Nationals Baseball: February 2014

Thursday, February 27, 2014

Desmond Extension

In one of the most notable asides from a Boz chat, last week Boz casually mentioned in a chat that Desmond turned down a deal in the 85.5million / 7 year neighborhood, similar to the deal Adam Jones got. That sounds like a lot of money!  If this actually happened, why did he turn it down?

Well first let's look at the Adam Jones contract and see how it would actually compare to Desmond. In Desmond's favor, Jones got an 85.5 / SIX year deal. That's about 14.25 million a year.  If we go just by that a 7 year deal for Desmond would be 100 million dollars, rather than 85.5. Prior to the contract year Jones had one good WAR year (4.3 WAR - and I'm using fWAR if that matters to you). Desmond has produced two straight years at least that good, which would also suggest a larger contract. 

Against Desmond, Jones' contract only bought out a single arbitration year. There is a sense that arbitration years are worth less, and thus can sometimes have significantly lower payouts than FA years bought up. The Nats would be buying up two arbitration years. Also Desmond will turn 29 (very late) this season. Adam Jones was a couple months from 27 when he signed. You expect age-wise better years from Jones.

That's just a starting point. Really what you want to know is what SSs are being paid now and how does Desmond compare to these shortstops. We're going to look at recent long term deals covering many FA years. Desmonds fWAR (don't concentrate on this as a hard number - just think of it as relative value) for the past two years combined is 10, 5 per year. This is considered his age 28 season for stats purposes.
  • There was one big SS contract signed this off-season. Jhonny Peralta signed a 4 year deal for 53 million or an average of 13.25 million per year, covering ages 32-35.  He averaged 3.6 WAR in the three years leading up to the deal
  • Prior to the 2012 season,  Jose Reyes signed a 6 year deal for 106 million or an average of 17.6 million, covering ages 29-34. He was roughly a 5.5 WAR player when healthy but had some injury history
  • Prior to 2011, Troy Tulowitzki extended his contract 7 years longer for 134 million, or 19.1 million per year, covering ages 29-35. A 6+ WAR player in a theoretical full season, Tulo has had constant injury woes taking chunks out of his seasons. 
  • Commenter Todd Boss mentioned I left out Elvis Andrus. 8/120 million (15 per) for a 4 WAR player at time of signing covering years 26-33.  Elvis is a doubly unusual case.  He had his first full year at such a young age (20) that to cover the usual age-ragne would require a 9-10 year deal, that's why it ends at 33. Also the contract has a player opt out after 4 years. At age 30, which could make it a 4/62 deal.  Either way confirms point - good FA SSs are worth at least 14.25 a year.
If you look at this the 7 year deal for Desmond is kind of fair, though an 8th year would grab that 35 year old season which teams did for Peralta and Tulo. The money offered though IS light. If you believe in straight talent, not factoring in health issues, then Desmond fits inbetween Peralta and Reyes. That 14.25 a year for Jones could be about right, maybe a little on the low side. If you factor in health, and honestly why wouldn't you, you could argue he should be making about the same as Reyes or Tulo, in the 18 million dollar range. (Tulo gets a little bonus for being THE Rockie). This puts his contract anywhere from the 7/100 million dollar deal on the light side to an 8/144 year deal on the heavy side by straight comparison.  7/85.5 vs 8/144? That's a lot of money potentially left on the table.

Even if you want to look at the Simmons deal (7/58, 4.7 WAR last year) as a place to start, Desmond can immediately point to his FA years bought out at 13 and 15 million dollars a year respectively.  That's right around the 14.25 we're setting as a base for Ian. The only deal that looks favorable to the Nats is Starlin Casto's where they bought out 3 FA years at 9, 10 and 11 million.  Of course at the time Casto was about a 3 WAR player, significantly less valuable than Desmond.The only hope for the Nats is Stephen Drew getting a terrible deal, but again, he's not that comparable, already 31 with a 3.5WAR season last year, preceded by two injury riddled years.

The numbers make it pretty simple. If the Nats offered 7 years at 85-90 they offered under market value for what 7 FA years would bring. Perhaps if you factor in the bought out arbitration years you could justify 7/90 but that's right at the bottom limit of what you could justify. Desmond, is making the right choice. Now he needs to back it up with another good year.

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

More questions answered - Quicker this time

What would you say to Jayson Werth in an informal setting? 

Ok so if it were like a restaurant or something, much like the commenter that asked this Q I'd do nothing. I'm not a autograph collector and don't like bothering people when they are out. (I don't put down people that do do these things though - you want to make $ doing something in the public eye, this is part of the cost). Now, if we were at a party and happened to be trapped in the same corner of the room? I'd probably ask him about that Orioles pic that you see every time you google his name. The one with short hair and glasses. Is he a slave to fashion? Did he undergo some sort of massive personality shift? Also I'd ask him if he was the Angels all the time in RBI baseball so he could bat as his uncle.

Attend or watch Spring Training? 

I'm 100% for attending. Go some place at least a bit warmer and just tool around from baseball game to game for a few days? That's great.  Watch on TV? Eh. I'd only recommend if you do it like suggested yesterday. Find a player you are interested in, watch him play. Do something else around that.

Who has a better chance at getting back to normal, LaRoche or Espinosa? 

LaRoche, though you have to remember that "normal" for him at this age is like .265 / .330 with 22-23 homers. Espinosa looked so bad last year that I just can't give him the nod. Plus he lived on the edge where if his average drops he's a liability. If anything is wrong with him and he starts slow, I don't see him getting the playing time to work out of this.

Giolito in 2016? Why so long? 

