Nationals Baseball: March 2011

Thursday, March 31, 2011

Opening Day!

As Banks once said (Josh not Ernie) : "It's a terrible day for a ballgame. Let's play 5 innings and go home and have some hot chocolate"

Will it be a season where the Nats surprise? A step in the right direction? Or the same old, same old? I'm at least excited about this year as opposed to previous ones. There's only one aging and bad player starting (hey pudge!) on offense and any dislike of seeing Pudge out there will be mitigated by seeing Ramos play more and more. In fact three young guys (Ramos, Desmond, Espinosa) should get a ton of playing time. Morse, while probably no better than Willingham, has the air of mystery on his side. Werth, Zimm, and LaRoche should do what they do. Really only CF sits out there as a stinker of a position, but hey it's the Nats. It's their heritage. (really though - Hairston in an OF platoon? I mean... like... seriously? Tomorrow is April Fool's right?)

The pitching staff is less interesting to watch. Really it's a "how good is ZNN going to be" situation but the rest should be decent and I would name my first son Gorzelanny if he could hold down the 5th position (no I wouldn't) and not subject us to the Martin, Atilano, Mock, etc. AAA Revue. I guess closer is of interest too but whatever. It's relievers. It'll work itself out one way or another as people stress way too much about at bats of random importance that happen to take place in the 9th inning.

As all bloggers, columnists, beat guys, etc. do, it's time for me to make my win total prediction. I'll go with 79 wins. This would fall in the "step in the right direction" category, but the inability to get to 80 wins would be a nice psychological barrier between believing the season was a success or a failure. Your guesses?

Some other crazy predictions that are sure to be wrong:
  • I'll go with Lannan being the best pitcher in the rotation. Livan worst.
  • I think I've convinced myself that Desmond won't be starting at short all year long.
  • Ankiel will have most starts in center, but he won't get to 81 games there.
  • Storen will stick as closer. H-Rod won't pitch in the majors until September call-ups.
  • Over/Under on Wang + Maya starts for the Nationals at 4. Who wants the over?
  • "Team Leader" Pudge, the super veteran / professional becomes an unhappy distraction as he loses playing time to Ramos.
  • I'll go with the Marlins crashing below the Nationals and the Braves to take the division as the Phillies offense implodes with the combination of Utely's injury, Howard's aging, and Rollins being only sometimes good anyway. Take that Cliff Lee - you big jerk

Guess the Rotation

The rotation ended up as Livan, Lannan, ZNN, Marquis, and Gorzelannnnnny. Obviously no one went 5 for 5, because of Strasburg but who won? A three way tie between Hoo, Cass, and me. Hooray me!

Hoo and I both had Lannan, ZNN and Marquis in the rotation. In fact we were the only two to have Lannan at all. Boo everyone for their Lannan hate. Cass had Zim, Marquis and Livan. Lots of Mayas and Wangs pushed everyone else to 2. Surprisingly - no one bombed out with 1 or 0. Considering we were making these guessing early last August - I say good job to all.

Guess the Nats LF

Morse took the lead early and ran away with it. Bdrube, cass, and Jack all had that scenario playing out. I give bdrube extra credit for calling the Morgan departure as well. (Unfortunately the Ankiel/Hairston platoon ruined his perfect record). There was a lot of Morse platoons, most with Ankiel who is a starter in a platoon so that's pretty close. You guys bought into Mike a lot earlier than I did. Only I was completely wrong as I had Bernadina in center (and if I let myself keep talking I would have had Morgan in center - probably Restovich in right the way I was going).

Monday, March 28, 2011

Nyjer Nyjer Burning Bright

The Nats traded Nyjer Morgan to the Brewers for a guy who's biggest claim to fame (positive or otherwise) is that his father was a good player for a couple of well-known teams full of jerks (oh, what? The 86 Mets are the 86 Mets, and as for the 93 Phils - nothing is worse than a legitimately good team pretending that they are getting by on pure scrap). Cutter Dykstra is a side note here - a mediocre minor leaguer who finally did some good at an age where you'd hope he'd being doing good two steps up (A+, then AA). Let's leave him be until the Nats trade him to the Rockies so he can be "Coors" Cutter and Coors can finally bring back their non-alcoholic beer (Cooooooooooooooors Cutter!).

No, this is just a Nyjer dump pure and simple. I'm disappointed. Look at Nyjer's stats and his 2010 stats scream "off-year" as much as his 2009 Nats stats screamed "fluke", too. His most likely year wasn't great but it was enough to warrant starting him at least for a couple more months before giving up on him. Was he a long term answer? No, at his age and with his skill set you might get 2-3 more years from him but last year was the FIRST YEAR in Nationals' history that they went into the season with possibly viable plan for CF. Dammit if they couldn't keep that going for a second year. (An Ankiel and Hairtston is not viable, for one - Hairston, for two Ankiel's last season's worth of NL stats aren't any better than Morgan's and he's older)

so yeah - disappointed. not that Morgan was great or anything. Just wanted them to commit to a plan for an appopriate amount of time - or at least if you give up on your plan make sure you have a decent alternative.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Hey I was brought up!

as smart even! (Well, I guess just smarter than Adam thinks he is. Let's assume he thinks he's a genius.)

