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!

Friday Round Up: #DCisReady

The 1895 Washington Senators 43-85 in the National League. via Cool Old Photos (Click for link) but H/T to @GhostsofDC

The 1895 Washington Senators 43-85 in the National League. via Cool Old Photos (Click for link) but H/T to @GhostsofDC

The Walking Dread: With any luck, this tweet from Chelsea Janes bodes well for the Nationals walking wounded:

-or, lightly running, as the case may be. But too bad, I wrote all of this out before I saw this tweet, so I’m going to continue with my “how ugly could this get?” post.
The worst news first: Anthony Rendon went from sitting out for a few days to having no timetable. That’s really scary.  CL strains (of any kind) can get ugly quick, even if they are mild. As HarperGordeck from Natsbaseball blog points out, the prospect of Kevin Frandsen at third for a month, or longer, is laughably scary.

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Spring Training Question 4: Can Tanner Roark Fit In the Starting Rotation?

@aNatsFan gets Roark on the mound.

@aNatsFan gets Roark on the mound.

So you may have heard in December that the Nationals have the best starting pitching rotation in baseball, or darn close to it. You may have heard more recently that the Nationals made that rotation even better with the addition of free agent Max Scherzer.

The rotation was already stacked. Ranked by fWAR across both leagues, The Nats featured Jordan Zimmermann (#10) and Stephen Strasburg (#13), two top 20 pitchers overall. Gio Gonzalez didn’t pitch enough innings to be a qualified starter (thanks shoulder issues), but still posted a 3.1 fWAR and would have slotted him around 30th overall. Doug Fister was technically the worst of the bunch, at 54th overall and a 1.3 fWAR, but I don’t think you’d find a Nats fan who’d complain about him (or wouldn’t agree that fWAR may be cheating him a bit based on how its calculated).  The rotation, as a whole, finished first overall in fWAR – and then they added the 7th best pitcher by fWAR to that.

A pitching rotation we thought was the the X-men turned out to be the Justice League, and now it is a Justice League with three Supermen (probably from alternate timelines), a Batman and a Wonder Woman (and you’re a damn fool if you’re snickering at Wonder Woman. She’s awesome).

And then there is Green Arrow, personified in this case as Tanner Roark. Resourceful, not super powered, but still one of the better Justice League alum: We all remember the time that the Arrow saved all his super powered bretheren (yeah, yeah, yeah: Batman doesn’t have super powers: But anyone who can go toe to toe with Superman and win counts). But is there room for Arrow on a Justice League of heavy weights like-

Sorry, I totally got side tracked. Point being: One of the questions that will resolve in spring training is whether there is room for 3+ WAR pitcher on a rotation of Ubermenches? The deck is stacked way against him, but let’s go through the possibilities anyway.

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Talking Points #3: It’s Only Spring (Until It’s Not)

-Photo Credit @AshburnNatsfan

-Photo Credit @AshburnNatsfan

Let’s face it. You don’t really like baseball (yet). Or maybe you do like baseball, but you don’t feel like you know very much about it (yet). Either way, you find yourself out of your depth when the conversation turns to the Nats and you wish you could just throw out a few bon mots to sound like you know what you’re doing. 

Nats101 presents Talking Points, a weekly series designed to take advantage of the BSing nature of Washington D.C., and make you sound like a seamhead on your very first try. (And maybe learn ya some baseball while we’re at it).

“I don’t know. I know they want to grow the sport overseas, but playing the first two regular season games in Australia just feels weird.”

  • Yessir, the MLB has in fact started playing games that count. More than a week before the March 31 Opening Day, the Dodgers beat the Diamondbacks twice in Sydney, Australia of all places.
  • The games started at completely odd hours of the day here in the States, given the time shift, and it required either staying up very late or getting up very early to watch.
  • Maybe you think that’s a great idea, but it is strange to think of games being played so early in the season, so far away…and then they come back and play more practice games that don’t count.
  • Tying this to the Nats, they open the season on the road playing the New York Mets on Monday, March 31. They play their first home game on Friday, April 4 against the Atlanta Braves.
  • Totes mention the Aussie series as a way to gauge baseball interest with others, and then use that to see if folks are excited about the Nats opening in New York, or in Washington later that week.

“I can’t believe some folks are panicking about Bryce Harper because he’s had a slow spring. You can’t really go by stats like that. It’s Spring Training!” 

