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October 1, 2019 / Nat Anacostia

Nats’ September in review: Stayin’ in the fight

September saw the Nationals in an unfamiliar position—fighting for a wild card position and playing meaningful games into the last week of the season. After a stretch where they went 5–9, by September 16 their margin for the second wild card slot had dropped to 1-1/2 games. But they managed to finish the season strong, going 8–0 in the final home stand against Philadelphia and Cleveland, to go 17–11 for the month. They ended the season with a 93–69 record and a 4 game lead for the top wild card berth, but 4 games behind the Braves for the NL East crown. Their players were generally healthy and lined up for the winner-take-all game.

September began with the Nationals in second place in the NL East, trailing Atlanta by 5-1/2 games. With 7 games to play against the Braves, there was still hope that victories in head-to-head matches might allow the Nats to step back into the divisional race. The odds, however, favored a wild card bid, where the Nats held a strong position, with a 3-1/2 game lead over the Cubs for the first wild card spot and a 7 game lead for the second spot. September would be a much tougher schedule than they had played over most of the summer. The Nats were scheduled to play 28 games in 29 days, 24 of which would be against teams with winning records, including 13 consecutive games against teams that were leading their divisions.

The Nats had won the first two games of a three-game set at home against the Marlins. On the first of September they beat the Marlins to finish their sweep of the series. Next the Mets came to DC. The Nats were soundly defeated in the first game. The second game featured a pitching match between Max Scherzer and Jacob DeGrom, with the Mets holding on to a 5 to 4 lead after eight innings. In the top of the ninth, Roenis Elias and Daniel Hudson along with a Matt Adams error allowed the Mets to score an additional 5 runs, leaving the Nats trailing 10 to 4 in the bottom of the ninth. Then began one of the most unlikely comebacks that I’ve ever witnessed, as the Nationals scored 7 runs in that half inning, capped by a Kurt Suzuki walk-off three-run homer, to beat the Mets. Unfortunately, their unlikely victory did not turn into a harbinger of more wins. They lost the final game against the Mets to lose the series.

Now trailing the division-leading Braves by 7 games, the Nats opened a four-game series in Atlanta that represented their last chance to get back into the divisional race. When the series began, Fangraphs gave the Nats a 5.8% chance of winning the NL East. By the end of the series, that probability had dropped to 0.5% percent, as the Nats lost the first three games by narrow margins (4 to 2, 4 to 3, and 5 to 4), before winning the final game 9 to 4. The Nats starters pitched well, but the hitters simply failed to score enough runs in the first three games.

A feel-good story during the Braves series was when Aaron Barrett returned to the Nationals and pitched a scoreless inning, four years after his Tommy John surgery and three years after a broken humerus that essentially snapped his arm in half and led to a grueling, improbable rehab.

The Nats then traveled to Minnesota, where they won two of three against the Twins, who were in first place in the AL Central race.

Returning to Washington after an early morning flight, the Nats were again matched against the Braves in a three-game series. Now trailing the Braves by 8-1/2 games, no one was really talking about the divisional race any more, especially after the Nats lost the first two games, before bouncing back to win the finale. In an unfortunate accident in the second game, a fastball from Fernando Rodney hit Charlie Culberson of the Braves in the face, causing multiple fractures. The next day, Davey Martinez had to leave the game due to chest pains and ultimately was hospitalized and underwent a cardiac catheterization.

Back on the road, the Nats played three games against the Cardinals, who were leading the NL Central race. The Nats dropped two of three games against the Cardinals, then won two of three from the Marlins in Miami. On September 20, while the Nats were playing in Miami, the Braves clinched the NL East title.

The Nats returned home for their final home stand. It began with a four-day, five-game series against the Phillies, who were technically still in the wild card race. On Monday, the Nats won the first game 7 to 2. The next day was a double-header, and when the Nats won the first game, they eliminated the Phillies from the wild card race. In the second game, the Nats came from behind on a Trea Turner grand slam. Combined with a loss by the Cubs, who had fallen behind the Brewers for the second wild card spot, the Nats clinched a post-season wild-card berth. The series concluded with two more victories, giving the Nats their first five-game sweep in franchise history.

The final series of the season, also played at home, was a three-game series against the 93-win Cleveland Indians, who were still in the race for AL wild card. When the Nats beat the Indians in the first game, the Indians were eliminated from their wild card race. The Nats also won the second game, which gave the Nats home field advantage in the wild card game.

The Nationals’ offense had a very good month, scoring 153 runs in September (first in the NL), or 5.46 runs per game (third in the league). They led the league in batting average (.268) and on-base percentage (.344) and were fourth in slugging (.458). Their 19 stolen bases ranked third in the NL, and they were only caught stealing twice. The Nats’ weighted runs-created relative to league (wRC+) of 105 ranked third in the NL for the month.

The Nats’ starting pitching, while continuing to be a strength, was not as dominant as it had been earlier in the season. The starters’ ERA for September of 3.87 ranked sixth in the NL; taken relative to the league and adjusting for park effects, their ERA– of 86 also ranked sixth. The fielding independent measure, FIP–, was 94 (or 6 percent better than league average), which also ranked sixth. Nats starters gave up 26 home runs during September, tied for most in the NL, but that statistic partly reflected their schedule (the Nats played more games in September than most other teams) and the fact that Nats starters pitched more innings per start than any NL team other than the Mets. The Nats’ home runs per 9 innings of 1.48 was still seventh highest in the league.

As it has been all season, the Nats’ relievers performed below the league average. Their ERA of 4.62 in September ranked ninth in the NL; park-adjusted and relative to the league, the bullpen’s ERA– was 103, or 3 percent worse than average, which ranked tenth. The fielding-independent measure of FIP– was 106, which ranked ninth. Turning to context-dependent measures, their run expectancy based on 24 base-out states (RE24) of –8.70 (or 8.7 runs below the average pitcher) ranked 11th in the NL. And their win-probability added (WPA) of -0.54 also ranked 11th. The bullpen was helped this month by not pitching in many high leverage situations. Their 11 meltdowns in September was tied for fewest in the NL, but their 16 shutdowns was also second fewest.

Record:

17–11 (.607)

Pythagorean Record:

17–11 (5.46 R/G – 4.32 RA/G)

September MVP:

Stephen Strasburg (2–1, 2.40 RA/9, 5 G, 30 IP, 10.8 K/9, .593 opp OPS, 1.3 RA9-WAR).

Most valuable position player:

Trea Turner (.308/.341/.547, 27 G, 123 PA, 6 HR, 24 R, 13 RBI, 6 SB, 0 CS, 125 wRC+, 0.9 fWAR). Honorable mentions go to Howie Kendrick (179 wRC+, 0.8 fWAR in 66 PA) and Asdrubal Cabrera (151 wRC+, 0.7 fWAR in 81 PA).

Most valuable relief pitcher:

Daniel Hudson (1–0, 2.53 RA/9, 9 G, 10-2/3 IP, 6.8 K/9, .552 opp OPS, 1.61 RE24, 0.3 RA9-WAR, 3 shutdowns, 0 meltdown).

Worst month:

Matt Adams (.138/.167/.138, 10 G, 30 PA, 1 R, 0 RBI, –25 wRC+, –0.4 fWAR).

Best start this month:

Stephen Strasburg (September 21, 10–4 win over the Marlins in Miami) pitched 7 scoreless innings, giving up 3 hits and 3 walks and striking out 6 for a game score of 74. A bullpen meltdown tied the game and  deprived Strasburg of credit for the win, but the game went to extra innings and the Nats rallied in the 10th for a win.

Worst start:

Joe Ross (September 2, 7–3 loss to the Mets at home) gave up 7 runs on 8 hits and 3 walks in 3-2/3 innings, while striking out 4, for a game score of 18.

Tough losses:

  • Stephen Strasburg (September 5, 4–2 loss to the Braves in Atlanta) gave up 3 runs on 4 hits and 4 walks in 6 innings, while striking out 7, for a game score of 55.
  • Patrick Corbin (September 6, 4–3 loss to the Braves in Atlanta) gave up 2 runs (1 earned) on 3 hits and 6 walks in 5 innings, while striking out 9, for a game score of 58.
  • Austin Voth (September 7, 5–4 loss to the Braves in Atlanta) gave up 2 runs on 3 hits and 2 walks in 4 innings, while striking out 6, for a game score of 52. Obviously the Nats were having problems scoring runs in these games.
  • Anibal Sanchez (September 10, 5–0 loss to the Twins in Minneapolis) gave up 2 runs on 4 hits and 1 walk in 7 innings, while striking out 5, for a game score of 65.
  • Max Scherzer (September 18, 5–1 loss to the Cardinals in St. Louis) gave up 5 runs on 7 hits and no walks in 6-2/3 innings, while striking out 11, for a game score of 51. With Max having allowed 2 runs on 4 hits through 6-2/3, Davey Martinez left him in for three more batters, which turned out to be three too many.

Cheap wins:

  • Patrick Corbin (September 12, 12–6 win over the Twins in Minneapolis) gave up 3 runs on 9 hits and no walks with 3 strikeouts in 6 innings, for a game score of 45.
  • Anibal Sanchez (September 20, 6–4 win over the Marlins in Miami) gave up 4 runs (3 earned) on 6 hits and 1 walk with 1 strikeout in 5 innings, for a game score of 41.

Best shutdown: 

Daniel Hudson (September 24, 6–5 win over the Phillies at home in second game of a doubleheader). Hudson entered in the top of the ninth with a one run lead and retired all three batters he faced on a ground out and two fly outs (win probability added .162). He got some nice defensive help from Victor Robles in chasing down the final fly ball.

Worst meltdown:

Fernando Rodney (September 21, 10–4 win over the Marlins in Miami). Entering in the bottom of the eighth to protect a 4–0 lead, Rodney allowed a double, then got a strikeout. He then surrendered another double, a walk, a single, and a third double, which tied the game (WPA –.614). Fortunately, Hunter Strickland was able to put out the fire in the eighth, and the Nats rallied for six runs in the tenth for the win. I couldn’t understand why Martinez left Rodney in to face six batters when he obviously didn’t have his best stuff.

Clutch hit:

Kurt Suzuki (September 3, 11–10 win over the Mets at home). I expect his 3-run walk-off home run, which capped the Nats’ incredible 7-run comeback in the bottom of the ninth, to be shown on highlights for years to come. Suzuki came to bat with one out in the bottom of the ninth, runners on second and third and the Nats trailing 10–8. Edwin Diaz started him off with a slider, which Suzuki swung through. Zuk then laid off two sliders and a fast ball that were out of the zone to get the count to 3–1. He missed another slider for a full count. Then Diaz went after him with three more fastballs. Kurt fouled off the first two, then went deep with the third for the win (WPA .711).

