August 20, 2014

Washington Nationals Game 115 Review: Nats top Braves in 11 after nearly 4 hour rain delay

It took a while to get this one started — and finished — but for the Washington Nationals, it was well worth the wait.

A steady rain delayed the start back to after many folks’ bedtimes on the east coast, then extra innings delayed the outcome that much further. But a three-run outburst in the 11th inning lifted the Nats to a 4-1 win over the Atlanta Braves at Turner Field.

The Nats extend their division lead back to 4 1/2 games.

Anthony Rendon led off the 11th with a single off Braves reliever David Carpenter and went to second on Adam LaRoche’s ground ball single to right. Carpenter got Ian Desmond to line out to left, though Justin Upton took a bad route and had to make a circus catch on the hard liner.

Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez lifted Carpenter in favor of James Russell, but Russell walked Bryce Harper on five pitches. Gonzalez went back to his pen, this time for Anthony Varvaro, who gave up a pair of runs in Friday night’s game.

Wilson Ramos greeted Varvaro with a soft liner to center for an RBI single. Kevin Frandsen followed with a double to the right field corner that scored LaRoche and Harper. The Braves muffed the relay to the infield, and Ramos tried to score. He was originally called safe as Even Gattis made a very high tag on the slide, but after review Ramos was ruled out.

Regardless, the Nats had their three-run lead.

All that was left was for Rafael Soriano to pitch the bottom of the inning, and he did so uneventfully for his 26th save of the season.

Previously to the 11th inning, all the scoring in this one came back in the sixth. LaRoche hit a solo homer off Braves starter Aaron Harang, his 16th of the season, then in the bottom the Braves evened it up as they loaded the bases with no outs against Nats starter Tanner Roark, then a sacrifice fly by Jason Heyward tied the game.

Roark wiggled out of the inning allowing just the one run as he struck out Gattis and got a comebacker from Chris Johnson to end the frame.

Roark had another terrific outing, allowing just the one run on six hits and three walks over seven innings, striking out six.

NATS NOTES: CSNWashington’s Mark Zuckerman reported before the game the Nats plan to recall OF Michael Taylor from AAA Syracuse before Sunday’s game. Taylor has had a breakout season in the minors. No corresponding move was announced, though Jayson Werth and Steven Souza Jr. both played Saturday in the late innings.

  • Denard Span continued his hot hitting, going 2-for-5. His average is up to .305 for the year.
  • Harper went 2-for-4 with a run scored.
  • The Nats were 2-for-7 with RISP and left seven on base.
  • Desmond went 0-for-5, but did steal a base.
  • LaRoche went 3-for-5 with a homer, two runs and an RBI.

Statistically Speaking: Soriano’s Historic (?) Implosion

What was expected to be a straightforward 6-0 drubbing of a National League East foe turned into a bit of a laugher come the ninth inning for the Washington Nationals on Monday night and unfortunately, for the wrong reasons. The inning and the game was lost by the usually steadfast closer, Rafael Soriano, whose stat line was a veritable house of horrors for a team in need of a strong showing against the Miami Marlins in order to stay atop the NL East standings:

IP H R ER BB SO RE24
0.1 3 4 4 1 0 -3.68

[Read more...]

Washington Nationals Game 103 Review: Soriano implodes; Marlins score four in ninth to complete comeback

Before the runs came late, Jordan Zimmermann was the story of the game.

The stoic Wisconsin right-hander, a two-time All-Star, commanded his fastball and dominated the Miami Marlins over seven innings, leading the Washington Nationals to a 6-0 lead into the late innings in Marlins Park in Miami.

But the Marlins didn’t get the script, getting eight hits in the last three innings to overcome the six-run deficit, capped by Jeff Baker’s walkoff double to lift Miami to a stunning, come-from-way-behind 7-6 win.

Zimmermann allowed two earned runs — both in the seven inning — on four hits and one walk, striking out six along the way. He left with the Nats leading comfortably at 6-2. [Read more...]

Washington Nationals Game 102 Review: Fister excellent as Nats down Reds

One of the most head-scratching trades in recent memory continues to pay dividends for the Washington Nationals.

