August 20, 2019

OPINION: Nationals Have Options as Opening Day Approaches

The Nationals’ roster for Opening Day is starting to come into focus, and there are some surprises as compared with a month ago. With Anthony Rendon, Jayson Werth and Denard Span expected to start their seasons in rehab assignments, the Nats find themselves looking at some additional bench slots, as players on the roster shift around to fill the gaps. Here’s a look at a few of the swaps fans will likely see come April 6th.

Michael Taylor has had quite a spring, including a pair of home runs against Justin Verlander, and is well-positioned to find himself both the CF for Opening Day and the lead off man for Matt Williams. The 24 year old rookie has plus speed and a solid glove, but will likely be back at Syracuse once Span returns barring a miracle. It will be worth it to catch the coming attractions while they’re here, Nats fans, Taylor may well be your Opening Day Center Fielder in 2016, as well.

Danny Espinosa will likely find himself at the hot corner until Anthony Rendon’s knee has fully recovered, which could be until May. Now righty-only, Espinosa has seen some good at-bats this spring against right-handed pitching but his whole season is predicated upon a return to the hitting of his rookie season. Many have praised his approach this spring, but it’s safe to say his career with the Nats hangs in the balance.

Tyler Moore will likely be your starting left fielder on April 6th, and the perennial bench favorite has earned the opportunity his spring with a slash line of .320/.327/.580. While no one will confuse Moore for Jayson Werth and his luxurious beard, that the Nationals can find replacements for three core bats speaks volumes about the depth of the roster right now. For that, Mike Rizzo should be applauded.

What this will do to the bench bats for Matt Williams, though, is a little less clear. I would argue that it is likely to be Kevin Frandsen, a rejuvenated Dan Uggla, the recently acquired Matt den Dekker, and Tony Gwynn Jr., who’s found his swing again. That is definitely not the bench anyone was predicting in February – rather, if you were, please drop me an email with proof and I’ll buy you a beer. It is entirely possible that recently acquired Reed Johnson might displace recently acquired den Dekker in the final roster spot, but I suspect we’ll see a fierce battle with the two of them each getting substantial playing time over the next five days.

This isn’t the Opening Day Roster that Mike Rizzo wanted to run out there; the injuries this spring could conceivably cost this team as many as 4-5 wins this season, though I suspect that’s a worst case estimate. Before you start, fair reader, don’t go blaming these events on a Sports Illustrated curse — curses are silly, and you’re better than that — but do look at the current roster options and rest a bit easier, Nats fans. There’s a lot of depth here, and the prognoses for May returns for Rendon, Werth and Span all bode well for the Nationals.

Washington Nationals Spring Training Preview: The Outfielders

This week, District Sports Page will review the players currently on the Washington Nationals 40-man roster and their potential contributions to the Major League roster this season.

Monday: Catchers
Tuesday: Infielders
Wednesday: Outfielders
Thursday: Starters
Friday: Bullpen [Read more…]

Washington Nationals Game 144 Review: Nats Lose As Braves Strike Late

NATS CAN’T OVERCOME ATLANTA’S LATE SURGE AGAINST BULLPEN

Looking for a sweep, the Washington Nationals fell to the Atlanta Braves in a Wednesday afternoon contest at Nationals Park, 6-2.

In the first two games of the Nats three-game series with the Braves, Washington used some early offense to boost them to victory. On Wednesday afternoon, Braves’ starter Aaron Harang kept Washington’s offense in check while Atlanta slowly built a lead in the latter innings of the contest. [Read more…]

Statistically Speaking: Batting Expectations

From an offensive standpoint, the first half of the Washington Nationals’ 2014 has been fair to middling. Ranking sixth, seventh, and tenth in weighted on base average, weighted runs created plus, and wins above replacement, respectively, in the National League, the team thus far as produced runs at a slightly disappointing level, given the level and depth of hitting and run producing talent the lineup carries. Despite this mildly disappointing aspect of the Nationals’ 2014 season, the team has remained within shouting distance of first place in the NL East, making the expected unfulfilled, at least, as of yet.

A statistic that can be used to gauge the variation between expected and observed tendencies in hitting and help discern whether a spike or a slump in production is a product of skill or some other variable is batting average on balls in play, otherwise known as BABIP. Simply put, it measures how often a ball put in play by a hitter ends up a hit by taking their batted ball profile into account. As a rule of thumb, BABIP sits around .300, but can vary greatly between players and even between individual player seasons. From BABIP, additional calculations can be performed to derive a hitter’s expected BABIP (xBABIP), which can further refine the ramifications of a batted ball profile. While there are a number a methods to calculate xBABIP, the following is felt to be the most accurate:

xBABIP = 0.392 + (LD% x 0.287709436) + ((GB% – (GB% * IFH%)) x -0.152 ) + ((FB% – (FB% x HR/FB%) – (FB% x IFFB%)) x -0.188) + ((IFFB% * FB%) x -0.835) + ((IFH% * GB%) x 0.500)

…where LD% is line drive rate, GB% is ground ball rate, IFH% is infield hit rate, FB% is fly ball rate, HR/FB% is home runs per fly ball rate, and IFFB% is infield fly ball rate.

