Based solely on first-half stats, Sean chose the all-time Nats All-Star team.Read More
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For most of the season the Washington Nationals have been one of the biggest underachievers in the league. For the second straight year they were considered top World Series contenders in the National League, but had failed to separate themselves in the standings despite a top run differential. Now that run differential is tied for second in the league at +89, and the Nationals have a six game lead in their division. The Pittsburgh Pirates are the next team on the Nationals schedule, and they need to win the series more than the Nats. The Pirates are just a game up on the San Francisco Giants for the final wild card spot in the NL. Nationals tickets are averaging $46.86 for the series, which is nine percent higher than their season average. 8/15 PIT Charlie Morton vs. WAS Tanner Roark | Avg. Price: $53.03 | Get-in Price: $18Read More
Just last month I wrote about how Denard Span was performing offensively. In that piece I concluded that Span was an average contributor on offense, which made him a valued member of the Nationals. I closed the piece saying "he probably just shouldn’t be batting leadoff, but that’s a discussion for another day." Well 36 straight games on-base later and that statement is no longer true. Now I still believe I was correct at the time of the article, so what has changed since that first post? To find out let's take a comparison of the stats I noted in the first piece and what they look like now.Read More
The 2014 Washington Nationals have a four game lead in the NL East. Ryan Zimmerman has barely played this season and all but three regulars (Desmond, Rendon, Werth) have spent time on the DL. To add even more onto the pile, both Bryce Harper and Stephen Strasburg are in the midst of the worst seasons of their young careers. The amazing thing about them though is that they are both right around league average. Bryce Harper's .698 OPS doesn't look good and it isn't good and it especially isn't good for a player with the talents and abilities of Bryce Harper. It is worth pointing out that Harper has a .722 OPS since the All-Star Break, but that still isn't good for him, but it is better than the MLB average OPS of .704. So in the middle of this terrible, injury riddled season Bryce Harper has basically been a league average hitter. If this is the worst that it gets then that is pretty good.
What makes it so disappointing is that we've seen Bryce Harper at his best, and his best was amazing. In the first month of the 2013 season Bryce Harper was unstoppable. He put up a batting line of .344/.430/.720. It looked like Bryce Harper was on his way to an MVP caliber season, but then he bruised his ribs on the fence in Atlanta and not much later ran head and knee first into the right field wall of Dodgers Stadium. Since that time Bryce Harper hasn't been the same. Bryce Harper hit nine home runs in April 2013 and in the ten months since he's hit 15.
Both knee and hand injuries can sap power. Bryce Harper is only 21 years old and that comes with all the benefits of having the physical characteristics of a 21 year old. Bryce Harper is going to recover. He is going to get better and at some point in the future the terrible 2014 season will be a distant memory.
The same can be said for Stephen Strasburg, but Strasburg isn't having anywhere close to as bad a season as Bryce Harper. Putting advanced stats aside and just looking ERA Stephen Strasburg's 3.68 ERA is better than the MLB average ERA for a starting pitcher of 3.89. An MLB average pitcher is a solid number three in most rotations which makes Strasburg a solid number two. For a 25 year old pitcher making $3.975 million that is pretty good. If Stephen Strasburg didn't have the hype of Stephen Strasburg or the name Stephen Strasburg then people would be pleased with having a pitcher that good, that young, and for that little amount of money in the rotation.
But as with Bryce Harper there have been a ton of expectations placed on Stephen Strasburg and if you're looking for patience, sports fans are the wrong people to ask. Also like Harper we've seen Strasburg pitch better. We've seen him go out and completely shut down opposing offenses. He hasn't done that this season. Strasburg has allowed two or fewer runs in twelve starts, but only two of those have been shutouts. Looking back at 2012 Strasburg allowed two or fewer runs in 17 games and in six of those he threw at least six shutout innings.
