September 23, 2017

Secondary scoring remains Caps’ biggest weakness

Marcus Johansson - Washington Capitals practice at Kettler, 3/28/2013 (Cheryl Nichols/District Sports Page)

Marcus Johansson – Washington Capitals practice at Kettler, 3/28/2013 (Cheryl Nichols/District Sports Page)

What is the biggest weakness of the Washington Capitals?

It’s a simple question, but an important one. The playoffs have a way of exposing every weakness of every team very quickly. Knowing what those weaknesses are can help determine who the true Stanley Cup contenders are.

With nine games left in their regular season schedule, the Washington Capitals sit in a playoff position with a four-point cushion. To put it simply, they are the seventh best team in the Eastern Conference. But why? [Read more…]

Statistically Speaking: Free Swingers or Patient Producers?

As a team that employs one of the more balanced offenses in the National League, it’s no big surprise that the Washington Nationals sit atop myriad offensive categories, on the team and individual levels. Currently in third place behind a pair of NL West foes—the Colorado Rockies and Los Angeles Dodgers—in runs scored per game (at 4.24), the Nats runs have come from a number of expected and surprising sources, up and down the lineup card.

Whether your statistic of choice is of a more traditional flavor (4th in home runs, 5th in runs batted in) or something a little more nuanced (4th in wOBA and OPS), the Nats are more than likely in the top five of said league offensive category.

[Read more…]

Statistically Speaking: Measuring Ryan Zimmerman’s value

Ryan Zimmerman has been a catalyst for the Washington Nationals offense from what seems to be time immemorial. Boasting a career .357 weighted on-base average (wOBA), which ranks second amongst third baseman and ninth in the National League since 2005 (minimum 5000 plate appearances), Zimmerman has been a consistent, potent offensive weapon for a team that has endured its share of toothless lineups. To the chagrin of the team and fans, this offense has sputtered in recent years, primarily due to a number of injuries that have forced him to miss significant time out of the lineup.

It’s been felt by many this season that when Zimmerman’s not penciled in the lineup card, the chances of runs being scored drop precipitously; the numbers confirm this to a certain extent, with the Nationals averaging 4.66 runs per game with Zimmerman in the lineup and 3.77 runs a game with him out. Compare this to the team’s overall scoring average—4.19 runs per game, fourth in the NL—and to the NL’s average runs scored per game—3.96 runs per game—and we pull back the curtain a little more as to how important Zimmerman’s bat is to the Nats; with him, they’re league beaters, but without him, they’re not even league average when it comes to plating runs.

Let’s keep pulling said curtain back and go back to wOBA to get a better grasp of the importance of Zimmerman in (and out of) the lineup, now, from a teammate’s perspective. With wOBA, we can better measure and apply a player’s offensive value and what exactly they contribute to the run scoring environment. It does require a little math in order to accurately weight each offensive contribution (singles, walks, and so on) for the current run environment, but thankfully, FanGraphs helps us with this process.

The wOBA formula for the 2014 season is:

wOBA = (0.691×uBB + 0.723×HBP + 0.892×1B + 1.280×2B + 1.630×3B + 2.126×HR) / (AB + BB – IBB + SF + HBP)

…and after plugging and chugging and some shuffling of stats into two ‘bins’—stats with Zimmerman (‘Zim’) and stats without him (‘no Zim’), we get the following numbers for the ‘Big 8′ of Nats players who get the lion’s share of starts: Ian Desmond, Danny Espinosa, Bryce Harper, Adam LaRoche, Wilson Ramos, Anthony Rendon, Denard Span, and Jayson Werth:

Name wOBA Zim wOBA, no Zim PA, Zim PA, no Zim
Desmond 0.363 0.282 212 236
Espinosa 0.314 0.278 123 184
Harper 0.340 0.319 102 95
LaRoche 0.347 0.377 228 157
Ramos 0.357 0.293 97 106
Rendon 0.397 0.316 223 249
Span 0.325 0.338 224 235
Werth 0.399 0.318 220 237

*PA: plate appearances

Using the following Rule of Thumb courtesy again of FanGraphs:

Rules of Thumb

Rating wOBA
Excellent .400
Great .370
Above Average .340
Average .320
Below Average .310
Poor .300
Awful .290

…we see that Zimmerman’s presence in the lineup makes Rendon and Werth borderline excellent and the others above average, except for Espinosa, who enjoys league average wOBA with him in the lineup. However, without him in the lineup, things change and for some of Zimmerman’s teammates, quite drastically.

