Nationals Baseball: November 2014

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Happy Thanksgiving everyone!

Just been bouncing around.  I'll be around soon to talk about fun stuff like

Should they sign/trade Ian Desmond?
Should they sign/trade Jordan Zimmermann?
Should they sign/trade Doug Fister?
Should they sign/trade Stephen Strasburg?
Should they sign/trade Wilson Ramos?
Should they sign/trade Drew Storen?

Hey that's a lot of should they sign/trades!

(My guesses without research : Maybe sign, Sign, Neither, Sign, Sign, Trade) 

Friday, November 21, 2014

Rizzo likes them short and young

We talked about this yesterday on twitter but for those on the blog I wanted to reiterate. It's been noted that Zimmermann is available in trade and the question is why.  By results Zimmermann has been the best pitcher on the Nats over the past few seasons.  He's younger (29 in May), healthy (hasn't missed a start since coming back from Tommy John and has thrown over 600IP the past 3 years), and is willing to re-sign. Of course the answer is pretty easy. He wants a fair market contract and that means he wants to get paid. The Nats have to weigh that type of contract carefully, especially considering they have other players who might be up for big paydays themselves (Fister and Ian after 2015, Stras, Storen, and Ramos after 2016),

But it could be more than that. It could be an organizational philosophy against signing ANY pitchers long-term.  Let's look at the long term contracts that have been signed under Mike Rizzo's tenure. These do not include option years because as far as I know there isn't a player option in there.

Zimm 09-13 5/45
Stras 09-12 4/15.1
Bryce 11-15 5/9.9
Burnett 11-12 2/3.95
Rendon 11-14 4/7.2
Purke 11-14 4/4.15
Stammen 13-14 2/2.25
ZNN 14-15 2/24
Desmond 14-15 2/17.5

These can be ignored. These aren't market deals. They are buying out arbitration years by definition they are undermarket.

What we're left with is 11 mutli-year market deals (10 made, Span's traded for). Out of the 11, eight are for batters. Instead of money and the exact years, I'll show the contract length and age at the end of the deal. 

Pudge 2yrs 39
Werth 7yrs 38
LaRoche 2yrs 32
Zimm 6yrs 34
Morse 2yrs 30
LaRoche 2yrs 34
Span 2 yrs 30
McLouth 2 yrs 33

Marquis 2yrs 32
Maya 4yrs 31
Soriano 2yrs 34

It's hard not to see a pattern here. Rizzo really doesn't like long term deals (who does?) or being locked into older players (again) but is willing to do so for offensive players on occasion. You kind of get the understanding why a Jeff Baker deal never happened. Two years for a guy that would be 34 at the end... that's not a deal Rizzo likes to make, certainly not for a non-starter.

For a pitcher it's even worse. Just 3 market deals and it's very questionable how much Rizzo himself wanted that Soriano deal.

This isn't necessarily a bad strategy. Just look at the Nats record. You are not tying yourself down to players giving the team great flexibility to adjust plans if not yearly than at least every other year. You are relying on players in their peak performance years, and years where they are still relatively low injury risks. It's a great plan, in fact, when you have a lot of young cheap talent to fill in the gaps.

The issue with the Nats is that young cheap talent is about to roll over into not young, far more expensive talent. Let's imagine the contract Zimmermann would get. Homer Bailey got 6/105 last year and that included a year of arbitration bought out. Consider that a starting point. Let's say... 6/120. 20 million a year. Zimmerman would be 36 by the end of it. That is a Werth/Zimm deal and nothing like any deal Rizzo has given to a pitcher in DC. Could it happen? Sure, but look at how the Nats allegedly approached him last year. Supposedly it was 5/85, buying out 2 arbitration years. That deal is undermarket, only paying for 3 FA years, and would have cut him loose after age 33. It's not at all the same as the deal he could get.

This is the beginning of the story of the Nats from now until the 2017 season starts. There doesn't seem to be enough young talent in the system to replace what could leave. No SS for Ian, no catcher for Wilson, no closer for Storen, not enough SP to cover ZNN, Fister, and Stras.  Are the Nats going to turn a new page and try to lock up this talent through say age 35, a decent stopping point for the most productive players? Or do they stick with they strategy they have now?

This is part of the reason I could see Strasburg and Ramos get the big deals this year not ZNN, Fister or Desmond. Ramos (27 next year) and Stras (26) could be signed to 5-6 year deals at close to market value (think Bailey's deal). You wouldn't have to kill yourself matching the market because you'd buy out a couple arbitration years and you'd be letting them go the the wind in their early 30s sticking to the current plan. But we'll see. I still think Desmond has a chance to be back based on Rizzo's patterns up until now and the dearth of decent SS replacements in house and out there. But ZNN and Fister (when's the last time you heard anything about Fister?) I think they are as good as gone.

*Where is Gio's deal? It only covered one FA year so it doesn't fit my definition. It was a classic well under market, slightly over arbitration deal.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Harbringer of Failure

A couple weeks ago I noticed a disturbing fact. No team that had failed to win a series in their first two playoff appearances ever came back to win a series in a time frame that I considered "the same group" since the BlueJays lost in 89 & 91 and went on to win back to back series. That covers the entire WC period, a period that still exists today and a period in which the Nats failed to win a series in their first two playoff appearances.

Now part of this, a small tiny part of this, is how I was defining "same group". I separated groups if they went two consecutive years without making the playoffs or if they failed to go to 3 times in four years. That means if you went every other year for 5 years I didn't consider that team. That definition doesn't play a big role (generally you flop out for at least 2 years, usually more) but it did kick out one, and only one, instance where a team did end up winning a series in the end. So in fairness I'll get to that team below.

The question I have is - do these teams resemble the Nats? Are they good teams that have something lacking that we can't quantify? Or are they teams that sneak in and generally should get beat? The latter would give the Nats more hope than the former. Yeah this isn't real analysis. Deal.

Here are the long list of teams that lost back to back series to start a run:

The 95/96 Dodgers - Took advantage of a weak NL West to win division in 95. Better in 96 but a WC team. All pitching (staffs were #2 and #1 in the league for the two years in ERA), no hitting (10th and 12th in RS). Would disappear from relevance.

