Nationals Baseball: The offense is dead. Long live... wait what replaces offense?

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

The offense is dead. Long live... wait what replaces offense?

The Nats are in free fall 2-9, 3-10, 5-11 it's been now a solid three weeks since Bryce Harper carried the team on his shoulders and put them on the top of the mountain, said "Stay here, while I look for food", only to have the Nats go "Wheeeeeeee!" and roll back down.

June, while not encompassing all the crash, makes an easy to look up split to see what's going on. The team is hitting a pathetic .231 / .275 / .342. Bryce, of course, is not the problem (.357 / .438 / .714 - which is scary to think that has been factored in.)  And Yuney is still on a magical mystery ride of crazy BABIP (.529 in June).  Other than that it is... well it's everyone else.

Danny is back to being classic Danny (Low ave, walks, hits for pop) which creates an average hitter. Lobaton and Robinson are being perfectly reasonable bench replacements - not good but not bad. These guys aren't helping the team but they aren't really hurting the team either.

Who is hurting the team?

Wilson Ramos : .217 / .217 / .391 - power is nice but a .217 OBP is death
Michael Taylor : .227 / .250 / .273 - failing in his 2016 CF preview
Ian Desmond : .167 / .167 / .300 - see Ramos
Anthony Rendon : .158 / .200 / .211 - may be healthy but certainly not ready
Denard Span : .143 / .182  / .143 - battling injuries
Ryan Zimmerman : .045 / .083 / .045 - what Ramos/Desmond are doing is slumping. What Ryan is doing is playing when he shouldn't.

Six regulars are hitting like garbage all at the same time. The problem is - who here do you like to come back and hit a lot better? Rendon yes. And.... Span if healthy but will he be? Ramos and Desmond I can see hitting a little better but not necessarily a lot. "Lower" could be their new level. Zimm's injury isn't going away. Taylor who knows?

You could argue the Nats need to solve the problem in the OF (a true contender may have a hard time carrying a player like Taylor), at catcher (Ramos might be age/injured into the player we see), at shortstop(see Ramos again), and at first (your first baseman can't hit like this). That's a lot of problems to solve and that's if Rendon and Span aren't too injured that they should be out. Right now it feels like the team is paralyzed, unable to find a place to start to fix this, hoping that it just all rights itself.

The truth is it won't. The pitching can't carry the team with the rotation hurt and the pen in bad shape. The only reason the Nats aren't in 3rd looking up at the Braves is that Bryce Harper had one of the best months in the history of baseball. If you are hoping for a resurgance you are hoping for a repeat of that, which means you are hoping for Bryce to have one of the best seasons ever.  It could happen... but that's not something to bet on.

Where do I start? I probably start in the OF - where the options are more plentiful and there is potential for a big problem if Span has to go out.  Then 1B maybe? A better back-up for Ryan who can play and give him rest? I don't know, but the time for waiting and seeing as a good plan is closing. Do the Nats throw up their hands and just expect to beat a bad division? Or do they do something?


Fries said...

Zimm's numbers may look awful, but the way he's swinging the bat indicates otherwise. Just take a look at his BABIP this season. Most of his career he's been slightly above league average (around .300). This season: .228

Not only that, but especially in the Cubs series he was hitting the ball HARD, just right at people. I think Zimm has a decent chance of turning it around once luck starts going his way.

As for the others...not so much. I like Taylor to improve as he gets less antsy at the plate, and Rendon of course will turn things around with more reps. But Desmond I think is the dumbest player in baseball, Ramos I've never liked, and Span is aging at about a year a minute

Anonymous said...

Desi has the yips. Barrett is the new Soriano. Zimm is dwindling. I miss May!

Rob Evans said...

I'm sticking by prediction in another thread...the Nats get caught by both the Mets and Braves.

John C. said...

... hoping that it just all rights itself. The truth is it won't.

