Nationals Baseball: 2012 v 2013 v 2014

Thursday, April 02, 2015

2012 v 2013 v 2014

Injuries!  Oh no this is going to be just like 2013 when injuries killed the team! Panic!

Or, as many have pointed out, injuries happened in 2012 and 2014! The team was fine! Don't worry!

At this point you are probably thinking "Jesus, Rizzo. Can you please plan for this with some depth? It's the 4th year in a row it's happened!" but after that you are probably thinking "So which of these years is 2015 going to be most like? Will injuries make it a mess like 2013 or will they be a barely noticeable bump in the road like 2012 and 2014?"

First let's get a feel for the games lost to the starting offense in those other years. Ideally you'd get what? 130 games from the catcher and 154 games from everyone else? That would be 1208 games. How'd does that compare to what the Nats actually got the past 3 seasons?

2012: Ramos+LaRoche+Espy+Ian+Zimm+Morse+Werth+Bryce :    936 games
2013: Ramos+LaRoche+Rendon+Ian+Zimm+Span+Werth+Bryce : 1033 games
2014: Ramos+LaRoche+Rendon+Ian+Zimm+Span+Werth+Bryce : 1043 games

Not all the missed time was due to injury but you get the point. Missed some games the last couple years, more in 2012.

What would be our guess for 2015? Right now I'd pencil Span in for 40 missed games and Werth and Rendon for 10 a piece. Based on that pace, my guess is 2015 should be more like 2012 than the last two. It's still not impossible to have a relatively healthy year but it would pretty much require a nearly perfectly healthy rest of the season. A lot of games missed early is not a good start.

Now that we have an idea of what type of injury time lost to expect, how did these offenses do?

2012 : Ramos (almost all), Morse (2mo), and Werth (1/2 season) missed significant time, while Bryce spent a month in the minors. However across the board everyone hit, including these guys when healthy. LaRoche and Werth bounced back from bad 2011s, Desmond broke out, only Espy dipped below average. They ended up 5th in runs scored.

2013 : Ramos (1/2 season), Bryce (40 games), and Werth (25 games) missed time. Rendon took two months to get to the majors. Werth and Bryce hit better but Espy was terrible, LaRoche and Desmond took steps back, Span and Rendon were below average. They only dropped a spot to 6th in the NL but were roughly as close to 5th as 10th.

2014 : Ramos (almost half), Bryce (60 games), and Zimm (90 games) missed time. Ramos, Byrce, Werth, and Desmond all stepped back while Span, Rendon and LaRoche all stepped up. Finished 3rd in the NL in runs as close to 6th as to 2nd.

Those rankings matter because while the finishes are relatively close; 5th, 6th, and 3rd, the circumstances were completely different. The 5th in 2012 was about right - good, close to very good, but not great. The 6th in 2013 was illusionary. They were basically an average team who happened to pop out on the top end of that list. This is important because some people still like to float out "They were 6th!" Context, people. Context. The 3rd place finish last year was a bit of a mirage too. It sounds like an elite status but they weren't really close to the top. Still they were very good, about peak of what I would expect.

The Nats offense is generally good, can be very good, but has not been great. It hasn't really challenged for best in the league and it's dipped to around average. It's not a problem, but I can't all it a strength, either. It's part of the success but the smaller part.

Reading through this though you might see that the general feel of the offense remained roughly the same. Guys went up, guys went down. If the starters generally played about the same as a whole why don't the rankings follow the missed time? Glad you asked.


2012 : Miracle year where Lombo, Tracy, Moore, Bernadina, Suzuki, Ankiel were all at least not terrible and somewhat good. Despite the missed time this held the Nats offense up.
2013 : In a quick return to form everyone was universally terrible. The missed games cut deeper.
2014 : Mostly closer to 2013 than 2012 with a couple minor exceptions. Those exceptions helped not pull the team down like an anchor

But wait! I said 2014 was a peak and yet the bench wasn't great. Sure there were slightly fewer injuries than in 2012 but is there something else here? Yes, yes there is and it has to do with batting order.

