Nationals Baseball: Monday Redux

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Monday Redux

You might not read the ESPN power rankings so here's a tidbit for you : The Nats have won 5 one-run games in this 7 game winning streak. However, don't consider the team lucky. This only brings their record in one-run games to .500.

Anyway about yesterday

J' Refuse to take back my comment that the faces of the Nats are Bryce, Strasburg, and Werth. Sorry long-timers but it's true. It's true for the national media. It's true for Joe Q Baseball Fan. It's true for the more recent, perhaps bandwagon fans. It's probably even true for local sports fans who casually follow the Nats. This isn't a statement on who it should be. It's a statement on who it is. I would liquidate my assets and bet it all on Werth being more associated with the Nats than Zimm.

As for the rest of the column. Yeah, you could read it as "the Nats have a good chance in the future because the GM is good".  That's fair. And I don't necessarily disagree. I think Rizzo is good. How good? Well I think the next few years are telling. I've gone over the issues I had with 2013 Rizzo and I think he's improved in both bench building and mid-season course correcting. However, I still don't see him making all the moves I think he should. More importantly there was a lot of things that came together, not necessarily because of Rizzo's genius, that created this mini-run from 2012-2015. What he does as this run draws to a close will really define his tenure.

A lot of you said something to the effect of "it's too hard to predict that far out" and you're absolutely right. 2015 is fair game, but 2016 is iffy, and 2017 might as well be a coin flip. But remember that works both ways. We can't say "doom and gloom are coming" but we can't say "blue skies ahead!" either. At best you get general impressions (like everyone had for the Phillies let's say) but they don't always work out (how long ago did Boz say the Yankees were bottoming out? No not that time, the other one.) The general impression for the Nats is good. They have a couple good young players who will be here for a while and a decent minor league system. That's all you can say, but it's better than what you can say for most teams.

This also plays into the "now or later" argument. Obviously it's never that cut and dried. Dealing for immediate success has to be judged based on how much help it brings versus the cost you give up. But looking at it as if you were trading a future playoff season for a slightly better chance at winning the whole thing now is a dangerous point of view to take. The slightly better chance isn't guaranteed but it's as close as you'll come. You know these players, how they've done recently, how they've done this season in fact. You can be fairly sure on how they'll do for the remainder. Small sample size creates the issue of not living up to expectations, but it also creates possibility of getting a crazy good run. On a whole its a fair gamble.

Saying that trading a way a prospect will cost you a future playoff season though is fantasy. It could, sure. But it just as easily could not. You can't say "we don't know what 2017 will bring... except if we trade away this guy we're doomed!"  Of course there are always exceptions. Massive sell-offs of prospects would indeed hurt your future chances.  But take a look back at any trade deadline and you'll see a massive amount of prospects that the media "couldn't believe were traded!" that ended up as replacement parts at best.  You get the John Smoltz, Jeff Bagwells, stuck in your head but they are the exception, not the rule. The rule is Brett Wallace, Justin Smoak, Matt LaPorta. The very best (like Giolito) don't get moved any more. The rest are nothing you can rely on.

38 comments:

Donald said...

People do get too hung up on the current team / minor league composition when gauging the future. It's great having hot prospects but you trade them away for Giancarlo Stanton and the whole picture changes completely. Maybe a better way to gauge the future is by looking at how much money is tied up down the road. A team with a lot of flexibility has a chance.

Bjd1207 said...

Whether its doom and gloom, sunny skies, or somewhere in the middle, lets talk about 2017 in the offseason.

In the meantime we're in the middle of our best winning streak, had 3 epic wins lately, and there's plenty of room for discussion.

ALR's August re-surgence, Span looking like he'll keep this up, concerns about Soriano? Any danger in Storen taking over the closer? Probly not I'd say unless we see another couple breakdowns from Soriano

DezoPenguin said...

@Donald:

Actually a good point, particularly since the more expensive players--the bigger contracts that mean that more money is tied up--tend to be veterans. And veterans tied up in big contracts over the long term tend to be players entering or passing through their decline phase (see, for example, Werth and Zim on this team).

A point about Adam LaRoche brought up in Mark Simon's column on ESPN this morning: by rWAR, he's actually having the second-best season of his career this year even if it ended today. By fWAR it's the fifth best, though their projections suggest it'll be second-best by the time the season's over. I was really surprised by that, especially given that he's supposed to be going through a serious defensive decline (one which rWAR, through DRS, doesn't seem to believe in, looking at his career fielding stats).

karl kolchak said...

