Nationals Baseball: March 2014

Monday, March 31, 2014

2014 Prediction

One of the main narratives to come from the Nats disappointing 2013 campaign was the idea that their failure sprang from hubris. The Nats of last season were an overconfident, perhaps arrogant bunch, despite not even managing a playoff series win. With their sitting of Strasburg and their declaration of "World Series or Bust", they lost sight of how hard they needed to work to achieve their goals. They thought they could simply show up and they'd end up in the playoffs. They weren't prepared for what it was going to be like as the team every one wanted to knock down a peg and they paid the price.


The 2013 Nats didn't lose because of arrogance (well with one possible exception*), they lost because of injury. They lost because there were 170 players who got between 325 and 125 plate appearances last year (which would define them as part time players), and among those players the Nats bench ranked 123rd (Lombo), 130th (Moore), 133rd (Suzuki's time with Nats), 143rd (Tracy), 162nd (Bernadina's time with the Nats), and 169th (Espinosa) in OPS+.  In short the bench bats started at awful and got worse from there. EVERY SINGLE ONE. That's not including Hairston's time with the Nats (matches Lombo), 36 PAs by Kobernus (a little worse than that), or 50 PAs for Solano (would be dead last if he had enough PAs). 

It was a complete and total failure by the anyone who didn't start for the Nats. It's as if you gave 25% of all the plate appearances the non-pitchers had last year for the Nats to Chris Getz. If you did that no one would say "Sure there was no reason for the Nats to bribe major league baseball so Chris Getz could get up more times then anyone in the history of the game, but the real reason they didn't win last year was because of their HEART". Yet sneak in the same performance here and there over the course of the year and that's exactly what people say. The Nats weren't sufficiently humble in front of the sports gods so people demanded they be punished and they were. People actually believe this crap. Makes one want to create a musical called "The Book of Plaschke" 

2014 is basically a reset of 2013 and might answer the question what could have that team done without the injuries and bench failures? They team is mostly the same in the main spots, the exceptions being Doug Fister and who ever eventually wins the Roark/Jordan showdown. The bench looks mildly improved with the acquisition of McLouth being the main move, and the bullpen seems better formed adding Blevins and Drew Storen looking like his head is back on straight.

The biggest concern right now is the Fister injury. That could definitely hurt the Nats, but I don't see it derailing the team. I don't have to remind you how bad Haren was to start the year. The 5.61 ERA pre-All Star break could be matched by any AAA arm, effectively making the rotation until August at worst exactly like last year. It will most likely be better Fister or no Fister. The other worries are minimal. The LaRoche and Span declines are actually products of unusually good 2012s. They hit last year kind of like they should hit - which is not very good but not team-killing. We should expect about the same this year. The Soriano issues are more real but with Clippard and Storen in line the back of the pen looks ready if a replacement is needed. No, the only black cloud hanging over this team is the potential for injuries. Ian Desmond is the only player I feel the Nats can rely on being healthy, the others ranging from mild injury risks (Zimm) to hope to get 100 games out of him (Ramos).  If the wrong players are hit again all the planning and predictions become moot.

On the flip side there are big reasons to be optimistic. Bryce, Ramos, and Rendon all have potential they haven't reached yet. The same could be said of Strasburg. If healthy, there is no reason this team should miss the playoffs. If healthy and the young players progress, there is no reason they shouldn't be a favorite for the pennant. With the Braves fighting early season injuries, the Mets and Marlins trying to rebuild and the Phillies on their way to the worst record in baseball in 2015 (could they get there this year?) the Nationals have as clear a path as they are going to get.

So let's get down to it. What do I predict for the Nats. As this is a 2nd chance at 2013, I'm going to throw up the same prediction.

94-68, NL East Champions

(No playoff results predictions - those are silly). 

Everyone wasn't wrong then and they aren't wrong now.

*You could make a case that Rizzo was arrogant in believing that the miracle bench of 2012 would continue to perform at high levels, but I kind of give him a break because you don't expect these guys to get a ton of at bats and you can easily defend keeping Bernadina, Moore, Suzuki, and Lombo given the various backgrounds coming into 2014. Improving on Tracy would have been nice but probably wouldn't have altered the above scenario.

Saturday, March 29, 2014

Media Breakdown

Prediction before the one that matters (mine)

44 out of 44 playoffs
40 NL East Champs
18 NL Champs
12 World Series Champs

6 out of 6 playoffs
6 NL East Champs
2 NL Champs
2 World Series Champs

Sporting News
playoffs, NL East Champs

(playoffs/NL East undetermined)
1 of 2 NL Champs
1 World Series Champs

A lot like last year.

Friday, March 28, 2014

The losing Bryce effect

Commenter BJD1207 brought up a good point. Not only is the LHB on the bench limited, but the LHB on the Nats isn't all that great either. If Bryce Harper gets injured, what happens? Sure the Nats can still hit lefites but what about the team versus right-handed pitching?

The good news is that righties rarely have the extreme splits you can see with lefties. They've seen RHP all their lives and are accustomed to it, so while they can't hit it as well as LHP, they generally hit it at a level only slightly below. Of the right-handed batting starting players in the Nats lineup, only Rendon has shown any great split and for all we could know that could be a fluke. I went ahead and estimated the OPSs of the Nats expected line-up (Span, Ian, Zimm, Werth, Bryce, Ramos, LaRoche, Rendon) vs either hand and came up with this.

vs R : 740, 800, 800, 820, 930, 780, 820, 700
vs L : 650, 820, 850, 1000, 688, 770, 620, 830

This is real rough but factor in pitching, some injury replacement games, some pinch hitting, and what you get is an offense that should be one of the best in the league vs right-handed pitching, and should be above average versus lefites. That doesn't exactly make sense on the surface given a lineup with 5 righties and 3 lefties, but dig a bit deeper and you'll see that the Nats' lefties (Span, LaRoche, Bryce) suffer some major splits, while the right handed bats don't see that. Against a left-handed pitcher, essentially the middle of the line-up has to carry the team (and it can to some degree). Against a right-handed pitcher, there really isn't easy stretch outside of maybe the 8-9-1 trio.