I feel like they aren't going to deal ZNN or Fister, and thus the Top 4 will be set for 2 years. That leaves one spot open for which they have plenty of decent arms, including AJ Cole, who'd they'd probably like to see first. I see Giolito getting called up to AAA late this year, start in AAA next year and at some point get called up but his official rookie season being 2016 at 21-22. That's still super young. We're all guessing here. He could dominate AA and force a call-up this year. He could be fair in AA and start next year in Harrisburg too.

Which bar do you and Rizzo go for drinks? 

Rizzo likes the bar at TGI Fridays. A strict Icehouse man.

How do you rate Jeter? 

I like the "underrated and overrated" viewpoint. Fans prop him up to legendary status, which is too much one way. Detractors like to make him a fringe HoF guy and denounce any rankings near the top of shortstops, which is too much the other. Hall of Famer, best offensive shortstop (removing A-Rod from equation) other than the obvious best SS of all time - Honus Wagner. A decent defensive SS under 30 when he wasn't buying into his own hype about it. If I couldn't have Wagner, I'd take Jeter. Sorry Cal fans. Take comfort in your grooved All-Star goodbye HR.

Moore is just holding a spot for Skole or Walters, right?

Maybe. I think this is more his last chance, than just filling in space. I don't think the Nats are counting on anyone bat in the majors right now. No one has proven worthy just yet. But if Skole or Walters looked really good they would deal Moore sooner rather than later.

Does it matter that Detwiler would (probably) be more valuable in the 'pen?

Not since they traded for Blevins. One proven lefty arm with the 8th and 9th sewn up like they are, meets the bare minimum. Might as well give Cedeno the chance to provide depth before throwing Det in there. Det's first round talent so he'll get every chance to stick as a starter... which I think is one more chance.

What would the rangers give us for Roark? 

 Roark right now is an old prospect who had a good year with a small bit of it in the majors. That's not going to bring back much. Something similar like a Tyler Moore AAAA guy. Probably nothing the Nats would want.Another good season though, that could get something interesting

The Nats open the season at the Mets and then host the Braves. With a day off during the Mets series, do you pitch Fister, #5, Strasburg against the Braves, or Fister, Strasburg, Gonzalez?  

I pitch Fister, Strasburg, Gio but only because there's another day off after the Braves series. You aren't working Strasburg 6 times to start the year before his first longer rest. Plus going to a #5 at the end of the 2nd turn would sit #5 with the last game v the Marlins, and Strasburg vs the Braves as opposed to #5 vs the Braves.

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

The month-long slog

Spring Training, how I loathe the coverage of thee.

There isn't enough actual baseball related news to fill the daily demand for stories so beat guys are forced to make do. They write human interest pieces on players. They write full articles about things that might be worth a paragraph mid-season.  For example, there were two meaningful stories yesterday - one was Clippard coming back to throw and one was Mattheus being looked at for an injury. Injuries matter. But ill-defined seemingly recoverable injuries a month away from first pitch?  Those aren't stories, those are footnotes you come back to later. It's not their fault. That's the job presented to them. "We need 3-4 stories from camp a day. Make it happen"  It's one I don't envy.

Along with my annual complaint, I'll get my annual warning out of the way right now.

Do not pay attention to spring training stats.

If you must you can look at just power numbers and maybe an increase in power might be meaningful. Might. The rest is noise.

Best springs at the plate last year? Bryce Harper (disappointing regular season), Anthony Rendon (didn't break out), Micah Ownings (now selling cars in Phoenix I think). Among the more disappointing showings was Ian Desmond. Ryan Mattheus and Chris Young were two of the best pitchers last March. Ohlendorf and ZNN looked worrisome.

It's not real baseball. The players are working out things and the players they are facing are working out things. They are playing against guys that might have no chance of making the big leagues. Add to that a small sample size and it's a recipe for stats that are as close to meaningless as we keep track of.

Friday, February 21, 2014

Lazy Friday Post

Since February started here are the topics we've hashed out here.
  • Standings Projections
  • (not) getting Jeff Baker for the bench
  • to trade or not trade current back-up MI Danny Espinosa
  • trading prospect Nate Karns for back-up catcher Jose Lobaton
  • Tyler Moore's usefulness on the bench
  • Nats draft strategies in relation to their best prospect
bench, back-up, prospect, back-up, bench, draft, prospect. What you don't see is pretty important.  The Nats are settled. Outside of one position all the Nats know the role they play and there is at least some talent at each spot. I'm not trying to hype up the psychology of that. It was pretty much the same last year and that didn't turn out the way we assumed it would. But where the Nats are now is a spot that any GM would like to reach.

What's the one role yet to be defined? 5th starter. Here are the candidates

Ross Detwiler - 28 in a couple weeks - L - 4.04 ERA in 71 innings in 2013. Prior to that racked up a 3.35 or so ERA starting in 2011 and 2012, with a bit of an impressive relief showing in '11 as well.

Taylor Jordan - 25 - R - 3.66 ERA in 51+ innings in 2013, after breezing through A+ (1.24 ERA in 36 innings) and AA (0.83 in 54).  Prior to that spent 4 years "climbing" from Rookie Ball to A ball, showing the tendency to be extremely hittable. But was that the fault of injury? Looked ok in 2011 then needed Tommy John.

Tanner Roark - 27 - R - 1.51 ERA in 53+ innings in 2013, but 22 of those innings were as a reliever. Put up good numbers (3.15 ERA) in AAA. Prior to that spent 5 years moving from rookie ball to AAA as an organization guy, giving each level a lot of mediocre innings.

Now I haven't gone too far into fancy stats (I do believe I told you that this is a lazy post) but based on the above you have three distinct candidates.

Detwiler is the "proven" one.  He was a first round draft pick who has put up good numbers in the majors in the recent past. He also had the worst year last year and is the biggest injury risk coming back off a back injury in 2013 and having hip surgery prior to 2010.  

