Nationals Baseball: Damage Control

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Damage Control

.275 / .345 / .465 
.280 / .370 / .520

.220 / .275 / .345
.255 / .325 / .385

The first two numbers are the projections going into the year for Ryan Zimmerman and Bryce Harper.  The second two are the projections going into the year for Danny Espinosa and Nate McLouth.


One of the absolute truths in baseball is that you are going to have injuries. You put enough effort into the game, and the season is just so damn long, that it is unavoidable. Nearly every player is going to miss a few games with dings and scrapes. The plan you put in place to replace these guys is what I like to call "Disaster Prep".  The actions you have to take when you didn't plan well, or you did but the plan goes awry anyway, is what I like to call "Damage Control".

The Nats didn't plan for a 3B replacement, despite Zimmerman's issues fielding and history of injury. Instead they figured Rendon could slide over and Espinosa could take second. That is not a terrible short term solution and if you remember Espy started red hot. (That can happen. It's part of the reason GMs don't like to disaster prep. The only way you can really see the difference between good and bad prepping is having a player out for a very long time.) But over time Espinosa hit like Espinosa and the loss of Zimmerman's bat has been felt.

The Nats DID plan for a loss in the OF (though I bet if you held their feet to the fire they'd admit that McLouth was first and foremost a struggling Span replacement) by bringing in Nate McLouth. It was a tough job for McLouth, as the bats of Bryce and Werth are almost irreplaceable. However, he should have at least held his own.  He hasn't. He is hitting .143 with 4 XBH in over 100 plate appearances.

Bryce is out at least another month. Zimmerman is up in the air. The Nats offense is struggling without them. You could wait for the Nats bats to turn around.  Desmond is hitting a lot better, and LaRoche is back right?  Ramos has to turn it around eventually. Rendon can't keep struggling like this. Werth can turn it on. It's easy to think like that and see a light at the end of the tunnel. But let's throw some numbers out there. Let's say Desmond hits better (80% chance) and LaRoche's return makes an impact (95%) and Ramos turns it around (75% - I'm being generous for the sake of argument) and Rendon stops struggling (60%) and Werth turns it back on (90%) well then THEN the team can have a potent offense without Bryce or Zimm.

Even being pretty generous you just gave the Nats a 30% chance at a good offense. LaRoche helps, the offense will get better, but without Zimm and Bryce it won't be good for any long period of time. 

Unless you think Zimm's return in imminent (and you feel ok about Ramos and Rendon who haven't exactly proven anything yet), It's time for a damage control.

One of the downsides to 'just blogging' is that when you get something right you don't get a million dollar contract extension, a TV spot and national praise. One of the upsides is that you don't have to have all the answers.  That's good because I don't have an answer on what the solution to the issue is.

I'll repeat what I said in the comments the other day. The Nats maybe could deal with the Astros, Cubs or Padres right now.  What can you get from those guys? Someone you hope to be a little above average in the OF for a month like Fowler or Parra? Or someone like Prado who you hope wakes up and fills that 3B/1B void that is Frandsen's role now? Or maybe some other "get on the cheap" guy like Alonso or Venable who should be better? I don't know. I just know that in less that two weeks the Nats will begin a pretty brutal stretch that could easily put them behind the 8-ball for the remainder of the season, just like they were heading into the post All-Star time frame last season.

Rizzo can sit on his hands like last year and hope things work out.  So far the season hasn't gotten away from the Nats as they play in the terribly mediocre NL East who's best team wouldn't lead any other division in baseball. So maybe it might. But if he does nothing and things don't work out again, I expect hellfire and brimstone to reign down on him. A GM is supposed to build a winning major league team, not a strong minor league system and a major league team that should win in theory.  


Nattydread said...

You are right. Pitching is good. Bullpen excellent. Espinoza & McClouth not looking good. Clock is ticking...

Harper said...

People like to talk about the future but are they SURE the future is bright? Will Desmond/ZNN/Fister be here? Will LaRoche? Can Werth hold back the hands of time? Will Zimm/Bryce hold up? Can Gio/Stras avoid major injury? Are Rendon/Ramos the real deal?

