Nationals Baseball: The next move is tougher

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

The next move is tougher

Let's start off by talking about Ross. How did he do against a good team? Eh. You know. Not the worst. If you are a Ross lover, you are probably thinking "If they had a good RFer in then that Puig hit is no worse than a single and actually is probably caught and the night looks differently" Ok sure. But Ross was hanging junk all night and the Dodgers were missing it. Pop-ups usually happen on 98 MPH heaters up in the zone, not sliders and sinkers that aren't sliding and sinking. Watch the game again and see how many "Oh they really could have nailed that" pitches you see. I saw a fair amount.

If you're negative then you can say "this is Ross". You might think that is unfair, it's just one poor start, but the unhittable Ross with perfect control? That was the unusual Ross based on his minor league stats. If you're positive you can hang your hat on some good situational pitching like that Gonzalez AB in the 3rd where Ross found a spot he felt was a weakness and was able to pound it over and over. Even if you are like me and think the Ross-love is overblown, there is undeniable potential.

Mets win. Nats lose. Whatever. That'll happen. What can the Nats do to get better now? They got another top notch relief pitcher. They sat Fister for Ross. Desmond has hit his way to a point where he's mashing bad pitches from bad pitchers and not striking out all the time. What's the easiest way to get better today?

Sit Werth.

Unlike Ian, who is presumably healthy but working through issues, Jayson was hurt this year. He may still not be 100%, In fact I'd take all the money I have sitting around and bet on that fact. The guy is 36. He hit .208 / .294 / .287 before going out. He's hit .160 / .185 / .280 since. Just a bad two weeks? Perhaps. But almost 65% of his hits since coming back are grounders and pop-ups (63.1%). His pull-rate is basically the lowest of his career. He's hitting a lot soft (22% - usually around 16%) and nothing hard (24.4% - usually around 34%). He's a worse version of the player that the Nats saw back in 2011. He's not helping the team being out there.

Of course sitting Werth is easier said than done (espeically with Bryce nursing a sore knee and Span not close to returning). You could just play Robinson for him. That would be an improvement, although an admittedly minor one. You could scour the waiver wire for a replacement. De Aza? Byrd? Again - minor improvements probably (actually Marlon would be a nice move) but minor improvements are still improvements.

But it's not just the available options that get in the way. There is the "Werth-iness" that is problematic. Ian might be the internal leader on the team, but Werth is the external face. For all the talk about Bryce, Werth is the one with the Chia pet and the troll doll and the 21 million dollar contract. Should you sit that? Yes. Can you? Maybe not, depending on the guys in charge.

Werth also has (in pure theory - like the one that proves 1+1=2) the best possibility of a big impact. He was very good the last two years, great even. If he does "get it" he'll be better than anything they can bring in.

So there is a lot working for playing Werth while the stats scream sit him. Is there a compromise? Yes. Move him down in the order. Bat him 7th. 8th. If you truly think he needs to work his way back and that's all it shouldn't matter if he's batting 4th or 5th or 9th. It'll happen. In the meantime if it's not happening he's not stranding runners again and again.

23 comments:

Nattydread said...

Totally agree about Werth. I don't who whether or not he's injured, but it is painful watching him flounder.

Last night, I would've put Espinosa out in right field ahead of Robinson. For some reason he reminds me of Frank Howard when he fields.

OK. Ross is over-rated. But he wasn't beat as badly as the score indicated and he does have poise out there. If only Strasburg had his poise.

WiredHK said...

If they wouldn't sit Desi, you can bet your savings they won't sit Werth no matter what his stats are over the next 2 months. Rizzo likely wouldn't approve of it, and I'd bet my life the guy who worships veterans like they are bronzed HOF statues won't do it. And, I'll be shocked if he goes lower than 5th in the order at any stage - he'll be put on the DL again before they do that to him. No, we'll just have to watch and cringe unless he improves.

The Mets are simply doing the Rockies like we wish the Nats would have done - sweeping a bad team at home. The problem is, this Nats team is a shade above mediocre, so you can't really expect a sweep of anyone (a series victory should have been fine, but we blew even that). That current Mets team is better than "a shade above mediocre," so you can expect a sweep and certainly bank on a series win at home.

As for Ross, he clearly did not have anything resembling the command we saw in his first several starts last night. He fell behind a lot of hitters (some of his pitches were wildly off) and then left some meat over the plate (I do think he got squeezed some by the HP ump compared to calls Greinke got, but that's gonna happen). I don't think it is any commentary on his future or discredits what he has done to this point. If he had his good command and got lit up, I'd be more prone to wondering about him. But, I think he will be just fine -- he paid for a mistake to Puig. The Clint Robinson-aided bases clearing "triple" I guess also counts, but mainly because Ross let all those runners on vs the actual result of the hit itself (that has to be caught...it just has to).

He's been one of the very few bright spots in a season that is going sideways...

Rob Evans said...

I wish they would sit Werth. Not gonna happen though. Next year, if he continues like this, may be another story...

Miles Treacy said...

