Podcast! 2015 Nats Season Preview with @NoahFrankWTOP

EDIT: I fixed the audio so it is properly mixed.

Noah Frank joins our show to talk about where the Nats are right now and how they look for 2015. On the show: the 25 man roster, the rash of injuries suffered by the team, how good is the Nationals rotation, is this bullpen sustainable, Strasburg, Harper, a little Matt Williams, an NL East preview, a rest of the MLB preview, and plenty more. Enjoy!

Division in Review: 2014 New York Mets

New_York_Mets

NL EAST W L WIN %
Washington Nationals 96 66 .593
Atlanta Braves 79 83 .488
New York Mets 79 83 .488
Miami Marlins 77 85 .475
Philadelphia Phillies 73 89 .451

New York Mets 2014 Preview

Mets 2014 Overview:

In the spring, I wrote that the Mets had essentially replaced like for like their offseason losses in terms of production. On the hitting side of the ball, this was very much the case. As a team, they hit marginally better (.297 to .299 wOBA) and scored a few more runs (619 to 629). But they won five more games this season than they did last season, and much of that gain rests on the pitching. While the FIP was relatively the equal (3.75 to 3.79), the Mets gave up 65 fewer runs this season as compared to 2013. Almost all of that gain came from the bullpen, which is still a team weakness, but much less of one at least in 2014.

The Offense:

The big success story for the Mets offensively was that someone finally stepped up and won the first baseman job. Ike Davis continued his struggles from 2013, and after posting .208/.367/.375 in 12 games, he was given a change of scenery. This left Lucas Duda as the undisputed champion, and he rewarded the Mets with a career year. Duda hit 30 HRs while driving in 92; he also had a wOBA of .361 (good for a wRC+ of 136) and an ISO of .228, putting him in a power peer group of Andrew McCutchen and Justin Upton. If Duda can keep up these numbers, he should remain a cornerstone of the Mets offense for the next three seasons.

Another player who made a big step forward at the plate for the Mets was Juan Lagares. Lagares increased his batting average and on-base percentage by .040 from 2013 to 2014. His wRC+ jumped from a paltry 76 in 2013 to a league average 101 in 2014, which combined with his superb defense, makes him an above average option in center. The increased offensive output also made free agent signing Chris Young and his somewhat predictable struggles at the plate expendable; Young was released at the beginning of August.

Aside from those two spots, there was not much else to be happy about with the Mets’ offense. Travis d’Arnaud improved at the plate, so he is at least trending in the right direction. But he only accumulated a fWAR of 1.6, which is exactly the same as John Buck in 2013, and he was so bad at the plate they force the Pirates to take him in order to get Marlon Byrd. Curtis Granderson, who signed a 4 year/$60 million deal, is in full decline mode, playing as only a 1.0 fWAR player in 2014. Granderson has hit around .230 with an on-base percentage around .320 for three seasons now, and his power and defense have declined in each of those years. Left field was a bit of a mess for the Mets this season, with Eric Young Jr. getting the most time there, but Chris Young, Matt den Dekker, and 5 others all got starts. Both Young and den Dekker were below average hitters, and how Chris Young faired has already been stated. Shortstop, too, is another position in flux, as Ruben Tejada had another season that fell short of expectations, and the job was turned over to Wilmer Flores, who hit about the same but with better defense. Both left field and shortstop will be positions the Mets will be trying to upgrade this offseason

The biggest disappointment this season, however, was David Wright, who battled shoulder issues for much of the season. Wright had two superstar seasons in 2012 and 2013, posting a fWAR of 7.5 and 6.0 respectively. From those heights, Wright fell to a mere mortal 1.9 fWAR this season, mostly due to his lack of offensive production. While his batting average and on-base percentage both fell a long ways, the most dramatic drop was in power: Wright’s slugging percentage dropped from .514 in 2013 to just .374 and his ISO went from .207 to a mere .105. Wright’s 2014 season most clearly resembles his 2011 season, a season also shortened and hampered by injury. His health may be as big a topic this off-season as Matt Harvey’s was for last off-season.

The Pitching:

On the pitching side of the ball, things went about as well as could be expected. No one replicated the tremendous 2013 season that Matt Harvey put together, but it would be hard for anyone to do so. Bartolo Colon did what he was brought in to do, and was a productive member of the starting rotation. Zack Wheeler improved upon his 2013 numbers while pitching for an entire season and Jon Niese turned in another serviceable season. Jacob deGrom turned in a great rookie season, posting a 2.69 ERA, a 2.67 FIP, and a 9.24 K/9, making him arguably the Mets’ best starter for 2014. The only starter who regressed was Dillon Gee, presumably because teams not named the Nationals have caught on to the type of pitcher that he is. This makes him the most likely candidate to be the odd man out when Harvey returns in 2015.

