Nationals Baseball: Where Hypothetical Rendon goes

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Where Hypothetical Rendon goes

The thing about this whole Rendon deal is... well the thing about this whole Rendon deal is that he's yet to prove himself in the minors, so really this is all moot until he does... but the other thing about this whole Rendon deal is that fans are trying to decide where he might end up late in 2013 and into 2014 using 2012 stats as a guideline. It's not their fault. What can you do but use the most recent stats available? But it's terribly flawed because what matters most in terms of where the "hypothetical reaching his potential" Rendon will end up playing is the stats between now and whenever he's called up. What matters most is something we don't know.

This is important because if you look at 2012 of course 2nd base is going to be where you stick Rendon.  Danny Espinosa had an off-year with the bat and was probably the least valuable member of the infield. Plus he's nursing a shoulder injury. Seems pretty well set, right? But there are good enough reasons why Rendon could end up replacing any of the other infielders that we really shouldn't be sticking him at the keystone just yet.

Why Ian Desmond? 

We all like to assume Ian Desmond had a break-out year and will continue to hit as he has. Hell, I'm predicting some regression, and still think he'll easily be a Top 10 shortstop.  But what if it's far more a fluke than a breakout?

In 2010 and 2011 he did not hit well ( roughly a .260 / .303 / .375 hitter) and he didn't field well. While I'd be shocked if he went back to being a 10 HR type of guy, I was shocked he became a 25+ guy. Shocks do happen. Fielding tends to be on the fluky side when looking at one year so perhaps 2013 was overly positive for him.

Like I said yesterday at the end of 2011 people were looking to move Ian so Rendon could get into the lineup. The 2012 Desmond is irreplaceable but if the 2011 Desmond returns we'll see the same arguments return with him.

Why Ryan Zimmerman?

Ryan's contract is too big and too long to just out and out replace him with Rendon.  Plus whenever he's been healthy enough to play there's year after year saying he can hit and he can field.  This isn't going to be a talent thing.  He might get pushed across the diamond but he won't necessarily be replaced because the numbers he puts up and the numbers he puts into his bank account say otherwise.

Still there are numbers that might cause Ryan to be replaced by Rendon.  They are 17, 61, 20, and 56.  Those are the number of games Ryan has missed in the past 5 seasons (he also missed 5 one year for you completists).  Ryan has had significant injuries before. He could again and if so, it would make too much sense not to slot in the natural 3rd baseman waiting in the wings.

Why Adam LaRoche? 

The Nats have the least amount of attachment to Mr. LaRoche. They pretty much told him to find a better (longer) deal elsewhere and only took him back under their terms.  Those terms were "We're signing you to a short term deal so don't expect to retire here" There would be a little hesitation about sitting Adam for Anthony, but given that it would only amount to doing it for a year, I think the Nats would swallow that cash if Rendon was forcing the issue,  They'd end up either dealing Adam or making him a highly paid platoon-esque first baseman.

Of course you don't replace 2012 LaRoche with Rendon unless he's some sort of wunderkind. But 2010 LaRoche was pretty mediocre. Adam is going to be 33 next year.  He doesn't have the best profile for gracefully aging. He could simply put up a very average, a very replaceable year. And what if he gets injured again? We've all see what that did to him in 2011.


I'm not saying I think any of this will happen. Off the top of my head I like Ian to keep playing well (with the average dropping a bit - but not markedly so).  I like Zimmerman to be healthy enough to play 140+ games and do what he does. I like LaRoche to age slowly enough that he can put at least one more good year, if not two. I also like Danny to hit a little better as well.

But any of this could happen. There's not a single player here that has played very well over each of the past 2-3 years missing little if any time. There is no one you should immediately say "Well Rendon isn't going to replace that guy".  Thus talk about where Rendon should play should really be shelved until he's ready to come up. He should try out ALL the infield positions and if/when he's ready, be ready for whatever the year throws at him, whether that's being thrust into a starting role, or playing super-sub for the stretch run. 

13 comments:

cass said...

