October 3, 2014
NLDS Preview: Nationals vs. Giants
The Nationals come into the series with the National League's best record and boast an impressive rotation and deep lineup. They'll take on a Giants team that won't have it's ace until later in the series after Madison Bumgarner dominated in the Wild Card Game, helping San Franscisco advance to the NLDS. However, the Giants' offense has more pop than the teams they brought to October in the recent past and their manager has proven he can pull the right strings in the postseason.
(Note: Neither team’s Divisional Series roster is set, so we’ll update the article when the names are officially announced.)
CF-L Gregor Blanco (.260/.333/.374/.272, 2.2)
2B-L Joe Panik (.305/.343/.368//259, 0.5)
C-R Buster Posey (.311/.364/.490/.316, 5.9)
3B-S Pablo Sandoval (.279/.324/.415/.284, 3.1)
RF-R Hunter Pence (.277/.332/.445/.289, 3.9)
1B-L Brandon Belt (.243/.306/.449/.278, 1.6)
SS-L Brandon Crawford (.246/.324/.389/.269, 3.9)
LF-L Travis Ishikawa (.274/.333/.397/.273, 0.4)
The Giants flipped Sandoval and Pence in the batting order for the Wild Card game. This might be because of Sandoval’s 7-for-14 lifetime mark against Pirates starter Edinson Volquez, so Bruce Bochy might flip them back in this series. Posey’s bat has the highest profile, but this is a solid offense from top to bottom that has the capability to make some noise like they did on Wednesday.
CF-L Denard Span (.302/.355/.416/.289, 5.73)
3B-R Anthony Rendon (.287/.351/.473/.302, 5.54)
RF-R Jayson Werth (.292/.394/.455/.320. 5.00)
1B-L Adam LaRoche (.259/.362/.455/.305, 3.78)
SS-R Ian Desmond (.255/.313/.430/.273, 4.46)
LF-L Bryce Harper (.273/.344/.423/.290, 1.89)
C-R Wilson Ramos (.267/.299/.399/.251, 1.92)
2B-S Asdrubal Cabrera (.241/.307/.387/.261, 1.76)
Few offenses could have withstood losing a player of Ryan Zimmerman’s caliber to multiple injuries and not miss a beat, but that’s exactly what Washington did this year. The acquisition of Cabrera at the deadline certainly helped, but even without him the Nationals have a balanced attack that featured a couple of top-level offensive performers in Werth and MVP-candidate Rendon. Span is the only player in this lineup who steals a lot of bases, but given his success rate and the caliber of hitters behind him, he is an underestimated weapon on a team that shows little mercy to its opponents.
C Andrew Susac (.273/.326/.466/.291, 0.79)
OF Juan Perez (.170/.224/.270/.186, -0.51)
IF Joaquin Arias (.254/.281/.301/.217, 0.07)
OF Matt Duffy (.267/.302/.300/.242, 0.17)
OF Gary Brown (.429/.429/.429/.325, 0.14)
1B/OF Adam Duvall (.192/.234/.342/.222, -0.28)
The Giants did not run much during the regular season, but Brown and Perez do offer some speed and pinch-running flexibility off of the bench. It is possible that Brown or Perez will get a start against Nationals left-hander Gio Gonzalez in place of Ishikawa.
IF/OF-R Ryan Zimmerman (.280/.342/.499/.295/1.24)
C-S Jose Lobaton (.234/.287/.304/.224/0.32)
IF-OF-R Kevin Frandsen (.259/.299/.309/.222/-0.38)
IF-S Danny Espinosa (.219/.283/.351/.234/-0.14)
OF-L Nate Schierholtz (.195/.243/.309/.215/-1.25)
Zimmerman could get a start against a lefty, but it’s more likely he’ll be used as a pinch hitting weapon off of the bench. It is likely that the Nationals will run the same eight hitters out there in the starting lineup for the entire series.
Starting Pitchers (IP, ERA, FIP)
Wild Card Winner
LHP Madison Bumgarner (217.1, 2.98, 3.02)
RHP Jake Peavy (78.2, 2.17, 3.03)
RHP Tim Hudson (189.1, 3.57, 3.51)
RHP Ryan Vogelsong (184.2, 4.00, 3.82)
Because of the Wild Card game, the Giants will only get to use Bumgarner once in the NLDS (although this would have happened under the prior system in the form of a one-game playoff). More of the burden will fall on Jake Peavy, who experienced a revitalization moving from the Red Sox to the friendlier confines of Pac Bell Park and the National League. In 78 2/3 innings for the Giants after the trade, Peavy posted an ERA over two and a half points better than during his 124 innings with Boston this season; if this is the pitcher the Nationals will face in the opener, it could be a tougher assignment than some are anticipating.
