Nationals Baseball: December 2013

Monday, December 30, 2013

Monday Quickie - A range of problems

Hey everyone! Welcome back from the holidays! And welcome back to... well I guess Redskins news for most of you.  But for those looking for some baseball talk, Boz put out his usual off season "gotta wear shades" column. Nothing really wrong with it as he's right. Getting Fister was awesome for the Nats and Blevins and McClouth make the team better. But it wouldn't be written opinion if I couldn't find some fault in it.

As anyone who has read this blog for a while knows, I don't take kindly to teams saying "they can't afford" to do anything. For the vast majority of teams, yes, yes they can afford to do it. It's that the owners choose not to. Which is fine - their team, their choice, but let's call it what it is. The Nats are saying money is an issues in two different areas.

First they are saying they are out of the Tanaka bidding. This doesn't bother me as much because the outlay of money is quite large and the implication from Rizzo is that the large amount of money that would be spent here will be spent to sign some current young Nats to long term deals. If you aren't going to be luxury tax payers (and it is onerous) it would be hard to do all three, given the money already promised to Werth, Zimm, and Gio and other contracts (Stras, Bryce) coming up.

The second one though is a big penny-wise pound foolish to me. Boz writes :
But Rizzo had a tight budget for a lefty reliever and backup catcher. The Nats couldn’t — or wouldn’t — go for more than a one-year deal.  

Really? Of the names he mentioned some of the deals are very small. Molina signed a 2 year deal... for 2.5 million total. Matt Thornton signed a 2 year, 7 million dollar deal. No offense but 3.5 million? 1.25 million? This has to be considered throw away money for a team going all out to challenge for a playoff spot. If you don't think these guys make your team better that's fine, but if you didn't want to go 2 years 3 million for Molina because "what if I'm stuck with him for 1.5 million in 2015!" then you shouldn't be owning a major league team.

The second thing that causes a tiny bit of worry is the whole "Doug Fister will be great just like Zimmermann is great because of the range of our infielders" thing. That could be true. It also could be that the Nats are relying on something that will get worse over the next few years. Zimmerman's range was a horrendous -10.2 last year. Even if you think it was because he was hurt and he was better at the end of the year, he hasn't had good range since 2010. Adam LaRoche had a poor year in the field last year, and for someone getting old and never a great fielder that portends another subpar season. Anthony Rendon, while theoretically a plus a second base, is still a bit of a question mark. He was a very good fielder but one who based on scouting reports relied on quick action more than pure range. That's perfect for thirds but not quite as good for 2nd base. Add in the fact that his ankles are made of chicken bones and I worry about him as well. Finally, while range has never been an issue for Desmond, he continues to have issues with errors.

Add it all together and you had an infield D that was fairly average last year. It has potential to be worse if Rendon's good year was a mirage and LaRoche continues to slide (I expect Zimm to bounce back a little bit) I'm not saying DOOOM! or anything like that. This won't make ZNN or Fister or anyone else bad pitchers, but if you are counting on great infield D to make them superior pitchers... well I wouldn't count on that.

Friday, December 20, 2013

Out of Blogfice

Some random notes before checking out for XMAS (well maybe - you never know when inspiration will hit)

On the whole bench thing, overall this should be a good offense. The talent of the offensive starters 1-8 should be Top 5 in the league* but injuries can kill those expectations. We saw that last year. Injuries took out Ramos, Werth and Bryce for various time frames. Add in a regression from LaRoche and a collapse from Espinosa and you get a offense that took 2/3rds of the year to get back together.

There is no reason for the Nats to be sure that can't happen again. So you can either plan for it now, with the best bench possible or adapt to it later, with trades. Since Rizzo seems to be more of a "set it and forget it" guy when it comes to rosters, I think it's important we set the bench to be as good as possible.

I don't think they have to replace Espy, Moore & Solano/Leon, you can take a gamble here or there, but if they don't replace at least two I'll be disappointed.  If I were to bet I'd say most likely to be here is Solano/Leon, then Moore, then Espy. Why Solano/Leon? Way I see it, if Ramos does go down again then trade, but hope it doesn't come to that.

Yes, there can't be a perfect roster (or more accurately it's really hard and expensive to do it and no one  does it so don't blame the Nats for that) but there are holes and it'd be silly not to try to address it. It might not be the best plan for the future, but constantly planning for the long haul can cause you to miss the opportunities in front of you. The Strasburg sit followed by the 2013 they had should be a blaring klaxon warning everyone of that.

