The Nats have scored 7 runs per game in the last 2 games. Despite the fact that it took 2 errors in the first game and an 11 inning game, it’s an accomplishment. They actually have done this before, 2 games in a row of 7 runs each almost exactly a month ago against the Mets. And they scored 8, then 5, then 8 against the Brewers then the Cardinals. So as much as we’d like to believe that the last few days are a sign of things to come, there is way to know. And there are doubts that things are going to get better.
The team is 12th in the NL in runs per game, dead last in OBP and OPS, and second to last in SLG. Of the guys who might be considered starters, the only with an OPS+ over 100 are Werth (who’s 109 isn’t great, he ranks 17th for RFers in the majors in OPS), Ramos, and Nix. As poor as they are hitting, the two next best in OPS+ are Espinosa and Desmond.
They aren’t hitting with much power, but at least, without getting on base that much, they’re doing well at swiping them. Desmond is 12 for 13 with steals, Werth is 5 for 6, Ankiel is 4 for 5, and Espinosa is 3 for 4. These are all good clips, that could help a low scoring team with decent pitching win a couple games. But really, none of this will matter that much if everyone continues to hit like they have. Without a significant recovery, their run differential will only get worse, their record will slip well below .500, and when they do score 7 runs you will be once again completely shocked.
It’s beyond bad, at this point. After a week in which the Nats broke their team record for striking out the most in one game, they came out Sunday and got no hit for 7 innings. Sanchez pitched a good game, but this team certainly helped. You know the hitting has been bad, but it’s probably worse than you realized. They are last in the league in OBP, and second to last in SLG and OPS. Thanks to the last place team playing in San Diego, a big pitchers park, they are actually ranked last in OPS+ (which factors in park effects). They are just plain bad at hitting.
Looking down the lineup is sickening. Forgive the order, this is just a sample lineup that could go out there:
That’s Espinosa (2B), Desmond (SS), Werth (RF), LaRoche (1B), Ramos (C), Morse (LF) and Hairston (3B). There’s no CF in there, but Ankiel’s .221/.302/.288 ranks 5th in plate appearances on the team, so factor that in the list. Ramos is looking great, even without comparing him to the rest of the team. Unfortunately, his last few weeks haven’t looked great, with a very low OBP, but he’s still slugging, so in comparison, a .250/.275/.500 is still the best hitter on this team. When you put Pudge in the lineup with his .214/.241/.321, he manages to drag down these horrendous averages.
Tim Kurkjian has an article up today on the rise of left handed power arms… in the outfield. The Nationals’ own Rick Ankiel headlines the group of today’s rocket armed lefty outfielders. A few highlights
But no left-handed or right-handed outfielder throws better than Ankiel, 31. You know his story. He won 11 games and struck out 194 batters in 175 innings with the Cardinals in 2000, but soon after, he lost all ability to throw the ball over the plate. He had Tommy John surgery in 2003 and finally ditched pitching in 2005 because of acute control issues. Now he’s throwing better than he ever has and has no mental block about throwing from the outfield.
“I just let it fly,” Ankiel said. “And I play a lot of long toss to help preserve my arm.”
There you go, kids – long toss will help you have the best outfield arm. Well, that and the ability to strike out more than a batter an inning. Jason Marquis is also quoted gushing over the grand eloquence of long toss. And with his season so far, who’s to argue to Marquis? Kurkjian sums it up with a nice line for Nats fans to hang their hats on:
And I’ve never seen anything like this. The best-throwing outfielder in the game is left-handed.
He’s referring, of course, to Ankiel. It’s a good article of the inside-baseball outside-the-numbers just-telling-stories mode. It doesn’t change Ankiel’s .590 OPS, but it reminds you that he isn’t ALL bad this year.
Some might accuse me as an eternal optimist on the Nats, although I like to think of myself as a realist. Then again, why would I spend my free time writing about the team if I was inherently negative? Anyway, all the local sports news today seems to be in the “time to jump off the bridge” category about the Nats. After, Sunday’s loss was horrific, so its probably an indication of how bad this team is, right? I mean, the Giants didn’t have any stinkers last year, did they? Actually, they lost by 9 runs twice, by 8 once and by 7 once, so I guess it could happen to anyone. Ok, so despite the panicky noises people are making, they probably realize that it’s just one game, and they just have to find something to write about.
This takes us back to me being Mr Positivity. What I took from that game is just how good Jordan Zimmermann looked. He gave up 2 ER and 1 unearned run, but those numbers actually don’t reveal what happened in the game. Two non-errors in the first inning by Espinosa led to the first run. The first base hit might have been an out had he played it better, and a boot on a double play ball both contributed to a 5 out inning. Even if we don’t count the first one, the inning still should have ended before the run scored.
With the Nyjer Morgan trade, and Roger Bernadina‘s .245/.310/.340 spring, Rick Ankiel has won the CF job outright. So far he has hit slightly better than Bernadina, hitting .218/.271/.455 so far. The OPS is higher, so are the runs created and other similar offensive value stats. But since OBP is more important that SLG, those other offensive stats aren’t as far apart as OPS is. Regardless, Ankiel is hitting the best of the two.
