Nationals Baseball

Friday, October 09, 2015

Did we miss anything?

I'll admit my attention to the Nats wasn't as strong once it was pretty clear they weren't going to win it the division. Obviously things like Max's resurgence weren't overlooked because they were stamped with no-hitters to get your attention, and we follow Strasburg enough that his awesome end wasn't missed either but I went back to see if there was anything else in the past month or so that deserves a minute or two of thought.
  • Felipe Rivero did a pretty good job in the closer role and relieving in general.  Remember how the question about good relief arms isn't if you can find them but how long it will take? Well thanks to a couple of untimely failures, it took most of the season to confirm but Felipe Rivero is pretty good. The five walks in 15 IP in Sept is a little high, but he was basically unhittable (0.533 WHIP) and got 14 Ks. Given his age and that he was mostly solid during the year too I think, yes, the Nats have a decent relief arm here
  • No other non-vet really stood out at year's end in the pen. You are dealing with very brief outings here - about half the amount of innings Rivero pitched. Solis and Grace got good results but weren't necessarily impressive. Martin pitched well but is 31 so I'm not betting on him. Not that these guys are bad, but you enter the 2016 season with no security that they will be any good. 
  • The pre-supposed "next-in-line" guys were terrible. Treinen and Janssen both finished the year in a bad way. Neither is a problem specifically but if Storen is going and Papelbon is going you kind of wanted these guys to be good to at least give you a starting point for next year. This is why it's not impossible Papelbon (who is good) or Storen (who is cheap) will be back next year. Right now the Nats are staring at a pen that's a 23yr old with one good year and that's it.
  • Roark didn't pitch all that well as a starter in Sept but it was mostly one bad start. He did seem to improve as he got back in the groove. This is important because it looks like the Nats will need two starters. Ross and Roark are projected to be the two. The question for Roark is how much of 2014 was a one-season wonder and how much was it that Roark is actually good? We can't take much of anything out of this season, but at least we are ending on somewhat of a good note with back to back solid starts. 
  • Gio also had a nice finish to the year. True there was a lot of terrible offenses in those games but if he pitches like he did this year stopping his sliding tendencies he'll be a fine 3/4. 
  • Trea Turner finally got a hit, and then got some more. .290 / .371 / .419 in Sept. He'll probably start 2016 in AAA but it's good to see him adjust. 
  • Matt denDekker hit pretty well too. .298 / .353 / .596. What does that mean? Well it means if he's your 5th OF to start the year and your 4th OF is a legitimate starter replacement, well, it's not a bad thing. It could become one quickly and he still probably shouldn't be in a situation where starting a bunch of games is possible but he gives the Nats an option at a cheap bench all around OF that they've lacked. 
  • Michael Taylor really tailed off at the end of the year. .180 with no power in September. Maybe he was tired after a full season? But looking at the whole year - he hit .222 / .278 / .340 from May 1st on so arguing that pitchers figured him out pretty quickly is reasonable as well. If he's going to be a low .200s batter with some streaky power, that's probably not enough. He might be the easiest player to bump from the line-up for a FA or trade acquisition. We'll see. 
  • Ramos and Lobaton both never got it going. I don't see the catcher situation improving without a move.  
  • Rendon and Werth both stopped hitting the last two weeks of the year. They followed the same pattern. Took about 2-3 weeks to get going, hit well for 2-3 weeks, then crashed the last 2-3 weeks. What exactly do we take from that? I don't know. One thought was that they were able to hit well because they began cheating on pitches, looking FB swinging early, and then the pitchers adjusted. Then again it might just be the aspect of barely playing for nearly 4 months. I think it leaves us, unfortunately, with no answers on whether these guys will hit next year. I'd bet on yes, but I wouldn't build a team around the assumption that they will.

Thursday, October 08, 2015

See wither Tyler Moore

For all I know Tyler Moore is a great person and as far as the complete universe of baseball from Little League to the Majors he is extraordinarily accomplished. Millions have played at all, only a few thousand out there have made the majors. Not only has Tyler Moore made the majors but he's played for 4 years, hit multiple home runs, and even drove in the deciding run in a playoff game. He's the 1% of the 1% of baseball. Tyler Moore should be exceptionally proud of what he has accomplished.

Now get him off the team

I've often said that at the major league level Moore is a one trick pony. He can give you some RH power if need be. That's a very limited skill set, but it does accurately describe Moore. He doesn't hit for average. He's not patient. He doesn't make good contact. He's not a good fielder. He does not run well. Given all that he could be the slugger from that Bugs Bunny cartoon opponent and you still might not carry him on your team.

Yet despite me saying you can't very well keep a player like that on your team for very long, the Nats have given Tyler Moore 650 PAs over 4 years. He's never quite made it to part-time player, but looking at his at bats he's been a key bench piece over that entire time. Not only that, he had his most PAs in this season. It's mind-boggling.

If you don't believe me I did a little check to see if in fact Tyler Moore was the most inexplicable hitter to play that much baseball in the past 3 years. I checked how many players have been given 300+ PA in the past 3 years and have not contributed positively offensively or defensively. (Moore has 478 PA but I figured I'd widen the field) I used baseball-reference offense and defense WAR to figure this out, but don't worry Fangraphs' stats think he's equally as worthless.