At quick glance, I don't see anything really wrong with Adam's math. I guess he should use Ankiel's OBP against righties if he's making the platoon assumption but given the small percentage difference between that stat (about .315) and what Adam used (.298) and the small difference in at bats we're looking at (about what, a little more than 5%?) I don't think you'll see a difference of more than a couple outs, if that.

To be completely picky the question was:

How many outs will the Nationals save by Ankiel hitting sixth instead of second?

Assuming that they just moved Werth-Zimmerman-LaRoche-Morse up one spot each then you'd have to figure each ones increase in outs made (with more at bats) and then figure in that 25 saved by moving Ankiel. Off the top of my head I'd guess it'll probably be real minor change , maybe a couple outs for each one. So you're still probably looking at 15-20 outs saved by the move.

(I could also argue a better lineup means more plate appearances across the board - so that should be scaled up, but really what? 5 more at bats? 10? It's not going to matter)

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Batting second...

Jayson Werth? OK this is very interesting.

On one hand - this barely matters. As counter intuitive as it may seem the order of your lineup isn't as make or break as you would think it is. Even if you were an idiot and set the exact worst lineup out everyday, something like Pudge, Pitcher, etc. etc. it wouldn't kill your team. Oh you'll lose a few more games, but it wouldn't be like 20. It'd be more like 5, maybe 10. You might see a bigger difference because of luck in 1-run games. (I can point you to some analyses if you like - who doesn't love Markov Chains? Probably the people he locked up in them... ha! Where's my ALF picture?)

And that's comparing your worst lineup to your best. The normal lineup - scrappy fast guy, good BA no power, best hitter maybe, or else best hitter here (usually the guy with more power between the two), decent hitter with power, last guy you have with power left, dregs... - is only going to be a win or two different from the "best" lineup. There are a ton of things that can effect a season a game or two. In other words, what's been used for 100 or so years really is good enough.

On the other hand, you might as well get every win that you can and going with a strategy that puts your high OBP guys up first is a step toward optimizing runs. Werth is a high OBP guy and batting him 2nd is a ballsy move. A GOOD ballsy move. The Nats should get more runs out of it. Sure he might drive in fewer runs, but not that much fewer since some of that loss of people to drive in will be mitigated by the increase in at bats he should see. At the same time Werth should also SCORE more runs batting second. I don't love it, but I do like it.

Two things though:
(1) I wonder how long this will actually last. Generally new and different ideas in baseball only last as long as the team is successful and the Nats don't have the talent to be that successful. It's the culture. It's fine to fail with old ideas. Hundreds of teams have done it before. You're just one of us. But fail with something new, even if it should be better in the long run, you are screwed. Who do you think you are? You think you're smarter than John McGraw? That you're better than Stengel?

(2) What happens to Desmond? I've said before I think he needs to be in a position where he sees a lot of fastballs to succeed. If the Nats truly are concerned with OBP then he can't bat first so that puts him....6th protected by Ramos or Espinosa? I'm not putting money in Desmond futures if this is the case

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

We all know Oliver Perez HAS no future

Prove me wrong, Ollie. Prove me wrong.

Yay! Nonsense!

I almost posted yesterday that I wondered when the Nats' "brawl" with the Cardinals would get taken by some no-talent reporter as a sign of the Nats having toughness/scrappiness/redassness/true grit/black swan/ecksteinian power/etc. etc.

Man, I wish I would have posted that.

Oh Boswell, it was just 11 short months ago when you were proclaiming that LAST year's Nats were full of fight and vigor and crackerjacks and CheezIts. What happened?

I'll tell you what happened. They lost. A lot. And teams that lose a lot simply don't care. They don't have that fight in them, obviously. You must have been mistaken about that new spirit. You shut up and never mention again how you thought that year's team had a different attitude. Then you bring up the same argument again the next season and again and again ad infinitum until the team wins. Then you talk about how you KNEW this year's team seemed to have a different attitude. Calvin would be proud. Not this one. This one.

I'm not even going to bother to rehash the whole column here. It's just a bunch of macho quotes that sound tough and mean nothing. The team philosophy version of "being in the best shape of their lives" columns. One paragraph though, does warrant a bit more discussion.