Choke: 

Ryan Zimmerman (September 6, 4–3 loss to the Braves in Atlanta). In the top of the first, the Nationals managed to load the bases against Dallas Keuchel with two singles and a walk. There was still only one out when Zim grounded into a double play to end the potential rally (WPA –.145). Although Zim partially made up for it by hitting a 3-run home run in the eighth, the Nats were still trailing 4–3 and the missed opportunity in the first inning proved costly.

Favorite defensive plays:

September 2, 2019 / Nat Anacostia

Nats’ August in review: It’s fun when you win

The Nationals went 19–7 in August, one of their best monthly records in team history. While they solidified a lead in the race for the first wild card spot, they gained only one game on the division leading Atlanta Braves, who went 19–9. As the month ended, they remained 5-1/2 games behind in the divisional race, but held a 3-1/2 game lead for the first wild card spot and a 7 game lead for the second spot.

August began for the Nats with a road trip to the west. Max Scherzer and Ryan Zimmerman were on the injured list, and Joe Ross was filling in as the fifth starter. At the trade deadline, the team had added relief pitchers—Daniel Hudson and Hunter Strickland, who began covering high leverage situations, and lefty Roenis Elias, who went onto the injured list after a single appearance with the Nats.

Facing the Diamondbacks in a three-game series in Phoenix, the Nats took the first game 3 to 0, but then were crushed in the second game, 18 to 7. They concluded the series with a 7 to 5 loss. For their next series in San Francisco, the Nats had better fortune, sweeping the Giants in a three game set. The road trip finished with a three-game series in New York against the then red-hot Mets, who had won 13 of their last 14 games and had moved within a half game of the second wild-card spot. The Mets won each of the first two games by a single run, as the Nationals bullpen surrendered leads, first in the 9th inning and then in the 8th inning. The Nats, however, won the finale and avoided being swept in what turned out to be an exciting, hard-fought series. Despite losing two series, the Nats finished the road trip with a winning (5–4) record.

The subsequent home stand began with a three game series against the Reds, which the Nats swept. They won the third game of the series 17 to 7, which began a remarkable offensive stretch. In seven games against the Reds, Brewers, and Pirates from August 14 to 21, the Nats scored 74 runs, plating 11 or more runs in five of the games. After the Reds, the Nats played a three-game series against the Brewers and took two of three. The second game, which the Nats lost in 14 innings, was especially wild. With the Nats holding an 11–8 lead going into the top of the ninth, closer Sean Doolittle gave up 4 runs and the lead (just a week after he blew a similar three-run lead against the Mets). The Nats scored a run in the bottom of the ninth to send the game to extra innings, and the game ended in the 14th inning with the Brewers winning 15 to 14. The next day, Doolittle went on the injured list. The Nats’ record for the home stand was 5–1.

The Nats next went to Pittsburgh where they played four games against the Pirates. The Nats won three of four. Max Scherzer returned after three weeks on the injured list to pitch the finale of the Pittsburgh series. The Nats’ week-long road trip concluded with three games in Chicago against the Cubs, who were leading the Central Division when the series began. The Nats swept the Cubs, knocking them into second place in their division. The Nats’ record on the road trip was 6–1.

Returning home, the Nats played two games against the Orioles. The O’s won the first game, and the Nats won the second. They concluded the month with the first two games of a three-game set against the Marlins, winning both games.

Ending August with a 76–58 record, according to Fangraphs the Nats had a 98% chance of reaching the playoffs, up from 75% at the end of July. On the other hand, their probability of winning the division actually declined slightly, from 15% to 12%, as the Nats only narrowed their gap with the division leading Braves by a single game.

The Nationals’ success in August was fueled by offense. Their 180 runs scored in the month led the National League, and their 6.92 runs scored per game was second only to Astros in MLB. The Nats led the NL for the month in batting average (.292) on-base percentage (.370), slugging (.517), wOBA (.370), wRC+ (125), and stolen bases (26). Interestingly, they ranked only fifth in the NL in home runs with 46. Ranking 14th of 15 NL teams in batter strikeouts, the Nats were able to draw walks and put the ball in play and get extra base hits to drive their offense.

The Nats’ starters were also major contributors. Even with Scherzer spending most of the month on the IL, the Nats starters’ 3.12 ERA for the month led the National League. Their fielding-independent measure (FIP of 3.88) ranked fourth in the NL. Adjusting for park and relative to the rest of the league, the Nats’ starting pitchers’ ERA– of 69 led the NL, and their FIP– of 87 ranked third, behind the Dodgers and Braves.

Despite the personnel changes in the bullpen, the Nats’ relief pitching woes were not over. Their 5.71 ERA for the month ranked 14th of the 15 NL teams, and their ERA– of 125 ranked 13th. Measuring their performance by the fielding-independent metric didn’t help—their FIP– of 126 ranked 13th. They ranked 12th in win probability added (WPA) with –2.11, meaning that the bullpen cost them a little more than two wins compared with an average bullpen. Considering that four of the Nats’ seven losses during the month involved leads blown in the eighth or ninth innings, that certainly seems plausible. A couple of extra wins this month could have made the Nats real competitors rather than long shots for the division championship.

Record:

19–7 (.731)

Pythagorean Record:

19–7 (6.92 R/G – 4.23 RA/G)

August MVP:

Anthony Rendon (.394/.450/.712, 26 G, 8 HR, 23 R, 29 RBI, 189 wRC+, 1.9 fWAR). Honorable mentions go to Juan Soto (181 wRC+, 1.5 fWAR) and Adam Eaton (172 wRC+, 1.3 fWAR).

Most valuable starting pitcher:

Joe Ross (3–0, 1.05 RA/9, 5 G, 25-2/3 IP, 5.6 K/9, .568 opp OPS, 1.6 RA9-WAR). Based on what we saw from him in the first half of the season, this award is frankly kind of stunning, but even though I kept my fingers crossed each time he started, it’s hard to argue with his success this month.

Most valuable relief pitcher:

Daniel Hudson (2–0, 2.51 RA/9, 15 G, 14-1/3 IP, 9.4 K/9, .624 opp OPS, 3.28 RE24, 0.6 RA9-WAR, 6 shutdowns, 3 meltdowns). As the three meltdowns attest, Hudson’s entry into a game didn’t guarantee success. Nevertheless, he stepped into a critical bullpen role and brought the team more success than failure.

Worst month:

Sean Doolittle (0–1, 12.86 RA/9, 8 G, 7 IP, 6.4 K/9, 1.375 opp OPS, –0.6 RA9-WAR, –6.91 RE24, 2 shutdowns, 2 meltdowns). He seemed to have lost the movement on his fastball. Hopefully, his time on the injured list may help him recover his edge.

Best start this month:

Stephen Strasburg (August 31, 7–0 win over the Marlins at home) pitched 8 scoreless innings, giving up 2 hits and no walks and striking out 14, for a game score of 92.

Worst start:

Stephen Strasburg (August 3, 18–7 loss to the Diamondbacks in Phoenix) gave up 9 runs on 9 hits and 2 walks in 4-2/3 innings, while striking out 7, for a game score of 15. This unusual poor outing by the Cy Young contender led to speculation that he was tipping his pitches.

Tough losses:

  • Patrick Corbin (August 27, 2–0 loss to the Orioles at home) gave up 2 runs on 4 hits and no walks in 7 innings, while striking out 9, for a game score of 70. The offense, however, was unable to score a run.

Cheap wins:

  • Stephen Strasburg (August 14, 17–7 win over the Reds at home) gave up 4 runs on 7 hits and 3 walks with 4 strikeouts in 5-2/3 innings, for a game score of 40. In Stephen’s defense, he did contribute to the offensive support that enabled his win, hitting a key RBI single in the 10-run inning that blew the game open.
  • Erick Fedde (August 18, 16–8 win over the Brewers at home) gave up 4 runs on 10 hits and 2 walks with 2 strikeouts in 5 innings, for a game score of 31.

Best shutdown: 

Tanner Rainey (August 17, 15–14 loss to the Brewers at home). Rainey entered the 12–12 game in the top of the tenth and pitched two scoreless innings, getting four strikeouts and two ground outs, while allowing only a walk (win probability added .275).

Worst meltdown:

Sean Doolittle (August 9, 7–6 loss to the Mets in New York). Doo entered the game in the bottom of the ninth with a 6 to 3 lead. He gave up a double to lead-off hitter Davis, followed by a single to Ramos. The third batter he faced, Frazier, took him deep with a three-run homer down the left-field line, tying the game. Panik then singled, becaming the fourth consecutive Met to get a hit off Doolittle. A bunt failed to advance the runner and recorded the first out of the inning. The next batter flied out, but Rosario and Conforto followed with consecutive singles that resulted in the Mets’ walk-off win (WPA –.968).

Clutch hit:

Anthony Rendon (August 30, 7–6 win over the Marlins at home). Rendon came to bat with one out in the bottom of the ninth, runners on first and second, and the Nats trailing 6 to 5. The Marlins catcher allowed a passed ball that advanced the runners to second and third. Rendon then drove a single to left field. Howie Kendrick scored easily, and Trea Turner raced home ahead of the throw for the walk-off win (WPA .458).

Choke: 

I’ll award this one jointly to Trea Turner, Adam Eaton, and Anthony Rendon (August 17, 15–14 loss to the Brewers at home in 14 innings). The Brewers closer, Josh Hader, had taken a 12–11 lead into the bottom of the ninth and allowed a walk, a double by Kurt Suzuki, and a run-scoring single by Victor Robles, tying the game, with the runners advancing to second and third on the throw. The Brewers then issued an intentional walk to Howie Kendrick to load the bases with no outs and the scored tied 12 to 12. A hit, a walk, or a long fly ball could have won the game. In turn, Turner (WPA –.103), Eaton (–.175), and Rendon (–.159) each struck out to send the game to extra innings. I’ll note that Joe Ross actually recorded a worse WPA in the bottom of the 14th of the same game (-.200) when he was sent in as a pinch hitter and struck out to end the game. But cognizant that he was called into an unusual role in that clutch situation, I’ve decided to give this one instead to the three guys at the top of the batting order.

Favorite defensive plays:

August 3, 2019 / Nat Anacostia

Nats’ July in review: Some of us could use some reinforcements

As the Nationals players enjoyed dancing in the dugout after home runs and they and the crowd got into the Baby Shark phenomenon, the team was playing crucial games that were starting to determine their playoff prospects. In July the Nats went 15–10, solidifying their wild card chances but failing to close the gap with the division-leading Braves.

