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State of the Nats: It’s time for Harper vs. Trout

Apr 21, 2014, 11:01 AM EDT

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Mike Trout and the Angels in town – When the 2014 MLB schedule came out back in September, one early season series for the Nationals stood out immediately. On April 21 (today) the Los Angeles Angels would travel to Washington to play the Nats, finally pitting Bryce Harper and Mike Trout against each other in a game that counts.

Harper and Trout have played on the same field before, they were teammates in the Arizona Fall League and opponents in MLB All-Star Games. But this marks the first meeting in what should be a rare occurrence moving forward. Unless the Angels and Nationals meet in the World Series, it could be years until Trout plays at Nats Park again.

The Angels are also bringing Albert Pujols to town, who just hit his 498th home run on Saturday. Pujols will now have three games to chase No. 500 while he’s in D.C. Ironically, Pujols hit his 400th career homer at Nationals Park, as well. That was on Aug. 26, 2010. If you don’t remember it, you can watch the video here.

Harper’s benching - Though it was two days ago – and though many Nats fans are probably tired of hearing about it – Matt Williams’ decision to bench Bryce Harper is something that will likely be referred to all season. Everything was fine on Sunday in the Nationals’ win, as Harper bounced back from the incident with a single and a walk. But as the season continues, it will be interesting to watch how Harper and Williams’ relationship develops. Harper was essentially put on notice in a very public way, we’ll see how he and the rest of the team responds.

Fister’s progress - Doug Fister threw two innings (28 pitches) at extended spring training on Thursday and is set to throw again this Tuesday. The next time he goes out the goal will be 45 pitches. After Fister completes his second outing in Viera, he is expected to go on a minor league rehab assignment. We will probably find out those details from Matt Williams some time early this week. Fister is on track to return from his right lat strain in the first or second week of May.

In the meantime, the battle between Tanner Roark and Taylor Jordan for the fifth starter’s spot should start heating up. Both have struggled to start the season, so it will be interesting if another name gets consideration. Would Ross Detwiler be given another chance? What about Blake Treinen? Here is a look at Roark and Jordan’s numbers through the season’s first three weeks:

Tanner Roark
3 GS, 1-0, 5.29 ERA, 17 IP, 13 SO, 6 BB, 1.412 WHIP, 4.67 FIP

Taylor Jordan
3 GS, 0-2, 5.94 ERA, 16.2 IP, 12 SO, BB, 1.740 WHIP, 3.68 FIP

NL East Standings

source:

Offensive game of the week: Anthony Rendon 4/14 vs. Marlins – 2 for 5, 3 RBI, 2B, 3B

Pitching game of the week: Gio Gonzalez 4/18 vs. Cardinals – 7 IP, ER, 4 H, BB, 7 SO, 101 pitches, 65 strikes

Quote of the week:

Matt Williams on why he benched Bryce Harper on Saturday:

No, lack of hustle. That’s why he came out of the game… the inability to run 90 feet.

We made an agreement. He and I made an agreement, this team made an agreement, that when you play the game that we hustle at all times, that we play the game with intensity and a willingness to win.

Tweet of the week:

Zach Walters’ new walkup song is becoming a fan favorite:

Road ahead

MON – 7:05 p.m. vs. Los Angeles Angels (Roark)
TUE – 7:05 p.m. vs. Los Angeles Angels (Jordan)
WED – 7:05 p.m. vs. Los Angeles Angels (Gonzalez)
THU – 7:05 p.m. vs. San Diego Padres (Zimmermann)
FRI – 7:05 p.m. vs. San Diego Padres (Strasburg)
SAT – 1:05 p.m. vs. San Diego Padres (Roark)
SUN – 1:35 p.m. vs. San Diego Padres (Jordan)

  1. Ghost of Steve M. - Apr 21, 2014 at 11:11 AM

    The Zach Walters tweet is great. With his statline why not! I just learned what that song was and Zach ought to continue what’s working.

  2. Theophilus T.S. - Apr 21, 2014 at 11:20 AM

    The impression on Nats’ fans minds should be Boswell’s undressing of Harper last week, sharply focusing on the gap between the hype and the performance. I.e., Harper possibly no better than the seventh-best player on the team. While that may say a lot about the other six “best” players, it requires the fan base to look more critically at Harper’s day-to-day contributions and his dramatic demeanor. Hit the damn ball and keep your helmet on. My hopes for Harper at the outset of the season were high but not in the clouds: 30 HR, 100 RBI, etc. This was based on an assumed maturity curve which hasn’t materialized. Except for a five-game spurt he’s been pretty ordinary and, after a club house warning (according to Boswell) that the next non-hustler would be bench, dared Williams to give him a yank. (If Williams doesn’t follow thru with the team’s “seventh-best” player, what message has been sent to the rest of the roster?) Harper is no longer a teen-ager and needs to start playing the game like a grown-up full-time professional, not someone trying to mix his baseball and thespian careers. I hope for him to turn the page and approach my pre-season expectations.

