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Instant analysis: Phillies 8, Nats 0


Instant analysis: Phillies 8, Nats 0

Game in a nutshell: Stephen Strasburg on the mound. A depleted and demoralized Phillies club waving the white flag on the season. Might as well just pencil that curly W in the book before this one even gets star... er, maybe not. Strasburg was roughed up by those pesky Phillies, giving up six earned runs to match his career high while lasting only four innings. Cliff Lee, meanwhile, had his way with a Nationals lineup that was missing Ryan Zimmerman and Adam LaRoche (each sidelined with back spasms). The end result wasn't pretty: The Nats slogged their way through one of their ugliest ballgames in quite a while, and in the process saw their lead over Philadelphia dwindle to 15 12 games. What? Oh, OK. Maybe this wasn't the worst thing ever.

Hitting lowlight: It's probably unfair to blame the guys who were forced into the lineup to replace the injured Zimmerman and LaRoche, but Mark DeRosa and Tyler Moore didn't exactly put forth big-time performances as fill-ins. DeRosa, playing third base in Zimmerman's stead, struck out in all four of his plate appearances, lowering his season batting average to .148. Moore also was 0-for-4, grounding into a killer out with the bases loaded in the third when the game was still within reach. Not that we didn't know this already, but Zimmerman and LaRoche are just a tad important to the Nationals' lineup.

Pitching lowlight: Strasburg didn't look right from the very beginning, allowing a pair of first-inning singles, and things only got worse as his night progressed. He served up a two-run bomb to Kevin Frandsen (whose last big-league homer came in 2007) in the second, essentially let Juan Pierre steal three bases in the third and then really fell apart in the fourth by allowing three more runs. Strasburg was probably squeezed some by plate umpire Tim McClelland, but he also had no command of his changeup, bouncing several of them in front of the plate in a rare display of wildness. Pitchers returning from Tommy John surgery always talk about the ups and downs they experience during their first full season back. This was as down as it's been for Strasburg all year.

Key stat: Strasburg has failed to reach the fourth inning in only two of his 38 career starts, and each of those early hooks was health-related. He went three innings on Sept. 11, 2011 against the Astros in only his second start back from Tommy John surgery. And he was pulled after the third inning in Atlanta on June 30 after suffering from heat exhaustion.

Up next: The series continues Wednesday when Edwin Jackson faces Vance Worley. First pitch at Nationals Park is at 7:05 p.m.

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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.