Nationals Baseball: How much better?

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

How much better?

Zimm thinks the Nats can be a 63 win team. Despite my scoffing yesterday, Zimm is actually not much a gambler. A 63 win season for the Nats is not all that much of a stretch. Despite the 59 wins last year (and what feels like every year since the first one in DC), the team was in fact closer to a 66 win team. Or at least that's what the run totals would have you believe. They're usually pretty honest, embarrassingly so when they're drunk.

The Nats are supposedly even better this year (yes even better than maybe 66 wins!) but how much better? A real rough way to tell is to figure out how many more runs they might score this year and how many less they'll give up. To do the former I'm going to look at the Runs Created stat. Is this rough? Sure. Is it useful? I think so.

Offensively the Nats really have only changed three positions so we're going to focus on those. I'm going to go ahead and assume stability in the other positions offensively. There was nothing too out of the ordinary from those guys. Feel free to argue if you like, I can't hear you.

The Nats added Pudge behind the plate, they got rid of the mess at second base (without yet solving it) and they are planning on a full year of Nyjer Morgan. But "Harper!" you say - "What about Milledge and Kearns? They sucked!" True, but they didn't really play all that much (7 games for Milledge, remember?) and frankly I don't see say, Chris Duncan, being some sort of super sub. I'm going to ignore this too, feel free to toss in a couple runs at the end if it makes you feel better.

Nats RC 2009 - 60

It's not apparent if you don't know but 60 runs created is pretty bad. Thing is as bad as Bard/Nieves was, Pudge could be worse. Pudge had a RC of 38.2 last season in 121 games. If Pudge played in 162 games he would have only created around 51 runs last year. That's embarrassing. He could bounce back, 2007 and 2008 were both noticeably better, but the man is 38 years old. There is no baseball renaissance for 38 year olds who don't throw a knuckleball. He's BAD offensively. He's likely to get worse.

Ok you say - but what about Flores? Well the way I see it, you only bring in Pudge for 2 years, 6 mill if (1) you don't believe in Flores and you plan to play Pudge a lot, or (2) you are worried about Jesus coming back from injury... and you plan to play Pudge a lot. In other words, Pudge is going to play. A lot. More than half the season. Now Flores could have a decent half season or so even coming off of injury, but let's remember the awful 60 RC by last year's catchers included an awesome 30 games of Jesus. An awesomeness he's likely to not repeat.

Given my back of the envelope math, I figure unless Flores comes back to play at least half the season AND plays at the high level we saw for the fifth of the season last year, the Nats' catchers are going to come real close to putting out 60 RC next year. So no improvement here.

Middle Infield
Nats RC (2B) - 62

This is actually even worse than the catcher's RC because there are more decent offensive 2nd basemen in the league than catchers. The Nats are going to go in a completely different direction in 2010, which hopefully will include a free agent signing, but for now we have to go on what the Nats have on hand. That's Ian Desmond.

Desmond had a real nice 20 game audition for the Nats last year, but that's not uncommon. The question about Desmond is do you believe 2009, in which Desmond hit much better than he ever had before, or do you believe... well everything he had done before? The projections have Desmond floating from pretty good to just hanging on. I'll be conservative and pencil him in for about 62 RC himself. Desmond won't be playing every game so the RC for the position is going to be higher than that... but not much. Let's say 75 RC. That's still below the average 2B and still an ok improvement for the Nats.

Nats RC - 101

Now the big one right? The big improvement the Nats will see by playing their new star Nyjer Morgan everyday. Tony Plush coming to save the day! It's going to be great! It's going to be super! It's going to be nonexistant! Wait.. what?

Well to understand my position you really have to understand two things; (1) 30% of 2009 was Nyjer Morgan playing like the best player in the league. This is very unlikely to happen again. (2) Over 40% of 2009 was Willie Harris playing quite decently.

Morgan should be decent probably putting in (in my estimation) around 80 RC+ for say 140 games by himself. This is actually a bit better than the average projection but hey I can optimistic sometimes. This translates, with the assumed below average back-ups to a little above an average season for the Nats CFs. However, last year the Nats were already a little bit above average in CF (offensively....) I like Morgan, but because of his near complete lack of power he'd need to hit.330+ again for the season to make a noticeable improvement to the position. I don't see it happening. No improvement.

OK so what do the changes so far amount to? Nothing . Ok, not nothing, but only about 10 more runs. They'll get a little better in the MI, but they won't get better in CF because they already had a pretty good offensive season last year, and they won't get better at C, because their catchers are either injured or too old to hit the ball anymore. If you're bullish on Flores you might be able to throw in 10 more. If you want to assume all of Kearns' awfulness is replaced by Willie Harris decency maybe toss in a few more runs but you are talking about 3-4 wins better at most because of an improved offense, and that's a stretch. Most likely I see the Nats only getting better at the margins, maybe gaining a win here. A 67 win team.

What if Orlando Hudson is signed? That'll make a big difference. He should generate 80RC or so for the season. With the general other game performance by random bench player thrown in there... I'd go over 90 for the MI spot. That would be a 30 run improvement all by himself. A sure 3 wins better or so. That may not seem like much but if Desmond plays instead of Guzman (or I guess if Guzman bounces back.... ha!) you could get a 45 run improvement from last year enough to get the team around 4 more wins.

Right now, unless the Nats see some surprises from their returning players, they aren't likely to improve much offensively. Hudson would help a bunch. Without him, barely anything would change. That doesn't mean that the Nats won't improve though. The pitching changes will see to that. We'll see about those tomorrow.

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