JW - you're not offering enough for Belt, even if the Giants don't love him they'll see that.

z11/blovy8 - The Yanks will score runs (yes their gain is better than their loss.. at least from what those guys put up in 2013) but are in trouble if they don't find pitching (the Tanaka situation isn't looking good right now). With the talent out there I hope they don't break the cap for an arm (Arroyo for 2 is my hope). I expect the Rays to run away with the East. Stats-wise I don't like the Red Sox as much as everyone else. A lot of best / 2nd best years put up last season, pitching depth is an issue, Bogarts is real deal but no guarantee of great 2014 and Middlebrooks/Bradley Jr are question marks.

Anon - cass is right - if the Nats didn't up with Syracuse they would have had to find someplace else to play and Syracuse would have to find another team to use their facilities. Usually what you see is a major league team deciding to move on from a place for better facilities/location and teams shuffling around after that move.

*For those of you focusing on the great last couple of months the Nats put up as proof of a powerhouse 2014 team, I'll remind you that the team was together in July as well. Gotta factor that in.

Merry Christmas, everyone.

Monday, December 16, 2013

Monday Quickie - Not done yet

“We’re very happy with the group we have”

Even though you can't trust Rizzo to speak the honest truth to the media*, this quote from late last week can't help but make you a little bit nervous.

Zuckerman outlines the team roster at this point and there remain three big holes.  All three might not be filled but leave it the way it is and factor in Hairston's limited usefulness and you have the recipe for another bench disaster.

Danny Espinosa shouldn't be the middle infielder of choice. Did everyone forget 2013? He couldn't hit in the majors. He couldn't hit in the minors. I know they say he's healthy now. They said he was healthy then too. I suppose a whole nother offseason off might heal his shoulder up but who wants to go in with that being plan A. While Desmond can be considered a lock, Zimmerman is a perennial injury risk and Rendon has yet to prove himself. The Nats need more of a sure thing backing up these guys.

Tyler Moore shouldn't be the 1st base back-up of choice. Really? The Nats are doing this again? Third time's the charm?  Let's recap - Moore can't field, can't run, doesn't hit for average or get on base. He does one thing - hit for power - and he didn't do that last year. In his first 25 games Moore was great, in the 110+ that have followed he's hit .220 with a .260 OBP and slipping slugging numbers. Last year Adam LaRoche was pretty damn bad. Replaceable at the plate overall, useless versus lefties and continuing a downward trend in the field. I think he'll bounce back a bit but you can't look at the above for a 34 year old and bet on it. The Nats need more of a sure thing backing up this guy.

Jhonaton Solano and Sandy Leon combined (in very limited at bats) to hit something like .140 / .170 / .175. Solano in AAA hit .214 / .245 / .279. Leon in AA hit .177 / .291 / .252.  And you want these guys to be your latex salesmen? Wilson Ramos is the obvious everyday starter but he broke a finger and injured a hammy in 2009. In 2012 he tore his ACL. In 2013, he injured his hammy again and again again. In his healthy seasons he's played 113 games and 113 games. The Nats need  more of a sure thing backing up this guy.

I doubt Rizzo is done with his moves but just in case he might be thinking he is, let's keep his feet to the fire rather than say "hey this roster looks pretty good now" because on the bench it doesn't.

*This isn't a slight against Rizzo. Telling the honest truth to the media rarely serves to make the team better. You got to puff up the team sometimes. Make the players feel better. Make the players seem better to both potential trade partners and potential ticket buyers.  You don't want straight out lies from your team's management but if you're not getting a steady stream of half-truths they probably aren't doing their jobs right. 

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Why do I keep wanting to call him Jeremy Blevins?

Jerry Blevins for Billy Burns. Go!

Going back to our trade analysis method hashed out last week, the Nats easily won this trade on relative value. Blevins might not be worth all that much, relievers are just limited in that way, but Burns would not have likely helped the Nats next year. Both Eury Perez and Steven Souza are ahead of Burns on the "help us now" list for the OF and Brian Goodwin is ahead of him on the "help us later" list.  Not that three minor league guys can't fail to meet expectations but they are no more likely to do that than Burns himself.

Absolute value is for future scholars to debate but I'll take a guess that the A's end up on top. I can see Billy being a decent 3rd / 4th OF for a few years which will get you more value than a few years of a reliever. In this way it's a deal that makes sense for both sides, assuming the A's had replacements in line for Blevins (they think they do with Abad and Pomeranz). Nats get better for 2014. A's trade a fungible resource (relief pitching) for a potential bigger return down the road.