What happens if the Nats' lineup loses Bryce for an extended time? Against lefties not much, presuming Hairston or another right handed bat takes his place. It's doubtful they'd do worse than the still adjusting Bryce. Against a righty though you'd likely see McLouth and his .740 ish OPS replacing Bryce's .930.  That's a big enough deal to drop the Nats lineup from "possibly the best" to simply "above average"

It's not surprising. With Bryce in the line-up the Nats are likely one of the best in the league. Without Bryce in the lineup they are still good but they aren't likely to crack the Top 3. Good enough for a playoff spot with the pitching they have, but good enough for a divison title? Depends.

Of course this is not really any different than what the Nats have at any other position. If Zimm or Rendon or Desmond goes down and Espinosa or Frandsen get more playing time - those are big drops in OPS. Ramos goes down? Drop. Werth, even with platooning Hairston/McLouth? Drop. The only injuries that the Nats might be able to weather offensively with no significant drops is catcher (maybe), 1st base (with a Hairston/McLouth platoon some how worked into the lineup), or centerfield (offense might actually improve but defense could be scary bad). This isn't really a flaw in the system though. It's the reality. Your bench is not capable of starting. That's why they are the bench. The only thing that elevates the Bryce thing above all these other injuries (ignoring future implications) is that it would leave the bench with 0 reliable lefty bats. So it is a slightly worse situation given how the team was built.

Take away lesson? Pray for health.

Season Preview and predictions on Monday!

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Bench complete and it is... fair

You all know by now this transpired in the last couple of days

Young - cut
Carroll - cut
Moore - sent down
Kobernus - sent down
Leon - sent down
Mattheus - sent down
Cedeno - sent down
Frandsen - signed

This means along with the expected McLouth and Lobaton bench players, the bench is Espinosa, Hairston, and Fransden. Aaron Barrett earns the last role in the pen. The winner of Roark/Jordan starts, the loser goes down. No long relief role available.

Why Aaron Barrett? He pitched very well in 2012 (A-ball) and 2013 (AA-ball), combining to put up a an ERA around 2.10. While the 2.5 ish BB rate in the minors might translate into something in the majors just a smidge higher that you might like, the 12.5 ish K-rate makes up for it. He also doesn't give up a lot of HRs (9 in 150 minor league innings). In short, he looks like a decent reliever, he pitched well in spring, and with Detwiler pushed the the pen they didn't NEED another lefty. They could roll with Barrett. It's a shame for Ryan Mattheus, who also looked good in spring and had good 2011-2012 seasons in the majors, but he's a 30 year old about to hit arbitration eligibility. He's not long for this team.

Why Kevin "It should be Fransden" Frandsen? Why indeed. Outside of what appears to be a fluke 2012, he's been below average at the plate. He does hit LHP better historically and last season, but so does Hairston, and Espinosa. Lobaton was better batting L vs RHP last year, but historically falls with Hairston and Espinosa. Frandsen's defense is also nothing special so it's really less about him and more about the other choices Rizzo left himself. Jamey Carroll is 1000 years old and was terrible at the plate last year. Maybe he has a decent year or two in the field left in him, but if not he's probably worthless. Jeff Kobernus' primary talent is speed which made him a very useful pinch runner and gave him good range at 2nd, but he's a singly Joe in the model of Lombo, who needs to hit for average to be useful, really zero pop.

Rizzo looked at the choices and though Frandsen was slightly better. I disagree but not strongly enough to care.

Why do I disagree? Let's see how the Nats bench covers the ideal bench construction parameters :
  • Every position covered - No.  There's no real 1st baseman back-up. You could argue Zimm is being groomed but right now Frandsen (40G at first in 2013, 4 before then) is the most experienced choice. And I'd argue there's not a CF back-up either as McLouth really can't handle that position.
  • L/R balance - Not Really. Technically you do with Espinosa and Lobaton being switch hitters, but managers hate using the back-up catcher to hit (which is why Leon was cut so late) and Espinosa was never a good LHB. So it's pretty much McLouth and pray it doesn't come up again. 
  • D replacement IF - Yes. Danny is good regardless of how his hitting is doing, and frankly the starters are pretty good themselves so this isn't the most pressing issue. Still good to have in case Rendon doesn't quite get it like we all think he will. 
  • D replacement OF - Eh. McLouth is good enough in the corner to replace Werth late if he continues to decline, but he's not really good, you know? 
  • Pinch runner? Good enough. McLouth is good, Danny is ok.
  • Pop? Hairston, if he's still got it, is good vs LHP. The rest are all ok assuming Espy can hit, but as noted above it's really vs LHP we're talking about.
Kobernus would have added another very good pinch runner, probably better D in the IF, though that's of limited worth. Frandsen adds maybe another pop guy versus lefties, who might be ok at first base we don't know?  I guess I'd rather have the definite positive with Kobernus, than the maybes of Frandsen. But again I don't disagree strongly enough to make a fuss over it.

What really comes through is the "everyone can take a pitch deep" bench. No, they aren't necessarily likely to do it, but with no Carroll or Kobernus, no more Lombo, you really cut out the guys who were no threat at all. That's where I think Rizzo's strategy lies in constructing this bench. His eggs are in the "pop" basket. Unfortunately I don't think the "pop" here is enough and I think it's of limited value since RHP can pretty much kill it.

It's not a bad bench. It's a better bench than last year. Is it a good bench? Probably not but even good teams have hard times making good benches. Lobaton alone probably bumps the Nats up to "fair" and if the team is healthy, that should be enough. If it's not healthy? Well Rizzo can hopefully deal with that when he needs to.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Odds and Ends

Fantasy Draft today. No column about it (Let's face it. the old adage is true - nothing is more interesting than talking about your fantasy team, nothing is more boring than hearing someone else talk about theirs) but I will note some Nats related things. I took 2nd place in my NL-only league* last year with two Nationals on the team for any length. The two? Detwiler and Lombo (No, we don't give points for BA, HR, GRIT, RBI and HEART. Davey just kept playing him) Stras, ZNN, Ramos, Desmond, Bryce, Werth and Span are all off the table.  We'll see if I end up with someone. 

