Nationals Baseball: Additional Thoughts

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Additional Thoughts

Some additional thoughts (geez it's like you can't read the headline)

I said Tyler Clippard got a lot of work - what does that mean?  

Well it means he appeared in more games than anyone since becoming a full time reliever in 2010. 371 games, just outpacing Matt Belisle's 368.  It's about 20% more appearances than the 30th guy on the list.  He's faced more batters than any pure reliever (a couple relievers with a handful of starts have more - like Stammen!) and given that his control has not always been the greatest he's thrown more pitches than any reliever during this time by far. 6533 for Clippard to 6098 for 2nd place Belisle.

Do I think that this means Clippard is going to break down? Not immediately no. He threw a lot more in 2010 and 2011 than the past 3 years, and I've always liked relievers who started out as starters as far as durability goes. Clippard spent 5 years (2003-2008) in the minors as a starter. But he'll be 30 this year which means his next contract will be either 31-33 or 31-34, years where I feel the risk of injury starts to really pick-up.

Why do you think Yuney will not be great/terrible at defense? 

Because that's what you usually see. Defensive stats are notoriously iffy when it comes to yearly evaluation. There's a number of reasons for that but the simplest way to think about it is evaluation of good defense can only occur if enough balls are hit to you in a certain spot. Not just that enough balls are hit to you, because if they are all hit right at you (or hit to spots no one could reach) we don't learn anything. They have to be hit in spots that some players can reach but others cannot.  You have a bad week when you have a half-dozen of these hit your way and your D can come out looking bad. This is why they say look at 3 years of data. More data to evaluate.

Ok so specific to Yunel he had always not just been good but really good before last year. If we look at rolling 3-year average Defense stats from fangraphs we get 8.9, 8.0, 9.0, 11.5. You'll have to trust me those numbers are good. So last year's plummet to a -11 looks fishy. It's doubtful he's become a terrible fielder overnight.

That being said it's also doubtful he'll bounce right back. This guy over at Athletics Nation looked at comparables when Yunel got there and only found one example of a guy bouncing back to provide stellar defense and that guy was 25. Yunel is not 25 (he's 32). So while these comparisons are all over the place the take away is that he's probably going to be ok, but there isn't a good reason to think he'll be great again. It's fluky that he looked so bad, but it's not fluky he got worse.

This is important because if Yunel provides average D and gives his usual just below average bat that's where he'll provide enough additional production over theoretical Espinosa to make the deal worthwhile. If he gives below average D and the bat maybe slips a bit? It's a wash and a waste.

Who takes over for Clippard? 

My initial guess is Thornton does. Veteran guy. Did well last year. Nats have another lefty (Blevins) to handle the rarely necesssary but often used LOOGY role. However I don't expect that role to last as last year was an oddly good season for Thornton and he'll be 38 next year. Who do I expect to end the season there? Either a converted Treinen or Aaron Barrett. Both will probably get a lot of later inning work, whoever shines brightest will win out.

So good right! Someone shines bright and replaces Clip. Easy peasy. Except we don't know how long it will take and previously if one of these guys shines bright they give the Nats a killer arm to use before the 8th inning. Now unless both do there's a meh arm being used more than it would have been. The loss cascades. Hopefully you have enough RP depth that the shift up doesn't put a bad reliever in an important role. Right now I'm not so sure that won't be the case

 Do you think this is about money? 

Hard to see otherwise right now. You can argue that the Nats are a little better today then they were yesterday with Escobar instead of Clippard. But if it was solely about getting better there were ways of doing that without shedding Clippard. The Rays wanted to trade Escobar and would have done it probably for a moderate prospect or two, or you could sign someone like Asdrubal (1 year 5 million). That way the Nats would be better with no argument necessary. The problem for someone with that way is that it costs the Nats more money. This way they save 9 million.

Now maybe they use those cost savings in other ways... but I doubt it. Still, I promised benefit of the doubt until the season starts so I'll hold off on any harsh criticism.

Any other notes? 

Yeah three things I mentioned last night on Twitter (at harpergordek if you must know)
  1. In trading Clippard and Detwiler and letting Soriano walk the Nats let go of their relievers who pitched the 2nd, 3rd and 4th most innings totaling up to nearly 200. That's a LOT of innings to replace in general. It's even harder when you remember that Clippard was great, Soriano was very good for most of the season, and Detwiler was not terrible. This can't be corrected by throwing just anyone into the pen
  2. Taking it a step further, this upcoming offseason both Blevins and Thornton are FA and will likely go off to greener pastures. That's 5 important relievers from the end of 2014 not being on the team in 2016. It's hard to argue with any of the individual decisions to let these guys walk but as a whole it's worrisome.
  3. Let's not forget that Storen did not perform well in the playoffs again and has been known to let that affect his pitching. He also hasn't been the healthiest guy. If something happens to him... this could get ugly fast


Chinatown Express said...

