Nationals Baseball: The right way

Thursday, May 08, 2014

The right way

Yesterday Wilson Ramos came back. He had a big double in the first that should have scored a run if Adam LaRoche wasn't a statue right now. He had the sacrifice fly that drove in what would be the winning run. It's great to have him back in the lineup.

But let's take this moment to tip the hat to Rizzo for doing something right. Prior to the season starting we screamed that Jhonatan Solano and Sandy Leon were not good enough right now to back up Wilson Ramos. This wasn't because they weren't good enough to be your typical major league back-up catcher. Those guys stink, of course they could do that. It was because Ramos is a huge injury risk and neither of these guys could be an every day player. Rizzo saw the same thing presumably and he went out and dealt a fair AAA SP prospect in Nate Karns for Jose Lobaton, a guy who could be an everyday player, albiet not a particularly good one.

To nobody's surprise Wilson Ramos did go down and the back-up did have to play everyday. How did Jose Lobaton do? .250 / .325 / .375.  Not particularly good, but you know what? Not bad either. It was pretty much what he was brought in to do. Compare that to Leon (.177 / .291 / .252 in AA this year) or Solano (.146 / .180 / .188 in 50 PAs in the majors), and think about what the Nats could have had. You don't even have to think about it, just look at last year's stats. Suzuki and Solano combined to be a black hole at the bottom of the order.

Lobaton is a guy you have to put some effort into pitching to. Maybe not a lot but as a pitcher you can't take the at bat off.  Leon and Solano are basically good-hitting pitchers at the plate.

It's something that can be overlooked but it matters. A potential problem was seen, it was addressed about as well as it could be, and when the potential problem became an actual one, the solution worked as expected. For a team that wants to be a contender this is how it's supposed to work.

47 comments:

Chaz R said...

No question, Harper, the Lobaton deal was a critical piece worked by Rizzo. The Lobaton actually had some clutch hits from what I recall.

What do you think about TMo optioned to AAA? I know you don't care for him, but with ALR hurting we are down to Frandsen substituting at 1B.

JWLumley said...

Whoah, easy Harper. What's up with all these positive posts? I come here for outrage. That being said, totally agree. Good job by Rizzo identifying a need and addressing it.

I wonder if this will lead to more of this type of thinking, perhaps, he'll realize Span is a 4th OFer and make a deal? Maybe he'll let Tyler Moore go because he's a 4A player, maybe he'll accept that Tanner Roark was meh to awful in the minors and do some contingency planning for when the black magic wears off. Hell, he might even stop the organizational ridiculousness of telling pitcher to pitch to contact. This could be great.

JWLumley said...

@Chaz Wait, what. Tyler Moore was sent to AAA where he belongs? How did I miss this? It's all coming true!

BooyahSuckah! said...

I loved the Lobaton deal from day one, for exactly the reasons you state. Of course, I also wanted to trade last season for John Buck. Same guy. A decent (but not great) hitter with some pop who can't be your everyday guy but who is pretty good as backups go. Or at least, that's been my impression of him. I didn't actually look at the numbers.

Personally, I'm fine with Frandsen as the ALR backup/platoon mate. Isn't that exactly why we brought him in? Because he plays virtually every position passably? He started 30-some games at 1B for Philly last year. Not like he doesn't know how to do it, and his bat has actually been decent considering the sporadic ABs he gets. I mean, he can't possibly be a worse fielder than Moore, right?

cass said...

It's funny how much better a half game ahead feels than a half game behind.

Agree with everything about Lobaton. I liked the deal when it happened (and was relieved) and I like it now.

I do wish the Nats had grabbed Burnett, but that's just my own little peeve.

BooyahSuckah! said...

JW, I disagree about Span being a 4th outfielder. I mean, really. The guy plays plus defense. He's fast, he makes good reads, and takes good lines to the ball. I wish he'd lay it out now and then, but that's just quibbling. He's very good defensively. His offense is just poor-to-fair, but that's almost always what you get. If he was batted in the correct lineup spot, there's no question about his value. The sole problem with Span is that MW insists of batting him first, which Span has zero control over. I don't know how that makes him a 4th outfielder. Am I missing something?

Eric said...

Chaz, I have a feeling Frandsen won't be much of a defensive drop off at 1B. Look at how nicely he's settled in in LF. For comparison, he's played LF 22 times (maybe more if you include the 25 "OF" listings) and 1B 44.