The four best bats on the 2014 Nats were Span, Rendon, Werth and LaRoche. They also did not miss significant time. They batted 1st, 2nd, 3rd and 4th in the order, the slots that get the most at bats during a season. Contrast that with those positions in 2013. Span was still first and was below average, Rendon got a lot of time in the 2 spot and was below average. Lombo and Bernie, who were awful accounted for another 31 games there - that's almost 20% of the season. No one batted more often in clean-up than the off-bat of LaRoche.

What does this all mean for the offense in 2015? Well, given Span and Rendon are the biggest injury concerns and Matt Williams seems to love to plug their replacement in their batting slots, this does not bode well for 2015. Maybe I'd feel better if the bench was stronger but it's not. It's not that this means the offense is going to be terrible or anything. I would just expect a year closer to 2013's average output than 2012/2014's good to very good. Before you panic and scream "2013!" please remember the team won 86 games that year with that average offense.

How did they do that? Let's quickly check the flipside.

Starting pitching

2012 : Great!
2013 : Steps back accross the board. Detwiler hurt, Haren bad. Still good, close to very good, but no longer team-carrying.
2014 : Great!


2012 : Braves were a legit threat. No one else was
2013 : Ditto
2014 : Braves collapsed. No one stepped up

And here you see the path to victory.  Great starting pitching carried the team to a division title against stiff competition in 2012. Sure the offense might slip a bit from that year but the competition isn't there either.

Of course there is always...

Relief pitching

2012 : Very good!
2013 : Eh.
2014 : Great! (really - check it out)

Here is a place the Nats could stumble. Storen hasn't pitched much. Soriano and Clippard are gone. Janssen appears to be no good. Blevins was cast off. It could be like 2013. Honestly, it could be worse. Relief is hard to pin down but a betting man says it's not going to be very good in 2015.

The short of all the above is that 2013 really was a perfect storm in a way. Well storm is too big a word. The perfect annoying drizzle. Not only did the offense kind of bottom out in expectations, but the starting pitching dipped, the relief pitching was mediocre, and the competition was there. In 2015 we don't expect a pitching dip or stiff competition. So even if worst case the offense does fall to mediocre, that pitching staff and the lack of a true threat should keep the Nats at 90+ wins and a decently easy ride to a division title. That starting pitching staff shelters you from a lot of problems.

Now could it be different than we think? Yes. If the bullpen falls apart AND if the Marlins (or Mets, I guess) are really good AND if the offense is affected a lot by these injuries then yes the Nats may have to fight to make the playoffs. But right now I'm still not worried. Wake me when Rendon is ruled out for the year and Max needs Tommy John. 


Carl said...

For the record, I am not panicking. I am concerned.

Steven Biel said...

The Nationals have no bats that scare you. They never really have. I'll never understand why they spent $200 million on Scherzer instead of Cano.

Harper said...

Because Cano wouldn't spread the deal over 40 years and Rizzo was never looking at drafting him.

Harper said...

Honestly though - I think they were gambling on Bryce becoming that player and then after last year thinking "if not Bryce, then Rendon".

Anthony Rendon said...

The mets cant hit so I don't think that they're a threat, but if we can't hit either than maybe Miami could do something.

If dr Andrews says Rendon doesn't need surgery than he will be healthy soon enough. We don't need span to win but with no span, Rendon, and Werth we might struggle to start the season.

This is not 2012, 2013, or 2014, this is 2015 a whole new year.

As long as we pitch well we should be able to win games kind of like st louis last season.

Strasburger said...

No reason for Panic or even strong concern.

Bryce and Rendon could easily BOTH become those players, Harp. You know this. Bryce is 22 years old. He's still got the talent and I think he'll break out this year.

And BLEVINS?! You included that as if his departure was a detriment to the pen. I'm so surprised. When they brought him in you were understandably happy about a decent lefty in the Pen, but he was absolutely, unbelievably terrible for us. Every time he was handed the ball without a 5+ run lead, I would legitimately tremble. I could not be happier he is gone, he was zero value-add to this team.

