Nationals Baseball

Tuesday, October 16, 2018

Off-Season Position Discussion : Second Base

Last year discussion revisited

Quick. How many games did Difo start at 2nd base? 40? 60?  Try 84.  That in itself should tell you what a mess the position was in 2018.  Murphy ended up being out longer than anticipated.  Kedrick and Difo started a 60/40 share, but when Rendon went out Difo had to slide to 3rd and Kendrick started playing every day. Rendon came back and it went back to 60/40, but soon after Kendrick went out.

At this point things didn't look that bleak. Kendrick had hit as he was expected to, and Difo, after a slow start, hit quite well in May.  It looked like the Nats might actually cover these injuries just fine. But Murphy's recovery remained slow and given more time Difo was exposed as the below average bat he is. June brought reality crashing down at second as Murphy returned but was kept from playing 2nd forcing Difo to continue starting. When Murphy finally moved back in to a defensive role pushing Difo's nonexistent bat to the bench it took another week before he'd hit any better (which he needs to given his suspect fielding)

The Nats finally got the second base play they expected for probably 120+ games from early July to mid August. Murphy would hit .364 / .409 / .551 over those 34 games. But it wasn't enough. The Nats remained out of contention and figuring Murphy was going to test free agency after the year, the Nats dealt him to the Chicago Cubs. Difo would reclaim the starting role for the rest of the year (Adrian Sanchez would spot start) and neither would surprise

The end result is a 2nd base position that was at the level it was in previous years only for 30 or so games. It had another 50 or so run of decent play to begin the year, but the remaining 80 it was an offensive hole.  On the flip side, defensively it might have been the best it has been in a long while, as Difo is a plus defender at 2B.

My OOB plan was trading for Dozier, which would have worked out better than Difo (assuming everything stayed the same) but only slightly as Dozier had an off year at the plate.

Presumed Plan : If the season re-started tomorrow Kendrick would start at 2B and Difo would back him up.  It is possible though they could pick up a FA 2B and let Kendrick take on a supersub role filling in as needed around the diamond.  The Nats do have MI depth in the minors with arguably their two top offensive prospects, Carter Keiboom and Luis Garcia, potential 2nd base replacements* But it's unlikely either will see the majors before September, if then.

Reasoning on Presumed Plan : Presumably the Nats understand that the Kendrick/Difo is a precarious issue. We are not sure how Kendrick will recover from his injury, and assuming a reasonable time frame on injury recovery burned the Nationals just last year at this very position. If he is not recovered in time to start the year Difo has shown repeatedly he is not an every day player. However, this is a solution and the Nats have other issues (Catcher, Starting Pitcher, bullpen) arguably higher up on the list. So it's more likely they sit and wait on this then try to push it early.

They can do that because 2B is loaded with decent FAs Asdrubal, Dozier, Marwin, Lowrie, Josh Harrison (possibly), Kinsler, Walker, Descalso, LeMahieu (probably).  Something is going to shake out of that bunch cheaper than they deserve and the Nats can wait and then pounce on that for a one or two year team favorable deal.

There's no reason to do anything longer than 1-2 years because one of those two, Kieboom or Garcia, if not both, will probably be ready for a major league trial in 2020 or 2021. Neither are Soto/Robles level hitters but both have held their own at levels above their age making them rise up the prospect lists. Even if they don't develop into impact players - average position players for pre-arbitration salaries give the team a lot of flexibility to fix issues down the road (1B, SP, the ever present bullpen issue).  But that's long term. For 2019 don't expect either. Kieboom was merely holding his own in AA. He'd have to surprise to be seen earlier than September. Garcia is year behind him.

Problems with Presumed Plan : If they go with Kendrick/Difo the problems are obvious. Kendrick's injury might take more time to recover from or take more out of him as a player and Difo can't be expected to do more than spell someone else. It would be an ok plan if everything else on the team is "solved" but if not there's too much potential to learn the same lesson the baseball gods tried to teach the Nats last year.

Assuming they sign someone, anytime you wait to make a decision you risk losing the best options and taking something less than optimal. Lowrie (good bat, good glove), AsCab (good power, meh glove) and LeMahieu (good average, great glove) will probably go first leaving the Nats with the also-rans, where you are choosing one skill or another. Do you want defense? Choose the aging but spry Kinsler. Want pure power? Choose Dozier. Want some patience? Go with Descalso. All around decency? Marwin. Cheap bounce back potential? Harrison or Walker.  You make a compromise and you hope 2019 isn't the year where the remaining skill goes.

