Sunday, September 14, 2008

The Worst Game of the Worst Year of the Worst Team in Baseball

Hey, look on the bright side. Basically no one was watching the game, right?

OK, so maybe I'm being a bit dramatic, but ugh, that was painful. Surely their worst loss of the year. Balester has a no-no through 5 and 2/3, the team is leading 6-1 going into the bottom of the 8th, and then Rivera, Manning, Shell, and Hanrahan conspire to allow seven runs in the bottom of the 8th and boot the game away. charts every game by win expectancy (WE is a stat that basically looks at all the games ever played and calculates a team's likelihood of winning at that moment given the score and situation). Yo
u don't see very many graphs like this:

The Langerhans 3-run homer in the top of the 8th with no outs to put us up 6-1 pushed the Nationals' chance of winning to 98.2%. Casto followed with a double, raising our odds of victory to 98.7%. Then the bottom fell out.

Rivera, Manning, and Shell all teamed up to blow the lead, but Hanrahan, the putative bullpen ace, finished the job.
The box score will say Hanrahan allowed zero earned runs (exhibit a on why ER is a flawed stat, especially for relievers), but make no mistake, the game was lost while he was on the mound.

When Hanrahan entered the game with the score 6-5, one out, and runners on the corners, the Nationals' chance of winning was down to 50.4%. By the time Hanrahan finally ended the disastrous 8th, the Nationals' chance of victory was down to 7.8%. Some of that was the Casto error and the intentional walk, and Hanrahan was asked to do a very hard job--a five-out save with the tying run on third. But regardless, he didn't come close to doing his job, allowing two run-scoring base hits. The unlikely unassisted double play to end the inning when Willingham left early on a pop up to Langerhans saved the Nationals from an even worse fate.

Which brings us to the question that must be asked at this point. Is Hanrahan really the guy you want closing games for you? Forget about the rest of this season--it doesn't matter. But looking ahead to next year, is Wild Joel still your closer?

Today was just one of several recent meltdowns. He's now allowed runs in 4 of his last 5 appearances, posting an ERA of 11.57 over that time. More troubling is that his walk rate is exploding again. He's now unintentionally walked 5 of his last 28 batters faced (plus 2 more IBBs), a 17.8% walk rate that is just not acceptable for an 'ace reliever.'

It's mighty discouraging, because from the time of the Rauch trade and his first appearance as the closer on July 20 until this most recent stretch, his command had been outstanding. Over that period he'd walked just 6.5% of batters faced, a number that you'd associate with a command starter more than a power closer. It seemed perhaps he'd turned a corner.

Now that's looking like sample size. Over the season as a whole, his unintentional walk rate now stands just a hair below 12%, better than the 15.3% he had last year, but still far too high to close.

So I think you need to start thinking about adding "closer" to the list of needs this off-season. And if I was the kind of blogger inclined to beat a dead horse, I might point out that Billy Bray and Scott Downs are two guys we gave away for bad and nothing who would be pretty attractive options right now.
  • In case it makes you feel any better (and it shouldn't), Ayala blew a game for the Mets last night, facing three batters and going: single, single, HR. Rauch also allowed another earned run in one inning last night, raising his ERA in AZ to 6.33. (We still should have gotten more for both of them.)
  • On a completely unrelated topic, congrats to Ted Thompson and Aaron Rodgers. Nothing like a GM making an unpopular decisi0n for the good of the team and being right.

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