Nationals Baseball: The Don't Get Injured List

Thursday, March 12, 2015

The Don't Get Injured List

We said during this off-season that it would almost certainly take injuries to keep the Nationals from making the playoffs. Well the injuries are coming.
  • Rendon bangs his knee
  • Yuney Escobar gets shut down for 7-10 days
  • Werth has off-season surgery and likely won't be ready for Opening Day
  • Span had his second surgery of the off-season and will probably miss months. 
I wouldn't exactly say they are "piling up" and as of right now there's no reason to believe the season has come off the rails (or even had to slow down because a cow wandered on the track), but the more injuries that we see now, the closer the Nats come to the point where the next one will matter in terms of playoffs or not. They've lost some cushion. That's something.

Here is my completely official ranking of the players in terms of who they can and can't afford to lose to injury.

The Indispensibles

#1 Rendon - Rendon showed himself to be an MVP caliber player in 2014, but just as important he plays a position where the Nats have no clear back-up. Perhaps a Trea Turner or Wilmer Difo could shift positions but we're not sure when these guys will be ready to contribute, let alone hoping them to do it this year while learning a new position. An injury to Rendon would almost certainly mean then a lot more Kevin Frandsen and stupid questions about Zimmerman moving back. Shudder. 

#2 Desmond - All that back-up stuff I just said about Rendon applies to Desmond too, but Turner wouldn't have to change positions and let's face it, Ian ain't Anthony with the bat. But while it's not as big a loss, Desmond down would take away a big power bat and would probably mean Espinosa at 2nd and Yuney at shortstop. Given Escobar's sudden aging in 2014, this is an iffy situation at best. 

#3 Span - Uh oh! Why does Span rank above his outfield compatriots? Because Span is the keystone here. It's his great defense that is needed to compensate for Bryce's lack of instincts and Werth's calcification. It's his decent offense that makes him a positive rather than a necessary neutral. It's his existence as a speedy CF that lets Matt put him at the top of the line-up, a spot that seemed to create constant unecessary headaches for managers and fans. Taylor might be able to get the defense down but they aren't high on him providing the offense, at least not in 2015. If he isn't hitting then he's not batting first which means... oh god, not this again. 

#4 Bryce - Losing either corner OF would be bad news as the back-up plans are questionable. The hope is Nate McLouth will bounce back but he's rehabbing from off-season surgery (you know how it is - one guy gets it they all have to) after him... Michael Taylor? Mike Carp? Tyler Moore? Jeff Kobernus? Or the most likely scenario... Frandsen. There are lots of solutions here so there are better chances of finding one that works but still there's likely a lot of crap to sort through. Why Bryce over Werth? I expect about the same total production from both so it comes down to Bryce being the lefty power bat in a line-up with no other lefty power bats (and with Span down for a while no other lefty)

#5 Werth - See the above. Werth may rank behind Span and Bryce but he could (should?) still be the best bat on the team so he's still indispensible, just not as indispensible to me. 

The Big Problems

#6 Storen - "What? I don't care about Storen! The guy's a choker and relief pitchers are a dime a dozen!" Sure I feel you. Now think about what would happen if Storen goes down.  I'll wait. 

Ugly ain't it? As much as we'd like to believe that the Nats are going to use a lack of guys in defined roles to maximize bullpen leverage the truth is they are going to fiddle with three or four guys until they find 7th and 8th innings guys because that's how baseball is. They should be able to do this but who knows how long it will take? Add one more hole to the mix and how won't it take up half the season at least. And the whole "closer" thing?  

#7 Zimmerman - We like to think a Zimm renaissance is just around the corner but more likely he'll hit like .275 and have 23 homers and play pretty good first base. That's good. But that's not indispensibly good especially at first. The same guys that could take over at corner OF could take over at first, and probably play it better. Plus you could also move Werth there. 

#8-#10 ZNN/Max/Stras - Any order you like. I don't love Roark as much as most guys but it's clear he's a pretty good guy to have sitting out there as your 6th man. So losing a pitcher isn't as big a deal to the Nats as it is for most teams. Still ZNN/Max/Stras aren't ordinary pitchers, they're among the best and losing them will hurt unless you have a Top 20 guy to replace him. Despite Roark's 2014 I don't see him as that.

The We'd Rather Nots

#11 Gio - Gio isn't in the ZNN/Max/Stras category, he seems to be getting a bit older and losing some stuff, but he is the only lefty arm on the staff and among the possible replacements as well. You lose an aspect of the team if Gio goes down that they can't replace. 

