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Where the Nats stand at the quarter pole

May 22, 2015, 6:00 AM EST

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We are now 41 games into the 2015 season, which means the Nationals have played more than one-quarter of their regular-season schedule. Some people say you can’t start to truly evaluate a ballclub until it has played at least 40 games. Others say you can’t do it til Memorial Day. Well, we’re right in between those two mileposts, so this seems like as good a time as any to take a big-picture look at the Nats and where they stand.

The first quarter of this season really can be broken into parts: the disappointing and sometimes concerning 7-13 start, and the utterly dominant 17-4 stretch that has followed it. But for these purposes, we’ll look at the whole package.

Let’s break down the Nationals via a number of various statistical departments, including how they rank among all 30 MLB clubs in each category…

OFFENSE
R: 205 (2nd)
AVG: .261 (8th)
OBP: .329 (6th)
SLG: .421 (6th)
OPS: .751 (4th)
HR: 47 (t-5th)
BB: 142 (t-4th)
SO: 333 (27th)
SB: 11 (28th)
Comment: It’s pretty remarkable what the Nationals have done offensively, considering two key points: 1) They’ve seen Anthony Rendon, Jayson Werth and Denard Span all spend time on the DL, and 2) They ranked 23rd in the majors in runs scored through their first 20 games. But they’ve proven to have quite a balanced offensive attack, hitting both for average and power, reaching base at a good clip and having the ability to drive the ball out of the park. They do still strike out a lot, and their running game has been pretty bad. But overall, this team is doing more offensively than most would have guessed.

PITCHING
ERA: 3.75 (12th)
Opp AVG: .266 (27th)
Opp OPS: .697 (13th)
SO: 321 (13th)
BB: 104 (5th)
WHIP: 1.32 (20th)
Starters’ ERA: 4.05 (t-14th)
Relievers’ ERA: 3.16 (11th)
Comment: They haven’t been bad by any stretch of the imagination, but Nationals pitchers collectively haven’t been as great as most thought entering the season. They’re just barely better than average in team ERA and strikeouts. The most-vaunted rotation in the game sports an ERA over 4.00. But there have been some fantastic individual performances, from Max Scherzer (1.75 ERA, 66-to-8 strikeout-to-walk ratio) to Drew Storen (1.04 ERA, 12-of-13 in save situations). Doug Fister’s forearm strain is a potential concern over the long haul, as are the wildly inconsistent performances from Stephen Strasburg and Gio Gonzalez. But the bullpen has stabilized after a shaky start to the season, and younger guys have begun getting comfortable as their roles have evolved.

DEFENSE
Errors: 30 (t-25th)
Fielding Percentage: .980 (24th)
Caught Stealing Percentage: 29.2 percent (19th)
Comment: This is another tale of two mini-seasons to date. Over their first 20 games, the Nationals committed 22 errors (most in MLB) and several of those directly altered the outcome of games. In the 21 games since, they’ve committed only eight errors (second-fewest in the majors). Ryan Zimmerman has played Gold Glove-caliber defense at first base. Bryce Harper has adjusted nicely to right field and has prevented several runners from trying to take an extra base on him. And Ian Desmond has bounced back from his terrible start to the season, in which he was charged with eight errors in his first 12 games but since has been charged with only three in his last 29 games.

  1. rayvil01 - May 22, 2015 at 6:59 AM

    This wouldn’t be the first thoroughbred to stumble out of the gate only to come back and win the race. What’s encouraging is that they got to the lead by the quarter pole. The longer they lagged the bigger story it would have become.

    Most things are trending up. Good enough for now.

    • Ghost of Steve M. - May 22, 2015 at 7:48 AM

      Love your analogy.

      I’m just waiting for the Nats starters to collectively as a group to begin pitching to Ace levels. Scherzer and JZim are getting it done and the others need to step up.

      • rayvil01 - May 22, 2015 at 8:12 AM

        There’s a fascinating piece over in fangraphs about when can you tell what the team will do. May is way too early unless the team is bad. Marlins are on the brink of being in “Seller” position. This is a good read: http://www.fangraphs.com/community/when-do-the-standings-matter/

  2. Candide - May 22, 2015 at 7:44 AM

    …their running game has been pretty bad…

    What do you base this on? They have 15 TOOTBLANs to date; half a dozen teams have 20 or more. True, they don’t steal much, but they aren’t a light-hitting team that needs to manufacture runs; after all, they’re second in MLB in runs scored, not what you’d expect from a club with no DH.

    • therealjohnc - May 22, 2015 at 10:16 AM

      There’s a TOOTBLAN stat?

      The Nats have traditionally been very good at the little baserunning things, like going first-to-third on a single.

  3. rlndtln - May 22, 2015 at 7:53 AM

    The team was to be driven by the starting pitching which has been average at best.The offense less Rendon,Werth and not much for Desi has been really good.This just shows that with the present best hitter in baseball what can be accomplished.My only real concern is the bullpen which must be upgraded before the post season if we are going to win it all.

