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Does Harper deserve everyday job?

Does Harper deserve everyday job?

Though he's not producing nearly as much as he did during the first two months of his big-league career, Bryce Harper is making positive contributions to the team with the best record in baseball. Just look at his 4-for-8, 2-homer weekend against the Mets.

But Harper's offensive production has turned painfully inconsistent. Just look at his last three nights against the Braves (2-for-13, six strikeouts).

Look, any 19-year-old (no matter how talented and brash) is going to struggle at times in the major leagues. And Harper continues to do things few teenagers have ever done in this game before. But make no mistake, he is struggling right now, and he might just be hurting the Nationals more than he's helping them.

Owner of a .210 batting average and .279 on-base percentage over his last 59 games, Harper is putting up numbers worse than anyone on the Nationals roster who isn't a catcher or pitcher. And it's not just the numbers; it's his poor approach at the plate, which was painfully noticeable the last three nights.

It's no secret opposing pitchers have figured out the book on Harper: Feed him almost exclusively offspeed stuff down and away and watch him chase those pitches out of the strike zone. Which he's doing in spades. Worse, when someone does decide to bust him inside with a fastball, Harper doesn't look ready for it and often takes it for a strike.

In short, he's guessing at the plate instead of using his natural abilities and keen batting eye to react to what he's being thrown.

"He's just overly aggressive, overly aggressive, trying to put a big charge in it," manager Davey Johnson said. "He wasn't quite that aggressive early, and now he's going through a little slump. But he'll make adjustments. He'll get through it."

The question is whether Johnson can continue to let Harper get through it on a daily basis.

If the Nationals were out of the race and playing for the future -- as they were each of the last six seasons -- there'd be no debate. Harper would play every day and gain valuable experience.

But this team finds itself in a pennant race, trying to hold off the Braves in the NL East and perhaps post the best record in the NL and secure a Division Series matchup with the one-game wild-card winner plus home-field advantage straight through the World Series.

Can the Nationals afford to use the No. 2 spot in their lineup on a rookie mired in a two-month slump?

The situation is complicated all the more by the production the Nationals are getting from two other, less-hyped rookies. Steve Lombardozzi has 18 hits in his last 33 at-bats, including pinch-hit singles in each of the last three games. Tyler Moore owns an .883 OPS over his last 43 games. The more-experienced Roger Bernadina has a .909 OPS over his last 29 games.

Should any one of those guys get at-bats in place of Harper?

"I always think about all those things; that's what my job is," Johnson said. "It's my job to try to find ways to get these young guys ... now that I've got a regular lineup, I'll have to try to get them in. Nothing has gone on in my head on how to do it yet."

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5 things you should know about new Nationals pitcher Kelvin Herrera

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USA TODAY Sports

5 things you should know about new Nationals pitcher Kelvin Herrera

The Nationals traded for Royals' pitcher Kelvin Herrera this evening. 

Not only did the Nationals trade for Kelvin Herrera, but they did so without losing Juan Soto, Victor Robles, or Andrew Stevenson. The first two were never in any real danger of being traded for a relief pitcher who will be a free agent at year's end, but the Nats escaped only giving up their 10th and 11th ranked prospects:

On the surface, this deal looks exceptional for the Nationals. Herrera is another back-of-the-bullpen type that only further deepens the Nats' options in that department. Here are a handful of things you should know about the Nationals' newest pitcher:

1. Herrera's strikeout "issue" is complicated 

Herrera, like many other closers over the last half-decade, has made his name in strikeouts. He topped out at a 30.4 percent strikeout rate in 2016, and has a 23.4 percent clip for his career. His K% this season sits at 23.2 percent, which is both higher than last season and lower than his career average. 

People will look at his dramatic K/9 drop as a red flag, but "per/9" stats are flawed and not generally a worthwhile stat to build an argument around. A pitcher who gets knocked around for five runs in an inning -- but gets three strikeouts -- can have the same K/9 of a different (much more efficient) pitcher who strikes out the side in order. 

2. Herrera has basically stopped walking batters 

His career BB% sits at 7.1 percent. His highest clip is nine percent (2014, 2015) and his lowest was a shade over four percent (2016). 

This season, he's walking batters at a two percent  rate. In 27 games this season, he's walked two batters. Two! 

3. The jury seems to still be out on how good of a year he's had so far

Analytics are frustrating. On one hand, they can serve wonderfully as tools to help peel back the curtains and tell a deeper story - or dispel lazy narratives. On the other hand, they can be contradictory, confusing, and at times downright misleading. 

Take, for instance, Herrera's baseline pitching stats. His ERA sits at 1.05, while his FIP sits at 2.62. On their own, both numbers are impressive. On their own, both numbers are All-Star level stats. 

When you stack them against each other, however, the picture turns negative. While ERA is the more common stat, it's widely accepted that FIP more accurately represents a pitcher's true value (ERA's calculation makes the same per/9 mistakes that were mentioned above). 

More often than not, when a pitcher's ERA is lower than his FIP, that indicates said pitcher has benefited from luck. 

Throw in a 3.51 xFIP (which is the same as FIP, but park-adjusted) and we suddenly have a real mess on our hands. Is he the pitcher with the great ERA, the pitcher with the Very Good FIP, or the pitcher with the medicore xFIP? 

4. He was a fastball pitcher, and then he wasn't, and now he is again

Take a look at Herrera's pitch usage over his career in Kansas City:

In only three years, he's gone from throwing a sinker 31 percent of the time to completely giving up on the pitch. That's pretty wild. 

Since 2014, he's gone to the slider more and more in every year. 

His current fastball usage would be the highest of his career. He only appeared in two games during the 2011 season, so those numbers aren't reliable. Going away from the sinker probably helps explain why his Ground Ball rate has dropped 10 percentage points, too. 

5. The Nats finally have the bullpen they've been dreaming about for years

Doolittle, Herrera, Kintzler, and Madson is about as deep and talented as any bullpen in baseball.

Justin Miller, Sammy Solis, and Wander Suero all have flashed serious potential at points throughout the year. Austin Voth is waiting for roster expansion in September. 

The Nats have been trying to build this type of bullpen for the better part of the last decade. Health obviously remains an important factor, but Rizzo's got the deepest pen of his time in D.C. 

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Nationals trade for Royals' closer Kelvin Herrera

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USA TODAY Sports

Nationals trade for Royals' closer Kelvin Herrera

The Nationals made the first major trade of the season this evening. 

Midway through their Monday night game against the Yankees, the team announced that they had completed a trade for Royals' relief pitcher Kelvin Herrera:

Herrera's a major acquisition for the Nationals, as the pitcher is in the middle of a career year. He's currently pitched 25 innings so far, posting a 1.05 FIP, 2.62 ERA and 0.82 WHIP. His 2.1 percent walk rate this season is a career low. 

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