Despite all this Stephen Strasburg is still better than average by ERA and by advanced stats Stephen Strasburg is having almost as good of a season as he had in 2012. A well above average BABIP can be credited with some of it and the perception that anything less than the best for Strasburg is a failure can be blamed for the rest. As a 25 year old starting pitcher making just under $4 million Stephen Strasburg has been very good, but for someone expected to be in contention for the Cy Young every single season Strasburg hasn't.
If 2014 ends up being the worst season of Strasburg's career and he was still better than average then Stephen Strasburg is going to be a great pitcher. Perhaps even everything he was expected to be. It is important to remember that neither this season nor Stephen Strasburg's career have reached their conclusion and a lot can change by the time they do.
In all of my posts I look to take some statistics, present them in a logical manner and share my own conclusion from these statistics. This has been a tried and true formula that has been highly effective. However, today's topic has left me without a conclusion and you'll hopefully soon see why. So instead we'll go a bit more behind the scenes as I take you through my research process for this post. To start I knew I wanted to write about Stephen Strasburg. He's been a hot topic among Nats fans since the Opening Day and no one can quite get a read on him. By many measures he's been one of the best pitchers in baseball, but by the most important measure, runs allowed, he's been merely average. How is it that someone with such great stuff and peripherals is producing such pedestrian results? This is what I aimed to find out.
This process started on the macro level. Strasburg currently possess a 2.73 FIP and a 3.39 ERA. Right off the bat we can see that there is something wrong here, so let's dive a little deeper. Strasburg has a sterling strikeout rate at 28.2% and the best walk rate of his career at just 5.3%. Awesome, looking good so far. On the other hand he has a BABIP of .341 and a strand rate of 71.7%. And here's where we're seeing the difference between his FIP and ERA. The lazy analyst would stop here, chalk it up to luck and grab another beer from the fridge. But we're better than that, let's look into some possible causes for such poor rates.
The first check is to see whether batters are just hitting the ball harder against him. The first thing we look at is his groundball to flyball ratio, which is currently 1.48, exactly his career rate. So there isn't much of an issue there. The next thing we can check is his home run to fly ball ratio, which is at 11.4%, essentially in line with his 2012 and 2013 ratios of 11.5% and 11.1% respectively. So on the surface it doesn't seem like opposing hitters are getting better contact against Strasburg than they have previously, but we can dig a bit deeper here.
Mark Simon of ESPN Stats & Info tracks a stat called hard-hit rate, which tracks the percentage of at-bats that end in a hard hit ball for both hitters and pitchers, but we're only concerned about the pitchers here. Here's his latest update for pitchers who have given up the least hard-hit balls this season.
As you can see, Strasburg ranks 32nd among starting pitchers in giving up the least hard hit balls this season. So this doesn't seem to be an overall issue for him. Let's move on.
Much was made early in the season when Strasburg had trouble with his fastball velocity in his opening day start against the Mets and we know that a decrease in average fastball velocity affects pitcher performance, so let's look at that next. In fact, Strasburg's average fastball velocity is down by 0.7 miles per hour compared to 2013 according to PITCHF/x, which could lead to problems. However, he seems to have realized this, as his fastball usage has also dropped by a little over two percent according to Fangraphs. And opposing batters are swinging at it just as much (46% swing rate in 2014, 46.6% career) and aren't making much more contact (86.8% contact rate in 2014, 85.3% career). Not to mention that Strasburg's slightly slower fastball is still sixth fastest among qualified starters. It's not like he's throwing beach balls out there.
Let's try another angle of attack, mistake pitches. It seems like an easy solution. A guy who overall puts up very good numbers, but once or twice just grooves a pitch that leads to runs and a loss. However, Strasburg's home runs allowed per nine innings is 0.83, right in between his 2012 (0.85) and 2013 (0.79) rates. So it already isn't looking good for this theory, but let's press on. By using Baseball Savant's PITCHF/x tool we can get the number of pitches a pitcher has thrown into a specific area of the strike zone as seen in the photo below.