June began with the Nats in third place in the NL East, one game above .500 and trailing the division-leading Braves by 7 games. They opened a homestand with a three-game series against the Marlins, followed by three games against the Royals. They swept the Marlins and took two of three against the Royals for a 5–1 record on the homestand. They went into the All-Star break with a 47–42 record, now in second place and trailing the Braves by 6 games. Ryan Zimmerman drove in his 1,000th career RBI and the franchise celebrated its 50th anniversary by wearing throwback Expos uniforms.

Two Nationals players were selected for the All-Star team, Anthony Rendon and Max Scherzer, but both opted out of the game due to nagging injuries and were replaced by players from other teams. While Rendon was able to return to the lineup after the break, Scherzer wound up on the injured list with mid-back strain and an inflamed bursa sac.

After the break, the Nats’ schedule became more demanding as they faced divisional rivals and other good teams. Their road trip began in Philadelphia, where they topped the Phillies in two of three games. Next was a two-game series against the Orioles in Baltimore, which they split. The road trip concluded with a four-game series against the Braves in Atlanta, which also ended with a split. The second game was especially heart-breaking, with Victor Robles hitting a game-tying home run in the top of the ninth, only to have 42-year-old Fernando Rodney fell apart and gave up the walk-off run when Davey Martinez tried to get him to go two innings for the first time in six years. After the series, Zimmerman went onto the injured list with a recurrence of plantar fasciitis.  The Nats went 5–4 on the road trip.

Returning home, the Nats had a four-game series against the Rockies. The first game was postponed, resulting in a day-night doubleheader in the middle of the series. The Nats won the first game of the series decisively, with Trea Turner hitting for the cycle for the second time in his career (one of only 26 players to have done so). The next day the Nats swept the doubleheader. For the fourth game, Scherzer came back from the injured list, and although he pitched alright, the injury was clearly still bothering him. Ultimately, Rodney gave up the Nats’ lead in the ninth inning for another loss, and Scherzer went back on the IL.

The Nats next faced the Dodgers, who had the best record in the National League. The Dodgers took the series two games to one. The homestand ended with three games against the Braves. Trailing the Braves by 5-1/2 games, the Nats had a chance to make up significant ground by sweeping, or at least winning, the series. After splitting the first two games, the Nats lost the finale in the tenth inning as Sean Doolittle gave up a go-ahead home run. The finale was also the trade deadline, and Mike Rizzo acquired three relief pitchers—Roenis Elias, Daniel Hudson, and Hunter Strickland. To make space, Javy Guerra, Michael Blazek, and Tony Sipp were designated for assignment.

At the beginning of July, according to Fangraphs the Nats had a 60% chance of making the playoffs and a 19% chance of winning the division. By the end of the month, the probability of making the playoffs had gone up to 75%, but the probability of winning the division had slipped to 15% as the Braves’ 14–10 record for the month nearly matched the Nats’ 15–10 record. Other prognosticators were less optimistic about the Nationals’ chances. At the end of July, Fivethirtyeight gave them a 51% chance of making the playoffs, and Baseball Prospectus estimated their chance of making the playoffs at 58%.

The Nationals’ hitters had a very successful month. Their .273 batting average for the month was second in the NL to the Reds. Their .361 on-base percentage led the league, and their .452 slugging ranked fourth. Their overall weighted runs-created (wRC+) was 110, or 10% better than average, and led the NL.

Their starting pitchers led all of MLB in ERA for July, with 2.94, and in relative park-adjusted ERA (ERA–) with 66, or 34% better than average. They also led MLB in fielding-independent pitching (FIP) with 2.97, and in the relative adjusted measure (FIP–) with 67. Behind Scherzer (when healthy), Stephen Strasburg, Patrick Corbin, and Anibal Sanchez, the Nats enjoyed excellent starting pitching with occasional off days from whoever was their fifth starter at the time.

While the relief pitching was not as atrocious as it had been the first two months of the season, it remained an area of weakness. The relief staff’s July ERA of 4.86 ranked 11th in the NL, and their relative park-adjusted ERA– of 109 was 9% worse than average, ranking ninth in the NL. They ranked 11th in RE24 with –9.11, and 13th in win probability added with –1.74. Had the Nats had an “average” relief staff, they would have won one or two more games this month.

Record:

15–10 (.600)

Pythagorean Record:

16–9 (5.04 R/G – 3.84 RA/G)

July MVP:

Stephen Strasburg (5–0, 1.14 RA/9, 5 G, 31-2/3 IP, 12.5 K/9, .513 opp OPS, 2.0 RA9-WAR). Strasburg was named NL Pitcher of the Month for July. Patrick Corbin (1.95 RA/9, 1.8 RA9-WAR) was the runner up.

Most valuable position player:

Anthony Rendon (.333/.420/.552, 25 G, 4 HR, 14 R, 22 RBI, 148 wRC+, 1.1 fWAR).

Most valuable relief pitcher:

Tanner Rainey (0–0, 1.08 RA/9, 10 G, 8-1/3 IP, 13.0 K/9, .619 opp OPS, 3.11 RE24, 0.3 RA9-WAR, 1 shutdown, 1 meltdown).

Worst month:

Javy Guerra (0–0, 8.18 RA/9, 8 G, 11 IP, 5.7 K/9, .838 opp OPS, –0.4 RA9-WAR, –6.01 RE24, 2 shutdowns, 1 meltdown) was designated for assignment at the end of a disappointing month.

Best start this month:

Stephen Strasburg (July 3, 3–1 win over the Marlins in Miami) pitched 7-1/3 scoreless innings, giving up 2 hits and 2 walks and striking out 14, for a game score of 86.

Worst start:

Erick Fedde (July 30, 11–8 loss to the Braves at home) gave up 9 runs on 9 hits and 4 walks in 3-2/3 innings, while striking out 4, for a game score of 7.

Tough losses:

  • None (Nats starters recorded only two losses in July)

Cheap wins:

  • Stephen Strasburg (July 18, 13–4 win over the Braves in Atlanta) gave up 3 runs on 8 hits and 2 walks with 7 strikeouts in 5-1/3 innings, for a game score of 45.
  • Anibal Sanchez (July 20, 5–3 win over the Braves in Atlanta) gave up 3 runs on 6 hits and 3 walks with 4 strikeouts in 5 innings, for a game score of 44.

Best shutdown: 

Sean Doolittle (July 20, 5–3 win over the Braves in Atlanta). Doolittle entered the game with one out in the bottom of the eighth, a runner on first, and the Nats guarding a 4–3 lead. He retired Culberson on a fly ball and Acuna on a strikeout to get out of the inning. The Nats added a run in the top of the ninth, then Doolittle returned in the bottom of the inning to retire all three batters he faced—Swanson, Freeman, and Donaldson (win probability added .238).

Worst meltdown:

Fernando Rodney (July 25, 8–7 loss to the Rockies at home). Rodney, who had pitched both games of the previous day’s doubleheader, was assigned the ninth inning with the Nats holding 7–6 lead. The first batter he faced, former Nat Ian Desmond, drove the ball over the center field wall to tie the game. He then walked Blackmon, struck out Story for the first out, and gave up a single to Dahl that advanced Blackmon to third. Former Nat Daniel Murphy then hit a grounder that was too slow for the Nats to turn a double play and Blackmon scored the go-ahead run (WPA –.816). The Nats then failed to score in the bottom of the ninth and failed in their bid to sweep the Rockies.

Clutch hit:

Juan Soto (July 13, 4–3 win over the Phillies in Philadelphia). The Nats were down to their last out, trailing 3 to 2 with two outs in the top of the ninth. Anthony Rendon then singled, and Soto hit the first pitch he saw, a splitter from closer Hector Neris, over the left-center fence to give the Nats the lead (WPA .740).

Choke: 

Ryan Zimmerman (July 5, 7–4 loss to the Royals at home in 11 innings). In the bottom of the tenth with the score tied 4 to 4, the Nats had runners on first and third with one out. Zimmerman hit a pop fly for the second out (WPA –.186). Victor Robles then grounded out to end the Nationals’ bid for a walk-off win.

Favorite defensive play:

 

 

 

July 2, 2019 / Nat Anacostia

Nats’ June in review: Winning is the single greatest motivator

After two months of losing, the Nationals turned things around in June and began winning. With the season now half over, there’s a question of whether their improved performance has arrived too late for the divisional race, but a wild-card bid seems still to be very much in play.

June began with the Nationals in fourth place in the NL East, nine games below .500 and nine games behind the division-leading Phillies. They had just played—and lost—the opening game of a 3-game series against the Reds in Cincinnati. They won the last two games to take the series and completed their short road trip with a 4–1 record.

The Nats returned home to face the Chicago White Sox in a two-game series. They won both games, with the second win coming on a walk-off homer by Trea Turner. The Nats then traveled to San Diego to face the Padres. They split the 4-game set against the Padres, then split a two-game series against the White Sox in Chicago. In the NL East divisional race, the red-hot Braves moved ahead of the Phillies.

The Nationals returned home for a scheduled 11-game homestand, where they would face the Diamondback as well as their main divisional rivals, the Phillies and the Braves. Although the Nats were trailing in the NL East by 7.5 games when the homestand began, good performances could potentially help them back into the race. The homestand began with a 4-game series against the Diamondbacks, which they split. Next came a 4-game series against the Phillies, but the first two games were rained out. One of the postponed games would be made up in a doubleheader, and the other was rescheduled for late September. To make matters worse, on the day of the second rain-out, Max Scherzer took a foul ball in the face while taking batting practice—specifically, while practicing bunts—and suffered a broken nose.

The weather finally cleared enough for the Phillies series to begin. In the first game of the day-night doubleheader, Patrick Corbin, who had been struggling his previous three starts, returned to form and led the Nats to a 6 to 2 victory. In the nightcap, Scherzer took the mound with a black eye and a broken nose and shut out the Phillies for seven innings, allowing the Nats to win 2 to 0. The next day the Nats took the finale 7 to 4, sweeping the Phillies and knocking them back in the divisional race.

Next came a three-game series against the division-leading Braves. After playing three games in two days, the Nats’ bullpen was fatigued. The Nats managed to win Game One 4 to 3, relying on Wander Suero to get the save, helped by a dramatic sliding, game-ending catch by Victor Robles. In Game Two, the Nats held a comfortable 8 to 4 lead after six innings, but when Trevor Rosenthal came in to pitch the seventh, he walked the first three batters. Then Tanner Rainey was brought in and walked in a run and gave up a three-run double, tying the game. In the bottom of the seventh, the Nats scored a run to take a 9–8 lead. But in the top of the eighth, Joe Ross gave up four runs on five hits (including a three-run homer), and the Nats wound up losing the game 13 to 9. The next morning, Ross was optioned to Fresno and Rosenthal was released—the Nats conceding his signing was a $7 million mistake. Game Three seemed winnable when the Nats scored two runs in the bottom of the seventh to tie the game 2 to 2. But the game went to extra innings, and the Braves scored two in the top of the 10th. The Nats were able to score one in the bottom of the inning but fell 4 to 3. With the series loss, the Nats dropped to 8.5 games behind.

