The 2012 Nationals: A Very Forensic Autopsy

I did not know five minutes ago — but probably should have, owing to how I’ve watched Law and Order at least once in my life — that, per U.S. law, all deaths are classified as one of five sorts. These sorts, in fact:

• Natural
• Accidental
• Homicide
• Suicide
• Undetermined

Another thing I didn’t know five minutes ago, but have realized is likely not the worst idea, is that a way to discuss the Nationals’ (now deceased) 2012 season — and, in particular, their playoff-series defeat at the hands of the St. Louis Cardinals — is via the language of forensic science, a very basic understanding of which I’ve just acquired from Wikipedia, and which I will now dispense haphazardly throughout what follows.

“What was the cause of the death of the Nationals’ 2012 season?” we ask.

Here are cases for all five of the legally recognized types:

Type of Death: Natural

Real Definition: Death by illness or malfunction of the body.

Baseball Definition: All humans die. All baseball teams but one (i.e. the World Series winners) are eliminated. Most human deaths are natural. Most baseball teams, just by virtue of the season/playoff format, are unlikely to win a championship in a given season.

Relevance to Nats: The Nationals were a good baseball team this year, posting the best Pythagorean record in the National League. That said, the Cardinals were also a good baseball team, one which posted the second-best Pythagorean record in the National League. Over the course of 162 games, the Nationals would probably have beaten the Cardinals, like, 82 times. Logic dictates then that, over the course of a playoff series — a short, five-game series, especially — each team probably had about a 50% chance of winning.

***

Type of Death: Accidental

Real Definition: Death by unforeseen and/or otherwise preventable circumstances.

Baseball Definition: An accidental baseball death is perhaps one in which a team is made weaker by chance — by injury, most likely, but maybe for another reason I can’t think of.

Relevance to Nats: For the most part, the Nationals were healthy entering the NLDS. They lost their starting catcher, Wilson Ramos, in May, although his replacements were good enough to see the team to an NL-best record. Kurt Suzuki, in a five-game series, was likely not a downgrade of any sort. Stephen Strasburg‘s torn UCL from 2010 — which ultimately caused him to be handled carefully in, and shut down at the end of, 2012 — might be considered an element of the Nats’ “accidental” death.

***

Type of Death: Homicide

Real Definition: The act of one human killing another.

Baseball Definition: To suggest that one team has “killed” another might indicate that the first (i.e. the murdering team) has imposed its will upon, or overwhelmed, the second (i.e. the victim team).

Relevance to Nats: It is difficult to think of the 2012 Cardinals without also thinking of the 2011 championship Cardinals — a team that, down to its last strike in Game Six of the 2011 World Series, went on to win that World Series in seven games. With the Cardinals’ come-from-behind victory in Game Five of the NLDS — a game in which they (i.e. St. Louis) were down to their last strike five times — they have certainly provided the raw material for a narrative concerning their ability to overcome great obstacles. Did the Cardinals impose their will upon (or, in legal parlance, “murder”) the Nationals? “Perhaps,” is the only responsible answer.

***

Type of Death: Suicide

Real Definition: The act of killing oneself.

Baseball Definition: A case in which a team creates the conditions for its own failure — by poor management or by uncharacteristically and untimely poor play.

Relevance to Nats: If we are going to invoke the shutdown of Stephen Strasburg, this is the place to do it, probably — however, as I concluded in a recent piece, replacing Strasburg with Ross Detwiler (who pitched very well) in the playoff rotation, likely cost the Nationals no more than half a run over the five-game series. Also notable, perhaps, is Washington manager Davey Johnson‘s decision to pitch to Pete Kozma in the ninth inning of Game Five — even with two out, the game tied, first base open, Jason Motte due up next, and no pinch-hitting options only Tony Cruz remaining on the bench. The choice to pitch to Kozma (who proceeded to hit a two-run single) might have been a “suicide” of sorts.

***

Type of Death: Undetermined

Real Definition: Cause of death is unclear and/or no remains of the deceased are found.