With the combination of BABIP and xBABIP, some of the more finicky aspects of a player’s season can be parsed out and determined as something that is indicative of a player’s skill, or something outside of his control and is one way to take stock of player performance at the halfway point and determine whether a streak or a slump will carry on into the summer months. Below, I have provided the career (cBABIP), 2013 (BABIP 2013), and 2014 (2014 BABIP) BABIPs as well as the projected 2014 BABIP based on 2013 numbers and the expected BABIP for the rest of the season (xBABIP 2014) based on this year’s performance thus far for the eleven Nats hitters who have had at last 100 plate appearances this year. With these values, we can identify Nats hitters who might be due for an uptick or drop in production based on their batted ball rates thus far; this can also be compared to last year’s numbers as well as career values to find help determine whether the waxing or waning of their 2014 BABIP is something that could be indicative of skill, or perhaps other variables, such as an injury, a change in hitting approach, a change in pitcher approach, or how a defense plays a hitter in terms of alignment or shifting:

red=decrease greater than 5 points in BABIP; yellow=increase or decrease of 0-5 BABIP points; green= increase in BABIP greater than 5 points.

cBABIP = career BABIP; xBABIP_proj = xBABIP using 2013 end of season stats. Red = decrease greater than 5 points in BABIP; yellow = increase or decrease of 0-5 BABIP points; green = increase in BABIP greater than 5 points. Difference in BABIP points measured based on previous column.

With the help of the color coding, we see that Ryan Zimmerman’s BABIP is pretty resistant to change, with the respective BABIP values over his career, 2013, and throughout this year staying within a couple of points of one another. On the other hand, Jayson Werth’s fantastic start to this year hasn’t fulfilled expectations that were in place using his final 2013 batted ball values, but is still in line with his career BABIP, which is encouraging. However, using up-to-date values and calculating his 2014 xBABIP, it appears he will possibly suffer a light drop in productivity. Adam LaRoche’s season has been a positive across the board in comparison to both last year and his career averages and appears to have the potential to get even better. We can also hope to see a over-correction in Denard Span’s BABIP later this season, eclipsing both his current and career BABIP.

The calculations for BABIP/xBABIP are based on batted ball data and as such, the swings in these values across and within a season can be caused by changed in one or many of these stats. Research has found that while BABIP itself does not correlate strongly year to year, metrics like GB% and HR/FB% can, thus providing additional layers of complexity when looking at the above table. With that in mind, provided below are each player’s change in the batted ball rates inherent to xBABIP, to help identify what is truly at the root of any egregious disparities in BABIP or xBABIP. First, differences between 2014 and 2013 data:

 

Player dLD% dGB% dFB% dIFFB% dHR/FB% dIFH%
Adam LaRoche 3.20% -2.10% -1.10% 1.30% 2.80% -8.10%
Anthony Rendon -5.50% -1.30% 6.80% -2.20% 3.50% -0.70%
Jayson Werth -7.80% 3.80% 3.90% 1.00% -10.60% -11.20%
Ryan Zimmerman -2.30% 0.10% 2.20% -4.10% -10.90% -12.20%
Wilson Ramos 5.70% -5.40% -0.30% 0.80% -19.30% -23.80%
Ian Desmond -6.70% 4.80% 1.90% 4.40% 5.40% -4.70%
Bryce Harper 0.10% -1.00% 0.90% -2.10% -13.80% -11.70%
Denard Span 0.30% -10.80% 10.50% -1.40% -2.40% 2.20%
Danny Espinosa 12.00% -8.80% -3.20% 7.50% 5.40% -1.90%
Kevin Frandsen 2.40% -5.50% 3.00% 10.10% -6.00% -7.40%
Nate McLouth -17.00% 15.80% 1.20% 1.90% -4.50% -3.30%
Jose Lobaton -1.40% 3.30% -1.90% -7.20% -3.20% -5.70%

…and here, differences in 2014 data compared to career averages:

Player dcLD% dcGB% dcFB% dcIFFB% dcHR/FB% dcIFH%
Adam LaRoche 3.90% -3.00% -0.90% -1.50% 0.50% 1.50%
Anthony Rendon -2.80% -0.60% 3.40% -1.00% 1.60% 0.70%
Jayson Werth -2.60% 1.30% 1.30% 2.60% -6.80% -0.30%
Ryan Zimmerman 0.10% 0.60% -0.70% -2.80% -6.70% -2.60%
Wilson Ramos 7.90% -1.50% -6.30% -2.20% -7.40% -0.50%
Ian Desmond -2.20% -0.70% 2.90% 4.20% 5.90% 1.00%
Bryce Harper -1.20% 0.20% 1.00% -2.80% -11.70% 0.60%
Denard Span 2.20% -9.40% 7.30% 2.70% -2.80% -1.80%
Danny Espinosa 5.30% -3.20% -2.10% 1.50% -0.30% 0.10%
Kevin Frandsen 1.70% -2.70% 1.00% 6.40% -2.40% -3.30%
Nate McLouth -11.30% 14.90% -3.60% -0.50% -6.50% -2.50%
Jose Lobaton 0.80% 1.30% -2.10% -5.20% -0.30% -1.60%