The 96/98 Rangers - Initially a nicely balanced team in 96, they devolved into just a slugging team in 98 (2nd in RS, 12th in RA). They were formidable in 96, ok in a weak West in 98, but ran into the Yankees both years and lost. They'd return in 99 with the same slugging mindset (.293 TEAM average, 6 guys hit 20+ Hrs, 3 hit 35+). Yanks beat them again.

The 97/98 Astros - This was a good team. They were better than their record in 97 with a balanced attack, but they lost to the always good Braves. They were a supremely good team in 1998, a year that featured other monster teams like the Braves (106 wins) and the Yankees (114). They would lose to the out of nowhere Padres (won were also very good but not 98 wins good as their record would suggest). They'd make it again in 99 as a slightly worse, but still very good team (lose to Braves), and in 2001 as a slugging squad (lose to Braves) before fading away. The core would get their run a few years later as part of a separate group in 2004/2005.  

The 00/01 A's - Very well balanced teams who could pitch and scored in the Top 5 in runs. If you're looking for a direct Nats comparison, here you go. They'd lose in close DSs to the battle-tested Yankees both years. They'd return in 02 and 03 as more pitching carried teams (best pitching, average hitting) but never got over the hump losing to Minnesota* and Boston

*the 03/04 Twins didn't make this list because of the 02 series win, but it could have easily been them here as they'd lose in the DS in 03/04/06. The 06 loss finally giving the A's a series win, though a completely different squad than the guys above. Consider their exclusion the balance to the inclusion we next talk about

The 04/06 Dodgers - A team I initially left out because their playoff pattern didn't fit what I was looking for, the Dodgers weren't all that good. They were basically a 90 win team in a division that has spent most of the WC years schizophrenic. They got deservedly crushed out in DSs by better teams (Cardinals in 04, Mets in 06) but in 08 they made the playoffs and finally got over the hump by beating another snake-bit squad, the Cubs. They'd make it to the CS again in 09 finally as a good team. Both in 08 and 09 a good Phillies team would keep them from the World Series.

The 07/08 Cubs - Hey hey! After the debacle of 2003 the Cubs imploded but came back a few years later with this squad. They'd really sneak in in 07, where the NL West Winner of the Week Dbacks would beat them. But were a legit contender in 08 when a mediocre Dodgers team would sweep them out of the division series, never to be heard from again

The 09/10 Twins - The Santana Twins managed to escape the formal list but this group doesn't.  Lucky in 2009, solid in 2010 they'd lose both years to the Yankees in sweeps. That was all she had. This team collapsed after that.

The 12/13 Athletics - Ongoing. The new A's have risen up but remain series losers. They would get their pitching in order first in 2012, then they'd be a complete team in 2013.  Didn't matter. They would lose to the Tigers in both seasons. They'd remain a very good team in 2014 but be edged out by the Angels and lose in the WC. Maybe next year?

The 12/13 Reds - Solid both years (though I'm still trying to figure out how a team that was 3rd in RS and 4th in RA in 2013 wasn't better than it was - it's Dusty, right?) but more of a pitching team in the first year.  The Giants would beat them in 2012, then the Pirates in the WC in 2013. The offense that was basically carried by Votto and whoever got hot that year, collapsed as Votto got injured. Next year is a toss up. The starting pitching is good and the line-up if healthy has promise. If it doesn't happen next year though they are likely to be gone from discussion for a few seasons due to impending free agencies.

It may seem like there is nothing here. In 20 years of WC playoffs, we've generally seen either teams winning a series in their first couple times out, or not winning a series because they aren't really that good in one of those years. The combination of good and losing series has only been seen three times, the late 90s Astros, the early 00s A's and the current A's. Three times in 20 years is hardly telling.

Still you'd think we'd have seen someone, anyone win a series after losing the first two. If not the good teams then the not good ones. Remember the odds of say an 88 win team taking out a 98 win team are far from insurmountable. Yet we haven't. Ok, really that's just the 90s Rangers but still you could apply the same logic to other teams. Losing multiple DS signaled a downfall to the mid 00's Twins as noted above, the early 00's Braves, the mid 00's Yankees, the recent Rays. The Angels would buck that trend (they'd lose in '07 and '08 but win a series in '09, this after winning a series in '05 so different animal).  I don't know. This is one of those things facts can't back up but feels like something is there.

I'll say this. If I were a Nats fan, I'd root hard for the Reds to make the playoffs and to get to face them in the DS. Easiest path to getting off this slide may be keeping someone else on it.

Monday, November 17, 2014

Braves trade Heyward

Jason Heyward and Jordan Walden for Shelby Miller and a prospect, Tyrell Jenkins.

Short of it : Heyward was a very good OF, but was up for FA after next year. Miller was once seen to be a definite ace, now a useful rotation piece with potential. Both very young. Other players dealt could be see as trading the now (Walden) for the later (Jenkins)

Long of it : Given the Braves aggressively resigned several players to long term deals so it's likely they tried the same with Heyward. But they were offering under market deals, trading years for dollars. Signing that kind of deal made sense for guys with a lot of control years left, but Heyward had gotten too close to FA for that to work effectively. He signed only a 2 year deal to cover arbitration years (sound familiar? That's what Desmond, Fister and ZNN all did) looking to score big as a young guy (will turn 26 in August) hitting FA. How big? I don't know. Choo signed for 7/130, he's better than that so... 7/160?

