Nationals Baseball: Lucky or Unlucky - 2011 version

Tuesday, October 04, 2011

Lucky or Unlucky - 2011 version

As I talked about last year, seasons are usually made or broken by things you didn't plan for.  Players either suprpassing expectations or falling well below them.  Taking a look at if your team had more "luck" when it comes to these things can be one more piece to figure out where to set expectations for next year.   Ok you can just use the pythagorean record*, that pretty much does the same thing, but I like to take it a bit deeper.

*If you must know - based on the Nats runs scored and runs allowed the Nats were "expected" to win 78 games. Their adjusted standings (at Baseball Prospectus), which tries to adjust even further for the level of competition faced and take out things like the randomness of clutch hitting, pegs  the Nats at around 79 wins. So they seemed to be right on target in 2011.

Bench was terrible. CF was a huge mess. Pudge couldn't hit. Espinosa and Ramos held their own in year 1. Ian Desmond struggled for relevance at the plate. Lannan, Livan, Marquis, Gorzelanny all pitched as expected. Stockpiled bullpen arms were good. Strasburg good upon return.

Mike Morse - While you might have pegged Morse as a big contributer to the Nats in 2011, nothing about the previous three years screamed .300 30 HR hitter. (.303 and 31 to be precise). The Nats really lucked out here when you think about it, because a healthy LaRoche could have very well regulated Morse to part time duty for a good part of the season.

Clippard - Clippard is a very good relief pitcher, but dominant seasons like he had this year don't come around often.  Just look at last year.  The ERA leaders (70 IP) were Brian Wilson (1.81), Tim Stauffer (1.85), Heath Bell (1.93), Daniel Bard (1.93), and Jonny Venters (1.95).   This year their ERAs were 3.11, 3.73, 2.44, 3.33, and 1.84, in a year when offense continued to decline.  Clippard will still be good going foward but this is a lightning in a bottle year.

Zimmermann - Jordan came back from injury and pitched better than he ever had before sporting a 3.18 ERA and 124 ks in 161 IP. Watching ZNN in 2009 there was certainly a feeling he could be this good, but he could be a tiny bit wild and was homer happy leading to an ERA in the mid 4.00s.  Improvement to say a 4.00 ERA in an injury return year would have been great. To do this well in 2011 was well beyond anything that Nats fans could have hoped for.

The results from Detwiler, Milone, Peacock - Generally when you bring up young pitchers, they struggle, especially if they aren't the "can't miss" Strasburgs of the world. Milone (3.81 ERA), Detwiler (3.00 ERA), and Peacock (0.75 ERA) seemed to do fine.  Scrape the surface of the fancy stats, though, and you'll see that they should have given up more runs than they did, (for example - Peacock allowed 13 base runners in 12 innings, didn't K people like you think he would - only 4 - and gave up a ton of fly balls. His xFIP was 6.27. Yet he only gave up 1 run. This is called "pushing it")

Rotation health - every pitcher the Nats had this year gave them pretty much every start you'd expect.  Lannan 33, Livan 29 then shut down for youth at year's end, ZNN 26 then shut down innings limit, Marquis 20 then traded.  Starter health goes a LONG way toward team success.

LaRoche goes down - The Nats brought in damaged goods.  The good-field, good enough hit Laroche only squeaked out a quarter season of awful baseball before going under the knife. It didn't end up killing the Nats thanks to Morse, but the typical Laroche year is better than what Nix put out last year. They definitely lost something at the plate (not to mention the field)

Zimmerman's missing time - Ryan Zimmerman is a key player for the Nats.  He can't miss a lot of time without it hurting the team.  He missed 60 games this year. 

Werth crash - Despite the fact we all know he was overpaid, no one could have predicted it would have gotten this bad, this quickly.  The guy hit .282 / .380 /. 506 the past 4 years. Even for those that "knew it was coming" because he only hit great in Philly, his away numbers in 2010 were .266 / .371 / .457 and that was the worst year he had on the road in the past 4.  .232 / .330 / .389?   That came out of nowhere.

What does this mean? Most likely the pitching could suffer a bit while the hitting bounces back, but there's a lot of caveats here.  For the pitching, there should be an injury concern and whichever of D/M/P makes the rotation could struggle.  But it's not this years rotation that this is happening to, it's 2012's, the one that includes Strasburg. And while Zimmermann's 2011 might have been lucky, a repeat in 2012 wouldn't be. As long as that injury doesn't happen to Strasburg or ZNN the rotation should be in about as good shape as this year and could be better even with less luck. Bullpens tend to have off years and great years, so that's a crap shoot but at a base level I'd expect them to be at least average tilting better.

For the hitting you'd expect a bounce back from off-years and injuries to key players but it could swing wildly. Think about this - Morse hits .275 with 23 homers, Werth has another off year, Zimm get injured, Espinosa and Ramos both regress a little, LaRoche is no good anymore. Anything unexpected or unlucky here? No, and the hitting would collapse to about worst in the league.  Now think about this - Morse hits .290 and 28 homers, Werth bounces back, Zimm plays 150 games, Espinosa and Ramos both improve a litte, LaRoche comes back as gives a decent year? Again, nothing unexpected or out of the world lucky here, but now your looking at an offense that's... well it's middle of the road to top third, but that's a big improvement.

