Nationals Baseball: The losing Bryce effect

Friday, March 28, 2014

The losing Bryce effect

Commenter BJD1207 brought up a good point. Not only is the LHB on the bench limited, but the LHB on the Nats isn't all that great either. If Bryce Harper gets injured, what happens? Sure the Nats can still hit lefites but what about the team versus right-handed pitching?

The good news is that righties rarely have the extreme splits you can see with lefties. They've seen RHP all their lives and are accustomed to it, so while they can't hit it as well as LHP, they generally hit it at a level only slightly below. Of the right-handed batting starting players in the Nats lineup, only Rendon has shown any great split and for all we could know that could be a fluke. I went ahead and estimated the OPSs of the Nats expected line-up (Span, Ian, Zimm, Werth, Bryce, Ramos, LaRoche, Rendon) vs either hand and came up with this.

vs R : 740, 800, 800, 820, 930, 780, 820, 700
vs L : 650, 820, 850, 1000, 688, 770, 620, 830

This is real rough but factor in pitching, some injury replacement games, some pinch hitting, and what you get is an offense that should be one of the best in the league vs right-handed pitching, and should be above average versus lefites. That doesn't exactly make sense on the surface given a lineup with 5 righties and 3 lefties, but dig a bit deeper and you'll see that the Nats' lefties (Span, LaRoche, Bryce) suffer some major splits, while the right handed bats don't see that. Against a left-handed pitcher, essentially the middle of the line-up has to carry the team (and it can to some degree). Against a right-handed pitcher, there really isn't easy stretch outside of maybe the 8-9-1 trio.

What happens if the Nats' lineup loses Bryce for an extended time? Against lefties not much, presuming Hairston or another right handed bat takes his place. It's doubtful they'd do worse than the still adjusting Bryce. Against a righty though you'd likely see McLouth and his .740 ish OPS replacing Bryce's .930.  That's a big enough deal to drop the Nats lineup from "possibly the best" to simply "above average"

It's not surprising. With Bryce in the line-up the Nats are likely one of the best in the league. Without Bryce in the lineup they are still good but they aren't likely to crack the Top 3. Good enough for a playoff spot with the pitching they have, but good enough for a divison title? Depends.

Of course this is not really any different than what the Nats have at any other position. If Zimm or Rendon or Desmond goes down and Espinosa or Frandsen get more playing time - those are big drops in OPS. Ramos goes down? Drop. Werth, even with platooning Hairston/McLouth? Drop. The only injuries that the Nats might be able to weather offensively with no significant drops is catcher (maybe), 1st base (with a Hairston/McLouth platoon some how worked into the lineup), or centerfield (offense might actually improve but defense could be scary bad). This isn't really a flaw in the system though. It's the reality. Your bench is not capable of starting. That's why they are the bench. The only thing that elevates the Bryce thing above all these other injuries (ignoring future implications) is that it would leave the bench with 0 reliable lefty bats. So it is a slightly worse situation given how the team was built.

Take away lesson? Pray for health.

Season Preview and predictions on Monday!


Donald said...

Have to say that I read the title and had a near panic attack thinking I has missed some breaking news about Bryce. One disagreement -- I think Ramos has the possibility of being really special as a hitter. He needs to stay healthy, but if he has a break-out season, the drop off from him to Lobaton may be large.

Oh, and one more thing to note about the lack of LHB -- at least once every 5 days, Gio gets to hit, so there's always that.

Anonymous said...

Gio bats right handed, so does Detwiler

Donald said...

Then I guess there really is no substitute for Bryce's bat. ;)

Harper said...

Donald - I've always really liked Ramos, but at this point health has to drag down any projection.

I had to check pitchers - Anon is right all our lefties bat right. That's why they should have never traded Ian Krol!

Christopher said...

First time commentor, long time reader. Love the insight you provide. The advanced metrics aren't loved by everyone but certainly can't be ignored. Keep up the great work!

Donald said...

With Fister hurt, I really wish they'd rethink the rotation and start Roark in game 3. Have Znn pitch in the home opener against the Braves. I'd much rather have Znn, Jordan, Strasburg.

Zimmerman11 said...

Hope springs eternal.

Hopefully the Nats get off to a quick start this year, and can hold of the Braves when they bolster their rotation in May/June. Hope the Tigers didn't know something about Fister's health ahead of the trade. Hoping for a breakout year from Bryce Harper, and a return to form for Zim. And hoping for some better weather here in NY. Haven't seen the sun in months!

KW said...

Donald - In theory, what you say about rearranging the rotation makes sense. In practice, Roark and Jordan collectively gave up no earned runs to the Bravos last year, over 17 innings. Roark was particularly effective, giving up only three hits and two walks in 11 innings. So Tanner really should face the Braves, one way or another. If you rearrange the things to get someone out of that picture, it would be Taylor, who gave up seven hits and three walks in his six innings against them.

I'm with you in the hope for a healthy Ramos breakout season, though. IF HEALTHY, he's someone who could approach 35 HRs if he catches 130 games.

As for "Losing Bryce," we're not even going to think about such things! Hairston isn't an everyday option. They might do something like platoon Souza and McLouth. A trade to try to replace a bat of Harper's caliber would be costly.

LeeB said...

Another way to look at relative impact of player in/out of lineup. Of all starter last yr. Nat's record when Ramos played was MUCH better than any other starter: Ramos 48-29 .623, Harper 65-53 .551, Werth 71-58 .550, Zim 80-67 .544, Desmond 85-73 .538, Span 83-70 .532, Rendon 52-46 .531. Team: 86-76 .530.

John C. said...

It doesn't go with the overall point of how the Nats will do against RHP, but I will add a quick note that your expectation of an OPS of .650 for Span against LHP is really pessimistic. His career splits are .740 vs. RHP, .732 vs. LHP. In about half of his seasons his OPS was better against LHP than RHP.

Span does NOT suffer from major splits. He suffered last year from major splits, but that is the only one of his six major league seasons where that was true.