    • manassasnatsfan - May 22, 2015 at 9:13 AM

      Looking into my crystal ball , I see old trading partners Billy Bean and Mike Rizzo saving the A’s some cash and having our buddy Tyler Clippard back in town some time in July?

      • tcostant - May 22, 2015 at 10:13 AM

        Well Clip would like that, if he gets traded again, then he can’t get a QO, and no draft pick will be attached to him when signing elsewhere.

      • scnatsfan - May 22, 2015 at 10:21 AM

        Conversely the A’s would hate that losing the pick

      • masterfishkeeper - May 22, 2015 at 10:34 AM

        I wonder if Clip would get a QO. $16 million is a lot for a reliever.

    • therealjohnc - May 22, 2015 at 10:22 AM

      As MZ has noted, the bullpen has already stabilized after a very shaky start. With Janssen (and to a lesser extent Rivero and Davis) on the way back it’s not at all clear that the bullpen needs to be “upgraded” to be a real asset for the team. It’s quite possible that the improvement needed for any postseason run will come from within rather than outside the organization.

      I believe that one reason for the bullpen’s resurgence is that Matt Williams has largely abandoned managing by formula (with the exception of Storen-as-closer) and has been much more willing to play matchups with the relief corps. Even though this may be a short term thing and Williams goes back to roles if Janssen is effective (Storen in the 9th, Thornton/Janssen in the 8th, etc), I find it encouraging that he is willing to adapt.

      • letswin3 - May 22, 2015 at 1:30 PM

        Yeah, that pretty much covers most of my thinking on the pen too. I figure that Rizzo didn’t invest that much in Janssen, and part with Clippard, without knowing that Janssen will be a contributor somewhere near the Clippard standard.

  4. adcwonk - May 22, 2015 at 8:13 AM

    Mark, Mark, Mark . . . .

    Those stats would be *so* much more meaningful if they were comparing the Nats to the NL, as opposed to MLB. The AL has a DH, we don’t, and so team hitting and pitching stats are just different between the two leagues.

    Quick example: you have the Nats as 6th in MLB in SLG. That’s pretty good. But they are 2d in the NL. That’s terrific.

    Anyone here with enough time on their hands want to re-do the rankings for NL?

    • Ghost of Steve M. - May 22, 2015 at 8:19 AM

      I like both comparisons and agree with you that the NL rank is better for analysis.

      • Theophilus T.S. - May 22, 2015 at 8:40 AM

        “Statistics” — like lies and damn lies — cut both ways. Pitching stats should slant in favor of the NL, except that good pitching beats good hitting no matter what league you’re talking about. The Nats offensive nos., if you assume that AL figures are, shall we say, inflated, are damned impressive. (Only three games in AL park(s).) at the end of the season I want to know if my NL team is better than an AL team.

      • Ghost of Steve M. - May 22, 2015 at 9:04 AM

        Agreed which is why I like both ways. That NL OPS is impressive.

      • therealjohnc - May 22, 2015 at 10:24 AM

        +1, on both the pitching and hitting sides. League specific numbers are readily available on a number of sites (Baseball-Reference, etc).

        I will note that I tend to put more credence into MLB rankings for the bullpen, as relief pitchers are more likely to face pinch hitters than they are pitchers.

      • Ghost of Steve M. - May 22, 2015 at 10:30 AM

        Good point on the relievers.

    • Doc - May 22, 2015 at 9:01 AM

      Me too!

      Offensive comparisons to AL are almost completely irrelevant. I’m only interested in NL stats.

    • zmunchkin - May 22, 2015 at 12:50 PM

      I have not looked at this year’s stats, but the assumption that the DH adds much offense is just not supported by the data anymore. If I recall correctly, AL teams average about 1 more run every 3-4 games. And the AL BA is about 5 points higher

      • zmunchkin - May 22, 2015 at 12:51 PM

        This is based on 2013 and 2014

      • adcwonk - May 22, 2015 at 6:00 PM

        That’s very curious. I wonder why that is. I suppose I must mute my criticism about that, I had no idea it was so close.

        Nevertheless, they are still different leagues, with the vast majority of games being intra-league; so certainly a more valid comparison is within league (although, as you point out, doing it across leagues aren’t as invalid as I thought)

        Thanks

  5. nats128 - May 22, 2015 at 8:57 AM

    PITCHING
    ERA: 3.75 (12th)

    That certainly isnt as advertised and individually with only 8 to 9 starts, a few poor outings can certainly skew the numbers however with Gio and Strasburg it has been the lack of consistency. To fix these ERAs, the cure is throw a few shutouts.

