Nats’ April in review: We’re getting good pitching
I’m sorry that I’m late getting this finished and posted – a lot was going on this week.
The Nats’ 16–7 record was their most successful April ever. Of course, they were helped by facing the easiest schedule in baseball. And despite their hot start, they finished the month with only a half-game lead over the Mets, who started the season with a similarly hot 15–7 record.
The season opened on April 4 in Atlanta, where the Nats twice gave up the lead before winning the game 4–3 in 10 innings. Ben Revere was injured in the game and was on the disabled list for the rest of the month. They won the second game of the two-game set 3–1. Returning to Washington for the home opener against the Marlins, Tanner Roark gave up 4 runs (3 of them earned) in 4 innings of a rain-delayed 6–4 loss. After the second game of the series was cancelled due to bad weather, the Nats beat the Marlins 4–2 to split the series. The Nats then hosted the hapless Braves for a 4-game set and swept them.
The Nats then went to Philadelphia, where they won the first two of three games against the Phillies. After that second game, the Nats’ record was 9–1, best in baseball, and the team had a 5-game lead in the NL East. Bryce Harper homered in every game in the Philadelphia series, which along with a homer in the last game of the Braves series gave him homers in four consecutive games, and was later shared Player of the Week honors. His homer in the final game came in an especially critical spot, breaking a tie in the top of the tenth inning. Unfortunately, Jonathan Papelbon wasn’t able to hold the lead and took the loss in the bottom of the tenth for his first blown save. In Miami, the Nats split a 4-game set against the Marlins. In the second game of the series, Jayson Werth hit his 200th career home run as part of the 4 homer, 7 run seventh inning rally by the Nats.
After the Marlins series, the Nats returned home for their first interleague series against the Twins. The Nats swept the series, in which the final game was won 6–5 in the 16th inning on a Chris Heisey walkoff home run. But the Nats bats were stopped by the Phillies, who swept a 3-game series in which the Nats were shut out in the last two games. The month ended with the Nats winning two games in St. Louis against the Cardinals at the start of a challenging 10-game road trip.
After their 9–1 start through April 16, the Nats’ record slowed to 7–6 for the rest of the month, while the Mets started 4–6 but then went 11–1 to draw within a half game of the Nats by the end of the month. According to Fangraphs, the Nats’ odds of winning the division were 40.7% at the beginning of the season, but had slipped to 37.3% by the end of the month.
What went right for the Nats? Mostly the pitching—at 2.28 the team ranked second in the NL in starting pitcher ERA just behind the Cubs, and fourth in fielding independent pitching (FIP) at 2.91, behind the Mets, Phillies, and Cubs. The most surprising aspect of the success of their starting pitching was that it came even though their ace, Max Scherzer, had a disappointing month, with a 4.35 ERA and 4.50 FIP as he gave up 5 home runs in 5 starts.
The relief pitching was also quite successful, which may also have been a surprise. Nats relievers led the NL in ERA at 2.53 and in RE24 with 12.84, and were third in FIP at 3.21. They recorded the second-most shutdowns with 24, and had the second fewest meltdowns with 7.
The excellent pitching made up for an offense that depended heavily on just two highly successful hitters, Bryce Harper and Daniel Murphy. The team’s on-base percentage of .307 was 11th in the NL and their slugging percentage of .384 ranked 9th, while their weighted runs created (wRC+) of 81 ranked 10th. This was despite Harper ranking fourth and Murphy sixth in the league in wRC+ during the month. However, the only Nats hitters besides Harper and Murphy with above average wRC+ for the month were Chris Heisey and Wilson Ramos. The others were generally disappointing.
16–7 (4.04 R/G – 2.61 RA/G)
The award goes to Bryce Harper (.286/.406/.714, 23 G, 9 HR, 16 R, 24 RBI, 1.2 fWAR), the 2015 MVP and April’s NL Player of the Month. Honorable mention goes to Daniel Murphy (.370/.433/.580, 1.0 fWAR).
