Nationals Baseball: March 2016

Thursday, March 31, 2016

Nats : Team of Mystery

It'll take a few more days for the MLB previews to shake out but here are some of the earlier predictions

USA Today has the Nats winning the NL East with 89 wins. (playoffs not covered)
Sports Illustrated has the Nats missing the playoffs with a mere 83 wins.
No one at CBS Sports has Washington winning the NL and making series.
Fangraphs projected 2016 standings would have the Nats in the Wild Card.

Generally the spread I've seen here matches the spread I picked up at various newspaper previews as well. Nobody hates the Nats, but generally they like the Mets better. It's hard to argue that given the respective off-seasons (pretty even) and the results of last seasons. There are as many people picking the Nats to miss the playoffs entirely as there are picking them to win the division. There are a few Wild Card showings. There's even a guy at the Boston Globe picking the Nats to win it all. Like we said previously, and I'll say again I'm sure before the season starts, this is a hard team to read. The Nats aren't bad. We know that. But are they middling, good, or great?

I think they are being underestimated by the pundits but I get why. Even if you believe, like I think most of these guys do, that the Nats have the potential to be really good, they haven't lived up to it yet. If you backed them in 2013-2014-2015 they've failed you in some way.  So they stop picking them. Fool me once, etc. etc. Instead they pick teams on the rise like the Mets or Cubs who haven't flopped yet.

I'll do my official prediction tomorrow. Gotta do more thinking about where I want to lay down the line for the Nats.

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Wednesday Slowie

It does end up being Belisle. This isn't really surprising considering (1) Belisle is a veteran with some recent success, (2) Belisle pitched for Dusty in Cincinnati, and most importantly (3) the Nats can move Gott and Treinen down to AAA. They can't do that with Belisle (or at least Matt had an opt out he'd likely have taken if they were going to do that). It's a safe move allowing them to test out Belisle first then move onto others if he or someone else fails or gets injured. It wouldn't have worked in reverse.

Will Sean Burnett get the same treatment? Probably. While he never pitched for Dusty, he's had more consistent success albiet not recently due to injury. Most importantly again, he has an opt-out on April 1st. The Nats can keep him, try him out, and put Gott and Treinen in storage in Syracuse. Unless Burnett agrees (or they lie to him) they can't do that to him because he'll opt-out first (and someone will grab him).

I thought Belisle's iffy spring and age, added to the want to go with Gott and Treinen, would have forced him out. I was wrong there. I can't imagine a younger, likely better, and lefty arm doesn't also win over those two.

I'm still going with Heisey for the final bench spot.

Opening Day Questions :

Do the Nats really have any? Yes, but none feel particularly pressing right now, especially in comparison to last year's "Oh three regulars are going to start the season injured" issue.
  • Boz took on the fair question about the bullpen. It should be better, but because they didn't add any specifically great arms during the off-season we can only say "should". Along with the how will they do, what will they do is also a question. Who is the set-up guy? Will there be a 7th inning guy? Seems like Rivero - Kelley - Papelbon is likely but we'll see if Dusty sticks to that with veterans like Belisle and maybe Burnett on the roster.
  • Zimmerman, Werth, and Rendon all had no issues playing this spring. That changes the injury question from one of presence to one of production. None of these three's spring warrants anything more than a "keep an eye on it" as the season starts. 
  • A deeper look at production is probably warranted for Danny Espinosa, who is hitting .133 / .235 / .233 so far. That might be ignorable if not for the fact he hit .206 / .259 / .346 in the 2nd half of 2015 and .219 / .283 / .351 the year before that. If he fails do the Nats turn to Trea Turner, who they'd like to keep in the minors for a couple months both to get some work in and to work his service time? Or do they tough it out with Stephen Drew?
  • The playing time for MAT is of interest as well. MAT was bad last year, but given his age the Nats are hoping with a year under his belt he can turn a corner. He seemed to be doing that in the spring (.455 / .500 / .841).  A strict platoon with Revere was the most likely scenario early in the spring but it now seems like MAT should get as many at bats as possible. An easy solution to get MAT another start a week would be to use him to rest Werth as well, but Werth may not be happy about that plan.
  • Can Wilson Ramos turn it around? Ramos and Lobaton combined to give the Nats one of the worst hitting catching situations in the majors last year.  Ramos got LASIK and seems better but the slate is cleaned come day one. If he can't then there's good reason to believe the Nats will seek a catching upgrade at some point in 2016.
  • A sneaky question will be how the defense on the right side of the field ends up being. Daniel Murphy has worked on his D but has never been known as a slick fielder, and Werth can't be considered anything other than a detriment in right. (Yes Werth is a fixture, in more ways than one, in left - my bad) Zimmerman, it was thought, might be able to cover a bit for the two him, but if he's slowed at all by his foot injuries this could become an issue. 
Other questions are either more philosophical (how will Dusty do? can the team really rally around Papelbon?) or require unexpected issues to arise early to bring them to the fore (who's first in line for starting pitching depth?). Discuss them at your leisure.

The spring is nearing its end and it was almost a perfect one for the Nats. The spring didn't bring in any new questions. There were no injuries, no surprisingly bad performances by key players. All of the questions above were questions before the spring as well and I'd say that only one, the "can Espinosa hit well enough" question, feels more worrisome today than on March 1st. That's about as good as you can hope for, I think.

Monday, March 28, 2016

Monday Quickie - final roster thoughts

25 men - who will they be?

Werth - Revere- Bryce - Rendon - Espinosa - Murphy - Zimmerman - Ramos - Taylor
Scherzer - Strasburg - Gonzalez - Ross

That's the 100% take it to the bank, starter-type Opening Day guys. 14. 11 spots left.