The Frandsen pick up is every bit as crucial as the Lobaton pick up, imo. He most definitely doesn't have Harper's potential, but he does seem to play at the peak of his potential at all times.

BooyahSuckah! said...

Plus, in addition to Frandsen, you could also sub Zimm in over there once he comes back if ALR is hurt and/or needs a day off. That was the plan before the season anyway, as I recall MW saying at some point.

Eric said...

JW - Span is 8th in the league for WPA...how do you bench that? I understand the arguments for moving him down the line up...except when he's on a roll at the plate...which imo could happen any time now.

JWLumley said...

@Booyah - I'm not really saying he's a definite 4th OFer, to me he's a borderline 4th OFer. A guy who, when completely healthy, should only play in 120-140 games a year even if he's the starter and someone who should be pinch hit for in big offensive situations. I agree the defense is very good, not great (Only 3 rdrs last year). He seems to be developing some pronounced splits and should probably sit against lefties.

Basically what I'm trying to say is that he should be your Nate McLouth. Yes, he could start, but you'd prefer someone better.

JWLumley said...

@Eric, WPA is a fun stat, but it's not something I would base decisions on. In case you, or anyone else, is interested, here's a good article.
http://www.fangraphs.com/library/misc/wpa/

BooyahSuckah! said...

JW - Well sure, you'd always prefer someone better. I'd like someone better than Kershaw or Trout, but wish in one hand and crap in the other, as they say :)

I'm not sure there IS anyone substantially better who would be a realistic target, particularly mid-season. I suppose my point is that you ALMOST always have to pick defense or offense, particularly with CF. In this case, we chose defense. His lack of offense is the same lack of offense that any other good defensive CF (except Trout) is going to have. It hurts because of his spot in the lineup, not because of who he is.

blovy8 said...

McLaugh's babip cratering also shows what a crapshoot the bench is too.

blovy8 said...

If Span put up a .340 OBP he'd be fine there, maybe he's not that guy anymore, but he's certainly better than the numbers show so far. I look at his 2012 and say why can't he do that?

DezoPenguin said...

Yeah, realistically "who Span is" is not the problem. "Recognizing who Span is" is a distinct problem. Meh hitting and plus defense is fine for a centerfielder. Yes, of course everyone would rather have Andrew McCutchen, but there's only so many of those guys going around and they don't reach the open market. About the only way to genuinely improve on Span last offseason, for example, would be to have been to open the moneybags really wide for Ellsbury, and matching what the Yankees gave him would have been both unlikely and probably not bright.

On the other hand, making Span the leadoff hitter because he's a fast guy and conventional wisdom says lead off the fast guy, now that's a problem. In a Nationals lineup featuring the eight guys who are supposed to play, he ought to be hitting 8th, because he's unquestionably the worst hitter of the bunch (in a lineup also featuring Leon, Epsi, and McLouth, there's considerably more argument there, but that's what happens when you have fewer good players, it means that sub-optimal decisions have to be made). It's taking the weakest part of his game and making him use it more often.

Also, great to have Ramos back. Hopefully, he stays back. Kudos to Lobaton for being better than Leon now and last year's Suzuki/Solano, so he did the job we got him to do, as Harper observed.

Eric said...

JW - I've read that. I'm not confused about what the stat is. Again, I ask, how do you bench a guy who, up to this point in 2014, is 8th in WPA in the MLB? Of the 7 above him, only Morse and Stanton play in the outfield.

Now, last year he was 43...so...we'll see how it goes from here.

JWLumley said...

@Booyah Well, I don't think wanting something better than a 1.5 - 2.5 WAR player with declining skills is asking for something better than the two best players in baseball.

Other than that, I would agree except the Nationals have Bryce Harper who was an above average defensive CFer that allowed them the luxury of playing 3 corner OF bats without sacrificing defense. Now, Harper's not as good defensively as Span, but he's better than most. The Nats shouldn't have moved him off of CF for another 2-3 years. Also, the worse Span hits the more defensive value he needs to provide. Not to mention that with a staff full of guys with swing and miss stuff and a couple of ground ball guys in their rotation, CF is less important defensively to the Nationals.

Eric said...

Er, sorry, Span was 43 amongst 50 outfielders last year, not all position players. Among center fielders, he was 16 of 18.

In 2014, Span is #1 in CF and #4 in the OF (Werth is #2...should've said only Morse and Stanton are above him AND not on the Nats already).