Doug Fister, obtained by the Nats in the offseason for Steve Lombardozzi and Robbie Ray, was excellent yet again, throwing seven stellar innings for the Nationals, leading them to a 4-2 win over the Cincinnati Reds at Great American Ballpark. [Read more...]

Washington Nationals Game 92 Review: Nats Top Phillies 5-3 in Extras

In an extra inning affair at Citizens Bank Park in the city of brotherly love, the Washington Nationals defeated the Philadelphia Phillies with two runs in the 10th inning for their 50th win of the season by a score of 5-3.

Ryan Zimmerman’s RBI single in the 10th was the difference. [Read more...]

Washington Nationals Game 87 Review: Zimmerman’s single in eighth delivers Nats 2-1 win

Since moving back to his more familiar third base, Ryan Zimmerman has coincidentally also been on a tear at the plate. The run continued Sunday, as his eighth inning single scored Denard Span, lifting the Washington Nationals to a 2-1 win over the Chicago Cubs before 32,941 at sun-drenched Nationals Park.

Zimmerman is now 11-for-21 with six RBIs since Bryce Harper returned to the lineup and Zimmerman re-took his spot at third base.

Span led off the eighth inning with a hustle double to right field. After Anthony Rendon lined out and Jayson Werth struck out against Cubs reliever Pedro Strop (L, 1-4, 3.03), Adam LaRoche was intentionally walked, bringing up Zimmerman. The Nats’ veteran laced a 1-1 slider to left field which easily scored Span. LaRoche drew the cutoff throw away from the plate and was tagged out between second and third for the final out of the inning.

Rafael Soriano pitched an eventless 1-2-3 inning in the ninth for his 21st save of the season.

Zimmerman’s heroics made a winner of Tyler Clippard, who put his first two runners on, then wiggled out of the jam to pitch a scoreless top of the eighth.

Jordan Zimmermann turned in another exemplary start for the Nats (48-39). The stoic righty gave up no runs on seven hits and one walk over six innings, striking out five.

The Cubs(38-48) managed their lone run off Drew Storen in the seventh, as the reliever gave up two hits and a walk in two-thirds of an inning. Jerry Blevins struck out Luis Valbuena with runners on to keep the game tied at that point.

The Nats scored their first run in the first inning off Cubs starter Jake Arrieta. Span doubled, went to third on Rendon’s groundout and scored on Werth’s hard-hit grounder to third.

The Nats start a two-game series with the Baltimore Orioles on Monday. Stephen Strasburg (7-6, 3.53) hosts Chris Tillman (7-4, 4.21) at 7:05 pm.

Statistically Speaking: Bullpen Efficiency

The Washington Nationals bullpen as a unit are having a fantastic season in support of their more acclaimed starting rotation brethren. While the actual ranks differ by which all-encompssing statistic you prefer to use—the bullpen ranks tied for second in MLB with 2.8 wins above replacement (WAR) and fourth in RE24 at 27.53—the overall sentiment that the team’s relief corps is among the best in the business is not lost without the statistical confirmation.

It hasn’t been a smooth ride throughout the course of the season overall, with the likes of ever-dependable setup man Tyler Clippard and immensely talented former starter Ross Detwiler taking their lumps in the form of blown leads and inherited runners scoring. Yet, these shaky outings have been countered and exceeded by the efforts of Drew Storen, Rafael Soriano, and rookie Aaron Barrett, among others, and has kept the bullpen ledger in the black and the team in whispering distance of first place in the NL East.

Looking further at the polarizing outings of Clippard led me to come to this particular stat last week:

With the polarizing outings of Clippard to go along with the some similar clean outings by polarizing personality of Soriano, the Nats have a pair of relievers that face the minimum number of hitters half of their outings, which goes a long way to accruing the WAR and RE24 values the bullpen has thus far. It also speaks to how efficient the guys in the ‘pen are in getting hitters out and preventing the big inning for the opposing team. Do the rest of the Nats relievers follow suit and could this ability to keep additional runners (and potential runs) at bay be a reason for the success of 2014 from a group that hasn’t changed much in terms of roster from last year’s staff that finished 18th and 20th in MLB in WAR and RE24, respectively?