Rivero - Petit - Perez - Kelley

That's the OMG. He didn't make the cut? But he's getting paid and we need that guy there guys  20. 5 spots left.

Offensively this leaves 3 spots (assuming they take 13 hitters). It seems hard to imagine Clint Robinson not making the team given how he performed last year and his general 1B-OF abilities. That leaves 4 spots open.

Another MI is a must and the Nats have three choices. Turner is an easy call to be sent down because he can be and it may be advantageous to the Nats bottom line to do so. That leaves Drew or Ryan for that spot. Ryan is the better fielder and had the better Spring but has never hit in the big leagues. His last season ever approaching average was in 2009. Drew hasn't had quite the Spring Ryan has but he's been good more recently 2013, is a threat to go deep, and is no slouch in the field. His lefty bat is helpful but far less important in 2016 now that the Nats added two lefties to the starting lineup. Still it seems like Drew's spot to lose.

This leaves one spot open. The bench would be
Robinson - L, decent all around hitter, not great in field, not a runner
Taylor - R, pop, D, speed, issues making contact 
Drew - L, pop, D, no speed, can't hit for average
Lobaton - S, bad hitter, can't run

There is an opening I guess for a contact guy that can run the bases, so Taylor doesn't have to be the first PR in at all times.  Probably a righty bat. There isn't anyone on the Nats that really fits the "contact" bill, so if you go just for righty that has speed... Chris Heisey or Tony Campana wins out. Given Dusty's likely favoritism and Heisey actually playing in the majors recently... I give him the upper hand.

In the pen there are 2 spots left.

Rivero - L, Perez - L
Petit - R, Kelley - R, Papelbon

Pretty good balance, so far. Given that Petit is likely a sometimes innings eater and Papelbon is the closer, the first thing you'd probably want is another R to use. It's a tough call between Treinen, Martin and Gott. I feel like situationally Martin is the odd man out here. Hmmm. I'm going to say Gott makes the team and Treinen is sent down to the minors as a closer in training.  Then again it's possible that Matt Belisle will make the team, given that he didn't exercise his rumored opt out clause this weekend. Ladson is reporting it but haven't seen it elsewhere. If it's true, it's true. Still I'll go Gott as of posting time.

For the last spot? It's hard to argue for anyone but Burnett who has looked good this Spring, has been good before injury, and specifically has been good in DC. The lefty arm maintains balance in the pen. If Belisle makes it... I don't think it changes this. Burnett is too proven to not start the season with for a team looking for bullpen stability.

Friday, March 25, 2016

Nats 2012 vs Nats 2016

We all saw Boz's "The Nats are going to be awesome! imeanmaybe. But they are!" column right? It's an interesting construction that gets into Boz's own eternal optimism toward the Nats.

The first paragraphs are a trick of the mind, really. Rather than start with the point, that this is the Nats plan and it may not work out, he sells the plan first. This downplays the uncertainty and plays up the potential. And he sells it in a particular way, a way that's necessary to make it work. He points out the possible best case scenarios / rosy views on the young players the Nats may bring up while leaving the current players simply named. This forces the reader to fill in the blanks on how these players will produce. What you end up doing, in most cases, is fill those in with how these players perform today. In essence, he, and us along for the read, builds a super team using the older players performances from the 2015 seasons and the younger players potential best outcomes for 2018.

In another section he frames the question for 2016 as not about winning this year but looking at the future. And again we see how Boz's positivity works.  Here are the questions he asks :
How do the key kids look? How fast will they arrive? When will they become front-line contributors? What’s their ceiling: good or exceptional?
Notice the lack of uncertainty and potential for failure here. It's assumed they will arrive, the question is "how fast" it will happen. It's assumed they will be front-line contributers, again the question is merely one of timing. It's assumed that their ceiling doesn't fall under "good".  In Boz's head the question is not if the Nats young players are going to be good major league players. He's decided that that is a fact. The question is only if the timing works out.

He goes through players noting how they are both ready for the major leagues and yet needing time in the minors, or how they've turned a corner. It's not until about 2/3rds down in the column where a negative point is made. Treinen gets hit. How does Boz respond to his own question? By having Baker compare Treinen to Schilling, Ryan and Randy Johnson.**  His next, and last, negative comment is about MAT's K issues, but it's surrounded by a crazy amount of positives. "wasn't over matched" "big hits at big times" "plus-plus center fielder who’ll steal bases and has power and a strong arm" oh yeah Ks a lot "superstar potential" "relaxed in the clutch - so rare!"

I've cut down on my Boz stuff over time because I've come to accept him for what he is; a great writer who happens to be a Nats fanboy. But this one was just a bit too over the top for me. It also connects to something I mentioned in yesterday's comments. Then, I was for the shutdown. I thought the Nats had a future that should be taken care of. Now, I'm for starting Giolito in the rotation. I think the Nats should play for today. What changed? Did I change? Perhaps a little. But the circumstances changed as well.

Here are the players the Nats had under control for 3 years that were 27 or under that had just given the Nats a good major league season in 2012:
Their proven set-up man; Clippard  27
Their closer; Storen 24
Four starters, one of which was thought of as a generational talent;  Gonzalez 26, Detwiler 26, Zimmermann 26, Strasburg 23
Their starting shortstop and second baseman and third baseman; Desmond 26, Espinosa 25, Zimmerman 27
And a starting OF, again a player thought of as a generational talent; Bryce 19

That my friends is a core (and I didn't even put in Ramos, 24, catcher starter of the future who got injured and didn't play enough in 2012). Ten set positions likely filled for the next three seasons with young cheap talent (only Zim was under a big contract). Here's who fits the same description after 2015:

A potential set-up man : Rivero 23
That generational starting OF : Bryce 22

You could expand the 2015 group to include Ross, 22,  a starting pitcher who gave them 40% of a season, but there's no comparison. If we look after 2016 things could be different.