Anyway, again, we'll see where things go from here, but he has had some important sac hits and productive outs, and of course there's his D.

BooyahSuckah! said...

JW - Yeah, I should've clarified, I'm not comparing Span to Trout or Kershaw. I'm just saying, you always want someone better. If I had Trout, I'd still want someone better than Trout, because hey, that guy would be really effing good. The question becomes is there someone better (qualified by availability and price)? I would guess not.

JWLumley said...

@Eric, well you bench him because WPA is not a predictive stat. It's like benching a guy first in RBI's, runs or pitcher wins. Who cares, it's a nice novelty, but not something to base decisions on. What you're benching is a guy who's put up a .284 wOBA with a 77 wRC+, both of which are well below average. None of this is to say I'd bench him with Harper hurt, but that's what 4th OFers are for. Wouldn't it be better if Span was playing instead of McLouth and there was a real bat in LF? Corner OFers aren't exactly that hard to come by. Personally, I wish Morse was still out there and Span was a late inning defensive replacement.

JWLumley said...

@Booyah I hear you. I understand some of it is resource scarcity, but neither of us know what's really out there although the Dodgers seem like a good trade partner for an OFer if they eat some contract. Personally I'd like to see Souza get some more AB's. Unlike Zach Walters, most scouts agree that Souza has some upside and could blossom into something.

Nick said...

As far as Span is concerned, I don't think we can really afford to raid the farm system much more to make a trade, and I don't even know if there are any upgrades available right now. It would probably be cheaper/easier to strengthen the bench instead of going out and finding a CF better than Span (of which there aren't many).

Eric said...

JW - I recognize that it's not predictive, but "what have you done for me lately" counts for something, imo. Also, "predictive" stats aren't exactly a crystal ball or we'd already have 2 WS rings.

Anyway, re: Span, I certainly wouldn't complain if he was moved down the order until/unless he starts hitting, but it's also not like we're having a horrendous year on offense at the plate...so...I'm not worried about him batting first, either.

Bjd1207 said...

@JW - Sorry can't let you off the hook here. I think you're selling Span wayyyyy short. I'm not going to defend that his bad is above average. Last year fangraphs had him 8th in WAR, and 2nd best in defense to only Carlos Gomez. On his defense alone you'll get to around 2 WAR (defensive contribution was essentially zero last year). Let's assume his bat provides exactly zero help (but not negative), that 2 WAR already puts him in the top 37 OF'ers in the league. A 4th OF'er would be in the 91+ range. And searching that list of 37 guys I'd be hard pressed to find a replacement that could be reasonably obtained

JWLumley said...

@bjd need some context here. 8th in WAR of what (NL OFers?), 2nd best in what defensive metric? Also, WAR is a counting stat that's based on opportunity. Nate McLouth put up a 2.5 WAR last year, but even if he was playing well, he still wouldn't put up anywhere near that this year. Denard Span is getting worse, not better, he's not going to put up a .313 wOBA this year, it's probably going to be more like .300. I'm not saying that he's always been a 4th OFer, but that he is one moving forward because he doesn't steal bases anymore and doesn't hit. It's also based on need. The Nats don't play all of their games in Miami or San Diego so a great defensive CFer won't bring as much value to them, not to mention that Harper is a good CFer so the Nats are wasting a potentially huge advantage they could utilize of a CF who can hit.

Not to mention that comparing Span to all other OFers isn't right, because some of those teams are bad, they're not contenders, some have enough offense in the rest of the lineup that it doesn't matter, or they're an AL team where having an automatic out in CF can work if you have a good DH. Perhaps I should re-phrase to say I think Span is a 4th OFer on a good team, but a regular on a mediocre or bad team.

I would also add that Span is helped a bunch by WAR's formula which uses defensive metrics that are still largely debatable. For context's sake, Span finished tied for 27th amongst all OFers last year in Defensive Runs Saved and 18th in UZR/150. Both good, but neither of them are great or game-changing.

blovy8 said...

It's kind of a weird time to start ragging on Span again, he's had multiple hits in 3 of the last 4 games, even with the collar against Kershaw. They already spent over 5 million a year for McLouth, the guys who would give you an upgrade over his prospective mediocrity aren't going to be on the block for months and will cost something you don't want to give away.

The club should be trying to lock up Rendon on long-term deal right now. Screw the injury history.

JWLumley said...

