Rehab Start

I went down to Pfitzner Stadium to watch Ross Detwiler make his rehab start with the P-Nats. Since it was a doubleheader, I also got to watch AJ Cole pitch in the second game.

Detwiler pitched 3.2 innings, allowing 1 run on 7 hits, with 1 walk and 4 strikeouts. The hits were mostly sharp, clean singles, and it seemed that he was missing low in the zone–but he looked pretty healthy. That’s good news for the Nats.

In the second game of the doubleheader, I got my first look at AJ Cole. Great, lively fastball and good change-up. He pitched 6 thoroughly entertaining innings. His only real mistake was a solo home run by  Keys third baseman Nick Delmonico. Otherwise, he pitched six innings of three-hit ball, striking out 11 and walking only 3. No wonder the Nats wanted him back–and got him back–in the Michael Morse trade.

That’s really all the analysis I have. I’ve been feeling pretty down lately, following the big league team, and I needed a break–a kind of mental rehab start, if you like. A single-admission doubleheader at the Pfitz on a beautiful day was just the ticket.IMGP1061
IMGP1045And what a ticket it was. For the princely sum of eleven dollars, I was able to watch two seven-inning games of, really, very entertaining baseball from a seat right along the chain-link fence on the first base foul line.

The PNats’ former incarnation, the Cannons, used to use “Real baseball, real close” as a promotional tagline. They’re not kidding. For eleven bucks, you get to be practically in the bullpen yourself.


Another thing you notice is the quiet. During the breaks in play, it’s the cicadas, not the fans that roar. The crack of the bat, the pop of the glove in the catcher’s mitt; the umpires barking and the players calling out to each other: these are the sounds of the game.


There was a pretty good crowd, though: announced attendance was over 5,000 for the doubleheader. Of course, the Pfitz is nowhere near Nats Park in terms of its creature comforts. It does, however, outdo the big league park in one very important way: The bar by the right-field stands had delicious and refreshing Port City Monumental IPA on tap. Nats park has no shortage of places to get beer–but does a pretty poor job of serving beer made in the area.

There’s a refreshing earnestness to minor league ball that you don’t get in the big leagues any more. When a single homely voice, or a choir of elementary schoolchildren, sings the national anthem, everyone–players, umpires, and the whole assembled crowd–stands at quiet, dignified attention. It is genuinely moving, and perhaps more so than any shock-and-awe display you will ever see in a big league park.

The baseball was sometimes every bit as homely or elementary as the singing. In the bottom of the first of the first game of the doubleheader, the PNats led off with their Carolina League All-Star outfielder Billy Burns. He legged out a bunt hit–just barely–when Keys pitcher Brady Wagner uncorked a wayward throw to first baseman Chris Walker. The ball hit the chain link fence right in front of me, and, before the Keys knew what was happening, Burns, having turned on the jets, was standing on third. That was the only successful bunt of the day: the PNats would pop up bunts with distressing regularity.
IMGP1049Still, this was, as the old tagline had it, real baseball, and, as such, was really entertaining. Sure, there were the usual stupid promotional gimmicks between innings, but mostly, the crowd wanted–and got–a couple of decent baseball games for not a lot of money.


Some of the keenest observers of the game were among its smallest. There were a lot of kids in the crowd. I could hear several of them compare what was happening in the game to games they themselves had played. It was kind of neat to see.

I’m not much of an autograph hound, but I couldn’t pass up an opportunity. PNats centerfielder Michael Taylor hit a home run in the first game of the doubleheader. Between games, he was walking past the seats and was signing autographs. I handed him my scorebook. He looked at the scorecard, his scoreline, and signed right next to the home run. I smiled.

If you haven’t gone down to a PNats game in a while, you owe it to yourself to stop by and go. It’s a great way to take your mind off stuff–even if the stuff you’re taking your mind off is following the big league team, which is what you do to take your mind off everything else.


Projecting the 2013 Nationals: Extra Innings

When I projected that the 2013 Nats were going to win 94 games, I did so with a bit of trepidation. Not only did this mean that I was projecting a performance so good that it would have been literally unbelievable only a few years before, but because I have certain doubts about the construction of my model.

As you might have gathered from the title of this post, I think my model has been systematically under-counting playing time for pitchers and hitters. In the spirit of Top of the Inning/Bottom of the Inning nature of the Natstradamus projections, I’ll deal with the pitching issues first, and then the batting problems in the bottom of the inning.

EDIT: Astute readers noted that I should have reduced relief pitcher innings by as much as I increased starting pitching innings. I have amended the relevant analysis. This results in a 98-win total. 