Set-up man Rivero 24, starting SS Turner 23, starting 3B Rendon 26, starting OF Taylor 25, starting OF Bryce 22, starting pitchers Ross 23 and Giolito 21

That's pretty good, seven set positions, and you might start to argue that it's almost as good as 2012, but then you run into another issue. You can't look at it as 3 years because Bryce is only set for 2 more after 2016. And we're talking hypotheticals here. The 2012 players had done it. The 2016 players might do it. There's no way around it. The optimism for after 2015 should be much lower than the 2012 optimism based on talent alone.

Then there's also the issue of the competition. After 2012 the NL East looked to be a two-team battle in the future. The Phillies might have one more year left or the Mets or Marlins might put it together by 2015, but those arguments didn't seem very compelling based on how these teams were being run. It looked like the Nats v Braves for the next few years and then the Braves fell apart. From 2012-2015 the 3rd best team in the NL East didn't get to .500. There was only one team (and in 2014 no teams) in the Nats way.

The future going forward from 2015 doesn't seem as bright. The Mets look better situated to be a force for the next few years than the Braves did after 2012. The Braves are building up to be good soon after they move and the Phillies are once again under competent control and look to be on the right path as well, both having arguably Top 10 minor league systems (as do the Nats).  The climb for the next group of young Nats will be much harder.

This is just looking at the East. In 2012 the Nats had the most young talent in the NL performing at the major league level. In 2015 it's the Cubs. The Nats could pass them, in theory, if all their players work out but still I hope the point has been made.  Post-2012 was such a unique time, such a rare combination of talent coming together all at once right as the path to success seemed most clear, you could justify, in my mind, putting off today for tomorrow. Tomorrow's uncertainty didn't seem as great. The Nats seemed guaranteed to be successful for the next few years (and they were, just not as successful as they would have liked)  Post-2015, I see it far differently. The talent hasn't come together yet. The path to success does not look clear. Tomorrow's uncertainty is high. The Nats don't seemed guaranteed of anything.

So bet on today I say. Boz may be wearing shades, but for me, the future isn't quite that bright.

** Both Ryan and Schilling "got it" at 25. Randy took a little longer really breaking through at 29. Randy and Nolan were never hittable. Schilling had some issues but got there by 28.  Blake is hittable. Blake will be 28 this year. Blake isn't Schilling, Ryan or Randy.

Thursday, March 24, 2016

Down goes Giolito!

Lucas Giolito was sent down yesterday.  Almost no one seems to think he couldn't pitch in the majors right now, but Rizzo says he needs to work on nuance.


Basically Lucas Giolito is being held down because it makes fiscal sense to do so, and it can be justified in a practical sense.

Fiscally, Lucas Giolito's future arbitration and free agency targets are at stake. I won't bore with exact details, but suffice to say how much money the Nats would need to spend on Giolito over his first decade of playing changes dramatically based on service time and service time is measured in pretty standard ways. Delay Lucas until the end of April and you push back his FA a year. Delay Lucas until the middle of June and you (likely) push back his arbitration a year. Delay Lucas until September and you can work his debut in 2017 in a way to delay these things one more time. Given that Lucas is likely to be good relatively quickly, a year of arbitration is worth millions and his FA cost would be 10s of millions. It's fiscally responsible to hold Lucas down.

Of course that's only true though if it doesn't hurt the product on the field, as a winning team drives more revenue (given the sunk cost of salaries already agreed upon). And it very well won't hurt the product on the field in 2016. The Nats have three long time starters who are at least good in Scherzer, Gio, and Stras. They have a fourth starter, Ross, who in 70 innings last year was also good, making a shift back to the minors unreasonable. And their supposed fifth starter, Roark, was good two years ago, when he was allowed to start full-time, and is a fair bet to be good again. The Nats might have 5 good starters. What else do you need? It's true Giolito should be better than Roark and Gio and Ross, but he's a wild card, especially in his first year. He could be worse than all 5 in 2016, so why push it?

Also Giolito didn't exactly dominate AA last year. 3.80 ERA. 48 hits in 47 innings. Strike outs down from over 10 to 8.6. Walks up from around 2.5 to over 3.0. It could be worthwhile to see that he handles AAA first, that he has that step up, before throwing him into the deep end. Remember Lucas may be as close to a sure thing as pitching prospects get, but he's still not a sure thing.

So the Nats can justify it and it will likely save them money. What's the downside?

Well there are two - if you click on the link you'll see the argument that Lucas is a ticking clock. At least according to what the Nats say, there is an expected post TJ life span for an arm and Lucas, who had his surgery YEARS ago (2012), is passing the half way point on that life span. You don't use him in the majors and you are wasting a precious year saving for an later "cheap" year that may never come because his arm might (and in the Nats mind, likely will) blow out again.

The second reason is if you believe that he's a better option than Roark (or Ross or Gio) then you are costing the team some level of success by going with someone else. How much? Who knows? But in a season where the gulf between good and the bad in the NL is as large as we've ever expected, it's not crazy that the Mets/Nats loser stays home. With that in mind every win matters and going with a B choice to save a buck could be the difference between playing baseball in October and playing golf.

