Nationals Baseball

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

What's going to happen today?

Assuming Wieters passes his physical he goes on the 40-man.

The Nats have a full 40-man

The Nats would prefer to trade Norris.

So do they trade Norris today?

There isn't a terrible rush. There are many names on the 40-man that I think could be DFA'd to the minors. Jimmy Cordero, a 25yo middling relief non-prospect. Raudy Read, a 23yo C trying to get over the hump of hitting in A+ ball. Jose Marmolejos, a hihg-average hitting first-baseman with questionable power potential.  A couple others like Austin Adams or Rafael Bautista, who might be just good enough not to take a chance they get grabbed on waivers but are no big loss in general.  One of these guys could also magically get injured enough to be placed on the 60 day DL.

Still if you can you'd rather not go through the hoops of removing someone just to bring them back a few days later so it'll be interesting to see if the Nats can make a deal.

What's on the table now? No one really knows. It's thought that there is a deal out there where the core is Pedro Severino for David Robertson but the idea that Severino would be enough for a major league caliber player is confusing. On one hand there's his defensive reputation. He's thought to be a plus defender, if not even better with a strong arm and good framing. Even if he can't hit, he's thought to be a shoe-in to make the majors as a back-up catcher, possibly for a long while. On the other hand is his offensive stats. Young, yes, but consistent. He doesn't hit for average. He isn't patient. He doesn't hit for power. He's not bringing anything to the table.

Perhaps the lack of stats is because of his aggressive movement up the minors. He's never able to really improve in place. That could be true about his acceptable hitting for average, which has remained steady as he climbed the ladder. But his patience (also steady) is so terrible and improvement would only make it bad. And his power has diminished as he's gone up. This suggests a ceiling of something like .250 / .300 / .340. Basically a good outcome is he becomes Steve Lombardozzi but slow and not nearly as good as putting the ball in play.

If he's the hold up, he shouldn't be.

Well interesting day. I'll update when we find out exactly what is going on.

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Wieters! (maybe) then Robertson (possibly)

News just broke! Nats closing in on Wieters deal says Jon Heyman. There's further thought that a Robertson deal could go down soon after that. Quick thoughts

The contract is supposedly for 10 million this year, 11 million next (player option). But 5 million is deferred money.  Norris makes 4.5 million this year. So if you trade Norris (who you need far less now) you end up adding only 500K to the payroll for this year.  Next year? Worry about next year, next year.

Wieters is better than what the Nats have, still not very good. 

It's been nearly a decade since Wieters was hailed as the second coming at the plate after crushing the ball in college. However in eight years and nearly 900 games Wieters has shown himself to be... ok. He has moderate power but he doesn't hit for high average and he is not patient. You can't blame recent injury issues because he was merely ok when healthy. He is not particularly adept defensively either meaning there is no secret value here.  However blah Wieters sounds - catcher is a hard position to fill and what the Nats have now is Lobaton, who is no good, and Norris, who has a chance to hit good and a better chance not to do that. Wieters is a competent major leaguer and would be a strong bet to improve the Nats situation.

Roberston is an effective but troublesome arm with a big contract attached. 

Robertson was cruising along as a very effective Yankee middle reliever fighting a slight tendency to get wild that was keeping him from elite status. Then right before FA he got a chance to close and then - poof! - he was a CLOSER. He closed for the White Sox in 2015 and pitched some of the best baseball of his career. He also hit an ERA of 3.41.  He closed for the White Soc in 2016 and pitched some of his worst baseball in years. He also hit an ERA of 3.47.  Karmic justice? Perhaps but everything trended the wrong way last year. Strike outs? Down. Hits? Up. Walks? WAY UP.  That's still a lot of strikeouts and not a lot of hits so he would still be effective piece to add but you couldn't say the Nats got a lights-out closer. Of course that assumes it's a new normal. If it's an aberration then the Nats... well still don't have a lights-out closer but have someone just as effective as Kelley, maybe more so, and a strong back end of the pen however it shakes out.  If it's instead a trend, well then Roberston is a 12 million 4th/5th arm out of the pen.

