Nationals Baseball: February 2013

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. 

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Odds and Ends

Starting Pitching Health last words

I spent the last 2 posts talking about the Nats likelihood of facing an injury to a starting pitcher and while that still holds true, I may have sold short their ability to have 4 healthy starters all year. Yes, these great healthy rotations fall apart because of injury, but they also fall apart because of free agency. The reliable pitcher goes away and the team is forced to replace him with someone less reliable. That's not a problem the Nats face with their main four. I looked at the last 5 teams to have 5 starters hit 30+ starts and instead of seeing how they did do the following year, I looked at how they would have done if everyone stayed. (You might have seen this in the last comments - but hey not everyone reads those)

06 WhiteSox - 4
05 Indians - 3
05 Cardinals - 4 (though Morris was terrible and probably hurt)
03 Mariners - 3 (misread this originally)
93 Dodgers - can't be sure, strike year but 4 likely.

Bolstering my theory that an injury will happen, no one would have replicated  five healthy starters.  It's just THAT hard to keep five guys throwing 200IP  healthy all year. But two teams would have hit the 4 level, and another one would have likely also done it if not for the strike.  More importantly, no one would have crashed to the "only 2 healthy starter" level.  Personally that's the level the Nats would have to get to for me to worry about their playoff chances. (So in other words - to reiterate - pitcher injury will happen but alone is not a worry)

Danny is good

Rendon hit a home run!  It's time to begin talk of replacing someone!

Last year, prior to the season, the prevailing theme was "Ian is no good! Trade him and move Danny over! Let Rendon play 2nd".  Then Ian had a breakout year.  Now the talk is "Danny is no good! Trade Danny and let Rendon play 2nd!" The problem is that Danny IS good.

Danny does strikeout a lot and had an off-year hitting. With his pop though, it was still good enough to be average for a 2nd baseman.  His speed? Above average. His fielding? Among the best in the majors. Basically Danny does nothing wrong. It depends on how you look at the defense but last year Danny was somewhere between average and above average.And this is the guy you want to replace? With a guy who primarily projects to be a 3rd baseman?

I feel like this is a "don't know what you've got till it's gone situation".  With a slight improvement at the plate (really it would not take much) Danny is a Top 5 type 2nd baseman. Danny is 26, team controlled until 2017 and  by all accounts a decent fella. This is not the type of player you eye for replacement.I know we're always fascinated by the next big thing but it's not the Espinosas that good teams deal. It's the Skoles and Moores. The guys that haven't produced full-time in the majors and might be overproducing now.

(What should they do with Rendon?  Well IF he does well enough in AA - you play him all over the infield in September.  Then you begin the grooming process for which corner spot you want him to take. Hell - maybe it will be 2nd base even but the 2013 season is going to decide that, not a couple homers in Florida and the fact Danny struck out too much in 2012)

Christian Garcia

Seriously.  Usually I defer to the judgement of the guys in charge because they know this team better than me, but the whole Garcia to starter move was one that I couldn't agree with. So many injuries, so long since he's pitched even close to a starters level of innings. It just didn't make sense. Now he's injured. Still they persist with this starter fantasy. Stop it. Honestly. Stop it. Squeeze what use you can from this broken arm and move on. (I don't expect them to.  Rizzo is loathe to admit defeat - see "The 100 Chances of Wang")

Friday, February 22, 2013

Why not this pitching staff?

Yesterday I told you that it's very unlikely that the Nats pitching staff would go through 2013 without a serious injury and next to impossible that they'd be able to stay complete healthy all the way until the end of 2014. But still a couple teams have done that in the past 20 years and the Nats staff is supposed to be special.  Why CAN'T the Nats do it?  I'll leave the kicker until the end but first let's look at the teams that did it.

2005-2008 White Sox

Four consecutive years of 4 guys with 30 or more starts. That's mighty impressive. How'd they do it? They mixed home grown talent with savvy FA signings.

