the Padres at home) got 13 strikeouts in 8-2/3 innings, allowing 3 hits, 2 walks, and 1 run, for a game score of 85, and Stephen Strasburg (May 27, 3–0 win over the Padres at home) with 15 strikeouts in 7 innings, allowing 3 hits, 1 walk, and no runs, also with a game score of 85. Honorable mention goes to Scherzer’s 3–1, 11 strikeout, complete game win over the Giants in San Francisco on May 31 (game score 84).

Worst start:

Joe Ross (May 28, 5–3 loss to the Padres at home). He gave up 5 runs on 12 hits and 1 walk in 4 innings (game score 21).

Tough losses:

  • Tanner Roark (May 2, 6–3 loss to the Diamondbacks at home) gave up 4 runs on 6 hits and 2 walks with 8 strikeouts in 6 innings (game score 50). 
  • Max Scherzer (May 20, 5–2 loss to the Braves in Atlanta) gave up 3 runs on 4 hits and 3 walks with 6 strikeouts in 5 innings (game score 50).

Cheap win: 

  • Gio Gonzalez (May 30, 6–3 win over the Giants in San Francisco) gave up 3 runs on 8 hits and 3 walks with 6 strikeouts in 6-1/3 innings (game score 48).

Best shutdown: 

Jacob Turner (May 3, 2–1 win over the Diamondbacks at home). Gio Gonzalez had allowed 1 run in 5 innings when he was lifted for a pinch hitter in the bottom of the fifth. Turner entered in the top of the sixth with the game tied 1 to 1 and pitched 4 shutout innings, allowing 2 hits and no walks, and striking out 4. The Nats scored a run in the bottom of the sixth to give the Nats a 2 to 1 victory and Turner the win (win probability added .457).

Worst meltdown:

Matt Albers (May 7, 6–5 loss to the Phillies in Philadelphia). Albers entered with two outs in the bottom of the eighth, runners on first and second, and the Nats leading 5 to 2. Albers gave up a home run to the first batter he faced, Aaron Altherr, tying the game. He got an out to end the inning, but then gave up a walk and a single to the first two batters he faced in the ninth, when he was lifted for Enny Romero (WPA –.598). Romero got out of the inning, but the Nats lost the game in the tenth.

Clutch hit:

Michael A. Taylor (May 14, 2nd game of doubleheader, 6–5 win over the Phillies at home). With one out in the bottom of the 8th, a runner on first, and the Nats trailing 5 to 4, Taylor hit a two-run home run to give the Nats the lead. (WPA .542).

Choke:

Brian Goodwin, Trea Turner, and Adam Lind (May 8, 6–4 loss to the Orioles in Baltimore). Blame for this strange play needs to be shared. With one out in the top of the ninth, the Nats trailing 6 to 4, and Turner on second and Lind on third, Goodwin hit a grounder to first base. The first baseman stepped on the base. Turner, however, had taken off toward third, but Lind had not broken for home. Turner tried to make his way back to second, but was caught off base when the ball was tossed to the shortstop. Lind then broke for home and was tagged out for the game-ending double play. Poor communication and execution all around (WPA –.238).

Favorite Defensive Play:

My favorite play was Bryce Harper gunning down J.J. Hardy at home in the 11th inning of the May 9 game against the Orioles that the Nationals would eventually lose 5 to 4 in the 12th.

 

May 3, 2017 / Nat Anacostia

Nats’ April in review: Our pitching was, you know, just amazing

As the season kicked off in early April, the Nats were NL East favorites in most—but not all—of the preseason projections. The Mets were projected as their main rivals. When the month ended, the Nationals’ 17–8 record was the best in baseball and they were 5 games ahead of their closest divisional rivals. But the end of the month also brought the team its first major injury when Adam Eaton suffered a season-ending torn ACL.