  • If you are looking at the stats in Spring Training, you’re doing it wrong. If someone talks about the stats in Spring Training, they are doing it wrong.
  • Spring Training is not about stats, it’s about getting warmed up to play baseball. The only meaningful things you can ever pull out of ST is that players are healthy, or (if you’re able to pick up on such things) mechanics.
  • Unlike the regular season, players aren’t always working on ‘getting a hit’ or ‘striking a guy out.’ Very often, a player may be working on something in particular. Ryan Zimmerman may be laying off easy fastballs because he feels he needs to practice hitting curveballs. Stephen Strasburg may opt to throw a change-up to a hitter even if he knows he can’t hit the slider. In the Spring they aren’t worried about the result, they care about the process.
  • Plus you can throw out another buzz phrase “small sample size.” The small number of attempts a player will take distorts reading you will get on how well he is performing.
  • Imagine a pop quiz where there are only two questions and you get one wrong. You get a 50%. Now imagine a test with ten questions where you get two wrong. You got more wrong, but did much better. 100 Questions and 10 wrong? Even better…You get the idea.
  • Applied to baseball… Harper was 5 for 30 the other day, or a very bad .167 batting average. If he makes two more hits, his a bad but not abysmal .233. 10 hits out of 30? an all-star worthy .300. Five hits over 30 Spring at bats (where, again, he may not be working on always getting hit) is a swing of .133 batting average points. Over 600 At bats he might see in a season? .008 points, or 0.8%. Very, very small-so don’t be fooled.

“…but all that said, Two Home Runs in one game for Danny Espinosa? I don’t want to get ahead of myself here, but I think he might be back!”

  • I know, I know….I just told you not to read too much into Spring Training. But here is where you can make an intelligent distinction as to what’s going on down in Florida.
  • Last year, Danny Espinosa’s broken wrist and tore up shoulder cost him his 2013 campaign, his starting job, and put his standing with the team in jeopardy. While languishing in the minor leagues, Espinosa hit two home runs in 313 plate appearances. Which is to say, basically, that he couldn’t barely hit at all.
  • Espinosa’s swing has looked great all spring. Even the outs he’s made have been hard hit. Getting two singers in one game isn’t great because of the stats boost, but it shows that he can hit the home run.
  • Espinosa’s defense was always stellar. He wasn’t a great batter, but he had power. When he lost his power last year, he had almost nothing. If he gets his power back, he’s at worst a great backup.

New Podcast! S2E8 Andy Feffer is the Dan Haren of the Front Office

Season 2 Episode 8

Frank does an episode with Jared (@SCviaDC) and Stu (@TClippardsSpecs) discussing the Nationals at large in a slightly modified format.  We answer your Twitter questions, talk about what went wrong and right with the Nats so far, Danny Espinosa, whether Andy Feffer was a good thing or bad, as well as a hodge podge of other things.  It’s a near-end of the season primer on what things look like with 6 games left to go, and you’ll want to say you were in on the ground floor!  Give a listen!

Review-Preview: Fish-Sandwhich, Har-Vey’s Bet-Ter and The Return of PeteF@*!!Kozma

@Natsaholic sends a sneaky photo of how close he is to @WashingNats

@Natsaholic went to the Mets series this weekend.  He tweeted  a sneaky photo of how close he is to MLB Beat writer, Bill Ladson aka @WashingNats

There are a million places to go get a recap and preview of every game, but here at Nationals 101 we prefer to take a slightly bigger slice of the pie.  The Review-Preview will take place between series and give a quick recap of the previous series (including anything we think you can learn from the series) and what you can look forward to in the next series coming up.

Normally a 3-3 road trip is a cause to celebrate.  When expectations are high (and the talent you play allegedly low) it comes away feeling a little flat.  Still, in the span the Nats split their 6 games, the Braves managed only two wins, which gives them a game up…in April, with 140+ games left to play.  So while all games are weighted equal, it is still the case that the overwhelming majority of games haven’t been counted yet. 

The Nats took the first series from the Marlins two games to one.  They blew out the Fish in the opener 10-2, dropped the second game with three starters missing 8-2, but bounced back in the finale to take the series with a 6-1 score.

