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Around the NL East: Marlins move on

May 20, 2014, 12:20 PM EST

Photo by USA Today Photo by USA Today

ATLANTA BRAVES

At first glance, no team in the division had a standout week. As a result, the Braves able to go 3-3 and still remain atop the standings by 1.5 games heading into Tuesday night’s action.

The tale of Atlanta’s season so far might be best seen in the huge chasm between where they rank offensively versus where they are pitching-wise. Their offense ranks 29th in average, 28th in on-base percentage, 25th in slugging and dead last in runs scored. Conversely, their pitching staff ranks fourth in WHIP, second in number of quality starts, and are tops in the majors in ERA. So it’s really no secret how the Braves are winning ballgames: Pitching, pitching, and more pitching.

That being said, it looks like Atlanta’s big boppers are starting to turn it on at the plate. First baseman Freddie Freeman leads the team in RBI (28) and average (.317), has a sterling .947 OPS, and is second only to Justin Upton for the team lead in homers. The overall lineup might be scuffling, but if Upton and Freeman spark an offensive revival, the Braves would be in business — something the Nationals don’t want to see.

MIAMI MARLINS

On the field, the Marlins went 3-3 the past week, taking the series finale against the Los Angeles Dodgers and wrapping up a west coast swing with a split of a four game set versus the team with the best record in the NL, the San Francisco Giants.

But as baseball fans know, much of the recent focus on the Marlins hasn’t revolved much around their day-to-day results. It was announced last week that star pitcher Jose Fernandez would undergo Tommy John surgery to repair a torn ligament in his right elbow, putting him on the shelf for the rest of this season (and likely even longer than that). What Miami loses in its 21-year phenom is the heart and soul of their rotation and by far their most impactful player outside of slugger Giancarlo Stanton. Fernandez is irreplaceable, as the team has already conceded, and being without him is a big blow not only to the pitching staff, but to the morale of the entire team.

However, if the Marlins are to keep surprising this season, they’ll have to find a way to move past the Fernandez injury. They’ll have an opportunity to finish May on the upswing, with eight of their last 11 games this month against division opponents.

NEW YORK METS

The Mets had another tough week, losing the weekend series to the Nationals after splitting a four-game set with their crosstown rival Yankees. As much as people have talked about their bullpen struggles all year, New York has actually gotten a fair amount of solid starting pitching. In fact, they own the fifth highest mark in the majors in terms of number of quality starts with 28.

But, as has often been the case for most of the season, the Mets’ offense and bullpen doesn’t help turn those quality starts into wins. Case in point, in last week’s pair of losses against the Yankees, Mets pitching prospects Rafael Montero and Jacob deGrom delivered back-to-back quality starts –they allowed five earns runs total between the two of them — only to see the offense reward their efforts with a grand total of zero runs combined in both outings. Tough-luck losses seem to be the story of the Mets rotation this year, one of the myriad reasons why they’re up-and-down as a team a quarter of the way into the season.

PHILADELPHIA PHILLIES

The Phillies may be in last place in the division, but that doesn’t necessarily mean they’re out of it just yet. In fact, even after a 2-3 week, Philadelphia is only four games back of Atlanta, the smallest deficit for any last place team in the majors. So even though they’ve had a hard time finding consistency, they’re still very much alive with the rest of the NL East teams. The fact that they’re still competitive might say more about the state of the division as a whole rather than the team itself, but there’s no doubt the Phillies will take last place in a closely-contested race rather than trading places with any other last place team in the league right now.

And while the team tries to find its way at the quarter pole of the season, Jimmy Rollins continues to etch his name into the franchise’s history books. He’s currently tied for third all-time in club history in hits, and is just 21 shy from matching Hall of Fame third baseman Mike Schmidt’s record. Not bad company for Rollins, who remarkably has played each of his 15 major league season in the City of Brotherly Love.

  1. David Proctor - May 20, 2014 at 1:00 PM

    Kilgore’s article that he just published has convinced me that maybe MW’s decision not to bunt wasn’t the worst thing on the world.

    • Eric - May 20, 2014 at 1:59 PM

      Fascinating.

      • Eric - May 20, 2014 at 2:00 PM

        Er, that was a sincere reaction to the article, not a snarky attack on your comment ;)

    • Sec 3 My Sofa - May 20, 2014 at 2:07 PM

      Link pls?

    • Eugene in Oregon - May 20, 2014 at 2:28 PM

      I appreciate that the probability of scoring a run was virtually a wash in the two potential situations. I was actually more surprised by the argument that Jose Lobaton was considered the last ‘bullet’ and Matt Williams didn’t want to waste him (either by leaving him on the bench or having him bunt). To me, that’s akin to the cliché that if your only tool is a hammer, every problem looks like a nail.