    1. Scherzer 1.75
    2. JZ 3.52
    3. Fister 4.31
    4. Gio 4.94
    5. Strasburg 5.98

    • Eugene in Oregon - May 22, 2015 at 9:07 AM

      As an anecdotal point of comparison, Clayton Kershaw has a 4.32 ERA so far this year.

      • manassasnatsfan - May 22, 2015 at 9:16 AM

        Kershaw slacking the Dodgers need to dump his salary.

        We will take him.

      • nats128 - May 22, 2015 at 9:48 AM

        Sure and Corey Kluber was 5.04 3 starts ago and then pitched a shutout and then a 1 run game lowering his ERA to 3.79. Make the adjustments and improve.

        My point is still valid that Stras and Gio have been inconsistent and thats going from 1 good start to a bad start.

        Kluber started the season with 3 decent starts then had 4 bad starts in a row and the last 2 starts have been excellent.

        Kershaw just hasnt been sharp all season and of course they are worried in LA, but our concern is Fister, Gio, and Strasburg as collectively they havent been good and they have to step up.

    • tcostant - May 22, 2015 at 10:15 AM

      Well when Tanner Roark joins the staff as Fosher’s fill in, he will bring the mean down. Just to be clear, I think Tanner Roark will enter the stand, nothing is official.

  6. Doc - May 22, 2015 at 9:02 AM

    Don’t know what’s going on with Fister, but we have a guy named Roark in the bullpen who was one of the best SP in the NL last year.

    • manassasnatsfan - May 22, 2015 at 9:18 AM

      He left the game with forearm tightness. He hasn’t said it, but I am guessing it started a start or two earlier as his early start were like last year.

      • virginiascopist - May 22, 2015 at 9:36 AM

        Could be, but wasn’t Fister’s previous start one of the 1-0 victories against the Mets? In any case, after the Phillies series, we’re going to need a fifth starter.

      • manassasnatsfan - May 22, 2015 at 9:45 AM

        MW was clear if it was a starter needed long term it was Roark, short term it was Cole.

  7. Eugene in Oregon - May 22, 2015 at 9:17 AM

    I’m still not sold on any of the more frequently used measures of defense (individual or team, old school or modern), particularly when used in isolation. But I would note that while the Nats pitchers are giving up 3.75 earned runs per game (slightly better than league average), the team as a whole is giving up 4.32 runs/game, which is which worse than league average. In fact, and probably no surprise to Nats watchers, the team’s 0.57 differential between ERA and RA seems to be the worst in the NL, where the average difference is 0.29.

    • manassasnatsfan - May 22, 2015 at 9:22 AM

      All that is true.

      The bottom line is the team has turned things around fairly quickly and are not out of it as the negative troll ptounced the third week of the season?

      I splir the season like the NFL into 16 segments

      So far

      4-6
      3-7
      8-2
      8-2
      1-0

    • Hiram Hover - May 22, 2015 at 9:31 AM

      Good pt, Eugene. Defense was poor in April but much better in May – only 2 unearned runs this month, tied for 3d best in NL.

  8. bowdenball - May 22, 2015 at 9:54 AM

    If I may play the role of annoying “Well actually…” guy on the internet …

    The quarter pole is a sign that the horses are a quarter mile from the finish line, not that they’re 1/4th of way through the race. Sportswriters love using quarter pole because it sounds cooler than “a quarter of the way through the season” or “with 25% of the season complete” but it’s totally wrong.

    I know, I know. I hate myself too.

    • Eugene in Oregon - May 22, 2015 at 10:05 AM

      You learn something every day on NatsInsider.

    • ArVAFan - May 22, 2015 at 10:21 AM

      Thank you for that. I mean it’s not as if you’re in here correcting punctuation. It’s saving the rest of us from foot-in mouth disease later.

      • Sec 3, My Sofa - May 22, 2015 at 11:28 AM

        “Foot-in-mouth” has two hyphens.

        Yore welcome.

    • masterfishkeeper - May 22, 2015 at 10:37 AM

      Hey, a bunch of us here are pedants, bowdenball! I appreciate your, shall we say, precision?

      • Sec 3, My Sofa - May 22, 2015 at 11:30 AM

        Some of us are quarter Poles, too.

      • natsfan1a - May 22, 2015 at 12:15 PM

        Not me. I’m Heinz 57.

    • letswin3 - May 22, 2015 at 1:38 PM

      Yeah, if it’s a mile race, we’re now at the 3/4 pole, while on the rail, with a head lead … all while just galloping, after stumbling out of the gate.

  9. 3on2out - May 22, 2015 at 10:31 AM

    Good stuff bowdenball. As an old horse racing buff ( one of my few claims to fame: saw Secretariat win all three legs of the Triple Crown in person in ’73) I should have known that.

    • letswin3 - May 22, 2015 at 1:44 PM

      Just to change the subject for a second, can American Pharoah get the mile and a half of Belmont to become the first Tripple Crown winner since Affirmed?

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