I have to take issue with the "decent minor league system" comment. The Nats' system has to be considered medicore at best. The only farm team to have so far clinched a playoff spot (Potomac) is doing it with smoke in mirrors (middle of the league in team OPS, dead last in ERA), plus they are an older team that currently feature NO players from the Nats' Top 10 prospects list.

Hagerstown has had a great season bolstered by Giolito and three guys (Difo, Bautista and Kieboom) who prior to this year were on no one's prospect radar and who must repreat their success to be taken seriously.

Auburn and Harrisburg are absolute trash fires, which is particularly troubling considering how many of the organizations' top prospects began the year with the latter. And finally, Syracuse is having a very good year thanks to Souza, the departed Walters and a whole lot of minor league FAs. Their best pitcher prior to the arrivsal of Cole, Taylor Hill, is still not on the team's Top 20 prospects list.

Unfortunately, after Giolito, Cole, Taylor and Souza, the Nats' prospects situation quickly drops off to a whole lot of injured guys, guys who cratered this year, guys whose celings look to be backup players or middle relievers at best and guys who need to repeat their one year success going forward.

I'm not really a pessimist because the Nats' ownership has the financial resources to keep the team competetive and can afford to keep, say, Desmond, Fister and Ramos and perhaps Strasburg when they hit free agency (Z-nn seems determined to leave for some reason). Keep enough of their relatively young free agents around, make a few more shrewd trades and have a few of the propects work out and this team should be competetive for the rest of this decade despite its currently underwhelming farm sytem and adversion to signing IFAs.

Rory said...

Karl

Pretty pessimistic on our minor league system. I'm just gonna go back to not paying attention and assume everything is rosy.

Bjd1207 said...

@karl - Where are you getting your minor league stats/numbers?

Harper said...

Donald - flexibility does help but only if you are willing to spend (which is why flexibility doesn't matter to teams that play with deep pockets)

BJD - YAWN! This season is over! Wake me on Oct 1.

Donald - combo of the best offensive season of his career plus being overrated on D before now. He is declining but was already meh.

kk - I weight a minor league system top heavy. The fact Giolito and Cole are probably both Top 25-30 guys for 2015 is more impt to me than if they had 6 guys 30-100

John C. said...

You're sticking to your guns, Harper? I'm shocked! Not to worry, Harper - the internet means never having to say that we're sorry :)

In my evaluations of GMs, I am reluctant to use the standard of whether the GM makes the moves that I would make, because I don't have all the sources of information that the GM has. So I'm even less likely to use the standard of whether the GM makes all the moves that someone else recommends. But that's OK - YMMV. I'm still trying to deal with what these last three walkoff wins have done to my sleep schedule!

John C. said...

On the minor league system, in my view it's in pretty good shape having graduated/traded out a fairly massive amount of talent in the last 2-3 years. It's certainly been a major help to the big league team this season, and is set up well to support the big club next year.

After that it's hard to say. But I'm not going to pretend that I can evaluate where the minor leaguers will be in 2016 and 2017 when the MLB roster will be facing some serious turnover. Taylor Hill isn't rated highly? Neither was Tanner Roark, or even Michael Taylor (who scouts now seem to love - go figure). So we'll see. And I don't give two hoots in a handbag about the record of the minor league teams. As long as the minor league system keeps producing talent that helps the Nationals directly or through trades, that's the real test.

Bjd1207 said...

@karl - OK after just a quick glance I can't help but conclude that your post is cherry-picked, to a large extent.

First - you start off with the P-nats being the only ones to 'clinch a playoff spot.' While that's true, it's a bit early still for clinching to be the metric. Hagerstown and Syracuse are both in first, though not having clinched yet. So a better way to frame it would be to say that Harrisburg is the ONLY one having a down year.

Second - you discount how well each of our top prospects has done this season (Souza, Walters, Giolito, Cole) and then say "yea but the REST haven't done so well"

Thats just untrue from what I see. Renda's killing it at Potomac (top prospect). Laird (just entered our system), Burriss, and Michael Taylor (when he was there) all killing it for Syracuse. And if our "backup/middle reliever" pitchers are Hill and Laffey, they're both top-10 ERA in the league.