I think the offense again is getting saved from harsh criticism because of the insane pre-season projections given to the staff. The pitchers haven't lived up to that billing, but by all means have given this team plenty to work with. Like you pointed out yesterday, the "full lineup" minus one guy should be performing and they're simply not time and time again for the past two weeks. 7 hits! Based on the season, that sounds like an amazing line for this team but then when you realize that they're all singles and the lineup doesn't know how to play station to station, they will will never score. Super frustrating. Ross definitely left some balls hanging and we'll see if his control is an issue moving forward, but I definitely felt he kept them in the game. Greinke was definitely beatable last night and some guys did hit some rockets right at people, but the lack of adjustments by some of the hitters gets super old.

Bjd1207 said...

I think Werth gets another stretch about as long as this past one to see if he shows improvement. If he doesn't, I don't think we should all be so pessimistic that Williams won't sit him/move him to 4th OF. Part of the reason Des was in the lineup so long while he was struggling was because we didn't have other options while Rendon was out (he would have been replaced by Dan Uggla). Once Rendon got back, Desi was rotated out much more frequently and then he started showing signs of life again which got him back in the lineup.

And Clint Robinson in place of Werth's current line would not be a "mild" improvement, it would be a drastic improvement. If Zimm and Des really are coming back in line with their averages, then Taylor would be the only "hole" left in our lineup. Clint has been holding his own with the bat this year

Robot said...

Move Werth to manager and sit MW

Gr8day4Bsbll said...

Robinson's bat has far out-performed Werth's, hands down. Not necessarily a fair comparison, given Werth's injury status and the fact that he may currently be in his second (or third?) spring training ramp-up, but the stats are the stats. As for defensively, not once this season have I seen a ball that Robinson didn't get to and said to myself "gee, if only Werth were playing that spot -- HE sure would have made that play!". So offensively CR is probably a better bet than Werth with a month left in the season, and defensively it's at worst a wash. That says to me that, leaving the "I love veterans" bias out of it, the winning move is to bench Werth, or at least platoon him, in favor of CR until Werth shows that his offense improves to the point that we need to recalculate.

Pescado said...

Robinson is clearly the better hitter right now and also I'd have to say he has a significantly tighter confidence interval associated with his projected performance down the stretch. I'd bench Werth for Robinson even though Robinson is a terrible outfielder. Werth is historically better defensively but doesn't seem comfortable reading the ball off the bat in LF. But all this discussion is pretty pointless because a move like this would a manager with gumption, creativity, and a willingness to deviate from conservative managerial practices. Williams, most assuredly, does not fit that mould.

Jay said...

The real question is if the Nats miss the playoffs (only 42% chance yesterday before losing another game in the standings last night) do they fire MW? At this point, it would be worth losing this year to get rid of the manager. They aren't going anywhere in the playoffs if they do make it, so why risk several more years of MW?? The new mantra - play like crap to fire Matt. They are already well on their way.

Also, anyone else think part of Sherzer's problem now is the fact that he threw way too many innings earlier in the year. Thanks MW. Thanks for leaving starters in way too long.

Final note - anyone see Werth's comments that he would rather chase a team down the stretch than be in the lead - what an idiot.

Bryceroni said...

It will never happen, but Werth should get a phantom shoulder tweak or something and go to AAA for abs. He clearly does not look ready to hit major league pitching.

I still like Ross, even though he made some bad pitches he is still showing some excellent swing and miss stuff. If Harper was in rf and caught the second puig ball you would walks way from the game saying he didn't have his bests stuff but he gave the team a chance to win.

John C. said...

With regard to Jay's question: unless the team absolutely collapses down the stretch - and perhaps not even then - they aren't going to fire the manager.

I love the way the meme "Rizzo loves vets" still percolates even after Doug Fister is banished to the back end of the bullpen for rookie surprise Joe Ross. They accelerated Harper's and Rendon's promotions due to team need, too.

There is a very rational argument that the best way forward for this team is Werth in the OF rather than any of the options. "The stats are the stats" sure, but you also can't just ignore that over the past two seasons Werth has been the best bat on the team. Yes, Robinson's 2015 stats are better, but professional projection services like ZiPS, Steamer and others project Werth to have a wRC+ of between 108 and 122 for the rest of the season. They project Clint Robinson for between 92 and 99 wRC+. And as much as Werth is still getting his legs back, he's simply better than either Robinson or Moore in the outfield (Robinson isn't even very good at first base).

I'm not offering this as a guarantee - hey, baseball, there are no guarantees - but to point out that when Rizzo, Williams and the Nationals start Werth as often as they can down the stretch (and I believe that they will) that it's quite likely that they aren't doing it for sentimental reasons, or even inchoate reasons like "team chemistry." They would likely be doing it because they reasonably think that it gives the Nationals the best chance to win.

Remember it was just a 2-3 weeks ago that a lot of people were calling for Robinson and Zimmerman to platoon at first base - a platoon which, due to L/R splits, would have given the lion's share of starts to Robinson. Which would have cost the team a lot of at bats of a player who has been the hottest bat on the team since he returned. Yes, Zimmerman, not Bryce Harper. To think that Werth gives the team the best chance at production from the LF spot going forward isn't sentimentality - it's rational. That doesn't mean that it will work. Just that it's the most likely to work of the available options.