The first crew to do it was Mark Buehrle, Jon Garland, Freddy Garcia, and Jose Contreras.  Buehrle and Garland were home grown guys, younger, and already had a history of lots of starts (4 years in a row of 30+ for Mark, 3 for Jon).  They brought in Garcia who had a 4 year streak of his own coming from Seattle. Only Contreras was the gamble.  He was supposedly a rubber-arm Cuban but spent parts of 2003 dealing with one thing or another. The White Sox gambled on him and won.

The following year this group would be joined by Javy Vasquez who also had a long history of 30+ starts (6 years in a row before coming to the White Sox) and they got the perfect 5 guys all staying healthy all year.

Freddy Garcia would leave the next year for Philly and promptly suffer an injury that would derail him for 3 years. The rest of the cast stayed the same and they got 4 again. One thing you'd notice though is that it didn't matter as much to the White Sox how well the pitching was. Contreras was awful this year and fairly consistently so, but they kept trotting him out there. At 72-90 the White Sox were out of the playoff hunt by the All-Star break.  A better team may have tried something else.

In 2008 the aged Contreras was let go and Garland left for LA, but the White Sox filled the holes with Gavin Floyd (trade) and John Danks (within) to get to 4. While Javy would leave after this year, these three would continue to put up 30+ games starts until last year when Danks went down.

1991-1993 Braves

The Braves! The pitching staff held up as the example of awesomeness, who did it almost entirely from within.

In 1991 It started with Steve Avery, John Smoltz, Tom Glavine, and Charlie Leibrandt. Only Leibrandt came from outside and when the Braves got him he had put up 5 straight healthy years (though it looks like he'd been a little injured that first year for the Braves).  Thus started the run.

In 1992 it was the same 4.  In 1993 Liebrandt left and in came Greg Maddux - 5 30+ start seasons in a row before this.

And then... the strike, which made it impossible to get to 30 starts in '94 and pretty much impossible in '95  Could the Braves had made it  until Avery was brought down low in 1996?

No. While in 1995 the 4 would start 28, 29, 29 and 29 games showing another year of perfect health, 1994 was not that. Two weeks before the season ended Smoltz underwent surgery to get bone chips out of his elbow.  Is it possible that in a full year he tries to pitch through it? I suppose. But is it possible that that leads to a bigger injury issue with Smoltz? Or that if he has his surgery in the beginning of October instead of the end of July that he's maybe not ready by a normal Opening Day '95? (The 1995 season started in late April).  I'm thinking one way or another it ends in 1994 or 1995.  

Plus Avery did get injured, too. He just pitched through it and got terrible.

So why not the Nats?

The Nats (23, 26, 26, 26, 28) were older than the Braves (21, 24, 25, 34) when they started their streak, but younger than the White Sox (25, 26, 28, 33). Haren is an injury risk but then again the Nats don't need him to keep the streak alive (we're only talking 4 pitchers here) and even with an injury he hit 30 starts last year, which makes 8 years in a row. Why would I be down on the Nats in comparison to these two staffs (at least in the sense of hitting 30 starts)?

Here's why -
White Sox - Contreras lost a little time in 2004 with shoulder issues, no other recent injury issues
Braves - Liebrandt lost a little time in 1990 due to something, no other recent injury issues
Nats - Haren lost a couple games in 2012 with back issues. Tommy John surgery for Jordan Zimmerman in 2010.  Major hip surgery for Ross Detwiler in 2010. Tommy John for Stephen Strasburg in 2011.

Both the White Sox of the mid 2000s and the Braves of the early 90s were dealing with staffs that were mostly healthy leading up to the streaks.  As we talked about yesterday, past health is a great predictor of future health. While Haren might work out just like Leibrandt and Contreras did, there are still 3 guys on the Nats who have yet to put up back to back full years of health because of major injuries.

This doesn't mean the Nats staff is not better than the White Sox or arguably on par with the Braves. It is that good. It does mean however that what I said to start holds true.  The chances of the Nats making it through the next two years with great health (4+ starters starting 30+ games) is next to none.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Dream a little dream of pitcher health

Last year the Nats had amazing starting pitcher health.  For example here are the number of missed starts (where a whole rotation turn took place without said pitcher) for the Nats starters last year:

Gio : 0
ZNN : 0
EJax : 0
Strasburg (while in rotation) : 0
Detwiler (while starter) : 0

Hmm that's not a lot is it?