Anyway let's look at the stats. First thing to note is that Blevins is not a LOOGY.  Here are those splits I promised you

v R : .220 / .314 / .322
v L : .250 / .340 / .419

v R : .219 / .333 / .310
v L : .182 / .248 / .327

v R : .190 / .267 / .314
v L : .253 / .299 / .442

See? If anything he's been better against righties over the past 3 years. The take away though is that he's been effective against both sides. This is important because a LOOGY is like a Tyler Moore for the bullpen. Limited in such a way that if you're roster isn't well made around him, it can make a manager's life more difficult as opposed to easier.

Great! Any cause for concern? Isn't there always? Let's go to the fancy stats!

Blevins is an fly-ball pitcher with a FB-rate which will probably end up in the upper 40s. That's not great but it doesn't mean Blevins will immediately be a gopher-ball pitcher coming to a new park. Clippard is the biggest fly-ball pitcher on the Nats with a FB-rate over 55% last year. Soriano was third on the team (42%). Expect a couple more homers but it shouldn't be a career-destroyer. Shouldn't

Blevins BABIP has been pretty damn low the last couple of years .242 in 2013. .224 in 2012. But given that it was .278 in 2011 I think it's as much skill as luck. I don't think he'll get to a .220 level this year but .250? Completely reasonable.

LOB-rate high (77.3%) but not unreasonable in 2013, might have been so in 2012 (84.4%).  K-rate isn't great but BB-rate dropping along with it.  FB speed is steady. Age is fine.

I think if I were to guess I'd say that 2012 was a bit of a mirage. He had everything go his way, probably in part because he changed into a different pitcher that year. He had been a guy throwing 60%+ FBs and move to throwing under 50% and more junk. So if you are expecting a deserved* say 2.50 ERA season I don't see it happening. In fact, I'd expect a bit of a ERA bump, something closer to 3.50. That's not great but it's good enough to eat up some innings and give Williams a solid lefty option out of the pen, more reliable than the young Krol or Abad (who really tanked after a super fast start)

*relief pitchers pitch relatively few innings so they are more likely to luck into good/bad ERAs despite what they deserve.

What about Billy Burns?

Well you first have to understand he's not that great a prospect. Didn't make Sickels' Top 20 for last year or Baseball America's Top 10 for this year. These aren't end-all, be-all lists but they give you an idea of where he stands. Why so "low"?  Because he's been on the old-side for the leagues he's been in and he has ZERO power and power matters. Literally he's hit one home run in 1000+ plate appearances in the minor leagues. He had 21 XBH total last year. To put that in perspective Lombo had just 3 fewer XBH in 150 fewer at bats. (or if that doesn't register - if Lombo had the amount of at bats Burns did he would have had about 25% more XBH, in the major leagues). ZERO power.

He does have a good eye and is super fast so if he can hit .250+ there might be some use for him as a 5th OF type. One thing I will note is that I can't find anything saying he was a good fielder, which is odd given his superior speed. Not that he's a bad one, just that usually if you are a super fast you are noted as a superior fielder, as well. That's not the case with Burns. That cuts down his value a bit more.

Can he hit .250+ in the majors?  He did hit .325 in AA but it was just 30 games so we'll see him try again and thus he probably won't get a good look until later in the year. That's even considering the A's will probably try to fast track him because of his age, the fact his value is in having all that speed, and the A's mediocre OF prospects. My guess is that he can, but can never generate power so lines like .280 / .360 / .370 will be seen. A little tough to start a guy like that but as a pinch-runner, bunter, contact just-get-on-base or move-the-runner-over pinch hitter? He could work.

This year will really be telling though - put up another .average well over .300 into the summer and the Nats lost a useful but replaceable piece, fall to under .300 and the Nats gave up nothing, hit well over .300 and add some power and the Nats will rue the deal. (but I really don't see the latter happening)

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Quickie on Blevins for Burns

Win now.

Burns is a decent little prospect but he's 24, he hits for no power, & the Nats have a few decent OF prospects. Might be what, 15th next year in Nats prospects?

Blevins is a good LH reliever. I'll bring up splits tomorrow but pitched well vs righties in his career. He was specifically good in 2013. (and specificallly not so good versus left-handed batters). All in all better versus lefties in career though as you'd expect.

It's a good deal for a Nats team that wants to win in 2014 not wait around and see if Billy Burns might be a cheap 3rd-4th OF for 2016-2020.

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:

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.

Monday, December 09, 2013

Monday Quickie - stupid answers to snappy questions

From DAM magaizine?

On Fister and pitching staff

Trade Detwiler rather than pen him!

I think Detwiler's injury issues make him a sell low right now. So might not get a good relief pitcher let alone one AND a prospect.

Best rotation guess

Do think it will be Stras Gio ZNN Fister Detwiler to start. Jordan first up. Pen  Soriano, Clippard, Storen, Stammen, Ohlendorf, Cedeno, new lefty.

