Archive for Nationals

Stephen Strasburg: Game Four Relief Ace?

With a 4-1 victory over the Giants last night, the Nationals breathed a little life into their hopes of advancing past the NDLS. Tonight, they look to win another game in San Francisco, and the pitching match-up certainly looks to be in their favor, as Gio Gonzalez takes on Ryan Vogelsong. Gonzalez, however, is not exactly known for pitching deep into ballgames, which brings up an interesting question for Matt Williams tonight: would he be willing to use Stephen Strasburg as his first option out of the bullpen?

Due to the scheduled off-days both on Sunday and tomorrow, the Nationals have the option of starting either Strasburg or Jordan Zimmermann on full rest in a potential Game Five. Zimmermann shut down the Giants on Saturday, finishing one out shy of a complete game, and was actually the team’s best starter this season, even though he doesn’t have Strasburg’s raw stuff. The availability of Zimmmermann to start Game Five creates an interesting option for the Nationals to use Strasburg out of the bullpen in order to give the team their best chance of getting to that game, and Matt Williams said yesterday that Strasburg was available in relief in an “extreme emergency” situation.

Interestingly, Kilgore also wrote this in a separate piece: Read the rest of this entry »

Doug Fister’s Mid-Game Adjustment

Three walks don’t seem like a big deal. Even if Doug Fister only gave up three walks once all year, you could look at the box score for Game Three of the National League Division Series and think, sure he had a Fisterian game. Nine ground balls to six fly balls, not many walks, a few strikeouts, and you look up and the Nationals have won behind him.

Except it didn’t really play out like that. Fister walked two of those three batters in the first inning. He went to eight pitches to get Joe Panik out. He went to five-plus pitches six more times before he got six outs. This was a man who averaged 3.7 pitches per batter faced during the regular season, averaging 4.8 pitches per batter in the first two innings. A man who once told us that he wants bad contact “in the first three pitches.”

After the game, Fister admitted that there was something going on early.

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A Quick Defense of Matt Williams

On Saturday night, Matt Williams removed Jordan Zimmermann with one out to go, trying to preserve a 1-0 lead. Drew Storen entered immediately gave up a single to Buster Posey and a double Pablo Sandoval, tying the game at 1-1; the Giants would go on and win in 18. Williams was heavily criticized in the aftermath of the game for taking a pitcher out who was, at that, throwing a shutout, especially given that he had only thrown 100 pitches on the night.

But let’s just look at the numbers here for a second. We’ll look at career and 2014 batting against both pitchers.

Zimmermann 0.249 0.292 0.383
Storen 0.224 0.289 0.330
Zimmermann 0.244 0.277 0.354
Storen 0.210 0.262 0.278

On a per-batter faced, Drew Storen has been a more effective pitcher than Jordan Zimmermann. This shouldn’t be a big surprise, since good relievers are almost always the hardest guys in all of baseball to hit, and Storen is a very good reliever.

And as you’re probably sick of reading about by now, pitchers get worse the more often they face the same hitter within the same game. Here are Zimmermann’s career splits by times through the order:

1st PA 1,304 0.226 0.273 0.355
2nd PA 1,291 0.256 0.293 0.389
3rd PA 982 0.262 0.313 0.407
4th PA 81 0.338 0.363 0.468

The first time Zimmermann faces a hitter in a game, he’s lights out. Second time, still pretty good. Third time, he’s roughly league average. The fourth match-up has been a disaster for him.

And yes, Zimmermann was throwing the ball well on Saturday night, but you only get to face a guy a fourth time through the order if you’re pitching well, so that entire data pool is essentially comprised of performances against Zimmermann late in games in which he had already performed at a high level. 81 plate appearances is of course a small sample, but both the league-wide and Zimmermann-specific trends are clear; his performance declines the longer he stays in, and by the time a hitter has already faced him three times, they hit him pretty well.

Even if we cherry pick the numbers, we can’t come up with a scenario where the expected line against Storen would be worse than against Zimmermann. Storen’s career .273 wOBA allowed is better than Zimmermann’s career-best .280 wOBA allowed this year, so even if we give Zimmermann credit for his 2014 performance and still hold Storen’s entire career line against him, Zimmermann still loses out. Add in any kind of times-through-the-order penalty and it ceases to even be remotely close.

Storen was the right call. It didn’t work, but that doesn’t make the move a mistake.

The Washington Nationals vs. Vic Carapazza

This is a story all about how an umpire flipped-turned a playoff game upside down.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not blaming the outcome of Saturday night’s marathon game between Washington and San Francisco entirely on fourth-year umpire Vic Carapazza, working in his first MLB postseason. I would never do that. Despite what disgruntled fans might lead you to believe, the blame for a team’s loss can never be placed on the shoulders of one individual. Especially not in a game that lasted 18 innings.

