Blogservations: Nationals put Marlins on the ropes

Who would think, after the hot start we got to this year, that it would be the Nationals that would help derail our playoff hopes? It’s not over yet, folks, but it’s just about ready. If this upcoming road trip versus the St. Louis Cardinals and Cincinnati Reds doesn’t pan out better than 5-2, our series with the Philadelphia Phillies may not matter.

It’s all in Chris Volstad’s head.

Chris Volstad was at his absolute worse yesterday afternoon, giving up five walks and only striking out two. Of course, I shouldn’t need to mention that he also gave up a home run. Let’s look at the charts, courtesy of Brooks Baseball.

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That didn't look pretty.

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Neither did that.

It looks like Volstad did get squeezed a little on the outside part of the plate, but it was clear he was pitching away for much of the day and couldn’t get anyone out. No one’s going to swing at pitches six inches off the plate. However, there was a good deal of luck involved in Volstad’s hits allowed. You can see on the location chart that the Nats got two hits outside of the strike zone. In addition, when watching Volstad’s outing, you could tell that the Nationals were unfortunately finding holes in the defense. Retrosheet has them recording three line drives, but Volstad kept the ball on the ground for the most part and was not the beneficiary of good defense. Still, when you walk that many guys (mostly his fault, partly the umpire’s), you leave yourself open to allowing runs when grounders don’t go your way. If he limited the walks, this would not have been an issue.

What was up with Wee Willie Harris?

No knock on the guy, as I think he’s a highly underrated player because much of his value comes on defense, but what happened to our pitchers against Willie Harris? I know he walks a good amount (career BB% 10.9%, with a 2009 BB% of 16.1% after the series) but seven walks in 15 PA is simply absurd. There was no reason not to be more aggressive against an empty power threat like Harris. He’s gotten better offensively in his last two seasons, and he’s actually a pretty good leadoff man given his walk rates, but come on, seven walks? You’d think the man was Barry Bonds the way the team avoided him.

This may be more of a testament of how poorly the Marlins staff pitched this weekend. The Marlins walked 18 batters of a 121 batters faced, a 14.8% clip, well over the league average walk rate of 9% and the team’s average of 9.5%. The biggest culprits were the three starters, Volstad, Josh Johnson, and Anibal Sanchez, who combined for 13 of the 18 walks allowed. Sanchez’s and Volstad’s performances were particularly atrocious given the lack of strikeouts on their end; the two tallied only six strikeouts in total versus nine walks. Johnson struck out eight in his five innings.

The long ball is back.

The Marlins offense looked decent in the first two games before folding in Game 3 versus John Lannan, and part of the reason for that is that the Marlins have apparently reclaimed ownership of the home run. The team clubbed five homers on the series, including more blasts by Hanley Ramirez and Dan Uggla and the first career big league homer from Gaby Sanchez. The team’s hit 18 homers so far this month, and we’re only thirteen days into the month. At this pace, we’ll have 42 home runs this month, which would far eclipse the Marlins’ highest month this season, when they hit 30 in June.

The Marlins had made an effort to cut down on strikeouts at the expense of power, and the team has lost a good deal of power from their lineup this season. Last year the team had 183 strikeouts by Game 143, while this season we’ve only tallied 146. It’s an encouraging sign to see the Fish knocking balls out of the park. And, by the way, by Game 143 the ballclub last year tallied 473 walks. This season? 514, which may explain why the club is now the league leader in park-adjusted wOBA.

Tags: Chris Volstad Gaby Sanchez Miami Marlins Washington Nationals Willie Harris

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