The Braves knowing that they wouldn't pay for that decided to deal him. Why wouldn't they pay for that? Well, Jason had been slipping at the plate, his power disappearing to the point where his value was tied mostly to his average and a decent walk rate. It's possibly they could be paying 25 mill a year for a .260 singles hitter come 2018. But his value isn't solely in offense. Jason is one of the best fielding corner OFs in baseball. While last year's WAR might be in part because of the vagaries of annual defensive stats, no one doubts he's excellent and will provide value there year in and out. But is it enough value? The Braves thought not (an injury history also didn't help)

The Cardinals found themselves in need of an OF after they dealt away Craig and Oscar Taveras died tragically. They have some depth in starting pitching with Wainwright, Carpenter, Wacha and Lynn being under control or contract for several years. They also have Carlos Martinez, a very highly thought of prospect, waiting his turn. Miller was deemed expendable. He was formerly thought to be an ace in the making, but over the last few years had slightly disappointed in both the minors and the majors after fast starts. Last year was up and down enough to give the Cardinals doubts. Walk rate up, K rate down, but a September that brought back the idea that he could front a rotation. Would he put it together? Or would he flounder? There isn't any doubt he's rotation worthy but is he a 1/2 or a 3/4 remains the question.

The Braves were looking for someone to control, and an arm would be nice given their issues with starting rotation health that helped bury the team in 2014. The match was made and here we are.

Who won:  On value it's hard to argue anything other than the Braves won. They got a rotation pitcher on the cheap for the next 5 seasons. The Cardinals got a guy who is perhaps a 1 year rental.

But a look any other way favors the Cardinals. For 2015 specifically, Heyward shores up a place of need without immediately breaking the bank, and Walden helps as well. Going from a good OF defense to an very strong one, without much offensive compromise the Cards may have made themselves favorites in the NL. The Braves on the other hand had terrible offensive struggles and just dealt one of the few guys that was not an issue. As constructed today, you'd expect a season full of 3-1, 4-0 losses.

Also the Cards dealt from a strength and shored up a weakness. They have enough arms to cover 2015 and some intriguing ones in the minors. The Braves dealt from a weak position (after the fair prospect Terdoslavich, the Braves minor league OF is barren) to add to what could be a crowded position.  Teheran, Wood, Minor, Medlen, Beachy have all been rotation worthy over the past 2 years and they also have a couple decent minor league arms. There's no such thing as too much pitching, but there is such thing as too little outfielding.

What does this mean for the Nats? : We'll have to see what the Braves do right now, but as of November 17th the Nats are looking at an easy road to the pennant. Miller should be at least ok, but unless he's Kershaw GREAT it's not going to make up for the loss of Heyward. They had plenty of decent 2014 pitching performances. Right now I'd have trouble pegging the Braves at anything over .500. That leaves the door open for the Mets or Marlins. Right now the Marlins still need starters, but like what they have developing and are likely to wait a year or two before going for it. The Mets still need bats. They aren't as bad off as Mets fans would have you believe but they do need to score more to be a threat to the Nationals. SS is their biggest hole so Tulo is bandied about but mostly in jest. Having signed Cuddyer the Mets could make a play at another QO turning down FA. Do they go after Hanley Ramirez? or David Robertson as the pen needs help, too? or something crazier like Scherzer trying to go toe to toe rotation wise? Or given it's the Mets do they do nothing and overpay for Asdrubal and finish 83-79?

Friday, November 14, 2014

Last Year's Offseason Discussions - revisted

It's easy to just throw out some ideas on what the Nats should and shouldn't do and move on. You'll seem pretty smart at the time and there are no consequences because you aren't really connected to the team. But I like consequences. Therefore let's go over what I said last year and if I was SMART or I was SMRT.

My Take: Ramos starts, sign Soto as a back-up, if you can.
Out of Box :Trade Ramos in package for Price. Sign McCann

2014 Reality : Soto ended up getting a chance to start so that couldn't happen, but the Nats did focus on getting a decent back-up trading for Lobaton and it worked out about as well as having a back-up catcher play alot could. The OOB take trading Ramos might have been a smart move, his value only dipped with another injury filled year, and if he could have been a centerpiece for Price even better. Signing McCann would have been a huge mistake but hilarious. If Nats fans don't like him now, imagine the hate when he played terribly and was due a lot of money.

MT: LaRoche is the only option. But please don't use Moore. Sign Baker instead
OOB: Platoon LaRoche with Morse

2014 Reality : My take was so spot on it hurts. Moore was terrible and rightfully shipped down. LaRoche would hit .204/.284/.336 versus lefties.  Baker .319 / .362 / .462.  DAMN YOU RIZZO. Morse would have worked too (.248 / .316 / .511 vs LHP) but he got re-signed to basically start when healthy for the Giants so I don't think he would have come here to platoon.

MT: Rendon and Lombo as the back-up is fine. That's right. I was ok with Lombo as the 25th man.
OOB: Put Rendon at 3rd and Zimmerman at 2nd!

2014 Reality : Rendon was so good that whereever you put him would have been fine. Lombo is better than Frandsen (not hard to do) and cheaper, but if the Tigers wanted him you put him in that deal so fast his grit spins. #25 is #25. Zimmerman at 2nd still intrigues me but given his arm strength issues it probably would have ended badly as outs on balls up the middle and DPs never materialized, replaced by weak flings bouncing into the dugout.

MT: Desmond with Lombo is ok
OOB: Trade Desmond to the Cardinals for Adams, Martinez and Descalso.

2014 Reality : Desmond with whoever was ok.  The OOB trade ceased being a great idea when Zimm stopped being able to play a position. I'm a big Matt Adams fan but if he were on the team now we'd be running into the "where does Zimm play" question all over again. Descalso in place of Desmond would have cost the Nats a couple wins but not enough to effect the pennant and hell - what the worst playoff implication? Nats don't win that one game? Martinez didn't blossom last year but remains an intriguing starter prospect who'd morph nicely into a pen prospect if starting doesn't work. I still like the deal but the hole at SS would be huge. 

MT: Trying Ryan is fine. Jeff Baker would be good enough to back-up if he was signed
OOB: Zimm to 1B, Rendon to 3b, Cano signed.

2014 Reality :WHY DIDN'T THE NATS SIGN BAKER?!  Zimm at 3rd wasn't fine as we found out. As for the OOB, assuming there wasn't a big chemistry issue with LaRoche/Zimm platooning this would have made the Nats a 100+ win team and huge favorites. Does Cano over whoever win the Nats the Giants series and get them a title? We don't know for sure but let's just go ahead and say, yes, yes it would have.

