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June 30, 2017 / Nat Anacostia

My 2017 NL All-Star team features Murphy, Harper, Rendon, Scherzer, and Strasburg

Each year I select an All-Star team based on objective formulas and post it here.

The basic criteria is wins above replacement (WAR), giving roughly equal weight to performance in 2017 and 2016, with a small weight given to career performance (mostly serving as a tie breaker). Because my criteria are objective and use the same methods year after year, these results are not subject to fan bias. My team has five Nationals selections, with Murphy and Harper starting. Here’s the team:

Starters

C –  Buster Posey – Giants

1B – Paul Goldschmidt – Diamondbacks

2B – Daniel Murphy – Nationals

3B – Kris Bryant – Cubs

SS – Corey Seager – Dodgers

LF – Marcell Ozuna – Marlins

CF – Charlie Blackmon – Rockies

RF – Bryce Harper – Nationals

DH – Joey Votto – Reds

SP – Clayton Kershaw – Dodgers

Reserves

C – J.T. Realmuto – Marlins

C – Yasmani Grandal – Dodgers

1B – Anthony Rizzo – Cubs

1B – Wil Myers – Padres

2B – Josh Harrison – Pirates

3B – Justin Turner – Dodgers

3B – Anthony Rendon – Nationals

SS – Brandon Crawford – Giants

LF – Cody Bellinger – Dodgers

CF – Ender Inciarte – Braves

CF – Christian Yelich – Marlins

SP – Max Scherzer – Nationals

SP – Jon Lester – Cubs

SP – Carlos Martinez – Cardinals

SP – Zack Greinke – Diamondbacks

SP – Johnny Cueto – Giants

SP – Stephen Strasburg – Nationals

SP – Alex Wood – Dodgers

RP – Kenley Jansen – Dodgers

RP – Corey Knebel – Brewers

RP – Pat Neshek – Phillies

RP – Addison Reed – Mets

A few other notes:

  • The roster size is 32 players, down from 34 in recent years.
  • Nats fans may wonder about the absence of Ryan Zimmerman from the roster, but once you consider that I’m weighting both 2016 and 2017, the reason should be clear. However, even if we’re just looking at 2017 statistics, Zimmerman’s WAR trails Goldschmidt and Votto and is about equal to Rizzo’s. While Zim’s statistics are good, he trails them in on-base percentage, which is the most important single statistic.
  • Note that Wil Myers was selected in order for the Padres to be represented; otherwise, he would not have made the team.
  • For picking the starting pitcher, Scherzer and Kershaw were essentially even based on the last two year’s statistics, with Scherzer having a small advantage for 2017 and Kershaw having a small advantage last season. Kershaw’s superior career record wound up being the tie-breaker.

 

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June 2, 2017 / Nat Anacostia

Nats’ May in review: A baseball is a weapon

May was a streaky month, with attention focused on bullpen problems early in the month and on a brawl between Hunter Strickland and Bryce Harper as the month closed. But the Nats managed to play solidly with a 16–11 record, finishing the month ahead of the second place Mets by 9½ games. By month’s end, the Nats’ odds of winning the division were reported as 90% by FiveThirtyEight, 93% by Baseball Prospectus, and 96% by FanGraphs.

May began with a 3-game set against the Diamondbacks at home. After losing the first game, the Nats won the next two. The next series was on the road against the Phillies. They won the first game, with Matt Albers getting his first major league save because Shawn Kelley and Koda Glover were both on the disabled list. Joe Ross, who had struggled in April, had been optioned to Syracuse, so A.J. Cole pitched the second game, which the Nats also won. The third game featured a bullpen meltdown, as the Nats failed to hold a 5 to 2 lead going into the bottom of the 8th inning and wound up losing 6 to 5 in 10 innings.

The Nats then played two games in Baltimore and lost both of them, with another bullpen meltdown occurring in the second game. Max Scherzer had given up 2 runs in 8 innings, and the Nats had a 4 to 2 lead going into the bottom of the ninth. The Orioles tied it, then won in the 12th inning. The next night Nats faced the Orioles at home and staged their own late inning heroics to come back from a 6 to 2 deficit through seven innings to walk off the O’s in the ninth. Then came two rain-outs—the second home game against the O’s, as well as the opener of a 3-game home series against the Phillies. The Phillies game would be made up with a Sunday doubleheader.

The Nats took the first game against the Phillies with a Harper walk-off home run. They then split the doubleheader to win the series. Although Glover and Kelley had returned from the DL, the team’s bullpen woes, however, weren’t over. The loss in the afternoon game featured yet another bullpen meltdown, while in the nightcap the bullpen also gave up a lead in the top of the 8th, but the game was salvaged by a Michael A. Taylor home run in the bottom of the 8th. From May 7 to 14, the Nats bullpen had given up leads in the 8th inning or later in four of seven games, with the team losing three of them.

The Nats woes continued on their next road trip. They lost two of three against the Pirates in Pittsburgh and two of three against the Braves in Atlanta, as both the offense and the starting pitching sputtered.

Then the Nats returned home, and everything seemed to turn around. In the opener of a series against the Mariners, Ross returned from Syracuse and pitched well for 8 innings, as the Nats won 10 to 1. At this point Ross had received 62 runs in support of his first four starts of the season, a major league record. The Nats split the last two games and won the series. They next faced the Padres, and with Dusty Baker away attending his son’s high school graduation, bench coach Chris Speier took the helm for the weekend. The Nats won the first two games behind superb pitching performances from Scherzer and Stephen Strasburg, but in the finale Ross pitched poorly and took the loss.