They will soon. In theory, there are now a dozen Nats, including old pros Pudge Rodriguez, Jason Marquis and Hernandez, who should be quick to tell ’em the correct way to play the ultimate game of detail. In baseball, pregame preparation and in-game concentration over six grueling months can separate teams of equivalent talent by a dozen games.
First - all the guys you named WERE ON THE TEAM LAST YEAR. If you are so sure they can make the team play better by uttering a few words about what they've learned facing the Ol' Hoss Hershiser or "White Whale" Hrbek then why didn't they do this LAST YEAR? And yes you brought in Werth and LaRoche... who take the place of Dunn and Willingham who have roughly the same experience.

Second the idea that preparation and concentration can make a dozen game difference actually makes sense... if one team is preparing and concentrating and the other team is just randomly showing up surprised that baseball is taking place that day. In reality all teams are preparing and concentrating. Some a little more than others, true. But to the point where two teams with .500 talent would find themselves winning 87 and 75 games respectively? I submit to you sir that that is utter nonsense. If teams are that far apart it's not the prepartion, it's not the concentration, it's the TALENT.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Odds revisted

I put up a post on odds the young players would go on to have standout careers the other day that generated some nice comments. Here are a few things I thought warranted a revist.

Mike Morse's odds were overrated. In my imaginary made up oddworld (we'll get to that later) Mike Morse sat only behind Danny Espinosa and Wilson Ramos in his chances to have a standout career. Pretty much everyone said I was overrating him because his age (29 tomorrow, somebody bake that man a cake!) made it very unlikely he could put together the length of career necessary. If you be a bit generous and count last year, to get a standout career Morse would still have to produce at a good to very good level until he's 34. That doesn't seem like too much but consider that we're talking about a guy yet to play a full season in the bigs, who may not be long for an outfield position, who is seen right now as a platoon player. It's asking a lot for him to string together 6 straight years of good play now. So you're right, I'm wrong. In my made-up odds he should probably be bumped back much closer to the back group. No higher than like 25 to 1, but possible lower.

Jordan Zimmermann's odds were too low. Ok well here I think we'll end up just disagreeing. As I noted, to come back from Tommy John surgery to the place you were before generally requires more than a year. So we have two things two consider - (1) Does last year count as a year? (2) Where was the place he was before?

(1) Personally I don't think so. Jordan pitched only 70 innings last year, more than half in the minors. That's about a third of a season. In it his K's were down (not terribly but still down) and he was giving up WAAY too many home runs. I think he's going to need this year to get back into his groove and it will be 2012 (his age 26 season) when he is back to normal.

(2) I called Jordan's opening season "average" but that was selling it short a little bit. As Commenter Wally pointed out - his WAR was 1.8 in 90 or so innings - extrapolating out to a whole season that's in the 3.5-4.0 range (he gets a bump up if you think he'll throw more than 200 innings). That's not a #1 but it's a solid #2. (We could run through his other stats if you like but the point would be the same) Personally I question assuming that he'll match that run - but I'll concede, it was better than "average".

In theory then he'll be back to being GOOD in 2012. Is his odds too low then considering he'd only need a run from 26-32? I'm going to say no IF ONLY because he's a pitcher with injury history. I just don't see 7 straight post-surgery injury free years. I took a look at pitchers with Tommy John surgery and outside of Tommy John himself, I didn't see anyone who pitched that many injury free years as a starter in a row. Maybe I missed someone but Chris Capuano made it 5 (before needing another one). Granted a lot of these are "In progress" but so far... That's where I make my odds. I'll stand by it.

My odds stink Commenter Brent noted that my odds seem WAY too low to him. Looking at similar players based on Baseball Refs similarity scores (something I did the other week to say Ryan is teh aweseomm!) it seems that a good number of players that compare to Desmond, for example, had standout careers. It would seem that Desmond would have maybe 3 to 1 odds at worst. My argument from the other day could knock him down a peg or two but 40 to 1? Crazy!

My first instinct (other than to agree - I just pulled these numbers out of the air) was to say you can't rely on simularity scores for these guys because there are so few numbers to go on, but having so few numbers is kind of the point of looking at these things in the first place. Since we can't use just a season of data to extrapolate on Desmond's career we have to use something else. There are only a certain number of players who played SS for a season at Desmond's age and hit like Desmond did. How they did at least is another piece of decent information for comparison.

What do these say (roughly - only looking at sort of recent players)

Detwiler: 2 in 4? If he became Al Leiter that would be great.
Desmond: Somewhere around 2 (julio franco, with stephen drew likely) in 7, 3 in 7 if you feel Orlando Cabrera was a standout and not a faker.
ZNN: 1 in 4 or so if you like Jamie Shields
Morse: Really no chance - a bunch of guys with maybe a couple good years.

The other guys had none listed. To really compare these players though we'd have to explore their minor league stats, development, and how they got their major league stats that compare, but that's more work.

