Nationals Baseball

Tuesday, January 21, 2020

Monday Quickie : NL East could be full of Arenado respect

Not really much going on in baseball now that we're down to musical chairs with those RH OFs. The Hall of Fame announcement is tonight. I did a piece a decade ago (REALLY? a DECADE? I'm so old) about the psychology behind voting and it mostly still stands though "Be really good for a really long time and hit those magic numbers" is being replaced by "Be really good for a really long time and hit sabrmetric targets".  My feelings over time have moved firmly into the "whatever" group.  This is a popularity contest and it's subjective (you don't ask for votes if you aren't looking for opinions) so vote however you want, call people stupid for voting how they want, and in general try to have fun with it.  Nothing we do here changes what actually happened on the field. Harold Baines being in doesn't change the fact that there are like 50 offensive guys better than Harold Baines at baseball that aren't in. There are. They still exist.

 My ballot Jeter, Rolen, maybe Sheffield (one of those better than Baines guys!).  My gut wants to say Abreu for some reason. I can go either way on Clemens / Bonds.  Fine with them in - they were great. Fine with them out - they were cheaters who are also terrible people (Bonds likely beat his wife, Clemens likely slept with a 15 year old).

Given Zimm's mid career injury killed any HOF chance for him, Nats fans now just sit and wait patiently for 5 years after Max retires and wonder if a plaque can capture two different colored eyes.


In non HOF news Nolan Arenado isn't happy. Nats could use him. Braves could use him. Phillies could use him. Mets could use him though they'd have to move some guys around. The Braves would be an ideal location but if they didn't want to commit to Donaldson for 4 years would they commit to Arenado for 7 for more money?  Hard to see it even committing to Nolan for one "age year" less (36 for him vs 37 for Donaldson's demand).  The Nats would love to but seem committed to Kieboom and hard to see the Rockies settling for just Carter and any more guts the Nats system and seems very un-Nats like, also cap issues. Phillies? Are they still around? I see him somewhere other than Colorado by the end of 2020 but I don't see him in the East right now.  Mid-season might change that up once these teams who all hope they can just cruise to the playoffs and not have to commit much, (or miss the playoffs by a lot and not have to commit much) find themselves in a troublesome middle ground.

The Braves did bring in King Felix to kick the tires on him. Felix is not old - 34 in 2020, but he was bad last year and hasn't had even an ok season since 2016. While we generally think of successful guys as big K guys Felix wasn't really was that. He was a GB control master who never gave up the long ball and ate up tons of innings. From 2008-2014 his HR9 was 0.6 and 7 IP average. He was like Maddux more than anyone. But those skills are gone. He give up the flyballs now, the homers, and he's not compensating by walking fewer (he's walking more) or striking out more (he's striking out fewer).  He's also not eating innings.  This is a hail mary.

Friday, January 17, 2020

Buzzkill

Who knows how the weekend will unfold. Yesterday Carlos Beltran was fired, Jessica Mendoza made a fool of herself with a "snitches get stitches" take and the internet descended into chaos as players, player's kids, and fake player relations all weighed in on the scandal. Everyone starts looking for more like scanning video and picutres for evidence of buzzers, jumping on anything because the Astros have no benefit of the doubt anymore.

As we dig deeper expect to find more.  Every team tries to get an advantage and it's not like the Astros were the only team doing this. I don't say this to say any of this is ok. It's not. They know this type of watching monitors and signalling players is outside the scope of the game as desired. But that isn't going to stop some teams, especially knowing one team is succeeding doing it.

Could the Nats be cheats? Possibly! Any team can. Not hearing whispers from the local media is good, but unlike the bottles of sort of steroids sitting in lockers that the media just pretended they didn't see, the teams did seem to hide this from people outside the organization, so you can't rely on it. Better we haven't heard anything anecdotally yet.

Someone asked why the players are getting off scott-free.  It's because they have to. Not only would it be very hard to figure out who did what, but then meting out the punishment would cause competitive imbalances over the course of the season. Do you catch the Astros without Correa and Bregman or without Reddick and Max Stassi? You do have this kind of random luck during the season but MLB shouldn't be creating it.

Is there more to come just from the Astros side? There are two coaches still hanging out with ties to the 2017 team, one in Toronto and one in Boston that will probably end up being let go I imagine. After that we'll have to see what shakes out. If nothing comes up soon, it's possible that MLB could put it's head down, hide behind the Super Bowl, and get to Spring.