The month ended with a road trip to the west coast, where the Nats played three against the Giants. In the first game, played on Memorial Day, Tanner Roark pitched well, Ryan Zimmerman hit a home run, and the Nats won 3 to 0. But their fine play was overshadowed by the fight that occurred when Giants reliever, Hunter Strickland, nursing a nearly three-year-old grudge from the 2014 playoffs when Harper twice took him deep, faced Bryce for the first time since that series. Strickland drilled Harper on his first pitch with a 98-mile-per-hour fastball. Harper charged the mound and the two players briefly engaged in fisticuffs until they were pulled apart as the benches cleared. For 24 hours their fight was the baseball talk of the Internet, and Harper received a three-game suspension.

The Nats went on to win the final two games against the Giants for a sweep, with Scherzer pitching a complete-game, 11-strikeout, 3 to 1 gem in the finale.

In contrast to April, when offense had driven the Nats’ success, the team’s offensive production was subdued in May. Their 116 runs scored ranked 11th in the NL for the month, their 34 home runs was tied for 5th, and their weighted runs created (wRC+) was 96, ranking 7th among the 15 NL teams.

The Nats’ starting pitching played a bigger role. Their ERA of 3.39 ranked 2nd among NL starting staffs, and their ERA– of 79, which is adjusted for park and is relative to league average, ranked 3rd. The starters’ strikeout rate of 26.2% led the league, and their adjusted fielding-independent pitching (FIP–) of 92 ranked 4th.

While the bullpen improved in the last half of the month, for the month as a whole it was nevertheless mediocre. The bullpen’s RE24 (a measure of runs allowed relative to average, which accounts for the situation when a pitcher is brought into or leaves the game) was –1.82, which ranked 9th in the NL. Their 15 meltdowns was 4th in the league, whereas their 20 shutdowns was tied for 9th. Turning to more traditional statistics, the relief corps ERA of 3.93 ranked 9th, and their 5 blown saves was tied for 3rd most.Their FIP– of 94, ranking 9th best, suggests that their mediocre performance can’t be attributed to poor fielding.

Record:

16–11 (.593)

Pythagorean Record:

16–11 (4.30 R/G – 3.67 RA/G)

May MVP:

Max Scherzer (3–1, 2.27 RA/9, 6 G, 43-2/3 IP,  12.4 K/9, .235 opp OBP, 1.8 RA9-WAR).

Most valuable position player:

Anthony Rendon (.308/.422/.615, 27 G, 6 HR, 15 R, 17 RBI, 1.5 fWAR).

Most valuable relief pitcher:

Koda Glover (0–0, 0.00 RA/9, 9 G, 8-2/3 IP, .194 opp OBP, 4.72 RE24, 0.6 RA9-WAR, 5 saves, 2 shutdowns, 1 meltdown).

Worst month:

Chris Heisey went (.080/.115/.080, 26 PA, –0.4 fWAR), only to finish the month on the DL with a bicep rupture.

Best start this month:

On consecutive nights, I’m calling it a tie between Max Scherzer (May 26, 5–1 win over the Padres at home) got 13 strikeouts in 8-2/3 innings, allowing 3 hits, 2 walks, and 1 run, for a game score of 85, and Stephen Strasburg (May 27, 3–0 win over the Padres at home) with 15 strikeouts in 7 innings, allowing 3 hits, 1 walk, and no runs, also with a game score of 85. Honorable mention goes to Scherzer’s 3–1, 11 strikeout, complete game win over the Giants in San Francisco on May 31 (game score 84).

Worst start:

Joe Ross (May 28, 5–3 loss to the Padres at home). He gave up 5 runs on 12 hits and 1 walk in 4 innings (game score 21).

Tough losses:

  • Tanner Roark (May 2, 6–3 loss to the Diamondbacks at home) gave up 4 runs on 6 hits and 2 walks with 8 strikeouts in 6 innings (game score 50). 
  • Max Scherzer (May 20, 5–2 loss to the Braves in Atlanta) gave up 3 runs on 4 hits and 3 walks with 6 strikeouts in 5 innings (game score 50).

Cheap win: 

  • Gio Gonzalez (May 30, 6–3 win over the Giants in San Francisco) gave up 3 runs on 8 hits and 3 walks with 6 strikeouts in 6-1/3 innings (game score 48).

Best shutdown: 

Jacob Turner (May 3, 2–1 win over the Diamondbacks at home). Gio Gonzalez had allowed 1 run in 5 innings when he was lifted for a pinch hitter in the bottom of the fifth. Turner entered in the top of the sixth with the game tied 1 to 1 and pitched 4 shutout innings, allowing 2 hits and no walks, and striking out 4. The Nats scored a run in the bottom of the sixth to give the Nats a 2 to 1 victory and Turner the win (win probability added .457).

Worst meltdown:

Matt Albers (May 7, 6–5 loss to the Phillies in Philadelphia). Albers entered with two outs in the bottom of the eighth, runners on first and second, and the Nats leading 5 to 2. Albers gave up a home run to the first batter he faced, Aaron Altherr, tying the game. He got an out to end the inning, but then gave up a walk and a single to the first two batters he faced in the ninth, when he was lifted for Enny Romero (WPA –.598). Romero got out of the inning, but the Nats lost the game in the tenth.

Clutch hit:

Michael A. Taylor (May 14, 2nd game of doubleheader, 6–5 win over the Phillies at home). With one out in the bottom of the 8th, a runner on first, and the Nats trailing 5 to 4, Taylor hit a two-run home run to give the Nats the lead. (WPA .542).