My take : Given how cheap it will be to get a Kinsler, Dozier, Descalso, etc. I say there's no harm in moving in that direction. It will cost you the same as you paid for Stephen Drew to back-up a few years ago and you'll get more out of it. If the contracts go how I think they will, it'd be almost silly not to.  Marwin is probably the most sensible, as he can play multiple positions, but that will probably price him into a starting role somewhere. There isn't really a need to sit and wait on Howie's recovery either. If this guy you sign doesn't start then he'll back up. Whatever. It's a good move anyway you slice it. Assuming Nats are priced out of Lowrie/LeMahieu and AsCab/Marwin go early, I guess I prefer Dozier - who is one year removed from being a force at the plate and acceptable on the field. He's the most likely to get you a Murphy like surprise.

Out of the box suggestion :

Trade for Merrifield and Sal Perez. It will take a lot (say bye to Robles and Kieboom at least) so it assumes a Bryce re-sign but Merrifield has quietly become a star at 2B and is just entering arbitration. Sal Perez is a solid beloved catcher who might be overpaid a little but consider it a package deal and it's still a bargain. You solve 2B and C for a few years without paying a ton of money which allows you to really dig into those pitching issues.

*though they have said no to Keiboom at 2nd. My take is that they are already feeling Keiboom/Sanchez Garcia as the keystone of the future and will either let Turner walk or shift him to third. Or both!

Monday, October 15, 2018

Monday Quickie - Bear Claws

The end of the regular season ends the year for 20 teams, with 6 more to follow in close succession. But the off-season doesn't truly begin until the World Series is over. There are only a certain subset of players available now. Players outrighted during the regular season who could have refused it but decided not to. (Tommy Milone!) Or guys they have tried to outright now to clear some 40 man space where the player refused. You'll see the occasional waiver claim related to these outrightings but generally these are players lucky to be any teams last man on bench/in bullpen. (Hey Danny Santana, I heard of you!)

Sometime in early November the normal contracts end and free agents become free agents. They'll be an option decision day a couple days later. And then a qualifying offer day. Maybe there's a trade or two in there to free up space again for a guy they couldn't agree with but that's it. Then - about a week into November the flood gates open.

Which makes it all the more surprising the Nats already made a move that would not be considered minor.  The Nats traded for Kyle Barraclough. The Marlins want International Bonus Pool money and the Nats were willing to deal it.  Is Barraclough good? well...

In 2016 Kyle was really very good. Outside of a tendency to be wild (5.4 BB/9) he did everything else well.  He was unhittable (5.6 H/9), struck out a ton of guys (14 K/9!) and didn't didn't give up homers (1 homer in 72 innings). That last one is important because it really is his M.O. Over 149 minor league innings Kyle gave up just two homers and in his first nearly 100 major league inning he matched that. This is a combination that works and you could let Kyle walk himself into trouble knowing full well he was going to get out of it. 2017 though brought more hits, fewer Ks, and more homers and the near dominant reliever became just a good arm in the pen. In 2018 he reigned in the hits a bit, but the Ks were down again and the homers were up. Last year, homers were a problem. He gave up 8 in just 55 innings.

That's worrying having a guys best feature disappear over two years. It's not necessarily a fluke, either. His HR/FB rate is pretty normal (16.3%) and his FB% isn't high.  His fastball speed is diminishing rapidly (95.6 in 2016, 93.6 last year). His slider used to be super effective, but it is no longer so he's trying to rely more on a change up with decidedly mixed results. With neither the fastball or the slider giving him an out, Kyle needs to grow into a pitcher.

This all sounds bad. What's good? He costs about 2 million. He's 29 in late May next year. He's probably better than a bunch of guys the Nats trotted out the mound last year. 

The question is what are the Nats expecting here with Barraclough. Is he a bullpen filler with a flier on maybe being something better? Then Kyle is perfect. He shouldn't have an age-related steep decline next year. He's been healthy his whole career. Get him to keep those balls in the park and he's Wander Suero or Justin Miller with an ability to step in and be the "Get a K or a BB here" guy.  Is he expected to be a late inning guy? Then that's too much to expect given his 2018 and his career trajectory.

