Nationals Baseball: Mailbag Monday

Monday, October 22, 2012

Mailbag Monday

The Nats and first pitches  Matt Nowak

Like everyone, Matt noticed the Nats swung at a lot of pitches, and that includes first pitches.  He was curious on how they did on these pitches and if we'd see a change in philosophy that encouraged more patience.

Where did these stats come from? Baseball-Reference has first pitch swinging stats, and also gives you player-level stats for pitches put into play by count.  You can get first pitch strike stats from fangraphs.Given all the information I think there could be a lot you can tease out from here.  Unfortunately first pitch swinging strikes is not one of them.

So what does the information we do have say about the Nats and first strikes?   As expected the Nats swing at the most first pitches in the majors (32%) and that means they have a high percentage of first pitch "strikes"*, third in the majors at 61.6%.  The first number does not really track with success but the second number mostly does.  The Yanks, Braves, Rangers, A's, Tigers, and Cardinals are all in the bottom 10.  This doesn't preclude success (the Reds were 1st) but it does seem to point to a hole in the Nats game. They swing a lot at the first pitch, and that's ok, but they aren't all that great at identifying if the first pitch is a ball or not. I didn't get the exact percentage but they are 12th in the NL in 1-0 counts, even though they are 3rd in plate appearances.  That means they are not seeing a lot of counts in their favor.

*This includes ball put into play 

Who's the "worst" offenders.  As you'd expect, Ian Desmond swings at 47% of all first pitches (2nd in the major), Espy at 43% (7th), Bryce at 41% (10th).  Ian is 1st in first pitch strikes, Espinosa 6th (remember - includes balls put into play). So are the Nats going to change their ways? I doubt it and that's mostly ok.

You see if you can put the ball in play on the first pitch you usually do pretty well.  The league line for that is .333 average, .545 slugging (OBP is meaningless for first pitches).  The Nats do pretty well .326 / .539.  Now that is kind of a relative drop in hitting compared to overall. They were 8th in the majors is OPS but only 17th on first pitches, but it's still nice number to have.  If you can put the ball in play. And for someone like Desmond this appears to work.  His 1st pitch swinging percentage is WAY up, and he's had the season of his life.

The question is not if first pitch swinging is a good idea, it's is this philosophy being applied in the right way for everyone. Some guys can't do it.  Zimmerman rarely swings at the first pitch and is terrible when he makes contact (at least this year).  His line was .143 / .159 / .286.  The uber patient Werth also doesn't swing much at the first pitch (Suzuki is the only other Nats regular under league average).  When Jayson does swing he does make good contact (.333) but his power is not all there (.467 SLG). Danny doesn't have a problem when he makes contact but given his high strike number on the first pitch and overall low average I bet there are a ton of swings and misses there. He might be better served with a more patient approach.

The Nats aren't going to stop the aggressiveness. As a team it's worked very well.  Perhaps next year other teams will catch onto it and will feed the Nats more junk on the first pitch, but let's see them do it before adjusting.  However, they need to look at how it is effecting these players on an individual basis.  They may be letting Werth and Zimm get a pass because they are vets but they shouldn't try to apply this as a blanket policy to all their young players.

Tampa Trades

Several people were interested in trades with the Rays for pitching.  Why? Well the Rays have a bunch of good pitching and have offensive needs.

Would you trade Morse for Cobb? Wally
In a heartbeat.  Strictly contract/age wise it's a no-brainer.  Morse is 30 and will make nearly 7 mill next year and then will be a free agent.  Cobb is 24 and he's in pre-arbitration meaning he'll be a free agent sometime around the World Cup in Qatar (which isn't the next one).  Also Alex Cobb is built for this team.  He throws lots of groundballs, (58.8% - best on the Rays)  Of course that being said I see no way Tampa makes this deal.

 How about Shields for Morse and prospects? OCW or Espy & Morse & prospects? Wally

Ok so same information deal - Shields 30 can make 9 mill next year, 12 million year after (team options).  Danny 25 free agent in 2017. Let's assume for a moment I want Shields. I think we're looking at something in-between these two suggestions. Yes I love Danny the player but if you honestly look at his stats, well they weren't good this year, at least offensively. They were fine but the Nats are selling low. Even with all that control, I'm not sure Danny for Shields would happen. If that's a maybe not then Morse and prospects is a non-starter unless that prospect is Rendon or a couple pitchers. (which the Nats wouldn't do right now).  Espy and Morse and prospects would get it done but would be too much for the Nats to give up in my guess.  I'm thinking Espinosa and Rosenbaum maybe would be the market price. 

