Nationals Baseball: Mailbag Friday*

Friday, October 19, 2012

Mailbag Friday*

From now on the Mailbag will be on Mondays. Or maybe Tuesdays... we'll see how it shakes out, but definitely not Fridays.  Turns out that people actually read this blog so I got more than the 2-3 questions I expected.  Which is great! Except looking through them and responding by Friday is a bit daunting when you have a job and family and stuff. Monday works better because that gives me the whole weekend to get this done.

But still a promise is a promise and elephants never forget or something like that. So I will answer a couple questions today. The most common questions had to do with the Edwin Jackson/5th starter situation and either LaRoche or Morse, which in my mind are inexorably linked. A lot of good points were brought up but I'm going to try to address them in single posts.

What to do with.... Danny Espinosa? (Rob Evans, Evan Slagle, David Leyva, Chaz R, Keith Watts, and Rea Hederman)

So alot of people seem to be worried about Danny Espinosa. I know why, but I also don't. Let me explain that second part. You see Danny's offense was not terrible. He ranked 14th in qualified 2nd basemen in OPS which basically makes him league average. If that were his only attribute than sure maybe you try to replace him (though finding decent 2nd basemen isn't easy), but Danny does everything else well.  On the basepaths he's a plus, stealing 20 bases to only 6 caught, and having a rather high "speed" score, top 10 for 2nd basemen. In the field he is one of the better 2nd basemen in the majors, using fantastic range to cover the right side of the field. Top 5 type for 2nd basemen. The total package makes him one of the top 10 best 2nd basemen in the league (I could say higher based on his WAR but let's leave it as Top 10).  If having a Top 10 2nd baseman is a problem, then I don't want to be... without... a problem?

Anyway I do understand though why people worry about his production.  

His first and last impressions were bad.  It's pretty standard thinking that you remember the first and last things a person does.  Danny's first month was terrible (.205 /.300 / .269).  His postseason was worse (.067 / .176 / .067). People thought he stunk, carried it through the year, then saw it validated at the end

His comparative peer was awesome.  It's only natural to compare players in similar situations.  See : Bryce Harper and Mike Trout. You compare young middle infielders to other young middle infielders. Turns out there is one just across second and he's making Danny look bad. Last year Ian Desmond's .253 / .298 / .358 line was terrible and in comparison Espinosa's .236 / .323 / .414 looked ok. This year Desmond broke out and hit .292 / .335 / .511.  Danny's line of .247 / .315 / .402 wasn't too far off what he did the year before but now the bar has moved way up.

The guy behind him had a much higher average and struck out a lot less.  We can talk about Steve Lombardozzi vs Espinosa until... well not very long.  Danny is better (walks more, hits for way more power, fields better, is probably a better baserunner). BUT let's admit it, even though we've all grown to understand some of what matters and what doesn't in statistics, we still gravitate first toward the classics. Batting Average.  Strikeouts. Espinosa hit .247 this year. Lombardozzi hit .273 and was at .280 as late as mid September.  Espy struck out like every 4th at bat. Steve every 9th.

He did get worse compared to last year and he was the worst regular hitter on the team. It's not like Danny haters are completely crazy.  He didn't get much worse but if you want improvement and you get regression that leaves a bad impression.  At the same time if the offense fails like it did in the playoffs it's only natural to look to see what you can improve. Granted he was the worst mainly because the Nats had no holes, but that doesn't mean he wasn't still the worst.

So what to do with Danny? Nothing really, certainly not for next year in my opinion. He's a quality player who is cheap. You don't need an All-Star at every position. 

Will Danny ever be something more? It's doubtful he'll be a great player. Outside a brief AAA stint he was a .260 hitter in the minors which makes it hard to project something much better than what we've seen so far. The power should come back though. It was consistent in the minors, it was decent last year. I'd expect this year was an aberration. I think he could be a patient player but this isn't the team for him to do it on. (in fact you could say the team's penchant for aggressiveness works against Danny's strengths) Still, I wouldn't give up the dream just yet. Ian Desmond's progression gives us hope. He had a similar minor league situation. Nothing special until a short AAA burst. A couple of ok (if that) years and then break out at age 26.  Danny will be 26 next year. With no FAs sitting out there (unless the Yankees for some reason don't exercise their option on Cano), and little in the minors until Rendon proves himself, sticking it out with Espinosa is the obvious answer.