I don't see the Nats adding Wieters and Robertson without jettisoning Gio, and maybe more.

Maybe I'm wrong. But if I'm not the Nats are adding say 6 million with Wieters and some chunk with Roberston. Where can they get that money back? Well maybe the White Sox won't make the Nats pay everything for Roberston. If they can get it so the White Sox cover 6 or so of this years' money then that matches up nicely with Gio's 12 million. If they make the Nats pay pretty much all, well then Norris (4.2) goes too. Which honestly makes sense. The Yankees, who the Gio deal was in place for, haven't solved their rotation issues and would still probably bite on the deal. Would it leave the Nats short in the rotation? Yep. But that's the gamble you take. There isn't another tradeable commodity the Nats can afford to lose.

Could the Nats add just Wieters, trade Norris, and keep everyone else? 

Yes. I suppose they could. Depends on, as always, money spent and money deferred. In my head that leaves them spending a couple million. They can save some of that throwing Robinson into any Norris deal but I don't see a perfect match. But come on Nats, you can spend a couple million right? I think they can. I think that's why they had a firm price on Wieters. That's what they could spend (jettisoning Norris). Take it or leave it.

Monday, February 20, 2017

The best shapermetrics of his life

There isn't a problem in baseball that can't be solved in the Spring.

Obviously this isn't a literal statement but a figurative one, based in the constant stream of stories that come out now featuring Player X identifying the underlying issue that held him back in the previous year and how he's now doing exactly what he needs to do to address it. The most common, now almost laughable, version of this story is the one about the player who had an off-year now showing up "in the best shape of his life" but that's only one type. There is a version for every type of malady and as sabrmetrics ingrains itself more and more into the major league culture it was only a matter of time before something like "launch angle correction" showed up.

Last year some people noted that even though Ryan Zimmerman was doing poorly, he was hitting the ball hard. They took that to mean that a revival was just around the corner. Some of us more steeped in the fancy stats noted that while Zimmerman was hitting the ball hard* he was simply driving it into the ground. The difference between a 80 MPH ball hit 10 feet and a 110 MPH ball hit 10 feet is just how much you get thrown out by.

Well Zimm has found out this same information and is working on hitting the ball higher. But as Boz notes it's not a given. It is difficult to change your approach without messing something else up. Try to hit the ball up and maybe you end up popping up a ton or just missing the ball entirely. Maybe you can hit the ball at the angle you want but to do it you have to adjust your swing just a bit so now your exit velocity drops. The balls that were supposed to be home runs are now lazy fly balls, the doubles to the gaps singles dropping in infront of outfielders. To add to the issue Zimm also wants to be more aggressive thinking that there has been such a change in pitching that he's no longer able to take advantage of a pitcher by working deep into counts and looking for mistakes.

Has he been doing that? Let's tackle the question in two parts - has he been overly patient? Boz seems to think so but I'm not so sure. The numbers are out there but not already calculated for us so in lieu of looking at the whole league** I went ahead and compared the number of 2-strikes ABs to the number of 0 strike at bats (Boz's stat) for the Nats Top 10 hitters last year. The result? Zimm was patient but not appreciably more than Rendon. He was also in the neighborhood of Espy, Bryce and Revere. Murphy and Ramos stood in stark contract as aggressive hitters but on the flip side Werth stood out as ridiculously more patient than Zimm. Looking at 2015 and 2014 seems to say the same thing - patient but not crazily so, not like Werth.

Ok he's kind of patient.  Is he hitting well with two strikes? Well no. No one hits well with two strikes. BUT he was during his peak (2009-2012) one of the better two-strike hitters in the league. So there's that. Of course it's been a long time since 2012 and Zimm has been terrible with two-strikes since then even though as a hitter he didn't even go below average overall until last year.  Perhaps the game did change that quickly? Doubtful. People hit terribly with two strikes in 2009-2012, pretty much just as bad as in 2013-2016. So while the game may be shifting, it's a slow shift and Zimm's two-strike issues were immediate. So I do think being aggressive may help. He may be passing up some decent pitches looking for a great one and leaving himself open to get blown out but I think he's not going to hit those decent pitches all that well.

