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!

Spring Training Question #2: Can Matt Williams Grow As A Manager?

Matt Williams managing the NLDS.

Look, I get it. Managing is tough. When the team wins, most folks usually congratulate the players and when they lose, most folks usually blame the manager- and that’s usually the fair thing to do. Players can streak or slump, but managers always have the ability to move those players around accordingly. Imagine if for every decision you made at work there were 40,000 people in your office silently (and not so silently) deciding how they would have done your job better. Worse are the hundreds of thousands more at home doing the same thing, and by tomorrow every hack with a Macbook is going to write up how they you screwed up even if the team did win and why you should be fired.*

(*I am one of those hacks).

I say this so that you know that when I do pick at Matt Williams managing in this post, I am fully aware that this is the easy thing to do. That I would not be a good manager myself, that I know I don’t know better than he does, and that I am fully aware that my opinion here does not reflect the opinion of the majority, or maybe even plurality, of other Nats fans. But these are things I am compelled to write because I believe them to be true. So, here we go…

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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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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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Get To Know A Nat 2014: Zach Walters

Name: Zachary Butler Walters
Nickname(s): ZeWeezy
DOB: September 5, 1989
Twitter?: @Zwalters02
From: Cheyenne, Wyoming
Position: Infielder/Outfielder
Hand: Bats: Switch / Throws: Right
With the Nats Since: Acquired via trade with the Arizona Diamondbacks on July 30, 2011 for RHP Jason Marquis. 

Just Who Is This Guy?: Zach Walters is one of the Washington Nationals highly touted prospects and is rated No. 10 overall by MLB.com for 2014. He’s a versatile, switch hitter with some pop that can play multiple positions.

In the end, Walters may not be an every day starter, but he definitely is rosterable because of his hit potential and versatility.

What Happened in 2013: Walters made his MLB debut on Sept. 6, 2013 versus the Miami Marlins, going 1-for-1 with a pinch-hit single. Walters’ pinch-hit in the sixth inning broke up Jose Fernandez’s no-hit bid. Pretty clutch if you ask me. He appeared in eight games with the Nationals and had a triple slash line of .375/.444/.625. He scored two runs, had three hits (one of which was a triple), drove in a run and drew a walk. Walters made appearances at shortstop and third base for the Nationals in 2013.

During his time in the minors, Walters honed his skills at Triple-A Syracuse. With the Chiefs, he played in 134 games, with the majority of his games coming at shortstop (104). Walters had a low batting average, .253 but a high slugging percentage, .517 last season in the minors. He had 123 total hits, 32 of which were doubles, five triples and 29 home runs. I repeat, he had 29 home runs last season. He drove in 77 RBI and scored 69 runs. He also struck out a whopping 134 times.

Defensively, woof. He made 31 errors at shortstop and seven errors at third base. At least he had more extra base hits than he did errors!

What’s happening in 2014 so far?: Given all the injuries that the Nationals have had thus far in 2014, Walters actually has had some playing time with the big league club. On April 15, 2014, Walters hit his first big league home run against the Miami Marlins. It was a solo shot in the ninth inning, but he was still able to showcase some of that power. In an assortment of 27 games with the Nationals so far, Walters is batting a mere .182 with three homers, four RBI, five runs and six hits. He’s also walked three times and struck out 14 times. Walters has spent time at third base, shortstop and in left field and has yet to make an error at the big league level.

With Triple-A Syracuse again this season, Walters has appeared in 34 games and has a .288/.331/.629 triple slash line. He has hit 10 home runs, driven in 31 runs and has scored 21 runs so far this season. Walters has 38 total hits, nine of which are doubles and three triples. His strikeout totals are lower (37) and he has taken more walks this season so far (seven total in 2014 through 34 games, 20 total in 2013 through 134 games).

His defensive numbers in the minors have gotten much better, too. He’s only committed seven errors so far (three at second base and four at shortstop). Walters has played in 16 games at second base, two games at third base, 10 games at shortstop and five games in left field. Gotta love that versatility.

My take is that unless there is another injury that happens to the Nationals this season and hopefully there’s not, Walters will spend most of his time in Triple-A working on all aspects of his game. He’ll probably get the call once the minor league season is over and the MLB rosters expand. When he does come up, I hope that he continues to “Let It Go” and asks everyone, “Do You Want to Build a Snowman?

*Note* All stats are as of June 22.

Nats 2014 Mid-Season Review Part I: The Standings and Pitching Are Better Than You Think

The Washington Nationals have played precisely half of the games they are scheduled to play in the 2014 campaign. Since we, as a species, tend to like the easily divisible, I present unto you the longstanding tradition of a “mid season” review of the Washington Nationals – 2014 edition.

Standings: The Washington Nationals (43-38) are currently tied atop the NL East with a half game behind the Atlanta Braves (44-38) 5 games above .500. (They were tied after 81 game each, Atlanta’s just played one more already). This is certainly a step up from last year when Washington (41-40) trailed Atlanta (47-34) by 6 games. It also isn’t nearly as good as Washington (48-33) leading Atlanta (42-39) by 6 games.

Indeed, while both teams are maybe playing not quite as well as they had expected, it might be the first time Nats and Braves fans are seeing the “race” they were supposed to the last few years. There is no doubt that the 2013 Nats stumbled out of the gate and the Braves managed to stay hot (enough) all year, much the way the 2012 Nats blew it out of the box and never looked back. This year, neither team has run away with the division.

Atlanta owns the season series thus far (3-7), which only highlights their struggles against teams in the other 71 games. The problem for the Braves is that the Nationals are getting healthier (about to, finally, field their Opening Day line up since the middle of the game on Opening Day), and the Braves, really, are not.  Nine of those last 80 games for the Braves are against Washington, The other 71 are not.

The Marlins (4.0 GB), Mets (6.0 GB) and Phillies (7.0 GB) don’t appear to be in this race for the long haul.

Starting Pitching: Continue reading