Nationals Baseball: Nightmare!

Wednesday, February 11, 2015


This nightmare scenraio, the Nats to miss the playoffs next year (without injury), would have deeper implications than just 2015.  It would mean that in the 4 year window where the Nats were arguably the best team in baseball, they would have made the playoffs twice and never made it past the first round. There's no good way to spin that as a positive. This nightmare scenario doesn't condemn Rizzo (despite the Strasburg decision, anyone want to argue the talent isn't here?) or the Lerners (weren't big spenders to start, they at least bought in to 2015) but it'll be real tough on Matt Williams who will have missed the playoffs with a better team than Davey missed with. How can he be kept around? (Answer : the missed playoffs was not a reason to get rid of Davey but an excuse - but they can't say that).  It also would bear poorly for the upcoming seasons where the Nats were expected to remain competitive.

Ok let's head down the deep dark path shall we?  

First let's set the base - how good were the Nats last year? The answer is... pretty damn good. Checking out B-Pro's adjusted standings (3rd order) the Nats were a 97 win team in a vacuum.  We'll start with that. We do have to bump up some totals too, due to injuries. We can't have Ramos or Zimm play full seasons with their history but 120 games is reasonable. That's about 2 more wins. Plus Bryce will play a bit more.  3 more wins? 100 win team? Yikes. This team is really good under the "everyone is healthy" caveat. 

Now we need to factor in the Scherzer replacing Roark. Roark was good but Scherzer is around 2 wins better. 102 wins? Yikes a second time. That's not exactly where the Nats will end up - we have to factor in the losses but again, damn this team is really good.

We can finally start moving back down. Can't really argue for dropping Ramos outside of injury. Zimmerman, too, we're also being more than fair with. Zimm does replace LaRoche or more accurately Yuney replaces LaRoche in the scheme of things. That could be a lost win. 101 wins. Desmond could continue to slide especially as age catches up with him in the field. Let's say another lost win there. 100 wins.  Rendon is still a young enough player that you can question his performance last year. We're not going to make him terrible but you can knock two wins off easy. Still a good player, just not All-Star level.  We're at 98 wins now!

In the outfield I think my guess on Bryce here is fair enough. Werth has an injury and while we can't carry into this a loss of playing time, we can remember how bad he was the last time he had a major injury. Remember I'm not predicting this injury, it happened, so no rule breaking here. Different body parts sure but let's go ahead and say he plays but he's 3 wins worse. Could happen. You'd like to do something similar to Span but the truth is he wasn't that far out of line overall last year. Let's knock him just one win. 94 wins. That's still a solid division winner.

The bench wasn't anything special last year. It had ups and downs... I'm not going to do anything here just yet.

Starting pitching? ZNN, Stras and Max were all at the top of their games last year, and while Fister didn't pitch as well as his stats showed, he got all the luck. They could each be a win worse and still be good pitchers. If you think I'm being harsh here this is pretty much what happened between 2012 and 2013. Everyone was awesome in 2012, took a step back in 2013 and the team wasn't good enough to absorb that drop. Pitching was still really good, but the team needed great. Gio has potential to be better but I don't know. I think anyone watching him last year thought he was trending in the wrong direction. That's just a feeling but that's good enough for this scenario. Another win away. 89 wins.  A couple more wins away from being home in October. Can we get there from the bullpen alone?

That's tough. Surely it's down losing Clippard and Soriano but Janssen adds some value and the bullpen isn't likely to be overall that impactful, you know. I'd rather say a 1 win worse than 2. 88 wins. Hmmm 88 wins could miss the playoffs but I like 87 wins better, given that three 88 win NL teams have made the Wild Card game in 3 seasons. What the hell, 2 wins worse. 87 wins.

OK I think by now you've gotten the point though. To miss the playoffs (without injury) this team has to have EVERYTHING go wrong and nothing go right but player health. No one gets better. You can't have it. The base talent is too high.