5th Starter

I predict Roark, because he is not (or at least should not be) the future and thus the Nats need to showcase him now, in case they want to deal him later.  Pitching well in AAA won't do anything for that.  Pitching well in the pen wouldn't either. (Jordan will go down to AAA)

I would like Jordan, for the mild reasons I noted earlier.


Zimmerman11 kind of got to the robot heart of the matter in noting lineups don't really matter. There are ways of optimizing them (like your 3rd hitter actually shouldn't be one of your best because he's going to get a lot more 2-out, no-one on ABs than any other position, simply because he has that possibility staring at him every time a game starts) but it's working on the edges. If the team has a lineup the manager is happy with, the team is happy with... well I'm not going to complain too much. Luck matters more. But you know, if you think a game might matter, for division titles or for playoff position, it's at least worth looking into.  A win or two (which is about all you'll get moving from a standard lineup to an optimal one) might be worth it.

Since your probably interested - using Fangraph projections (and bumping Ian up because they really undersell him). You get an optimal lineup of

Werth, Bryce, Rendon, Desmond, Zimm, Ramos, LaRoche, P, Span.

Yes - P then Span. The reason is the lost ABs batting someone 9th instead of 8th is worth the trade-off for getting that hitter up in front of your lead-off guy when the line-up goes around again and again. But I don't expect anyone to do the above (at least not for a few more years). 

Really, when I look at the Nats lineup it just comes down to what I said yesterday. Span might be the worst hitter on the team. There might be some platooning possible, but career numbers suggest that's more of a seasonal fluke than an actual skill. Given that you don't want him to get many at bats. Last year here are the ABs by lineup position for the Nats

742, 722, 706, 688, 671, 660, 640, 618, 600

by batting Span 1st instead of 8th you give him 124 more ABs. By batting say... Bryce 5th instead of 1st you give him 70 fewer ABs. Yes, Bryce gets fewer ABs with runners on and not a negligible amount fewer, like 100 or so. BUT Span gets more ABs with runners on and more importantly everyone else behind Bryce would get more ABs with runners on because Bryce would get on base more often than Span. That's something that can be missed when thinking about this. It's a total sum thing.

70 more ABs for a very good hitter plus 120 fewer ABs for a bad one plus more ABs with men on for hitters 2-5 and Span gets you more runs than 100 fewer ABs for Bryce with men on loses. 

But I realize the reality of the situation and I know full optimization is not an option so twist my arm and I'd go...

Werth, Bryce, Zimm, Desmond, Ramos, LaRoche, Rendon, Span, P

It's tempting to say switch Werth and Ian, but Ian really doesn't get on base much.

*2 league specific, auction, keeper fantasy leagues. 10 teams a piece.

Monday, March 24, 2014

Monday Quickie - Nothing of note

Really nothing.

Williams gave a preview of a possible line-up. Most people like it. I kind of hate it. Span could very well be the worst offensive player in the line-up next year and putting him in the #1 spot because "he's speedy"is just dumb. The "problem" Williams faces is that there is no obvious stereotypical leadoff hitter on the team otherwise. Easy answer is - break stereotype but that's hard for guys brought up thinking one way for 40+ years to do. Short of it though again is - Span sucks, batting a guy who sucks first is silly despite how well he may go 1st to 3rd on the rare opportunities he's on first.

Rendon is a little sick so Espinosa might play more and Espy hit 2 home runs! Of course he had 0 home runs before Saturday and is batting .214 but hope springs eternal.

That's all I got - an honest quickie today.

Friday, March 21, 2014

NL East notes.

Around NL East :

Atlanta Braves

Beachy down! Beachy down!

Beachy is less important than Medlen, who was expected to be one of the Braves Top 2 guys, but it kills the Braves depth wise. They can likely cobble together a starting rotation that's passable, if not better, but they have absolutely no room for another injury. They are a liner off the hand, a sore shoulder, or a bad hip away from Yunesky Maya level characters filling in the back of the rotation.Given that one of those 5 they are counting on is a rookie who has never pitched a full major league season (Wood) and another is coming off of an injury (Floyd), things are looking pretty grim rotation-wise.

If they can avoid any more injuries though, they should still be a good team. Offensively the team was good last year, seems healthy, and has potential to do better. They only thing I look at in spring stats is power numbers and both Heyward and Uggla are doing well. Fans of other NL East teams have all feared that break-out from Heyward. 

Philadelphia Phillies

The Phillies have spent the Spring worrying about two things. One, for some reason, is the attitude of Jimmy Rollins. (Honestly, I think "Don't call me Ryan" Sandberg is setting up scapegoats for what's going to be a rough couple years.) The other is the fact the offense looks terrible in the Spring. True, I'll be the first to tell you spring stats don't matter. But when you think you might be terrible, then all signs in the spring suggest your thinking is right, at the very least it keeps you on edge.

If you're worried Ryan Howard might be striking out too much... it can't be good he's 2nd in Ks in Spring.
If you're worried about Dominic Brown "slugging" .390 in the 2nd half of 2103... it can't be good he's hitting .171 with 1 XBH.
If you're worried Rollins has finally hit the age where he won't bounce back... it can't be good he's hitting .138.
If you feel you need Chase Utley to help carry these other guys... it can't be good he has 1 XBH.

Let's not forget, Papelbon's speed is down, and Cole Hamels will, best case scenario, be out until May. At least Chooch looks good, right?

NY Mets

The worst thing for the Mets was the lack of action in the offseason. They needed 3-4 pieces and they brought in 2, Colon and Granderson. Mets fans clamored for more, but with Harvey out this year, realistically the team is looking at 2015 for the real push. Not sure it's the best plan, but that's what they're doing.

