Nationals Arm Race

"… the reason you win or lose is darn near always the same – pitching.” — Earl Weaver

How about something positive? Are you optimistic for the new season?

16 comments

How much of an effect will Murphy have on this team? Photo via bleacherreport.com

How much of an effect will Murphy have on this team? Photo via bleacherreport.com

So, I happened to look at the Spring Training standings the other day.  I normally don’t ever bother looking at spring training stats since, well, they’re useless.  But day after day, reading the summaries of our beat reporters, it just seems like the team wins every day.   As of this writing the team is 12-4-2 this spring, and more telling it seems like they’re also routinely winning the “first three innings” when both teams are at their best lineups.

The other day the team bombed the Mets, hanging 8 runs on Bartolo Colon.  Earlier this week they battered Wei-Yin Chen en route to a victory over Miami.  They put 3 runs on the Astros’ Collin McHugh, and then tee’d off on a few of the Braves younger starters.  Today Harper bombed two homers off of Justin Verlander, who I guarantee was trying to get him out on purpose.  The second one *cleared the batter’s eye* in center, 420 feet away and 30 feet up.  Wow; that’s a man’s homer.

Quietly, this team seems to be flourishing under new manager Dusty Baker.  Everyone’s healthy (well, except for Ryan Zimmerman‘s foot, but I guess you can’t get everything you want).   Baker has been showing his hand and putting out very professional looking lineups.  We’re not hearing about a slew of guys who aren’t going to be ready for opening day like we did last  year.  We’re reading gushing reports about Lucas Giolito, including more than one baseball analyst being quoted as saying Giolito has the best stuff they’ve seen this spring … out of anyone in the game.  They’re saying he’s this year’s Noah Snydergaard, a difference making ace who should be in the rotation by June.

Looking at the beginning of the season’s schedule, this team could jump out to a pretty fast start.   Their first 22 games are entirely against teams that are all threatening to lose 95 games this year: Atlanta, Miami, back against Atlanta, at Philly, at Miami, home to Minnesota and then three more against Philly.  That’s 22 straight games that, honestly, they should be looking to win.  At the end of April heading into May they have a heck of a road trip; at St. Louis, then at the defending WS champion Royals, then at potentially 100-game winning Chicago Cubs.  Oof; if they take 3 games out of 9 on that road trip i’ll be happy.

But heck; could this team start something crazy like 16-6?  Could this team really take it to the Mets?  I don’t have any stats or anything other than a gut feeling, but it really seems to me that NOT being the presumptive favorite and having a veteran players manager has really taken off the pressure.

Are you feeling the same thing?

 

Written by Todd Boss

March 21st, 2016 at 7:41 am

16 Responses to 'How about something positive? Are you optimistic for the new season?'

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  1. I very excited to see how our new contact centric lineup works out. So tired of all the K’s in the past. Like even with Laroche, they would never sit him out against lefties, or in horrible slumps. Good thing about a younger somewhat cheaper lineup is you can actually sit them if they are slumping.

    Things I’ll be keying on early:

    1. Will Michael Taylor take the next step improve his OBP this year?
    2. Will Rendon get it back to 2014 level?
    3. Treinen looks great so far. is it a mirage?
    4. Trea Turner can’t get here soon enough for me.
    5. Will Ramos’ last shot to cement his status reveal himself to be quality power bat or rally killer after the eyesight fix?
    6. How will Werth- Taylor playing time play out?

    Marty C

    21 Mar 16 at 8:57 am

  2. I am pretty optimistic. If I’m completely honest, some of that is just looking forward to the start of the season. But the other part, which I hadn’t expected, is that I was ready to change over some new faces. I’d liked most of the guys who left, but I think the combination of disappointed expectations the last few years and human nature for something fresh has made me more intrigued with this year’s team. It helps to have a Joe Ross replacing JZ (rather than a Jason Bergman type).

    As for how they’ll do this year, I honestly don’t have a strong feeling yet. You make a very compelling case based on schedule – although the flip side is they have to win those games, too. What is the Mets schedule like?

