The Nationals begin June in 1st Place at 14 games over .500 with a 33-19 record. The Nationals lead in the NL East is at 9.5 games before the Mets game finishes up today. The lead will either be 10 games or 9 games dependent on the outcome of that Mets-Brewers game.
There was a healthy dose of pessimism in NatsTown when the Washington Nationals were mired in that 4-game losing streak from May 17th to May 20th. While there were some valid concerns regarding the breakdown from starting pitching to the bullpen to mini slumps for Ryan Zimmerman and Bryce Harper, the team overall still had a healthy lead and a strong record at the end of the losing streak at 25-17. All good teams hit some low points in the season.
The pillars that the Washington Nationals are built on is strong starting pitching, athleticism, and a strong top of the order presence. This past week we saw all of that on display along with a resurgent bullpen which has been unscored upon in 8 of their last 9 games.
At the top of the line-up, Trea Turner has found a new way to be impactful and that is to top the ball on the ground and let his feet do the work. Since May 14th, Turner has reached base 6 times on infield errors that have all been forced by his speed. He has forced 8 errors at 1st base this season in total, and all of them could have been scored hits. Do you want to know what Trea Turner would be batting if those 8 errors were ruled hits? .300 Yes, you heard it — .300 He would be batting 54-for-180 instead of 46-for-180. That is a 44 point difference on his batting average. So the next time you want to complain about your lead-off man, find a different argument like maybe complain about his BB% which does have to increase, and it will.
For those who said last week — but, but, but, Michael Taylor has a higher OPS than Trea Turner are not grasping that they are comparing a #8 hitter to a lead-off man where it would have been like comparing Danny Espinosa last year and seriously, why would anyone want to do that? It’s apples to oranges. The #8 hitter gets pitch-arounds that boosts their on-base-percentage and many times are not pitched to as carefully as your typical lead-off man. This does not take anything away from Michael Taylor who has been a positive for this team to this point. This has to do with wholesale comparisons that some have made of Turner vs. Taylor.
Speaking of comparisons, Ryan Zimmerman has already matched his 2016 home run total with his 15th home run last night and is now 2 RBIs away from matching his 2016 RBI total. Zimmerman has been the team’s MVP for the first third of the season. He has become the poster boy for “launch angle” analysis and what Daniel Murphy has preached for his personal success through his previous hitting guru Kevin Long that calls that one-eight of an inch at the bottom of the baseball the “go zone” because if you hit it there the ball will go at the optimal angle instead of that old Zimmerman launch angle that was driven into the ground. The higher launch angles is what analysts believe has caused the spate of home runs in the league.
A tongue-in-cheek tweet and every time you hear Launch Angle: 19.8; Exit Velo: 104.5; you know that distance is going to have a chance to go over the outfield wall for a home run.
And Zimmerman's Launch Angle Changes, which of course, has nothing to do with his home run totals. pic.twitter.com/UR3LRK0inG
— Derek Florko (@SaberCoach) May 7, 2017
From Eddie Matz of ESPN.com, “Believe it or not, the one-eighth of an inch that Zimmerman’s referring to is an actual number. Yep. Somebody somewhere took the time to figure out that over the first month or so of the season, the Nats’ cleanup man was striking the baseball, on average, an eighth of an inch lower than he did last year (per ESPN’s Sports Science). That’s the equivalent of two stitches on a seam. As a result of that two-stitch deviation, his average launch angle had increased by almost four degrees, from 9.0 last year, to 12.7 this April. Zimmerman is aware of this because in the Statcast era, when you’re the hottest hitter on the planet, these kinds of facts have a way of finding you — over and over and over again. Especially when people have reason to believe.”
“I’m doing it on purpose,” Ryan Zimmerman seemed to say mockingly. “All off-season, I worked on hitting the ball one-eighth of an inch lower and it’s totally paying off. I used lasers and computers, and every time I didn’t hit it one-eighth of an inch lower, my bat blew up so that I had to get a new one.”
Ryan Zimmerman knocked in all 3-runs last night, and he keeps trying to say his 2017 success has nothing to do with new mechanics or launch angle rather he has been repeating himself that it is about good health.
“We do some drills for posture and stuff, so [Ryan Zimmerman] doesn’t get bent over, or start diving,” Nationals’ hitting coach Rick Schu said. “Just trying to keep him upright and working downhill. When he dives, he doesn’t see the ball, and he really fights his hands. He doesn’t drive the ball middle-opposite [field] like he usually does, and has a hard time hitting the ball middle-in. When he’s staying stacked and behind the ball, his power’s that way, and he hits the breaking ball to leftfield.”
If there’s any criticism of Zimmerman that befuddles the statistics it is what happens when bases are loaded or a man on 3rd base.
“If there’s a runner on third and less than two outs, you don’t have a different swing for that situation,” Zimmerman said. “It’s a different mind-set.”
Zimmerman is batting .377 overall in all situations but when bases are loaded he is 1-for-8 with 4 strikeouts. Yes, the sample size is small and was even worse last year. Zimmerman’s home run last night was with Trea Turner on 3rd base and that boosted his batting average to .280 when a man is on 3rd base as Zim is now 7-for-25.
“I’m just healthy finally,” Zimmerman said again last night. “Having a healthy off-season, spring training, just getting off to a good start. I just want to keep it going.”
With all the times Zimmerman talks about his health, it becomes a question of “are you telling us you weren’t healthy last year”? The exit velocity is similar to last year but instead of pounding balls into the ground he is pounding them over the outfield walls. That seems fairly obvious. Manager Dusty Baker was a optimistic back in Spring Training when he declared Zimmerman as his “pick to click” and Mike Rizzo bet an expensive dinner to say the same. If you really thought Zimmerman would be this good, you’re probably delusional or just plain lying.
“When the season started, I told you he was my pick to click,” Baker said. “He’s making us all look good. I can’t imagine how he felt last year making outs when he knows what a great player and hitter he is. I’m just so happy for him. We’ve just got to keep him healthy.””
Now get the votes in for Ryan Zimmerman for the 2017 All Star game because sending Anthony Rizzo is a slight to the year Zim is having.
— Vote Ryan Zimmerman (@NavyYardNats) June 1, 2017