Nationals Baseball: Monday : A Boz too far

Monday, March 30, 2015

Monday : A Boz too far

I always want to open these types of posts with "Nobody loves Boz more than me", but of course that isn't close to true. I imagine thousands upon thousands of DC area residents have more affection toward the man and his writing. That said, I do think he's a very very good writer and much more willing to look at baseball in new ways than most of his generation. Still, there are times where his unofficial role as Nationals Cheerleader / Mouthpiece goes a bit too far and a couple examples popped up the last few days.

First was the column which can be summed up as "The Nats are awesome!"  The conceit of the article was as follows:
The Nats were basically an expansion team when they came to DC and the fact they got good so quickly is amazing. And they have a bright future which is even more amazing. 
It's true... mostly. But it's the "Where's the sunnyside? Here? You call this bright? Paint everything glossy white and bring in some mirrors!" take that Boz can put out there sometimes.

First off the Nats were not an expansion team. That seems like a silly distinction to make, but it isn't. (Boz himself makes it - then says "ehhhh best I can do" which really isn't the case but hey) Yes, the year before the Nats had middling major legaue talent and a terrible farm system. But an an expansion team has no major league talent and no farm system. They build it all from scratch. It's not fair to compare the Nats to that. For example, Baseball America ranked the Nats minor league talent at 26th coming into 2005. That's bad, but certainly not the worst. What were the Nats then? A bad team with a bad farm system. There are a handful of these types of teams out there each year. They had special circumstances with the gutting of minor league system guys, not players, but workers, but still not an expansion. Doesn't compare. Don't do it.

But let's say you can overcome the sanity that would keep you from making that comparison. What exactly does Boz say?

"14 expansion teams. Five took forever to get to 90 wins" PAUSE

That's true but is it a case of arbitrary endpoints? ... Nope! Took them all a long time to get to around a 90 win team. Now you can make the case that a team like the Angels were actually good very quickly but not 90 win good, more like .500 good, but that's not what Boz was saying so we'll give him this. You win this round Boz!

"Two were pretty much terrible for 7 years" PAUSE

Ok I'm sure that's true too. Where are the other 7 though? You can't say
"the history of expansion teams is, with few exceptions, an utter horror show" 
using only 50% of expansion teams. Let's look into the other 7

Washington Senators/Texas Rangers : Bad for a long time. Why not bring them up? Probably thinks it would be bad luck.
NY Mets : Suddenly became a very good team around year 8 and remained pretty good for 5+ years.
Milwaukee : 90 wins in year 10, were a pretty successful team for 6 years, and didn't crater again for about 15 years.
Royals : Gold Standard. decent by year 3, division challenging by year 7, dominant 5 year run, wouldn't really start to get bad until 20+ years after getting good.
Blue Jays : got decent around year 6/7, would go 11 years with 86+ wins (9 with 89+)
Marlins : would buy their way to a WS in year 7, luck into one in year 11 but mostly built up to middling around 2000 and stayed there for a decade
Diamondbacks : bought a decent team immediately. Would win their division in year 2, WS in year 4. Odd times in the 12 seasons since then. In six they had from 76-84 wins, three seasons 51-65 wins, two 90+, with little rhyme or reasons on where the good and bad appear.

What would this tell us? Well it would tell us that four TRUE expansion teams (Mets, Royals, Brewers, Blue Jays) got good and stayed good for a while within 10 years of appearing. Two more (Dbacks and Marlins) proved you could win quickly. So at the very least about 30% of all expansion teams did something like the Nats, who again are not an expansion team, have done.

What's the real take away then? What the Nats have done is impressive, but it's far from obliteratively remarkable.


The second column was about the inevitable departures of ZNN and Strasburg and why that's a good thing.  You see it's good because "some in baseball" believe that a TJ elbow lasts around 8 years. This would put ZNN and Strasburg done around 2017 and 2018 respectively, smack in the early part of their next contracts. Second Tommy Johns are also much less successful than firsts. Let them walk!