Wednesday, January 15, 2020

Baseball news dump

Josh Donaldson is a Twin.  4/92 with a possible option putting it over 100 million. The first thing this means is Donaldson - a very good player, is not on the Braves anymore. That's good for the Nats! This would have made the Braves a clear favorite for the division. Instead they remain a minor one with a lot of solid players but lacking that one more big bat to complement Freeman and Acuna*.  Will Albies step up? Austin Riley? Maybe but that's the same thing as guessing that Robles will. Right now they have no real weakness but nothing that can carry the team forward, and an offense that should be a little worse, matching the Nats own situation.

The second thing is Donaldson is not a Nat which means if the Nats really did have a 4/100 million deal out there as was told - that it was so heavily deferred to be comical. There doesn't seem to be an end to the Nats trying this game so expect to fall short on a good number of free agents. But as we've talked about before, this hasn't come back to bite them yet so why not keep moving forward with the plan? The still have enough talent to win and gaps that can be filled. Rendon is another big gap and we'll have to see if what they've done will work, but at this point, not really 8 seasons in because the first two didn't involve much front office work, but 6 seasons in of it working why doubt it?

Also yesterday the cheating scandal punishments came down and ultimately Hinch, Luhnow, and Cora were all let go.  Cora was a Nat in 2011, right before the Nats got good, but there's like a dozen things in between then and now with a bunch of teams, plus a whole different Nats squad so I'm not worried about anything he may or may not have done in DC.  Was it a fair punishment? I think so. Rules are rules, you know not to do that even if it's not explicitly spelled out. I think Hinch, with his anger but no action reaction to others doing this, ends up on a bench somewhere. I think Luhnow is done forever, because if we believe Hinch then either you have rogue coaches and players (doubtful) or direction from on high (sounds like the Astros to me), then he directed it and is lying now. Cora? I don't know. He was deep into it so it's a hard sell getting him back in.

Do I think other teams were trying or exploring similar things. I do.  Success breeds imitation and it's just in the nature of the game. But I think these are the warning shots over the bow (taking out a few sailors) to say "cut it out".  

Sadly all that's left in FA is the righty OF/DH shuffle between Ozuna (best OF), Castellanos (best bat), and Puig (most fun) of which the Nats and no one in the NL East should be a part of ** Yawn.  I suppose the trade market is still there but I doubt that Arenado is coming to the NL East (it's either the Cardinals with their amassing of prospects or no one).  Bryant is a more interesting case. The Braves should do a trade given their surplus of minor league talent. The Phillies should do a trade because they need one more big bat. The Nats should do a trade because the same. But likely no one will.

So we're probably where we are at for the season and I like the Braves and Nats to fight for the division and the WC with a slight edge to the Braves. Not a bad place to be with a WS title in pocket



*The Nats only had two big bats last year but the Nats also had three aces. The Braves do not have three aces. 

**both the Phillies and Marlins could use an OF but a CF specifically. You aren't putting any of these guys in CF.

Monday, January 13, 2020

Monday Quickie : No Donaldson

Fun fact reading the Carter Kieboom articles - just because you play a position doesn't make you a "natural".  Kieboom has played a bunch of short. But he's not better than Trea. Trea is good, but Trea isn't special. So that means Carter is maybe ok? Rizzo admitted last year Kieboom was a bat first guy. It's ok to admit while he CAN play SS maybe he shouldn't or at least you shouldn't plan this for the future? I know I'm nitpicking here but if you say a guy is a "natural shortstop" then I think "oh he can easily play 2B or 3B" as opposed to if you say "he's played SS most of his minor league career" which is a lot less committal on his defensive skills.  Basically he should be fine, even good, at 2B or 3B eventually but he not might be. It's still up in the air.

Which is important because Kieboom is now part of Plan A. Basically confirming any hope of getting Donaldson is over, Rizzo pushed Kieboom and the recent moves as easily good enough to cover the infield holes. And it might be.  You are almost certainly not going to replace 2019 Rendon. But can the Nats get like 80% of it? He's the idea on how that happens with my percent chances attached.

Asdrubal Cabrera has a great season (10%). He was amazing to end the year but has bounced all over the place mainly being around average for full seasons. At 34+ he may have a good full year left but he's probably more likely to crash. His defense was solid last year but in part that's him degrading down the defensive ladder. The former SS aged out of that position, then aged out of 2B.