The month ended with a road trip to Miami and Detroit to face two of the worst teams in baseball. The Detroit series featured the return to the active roster of Ryan Zimmerman, the last of a number of Nationals regulars who had been injured during April and May to return. The Nats swept the Marlins and took two of three against the Tigers.

For the month of June, the Nats went 18–8 and finished with a 42–41 record, in third place in the NL East, 7 games behind the Braves (who went 20–8 in June). According to Fangraphs, the Nats had begun June with a 16% chance of winning the division and a 32% chance of making the playoffs, while they ended June with a 19% chance of winning the division and a 60% chance of making the playoffs. By contrast, the 538 website showed them with a 16% chance of winning the division and a 46% chance of making the playoffs, while Baseball Prospectus gave them a 12% chance for the division and 40% for the playoffs.

Throughout the season, the Nationals’ strength has been their starting pitching, and this continued to be the case in June. The starters’ ERA of 3.52 during the month was second best in the National League (behind the Dodgers), and their park-adjusted ERA relative to league (ERA–) of 79 was also second best in the league. Their fielding independent measure, FIP–, was 91, third best in the league. Their 25.8% strikeout rate was the NL’s best. Furthermore, the starters on average went deeper into games than other teams—their average of 6.1 innings per start led baseball.

The team’s relief pitching, which had been among the worst in baseball during the first two months of the season, rebounded to deliver results that were more like league average. Their ERA– of 101 during June ranked eighth among the 15 NL teams, and their FIP– of 87 ranked fourth. In the situation-dependent measures, they ranked ninth in both RE24 (with –3.06) and win probability added (with –0.29). Their 21 shutdowns ranked tenth, and their 10 meltdowns were the third-fewest in the NL. Overall, while the bullpen still wasn’t a strength for the team, its performance was often acceptable.

The offense, meanwhile, contributed to the Nationals’ winning record but was not among the elite offenses in the league. The Nats’ June on-base percentage of .326 ranked eighth in the NL, while their slugging percentage of .467 ranked fifth. Their 44 home runs during June also ranked fifth. The park-adjusted combined measure of offense relative to league, wRC+, was 101, sixth in the league.

Record:

18–8 (.692)

Pythagorean Record:

17–9 (5.58 R/G – 3.92 RA/G)

June MVP:

Max Scherzer (6–0, 1.00 RA/9, 6 G, 45 IP, 13.6 K/9, .196 opp OBP, 3.0 RA9-WAR) had a month that was phenomenal even by his own standard. Overcoming a slow start in April, Max is making yet another bid for the Cy Young Award. Addendum: Scherzer was named NL Pitcher of the Month for June.

Most valuable position player:

Anthony Rendon (.307/.363/.604, 26 G, 9 HR, 22 R, 24 RBI, 144 wRC+, 1.0 fWAR).

Most valuable relief pitcher:

Wander Suero (0–0, 2.77 RA/9, 13 G, 13 IP, 10.4 K/9, .302 opp OBP, 1.17 RE24, 0.4 RA9-WAR, 5 shutdowns, 1 meltdown).

Worst month:

Joe Ross (0–1, 36.00 RA/9, 1 G, 1 IP, 0.0 K/9, .667 opp OBP, –0.4 RA9-WAR, –0.66 WPA, 0 shutdowns, 1 meltdown) was called up as a potential starter for the game on the 23rd but then pressed into service as a reliever on the 22nd, and he delivered a disastrous eighth inning, surrendering four runs to go from a one-run lead to a three-run deficit.

Best start this month:

Max Scherzer (June 2, 4–1 win over the Reds in Cincinnati) pitched 8 innings, giving up 1 run on 3 hits and 1 walk and striking out 15, for a game score of 86. It was only his third win of the season.

Worst start:

Stephen Strasburg (June 15, 10–3 loss to the Diamondbacks in Phoenix), who gave up 6 runs, 9 hits, and 1 walk in 5 innings, while striking out 5, for a game score of 29.

Tough losses:

  • None

Cheap wins:

  • Stephen Strasburg (June 4, 9–5 win over the White Sox in Chicago) gave up 5 runs on 5 hits and 3 walks with 6 strikeouts in 5 innings, for a game score of 40.

Best shutdown: 

Sean Doolittle (June 30, 2–1 win over the Tigers in Detroit). Doolittle pitched the ninth with a one-run lead. Although he allowed a single and a walk, he recorded a strikeout and two flyball outs to record his 100th career save (win probability added .205).

Worst meltdown:

Sean Doolittle (June 7, 5–4 loss to the Padres in San Diego). After being held scoreless for six innings, the Nats clawed their way back and took a 4–3 lead in the top of the ninth. Doolittle came in to pitch the bottom of the ninth. After striking out Machado, he gave up a triple to Hosmer. He then struck out Franmil Reyes for the second out but gave up a single to Josh Naylor, tying the game. Naylor stole second, and another single from Austin Hedges gave the Padres the win (WPA –.816).

Clutch hit:

Matt Adams (June 27, 8–5 win over the Marlins in Miami). The Nats were trailing 4 to 1 in the top of the sixth when Adams came to bat. There were two outs and runners on first and third, and Adams lofted a hanging slider down the right-field line for a game-tying three-run homer (WPA .327).

Choke: 

Juan Soto (June 23, 4–3 loss to the Braves at home). With the score tied 2 to 2 after nine, the game had gone to extra innings. In the top of the tenth, the Braves took a 4 to 2 lead on a 2-run homer by Camargo. But the Nats came back in the bottom of the tenth and had scored one run and had runners on first and second when Soto came to bat with two outs. Soto grounded out to shortstop to end the game (WPA –.171).

Favorite Defensive Plays:

  • Victor Robles sprinted a long way to make a diving catch at the warning track against the White Sox.
  • Trea Turner made a diving stop to keep a ground ball from going to the outfield, then gunned down the Phillie runner who was trying to score from second.
  • Victor Robles made an even more dramatic catch against the Braves, with two outs in the top of the ninth, the Nats holding a one-run lead, and runners on first and second. A pop-up was hit into no-mans land behind second base, and Robles raced in to make a game-ending, sliding catch.

 

 

 

June 21, 2019 / Nat Anacostia

Rendon, Scherzer, and Doolittle deserve to be on the 2019 NL All-Star team

It’s time to release my 2019 National League All-Star team.

My goal is to figure out which Nationals players deserve to make the All-Star team. But answering that question requires me to actually construct a team—I can’t say which Nats should be on the team unless they’re compared against all of the other candidate players in the league, which in essence means naming an entire team. I don’t want my selections to be biased, so I’ve made my selections following a numerical method based on measures of wins above replacement, or WAR. My method is essentially unchanged from year to year so that I can’t be guilty of tweaking the formula to get the result I want. I’ll show the point totals used for ranking each player (indicating which races were close) and at the end of the article will give my formula for calculating these points.

A few other comments on my method:

  • While my method gives quite a bit of weight to 2019 performance, it also considers 2018 performance and, to a lesser extent, career performance. While I think it’s important to recognize players who’ve had truly break-out seasons in 2019, some of the silliest All-Star selections have been of mediocre players who happen to have had a hot month or two early in the season.
  • Unlike the official selection process, I treat the DH as a position on the NL team when I make my selections, and fill it with the best available hitter in each round (evaluated just on the offense part of WAR) who hasn’t already been picked based on his positional WAR. After all, the game is played with a DH, so I figure it makes sense to approach it the same way any NL skipper would in interleague play and fill the slot with the best available hitter who isn’t already on the starting roster.
  • For the outfield, I make sure there’s a true center fielder as a starter and a reserve but treat the remaining outfield positions as interchangeable to be filled by the best available outfielder.
  • Otherwise, selections are based on the player’s primary position played during 2019 (measured by defensive innings played), which in some cases is different from the position for which they’re listed on the official ballot.
  • Like the official method, each team has to be represented by at least one player. I made this assessment after selecting the starters and substitutes at each position for position players (including DH), five starting pitchers, and three relief pitchers. At that point, three teams still lacked representation (the Giants, Marlins, and Reds), so I picked the best available player/pitcher from each team, then filled the last three slots with the best available players/pitchers who hadn’t yet been picked.

Here’s my 2019 NL All-Star team (with point totals in parentheses):

Starters

C – Yasmani Grandal – Brewers (26.5)

1B – Freddie Freeman – Braves (27.8)

2B – Mike Moustakas – Brewers (19.0)

3B – Nolan Arenado – Rockies (29.9)

SS – Trevor Story – Rockies (25.1)

LF – Christian Yelich – Brewers (38.7)

CF – Ketel Marte – Diamondbacks (22.6)

RF – Cody Bellinger – Dodgers (35.4)

DH – Anthony Rendon – Nationals (29.8). Arenado’s defensive skills enabled him to edge out Rendon for the starting third base selection by the narrowest of margins. I don’t think Rendon’s talents as a pure hitter are as widely recognized as they should be. According to my calculations, he ranks fourth among all NL players in hitting, behind only Yelich, Bellinger, and Freeman.

SP – Max Scherzer – Nationals (38.7). Scherzer ties with Yelich for the most overall points in my system. Looking at the three components to his point total, he ranks second in 2019 WAR (behind Ryu), second in 2018 WAR (behind DeGrom), and fourth in career WAR (behind Kershaw, Greinke, and Hamels), but easily ranks first in the point total that aggregates these components.

Reserves 

C – J.T. Realmuto – Phillies (23.8)

1B – Max Muncy – Dodgers (24.7)

2B – Ozzie Albies – Braves (16.3). In filling this year’s team, second base is clearly the weakest position (and third base is the strongest).

3B – Manny Machado – Padres (24.9)

3B – Brian Anderson – Marlins (12.9)*

SS – Javier Baez – Cubs (24.5). Third base and shortstop were the two positions with the closest contests for the starting selection.

SS – Paul DeJong – Cardinals (22.5)

OF – Ronald Acuna Jr. – Braves (21.1)

OF – Lorenzo Cain – Brewers (19.5)

OF – Bryce Harper – Phillies (19.1)

DH – Josh Bell – Pirates (16.3). Again, my DH selections are based just on the offensive portion of WAR; several other players had higher total points.