Missing the playoffs without injury is almost unreasonable. I think you can gash huge win amounts from the team fairly. I think you can say the whole pitching staff and the pen will take a step back. They wouldn't be bad in that case. They wouldn't even be average. They'd still be Top 10 good. That's how good they were last year. In fact I think it's quite reasonable to assume that they will lose something from the pitching. Is 2 wins or 6 I don't know, but something. I think that the Werth guess is quite possible given his injury and saying Rendon is a question mark and knocking him for it, again he'd still be good, is fair. All in all that could be 9-10 wins lost.

But that would still put the Nats around 93 wins and now you get into having nothing else go right. Bryce doesn't break out. Zimm doesn't flourish with the bat at first. Escobar is just as bad as last year. Desmond doesn't at least hold his own in a contract year. The bench doesn't surprise. That's a lot of things that need to, while not "go wrong", they need to "not go right".

I think the most reasonable scenario the Nats fans should worry about is that the pitching steps back, Werth is really hurt, Rendon can't match last year and then either the Marlins or Mets are surprisingly good.  I think missing the playoffs is too much but having New York or Miami pull a Nats 2012 and go from "should challenge for playoffs" to "magical division winning ride" would be potentially enough to knock the Nats into the Wild Card and no one wants to be there. I'm not betting on it, but if you want something to keep you up at night during a slow April start this would be it.


Donald said...

I know it's outside of your rules, but really, the only way the Nats miss the playoffs next year is through injuries -- and probably more than one. Say, Rendon has a significant leg injury and they try to shift Zimm back to 3rd where his arm is exposed while a struggling TyMo plays 1B. Or they shift over Escobar and have to start Danny at 2B for a long stretch. Couple that with an injury to Harper, leaving them no lefty bats to speak of outside of Span, and maybe you can get there. But you'd probably still need injuries in the pitching staff.

The problem for the Nats, though, is that they've had significant injuries every year. Maybe they are due for some pitchers to get hurt and who would really be surprised if Zimm, Werth, Harper, Ramos or Rendon missed time given their histories?

mark twain said...

Harper with 87 wins we could still win the division as I do not see the mets or marlins winning 88. Not only does everything have to go wrong for us everything has to go right for them to win the division.

cass said...

I appreciate the exercise, but this pretty much demonstrates that it's the injuries that we need to worry about. That's what will keep us up at night. Plenty of players on this team are injury risks - almost every single player on this team is more of an injury risk than the average player, actually.

Let's go around the diamond:

Zimmerman - He won't be at third, and that should help, but he has a very long history of injuries still.

Escobar: Wasn't his down year last year blamed on injuries?

Desmond: Okay, got nothing here. He's rock solid health-wise.

Rendon: He had terrible injuries his last year of college and first (lost) year in the minors. He's been healthy the last two years, but still an above-average injury risk.

Harper: The way he plays and the damage already done to his body make him an above-average risk.

Span: Concussions.

Werth: Long history of injuries and he's even older than I am and he's currently recovering from surgery. Huge injury risk.

Ramos: Huge injury risk.

Scherzer: Tons and tons of innings on that arm and he's on the wrong side of thirty. Above-average injury risk.

Strasburg: Last year was his first ever completely healthy season. Above-average injury risk.

Zimmermann: Probably about an average injury risk for next year.

Fister: Wrong side of 30. Lot of innings, but not as many as

Scherzer I imagine.. But pretty durable. Average or below-average risk of injuries.

Gio: Probably about average. Has never had any major problems, the innings haven't been too bad.


So the pitching isn't too bad. There will probably one full season missed between the five of them, but there's Roark. Okay, that's fine.

The position players scare me. No backups, really, other than what, Michael Taylor? Desmond is the only guy who's not an injury risk. That's scary.

(I didn't look at any actual stats for this so I might have made a mistake. Feel free to steal this idea for a post, Harper.)

Harper said...

Donald - That's clearly the easier path than "Everyone who could get worse does and no one gets better" Rendon would be the big one I agree. Span could also be pretty bad if Taylor was horrible with the bat and couldn't hold onto a position. But you're right - one injury alone isn't going to do it.