There are some bad injuries and I like your estimates for missed games, but the pitching will carry us this season. Our offense (even though ST doesn't mean sh*t) is just brutally bad. I think the nats will win a LOT of one run games this season (but that, as you have noted before, depends a lot on luck).

Let's hope things come together. Im not concerned yet until I see this team play Monday and they go 3-30*. Anyone else going to opening day? We need to start like a happy hour/nats watching club haha.

*or something like that.

Harper said...

Strasburger - Blevins has a history of being decent, which you hope would carry some weight, and was still an effective pitcher vs LHB. I'd hope given the combination of the two you'd start the year facing almost exclusively lefties working his way back into more ABs vs righties to see if last year was just a fluke, or if you really should cut bait on a guy who is now just a LOOGY type.

Never base decisions on one year especially with bench guys and pen guys. Storen was bad in 2013. fine now. Zach Duke was TERRIBLE in 2013, found himself (though cutting him loose was right decision based on history - just an example of how quick turnaround can happen)

Kenny B. said...

No panic from me yet; I have to watch them play. I am, however, concerned by a couple of things:

1) The bullpen: It looks pretty bad to me, and I hate watching great starts become losses because of bad relief pitching.

2) Bryce's swing: I haven't followed ST, but Bryce is so massive now, I am worried it will interfere with his swing. Strength is useless unless you can actually hit the ball. He has struggled to find consistency in the last couple of years, and while maybe turning into a brute will help reduce injuries, I just don't know how those massive muscles don't get in the way.

3) SP Health: If SPs miss significant time, this team is in major trouble. Hope the luck holds for another season, but a LOT is riding on this starting staff.

Kenny B. said...

Oh, and I forgot to add the massive, soul-crushing hex that is on this team because of the outsized expectations.

cass said...

The Nats never have had bats that scare you? Really?

Harper in his rookie year did, I think. Won Rookie of the Year and all that.

Werth was a monster in 2013. If he had been healthy the whole year and put up those numbers, he might have won the MVP. Led the league in OPS didn't he?

Rendon was really good last year. Part of that is running and defense, but he still finished 5th in the MVP. Had a great year.

Looking further back in time, how about Nick Johnson and Soriano in 2006? 40/40 doesn't scare you? An OBP of close to a million doesn't scare you?

And Ryan Zimmerman had some great years in the intervening time - think he was top 5 in WAR or something.

Maybe your standards of fear are higher than mine and certainly the Nats have had years they could use more hitting, but with the exception of a couple years, they've always had at least one really great position player who could do some damage with the bat.

JWLumley said...

As long as all 5 starters are healthy, I'm not panicking. Here's why: I think Harper is going to be a beast. None of his past injuries are soft-tissue, which tend to be recurring and also tend to signal a genetic propensity for getting hurt. None of his injuries are the type that become chronic with time and/or generally lead to arthritis. He's only 22, but the kid seems to love the lights and being called overrated is going to motivate him.

Also, I think Espinosa and Uggla are going to surprise some people. Everyone says they don't believe spring stats, but then they site spring stats to prove Espinosa hitting right handed isn't going well. If I put on my straw hat and let my belly hang over my belt (scout joke), me eyes tell me that he's tracking breaking balls well and his defense is game changing. He doesn't need to hit a ton to be very valuable.

But really, this is what it comes down to for me: Span is out, like probably until June out, meh. It's no secret that I think his BABIP fueled improvement last year was smoke and mirrors. The drop-off defensively to Taylor won't be that great, if at all. Not that Span is bad defensively, but Taylor is really good. Werth is out a week maybe two. Meh. Rendon is allegedly injured, I refuse to discuss this on the basis of la-la-la-la I can't hear you. But seriously, MCL sprains can take a little while to heal from everything I've heard from medical experts, this really shouldn't be any worse than Rendon missing 1-3 weeks. As long as he stays healthy, with all of the off days the first two weeks, it's not even like missing 2 regular weeks. Remember how Doug Fister missed a month last year, yeah I barely remember too.

Now as far as the bullpen goes, well let's hope the starters are good. If not, we can always trade Cole for bullpen help. Man I miss Peaches.

Anonymous said...

"You can never have too much pitching." Check.

