Nationals Baseball: Tuesday Quickie - The real problem in 2016

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Tuesday Quickie - The real problem in 2016

The Nats are a good team that had an off-year. They rebuilt in some minor but important ways to make up for some important losses. They have a good division rival, in the Mets, but it isn't a team that stands head and shoulders above them. The Nats can certainly win a bunch of games and potentially win the division, which is about all you can ask for to start the season.

But there is a problem, or more accurately there are 5-7 problems amplifying the 7 other ones.

The Reds, Braves, Phillies, Rockies, and Brewers all stink. They are predicted to be among the worst 6 or so teams in the majors this year. The Padres and Marlins could stink. They aren't much better than that. There are a lot of wins to be had against these teams.

The Mets, Cardinals, Cubs, Pirates, Dodgers, Giants and potentially the resurgent/remade Diamondbacks are all solid teams. They are going to rack up said wins.

That means the race the the Wild Card is likely to be another race to the mid 90s or higher. Last year the 2nd Wild Card won 97 games. That's a lot of wins.

It's hard to say today which teams have the advantage. I guess you can say the Dodgers/Giants/Dbacks are at a disadvantage (3 good teams, only one surely bad one), but even that isn't a given. Nothing happens exactly like we assume. One of those teams I say "stinks" will likely have a surprise year and play around .500 ball. The Padres or Marlins could surprise and skirt the playoff picture. So the Braves surprise and the Marlins do well too, while the Padres crash and burn? Suddenly the Nats and Mets are the ones in trouble, not the NL West leaders.

From day one the Nats need to look at the season as a race to win as many games as possible. That sounds silly, but there is usually a "let's find our footing, we'll get them later" sense to games in April and May. There shouldn't be in a normal season, but it makes even less sense for 2016. Start at full throttle and ease up if you can later. Do not start slow expecting to catch up because, hey, 2015.

The worst thing about the Nats of 2016 is the same thing that can be said about the 2015 Nats (and 2014 Nats to be fair). They aren't built for 2016. They are built for 201x. They are a rolling 90-95% in on any season. They lack starting pitching depth (unless you think Giolito is coming up early) and are relying on question marks to fill gaps. They replaced a set of dominoes in the bullpen anchored by a potentially unreliable closer in big games with a better set of dominoes anchored by a potentially unreliable closer in the clubhouse. They improved the IF bench slightly but still lack a player on there that you are ok with playing everyday for a few months (I'm ok with trying Turner - not so much with Espinosa so that evens out). A better team than last year... let's say yes. A much better team? Given the injury circumstances of 2015? I can't say that.

Last year felt a lot more certain because the young teams hadn't arrived yet and we had no idea when they would. The Nats looked to have weak competition for the East. The non-division winners between St.Louis/Pittsburgh and Los Angeles/San Francisco had the inside tracks for the WC. To mix things up you could put another name there. The rebuilt Padres were the most popular, followed by the full of potential Marlins. But you only KNEW the Pirates and Giants should be pretty good. In this environment, the Nats approach could be said to make sense. Didn't work though.

In 2016? There should be no certainty. The Mets and Cubs have joined the rest of the good teams giving the Nats competition for the division crown and making the Wild Card picture more crowded. If the Diamondbacks are more Cubs than Padres, then there's no margin for error. The Nats approach is far riskier and makes less sense.

Obviously, even if it is riskier, all that matters is if it works out or not. The Nats are a deGrom and Syndergaard double injury from clear sailing. But I can't help thinking the stakes have been raised and the Nats haven't kept up with them, that the team isn't good enough for the fall back position of "get in and get lucky" and the season is going to boil down to "Beat the Mets or Bust".


Chaz R said...

I would have to agree, Harper. I am certainly not nearly as confident heading into the 2016 season as I was in 2015. I don't feel like they made enough moves to put themselves in a clearly strong competitive position, both in the NL East and against the rest of the NL. The bullpen is still a big question mark, as are all the guys we are looking for bounce back years from- JW, Zim, Rendon, Strasburg (maybe less concerning given his strong finish last season), Roark, etc.

Schoenfield on has the Nats is the top ten best teams, but could easily be much worse or much better depending on how the injury prone players perform.

Anonymous said...

It's quite possible that a critical factor will be whether or not Baker is permitted to bench Werth, should it become obvious early on that he really is complete toast (like I think he is).

Dmitri Young said...

I wonder if Werth has regressed that far. Even taking his awful 2015 into account, he's tied for the 19th best wrc+ since the start of 2013 (tied at 19 with Anthony Rizzo and Matt Carpenter, among others). If you take out 2015, he's tied for 6th for 2013 and 2014.

That said, more than a few of his swings last year looked like he was guessing and praying to make contact. If he's not physically able to wait and react, maybe the end has come more quickly. I'm hoping that with his health he's recovered some of his physical ability so that his decline is more gradual.

Bjd1207 said...

@Dmitri Young - Yea I think you hit the nail on the head. The Werth we saw last year was light-years away from his productive self, even just in terms of his approach. I don't think he had any kind of feel for his swing, so he was flailing out there and noticeably behind alot of the fastballs. That in turn put him in a hole in alot of the counts and so it seemed like he was in 0-2/1-2 counts nearly every at bat. He wasn't able to work the count/foul off fastballs like he's used to.

