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July 20, 2016 [LINK / comment]

Nats almost sweep the Pirates

The Washington Nationals came very close to sweeping the Pittsburgh Pirates over the weekend, with two straight lopsided victories and a marathon 18-inning game that ended up going the other way. Max Scherzer pitched well, giving up only one run over seven innings, but the Nats failed to score at all, leaving him in line for a possible loss. But then with two outs and two strikes in the bottom of the ninth, the Nats' new superstar Daniel Murphy pulled off a feat that defied belief, smashing a home run into the middle deck above the right field bullpen. Yes, he did it!!! It was the kind of storybook narrative that makes you expect destiny to be on your side, but in spite of a superb performance by the bullpen, somehow the Nats just couldn't follow through with an extra-inning win. In the top of the 18th inning, Starling Marte hit a solo homer way up into left field seats, and the Pirates won it, 2-1. frown

That game bore a haunting similarity to NLDS Game 2 on October 4, 2014, which the Giants won by the same score in the same number of innings. The difference was that in that other game, it was the Giants who tied the game 1-1 in the ninth inning. (That was when then-manager Matt Williams pulled Jordan Zimmermann, who was just one out from winning the game.)

In the first two games of that series, the Nats combined superb pitching with clutch hitting, and the outcome was never really in doubt. On Friday, Stephen Strasburg went eight full innings, getting his 13th win of the season; Nats 5, Pirates 1. The last time a National League pitcher had a 13-0 record was 1912 (Rube Marquard of the New York Giants); see masnsports.com. That's pretty damn impressive! On Saturday, Tanner Roark did even better, pitching into the ninth inning without giving up a run. But he was replaced after giving up a walk and a single, and there went his chance at a first complete-game shutout. Anthony Rendon homered, but the biggest offensive display in that game was by Steven Drew, who hit three doubles. Final score: 6-0.

So the upshot of that series is that the top three pitchers in the Nationals' starting rotation kept up the astounding pattern of many innings with few runs allowed, as I discussed recently. If only it weren't for the mental and physical frailties of the other two starters...

Dodgers torment rookie

In the first of three games against the Dodgers last night, rookie pitcher Reynaldo Lopez took the mound and was immediately subjected to a baptism by fire as the very first batter (Yasmani Grandal -- Who? Oh yeah) hit a home run. Then came a single and a double, putting two runners in scoring position. Then Lopez got two quick outs, almost escaping peril, but Joc Pederson hit a two-run single. That put the Nats in an early hole from which they would not recover. Lopez was just called up from the minors to replace Joe Ross, who is still healing on the DL. (Lucas Giolito had been filling in for Ross, but he was sent back down to the minors after a rough outing against the Mets on July 7.) Lopez managed to strike out nine batters during the four and two-thirds innings he pitched, at least showing some future promise. You have to give him credit for keeping his cool, but I really take issue with the decision to have him start. About the only bright spots for the Nationals were a solo home run by Jose Lobaton in the fifth inning and a two-run triple by Trea Turner in the eighth inning; he then scored on a double by Daniel Murphy. Final score: L.A. 8, D.C. 4. See MLB.com.

The Nats had a day off on Monday, which was good because their bullpen was worn out from the marathon on Sunday. But meanwhile, both their division rivals won their games, and so the Nats' lead in the NL East has fallen from seven games (as of Saturday night) to just 4.5 games over the Marlins and 5.5 games over the Mets.

Finally: Metrodome update

Metrodome

Whew! I recently got started on some minor "repair" work on the Metrodome diagrams, concentrating on the precise position and orientation of the entry portals in the upper deck, but by the time I was finished there were some rather big changes. (Have you heard that one before? Yes.) I made some significant "discoveries" along the way: First, the upper deck actually hung over right field by a couple feet, slightly more in the corner. [I always wondered whether there might have been some overhang there, and then I came across some excellent panoramic photos at cookandsonbats.com, erasing any doubt. The "foul pole" on that side (actually a strip of yelllow fabric, like in Rogers Centre) angled slightly inward.] In that respect, the Metrodome was the opposite of old Comiskey Park, where the foul poles angled slightly outward. In order to illustrate the overhang more clearly, I created a lower-deck diagram for the first time, but it lacks detail. Also, in two of the diagram variants both the top- and bottom-level outlines are shown.

