Nationals Baseball: Maximizing Wins

Tuesday, August 04, 2015

Maximizing Wins

Second Place

As much as I'd like to say differently - it's not panic time. Neither team, the Nats or the Mets should really panic unless the gap between them approaches the number of H2H games they have left (6). Right now the Nats could match the Mets up to the H2H battle and get back into first with a single win.

There is still a lot of the season left, more than a third. The division could be won by someone running away but it's better to assume it will be close and if that's the case each win the Nats can get is of crucial importance. How can the Nats maximize wins?

At catcher : Make sure Lobaton doesn't hit against lefties.

There's been talk about letting Lobaton play more, but the truth is he is no better than Ramos. Not at the plate, and really not behind it either (past few years of pitch framing and caught stealing don't show me enough of a difference to get worked up about). So play him as much as you usually would. He's been Gio's personal catcher so keep that going I guess but don't let him hit lefties, even if Gio is pitching. He can't do it.

At first and second : Pray for health

I'm not saying either are "back" but both Rendon and Zimm look ok and are crucial to the success of the Nats. Give them a couple more weeks to see where they are while scouring the potential waivers for a worthy 6 week replacement for either. Probably unnecessary but no harm keeping an eye out.

At shortstop : Don't call up Tre Turner... just yet

I know you guys are all ready to replace him but Ian Desmond has hit .300 / .364 / .580 over the past two weeks. He battled through a 1-16 stretch in there, and came out the other side with a hit in each of the last 3 games. Espinosa? Obviously you haven't paid attention because Danny has been hitting like old Danny since well before the All-Star break. He's not the answer. Tre Turner is looking great in AAA, but Tre Turner performance at the major league level is a great unknown. Do I think he'll be good in the majors? Looks like it. Do I think he'll be good for 7 weeks if brought up now and made to start? Hell if I know.

Ride out Ian's return to relevancy for a few more days at least. If he keeps hitting ok, you can probably wait till September for Tre. If he flounders then call him up.

At third : Nothing.

Yuney had an unimpressive July but hasn't dropped enough for him to be a big worry.  Just take him as is. If for some reason he does fall apart now in karmic retribution for some crazy BABIPs in May and June, it's just another reason to wait out Ian. If Ian hits and Yuney struggles, Yuney could be out. Not Ian.  I'm not saying it's likely but it could happen. Yuney's been over his head.

In the OF : Get Span back ASAP, see where you are then, pray harder

There's not much that one can do. Robinson is not a "have to play" option, so Bryce, Taylor and Werth it is. If the prayers work Werth will return to having some sort of offensive presence and Span simply replaces the flailing Taylor. If the prayers don't work... well assuming nothing has changed, you probably split time between Taylor and Werth, with Taylor getting all the late innings and occasional spot start for defense.

In the rotation : Get Strasburg back ASAP, drop Fister. Ride out Ross as long as his arm takes you.

Fister hasn't looked good since May. He has a 4.86 ERA since coming back from injury and a 6.14 ERA in his last 4 starts. He's gotta be the one to go if you value winning. As for Ross and innings limits, don't think about it now. Maybe the division will be decided in a month when he hits it and you can pull him. Maybe he'll have tired out and look like he needs to stop. If neither are true you've gotta make the call to keep him going, in my opinion but let it go.

In the pen : Tell Storen he's the most important guy in the pen and as such you are going to use him wherever.

Storen has been jerked around because the Nats keep bringing in veterans who refuse to do anything but close and dammit if they can't make Storen do it. Let me take a moment to shed a tear for him. Ok done. It's not fair but that's life. What should happen now that instead of Storen being "8th inning hold guy" he needs to be seen as "Mr. Important situation in 7th inning on guy" That's his new "position". Make him feel important. Sing his importance from the highest mountain. Because it'll help him accept it, it'll be totally true, and it's best for the team. This way he can put out fires for starters, he can keep games tied that aren't going for saves, and yes, he can get holds when they come up. Use him like that and you won't need to work him in lost causes like last night. He'll get plenty of work.

Wrapping it up there's actually not much. Use Storen more effectively in more situations. Take Fister out when Stras is ready.  Take whoever is worse, Taylor or Werth, when Span is ready. Watch Ian carefully and be ready to pull the trigger on Tre Turner. Scour the waiver wire for a no doubt bat in the OF or MI (Yuney can shift or sit) or an emergency bat. Pray. This team was already set-up for success, more than anything it just needs to perform like it was supposed to.


Anonymous said...

Wait, wait, want Matt Williams to make better use of Storen?! That is the funniest thing I've read on the internet in a long time...

Rob Evans said...

I'm so depressed I probably can't tune in tonight to watch the game...

