Nationals Baseball: Zimm, Bryce, and the here and now

Friday, August 29, 2014

Zimm, Bryce, and the here and now

It's kind of strange to be talking about the future with a month plus left in the season like I have been the past couple days. Really though, it's the Nats fault. Outside the usual "this guy is slumping, is it going to last" questions, what do we have to talk about going into the final month of the season? There's the playoff rotation... ok I can hear some of you screaming DO NOT TALK ABOUT THE PLAYOFFS!!! but seriously? The Nats just lost 3 games for the first time in months and their lead dropped to 6 games, better than all but one other division lead.  If this hypothetical Braves run to a division title is sparked mainly by their own amazing play, while the Nats play average baseball, then the Wild Card would still be a likely outcome given that the Cardinals and the Giants would have to play very good baseball to catch them.

Think of it like that - if the Nats play average baseball the rest of the way the Braves have to be great the rest of the way to pass them, and the Giants AND the Cardinals have to be very good (or I suppose the Pirates could be great).  That's a lot of unlikelies thrown together.

More worrisome would be the Nats play terrible, because then all those teams could play to more normal levels to pass the Nats. That's really what you are saying when you say not to look to the playoffs. You are worried that the Nats will reel off, for no good reason like injury or schedule or strife, their worst 30 game stretch of the year right now, allowing the Braves to catch and pass them with a good September, and the Cardinals/Giants to beat them for the WC with average ones. Could it happen? Sure. But as I said in the comments - for every famous collapse you can quote I can give you 4-5-10 teams that didn't. The fact that it could happen means we don't call it, but we can start to look to September to answer some questions because if you don't do it now there isn't a two week exhibition season prior to the playoffs to figure it out.

Anyway - back to the topic at hand.  We could talk about the rotation but that's going to be played to death by the end of September or whenever Williams makes a decision.  You know my thoughts going into the month - the 4 best pitchers should start regardless of IP or handedness. Really the only team that is leaps and bounds worse vs LHP is the Pirates, who probably won't make it. The Dodgers are a little worse but I don't want a questionable Gio facing Puig, Kemp, & Hanley do you? No, four best.

Anything else? Clip's struggles would play into that "slumping" category... we can wrangle out a couple.

What to do with Ryan Zimmerman?

He should be healthy in September. If he comes back, the Nats can do four things with him.
  1. Sit him - The Nats are a perfectly good team without him and who knows how long it will take him to get his swing back.  Of course if he is fine he's certainly a better hitter than some guys in the lineup he could replace and he is the best of that non-Werth/LaRoche group at taking walks. 
  2. Start him at 1st, platooning with LaRoche - LaRoche is pretty terrible versus lefties (.197 / .291 / .299) so at the plate it makes sense, but the Nats are convinced that LaRoche is a key defender. On GBs I can affirmatively tell you that's not the case. LaRoche can't move. When's the last time you remember a diving LaRoche stopping something? But on throws? Maybe. Zimmerman could be better, should be better, but is really a big question mark since he's been playing primarily LF. If he isn't ready for 1st, you don't want to find out during a playoff game.
  3. Start him at 3rd - Rendon goes to 2nd removing probably the weakest offensive player, Cabrera, from the lineup. This gives you the strongest line-up overall but brings back the Zimmerman at 3B issues. He's altered his throws in a way that might be able to compensate, but he's not comfortable and no one fully trusts him. With Rendon playing the position well enough why mess with it?
  4. Start him in LF - Now this could be a platoon with Bryce thing - which wouldn't make sense as Bryce has actually been fine versus lefties this year - but it remains out there. We'll talk about it later. The other way this could work is a Bryce to CF and sit Span thing. Again, makes your offense better because Zimm is better than Span, but Span plays a critical role compensating for Werth's declining range. Move Bryce, who is passable in LF but not great, to CF and the OF defense takes a big hit. Not to mention what sitting Span would do to Williams' mind line-up wise. 
There isn't an easy answer here unless either Zimm can't comeback, or he does comeback the Nats do #3 or #4 and he just kills the ball in September.