Jordan is the "prospect". The youngest by over two years his break-out in 2013 carries a bit more weight than it would for an older pitcher, especially considering the relative lack of innings in the minors. He's a groundball pitcher with good control, who if he can ever start missing bats could be a very effective arm.

Roark is the "hot hand". Easily had the best 2013, being unhittable at all levels. Even factoring some luck giving up HRs and hits, the 2013 numbers are undeniable. Unfortunately so are all the numbers leading up to 2013 which strongly suggest fluke, rather than step up.*

Based on just these ideas. Who do you like for the 5th spot?  I've never liked Detwiler that much but think this performance history merits "first crack". After that I like Jordan more than Roark as I'm a bit age-ist when it comes to players. So I've relegated the guy with the best 2013 to middle relief or a AAA starting role.

*If you want to go down a rabbit hole that exists solely in the vacuum of 2013, make your way through this fangraphs piece on Roark. Fascinating, but very potentially nonsense.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Nats draft strategy in original WAR

Lucas Giolito has a golden arm. It's golden because he has all the talent in the world, enough so that Baseball America would make him the #21 prospect after seeing just 40 innings of him in the minors. Baseball Prospectus basically says he has Hall of Fame talent (at least from what they can see right now) and rank him I believe #13 (but don't hold me to that).

It's also golden because pure gold is pretty damn soft and he's already had Tommy John surgery done for the wear and tear put on his arm facing high school talent. He's only got 38 IP so far in the minors which tells us basically nothing about the long term health of that arm.

Anyway, the point is the Nats drafted him for the great arm and ignored the realistic potential that the kid might not heal right (signs look good that he has) or get injured again (jury will be out for a while on that) while other teams were more cautious. They did a similar thing in drafting Rendon (though I'd really argue he dropped about as far as he was going to go, the Nats were just in the right spot at the right time - I'm digressing again!). Why?

#1 Kershaw 6.5 WAR
#10 Darvish 5.0 WAR
#28 Zimmermann 3.6 WAR

The difference between Yu Darvish, who put up a 2.83 ERA in the AL pitching in Texas, and Kershaw, was the same as the difference between Darvish and ZNN, who had a very good year no doubt but one that, let's admit, petered out at the end. If you don't see ZNN to Darvish as a big difference, (I don't know maybe you don't follow the AL) what about ZNN to Cliff Lee (5.1)? It makes the same point. ZNN is a very good pitcher. What would you say, a very good #2? Darvish/Lee are among the best #1s in the majors. The difference between a very good #2 and the general group of best #1s, was the difference between that group of best #1s and Kershaw. That's how much better he was than anyone.

The same thing can be seen with hitters
#2 McCutchen 8.2
#12 Cano 6.0
# 33 Adam Jones 4.2

Cano, who hits for average, hits for power, and still plays a decent 2nd base, is more valuable than Adam Jones who hits for power but only a good average and is kind of out of position in center. The difference between them is the difference between Cano and McCutheon, who basically does everything right.

Elite, best in the majors, talent separates itself even from the rest of the best. If you can manage to get that kind of talent on your team while it is young and relatively cheap?Your job just got that much easier.*

So the Nats gamble.  Prospects often don't work out so they go big every time hoping for the straight flush to show up. It may usually fail, causing organizational depth problems, but if it succeeds even once every 3-4 years, it can be worth the risk.

*"But Harper!" You say. "The Angels have Mike Trout, the elitist of elite talent (10.4 WAR) and didn't even make the playoffs!"  Here's a couple fun facts. The Angels team ERA was 11th in the AL. That's bad. The Angels offense with Mike Trout ranks 3rd in average, 3rd in OBP, 5th in SLG. That's good. hence the around .500 record. The Angles offense without Mike Trout would rank 6/7th, 8th, and 9th in those fields respectively. That's below average. Not to mention he plays good CF and accounts for 40% of the Angels SBs (82.5% success rate).  Without Trout the Angels would have likely won fewer than 70 games last year. It's makes the job easier, but it doesn't make it easy.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

U < 3 Tyler Moore - Y?

Obviously I don't. We've discussed this all before. But some people still do. In fact one of his biggest fans, might be the Nats biggest fan, one Mr. Tom Boswell. In yesterday's chat he writes :
He's got such a sweet swing, such potential-Josh-Willingham numbers in the minors and in '12 that it's brutal to think he might get lost. And the years are passing. ... Once you see him swing you start liking him better. Hard to believe somebody with as sharp an eye as Willaims won't see the hitter in Moore.
For a second I thought he was saying Ted Williams would recognize Tyler Moore.  Of course he meant new skipper Matt, but I'm not betting 100% that he wouldn't have gone the Ted route if that made sense. The people that love Tyler Moore LOVE Tyler Moore.

Of course if you've listened to me you understand the reasons to NOT love Tyler Moore. Older prospect who can't field and can't run, has hit abysmally over long stretches in the major leagues. Pretty cut and dried to me. Where is the love coming from?

One part of it is the fact that Tyler Moore has done well in spurts. A .425 / .521 / .800 June 2012 when we first started to pay attention to him .452 BA in his first nine games back toward the end of 2013.  That single to give the Nats the lead in Game 1 of the '12 NLDS. These are times where the focus was on him and he did well. It should tell you something that even with these hot streaks and limited at bats overall he still manages to be a below average hitter, but for some people it doesn't.  These times above are what sticks. Everything else slips off the mind like it was coated in teflon.

The other part is that Tyler Moore has had impressive offensive numbers in the minors

2012 : .307 / .374 / .653
2013 : .318 / .395 / .584

How can this guy NOT make it?

