The Nats and PECOTA Projections

February 20, 2013

Oh poor Nats… they are just not as good as we all thought. At least that might be your first reaction if you look at the playoff odds report at Baseball Prospectus. They are projected to finish 87-75 (after rounding) despite winning 98 next year. And while they are projected to win the NL East, they have the lowest playoff percentage chance of any projected division leader at 67.9%, and the lowest chance of winning the World Series of any of them as well, at 7.6%. What gives?

Ok, before you go storm the offices of Baseball Prospectus (for which, I assume, you’d need some help from ENCOM) let’s keep a few things in mind. First of all, the Nats are forecast to win the NL East, not come in second. The Braves are forecast to be the second place team at only 82-80, which would give the Nats a comfortable lead. And all of this is based on PECOTA, which has some quirks that are worth noting. That doesn’t mean PECOTA is worth ignoring, its just important to know what the issues might be.

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Espinosa’s Shoulder – Prognosis Negative?

January 30, 2013

On Monday I wrote about Danny Espinosa and his torn rotator cuff, focusing on his numbers before and after the injury. There were a few distractions in the baseball world afterwards, but I mentioned I’d get around to discussing the health implications for the season, so here we go.

Obviously, the most logical thing from the fans point of view would be to get surgery, go through recovery, and be done with the issue forever. It sounds simple enough, and it might only cost 2 months (according to most reports I’ve seen) which means if he got it today, he might be back well before the end of May.

But surgery isn’t so simple, there are always risks of complications, and the possibility of making things worse. For whatever reason, the doctors and the team seem to be confident that rehab is enough for this injury, and he doesn’t have to have surgery at this point. I tried to find examples of position players with similar injuries, and whether they had to have surgery, whether they tried to play, etc, but I came up empty.

So I reached out to Stephania Bell, who is ESPN’s injury expert and a “certified orthopedic clinical specialist and strength and conditioning specialist” which means she knows a heck alot more about this than you or I. She was kind enough to respond, for which I am very thankful. Here is what I asked, and what she said:

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Espinosa’s Shoulder Injury, the Numbers

January 28, 2013

Danny Espinosa revealed that he played the end of last season with a torn rotator cuff, and that if he had known how bad he was hurt, he probably wouldn’t have played. A few questions come to mind, the most important one is probably why he is electing to not have surgery. He could, after all, have surgery today and probably be back by late May.

Espi on 2nd

We’ll tackle that one later. Another question that comes to mind centers around his performance. How much was he affected? Did he hurt the Nats chances, will he be all better this year, etc etc.

He said he was hurt in early September, and got a cortisone shot on Sept 17, but that didn’t really help. The injury seems to have been made public on Sept 17, it had hurt for “the past week” and he only played 3 games in that week, due to leaving for his grandmother’s funeral after Sept 11. So using Sept 11 as a cutoff point, we can see what he did

Pre-injury: .255/.321/.416, K/PA:.276
Post-injury (reg. season): .183/.258/.283, K/PA: .364
Playoffs: .059/.176/.059, K/PA: .368

The playoffs looked even worse, but that’s not surprising as the injury had more time to hurt, the pitching was tougher, and the sample size was small enough that anything can happen. The K/PA didn’t change much, but, again, sample sizes. Now combining the last few PAs of the season, adding the playoffs stats to the post-injury regular season, it looks like this:

Pre-injury: .255/.321/.416, K/PA: .276
Post-injury: .156/.241/.234, K/PA: .365

One more exercise – if you’ve read this blog at all you know I love to get rid of April with Espinosa’s numbers. Not because April doesn’t count, but just because he was so bad in April, that whether he was hurt, mentally lost, heartbroken, or his contacts were in the wrong eyes there was something different about him. Well, let’s not just eliminate it, let’s line it up with the other pieces of his season:

April 5 – May 3: .182/.277/.239, K/PA: .313
May 3 – Sept 11: .269/.330/.451, K/PA: .271
Sept 11 – Oct 12: .156/.241/.234, K/PA: .365

Alright, so I didn’t expect some sort of statistical revelation from this, just interesting to look at that. It’s hard to imagine he had this injury in April, but he looked like a completely different hitter for 490 PAs from early May to mid Sept than he did before or after. And other than a few more singles in April, he was basically an identical hitter in April and September, which is interesting.

As for the injury we KNOW about in September, that one clearly affected him. He hit is OPS high water mark on Sept 5 (.746) and stayed around there all week, including his last day before leaving, Sept 11 when he went 1 for 4 with a double (.737). While I’m not sure when he actually got hurt, it was possible in those last 3 games before the time off, he was, as he did go just 1 for 10 with that double. Of course, that is only 3 games, and while we’re dealing with small sample sizes here, lets not go down to that ridiculous level.