Will Bryce face tough lefties in the playoffs? 

For a while there it seemed like Bryce was sitting versus lefties regularly.  Whether that was the truth or not, it no longer is. In August he sat twice, both versus Cole Hamels, and started against every other lefty (Miley, Locke, Neise and Wood I think). So he's facing lefties now, but sitting versus the hard ones.  In the playoffs though, usually the talent is upped so all the pitchers you are facing are hard ones. My guess will be yes he will face all the lefties, part of the Hamels sit was because Hairston hits him well, but I think a big indicator will be when the Nats face Kershaw in the upcoming Dodgers series.

This is not to say you can't sit Byrce. You can. I don't like it. I don't think it's a good idea, but I get where it's coming from. But you can't sit Bryce versus lefties before you sit LaRoche, that just flat out makes no sense. Let's see what happens in LA.

Is Blevins demoted to LOOGY/Mop-up status?

Blevins can't face righties in a big spot. The evidence this year is too strong to risk it. Yet it keeps happening. I'd love to see this stop in September.

Any other non-rotation questions sitting out there?


Jimmy said...

Assuming Zimm needs around 100-150 ab to recover his stroke at least last time off the dl, I really hope his rehab starts soon. Of course this is a completely different injury so who knows.

Froggy said...

Although i've been a fan of LarRoche defensively for awhile, I've noticed a decrease in his range at least anecdotally this year as well. I agree with your Option #2 Harper and have advocated platooning Zimm with LaRoche since beginning of the year in order to get him ready for permanently playing there. I think Zimmerman has naturally aggressive 3b fielding instincts that would be a ++ at first base.

I agree Blevins is a LOOGY from here in out. Period. Full stop. Read my lips MW.

Last thing us what the heck to do with my boy Detwiler. Sad how MW has crushed his soul.

A Fly Moses said...

I agree missing the playoffs is unlikely, but 6 remaining vs Atlanta (and their seeming inability to play well against them) keeps it on play. I certainly wouldn't put it past them to go 1-5 there, and Atlanta has no other playoff teams on its schedule, while the Nats still have SEA and LAD on the road. It's not entirely out of the question, given schedules, that their lead could be basically gone in 2 weeks if they get swept by Atlanta in that first series.

Zimmerman11 said...

I think you're on the right track with the platoon splits... if our problem is too many good players, then let's maximize their performance the same way the A's do, by moving people around in the field and platooning people vs lefty/righty... play zimm at first when the team faces lefties and either 3b or lf against righties...and get people rest days down the stretch. May be a moot point, as most of the stuff I've read says zimm isn't close. He may just be a pinch hitter off the bench come playoff time.

I'm also worried about Clip, seeing how hard we've ridden him the last few years.

Harper said...

AFM - No arguments. Basically what we spelled out a couple weeks ago remains the truth - We have to wait until Sept 3rd (after SEA / LA) to first feel good about any call we'd make. I'd bet on the Nats now, but that's not the same as saying THEY WILL MAKE THE PLAYOFFS.There chances are just good enough to put money on, Translated to season watching : there's enough of a lead to focus on the playoff prep, but not enough to dismiss the Braves entirely.

JWLumley said...

Do you even put Blevins on the playoff roster? Sure, it's one more lefty, but you've already got Detwiler and Thornton and possibly Gio. I think Blevins should get replaced by Barrett if for no other reason than to stop MW from (mis)using him.

As for the Zim issue, I say platoon him where it makes sense. Let him play 1B against lefties, sit him when Fister is pitching, perhaps play 3B when/if Strasburg pitches. Unfortunately, this is not a strong-suit of Matt Williams. So perhaps just sticking him at 3B and hoping no one hits it there is the best option.

John C. said...

I don't tend to worry much about "what to do when [x] happens" questions, simply because these things often have a way of working themselves out. I'm not entirely convinced Zim is coming back this season, so I'm in the "cross that bridge when we get to it" camp.