There are two things here that they aren't seeing.  First is that the number of at bats here is limited as well.  He's had more at bats in the majors than the minors the past two years. Those 2012 numbers were put up in 29 games, 2013 in 45.  Basically he played a month in the minors in 2012 and a month and a half in 2013.  Those are small enough numbers that even combined they should raise an eyebrow, especially given the far more pedestrian numbers in the seasons preceding those when he actually had, you know, a lot of at bats. All power, nothing else.

The second thing is that Tyler Moore was hitting that well at an age where honestly he should be in the major leagues if he was any good. Late bloomer, you say? I did a little experiment. I went back and looked at all 25 and 26 year olds (the age Tyler Moore was the past 2 years) who had big AAA years (OPS > ~.875) from 2012-2007 . I even looked at only the International League to avoid the PCL bias toward big offensive numbers.  Here's the list of names for you

Jordan Danks - 74 career MLB OPS+
Tim Fedroff - hasn't made it
Zach Lutz - 85
Corey Brown - 74
Alex Presley - 98
Trevor Plouffe - 95
Denis Phipps - 176
Russ Canzler - 96
Brandon Guyer - 65
Jose Lobaton - 84
Andy Dirks - 100
Tyler Flowers - 74
Mauro Gomez - 100
Danny Dorn - hasn't made it
Jeff Clement - 74
Wladimir Balentin - went to japan
Andy Marte - 69
Jordan Brown - 59
Jeff Florentino - 77
Steve Pearce - 87
Justin Ruggiano - 102
Ryan Rayburn - 103
Ben Francisco - 98

This is pretty amazing stuff here. Given the sheer number of guys and the general lack of at bats you'd expect someone to luck into a significantly better than average major league career but the only guy who has is Denis Phipps, who only had 10 ABs in 2012 then hit .248 / .331 / .385 in AAA in 2013. You can read these names. Tell me who has a good career? It's hard to say that even for the guys with passable plate numbers.  I basically kept going back until I found someone. Ryan Rayburn has had a worthwhile career and Ben Francisco had 2, maybe 3 decent years before petering out.

There is a bit of bias here - these guys had to qualify for the batting title. I suppose there may be some great 25/26 year olds who rocked AAA for such a short time frame that I missed them. But it doesn't take much. Forty to Forty-Five games will do it. Moore qualified in 2013. If I include even older guys the numbers barely move. If I go back further I can get a few names.  Six to seven years ago I could pick up a Zobrist or Morse (who really only gave a couple good years, let's be honest), a little longer back Carlos Ruiz, and a decade or so ago Youkilis, but there are a ton more failures than successes.

What the above tells me is that once you hit those upper 20s, you aren't doing well in the high minors because you are developing. You are doing well in the high minors because you are peaking. You are the best you are going to be. Maybe if you got a full-time job in the majors, right at that moment, you'd pull off an average year or two, but poor years are far more likely than good ones. It's a bad gamble.

Looking from the outside in, Tyler Moore has nothing going for him. Ok, that's not true. He has had a consistenly powerful bat in the minors that could translate into a decent PH HR bat as the last man on a bench. Could. But the Nats need a true 1B back-up not a guy who might be a platoon pop-only bat. If the Nats can deal Tyler Moore they should do it. The last decade of baseball tells us the worst case scenario is losing a couple of fair years and the most likely scenario is losing nothing at all. 

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Tuesday Quickie

Of course I love the Lobaton deal - I said I'd do it just for Karns. Even if those other two don't end up being anything other than organizational players the deal is still good. Why?
It addresses a need... - the Nats have a potentially very good catcher, but one who has a rich history of injury.  They've been rotating in two minor leaguers as back-up neither of whom look ready to hit at the major league level. Understanding that they brought in a number of veterans and the favorite to win the job was 33 year old who has had one decent offensive season since 2008.  The Nats needed a better option. dealing from a strength - with Detwiler, Jordan, Roark, and Karns the Nats had a glut of guys who were decent shots at making the back of a major league rotation. With Cole and Giolito, the Nats have two up and comers they like to be at least mid-rotation guys sooner rather than later. The Nats could deal one of those first four and still have depth enough to cover the expected one questionable rotation spot.

It keeps Rizzo from dealing in season.  I've discussed this before but Rizzo seems loathe to make mid-season corrections to keep the team on course. You can actually argue that isn't a bad thing (doing so means you are usually giving up more than you are getting back and the return is often uncertain to produce dividends in the short time remaining in the season) but it's certainly not a good thing for the immediate task in front of the Nats. Win in 2014. The more "disaster prep" he does, the less likely he is going to need to do "damage control" and the better I feel.

What's left to do? Not having another LH bat on the bench is the thing most likely to come back and haunt the Nats, given that its not unlikely one of their OF will miss a chunk of time this season, pulling their first option into the starting line-up.  Work could (should) be done here, but I get a real sense the time for preseaon "moves" is done with the Nationals. Perhaps a mid-season deal like the one that brought Hairston in will happen if it really is an issue. A better MI back-up would also be nice but close to 30 teams would probably say the same thing. Giving Espinosa another shot is as good as anything out there and a deal would be pricy.

Say hello to your 2014 Nats. If you can wish three things for them, wish health, health, and health, because if they have health the rest should take care of itself.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Karns-ac the Magnificent

A Carson reference! How timely!

The main problem people have with a potential the completed Nate Karns for Jose Lobaton deal can be stated thusly "Why give up an arm with potential for a back-up catcher that if all goes right will barely be used"? 

It's a valid question.  Lobaton at 28 had a decent season at starter/back-up for the Rays last year but previously had put together one season (2011 in AAA) that even remotely pegged him to be a decent starter. They say catchers develop late and perhaps he did. Good minor league 2011, standard pretty bad back-up catcher in 2012, and good part-time starter in 2013. The trend is there if you want to see it. But 28 isn't just late, it's peaking and chances are he's given most of what he can.