Choke:

Brian Goodwin, Trea Turner, and Adam Lind (May 8, 6–4 loss to the Orioles in Baltimore). Blame for this strange play needs to be shared. With one out in the top of the ninth, the Nats trailing 6 to 4, and Turner on second and Lind on third, Goodwin hit a grounder to first base. The first baseman stepped on the base. Turner, however, had taken off toward third, but Lind had not broken for home. Turner tried to make his way back to second, but was caught off base when the ball was tossed to the shortstop. Lind then broke for home and was tagged out for the game-ending double play. Poor communication and execution all around (WPA –.238).

Favorite Defensive Play:

My favorite play was Bryce Harper gunning down J.J. Hardy at home in the 11th inning of the May 9 game against the Orioles that the Nationals would eventually lose 5 to 4 in the 12th.

 

May 3, 2017 / Nat Anacostia

Nats’ April in review: Our pitching was, you know, just amazing

As the season kicked off in early April, the Nats were NL East favorites in most—but not all—of the preseason projections. The Mets were projected as their main rivals. When the month ended, the Nationals’ 17–8 record was the best in baseball and they were 5 games ahead of their closest divisional rivals. But the end of the month also brought the team its first major injury when Adam Eaton suffered a season-ending torn ACL.

The Nats opened the season at home on April 3, winning against the Marlins. They won the second game of the series as well, before losing the finale, taking two of three. For their next series, they faced the Phillies in Philadelphia. After winning the first game, they brought in Jeremy Guthrie to pitch the second game because their projected fifth starter, Joe Ross, had been optioned to Syracuse. Guthrie’s start was a disaster, with the Phillies scoring 12 runs (10 of them charged to Guthrie) by the end of the first inning in what would be a 17 to 3 loss. The Nats also lost the third game and the series. They ended their first week of play with a 3–3 record in a four-way tie for first place.

Returning home, the Nats won two of three against the Cardinals, and then took two of three against the Phillies.

Despite the team’s winning record, drama was brewing as the bullpen struggled, including the Nats new closer, Blake Treinen. He blew a save in the last game of the season opening series against the Marlins and suffered another meltdown in the last game of the home series against the Phillies, giving up the go-ahead run to the visitors in the top of the ninth and leaving the game with the bases loaded. (Shawn Kelley, though, came in and got the final out, then the Nats’ offense came back in the bottom of the inning and ended the game with a walk-off homer from Bryce Harper). In the next game, against the Braves in Atlanta, Treinen again failed to get the save when he came into the ninth with a 3-run lead, but gave up run and had the bases loaded with one out when Dusty Baker pulled him again for Kelley. Kelly got the last two outs without giving up a run, and Treinen was done as the closer. In his 8 relief appearances while serving as the team’s closer, he had a 7.11 ERA while giving up 10 hits and 6 walks in 6-1/3 innings. Closing duties would pass initially to Kelley and then to Koda Glover.

The Atlanta series was the first of a grueling 10-day, 10-game road trip. The Nats swept their three games against the Braves, then went to New York to face the Mets.  The Nats won all three games against the Mets, with the first game going to 11 innings. The road trip concluded with 4 games in Denver against the Rockies. After an all-night flight, the Nats lost their first game against the Rockies, but then won the last three games at altitude by scores that seem more appropriate for football than baseball—15 to 12, 11 to 4, and 16 to 5. They went 9–1 on the road trip and came home with a 4 game lead in the division race.

Their final series of April was at home against the Mets. In the first game, the Nats entered the bottom of the ninth trailing 7 to 5. But after a pair of singles to lead off the inning, Adam Eaton hit a ground ball and had a chance to beat out the throw for an infield single. Running at full speed, he managed to beat the throw, but while stretching to touch the base he tore his ACL, an injury that will probably cost him the rest of his season. Alas, it was all for naught, as the Nats were unable to score a run, despite loading the bases with no outs. The Nats also lost the second game.

The final game of the Mets series was one for the record books, as the Nats beat the visitors 23 to 5. Anthony Rendon led the offense in the blowout, going 6 for 6 with 3 home runs and 10 RBIs. The Nats’ 23 runs were a team record, as they ended the day with 23 hits including 7 home runs. Rendon’s 10 RBIs were a franchise record and the most in an MLB game since 2007, as he became the 13th MLB player to reach that mark. He’s also one of only six players in MLB history to have 6 hits and 3 home runs in a game. The Nats became the first team in MLB history to score 14 or more runs in 5 games in April.

The Nats’ success was fueled by their offense. (The subtitle of this post is quoting an ironic comment made by Rendon in an interview after his historic April 30 game.) In April, the Nats led the majors in most major offensive categories including runs (170; a Nats record for a single month), average (.295), s (on-base percentage (.369), slugging (.510), weighted on-base average or wOBA (.372), weighted runs created or wRC+ (128), and wins above replacement or WAR (7.5). They were second in homers with 43. Ryan Zimmerman particularly stood out, with a .420/.458/.886 slash line, 11 home runs (tied for the MLB lead), and 29 RBIs (leading MLB). Zimmerman’s performance was a marked turnaround after a 2016 season that was among the worst in baseball. Zim’s goal to elevate the baseball seems to have really paid off. But Harper also returned to his MVP form, with a .391/.509/.772 slash line, an MLB-leading 32 runs scored, 9 home runs, and 26 RBIs. They were joined by the other six regulars, all of whom were above-average offensive players for the month as measured by wRC+.

The Nats’ starting pitching wasn’t quite as impressive, as their ERA– (earned run average adjusted for parks and relative to league average) was 91, ranking 6th among the 15 NL teams. The Nats’ top 4 starters all performed well, with ERAs ranging from 1.62 (Gio Gonzalez) to 3.64 (Tanner Roark). But the fifth/sixth starter role was a problem; Ross’s ERA in three starts was 7.47 and Guthrie’s one ill-fated start resulted in an ERA of 135.00 in 2/3 of an inning. Jacob Turner was the other pitcher tried out in a fifth/sixth starter role, and he was more successful with a 4.50 ERA in his six innings in Colorado.

