Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Scouting Report: Nationals at Phillies (8/20)

So there I was last night all alone at Nationals Park thinking, where's the game?

Not really.
But I hope no one went to the park looking for a game, misled by my erroneous post yesterday. At least I didn't mislead you into expecting a win. I hope y'all didn't just stop reading that post though, because there was quite a bit of good stuff in there about the Phillies offense, bullpen, etc.

Actually when the game started I was sitting at the gate at the awful Logan Airport trying to decide whether I was more sick of the Red Sox or Dunkin' Donuts. I've been in Boston the last week or so for work, but now I'm back, paying a little more attention to whether the team's actually in town or not.

Here's my take on game 2 of the Nationals AT PHILLIES.

Pitching Match-Up
Brett Myers: I wrote a pretty detailed post on Brett Myers last time we saw him. My theory was that between the move back to starting, a very unlucky HR/FB rate (then over 20%), and an as yet unexplained 3-4 mph dip in velocity, he lost confidence, got off his game plan, started to nibble and throw his slider way too much (more than 20% of the time, almost twice as often as in the past), which caused his walk rate to skyrocket and his ERA with it. My conclusion was that there was no reason he couldn't be a good pitcher again if he'd just trust his stuff (but that it also wasn't hard to imagine the head case side of Brett Myers chasing him right back to AAA or the pen). But as the last remaining person in America who still had Myers on my fantasy team, I was banking on the former.

Since then, Myers has posted a 1.95 ERA. His walk rate over that four-game span is a minuscule 3.9%. His HR/FB rate is down to 17.7% (still very high overall, but way down). His fastball is back up to 91-92. In his last start, against the Dodgers, he threw the slider just 12 times, back in line with his historical rate of throwing it just 12-14% of the time. The real Brett Myers, the guy who was one of the better SPs in the NL in 2005-6, is back.

And my fantasy team is knocking on he door of 2nd place out of 20 teams. Woot!

Collin Balester: Balester had his worst start in more than a month last week versus the Mets, walking 5 and giving up 5 ER over 6 innings. In his previous five starts, his command had been excellent, allowing just 5 walks in 117 batters faced in 26 IP. And he achieved that while throwing his change up and curve much more than he had in his first two start--he threw the fastball over 70% of the time in those first couple outings, while barely using the change at all, but now he has his FB rate down to just 62% overall with 21% curves and 16.5% change-ups.

When he's been successful, it's been when he's able to put the fastball on the corners and get early-count strikes with the curve and change. When he does that, he gets plenty of Ks and lots of groundball outs. The other stat that had helped him get his ERA down to 4.66 going into that last start was the strand rate, which has risen to 67%. After his first couple starts he was stranding around 55% of runners, which is an unsustainably bad number resulting from bad luck and bad defense.

Other Notes
--With Guzman unavailable last night, the Nationals now have played 75 short-handed games this year. They are 24-51 in those games, good for a .320 winning percentage, which would be good for a 110-loss season.

--In one previous start against the Phillies (and Myers), Balester took the tough 2-1 loss and gave up a homer to Utley.

--Zimmerman and Milledge have had the most success in the past off Myers.

What to Cheer For
Thrilledge. His scorching .379 BA / .438 OBP / .682 SLG August is a very encouraging development for the future.

Fearless Prediction

(Season record: 16-11)
The Nats skid hits 12. Phillies, 5-1.

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