Short of it is - my odds probably do stink. They probably are too low for the back end guys. I'd argue against Desmond being anywhere near 5 to 1 (tomorrow or Wed), but 40 to 1 is probably equally ridiculous.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Riggle it, just a little bit.

Jason Reid wrote his first piece on the Nats today saying how the Nats should give Riggleman a long term contract because, well, it isn't quite clear to me. Oh, he has reasons in there but the vibe that comes across is more of a "because" than a strongly argued position. Let go over the points

1) "In 237 games with the Nationals, Riggleman’s record is 102-135. In the 237 games before Riggleman led them, the Nationals were 82-155. That's progress."

He's right. That is progress. But 82-155 is TERRIBLE. It amounts to a 56 win season if measured out to 162 games. It's a record that if you pulled a guy from the stands during a game and said "Hey, you there! Manage this team." I'd give him a decent shot of improving. Plus it happens to coincide with a more concerted and well-planned effort to make the team decent then we've seen years. All in all if they didn't severely improve in the last 237 games we'd have to question whether Jim was in the right line of work. Let's not go crazy about Riggleman managing this squad to what amounts to a 70 win pace.

2) "Managers really earn their money directing bullpens when teams have weak rotations, and many Nationals starters lacked big league caliber stuff. Riggleman deftly handled the team’s relief corps, mixing and matching in one of the best performances I’ve seen from a manager."

Wow. That's high praise. I thought he did a decent job. He rightly realized early that Capps and Clippard were the only ones pitching well to start and he rode them hard. That might not be the best thing for a young team (If Clippard is as good this year I'll eat my hat. And by HAT I mean a Ham, Avacado, and Tomato sandwich), but then again it's not the worst (relievers are a dime a dozen). If Riggleman was so great at managing bullpens why did the 2009 Nats pen put up ERAs of 4.30 and 4.50 that June and July, then 5.07 and 5.42 in August and September when he came in?

Rizzo supplied Riggleman with decent arms, Riggleman used them correctly. There's reason to praise him here, I've seen managers that can't even do that, but best eva? I'm not going that far.

1) "It’s not hard to manage with essentially a one-year deal. It’s downright impossible"

This is really Reid's argument. It's too hard to make unpopular decisions like lineup changes and dropping guys from the rotation and maintain player support without a long term deal. That without stability players may stop listening to Riggleman because he won't be here next year. That may be true. Really, I would guess alot of "manager respect" rises and falls like "team chemistry", meaning players respect the manager when they feel the team is improving in wins and tune him out when they feel like they are losing more than they should, but I'll give that there is probably something to it.

Though Reid couldn't leave this effect, vague and hard to capture with hard evidence, just sitting there:

"Unless you’ve spent significant time in baseball clubhouses, it’s impossible to understand the dynamic that exists among managers, coaches and players — especially on bad teams."

That, my friends, is the "you never played the game" for journalists. A truth that matters, but one that shouldn't be used as a trump card. I'm not terribly bothered by it's use in this argument because the role of a manager is such a "squishy" thing. You're dealing with a lot of abstracts like "dealing with the media" and "motivating a clubhouse". It's hard to show any real effect when comparing most managers, but instinctually feels like there really should be one. But still, pulling out that line so early makes me wonder if every argument he makes might get pointed back to that one statement. Something to think about.

Oh Riggleman? I don't care. I think he can not mess things up, so if the Nats don't have a better option they are looking at then they might as well extend him. They could easily find someone worse.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011


The scare with Danny Espinosa yesterday ("Oh no!!1! He's frajile!!!" says Stupid Fan #1) highlights how fleeting major league success can be. One day you're a star to be, the next day you've been auf'd by an errant foul ball. (Yes, I made a Project Runway reference. It's my blog.) Chances of long-term success for any one player, even the best of them (see Strasburg, Steven) start slim and get slimmer.

Yet hope springs eternal for every young player and for every old baseball scribe. Which is why it's no surprise the Nats resident Spirit Squad leader Tom Boswell wrote this article the other day. In it he tries to be calm but you can sense the excitement in the overall theme. Surely one or two of Morse, Espinosa, ZNN, Detwiler, Desmond, Maya, Ramos, Bernadina, Storen, and Kimball will be a standout, right? Maybe even a star, right? Sure none of these are good bets but other teams get lucky, right?


Since there is so much hedging in the article it's hard to disagree with Boz. But really I guess it depends on what you mean as a "standout". A decent major leaguer for 3-4 years, that's not a standout to me. I'm thinking a good 7-10 year long career, with an outside shot at an all-star game in their best years. (think what Willingham will likely end with) I thought about it and put these odds on the 8 players listed above - ignoring the relievers because what do I care about relievers?