WiredHK said...

I think the meme is that MW loves Vets, not Rizzo. So in a sense, you sort of set up a straw man there and knocked it down heartily, John C. I think Rizzo simply likes the team he built, and he will remain committed to sticking with it to the end of the year. There's nothing super wrong with that, but the issue Harper (and others) point out is that -- the runway is short now, we're no longer favored to do anything and we don't have time to play the long game with Werth's expected recovery. If he isn't 100% and may have trouble regaining form (as history suggests he will with this type of injury), the winning move is very likely to play Robinson over him. You can reject that POV or spin the fact that he and MW won't do that however you like, but it's a fair way to think, nonetheless.

WiredHK said...

Also, to your point -- I'm encouraged that they are letting Ross continue to start and moved Fister to the pen. However, if they DIDN'T do that after the amount of evidence in front of them this season supporting that position....my goodness that would suggest complete ineptitude. Our GM is certainly smart enough to not let that travesty happen. Fister is throwing 85 MPH with no movement. So, using that as evidence that someone is open to playing the better player despite veteran status isn't super convincing to me. That was the definition of a no-brainer.

Anonymous said...

I think John C's is an interesting comment. One note: Zips has Doug Fister projected at a 3.89 FIP for the rest of the season, with Joe Ross projected at 4.18. So an argument for keeping Fister in the rotation is similar to the one you make for keeping Werth in the lineup.

The thing about the projection systems is that they use a host of variables to project future performance. Their "secret sauce" is in how heavily to weigh each of the variables, including how heavily to weigh more recent performance vs. less recent performance. One common theme of the projection systems is that fans tend to have "recency bias," in that they weigh recent performance far more heavily than it ought to be weighed. One thing projection systems don't do well is account for injuries.

I'm with Harper: Werth ought to be given more ABs to see if he can turn it around, but he shouldn't be hitting 5th.

John C. said...

WiredHK, it doesn't really matter to me who is identified as the person with the preference for baseball veterans. The point that I was making is that there is a perfectly solid, reasonable argument that going with Werth would give the Nationals the best chance to win. The projections that I cited take into account the current season's statistics as well as previous systems; I don't doubt that the Nationals have their own proprietary metrics as well. I accept that Werth isn't likely to get his power back right away - to me his likely outcome looks more like batting average/OBP Werth of 2012 than the guy who raked in 2013-14. But the Nats could really, really use that guy. And the fact that at age 36 he's a better baserunner and defender than Robinson is at 30 - and by a fair amount, too - means that you can dial those projections back significantly and still conclude that Werth is the better overall option.

Of course, you can accept or reject that POV, too - hey, we're all internet commenters here burning up our lunch break. But it's a fair way to think, and in addition to private metrics there are public metrics that can be cited to support it. It's easy to take the position that "the Nationals aren't doing what I would do, and therefore they must be acting sentimentally/irrationally/etc." I'm not spinning what I believe the likely outcome (Werth plays as often as possible) should be. I'm merely saying that, given the argument outlined above, there is no reason to assume that if the Nats make such a decision that it could only be based on bias and sentimentality.

John C. said...

12:15 Anon (these times are apparently all Pacific time): I completely agree with both your points. I agree that there is no harm in dropping Werth in the batting order while he figures this stuff out,* and with your point that projections are uncertain business and subject to how they weight the data available. That's why I cited three different projection systems, all of which project Werth significantly ahead of CRob's expected production.

*With the corollary, of course, that lineups don't make very much difference at all in the grand scheme of things, much less in the scope of a short stack of games.

Anonymous said...

I agree with Werth that it's better to be the chaser. The Mets are more dangerous catching the Nationals from behind at the end of the season.

Let the Mets carry the weight of expectation from being the frontrunner. The Mets have been a bad team so long, they're in over their heads in 1st place. They'll wilt under the pressure. When the Mets fade away, the Nats will pass them by.

Ryan said...

You mean like how it was better for the Braves in 2012?

David said...

Mets rotation is just unstoppable, when Niese and Colon luckbox wins they are basically guaranteed to reel off 7 straight wins.

Anonymous said...

The Mets have no expectations. The Nats were overwhelming favorites to make the WS. It's WS or bust for them. 99% of all pundits picked the Mets to finish behind the Nats and Marlins.

VI said...

Anyone who says it's better to chase first place is a total idiot.

WiredHK said...

From a macro view, it's amusing that we are debating if playing or sitting sub .200 Werth is a "defensible" move or not. I guess we can boil the argument down to, sure, there are reasons to play him and reasons to sit him, right? Cool, agreed. I never really said what I personally would do, I just said the winning move may very well likely be to play Robinson. Doesn't matter in the end, though -- all that matters is what Rizzo and MW WILL do. And my main original point was, we can be pretty certain what that will be -- play the guy (with a good history that is making a really large amount of money).

That entire topic even being debated is symbolic of how this year has gone -- disappointing on so many levels.

Rachael said...

I love baseball game..much