Nationals Baseball

Friday, October 24, 2014

2B & SS Revisited

So if you haven't noticed we're doing our usual scale back to 3 columns a week in the offseason (roughly).  On with the show :

HEY! At 2nd base what about...

Gordon Beckham
Wrong partner for Danny. Bats RH, has a little pop and decent field. He's basically Bad Espinosa (and Espinosa isn't good)

Altuve
The guy hit .341 last year. .341! He'll turn 25 next year and they don't have to pay him any real money until 2020. He's not going anywhere unless you're prepared to go Giolito, Cole, Taylor, maybe more. You're buying high.

Kipnis?
Not a bad idea but he's kind of the Indians' Desmond. Him being good makes competing a hell of a lot easier.  Young, decent contract, even with last year being off he was worth playing... I suspect the Indians value him at a level higher than inquiring teams.

Gyorko
A more likely move in that SD does not appear close to being good, Gyorko was AWFUL last year, and he's got years of money coming. Unlike Kipnis who was still worth playing and had a couple years of being good, Gyorko was replaceable last year and had 125 games of being able to hit enough homers to be ok before that. If the Padres don't trade him they take the chance 2015 is no better and they are stuck with an albatross of a deal. Of course the same goes for anyone who trades for him.  Something to note - the guy is really a 3B who was at 2B because Headley was at 3B.

Ackley
The Mariners have offensive problems, but Ackley finally wasn't one last year. Not that he was good, but he was playable and trading away Dustin would only create another hole to fill. A guy like Souza is a nice idea but as the Mariners are trying to make the next step they'd want more certainty that a minor leaguer.

Kendrick?
Angels are about as win-now as you can be and traded away the closest thing to a Kendrick replacement. Not going to happen unless it's Kendrick for Desmond and what's the point of that?

Drew?
If he's healthy he might hit enough to be ok because he still plays good D. If not healthy, he's worthless at the plate. Low reward player and if the Nats gamble I'd rather they do it on a high reward one.

Prado
I like Prado, alot. I think he's legitimitely versatile, at least right now, and likes to play when it matters and he's worth his contract. But the Yanks need him and they won't trade him unless the deal is good because they are always win-now.

Hill
I like the idea actually... if the Nats decide to be a Yankee/Dodger/Sox like team, who could bury him on the bench at 12 million per for the next 2 if it doesn't work out.  This guy is the ultimate lottery ticket completely and utterly unpredictable. Could just as easily hit .300 for 20+ homers as hit .240 and hit 10.

Zimmermann (+ cash) for Zobrist
Rays need hitting not pitching.

Roark and Cole for Mookie Betts?
That's not enough.  He's 22 next year and already has hit in the majors. Could be a star getting better over the next 4-5 years. Roark is at his peak and Cole is a question mark. Sox aren't desperate for pitching.

Kinsler for Span?
You know...  It's probably too much of a gamble considering the OF defense but if you like Taylor/Souza better than Espinosa it would make the line-up better. It's not a crazy idea. I can see it. I'd have to look more into it to see if I like it though. And I'm not sure if the Tigers are getting enough back for their win-now needs. 

HEY! At SS base what about...

Taylor/Miller from Seattle?
The Mariners have a two-headed beast right now at SS. They seem to prefer Miller but he hasn't been able to come through in the majors yet like Taylor has. Both guys are not due to get paid for a while so it makes the most sense for them to let it play out in 2015 and then deal. But now is the time to get one because if both are ok next year the price on the trade will go up. They need OF help so I think there's something here. Could be one of those things where Nats offer Souza and the Ms want Taylor.

Gregorious/Ahmed/Owings from Arizona?
D-backs are likely to go Gregorious/Owings up the middle leaving Ahmed to be dealt.  Ahmed is a utility type guy, not a starter.

Profar/Odor/Sardinas/Andrus from Texas?
A glut of talent here. Odor/Profar/Sardinas are all young and all are good. That means the Rangers would LOVE to deal Andrus. Great! We'll take Andrus, right? Obviously you haven't looked at his contract.  ~15 mill a year for the next 8 seasons. Hasn't hit for the last 2 years so unless you think he's going to be Ozzie Smith in the field you don't want this guy.

What about one of the three? Well they are still a very young so the value is going to be higher and having all 3 basically gives them "when Beltre leaves" insurance. It'll take a good deal with pitching to make something happen, but it's possible. 

Castro?
Odds are he will be dealt but it's not necessary that he goes this offseason. Baez needs a little time to figure things out so the Cubs are going to get the best deal for Casto, likely pricing the Nats out.