SP – Jacob DeGrom – Mets (33.5)

SP – Hyun-Jin Ryu – Dodgers (28.4)

SP – Zack Greinke – Diamondbacks (26.7)

SP – Clayton Kershaw – Dodgers (24.0)

SP – Cole Hamels – Cubs (23.8)

SP – Luis Castillo – Reds (18.6)*

RP – Josh Hader – Brewers (14.7)

RP – Kirby Yates – Padres (14.1)

RP – Edwin Diaz – Mets (11.1)

RP – Sean Doolittle – Nationals (11.0)

RP – Will Smith – Giants (10.1)*

*The selection of Brian Anderson (12.9) to represent the Marlins took the place of Kris Bryant (21.9), who otherwise would have been selected. The selection of Luis Castillo (18.6) to represent the Reds displaced Patrick Corbin (21.5). And the selection of Will Smith (10.1) to represent the Giants displaced Felipe Vazquez (10.6).

My method for calculating the points used in ranking the players:

My method is simple but manages to combine the elements I’d like to see reflected in my All-Star selections. The points are calculated as the sum of three components:

  1. I multiply the player’s WAR for the 2019 season times 4. I use the Fangraphs version of WAR and the data represent games played through June 19.
  2. I multiply the player’s WAR for the 2018 season times 2. If the player’s 2019 WAR is higher than his 2018 WAR, I substitute 2 times the 2019 WAR. (This substitution helps the system recognize outstanding rookies and players like Bellinger and Marte who’ve had breakout seasons in 2019, while still giving credit for consistent performance to players who had All-Star worthy performances in 2018.)
  3. I take the square root of the player’s career WAR (using zero in the rare cases where the career WAR is negative).

That’s it. Written as an equation, it’s just:

Points = 4 * 2019_WAR + 2 * MAX(2018_WAR, 2019_WAR) + Squareroot(Career_WAR)

For pitchers, my measure of WAR is the average of two versions of WAR calculated on the Fangraphs site. The site’s regular WAR is based on fielding-independent pitching (that is, just strikeouts, walks, and home runs allowed), while their “RA9WAR” is based on runs allowed (and is similar to the version of pitchers’ WAR used on the Baseball-Reference site). Because both measures have merit, I use their average as my measure of WAR in the calculations. However, I do not include the batting WAR of pitchers because pitchers don’t bat in the All-Star game.

June 2, 2019 / Nat Anacostia

Nats’ May in review: Sometimes you got it, sometimes you don’t

The Nationals opened the month of May in fourth place with a 12–16 record, trailing the division-leading Phillies by only 3.5 games. But injuries were a problem, with Trea Turner, Ryan Zimmerman, and Anthony Rendon on the injured list, and the team’s bullpen had struggled mightily.

The Nats began the month at home playing the last two games of a four-game series against the Cardinals—they had lost the first two games. They lost the third game, then won the finale to lose the series three games to one. Juan Soto was added to the injured list with back spasms.

Next came a challenging ten-game road trip. Two of the three teams they would face—the Phillies and Dodgers—were leading their divisions when the Nats played them, while the Brewers were just out of first place in the Central. The Nats lost the series against the Phillies two games to one. Matt Adams was added to the injured list with a shoulder strain. By this point, almost all of the Nats big bats were injured, and the offense failed to score runs. To make matters worse, as the Nationals were leaving Philadelphia, their team plane was grounded for eight hours on the tarmac with mechanical problems. The Brewers swept the Nationals in a three-game series, with the Nats scoring only 6 runs. But then injured players started returning, beginning with Rendon and Soto, and the team signed free agent Gerardo Parra who had been released by the Giants. The Nationals split their four-game series with the Dodgers, finishing their road trip with a 3–7 record. They had fallen to 7.5 games behind in the NL East.

Back home, the Nats took two of three against the Mets, their first series win in a month. They then lost two of three against the Cubs, the leaders in the NL Central. Turner returned, but his injured finger still seemed to be bothering him as his power was down and he was charged with five errors over the last half of the month.

The Nats next went to New York for a four-game series against the Mets, and their season reached rock bottom. The Mets swept the Nats, even though in the last three games the Nats went into the bottom of the eighth inning ahead. It seemed that there was no one in the bullpen that could be relied on to get outs. At the end of the series, their record was 19–31, 10 games out of first place and only 1.5 games ahead of the last place Marlins.

But the Nats returned home to face the Marlins and their fortune started turning up, The team took three of four from the Marlins, then swept a two-game series in Atlanta against the Braves. The second game against the Braves turned into a laugher, won 14 to 4. On the last day of May the Nats played the Reds in Cincinnati in the first game of a three-game series and lost 9 to 3.

The Nats went 12–17 in May and finished the month with a 24–33 record, in fourth place, 9 games behind the division-leading Phillies. According to the Nats-friendly Fangraphs website, the Nats probability of winning the division was 16% (down from 39% at the end of April) and their probability of making the playoffs was 32%.  Less favorable projections showed up on the websites FiveThirtyEight (18% probability of making the playoffs) and Baseball Prospectus (11%). While a Nats comeback in the pennant race isn’t impossible, it’s now certainly improbable.

The Nats’ starting pitchers performed admirably during May. Their park-adjusted ERA– of 71 in May (that is, 29% better than an average team) ranked second in the National League behind the Dodgers. The fielding independent measure (FIP–) was 77, third in the NL just behind the Dodgers and Diamondbacks. They were second in the NL in strikeout rate (26.2%) behind the Reds, and were second behind the Diamondbacks in their home runs allowed per nine innings at 0.82.

As good as the Nats’ starting pitchers were, the relief pitchers were comparably bad. The relief staff’s ERA– of 184 in May was far-and-away the worst in the majors. Their fielding independent FIP– of 133 managed to only be second worst in the majors (and worst in National League). The leverage-sensitive metric win-probability added, at –4.49, was by far the worst in the majors, as was their RE24 (–41.54). In other words, with an average bullpen, the Nats would have had between four and five fewer losses in May. It’s hard to overstate just how awful the Nats’ bullpen was during the month.

The batters, finally, were mediocre. Their on-base percentage of .320 was eighth of 15 teams in the NL, while their slugging percentage of .398 ranked 12th. The comprehensive and park-adjusted weighted runs created measure (wRC+) was 86 in May, 14% below average and 11th in the National League. The defense was also a problem, with the Nats, according to advanced metrics like defensive runs saved (DRS) and ultimate zone rating (UZR) having one of the worst defenses in the league.

Record:

12–17 (.414)

Pythagorean Record:

12–17 (4.34 R/G – 5.17 RA/G)

May MVP:

Max Scherzer (1–2, 2.61 RA/9, 6 G, 38 IP, 11.4 K/9, .311 opp OBP, 1.5 RA9-WAR) continues to perform as one of the best pitchers in baseball, even if it’s not reflected in his win-loss record—in his three no-decisions during May he pitched 18 innings, gave up only 3 runs, and left all three games with the Nats ahead only to have the bullpen to blow the lead. A close runner-up for May MVP is Stephen Strasburg (3–2, 3.05 RA/9, 6 G, 41-1/3 IP, 10.9 K/9, 1.4 RA9-WAR).

Most valuable position player:

Shared by Anthony Rendon (.277/.400/.566, 23 G, 4 HR, 20 R, 16 RBI, 145 wRC+, 0.9 fWAR) and Juan Soto (.380/.451/.676, 19 G, 4 HR, 16 R, 16 RBI, 189 wRC+, 0.9 fWAR).

Most valuable relief pitcher:

This month the category probably should be renamed “least terrible relief pitcher.” I’ll go with Justin Miller (0–0, 2.84 RA/9, 7 G, 6-1/3 IP, 2.8 K/9, .292 opp OBP, 0.74 RE24, 0.1 RA9-WAR, 1 shutdown, 1 meltdown), even though Miller spent the last half of the month on the injured list.

Worst month:

I’ll go with Joe Ross (0–0, 16.20 RA/9, 9 G, 6-2/3 IP, 9.5 K/9, .487 opp OBP, –0.6 RA9-WAR, 0 shutdowns, 3 meltdowns), though I could just as well have gone with Dan Jennings (18.00 RA/9 in 7 G) or Kyle Barraclough (10.45 RA/9 in 13 G, 2 shutdowns, 5 meltdowns) or Matt Grace (9.82 RA/9 in 12 G).

Best start this month:

Patrick Corbin (May 25, 5–0 win over the Marlins at home) pitched a complete game shutout, giving up 4 hits and 1 walk and striking out 5, for a game score of 83.

Worst start:

Also Patrick Corbin (May 31, 9–3 loss to the Reds in Cincinnati), who gave up 8 runs and 11 hits in 2-2/3 innings, while striking out 2 and not allowing any walks, for a game score of 10.

Tough losses:

  • Max Scherzer (May 1, 5–1 loss to the Cardinals at home) gave up 3 runs on 8 hits and 2 walks with 8 strikeouts in 7 innings, for a game score of 55.
  • Anibal Sanchez (May 5, 7–1 loss to the Phillies in Philadelphia) gave up 2 unearned runs on 2 hits and 4 walks with 9 strikeouts in 4-2/3 innings, for a game score of 61. Defensive gaffes led to two runs in the first inning and pushed up his pitch count, and when he left the game the Nats were trailing 2 to 1.
  • Stephen Strasburg (May 7, 6–0 loss to the Brewers in Milwaukee) gave up 4 runs on 6 hits and 2 walks with 11 strikeouts in 6-2/3 innings, for a game score of 55.
  • Stephen Strasburg (May 12, 6–0 loss to the Dodgers in Los Angeles) gave up 2 runs on 4 hits and 2 walks with 7 strikeouts in 6 innings, for a game score of 61.
  • Max Scherzer (May 17, 14–6 loss to the Cubs at home)  gave up 3 runs on 6 hits and 4 walks with 8 strikeouts in 6 innings, for a game score of 52. He left the game with the Nats trailing 3 to 2.

Cheap wins:

  • None

Best shutdown: 

Sean Doolittle (May 2, 2–1 win over the Cardinals at home). Doolittle entered in the top of the eighth with runners on first and second, two outs, and the Nats leading 2 to 1. After walking the first batter he faced, he struck out Goldschmidt to get out of the inning. He then pitched a scoreless frame in the ninth for a 4-out save (win probability added .268).