The Mets’ bullpen was the most improved unit for the 2014 season, which is fairly remarkable considering they lost their best reliever from 2013 in the first game of the season. Bobby Parnell was injured on opening day and had Tommy John surgery a little over a week later. This left the closer position open for a while and, after a few other candidates had come and gone, Jenrry Mejia took the job and never looked back. Much of the Mets’ bullpen had decent seasons, and many of them improved over their 2013 performances, but none seemed to have a standout season. The improvement really only made the unit as a whole more of a middling bullpen, instead of just a bad one.

The 2014 Mets came very close .500 and ended up tied for second place in the NL East. With Matt Harvey and David Wright coming back, and presumably producing at pre-injury levels for most of the season, the Mets have a good shot of being a winning team without making any major moves. As long as the bullpen produces as it did this season, the pitching staff itself should be enough to carry them past that threshold. If they can sign a left fielder who can be an above average hitter and find a better solution for shortstop, it is not hard to see them as contenders for the division title in 2015.

WHAT IF!?!?…. The Nats *Couldn’t* Beat the Braves?

With a week left of baseball, here are the standings in the NL East (and number of games each team has left)

WAS  91-64 (7)
ATL    76-79 (7)
NYM   76-80 (6)
MIA     74-81 (7)
PHL    71-85 (6)

Now look: This is a post that I’m writing and posting now. But really its for next May when, inevitably, someone will panic. When, in defense of the National League East crown (and hopefully other trophies and awards) the Washington Nationals lose a series to…some other team…and then people freak out. But please read it now if you like.

At some point in May of 2014 (and every other May) someone (read: a lot of people) remarked on how the Nats “couldn’t beat the Braves” because they were 1-5 in their first six games. No amount of “there are 13 games left against the Braves” or ” there are 100ish games left in the season” would calm these people, or stop them from yelling at me because I didn’t see it their way. Every trope just short of “Games are more important in September” was thrown at me, the biggest of course is that “There was no way the Nats could win the NL East unless they beat the Braves.” As an aside, apparently this was a two team division. in May.

Many of these things, as expected, resolved themselves. The Nats could and did beat the Braves. The Braves were not the only team in the division as they are dangerously close to slipping to third and below .500 for the season. (This, of course, casts into doubt whether the Braves were ever the “team to beat.”)

Anyway, with the complete implosion of Atlanta down the stretch, I decided to put that last unanswered question to the test. Did the Nationals have to beat the Braves (or any individual team) in order to win the NL East?

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A Trip To Cooperstown, Part 2

This is the second part of my Trip to Cooperstown. Since the first one was a little long, we decided to split it into two posts. The first part can be found here.

Headed down to the second floor, there are two exhibits that are featured. The first one focuses on Abner Doubleday “baseball invented Doubleday” in 1839 and the history behind the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum. I thought it was really interesting to learn all about Doubleday and even see what the first “ball” that he threw looked like. Obviously, donning my Cubs attire, I had to get a picture taken of a portrait of Mr. Doubleday himself.

Abner DoubleDay Photo

The second exhibit on the second floor focuses on the game of baseball from 1900-present. With that huge array of dates, you can only imagine how much memorabilia and sheer amount of stuff is located within this exhibit. By far the most interesting part of this old time exhibit for me was seeing what the early playing equipment looks like, especially the catchers gear. The makeshift gloves and catchers masks they used. As a catcher growing up and having new age equipment, I have no idea how catchers didn’t die wearing that gear. The sheer expansiveness of this floor is too much for me to even talk about. If you want to know the history of baseball, you must visit this floor and see all the sights. It’s glorious.

Old Eqipment - Google Maps

Saving the best for last, we headed back to the first floor and walked into the shrine filled with the greatest people to ever be a part of the game of baseball. The bronze busts of each National Baseball Hall of Fame member fill the oak walls from top to bottom. There are 306 total people lining these walls, enshrined in this temple of baseball holiness forever. It was a beautiful sight to witness and one that I never will forget. On the back wall, the original class of Christy Mathewson, Babe Ruth, Ty Cobb, Honus Wagner and Walter Johnson, are singled out and makes known the start of the National Baseball Hall of Fame.

The First Class Photo

Finally, the other clever exhibit on the first floor is a small one and somewhat hidden. It features all kinds of memorabilia from baseball films. Being the movie buff that I am, especially with a soft spot for baseball-related movies, I got a kick out of this exhibit. There’s even a list that gives all the names of every baseball movie, which was quite informational – I mean, did you know there are three Sandlot movies? I knew of two, but not the third. There was even a great black and white photo of my brilliant Twitter avatar, (if you don’t follow me, you probably should @hamsterjockey) Rick ‘Wild Thing’ Vaughn, made famous in the Major League films.

Overall, my first trip to Cooperstown and the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum was a definite success. It was so much history packed into one visit though, so I feel like I did miss out on some things. However, that just means I will have to go back in a few years. I highly recommend that if you have not been there, visit as soon as you can. If you have visited there previously, I highly suggest that you go back and see the new memorabilia and exhibits.

*Note: the old playing equipment photo is courtesy of Google Maps. You can take a tour of the Baseball Hall of Fame via Google Maps. Technology is awesome.

A Trip to Cooperstown, Part 1

As a diehard baseball fan, I had never made the pilgrimage to Cooperstown, New York to visit the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum. I’d actually never even been to New York before. How sacrilegious is that? With so much history, tradition and baseball in one place, how had a fan, like myself, never set foot on such sacred grounds.

Well, that all changed the second weekend in June as some friends and I, already having planned to go up to Upstate New York for a long weekend, made a pit stop in Cooperstown to check out the Baseball Hall of Fame. Let’s just say that I was mesmerized by how much baseball tradition is enshrined within the walls of the Baseball Hall of Fame itself.

When we first arrived there, I noticed just how much baseball was prevalent within the little town of Cooperstown. Baseball themed restaurants and stores line the streets with titles such as the “Triple Play Café,” “Cooperstown Bat Company,” and “Baseballism.” With restaurants and shops featuring names like those, you know that you’re in heaven as a baseball fan.

After parking the car and wandering down Main Street, taking in all the sights, sounds and smells of baseball heaven, we finally made it to the Baseball Hall of Fame. The Baseball Hall of Fame is celebrating its 75th Anniversary this year and we picked a great weekend to visit. Not only was the ‘Iron Man’ Cal Ripken, Jr. there himself (we unfortunately did not see Cal) for various events throughout the weekend, the Baseball Hall of Fame actually was opening a brand new Babe Ruth exhibit on the day we went. Talk about great timing. We also got a commemorative keychain. Hooray keychains!

Once inside, we picked up a map and started to decipher where to go and what to see first. After opting to start on the third floor and work our way down, we entered the “Sacred Ground” exhibit. This exhibit featured quite a bit of information regarding the ballparks, past and current. It also featured a ton of new and old memorabilia, such as the Rally Monkey, which is a plush monkey (actually a real monkey in real life) that made appearances in late-inning situations for the 2002 Anaheim Angels’ World Series-winning team. There were also two seats from Veterans Stadium, the old ballpark that the Philadelphia Phillies called home from 1971-2003. Other relics and knick-knacks featured within this exhibit include old ticket stubs and giveaway items such as pins, bobbleheads, a Rubik’s Cube and ancient programs that were sold for 15 cents.

Rally Monkey

The exhibit changes from ballparks to players, highlighting individual records that each player has accomplished. Records such as Ripen, Jr.’s consecutive games played streak (2,632), most games played in a career (Pete Rose; 3,562), most consecutive seasons leading the league in singles (Ichiro; 10), most saves in a season (Francisco Rodriguez; 62), a broken bat highlighting Mariano Rivera’s 608 career saves and even Eric Gagne’s goggles signifying his 84 consecutive saves streak. Another interesting item that the Baseball Hall of Fame had was the hat that Chicago Cubs pitcher Kerry Wood wore during his rookie season where he struck out 20 Houston Astros batters during his fifth career start in the majors. One thing that I forgot about though was Barry Bond’s career home run No. 762 ball. It was in the Baseball Hall of Fame, but I completely forgot that the ball was purchased by designer Marc Ecko, who then branded it with an asterisk and donated it back to the Hall. I got a chuckle out of that. Finally, upon exiting this exhibit, they have replicas of each ring that the World Series champion receives. It was interesting seeing how gaudy the rings have gotten over the years. It really is all about the bling.

Kerry Wood Hat

In order to keep this on the shorter side and not be TL;DR, be on the lookout for Part 2 of my trip to Cooperstown.

Get to Know a Division Rival: New York Mets

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New York Mets

2013 Record:  74-88 (Pythagorean 74-88)
2013 Runs Scored: 619
2013 Runs Allowed: 684

2014 Additions: Chris Young (the OF), Curtis Granderson, Bartolo Colon

2014 Subtractions: Matt Harvey (injury), Justin Turner, Mike Baxter, Jordany Valdespin, LaTroy Hawkins, Scott Atchison, David Aardsma

One of the big stories for the Mets this last off season revolved around stand-out rookie pitcher Matt Harvey and his injured elbow. Injured in late August, Harvey had decided against surgery and for rehabbing the injury through all of September. Then, in early October, he opted for Tommy John surgery to repair the elbow, which was performed successfully in late October. Harvey has recently begun a throwing program, and still holds out hope for pitching this season, though that would be an aggressive timeline. If and when Harvey returns, and how much he is used, will be yet another case-study/chapter in the saga of players returning from Tommy John.

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