Tulo?
No. Tulo is awesome when healthy but he's been healthy one season in last 5 and is due 20 mill a year for next 6. If the Nats do this they better sign ZNN and Fister too because they have become that sort of team - which is good but I don't see it happening so no.

Other stuff

Do you think Desmond will re-sign? What kind of "Market" will the Nats be?
I do. But prior to last year's negotiations I would have given it better odds. The Nats tried to underbid for his services, something like 7/90 when if he were a FA he could have gotten 6/90 easy. (Peralta 3 years older and coming off a bad year then an injury year got 13.25 a year for 4 years) If they offer 6/90 this year though based on last year's performance, I think that's fair and he goes for it. If they try to get him for say 5/60 or 6/78 or something I think he walks.

This is a telling off-season in terms of what type of team the Nats will be. They've proven that they are not cheap but fair questions remain. Are they willing to join the big boys closing in on 200 million to keep all this young talent? Or is this a temporary situation where the Nats Top 10 level payroll was ok'd for this window but not longer? Or, the most likely scenario in my mind, is this the level they remain; competitive but not win at all costs?  There are 3 different tracks the Nats can go from here.

Don't forget about the compensatory pick!
Yes if the Nats let Desmond walk (or Zimm or Fister) that's a lot of picks for an organization who's drafting philosophy (take big risks on big talent) lends itself better to having a bunch of picks. Of course birds in hand and all. Let three guys walk that will likely keep you in contention through 2018? Or try to rebuild this kind of 4 year, multiple division winning, window starting around 2018? 

Don't undervalue durability.
It's true. One of the Nats biggest issues is durability on offense. Ramos can't play a full year. Zimm is an injury risk. Werth is getting older. Bryce has had his issues, as has Rendon in the past. Desmond though is a rock.

We'll save the Rendon to 2nd someone else at 3rd for next week.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Offseason Position Discussion : Shortstop

Presumed Plan : Ian Desmond starts at SS. Danny Espinosa, starting or backing-up 2B, backs him up.

Reasoning on Presumed Plan : In 2012 & 2013 Ian Desmond was arguably the most valuable SS in the major leagues. In 2014, he dipped noticeably and is probably now... the third or fourth most valuable SS in the major leagues.  

Ian corrected his error prone ways of a few years ago and plays consistently good defense. He has always hit for power and still does especially for a SS. Specifically he has HR power something rare for the position. (Ian's 24 homers led all SS and were 7 more than 4th place on that list, 9 more than 5th). He might have lost something average wise but he has brought his patience up from OMG NO to barely acceptable to help compensate for that. All in all he's a good player in a position where it has become easy to find an ok player but is still hard to find good ones. It's an easy call.

Ian also plays all the time upping his value. He's missed 12 games in the past 2 years, and has played at least 154 games in 4 of the last 5 seasons. His back-up hardly matters but Espinosa, who came up the ranks as a SS, still plays the position well enough to cover on the rare off days for Ian.

Problems with Presumed Plan :  As you can tell from the above there aren't many problems with the plan here. I can think of two. The minor one is that Ian appears to be slipping offensively. His strikeout percentage went way up from say ~21% during his 2012-2013 peak to over 28%. It's not an issue of judgment. His swing percentage for pitches outside the zone is consistent with last year. He's just not making contact on those pitches. In fact contact on pitches outside the zone has dropped every year since 2011 from 65.5% now down to 53.5%.  We'll have a specific Ian post sometime later in the off-season but the gist of the problem is the size of the zone where Ian can hit a ball has shrunk. It's not a big problem right now. His zone was rather large before so the shrinkage hasn't made him a bad hitter just no longer a good one. But if it shrinks further then we might have a problem. And it will shrink - time gets to all men - the question is when.

The major problem is that Ian is up for free agency after next year. Ian is the type of player (high value at an important position, but heading into his 30's and ready for a big payday) that you LOVE to trade, but the Nats can't really do that. They have no acceptable back-up plan. They are a win-now team that needs a successful Desmond to be as good as they can be. Given that, the Nats are forced into a very difficult position of having to decide on a re-signing a player whose potential value over the next 5 years swings wildly. You love to avoid those type of coin flips. The Nats can't do that.

My take : Starting Desmond is a no-brainer. There's not only is no better option internally, it's hard to find a better option externally. As down as we may have been on Ian, his combination of power and defense makes him one of the best SSs in the majors. Plus, most of his competition is older. Peralta? Older. Aybar? Older. Rollins? Way older. Hardy? Hanley? Alexi Ramirez? Reyes? All older. Outside of Alcides Escobar, who as a true singles hitter has a value very dependent on his BABIP, Ian is a good year and a half younger than anyone close to his value. (And he's closer in age to the younger Escobar than any of the others, I think). Do I think he's slipping? Yes. Do I think it matters for 2015? Not even close to enough to question starting him.

