Nationals Arm Race

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

Game 5 Post-Mortem …yet again


Scherzer did his part ... the bullpen didn't. Photo via

Scherzer did his part … the bullpen didn’t. Photo via

Another Division title, another gut-wrenching loss.  4-3 at the hands of LA to drop another game 5 at home and get a new candidate for “worst loss ever” for this franchise.

After 4 hours and 32 minutes, the Nats go home.  At a macro level, perhaps this is always where we were going to end up given the losses of two key players and lingering injuries that the team dealt with late in the season.  But this was clearly a missed opportunity.  Max Scherzer did his part, starting the game by facing the minimum first 11 guys and pitching six scoreless.  Hat off to Joc Pederson: that opposite field homer was a good swing on a bad but not awful pitch.  From there the bullpen that had been so good in the first four games cratered badly, and in his haste to bring in the next guy to try to put out the fire, Dusty Baker double-switched his way into replacing guys who he really could have used at the end.

In the aftermath, you always tend to look for moments of 2nd guessing.  For me, I was texting back and forth with a couple of friends and so I have a nice little history of question marks.

  • I think Baker took out Scherzer too soon; he was only on 99 pitches; yes he had that epic 13-pitch at-bat against series MVP Justin Turner … but he was only on 99 pitches!  He was on normal rest, is a work-horse, and clearly could have continued.  He had 7-8-9 coming up; not exactly murder’s row.  Did Baker really think Grandal (series BA: .125) or Toles (series BA: .222) was going to beat Scherzer there?  Or a cold pinch hitter?
  • Would a proper center-fielder had a better shot at the Justin Turner triple??   Did Trea Turner take a bad route there?  And, should he have held up and tried to play the carom instead of just running into the wall?  Where the f*ck was Jayson Werth backing up the play?  Would it have made a difference if that had been a double instead of a triple?  Maybe; the not exactly fleet-of-foot Carlos Ruiz scored from first easily on that play; maybe he’s held at third or there’s a play at the plate for that 4th Dodger run.  Because the next batter grounded out weakly.
  • Every Nats bench guy got an at-bat in the 7th, 8th or 9th.  Robinson, Taylor, Drew, Heisey, Severino and Difo.  Honestly; they’re bench guys for a reason; I understand the logic of trying to push back the pitcher’s spot with all the double-switches … but when Wilmer f*cking Difo is at the plate instead of one of your most solid hitters all year (Anthony Rendon) to end the game, I think you’ve made too many moves.  Yes, Chris Heisey‘s homer was amazing and had me screaming late in the night, but you should go down with the guys who got you there, not a guy who was in AA most of the year.
  • Speaking of Rendon; It is fair to say he was probably the “goat” of the Nats offense.  He went just 3-20 in the series and left an astounding 22 runners on base in five games (*seven* just yesterday).  For as good as he was in the 2012 NLDS and as solid as he was this season, he came up short, badly, in this series.  TWENTY TWO runners left on base from your #5 hitter; that’s really why this team lost.   He had a homer and four RBIs in five games and, to be fair, his homer in game 3 was huge.  But in the elimination games?  Not one clutch hit from one of their most important hitters; would Wilson Ramos (who batted 5th the most frequently of any lineup position this year) have made the difference here?  Who knows.
  • Should Baker have gone to Melancon early (as his counterpart did with his closer) instead of his cavalcade of relievers?  Hard to criticize him there; the guys who gave up hits had all been rock solid in the first four games.  Was this just the workload catching up to them?   Four straight relievers failed, giving up a walk, a single, an RBI-single and a crushed triple.  Just bad timing for all of them to fail in a row.

(Reading the comments, i forgot about the frigging Julio Urias balk move!  That was total BS.  The Nats have a real beef there and that has to be cleaned up next year.  Again, not sure what that would have meant in the larger game outcome since it was man-on-1st with two outs but was a very poor call.  I am less critical of the decision to send Werth home … who is up next?  Espinosa and Lobaton?  That was your best shot to get another run and you’re testing the whole relay system; two good throws had to be made under pressure and you often see those throws up the line or short-hopping the catcher; all credit to Corey Seager there for taking his time and making the play).

All that being said … in the bottom of the 9th,  you couldn’t ask for much of a better opportunity to tie it up.  Two guys on with one out and your team MVP at the plate.   The run expectancy of guys on 1st and 2nd with one out is .884 and the “chance” in percentage terms that a run scores at all is 40.6% … across all of baseball over the last 5 years irrespective of who was pitching.  Not when you’ve gotten those runs against one of the best closers in the game (even if Kenley Jansen was totally gassed), nor when the best pitcher in the game  Clayton Kershaw is riding in on his white horse on one day’s rest to get the save.  That being said, I thought Daniel Murphy would have gotten a better bat on the ball.

I dunno.  I don’t think there was some egregious managing error (despite my hindsight-is-20/20 points above).   All these moves were defensible in the moment, and at the death they had two guys on with their best hitter at the plate.  Murphy popped up weakly and that was it.  Better luck next year.