So if we agree that Cole, Giolito, Souza, and Taylor all had great years and are top prospects. Then we have Laffey, Hill, Burriss, Laird, and Treinen as mid-level propects who still had great years. And we look to the lower levels and see not one but a few breakout candidates (agree we need to see repeat performances) I can't come away with the conclusion 'mediocre at best.' If you're not the Astros who have a team full of major league players in their system, then what ARE you looking for from the farm system that's not there.

Anonymous said...

Yep, minor league records are meaningless.

Bryan said...

The Phillies just couldn't, wouldn't, trade Dom Brown. Now he's a nothing, their future uncertain at a position that just a year ago they thought was sewn up. Meanwhile, they included a 6'7" pitcher as a throw in to another deal who now appears to be a legit big league player.

You just never know.

Bryan said...

@Bjd1207

I actually really fear Soriano in the playoffs.

Having said that, if he is going to start melting down, I'd rather him do it in these last 40, somewhat meaningless games, rather than when the playoffs start.

Bjd1207 said...

@Bryan - Yea I agree, if it's just a patch where he's lacking control, or "feel" is a term I hear alot of pitchers/pitching coaches use, then I'd want it right now.

Bryan said...

Harper is spot on regarding top weighting the minors.

You only field 9 regulars and 5 starters on a baseball team. That's 14 guys you need to reasonably replace over a 5 or 8 or 10 year span. And with FA, surprise talent cropping up and the ability to manage playing mediocre players in certain positions, probably closer to 8 guys you need to replace (I discount relief arms, because they are so unpredictable and easy to find).

You don't need your entire 100 player minor league to be excelling, you need 3-8 guys to be ready to step in and replace the 3-8 guys that will be gone. It helps if lots of them are starting pitchers.

JWLumley said...

All of this talk about team records as some indication of the Nats' farm systems' viability is almost enough to make my head explode. I think of about eleventy better ways assess a farm system's overall value than that. Also, there's this guy named Fedde (sp?) he's pretty good and as a college arm, when he returns from TJ he won't be nearly as far away as Giolito was. In fact they could get there around the same time.

karl kolchak said...

@bjd1207 - Baseball reference has all the minor league stats you'll ever need. Be careful, however, to consider the AGE of the player you are evaluating in comparison to the level in which they are competing.

The Nats' two middle infielders at Potomac (Perez and Renda) for example, are having what look like decent if power challenged seasons, but at 23 they are both exactly the same age Desmond was when he made his MLB debut. Generally, good prospects should be about 19-21 in Low A (Hagerstown) 20-22 in High A (Potomac) 21-23 at AA (Harrisburg) and 22-24 at AAA (Syracuse). The farther you get above that range, the less likely it is that you have a potential impact MLB player on your hands. Of course, there are exceptions, Tanner Roark being the most recent notable for the Nats, coming up at 26 for the first time after what was mostly a fairly undistinguished minor league career.

karl kolchak said...

@bjd1207 - just saw your second post. Allow me to rhetort:

Renda has ZERO power (no home runes) and is only about 5'7". I've seen him play live (he actually cost Austin Voth a no hitter when a liner was hit over his head that Espinosa could have caught while barely leaving his feet). Dude is NOT the 2B of the future.

Burriss, Laffey, Laird - old MLA free agents, will probably be playing elsewhere next season. Same thing with Destin Hood, who will be FA elible as a 6-year free agent. Treinen I didn't mention because he has almost enough MLB service time to "graduate" and no longer be a prospect.

Like I said in my last post, AGE matters a great deal for these guys. Lots of older players shuffle around AAA from season to season putting up good numbers. They are strictly filler and possible injury replacements, nothing more.

karl kolchak said...

@JWLumley - the records of the minor league teams DO matter to a certain extent. You don't want your AA team, where most organizations assign their best prospects in the last year or two before their MLB debuts, to be the worst in its league, which Harrisburg is. It is also probably not good that the team which contains many of your 2014 draftees (Auburn) is also stinking up the joint and has virtually NO standout players.

Also, if a minor league team has a bad record despite an average player age higher than league average, that's also a bad sign (see: nearly all Nat affiliates, 2005-2009, when the farm system was almost completely barren). We've improved a lot since the bad old Bowden days, put my point was responding to Harper's comment that our sytem was "good." It has some good players, but right now overall it is mediocre at best.