Daniel Murphy may have been able to figure out how to hit better, but Daniel Murphy is a different type of hitter than Zimm. Murphy always hit for higher average and always wanted to hit the ball. He put the ball in play constantly, keeping walks and strike outs down. He did this not by swinging a lot but by making contact when he chose to swing. This does not describe Zimm.

I suppose it is worth a shot. Zimm had a terrible year last year and it's hard to throw up your hands at something like that and say "well hope it changes this year". At the same time any one who's even swung a bat in Little League can tell you that once you start changing things it can just as easily make things worse as opposed to better. If Zimm gets any worse he's unplayable.

*perhaps - statcast still isn't perfect or complete in its gatherings - but it's close enough though for comparative purposes

** Swing percentage probably is a decent proxy. In that Ryan would be about 40th lowest out of 147 qualifiers if he had qualified. Low - indicating patience, but not crazy low.  Werth, who I've noted is a very patient hitter, would be 6th lowest for example.

Friday, February 17, 2017

Friday Spring Training Notes

Spring Training WooooOK that's enough.

I noted yesterday (and we'll go over again when the games start) that Spring Training is really about three things
  1. Injuries
  2. Confirming Main roster decisions
  3. Making fringy roster decisions
That's it. For the first you are looking at those coming back from injury to see how they are recovering. You are also praying that you avoid an injury now.

For the second and the third, we all know the issues with Spring Training stats. That's why you should have your decisions basically all made going INTO Spring, not coming out of it. You really do have all the information you need, outside of potentially a look at the physical development of a young player that may start. For main roster then you have your guys set and Spring should only serve as a chance for something weird to happen that makes you second guess that decision. A guy who hits for power can't get it out of the infield. A control pitcher can't find the plate at all. That sort of thing. It should be a very rare event. If you have a last guy on bench, last guy in pen decision to make and you don't have any favorite then using Spring as a tie-breaker is fine. But really using anything as a tie-breaker at that point is fine. Who fits better in the clubhouse? Who would help the AAA team more? Who's closer to FA? Whatever.

So here we are. And getting back to #1 there is an injury recovery for the Nats to worry about (two actually). Scherzer is not guaranteeing that he'll be ready for Opening Day.  In grand tradition of the Nats medical staff (and probably all medical staffs) it's already a walkback from the inital recovery estimate, telling us Scherzer would be a “full participant” in Spring Training. It's a bit disturbing because Opening Day is a good six weeks away but I imagine Scherzer is just being overly truthful. Even if you are 95% sure, it's better not to promise anything. Plus, I think we all agree, be overly cautious. If he's not ready for Opening Day but is ready a week or two later - so what? 

The biggest injury question on my mind though isn't Scherzer, who says he pitched through the finger in September (as was very good - but not great at that point). It's Kelley. If you remember last season ended for Kelley walking off the mound with numbness in biggest game of the year. Certainly that's a "gut it out" situation if he felt he could so he was really hurt/bothered in the moment. In grand tradition of the Nats medical staff (this sounds familiar) the Nats apparently haven't done an MRI to see if anything is up there. So I'm going to wait until I see Kelley pitch a couple times in Spring Training games before I believe he's likely to be fine to start the year. You can choose differently. 

Other than that - I think the Nats are in the clear. Zimm, Bryce, Murphy all may have injury issues but they all were playing at the end of the year, injuries or not, so whether they play in the 3/4 speed of Spring Training doesn't tell me much.

Allright Nats, go out there and don't get injured!

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Adam Lind - Better than Clint

Let's do this in Q&A form

Does Adam Lind make the Nats better?

Sure! Last year Lind OPS'd .717 (.239 / .286 / .431).  Last year Robinson OPS'd .637 (.235 / .305 / .332). It was Lind's worst year since 2012. He's a decent bet to do better. Robinson was also better before this. But it was just one season. It's a complete toss-up what Robinson is.

That's a pretty good SLG.