While neither Strasburg or Detwiler got to their 30th start it's likely both would have if given different circumstances.  How often does that happen, that 5 starters get to 30 starts a piece? Well since the 5 man rotation became the standard (let's say 1982 for the sake of argument - that's 30 years and that gets us past the strike year of '81) it's only happened 7 times. that's 7 times over like 800+ seasons, or like once every 3 years or so. It's a big recipe for success. None of these teams had a losing record and the last 6 averaged 95 wins.

Having four starters hit the 30 start mark is a lot more common (an additional 72 teams) but overall that's still not often. 79 times over 800+ seasons worth of teams is about 3 teams a year.  And how many times has a team managed to do it in back to back seasons? I counted 8 times (and only twice in back to back to back years for what it's worth)

The Nats do have things going for them.  The simple way of looking at it is the older you are, the more pitches you throw, and how often you've been injured before matter most in figuring if you are going to be injured this season. (Here's a recent article from BP about it) . The Nats primarily have young pitchers who either haven't really been injured (Gio) or haven't suffered any game skipping injuries since their major surgeries (Detwiler- hip, ZNN Stras - TJ). They haven't overly stressed any of their arms, keeping the # pitches out of the high end.  But you have to think other teams probably had the same circumstances. As well as the Nats have set themselves up it isn't very likely the Nats will have this kind of health in 2013, and it's nearly impossible they will have it over the next two years.

Exactly how likely is a major injury? That's hard to say. A lot of stuff goes into injury risk and even then it's not hard and fast. To put down a number for the Nats would be just major speculation.To give you an idea though of how unlikely it is - let's say you think Haren has a 25% chance of having a major injury, and Detwiler, Strasburg, and ZNN have a 10% chance, and Gio 5%.  That doesn't seem crazy does it, maybe a little skewed to the Nats even? Well given those numbers it's basically 50/50 the Nats make it through the season with none of these guys having a major injury. A coin flip.

I would say this - it's pretty likely that the Nats will suffer a major starting pitching injury next year. I'd say Haren is the most likely (obviously), followed by ZNN (shoulder issues last year), then probably Detwiler (I worry about the hip more than TJ), then either Gio or Stras depending on whether you care more about pitches (Gio) or the TJ (Strasburg).  But we went over this in the Gio "suspension" article, something like that alone isn't going to derail the Nats season.  What they need to avoid is the scenario where 2 or more arms go down for major time. That isn't very likely (with the completely made up numbers above - I figure the chances are around 15% and nearly all that is the "2" scenario, 3 or more is less than 2% of the time), but it happens to a few teams every year.

While the Nats have set themselves up pretty well for it NOT to be them the move from Haren (32 with recent injury issues) from Jackson (29 and one of baseball's most dependable arms) does increase the likelihood. It's up to the baseball gods now.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Walking in place

The "big news" of last night for the Nats was the ESPN story that told us... well it told us nothing new in regards to Gio.  Two sources said Gio didn't receive banned substances, which matches up with what Gio said and more importantly matches up with the facts we already knew about the case. It's really a lack of news, but when you are following an investigation, even a lack of news is news.

Gio looks good mainly because it's rare in these type of investigations that things don't get worse.  They have for A-Rod. They have for Braun. They have for all those other players not originally named.

However, as the same facts seem to exonerate Gio, the same questions remain. Did Gio really know nothing about this clinic as he claims? If so, why does the clinic seem to know him? And if he's lying, why, as it seems so far that he has nothing to hide? And what about this "coach"? 

Really though, just like the story around Gio is spinning in place, so are the Nats and their fans. Nothing matters until MLB hands down their sentence (or lack there of).

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

I wouldn't worry about Espinosa. I might worry about the pen.

Just a quick one today as I battle various ailments.