Totally unscientific, just based on opinion odds at being a standout player, from worst odds to best -

Bernadina : 100 to 1 : Not terribly old but not terribly good either. Like Morse he'll probably spend a lot of time being jerked around. Unlike Morse it's because he doesn't really do anything good enough to make teams not want to take a look at someone else. He's good enough to play everyday and not embarrass the team, at least for a few years, but nothing more than that.

Maya : 75 to 1 : Rizzo isn't a fool. He didn't push Maya too fast. He thought "hey the guy is 28 and been pitching for years. If he's not ready now, when will he be?" He wasn't. He is being asked to face the hardest competition in his life just when he's starting to lose his stuff. Could the Nats get a couple decent years out of him? Maybe. But that's not a standout is it?

Detwiler : 50 to 1 : Like Zimmerman in that he's already had an injury - and one harder to figure out. He probably doesn't need another year to recover, but he also hasn't impressed yet in the majors. He has control issues that need to be cleared up and his K:BB ratio in Spring is less impressive because players don't walk out of Florida. (the isoOBP in Spring is noticeably lower than during the regular season). Age 25 is generally when standouts round into form with a couple ok years in the books, not when they still are trying to figure things out. This pedigree as a batter would be more forgiving but pitchers have a much spottier track record.

Desmond : 40 to 1 : He's made the majors so that's going for him. On the other hand is that post from the other day.

ZNN : 10 to 1 : He's a great talent but he's 25 and already had serious arm issues. It'll take him more than last year to get back to form from TJ, and he's lost crucial time where he should have been learning to pitch with his best stuff. Still he should be good in the years that matter for the Nats. I'm not hopeful much beyond that - at least as a starter. Squeeze what you can get from those years.

Morse : 8 to 1 : He hit in the minors, he hit in the majors when given the chance. Thing is he's getting to the age where he'll start to decline. He's not the best fielder in a time where fielding is starting to be looked at more and more (possibly too much). He's got a reputation as "not a starter". I think he's got a few good years in him but most likely he'll be jerked around too much to have that lengthy career.

Espinosa : 5 to 1 : Yes, Boz I DO care that he strikes out. It means he has trouble making contact. But he supposedly fields well enough so that all he has to do is hit in the .250 range to have an extended career bopping 15-20 homers. That's harder than it sounds, especially for a guy that never hit for average in the minors, but given his age, it's not a crazy bet at all.

Ramos : 3 to 1 : He probably won't ever be a league leading hitter overall, but he's hit for average and some pop while being young for every level AND he did it while playing catcher. He should easily hurdle that low bar that is "offense for a catcher" into a nice long career.

Totally unscientific odds that none of them become a standout? Somewhere around 40%

(But if it makes you feel better if we were just looking at the 2012-2014 range I do like Morse and ZNN to be productive at some point during that time period. So the odds that none of these would be a standout during those years would be probably like 15%... or 3324% what do I know I'm just making this up)

Monday, March 14, 2011

Offensive Keyhole : Ian Desmond

Last year I introduced the idea of an "offensive keyhole". This was a player that fit 3 criteria
  1. will start the season or play a lot of games at a position
  2. have presented a projection that we believe in but could be wildly off for non-injury reasons.
  3. who's performance could significantly effect the performance of the team.
What makes this player different than an "offensive key" is that second point. An offensive key is someone that we don't feel sure how they will do. They may do very well and drive the team to success. They may do very poorly and drive the team to failure. An offensive keyhole is someone that we are pretty confident in how well they will do, but shouldn't be. This year I present to you Ian Desmond as the Nats offensive keyhole.

There aren't many other options. Zimmerman, Werth, and LaRoche all have a long enough track records that any performance other than the expected respective awesome, very good, and average would be a surprise. Morgan is a complete wild card after last years crash. Morse, Bernadina, Espinosa, and Ramos all don't have enough major league time for good evaluation. It falls to Desmond almost in default. If the Nats' spring wasn't filled with worrying about 4th/5th starters and two OF positions and the showing of the most heralded power prospect of this generation things might be different. Fans might be paying more attention to Ian rather than setting and forgetting him, but that is what's going on.

What ARE Nats fans expecting from Ian Desmond? I don't think it's too much. Last year he put up a line of .269 / .308 / .392. Projections have him in the .275 / .325 / .420 range - so a couple more hits, a couple more homers. Is that line crazy? . 275 and a mere 15 homers? It just may be.

Remember that Ian was moving up the minors at a snails pace before 2009. Often he was bumped up not because he forced the issue, but because it was necessary for his development not to linger too long in the low levels. He never had high averages. He never showed much interest in walking. His power came in bursts here or there. Since he always seemed to hang on at the higher level it didn't seem crazy that he'd make the majors, but it was getting more and more likely that it would be after age 25 in maybe a reserve role.