Bernadina will still get his shots at the position. He’s probably going to be considered a 4th outfielderbeen assigned to the minors, although being a lefty as well, he isn’t automatically going in when Ankiel gets a convenient rest against left handed starters. The thing he has going against him, as mentioned, is that he hits from the same side of the plate as Ankiel, unlike…
A tradition that has I’ll rank each position for each team in the NL East, seeing who has the best pieces to their team. There are 5 teams in the division, so if someone has the #1 player at a position, they get 5 points for it. If they have the worst, they get 1 point. At some point I have to make judgments about who is there, and playing time, on top of assessing their abilities. Starting with the position players:
McCann is not just the best catcher in the group, he’s one of the best in the game, and is generally highly underrated as an altogether great player. Ruiz, now 31, has developed the patience to make him a good hitter, even though he won’t hit .300 again this year. Thole is a youngster who has proven he can get on base. The trio in DC may have to drop down if Flores doesn’t recover, Pudge gets too many ABs, and Ramos doesn’t mature. But I think enough will happen on the other side to allow them to surpass the Marlins catching tandem, with once decent hitting John Baker struggling to even make the team.
Mike Morse has had such a strong showing this spring, that it’s assumed the LF job is his. With Jayson Werth the obvious starter in RF, that leaves all the other guys scrambling to get placed in CF. Morgan is the favorite, but his poor 2010 and an unimpressive spring (although he hit a homer yesterday) has certainly opened up the competition. Roger Bernadina and Rick Ankiel are the other two obvious candidates, and even Jerry Hairston could be considered in the mix. A platoon isn’t really much of an option because all the guys are lefties other than Hairston, and Hairston has almost no discernible split in over 4000 PAs. So without a convenient platoon, someone’s gotta be the initial starter. Who should it be?
Spring Training is in full swing, and while we must take every performance with a grain of salt and a handfull of small sample size, it’s important not to ignore what’s happened so far. Here are a few highlights after the first few weeks:
The Position Players
The middle infield – Danny Espinosa is batting .324/.378/.559 and Ian Desmond is batting .314/.351/.400 while having the two highest AB totals on the team. They’re not walking much, which is troubling, but at least they are hitting the ball. Without walking, they will have to sit lower in the lineup, they just won’t get on base enough, but hopefully some of that will come.
Left Field – It would be hard to deny Mike Morse the starting job at this point. He’s hitting .469, he’s slugging 1.000, and he’s got 5 HRs in only 32 ABs. This compares with Rick Ankiel‘s .194/.219/.548. Ankiel has shown enough power that you’d think he’d make the team, but he doesn’t look like the starter yet.
Center field – Nyjer Morgan is now batting .212/.242/.261, while Roger Bernadina is hitting .281/.324/.438. Bernadina is putting together a strong case to be the 4th outfielder, since Morse is hitting so well. But if Morgan continues to slump this way, Bernie’s got a chance to be the starting centerfielder.
Last week, Baseball Prospectus came out with their PECOTA predictions for the Nationals, and it wasn’t pretty. This week, they came out with their depth charts. This is basically their predictions, with playing time adjusted for what the lineup situation looks like right now. They also changed some of the underlying numbers to get their totals. I said I’d be shocked if they put the Nats at more than 60 wins, but they are actually predicted to get to 70 (Joy!). So there must be something positive out of this. There is, here’s a rundown of some of their adjustments, and a few other notes.
Let’s begin with the starting pitching
Jordan Zimmermann got better. He went from an 86 IP, 4.27 ERA guy to a 172 IP, 4.19 ERA guy. That puts him as the most valuable starter on the team, with 149 Ks and a 1.4 WARP.
Tom Gorzelanny joined the group, and got better. He was still listed on the Cubs, and maybe it was the ballpark, but his ERA was predicted to be 4.73. Now, on the Nats, he is predicted to be their 2nd best of the 5 main starters, with a 4.34 ERA, 105 Ks, and a 0.7 WARP, all ranked #2 behind JZimm. Perhaps because of injury history, they have him ranked #5 in IP.
Livan, Marquis and Lannan fill out the rotation, each with about a 0.10 ERA drop from last weeks predictions.
Lannan’s predictions still seem a little off. His PECOTA suggested 4.76 ERA would be his career low
Chien-Ming Wang does come back and pitch, according to them, and his 4.24 ERA is the best in the rotation after JZimm, but they only have him going 65 innings.
If you paid attention to the DC baseball world yesterday, be it ona website or on twitter, the talk of the day seemed to be Roger Bernadina‘s massive muscles. The pictures don’t lie, those are pretty big arms for a baseball player. Is it possible that bulking up will make Bernie better? If you can buy what sportswriters have said about the last decade of baseball, then you can buy that since Bernie got bigger, he will hit with more power. Where will that get him?
Right now, PECOTA predicts he’ll hit .260/.321/.382 in 450 PAs. The playing time will be adjusted before the season starts to account for playing time, but it certainly isn’t unreasonable, especially if Morgan or Ankiel struggle. Before we get into adding stats on to Roger, let’s take a look at how often he hits the ball in the air. His career GB/FB ratio is 0.97. It’s not at the high end, where a guy like Morgan (1.16) might want to be, but it isn’t as low as some power hitters like Zimmerman (0.74). Either way, I think it’s reasonable to assume that an addition of power would add some home runs to his arsenal, rather than just some hard hit grounders. But there would be some of those, too.