Executive Summary for the TL;DR Crowd: Our earlier projection wasn’t as accurate as it should have been in counting playing time: A slight adjustment in innings pitched for starters–with a corresponding reduction in relief pitching innings– yielded a decrease in runs scored by 2—but a better/more nuanced look at plate appearances by the starting line-up yielded an astonishing increase in runs scored, from 692 to 725. This revises our win projection for the 2013 Nats to 98 wins.

Innings, Limits, and Other Stuff to Tear Your Hair Out With

First, pitching. If you look back at the projected innings pitched column in my pitching runs allowed projections, you will notice that I assume that pitchers in the starting rotation will pitch about 190 innings each, with Strasburg pitching only 180. How does that stack up with reality?

  • Gio Gonzalez (199.1 IP);
  • Jordan Zimmermann (195.2 IP)
  • Edwin Jackson (189.2 IP).

Looking at things like this, it’s starting to look like our 180-inning starting rotation baseline is off by a little bit. Is it really, though? None of the top three for the Braves (Minor, Hudson, Hanson) pitched over 180 innings last year. The Phillies had Hamels (215.1) and Lee (211.0), then a sharp drop-off (injuries). The Mets had Dickey (232.2) and Niese (190.1), and then a precipitous dropoff to Santana (117.0).

Things get a bit better when we look at the Reds, whose top five were remarkably consistent as far as innings, with Cueto (217), Latos (209.1), Bailey (208), Arroyo (202) , and Leake (179).  Likewise, the Giants got a lot of innings out of their starters, with Cain (219.1), Bumgarner (208.1), Vogelsong (189.2), Lincecum (186), and Zito (184.1).

In fact, it’s the rare National League team that gets more than 180 innings from all of its top five starters–only the Giants managed this in 2012, and we all know how that worked out for them, right?

Anyway, returning to our projections: is there a better way we can match the innings expectations for Nationals starting pitchers? Maybe we can. During the height of the Strasburg Shutdown hysteria last year, I wrote that the organization has a general innings-limiting principle:

The Nats have a policy–and a remarkably enlightened one, at that–of limiting starting-pitcher workloads to 120% of the innings a pitcher had pitched the previous year, wherever those innings happened (whether as an amateur, the minor leagues, or the majors). For pitchers returning from major injuries, the innings limit seems to be about 120% of the pitcher’s previous single-season career high total innings pitched.

The conventional wisdom is that this limit may not apply to pitchers like Gio Gonzalez (age 27) and Dan Haren (age 32). Jordan Zimmermann (age 26) might have arguably “aged out” of this system, too, since he pitched 195.2 innings last year. Detwiler (age 26) might have aged out, as well, but last year’s 164.1 IP represented his professional maximum, so let’s assume we’re stretching him out more carefully and put him on the limit. Strasburg (age 24), it should go without saying, is probably under this silent limit as well.

Applying those limits, and looking at last year’s performances, we get the following:

  • Stephen Strasburg. 120% of last year’s innings for Strasburg works out to 190.2 innings for Strasburg. Plugging that into our model, that works out to 54.23 runs allowed, an increase of 3.03 runs.
  • Jordan Zimmermann. JZ pitched 195.2 innings. It would be foolish to assume he would pitch any more. Let’s assume he pitches 195 innings, then. That works out to 80.38 runs allowed, an increase of 2.06 runs.
  • Gio Gonzalez. 199 innings is a lot, but he pitched over 200 innings in the two preceding years, so I don’t think it’s too much of a stretch to give Gio 200 innings in 2013. Ten more innings of Gio than in our initial model yields 84.67 runs, an increase of 4.24 runs.
  • Ross Detwiler. Detwiler’s 151 innings in 2012 was a career high for him. Increasing that by 120% yields 181 innings. Fortunately, the old model pegged him at 180 innings to begin with. We’ll leave well enough alone, then.
  • Dan Haren. Haren’s a little harder to judge. He only pitched 176.2 innings in 2012, but before his back got balky, he pitched well in excess of 200 innings for seven consecutive seasons. Various projections have him pitching as many as 218 innings and as few as 170. Let’s say he recovers form and pitches 190 innings–which is what we had in the original model. Great.

After adjusting for an increase in innings pitched, we see that the Nats give up a few more runs– 9.33 runs. That’s enough to cost them one full game in the Natstradamus projection–so that leaves them with 93 wins, instead.

Not so fast. You will notice that we’ve increased Gio’s innings by 10, Strasburg’s innings by 10, and Zimmermann’s innings by 5. That means we need to reduce relief pitcher innings accordingly. If we reduce Craig Stammen’s 110 innings to 95 innings (-6.6 runs allowed) and Zach Duke’s innings from 90 to 80 (-4.8 runs allowed), we actually end up saving about 2 runs. That keeps us steady at 94 wins for now. But how about the hitting?

Batters: Up.

The crude assumption built into the model was that every one of the starting position players got 600 plate appearances each. This is, of course, false. The ever-astute David Huzzard reminded me that the number of plate appearances varies with position in the batting order. Fortunately, Baseball Reference lets us look at exactly how many plate appearances, on average, each batting order position got in the National League in 2012. As you can see, the lead-off batter gets, on average 750 plate appearances–125% more than our model assumed! What does it look like?

Split Pa
Batting 1st 750
Batting 2nd 732
Batting 3rd 716
Batting 4th 699
Batting 5th 684
Batting 6th 666
Batting 7th 647
Batting 8th 625
Batting 9th 606
Provided by View Original Table
Generated 2/18/2013.

In fact, we see that in the NL, the only batting average position that gets even close to 600 plate appearances is the number 9 batter–which is usually the pitcher’s spot! Safe to say, then, that the model is broken as far as runs scored. To fix it, we need to figure out what the batting order is going to be and award plate appearances in proportion to that player’s spot in the batting order. To keep things consistent with our defensive statistics, we’ll assume that each “every day” position player appears in 150 games. With that in mind, let’s assign some plate appearances to a hypothetical order:

Player PA
Denard Span 695
Jayson Werth 678
Bryce Harper 663
Adam LaRoche 647
Ryan Zimmerman 633
Ian Desmond 617
Danny Espinosa 599
Wilson Ramos/Kurt Suzuki 579
Pitchers 561

That leaves us with some 453 plate appearances to distribute among the other bench players. Let’s assume, crudely, that we distribute them evenly among Tracy, Moore, Lombardozzi, and Bernadina, giving them 113 plate appearances each. Let’s also further assume that the “Pitchers” spots are evenly distributed among all the starting pitchers, giving each of the starting five 112 plate appearances each.

The results are shocking:

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 678 102.80
Ryan Zimmerman 2844 426 0.149789029535865 633 94.82
Tyler Moore 171 26 0.152046783625731 113 17.18
Bryce Harper 597 86 0.144053601340034 663 95.51
Adam LaRoche 2622 361 0.13768115942029 647 89.08
Denard Span 2671 334 0.125046798951703 695 86.91
Wilson Ramos 613 76 0.123980424143556 290 35.95
Ian Desmond 1849 214 0.115738236884803 617 71.41
Danny Espinosa 1428 164 0.11484593837535 599 68.79
Roger Bernadina 1150 121 0.105217391304348 113 11.89
Chad Tracy 845 85 0.100591715976331 113 11.37
Kurt Suzuki 2703 274 0.101368849426563 290 29.40
Steve Lombardozzi 448 42 0.09375 113 10.59
Stephen Strasburg 83 3 0.036144578313253 112 4.05
Drew Storen 2 0 0 0 0.00
Dan Haren 240 19 0.079166666666667 112 8.87
Craig Stammen 90 3 0.033333333333333 30 1.00
Jordan Zimmermann 166 4 0.024096385542169 112 2.70
Zach Duke 226 1 0.004424778761062 0.00
Tyler Clippard 14 0 0 0 0.00
Gio Gonzalez 84 -5 -0.05952380952381 112 -6.67
Ross Detwiler 97 -9 -0.092783505154639 112 -10.39
Ryan Mattheus 1 0 0 0 0.00
Rafael Soriano 0 0 0 0 0.00
Bill Bray 0 0 0 0 0.00

That’s a huge jump in runs scored, from 692 up to 725!

Putting it Together

Having adjusted our playing-time expectations somewhat, our revised projection has the 2013 Nats allowing 600 runs, while scoring 725 runs. Running that through the Pythagorean Win Expectation Formula gives us a revised win projection for the 2013 season of 98 wins, or four more than we had initially projected. The vast undercount of offensive plate appearances made a huge difference in terms of runs scored, and added two whole wins. The increase in starting pitching at the expense of middle relief yields two more wins.

There are a few caveats, of course. Naturally, this all assumes that every player involved will stay healthy all year, and that they all perform according to their four-year trailing average performances. A realignment of the batting order will affect runs scored in very real ways: this is particularly true in the case of Bryce Harper. The current line up puts two left-handed power hitters, Harper and LaRoche, back-to-back, which may be suboptimal in matchup situations. But moving Harper down in the order will deprive him of plate appearances and run-creating chances.

I have goosebumps just thinking about this.

Across the Wide Missouri?

Via this morning’s Saint Louis Post-Dispatch, we have this report of the Cardinals hitters, who struck out ten times last night.

Cardinals hitting coach Mark McGwire (who is certainly not in Washington to talk about the past) has taught his charges to be extremely disciplined, and force opposing pitchers throw fastballs, but apparently last night

… [t]hat philosophy failed to mesh with Thursday’s liberal strike zone, which appeared to be applied consistently to both sides.

“Sometimes there’s a tendency to do that,” Beltran said when asked about expanding his hitting zone. “If you see he’s calling some pitches off the plate, you do that. But you have to stay within yourself and try not to do that. If you do, you’re going to put yourself in a position where you swing at very bad pitches.”

Cardinals players were instructed to say nothing disparaging about Joyce’s strike zone, though several privately conceded that its parameters necessitated a modified approach. Of the Cardinals’ 10 strikeouts, three were called.

“We knew after a few innings that Jim had a pretty wide zone,” Freese said diplomatically. “You have to work with what you have. Both sides had to deal with it.”

Through the magic of the Texas Leaguers Pitch/FX Database, we can ask and answer the question: was Jim Joyce calling a wide strike zone?

Here’s how he called Ross Detwiler:

Ross Detwiler, October 11, 2012

Ross Detwiler, October 11, 2012, as called by home plate umpire Jim Joyce.


There are a number of pitches that would be away to a right-handed batter that fall outside the box. Strictly speaking, this is a wide zone, but it seems remarkably consistent. Was it consistent for the Cardinals stater Kyle Lohse?

Kyle Lohse, October 11, 2012

Kyle Lohse, October 11, 2012, as called by Jim Joyce.

Hey, would you look at that? Jim Joyce’s zone is a little wide and away to right-handed batters–and it is consistently wide and away to right handed batters, whoever is pitching. In this instance “crappy” umpiring, like crappy weather, plays for both teams.



Det Row?

This story on Ross Detwiler’s upcoming Game 4 start, by the Post‘s James Wagner, reads uncomfortably like the story of an execution:

Detwiler, like he does during the season before his starts, will wake up without an alarm. He will eat small meals continuously throughout the day, loading up on as many calories as he can without having a big meal. And then, in the afternoon, he will take the ball with the Nationals’ playoff future in his hands.

Don’t believe me?

Compare that passage to one from this story:

It’s 6 a.m., and Hicks has been up almost an hour. He’s shaved, made his bed, gotten dressed and read for a while in his cell.
At 10 minutes after 6, he says he’ll pass on the prison breakfast: toast, peanut butter, cereal, pineapple juice, coffee — with six packets of sugar. At 6:25 a.m., he changes his mind and opts for a couple of sweet rolls. Nine minutes later he brushes his teeth, then sits down to read the Bible.

At 6:40 a.m. he tries the call to Mom again. Still no luck. He decides to take a shower.

It’s now 6:44 a.m. on Nov. 29, 2005. Hicks doesn’t have long to complete the call.

In a little more than three hours he’s scheduled to be executed.

I report, you decide.

Milestones on K Street?

A friend of mine remarked recently:

So the Rays’ pitchers just set the record for most K’s in a season by an AL team with 1,246. The 2003 Cubs hold the MLB record with 1,404. The Nats currently have 1,237 K’s on the season. What are the odds that the Nats’ pitchers break the Cubs’ mark in the next 3 years? I say even money.

This is one of those things that sneaks up on you. As much as I follow the Nats’ pitching staff, I had not really been keeping track of their cumulative strikeout figures. Currently, the Nats are third in the league, behind the Phillies (1290) and the Brewers (1299), although I have to believe the Brewers’ strikeout totals are somewhat inflated from having to face the Astros and the Pirates (who are, respectively first and second in strike-outs while batting) so often.

Let’s get one obvious thing out of the way. The Nats pitching staff posts a collective 8.18 K/9. There are about 90 innings left in the year. Assuming nothing changes radically, we’d expect around 82 more strikeouts through the end of this year, bringing the total to something like 1,328 or so. So, no way the 2012 Nats come close to the 2003 Cubs’ unbelievable strikeout totals.

Could the Nats equal such a mark?

We can try to make an extremely crude projection. Let’s assume an unlimited, 200-inning Stephen Strasburg. Let’s further assume that Edwin Jackson re-signs with the organization, and that Ross Detwiler remains in the rotation. That gives us a five-man rotation of Strasburg, Gio, Jordan Zimmermann, Edwin Jackson, and Ross Detwiler. So let’s start by looking at how they’d do.

Looking at totals since 2008, here’s what the K/9 rates look like:

Strasburg: 11.21
Gonzalez: 8.79
Zimmermmann: 7.41
Jackson: 6.92
Detwiler: 5.48

Assuming all of them pitch 190 innings (I know, very very crude here), this is what it looks like:

Strasburg: 236 strikeouts
Gonzalez: 186 strikeouts
Zimmermann: 156 strikeouts
Jackson: 146 strikeouts
Detwiler: 116 strikeouts.

That gives us a starting pitching rotation total of 840 strikeouts. So far, in 2012, those same five have recorded 800 strikeouts. This seems plausible. So the 840 strikeouts from the starting rotation would need an additional 564 strikeouts from relievers to equal the 2003 Cubs. 2012 Nats relievers put up 433 strikeouts, all together.

What if we don’t bother with all this tiresome averaging over the past several years, and assume the Nats pitch at the same level they’ve done in 2012? Well, assuming 190 innings for everybody:

Strasburg: 11.13 K/9; 235 K’s
Gonzalez: 9.36 K/9; 198 K
Zimmermann: 6.95 K/9; 147 K
Jackson: 8.03 K/9; 170 K
Detwiler: 5.68 K/9; 120 K

For a staff total of 870 strikeouts.

But let’s look back at those 2003 Cubs K/9 rates:

Kerry Wood: 11.35 K/9; 211 IP; 266 K
Mark Prior: 10.43 K/9; 211.1 IP; 245 K
Matt Clement: 7.63 K/9; 201.2 IP; 171 K
Carlos Zambrano 7.07 K/9: 214 IP; 168 K
Shawn Estes: 6.11 K/9; 151.2 IP; 103 K

Wow. Strasburg today has nothing on Wood and Prior in 2003. They got more strikeouts, more often, over far more innings than we now think prudent. The forgotten man here was Shawn Estes, who racked up 103 strikeouts in 28 starts for the 2003 Cubs.

If the Nats are going to challenge the 2003 Cubs for the most strikeouts by a pitching staff in a single season, they’re going to have to hope that several of the following happen in the same year:

  • Stephen Strasburg pitches over 200 innings
  • Jordan Zimmermann pitches over 200 innings
  • Gio Gonzalez pitches over 200 innings
  • Ross Detwiler discovers some way to get 2 more strikeouts per 9 innings
  • The bullpen gets more strikeouts

The Ten Percent Problem



Twelve and four!

If you had told me in January that today, with ten percent of the baseball season behind them, the Nats would have lost only four games and won twelve–I would have laughed at you.

But as I type these words, I’m watching the last-place Phillies founder against the Diamondbacks. I never thought I’d see the day.

The Nats continue to outperform my pre-season projections. According to my calculations, the Nats should be about 9-7 (I actually had them projected .543). They should have scored 61 runs and allowed 59 runs.

As I predicted last post, the offense has cooled somewhat. To date, the Nats have scored 58 runs, marginally fewer than my preseason predictions would have suggested.  What should really amaze us, though is this: to date, the Nationals have allowed only 45 runs. Look again: that’s a whopping fourteen fewer runs than the preseason prediction.

That means that the Nats success is largely attributable to dominant pitching–especially the K Street rotation.

You know the statistics. As I write this, the Nats pitching staff leads all baseball in staff ERA (2.34), FIP (2.30), xFIP (3.16), and strikeouts (144). The Nats’ pitching staff, collectively, has the lowest opponents’ batting average (.199).  Of the top fifteen pitchers in all baseball in xFIP, four are Nationals: Gio Gonzalez (no. 2), Ross Detwiler (no. 9), Edwin Jackson (no. 13), and Stephen Strasburg (no. 14).

Add all of that up, and that’s worth three wins, I suppose.

It all makes for thrilling baseball. But the Nats are scoring only 3.63 runs per game so far. Again, that’s less than the Natstradamus-predicted rate of 3.80 runs per game. The National League average so far is 3.90. This does not bode well for the long term.

Then again, the Nats have the fewest runs allowed per game so far (2.80)–vastly outperforming the Natstradamus-projected 3.5 runs allowed per game.

If the Nats are going to stay hot, they are going to need to find offense somewhere. With Michael Morse hurt, all eyes will turn to Tyler Moore, whose arrival in Nats Town seems imminent. Until then, the Nats are going to balance on the razor’s edge–and Nats town is going to watch their every move breathlessly.