    Lastly, my keys for success this year are (1) Harper health, (2) Rendon return to 2014, and (3) no more than 25 starts from SPs #6,7,8…

    Predictions : Giolito gets more big league time than expected (makes 10 starts this year), Turner less (gets 200 PAs).

    Wally

    21 Mar 16 at 9:25 am

  3. Baker, Maddux, et al. realize that they’ve been handed the keys to something special. (Maddux to Baker as Harper’s bomb sailed ~475 feet: “We get to watch this every day?”) The question remains whether it’s a BMW, or a Ferrari. And yes, a strong start in April will be key.

    I guess it’s a good sign that the team has been doing so well in the spring with so many of the regulars struggling at the plate. Danny’s issues have been well documented; those of Rendon, Murphy, and Werth haven’t. Zim is at least hitting well despite the lingering PF issues. Harper seems to be rounding into form, and Taylor has had quite an encouraging spring, as has post-Lasik Ramos.

    It’s hard to quibble with the starting rotation as a whole. Many of the new bullpen guys have not had good springs, though. I have no idea why the long-shot NRI guys have been getting so many innings. On the plus side, Treinen hasn’t given up a run yet. One fears that Gott may be buying himself a ticket to Syracuse. Many seem excited about the Sean Burnett resurrection, but call me a skeptic on that front.

    We’ll see. All in all, I feel like the Nats have a better team than the Mets. I also think the Cards and Pirates have taken steps backward, so the wild card number won’t be so impossibly high. Last year was a hard dose of reality from the Nats, but I’m still going to be disappointed if they don’t make the playoffs this year. They *should* be one of the best teams in the NL.

    KW

    21 Mar 16 at 11:11 am

  4. KW

    21 Mar 16 at 11:12 am

  5. Mets April schedule: at KC, home to Philly, home to Miami, away to Cleveland, away to Philly, away to Atlanta, home to Cincy, home to SF.

    So, harder. and facing two AL teams that are both playoff calibre.

    Todd Boss

    21 Mar 16 at 1:08 pm

  6. Generally speaking; i feel like the Mets rotation is better on paper, but that they’re due for some injuries. Harvey threw way too many innings and Snydergaard is a Verducci effect candidate; wouldn’t surprise me a bit to see them having to dip into the minors and/or depend on Colon all year. I also feel that they’ll take a step back offensively. Cespedes isn’t going to hit like he did in 2015 all year, they lost Murphy, and have taken a step back at short both offensively and defensively from last year.

    Meanwhile, the Nats just can’t have the injury issues in 2016 they had in 2015 can they? Something just tells me that a full healthy year from Harper and Rendon could be a monster.

    Todd Boss

    21 Mar 16 at 1:47 pm

  7. I find it strange that nearly all the projections for Bryce are that he drops off to around 7 WAR. Barring injury, he’s turning it up to 11, at least. The only thing that could hold him back would be pressing too hard, and Dusty should help a lot with steering around that. Bryce just needs that Bonds approach of forcing the pitchers to come to him, or just take the walk . . . and steal 30 bases.

    The real keys will be the guys sandwiching Bryce: Rendon and Zim. If they’re healthy, other teams will have to pitch to Bryce. There won’t be any way around it. Bos said in his chat today that Zim says his foot feels great, and that it looked like Zim was running freely home to second on his double. That’s perhaps the best news of the spring thus far.

    KW

    21 Mar 16 at 8:35 pm

  8. I think Marty C. brought up a good point about how much better the Nats would be with a manager who understood platoon splits. Matt W. was totally clueless on that front.

    Let’s not underestimate the effect of having THE BEST pitching coach in baseball.
    Plus, you have to think the F.O.. will prevent Dusty from earning his ‘blow it out Baker’ reputation with the pitchers.

    Mark L

    21 Mar 16 at 9:44 pm

  9. I’m looking forward to the season. Like Mike Maddux said to Dusty after Harper’s HRs: “we get to watch this all year?”