Of course this doesn't make that much sense if you think about their drafting plans.  Lucas Giolito and Erick Fedde underwent the surgery too. If you really believe in that rough 8 year time table than Giolito should be done around 2020, and he bounced back to elite levels quickly. Essentially you are drafting guys who will give you not 6-7 years but 3-4 years. The cost is cheap for three to four great years sure but you have to factor in the draft pick not made. What's the opportunity cost for not drafting another player who might give you that longer period of play under team control?

So how do to reconcile this? It's is probably one part "these guys are younger maybe they'll give us more years after the first surgery" and eighty hundred parts "we really have little idea how long an elbow lasts after TJ, but we'll say 8 years because that fits with our plans of not re-signing these guys"


Both these columns, when you get down to it, are coming from the same place. "Don't worry about the Nats and the decisions they make, and potentially the drop in wins to come. They are in good hands and know what they are doing." Perhaps that's true. It feels true, even to a doubter like me. But it's also possible that they've reached the end point with the money they are willing to spend and are now trying to justify not signing guys. They are also trying to keep costs down by gambling on injury prone type players who may spend their careers failing to live up to expectations. Matt Purke isn't walking through that door and right now Anthony Rendon is limping through it.

We don't know. We won't know until it happens. To be positive is fine. To be only positive is sort of delusional.

21 comments:

Anonymous said...

Harper, I think you draw a false equivalence between the decision to draft and the decision to sign a pitcher to a long term deal worth $150M+. It's surely right to take opportunity cost into consideration when selecting a TJ or likely-TJ pitcher in the draft. But even factoring that in, the cost of a drafted pitcher having a second TJ surgery during the Arb years isn't nearly as high as signing a pitcher to a long-term deal who then blows his elbow out a second time. The latter is an enormous amount of dead money. The former is not good, but it doesn't hamstring the franchise from buying a replacement.

I think it would be a reasonable position for the franchise to allocate major free agent pitcher dollars to pitchers that have not had TJ surgery out of a concern about a second surgery. Sherzer may have TJ surgery in a year, he may decline, etc. That risk is inherent in all pitchers, especially those over 30. But the risk that he becomes a totally useless pitcher seems less than Z'nn or Stras.

It's not my money, so I want them to sign all the players. But I think Boz suggests a reasonable way to allocate dollars, and I disagree with you that the drafting strategy and the signing strategy are in tension.

Bjd1207 said...

From what we've seen so far this Spring, I think I'm bringing Cedeno and Thornton. Does Blevins deserve a spot? All 3 guys are out of options I just read so does it make sense to try and deal one?

Which two is everybody else including in the OD roster? And what do you do with the third?

Janssen also getting MRI so maybe bring all 3 of them with you up to NYM so they get a good look at them and then try to deal once Janssen's healthy again?

cass said...

Was wondering if you were gonna take this up. Bos's article on Zimm and Stras was terrible and full of logical fallacies and utter nonsense. He cites absolutely zero evidence (not even anecdotal!) for any of his points which makes me believe there's little to it. At very best, it's terribly argued.

Key problems:

Who says eight years? I find it incredibly suspicious that Boz can't name even a single pitcher who had a second Tommy John eight years after their first. More than that, how about pitchers of the last twenty years or so since the surgery and recovery have become more reliable?

But wait, Boz cites two Atlanta pitchers that had second Tommy Johns! And it took neither one of them nearly eight years for their elbows to blow out.

Yet Boz is somehow fully comfortable extrapolating the fact that they were done after their second Tommy Johns to hypothetical pitchers who go eight years pitching well and then need TJ again. Because these two pitchers who basically never recovered from their first TJ couldn't recover at all form their second, we should just assume that these other pitchers who need a second one after pitching well for years will also be doomed. Utter nonsense.

