Nationals Baseball: 2015 Nightmare in review

Thursday, February 18, 2016

2015 Nightmare in review

About now is when I start running through the dream and nightmare scenarios for the season. But before I do that for 2016, I'd like to look back at the one closest to what actually happened and see how it compared to reality. Thankfully the Nats haven't really split the difference in any season making it easy to figure which one to compare it to. So let's get to looking at the Nightmare that was 2015.

First off my opening paragraph was dead on and super sad in retrospect.
It would mean that in the 4 year window where the Nats were arguably the best team in baseball, they would have made the playoffs twice and never made it past the first round. There's no good way to spin that as a positive. This nightmare scenario (is) ... real tough on Matt Williams who will have missed the playoffs with a better team than Davey missed with. How can he be kept around?
Answer? He couldn't be. 

I initially set the Nats "everyone healthy and plays to expectations" talent level at 102 wins. Yikes. I was right about some issues that I thought could lead to a big drop. Desmond's continued slide, Rendon, Strasburg, Fister, and Zimmermann being less productive, Werth and the pen being much less productive.

I was wrong however thinking Yuney might be a win less than LaRoche (the guy he was in practice replacing offensively). Escobar was actually better. I was wrong that Scherzer might be less productive. He was even better than he was in 2015. I was wrong thinking Gio would go down. He was stable. I was also wrong thinking Span would have to be less productive. He was actually just a good as 2015. And I was wrong thinking the Nats couldn't lose that many games without Bryce plateauing talent-wise. Bryce exploded.

Looking at those last two paragraphs in a vacuum it would be hard to see how the Nats actually missed the playoffs. Some things went right, some things went wrong. Even if you say "more went wrong than right" you aren't looking at a 19 game drop from the above. Maybe a couple of wins. Well it turns out two other things crushed the Nats.

One was injury. This can't be helped. I don't predict injury in these scenarios beyond saying this guy might play a handful of fewer games than a full season. (I had Ramos and Zimm at 120 for example) This is the only way to do it because long-term injuries are hard to predict. So it was great say that 2015 Span was equally productive when he played to 2014 Span, but 2015 Span played 60 games and his replacement, MAT, wasn't good. Zimmerman at the plate wasn't too far off 2014, but he didn't put up anything close to a full season. I flat out said "missing the playoffs without injury is almost unreasonable". We have to state this, because some people still think it isn't the case, but the Nats missed the playoffs in large part thanks to injury.

But even that doesn't exactly explain everything (although it certainly explains a lot and ties into what I'm going to say next). The other thing that happened is that I underestimated the slides that the talent could take. Desmond slid further than I thought. Rendon went from All-Star to average. Werth was worse than that. I had Zimmerman holding his disappointing ground and he was less productive. I had Ramos hitting just as bad as in 2014 and he somehow managed to do even worse. ZNN was well off his 2015 season. Once guys like Espinosa were pressed into regular service, the bench was exposed. The Nats not only got hurt but got worse and that combination countered the few bright spots that would have normally kept them very close to a playoff spot, if not in.

What does it mean for this year? Obviously injuries matter but that could be said of any year. It more importantly means that the "healthy & hit expectations" baseline production for the Nats has dropped a ton. 102 wins to some number I'll guess right now at least 10 wins worse. All these guys still here : Ramos, Zimmerman, Werth, Rendon, literally half the offense, have big drops in what we can reasonably expect they will do. That'll make the dream scenario that much harder to get to, and the nightmare scenario that much closer. However, I still expect to be able to work my way to a very very good year for the Nats from their "healthy & hit expectation" base.

I haven't felt this unsure about a Nats team in years. I could go into a coma today, wake up in October and you could tell me the Nats won 98 games or 80 games and I probably wouldn't be surprised. No breakouts and no injuries are needed, I think, to reasonably get the Nats anywhere from hugely disappointment to WS favorite. At least that's what I think I'll see. We'll find out next week.


Rob said...

I've looked to my magic 8-ball and I predict 85-88 for the Nats, winning the division by a game over the LOLMets.

cass said...

I really hate that I was right in my comment on your nightmare scenario post last year:

I appreciate the exercise, but this pretty much demonstrates that it's the injuries that we need to worry about. That's what will keep us up at night. Plenty of players on this team are injury risks - almost every single player on this team is more of an injury risk than the average player, actually.

I am also struck by how engaged I was before last season. I am feeling much more apathetic about the Nats than I have in years, perhaps ever. This team just isn't very exciting except for a certain right fielder. And that right fielder is just counting down the days till he leaves for LA or New York and collects his 500,000 grand.

The departures of Zimm, Desmond, and Storen are part of it and perhaps the continued employment of the DC Choker even moreso. Although loudly booing your own closer might sound funny, the alternative of just not showing up to any games at all sounds like a less stressful alternative. If it weren't for Harper and Strasburg's final season, I'm not sure I'd care about this team at all.