Do teams hit worse in the playoffs? (Paul Andre Wilton)

Yes, in general. I looked at the last 10 years of playoff stats in comparion to regular season stats and the drops on average were 21 pts in batting average, 18 points in OBP, and 34 points in slugging.  Only 2010 saw any reasonable increase, where the slugging went up by 23 points. Other than that, any increase could have well been noise and there were plenty of legit decreases.

Why? Well the playoffs are only the best teams so you'll only get the best pitching. Ah, you say but don't you also get the best hitting too? Yep. But the pitching is even more concentrated.  Fifth starters are gone. Fourth starters might not get their chances either. Middle relievers that aren't any good just aren't used as you ride your best arms night after night. You don't get that type of concentration in hitting. You can't just lop off your 8th and 9th hitters. True you don't use your worst pinch hitters but you don't normally use the last PH off your bench like you may use the last man in the pen during the regular season either.

Is it odd for a single team them to have a post-season OPS well under .700, (the Nats had a .685 this year) when that is only for the worst teams during the season? Not at all. Plenty of examples.  In 2010 EVERY NL team hit worse than the Nats this year. The Reds got 11 hits in 3 games.

Slumps are going to be magnified in the playoffs because you aren't going to get that bad pitcher to get a couple of good swings against. It's nothing but good pitcher after good pitcher and what might have been a 4-20 slump in the regular season becomes a 2-20 one in the postseason.

Don't you hate pants? Asking for a friend (Rocket1124)

Actually I love pants. I love jeans in particular (regular fit), but dress slacks and khakis have places in my heart as well. I think a short sleeved shirt and pants are the perfect outfit from 50 degrees to 90 degrees. Here's a hint for you shorts wearers - no one wants to see your legs. No one. Shorts are for sports, swimming, and when you run out of pants. "Fun" fact : I pronounced khakis "cockies" until I was out of college. Never heard the word before college and assumed that's how you said it. I mean come on, look at that word and tell me "cocky" doesn't make more sense than "caaky"

Ok so I will definitely answer the "first pitch" question you posed Matt on Monday.  Was going to today but thought of something else I wanted to look at, plus quick looks at a couple others and definitely posts on EJax, Morse and LaRoche coming up in the next couple weeks.


Brian said...

I believe some of the angst surrounding Espinosa is based on the fact that he is another free swinger at a position where you typically don't see the free swingers predominate (and further highlighted since his double play partner is also a free swinger)

They lack a prototypical leadoff hitter because of this since Harper swings and misses a lot as well meaning you don't have that lead-off guy from the three positions you typically expect to find one (CF, SS and 2B).

Donald said...

What's encouraging about next year is that there are a number of players on the team who I'd expect to improve over this year. Harper should be better and getting Ramos back should be a help at catcher. If Zimm and Morse stay healthy, they will be better too. Strasburg will be better. Other than LaRoche (and maybe Desmond), there weren't a lot of career years that will likely revert to the mean, were there?

Aside from an injury, is there any way that this team isn't even better next year?

Wally said...

I agree that Danny is good, cheap and can play SS. It is an easy answer to me to throw him back out there. Although that combination should be a powerful trade chip, and if he could be the centerpiece to one more above average SP with several years of control, then I'd have to think hard about it, since the fall off to Lombo could be manageable.

Sec314 said...

What's your problem with shorts? Have you ever sat in 90 plus degree heat at a baseball game in pants? Not an enjoyable experience.

I agree with Brian, a light hitting 2B with some bat control is way different than a guy who swings (badly) for the fences and strikes out a lot. Even so, having been proved wrong about Desmond, I'm willing to give Espinosa another season to develop... but if Rendon can play Second Base and continues to hit, this could be a more interesting problem.

Harper said...

Brian - yeah, we have our predispositions. Which is why it's hard to get behind a soft-tossing closer or a DH who (somehow) an OBP and SB machine.

Slowly we're learning good is better than prototypical but it's a process.