So the roster is being filled with has-beens and never-wases at the margins. Starting roles finalized this spring include ones for Chris Young, Ruben Tejada, and probably Dice-K* and that's not even the bench or pen. Then there's Ike Davis, who the Mets are committed to giving every last chance to fail. It's like my worst Tyler Moore nightmare. There has been good news though, with Jon Niese avoiding surgery. The rest of their injury concerns are more minor leg injuries with Murphy, Duda, and Tejada. These could be problematic for a team with little depth but for now they don't seem serious.

Basically the season is coming together as expected for the Mets. More wins possible, Maybe even above .500, but really this is a team waiting for 2015. 

Miami Marlins

Nothing really interesting has gone on with the Marlins this spring. They have a few injuries but all on guys that aren't really that good (Furcal, Dobbs, Ed Lucas). They highlight the fact the Marlins IF is in shambles, but it doesn't really affect this season. The battle for 5th starter went so well, and the Marlins have enough prospects in the wings, that they are now thinking of dealing completely adequate with potential for mild improvement SP Jacob Turner for help. This would probably be someone to play 2nd as they like Hechavarria ok, have a prospect at 3B, and could use 1B as a landing spot for someone if their young OFs all work out.

It's possible that the formerly hyped Marcell Ozuna may not start in CF... but he probably will. Jeff Baker and Garrett Jones may not platoon... but probably will.

Out of all the teams in the East the Marlins are the most fascinating. A lot of room for improvement (Stanton could blow up again), a Baker/Jones situation at first that should work very well in platoon, great young starting pitching. I could see them winning 15 more games easily.

*even though Lannan makes more sense and that's not even a biased look at it. Better stats, younger, better health, handedness makes more sense. And if you are like "But Lannan isn't healthy or good!" I'm not going to disagree with you. But Dice-K has a worse injury history and has been terrible for years

Thursday, March 20, 2014

I'm the best!

I'll be off watching basketball today but I did want to chime in on Jayson Werth's seemingly idiotic statement. PULL QUOTE!
“Because it doesn’t work both ways,” Werth said. “Just because you can do something else doesn’t mean you can hit. If you can hit, you can do anything. Because it’s the hardest thing to do. There’s nothing harder. I can bake a cake. I could figure out a way to do algorithms. But a guy that knows how to do algorithms could never hit. It’s literally the hardest thing to do. If you can do the hardest thing, you can do anything else.” 
It's like the ultimate "you can't just say things" example. To be overly fair, I'm not quite sure Werth is wrong because I'm not quite sure what he's saying. I mean I'm pretty sure what he's saying makes him out to be a moron (Grade B) but I like to give the benefit of the doubt.

So he could be saying "Hitting a baseball at the major league level is extremely hard. It involves a combination of innate talent and hard work that isn't really replicated in other facets of life, even within the realm of sports. Therefore if I can master this difficult combination, I should be able to take on any task with a modicum of success" Of course that isn't true. Doing elite level work in any facet of life takes that combination of innate talent and hard work, but at least in this interpretation his overall theme is more "if I can do this I can do anything". That's something people say after doing anything hard, like finishing a marathon. It's a nice sentiment that we don't jump on other people for, so why jump on Jayson?

Of course that's reading into his words to cut him some slack. If you just take what he said at face value then what he is saying is "Hitting a baseball at the major league level is the hardest thing to do. I can do anything you can do because whatever that crap is, it's a piece of cake compared to this. I'm so great!".  Ugh. Great guy. Anyway this falls apart because his comparison is flawed. His comparison is "hitting a baseball at the major league level" against "baking a cake" or "doing algorithms"; or in other words "elite" vs "mundane" vs "solid HS level". A better comparison would be "hitting a baseball at the major league level" vs "winning a James Beard award for being a pastry chef" or "teaching theoretical mathematics at an Ivy League university".  I'm going to go out on a limb and say Jayson Werth can't do either of those things, even spotted the 20+ years he's spent learning to hit.

And if you go the other way, reducing "hitting a baseball" to say Little League level, you come to the title of this piece. Let's do a little comparison shall we?

Me          Action               Werth
Yes        Hit Baseball            Yes
Yes        Bake Cake             Maybe
Yes    "Do Algorithms" Presumably Not

I'm already better than Jayson Werth. Forget you, beardo! I'm the new standard. Deal with it.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Roark vs Jordan

As I saw it the 5th starter role was Detwilers to lose. Perhaps he didn't last super long in games* but he was moderately effective, especially considering the role. Expand out his 2012 stats to a full year and he'd be about the 40th-50th most valuable starter in the NL. Given that there are at least 75, there's no shame in that. The Nats had one of the better #4s in the role of a #5.

Yet 2012 also saw Detwiler perform really well in the pen. It's something I actually spoke up about a few times, but before finishing that horn toot, I'll note I brought it up to explain why he wasn't as good a starter as you'd think, not because I thought he should be moved to the pen. The Nats needed another dependable lefty in there and they could use another solid long relief option. Moving Detwiler to the pen solves both issues. As Matt Williams said
"We're a better team with him coming out of the bullpen"
Except that's a half-truth.  They are a better team with Detwiler coming out of the bullpen... if their other options at 5th starter can pitch as well as Detwiler did. Can they?  He went over this in a cursory manner a few weeks ago, let's dive in now.

Taylor Jordan is 25**  His minor league career doesn't exactly inspire confidence. He was very good in rookie ball in 2009, struggled in A ball in 2010, did better in A ball in 2011, had Tommy John, then struggled again in A ball during his comeback in 2012. Not an auspicious beginning, but in 2013 though he looked like a different pitcher, mastering his control and breezing through High A and AA.

That's the type of pitcher Jordan is, a fantastic control pitcher who keeps his walks down (2.1 BB/9 in his minor league career) and is nearly impossible to homer off of (14 homers in 339 minor league innings).  He's not a strikeout threat (ignore what you see this spring) putting up mild K numbers in the minors. This is exactly what we saw in his major league stint. No walks, no homers, but no Ks. He's not a guy that's going to dominate. You'll get your hits but they won't be homers and I'll get out of the inning before anything bad happens.