Turns out there are only 32 players (so very very few) but even that is too misleading in a positive direction for Tyler. When looking at these players you notice that there are a lot of C and MI in there. These are positions where offense can be hard to find. Tyler Moore is a 1B/OF. a place where sluggers roam free. What if we cut it to 1B, corner OF and DH? 

There are 18. 

So only 18 guys have given as little as Tyler Moore has in the past 3 years and played as much. Can we dig a little deeper? Sure, to try to add in speed let's cut this to only guys who stole 5 bases or fewer (Moore has 0 - indicating his complete lack of speed, but I'm feeling generous)

OK we're at 14 now. Now we can try to figure out the why these guys played if they were so completely terrible.  A bunch of them were players who were former starters that still had full time gigs in 2013 or 2014 because of past competence. It can take a while for baseball to give up on you if you were once good, well-liked, and not terribly old. This definitely covers Lyle Overbay, Paul Konerko, Ryan Ludwick, Jason Kubel, Carlos Pena, and Corey Hart. They were probably given a year more than they should have but you could understand why. Despite never having continued good play, Jeff Francoeur probably fits here too. That 2011 season gave teams desperate for players something to hold onto. Nolan Reimold too should be here. He was only briefly good but it was injuries that brought him down so you can understand why teams gave him at bats.

Ok we're down to 6. Yunesky Betancourt is an interesting case we should discuss. He was briefly a defensive whiz who quickly became a burden all over the field. The Brewers picked him up as a last man on bench type and when injuries struck in 2013 (three separate season ending injuries to first baseman before the season!) he played a ton at first base. It was pretty much insane after say mid May when his hot April descended into expected terribleness. But I actually checked when I was looking into Roenicke yesterday and Betancourt was arguably the best player left. Juan Francisco could hit better but was so incredibly bad fielding that he just couldn't be used there. The other choices were no better. So you can understand why he ended up playing but you can't understand why Doug Melvin didn't bring in anyone better (unless, like me, you think he was flying under everyone's radar as one of the worst GMs in baseball).  Of course the question is - does he fit in this group? Betancourt was primarily a MI (though a bad one) and only deviates from that because of an extraordinary situation, and then he never played again. While it's inexplicable he got that many ABs at 1B in 2013, it's not like he was playing a slugging position for a couple years while giving no offense. For that reason I'm knocking him out. Down to 5.

One is Jon Singleton. A young (23 this year) true prospect (ranked on top halves of Top 100 lists), he was given a bunch of at bats last year to try to catch on to this youthful Astros squad. It didn't take. But still you see why he got them. Down to 4.

Michael Choice was also a true prospect, though on the outskirts of Top 100 lists. He also received his ABs in one big burst trying to catch on. Plus he barely makes the list with exactly 300 PAs. I can explain his ABs and he had almost 200 fewer. No not worse than Moore. Down to 3.

Ok we're now at the real challengers Chris Parmalee and Marc Krauss. Never big time prospects (ok Parmalee was very breifly but far enough removed from when he actually played to be ignored right now) not particularly young, a fair number of appearances in multiple seasons. They all fit the "What the hell? Him again?" profile I'm looking for.

Marc Krauss was about as bad as Tyler Moore but has a couple things going for him to not be the most inexplicable. One is that he played 2013 and 2014 with some terrible offensive Astros teams. In 2013 Nine different Astros OF/1B types had over 100 at bats not including "All I do is homer" Chris Carter.  You just heard Singleton got a ton in 2014, and another 6 got 100+ at bats. Just by virture of being there you got ~300 PAs. Alex Pressley, Robbie Grossman, Jake Marisnick, LJ Hoes... A terrible team trying to throw pieces at a wall to see what works? I have to say that makes more sense to me than using Tyler Moore as a key bench piece for 3 years. Plus he was a 2nd round pick so there was some consensus he was good. I'm going to drop him.

Chris Parmalee... Ok this one is tougher. Arguing for him being the most inexplicable, Parmalee has a bunch more at bats than Moore. Like 700 to Tyler's 480 in past 3 years. That can't be dismissed. And... well that's all I can think of. Aruging for Tyler Moore, despite playing that much less his WAR stats (which are cumulative and thus playing time based) are worse across the board. Parmalee was a former 1st round pick. Moore a 16th rounder. So even though neither were prospects, much like Krauss, Parmalee had cache. Chris Parmalee is also a lefty which makes him a tempting platoon player - though that's more in the mind as his splits were never that good.

The real key here is Moore did well in a brief stint 2012 justifying the time he saw in 2013, and Parmalee crushed in a briefer one in 2011 making a more enticing prize so you can see him playing in 2013 as well. But neither played well enough in 2013 to justify playing in 2014 and repeat for 2014 to 2015. 

Hmmm Hmmm. Tough one.

I'm going to do it. I'm going to officially declare Tyler Moore the winner of "Most Inexplicable Player to get as many plate apperances as he did from 2013-2015" I think what it comes down to is Parmalee was bad in 2014 improved only to below average in 2014 and that netted him 100 ABs in 2015. Moore was terrible in 2013 and improved only to bad in 2014, yet that somehow netted him twice as many PAs in 2015. I don't get it. I don't get it.