30 Responses to 'Game 5 Post-Mortem …yet again'

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  1. From where I sit, the keys were some over-managing by Dusty, uncharacteristic weak plate appearances by Werth and Rendon, and exposure of Nat’s traditional weaknesses of too many low-average-high-strikeout batters. The Nats lose again in the clutch to a playoff team that strikes out much less with better contact hitters–all features of the past Cardinals, Giants and now Dodgers.


    14 Oct 16 at 10:37 am

  2. Agree they took Max out too early.

    Ruiz has been a Nat’s killer his whole career. Just hate it when he’s up against us in clutch time. We got Murphy, and now we need to trade for Ruiz and Freeman and a couple others to get all the Nat’s killers off the board.

    Sorry my prediction came true, but I told every body in April that Rendon was at his worst when the moments are most crucial. Despite his talent, to this point in his career he just hasn’t had the “it” factor to make him the .300 hitter for a season we all know he has in him or a clutch performer. In 2012 he had a few soft hits that looked enhanced just because everybody but Harper was atrocious that series.

    Werth was horrid last night. Maybe I’m the only one tired of his act. But he’s not a good enough player to be anointing himself as the Sage of baseball. Running managers out of town and this nonsense that he alone changed the culture of the team from loser to winner. I wish he’d lose the halloween costume personna and shave his beard and hair, and start swinging at some of the many fat strikes he lets go by in pursuit of ineffective walks. Because he’s trained himself to be a lot better walker than hitter.

    I too could not believe the series of hitters we had up in 8th and 9th. Espinosa (nice bunt) to Severino to Taylor? The Nats have a unique talent to strike out in crunch time.

    This trade for Scrabble was a joke. Did the guy get a meaningful out for us all year?

    Next year the issues are:

    1. Is Strasburg’s elbow a ticking time bomb?
    2. Are we going to do the Espinosa thing again? Please no.
    3. Are we going to have a Plan A contingency for Zimmerman decline?
    4. Who is our catcher? And if it’s Severino, we can’t rely on him being an effective MLB hitter quite yet. So we better have decent bats everywhere else.
    5. Will we have Bryce Harper 2015 or 2016?
    6. If Kelly is as hurt as it looked, we have an entire back of bullpen to replace again.
    7. Who are our outfielders considering Turner at SS and Werth is a grandpa?

    Marty C

    14 Oct 16 at 10:39 am

  3. Also.. these 4 + hour games are torture. In this age of fast information and short attention span, It’s really hurting the sport. I can hardly bear the torture of multiple 4+ hour games to watch my home team. But I don’t see how any casual fan could stand it. I know I’ll just be watching the highlights from the remaining series.

    Marty C

    14 Oct 16 at 10:48 am

  4. Short Sample sizes are a funny thing. Rendon was awful in 2016’s playoffs, but was solid all year and was a stud in 2014’s NLDS (7-19 for the series for a .368 BA while the team hit .164). Harper was huge in 2014’s playoffs (3 homers, a 1.281 OPS), but was crushed in 2016 thanks to a steady diet of lefties and closers. Werth was 1-17 in 2014’s playoffs, 7-18 this time around.

    That’s the problem with passing judgement on a 5-game series. We all do it; hell I did it with Espinosa in a previous post … sometimes you just get unlucky when the chips are down.

    Todd Boss

    14 Oct 16 at 10:53 am

  5. I’ve got a post in draft mode kind of talking about off-season decisions. Won’t get into it too much here so as to save the discussion for a later time.

    Todd Boss

    14 Oct 16 at 10:53 am

  6. Heh. I had two friends text me that Baker should have yanked Scherzer after seven, that Scherzer was clearly done. It’s easy to second guess after the fact, but this one for me was squarely in the “I get both sides of the argument, and therefore give the manager a pass” zone. The double switch that cost the lineup Rendon was so he could get multiple innings out of Melancon – the “go until you drop” mentality you need in the playoffs. Yeah, it came back to bite them – but would you really have rather had Tanner Roark on the mound in the 9th inning? And double switching Zimmerman was clearly the right move.

    I totally agree with Marty C. that the games were borderline unwatchable even with a rooting interest. My God the Dodgers play sloooooow baseball. Every pitch seems to require a conversation, contemplation, or both. Preferably followed by a couple of pickoff attempts, after which the pitcher apparently has to realign his chi back towards home plate. Not one extra inning game, but the series averaged well over four hours per. That’s ridiculous.

    John C.

    14 Oct 16 at 10:55 am

  7. I meant that they texted that Scherzer should have been gone after six innings.

    Luck plays a huge factor into results, of course. Murphy and Rendon both hit 105+mph line drives directly at outfielders. Ruiz’s hit was just past the third baseman. Another hit in the 7th was only a hit because the pitcher shattered the hitter’s bat into a shower of shards so that the ball landed over the infielder rather than harmlessly carrying out to Werth. Etc. Short series baseball contains a helluva lot more noise than signal.

    John C.

    14 Oct 16 at 10:59 am

  8. Luck indeed. I recall reading some BS narrative about how Alex Rodriguez wasn’t “clutch” in the playoffs. Here’s his career postseason game log:

    In 1997 he hits .313. In 2000 he hits .371 with an OPS above 1000 for the post-season. In 2004 again he’s above 1000 OPS. He struggles in 2005-, 2006, 2007, each time an ALDS loss. 2008 he’s a frigging god, batting .365 with 6 homers and a 1300 OPS. Then he struggles in three straight series again in his age 35-37 years. Overall his career BA and OPS are below his career values for the post-season … but wouldn’t you expect that for practically any player? Post-season implies you’re facing the best competition, playing in the cold weather in october.