The long-term deal is an issue and a tough one but that's neither here nor there when it comes to what to do at SS this year. The Nats can't deal Desmond without getting a good SS back. That isn't going to happen so he plays and they either work it out or they don't. 

As for Danny as the back-up, Ian plays so many games that it hardly matters who backs him up. Yes it is an issue if Danny is your starting 2B and Ian goes down with an injury. The drop off will be devastating. But there are bigger fish to fry when it comes to finding a good back-up for a Nats player who might get injured.

Outside the Box Suggestion : You know who doesn't have a SS and is desparate to win now? Detroit. The Tigers are facing a big offseason where they could start to rebuild. They very well may lose Martinez, Scherzer, Hunter, and some pen pieces. But really 2016 looks like the better rebuilding year. You still have Price, Porcello, Nathan, Davis, Soria, and Avila now but maybe not after 2015. So it makes sense that they make another last gasp attempt in 2015 before trying a quick rebuild. How best to do that? Well trading for a contract that expires after 2015 and giving up a contract that lasts until 2017 helps. A challenge trade of sorts; Desmond for Kinsler. Ian for Ian. Sure that gives DET an issue at 2B but that's an easier position for them to fill as they were already shifting their best minor league hitter from 2B to OF to get him up to the majors. Now they don't have to. 

Why would the Nats do this? Well Kinsler's contract fits the Nats window better. The Nats face the Tigers 2014 and 2015 offseasons a year later. They could look to do a quick rebuild after next year (ZNN, Fister, Desmond, Span, and Clippard can walk after 2015), or they could hold it off until after 2016 (when Stras, Ramos, & Storen might leave and the Nats can let Gio go if they want). With Kinsler instead of Desmond you make it an easier decision to try to keep that window open, removing one of those 2015 FAs.  Plus Ian has a nice deal where the back end actually drops in price. He's paid 16 million next year, but 14 in 2016 and 11 in 2017. This gives the Nats more flexibility payroll wise than a re-signed Ian.

Monday, October 20, 2014

Offseason Position Discussion : Second Base

Presumed Plan : Ummm.  Well.   Hmmm.

I guess if the season were to start again on November 1st, Danny Espinosa would be the second baseman. Backing him up would be... I don't know. Frandsen? Kobernus? Probably Frandsen.

Reasoning on Presumed Plan : It's hard to figure what the Nats want to do at 2nd base. It's tough to believe that they really want Danny Espinosa to be the starter. They didn't want him to be the starter at the beginning of 2014. Rendon was at 2nd base then and was forced over to third by Zimm's injury. They didn't want him to be the starter at the end of 2014. Cabrera was brought in by trade to play 2nd base for the stretch run.

At the same time right now Danny Espinosa is the best 2nd baseman on the Nats roster. Cabrera is a free agent. Rendon is not going to be moved back. Danny is clearly better in the field than Frandsen and Kobernus and as bad as he was at the plate, he was better there too. He's super cheap, thanks to the minor league re-visit he won't be a FA until after 2017. Therefore right now he's the presumed starter.

As for the back-ups, the Nats love Frandsen. He doesn't cost much and... did I mention they love him? The Nats are pretty devoid of upper level minor league MI talent so Kobernus is mentioned as an alternative by default. If you want to push for the seasoned failure Emmanuel Burriss or the walking organizational filler, Cutter Dykstra, be my guest. The Nats are big on Wilmer Difo who looks to be at least an acceptable level major leaguer in the making so you could say they will let Espy play this year with the hopes that Difo will come into play during 2016.

Problems with Presumed Plan : Danny can't hit.  Or more precisely he can't hit left-handed.  His splits are telling

LHB : .183 / .241 / .291
RHB : .301 / .374 / .485

Now Danny isn't .300 good, but he has always been better hitting righty. He does lose his homer pop, but the increase in average is dramatic enough to make that up and then some. So why not just platoon Danny? Well, it's easy enough to say "Oh well then Danny only bats versus LHP" but if you are going for a platoon here you just made Danny the smaller part of the platoon and forced yourself to go out and get the better part.  Maybe you can find a lefty-masher but a righty-masher? Those usually are called "starters" because there are a lot more RHP out there.

Danny also has a big strikeout problem.  It's an issue right-handed (22% K). It's a career-killer left-handed (39%)  If you are forced to start Danny and he bats as normal - you are looking at a below average bat. At 28 in April there's little chance he will get back to the level he was. 