Ok this was probably too much work to tell you what you already know. Tyler Moore should not be on the bench for the Nats (or really any team) next year. He has proven himself not to be a player you stick on the bench for 100ABs, especially for an injury riddled team where he may be called on to play more. Maybe you stick him in AAA and maybe if he's awesome there and you have a need you give him 50 ABs to see what's what, and re-assess after that. That's it.

The end and the end of Tyler Moore one hopes.

Wednesday, October 07, 2015

Did you hear Matt Williams was fired?

It's true! On Monday the Nats held true to their word and didn't dawdle, firing Matt Williams before lunch on the first day after the season ended. I think Mike Rizzo and the Lerners actually really wanted to keep Williams but were put into an impossible position. Matt Williams helmed the teamed to a disappointing season which alienated fans. Bring him back and you risk the bottom line. Matt Williams apparently lost the respect of the clubhouse. Bring him back and you risk a mutiny.

You can lose games or lose the clubhouse and keep your job if management likes you. You can't do both. Not unless you are a living legend. Matt Williams is not that.

So now we are left with the question of who? From Rizzo's remarks it seems obvious that Matt Williams was hired on gut instinct. He knew him. He felt like he'd be a good manager. They didn't really entertain other candidates. It was Matt Williams job to lose and, he didn't. Well he didn't at the interview stage. This time they are going to do a more thorough job.  I don't exactly buy that that means experience is really going to matter. I think they are going to hire whoever they think is best for the job. However I do think a total outsider, no coaching or managing experience, would have to wow them. In other words, they aren't going to just hand the job to Cal Ripken.

The other thing is I don't expect a new hire to happen real soon. It does have to happen relatively quickly, like by year's end since the whole staff needs to be put together by February. But I wouldn't expect anything to be named this month, because I'd expect the Nats are going to wait out until the playoffs are over or nearly over so they can visit with all the candidates.

Right now the Nats are in a good place, manager search wise. Ventura, Price, Ausmus, Mackanin, and Weiss; all potential fires, are all back. They just gutted the Brewers coaching staff, but kept Counsell, who had come on mid-season. Outside of maaaaaybe Don Mattingly or Terry Collins if there's an embarrassing sweep due to mismanagement, there isn't a playoff manager in danger of being fired. So it's only the Nats, the Marlins and the Padres with open spots, with one strong possibility to join in Lloyd McClendon in Seattle and one outside shot in Fredi. You do not want to go to Miami unless you have to, a place where the owner replaced the manager with the GM midseason. The Mariners haven't kept a manager for more than 3 years since Lou Pinella left in 2002 and reside in a strong division where the top 2 teams not only won more games than the Mariners but have much stronger farm systems. So there should be only a two way fight for any good manager based on organizations. If the Nats can't get their #1 choice, they should get their #2.

Who might that be?  You'll hear Bud Black floated around the most and he's a tempting hire. The Padres never really tanked under him and the Nats love pitching and he's a pitcher who was a pitching coach as well. Black however also never led San Diego to the playoffs and despite the issues with Seattle he is a Washington native who could be lured back there. After that the choices go in all different directions.

Rizzo mentioned winning a WS in the "very near future". So age may be forgiven this time around. Charlie Manuel (a Werth fav) or Jim Leyland?  They both seemed to get the most out of talented teams. Experience managing without a WS? Dusty Baker, Ron Gardenhire have years of experience and above .500 records. Not as long in the tooth? Ron Washington, Ozzie Guillen, and Ron Roenicke have years and above .500 records too.

If they are serious about major league experience that's probably the list of candidates there. Minor league managers with coaching experience? Randy Knorr is one, as is the always the bridesmaid DeMarlo Hale, and a current hot name being bandied about Roberto Kelly. Just minor league managing success? If you want to burn the Mets fans Wally Backman. Perhaps popular coaches who communicate well for a 360 from Matt Williams? Bo Porter would fit in here. Maybe Dave Martinez who did interview for the job in 2013.

Who do I want? Well honestly, if I were GM I'd take Davey back. Yes he blew that game in the playoffs but he blew A game in the playoffs. Hey, it happens. But they aren't bringing back Davey. So I'd go Leyland if he wants to do it, but he has indicated he doesn't. So Werth wins I guess. Charlie Manuel is the manager. He has an ability to let talented teams just play, which is what this talented team needs. It would end with an ugly divorce a year or two down the road when the team starts to turn over because Charlie doesn't seem to have interest in teaching or adapting. But if you want to win in 2016, and who doesn't. I think Charlie Manuel is your man. Ron Washington might be my next guy but you are gambling on an whole nother set of variables with him.

If you want to avoid an ugly divorce and want a long term guy? DeMarlo Hale is so interesting a pick that I'd wait on him. He's had plenty of good minor league years and is beloved and seems to be a continual almost hire. He is going to get a job somewhere soon.

Bud Black? He's fine. I'm sure he'll do ok, but I'd honestly rather have Ron Roenicke who fits the same "team did as expected based on talent on hand" bill. He at least has proven he could win with a talented team and his teams never really tanked. He took way too much blame for the Brewers mediocrity when really that's should have been expected given the pitching Melvin rostered for him year after year. That is a team primed for long losing streaks if the offense stops hitting because they have nothing like a stopper in the rotation. That's a fine strategy with Fielder and Braun in their prime. Not so much otherwise.

