The Outfield Shuffle

April 30, 2012

When Bryce Harper was promoted from AAA this weekend, many people were surprised. After all, he had struggled to put up anything close to good numbers so far, and there were other players in Syracuse that were playing better. But after two games, he’s comported himself quite well, and while the numbers after two games should be irrelevent, his actions aren’t. He’s hit the ball hard and hasn’t looked anything like a 19 year old at the plate, while showing off a cannon for an arm. But before Harper’s recall, many thought that Tyler Moore, who’s already hit 7 HRs in AAA, was the one that would come up.

And so he did, a day later, when Mark DeRosa was sent to the DL. Moore is a 1B with little actual pro playing time anywhere else. And when I say little, that might insult the word little. In 436 minor league games, he’s played OF three times. I was doubtful that someone who scouts describe as unathletic could jump into LF immediately – not because I didn’t think he’d be ok there, but because he’s had no time there. But Amanda Comak assures us he’s practiced there plenty, so let’s assume he’s fine there. (Really, I’m ok with doing this). So the question that arises, now, is what is going to happen in the OF? Is Rick Ankiel consigned to a bench role? I don’t think so.

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Bryce Harper, RGIII Defeat Boston in OT Thriller, Advance to Second Round

April 27, 2012

Quite the week in DC sports. Not to be outdone by the Redskins drafting their possible franchise QB or the unimpressive all year Capitals winning a playoff series in game 7 OT against the defending champions, the Nationals, desperate for offense, are calling up Bryce Harper to make his Major League debut on April 28. Good way to finish a great sports week! I’ve gotta say, I didn’t pick this date in the office pool, but I don’t think many others did. In fact, may reaction was sort like this

“Oh, the Nats are going to call up someone to play LF? That’s cute, are they bringing in Brown or Moore, or maybe… whaaaaaAAAAAAAAA?!?!?”

Not to worry about service time, though. Harper has played enough in the minors to be a Super 2. That mean he’ll remain under team control through 2018. And that is the most important thing, that they keep him when he is much closer to his peak. Of course, that means they’ll have to pay him in arbitration an extra year, but that could be avoided by a contract extension. Personally, I think it’s a bit early for his debut. And I’m certainly not the only one who feels this way. He is starting to hit better in AAA, but he’s still not doing particularly well there. There are probably a couple of other guys (like the aforementioned Brown or Moore) who have a chance to hit more than him.

And that’s the big question – how will he hit? He’s obviously a great player, and calling him a future All Star is probably underselling him. But as a 19 year old, he’d be in rare company to actually have what we’d call a “good” season. Here’s what I wrote about this in February:

He’ll be 19 this year, and 19 year old superstars aren’t usually great yet. ARod spent some of his 19 year old season in the minors, and hit .232/.264/.408 in his 149 Major League PAs that year. Justin Upton hit .221/.283/.364 in his 152 PAs in the Majors at age 19. Ken Griffey, Jr. hit .264/.329/.420 when he was 19, pretty decent, although not at all Griffey-like, but that was after TWO seasons  in the minors.

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Friday Morning Links

April 27, 2012

Yesterday’s SI article on the greatness of the Nats pitching. In it, Rizzo basically admits a philosophy I’ve been espousing all along – there’s no point in going out and signing some free agents to try to approach mediocrity (or, what I call, Orioles baseball 1998-2010) when you can just stink, get the best players in the draft, and enable a future.

Rob Neyer then gives his take on the SI article, asking How Believable is Unbelievable Nationals’ Pitching?

The Nats gave a long term contract last season to Jayson Werth, and he didn’t play very well. This year, he’s certainly lived up to it so far, but it’s very early. The other outfielder that signed a big time long term contract at the time, and the Nats other big option, though, wasn’t as good as Werth in 2011, and things just got way worse.

Hardball Times’ Frank Jackson has a cool history of the Eastern Shore League that was on the Eastern Shore you’re thinking of. Did you know that Mickey Cochrane played for Dover and Jimmy Foxx played for Easton?

Non-Nats:

The great gif Braden Holtby’s non-reaction to a fake slash from Peverley, a reaction that would have made a stoic Roman Republican era Senator, or dare I say, a honey badger, proud


Plugging the Leaking LF Hole

April 26, 2012

As mentioned I mentioned in the last post, the Nationals are hitting .103/.218/.132 out of the left field position in this young season. It’s bad when you’re LF OPS is just under your OPS from your pitchers. While I made the case that this offense is not as bad as people think and will get better anyway, LF is something that should be addressed while waiting for the return of Mike Morse.

Tyler Moore

The talk is that Tyler Moore will be the guy to take the position. I don’t disagree that he has the best bat for the job in AAA (he’s hitting .299/.360/.597 at the moment) but he’s played LF all of 2 games in his pro career, having always been a 1B. I think he will get an opportunity this season, but I’m not sure if it’s going to happen in the next 2 weeks or so, given Rizzo’s commitment to defense. As reader @Sultan_of_Stat pointed out over Twitter, it’s not like the Nats have had good defensive left fielders the last few years, although I’d caution relying on UZR/150 in such short timeframes. So if Moore is ambulatory in LF at all, yes, he’ll probably get called up to do it at some point. But Moore has still only played 2 games in his entire pro career out there, so I have a hard time believing Rizzo thinks he’s ready to do it just yet.

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Don’t Get Too Down on the Offense

April 26, 2012

Over and Ovi again, we have been hearing about the problems with the Nationals’ offense. And it’s justified in many ways. Their two best hitters are sitting on the bench right now, with Ryan Zimmerman possibly joining Mike Morse on the DL soon. Even when Zim was in, he wasn’t hitting like Zim. And that production out of LF has been a complete black hole – the team is hitting .103/.218/.132 from that position. Danny Espinosa isn’t hitting at 2B yet either, and although Ian Desmond has done well, he’s down to .280/.321/.413 from his super hot start. These are still very good numbers for a SS, but it’s not enough to carry Espinosa.

