Watching your team get walked off is frustrating. Watching your team get walked off with their best reliever still sitting in the bullpen is infuriating. And here we are…
It has always baffled me that managers would save their closer for later in the game when they have their hypothetical lead, as if a tie game in the bottom of the 9th inning is not a critical situation. Besides, I’d rather have my best guy pitching in the tie game with no margin for error and save a less good pitcher to pitch with a lead. Let’s not over-complicate this; here are the pitchers in the Nationals’ bullpen and their 2015 xFIPs:
The pitchers crossed out are the ones who already pitched this game.
The choice seems pretty obvious to me. Heck, I even suggested bringing in Storen in the 8th inning to face the Orioles 2-3-4 hitters. In case you’re worried about usage, the Nationals just had two days off, and three-day All Star Break begins on Monday. No concerns there.
Perhaps the Nationals wouldn’t have even been in this situation if Matt Williams hadn’t turned Matt Wieters around to bat right-handed in the 8th inning. Wieters has a career 119 wRC+ against lefties versus just a 90 wRC+ against righties.
I guess we’ll never know, just like we’ll never know what would have happened in the imaginary 13th inning Williams was counting on to bring in Storen with the Nationals leading.
A few random thoughts floating around my head after last night’s thrilling walk-off win to salvage a Double Header split against the Mets and the news that Drew Storen had been optioned to Triple-A Syracuse:
- The role of “closer” is an extreme paradox, isn’t it? Most teams anoint the best relief pitcher on their team to be the “closer” and then pitch him in less useful situations than if he was a “set up man.” The sooner “saves” and “blown saves” are not counted, the better off baseball will be.
- Related to that, I was trying to find a way to defend Storen and suggest that the Nationals made a mistake in sending him down. For the life of me, I can’t. He’s been really bad this year. He had a good stretch in June, where he gave up a run in only two appearances. Alas, relievers have tough jobs; they usually have one inning to prove themselves and are expected to perform flawlessly every time they are handed the ball. This is especially true if you are a “set up man,” where the stakes are much higher, the score is usually closer, and, often times, the other team’s best hitters are due to hit.
- Relievers are hard to predict from year to year. BABIP fluctuates greatly in small samples (which relievers’ samples usually are) and does not stabilize until a pitcher has faced a large number of hitters. Aside from BABIP, things like HR/FB rates, GB rates – really, anything that has to do with batted balls – as well as walk rates and strike out rates can very greatly from year to year for a reliever. It is hard to be consistent when you cannot create a rhythm. Relievers don’t necessarily get to pitch every day, and if they get hit hard one day, it might be a while until they get a chance to make it up.
- Lastly regarding relievers, Tyler Clippard is quietly having a very strong year. Perhaps overshadowed by the Nationals’ generally terrible performance this season, or possibly obscured by Storen’s struggles and Rafael Soriano’s nerve-wracking appearances, Clippard leads the Nationals with 20 shut downs versus only 4 melt downs (the best ratio in the Nationals’ bullpen).
- On the offensive side of things, can anyone give me one good reason why Jayson Werth is not leading off for the Nationals? He has power? Great; a leadoff home run increases your chances of winning by 10%! He won’t have a chance to drive in runs? Pleeeeeease, it’s not like anyone is on base when he’s batting fifth. He gets on base, he has great at bats, he is a very smart baseball player, and he has power. He’s essentially a perfect leadoff hitter.
- For what it’s worth, I would run out a batting order like this:
Jayson Werth, RF
Bryce Harper, LF
Ian Desmond, SS
Ryan Zimmerman, 3B
Adam LaRoche, 1B
Anthony Rendon, 2B
Denard Span, CF
- Finally, as the trade deadline approaches, I implore Mike Rizzo to try and unload some of the superfluous and overprice assets on the team. And by that, I mean anyone who is not part of the “core,” per se. Soriano, LaRoche, Span, Suzuki: good bye.
It has been pretty well documented that ERA is largely out of the control of pitchers; in fact, it might be determined less by the pitcher and more by his surrounding environment. I can’t say that with 100% certainty, but I would not be at all surprised.
With that in mind, let’s take a look at the factors that contribute to a pitcher having a low ERA compared with those of a pitcher with an uncharacteristically high ERA. The Nationals’ de facto ace in 2013 has so far been Jordan Zimmermann, who currently sports a 1.64 ERA backed by a 2.92 FIP. Our old buddy, Edwin Jackson, who signed a lucrative 4-year, $52 million contract with the Cubs last offseason, has a 3.23 FIP and a 6.39 ERA. Both pitchers seem to be pitching fairly effectively – why is Zimmermann’s ERA so much lower than Jackson’s?
Balls in Play
Zimmermann’s BABIP is .188; Jackson’s is .353. That is the equivalent 17 fewer hits against Zimmermann on 100 balls in play. Behold the following chart, which shows BABIP for each batted ball type for each pitcher as well as the Major League average:
|Player||Ground Balls||Fly Balls||Line Drives|
Zimmermann is lower than Jackson across the board and lower than average in all but line drives. It’s not very surprising when you consider that the Cubs are not a great defensive team; the Nationals are much better defensively.
