That Was Better Than I Thought

September 26, 2011

Think back to June or July. What were you thinking about this team? If you are like most fans, you were relishing the success of the starting pitching while lamenting the complete lack of offense. Well, some of that pitching has disappeared, due to trades, end of season shutdown, regression or whatever. But just as that evened out a bit, the hitting has roared back. Sure, this team isn’t the Bronx Bombers, but I seem to recall in early summer only Laynce Nix had an OPS+ over 100. Now look what we’ve got with only 3 games to go.

Danny Espinosa

A late season slump probably preventing him from getting serious rookie of the year consideration, but Danny Espinosa is finishing out the year on a high note. Not only is he hitting .239/.324/.420 right now, giving him an OPS+ of 104, the 24 year old rookie is hitting .298/.384/.471 in his last 140 PAs. His rough stretch in July and the beginning of August brought those total numbers down, but he’s still had a great season for a rookie middle infielder, and those 21 home runs look awfully nice.

Wilson Ramos

A 23 year old catcher hitting .269/.335/.449 should probably be getting a bit more national attention, considering Ramos has the 5th best OPS among NL catchers with 350 or more PAs. Not bad for a rookie at this position, either. One of the reasons people having been talking about him is that before September he was just having a pretty good offensive season. But in his last 102 PAs he’s hit .344/.396/.624, making those totals look quite a bit better. Oh, and those 4 catchers ahead of him on the OPS chart? The youngest is McCann, who’s 4 years older than Ramos.

Ian Desmond

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15 Games Left in the Best Season Yet

September 14, 2011

Tonight, the Nats will get a chance to beat their win total from last season. They are at 69 wins right now, already besting their 2008 and 2009 marks, 70 gets them over their 2010 spot. If they win 4 more after that, and since they have a total of 15 games remaining it certainly is possible, they’ll have more wins than 2007 (73-89) and their best record since that first year of 81-81. So, with 15 games left, go 5-10 or better, and you have your best season since your first year.

And while the record probably won’t be .500 (although it’s still possible!), this season has to be thought of as better than 2005. The pitching staff in 2005 had two young quality players that showed real promise – John Patterson and Chad Cordero. The rest were aging vets that had good years. The lineup was mostly under 30, but there weren’t too many young sensations on the squad, Nick Johnson was probably the closest.

In other words, 2005 didn’t show a ton of promise for the future but this 2011 team, on the other hand, does. They have a young catcher, at least one young middle infielder (maybe as many as 3), a potential MVP third baseman who is only 26, and 3 or 4 young quality starting pitchers including an almost surefire ace. Throw in Mike Morse and Jayson Werth, who aren’t quite as young, and Bryce Harper on the way, that’s a strong future. Savor it and enjoy it, it isn’t anything that you’ll remember years down the road, and it doesn’t compare to making the playoffs or winning a pennant, but regardless of record, this is the best year this team has had. And next year should be even better.


Hopes for the Second Half

July 14, 2011

Ok, technically, the Nationals’ season is more like 57% over not 50% over, but let’s skip the games played and just go with the All Star Game as the traditional midway point. There are a few things I’m really hoping to happen this half that would make me more confident going in to next season. While a playoff berth this year is still possible, the team just isn’t THAT good yet. I’m more concerned with them getting ready to make an actual run at a playoff spot in 2012. These aren’t predictions, these are just some things I’d like to see.

Trade

There aren’t too many trade chips for this team, but Jason Marquis is one of them. His ERA+ of 95 is about what you’d expect, and its nothing to get other teams foaming at the mouth. But he’s a free agent at the end of the year who isn’t likely to yield compensation picks. He’s worthless to them come the end of this season, but someone else might be able to use him. Livan Hernandez is in the same boat, and has actually pitched slightly better, but has legal issues which may make him harder to trade. If they can turn either of these guys into anything of value in the trade market, they gotta do it.

Jerry Hairston has performed well enough in fill-in roles, hitting just about what his career numbers would indicate. If there is a team that needs someone to play any of the myriad of positions he can play, why not get some value for him? They won’t get much, but something is better than nothing.

Laynce Nix is interesting because many might not want to trade him, figuring he can start in LF for the rest of the season and next year too. The problem is, he is a free agent after this season, and probably stands to make more than the $700K he’s making right now.

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2011 Roster – Best Nats Players Yet?

July 1, 2011

Yesterday, Thom Loverro wrote an article claiming that Danny Espinosa was the best second baseman in the history of the Nats. And you know what? My first thought was that I agreed with him. But I figured I’d check it out, using very basic statistical analysis. Then I thought, why not do that for the rest of the team as well? Is there anyone else on this current team that we can consider the best Nationals player at his position? I pulled the list for WAR (Wins Above Replacement) from Baseball Reference on all Nats players going back to 2005 when the team came to DC. Remember that WAR is cumulative, and while it can decrease with bad play, the thought is that anyone who has a high WAR now won’t see a massive decrease. Keep in mind also that Loverro was talking a bit more generically, and what I’m looking at is more about any of the current players having the best statistical season at the position.