The Nats still need late inning arms but Kyle makes a good edition to the "rest of the bunch" and people seem to like his last name.  Pair him with Koda Glover out there. Get Evan Gattis to quit baseball and sign him as the bullpen coach. Call the bullpen the Bear Den and we're set.

In other news :

The MLB Trade Rumors arbitration guesses are out and I think Rendon's is a little light but it's all just guessing anyway. It'll be something close to these if you want to throw some numbers back into the "how much money will the Nats have to spend" arguments. I think we were relatively close so nothing much changes about that.

Tuesday, October 09, 2018

Off-Season Position Discussion : First Base

Last year discussion revisited

We all knew Zimm was coming back. Both the contract and his play in 2017 (.303 / .358 / .573 in 144 G with a scorching hot start) merited it. But we all knew that the 115, 95, and 61 G played in the seasons before 2017 meant a solid back-up was necessary. We hoped for Adam Lind, but expected the Nats to move in another (cheaper) direction.

All this ended up being true. Zimm was penned in as the starter. They let Lind walk. They ended up saving a bit going with the 4 million dollar Matt Adams, who was arguably a better all-around player than Lind. Then the wheels fell off.  Zimm got injured and didn't participate in Spring Training. The team lied to the reporters who subsequently got snippy with us fans who were like "Obviously something is up" They'd pick up Mark Reynolds for AAA depth early in the year again sending up the fireworks of "ZIMM IS HURT" which was dutifully ignored by the media.

He'd heal up enough to start the year but struggle mightily then go out with an oblique for the late Spring and early Summer. The good news is the back-up plans worked as well as could be hoped. Adams and Reynolds would both play very well in replacement of Zimm. While both would tail off as the season went on, no one could complain about their overall performance for the year.  Zimm would eventually come back and put up decent numbers but would play in just over half the season.

My OOB idea would have flopped. I wanted to deal Zimm at a high, move Murphy over to first, have Kendrick at second. That's not a bad plan in retrospect but Murphy not playing for as long as he did, then slowly working back in would have derailed it from the start.

Presumed Plan : Zimmerman will play first base and some other player will take the place of the Lind, Adams role. Lucas Duda? Logan Morrison? Adams or Lind again? who knows.

Reasoning on Presumed Plan : This is Zimmerman's last year under his big contract. When he's healthy he can hit, but he's rarely healthy. So you back him up with a pretty good replacement. If he is healthy that replacement can find a way to work in the line-up elsewhere (OF, DH, occasional spot start). The plan has worked well for two years now, I don't see why they'd change it in this last one.

Adams is gone, so it's a bit unlikely he'll be back but who knows. I think the Nats will dangle about the same contract out there (1yr 4/5 million, maybe with a team option for a 2nd year at about the same) and see what they can get.  Morrison got 5.5 + 1 for a (assumed) declined option in 2019. Duda got 3.5. 

Problems with Presumed Plan : The main thing is at some point the plan will fail. Lind and Adams were available because they weren't great. They managed to pick up their game for the Nats but you aren't going to keep getting it right.  Even a smart pick up (Duda for 3.5 would be that) could fail just because baseball is like that sometimes. And if Zimm is hurt and the back-up fails, that's a big hole that needs to be filled.

The other problem is that while Zimm seems like a fine firstbaseman at the plate, he actually pales in comparison to his competition. Freeman, Goldschmidt, Votto, Rizzo, Carpenter/Martinez, Bellinger/Muncy, Jesus Aguilar are all more impactful at the plate then Zimm. Guys like Belt and Santana could be.  That means Zimm isn't good - he's average. And that's just at the plate. He's a poor fielder given his arm issues and his continual accumulation of injuries. Basically, even if Zimm is healthy for the whole year he will probably still fall under the production most NL playoff teams get from their firstbaseman. He's not a plus. 

My take : Shrug emoji? You can't deal Zimm. He costs too much as an injury risk. You can't trade for a first baseman as they are basically all concentrated on playoff teams (and would cost more than the Nats are willing to give up considering you'd have to go after someone definitively better than Zimm). No, Zimm is your first baseman in 2019 and you cross your fingers and hope either he's healthy or that if he's not, your back-up plan works.  Unless...

OK the other idea would be to sign Bryce and have someone (Bryce or Soto) move to first and Zimm back them up.  It's an expensive move but it is an option out there. More likely if you sign Bryce you look to trade an Eaton but if you don't this is a possibility.  I don't think the Nats do this.

