Nationals Baseball: Dead dog

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Dead dog

At this point there is nothing other than inertia keeping Dan Haren going out to the mound every 5th day. If the Nats are serious about trying to launch a late season comback, Haren has proven he can't be trusted to go out and give the Nats a quality start. If the Nats are ready to throw in the towel, giving Haren the ball is pointless given that he won't be here next year.

He's not eating innings (Less that 5 1/2 per game). He's getting blown up often (5 times in 18 games he's left with the Nats trailing by at least 5 runs).  He's the 2nd worst qualified starter by ERA in the majors this year. If you believe his HR tendencies are a fluke perhaps he can bounce back, if you don't he's likely calling it a career.

The pitch data isn't in yet, but I can tell you that yesterday's game looks a lot like the rest of his awful season. Guys hitting everything for line drives or fly balls (only 4 GBs vs PIT), waiting on pitches and crushing them when they guess right. He's right when he says that this season he's getting punished for his mistakes. What he fails to realize is there's a reason behind that. Every pitcher makes mistakes. Some more than others but no one throws the perfect pitch every time. When your thing is not missing the plate, your mistakes are more likely to be hittable. When your repertoire isn't distinct enough, your mistakes are more likely to be hit hard.

Up next for Haren would be the Mets who have a surprisingly acceptable offense this season. Then after a stop in Milwaukee, it would be the Braves.  Do you want him pitching that game under any circumstances? Why wait then? Pull the trigger now so you aren't sending up a rookie in his first start to do battle in a must-win situation.

It was a gamble. It wasn't even necessarily a bad gamble. But it failed miserably. Time to wave the white flag. Time to throw out Caleb Clay or Taylor Hill and see if they can be the depth the Nats need next year or if they'll have to go and sign a bunch of mediocre major leaguers to roster fill Syracuse in place of the Mayas and Tatuskos that should be cut.

Where did I go wrong? 

Like most pundits I had the Nats winning the NL East this year. I wasn't as gung-ho about it as some but 94 wins was still a solid total. Looking back it's pretty easy to see what I had wrong. I knew the offense was going to regress. However, I thought that the combination of Werth full-time, Ramos full-time and improving, Bryce full-time and improving, and Espinosa possibly improving would cover for the regression elsewhere. It would be a safety net of sorts that would catch the offense that was falling. What happened? Espinosa was hurt. Bryce got injured. Ramos got injured. Werth also got injured for a little bit. The safety net disappeared to be replaced by a downdraft slamming the Nats to the bottom of the NL.

Such is the life of a pundit. You know injuries will happen but you don't know to whom and when. Imagine this alternate scenario : Espy has surgery early and is replaced by Rendon. Span goes down and is replaced by Bernie for a month and a half. Ramos goes down late and is replaced by a rested Suzuki in Sept. That happens and maybe the offense doesn't miss a beat. But Espy plays through it, Bryce goes out, and Ramos goes out? Everything is going down and nothing is coming up to match it.

I also said Haren would not be a disaster. So much for that.

Read this by the way.  Great piece on how the Nats could fail so miserably with seemingly most of the starters hitting/pitching like you thought they might.


Wally said...

It certainly does seem like any moves now should be made with 2014 in mind. I agree that there is increasingly less reason to run Haren out there. The only thing that I can think of is if they feel like Karns, Hill, whomever would somehow be hindered in their development by coming up now.

As for what went wrong, seems like most are performing a little worse than 2012, some dramatically worse (Espy), and Harper didn't hold to the promising start to have a blow out year.

I have spent more time lately thinking, 'is this the team to start the 2014 season with?'. Not a lot of reason to say yes, since what would you expect to change? They could pitch a little better (although what the feck is up with Storen: it is almost as painful as watching Lee Westwood these days); Zim and Harper could hit a little better. Werth and ALR probably do a little worse.

If they come back with the same lineup, I think that they would be expecting two of Harper, Rendon and Ramos to become all star hitters.

Nick said...

It is past the time to move Soriano. It's a move where we can sell get a decent return and not really hurt the team very much because our bullpen is still a strength even without Soriano.

Sure, there is a drop-off between Soriano/Mattheus, but it's not the same as the improvement between getting a 5th starter that doesn't consistently crap himself. If we move Soriano now we could probbaly get a back end starter who is close to the big leagues since there are so many buyers looking for bullpen help and it wouldn't be just a rental.

I still like this team moving forward, but for now the focus has to be on 2014 and 2015 instead of going all in for this year. Hence, the one piece that we could move for return that could help strengthen the team over the next few years while simultaneously shedding some payroll would be Soriano.

Miles Treacy said...

