I’m sorry, Nats Town.

I try very hard not to blog out of emotion. There’s a lot of feeling out there–mostly on sports talk radio–and not enough thinking. If you follow me on twitter, you know that I’m pretty emotional when I watch Nats games. Lately, most of those emotions are bad. 

So I want to apologize, Nats town. I’m sorry. As winter thawed to spring, I projected the Nats for an unbelievable 98 wins and the division crown. As I write this, the Nats are 48-52, in third place behind Philadelphia, and eight games back from the division-leading Braves.

I don’t think they’re going to catch up.

When I projected the Nats to win all those games, I assumed two things: the starting lineup would be healthy, and everybody was going to perform in line with their four-year trailing averages.

By this time, my model would have expected the Nats to have scored some 448 runs. They have scored only 367 to date. The disappointments are all across the board.

Let’s look at the differences:

According to my pre-season model, Jayson Werth should have 63 wRC by now. He has accumulated only 44–a difference of 19 runs over 100 games. Given his tremendous performance since his return from the disabled list, we can safely assume that his time away accounts for the difference in runs.

Injury also robbed the Nats of nearly a month of Bryce Harper’s services. By now, according to my model, he should have accounted for 59 wRC. He has accumulated only 42: a difference of 17 runs.

More perplexing is the offensive decline of Denard Span. According to my model, he should have accounted for 54 wRC by now; he only has 40, a difference of 14 runs. Every time I see him, he seems to ground out sharply to second base–a gut feeling reinforced by the fact that his BABIP (batting average on balls in play) stands at .300, down from his career BABIP of .315. Perhaps he was due for a regression in BABIP eventually? I don’t know.

The single biggest offensive failure of the Nats in the first 100 games of the 2013 season was their stubborn insistence on Danny Espinosa. We now know that Espinosa was suffering through a number of injuries that sapped him of power–his ISO (Isolated power) numbers dropped from a career .165 to .114 this year. The power outage, coupled with his high strikeout rate (28.1% this year, slightly up from his career K% of 27.1%), rendered him an offensive black hole and an automatic “out” for opposing pitchers. Had Espinosa been at least as healthy as he was in 2011 and 2012, my model expected him to have accumulated 42 wRC by now. He accumulated 4. That’s a difference of 38 runs.

Put another way: if Danny Espinosa had been as I expected him to be this year, and if the Nats had allowed exactly as many runs as they have to this point (392 runs), the Nats would be five wins better.

Put yet one more way: Danny Espinosa was so bad compared to how I projected him that the shortfall that he created in my projections is greater than the shortfall created by the injuries to Harper and Werth combined.

Espinosa’s offensive failings, we can say, helped put the Nats in a very deep hole–one that they might not manage to climb out of. Every team struggles. Nobody in the NL East seems to be winning as I write this. And yet, the Nats have fallen into third place because of their lousy start.

This wasn’t Rick Eckstein’s fault, or Davey Johnson’s, or, really Danny Espinosa’s fault. This was General Manager Mike Rizzo’s fault. His “scout’s eye” might have told him something was wrong with Espinosa. The power outage was, in hindsight, evident from the beginning and showed no sign of abating. He knew that Espinosa had at least two injuries that were likely causing his offensive struggles. And yet, for months, Rizzo did nothing, despite the fact that Espinosa had a minor-league option left.

Instead, we kept telling ourselves that it was early, that things were going to come around. For some things did come around–notably Jayson Werth and Wilson Ramos (the latter of which, I should add, is 10 wRC better than my model had him at this point of the year, despite having played a fraction of the time due to an extended DL stint). But for Espinosa, it never did.

I wish I could offer some hope. I wish I could tell you that, no, the Nats offense had every chance of breaking out. I can’t. This is what we’ve got to look forward to.

I’m sorry, everybody. I’m really, really sorry.

Projecting the 2013 Nationals, Part 3: Offense

Now we come to the fun part of the inning: how many runs does the home team score? The model projects that the 2013 Nationals will score 693 runs.

