The Washington Nationals have a much better team than we thought they would have. But the record of 10-18 does not reflect how good this team has played since their 1-6 start to the season and going 9-12 since then. The pythagorean W-L of 11-17 with 105 runs scored versus 135 runs allowed, tells you the team has been unlucky by one win. But how many wins have been given up by poor decisions and a faulty roster? Okay, that’s a loaded question with no objective answer. General Manager Mike Rizzo was also clear that the team is in a rebuild, and that usually means that you will have a faulty roster and a losing team. But can a team that is supposed to be bad, overachieve?
The Nats issues are much fewer than last year when the team had the $440 million man, and the worst farm system in baseball. The future looked bleaker a year ago. Nobody knew if Juan Soto would be part of the Nats’ future. Would you believe last year the Nats record through their first 28-games was 9-19? Yes, that’s worse than this year. That was with Soto and Josh Bell on the roster.
This 2023 team is still doing poorly in one-run games with a 3-6 record. Turn that around to 6-3 and the Nats would be 13-15 on the season and two-games under .500. Give me a million dollars, and I would be a millionaire. You are what your record says you are…when the season finishes. But what this shows you is the Nats would be much better if they can just figure out how to win those one-run games. Analyze each one of those losses, and see if you can find any patterns.
Last year, Chad Kuhl had a 5.72 ERA as a starting pitcher for the Colorado Rockies. What has happened to him? You would expect some improvement just going from Colorado to Washington, D.C. Yes, we know the extra burden he is carrying with his wife’s cancer, but still, a 9.41 ERA after five starts usually puts you in hot water. Kuhl was placed on the 15-day IL with a foot injury, and Cory Abbott called up in his place, saving the Nats a difficult decision with Kuhl. He had been taxing the bullpen in his five starts. He has averaged a troubling 4 1/3 innings per game meaning the bullpen has to cover on average 4 2/3 innings per game for him. Now we will have to see if Abbott can continue his recent success as the Pitcher of the Week in his Triple-A division.
Some good news is that Patrick Corbin is pitching good enough to win in most of his starts, and might be the unluckiest pitcher on the staff. He got homeplate umpire Erich Bacchus at his absolute worst on Saturday, and it cost Corbin dearly as he had to adjust his game plan as he was not getting legit strikes at the bottom of the zone where Corbin “lives” and he wasn’t getting calls on the vertical edges where he likes to paint fastballs. Corbin has improved over a half-run from last year to a 5.74 ERA in 2023. Not great, but improving.
Real quick, how do you think the Nats Top-3 pitchers fare against the Top-3 from the upstart Pirates and Orioles?
Just what you thought, the Nats are nearly tied for the best Top-3 ranked starters by ERA with the Pirates and the Orioles are third. The Pirates have the best record in the NL, and the Orioles are in second place in the AL East behind the Rays. When the Orioles beat the Nats in a two-game series, the Nats lost 1-0 and 4-0 in shutouts by Orioles’ pitchers who are not even on that chart. Yes, the Nats go through some tough dry spells on offense.
Now you can see the weak points on this team in more clarity. The back of the starting rotation, the “B” bullpen, and the offensive struggles by three players stand-out. Could you name the lowest OPS on the Nats’ starting offense?
- Dom Smith .636 OPS
- Luis Garcia .636 OPS
Truthfully, I would not have thought Garcia would be on that list. Your best player in OPS will shock you too. It is Keibert Ruiz at .716 with Victor Robles right behind him at .703. The issue as you see is no starter in that .850 or over range…or even close. This team is zapped for power. On Saturday, CJ Abrams had a higher OPS than Joey Meneses, and Abrams is ahead of Meneses in home runs. Go figure. The hot seat has now turned from pitching coach, Jim Hickey, to hitting coach Darnell Coles.
Losses like Kuhl’s 16-1 defeat on Saturday are not worth examining. But those one-run losses can be used to search for “The Little Things” and part of the blame has to be shared by manager Dave Martinez, Rizzo, and ownership. Again, you can be in a rebuild and not sustain triple-digit losses. In the hierarchy of management, Martinez reports to Rizzo. Why are the same mistakes made over and over in managerial decisions? Pushing starters past their stress points has been an issue in D.C. for a long time. With analytics and the push with biometrics, the Nats have to be better.
The bullpen management has been inconsistent in use and usage. Mason Thompson has thrown the most innings by nearly 43 percent over the next closest as Thompson has thrown 20.0 innings versus Erasmo Ramirez at just 13 1/3 innings. Why? It’s crazy to think that Kuhl as a starter had thrown 22.0 innings and Thompson has accumulated 20.0.
