Nationals Baseball: Caaaarrooooll! Caaaroooooll!

Friday, January 10, 2014

Caaaarrooooll! Caaaroooooll!

Jamey Carroll is back. I wrote a little bit about him during the "WHY DID THE NATS TRADE LOMBO!!!" period of the internet highlighting the fact that as a ball player Jamey Carroll was better than Steve Lombardozzi. Of course I meant that in an overall career arc kind of way. Who would I rather have for 2014 is the more important question and I'm not sure how to answer that.

Carroll turned himself into a better player than he started out as. He could never really hit, but early on he was a mediocre fielder, too. However, by the time 2005 came around, he had turned himself into a pretty decent glove man in the middle infield. Fair range at second with sure hands. That gave him some time to figure out hitting and he kind of did. Nothing great obviously, but he made enough solid contact and was patient enough at the plate that if the BABIP gods were smiling on him he'd have a decent year.

But with a limited skill set eventually things would have to fall apart and in 2012 they did. He stopped hitting anything into the air (flyball percentage was at 18.9% in 2013) and given the BABIP crash (.332 -> .306 -> .253 last three seasons) I imagine stopped hitting anything hard. He ended up with a .211 / .267 / .251 line last year. Given that he turns 40 in February I doubt this is a reversible trend. Seeing his walk rate plummet and the K-rate go up, pitchers are not at all afraid of him. That walk rate was part of what was keeping him decent. This is a career that's over.

The flip side of this is that Lombo has not shown himself to be the fielder Jamey was and is only getting worse at the plate. Lombo does not walk at all meaning if he can't hit singles, he's garbage. He has two things going for him though. He's 14 years younger (14!) and he shouldn't have the combination of a GM who refused to accept he had put together a terrible bench and a manager who decided the best play was to use him in the OF. That killed his defensive worth to the team. Play him just at second, hope you get BABIP lucky or maybe get his career year.

So who'd I'd rather have in 2014? I guess I'd say Lombo. They are both likely to be terrible, but the odds on your Lombo lottery ticket are better than the one on your Jamey one. Used correctly as the last man on your bench Lombo can have some value. Of course this is a moot point because Lombo wasn't dealt for Jamey, he was dealt in part for Doug Fister and you do that deal every time it's offered to you assuming you can see the deal to sign through your tears of joy. 

Mike Fontenot? Well on the plus side he did guest star on what might have been the most harmless show of all time "My Boys".  That show helped Jim Gaffigan get a little more attention and it had the guy from Veep, so kudos for that. Oh, as a player? About the same as Carroll and Lombo. He's probably more reliable in the field than either of those guys and he's a lefty bat, but he strikes out a ton for a guy who is giving you mediocre pop at best. He's didn't hit so well in AAA last year.

Anyone of these guys could be acceptable as the last guy on the bench. Great. Problem is that would also describe Danny Espinosa or Tyler Moore and possibly Scott Hairston after last year. That wouldn't even cut is as a description for Solano who is worse than that. Setting up a decent bench can be hard work. If you don't luck into having a young guy who can play just waiting his turn, you have to get a couple of borderline starters and fill the rest with guys who you can count on for certain non-overlapping roles. Here is what the Nats have : One borderline starter in McLouth, one guy who can be relied on to possibly hit a homer (but nothing else) against a lefty in Scott Hairston, and one guy who can relied on to be a plus fielder in Danny Espinosa.  Solano is a nothing, a guy that can catch without looking terrible at it. Moore has proven reliable at nothing.

There still are gaps. The Nats have no second lefty bat, no good fielding OF,  no one that can be relied on to get on base, no decent corner infielder. Carroll and Fontenot are not great fill-ins. Work harder, Rizzo!


Zimmerman11 said...

It's going to be a good year.

I'm the first baseman

Wally said...

Totally agree with this post. It feels like the penny pinching part of the offseason plan, whereas another $4m probably adds two pieces that could make a big difference.

But these two moves plus Burriss make me think Danny is getting traded. Hopefully he brings back a good bench piece, maybe one of SD's excess outfielders. Do you think that they would offer Denorfia or Venable for a flyer on a Danny bounceback? Probably not

blovy8 said...

Zim11, we can now be pretty sure Adam won't be messing around on his wife with an older woman.

Anonymous said...