Anyway there you go. Depending on the Nats goals I'd go Manuel (extreme short term), Hale (long term), or Roenicke (a ship steadier who was successful enough in first stint that if he improves in 2nd he'd be really good)

Tuesday, October 06, 2015

Season in Review : In-season

So far, as a fanbase, Nats fans/media were one for two in setting expectations. When the Giants beat the Nats in the playoffs and they started to think "ok we'll be here next year, what do we have to do to make the NLCS or WS" that was actually fine. Objectively looking at the Nats did produce, at that moment, a favorite to return to the playoffs. When they were still thinking that at season's start though, that was a problem. The Nats offseason of injury and getting rid of nearly every bullpen arm had created a Nats team that still should win the NL East, but had much greater potential for losing it as well.

Now we get to the the third expectation point. This one actually is not confined to a single date but would end up encompassing the time from the start of the season until July 28th. This expectation was that "the Nats would put the Mets in the rearview mirror when everyone got back healthy".

Initially it didn't have to be the Mets, but initially the expectation didn't have to exist at all either. We understood the possibility of a slow start, but anything can happen in a couple weeks so the Nats might instead start out hot and never cool down. Didn't happen. The Nats minus Rendon/Werth/Span started out cold. Meanwhile, rather than the Mets and Marlins (and ok maybe the Braves but they went into rebuild mode in the offseason) fighting it out for the lead, the Mets took control from Game...ok not 1, Game 6.  At that point the Mets would start an 11-0 streak and set themselves up as the team for the Nats to catch in the NL East. (The Marlins would go 5-11 and never really be in the race).

At this point that expectation I noted kicked in, and to be honest the problem with it wasn't in the assumption of talent, but the assumption of health. It should have been phrased "the Nats would put the Mets in the rearview mirror IF everyone got back healthy".  The idea that in a couple weeks Rendon and Werth would be back and then Span, who was recovering quickly, would follow and everything would be fine turned out to be way off.

4/6 :  -Span, -Rendon, -Werth
4/13 : -Span, -Rendon
(4/15 : Stammen out for year)
4/19 : -Rendon
5/16 : -Rendon, -Werth
(5/19 : Fister goes out)
(6/3 : Strasburg goes out) 
6/10 :  -Rendon, -Werth, -Zimmerman
(6/18 : Fister back)
(6/23 : Strasburg back)
7/7 : -Rendon, -Werth, -Zimmerman, -Span
(7/9 : Strasburg out again)

Rendon's injury would linger seemingly forever, never allowing the Nats to have everyone back. They almost had it for about a month and that time would closely correspond with the Nats best run of the year. They'd go 18-10 with "all but Rendon" specifically and from 4/28 to 5/27 the Nats would go 21-6.

The injuries would keep the Nats from having a consistent line-up. Not only that, injuries would do the same to the rotation, and Stammen going out early meaning the Nats had almost a whole new bullpen to find. This inconsistency would show up in the Nats performances where they would alternate playing well and playing terribly : 7-13, 21-6, 6-14, 12-3

Still the expectation seemed fair based on the assumption of talent. Despite playing middling baseball for 90 games the Nats found themselves 49-41 heading into the Mets series on Jul 20th and holding a 2 game lead. They'd win 2 of 3 and it seemed very clear that this Mets team just couldn't catch this Nats team. Their offense was too anemic. Their bullpen had too many questions. Yes, the Mets would have a couple key players returning from injury in Wright and d'Arnaud, but the Nats had four key players returning all of who hit better than those two in 2014. It seemed pretty safe to assume the Nats would widen their lead.

Then something happened.

On July 24th the Mets traded for Kelly Johnson and Juan Uribe. Then on July 27th the Mets traded for Tyler Clippard. Then on Jul 31st the Mets traded for Yoenis Cespedes.

On offense, the conceit was all the Mets did was add players that were at best only as good as the ones coming back from injury for the Nats, and probably not even that. This might have been true, but this ignored the fact that the guys for the Nats were coming back from injury. You had no idea how they would perform. Johnson, Uribe, and Cespedes you could be fairly sure they would perform around as they performed up until this point in the season. But Werth, Rendon, Zimm, and Span? It was completely possible that they could give you nothing. Yet the fans, fed by the team (it's like we're making 3 deadline deals!), ignored that fact* and assumed they would play as they had in previous years. Based on those now flawed assumption, Nats fans still expected to go right by the Mets once everyone came back on July 28th.
So to recap - the expectation of putting distance between the Nats and the Mets made sense on July 22nd, was questionable on July 24th and even more so on the 27th as the Mets addressed their issues with fixes of more certainty than injury returnees. On July 30th Papelbon would join the Nats giving fans and that expectation a boost, but on July 31st the Mets added Cespedes and that expectation was arguably no longer valid. The next 62 games would be decided with teams who had roughly the same chances of performing well.  The Nats may have had the better on-paper talent, but the Mets had far more certainty in their talent. They did not have to rely on four bats (and one arm - Strasburg) performing when they returned, only two.