"If you can score, losing 1-0 is still losing."


My concern is how do we replace LaRoche's bat. 20+ HR and 90-100 RBI is essentially being replaced with either Uggla or Espinosa. Perhaps if Bryce is healthy, then he could be that guy which isn't out of the question. Problem is, there are lot of "if's" on the offensive side of the ball. IF Ramos stays healthy then...IF Zimmerman stays healthy then...IF Bryce stays healthy then...IF Werth stays healthy then... you get my point.

I love to think back to the 2012 season. Where we had 1. Werth (stellar OBP w/ pop), an electric Bryce w/ pop, Zimmerman (great all-around hitter w/ pop), LaRoche (HR power), Morse (HR power), Desmond (HR power), and Espinosa in his better years (..w/ pop). Add a healthy Ramos instead of Suzuki and you have productive RBI guys 1-8 in the lineup. Today's lineup doesn't even compare, which is too bad.

Anonymous said...

**sorry, CAN'T score^^ - damn phone :)

JWLumley said...

Also, not sure if any of listen to the Baseball Prospectus podcast--which I highly recommend--but this morning they had some injury experts on, one of whom said that Jordan Zimmermann is the most likely pitcher in baseball to need another TJ surgery because of the drag on his elbow created during his motion.

For the record, Boz is still an idiot, but I wonder if the Nationals have seen the studies about elbow drag. I know they're one of--if not the most--heavily invested teams in baseball in medical data about pitcher injuries. The Nats view it as a big competitive advantage. Which it is if true, especially with FA pitchers. Just thought it worth mentioning.

Harper said...

JW - I'd have to know their methods and statistics to even begin to worry. They might (very well might, I'll add) be basing the association off a very weak correlation that looks good only in the absence of better statistics.

For example the correlation between drag and TJ could be .25. That's ignorable in most statistics. But if your next most correlated stat is .17 or something, well you use elbow drag. It's the best you got (but statistically it's barely better than guessing).

JWLumley said...

@Anon you replace 90-100 RBI by putting someone with a decent batting average behind someone with a great OBP. Which is to say RBI's are irrelevant. However, you replace LaRoche's production by putting Ryan Zimmerman--a better hitter--at 1B and replace Zim with Rendon--an even better hitter.

JWLumley said...

@Harper - The guy they had on was from Baseball Prospectus, but his name escapes me. Even still, BP is not known for using shoddy statistical analysis and has employed some of the brightest statistical minds in the media (Keri, Law, Silver etc.) and those who wound up working for clubs. I could be wrong, but I doubt they would put it out there if there wasn't a bit more than spurious correlation, at least not without a qualifier like you mention. Unfortunately, I don't have a BP subscription so I can't read it. HOwever, it's making me consider getting one. I wish they would just sell ads.

Harper said...

from what I gathered in hte podcast they were using it for some sort of fantasy "No TJ" draft. You'd be fine using it for something like this. Basing team decisions on it would be something different. I'll look into it more.

Froggy said...

To echo Cass...didn't Adam Dunn put up like 40 hr a year while he was here?

Funny, even if everyone was healthy the Nats haven't replaced ALR's production and all this whooee about replacing '90-100 rbi by putting someone with a good batting ave behind a good OBP' over simplifies things, as it requires both components. If one or both of those components are on the DL then the point is moot. I'll take a legitimate HR threat like a Morse, Soriano, Nick Johnson, Dunn, and Mr Walk off himself who can get into a pitcher's head much more effectively and do it in one swing.

As for Bryce it will be interesting to see how or if his bulk makes him a more fearsome offensive threat or not.

John C. said...

Froggy, How can you complain that "even if everyone's healthy than [the Nats] haven't replaced LaRoche's production." This makes no sense to me; LaRoche had an unexpectedly good season for Adam LaRoche, but it's not like he was Mike Trout or Miguel Cabrera. If you accept the premise (Zimmerman, Werth, Ramos, and Bryce all stay healthy) than the Nats won't even notice that ALR is missing.

Froggy said...