The worst thing you can say about him is he lacks experience and thus 2013 could just be a fluke. That might have been true about the domination in the minors. abnormally low BABIPs and high LOB% suggest ERAs that were well under what they should have been. But in the major leagues we saw a .322 BABIP and a 66.9 LOB%. Those aren't lucky breaks. They seem more than reasonable. I think 2013 MLB Jordan is a fine guess at what he'll be going forward.

Roark is 27. One of the whatevers dealt to the Nats for Cristian Guzman, he slowly moved up the minor league ladder by attrition. He was mostly mediocre but never flat out terrible, and when the Nats had need of organizational depth, they kicked him from AA to AAA. After another blah year in AA though it looked like he "got it" in 2013. Although his surface stats didn't look any better than Jordan's in the minors (more homers, every slightly more walks, same strikeouts) he didn't suffer the same drop in stats when he moved up to the majors. Everything remained the same, if not better and he put up that great 1.51 ERA line.

Roark has morphed into something a lot like Jordan, after being more of a wild strikeout type guy in his early years.  2008 and 2009 showed a guy striking out a batter an inning, but walking too many and giving up too many homers. The 2010-2012 Tanner gave up some K's for some better control (around 0.8 HR/9, 2.8 BB/9, 7.3 K/9). Until finally arriving at that 2013 that was a lot like Jordan's. I don't think the endpoint was fluky. I think this is the pitcher Roark is now.

If Roark is Jordan then why the big discrepency in major league results? Part of it is Roark adjusting better, but part of it is things going his way.  Roark had spent the minors with a BABIP in the .280-.320 range. Last year he had a .258 BABIP in the minors, a .243 in the majors. His LOB% was on the high side (though not crazy) in the majors as well at 79.8%. And while Roark doesn't give up many homers a 2.6% HR/FB rate is something that no one keeps up for an entire year.

To put it another way, in 2013 we saw this
Lucky Jordan Minors: 1.00 ERA
Jordan Majors: 3.66 ERA

Roark Minors: 3.15 ERA
Lucky Roark Majors: 1.51 ERA

Very similar results, very similar pitchers (at least in 2013).  There's a good sense of how either of these guys will pitch in the majors. An ERA aropund 3.50, maybe up to 4.00 as the league gets comfortable against them, feels about right. Basically Detwiler, so the "gamble" that either of these two will pitch like Ross is probably a fair one. Ross offers more security for reaching the above numbers, but injury history and age suggest his time has passed.

The question then becomes who to choose and to me the answer is obvious and is why I started the analysis of each player with a statement of ages. Jordan is 25. Roark is 27. Jordan is 2 years and 3 months younger than Roark. Jordan is more likely to continue pitching at this level for more years than Roark making him a more useful piece in the rotation, or a more useful piece in a deal. Jordan also holds out more hope for improvement.

At this point the choice is simple - Taylor Jordan should be the #5.

*just under 5 2/3 a game. For reference ZNN has been around 6.5 innings the past 2 years, Gio under 6 1/3 and Strasburg just under 6, though he was given a short leash in 2012 and in 2013 he was at the same level as Gio).

**By the way 6 months younger than Strasburg, so when you consider Jordan a "prospect" think about that.

Monday, March 17, 2014

Monday Real Quickie

Fister's BP session went well enough that he pitched in a minor league game yesterday. No word on any discomfort or tightness so seems like fans can exhale for a moment. It's still likely that he'll miss his first start of the season given the slow down in Spring, and the fact the Nats can use two days off early in the season to give Fister a nice recovery time (and an easy first opponent in the Marlins)

Assuming you want a rotation of Strasburg, ZNN, Gio, Fister you could open the season thusly

Joarkwiler #1
Joarkwiler #2



Joarkwiler winner


Strasburg stays on schedule, Gio an extra day off, ZNN an extra two, the winner of Joarkwiler contest gets 1 or 2 extra days depending. Nats put their best guys on the mound in the first two Braves series. If you really like ZNN, or Gio I suppose, you can go ahead and flip him and Strasburg in these spots. Of course do like I say above and people are interested, flip Strasburg with anyone and people are saying "Why are they babying Strasburg again?! He's such a baby!!" even though everyone but the #1 guy would be getting extra days off.

Either way, think about it Matt. Every game is important but some games are more important that others.


In the WP story before the story there's a quote :
Last fall, one Nationals official compared Detwiler’s possible impact to Pirates left-hander Justin Wilson, a former starter who in 2013 posted a 2.08 ERA over 73 2/3 innings.
Wilson was a nice piece last year, worth about half a win in the pen.  Detwilers 2012, when he was good but not great in the rotation, was worth about 3 times that. Can't really call the Nats on anything since they are basing it we assume on what they are seeing in the spring, but based on what we knew coming into this year, it's not the move I would make. Better hope Jordan or Roark pans out because this has some makings of a mess.  

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Fister's elbow - to worry or not to worry

Today I read a blurb that was basically "Fister's throwing off flat ground! That's great news!" and I asked myself, how did I get here? This is not my beautiful Fister!

Taking a stroll through (mostly) the Post's ST blog here's the Fister timeline

2/22 : Fister pitches BP. Is "nasty".
2/24 : Practices hitting
3/02 : Starts vs Marlins , is "erratic" in two innings of work, "felt 50/50", has discomfort after game  
3/06 : Recieves MRI, shows "a little inflammation" and "no structural damage", will rest Williams says team not worried - if in season he'd go.
3/07 : Misses next start due to "elbow inflammation, no timetable for return other than "few days rest"
3/09 : Team states inflammation is on the way out. 
3/10 : Team schedules a "catch" for Fister for Tuesday the 11th.
3/11 : Fister plays catch.  Feels fine. Will stretch out from a further distance on Thursday the 13th. First mention of regular season start being affected, when they say plan is he'll be ready for his first turnFister says he'll be ready.
3/13 : Fister throws from distance on flat ground. Feels tight.