First, let’s outline what bullpen efficiency means. Efficiency is essentially how many batters a pitcher faces over the number that was expected from an outing. From there, we will also look at ‘clean outings’, where a pitcher faces the minimum number of batters for a given outing, with game situation considered. The fewer batters faced over the minimum, the better, as this obviously keeps runners off the base paths.

Let’s look at some data.

Name G IP xIP IP, Diff TBF xBF BF, Diff Efficiency(%) AppClean/Pct. RE24
Aaron Barrett 28 25.2 26.2 1 108 77 31 59.74 13/46.4% 2.77
Craig Stammen 22 38.1 39 0.2 152 115 37 67.83 6/27.3% 6.72
Drew Storen 29 24.1 26.2 2.1 93 73 20 72.80 16/55.2% 5.94
Jerry Blevins 33 27 29.1 2.1 116 81 35 56.80 16/48.5% 2.82
Rafael Soriano 31 31 31 0 114 93 21 77.42 17/54.8% 9.83
Ross Detwiler 20 29 31.2 2.2 137 87 50 42.53 4/20% -7.08
Tyler Clippard 37 34 36.1 2.1 137 102 35 65.70 19/51.4% 2.11

 

The table above is a little busy, but the explanations of the various columns are very straightforward and on the lighter side, mathematically. Aside from the standard games, innings pitched, and RE24 values, we also have a couple of variables that were calculated to help capture efficiency.

The first of these is expected innings pitched (xIP), which is the number of inning pitched that were expected from a pitcher, with game and outing specific information included. For example, if a pitcher has an outing where he pitched 0.2 IP, he could have an xIP of 0.2 if he came in relief with one out in the inning—he was only expected to get the other two outs to complete the inning.

Conversely, he could have a xIP of 1, but failed to get the third out of the inning before being pulled. Calculating xIP and confirming game situations was dine using game log data from Baseball Reference. Total batters faced (TBF) is simply that and expected batters faced (xBF) is calculated similar to xIP, with game situation taken into account. With xIP and xBF, care was taken with the Nats bullpen members who are more situational relivers, in particular, Jerry Blevins, to account for how they were pulled.

If they left an outing due to poor performance with runs scored or runners put in scoring position, then they were allotted the full inning of work expected and the batters faced. If they were pulled due to situation—bringing in Blevins to face a tough lefty, for example—then a full inning pitched was not assumed. Differences between actual performance and expected data re capture with the ‘Diff’ categories. From the game log data also comes the clean outing data (AppClean/Pct.), where the number of clean outings specific to game situation were tallied, with percentages also provided for comparison.

With the variables exhaustively described, let’s talk results. Not surprisingly, the Big Three of the Nats bullpen—Clippard, Soriano, and Storen—lead the way in clean outings, with Soriano and Storen also showing the most efficiency in terms of batters faced over the minimum (BF, Diff.).  Percent efficiency was calculated by taking the percentage difference between xBF and TBF and then subtracting this value from 100 and again shows how well both Soriano and Storen have been, not only in terms of performance, but in terms of being economical.

Not to be forgotten are the performances of Barrett and long man Craig Stammen, who both show a high rate of efficiency, despite subpar clean appearance numbers. Despite some encouraging recent outings, a very rough start to the season skews Ross Detwiler’s numbers greatly and shows a propensity for big innings and difficulties in keeping hitters off of the base paths.

Does this idea of efficiency trend with performance?

Screen Shot 2014-06-24 at 10.45.04 PM

In our very small sample, it indeed does, as the above graph of RE24 by number of batter faced of the minimum (BF, Diff in our table above) shows. As the number of extra hitters faced rises, RE24 drops, which makes this a negative correlation with a very strong R-squared of 0.72, providing us confirmation of good fit of the data. However, with seven data points, it would be very unwise to make any grand inferences out of these results. Despite this, we do see an interesting aspect of the bullpen’s success that doesn’t necessarily show up in the box score or in the formulas of the numerous advanced metrics available—not only are they keeping runs off of the scoreboard, they’re doing so in tidy fashion.