Everyone has injuries though, pretty much. What the Nats have avoided is pitching injuries which are the worst because when you lose an P you can be forced to replace your best with your 6th best. Though for the Nats that isn't too bad with Roark in the holster.

Mark Twain - Eh I know it's possible (check out the 2007 standings) but I doubt 87 would win 89/90 maybe. They don't have to have everything go right to get to 88 but to get to 93+ maybe.

cass - if you want to be scared about injuries I'd go Rendon, Span, ZNN/Max/Stras (I like Roark but I do think that level of performance it's a bit of a one-year thing)

Bilbo said...

Thanks for doing this post. I'm so anxious for baseball that I went back and read Boswell's article after they signed Sherzer. I think as long as the pitching does what it is capable of then the rest likely doesn't matter. They have 5 guys that you could make an argument for as Cy Young candidates. If they can get on a roll then watch out. It's interesting to me that Rizzo is sort of going against group think with the way this team is built. It is primarily built around pitching. The offense is above average, but the pitching is elite. The Cubs have brought building around offense back into vogue. Look at the Padres and Astros. Both building teams around high K but possibly extra base hitting offense.
Anyway, I agree with the other posts that it is pretty much injuries that could get this team. However, they would have to be multiple players injured (3-5 players) and they had injuries last year and overcame them. I think that was MW's strength last year. He never let injuries become an excuse and kept the team focused on each series. Now hopefully he learned from the playoff experience.

JWLumley said...

Yeah, everything would have to be horrible for the Nats to not make the playoffs because none of this factors in that the Philthies and the Barves are going to be really bad, I mean really, really bad. You could make a case that'll be 2 of the worst 3 teams in baseball. If the Mets and Marlins are as expected 80-85 win teams that's 64 games against bad to mediocre competition. Toss in the fact that instead of AL West this year they get the AL East and their schedule is much easier than they faced last year. At the risk of going all Bob Carpenter serial jinxer this team could win 110 games a lot easier than they could lose 72.

Chaz R said...

Their talent level this year is truly awesome. It could be a historical year if they stay healthy.

Anonymous said...

Here's your nightmare scenario in a play: shallow pop down the line in left, Des and Rendon are drifting into each other to make the catch and Harper comes barreling in full speed from deep left.......end of season.

.....but that's not going to happen

Donald said...

@Chaos -- add to that, Strasburg is on the mound at the time and his head explodes.

Anonymous said...

The good news to your nightmare is Bryce will be chewing on his fingernails in RF and Werth is too afraid of spending time in jail for speeding again to get close to Rendon and Desi.

My nightmare scenario has Mike Morse hitting 30 homers and the Marlins winning the division.

Bilbo said...

I'm hoping the Marlins implode like usual and Loria blows up the team just in time for the 2017 All Star game. How did they get an All Star game???

Bilbo said...

The equivalent to what the Marlins did a few years ago is trading Span, Desmond, Fister, and Zimmermann at the trade deadline. Following that up with trading Strasburg, Sherzer, Ramos, and maybe Storen next offseason. Finish it off by firing Matt Williams. How did they get an All Star game again? How do they even still have a franchise? Worst thing of all - they have two World Series championships.

It's their pitching that worries me most for the Marlins. I think the Mets will be better than Miami, and I think the Braves will better than most think - still bad, and the Phils will be horrible.

We'll see.

Wally said...

This was a really interesting post. Forget the injuries, the playoffs/miss playoffs part, but just focus on two parts: Rendon puts up 2.5 WAR in 650 PAs. Let's say his defense trickles down to slightly below average, and his power bottoms out below .400. And Bryce puts up exactly the same numbers as 2014 over 600 PAs, with worrying platoon splits. Call it 2 WAR but now he is 4 seasons on without the 'breakout', and no obvious injury to blame it on.

The Nats make the playoffs but don't get to the Series, so they let JZ, Fister, Span and Desi go.

So how does everyone feel about 2016-2020 now?

Kind of anxiety-driven, but more interesting to think about than the 100 win scenario.