Then in 2009, Desmond "got it". He hit .300 with pop in 42 games in AA, .350 in 55 games in AAA. With SS manned by the offensive mediocrity of Cristian Guzman there was no reason to hold him back. But a closer look at 2009 shows some numbers that are disturbing. He had a batting average of balls in play of .371 in AA and .425 in AAA. Those are numbers that suggest luck as much as skill. One could argue that the AA performance was Ian finding his groove and crushing the ball all over the place. I wouldn't think so, but with those power numbers I think the argument could be made. Those AAA numbers though, that reeks of a lucky streak.

It does seem odd to argue that a player was "lucky" for what amounts to a season, but really it was <100 games. We've all seen players have a hot season up until the All-Star break then cool off. That's 90 games. I'm not saying I don't think Desmond improved, but I'm thinking he got better AND was really lucky.

Worse yet the major league numbers from last year show a player who may not have what it takes. Remember, Ian was this close to being sent down around the All-Star break last year before going on a tear. After that hot July and August, he finished the season by going .239 / .288 / .330 in September. His walk rate for the season was the lowest of qualified batters in the NL. His K-rate was up there where the sluggers swing and miss*. His LD% (rough percentage of hits that are line drives) was among the lowest in the league. These are all bad things.

*To give you an idea - the only guys around in K-rate to Desmond with less power were the two complete disasters of leadoff hitters (Michael Bourn and Nyjer) and a Petco guy Chase Headley. Other guys around him with maybe a bit more power - Garrett Jones, Dexter Fowler... these aren't the guys you want to be compared to.

Looking at how he was pitched - it is easy to see what happened. He got a TON less fastballs to hit (went from 77% of pitches thrown to him in his brief 2009 sting to 57% last year), and he swung at these off-speed pitches all the time (Swinging percentage of pitches out of the strike zone jumped from 25% to 33%). I suppose it could be something Desmond could learn to deal with but he was never forced to since being brought into the Nats system. He was pushed up despite being the hitter he is not because of it.

I'm glad Desmond is being batted 2nd because he isn't the type of hitter that can take being pitched around in the 8th hole, but it might in fact be a problem. It is quite possible that rather than Desmond prospering because he is batting 2nd ahead of a trio of good to great hitters, that instead it's the only thing propping him up. That in any other spot in the lineup Desmond would fail and fail hard.

Desmond is still most likely to hit his projections - that's what these things are for - and I was wrong last year (though only in a "worse than expected" way) so I could be wrong this year too. But I'd say there's a decent chance that Nats fans who have not thought about Desmond because they were sure he'd be fine this year might be in for a nasty surprise.

Friday, March 11, 2011

How good can Ryan be?

When I wrote the Crash/Soar post I half-jokingly said that I hoped Ryan Zimmerman would be the "soar" because it would be great to cover the undisputed best player in baseball.* But could this actually happen? What does a cursory glance at history tell us?

*If you didn't know Ryan's offense & defense have combined to give him the 9th and 4th highest WARs the past two years. That gives you a general idea of how good an all-around player Ryan has been. Top 10 certainly, Top 5 arguably.

It's hard to guess how he'll do defensively in any single year so let's focus on offense. One way to guess how Ryan will do at the plate is to look at similar players. Baseball Reference makes this kind of easy by providing us with the "most similar" players to Ryan. If we look at his "contemporaries" on the similar batters through his current age, we see a pattern emerge. Eric Chavez's best year? When he was 26. Hank Blalock? 26. Sheffield's best 2-year stretch? 26-27. This is interesting because Ryan's age for the majority of next year will be... oh come on, you know... 26!.

We see this even if we look at similar batters regardless of age. Both Dave Nilsson and Garrett Atkins had their peak year at age 26. Not every player agrees, but there isn't much disagreement that Ryan should be better in the next few years. Scott Rolen peaked 28-29. Brad Hawpe at 28.

On the flip side Fernando Tatis and Jorge Cantu peaked earlier but I'm really having a hard time seeing them as similar batters. David Wright so far had his best year at 24 but it's a bit too early to say anything for sure about him. (He actually took a step back at 26, though many blame the move to a new park.)

This isn't anything surprising. It's well known that baseball players generally peak around 26-29 depending. Since Ryan entered the league so young, I'm not surprised he matches up with several players that peak on the early side of that range. (much harder to peak at 26 if you enter the league at 25) History would suggest we're in for a few great years of hitting from Ryan. If his defense holds (and if Pujols starts aging) - the Nats could have the best player in the majors.