I'm an all-in kind of guy but I do see the Nats position and it's the same position that makes spending about 20 million less than last year with the idea that it may be spent in-season (we pray) reasonable. It's smart. The cost of using Giolito in 2016 and the cost of spending on trades mid-season only kicks in if a certain situation is met. It only kicks in if the Nats are within striking distance of the Mets or vice versa come certain dates. While that is a likely scenario (both teams are good and there is a smaller number of games played by mid-June or mid July that makes being well ahead or well out harder) it is far from the only possible scenario. If the Nats are well-out for whatever reason - they don't have to bring Giolito up, they don't have to spend money on a trade. Same holds true for if they are well-up. So why spend the money now, or set Giolito in motion now, when there is say a 33% chance you won't have to do it at all? It's not smart.

Of course sports isn't about "smart", it's about winning. Fans don't care if abstractly what you are doing makes sense, if practically it means you aren't trying you're hardest to win. To keep the fans from turning, they are placated with the idea of wins today traded for wins tomorrow. That way the team appears to be primarily interested in winning, not costs.

We'll spend the money later. Giolito will be healthy and great for the Nats later. It's smart because of the success we are going to have later. Will they? Will he? Is it? As we've seen with the Strasburg shutdown, his subsequent injuries, and the two missed playoffs in 4 years with a team that was projected to win the division, there are no guarantees. They aren't trading anything. They are gambling and gambling in a way that's smart for them. Is it best for the fans? I don't think so, but it's an opinion question that is answered on a personal level and for most is usually "proved" by what takes place. Should Lucas Giolito have started the year with the Nats? Ask me in 6 months and I'll have the accepted answer.

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Werth a lot, Missing ZNN, and Roark

Dusty said recently that he wants to use MAT like a 6th man. There's a couple things in there that bother me - the idea that he's proving his worth with great spring stats, the idea that you would give Bryce Harper more than a day off a month - but all in all it's what I'd want to hear. MAT will get enough playing time to see if he's making progress. This is a necessity for the Nats to help make decisions for 2017 and beyond.

The follow-up question is what happens if Werth struggles? Could MAT take over his role full time? If Revere struggles, that would certainly happen. If Bryce struggles enough that MAT could take over for him, the Nats are doomed. But if Werth struggles it is not as clear cut. Ideally yes, MAT would take over. Werth is a liability in the field now, so if he's not hitting his value is reduced to seeing pitches and maybe smart baserunning. MAT on the other hand gives you defensive value even if he's not hitting. It would make sense to pull him.

But how long a leash do you give Werth? It will be tempting to pull him if, say, he gives you a bad April, but that may be premature. It was just 2014 when Jayson hit .292 / .394 / .455, a line we'd kill to have MAT match. Taylor has only hit that level once ever for any extended time in minors or majors (discounting a Puerto Rican Winter league stint), during an extended stay in Harrisburg in 2014. Werth's very good at getting on base, and that's a big skill for this team. (The team's OBP last year without Bryce is a dismal .304) He's also never been a fast starter with the Nats, generally having his best months in the dog days of July and August. Give up on Werth too early and maybe he never gets the reps he needs to get loose. There's also the question of how he'd react. He's shown himself to be a bit... self-important. Could he react to a demotion positively?

This could very well be the question of the early season if Werth struggles. In my mind Werth has earned the benefit of time. However, it all depends on how bad he's hitting.

ZNN is gone and he's not coming back. Most people are ok with it. Ross seemed like a fair replacement for the departing ZNN who dipped a little in his final season in DC. It's almost certainly true that the Nats didn't need to sign a ZNN to a long term deal. However, it's going to be hard for Ross to be ZNN. Over the course of the 2012-2015 window, ZNN was the Nats most valuable pitcher (Strasburg was arguably better but pitched a 130 fewer innings). Not only that he was arguably a Top 10-15 pitcher in the entire league. He's not a Kersahw, Sale, King Felix or yes, Scherzer. However, he was healthy, pitched all the time, and pitched well for four years. He was as valuable as a Cueto, Lester, or Bumgarner.

For the sake of 2016 and beyond there are really two questions. The first is whether Ross can match what ZNN puts up during the same time frame, helping to figure out if the Nats could let ZNN go. That's most likely a yes given their respective ages. At the very least we can agree it's a fair gamble. The second is whether Ross can match what ZNN put up over the last 4 years, helping to figure out if the Nats can expect the same sort of production from him as they got from Jordan. That has to be most likely a no. The hurdle you are asking Ross to clear is to be one of the best 15 pitchers in the majors over the next 4 years. I like Ross but I'm sorry I'm not putting my money on that. ZNN was a special talent when the Nats had him and it's going to be hard to replace that.

With Arroyo down and Giolito being expensive 6 years or so down the road, Roark looks pretty secure in his role as the 5th starter. Is Roark up for it? Roark works if he gets ground balls and keeps the ball in the park. He doesn't walk a lot of players but doesn't strike out a bunch either. His spring has looked ok in those regards - no homers, 9 Ks in 9 IP, but it's spring and the equivalent of one complete game, hardly anything you can hang a hat on.  I think the way to look at it is there aren't any warning signs things will be terrible. A bunch of homers (Gott?) or walks (Gio?), or no K's at all (Kelley?).  I think a big question for Roark will be not if he can get grounders but if he can get the grounders that he wants. The 3B/SS side of the field should be defended well. The 2B/1B side might be a big issue if Zimm can't move around. Roark can pitch like he wants to and still be beat if the batters can direct their grounders a little bit.  If Roark can't do it than next up would almost certainly not be Giolito but Blake Treinen. It could work but I'm not sure anyone would look to that with any sort of confidence.

Monday, March 21, 2016

Monday Quickie - Still nothing

Still nothing. But a week closer to Opening Day, so there is that!

