Monday, October 01, 2007

2 Halves Down, None To Go

The Nats of the second half certainly seemed like a completely different team, even if the cast of characters was basically the same. They continued to play hard, never really giving up, and they got some surprisingly good performances -- especially from some bats that were dormant in the first half.

The late-season push -- when they ran the gauntlet of post-season contenders -- to surpass last season's record really was something. I expected September to be a month of disappointment and dread and they went 15-11, repeatedly shoveling dirt on the Mets' grave and knocking the lowly Marlins solidly into last place. That month's run, more than anything, is the reason for optimism, and the reason we've all got a non-bitter taste in our mouth despite 88 losses.

I made much of the team's resiliency, their ability to snap off a win or two, just when you thought the bandwagon was out of gas. The perfect example of that was their August west coast swing when they lost 7 in a row, being swept by the Rockies and Dodgers before losing the first to San Francisco. They followed that up with a 5-game winning streak, erasing much of the negative that came before.

It's that resiliency, I suspect, that's much the work of Manny Acta. His level-headed approach and his ability to see the positive in anything really helped the team. Last year, when the team scuffled, the manager bitched about the players, killing motivation. While baseball isn't a truly team game in that it's basically a series of individual matchups, team distractions hurt. Acta didn't point fingers. He didn't dwell. And he built and taught. And the team was better for it. Even when the losses came in bunches, his steady hand helped guide the team, setting the perfect tone.

It's exactly what this team needed this year.

Nats Record: 37-36, the 8th best record in the NL. At the end of the first half, the Nats were 1.5 games out of last place and were on pace for 96 losses. That's quite an improvement. They will have the 9th overall draft pick. 4 teams in the NL finished with a worse record.

Runs Scored: 346 (4.7/g). The team's bats are the biggest reason why they had the success they did in the second half. Their 346 runs scored was 12th in the league, which doesn't sound impressive til you factor in the park. They were basically a league average offense in the second half. Actually, they were probably better than that. If you add just 15 runs to their total -- just 15! -- they would have had the fifth best offense in the league in the second half. Adjust for park and, perhaps, they're top 3!

Their runs per game total improved by a full run over the first half results. Maybe there is something to the Lenny Harris improvement as batting coach thing. Or maybe he just caught a few guys working their ways out of struggles.

Runs Allowed: 343 (4.7/g). Does your guy say this is better or worse than the first half? It's slightly better; in the first half, they allowed 4.9/g. That was, though, a big improvement on their relative position. They had the 12th best ERA in the first half. But in the second, their 4.41 ERA jumped them all the way up to fifth in the NL. They're going to miss RFK!

Expected Record: Pythagoras says they should've been 70-91, so he basically nails another one.

What's Good?
1) Ryan Church! Would you believe he was the team's best hitter in the second half? He led the team in batting (.293) and in slugging (.532). That slugging, it should be pointed out, is higher than Wily Mo Pena's .504. The team seems determined to not play him full time in center and now that he's excelled in a job-sharing role, they've got a ready-made excuse to staple him to the bench. Who knows what the future holds for Mr. Church, which is the same thing we could've said last year and the year before that.

2) Austin Kearns! The first half brought grumblings from the peanut gallery that he was washed up, a waste, another one of Jim Bowden's stupid Reds. Almost nobody took his first half for what it was: a slump. Even good hitters have bad stretches, and his second half line (.285/ .390/ .461) is about what we'd expect from him. He led the team in second half homers, was second in RBI, led in on-base percentage and walks and scored more runs than all but Zimmerman.

No, he's not going to be a 40-homer slugger, but don't let those unrealistic expectations cloud your judgment. When you factor in his defense, he's one of the top right fielders in the league, the poor man's Dwight Evans.

3) Tim Redding! Some of the underlying stats are ugly (too many walks/homers), but he led the team in innings and had the lowest ERA (3.58)of any of the starters. Redding had an interesting season. Presumed to be a lock for the rotation in spring, he pitched his way out of a job and found himself in Columbus where he was on the verge of pitching himself out of baseball. A rash of injuries forced his callup, and he stuck, keeping the Nats in more games than he let them out of. And he gave them innings, almost 6 per game, which isn't much. But on this team that qualifies him as a workhorse.