    • Ghost of Steve M. - Apr 21, 2014 at 11:28 AM

      He hit on the point about contributing to runs scored. Harper hasn’t been good in RBI production in RISP situations in his career and much of that is his over the top aggressiveness and expanding his strike zone. Bryce made an emphasis to mention that he is working on taking more walks in Spring Training which is a positive step in that he knows where he needs to improve.

      Players his age are still in the Minors and Harp is a game changer. He’s on a curve straight up and I’m just looking for more discipline and less drama around him.

      • 6ID20 - Apr 21, 2014 at 11:39 AM

        Harper is a game changer all right. For good and bad. But at this point bad is winning out. For every game changing hit or catch there are probably two game-ruining bad throws, base running mistakes, benching for failure to hustle, etc etc. As the Texans say, he’s all hat and no cattle.

      • Hiram Hover - Apr 21, 2014 at 11:43 AM

        Harper was pretty good last year on plate discipline – highest walk rate of any of the regulars, a lower K rate than Desi, Zim, ALR, and basically the same as Werth (18.9% for Harper, 19% for JW).

        But this year the Ks are up and the BBs down – walks only 8.5%, an ugly K rate of 25.4%.

        Harp has proven he can do it. He needs to get back to it.

      • Ghost of Steve M. - Apr 21, 2014 at 12:21 PM

        Hiram, Harp was still #2 only behind Pablo Sandoval on swinging at balls outside the zone last year. When you think about how Barry Bonds approached his ABs he wouldnt expand his zone and took his walks and made the pitchers throw him strikes. Once Harp does that he will see better quality pitches. It’s a learning evolution and he’s still only 21.

        I’m just enjoying watching his progress and I’m still optimistic.

      • Hiram Hover - Apr 21, 2014 at 12:44 PM

        Ghost

        I’m not sure I understand about those outside the zone swing #s.

        According to fangraphs, Harp swung at 34.1% of pitches outside the strike zone last year, which put him behind Desi and Ramos among Nats regulars, and 45th of 171 among MLB players with at least 450 plate appearances.

      • Ghost of Steve M. - Apr 21, 2014 at 12:57 PM

        In 2013, Harper only was pitched 37.3% of all pitches in the strike zone which was 2nd in rankings. I did botch that above and thanks for the correction. It was his expanding the K zone in RISP situations that was his issues with 25.3% K rate and batting .230 in those situations.

      • Ghost of Steve M. - Apr 21, 2014 at 12:59 PM

        He will develop David and this I feel is the year he has to contribute as a 3rd year player and at some point we have to stop thinking of him as a 21 1/2 year old.

      • Section 222 - Apr 21, 2014 at 3:31 PM

        Harper career slashline: .273/.353/.477/.829
        Harper career with men on base: .263/.356/.441/.798
        Harper career with RISP .259 /379/.425/.803

        Harper 2013: .274/.368/.486/.854
        Harper 2013 MoB: .274/.382/.464/.847
        Harper 2013 w/ RISP: .230/.393/.425/.818

        Ok, there’s a difference, but I’d hardly say they indicate that he’s been bad with RISP. And it does look like he’s drawing more walks with RISP, ie., not expanding his strike zone.

      • Ghost of Steve M. - Apr 21, 2014 at 3:35 PM

        Good comparison. It’s that BA that Boz is using to discredit Bryce as a run producer. That’s where he needs to improve.

      • Section 222 - Apr 21, 2014 at 4:03 PM

        Ok, so Boz just looks at BA, runs, and RBIs. And we’re supposed to accept his conclusions? That’s a clown approach, bro. :-)

      • Ghost of Steve M. - Apr 21, 2014 at 4:10 PM

        I think enough people have tweeted him that. Anyone can come up with a stat or a few stats to degrade a player. The informed know that Harp is a game changer. Those who don’t like him call him overrated.

      • Ghost of Steve M. - Apr 21, 2014 at 4:11 PM

        “@AdamKilgoreWP: Harper on comparing himself to Trout: “Not at all. I know I’m a damn good player. And he is, too.””