The back-ups meanwhile, not only can't unseat the below average Danny, but you don't even consider it. They are bad back-ups creating a "true hole" for the Nats positionally. Frandsen is a contact hitter but that's it and he can't field. You can't trust any minor leaguer to hit even to Frandsen/Danny level.

The Difo plan is interesting but you'd be throwing away 2015 as there is little chance he'd see the light of day this next season. I'll remind you that this is a win now team. Plus he is a SS, making him Desmond insurance in case the Nats let Ian walk. He can't replace both. (I'll add I'm not nearly as high on this guy as other people). 

My take : Danny Danny Danny.  Should have gotten that surgery.

It wouldn't be the worst thing if Danny started for the Nats. He can field and he can hit lefties. The issues is what to do with a righty on the mound. On that I agree with the Red Porch Report. Force Danny to give up switch-hitting. It may not work, but he hits so poorly from the left side of the plate that it's difficult to imagine it being worse. If it is worse - if he puts up a completely empty .120 or something - he can always go back to hitting .180 with pop. But you have to try.

Still I have the Nats in win-now mode and in that mode you don't settle for "wouldn't be the worst thing".  To me, Danny starting with no switch hitting, that's the barely acceptable back-up plan. Plan A should be going after Ben Zobrist.  Zobrist is old, but he's a good fielder, has patience (his 75 walks would easily rank 3rd on the Nats), and is a better contact hitter than almost every Nats hitter. He's old (34 in May) and his power is going fast but the Nats are only concerned with 2015 and given his performance has been down from his peak for two years and he's close to FA the deal shouldn't be overly costly for the Nats unless competition forces it up.

Why no one else? As per usual in this modern age of locking everyone up young (why the youngsters are going for this is beyond me - you're selling yourselves short boys for security) there isn't much out there for the Nats to go after. Free agent wise there REALLY isn't anything (unless the Rays just don't sign Zobrist and that would be stupid). Trade wise the Nats are in a bit of a disadvantage. There are 3 decent targets who will be up for FA after next year, but two are in the Nats own division. Assuming Murphy and Utley won't be traded to the Nats that leaves Zobrist.

Usually the Nats might eye a decent cheap player with more than just a year left but there isn't any.  Altuve and Dozier fit the bill but have contracts too reasonable to imagine they'd be dealt for anything but a big return. Everyone else is either on a team that can't afford to give them away or too expensive to think the Nats would deal for them. I suppose that maybe Howie Kendrick could be dealt. The Angels are looking for young pitching and he is a FA after 2015 but I'll hold off on believing that until I hear something about that because it would be an odd move for the win-now Angels.

So I say trade for Zobrist. Make Danny the Back-up.

Outside the Box Suggestion

Move Rendon back. I could come up with several different scenarios involving trades and position switching and the like but let's get down to brass tacks here. It is harder to find a decent 2B than a decent 3B. This is true in FA. It's true in the minor leagues. Anthony Rendon played 2B just fine. There's no way around it. What's best for the Nats is that Rendon moves back to 2nd base.

What happens at third? I don't know this is a 2nd base post.  Trade for Beltre. Sign Sandoval.  Throw a (small) busload of stuff at the A's for Donaldson. See if you can get Ramirez cheap, if he goes to market, or Headley super cheap. All I know is you have a great hitter who can play 2nd base and you're moving him to third because that's his 'natural position'. That's all well and good but it's not giving you the best team on the field.

Friday, October 17, 2014

Friday Quickie - C & 1B revisited

Answering some comments

Explain more about your Wild Card tweet

So I said that the modern relief usage undercut the theory behind the introduction of the Wild Card game. The move to a WC playoff game happened for several reasons (never forget $$$) but primarily because it didn't seem like disadvantage to be a Wild Card or an advantage to play one. In order to correct that they added an extra team and a one-game playoff, the theory being that

1) teams would want to win the division rather than leave their playoff fate to a single game
2) WC teams that won that single game would have exhausted their best pitchers giving the #1 seed a decided advantage in their playoff series.

The first point holds absolutely true. No one wants to be the WC if the division is winnable. But the second point grows less meaningful every year. Teams have grown very successful at cultivating the 5-6 IP starter and the strong bullpen as a way to succeed lessening the need for a strong Johnson/Schilling like 1-2 punch. You may have noticed many teams in this years playoff lacked that #1 guy. Even if they do have a true ace, it matters less than you would think. If they do run them out in that WC game, that's fine because as described above they no longer lean on that ace as they did even 5 years ago. They lean on the pen. And as was pointed out to me, when you are battling for the WC you often aren't thinking about setting up the WC game. That means you might have used your ace at the end of the year making them unlikely to pitch in the WC game and thus ready to pitch twice in that DS.