I basically agree, but one quibble:

"He should try out ALL the infield positions"

He doesn't need to. There's no reason for him to get time at shortstop, because if Desmond goes down, Espinosa would move over and Rendon could play 2nd.

In theory, there's no reason for him to play 1st if we all assume he's as good as or better than Zimm defensively at this point, but in practice, Zimm will not move to 1st for Rendon any time soon, even if Rendon is a better fielder.

I'd still focus on 3rd and 2nd, though. He needs a MI spot to practice at so that he's flexible and he needs to keep up at his natural and most valuable position, 3rd, in case Zimm gets hurt or we need to trade him.

But your main point is the key - let's wait for him to show us something over at least half a season before making any plans at all. This is all so premature. Danny Espinosa is a fine second baseman. Also, finding room for Rendon is a good problem to have. Depth is very important because starters will get injured. It's a question of who and for how long, not if.

Sirc said...

"In theory, there's no reason for him to play 1st if we all assume he's as good as or better than Zimm defensively at this point"

Why would anyone assume that? Ryan was 1 or 1a in the National League defensively at third until last season. He has a Gold Glove at the position. He has played the position at an elite level for 7 seasons, all as a National. He is proven.

Rendon is a myth, he's so much rumor and position coach sound bites at this point. The only thing we know about him for certain is that he hasn't proven anything at all yet.

At all.

The only thing Rendon is facing now is proving that he can play a full, healthy season at any position and be productive. He has done neither for years.

Strasburger said...

Great post,

I don't think you're right on Zimm. This is a guy that has the ability to be not just good, but the best 3rd baseman in the league if he is healthy. Last year he showed flashed of that. He has had big seasons. Zimmerman is most definitely irreplaceable to this team. Would they move him to first after 2 or 3 more years when he's a bit older? Sure. But I would bet, that barring a huge injury to Zim, Rendon sees no real time at 3rd for a couple of years. Zim's production numbers will not dip into replaceable categories over his existing contract.

With this team, I don't see Rendon stealing a full time starting job until late next season, if that.

Lee said...

You have also left out the most obvious reason to not get ahead of ourselves. Rendon not only has to show promise in the minors, but he also needs to remain injury free. The wrong injury or a spate of minor injuries could very well end this discussion if not his career. And I can't help but remember that the Nats were only able to draft him because other teams with higher picks viewed him as...wait for it...an injury risk.

Wally said...

I said this on the last post, but aren't you missing one possibility? Why not Werth?

Except for the contract, which may cause a non- baseball decision to be made, I think that you could make a better argument that Werth needs to show some power or be replaced in 2014 for Rendon. How much value does a below average fielding and slugging RF have?

I mean, I hope that he bounces back, but it isn't a given at his age and injury profile. And Rendon should be at least passable out there.

Just saying that except for the contract, it would look a lot more obvious.

Section 222 said...

Great post and a good cautionary note.

I spent most of a day I was home sick analyzing Harper's hustle in 2012. Only half way done, but I've come up with 15 runs in just May and June that resulted from his hustle. Kind of amazing.

Here's a link to the first comment where the analysis is spelled out, along with links to all the key plays so you can judge for yourself. Just scroll down in the same post to find more.

http://www.natsinsider.com/2013/02/nats-vs-marlins-22713.html?showComment=1361987633208#c8962603453061694599

Cheers.

blovy8 said...

I suspect the thinking might be that if Espy's shoulder needs the knife, Rendon might be better as an eventual backup at short than Lombo since he has a better arm.

Donald said...

For this year, the most he can hope for is a September call up, so he doesn't need to replace anyone yet. For next year, assuming the current infield stays healthy, the most likely person he replaces is Lombo. The year after, LaRoche is gone so there are more options.

Michael K said...

Here's a question - why *wouldn't* you give him reps at 2nd this year? You're effectively covering two positions by doing so (Desmond and Espinosa), and as big of an Espinosa fan that I am, I still recognize that he's closer to being out the door than Desmond and Zimmerman. And getting experience at a MI position might keep him limber. Really, the only reason that I can think of why you wouldn't do it is that you just want him to focus on his hitting and the position change might mess up his timing. But I don't think that would happen.