Baseball Definition: An undetermined baseball death is one that’s due to Intrigue!, with a capital-I and an exclamation point.

Relevance to Nats: It is possible, although not likely, that Washington right-hander Drew Storen was bound and gagged before the ninth inning of Game Five and replaced with a very similar-looking actor or robot — which would explain why the normally proficient closer (30.1 IP, 90 xFIP-, 12 SD, 3 MD) conceded four runs in a single inning.




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Carson Cistulli has recently started a new project called Paris Matches.

38 Responses to “The 2012 Nationals: A Very Forensic Autopsy”

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  1. RMD says:

    Holy crap! Johnson really didn’t allow his closer to pitch to a pitcher to practically guarantee a chance of actually winning it in the 9th inning?

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    • zipperz says:

      Kozma had 948 PAs in AAA over the last two years, in which he hit .223/.286/.324.
      I predict Pete Kozma will never spend a full season again on a MLB roster.

      He isn’t very good…. still it is very questionable. Johnson probably also shouldn’t have pitched Storen in the 9th of game 3 (trailing 8-0). He wound up pitching 3 days in a row and might have been gassed by game 5

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      • cable fixer says:

        the only problem with citing MiLB numbers–even, or perhaps especially over 800+ ABs–is that a player’s minor league stats don’t correlate very well with his first 150 or so ML ABs. teams and hitters use the minors to work on skill development–plate discipline, contact skills, etc etc–in a environment which is largely consequence free vis a vis the majors. simply, raw number production can be an afterthought vs skill acquistion.

        second, as one of the recent podcasts discussed, the difference in terms of player skill between AAA and the majors is mostly neglible except for consistency. yes, kozma is repeating AAA as a 23 year old but with a slight babip adjustment, his most recent AAA line certainly suggests he’d be a capable ML hitter. in terms of kozma’s longterm consistency, who knows, but fwiw traditional scouts clearly liked (or like) him enough to award him a solid pedigree.

        one final aside is that the projection system Marcel doesn’t use MiLB stats as inputs and fares just about as well as projection systems when considering rookie stat lines. think about the implications of such an outcome.

        for me, this “kozma can’t hit” narrative is too overblown.

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      • Preston says:

        It’s true that minor league stats don’t always correlate to true talent level. That’s because players are young enough to still make huge strides in every faze of the game. However when you’re 24 and repeating the level a .232/.292/.355 line in 500 PA’s is pretty damning of your talent level. His success in the majors was fueled by an unsustainable .415 BABIP and an ISO double that of what he was doing at AAA. This is a fluke.

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      • bossrjc says:

        Please note the Nats also achieved unusual levels of success this year and none of their over achieving players will again. Pitching is suspect and the everyday players played way over their heads. They’ll watch next year.

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      • philosofool says:

        Marcel is not as good as the other systems at projecting rookies. Rookies, in fact,are one of the strengths of most other systems.

        In any event, Marcel’s limited success does not have any implication, as you imply, that minor league numbers aren’t predictive. Marcel’s secret is that most players are pretty average, so when you don’t have any inputs, you guess average. It turns out rookies are worse than average, but not by so much that Marcel’s intentionally stupid projection is really bad.

        Once you underextand how and why Marcel works fairly well, you will also understand why you have no reason to think that Kozma will be better than average next season. Since he’s never performed significantly above average at any level for a sustained amount of time, you should not think he’s better than average.

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  2. BriGuySTL says:

    Well, two problems with the whole “pitch to Kozma” thing.

    1) Kozma went down 0-2 at one point with runners on first and third. I think it was on the 1-2 pitch that Descalso stole second. So, unless you want to concede the two strike count on Kozma, you don’t IBB him.

    2) There was a bench bat left – Tony Cruz, backup catcher, who would have to enter the game in the bottom half of the 9th regardless. And he’s as good a hitter as Pete Kozma (meaning, not a good hitter).

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    • Noted. And edited. Thanks.

      With regard to walking Kozma, I wonder if it might have been a smart thing to do just for the purpose of pushing Motte out of the game. Who’s the next best arm left after that? Rzepczynski? Miller? Maybe Carpenter?

