Nationals Baseball: Nats 2012 vs Nats 2016

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.


Anonymous said...

Harper, I agree with your general point about Harper and others discounting the downside risk with prospects and young players. Recall after 2012, most thought Espinosa would be at least a consistent 3 WAR 2B with 5 WAR upside. He is not that.

I'd like to bring up another topic. I was not a huge fan of hiring Dusty, but I will say I've enjoyed him so far (and it's not just because of his colorful stories). From the Post today: "Harper will be the Nationals’ No. 3 hitter, as he was for most of last season. 'That’s where your best hitter has hit forever,' Baker said. 'I know a lot of people — these new guys — want him to hit in the second spot, but he’s not going to have as many RBI opportunities and he still gets up in the first inning. You better have a hell of a lineup if you have Bryce Harper hitting second on your club.'"

Although I'm inclined to follow the research that suggests the best hitter should hit second (recognizing that it probably doesn't make a huge difference), I find it refreshing that Baker at least acknowledges the existence of an argument he rejects. That's something I found so eternally frustrating about Matt "he's our closer, therefore he pitches in save situations" Williams. He never acknowledged another way, which raised the question of whether he was even aware of another way. It's probably more likely that Baker is just better at communicating with the media than MW (and not better at being aware of the various alternatives), but I nevertheless find that refreshing.

Anonymous said...

Here's the dirty little secret about Boz: while he's an excellent wordsmith: he's just not all that bright. He seriously believed that Ian Desmond was going to get a huge contract, even after last season. I don't mind a fan, but I at least want an intelligent, reasonable fan.

Worse than that though is that some time in the last few years, he decided to become Rizzo's personal media sockpuppet. I know journalists need sources, but at a certain point it becomes a little pathetic and embarrassing.

The Post desperately needs someone more like you Harper. Someone capable of being more balanced and steely-eyed when it comes to analyzing and covering this team.

blovy8 said...

Newspapers probably can't pay enough to have two good baseball columnists anymore. Have you tried to read Jerry Brewer baseball articles? Ugh.

John C. said...

I have my issues with Boswell, but he was certainly not alone in thinking that Desmond was going to get paid, and paid big time, even after the 2015 season. The general consensus seemed to be that Desmond had cost himself tens of millions, but that meant that he had knocked himself down from the six figure contract to the middle five figures (between $50-80M).

I also find that Boswell is a bit bipolar - he whipsaws between optimism and pessimism. When the coin flips, he can be pretty nasty.

While I don't think the Nationals are quite as well set up as they were in 2012, I think it's revisionist history/20-20 hindsight to claim that this was obvious in 2012. The Phillies were still viewed as a contender and the Braves were quite formidable (they didn't implode until after 2014). Even the Marlins had a core of Stanton, HanRam, Reyes, Buehrle et al before their most recent of the never ending string of fire sales. The reason that the Braves and Phillies are looking to the future is that their present is terribly bleak. And I'll say that I'm completely dubious about the Braves' rebuild, Dansby Swanson notwithstanding.

Could things go well for the opposition? Sure. But the assumption that things are going to go well for the rest of the NL East is just as faith based as the fanboy assessment of the Nationals. While I try to avoid both gloom and irrational exuberance, it's always seemed to me that those who tend towards either extreme when it comes to the Nationals almost always seem go to the other extreme when analyzing their competition. In other words, those who tend towards pessimism/glass half empty concerning the Nationals tend to see the opposition in their more formidable/glass half full mode. True gimlet eyed realism would acknowledge that there is a chance that the Marlins, Braves and Phillies could become contenders in the next 2-3 years - but boy, their nightmare scenarios are truly brutal. Even the Mets have serious question marks, starting with their pitcher health, their bullpen and their bats and advancing through a mediocre (at best) farm system to questions about their willingness to spend.

SM said...

John C. -- There is no gimlet-eyed realism in baseball during spring training.

Bjd1207 said...

Isn't a gimlet a drink?

davecydell said...

Good luck, TMo, this may be the start of something good.

NattyBo said...

Nice article. A reality check is good idea.

One guy you missed in the forward looking lineup is Murphy at 2nd. He is signed for 3 years, therefore he should fit into your model. That would make 8 positions, not just 7.

While I appreciate your view, I tend to side with Boswell on this. Perhaps it is just homerism. While there are questions, the Nats look like a significantly better team offensively this year. Revere and Murphy are very good hitters, low strikeout guys who put the ball in play. And left handed. If Zimm, Rendon and Werth can stay healthy, and I'll admit that is a big "if," I expect huge offensive production this year. Bryce will be excellent. TT will arrive at some point - which will help the O tremedously. Ramos will provide average catcher offense to possibly better due to Laskik. Yes, we put up 703 runs last year, which was good enough for 3rd in NL, but it didn't translate into Ws due to horrendous BP. This year the SP will be good/better than last year. The BP is a huge question mark, but could be a significant improvement. Certainly wouldn't be difficult to be an improvement. Our Team could score close to 750 runs this year. That's a huge amount of runs for a Team, although not a record by any stretch. This very long and dangerous lineup could offset/overcome a bad BP. Go Nats.

Ryan DC said...

Tyler Moore traded to Braves for first baseman Freeman! It's the heist of the century!!

Oh wait sorry, that's Freiman with an "i", nevermind

Flapjack said...

Okay, let's stipulate that yes-men and the fans who cultivate them are a bane. But give Boz his due: he is a reporter. Some of the variables he sees are legit. We should also note that the two (arguably) least fit players on the current roster, now widely lamented as gimpy, past-their-prime anachronisms, were themselves the product of (luckily restrained) win-now thinking. Beneath the radar, the Nats' farm system saw its quality improve markedly over the last 12 months. How do we explain that? Win-now hates farm systems. Prospects break your heart. And yet they are also the future. There its always the temptation in baseball (as in earnings reports) to dwell on the statistical treasures of the past -- reversion, decline curves and so on -- at the expense of the research you need. Let's hope Rizzo is doing that research, and that fan-boy Boz is doing his job, with his ear appropriately to the ground.

Bjd1207 said...

@NattyBo - I think the requirement was 27 years old or younger, limiting out Murphy

Harper said...

10/2012 : "It's going to be a Nats/Braves division for the next few years, the question is whether the Phillies make it interesting for the first couple years, and/or the Mets make it interesting for the last couple."

I'm not a genius. If I thought this than it was at least a prevalent idea if not the majority one. THere seemed to be some differing on the Phillies. (Those down on them like me only thought they could be good with some FA moves - which never came) But even those that liked them saw them as a .500 team with potential for one last run in 2013.

It's not pessimism to see that the Nats are not set up as well. That's what is being said. I'm not saying the Braves are GOING to be good and the Phillies are GOING to be good and the Mets are GOING to stay good. Who knows? But I am saying, and I think it's not worse than arguable, that the Mets 2016 are more likely to stay good in the next 2-4 years than the Braves 2012. and the Braves/Phillies 2016 are more likely to get good and be supported in the next 2-4 years than the Mets/Marlins 2012. Combined with the fact that it's most likely that the Nats 2016 are not set up as well as the Nats 2012 and that's a big change in the chances the Nats have an easy window of competition coming up. Without that easy window it's harder to justify not attacking the 2016 season, where it appears that the Nats will be good and only the Mets will be strong competition.