DezoPenguin said...

I think cass has it right. This exercise shows that basically the only way the Nats could reasonably miss the playoffs is to receive several serious injuries. Unless Roark turns back into a pumpkin, the starting pitching could sustain one serious injury without too much trouble, and the lineup is so solidly good that it can sustain having Lobaton, Espi, or Taylor/McLouth filling in for a while (particularly if the non-Taylor members of that group perform at pre-2014 levels) so long as we don't get several injuries at once.

Meanwhile, while it's possible to construct "dream" scenarios for the other teams that puts them up into contention (the Mets, Marlins, and Braves could all believably have excellent pitching), it's also quite even easier to see them collapsing: the Marlins, for example, could regress to awful if Stanton, Fernandez, and Latos don't come back cleanly from the injuries that they actually have and Morse doesn't hit like 2011. With the Mets, they're assuming Harvey comes back from TJ and is just as great as in 2013, Wheeler finally puts it all together, and deGrom is for real (if non-Nats fans refuse to believe Roark is going to be any good, why do we buy into deGrom's breakout?)

Ultimately, the NL East is *so* bad and the Nats are *so* stacked with talent that the nightmare scenario really is just "2014 Texas Rangers," where everybody in sight gets maimed, and that threat hangs above every team.

mark twain said...

As everyone has said the east is bad enough that one or two injuries will not kill us. If we have a pitching injury there is Roark, and by now the team is used to not having Ramos or Zimm. I am not buying that the mets can hit, and the marlins are hoping everyone comes back from injury just as good as before. My nightmare is Morse hits 30 home runs (probably not happening in that park) and Dan Haren pitches like a Cy Young candidate.

Harper said...

Bilbo - I'd argue Fister's Cy Young chances are... well not smoke and mirrors, maybe fog and a shiny reflective pot.

I'm not sure the pitching build was a philosophy or a unintended consequence. I think he knows he can get good pitchers for prospects because they cost so much that teams know they won't re-siqn and thus will deal with a couple years left. That's Gio. That's Fister. But that could also be relief pitchers and he hasn't dealt for those. And Scherzer wasn't his call... I think it's interesting where we ended up but not sure if it was a plan specific to pitching over offense.

JW - I don't see the Braves as being that bad. SP should be solid. I think Phillies will be worst but I wouldn't be surprised if D-backs and Rockies were worst two in one place.

AL East isn't a cake walk. There isn't a bad team in the bunch while the West gave the Nats the Astros and surprisingly the Rangers.

Chaz R - as we'll see tomorrow/ Friday! It's tough though. What can be better? Like significantly so? Not much

Chaos/Donald - Nick Johnson says "break a leg, boys" in pre-game. CURSED

Anon - Mike Morse won't hit 30. 25... maybe. Not 30.

Bilbo - because All-Star games are for getting new stadiums not team conduct. They won't have a franchise forever. But for the next 2 decades or so we're stuck with them.

Wally - Yeah, we focus so much on the pitching that the hitting that could be on display in 2017 is forgotten about. Span and Desi will be gone but also "better than the alternatives" Ramos and Yuney. Zimm and Werth will be two years older. If Taylor struggles (likely at first) or Turner doesn't develop fast or well (certainly possible) then the Nats will be expecting Rendon and Bryce to shoulder the load. Bryce is so young that you want to keep giving him chances but at some point you gotta stop.

Short of it is - yeah hope they both have great healthy years in 2015 because success in the next 3 years after than probably depends on them being great.

Dezo - I think you overrate the offense. They had a lot go right last year with the bats. Injuries didn't help but the bats were good.

Again - I don't think the NL East is so bad. Do the Nats have a true challenger? No but the Mets and Marlins should be at least .500 good and possibly better and the Braves won't be bottom of the barrell bad. I guarantee it. It's a division the Nats should take easily but it isn't a division the Nats will fatten up on.

Anonymous said...

The nightmare are the Marlins playing injury free and up to expectations...not exceeding them. In particular Mike Morse who when injury free has been very productive.

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