 

With both of these tables, positive numbers indicate 2014 data being an improvement over either 2013 or career averages. Overall, we see the volatility in year-to-year BABIP values reflected in the batted ball data, consistent with the effects of injury and game-to-game changes in hitting approach and defensive alignments being played out over a small period of time. Looking at the 2014 compared to career averages, we do see some significant changes in Denard Span’s ground ball rates, as well as with Bryce Harper’s HR/FB%; however, given the comparative lack of games played by Harper due to both MLB service time and injury, these values can be expected to swing a wildly as his year-to-year values for the moment. Other changes of interest include the career decline reflected in Nate McLouth’s numbers and the change in line drive and homer run rates for Wilson Ramos, possibly a reflection of an injury-marred career more so than a change in hitting philosophy.

Converting expectations into actual results is a precarious endeavor and can take unexpected turns during the course of a season; slumps, injuries, even the fashion in which opposing defenses line up for a given hitter can all make the most obvious and conservative of projections worthless, or at the least, frivolous.  However, with xBABIP, we are provided a more refined and data-driven approach to prognosticating what’s in store for Nats hitter come the second half of the season.

***

Statistics courtesy of FanGraphs; current as of July 7th.

Washington Nationals Game 81 Review: Treinen Earns First Career Win, Nats Beat Cubs 7-2

In the nightcap of Saturday’s doubleheader in Chicago, Blake Treinen pitched through a rain delay for his first career victory as the Washington Nationals beat the Chicago Cubs, 7-2. [Read more…]

Washington Nationals Game 38 Review: Four Homers Lead Nats Past Diamondbacks

On a night when neither team’s starting pitcher brought their ace material to the mound, the Washington Nationals and Arizona Diamondbacks engaged in a nine-inning slugfest in manager Matt Williams’ first trip back to Phoenix, with the Nats getting two homers in the top of the ninth to steal a 6-5 win at Chase Field.

The scoring got started early and came often for both ball clubs. Washington was first to plate a run after Anthony Rendon (1-4, RBI) hit a sac-fly to score lead-off man Denard Span (3-5, R) in the first, who had tripled to lead off the game. Tyler Moore then hit solo-shot to left-center and the Nationals were up 2-0 to heading to the third.

Arizona then made their first counter punch of the night. Thanks to three doubles in the inning by Josh Collmenter, Martin Prado and Paul Goldschmidt, the Diamondbacks plated three runs to take the lead.

As quickly as Arizona had taken the lead, they lost it. After Wilson Ramos (0-3, BB) walked to start the inning, Ian Desmond hit his fifth home run of the year to give Washington the lead right back. After that, both pitchers began to settle in.

Over the next two innings, Jordan Zimmermann (5.2 IP, 10 H, 5 ER, 4 Ks) sat down six-straight Diamondbacks after allowing the lead-off man to reach base to start the fourth. His opponent, Josh Collmenter (5 IP, 4 H, 4 ER, 2Ks), then pitched a 1-2-3 fifth inning, but those ended up being his final three outs of the night as the game was turned over to the bullpen.

After giving up a two-out, two-run homer to A.J. Pollock in the bottom of the sixth inning, Matt Williams then relieved Zimmermann of his duties and turned that game over to his bullpen. Lefty Jerry Blevins picked up the final out of the inning, which was his only batter of the game.

Down 5-4, the bullpen just needed to keep the Diamondbacks off the scoreboard. Combined, Blevins, Aaron Barrett and Tyler Clippard gave up one hit in 2 1/3 innings of work while striking out three. In the top of ninth, the Nationals still had a chance.

With the 6-7-8 hitters up in the top of the frame, Arizona turned to closer Addison Reed to finish the game. After seeing just one pitch, Danny Espinosa (1-4, RBI, HR) took Reed’s 1-0 pitch over the right-field wall for the game-tying homer. Two batters later, pinch hitter Kevin Frandsen took a 2-0, two-out pitch to deep left to give the Nationals the 6-5.

After blowing his last save attempt, Williams gave Rafael Soriano a chance to redeem himself on Monday night. After giving up a lead-off single, Soriano then got some help from Desmond and Espinosa who turned a clutch double-play on an Eric Chavez grounder. Two batters later with a man on second, Soriano got Chavez to ground out to Desmond to secure his eighth save of the season, and the Nationals their 20th win, 6-5.

For Washington, the night saw them give four souvenirs to the folks sitting in the outfield, their most homers hit in a single game all season long. While Zimmermann didn’t bring his strongest stuff, it’s always a welcomed sight to see the bats back up the pitcher. For what it’s worth, Clippard was awarded his third win of the season.

On Tuesday night, the Nationals and Diamondbacks will return to the scene of the crime for Game 2 of the series. Stephen Strasburg (3-2, 3.42 ERA) will take on Bronson Arroyo (3-2, 4.89 ERA). First pitch is scheduled for 9:40 PM EST.

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