Second, the upper deck is slightly bigger than in the previous rendition (Dec. 17, 2012); it had 31 rows, almost as many as in the lower deck (35 rows). But because the upper-deck overhang is greater than I had thought (about four rows), the net effect of these two changes is that the overall stadium "footprint" is slightly smaller than before. Note that the support columns in the upper deck are easier to see than before, when they were just tiny dots.

Third, my previous diagram indicated a backstop distance of 63 feet, where it should have been 60 feet, so I corrected that. As a result, foul territory decreased slightly, from 34,300 to 33,900 square feet, while fair territory stayed the same, at 107,500 square feet. The new diagrams show that the grandstand quickly transitions from a gradual curve to a sharp bend behind home plate and in the left field corner. (This applies to all four corners in the football diagram variant.) Note that in the "combined" diagram variant, the two extra rows of seats installed between the dugouts in the early 2000s are shown; the foul territory measurement does not pertain to that configuration.


July 16, 2016 [LINK / comment]

The Nationals' starting rotation

NOTE: The analysis below pertains strictly to the 90 games played before the All-Star break. I'll discuss the ongoing series against the Pittsburgh Pirates tomorrow.

A major reason for the success of the Washington Nationals' during the first half of the 2016 season has been the remarkably consistent performance of the five pitchers who comprise their starting rotation: Stephen Strasburg, Max Scherzer, Gio Gonzalez, Tanner Roark, and Joe Ross. (Scherzer was slated to be the team's ace pitcher this year, but Strasburg has outperformed him in most categories.)

Nationals' starting pitchers before All-Star break
Starting pitcherInnings
pitched
Avg. IP per gameStrike- outsERAWinsLosses"Grade"
Stephen Strasburg 106.26.7132 2.62 12 0A
Max Scherzer 127.2 6.61643.03 10 6B+
Tanner Roark 116.26.41013.01 85B+
Joe Ross95.16.0793.49 74B-
Gio Gonzalez103.15.71044.70 58C-

NOTE: The above figures do not include the two games started by Lucas Giolito (4 IP, 3 2/3 IP) and the one game started by Yusmeiro Petit (6 IP).
SOURCE: MLB.com, plus my own daily tabulations of game results.

Those grades take into account the expectations for the individual pitchers, and are almost identical to those published in the Washington Post Kids Post section on Thursday. They gave Gio Gonzalez a D, which is a bit harsh.

In particular, the endurance of the Nationals starting pitchers -- as measured by number of innings pitched per game -- has been simply amazing, as I discussed on June 7. This chart compares that factor to the run differential in each game; positive = win, negative = loss.

WashNats-pitching-1st-half-2016

How much does innings pitched matter, statistically speaking? The correlation coefficient r between that variable and the margin of victory (or defeat) variable is 0.261, which yields an R2 value of 0.0676 -- not very high, but far from negligible. (That means that 6.76% of the variation in the run differential can be explained by the number of innings pitched by the starter.) Multiple regression analysis might help to sort out the relative importance of pitching, batting, fielding, etc., but that is beyond my scope for now.

The only complete game pitched by a National this year was on May 11 (see May 23 blog post), when Max Scherzer struck out 20 Detroit Tigers batters, and yet barely held on in the ninth inning to win the game, 3-2. (It almost happened again tonight...)

Of the 90 games they played this year before All-Star break, in only 20 has the starting pitcher not lasted at least six innings. Among the notable lapses by Nats starting pitchers:

DateStarting pitcherInnings
pitched
WinnerLoser
Apr. 7 Tanner Roark 4 MIA 6 WSH 4
Apr. 20Joe Ross2 WSH 3 MIA 1
May 28Gio Gonzalez4.2 STL 9WSH 4
June 25 Gio Gonzalez 3 MIL 6WSH 5
July 7Lucas Giolito3.2 NYM 9WSH 7

Otherwise, with few exceptions, Washington's starting pitchers had "quality starts," i.e. at least six innings pitched with three or fewer earned runs.