#12 Ramos - This is less about Ramos than the chain of events losing him would set off. I expect Ramos will get injured. And here's a secret - Ramos hasn't hit all that well either. He is kind of replaceable. But catchers are hard to come by and losing Ramos makes Lobaton the starter (don't want) and Leon/Solano the back-ups (really don't want). 

The Well Whatevers

#13 Fister - Roark is pretty much just as good in my eyes. Hey, my list. I don't think the Nats miss a beat if Fister goes down. The only reason I'd care is that it takes away the pitching safety net in case there is another injury. 

#14 Escobar - The last regular, I don't think much of Escobar. His shoulder might have been the reason he couldn't hit or field last year. Maybe. But why couldn't he run either? I mean he's never been great but he basically was a statue last year. I think he's a marginal player who at 31 can no longer get over nicks and dings which hey, he's still getting. He'll likely be below average but could be terrible. So if he goes down and slick fielding pop-master every third AB strikeout Espinosa takes over. Eh. Don't really care.

The Other One that Matters

#15 Lobaton - Even if Ramos is healthy he's not playing 154. So the back-up catcher will get a non ignorable amount of plate appearances. Do you remember how bad Leon and Solano were? Lobaton didn't have a good 2014 but you still rather have him in this position than those two. 


Donald said...

Completely agree with Rendon in the #1 spot. I disagree about Desmond, though. The defense wouldn't suffer by inserting Espinosa into the line-up and Desmond's bat might be on the decline. Also, in the bigger picture, an injury to Desmond might help settle the whole contract extension issue.

I'd also be tempted to switch Werth and Zimmerman, though I'm not completely made up on that. I do think that Zim has the potential to be a gold glove 1b, and he may well hit better than Werth this year if he can stay healthy.

blovy8 said...

Agree mostly, but I'd have Harper as #2 at this point. He's the only left-handed power hitter - there's NO replacement for that. McLough, Carp, Skole? Ugh, I would put his loss higher than Span because the opportunity to see Taylor get an everyday ML taste mitigates that somewhat, and if Rendon leads off he'll do more damage. Probably worse than losing Desmond too, since you know that guy will make eight errors in April and at least Escobar can play there in an average fashion, maybe you get a couple of weeks of a guy like Burriss getting atbats, but the lineup doesn't fall apart when you lose a 5/6 hitter, and if you play Espinosa at short some, the defense would tick up a bit despite the lesser offense. Plus, it maybe lowers his asking price to re-sign him. I think the best bat on the team is Zim, but at least it's not like a lot of teams (see Utley, Tulo, Votto, Stanton, etc) where your best guy HAS to be healthy a lot and kind of isn't.

Chinatown Express said...

I agree with your analysis Harper. I also have a feeling Michael Taylor will surprise us. The scouts say his glove is elite. His OBP will not be as good as Span's, but his power may make up for that. And we really do need to figure out what we have with Taylor before next spring. Having him in the lineup in April '15 may be a blessing in disguise.

I agree Rendon is the undisputed #1 on this list.

Harper said...

Donald/Blovy8 - one thing is I'm definitely sticking to 2015 impact. For example, surely a ZNN injury would be better than a Max injury for the long run but this year specifically it would be a push.

blovy8 said...

Janssen would close if Storen got hurt, and probably be average at it if he gets a food taster.

Anonymous said...

Good idea for a column Harper. Do you think Carp and/or Gwinn Jr. make the team, in light of Span's injury?

BooyahSuckah! said...

Did I really just see two people sorta kinda backhandedly hope for an injury to Desmond because it would settle a contract issue?

Wow, we Nats fans must have truly become baseball elites when we can think an injury to an All-Star, three-time Silver Slugger, three-time 20/20, power-hitting, consistently durable, second-only-to-Tulo and incredibly likeable SS is some sort of good thing.

If that's the way it works when your team becomes the apex predator, I'd just as soon go back to 2011.

Harper said...

Anon - one definitely makes the org to play in Syracuse, on the roster... doubt it. If McLouth is healthy they like him as the veteran and dammit if Moore doesn't probably round it out

blovy8 said...

Yeah, I did. We're talking about who is least replaceable. The Nats have already signed Desmond's presumed replacement. I don't think Escobar is even really average anymore, but he's certainly more prepared to play short than second.

BooyahSuckah! said...