There are countless factors that played into Washington’s loss, and that’s been reflected in the media’s coverage of this game. The offense went scoreless for 15 innings after taking a 1-0 lead in the third. Many have focused on manager Matt Williams‘ decision to remove starting pitcher Jordan Zimmermann after a walk in the ninth. Some have focused on… the male genitalia? But a lot of attention has turned to Carapazza, who had a shaky strike zone and ejected Williams and shortstop Asdrubal Cabrera in the bottom of the 10th for arguing balls and strikes.

Cabrera and Williams need to keep their cool in that situation, but, boy, did Vic Carapazza have himself a rough night.
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FG on Fox: Stephen Strasburg’s Next Level

Stephen Strasburg was hyped from before he was ever drafted, and when he made his big-league debut, he captured the national interest like few other prospects ever have or ever will. But a hyped Strasburg meant there would be a post-hyped Strasburg, and while people still recognize that he has electric, occasionally unhittable stuff, it’s felt before like something’s been missing. Maybe it’s on us for setting our expectations too high, or maybe it’s on us for not being patient enough, but Strasburg felt incomplete, and it wasn’t only the fans who felt so.

Last spring, a big-league pitcher remarked that his teammates would rather face Strasburg than Jordan Zimmermann. Against Strasburg, they were more comfortable, and while his numbers were clearly good, the point is that Strasburg didn’t feel like a whole pitcher.

And now? Now he feels a lot more like a whole pitcher. Some of it is just clearing 200 innings, but this year’s version of Strasburg has taken a step forward. This year’s version of Strasburg is maybe the ace of a staff full of aces, as he’s crossed more tasks off a shrinking to-do list.

Here’s the simplest way to put it: Strasburg, in 2014, threw more strikes. In 2012 and 2013, he threw strikes about 63% of the time. The average for a National League starter was about 64%. This season, Strasburg threw strikes about 67% of the time, one of the higher figures in the league. So, where Strasburg used to walk 7-8% of opposing hitters, this year he walked 5%, which is particularly low given his frequency of getting into deep counts.

Read the rest on Just A Bit Outside.

The Washington Nationals and Baseball’s Freshest Bullpen

So, bullpens. We can all agree they’re pretty important, yeah? In the postseason, the importance of the bullpen is magnified. It’s on national television, everything is magnified. Every pitch seems more important. Every swing seems more important. Every decision made by a manager seems more important. Each of these things inches a team one step closer to a having World Series title, or one step closer to having tee times.

But also, as our own Dave Cameron has pointed out, the importance of the bullpen is magnified in the postseason because, strategically, the role of a bullpen simply becomes more important the more times you work through a batting order. Relievers are often the most effective pitchers on a team and, at this point in the season, it doesn’t make sense to save or protect your arms. You use what you’ve got when you need outs.
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The Other NL MVP Candidates

The field for the National League Most Valuable Player Award is wide open, and in a good way. There are a bevy of well qualified candidates, and even if voters may now be uncertain as to what do with Giancarlo Stanton now given his injury, there are still three no-doubt top-of-the-ballot candidates: Andrew McCutchen, Clayton Kershaw and Jonathan Lucroy. These three have been in the spotlight all season, and with Stanton, figure to be the ones who take home the hardware. But that doesn’t mean they’re the only ones for whom there is a case worth making. There as many as six other players who deserve recognition, and with white-hot finishing kicks could put themselves into the mix with the top dogs.
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Austin Voth: Low-Minors Ace, But What Sort of Prospect?

When our other prospect writers submit scouting reports, I will provide a short background and industry consensus tool grades.  There are two reasons for this: 1) giving context to account for the writer seeing a bad outing (never threw his changeup, coming back from injury, etc.) and 2) not making him go on about the player’s background or speculate about what may have happened in other outings.

The writer still grades the tools based on what they saw, I’m just letting the reader know what he would’ve seen in many other games from this season, particularly with young players that may be fatigued late in the season. The grades are presented as present/future on the 20-80 scouting scale and very shortly I’ll publish a series going into more depth explaining these grades.   -Kiley

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Doug Fister is Pitching to Contact

Doug Fister is fresh off seven scoreless innings Monday night against the Braves. Quality starts are pretty much old hat to the Nationals by now, who’re successfully running away with the NL East, but it might be a little bit surprising that Stephen Strasburg hasn’t functioned as the rotation ace. Really, that statement just speaks to the silly amount of awesome depth the Nationals possess, but with his latest outing, Fister ranks eighth in baseball in ERA among starters with 100+ innings. He’s basically even with Jon Lester. He’s slightly ahead of Cole Hamels and Garrett Richards. When Fister has pitched, the Nationals haven’t surrendered many runs, and, isn’t that the whole point?