Assuming that an everyday position player will get about 600 plate appearances, and assuming that the plate appearances of the two catchers, Suzuki and Ramos, are divided evenly, we end up with a table that looks something like this:

               
  Player Name 4-year total PA 4-year total wRC 4-yr moving avg wRC/PA Projected PA Projected wRC Team Total wRC
Jayson Werth 2803 425 0.151623260792009 600 90.97
Ryan Zimmerman 2844 426 0.149789029535865 600 89.87
Tyler Moore 171 26 0.152046783625731 150 22.81
Bryce Harper 597 86 0.144053601340034 600 86.43
Adam LaRoche 2622 361 0.13768115942029 600 82.61
Denard Span 2671 334 0.125046798951703 600 75.03
Wilson Ramos 613 76 0.123980424143556 300 37.19
Ian Desmond 1849 214 0.115738236884803 600 69.44
Danny Espinosa 1428 164 0.11484593837535 600 68.91
Roger Bernadina 1150 121 0.105217391304348 150 15.78
Chad Tracy 845 85 0.100591715976331 100 10.06
Kurt Suzuki 2703 274 0.101368849426563 300 30.41
Steve Lombardozzi 448 42 0.09375 150 14.06
Stephen Strasburg 83 3 0.036144578313253 150 5.42
Drew Storen 2 0 0 0 0.00
Dan Haren 240 19 0.079166666666667 150 11.88
Craig Stammen 90 3 0.033333333333333 30 1.00
Jordan Zimmermann 166 4 0.024096385542169 150 3.61
Zach Duke 226 1 0.004424778761062 30 0.13
Tyler Clippard 14 0 0 0 0.00
Gio Gonzalez 84 -5 -0.05952380952381 150 -8.93
Ross Detwiler 97 -9 -0.092783505154639 150 -13.92
Ryan Mattheus 1 0 0 0 0.00
Rafael Soriano 0 0 0 0 0.00
Bill Bray 0 0 0 0 0.00
692.7806858275

As excited as we’ll all be to follow Bryce Harper in his quest to beat Mike Trout’s insane age-20 season, it’s instructive to look at this table. Jayson Werth and Ryan Zimmerman are projected to get 91 and 90 wRC respectively. Harper is expected to do great things–86 wRC–but it’s worth noting just how much a healthy Werth and Zimmerman mean to the Nationals line-up.

Notice also that the line-up is remarkably deep. Let’s look at it from the point of view of a possible batting order:

  1. Denard Span, wRC 75.03
  2. Jayson Werth, wRC 90.97
  3. Bryce Harper, wRC 86.43
  4. Adam LaRoche, wRC 82.61
  5. Ryan Zimmerman, wRC 89.87
  6. Ian Desmond, wRC 69.44
  7. Danny Espinosa, wRC 68.91
  8. Wilson Ramos, wRC 37.19; plus Kurt Suzuki, wRC 30.41

Those first five batters, however you order them, are pretty impressive. That should make for a much deeper line-up than we’re used to seeing here in DC.

So, what does this all mean? Tune in next time as we discuss how this all fits together in Part 4.

Put Down the Tarp, Nats Town

Stay safe out there, everybody.

This hurricane is a worse than even THIS Nats park rain delay:

You remember that rain delay, right? When the skies cleared, Jayson Werth tied the game in the bottom of the ninth with a monstrous home run.

Well, Charlie and Dave sure didn’t forget it when they called Werth’s epic Game Four walkoff.

Stay safe, Nats town. When this rain delay we call winter is over, we’ll be back at the park soon enough.

Werth it.

And now let us praise Jayson Werth, whose walk-off home run tonight allowed this miraculous 2012 Nats season to continue.

Fans who were privileged to watch it in person will have thousands of stories. But if all of them were to tell all of their stories all at once, the roar would not be one-tenth as loud as the roar of the crowd at Nats Park tonight. This was probably the loudest I, personally, have ever heard the park. It was certainly the loudest I had heard it since the debut of Stephen Strasburg.

Loyal Nats fans will probably recall Charlie Slowes’ account of the home run–which perfectly captures the utter emotional release of the moment.

The rest of the baseball-watching public will probably remember this image of the walk-off: the ball sailing into the visitors’ bullpen in left field, touching off absolute bedlam at Nats park.

But perhaps the best way to understand Jayson Werth’s walk-off tonight is this video–a pitch-by-pitch account of the entire thirteen-pitch at-bat that culminated in the home run. Werth fouled off six pitches, took a two-strike curve for a ball, before crushing the thirteenth and final pitch into the left-field bullpen.

Werth’s two-strike approach tonight was as cool as a Test Cricket batsman at his crease, methodically wearing down Cardinals reliever Lance Lynn. It was precisely for this type of performance that the Nats paid such an extravagant sum.

