Nationals Baseball: 2014 Prediction

Monday, March 31, 2014

2014 Prediction

One of the main narratives to come from the Nats disappointing 2013 campaign was the idea that their failure sprang from hubris. The Nats of last season were an overconfident, perhaps arrogant bunch, despite not even managing a playoff series win. With their sitting of Strasburg and their declaration of "World Series or Bust", they lost sight of how hard they needed to work to achieve their goals. They thought they could simply show up and they'd end up in the playoffs. They weren't prepared for what it was going to be like as the team every one wanted to knock down a peg and they paid the price.

Bull.

The 2013 Nats didn't lose because of arrogance (well with one possible exception*), they lost because of injury. They lost because there were 170 players who got between 325 and 125 plate appearances last year (which would define them as part time players), and among those players the Nats bench ranked 123rd (Lombo), 130th (Moore), 133rd (Suzuki's time with Nats), 143rd (Tracy), 162nd (Bernadina's time with the Nats), and 169th (Espinosa) in OPS+.  In short the bench bats started at awful and got worse from there. EVERY SINGLE ONE. That's not including Hairston's time with the Nats (matches Lombo), 36 PAs by Kobernus (a little worse than that), or 50 PAs for Solano (would be dead last if he had enough PAs). 

It was a complete and total failure by the anyone who didn't start for the Nats. It's as if you gave 25% of all the plate appearances the non-pitchers had last year for the Nats to Chris Getz. If you did that no one would say "Sure there was no reason for the Nats to bribe major league baseball so Chris Getz could get up more times then anyone in the history of the game, but the real reason they didn't win last year was because of their HEART". Yet sneak in the same performance here and there over the course of the year and that's exactly what people say. The Nats weren't sufficiently humble in front of the sports gods so people demanded they be punished and they were. People actually believe this crap. Makes one want to create a musical called "The Book of Plaschke" 

2014 is basically a reset of 2013 and might answer the question what could have that team done without the injuries and bench failures? They team is mostly the same in the main spots, the exceptions being Doug Fister and who ever eventually wins the Roark/Jordan showdown. The bench looks mildly improved with the acquisition of McLouth being the main move, and the bullpen seems better formed adding Blevins and Drew Storen looking like his head is back on straight.

The biggest concern right now is the Fister injury. That could definitely hurt the Nats, but I don't see it derailing the team. I don't have to remind you how bad Haren was to start the year. The 5.61 ERA pre-All Star break could be matched by any AAA arm, effectively making the rotation until August at worst exactly like last year. It will most likely be better Fister or no Fister. The other worries are minimal. The LaRoche and Span declines are actually products of unusually good 2012s. They hit last year kind of like they should hit - which is not very good but not team-killing. We should expect about the same this year. The Soriano issues are more real but with Clippard and Storen in line the back of the pen looks ready if a replacement is needed. No, the only black cloud hanging over this team is the potential for injuries. Ian Desmond is the only player I feel the Nats can rely on being healthy, the others ranging from mild injury risks (Zimm) to hope to get 100 games out of him (Ramos).  If the wrong players are hit again all the planning and predictions become moot.

On the flip side there are big reasons to be optimistic. Bryce, Ramos, and Rendon all have potential they haven't reached yet. The same could be said of Strasburg. If healthy, there is no reason this team should miss the playoffs. If healthy and the young players progress, there is no reason they shouldn't be a favorite for the pennant. With the Braves fighting early season injuries, the Mets and Marlins trying to rebuild and the Phillies on their way to the worst record in baseball in 2015 (could they get there this year?) the Nationals have as clear a path as they are going to get.

So let's get down to it. What do I predict for the Nats. As this is a 2nd chance at 2013, I'm going to throw up the same prediction.

94-68, NL East Champions

(No playoff results predictions - those are silly). 

Everyone wasn't wrong then and they aren't wrong now.

*You could make a case that Rizzo was arrogant in believing that the miracle bench of 2012 would continue to perform at high levels, but I kind of give him a break because you don't expect these guys to get a ton of at bats and you can easily defend keeping Bernadina, Moore, Suzuki, and Lombo given the various backgrounds coming into 2014. Improving on Tracy would have been nice but probably wouldn't have altered the above scenario.

20 comments:

Lee said...

Ramos batting cleanup! If the initial reporting is to be believed.

Anonymous said...