Will they trade anyone in the pen?

Doubt it unless for something real good. Pen is good, trade of Clip or Storen would weaken it significantly.

What about Stammen for a LHRP? 

You know... that isn't crazy. If the LHRP wasn't a LOOGY it would keep pen on even ground. If I were a team out of contention with a LHRP due up for FA soon, Stammen (not a FA until after 2016), and maybe a throw in prospect, isn't a bad return but they might hold out for more seeing what LHRP are getting.

Braves rotation is set? 

Sorry - right looking for another arm. Thing is they have 5 starters right now, just all young so want a more reliable arm.Could get by without it, though

Sean Burnett? 

You could get him for a song, but no. Injured pitchers are not the low variance type this team needs (which is why I'm cool on O'Flaherty)

Fister worse tha Porcello and Scherzer? 

Mainly age related. Porcello trending right and much younger. Scherzer and Fister same age and Scherzer (with some luck yes) pitched better. FIP and xFIP both have Fister "last" (but still decent). Again just a guess and one I don't like all that much but still way I lean if forced.

Storen closer by July?

No. Soriano is a baby and can't handle pitching in non closer role. Hate to coddle him but have to get what you can out of assets on hand.

Targetting Oliver Perez?

I don't think they are. I mean not more than anyone else.

LaRoche & Zimmerman >>> Cabrera & Fielder = Fister the great!

Ehhhh. I believe LaRoche's drop off is real and Zimmerman is not elite anymore so I'm a bit hesitant on the 0.25ERA reduction just from fielding. But it will be something noticeable.

On Offense side

Can Zach Walters be Lombo? 

Sure. But if the point is to minimize variance bringing in a minor leaguer with little MLB experience (who K's like crazy) isn't best bet. Rather use Espy if he ever decides to get surgery.


It's not that he's THAT much better than McLouth and I'm sick over losing him. But he can play CF and McLouth can't and that gives the Nats more flexibility which is kind of what a bench is for since you can't 1:1 replace your regulars. I'd expect roughly the same sort of offensive production from them, with McLouth the better bet to tank (though not likely). Take all that and since DeJesus signed for the same I'd rather have DeJesus.

But I'm not unhappy with McLouth.  He fills in the good enough base runner spot that the Nats lost when they had to cut Bernadina. (though I liked Eury Perez in that spot personally) It's a good, necessary move. McLouth & Hairston are worlds better than Moore and Bernadina. Though we didn't for sure know that going into 2013. Which is an important lesson. Given Hairston's terrible 2013 and McLouth's bad years, the leash on these guys should not be season-long. All-Star break fixes if these guys are looking dead.

Bring up a young guy for CF or move Bryce over if Span goes down? 

Move Bryce over.

But if they don't do that then who for CF?

Goodwin if he's hitting well in AA because he's most likely the future. If he's not, or if it's early in the year, if Souza is raking in AAA you have to give him a shot.  If not, I'd do Perez because I like the minor league consistency and better speed potential. I see him as a 4th OF for a while so let's get him some time now for later.

Who's hurt the most - Corey Brown? Tyler Moore? 

Brown the worst. Given age and performance he needed to be up now. Kobernus too. Not sure why he'd be up if not now. Souza, Perez, Goodwin all should get those mid-season call-up ahead of him. Moore can be slated for 1B and I think if he has that job by ST he'll keep it at least till Sept. Skole's gotta prove it in AA and AAA.

Backup catcher? 

At this point I'd try real hard to get Suzuki back. While personally I like Ramon Hernandez for a true back-up I don't like him for more than a game a week and with Ramos' history you need a guy that could play everyday (at least for a while until you find a true replacement) Everyone was ok with Suzuki, right? If they know he's just a back up?

Friday, December 06, 2013

Two questions to answer, one to ignore

Question #1 : Is Nate McLouth good enough? 

Ehhhhhhh. Good enough for what? To be the 4th OF? 2013 Nate McLouth is, I guess. Overall the hitting was weak but if you plan for him to primarily hit  him versus righties (with Hairston and his .270  isoSLG vs lefties) you'd be looking at a  .272 / .342 / .411 line. That's fine. Plus he fielded... well he wasn't bad.

Ok so what's the problem?  His offense and fielding were better last season than they had been in years. The defense is explainable. McLouth is not a CF. He played a lot of CF in 2010 and 2011 and he looked bad. The played nearly none in 2012 and 2013 and looked fair. As long as the Nats don't see him as a CFer he's fine (and why would they, with Span a lefty hitter too?)

His offense is more of a question. He really was worse in those years before 2013, but if you do the platoon thing he should be ok.