Without Zimmerman, Ian Desmond’s offense takes a huge nosedive, going from above average, to worse than awful, per our rule of thumb; Espinosa suffers similar production drops, as does Ramos, Werth, and Rendon. Oddly enough, LaRoche’s and Span’s production actually improve ever so slightly without Zimmerman’s presence, with Span’s offense the least affected overall by Zimmerman’s bat.

Let’s go one further with the numbers and look at weighted runs created plus (wRC+), a stat that is built off of wOBA, but adds additional granularity in the form of park and league-adjustments, allowing the comparison of these stats with respect to the leagues and parks played in to be performed. Again, FanGraphs provides us the formula:

wRC+ = (((wRAA/PA + League R/PA) + (League R/PA – Park Factor* League R/PA))/ (AL or NL wRC/PA excluding pitchers))*100

Here, the calculations are a little hairier than wOBA. Thankfully, the heavy lifting has been done for us, courtesy Neil Weinberg over at New English D, where you can find a very nifty wRC+ calculator that you can use once you have the proper constants for a given metric and season, which you can find in several places over at FanGraphs.

With wRC+, we can again better measure a players worth (like wOBA), both can now look at these results from both a current and historical perspective. 100 is considered league average, with any number above or below 100 providing us the percentage difference better or worse a player is to average. An as example, we can say Zimmerman’s career 121 wRC+ means he has been 21 percent better than the league average hitter.

Without further ado, the Nats offense with and without Zimmerman, through the lens of wRC+:

Name wRC+, Zim wRC+, no Zim
Desmond 133 73
Espinosa 95 71
Harper 113 99
LaRoche 118 139
Ramos 125 81
Rendon 153 97
Span 103 103
Werth 154 98
Average 124.25 95.13

It should be no surprise that the numbers trend similar to wOBA, given wRC+ being based on wOBA. In general, the Nats are currently and historically a below average offensive team without Zimmerman in the lineup (95.13 average) and are roughly 25 percent better than average with him healthy and taking his hacks. What’s also interesting is how much the team’s offensive leaders of 2014—Desmond, Rendon, and Werth—rely upon Zim’s contributions. Again, the oddballs are LaRoche, who still shows improved numbers without Zimmerman, and Span, whose numbers are exactly the same with and without the Nat’s elder statesman in the lineup. This all being said, caution should be exercised when interpreting Harper’s and Ramos’s number, simply due to sample size considerations, with both having limited PA’s this year due to their own injuries.

Zimmerman’s presence in the Nationals lineup, while always desired, at times has been one that is often under-appreciated, given the talents of his teammates and his difficulties in staying on the field. The numbers presented reflect this, but should nonetheless be taken with a grain of salt, as other variables, in particular, the effects of where each player hits in the lineup and even where they play defensively, can all play potential roles in these results. While the team-level numbers obviously show his worth in the heart of the order, when parsing out the effect of his presence across each of his teammates, we see a much deeper need and reliance upon his pop and his importance to his teammates’ overall offensive successes.

Data courtesy of Baseball-Reference and FanGraphs and current as of August 5th.
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Stuart Wallace is a Contributor to District Sports Page. A neuroscientist by day, the Nevada native also moonlights as an Associate Managing Editor for Beyond the Box Score and a contributor at Camden Depot and Gammons Daily. A former pitcher, his brief career is sadly highlighted by giving up a lot of home runs to former National Johnny Estrada. You can follow him on Twitter @TClippardsSpecs.

Washington Capitals Postseason Roundtable Part I: Rate the offense

As we’ve done in year’s past, District Sports Page staff and a couple friends in the industry conducted a roundtable to rate the recently completed Washington Capitals season. Obviously, with the changing of the guard over the weekend, the season was in no was satisfying of satisfactory, and our grades this season really reflect where our contributors to the roundtable sit with regards to the changes necessary to make the Caps true contenders again.

We’ll rate the offense, defense, goaltending, coaching and administration throughout the week.

Our panelists: Dave Nichols, Editor-in-Chief of District Sports Page; Katie Brown, beat writer for DSP; J.J. Regan, contributor to DSP; Sky Kerstein, 106.7 The Fan; Harry Hawkings, RochTheRed.com.

Part I: Rate the offense (with a grade and explanation):

DAVE: C-. Alex Ovechkin had a 51-goal campaign. Troy Brouwer and Joel Ward has career-highs in goals. Jason Chimera had a career-high 27 assists. You’d think by those numbers it was a banner year offensively for the Caps. While scoring goals, especially on the power play, wasn’t necessarily a problem, the Caps struggled all season at 5v5 and with puck possession — and got worse as the year went on.

How much was structure? How much was design? How much was players out of position? How much was on the players themselves? It’s hard to tell. As we go through this exercise, it’s hard to differentiate between struggles on the ice and the direction the players were given off the ice.