Something to keep in mind as we go into this year, something I noted during the whole dream / nightmare scenarios is the idea of the Max Scherzer and Bryce Harper "problem".  The idea is pretty simple. It's more likely than not that Scherzer and Bryce will not reach the heights that they did last year. Given that the "base" Nats record may be lower than you think based simply on looking at last year's record and factoring in injuries.

Bryce had one of the greatest offensive season in history and post- WWII the guys that repeat such a performances (without a little injection of the ol' "invisible to media medicine") are named Williams, Musial, Mantle, and Pujols maybe. That's it. Other guys come close, but setting the bar at what Bryce did last year, they don't cross it. It was THAT amazing. And how amazing it was was basically lost because the team didn't win anything.

But the point here is it's likely Bryce won't do better than this either. It's likely he won't follow-up a Top 20-25 offensive season since the War with one equal or better. That's not to say he can't do it. He is at the right age. No one think it was a fluke. (Hey Norm Cash! Get out of here!) But it's more likely he won't do it than he will. That means the Nats will likely be, with some measure, worse.

The Max Scherzer season was not as dramatically good. It was worthy of Cy Young consideration but not historic. It was however, arguably Scherzer's best year ever, and given his age, if you are presented with the choice "equal/better or worse", again the smart money would be on worse. I'll repeat what I said with Bryce. It's not to say he can't do it. Max is a great pitcher. Pitchers have seen high levels of performance straight through to 34/35. That's not that uncommon. But it's more likely he won't do it than he will. That means the Nats will likely be, with some measure, worse.

Max and Bryce set extremely high bars last year. They will likely come in under those. The deciding factor will be how worse they play. A half-step worse from each and it will be a bump on the road. Two steps worse each and the Nats willl have some serious ground to make up.

Can they do something like that? Sure. Injury returns and some new players should make a big difference. But they'll also need to not have a bad season performance wise. That's a pretty obvious statement but what is less obvious is they didn't have a bad season performance wise in 2015, taking away injury issues. For each minus (Ramos, Desmond, Fister) there was a plus (Escobar, Robinson, Ross).  All in all the players healthy on the field gave the Nats an even performance. This wasn't a snakebit team who had nothing go right. It was a team unlucky with injuries that was otherwise pretty even.

Spring Training Stat review!

Michael Taylor is hitting with power! ... which we all kind of knew he could. It's nice to see it. It could translate into a bit more pop this year. However it's not his power that was ever an issue. It was the average and getting on base. So while this is nice to see it doesn't mean you should be excited about Taylor this year. We have to see if he can keep the average up and maybe work a few walks when the games count. Remember average in Spring means nothing.

Danny got a couple hits. Good enough for me to just say start him. He could still be awful but I'm only holding the worst Springs against anyone.

Given their presumed importance. I'd like to see Kelley and Papelbon not stink, but it's still too early to think there's an issue. Everyone else who truly stunk is unimportant and/or already gone.

Monday, March 14, 2016

Monday Quickie - Zim sighting

Zimmerman DH'd over the weekend. So good! He's playing DH today, too. Double good! If it goes well today he should play first this week. Triple good! It's kind of funny he started playing again right after a "the Nats will play me when I'm ready" interview. That kind of hints that this is a real day-by-day type of thing, but as long as we're on the right side of that for now - what more can you ask?

Soo.... what do we talk about then?

As we discussed, there is no CF battle. The bullpen, at least as of right now, isn't being set into a 7-8-9 rhythym (unless you think Nick Lee could end up the 8th inning guy). Arroyo vs Roark? Well Roark should win and is winning that.  Hmmm. I suppose right now we'll focus on when Danny Espinosa will get a hit (0-14 with 7 strikeouts). 

But this is good! Spring training talk that we care about is injury talk and with Zimm getting back into the lineup we don't have any of that. I'm all for a nice quiet Spring.

Let's check on the rest of the NL East

Mets : deGrom has a stiff back, probably nothing. Asdrubal has a knee injury, not nothing. Nimmo, their top prospect has a minor injury.  Wheeler still isn't back. Wright has been out - should start playing this week.

All-in-all not terrible but the Cabrera injury threatens to throw the first monkey wrench in their title defense. The important thing though is no SP injuries yet. That's this team.

Marlins : Capps, an important reliever, is out for year with TJ. AJ Ramos, another important relief arm, hasn't pitched yet due to a calf injury. Stanton is taking it slow in Spring (only a few ABs so far). Cosart gave them a scare but appears ok.

I'd be worried. We all know how a bad bullpen can help to derail a season. It's not like we think the Marlins are very good across the board that they can handle the failure of one part of their team.

Phillies : Aaron Altherr, OF propsect who might have started this year, is out for basically the season with a wrist injury. Jerad Eickhoff, P prospect, who likely would have started in the rotation, fractured his thumb, may or may not be ready by Opening Day. Cody Asche, who would have played OF too, has an oblique injury and it's up in the air when he comes back.  David Hernandez, important pen arm, hasn't pitched in two weeks. Other minor injuries abound to the half-prospects and retreads.

They were looking up, or at least looking to be better than Atlanta. Lose 2 of 3 OF starters though and you can book a return flight to Garbage City.

Braves : Freeman went out with wrist discomfort but apparently is fine. Andrew McKirahan, possible relief arm, is out for year with TJ. Tyler Flowers, who will back-up for the Braves at catcher, has had some minor issues.

Biggest issue related to injury for the Braves is actually other team's injuries. They are still ready to trade everything and Peralta going down for the Cardinals means Aybar might be gone.  Even if things break for this team they'll use that as a way to help rebuild, not challenge in 2016.