But it's hard to remember that just the year before this guy was hitting .292 for us over nearly 150 games. I can't imagine the fall off from 34-36 is that steep. But who knows, not many guys make it that far.

Bjd1207 said...

A couple more telling stats on Werth 2015:

- Contact% plunged from 80% (sustained over the last 4 years, almost 78% career avg) to 75%. A huge drop just on his ability to make contact (will this come back with a healthy wrist?)
- 3-0 count % (amount of times he got to a 3-0 count) was 5.8% compared to 8.2% in the 2 years previous. The only other year where he had anywhere near that low of a percentage was 2012 (hey what else happened to Werth in 2012?)

So I think part of it was just getting re-acclimated to his physical limitations. And hopefully this season either 1.) those physical tools have healed up closer to "normal Werth" or 2.) he's adjusted his approach more to account for them and we see something in between his 2014 and 2015.

Harper said...

Werth has to be about where he is June 1. Unless he's horrid, he's allowed a slow start because he has difference making potential and is only a year removed from it. He was actually decent (around average) after coming back from injury too so there is some thought that the skill is still there, just needed time to get back into swing.

Though the worst thing that could happen is that he hits around what he did during that time. Low .220s but with patience and passable pop. He wouldn't be helping the team (his D would make him an overall minus) but it would be hard to pull him because it'd be hard to say alternative would definitely be better. So root for him to be very good.

Barney said...

I'm an old man (saw the Nats at Griffith Stadium) and my father used to say that he always wanted a .500 team in Washington so that when he went to the ballpark he wouldn't know if the team was going to win or lose. Well, now we have that .500 team and I'm satisfied. Some years the training staff won't screw up too badly and the injuries will be minor so that the team will win 96 games. Sometimes they will screw up and the team will win 81 games. OK, I'll root for 96 but be satisfied with 81. (I don't think enough importance is given to the training staff, but the info on them seems to be publically absent.)
Rizzo was a god until we found he a) couldn't construct a bullpen b) couldn't hire a manager and c) couldn't construct a bench. So he's better than average but not in the top 3 GMs.
Mathematically a win in April against a NL East rival is just as important as a win in September against them, but people can't see that because psychology gets in the way. Can Baker get them to come out of the gate focused and intense? I don't know. (And a run in the first is just as important as the GW run in the 9th, since, again, this is just a total, but our psychology doesn't allow us to see that.)

So, putting all of the above together: injuries that will happen, psychology and manager-team dynamics, players playing better and players playing worse than we thought we end up with an above average team that has a punchers chance at the playoffs, but the odds are somewhat against it.
And I'll go to the ballpark without knowing who will win, and it will be great!

Anonymous said...

This x1000

John C. said...

Interesting thing about Jayson Werth last season: he got thrown into baseball rusty, twice, and sucked both times. Because of his late shoulder surgery he not only didn't have his offseason preparation, he had no Spring Training at all. When he tried to jump in early in April he was awful for a little over two weeks. As in .146/.228/.188/.416. Simply horrendous.

Then a funny thing happened. As the rust fell off he started to hit again. He hit .264/.339/.377/.716 from there until he got plunked on the wrist. His resurgence interrupted, back to the shelf Werth went, this time for two and a half months.

When he came back, he was again rusty and the rest of baseball was in midseason form. The result was that, once again, he was awful for a little over two weeks. As in .133/.169/.233/.402. Somehow even worse than simply horrendous. This is the Werth that got burned in the minds of Nats fans.

Then, a funny thing happened all over again; once again, after a little over two weeks the rust began to fall off and Werth started to hit again - and this time he just kept going. He hit .254/.345/.486/.831 over the last 50 days of the season. That's right, a .831 OPS - over that stretch he was the Nats best hitter not named Bryce. No one noticed, of course, because the Nats season had already gone South. Even in the Nats' last stand, 7-9 Sep against the Mets, Werth went 4-13 with 2 doubles and a walk. The Nats got swept, but it wasn't Werth's fault.

This is why I have some reason to believe that, with a full offseason of preparation and a (hopefully) full Spring Training, Werth will be a solid offensive contributor in 2016. He not only was the Nats best hitter over 2013-2014, but whenever he got a chance to bring his game up to major league speed he was also quite effective in 2015.

Froggy said...

I agree with John C and think Werth has some good miles left in the tank. Players seem to go through four phases of performance. Raw talent in their early 20's, Steady state from mid 20's to very early 30's, Begin the decline aka the Denial years I early to mid 30's, then the Oh shit I need to work twice as hard in the off season to Prove to Everyone I Can Still Play Fouth (and final) phase of their careers in their late 30's.

Most players don't get the opportunity to play that fourth phase unless they've signed a bloated Werthesque like contract. Regardless, I'm pulling for the guy because I'm old too and can identify with Werth and want him to Prove some folks wrong.

Rob Evans said...

I guess I'm contrarian. I think Werth is toast. The Nats will be lucky to get 110 games of avg to below avg. baseball out of him. I hope I'm wrong.

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