Everyone is injured and dying. I can barely keep track of who we have on the bench. I don’t recognize most of the people currently in the bullpen. After about Doolittle, Kintzler, and Solis, I just look at the reliever trucking out to the mound with a face of confusion and go, “Huh?” The injuries are starting to get a little worrying.
With Solo opening this weekend, I very much wanted to lead this off with a Han Solo-Juan Soto joke. But I’ve got nothing. So let’s just talk about Juan Soto, and what he could mean to the Nats going forward, both this season and beyond.
I graduated from Villanova University this past weekend, which means that I spent four years in Philadelphia during the most publicized tanking job any pro team has ever undergone: The Sixers’ “Process.” I had to hear for years about the good, bad, and ugly of purposely losing in order to win at some undetermined point in the future. Baseball has had its versions of tanking as well: the Astros are the notable franchise who many consider “tankers”, and we saw the fruits of their process in November when they took home a World Series title. In NBA circles, the self-appointed geniuses believe tanking is the best (and often, only) way to build a winner, and MLB minds have started to wonder if that works in baseball as well.
Watching Sunday’s loss against the Los Angeles Dodgers, I was struck by something said by color commentator F.P. Santangelo – and not in a head-scratching way.
He was talking about Bryce Harper’s struggles at the plate in recent weeks, which are only magnified by the fact that he has not been the team’s best hitter this year (or in 2017…or in 2016) and is potentially on his way to the largest contract in the history of the sport.
Last summer, I got back in the habit of reading for pleasure every day. I called it “Maddie’s Summer Book Club of One”, and we had a splendid time. This summer, MSBCOO (the name is still being workshopped) is back for the second time, but unlike last year, we have a theme. This summer, I’m going to read as many baseball books as I can. This means fiction about or including lots of baseball, player biographies, historical nonfiction, and books about strategy and the intricacies of gameplay.
The Nats’ bullpen has been in flux for most of the season, what with injuries and inconsistency. It’s been better of late, but the reality is that the Nationals are going to have to make some changes if they want a rock-solid, scary bullpen, and especially if they want a chance at making a deep run into the playoffs. Last year, their bullpen was their biggest weakness, and they don’t want that to happen again this year. At the deadline, they’re likely going to have to make a move to shore up that bullpen. My proposed solution: bring Craig Stammen back to the Nationals.
Okay, sorry. Now that I’ve gotten my Uncle Buck/bug-gnat-Nats reference out of the way, let’s talk about the squad’s injury issues and how they’re countering them.
Jeremy Hellickson began his tenure as a Washington National as a relative afterthought: a low-risk insurance policy for a franchise with little pitching depth, someone that could be counted on to at least throw strikes in Triple-A and in the Majors if injuries were to occur. Flash forward to mid-April, when A.J. Cole finally lost his ninth life as a Nats prospect and was demoted from the fifth starter role (and traded a week later) in favor of the 31-year old veteran Hellickson. Not much is generally expected from the number 5 guy in a rotation besides staying giving his club some quality innings so as not to destroy the bullpen.
Yet here we stand halfway through May with Hellickson having started six games and the numbers are astounding. 2.20 ERA, 0.86 WHIP, 5.2 K/BB ratio, and while he only has one decision (a win), the Nats are 4-2 in his starts. Save perhaps the otherworldly Houston Astros, no team in baseball has been as pleased with their fifth starter as Washington. But is it sustainable to any extent? Let’s look at the underlying numbers.
Michael A. Taylor is one of the more polarizing Washington Nationals. Since his first sustained big league action in 2015, he’d graded as a slightly above average position player who’d combine out-of-body athletic moments with liver-soaking runs of failure.
Then, in 2017, he took a huge step forward. He slashed .271/.320/.486 on his way to a 105 wRC+ and 3.2 Fangraphs WAR, which would have 10th among centerfielders had he logged enough plate appearances to qualify. He even played his typically strong defense.
He hasn’t hit this year (a subject that deserves 800 words all its own), but his glove has been fine. Better than fine, actually: the word I’m looking for is elite.
Continue Reading Michael A. Taylor Is The Best Defensive Outfielder In Baseball — Right Now
This time last year, Nationals fans were watching implosion after implosion after implosion coming from the bullpen—leading to the worst reliever ERA in the majors. Mike Rizzo, doing what he does best, went out and formed The Law Firm of Kintzler, Madson, and Doolittle. The second half of 2017, the Nats bullpen was one of the better in the majors. After the season, he also convinced Brandon Kintzler to eschew more high-profile closer roles, and return to DC for a chance at a title. How much better has 2018 been?