Nationals Baseball: A stroll through the Positional Players

Thursday, July 11, 2013

A stroll through the Positional Players

Pop! There we go.  Now I want to see 25 runs tonight. Make it happen. 4 games left, make up 1. Baby steps.

Since we're getting to the end of the "1st half" here are some random facts that I haven't been able to put into a whole column :

Ryan Zimmerman is no longer a good 3rd baseman. Forget the error problems for a second. Here are Zimm's ranges pre and post abdominal injury:

Pre : 15.5, 1.7, 11.5, 15.1
Post : -2.8, -0.4, -8.1

Zimm can't get to the same balls that he used to. Perhaps some positioning coaching would help but for those that want Zimm at 1st in a couple years and Rendon at 3rd there's more to back-up that line of thinking than just the throwing.

Bryce Harper is still the teams best offensive player. If he had enough at bats he would lead the team in OBP and SLG (ok well Ramos would lead in SLG if he had enough ABs but I'm not sold that'll stay that high). This is with having an average of only .274.  His BABIP is a career low .279. If there's any one that you should bet on having a killer last 70 games it's this guy.

Poor (but not for long) Ian. He's picked up his fielding recently which has made his overall value soar back up. He's arguably the 3rd best SS in the majors. Here's the problem. The best? Tulo. 2nd best this year? Everth Cabrera. 4th best? Rookie sensation Jean Segura. In the AL he'd be an easy pick for the All-Star game. In the NL he's an also-ran this year.  Troy and Segura are tied up for a while. Ian comes into FA a year before Everth (and isn't suspected of PED use). Translation : The Nationals better be renting dump trucks for the money they plan to drive to his house.

Span is not even close in his quest for a home run. Take a look at the spray chart.  (Ok yes it's superimposed on Nats park only but you can go through parks one by one if you like at foxsports. It's not updated for some stadiums but you'll get the point).  He's not even getting warning track balls. He's never been a power hitter, but he's never been THIS impotent.

Lombo is no good people. He's the 2nd worst player in terms of WAR behind Tyler Moore (which is impressivley bad  for Tyler considering its a cumulative stat and Lombo has 75% more ABs than Tyler).  Part of this is Davey's fault. Lombo is an acceptable infielder. He is not an acceptable outfielder. Davey put him in the OF a lot. But he's a hitter with no patience (lowest walk rate on team for hitters that matter) and no pop (ditto lowest isoSLG on team), who's deceptively unimpressive on the basepaths. He's a late inning IF defensive replacement for a team that doesn't need one. He's really only useful on a team with an Uggla type roaming the IF. Even then I bet you could find a ++ fielder in your system that can't hit a lick that might be more suited to that position than the ok fielding Lombo.

Does Jayson Werth have his power back? Yes and no. Yes he's hitting with more power so far than he ever has with the Nats. No, he's not up to the levels he was hitting with the Phillies. Not really even close. What I find most interesting is this is currently the third season in 4 years (granted some are short seasons) where his BABIP is over .350. Usually one can have a BABIP that high repeatedly because you are fast (Jackson, Fowler, Trout, Bourn). Once in a while you can do this by hitting a lot of line drives (Mauer, Cabrera). Werth doesn't really fit into either category. Luckiest man alive?

LaRoche's K-rate is the highest non "Swing for the fences D-Backs" season of his career.  His isoSLG is the lowest non "I'm terribly injured why am I still playing Nats" season of his career.  Both are just ever slightly in the wrong direction so I wouldn't worry for 2013 but i wouldn't be shocked if LaRoche falls off a cliff in 2014 or 2015. I'd maybe even bet on it... gotta see where he ends up.

It's not always a great thing to hit a lot of line drives, but it usually means you are hitting the ball well.  The current leader in the majors in LD% is James Loney wiath 28.9% (check it out - he's having a damn good year). Anthony Rendon has a LD% of 32%. I still think he'll slip under .300 this year but that "maybe he'll hit .250 with some bad luck" statement is looking silly right now. (still think it's technically possible but it would likely have to be a "hit a lot worse in Sept because he never played this many games" situation)


Kenny B. said...