For our purposes, let's define mistake pitches as ones thrown right over the middle of a batter's strike zone, sections 4, 5 and 6. It stands to reason that a player who throws a higher percentage of his total pitches in these zones is throwing more mistakes as it's not often that a pitcher wants to throw a pitch over the middle. Running this we find that the average among pitchers who have thrown at least 1000 pitches this year is 15.4% mistakes. Strasburg checks in at 15.39%, right at the group average and 81st among the 166 pitchers making up this group. So he doesn't seem to be making more mistake pitches than the average pitcher would. While average isn't great, it doesn't explain such a large difference between ERA and FIP.
The last thing we can look at is how Strasburg performs with runners on base. Particularly, whether he is susceptible to allowing hits in bunches, which would allow for more runs to score than would be indicated by his peripheral statistics. For this we can take the number of hits allowed by a pitcher with men on base as a percentage of their total number of hits allowed. It's not a perfect measure, but it should give us a good idea if something's not right. In this case I ran the numbers for all qualified pitchers. The group average is 41% of hits coming with men on base. For Strasburg that number is 42%, barely above the group average. Again, not something that indicates the need for concern.
By nearly all respects Strasburg is having the best season of his career. Opposing batters are chasing more pitches (36% O-Swing% in 2014, 31.9% career) and giving him more strikes (11.9% swinging strike rate in 2014, 11.3% career). He's even throwing more first pitch strikes than ever before with a 64.9% first pitch strike rate, the highest of his career outside of his short stint in 2011. And yet there is some disconnect between all of that and the Luck Dragons BABIP and LOB%. While you don't want to just reject a high BABIP and low LOB% out of hand, in this case I believe it to probably be warranted. If Strasburg continues to pitch the way he has all season, I think he should see his runs against results come more into line with what his FIP and SIERA predict he should be doing. And if that turns out to be the case, look out National League.
The New York Mets had the best record in the National League in July, but still trail the Washington Nationals by eight games in the NL East. They have an opportunity to catch up a bit with a three game series against the Nationals on the docket. But the Nationals schedule hasn’t slowed them down much so far, with the team still sporting one of the most complete teams in the league. Their +76 run differential trails only the Los Angeles Angels and Oakland Athletics in all of baseball. Nationals tickets are averaging $49.93 for the series, which is up 35 percent from their season average. NYM Zack Wheeler vs. WAS Gio Gonzalez | Avg. Price: $93.78 | Get-in Price: $48
The first game of the series is easily the most expensive. The first 25,000 Nationals fans in the stadium will receive a Jayson Werth gnome bobblehead, to celebrate the right fielder. The game is averaging $93.78 with a $48 get-in price. Gio Gonzalez gets the start for the Nationals, and while he’s been great since coming over in a trade with the A’s a few years ago, he might be the team’s fourth best starter this year. That just shows how stacked the Nationals rotation has been this season.
NYM Jon Niese vs. WAS Doug Fister | Avg. Price: $27 | Get-in Price: $5
Mets pitcher Jon Niese has struggled since he hit the DL early in July, but his last time out he lasted eight innings against the Giants. Problem is he gave up five runs, even though just three were earned. Plus the Nationals lineup will be much tougher than the Giants, and they have Doug Fister on the mound. Fister has maintained a 2.68 ERA, which is the best on the team. While fielding independent numbers suggests that ERA should be way worse, he’s doing plenty to help himself, including having the team’s lowest walk rate by far. The average price of Nats vs Mets tickets for the game is $27 and the get-in price is $5.
NYM Jacob deGrom vs. WAS Jordan Zimmerman | Avg. Price: $29 | Get-in Price: $5 The price for the final game of the series is only a little more expensive than Wednesday night’s game. The average price is $29 and the get-in price is $5. Jordan Zimmerman gets the start for the Nationals, and he is right up there with Stephen Strasburg when it comes to numbers. He just barely trails Strasburg in both FIP and WAR, posting a 2.74 FIP to Strasburg’s 2.73, and 3.3 WAR to Strasburg’s 3.4. But he’s opposed by Jacob deGrom, who has been the Mets best starter since the rookie got the call to the majors. deGrom just won rookie of the month honors, and has a 2.77 ERA, 2.97 FIP and 1.7 WAR in 15 starts.