Karns on the other hand is a true power arm, who racked up impressive strikeout and ERA numbers in the low minors in 2011 and 2012. The downside, as it is with most power arms, is that walks have always been an issue for him though. In AA last year he wasn't as impressive. He still struck guys out but he really gave up the long ball at a much higher rate. That was certainly evident in his brief major league stint where he gave up 5 HRs in 12 innings pitched. That's "OMG PITCHING MACHINE HR DERBY!" levels. At an older age 26* he's also on the older side for a prospect.

Still Karns has that potential, why deal? Because the same reason you applied to Jose Lobaton. If all goes right Nate Karns will also barely be used.

If all goes right Detwiler is healthy, takes the #5 spot and Taylor Jordan, 25 and with a better major league audition, takes the role of next-up.  What about 2015? The only thing that changes in this perfect world is that the much younger AJ Cole would take his place in line, likely ahead of Jordan. And in 2016 when ZNN and Fister might be gone? If all goes right here's Lucas Giolito stepping up while Karns, all the while doing well in AAA (it is an "everything goes right" scenario) slides from "maybe 2nd in line" in 2014, to "time to make him a reliever" in 2016.

"But everything may not go right!" you say. EXACTLY. That's why you want Lobaton! Ramos might get injured. Chris Snyder is probably done.

Karns does have potential, but at only a year and a half younger than Zimmermann and Detwiler, and older than Strasburg he's rapidly aging out of the range where you might expect big things from him. A mediocre 2014 paired with a couple guys doing well would virtually end the chances of Karns being a starter for the Nats.

The deal is a good back-up catcher now for a guy who might be a back-end starter for a couple years.  Its a potentially very small gain for 2014 for a probably at best modest gain in some future time frame. The future still matters. That's why you don't deal a Cole or Giolito for Lobaton. But 2014 matters too, which is why you do deal a Karns.

*For my purposes I think like this - an "old" age for a prospect is someone who turns that age at the back end of a season. an "older" age is someone who turns that age between seasons end and the new year. A "young" age is someone who turns that age during the season in question. This helps differentiate between the 25 year old who will actually turn 26 in say August, and the 24 year old who turns 25 in May.  For stat keeping they are both 25, but there is a difference in how you'd evaluate the two. Relevant for me between ages...say 22 and 28. Before 22 you are pretty much just young. After 28 you are pretty much just old.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Swing Lo-baton, sweet back-up catcher

The Rays have a back-up catcher available. Last year Jose Lobaton put up a .249 / .320 / .394 line. That's not that great but it's solid enough for a catcher.  In fact the .714 OPS puts him with the bat pretty smack dab in the middle of major league catcher. But Lobaton is not the best glove behind the plate and isn't prospect age anymore, so Tampa has decided to cut bait. The Rays re-signed Jose Molina and traded for Ryan Hanignan.

The Nats need a back-up catcher. Last year Jhonatan Solano put up a .214 / .245 / 279 line. Sandy Leon went for .177 / .291 / .252.  Did I mention those were AAA and AA lines respectively? Things were worse in the major leagues. Given the state of back-up catchers though, neither of those two lines are immediate job killers if you can play great defense. But the Nats have an extenuating circumstance. Wilson Ramos gets injured alot. He caught 126 games in 2008 and hasn't gone over 113 since. If your starter isn't reliable, you can't have a back-up that can't hit at all.

But wait a second! Aren't Jose Molina and Ryan Hanigan terrible at the plate? I thought you might ask that. Yes they were. Molina hit .233 / .290 / .304 last year and will be 39 this season. Hanigan hit .198 / .306 / .261 and will be 33 although to be fair to him it was an oddly bad season for someone who is usually just below average. What gives here? Why would the Rays not want Lobaton? The answer is the stat that is the current soccer ball being chased around the field by the 4 year olds of sabermetric research; pitch framing.

We've all known that catchers must have an impact on pitchers getting calls. That just makes sense. Someone finally took all that data sitting around and went ahead and figured out who is good at it.  Of course it is still in its formative stages but both Molina and Hanigan rank high. Lobaton is pretty average and like I said not thought of to be a good fielding catcher in general. Does it matter? Well yes who doesn't want more strikes and fewer balls, but it's hard to say how much it matters. When it comes down to it and you have enough sample the best catchers are getting 3 calls and the worst are losing 3 a game. How meaningful are these calls is up in the air? An early strike lost against a pitcher - that's likely just an extra pitch. A called strike on 3-2 with 2-outs lost against the guy in front of Miguel Cabrera - that could be two runs. Anyway, while the stat world tries to figure this out, the Rays have deemed this important and thus that frees up Lobaton.

If you are wondering Leon might be very good, Snyder is good, Ramos is ok, Solano is average, Suzuki was bad, and Koyie Hill can't do this either why the hell are we wasting our time here with this guy.  Was he a Diamondback? Yes, yes he was.

What will it take to get Lobaton? Something decent, if I were to guess. What are the Nats willing to give up? Nothing decent, if I were to guess. It's the standard trade stand-off.

It's a gamble for the Nats. I bet they could get him for say... Purke right now, coming off surgery and a mediocre year in upper A-ball. He has enough talent that you still like him to get to the majors in some fashion, but he's not even in the Nats Top 10 guys anymore. If not him than a Souza or Michael Taylor, guys Nats fans have convinced themselves might be stars, but objectively are fringy prospects with stuff left to prove. But have Ramos go down and the Nats come knocking because Chris Snyder is hitting .140 and the price goes up. If I were the Rays, you know you aren't getting a Giolito, but I'd hold out for a Robbie Ray or Sammy Solis. If you're the Nats and fighting for a playoff spot, how can you not make that deal? No Strasburg in 2012 playoffs - that's ok we'll get them next year. Waiting forever to fix 2013 team - that's ok we'll get them next year.  Sitting on a massive failure at catcher in 2014? Eventually there are no next years.