I counted myself as one of Jayson Werth’s detractors during the 2011 season, particularly during the miserable month of June, where he went .154/.291/.286 with 25 strikeouts. His 2012 season, however, has been a tremendously pleasant surprise to me. At the close of the regular season, he batted .300/.387/.440 and posted a wRC+ of 129–roughly the level of his 2008 and 2009 seasons with the Phillies. Tonight’s walk-off is just another example of Werth’s tremendous 2012 season.

He may not be my personal favorite National, but Jayson Werth has earned my respect–and my full-throated, roaring acclamation.

Hunting the Dreaded Sun Monster

Nats fans are all too well acquainted with the dreaded Sun Monster that ate up both Bryce Harper and Jayson Werth during a Sunday afternoon horror show against the Brewers at Nats park on September 23. (Of course, this creature already has its own twitter account.)

Well, the Nats will travel to Saint Louis to play the Cardinals in the National League Division series. Because television is run by media elites who write idiotic hit pieces about DC, the Nats will play at 3:00 P.M, Eastern time. Thanks to the New York DamnYankees and their stranglehold on prime-time television scheduling, the Nats will have to play an afternoon game for the benefit of the legions of unemployed television-viewing baseball fans everywhere who would otherwise be numbing their pain with vicodin and bourbon cocktails while watching Dr. Phil.

This also means that Harper, Werth, and possibly Morse might have to contend with a Saint Louis Sun Monster. James Wagner of the Post has already written a fairly good piece on the difficulties of the sun in Saint Louis. I commend that piece to you if you want to read about how players felt about the sun.

But here at Natstradamus, we like verifiable phenomena where we can find them. So the question is: when is the worst sun field time at New Busch Stadium in Saint Louis?

If you don’t want to be blinded with science here’s your short answer: the Sun Monster is going to gobble up whoever is standing in center field at 4:02 P.M. Central Time (5:02 Eastern).

Let’s start with the ballpark orientation. You should all bookmark this diagram by the brilliant FlipFlopFlyBall. That’s a graphical representation of the direction a batter faces in all MLB ballparks, relative to True North.

Let’s assume that a center fielder in straight-away center field lines up so that he could stare at the batter directly in the eyes–that is, they would be on the same line, facing each other. (I know this isn’t how real defensive alignment works, but go with me on this, OK?) That means that the center fielder would have to be facing 180 degrees opposite the batter’s facing.

Refer again to that diagram and look for Busch Stadium. If you plug Busch Stadium into Google Earth and measure the angle from home plate to straight away center field, you will see that the batter faces about 68 degrees from true North. The Center Fielder, then, would have to be facing the other direction (180 degrees opposite!) so the Center Fielder’s facing is about 248 degrees from true North.

Thanks to the hard work of scientists at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the general public has access to an excellent Solar position calculator. The value we’re looking for is the Solar Azimuth: the position of the sun in degrees clockwise from north.

At the start of the game (2:00 P.M. Central Time, 3:00 P.M. Eastern), we can already see that the solar azimuth is at 221.94 degrees. Things get progressively worse as the afternoon goes on, however. At about 4:02 local time, things are at their worst: the solar azimuth reaches the dreaded 248.06 degrees: right into the eyes of the center fielder.

Yikes. How about a shadow? That’s going to need a bit of trigonometry.

At the start of the game, the solar elevation (the angle of the sun, measured from the horizon) is 36.06 degrees. I don’t have good measurements of the height of the stands at Busch Stadium, so I’m going to assume the stands are about 100 feet tall at their highest point. We’ll also imagine that the center fielder is playing about medium depth (start of the inning, no basenners, no defensive shifts on) which puts him maybe 375 feet from home plate. I don’t know the measurement of the foul ground between the plate and the backstop. Let’s assume it’s 12 feet.

The length of the shadow at any given time, then, assuming that the sun is shining directly behind home plate, is the long side of a right triangle formed by the base of the backstop (A), the top of the stands (B), and the position of the center fielder (C). If that value is equal to or greater than 387 (375+12), the center fielder is in the shadow; if less, the Sun Monster has him.

So how long will the shadow be at 4:02 PM central time? well, that’ll be

\tan{\theta} = \frac{\text{height of stands}}{\text{distance from backstop}}

Which means

\text{Length of shadow} = \frac{\text{height of stands}}{\tan \theta}

Where

\theta = \text{angle of elevation}

With an angle of elevation of 16.51 degrees at 4:02 PM local time,

\text{Length of shadow} = \frac{\text{100 feet}}{\tan 16.51^\circ} = 337 \text{feet}

Our center fielder will get no help from the shadows, then. If he stands 375 feet from the plate, he’s 387 feet from the backstop, and in the full sun. Fifty feet ahead of him (in what would now doubtless be infield-fly territory), the relief of the shadows beckons. But he must live with the full sun.

