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May 1, 2013 / Nat Anacostia

Nats’ April in review

There’s an old saying that March comes in like a lion and goes out like a lamb. For the Nationals, that’s a pretty good description of their April. They started the seasons with heady expectations—the consensus pick as the best team in the National League, if not in all of baseball. The ended the month 13–14, their first monthly losing record since August 2011, and 4-1/2 games behind the Atlanta Braves.

The Nats started the season at home with a sweep of the Marlins. The first sign of trouble came in game 4 in Cincinnati, where the Reds humiliated the Nationals 15–0, scoring six runs off starter Dan Haren and nine off the bullpen, hitting a total of six home runs. The Nats managed to win the next game 7–6 in 11 innings, but then lost the rubber game, with Stephen Strasburg allowing six runs in one of the worst outings of his career.

The Nats returned to Washington to face the White Sox and swept the 3-game series. With a 7–2 record, the Nats were still looking good, but they were hosting the Atlanta Braves, who were even better with an 8–1 record. Ross Detwiler pitched well in the first game, but the bullpen and sloppy defense couldn’t hold the lead, as the Nats lost 6–4 in 10 innings. In the next game the Nats’ hitters were stifled by Tim Hudson in a 3–1 loss, and Wilson Ramos pulled his hamstring, winding up on the disabled list. In the series finale, Gio Gonzalez had his worst start since coming to Washington, as the Nats were  shutout 9–0 and dropped to four games behind the Braves.

The team was able to partially recover by picking up two games of three in Miami. Ryan Zimmerman, bothered by hamstring issues, was also making a series of ugly throwing errors. After skipping the first couple of games in the next series in New York against the Mets, he was placed on the DL. In the opener against New York, the Mets’ new ace, Matt Harvey, outpitched Strasburg in a 7–1 loss. The Nats won the next game 7–6, hitting four home runs, but lost the finale 2–0 facing Dillon Gee.  The Nats’ top prospect, Anthony Rendon, made his MLB debut replacing Zimmerman at third.

The Nats returned home to face the St. Louis Cardinals. The Cards took the first game 3–2, and Adam Wainwright and Edward Mujica combined the shut out the Nats 2–0 in the second game. In game 3, Jaime Garcia outpitched Strasburg for a 4–2 victory and a series sweep. The Nats managed better against the Reds, as they won the first game 8–1 behind a fine performance by Gonzalez. In game 2, Jordan Zimmermann pitched a complete game one-hit shutout, beating the Reds 1–0 in one of the best pitched games Washington Nationals’ history. In game 3, Haren was finally able to pitch well, as the Nats won 6–3. They then lost the finale of the four-game series, 5–2.

The month concluded in Atlanta with the first two games of a four-game set against the Braves. Strasburg continued with his string of bad luck and relatively poor (by his standards) control, as concern mounted about his “forearm tightness.” Tyler Clippard was unable to hold the tied game and was charged with the 3–2 loss. In the second game, the Braves again beat up on Gonzalez, as the Nats took an 8–1 loss.

Why did the Nats do so poorly this month? The bats bear the largest share of the blame, as the team hit a collective .234/.296/.391, which scaled in terms of runs relative to the league (wRC+) was 89, or 11% below average, ranking 13th of the 15 NL teams. The vaunted starting pitching, however, also disappointed, as the starters’ 3.59 ERA and 3.74 FIP (fielding independent pitching) were ranked only fifth in the NL. The relievers contributed to the disappointment, with their RE24 (a measured of runs allowed that adjusts for inherited runners) of -4.42 ranking 11th in the league. Finally, according to Fangraph’s “Fld” measure of fielding, the Nats ranked 7th, or about average, but their baserunning, -2.8, ranked 14th of the 15 teams.

There was some good news in the team’s record this month, though. Bryce Harper began the season on the tear and looks like he could emerge as an MVP-type player. Denard Span successfully made the adjustment to the new team and league, and Ian Desmond and Jordan Zimmermann also had fine records for the month. If they can maintain their pace, and players like Adam LaRoche and Gio Gonzalez can start playing up to their capabilities, the Nationals still have time to turn this season around.  

Record:

13–14 (.481)

Pythagorean Record:

11–16 (3.56 R/G – 4.26 RA/G)

MVP for April:

Bryce Harper (.344/.430/.720, 26 G, 107 PA, 9 HR, 18 R, 18 RBI, 1.4 fWAR, 1.26 WPA, 12.98 RE24). He ended the month ranked ninth in MLB in fWAR, ranked second in wOBA and in wRC+, and tied for second in home runs.

Most valuable starting pitcher:

Jordan Zimmermann (4–1, 2.00 R/9, 5 G, 36 IP, 4.8 K/9, 1.8 BB/9, 8.39 RE24, 1.0 rWAR).

Most valuable reliever:

This category is a tough one, since none of the relievers did especially well. I’ll give the nod to Craig Stammen (2–1, 2.84 R/9, 8 G, 12-2/3 IP, 10.7 K/9, 2.8 BB/9, 7.1 H/9, 2.80 RE24, 0.13 WPA, 2 of 6 inherited runner scored, 3 shutdowns, 2 meltdowns).

Best start this month:

Jordan Zimmermann (April 26, 1–0 win over the Reds at home). Zimmermann pitched a one-hit, complete game shutout, giving up 1 BB, getting 4 K and a game score of 88.

Worst start:

Gio Gonzalez (April 14, 9–0 loss to the Braves at home, 5 IP, 7 H, 2 HR, 7 R, 3 BB, 3 K, game score of 25). Dan Haren‘s April 5 start in Cincinnati in a 15–0 loss also had a game score of 25, but I give the nod to Gonzalez because it came against our divisional rival.

Best shutdown:

Craig Stammen (April 22, 3–2 loss to the Cardinals at home).  Stammen entered in the top of the sixth with the bases loaded, no outs, and the Nats trailing 3–2. He got out of the inning without giving up a run, getting a double play at home and a strikeout, then pitched a scoreless seventh. (Win probability added .263).

Worst meltdown:

Craig Stammen (April 12, 6–4 loss to the Braves at home) entered in the top of the 10th with the game tied 4–4 and gave up a walk to Dan Uggla followed by a home run to Ramiro Pena. (Win probability added –.419)

Clutch hit:

Adam LaRoche (April 20, 7–6 win over the Mets in New York). In the top of the fifth, the Nats behind 5–3, two outs, and runners on second and third, LaRoche hit a three-run homer to give the Nats the lead (WPA .370). The Mets came back to tie it in the seventh, but Harper hit his second home run of the game in the eighth to give the Nats their victory.

Choke:

Jayson Werth (April 21, 2–0 loss to the Mets in New York) grounded into a double play on a 3–0 count in the top of the eighth with the Nats trailing 2–0, no outs, and runners on first and second (WPA –.198).

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