Short recap. The Nats are sitting pretty. The Mets haven't gotten off track yet but any thoughts they might be better in 2016 are on hold with Cabrera's injury and Wright/Wheeler getting back. The Marlins are on the cusp of a bullpen emergency already, questioning their threat to the top two teams.  Phillies are crashing and burning before the season starts. Braves are having no issues, but are committed to rebuild and it would take a miracle for them to compete.

No changes. Nats vs Mets for NL East and as of March 14th, things are a brighter injury wise for the Nats.

Friday, March 11, 2016

Friday Quickie - Did Bryce say something

I've been working and travelling so I missed this. Bryce wants to have fun while playing baseball and maybe make the game more demonstrative? Ok. That's fine.

I would be lying if I were to say that was my cup of tea. It isn't. I watch sport for the sport of it, not the ornamentations. But a little bit of demonstrativeness by a player, a bat flip, a stare, a fist pump, that doesn't take anything away for me. I haven't stopped watching other sports because of that, I certainly wouldn't stop watching the sport I love the most if it had more. If there were full out dance routines that take several minutes that may make me lose interest, but a short celebration when warranted? Not going to bother me.

You may feel differently. That's fine, too. It's entertainment. How well something entertains us is an ongoing decision process. Maybe the entertainment changes and we decide it's not for us. Maybe the entertainment doesn't change but we do and reach the same conclusion. That's how it works. The only way to be wrong here is assuming that what you think is the "correct" answer for how the entertainment should be and how everyone should react to it. It's the correct answer for you, nothing more.*

As for Spring Training - let's look at the stats and see if any heavily caveated things are going on:
  • Scott Sizemore is the only guy down there hitting homers so far (and 2 doubles).  I suppose at 31 he could blossom into... Danny Espinosa with average fielding? Someone that won't hurt but won't help? As he is at very best a bench player for the Nats really nothing to see here. Maybe another team will want to take a flier on him though.
  • Espinosa is hitless in 11 at bats with 5 Ks. He could easily be terrible this year as he was terrible just a year before so keep an eye on this. He doesn't have to hit much (he hit .125 last Spring), he just has to do not absolutely nothing.
  • Revere is clearly A-Team and Taylor B-Team. A quick lineup look tells you that. This will be the last mention unless something new happens. Who's A-Team 1B with Zimm out? Was Moore, more recently Clint. Too early to say anything has stuck.
  • I suppose pitching wise you could look at Cole or Solis, maybe? Honestly we're still in the 2-3 appearances max time frame so one bad outing can make you look terrible. Come back in a week (if they are still around). 
  • Zimmerman still hasn't played. Look - if you want to see a guy ease into Spring you only have to look at Werth. He's only played 4 games and only has taken 8 at bats. He's played DH some. He's clearly slowly getting back into the swing. Zimmerman? He's not slowly adjusting to playing baseball after the break. He's OUT.

*Well I mean I can see situations where the entertainment or the reaction to it could be damaging to society on a larger level but that's a more complicated discussion and doesn't apply very often.

Monday, March 07, 2016

Monday Update - Where's Zimm?

We're only a few days into the Spring season and things are moving along. It's too early to even think about looking at stats, even for the most broadest of reasons (which is about all you can do in Spring), although I suppose if you were really hoping for a Taylor Jordan resurgence back into a rotation battle you may be in trouble.

No, there aren't many stories right now for the Nats, which is good, because for a team with significant injury risk, no news is often the best news. Which brings us to Zimm.  The Nats have played 5 games so far. Exactly zero of the starters have played in more than two*, so Werth having played only one isn't anything to bat an eye at yet.  Two players haven't played in any games. Ramos is explained away by his LASIK surgery, but where is Zimm?

Well he's supposedly healthy and not playing as a way to avoid aggravating his plantar fasciitis. I don't know if I buy that. The issue I have is the idea that he hopes to start playing in games in the next couple of weeks. I can see giving Ryan more time between games but I can't see him not playing at all. He's had all winter to rest and be healthy. Now is the time to test it out. If you really believe playing on it say... once or twice a week in early March is going to aggravate the foot, then that gives me little hope of him playing every day when the season starts in, oh yeah, 4 weeks. I think its more likely that he is having issues with it now. Or if not that, perhaps it's the oblique strain, which you may or may not remember ended his season in early September last year.

Anyway you look at it, as far as early news goes about Zimmerman, this is not encouraging. But he's only one! Nats can handle one. It's four at the same time that gave them trouble last year.

 *Speaking on this point. Ben Revere has played in two games and had 4 ABs, like Rendon, Murphy, Bryce, and likely starter Espinosa. Michael Taylor has played in 4 games with twice as many of at bats, like Heisey, Reed Johnson, Keiboom, Moore, Brendan Ryan, Skole, and likely AAA shortstop Turner.  CF Battle?  There is no CF battle.

Friday, March 04, 2016

The Nightmare Scenario - can the Nats reach .500?

Ok so even though I do this every year I guess I should clarify some points. I don't factor in injuries beyond what I think is a reasonable playing time estimate. "Healthy" doesn't mean "100% completely healthy, playing 154-160 games" but "the most reasonable expectation of health given age/recent history". Still given that, it generally that means a full season of playing time, outside a few players (Zimm, Werth). I am a little more conservative with pitchers so I won't go 200+ innings for Strasburg, rather 170ish.

This isn't really scientific, more about general feeling. How good can the Nats reasonably expect to be if nothing really surprises in a negative way, and vice versa? Then how can we get to the nightmare or dream scenario from there.  So on Wednesday I kind of felt it out and the Nats can be say in the 94 win range without having any major positive surprises (or negative ones).  Not quite where I'd like them to be for an easy division title. Let's flip things around now.