    Tangent, but also applicable to even my own snap criticisms of post-season performances. Rendon hits .270 and puts up a 4-win season across 162 games, but hits .150 in 5 playoff games, two of which were started by the best pitcher since Sandy Koufax. How do you judge that?

    Todd Boss

    14 Oct 16 at 11:11 am

  9. To add to my beyotching in the previous thread, another lost opportunity this season was the apparent chance to trade Giolito for Andrew Miller. Wouldn’t it have been great to have had Miller and Melancon both in the pen? If Cleveland wins it all this year, it will be in part because their GM was willing to do what it takes and Rizzo wasn’t.

    As for Giolito, I hope he does become a true ace, because if he ends up as a mediocre #3 or 4 starter, that non-trade will rival the Papeldouche acquisition as Rizzo’s worst ever move.

    Karl Kolchak

    14 Oct 16 at 11:24 am

  10. I agree on the short sample size.

    But that’s not really the case here. Yes Harper was pitched tough but he has been horrible for 5 months. Nobody who’s been paying attention should have been counting on him as the savior. next season will be most interesting and important for him. Why don’t other superstars like Trout, Goldschmidt, and Cabrera have these horrible years? or multiple average to bad years? Who is Harper? is he hyped up average who had one monster season? Or is he truly great but had a blip of historic drop in WAR after MVP? Next year should tell, but I’m not optimistic unless I see a complete swing mechanics overhaul. I do know that great players, even if they’re in a cold streak do not have as many hopeless looking ab’s as Harper had this year. Can you not argue that he has some of the worst swing mechanics for any great player you’ve ever seen?

    Werth’s stats are not just average but they are empty. Geez the guy had a 60 base on game steak and only raised his average by about 10 points by the end of it and was still only hitting in the 240’s.

    Rendon we all conveniently forget crapped the bed the entirety of April and May. He was one one of the 5 worst hitters in baseball for the first 2 months of the season for his new manager and flunked out of the #2 hole, which should have been his natural spot in the order for 10+ years. This screwed up our lineup all year as he got demoted to 7th and finally got going with all the pressure off him. Then when he finally did get going, Dusty stupidly did not move him back up to #2 where all those extra ab’s and production would have helped alot more than Werth’s .240.

    On offense, all these problems were minimized by really amazing years from Murphy and Ramos and partially Turner.

    Marty C

    14 Oct 16 at 11:41 am

  11. On the field, my biggest goats are Scherzer for his bad first game start, and Harper for continuing his five month power outage. What it comes down to is the Dodgers big stars came up big while the Nats big stars didn’t.

    Hopefully, Harper will refrain from any more dumb comments about rings he has’t won, and next time Scherzer will recognize that resting up to be fully ready when the postseason bell rings is more important to the team than meaningless 20th wins and strikeout titles.

    Karl Kolchak

    14 Oct 16 at 12:42 pm

  12. You guys know I follow the Nats closely and passionately. I’m sad today, and tired. But I have no righteous indignation. My team lost a close game. A kid with a very bad haircut hit a pitch outside the strike zone from our best pitcher out of the park. A diving stab by our third baseman came up just short. We had “the best hitter on the planet” (according to Kershaw) at the plate with the tying run on second and the winning run on first. A single would have tied it; a gapper would have won it. But it didn’t happen.

    That’s baseball. But sign me up every year for 95 wins and a chance to advance. I’ve followed too many bad teams over the years to take such seasons for granted.

    The righteous indignation I do share is over the desecration of the game by Fox, Dave Roberts, and whatever else have conspired to make 9-inning games last more than four hours. If a vast conspiracy is trying to kill baseball, they’re certainly going about it the right way.


    14 Oct 16 at 1:08 pm

  13. KW.. I agree the whole fun of baseball is the long flow story of the season and following your team every night for 7 or 8 months. That is just pleasure and doubly so when your team is in the hunt.

    But like the Redskins, we shouldn’t always have to play a perfect game to win. Scherzer pitched a perfectly good game for 6 innings against a lineup that was expressly designed to beat him. Even the HR was not a terrible pitch, and giving up only 1 run was a success story. This team needs a multitude of consistent hitters, that any one of them can get the clutch hit to give us a 4 run lead once in a while.

    I see the season as a 7 month problem solving exercise where you have to attempt to constantly fix or patch your problems within reason. We tried to this year but came up a couple pieces short. Our logical attempt to eliminate our hitting consistency problems was dealt a huge blow by Revere completely imploding on us. He and Murphy were supposed to be the definition of the new high contact, high BABIP Nats.

    You always have some percentage of your line up in some sort of slump so you can’t compound that by having always slumping players as fixtures. The fact that we felt such a need to get a Scrabble, but felt no need to patch the Espinosa, Zimm, Revere, Taylor problems is mind boggling. Having to play because of entitlement or salary Zimm, Werth and Harper everyday through horrible slumps is understandable but hopefully a lesson learned for future team construction. Unless you are a true superstar, a salary obligation should not be clogging up your lineup for multiple years. At least for position players. Pitchers you have to have and spend your risk money on if you don’t have enough.