If you use biometrics, which almost every MLB team monitors, especially for bullpen arms, you saw that the two previous times that Thompson threw 2+ innings that he was then given two days off. But last week in New York, Thompson threw 3.0 innings and was brought back after one rest day changing his routine, and he blew up on the mound and lost the final game against the Mets. I would not put an ounce of blame on Thompson, even if he told his manager that he felt great before pitching that game in NYC. First off, no reason to pitch him after a team day-off for 3.0 innings with a 5-run lead after the starter went 6.0 full innings. The cause and effect at the time was commented by me as Thompson was brought out for his third inning in something that Nats’ management should have seen coming with clear foresight. Why is Thompson all of a sudden a long-man when he is a key set-up man?
|Josiah Gray||25||us US||R||R||6′ 1″||210||Dec 21, 1997||3||6||1.2||$730,000|
|MacKenzie Gore||24||us US||L||L||6′ 2″||192||Feb 24, 1999||2||5||0.9||$723,300|
|Keibert Ruiz||24||ve VE||B||R||6′ 0″||227||Jul 20, 1998||4||23||0.7||$1,375,000|
|Mason Thompson||25||us US||R||R||6′ 6″||244||Feb 20, 1998||3||11||0.7||$724,400|
|Alex Call||28||us US||R||R||5′ 11″||189||Sep 27, 1994||2||25||0.6||$721,800|
|Jeimer Candelario||29||us US||B||R||6′ 2″||222||Nov 24, 1993||8||27||0.6||$5,000,000|
|Hunter Harvey||28||us US||R||R||6′ 3″||239||Dec 9, 1994||5||11||0.4||$870,000|
|Trevor Williams||31||us US||R||R||6′ 3″||231||Apr 25, 1992||8||5||0.4||$6,000,000|
|CJ Abrams||22||us US||L||R||6′ 2″||191||Oct 3, 2000||2||26||0.3||$724,200|
|Carl Edwards Jr.||31||us US||R||R||6′ 3″||165||Sep 3, 1991||9||11||0.3||$2,250,000|
|Stone Garrett||27||us US||R||R||6′ 2″||224||Nov 22, 1995||2||11||0.2|
|Victor Robles||26||do DO||R||R||6′ 0″||194||May 19, 1997||7||25||0.2||$2,325,000|
|Riley Adams||27||us US||R||R||6′ 4″||260||Jun 26, 1996||3||4||0.1||$728,800|
|Michael Chavis||27||us US||R||R||5′ 10″||190||Aug 11, 1995||5||9||0.1||$1,000,000|
|Luis García||23||us US||L||R||6′ 2″||220||May 16, 2000||4||22||0.1||$738,600|
|Andrés Machado||30||ve VE||R||R||6′ 1″||232||Apr 22, 1993||4||1||0.1|
|Jordan Weems||30||us US||L||R||6′ 4″||212||Nov 7, 1992||4||2||0.1|
|Anthony Banda||29||us US||L||L||6′ 2″||221||Aug 10, 1993||7||10||0.0||$850,000|
|Corey Dickerson||34||us US||L||R||6′ 1″||212||May 22, 1989||11||2||0.0||$2,250,000|
|Jeter Downs||24||co CO||R||R||5′ 11″||197||Jul 27, 1998||2||1||0.0|
|Thaddeus Ward||26||us US||R||R||6′ 3″||204||Jan 16, 1997||1st||6||0.0|
|Joey Meneses||31||mx MX||R||R||6′ 3″||240||May 6, 1992||2||26||-0.1||$723,300|
|Erasmo Ramírez||33||ni NI||R||R||6′ 0″||220||May 2, 1990||12||12||-0.1||$1,000,000|
|Dominic Smith||28||us US||L||L||6′ 0″||224||Jun 15, 1995||7||24||-0.1||$2,000,000|
|Lane Thomas||27||us US||R||R||6′ 0″||198||Aug 23, 1995||5||26||-0.2||$2,200,000|
|Ildemaro Vargas||31||ve VE||B||R||6′ 0″||195||Jul 16, 1991||7||7||-0.2||$975,000|
|Hobie Harris||30||us US||R||R||6′ 3″||212||Jun 23, 1993||1st||9||-0.3|
|Patrick Corbin||33||us US||L||L||6′ 4″||226||Jul 19, 1989||11||6||-0.4||$24,416,667|
|Kyle Finnegan||31||us US||R||R||6′ 2″||200||Sep 4, 1991||4||11||-0.4||$2,325,000|
|Chad Kuhl||30||us US||R||R||6′ 3″||207||Sep 10, 1992||7||5||-0.8||$100,000|
Do you notice anything about the chart above that is sorted by BBRef WAR? Those Top-4 players all came from trades for Max Scherzer/Trea Turner, Juan Soto, and Daniel Hudson. Standing applause for Rizzo and the Lerner ownership group for making the trades. It took guts to tank and make the unpopular moves, and they took a lot of heat for those trades. Hindsight a few years down the road will fairly score these trades, but today it’s looking real good for the Nats. Scherzer/Turner turned into Gray and Ruiz, Soto turned into MacKenzie Gore and the 9th player on that list Abrams (plus three of the Nats’ top prospects James Wood, Robert Hassell III, Jarlin Susana), and Hudson turned into Thompson. Wait until these prospects climb the ladder further. Wood is a Top-10 prospect in all of baseball.
The future feels brighter for our Washington Nationals. And just think, the MLB Draft is just 68-days away from the Nats drafting the second player in the first round. That should net the Nats a future star player, and put the Nats farm system in the top five to seven in all of baseball.
It is up to you if you want to look forward with optimism.