There's another wrinkle we're not talking about: We're all assuming that, for 2015 at least, Escobar will be playing 2B. How should we expect that to affect his defensive performance? Do converted SSs usually perform comparatively better at 2B because it's an easier position, or do they suffer because of learning pangs? He'll have all of spring training to learn.

Harper said...

I'd imagine they do better, but I have no facts to back that up. slightly less ranging to do (since SSs will take most up the middle balls) but a different position so it will highlight different skills (or lack there of)

Chinatown Express said...

Do we have any idea what Escobar's problem was defensively in 2014? Throwing errors? Bobbles? Errors called due to Hispanophone homophobic slurs?

cass said...

Clippard is a good fit for OCo.

Chinatown Express said...

Thanks cass.

Answering my own question a little bit, it looks like Escobar's big defensive problem is range. He's sure-handed and makes throws reliably. So 2B may not be the worst place for him.

Harper said...

CXp - injuries primarily. Escobar isn't a fast guy, never has been, so it's likely his great D is based off of great initial jumps and a great arm. Hurt both leg and shoulder last year.

cass - early predicition - All-Star closer this year.

Bjd1207 said...

If his big problem was range, that makes me even more optimistic that he'll succeed (or at least not fail) at 2B.

It was noted a few times last year that when Rendon moved over to 3rd, Desi slid closer to the middle. Zim loves to play on the lip of the grass, and even at depth he was usually 1 or 2 steps shallower than most 3B. He had stellar reactions and used that distance to increase his effective range (think like a goalie on a penalty kick coming out from the line). Rendon plays more traditionally, a couple more steps back and of course he's got the young legs so his range is much better than Zims. That means Desi doesn't have to cheat over to 3rd, pushing him closer to the middle. Which means in turn that 2B doesn't have as much range to cover as Rendon usually did

Section 222 said...

As I understand it, a one year deal with Cabrera at that price wasn't an option for us. He took it with TBR, it is reported or speculated, because he was told that he could play SS.

Jay said...

The most troubling thing is that the Lerner's look to be cheap, and I mean cheap. Sure the payroll will be 140 million this year. That is primarily because of the development of the players on the team. They have signed Jayson Werth and Ryan Zimmerman to big contracts. That is it. If they don't sign anyone to an extension they will be letting a lot of homegrown stars walk. That includes, Znn, and Desmond next year. Storen, Strasburg, Stammen the year after. Then Harper is coming up. Thinking that we can let Znn, and Fister, and Strasburg all walk and we'll make it all up through the farm system is just stupid. Payroll is down to like 80 million in two years - bc all of those arbitration eligible players become free agents. So if the Lerner's sign no one to an extension, then they are cheap.

I don't want to hear the it's not my money. Of course it isn't. I'm not worth 2-3 billion either. They are the second wealthiest owners in baseball behind the Dodgers. It's time the Nats stop acting like the Rays.

Plus if they keep it up they'll need a GM too, bc there is no way Rizzo sticks around if all of those players are allowed to walk.

Pescado said...

Sorry, Harper, but I’m going to quibble with you. You’re right about Clippard’s 2014 performance --- he was great. But Soriano wasn’t “very good for most of the season.” He was great for exactly half of the season, and terrible for exactly half the season. The only reason he pitched those final 30 innings was because he was getting paid $11MM and baseball teams aren’t particularly into the economic concept of sunk cost. Detwilers 63IP were at replacement level. So that 200IP is really 100 great innings, and 100 innings at below replacement level. I’m not saying that Clippard is super easy to replace, but, on the whole, I don’t think that it’s a very difficult challenge for a major league GM. Remember, they paid $15MM for those 200IP last season. You can do similarly for a fraction of the cost.

NotBobby said...

The other thing I haven't seen mentioned yet, although I may have missed it is - How does this affect Storen. We know Storen was affected by his demotion and the signing of Soriano. We know Clip is his best friend and roommate who stood up for him though his trials and tribulations. Does Storen take a step back without his friend and roommate on the team?

Anonymous said...

After marinating on this trade a bit, I think its a 'build quality depth' and bet that rizzo can come up with another reliever before the season and/or at the trade deadline.

This is probably an impossible question to answer during the offseason, but might MW be able to improve or at least manage yunel's character? Seems like an area that the 'hardass former big-leager' type manager might do better than a by the numbers tactician.

KO said...