      Either that, or Matheny sends Motte up to bat, anyway, with a view to maintaining the tie in the next half-inning.

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      • BriGuySTL says:

        I don’t think that Carpenter would have been available. It was down to Rzepczynski, Miller and Salas. I think they may have shown Salas warming up in the pen but I’m not sure.

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      • gnomez says:

        Salas was warm at that point, and I thought I heard someone say Miller was also getting loose.

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  3. DrBGiantsfan says:

    i knew the Nats were in a lot of trouble in the 9′th inning before it began when the TBS announcers commented that this was Storen’s 3′rd appearance in a row. One of them had talked to him and asked if he had enough left in the tank to pitch in Game 5. Storen’s reply was that he would somehow TRY to find the strength to get it done, or something to that effect. The word TRY tells you that he felt he was, in fact, out of gas and had no confidence in his ability to find some in the event he was needed.

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    • hk says:

      Which leads to the real question…why the heck did Davey Johnson use Storen in the 9th inning of Wednesday’s 8-0 loss?

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    • Dave says:

      Despite having that K zone and plenty of replays and time to talk about it, neither announcer ever even bothered to note that Storen was missing every target by about two feet on the high side. This was happening even early in the inning before they hit the danger zone. As soon as he faced his first hitter I would’ve had another pitcher warming. To me this seemed obvious.

      And for an organization to have gone to such great lengths to “save” Strasburg’s arm (as if low-stress innings every five days are dangerous), it’s absolutely ridiculous that they let him pitch the previous game or didn’t notice this as it was happening. You’re telling me that you’re watching Strasburg that closely but fell asleep at the switch with the season on the line? Ridiculous. The Nats got what they deserved.

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  4. deadhead says:

    My favorite thing about Law and Order is, that because of the show, people are now allowed to say anything they like, as long as they abruptly ejaculate “withdrawn” afterward.

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  5. Lan says:

    The game could have ended when Molina stole 2nd. He took off before the pitcher even started his pitch. They could have easily picked him off if the pitcher had noticed… or if the catcher pointed it out.

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    • mikey says:

      wasnt he in the full windup and started pitching?

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      • John C says:

        No. I was at the game, and my seats are behind home plate looking out towards RF. Molina wasn’t being held on, but he started walking while Storen was looking in, and just kept going. It was so weird I wondered if he was trying to draw a throw so the runner on third could go home or something. Literally a step off and a toss to the second baseman would have been a very quick and ignominious end to the game.

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      • rarumberger says:

        John C – Storen has never in his career shown any inclination toward holding runners. He’s notoriously slow to the plate and simple to steal on. If Storen was paying any attention whatsoever to Yadi, he would never have gone in the first place.

        The stolen base was inevitable. The Nats are lucky the Cards never tried stealing until that point, because they could have had bases at will throughout the series, just like every other team in baseball all season long.

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  6. Brandon says:

    I don’t know who was available in the Nats’ bullpen in the 9th. Zimmerman comes to mind, but he pitched an inning of relief on Thursday, so Johnson was probably against using him again. He was, however, great in that game in a high leverage situation. Regardless of whether Zimmerman was a viable option, if there was someone acceptable available in the bullpen, I simply can’t agree with Johnson’s decision to leave Storen in the game after the second walk (and maybe after the first). I certainly can’t agree with leaving him in after he gave up the game-tying hit. Storen looked shaky for most of the inning. He was missing his spots and wasn’t getting his breaking balls called for strikes. If someone is available, I think Johnson has to take him out in that situation. Furthermore, if the problem is warm-up time, Johnson has to anticipate a problem–especially with Storen’s unusually heavy use over three games–and have people up in the pen.

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  7. YanksFanInBeantown says:

    Ramos is much, much better than Kurt Suzuki. Suzuki has never posted a wRC+ over 100 over a full season. Ramos is a pretty good hitter.