It's never a weird time to rag on Span, but I was just kidding and a debate broke out. If Span starting is your biggest problem, you don't have many problems. Hopefully they'll stop letting him lead off though.

Chaz R said...

Span isn't a bad hitter, he is a bad leadoff hitter. He puts up fair numbers and could bat down in the order for any MLB team, given his PLUS defense. He's just miscast as a leadoff man.

Jay said...

I would agree that Harper should have stayed in CF for another couple of years. He is a valuable LF, but he is an unbelievable CF bc of his bat. They can't do that now bc they don't have anyone to put in LF. The Nats would have been better off to leave Harper in CF and go get a LF in the offseason (after Harper's rookie season). I'm still convinced the reason Harper ran into the wall last year is because they were toggling him back and forth from LF to RF with Werth's injuries. Also, it is much easier to get an above average LF than a CF that can hit. So yes, I agree with JWL that Harper should still be in CF. You could have batted Rendon leadoff. Imagine someone like Michael Morse batting 5th or 6th in place of Span's bat (not that it would have to be Morse). The batting order is much deeper and a greater threat that way.

Second, Span thinks he is a leadoff hitter. He complained very loudly last year when Johnson moved him out of the leadoff spot. He stated several times "I'm a leadoff hitter". I think if you're going to play him you are stuck having him bat leadoff.

Third, Span is hitting much better these last few games. When he hits the Nats offense is much more dangerous.

Finally, Rizzo is a former scout. He believes in being strong up the middle. He went and got Span to enable some small ball (even though he doesn't steal bases at all). The only thing that kills me about Span is what we gave up to get him. I agree Alex Meyer isn't exactly tearing it up, but he was our best pitching prospect at the time. I think Span is a great guy, and I have resigned myself to hoping he can hit like he did in September. Then it doesn't matter bc he is doing so well.

Donald said...

One question about the complaint with Span leading off -- and I get that you don't want your worst hitter in that spot -- but who do you put there in his place? Werth can handle the spot, but he's not an ideal lead-off guy and you like his pop a little further down. Rendon could do it, but again, he's tied for the lead in HRs on the team. Do you really want most of those to be solo shots? Espinosa isn't hitting any better than Span. Desi isn't either at the moment and doesn't take enough pitches. McLouth? Frandsen?

If the Nats had more options, it would be easier to move Span down. The way it is now though, it feels like solving one problem creates another. It's probable that the net would be positive, but maybe not as much as people think.

John C. said...

I second Harper's tip o' the cap to Rizzo for getting Lobaton. One undervalued part of his game is defense. He has always been good at framing, and so far this year has also been throwing runners out (40% CS; 26% is league average). It will be interesting to see how Ramos does in this department (he damn near threw Dee Gordon out yesterday - on a changeup, yet).

While I agree that Meyer was a steep price to pay for Span, I also remember the adage that prospects will break your heart.

JWLumley said...

@Chaz Average wOBA for big league hitters is about .330, Span's wOBA last year was .313 and is .284 this year. Bad is a relative term, Span is significantly below average with his bat. You can point to Span's defense as being good enough to compensate, but that takes a faith in UZR that I don't have. DRS and other stats seem to suggest he's good, but not great.

Anonymous said...

Can anyone explain why WAR remains a relevant statistic?

My very basic understanding, is that WAR measures performance as compared to others in a player's position. Isn't that giving too much credit to a very rough approximation (a player's position) of a player's defensive value?

If we can better measure defensive value, I think that position is irrelevant to offensive value. It does not matter if a player is a center or corner outfielder when hitting, assuming you can measure and credit the additional defensive abilities a centerfielder must have.

Chaz R said...

@JW I just think it's too early to say Span is a bad hitter. He started out slow, but has been hitting much better recently. Also, there are indications he can get back to his career average numbers. For instance, in Away games his line is .300/.349/.500/.849

I just wish there was a way to get him out of that #1 hole until he improves to more of his typical numbers- which aren't great, but at least not bad.

Anonymous said...

@Donald I would've said Werth but apparently he doesn't want to be there.

As for Span, I actually am a big fan. I loved Morse but his defense was just bad, and that's what leaving Harper in center would have probably meant. I'm also very happy we didn't get Bourne, the only other option really on the market (i guess Revere) when we picked up Span. Particularly given our strange habit of lighting up bullpens, he's just about the only guy in our lineup that prefers to work the count. His interesting split to me though is no one on vs. with Runners on.