      • Hiram Hover - May 20, 2014 at 2:34 PM

        Good point.

        On that bit about the “last bullet,” I’d add that Kilgore was giving a good answer but asking the wrong question.

        The question for MW wasn’t, when is the best time to use Lobaton? The question was, how do I win this game? The answer to the 2d question didn’t necessarily require using his “last bullet” at all.

    • Hiram Hover - May 20, 2014 at 2:28 PM

      Well, he tries. I didn’t think it was a totally bone-headed and inexcusable decision to bat Lobaton there before, but I still don’t think it was essentially a coin-flip, which is what Kilgore concludes.

      I will point out that of the 5 arguments Kilgore makes in favor of batting Lobo, none involves Frandsen getting thrown out at 3d on a bunt attempt, which was the scenario that one poster kept raising in MW’s defense in earlier threads.

      • chaz11963 - May 20, 2014 at 2:53 PM

        Unfortunately, one of Kilgore’s arguments also involves lack of faith in Span to score Frandsen. Which coincidentally would seem to be a contradiction for your lead-off hitter.

        I still don’t understand why MW insists on putting one of the worst hitters in a position to have the most ABs in a game.

      • 6ID20 - May 20, 2014 at 2:57 PM

        Here’s the scenario where Frandsen gets thrown out at third. It’s a sac play, so he’s running as soon as it’s clear the bunt isn’t in the air. Squib bunt, quickly fielded by the catcher, throw to third that beats the runner. Is it likely? No. Is it possible? Entirely.

        Hitting away, is there a similar possibility? Absent stupid base running, no. Frandsen stays at second unless the ball is hit behind him – just like he did on Span’s 5-3.

      • Hiram Hover - May 20, 2014 at 3:35 PM

        chaz

        Whether to move Span out of the leadoff spot may be something the Nats need to consider, but it’s not really relevant here. As Kilgore says, he has succeeded in 2 of 5 chances in that situation (runner on 3B, 1 out) this year, and even if he fails, he’s not the only or last batter who has a chance. That was Rendon, who nearly succeeded. Plus, if you really don’t trust Span, why make his job harder with the high chance of an unproductive out that leaves Frandsen 90 feet further away from the plate?

        61D20

        Could it happen? Sure.

        Did Kilgore think it likely enough, or important enough, that he ranked it among his top 5 arguments in defense of MW? No.

        The good news is there’s a game tonight and a new game thread up, and we get to leave this behind.

  2. bowdenball - May 20, 2014 at 1:22 PM

    The analysis of Atlanta focuses on the middle of the order guys heating up, concluding that “if Upton and Freeman spark an offensive revival, the Braves would be in business — something the Nationals don’t want to see.”

    That seems to ignore the inevitable regression in the pitching, something that is already well underway. and can be expected to continue. It’s very hard to imagine that staff ending the season ranked fourth in WHIP, second in quality starts and first in ERA.

    Seems to me that one will cancel out the other and the Braves will continue being what they appear to be now- an 88-90 win team. The question is whether the Nats will be better or worse than that.

    • natsguy - May 20, 2014 at 2:21 PM

      I can see the 84 for the Nats. Anything more than that will have to depend on getting some better fielding and some of the wounded back. The awful fielding and stupid plays this year are very troubling.

      • chaz11963 - May 20, 2014 at 2:43 PM

        I think the opposite may also apply to the Nats starting pitching. I would think it’s inevitable that these guys are going to come back around to their career numbers or better.

      • Eric - May 20, 2014 at 2:50 PM

        It seems absurdly pessimistic to think that we’ll end up playing at the same pace as we are now (84 wins) once we are back at full strength.

        We’ve been sans Harper, Zim, and [LaRoche | Ramos] for 6-days shy of a month.

        We’ve been sans Zim and [Ramos | LaRoche] since April 12.

        We’ve been sans Ramos since March 31.

        It’s worth noting that if we had won last night and one other game so far this season we’d be on a 92-win pace. I think it’s less absurd to suggest we’d have won 2 more games since March 31 without all those injuries than to say we’ll play at this same level once we’re back at full strength. Even if you change absolutely nothing else (bad fielding, sub-par starting pitching).

      • Eric - May 20, 2014 at 2:54 PM

        Er, yeah, you did say, it “will have to depend on getting…some of the wounded back.”

        The phrasing casts that as being as out of their control as BABIP. Obviously we can’t know if they will come back strong or will take awhile to heat up, but it seems reasonable to think at least ALR will pick up where he left off.

      • natsguy - May 20, 2014 at 2:57 PM

        Eric,

        It’s also absurdly optimistic to assume that the wounded will come back at full strength and at the estimated return date. That they have played 3 games below .500 for all but the first 9 games of the season is amazing considering the fairly awful fielding this year.