Out of the box suggestion :You know who might be available - not as a cheap back-up but as a deal because of recent troubles? Daniel Murphy. Sign him, platoon him with Zimm in some fashion for this year (and maybe next if Zimm wants to play that way to stick around DC and MLB for a couple more years). It's a bit of a gamble because Murphy will likely get a 2 year deal in the 8-10 million AAV dollar ranges (maybe with options but I don't count options because they'll almost always be team options for older players now) That's about twice as much as you'd pay for your cheap Zimm back up. But signing Murphy has a strong chance of paying off big time. If you believe he's healthy it has little chance of completely blowing up because he's such a solid hitter. AND it gives you a built in plan for 2020 when Zimm could be walking away.  There's not much in the pipeline. There won't be that much available in FA.  This might be a wise move.

Monday, October 08, 2018

Monday Quickie - the definitive take on the season

Sorry - all other one paragraph takes on the season are wrong. Here we go :

The Nats thought that however many games lost during the regular season caused by replacing Dusty Baker with Davey Martinez would not matter. They also thought they could weather the lack of depth in the starting rotation by using their 5th starter sparingly bolstered by a well-paid back end of the bullpen. However, overuse of the quality pen arms coupled with the early failings of the starting pitchers cost them a few games. The Nats also got injured early, then played poorly, and then got unlucky. With the Braves and Phillies both having better first halves than expected, the Nats found themselves in a deeper hole then they imagined they could be in as the trade deadline neared. The Nats management did not choose to add to their roster. Instead they tried to create addition by subtraction, hoping that shedding what passed for malcontents in the Nats clubhouse could spark a run without committing resources. When this plan failed the Nats slowly sold off the remaining free agents to try to save some cash and limped to the finish line just over .500 at 82-80.

Who's to blame?

You can blame everyone. You can blame the decisions to go with Davey Martinez or to not address the starting pitching depth. You can blame injuries, bad play, bad luck (both with their own games and with Atlanta and Philadelphia playing very well to start the year), and Davey Martinez himself for a couple of more losses apiece than they should have had by the All-Star break. Any one of these things changes and perhaps the Nats decision making at that point changes. Once you get to the All-Star break, you can blame the management for half-heartedly punting on the season and also blame every thing else again, except bad luck, for the Nats not going on a run with the talent that was still in house.


If you ask me, I put most of the blame on the management. They made a couple decisions early that were likely to cost them a few games. This created a situation for the Nats that made a slower start more possible. They did try to do some mid-season corrections (trading for Herrerra) but mostly stood around waiting for the team to click and the season to move forward as expected. When time began to run out they had no idea what to do. The moves made at the trade deadline - jettisoning Kintzler and Kelley - and the reasonings that were given to the media for these moves - were the work of a management that had no plan for this situation and flailed in the face of difficulty.

Going forward I have faith that they'll set up a team that is competitive next season, assuming they want to, and will be a few games on either side of their best competitor in the NL East as summer moves along. But at that point I lose faith in the management. They have no belief in the big move, to either fend off or chase down another team, and Nats fans are left with only hope the Nats pull away, either because their talent takes off or the other team fails.

The Nats have World Series dreams and have adjusted their thinking in seasons where the playoffs are assured accordingly. Melancon, Doolittle/Kintzler/Madson. Kendrick.  These are the moves of a serious team trying to fill in what remains of their gaps (with some measure of restraint). But to make the playoffs? The team has shown it does not have a plan for a playoff challenge and may never have one.  The cost of adding enough talent to ensure (as much as is possible) a playoff spot being too high. The likelihood of changing playoff odds with smaller moves being too low to warrant spending any moderate amount. They will tinker. They may try to find a player a team is desperate to move. They will not commit. They will accept what the season throws at them and regroup for next year. This is their way.

Wednesday, October 03, 2018

Payroll vs Luxury Tax

The Nats roster for 2019 is a mystery right now. All we know is that the Nats would like to get under the luxury tax threshold for next year, which stands at 206 million. They wanted to do it this year but even with the sell-off couldn't quite make it so in January they will be paying a tax.