All in all the new playoff format does give wild card teams a significant disadvantage. No one wants to play a single-game elimination to start the playoffs. But as for giving division winners that play the Wild Card a significant advantage, that hasn't happened and I'm not sure it can be done. If you are in the playoffs, you are good and in a short series against a good team, even the best can go down.

Maybe Ramos overswung to compensate for lost power and that led to a bad September.

Maybe but in August he had by far his best slugging month. 6 homers, a .241 isoSLG (which is really good). So then you are saying he overswung in August it worked but pitchers caught on and got to him in Sept? Or even less likely he was swinging regularly in August and then said "I want to hit 10 homers in September! I'm King of the Homers!" and started overswinging... I don't see it. I'm sticking to getting tired.

Trade for Blake Swihart! 

The Red Sox have two very good catching prospects and have given first crack at the position to the defensively superior Christian Vazquez, so Swihart may be available (maybe - they are most likely going to see if Vazquez hits ok this season before doing anything and they could try to move Swihart to another position if he hits like crazy). Can the Nats deal for him? Sure. But it's going to take a lot. Like Cole or Taylor + something a lot. That's the going rate. I don't think it's worth it.

We should be ready to trade for a mid-season catching replacement 

Agree. If Ramos goes down again you can't rely on Lobaton to catch 100 games. Now if Ramos is simply struggling I think you have to wait it out until at least the trade deadline.

Sucks to be having this discussion now

Yep.

Sign Martin, make Ramos back-up, trade Lobaton. 

Sure. It's not my money.

Wait, what is your 1B plan again? 

Ok MY 1B plan would be Zimmerman with Daric Barton as a back-up (plays against tough RHP and comes in for D if Zimm doesn't adapt like we think he will). With the contingency plan that if Zimm gets injured again, Barton doesn't play 1B regularly, Werth does and one of the young OFs (Souza/Taylor) come in to replace him.

In the comments I've inferred that some (most?) want it to be Zimm with Werth as the defacto back-up, and when he gives Zimm a day off a young guy comes in for Werth. That's fine by me too, but I like the Barton idea because the lefty bat and good defense is a good foil for Ryan. It makes sense for your back-ups to have complementary skills.

What about Souza at 1B? 

Seems like a waste of his skills as he's a better OF than Werth or Bryce.

Will Werth except the move?  Does the fact he's still in RF rather than LF prove he's stubborn about it?

No idea. I'd like to think the guy will be receptive to moving and even if he's not at first, can be shown that he's not a good OF anymore. I don't know. As for the LF thing, they put Bryce in LF because Werth was set at the time in RF and now LF is what Bryce knows so they probably don't want to move him. Werth also thought at the time, take this for what you will, that LF being the easier position was the better position for Bryce to learn to play the OF. He didn't seem against moving at some point. It's all a funny confidence guessing game at times.

Daric Barton? He stinks! And he hits lefties better historically.

True (on the last point) but that hasn't been true the last few years. He's become a more typical lefty bat hitting righties better than lefties. I give heavy weight to the recent history especially when it covers more than just the last year.

Werth might just be awful in the IF, you ever think about that? 

Sure maybe. It's worth a look I think but you're right. He may be terrible at fielding grounders quickly. If so, I want to hear that, though. (not that I expect to, but I'd want to)

Stephen Vogt! He hits left-handed can catch and play first.

Good idea, but your latter thought, that the A's would want to keep him, is on point. He not a FA until 2020 and isn't arb eligible for a few years. He's not just cheap he's super cheap. Now Jaso is a possibility... if you like terrible catching.

Doesn't the first baseman have to make throws? 

Ummm... yes. But it's the position where that's the least important so you stick Zimm there and hope over the course of the season he adapts and is ok by the end. No, it's not perfect but it's the best decision.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Offseason Position Discussion : First Base

Presumed Plan : Ryan Zimmerman will shift over to first base as the mutual option year for current starter Adam LaRoche will not be picked up and he will become a free agent. The back-up will likely be Tyler Moore, though a cheap FA acquisition is probably not out of the question

Reasoning on Presumed Plan : Injuries and contracts have forced the Nats hand. Ryan Zimmerman was signed to a long-term deal prior to the 2012 season and was expected to play 3B for the majority of that deal. But a shoulder injury in the same year led to a series of adjustments that has left him, at best, an erratic thrower and a liability at the hot corner.