The relief staff was the team’s Achilles heel. Their RE24 (a measure of runs allowed relative to average, which accounts for the situation when a pitcher is brought into or leaves the game) was a poor –12.54, ranking 14th of the 15 NL teams. The relievers’ ERA– of 133 was worst in the league, and their fielding independent pitching (FIP–) of 123 was 14th of 15 teams. The Nats bullpen recorded 21 shutdowns while suffering 16 meltdowns.

Record:

17–8 (.680)

Pythagorean Record:

17–8 (6.80 R/G – 4.88 RA/G)

April MVP:

Bryce Harper (.391/.509/.772 25 G, 9 HR, 32 R, 26 RBI, 2.0 fWAR). While there’s certainly also a case to be made for Ryan Zimmerman (.420/.458/.886, 11 HR, 29 RBI, 1.8 fWAR), I think the difference in fWAR correctly reflects Harper’s relative advantage in on-base percentage and playing time (18 more plate appearances than Zim).

Most valuable starting pitcher:

Gio Gonzalez (3–0, 2.16 RA/9, 5 G, 33-1/3 IP, 7.0 K/9, .295 opp OBP, 1.4 RA9-WAR).

Most valuable relief pitcher:

Matt Albers (1–0, 0.00 RA/9, 7 G, 9-1/3 IP, .161 opp OBP, 6.21 RE24, 0.4 RA9-WAR, 1 shutdown, 0 meltdown). He wasn’t used much in high-leverage situations, but Albers really was the Nats’ most effective reliever in April.

Worst month:

I’ll call this a tie between starter Jeremy Guthrie (0–1, 135.00 RA/9, 1 G, 2/3 IP, .833 opp OBP, –0.6 RA9-WAR), and reliever Joe Blanton (0–2, 10.80 RA/9, 10 G, 10 IP, 4 HR, –8.48 RE24, .370 opp OBP, –0.6 RA9-WAR), with dishonorable mention going to Blake Treinen (9.00 RA/9, –0.5 RA9-WAR).

Best start this month:

Max Scherzer (April 18, 3–1 win over the Braves in Atlanta) got 7 strikeouts in 7 scoreless innings, allowing 2 hits and 3 walks, for a game score of 77.

Worst start:

Jeremy Guthrie we already talked about this one, on his 38th birthday no less (April 8, 17–3 loss to the Phillies in Philadelphia). He gave up 10 runs on 6 hits and 4 walks, while recording only 2 outs, neither of them strikeouts (game score –4). He was subsequently designated for assignment and granted free agency; I suspect this may have been his last major league game.

Tough losses:

  • Max Scherzer (April 12, 6–1 loss to the Cardinals at home) gave up 3 runs (1 earned run) on 4 hits and 2 walks with 10 strikeouts in 6 innings (game score 64).
  • Stephen Strasburg (April 29, 5–3 loss to the Mets at home) gave up 3 runs on 6 hits with no walks and 2 strikeouts in 7 innings (game score 55).

Cheap wins: 

  • Tanner Roark (April 10, 14–6 win over the Cardinals at home) gave up 5 runs (3 earned runs) on 7 hits with no walks and 3 strikeouts in 5 innings (game score 40).
  • Tanner Roark (April 26, 11–4 win over the Rockies in Denver) gave up 2 runs on 5 hits and 4 walks with 4 strikeouts in 5 innings (game score 49). This actually wasn’t such a bad start considering it was pitched in Colorado; I sort of think the threshold for cheap wins (a game score of 49 or lower) ought to be lower for games played at mile high altitude.

Best shutdown: 

Shawn Kelley (April 18, 3–1 win over the Braves in Atlanta). This was Treinen’s final outing as the team’s closer. Kelley relieved Treinen in the bottom of the ninth with one out and the bases loaded, with the Nats leading 3 to 1. He got Bonifacio to foul out, then struck out Chase d’Arnaud to get the save (win probability added .329).

Worst meltdown:

Koda Glover (April 9, 4–3 loss to the Phillies in Philadelphia). Entering in the bottom of the ninth with the score tied 3 to 3, Glover walked Nava to the lead off the inning. One out later, he allowed a single to Galvis, with Nava advancing to third. After another out on an infield fly, Glover then gave up the walk-off single to Hernandez (WPA –.365).

Clutch hit:

Bryce Harper (April 16, 6–4 win over the Phillies at home). With two outs in the bottom of the 9th, runners on first and second, and the Nats trailing 4 to 3, Harper hit a walk-off home run (WPA .828).

Choke:

Bryce Harper (April 28, 7–5 loss to the Mets at home). One out after the play in which Eaton tore his ACL, Harper came to bat with the bases loaded, one out, and the Nats trailing by two. Terry Collins made a gutsy, controversial move by pulling his closer, Familia, to bring in lefty Josh Edgin to face Harper. It paid off for the Mets manager as Harper hit a weak one-hopper to the pitcher, resulting in a game-ending 1–2–3 double play.

Favorite Defensive Play:

This category is obviously subjective. My favorite play was this diving stop by Anthony Rendon in the Nationals 3 to 2 win over the Braves on April 20.

 

October 14, 2016 / Nat Anacostia

Notes on the 2016 NLDS

In their third NLDS appearance in the last five years, the Nats lost again, giving up the lead in the seventh inning as the bullpen collapsed. I don’t feel as crushed as I did in 2012—the lead was only one run, and when you’ve watched Max Scherzer pitch for two seasons, you’re always half expecting the solo home run to happen. Simply as a baseball game, this was a great one, and in fact the whole series has been pretty great. It’s kind of sad that this will be remembered as the game of Clayton Kershaw, Kenley Jansen, and Joc Pederson, when really Scherzer, Mark Melancon, and Chris Heisey were just as good. But there were too many instances where the Nats were unable to deliver, so it’s Los Angeles that’s going on to face the Cubs.

