Filtering by Tag: Washington Nationals

Player Preview: Danny Espinosa

Danny Espinosa’s career as a Washington National has been a roller coaster. Starting with a fine rookie season in 2011, a slight regression at the plate in 2012, a labrum injury that wasn’t surgically repaired, a demotion to AAA in 2013 that saw him play far more games in Syracuse than in Washington, and then a moderately better season in 2014 that was better than abysmal. It got to the point that after the 2014 season the Nats brought in Dan Uggla (coming off of a resounding 29 wRC+ in 2014) to bolster the middle infield bats. I hope this drives home the point that very little was expected from Danny Espinosa in 2015.

Then came The Danny Espinosa Renaissance (#TDER). 

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Player Preview: Max Scherzer

It's hard to call Max Scherzer's first year with the Washington Nationals anything but a success. He was dominant at times, was the workhorse of the rotation, had the best ERA, and the best strikeout to walk ratio in the NL. There is however a small part of the Nats second half collapse that can be placed at the feet of Max Scherzer. A very small part, mind you, but still a part, and it's called the month of August where Scherzer made five starts and pitched to a 6.43 ERA. 

This was when the Nationals needed Scherzer the most. They entered August with a lead in the division and not too far into the month it had not only completely evaporated but had become a deep hole. It is hard to lay too much blame on Max Scherzer as of the things that went wrong in the 2015 season he was not one of them, but he was a culprit in April. The Nats signed him to be the Ace they no longer believed Strasburg or Zimmermann could be and Scherzer's bad month was brutal and poorly timed. 

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Player Preview: Bryce Harper

Thank God Bryce Harper had his big year last season, because if he had another good, but misunderstood year he would've become as insufferable to write about as Stephen Strasburg. Ask anyone who writes about the Nationals in any sort of capacity and they'll tell you how draining it is to write about Strasburg. Everything becomes a referendum on the proper way to appreciate baseball and it's all very tiring.

But now we, dear reader, do not have to care about that! Because this is the Bryce Harper post and 2015 proved that the correct AP Style for Bryce Harper is BRYCE MOTHEREFFING HARPER. Yes, Harper had one of the best seasons in the last decade, putting up a MLB-leading 9.5 fWAR, 197 wRC+, 42 home runs and a mind bending .330/.460/.649 slash line. 

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My Personal Journey to the Acceptance of Dusty Baker

I can't remember the exact game but I know it was at RFK and I know Dusty Baker was managing a team the Nationals were playing against. It had to be the Cubs because Dusty Baker didn't take over the Reds until 2008, but that is all beside the point. I was sitting there watching the Nationals lose as we often did when they played at RFK. This was in a time before baseball had drained me of all emotion and turned me into a stat obsessed fan. I was still an emotional fan full of anger at the fact that the Nats were losing even though it was a near foregone conclusion before the  game began. My friend was visiting from out of town and could see my anger and he looked at me and said, "Don't worry. Dusty will [mess] it up."

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Citizens of Natstown's 2016 Preview and an Offseason Review

Washington Nationals pitchers and catchers report today! Which in a baseball sense really isn't all that meaningful or exciting. However, it is a perfect arbitrary date to begin our Citizens of Natstown Washington Baseball Annual Vol. 4 This Time It's Not A Book edition. Yes, this season instead of charging you three dollars to read all of our brilliant Nats preseason insights in one convenient place, we're dragging it out with one post a day with all the usual player profile goodness and more, maybe. But before we give you all the nitty, gritty details on all 40 players on the Nats roster, plus loads of prospects, let's do a quick rundown of the offseason so we're all on the same page going forward.

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Revisiting Span

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.

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Average at their Worst

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.

Nats Tickets Up 35% For Series Vs Mets

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.

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.

© 2016 Citizens of Natstown