So next year will it be time to move Zimm to 1B? I would imagine they'll try to squeeze another year out of him at 3B, but at this point I don't want to see him hurt himself over there, and would rather see Zimm at 1B next year, with Rendon at 3B. But then where does LaRoche fit in, and who takes over 2B if Espinosa never gets back to form?

It may be a bit early for these analyses, but I'm curious to hear others' thoughts on the Nats future infield plans.

Harper said...

Kenny B - I see another year. 2014 is like now. Espy gets surgery this offseason or late in the year. 2015 is Rendon, Ian, Espy, Zimm (at least to start).

That makes the most sense to me.

Kenny B. said...

Yeah, that's what I thought, but I still have this awful feeling like Zimm may not make it through another year at 3B intact.

Chaz R said...

Yup, last year was great timing for LaRoche. He had a career year to help with his FA, and the 1B FA competition was nonexistent. Smart of Rizzo to keep his contract to 2 years, instead of the 3 he wanted. What do you do with him next year if he does fall off the cliff?

No question, Espy comes back for at least a while at 2B next year. I like an IF of Rendon, Desi, Espy, and Zimm.

How come the Nats catchers are so bad at throwing out base stealers? I thought Suzuki and Ramos were both supposed to be good defensive catchers. Is it mostly the pitchers' problem, or something else?

Harper said...

Chaz - if it happens next year you just eat it. Maybe you move him to a bench spot late in the year if he's really bad. Actually you probably just "DL" him.

As for the base stealing, it's well established now that the Nats pitchers are discouraged from worrying about the runners over the guy at the plate. Makes the C job tons harder.

DezoPenguin said...

Ian Desmond, the Josh Donaldson of the NL.

One thing I'm pretty sure of, if LaRoche falls off entirely in 2015 it's not going to be our problem--I can't see him getting resigned unless by some miracle he hits in 2014 like he did in 2012, and if he does that, well, he isn't likely to have that 2015 fall-off. I just don't see that happening.

Espinosa's shoulder health really seems like it needs to be resolved for the Nats' IF plans to be solidified. I'm really not sure why he hasn't called it a year and gone under the knife yet, which makes me wonder if there actually is anything that surgery would fix. Not being a doctor, let alone one with access to Espi, I have no real clue what's going on there.

Honestly, I think the Rendon question is going to be settled by whether the Nats can more easily pick up a 2B or 3B along the way, whether by way of prospect or trade or Espinosa returning to form (with his glove, he doesn't have to be Superman with the bat; 2011 levels will do fine, thank you). Zimm moves to first, Desmond gets resigned, and Rendon takes whichever other position that remains open.

The real problem with the Nats' lineup is that so far as the starters are concerned, on paper the only way to upgrade any of them (except Bryce, who basically can't be upgraded from) is to plug in a genuine star. I mean, who's a better catcher than Ramos when he's healthy--basically, you have Posey or Molina. The down side with the lineup only comes when guys get injured (Ramos, Harper, Werth) or underperform reasonable expectations (Span*, Espi), and you can't plan for that stuff except by having a better bench...and the bench itself drastically underperformed (Moore/Lombo/Tracy/Bernie basically all turned in a worst case scenario for their performance).

*Still, 0.7 OWAR, 0.4 DWAR (per ESPN) is better than Upton's -1.1, -0.3. Think about that: as bad as Span's been, he's been two and a half wins better than Mr. $75 Million, nearly two on the much more reliable offense component alone. Sometimes, schadenfreude is the baseball fan's last refuge!

Wally said...

Re: Zimmerman's range: Davey was commenting recently that over the last few years, due to the shoulder, Zim has been playing really shallow at 3B and that it was time to start backing up. Could that have affected his range ratings?