Yep! He's a full season 25 HR 30 2B season guy. (For comparison - Robinson is more like a 10 HR / 15 2B guy).  If there's one thing you should be able to count on from Lind it would be that he can hit the ball hard

Great! Tell me more good news

Ok. The assumption is Lind will mostly play versus RHP.  He slugged .442 with 19 homers in 121 games vs RHP last year. That was an off year. In 2015 he threw up a .291 / .380 / .503 line against righties. In 2014 it was .354 / .409 / .533. He could be really effective in a platoon

Wow. How'd we get this guy for a million...WAIT! That's not a qu

Lind can't field. Robinson isn't great but can do the job if necessary. Lind probably not. And while defensive stats are a little fluky, especially in a single year, Lind has been bad forever. You can forget about the outfield. He really should DH. So he's an imperfect choice for an NL team. Also he's slow. Not Ramos slow, but not too far off. So while Robinson could feasibly run for a pitcher or catcher or hurt player, Lind probably isn't all that much better. So he's an imperfect choice for a bench player.

And the flip side of those awesome numbers vs RHP? Lind is garbage vs LHP. Like should have signed with the Dodgers garbage vs LHP.

But at least he can crush righties?

Well yes. Assuming last year was a fluke and not a trend downward.

...was it a trend downward?

Let's quick read fancy stats. The BABIP is low - that suggests that the average should perk up and with it he should be above average. But it's not low for no reason. Lind hit a higher percentage of "soft" hits last year than any year in his career. Zone stats suggest the culprit may be losing his ability to distinguish the strike zone leading to more swings at bad pitches. If that's the case we should see more strikeouts in general and fewer walks and yep, that's what we see. Lowest walk rate since 2011. Highest K rate since 2010. He was also fed more off-speed stuff last year meaning the other teams know this is a weakness.

So what exactly are you saying?

Given his age (34 in July) I guess I'm saying I wouldn't be surprised if Lind was free-falling.

Can we end this on some good news?

Sure. There's no telling what is actually happening with Lind. I don't give him much better odds than Robinson to "be right". But if Lind is right he's going to hit well, and probably hit righties very well. If Robinson is right, well we don't know what he'll do.

Also Lind hit .293 / .388 / .448 in September

Anything else about Lind? 

There's apparently a "Teen Mom" dad with the same name. That's not him.  Here's an early interview with the one we care about from Toronto. 

If Lind is in, what happens to Clint?

Well, if the Nats are smart he gets shipped down to AAA. Sure he might have literally been the worst last year. But he was literally very good the year before. Which is the real Clint? I don't know. Something like just below average, seems to be most likely. So you keep him around because if injuries happen he's a quick fix.

If the Nats aren't smart, or more accurately have other thoughts in mind, they will trade Clint for some nothing prospect to save his half a million. This is what I'm watching for.  

Monday, February 13, 2017


Baseball thinks it has a time problem. It thinks it is too long and too boring. In response it's coming up with potentially new rules to speed the game along. But what is exactly going on? Is the game getting longer and are fewer things happening? Or are the powers that be overreacting to a popular belief that's taken hold? I'm going to ramble so understand that going in.

The first question, are the games getting longer, has an easy answer. They are. Here you go.  The average time for a nine-inning game is just at 3:00 hours. Of course that's just a data point. What we want to know is the trend and what we see is a general increase in time of game. The most appropriate starting point is probably the TV age (mid 1950s) and games there sat around two and a half hours long. This length was pretty stable until the 80s when the time would rise from 2:31 in 1979 to about 2:45 by 1986 and never go under 2:30 again. It rose up to 2:50+ by the strike year, but would fluctuate from 2:45-2:54 through 2011.  In 2012 it crossed 2:55 which it had only done once before - and hasn't gone back down yet.

OK so it's been going up - however there's two points to be made here.  The first is it's been going up since the 1980s.  If you are looking for a 2:30 hour game to come back you are looking for something that is now over 30 years in the past. Second, it's gone up but is three hours fundamentally different than the low 2:50s of the steroid era?  Is a 6% difference or so that noticeable?

