Monday, April 07, 2008

The Way We Was: Week 1

Seven games in, and how do you feel? Yeah, me too. You can't call it a roller coaster, because those usually have more than one hill. This is a free fall out of a helicopter. But, as the old mantra goes -- and longtime readers are certainly sick of hearing it -- you're never as good as you look when you're winning, nor as bad as you look when you're losing.

You need to take a look at the long view. Be a fan with your heart each day, but take a step back and look at the trends a little more coldly.

What did we notice this week? Bad clutch hitting. Good gap power. Shaky bullpen performances (and usage). Meh starting pitching. Short-handed rosters. Indifferent defense. Add it up, and 3-4 sounds about right.

  • WHAT'S GOOD?

    1) Nick Johnson! (.304/ .385/ .565) Rumors of his demise have been greatly exaggerated. He came out of the ol' chute on fire, hitting and walking up a storm. What impressed me the most, though, was how fearless he's been on the base paths. Not an especially fast runner, he's probably one of the team's two or three best base runners, and he's always willing to take that extra base, which is refreshing. He's not worried about his leg, a good sign that he's back to normal.

    2) Tim Redding! His 7-inning one-hitter was the 18th most effective outing by a Nats starter since the move. Only his lack of strikeouts (just 3) prevented that from moving up the ranks. But considering how it came against a potent Phillies lineup in that park, it probably should rank a bit higher.

    3) Ryan Zimmerman's power! (.548 slugging) It's hard to complain with those two big homers, both of which one a game (one literally, one virtually!). But... He hasn't walked once. His on-base percentage (.281) is actually lower than his batting average (.290). He's taking too many swings at pitchers pitches, and not driving the ball like he could were he to wait a bit. Last year, we thought it was because he was trying to do too much, to carry the team. This year? Well, maybe that's just who he is. If he is going to take that next step, though, he's going to have to draw 70+ walks a year. Otherwise, he'll just be a good, not great, player.

  • WHAT'S BAD?
    1) Acta's bullpen management. Yes, Cordero's injury has hurt his options. Yes, being a man short (although still carrying a full pen), has helped limit what he wants to do. But he's still making some curious decisions. We've been over the Ray King thing. King's not a terrible pitcher, if you limit him to what he does well: get lefties out. He's facing too many righties. Sure, a LOOGY still needs to get a righty out occasionally, but they typically aren't brought in to face righties or switchies as Acta has done with King.

    It's interesting, too, in that through seven games, Jon Rauch has just two innings pitched. I know he's the closer, but Acta never feared bringing in Cordero late in close games, even on the road. He didn't limit Cordero to save-only chances because he knew that he needed to use his best reliever in the most critical situations. The early indication is that he's reverting to a mid-90s-style (and outdated) closer usage pattern. That's a step back.

    2) Matt Chico (5.56 ERA). Is there much of a question that he should be the one to go down once Shawn Hill is healthy? I'm somewhat impressed that he's cut the walks down (2.4 per 9) and upped the K total (7.2 per 9), but he's getting hit. The leg kick might've helped his control a bit, but I'm not sure he has real command of those pitches -- the ability to hit his spots with the pitch he wants at the moment he wants it. You can be wild in the zone, and that's what it seems is the case with Chico. Other bright side: just one homer... so far. There are some reasons to be optimistic, I suppose.

    3) Shortstops. For all the ripping (deserved, really) FLop's performance gets, Cristian Guzman has been equally bad. The Nats don't really have a great shortstop option. Guzman's hitting an empty .265 and skating off the memory of a big game or two. As OMG points out, though, a few of his hits are of the seeing-eye variety. They count, but hanging your hat in the future on luck is an iffy proposition. Watching Lopez' approach, there's not much more to like. He's generally a bit more patient, but it seems to be either weak flyballs or strikeouts -- the Wil Cordero approach. I can't imagine his leash is much longer than another fortnight.

  • TOP PLAYS
    We're using WPA, a measure of the change in winning percentage of individual events based on what's actually happened in baseball history. ie: a solo homer in the top of the first isn't worth as much as one in the bottom of the 9th. And one in the bottom of the 9th is worth more if the game is tied than if the home team is down by 20.

    Best:
    3) 3/31 -- Austin Kearns' 2-Run Double, +24%. Facing Bret Myers, the Nats were down by 2 in the top of the 5th. Zimmerman hit a sac fly to score the first run, and Nick Johnson walked, loading the bases. Kearns' double scored two, giving the Nats the lead, and he would later be driven in by Paul Lo Duca, giving the Nats a 4-2 lead in a game they eventually won.

    2) 3/31 -- Nick Johnson's game-untying double, +37%. They won that Kearns' game after the bullpen blew it because Nick Johnson drove in Lastings Milledge in the top of the 9th, the first of 5 runs in an 11-6 win.

    1) 3/30 -- Ryan Zimmerman's walk-off, +46%. Not a bad way to open the park, huh? Two outs, national audience, and a crowd that was demanding a hit. And he delivered!

    Worst:
    3) 4/3: Wee Willie Harris' bases-loaded groundout to end a rally in the 9th, -18%.
    2) 3/30: Paul Lo Duca's passed ball/ Jon Rauch' wild pitch, -26%. Whatever. You need to take the bad to have the good.
    1) 3/31: Ray King's HR allowed to Jimmy Rollins, -29%. King turned a 6-4 lead into a tie game in the bottom of the 7th. Ouch.

  • AWARDS
    MVP -- Nick Johnson, the team's most consistent hitter this week.
    CY Young -- Tim Redding. Hard to argue with that outing.
    LVP -- Felipe Lopez. Thanks for nothing, jerk.
    Joe Horgan -- Jesus Colome. Someone's itching to have the award named after him!

  • WHIPS AND DUCKS
    We're bringing back the ducks! Majority Whip goes to the player who inspired the team to victory, carrying the team on his shoulders. Lame Duck (since this is Washington, and individuals must be singled out for blame when the massive bureaucracies fail) go to the person who crapped the best the most.

    3/30: Whip to Zimmerman! Saul was key, but you can't argue with a walk-off.
    3/31: Whip to Johnson! Kearns had two RBI, but I'll take NJ's two runs scored.
    4/2: Whip to Redding! Can he continue to succeed with such a poor K/BB ratio?
    4/3: Duck to Zimmerman! Rivera stunk, but Zimmerman's 0-6 (including some key ABs) didn't help.
    4/4: Duck to Perez! I suspect this won't be his last.
    4/5: Duck to Jesus! Yeah, he hit the homer, but that doesn't absolve all his sins.
    4/6: Duck to NJ! Rough game. Lannan deserved better overall.

  • WHAT'S AHEAD?
    3 against the Marlins (yawn) before three against the Braves. Looks like we'll get Smoltz and Glavine, which should make Kasten misty-eyed. What's your guess? 2/3 then 1/3? 3-3 sound good?

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