Anonymous said...

Hiya Harper. I love your blog, and I'm honored that you responded to my comment from yesterday about now vs. the future. Still, I'm here to argue. :)

Let's kill the straw-man first: nobody thinks any prospect is going to single-handedly get the Nats another trip to the playoffs. No single prospect is even guaranteed to be a regular, especially pitchers. So, the point is not to Defend! All! Prospects! The point is to run your team so as to maximize the number of playoffs you'll be in.

A playoff is a lottery ticket. Sure, I can "address a weakness" and find a big bat (though of course, nobody has mentioned yet that the bat could wind up belonging to Glenn Davis.) That'll add... something... to the chance of winning a game, and virtually nothing to my chance of winning a playoff series*.

The best way to win a world series is to be in the playoffs as much as possible. If you're going to play the lottery, buy a lot of tickets.

That's why I don't support trading the future for the present. It's not that I think prospects are somehow more certain than the guy you get back -- they're probably more of a gamble, actually. But they're the way to maximize your odds of getting back to the playoffs, and *that* is how you ultimately win a World Series.

*- Seriously, run the numbers. The odds of a WS win given you're in the playoffs are going to come out to roughly 1 chance in 8 no matter what you do. (As long as you don't think picking up Austin Jackson is going to give you a 70% chance to beat other playoff teams or something crazy like that.)

JWLumley said...

@Karl if my AA team has 3 great players and is in last place, I'm a happy general manager. I'm not saying the Nats farm is in great shape, I'm saying judging your farm system based on winning percentage is borderline lunacy. The Nats need to produce probably 3-5 everyday players over the next 5 years and 2-3 starting pitchers over that same time frame. These players could be present without their respective teams being good. Also, the Nats could make trades that then net them prospects and/or everyday players. (Or rather how they got half of their starting rotation).

Anonymous said...

Just adding in, Tony Renda is 23 years old in A ball. So "killing it" is going to be heavily discounted by every scout in the world.

Chinatown Express said...

Has anyone ever looked for a correlation between Year 1 assessments of minor league system strength and, say, Year 4 MLB records? In other words, does a strong farm system lead to later MLB success? It seems like the same five teams (oh hi Kansas City Royals) are perennially atop the Baseball Prospectus farm system rankings, but the MLB teams don't seem to improve reliably.

Zimmerman11 said...

This is why the Nationals are "beyond tapped out"

http://www.mlbtraderumors.com/2014/08/orioles-nationals-television-dispute-reaches-litigation.html

The Lerners can't appear to be doing well and signing free agnets/contract extensions all over the place while pleading poverty. A further stain on Bud Selig's reign of terror over the Expos/Nationals franchise and tenure as commissioner of baseball.

Just have to hope that Ted Sr's advanced age will lead him to make better decisions for the team instead of his pockets... not a lot of time left to win a WS old man!!!

JWLumley said...

@Z11 Ted Lerner is not only the richest owner in baseball (by a lot), but he is also one of the richest people in the world. Lerner could run the Nationals for years without collecting a single dollar of revenue and still be one of the richest people in the world. Assuming it costs about $150 Million to run the Nats, Lerner could run them for 6 years without collecting a single dime and still be worth over $3B.

JWLumley said...

@Z11 Also, the Nats don't have to cry poor mouth to win. The dispute is over fair market value. MASN is crying poor mouth and saying they would essentially be insolvent if the deal went through (not sure if that would mean Bob Carpenter would finally be gone, but if it does, I'm all for it). The Nats are saying that in a day and age in which the Dodgers and Rangers both get over a $100M a year in TV rights that $30M is not remotely close to fair market value. For the Orioles to win they first have to prove that those involved in serving as arbitrators had something to gain by siding with the Nationals and awarding them over $60M a year in TV rights. If they can do that, they then have to either show that they contractually must adhere to the outdated formula used in the first calculation or that $30M is in fact fair market value to broadcast baseball games in the nation's 9th largest, but richest, television market.

Super Homer said...

Here's a random thought RE: the Roark Revelation and the unknowns when predicting out years...

If not for Detwiler's injury last year, would many Nats fans even know who he is? I was answering that question regularly in my seats when he was starting last September.