Of course that may not happen but you see my point. The Nats don't have to deal for Lobaton now, but if something happens to Ramos they almost certainly will have to deal for Lobaton or someone like him later. In that situation the price will have gone up. As I've said before I have no faith in Rizzo's in season dealings (we just haven't seen it happen yet) so I'd be all for a deal for Lobaton for any of those names I said were possible. It's time to bet on today.

Monday, February 10, 2014

Monday Mailbag

Which will continue with Tuesday and probably Wednesday knowing how slow I am. 

Commenter d28's Questions:
What should we fans look for in the first few months to evaluate whether or not Matt Williams is doing a good job as manager? This seems to me like something no one is thinking about for the team to have a good season. What criteria should we use?

Really I'm more concerned that he doesn't do a BAD job than if he's going to do a good one. I think a good manager is probably only worth a couple of wins, but a bad one can screw up a team for years. He could blow out an arm, anger a key player, etc.  Either way though we need to be looking at something here. What exactly should that be? I break it down to a few key areas.

Lineup construction : Does he go the traditional route (Span) or try something that may help score a bit more runs (say... Bryce leading off)? Hard really to mess this up as it's not like Ramos is going to lead off for anyone.
Pitch Counts : Right now 100-110 with special circumstances allowing more is the standard. Does he follow that or is he more strict with no big pitch counts. Or if he does allow big pitch counts does he justify it by "effort" exerted in a way that can be measured? Or does he just let these hosses ride! Woooeeee!
Relief Usage : Standard use has an 8th and 9th inning guy set and everyone else moved around them. Does he go along with this or does he use his best pitchers in important times prior to the 8th? Does he stretch them out a bit for 4 or 5 outs? Or does he make it worse and make the 7th a set inning for one guy?
Bunting :  Too much, too little, or just right?
Defensive shifts : Just for strong lefties, or more usage as it appears to be something that can help. We hope not less. 

Now it's not that out of the box managers are better. Acta was one. He couldn't turn knowledge into wins. But I'd like to see potential there for trying new things that could help the team. Still if he ends up "modern traditional" I'm not going to fuss over it. Really I'm just looking to avoid any head slapping moments, like Mattheus on in the 7th to face a bases loaded situation because Clippard has to be saved for the 8th or a first inning bunt for Bryce Harper to try to score that first run. 

Does it seem to you that our players are downplaying their failures of last season because they ended on a “good run”? 

Yes, but it's not any different than what every team would do. Players look at the positive, for themselves and their team, from the previous year and assume that was the "truth". It's part of how they think. Every players is a potential all-star to himself, every team he's on a potential contender. I can't really fault them for that. As long as the GM recognizes what really happened and makes moves to correct that, that's what important. Now does Rizzo? I think so. He doesn't seem to want to truly put money into the bench but that doesn't mean he won't accept that as a problem. We won't really know until mid-season when/if injuries force the bench into a bigger role.

Is Blevins any better than Fernando Abad? He seems funny and I like him, but is he any good?

This actually isn't a terrible question. If you take the names away and... well let me just show you.
K/9         BB/9          HR/9
7.80        2.55           1.05
7.65        2.39           0.72

In the key aspects of pitching (as far as I'm concerned) who would you rather have? Probably #2 eeks out a victory right? That's 2013 Abad.

Of course there is more to pitching than these stats and importantly Blevins seems harder to hit (consistently lower BABIPs and LD rates) and has a better split vs lefties. (Abad is not a lefty stopper) Given Abad's pretty mediocre showings prior to 2013, I'm pretty confident in saying Blevins is better. Doesn't mean Blevins 2014 will definitely be better than Abad 2014, but the smart money is on him.

Now is Blevins any good? I wouldn't say good.  How about fine? I think if you look at the ERAs he's put up the past few years and expect that you'll be disappointed. Those BABIPs might trend low for him but I'm not buying it'll stay THIS low. He's no Gio, I don't see him improving his HR-rate and if he doesn't that alone will bump up his ERA a half a run or so. So a mid 3.00 ERAs is probably a better bet.  I think if he throws something like 3.40 and is good versus lefties we'll consider him "good".  If it's more like 3.75 and he's mediocre versus lefties than "fair". But to me that's the level he's at. Good to fair, leaning toward good, rather than the very good to good, leaning toward very good, you might expect from his ERAs.

Commenter Wally's Questions : 
Nats question: how much does signing Morales and pushing ALR to the bench improve the 2014 Nats?

A win or so? First we have to think about how much better the Nats would be at Morales at first. This depends a lot on what you think of the wildly erratic performance of Adam LaRoche. Morales is a decent hitter who may be losing some pop (before you blame Safeco he had more power at home). He also is increasingly bad in the field. He's pretty predictable. LaRoche though - if you buy into last year, when he couldn't field or hit, Morales is an easy upgrade.  If instead you think LaRoche has some of 2012 left in him, it's more of a toss up. Personally I think given that 2013, 2011 and 2010 all point to a worse bat and mediocre fielding for LaRoche I'll buy into that. So Morales is an improvement. But he's not crazy good or anything so a half win or so.

Then you have to realize that LaRoche on the bench pushes Moore out. Is that a good thing? Well you know how I fell about Moore. Terrible in the field, and bat is more than questionable. Another rough half-win improvement here. That's how I get to about a win better. 0.5 to 1.5 if you want a range. Kind of disappointing but that tells you more about Morales. He is an ok DH-bat now. 2009 was the last year he was special at the plate.

