Painting a table of how the season's expectations have changed.
Our lives are ruled by probabilities. All things are possible, and the varying degrees of possibility of various things govern everything from our decisions to our dispositions. Often, we’re too preoccupied by our preoccupations to look forward very far, but the truth is that few events in our lives sneak up on us. Conscious or subconscious, perceptions of the likelihood of important events inform our mood, our priorities and our choices.
Sports fandom is a unique sliver of life, though, in which those probabilities aren’t floating whispers in the background. We’re constantly reevaluating them, recalculating and recalibrating them. Even in baseball, the sport of the long season, we look for significance in every win and every loss. We try to gauge the impact of everything we see, not only in the context of the game or the series at hand, but in the big picture. That’s why spirited fans so often seem to agonize over every pitch: it affects our perception of our team’s chances in the long run, and that affects our sense of well-being about our entire investment in the team. The effect of those small things is minute, compared to what we perceive it to be, but baseball is bedeviling. It lures us into the sense of constant cataclysm that characterizes the NFL, even though the moments that really matter as much as the outcome of any given NFL game happen perhaps once a month.
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To understand Harper's breakthrough, look at what he's done to the breaking balls pitchers threw.
Bryce Harper hit one of the more ridiculous home runs Tuesday night against the Yankees, one of those “oh my goodness I love baseball” ones, on a fast-sinking slider that was about five inches below the strike zone. With what seemed like just a flick of the wrist, Harper had his 10th home run in 12 games. He has as many opposite field homers through 40 games as he did in his first 40 games last year to any field.
Visualizing the components of offensive production.
By now the decline of offense has been well documented and thoroughly discussed. Knowing that, this post isn’t going to be about how offense is down, or why, or whether the trend can be reversed. This post has a simple goal: to better visualize how offense is created across the MLB player pool. More specifically, we want to look at the distribution of offensive value through the lens of linear weights.
The Situation: When Jayson Werth went on the disabled list this week, the Nationals made an unconventional choice to replace the slugging outfielder: They brought up an infielder with 56 plate appearances higher than High-A. Difo, though, offers flexibility that will help a Nationals lineup still missing third baseman Anthony Rendon.
Background: Difo, signed as an international free agent in 2010, broke out in the second half last year. He has never made a BP Top 100 but cracked the Nationals' Top 10 this winter. He burst into real prospect conversations this year, hitting .315/.367/.520 in 139 plate appearances split between High-A and Double-A.
The Nationals find first place, Randy Choate reaches first base, the Brewers go back-to-back-to-back, and the best defensive play of the day.
The Tuesday Takeaway
Hope springs eternal when teams break camp and head to their respective openers with 0-0 records. Every team, from the heaviest favorites to the longest of long shots, is in first place on the first day of the season.
Noah Syndergaard loses to an ace; Giancarlo Stanton has a jack; Strasburg flops; and the best defensive play of the day.
The Tuesday Takeaway
The debut of Noah Syndergaard was highly anticipated largely because the 6-foot-6 right-hander has the type of pedigree that gives him the potential to be one of the better pitchers in baseball down the road. However, Syndergaard is also 22 years old and is far from a finished product, so it shouldn’t be too surprising that the hard-throwing Texan ran into some issues against a talented Cubs lineup on Tuesday. It also shouldn’t come as a surprise that the guy opposite Syndergaard, Jake Arrieta, one-upped the rookie and pitched like a polished front-of-the-rotation starter, given that it’s pretty much what he’s been for the past year.
How Stephen Strasburg has become Phil Hughes, and why it's not working.
Stephen Strasburg is finally resolving the dissonance we have all felt about him for five years. Ever since his debut performance raised unreasonably high expectations even higher, Strasburg has been chasing the ghost of his own future, pitching stunningly well, but never well enough to clear the bar people set for him. Strasburg was worth 8.5 WARP from 2012-14, according to DRA, and that’s despite the degree to which the Nationals kept training wheels on him after his Tommy John surgery in 2010. Strasburg led all starters in strikeout rate in 2012, and led the NL in both strikeouts and games started last season. It’s been difficult to reconcile his dominance with the feeling that something is missing. Happily, that dilemma feels distant now.
Much less happily, of course, the reason for the decreased tension there is that it’s now much easier to simply call Strasburg, at least this season, disappointing. In six starts this season (the last of which ended with him leaving with shoulder discomfort, although the early indications are as comforting as possible), Strasburg has a 4.73 ERA and a 4.90 DRA. His FIP does come in at a tidy 2.77 (thanks to 32 strikeouts, 10 walks and only one home run allowed), and his .398 BABIP tells us that he’s going to get some help from regression soon, but DRA is king for a reason: you can watch Strasburg and know better than to think he’s simply encountering bad luck.
Bryce goes yard, and yard, and yard again; Scherzer and Stanton have an epic showdown; Aroldis throws his changeup; and the TWO best defensive plays of the day.
The Wednesday Takeaway
It’s not as if Bryce Harper needed to prove himself to anybody. The 22-year-old entered Wednesday’s game against the Marlins the owner of a .294 True Average over 1,610 plate appearances, all while being younger than many of the game’s top prospects—Kris Bryant, Joc Pederson, Jorge Soler, and so on. And yes, the fun fact that he has yet to face a pitcher younger than him at any professional level still holds true.
Many pitchers are relievers because they never developed a great off-speed pitch. Tyler Clippard now has two.
“The terms splitter and forkball are often used interchangeably to describe a pitch where the index and middle fingers are split around the baseball in any fashion. … Nonetheless, very few pitchers actually throw the slow, tumbling, dropping forkball.” – Mike Fast
The Nationals did something amazing two nights ago. Matt Williams already had a better story to tell, though.
The Nationals’ comeback against the Braves Tuesday night will be remembered as a turning point in their season, if their season ends up being worth remembering. They entered the night at 7-13, and with their ace sidelined by a thumb injury, they asked rookie A.J. Cole to begin the process of turning things around. Cole got shelled, surrendering nine hits and nine runs in two innings of work, a mess that got worse than it needed to be because of Cole’s own error in the field. Atlanta led 9-1 after two innings and 10-2 after four. The Nationals stormed back. A fielding error opened the door to a four-run fifth inning, and ultimately, Washington chased Braves ace Julio Teheran with two outs in the sixth inning, down by the more manageable score of 10-7. The Braves led 12-10 after eight, but Dan Uggla—facing the team who pays the bulk of his salary, the team who cut him outright last summer—came up with a second huge hit (a three-run homer), and Drew Storen bravely held off Atlanta in the bottom of the ninth.