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  8. Ty says:

    We should notice one thing about the entire 9th inning: aside from Beltran’s double Storen didn’t make bad pitches. Most of his pitches were just off the plate, around the zone, and unhittable. The Cards just did a great job of hitting a pitcher’s pitch. There’s not much more you can ask your closer to do.

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    • WhosOnPhyrst says:

      Yes there is, you can ask your closer to throw strikes. Walks = Base runners Base runners = Runs. If you ask me the number one thing wrong with the game today is closers allowing too many free base runners in the 9th inning.

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    • Dave says:

      I disagree. Replays showed that he was missing way high on most of his pitches. Even if they were good, they were off target in a more dangerous area.

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  9. philcastle says:

    This was a multi-inning train wreak. The 9th was just when everything kinda tumbled into the river. Why did DJ leave Gio in to walk in a run? When Gio starts walking people
    the bases get clogged. When the bases get clogged, runs start crossing the plate. When runs start crossing the plate you’re heading for a train wreak. Don’t wind up in a train wreak. Switch to someone who can throw strikes. Like Sean Burnett … Who gets one key out only to be pinch hit for with 2 outs so we can watch Edwin Jackson, who will be someone else’s 5th starter next year (one definition of replacement level) start the 7th against the top of the lineup (at which point I began to lose all hope) starting with lefty Jon Jay whom he proceed to walk before Beltran’s double …………………………

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    • WY says:

      Edwin Jackson isn’t Cy Young, but he’s not a #5 starter, and certainly not replacement level.

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    • a says:

      WRECK. WRECK WRECK WRECK WRECK WRECK WRECK WRECK WRECK WRECK WRECK WRECK WRECK WRECK WRECK WRECK WRECK WRECK WRECK WRECK WRECK WRECK WRECK WRECK WRECK WRECK WRECK WRECK WRECK WRECK WRECK WRECK WRECK WRECK WRECK WRECK

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  10. dscottncc says:

    Shutting down Strasburg might be the dumbest thing I’ve ever witnessed from an organization. I can’t help but to think that this had something to do with the downfall of the Nats. Let me give you a few examples.

    1. Team didn’t have the leadership/confidence from having quite arguably a top three pitcher in the majors on the mound.
    2. Gio felt the “ACE” pressure in game one as he gave up 7 walks.
    3. Harper and the boys tried to do to much on offense, and came up swinging and missing as they knew that the back end of their pitching staff was weak.
    4. The Nats had to rely on a really good bullpen, that eventually became exhausted.
    5. The Cardinals had that much more confidence, knowing that the Nats were without their ACE.

    Why they didn’t at least keep Strasburg in the bullpen for the remainder of the year is ludacris, and I hope they don’t make the playoffs for another 10years.

    –PS: I’m just bitter because I had 100 dollars on the Nats winning the World Series that I put on them in Vegas before the season began.

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  11. Paul Thomas says:

    Personally, when it comes to inquest results, I’m partial to the verbose Englishism “death by person or persons unknown.”

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    • Anon21 says:

      Where’s the classic “death by misadventure”?

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    • That’s usually “unlawful killing by person or persons unknown” (or “lawful killing”, but that’s almost always by named persons).

      But I agree about “death by misadventure”, and I’m disappointed that the US legal system really has abandoned it – I guess they classify them as “accidental”.

      Death by misadventure is when you tried something dangerous, at risk of your life, but not intending to die (like mountain climbing, or sky diving) and something went wrong. There’s no specific fault – you took a risk that didn’t pay off, and you paid with your life. A good example is people who go mountain climbing, fully and properly prepared, and then there’s a terrible storm that kills them.

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  12. Eddie says:

    Pretty sure that ‘choking’ would be considered an accident.

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  13. Who, me? says:

    This analysis needs to become a thing.

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  14. Mike says:

    With Storen at 29 pitches the day before and 20+ pitch and apparent loss of command, why didn’t Davey bring in Gonzalez, a lefty specialist/former closer, to get Descalso with only the back up catcher to PH? He could have then brought in a righty if Cards had PH. Mind boggling. Davey gives his players a lot of rope – 2B is a great example.

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