Offense starts on the back end, and the Caps defensemen were really handcuffed this season from playing to their individual strengths. John Carlson had some success on the power play and Mike Green had a decent season offensively, but nothing to compare with his back-to-back Norris Trophy finalist seasons — or his paycheck. Dmitry Orlov showed flashes of his puck-carrying talent. But those were the only offensive contributions from the blueline.

Brooks Laich, Martin Erat, Dustin Penner — all invisible. Eric Fehr was pretty good when allowed to contribute. And Marcus Johansson still remains a mystery.

The team shuttled players in and out of the top two lines all season, never finding any chemistry or consistency, while keeping the hard-working third line mostly intact to good results. But with everything else on this team, the sum was not as great at the individual parts.

KATIE: C+. Alex Ovechkin may have scored 51 goals, but Jason Chimera led the team in even strength points, with 36. Chimera also had a career-high 27 assists. That is a great accomplishment for him, and I don’t want to take away from that, but when you consider that the Capitals’ third line of Chimera, Eric Fehr, and Joel Ward (who also had a career year) produced much of the team’s offense at even strength, you know something is off.

Secondary scoring is great, but you want that in addition to your top lines contributing to the offense. The Capitals simply weren’t able to consistently score at evens and relied too heavily on the power play (as efficient as it was, tied for first in the league with Pittsburgh at 23.4%), which wouldn’t have served them well even if they had made the playoffs anyway.

The Capitals were also a poor puck possession team, which tells you a lot about why they had trouble scoring at even strength — they simply did not have the puck enough. They were consistently outshot, which is one symptom of poor possession.

J.J.: C-.  The Caps were 13th in goals per game this season. That doesn’t sound that bad, but they were also 21st in five-on-five goals. The offense was completely reliant on Alex Ovechkin and the power play. Even if they had made it to the playoffs, they would have struggled to score.

While fans and analysts alike advocate trading Ovechkin, take a minute to think of where this offense would be without him. The Caps did not have a single player besides Ovechkin score 30 goals this season; Brouwer was the closest with 25. Ovechkin and Backstrom both had 79 points on the season. The next highest? Joel Ward with 49.

With all due respect to Brouwer and Ward, they’re not good enough to carry the offense when Ovechkin is on the bench.

SKY: C+.  They were amazing on the power play.  They ended tied for #1 in the NHL at 23.4%.  The problem is, besides the third line, they didn’t play well at even strength.  Alex Ovechkin had 51 goals, 24 came on the power play.  A year ago 16 of his 32 goals came on the power play.  Center depth continues to be an issue, will be interesting to see if Mikhail Grabovski comes back, and Marcus Johansson has been a bust for the most part.

This team needs to improve even strength, I think you move Ovechkin back to LW with the depth on the right side.  They need a 2nd line center if Grabovski leaves and they need to figure out what to do with Marcus Johansson.  Good defense breeds good offense and if the defense improves, the Caps will improve on their even strength play.  That’s where offense begins, it’s all about getting out of your own zone.

HARRY: C+.  The Capitals were sixth in the conference in goals for overall because of their excellent power play, but 12th in the conference in even strength goals for.  In addition, they placed 24th in the NHL in even strength shots for with the score close, at only 27.5 per 60 minutes.  This overreliance on the power play signals a generally poor offensive club.  The Capitals were unable to generate consistent even strength offense for long stretches in games themselves or in general, and a significant portion of their offense – about 43% their goals – came from three players: Alex Ovechkin, Joel Ward, and Troy Brouwer.

That doesn’t scare anyone.  This team was poor at even strength on offense, and that is not going to cut it.  The power play is great, and it can be a weapon, but you cannot rely on it to win games.  It’s not a recipe for success over a full 82-game season – which is why we saw no playoffs this year despite the team making the postseason last year.

Skins waltz past Bills in third preseason tilt

LOSE RICHARD CRAWFORD FOR SEASON TO LEFT KNEE INJURY

With both Robert Griffin III and Kirk Cousins on the sidelines for the Washington Redskins’ third preseason game, the quarterbacking duties fell to the two men completing for the third string job: veteran Rex Grossman and newcomer Pat White. Both players did their job Saturday afternoon, leading the Skins (3-0) to a 30-7 win over the Buffalo Bills (2-1) before a half-empty FedEx Field in Landover, MD.

Grossman completed 11-of-21 pass attempts for 171 yards and a touchdown on the first drive of the day, a seven-yard strike to Pierre Garcon that appeared to come on an audible off a running play.

“I felt like I was going to get an obvious second-window throw, I just had to maneuver my arm a little bit to get it around ‘cause normally he’s right where we completed it,” Grossman explained afterward. “When [the defender] was up at the line, I knew there was going to be a blitzer, drop out of leverage kind of, so I faked the run a little bit just to allow Pierre to get open there and get the pass to him.”