Never had the same love to Tmo, interesting to see what happens with 3 catchers.

Anonymous said...

Also will Brian Goodwin ever put it together?

JWLumley said...

Here's a question for the group (that probably none of us have an answer to) but do teammates dislike Bryce Harper? Of course, I'm asking this because Frandsen came out and said Rendon was definitely better than Harper.

Frandsen just dropped about 20 rungs in my book because why do you say that? Even if you believe it, shut up. You don't compare ANY two guys on your team, there's nothing to be gained and a lot to be lost.

Hate to get back on MW, but this stuff didn't happen when Davey was there. Either Harper is really getting out of control or Harper is beginning to experience jealousy from teammates or people are just incredibly stupid. My guess is it's some combination of the 3, but to what levels. I don't think good clubhouses make teams win, but I do believe bad ones can help them lose.

Anonymous said...


could see them trying to light a fire under Harper by saying that or trying to remove some of the pressure... Doesn't really make sense though.

DezoPenguin said...

@Anon:

The positional adjustment in WAR exists because the defensive stats don't necessarily account for the difference between position. That is, a LF and a CF might have the same UZR, but the CF's is more important to the team because of the nature of the number and type of plays that the CF will be exposed to. I have my own quibbles (why do we punish DHs, who don't have any defensive component to their play at all, and therefore the value of a DH is entirely dependent on his bat?), but there's a reason for the existence of the components.

With regard to leadoff hitters, I'd definitely say Werth, due to his high OBP. Harper, Zimmerman, ALR, and Ian all have similar or superior power to fill the middle of the lineup. Werth-Harper-ALR-Zim-Ian-Ramos-Rendon-Span would be my off-the-top-of-my-head lineup; you can tweak that somewhat (If Rendon's current hitting is indicative of what you think he'll do all year, maybe bat him second and Harper fourth?), but that's the basic idea.

Eric said...

I think it's clear that Harper's honeymoon phase is over. Werth pretty clearly indicated that he felt the public benching was on the up and up, Frandsen saying what he said, etc. Both could've said "no comment". But, I seriously doubt anyone straight dislikes the guy, as he seems remarkably down to earth given his age and fame; however, I also can imagine some think he still has stripes to earn and maybe even that the hype is premature.

As for Frandsen's comments, not everyone is interested in toeing the party line. What can you do? I suspect if it really came down to it, Frandsen would be on the outs before Harper, but that the team chemistry will be largely unscathed over this.

As I recall, that's about how it played out when Soriano called out Harper after the Giants game last year when Harper pulled up shirt at the wall. That was a much more direct criticism, though, and he and Sorinworked it out.

Anonymous said...

I agree Harper but I still dont understand how Leon came up before Solano. He was playing great for Syracuse.

Donald said...

I'm not sure if there are subconscious under threads to Frandsen's comments, but my take was he was just trying to prop up a young teammate who's been doing really well. Is it now totally unacceptable to praise the season Rendon is having or do you always have to couch it in terms of how great it is, except for Bryce, of course, who could be better?

JWLumley said...

@Donald when you compare two things you ALWAYS diminish one of them. So yes it's wrong to compare when it's your teammates. No one is saying that Gio is the Nats best starter, and then following that up with, yes he's better than Stras or No.

blovy8 said...

I would guess that Ramos is going to DH a bit in Oakland.

Frandsen's allowed his opinion, and he gave pretty good reasons for thinking it, even if most would disagree. There's a difference between airing dirty laundry, a knee-jerk reaction when you're angry, and giving an honest opinion. I certainly would take Rendon over Harper for the next two months...

Mitch said...

There's a little too much positivity and fair debate here, I'll express a concern :)

Does anyone else feel this organization is immature? Some of the comments by Rizzo over the years. JW reminded me of the "pitch to contact" philosophy. First, how does a pitcher actually do that? Second, WHY would a pitcher want to do that? Hey, I drafted one of the potentially best strikeout pitchers of recent time - let's tell him to let the batters hit his stuff! I'm convinced that has held Stras back.

Werth doesn't want to bat leadoff? Waah. Span only wants to bat leadoff? Tough. But he looks like a leadoff hitter, so end of analysis. We're jealous of our young star? Let's be mean to him publicly. 8th inning guys, save situations, etc. Nate McLouth was good once, right? Still think it was a mistake to let Morse go. OK, I think that's enough. Go Fister!

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