That being said I don't do it.  Without security that Rendon is going to fill in, you could be suffering a big drop by trading Danny.  Lombo could easily be a .260 singles hitter with less range and speed. Plus Shields is 30. As much I like AL guys moving the the NL, no, don't do it, unless you "win" the trade.
And what about David Price for one of our MIs?
Kevin Harris

Understand Price will cost you. He's only 26, he's under team control until 2016.  If the Rays trade him it's an arm and a leg.  (My guess is the cost is too high for anyone to do it now)  How high?  Desmond straight up won't do it.  Desmond & Rendon might not do it.  You might think that's absurd (Desmond plays every day!) but look at what top pitchers get paid. Now look at what players like Desmond gets paid.  THAT'S the value of these guys. Desmond is a player with one good year under his belt. Rendon, for all his potential, is still a guy with health concerns that got injured like a month into his first pro season and has yet to hit above A ball. Price is a #1 starter.  There's no comparison here. So what about Desmond & Rendon & Rosenbaum? Ok maybe you're getting somewhere. (I'm being honest here - remember it's your tendency to way overvalue your own guys.  There's a Rays fan somewhere reading this and saying "A decent SS, and two unproven minor leaguers? Ha!  Do you think the Nats will give us Bryce?" 

Thing is I'd do it.  Price is young and cheap and is moving from the AL to the NL. He could be DOMINANT. A rotation of Price, Stras, Gio, and ZNN set for the next 3 years, with the top 3 in DC for four? That is a stamp your playoff ticket in April rotation. That's a "one-guy goes down maybe you have to fight for the division" rotation. Hitting? You can pay for hitting, you can find hitting.  Bryce will be a star. Zimm is good if  he's healthy. Werth will be decent. There's a core there that's good enough without the guys you are giving up. I mean that's a historic era-defining rotation.  Myabe Detwiler will grow into that 4th but I say when you get a chance like that, to make history, you do it.  I don't see it happening, but there you go.


Ollie said...

What about a slightly more realistic signing of Greinke to get that same "stamp playoff tickets in April" rotation? Granted with the LA teams in the hunt he'll come expensive but they have $20 mil+ coming off the books which would pay for both him and an extension on Desmond. If you non-tender Gorzelanny then an extension on Zimmermann becomes easier too, and both of those save money down the line when others come up for arbitration.

Other alternative would be to let LaRoche walk, move Morse to first base, and sign Upton or Bourn. Though aggressive both of these scenarios seem more realistic than trading for Price or Shields.

Donald said...

I agree with Ollie --particularly that getting a front line pitcher is more likely via free agency than via a trade. Don't know if it'll be Grienke or not, but the Nats may have a pitching shortage next year that needs to be filled. IF they keep EJax, which I don't think they will, then they probably just need someone to play the Lannan role of reliable back-up to fill in in case of emergency. But if they don't sign EJax then who's their other starter?

What do you think their rotation will be next year, and what would you do if you were in Rizzo's shoes?

blovy8 said...

It looks like Espinosa's pitch recognition stinks too, not only was he very aggressive early, he was swinging at waste pitches when he was behind fairly often late in the season. I guess it's better than watching strike three like Werth did a lot in 2011.

Espinosa and Morse would be a pretty good targets for Tampa, but I wonder how the weird wuss would break it to the guys they'd trade in return. The funny thing is the price for prospects is getting higher, so that may work in the Nats favor. The Rays really could "go for it" if they had even just a little money. The Yankees look vulnerable, the Red Sox will be rebuilding, and they have more talent right now than Toronto or Baltimore.

I wouldn't best against Espinosa adjusting, but like Tyler Moore, his minors numbers do suggest this is about how he'll hit. If you're fairly certain of that, you can trade him if you think Rendon will stay healthy enough to be ready this year. Lombo will not kill you for a few months, especially since the likely backup infielder will hit right-handed so as to take Lombo's weaker side AB if he struggles. But even without much power I think he's an averagish 2B overall playing regularly because he's good defensively there, all he needs to do is hit 290 really or get a few more walks. There's as much chance he improves as any young player, not saying he's as good as Danny, but you have to give up something to get something. It's only in the event that Zimmermann NEVER throws any better that Rendon would unseat him anytime soon, so the natural assumption would be that he lands at second The error numbers in the minors kind of indicate his arm isn't ready for third either. I would imagine 1st will be taken one way or another next year, even if his bat might play there.

Anonymous said...

Yeah, I think I would take Price for Desmond & Rendon & Rosenbaum as well. The rotation would be the best in the bigs, and although we would miss Desmond, there is no guarantee he doesn't regress next year. Of course if I were a Tampa Bay fan I would want Harper and ZNN.

Harper said...

Ollie / Donald - I don't see Rizzo making a multi-year million dollar commitment to a 28 yr old pitcher. I don't think that's his viewpoint. I can't imagine though that they don't bring in someone when (if) EJax is let go. I think your LaRoche/Morse alternative is much more likely, but as I've said before I think a Morse deal is more likely.