Worst meltdown:

Sean Doolittle (May 22, 6–1 loss to the Mets in New York). Doolittle came into the game in the bottom of the eighth with runners on first and second, two outs, and the Nats leading 1 to 0. He hit the first batter he faced, then gave up a three-run double followed by an intentional walk and a three-run home run. He was then pulled, charged with 4 runs and 2 inherited runners scoring without getting an out (WPA –.736).  I’m awarding this category to Doolittle rather than Joe Ross (May 4, 10–8 win over the Phillies in Philadelphia) because the Nats came back late to win the game in Philly. Ross came into the game in the bottom of the seventh with the Nats holding a 5–3 lead and gave up five runs on four doubles, a single, a walk, and a wild pitch, while only getting one out (WPA –.745).

Clutch hit:

Gerardo Parra (May 11, 5–2 win over the Dodgers in Los Angeles). Playing his second game for the Nationals, Parra came to bat in the top of the eighth with the bases loaded, two outs, and the Nats trailing 2 to 1. He hammered a 2–2 fastball into the right-center-field seats for a grand slam home run and his first hit as a Nat. (WPA .636)

Choke: 

Juan Soto (May 27, 3–2 loss to the Marlins at home). In the bottom of the eight with the Nats trailing 3 to 2, two outs, and the bases loaded, Soto lined out to left field (WPA –.198). I’m giving it to Soto instead of Gerardo Parra (May 24, 12–10 win over the Marlins at home) because the Nats later came back to win that one. Parra came to bat with runners on first and third and grounded into a double play to end the seventh with the score tied 8 to 8 (WPA –.206).

Favorite Defensive Plays:

 

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)

 

 

 

October 3, 2018 / Nat Anacostia

Nats’ September in review: Not the season we wanted

September began with the Nationals in third place in the NL East, 7-1/2 games behind the Braves, and one game below .500. With the exception of Bryce Harper, management had traded off most of their tradable players and had turned their attention to 2019 and beyond. During September the Nats went 15–12 and salvaged a winning record for the year, ending the season with an 82–80 record and in second place in the division, 8 games behind the division champion Braves.

At the beginning of the month, the Nats were in a home stand facing the top three teams in the NL Central. They had lost the first game of a three-game set against the Brewers and proceeded to split the last to games, losing the series two games to one. Next came the Cardinals, and the Nats also lost that series two games to one. The final series in the home stand was to be a four-game series against the Cubs. The Cubs won the first game in extra innings. After that, the rains came.

In what was planned as his first game since Tommy John surgery, Joe Ross was scheduled to start the second game on Friday night. He got five scoreless outs before a rain delay, and when the rains didn’t stop until midnight, the game was called and rescheduled as part of a doubleheader the next day. There was a two hour, 10-minute rain delay to start the first game, and another rain delay before the ninth inning of the second, but the Nats eventually swept the doubleheader, winning 10 to 3 and 6 to 5. An iconic image was Sean Doolittle leaning back, arms outstretched, tasting the pouring rain after he got the final out in the eighth inning—his first appearance off the disabled list. The next day, Sunday, there was yet more rain, so the final game was postponed, and would require the teams to return to Washington on Thursday after the Nats’ next series in Philadelphia.

The first game in Philadelphia also had to be postponed because the gounds, soaked from several days of rain, were unplayable. A doubleheader was played the next day, and the Nats won both games, with the second win coming in extra innings. They also won the final game the next day to sweep the series and quash the hopes of the second-place Phillies.

At that point there was still a remote chance of the Nats making a late-season surge to catch the division-leading Braves. If they could beat the Cubs in the postponed game and then sweep the Braves in Atlanta, the Nats would move to 4-1/2 games of the lead. At that point, with 12 games remaining, the Nats appeared to have a much easier schedule than the Braves for the rest of the season, with 5 games against the Marlins and 4 against the Mets. But it wasn’t to be—the Cubs beat the Nats 4 to 3 in 10 innings, and in the first game in Atlanta, Max Scherzer had his worst outing of the season, as the Nats fell 10 to 5. Even though the Nats won the final two games of the Atlanta series, they stood 7-1/2 games behind with 12 to play.

After that, the Nats’ elimination came quickly. They split a two-game series against the Marlins in Miami, and on September 21, after losing the first two games against the Mets at home, the Nats were officially eliminated from the NL East race. The next day they were also eliminated from the wild card race. They split the last two games of the four-game series against the Mets, losing the series three games to one. Their final home series of the season was a three-game set against the Marlins, which they swept. Their last home game of the season was called after 7 innings due to rain—a fitting end to a rain-drenched month.

Their last series was a three-game set against the Rockies in Colorado. The Rockies were leading the NL West by one game, and when they beat the Nats in the first game, they also clinched a post-season slot. The Nats won the second game 12 to 2, dropping the Rockies to a tie with the Dodgers for the NL West lead. On the final game of the Nats’ season, the Rockies clobbered them 12 to 0. It was the 15th time the Nats were shutout and their worst blowout loss of the season—perhaps a fitting end to a disappointing season. The Rockies would have to play one more game against the Dodgers to decide the NL West championship, with the loser (the Rockies) going to the Wild Card game.

The Nats’ batters had a good month. Their .267 batting average for the month was third in the NL, while their .369 on-base percentage led the league and their .434 slugging percentage was fourth. The overall batting metric, weighted runs created plus (wRC+) was 116, or 16% better than average, which ranked second behind the Dodgers in the NL.

Starting pitching continued to be a weakness. Their 4.54 ERA during September ranked 11th in the NL. Their park-adjusted ERA relative to league (ERA–) of 111 also ranked 11th in the NL (11% worse than average), while their fielding-independent pitching relative to league (FIP–) of 97 ranked 9th. Scherzer, who had been the Nats’ most valuable player during the first five months of the season, had an off-month, and Tanner Roark also struggled. Nine different pitchers started a game for the Nats during September.

The Nats’ relief pitching was mediocre during September. The relievers ERA– of 117 ranked 8th in the NL, and their RE24 of –1.41 ranked 7th. They were fifth in shutdowns with 29, but also had the fifth most meltdowns with 20.

Record:

15–12 (.555)

Pythagorean Record:

15–12 (5.14 R/G – 4.52 RA/G)

September MVP:

Anthony Rendon (.352/.439/.657, 27 G, 6 HR, 24 R, 26 RBI, 189 wRC+, 2.1 fWAR). He had a fantastic month that was only overshadowed by Christian Yelich. During September Rendon ranked 2nd in the NL in both wRC+ and fWAR.

NL Rookie of the Month:

Juan Soto (.283/.383/.525, 26 G, 6 HR, 15 R, 20 RBI, 139 wRC+, 0.8 fWAR) won this award for the third time in the last four months.

Most valuable starting pitcher:

Stephen Strasburg (3–0, 2.86 RA/9, 6 G, 34-2/3 IP, 11.7 K/9, .309 opp OBP, 1.1 RA9-WAR).

Most valuable relief pitcher:

Greg Holland (2–0, 2 Sv, 0.77 RA/9, 12 G, 11-2/3 IP, 10.8 K/9, .273 opp OBP, 6.03 RE24, 0.8 RA9-WAR, 7 shutdowns, 1 meltdown).

Worst month:

Jefry Rodriguez (1–2, 8.27 RA/9, 6 G, 2 GS, 16-1/3 IP, 7.2 K/9, .390 opp OBP, –0.4 RA9-WAR)

Best start this month:

Max Scherzer (September 25, 9–4 win over the Marlins at home) pitched 7 innings, giving up 1 run on 5 hits and no walks, striking out 10, for a game score of 73. His final strikeout was his 300th for season.

Worst start:

Jefry Rodriguez (September 2, 9–4 loss to the Brewers at home) gave up 7 runs in 4-2/3 innings, allowing 7 hits and 7 walks and striking out 2, for a game score of 17.

Tough losses:

None

Cheap wins:

None

Best shutdown: 

Greg Holland (September 13, 4–3 loss to the Cubs at home) entered in the top of the eighth with one out, the bases loaded. and the game tied 3 to 3. Holland struck out Willson Contreras and Ben Zobrist to get out of the inning unscathed (win probability added .288). The Nats would lose the game in the 10th inning on an RBI bunt single by Javy Baez.

Worst meltdown:

Wander Suero (September 23, 8–6 loss to the Mets at home). Suero replaced starter Erick Fedde with one out in the top of the fourth inning, runners on first and third, and the Nats leading 3 to 1. He allowed a walk to load the bases, followed by an RBI single and a 3-run triple, before getting the final two outs. He stayed on to start the fifth and gave up two more runs on two doubles and two singles before leaving the game with two outs, runners on first and third, and the Nats trailing 7 to 3 (WPA –.482)

Clutch hit:

Juan Soto (September 1, 5–4 win over the Brewers at home). There were two outs in the bottom of the eighth when Soto came to bat with the bases loaded and the Nats trailing 3 to 2. He hit a ground ball single up the middle that drove in two runs and gave the Nats the lead (WPA .497).

Choke: (tie)

  1. Ryan Zimmerman (September 5, 7–6 loss to the Cardinals at home). In the bottom of the ninth with the Nats trailing 7 to 6, no outs, and runners on first and second, Zim came to bat  and struck out. (WPA –.186)
  2. Mark Reynolds (September 20, 5–4 loss to the Mets in 12 innings at home). In the bottom of the 11th with one out, runners on first and third, and the score tied 4 to 4, Reynolds came to bat and struck out. (WPA –.186)

Least favorite managerial move:

Davey Martinez (September 8, 10–3 win over the Cubs in first game of doubleheader at home). With a 10 to 1 lead, Martinez left Max Scherzer in to pitch the ninth inning, facing the heart of the Cubs order for the fourth time. He would give up 2 runs on 4 hits to get a complete game—a game that the relief staff should have finished. More importantly, I suspect that fatigue from this game contributed to Max’s poor performance in his next outing against the Braves, when he lasted only 4 innings and gave up 6 runs on 7 hits and 3 walks.

Favorite defensive plays:

 

 

September 3, 2018 / Nat Anacostia

Nats’ August in review: These are tough decisions

August began with the Nationals in third place, 5-1/2 games behind the division-leading Phillies, and having just decided to stand pat before the trade deadline, thinking they still had a good chance to get back into the race. During August they went 14-15 and ended the month with a 67–68 record, 7-1/2 games behind the Braves, who had taken over the division lead. By then the Nats’ probability of reaching the playoffs was down to a real long-shot–3% according to Fangraphs, 5% according to FiveThirtyEight, and 1% according to Baseball Prospectus. And before the month was over, the team had traded off most of the players who would be eligible for free agency at the end of the season, with the notable exception of Bryce Harper, who was retained.