The tax they pay won't be a lot. Much like the U.S. income tax, you pay based on the money made in each bracket, not the overall amount you make. In baseball there are only two brackets, under and over, and the under pays no tax. The over pays an increasingly larger amount 20% then 30% then 50% depending on how many years they've been over in a row. It resets once you get back under. So for an example if the luxury tax threshold is 200 million and the amount of yours that counts against the luxury tax is 210 million and this is your first year over you would pay 2 million dollars

(210-200) * 0.20

If it was your second year you'd pay 3 million, if your third or more 5.

The Nats will barely squeak over the tax so even though this marks year number 2 going over they are going to pay 30% on some small number. A couple million over maybe so a few hundred thousand in taxes. A lot for us, not that much for the Lerners.

If it's not a lot why do the Lerners want to be under so badly? The WaPo covered this pretty well a few weeks ago. Money saved is money saved. You get that tax amount reset in case you want to spend more later. You get better compensation for free agents leaving. The system is set up to try to get teams not to spend much, and it works for the most part.

Where do the Nats stand for next year? The luxury tax is not as simple as the amount paid out because it includes numbers we aren't really privy to and it doesn't care about your deferred money. For most teams that's not going to be a big deal. For the Nats it's everything.

Let's take Scherzer's contract. He signed a 7 year deal for 210 million total. It wasn't just salary. It was 160 in salary and 50 million in signing bonuses. Salary has to be defined within the years of the contract and Scherzer's was 10, 15, 15, 15, 35, 35, 35.  (2019 is the first 35 year). Even though they need to be defined like this they don't have to be paid like this and the Nats, as you know have deferred a bunch. Max's actual salaries are 10, 15, 15, 15, 0, 0, 0 (end of contract), 15, 15, 15, 15, 15, 15, 15. This would suggest that Max is getting paid nothing this year but that's not true. The contract stipulates the 50 million is to be paid out as such 5, 0, 0, 0, 15, 15, 15.

You can see here what the Nats did in effect. They gave Max a 15 million dollars a year for 14 years.

But neither the payroll (I guess for actual tax purposes) or the luxury tax sees it this way. For payroll Max is making what is defined in the contract - originally noted as 10, 15, 15, 15, 35, 35, 35, with the deferred amounts adjusted for reduced value** plus the 50 million spread out over those 7 years. that's 7+ million a year so it ends up being like 17, 22, 22, 22, 37+, 36, 34+

Luxury tax is easier as it has an equal value for each year. For Max's contract that would be 28.7 million. But as you may notice that 28.7 million times 7 years doesn't get you anything. Not the original value 210 million, nor the adjusted present-day value of like 190 million if you add up those payroll numbers. It's kind of like a half-way point between the two but I don't know. It uses a different methodology to calculate the annual salaries.

Anyway I'm getting in the weeds here. Max and Stras themselves cost like 54 million toward the luxury tax. Zimm and Eaton's AAV adds another 17. Doolittle himself, if I have this right, will throw in 6 million (the entirity of his option - which isn't factored into AAVs because it's not guaranteed) Kendrick 3.5. That's 80+.  Arbitration guys - which include Rendon - add their annual salary about 30 million. Let's say 110. So do the pre-arb guys, another couple million. 112? Someting like that. Let's say 110-115. Then you factor in medical benefits (yep this is part of it and no I don't know exactly but 15 million is a conservative high-end guess) so 125-130 is set.  The Nats have 75-80 million to spend for next year while still being under the threshold.  Could you fit Bryce and other fixes? Yes.

If Bryce's AAV is 30 then you have another 45 or so to spend. But that adds up quick. A very good starting pitcher (think Kuechel or Corbin), a catcher (Grandal) and you are already at 35 ish without doing anything to a pen that's just Doolittle. Can you fix hat for 10 million? AND the Zimm back-up that costs you a few million each year the last two years but you definitely needed?  You get really close. And the thing is - if you are close and you start picking people up at the trade deadline? Those costs come back at you. So if they want to be under AND want to have any flexibility for late season moves they have to stay a good 10 million under. This means Corbin-Grandal becomes Happ-LuCroy.

Assuming the bench and pen costs about 15 million to just fill with decent talent and you want that cushion you have 50-55 million to play around with to finish up this team. This is what the Nats are looking at going into the off-season.



*Why do a signing bonus instead of just paying him like this? I don't know. Some sort of tax thing probably. 