That's my point John C, I don't accept your premise as it relies on too many 'ifs', and everyone of those guys has a history of being hurt. And the replacements are Taylor, Escobar, Redmond, and (ugh) T Moore? Hardly Adam LaRoche

Based on past performance, who on the team will continue to do their average AND hit 20+ hr and give 99-100rbi? I guess it's possible, but to do so would require everyone to be healthy and have a great season.

Although Hope is a strategy, I prefer trades.

JE34 said...

Worried, concerned, but not panicking. This team just needs to outperform the hideously clad Miami Marlins... and they ain't bad. (I don't care how old he is - I'm jealous of their 4th outfielder.)

Anonymous said...

@JWLumley - Of course, replace LaRoche with Zimm, replace Zimm with Rendon - both are upgrades, I agree. But who do you replace Rendon at 2nd with?? Espi? Uggla? Therein lies the problem.

Its similar to Harper's point of losing Soriano and Clipp this past offseason, somebody is going to have to eat those innings and who is it going to be? When good players leave, the remaining good players slide up and take their role, but who is behind them? The Danny Espinosa's of the world...

Huh said...

I once had a friend he told me what the heck are you talking about and punched me in the face

John C. said...

I understand what you meant, in that you apparently believe that thinking that increased health from Zim, Ramos, Harper, etc. will more than offset ALR's production is "hope" rather than a strategy. I was pointing out that that's not what your post said - you led with "even if everyone was healthy."

But of course hope is always part of any strategy - even if everyone is healthy, you're still left hoping that they don't suck. You can't design a team against all contingencies, because events transpire.

JWLumley said...

@Anon Rendon didn't play 2B much last year. The point being Zim is healthy. Healthy Zim > ALR. Simple, replaced. I fail to see the issue here. As for the oversimplification of RBI's, it isn't. That's how you get RIBEYEZ. It's one of the worst 3-4 stats in baseball, is irrelevant and nearly devoid of meaning, while certainly being devoid of significant meaning. Zim is better than ALR at hitting baseballs, by whichever metric you choose. Rendon is better than Zim using fancy math and Right-handed Espi and/or Uggla and/or Escobar is better than switch hitting Danny. I fail to see the issue here.

@Harper Yes it was on a Fantasy League podcast, but the research referenced was anything but flippant.

blovy8 said...

The real trouble with having three guys out already, is that it's like flipping a coin, it doesn't change the odds of more injuries happening as the season transpires. If anything, now Williams has a reason to play the remaining starters more and tempt fate. I'm afraid to say anything about Desmond.

Anonymous said...

Isn't anyone going to comment on Frandsen's departure? This surprised me; I thought MW and Rizzo were going to keep Frandsen all year as their utility guy.

Froggy said...

From a team production perspective it is mple math:

Zim = 1
ALR = 1
Subtract 1 (ALR gone) from 2 =1

However, Rendon replaces the production generated by ALR + Zim = 2. Unless Rendon is hurt and not playing and we are back to 1. I would argue last season was more like ALR = 1 + Rendon =1 + Zim =.5 for 2.5

Regardless, ALR gone and Rendon hurt is a minus 1.5 from this equation from last year. So no, Zim playing 1b does not replace ALR's least for opening day that is.

Anonymous said...

Frandsen had three singles to show for 42 plate appearances, many of them against pitchers who won't be on major-league rosters. It was the right call, all the more so with so many of the other bench candidates having strong springs. The Nats gave a free pass to Hairston last year and suffered all season for it. They couldn't afford to do it again.

Espinosa's spring has been nearly as bad, but at least he's got a superior skill in his defense. There's no way he should start over Uggla, though, who is currently at .925 OPS for the spring.

John C. said...

Your math doesn't work, Froggy, because Zim wasn't a "1" last year. He missed 62% of the season. So your math looks like this:

Last year:
ALR = 1 (he actually missed some time last year and only played 140 games; but since I think that's about Zim ends up playing this year I accept it as full value)
Zim = .38
2014 total: 1.38

ALR = gone
Zim = 1
2015 total 1.00. So even before you get to Ramos and Harper, the 2015 team is only down .38.