If Det doesn't go down for the season and Taylor Jordan doesn't get shut down, does anyone really think he'd have been given a real MLB shot?

I challenge everyone to find someone who thought Tanner would be an integral part of the 2014 Nationals.

JWLumley said...

@Super Homer If Detwiler doesn't get hurt last year, who's to say he doesn't put up the similar luck induced numbers to Roark? I like Roark, but I highly doubt he remains what we've seen. I think more than likely he'll be a guy with a mid to high 3's ERA. I also think Roark may also be a good indication of just how important a player's peak can be. Guys typically peak between 27 and 29. Maybe the best thing for a team to do is to build a team full of 27 and 29 year olds, all else being equal.

Froggy said...

Roark is a grown man who has figured out what he has not what he dreamed / thought he would be, made the right adjustments, and is a good pitcher. He isn't a flash in the pan, and I'll take low to mid 3s ERA any day. He is also a guy who would embrace his role as a middle innings shut down guy if and when he goes back to the pen.

As for Soryiano he is suffering from dead arm syndrome and is done as our closer for at least a couple weeks if not the rest of the season. Don't be foolt by his numbers, they are skewed in the same way you have a high GPA by taking a year of 100 level courses and get straight A's and the failure or barely pass all your graduate level classes.

Time to start the auditions for new closer while we have a 6 game lead over the division and not try and figure it out n the postseason.

Zimmerman11 said...

Nailed it :)

Blogger Zimmerman11 said...
Three walkoffs in a row??? That is crazy. Hope Stras can go deep tmrw and get the bullpen some rest... that was a pretty great ending tonight. I wouldn't be opposed to a blowout win now and then though :)

8:09 PM Delete

Zimmerman11 said...

@JW

Lerner didn't get to be teh richest owner in baseball by leaving money on the table. He is in a negotiation (disguised as an open court case) and if he were throwing money around it would hurt his case... I'm hoping that when Angelos and Lerner are done trying to screw eachother harder and faster than the other guy... then Lerner's pockets will open up a bit :)

Kenny B. said...

Nats playing very well. Strasburg dominant. Cabrera trade, working out. Harper improving. Many wins in a row, completely negating Atlanta win streak. Packing the house frequently. Large division lead and hottest team in baseball.

DC sports press will now be asking: "Are the Nats peaking too early?" "Why can't they beat good teams?" "Why did Strasburg give up a run? Is he truly the dominant force he was supposed to be?"

Kenny B. said...

DC press saying, alternatively: "What's wrong with RGIII? Is he the dominant force he was supposed to be?" or any other number of assorted pre-season football related nonsense. I hate football during the period of time that it overlaps with baseball.

BooyahSuckah! said...

Interesting piece of Strasburg and clutchiness:

http://districtsportspage.com/statistically-speaking-stephen-strasburg-and-bearing-down/25085

blovy8 said...

Sorry Harper, but what you describe with Werth is not a "face of the franchise". Hell, no one even recognizes his face without a beard. He's like a guy in a Batman costume - it could really be anyone. He's yesterday's instagram with a gnome in it. When Zim was playing out of position, he was a big story too.

Kenny B. said...

I suspect my association of Pujols and Trout with the Angels is very much like people who view the faces of the franchise in DC as Werth and Harper. I'm sure local Anaheimians (Anaheimers? Anahumans?) have some other guy that's been around on the team for awhile that they associate more closely with the organization, and who was a reasonably big name before the Pujols acquisition. I don't know who that would be, because I generally care about neither the American league nor the west coast.

Froggy said...

What a great game by Roark tonight. Sitting here watching the 8th after Clippard serves up a homer and I think I realize we have a great pen but no ONE guy who is a true closer. I do hope someone steps up during the auditions...

As for the 'face of the franchise' I think it comes down to whether you are a Sunday game goer or a weekday game fan. In which case you know it is without a doubt Ryan Zimmerman for his contributions on and off the field with the Zim Foundation. I do think Werth is close second for his work ethic and how he really did have an impact on bringing a winning attitude to the team.

...oh goodness, Sorryano is pitching...

Chaos said...

Manager of the Year candidate (and you know he is one, given the record) Matt Williams with the brilliant move to give Rendon a day off--Fransden with 2 hits and Tony Two Bags comes off the bench for the win.

Chaos......It's a weird world.