    The only thing worse than a player in a horrible slump is one in a horrible slump that you have to play every day. If we roll out the same group next year, than the whole offense will be resting on the health of Daniel Murphy. He’s the only sure thing in the lineup right now, and If he takes a fastball on the wrist we’re cooked. Because Werth and Zimm are not going to carry this offense. Harper maybe, but is the biggest ? mark in MLB going into next season. So we should try to make incremental upgrades wherever possible, even if some feelings get hurt.

    For example… would Turner have been that much worse of a shortstop than Espi this season? Espi did have about 20 errors and another 10 that could have been called errors. So until Turner has 25 errors no margin of difference even exists. And from what I saw Turner’s range is better than Espi’s anyway. So what you got to no surprise was the worst hitting player in the league starting every single game including crucial ab’s in the playoffs. And a complete newbie in CF playing out of position and costing us a few runs there. Problem better solved by Turner at SS to start and trading for a good CF midseason once the problems became evident.

    Of course in Rizzo’s defense he did not know that Harper was going to implode as well. He figured he’d have enough offense going into the year with Harper + whoever else.

    Figuring out the puzzle is the fun part and having opinions as a fan is the reward for dedicating hundreds of hours and money to following a team for a season.

    Marty C

    14 Oct 16 at 2:15 pm

  14. Honestly, I don’t get the criticism of Harper. He’s clearly hurt, clearly altering his swing mechanics to try to stay on the field.

    Ask yourself: would you rather he had just given up on the season and hit the 60 day D/L once his shoulder really started killing him?

    Why doesn’t Trout have these seasons? Because Trout literally never gets hurt. The last four seasons he’s played 157, 157, 159 and 159 games. And in 2012 he didn’t come up until the end of April so he didn’t miss any games then either.

    Todd Boss

    14 Oct 16 at 2:27 pm

  15. KW: follow-up on your comment about the Fox broadcast team last night. Frigging Harold Reynolds; now I understand why so many people can’t stand him. Captain frigging obvious.

    Todd Boss

    14 Oct 16 at 2:41 pm

  16. Todd… You’re killing me. You really have no idea if Harper is hurt. Or hurt enough to be causing such glaring mechanical issues. And you have no idea if Trout has played through any dings similar to Harpers.

    Harper does not have enough of a track record of success to make that judgement either way. It was only the beginning of the 2015 season that Harper was voted the most overrated player in baseball. He’s had one monster season and 4 very average or poor seasons by any kind of star perspective.

    Before you blamed this on the Cubs ruining his mojo by not pitching to him. Now you’re playing the injury card. Why do you feel the need to make excuses for him? is it possible he’s just not an every year superstar? I hope he is, but 5 years of evidence says maybe not. I don’t think anyone can say with any certainty what the issue is. But if he is hurt it sure isn’t keeping him from swinging extremely hard. And yes I would much rather he gone on the DL if he was ailing than groove that mess of a swing all season.

    Geez we’ve had enough players hurt the team by hiding injuries in the past.

    This slump actually reminds me of the extended one he went on early in his career when he got absolutely schooled one game by Andy Petite. Petite made him look silly in 4 straight ab’s with with swinging K’s that looked very similar to what he’s doing now pulling off the ball. After that game Harper was a mess and slumped badly for 6 or so weeks if I remember correctly.

    Harper has never had the prettiest of swings. He’s more of a brute force guy with athletic talent that overcame a lot of swing flaws I’ve always thought. When he first got called up I remember Terry Franconia color commentating that Harper did not have a good swing.

    Anyway.. will be fun to unravel the mystery. Would certainly be in Harper’s interest to use injury as an excuse as it will buy him another year of judgement from the apologists. But I hope they don’t use injury as an excuse as it will keep him and his management team from truly fixing his obvious swing mechanic problems.

    Marty C

    14 Oct 16 at 3:35 pm

  17. Agree on Reynolds, I was so happy when ESPN fired him for sexual harassment because it meant I didn’t have to watch him on Baseball Tonight anymore.

    Mark L

    14 Oct 16 at 3:37 pm

  18. Marty it’s not ME who is claiming injury. One of the best national baseball writers has written about this multiple times. Tom Verducci. And he’s gotten denials from Nats Management and “no comments” from Harper and Baker.

    Its possible that the Cubs pitching strategy could have caused one issue, and a shoulder injury could have caused another issue you know. His numbers rebounded mid-season then plummeted again.

    On trout; i’m not talking about niggling injuries or a bruise from a HBP. I’m talking about serious, debilitating injury. There’s not one piece of evidence that Trout has ever done anything close to the injuries that Harper has already had in his career. And i’m not defending Harper on this 100% either; staying healthy is a skill and you have to work at it. And its well documented by now that he sometimes needs to reign it in and play smarter.

