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Instant Analysis: Another thrilling Nats comeback


Instant Analysis: Another thrilling Nats comeback

Game in a nutshell: What surely everyone assumed would be a pitchers' duel between Jordan Zimmermann and Mark Buehrle instead turned into one of the wildest and most entertaining ballgames of the season. Zimmermann lasted only five innings, Buehrle only went six. Three errors by the Nationals' middle infield left them trailing 6-4 in the eighth, but then the big bats busted out against the Miami bullpen. Steve Lombardozzi and Tyler Moore delivered RBI singles. Danny Espinosa then launched a three-run homer to left to put the Nats ahead for the first time all night. Bryce Harper immediately followed with a moonshot to right field, completing a six-run rally, all of the runs scoring with two outs. Tyler Clippard then finished this one off, giving the Nationals one of their most-inspired victories of the season. And since the Braves lost to Houston, the lead in the NL East is back up to three games.

Hitting highlight: This was going to be renamed the "Adam LaRoche Highlight" after the first baseman slugged two more home runs (giving him four in three days) but then Danny Espinosa and Bryce Harper stole the show in the bottom of the eighth. Espinosa, who has had a miserable couple of weeks at the plate, made everyone forget about that when he crushed a pitch from left-hander Mike Dunn over the left-field bullpen for the three-run homer that gave the Nationals the lead for good. The crowd of 33,449 serenaded Espinosa til he gave them a curtain call, and they barely had time to catch their breaths before Harper destroyed a Dunn fastball to right field, nearly reaching the third deck. The Nats have produced some big home runs this season, but those back-to-back shots might have been the biggest of them all.

Pitching lowlight: We should probably rename this category "Pitching AND defensive lowlight" because the two went hand-in-hand tonight. Zimmermann slogged through his worst start of the season, but he wasn't helped at all by his defense. Espinosa and Lombardozzi combined for three errors, and Jayson Werth and Harper each took suspect routes on line drives hit at them in the outfield. In the end, Zimmermann couldn't overcome those mistakes and failed to go at least six innings for the first time in 22 starts this season. If you're wondering about his shoulder inflammation -- which bumped this start back a day -- his velocity looked fine, consistently in the 94-95 mph range. That doesn't necessarily guarantee he's not injured, but it's usually the first sign of a problem.

Key stat: The Marlins scored more runs in this game than in any of their previous 18 games.

Up next: The series concludes at 1:35 p.m. Sunday when Stephen Strasburg squares off with Ricky Nolasco.

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5 things you should know about new Nationals pitcher Kelvin Herrera


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


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.