We generally stick to the assumptions made with injury returns and replacements, assuming they were fair and not positive. Looking at it I can only see one place that might have been a bit positive which was Roark replacing Zimmermann. Like I said Zimmermann's year wasn't all that great but Roark was a little disappointing last year. I could see a fair assessment matching ZNN but also coming in under it. So knock a half-win away. 92 wins.

Then we get to the "plays a little better/worse" expectations. I think we can probably pull that half-win away from Rendon that we gave him here (remember we are being on the negative side of fair) keeps him around league average at 3B. 91.5 wins. We can also go ahead and pull a half-win from Ramos/Lobaton who I liked to stay same, since they are trending down. 91 wins. I don't feel fair taking from Strasburg since it was mostly a inning increase thing, or taking more from Espy (right now at least). Oh I could take from Gio too, who surprising not only arrested his fall but got a little better. 90.5 wins.

Now we get to some bigger disappointments that would still not surprise me. I took 1.5 wins from Bryce and 1 win from Max before. This still made them MVP worthy and in the Cy Young discussion. But you could probably fairly pull another win from Bryce and a half-win from Max. They were that good last year that they can fall alot and still be good. Bryce would still be in the MVP debate (just probably wouldn't win it). Max would still be a likely All-Star. That's not bad! It's good! And it's another 1.5 wins lost. 89 wins.

Anyplace else to cut fairly? I could probably assume that the bench isn't much better. I gave them a win and a half, instead let's give them just a half. 88 wins. And the bullpen could get no better. 87 wins. Oh I forgot about Trea. Yesterday in the comments I kind of bumped the positives up a win for him. Let's say a half-win up instead. 87.5 wins  Any other place that would be a fair take before we get into other things? Werth was so bad last year and he's 37 so you can probably justify him barely being worth playing this year even without injury. Not a negative mind you, and not where I'd bet, but a tiny positive and in the realm of possibility. Take away a win 86.5 wins.  We all know Espy can be terrible, We saw it in 2013 and 2014. Let's knock off a win there. That's still better than most #5s I bet. 85.5 wins. I still think we could knock another half-win at least from Roark. Hell, I'm trying to get down here let's make it a win. 84.5 wins. I guess maybe Ross regresses a little and Gio gets back to falling? Another win... 83.5 wins.  Hmmm... maybe Revere/Murphy could get a half-win worse combined? They've been pretty consistent so it's not fair to knock them too much.

I think I've hit my floor at 83 wins. Nothing surprises here but basically everything is on the wrong side of fair. Werth doesn't come back. Rendon is merely ok. Espy was kind a fluke. Roark is just rotation worthy. Max and Bryce come back to Earth. Gio, Ross, Ramos, all slide a little. The bench, the pen, Stras, Zimm, Murphy, Revere, don't get any better. There isn't any single event here that jumps out as unlikely, but the combination of all of it going in that direction is.

Can I get to .500 from here without injury? Sure. Roark completely flames out and they never get a good 5th starter. That alone would do it from here. Or Bryce could "struggle" and merely be All-Star good. Or Werth could be flat-out done. Or Trea Turner could give the Nats nothing. There are ways.

So the Nats range of possibility is pretty large in my opinion, from like 83/84 to 93/94 wins. That doesn't mean I think they'll win 88-89 wins, just that this is the "no surprises, no injuries" range for the team. It's pretty variable to begin with. Toss in the youth involved (Ross, Turner, Taylor, Rendon maybe, Bryce - though really how much better could he be?), the injury returnees (Rendon, Zimm, Werth), the age issues (Werth), the potential career years (Scherzer, Bryce), and the intangibles and the inherent variability of the pen and bench, plus the usual crashes and soars of a baseball season and you have a team whose fortunes fly all over the place. Could it all come together and the Nats have a team like 2012 or 2014? I can see that. Can the Nats have a couple key injuries and have a team that finishes below .500.... That's a little tougher given the competition in the NL East, but if say the Marlins surprise, ok sure.

Where do I put the Nats? Well no official prediction until Spring Training is over (it'd be stupid to do that - guys can get hurt). I think I like the Nats for about 91 wins or so. But like the previous paragraph said that's a very weak bet. I have as little confidence in knowing how this season will play out as I've had in years.

Thursday, March 03, 2016

Your annual Spring Training stats reminder

They doesn't matter.

Not really anyway. For example :

Best hitter on the Nats last Spring? Matt Skole.  Also very good in the Spring. Tony Gwynn Jr, Wilson Ramos.

Best pitchers on the Nats last Spring? Matt Grace, Blake Treinen.

Yes, I cherry picked a little - you could toss in Clint Robinson, Bryce and Max in there. But that's doesn't kill the point. How well you do in a limited time frame against a large variation of competition produces results that are pretty much random. That's even before you factor in the "working on something" aspect of Spring Training.

Oh the stats guys will try to pull together something or other from it because that's what they are being paid to do but try not to pay too much attention.  At best these are "maybe something is there" or "confirming what I already thought" types of stats. For the former you need more data, more REAL data. For the latter you already have the data, this is just the final shovel of dirt on the coffin.

Ok fine. What are these things? Well for me I look at three things

(1) If someone hits for substantially more power than they usually do. That's falls into the "maybe something is there" category.

(2) If someone does terrible and you thought they might be terrible. That falls into the "confirming" category. But here when I say "terrible" I mean "terrible".  ERAs over 6.00.  BAs under .100. That sort of thing.