4) Jon Rauch! The Clydesdale elevated his game in the second half, taking on a huge workload and pitching extremely effectively. He pitched in 41 of the Nats 73 games, leading the league in appearances and had a terrific 3.32 ERA in the second half.

Typical, relievers ERA isn't indicative of the quality of pitching, and a look at his peripherals shows he might've even been better than that. He struck out 7.1 batters per nine, walked under 2 and allowed less than a homer per 9 -- a solid improvement for the guy. When a pitcher controls all three aspects, he's going to have results and the Nats' second half surge came as much on his back as anyone's.

5) Felipe Lopez!? The guy wasn't great in the second half (.250/ .321/ .356), but he showed flashes of the player we thought we had last July. If he splits the difference between that performance and what he did in '06, he could be passable at second.

What's Bad?
1) Jason Bergmann. The surprise of the first half fell back to earth, as hamstring injuries and elbow strain conspired to rob his pitches of their effectiveness. His 5.60 second-half ERA. Despite that, he went 5-1, which shows you how stupid using wins and losses is for a pitcher.

2) Brian Schneider. He improved in the second half to a tolerable .236/ .349/ .357 line. That's really not that bad considering his defensive contributions. But other than Logan, he was the team's worst hitter. I wonder how much of his improvement was his decreased exposure to lefties. For the season, he was just .212 .326 .310 against them. So the less he sees of them, the better his overall line would appear.

3) Bargain Basement Pitchers. Despite the prattling, the stiffs, with the exception of Redding, pitched terribly in the second half. Bacsik, 5.03 ERA; Hanrahan, 6.00 ERA; Simontacchi, 10.38 ERA. For all the talk about this year being used to sort through and find some young (note: not actually young, just inexperienced) pitchers, they sorted a lot and found, well, ummm.. one, maybe?

4) Ryan Langerhans. He 'improved' to a .180 batting average. He finished the year with 210 ABS and a .167 batting average. And he finishes with the 22nd worst batting average of ALL TIME. His late-season surge pushed him to the 3rd worst batting average of any outfielder of ALL TIME, behind Kenny Williams' 1990 and former Washington Senators great Joe Stanley's 1906 campaign.

Second Half Awards:
MVP: I love what Austin Kearns did, but when you factor in his defense, Ryan Zimmerman's second half was a smidge better: (.282/ .361/ .486). He led the team in RBI and was second in homers and walks (to Kearns). His season overall was a bit of a disappointment, but, again, that's because our expectations were probably a bit too high for a 22-year old kid.

Cy Young: Jon Rauch. It's hard to overlook the daily effort he gave, bridging those tough middle innings and keeping games close. He might not have stuck out most games, but that's the job of a workhorse middle reliever. You're not supposed to notice them. It's when you do that you've got some problems.

LVP: Nook Logan. Much was made (oooh! passive voice!) about his second half run, but when you look at it in the end, it's a typical Logan empty batting average season: (.284 .320 .367). Those numbers aren't terrible, especially with the first-rate defense he plays, but they're at the high side of what he can do, and given all the other solid offensive performances around him, he looks poor by comparison.

Joe Horgan Award: (tie) Joel Hanrahan and Jesus Colome. Hanrahan's 6.00 second-half ERA didn't clinch it for him. His 6.7 BB/9 total did. And Colome's second-half performance (6.20 ERA) proves beyond a reasonable doubt that our divine creator wanted us to have just one hole in our ass.

Last Weekly Whips...
9/24: Belliard had two doubles, three RBI
9/25: Big day for Schneider.
9/26: Church smacked the hell out of the Mets.
9/28: Justin Maxwell had a good one.
9/29: Chico pitched his guts out.
9/30: Belliard tried keeping them close.