Span is not even close in his quest for a home run let's see more of these ones that get me chuckling.

Rendon: I am no scout, although I did stay in a Holiday Inn Express last night, but I'll risk the criticism: his swing seems to have a lot of movement in it, so while I think that he has shown enough to feel good about his career, I could see him as a guy who goes through long slumps when his timing gets out of whack. If it were me, I'd give him a lot of inside heat to see how he handles it. His swing seems to be set up to handle the typical 'off speed down and away' stuff rookies normally get. I'll say this for his start though: people are talking about Machado possibly breaking the doubles record (he has had a crazy high amount of PAs this year), but Rendon's 2B rate is only a little bit lower.

Nattydread said...

When the Nats were a genuinely BAD team, Zimmerman was, in the eyes of the fans, a full-fledged star. Now that the Nats are decent-to-very-good, we see him as he is. Good, injury prone, but definitely NOT a star. Growing up is sooooo hard.

A Fly Moses said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
A Fly Moses said...


To be fair, he was a markedly better player those days, both with the bat and the glove, so he WAS one of the best players in baseball (#6 and #7 in WAR in '09 and '10, respectively, among all MLB players).

I think the bigger issue is that he hit that level so early in his career, and while he was still on a rookie contract, so he was one of the top two or three players in baseball as a value proposition, and everyone assumed he'd continue to get better. Instead, his hitting regressed and his defense collapsed, and at the same time that he got a contract that made him no longer an unbelievable value. But I think the bigger issue was expectations of continued improvement rather than a misunderstanding of how good he actually was.

DezoPenguin said...

Also, that abdominal injury looms large. As Harper notes, that really took a round out of his defense at 3B. His current hitting plus his previous defense would certainly qualify as a top-grade 3B in the National League

Harper said...

Dezo - I think the Espy question comes down to D. they want him available becuase he is a ++ guy at second.

See I think the Nats are going to trade for pitching rather than fix the IF. FA pitching costs are often way out of whack for anyone good. (as opposed to moderately out of whack) the $$ to keep Desi and ZNN dicates it. But maybe they will go up to the tax ceiling.

They have to agressively spend $ on the bench. That's the solution. It's a next year solution but that's it. It may go to waste but you can't bet your season on being healthy

Wally - sure. I don't know how to numberfy that though. Your Machado note only highights that Rendon should be up in the lineup (at Span's expense)

ND/ AFM - yeah don't put down the Nats fans of the past from 06-10 Zimm was the 10th most valuable player (fWAR wise). He was an underrated star.

I think that ab injury derailed everything. Fantastic 09 and 10 (3rd in fWAR combined behind Pujols and Utley), a great start to 11... I think he really was heading to a 5 year run as a top 3B. Like the type that may cornerstone a HOF career.

Anonymous said...

@wally: Zim's lack of arm strength/confidence and inability to get that first step on the slow roller like he used to is causing him to cheat up, taking away a lot of his range. Machado plays 10-15 feet farther back than Zim because he can make the throws, allowing him to get to more balls. Obviously Machado is 21 and never injured, but just an example of age/injuries taking away an entire tool. At least Zim isn't tossing balls into the stands anymore.

Anonymous said...

also @wally I think the "moving parts" in a swing is something people get caught up in. Babe Ruth had a lot of movement. So did Barry Bonds, so does Bryce. Denard Span has almost zero moving parts. Hitters hit, and Rendon has always been a hitter.

coxen.bpi said...


I know I'm just a little paranoid, but sometimes Harper's swing worries mean. He absolutely crushes fastballs, but he only has 1 hr since his return and he has looked baffled by off-speed and sinking pitches.

Also, Desmond has terrible plate discipline. I think he's having a great season in spite of himself. How many 0-2, 1-2 counts does this guys get into.

My question is: how much longer can each hitter let their athleticism mask their other shortcomings?

Finally, how much of Ryan's lack of range has to do with him cheating up so he can shorten his throws to 1B?

Kenny B. said...