Take a look at the line drives. Through 6 games, Zimmermann has given up 19 line drives, of which 12 were singles and 2 were doubles. Jackson has given up 27 line drives, of which 7 were doubles, 1 was a triple, and 17 were singles. That’s a slash line of .926/.926/1.259 – or an OPS+ of 161 – against Jackson on line drives. For whatever reason, Jackson has been hit very hard on line drives while Zimmermann has not.
Perhaps Zimmermann, who is known for his command, is able to induce weaker contact than Jackson. Jackson walks more batters and generally has worse command than Zimmermann, which could make him more prone to mistakes.
Location, Location, Location
Check out these Heat Maps, courtesy of FanGraphs:
I clumped all of the pitches together. Still, you can see that Jackson’s most concentrated area is dead, red, down the middle of the plate. Zimmermann’s pitches, meanwhile, are more spread out; his most concentrated areas are not as dark as Jackson’s. And they aren’t as close to the middle of the plate. Furthermore – and I won’t distract you with more pictures – Zimmermann’s fastball has more natural movement in on righties and has averaged a mile per hour faster. Throwing harder with more movement in better spots makes it more challenging for a batter to square up on a pitch.
Sheer, Dumb Luck
Zimmermann has stranded 83.3 % of baserunners in 2013; Jackson has stranded 52.3 %. It’s hard to explain this with certainty, aside from Zimmermann walking one-third as many batters as Jackson, so maybe Zimmermann has just been luckier than Jackson. Maybe the crazy Chicago wind has hurt Jackson, causing what would normally be an easy out to fall in for a hit (and inflate his BABIP at home to .470).
I think it’s pretty clear that Zimmermann is a better pitcher than Jackson, which plays a significant role in why he has a much lower ERA. But even the best pitchers couldn’t maintain a lower ERA with no defenders. And sometimes, the ball just does crazy things.
Defense doesn’t get the recognition it deserves. Sure, there are ESPN’s Web Gems and defensive highlights on MLB Network, but All Stars are still voted solely on offense. Last year’s AL MVP won in spite of his miserable defense (and a more deserving candidate). So, I decided to give the best defenders in baseball some recognition. I went about creating the best defensive team in baseball, based on Defensive Runs Saved (DRS) and Ultimate Zone Rating (UZR) over the past 3 years. The results:
Phew. That’s a full 25-man roster. And the first thing I notice is that these guys can hit. Of course, this wouldn’t be my blog if it wasn’t educational in some way. DRS and UZR are both counting stats – the more a players plays and plays well, the more runs saved a player accumulates. The people on this team play a lot – like, everyday. Their positive defensive contributions are a by-product of their offensive contributions. The exception, of course, being Brendan Ryan, who can’t even reach the Mendoza Line.
Just for fun, let’s make a lineup for this team:
- Michael Bourn CF
- Dustin Pedroia 2B
- Jason Heyward RF
- Evan Longoria 3B
- Adrian Gonzalez 1B
- Yadier Molina C
- Brett Gardner LF
- Brendan Ryan SS
- Mark Buehrle P
For our much revered manager, we get the left-right pattern throughout the entire lineup.
Hey, I think this team would win a whole bunch of games.
This could be a non-issue. Romero is 36 years old and can barely reach 90 mph with his fastball anymore. However, he’s left-handed, something the Nationals don’t have much of in their bullpen. And apparently he looked pretty good during the World Baseball Classic.
The Nationals’ bullpen is capable of getting left-handed batters out, but they don’t have any one guy who is a true LOOGY (lefty one out guy). I don’t anticipate that Davey will be all to pleased having to use Tyler Clippard or Ryan Mattheus for a third of an inning. And, of course, there are really no defensive liabilities on the field whom Davey could take out in a double switch. Having a guy like Romero could make managing the bullpen easier for Davey.
As I see it, the only remaining roster spot is between Henry Rodriguez and Romero. I think Henry has the leg up because he is out of options and supposedly has learned to take something off his fastball in order for him to get it over the plate every once in a while. Alas, if someone gets injured or if the bullpen just isn’t getting lefties out as well as everyone thinks it should, Romero could see some time with the Nationals this year.
Update 12:57 PM: So, I guess Mike Rizzo made it pretty clear that Romero will not make the Opening Day roster. To me, that makes it pretty clear that Henry Rodriguez will be the 7tj man in the bullpen. Perhaps Romero could channel his inner Mike Gonzalez and provide some value for the Nationals later in the year.
So, the Nationals are holding a contest. The winner receives all three bobbleheads for the 2013 season and four lower level tickets to one of the bobblehead games (with four bobbleheads waiting at your seats). I don’t know about you, but I like contests, bobbleheads, and free tickets. In fact, I like free anything. So, let’s try to win some bobbleheads.
Here’s what I gathered from the first blog post written today about the contest:
- You have to guess via Twitter. Check.