The Nats opened the season at home on April 3, winning against the Marlins. They won the second game of the series as well, before losing the finale, taking two of three. For their next series, they faced the Phillies in Philadelphia. After winning the first game, they brought in Jeremy Guthrie to pitch the second game because their projected fifth starter, Joe Ross, had been optioned to Syracuse. Guthrie’s start was a disaster, with the Phillies scoring 12 runs (10 of them charged to Guthrie) by the end of the first inning in what would be a 17 to 3 loss. The Nats also lost the third game and the series. They ended their first week of play with a 3–3 record in a four-way tie for first place.

Returning home, the Nats won two of three against the Cardinals, and then took two of three against the Phillies.

Despite the team’s winning record, drama was brewing as the bullpen struggled, including the Nats new closer, Blake Treinen. He blew a save in the last game of the season opening series against the Marlins and suffered another meltdown in the last game of the home series against the Phillies, giving up the go-ahead run to the visitors in the top of the ninth and leaving the game with the bases loaded. (Shawn Kelley, though, came in and got the final out, then the Nats’ offense came back in the bottom of the inning and ended the game with a walk-off homer from Bryce Harper). In the next game, against the Braves in Atlanta, Treinen again failed to get the save when he came into the ninth with a 3-run lead, but gave up run and had the bases loaded with one out when Dusty Baker pulled him again for Kelley. Kelly got the last two outs without giving up a run, and Treinen was done as the closer. In his 8 relief appearances while serving as the team’s closer, he had a 7.11 ERA while giving up 10 hits and 6 walks in 6-1/3 innings. Closing duties would pass initially to Kelley and then to Koda Glover.

The Atlanta series was the first of a grueling 10-day, 10-game road trip. The Nats swept their three games against the Braves, then went to New York to face the Mets.  The Nats won all three games against the Mets, with the first game going to 11 innings. The road trip concluded with 4 games in Denver against the Rockies. After an all-night flight, the Nats lost their first game against the Rockies, but then won the last three games at altitude by scores that seem more appropriate for football than baseball—15 to 12, 11 to 4, and 16 to 5. They went 9–1 on the road trip and came home with a 4 game lead in the division race.

Their final series of April was at home against the Mets. In the first game, the Nats entered the bottom of the ninth trailing 7 to 5. But after a pair of singles to lead off the inning, Adam Eaton hit a ground ball and had a chance to beat out the throw for an infield single. Running at full speed, he managed to beat the throw, but while stretching to touch the base he tore his ACL, an injury that will probably cost him the rest of his season. Alas, it was all for naught, as the Nats were unable to score a run, despite loading the bases with no outs. The Nats also lost the second game.

The final game of the Mets series was one for the record books, as the Nats beat the visitors 23 to 5. Anthony Rendon led the offense in the blowout, going 6 for 6 with 3 home runs and 10 RBIs. The Nats’ 23 runs were a team record, as they ended the day with 23 hits including 7 home runs. Rendon’s 10 RBIs were a franchise record and the most in an MLB game since 2007, as he became the 13th MLB player to reach that mark. He’s also one of only six players in MLB history to have 6 hits and 3 home runs in a game. The Nats became the first team in MLB history to score 14 or more runs in 5 games in April.

The Nats’ success was fueled by their offense. (The subtitle of this post is quoting an ironic comment made by Rendon in an interview after his historic April 30 game.) In April, the Nats led the majors in most major offensive categories including runs (170; a Nats record for a single month), average (.295), s (on-base percentage (.369), slugging (.510), weighted on-base average or wOBA (.372), weighted runs created or wRC+ (128), and wins above replacement or WAR (7.5). They were second in homers with 43. Ryan Zimmerman particularly stood out, with a .420/.458/.886 slash line, 11 home runs (tied for the MLB lead), and 29 RBIs (leading MLB). Zimmerman’s performance was a marked turnaround after a 2016 season that was among the worst in baseball. Zim’s goal to elevate the baseball seems to have really paid off. But Harper also returned to his MVP form, with a .391/.509/.772 slash line, an MLB-leading 32 runs scored, 9 home runs, and 26 RBIs. They were joined by the other six regulars, all of whom were above-average offensive players for the month as measured by wRC+.