Inactivity begets writers block. It is a self-fulfilling prophecy of sorts. I don't write anything for a few days, my mind stops thinking of things to write, and then suddenly I have nothing to write. It happens quicker than one would think. It has only been about a week since my last blog post and yet I have no ideas. The only thing I can think of to write about is the oddity that we've discussed on the podcast of our (Citizens) constant switching between being perceived as positive and negative. Back during April and May we kept looking at the Nats and we saw a team that had a positive run differential and a FIP much lower than their ERA. The Nats at the time were losing and ended May with a losing record. The Nationals in May were also putting out line-ups with Nate McLouth, Danny Espinosa, Greg Dobbs, and Jose Lobaton. The Nats simply couldn't score runs and they couldn't score runs because half their regular position players were on the DL.
The Nats ended May at .500, dropped below on June first against Yu Darvish, and then went on an impressive run through June and July. Since June third the Washington Nationals are 33-21 and have scored 4.4 runs a game. They've allowed 3.2 runs a game over that same period of time and built their positive run differential to the best in the NL. With all that success you'd think there'd be nothing to complain about, but even great teams, even World Series teams, have flaws.
Having a positive run differential is a great thing. It means that a team is playing well even if the record doesn't show it, and while the Nationals have a 3.5 lead in the NL East it should be more. They may have won 65 games but their expected win total is 65. They've underplayed expectations by five games. That is a lot and it is worth looking into why that is so. The biggest reason is that the Nationals are 13-17 in one run games and 3-8 in extra-inning games. Those are coin flip games and should produce a record closer to .500. All of this could be counted as bad luck or a result of a first year manager that has made questionable decisions at times.
When we look into the stats and see something either positive or negative we're going to share it. It is kind of what we should do as bloggers and podcast hosts. It doesn't mean that we're overly optimistic nut bags when the Nats are losing or doom and gloom machines when the Nats are winning. We are just looking at the stats and sharing what we find and saying, "Wait a minute. What we're seeing may not be what's really going on."
Here it is, the end of July and that's the only means one thing: Trade Deadline. It's everyone's favorite time of year. This is where teams may make or break their chance at Postseason glory. With this year's crowd so close in both leagues, we are in a unique scenario. In the AL, all teams are within the top of their respective divisions by no less than 12 games, except for Houston and Texas (it's gotta be the air down there or something *cough* "Colorado" *cough*...). All teams except those two are also no less than ten games out of the final Wild Card spot as well. In regards to the National League, much of the Wild Card and division leaders are separated by no less than seven games.
So where do we get who buys and who sells? Who dumps what they have to try and win two or three years from now? Who gives up the potential next Miguel Cabrera or Bryce Harper to acquire a potential rental to win this year? Those questions, very difficult to answer this season. Why? Again, let's go back to the standings. It's wide open, almost everyone has a shot.
The most intrequing pieces that are in talks are Jon Lester and David Price. It's "Will they be moved?" and "What will it take?". In Price's situation, the Rays are in a tough spot. It's Price who has the upper hand, saying he would walk, as I'm sure he doesn't want to spend his career stuck in St. Petersburg. The Rays are trying to squeeze what they can out of a deal, and I don't blame them. However, at least he can stick around a little longer and this discussion could rekindle next season.
Lester on the other hand, eh...he's going somewhere. However, there is a greater chance to get less in return for Lester, who might be a rental and potentially return to Boston. He said Boston is where he wants to be, and for a player who has been there for so long and has won two championships with that club, moving at this stage in his career might be less likely. That is, if he doesn't go to Seattle. Seattle will be the spot where if he lands, he stays. Lester grew up around Seattle, and might consider making a move there to be perminant through the end of his career. Seattle has room to resign him, they can add him to Robinson Cano, and have that dynamic duo that might contend the Griffey/Johnson duo in the 90's and bring them back to winning ways. The only other Lester scenario in my opinion is Pittsburgh, and it would be a rental. If he goes anywhere other than Seattle, he will be back in Beantown in 2015. (UPDATE: Lester to Oakland with Johnny Gomes in exchange for Cespedes - Who saw this coming?)