So, people loved the Fister trade from the Nationals’ end, and clearly it’s worked out very well for them to this point. But there’s another thing that’s a little bit surprising: 2014 Doug Fister hasn’t been 2013 Doug Fister. Usually, when people have thought about the Nationals and pitching to contact, it’s been with regard to Strasburg’s electric right arm. But, Stephen Strasburg’s strikeout rate is as healthy as ever. It’s Doug Fister who’s been pitching to contact, even despite a trade to the league where the pitchers have to hit.

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The Nationals’ Lineup, Not Their Rotation, Makes Them Great

The Washington Nationals are a good team, probably the best in the National League. After they made headlines for winning games via walkoff only, they settled down and started winning games the traditional way. With a seven-game lead in the NL East, the Nats are all but a lock to at least qualify for the postseason this year. As of today, their playoff odds sit at 99.9%, with a 99.3% chance of holding on to the division crown, the highest marks in baseball.

By Base Runs and Pythag, their talent on-hand appears to be slightly better than their record shows. The Nats are a team best characterized as a great pitching team, with a formidable starting rotation and steady bullpen supported by strong defense. Their offense doesn’t get its due, boasting a 98 wRC+ for the season – though their non-pitchers rank among the best in the game.

It is somewhat surprising to see the Nats offense rank so high, given their high strikeout rate and lack of a single offensive force (Jayson Werth’s 136 wRC+ is best on the club, ranking him 21st among qualified hitters). But it is this offense that I believe makes them even more troubling for potential playoff opponents. The Nationals deadline deals and improving health might make the prospect of facing their lineup even scarier come October than a rotation stacked with studs. Read the rest of this entry »

The Year in Tanner Roark

August 7th, 2013: Jordan Zimmermann lasts only four innings in his start against the Braves, giving up seven hits and a couple of runs before Davey Johnson goes to the bullpen. In need of a bridge to the team’s middle relievers, Johnson calls in a rookie, Tanner Roark, to make his Major League debut. It is about as nondescript an appearance as one could imagine, as he faces six hitters, giving up a hit to B.J. Upton — okay, so one remarkable thing happened — but erasing it with a double play, and facing the minimum six batters over his two innings of work.

No one really thought much of it. Even in this post-game interview, Roark looks about as excited in his debut as everyone watching was. He was just a guy, a 25th round pick by the Rangers who was traded to Washington as half of the return for Texas’ acquisition of Cristian Guzman back in 2010. Fun fact; after the trade, Guzman hit .152/.204/.174 and was worth -0.7 WAR in just 50 plate appearances. Whoops.

But, really, giving up Roark wasn’t anything to lose sleep over. When Texas traded him, he was a guy with 75 strikeouts in 105 innings in Double-A, and he wasn’t even avoiding walks that well. He was an organizational guy, a non-prospect with no obvious upside who looked like a career minor leaguer. Even when he got to Washington, he didn’t really have any kind of major breakthrough. He just progressed through up the chain, got to Triple-A as a 25 year old, and then threw enough strikes in Syracuse last year that the team called him up when they needed a long man in the bullpen.

Well, he’s not a long man in the bullpen anymore. Since Roark’s debut one year ago today, here are the top 10 qualified starting pitchers by ERA-.

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The Dark Side Of Booming Local TV Deals

Bud Selig has been giddy watching baseball teams attract bigger and bigger local television deals. More local TV revenue to a team means more money for the league to spread via revenue sharing and greater competitive balance. And Bug Selig sure loves competitive balance. On a recent visit to PNC Park, Major League Baseball’s commissioner told Pittsburgh Pirates broadcasters that he got “goosebumps” watching the Reds and Pirates square off in last year’s postseason.

But big local TV contracts aren’t all Skittles and puppies. Certainly not for fans who are forced to pay higher and higher cable and satellite TV bills to watch their home team. Nor for cable and satellite TV customers who don’t care about baseball but have to pay the higher prices as part of their bundled programming.

It turns out that big local TV contracts aren’t always good news for teams either. That has turned Selig’s mood quite sour.

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Sorry, Bryce: Matt Williams is Right

Yesterday, Bryce Harper returned from the disabled list. This is good news for the Nationals, since Bryce Harper is good at baseball. Having more good baseball players is not a bad thing for a team trying to win, so a returning Harper is a net positive for the organization. However, Harper’s return is not entirely without controversy.