A couple "bad news" notes though. First, while Ryan could like see improvement over the next 3 years or so, it's far more likely to be small to moderate, rather than a breakthrough. .310 with 30 homers, or .300 and 35 is probably what we're going to see, not .330 and 40. (although in any given year anything can happen right?). Second, Ryan is almost certainly not going to be a slam-dunk, shut-your-mouth, potentially unanimous first-ballot type of Hall of Famer. These guys almost all tend to show incredible offensive skills at very young ages. In other words, they almost all have had better offensive years than Ryan's best one so far, at ages younger than Ryan is now. Sorry. He could still be an ordinary, let-me-think about it, ok he's in on the second ballot type of Hall of Famer. (Not really "bad news", is it? That's why I used quotes people)

The Nats are far from a perfect team, but they have a player that very well could be the all-around best player in the league a couple times in the next few years. That's something special. Don't let it pass you by worrying about Strasburg and Bryce.

Wednesday, March 09, 2011

Look at them, they can't be, centerfield

The idea of a mess in centerfield must bring up the same sensations as coming home to a Nationals fan. From the team's inception, the land of Mantle and Mays has been a defining problem. They've played guys who could have been centerfielders at one point, just not when the Nats tried them (Wilkerson, Preston Wilson). They've played guys who would eventually be good enough, just not when the Nats tried them (Marlon Byrd). They've occasionally started guys better suited for 4th or 5th OF slots (Willie Harris). They occasionally treated like a 4th or 5th OF guys better suited to start (Ryan Church). They've started guys that they hoped would learn to hit (Nook Logan), and guys that they hoped would learn to field (Lastings Milledge).

Last year was supposed to be different though. Nyjer Morgan could certainly field and even if he would never hit again like he did in those last 50 games with the Nats in 2009, his career numbers suggested a guy that would at least be average. Now me being super s-m-r-t and all - I kind of felt Nats fans were getting ahead of themselves. Morgan's "career stats" were too limited to really draw any sort of conclusion from. I thought he could do worse than expected. Then he surprised everyone by being the worst offensive CF in baseball.

The Nats are back to square one now. No good options in center. They have three guys, in Bernadina, Ankiel, and Nix that COULD play center and COULD hit, but for none of the three is it their natural position. Any of the three could ending up failing both in the field and at the plate and it wouldn't be that much of a surprise. Which is why I'm for starting Nyjer Morgan in center. I feel pretty confident that despite the hiccups last year, he can play the position better than anyone on the Nats roster right now. If the Nats are really going defense first it would be silly to take arguably the 2nd most important defensive position and go with another "hope this works out" situation.

If the Nats were dealing with someone younger (I'm looking at you Corey Brown) or more offensively adept I'd probably be on the "No Morgan" bandwagon. But Ankiel is older, Nix is the same age, and Bernadina, the baby, still turns 27 in a few months. There isn't anyone aging into his prime here. As for offensively, yeah Morgan sucked last season (.253 / .319 / .314) but so did Bernadina (.246 / .307 / .384). Ankiel wasn't quite as bad (.232 / .321 / .389) but that's still not good and the year before he had the same average and slugging with a .285 OBP.

Defensively, there is even less in favor of switching from Morgan. All the fancy fielding stats (UZR, Total Zone, and Fielding WAR, if you must now) favor Nyjer over these two in admittedly a BAD year from him in the field. If you are pulling for Roger or Rick I have to ask, what exactly is your motivation?

(which brings up by omission the interesting point that Laynce Nix is the only one of the four that was good at the plate last year and didn't have a terrible season offensively in one of the past 2 years. He hasn't played enough CF in years to be a good judge of how well he'd do there now, but he was excellent in left for the Reds last year and unlike Bernadina and Ankiel, he hasn't proven he CAN'T play center at a high level. Which means OF COURSE he's only being considered for the spot as an emergency back-up. Let's be serious, this is still the Nats here.)

Morgan shouldn't have the leash he had last year. If he struggles mightily at the plate again, then he can be pulled and pulled pretty quickly. One year is an aberration, two is a pattern. But if he does struggle enough to get pulled, I won't care who plays the position after him. (Unless it's Corey Brown). Whoever it is it will almost certainly be just another chapter in the sorry CF mess the Nats suffer through year after year. The never ending curse of Inning-Endy Chavez.

Monday, March 07, 2011

When it's ok to look at Spring Training stats

Sort of.

Normally I speak out against the evils of looking at Spring Training performances. It's been proven time and again that they just don't correlate with how a player does during the regular season. Yet, there is one time when it's perfectly acceptable to me to use Spring Training statistics to make a decision: When you have no idea what to use.

When you have several guys with a mish-mash of experience, fighting over one spot, why not just use the Spring Training stats? There is no clear-cut favorite between Detwiler, Maya, and Gorzelanny (forget about Wang for now... in fact I'd forget about Wang period since he was always a pitcher who was skating on the edge because he put so many balls in play. Now he's the same thing, except 31 years old and coming back from a 2-year injury). The stats, in my mind, don't really favor anyone. Ideally we'd expect the team's coaches are looking at a guy's delivery and stuff and making a decision based on improvements and minute changes that we don't see reading box scores from hundreds of miles away. Maybe this is happening. In reality though, the guys that are doing great in Spring Training are, duh, almost certainly going to look the best, and coaches can't help but be influenced by these things.