But all is not despair in the batters box for this team. They are, in fact, ranked 9th in the NL in runs scored per game with 3.78, the first team under the league average of 3.96. Combined with the best pitching staff in the league right now, it has allowed them to win quite a few games so far. But even if the pitching drops off a bit, they’d still have a positive run differential. They’re pitching has allowed 2.67 R/G (against very poor competition) which means they could allow another entire run per game and still be on the winning side of the math with runs.

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Know Your New Nats, Cause They’re Playing

April 25, 2012

The Nationals won another close game last night, thanks to some great pitching by Gio Gonzalez (who’s now going on 20 straight scoreless IP, still a bit away from Hershiser’s 58) and by a key 7th inning 2 run single by Chad Tracy. Yeah, that’s right, Chad Tracy. The Nats, thanks to injuries and roster turnover, have some new guys in the lineup. It hasn’t worked out well with the offense, but you wouldn’t know it if you look at the record. And you might not even know some of these guys if you saw them on the streets of DC. Can you identify these supposed bench players pressed into starting duty?

Go ahead, name your Nats

1. Read the rest of this entry »


Hot Start Increases Playoff Chances

April 24, 2012

Ok, so that title is obvious, of course doing well increases playoff chances. But sometimes lost in an early strong, or weak start, is that these games count just as much as the ones at the end. You wanna make it to the postseason? Win 90 games or so, and you’re in. It doesn’t matter if you win your first 90 and lose the next 72, you’d still finish 90-72.

But of all the teams over the last week, the Nats have, according to Accuscore, increased their chances of making the playoffs more than any other team in the league. On April 16, they were forecast with a 26.6% chance of playing extra games at the end, and on April 22 that number went up to 51.1%. That’s right, its a 24.4% differential, and it’s officially (according to Accuscore) more likely than not that they’ll make the playoffs.

More importantly than the differential, though, is their overall odds. Looking at the table below, it is clear that as of right now, they have moved themselves into that category:

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The Nationals Review Podcast Episode 4

April 22, 2012

On the Nationals Review Episode 4 (click to download or get it on iTunes), this week Charlie and Colm talk :

  • The pitching staff’s success
  • The bullpen – closer situation (Lidge vs Rodriguez), etc
  • What’s wrong with the hitting? (OBP vs SLG)
  • Whats going on in LF?
  • Date of Harper debut – our best guesses

The High OBP, Don’t Score Nationals

April 19, 2012

While the Nats keep winning, and their pitching has been spectacular, they are winning close games. It doesn’t take Bill James to figure out if your pitching is great and you’re winning close games, your hitting is sub-par. Starting out as the statistical voice of reason here, it’s important to note that their hitting actually has been good. They have the 7th best OBP in all of baseball, 3rd best in the NL. Getting on base is the most important step in scoring a run, so you know that this will eventually translate in to runs.

They haven’t hit that well when guys have been on base, but unless you believe that this team is a bunch of nervous nellies who are decidedly “un-clutch”, that should be more luck dependent than anything else. Eventually, the numbers even out, and these hits and walks will come with more people on base, and everything will be fine, right? Well, not so fast. I did a quick check of some OBP ranks versus runs per game ranks over the last 3 years, and teams have wide variations. In the 3 seasons prior to this one, there were 30 teams that had a differential between where their OBP ranks and their R/G over 3 (if they were #1 in OBP and #3 in runs/game, their differential would be 3-1=2).

That seemed like poor correlation, so I checked another very easy stat to find, OPS. The differential in OPS to R/G greater than 3 spots was a much more reasonable 16 teams over 3 seasons. And it’s not just the count that’s different, it’s the amount of differential. In 2009, only 3 teams had a OPS-R/G diff higher than 3, and two of them had it at 4, while one had it had 9. Whereas, the 11 teams with an OBP-R/G diff higher than 3 had a 14, a 12, two 10s and three 7s. Similar outcomes happened in 2010 and 2011.

This isn’t exactly robust statistical analysis – 3 years is a short time frame to look at team numbers in MLB, and I’m doing simple arithmetic not real regressions or anything to find correlation. But it hopefully gives us a good indication of what’s going on. And it’s not anything more than what should be obvious – getting on base is nice, but getting on base AND hitting for power is much more important. It’s completely intuitive – walking and singles are helpful, but you have to string a few of those together just to get a run. A couple of hits and a home run, or even a double, gets you more runs.

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A Praiseworthy Start for the Starters

April 18, 2012

The Nats pitching staff has started out very strong this year. They lead the majors in ERA with 1.91, the #2 team is Texas at 2.36. While their bullpen has been excellent, it is the starters that have really impressed. Their starters’ ERA is 1.69, and in that Texas is in a more distant second place at 2.43. As a testament to how well they’ve pitched, they are #2 in IP with 74 2/3 (Oakland’s in first with 75 1/3). But more importantly, they lead the majors in Ks with 70 as a starting staff, with several teams tied for the #2 slot at 64.

After 12 games, you don’t worry too much about the stats. This shouldn’t be thought of as a pattern that will hold up for the year, it still is a pretty remarkable start. So yes, that 1.69 ERA is nice to look at, but it will go away. However, this can be thought of as a very impressive two week run. Even if this occurred in July, while we might not notice the incredible ERA, it would still be thought of as a very impressive two week run. It’s something that could repeat itself, and it is a good indicator of how strong this staff can be.

Here’s a look at these twelve games, start by start, to see just how good they’ve been, with the only starts allowed more than 2 ER highlighted:

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