Yankee three parter: (1) Do you think that they are better or worse than last year; (2) should they sign the Bald one, assuming the 3/$39m numbers hold true, and (3) what % likelihood of making playoffs as is v. with Ubaldo (WC or Div).

(1) I think they are better. Big losses, but bigger gains. Similar gambles with injured old players to last years but now those are complimentary to other moves. Little chance health will be worse (though pretty good chance it'll be the same injury riddled type of season) (2) Sure. Nothing is as overvalued now in baseball more than the draft pick and the Yanks are unlikely to get under any salary cap until 2017 or 2018. Might as well suck it up and spend until then. (3) Probably right around 50%. I think the injury issues puts them all over the place in terms of wins and there is a good top level of competition in the AL right now that keeps the odds down. With Jimenez? Jumps up a bit maybe to 60% but again it's the competition that matters. Rays, Red Sox, Tigers, A's, and Rangers are all very good. Someone else is bound to pop up too. That's pretty much all WC% as I believe the Rays will run away with the East.

Commenter Lee West's Question
So it's not Nats related, but I'm curious what your thoughts are on the Aussie D-Backs/Dodgers series a full week before the actual season starts.  I'd imagine it a logistical nightmare for the teams involved.  Travel, early roster decisions, etc...  But perhaps more specifically, if you were Don Mattingly do you trot out Clayton Kershaw and Zack Greinke for games 1-4?  How do you not?  And if you don't, are you kicking yourself at the end of the season if you are adversely affected in the playoff hunt by a game or two?  Or do you just convince yourself it's a long season where all sorts of things could have happened differently?

The question, to me, is an easy one, Yes, you start them because these are real games and you need to win them. What's the other option? Not send them to Australia at all? Because obviously if you send them you might as well pitch them. So that's simple.

What do I feel about these real games played in far away places? I think they are garbage. I don't think it's fair to make 2 teams play an entirely different type of series than everyone else in the league. I don't think you can ever prove it has detrimental effects on these teams (what are you going to base it on, preseason predictions?) but I'm hard pressed to think it wouldn't.  Plus I don't think it's the best way to promote the game abroad.

For example, I know some of you out there, god save your black, shriveled, traitorous, Un-American hearts, follow the English Premier League. If they held a real game in the US (do they already? I don't know) that would get you to show up but if... looking up... if next year Arsenal and Hull City played a match in my backyard I don't know if I, the casually interested person, would bother to show. Now, if there was a match, even an exhibition one, and you said it was an All-Star squad of players from the EPL, that would catch my interest much more.

I guess MLB can't force the players right now to do such a thing, but I'd be surprised if the players wouldn't agree to that as an option. An all-star team of 30 guys head to Australia this year right after the season ends or maybe right before Spring Training?  A different 30 next year to South Korea? Maybe rotate it so you can only go at most once every 3 years? I don't know, I think that sounds like a better plan that messing up the schedule for two teams in games that matter desperately to the teams playing and little to anyone else. 

(Also on a side note I also think it's totally fine that MLB opens up the season with a special game Sunday night, but would it kill them to let the first pitch on the day for everyone else be in Cincinnati as a hat tip to the past?)

Friday, February 07, 2014

Selling low or getting out while the getting is not yet terrible?

Rocket Bill mentioned yesterday that a dozen teams have contacted the Nats about Epsinosa. MLB Trade Rumors sums up the totality of Danny rumors over the off-season (it's not much) and once glance will tell you what the issue is. Other teams are looking at Espinosa not because they are enthralled with Danny Espinosa the player.  They are looking at Espinosa because they are enthralled with Danny Espinosa the "buy low" possibility.

As we've discussed before, going into Sept of 2012, Danny was a more than passable 2nd baseman. I know you hate his low average and strikeouts but he got on base ok, hit for power, and fielded well. Legit Top 10 MLB 2nd baseman (for what's that worth). Add to that that he's still not old and you have someone that teams are willing to take a gamble on. But given how absolutely hideous he was last year, the gamble they are willing to make is rightfully very small. The Nats understand all this but Rizzo does not want to sell low.

So it comes down to a staring contest. The Nats could use Danny as a back-up fielder or organizational depth in case Rendon or Desmond get injured. They don't need to deal him. At the same time another subpar year for Danny and you are looking at getting nothing for him. Are the Nats making the right move by hoping for a better deal for Danny? I think so.

I fall in with Rizzo on this one. Given his potential usefulness and his previous status as a starter I think one bad year (and one I'm sure was injury based - though I'm not sold the injuries have healed) is not enough to sell low on Danny. Selling low on Danny means trading him as if he was a terrible hitting bench player. That means you are going to get a fringe prospect or an old AAA guy or something like that, not a true prospect. When I think what would I rather have, Espinosa or one of these types the answer is easy. I'd rather have Espinosa.

I don't believe the whole "competition" thing is real (I think it's a smokescreen to build up value for Danny). I don't think that Danny will be happy in whatever role he falls to, be it bench player or AAA Rendon insurance. However, as callous as this may sound, I don't care if Danny is happy. We've seen how bad back-up infielders can be on even the best of teams. Danny can help the team in this role. They should keep him unless the deal is too good to pass up.

In the end if the Nats miss their chance on another Dakota Bacus then so be it. They should be focused on 2014 and in 2014 I don't see the Nats getting anyone in a deal for Danny that will fit the team better than Danny does himself.

Wednesday, February 05, 2014

Tyler Moore, Jeff Baker, and Livan Hernandez?