Despite Adam's excellent year at the plate, letting him walk rather than paying him 15 million for 2015 on an mutual option, and letting Zimmerman take over at first seems preferable to any of the other options.  You neither want to upset Rendon's growth or risk the errors that would come with Zimmerman back at 3rd and Rendon back at 2nd. Bryce is still only 22 and a good presence at the plate, which works against any sort of LF platoon idea. Span, who also has an option for 2015, helps cover for the lacking corner outfielders and just had a very good season offensively, making a more permanent move to LF with Bryce taking over center unpalatable. Adam wasn't great defensively and at 35 is likely to slide at the plate, if just a little. With no good options, this one feels like the least worst.

The Nats have always been high on Tyler Moore who has spent several years tearing up AAA. At an age (28 in January) and with the experience that indicates more time at AAA would likely serve no purpose, a full-time move to the major league bench makes sense. Matt Skole, who the Nats were high on going into 2014, had a rough year in AA and is unlikely to work his way onto the Nats.  Of course as I noted the Nats may in fact go the FA route given these choices.

Problems with Presumed Plan : The biggest problem with Ryan Zimmerman is that he's an injury risk who couldn't get his body together make a meaningful playoff contribution. This goes beyond 2013 as he missed meaningful time in both 2008 and 2011. As age catches up with him (he just turned 30) it's more and more likely that these injuries linger. The Nats are currently ill-prepared if Zimmerman goes down for any extended period of time.

Meanwhile LaRoche has been far more reliable when it comes to playing time. And while LaRoche had very much lost his range (in part due to injury) he was reliable with the glove and we have no idea if Ryan will be the same.

Another issue is the loss of the left-handed bat as LaRoche was one of only 3 decent lefties in the line-up for the majority of the season (switch hitting Asdrubal would make it 4 by years end). Losing LaRoche leaves the Nats with only Bryce and Span hitting from the left-side of the plate, with Danny Espinosa, who really shouldn't hit left-handed, being a potential 3rd. While right-handed hitters tend to be less vulnerable to splits a balanced line-up does help make the opponents bullpen usage more difficult. 

Since I said the Nats were ill-prepared for a Zimmerman injury you can imagine that I am not high on Tyler Moore. A AAAA batter who gets hot for short stretches and cold for longer ones, Tyler Moore's strikeouts suggest there is no big improvement coming. He also is no great shakes when it comes to defense and hits right-handed just like Zimmerman.  His use as a back-up for Adam could be argued given LaRoche's splits. His use as a back-up for Zimmerman would make no sense. Unfortunately the FA 1B pickings are slim with no one you'd even consider a meh bat and good glove guy that you might look to get.

My take : The Nats are in a bad place... sort of. Keeping LaRoche on the team makes a lot of sense given his performance last year and the fact you'd only have to keep him for a year if he agrees on the option. But you do that and there's no room for Zimmerman. He can't play third. He can't play left. Either he becomes a super sub or LaRoche does. It would be 29 million put into a platoon. There are better ways to spend that 15 million. You almost have to let LaRoche walk.

Luckily for the Nats (and why I said "sort of") is that really the only bad thing for the Nats is the possibility Zimmerman isn't healthy. If he is, he can still hit and he is a little more patient than your average Nat, and you could argue their aggressiveness got exploited in the playoffs. As for the defense, Zimm's issues appear to be completely arm-based. Given that he was a plus-fielder before that it's doubtful that mastering 1B will be a big issue. Will he be great? Maybe not. Will he be as good as LaRoch? Probably so. I can easily see Zimm replacing LaRoche's contributions and it's not hard to envision him surpassing them.

As for the back-up... here's the problem. You do have to plan for a back-up for Zimmerman. It's not as much because of age or injury history as it is how he looked at the end of the season. The Nats were desperate for help and yet they wouldn't put Zimm out there on the field. That doesn't bode well. He'll have the off-season to recover but going into 2015 without a clear back-up is a big risk. That means Tyler Moore or possibly the best sensible free agent back-up you can sign Daric Barton (excellent fielder, pre 2014 injury was a LHB that hit righties well) can't really be your long-term injury plan. Unfortunately like I said there isn't a good pure back-up 1B out there. There are guys who will get paid and there are guys who are close to terrible. There are not even really DHs you can stick there in case (maybe Delmon Young but if he goes AL he'll get more playing time so that's what I expect)

So what do I think? I think you give Bryce or Werth a 1B mitt and have them get ready. The Nats have a couple of outfield prospects in Souza and Taylor that they'd like to give playing time. Werth is becoming a statue out there and Bryce is living off the fact he's 21. Rather than force a true 1B back-up into this team with an overpay or bringing in a terrible hitter, let Werth be the de facto injury replacement. That makes the most sense.