1) This shows how easily a Lombo-like guy is replaced.
2) Nothing against them personally, but I hope Carroll, Fontenot, and Burriss spend the summer in Syracuse (meaning that I think the Nats still need to do better on the bench).
3) These signings do seem to indicate that the organization doesn't really trust Kobe, Espy, and Walters.
4) I wouldn't read too much into the signings as far as Espy is concerned, other than that the Nats don't trust him (not a news flash). Basically, Espy has reverted back to prospect status, with a lot of promise but much to (re-)prove. If Espy is traded, I would hope that it would be in a deal that would adequately value his potential.
5) Let's hope and pray that we're not done on the bench front.

Harper said...

Z11 - Only if this is a headline "Tragedy at Coors as Rockies mauled to death by pack of ravenous mountain lions. Visiting Nats survive unscathed"

Wally - At this point I'd hate to see Danny go (trade return can't be considered here) He's at least a reliable fielder. That's something.

Possibly Denorfia would be availalbe as Will Venable has learned to hit lefties (though he's presumably still not getting the toughest ones). Espy, Hairston and a propect pitcher they like for Denorfia and slightly less interesting prospect from their side, maybe? Real problem here is Pads don't need Espy. young and talented up the middle.

blovy8 said...

Can't fielders be shaken from trees, Harper? All it takes is a couple of flaky plays, and the backup infielder looks like a bum.

John C. said...

I'm trying to think of a team in the NL, possibly in MLB, that has a better bench. Each team is likely (though not sure) to have one truly useful bench guy; some may have two. But the basic truism is that bench players aren't very good. Because if they were, they'd be starting.

Penny pinching, Wally? The Nationals are spending more than most teams on the bench already in McLouth and Hairston. Spending more money doesn't magically make players better. Catchers, for example, are in short supply - so backup candidates like Kurt Suzuki are signing starting gigs elsehwere. Spending more on what is still out there isn't much likely to produce better results than just rolling with Leon and Snyder (I'm a skeptic on Solano).

I'd be surprised if the Nationals traded Espinosa, because he still has value to the Nationals as the 25th man on the roster through his glove and his legs. If he hits, so much the better. And his trade value is likely to be so low that what they'd get for him won't be as helpful as he is.

Wally said...

JOhn C - I do think that hey are penny pinching on the bench. McLouth is no doubt a fine commitment, but the rest are Hairston ($2.5m - not bad) and three guys making the minimum. And while I am fine with Espy, 'cause his floor of above average D and no O is on par with many MI back ups, I think that the history of TMo and Solano/Leon/Snyder is that they will add negative value. I don't know where the answers come from, but I think for another $4m, we could do a lot better for those two spots. At a minimum, I'd like to see them spend a bit to upgrade one of those spots.

Anonymous said...

Part of the reason they may not have spent more on the bench is that they're cautiously optimistic about some of the guys from the farm. Souza has a chance to be significantly better than Moore or Hairston, if give the opportunity. He can play all three OF, 3B, 1B, and has even seen a little time at SS.

Unless they trade Espinoza (and getting value for him would be difficult, as John C. notes), there may not be a better reserve glove up the middle in MLB. But he's got to hit at least a little. If not, he's going to have a hard time beating out Kobernus or one of the veteran signees. Kobe really deserves a chance, although the signings this week seem curious if the team believes in him.

Catcher still worries me. I'm breathing a hair easier after Leon's terrific winter, but just a hair, particularly with Nieto now out of the equation (at least temporarily). But Leon was awful at the plate last year, and I have very little faith in Solano and Snyder, even if Ramos stays healthy all season. That said, it's not worth $3M for John Buck to sit around and strike out three or four times a week. Solano can do that just fine.

Skole would add a nice LH bat to the bench, but he was tremendously rusty in Arizona and probably needs at least half a season at AA. But Skole and Goodwin should be getting close enough to ready that they could come up in a situation similar to what Moore did in 2012.

Section 222 said...

I disagree that Espi still has value to us if he can't hit. With our starting infield we don't need a late-inning defensive replacement. That 25th spot needs to be filled with someone who can deliver at the plate. The problem with Espi is not just that he can't hit, it's that he's a K-machine, a rally killer. We need someone who can get on base when he pinch hits for the pitcher to lead off the inning, or put the ball in play to drive in a run in a key spot in the late innings, like Lombo did a few times. If he's going to be a .220/.300/.320 guy, at least he has to be able to make contact. Espi can't be relied on for that.

Harper said...

Anon -
1) Yes
2) Same
3) I suppose but would you? Outside of the forever hopeful who always overrate their own I don't know who's buying hihg on those guys
4) Agreed. I don't think an Espy trade is imminent
5) Only the penitent man will pass

blovy8 - Point is just maximizing possible. Actual is going to be all over the place with bench guys

John C - Intersting quesiton I'll have to look but I'd say all the division winners do.