Elbow inflammation after your first real "competitive" experience is scary. They want to give him rest to heal him up. That makes sense. But prior to that first game he had months of rest. Is a week really going to help? Maybe it will, actually.  He probably wasn't icing and medicating over the offseason so the full frontal assault on the inflammation may keep it at bay. It doesn't look promising. He's missed two starts now. He felt tight after just an extended catch session. Signs point to an actual problem.

This wasn't an issue last year from what I can tell. No news, no decrease in velocity over last season.

Some elbow inflammations from Spring 2013 (no structural damage)  for comparison.
  • Zack Greinke missed a couple starts, had no discomfort on return, pushed him back for regular season start but otherwise fine. Though he did get an extra month "off" after first two starts, thanks to a broken collarbone. 
  • Matt Thornton was diagnosed real early (mid Feb), no issues on return, was pitching by end of that month.
  • Jenrry Mejia ended up needing no surgery but had a very lengthy rehab stint. Didn't start in majors until late July.  He had had previous surgery on his elbow a few years prior.
  • Frank Francisco was initially diagnosed with no structural damage. That became a flexor strain which became a flexor tear which kept him out until September. He had had elbow surgery just that previous December.
  • Scott Baker also had a long rehab not pitching until September. He was coming back from TJ surgery. 
There's comfort there and some concern. The comforting fact is the full season issues seemed to be tied to previous elbow surgeries, of which Fister had none. I can't feel comfortable drawing comparison to those guys. The concerning fact, though, is that the two that bounced back quickly had no issues once starting back up. It is certainly possible to have an non TJ related elbow issue without previous surgery, ask 2012 Drew Storen.(note there : also no structural damage at first. Then they said "Hey we might have noticed a floating body before!" Based on that and the Francisco bit above you can take "no structural damage" to be code for "He didn't have a massive tear needing immediate Tommy John surgery". That's it.)

This isn't exactly telling us much is it?  Everyone stay glued to Fister's bullpen session. If it goes well (assuming it goes at all) I wouldn't worry too much. He might miss his first start just because the timing is bad but inflammation does happen.  If it doesn't go well, I'd start preparing for a lengthy rehab.

Side note : Let's remember to thank your local beat reporter. Kilgore, Wagner, Zuckerman. It's because of the yeoman's work they put in day to day that we have these things to talk about around the Keurig.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

The Dream Scenario : 100 wins

Like I said 110 wins was probably pushing it last year, given that it's only happened, you know, six times in the history of baseball.  But where was I to go with a 98 win team? 100 wins? That's just two more wins. With this team though 100 makes a nice reasonable dream target. That's pretty much a guaranteed division lock and home field advantage.  Who wouldn't you like that?

Again 84 wins is the starting point. First, the playing time upward adjustment. Let's be a bit more generous with playing time. We can probably bump Ramos up to 130 and get something like 2.5 more wins between him and a productive Lobaton. We want to add more time for Werth as well, but have to factor in his expected decline (really last year was out of line with his history and he's old).  In the nightmare we gave him a total decline, this time we'll call it a wash for now and come back if we need some more wins.  We're at 86.5 wins right now.  (I know, I know.  We'll get to Bryce in a minute)

Fister and Blevins will help too, as noted last time.  I'm not going to do anything with Blevins individually. Fister himself has twice given more than the Nats got from 4th & 5th combined last year. Let's  say he matches that and the Nats find a decent 5th early in the year.  2.5 wins generously instead of 1.5, let's say right around 89 wins.

Now we need to see some actual improvement.  There's Bryce of course. He'll play more games, which would get a win more without improvement, let's toss in another win there. That's not a big jump, still wouldn't even put him in the Top 10 offensive players (but close) 91 wins.  Rendon will also play more, which in itself should give the Nats a win more, if you don't assume a slump. You could probably add another win there too without being seen as crazy. 93 wins.

There is LaRoche of course. Bouncing back to 2012 levels is probably asking too much, but something like 2007-2009? Maybe on the low side, like a 1.5 WAR? That's still a win better than last year. 94 wins.

It's hard to see Desmond doing any better and Zimmerman isn't the best candidate for a bump. We'll hold off here. Overall Span was basically matching his past year's levels. Maybe his hitting gets better, but his D probably slips a bit. Not getting anywhere now. Oh the bench! It was actually a net negative last year. Add up the non-pitcher and non-catchers (we already figured in Lobaton) and it's like a -3.5. Yikes. I can't say Moore or Espinosa are going to play much better but given the health expectations we're assuming, they'll play less. That's a big factor in the improvement here. Add in an average McLouth... let's just say the Nats are neutral. That's 3.5 wins better. 97.5 wins. I can see 100 from here!

I think we all know Strasburg could get a lot better. He was better in 2011 than 2012. Just getting back to 2011 levels - that's another win. 98.5. The bullpen was pretty average and another win there, completely possible through variability alone, wouldn't be unusual. I don't think that's asking for much especially with Blevins on the team and Storen with his head possibly screwed on straight. 99.5 wins.

We're pretty much here right? A half-win is nothing. Anything can do that, an improvement by Ramos along with more games played, Zimmerman having a good year, Bryce or Strasburg making a jump rather than just improving, Gio pitching more like 2012 or ZNN pitching a full year like the first half of 2013. Hell lucky bounces in close games or better luck in clutch hitting can do it. There's a ton of options. 

And it's important that there are a ton of options because as you notice there are no disappointments in the above. Maybe I didn't put the happiest face on everything but everyone was healthy and did no worse than last year. Everyone that did bad either improved or played fewer games. That is the easy way to get to the 100 win season, but it also doesn't give you a lot of leeway in staying there. One bad injury and an off year derails that model pretty quickly. Having a cushion, where if everything goes right you are sitting at 105 is a better bet for such a high win total. The Nats aren't quite there but they are in spitting distance.