And I haven't even touched on the victim-blaming, domestic-abuse-apologist manager. I can't help but feel I have better things to do than invest too much of my time in this team.

Dmitri Young said...

@cass For the first time since I started watching the Nats a lot in 2007, I stopped watching and caring early last September. I hate to blame the guy with perhaps little control over on-field events, but it was all Matt Williams (I was also annoyed the Lerners / Rizzo used the "we're totally getting all-stars at the deadline when they return from injury" to refuse to pursue offensive help). I got sick of watching him make what I perceived to be the wrong moves in 2014 and by 2015, what I perceived to be indefensible moves. I just watch baseball 5 nights a week, I haven't made a career of it, so I can't imagine what the players thought of his strategy. Anyway, it seemed to me they were giving up some and I don't totally blame them.

I think 2015 will be a good year to watch. A lot of guys I've liked trying to make come backs, maybe some young stars, and at least two superstars. I'm a little scared Dusty will try to drive me away again, but I think it has to be better than MW's tenure.

1natsfan said...

A major problem that I had with last season was this expectation that the veterans returning from the DL would be productive immediately. Therefore, by management's way of thinking, there was no reason to get any help at the trade deadline. The second half of the season seemed to be based more on hope and prayer than rational judgement.

Bjd1207 said...

@Rob Evans - do you mean Nats get between 85-88 wins? Cuz if that's a record prediction you overshot by about 9 games (173)

@Cass/Dimitri - Yea I've got the same general feeling, definitely less excited than I was for most of the last 3-4 years, but I think a huge part of that was how the last half of the season unwound last year. A hot start this year and I'm right back on board I'd expect.

Rob said...

Sorry, meant between 85-88 wins :-)

JW said...

Last year there were clear pre-Spring Training and post-Spring Training feelings. Going into Spring Training you felt like this was a team that was going to contend. Spring Training really changed the mood for me though. Rendon's injury and the constantly contradictory information about it really created uneasiness. Span was hurt. Werth was hurt. It just didn't feel good.

I don't expect the Nats to make the playoffs this year, and certainly not compete for a title, but I am still really excited about the season. What makes me sad is my concern about the long-term future of this team. I don't like that the Nats don't seem interested in keeping their star players. As a fan, you build affection for certain players. Turnover is part of every team, but the Nats don't even seem to be trying. Even smaller market teams like the Rays, Twins, etc. manage to keep a few of their guys around.

The Nats are just letting a lot of guys walk over a short period of time. Signings like Max are great, but extending Stras or Harper would be much more significant from a fan perspective. Ticket prices will keep going up, while emotional investment will keep going down. Not a good pattern.

JE34 said...

I wish I could muster up some apathy, because of the depressed expectations for 2016 and beyond (compared to the odds-on-WS-favorite bar from last year). Since this season will likely be reduced to the Just-Be-Better-Than-The-Mets season, I figure to fixate on that particular measurement. Here's hoping that doesn't angry up the blood.

That said, I will enjoy Bryce being BRYCE for as long as possible in a Nats jersey. JW is right - it would be nice to see the front office make a concerted run at keeping the at-risk fan-faves here long term. The one year deal for Stras was depressing.

Robot said...

I'm uneasy about this year, as well. All the same question marks hanging over the returning players (Rendon, Zimm, Werth, MAT, Espinosa) plus a wholebunch ofnew ones. Dusty will be an improvement because, really, you can only go up from MW, but i can't get excited about him. Maybe it's lingering fears about the higher-ups in the wake of his hiring process. Plus, the Pap is still on the team.

Well, at least there's still BRYCE

Donald said...

In a lot of ways, it's easier to be excited about a team that isn't expected to be the best team in baseball. The wins are more satisfying when they aren't expected and the loses less depressing. I'm still excited about this season and am hopeful that Dusty Baker makes a difference. I was definitely in the camp that the manager doesn't add or subtract that many wins one way or the other, but last year, the team seemed to definitely play down. They lost the games that they really needed to win, and they lost ugly. Reading about how Williams had lost the clubhouse made some sense in retrospect. I know chemistry has a chicken/egg dilemma about it, but I'm hoping this year the team has a better vibe. Even if they don't make the playoffs, I'd like to see them having fun and wearing rally caps and cheering each other like they did in 2012. A fast start will really help.

Unknown said...

Wow, what's going on here? The soulless automaton is a cheerleader compared to this comments section. We enjoy a game played outdoors in good weather (OK, forget July and August.) And our team no longer loses 100+ games a season. And almost every game we get to watch a kid the baseball gods sent down to us with thunder in his arms (and a really great haircut.)

Baseball's coming, that means spring, the season of renewal, is coming. So be of good cheer. Put the best movie about baseball every made on the DVD player (OK, stream it) and remember:

"Some days you win, some days you lose, some rains."

KW said...