As the (symbolic) second half of the season begins, things are looking very good for the pitching staff, subjectively speaking. Stephen Strasburg shows occasional signs of fatigue and stress toward the middle of games, especially on the hot and muggy days for which Washington is famous, but he seems to have matured enough to know when he has had it. Max Scherzer has not let the occasional disappointments affect his positive outlook, and he has a solid psychological core to "go the distance" into October. Likewise, Tanner Roark is a veritable bulldog on the mound, with good pitching "stuff" and usually a steady temperament. Joe Ross was superb for a rookie pitcher late last season, effectively replacing Doug Fister, and he was excellent for the first several weeks of this year. Time will tell whether he gets over his injury and resumes performing at a top-notch level. His temporary replacement, Lucas Giolito, is touted as the Nats' ace of the future, but still needs polishing at the minor league level. He will probably play in more games after the September 1 roster expansion, perhaps earlier. The big question mark is Gio Gonzalez, the archetypical "head case." One or two things go wrong in the early innings, and he's a mess. It may be the fact that this is the last year of his contract, much like the "final year" pressure evidently ruined Ian Desmond's performance at shortstop last year. But he was the first National to win 20 games in a season (in 2012), and he has at least a few more good years in him -- either in D.C. or elsewhere.

ASG 2016 gripe

In my post about the All Star Game, I neglected to mention something that I wrote on Facebook. In the top of the eighth inning, the National League had the bases loaded, and Aledmys Diaz came up to bat. He took ball one, and then the second pitch which was clearly outside, but the umpire called it a strike. So Diaz felt obliged to swing at the third pitch, which was low, and then he struck out. On that one at-bat hinged the outcome of the whole game, and that umpire's call was a real shame.


July 12, 2016 [LINK / comment]

ASG: American League wins again

For the fourth year in a row, the American League has won the All Star Game (the score was 4-2), this time in the beautiful and sunny Petco Park in San Diego. If the past is any indication, that will make it very hard for the National League pennant winner to win the World Series. In nine of the thirteen years since they gave World Series home field advantage to the league that won the All Star Game, the same league won in both contests. See the Chronology annual page.

In general, the game was well-played, and pretty exciting. The Cubs' Kris Bryant hit a solo homer in the first inning, but the AL came back with three runs in the bottom of the second, with homers by Eric Hosmer and Salvador Perez. Hosmer got another RBI one inning later, and was named the MVP of the 2016 All Star Game. All four AL RBIs came from Royals players! The National League got more hits (10) than the American League (8), but kept leaving men on base. Johnny Cueto (the former Red, former Royal who plays for the Giants this year) took the loss after giving up the runs in the second inning.

The Nationals All Stars fared better than in past years: Bryce Harper went one for two with a double, while Daniel Murphy reached base on an error and then got two singles. On the other hand, Wilson Ramos struck out with the bases loaded in his only at-bat. Max Scherzer retired all three batters in the one inning he pitched, with a strikeout. Stephen Strasburg was introduced as part of the lineup at the beginning of the game, a special treat for the fans in San Diego, where he grew up, but he chose not to play because of physical issues.

Even though the game was played in a National League park this year, the American League was considered the home team, since the National League had home field advantage last year. For this game, that meant that the designated hitter rule was in effect. The 2017 All Star Game will be played in Marlins Park and in 2018 it will be played in Nationals Park -- presumably under American League rules?

Before the game began, it was announced that from now on, the annual awards for the highest batting average will be named for (respectively) Rod Carew in the American League and Tony Gwynn in the National League. That was a nice gesture to San Diego fans, since Gwynn played his entire career with the Padres.