      • rayvil01 - May 20, 2014 at 3:01 PM

        Hot-weather team. Just about the time it will be steamy they will get Harper back. Projections before July are fairly meaningless.

      • Eric - May 20, 2014 at 3:45 PM

        natsguy, I’m not saying they’ll come back hot, but these three cold still should be an improvement over the folks they’ll be replacing (TyMo => LaRoche, Zim => Espi, Harper => McLouth/Frandsen). Even Ramos with his weak BA so far has been racking up the RBIs.

      • Eric - May 20, 2014 at 3:47 PM

        Er, make that:
        TyMo => LaRoche
        Espi => Zim
        McLouth/Frandsen/Hairston => Harper

        Will be interesting to see how Dobbs/TyMo does vs. just TyMo, though.

      • natsguy - May 20, 2014 at 4:23 PM

        Rayvil01,

        Actually projections at this time have been proven to be extremely accurate. If they wait till July to get hot they might find themselves at home before it gets cool again. Last year is a very good example of that. They have no control of the injuries, but they must at least play smarter and field better.

      • Eric - May 20, 2014 at 4:31 PM

        I do agree they need to play smarter. Didn’t mean to pave over that with my other comments. Playing smarter may have been just as likely to net them the same 2 wins having all the big guns healthy.

        Likewise, the starting pitching being up to par.

        It really is kind of amazing we’re not underwater.

      • adcwonk - May 20, 2014 at 4:34 PM

        Anything more than that will have to depend on getting some better fielding and some of the wounded back

        I am confidently predicting! that RZ, Harper, and LaRoche will, indeed, rejoin the team this year.

  3. 6ID20 - May 20, 2014 at 2:29 PM

    Exactly. As I’ve been saying, the decision is not just about putting yourself into a better situation after the AB, it’s also about keeping out of a worse situation. Runner at first, one out is a worse situation than runner at second, one out. Swinging away, it’s almost impossible to end up with runner on first, one out. Bunting, it may not be likely but it’s entirely possible to end up there.

    • jd - May 20, 2014 at 3:17 PM

      61D20,

      To put it simply there is really only one question that needs to be answered:

      What action brings the greatest probability to score 1 run with a man on 2nd and none out? forget the results for a minute, forget the players involved.

      I know that in general when you are trying to score as many runs as possible, you are better off swinging away but when you need 1 run to win it’s a different equation. You never addressed Ghost’s very key point that there was no force involved which makes it more difficult for the defense and also gives the runner the option of staying at 2nd base if he judges the bunt to be poor.

      • 6ID20 - May 20, 2014 at 3:36 PM

        You don’t understand what probability is and how to use it. Those numbers you cite aren’t probabilities, they are historical outcomes expressed in percentage form. The actual probabilities of the various outcomes in last night’s scenario are extremely complex and would need to be calculated on the fly. To simplify the argument, if a series of 100 coin flips yields 60 heads and 40 tails, does that make the probability of the next toss being heads 60%? Of course not. It is 50%, as always.

      • jd - May 20, 2014 at 3:36 PM

        Here is the best I can find:

        The probability of scoring a run with a man on 2nd and none out :61.9%
        The probability of scoring a run with a man on 3rd and 1 out : 69.3%

      • jd - May 20, 2014 at 4:06 PM

        Yes but flipping a coin is a 50/50 proposition and bunting a runner over is not. So outcomes over a long period of time expressed numerically are absolutely relevant for the purpose of this discussion.

      • 6ID20 - May 20, 2014 at 4:10 PM

        Again, those are not probabilities, even if your source calls them that. They are accumulated historical outcomes presented in percentage form. That is not what probability is, so you can’t use it as if it was probability.

      • 6ID20 - May 20, 2014 at 4:17 PM

        I’m going to quit trying to explain mathematical and probabilistic concepts to people who are ignorant in those disciplines. That would include JD and everyone else here who cites SABR stats as if they are some form of truth, which they’re not.

      • Eric - May 20, 2014 at 4:24 PM

        FWIW 6ID20, I felt you perfectly illustrated the distinction with the comparison of accumulated coin flip data vs. the probable outcome of a given coin flip.

        Calculating the probability of a sac bunt working strikes me as being like calculating the probable outcome of rolling 12-sided dice that may be randomly weighted at three points on a randomly oscillating table.

  4. adcwonk - May 20, 2014 at 4:42 PM

    Again, those are not probabilities, even if your source calls them that. They are accumulated historical outcomes presented in percentage form….

    But that’s all we can ever do with human performance, right?

    Why not have Franny just steal third, right?

