Nationals Baseball: Bench work

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Bench work

Last year's bench wasn't poorly construtcted in theory. Rizzo had all the pieces in place.You had every position covered. You had a lefty righty balance. You had a fair defensive replacement and pinch runner. Maybe there was a lack of pop and a true 3 position OF defensive replacement would have been nice, but if it all worked out it would have been great.  It was just that Rizzo was relying on a lot of hope and dreams and unsustainable 2012s.

This year the Nats needed to get better and they have so far upgrading twice. Nate McLouth is a better Roger Bernadina. Scott Hairston is a better Tyler Moore. That sounds good, but looking at it critically we see some issues. Overall they've upgraded the OF without managing to cover CF. Is it because of faith in Bryce to cover that position? Or someone in the minors? Perhaps but that issue sits out there if Span goes down. Worse is that Tyler Moore wasn't actually a good bench player to have. He provided you with one, and only one, attribute. Right-handed power. He couldn't play defense. He couldn't run. He didn't get on base. Scott Hairston being a better Tyler Moore is not really all that helpful. It made complete sense for the bench the Nats had, being as awful and power-lacking as it was, but it makes less sense for this year.

Of course if the Nats can upgrade with a better Chad Tracy and Steve Lombardozzi that will help cover up carrying a one-note player. Is there a better Chad Tracy out there? Yep. Eric Chavez. Problem is Chavez wants to play and there isn't a good place for him. Zimm isn't going to sit that much and Chavez is also a lefty making platooning with LaRoche very unlikely. After him the only lefty bats better than Tracy would be Lind and Loney, both who should find starting roles somewhere. That makes the most likely corner guy signing Jeff Baker, but he is a righty bat and really only should face lefties. This would give the Nats two players like that limiting the bench severely for late game hitting.

A better Steve Lombardozzi is also an issue. You're not going to find guys that can hit and field in the middle infield. If they exist they are starting. Instead your best bet is finding decent gloves who aren't terrible at the plate. Mark Ellis might work but he hasn't really played 3B or SS. Brian Roberts wants to start, is a gamble and is only a 2nd baseman. Ramon Santiago is terrible at the plate but he can play all the infield well. Given the Nats have pretty decent defense in the infield I guess I'd default to Ellis but it's an imperfect match.

Let's think about some scenarios:

Ideal
McLouth, Baker, Chavez, Ellis - need to trade Hairston in this scenario and assumes you can get Eric Chavez, but that's a very solid bench, ignoring CF coverage. 

Likely all FA
McLouth, Hairston, Baker, Santiago - only one LH bat hurts balance (Santiago is a better lefty bat than right but that doesn't mean he's a good lefty bat).

The all gamble bench (well not McLouth but he's set)
McLouth, Youkilis, Gutierrez, Espinosa  - hey if it all came together that's a hell of a bench

Most likely right now it seems 
McLouth, Hairston, Baker, Espinosa - a lot like the one above except making a huge gamble that Espinosa can hit at all.  If he can it's much better than Santiago but who has faith?

There are other options. Somehow get rid of LaRoche. Sign Infante and make Rendon your MI bench guy. But I don't see anything crazy happening unless part of a larger deal.

If the discussion above sounds too negative to you, you're right. The question isn't whether the Nats will have a better bench, it's a question of how much better it will be. That can't be hammered out until the work is done. Until then though, we'll have fun arguing about the margins.

6 comments:

cass said...

"Maybe there was a lack of pop and a true 3 position OF defensive replacement."

I was going to quibble with this because Bernadina looks so good out there, but UZR doesn't like him at all and DRS only lists him as +8 runs in his entire career. Though according to DRS, he's -2 in CF career, so I'd say he certainly is capable of holding his own even if the numbers say he won't be above average defensively.

Anonymous said...

I think if you are going to have a hole on your bench it is better to have to send a right handed hitter up to face a right handed pitcher as opposed to the opposite.

Also I think if you are going with a no bat middle infielder I would rather have Espinosa over Santiago. Neither one hits much but Danny has the threat of some pop, has better wheels to pinch run, and certainly is not giving anything away defensively. And I guess probably is more likely to improve over last year just because he is younger and he can't get worse.

Harper said...

cass - yeah you could stick Bernie in CF but he's more of a corner OF upgrade defensively. And considering the guys in CF and the corners I guess that was more needed (though really you'd want to PH for Span sometimes and this lack of a CF doesn't help)

Anon - usually that's right but Baker and Hairston were as bad as hitting righties as you imagine lefties are at hitting lefties. Extreme splits for those two. Chavez vs a lefty a better bet than these vs a righty.

Argument for Santiago is knows his role and production, though terrible, is not in question. Espy may not fit into bench spot and could literally hit so bad you couldn't keep him on bench (look at AAA numbers) It's a gamble but I'm not going to scream about taking Espy over someone like Santiago in that last spot. (now if they somehow don't get a decent bat at CI you may need the... i can't believe I'm saying this... less variable "production" from Santiago)

Anonymous said...

part of me still holds out hope that Espi, as quickly as he hit bottom at the end of 2012, can click back in, surgery or no surgery. Last year was putrid but he was coming off back to back 3+ WAR seasons. I'd still hope that the long-term plan would be he gets surgery, comes back as a .250-.260 hitter with a few more walks with Rendon at 3B eventually and Zimm at 1st. Or we can trade for one of the now replaceable guys (I'd take Ackley).

blovy8 said...

Well yeah, a bench is really only as good as it performs. The very nature of it is hard to predict and you can't trust projections for bench players based on everyday samples. How many guys are there who hit better off the bench? For every guy like Morse who rakes his way into a lineup, there's a guy like 2013 Bernadina who blows the leaves back onto the field.

Looking at it realistically, I think it's better to let Harper play center than go out and get a better CF option on the bench at the expense of offense. It's a bad use of resources on a four man bench (considering the backup catcher is never going to be able to play center field unless he's Biggio's son or something), since you aren't ever going to use a player like that in a competitive game defensively unless Span and Harper go out. Now, I know Span can and probably will get hurt, but I since I reckon Harper is at least average in center, getting more OF experience all the time and maturing, if you're planning for any sort of third emergency option, it's hard to imagine needing someone better for 3rd CF than McLouth on the active roster. A lingering issue will get you your Span replacement, obviously, or be something you really shouldn't be wasting time calculating the odds of happening. My plan would be to have the two corner outfielders who can hit if I can only have that many. I doubt most teams can do much better than Hairston-McLouth-Werth in a game if their starting CF gets hurt, and their starting left fielder gets ejected, for instance. That would be like planning for a better catcher than Werth or Harper, or the emergency Len Sakataesque guy on the roster who has to catch in extra innings. We'll need to consider former Astro Jake Elmore and his below-replacement 2013 resume if that's so. To be honest, I bet that guy wouldn't be that bad, but the White Sox claimed him. It seems like Espy is here to stay given Rizzo's reluctance to deal him this week in the winter meetings. He's probably right, but I don't see how he's not going to strike out even more as a part-time guy.

Maybe it's a lot more defensive shifting against him in 2013, but LaRoche's numbers against lefties in 2012 were not bad at all, and his career splits aren't really that unreasonable to just rest him a few times a month against bad matchups - it could be the strict platoon idea is not necessary. Just the threat of it that spring after his crappy injury year seemed to be enough. Just as the defensive whiz CF is limited for this club, it's hard to carry a guy who's only job is to be the right-handed platoon partner at 1st, that's how you get stuck with Tyler Moore.

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