Rogers Centre photos

Thanks to Mario Vara for sending some great photos of Rogers Centre showing the brand new "normal-dirt" infield, which he took in Toronto on July 2. The Blue Jays beat the red-hot Indians, 9-6 that day, thereby breaking Cleveland's 14-game winning streak. This panorama and one other photo have already been posted on that page:

Rogers Centre panorama 2016

Panorama of Rogers Centre on July 2, 2016, courtesy of Mario Vara. (Click on the image to see it full-size.)


July 11, 2016 [LINK / comment]

Murphy does it again! Nats edge Mets, climb back to .600

The pivotal four-game series with the Mets in New York started off with a wild slugfest on Thursday, not the way the Nationals wanted it to. Washington's rookie starting pitcher Lucas Giolito showed some good stuff but failed to hold an early lead, and was replaced during the fourth inning. Four Nationals hit home runs, including Bryce Harper and Daniel Murphy, but they ended up losing to the Mets, 9-7. Apparently Giolito needs more time sharpening his skills, as the hot prospect was sent back down to the minors.

But in the next three games, things went the Nats' way. Stephen Strasburg and Max Scherzer both went seven full innings (on Friday and Saturday), and both times the Mets were held to one run. In the Friday game, Clint Robinson hit a two-run homer, providing all the offense Washington needed in a 3-1 victory. On Saturday, Daniel Murphy hit a three-run homer, and got another RBI, accounting for most of Washington's six runs. On Sunday, Gio Gonzalez gave up two home runs to Jose Reyes, but managed to last nearly six innings without allowing any other runs to score. Once again, a home run from Daniel Murphy proved decisive in the 3-2 win.

I think it's fair to say that my rebuttal to Mets fans at Nationals Park on June 29 bears repeating:

We got Murphy! We got Murphy!

With a 3-1 series win, the Nationals thereby widened their lead in the NL East from 4 to 6 games. At 54-36 (.600), they are on track for a 98-64 season, which was what they accomplished in 2012. It ties the mark set in 1994 for the highest winning percentage for any team in the Montreal-Washington franchise. As F.P. Santangelo mentioned during the Sunday game, if Montreal had won the World Series in that strike-ruined year, the franchise might have thrived and never moved to Washington. Hmm-m....

Mets are really hurting

In some ways, the series in New York almost wasn't a fair fight, however. After surging only a week earlier, the Mets had a sudden string of bad luck. It was already known that third baseman David Wright would be out for the rest of this season after having neck surgery last month, but then came word that Matt Harvey would also miss the entire second half of the 2016 season because of "thoracic outlet syndrome." Also, first baseman Lucas Duda is on the 15-day DL with a stress fracture in his lower back. As for less-serious ailments, Noah Syndergaard is suffering arm fatigue (he exited early in the Friday game against the Nats), and Yoenis Cespedes is listed as day-to-day with a right quad muscle strain. See MLB.com

Regarding Harvey's departure, many analysts have wondered whether the Mets put too much pressure on him last year after having had Tommy John surgery. He was a key factor in the Mets' surge to the World Series, but the long-term damage to his body may greatly outweigh that moment of glory. Washington Post columnist Thomas Boswell compared how the Mets treated Harvey with how the Nationals treated Stephen Strasburg, who leads the majors with a 12-0 win-loss record.

Zimmerman on the DL

Ryan Zimmerman was placed on on the 15-day disabled list because of a strained rib cage, and was replaced on the active roster by Trea Turner. Outfielder Michael Taylor was also called back up from the minors, filling the roster spot vacated by Lucas Giolito. The usual fifth starting pitcher, Joe Ross, is on the DL with a sore shoulder. See MLB.com. Compared to other teams, and compared to last year, the Nationals have had pretty good luck with their players being healthy this year.

Scherzer is an All Star

Max Scherzer is replacing Stephen Strasburg on the NL All Star roster, as Strasburg is trying to rest his arm after a recent brief stint on the DL.