Once again, 6 back and fighting .500. That's where this team lives.

blovy8 said...

I doubt Espinosa ever even agrees to get the surgery. Even if he does, his role should be no better than backup middle infielder on the 2014 club at best. He's always going to strike out too much. If there are any teams left out there who still think he can start, I would accept their trade offer immediately and then say nice things about his work ethic.
Pay the price for Desmond, worry about 2b later. Walters is still pretty young, but he'd need a lot more plate discipline to make the club. Kobernus never really got a shot at 2nd, he could probably keep the seat warm if they're still thinking about Espinosa having any value.

Why not make a big splash and overpay for Cano? If you're moving Zim to 1st, and Rendon to third, then you need another lefty someplace. If they paid 4-5 million
a year too much for Werth maybe they can actually do that for great player. I know, I know - the decline rates for 2nd baseman probably make that a dumb idea.

That Boswell notion for getting Price is a pretty good dream, but I doubt the Lerners are ready to face the luxury tax just yet in these scenerios.

DezoPenguin said...

Espi's K rate is hardly something to worry about. .250 BA, 15-ish HRs and SB, and an OPS in the .725 range is pretty darned good for a second baseman with a top-level glove. I mean, we see debates all the time over whether guys like Brendan Ryan with their .600 OPS are worth carrying in a lineup for the sake of their stellar defense at a premium defensive position, and Espi is worlds above that. Sure, I'd dump him for Robinson Cano or Dustin Pedroia or Jason Kipnis (maybe Howie Kendrick) in a heartbeat, but those guys aren't coming to the Nationals. A healthy Espinosa, even with the K rate, is in the argument for "best 2B in the NL" this year (more power than Scutaro to offset the OBP, much better defense than Carpenter, and just plain better than Phillips).

What gets me is the ongoing mystery about his surgery. Unlike the previous two years, this year his batting has been completely unacceptable and it's almost certain to be injury-related. The only thing he's good for the way he is now is as a late-inning defensive replacement and our bench stinks far too much to carry that. If he needs surgery, then he should go and get it. The Zim/Desi/Rendon/LaRoche IF will still be around in 2014, and if Espi can come back around the end of that year fully healed then he'll be ready to step in in 2015. So what's holding it up?

blovy8 said...

I see .725 as a stretch for a guy with average power, lousy plate discipline and injuries who the league has figured out. A .629 ops in AAA doesn't scream adjustments being made. This is who he wants to be - a 230/300/400 type-hitter who plays excellent enough defense to be above average. It's nothing to depend on, since he'd actually need to make adjustments to the high fastball/breaking ball inside that he totally misses right now to get back to where he was. He might hit some mistakes or against pitchers who can't do that, but they aren't going to be the team that plays him everyday to find out. At the moment, he's being groomed to backup by playing some shortstop, because Rendon, Zim, and LaRoche should play in 2014. I've always figured that he's more valuable to a team as a shortstop, but I assume his crappy year has pretty much killed his trade value, especially since he'll have to rehab if he does get surgery. I suspect the Nats will have moved on past him by 2015. There's no way I can speculate who the 2nd baseman will be, but I think Espy's lost his shot here unless the new manager has a man crush on him.

DezoPenguin said...

Can't be that much of a stretch; he put up .724 in limited service in 2010, .737 in 2011, and .717 in 2012 despite the injury hampering him down the stretch. Unless you're arguing for some kind of permanent loss of ability due to the injury (and hey, it happened to Zimmerman, so that's possible), I don't see why that's not something he can continue to achieve.

It's true enough about trade value; he's got none right now, and if he's ever to have any worth to this team either as a trade piece or as a player, he needs to get whatever necessary medical work needs to be done over and done with and successfully rehab. But I don't agree that the Nats will be past him by 2015, not unless LaRoche bats himself out of a job by the end of this year and we move on now (or if he bats *well* enough that we flip him for a new 2B or 3B option).

Holley said...

This is cool!