Honestly thought, the thing I like most is the bench improvement, as modest as it may be. Remember 2012 wasn't a healthy year. It was a year that the bench performed crazy well. Last year it performed crazy bad. While I don't expect "crazy good" the Nats have decent back-ups in the two spots they need it the most based on past injury history, catcher and OF.
Given the two scenarios, I not only like the 100 win one more, I think it's more realistic. I didn't feel like I forced anything to get to 99.5, whereas for .500 I got stuck a good win and a half out. In my head that makes them a bit better than the average of the two scenarios.  A bit better than 91 wins... 92, 93. Yeah that sounds about right.... right now (stay healthy Fister!)

Friday, March 07, 2014

The Nightmare Scenario : .500 or bust

Last year I did an exercise where I explored the worst and best case scenarios for the Nats that one could make without resorting to crazy scenarios. The best was topping out and closing in on 110 games, the worst was missing the playoffs. Both seemed pretty unlikely at the time. Of course we know what happened. I didn't actually nail the causes of the nightmare, as we explored after the season, but there's a reason for that. It was a big part injury and I don't think it's fair to predict injury. Yes, injuries are usually the root cause of collapses, but if you say "well Strasburg and Gio could go down and the Nats could stink" that's not analysis. You can say that about any player on any team. I want to find a way the Nats do bad without injury.

The other thing is that I kind of balanced winning and losing around a central point of 96 wins where really at that point, each additional win is harder to get than each loss, if that makes any sense to you. So 110 really shouldn't have been in play. So this year we'll have a dream of 100 wins, tough but not nearly the rarified air of 110 wins. And we'll make the nightmare a .500 season. Ugh.

84 wins is the starting point based on the pythag numbers, and looking at baseball prospectus' adjusted standings.

First, much like last year, we do have to adjust the win total upwards. Why? Because I have to factor in reasonable health estimates for Bryce and Wilson Ramos. Give Bryce about 25 more games and you get almost a win more. Let Wilson start more, something like the 113 games he had in 2011 and bring in Lobaton.  That's another couple wins over last years bunch. Notice I'm not predicting perfect health for either. Just something reasonable. And I'm not predicting an increase in production, which you probably would. We're trying to make this a worst case remember. So we're at 87 wins.

The Blevins acquisition is nice but you can't expect me to bump up the wins for the 4th in line reliever. Now Fister deserves something, but because Haren was decent for half a year, and Roark and Jordan were pretty good too, it's not as much as you might think. I say if we look at "Fister + 5th" vs "Haren + Detwiler + Roark + Jordan"... let's say we can expect only +1.5 more wins conservatively. 88.5 wins.*

Anyone have an unusually bad year that we just don't think will be repeated? Sorry but no. You could argue LaRoche, but I'd argue that his 2010 season was about as mediocre and he's only gotten older and suffered injuries since then. No dice. 88.5 wins is where we'll start going back down.

This is harder than you think it might be because no one did unusually well for the Nats in 2013. What don't we like on the Nats? The bench. Ok, age wise, and talent wise I can predict a complete bench implosion, but that would only match the bench implosion from last year. So that's doesn't really get us anywhere.

The next easiest place to lose some value is 2nd, with a sophomore slump from Rendon, who doesn't have enough major league experience for us to feel bad about docking his performance. But Rendon actually only played  like 60% of the season. Expect him to play the whole thing and any value lost from slumping is made up from increased playing time. We're still treading water.

We can maybe predict a slight dip from Ian Desmond, though only slight given the consistency in past two years. -1. We could say Zimm is trending down, (I mean he IS but its not anything conclusive just yet) but his generally young age makes it hard to predict a big fall from his relatively modest level now. -0.5 wins. Werth is probably the best bet to underperform. If we expect about the same amount of playing time (fair considering age and time missed the past two seasons) and a drop to something even just under his prime Phillies years, continued defensive decline.. we could probably pull a win and a half from him. -1.5 wins.
85.5 wins.

We're back out of the playoffs now but basically at last year's level of play. How do we drop further without injury? Span and LaRoche could both be on the decline with no return. You could probably pull a win and a half from the continued degradation of their offensive skills. 84 wins.  We're pretty much done with the offense at this point.

It's hard to pull anything from Zimmermann, Strasburg, and Gio. It's not like they were crazy good as they were in 2012. Let's say a half win between the three of them, mostly from ZNN.  83.5 wins.

The Nats relief core is talented but these things fluctuate.  If you think Soriano is also on the way down that helps. Maybe a win here? 82.5 wins

Much like previous attempts I'm stuck. I've run out of ways the players could reasonably disappoint. Bad luck could take the Nats the rest of the way and there is always injury, which like I said I don't predict but we all know can happen.

What does this tell you? Well, it tells you that the Nats are talented. We're looking at a second straight year of disappointments across the board and still the Nats would have a hard time finding themselves below .500 if they are healthy. This would be a very bad scenario for the future. Zimm and Werth trends would be troubling considering the years left on their contract. The Nats would have to replace first and CF (and in this scenario obviously nothing is ready to replace in the minors) and fix the pen. But I can't see this scenario actually playing out. I mean a team with this relative youth and no one gets better? I think if the Nats do drop under .500 then it will be much like last year's nightmare, the injury bug will get them. The slightly improved bench makes it more likely that it would have to be a pitching thing, too.

OK, go to sleep now and next week we can all wake up to the 100 win scenario.

*This is why the Nats are still picked to make the playoffs by many. Conservative estimates put them in the playoffs, at least in the Wild Card.

Wednesday, March 05, 2014

Zach Walters is not a blond Tom Cruise

A name in heavy rotation right now is one Mr. Zach Walters.  A MI by trade, he had a good season at the plate last year hitting nearly 30 homers in the minors, playing good defense, and looking ok in a very brief major league stint. Now he's a sleeper favorite to win a bench position, has been mentioned as a future replacement for Ian Desmond, and at the very least is being treated by fans as decent trade bait.  There is one problem though : 

134K 20BB

Let me repeat that

134K 20BB

"Big deal", you say.  We're not supposed to get hung up on the strikeouts.  That's true. But we are supposed to get hung up on the walks and a K/BB ration of almost 7 is not just telling, it's testifying under oath before a grand jury. Zach Walters couldn't identify the strike zone if it walked up to him and said "Hello, I'm the strike zone"

Why does that matter?  Let's test something. How many times in the history of baseball has someone had this kind of K ratio with 100 plus strikeouts and been successful?

