Monday, July 13, 2015

Fun With First Half Stats



The Nationals enter the All-Star break 2 games up on the Mets in first place in the NL East. The DL list feels as long as the A Song of Fire and Ice books, but the bench has been keeping its head above water when forced into the starting lineup. We enter a brief dead period in the season to make way for the Home Run Derby (I’m actually intrigued by the changes to this year’s format after tuning out of the competition the last few years) and All-Star game. Let’s take a look back at some of the fun/interesting/meaningless stats from the first half of the season.

Batting

Bryce Harper 5.7 (FanGraphs) WAR – Pick any offensive stat and Harper will rank at or near the top, so I’m going with the all-encompassing Wins Above Replacement (WAR) stat. Harper has the highest WAR in the majors according to FanGrpahs, ahead of Mike Trout of the Angels (5.6 WAR), Jason Kipnis of the Indians (4.7 WAR), Josh Donaldson of the Blue Jays (4.7 WAR), and Paul Goldschmidt of Diamondbacks (4.6 WAR). Harper also leads by the Baseball Reference WAR calculation (the two sites calculate WAR slightly differently, so you wind up with some minor differences from time to time) by a wider margin with 6.2 WAR versus Trout’s 5.9. His 5.7 accumulated WAR also ranks him higher than the White Sox, Phillies and Padres and is only 0.1 WAR behind the Mariners. Basically, Harper on his own has been the 27th best offensive team in the majors.

Danny Espinosa 10 HR – Espinosa has the second most home runs on the team and is the only National other than Harper to hit double digit dingers. Everyone had that called at the start of the year, right? Espinosa also has the most homeruns by a second baseman in the NL and ranks 3rd in all of the majors at the position behind only Brian Dozier of the Twins, who has 19, and Stephen Drew of the Yankees, who has 12 home runs (but is hitting a paltry .182).


Michael A Taylor 31.5% K% - That’s the highest strike out rate of the non-pitchers on the Nationals. Even ahead of Ian Desmond’s 28.4%. Advanced metrics like Taylor’s defense, with a credited 6 Defensive Runs Saved (DRS). But his strikeout rate, coupled with a meager 6.8% walk rate, make him a below average hitter. Taylor will have to cut back on the strikeouts or up his power, which he has flashed with 6 home runs already, to remain an everyday player going forward.


Ian Desmond 99 strikeouts – Speaking of Ian Desmond striking out, his 99 strikeouts leads the team by a wide margin over Michael A Taylor’s 79 K’s. His terrible offense coupled with his defensive struggles leave him with a -0.7 WAR on the season. After an impressive stretch of offensive seasons, Desmond’s Silver Slugger days might be behind him. Projection systems still take a mostly positive outlook on the second half for Desmond and he is going to get the starts at shortstop in the second half for the Nationals, for better or for worse.

Yunel Escobar .360 Batting Average on Balls In Play (BABIP) – If he can sustain this BABIP, it would be the highest of his career over a full season by more than 40 points. His hard and medium hit percentages (ratio of balls classified as hard hit or medium hit as opposed to soft hit) are in line with his career numbers, so he hasn’t been making noticeably better contact this year. That would indicate that Escobar has been the recipient of good batted ball luck. Hitters have less control over their BABIP than you would think, and they tend to settle close to their true talent level and not too far from the league average. For example, the league BABIP for the 2015 season is only .297. So, while people may want to make a case for Escobar’s All Star resume built mostly on his .321 batting average, there are reasons to believe he won’t be able to sustain his torrid pace from the first half of the year as we enter the second half of the season.

Ryan Zimmerman 34 RBI – That’s enough RBI to be third on the team, behind Harper’s 61 RBI and Wilson Ramos’ 38 RBI. But Zimmerman has knocked in 34 runs in only 234 plate appearances while also hitting only .209. If you needed more convincing to ignore some of the old school statistics like the RBI, this would be Example A. Zimmerman has actually provided negative value when he has been in the lineup, but has racked up the third most RBI on the Nationals by being in the right place at the right time.