MT: Bryce, Werth, Span is good. Hairston is ok as 4th, sign Gutierrez as the 5th.
OOB: Bring in Ellsbury! Make Span the 4th.

2014 Reality : Gutierrez took the year off. McLouth was brought in to be the 4th. He was pretty terrible but I'm not going to crow for Hairston as being such a great idea. As for the OOB that would have been a bad idea. The Nats maybe get a little better in 2014 (maybe) and end up tied to a big salary. Still the Ellsbury play wouldn't be terrible in the long run, I don't think. At least for a team without the Nats' specific make-up issues. He'd shift to a corner and give good D and value there, and Taylor/Souza would get needed time in majors. But Ellsbury can't with the Nats because Werth is stuck in the corner because Zimm has to play first. This is the reality for the next 3 seasons. The Nats have two first basemen and only one first base.

MT: Sign Kuroda or maybe Hudson. Let others fight it out for 5th.
OOB: Sign Ricky Nolasco and try a 4-man rotation

2014 Reality : Either Kuroda or Hudson would have been fine, (Hudson signing does set up an alternate universe where perhaps the Nats legs have something between them) but Fister is obviously better. Well played Rizzo.  The OOB would have been fun to see but would have blown up as Ricky Nolasco was terrible again. Terrible. Don't listen to my starting pitching ideas is the take away.

MT: Soriano, Storen, Clippard, Stammen, are all good. Maybe sign Boone Logan because Det is done.
OOB: go no lefties -sing Stauffer and Jesse Crain. Let Williams manage

2014 Reality: Det was done, but the Nats really didn't need to sign anyone. Soriano (despite his late season swoon), Storen, Clippard, Stammen were fine. Barrett/Thorton also was good. Logan ened up blowing up and needing surgery but I don't believe anything about pitchers in Colorado. He could have been ok here. Stauffer was fine but no better than what the Nats had. He was still good versus lefties though. Crain never pitched. Again - I don't know pitching apparently.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

All In or Not All In, that is the question

Do we try to win now, or do we try to win later?

It's the eternal question for a baseball team. Do you spend money in the years directly infront of you attempting to maximize your potential of winning it all right now, or do you defray costs in order to maximize your potential of having a consistent playoff team later.

For various reasons I'm usually a win-now guy. The idea that you have to choose is founded in the "money bucket" theory that you guys know I hate. Also the future in sports, even 3 years down the road, is too variable to plan on. But let's try to take a more mathematical approach.

Let's say you make the playoffs and you have a 50% chance of winning any series. That's really rough but also pretty fair.  Your chances of winning it all in this purely mathematical scenario would be only 12.5%. If you made the playoffs with these odds you wouldn't expect to win a World Series until you made the playoffs 6 times.

How does that work? Well if you have a 12.5% chance of winning, you have an 87.5% chance of not winning. Your chances of not winning in back to back years is 87.5% * 87.5% or 76.5%.  This continues on and on and your chances of not winning 5 years in a row is still above 50%. (51.3% to be precise). So, if you made the playoffs 5 years in a row and had a 50% chance of winning every series, you'd STILL be more likely not to have won a WS than to have won it. Just barely but it's so. In the 6th year it flips.

OK so what if you go all in? How does that effect things? Well depends on how much an advantage you think it gives. Some people jump right away and say something like... 75% chance of winning a series. That's ludicrous. The best teams ever playing a mix of playoff teams and terrible teams don't hit a 75% winning percentage. 75% is way too high.  Let's look at it another way. The Nats won 59.3% of their games playing a mix of teams. How many games would they win playing ONLY playoff teams? Hopefully you can see that even 55% is generous. (in fact the Nats played 46% ball versus playoff teams this year, but 56% versus NL playoff teams if you want to parse further)

Let's go with that for now though. What changes if the Nats have a 55% chance of winning every series? Their chances of winning skyrocket all the way to... 16.6%, which makes their chances of not winning 83.4%. Not a big change right? BUT there is a big difference if you look over the course of years. Instead of hitting the "should have won" point in that 6th year, you now hit it in the 4th year. By that 4th year your chances of having won at least one world series are 10 percentage points better. ~52% rather than ~42%

And we're comparing it to an even-steven team. If the "All-in" Nats need 4 years to win, what would the "just get in" Nats need? Well if all-in wins at 55% than just in would win around 45% right (once again forgive the roughness)? They are the worst in the playoffs.  Run the numbers... carry the one... these Nats would need 8 years to get to that same "should have won one" point and in comparison to the all-in Nats in year 4 have a chance to have won at least one World Series that's 20 percentage points lower.

So going all-in as opposed to just sneaking in makes a big difference. It may not seem so initially but those little percentage differences add up. Of course there are two big issues here, or maybe three, or even four, now that I think about it. The first is the 55/45 split is probably too generous. 53/47 is probably more in line. That decreases that year 4 difference to 12 percentage points from 20. Still big but almost cut in half. The second is the window sizes we're talking about. Is an "all-in" window of 4 years viable? A "just make it in" window of 6+? Probably not. When we're talking "all-in" we're usually talking about a year or two, versus 3-5 years if you try to just be good enough. Based on the numbers and the 53/47 split you'd (juuuuuuuuuuust barely) rather have 3 years of "good enough" over two years of "all-in". Even if that's a wash, 4 years of making it with what are considered bad playoff odds beats 2 years of making it with good ones.

So it seems like "good enough", when applied to the reality (well somewhat - this is all still just literally numbers on a spreadsheet), makes the most sense. But then you remember - I'm not factoring in the WC.  The "all-in" team should avoid that. The "good enough" team would possibly have to face that at least once, probably a couple times.  Toss that in twice in four years and "all-in" for 2 takes the juuuuuuuuuust barely lead. Plus I haven't factored in the chances of winning MORE than one.

But it all leads to a single question really - what matters to you. Going all in for a couple of years will very likely slightly increase your chances of winning a title. But it's slightly. We're still saying your chances of NOT winning one are close to 70-75% instead of  80+%.  Is that enough of an improvement to you if your team is knowingly going to fall out of contention afterwards?