The back end of the Giants rotation is where the biggest gap exists in this series. After a quick start, Hudson faded badly down the stretch, posting a 4.73 ERA in the second half and an 8.72 ERA in September. Some of this was BABIP fueled, but Hudson has always been a pitcher who lives and dies by batted-ball result. Vogelsong is a solid citizen but the drop from an injured Matt Cain to Vogelsong is a definitive loss for the Giants. Vogey also struggled in September, posting a 5.53 ERA. He had a similar stumble in 2012, with a 5.34 ERA in September, but responded with a lights-out postseason that year, with a 1.09 ERA in 24 2/3 innings. Of course, past results do not predict future success.
RHP Stephen Strasburg (215.0, 3.14, 2.91)
RHP Jordan Zimmerman (199.7, 2.66, 2.65)
RHP Doug Fister (164.0, 2.41, 3.90)
LHP Gio Gonzalez (158.7, 3.57, 3.00)
If you’re looking for a way to find fault with the Nationals rotation, you’re going to have a bad time. The perception among some is that the Nats don’t have a true ace, but Zimmerman was fifth in the National League in WARP while Strasburg finished 10th. Their staff depth is going to be an advantage, particularly in a series where the Wild Card winner already burned a start.
This is a hard throwing rotation, with three of the team’s four starters averaging 92 MPH or better on their fastballs. The exception is Fister, who “only” throws in the upper 80s but does an excellent job of keeping hitters off balance and generating weak contact. In 2014’s context, the Nationals starters go deep into games; only the Reds, Braves, Phillies, and Tigers logged more innings from their starting pitchers than the Nats did this year.
Bullpen (IP, ERA, FIP)
Santiago Casilla (58.3, 1.70, 3.15)
Sergio Romo (58.0, 3.72, 4.50)
Jean Machi (66.3, 2.58, 3.40)
Jeremy Affeldt (55.3, 2.28. 2.83)
Javier Lopez (37.7, 3.11, 4.30)
Yusmerio Petit (117.0, 3.69, 2.65)
Tim Lincecum (155.7, 4.74, 5.09)
The Giants bullpen has a nice combination of depth and utility, which they will probably rely upon heavily in this series. Lincecum and Petit’s ability to pitch multiple innings could prove useful. If Hudson or Vogelsong struggle early, Bochy will not be afraid to exercise a quick hook.
RHP Drew Storen (56.3/1.12/2.68)
RHP Tyler Clippard (70.3/2.18/2.72)
LHP Matt Thornton (36.0/1.75/2.66)
LHP Ross Detwiler (63.0/4.00/4.13)
RHP Craig Stammen (72.7/3.84/3.16)
RHP Tanner Roark (198.7/2.85/3.44)
LHP Jerry Blevins (57.3/4.87/2.74)
RHP Aaron Barrett (40.7/2.66/2.56)
Storen replaced the struggling Rafael Soriano late in the season as closer, and the Nationals bullpen was better for it. There aren’t really any holes here, as the Nationals depth shines through once again.
Baseball Prospectus’s Defensive Efficiency metric gives the Giants a distinct advantage, placing them fifth in the majors this year versus the Nationals, who rank 15th. Ishikawa would seem like a weakness for the Giants in left field, but he is already replacing a weak link in Michael Morse. Harper and Werth’s negative Fielding Runs Above Average are more than neutralized by Span’s positive rating; among players in this series, only Giants shortstop Crawford has a more positive FRAA rating than Span.
From my National League Wild Card preview: “Two World Series titles for Bruce Bochy has something to do with that, but there’s more to Bochy’s reputation than his shiny rings. Bochy seems to maximize the contributions from his veterans and does an excellent job juggling his lineup when it is called for. Bochy is hardly a number cruncher, but he also avoids the tendency to over manage in key situations. He seems to have found that impossible balance between pulling the plug on a player too soon and waiting too long for a player to fail. The Romo/Casilla closer decision is a prime example of this, but Bochy’s roster management in general is a definite strength.”
The question of whether or not a manager has anything to do with the success of an elite team is as old as baseball itself. It would be easy to argue that all Matt Williams did was pull a few well-oiled levers, but he did have to navigate the team through a few injuries as well as remove a struggling, well-paid closer from his role. Similarly to Hurdle, Williams’ strength is that he doesn’t get in the way of a front office that isn’t necessarily data consumed but also doesn’t shy away from using metrics to their advantage.
The Giants have a solid team, but don’t have the top-to-bottom depth and strength at every position on the diamond and in the rotation like the Nationals do. A rested and healthy Nationals team will be too much for the Giants to withstand. Nationals in three.
Washington will have the mound advantage in four out of five NLDS contests, with Bumgarner representing the Giants' only opportunity to get an edge against one of the Nationals' front four. The Nats have dangerous bats throughout the lineup, as anybody past their table-setter is a candidate for leaving the yard. The Giants will have to survive on balls in play versus a staff that is incredibly stingy with the free pass, with Washington having surrendered an MLB-low 5.9 percent walk rate this season, though that could play right into the hands of a high-contact San Francisco squad. The Giants use of Bumgarner in the Wild Card game will loom large in this series. Gimme Washington in four.
Mike Gianella is an author of Baseball Prospectus.
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Doug Thorburn is an author of Baseball Prospectus.
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