There is a problem with this account of the Nationals' 2013, namely: the Nationals in 2013 were one of the healthiest teams in baseball. See http://www.fangraphs.com/blogs/2013-disabled-list-team-data/ They were far healthier than the Braves, who completely embarrassed them in the division race.

You can see that most clearly with regard to the Nationals' rotation. 1-4, they all pitched 170+ innings. Could they see a repeat of that level of rotation health in 2014? They could. Is it likely? No.

Here's my prediction: Braves repeat as NL East champs as the Nationals suffer from the effects of a roster that is relatively more injury-prone than Atlanta's.

blovy8 said...

Agreed pretty much on the bench. Tracy deal was probably partially because Rizzo's AZ bias and relatively few one-year alternatives. Remember that even Laynce Nix got a two-year deal. Moore hit over his head, but how can you dump a guy who showed that power so easily back into AAA? Bernadina and Suzuki too, they're still working in roughly the same roles in baseball. You can't keep a quality, veteran player happy on the bench too easily, though I suspect a guy like Davey could have done that in retrospect.

If they stay healthy, the Nats are going to be in the weakest division in April at least. There are a lot of good pitchers on the shelf.

The thing that stands out is how difficult it is to fix your rough spots out of free agency in recent years without overpaying, and I think Rizzo has been pretty good at trading to fill the team's needs. It's banking on re-signing enough farm players, but it's at least a recipe to get draft picks until the union changes the crappy way the qualifying offer has worked out for players.

blovy8 said...

That's some rationale, anon. The Braves are already missing 3/5 of their prospective rotation and the Nats are the club that's more "injury-prone"?

Unknown said...

I agree with Anon's post. I feel, like I did last year, that this team is overrated. I would think the results of last year would create a clearer picture of this team, but I guess not. I posted early last season that the Braves would handily win this division and the Nats would spend the season looking up at them. There have been a few changes here and there with this team, but nothing that would convince me that the results will be any different from last year.

Erich said...

There is a problem with that DL approach at least that I can talk about in terms of the Nats. Take Espy and Harper. Espy, at least I feel we've concluded, was injured most of last season. He took PAs, but was never on the DL. Harper after the first wall crash was injured. He has admitted as much. Yes, he went on the DL. But how many days off were taken because he was trying to come back. These show up in PAs. Counting DL days for guys that were destine to miss the whole season is misleading as far as "healthiest team in baseball." I'm with Harper and his PA analysis. (At least for hitters.)

Anonymous said...

blovy: I'm pricing the injuries they've already suffered into my prediction. Medlen was a serious loss, but the dropoff to his replacement (Santana) shouldn't be more than one win, and it might be less. Beachy was a moderate loss; all the projections had him with a moderate innings total with mediocre production. Minor can top 170 innings if he returns on schedule, and Gavin Floyd could top 150 if he returns at the beginning of May.

My point is, from this point forward, I expect the Nationals to suffer more injuries to key members of the team. They're counting on Ramos and Werth, but both are serious injury risks. They've got a lot projected production tied up in their starting rotation, generally the biggest injury center of any team. My prediction is that future injuries will drop them behind the Braves and into the wild card hunt.

Harper said...

Lee - interesting choice... I guess?

Anon - The problem is not all DL days are of equal value. Missing a season of Mike Trout is not "equal" to missing a season of Chris Getz (poor Chris Getz! What do I have against him?) It's one thing to say the Braves lost 525 offensive days to the DL to the Nats 158. It's another to say the Braves lost 168 STARTER days to the DL to the Nats 143. The latter paints a better picture of the effect.

Also it's important to understand I'm not claiming that the Nats were hit harder by the injury bug than other teams. It's that their starting offense was hit moderately hard AND the replacements were terrible. You can suffer injuries to key players if your bench is OK. Everyone on the Braves bench who had 100 or more at bats hit better than everyone on the Nats bench given the same limit.

This year maybe the Nats will be healthy, maybe not, but the bench is better Lobaton, McLouth at least, as first in line replacements are better than anyone they had last season.

As for pitcher health... probably not (with Fister looking like he is) but we actually talked about this going into 2013 after the Nats were surprisingly healthy in 2012. Gio hasn't missed significant time since becoming a full-time starter in 2010. ZNN and Strasburg haven't since coming back from injury. Pitcher injuries happen but you can't just say it will happen.

blovy8 - yes FA is becoming slimmer and slimmer pickings - at least where starters are concerned. I think the veteran back-ups though are still a nice group as bad teams really try to shed cost. That makes this half-done bench kind of disappointing. But again - bench

Harper said...