Denard Span 11 Stolen Bases (SB) and Michael Taylor 8 SB – The Nationals as a team have only 33 stolen bases, good for 25th in the majors. The Nationals as a team trail the Red’s speedster Billy Hamilton by 11 stolen bases. Of the National’s 33 stolen bases, nearly 60% of those bases come from Denard Span and Michael Taylor. The value of the stolen base has been argued for a long time, so there isn’t any complaint here that the Nationals aren’t running enough (the Dodgers rank last in stolen bases in fact). If the Nationals are going to run, you know who it’s going to be, though.

Pitching

Max Scherzer 4.7 WAR – You know how I said above you could pull almost any leader board and find Bryce Harper’s name near or at the top? Same goes for Max Scherer on the pitching side. He leads the WAR race for pitchers with 4.8 ahead of Chris Sale of the White Sox (4.1 WAR), Corey Kluber of the Indians (3.9 WAR) and Clayton Kershaw of the Dodgers (3.7 WAR). Scherzer beats out the Diamondbacks, Tigers, Rangers, Giants, Phillies and Rockies in pitching WAR. Of course, Scherzer has been a beast on the mound for the last few years. The biggest change this year? He is walking only 0.95 batters per nine innings pitched. That puts him at 3rd lowest BB/9 innings pitched in the majors behind notorious strike throwers Bartolo Colon and Phil Hughes among qualified pitchers.

Max Scherzer, Jordan Zimmermann, and Gio Gonzalez Innings Pitched – After all the hoopla around the rotation to end all rotations following the Scherzer signing in the winter, it turns out the Nationals haven’t gotten a lot of innings out of the “best rotation of all time.” These three are the only starters to rack up over 65 innings pitched. Stephen Strasburg and Doug Fister, of course, have gotten starts but have been limited by injuries. Tanner Roark, the man relegated to the bullpen at the start of the year, has gotten 6 starts. Joe Ross, after coming over in the Steven Souza trade, has racked up 3 solid starts and Taylor Jordan and AJ Cole have each gotten one start. When you look at the numbers, having this many pitchers get a start isn't all that surprising. Yet another reminder of the importance that depth plays in determining which teams make the playoffs.


Taylor Jordan 6.43 ERA – Remember when there was a question over whether Taylor Jordan should get the 5th starters spot over Tanner Roark to open the 2014 season? Yeah, that debate got resolved pretty soundly. Jordan has not looked good in his one start and 2 other appearances out of the bullpen. His stuff just hasn't cut it in the majors this year, as his K/9 is only 5.14 and his BB/9 is up to 2.57. Jordan has looked better in his time in AAA, putting up a 2.97 ERA and a 3.28 FIP over 63 innings. His strikeout and walk rates are about the same in the minors, though, so it’s looking like Jordan is probably a depth option for the Nationals and not a piece of the future.

Drew Storen 1.89 ERA – After scuffling in 2013 following his playoff collapse and subsequent demotion from the closer’s spot in favor of Rafael Soriano, Storen has tweaked his mechanics and returned as one of the most dominant closers in the game. On the way to tallying 27 of the most overrated stats of all time (aka the Save), Storen has been striking out over a batter an inning. Storen doesn’t rank as highly as you would think in WAR (trailing behind the likes of Aroldis Chapman, David Robertson, and Trevor Rosenthal to name a few), mostly because he has only thrown 33 innings. I know Matt Williams got raked over the coals for using Storen in the playoffs last year, but really I think Williams should go to Storen more often, especially given the feast or famine track record of the rest of the Nationals bullpen this year.


Joe Ross 28.8% K% - Joe Ross has impressed in his three starts with the big league squad. He impressed enough that some fans were clamoring for him to keep a rotation spot over Fister or Strasburg. The most dominant part of Ross’ starts were his strikeouts. He struck out nearly 1 batter for every 3 he faced. The thing is, that’s the first time in his career he has ever done that. He was close in AA with the Nationals this year, striking out batters at a rate of 26.2%, but that dropped all the way down to 15.4% in 19.2 innings at the AAA level. The knock on Ross as a prospect was his inability to strike out batters despite plus pitches. While he appeared to be able to do that at the major league level, he hasn’t been able to duplicate that in the minors. Consider this your friendly reminder that Ross still has a ways to go in his development.

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