1 maybe, 2 times. Benito Santiago hit .300 and played what I assume was great catcher defense in 1987, while striking out 112 time and walking 16. Wilin Rosario, another catcher, has the second best such season, hitting .292. John Buck has the third and by that time "successful" has passed onto "fair".

Side note : Miguel Olivo has the 5th. Ok this leads me to believe either (1) this isn't a trait that we care about for catchers for some reason, or (2) catcher WAR is completely unreliable.  I'm betting on #2. 

The only decent full-ish position player season was put up by Juan Encarnacion in 1999. . 255 / .287 / .450 in 113 games. Those seem like numbers Walters could put up. Of course offensively that is a BAD season. A .287 OBP hurts your offense much more than a .450 SLG helps. Juan had a decent year because he fielded well.  I suppose Zach could do that. And Juan was 23. I don't think Zach (25 in Sept) can do that.

If I give Walters a little benefit of the doubt and use a K/BB ratio of 4 and over things look a little better. But only a little, we still only see 90 such seasons in baseball history suggesting this type of player doesn't stick around long. 40% of these seasons feature negative WAR. 60% are under 1.0 which is like "anyone can do this" territory. Success is extremely rare.

And why are we giving Walters the benefit of the doubt? His 2012 ratio was over 5.  His 2011 ratio in A+ ball was over 4.  He's going to get better while facing tougher pitching? At 24 he is still young enough that you can hope he improves but he's not so young that you expect it.

"But Harper! These are minor league numbers! He was trying to hit his way out! And besides Danny did the same thing and you loved that guy before injury!"

Danny did strike out a lot. but prior to his first call up he walked too. His ratios were always under 3 in the minors as a whole, with one exception. The exception? Last year when he was terrible.

I did look through the past IL AAA seasons up through 2005 to find someone that struck out 100+ times and had a K/BB walk ratio of 4 or greater. I found a few. They all stunk as major leaguers, or never made it. Dallas McPherson,  Jorge Vazquez, Mithc Jones, Seth Bynum, Joel Guzman, Brad Eldred.  Even worse, it's hard to find guys that struck out 100+ times in the IL and were good at all, regardless of the ratio. Part of that is bias. If you are good enough to get up to plate enough times to strike out that much, you might get called up for another reason. So the good guys might be falling off the list and never reaching 100 K. I suppose.

But much like with Tyler Moore a week ago, the comparisons do not look good. There is a reason why he's not on the Nationals Top 10 prospect lists despite hitting nearly 30 homers last year at age 23. Right now he's a fringe prospect at best, whose lower average and terrible strike zone judgement should render him completely ineffective at the plate at the major league level. Can he work out? Anything is possible. Will he, even for bench purposes? Don't bet on it.

Monday, March 03, 2014

Monday Quickie - you are all snowed in

Was it just last year when our intrepid beat guys were complaining "Oh it's not that warm down in Florida either!" Today around 80 for a high in Viera. So please remember to shut it if it only happens to be in the mid 50s one year.

There isn't much to talk about spring training wise. Only one of the three 5th starter candidates has pitched yet (Taylor Jordan, by all accounts he looked fine). Ryan Mattheus, arguably the 2nd to last man in the pen, is the only injury question right now.

No the only story is Boz realizing that there are no guarantees on how long the Nats "window" will be. Of course this is the same guy who :
  • Calls last year's Red Sox a "miracle team"*.  
  • Mentions 2012 failures without talking about shutdown, the ultimate "window is open for a while" move. 
  • Blames 2013 failure on tight play, lack of mental toughness and fundamentals, and expectations, rather than injuries, poor bench construction, and a lack of necessary in-season moves.
But regardless of how or why Boz gets to where he gets, he ends up in the right place. The Nats need to realize that they have the talent to win now so winning now must take priority. It wasn't something necessary clear in 2012, certainly not when the season began. In 2014 though, it is. The early prognosticators still like the Nats, though a bit gun shy from last year's performance.

The thing to remember about windows is that, while in my mind you should always try to win hard while they are open, you never know when they are going to close.  The Phillies dominated the NL East for years and then doubled down during their open window. Injuries and Performance drops shut it down fast. The Angels ruled the AL West for a while but Morales celebrates a bit too hard and they can't get the ship righted. These windows that were open for years, shut overnight.

Other things can happen too. The Reds probably thought they would be king of the mountain for the NL Central for while, given the depth of young pitching they had and possibly the best young bat in the game at the time in Votto. But the Cardinals reloaded and the Pirates finally developed into something and while the window isn't closed, they are now looking at a dogfight for a playoff spot. The poor Brewers probably thought they'd be in the mix for a while, watched their window turn out to be a single season before the pitching failed to develop and the big bats went away for one reason or another. On the flip side the Dodgers only won 92 games last year and haven't developed into a dominating force in the past half-decade as expected. A team like the Diamondbacks, who should rightfully be a mediocre also-ran looking up at better teams, is staring at a dream that remains possible.

For the Nats the Braves look good and should be a good team for a while, but the Mets and Marlins have big questions and the Phillies are going down.  Given the age and contract situations, one should feel justifiable saying the Nats have two years to compete. It could easily be more. It could also, with some bad luck, be less. Fool hardy moves chasing one more win aren't needed just yet, but a sense of urgency needs to hang over this team. They can win in '14. Looks good for '15.  After that... it could be all over.

*Wins in past seasons, 96, 95, 95, 89, 90, 69, 97.  4th highest payroll in baseball in 2013. The 2012 Red Sox were the miracle team. It was a miracle they were as bad as they were