Stanton wins Home Run Derby

Miami Marlins star slugger Giancarlo Stanton won the Home Run Derby tonight, beating Todd Frazier (of the Cincinnati Reds) 20-13 in the third round. Frazier was the winner last year. In Round 1, Stanton out-homered Robinson Cano (of the Mariners) 24-7, and in Round 2, he out-homered Mark Trumbo (of the Orioles) 17-14. Stanton not only hit more homers, he hit them much farther than the others; some of them were measured at nearly 500 feet, in fact. Poor Chris Berman got tired of his "back, back, back" routine. (Frankly, I did too.)

New page: Fort Bragg Field

Being a simple, single-decked stadium, it wasn't too hard for me to do a diagram of Fort Bragg Field, where the Atlanta Braves hosted the Miami Marlins on July 3. (ICYMI, "Atlanta" lost, 5-2.) I estimate that it has 116,200 square feet of fair territory (pretty big) and 22,700 square feet of foul territory. If I understand correctly, all of the grandstand along the baselines and in the outfield will be removed soon, leaving just the small rectangular grandstand behind home plate.

Fort Bragg Field

There are two other stadiums at which official MLB games have been played in recent years for which I have not yet drawn diagrams: Champions Field (now called "Disney's Wonderful World of Sports") in Orlando, Florida, and Sydney Cricket Grounds, in Sydney, Australia.

Speaking of the Braves, Terry Wallace commented on Facebook that it's ironic that two stadiums of the same franchise -- Braves Field and Turner Field -- are meeting identical fates. Braves Field was "inherited" by Boston University for use as a football venue, and Turner Field will soon be "inherited" by Georgia State University, for exactly the same reason.


July 6, 2016 [LINK / comment]

Four Nationals named All Stars

Four members of the Washington Nationals were selected to the 2016 All Star Game, which will be played at Petco Park in San Diego six days from now. Only one will be on the starting team, however: Bryce Harper. Daniel Murphy came in second to Ben Zobrist by a margin of less than a hundred votes. It will be Bryce Harper's fourth appearance in the Midsummer Classic, and the second for both Stephen Strasburg and Daniel Murphy. For Wilson Ramos, it will be the first-ever. They are all eminently worthy of this honor, and they make Washington fans proud! See MLB.com.

(Previous years as an All Star.)

The Washington Nationals page will soon be updated with that information. It is the second time that four Nationals were chosen for the All Star Game: In 2012, pitcher Gio Gonzalez and shortstop Ian Desmond were chosen, in both 2013 and 2014, Jordan Zimmermann was chosen, but chose not to play for health reasons, and of course, Max Scherzer was chosen last year. Three Nationals relief pitchers played in earlier All Star Games: Chad Cordero (2005), Matt Capps (2010), and Tyler Clippard (2011 and 2014).

Last year there were complaints about too many Kansas City Royals being chosen as All Stars, and this year it looks the same way for the Chicago Cubs and Boston Red Sox:

2016 All-Star Game Starting Rosters
Position National League American League
My pick Actual My pick Actual
C Wilson Ramos
(WSH)
Buster Posey
(SF)
Salvador Perez
(KC)
Salvador Perez
(KC)
1B Ryan Zimmerman
(WSH)
Anthony Rizzo
(CHC)
Miguel Cabrera
(DET)
Eric Hosmer
(KC)
2B Daniel Murphy
(WSH)
Ben Zobrist
(CHC)
Robinson Cano
(SEA)
Jose Altuve
(HOU)
3B Kris Bryant
(CHC)
Kris Bryant
(CHC)
Manny Machado
(BOS)
Manny Machado
(BOS)
SS Danny Espinosa
(WSH)
Addison Russell
(CHC)
Xander Bogaerts
(BOS)
Xander Bogaerts
(BOS)
OF Bryce Harper
(WSH)
Bryce Harper
(WSH)
Mike Trout
(LAA)
Mookie Betts
(BOS)
OF Andrew McCutchen
(PIT)
Dexter Fowler
(CHC)
Carlos Beltran
(NYY)
Jackie Bradley Jr.
(BOS)
OF Denard Span
(WSH)
Yoenis Cespedes
(NYM)
Ian Desmond
(TEX)
Mike Trout
(LAA)
DH -- -- David Ortiz
(BOS)
David Ortiz
(BOS)

SOURCE: MLB.com

Unfortunately, I didn't cast my vote until after the deadline, so it didn't count -- an ironic side-effect of having been so tired after my busy day(s) traveling to Washington and back to see the June 29 game against the Mets.

