The season started out great, didn’t it? The Nats won their first four games by a combined score of 29-13. Granted, those games came against the lowly Reds and a team that served as the Nats’ doormat the last few years, the Atlanta Braves (who are….probably better than that now). Then came a five-game losing streak, which turned into a 3-7 homestand, which turned into a 7-16 stretch.
Obviously, injuries and bad luck have played a part in their current record (15-16). It’s still very early, and the schedule could be shaping up nicely the rest of the way. Plus, some light has shone through early this week with wins against the Diamondbacks and Pirates.
Let’s dig a little deeper and have a look at the lineup, the starters and the relievers through the first month-plus, including some players who are standing out and some who are struggling. Obviously, sample sizes caveats are in play throughout.
All stats are through May 1 and courtesy of FanGraphs.
138 runs scored – 2nd in NL
.242 AVG – 6th in NL
.332 OBP – 2nd in NL
.398 SLG – 5th in NL
99 wRC+ – 7th in NL
32 stolen bases – 1st in NL
Extended absences for Adam Eaton (who raked his way to a 194 wRC+ in just 33 plate appearances before going on the DL), Anthony Rendon and Brian Goodwin, in addition to Daniel Murphy’s rehab from knee surgery, have meant guys like Wilmer Difo, Moises Sierra, Andrew Stevenson, Adrian Sanchez, and Matt Reynolds getting more plate appearances than we’d all like (for the latter two, I’d prefer zero). This lineup can’t truly take off until Eaton, Rendon and Murphy are back, with Goodwin waiting in the wings to spell any outfielders who need a break.
With that said, these numbers are better than I expected. Placing second in the league in runs through just over a month is nothing to scoff at. I don’t need to tell you that Bryce Harper has played a huge part, as he sports a .250/.459/.554 line for a 165 wRC+. Imagine what he can do when all the big boys are back and the option of intentionally walking him becomes much less appealing. I can’t imagine he’ll hit leadoff when the Nats are at full strength, but man, it’s gone well so far.
Trea Turner and his new and improved 13.8% walk rate have meant a 116 wRC+, while the speedster has also tacked on 12 stolen bases to help put the Nats at the top of the league in that category, eight ahead of the second-place Braves. Matt Adams is also doing a great 2017 Adam Lind impression, putting up a gaudy 179 wRC+, albeit in just over 60 plate appearances (and I’d expect his .344 BABIP to go down). Howie Kendrick’s done his part, too, hitting to a 116 wRC+ with an isolated slugging number of .210, third behind Harper and Adams in the current lineup. Matt Wieters looks slimmer and still has some pop in his bat – his 102 wRC+ is FORTY points higher than last year’s – and I am all for him splitting time with Pedro Severino.
Ugh, now for the bad stuff. Ryan Zimmerman is scaring all of us with his slow start, but a .200 BABIP HAS to come up and the hard-hit rate is up to 44.3%, a nearly four-point increase from last season. I have a feeling we’re going to see a patented Zim hot streak here soon. Michael Taylor has shown signs of life lately and he’s been great on the basepaths, stealing nine bases and grading well in his baserunning, according to FanGraphs’ BsR metric. But all the strikeouts (30.1% K rate) mean the line looks pretty ugly, still (.214/.283/.369). I was hoping we’d get a regular season of 2017 postseason Michael Taylor, but, alas.
181.0 IP – 1st in NL
3.43 ERA – 3rd in NL
3.71 FIP – 5th in NL
9.70 K/9 – 3rd in NL
2.83 BB/9 – T-4th in NL
1.14 HR/9 – 11th in NL
And you thought the starters weren’t going to pitch as many innings with Dusty gone. Nope. The Nats’ starters have pitched more innings than any group in the NL, 11 innings ahead of the second-place Pirates through 30 games. Only nine of those innings were pitched by A.J. Cole, who is now thankfully playing for another organization.
Max Scherzer is an unhittable monster out to rob souls from batter’s bodies every five days. Just look at his numbers through seven starts. He won NL Pitcher of the Month for April. A third straight Cy Young is in play. Let’s all cherish the fact that he pitches for our favorite team.
Gio Gonzalez actually has a higher K rate than Stephen Strasburg through his first six starts. The groundball rate is fantastic (48.5%), so is the HR/FB rate (3.2%) and the FIP is a pretty 2.60. If this is Gio’s last season in DC, he’s on pace for a grand finale. Tanner Roark is doing what Tanner Roark does– pitching roughly six innings per start, giving up 3-4 runs, getting out of some jams, striking the occasional guy out. He’s an ideal fourth starter.
Stephen Strasburg didn’t have the greatest first month of the season. The 21.2% HR/FB rate is definitely going to come down but WOW, that is a big number. Even the K rate looks low for Stras, at 9.76 per 9 innings (10.5 is his career rate). I’m willing to bet Stephen figures things out and starts missing bats consistently again.
Jeremy Hellickson is Jeremy Hellickson. He is going to do Jeremy Hellickson things with his 89-mph fastball and relaxed demeanor and delivery. He’s better than A.J. Cole, that’s for sure. That said, I wouldn’t be shocked if Mike Rizzo looks to improve this spot at the trade deadline.
4.85 ERA – 13th in NL
4.27 FIP – 12th in NL
10.11 K/9 – 4th in NL
3.74 BB/9 – 6th in NL
1.31 HR/9 – 14th in NL
Speaking of the trade deadline, and stop me if you’ve heard this one before: the Nats need bullpen help.
Fellow Nats Blog contributor Erik Payne wrote a great piece on Brandon Kintzler, Ryan Madson and Sean Doolittle earlier this week, so hop over there for some great analysis on those three and their performances so far this year.
Beyond the Law Firm, things are shaky for the Nats. They’re going to need to find a reliable option (or two) to bridge the gap on rough days for the starters, or on days when one or more of the three-headed monster is not available.
Sammy Solis has yet to fully live up to the potential that he showed in 2016. However, his peripherals look very good so far this year – 1.93 FIP, 15.09 K/9. The walk rate is way too high (5.56 per 9) and he’s been bitten by bad BABIP luck (.435 against), while durability remains a concern. I’m still not ready to say he’s a go-to matchup lefty, but he’s going to have to do unless Rizzo can make a move, because Matt Grace is not going to cut it. Did we ever get an explanation as to why Enny Romero was let go? I still can’t figure that one out.
There’s not much else to inspire confidence here. Shawn Kelley just cannot stop giving up home runs. Carlos Torres should never go near high leverage situations. Maybe Trevor Gott can turn into something? Through nine appearances, he’s been a ground ball machine (64.0 GB%) while putting up a 3.17 FIP. But the 5.79 K/9 does not scream “shutdown reliever,” at least not yet.Tags: Washington Nationals