Harper said...

cass - I suppose, but if Ian's injury is minor I'd rather have Rendon sit in than push Danny over just for a game or to.

Sirc - well, to be fair he wasn't all that in 2011 either, but yeah - we're just assuming something about Rendon none of us can be sure about.

Strasb - that's my guess too. gotta show in minors and gotta find a spot here. Just assume normal timing not the accelerated time of Bryce (the best prospect in 20 years and an OF with a hole)

Lee - Yes, of course. Health! Forget about playing a full year - play 50 games first.

Wally - I think you answered you're own question. I suppose he could take Werth place in the OF and Werth could move to... 1st? But I think they'd just put Rendon at 1st don't you?

Sec 222 - might be overselling a couple of those but it's an impressive list. The problem is his hustle made a bunch of unecessary outs too. (Fnagraphs baserunning stat has those outs pull him down to the negative but I think it's underrating him) Hopefully he can combine that talent with a bit more smarts.

blovy8 - what's his range. I think I'd like a rangier guy over the better arm.

Donald - too much sense here. Scream something about his bat speed

MK - oh you do, but I wouldn't limit it to 2nd. Or even consider it a focus. Just a plurality.

Section 222 said...

Harper -- Not sure whether you continue to read comments after a new post is up, but I thought I'd respond to your point about UBR and how it underrates Harper (Bryce, that is). I made similar comments on NatsInsider because someone raised the UBR stat there as well in response to my analysis of Bryce's hustle in 2012. (By the way, I finished that study, counting 48 total "hustle runs" over the course of the season. I included links to all of the plays so people can judge for themselves.

Anyway, on UBR, the first thing I noticed is that it appears to not take into account baserunning out of the batter’s box, except in a negative way. So if a batter gets thrown out trying to stretch a single into a double that counts against him, but if he slides into second under a tag, he gets no credit. I assume they do this because they are just reviewing box scores or game play by play summaries and as the stat summary notes, if he’s safe, he just gets a double. This is very significant for a player like Harper. Lots of the hustle runs I found resulted from his speed and aggressive approach after he hits the ball.

Likewise, as far as I can tell, a runner on first gets credit for making it to second on a fielder’s choice, but a batter who legs out an infield hit or avoids a double play by beating the relay to first gets nothing. An all out dash to first when he hits a ground ball is a Harper specialty as well. Again, if you’re just looking at the play by play a single is a single, and grounding into a force out is simply grounding into a force out, but if you look at the replays you can tell the impact that Harper’s hustle has.

Advancing on a wild pitch or a passed ball doesn’t help you either. Again, there’s no way of telling from the box score whether the runner could jog to the next base or had to run with his hair on fire. But of course, off target pitches only become wild pitches because a runner advanced. To take an extreme example, if the pitch goes over the catcher’s head but the ball bounces against the back wall right back to the catcher and the runners hold, that’s not a wild pitch. And some “wild pitches” are only pitches in the dirt combined with an especially aggressive runner’s dash to the next base. That’s what Harper did on Sept. 4. (Start watching the condensed game at 13:30.) It led to a run, but I don’t think UBR captured it at all.

Finally, if you score on a sac fly, you get credit (even if the fly ball is caught at the wall), but if you score from third on a groundball you don’t, (even if you do what Harper did on Sept. 6).

In fact, the Sept. 6 sequence incorporates two of UBR’s shortcomings. Harper turned a double into a triple, then scored on a ground out, taking advantage of somewhat lazy effort to hold him at third. (Start watching the condensed game at 1:05.) Correct me if I’m wrong, but I’m pretty sure he gets exactly diddly from UBR for that effort.

So UBR seems like a very useful stat with a lot of value, and certainly it’s legitimate to try to take into account baserunning mistakes as well as baserunning successes. But by watching Harper’s highlights, a quite different picture emerges. The guy is not just an average baserunner in my opinion. He just isn’t.

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