Carter Kieboom breaks out. (15%) All minor league signs suggest Kieboom will hit at an acceptable level in the majors but there's also not an overwhelming track record of dominance. His best partial season was probably a .296 / .400 / .497 line in Single A back in 2017 which is good but it wouldn't make you excited if he wasn't 19/20 at the time. His short stint last year was so bad that it seems unlikely he'll impress on offense or defense. But again he's young so you are hoping he grows into the role. With that out there I can't expect more from him than say Robles who just three months older than Carter was putting up a basically the same line you see there but in AA in 2017.  So I'm hoping for average this year and will be happy if I see that. Better than that will probably have to wait.

Starlin Casto has a great season (25%).  Boz points out his great half year but I am more interested in a couple seasons that he was almost there and him being a good 4 years younger than Asdrubal. I don't think there's a star turn at 29/30 here but can he put it together for one year? Give the Nats something like .300 with 25 homers? (He doesn't walk). Plus he aged out of SS but he's still a good 2b meaning he could be a very good 3B.  Get all that for one year and you might just give enough to, not replace, but cover for Rendon

Davey works platoon magic (5%). The splits aren't there to suggest this is a thing. Mainly it'd be more luck on getting someone's hot stretch then lucking into another one. Maybe having D not really matter all that much based on balls hit to 3B.  It can happen but don't rely on it.

Now this isn't cumulative.  You can't look at the above and say there is a 2/3 chance of replacing Rendon. If you start with say As Cab and he's not good for two months, well there's your chance at doing it, even if Castro comes in and give you what we say.  4 months of the above won't cover for Rendon. It'd have to be a - you get good AsCab then he gets hurt or something then you get good Castro. That's more like 5% chance.

How you should read the above is the likelihood things work out for the Nats given their OD choice. Maybe pump it up 5-10 based on things like I described above, a string of moves that happen to work. But I figure best case is 1/3rd chance and they can flub it up to be under 10% if say they start with a platoon idea.  That doesn't mean the Nats will have a bad 3B situation, just that they won't come close to replacing Rendon. The most likely scenario in fact is that it's ok to start and just stays ok and you feel the loss of Rendon but it isn't terrible.

The Nats made this bed. Now they have to lie in it (and for the next 4+ months tell us how comfortable they think it is)

Friday, January 10, 2020

Lucky or Unlucky : 2019

Last couple of years I did this but it felt a little out of place at the end during a WS celebration, when saying something like "I don't think Strasburg had the best postseason ever" got me crushed by Nats fans.  With some time between then and now and the bad taste of losing Rendon setting the palates a little back to normal, let's go over what went right (and wrong) for the Nats in 2019 that had nothing to do with skill. (regular season only - playoffs is too short really to fit in here)

UNLUCKY 

Zimm gets hurt real bad, can't hit and Adams hits a wall.  The idea that Zimm would miss time to injury is a given. You peg him for 100 games and hope he gets there.  But this year Zimm barely hit half of that (52) and didn't hit even average which he managed to do in most years despite injury. Matt Adams was replacement number one, kept on the team after a good 2018, but he too dropped below average leaving the Nats with a hole at first. Add to the fact neither could field and the Nats had a terrible 1B situation until they defaulted to Howie+

Rosenthal is a disaster  The Nats bet a lot on Rosenthal expecting him to either be good and get them a top notch reliever or be bad and just taken as a sunk cost eating up the last spot in the pen.  They weren't prepared though for Rosenthal to be completely unusable and one of the worst relief pitchers in baseball in 2019.  Sportin a deserved 22.74 ERA Rosenthal was given a couple chances to come back and never did leaving a hole in the Nats bullpen. This was made worse by...

Bullpen pieces take a step back  Bullpens are variable things. With a usual mix of inexperienced arms and arms with maybe too much experience pitching minimal innings, you get results bouncing all around the place. Spread this out among 32 teams and you'll get a couple teams get more than their fair share of luck and a couple teams that do not. Guess where the Nats were.  Matt Grace, a found piece in 2018 expected to step up, was terrible. Kyle Barraclough, signed aiming for an innings eatings decent arm, was terrible. Doolittle, hurt for much of the year, wasn't sharp.  The resulting issues caused a baby with the bathwater situation where the Nats released some guys that might have helped like Sipp and Miller for the sake of starting over. Meanwhile no one stepped up.

Hellickson 5th starter is a no-go  You can't expect 30 starts from Hellickson, but you do expect more than 8 and a 6.23 ERA.  This arm was going to go sometime, just like it did in 2017 but the Nats didn't have to catch this. They did

7-13 early in close games.  Some teams have things not go their way early, which has more impact than late just because it sets up your moves and mindset for the rest of the year. In 1 and 2 run games the Nats were getting crushed and they found themselves in a spot heading into late May where if things didn't turn around soon and consistently they'd have to come up with a new plan.