One of the big concerns in the off-season is how Danny Espinosa will play through his rotator cuff injury. It's scary sounding, mainly because history has show that if a pitcher gets that injury in his throwing arm you might as well call it a career. Danny has three things going for him though.  He's not a pitcher, he plays 2nd base. He's youngish (26 in April) which means he should recover better than someone on the wrong side of 30.  The injury is in his left shoulder, not his throwing arm. Basically if you had to have someone on your starting team get this injury, that is what you would ask for - an injury to the off-arm of a young position player.

But what about his numbers last year?  Clearly that shows that he was being bothered by his injury, right? Not really. While his numbers were down last year a lot of it had to do with an absolutely terrible start.

April : .205 / .300 / .369
Rest of Year :  .254 / .317 / .422

As unimpressive as you might see those "rest of the year" numbers as, they're actually enough to maybe squeak him into the Top 10 offensive 2nd basemen in the majors. Add in his defense and he might just be a Top 5 2nd basemen. The competition is weak here.

Month by month you'd call his offense : TERRIBLE!, good, bad, great, good, fair.   That doesn't look like someone bothered by his injury.  Sure he says he was but so would you if given an easy excuse for what looks like an off year.

So I wouldn't worry about Danny.  I wouldn't necessarily expect him to have a Desmond like break-out, but simply a little above average should make him one of the better second basemen in the league.

Now what I worry about in the back of my head is the bullpen. While we all talk about how young the Nats are, their bullpen is of pretty average age.  Drew Storen is the only young one at 25. Clip will be 28 this year, Stammen and Mattheus 29, and Soriano 33. I'm not saying that's old.  It isn't. Outside of Soriano none of these guys are at the age where you'd expect a drop in production. But at the same time they aren't in a age range where you can reasonably expect improvement. 

That in itself would be fine - they've all been good pitchers so they don't need to improve. And I like the fact that the three "middle inning" guys were all former starters (I think that means they can handle more innings - of course this is just a feeling) But each one has an issue you can pick out. Storen had his injury and his breakdown in the playoffs.  Clippard, who is among the most used pitchers over the past 3 years, completely washed out at the end of last season. Mattheus pitched his most innings as a reliever and battled through a foot issue early in the year. Stammen threw 88 innings, which is was the 2nd most for a pure reliever last year.  Soriano missed a good part of 2011 with injury.

If I'm looking for a place where a lot can go wrong fast it's here. A couple arms go down, one guy just doesn't pitch well this year, suddenly that strength becomes... well, it probably wouldn't be a weakness. The addition of Soriano means we're looking at five decent arms here and even just two decent arms can be ridden to an average season. But it wouldn't be a strength and given how the Nats pen held up last year, no one would be looking forward to a post-season where you didn't feel good about the pen.

Friday, February 15, 2013

Strasburg - last year revisited

Remember how last year we all thought Strasburg was just kind of off?  I don't think we give him the credit he deserves because last year was pretty awesome.

You know how many times a player in his first 3 seasons has put up 150+ innings where they struck out at least 10 per 9 innings and had a K/BB ratio of over 3?  7.  Seven times ever in the history of baseball.

Ok yes that is arbitrary number picking and the high strikeout totals certainly favor pitchers in the last 20 years* but still that's impressive, right? And it's not just a "first few seasons thing" His K/BB of 4.10 would have been 5th in the NL if he pitched enough innings to qualify.  He would have led the league in K/9.  He would have been around 25th in the league in BB/9.

You might be thinking "Ok that's good, probably very good, but we didn't expect this guy to be very good we expected him to be great"  First I'd say "That was great, you idiot".  Then I'd note that he didn't get lucky or pitch well (for him) in 2012. Last year was the wildest he's pitched in his admittedly brief career (but also wilder than his last college year). He had a .311 BABIP against him and an 11.5% HR/FB rate, which are both on the higher side of the expected ranges.  Things were probably working against him a little bit. And remember, this is all from a guy who was pitching his first full(-ish) season coming back from Tommy John. 

Strasburg is special. At age 23 in his first full season in the bigs, he came back from surgery, arguably had a little bit of bad luck, arguably didn't pitch to his capabilities, and still put up a season where if he pitched a full load of innings he would have been a Top 5 most valuable pitcher in the majors. It seems very likely that next year he'll improve in some way, healthier, more experience, better luck, and even a slight improvement in one of these would mean the Nationals would get one of the Top 3 pitcher seasons in the league.  If it all comes together, we'd be getting into the historic.