Nice crystal ball you have there, Harper. I understand the urge to "have a take" and "come strong to the microphone" but perhaps a little humility is in order. Especially since you do allow that Rendon is likely to hit much better, Span is a candidate to hit much better, and Ramos and Desmond are likely to improve from their June numbers. We don't know what is going to happen. We didn't see the Nats going on a starting 6-13, going on a 26-5 run, or the current struggle. And yet we know that the ship won't right itself? The Nationals this season are 30-28, .5 games out of first. Last year at this point the Nationals were ... 30-28, 1.0 game out of first. They won 96 games. Of course in 2013 the Nationals at this point were 29-29, 7 games out of first, and won 86 games. Weirdly, 86 games might win the NL East this year. Yuck. The problem, of course, is that it's not 2013 or 2014, it's 2015 - and none of us knows what happens next.

Any move the Nationals make has to actually be more likely to improve the team than what they have, with further allowance to be made for the cost of the move. Yes, the Nationals sure could move Giolito, Lopez, Turner and Difo to get some combination of Votto, Chapman, and maybe even something else. But (even putting aside that he's not nearly the player he used to be) Votto is also expensive - you could pretty much kiss extensions goodbye at that point. You would be setting the minor league system back so far that you are committed to improving via free agency for the next few seasons - and the payroll is already $160M+.

The internet hates it, but many times the moves that you don't make are the best ones. The internet was all abuzz all offseason talking up the Padres and the Marlins for all the moves they made. The general consensus was that the Marlins were the team most likely to challenge the Nationals in the NL East. How's that working for those teams? The Padres have managed to go "all in" for this season and strip their farm system - and are .500, their chances of winning the division (per Fangraphs) is down to 5.2% and their playoff odds at 26.1%. With the minor league decimated the future looks pretty grim there. The Marlins are a horrible Phillies (OK, and the Brewers) team away from being the worst team in the NL. The A's pushed all in last year, cratered spectacularly in the play-in game, and now have the worst record in the AL.

Have you considered the possibility that, if the Nationals ride out the storm without making a move, it might not be simply "throwing up their hands" but could instead be a cold, calculated assessment of the course of action that gives them the best chance of winning a championship at some point in the near future? And that ... they might well be right?

Anonymous said...

Cyborg needs help!!!

Maybe he can upload a killer instinct app to stras...

Anonymous said...

I've been wondering for a while now when people would start noticing just how stupid Desmond is. He really is dumber than a box of rocks.

Chaz R said...

The key information that we don't know is how hurt is Zim and Span? I would think that assessment would be key to a decision on making a move. The best bet on Rendon and Ramos is to let them work out of their funk; same for MAT. Desi is Desi; he's streaky and will find hot streaks as well as cold streaks. Danny is having a good year and could be used to substitute more for Desi. I don't think it's nearly time to panic, give it another month at least, especially with the poor competition in the NL East.

Anonymous said...

My concern is that Zim won't break out of his season-long slump because he is hurt. If he can't move beyond .230 by the end of June, it seems like they have to put him on the DL.

Kenny B. said...

I don't usually laugh out loud at things on the Internet, but I did at the Bryce Harper food searching analogy. Maybe he can't carry the team every month, but if he keeps up his impressive seemingly base level production and the rest of the team does... anything at all (as in, breaks out of their collective funk), then maybe we can at least keep pace with the Mets and hopefully win the division in a toss up.

It's been an odd season so far, almost cleanly divided by months: Apr (OMG disaster!), May (OMG best eva!), and June (OMG worst eva!). But frankly, the steps forward by Bryce make the whole thing a lot more tolerable. Personally, I wouldn't mind seeing a move somewhere. I don't know where, but somewhere. There have been a ton of injuries, and even the players out there are close to hurt. Most any reasonable hedge against the injury bug seems worth doing as long as it doesn't clear out the farm too much.

Anonymous said...

The tam philosophy needs work, and one of the reasons I don't see the Nats making a move to keep Desi past the last game they play this season/post season.

Ian rarely takes a pitch. 2 guys took pitches and got a ball to hit on hitters counts in front of me? I'll swing at the first pitch that is close and pop up to kill a 2 out rally.