Oh and definitely sign Barton and let Moore go. That guy stinks. 

Outside the Box Suggestion :

Any outside the box suggestion can't deal in a trade because Ryan's combination of contract and injury status makes him currently untradeable (unlike Ramos who just has less worth than you would want from him). So any outside the box suggestion would be making Ryan a supersub or dealing Span to make room for Ryan (because you aren't dealing Rendon or Bryce and no one is sticking him back at third). I bet the A's would love Span.

But I don't like dealing Span because I'm in "WIN NOW" mode and Span helps you win now. Plus he has a win-now deal which means he'll have to be traded to a team that wants to win now which means you aren't likely going to get something win-now back. So who can the Nats deal for good enough to force Zimm into super sub mode? While I'm intrigued by Carlos Santana, he is a big true outcome guy who the Nats kind of don't have in their line-up, I think a better get would be Edwin Encarnacion. He's a truly elite slugger, can man 1st base and is getting paid relative peanuts ($10 mill for 2015, 10 mill option for 2016)  The Blue Jays could possibly be in rebuilding mode. Trade for Edwin.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Offseason Position Discussion : Catcher

Presumed Plan : Can I just say "See last year"? The Nats will pencil Wilson Ramos in, make that "lightly pencil Wilson Ramos in", as the full-time starter. Jose Lobaton will be the back-up .

Reasoning on Presumed Plan : Wilson Ramos in 2011-2013 put up good offensive numbers when in the lineup. They may not be that impressive in comparison to the league as a whole, but in comparison to other catchers they put Wilson in the #5-#10 range. It's that talent, particularly the 20+  home run power, that the Nats want to keep in the line-up. Wilson is still on the right side of 30 (will turn 28 next August), and is cheap and won't be a free agent for 2 more seasons. Wilson's defense is debated but it's certainly not terrible. He's decent behind the dish, and has got a good enough arm to throw guys out. His biggest issue is the hot stat for 2014 "pitch framing" but even though he's below average he's not close to the worst in the league.

Lobaton makes a good back-up for Ramos. He's slightly better defensively with better pitch framing skills being his biggest draw. He bats both, but is better from the left side.  He's played 235 games in the last 3 years, so he's able to play a lot of games and it not be an issue for him. He's cheap, not being a free agent until after 2017, and he'll be 30 next season which isn't an age you'd expect a break-down of skills, even for a demanding position like catcher.

As for any other internal options. Jhonatan "Don't call me Johnathon" Solano finally hit a bit in AAA but showed nothing in the majors and at 29 next season is too old to be any sort of prospect. Sandy Leon is still kind of young, but hasn't hit in the minors yet (relying on patience to get the OPS up) and is more of a defensive presence. The Nats have an intriguing catcher prospect or two (kieBOOM!) but they are in the lower minors and not ready to make an impact, even as a back-up.

Problems with Presumed Plan : Going with Wilson Ramos is iffy. The guy eeked out a half-season last year and that was the most he had played since 2011. You can't expect more than 100 games from the guy and you have to accept the real possibility the guy misses 2/3rds of the season. These injuries have a ripple effect on the line-up where Lobaton, a lesser bat, is forced into every day service and a complete black hole of a hitter like Solano or Leon kills the 8th spot in the order every 4 or 5 days.

Of course that's assuming Ramos' hitting holds up. His offense took a bit nosedive this year as his power dropped down to the lowest levels of his career and he's stopped taking any sort of walk. Scale up the homers to 140 games and it's 17-18 where he hit 16 in just 78 games in 2012. Eventually injuries do take their tole and at a spot like catcher those nicks and dings can be magnified. If the power goes the Nats are left with a .270 singles hitter. A SLOW .270 singles hitter which means they can expect a lot of double playes (his 17 this year were good enough for 13th in the league despite playing only 88 games)

As for Lobaton it seems likely that the average 2012 season he put up for Tampa was the peak of his career. Nothing else that he has done in the majors suggest a good hitter of any sort and he's at an age where things may not collapse, but they are probably trending down.

My take : What can you do? There is one good catcher on the FA market this year in Russell Martin. He can hit and he can field.  He's going to cost someone alot with a contract that'll extend right through his decline years. After that it's Geovany Soto (ok hitter, bad defender) or taking an flyer on Nick Hundley (a couple bad offensive years, good defender). In other words there isn't an easily available better option than Wilson Ramos. There also isn't a cheaper younger FA back-up you like more than Lobaton unless you are trying to find a pitch framing star. The Nats are basically stuck with what they have unless they want to trade.