LUCKY 

Howie's best year ever.  We kind of think "Howie can hit. Last year was just him being him." No way.  Last year was a career high in batting average 30 points over anything recent and 50 over his career average. It was his career high in homers and he posted a isoSLG of .228  easily besting his previous career high of .179 back when he was 27.  The guy had been consistently an above average hitter. Last year he put up no-brainer All-Star numbers.

Rendon becomes RENDON.  Ok this isn't a big time luck swing but you can't say this is expected because in 6 previous years including the last two pretty healthy ones, Anthony never put up anything like this year. Career highs in BA, homers (by 9), tied for career high in doubles, nearly a career high in walks (4 off). This was the year he put it all together. Is it a sign of a step up or just that one special season? Not the Nats problem anymore and honestly the Angels will probably be happy if he puts up a bunch of years like 2017-18 if it's the latter.

Nearly perfect OF health.  Every team gets injuries but the Nats, with a little older team and some injury risks are probably a little more prone to them than other teams. The Nats did have a decent Plan B for the OF in Howie, but once 1B became a debacle they needed him there leaving it important that no OF miss major time, espeically Robles whose defense allows Soto and Eaton to stay in the corners.   Soto 150 games, Eaton 151 games, Robles 155 games.

Nearly perfect SP health.  Max had his issues at the year end but the big 4 started something like 93% of the games they would given perfect health. Most importantly given Max's short miss time, Strasburg, who seems to miss a month every season, didn't in 2019.  As the rotation gets older this is harder to keep up but as long as it does the Nats have a chance.

Super subs You bring in guys and hope they can fill spots.  If they are better than expected that's a nice bonus.  Hudson put up a 1.44 ERA with some LOB luck and nailed down the bullpen.  Asdrubal Cabrera put up a .323 / .404 /.565 line that he'd never be able to do over a season  Both these guys were integral to getting the Nats keeping their WC lead and getting into the playoffs.

Things turned around soon and consistently.  After the bad start the Nats would go like 36-15 to immediately put themselves back in it by the trade deadline.  If they had stumbled at all during this time - like the 3-7 stretch right at this point or the 6-10 run near the end of the year - the Nats are around .500 and might be looking to pack it in.


AS EXPECTED

Gomes/Suzuki platoon, Dozier, Turner, Soto, Robles Eaton all hit reasonable expectations. There were flirtations with major issues at C, 2B, and CF but all held that off.  Soto being Soto again rather than taking a clear step back was key to keeping the line-up dangerous enough.

Strasburg, Corbin, Max all pitched like aces.   That's why they make the big bucks and until they give you reason to doubt them you expect this.

Sanchez didn't waver. And this is why he got paid what he did.

Nats luck in games evened out in general. The Nats had lousy luck in 1-run games, but in 3 run games were almost unbeatable. Yeah I know 1 run games are closer to .500 splits and good teams make their living in the 3-8 range. Still 22-6 in three run games is out of whack. Basically over the course of the year things evened out and the talent than was mostly healthy was able to shine enough to get them into the playoffs. 


As in any good year for any team, the Nats were luckier than unlucky.* Howie's career year countered the 1B failings.  The nearly perfect SP health (and talent that the Nats put there) and Hudson's miracle stint countered the 5th starter issues and failures of the pen when it mattered.  Rendon's MVP worthy season, the OF health, As Cab's stint along with some timely Parra hits when he first arrived, gave the Nats an extra offensive boost needed after luck swung against them early.  It wasn't a big swing in their favor but it was enough.


*basic truth is that with 5 teams in direction competiton, and 10 more sort of, a couple teams are going to get really lucky, a couple more sort of lucky, etc. etc. Because some other good team will get lucky it's hard for a good team, unless set up to be REALLY good, to get a little unlucky and still make it through. You need luck. 

Tuesday, January 07, 2020

Hudson's back - so no Donaldson?

The Nats have officially brought back Daniel Hudson.  It was clear that Hudson wanted a longer deal, but it's now clear that no one wanted to give him one. So two years 11 million and he's back in the Nats pen where he thrived in the back half of 2019.

Personally I don't believe this sets the Nats pen or makes it "imposing".  This is a less impressive trio than Doo, Hudson, Kintzler and we all know how that worked out. Is it reasonably contructed? Yes! and Nats pens aren't always so. Could it be great? Sure.  I mean any reasonably constructed pen can - look at the Nats in 2016. Could it be below average? Yep. That too. I wouldn't bet on it but I wouldn't be surprised either. When I'd be surprised though is if this pen was bad.