I was really confused when Krol was lifted last night. I know he gave up the hit and walk and the whole righty righty matchup blah, but to bring in Storen who repeatedly has shown he can't pitch in clutch situations this year was mind boggling. 2 passed balls and then can't catch a good feed from Ramos. That last run hurt. Would've been a 5-5 game in the 9th. But ultimately Dan Haren got smoked and the Nats waited until the 7th to do anything on offense. Was it 4 innings without getting a ball out of the infield?

DezoPenguin said...

I agree with Wally and Nick (and Harper) that it's 2014 that we should be thinking about. We need to see if there's something with Znn's neck, first off, and make sure that's properly taken care of for next year. I agree, get Haren out of there (thankfully, he was signed for one season only; too bad the gamble didn't pay off, but at least it wasn't a long-term deal).

I'm not against moving Soriano if we can get value back for him. He is, after all, a Proven Closer, so it's quite possible some contender (Detroit? Boston?) will be willing to give significant value. Mind you, if we do that we'd better be sure that Krol is for real, Stammen is just having a statistical blip, etc., since stripping the pen completely is the kind of thing that leaves Zach Duke being relied on. But it's easier to retool the pen than virtually any other part of the team.

LaRoche could also be moved--at the least, he should be offered, as a lefty bat with a good glove at 1B and under team control for one more year. That would free up 1B for Zimmerman and let us decide whether to plug 2B or 3B with not-Rendon. Espinosa could have some value for a team that believes he can come back (Oakland springs to mind, since their 2B hitting has been abysmal and Rizzo has a track record of making mutually beneficial trades with them)--that's going to depend on the medical details; if 2011 Danny is his anticipated future level of performance then obviously I don't WANT to let him go but if not, then we should move on.

Tim said...

The problem with saying that they need to trade Soriano is that I don't see anyone taking on that salary and giving you fair value. In my mind, you're either dumping the salary and getting virtually nothing, or you're eating a pretty large amount of the salary (including deferred money) to get prospects back.

blovy8 said...

Yeah, I'm with you on Haren, I thought that was a decent gamble for one season. I figured a Bernadina/Moore platoon would be acceptable when the inevitable injuries struck, or that they might actually PLAY the deserving players they bring up from the minors like Kobernus or Marrero a few times. Seems like Corey Brown has regressed taking away an option there. Goodwin has been predictably raw in AA.

I predict the Nats will win a few games this week now just to screw up the logical strategy for this club before the trade deadline.

Nick, I don't think Soriano's contract is all that easy to move, lots of deferred money, but it's not cheap. While I'd love to get a guy like Smyly from the Tigers, I don't think his value is quite there.

I knew Storen was going to be in trouble last night when he started with a couple of off speed pitches. If he doesn't trust his fastball command (and, of course, that was justified), it's going to be a ragged inning. To be fair, ANY situation with him seems hard to predict at this point, not just high-leverage appearances.

It's probably already at the point where Krol should be trusted with a whole inning like Burnett or something, but I suppose Mattheus coming back will still prevent that.

The Mets dumping Dickey doesn't seem so dumb now.

Strasburger said...

Harp, you need to stop being so biased and jump on Bryce for his shortcomings, too.

Werth, in my mind, considering what we were hoping for from him this year, has exceeded expectations, and he clearly still has pop (oppo field, at that).

Rendon, as you assumed, is in the middle of a HUGE regression, but his fielding is coming along nicely (no espy at 2nd though).

Storen is really struggling, which is tough because he's one of the guys you root for.

Clippard is playing like a total stud, which is great to see

Soriano. Meh.

Zimm is doing well
Span is a joke (he was supposed to be an OBP master, funny.)
Desmond is playing well, but not as well as he could be (pitchers respect/fear him and he isn't waiting for the right pitches)
Laroche is marginal, certainly not slugging like before, but a good entity at 1B.
Ramos is promising but seems to be coming back to earth
Suzuki aint much at the plate

Starters 1-3: Awesome

Haren: DL immediately and bring up ohlendorf, at least change the make up of this rotation so we don't EXPECT a HR show every fifth day.

Det: Still undecided.

Bench: Terrible.

Most of these opinions mirror yours, but you don't ever seem to jump on Bryce, or even mention his season....

Here's my analysis of him:

A massive start does not exempt you from scrutiny for the rest of the season. Bryce is batting in the low 260s with no more excuses that are injury related. "The Chosen One" should start playing like a superstar if he is for whatever reason, getting that treatment. He whines, and doesn't really do much. He is almost on the level of Puig but at the moment 1/10th the player.

I hope he proves me wrong these last 60ish games. Whats your view on his post injury season?

Froggy said...

Harper, thanks for writing this piece as you saved me from complaining about Haren yet again. After he served up the second homer last night I was thinking that he is 4-11 and what that meant to where we are in the season overall.

So, what IF he was instead EJAX like and pitching .500 and had a 8-8 or 7-7 record? We would not just be 3-4 games at a minimum better but legitimately still in contention to win with our 1-4 guys. Less stress on the bullpen, less opportunities for Storen to come in and melt down, Soriano to blow it, etc. That said, it really isn't fair to pin things on the pen when we only give them a slim 1 run lead over and over again and then look for zero defect performance. Overall Soriano, Clip, Ohlendorf, and Krol in my opinion have been a net plus.

Also, in spite of how critical I've been on Haren, Storen, etc, it isn't fair to pin the whole season on any one person, Eckstein, Haren, Detweiler, or pick a previously DL'd player, but whereas 9 guys do go to bat 3-5 times in a game, only one guy is the starting pitcher and therefore has a disproportionately more critical effect on the outcome of a game.

Curious what your statistician/insider analysis opinion is on how things would be different (if they would be) if Haren were a .500+ pitcher and the cumulative affect on the team?

cass said...


Harper did address Bryce in one of the recent comment sections in reply to me questioning his approach lately. He said he was starting to worry about the lack of home runs, but wasn't too worried overall, as I recall.

Strasburger said...

I know, I read every day. I think there is more to be concerned about than the lack of Homers, though. Don't get me wrong, I love this blog, which is why I read it every day. I just havent seen the break out any sports columnist in America was expecting from Bryce..

Ollie said...

How about this:

Espinosa, Storen, and prospects 4-5 ranked in the Nats' farm system for David Price (and potentially a prospect) in return.

Eat most of Soriano's contract for next year to get some decent prospects from a contender.

Move LaRoche to a contender, save salary, and pick up whatever prospects you can in return. Move Hairston and Tracy for whatever you can get (if you can). Gather enough ammunition to make a run at a big bat next year and sign ZNN and Price to extensions. If they improve the offense in the offseason then they're favorites for not only the NL East but also the World Series.

Chaz R said...

Another excellent post, Harper. They have done as much as they can with Haren, given him every possible opportunity. It really is time to move him out of the rotation.

I still think this team is talented. As previously discussed, they just largely have not been playing at there true performance levels. No doubt, there needs to be a couple of small fixes- back end SP, a legit big stick, and improve the bench. I wouldn't trade Espy, I would give him a chance to make it back and look to him as our future at 2B

Do you think they trade Soriano before Storen?

bdrube said...

Trade Soriano or Storen? Why? One makes too much money and the other is a classic "sell low" situation. You're not going to get a good return for either of them. If you want to trade a reliever who will bring that return it has to be Clippard, who is at peak value right now. Dumping our underperforming players via weak trades is NOT going to help this team get better next season.

Miles Treacy said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Miles Treacy said...

rizzo should just trade off laroche and soriano. maybe even jayson werth while he's looking really hot and just eat part of the contract if there are suitors dumb enough to take part of his contract. make a run at cano this summer. move rendon to 3b and zimm to first.

Chaz R said...

Looks we are all about ready to pack this season away... anyone think we should be buyers and stay with it?

Even if we somehow manage to come out on top of the home stand, the season will be constantly on the edge of falling off the cliff the rest of the way.

cass said...

So, based on that article you linked to, Harper, I did some of my own research on FanGraphs (all WAR figures are fWAR) and wrote up the following email to some family members who are baseball fans. I think you all might appreciate this as well, so I'm copying it below.

If the Nats had gotten replacement level production instead of the actual production of the following players, we would be 5 games ahead of where we are and just 3 games back of the Braves.

Tyler Moore -1.4
Steve Lombardozzi -0.9
Chad Tracy -0.7
Danny Espinosa -0.6
Chris Marerro -0.2
Jhonotan Solano -0.2

Nate Karns -0.4
Henry Rodriguez -0.3
Yunesky Maya -0.2
Zack Duke 0.1

That's 4 wins of below-replacement offense and 1 win of below-replacement pitching. Mike Rizzo was the one who did not replace these players and Davey Johnson is the one who kept sending them into games. And yet the hitting coach, Rick Eckstein, is the one who gets fired.

To be fair, the pitching isn't too much of an issue - those are all players you'd expect to be replacement level, AAA filler, and some other similar players like Ohloendorf, Abad, and Taylor Jordan have overproduced - to the tune of +1.1 WAR. So the Nats are getting basically 0 WAR from their replacement pitching, which is what you'd expect.

The hitting, though, is another story. Except for three pitchers with +0.1 hitting WAR each, the only positive WAR on the team has come from the 9 starting position players, including Rendon instead of Espinosa and both Ramos and Suzuki. None of the bench players or AAA replacement fillers have posted a positive WAR - they've all aded up to negative 4 wins and this sub-replacement performance by the bench and injury replacements has done quite a bit to torpedo the Nats season.

And, for what it's worth, Lombo, Moore, Bernadina, Tracy, Solano combined for 6.7 WAR last year:

Espinosa: 3.4
Bernadina 1.7
Moore 0.6
Lombo 0.6
Solano 0.4

So that's a difference of 10.5 WAR between 2012 and 103 so far for those five players alone.

cass said...

Er, the last line should read "between 2012 and 2013".

Nick said...

I disagree with the notion that we wouldn't get much for Soriano. While he is expensive, teams like the Tigers/Red Sox have plenty of payroll flexibility to take that contract on. Additionally, we could eat a few million in order to get a low end top 100-ish prospect to plug in the rotation in 2014-2015. It only takes one desperate high payroll team to make a trade. Remember Capps for Ramos? Capps was not nearly the pitcher that Soriano is, and while teams have gotten somewhat smarter, there is no reason we couldn't eat a few million and get a useful starting pitcher to replace the complete abyss that is Dan Haren. I am not saying we will get a guy with ace potential but there are plenty of buyers out there and not many sellers. So I suggest moving Soriano because he is a relief pitcher (closer with a captial "C") and probably won't be worth more than 2-2.5 WAR over the remainder of his deal anyways.

I definitely wouldn't move Espinosa given that it's selling at the absolute bottom of his value, and I still think he has more value than Lombo as a utility guy or backup 2b/ss if rendon/des get hurt.

And even by selling Soriano, we aren't throwing in the towel for 2013 fully, because we aren't losing any crucial parts from the team this year.

Additionally, if you think the Nats can trade for Price without giving up at the very least Rendon and Gioloto, you are crazy. Go back and look what the Rays got for Garza and Shields, two lesser pitchers than Price. The cost to trade for Price is going to be ridiculously high and will completely deplete our farm system and probably some of our big league roster as well.

Anonymous said...

Nobody trades starters or top prospects for a reliever... Those trades just arent gonna happen

Wally said...

Here is the other thing that virtually all of us missed when projecting the Nats season: defense. It has been very bad statistically, and from a pure eye standpoint. They seem to rarely make a big defensive play,and quite often make a big gaffe. I just watched Jordan get 4 straight GBs, and has given up 3 runs. Only 1 charged error, but several other 'could have gotten' balls.

I don't trust the fancy stats to quantify with precision to estimate how much that has cost the team, but I just didn't see this coming. In fact, the opposite. I thought that they would be a top 5 defensive team. But right now, only Span and Desmond seem above average defensively.

Theo said...

What about a 4-man rotation? That's if we are all in for this season still but of course, it might wear down the big 3 which we don't want. Still think it's worth a shot if Haren can't get it together.

Sirc said...

The Nats can become sellers before the deadline without conceding this season. The pieces that they can possibly move won't have a huge impact on next season.

Signing Soriano only made sense when the Nats were a favorite to repeat as NL East champs, and when they were feeling the fresh sting of bullpen collapse following game 5 last year. Now it's just one of many bad contracts they have on the books. But it is also the one that they might be able to move.

If there is anything of value in return for Soriano they should make that move. The team should name Clippard the closer of the future immediately and hand him a multi year contract before he sniffs free agency, because he will be paid closer dollars if he does hit the open market. His numbers are on par with the elite closers right now, as they were in '10 and '11. Based on this season I now believe that 2012 wasn't a regression, but an off year for Clippard. Perhaps it was the price paid for Riggleman's abuse of his arm.

Whatever the case, it is Clippard, and not Storen, who should be the guy going forward. And if it is possible to move Soriano to a contender with a gaping hole at the closer position they should jump at the chance. The only leverage that the Nats have over contending teams at the deadline is the lure of a ring, and the fear of missing that chance due to a lack of experience out of the closer. Soriano's contract is not appealing to anyone. But it might not look so bad in this one specific point in time.

Clip is the guy. Build the pen around him, and start now.

cass said...

Clippard is the guy this year. Doesn't mean he will be next year. Storen used to be the guy, too. Most relievers are good for a few years and then bomb. Longterm deals for relievers are rarely a good idea. Pretty much only Mo has been worth his contracts.

I like Clippard a lot and I want him on this team as long as possible, but giving money to relievers is usually a fools errand.

Nick said...

Anon, the Orioles just gave up a top 200 prospect who profiles as an average second baseman in Delmonico for 20 innings of K-rod, who has been worse than Soriano this year and is not under contract after this year. While their contracts are different and I am not saying we are going to get Profar for Soriano, we can certainly get a useful piece with a glut of buyers with money to burn.

Remember Chris Davis and Tommy Hunter for Koji Uehara? Capps for Ramos? Andrew Baily for Josh REddick? Mike Adams for Robbie Erlin (a back end starting pitcher!)? Look back and research, because relievers get traded for decent to good prospects all of the time. Even if we eat some of the contract and get a decent prospect, it will still free up payroll to improve our bench for 2014, which could theoretically improve the output from below replacement level.