The Nats’ starting pitching wasn’t quite as impressive, as their ERA– (earned run average adjusted for parks and relative to league average) was 91, ranking 6th among the 15 NL teams. The Nats’ top 4 starters all performed well, with ERAs ranging from 1.62 (Gio Gonzalez) to 3.64 (Tanner Roark). But the fifth/sixth starter role was a problem; Ross’s ERA in three starts was 7.47 and Guthrie’s one ill-fated start resulted in an ERA of 135.00 in 2/3 of an inning. Jacob Turner was the other pitcher tried out in a fifth/sixth starter role, and he was more successful with a 4.50 ERA in his six innings in Colorado.

The relief staff was the team’s Achilles heel. Their RE24 (a measure of runs allowed relative to average, which accounts for the situation when a pitcher is brought into or leaves the game) was a poor –12.54, ranking 14th of the 15 NL teams. The relievers’ ERA– of 133 was worst in the league, and their fielding independent pitching (FIP–) of 123 was 14th of 15 teams. The Nats bullpen recorded 21 shutdowns while suffering 16 meltdowns.

Record:

17–8 (.680)

Pythagorean Record:

17–8 (6.80 R/G – 4.88 RA/G)

April MVP:

Bryce Harper (.391/.509/.772 25 G, 9 HR, 32 R, 26 RBI, 2.0 fWAR). While there’s certainly also a case to be made for Ryan Zimmerman (.420/.458/.886, 11 HR, 29 RBI, 1.8 fWAR), I think the difference in fWAR correctly reflects Harper’s relative advantage in on-base percentage and playing time (18 more plate appearances than Zim).

Most valuable starting pitcher:

Gio Gonzalez (3–0, 2.16 RA/9, 5 G, 33-1/3 IP, 7.0 K/9, .295 opp OBP, 1.4 RA9-WAR).

Most valuable relief pitcher:

Matt Albers (1–0, 0.00 RA/9, 7 G, 9-1/3 IP, .161 opp OBP, 6.21 RE24, 0.4 RA9-WAR, 1 shutdown, 0 meltdown). He wasn’t used much in high-leverage situations, but Albers really was the Nats’ most effective reliever in April.

Worst month:

I’ll call this a tie between starter Jeremy Guthrie (0–1, 135.00 RA/9, 1 G, 2/3 IP, .833 opp OBP, –0.6 RA9-WAR), and reliever Joe Blanton (0–2, 10.80 RA/9, 10 G, 10 IP, 4 HR, –8.48 RE24, .370 opp OBP, –0.6 RA9-WAR), with dishonorable mention going to Blake Treinen (9.00 RA/9, –0.5 RA9-WAR).

Best start this month:

Max Scherzer (April 18, 3–1 win over the Braves in Atlanta) got 7 strikeouts in 7 scoreless innings, allowing 2 hits and 3 walks, for a game score of 77.

Worst start:

Jeremy Guthrie we already talked about this one, on his 38th birthday no less (April 8, 17–3 loss to the Phillies in Philadelphia). He gave up 10 runs on 6 hits and 4 walks, while recording only 2 outs, neither of them strikeouts (game score –4). He was subsequently designated for assignment and granted free agency; I suspect this may have been his last major league game.

Tough losses:

  • Max Scherzer (April 12, 6–1 loss to the Cardinals at home) gave up 3 runs (1 earned run) on 4 hits and 2 walks with 10 strikeouts in 6 innings (game score 64).
  • Stephen Strasburg (April 29, 5–3 loss to the Mets at home) gave up 3 runs on 6 hits with no walks and 2 strikeouts in 7 innings (game score 55).

Cheap wins: 

  • Tanner Roark (April 10, 14–6 win over the Cardinals at home) gave up 5 runs (3 earned runs) on 7 hits with no walks and 3 strikeouts in 5 innings (game score 40).
  • Tanner Roark (April 26, 11–4 win over the Rockies in Denver) gave up 2 runs on 5 hits and 4 walks with 4 strikeouts in 5 innings (game score 49). This actually wasn’t such a bad start considering it was pitched in Colorado; I sort of think the threshold for cheap wins (a game score of 49 or lower) ought to be lower for games played at mile high altitude.