** what does this mean? It means that MLB says - well given inflation you aren't paying him 105 over those last three years it's more like 87 - and if we adjust that for each year depending on when you pay them out exactly you get salaries of 30+, 28+, and 27+  so 10, 15, 15, 15, 30+, 28+, 27+

Tuesday, October 02, 2018

Lucky or Unlucky : 2018

We've gone over this before but every baseball season is a mix of things going right, things going wrong, and things going as expected.  We predict our fortune based on some sort of equal breaking of the right and wrong, but that rarely happens. Instead the breaks are unequal in distribution and impact and your record reflects that. Let's see what I take away from the Nats in 2018

UNLUCKY

Murphy being out longer than anticipated - The plan was initially made with the expectation that Murphy would be back, if not at season's start, then soon after. But as the off-season shifted to Spring Training it became apparent it was going to be longer than that. Slow injury recovery is not in itself unlucky but when one month became two and Murphy didn't get back in until mid June that meant half a year of subpar Murphy.

Eaton out early - Eaton was supposed to be a spark plug at the top of the line-up but was lost for 2017 a month in. Finally back he picked up right where he left off... and then got hurt again. Key piece missing a big chunk of time again.

Kendrick goes down - Injuries matter but how much they matter differ. What's important is not just there's an injury but who, when, and how long.  Kendrick was a key piece to the Nats providing coverage for multiple positions, specifically OF and 2B and when he went out relatively early in the season it created an issue because of the two injuries noted above. That was partially solved with Soto and partially not with Difo.

Doolittle, Kintzler, and Madson don't do what they are supposed to - this is a real tenuous unlucky because any group of three pitchers is going to have one likely get hurt or fail and we don't know how much of the failure here is the fault of Martinez's heavy usage (especially with Madson) but you'd kind of expect one to have a full very good year and the Nats didn't get that. Doolittle was very good, but hurt. Kintzler was ok, and hurt. Madson was not good and hurt.

LUCKY 

Soto was more than ready - not much to explain here. He was forced into action and nearly won the ROY with possibly the best teenage season ever. You can't expect that. Short explanation for a big effect

Adams/Reynolds overperform - It was good planning to fill in the Zimm back-up role with quality players for the second straight year. But Adams, like Lind last year, was really good for most of the time, and Reynolds, who should have been just an ok fill in was better than that. Two for two here.

AS EXPECTED

Max, Stras, Tanner - Max is to the point where Cy Young seasons are expected. Stras is to the point where good, but injury abbreviated seasons are expected. Tanner downshifted his expectations with his 2017 and matched it this year.

Wieters/Severino/Kieboom is a mess - We knew, we all knew catcher would be pretty bad in 2017. Well maybe not those that fooled themselves about Severino but the rest of us. They didn't overachieve and were all below average. This was painful but expectedly so.

Zimm is good at the plate for half a year - Look at his games played over the past few years. Look at his offensive performance the past few years. Nothing about this year could be considered a surprise. At this point 100G of 110 OPS+ is what Zimm is. There's a lot of variability but this is the base.

Trea Turner isn't special - Last year you could be disappointed by Trea's average performance but you could also chalk it up to injury recovery. This year you probably secretly hoped for more but there wasn't anything there despite being healthy enough to play in all 162.  Disappointing perhaps but not unlucky, not when what you are hanging your hat on is 70 games from 2 years ago. Now if you believe his defense suddenly became all-world then you might differ with this take but defensive stats are not meant to be annual and are iffy even in the 3 year view so I'm not going there

MAT is MAT - Look at MATs stats! LOOK AT THEM. THIS IS MAT. Low average, no walks, some pop, great D. In four of five seasons now he's been so remarkably consistent that expecting anything else would be insane going forward. Sure you might have hoped for more after last year's better numbers, but that hope should have been dashed when April produced MAT numbers again.

Deep bench depth was an issue - To be fair it's going to be an issue for most teams. You rarely go 25 deep. But Difo and anyone that needed to be called up bc of injury from AAA are barely major leaguers.

Pen depth beyond the three could be trouble - Lots of arms, but very little consistency or track record. There was a good chance most of them would flame out and most of them did. Did they find a decent arm here and there? Yep and that's expected too. Holland was very good in a brief spell. Miller was ok. Nothing here should surprise you. Why did it seem worse? Well they were supposed to compliment the top 3 but when those guys didn't hit their targets these guys became more important.