It was pretty much a downhill skid from there, and if he hadn’t gotten hurt, it was likely he’d finish the season on the same path he had been going since May 3. His .781 OPS in that period wouldn’t have been reached, because we can’t take the season out to infinity. But getting above .750 looked like it was in the cards, and if he had an OPS above .753, that would have been good for third best among all NL 2Bs. Remember, that’s including his April skid.

The point of all of this? Well, it shows that the numbers certainly reflect multiple Espinosas, and the one from May 3 – Sept 11 last year is the one we want for 2013. The timing of the shoulder injury certainly lines up perfectly with the injury, and the reports from the time. So maybe we can dismiss the horrible NLDS and late Sept performance to a player who was really too hurt to hit. And for whatever reason, that exact same player showed up in April as well.

It further convinces me that whatever was happening in April was more than just a typical slump, although we may never know what was happening. It also makes me believe that if something was indeed up in April, then a healthy Espinosa is a very good second baseman, perhaps one of the best in the NL, and can be a huge asset to this team.

The question remains though, is he healthy now? And will he be healthy a month or two from now? Or should he be sent to get his surgery right away so he’s healthy for the majority of the season? I’ll get to that next time…


Nats Get a CF and a Leadoff Hitter

November 29, 2012

Mike Rizzo struck late Thursday afternoon, pulling a big trade for a starting outfielder. No, it wasn’t Marlins-Toronto big, but it was big for this team, as they at the very least have solidified the outfield and their lineup could potentially be set for 2013. They received Twins center fielder Denard Span in exchange for their 22 year old fireballing prospect, Alex Meyer.

What They’re Getting

There is alot to like about Denard Span. He is a 28 year old center fielder, and over his last 3 seasons, he’s hit .271/.334/.376 – while it looks quite a bit lower, it’s actually pretty comparable to Michael Bourn when adjusting for league and park effects. It’s an OPS+ of 95, barely below Bourn’s OPS+ of 98 over the last three years. Of course, he’s only stolen 1/3 of the bases of Bourn, but Span is also a year younger than Bourn, and has shown more patience in the past. Between the switching leagues, moving to a better lineup and the youth, I have a feeling Span will hit better than that with the Nats (this is of course, just a feeling).

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It’s All About the Hamilton, Baby

November 5, 2012

If the title of this post doesn’t mean anything to you, stop everything that you are doing and watch one of the first (and for my money, probably the best) of the SNL Digital Shorts music videos right now. I’m serious, I’ll wait. (If you’ve already seen it, then enjoy your journey back to December 2005):

I will take your word that you’ve gone and done that. Hard to believe that’s almost 7 years old. On to the actual subject of the post – the best hitting free agent this offseason, Josh Hamilton. Keith Law called him the #3 available FA, behind a pitcher (Grienke) and B.J. Upton, a younger, faster, better defensive player who can still play a premium defensive position. It can certainly be argued that Hamilton deserves to be #2 or even first, because it’s hard to argue that there is a better offensive player available than Hamilton. So let’s start by taking a look at this offensive force, first the pros and then the cons:

I Told You that I’m Crazy Bout These Cupcakes Cousin

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Big Improvements in 2012 – Part 2

October 17, 2012

Yesterday, we took at look at some of the things that were the biggest steps forward in 2012 for the pitching staff. I’m trying to concentrate on things that were both new and sustainable. Sustainability is subjective, but we’ll look at the stats enough to make at least me feel comfortable that the stuff highlighted here isn’t temporary. We’re looking at the position players here, so why not start with the most controversial one:

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Nats Win Their First Playoff Game Ever

October 7, 2012

It seems like every day, history is being made for this team. A win in the postseason was a pretty good way for the franchise to introduce itself, and the game was an exciting one. Here are the biggest plays for the Nats from their first playoff win ever. I’ve included the Fangraphs stat Win Probability Added, WPA, and I’ve made them all in positive numbers, the only plays we’re concerned about here are ones that add to the Nats probability. But as you can see, I didn’t just rank em by WPA, because as you’ll notice, that just won’t work. Starting with the first run in Nats postseason history:

5. Kurt Suzuki knocks 1 in (WPA 10.2%)

It became the story of the night it seemed – men on first and third, one out, and someone strikes out. This time it was Danny Espinosa, who had a rough rough night at the bat (3 Ks and a strange bunt that magically ended up doing something good) who struck out, and it was up to the #8 hitter Kurt Suzuki. With the pitcher up next, he might not have thought he’d get much to hit, but that early in the game, Wainwright probably was hoping to start the 3rd by pitching to Gio. So Suzuki did end up with something to hit, and he ripped a ball through the hole on the left side, getting an RBI and putting the Nats up for the moment.