Most valuable starting pitcher:
Stephen Strasburg (4–0, 2.25 RA/9, 5 G, 36 IP, 10.0 K/9, .267 opp OBP, 1.5 RA9-WAR).
Most valuable relief pitcher:
Shawn Kelley (0–0, 0.00 RA/9, 10 G, 8 IP, 12.4 K/9, .226 opp OBP, 2.80 RE24, 0.5 RA9-WAR, 3 of 8 inherited runners scored).
This award is shared by Clint Robinson (.050/.136/.050, –0.4 fWAR), and Michael A. Taylor (.183/.218/.317, –0.4 fWAR), with dishonorable mention going to Stephen Drew (.125/.160/.250, –0.3 fWAR) and Ryan Zimmerman (.219/.301/.301, –0.3 fWAR).
Best start this month:
Tanner Roark (April 23, 2–0 win over the Twins at home) got 15 strikeouts in 7 innings with no runs, 2 hits, and 3 walks allowed, for a game score of 85. His pitching performance was so unusual and unexpected that it led to, for example, this article by Owen Watson of Fangraphs. Honorable mention goes to Stephen Strasburg (April 19, 7–0 win over the Marlins in Miami) who pitched 8 shutout innings, giving up 3 hits and 2 walks with 10 strikeouts (game score of 84).
Tanner Roark (April 7, 6–4 loss to the Marlins in the Nationals’ home opener) gave up 4 runs on 9 hits in 4 innings, with 3 walks and 3 strikeouts. His game score was 30.
- Gio Gonzalez (April 27, 3–0 loss to the Phillies at home) gave up 2 runs on 5 hits and 3 walks with 5 strikeouts in 6-1/3 innings (game score 59).
- Max Scherzer (April 11, 6–4 win over the Braves at home) gave up 4 runs on 6 hits and 3 walks with 6 strikeouts in 6 innings (game score 47).
Blake Treinen (April 12, 2–1 win over the Braves at home). He entered in the top of the eighth with the scored tied 0–0, one out, and runners on first and second. After allowing a single to load the bases, he got a double play to get out of the inning without a run scoring. The Nats scored two in the bottom of the eighth on a Harper double. In the ninth, Treinen struck out the first two batters he faced before giving up a walk (Win probability added .210). Felipe Rivero was brought in to get the final out, and Rivero gave up a double with a run scoring before he struck out the final batter.
Jonathan Papelbon (April 17, 3–2 loss to the Phillies in Philadelphia). With the scored tied 1–1, the game had gone to extra innings. Harper hit a solo home run in the top of the tenth, and Papelbon came in to get the save in the bottom of the tenth. With one out, he gave up a double to Bourjos. He got a second out, then gave up a game-tying single to Blanco, followed by a walk-off double surrendered to Galvis. (WPA –.809)
This award is shared by two hitters in the same game, who made very different types of hits, but with similar results. In the 16-inning marathon that the Nats played against the Twins on April 24, the Nats were trailing 4–3 in the bottom of the ninth when Bryce Harper led off the inning with a game-saving and game-tying home run (WPA .441). But that wasn’t the highest win probability added of any Nats plate appearance that afternoon. In the 15th inning, the Twins had scored another run and the Nats were trailing 5–4. With 2 outs, Danny Espinosa walked and then stole second. The Nats bench was out of pinch hitters, so Oliver Perez came to bat. Bizarrely, he laid down a two-out bunt, hoping to beat it out for a hit. The Twins catcher, JR Murphy, reached the ball but turned and threw it away, allowing Espinosa to score from second and tying the game (WPA .466).
Jose Lobaton (April 24, the same 16-inning, 6–5 win over the Twins at home). In the bottom of the tenth inning with the score tied 4–4, Lobaton came to bat with one out and runners on first and second, and grounded into a rall-killing double play (WPA –.204).