    The reason: because we know from accumulated historical outcomes, that stealing third has a low probability of success move.

    jd is right. When stat guys accumulate *tens of thousands* of times that a runner was on second and no out, and a runner on third with one out, they see that the latter ends up with a run almost 10% more of the time. You can’t just throw that evidence away and say that: well, it’s all historical and therefore irrelevant.

    • DaveB - May 20, 2014 at 5:15 PM

      However, a reason this isn’t quite a correct comparison of the 2 situations is that you can’t just choose between those two. Specifically, Roark has to bunt successfully to get to a runner on third with one out. I think they said last night that he had successfully bunted in 5 of his 7 attempts this year (SSS), so IF you took that as representative, that latter choice is actually something like a 71% chance of a man on 3rd with 1 out, plus maybe 27% chance of a man on 2nd with 1 out (which obviously has a lower probability of scoring a run), and as 61D20 keeps pointing out, some small probability of ending up even with just a man on first with one out.
      So … it does get complicated, and those probabilities, as 61D also keeps pointing out, are historical outcomes across all players, so MW might well be able to assess different probabilities for this particular set of players.
      I personally would have chosen the bunt, especially since Lobaton hadn’t gotten any ABs in the last few days and has been scuffling anyway, but I don’t think it’s an obvious decision.

      • adcwonk - May 20, 2014 at 5:23 PM

        I agree. It’s not as simple as comparing the probabilities, because a lot depends on who’s batting. But it’s the beginning of a framework – a rough guideline of sorts.

        But, given Tanner’s good success rate at bunting, and given Lobaton’s record as a pinch hitter and his recent non-use — I think a bunt by Tanner was the smarter move.

  5. Section 222 - May 20, 2014 at 4:50 PM

    As I’ve been saying, the decision is not just about putting yourself into a better situation after the AB, it’s also about keeping out of a worse situation.

    Not really. In the end, it’s about what decision gives you the best chance to win. We don’t lose the game if they guy is thrown out at 3rd on an attempted sacrifice We just might not have as good a chance to win it in that inning. Suppose the odds of scoring a guy from third with one out were 90% and from second with none out 50%. Would you still be concerned about making sure that you don’t end up with a guy on first and one out? Of course not. You’d do everything you could to get that guy to third.

    You don’t understand what probability is and how to use it.
    Ignoring the arrogant snark in this comment, I thought that probabilities were precisely “historical outcomes expressed in percentage form.” More exactly, lots and lots and lots of historical outcomes. Your coin toss example doesn’t change that probability because we know that the chance of tails is 50-50, and any 60-40 outcome over 100 tosses is obviously an aberration based on small sample size. But over enough tosses, the historical outcomes expressed as a percentage will be 50%, right?

    The chances or probabilities of scoring from second or third are based on so many historical outcomes that they essentially control for the variables that would effect the actual (and pretty much unknowable) probability in an individual case — like how good the hitters coming up are, how good the defense against the bunt is, how hard the pitcher is to bunt against or get a hit against. But it’s still just a probability and if a manager has information on those variables that counsels for adopting the approach that according to the numbers is less likely to occur, then by all means he would use it.

    Here, most of those variables point in the other direction — Lobaton is not a great hitter and has been sitting on the bench for 13 innings. The Reds first and third basemen are not stellar defenders. On the other hand, the pitcher is not one of their best, perhaps easier to get a hit off, but also easlier to lay down a good bunt off.

    I’ll buy that it was not a slam dunk decision, but I still think the best choice was a sacrifice.

    • Eric - May 20, 2014 at 4:58 PM

      222, historical outcomes are averages gleaned from the performance of thousands of people of wildly varying skill across decades of baseball. Any given set of players on the field and any given batter will deviate from the various averages interacting on any given play. On top of that, you have the virtually unknowable aspect of where the ball will end up if a batter actually makes contact in the bunt attempt.

      My guess is that the importance of individual deviation from historical averages increases as the success rate between two historical outcomes narrows.

      • Section 222 - May 20, 2014 at 5:00 PM

        I think that’s essentially what I was saying in a less educated way.

  6. Sec 3 My Sofa - May 20, 2014 at 6:50 PM

    No, you are still missing 6ID20’s point (or I am–maybe both).

    You can’t score .667 runs in a given inning. He either scores or he doesn’t. There is way, way more data than “odds of scoring from second with no outs, vs from 3rd with one out” going on, and that matters a great deal.

    For instance, to use Wonk’s example of stealing third: if the pitcher pulls a Storen and just forgets all about him, his chances go way up, as we have, alas, seen. We could all list a hundred confounding variables, and the sum of them matters. You can’t just hang it on one point and ignore the whole context.

    That said, I would have bunted him over.

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