For a team about to tumble into the void regardless it makes sense to go all-in. For a team that holds out hope of another window opening soon the question is valid just from a competition standpoint.  The all-in advantage for winning one series is limited and decreases over time. Business wise "all-in" is not really a sensible idea. The money you'd save by not doing it and presumably make from more playoff appearances and regular season wins probably offsets the small increase in chance that you win it all. You can see why teams avoid the all-in more often than not.

There isn't a big enough difference here to say one way is obviously superior to another. There is an argument for either side based on what you'd expect to see on the field. All-in or not all-in doesn't have a factual answer, it has your opinion. Me? I'm all-in. 

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Jamie MOYer

would be the headline is Jamie Moyer becomes a coach and wins Manager of the Year. Gotta be.

Anyway Matt Williams won the award this year despite media and one set of fans believing he totally blew Game 2, and another, perhaps wiser, set of fans believing he blew game 4. Of course, these games are irrelevant, the vote does not take into account the post-season. That's silly. If we're going to have these awards you might as well take into account the part of the year that you consider most important but whatever. I don't get worked up about awards.

So... Matt Williams? Sure.

Look, the MOY is going to be the manager who had the most wins that had any sort of large improvement over the previous year. If there are two or more such managers we move on to tie breakers such as "best record", "have they won it before", "have they done better jobs by this measurement".  If we don't have any that we like we might pick a middling win team that had a huge improvement (but probably not). We're not looking to think too much here.

This year the best teams were the Nats, Dodgers, Cardinals, Pirates/Giants. Williams' team won the most games and had the 2nd biggest improvement. Easy peasy. We're done here right?  That Hurdle was second was a testimony to the perceived lack of talent in Pittsburgh.  He actually won fewer games this year. Bochy in 3rd had the biggest improvement of the playoff teams but didn't win his division. Plus, Bochy has won it before (but only once.*) Mattingly, whose team won two more games and the 2nd most in the league overall, finished 6th, because I think someone smart said he was a bad manager and I don't want to look like a fool voting for him.

It's a nicety. A birthday card. It's a gesture that's appreciated but is meaningless because there are set goals in sports that mean everything. Williams didn't win the World Series, get there, or even win a playoff series. He didn't have a good managing season in my book. But bully to you on that MOY thing.

On trading Zimmermann:

There were rumors the Nats and Cubs were talking about a ZNN deal. There's a good deal of sense in the plan on some level. The Cubs need pitching, are located in ZNN's beloved Midwest, and have an abundance of top prospects to send in a deal. ZNN is one year away from FA and looks like he'll try to maximize his value. Of course on another level it makes next to no sense. The Nats are a playoff team trying to win it all and ZNN has been the pitcher that's gotten them the best results during this window. And not by any fluke - he's a really good pitcher. The Cubs on the other hand will probably sign a pitcher but if they can get a young good one for a young good bat (which any team should do as bats are more reliable) that's probably the way to go.

That the rumor was out there serves as a warning shot. The next two offseasons are going to clarify the Nats position. Are they in it to win it? Or more likely are they in it to be in it and if they win it - hey great! All the impressions I get is that the Nats want to be a consistently good, let's say... "upper middle class" payroll, team. Don't be cheap but no bank breaking. Go for 92 wins, getting to 102 is meaningless. Win enough, get in enough and you'll chance into a series or two. Under that thinking dealing ZNN makes sense. They'd still be good enough without him and they could get a young player who will help them a couple years from now on the cheap. Sustained success instead of peaks of excellence. We'll see. Again just my impression.

*Should he have won it again? Based on the criteria probably not. He won 98 games with a 22 game improvement in 1998, but Dierker won 102 games on an 18 game improvement. Bochy finished 2nd. In 2004 he got to 87 wins on a 23 game bump but had managed 5 straight losing seasons and had lost credibility (I know! The current BEST MANAGER OF ALL TIME had 5 straight losing seasons!). Finished 6th. He won 88 off a 16 game improvement in 2009, but Jim Tracy would come along and be standing in the right spot when the Rockies took off and ended up winning the West despite a 18-28 start. (UNDER CLINT HURDLE! We're full circle now.) He'd finish 4th behind Hurdle and the "always going to get votes" LaRussa and Torre who didn't do anything special that year but had last names of LaRussa and Torre.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Pitching review

On with the show : 

Trade X for Zobrist! 

Hey! That's what I've been saying!

Hey you say let them all walk and spend money on international guys - how does international bonus pool money work? 

I didn't know myself initially but after some research the gist of it is that you can sign professional international players who are 23 or older like any other FAs. These are generally Japanese/Korean players and veterans of the Cuban league. Anyone younger is considered an amateur.  There's a little more to it but as a rule of thumb you can just go by age. If they are 23+ they are likely FAs. If they are under 23 they are likely amateurs. For the amateurs, you have a pool of money to spend. If you go over a little you get taxed. If you go over a lot you get taxed and they won't let you sign high $ guys for the next year or two. Here's a good quick review on it

Ship Cole to get Beltre or Donaldson, move Rendon back to 2nd, re-sign ZNN/Fister.

Fine by me but while that might work with the Rangers I bet the A's want more (I would). Also, although Rendon back to 2nd is objectively the right move - media and a good number of fans don't care about that. If you make Rendon even seem unhappy and he does worse you'll have to deal with a ton of headaches outside of baseball. Just saying.

Forget international guys! I want guys here if we're letting our pitchers walk! 

I mostly agree, if you can get young guys in deals. But don't be fooled by the failures of 10 years ago. Our reading of international guys is getting better every day.  Has there been a big signing in the past 5 years that didn't work out on some level?  I'm really asking.

The price for starting pitching will go down, a lot of decent pitchers in the market the next few years.

You may be right for a singular year but I'm not ever betting on the price ever going down.

Clippard might get over 9 million in arbitration! That's too much! Trade him!