The errors are killers as well, and all point to someone getting yips under contract pressure.

Lobaton is the defensive backstop we need, and his framing makes an already good rotation better. Gio seems to get way more calls with that curve than with Ramos back there. And how many extra bases at critical times has Ramos given up by not stopping a passed ball or not being in position to block a pitch in the dirt? Those lead to rallies and cheap runs in the scorebook.

Nattydread said...

Harper on the mountaintop was funny. Nice one.

I'm not panicking yet. You're never as good as you seem when you're on a winning streak and you're never as bad as you seem when you're on a losing streak. Its a very long season.

Wally said...

I am not going to go in quite the rant that John C did, but I come out with a similar conclusion.

I think this is a good assessment of where we are, but I'd be willing to bet on a Ramos and Desi bounce back and would ride that out, since the cost of an obvious upgrade at those spots isn't going to be worth paying. I would give Rendon time to get in shape (that may be the most patently obvious statement I've ever made). I think that I also would rest Span now because he is super important to this team and they need him healthy. Maybe give him a DL stint to heal up. Desk and Ramos returning to something like career averages, and a healthy Span, should be enough to make the offense acceptable.

The big question is Zim and what is really going on. He is young enough, with enough track record, to think he isn't experiencing a skill decline, so it seems likely that it is the plantar fasciitis, or something else that hasn't been disclosed. But plantar fasciitis can be really difficult and recurring, so if they do anything, I'd vote for a bat that can play a corner OF and 1B.

Mitch said...

Once Ryan Zimmerman lost the ability to throw, they should have moved him (as I said long ago and certainly you all remember!) At a premium defensive position, you can tolerate the constant threat of injury and good but not great offense. Now he's a freaking train wreck at the most easily replaceable defensive position -- hitting in the middle of the lineup (not that there's another option.) And yes, you can move a guy with a big contract. But the longer you wait, the worse it is.

This post reminds me of Harper's pre-season "Optimistic/Pessimistic" posts. We've seen it all!

Carl said...

If this team stumbles to, say, 88 wins, but wins the division because everyone else is more terrible, then gets hot in October... well, that would be just about perfect, wouldn't it.

Anonymous said...

I've always thought our lineup was not as fearsome as it could be. Perhaps now that Bryce is a real threat to any opposing pitcher, it is moving that way. Our lineup is not station-to-station. Our lineup is terrible at situational hitting. Our manager lacks any out-of-the-box thinking (such as batting the pitcher 8th).

To echo what an anonymous poster said above - our team philosophy (if we have any) toward hitting is not good - a "whiff" to speak metaphorically. Too many times do we let the pitcher off the hook with and keep him with a low pitch count. We score too little to help our starting pitcher out and don't have a bullpen that can hold a lead or keep us in a ballgame if we're down a run.

I would LOVE a piece from Harper about how we could better construct this lineup given the players that we have? Do we need more big bats? More speed? Better OBP guys? Because right now, we have very little of any of those...

BxJaycobb said...

Goodness how much do we miss Souza right now? Why not call the As and offer Cole for zobrist, who can play both outfield and 1B? Or Brewers to ask about Lind or Khris Davis? Cole is much more expendable with Ross, giolito, and Lopez coming. I'm sure he'll be a decent starter, but you can't make an impact move without losing the "long term value." Then for next 5ish yours you have scherzer, giolito, gio, roark, and Ross, with Lopez fitting somewhere in there if he doesn't end up in the pen (Keith law seems to think his violent delivery may not be repeatable enough to start.)

Anonymous said...

Thank goodness the Nationals let Adam LaRoche just walk away. I mean, who needs a 1st baseman who can hit for a 119 OPS+? Certainly not the Nationals, nosiree Bob.

And I mean, who in the world could have ever possibly predicted coming into the season that Zimmerman might get injured? That never happens!

Chaos said...

The kid hits a game-tying HR! Veteran grit from Span legging out the chopper! All is well! Let's win 20! This is the kind of game that can turn a season around!

Chaos.........channeling my inner Boz