2012 vs righties : .255 / .321 / .410
2011 vs righties : .251 / .372 / .372

You see... ok. I mean 4th OF wise. The potential is still there for a big collapse here though.

The way I see it is that he isn't someone who can play everyday, but if a corner OF goes down (like this year) then McLouth + Hairston will work for a contender.

Question #2 - Was there anything better out there? 

You do see a problem though. McLouth and Hairston don't give the Nats a true CFer in case Span gets injured. You can say "HA! MISTAKE!" but the truth is on the FA market there wasn't really anyone who was. Andres Torres I guess, but he's rehabbing. Frankling Gutierrez like I said, but he's not exactly Mr. Reliable.  Everyone else either couldn't hit at all, or hit well enough that they should, and will, start.

Ok that isn't 100% true. There WAS a better option than McLouth and he was the greatest Nat ever, one David DeJesus. He can play center and I'd bet on him hitting better than McLouth (though also best used in a platoon situation). The Rays ended up paying him a little less than McLouth (like 250K less) for 2 years so I guess you can jump on Rizzo for a little lack of foresight. Once he was signed though McLouth kind of sat out there as the best of what was left, even considering he can't play center.

So who does play center? They can't have a 6th OF on the roster can they? Well, no so it looks like they might go down the very questionable road of having Scott Hairston be the 1st base platoon, with Tyler Moore gone, and have someone else (Eury Perez? Souza?) be the slick fielding 5th OF. Or if they are committed to Tyler Moore for some reason than the decision on a CF injury would probably be to move Bryce to CF and let McLouth and Hairston platoon in the corner. At least I hope that's what they would think to do.

I don't really like either of those plans, but the latter is a little better overall. It becomes much better if they replace Moore with an actual good 1B platoon player.

Ignorable question - "Are the Nats paying too much to for Nate McLouth"?

Honestly, if it's not enough to affect future signings, and it isn't, you shouldn't care. (and if it is enough to affect future signings you should be mad that that is the case - the Lerners should just spend. Good teams, contending teams, overpay for a decrease in variability of outcomes.

Overall I can't complain much about the deal. McLouth was clearly the best guy left on the market. He's not the perfect answer for the Nats bench, but the perfect answer no longer existed. And when you're talking 4th OF perfect doesn't matter enough. Good enough works ok.

Jamey Carroll > Steve Lombardozzi

I'm just saying.

It's true. Better fielder, better hitter. He was even smaller than Lombo. 175 pounds on baseball reference? That's like 160 in the real world right? Still in the majors and likely to sign for 2014.

Carroll's story always amazes me. He didn't look like he'd be long for the majors in 2005, maybe a couple more bench years then back home to coach community college ball or something. But then he turned himself into a fairly decent little player. Ignore 2007 and from 2006-2012 he was about a 2 win a year WAR player. Or look at in another way, from 2006-2012 he was about the 20th most valuable 2nd baseman. That's not much but it says - worth starting for somebody.

He's one of the last inaugural Nats out there. There's Zimm of course. He'll almost certainly be the last. And Marlon Byrd who became a good player pretty much the minute the Nats let him go. He'll at least play out his newly minted contract. There's Endy who after the Nats didn't understand his (admittedly limited) value plied his slap-hitting good D trade across several teams (along with possibly the best HR robbing catch in playoff history. Oops I might be slighting Jayson Werth. OK Endy has possibly the best legitimate HR robbing catch in playoff history) He might be done though as time has taken away his defence. There's Luis Ayala, who almost pitched himself out of the game, then came back in 2011 to give a few teams good enough bullpen innings. There's Jon Rauch who was pretty solid before last year, but couldn't hook up with another team after a decent AAA stint with the O's caused him to opt-out.  Both of these guys could and probably should end up in some organization, at least as AAA filler.

Then there's Brendan Harris. How crazy is that? The guy had one decent year in 2007, which convinced the Twins they could use him as a super-sub (they couldn't). Got a chance to be organizational depth for the Orioles (failed). Got same chance to be that for the Rockies and performed so well that the Angels thought... he might be worth starting? Based on PCL-inflated stats? No wonder that team is failing. After crashing out of the majors there he was tried as org depth for the Yankees (failed) and Rangers (failed) and yet he will be invited to Spring Training for the Dodgers. Crazy.

Maybe it's because he's scrappy and white? 