    • Eric - Apr 21, 2014 at 11:40 AM

      Interesting breakdown of Boz’s article over on natsbaseball.blogspot

      He basically calls Boswell’s inferences shameful. Probably his core point is related to the assertion that Harper hasn’t done anything to warrant the hype. He counters with these R+RBI numbers for the people to whom Boz compares Harp, but adjusts the numbers for plate appearances (i.e., because neither of Harper’s seasons have been full seasons).

      Bryce: 190, 187
      Zimmerman’s best years : 205, 190, 224, 203, 211, 185
      LaRoche’s best years: 232, 205, 196
      McLouth’s best year: 218

      So there is something to the idea that Bryce’s years so far aren’t as good as these years above. But it’s not as big a difference as the raw numbers would suggest (McLouth was never 33% better than Bryce) and think about what you are saying. Bryce’s rookie year and second year in the majors at 19 and 20 aren’t as good as the handpicked best years from veteran players. Gomer Pyle is not surprised by this.

      In the end, I agree with this and this alone:

      Bryce should have run out the ball to first. Matt Williams was right in pulling him.

      I am literally mystified that it has gotten any bigger than that. It’s like baseball 101. It’s something I remember from when I was 8. To this day I cringe when I see a big leaguer half-a** it to first base, let alone peel off before getting to the bag. Harper was lollygagging and his coach called him on it. FULL STOP.

      • Eric - Apr 21, 2014 at 11:43 AM

        PS – I post that not to say I think Boswell was wrong, as I actually agree that Harper is often cast as what he might become as much as what he currently is. I just thought it was an interesting, well-argued counter to Boz’s angle, and I agree with his final point that there’s absolutely no reason to make it bigger than a manager reprimanding lollygagging (unless you’re part of the PR machine that puts him out there as hustle-incarnate, that is).

      • chaz11963 - Apr 21, 2014 at 11:58 AM

        I totally agree. I really liked Harper Gordek’s analysis. First, comparing Bryce’s first 2 MLB seasons to the best handpicked seasons of veterans is very unfair to Bryce. Second, why are we still talking about the benching? Whether you agreed with MW’s approach or not (I personally think MW could have handled it better), it was professionally handled by all those involved, both MW and Bryce. We should forget about it and move on.

      • Hiram Hover - Apr 21, 2014 at 12:29 PM

        Harper is a much hyped player. With that kind of hype, inevitably, comes questioning about whether the hype is really deserved.

        I’m not a huge fan of Boz in general, and I think some of the specifics of that column were overdone.

        For example–measuring by wRC+, Harp was 2d only to Werth last year in offense. Not bad for a 20 yo compared to a vet having what was essentially a career year.

        Still, I agree with Eric, in his PS, about Boz’s basic point: Harper needs to be evaluated terms of the player he is right now, and not just the player we hope/expect he might someday become. And the player he is right now is not head and shoulders above all the other players on this team.

  3. Ghost of Steve M. - Apr 21, 2014 at 11:23 AM

    “@AdamKilgoreWP: Greg Gibson is the leader in the clubhouse for most egregious ball-strike call of ’14. Yesterday, Siegrest vs. Werth. http://t.co/qu0kq3TmfG

    Glad Kilgore picked up on this as I went on a rant last night about Gibson’s poor Kzone and 8% missed calls in favor of Miller vs 3% for Strasburg. That’s a wide margin and much credit to the framing of Yadier Molina for fooling Gibson. That curveball to the rightside of the plate was given to Miller most of the game.

    It didn’t cost the Nats a W but probably cost Strasburg a W on his stat line and to the detriment of many Nats batters who were cheated and also made adjustments in-game as you saw with Rendon uncharacteristically swinging early on fastballs.

    Miller left DC dropping his ERA giving up no Earned runs. He came in with a 4.67 ERA and left with a 3.57.

    Who does Gibson answer to for his poor performance?

    • Eric - Apr 21, 2014 at 11:28 AM

      That K to Werth was inSANE. I was amazed how readily he shook it off.

      • Ghost of Steve M. - Apr 21, 2014 at 11:36 AM

        The small intricacies to the game is how it changed Rendon’s approach. I would say Desi also but he’s swinging early anyway.

        The impact with intangibles was far greater than all the missed calls. There is no way for a right-handed hitter standing close to the plate to hit that curve well which Miller threw 10 of to righties which was 25% of his pitch count to RH batters.