Who am I fooling? I'll tune in. Years and years of being a Redskins fan have conditioned me for disappointment :-(

Anonymous said...

Harper, I agree with literally everything in this post. That would be the perfect use for Storen if we had a competent manager to execute it. I'm curious to see what happens when Strasburg returns.* Based purely on performance, he ought to replace Fister and not Ross. He's lined up to pitch on Fister's turn. So why do I expect Ross to get sent down and Fister to stay in the rotation?

One other point: Keith Law says Reynoldo Lopez could blow MLB guys away in one inning stints in the bullpen (he compared him to K-Rod from 10+ years ago). Do you think the Nats would try this? Definitely a risk-the-future-to-win-now move...

*I'm praying to the heavens that the 11K 0BB monster from last night is the Strasburg we're getting.

Anonymous said...

I was all set to post this and then I saw the previous anonymous comment - "That would be the perfect use for Storen if we had a competent manager to execute it."
Nothing I have seen from Matt Williams gives me an ounce of hope that he would use Storen in that way - Storen is his eighth inning guy, so that's where he's going to use him. Any other use of Storen would require too much thought which our manager has shown he is not capable of.

Chaz R said...

Harper all of this is spot on. All the prayers in heaven will never get MW to do anything innovative. Ol' Paint By Numbers is gonna keep going the same way. How many games would you say he has lost for them so far? I just don't see that changing.

cass said...

I was just making that point about Storen recently. Maybe not here? But yeah, I'd give him the position of "fireman" and use him in every high-leverage situation before the 9th. And use him in the 9th of a tie game. Every high-leverage situation that isn't a save situation.

Give Matt Williams The Book or a calculator based on it or an app (can he have those in the dugout?) to tell him the leverage index and only use Storen if the leverage index is above X and always do so if the leverage index is above X and he hasn't pitched back to back days already.

Seriously, you could make a good, simple algorithm for this and it'd be much better than Matt Williams. Storen is so good that it's not complicated at all - matchups-smatchups - just put him in every single high-leverage situation you've got to maximize his value. We don't have Stammen anymore to do this and Stammen was the "high leverage before the 8th" guy, let Storen be the "high leverage before the9th" guy.

But Matt Williams probably can't do this. Fine. Assigns bullpen management to Mark Weidemaier.

Rizzo almost certainly understands this stuff. His analytics people sure as hell do and they bang their heads on the wall watching games and seeing how relievers are used - they've admitted to this. Well, it's time to do something about it. Rizzo needs to get things to change cause the season is on the line.

Maybe just have "Storen rules" for and let Williams (mis)manage the bullpen otherwise. That'd probably be enough. And you could have the rules be framed as an appeasement to Storen and his agent and make him happy and feel important. Win win.

Kenny B. said...

Virtually none of this is going to happen, other than the praying for health. Except for the occasional rest day, Werth will play unless he is physically unable. They will not call up Turner until it won't cost them anything. Ross will go down and Fister will remain when Strasburg returns. Storen will be the "8th inning hold guy." There will be no waiver pickups worth anything.

For better or worse (seemingly worse, at this point), this is an organization that is exceptionally loathe to deviate from "The Plan" as created at the beginning of the season. While "The Plan" looked good to start the season, the organization has showed very little adaptability when faced with serious struggles later in the season. Maybe the guys we have will turn it around and Rizzo & Co. will turn out to be right, but man would the fans love to see some action to show that the organization can see the huge flaws we see.

Anonymous said...

I rarely disagree with Harper, but I disagree with this one. The number of players on this 25 man roster who look like they're toast or dangerously close to being toast has me panicked. The window may already be closing on us.

Anonymous said...

Harper, do you have a sense of how many wins we need? Is there a reliable way to calculate the impact of the pieces that the Mets and Nats have added in recent weeks and then the likely regression of the existing pieces on both teams?

I'm a bit desperate to know if we are now in a hole or if we are still ahead from a baseline perspective, because it's clear the teams are very different then their performance to date.

Natsochist said...

Harper, would you dump / DFA Fister, or would you move him to the pen? If pen, who do you send to Syracuse?

Anonymous said...

Fangraphs has the Nats projected for 15.4 WAR (second highest in baseball) for the rest of the season. The Mets are at 13.4. These projections include the new additions:

The projected standings have the Nats going 32-26 and the Mets going 28-28 and for the Nats to win the division by two games:

A Fly Moses said...

It's pretty clear that Matt just really believes that roles are important to the pitchers themselves, and that a guy who knows he only pitches the 8th, or only pitches the 6th, will pitch better in that role than he would being used in a less defined role (presumably on the theory that they are used to having such roles). I also have to assume that Rizzo more or less agrees with this, and frankly, judging by the quotes we see, it sounds like a lot of the players do too. This is then a completely different question than theoretical optimal usage.