Data courtesy of FanGraphs and Baseball-Reference and current through 6/24/2014.
____________

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, stats intern at Baseball Prospectus, and a contributor at Camden Depot. 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 Nationals Game 74 Review: Nats’ Pitching Staff Silences Braves in 4-1 Win

On a beautiful Sunday afternoon for baseball at Nationals Park, the Nationals’ pitching staff shutdown the Atlanta Braves to lead Washington to a 2-2 split of the series with a 4-1 win. [Read more...]

Washington Nationals Game 73 Review: Fister Pitches Gem in Nats’ 3-0 Win Over Braves

In front of a sellout crowd at Nationals Park on Saturday night, Washington Nationals pitcher Doug Fister tossed his best game of the season to help his team reclaim the NL East lead by beating the Atlanta Braves, 3-0. [Read more...]

Statistically Speaking: Rafael Soriano’s Work Up In Zone

This week’s Statistically Speaking is less math and more heatmap interpretation. Sometimes, a picture can tell us more than a swarm of tabled numbers could ever start to, and for Rafael Soriano and his approach, it’s something that needs to be seen to be fully appreciated.

Perhaps appreciated isn’t the best choice of word; for Rafa during his Washington tenure, his approach has been a bit of a tightrope walk, as his fastball/cutter and slider mix show some declines as he ages. For his fastball, we already see a precipitous drop in velocity this season compared to last, with his slider velocity beginning to match the fastball’s, commencing in a disappearing velocity difference that potentially makes both pitches less effective:

Brooksbaseball-Chart

Tracking back to a previous Statistically Speaking article on the declines in velocity seen in some Washington Nationals pitchers, Soriano would been included, had he met the innings pitched criteria; however, the above picture tells us all we need to know about the fading heat from the Nats closer.

Watching yesterday’s appearance brought to my attention another red flag with regards to Soriano—his propensity to pepper the top of the strike zone:

numlocation.php

Let’s take a look at this trend between his two 2014 appearances and 2013; here, we have a plot of the vertical component of Soriano’s pitches with respect to the strike zone. Again, we see the trend of his fourseamer and slider creeping up in the zone, especially the slider, starting last season:

Brooksbaseball-Chart(1)

Let’s now shift attention back to this year, looking at where Soriano’s fastball and slider end up:

Screen shot 2014-04-07 at 3.35.48 PM

Now, compare to where they ended up in the strike zone last season; again, fastballs are on the left, sliders are on the right:

Screen shot 2014-04-07 at 3.39.55 PM

…and let’s also take a look at Soriano’s 2013 whiffs on each pitch last year:

Screen shot 2014-04-07 at 4.11.47 PM

What we can gather from these heatmaps is that Soriano’s approach with the fastball really hasn’t changed—he still uses it up in the zone, using the late cutting action to bore into lefty hitters and to dart away from righties enough to prevent them from making solid contact with the pitch, or missing altogether, as the whiffs attest.

He then uses the slider down in the zone as a way to change the hitter’s eye level and keep them against the high fastball, preventing them from sitting on the high fastball. It’s a precarious approach, but one that has served Soriano well over his career. Yet, we do see the slider creeping up in the zone in 2014, which, thus far, hasn’t hurt him; also to note is the success Soriano has had with the slider in the past with respect to getting hitters to swing and miss with the pitch down in the zone.

Comparing the creeping location of the slider in 2014 to the whiff rates of the pitch in 2013 and we find that it isn’t as effective a pitch in terms of missing bats up in the zone. Include the decreasing velocity and velocity differences on the pitch in comparison to the fastball and we come to a dangerous convergence—more pitches up in the zone at a reduced velocity meeting a reduced potential to miss bats or at least generate poor contact by way of a disparity in velocity.

So far, Soriano has remained unscathed this season by the ominous trends; however, if his high-wire act is to remain an effective one for him and the Nats winning fortunes, Soriano should defy tightrope walking convention and start looking down.

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