      • Eric - Apr 21, 2014 at 11:46 AM

        Honestly, for as frustrated as I got, I think a LOT of guys in the line up did a phenomenal job hanging with some very tough pitchers and a wide strike zone. The multiple clutch fails at the plate can be just as easily recast as clutch successes playing out on the mound.

        Didn’t really pick up on Rendon’s adjustment per se, but he certainly did a fine job…he better watch out…we’re starting to expect that from him ;)

  4. Mrsb loves the Nats - Apr 21, 2014 at 11:28 AM

    Okay, so I kept wondering why the song from Frozen was playing at the park… and now I know why… hahahah, I love it… ‘ The cold never bothered me anyway…’

    Yeah Zach, Im with you… I know the song too! :)

    • NatsNut - Apr 21, 2014 at 5:04 PM

      I still think he was rookie-punked and the other guys made that his walkup song. Either way, it was hilarious.

  5. Hiram Hover - Apr 21, 2014 at 11:30 AM

    Looking forward to Fister’s return – erm, debut.

    We came into the season with high hopes for our young arms, but neither Roark nor Jordan has made a strong claim so far to the #5 spot in the rotation. Those are some pretty ugly pitching lines.

    • 6ID20 - Apr 21, 2014 at 11:43 AM

      We’re talking fifth starter here, remember. Both Jordan and Roark have better looking pitching lines than what Strasburg had going into yesterday’s game.

  6. Eric - Apr 21, 2014 at 11:31 AM

    Mark me down as one of those wondering about Werth. I’m almost certain that the fly ball that hit his glove was 100% due to the glare of the sun in his eyes; however, I do agree that he hasn’t been displaying his usual aggression running down fly balls and he looks VERY stiff at the plate. He has the same little ticks and what not while he awaits the pitch, but he looks like he’s flexing every muscle in his body, whereas he looked *very* relaxed up there while he was raking.

    Hopefully it’s just him playing managing the groin injury again and it will pass soon without becoming more serious.

    • NatsLady - Apr 21, 2014 at 12:08 PM

      Now that Span is back, hopefully McLouth will pick up his game, and maybe Williams can give Werth a break. Or maybe we’ll be ahead 16-1 for once.

      • Eric - Apr 21, 2014 at 12:22 PM

        Here’s hoping on all counts!

  7. NatsLady - Apr 21, 2014 at 12:06 PM

    Re: the benching. I didn’t like it for two reasons (1) It was a close game (2) publicity.

    Well, we won the next game. Williams managed it well. And the publicity seems to be mixed, but not of the “ridicule” nature, so, OK. I’m over it and ready for the Angels.

    Here are the Weekly Stats with best and worst players

    Here are the injuries, team stats, rankings and player stats for the Nats, Angels, and Padres.

    • NatsLady - Apr 21, 2014 at 12:52 PM

      LOL (at myself). Swapped the Padres and the Angels, and no one noticed–or at least, they didn’t comment. Sean Burnett is on the DL again. I think he’s pitched like 10 innings so far for the Angels. Gotta like Rizzo on that one.

      Also not sorry we won’t see Carlos Quentin this week, unless he comes off the DL.

  8. David Proctor - Apr 21, 2014 at 12:25 PM

    I’m sorry, but Boswell’s article was pure garbage. Garbage. Harper is the seventh best player on the team? Really? He was the second best hitter on the team last year. Factor in starting pitchers all you want, Harper is NOT the 7th best player on the team. Take a look at a list of people who have put up Harper’s numbers at his age. Here are the players in MLB history with more homers than Harper before age 21: Mel Ott, Tony C. That’s it. Here are the players in MLB history with more WAR than Harper: Ott, Trout, Kaline, Cobb, A-Rod. That’s it. Harper’s slashline is better than Ken Griffey’s at his age.

    Boswell made some decent points, but it’s buried under a pile of garbage trying to portray Harper as just another guy. He’s basically feeding into the “Harper is overrated” narrative which is mind-boggling. He points out the vaunted R+RBI stat. Wow. Really made your point there.

    I lost some respect for Boswell.

    • Ghost of Steve M. - Apr 21, 2014 at 12:39 PM

      Boz sometimes (ok, most times) tries to make a point by twisting stats. At some point though we have to judge Bryce not by his age but by his contribution and Boz is correct about his run production. It’s good but not elite.

      Yes, he did feed into the Harper is overrated crowd andthat ticked me off too.

      Boz is usually late to the party bashing Nats players. This time he was early.

      • David Proctor - Apr 21, 2014 at 12:41 PM

        “At some point though we have to judge Bryce not by his age but by his contribution and Boz is correct about his run production.”