QUESTIONS

Bryce - unlucky? I wouldn't say so.  The season was a little worse than expected. The problem was more timing than anything else. He has his crash right when the Nats were crashing everywhere else with injury returnees and Gio and Roark struggling. But is that unlucky? I lean more toward as expected but I leave it open

Gio - same goes for Gio here. On one hand he didn't pitch that much worse than would be expected if you follow his historical track. On the other hand there last year was better so does that raise your expectations enough that you feel his fall is unlucky? I don't know. I'll leave it open but you'd have a harder time convincing me that this wasn't in the expected category.


One thing you may see - the Nats didn't get that unlucky when it came to performance. They hit a lot of expectations mainly, and Soto covered a chunk of their unluckiness. So maybe you have them a couple games off of expectations. 90 to low 90s instead of low to mid 90s.

Why then were they so far off? Well unluckiness outside of player performance is one reason. The one-run game issue* cost them a few games (but only a few). The rebirth of the NL East with a .500 Phillies team and a good Braves squad cost them a few more. You can't plan for the former, and the Nats were hoping to have a year longer before the latter became an issue. They were wrong there. The Nats were a little unlucky this year but not nearly unlucky enough to explain the 83 win record.


*you know I like to look at 2 run games too just to see if there was a wild swing there that either countered or enhanced what happened with 1 run games. Nothing to speak of. 21-22. Pretty normal.

Monday, October 01, 2018

Monday Quickie : The Coin Flip Team

Going into 2012 the Nats were hoping to compete for the playoffs and figure out what next steps would be needed to become a true contender. Instead they ran away with a division title and began a window where they started with a young, cheap, and talented team and could use that to set up move after move. Yesterday, the last of the underpaid and overperforming 2012 squad officially moved into free agency as Bryce Harper played his last game under Nationals control.

We can quibble about Bryce's worth and what he should be paid going forward but it's undeniable that even in his worst seasons he's been underpaid. That gap, between production and payment, is something the Nats have used over the course of 7 seasons to help shore up other positions without spending like the biggest of spenders.

Of course the Nationals have found other young players during this time that will help them in the same way. It would be almost impossible not to. But the discovery has been more typically staggered. Rendon and Roark who will enter free agency after next season.  Trea Turner who will be under control thorugh 2022. Robles through 2023. Soto perhaps further than that. There is no great en masse set of talent that was Ramos, Espinosa, Desmond, Bryce, ZNN, Strasburg, Detwiler, Clippard, Stammen, Storen. The Nats are now a typical major league team.

If you look at the record that may suggest bad things for the Nats, because even with that core of talent to plan around the Nats only made the playoffs 3 out of the next 6 years. It's one thing to believe in the 90s-00s Braves method of success, of getting in the playoffs year after year and hoping that you catch a break, it's another to make it work. The Nats didn't. Not only that but they failed in almost ideal circumstances with a division that featured only 4 above .500 teams during this same time frame, easily last in baseball. Little competition. Perfect set-up. While it's hard to say the results are disappointing, it's easy to say that you expected more.

What's next? It feels like the Nats only have one decision to make but actually they have more to deal with than just Bryce's departure. Doolittle's got a team option - 6 million for next year - we assume they'll pick that up as he is almost certain to be worth it. Wieters, Holland, Herrera, Hellickson and Benoit all are FAs. It's not anything the Nats are likely to worry about losing in general but those are guys whose existence needs to be replaced. It's also places, 5th starter, bullpen, catcher, where the internal solutions do not look satisfactory.

But while there are many decisions to make, they do probably hinge on that first one, which is why the Nats need to decide what they want to do with Bryce's contract sooner rather than later. They need to get to the Winter Meetings (early December) with a very strong idea if Bryce is coming back or not, so they can wheel and deal around that decision. Barring getting swept off their feet, Boras will likely hold off Bryce making any sort of deal at the very least until after the playoffs are over and all teams can bid. That means the Nats have a month to get their ducks in a row. It should start with a competitive offer now if they mean to keep him. Doesn't have to be "best and final" at this point, but something that shows the area the Nats are willing to go. If that's outright rejected as not even close then maybe you don't give up (the market may give you a chance you don't think you have) but you start planning with Bryce as your Plan B, not Plan A.
 
We'll start this week doing the off-season position discussions, maybe a look at how luck factored into this season, take a look at the salary cap/payroll as well.