Apparently if we like a player who sucks (Detwiler) - then darn that Williams! He broke the player's spirit! If we don't like the player (Espinosa) - then, well, the player just sucks. Funny that :)

JWLumley said...

@John C. Nothing could be further from the truth. I like Espinosa, he just can't hit left handed. Detwiler has a track record over the last 3 seasons of pitching well. This season he has been used extremely erratically. I really can't think of any pitcher ever being used as on again off again as he has. What's more is that Detwiler had real value coming into the season for other clubs in need of a starting pitcher. Instead of trading him for a minor league SS or left handed bat off the bench, the Nats stuck him in the back of their bullpen. They had something of value, then they diminished the value and have since used it incorrectly. To defend MW and the Nats use of Detwiler is ridiculous.

John C. said...

JWL: I was responding to Froggy's comment about Williams "breaking Detwiler's spirit", FWIW.

I'm not defending the use of Detwiler per se. I can understand why they moved him to the bullpen (summary: he wasn't one of the best five starting pitchers), although I would have started him over Treinen when Fister went down). I can also understand why they thought he'd be an asset in the bullpen, given the way his splits deteriorate markedly the second and third time a batter faces him.

The problem is, at some point it's the player's responsibility to man up and stop sucking. Detwiler hasn't been able to do that, really since 2012. Detwiler was not very good last year, and he's been worse this year. Which makes me wonder how Matt Williams managed to "break Detwiler's spirit" last year.

And his struggles last year are what make me skeptical that he would have gotten the Nats much in a trade. If they were going to deal him, they should have dealt him after 2012.

If Detwiler wants to pitch more in high leverage situations, he's going to have to stop hitting bats and walking people in low leverage situations. Because he hasn't been good for almost two years.

ocw5000 said...

No one should expect anything creative out of Matt Williams. This is a man who batted Kevin Fransden second when Werth was out for a week. Span will lead off. Gio will be in the playoff rotation. Clippard will pitch the 8th with a lead. Detwiler will pitch when we are losing or in extra innings. Harper will bat sixth until he gets it through his young whippersnapper head that he is just another ballplayer.

JWLumley said...

@John C Man Up? Pitch 1 inning once a week and stay fresh how exactly? It has absolutely nothing to do with "manning up" and everything to do with not being used correctly. It's not like he could pitch extra before a game to keep himself sharp because he may be needed that night. Of course this is completely forgetting about the fact that they devalued their own asset.

Bjd1207 said...

@JW - Gotta grant credence to JohnC's argument that Det's deterioration started last year. And looking at FIP he's never been particularly good and 2013 comes off looking rather flukish. Not saying they wouldn't have been able to turn him over for something (a guy will a full season of starts will amost always garner something). But its true that his decline started well before MW started 'misusing' him.

And if it comes down to who to use in the pen, detwiler's last in my list. Thornton's obviously performed better than both, historically and in recent weeks so he's your top lefty. In the LOOGY role I'm taking Blevins' strikeout stuff over Detwiler each and every time, and in the long-role he may have to compete against Gio and it's obvious who I'm picking in that scenario.

Really what place is there in the post-season for a 2nd LOOGY with poor K numbers?

Bjd1207 said...

2012 looks flukish*

JWLumley said...

@Bjd You're siting stats from a year in which he was hurt as "evidence" of his decline? Also, he's not a LOOGY, never has been. His issue has usually been 3rd time through the order, not platoon splits. Unlike Blevins, he can get righties out. Also, Detwiler is a former 1st round pick, pedigree matters.

As for the FIP numbers, FIP has always undervalued groundball pitchers who don't strike a ton of people out and there are long and lengthy debates between people smarter than me about using FIP to assess groundball pitchers like Detwiler, so I take his FIP numbers with a grain of salt.

John C. said...

Meh. I look at Detwiler's stats and I see a pitcher whose 2012 comes off as a career year. Whether you're looking at FIP, ERA, WHIP, K/BB, or what have you, the numbers (other than 2012) are just not very good.

