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June 2, 2013 / Nat Anacostia

Nats’ May in review

In May, the Nationals’ starting pitching came around, but their bats largely went dormant. By winning most of their close games (they had a 5–2 record in one-run games), the Nats were able to complete the month with a 15–13 record, but they weren’t able to pick up any ground on the Braves, ending the month behind by the same 4-1/2 games as at the beginning of the month.

The big story in May, however, was injuries. On May 1, Bryce Harper had to leave the game early because of a bruise he suffered the previous night attempting in vain to catch Tim Hudson’s home run. The next evening, Jayson Werth had to leave the game early with a hamstring injury. It would be the last game he played in May, though he wouldn’t be added to the disabled list until May 11. Meanwhile, Ryan Zimmerman was reactivated (and Anthony Rendon was sent back to Harrisburg), while Harper continued to play most games despite complaints about his bruised side. On May 10, however, Harper was out again, this time due to removal of an ingrown toenail. After missing a couple of games, he returned and on May 13, playing at Dodgers Stadium, Harper slammed face-first into the right field fence. Although the team denied it, it is likely that he had suffered a concussion, in addition to injuring his knee.

Harper continued to play more games than he missed, but the injuries continued to mount. On May 15, Ross Detwiler left the game with an oblique strain and Wilson Ramos left with another injury to his hamstring—injuries that would land both of them on the disabled list. On May 19, Ryan Mattheus suffered a meltdown in a relief appearance and afterwards expressed his frustration by slamming his fist into his locker, breaking his pitching hand.  On May 24, we learned that Danny Espinosa had been playing with a broken wrist since April 14, a period during which he hit an abysmal .158/.181/.267. Bizarrely, he was rested only a few days and returned to the lineup again on May 29 with no improvement in results. On May 26, Harper slid into third base and aggravated the knee that had been bothering him since the Dodgers Stadium incident; on June 1 he would be placed on the disabled list. Finally, on the last day of May, Stephen Strasburg was pulled from a game against the Braves after two innings with what would be diagnosed as lat strain. It’s still unclear how serious that injury will be.

The month began well, as the Nats won their last two games of a series in Atlanta, splitting with the Braves. Moving to Pittsburgh, they took two of three, and then they returned home to sweep a two-game series against the Tigers, as their offense finally seemed to come to life. Next, the Cubs came to Washington, and after taking the first game, the Nats’ record stood at 20–15, as they found themselves only one game behind the Braves. They lost the next two games to the Cubs, then left on a West Coast road trip. They lost two of three to the Dodgers, then won the first two games against the Padres, keeping pace with the Braves and remaining only a half game behind the division leader. But the Nats then lost the last two games in San Diego and the first two in San Francisco, while the Braves won each day, and the Nats quickly found themselves back to  4-1/2 games out. They beat the Giants in the last game of their road trip, going 4–6 over the 10-game set.

Returning the Washington, the Nats took two of three from the Phillies and split two games against the Orioles. Moving on Baltimore, the Orioles took both games, including a 9–6 come-from-behind thrashing of the Nats, who had gained the lead with three home runs from Zimmerman. The month ended in Atlanta, where the Nats held on to beat the Braves 3–2, despite the injury to Strasburg.

The Nationals success in May owed almost nothing to their bats. Over the month,  the team hit a collective .230/.286/.362, which scaled in terms of runs relative to the league (wRC+) was 77, or 23% below average, ranking 14th among the 15 NL teams. Their starting pitching kept them alive, with a 3.24 ERA during the month (3rd in the NL) and a 3.68 FIP (fielding independent pitching), ranking 7th. The relievers continued to be mediocore, with their RE24 (a measure of runs allowed that adjusts for inherited runners) of 0.94 ranking 11th in the league. Finally, according to Fangraph’s “Fld” measure of fielding, the Nats ranked 12th (–3.0) during May, and their baserunning (–1.7) also ranked 12th of the 15 teams.

Record:

15–13 (.536)

Pythagorean Record:

14–14 (3.46 R/G – 3.57 RA/G)

MVP for May:

Adam LaRoche (.330/.416/.608, 28 G, 113 PA, 7 HR, 17 R, 19 RBI, 1.3 fWAR, 1.51 WPA, 13.21 RE24).

Most valuable starting pitcher:

Jordan Zimmermann (4–2, 2.89 R/9, 6 G, 43-2/3 IP, 6.2 K/9, 0.6 BB/9, 5.87 RE24, 1.0 rWAR).

Most valuable reliever:

Tyler Clippard (2–0, 2.13 R/9, 13 G, 12-2/3 IP, 12.1 K/9, 2.1 BB/9, 5.7 H/9, 2.66 RE24, 0.41 WPA, 1 of 5 inherited runners scored, 5 shutdowns, 1 meltdown).

Worst month:

Tyler Moore (.123/.183/.231, 21 G, 71 PA, –1.1 fWAR). One way to think of this is that, relative to a replacement-level player, Moore cost the Nats about as many wins as LaRoche gave the team.

Best start this month:

Jordan Zimmermann (May 1, 2–0 win over the Braves in Atlanta). Zimmermann pitched 8 innings, gave up 2 hits, no walks, and no runs, and got 8 K with a game score of 86.

Worst start:

Dan Haren (May 19, 13–4 loss to the Padres in San Diego). Haren pitched 5 innings and gave up 9 hits, 7 runs, 2 walks, and 2 home runs, while getting 5 K with a game score of 24.

Best shutdown:

Craig Stammen (May 31, 3–2 win over the Braves in Atlanta).  Stammen entered when Strasburg left with a lat strain after the end of the 2nd inning, with the Nats leading 2–1. Craig pitched 4 innings without allowing a baserunner, leaving with the Nats still ahead 3–1. (Win probability added .265).

Worst meltdown:

Rafael Soriano (May 17, 6–5 win over the Padres in San Diego) entered in the bottom of the 9th with a 5–3 lead. He gave up four singles and two runs before finally getting the third out and sending the game to extra innings. (Win probability added –.424) In the 10th inning, however, Chad Tracy came through with the clutch hit (see below) for the Nats to win.

Clutch hit:

Chad Tracy (May 17, 6–5 win over the Padres in San Diego). In the top of the 10th with the score tied 5–5, Tracy came up as a pinch hitter with the bases empty and two outs and hit a solo home run to give the Nats the margin for victory. (WPA .424)

Choke:

Ian Desmond (May 15, 3–1 loss to the Dodgers in Los Angeles) came to bat in the top of the 8th with one out, runners on first and third, and the Nats trailing 2–1. He struck out (WPA –.169).

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