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May 2, 2019 / Nat Anacostia

Nats’ April in review: Let’s come back tomorrow

Heading into the 2019 season, the Nats were facing a division that was shaping up to be the most competitive in years. The incumbent champion Braves had a youthful lineup built around Freeman, Albies, and Acuna, and also signed Josh Donaldson. The Mets held onto pitchers deGrom and Synderdergaard and outfielder Conforto and traded for Robinson Cano and Edwin Diaz. The Phillies, building around Rhys Hoskins and Aaron Nola, were big spenders, landing the former Nat, Bryce Harper, as well as JT Realmuto and Andrew McCutchen. And the Nats used the resources they saved by not re-signing Harper to sign pitchers Patrick Corbin, Anibal Sanchez, and Trevor Rosenthal, along with second baseman Brian Dozier and catchers Yan Gomes and Kurt Suzuki. They joined returning Nats stars Max Scherzer, Stephen Strasburg, Anthony Rendon, Trea Turner, Juan Soto, and Adam Eaton and the heralded rookie outfielder, Victor Robles. Going into the season, all four divisional rivals were regarded as competitive, with only the Marlins considered to be out of the running.

As the season began, the Fangraphs site was most optimistic about the Nats chances, showing them with a 53% chance of winning the division and 79% chance of making the playoffs. Fivethirtyeight.com was less optimistic, showing a 38% pre-season chance of winning the division (still ahead of their divisional rivals), while Baseball Prospectus showed only a 29% pre-season chance of winning the division, slightly behind the Phillies.

The season began with the Nationals facing two pairs of series against the Mets and the Phillies, first at home and then on the road. Opening day on March 28 would be a pitchers’ duel, with Scherzer faced the incumbent NL Cy Young winner deGrom. The Mets won the matchup 2 to 0, with Scherzer allowing 2 runs on 2 hits over 7-2/3 innings, and deGrom shutting out the Nats over 6 innings. The Nats also lost the second game but rallied to win the third game with a walk-off home run. Next came a two-game set against the Phillies, with attention focused on the reception that Harper might receive when he returned to DC. He was greeted with boos but responded going 3 for 5 with a home run and 3 RBIs, as the Phillies won 8 to 2. More importantly, Turner suffered a broken index finger on an attempted bunt, leaving him on the injured list for the rest of the month. The Nats won the second game of the Phillies series, again in walk-off fashion, and the Nats finished their first homestand with a 2–3 record. But Nats relievers had suffered 7 meltdowns in their first five games, including at least one in every game, indicating that the bullpen was going to be a problem again this season.

On the road, the Nats won a series against the Mets two games to one and also won the series against the Phillies by the same margin. Two weeks into the season, they had gone 6–5 against their divisional rivals and were only one game out of first place.

The Nats’ next homestand came against the Pirates, who won the series two games to one, and the Giants, whom the Nationals beat two games to one. At this point, the Nats were still competitive; with a 9–8 record, they were only 1.5 games out of first place, and Fangraphs showed their probability of winning the division at 49.8%, barely below where it had been to start the season. But things wouldn’t go so well for the rest of the month.

The next road trip began in Miami against the Marlins. In the first game, Rendon extended a hitting streak to 17 games and was one of the hottest hitters in the league. Unfortunately, the next night ended not only his hitting streak but his playing time, as he took a fastball off his elbow that would ultimately land him on the injured list. The Marlins took the series two games to one. The Nats then traveled to Denver for a three-game series, which the Rockies won two games to one.

Returning home, the Nats lost the first two games against the Padres, but rallied to win the third game with a walk-off homer in the 11th inning. The month concluded with losses in the first two games of a four-game series against the Cardinals.

The Nats went 12–16 during the month of “April.” (Throughout this post I’m including the three games played during late March in the April statistics.)  They ended the month in fourth place in the NL East, 3.5 games behind the first-place Phillies. Their post-season chances had declined, though they were still very much in the race. According to optimistic Fangraphs, the Nats held a 39% chance of winning the division (down from 53% at the beginning of the season) and a 61% chance of making the post-season, making them still the division’s front runner. The less optimistic Fivethirtyeight showed their chances of winning the division at 24%, ranking slightly below the Phillies and Mets, while Baseball Prospectus had their chances at 13%, behind all three divisional rivals.

The Nationals offense was generally around league average. Their 43 home runs were tied for third in the National League, but they ranked seventh in both on-base percentage (.330) and slugging (.438). Their adjusted weighted runs-created (wRC+) of 102 ranked eighth. And while they led the league in stolen bases (20), their overall base running ranked only about league average.

The Nats’ starting pitching was also around league average. Their starters’ park-adjusted ERA relative to league (ERA–) of 102 was slightly worse than average and ranked 10th among the NL’s 15 teams. They looked a lot better according to the fielding independent metric, FIP–, at 86, which ranked third in the NL, and led the league in strikeouts with 186, while allowing only 53 walks. The Nats’ starters led the league in innings pitched per start with an average of 5.9.