When you are looking even 2 years in the future things get real cloudy. This is a team that can win now. Treat it as such.

JWLumley said...

I just don't think Rizzo is qualified to make the moves necessary. He's a great scout, who makes very good scouting decisions, but doesn't seem able to make the moves to the big club necessary to win, especially when it comes to position players. As you mention, guys are going to get hurt, it's going to happen, good GMs are prepared and make the moves necessary to weather the storm. The one year the Nats made the playoffs, they did so in large part because they didn't have to do contingency planning. My guess is that Rizzo will sit on his hands, the Nats will miss the playoffs and he'll blame it on the injuries (a somewhat valid excuse) the Lerners will buy this narrative and next year will be largely the same. Such a waste.

Wally said...

I have asked this in a few posts now: when do you conclude that this core isn't going to win now? Rather than a tweak is there a full or partial rebuild?

Without even addressing the pitchers, here are a few trends (admittedly cherry-picked):
2012 - 5 regulars with a wRC+ > 120, 4 regulars with + defensive value

2013 - 3 regulars with a wRC+ > 120, 2 regulars with + defensive value

2014 so far - 1 regular with wRC+ > 120, 1 reg with + defensive value.

I am not advocating this (yet), nor does anyone really want to hear it. The Nats should keep trying to win this year, but, assuming the current pattern holds throughout the year, I don't think that it can be dismissed as an offseason question. Whether through repeated injuries or declines, the starters aren't producing. You can't realistically expect to build a bench that can contribute above average regulars, Solarte's 2014 notwithstanding.

Chaz R said...

Great post Harper. I totally agree, but have no faith in Rizzo to make a move like that. It seems completely contrary to his previous behavior, and I wonder how much support he would have from the Lerners? They're already on record saying they're maxed out on payroll. I'm thinking it would need to be a deal that is a net zero in terms of payroll.

nicoxen said...


At what point do we begin to question the Williams hire. I think he gets a free pass because of all the injuries, but I'm beginning to wonder if he was really qualified to manage the big club.

Everyone should remember that Williams had never managed a single MLB game prior to being be handed a "World Series" quality team. And for all his no-nonsense, attention to details mentality, the team's defensive play has actually been worse than last year. His relationship with the franchise player, Harper, is icy at best.

While Williams seems to respect Sabermetric approach to fielding and defensive shifts, he seems stuck on old baseball norms for hitting. The Nats are 4th in MLB in SAC attempts yet 21st in productive outs. The Nats are 22nd in MLB at bunting success rate with just 57%. Why would a team struggling so mightily to score runs give away so many outs?

The other night in Pittsburgh Williams called for a sacrifice bunt to move a runner from 2nd to 3rd with nobody out. Why? Why? Why? Why? Why give away an out when your runner is already in scoring position.

I can't believe that Rizzo and company also believe in Williams 1940's era take on situational hitting, so why are they letting it to continue?

MASNCommenter said...


Kenny B. said...

"This is a team that can win now. Treat it as such."

This. The team as currently constructed can't weather the injury storm long enough, and the cavalry's arrival doesn't even guarantee there won't be more injuries. Desmond is getting run ragged, the most common way for Espinosa to get on base is to be hit by the ball, Werth is in the red in terms of being due for an injury, and LaRoche is still creaky.

McLouth is not getting it done. His OPS is .001 better than Gio Gonzalez. There has to be some replacement-level guy in the minors that can do better than this.

There 2 guys out there right now that I feel good about seeing at the plate, and they're both in their mid-30s (Werth, ALR). There are two guys I'm willing to give the benefit of the doubt as young, promising players (Ramos, Rendon). Desmond has shown enough flashes of good that I'm willing to tolerate his swing first, ask questions later approach—except at SS he is a human croquet set. Something needs to happen to inject some life into the offense.