As Wendy Thurm noted after her conversation with Ryan Zimmerman a few weeks ago, Zimmerman enjoyed playing the outfield more than he enjoyed playing third base. His shoulder issues, and the mental pressure that came with making the throw across the diamond, were not a factor in the outfield, allowing him to enjoy the game in a way that he wasn’t at third base. However, Harper’s return means that there is not an outfield spot for Zimmerman any longer, and on Monday night, he went back to third base.

Before the game, Bryce Harper publicly disagreed with the decision. Read the rest of this entry »

Ryan Zimmerman Is Enjoying Left Field, But Third Base Looms

Left field at AT&T Park in San Francisco is spacious — but compared to center field and right field, it’s not terribly complicated. No unusually high brick walls; no tricky angles. After Barry Bonds left the team, the Giants rotated some pretty mediocre defenders through left (and towards the end, Bonds was pretty mediocre himself). If the left fielder could hit, he’d probably be an overall plus, despite subpar range or weak arm. Think Pat Burrell in 2010.

The Washington Nationals’ four-game series in San Francisco this week, then, couldn’t have worked out better for new left fielder Ryan Zimmerman. The former Gold Glove third baseman made his first start in left on June 3 after returning from a 51-day stint on the disabled list for a broken right thumb. Zimmerman’s in left because Bryce Harper went down with his own thumb injury that is expected to keep him off the field until July. The Nationals moved Anthony Rendon to third — his natural position — and Danny Espinosa came off the bench to retake his old job at second. Before Zimmerman, Tyler Moore and Nate McLouth rotated in left and posted an 88 wRC+ and 58 wRC+, respectively.

But there’s much more to it. Zimmerman has been battling an arthritic condition in his right shoulder since 2012 and the injury has significantly affected his throwing motion. From 2007 through the 2011 season, Zimmerman had two of the top 10 defensive seasons for third baseman in the league, as measured by Defensive Runs Saved. Cumulatively, the only third baseman better than Zimmerman in those five seasons were Evan Longoria, Adrian Beltre and Scott Rolen, again using DRS.

That all changed with the shoulder injury in 2012. A cortisone shot allowed him to play through pain — and he delivered at the plate to the tune of a .352 wOBA and 121 wRC+ — but his defense suffered. He and the Nationals hoped off-season surgery would alleviate the pain and the effects of the injury on his throwing motion, but 2013 wasn’t much better from the hot corner. Zimmerman’s cumulative DRS from 2007 through 2011 was +55; in 2012 and 2013, it dropped to -2.

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Prospect Watch: 2014 Improvement

Each weekday during the minor-league season, FanGraphs is providing a status update on multiple rookie-eligible players. Note that Age denotes the relevant prospect’s baseball age (i.e. as of July 1st of the current year); Top-15, the prospect’s place on Marc Hulet’s preseason organizational list; and Top-100, that same prospect’s rank on Hulet’s overall top-100 list.

In this installment of the Prospect Watch, I examine three players who have improved markedly from my viewings in 2013 to 2014.

Robinson Leyer, RHP, Chicago White Sox (Profile)
Level: Low-A   Age: 21  Top-15: N/A   Top-100: N/A
Line: 62.2 IP, 72 H, 35 R, 43/21 K/BB, 3.16 ERA, 3.97 FIP

Leyer brings easy heat and knows where it’s going, and his game has taken a quantum leap forward in the past year.

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The Whole of the Nationals’ Hidden Lee Streak

Whenever a player or team perform exceptionally well, a common question we get in our chats is, “is this the real player/team?” Usually, the answer is no — a hot streak is a hot streak, a fluke level of performance above the norm. Every so often, though, the outlook’s a little fuzzier, especially when it comes to individual players who might be having a breakout. Yet in the case of the Nationals’ rotation, we can declare unequivocally that no, this is not the real them. The Nationals’ starting rotation is good. Over 51.2 innings, between June 3 and June 10, Nationals starters didn’t walk a single batter.

And they struck out 51 batters. According to Adam Kilgore, that hadn’t happened in at least a century. We can say with certainty that the Nationals’ starters aren’t this good because, over that span, they posted a 1.66 FIP, putting them somewhere between Craig Kimbrel and peak Pedro Martinez. They achieved a strikeout-to-walk ratio of #UNDEFINED, and a K% – BB% of their K%. The Nationals’ rotation, without question, overachieved, but everyone who’s ever thrown a perfect game has overachieved, and those perfect games have drawn an awful lot of words. So the Nationals deserve some words of their own, before this streak is forgotten.