White went 7-for-14 for 96 yards and added 26 yards on the ground and a running touchdown, a 14 yard scamper around the left end as he followed his fullback, Darrel Young, on a designed carry all the way to the goal line.

“I’m just excited to have an opportunity to get on the field and compete – whether it’s one rep or 20 reps,” White said after the game. “I’m happy to have this opportunity.”

Head coach Mike Shanahan was impressed with his signal-callers. “I thought they both played very well. Anytime you rotate guys in there like we did, for them to play at the level they did, I was impressed with that.”

Roy Helu, Jr. led the Skins in rushing, with 70 yards on 13 carries. Keiland Wiliams, the fourth-year running back, added 52 yards on eight carries, including a one yard touchdown in the fourth quarter to cap the scoring. Chris Thompson, a rookie from Florida State, carried 15 times for 44 yards.

Eleven Skins receivers caught passes, led by Aldrick Robinson, with four catches for 61 yards.

The Skins were pretty much able to move the ball at will against the Bills defense.

“I think it boosts everyone’s confidence,” Grossman said about the Skins offense’s performance. “It’s sports, you know, momentum means everything. I don’t understand it, but it’s in every sport. You know, you start to have success, and it breeds more success, and that’s definitely true in football. Whether you’re running the ball and it opens up play-action, and you kind of get into some rhythm, and I just think everybody feels it, and everyone feeds off each other.”

According to Shanahan, DB/PR Richard Crawford suffered at least damage to the LCL in his left knee, and perhaps damage to the ACL as well, pronouncing the player “gone for the year” in his post-game press conference.

OPINION: Nats offensive problems nothing new, it’s who they’ve always been

Over at Nationals Journal this morning, Washington Post writer Adam Kilgore finally saw the light. Well, he got part of the way, anyway.

“Consider: The Nationals have scored 14 percent of their base runners – dead-on league average. As of Sunday morning, they had produced 2,343 base runners – the fewest in the National League.

Also consider: The Nationals are hitting .242 with the bases empty this year. With runners in scoring position, the Nationals are hitting – you guessed it – .242.”

This really isn’t news. In fact, if you’ve been reading this space for the past few years (first, thank you), you’ve known about this problem all along. I first wrote about it in May 2011, when the bulk of this team was still young enough to be capable of changing their approach.

“Rizzo and Riggleman are absolutely correct that the team isn’t hitting well with runners in scoring position.  But as the statistics show, they aren’t hitting well period, hitting .230/.301/.361 overall (15th, 15th and 13th in the N.L.), and the difference between their numbers with RISP and not is, well, statistically negligible.”

I have to admit, it was kind of fun to go back and look at that article that quoted Jim Riggleman. Seems like that was forever ago. But the point still stands. Teams’ batting average with runners in scoring position is meaningless. [Read more…]

Washington Capitals End-of-Season Roundtable, Part IV: How would you rate the offense?

With the conclusion of Washington Capitals season, too early yet again, it’s time for appreciation, evaluation and critique. In this seven part series, the Caps staff at District Sports Page, and a few friends, will be taking an in-depth look at what went right, what could be better, suggest some changes and grade out the team position-by-position.

Our panel: Dave Nichols, Editor-in-Chief of DSP; Abram Fox, Caps Team Editor of DSP; Katie Brown, Caps Beat Writer for DSP; Sky Kerstein, 106.7 The Fan and DSP contributor; Ted Starkey, SBNation.com and DSP contributor, Adam Vingan, NBCWashington.com; and Harry Hawkings, RocktheRed.net.

PART I: What was the Capitals’ biggest accomplishment this season?

PART II: What was your biggest disappointment about the Caps this season?

PART III: What single adjustment would you advocate for next season?

PART IV: How would you rate the offense this season? [Read more…]

Washington Nationals offense: Not as bad as you think?

Coming into the 2012 season, if you asked 10 different people what the Washington Nationals biggest challenge this season would be, at least nine of them would have said “scoring runs,” or words to that effect. It’s a legitimate concern, as the team finished at or near the bottom of the N.L. last season in nearly every single significant batting category. What’s more, GM Mike Rizzo spent much of the season upgrading the pitching staff, depending on improvements from within to the Nats offense.

So, 10 games in, how are the Nats doing in that regard?

Again, I think if you asked 10 people “How’s the Nats offense today?” they’d day, “Eh.” Visions of runners left in scoring position, strikeouts in big situations, poor execution in situational hitting; all these things are examples that folks might give you to describe what’s wrong with the Nats offense. [Read more…]

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