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Another day off for Harper


Another day off for Harper

PHOENIX -- Some leftover thoughts from last night's 9-1 thumping of the Diamondbacks...

-- Bryce Harper bounced back from his rough Houston series with a productive game at the plate, even though he didn't produce a base hit. The rookie went 0-for-2 with a pair of sacrifice flies and a walk and generally looked more relaxed than he did Wednesday in Houston when he twice argued with umpire Angel Hernandez over called third strikes and then made an ill-advised throw from center field.

Davey Johnson decided to give Harper the final game of that series off, citing his need for a mental break after that difficult game (not to mention a difficult stretch since the All-Star break). Well, the manager is giving the 19-year-old another day off tonight, but not as a reaction to anything he did last night. Instead, Johnson wants to find a way to give Tyler Moore a start in the outfield.

"I might as well tell you now, I'm going to get Tyler Moore in the lineup, because once Jayson Werth got here I haven't had that opportunity," he said. "There's nothing wrong with Bryce. He played a good game, and he'll play the day game against the left-hander Sunday. I'm just telling you up-front now so I don't have to hear all this crap tomorrow."

So the outfield alignment tonight should have Moore in left field, Werth in center field and Michael Morse in right field. Johnson also said he plans to hit Werth leadoff for the first time, with Danny Espinosa batting second.

-- The baseball world was abuzz yet again yesterday with Stephen Strasburg Shutdown Fever after a Yahoo! Sports report citing GM Mike Rizzo saying the right-hander won't pitch more than 180 innings this season. All of a sudden, media members and fans alike wondered whether Rizzo was suggesting Strasburg could be allowed to pitch deeper into the season than everyone originally thought.

Well, here's the lowdown, straight from Rizzo: Nothing has changed at all. The Nationals' plan for Strasburg has been consistent from the first day of spring training. There is no exact number of innings. It's a broad range, probably no fewer than 160, almost certainly no more than 180.

That doesn't mean Strasburg is going to get to 180, though. Rizzo is going to watch him closely over the next several weeks and make the decision when to pull the plug based on what he sees, not based on what the precise innings count is.

Point is, the Nationals will shut down Strasburg before the end of the regular season and he will not pitch in the postseason. That plan hasn't changed one bit since February.

-- Steve Lombardozzi quietly put together a four-hit, four-run game last night, impressing his manager.

"He had a heck of a game today," Johnson said. "He's been actually getting more aggressive at the plate. He's had a tendency to take everything the other way, and Rick Eckstein's been working with him on getting the head out, hit the ball more where it's pitched. He got that double yesterday down the right-field line, and then today the first time up turned on one inside and then the triple. That's who he can be, because he's right on top of the plate and they pound him. He doesn't get to extend very much. But he's another one, he's just a babe in the woods."

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Bryce Harper will compete in Home Run Derby, but only on one condition

USA Today Sports

Bryce Harper will compete in Home Run Derby, but only on one condition

It’s happening.

When the 2018 All-Star Weekend comes to Washington, D.C. in the middle of July, Nationals outfielder Bryce Harper will compete in the 2018 Home Run Derby, but only on one condition: He has to be a member of the 2018 National League All-Star Team.

Though Harper is having a down year, only hitting .213 thus far, he leads the NL in home runs with 19.

In the June 18 update of All-Star game voting, Harper sat second among all outfielders with just north of 1,000,000 votes.

That means he’s not only going to make the All-Star team, but he’ll likely start in the outfield.

Harper, a five-time All-Star, competed in the Home Run Derby once before. He was the runner-up to Yoenis Cespedes in 2013, losing by just one long ball, 9-8.

The 2018 Home Run Derby will take place on July 16 at Nationals Park.


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It's time to start paying attention to Trea Turner's sneaky-great season

It's time to start paying attention to Trea Turner's sneaky-great season

Remember when the Nationals put Trea Turner in centerfield so they could keep Danny Espinosa at shortstop?

Two years later it's Turner who leads all N.L. shortstops in fWAR, as you surely know if you follow the Nationals on literally any social media platform. 

So while Juan Soto and Bryce Harper continue to dominate all of The Takes, it's Turner who's been the Nats' best position player this season. 

We'll start with some basics: 

Did you know that Trea Turner leads all N.L. shortstops in fWAR? He's currently sitting at 2.4 WAR, above the likes of Brandon Crawford, Addison Russell, and Trevor Story, to name a few. (We'll ignore the fact that the top six shortstops in the A.L. all have a better fWAR.) He's a top-10 shortstop in baseball during one of the strongest eras in the position's history.

Even after a dreadfully slow start, Turner's still on pace to have the best season of his career. He posted a WAR of 2.9 last year and -- barring injury -- will realistically eclipse that by the All-Star game. 

At the plate, two stats jump off the page in regards to explaining Turner's stellar season. 

First, Turner is drawing a *bunch* of walks. His current BB% clip (10.6 percent) would be far and away the best of his career and up four percentage points from last year. It's a factor that helps explain - partially, at least - why his on-base percentage has risen and his BABIP has dropped. More walks mean fewer swings, fewer swings mean less contact, less contact means lower BABIP, etc. It's not the whole picture, but it's a big part of it. 

Secondly, Turner is making impressive contact on pitches out of the strike zone. FanGraphs calculates out-of-zone contact using a statistic titled O-Contact, which is a blessing considering some of the titles they choose to give their other stats. 

The average O-Contact across MLB in 2018 is 64.7 percent. Trea Turner's career O-Contact is 62.4 percent (although realistically it's closer to the high-50's - a small-sample-size from his abbreviated first season mucks up the number a bit). 

This season, Turner's posted an O-Contact of 69.3 percent. Not only is that 10 percentage points higher than his O-Contact from last season, but a top-50 clip in all of baseball. He's one spot ahead of Mike Trout!  Put both of these together with some encouraging Statcast numbers (rise in HardHit%, already matched his total 'barrels' from last season) and you can see why Turner's been thriving at the plate. 

Defensively, he's improved across the board as well. His UZR and DRS - considered the two most reliable fielding statistics, if such a thing exists - are both up from last year. He has the 10th-best UZR of all major league shortstops and ranks 1st in DRS. 

Last season, he finished 17th in both UZR and DRS (of all shortstops with at least 800 innings; Turner didn't log enough innings to be considered a qualified fielder). He ended the season with both numbers in the negative. 

You may be skeptical of defensive stats, which is fine. But if nothing else, the fact that Turner is turning literal negative stats into positive ones is encouraging. 

Lastly, Turner continues to be an elite baserunner. At this point in his career, his speed is arguably his best tool:

You'll note that purple dot allllllllllll the way on the right. That's Turner! Now, let's take a look at how his speed compares across all positions:

Essentially, Turner is faster than like, 98 percent of baseball. In fact, by Sprint Speed, he's the 6th-fastest player in the game. He also ranks 2nd across all of baseball in FanGraphs "Baserunning" measurements, only behind fellow teammate and mindbogglingly good baserunner Michael A. Taylor. 

So, Trea Turner an elite baserunner (maybe the best if you combine his raw speed with his baserunning stats), a top-5 shortstop in the field, and an All-Star at the plate. 

Juan Soto's been great and Bryce Harper is still extremely talented, but this year, Trea Turner has been the Nationals' best player.