Second Base

Starting with the premise of Loverro’s article, Danny Espinosa certainly seems like the best 2B in Nats history. And at 24 years old, he’s got a brighter future than anyone in the position before. And with a WAR of 2.0 right now, not only does he lead the 2011 Nats position players, he is the best second baseman at this point in the season already. The next closest WAR is Ronnie Belliard in 2008, and he only had 337 PAs. Vidro’s best season in DC (not counting some strong Montreal seasons) was his first, in 2005, where he had a WAR of 0.7. Espinosa’s doing great, and nothing should diminish that, but his competition was nonexistent.
Conclusion: Best 2B in Nats History

Third Base

Really, Ryan Zimmerman is obviously the best 3B in the team’s history, and so far he’s been the best player period for the franchise.

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People Are Talking About This Team

June 24, 2011

The Riggleman thing is already out of my system, so if it’s basically out of yours, you’ve come to the right place. While everyone else is going to spend the day talking about the former Nationals manager, I’d like to talk about the team. Specifically, how much praise this team is getting right now. As I mentioned yesterday, ESPN.com’s MLB page was co-opted by the resignation news, but for a few minutes at least, their front cover was all about how great the Nats were playing. First up was a story by Tim Kurkjian:

Kurkjian speaks of something that this club has now that it never had before: a winning attitude. And that’s more about having guys that actually care about winning and are upset by losses. Not just guys playing baseball and collecting paychecks. But more importantly, he speaks about the talent that this team has been able to acquire.

He calls Ryan Zimmerman the best playing on an emerging team. About Wilson Ramos, he says, “Ramos, 23, is a very good young player who is only going to improve. He’s proficient at calling a game, he’s a good receiver and he has great power… the Nationals now have their catcher for the next decade.” Then he goes on to praise both (yes, I said both) Espinosa and Desmond:

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The Defense Really Has Been Great

June 21, 2011

If you notice on the right side of the blog, the Nationals offense and pitching rankings are always  sitting there for you to see. What’s not there is defense, and a quick perusal of the defensive ranking of this team yielded shocking results. The Nats are ranked first or second in the NL in the overall defensive measurements on Baseball Reference. So I decided to investigate further, and here’s what we have:

  • Defensive EfficiencyPercentage of balls in play converted into outs: Nats rank 2nd in the NL with .706. Atlanta’s first at .707, league average is .695.
  • RtotTotal Zone Total Fielding Runs Above Average (The number of runs above or below average the player was worth based on the number of plays made):  Nats rank 1st in the NL with 27, league total is -56.
  • RdrsBIS Defensive Runs Saved Above Average (The number of runs above or below average the player was worth based on the number of plays made):  Nats rank 1st in the NL with 8, next best team is at -1.

What’s the difference between the two last stats above? I believe they measure the same thing, Baseball Reference just gets them from different sources (kind of like how WAR might be different dependent on different sources). They are also normalized differently, the values aren’t the same. But the point isn’t exactly what these stats are, the point is that advanced defensive metric show the Nats have the best or second best defense in the NL. It’s not just the team in general, obviously. You can also look how the individuals rank defensively, and that looks pretty good as well.

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Some Less Offensive Offense

June 1, 2011

For once, I’d like to talk about some of the good this offense is doing. Ok, so maybe I’m an optimist and I tend to talk about that anyway, but let’s be honest, this season I have been pretty quiet on my praise for the hitters. But there are a couple of things works noting.

Danny Espinosa has been unable to maintain a healthy batting average. But he walks so much (this isn’t a surprise if you look at what he did in the minors) and hits with enough power that is ALMOST doesn’t matter. I say almost because if he was hitting just .250, as opposed to .217, he’d be the rookie of the year favorite. Back to what he IS doing though. His .217/.311/.461 comes with 10 HR, enough for best among NL rookies… but 5 home runs. His OPS ranks 3rd for rookies, but that low average is killing him. It helps to keep his OBP too low, that .311 mark ranks him 3rd from the bottom, at #9 among those with at least 50 PAs.

I’ve written about this recently, but I’ll say it again. The slump that Mike Morse was in during all of April is gone. He isn’t just hitting well recently, his season numbers are up to .301/.329/.504. That is off of a streak where he hit HRs in 4 straight games, and in 5 of 7. It makes up for his April in a big way. His OPS now ranks 15th among all NL outfielders with at least 125 PAs. Top 15 makes you a starter, considering each team has three, which brings us to the another outfielder.

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Two Games Does Not an Offense Make

May 12, 2011

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.


The Team that Couldn’t Hit

May 9, 2011

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:

  1. .221/.321/.389
  2. .217/.250/.383
  3. .227/.324/.387
  4. .196/.300/.313
  5. .319/.377/.493
  6. .241/.275/.325
  7. .220/.297/.317

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.

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2011 NL East Rankings: Position Players

March 22, 2011

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:

CATCHER

1. Braves – Brian McCann
2. Phillies – Carlos Ruiz
3. Mets – Josh Thole
4. Nationals – Wilson Ramos/Ivan Rodriguez/Jesus Flores
5. Marlins – John Buck/John Baker

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.

SCORE: Braves (5), Phillies (4), Mets (3), Nationals (2), Marlins (1)

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