Assuming health - as you did with your comment "even if everyone was healthy the Nats haven't replaced ALR's production" it's kind of foolish to think that a full season of Harper and Ramos don't more than take care of the last .38.

Now, your later comment that you question the ability of Harper, Ramos and Zim to stay healthy, that's more legitimate. I am more optimistic than you on that score, but I understand the concern. My beef was solely with your original comment.

Froggy said...

I'm hoping for those outcomes too John C. But 'hoping' Harper, Ramos, Werth, Zim, stay healthy for the whole season (which none of the have the past few seasons) doesn't 'replace' ALR's production. Especially since the replacements (Taylor, Uggla, Espi, Escobar) likely will not produce 20+ / 90+. Although I do think Uggla is the best candidate to fill the void based on past performance.

Anonymous said...

@JW - Let me lay this out for you as easy as I can, caveman-style: What option would you rather have? Option 1: Zimm, Rendon, LaRoche? Or option 2: Zimm, Rendon, Escobar?

I fail to see how this is so difficult. Simple add/subtract - you are replacing LaRoche with Escobar. Regardless of how you feel about RBIs, I would think option 1 is better. Not that we should have resigned Adam, but we should have grabbed a better bat than Escobar. But I don't want to answer for you, what option do you think is better? Have you played the game at all?

John C. said...

Froggy, as you are now clearly walking back your comment from "even if everyone is healthy the Nats' haven't replaced LaRoche's bat" to "I don't believe that enough Nationals will remain healthy to replace LaRoche's bat" I think we're on the same page. I just happen to be a tad more optimistic than you. We're just on different sides of the same coin.

FWIW, I also think that retaining ALR would have left the Nats at a deficit, because I'd be shocked if he reproduces the season he had last year. He may do OK in Chicago, a small ballpark where he is expected to mostly DH. But his aging was very evident last year to anyone who was paying attention.

Froggy said...

Geezus Johm C, since you erroneously used quotation marks I wonder if you actually read my comment. I didn't say I would 'rather keep ALR' or anything of the sort. I was merely stating a fact. ALR's production has not been replaced by anyone to include Espinosa, Taylor, Escobar, Moore, et al who have been relatively healthy, and the others Zim, Ramos, Werth, now Rendon have a past history (sample size) of missing big chunks of past seasons.

Regardless, I do hope the past will NOT be an indicator and everyone has a monster year. I would prefer to trade for insurance is all.

I think you just want to argue for arguments sake sometimes.

John C. said...

I like to be precise in my language, yes :-) And I admit I'm often literal and pedantic - so if I get too much, just let me know. I don't take that sort of thing personally.

As I said, I think we aren't that far apart. If everyone's healthy, they won't miss 2014 ALR much, if at all. Even with a moderate level of injury the current roster should be able to fill most of the gap. If they queue up another stretch of extended injuries to key bats, well, I hope the pitching lives up to the potential!

And if they stay healthy & Harper breaks out - look out! That's the option we're all hoping for.

Froggy said...

Fair enough. I agree we aren't that far apart and am really looking forward to seeing how Zim does as Our new first baseman!

See you on Opening Day!

JWLumley said...

Wow Froggy, I missed this, but your math is way way off. Here's another equation using something a wee bit more scientific. Here's the ZiPS for the coming year.

Rendon (4.4) + Zim (2.0) = 6.4

Rendon (4.4) + LaRoche (2.0) = 6.4

Literally, zero drop-off. Rendon's injury is irrelevant to the equation because he's the constant not the variable.

I'd say those numbers are pretty optimistic for ALR considering he put up 1.6 fWAR last year and is considerably older than Zim (for a baseball player, every year over 30 is like dog years.)

Also, with regards to RBI's, what you call "over simplification" is the same thing that ALR depended on to get his RIBEYEZ, people getting on base in front of him and him getting hits. Consider, ALR knocked in 16% of runners who were on base when he was at the plate last year. Kevin Frandsen, who is pretty much the definition of replacement level and has zero power, knocked in 13% of runners on base each of the last 3 years. So absolute worst case scenario, you'd lose about 13 RBI's per year if the bases were absolutely littered with baserunners.