Monday, April 30, 2012

Everything and Nothing, All the Same

Ever read one of those terrible essays (or written one -- it's ok to admit it) that starts out "Webster's Dictionary defines "turpitude" as..."? Know what the sportswriter (especially hack blogger) version of that is?

If someone had told you that the Nats would be in first place at the end of April, despite no Mike Morse, despite an injured Ryan Zimmerman, despite a combined left-field performance that makes one yearn for Wily Mo Pena, you'd be delighted.

You know why that's terrible? Because nobody gives a rat's ass who's in first place at the end of April. What matters is who's in first at the end. This hot start? Great! Amazing! Wonderful! It's filled me with lots of joy, particularly at the end of all 72 wins (it was that many, wasn't it?) when I could load this bad boy up.

As I write this, the Buccos are up by 4 over Atlanta.  If that scores holds (PLEASE HOLD!), the Nats will finish the month .5 game up on everyone.  Huzzah.

You know how they got here.  Pitching pitching out of its mind.  Hitting hitting poorly enough to drive you out of yours.

There are exactly three hitters doing anything at all: Jayson Werth, Willie Ramos, and **gulp** Adam LaRoche.

Jayson Werth isn't really hitting for the power we were hoping, but he's shown a good, patient eye -- which is perhaps wasted hitting so low in the order.  It certainly seems like his best clutch play is a walk.  Just me, or does it seem like he's lost a step defensively?  He was very good before... now... just average.  I can think of a handful of balls I feel someone with younger legs may have gotten too.  (And I can't really think of any outstanding throws he's made)

I ripped Ramos to hell and back yesterday for his lousy defense during the H-Rod h-bombing.  Yes,  Rodriguez was wild.  And they were scored as wild pitches.  But better form/technique stops at least one of those wild pitches.  I've only partially paid attention to his framing/technique in other situations, so I'll have to look to see if that extends more... but it seems like he spent an awful lot of time back-handing balls, which is often the product of slow/lazy feet.

Ad-La is sure making me eat a lot of crow.  For now.  While this is certainly on the high side of the optimistic projections, it's within what he's capable of.  But if he cools down for a fortnight?  Yeesh.  I agree with the announcers in that he's a steady 1B, but the praise for him is crazy.  He makes the routine plays look routine, and they fall all over themselves to tell us how amazing he was.  I think it's the case that it's not so much that he's amazing, but that the Nats have always had such terrible defensive 1B, he looks all the more incredible.  Remember how refreshing Nyjer Morgan was when he took over for the unplayable Elijah Dukes? Or was it Milledge?  Therapy's pretty much blacked that out.

Worrisome?  Espinosa, Desmond... the bench, the outfielders not named Harper, etc...  Remember when Desmond was hot?  His ops is now a carbon copy of what it was last year, when people were hoping to get rid of him.  We were banking on Espi being able to slide over to fill in the spot, with Lombo or some generic 2B filling in.  Well, Espi's at a .569 OPS.  Just one month, sure... but it's not far from what he did in the second half.  That's about 3/4 of a season of suckitude.

One of them HAS to get better if the Nats are going to make noise. You saw how well the team did when Desmond was hitting.  There are just too many black holes in the lineup when neither of them are.  In the NL, you can pretty much afford to carry 2 sinkholes.  Three, and you've got issues.  See also: Phillies, Philadelphia.

On the other side of the ball, yeah, the pitching has regressed. But as Harper over at whatever the hell his blog is now called has pointed out, if they do get worse, it might not be by much.

What I think is important in this start is for it to not get lost about how fucking good Strasburg has been.  The K Street stuff is cute.  And it's nice to be able to talk about how well the staff as a whole is doing.  But don't let the attention on the group take away what you're seeing.

What he's doing is historic stuff.  His combination of power and command is something you rarely see.  Every homer fan has their homer favorite, but, dammit, Strasburg is the best pitcher in baseball.  He's not the horse that Verlander is, but there are many different routes to the same results.  (Besides, Verlander's allowed more than twice as many runs this year.)

What's impressed me is how he's combined the raw power with the pitch-to-contact edict that McCatty preaches.  He's got the perfect balance: toss that two-seamer in there at 95 or so, and rear back with the four-seamer when you really need to get the K.  If they put the two-seamer in play, they're not hitting it hard... he's inducing soft contact.  If they don't make contact and get behind, he's got that nasty curve.  Man, that curve... I don't think I'd quite call it a spike curveball.  It's not like a looser slider.  But it's not a big lollipop like Zito or Livan.  It rolls up there sharply, crisply, diving down hard.  It's unhittable.  MASN had an amazing replay a few weeks back showing the batter's view from behind the plate.  Unless they pick up the spin immediately (and with the 97 mph four-seamer, you better decide quick!) there's no way they can hit it; it just rolls off the table like a shotput.  If a hitter does adjust, he's dropping that shoulder, scooping the ball, and popping it up.  No chance.

Next start, watch for a few things: Watch how Ramos never has to really stab at the ball.  He sets up, and Strasburg hits the target.  EVERY TIME.  That's command.   Watch how he uses the curve, and really trace its movements.  Think about what the batter's seeing, and how little time he has to adjust.  When they do make contact, look at how soft it is.  The hits he allow aren't scorched -- certainly nothing like that double Harper hit the other day!  Even good pitchers give hits up in dribs and drabs.  The batters are helpless...  Even when he makes mistakes, they can't hit them hard because 1) he's so unpredictable 2) his stuff is so damn good.  At some point he'll give up a homer.  Maybe it'll be a monster.  If I'm betting, it's gonna be a long fly that lofts over the fence.

It also means that a bunch of his innings are easy -- 10 pitch innings, or no-stress 17-pitch ones.  So while much has been made of that 160 IP limit, I think that when push comes to shove, that's going to be a soft limit.  A great number of those innings (25%?) really don't count.  I imagine the Nats are counting pitches, counting stressful pitches, maybe even counting curves separately.

Where will they be next month?  Chances are, they won't be in first.  Tangotiger, perhaps the most rational of the statheads, has a quick theory on regression.  (If you're not familiar with regression, it's basically the way of saying that in the long run, we're all dead)  He says that if you take a team's record and add 35 wins and 35 losses, you've got a pretty good quality for the proxy of a team.

So if you do that, you get the Nats at 86 wins.

So, after all that start, we're pretty much where we thought we were 30 days ago: The Nats are a pretty good team with a solid chance of making the playoffs.  The start means a lot... yet it hasn't really told us anything.

But May will.  And June.  And July...


  • It is a pretty tenuous situation when you count on two freshly minted rookies to be your offense. It also is pretty disturbing that injuries are coming out of nowhere, testing what little depth the team enjoys. Lidge has a hernia? Baseballs really don't weigh that much.

    It had been a case of hoping the team could hang in there until Morse came back. I fear now that nobody's coming back, and the starting rotation will have to earn a Wild Card all by itself.


    By Blogger Positively Half St., at 5/01/2012 4:58 AM  

  • You have a blog??

    By Blogger Cathy, at 5/01/2012 6:59 AM  

  • Interesting web log. Quite the pleasing color scheme.

    By Blogger Rocket1124, at 5/01/2012 8:23 AM  

  • Wow. If not for Bang Zoom, I would have thought you were Twitter only. This is better. Do this more oftne

    By Anonymous Sec314, at 5/04/2012 5:02 PM  

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