My guess is no, it isn't, at least not by itself.  But when coupled with the second issue - the idea that fewer things happening - the games as a whole feel different.*

Well are fewer things happening? Yes! Now by "fewer things happening" we mean that there are fewer balls in play. Home runs are fun but just involve watching one guy round the bases. Strikeouts can be fun, but again, no action is taking place on the field. Walks aren't fun. It's the increase of the three of these that has caused a drop in balls in play.

Here's a graph for you to see it through 2013. The issue has only grown since then and we're down to just about 2/3rds of all plate appearances ending up with a ball in play.

The thing is, for the most part this isn't driven by walks or home runs. Let's think about this mathematically for a second. PAs have been pretty steady (you can check it out here). It's been 38-39 batters a game since the dead ball era came to an end, with a brief dip here and there to 37-38. HRs are up but only to 1.0-1.2 per nine innings in the steroid era. Over the course of a season that matters, in any given game not so much. In comparison to the 0.7-0.9 range between strikes you are talking an extra HR every 4th game or so.

As for walks, they have actually been down since 2010, sitting in the 2.9-3.1 range in stark contract to the 3.3-3.5 that was in place from 2001-2010, and the brief run of 3.5-3.8 from the 94 strike to 2000.  Around 3.0 compares favorably with historic walk rates.  The six year average for walks per nine is the lowest since the lowering of the mound in 1969.

So it's not walks and it's barely home runs effecting the balls in play. Is it really all just strike outs?  Yep. Last year was the highest ever for K/9 at 8.1. Second highest was 2015, third highest 2014, fourth....well you get the point. Since 2007 each successive year has seen more strikeouts than the last.You can see a steady raise from around 1950 (under 4 K per game) to getting to about 6 a game in the late 60s. The 1969 changes took place and then it dropped back down under 5 until the 80s and it's been rising ever since. But the change recently has been crazy. A decade a ago you saw a one and a half fewer strikeouts a game than last year. It was in about 25 years before that where you saw the same rise.

This is telling. It's not just the rise in K's that's the issue, it's the speed in which that rise has taken place. Now baseball will try to change this by changing the strike zone. It's a brute force method of effecting change. Smaller strike zone leads to more balls thrown near where the batter can hit it well which leads to more swings that make contact which leads to more balls in play. This may or may not play out however.

Baseball has changed the strike zone five times before. In 1950 and 1969 they explicitly shrunk the strike zone. In 1963 and 1996 they explicitly increased it. In 1988 they by definition shrunk it with the hopes that they would effectively increase it**. Let's ignore that last one for these purposes. All we are looking for is simple patterns. Did similar changes create the same effects at the plate? The answer is sort of. Officially increasing the strike zone seemed to have the effects wanted. Strikeouts went up. Walks went down. But decreasing the strike zone had mixed results. If you are looking at decreasing strikeouts, which is the current goal, the 1950 change was not effective, the 1969 change was. But the 1969 change comes with a big caveat. They lowered the mounds as well. (plus there was an expansion which may have mattered but didn't seem to other times) So decreasing strikeouts by changing the zone is not assured. Plus as we noted there has been a huge change in Ks in the past 10 years with no effective change in the strike zone.

What does this really tell us? Well things like K's , BB's and HRs are subject to cultural baseball trends. That's the driver. The strike zone can fight that, but can't beat that. We have seen the general de-emphasization of contact. It is better to swing hard and miss than swing light and make contact.

How can you tell? Take a look at 2-strikes splits. The batting average for these PAs is down to .176. Lowest since we have split records (1988). Much like with K's the lowest numbers are all recent - in this case since 2010 on. (And you do have to remember that offense was much different in 1989 than today so their .182 with a .254 league average is worse than 2009's .186 with a .262 league average.) At the same time though the isoSLG is reasonable, better this year than last, better last than in 2014. Swing hard - get the big hit, don't worry about the K.