4. Jayson Werth robs Daniel Descalso (WPA 2.5%)

This is one of those plays that doesn’t really show up in things like changes in win probability. And it seems like the same thing in the box score – just a flyout to the right fielder. But Jayson Werth caught that ball with his glove over the fence – if he doesn’t haul it in, it’s a homer, it’s 3-1 and who knows how things unfold from there. I can promise you if he DOESN’T catch, the WPA is significantly different. Read the rest of this entry »


What Danny’s Done

September 12, 2012

If you watch any Nats games on MASN, you’ll notice that Danny Espinosa has been hot lately. Because every time he’s up, that’s what Carp and FP tell us. But they’re not joking, and they’re not exaggerating. In fact, if anything, they are underselling how good he is doing. To get an idea of how good he’s been, let’s take a look at the numbers.

At the moment, Espinosa ranks 5th on the NL 2B OPS list – behind Aaron Hill, Brandon Phillips, Neil Walker and Daniel Murphy. All of these guys are having strong seasons, but probably the top 3 are the only ones that you’d say are doing great. There is one difference, though. Danny Espinosa started out this season terribly. We’ve done it before, but let’s go through this again.

From the beginning of the season, April 5, to 28 games in, May 8, Danny Espinosa hit .186/.282/.235. He was walking, but other than that he seemed completely lost at the plate. Then on May 9, he started a 9 game stretch where he went a whopping 10 for 34 with 2 HRs, and raised his OPS almost 100 points, to .610.  It wasn’t anything spectacular, but it was a good two weeks that showed, hey, maybe he isn’t totally lost.

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Feast or Famine? Blame the OBP

August 30, 2012

We have seen this season that the Nats offense has its moments, and then has games where it doesn’t really show up at all. Or in the case of the recent road trip, 5 days in a row where it doesn’t show up at all. This feast or famine aspect of the offense is frustrating, but it doesn’t mean they can’t score. They’re ranked 7th in the league in runs scored, so they aren’t slouches. But their OBP is ranked 10th, and some of that is buoyed by guys who haven’t been starters all year, which may go a long way to explaining why it seems like when they’re not scoring, they’re really not scoring.

There are 222 players in MLB this year with 300 or more plate appearances. Ranking by OBP, the Nats highest ranking player on that list is Ryan Zimmerman, who ranks 63rd with a .349 mark. The next guy is Adam LaRoche, who’s .333 ranks him 109th, just above the halfway mark. It looks worse as you keep going, here are the rest of the guy’s who qualify:

These aren’t horrible numbers, but there’s nobody great at getting on base this year on the list, including the guys mentioned up top. And while nobody’s in that bottom quartile, 5 of the 7 guys with enough PAs are in the bottom half. That goes a long way to explaining why this team is so feast or famine.

And this may be an indicator of what they need to look for in the offseason. The talk that you usually hear about this team is that they’re missing a true CF and a true leadoff man, and they could probably get one guy to fill both roles. If that is the case, they better get a guy with a high OBP, and avoid the talented but OBP-free BJ Upton’s of the world.

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What Does One Game Mean?

August 14, 2012

Its amazing what one night can do for a team. The 14-2 win might not end up meaning much in the grand scheme of things, there are, after all, 161 other games to be played. And the games versus Atlanta might be more important just because of what it does to the NL East standings. But still, a drubbing like that… alot of things happened in one night that are simultaneously completely meaningless and totally consequential, depending on how you look at the world. But it certainly showed that the Nats, a team built on pitching and known mostly for it, can score with the best of them.

The Offense 

This team, the Washington Nationals, have scored the most runs since the All Star break. Think about that for a minute. This is a team that was winning thanks almost entirely to their pitching staff early in the season, with late game heroics allowing them to take 2-1 leads in the 8th, and plenty of anectodal stories just like that. But here they are, scoring the most runs in baseball since mid-July. And take a gander on the right side of the screen. That’s right, they’re now 6th in the NL in runs per game. Murderer’s Row it aint, but that’s till a pretty good place to be. And keep in mind that offensive explosion was at one of the best, if not the best, pitcher’s park in baseball.

The Cy Young Race

That they did it against Ryan Vogelsong was also significant. Going in to the game, he might not have been the leading Cy Young candidate, but he was certainly leading the NL in ERA. Now if you look at that list, you see Jordan Zimmermann right at the top. Now Vogelsong has one more win that JZimm, but the same number of Ks and a half a run more on the ERA. Is Jordan the leader for the award? Probably not – voters are still hung up on wins, and he doesn’t strike a ton of guys out. Dickey’s got the Ks, the ERA and the Ws, as does Cueto (who gets bonus points for pitching in a hitter’s park), but that is probably you’re top 3 right now. So Zimmermann certainly has a chance, and the Nats knocking the guy who’s season who most like his down on the ERA list helped his case quite a bit.

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