Now that brings us to the Nationals, who are clinging to the division lead in the NL East. We have now seen injuries to Ryan Zimmerman, which may keep him out until September, and Jayson Werth. Those are two big bats in the lineup, and who knows what else might happen as the season dwindles down. In an effort to make sure that the Nationals can even ensure themselves a spot, they should to go out and make a deal. I'm not one for rocking the boat when things seem fine, but they aren't. The Nats have come this far through all of their injuries this season, they should p(l)ay to win.
It's obvious that even if Ryan Zimmerman were still in the lineup, his days at third base are (should be) over. He now stands to be a valuable left fielder or first baseman. There was a time that I probably would have laughed or cursed at myself for saying that, but it is what it is. Danny Espinosa, as much as I have also loved him, can't be an everyday player. He is a great late-inning defensive replacement, and can still put up decent at-bats, just not at a regular rate. I also think it's too early to consider Zach Walters someone who could be in the lineup everyday as well. Maybe in a year or two. Then we look at the big positive: Anthony Rendon. Thank you to the baseball gods (and Mike Rizzo) for giving this kid a chance to play, because he's done just that. He can be at second or third, which makes things interesting.
That opens up discussion for two possible deadline options: Adrian Beltre and Chase Utley. Both are veterans, both have appeared in the playoffs and World Series, and both know how to win. Both can still hit, both can be veteran leadership to go along with Werth and Desmond. It doesn't hurt to have someone who's been there before, someone who can help you grind through the NLDS without knowing where to go next. The last thing Nats fans need is a repeat of 2012, where they started to a huge lead but didn't know how to finish it.
Beltre, currently 35, is in the fourth year of a 5-year, $80 million dollar contract he signed with the Rangers. He also has a vesting option for 2016. Is this THAT much money to take on? $32 million over the next two years? Maybe. It starts to make more sense the more you dive into him. He has been said to fall off the table at any time and become less productive, but what was what they said over 5 years ago after a horrid 2009 season with the Seattle Mariners where he only hit 8 round trippers in over 100 games. Since then, he has only suffocated the doubt and has hit no less than 28 home runs in a season since. The Rangers have the worst record in baseball, which makes sense for them to trade someone, especially when they have their "3B of the future" in Joey Gallo coming shortly, they could use some other pieces to build around him. Yes, it has been reported that the Rangers balked at the Nationals for making an inquiry already (See Here via MLB.com), and yes since Beltre is technically under contract until 2016 when they expect Gallo to be ready, but the Rangers may not have a choice to make a move for a fan base that was one strike away from tasting a World Series championship two years ago. Also, Beltre is a client of Mike Rizzo's good ol' pal Scott Boras. May lead to potential discussions with the Rangers on the best interest for is client.
Lastly, we look at the possibility of Chase Utley. Also 35 years old and a Philadelphia folk hero, he helped lead the Phillies to that spectacular 2008 World Series victory, as well as an appearance the following year in 2009 against the Yankees. Since then, the Phillies have been on a steady decline, leading with the major disappointment that is currently Ryan Howard. He would be the one to move, but there is absolutely no way any team would take on his gigantic contract. The dynasty looks all but over in the City of Brotherly Love, as the age of the team might soon exceed the age of Independence Hall and the Liberty Bell. Looking at what they might have in store, the most likely to be moved is Cole Hamels. He has still been incredibly solid over the years, and can be a key chip into any pennant race, which I think might energize him and make him pitch even better.
However Utley is intreguing, as his contract also has one year to go as he is signed through 2015. Also just like Beltre, has a vesting option for 2016. But unlike Beltre, that option includes 2017 and 2018. Each of those years are at $15 million per year. However, his 2015 salary is bound to end up at $10 million due to not appearing more than 15 days on the DL this season. So a $10 million dollar player at 36 years old who can still hit and field among the leagues best? Sounds like a pretty good deal to me. Also, in comes Danny Espinosa and Zach Walters. If you don't like Utley or he struggles, Espinosa and/or Walters can help keep Utley's at-bats under 500 for the season, not exercising the option and allowing him to become a free agent after 2015. Even if it may not be for power, Utley is having one of the best offensive seasons of his career, currently hitting a shade under .300, so why not take a chance?
All of this is up to Mike Rizzo now, and all we can do it watch and wait. Pieces are there for the Nats to move (Tyler Moore, Drew Storen, etc.), but it has to be for the right deal. My only thought for trade deadline brings me back to the deal the Montreal Expos made with the Indians in 2003. Anyone remember? Grady Sizemore, Cliff Lee, and Brandon Phillips all to the Indians in exchange for Bartolo Colon on a rental? How did no one see that coming? Either way, it should be a fun few days ahead.
If you're a baseball fan you're really going to enjoy these final two months. If you're a Nationals fan it is going to be pure torture. With the addition of the second Wild Card in 2012 there are now five playoff teams and in the NL there are currently seven teams within three games of each other. If things broke right in three days’ time the Pittsburgh Pirates could have the best record in the NL and the Milwaukee Brewers out of the playoffs entirely. This creates real danger for the teams leading a division. No NL division leader has more than a three game lead with the Giants and Nationals both being half a game up in their divisions. The current Wild Card leaders are the Dodgers and Braves with the Cardinals and Pirates only a half game back of them. It isn't hard to imagine one of the current division leaders not just losing the lead in the division but falling out of the playoffs entirely and it doesn't take much of a slip to do so.
The Brewers currently have the best record in the NL and are on pace to win 91 games while the Pirates are the seventh best team in the NL and on pace to win 86 games. If this pace holds then the difference between the best team in the NL and the second team out of the playoffs is only going to be five games. That isn't a big difference and two good teams are going to miss the playoffs this season. That means these last two months are going to be very tense. It is going to be two months of watching a save situation for those teams that currently own one of the five playoff spots.
If you're a baseball fan and don't have any investment in the teams involved in this race then this is going to be highly enjoyable drama, but for a fan of any of these teams it is going to be pure torture, and it makes the upcoming trade deadline that much more important. The danger of falling completely out of the playoffs with just a little slip makes the price per win that much more. Adding a players that amount to only one or two wins in the standings could be the difference between making the playoffs and having a chance to win a World Series and sitting at home, and that means GMs of the contending teams in the NL may be willing to give up just a little more.
With just a two-game losing streak the Nationals could lose the division lead and find themselves even with the Pirates or Cardinals as one of the first two teams out of the playoffs. A two-game losing streak. The Nationals are going to suffer more than one of those before the season comes to an end, and any one of them could put them out of the playoffs. With Ryan Zimmerman out for an extended period of time that puts even more pressure on the Nationals to make a move.
This isn't so much like a save situation for the Nationals but more like a hockey team in the final minute on the penalty kill with the opposing goalie pulled. The Nationals have two months to hold on and that is going to be a lot harder with Zimmerman not on the field. Getting someone better than what they have is going to help, but it is no guarantee. The National League is very bunched up and it is going to be a lot of fun for fans of the sport of baseball, but pure torture for fans of the Nationals as they desperately cling to their slim division and playoff lead.
Nats Fail to Sign Second Rounder This past Friday was the deadline to sign draft picks and the Washington Nationals failed to sign their second round pick, Andrew Suarez. Suarez will return to The University of Miami for his senior season. His decision to not sign may not be the best for him as he had arm issues coming into the draft and their will be plenty of college juniors and high school seniors in next years draft. College seniors are normally seen as safe picks that aren't difficult to sign and so go in later rounds. Suarez will need to have a very good season to better his draft position and with the new slotting system that is what he's going to have to do to get more money than the Nationals offered. As far as the Nationals perspective they lost out on a second round pick this season but get an extra second round pick in next year's draft and with the state of the Nationals big league team filling the system with talent now as opposed to next season doesn't make that big of a difference.
The Healthy Nats
Since Bryce Harper returned on June 30 the Washington Nationals have gone 10-5 and averaged 5.2 runs a game. The pitching has been good as well over that span allowing 3.5 runs a game. While a .666 winning percentage is likely not sustainable the Nationals have been playing very well for longer than the past fifteen games. Going back to when they started to get fully healthy with Ryan Zimmerman's return on June 3 the Washington Nationals have gone 26-15 scoring 4.4 runs a game and allowing 3.1. That has led them to a .634 winning percentage and if they can keep that up in their final 66 games they will finish with 95 wins. The Washington Nationals are a very good team and are finally a healthy team. The roster can be tweaked but big changes likely aren't needed and even if they ride the bench of veterans out until the end of the season it is unlikely all of them make the playoff roster if the Nats make it there.
The Trade Deadline is Coming
As mentioned above there could be some minor changes coming for the Nationals. The biggest weakness for the Nationals right now is lead-off hitter and that is more a product of batting Denard Span there than anything else, but Span has been hot lately batting .382/.432/.412 over the past 14 days and .309/.378/.383 over the last 28 raising his season batting line to a respectable .279/.328/.393. For the past month Denard Span has been the lead-off hitter the Nationals need him to be and with his career splits indicating he is better in the second half of the season there is no reason to think he can't continue to be productive.
With Span being hot over the last month the Nationals don't need much at the deadline except to perhaps improve the bench, but that doesn't require a trade and Souza Jr, Walters, and even Tyler Moore have been productive in AAA and could provide a boost to the Nats bench. While a trade for Beltre or Utley likely improves the team the benching of Span could send the wrong message to the rest of the team and while the improved production would likely balance out any negative clubhouse reactions messing with the Nationals while they're playing so well is not the best of moves. In other words the best deadline deal the Nats are going to make have already happened with Bryce Harper's return to the line-up and changed batting stance and Span finding his lead-off stroke.
The Nats aren't as Gritty as you Think
Matt Williams and Washington columnists talk about the Nats team having grit, but Matt Williams almost seems too pleased to give the media the story they want and the stats show the Washington Nationals play more like an Oakland A's moneyball team than a Dusty Baker grit show. The Nats are first in stolen base percent at 85% ahead of only the Oakland A's at 82%, the Nats have made the 10th fewest outs on the bases and three less than the Oakland A's, and finally the Nats have the second fewest number of non-pitcher bunts, only one more than the Oakland A's. People like to think the Nationals give away outs but when you add it all up the most outs they've given away are from their pitchers and that is more of a product of being a National League team than anything else. When the numbers are broken down the Washington Nationals have actually given away fewer outs than the Oakland A's.
Nats Have no Stars
If you think the above it is because you're looking at the wrong stats, the very wrong stats. Tanner Roark is the only Washington National in the top 20 in pitchers wins and the Washington Nationals have no players in the top 20 in the NL in batting average. If this is how you judge who is a star player then please tell me what it was like to live without fire. While the Nationals don't have players in the top 20 in those two stats they have two pitchers (Roark and Zimmermann) in the top 20 in ERA with Stephen Strasburg just outside at 23 and the Nationals have Ian Desmond having hit the 7th most home runs in the NL and Desmond, Werth, and Rendon in the top 20 for RBI. While those stats aren't great for analyzing players they demonstrate that if you think the Nats have no star players then you really aren't looking.
By more advanced stats the Nationals have three pitchers (Strasburg, Zimmermann, and Roark) in the top fifteen in the NL in fWAR and FIP and have Werth and LaRoche in the top 20 in the NL in wOBA and Werth and Rendon in the top 20 in fWAR. I don't know what counts as being a star player but being one of the 15 or 20 best players in a league does it for me and that doesn't even count what the Nationals are going to get out of players who've missed significant time. The Nats may not have a player who is going to finish in the top five in voting for the MVP award and may have only had one all-star, but that doesn't mean they don't have players who aren't performing very well and putting up star quality performances.