I've never been a fan of the "his struggles in [x] role indicate that he's being misued and that he would be better if we just play him more" line of reasoning. That strikes me as being closer to magical thinking than clear analysis. But YMMV.

Bjd1207 said...

On the groundball-FIP stuff, even if I grant you the whole of that argument that still strengthens my opinion that I don't want him in a highest-leverage (read: strikeout) situation. Unfortunately I haven't read enough either on the subject to say whether or not the difference is valid.

Which brings me to my next point which is why you say that he "isn't" a LOOGY. To me, its all in how we(MW) choose(s) to use him, it's not like he filled out a job application that said "starting pitcher" on it. In his career numbers, the difference between lefties and righties is almost .170 OPS, and this year the difference is close to .300 points of OPS. Righties hitting over .300 (AVG) off him his year. So which righties exactly is he getting out consistently? Those SCREAM LOOGY to me.

And once he's in that category with Blevins (again assuming Gio doesn't make rotation and is the long man lefty) Blevins is better in almost any situation you can draw up.

JWLumley said...

It's not about playing him more, it's about using him in the same role with consistency. Pitchers can't stay sharp when being using erraticaly out of the bullpen. It's not like they're a hitter who can take more BP. Their arm only has some many pitches in it per season, throwing more would be counter productive to being prepared.

Bjd1207 said...

I'd ask that you back any of that up. The last sentence in particular strikes me as an insane view of pitcher health/readiness.

And all bets/arguments about consistency are off in the playoffs, I mean we're talking about moving Gio from rotation to pen. And I think that's what John C initially meant by "man up." Particularly in the playoffs, we want the guys that WONT get rattled when taken out of their "consistent role"

Wally said...

When I look at DET's stats, he seems to be pitching in line with his career stats. Maybe he has walked a few more, and been a little unlucky with BABIP and LOB, but mostly this is what he is (or at least has been). We always remember when RPs blow up more than SPs because there is often a high leverage situation. And for how he has been used, it is pretty much in line with what they said at the outset: they wanted a weapon in the pen who could step in and throw multiple shutdown innings when needed. And he has thrown the 3rd highest IPs in the fewest appearances.

But I think the Nats expected his stuff to tick up in a relief role, and it just hasn't happened. My guess is that they were hoping to see his FA average 95, but instead it is sitting at 93. Up slightly from 2013 but essentially the same as 2012. He is a one trick pony (FA with a quirky delivery) but I think those 2 'lost' mph make a big difference.

I agree with bjd, I would pull Det from the playoff roster unless one of the others is injured.

Froggy said...

@John C, for the record I love Danny Espinosa and don't think he sucks, but to your point, Danny has had many more reps at bat and positionally than Detwiler and has been handled completely differently. Danny has had over 300 AB's and has done ok from the right side and pretty badly from the left side, but is rock solid defensively. Detwiler on the other hand has pitched 55 innings and in the last two months , pitches like once a week in nonsensical situations, or when our SP has been chased and or we are getting shelled.

My question is, name a skill occupation where you can do something once a week and maintain a high level of effectiveness or sharpness whether it's swinging a hammer, or cutting on brains?

I agree with JWL about Det's first round pedigree and think if you really don't want the guy then trade him to a team that does for a position player or another reliever.

Richard Parker said...

I'm calling it now, after the Braves lost to the Marlins 4-0 and we beat the Mariners 3-1 for two straight against Seattle and a 7-game lead again. The Braves just don't have it in them to catch the obviously superior Nationals. The only thing I'm worried about is our closer, who, if he does record a save (which in all fairness is a pretty regular occurrence), too often ends the game with at least two men on base. That will only end badly once the playoffs come.

Anonymous said...

Every NFL player in history

Zimmerman11 said...

Big win tonight in LA... excited to see Fister vs. Kershaw, a good test for the hot swinging Nats bats... and a good pitching matchup. A series win in LA would be a huge start to September!

Little power surge the last few days... incredible to see it against King Felix... let's see what we can do against LAD... and then go show ATL they do NOT have our number!