Unknown - not even all those pitching injuries? I think the Brves can still take the East but it'll take some offensive bounce backs and break outs.

Anon - I don't disagree on the Werth/Ramos risks, but this year it's not a failing Suzuki and terrible Solano for Ramos it's Lobaton. It's not Lombo or Moore or Tracy for Werth it's McLouth. They have at least that first level of coverage.

As for the P... the problem I have with what you are saying is you are kind of couting on Minor and Floyd who are returning from injury while dismissing the actual health of the Nats starters. I like the Braves eventual starting rotation that's planned enough, but if I'm betting on a squad taking an injury to what they have in place right now, the Braves look like a better bet and that puts their rotation (finally) in some big trouble.

Harper said...

Anon - it's sort of the coin flip thing. I think you may be saying the Braves can't get another TAIL they just flipped 3 in a row, but that's not how it works. At this point, a few years out from surgery, nothing makes Teheran, Wood, Hale any different from Gio, ZNN, and Strasburg in injury risk.

Anonymous said...

I'm not saying that at all---the Braves could absolutely suffer additional injuries to their rotation. (I wish they'd kept Freddy Garcia to prepare for that eventuality.) But I think it's less likely that Alex Wood or Julio Teheran will break than that J. Zimm or Gio will, simply because the latter two have many more professional innings on their bodies. The broader point is that the Nats are depending on their rotation to be as good as they're projected to a greater extent than the Braves are, and that's generically a dangerous place to be counting on good health.

I agree that the Nationals' bench looks to be better this year than what they got last year, but then, it didn't seem likely that they would get Getzian production out of the group they put together last year. Bench players are what they are for a reason, and I don't know that I'd count on McLouth in particular to fill in adequately if Werth misses an extended period of time. (Could be my memories of McLouth's terrible stint with the Braves are coloring my perceptions there, though.)

Bottom line: injuries are difficult to project, but the Nationals have the older club and more guys with bad recent injury histories. To me, that will be the key factor in winning the East for the Braves.

Strasburger said...

There's no way that Ramos will bat clean-up. If he does, that's a terrible managerial decision.

I'm really happy Danny made the team. What are your thoughts, and projects for him this year Harp? You think he will bounce back to 2012? Or just rebound from last year?

I like your prediction. I think there is some room for more wins and a TON of room for disappointment, obviously.

I think the biggest improvement over last year will be Stras (even though he had a quietly good year). I think he will be neck and neck with Kershaw for the CY this year.

I also like Bryce hitting at least 35 Homers.

So pumped about opening day - definitely going to make it to a game for the Braves series. If not Friday then over the weekend.

Strasburger said...

Wow. They realy are batting him fourth. Meh, I don't like that, but whatever.

Jay said...

I don't trust their offense at all. The fact that Ramos is batting 4th is proof of the fact that they don't have a great hitter. Plus Bryce is batting 5th behind Ramos ????
in the words of "O Brother Where Art Thou" that don't make no sense.

Anyway, I think the Nats miss the playoffs and next offseason we're talking about how to fix the offense.

Braves fan - I can buy offensively the Braves could outslug people and win the east (especially when facing bad teams), but to say the Braves will win the east because they are less of an injury risk doesn't add up either. You have to hope the Braves pitchers get the borderline strikes they have gotten since Maddux et al. and the offense makes up the difference.

Anonymous said...

Only fitting Lannan gives us one more win..

cass said...

John Lannan finally delivers a victory for the Nats on Opening Day. Sweet.

Really worried about Ramos, though. :(

Wally said...

Exciting game, if a bit exhausting to watch.

Early returns on Matt Williams is meh, I think. Harper batting 5th, and the refusal to use Soriano if it isn't a save situation imply more 'old school' thinking than I'd hoped for.

I did like the willingness to pull Zim for a double switch, though. Not sure that I would like to see it a lot, unless he is back to the throwing problems, but encouraging that he didn't defer to the status of Zim.

Anagramsci said...

What's the point of being annoyed by Ramos batting 4th when Span is leading off? Williams is your basic old school non-thinker

JE34 said...

Deep sigh. Here's hoping Lobaton can be a serviceable starter behind the plate. Poor Willy.

blovy8 said...

Given the impending injuries the Braves trolls predict, I'll say the Nats only get 94 wins too.