At that point the expectation should have switched to a dogfight to the end of the season. That would have been fair. Why didn't that actually happen? Well if two teams are of equal standing, anything unexpected could derail (or propel) one team's chances. We ended up getting three of those things.
  1. We can talk about this in more detail later but the Nats pitching unexpectedly blew up. The relief pitching, which had been pick and choose bad, became across the board bad. Gio and shockingly Max also threw up terrible game after terrible game.
  2. When the injury returnees for both teams started to hit again in late August, the Nats should have had an advantage, but the Mets had several players really outperform expectations and wiped out that expected advantage
  3. The Mets swept the Nats in two head to head series. Admittedly, the Mets played better than the Nats this season, especially down the stretch, but you'd expect even the worst team playing the best team to take 1 or 2 games of 6. The Nats go 2-4 in those series and it's a 3 game lead after Sept 9th, not 7.
Even the adjusted expectation is just an expectation. If something unexpected happens, it won't hold.

You ever hear about how people want to get rid of the college football pre-season poll because it sets an expectation that may not reflect reality? That it takes a few games into the season to really get an idea of who is the good and who is the bad but once set, voters are reluctant to really move these teams? How pre-conceived notions influence our thoughts all the way down the line? Yeah, that's kind of what happened here.

We started at a place I'd argue was the right place. A Nats team primed to repeat as NL East champs. But rather than re-evaluate when injuries and bullpen issues came to the fore, both during the pre-season and in-season, we simply adjusted. Oh the Nats were a 95 win team before, so they'll just win a few fewer games. Oh the Nats were a 93 win team entering the season, clearly they'll be a 93 win team when everyone comes back. At any point in the season though we should really evaluate from the ground up. Take a fresh look at the team as it is and for god's sake understand the variability of injuries and old veterans/young players. If we did that we would have been more wary to start the year and we would have seen the coin-flip situation at the end of the year as it truly was. 

*I'll note I did try to warn you that things had changed both before and after the Mets series.

Monday, October 05, 2015

Season in review : The pre-season

Before we get into the nitty gritty of the clubhouse or the individual position reviews. I wanted to talk about expectations. The season was only a disappointment because expectations weren't met. That's how it works. But were these expectations fair to begin with? I'll look at two expectation points today and one tomorrow. 

The 2015 Nats season began on October 8th, 2014 and the Nats' immediate future looked rosy. Yes, they had just failed again to advance past the NLDS in heartbreaking fashion but in the past 3 years they had twice won the NL East with ease, and had twice lost competitive series to the eventual World Series winners the current standard bearers for the National League. Beyond that the Nats had nearly all the same pieces in place for 2015. The rotation was all returning. They would only lose one relief arm, one that fell out of favor as the season went on. They could have lost as many as three offensive starters but had a plan that limited the effective loss to only one. They only had two moderate injury concerns at season's end. And most impressive, out of the 20 or so active roster spots likely to return, only 2 were going to be older than 31 in the following season.

There was no reason, on October 8th, to believe there was anything to worry about. The question wasn't whether the Nats would make the playoffs, it would seemingly take a major change in fortune for that not to happen, or whether the Nats would win the NL East, a possibility of course, but fairly unlikely given the gap between the teams in 2014, but what the Nats could do to get over the playoff hump?  How could they find a 2nd baseman, improve the bench, and maybe get a solid relief arm while finding that missing something? 

At this point - this was a completely rational line of thinking. Re-read the above. 20 or or so returning players from a 96 win team, 18 or so 31 or younger, that won their division by 17 games. It would be silly to have a negative opinion of this team, at least as far as regular season record was assumed. Yes 2013 turned out badly, but there was a very good Braves team that year, a back of the rotation issue, no Anthony Rendon... no no, 2015 couldn't be 2013 again. And then... 

This created a minor worry among Nats fans. After a middling 2013, Span had blossomed into a big part of the team. But they said he'd be ready for Spring, and even if he wasn't the Nats had two guys they liked waiting in the wings. Steven Souza, an older prospect but one who crushed AAA the year before, and Michael A Taylor, the heir apparent for when Span left. They'd be fine

We underestimated the impact of Span, who put up a fringy MVP season in 2014 and as lead-off and CF occupied very important positions in the Nats offense and defense. Any assumption that his 2014 season could easily be replaced was misplaced.

Dec 12th - Ross Detwiler traded to the Rangers

Maybe this got a shrug. Detwiler had never recovered from his 2013 injury and had been passed by Roark in the rotation. He spent much of 2014 as a mediocre long man. Whatever.

It shouldn't have been completely dismissed. Detwiler did pitch the 3rd most innings in the pen and they had already let Soriano, who pitched the 4th most innings, go. The question of who would exactly replace those innings grew. It shouldn't be hard to find a mediocre or better arm to fill these innings but the more innings that needed to be filled the more time it would probably take.

Dec 19th - Steven Souza traded to the Rays

This caused a little bit of worry, but mainly in fans who liked Souza more than they should have. You make this deal 100 times out of 100, but it did leave the Nats with a little bit of a hole in the OF for 2015. If Span couldn't make it back or if another guy got injured mid-season or MAT failed miserably, the Nats could have an issue.

I think we had the right understanding here. With only Span out at the time and looking to be back in Spring, the loss of 1 of 2 4th/5th OF wasn't a big thing to worry about. At the time.