Specifically, Boz is saying quite explicitly that Zimmermann and Strasburg are greater injury risks than Scherzer and does not provide one iota of evidence to back up his case.

What is the history of pitchers who do not have Tommy John up through age 30? Do they often require it afterwards? Is their recovery history as rosy as the young pitchers that need it? Boz uses Strasburg, Zimmermann, and Giolito as examples of how first TJ is so successful, but isn't it entirely different to have it when you're 21 years old than to have it when you're 32?

And is there any reason to think that if Scherzer gets his first TJ at the age of 32 that he'll recover better than Strasburg would after his hypothetical second TJ at age 32?

Honestly, Harper, I think you are far too charitable towards Boz. I don't think he's a good writer and certainly not a good analyst. Perhaps he has some inside information as to what Rizzo & co. are thinking, which is why I read this article in the first place, but this is a very tight-lipped team and I'm not really sure that he's doing anything other than making uninformed guesses.

Donald said...

I tend to agree that the argument against resigning them sounds more like an after the fact justification. I think long-term contracts for pitchers are notoriously risky, regardless of whether or not the guy had a prior TJ. Is taking the chance on Scherzer that much less risky than it would be on Znn?

Also, aren't there insurance policies that teams can take out for this type of thing? I know that Scherzer had one in his last year before free agency to guard against injury. Can't a team take out a similar policy on a player after signing them?

Kevin Rusch said...

When you draft a TJ guy, it's not specifically true that you only expect 8 years out of him. It's that 8 years later is when he'll be reaching the end of team control, and if he's any good, you'll have to then guarantee him 4-8 years of money, at the risk of an immediate career-ending injury. If Giolito has his 2nd TJ in 7 years, he'd be in his (probably) 2nd or 3rd arb year, and you're just out his salary for 2022. But Jordan Zimmermann has a 2nd TJ in 2 years, someone's going to be out $140M.

Hoo said...

So doesn't the 8 year window make the Stras shutdown even more foolish?

Or is the Nats "strategy" maximimizing that perfect 3 year window which is far enough from TJ, under team countrol and less than 8 years?

This is silly Boz who is too much in the Rizzo tank.

Harper said...

Anon - I think they are in tension, but I don't think they are in opposition. For all the reasons you say I think you can justify these draft picks, but I think if it comes down to a strong cost/value proposition the potential longer healthy control would win out over the brief control (that you walk into understanding the talent may disappear immediately). Drafting is a risk, drafting a guy with the thought that there is a 90% chance his arm is ok, so we maybe get 3-4 years of MLB pitching... that's a diff't type of risk. I think it's too out of whack for what you give up. That's why I think this is mostly about Stras and ZNN leaving, I think the "8 year" junk is just mostly cover.

BJD - don't trust spring stats.

cass - I think you nail it at the end. This is just inside info passed off as a column (and inside info I think is more marketing than medicine) you're right there is a deeper work to be done here and there jave been so many TJs we could do it too. (and Boz should have at least tried)

Donald - have no idea about insurance.

KR - you are under team control usually 7 years after being brought up. Most guys don't hit that 8 years after draft. That's very quick. By my calcs Giolito should be under control the same as you figure 2022 but he should be at the 8 years of TJ in 2020. so that's 2 yrs on back end plus 3 years on front end developing...

I'm not saying it doesn't make fiscal sense straight up. Hell if it were just 2 years of good play it would probably make sense purely in money spent. But if you factor in the pick not made it makes less sense. A pick with more potential control that doesn't come in with a 10% of never being anything off the bat. That's worth more. That's what I can't get past

SO yes, if you believe it it makes sense not to resign, but drafting these guys... it's not as simple as "we'll get a few good years out of them cheap"

Hoo - yeah I thought about that. but maybe this is all part of some big picture things - 8 years after how we bring them back. or it could be just nonsense,.

JWLumley said...

