MLBits: Nats Struggling, Experimenting with Harper, MIL Trade Plans, Bauer, Sinkers, More

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MLBits: Nats Struggling, Experimenting with Harper, MIL Trade Plans, Bauer, Sinkers, More

Chicago Cubs

After the pool and before the hot dogs, cold beers, and fireworks, my two-year-old nephew, Joey, and I had a bit of downtime on the Fourth of July (the beers weren’t for him). So, I did what was only right and put on ‘The Sandlot’ to pass the time.

At first, I was nervous that he wouldn’t like it or wouldn’t care – that movie means so much to me and he is still really young – but I am VERY happy to report that he was absolutely enamored. He doesn’t say a lot just yet, but throughout the movie all I heard was “Where did ball go?” and “What are boys doing?” and “Oh, bad doggie.” And then the best part? Today, when we woke up, he asked if we could watch it again.

I’m a very proud uncle.

  • I checked in on the standings this morning for the first time in a while and I was a little surprised to see that the Nationals were once again in third place in the NL East, 7.0 games out of first, and a game under .500. Their season started out very slowly, yes, but they had come roaring back over May and June and even spent 16 days in first. Obviously, given the Dave Martinez connection, the Bryce Harper connection, and the we all expected the Cubs to meet them in October again connection, their struggles have been particularly interesting to follow. I’m still pretty confident that the Nats will be there by the end of the year (at 43.5%, they still have the best odds at FanGraphs to win the NL East), but there have clearly been some fairly significant issues. Indeed, after losing five in a row and dropping below .500, they’ve reached “team meeting” status.
  • One of the big problems they’ve faced this year is Daniel Murphy’s considerable fall off. After starting the season on the disabled list, Murphy has slashed just .200/.235/.277 (36 wRC+) in 19 games, and, because of equally poor base running and defense, has actually been worth a negative 0.5 WAR during that stretch. Woof. Along with Bryce Harper, Murphy has been at the core of the Nationals lineup for the last two years, so his production absence is clearly hurting.
  • One of their other issues this season, of course, has been Harper’s uncharacteristically low offensive production (at a 121 wRC+ it’s not bad, mind you, it’s just not MVP-Harper). But that has turned around lately. Since June 24, Harper has a 166 wRC+ with five doubles, two homers, and a laughably high 25% walk rate. He’s even played a little center field during this stretch, and could see more time there as Adam Eaton returns and Juan Soto continues to draw starts. And if he’s not in the outfield, he might even get a game or two at first base, where he was seen practicing the other day, but that may only be in a pinch and/or the perfect matchup. The Nationals will try anything …
  • The Brewers have had trouble locking down their second base job all season long – they rank 24th in WAR at the position – but may have come up with a creative solution: Travis Shaw. The third baseman is being considered for a slide into the middle infield, the theory goes, because there are several available third baseman on the trade market (Mike Moustakas, Manny Machado, Josh Donaldson, to name a few) and the Brewers figure to be in a good position to add this July – they skipped out on Jose Quintana last year and it may have cost them a trip to the playoffs. The Brewers are downplaying Shaw’s work at second base, but like Harper working out at first, you don’t do that stuff just for fun.
  • Speaking of the Brewers: Lorenzo Cain needs a bit more time on the disabled list (left groin strain), but Christian Yelich (back) is close to starting again. Cain, if you weren’t aware, has been one of the most valuable players in baseball this season. His 3.4 WAR ranks 11th best in MLB. Yelich, meanwhile, has been no slouch either with a total of 2.1 WAR in just 70 games. The Brewers, if they add significantly at the deadline, are going to be really tough.
  • Trevor Bauer thinks Trevor Bauer is an All-Star, and he’s probably right:

  • I wonder how much outcry there would actually be if Bauer were snubbed.
  • At FanGraphs, Jeff Sullivan has managed to find yet another interesting little angle on negative WAR players, and which teams are giving them the most playing time. Theoretically, replacement level players are supposed to *always* be available, but some teams, like the Royals, seem to hand way too many opportunities to negative WAR guys anyway. The Cubs, as I’m sure you would’ve guessed, have some of the least negative WAR in baseball and the lowest amount of negative WAR playing time, too. In other words, their players have generally been good, AND the Cubs have tended to give playing time to the right players.
  • Hey! It actually happened: Brett Gardner was fined for taking too long to get into the box. It was only $2000 (yes, I say only, because that’s a tiny amount of money to him), but it was something. Pace of play is fixed! [Brett: And it only took multiple violations over the span of TWO months for this enormous fine to be imposed. Can’t imagine why the pace-of-play rules aren’t working.]
  • At FanGraphs, Craig Edwards examines the effect of the relatively recent trend of disappearing sinkers (i.e. not sinkers that fall off the plate, but rather pitchers throwing them less and less often), something that’s happened because batters have become better at doing damage against the sinker in the aggregate. For what it’s worth, Tyler Chatwood and Kyle Hendricks are both throwing sinkers as often as ever and are included in the study because of that. Jose Quintana, meanwhile, is one of the pitchers who’s ditched his sinker for more four-seamers. Clearly, the Cubs don’t have an outright position on this, but they’ve always been a “let the players do what makes them most comfortable” organization.
  • Billionaire Mark Walter and his company Guggenheim Partners, are facing a lawsuit claiming that they defrauded investors by “saddling an insurance affiliate with risky assets and siphoning cash for purposes” of buying the Dodgers. Obviously a lawsuit is just a set of allegations, but still – yikes.
  • We all feel this way today, right?

Author: Michael Cerami

Michael Cerami covers the Chicago Cubs, Bears, and Bulls at Bleacher Nation. You can find him on Twitter @Michael_Cerami