Twist my arm and I'll repeat what I said - pitching will suffer a bit while hitting bounces back - but that's not a strong bet to make.  THe pitching part is based on the Nats having a near perfect year on the mound in 2011 avoiding bad luck, and the hitting is based on 6 key players all of whom who could have wildly divergent results in 2012 without anything surprising happen.  Better to wait to see what they do in the offseason and see if that clears things up any.


Wally said...

I agree with your assessment of 2011, although I feel like the D/M/P numbers are probably a little inflated because Davey protected them pretty strongly. At least M and P. Did Milone ever face a lineup 3 times in 1 game? But I probably disagree a little on the predictions for 2012.

Pitching - the addition of 160 innings of Stras should be more positive than you credit. If we assume no injuries - kind of a big assumption with him, but I don't see any other way to do it - his history suggests that they will be ace-like numbers. Not even JZimm gave that, and I am maybe his biggest fanboy. That would cover a fall off of spots 3-5 to some degree. Lannan has 3+ years of these numbers, so I think that it reasonable to assume it plays out the same. Now we are down to Livo, whose numbers should be beatable by the current staff, and 20 starts of Marquis to replace. Should be doable. I dunno, just feels like the odds of duplicating or even beating last year's SP numbers with a healthy Stras are pretty good. Without him, well, I just don't want to go there. If they can add a Danks or Oswalt, then I think the odds of beating last year are better than 50/50.

On offense, I am just not confident it bounces back as is. Zim playing 150 games at his usual levels, sure. Morse repeating his numbers? I probably take the under but it doesn't fall all the way to platoon guy. But still not sure where Espy levels off at. I am more confident in Ramos holding or improving his level. I don't have confidence in 2d half Desi showing up for a whole year. Laroche needs to show no rust, and CF needs a new body (or Beltran in RF, with Werth in CF would be nice). Any how, as is, I think it repeats this year's overall numbers.

Positively Half St. said...

I know that lucky/unlucky has to do with players on the team, but a discussion of lucky in 2011 can't fail to mention how lucky it was not keeping Adam Dunn. I don't know that such a spectacular fall can be explained solely by going to a new team.

One more lucky would have to be C-M Wang. The Nats need to sign him back in order to perhaps get value back for their patience. Was he the only starter with as many as 5 decisions with a winning record? No, I guess Marquis had that to, but I hope Wang can replace Marquis.

calindc said...

@ Positively Half St.

I looked it up. Annnnnd there's one other that "barely" met that criteria. Tommy Milone started 5 games and posted a 1-0 record.

Now that's nit-picking at it's finest.

I agree with keeping Wang. It's a low money risk and he's worked hard to make it back to the majors. I'm sure the Nats didn't keep him just to release him when he is starting to show his good stuff again.

Nattydread said...

As you said, to win in baseball you need to get lucky. I like the way Rizzo uses luck as a tool.

Bowden played his cards recklessly, bluffed and bet the house on players like Dmitri and that thug from Florida. When they panned, he has nothing.

Rizzo waits to play Strasberg as his strong hand, but invests in Wang as insurance. With luck, we'll have both of them next year. H-Rod for Willingham could turn the same way that Morse for Langerhans did. He was looking strong in the end of the year.

Getting rid of Dunn wasn't lucky, even in hindsight, it was smart.

For the Nats to really improve, they need to deal better with bats in the off-season than they did with Ankiel, Hairston, Cora & co. Laroche is headed the wrong way in his career and I bet on the under for his numbers.

Harper said...

Wally - Milone never got the full 3x but he always pitched to more than 2. +1, +7, +3, +6, +3 into the lineup the third time around.

My feeling on the pitching is that if luck turns the back end of the rotation could be an injury mess and the relief pitching could be mediocre. I agree that the top of the rotation should be killer though and that's almost enough in itself to guarantee good results.

Offense the same as last year? I can buy that. Of course I can pretty much buy anything.

1/2st>0 - I don't think it's luck about Dunn. Rizzo didn't want him. Sure it was fielding based but he didn't. Seeing how Dunn does next year is one thing I'm excited for. I won't go lucky for Wang either - not until we see if he can do it for a year and not a month.

calindc - We're all sure the Nats want him back. The question is is there someone else out there willing to spend a bunch more to grab him.

NattyD - Yeah Bowden never understood that luck is secondary to building a reliable core of good players. Couple that with a stingy management and you got a recipe for back to back sub 60 win seasons.

I'd give them some slack on the bench bats - it's not easy to put together a good bench. You have to overpay just for ok. No excuse for starting these guys though.

Anonymous said...

I can't see Morse hitting .290 and not having over 30 home runs. He hit 31 with the first two months wasted. He only hit a little higher than 290 anyway.