If you use BaseballReference.com (BBRef) you will certainly see their rankings have some interesting names as the most valuable on the Nats. Not surprisingly, Max Scherzer and Juan Soto were their № 1 and № 2 on their list. What may surprise you is Tanner Rainey after his performance in Hi Lev yesterday bumped him up to № 3 and it pushed Erick Fedde to № 4. The full list is still based on small sample sizes with today marking the team is at the 1/3 mark of the season; however, one-third of a truncated season is just 20-games.
What might surprise you more are the players who are at the bottom of the list. Eric Thames is last with a -0.5 WAR followed by a tie at -0.4 WAR for Anibal Sanchez, Michael Taylor and Adam Eaton. Then you have Kurt Suzuki, Sean Doolittle (on the IL), and Josh Harrison who are all -0.3 WAR according to BBRef.
While you can neutralize position and bullpen arms by situation, what do you do with your struggling № 3 starter in Anibal Sanchez? He is scheduled to pitch tonight and the 8-11 Nationals can attribute 27% of their losses to games he started and that horrific 9.69 ERA.
To update on Sanchez, the eye test is still clear that his stuff just is not being located, and the movement on his pitches at times have been too flat. Since Sanchez is no longer a power pitcher, a finesse repertoire like his pitches demand dotting his spots and putting the twists and turns on the pitches to create enough spin rate that he stays off of the barrels of bats — and that just is not happening. His first inning ERA this season is 18.00.
The velo decreases we have seen in baseball is understandable as pitchers continue to build-up arm strength. Sanchez is one of those pitchers who no longer relies on a 94 mph fastball. He makes his money from weak contact, and the last two years was one of the top pitchers in that category. Yes, he is a pitch to contact pitcher. His small velo drop isn’t as impactful because he operates as a finesse pitcher, but now we have seen his velo drop from July into August. His four-seamer is at 89.04 on average this season compared to 90.69 last year.
But results have been awful on Sanchez’s slider and curveball as opponents are batting 1.000 against those breaking pitches and Sanchez abandoned his slider in his second start. Opponents are hitting his sinker at an .800 batting average. His changeup has been great (.167 BA) and his splitter is also .167. But you need a fastball to setup those other pitches and the four-seamer has resulted in a .357 batting average and same for the cutter.
If you look at Sanchez last year, opposing hitters batted 0.228 against his four-seamer, 0.355 on the sinker, 0.228 changeup, 0.250 slider, 0.333 curveball, 0.221 cutter, and 0.115 against the splitter.
Sanchez will be exactly 36 ½ years of age in ten days. Maybe he clicks in tonight, and that is what we all have to hope. He lasted just 2 2/3 innings in his last start, and he might have been given too much leash in that game. In his three starts he has yielded, four to five runs in each start and the offense produced just 2.33 runs on average in those three games which were all losses. The key might be to have a quick hook if things go awry. We saw that with Orioles skipper Brandon Hyde yesterday when he yanked his starter two outs into the first inning with a 3-0 deficit and his team clawed back to tie the game at 5-5 to give them a chance.
Of course, you cannot keep burning your bullpen even if you have a total of nine bullpen arms. The Nationals are adding Will Crowe to their taxi squad to join outfielder Andrew Stevenson and catcher Raudy Read. Don’t be shocked if Crowe is activated for this game as a long-man in a swap for Ryne Harper.
This Atlanta series is crucial for the Nats to win the series. As they say, it all starts tonight. But looking forward, we are exactly two weeks from the August 31st trade deadline. As you accentuate the positives of which their are many, and dive into the negatives of which there are many, it has become evident that the Nats have to give this team another two weeks for a test drive to really see what they have. There is only one lefty in the bullpen and that is Seth Romero. He was electric when he was locating pitches and he hung a changeup for a grand slam which threw all of his stats into a tilt. We have to see if he can help as the lone lefty before the trade deadline. Sam Freeman turned out to be a good pitcher, and he might be lost for the entire season with an arm injury.
The bench is a collection of Mendoza level hitters. From Difo (.100), Thames (.175), Harrison (.176), and Taylor (.182), the most disappointing part is that manager Dave Martinez has tried to use them in platoon spots to get them going. Harrison got his first hit against a RHP yesterday but then was quickly erased when he was picked-off. Thames is hitless against lefty pitching, and Taylor has an .087 BA against righties (2-23).
While there are no easy answers because the farm system beyond Carter Kieboom and Luis Garcia is almost devoid of position players ready and able to step up which leaves just players like Raudy Read, Jake Noll, and Andrew Stevenson as the only 40-man position players, and non-roster invitee Brandon Snyder, Yadiel Hernandez, Taylor Gushue, Yasel Antuna, Jakson Reetz, and 20 years old Israel Pineda who we tweeted was added yesterday. That really points to general manager Mike Rizzo must look at trades to fill spots if those struggling players do not step up.