Here are a few miscellaneous comments about the series.

The Nationals played well—well enough to have won the series. Over the series, the Nats outscored the Dodgers 24 to 19, had a .716 OPS compared with the Dodgers .696, and their pitchers had a 1.25 WHIP compared to 1.45 for the Dodgers. The Dodgers took all three victories in one-run games.

Even though I’m going to talk about some of Dusty Baker‘s decisions, Baker didn’t lose the series. I can’t think of any of his decisions that were obviously wrong, though several may have been debatable. By and large, though, the outcome was about the players’ performance, and about taking gambles that worked and gambles that didn’t work.

It was a bit surprising when the Nats used their extra roster position (coming from only having to use four starting pitcher) for an extra position player rather than an extra bullpen arm. In retrospect, I think it’s pretty clear that Sean Burnett or Matt Belisle would have been more useful than Michael A. Taylor. The Dodgers had a deep bench, and the way to respond to a deep bench is with a deep bullpen.

The Dodgers didn’t win because their manager is a genius and Kershaw is a bulldog. They won because their lineup is deeper, with a deeper bench and bullpen. The Nats actually did pretty well against Kershaw all series – his ERA during the series was 5.86 and his WHIP was just 1.46. While Roberts bringing in Jansen with no outs in the seventh was a gutsy move, it also very easily could have backfired—Jansen had a 6.75 ERA and 1.69 WHIP during the series, and one more hit in either the seventh or ninth inning could have turned Jansen, and Roberts, into goats rather than heroes. But while it almost didn’t work, it did work and Kershaw, Jansen, and Roberts will be remembered for the move.

As everyone has said, the Jayson Werth send by Bob Henley at the end of the sixth inning was just awful — Werth was out by about 40 feet. The worst thing about the play is how out of position Henley was — instead of coming up the line toward home so he could send Werth back if he saw the throw beating him, he was way past third base toward the outfield. It’s past time for the Nats to part ways with “Bob Sendley.” While it’s not likely that this misplay cost the Nats the game (Urias was pitching well and Espinosa was one deck), it did seem like a momentum changer.

In terms of Baker’s decisions that are worth discussing, here are my takes:

  • There were relatively few questionable decisions in the first four games. In game 4, I probably would have pulled Blake Treinen in the bottom of the eighth just before Utley got the game-winning single, just because Treinen hadn’t looked sharp. But I doubt that bringing in Sammy Solis then would have gotten them the platoon advantage—at least in the next game in a similar situation, the Dodgers sent in Ruiz to pinch hit for Utley when Baker replaced Treinen with Solis.
  • In game 5, the most controversy has been about pulling Scherzer after he gave up the home run to Pederson leading off the ninth. Dave Cameron at Fangraphs makes the argument that this was the right move to make, analytically, based on the fact that Scherzer would have been facing a number of left handers for the third time if he had stayed in the games. I agree—at the time I thought Baker was making the right move, and even though it didn’t work out as planned, I can’t fault Dusty.
  • I do question Baker bringing in Marc Rzepczynski as the first replacement for Scherzer (independent of the fact that Rzepcynski would then walk Grandal on four pitches). We know that with a left-handed Nats reliever, the Dodgers were going to use their right-handed bench players for the bottom of the lineup, so Rzepczynski was probably going to face only a single batter. I’d have saved him for someone other than Grandal, and would have brought on Treinen immediately.
  • If pulled about three more inches toward the line, Ruiz’s go-ahead single easily could have been an inning-ending double play, and the game would have had an entirely narrative. I assume that Shawn Kelley was already experiencing discomfort when he gave up the triple to Turner. Kelley is normally exactly the pitcher we wanted to have in there in that situation.
  • In the bottom of the seventh, after Clint Robinson singled (following Heisey’s home run) it seems weird that Baker waited until Trea Turner‘s plate appearance was over before replacing Robinson with a pinch runner (and that the pinch runner was Joe Ross instead of Taylor). Several times this season I’ve seen Baker wait to send in a pinch runner, and I’ve always wondered about it.
  • In the eighth, asking Danny Espinosa to bunt after Stephen Drew reached seemed like a questionable call, especially since Pedro Severino and Taylor were the next two batters. I’m sure Espinosa was hoping to bunt for a hit, but with the second baseman in at double play depth, it didn’t seem like a good risk.

I wound up watching the games on television. (I had planned to go to game 2, and was only about a mile from the stadium when I heard the game was postponed. I had a conflict on Sunday, though, so I wound up selling my tickets to that game.) I thought the broadcasters on Fox Sports were actually pretty good. Tom Verducci always had something interesting to say, and while Harold Reynolds can be obnoxious at times, he’s also a keen observer of the games. All in all, I felt like I was learning from them, which is what I’m looking for from an analyst. On the other hand, the broadcast of game 2 on MLB network with Bob Costas and Jim Kaat was just awful… all reminiscing about players from 20, 30, or 50 years ago. I’ve seen the networks really vary with their broadcast teams, but the Fox Sports team was really quite good.

I have to end with a comment about the length of the games. Don’t get me wrong—I enjoyed the games, and all four hours and 32 minutes of Game 5 was pretty wonderful. But baseball really isn’t going to be able to grow its fan base if it asks its fans to stay up past midnight to watch its yearly playoff series. Maybe that would work if they were all scheduled on weekends, but they’ve got to figure out a way to cut back the length of postseason games. Four hours for a 9-inning game just isn’t going to work.

