At one point in the not-so-distant past, the Washington Nationals were a really bad team. Like, worse than the Cubs have been of late. Over the three seasons from 2008-10, the Nats twice lost 100+ games and totaled 298 losses. From 2011-13, the Cubs only (only!) lost 288.
In professional sports, the worst thing you can be is mediocre, always floating around with hope that things can get better with a little tweak here or there. That’s typically a sure-fire way to stay only relevant enough to be disappointed year after year.
But you know the weird thing about being awful? You get to draft really high. That means having the ability to rebuild on the cheap with the kind of talent that can eventually turn your franchise around, giving you both the confidence and flexibility to add major pieces to the mix down the road.
As a result of their terrible performances in those aforementioned seasons, the Nationals were able to select 1st, 1st, and 6th from 2009-11. They used those picks on Stephen Strasburg, Bryce Harper, and Anthony Rendon. I’d say that’s a pretty formidable trio.
The Cubs, on the other hand, are hoping for much of the same from Albert Almora, Kris Bryant, and Kyle Schwarber. While the positions are a bit different, you can see that neither team was afraid to just embrace the suck and wait out the losing until such time as their talent matured.
Once they started to improve, the Nationals went about acquiring arms like Gio Gonzalez and Max Scherzer. Huh, sounds kinda like something the Cubs have done and will likely continue to do. And yet another similarity between these two teams is that both boast Sin City phenoms as organizational crown jewels.
While he’s already in his fourth MLB season, Harper is actually 9 months younger than the Cubs’ rookie third baseman. Yes, you read that right. As a bit of an aside, I continue to be amazed at the amount of flack this kid catches for being insanely good and knowing it. He quit high school and got his GED in order to enroll in a college that played in a wood-bat league just to get drafted earlier.
Say what you will about the hyper-competitiveness of travel baseball and over-parenting, but Harper is a huge part of baseball’s future and is the kind of supreme talent that comes along very rarely. Bryant is similarly talented, he just took a different path in chasing his dream.
As you might imagine, Monday’s game was not the first time the two had played against one another, and Harper, always good for a quote, obliged when speaking about his fellow Las Vegan.
“When we were younger, we used to call him ‘Silk,’ because he was so smooth with everything he did,” Harper said. “He played third. He played short. He played a little outfield. He pitched, and he always hit very well. He’s a great talent. I’m excited for him. I always cheer for guys that are from my area.”
Strong and fast, too
Bryant’s so smooth that he makes things look easy. Almost too easy, as some are fooled into thinking he swing is too slow or that his size means he lumbers. He proved both of those observations wrong with his first two at-bats Monday, driving a 94 mph fastball over the wall in left-center in the first and then legging out an infield single in the third.
If you’re thinking that Bryant seems to be picking up a lot of those short hits, you’re right. In fact, he’s tied with Starlin Castro for the team lead with 9, a total that puts him 5th in the majors. What’s even more impressive, however, is the percentage of ground balls Bryant turns into singles.
On average, just under 7% of the grounders hit in the majors are turned into hits. Naturally, better and faster players will convert a higher percentage. Among the 19 players with at least 8 infield hits, only one (Nori Aoki – 8.2%) has an IFH% lower than 10.2 (FYI: that’s Castros total).
At 19.1%, the Astros’ Jake Marisnick (8 IF hits) has MLB’s second-best percentage when it comes to legging out grounders. Kris Bryant’s percentage: 29. Yes, that’s correct. Guys like Dee Gordon and Jose Altuve typically convert about 11% of the time, and Ichiro Suzuki — MLB’s all-time leader with 513 infield hits — reached on 12.7% of his ground balls.
With those numbers in mind, this is an astounding figure. It’s also one that should even out over time. Still, the fact that Bryant is able to move down the line that quickly in addition to the immense power he possesses is remarkable.
Wada you want?
In his second start this season, Tsuyoshi Wada went 5 1/3 with 6 strikeouts and 2 walks, while only allowing one run. It’d be great to see him continue to extend these outings, but he’s been great so far in replacing Travis Wood in the rotation.
*Smokies first baseman Dan Vogelbach roped a double on Monday but pulled up lame with an apparent hamstring injury while running to second. He was replaced by Wes Darvill.
*The Cubs will face Jordan Zimmermann, a player to whom they were rumored to be trading for this past winter, in tonight’s game at Wrigley. The free-agent-to-be has no plans to re-sign with the Nats prior to testing the market, so this trip and outing could be a nice early selling point.