At the start of the game, by the way, the shadows are much shorter–a mere 137 feet–so even if the sun isn’t directly in the center fielder’s eyes, pretty much the whole outfield is in direct sunlight.

There you have it, Nats fans. We had better hope that there are no fly balls hit to Nats outfielders tomorrow.

Read These Things

In Rizzo We Trust

In Rizzo We Trust: the motto of the day in Nats Town.

I hope you all enjoyed the off day as much as I did.

No, that’s a lie. I hope you enjoyed it better than I did. I felt like I had nothing to do. I watched a Hong Kong gangster flick that was pretty good, but not nearly as fun as watching the Nats these days.

Anyway, you need to read the following things:

How Good Does Bryce Harper Have to Be?

Keen readers of this blog–both of you–will have noticed one glaring omission among all of my calculations. I have thus far decided not to include a certain 19-year-old catcher-turned-outfielder who last saw limited playing time at AA Harrisburg.

In a recent column, the Washington Post’s Jason Reid suggested that Bryce Harper needs to grow up. Given that this is the same Jason Reid whose journalistic insight into the Redskins’ quarterback situation early in the 2011 season gave Washington sports fans–and journalism as a whole– the biggest “Doh!” moment since the night Dewey beat Truman, I was moved to tweet:

The fact that @JReidPost raised doubts about @BHarper3407 making the team leads me to conclude Harper WILL make the #nats opening day team

Well, if Harper does make the Opening Day roster, how good does he have to be to do no harm to a squad already projected for 86 wins?

Let’s assume Harper is an everyday player. There’s no indication so far that he can play center field. The Nats don’t have anyone available with a positive UZR as a center fielder except Werth. So let’s put Harper in right field. Here’s the most dangerous assumption of them all: assume Harper is a totally average defender.

Assuming a Healthy LaRoche

Let’s also assume that Adam LaRoche is healthy and ready to be his usual self at first base. That rounds out the outfield as Morse, Werth, and Harper.

Someone needs to get bumped off the bench. Given that the Nats went out and got DeRosa and Ankiel, that leaves Roger “The Shark” Bernadina the odd man out, so we need to assume that The Shark doesn’t break camp with the Nats.

Assuming everybody’s an every-day type player, we’ll need to cut down DeRosa’s plate appearances, to reflect his status as a real bench player and not half of a platoon. Let’s give him 250 plate appearances. Same with Ankiel.

As constructed and run through my model, this Harper-less squad is good for 83 wins. Were he to join the Nats as the opening-day right fielder, Harper would need to have a wRC of 25–that is “create” 25 runs over 162 games.

What does 25 wRC look like? It looks like an outfielder not much worse than Aaron Rowand of the Giants, who posted 27 wRC in 2011. Rowand batted .233/.274/.347 with 30 extra-base hits (including 4 home runs) in 2011. That’s a pretty low bar to clear.

But What If LaRoche Isn’t on the Team?

The situation becomes more complicated if LaRoche is not healthy. Morse has to move to first base. Werth slides to center, Harper moves into right. Left field sees a Bernadina/DeRosa platoon. Cameron and Ankiel come along for the ride as bench players. What does this look like now? Not too good, I’m afraid: 73 wins.

To do no harm to the team in this situation, Harper would need to be worth 90 wRC. What does a 90 wRC outfielder look like? Consider Matt Holliday of the Cardinals, who posted exactly 90 wRC in 2011. In 2011, Holliday batted .296/.388/.525 with 36 extra-base hits (including 22 home runs). That’s a much taller order.

To put the sheer magnitude of that task into perspective consider this: in 147 plate appearances with AA Harrisburg, Bryce Harper posted a wRC of 18. Normalizing that to the 600 plate appearances one might expect to see out of an every-day player, that would have given Harper an expected wRC of 83.72. Harper would have to hit major-league pitching better than he hit AA pitching to even have a chance of doing no harm to the team in this situation.

Fangraphs’ RotoChamp projection sees Harper with 259 plate appearances in 2012, projecting a wRC of 36 from those plate appearances. Even if we normalize this to 600 plate appearances, that only gets us to 83.39 wRC–not quite good enough for our purposes.

That’s how good Bryce Harper has to be. The real question is: how good is Bryce Harper? Only he can show us if he’s as good as he has to be. For the sake of Nats fans everywhere, I hope he shows us he’s much better than even that.

The Limits of Prescience

A thread over at the Washington Nationals Fan Forums pushed back against some of my projections here and raised a few points that I neglected to address in my 2012 projections.

Margins of Error

Interesting projections but the missing piece would be an estimate of how much of a margin of error there would be for both the offensive and defensive estimates that would provide a range for the expected number of wins as opposed to a hard number.

This was a serious omission on my part. All projections have a certain degree of uncertainty built into them, and I really should have discussed the degree of uncertainty built into mine.

I took my method for calculating the projected runs allowed by pitching and defense from this site. The author tested this method against 7 years of complete season data from 2002 through 2008. As he writes:

I found the R^2 value. Not to oversimplify things too much, but this value basically shows what percentage of the variation can be accounted for by the model. The value ranges from 0 (worthless) to 1 (perfect). For my 210 data points, I had an R^2 value of about 0.78 (i.e. 78% of the variation).

That means that my defense and pitching runs allowed projections should be good for plus or minus 22%. That gives a lower bound of 482.84 runs allowed and an upper bound of 755.20 runs allowed.

If we assume that my offensive predictions are correct (a problem I’ll get to in a second), that means the 2012 Nats will win anywhere between 68 and 103 games

I know that’s an immense difference. I’m not sure how I could close that gap. UZR doesn’t account for pitcher or catcher defense, for instance. But even then, I think the method at least gets us in the ballpark.

The offense numbers are a lot more troublesome. I haven’t been able to do any real regression analysis to determine how good my model is–I simply haven’t had the time.

On the other hand our offense has way too many question marks to estimate the total number of runs scored with enough precision to come up with a meaningful value that can be used in a secondary projection as you did in calculating our win total.

Any type of future projection is likely to involve more than a little handwaving. Here, I’ve drawn an arbitrary line: all players included in this analysis are players on the Nats’ 25-man roster as of January 27, 2012, some 23 days before pitchers and catchers are due to report at Viera.

Individual Players and the Projections

Will Werth stay Werthless?

2011 Jayson Werth was astonishingly bad. I’m going to believe that his 2011 numbers are aberrations and not indicative of a “new normal.” I’m fairly confident that the 4-year average from 2008-2011 is a fair picture of what kind of player Werth is now–somewhere between his Philly days and the debacle of 2011.

Will Desmond, Ramos, and Espi improve or stagnate?

As far as Desmond and Espinosa, I have no idea. I don’t think I have nearly enough data about them to make any predictions going forward. Ramos, however, gets a nice bump from more playing time and more PAs. His wRC/PA isn’t terrible, so that’s to be expected.

Will Morse fall back to Earth?

I’m going to go ahead and say No. As I said in Part 3, Morse’s modest offensive outputs in 2008-2010 might make you think that he’s going to crash down to Earth in 2012. But, remember, I’ve taken a four year average of his wRC/PA over the same period. Giving Morse 600 plate appearances in 2012 gives a projected wRC of 97.00: exactly the same as his breakout 2011 “beastmode” year. Indeed, even if we throw out Morse’s 2011 season, running the same calculation over data from 2008-2010 yields a projected wRC of 90.00: Seven runs short of our prior projection and of the 2011 total, but still enough to make him almost as good as Ryan Zimmerman (projected for 90.69 wRC). Indeed, all of this taken together seems like pretty persuasive evidence that “beastmode” has been lurking inside him the whole time, and only needed to see enough PAs.

Will Zimmm get hurt again? Will LaRoche bounce back?

My response: Dammit, Jim, I’m a baseball fan, not a doctor!. I have really no good way of figuring out La Roche’s prognosis post-surgery, nor can I really know anything about the state of Zimmerman’s joints and muscles. The only real response I have here is that the four-year interval I picked should be fair to both men in terms of their expected production.

Who plays centerfield?

Again, I had to draw an arbitrary line and go with who was in the organization as of the day I began compiling the statistics. That means that for now, we’re looking at a DeRosa/Bernadina platoon in center field. This might not be ideal, but I didn’t want to mix players who weren’t officially in the organization into these projections. Blown Save, Win, however, has attempted to address the center field question in a recent post, where he suggests that perhaps the short-term answer is Rick Ankiel. I’ll have to go back and study this, obviously.