Look, just seems like bad joo-joo to me to ever even consider that an injury to any player, much less one like Desmond, would be a good thing. The Baseball Gods tend to punish that kind of hubris.

Unknown said...

I'm surprised about your Fister analysis. He has been very solid over the years. Do you expect his performance to significantly decline this year? Or do you think he's expendable because of how elite the rotation is?

JWLumley said...

With all due respect: Go to bed Harper, you're drunk.

Fister and Roarke are interchangeable? Wait, what? Span is covering for Harper's poor defense? Me eyes disagree (as do scouts) and there isn't enough data to use Harper's UZR. Not to mention Taylor is probably better defensively than Span.

Storen at #6? Have you seen how often BAD teams win when having a lead late in the games?

Just so you don't think I'm Monday morning quarterbacking the thing (or a we 49ers fans say: Jed Yorking it), here's my list

1. Rendon - You're right the drop-off is MVP to very definition of replacement level on the field, although he's an All-Star at giving interviews, Kevin Frandsen.

2. Desmond - The drop - off here is Danny Espinosa, so the defense would get better, but the bat would, would, well maybe Fister could hit for him.

3. Harper - This team is already super right-handed, take away Harper and it could get rough. Although, there's a part of me that thinks that due to the way bullpens are constructed this could actually be an advantage at times because for some teams with multiple lefties they would have to use them out of the pen. Either way, Nate McLouth is bad, Bryce Harper is good...even at defense.

4. Werth - Did I mention my thoughts on Nate McLouth?

5. Ramos - Yes, I know he'll probably get hurt, but Lobaton isn't a very good hitter and Solano isn't a major leaguer. Ramos going down would mean Solano starts getting meaningful AB's, if someone else got hurt that could really shorten the lineup.

6. Zimmerman - Because Tyler Moore.

7. Span - Not sure if you've heard this, but Michael Taylor has been known to strike out from time to time.

8 - 10 NN / Scherzer / Stras - Because they're all a lot better than Roark and Roark is still an unknown.

11. Fister - Because Harper's dumb, bless his heart. Also, because over the last (fill in the blank, seriously you can pick) years. Fister has been one of the best pitchers in baseball despite being constantly underrated.

12. Escobar - I love Difo, not sure if he's ready, and it probably clouds my judgement, but love the swing, love the glove, arm and range probably mean long-term he's at 2nd or 3rd. I have no clue why he's not rated higher. None. Still, the drop-off to Espi / Uggla / Difo, shouldn't be too great considering they have options.

13. Lobaton - The drop-off after is steep.

14. Blevins/Thornton - Lefties are much harder to replace this time of year than "closers" and both have roughly the same value--in terms of WAR--that Storen does/did.

Jay said...

Here's something to make your brain explode. MW stated that he thought Taylor would likely bat leadoff. I guess if you had CF as leadoff with Span then don't change anything when someone else plays CF. It could throw off the other players. Hahaha.

I'd put Harper in CF and let people play it out for RF. Taylor is the only one of McClouth, Karp, Moore, etc that could play CF.

I think the Nats are already dangerously close to struggling to score. Hopefully, Werth is back by opening day or mid-April. Have a feeling Span is out till at least May or maybe even late May. I agree that in some ways we will now find out if Taylor can really play CF on an everyday basis. I predict - no.

On the plus side, Buster Olney says the Nats have the easiest first half schedule in the NL.

JWLumley said...

@Jay, I definitely think Taylor can play CF defensively, it's the bat that worries me. Batting him leadoff sounds like a very Matt Williams thing to do, because after all, he's the Paint-by-numbers manager.

blovy8 said...

My only hope is they're trying to get Taylor a lot of at-bats. Rendon would be my clear choice to lead off. I'd probably do Rendon/Zim/Harper/Ramos/Desmond/platoonLF/Taylor/Escobar, giving Taylor at least one hitter protecting him before the pitcher so he might see something decent.

Bjd1207 said...

The nightmare MW lineup:


But remember, lineup construction has little impact on run production. Even comparing most optimal to least optimal

John C. said...

As long as the injuries are all as minor as the ones they've had so far, I'm not troubled by them in the slightest. Aches, pains and dings with 3 1/2 weeks to go before Opening Day aren't a big deal (although they do give us something to obsess and worry over, if we are so inclined).

The one injury that has me mildly concerned is Span's. I think he's underrated, and I worry that a core injury will linger. The Nats do have an alternative in Taylor, but Span/Rendon at the top of the order was a very nice feature.