The Nats dropped their opener against the Mets as Matt Harvey out-pitched Stephen Strasburg (and just about everyone else I’ve seen this year), losing 7-1.  The second day also featured seriously shaky starting pitching, with Gio Gonzalez having a meltdown in the fourth inning to lose a three run lead.  Still, the bats were alive with four home runs (two from Bryce Harper) and they won a game on offense 7-6.  Sunday’s game featured the debut of top prospect Anthony Rendon much to the delight of many a fan looking forward to his debut.  Unfortunately and 0-4 and error later for Rendon seemed like piling on after the Nats dropped the finale in a sloppy 2-0 loss.

So What Happened?  For the most part, the same thing that’s been happening all Month.  The Nationals have been winning games handily, or losing them because of sloppy play.  Dan Haren has yet to do anything to convince anyone he’s going to be a good pitcher, and Stephen Strasburg and Gio Gonzalez seem to be taking too many pitches to get anyone out at all.  Even when three errors don’t directly cost runs (as on Sunday) that makes Jordan Zimmermann throw more pitches than he needs to.  Letting the Mets of the hook by swinging at a 3-0 pitch with the bases loaded and no outs (ahem Jayson Werth) also cuts a huge break to a guy like Dillon Gee who had been averaging more than 8 runs a game before the start Sunday.

Our constant refrain of “It’s Only April” isn’t actually meant to excuse the sloppy play of the Nationals, or some how make you feel like a lunatic for thinking the Nats are playing poorly.  The Nats are indeed playing very poorly at times so far this month.  The reason to keep in mind that it is April is to remind you they have plenty of time to play well (and they will play well). 

It’s a trick of the mind:  When the Nats have played less than 20 games, those 7 or 8 bad games are a big percentage of the pie.  It’s important to remember that the pie isn’t 20 games big though-it’s 162 games big.  What’s 20 bad games out 162?  or 30? or 40?  or even 50?  Not a lot, that’s what.

I think a lot of fans who are the most worried tuned into the team sometime after the Capitals bounced out of the playoffs, or even later.  August maybe?  July?  It’s easier to stomach losses when you are already watching an established winner-particularly with no serious expectations on them (externally, anyway).  It’s much tougher to come into the season at the begnning season with triple the expectations and have to learn, from the start, just what a winning season looks like top to bottom.

“It’s Only April” doesn’t make you feel better in the moment, it only illuminates that it is only one moment in many.  In July, April will not matter nearly as much as you thought it did.

Lost In The Shuffle

  • The Nats haven’t had to do a lot of “over coming” so far this year.  They won games they were tied late in the game for, they’ve held on to leads despite furious comebacks-but the 7-6 Mets win on Saturday was the first time they actually battled back to win a game from behind.  (Note: I’m not counting the two times they were down 1-0 to the White Sox after the first inning).  I’m likely adding narrative to where there isn’t actually one, but it looked like the Nats had some fight in them for the first time this year.  Last year, I didn’t count them out of any game-up until Saturday, I had been a few times.
  • Bryce Harper had the flu and went 3-4 in Miami.  Seriously.
  • Miami beat the Reds, and took them to 14 innings the next day. Also the Braves lost twice to the Pirates.  Hopefully fans can stop worrying about who loses to who and who beats who in April and taking it as a harbinger of the whole season…soon.  My head would appreciate it.
  • Ryan Zimmerman had a tender calf in game one of the Marlins series before being pulled.  Thanks to how rules work, you can retroactively put someone on DL so long as they haven’t played since they were pulled and his 15 day stint started Thursday instead of Sunday when they announced it.  Wilson Ramos also is on the DL, though he’s a week in already.
  • Steve Lombardozzi filled in admirably this week, going 7 for 21 in 6 starts against the Braves, Marlins and Mets.  He did get owned by Matt Harvey going 0-4, just like most everyone else did on the Nats Friday night.
  • 0-4 and an error for Anthony Rendon.  Not an auspicious start, and it might be something Davey has stuck in his craw when it’s time to decide if he stays up or goes down.  That said, just as if he went 4-4 and helped turn two double plays-it would still only be one game out of about 12 he’ll play before the Nats have to figure that out.  Plenty of time for him to make his case either way.