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Reminder: Stephen Strasburg Is Still Really, Really Good

If you were to conduct a casual survey among baseball fans about the greatest pitching season of all time, there’s no doubt that there’s a few years that would pop up regularly among the responses. Bob Gibson‘s 1968, certainly. Dwight Gooden‘s 1985 would probably appear, or Roger Clemens‘ 1986, or Steve Carlton‘s 1972. Randy Johnson has a few years you could point to. So does Sandy Koufax. So does Greg Maddux. There’s not really a wrong answer there, because it’s not a question that can be answered. Run environment and park effects have to be measured, and we can do that to some extent, but we can’t really account for the fact that some people prefer the quiet mastery of Maddux to the flame-throwing mastery of Johnson, or the fact that whether you were 15 in 1968 or still decades away from being born will absolutely color your memories of particular eras.

For me, the answer is a tie. It’s either Pedro Martinez‘ 1999 or Pedro Martinez‘ 2000, and it’s not hard to explain why. They were legitimately great seasons no matter how you looked at them, and they occurred right in the face of some of the highest offensive environments we’ve ever seen. It’s why Martinez’ ERA+ in 2000 was 291 while Gibson’s 1968 was 258, despite Gibson’s raw ERA of 1.12 being considerably lower than Martinez’ 1.74. And for me, I lived in Boston at the time. I was in college. I lived within walking distance of Fenway Park. I can’t say I specifically remember any starts of Martinez’ I saw in person in those two years, but I’m sure I saw at least a few.

Martinez, in those two years, did something no other qualified pitcher since 1900 has ever done before or since. He struck out more than 11 per nine, and he paired that with a walk rate below 2.00. That’s a bit biased towards recent pitchers, since the game as a whole simply didn’t strike out decades ago like they do now, but that doesn’t really change how fantastically impressive it was.

Now, realize this: This isn’t a post about Pedro Martinez. It’s a post about Stephen Strasburg, who, through his first 14 starts of the season, is on pace to do exactly that… not that anyone seems to be noticing. If it’s possible to be both a superstar and feel like a disappointment, considering how hyped Strasburg was as the No. 1 pick in the 2009 draft, he’s managed to accomplish it.

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Prospect Watch: Control Problems

Each weekday during the minor-league season, FanGraphs is providing a status update on multiple rookie-eligible players. Note that Age denotes the relevant prospect’s baseball age (i.e. as of July 1st of the current year); Top-15, the prospect’s place on Marc Hulet’s preseason organizational list; and Top-100, that same prospect’s rank on Hulet’s overall top-100 list.

Victor Payano, LHP, Texas Rangers (Profile)
Level: High-A   Age: 21   Top-15: N/A   Top-100: N/A
Line: 54.0 IP, 49 H, 29 R, 43/48 K/BB, 4.33 ERA, 5.44 FIP

Payano has two interesting pitches from the left side, but he’s been derailed by inconsistency his whole career.

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“I Wish We Could Get Guys Like That”

Weird things about baseball fascinate me. One of those things is the concept of discarded players. Every once in awhile, you’ll see a player doing well and think to yourself, “Hey, wasn’t he on our team at one point?” David Carpenter is one such player. Watching him face the Red Sox this week, I couldn’t help but think that it would be sure nice if the Sox had him right now instead of Craig Breslow. Sure, the world will keep on spinning, and Carpenter wouldn’t make or break the 2014 Red Sox, but every little bit counts, and the Red Sox gave him away for free after just five weeks on the roster. In situations like these, we often jokingly say (or at least I do), “Hey, I wish we could get guys like that!”

I don’t mean to pick on the Red Sox, because every team does this. If you scan rosters, you’ll find one such player on just about every roster. And originally, my intention was to run down that list and look at them all individually. But then I got a look at this trade. On July 31, 2010, the Atlanta Braves traded Gregor Blanco, Jesse Chavez and Tim Collins to the Kansas City Royals for Rick Ankiel and Kyle Farnsworth. Take a look:

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Prospect Watch: Pitching Behemoths

Each weekday during the minor-league season, FanGraphs is providing a status update on multiple rookie-eligible players. Note that Age denotes the relevant prospect’s baseball age (i.e. as of July 1st of the current year); Top-15, the prospect’s place on Marc Hulet’s preseason organizational list; and Top-100, that same prospect’s rank on Hulet’s overall top-100 list.


Jake Johansen, RHP, Washington Nationals (Profile)
Level: Low-A  Age: 23   Top-15: N/A   Top-100: N/A
Line: 26 IP, 28 H, 20 R, 23/16 K/BB, 5.88 ERA, 3.80 FIP

Johansen has premium size and arm strength, with enough supplemental skills to make him very interesting.

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