It is! I think the model is wrong for Clippard - looking at all those comparisons I think he's been compared to closers. I'd expect something under 8 would be more likely and he'll probably settle with the Nats in the 7 million range. Which is still a lot! So trade him? Sure... if you can get something back. See next question for a continuation of the discussion

How much of a pen is replaceable? If it's a lot then should you deal anyone getting expensive? 

You guys all know I think bullpen roles are pretty replaceable. The innings and goals are limited so any live arm has a chance to do well and a decent org should be able to piece together a decent three relievers over the course of a season. So I have no issue dealing guys... in general. But for a team like the Nats, who will need to compete from Day 1, you need to be careful. While I'd bet money there's a decent Clippard replacement in the Nats org, it can take time to find that person. And taking that time may mean some Ws become Ls. A bad team can (and should) trade these types of guys, an extra few Ls is worth it. A good team has to be more judicious. Since I don't fully trust Barrett yet, (or Storen off another playoff meltdown) it'd take a very good deal for me to deal Clip.

Detwiler - what kind of value can you get? 

This is alot like the Espy issue from last year. You have a guy that was a starter that has seen his role diminished and ultimately could be replaced.  They should be dealt. BUT the team dealing can't shake the images of what was, while the team dealing FOR is basing value on what is. When it came to Danny nothing ever happened I think in large part because the Nats saw him as a starting 2B that might be a good one if he put it back together. Teams wanting to deal saw him as a spot starter who they might luck into something more. When it comes to Detwiler, if the Nats see him as a starter who might be a mid-rotation guy, and want that value back they're going to get no takers. If they price him as a swingman that might end up in the rotation they could get something back. To put it in prospect terms - you can get something, but nothing close to guaranteed. I think you can't get something that projects to be anything more than a back-level rotation guy or a utility IF. If you're lucky you can get one of these with a chance of being something more themselves.

Package Detwiler!

Good idea. Like Espy was last year. He's a tempting throw-in rather than a centerpiece. If that's what it takes to get a deal done for whatever then throw him in. He'll be 29 next year, a free agent in 2 years, his value could easily crash. It's time to use him for something.

Friday, November 07, 2014

Just a friendly reminder

Yesterday Svrluga posted about the inherent risks of multi-year 100 million plus pitcher contracts. We can take a deeper look at it some other day, but the base truth can't be denied. There is a lot of variability in multi-year deals especially for pitchers.

But the variability is all in the years, the money should be basically ignored. Or at the very least fans should not simply give in to the "money bucket" way of thinking.

The "money bucket" is the term I use for the idea that there is a single source of known limited funds available to run the baseball team. Once that source is used up, once all the money in the bucket is spent, that's it. So if you use 20 million to sign a pitcher, that's money that doesn't go to other players. Worse yet, the bucket is usually seen as the source of funds for all baseball operations. So that 20 million is money that also can't go to managers, statisticians, minor leaguers, international scouting, etc.

Owners love this way of thinking because it allows them to treat running a baseball team as any other business, ensuring yearly profitibility. SABR guys fall in line too because when it comes to team construction a spending limit is necessary for their to be a problem to solve. (What's the solution to getting a better team if you have unlimited funds? See : the Yankees. You spend as much money as you can) But fans, regular Joes, they buy into it, too. They shouldn't.

Why? For several very good reasons. The biggest one is that the profitability of a sports team is less about day to day operations and more about increasing franchise value. The potential yearly losses pale in comparison to the payout in the end. Anyone purchasing into a sports league knows this.  Running a team to avoid yearly overruns is for most teams, like adding that cherry on top of the sundae. It's an extra few million a year when in 20 years they expect to get paid out in the hundreds of millions.

Along with understanding the above comes the understanding that most owners are incredibly wealthy. They have the money to burn on investments that are yearly money losers (think of taxes on undeveloped land). You may argue that that is not how they became wealthy but owning a sports franchise should not be seen like running any other business. Stop it!

Then of course there is the reporting of revenue. When the teams report how much money they make, and from there how much money they have to spend, it behooves them to underreport as much as possible and thus set up the players to expect smaller chunks. This is not tin foil stuff, it's common.  Teams say that national broadcasts on TV stations they own don't count as "local broadcast revenue". They say that the parking money - well that's money raised by their incredibly profitable parking company completely separate from this baseball team you talk of. Money is moved around to make the team look as least profitable as possible.
I admit, the idea every team can spend a ton isn't true 100% of the time. There are some teams that can run into financial issues. If they don't own their stadium or the parking around it. If their national following is non-existant and their local fanbase a joke. If say... they play in Tampa. Hypothetically. But these teams are the exception, not the rule. And I'm not saying there isn't an upper limit on the amount of money teams can spend, but I guarantee you it's not at the levels we see now.

Also let's avoid the trap of considering on the field baseball value all a player brings to the team. It's easy to do. "He made 5 million last year and was "worth" 4.5 million in wins" But what about the merchandise he may sell? The games that he helps win that drive attendance up, which means possibly more concession money, more ad money, more parking money? What if that guy helped you get into the playoffs? What about the extra funds from a handful of more sold out games? It's one thing to say an player isn't worth X dollars on the field. It's another thing to say a player isn't worth X dollars in total. Trust me, that's factored into these contracts as well even if it can't be reported on a stats page.

So sign ZNN, Desmond and Fister, right? Well... you still want to make smart deals because of roster composition and tendencies to favor veterans and the like. In DC you've seen what just throwing money around with little thought can do by watching the Redskins. But really the thing is... the above is a dream, a dream where you wake up and your team spends money like it should. It's not going to happen in reality because the impetus to spend is weak.

Let me explain. Sure spending less it makes it difficult to compete on some level over the regular season against the tiny number of teams that do spend like that. But you can still get into the playoffs as long as there aren't two teams like that in your division (and now that the Red Sox are scaling back there aren't) and once in the playoffs spending like a madman doesn't afford you a big enough advantge. Plus there is enough variability that even spending a ton of money doesn't guarantee anything in the regular season.  Players fail out of nowhere and get injured. Spending money is just increasing odds of wins, not giving them to you. You spend a lot more for a little return.