        By saying that, you’re basically saying we have to ignore context. I don’t agree with that at all. Asking a 21 year old to be an elite player is asking a lot. Harper will develop and he will become an elite player. Bashing him for not already being that when he’s putting up some of the best numbers EVER for a player his age is uncalled for. And that’s where I’m frankly disgusted by Boz. It’s pathetic.

    • NatsLady - Apr 21, 2014 at 12:44 PM

      I got over Boz last year.

    • Hiram Hover - Apr 21, 2014 at 12:50 PM

      My respect for Boz equals my respect for the “R + RBI” stat.

  9. Theophilus T.S. - Apr 21, 2014 at 1:00 PM

    Cases for Harper/Overrated and Harper/Roy Hobbs both unproven. If we’re still having this discussion next year the Over-rateds will have the edge.

    • David Proctor - Apr 21, 2014 at 1:04 PM

      No we’re not. Harper will be in his AGE 21 SEASON THIS YEAR. If Harper improves on last year, that’s a success. He doesn’t need to be an MVP right now. It’s your own fault if you place unfair expectations on him.

  10. Eugene in Oregon - Apr 21, 2014 at 1:09 PM

    Focus should be Nats vs. Angels, not individual vs. individual — regardless of who those individuals are.

    • TimDz - Apr 21, 2014 at 1:18 PM

      Amen…..

  11. flnatsfan - Apr 21, 2014 at 1:12 PM

    Seriously…can we get back to baseball? I’m tired of the whole Bryce got benched convo…

    • flnatsfan - Apr 21, 2014 at 1:13 PM

      And now the whole Boz convo too…

  12. tcostant - Apr 21, 2014 at 1:33 PM

    If anyone wants to go to the game tonight, I purchased some $1 tickets (before they sold out) and can’t go. Will sell at cost which is $6.50 per pair (hate those service charges). You can email me at my id at hotmail dot com, if you want them.

    Section 238 Row K or Section 242 Row F or Section 230 Row S

  13. David Proctor - Apr 21, 2014 at 2:20 PM

    Lombo with a bad throwing error and now the O’s are on the verge of implosion in the 9th.

    • Ghost of Steve M. - Apr 21, 2014 at 2:26 PM

      I think they scored it a single.

    • tcostant - Apr 21, 2014 at 2:46 PM

      Did anyone else see that the Tigers released the guy they got from the O’s for Lombo? Amazing.

  14. Ghost of Steve M. - Apr 21, 2014 at 2:20 PM

    After Boz used a run production stat, I decided to see who is leading the Majors in the Sabre stat called RC (runs created).

    I thought Stanton and Freeman would be #1 and #2 and Freeman was #1, Utley #2, Stanton #5, Trout #7, JUp #8 and Rendon tied for #14 in the Majors and LaRoche is #26.

  15. David Proctor - Apr 21, 2014 at 2:27 PM

    O’s hang on. Barely.

  16. Theophilus T.S. - Apr 21, 2014 at 2:57 PM

    On at least two plays Lombardozzi showed he doesn’t even have the arm strength to play second. I’m happy he’s getting his PAs in Baltimore but unless Hardy doesn’t heal up Lombardozzi is back to the bench when Machado comes back.

Archives

NL EAST STANDINGS

W L GB
WASHINGTON 58 48 --
ATLANTA 58 51 1.5
MIAMI 53 55 6.0
NEW YORK 52 56 7.0
PHILADELPHIA 48 61 11.5
Through Thursday's games

UPCOMING SCHEDULE
FRI: Phillies at Nats, 7:05 p.m.
SAT: Phillies at Nats, 7:05 p.m.
SUN: Phillies at Nats, 1:35 p.m.
MON: Orioles at Nats, 7:05 p.m.
TUE: Mets at Nats, 7:05 p.m.
WED: Mets at Nats, 7:05 p.m.
THU: Mets at Nats, 12:35 p.m.
Full season schedule

Mark joins Rob Carlin and Joe Orsulak every Thursday at 4 p.m. on Comcast SportsNet for a half-hour show on the Nats, Orioles and rest of MLB. Re-airs Thursdays at 11:30 p.m., Saturdays at 9 a.m. and Sundays at 11:30 a.m.

ON THE RADIO

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MON: 12:45 p.m.
TUE: 2:30 p.m.
WED: 4:30 p.m.
THU: 2:30 p.m.
FRI: 1:30 p.m., 5:30 p.m.
SAT: 10:30 a.m.

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