The bullpen, however, was the team’s biggest weakness. Their ERA– of 137, far worse than league average, ranked 14th among the 15 NL teams, and the FIP– of 108 ranked 10th. Their 21 meltdowns were tied for second, while their 22 shutdowns were tied for 11th. The ratio of shutdowns to meltdowns was third worst in the NL, while their relievers’ win probability added of –1.65 was worst in the league and their RE24 of –18.27 was the second worst.

Record:

12–16 (.429)

Pythagorean Record:

14–14 (5.11 R/G – 5.18 RA/G)

April MVP:

Anthony Rendon (.356/.442/.740, 20 G, 6 HR, 21 R, 18 RBI, 200 wRC+, 1.4 fWAR). It’s weird to give the monthly MVP award to a player who missed eight games due to injury, but while active he was one of the best players in baseball.

Most valuable starting pitcher:

Stephen Strasburg (2–1, 3.82 RA/9, 6 G, 37-2/3 IP, 11.5 K/9, .253 opp OBP, 0.8 RA9-WAR) narrowly edges Patrick Corbin (2–1, 3.82 RA/9, 6 G, 37-2/3 IP, 10.5 K/9, .270 opp OBP, 0.8 RA9-WAR).

Most valuable relief pitcher:

Sean Doolittle (3–1, 3 Sv, 1.35 RA/9, 13 G, 13-1/3 IP, 11.5 K/9, .273 opp OBP, 3.71 RE24, 0.8 RA9-WAR, 6 shutdowns, 1 meltdown).

Worst month:

Trevor Rosenthal (0–1, 36.00 RA/9, 7 G, 3 IP, 9.0 K/9, .679 opp OBP, –0.9 RA9-WAR)

Best start this month:

Stephen Strasburg (April 21, 5–0 win over the Marlins in Miami) held the Marlins scoreless while pitching 8 innings, giving up 2 hits and 2 walks, and striking out 11, for a game score of 87.

Worst start:

Anibal Sanchez (April 24, 9–5 loss to the Rockies in Denver) gave up 6 runs in 5 innings, allowing 9 hits and 5 walks and striking out 3, for a game score of 23.

Tough losses:

  • Max Scherzer (March 28, 2–0 loss to the Mets at home) gave up 2 runs on 2 hits and 3 walks with 12 strikeouts in 7-2/3 innings, for a game score of 76.
  • Max Scherzer (April 2, 8–2 loss to the Phillies at home) gave up 2 runs on 7 hits and 1 walk with 9 strikeouts in 5 innings, for a game score of 55.
  • Stephen Strasburg (April 16, 7–3 loss to the Giants at home) gave up 4 runs on 6 hits and no walks with 8 strikeouts in 6 innings, for a game score of 52.
  • Anibal Sanchez (April 30, 3–2 loss to the Cardinals at home) gave up 3 runs on 5 hits and 2 walks with 7 strikeouts in 5 innings, for a game score of 50.

Cheap wins:

  • Max Scherzer (April 7, 12–9 win over the Mets in New York) gave up 4 runs on 8 hits and no walks with 7 strikeouts in 6-1/3 innings, for a game score of 48.
  • Jeremy Hellickson (April 17, 9–6 win over the Giants at home) gave up 2 runs on 5 hits and 4 walks with no strikeouts in 5-2/3 innings, for a game score of 47.

Best shutdown: 

Erick Fedde (April 28, 7–6 win over the Padres at home) entered in the top of the fourth with the Nats trailing 6 to 4. He pitched four scoreless innings, allowing 2 hits and one walk, and inducing two double plays, leaving only one baserunner on base (win probability added .255). When he was lifted for a pinch hitter in the bottom of the seventh, the game was tied 6 to 6. The Nats would ultimately win the game in the 11th on a walk-off homer by Matt Adams.

Worst meltdown:

Kyle Barraclough (April 3, 9–8 win over the Phillies at home). Barraclough replaced reliever Trevor Rosenthal with one out in the top of the eighth inning, bases loaded, and the Nats leading 6 to 4. He allowed a 3-run double followed by an RBI single, before giving an intentional walk and getting the final two outs. He left the game with the Nats trailing 8 to 6 (WPA –.519) The Nats would go on to tie the game in the bottom of the eighth and walk off the Phillies in the bottom of the ninth.

Clutch hit:

Trea Turner (March 31, 6–5 win over the Mets at home). Turner had already hit a 3-run homer in the third inning. In the bottom of the ninth, he came to bat with one out and the bases empty and drilled a line drive into the fierce wind blowing in from left field, clearing the fence and walking off the Mets. (WPA .420)

Choke: (tie)

  1. Anthony Rendon (April 14, 4–3 loss to the Pirates at home). In the bottom of the ninth with the Nats trailing 4 to 3, two outs, and the bases loaded, Rendon flied out to end the game. (WPA –.272)
  2. Carter Kieboom (April 26, 4–3 loss to the Padres at home). In his major league debut, Kieboom had already tied the game in the bottom of the eighth with a home run, his first major league hit. In the bottom of the ninth he came up again with the Nats trailing 4 to 3, two outs, and the bases loaded. and Kieboom struck out to end the game. (WPA –.272)

 

 

 

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