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Nats Stock Watch: Starting pitchers scuffling

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Nats Stock Watch: Starting pitchers scuffling

Each week this season, we’ll take the temperature of the Nationals roster to see whose stock is rising or falling.  

Record: 2-4

Team slash: .254/.346/.381

Team ERA: 4.50 

Runs per game:  3.83

 

STOCK UP   

Ian Desmond, SS: .400 AVG/ 3 HR/ 1.350 OPS  

Nats fans must be hoping and wishing that Desmond, after an albatross of a first half, is finally rounding into form. Of course, one week doesn't mean he's finally turned it around, but this stretch is the closest he's looked to the guy who's won three Silver Slugger Awards. As Mark Zuckerman notes, Desmond isn't just mashing; he's looking more comfortable at the plate, seeing the ball better and less pull-happy than he was when he was struggling. 

Michael Taylor, LF:  .333 AVG/ 2 HR/ 7 RBI  

Perhaps one of the biggest positives to come out of the lineup being banged up for most of the season is that it's given Taylor an opportunity to get regular at-bats and develop at the major league level. And if this past week is any indication, he's progressing at a rate that likely has the Nats' front office thrilled for the future. The 24-year-old had a monster series in Pittsburgh in all facets of his game; he showed range and speed in the outfield, patience at the plate and power to all parts of the ballpark. He's a world away from the player he was earlier in the season, and is giving fans a glimpse of what the post-Span era might look like. 

STOCK DOWN 

Max Scherzer, SP: 5.0 IP/ 9.00 ERA 

Scherzer turned in a bad outing by his standards in the Pittsburgh series, surrendering five runs and serving up three long balls Friday night. By itself, that one start wouldn't be a big deal, especially considering it was against one of the best teams in the NL. However, it was the continuation of an alarming trend of un-Scherzer-like starts recently; he has an ERA of 4.13 in July -- the highest of any month this season. The Nats have been monitoring his workload as the season has gone on, making sure to keep him fresh for the home stretch. But you wonder if logging so many innings earlier in the season is catching up to him a bit. He's 77 2/3 frames away from setting a new regular season career high for innings pitched. And assuming he has about a dozen or so starts left, it seems realistic that he could reach that number by the time the postseason starts. 

Doug Fister, SP: 0-1/ 5.0 IP/ 7.20 ERA  

For whatever reason, Fister has been unable to match his 2014 form thus far this season. But it goes beyond just that -- he's flat-out struggled lately. He's lost five of his last seven decisions, raising his ERA on the year to 4.50. Part of the reason why people thought this staff would be elite back in spring training was because of its depth. Fister and Gio Gonzalez as the "back of the rotation" guys? That was supposed to be enough to make most teams envious. But instead, now there are only two starters Matt Williams can legitimately rely on in Scherzer and Jordan Zimmermann. 

Wilson Ramos, C: .111 AVG/ .105 OBP/ .216 OPS   

People have harped on Desmond's struggles for some time, but Ramos has quietly been scuffling at the plate as well. He's has a .436 OPS in July, by far his worst of any month this season. And like Desmond, there's not much the Nats can do but let him try and hit his way out of his funk. The biggest shame of it all is that this is one of the few times he's been healthy for an extended period of time, so fans were hoping to see him finally blossom into the power-hitting catcher they hoped he could be. There's still plenty of time for that to happen, but it has to start with a solid August. 

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

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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. 

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