Donald - Sure, the main reason is that sometimes players just have bad years for non-injury reasons. Then there'e the 5th starter thing and what they end up doing with first. Outside of that things that could MAY be be expected to regress Moore, Tracy, Suzuki, Morse (we could argue), Werth (though he should play more which would even it out). It's possible.

Wally - The trade idea isn't a bad one, but I could say that for anyone that's not Bryce.

Sec314 - Suck it up! Our military wears pants! Do you hate our men and women in uniform? DO YOU HATE AMERICA?

I actully don't mind being hot in the summer and cold in the winter. Feels like it should. And pants are an easy way to avoid getting burned! I've actually taken to sweating out some game in long sleeves because I don't want to lather on sunscreen.

A team should want good offensive players, regardless of what their position feels like they should have. Danny is... well close to it, but it's not like Lombo is one. Rendon...we'll see.

rea said...

The Espi situation to me is thusly:

The Nats need a slightly better offense. They can hope it comes from Ramos's return, Harper improvement and healthy Werth/Zim/Morse (possibly offset by LaRoche departure/Desmond regression). Looking at positions, it's hard to see any new faces other than Morse/LaRoche and second. So Espinosa becomes obvious place for improvement.

Espi might not get the same time as Dez b/c it's one thing to develop on a terrible team. It's another thing for a championship contender to possibly stall a season b/c it's waiting for an Espi breakout.

Harper, do you think the Nats to improve slightly offensively? And where can that come from, if not Espinosa?

Chaz R said...

Very good comments on Danny, Harper. I like Danny, I think he adds to the chemistry of the Nats and is a Davey Johnson type free swinger... he just strikes out too much and at extremely inopportune times. One of the issues I just hated almost all scene was the seemingly consistent numbers of runners left on base.

Anonymous said...

Danny plays second base and hits in the seven hole. If you think he's in any way shape or form hurting the offense, you're wrong.

If anyone in the lineup is a weak link, it's Morse. He's got an actual important role, and he's also a free swinger. When he hits, we score runs. When he doesn't, we don't.

Froggy said...

I like Danny. He and Desi must be in the top 5 MI defensive combos in the NL (get to work Harper). And as you say, he comes cheap. I believe the job is his unless his numbers fall off more than this year.

He did lead the team in games played and TPA, but me thinks of his 189 SO's, at least 20 of them were ball four. I would rather he take more pitches and strike out looking than swing at so many bad ones. But that's easy for me to say as I'm usually on my second beer by the time he comes up.

If I'm Lombo I grow my hair real long and hit the weight room hard with the Beast and the Shark in the off season and see if that helps develop any power.

Pants with flip flops. Otherwise the top of my left leg gets a weird suntan that my right one doesn't.

cass said...

Short-sleeved shirt would be chilly for the 50s. And pants are a bit hot in the 80s. Manageable, but hot. Shorts are a must for the 90s, though. I'm sorry no one wants to see your legs, Harper, but don't speak for the rest of us!

Froggy: I know you didn't mean this literally, but Lombo asctually works out in DC with Zimm and Werth during the offseason. He definitely tried to bulk up last winter. I imagine he'll work on that again.

DezoPenguin said...

Yeah, I have no issues with Danny. I wish he was a better hitter, of course, but he provides plus offense for a 2B and very much plus offense for a high-defense 2B. And he already shows more plate discipline that Desmond, so it's possible that those SOs could be cut down. Unless we can hypnotize the Yankees into being so disgusted with Cano's postseason that they want to ship him out of town, I don't really see much of a way to upgrade.

(Actually, that pretty much defines the Nats lineup. The only way to improve it other than Morse's OF spot is to plug in genuine star players...and if Morse were to hit like 2010, he actually *would* be that. LaRoche is the best 1B on the free-agent market and we have a club option for him. Desmond was arguably the best SS in the league last year when you combine his hitting with his defense. Zimmerman is a top-quality 3B except for his injury-plagued slow start. Werth played up to his career numbers, Harper was damned good for a 19-year-old, Espi we've just discussed, and we're getting Ramos back at catcher, never mind that Suzuki actually played for the Nats like the guy he used to be (I have to say, I'm liking these "everybody wins" Oakland trades we got up to last year).)