Dec 23rd / 26th - Signed Heath Bell, and Dan Uggla

The Nats made signings like this - cheap gambles on fixing the bench and pen. It was their way. Unless the Nats got injured though it shouldn't matter.

Again at the time these types of attempts to fill the roster with other team's trash weren't terrible. You can't sign good players to have them not play.

Jan 8th - Jayson Werth undergoes shoulder surgery

Now things get hairy, but fans remained optimistic. There was no word that Span wasn't progressing on schedule and Werth should be ready for the start of the season too. You didn't like to have two guys have surgery in the offseason but as long as they were back in the Spring there wasn't a big reason to be worried. Still a trade for Zobrist would go a long way to assuage our fears (and cover 2B - which was still in the hands of Espy as of this date)

Total underestimation of problem. We had too easily bought into the Nats party line that these guys would be back at this date and be pretty much ready to go, with maybe a couple weeks of at bats. Injuries are serious business. They can wipe out a season, either by keeping a player out or making them much worse than they were before. Werth was the best offensive player on the Nats in 2014. He could be gone. Span was maybe the best all around player on the team. He could be gone. Plus no one had a clue if MAT was really ready for a big time role. I think part of the reason though that we were not overly concerned was that Zobrist, who was the PERFECT fit, was still out there. Surely they'd get him now. I don't know why'd we'd believe that though. When have the Nats ever went out and got the perfect fit? Combine this with the Souza trade and the Nats FA tendencies to go cheap and a potential lurking problem should have been identified 

Jan 10th - Zobrist traded to the A's

Oops. We were concerned but again not all that concerned. Span and Werth should be back.  They'll get someone to fill in 2B or OF for 2015. It'll be fine.

See above. Injuries, especially core injuries or injuries to older players, need to be taken more seriously than we were taking them and the Nats rarely make acquisitions that would help a single year.  

Jan 14th - Tyler Clippard traded for Yunel Escobar

Finally some alarm bells started going off. I mean getting Yunel Escobar was good. It served a purpose (two actually assuming Desmond was leaving and Yuney would shift) but Clippard was huge in the pen in 2014 and had been so for years. But maybe they have a cheap pick-up or a trade in mind?

I think even though we were worried we weren't worried enough because of the totality of the relief issues. They lost now the 2nd, 3rd and 4th most IP from the pen. 200IP. That's so much to replace. You very well may not replace all that with even the slightly below average arm Detwiler was. It takes time to find one arm. To find three? Forget alarm bells, we needed klaxons going off.  

Jan 21st - Max Scherzer is signed.

Almost all our worries faded away as the prospect of a historic rotation came to be. In the back of our minds we could envision a rotation issue, Gio was trending the wrong way, Fister's fancy stats said he was overperforming, Roark had only been good for one year, we had no depth. Now in one fell swoop those fears were blown away. This could be a rotation they talk about throughout history.

This is a separate place where we failed to grasp the situation. Because the Nats had pretty much avoided major SP injuries and crashes since 2012, and had found replacements rather easily, we just assumed that would be the case forever. The reality is the opposite is the standard. Guys get injured. Guys get worse very quickly. A rotation should never be assumed to go through a season without issue and if ZNN, Scherzer or Stras was that issue, well then the back of our minds might have been right all along.

Feb 2nd - Casey Janssen signed.

OK, it was clear at this point that there was no real relief help coming. There would be just buy low players who could break out or could amount to nothing. But again - who cares if the rotation is as strong as we thought it could be.

I think we were wrapping our head around the pen issue rightly, but were also overwhelmed by the rotation, thinking then pen wouldn't matter with those guys starting games. It always matters. 

March 7th - Yunel Escobar gets an oblique strain

It'll be fine. He should be good to go in a couple weeks

What are we delusional? Another Nats player goes down and we wave it off? I mean sure Espy was probably roughly the same value but what the hell are we thinking here?

March 9th - Denard Span has a second surgery

Uh oh. He was now going to miss big time. Werth is still on track though and Escobar is only slightly behind schedule. It's going to come down to Taylor, yes, but with the team around him that we should see, it should be ok.

See my original hindsight take on Span. He was a huge loss that we just kind of assumed the team could absorb. Maybe it could have but with all else going on at the moment with the offense I don't know why we weren't more concerned.

March 10th - Anthony Rendon misses a game 
Roughly March 26th - Rendon injury healing time is clearly unknown

Surely he'll be healthy. It was just day to day a few days ago. This is all piling up true, but they just have to weather a few tough weeks to start the year (at most) and then everything will be right again.

WE ARE SO STUPID. Injuries can be huge and now the Nats other potentially best all around player, who is also an injury risk, goes down for who knows how long? We should have been very worried here. Panic in the streets.

March 30th - Jerry Blevins traded for Matt denDekker

Wait what? Now the 5th most IP from the pen was traded for a guy that couldn't be seen as anything more than organizational depth. What is going on here?

By this time we could feel the pen was going to be an issue. Hooray us. But still I don't think we grasped the totality now that the 5th most IP were added to the mix and 253 IP needed to be replaced! If Stammen or Storen went down that would be 300+ relief innings that needed to be taken up by someone.  Here's a funny thing - there are only like 450 relief innings in a year. So fully 2/3rd of the Nats pen innings could be gone just like that, if a pitcher went down to injury which is like a 1/3 chance every year. 