Livan, Marquis, Lannan, ZNN should be set in stone, regardless of how well they fare in Spring. For that last spot though, it can be a battle of who pitches best in March. It'll probably work out just as well, and it's a lot more fun than who's delivery looks the strongest.

Friday, March 04, 2011

Me and Matt Chico off for the weekend

In case you had any Chico hopes, forget it. He's roster trimmings. (Martis too)

Out. Sees ya Monday.

Thursday, March 03, 2011

Don't. Just don't.

It's Spring Training. You know better.

No? You don't know better? You're out buying Maya jerseys as I type? Let's do the drill then.

Last year - who was 2nd in batting average for Spring Training for the Nats? That's right Alberto Gonzalez. 4th? Willie Harris. 5th? Desmond. 6th? Pudge. Most RBIs? Desmond. How did Adam Dunn do? .208 average, and NO homers.

Who had the best ERA? Aaron Thompson. With 10+ innings? John Lannan. Brian Bruney had a 3.60 ERA. Matt Capps had a 7.71 ERA.

We can do this for other years if it'll make you feel better. How a guy looks in Spring Training has almost no correlation to how he'll do that year.

As for Maya - may I also bring in another bit of context. It's often brought up how he pitched much better in the Winter Dominican League (1.32 ERA!) and earned their pitcher of the year award. Who led the Winter Dominican league in hitting? Hector Luna. A 31 year old AAA player who batted .138 in limited at-bats with the Marlins last year and who hasn't been startable since 2006. Homers? Brad Nelson. A 27 year old with 2 total major league extra base hits, rated the #23 prospect in America... in 2003, now entering his 5th season in AAA.

It's no different this time. Your ex-girlfriend will cheat on you again. Your deadbeat cousin won't pay you back. The politician you voted in won't shake things up. Guys you love in Spring Training will play at their talent level come the regular season.

Wednesday, March 02, 2011

Today's Sign of Sanity

David Eckstein - still a free agent.

Tuesday, March 01, 2011

Nationals Baseball Left Field Challenge!

Today the Nats are starting their "real" lineup (sorry Kevin Barker fans!). Other than Chris Marrero playing at first for a sore Adam LaRoche this looks like a lineup that the Nats could have on Opening Day.

1. Nyjer Morgan, CF
2. Ian Desmond, SS
3. Jayson Werth, RF
4. Ryan Zimmerman, 3B
5. Michael Morse, LF
6. Adam LaRoche, DH
7. Ivan Rodriguez, C
8. Danny Espinosa, 2B
9. Chris Marrero, 1B

There are a couple things of interest here.
  • Ian Desmond is batting 2nd, thank god. He took his most hacks last year at 2nd and at 8th and the differences were stark. 2nd : .326 / .359 / .489 8th : .254 / .304 / .388. He doesn't have to bat 2nd but he's not the type of patient hitter who can work with being pitched around in the 8th position. It's good to see the Nats realize that and not try to bat Pudge 2nd for example.
  • Werth 3rd and Zimmerman 4th looks funny, but I think I like it. Both get on base and hit, so really they are interchangeable, but historically Werth does better at taking the walk so putting him before Zimm makes sense. (for however much batting order matters)
  • Morse is 5th and LaRoche is 6th, but I just can't believe that Riggleman will go R-R-R-R-L 2 through 6. I'm thinking this is just a temporary thing and LaRoche will settle in at 5 once he's over his little soreness.
  • Pudge is 7th and Espinosa 8th. On one hand it makes sense. Espinosa can take a walk, Pudge can't. You need a patient hitter in front of the pitcher. On the other hand, Pudge should get as few at bats as possible.
The most intersting thing is that Mike Morse makes the "real" lineup and not Roger Bernadina. Which leads to the NATIONALS BASEBALL LEFT FIELD CHALLENGE! (Winner gets a 10% off coupon for Woolworth, also redeemable at Caldor) Who do YOU think is going to start in left field for the Nationals come opening day? It's ok to go with a platoon - but you'll only be right if it's called a platoon. "Johnny Baseball is our starter, but Jimmy Hitman will see some time too" is not a platoon. That's a starter and a backup.

Personally I'm going to go with Roger Bernadina to be named flat-out starter. Call me crazy but that's who I think the team wants in there and unless he stinks in Spring Training, I think that's where he'll be, even though Spring Training stats are meaningless. I think his leash might be short but he'll be there Opening Day.

(remember - we're waiting on the results from last year's Guess the Opening Day Rotation post. We're all wrong, because we all had Strasburg, but let's see who gets 4 of 5.)