Nats 2014 Mid-Season Review Part II: Mediocre Hitting is Poised to Get Better

At the 81 game mark, I posted a quick half review of the Nationals season thus far. Given the length at which I went on about the pitching and standings, splitting up my other thoughts seemed like a good idea. Plus, at game 81, the Washington Nationals were finally getting a few of their bigger hitters back. Giving them a chance to perform seemed like a good idea.

Here we are at the All-Star break, with the Washington Nationals only having one All-Star voted in, and only one (a different one) sent to the game. No position players were sent, or even remotely considered by the voting populace. Part of that is the Nationals are (still) not a very popular club. Part of that is the Nationals only have a few players with any national profile. Most of that is the fact that All-Stars are not selected on the basis of merits, really.

But some of it is certainly because the Nationals, for whatever else they are know or not know for, are a mediocre hitting team. While they have good hitters, they don’t have a “Big Bopper” so to speak- certainly not one that’s been playing healthy this year. As a team though, whether you want to use Weighted On Base Average, regular Batting Average, On Base Percentage, Weighted Runs Created…The Nats have been in the middle of the pack, at best, offensively. Their bats have not carried the day, at all. Indeed, if not for their being one of the most aggressive (and successful) base running teams in the league, they wouldn’t have even scored the every so slightly above average 4.16 Runs/Game (4.14 is MLB average btw) they have scored.

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How Does The #Nats Schedule Affect Their Playoff Chances? via @SCviaDC

Team W L PCT Div
LAD 54 43 0.557 West
MIL 53 43 0.552 Central
WAS 51 42 0.548 East
SF 52 43 0.547 West
ATL 52 43 0.547 East
STL 52 44 0.542 Central
CIN 51 44 0.537 Central
PIT 49 46 0.516 Central

Above is the current mess atop the National League Standings. If the top five teams had actually played an equal number of games during the “first half” of the season, they could all be tied, with the Reds one game back of all of them. The Pirates are only 3 and a half back of the Brewers and are certainly still in contention. The Mets and Marlins are only 6 and a half and 7 games back of the last Wild Card spot, respectively, but I’m ignoring them until they are above .500. This is the definition of a wide open playoff race..

NL EAST

The easiest way for the Nationals to make the playoffs will be to win the NL East title over the Atlanta Braves. Coming out of the All-Star Break, the Braves play three against the Phillies, 4 against the Marlins, and 4 against the Padres. Meanwhile, the Nats will play 3-game series with the Brewers and Reds, sandwiched around a 3-game series with the Rockies. The opposing winning percentage over this period is .449 for the Braves and .503 for the Nats.

After that first week and a half, the tables are turned however. For the 4 week period from July 28th through August 24th, the combined winning percentage of the Braves’ opponents is .535(!). They have 7 games against the Dodgers and 3 against the A’s, the teams leading both leagues, as well as 4 against the Reds, 3 versus the Pirates, 3 against the Nats, and 2 with the Mariners; all teams contending for playoff spots. During that same period, the Nationals will only play 10 games against teams over .500 (for a combined winning % of .484): the make-up game against the O’s, 3 with the Braves, 3 with the Pirates, and 3 against the Giants.

From then on to the end of the season, the Braves will only face +.500 competition for 10 games (6 Nationals and 4 Pirates), for a combined winning percentage of .479. The Nationals will see the Braves, as well as 3 against the Mariners and 3 versus the Dodgers, for a slightly tougher schedule of .493.

So, the thinking for the Braves is likely to be: put as much space as possible between themselves and the Nationals coming out of the break and then hold on tight until the end of August. For the Nats, they need to keep touch for the first week and a half and then capitalize on the weaker competition to build a large cushion in the division. If the race is still really close at the end of August, the division may come down to those last 6 games the two teams play in September, as the rest of the schedule is pretty similar for both.

WILD CARD

Even if they do not win the division, things are still looking good for the Nationals the rest of the way. Of the seven teams listed above, the only team that has fewer games remaining against +.500 opponents than the 28 that the Nationals have is the Giants (23). Excepting the Braves, all of the other teams play more games against plus-.500 opponents than sub-.500 opponents; and the Brewers play almost two-thirds of their remaining games against winning teams.

In short, the 4 NL Central teams that are in the race are going to beat up on each other the rest of the way, and that will keep them all from pulling away from the Nats, Giants, and Braves.

A Trip To Cooperstown, Part 2

This is the second part of my Trip to Cooperstown. Since the first one was a little long, we decided to split it into two posts. The first part can be found here.

Headed down to the second floor, there are two exhibits that are featured. The first one focuses on Abner Doubleday “baseball invented Doubleday” in 1839 and the history behind the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum. I thought it was really interesting to learn all about Doubleday and even see what the first “ball” that he threw looked like. Obviously, donning my Cubs attire, I had to get a picture taken of a portrait of Mr. Doubleday himself.

Abner DoubleDay Photo

The second exhibit on the second floor focuses on the game of baseball from 1900-present. With that huge array of dates, you can only imagine how much memorabilia and sheer amount of stuff is located within this exhibit. By far the most interesting part of this old time exhibit for me was seeing what the early playing equipment looks like, especially the catchers gear. The makeshift gloves and catchers masks they used. As a catcher growing up and having new age equipment, I have no idea how catchers didn’t die wearing that gear. The sheer expansiveness of this floor is too much for me to even talk about. If you want to know the history of baseball, you must visit this floor and see all the sights. It’s glorious.

Old Eqipment - Google Maps

Saving the best for last, we headed back to the first floor and walked into the shrine filled with the greatest people to ever be a part of the game of baseball. The bronze busts of each National Baseball Hall of Fame member fill the oak walls from top to bottom. There are 306 total people lining these walls, enshrined in this temple of baseball holiness forever. It was a beautiful sight to witness and one that I never will forget. On the back wall, the original class of Christy Mathewson, Babe Ruth, Ty Cobb, Honus Wagner and Walter Johnson, are singled out and makes known the start of the National Baseball Hall of Fame.

The First Class Photo

Finally, the other clever exhibit on the first floor is a small one and somewhat hidden. It features all kinds of memorabilia from baseball films. Being the movie buff that I am, especially with a soft spot for baseball-related movies, I got a kick out of this exhibit. There’s even a list that gives all the names of every baseball movie, which was quite informational – I mean, did you know there are three Sandlot movies? I knew of two, but not the third. There was even a great black and white photo of my brilliant Twitter avatar, (if you don’t follow me, you probably should @hamsterjockey) Rick ‘Wild Thing’ Vaughn, made famous in the Major League films.

Overall, my first trip to Cooperstown and the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum was a definite success. It was so much history packed into one visit though, so I feel like I did miss out on some things. However, that just means I will have to go back in a few years. I highly recommend that if you have not been there, visit as soon as you can. If you have visited there previously, I highly suggest that you go back and see the new memorabilia and exhibits.

*Note: the old playing equipment photo is courtesy of Google Maps. You can take a tour of the Baseball Hall of Fame via Google Maps. Technology is awesome.

A Trip to Cooperstown, Part 1

As a diehard baseball fan, I had never made the pilgrimage to Cooperstown, New York to visit the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum. I’d actually never even been to New York before. How sacrilegious is that? With so much history, tradition and baseball in one place, how had a fan, like myself, never set foot on such sacred grounds.

Well, that all changed the second weekend in June as some friends and I, already having planned to go up to Upstate New York for a long weekend, made a pit stop in Cooperstown to check out the Baseball Hall of Fame. Let’s just say that I was mesmerized by how much baseball tradition is enshrined within the walls of the Baseball Hall of Fame itself.

When we first arrived there, I noticed just how much baseball was prevalent within the little town of Cooperstown. Baseball themed restaurants and stores line the streets with titles such as the “Triple Play Café,” “Cooperstown Bat Company,” and “Baseballism.” With restaurants and shops featuring names like those, you know that you’re in heaven as a baseball fan.

After parking the car and wandering down Main Street, taking in all the sights, sounds and smells of baseball heaven, we finally made it to the Baseball Hall of Fame. The Baseball Hall of Fame is celebrating its 75th Anniversary this year and we picked a great weekend to visit. Not only was the ‘Iron Man’ Cal Ripken, Jr. there himself (we unfortunately did not see Cal) for various events throughout the weekend, the Baseball Hall of Fame actually was opening a brand new Babe Ruth exhibit on the day we went. Talk about great timing. We also got a commemorative keychain. Hooray keychains!

Once inside, we picked up a map and started to decipher where to go and what to see first. After opting to start on the third floor and work our way down, we entered the “Sacred Ground” exhibit. This exhibit featured quite a bit of information regarding the ballparks, past and current. It also featured a ton of new and old memorabilia, such as the Rally Monkey, which is a plush monkey (actually a real monkey in real life) that made appearances in late-inning situations for the 2002 Anaheim Angels’ World Series-winning team. There were also two seats from Veterans Stadium, the old ballpark that the Philadelphia Phillies called home from 1971-2003. Other relics and knick-knacks featured within this exhibit include old ticket stubs and giveaway items such as pins, bobbleheads, a Rubik’s Cube and ancient programs that were sold for 15 cents.

Rally Monkey

The exhibit changes from ballparks to players, highlighting individual records that each player has accomplished. Records such as Ripen, Jr.’s consecutive games played streak (2,632), most games played in a career (Pete Rose; 3,562), most consecutive seasons leading the league in singles (Ichiro; 10), most saves in a season (Francisco Rodriguez; 62), a broken bat highlighting Mariano Rivera’s 608 career saves and even Eric Gagne’s goggles signifying his 84 consecutive saves streak. Another interesting item that the Baseball Hall of Fame had was the hat that Chicago Cubs pitcher Kerry Wood wore during his rookie season where he struck out 20 Houston Astros batters during his fifth career start in the majors. One thing that I forgot about though was Barry Bond’s career home run No. 762 ball. It was in the Baseball Hall of Fame, but I completely forgot that the ball was purchased by designer Marc Ecko, who then branded it with an asterisk and donated it back to the Hall. I got a chuckle out of that. Finally, upon exiting this exhibit, they have replicas of each ring that the World Series champion receives. It was interesting seeing how gaudy the rings have gotten over the years. It really is all about the bling.

Kerry Wood Hat

In order to keep this on the shorter side and not be TL;DR, be on the lookout for Part 2 of my trip to Cooperstown.

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

Get To Know A Nat 2014: Sandy León

Sandy

Name: Sandy David León
Nickname(s): None that I could find
DOB: March 13, 1989
Twitter?: @sandyleon41
From: Maracaibo, Venezuela
Position: Catcher
Hand: Bats: Switch / Throws: Right

With the Nats Since: Signed by the Washington Nationals as an amateur free agent on January 21, 2007.

Just Who Is This Guy?: León is a backup catcher who made his Major League debut on May 14, 2012, the day after he was first called up. He went 0-for-1 with a strikeout in his debut but severely sprained his ankle during the game because of a home plate collision with Chase Headley of the San Diego Padres. (ed: We wrote about Sandy Leon, briefly, back in 2013.)

León came back later that season and finished off the year with a .267 batting average in 12 games. He had eight hits, scored two runs and drove in two RBI. He walked four times and struck out 11 times. León caught a total of 83.1 innings, making one error and allowed three passed balls.

Digging a little deeper into his catching stats, León is actually a decent catcher in terms of framing. In 2012, he had 663 chances to frame a pitch and earned 14 strikes extra for his pitcher based on his framing skills. That’s 4.4 extra runs added, which was good for No. 30 overall on Baseball Prospectus’ list of catchers for that year.

What Happened in 2013: During the 2013 campaign, León spent virtually all of the season in the minors. He played two games with the Nationals, logging one at-bat and struck out. He played three games with the Auburn Doubledays and didn’t do much, but was then promoted to Double-A Harrisburg and played in 95 games there. León batted .177/.291/.252 and hit three home runs and drove in 26 RBI. He walked 47 times, struck out 57 times and scored 35 runs. He even legged out a triple. In terms of defense, León committed six errors with Harrisburg and allowed nine passed balls.

What’s happening in 2014 so far?: I feel like I write this every time, but with the sheer amount of injuries that have pillaged the Nationals so far this season, León has gotten some playing time because of it. Filling in as the backup catcher (behind Jose Lobatón who was filling in for Wilson Ramos), León has a batting average of .170 in 16 games (as of June 22). He had one home run, three RBI and nine hits.

León’s defense has actually gone down from his 2012 season to his 2014 season in terms of advanced catching metrics. In 2014, he’s had 930 framing chances and only gained nine strikes extra from them, adding 2.9 runs.

During his 16 games at Triple-A Syracuse (when Ramos wasn’t injured), León is batting .294/.390/.392. He has yet to hit a home run but has drive in six RBI and has 15 hits. He has a perfect fielding percentage behind the plate and is 4-for-6 throwing runners out attempting to steal.

Overall, León is more of a defensive catcher than an offensive threat. The injuries to Ramos have given León an opportunity to showcase some of those skills, but he still needs some grooming in the minors at the plate. There is a good chance he’ll be going back down as soon as Wilson Ramos is healthy enough to catch again, which may be any day now.

*Note: All stats are as of June 22.