But it IS penny pinching. the key is "Isn't much likely". It doesn't have to be much more likely to succeed, just more likely. Maximize.

Agree - won't trade espy.

Anon - I suppose, but pencilling Souza in CI positions is a stretch. When you point to Moore in 2012 you need to remember he was pretty bad after an incredible June. Hard to notice when the team is winning but he didn't help the team down the stretch. In a season that might not produce a runaway title that may matter

Sec 222 - That is a valid point. Not that Espy wouldn't be an upgrade over Rendon (he would) but he's not THAT much of an upgrade that you'd pull him for most late innings situations.

I do think you can always use a field first guy though, even if you do have ok fielders to start. Problem is you can use them in the 25th spot if the 21st-24th are decent hitters. They aren't. It's McLouth, Maybe a homer for Hairston vs lefties, and nothing else right now. Fill the bats first.

Section 222 said...

I agree with that Harper. If we had some real boppers on the bench already, we could survive Espi as the 25th man.

The other thing about field-first guys is that when you put them in as a late-inning replacement, they always seem to end up coming up to bat. Riggleman was the master at double-switching out a good hitter (like Morse), only to have the game go to extras. I agree that Espi is a better fielder than Rendon, but not so much better that you should ever risk losing a Rendon at bat. If we're up by a run or two in the 8th, I would NEVER put Espi in for Rendon or Desi or Zim, would you?

blovy8 said...

I think getting McLouth is as much as we can expect. The free agents left around now have some serious weaknesses, so the Nats would have to trade to upgrade. Now that his competition is in place, I'm kind of talking myself into giving Espi another chance. Maybe he really was just hurt and fell into bad habits. A little pitch recognition and strike-zone control could go a long way. The guy is always going to strike out too much, but as the right-handed part of the infield platoon, if he matched his career #s, he'd be a better fit than almost anyone. He can probably still play SS better than Desmond. I could even see his aggressive approach working against relievers better than as a starting position player. Hell, maybe it's time to ditch batting lefty. There are things he can try. If he still looks broken, someone else like Carroll with a shot at being not terrible is going to get the job anyway.

Good-hitting catchers are just tough to get. I don't even really think Buck hits all that well, he's just better than the backup scrapheap, but we're not talking about even an average hitter really, so the upgrade can get overblown. He's probably an 85 ops+ sort of hitter, that's not all that exciting. They probably should just have the best defensive guy they can get and not worry about the offense, because in a league where your A ball catcher makes a roster, you have to be realistic.

Bench construction is fluid, and the Nats are stockpiling guys on minor league deals with a shot at being acceptable at 2B if Plan A is Zim at 1st and Rendon at 3rd against tough lefties, and Carroll or Espi can play short well enough which is above the standard of some playoff clubs like Atlanta with Pastornicky or whoever was doing that for LA, Gordon? While you would like someone better, they would need to trade for that, and who do you give up for that spot on roster? Think of the level of shortstop after the big time guys, it's easier to roll with Espinosa, Carroll, or Kobernus until someone comes with someone better. They're not going to sign Drew and lose a pick, that's giving up way too much value for a minor need. They should not have matched that Peralta deal since they have a full infield, with the option of a potentially much larger upgrade offensively at a corner position in the future, or at least that kind of flexibility and not four years of Peralta's decline. As a pay now just in case deal, McLouth makes much more sense. Maybe as a prospect, Espi isn't as good as Boston's Bogearts, but he might be as good as Middlebrooks. That's who the backup was in the World Series. Of course, you can't knock their catching depth, except to say, hey, if you aren't serious about Lavarnway as a catcher, can we have him for Destin Hood or somebody?

If you look at Boston's example, hoping for unexpected/variable things to go your way isn't so silly. They had guys like Carp and Nava playing over their heads and parlayed Iglasias' sell-high moment into Peavy once Bogaerts was ready. That wasn't the team they started the year with exactly. The infield depth worked it's way down to Middlebrooks as the backup infielder since Bogearts was playing more, that was a guy who doesn't field well, making him essentially a hair above replacement, but who could hit a homer if need be. They had Ciriaco as that guy for a long time. Not really star material. They did have probably the best backup catching situation but paid in $$$ and years for Ross, and got a lot less value over the course of the year than Atlanta typically got out of him, while arguably wasting a good asset in Lavarnway at AAA for no particularly good reason except maybe they think he's not good. If so, the Nats should make a damned offer already.

I would be very surprised if anyone expected more than a dead-cat bounce out of John Lackey before the year started, for instance. These are the kinds of things they needed to win. That's the equivalent of Espinosa having 4 WAR level talent again.

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