So what's the point of all this? The point of all this is the more we let owners off the hook, the more they feel empowered to spend less. Things get worse, your odds decrease, and you just buy into it. You have to make noise. Yell, kick, scream and remind the owners you know they could be giving you a better team. It's not that they can't sign, it's that they choose not to. That whatever their plan is of trying to win the most by spending the least, it better work or else there will be hell to pay (well, as much hell as a bunch of fans can make). That's the point.

Thursday, November 06, 2014

Offseason Position Discussion : Relief Pitching

Presumed Plan :  The closer will be Storen. The set-up man will be Clippard. As of now would expect Stammen, Barrett, Thorton and Blevins will all have roles, with Barrett likely to transition to the all-important SABR-maddening "7th inning guy" role. As discussed before Treinen is likely the long reliever, but could transition into a pen role. If so, expect to see Jordan in long relief.

Detwiler is likely a payroll casuality, but if not it pushes the long-relief guy to AAA. Xavier Cedeno or Rafael Martin could find themselves in the pen.

Reasoning on Presumed Plan : The Nats pen, like the starters, were very very good last year. Over the course of the season Soriano lost his closer role to Storen (1.12 ERA, 0.976 WHIP) and thus lost any chance the Nats would pick up his super expensive option. Clippard (2.18, 0.995) has performed well in set-up for years now. Barrett (2.12, 1.157) is the next in line for those end of the game roles. These are set.

Stammen (3.84, 1.266) is the Nats catch-all guy, getting single outs and more often pitching multiple innings.  He slipped a little in performance last year but not enough to upset his role. Thorton was perfect with the Nats and had a good year overall (1.75, 1.139) and the Nats need at least one lefty arm. Blevins had an off year (4.87, 1.238) but performed well as a lefty stopper and gives the Nats another lefty arm.

Ross Detwiler (4.00, 1.413) has pitched poorly the past couple years after dealing and recovering from a few injuries and pitched only twice after the 17th of September. He is one of the more expensive of the relief pitchers at 3M+ next year and given that his role is now undefined it's likely that he's to be either let go or traded.

His spot had pretty much already gone to Treinen (3.02. 1.279), who spent most of the year starting and got most of the spot starts. You'd figure he'd take the long-relief role in the pen. There has been talk of transitioning him to a more traditional pen role so if that were to happen the next logical person to step into long relief would be Taylor Jordan (4.76, 1.429). He was fighting for a 5th spot last year and had five starts himself but had a rough season which likely puts him into AAA again. 

If the Nats are into saving money and let more than just Detwiler go, either lefty Xavier Cedeno (2.53 , 0.950) or righty Rafael Martin (1.39, 0.806) could be the final part of the April 2015 pen.

Problems with Presumed Plan : The pen has been together for a while so it is getting older with no one under 27 next year. Stammen is slowing down (his K rate was well down), Barrett is an unknown (last year was first year), and Blevins had become a LOOGY after being effective against all batters in previous years. So, along with Thorton's age, there could be a significant drop-off.

The pen is also on the expensive side as it lacks those players early in their career. Clip, Storen, Thorton, Blevins, and Stammen will combine to cost the Nats roughly 18-19 million by my back of the envelope calculations. That's not chump change for a team that is looking to potentially sign some important cogs long term.

In long relief - it's always a question of how guys react to the role after being starters most of their career. Jordan seemed rattled by that possibility. Treinen was ok last year but his role wasn't as defined.

Also - Storen as the closer going into the playoffs will be a big question mark.

My take : The pen is good. Yes it is older but other than Thorton, who will be 38 next year, the oldest will be Blevins who at 31 this September is not at an age where you worry about abrupt drop-offs. So they ain't young but the ain't old either. The Nats have 2 shut-down arms. If they can find one more that should be enough to maintain the "good" status. So if Thorton has another good year, or Blevins bounces back, or Barrett keeps it up, that'll do.

The expense? Well that's just doing business. Plus there isn't any long term issues here. Thorton will likely not be re-signed and Clippard will likely walk cutting 10+ million from that chunk of salary for 2016. If the Nats can't dig into their pockets for one more year, if say they look to deal Clippard or Thorton, they don't deserve a decent pen.

Does Detwiler deserve to go? Probably not, but it's not a big loss for the Nats. Unfortunately if they do sell they are selling low (I still think Detwiler has some back of the rotation potential) but sellers they are. Treinen in long relief should be fine. Especially because there is a sense that he could be starting next year. It's not the plan mind you, but there are several ways it could work out that he's the #5 in April 2016, so he has something to pitch for.

Storen in the playoffs... we'll worry about it then.

Outside the Box Suggestion : Based on Matt Williams post-games there isn't a lot of room for outside the box usage patterns. Storen is his closer, Clippard his 8th, someone will be his 7th. You could deal Clippard, he is expensive and will likely go somewhere next season where he at least has the possibility of closing, but what good will that do? You aren't going to get a good young reliever back, you aren't going to sign an expensive reliever, and you have questions in the pen behind Clippard. All you've done is create a hole.

So instead go all in to create that Royals-esque back of the pen. Sign Andrew Miller to a silly 1 year deal. Like 1 year 12 million or something. Being one year and only being 30 it shouldn't effect his long-term signability beyond 2015. Install him firmly as the 8th inning guy and let him know he has first crack at closing if Storen struggles (as if the Nats ever gave a damn about Clippard) giving him potential to really maximize his value. If he gets a better offer elsewhere - try the same thing with Gregerson.
One place the Nats showed weakness in the playoffs in comparison to other playoff teams was the pen. That was due in part to the timing of Soriano's collapse and in part to the rigidness of Williams mind. Taking the decision making away from him in the last 3 innings, might be the way to go.

Tuesday, November 04, 2014

Offseason Position Discussion : Starting Pitching

Presumed Plan :  In some order : Strasburg, Zimmermann, Fister, Roark, and Gonzalez.  I'd guess... ZNN, Stras, Gio, Fister, Roark next year, if that stuff matters to you.