Espn just ran a story saying the Nats are a possible landing spot for Scherzer so they can trade away Znn. Why wouldn't they just sign Znn to a slightly cheaper deal to what Scherzer would make if they were willing to pay that much?

Harper said...

BJD - I like the theory still we have to see Zimm adjust and Ian's range has been coming down. It could go either way but I'm not too worried (really I'm more worried about the potential OF D)

Sec 222 - possible, of course that only holds water if Ian isn't dealth (I dont' think he will be)

Jay - It's like hearing me talk. IMO - If you don't want to spend near the top of your league (and the market is fine) I'm not sure you should be a owner. If you don't want spend near the top when you have a lot of talent you can keep to keep you competitive, I'm SURE you should be an owner.

Still... patience... let's see who is kept and who walks.

Pescado - ok you are being way harsh on Soriano - he WAS really good from the beginning of the season unitl mid-August, it was only the last 14 innings that the wheels came off. (July looks bad but that is all one horrific outing). I'm fine with Detwiler being called replacement level (though I think with a more structred role he would have been better - always had been).

So yeah to better put it let's say 118 (clips 70 + first 48 of Soriano) very very good innings need to be replaced and 80 replacement level inning need to be replaced to match last year. sure the 80 can be done by almost anyone - if not door #1 surely by the time you got to door #3. But those 118? The 5th and 6th most used relievers last year were Blevins and Storen. They combined for 113 innings. You basically have to come up with 2 really good relievers.

I'll agree finding one should be doable for a GM over the course of a season. But Finding 2 so that they pitch for most of the season. That's a lot harder.

Not saying any of these moves are wrong but it sets up a problem that's not going to be as easy to resolve as I think people think it is. But hell I could be wrong. I'm here not there.

NotBobby - who knows. My guess is no but the guy is an enigma with a mouthy dad.

Anon - doubt it legend Bobby Cox didn't like him, beloved John Farrell didn't control him, iconoclast Maddon didn't seem to work, don't see why Williams would

Anonymous said...

At NatsFest Rizzo said, "Cole may help us as soon as this season out of the bullpen.

Donald said...

@KO -- I think the rationale in signing Scherzer is that in that scenario, they end up with Scherzer + whatever they can get in trade for Znn which should be pretty decent. If they just sign Znn, they don't get anything else. Of course, they give up the draft pick with Scherzer, but they probably aren't as concerned about that for next year given they may get it back if Desmond or Fister leaves.

I think another component is that Rizzo drafted Scherzer originally. He presumably likes him a lot, so he may actually think Scherzer is the better pitcher.

blovy8 said...

Biggest problem with this is Escobar isn't a 2b yet. I can imagine Rizzo signing another reliever like F-Rod if the price is decent. Maybe Thornton is veterany enough, but he seems to like those guys. It's interesting to think of all these guys motivated to do well going into free agency, too.

John C. said...

My head likes this trade, my heart hates it. I'll miss Clippard - a twitchy, finger-lickin' mass of tics and neuroses and an "invisi-ball" changeup. And he seems like a good (and goofy, which is to his credit IMHO) guy. I wish him well in life and in baseball.

That said, Rizzo doesn't care about the heart; he's a stone cold calculator. He clearly studied the greats (Branch Rickey: "It's better to trade a player a year too early than a year too late"). Year after year Rizzo trades or lets go beloved players and whinging ensues. Adam Dunn. Michael Morse. Sean Burnett. Yes, even Bonifacio. And time after time, in hindsight, Rizzo comes out looking good. But it never takes - the next player moved, Rizzo is once again assumed to have not just erred, but done so idiotically.

Everyone here sees a bunch of Tyler Clippard being taken by a bunch of other relief pitchers. Fair enough. I see 500-600 plate appearances not involving Danny Espinosa. Works for me. They are going to lose a couple of games because they don't have Clippard. They're also going to win more games because they're not relying on Espinosa.

The additional years of cost-effective control over Escobar are a nice bonus. This trade doesn't mean that Desmond is being traded - it's hard to see how another team will offer enough to make that worth the Nats' while. Nor does it preclude his being extended. But the idea that by giving the team a fallback option in case Desmond walks is insulting/alienating Desmond is just stupid. It's more due diligence.

DezoPenguin said...


Let's face it, every time a beloved player leaves the team, it hurts right in the warm fuzzies. That's why people don't believe in Rizzo (that plus bad decisions like bringing in Frandsen or starting last year without a 2B plan of any kind or largely leaving the bench up to luck every year) or Beane (last year's whining over trading Cespedes from A's fans was amazing to behold).

blovy8 said...

The Nats are getting up their arbitration guys signed really quickly this offseason. Cost control seems to really be a factor, I just wish the MASN deal wasn't still dragging out.