Look, I'd totally agree that a pitcher who has had 1 TJ surgery is a bigger risk than one who hasn't, all things being equal, but 8 years...came straight out of someone's ass. It could be accurate, but so could any other number being pulled out of someone's ass. Boz is a dinosaur insulated from public opinion or rational thinking. Personally, I think eventually, espn.com will just assign beat writers to every team on a subscription basis and more newspapers will fold. Boz may be a great writer, but I've never had that special place in my heart for people like Boz or Vin Scully. Half the times Vin Scully can't get the players on the other team's name correct (like how he used to call Barry Bonds, Bobby Bonds all the time) and he's forever telling stories about some utility infielder from the 60's. It's just outdated. People have found a better way, so I don't bother reading it or listening to it most of the time. Whether it's Boz, or Jerry Crasnick or Murray Chase or whichever other Luddite you want to name. To me it's just like the old announcers, they're probably nostalgic for someone else, which is fine, but to me they're just bad. I'd much rather listen to someone like Krukow and Kuiper in San Francisco or Bob Uecker in Milwaukee or Charlie and Dave talk about people being eaten by their cats. It's not so much about fancy stats, it's that they're interesting.

Wally said...

Well, ok, Boz made up facts that dramatically undermined his point, but he took a stab at something indirectly that I haven't seen anyone tackle, and I'd be interested in it. Why did the Nats choose Miracle Max over JZimm and Stras (apparently, since I am assuming neither signs).

I am sure JZ signs the Scherzer contract, and I think it likely Stras does too, even with Boras. So, really, it does appear that it was a conscious choice of Scherzer as the better gamble than the other two.

But why? Harper earlier tried to point out that it was the wrong choice, primarily based on age. And I have heard many people agree or disagree with the choice, but I haven't heard many try to figure out the reason why the Nats made this choice. Rizzo and the Lerners are smart people; to make this call, I am sure there are compelling reasons behind it, but what are they? Because the age thing is pretty big, in my mind, especially for Stras. Boz tried to say its totally the TJ thing, which is crazy, but the second TJ risk has the feel of something that is actually part of their calculus, just not the definitive part, like Boz made it out to be. Not that they know for sure how TJ2 plays out, just that it is a bigger risk because there is less data.

But I am curious what the Nats were thinking. I doubt we'll ever really know, 'cause JZ and Stras don't seem the type to blow up and tell all once they get their deal, but it is an interesting thing.

Bjd1207 said...

Nah Wally I posted this when we were debating the Scherzer contract more, but I don't think there's a scenario where JZimm signs the same deal that Scherzer signed.

I think the way Scherzer has mapped out his career, he intends to retire after his service time with the Nats. And his backloaded deal gives him a hefty pension plan. I don't think the Nats expect him to sign with another team after his service time here, effectively creating a Dan Uggla situation where we pay $15mil for Scherzer to play AGAINST us. I think he's done after this deal, and told Nats management as such which is when they began to workout this unique contract.

I dont think JZimm has retirement as clear cut in his future. He's made it clear he wants to pitch elsewhere, which means he'd most likely reject a deal structured like Scherzer. He'd instead lobby for a more standard deal, something like what Lester got, and Nats management was unwilling to give it.

Retrospectively, this also explains why Scherzer had so many failed talks with so many teams, or why a deal took so long to materialize. Rizzo and Boras are two fairly innovative minds when it comes to contracts, and I expect this deal was hatched out the unique persona and future plans of Max Scherzer

Jay said...

I like Bos. He tends to wright thought out and logical columns. Our beat writers are horrible though. Did anyone notice that the Nats beat writers were scooped by the Cardinals beat writers today on Rendon? Evidently, Rendon is going to see Dr. James Andrews. Never a good thing. Storen left today's game with a trainer like 45 minutes ago. Is there anything on twitter from our beat writers? Nope. "Will post when they have more information" No he was favoring his arm, he through a pitch, he landed funny. Nothing. Just he left with a trainer and we'll post more later. Pretty pathetic.

Jay said...