Yearly Whips:
# 17 -- Austin Kearns
# 16 -- Ryan Zimmerman
# 15 -- Dmitri Young
# 14 -- Ron Belliard
# 10 -- Jesus Flores
# 10 -- Felipe Lopez

All things considered, that's probably not too far from the truth. You'd have a hard time arguing against any of the top 3 as the team's MVP. Belliard and Flores were valuable role players with some huge hits for the team. Lopez' results seem funny now, but we forgot about how many huge hits he had early in the season.

17 Comments:

  • This was a great posting. I have no disagreement with your comments! Good Job and hope to hear from you next year.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 10/01/2007 10:40 AM  

  • Off-topic, but Boswell is an idiot.

    Baseball has a new record: biggest chokes, both leagues -- New York.

    I'm certainly no fan of New Yawk, but the '64 Phillies' 6.5/12 collapse is significantly worse than the '07 Mets' 7/17.

    In the NL, the '64 Phillies' choke remains the gold standard.

    By Anonymous Bom Toswell, at 10/01/2007 10:52 AM  

  • Thanks for a great season. Your blog is on my daily read list and I appreciate the work you put into this.

    When the Nationals came in 2005, I bought season tickets with expectations of a 70 win season and nothing to cheer for except the joy of being there watching live baseball -- and growing up in Illinois as a Cubs fan, that's about all I ever hoped for anyway. Three years later, I'd like to think we are at least on a track where we will be competitive in the future. I look forward to the new park, but I also look forward to reading your blog again next season. You helped make this season bearable and put things in perspective (even though you can be a touch too negative at times). Please keep up the good work, now let's go get a CF.

    By Blogger Natsfan74, at 10/01/2007 12:24 PM  

  • Chris Needham is the kindest, bravest, warmest, most wonderful human being I've ever known in my life.

    By Blogger Sam, at 10/01/2007 12:56 PM  

  • Of course, I spend my days in ADX Florence so it is all a matter of perspective

    By Anonymous Sam's Internal Monologue, at 10/01/2007 2:01 PM  

  • I went to all of the Phillies home games during the last two weeks of the 1964 season. Gene Mauch was pitching Jim Bunning & Chris Short every 3 days hoping to win 1 or 2 games while the Cardinals kept winning. It was depressing. I can imagine what the Mets fans when through. By the way, that's when Philly fans started to get nasty. Remember, it was an Eagles game in November, 1964 when we booed Santa Claus!!

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 10/01/2007 2:40 PM  

  • So, Matt Chico is neither good nor bad. Does that make him ugly? If you want to count Redding as a "find" from this season based at least in part on his appetite for innings, then I would suggest you count Chico as a "find" as well, based on his ability to go out there every fifth day all season long (most of the time while pitching for the major league club) without overly embarrassing himself, as a rookie. I would say that before the season that would have been the team's best-case scenario for Chico, and they got it.

    Also, I do have to give you props for being the only one out there (so far) who has mentioned the strong finish as one of the high points of the season, and tying it to Acta's influence. Two things this team had not done before in this town were to start strong or finish strong. Now they have finished strong, a big contrast to the first two seasons when they limped to the finish line for the entire second half. Off-season turmoil has probably been the main reason for the lack of a strong start every year so far. Whether or not they sign any free agents or make any trades, there is guaranteed to be a fair share of turmoil this off-season thanks to the new stadium and the media's knives already sharpened to point out any flaws in it related to parking or concessions or season-ticket relocation and such, in addition to their normal sturm und drang over what's going on on the field. It's true that a baseball team is really nothing more than a bunch of individual pieces, but the best teams play as more than just the sum of their parts. If Manny can guide them into a good start next year despite the inevitable distractions, it will give us a better idea of what this team might become in the long run - no matter who suits up for it next year.

    By Blogger An Briosca Mor, at 10/01/2007 2:41 PM  

  • Very little I can add of worth at the moment. (I'm up here in suburban Philly and just hoping these classy fans and their equally classy newspaper reporters will finally give the 1964 thing a rest.) As with many here I need some time to let this past season soak in before assessing the state of the franchise.