I think the team needs a new bat. It doesn't even have to be that good to be better than what we have. I mean, of course you want somebody good, but the bar is pretty low. The pitching has been pretty consistent, and all you really need is another timely hit or two to flip some of these 2-1, 3-2, and 4-3 games the other way. An acquisition has the bonus effect of signaling to the fans that the team is dedicated to winning, and telling the players that they need to perform. I don't know what the move is, but you can't do much worse than whatever McLouth/Frandsen/Dobbs/Moore combo is trotting out there every night.

And if you're going to go after a big bat, now is the time. The division is weak, which it will not necessarily be again next year.

Of course, I don't think Rizzo will do anything. That would be an admission of failure. So as others have said, he will blame the injuries and we'll be back here next year.

John C. said...

I don't know the right answer. Heck, I don't even know what the options are because I don't know who is available and at what cost. But I do trust, based on his track record of building the organization to the point that we are even having this conversation, that Mike Rizzo has a better chance at finding the right answer and maximizing the team's chances to win a title than most.

Of course the rub is that no course of action is guaranteed to win. And that's even setting aside the question of cost. "Go and get a big bat!" is the cry - because God knows the Nats could use one. Well, first you have to identify one that might be available. Then you have to convince the other team that it is in their interest to make that deal. The Marlins aren't going to give Stanton to the Nats. The Diamondbacks aren't going to give Goldschmidt to the Nats. Even a struggling Pirates team isn't going to give McCutcheon to the Nats. Oddly enough, they look after their own fans and interests, too.

Kelly said...

What can we get for Clippard..?? What can we get for Strasburg..?? Stanton..??

Chaz R said...

As Harper notes, there are still a lot of teams still contending, so there are only a few that would consider trading away a quality bat.

blovy8 said...

What irks me is the emphasis on defense, shifting, and baserunning has only made those things worse. If I could believe that tripe Williams was spewing in the spring, they should just a play a great defensive left fielder who can run and just let him slap the ball around now. Get Burns back from Oakland or something. They ran into a couple of outs, and he seems to have stopped trying for the most part. I don't have a problem with the occasional bunt, at least there's a chance one of the plentiful outs they make could net a run. There's probably just as much of a chance at a hit when they're not even trying to get one. The only thing worse than watching the Nats hit is the Phillies.

They need to treat McLouth like a sunk cost and stop trying to get him going. It sucks to eat more than 8 million, but whether he rides the pine or acquires a phantom injury - they need a better hitting outfielder until Harper returns. A third of the way through the season is enough patience. Assuming he's actually going to rehab soon - do we really want that LF to become Zimmerman who would find something else to injure out there? Hell no. Like any fan, I got excited for two weeks that Espinosa might be the gap hitter with decent contact skills he thought he was in college, but yeah, he's back to the K machine with mistake pitch power and good defense who he's been in the majors. The Nats still think that's acceptable apparently, and I suppose in the pitching and defense world it would be. But in order to shift the club's perspective, it would take a player who's actually good to even get him out of the lineup. That can only mean Zimmerman back at third, Rendon at 2nd, and upgrading left by a lot.

It's clear they will not play anyone from the minors at the expense of an established player, unless they go 3 for 4 in a spot start and the other guys get injured, so the only possibility is trading for a new veteran who makes too much to not play. That's how Hairston gets at-bats, right?

Parra is not very exciting as an option. If you guys already hate Span, how can you want him? Cody Ross from the D-backs would make for a terrible challenge trade, as in who can cost their team the most? Arizona likes gritty guys like McLouth, but the Nats would take on the bigger contract and have a guy who can do even less, since his power seems to be gone. At least McLouth is reasonable as a defensive replacement and baserunner. He could be the Detwiler of the outfield. Of course, a contending club should not be earmarking any bench spots for guys who stink when they actually have to play.

Maybe Josh Willingham is available from the Twins. Sure, he sucks in the OF, but he has power, will take a walk, and has played well here. he's making 7 million and the Twins aren't really contending yet even if their record is better than the Nats. If they don't opt for something like that then it's probably time to go for a defensive stud and bat the guy ninth and the pitcher eigthth.

Anonymous said...