At this point we were at the beginning of the year, and what looked in the fall like it should clearly be an easy repeat had grown cloudy. But still... Yes the Nats had a lot of injuries coming into the year but outside of Span they seemed to be missing a couple weeks of the season at most. Besides look at that rotation! Yes the pen was an issue but how hard is it to find decent pen arms? And look at that rotation! The Nats will be fine. Maybe knock a win or two off what you thought in October but still likely NL East champs unless some team made a surprise turn for the better. Right?

Turns out this was demonstrably wrong. The win estimations might have been ok with the information at hand. I had the Nats at 93. BUT we really weren't getting how broad the range of wins could be. The Nats had absolutely gutted their pen, which had been pretty decent in 2014. Arms could be found but trying veterans other teams didn't want and young guys with no experience was adding a lot of variance. The injuries could easily go on like the Nats said they would, but they easily could go on longer and/or have lingering effects. Again more variability. The rotation should be strong, but starting rotations are among the hardest things to keep healthy and up to predictions. Injuries are commonplace, not rare.

We should have been prepared for a potential fall. While 93 or so might have been the right guess, we should have been more up in the air about it, understanding that 85 was probably more likely than 95 given the circumstance the Nats found themselves in at the start of the season. We should have understood that those things that weren't fair questions 6 months prior, winning the division, making the playoffs, were fair questions now. Distracted by the shiny bauble that was the Nats rotation, we didn't think like this though. Or at least I didn't.That was a mistake.

Friday, October 02, 2015

Meet the New Strasburg. Same as the old Strasburg

This season has been an utter disappointment. There's no arguing that. But in even the worst of seasons there are positives to be found. Bryce's break-out. Max's 1st half. Clint Robinson. Another thing on that list, has to be the performance of Stephen Strasburg after returning from injury.

When Strasburg was pitching poorly to begin the year the fanbase was a little divided between people who thought the bad results were driven primarily by injury and fans who thought the bad results were driven primarily by bad pitching. I had been a strong member of the former group and to the latter I'd just like to say, "Told ya"

Strasburg pre-injury: 45.3 IP, 6.55 ERA, 1.72 WHIP, OPS-against .874, 1.2 HR/9, 2.8 BB/9, 8.9 K/9
Strasburgh post-injury :   82 IP, 1.76 ERA, 0.77 WHIP, OPS-against .500, 0.88 HR/9, 1.3 BB/9, 12.1 K/9

That's nearly a half-season of WOW. That's better than the season stats of Greinke, Arrieta, and Kershaw, the guys fighting it out for the Cy Young. He's been a Top 10 valuable pitcher in the majors in the 2nd half despite pitching a third fewer innings than the other guys up there. There's no luck here either. The fancy stats agree - he's been awesome. Kind of a pitching Bryce, if you like.

He's pitched very well for... well pretty much every season more often than not outside of the beginning of this one, but he's never pitched this well for this long. There was his start to 2012 (44 IP) He had a run of great pitching in May-June of 2013 (56 IP). And a run in April-May (66.1 IP) and to end the year (58 IP) last year. But never as close to 82 IP.  Interestingly enough you see these streaks getting longer. Combine last year's great pitching and you get like 125 innings*  He can put together great stretches and he's at the point where if he can just add a few starts more to these periods, like 4-5 more, it won't really matter how bad the other ones are. He'll be a legit Cy Young candidate, instead of "other receiving votes"

Do we realize it? I don't know. Fans are mostly inclined to dislike Strasburg and a hot performance to end a meaningless season isn't going to persuade them otherwise. Even if I point out the Nats were fighting for their playoff lives for much of that time and he kept coming through. Even if I point out that despite the shutdown and other injuries Strasburg has been one of the 15 best pitchers in baseball since 2012. Like I said yesterday because of an odd W-L total in 2013 and what comes accross as a prickly attitude, the fans have made up their mind. It will take Strasburg leading the team to a playoff series win to turn the tide and well, time is rapidly running out for that to happen.

*unfortunately the other 90 IP were to an ERA of 5.00. 

Thursday, October 01, 2015

Good Night ZNN

Jordan Zimmermann occupies a funny spot in Nats history. The consensus right now is that he's been the best pitcher in Nats history. While I don't disagree, how we got to this point, where everyone says it with such certainty, is interesting.

It's true that the argument can be made and very strongly. He has that no-hitter. He has that killer relief appearance in Game 4 of the 2012 NLDS. He has that near complete, 3 hit, 1 run game in the 2014 NLDS.  He has the most wins (70 to Stras/Gio at 2nd with 53), complete games (8 to Livan's 6), even most strikeouts (903 to Stras at 894) for now.