Wednesday, December 04, 2013

Random Fister thoughts

Just some random thoughts bouncing around my head
  • If you made me bet on which pitcher would have the worst 2014, Fister, Porcello, or Scherzer, after much hemming and hawing I'd probably go with Fister. If you made me bet. If you didn't I wouldn't because I don't feel that strongly about it and the "worst" season of the three will still probably be a good one. 
  • One one hand you can see the Tigers' reasoning as they checked off a number of to-do list items with one trade. But it feels so much like they did C- jobs on those things.  Why not try to do an B+ job on two of them? (or more realistically do an A job on getting a pitching prospect). I wonder if Detroit painted themselves into a corner by ruling out an AL trade all-together. In the NL the Braves, Cardinals, Reds, and Dodgers all have pretty set rotations, leaving the Nats and Pirates as definite playoff caliber teams that might need a pitcher. 
  • Something that is kind of implicit in Fister's WAR stats, but understated? The guy is healthy. He's missed ~6 starts in 3 years. Given that Gio has missed none in that time period, ZNN has missed none he wasn't forced to miss in same, and Stras has only 2 games missed he wasn't sat for since coming back from TJ, this is a remarkably healthy front 4. 
  • If you think signing Ellsbury makes Cano a better target because the Yanks don't have the money anymore, you don't know the Yankees. All contract are seen as "what needs to be done to get the 5 years we want". They WANT to get under the cap, but they don't need to. Also I don't think Jay Z wants his first major outcome as a sports agent to be pulling his guy out of NY for what figures to be maybe slightly more money. (This is why the Yankees made their offer known). So either someone is going to blow 7 years 170 million out of the water or he'll be back. 
  •  If you're thinking that's not fair, well it is and it isn't. It isn't fair that the Yankees can generate so much revenue that they can outspend other teams while barely dipping in to their owner's pockets. It IS fair in the sense that these teams are all just multi-millionaire's toys. The Lerners are worth 4 BILLION. Dipping into their pockets for millions is a perfectly reasonable thing to ask. Let's say you have a small house, a car, a decent job, a little savings and a net worth of 400K. You like to travel and you decide you are going to save up 5K for a nice long vacation in Europe. Good for you, if you can do it. That's the equivalent of the Lerners spending 50 million of their own money to sign Cano. (And that's not even true because of the decreasing marginal utility of each dollar but we're not here for economics lessons)
  • I do think Detwiler ends up in the pen. He's a better choice to be given the starting role (stuff, pedigree, longer major league track record) but there are starting to be questions if his body can handle a full-season of pitching. Look for the next injury to send him permenantly into the bullpen. 
  • I put the Nats ahead of the Braves now. We'll see what I think in March though. 

Tuesday, December 03, 2013

Fister Pump

Last night the Nats traded for Doug Fister. On the surface it looks like a confounding deal that leans way toward the Nats. Are we missing anything?

Talking about it in the terms we laid out yesterday the Nats, in absolute value this will take a while to shake out. Fister, a 200IP 3.25 ERA starter (say 3-4 WAR) under control for two years, is obviously worth more than a young, maybe lefty specialist relief pitcher and a utility infielder (roughly a 1 WAR let's say), no matter how long they have them. The question in play is what does Robbie Ray become? That's going to be the absolute value tipping point. In relative value the Nats add 2-3 WAR and lose probably nothing from next year. Lombo and Krol will be replaced and Ray wouldn't play.

It's an easy win in the relative (make your team better) value and an early lead in the absolute (what each team ends up getting from the deal) value. It's not an huge steal just yet (because of Ray being a question mark) but it sure looks like it'll end up being one. 

We're not missing anything in terms of the deal.  Are we evaluating the players right?

Is Doug Fister really a "Top 10" pitcher? 

Well... what they are really saying is "over the past 3 years fWAR (Fangraphs WAR) has Doug Fister as the 9th most valuable starting pitcher in the majors" Is that really the same thing as a Top 10 pitcher? No it isn't. Let's say we look at the past 2 years - 14th, or just last year - 12th. Or we look at rWAR (Baseball-Reference's WAR) last year - 21st. Or if you are a gut guy, are there only 9 guys you'd want on the mound before you'd call Doug Fister's name?

Of course who cares if he's not a Top 10 pitcher? His xFIP has been consistenly around 3.40 the past 2 years. His ERA just a bit higher. Toss in the AL-> NL move and he should give you a season like Gio or ZNN did last year. That's what Fister is, a Gio/ZNN like pitcher. A #2 who could pitch at times like a #1 or like a #3. Maybe since he's 30 you lean more toward the #3 side than the #1 but he's the Nats #4.

But he's a GB pitcher coming to the Nats great defense from the Tigers terrible one! That'll make him the bestestest!