Best shutdown: 

Shawn Kelley (April 18, 3–1 win over the Braves in Atlanta). This was Treinen’s final outing as the team’s closer. Kelley relieved Treinen in the bottom of the ninth with one out and the bases loaded, with the Nats leading 3 to 1. He got Bonifacio to foul out, then struck out Chase d’Arnaud to get the save (win probability added .329).

Worst meltdown:

Koda Glover (April 9, 4–3 loss to the Phillies in Philadelphia). Entering in the bottom of the ninth with the score tied 3 to 3, Glover walked Nava to the lead off the inning. One out later, he allowed a single to Galvis, with Nava advancing to third. After another out on an infield fly, Glover then gave up the walk-off single to Hernandez (WPA –.365).

Clutch hit:

Bryce Harper (April 16, 6–4 win over the Phillies at home). With two outs in the bottom of the 9th, runners on first and second, and the Nats trailing 4 to 3, Harper hit a walk-off home run (WPA .828).

Choke:

Bryce Harper (April 28, 7–5 loss to the Mets at home). One out after the play in which Eaton tore his ACL, Harper came to bat with the bases loaded, one out, and the Nats trailing by two. Terry Collins made a gutsy, controversial move by pulling his closer, Familia, to bring in lefty Josh Edgin to face Harper. It paid off for the Mets manager as Harper hit a weak one-hopper to the pitcher, resulting in a game-ending 1–2–3 double play.

Favorite Defensive Play:

This category is obviously subjective. My favorite play was this diving stop by Anthony Rendon in the Nationals 3 to 2 win over the Braves on April 20.

 

October 14, 2016 / Nat Anacostia

Notes on the 2016 NLDS

In their third NLDS appearance in the last five years, the Nats lost again, giving up the lead in the seventh inning as the bullpen collapsed. I don’t feel as crushed as I did in 2012—the lead was only one run, and when you’ve watched Max Scherzer pitch for two seasons, you’re always half expecting the solo home run to happen. Simply as a baseball game, this was a great one, and in fact the whole series has been pretty great. It’s kind of sad that this will be remembered as the game of Clayton Kershaw, Kenley Jansen, and Joc Pederson, when really Scherzer, Mark Melancon, and Chris Heisey were just as good. But there were too many instances where the Nats were unable to deliver, so it’s Los Angeles that’s going on to face the Cubs.

Here are a few miscellaneous comments about the series.

The Nationals played well—well enough to have won the series. Over the series, the Nats outscored the Dodgers 24 to 19, had a .716 OPS compared with the Dodgers .696, and their pitchers had a 1.25 WHIP compared to 1.45 for the Dodgers. The Dodgers took all three victories in one-run games.

Even though I’m going to talk about some of Dusty Baker‘s decisions, Baker didn’t lose the series. I can’t think of any of his decisions that were obviously wrong, though several may have been debatable. By and large, though, the outcome was about the players’ performance, and about taking gambles that worked and gambles that didn’t work.

It was a bit surprising when the Nats used their extra roster position (coming from only having to use four starting pitcher) for an extra position player rather than an extra bullpen arm. In retrospect, I think it’s pretty clear that Sean Burnett or Matt Belisle would have been more useful than Michael A. Taylor. The Dodgers had a deep bench, and the way to respond to a deep bench is with a deep bullpen.

The Dodgers didn’t win because their manager is a genius and Kershaw is a bulldog. They won because their lineup is deeper, with a deeper bench and bullpen. The Nats actually did pretty well against Kershaw all series – his ERA during the series was 5.86 and his WHIP was just 1.46. While Roberts bringing in Jansen with no outs in the seventh was a gutsy move, it also very easily could have backfired—Jansen had a 6.75 ERA and 1.69 WHIP during the series, and one more hit in either the seventh or ninth inning could have turned Jansen, and Roberts, into goats rather than heroes. But while it almost didn’t work, it did work and Kershaw, Jansen, and Roberts will be remembered for the move.