But those playoff starts are the epitome of small sample size and selective memory. He only was able to pitch relief in Game 4 because he got bombed in Game 2 - 3IP, 5ER. And he has the most appearances by far (178 starts to Lannan's 134) which means all the counting stats should be his. If we look at other stats, even limiting to 2011 and later so we carve out ZNN's early years learning on the job for a bad team, we don't see clear separation between him and others. Strasburg matches his ERA over that time. Gio's winning percentage is slightly better. Gio's been better at keeping the balls in the park. Strasburg has a better K/BB rate powered by a crushing lead in K/9. Both Gio and Stras in fact beat ZNN handily over that time in K/9 and opponent's OPS+. Outside of the strikeout lead, which ZNN makes up for with a strong lead in BB/9, none of these are big gaps, but you see on pure pitching talent ZNN doesn't come out on top.

Like I said, I'm not actually arguing that as of today ZNN isn't the best pitcher in Nats history. He has 2011 up on Gio and has pitched a step better since 2012. Strasburg has probably pitched a half-step better since 2012 but ZNN has been far healthier. The combination of quantity and quality wins out. But if we're being objective it's really "as of today". A great season by Strasburg next year or a surprise rebound by Gio and frankly it would be up in the air on paper.

But I doubt it would be up in the air with fans and ZNN is a good example of how all of us can get wrapped up in narrative. His emergence post-Tommy John was overshadowed first by The Coming of Strasburg and then by The Return of Strasburg, as well as by a Cy Young worthy year for Gio Gonzalez in 2012.  So despite being only 26 and putting up 2 seasons worthy of a #1 starter role somewhere he was #3 in the rotation to start the next year. Then 2013 happened.

The team floundered and the fans needed to blame someone or something. It didn't matter than Gio still pitched pretty well, he was only 11-8, he must have been a problem. And Strasburg? That joker was 8-9! He can't win! And he let the team shut him down! The tide turned away from Strasburg, who was hard to read and had no inclination to make people like him. He became the symbol of failed expectations. All that love moved to ZNN who managed to go 19-9 that year. He was the Joe LunchPail who brought it that fans, both the "smart" ones and the "heart" ones, could get behind. Nevermind that he wasn't any more lovable that Strasburg. He didn't disappoint so it didn't matter. Nevermind that in just the previous year fans were talking about how Zimmermann couldn't win, going 20-19 over the past 2 seasons despite good stats. They wanted a guy to rally behind and in 2013 ZNN gave them that. 2014 would validate that love as he'd put up clearly the best year on the team, punctuated by the no-hitter and the playoff appearance.

What about 2015?  That's a good question as the truth of the matter is he's been as disappointing as any starter. Doug Fister was worse, but most of us knew he was a time bomb. Gio pitched worse but relative to the previous year the decline was far slighter. Strasburg had his issues but was clearly injured. Why does ZNN get a pass? Same reason it took him so long to get recognized for his good performances. Back then he was overshadowed and his win total didn't reflect his performance. Now again he's overshadowed and his win total doesn't reflect his performance. Strasburg was hideous to start the year and took up much of the attention through June. Scherzer crashed in August and along with the team issues has taken up all the focus since then. That means the light might have shined on ZNN for two months and for those 2 months he was perfectly ok. Other than that you looked at the wins and said - still around tops for the team - and let it slide. The anonymity and luck that kept him from getting praise for years, keeps him from getting criticism for this one. 

Combine everything I said and you see why fans are so clear on ZNNs place in Nats history. They didn't have expectations for him, so while they talked about his lack of wins in 2011 and 2012 it was never a big deal. When the team, and in particularly Strasburg, seemed to flail in 2013, ZNN didn't disappoint and became the fan favorite. He backed it up in 2014 and gave the Nats two incredible performances to end the year. It was cemented. I've talked about this before but a lot of times winning over fans (and media for that matter) isn't about what you do but when you do it. It's not even a big game spotlight thing necessarily. Do you perform when we are paying attention to you, when we aren't distracted by other things? If so, you'll get love. If not, you won't. As long as he didn't bomb this year (he didn't), and Gio or Stras didn't put up amazing seasons (they didn't) he was going to go out #1 in their hearts. It was never the accumulation of solid performances. It was being not-Strasburg and then having a hell of 2014 season with an even better finish.

This all seems like I'm damning ZNN in some way and I don't mean to. He has been the best pitcher in Nats history. He's been the best pitcher in the "window" years.  He deserves all the praise he gets. He deserves the big contract he's going to get. And I think he'll be healthy and do great where ever he goes. I think what the Nats will miss most is the reliability. All those starts over 4 years. He hasn't missed a start over the past 4 years and really it's more like 5 years as 2011 was capped by an innings limit, not by an injury. How many pitchers haven't missed a start in the last 5 years? So let's say at least 155 starts? 14. And that's with a generous "not miss a start" definition. We've seen in the past few years that one of the hardest things to do is deal with injuries. With a guy like ZNN you didn't have to worry about that for 5 years. You could pencil him in and he'd be out there and would give you a performance that would give your team a chance to win. Quality start is a silly stat but it does give a vague sense of that standard, of how many times did you "do your job" in a sense. The names ahead of ZNN in QS% is impressive. Kershaw, Hamels, Cueto, Price, Greinke, Verlander, Felix, ZNN. (then Sheilds, Weaver, Dickey right after ZNN. That's about right as he's that kind of line of demarcation)

I think the fact I didn't have to think about ZNN is the thing I'll miss most about him. He would get the job done and as a fan I could worry about something else. There's always plenty to worry about. There is far less you can count on. You could count on ZNN.