What they have isn't terrible, though. You can still hold out hope for Ramos, at least for one more year. It's quite possible his bad year overall was because of not being 88-game ready thanks to all those recent injuries. He really tanked in Sept (.203 / .221 / .297) but was hitting as well as .292 / .329 / .438 deep into August. I'd expect next year he can give you a decent 100 games. Of course the Nats want him to play 120-130 so there may be another late-season swoon on the way but I'd take a good hitting catcher for 5/6ths of the season. Lobaton may be on the downside of his career now, but I'd expect a mild bounce back from last year's performance if someone can get him to just pay a bit more attention to getting on base.

Ramos and Lobaton and pray for health. Not great, but probably better than more than half the league. 

Outside the Box Suggestion :

Ramos' trade value is shot so trading for a good player in return and then signing Martin is not an option. And good catchers are an even rarer commodity so a straight up catcher deal for a decent catcher is again not going to happen. Even looking at it a round about way - say trading from a Nats strength like the rotation, it would be tough to find a decent catcher that could get dealt.  Posey won't. Gomes and Mesoraco are too cheap to deal even for a good pitcher. After that you get into guys you shrug at. Probably better, but probably not that much better than healthy Ramos.

An interesting possibility could be Lucroy who's got two more years before FA probably takes him away from Milwaukee.  That's the kind of contract the Nats like. But to get him would probably take more than a good pitcher (like Wisconsin native ZNN) because of the impending FA. Would you be willing to give up say ZNN and Cole for Lucroy?  I don't think so.

You're best bet for an outside the box idea then is trying to deal him straight up for another catching prospect that hasn't panned out yet.  A challenge deal of sorts. The two best bets there are Hank Conger (Chris Iannetta is the #1 there) or Tony Sanchez if Russell Martin returns to the Pirates. Not a great plan I know but unless you are insane and think Bryce can move back to catcher, it's the best I got.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Tuesday Quickie : I got nothing.

It started with a simple question. How did the Giants manage to neutralize the Nationals bats? The Giants' pitching was good but not THAT good and the Nats' bats weren't great but they were very good. It shouldn't happen at least not for four straight games.

The initial look seemed to make the reason obvious. As many noted, the Giants pitched the Nats outside and particularly low and outside. Simple really. Except then you have the follow-up questions. Did the Nats really fail to adjust? and was this unusual for the Nats?

On the latter the answer is no, the Giants weren't particularly clever. Everyone did this all year long.

For example:
Pitches to  Adam LaRoche during the playoffs
Pitches to Adam LaRoche during the year

See! And you can go player by player and see that. That's not to say the Giants pitching like that wasn't a reason for their success. They were certainly very committed to it, and perhaps with more defined analysis of the pitching we would show that SF worked further outside, or with a focus on certain pitches, or certain counts. But even if we couldn't, what about the first question? It takes two to tango and every at bat is a combination of hitting and pitching. Could we say something about the hitting that failed? Well you can look at the spray charts and make some assumptions.

For example:
For Span you can say he was pitched outside...
But pulled the ball playing right into the Giants hands.

Great!  Let's wrap this up early and go for lunch. But again follow-ups. Did Span get pitched like this all year? Did he hit like this all year?

In fact, yes, he was getting pitched outside
And yes he did hit sorta like this all year.

So instead of having a neat little column, now you have a mess. You could say Span didn't adjust, (and Rendon did, and LaRoche and Werth kind of did but hit too many flyballs, and Bryce hit mistakes, and Desmond isn't any good anymore, and Ramos might never have really been good) but based on the above I don't feel comfortable saying it without more analysis. So then I need pitch f/x data and maybe another data base (it depends on if the pitch fx data has hit location) and if I can get both and I can get both up to date through the playoffs then then I can do some analysis to see if Span was really pulling outside low pitches at a different rate in the playoffs than in the regular season. And if he was hitting them for more GBs than LDs. And I'm sure other things I'll think of between then and now. And that's just Span.

 This is the rabbit hole of analysis. With so much data is possible to say nearly anything. If you go in with a preconceived notion there's a good chance you'll find some way to support it.  So the follow-ups become very important but that's more time.

Is this just a long-winded way of saying I've got no post? Kinda. But occasionally I do like to explain what I'm thinking because sometimes you can come up with nothing (or rather don't get to the point you want) even with work. That's why teams pay people to do this stuff. There are plenty of blind alleys and dead ends in exploratory analysis. To do it right sometimes you need someone else paying you to do this 8 hours a day.  At least if you want it done expediently.

So maybe I get back to it later in the offseason. Until then this show ain't stopping. Post-season analysis like last year starts tomorrow.