No and Yes. Yes, the Tigers D was terrible. No, the Nats D isn't great. I'll remind you that the whole idea of the Nats as a GB vacuuming team was based around the gold glove caliber defense of Danny Espinosa. Desmond has stepped up his game, but Zimm has had his issues, LaRoche is fading, and Rendon is no Danny. It'll help but it won't be a revelation for Fister.

Is there something wrong with Fister you see in the stats? 

As I noted above his ERA and xFIP are pretty close in line, meaning he's pitching as he should, no crazy drops should be expected. That's because everything has been pretty consistent. You're not seeing any big increases in LD rate or big drops in velocity. There's nothing out of line with his LOB% or HR% or BABIP.  His GB rate is improving. His BB-rate is very good. He's a very good consistent pitcher.

If you are looking for problems you can point to some things. His K-rate did drop a bit. His contact rate on the high-side.. but that's not always telling. He does rely on a low HR/FB rate... but that's typical for a GB pitcher. Velocity IS down just a tick. Comerica and Nationals Park are both fairly average HR parks, but maybe taking into account that move and the NL East vs the AL Central, he'll give up a couple more homers than he would have. Like 2 more maybe? Nothing earth shattering (and remember they all expected Gio to crash HR wise and it never happened - guys adapt)

Stats-wise it's hard to make a case for anything to worry about. The worst thing you could say is Doug Fister is at the very beginning of his aging curve and has likely peaked. He might be in the 20-30 range for pitchers next year, 25-35 the year after that. This is the worst I can put out right now. Simply stated, for the next two years there is nothing sitting out stats-wise there to be worried about. Not in the basic fancy stats. If there's a crash coming here I don't see it.

What about  injury wise? 

Pretty healthy with one minor injury over the past 3 seasons. He will be 30 in February and is 6'8" tall so there's that but you worry about history first. So, no nothing here.

Fister sounds great! Is there anything we are underrating about Krol or Lombo? 

There is one thing. Lombo is under team control for four more seasons. Krol is under team control for six more. That's a lot of time. Krol is also very young (he'll turn 23 next May) and Lombo is young enough that they should be at least as effective as they are now for the entirity of the Tiger's control.

That being said Lombo is Lombo. He has his positives which we talked about before so I'll just cut and paste : No patience, no power, not all that fast, average at best in the field. That's not a starter. But he can do other things. He plays adequately at SS and 3B, hits for .265 or so, and rarely strikes out. He's not all that slow so he can pinch run and he can bunt. Not quite a "jack of all trades", maybe an "8 of clubs of all trades", a smart manager can use a player like Lombo.

Use Lombo right and he could be worth something on a major league bench. Over rely on him though and you're hurting your team. 

Krol is more interesting. A lot of places are writing him off as a lefty specialist since righties hit him hard last year. But the kid is 22 and improved his RHB stats in the minors from 2012 (.282 / .321 / .455) to 2013 (.245 / .320 / .464). I think he's better than a LOOGY, but I don't think he's a future lights-out reliever. More a solid piece.

So not much there. What about Robbie Ray? 

I can see what's appealing about Ray. He improved in nearly every way you'd want him to (Ks up, BBs down, HRs down, hits down) while moving up to AA. At 22 he does look to be on track to pitch in the majors. But what kind of pitcher? And could a second season in AA derail him?  He was dismissingly bad just two years ago.

And that's part of the problem with trying to evaluate him. Was 2013 a fluke or is he showing serious consistent improvement? We don't have enough data to be sure. 2014 will probably give us a clearer picture of the type of pitcher Robbie Ray will be going forward. It could be he continues to improve, gets most of the year in AAA and looks like a mid-rotation guy with upside or it could be he struggles and looks like he might end up organizational depth. There's no certainty here.

I guess I'd say I wouldn't worry about it. The Nats gave up a guy who may be their 3rd best pitching prospect but really they only care about their first best one, Lucas Giolito. Everyone else down there is a question mark.

So... did the Nats win the trade? 

With the caveat of "evaluating it right now". Yes. They did. Big time.

On a side note, why did the Tigers make this deal?

Oh, well near as I can figure they want Drew Smyly, who looks like he could be a very good starter, in the rotation. Verlander and Sanchez are set in the rotation for years. So that leaves kicking out Scherzer, Porcello, or Fister. Scherzer was better last year that Fister and is a little younger. Porcello is a lot younger. So you could see how Fister was the odd man out. (I guess. Really Scherzer should be, with his big contract coming up. You'd get a hell of a lot more value keeping Fister and Porcello, moving up Smyly and giving that Scherzer money to someone else... Cano? But then why trade for Kinsl... i'm getting off track here)

Ok with Smyly in the rotation they needed a LHP in the pen because Drew was their only good one there. That's why they wanted Ian Krol. As for Lombo, their current back-up infielders, Ramon Santiago (.224 / .298 / .288) and Hernan Perez (.197 .217 / .227) make Lombo look like an All-Star. If as he should Lombo hits .260 and walks a little bit more, he'll be a improvement. (You can aruge Santiago overall would match Lombo but Lombo is 9 years younger. I'd bet on Lombo)

Robbie Ray - who doesn't want a decent pitching prospect? Plus the Tigers prospect pitchers in general took a nose dive this year so he helps fill a gap that exists there.