The month began with the Nats at home, playing the second game of a two-game series against the Mets. (They had won the first game–immediately after the deadline–by a score of 25 to 4.) They won the second game, sweeping the series, then took three of four against the Reds. They then faced the Braves in a four-game series, which they split. Their 7–3 record during the home stand allowed them to keep pace in the divisional race, though a series win against the Braves would have helped them move up in the standings.

The next road trip would prove to be pivotal. The Nats were facing the Chicago Cubs, who were holding the lead in the competitive NL Central race, and the Cardinals, who were in third place with a good record. The games were hard fought and exciting, featuring late-inning comebacks or attempted comebacks and a couple of walk-offs, But the Nats were on the losing end of too many of those games, losing the Cubs series two games to one, and the Cardinals series three games to one. With a 2–5 record during the road trip, they started the trip 5-1/2 games behind and finished it 8 games out. Their probability of reaching the playoffs (according to Fangraphs) plummeted from 41% to 20% over the seven-game span.

The Nats’ first series after returning home was against the Marlins, and their fortunes continued to plummet as they lost the series, two games to one. The final game of the series was a blow-out, with the Nats losing 12 to 1. The Nats management decided it was time to throw in the towel. On August 21 Daniel Murphy was traded to the Cubs, and Matt Adams was surrendered to the Cardinals on a waiver claim. The Nats management was now committed to shedding salary. But they decided not to move Bryce Harper, and held onto him for the final six weeks of his contract.

After the trades, the Nats opened a series against the Phillies. They played the first games like they wanted to send a message. They won the first (rain-delayed) game featuring back-to-back home runs by Andrew Stevenon and Wilmer Difo, the players who replaced Adams and Murphy on the roster. They won the second game on a walk-off home run by Ryan Zimmerman. Their fortunes changed in the third game, however, when Phillies pitcher Aaron Nola outdueled Max Scherzer, shutting out the Nationals 2 to 0. The Nats finished the home stand with a 3–3 record.

Their next road trip opened in New York against the Mets. The Nats were shut out in their first two games, making three consecutive shutouts. Then, in a fashion that was typical of their 2018 season, they blew away the Mets in the third game, 15 to 0, but ended the game with an injury to Kelvin Herrera, probably losing him for the rest of the season. In the series they outscored the Mets 15 to 6, yet lost the series two games to one, and ended the series weaker than they started. The road trip finished with a three-game series against the Phillies in Philadelphia, which the Nats won two games to one.

On August 31, the Nats made two more trades, sending Ryan Madson to the Dodgers and long-time National pitcher Gio Gonzalez to the Brewers. The Brewers were in Washington to open a series against the Nationals, and the Nats lost the first game, ending the month a game below .500 and well out of playoff contention.

With most of their hitters healthy, the Nats’ offense performed pretty well during August. Their .330 on-base percentage was 4th of the 15 teams in the NL, and their .431 slugging percentage ranked 5th. Their ballpark-adjusted weighted runs created (wRC+) of 101 ranked 6th.

The Nationals’ starting pitchers, however, continued to disappoint during August. Their ERA, 3.90, ranked 10th in the NL, and they also ranked 10th in the park-adjusted version, ERA–, with 96. And adjusting for fielding didn’t help, as their fielding-independent pitching adjusted for league and ballpark, FIP–, was 111, 12th in the NL.

The Nats’ injury-plagued relief pitchers also disappointed, with an ERA of 4.67 (11th in the NL), and a FIP– of 127 (14th). Their 15 shutdowns ranked last in the NL, whereas their 18 meltdowns was the 4th most. Overall, pitching was a serious team weakness during August.

Record:

14–15 (.483)

Pythagorean Record:

16–13 (4.72 R/G – 4.31 RA/G)

August MVP:

Max Scherzer (2–1, 1.89 RA/9, 6 G, 38 IP, 11.6 K/9, .224 opp OBP, 1.7 RA9-WAR) wins the award for the fifth consecutive month. He’s truly been the one player we’ve always been able to rely on this season.

Most valuable position player:

Ryan Zimmerman (.316/.402/.658, 24 G, 6 HR, 10 R, 18 RBI, 178 wRC+, 1.1 fWAR). Honorable mention goes to Bryce Harper and Anthony Rendon, who each had 1.0 fWAR.

Most valuable relief pitcher:

Greg Holland (0–0, 1 Sv, 0.93 RA/9, 12 G, 9-2/3 IP, 10.2 K/9, .222 opp OBP, 1.74 RE24, 0.4 RA9-WAR, 2 shutdowns, 1 meltdown).

Worst month:

Gio Gonzalez (1–4, 7.76 RA/9, 6 G, 31-1/3 IP, 6.6 K/9, .399 opp OBP, –0.7 RA9-WAR)

Best start this month:

Max Scherzer (August 12, 4–3 loss to the Cubs in Chicago) pitched 7 scoreless innings while giving up 3 hits and 1 walk, striking out 11, for a game score of 81. He left the game with the Nats holding a 1 to 0 lead, but the Nats

Worst start:

Gio Gonzalez (August 19, 12–1 loss to the Marlins at home) gave up 8 runs in 4-2/3 innings, while allowing 10 hits and 4 walks and striking out 5, for a game score of 13.

Tough losses:

  • Max Scherzer (August 23, 2–0 loss to the Phillies at home) gave up 2 runs on 2 hits and 4 walks with 10 strikeouts in 7 innings (game score 71).
  • Gio Gonzalez (August 24, 3–0 loss to the Mets in New York) gave up 1 run on 7 hits and no walks with 2 strikeouts in 7 innings (game score 61).
  • Tanner Roark (August 25, 3–0 loss to the Mets in New York) gave up 1 run on 4 hits and no walks with 7 strikeouts in 6 innings (game score 67).

Cheap wins: 

  • Tanner Roark (August 16, 5–4 win over the Cardinals in St. Louis) gave up 4 runs (3 earned) on 5 hits and 3 walks with 1 strikeout in 6 innings (game score 46).

Best shutdown: 

Greg Holland (August 28, 5–4 win over the Phillies in Philadelphia) entered in the bottom of the ninth with one out, a runner on second base, and the Nats leading 5 to 4. The Phillies had just hit a pair of doubles and had cut the Nationals’ lead in half. Holland got Alfaro to fly out to center, and Phillies runner Velasquez was out on appeal after leaving early when tagging on the play, ending the game (win probability added .285).

Worst meltdown:

Ryan Madson (August 12, 4–3 loss to the Cubs in Chicago). Madson came into the game in the bottom of the ninth for the save with the Nats leading 3–0. After getting the first out, he allowed an infield single, then hit a batter. He got Schwarber to foul out for the second out, then hit another batter to load the bases. On a 2–2 count, Cubs pinch hitter David Bote hit a walk-off grand slam home run (WPA –.956) After the game, Madson belatedly told Davey Martinez that he had been dealing with back pain that was preventing him from pushing off the mound and finishing his pitches the way he normally did.

Clutch hit:

Ryan Zimmerman (August 22, 8–7 win over the Phillies at home). There were two outs in the bottom of the ninth, Juan Soto was at second, and the Nats were trailing 7 to 6 when Zimmerman came to bat. After looking at three sliders–two balls and a strike–Zimmerman hit the first fastball he saw over the right field wall. It barely cleared the wall and was initially called in play, but after video review the call was corrected to a walk-off home run. (WPA .853) It was Zimmerman’s 11th career walk-off home run, only two behind the all-time leader, Jim Thome.

Choke:

Adam Eaton (August 29, 8–6 loss to the Phillies in Philadelphia). In the top of the eighth, Eaton came to bat with one out, runners on first and second, and the Nats trailing 7–6. He grounded into an inning-ending double play. (WPA –.213)

Favorite defensive play:

August 3, 2018 / Nat Anacostia

Nats’ July in review: I believe in this team

After a terrible June, the Nats opened July with a 42–39 record, in third place and five games out in the divisional race, and in fifth place for the wild card. Despite intermittent claims that they were finally turning things around, they ultimately failed to do so. They went 11–14 for the month, and finished the month with a 53–53 record, still in third place and 5-1/2 games behind. The Braves, who had been in first place at the start of the month, went 10–13, but the Phillies swooped in to take first place in the division with a 15–11 month.

With continued backsliding and time running out, all of the projections show the Nats’ postseason chances fading, though they differ quite a bit in how bleak things appear. Fangraphs continues to provide the more optimistic projection, showing them with a 31% chance of winning the division (down from 64% at the end of June) and a 41% chance of making the playoffs. Bleaker assessments come from FiveThirtyEight (a 16% chance of winning the division) and Baseball Prospectus (11%).

July began with the Nats in Philadelphia, playing the fourth game of a series that they were trailing two games to one. After a 13-inning marathon, they lost 4 to 3. Despite outscoring the Phillies in the series 25 to 18, they lost it three games to one.

Returning home, they had a three-game set finishing on Independence Day against the Red Sox, who were then neck-and-neck with the Yankees for the best record in baseball. With Max Scherzer pitching the first game, the Nats were hopeful that they’d start the series with a win, but they lost the game 4 to 3. They also lost the final two games and were swept by the Sox, giving the Nats their fifth consecutive loss.

Next came the Marlins, and in the first game the Nats appeared to be one the way for the sixth loss in a row, as they were trailing 9–0 after the top of the fourth. But with a run in the fourth, four runs in the fifth, and another five runs in the sixth, the Nats took the lead and ultimately won the game 14 to 12, for the largest comeback in club history. The Nats won the next game with a Mark Reynolds walkoff home run, and routed the Marlins in game three, 18 to 4, before losing game four.

In the last week before the All-Star break, the Nats traveled to Pittsburgh, where they lost two of three games to the Pirates. Matt Wieters came off the disabled list, but then closer Sean Doolittle was placed on the DL with a toe injury. The road trip concluded in New York with a four-game series against the Mets. The Nats won the first game, then lost two, and concluded the series with a win for a series split.

The 2018 All-Star Game was played at Nationals Park, and the Nats had three players selected for the NL All-Star team—Max Scherzer, Bryce Harper, and Sean Doolittle. Harper had agreed to compete in the home run derby and won the contest with the support of the home-town crowd. Scherzer and Harper were both starters in the All-Star game, with Max pitching two innings and giving up one run on a homer by Aaron Judge. The game featured lots of strikeouts and home runs, and the AL ultimately won it 8 to 6 in 10 innings. Doolittle was scratched from the team because he was on the DL.