Danny Espinosa should have been included among the "final selection" All-Star choices, in my opinion, but at least he was given due recognition for his recent hot streak by being named National League Player of the Week. Congratulations, Danny!

Nats beat Brewers, once

If the Fourth of July game against the Brewers (losing 1-0) was just one of those inexplicable quirks, there was no excuse for the loss in last night's game. Gio Gonzalez had a decent outing, but gave up a two-run homer in the sixth inning that put the Nats behind 3-2. Ryan Zimmerman made a rare error at first base, failing to catch a low throw and thus enabling Milwaukee to score two more runs on a second home run. The Nats actually out-hit the Brewers (12-10), but kept wasting run-scoring opportunities. Final score: 5-2.

I didn't realize that today's game was in the afternoon, so I missed it completely. Bryce Harper was batting cleanup (switching with Daniel Murphy) and hit a three-run homer in the first inning to get things rolling. Jose Lobaton and Ryan Zimmerman later homered as well. Tanner Roark went seven mostly solid innings, and the Nats finally won, 7-4.

Stadium proximity update

After a lot of hair-pulling, I finally figured out an efficient way to revamp the Stadium proximity page, replacing the map with a table. (I mentioned that impending task on June 16 and June 20.) The links are much easier to access than before, making for easier comparisons. You may notice that there are several new "combined" thumbnail diagrams, showing more clearly how new baseball stadiums were positioned relative to adjacent ones (or overlapping ones) that they replaced. In some cases, I included rough outlines (simple circles or rectangles in most cases) of adjacent or nearby football stadiums and basketball / hockey arenas. CAVEAT: Non-baseball stadium renderings are only crude approximations! This led a quite a jumbled mess in my rendition of the current and past sports facilities on the south side of Philadelphia:

Citizens Bank, Veterans Stadium, & Lincoln Financial Field

Citizens Bank Park, Lincoln Financial Field, and the Wells Fargo Center, as well as the former Veterans Stadium, Spectrum, and John F. Kennedy Stadium, where the 1985 "Live Aid" concert was held.

Oakland Coliseum tweak

Oakland Coliseum

Prompted in part by the Stadium proximity update, I made some minor "repairs" to the Oakland Coliseum diagrams. The new "Mount Davis" grandstand in center field built in 1996 is slightly bigger than before, and a few other corrections were made.

Oakland Coliseum is adjacent to Oracle Arena, home of the Golden State Warriors, who came in a close second in the NBA championship series last month. I heard that some guy named Kevin Durant just signed with the Warriors, who already had MVP Stephen Curry, so this apparently means they will be even harder to beat next year -- at least during the regular season!




From October through December, a table of all Postseason game scores is shown here.


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Coming Attractions

(Includes major revisions, minor revisions, pages with additional diagrams, and future stadiums that are under construction. This is only a rough guide; the sequence is subject to change.)


Stadium construction

Between March 2012, when Marlins Park was completed, and September 2014, there were no major league baseball stadiums under construction. It was the first time since September 1986 that this situation existed. But in light of the recent groundbreaking on the future home of the Braves, the table that had been removed from this space is being restored.

Stadium construction

Franchise /
Stadium
Opens % done
Atlanta Braves
Sun Trust Field
2017 40%
Oakland (San Jose?) Athletics
Cisco Field (?)
2020? 0%
Tampa Bay Rays
Rays Stadium (?)
2020? 0%
NOTES: This table includes stadiums that are currently under construction or are being contemplated.


Research department: