Filtering by Tag: Starting Rotation

Taking the Temperature of the Nats

At the break the Washington Nationals are 51-42, nine games over .500, and the biggest and most important news is that no one got hurt in their final game of the first half against the Phillies. The Nationals did suffer an injury in the first game of that series but as of right now that looks to be minor as the MRI on Jordan Zimmermann's bicep didn't reveal any structural damage. That doesn't mean that he is 100% healthy or that bigger issues won't pop-up when he throws or pitches again, but for now the Nationals DL is empty and they have the roster Mike Rizzo assembled in the off-season. As far as the Nationals record goes this is the second best record the Nationals have had at the break ahead of the 52-46 record of the 2005 Nationals and behind the 49-34 record of the 2012 Nationals. The statistics of the Nationals tell the story of a very balanced team as they have prevented the second most runs in the NL allowing 3.51 runs a game. The offense is better than most people realize but that is only because they are judging them on a universal scale and not against the current run environment. The Nationals offense has scored 4.16 runs a game tying them with the Dodgers for the fourth most productive offense in the NL.

This combination of run scoring and run prevention has given the Washington Nationals the best run differential in the NL and the third best in MLB. The expected record of the Washington Nationals is three games better than their actual record so if the Nationals luck evens out as the season heads into its second half then the Nationals could have an even better second half than first half. Which is supported by the Washington Nationals projected 75.8% chance of making the playoffs.

The biggest story for the Washington Nationals in the first half was Bryce Harper. Harper got off to a slow start with the power and was hitting .289/.352/.422 before heading to the DL and has really struggled since coming off the DL batting just .150/.244/.250. With a record nine games better than .500 in the first half with Bryce Harper hurt and struggling for most of it, it is hard to say that the Nationals need him to win, but having him at full strength and production will give the Nationals an edge they haven't had for most of the season.

That was just the on-field issues with Bryce Harper and the far bigger issue as far as the media was concerned was Bryce Harper off the field. Matt Williams made an example of Bryce Harper by benching him for not running out a ground out back to the pitcher and then it leaked to the media that veterans on the team had issues with Bryce Harper and that they felt he was too cocky and hadn't proven himself yet. When Bryce Harper returned from the DL the drama was even greater as Harper echoed the thoughts of teammate Ryan Zimmerman that Zimmerman belongs in left and Rendon at third. This caused an even bigger storm in the media and every major baseball writer in the country got at least one story out of it.

With Bryce Harper struggling with the bat and being demonized in the media a strong second half from him is important. Getting Bryce Harper's bat going is going to be the most important development of the second half. The other way the Nationals can continue to build upon their first half success is for the pitching to do nothing different.

The Washington Nationals team ERA of 3.08 ranks first in all of baseball with their starting pitchers' ERA of 3.28 ranking third and bullpen ERA of 2.67 ranking third as well. The Nationals have a balanced pitching staff where the game is in just as good hands when the starting pitchers turn it over to the bullpen and there is no worry about the starting pitchers surviving five innings to get it to the bullpen. The Washington Nationals were built around pitching and in the first half of the season that has shown. The pitching is what helped the Nationals tread water when as many as three regular position players were out of the line-up at a time.

If Bryce Harper's bat can get going and the starting pitching can keep doing what they've done in the first half of the season then the Nationals could be the best team in baseball over the second half. If those things don't happen then they can still be pretty good. That is what makes this such an exciting team to watch and why they project to be a contender up until the end. The Washington Nationals have had a successful first half, but finally healthy the second half could be even better.

The Nats Ceiling is Scary

...the blackness of space illimitable; unimaginable space alive with motion and music, and having no semblance of anything on earth. --H.P. Lovecraft The Music of Erich Zahn 

​Welcome to 2013 where Washington Nationals fans can stare into the void of unimaginable heights. Nats fans stand at the base of the mountains of madness ready to ascend in search of some forbidden knowledge. For the Washington Nationals on paper are the best team in baseball, but that is if everything goes according to plan, and all the Nats players play to their career averages. There are of course other options. Frightening and scary options. Options that should lift the spirits, but instead bring great fright. It is a siren's call. Beautiful music from an unknown source to lure us to stare at the sky and attempt to discover where it ends. 

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The Nats Can't win Without...

We've heard this argument before. Think back to the day the Nationals lost out on Prince Fielder, or the entire build up to the time he signed. All that was talked about was how much of a hug upgrade he would be over LaRoche, and how he would add that big left handed power bat to the middle of the Nats line-up. All of this is very true and the Nats would have an even bigger lead on the Braves with his 3.9 fWAR compared to LaRoche's 2.2, but the Nats still have a 6.5 game lead for the division on Labor Day. Fielder wasn't the difference between the Nats being a playoff team and not. 

Despite what many thought the Nationals are on the verge of a playoff appearance without Prince Fielder, and who knows how far they can go without Stephen Strasburg. Strasburg is good. He is tied with Johnny Cueto for the second highest fWAR in the NL at 4.6, but right behind them is Gio Gonzalez at 4.5. It isn't like the Nationals are losing their one and only Ace. Don't forget that Jordan Zimmermann, Edwin Jackson, and Ross Detwiler have also pitched well for the Nationals. As Thomas Boswell pointed out this morning in the Washington Post the Nationals have the third highest winning percentage without Strasburg. 

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The Nats Big Three

The current version of the Washington Nationals remind people of a lot of different teams. There have been comparison made to the 2006 Tigers and the 2008 Rays by different people this season, but there is another comparison. This one isn't so much with the team as it is with three starting pitchers that have a chance to pitch together for a long time. 

Before the 1993 season the Braves stole the biggest free agent on the market, Greg Maddux, from the Cubs and out of the open arms of the Yankees. It was the start of something magical. A collection of three dominate starters in Maddux, Glavine, and Smoltz. Those three would pitch as part of the same rotation until Smoltz went into the bullpen in 2001, Glavine left for the division rival Mets in 2003, and Maddux departed for the Cubs in 2004, but for eight seasons they were the most dominate top of the rotation baseball has ever seen. 

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Nationals Starters Continue to Amaze

For the briefest of moments in last evenings contest against the Blue Jays the Nationals top four starters all had ERA's under 3.00. Then Sean Burnett allowed an inherited base runner to score and Edwin Jackson's ERA shot up to 3.02. As a whole the Washington Nationals starters are the best in baseball as a collective with a combined ERA of 2.93. They are the only team in baseball whose starters have an ERA under 3.00. What is more impressive is they also lead the majors in FIP (3.08), WAR (8.4), K/9 (8.52), HR/9 (0.68), and WHIP (1.143). Leading in any one of these categories is good, but leading in all of them makes the Washington Nationals starting staff amazing.

Some many words have already been written and ink already spilled that a new language might need to be invited simply to describe the Washington Nationals starting staff. What might be the most telling of all these stats is that second to the Nationals 8.4 WAR for their starting staff is the Phillies with 7.2. The team that is 1.2 wins below the Phillies are the Giants with a combined WAR for their starting staff of 6.0, and between the Phillies and the Giants are the rotations of the Cardinals, Angels, Marlins, and Diamondbacks. Four teams fit into that 1.2 win gap that separate the Phillies and the Giants rotations and the Phillies are the second highest rated rotation in baseball behind only the Washington Nationals. 

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EJax Lacks Wins...But Why?

Edwin Jackson - 2009 All Star, member of the No Hitter Club, master of Kung Fu, and a model American, even if he was born in Germany*. A man of many pitches, and many, uh, outcomes to those pitches. As many a writer has eloqently put it, our man EJax can be a bit statistically absurd.

One of the more absurd stats coming out of Jackson's maiden Nats voyage this year is the overall record of the club while Jackson is toeing the rubber - 2-8. Overall, he has a 1-3 record after 10 solid starts, one of which was his complete game win over the Cincinnatti Reds back in April. This little stat got Nats-centric Twitter feeds in a bit of a frenzy, with supporters and detractors of EJax coming out in equal numbers. While the season is still young, I think there's no better time to have a peek under the statistics 'hood' of Edwin's car, to see how he's faring, and see if some of the virtriol towards him for a subpar team record in his starts is warranted.

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