Oh wait. Rizzo saves the day. Traded Blevins for Mets Matt den Dekker. His career slash line - .238/.325/.310. Wow. Has Rizzo been replaced wtih a double? Why did we trade Clippard? We traded Blevins for this guy? Blevins wasn't great against righties, but he was great last year against lefties. Now we're going with Xavier Cedeno instead??

Wally said...

Bjd - the Scherzer deal was worth $180-190m over seven years, depending on your view of inflation and discount rates. Wouldn't JZ take a deal like that?

I don't remember the conversation the first time around, but the structure shouldn't be relevant to value. It's like a lottery winner - they can take a payout over twenty years, or a lump sum. The structure and nominal numbers are different, but the value is the same, which is why they are given an option.

But going back to my original question, I guess you are saying that the Nats didn't choose Scherzer, they offered the deal to all three and Scherzer 'selected' them by agreeing first?

Bjd1207 said...

I'm not sure about the order of events, but here's a few statements I believe to be accurate as far as I can tell from how things have shaken out:

1. The Nats were not willing to over a standard 7/$180M to any pitcher this offseason (and probably next)

2. They went to Stras and ZNN with less-than-market value deals this year. Something like 25M per year over 4 years, or 7/$150M or something, which both pitchers turned down.

3. They then went shopping in the FA market, and at some point Max made his way to the table. Nats weren't offering 7/$180, and no way Max was taking anything under market value, so they got creative. Like I said this is where I think the Max/Boras/Rizzo nexus took over, and somehow that table hatched the very unique deal that was eventually signed.

And where we disagree is that I don't think ZNN/Stras would take the market value no matter the structure. Even more so for Stras, I expect those guys to be looking to pitch after these 7 years (Stras would be 34, Znn 35, compared to Scherzer's 38). I don't know if they specifically added in a non-compete clause in Scherzer's deal, but I wouldn't expect the Nats would be willing to pay the deferred salary while they're playing for another team.

So that's why I think Max's unique circumstances and personality led to this deal. Not many 31 year olds have their futures mapped out like that, but Scherzer's always come across as mature and well-reasoned (part of the reason he turned down the extension last year). Since this is to be his last contract, both sides are much more amenable to the deferred salary, which is the only thing that made this deal palatable from the Nats side

Bjd1207 said...

Or a better way to phrase my 5th paragraph is to say that the NATS weren't willing to offer the deferred structure to Stras or ZNN because they fear they might be paying them to pitch against them in year 8.

I think Max assured them that would not be the case

Bjd1207 said...

And Blevins to the Mets for Matt den Dekker...

Wally said...

That is an interesting thought on the non compete. I doubt that it is allowable under the CBA (I say that without checking), so it would have to be a handshake deal.

Bjd1207 said...

Yea lol I'm not sure on the CBA requirements either. This is my theory-of-best-fit given what has occurred. Could be as wrong as phlogiston

Clip&Store said...

JW: Are you kidding? I stay up just to listen to Scully whenever I have the chance. He's a legend and amazing at what he does.

John C. said...

I'm not a big Boswell backer, but in this case he wasn't reporting the "8 year" number as his theory - he was reporting it as something the Nats believe in. Given that, it's not really his obligation to determine the validity of the number.

Now, I don't know whether it's true that the Nats believe the "8 year" theory specifically, but I've seen a lot of chatter on BP and Fangraphs that there is a feeling in the industry that pitchers who have one TJ are ticking time bombs for a second. I don't know the data they are looking at, but I know they have medical, statistical and baseball professionals looking into it. So I'm inclined to think that, if the Nats believe it, they are not "pulling a number out of someone's ass." FWIW.

I am aware that Tommy John pitched for over 14 years and 2,000+ innings after having "TJ" surgery. But I also know that, before he came back he completely reworked his mechanics and his pitching style. So I don't know that we can really use Tommy John as an example to refute the concerns about "Tommy John" surgery.

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