Is this for the best? It's hard to say. It's certainly not better in producing good at bats in a vacuum.  2016 was the worst year in hitting with two strikes in comparison to hitting in other situations. But it's not about vacuum hitting, it's about scoring runs. It seems to be an improvement in runs scored over say 2014 but not over 2010-2012. In fact it's much worse at runs per plate appearance than the early 2000s or post-strike 90s. But this isn't all - you have to consider how that approach effects the approach coming into the at bat. How easy is it to be all or nothing until two strikes than change things up? It'll take a lot more digging.

Anyway getting back to my point I guess. Baseball wants to put more balls in play because it feels it has an action problem. The slow growing length of games combined with the rapidly growing number of strikeouts has cemented this idea in people's heads over the past decade. To "fix" it they want to change the strike zone. Historically that approach has found mixed results so I think that it won't have as much impact as they think it will. Instead it has to attack the mindset that saysthat strikeouts are ok. A better way to do that may be focusing analysis on the two-strike outcomes where it isn't clear that an all-or-nothing approach, which works well early in the at bat, is the most effective one.

Years of baseball told us at two strikes we should choke-up and focus on putting the ball in play. A lot of statistical findings have come to find out "Hey, what was proven over years was in fact ground in reality". This might be another one.***

*Why have games been longer since the 80s? Lots of potential reasons. Right now we'll just accept that and move on 

** how does that work? Baseball felt that umpires had settled on a top of the strike zone much lower than the defined line because the defined line (armpit) was felt as being far too high. They didn't have confidence that telling ump to call old line would work so by setting a line a little bit lower than that, and pressuring umps, they hoped to get umps to raise the strike zone to that new line.

*** but it might not! I'm rambling here and this needs a lot more attention than I've given it. But it's worth a deeper look.

Wednesday, February 08, 2017

Enny which way but (still) lose

The Nats picked up Enny Romero. "Who?", you might ask. Indeed it's what I said remembering the name vaguely from some late season Yankee games but the pitcher leaving no impression.  Turns out there is a reason. Enny is a last man in the pen type in there for a strikeout, but incapable of providing assurances that he'll get that, averaging 5.0 BB/9 in the majors, 4.4 in the minors. Usually this type of pitcher gets a chance because he is also unhittable. There's the thought - if only we can reign him in, he'll be valuable. Enny isn't that, however, for the most part becoming much more hittable when he manages to drop his BB-rate. If he were say 22/23, you might give him a go because of the live arm. At 26 Enny is on his last shot. A new location, a new league may help, but the chances are slim.

Why even make such a deal? Well the Rays were motivated to move Enny to clear up room. They'd probably have to waive him and why not get something, even when something is really nothing. (Hi Jeffrey Rosa! - old for his league with no control but that unhittable type I mentioned before - at 22 this year worth a conversion to reliever attempt. If you're worried "his league" is Rookie. This isn't a player that registers at all on even the deepest team prospect lists.) The Nats have room to spare (still have a roster space open). I have a sneaking suspicion that this started out as Colome deal talk and ended up here but regardless the Nats have added another nothing player when they need something. No new harm. No new foul. But same old ones persist.

Two weeks later how does Passan's All Unemployed Team look?

Gone outside the pen are - Moss (KC), Coughlan (PHI), Napoli (TEX), Descalso (ARI), Carter (NYY), Hammel (KC)

If you were looking for a Clint/Zimm back up Kelly Johnson is the best fit. You could make a case for Pedro Alvarez who would make an interesting platoon with Zimm, but in no way could he play the OF (it's arguable he can't play first) so you'd lose that flexibility.

Gone in the pen are - Logan (CLE), Romo (LAD), Blevins (NYM), Belisle (MIN), and Smith (TOR).

Basically that leaves Joe Blanton  and David Hernandez. Hernandez lacks control and is hittable BUT if you think he is trending the right way since TJ you might take a flier (splits don't suggest that though - pretty wild and hittable all year).  Blanton is good, but he has to know his position as the best available option and is holding out for some cash or contract he will eventually get.  Outside of this the best out there might be JP Howell who is a fair inning filler who could drift into very good because he's killing lefties, or just a LOOGY. A useful arm, which the Nats do need, but not likely to be an impactful one, which the Nats need more.