Even if we accept, for their sake, that this is true, why wouldn't the organization start removing roles in the minor leagues, and forcing their young players to learn to pitch without these roles? This seems like the most important organizational teaching philosophy change you could make.

Anonymous said...

@A Fly Moses notes that the players have been quoted as agreeing with the system of defined roles. Yet @Cass points out that the analytics crew have admitted to banging their heads on the wall at MW's rigidly defined usage of the bullpen. (I can hear Strother Martin drawling about "a failure to communicate.)

My question is this: Is there an organizational "National Way," like an Oriole Way or Dodger Way? If there is, does that include limiting the field manager's decision-making? And if does, does that preclude hiring a creative freewheeler like, say, Joe Maddon or, from another era, Earl Weaver?

Who or what is making the on-field decisions?

Bryceroni said...

I realize that most MLB managers are not that good at managing a bullpen, but it feels like MW is failing in ways that even 'old-school' type managers dont.

Even Terry Collins is capable of recognizing an important divisional series and set his rotation, while MW leaves his two best relievers on the shelf just to bring them into a 5 run game again.

I just dont understand how a baseball lifer could be so painfully clueless about the game of baseball.

JC said...

I'm curious why you do not think Lobaton does not have better pitch framing skills. I never see Ramos pull back any close pitches whereas Lobaton gets at least a few extra strikes per game. Besides the extra strikes, it seems that batter have to protect a larger part of the plate when Lobaton is catching due his pitch framing skills.

Harper said...

Anon #whatever - as a later Anon gets around - these two teams have played like roughly 85 win teams. To estimate what I think would be "safe" I'd take the paces needed to reach certain win totals and see if that seems plausible, understanding that a great pace is easier to sustain for shorter time frames.

(For example The 2013 Nats, maybe a slightly better team overall than this one (or the Mets) managed a 102 game pace for the last 54 games of the season. This is a good idea of what teams can do over months long stretches)

For the Mets to get to 90 wins : 34-22 - 98 win pace

Hmmm do I think the Mets are good enough to do that... I'm going to say no. 89 wins? 33-23 - 95-96 win pace.... yeah I guess I could see that. Their best 56 games this year is only 30-26 even with that fast start. They are slightly better now though with all the additions. 31-25 or 32-34 is probably more reasonable but I want to be safe. So I'd say 90 wins should be a safe division winning total.

That's not going to be easy. For the Nats to get to 90 wins : 36-22 - 100-101 win pace. That seems like a lot to ask of this team but they did do it this year from late May through early July. So the talent is there, even to pass that.

I'd say while the Nats have an edge (you can see it in those comparison streaks, or just based on what you know of talent) they have a lot more variability in what can happen. The Mets are expected now to go 29-27, and will probably be right around that. They have to have the luck of the start of the year to be much better, and they've improved enough they shouldn't be much worse. The Nats are looking at 32-26. I think they could go as high as 36-22 maybe even 37-21. But I also think if things don't work out they could fall to 27-31

Harper said...

JC - pitch framing stats do favor Lobaton, but not enough that I'd go ahead and make a decision based on it. They can flop around a little bit and looking at past 3-4 years I don't see much difference.

Anon on manager - I think Rizzo is a type of guy who likes his type of guys. That's the only thing holding up hiring a creative guy. Buck stops here hardnoses aren't also very creative (but they aren't necessarily separate)

Natsochist - I'd try to dump Fister off in wavers. If that fails then I guess you move Barrett down? Not many options you're right.

All - I agree the chance that Matt Williams uses Storen as a catch all solution for late innings before the last week is unlikely.

Ollie said...

I too believe Lobaton's pitch-framing and game calling place him above Ramos in value (the way he's hitting right now) and man was I disappointed when Fangraphs backed you up.

Lobaton: 28 games, 108 PA, 0.1 WAR (-4.6 oWAR, 2.0 dWAR)

Ramos: 80 games, 323 PA, 0.3 WAR (-13.3 oWAR, 5.8(!)dWAR)

Totally agree on Storen. Totally agree it won't happen. Also want to echo the sentiment that several players *look* toast right now but that it's too early to panic. But as a D.C. sports fan I'm emotionally prepared for the bottom to fall out.

Anonymous said...

Are you saying Rizzo isn't creative?

SM said...

@Anonymous--I think Harper is suggesting that creative or otherwise, Rizzo wants a Rizzo-ish
man first and foremost. Creative hardasses--Earl Weaver was one--do exist.

Harper said...

SM _ SM nails it. I think Rizzo is creative (or really - is creative enough for a GM) but I don't think that's the personality trait Rizzo looks for first in his hires.