Other things may not work out for the Nats.  Maybe Danny is hurt.  Maybe Gio gets suspended or the whole thing effects him.  Maybe LaRoche does come back to Earth. But Strasburg and Bryce will work out and if things go as well as they could, hell, alone they could carry the Nats to the playoffs.

*4 of the non-Strasburgs were since 1995 : Nomo, Lincecum x2, Prior. The other two were Gooden's 1984 season and Dick Radatz '67 year (when he was 27)

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

The Gio cloud

Yesterday Gio answered questions from the media, and if you read different accounts you get a different story.  Some local accounts and a national one had a confident and happy Gio, answering questions straight fowardly and oh by the way did we mention he got invited to play for the USA in the WBC!? Other national reports took a more matter of fact approach ignoring impressions and relegating the WBC point to a mere sentence.  The local guys seemed inclined to let this sit on the back-burner, at least until the MLB investigation gives us a definitive response by baseball. The national guys have no such inclination.  Jayson Stark even went ahead and posted an opinion piece that questioned Gio.  The nerve!  

I don't necessarily agree with Mr. Stark but I'm very glad he wrote that up. The national reports - AP and ESPN's non-opinion piece are reporting the straight news. While it comes across as dry, it also is the most fair. Gio's attitude is not relevant. His call to the WBC is at best circumstantial evidence in his favor. Instead what we need to know is what happened, what Gio says about it and that MLB is looking into it. On the other side, the local guys come across as a bit soft toward Gio. They know Gio. He doesn't seem like a user. I assume there hadn't been hints or insinuations floating around. The hard evidence is not strongly aligned against him. As long as they keep on putting relevant information out there, what's the harm in not grilling the guy? Is the story a little unbelievable? Perhaps. But it's certainly not impossible so why not give Gio the benefit of the doubt?

Thing is, while Gio the individual may deserve the benefit of the doubt, Gio the ballplayer lost that benefit a long time ago. It wasn't his fault, but that's the truth. As a ballplayer there is zero tolerance now. You even associate with one dirty person and you are going to be questioned over and over about it until most people are satisfied. Above and beyond that, you are going to have to accept the fact that a few people are NEVER going to be satisfied. That's the life of a modern ballplayer. Stark comes from this other side, after seeing ballplayer after ballplayer flat out lie to our faces, he wants Gio to accept the fact he's going to be basically interrogated by the press. He wants us to see how silly Gio's story seems if you take it on face value so that if Gio is found to be guilty we don't sit around and talk about how shocked we are. It's may be a little harsh but that's reality now.

It's not that I expect the beat guys to be doing this. I would imagine in any town we'd see the same type of... let's not say kid's gloves, maybe "older teen's gloves", treatment for a nice guy who has given no indication of guilt where the current known evidence does not clearly convict him. But this type of colmun should have already been out there* already. 

Gio's name was in a book of a known dealer of banned substances, where nearly every other player name in the book is someone who is strongly connected to banned substances. His father's name is in there. The name of the guy he identified as his off-season strength coach is in there. There's far more circumstantially linking him to banned substances, than putting him on the side of angels.

*If we really want someone to put Gio and the team to task about this, it's Boz who should be doing it. It's a columnist thing. But God knows the Unofficial Mascot of the Washington Nationals is not going to be doing that anytime soon.

Monday, February 11, 2013

Pitchers AND catchers?

Sometimes we're grown-ups and sometimes we're kids.  Pitchers and Catchers is totally a little kid thing to get excited about.  It's like when they turn the calendar over to December, see the 25th sitting there, and start screaming "It's almost Christmas!" while running around the house. That's cute, right?

Of course pitchers and catchers turns into Spring Training which is the equivalent to the same kid, 90 minutes later, still running around and screaming.  Worse, when you tell them to calm down they scream  "IIII caaaaan't stoppppp myselffffff!!!!" while bouncing from couch to couch. Yes you can, dammit.