 

October 14, 2016 / Nat Anacostia

Nats’ September in review: It’s almost hero time

The Nats began September with a 9-game lead over the Mets in the National League East and, barring a historic collapse, were assured of winning the division. With a 17–12 record during September (and the first two days of October, which for purposes of this article I’m counting as part of September), the Nats didn’t collapse and won the NL East with an 8-game lead and a total of 95 wins. But though the divisional race was a yawner, key injuries this month to Stephen Strasburg and Wilson Ramos would impact the team’s prospects moving into the postseason.

September began with the usual callups onto the expanded roster, giving the Nats a month to take a closer looks at players like Pedro Severino, Wilmer Difo, Brian Goodwin, Trevor Gott, Sean Burnett, Mat Latos, and Reynaldo Lopez. Severino, Difo, and Lopez would leverage their callups into spots on the postseason roster.

The month began with a 3-game series against the Mets in New York, the end of a short (6-game) divisional road trip. The Nats won the first game, but lost the next two. Returning to Washington, the Nats swept a three game series against the Braves. The third game struck fear into the hearts of all Nat fans, however, as Stephen Strasburg, in his return from the 15-day disabled list, left the game in the third inning after grimacing and then holding his elbow. The next day, (relatively) good news came that Strasburg would not need a second Tommy John surgery, but the diagnosis of flexor mass strain would keep him out for the rest of the season.

The home stand continued with a 4-game set against the Phillies, in which the Nats took three of four, and a 3-game set against the Mets, which the Nats won two games to one.

A 9-game road trip followed. The Nats won the first game in Atlanta, but lost the last two, with the final loss coming in a rain-shortened 7-inning game. Daniel Murphy suffered a muscle strain in the buttocks and would make only three pinch hitting appearances over the remainder of the month. The Nats then played the Marlins in Miami, and lost the first two games, giving them a 4-game losing streak. In their second Miami loss, they were shut down 1 to 0, facing an 8-inning, 3-hit, 12-strikeout performance by opposing pitcher Jose Fernandez. It would also turn out to be the last game pitched by Fernandez, who died five days later in a boating accident. The road trip concluded with the Nats winning two of three against the Pirates in Pittsburgh. In the final game, Bryce Harper had to leave the game early after sliding awkwardly into third when Kang faked a tag. While the injury wasn’t serious, he would miss several games during the last week of the season.

In their concluding home stand, the Nats split four games with the Diamondbacks. They lost the first game in a 14 to 4 blowout, their worst loss of the season. The greater loss in that game, however, was when Wilson Ramos suffered a knee injury. He would have to undergo surgery and was lost for the rest of the season, as well as the postseason. As a probable free agent, this may have been his last game played as a National.

The team’s final series was against the Marlins. Max Scherzer pitched the final game of the season, and though he only lasted five innings and gave up five runs, the team provided enough run support that they were able to hold on to win 10 to 7 and give Scherzer his 20th win of the season. Scherzer is expected to be a strong contender for the Cy Young Award, and Daniel Murphy is a contender for the MVP Award.

For the month, the Nats didn’t hit well – their .321 on-base percentage ranked 8th in the NL and their .399 slugging percentage ranked 11th. The pitching was also mediocre—their 4.18 starter ERA in the month was 8th in the NL, and the relief pitcher ERA of 3.51 also ranked 8th. Their overall record was a little better than how the team was actually playing during the month.

Record:

17–12 (.586)*

* All statistics in this article include the regular season games played in early October 

Pythagorean Record:

16–13 (4.24 R/G – 3.90 RA/G)

September MVP:

Trea Turner (.339/.380/.612, 29 G, 8 HR, 19 R, 18 RBI, 15 SB, 1.6 fWAR).

Most valuable starting pitcher:

Tanner Roark (2–3, 2.60 RA/9, 6 G, 34-2/3 IP, 8.6 K/9, .298 opp OBP, 1.2 RA9-WAR) – his W/L record was hurt by poor run support—only 2.2 R/G. Honorable mention goes to Max Scherzer (5–0, 3.29 RA/9, 1.0 RA9-WAR).

Most valuable relief pitcher:

Shawn Kelley (2–0, 0.00 RA/9, 12 G, 10-1/3 IP, 9.6 K/9, .088 opp OBP, 4.71 RE24, 0.7 RA9-WAR, 5 shutdowns, 0 meltdown).

Worst month:

I’ll give this one to Danny Espinosa (.135/.212/.281, –0.4 fWAR), though arguments could also be made for Jayson Werth, Ryan Zimmerman, Gio Gonzalez, or Yusmeiro Petit.

Best start this month:

Tanner Roark (September 14, 1–0 win over the Mets at home) got 7 strikeouts in 7 scoreless innings, allowing 3 hits and 4 walks, for a game score of 74.

Worst start:

Gio Gonzalez (September 6, 9–7 win over the Braves at home) gave up 6 runs on 8 hits in 3 innings, with no walks and 4 strikeouts (game score 23).

Tough losses:

  • Tanner Roark (September 3, 3–1 loss to the Mets in New York) gave up 2 runs on 4 hits and 4 walks with 3 strikeouts in 5 innings. With a game score of 50, this one is a borderline “tough loss” (defined as a loss recorded when the pitcher has a game score of 50 or higher).
  • Tanner Roark (September 20, 1–0 loss to the Marlins in Miami). This one’s the real deal. Tanner gave up 1 run on 3 hits and 3 walks with 5 strikeouts in 7 innings (game score 69). Unfortunately, he was paired against the late Jose Fernandez pitching the last, and one of the best, games of his tragically short life.