Morse & prospects for Sheilds? Now that is interesting. TB gets a pure hitter and since he can DH there's no issue with his fielding. Or he can play left if Jennings move to CF. Shields doesn't lock Rizzo into anything deep, and he's not forced to give up someone who will definitely anchor the next few years (like an Espy). That's what I would try.

blovy8 - The Rays are odd. Such good pitching that they'll likely be good for years but that hitting is pretty atrcious. They rise and fall with Longoria's health. So I guess they are on a little bit of a clock. One more decent bat would be great.

Danny is at least useful, Lombo and Rendon are big ?s. The Nats are officially in contender mode so I just can't deal something useful unless I get something I like a lot back. Shields no - not for 2 years. Price or Cobb sure, but they worth more than just Danny.

Anon - Even the Tampa fanboy would take Bryce for Price straight up.

Ollie said...


But then I don't get to sing along to the high notes in "Take On Me", at least in a public, non-karaoke setting.

That trade would make sense though, depending on what prospects you give up (so probably anyone outside of Rendon, Goodwin, Meyer, and maybe Purke---Giolito being non-tradeable for 10 more months. Maybe Walters or two lower level arms gets that done?).

I agree that odds are Rizzo doesn't toss the money and years at a 28 y/o pitcher that would be necessary to sign Grienke. But from a classic macho Rizzo 'we mean business' sense you can kind of see it happening, right? That definitely takes advantage of the window of opportunity to maximize their young nucleus, since Greinke still has 2-3 peakish years in him barring major injury. That playoff ERA might be the best argument against though.

Wally said...

Cobb: do you really think he is that good? Contract and controllable years do mean a lot, but he is at best their #4 guy (and that is only if you don't like Hellickson, which I kind of don't). I liked him because of the GB rates too, and he had an excellent rookie season, which was lost in the Trout/Darvish/Cespedes publicity. But I also think that there is the Desmond question of 'can he do it again'?, especially because it seems like he far exceeded his expectations based on prospect expectations for him.

But it seems like you have him a lot closer to Price than I would. I would not trade Danny for him straight up, for instance. I would trade Morse straight up for him, but I don't know if I (we) would be in the majority. Morse is a power hitting guy in his early 30's which isn't horrible. Someone can ream that he'll have a Willingham stretch

Greinke: I think that this is a move that would be consistent with Rizzo's style. And if he can convince ownership to sign Werth when they stunk, I wouldn't put it past him to do it again. In Greinke's favor, even a 6 year deal only gets him to his age 34 season, when he shouldn't be horrible. And if you can keep him off the basketball courts, he has a good chance of staying healthy. My guess is that whether they make a strong move for him depends on how they feel about the MASN negotiations.

My bold prediction: he signs Greinke and trades the house for J Upton, then lights a cigar.

WiredHK said...

The one thing about the Price deal is that, while you're right that it may cost you an arm and a leg right now, there is also a bit of a clock over the Rays' heads if their goal is to get something good in return for a prize pitcher that they intend to let walk eventually. (I wouldn't be too worried about what their fans think they should get in return, since fans have no tie to the financial side of things and tend to view everything like it's fantasy baseball.)

Like a car or any other depreciating asset, the amount they can get in return for him goes down as the length of time goes on for them to make the deal.

Still, I don't disagree with you that it would probably take more than we (the homer fans on this side) think it would take. Desmond and Rendon, though, would probably do it. That's my guess. Now, would I pull the trigger on that? Probably. But I better be pretty comfy with Espy and Lombo as my new MI tandem for a long time, right?

Harper said...

Ollie - don't let the public tell you what you can and can't do. Public Transit is a great location for singing mid 80s hits.

Because Sheild' value > Morse value if it's not going to be someone good as a prospect it will have to be a quantity of arms likely.

Nope can't see it.

Wally - I do like Cobb, but I don't think I rate him as highly as you think I do. I wouldn't trade him for Espy straight up either.

I think Rizzo felt he needed a Werth like signing and, more importantly, Werth is a hitter. Look at the other guys the Nats flirted with for long contracts - Tex, Prince, hitters. Contrast that with the pitchers.

Wired - yeah clock is ticking but I think the jumps from months to a whole year, and a year to 2 are more where the trade value changes. Dealing a guy with 3 years of control compared to 2... I doubt the Rays would expect much less after this season.

I say unless they are bowled over they don't do it. Treat this year as the last year with him to win it all

DezoPenguin said...

...Desmond and Rendon (and other stuff) for Price. Hell, yeah, I'd do that in a heartbeat! Plus, Desmond was arguably the best SS in the National League last year when you combine his defense with his power hitting, and SS was a kind of sucking chest wound for the Rays as well. I'd definitely make the pitch if I was Rizzo. Maybe toss in a spare catcher or two as org filler. (As pipe dreams go, the idea of Gio winning the Cy and being the #3 starter in next year's rotation is a pretty good one!)

Unknown said...

I don't know why signing grenike isn't numberone if we drop ejax and sign grenike it's only 5mill more a year I think it's worth it