Remember Bryce Harper‘s poor start in low-A? Well, his current stat line doesn’t. He’s now up to .323/.425/.645 with 5 HRs in 73 PAs. He’s played mostly RF in his time there, which may indicate that they want to ease him into the CF role, not because of degree of difficulty, but because it is the field general of the outfield. Learning the way the ball moves off the bat in RF will probably help him in CF, where they ball is only really hard to read when it’s hit right at you. But the bat is what’s important anyway, and it looks like it’s not long until he’s moved up to high-A Potomac.
Speaking of remember performances, how about Ross Detwiler and his strong spring? Well, that’s continued into the regular season at AAA. Through 4 starts, he has a 2.22 ERA and he’s pitched 24 1/3 innings with 20 K and 6 BB. He’s letting up a few too many hits (27) but it’s always hard to tell from a distance what kind they are. We know they’re not HRs, though, as he hasn’t given up any of those yet. He has yet to show he can be very good in the majors, but he’s probably dominated AAA enough (2.75 career ERA, 7.3 K/9, 2.37 K/BB) that all he is doing is waiting for a spot to open up in the majors. With the way the starting pitching is going, if it doesn’t happen until this summer after a trade, that’s not the worst thing in the world for the big league club.
Derek Norris, on the other hand, is off to a slow start. After looking great in the Arizona Fall League, he indicated that it was easier for him to hit there because pitchers found the plate more. He’s down in AA now, where apparently they aren’t hitting the plate enough, because he’s hitting .154/.303/.192. It’s real early for him though, he’s only had 33 PAs. His impressive plate discipline hasn’t left him, and I’m willing to bet if we check back in a couple of weeks his numbers will look much better.
Bullpens can be measure in plenty of different ways, but we know ERA doesn’t tell the whole story. Anyone who’s on base when a starter leaves gets charged to the starter if he scores, meaning the bullpen’s ERA gets off scott free. If you look at the Nats bullpen ERA, it’s not good, but it’s not atrocious. They’re sitting at 3.79, which you wouldn’t think would be horrible, but it ranks them 12th in the NL, so there is obvious room for improvement.
But since the ERA doesn’t tell the whole story, where else can we look? An obvious choice is inherited runners scored, which measure those guys that get home when they come in, but aren’t credited to the individual pitching. The Nats rank 13th in the NL here, at 33%. But since they’ve had more inherited runners than other teams, they actually are the worst in terns of total inherited runners scored in the league.
Couple that with this factoid – there is no team on the list worse than them in BOTH of those two categories (bullpen ERA and inherited runners scored percentage) – and you could make the case that the Nats have had the worst bullpen in the NL so far this year. I’m not quite there, though. Houston’s has been worse in ERA by a significant amount with a 32% inherited runners scored mark. A good case could also be made for Arizona. It may not be the overall #1, but the Nats are certainly among the worst right now.
Yesterday Ian Desmond committed his 7th error of this young season. He is once again leading the NL in errors committed, although this time he is tied with Starlin Castro. Last year he beat Castro, the second leading error maker, by 7 total errors. I’m not sure if people are grousing in Chicago about Castro needing to be moved from SS, but Castro is also hitting .357/.382/.480 and is only 22 years old. Desmond’s 3 years older and is hitting .205/.253/.333. I’m actually not terribly worried about Desmond’s ability to hit, it’s early in the season, he’ll recover.
The bigger worry right now is the errors. He’s had two multi-error games this season already, he had 5 last year. This seems to me to be an indicator of a lack of concentration/rattling of nerves. I don’t think this is about his physical ability. You see his range and his arm and you know he CAN put it all together, you just don’t know if he will. They could leave him there, for a little while or all season. They could flip him and Espinosa, although they’d probably lose some range, both could be better in the new position. Or, as reader bdrube brought up last week, they could move the rangey SS with a cannon arm to CF – pretty intriguing and could be a good fit. So the question is, how patient should the Nats be?
The start of the season has seen some good starting pitching and some offensive funktitude from the Nats. While Jayson Werth isn’t yet doing much to impress on offense – 1 HR this weekend made you think he might start to wake up, until Sunday’s 0 for 5 – there are a few bats that may be coming to life. A couple of guys had a very poor first few games, and that’s obscuring what they’ve done since the first week of the season.
Adam LaRoche is a notorious slow starter. This year he’s hitting .227/.338/.379, which seems appropriate for him in April. His career OPS is .774 in the first half, .889 in the second. And his career OPS in March/April is .703, compared with .870 in July, .952 in August, and .858 in September. So none of this poor start is all that surprisingly. But if you take out the first 5 games (in which he hit .158/.238/.158) and just look at everything after, he’s hitting .255/.375/.468. That’s 13 out of the 18 games played, not a particularly large sample. But if he were to do basically this for the rest of the way, and his slow start is only 5 games, I think people would be thrilled with his production, even if his August doesn’t end up in the .950 OPS range.
