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August 20, 2013 / Nat Anacostia

Nats’ performance versus expectations at the 75% mark

On Saturday, the Nationals completed their 122nd game, marking 75% of their scheduled games this season. At the 25% mark and after the All-Star break, I posted evaluations of the Nats players, comparing them to what was expected at the beginning of the season. This post marks the third in this series.

Over the last month, several player’s positions have changed. Jayson Werth has gone on an incredibly hot streak, earning Player of the Month honors for July and as of this writing, looking like a candidate for repeat honors in August. Dan Haren has taken some big steps toward rehabilitating his reputation. On the other hand, Rafael Soriano’s stock has dropped, and the Jordan Zimmermann’s luster has dimmed.

A brief summary of my methodology. The projections come from a series of pre-season positional power rankings that were published by fangraphs.com. I’ve pro-rated those projections to 122 games. For position players, the tables below show the projections for plate appearances (PA), weighted on-base average (wOBA), and wins above replacement (WAR), followed by the actual data through Saturday night’s game. I also show Projected minus Actual for each position (thus providing a combined evaluation when two or more players have shared a position, such as Danny Espinosa and Anthony Rendon). For pitchers, the data are for innings pitched (IP), ERA, fielding-independent pitching (FIP), and WAR.

You can examine the tables below. I thought I’d discuss these results by contrasting them with a recent article by Bill Baer that appeared at ESPN’s Sweetspot blog entitled “Where did the Nationals go wrong?” Here are Baer’s comments, followed by comments based on my findings.

Gio Gonzalez regressed.  First, I’ll note that Baer and I are actually making somewhat different comparisons, since he’s comparing this year’s performance to last year’s, whereas I’m comparing it to a projection that already takes account of normal regression. Yes, Gio Gonzalez regressed. But I’m actually much more concerned about Stephen Strasburg, who appears to have not only regressed, but to have declined, especially in his control and strikeout rates. I find Gonzalez’s performance to be about 0.85 wins below expectations, but Strasburg’s to be about 1.65 wins below expectations. Furthermore, Gonzalez’s deficit seems more likely to be luck, since it’s largely reflected in an increase in his home run rate. Yet Strasburg’s decline seems to be receiving remarkably little attention from the Nats writers that I follow.

Shaky back of the rotation. Baer focused on both Dan Haren and Ross Detwiler, but really the dropoff is almost entirely Haren (with Detwiler’s normal regression being something that should have been anticipated.) On the other hand, Haren has improved since he returned from the DL on July 8, and Taylor Jordan was a pleasant surprise.

Worse middle relief. Actually, the main drop-off in relief came from Drew Storen, who was projected to be the setup man. It’s true that there have been some disappointments among the middle relievers (Zach Duke, Ryan Mattheus), but there have also been some pleasant surprises (Ross Ohlendorf, Tanner Roark). My numbers suggest that, with the exception of Storen, the good news among the middle relievers has actually outweighed the bad.

Adam LaRoche regressed, Yes, Adam LaRoche, who was expected to regress after a career year, has turned in a severely disappointing season. His wOBA of .321 is very disappointing for a first baseman, and his contract now looks like a mistake. On the other hand, Baer doesn’t mention Ryan Zimmerman, whose 2.0 win drop-off is even more severe than LaRoche’s 1.5 win decline. Zimmerman’s decline may be overlooked when focusing on hitting statistics, but his decline in fielding is obvious when you watch the games. Also, Baer doesn’t mention Danny Espinosa’s sharp drop-off. While Anthony Rendon has filled in admirably and has been an even better hitter than Espinosa’s projected hitting line, Rendon hasn’t matched Espy’s abilities with the glove (though he’s learning).

Denard Span has been a flop. Ok, Denard Span hasn’t met expectations, but I think he’s become somewhat of a scapegoat. Based on what Span did over the prior three seasons, no one should have expected him to be an above average hitter, and he was probably miscast as the new lead-off man. But Span has excelled in the field, and his differential between Projected and Actual of 0.8 wins is smaller than those for Espinosa, Zimmerman, LaRoche, or Kurt Suzuki, and is about the same as Bryce Harper’s differential. He’s been one of the better contributors on the team, better than most of the other regular center fielders in the National League, and people really should quit dumping on him. I don’t regard him as one of the Nationals’ bigger problems.