Cheap wins: 

  • Max Scherzer (October 2, 10–7 win over the Marlins at home) gave up 5 runs on 9 hits and 2 walks with 7 strikeouts in 5 innings (game score 34). We were all rooting for Max to get his 20th win, but it wasn’t pretty.

Best shutdown: 

Shawn Kelley (September 23, 6–5 loss to the Pirates in Pittsburgh in 11 innings). Kelley entered the game with two outs in the bottom of the seventh, runners at first and second, and the Nats leading 5 to 4. He struck out Freese to get out of the inning, then retired three straight in the eighth (win probability added .222). In the bottom of the ninth, however, Mark Melancon gave up the tying run, and in the eleventh, Yusmeiro Petit gave up the walkoff run.

Worst meltdown:

Koda Glover (September 9, 5–4 win over the Phillies at home). Pitching the top of the eighth with a 4 to 1 lead, Glover hit the leadoff hitter, then issued a walk, before getting a groundout that advanced the runners. The next Phillies hitter, Rupp, homered to tie the game, and Glover was pulled with one out (WPA –.389). For the rest of the story, see the next paragraph.

Clutch hit:

Trea Turner (September 9, 5–4 win over the Phillies at home). With two outs in the bottom of the 9th, bases empty, and the game tied 4 to 4, Turner hit a walkoff home run (WPA .466).

Choke:

A tie:

  1.  Trea Turner (September 7, 5–4 win over the Braves at home). In the bottom of the tenth inning, an Anthony Rendon single had just tied the game after the Braves took the lead in the top of the inning. Turner came to bat with runners on first and second, one out, and the score tied 4 to 4. He grounded into a double play to end the inning (WPA –.204). In the eleventh, the Nats walked off on a Wilson Ramos single with the bases loaded.
  2. Clint Robinson (September 13, 4–3 loss to the Mets at home). In the bottom of the ninth, Robinson batted with runners on first and second, one out, and the score tied 3 to 3. He lined out to second and Wilmer Difo was doubled off first (WPA –.204). The Mets scored the winning run in the tenth.
September 21, 2016 / Nat Anacostia

The Nats’ biggest win of the regular season

Most of us are familiar with “win probability added” (WPA) – a metric which lets you identify which play in a game most contributed to a victory or loss, based on the difference between the probability of winning the game before and after the play takes place. In a close game, the biggest play usually comes late in the game, when a lead is taken or the win is assured. In a blowout, on the other hand, the biggest play may occur much earlier when the team takes an early lead that is never given up.

The same concept can apply to games played—we can look at all of the games played in the season and see how the probability of winning the pennant changes with each game played. In a tight pennant race, the biggest game usually takes place near the end of the season when a crucial game shifts the odds decisively in favor of the winning team. On the other hand, for a race that isn’t so close, such as this year’s NL East race, the biggest game may take place weeks before the end of the season.

I’ve been tracking the probability of the Nats winning the division on the Fangraphs site (though several other sites offer alternative sets of probabilities). Unlike WPA, however, the game-by-game change in the probability of winning the division is not necessarily the most appropriate guide to the biggest games of the season because the change in probability is affected not only by what happens in the game the Nats were playing, but also by what happened in the game played by their rival. (In contrast, for WPA every positive change in probability is matched by a negative change in probability for your opponent).

So I used game-by-game changes in probability to help find some candidates for biggest game of the season, but I combined it with some judgment rather than simply taking the numbers by themselves. I’m pretty confident, though, that the game I’ve identified was clearly the Nats’ “biggest” single game of the season in terms of moving them toward their divisional championship.

On July 7, the Nats began a 4-game series against the Mets in New York. When the series began, the Nats were 4 games ahead of the Mets, and their probability of winning the division, according to Fangraphs, was 77%. If the Mets won the series, they would be right in the race with the Nats, whereas if the Nats won the series, the Mets would be at least 6 games behind. The Mets won the first game, narrowing the margin to 3 games and reducing the Nats division probability to 74.5%.

On July 8, Stephen Strasburg faced “Thor,” Noah Syndergaard, in a matchup of aces. Although Syndergaard had recently been diagnosed with bone spurs, he had pitched brilliantly in his previous start.

Strasburg pitched a superb game, striking out 9 and allowing only two hits and one run in 7 innings, giving up the run on a homer by Asdrubal Cabrera. For the Nats, Clint Robinson hit a two-run homer and Daniel Murphy added an RBI double. Syndergaard had to leave the game in the fifth as his velocity dropped, and Cespedes also left with an injury. The Nats won 3 to 1, and the Nats lead returned to 4 games, with a division winning probability of 83%. Their lead would never again drop below 4 games. It was their biggest win of the season.

The Nats went on to win games 3 and 4 of the series and went into the All-Star break with a 6-game lead. While it isn’t clear whether Strasburg will be able to contribute to the Nationals this post-season, he deserves credit for winning their biggest game of the regular season.

September 21, 2016 / Nat Anacostia

Nats’ August in review: Make sure you keep that lead

I apologize for posting this so late. I had it mostly finished before the end of August, but then I was traveling in early September and didn’t get it finished, and haven’t been motivated to finally finish it up. I hope a few readers still find it interesting.

August began with the Nats 17 games over .500, holding a 4 game lead in their division over the Marlins. Fangraphs showed their probability of winning their division at 88.4%. After going 17–11 in August, the Nats finished the month 23 games over .500 and with a 9-game lead over the Mets (and an 11-game lead over the faltering Marlins). Their probability of winning the division had soared to 99.8%. By mid-month, Harper Gordek of the Nationals Baseball blog had alteready called the division for the Nats.

The month began auspiciously with the Nats finishing a western road trip with a series against the Diamondbacks, which they swept. Returning home, they took two of three against the Giants. Ryan Zimmerman went on the disabled list with a wrist contusion suffered when he was hit by a pitch on the last day of July. Continuing the home stand, the Nats split two games with the Indians, then took two of three against the Braves. Bryce Harper was out of the lineup for a week with a stiff neck during the latter part of the home stand, following a stretch of very poor hitting. Near the end of the home stand, the Nats released former closer Jonathan Papelbon.

With three days off during the first 11 days of the month, the Nats schedule seemed pretty easy, but the remainder of the month would feature a 20-day stretch without a day off.

The Nats’ next road trip began with three games against the Rockies in Colorado. The Nats scored 17 runs but gave up 22 in the series, and lost two of the three games. Needless to say, the bullpen got used a lot, and Sammy Solis went on the DL. Next came a 4-game set against Braves, which the Nats won three games to one. Zimmerman and Jose Lobaton returned from their DL stints. The road trip finished near home with two games in Baltimore, and the Orioles won both games. Stephen Strasburg went on the DL with “right elbow soreness,” though the front office hinted that it was more a chance for him to rest after some rough starts.

These were followed by two games against the Orioles in Washington, which the Nats split. In a trade with the Oakland A’s, the Nats acquired left-handed relief pitcher Marc Rzepczynski. The Nats then hosted the Rockies for three games, winning the first game and losing the last two. The month ended in Philadelphia, where the Nats swept a three-game series with the Phillies.

The Nats’ offense excelled in August. Their 157 runs scored ranked second in the National League, and their weighted runs created (wRC+) of 109 ranked third. Led by Trea Turner, they ranked second in the league in FanGraph’s measure of baserunning (BsR).

The starting pitching also did well, ranking third in the National League in ERA adjusted for ballpark (ERA–) with 98 and second in adjusted fielding independent pitching (FIP–) with 95. The relief pitching was the problem area; the Nats’ relievers ranked seventh in RE24 (–2.73), seventh in ERA– (100), and ninth in FIP– (99).

Record:

17–11 (.607)

Pythagorean Record:

17–11 (5.64 R/G – 4.61 RA/G)

August MVP:

Trea Turner (.357/.366/.571, 27 G, 5 HR, 27 R, 15 RBI, 11 SB, 1.4 fWAR). Honorable mention goes to Anthony Rendon (.324/.390/.539, 1.3 fWAR).

Most valuable starting pitcher:

Tanner Roark (4–1, 2.79 RA/9, 6 G, 38-2/3 IP, 6.1 K/9, .325 opp OBP, 1.3 RA9-WAR). Honorable mention goes to Max Scherzer (4–1, 3.27 RA/9, 1.1 RA9-WAR).

Most valuable relief pitcher:

Mark Melancon (0–0, 0.66 RA/9, 15 G, 13-2/3 IP, 9.2 K/9, .204 opp OBP, 3.00 RE24, 0.7 RA9-WAR, 6 shutdowns, 0 meltdown).

Worst month:

Stephen Strasburg (1–3, 10.19 RA/9, 4 G, 17-2/3 IP, 12.2 K/9, .402 opp OBP, –0.7 RA9-WAR) went on the disabled list after three consecutive poor performances.

Best start this month:

Max Scherzer (August 25, 4–0 win over the Orioles at home) got 10 strikeouts in 8 scoreless innings, allowing 2 hits and no walks, for a game score of 88.

Worst start:

Stephen Strasburg (August 17, 12–10 loss to the Rockies in Colorado) gave up 9 runs on 9 hits in 1-2/3 innings, with 3 walks and 3 strikeouts (game score 1).

Tough losses:

  • Max Scherzer (August 9, 3–1 loss to the Indians at home) gave up 2 runs (of which only 1 was earned) on 3 hits and 1 walk with 10 strikeouts in 7 innings (game score 74).
  • AJ Cole (August 22, 4–3 loss to the Orioles in Baltimore) gave up 4 runs on 5 hits and 2 walks with 8 strikeouts in 7 innings (game score 57).

Cheap wins: 

  • Gio Gonzalez (August 10, 7–4 win over the Indians at home) gave up 4 runs on 7 hits and 1 walk with 5 strikeouts in 5 innings (game score 41).
  • Max Scherzer (August 20, 11–9 win over the Braves in Atlanta) gave up 4 runs on 6 hits and 3 walks with 6 strikeouts in 6-1/3 innings (game score 48).

Best shutdown: 

Blake Treinen (August 21, 7–6 loss to the Braves in Atlanta in 10 innings). Treinen pitched the eighth and ninth innings without giving up a run or a hit, allowing one walk. (Win probability added .334).

Worst meltdown:

Yusmeiro Petit (August 27, 9–4 loss to the Rockies at home). Asked to pitch in the top of the 11th inning of a tie game, and with no one available in the bullpen to bail him out, Petit gave up 5 runs on 7 hits including 2 homers.

Clutch hit:

Jayson Werth (August 27, 9–4 loss to the Rockies at home in 11 innings). With two out in the bottom of the 9th, with the Nats trailing 4–3, Werth homered to send the game to extra innings.(WPA .466). Unfortunately, Petit allowed five Rockies runs in the 11th.

Choke:

Ryan Zimmerman (August 24, 10–8 loss to the Orioles at home. The Nats entered the bottom of the 9th trailing 10–3. But after a grand slam by Daniel Murphy and an RBI double by Anthony Rendon, the Nats had runners on first and second with only one out, and an impossible comeback now seemed possible. But Zimmerman grounded into a game ending double play, ending the hope for a most remarkable comeback (WPA –.191).