Sorry. Livan is only on there because I was trying to form a joke. The butcher, the Baker and Livan played at Candlestick! See what I did here!
Bah. You guys are the reason the Nevele closed down. (At the Nevele!)

Anyway a couple more notes - first questions! Send 'em here if you have 'em.

gmail account, natsoftheroundtable

Second, how you feel about not getting Baker depends on how you feel about Moore and about the Nats mindset. Some people still like the gamble on Moore. Maybe you like his AAA stats the last couple years that suggest a very good player. Maybe you buy into the aging curve but feel like his total minor league stats suggest a guy that could at least do some damage mashing in the majors for a few years. Maybe you believe the numbers he's put up so far are in too few at bats to make a final judgement. Maybe you believe he just needs more regular at bats (even if there's little chance he'll get that this season). However you get to the point where you like Moore, once you get there Jeff Baker is a non-starter.  Moore is younger. Moore is cheaper. Unless you like Baker's positional flexibility - which is questionable - there's no reason to even look at Baker.

As you know, I do not like Moore.

If you think the Nats should still be planning long-term than Moore also makes sense. Baker is an older limited player. He might have 4 years left in the majors, he might have 2. Either way Tyler Moore, if he develops at all, would likely outlast Baker by several years. Signing Baker means cutting someone, and unless that someone is Scott Hairston, you'd be cutting a younger player. The lower cost of Moore and this younger player (if it's not Moore) gives you a little more flexibility in the next two years and possibly beyond.

At this point I think the Nats can't be looking at 2016. They need to focus on 2014 and 2015.

This isn't cut and dried. I can see a case for... well not for Tyler Moore I don't like him... but for not signing Jeff Baker. It's there. I just don't buy into it.

Tuesday, February 04, 2014

Now try to break this bundle of sticks, Hefty.

Jeff Baker signs with the Marlins. So what? The Nats like Tyler Moore and he's not going to be as bad as last year. Overall, what does Jeff Baker get you? A half a win? Maybe? Que sera, right?

No. No sera!

This matters. You are right. Any one player isn't going to make and break a bench.  But having those types of players, the ones that you have to caveat by saying "it won't make or break the bench", should be the end result of a off-season of trying very hard to get better. It should not be because you try to sign guys to what you consider fair-market deals for your team and then get outbid consistently. It should not be because you'd have to eat some dollars on players that shouldn't be around. It should not be because your hubris makes you believe your own players are better than they are showing themselves to be. It should not be because you aren't really trying at all because you'd rather not spend money on a very slight improvement.

One player doesn't matter, but a good bench as a whole can be a couple wins better than a bad bench, a good back of the pen a win better than a bad one. Three wins can be the difference between the playoffs and sitting at home, or the wild card game and an actual series. You can dismiss individual missed deals as you like but when the season starts, the sum of those missed deals isn't somewhere nebulous. It's sitting right there on your bench.

Of course I'm not saying this kills the team. It doesn't. First and foremost, the Nats, like all teams, wish for health. If that happens the bench's minimal impact grows even smaller. And there are always in season moves that can be made. But I want, when I talk about the Nats bench, to be able to finish the sentence "Well, I hope that the Nats are healthy... " with a "but if not, the bench should be able to handle some playing time" rather than a "because if not, they're screwed".

Monday, February 03, 2014

Monday Quickie : Good/Bad Luck, Breakouts/Breakdowns, & Injuries,

Looking at the projected standings you hear the same complaints year after year. "This doesn't look like any standings I'm used to!" "These teams are all bunched together!"

While you might be tempted to say these are stupid people that don't understand how these sites are getting these numbers, really I place a good deal of blame on the guys making the standings themselves. When you attach a definitive win total to a team and put all 30 in standings form, what do you expect fans to do? Of course they are going to compare them to the usual standings and hey, these do look kind of weird in comparison.

The improvements that should be made to avoid this are simple ones. These win totals shouldn't be numbers, they should be ranges. 95% confidence is one standard but if that's too broad cut it down to 75% or whatever feels right. And they shouldn't be placed in standings form. Listing them by division is necessary, you want to compare your team versus its direct competitors, but ranking them would probably be the best.  No, that isn't too different than standings but visually this :

Ranking the NL teams
1. WAS 85-89 wins
2. ATL 83-88 wins
3. NYM 73-81 wins
4. MIA 70-79 wins
5. PHI 66-81 wins

is different enough from this :

WAS 87 75
ATL 85 77
NYM 78 84
MIA 75 87
PHI 72 90

to get what I assume your true point is across. I hope you are saying "Here are the teams in the NL East and how I think they compare to eachother" as opposed to "Here are how the teams in the NL East will probably finish next year!" beacuse the former is all you really can say. The latter is mathematical snake oil. 

Also, I wish rather than react with the knee-jerk "you just don't get it", there was more "we just don't get it". By that I mean admitting to the reader right up front that there are a bunch of season altering events that we just can't predict. Injuries are huge every season. There are breakout years for a couple young players, and years from veterans where everything seemingly goes wrong. In season deals can change the make-up of a team. Then there is luck. A few more one-run losses or wins than you probably should have and the whole year looks different. All this ranges from just barely predictable (you can somewhat account for injury prone players) to not predictable at all and the wrong injury coupled with bad luck and an offensive collapse from a key player and suddenly your playoff team looks like an also ran. I know people that do projections do admit this, but it's often in small type or after the fact. It should be first thing. We really don't know. Here's our best guess.

End scene.

Nothing really is going on Nats-wise as everything took a break for the Super Bowl  (including the Broncos! Hey Yo!) so I suppose it's time to open up the mailbag.  Oh wait. I have no emails because I didn't ask for any questions. Goes to show me.

So here you go : gmail account, natsoftheroundtable

Ask away and sometime later in this week. I'll get back to it.