After the break, the Nats faced the Braves at home. Ryan Zimmerman and Stephen Strasburg returned from the DL. Zim would have to share playing time at first base with Matt Adams, who was hitting too well to be left out of the lineup against most right-handers. Strasburg started the first game of the Braves series. However, it turned out Stephen wasn’t healthy yet—he gave up six runs in 4-2/3 innings in an 8 to 5 loss. After Strasburg was knocked out, the TV cameras spotted Stephen and Max exchanging words in the dugout—the team’s emotions were running high. Strasburg then went back on the DL with cervical neck impingement. Former Nat, Tommy Milone, returned to the team after a six-season hiatus and took Stephen’s place in the rotation. Game two of the Braves series was rained out, and the Nats won the final game to split the series at one game apiece.

After just two games at home, the Nats were back on the road with a three-game set against the Brewers in Milwaukee. They lost the first two games, then won the finale. They next played the Marlins in a four-game series in Miami, where they won the first two games 10 to 3 and 9 to 1, before losing the third game 2 to 1 in 10 innings, and getting shut out 5 to 0 in the finale for a series split. The month concluded at home with the first game of a two-game set against the Mets. With the trade deadline just past, and almost the entire team still intact, the Nats celebrated by beating the Mets 25 to 4, setting a new club record for runs scored in a game.

In an odd coda to the Mets game, Shawn Kelley was brought in to pitch the ninth inning with a 25 to 1 lead. Apparently upset about being asked to pitch in a blowout, and getting contradictory messages from two umpires about the pace of play, he allowed a couple of hits followed by a home run, giving up three runs. He slammed down his glove and stared into the Nats dugout, appearing to express frustration toward manager Davey Martinez. The next morning, Mike Rizzo announced that Kelley had been designated for assignment for showing up the manager.

As the trade deadline approached, the baseball world debated whether the Nationals should be buyers or sellers. The Nats front office was cagey, saying they would decide after the Marlins series ended, less than 48 hours before the deadline. The next evening, there were reports that the Nats were entertaining offers for Bryce Harper and baseball media started going crazy with speculation. The next morning, however, about five hours before the deadline, Rizzo ended the speculation, announcing, “Bryce is not going anywhere, I believe in this team.”

The Nationals wound up making only two trade deals during July. They traded Brian Goodwin to the Royals and Brandon Kintzler to the Cubs, in each case receiving only a Grade C prospect in exchange. The Goodwin trade was mostly about clearing a roster spot. With Adam Eaton and Ryan Zimmerman back from the DL and Goodwin out of options, there was no longer room for him on the bench. The Kintzler trade, which was announced during the last hour before the deadline, was somewhat of a surprise. It might be seen as clearing some $6 million in payroll over the next two years. There was also speculation that the move was related to a view of Kintzler as a malcontent in the clubhouse. Overall, however, the Nats mostly stood pat, which seems like a reasonable strategy for a team that is a long-shot but not really out of the race. I would have preferred to see the team make a couple of modest acquisitions to shore up their holes—a catcher who can hit, such as Alex Avila or former Nat Wilson Ramos (who went to the Phillies), and maybe a starting pitcher. But with their record at the deadline, it didn’t make sense to either make major acquisitions or to throw in the towel.

Why did the team perform so poorly in July? The starting pitching was the biggest single problem. The starters’ ERA for the month of 5.20, and ERA relative to league (ERA–) of 127, with each ranking 13th among the 15 NL teams.

Another way to look at it is using game scores—a statistic that measures the quality of a starting pitcher’s performance on a scale centered at 50. A score of 50 or above means the starting pitcher has performed well enough that with ordinary run support and without a bullpen failure, the team should be able to win, whereas a score of 49 or below means that the starting pitcher hasn’t really done his job. In July, the Nats’ starters had only 10 starts with a game score of 50 or more and 15 starts with game scores of 49 or less. In contrast, during April and May—when the starters were doing well—they had 45 starts with game scores of at least 50, versus 11 starts with game scores of 49 or less.

The Nats starters’ fielding independent pitching relative to league (FIP–) of 97 ranked 7th, but their opponents’ batting average on balls in play (BABIP) of .333 was dead-last in the league. Their left-on-base percentage of 66% was 14th. The starting pitching was bad, but mostly in categories that seem likely to regress toward at least league-average performance.

The Nats’ batting, on the other hand, appeared to be great. Their on-base percentage for the month of .355 ranked first in the NL, and their batting average of .273 and slugging percentage of .445 each ranked third. In counting stats, their 140 runs scored ranked first and their 35 home runs ranked second.

But appearances can be deceptive, and there were definitely some areas of concern. For example, it should be noted that more than half of their runs (76) were scored in just five games—the games in which the Nats scored nine or more runs. These games were all played against weak divisional rivals—four against the Marlins and a 25-run blowout against the Mets. Conversely, the Nats were shut out in three games and scored just a single run in two more. This weird feast-or-famine distribution of their run scoring, along with their 2–4 record in one-run games, contributed to a big difference between their actual record of 11–14 and their Pythagorean record (what their record should have been based on their runs scored and allowed) of 15–10.

Another problem with the performance of the Nats’ position players in July was a deterioration in team defense. The players returning from the DL, particularly Adam Eaton and Daniel Murphy, were not yet playing at full speed, and they were taking the place of much better defensive players in Michael A. Taylor and Wilmer Difo. The Fangraphs measure of the team’s defense for July of 3.0 ranked 12th in the NL. In contrast, during May (when both Eaton and Murphy were out) the Nats’ defense measure was 7.9, which ranked sixth in the league. Perhaps the relatively poor defense was also a contributing factor to the starting pitchers’ unusually high BABIP and the gap between their ERA and the fielding-independent measure.

The Nats’ bullpen was generally fine, or at least adequate. Their July ERA– of 75 ranked fourth in the NL, while ther FIP– of 93 ranked eighth. The bullpen’s left-on-base percentage of 82.1%, second in the league, also helped. They ranked fifth in RE24 (a measure which accounts for performance with inherited runs) at 9.24. Their 20 shutdowns compared with 10 meltdowns was also a good ratio.

Record:

11–14 (.440)

Pythagorean Record:

15–10 (5.60 R/G – 4.56 RA/G)

July MVP:

Max Scherzer (4–1, 3.44 RA/9, 5 G, 34 IP, 9.3 K/9, .287 opp OBP, 0.8 RA9-WAR) wins this award for the fourth consecutive month. It was a tougher call this time, as his pitching performance didn’t match his first three months (9.3 K/9 compared with 13.0 K/9 during the first three months, opp OBP of .287 compared with .232). Nevertheless, by giving the Nats a chance to win every time his turn came around, Max’s contributions were as valuable as anyone’s, and he deserves a bit of extra credit for contributing with the bat (4 for 11, or .364, with two sacrifice bunts).

Most valuable position player:

Anthony Rendon (.277/.337/.482, 20 G, 4 HR, 15 R, 16 RBI, 118 wRC+, 0.8 fWAR). If we were simply basing this award on hitting statistics, there were about six Nats who would rank ahead of Rendon, including Mark Reynolds (211 wRC+), Juan Soto (145), Daniel Murphy (158), Bryce Harper (127), Adam Eaton (128), and Matt Adams (146). But defense matters too, and Rendon contributed a lot with the glove. So in this case, I think the fWAR leader is the right player for the award.

By the way, for the second consecutive month Juan Soto won the NL Rookie of the Month Award in July.

Most valuable relief pitcher:

I know it’s weird, but this award goes to just-traded Brandon Kintzler (0–0, 2.03 RA/9, 13 G, 13-1/3 IP, 6.8 K/9, .220 opp OBP, 4.15 RE24, 0.4 RA9-WAR, 4 shutdowns, 2 meltdowns).

Worst month:

Matt Wieters (.152/.250/.196, 13 G, 0 HR, 5 R, 3 RBI, –0.3 fWAR)

Best start this month:

Tanner Roark (July 25, 7–3 win over the Brewers in Milwaukee) pitched 8 scoreless innings while giving up 3 hits and 1 walk, striking out 11, for a game score of 86.

Worst start:

Jeremy Hellickson (July 5, 14–12 win over the Marlins at home) gave up 9 runs in 4 innings, while allowing 9 hits (including 2 home runs) and 1 walk, and striking out 2, for a game score of 11. He left the game with the Nats trailing 9–0, but the team mounted an historic comeback to win the game.

Tough losses:

  • Max Scherzer (July 2, 4–3 loss to the Red Sox at home) gave up 3 runs on 4 hits and 3 walks with 9 strikeouts in 6 innings (game score 58).
  • Gio Gonzalez (July 11, 2–0 loss to the Pirates in Pittsburgh) gave up 2 runs on 6 hits and 1 walk with 4 strikeouts in 6 innings (game score 55).

Cheap wins: 

  • Max Scherzer (July 7, 18–4 win over the Marlins at home) gave up 4 runs on 7 hits (including 3 home runs) and 2 walks with 3 strikeouts in 7 innings (game score 48).

Best shutdown: 

Sean Doolittle (July 1, 4–3 loss to the Phillies in Philadelphia in 13 innings) entered in the bottom of the ninth with the game tied 3 to 3, one out, and runners on first and second. The first batter he faced, Carlos Santana, grounded into an inning-ending double play. In the tenth inning he retired all three batters on a ground-out and two strikeouts (win probability added .351). The game remained tied until the 13th inning, when Justin Miller allowed a walk-off home run to Andrew Knapp.

Worst meltdown:

Kelvin Herrera (July 28, 2–1 loss to the Marlins in Miami). In the top of the ninth, Daniel Murphy had driven in a run to tie the game 1 to 1. The game went to extra innings, and Herrera came in in the bottom of the tenth. He gave up a bunt single to the first Marlins batter, then the second one also bunted and reached on a weird catcher obstruction call. Spencer Kieboom bumped the batter while trying to field the bunt, though Davey Martinez and most of the Nationals analysts thought the umpire blew the call. The next Marlin batter got a bloop single, and the bases were loaded with no outs. Davey then decided to use a five-man infield. Realmuto hit a soft fly ball down the right-field line that would have been easily caught with normal outfield positioning, but Michael A. Taylor was unable to run it down from his position in right center, so the Marlins won the game. (WPA –.365)

Clutch hit:

Trea Turner (July 5, 14–12 win over the Marlins at home). During the fourth, fifth, and sixth innings, the Nats had clawed back from a 9–0 deficit, and when Turner came to bat in the bottom of the sixth the Nats were trailing 9–6. The bases were loaded with two outs. Turner hit a line drive that cleared the left-field wall into the bullpen for a grand-slam home run and a 10–9 Nationals lead. (WPA .496)

Choke:

Adam Eaton (July 1, 4–3 loss to the Phillies in Philadelphia). The game was tied 3 to 3 in the top of the 12th, and Wilmer Difo had just led off the inning with a walk. Eaton then grounded into a double play, stifling a possible extra-inning rally. (WPA –.188)

Favorite defensive plays: