Casey’s Mailbag #Nats Nats Nats Woooo!

Final Week Mailbag

Baseball is never boring, but there have been few games with relevance this week; even less so this weekend.

When I sent out on Twitter my desire to write a mailbag this week, I claimed this final week of the MLB season would be “boring.” With not much to discuss with on-field activity, I turned to an idea for a mailbag.

I was met immediately with a response on how could I call this week boring? Baseball is never boring; there is always plenty to discuss! I stand corrected, and this reply is of course true. I spent Wednesday night watching an extra innings matchup between the Chicago White Sox and Los Angeles Angels mostly due to the fact I love watching the game of baseball, regardless of impact on the standings.

This mailbag’s intention was to be mainly Washington Nationals related, however I was up for answering any questions across the league. I opened it up to the league due to, again, my thoughts of perhaps Nats loyalists would be bored by this week. Wrong again. There is plenty of interest in the play this week, with of course the big story being the return of Bryce Harper.

Photo by Marlene Koenig for TalkNats


News came in last weekend Harper would be returning for the final week of the season. The flu kept him out of Monday’s game (an unfortunate tease), but he was slated in the starting lineup for a Tuesday match-up against the Philadelphia Phillies.

Harper walked (and was erased on a double play by the next hitter), struck out swinging, and popped out to second base in his first game back since August 12, missing a total of 42 games and 45 calendar days. 

Of course Harper’s impact at the plate is incredibly important, but most likely everyone wanted to see how his legs looked, whether in the outfield or on the bases. He was tested early as Aaron Altherr roped a double down the right field line in the bottom of the first inning. Harper looked spry running the ball down, and I’m sure there were some deep breaths taken after the early chance.

Harper only had one other chance in the field, a deep fly ball in the bottom of the fourth he tracked down, and triggering a giggle from me, seemingly called off Michael Taylor on the catch. Probably wanted to remember the feeling of a putout.

Harper was taken out after his fifth inning at-bat, ending the night of his return.

He was right back at it Wednesday night — a good sign — and grounded into a double play on a softly hit ball in the top of the first inning. The second at-bat was nearly a replica of the first — another GIDP, albeit a little harder hit. It’s clearly going to take a little bit to get used to being back out there.

Harper got his first hit of the week in his third at-bat, not exactly an inspiring rope — the 70.5 mph exit velocity “flip” into left field, perfectly placed out of the reach of any Phillies defender. 

Harper did get a stolen base, as part of a double steal with Trea Turner, and scored on an Anthony Rendon single, again proving the leg is seemingly healed.

In his last at-bat of the night, Harper struck out swinging.

There were multiple plays out to Harper in the field — a double off the wall in the second was definitely not catchable, but he made a solid attempt to throw a runner out at home. 

Odubel Herrera definitely thought he left the building to lead off the fourth, but Harper did a great job in getting to it and corralling the high blast.

Harper’s final outfield chance was in the fifth inning (he was pulled early again). It turned out to be the backbreaker for both Tanner Roark and the Nationals as Altherr’s triple tied the game (and Herrera followed up with the game-winner). 

The play was interesting from a Harper-POV as he didn’t play the carom off the jut in the outfield fence perfectly, but he fired a bullet to catcher Pedro Severino in more than enough time to nail Rhys Hoskins at the plate. If Severino fields it cleanly, the Nats leave the inning still with the lead, and who knows what happens with the rest of the game.

Harper did not play Thursday night.

All in all, Harper’s return has been encouraging, and it’s great he will be getting 20–30 PAs before the postseason starts. The leg seems fine, the arm seems great, and hopefully for Nats fans, the bat starts to show signs before next week.

Yes, as of yet I haven’t answered an actual question in my mailbag article, but I figured enough people would be interested in the biggest story of the week. On to the questions!

I brought up Kintzler’s struggles in my last article here at TalkNats, and this question is right up my alley, as depending on which numbers you’re looking at during the right-handed reliever’s time in Washington, you’d be seeing a different story.

Kintzler has a 2.13 ERA in his 25.1 innings since the July 31 trade from Minnesota — worth noting the Twins still made the playoffs without him with old Nats friend Matt Belisle as their closer since his departure. 

His FIP (field independent pitching) numbers do not see him as favorably. He has struck out 12 of 99 batters for a K% of 12 percent — below his career rate of 16.7 and would be his lowest rate in any season if stretched out to a full year. 

He has given up only two home runs in a Nats uniform, one solo shot and one grand slam, but has given up four barrels. The two home runs were no cheapies, both barrels. Travis Shaw hit one to the deepest part of Miller Park in Milwaukee on September 1, ran down by the center fielder, and on September 7, Andres Blanco hit a 397-foot smash to straightaway center, also for a deep flyout.

Sometimes it’s better to be lucky than good, but it does seem Kintzler has gotten some good fortune from the baseball gods in the last two months. 

As for the rest of @MaxSexyStubble’s question, I found some interesting statistics when looking at Kintzler in two-strike counts. In June, Kintzler had 17 of 42 hitters (40.4 percent) he faced reach two strikes, and he struck out seven of them. In August, 31 of 58 hitters (53.4 percent) faced reached two strikes, but he only struck out eight of them. September has seen 16 of 41 (39.0 percent) reach two strikes with only four hitters striking out. 

Another point to mention is in June, Kintzler did not allow a single base runner once he got the hitter to two strikes. In September, he’s given up four hits to those 16 reaching two strikes. 

Kintzler is getting more hitters to two strikes, but hasn’t been able to finish the task. It’s hard to exactly answer the final part of the question, especially if Kintzler’s wipeout pitch isn’t on point, but whatever he’s doing hasn’t been working and will need to improve to be able to return to success.

This question wasn’t directed at me but hopefully @bogcommenter won’t have any issue with me taking a crack at his question.

I haven’t made it a secret I am also not the biggest Dusty Baker fan, and why this poll caught my eye is I can see any of these reasons (of which I disagree with all of those strategies) be the reason for demise of the Washington Nationals this postseason.

Option A I’m hoping may be a moot point with Harper back in the lineup, especially due to him being placed in the second spot in the two games he played this week. A lineup of Turner/Harper/Murphy/Zimmerman/Rendon, or any combination of the five at the top, is nearly impossible to critique. 

Yes, a Howie Kendrick start in left field may be questioned, but the lineup is (hopefully) stable, and no old school mantras should rear their ugly head.

Getting rid of any issues with Option A could also take care of Option D. With a lineup of so many productive hitters, taking the bat out of any of their hands would be even more ludicrous than typical bunts we see each day in a slate of baseball games. There just aren’t enough hitters where a sacrifice seems worth it in the Nationals’ lineup.

But also surprisingly, Baker has not turned to the bunt as often as past seasons.

In 2012, Baker’s Reds attempted a sacrifice bunt 119 times, third highest in all of baseball. In 2013, the Reds’ 118 sac bunt attempts were the most in all of baseball. But last season, the Nationals only put the bunt down 69 times all season, eighth in all of baseball. This season, there have only been 59 attempts, moving the Nats down to 12th in baseball in giving up a free out.

Options B and C seemingly would contradict each other. I’m sure B hits home hardest, as leaving Scherzer in too long is what many fans believe was a big part of the reason of last year’s exit from the postseason. 

However this is one of, if not the best starting rotations in all of baseball. They have certainly earned a large amount of trust, specifically Scherzer and Strasburg, and it will be hard to criticize Baker for leaving them in to face a lineup for a third time. But a fourth… may want to get the pitchforks ready.

Option C fits in nicely with another question I received on Twitter, so I’ll introduce that before discussing.

Photo by Marlene Koenig for TalkNats

This one also hits home as last season Baker decided to go with 11 pitchers and 14 position players, and it didn’t exactly pay off. I’ll answer @JABOwalkies question first — I think extra pitchers will more likely pay off than extra position players in a series. I would have 12 pitchers rostered in every playoff series. I can see an argument for the five game series only needing 11, but unless you have four Clayton Kershaws — or in this case, Max Scherzers — chances are you’re going to need the extra arm.

Eight arms could seem like overkill, but you’re definitely going to have Sean Doolittle, Ryan Madson, and Brandon Kintzler for your most important innings. 

After “The Firm,” Sammy Solis and Enny Romero are both hot, and both left-handed, and each likely makes the roster. The Chicago Cubs have Anthony Rizzo and Kyle Schwarber from the left side and lefties will be necessary for this series.

Matt Albers has had a surprisingly fantastic season and easily makes the list, but it does get a bit shaky after him. To finish off the previous discussion, I suppose Albers is the most likely name to be the response to the poll, and you could certainly see Baker leaving in the big man far too long in an important spot.

You most likely would want a long relief guy in case of an injury, a blowout, or if one of your starters just isn’t effective early on. The Nationals have plenty of choices to fill in here. Matt Grace and Joe Blanton have both been pitching well over the last month. A.J. Cole and Edwin Jackson (ick) have both been filling in the rotation, and are certainly stretched out for a long man role.

With position players, you’ll then have five backups, in which you will want a backup catcher, a speed/defense type, a left-handed pinch hitter, and usually two right-handed pinch hitters. Again, with a lineup as strong as the Nats, chances are you aren’t pinch hitting anyone, in any situation, 1–5.

I’ll wrap up with a question I received via e-mail.

One commenter on Talk Nats has described Turner as an average SS. I disagree. Where does Trea rank in O and D with other SS’s in MLB & NL? — Brandon Davis

Well Brandon, I’m wondering if the comment you’re referring to is from me. Last week I called Turner an average defender at shortstop. I don’t love any defensive metric out there for infielders, as I believe so much of any ground ball defense is determined by positioning. But, for what it’s worth, if you pull up Fangraphs’ shortstop defensive rankings, Turner is about as middle of the pack as they come.

But Turner more than makes up for his average defensive play by being incredible on the other side of the ball. He is tenth in fWAR the last two seasons at the shortstop position despite having ~300 less PAs than the other players ranked around him. 

His base running is where he truly breaks away from the pack as only Xander Bogaerts has been a higher ranked shortstop in Fangraphs’ base running metric the past two seasons. The metric not only takes in stolen bases, but other degrees of base running including taking extra bases and not being thrown out on the base paths. Turner has only been thrown out on the bases twice (not counting caught stealing) all season.

Offenseively, Corey Seager, Carlos Correa, and Francisco Lindor are the upper tier of shortstops in the league, but Trea Turner is pretty close to those three. 

Overall, a well above-average shortstop in the league today.

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