(3) I'll also allow a "I don't really have a preference between these two players so I'll let Spring Training decide".  Something has to right? The Nats shouldn't be in this position. They have decent reasons to make their decisions. But if you are choosing between say Jedd Gyorko and Johnny  Giavotella for your starting 2B, first I'm sorry, and 2nd, sure, what the hell. Use ST stats to make the decision.

Anyway friendly reminder out of the way. When Solano or Difo hits .380 for the Spring I hope you remember this when I call your cries of "Start him!" stupid.

Wednesday, March 02, 2016

The dream scenario - an easy division title

I said before that the Nats season could break anywhere from .500 to 95 wins (or something like that) without injuries. Today we test the latter assumption. Can a healthy Nats team win 95 games and likely cruise to the NL East crown (you figure a good chunk of the 95 will come from the Mets)?

Let's set the base first and for that I like to use Baseball Prospectus' 3rd Order win totals. You can read up on it, but basically it answers the question "How well would my team do if it played in an absolute vacuum?" The Nats, who finished with 83 wins, sit with 89 wins in this scenario. Sound odd? Well the Pythag record agrees but still it doesn't feel like the Nats were an 89 win team in disguise last year.

Turns out the Nats were helped by a good number of skewed results. The Nationals won 8 games by 9 runs or more and they never lost such a game. Pythag and 3rd order submit that runs scored are just kind of randomly distributed. In other words the Nats happened to score a lot in the same game that they happened to give up a few. Possible sure. But 8-0 seems more than just luck. It feels like something internal to the team like how we went over how Blake Treinen was a different pitcher when there was less pressure on him. I'm going to let my gut change things a little and knock the Nats back down to 88 wins. It's my exercise and that's closer to the team I felt I saw last year.

OK, so now let's roll up our sleeves and do it. First let's make everyone healthy and let them play kind of as expected. Rendon is healthy, plays full season but he's young enough to say we can't be sure about him repeating 2014. We'll put in two more wins. Zimmerman healthy (which let's be honest means 120 games) a win and a half more. Werth healthy (maybe 140) two more wins. Might be underselling Werth a little but he is 37. Eventually you don't bounce back. That's 5.5 more wins for 93.5 wins. Almost there. Wow that was easy! But of course they play and they take away time from others. Robinson plays less (93 wins), Yuney is gone (91 wins). Ok 91 wins.

Now what about replacements? I'm going to make Murphy replace Ian, and Revere replace Taylor (for now) that's about two more wins combined. Back to 93 wins. But Span is gone and he was very good when he played. 91.5 wins.  Ross pitches a full year.  92.5 wins. But Roark replaces Zimmermann. 91.5 wins - ZNN's 2015 wasn't particularly good. Bullpen gets better, but the pen actually wasn't terrible in raw stats, just when it counted, and pens aren't actually all that impactful...another win? 92.5 wins. Maybe the bench is a win better? I'm not sure we can say that for sure. We'll come back.

Now we get into the "plays a little better"/"plays a little worse" type of stuff. Let's go around the field. Ramos/Lobaton? We haven't talked about them. I generally think they'll play the same terrible way. I kind of like Espy to falter a bit. 92 wins. But I think Rendon can make that up. 92.5 wins.  Zimm/Werth I'll keep same for now. Bryce... Here's the thing. Bryce was SO good last year than he can be Paul Goldschmidt great in 2016 and be about 2 wins worse. I'll give his youth the benefit of the doubt and say his regression from historic to merely great only costs the Nats a win and a half. 91 wins. Rotationally, Scherzer too is up for some regression. Again we'll only go from Cy Young candidate to Cy Young possibility and cost the Nats a win 90 wins. But I like Strasburg to step up and cover that. 91 wins.

OK this feels a little low. 91 win team for next year with relative health and expected performances. What's the easiest way to get from here to 95? Let's take that win from the bench now. Taylor plays a little better, Robinson keeps on keeping on, Drew has a decent year. The big thing though is simply replacing those absolute zeros of Moore and Uggla. so we could probably go a win and a half actually, 92.5 wins.  Hmmm. Hmmm. There are places sure but where do I see the most potential improvement? Did I give Ross a win more?  I can give him another half win. That's not crazy at all. Probably in line with a good number of projections. 93 wins. If the pen gets much better we're putting it at near best in the majors. Don't want to go there. I could probably throw another half win at Murphy assuming he plays close to a full season. 93.5 wins.

This is tougher than I thought.  We'll give Werth another half. When he's healthy he's been good and we're assuming health. 94 wins.   Now I think I need to find someone to surprise and frankly that's Rendon. It wouldn't even be much of a surprise. He's 25-26 and two years ago was fringy MVP. Right now we have him as fringy All-Star. Let's make him a sure thing. 1 more win and there you go 95 wins.

OK so I was a little wrong. This Nats team, at least in my eyes, doesn't easily range to 95 wins. So it would be tough for this team, without some surprisingly great play, to end up WS favorites. (I looked it up - that's what I said - not 95 wins). But something just below this? 93 wins or so? That won't be too hard for this team to reach if it stays healthy and has no crazy drops in performance.

There's some leeway here. Some places where the Nats could really take off that wouldn't be crazy. Ramos closes in on average. Zimm plays closer to a full season. Werth defies age again. Ross has no regression and gets even a little better. Roark is closer to 2014 than we think. That in itself is like a 99 win team and that's still with Bryce and Max not repeating what they did.  Of course at this point this becomes an "everything goes right, no one gets worse or injured" scenario, so you'd expect super high win totals. I think what I'm saying is that there is some coverage here for injuries and bad performances. Split the difference and to me it looks like a 92-93 win team.

But let's look at the nightmare in a couple days before I conclude anything.I think it'll be pretty hard to get to .500 but I wonder where I'll end up hitting the floor.