    I don’t think Harper quite repeats 2015, though. That season was historic good – a 197 wRC+? Not only has MIke Trout never done that … Miguel Cabrera and Albert Pujols have never done that, for crying out loud (Cabrera did get to 193 wRC+ in 2013). Could he? Yeah, theoretically. But having that as your expectation of what Harper should be would be setting yourself up for disappointment.

    John C.

    21 Mar 16 at 10:51 pm

  10. I do think it’s fair to project Harp for 7 WAR or so. If you look back the last few years, there are only 5-10 position guys each year that throw off >6.5 WAR. I think it’s right to put Harp in that group, but there is some variability in there so just assuming another 10 WAR season seems lower probability. Plus, the guys that are more consistent in the higher range have defense and base running value to rely on, which Harp doesn’t.

    Wally

    22 Mar 16 at 9:24 am

  11. If Harper “only” does a 7 war season, but Rendon returns to his 4-5 war capabilities and the team gets anything positive war-wise from their middle-order bats Zimmerman, Werth and Murphy, then I think we’ll be fine offensively.

    But, and I think we often forget this, the Nats 2015 problem wasn’t the offense, despite what we keep thinking. The team scored MORE runs in 2015 than in 2014 (from 686 to 703). But they also gave up significantly more runs in 2015 (from 555 to 635). That’s a net delta of 63 runs where roughly 4.5 runs means a win. And it is therefore no shock that they went from 96 wins to 83: 63 runs divided by 4.5 is precisely 14.

    So what does this team really need? They need to hold serve offensively and get much better run prevention out of their starters and newly made bullpen.

    Todd Boss

    22 Mar 16 at 11:23 am

  12. Bryce actually had a bit of a swoon over the last couple of weeks of the season or his numbers would have been even more stratospheric. And yes, I know that the projections draw on multiple previous seasons, which for Harp included two injury-riddled years.

    All I’m saying is that – *if he stays healthy* – Harper has some notches above last season before he reaches his peak. He was just starting to put everything together last year, the pregame prep, the strike-zone judgment. He won’t strike out 131 times again. Part of that was driven by the burden of trying to carry the injury-decimated team all by himself. There were times he tried to do too much. Baker will preach the Bonds approach of staying within himself and making the pitchers come to him.

    Will Harper be able to continue to improve? He sure doesn’t look like someone who is resting on his laurels. But as I noted above, and as Todd has said as well, what the team does around him will all play into it.

    KW

    22 Mar 16 at 11:32 am

  13. And yes, I’ve made the point several times about them surrendering 80 more runs in ’15 over ’14. I’m less concerned about the offense than I am the pitching, particularly the bullpen, which still doesn’t seem that solid.

    KW

    22 Mar 16 at 11:34 am

  14. Cautiously optimistic. While I really like the hustle on the basepaths and the creative thinking Dusty seems to be using in such matters as rotation construction, I’m still a bit worried about the bullpen. I still think a steadily declining P-bon will pitch his way out of the closer’s role by midseason, so I hope Rivero or Treinen truly are ready to take his place.

    Karl Kolchack

    22 Mar 16 at 3:41 pm

  15. Karl; i hope you’re wrong on Papelbon :-) Not because i’m a fan of his, but because what you describe would just cement even further how awful a transaction it would have become.

    Rivero seems like a natural closer; you can squint and see Aroldis Chapman when he throws. Treinen certainly has the raw stuff (upper 90s with sink? comeon) but his results havn’t matched. Who knows what we have with these new guys; maybe Gatt is the logical successor. We’ll see.

    Todd Boss

    23 Mar 16 at 8:51 am

  16. I also hope that Pap has a good year left in him. It really appears that they’re trying to develop his successor for 2017 in-house, from Rivero, Treinen, and Gott, and from the slew of closer types they drafted last year like Glover, A. Lee, and maybe even Rivera Jr. Rey Lopez is a wild card in the conversation if he can’t stick as a start.

    KW

    23 Mar 16 at 11:39 am

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