What could have been:
Nats catchers: BA:.207/HR:2/RBI:18/OBP:.273
Derek Norris: BA:.316/HR:5/RBI:24/OBP:.416

Nats LF (Hairston, Harper, Frandsen, McClouth)
Michael Morse: BA:.279/HR:10/RBI:33/OBP:.335

WiredHK said...

I don't disagree with anything here, the hitting is flat awful with this current lineup (and somehow even worse with RISP). But is it worth mentioning that we don't have a starting pitcher in the top 30 in the NL in ERA? With this staff, that seems crazy. This team is constantly playing from behind.

I'm floored by how average our SPs have been this year. Thank goodness our bullpen has been very solid or we'd be much farther below .500 right now.

I was wondering if Williams should consider having the 'pen handle innings 1-3 and then let the SPs come on after that to "close" the game out. Crazy, right? Maybe NOT pitching those first three innings would help these guys over the mental early-game hurdle....ugh.

JWLumley said...

We can all come up with a thousand different solutions, but the fact remains Rizzo and Williams are cut from the same cloth as Kurt Gibson, Dusty Baker and other Luddites around baseball. Look at how effective this type of management has been in Arizona or Cincinnati, it will be just as effective in DC. I'm actually kind of going this thing goes completely off the rails, because it would be the fastest way to get competent people in place.

Froggy said...

I'm in the blovy8, anon, JWL camp and think the solution to our doldrums is somewhere in the pen should consider a trade of ZNN, Gio or a combo with Clippard for a big bat. I'll bet one of the west coast teams who are in contention would be drooling.

Also, if Rizzo doesn't turn things around by the ASB, I think the Lerners need to bring in Cal Ripken as a 'special advisor / mentor' for both MW and Rizzo as a wake up.

JWLumley said...

Cal Ripen? They could really get underneath everyone's skin and hire Keith Law. I like Cal, but I think he's a lot closer to Matt Williams than he is to the Joe Maddon type they need. I've said it before, but I'd spend 20 million a season to get Dave Righetti. Which is easy to do with other people's money. Best thing to do might be to just promote Knorr.

John C. said...

Yeah, too bad the Nats let that Derek Norris go! They didn't get anything for him! Oh, except Gio Gonzalez an his 400+ IP, 8.2 bWAR/8.9 fWAR, etc over the past two plus seasons. Too bad the Nats traded Mike Morse! Well, they traded one season of Mike Morse in which he was injured (his true weakness) and ineffective ... OK terrible. for which the Nats acquired their #2 overall prospect (A.J. Cole), one of their current starters (Treinen) and another pitcher that was included as part of the package that got at least two years of Doug Fister.

The Nats should clean house, fire everyone and start over! Yes, dump one of younger teams in the league (for example, they have the 4th youngest pitching age of all NL teams).

I get that we're all frustrated and disappointed with the way the first third of the season has gone. But seriously, folks. Geez.

Kenny B. said...

"I get that we're all frustrated and disappointed with the way the first third of the season has gone."

You're forgetting that most of last season went pretty much the exact same way, otherwise, I'd love to agree. I'm not saying blow it up. I'm saying good young pitching gets you nowhere when you struggle for 2 runs a game against mediocre opposing pitching. And I think we are either at or rapidly approaching the point where stay the course should no longer be considered an option.

On the other hand, maybe "pray for rain" could be an effective strategy. If we could have every other game rained out until July, then I might say just wait it out. As it is, we're not even to June yet, and this motley team of veterany out-makers still has an entire month to go before we're looking at any scheduled relief.

So maybe we shouldn't all at like our hair is on fire, but I, for one, would not like to see another year in the "window" squandered waiting for bad players to become good. If there's anything that can be done (and maybe there's not), we should at least consider it.

Froggy said...

@wiredHK, so you are suggesting a reverse order pitching...Clippard for the 1st inning, Storen for the 2nd, pick-an-arm for the 3rd, and then bring in a SP for the last 5-6 innings?

I like it!

Kenny B. said...

As long as we're being unorthodox in our approach to pitching, are we desperate enough yet for a 4-man rotation? (Okay that's slightly less unorthodox than reverse pitching order.) With a stellar bullpen and a top pitcher hurt, might not be a terrible idea.