Speaking of recoveries and small sample sizes, you may know that Mike Morse hit his first homer of the season on Sunday. And you probably knew that he stunk early this season, but you may not have realized that he only stunk for the first 7 games, after which he was hitting .100/.208/.100. He’s since brought his OPS up to .645 from that low, not entirely impressive, but come on, that’s more than double. This is on the back of his last 11 games – since that .308 OPS low, he’s hit .353/.378/.471 not altogether bad for a hot streak. And those first few hits were singles, with more XBHs recently, so power is coming. This often happens with hitters coming out of bad starts – first the singles fall in, then they start hitting with power. I have a feeling this is gonna be a good week for Mr Morse.
I know it’s early, and we don’t want to worry too much about statistics. A bunch of hitters on this team have started off slowly, and most of them will probably recover. Similarly, Wilson Ramos won’t hit .364 all season. But one player that does worry me is Rick Ankiel. He’s currently hitting .231/.306/.308, which is pretty much atrocious. I’d be less worried, except last season he only hit .232/.321/.389. Basically, if 2 of his hits were a HR and a triple instead of the 2 singles that they were, he’d be right on pace for last season, with a few less walks. Not good, and not convincing me that he is going to do any better.
In fact, it wasn’t just last season that he hit so poorly. In 2009, he had 404 PAs and hit .231/.285/.387. It’s starting to look familiar. Maybe he’s a .231/.300/.387 hitter. Which would mean his ISO power is decent at .150, but not so great that it can excuse the rest of the junk. It’s not even very good power, it’s better described as “some pop” or something similar. Ankiel is a vet, and he’s played well in center field, but this experiment may quickly be coming to an end. If it does, then who else can they play there?
This may surprise some fans, but Nix has played more CF in his career than any other position. He’s spent about 58% of his innings playing CF, the rest in the corner OF spots. And his fielding has been good there. Over his career his UZR/150 is 9.3 in CF, so it looks like he can field the position. The problem with Nix, though, is his bat. He has started out strong, managing to make the club and then hitting .276/.300/.483 in 30 PAs. The power is still there, but his numbers suggest that he doesn’t walk that much, and it’s true. He is also probably not a .275 hitter in terms of average, as his career numbers are .244/.286/.426. And his best years, really his only good years, were in Cincinnati, a great park for hitters. But, even if he hits .240/.290/.426 from here on out, it may beat what Ankiel can do.
The Nationals have not been hitting that well so far this season. This week was better than the first couple, thanks to some high scoring games, so there might not be too much to worry about. And some of the struggling hitters, like Jayson Werth and Adam LaRoche, have been pretty consistent over the last many seasons. Meanwhile, Rick Ankiel isn’t hitting either, but he’s such a question mark, that it’s hard to look back over the last few seasons and know what to think.
Ian Desmond and Mike Morse, on the other hand, are a little in between. They don’t have seasons of success to rely upon, and only really have last year’s full time hitting numbers to look back on. Morse has a bit more than that, but he had more than twice as many PAs in 2010 than the previous 4, so last year is really the one to look at. They have both struggled this year, but is there something to worry about this early in the season?
After bring out of the country for a week, I’m back and ready to take a look at what is going on with the Nats.
First of all, Ryan Zimmerman got hurt right after I left, and it appears that his injury isn’t that serious. To call it completely minor would be to ignore the fact that he was put on the DL, but it doesn’t seem to be a big deal. Abdominal strains can be tricky, as they often look to be healed then pop back up. But, if given the time to heal, he should be no worse for the wear.
Meanwhile, the Nats managed to go 5-2 in those games where Zimmerman hasn’t played, not that anyone would say they’re better off without him. The offense has been a big part of this run – they scored 7 runs on Sunday, 7 on Tuesday, 8 on Sunday and 5 on the 2nd Sunday game. You’re gonna win most of your games where you score 5 or more runs.
But Seriously, the Starting Pitching
Let’s not forget about what the pitching has done over this period. It hasn’t been spectacular, but it’s been quite good. Tom Gorzelanny debuted as the fifth starter on Saturday, and didn’t look very good. But he redeemed himself Friday, going 6 IP with 2 ER. At this point we can be hopeful that the first game was from lack of game time pitching this year, and we’ll see more of the second start types than the first. Livan had a very good game against the Phillies on Tuesday, going 6 2/3 IP and giving up only 1 ER. He then went 7 with 1 ER on Sunday to bring his ERA down to 2.88.