- You have to decipher a 5 digit code, which correspond to three players’ numbers. That means, one of the players has a one digit number.
- The first question is, “In how many consecutive games did Adam LaRoche homer against the Cubs last September?” Adam LaRoche hit a home run in every game against the Cubs last year except for Opening Day. The Cubs played the Nationals four times in September, so the answer is 4.
Now, let’s check the Nationals roster for every player who has a 4 in his jersey number:
- 48 Ross Detwiler
- 47 Gio Gonzalez
- 40 Wilson Ramos
- 34 Bryce Harper
And now, every player who has a single digit jersey number:
- 8 Danny Espinosa
- 1 Steve Lombardozzi
- 2 Denard Span
I am assuming two things: first, that they won’t use lesser-known players (e.g. Chad Tracy, Tyler Moore, Zach Duke); and second, that they won’t use minor league players (e.g. #6 Anthony Rendon).
I’ll continue to update this as they post more clues. Let’s win some bobbleheads!
Update 3/20/2013 12:06 PM: Today’s clue (#2) is: “On what pitch of the at-bat did Roger Bernadina save the day, flying into the wall at Minute Maid Park to catch Brett Wallace’s deep drive August 7 in Houston?” Well, I have no idea off the top of my head. We could simply go to baseball-reference.com and check the count, but what if there were foul balls? Let’s do this the fun way and watch the highlights of the August 7th game in Houston.
Here’s the link to the game recap via mlb.com: 8/7/12 Nationals vs. Astros.
I’m sure that not everyone has an MLB.tv subscription like me. If you don’t, you can open up MLB.com’s Gameday for the game and see how many pitches there were. I want to relive the whole at-bat…
Well, that was fun to watch again. Wallace fouled off a 1-2 pitch before smoking a flyball to deep left-center field. So, today’s answer is 5 pitches.
Let’s take a look at all the Nationals who have a 5 in their jersey number:
- 15 Dan Haren
- 25 Adam LaRoche
- 35 Craig Stammen
- 52 Ryan Mattheus
- 56 Christian Garcia
Hmm, well, my theory of Harper-Span-Werth is out the door. LaRoche seems like an appealing choice, especially after his fantastic 2012 season. I guess we’ll have to wait and see what the third clue is!
Update 3/21/2013 11:33 AM: Clue #3 is as follows: “The number of pitches in Jayson Werth’s game-winning at-bat in Game 4 of the NLDS MINUS the inning in which he hit his home run.”
Well, the home run was in the 9th inning. I’ll never forget that. You can read the recap here, which says that Werth’s home run came on the 13th pitch of his at-bat. I’m going to watch the video to double check.
The video confirms that it was 13th pitch of the at-bat. 13 – 9 = 4.
That’s the second 4 we’ve gotten so far. There is no number 44 on the team (except Trent Jewet, the third base coach), so that means that the 4s have to be split up. If that’s the case, since there is no 54 or 45 on the team, that means the 5 has to be the single digit jersey number…
It has come to my attention (h/t Just a Nats Fan at Curly W blog) that skipper Davey Johnson wears #5, and the original rules never mentioned anything conditions about the bobblehead being a player. If my logic is correct, we have confirmed that Davey Johnson will be a 2013 Nationals bobblehead.
One down, two to go. Tomorrow’s clue will reveal the second bobble.
Updated 3/22/2013 11:00 AM: Today’s clue is a meatball if I’ve ever seen one: “How many fewer home runs did Gio Gonzalez give up in the 2012 regular season than fellow Cy Young finalist Clayton Kershaw?” But I guess it’s hard to think of clues to get the exact number they are looking for.
We have our second player!!! Hint: he was part of today’s clue.
So far, we have the following numbers: 5, 4, 4, and 7. We already figured out that Davey Johnson (#5) will have a bobblehead. That means today’s clue reveals either a #47 or #74.
So, now we have revealed 2 of the 3 bobbleheads for 2013: Davey and Gio. Who could number three be?
The remaining candidates (i.e. players who have a 4 in their jersey number) are: 40 Wilson Ramos, 48 Ross Detwiler, and 34 Bryce Harper. I have a pretty strong feeling about this one…
See you on Monday!
I saw this tweet today, and I immediately thought, “Maybe the Nationals should pick him up.” Then, I remembered that the Nationals aren’t bad anymore. Believe it or not, just two years ago, seeing that news would have triggered a train reaction of thoughts defending Ronny Cedeno’s meager production throughout his career. Thoughts like, “he’s a good defensive short stop” (career -10 DRS, -1.7 UZR at SS; good thing I check my facts after thinking), “he had a couple good years, maybe he can get back to that level” (his career-high fWAR is 1.5, so…yeah), “he could be a good replacement if one of our guys gets injured” (this one actually seems reasonable, until I remember that the Nationals have viable replacement infielders at the Major League level (Steve Lombardozzi) and in the minor leagues (Anthony Rendon, Zach Walters).
So, new train of thought: “Man, I feel bad for whichever team has to take a shot on Ronny Cedeno.”