Maybe we'll try it during the inevitable next starting pitcher DL stint, which will commence as soon as Gio returns. My money's on Strasburg going down next.

Brian and Holli Jones said...

I will bet the Nats could get Dejesus away from the rays for mediocre prospects. Dejesus is still a solid starter in the of and does not get paid a ton. He would be attracted to our postseason chances. He would not be someone who could carry our team, but he would plug the HARPER hole better than what we have now.

Wally said...

I have been pretty disappointed with the team, but I see that I am out paced by a lot with most of you. I was looking at the schedule, and here is a thought: forgetting all the rest of this, they play the Braves 12 more times. With how things have played out so far, they'll have to play them strongly to have a chance of beating them for the division.

That is good, I think. Not as good as playing well generally, but could be a hidden blessing. That has been a psychological hang up for the team, and now they can't avoid it. if they can turn that around, it may mean something for the team's growth.

Donald said...

I don't know if Rizzo will make a move or not, but I don't think it's purely stubbornness. Adding a bench bat, and removing one of the existing bench players, has no guarantee of success. In fact, it might make things worse. I wouldn't trade away a top prospect to bet on someone like Prado turning things around.

What I think Rizzo should be thinking about is a longer term deal that helps now and for a year or two out. While they need a 1B next year, replacing LaRoche today doesn't make the team better offensively. They have a hole in LF right now, but they don't need to fill that position long-term. The one area that seems like it's a hole now and in the future is second base.

What do you think about a trade with the Twins for Brian Dozier? Any other 2B targets you'd want? I don't think we want Utley at his age and I don't think the Mets would trade Murphy.

John C. said...

If it was just for 2014, I'd take Chase Utley in a heartbeat. He is still a very good player, and a potent bat as well as a battle tested team leader. The problem is that he is getting paid at least $10M next season, possibly $15M, and his contract has vesting options for three more years after that (his 37, 38 and 39yo seasons). Maybe - maybe as a pure salary dump, with the Nationals sending a low level product for him.

It's moot, though - I don't think the Phillies are making Utley available; that's not Ruben Amaro's MO (Phillie Phans refer to him as "Ruin Tomorrow" - he prefers to sign older players, not deal them). Certainly they would be reluctant to trade Utley to a team in the division.

Anonymous said...

I think everyone (except John C.) is nuts. Yes the Nats are struggling, but what team wouldn't be struggling when they play 35-40 games with no more than 3 out of their 6 bats in the middle of the order? Besides Werth and Desmond: Zim, Harper, Laroche, and Ramos have all missed significant overlapping time. Every single one of those guys was batting somewhere between 2nd and 7th in the lineup. The Nats have played almost all their games missing half of their best 6 hitters.

Any team that is forced to bat only 3 "good" hitters, their 2 weakest hitters that play good defense, 3 back ups, and a pitcher is going to struggle to score runs.

Everybody says we need to trade our fantastic pitching, for a "big bat"... why??? Zim has been the best hitter this organization has ever had and is still young enough to be productive at the plate for several more years. Harper is a phenom. Anyone who says otherwise is selling something. He is going to be the highest paid player on the east coast when he signs his next contract and I pray he is signing with the Nats and not the Yanks.

The only prudent course of action is to ride this storm out, and hope that Werth, Ramos, Rendon, Laroche, and Desmond all start to get warm and have some back to back hits during some games to get us back above .500 and hold us there until Zim and Harper get back.

WiredHK said...

Anon - I don't think anyone in the above comments section is truly debating the "why" part of why this team is struggling. I think the discussion centers on the "what" can or should be done about it right now to avoid slipping way out of contention. If your answer is "nothing, it's just bad luck with the injuries" - fine, that's one way to view it.

But don't expect reasonable minds to all agree with the "do nothing, take your medicine" approach.

(I happen to agree with the "do nothing just yet" approach -- but I can certainly see valid arguments against just sitting here and not trying something. McLouth totally and without mercy sucks, Espinoza is what he is, Dobbs is no answer, etc.)

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