Then there’s the really big thing that Baer didn’t mention in his article—the Nats’ bench has been awful. Between Tyler Moore, Chad Tracy, Roger Bernadina, and Steve Lombardozzi, the Nats’ bench has been –3.0 wins, or 4 wins below expectations. That’s a remarkable result for a group of players who don’t play regularly, and continues to be the biggest single contributor to the Nats’ failure this season.

I guess I’ll end this discussion on a more positive note. Two players have stepped forward this season and substantially exceeded expectations—Ian Desmond and Jayson Werth. Amidst all the despair about Strasburg, LaRoche, and Zimmerman, it’s good to see some big steps forward from a couple of our key players.

Position Players

Pos Player PA (proj) wOBA (p) WAR (p) PA (act) wOBA (a) WAR (a) Proj–Act
C Kurt Suzuki 279 .298 1.3 272 .258 0.2 1.1
  Wilson Ramos 173 .313 1.1 163 .346 1.1  
1B Adam LaRoche 474 .337 1.8 454 .321 0.3 1.5
2B Danny Espinosa 517 .308 2.2 167 .206 –0.6 2.0
  Anthony Rendon 26 .309 0.1 277 .320 0.9  
3B Ryan Zimmerman 448 .354 3.2 461 .340 1.2 2.0
SS Ian Desmond 448 .323 2.5 497 .346 4.1 –1.6
LF Bryce Harper 474 .350 2.9 348 .371 2.1 0.8
CF Denard Span 448 .308 2.1 499 .295 1.3 0.8
RF Jayson Werth 474 .337 1.7 367 .409 2.9 –1.2
Bench Roger Bernadina 105 .309 0.4 167 .233 –0.2 4.0
  Tyler Moore 79 .315 0.1 117 .215 –1.4  
  Steve Lombardozzi 169 .299 0.5 234 .257 –0.7  
  Chad Tracy 26 .303 0 109 .224 –0.7  

Pitchers

Role Player IP (proj) ERA (p) FIP (p) WAR (p) IP (act) ERA (a) FIP (a) WAR* (a) Proj–Act
SP-1 Stephen Strasburg 144.0 2.69 2.61 4.3 147.3 2.93 3.22 2.65 1.65
SP-2 Gio Gonzalez 152.0 3.22 3.24 3.2 144.7 3.42 3.50 2.35 0.85
SP-3 Jordan Zimmermann 131.7 3.54 3.60 2.3 158.0 3.02 3.39 3.00 –0.70
SP-4 Dan Haren 124.3 3.66 3.53 2.2 126.0 4.79 4.26 0.45 1.75
SP-5 Ross Detwiler 97.0 4.13 4.02 1.1 71.3 4.04 3.66 0.60 0.65
  Taylor Jordan         51.7 3.66 3.49 0.45  
  Nate Karns         12.0 7.50 8.37 –0.40  
  Other Starters 44.3     0.2          
RP-1 Rafael Soriano 49.0 3.28 3.50 0.6 51.3 3.68 3.84 0.30 0.30
RP-2 Drew Storen 49.0 3.16 3.30 0.8 44.3 5.68 3.88 –0.65 1.45
RP-3 Tyler Clippard 41.3 3.05 3.51 0.4 54.3 2.15 3.98 0.85 –0.45
RP-4 Craig Stammen 41.3 3.28 3.58 0.3 65.7 3.15 2.83 0.65 –0.35
RP-5+ Other Relievers 232.0     0.0 164.0     0.95 –0.95

For pitcher’s actual WAR*, I used an average of two WAR-type measures presented on the fangraphs site—their main WAR based on fielding independent pitching, and another version that’s based on runs allowed called RA9-WAR. Both metrics seem useful for evaluating pitcher performance, so I decided to use the average.

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