As everyone has said, the Jayson Werth send by Bob Henley at the end of the sixth inning was just awful — Werth was out by about 40 feet. The worst thing about the play is how out of position Henley was — instead of coming up the line toward home so he could send Werth back if he saw the throw beating him, he was way past third base toward the outfield. It’s past time for the Nats to part ways with “Bob Sendley.” While it’s not likely that this misplay cost the Nats the game (Urias was pitching well and Espinosa was one deck), it did seem like a momentum changer.

In terms of Baker’s decisions that are worth discussing, here are my takes:

  • There were relatively few questionable decisions in the first four games. In game 4, I probably would have pulled Blake Treinen in the bottom of the eighth just before Utley got the game-winning single, just because Treinen hadn’t looked sharp. But I doubt that bringing in Sammy Solis then would have gotten them the platoon advantage—at least in the next game in a similar situation, the Dodgers sent in Ruiz to pinch hit for Utley when Baker replaced Treinen with Solis.
  • In game 5, the most controversy has been about pulling Scherzer after he gave up the home run to Pederson leading off the ninth. Dave Cameron at Fangraphs makes the argument that this was the right move to make, analytically, based on the fact that Scherzer would have been facing a number of left handers for the third time if he had stayed in the games. I agree—at the time I thought Baker was making the right move, and even though it didn’t work out as planned, I can’t fault Dusty.
  • I do question Baker bringing in Marc Rzepczynski as the first replacement for Scherzer (independent of the fact that Rzepcynski would then walk Grandal on four pitches). We know that with a left-handed Nats reliever, the Dodgers were going to use their right-handed bench players for the bottom of the lineup, so Rzepczynski was probably going to face only a single batter. I’d have saved him for someone other than Grandal, and would have brought on Treinen immediately.
  • If pulled about three more inches toward the line, Ruiz’s go-ahead single easily could have been an inning-ending double play, and the game would have had an entirely narrative. I assume that Shawn Kelley was already experiencing discomfort when he gave up the triple to Turner. Kelley is normally exactly the pitcher we wanted to have in there in that situation.
  • In the bottom of the seventh, after Clint Robinson singled (following Heisey’s home run) it seems weird that Baker waited until Trea Turner‘s plate appearance was over before replacing Robinson with a pinch runner (and that the pinch runner was Joe Ross instead of Taylor). Several times this season I’ve seen Baker wait to send in a pinch runner, and I’ve always wondered about it.
  • In the eighth, asking Danny Espinosa to bunt after Stephen Drew reached seemed like a questionable call, especially since Pedro Severino and Taylor were the next two batters. I’m sure Espinosa was hoping to bunt for a hit, but with the second baseman in at double play depth, it didn’t seem like a good risk.

I wound up watching the games on television. (I had planned to go to game 2, and was only about a mile from the stadium when I heard the game was postponed. I had a conflict on Sunday, though, so I wound up selling my tickets to that game.) I thought the broadcasters on Fox Sports were actually pretty good. Tom Verducci always had something interesting to say, and while Harold Reynolds can be obnoxious at times, he’s also a keen observer of the games. All in all, I felt like I was learning from them, which is what I’m looking for from an analyst. On the other hand, the broadcast of game 2 on MLB network with Bob Costas and Jim Kaat was just awful… all reminiscing about players from 20, 30, or 50 years ago. I’ve seen the networks really vary with their broadcast teams, but the Fox Sports team was really quite good.

I have to end with a comment about the length of the games. Don’t get me wrong—I enjoyed the games, and all four hours and 32 minutes of Game 5 was pretty wonderful. But baseball really isn’t going to be able to grow its fan base if it asks its fans to stay up past midnight to watch its yearly playoff series. Maybe that would work if they were all scheduled on weekends, but they’ve got to figure out a way to cut back the length of postseason games. Four hours for a 9-inning game just isn’t going to work.