Nats fans are waiting on two things right now. Is Gio going to be punished in some way for his association with that Florida clinic?  Does Danny Espinosa look healthy? That's about it. Everything else is either better left to when the season begins, or mostly inconsequential.

Of course, it's up to you how much of this you want to absorb.  Maybe you love it, and to each his own. I'll just be writing the same random stuff until the off-season becomes the in-season.

Thursday, February 07, 2013

Micah Owings

Rizzo is on the way to his final goal.  No, not winning a World Series, turning the Nats bench into the 2008 Arizona Diamondbacks! Recently he signed a couple more D-back guys to get closer to this goal.  Chris Snyder is organizational depth.  The guy has NEVER played more than 115 games in a season. (ok he played 122 games in the minors in 2003.  You got me!) If you can discount last years horrific performance, he's not a terrible bat.  At only 32 he might have something left.  Really nothing to see here, just a guy that if the Nats are down to their 4th string catcher because of injury and such, you can accept starting him for a week.

But people are fascinated by Micah Owings. Micah was a pitcher/hitter who was great at both in college.  not good - great. Led the team in homers, SLG, and RBIwhile batting .354.  Had a 9.6 K/9 and a 6.24 K/BB ration. You could argue that he was the best hitter AND best pitcher in Conference USA that year (you'd lose the argument - but it's impressive it could be argued). He ended up in Arizona where they focused on making him a pitcher. While doing that he was still raking the ball as a hitter, putting up a .319 / .355 / .552 line, mostly from the pitcher spot.

What happened then?

Well he wasn't a good major league pitcher. To get guys out he had to dial things up and when he did that he lost his control. Plus he was prone to the gopher ball. He has some success converting to relief but in very limited trials.

Who cares about that though.  The Nats signed him as a hitter! Yeah well he hasn't been much of that either the past few years. .236 / .250 / .438 since 2009 and that pop is all before 2011. The hope is the problem with his batting the last couple of years is simply a combination of small sample size and the lack of repetition. (so small (15, 33, and 11 PAs in the past 3 years)  I don't feel there is any point in looking at the fancy stats)  Give him enough regular at bats as a hitter and he'll shine again. Is that a false hope though?

Probably. Yes, he did hit well in the past, but that was in very limited at bats 4 years ago. Yes, Rick Ankiel made a successful switch but he did it at age 25. Micah is trying it at an old 30. At that age you are at the beginning of your decline years. You get slower, and your body fights you. Micah has suffered through a bunch of injuries the past couple years, including season ending elbow surgery last year. For the sake of argument I took a look at guys who were 26/27 in 2009 and hit with an above average OPS+.  Out of roughly 20, only 4 had a better year last year than in 2009. (If you must know Wright, Cabrera, Cano, and for some reason Aaron Hill).  Yeah I know that's kind of a skewed look at things but we're looking at Owings in a skewed way.  "He was good in 2009 so he must be able to be good today!". It's tough to bet on some one switching positions while coming back from a major injury at this age.  Even guys not doing that can't keep up production.

But what about both? He may not be able to have value as a pitcher or a hitter alone but what about as a hybird pitcher/hitter, with the pitcher part being limited to long relief or non-important innings? Well as this (way too optimistic) fangraphs post notes, if you are going to assume his hitting will improve with more focus, you have to assume his pitching will get worse.  If his pitching gets worse, you're not even looking at a mop-up guy.  You are looking at a guy that could pitch only in the biggest of blow-outs or in games entering the 15th inning. No, this won't be it.

I'm not knocking the signing. There's no such thing as a bad minor league deal.  You sign someone, roll the dice, and usually come up empty. Micah Owings is at best an interesting distraction, not the bench star of the future. 

Tuesday, February 05, 2013

Bryce Harper will break out

If he doesn't he'll be spitting in the face of history.

We looked a couple times last year at Bryce's place in history. Did he have the best offensive season ever from a teenager? Did he have the most WAR from a teenage position player?  These comparisons leave us with the obvious follow-up question : How did all these players we are comparing him to do in their sophmore seasons?  We often hear about "sophomore slumps" but does that apply to the true phenom?  

I'm going to look at guys that Bryce matches up with offensively (OPS+) and how they did offensively the next year.  Why? Well, defensive stats bounce around too much from year to year.  I'd hate to put up WAR, show all these guys improving but have it be because they lucked into awesome fielding years. Bryce is a very good fielder and is super fast.  Those are constants. He'll have value. The question is more how much that value will increase (or decrease).

Player : OPS+ at age 19, OPS+ at age 20
Mel Ott: 139, 165
Tony Conigliaro : 137, 133
Ty Cobb : 132, 167
Sherry Magee : 122, 134
Bryce Harper : 119, ???
Mickey Mantle : 117, 162
Cesar Cedeno: 114, 97
Ken Griffey Jr : 108, 136
Edgar Renteria : 103, 80

Three players, Ott, Cobb, and Mantle, broke out to full superstardom. Two more, Magee and Griffey, improved a fair amount and would break out themselves, just not at age 20 (Griffey at 21, Magee at 22). I think this is the group we expect Bryce to be in.  But what of the other three?

Cesar Cedeno is an odd case. His age 20 season would be his worst one until he was a hobbled 32-yr old trying to stay healthy enough to hang onto a job. He would then break out at 21 and would follow that with another superstar season at 22.  He then would be involved in a situation where his girlfriend was shot dead in a motel room. He still played well after that but never to the same level. It may have been injuries, which is a concern because he played in an all-out fashion much like Bryce does. Then again, dead girlfriend.  It's a cautionary tale in more than one way but probably not comparable to Bryce.

Edgar Renteria would show that that rookie year was kind of a fluke. (The BABIP was kind of high - though as a rookie you really don't know his level until he sets it).  He'd have several mediocre seasons after that and while he'd occasionally have another good year for the most part he was a below average hitter.  Edgar, though, was a completely different hitter than Bryce, dependent on high averages to make up for his lack of power. It's not a good comparison.

Tony Conigliaro is probably the most "worrisome" of comparisons. While he was still a good hitter he never really got past the level he had as a 19yr old. Now, there's a HUGE caveat here.  He was having a slightly better year at 22 when he got beaned in the face.  After that he was never the same player. Could he have been about to have his superstar year? Or was he just a "late" bloomer who would bust out at 24 or 25? We'll never know. Either way it's not like his 20-22 seasons were bad.  They were in fact very good. Just not superstar level.

So what do the comparables say about Bryce? Simple, he will break out. Yes, yes small sample size but Bryce is such an elite talent he's going to be in small comparison groups his whole career. It could be this year, maybe 2014, but at worst by the end of 2105 he should have that great season. Five out of eight comparables had that big year by the time they were 21, with one more having it at age 22, and one possibly on the way to it at that age before a tragic injury derailed his career.  Only Edgar Renteria, the last player on this list and not very comparable to Bryce, failed to make himself into a star. I have a hard time worrying about that.

Monday, February 04, 2013

Bored Monday post

I  don't remember the term "elite quarterback" used alot growing up, so I wanted to track down when exactly it started.  Of course that is kind of hard to do, but Harper of 12 hours ago didn't know that.

Here's a college reference in 2001. Notice the word doesn't even make it into the column. It's only in the title. In 2003, in the NFL, the same thing. Here's another from 2004. Can you imagine in 2013 a column about Brady getting to be seen as one of the best QBs in the NFL and the word "elite" not being used?  The copy editor would send it back for that glaring omission.

Near as I can tell it probably came up thorugh the college ranks thanks in no small part to Nike's Elite 11 camp.  But wherever it came from, it's certainly got a grasp on our group mindthink.

That first spike in "elite QB"* searches corresponds to that NYT article about the Elite 11. That's probably not a coincidence. The next year you get 2 months of big searches around the same time - then 3, then 4, and then it's all over.  It's done.  Elite QB gives the sports pundits something to blabber about so it is here to stay. 

*this search got me better results than "elite quarterback" or "elite NFL QB" etc etc.

Baseball tomorrow