It should be noted that despite all the injuries to the everyday players (I believe the Nats only played two games with their full projected lineup), the 2015 offense still managed to score 17 MORE runs than it did in 2014. (Thank you, Bryce.) That means there must have been a black hole in the pitching, which did indeed surrender 80 more runs than the 2014 staff did. Admittedly, there were some defensive issues with some of the stopgap guys (Yuney at 3B, CRob and T-Mo stumbling around in the OF) and with those struggling to keep up with their past (Werth, Desi), but 80 more runs is still a heck of a hole for which the pitching staff has to take most of the blame. Blowing up the bullpen should help, but it will remain to be seen how much.

Robot said...

@Unknown - I think (to me, at least) the incompetence of the higher-ups has really shaken a lot of our faith in the team. Even when we were losing 100+ a season, we had confidence in the direction of the organization and believed that there was a bright future ahead (sometimes you had to squint to see it, of course).

Last year (or going back to the 2014 NLDS, really) undermined that. MW made bad decision after bad decision. Some of it was bad luck, but some of it reeked of an inability to think on his feet. Multiple players went down with injuries that, in every instance, wound up being significantly worse than initially reported. Rizzo did nothing to fill in the holes that emerged and, at the trade deadline, the only major trade the team makes is (1) an insult to our closer and (2) assaulted the NL MVP. AND HE'S STILL ON THE TEAM.

I hope Bryce has another season as BRYCE, as that was the only bright spot last year. But more than that, I want the team to relax and be fun again. Maybe the lowered expectations will help and the Mets will crumble under the spotlight. I don't know.

Mythra said...

Pitchers and catchers are reporting, and the countdown to Opening Day has begun.

I'm going to give Rizzo the benefit of the doubt about the injury holes last year and not filling them. First, what if he was told the same info that the media was? What if Rendon's knee was really just a bruise and he found out later it was weeks out? If he heard wrong prognosis from what I considered an incompetent training staff as we all heard, then why bring in anyone else? He may have been told that Zim, Werth and Rendon were coming back in perfect shape.

I think the team will do fine this season. Any support other than BRYCE will be welcome, and they added a couple of contact guys in Murphy and Revere. I think that alone will give the opposing pitchers some troubles. If Zim or Rendon can give Bryce some protection in the lineup, then that lineup could get really long.

I'm excited. Not 2005 or 2012 excited, but enough to look at schedule and planning my few trips a year to the Park.

Flapjack said...

@Unknown makes a good point, that the so-called soulless automaton is less whiney (in so many words) than many of his disheartened followers. I'll get back to this in a second. But look, I think out of respect we should at least capitalize Soulless Automaton, because after all it is a name. Actually, though, I prefer Other Harper. Or perhaps OH! (the exclamation point being a technique used by others with a last name likeness problem). That should provide leeway for those of us who forget to use Bryce of BRYCE when referring to the anointed one.

We had all known change was coming. We just didn't know it was coming in a year when baseball's received wisdom was that the roster should stand pat (102 wins as an upside? OH!). So given that record, we should embrace change. Meanwhile, there are things we can be thankful for, such as not having to fret about the durability of JZ's second elbow or experience more of the excruciating agony of Ian Desmond's long slide into darkness. (Boy, was he dumb, and were we lucky, that he didn't take The Contract.)

There is something to be said for the possibility that the old (literally) Nats weren't as good as we thought they were, and that the replacements coming in might therefore be an improvement. (Is anybody betting Fister will have a better year than Ross? I'll take some of that.) Giolito, Turner? C'mon, half the joy of success is in the anticipation.

The real humility belongs not to us fans but to Rizzo, who, along with Williams, treated his players, particularly the pitchers, like so many soulless automatons rather than the sensitive, fragile egos they really were. Dusty Baker seem an appropriate answer for that.

This is spring. There is plenty to be excited about. Standing pat is not one of them.

Sammy Kent said...

The problem with the injuries to Rendon, Werth, and RZim weren't that they were out of the lineup and thus unproductive. The problem is that except for some typically streaky stretches from Zimmerman, they were unproductive when they were IN the lineup. The bench guys that came in (Espinosa, Robinson, Taylor) are the ones that had this team in first place in early July. Rendon, Werth, and Zim all returned within days of each other in late July and promptly dragged the team to a 6-13 record over the next three weeks, and generally stunk up the joint for the rest of the season. Nonetheless they played and played and played while the guys that had kept the Nationals above water collected splinters.

Let's not fool ourselves and pretend that the Nats faltered because of injuries last season. They didn't. They faltered because the ones that were supposed to be the offense failed to deliver, and the ones that did deliver were thrown overboard as soon as the stars returned. Werth was fricking werthless as a leadoff hitter. He actually reached base leading off the first inning something like three out of 35 games. We'd have been a darn sight better off if Rendon and Werth had just stayed out the rest of the year.

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