    I will say this: my time spent reading Nats' blogs has dropped considerably this year, but this is the one I've never stopped reading. Though our host can be streaky at times (yes, I'm looking at the "Stanspeak" columns) he neither lapses into full-blown let's-blow-the-whole-damn-thing-up nor floats into aw-shucks-aint-it-great-we-got-a-TEAM!!1!one boosterism.

    I look at this site as an example of fandom in the modern sense: follow the team, care about it, but expect if not demand to see some effort made by ownership to put a competitive, entertaining product on the field, on the little screen, online and over the airwaves before expressing anything approaching loyalty.

    Chris, I look forward to reading your off-season posts and this blog in general for a long time to come. I hope you'll stick with it and keep up the good work.

    By Anonymous ghostofwadelefler, at 10/01/2007 3:25 PM  

  • For Bom Toswell,

    The Phillies last 12 games in 1964 were against the Reds, the Cardinals and the Braves. Those three winning teams posted a combined 273-213 record that year. This years Mets had a cakewalk schedule down the stretch facing the Nats and the Marlins for two series each, and a make-up game against the Cardinals. There's really no excuse for that fold.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 10/01/2007 3:57 PM  

  • I am a huge Brian Schneider fan, and even I started to lose faith a bit. But then I considered this. Any time a catcher spends learning new pitchers is time spent away from the batting cages. Given the work load that was thrust upon Schneider this year, and what was asked of him, his time became the single most valuable commodity the Nationals had. He had to learn to call and mentor more pitchers than any other catcher in baseball (for some years unless I am mistaken), and he had train Flores who was defensively totally unprepared for the bigs in March. All of this leads me to believe that Schneider's time working on his batting was minimal at best. Coupled with with the fact that everyone in the organization has come out in his support makes me believe that there was an understanding in the clubhouse that because his defensive responsibilities increased so much there would be a natural dip in his offensive production. Either way, I think the job he has done steering this staff to the current level of 'not bad' from potentially humiliating more than makes up for an admittedly woeful offensive season.

    By Blogger Ben, at 10/01/2007 4:50 PM  

  • Fair enough. I completely disagree, but I can't prove it one way or another.

    I'll ask you this though... what about his offense last year? He was even worse last year, and he didn't have that excuse that he had this year.

    By Blogger Chris Needham, at 10/01/2007 4:52 PM  

  • Honestly as a Nats fan, i'm not sure what i would do without Capitol Punishment. I look forward what surely will be a memorable 2008 season and especially look forward to reading Mr. Needham's opinons on the subject. Kudos Chris, and thanks for your hard work.

    By Anonymous NatsVA, at 10/01/2007 7:14 PM  

  • How nice was it watching that game saturday in HD on Fox, instead of the MASN crap??
    There are certain things in life that just can't be done proper justice by regular television, and Meat Hook's beer gut deserves some time in the sun.

    By Blogger Rob B, at 10/01/2007 7:51 PM  

  • Chris,

    I echo everyone else's thanks for a terrific blog.

    It's odd making something a daily part of your life, like checking this blog. But you've made it so enjoyable to be a fan of this team, but from a more informed and more amused perspective.

    And now, months of off-season. :(

    All the best.

    Jim from Ashburn

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 10/01/2007 8:12 PM  

  • The Nats were the best damn spoilers I've ever seen :(

    By Blogger metsnyc, at 10/01/2007 10:36 PM  

  • Great writing Chris!!! You always seem to find something positive about all the players. No matter how hard some of them work, do all they are asked to do, it NEVER seems like it's enough!!! They have a great bunch of guys out there and if we can improve on the pitching I see the Nationals going far. The brass needs to quit changing things!! They've got 3 good outfielders(yes center too) so leave it alone. Maybe they need to look into a new GM!!!!:) Looking forward to reading all your stuff next year!!!!

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 10/04/2007 7:35 PM  

  • By Blogger Sneakers hobbies, at 10/29/2009 8:56 PM  

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