Spot starting duties will likely fall to Blake Treinen who had the better 2014, but Taylor Jordan and Ross Detwiler remain possibilities. It is likely that for a multi-month injury replacement AJ Cole would be given his shot.

Reasoning on Presumed Plan : Must we?

Fine. The Nats pitching staff had the best starting staff in the major last year with a combined ERA of 3.04 (1st) and WHIP of 1.14 (1st), thanks to a crazy low 1.90 BB/9. They didn't just keep the guys off base though. They held opponents to a majors-low .657 OPS and had the 5th best K/9 rate.

Unlike the Dodgers, who's staff stats were propped up by one phenomenal performance, each of the Nats starters were on some level good.  You could argue that the Nats top 4 all pitched well enough to be a #1 starter on some team, certainly no worse than a #2. Zimmermann was in the "OK if Kershaw couldn't get it who would you give the Cy Young to" discussion. Fister led the team in ERA. Strasburg led the league in strikeouts and despite the disappointment of not being dominating, was still impressive. Roark was a revelation, keeping men off base and balls in the park a half-step behind what Zimmermann was doing.

The odd man out, Gio Gonzalez, put up a 3.57 ERA, struck out 9.2 per nine and had a HR/9 rate that was lowest amongst all starters. Short of it : the Nats "#5" would be gladly taken as the #3 on most teams in the majors.

They are all under contract for 2015, underpaid, and the oldest (Fister) is 31 next year.  We're in "set-it and forget-it" land.

As for the back-ups, Blake Treinen had the best 2014 both in the minors and majors to put himself in the driver's seat for the long-relief/spot start role. However, they may prefer to start transitioning Blake to a full-time relief role, which his stuff seems suited for. If that's the case, Taylor Jordan might get that spot start spot. He has more of a full arsenal and had been in the 5th starter mix before Roark ran away with it. His 2014 was a mixed bag of failure, injury and recovery. Ross Detwiler, who had been in this role most of 2014 fell out of favor with the team after his second mediocre year in a row. He'd probably make tempting trade bait for someone banking on him being a victim of mis-use. But still the Nats may want the spot starter to be a lefty to counteract the right heavy rotation. Thus Detwiler, who's still cheap, remains in the mix.

AJ Cole is unlikely to play this role, as they prefer to get him starter innings in the minors. He wasn't as wowing as he was ending 2013 in AA, but he was sufficiently good in enough in AA in 2014 to deserve promotion where he maintained that level of performance in AAA. If he's doing well in AAA and someone goes down with a long-term injury, expect to see Cole, as he's likely to get first shot at the rotation hole left by either (or both) of ZNN and Fister leaving at year's end. 

Problems with Presumed Plan : There is some indication, fancy stats-wise, that a couple guys were getting lucky.  Fister had one of the highest LOB% in the majors, while having an unimpressive strikeout rate. Roark wasn't far behind. The HR/FB rates for ZNN, Gio, and Roark were all on the low side for both the league and themselves. Then end result is it's likely that you'd project significant increases in ERA from ZNN, Fister and Roark.

On the health side, there isn't much to worry about but Gio and Fister both missed month long chunks of time and Roark, at age 27 just threw more innings than he ever had in his career. How his body reacts to that in 2015 will be something to keep an eye on.

The biggest issue with the presumed plan is that it's a one year deal. Fister and Zimmermann both could bolt after 2015. The Nats have yet to offer a market-deal to a pitcher which makes the chances very unlikely both sign and worries fans that neither will. If both leave the Nats could be left filling in two rotation spots with young pitchers (Cole? Giolito?) who haven't had any major league experience because there hasn't been a place for them on the roster. Right now there is no long-term plan in place.

My take : Of course you start these 5. I do remain concerned that Roark has potential to be significantly worse in 2015 and that the Nats are due to get bit by the injury bug at some point but you can't argue with bringing back all 5 pitchers from the best staff top to bottom in the majors.

The truth is the staff could pitch 20% worse next year and still fight for a Top 10 spot in the majors. They are that good. Of course the Nats have only run away and hid with the division when the starters have carried the team, so I'd expect more of a fight next season as they drop back again to merely "very good". You can't blame the pitching staff for that, though. 

As for the long-term plan for the rotation that's a big question. I don't think it'll effect 2015 results but it needs to be decided one way or another. Personally I think Zimmermann is the guy to keep. However, he seems the most interested in maximizing his value and frankly the Nats do have 2 pitchers that they expect to need a trial run at starting in the next couple of years. Given that, I don't think we see ZNN signed, even though I'd love to.  Instead I think we see Desmond and Fister signed.

Outside the Box Suggestion : This is the Nats strength. They have 5 starters and in Cole and Giolito they have two guys who project to fit into a major league rotation in some way. The problem is there isn't too much exciting behind these two which leaves the Nats to the FA market or re-signing Strasburg and Gio when their contracts run their course. (not to mention relying on Roark during this entire stretch).

So if you're not into the above plan, it makes sense to deal now from the strength.  But for what? MI help is very hard to come by, there isn't a team ready to compete that needs one more pitcher and has a glut of worthy MI that would make a ideal trade partner for say a ZNN or Fister. It's just not there. On the same level a lot of those MI prospects are so highly thought of that it would be hard to get them for a Strasburg. I've looked them up and down but I'll run into a guy and just talk myself out of it one way or another. I think Mookie Betts would fit well, but I also think the Red Sox (well at least those surrounding the Red Sox) have bought the hype with him, in part because neither Bogaerts or Bradley Jr showed well this year. Someone has to pan out right?

So my out of the box suggestion is to do exactly what we fear. Let Fister and ZNN walk. Promote Cole and Giolito next year. Rely on Strasburg, Roark, and Gio moving forward. Use that money to sign Kenta Maeda (who's skill set fits exactly with the Nats heavy GB strategy),  Jose Fernandez (the Cuban defector 2B), or Moncada or Olivera or Tomas. Throw money at the international market as it's probably the best bet in staying young and extending the window without breaking the bank.