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Washington Nationals' first-half highlights

Here we check out some "superlatives" from the first half of Washington Nationals' 2015 campaign. The Hardest Hit Ball, Best Called Strike, Worst Called Strike, Longest Tater, Fastest Pitch and Best Celebration. It's all in here...

Mitchell Leff/Getty Images

Everyone else is doing halfway awards and other fun things related to that, so I wanted to catalog some (probably uninteresting) things myself. Because the echo chamber of sports blogging is on life support, that's why.

Overall: It's been a pretty interesting 82-plus games to say the least--a poor start, good recovery, some guy named Harper, the damn Reds, the starting pitching staff setting records, the damn Reds again. Washington has its fair share of questions going forward, yet hopefully the All-Star break will allow the home team to get healthy.

Anyway, nothing too aggregate or dense here. And, of course, plenty of .gifs.

Hardest Hit Ball

So this one is probably no surprise. On May 12, 2015, Bryce Harper stepped to the plate against Rubby De La Rosa of the Arizona Diamondbacks. On a 2-2 count in the top of the 4th, De La Rosa fired a 95.8 MPH fastball towards the plate.  And Harper sent it right back at 116 MPH:

harper 116mph

Honestly, Harper probably hit the ball too hard for a triple, and settling for a double was the right call. Sadly, this was in vain. The Nats would lose this contest--remember when Jayson Werth and Ryan Zimmerman were playing?--but, on the whole, play pretty well in May after an underwhelming April.

*Because you're probably curious (and so was I), Giancarlo Stanton has hit two balls over 120MPH. That's as high as Baseball Savant's data goes.

Best Called Strike

To arrive at this um, award, I looked at every called strike the Nats' hurlers earned outside the strike zone so far. One pitcher stood pretty clearly above the others in terms of who got some strikes furthest from the zone. Before scrolling down to see that answer, here's the zone in question:

outside strike

We're looking specifically at the outlined/unfilled square just below the 2 foot height and about the -1.6 or so mark into the right-handed batters' box (view is from the catcher). This hurler is Max Scherzer, and he got more strikes further out of the zone than any other Nats' pitcher.

When did that ridiculously-far-out-of-the-zone pitch happen? First inning, first pitch, first batter, Opening Day, if you can believe it:

outside strike gif

Any further from the plate and the ball would need a passport before Ramos threw it back:

outside image2

Tim Welke: the Nats' kind of ump!

Worst Called Strike

Don't listen to anyone who says Tim Welke is a Nationals kind of umpire.

scherzer no strike

Opening Day again. Now, Ramos didn't do Scherzer any favors here. Or you could say Max missed his spot, and Welke was just evening things up from Granderson earlier. Either way, the pitch was still a strike. You can see Scherzer stopped dead in his tracks when Welke stands there like he's just relieved himself. The Baseball Gods did their thing next, as Duda would single on a 1-2 pitch to put the Mets ahead for good.

But would you believe that? The craziest called strike and the craziest called ball, same ump, same game, same pitchers, and it's the first game of the year. Cue the "it's early in the season for the umpires, too" line. Baseball.

Longest Tater

On 3-2 counts this year, Ian Desmond is "hitting" .083/.389/.250, with one round tripper; that's about 35% worse than the average major leaguer in the same count. No surprise given Desmond's struggles this year. But on June 28, 2015, during the second game of a doubleheader against the Philadelphia Phillies, Desmond straight-up smoked one to deep left-center:

desi long hr

Severino Gomez's curve catches way too much of the plate, of course, but we've seen some good pitches down the middle get past Desmond's lumber this year. D.C.'s shortstop is very much the heart and soul of the Nationals, by accounts a clubhouse leader, and steady compass through good times and bad. It would be fitting to see more blasts like these during the second half.

Fastest Pitch

If you've seen him pitch, you know Blake Treinen has some nasty stuff, particularly his slider. He can also throw gas; here, he brings 100.3 MPH to the plate against Brayan Pena of the Reds, the fastest pitch of the Nats' season so far:

treinen heat

Look at the run on that thing!  According to Brooks Baseball, this 1-1 offering broke about half a foot horizontally.  Pena didn't have a chance here, and it's easy to see why Treinen is a tantalizing prospect out of the Nats' late-innings bullpen.

Best Celebration

I primarily post about numbers, statistics, sabermetrics--nerd stuff. But a fan is a fan is a fan, and it's hard not to love Washington's post-game traditions (unless you're the opponents). From shaving cream pies, handshakes, or the lack of, and helmet removals, it reminds us that these guys really enjoy baseball, just like you and me.

Which brought us to April 28, 2015: Nationals at arch rival Atlanta, a thorn in D.C.'s side for a while. And this night was no exception, as the Braves went up 9-1 and 10-2 at different points.  It was looking like a lost cause for a little while:

atl angst

First of all, "125%" might be the funniest reply I've seen all year (but I welcome others' input). Anyway, that's not the point.  Washington clawed their way back, getting 4 here, 1 there, another 3 over there...and a huge 3 spot in the top of the 9th courtesy of Dan Uggla.

Cue joy, never give up, never surrender, and what now looks like--on the whole--a possible turning point for the season (certainly the first half). Then this:

chocolate sauce

As best I can tell, optical illusion first keyed into the unexpected celebration.  Then came, very simply, "Scherzer."

Doubtless we've seen some great wins and celebrations this year. Scherzer's no-hitter certainly leaps to mind, and Desmond's walk-off sac fly was exciting to see personally. We've been fortunate to have a fair amount of fun times to remember already.

Yet this is, at least for me, the genesis of the 2015 Nats as we know them. Right? It checks a lot of boxes: Role players stepping forward in the face of injuries. Camaraderie from the top paid player down to the player Atlanta was paying to play against them. And rallying point for the rest of the season.

What lies ahead for D.C. over the second half? Beats me. But the next time we do some superlatives, I want it to be early November.

Thanks to Brooks Baseball, Fangraphs, Baseball Savant, and Goose for data and info.