St. Louis Cardinals

Let go of your anger and don’t expect and easy revenge match for the Nationals.  The Cardinals are a no joke team.  They post the same 10-8 record as the Washington Nationals, and also look up at division rivals they know they can catch and beat.  The Cards have also beaten teams handily when they win, and lost games inexplicably when they haven’t.  

Many fans will be familiar with the virtues the Cards boast:  Yadier Molina is a hitter nearly impossibly to strike out, and Carlos Beltran is a 30+ HR guy.

The Nats will send Dan Haren to the mound Monday night.  He might need to seriously get a good game in if he doesn’t want everyone in DC to completely hate him.  The Cardinals will send Shelby Miller to the mound for his first apperance against the Nationals ever.  He’s more or less a three pitch pitcher (Fastball, Curveball Change-up) but he has thrown a few cut fastballs this year as well.  He’ll be a riddle the Nats will want to solve quickly given the limited data they will have on the newcomer.

The Nats then send their best pitcher thus far, Ross Detwiler to face former Cy Young candidate Adam Wainwright.  The Nats have done well against Wainwright, particularly at Nats Park (1-2, 7.24 ERA and 2.2ish WHIP), but he’s still a dangerous pitcher when he’s on.  Given the uncertainty around him on the mound, the Nats need to get after Wainwright and make the most of Detwiler if he has another great start.

The Wed afternoon finale will feature Stephen Strasburg  and  Jamie Garcia.  Garcia is a solid pitcher, averaging about 3.5 runs given up per game and 1.3 hits per inning pitched.  The Nats clobbered him last year for 6 runs on 9 hits in 5.1 innings pitched.  

What To Hope For

Not to look ahead, but the NL Central leading Reds come in after the Cards for a four game tilt over the long “revenge” week this seems to have shaped up to be.  The Nats will likely be looking to show they can beat good teams and get some of these error/pitching monkeys off their back.  Over 7 games, 5 wins at home seems to be what the Nationals should feel like they should get.  Four is acceptable, 6 or 7 would be special.  With the Reds being just as tough ast the Cardinals (maybe tougher) the Nats would do well to get 2 of 3 from the Redbirds, heading into the extended weekend series looking to win 3 out of 4.

Cliff Notes: The “I’m a Sci Fi Fantasy Sweater Vest Minor Leaguer” Edition

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Cliff Notes is a bi-weekly-ish post featuring links to some of our favorite stories from other parts of Natstown over the past couple of days.  We want to make sure you’re reading the best of what Natstown has to offer!

Don’t forget, tonight is SWEATER VEST NIGHT at Nationals Park (Unofficial).  It’s in honor of color analyst F.P. Santangelo, who we all think is awesome.  Also, it will be fun to stand out at the park.  Come on out/look for us on the TV! (Presented by the Half Street Irregulars).

  • In other Non-Direct-Baseball News, @FakeFP’s STOP THE WAVE pamphlet (since turned into a back of an Anti-Wave T-shirt) got picked up by Yahoo and is making the National rounds.  This is a good thing.
  • See!  I didn’t Tweet-Lie when I said Werth was using Game of Thrones (and The Walking Dead) as his walk up music!  Now he really just needs to get the Dr. Who theme (preferably Seasons 2-3, or Season 5  of the rebooted seasons.  Season 1, and the Original Series are probably too quiet to be heard properly. You need that full BBC London Philharmonic Orchestra!)
  • How Do I Baseball wrote a story about Drew Storen’s evil, evil change-up against the White Sox Dewayne Wise.  It’s a pitch worthy of its own story. 
  • It’s similar to the Adam Kilgore piece about Strasburg’s change up against Joey Votto of the Reds.   Between these two posts, I’m pretty sure we’ll be doing a series showing what different pitches are and how they move. 
  • Natstradameus expresses my thoughts on Anthony Rendon nearly perfectly in this post explaining why, despite a serious case of the Error-Hiccups, the team won’t be calling up Rendon anytime soon.
  • Mark Zuckerman did profile who is playing well in the Minors so far.  In fact, the tone of his post seems to indicate that you might see Micah Owings or Zach Walters before you see Anthony Rendon this year.
  • Still don’t think the Nationals aren’t preparing Rendon for a possible move.  The last article today is from Byron Kerr, reporting that Rendon is playing both 3rd and 2nd base in Harrisburg so far.  This gives the Nationals a little more flexible with how they bring him up, when the bring him up (which still might not be soon).