In short : I think the bullpen should be expected to be above average but there's a lot of variability in pens.

How do I feel about the Hudson deal in general... I kind of don't love it. He wasn't all that good in 2018 or 2017 or 2016.  He was merely ok in 2019 before joining the Nats. His arm is injury prone, he missed time as recently as 2018 and last years 83 IP were the most innings he's thrown since 2011. We're talking Obama's first term here, Miley Cyrus was still Hannah Montana! His 2019 was helped by an unrepeatable LOB% (81.8) and a HR/FB rate not likely to be repeated (8.6%). Somehow this happened while giving up fewer GBs and more hard hit balls. Basically remember that Dodgers catcher almost hitting it out? That was Daniel Hudson in a nutshell last year. Can he repeat getting guys to almost hit it out? I doubt it

It doesn't mean he can't be a useful bullpen piece, but for about a million more you could have signed Clippard and Stammen and gotten two useful pieces, with less injury risk.

Still it's hard to fault the Nats for doing something where they usually do nothing. This is a big improvement over the option of whoever would fill the last spot in the pen that now gets bumped out. The real problem is though that the Nats now seem out of the running for Donaldson. They say the contract is still out there and I believe them, in part because I think the deferments make them money to cover the cap hit. But it's hard to see him coming to a team paying him less when the other offers are also from contending teams.

The Nats had a very good offense last year but a big chunk of that was Rendon. Losing him hurts.  There's also the fact that Kendrick had a career year that he's unlikely to repeat. Eaton's trending wrong as is Suzuki. The Nats have some decent options out there in Thames and Castro but all these guys are more likely to be average than good. Can Turner step up? I don't know he's been playing long enough to kind of accept he's a good but not great bat. Can Robles? Possibly - he is young. But I'm not enthused by what I saw last year. Maybe average.  Can Soto? I think he can get even better... if they are bothering to pitch to him. I don't think it'll be a bad offense if they don't replace Rendon with Donaldson (or someone in trade) but it'll be one that's likely to be around average, meaning the pitching has to be great to compensate.

And the pitching can be great. It has been. It's got three aces and a pen that should be good. But that's a lot of pressure on a rotation that features a lot of age and went through a lot of wear and tear last year.

Monday, January 06, 2020

Monday Quickie - Lots of stuff

Remember last week when I noted nothing happened when we were gone? Well now stuff happened - a lot of stuff! Over the weekend the Nats signed both AsCab and Starlin Castro. The question is... what does this mean?

Option 1 : They hate Kieboom. This sets up 2B and the backup MI as they try to bring in Donaldson.

Option 2 : They trade Kieboom. This sets up 2B and the backup MI as they try to trade for maybe Kris Bryant.

Option 3 : They are out of the 3B market. This sets up 3B and the backup MI as they get ready to give Kieboom his long trial

Take your pick.  To me #1 is the least likely. Donaldson has seemingly set his asking price (like 4/110) and also presumably has a better deal on the table from the Twins than the Nats. Sure maybe "defending champs" speaks to him and he'll take whatever deferred heavy deal the Nats have out there, but if it wasn't about money he could have done that already.

#2 is more possible. Yes Byant will be a FA in a couple seasons, but he's also in that underpaid control period of this contract making him a value.

#3 is also possible though then you'd have to wonder what happens to the money the Nats would have, but didn't spend, as there aren't a lot of options out there on where to place it and "the Lerners bank account" is the one we want to see the least.

How are these guys?  I like Castro. He likes to play especially for winning teams. He's ok! Probably a little better than he was last year. Boz seems to think his 2nd half could portend a break out.  Oddly enough he doesn't say that for AsCab who had an equally crazy August and September. We know him. He is also ok. But older. And at times it looked like the Nats were lucky to get what they got because what were you swinging at Asdrubal?

My take is that this is a fine platoon or starter/back-up situation for the 7th or 8th man in your line-up.  You can get an average player from these two and for about 8-9 million that's a good deal. Much like Will Harris though these are the finishing touches around picking up someone to replace Rendon... or honestly to replace like 80% of Rendon.  If they get that - all is well - successful off-season, time to defend.  If they don't then this team is a step back from last year and while that probably means a similar end spot for the Nats (comfortably in the WC discussion with around 90 wins) it's not where they could have or should have been, imo.  But let's see