Hmmm but couldn't they have gotten those minor improvements somewhere else for less than Fister?

Shhh. I'm not sure the ink is dry yet!

Monday, December 02, 2013

Monday Quickie - Trading Desmond (or really NOT trading Desmond)

So we're back from Thanksgiving! Everyone have a great time? Feeling good? Ok well let's ease into what will hopefully be an active December Nats wise with some foolishness, trading Ian Desmond

Why is it foolishness? Well when you make a trade you have two goals. The lesser, but sill important one, is to make a trade where you get back equal (or possibly) more in value. You want to "win" the trade. The greater one is that you want to make your team better. You want to win, period.

The former can be tricky to estimate at first because you are usually trading talent for prospects. Overall you might get more back, but it may take 5 years before you can prove that. The Nats aren't in that position though. They aren't trading for prospects (at least not from SS where they have no immediate back-up).  They are trading for talent straight up. That's easier to measure.

Well sort of. Fangraphs would tell you Desmond was about the 18th most valuable player in the majors the past two years. Baseball Ref would tell you he's the 75th.  But the important thing is not the difference but the general sense, so I think splitting the difference is fine. Let's say he's around the 45th. That means around 45 players in the league are going to get you equal or more value back in a trade for Ian. Of course that's real real rough. You have to consider age and trends and injuries, etc. etc. but Desmond is only 27 and has consistent value over the past 2 full years. Assuming his defense doesn't suddenly revert to 2011 levels, I think about 45 players outperforming him in the next 2-3 years is about right. If it was split up evenly that's not quite the 2 best players on every team. It's hard to get that back in value.

But it can be done! Let's say you want a David Price (since that's really the point here, isn't it?). Straight up it's a pretty fair deal. Of course that is in terms of absolute value, or "winning" the trade. What about winning games? What matters in the end for that is relative value, or how much better will this player perform than the player that would replace him. Ian Desmond plays SS. That's a difficult position to fill. You may get matching production from Price over the next couple of years, but right now Desmond would be replaced by Danny Espinosa, one way or another.  Last year Danny was useless and he does not look to be improved*. If that were to continue Desmond to Espinosa, even with Danny's fielding, would be a net loss of like 4-5 WAR.  David Price would replace the Nats 5th starter. For arguements sake let's say the Nats 5th starter ended up being worth 1 WAR (it usually shakes out something like that). So David Price at a 5 WAR level or so, is going to end up making you 4 WAR better. In other words, overall the team is +4 adding Price but -4-5 losing Desmond. The team is overall in a little worse shape.

There's a ton of variance and looking at things within ranges, etc. etc. so don't take any numbers above as gospel or anything. This is all just a fancy way of saying that because the drop from Desmond to whoever is behind Desmond is so huge, it's going to be nearly impossible to bring someone in, straight up, who you'd feel confident would improve the team overall. At best you'd be gambling that you'd end up the winner on a 50/50 like ticket.

So what about a package? Well sure, but considering the Nats want to win now you are going to have to add someone considerably better than who the Nats use right now. On the Rays who would fit that bill?  Evan Longoria would. Zobrist. Myers likely. You have to notice though that it makes the Rays way worse to do something like that. The Nats are pretty average around the field with a couple bright spots meaning another player would have to be at least good to make you feel secure they would make a difference. Who is going to deal a great player and a good player for Desmond? You'd have to have a hell of a deep bench to even consider it (which is why I brought up the Cardinals - who didn't make sense themselves) or else you are going to get appreciably worse. Either that or you have to be rebuilding and have the Nats throw in prospects but then why are you taking in Desmond?

The only option that is forseeable is something that has multiple parts, like a trade and sign. Desmond for Price and sign Brandon Phillips as Rendon slides over? The team is probably better...probably... for 2014. Desmond for Price and sign Cano as Rendon slides over? The team is definitely better.  Damn well better make sure you are going to sign that other guy though. 

In the end a trade using Desmond just doesn't make sense. It's too hard to replace his value in a deal because his relative value to the Nats is so high. In order to make it worthwhile for the Nats, it would almost certainly be too costly for the other team.