    Todd Boss

    14 Oct 16 at 3:44 pm

  19. Also, while on the topic of unreasonableness, going back to your comment about “why the Nats didn’t fix their Espinosa, Zimm, Revere, Taylor” problems …

    Do you just think there’s magically the perfect player for us to just “go and get” to solve all our issues? How many .300 hitting plus defender center fielders are there in the league, in total? You can’t just magically find a superb starting CF. Everyone bitched ad nauseum on the “price” we paid for a few weeks of a veteran mediocre Lefty reliever … what do you really think it would cost to get Charlie Blackmon or Jackie Bradley or even Joc Pederson?? probably a hell of a lot more than anyone is willing to pay.

    On Zimmerman … who do you think they’ll find to take his salary? You think they’re just going to eat the remaining $60M of guaranteed money on his deal? The Phillies have been running out Ryan Howard and his $25M salary for years for the same reason.

    On Espinosa, there was an excellent article prior to Game 5 that talked precisely about the Espinosa issue; as in, addressing the question as to why he was even playing if they had Turner. Well, if you sit Espinosa to play Turner, then you have to play *someone* in center and that someone would be Revere or Taylor, both of whom are WORSE offensive options than Espinosa.

    I get it; we’re all fans. We want the best for the team. But I also am a realist and like looking at team construction as a puzzle. The Lerners are businessmen and so far have really shown themselves to be cost conscious, so I take that into account when I say things like, “Zimmerman is penciled in as the 1B for the next four years irrespective of his batting average.” Because its a huge salary he’s on. Same with Werth for next year; you think he was really that bad this year? OPS+ of 99 (league average), and who cares how slow you are in left field; you could probably count on one hand that his lack of defensive range in left field led to an extra base being taken. And then there’s the intangibles; clearly Werth is the clubhouse leader, the “captain” of this team, the emotional leader. You don’t just jettison a guy like that, a guy who re-does his contract and defers money so the team can sign others.

    Todd Boss

    14 Oct 16 at 3:50 pm

  20. Actually, Zim is “just” three more seasons plus a $2M buyout. He’s going to be playing. Ghost at Nats Talk has speculation as he looks ahead for next year about Zim being benched. I’m with Todd on this — it isn’t happening. He’s still owed a minimum of $48M (with the buyout). Maybe the Dodgers eat contracts like that, but the Nats don’t.

    I’ve also made some of the same arguments about the difficulty of finding a true CF for a sane price. Heck, people, the Dodgers have TWICE the payroll of the Nats and are platooning half their lineup.

    But I’m really, really not ready to light the hot stove yet. I need a mourning period.


    14 Oct 16 at 4:13 pm

  21. Hey, at least Baker used his frigging closer yesterday! Unlike the knucklehead running the team 50 miles north.

    Todd Boss

    14 Oct 16 at 4:22 pm

  22. Sadly choking is now cemented as part of this team’s make-up. You can trace the pattern all the way from that fateful NLDS Game 5 in 2012 that I had the misfortune of witnessing from the RF front row seat behind Jayson Werth (who’s great at acknowledging the fans, btw). 2013 fail. 2014 18-inning fail. 2015 fail (though prevailing wisdom puts it on Matt Williams).

    I don’t think having Difo rather than Rendon end the game was a big difference. Rendon had the chance to clean it up in the 7th inning and he failed. Badly. I guess you can say that the team that won deserved it.


    14 Oct 16 at 4:25 pm

  23. JC: was last night a choke? Or was it a game of inches that went the wrong way? Rendon dives and Ruiz’s ball goes off his glove; if he snares that, no runs score and he might have a double play since Ruiz runs as fast as my grandmother. As mentioned earlier, both Murphy and Rendon smoked balls right at fielders in key situations. How about that play where Reddick badly misjudged the flyball and had to jump for it; if that goes over his head its a different game.

    Todd Boss

    14 Oct 16 at 4:28 pm

  24. The Harper injury rumor to me smells more like Boras team floating something to excuse this bad season and protect his value.

    Harper did not rebound mid season. His August looked better on paper than in real life with some powerless bloops and seeing eye grounders. He hit a whopping 3 home runs for the month and as mentioned on telecast last night finished off the season with 1 HR in over 130 ab’s…

    This is not as easy to decipher as if Trout or Cabrera threw in a stinker of a season.

    Regarding Zimmerman etc… yes that was the point. They were not going to sit Zimmerman’s salary, so that’s why they cannot afford to have an Espinosa or Taylor in the lineup at the same time. Zimmerman does seem agreeable though to the phantom injury DL stint at least.

    The crack up is thinking we needed an all star in center to improve over Espinosa. Turner at SS and any old .250 hitter with low K % would have been a huge improvement. Goodwin would have been a huge improvement idea to at least test. it’s not how good the other guys are. it’s how bad Espinosa is…for a championship asperations club at least. It takes alot of work to finish last in the entire league in batting average and bottom 5 in K’s.

    Marty C

    14 Oct 16 at 4:55 pm

  25. Marty, your conclusions aren’t wrong – some of them I even agree with – but some of your arguments are just ridiculous.

    “It takes a lot of work to finish last in the entire league in batting average and bottom 5 in Ks.” What?!? It’s not at all unusual for low batting average guys to have high strikeouts. In fact it’s the norm. The guy with the second worst batting average in the league – Chris Carter – had more Ks than Danny. This doesn’t take away from your conclusion that Danny is a terrible hitter. He had an exceptional month at the wrong time. If all those homers had been spread out over the season, the Nats would have replaced him with TT like they had planned. The big problem the Nats had was was Revere cratering. Someone who is reliable to hit better than Espinosa and play CF just isn’t in the organization (unless you move Harper to CF). Goodwin deserves a shot at some point somewhere, but he’s coming off two TERRIBLE years in the minors. Danny was a MUCH MUCH better hitter in the minors than Goodwin. Maybe Goodwin’s rebound this year is for real, maybe not. Teams with championship aspirations don’t count on guys with such middling minor league records unless there are no other choices. Espinosa sucks, and maybe Goodwin would have been better, but it’s probably not even 50/50 that he would have been. So Revere being terrible forced them to go outside the organization for CF help, which they didn’t do even though they probably should have.

    “Harper does not have enough of a track record of success to make that judgement either way. It was only the beginning of the 2015 season that Harper was voted the most overrated player in baseball.” What?!?! Bryce Harper has more than 2700 major league plate appearances. Bryce Harper has been a well-above average offensive player every year he’s been in the major leagues (a career which began at the ripe old age of 19 – Harper is only seven months older than the golden boy Trea Turner). I don’t care whether he’s overrated, underrated, or properly rated and neither should you. The facts are his career WRC+ is 139. That means he’s been 40% better offensively than the AVERAGE MLB hitter for his career. He has been the single best hitter at drawing walks two years in a row. In one of those years he made elite contact, in another not so much. You sound like you don’t care for walks that much, but getting on base at a .380 clip when you’re hitting .240 is incredibly incredibly valuable. He may not be the monster he was in 2015 ever again, but he’s also not going to repeat the .260 BABIP he had this year, which is 50 points off his career norm. I agree with Todd that he’s probably hurt, but that’s really just speculation. Even still, he was a good hitter this year – more than 10% above league average. Not what you want from a superstar, but he has not been “horrible for 5 months.” And he was excellent in the playoffs getting on base at a .450 clip while facing lefties or Jansen for all but two ABs. And he did have a solid two week stretch after he came back from the neck injury where he hit for power! Pretending otherwise is contra fact and doesn’t help you!

    And great hitters do have down periods. David Ortiz was thought to be toast after a bad start several years ago. And Joey Votto – who is the living breathing best hitter in baseball – has had long bad stretches before. There are loads and loads of examples. There are also loads and loads of examples of guys like Trout and Cabrera who are amazingly consistent. C’est la vie.

    Another example is your comments about Giolito. It is undeniably true that Giolito is disappointing and he didn’t appear to have the big fastball we were led to believe he had. But you said you had him in the same category as the immortal Austin Voth, who’s probably going to be a long reliever on a good team or a John Lannan-esque starter for a bad one. There’s a chasm between “not looking like Noah Syndergaard in 2015” and “future MLB longman.” One has to wonder why you think guys like Skole and Goodwin should be given shots they haven’t gotten despite middling to poor minor league careers yet Giolito – who has exceptional minor league stats – is a bust because he three 60 middling-to-terrible innings in the show? It just doesn’t make sense to me.

    All of this is a plea to be a little more circumspect in your claims. Harper may not be the best hitter in baseball like we thought he was going to be at the beginning of the season. He is not horrible, even if his mechanics are horrible, because he is exceptional at drawing walks. And he’s going to be exceptional at drawing walks next year, and the Nats will be better for it. Rendon did have a few bad months to start the year, but of course those months are incorporated into his season stats, which show him to be a good but not great hitter and an outstanding defensive player. Giolito did not show Ace-level stuff (although a lot of people think he still will), but he does not belong in the same class as an AAAA pitcher.


    14 Oct 16 at 5:53 pm

  26. If anyone is still looking at this thread, Boz said a lot of what I’ve been thinking:

    I’m not getting knee deep into the Harper debate. Here’s a point that occurs to me, though: the Nats won 95 games this year with Harper playing at a replaceable level. If they can’t sign him, perhaps the window won’t close that rapidly after all. Certainly we’d like to see the 2015 Harper again in ’17 and ’18, but the focus needs to turn toward other guys who can help extend the window into ’19/’20/’21. Does that mean trying to extend Murph now for a couple of extra years? Signing an FA or two for five or six years that will carry well through that time? We’ll see.

    But that’s the overriding thing I’ll be watching this winter: how much they do with an eye toward extending the window, to take advantage of the rising young talent.


    14 Oct 16 at 10:16 pm

  27. Derek.. I appreciate the debate…

    Harper did not hit the ball hardly at all beyond April. The fact that he drew so many walks is a testament to stupid opposition. There was no reason in the world to walk Harper this year once May started. He just could not hit strikes. I appreciate that he got all those walks but they are clouding his stats to make the year look palatable stats wise, when in reality it was dismal to the eye. Most of the year I did not feel confident at all he could even put a ball in play. If you think he performed well than we are viewing the same game with different perspectives. And if you think Harper played well, you must grade Daniel Murphy higher than Babe Ruth and Mickey Mantle combined. Because that was a clinic he put on for 7 months in a row. Harper vs. Murphys performance this year was not in the same universe, even if you could shade some of their stats like OBP as comparable. That is the danger of just looking at stats and throwing out your eyeballs. I think some of the people defending Harper this year did not actually watch all the games and watch him flail helplessly night after night. The stats never tell the whole story. Even a Daniel Murphy strikeout looks a lot better mechanically than a Bryce Harper or Danny Espinosa strikeout.

    This whole Espi thing, my whole point is… what do you have to lose? There is no downside. The worst that can happen is a guy you try out will hit .125 for a month and lead the league in ugly K’s like Danny has done many many months and year after year. Even defensively, there is not as big a downside as some think. After watching Turner sparkle at 2b, do you think he’s going to be a such a disaster at SS to not be worth replacing a .200 hitter? You know a defensive disaster when you see one like Zimm at 3b with a ruined shoulder, or Escobar having no clue how to play the position or Dan Uggla. Didn’t we win 105 games and make 2 playoff appearances with Desmond butchering 40 balls a year?

    A test I like to theorize for improving or replacing a guy is… “Could we have a whole team of them?” You cannot have a whole team of Espinosa’s as you’ll get no hit 100 games a year, lead the league in K’s and finish last in batting average. You might have a fun 3 week hot streak though. You could field a whole team of Rendons, Werths, Turners, etc…

    Giolito… I’ve discussed to death. But much like analyzing Harper, my aim is just objective opinion and stripping away the hype. And in the perspective of Todd incredulous that I could disagree with the experts that anointed him the #1 prospect.

    I love giving accolades to players as much as being critical. Murphy amazing. Turner amazing. (but his playoffs weren’t as good as his stats looked. Lots of weak contact BABIP help there and a bushel of K’s that were surprising). Ramos amazing. Scherzer fantastic. Stras fantastic until injury. Roark fantastic. Rendon very solid in the end. Werth better than expected. Treinen great year. Solis very encouraging. Kelly very good.

    Marty C

    15 Oct 16 at 12:55 am

  28. Marty, I agree with a lot of what you say, so let’s start with that.

    Turner should have been playing SS starting at the earliest possible date for us to control his rights for a 7th year. I, like you, think that any advantage Danny has over him on defense is small and perhaps even negative. But the Nats did have something to lose by playing Turner at SS and not CF. Espinosa is a bad hitter, but there are worse hitters in the major leagues, and some of them play CF. In fact, two of them played CF for the Nats in 2016. Yes, Taylor and Revere were worse hitters in 2016 than Espinosa. Goodwin may have been better given enough reps, but his recent performance (his last two seasons) was far worse than Taylor’s in the minor leagues, and of course we know Revere’s empty .300 pedigree (which would have been better than Espinosa). In hindsight, the solution was to go outside the organization. Maybe Goodwin gets a shot next year or some other time, but a playoff push was not the time to give it to him.

    Harper and Murphy. Ok, again we’ll start where I agree. Murphy was great this year and undeniably a better hitter than Harper (FYI, I probably watched 155 of the 167 games they played on TV or in person). He was not, however, the second coming of Babe Ruth or Mickey Mantle because those guys ran OBPs of .450+ in their good years, way above Murphy. Murphy was a great hitter this year but his ceiling is limited because he just doesn’t walk. The Nats have had a guy who did look like Babe Ruth and Mickey Mantle reincarnate, though. That was Bryce Harper in 2015.

    You claim the fact that Harper “drew so many walks is a testament to stupid opposition.” This is just demonstrably false. A batter’s BB% tends to be a stable stat year-to-year. That means it’s predictive. Guys that draw a lot of walks keep drawing a lot of walks. That means it’s a skill that can be repeated. And, unlike BABIP (which is also predictive year to year…for batters but not pitchers), it stabilizes really quickly. Harper draws a lot of walks because he’s exceptional at drawing walks. I love a good conspiracy theory, but do you really think the 29 other major league teams, many of which have VERY different philosophies for building rosters, are all stupid in the same way – we must walk Harper even though he can’t hit – and are able to get all the various pitchers on their rosters to buy in to the idiotic proposition to walk Harper even though he can’t hit? It’s just not possible for that to be true. Harper is the best player in baseball at drawing walks. He’s probably going to be the best player in baseball at drawing walks next year. You don’t have to like it, but you should accept it.

    I watched a lot of terrible Bryce Harper ABs in 2016. The fact that he did so well is a testament to his exceptional ability to get on base. He did not hit for a lot of power after April but he still managed to walk more than he struck out until the last week of the season when he piled up a huge number of Ks. Daniel Murphy, like almost every other hitter in baseball, struck out much more than he walked.

    And some stats DO tell the whole story! WRC+ weights everything a player does on offense BB, HBP, 1B, SB, etc. by how much those actions contribute to scoring runs and indexes the player’s performance to league average. The casual fan probably knows that a walk is good but not as good as a single. But stats enable us to know exactly what that difference is. A walk is worth .55 runs and a single is worth .7. You decry Harper’s stats as “empty,” but he was still good. 11% better than league average. Better, in fact, than all but two years of Daniel Murphy’s entire career (this year and 2011). Daniel Murphy was much better in 2016 – 56% better than league average. Both Harper’s and Murphy’s 2016s seem unlikely to be repeated if you ask me. And I agree wholeheartedly after watching 150+ games that Murphy’s swing looked a lot better almost all year than Harper’s, and Murphy made better contact, hit the ball with more authority and power, almost all year. But the eyes can be deceiving, and certainly don’t process all the relevant information out there. I bet Harper’s WRC+ will go way up in 2017 and Murphy’s will go down (hopefully by not too much). I think the smart money would be on Harper doing better than Murphy in 2017, but reasonable people can disagree.

    Finally, re Giolito, I think you may have missed my point. Todd was not incredulous that you could disagree with the experts that anointed him as the #1 prospect in baseball! Neither was I! If you had said something like “I’m not as high on Giolito as others; I’ve seen him and don’t see dominant stuff. He’s more of a 3rd starter innings eater type than a star” you wouldn’t be getting so much pushback. Instead you said he belonged in the same class as Austin Voth! This is insanity. I think the over/under on major league starts for Austin Voth is probably 10, maybe even less. And Todd pointed out the unanimity of prospect gurus love for Giolito because that’s helpful information. If there were outlier opinions, that would support the “don’t believe the hype” position. But the fact that there are not is informative. I know you think there’s groupthink going on here, but this is another conspiracy theory that doesn’t make sense. Prospect guys benefit from disagreeing with the consensus, especially if their opinion is different from one that’s universal about a prospect that’s really famous like Giolito. You get a lot more clicks if you write the one piece that says Giolito is a back end rotation guy than if you write the 500th piece that says he’s the second coming. It’s just beyond possible that all these prospect guys are inflating their Giolito rankings despite believing in their heart of hearts that he’s not that good.

    Anyway, I like reading your perspective. Just remember, Harper doesn’t need to hit like 2015 to be a good player, and he was a good (but decidedly not great) player in 2016. And there’s an ENORMOUS gulf between the best pitcher and baseball and Austin Voth. We’re talking thousands of pitchers. Giolito is probably closer to the former than the latter.


    15 Oct 16 at 12:08 pm

  29. FWIW, Voth gave up 5 runs in only 2.2 IP in his first AFL appearance this week. He’s not helping his future . . . or his trade value. I wasn’t sure what they were hoping to prove with him in AZ after a full season at AAA. Whatever he’s working on, it still needs work.


    15 Oct 16 at 9:06 pm

  30. (I’m glad it isn’t just me arguing with you this time, Marty 🙂 )

    Turner versus Espinosa versus Revere; completely agree here with Derek. If Revere had produced *anywhere* close to his 2015 numbers (.306/.342/.377) versus what he did put up for this team this year (.217/.260/.300) then we’d be having a different conversation. Revere’s OPS fell from a nearly respectable for what he gives defensively .719 to a ridiculously bad/awful .560 this year. So just summarily replacing Espinosa with Turner would have still led to another problem. And i’m not the only one making this observation.

    Harper getting walks this year: I had written something similar in response over the weekend but was frankly tired of arguing. Let me say this: remember the scenes from Moneyball in the video room? Teams were doing video analysis on opposite players dating back to the early 2000s at at minimum, and “advance scouts” have existed for decades. These people’s entire job is to find weaknesses in upcoming opponents. Harper continues to draw walks at a high rate (108 this year, tied for 4th in the league) for two very specific reasons:
    1. He has a supurb batting eye; this is one of the biggest maturatinos he’s made as a hitter since coming up; he does not expand the zone, he does not chase pitches off the plate.
    2. He crushes mistakes. Even given his shoulder issue (whether you believe it exists or not), you could plainly see how teams pitched to him down the stretch. Up and away, lefties only. Force him to go the other way on a ball if you happen to miss over the plate. And even given his inadequacies at going with the pitch later in the season, and even given that the Dodger’s entire strategy was to throw lefties at him in the post-season, he STILL walked 6 times in five games to give himself a .458 obp for the series.

    Barry Bonds once remarked that even at his peak, if the pitcher made his pitch he would get him out. Nobody in the game has a “zero hole” batting approach; its just that the best hitters destroy mistakes instead of popping them up.

    I’ve tired of making the same arguments over and again about Giolito. I’ve tired of pointing out that his injury cost him a significant amount of development time and that we really can’t pass the kind of judgement we’re passing on him as a 22-yr old first appearing in the majors until he GETS that development time. Yes Strasburg was in the majors dominating at age 22. Strasburg also pitched his entire senior year of high school and three full years of college ball. Giolito didn’t get that; he threw a handful of innings his whole age 18 season, then had the surgery, then threw just a handful of innings at age 19 (36 total innings). Those missed development innings count. Throw on top of that the whole “mechanics” tweaking issue and you have as reasonable an explanation for why he struggled this year as any. I do not believe he struggled this year because he’s maxed out talent wise, and so far neither do prospect analysts. Call me in 3 years; if he’s A.J. Cole at that point, so be it. If he’s Gerrit Cole (to pick another highly ranked pitching prospect), then that’s not half bad. If he’s Noah Snydergaard, then we’ll say “you’re welcome” as the Nats trot out three nearly unhittable aces on their next inexorable march to the playoffs.

    Todd Boss

    17 Oct 16 at 1:07 pm

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